Two oil tankers attacked in Gulf of Oman

Attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman risk escalating conflict in the Middle East. It has already resulted in an increase in the price of oil.

Reuters: Tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman stoke fears over conflict and oil

Two oil tankers were attacked on Thursday and left adrift in the Gulf of Oman, driving up oil prices and stoking fears of a new confrontation between Iran and the United States.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed and that the U.S. government would continue to assess the situation. Washington accused Tehran of being behind a similar attack on May 12 on four tankers in the same area, a vital shipping route through which much of the world’s oil passes.

Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with its allies including Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of a deal last year between Iran and global powers that aimed to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Iran has repeatedly warned it would block the Strait of Hormuz, near where the attacks happened, if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. sanctions.

No one has claimed Thursday’s attacks and no one has specifically blamed them on any party.

Reuters:  U.S. calls attacks on commercial shipping ‘unacceptable’

The United States on Thursday called attacks on commercial shipping “unacceptable” and told the U.N. Security Council that the latest assaults on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that left one ablaze and both adrift “raise very serious concerns.”

That’s stating the obvious.

“It’s unacceptable for any party to attack commercial shipping and today’s attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman raise very serious concerns,” acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Jonathan Cohen told a council meeting on U.N. and Arab League cooperation on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. government is providing assistance and will continue to assess the situation,” he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned at the meeting that the world cannot afford “a major confrontation in the Gulf region.”

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Sabah described the tanker attacks as a threat to international peace and security.

“This is the most recent event in a series of acts of sabotage that are threatening the security of maritime corridors as well as threatening energy security of the world,” he said.

Maybe some tariff threats will sort this out.

Last August: The US has reimposed sanctions on Iran. 

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in May, he also said the US would reimpose strict sanctions on Tehran.

Starting at 12:01 am on Tuesday, financial penalties that former President Barack Obama removed from Iran as part of the nuclear agreement snap back into place.

On November 4, even more sanctions that Obama lifted will kick back in. Those will hit Iran’s oil exports and energy sector, a key industry for the country; financial institutions working with the Central Bank of Iran; port operators and shipbuilding sectors; and the provisions of insurance and financial messaging services.

Or not.

The goal of the sanctions, according to the senior administration officials, is to cripple the Iranian economy to the point that the regime must end its support for terrorism and negotiate an end to its nuclear program with the US.

Another possibility was an escalation in tensions and unintended consequences.

Reuters:  Latest on tanker attacks south of Strait of Hormuz

Here is the latest from Reuters on attacks on two tankers on Thursday south of the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s oil is shipped:

* Panama-listed tanker Kokuka Courageous was damaged in a “suspected attack” that breached the hull above the water line, Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement said

* The ship was attacked twice in three hours before all the crew were evacuated, the president of Japanese owner Kokuka Sangyo told reporters

* There had been an engine room fire on the tanker, which was carrying a cargo of methanol from Saudi Arabia to Singapore

* A second ship, the Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair, was “suspected of being hit by a torpedo” at around 0400 GMT, said Taiwanese refiner CPC Corp, which had chartered the vessel

* The Aframax-class tanker loaded with 75,000 tonnes of naphtha was on fire, said Norwegian owner Frontline

* Frontline said the Front Altair was afloat, denying a report by Iran’s IRNA news agency that it had sunk

Oil and the Middle east have long been problems that have been short on effective solutions.

US-China trade war escalates

President Donald trump has escalated the US-China trade war in while negotiations continue. Playing hardball may be necessary to make decent progress, but it’s risky, not just for the US and Chinese economies, but for all those who trade with them as well, which is most of the world.

.Washington Times: No cheating on friends

A president who talks and acts tough on trade has been a long time coming. Donald Trump made getting fair dealing on trade a major plank in his campaign platform and has followed through. China can’t say it wasn’t warned about the imposition this week of additional tariffs on selected goods coming into the United States.

Bad trade deals have cost the United States billions of dollars and cost millions of American workers their jobs over the last several decades. Supporters of free trade find tariffs against China, Europe, Mexico and Canada hard to take. Tariffs are taxes hiding under another name and lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers. The stock market dropped 500 points after the new China tariffs were announced. Tariffs provide a safe harbor for inefficiencies, and protect markets and manufacturers from the need to innovate and increase productivity.

But as a short-term strategy to get the Chinese to the table to make agreements to protect American intellectual property, for example, it might be that rare occasion on which to do something bad so that good may come.

If it works.

RealClear Politics:  A Don Corleone Offer to China on Trade

You don’t have to like tariffs to like President Trump’s strategy of imposing harsh ones on China. Those he imposed overnight are punishing, not only to China but to American consumers. The longer they last, the more they will cost. Yet serious trade sanctions are the only hope of getting Beijing to roll back its abusive economic practices and open its markets to U.S. exporters and investors.

Half measures and paper promises won’t do. The U.S. wants a big deal, and it wants teeth in it to prevent cheating. To get it, Trump is willing to threaten a trade war. We don’t know if it will work.

We do know that Trump’s threats are credible. He began saying how much he loved tariffs long before he ran for office. The irony is that his protectionist stance could pave the way for freer trade, first with China and then with the European Union.

The problems may be clear, but the solutions are not. No previous administration has figured out how to move China away from its discriminatory policies. Sweet talk and generous gestures don’t work. If they did, President Obama would have succeeded, not only with China but with Iran, Russia, and other hostile powers. Empty threats don’t work either. If they did, several administrations would have gotten China to change its trade and investment practices long ago.

These failed policies don’t leave Washington with many options. The U.S. can either accept Chinese protectionism, as Europeans and previous U.S. administrations have, or it can make them an offer they can’t refuse. The terms are obvious:

  • Threaten China’s export-driven economy
  • Make that threat believable and sustainable
  • Offer China a reasonable deal
  • Make it costly for China to delay, and
  • Buttress the deal with tough enforcement mechanisms

Trump is taking the Don Corleone option. He acted swiftly and ruthlessly when Chinese trade negotiators withdrew concessions they had already made in writing. On Friday, he more than doubled tariffs to 25% on some $200 billion worth of Chinese exports, with promises of more to come.

Trump’s decisive move is directed at China’s economy, but it also sends a sobering message to North Korea’s nuclear negotiators. They are bound to see how costly it is to make empty promises to the Trump administration, as Kim Jong Un has done on denuclearization.

President Trump is forcing Xi to choose between two unhappy alternatives. That’s why he has thrown a severed horse head into the bed. Trump wants to force the issue and make it hard to resist the American offer. If he succeeds, he will present the deal as a huge win for both sides.

But dealing like this can have it’s risks, and it’s down sides.

Washington Post – Another View: Multi-front trade wars hurting U.S

News reports identify the Trump administration’s specific complaint as China’s alleged going back on its promises to put U.S.-requested policy changes into law. For their part, Chinese sources have told Western media that Beijing interpreted Trump’s complaints about purportedly tight Federal Reserve monetary policy as a sign of economic weakness that China could exploit.

It’s anyone guess what will come of the current meetings in Washington between China’s trade delegation and Trump’s team. What should not be in doubt, however, is that throughout the entire bargaining process with Beijing, the administration has undercut its position by attempting to wage simultaneous tariff battles with other countries.

As Chad Bown of the Peterson Institute for International Economics has shown, Trump’s tariffs now cover 50.5% of Chinese imports — but also 7.3% of imports from Canada, 2.5% of imports from the European Union, 9.6% of imports from South Korea and 3.8% of imports from Japan.

By bracketing old friends with Beijing, even justifying some levies against them (on steel and aluminum) on “national security” grounds, Trump has made it politically difficult for them to rally to the U.S. side in the dispute with China. They were, in fact, obliged to retaliate.

This unforced error is doubly regrettable because Trump arguably had the upper hand going into his talks with China.

In a world where Trump is deeply unpopular, his complaints — shared by previous U.S. presidents — against China represented a rare case in which other nations conceded him the moral high ground. A savvier president would take advantage of that.

The negotiations with China might yet reach a mutually beneficial conclusion, or they might collapse. Either way, Trump will have defied a lesson of history: Multiple-front wars are the hardest to win, whether they are of the military kind or trade wars.

Fighting without allies is harder still.

But for now the big battle is with China, and much will depend on how they react.

Reuters: Trump says no hurry to reach deal with China as trade war escalates

In a series of morning tweets, Trump defended the tariff hike and said he was in “absolutely no rush” to finalize a deal, adding that the U.S. economy would gain more from the levies than any agreement.

“Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” Trump said in one of the tweets.

Despite Trump’s insistence that China will absorb the cost of the tariffs, U.S. businesses will pay them and likely pass them on to consumers. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Global stocks, which have fallen this week on the increased U.S.-China tensions, came under renewed pressure on Friday.

Following the U.S. tariff hike, China’s Commerce Ministry said it would take countermeasures but did not elaborate.

China’s central bank said it was fully able to cope with any external uncertainty.

China responded to Trump’s tariffs last year with levies on a range of U.S. goods including soybeans and pork, which has hurt U.S. farmers at a time when their debt has spiked to the highest level in decades.

Trump escalated the one way war of words. Much now depends on whether China responds by escalating the war of tariffs.

And how markets deal with the war. CNN: Dow Tanks After Trump’s Ballistic Twitter Rant Shellshocks Wall Street

The Dow’s weeklong catastrophe shows no signs of letting up, as the US stock market endured another shellacking at the hands of Donald Trump and his tariff regime on Friday.

The immediate trigger for Friday’s sell-off was the never-ending trade war teeter-totter, which continues to viciously seesaw between dizzying optimism and utter despair.

Less than a day after hinting that Thursday would be a “very strong day” for US-China trade negotiations, President Trump unleashed a ballistic Twitter rant in which he downplayed the need to “rush” into a trade deal.

Time will tell. Trump has a reputation for overstating his abilities and his tactics. Tweeting may be a useful tool for Trump, but like imposing tariffs it has risks.

What is not well known is how China will be approaching the current situation, as they operate far less publicly.

And a number of US businesses will be nervous about how all this will affect them.

The National (American) Interest and ‘realism’

I don’t know anything about ‘realism’ as far as foreign policy goes, but The National Interest promotes it for the United States.

It is about American interests. It is guided by the belief that nothing will enhance those interests as effectively as the approach to foreign affairs commonly known as realism—a school of thought traditionally associated with such thinkers and statesmen as Disraeli, Bismarck, and Henry Kissinger. Though the shape of international politics has changed considerably in the past few decades, the magazine’s fundamental tenets have not. Instead, they have proven enduring and, indeed, appear to be enjoying something of a popular renaissance.

Until recently, however, liberal hawks and neoconservatives have successfully attempted to stifle debate by arguing that prudence about the use of American power abroad was imprudent—by, in short, disparaging realism as a moribund doctrine that is wholly inimical to American idealism. This has been disastrous.

After the Bush administration’s failure to discover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it became abundantly clear that the lack of a debate in Washington was part and parcel of a larger foreign policy failing, which was the refusal to ponder the larger implications and consequences of the promiscuous use of American power abroad. A reflexive substitution of military might for diplomacy, of bellicose rhetoric for attainable aspirations, dramatically weakened rather than strengthened America’s standing around the globe.

But today, as Russia, China, and Iran assess and act upon their own perceived national interests, Washington must attempt to understand those nations as they understand themselves.

I’m not sure that the US has been very good at understanding other nations, apart from how they can be influenced and manipulated too serve US interests.

What actually constitutes true realism is, of course, an appropriate source of controversy.

I don’t get that.

And so, on both its web site and in its print edition, The National Interest seeks to promote, as far as possible, a fresh debate about the course of American foreign policy by featuring a variety of leading authors from government, journalism, and academia, many of whom may at times disagree with each other.

The National Interest editorial:  Standing Up For Realism

The Center for the National Interest, which was founded by Richard M. Nixon in 1994, is being criticized for its embrace of realist principles, including outreach to Russia based on a combination of diplomatic and military strength.

Realism, long associated with authoritarian European statesmen such as Otto von Bismarck and Klemens von Metternich, has been consistently portrayed as antithetical to American democratic traditions. During the Cold War, statesmen such as Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski were depicted as amoral or even harboring, in the case of the latter, loyalties to Poland rather than America.

But in one form or another, no matter what the detractors may claim, realism is at the very heart of American foreign policy. It is what helped America to emerge as the dominant power after World War II and during the Cold War.

The realist approach served as a bipartisan foundation for Washington’s approach to the world, providing a common framework for identifying threats and defending American interests abroad. Everyone from Harry Truman and Dean Acheson to Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to George H.W. Bush and James Baker espoused a strategic realism that played a decisive role in ending the Cold War on American terms. Even Ronald Reagan, who talked about battling an evil empire, ended up signing sweeping arms control treaties with the Kremlin and consigning the Cold War to the dustbin of history.

These statesmen helped to establish a stable balance of international power that safeguarded Western prosperity and freedom while allowing for the peaceful internal transformation of the Soviet bloc.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, realism fell into disrepute. Headier doctrines that amounted to old wine in new bottles now found favor. The United States found itself alone at the top of the international pyramid and became convinced that its security could be based on transforming non-Western nations in America’s image.

The two major strands of American foreign policy that dominated during the post-Cold War period—neo-conservatism and liberal internationalism—may have disputed the appropriate mix of force and diplomatic persuasion, but they were united in pursuing a missionary foreign policy.

This approach has failed. It has led to debilitating wars in the Middle East that have sapped America’s treasury. It has helped turn competitors into enemies. Regions that once enjoyed the strategic benefits of a balance of power have been thrown into disorder and disarray. The world order that prevailed in 1989 is now in shambles.

I don’t think the ‘world order’ that prevailed in 1989 was very flash either.

The Center for the National Interest has consistently challenged liberal international and neocon thinking to advocate a foreign policy based on a prudent combination of diplomacy, economic and military strength to defend American national interests.

Realism is asserting US power by any means available?

Who got it right? The answer seems self-evident. But at the very moment that realist doctrines should be ascendant, a media backlash is taking place that is directly targeting the Center, principally for its pursuit of a dialogue with Russia. The idea seems to be that it is illegitimate, even unpatriotic, to advocate anything that defies foreign policy conventional wisdom.

Dialogue amongst major powers is important. The US should talk to Russia to try to work out how to co-exist peacefully and prosperously.

To be sure, previous foreign policy debates, whether over Vietnam or the second Iraq War, have been marked by fierce vitriol. But those debates took place within a commonly agreed framework of seeking to advance American interests. Today, the debates have curdled into vitriol and character assassination, pure and simple.

That’s where US politics has seemed to have evolved to. It doesn’t help that the President repeatedly sets an example using vitriol and character assassination, but he seems to have avoided that with Russia, instead heaping praise on Putin  – or at least his talks with Putin. Actually he has just had a phone conversation with Putin.

Reuters also quote him as saying “Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia. As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing”.

It is a good thing if the US gets along with Russia and China, and peace seems to be working fairly well, except in Afghanistan where the Taliban is increasing it’s influence, and in Syria where Russian influence increases as the US tries to work it’s way out of the complications there.

Reuters:  Trump says he, Putin discussed new nuclear pact possibly including China

U.S. President Donald Trump said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed on Friday the possibility of a new accord limiting nuclear arms that could eventually include China in what would be a major deal between the globe’s top three atomic powers.

Trump, speaking to reporters as he met in the Oval Office with Peter Pellegrini, prime minister of the Slovak Republic, also said he and Putin discussed efforts to persuade North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, the political discord in Venezuela, and Ukraine during a call that stretched over an hour.

Trump cited the expense of keeping up the U.S. nuclear arsenal as a motivating factor behind wanting to limit how many weapons are deployed.

“We’re talking about a nuclear agreement where we make less and they make less and maybe where we get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now,” he said.

Trump said China during trade talks had “felt very strongly” about joining the United States and Russia in limiting nuclear weapons.

“So I think we’re going to probably start up something very shortly between Russia and ourselves maybe to start off, and I think China will be added down the road. We’ll be talking about non-proliferation, we’ll be talking about a nuclear deal of some kind, and I think it’ll be a very comprehensive one,” he said.

The Kremlin said the call was initiated by Washington. It said the two leaders agreed to maintain contacts on different levels and expressed satisfaction with the “businesslike and constructive nature” of the conversation.

But the the reality is, it’s not simple:

The two leaders discussed Ukraine. Trump canceled a summit meeting with Putin late last year after Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships on Nov. 25 and arrested 24 sailors. Putin also told Trump that the new leadership in Ukraine should take steps to solve the Ukrainian crisis, the Kremlin said.

With the United States concerned about a Russian military presence in Venezuela at a time when Washington wants Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, Trump told Putin “the United States stands with the people of Venezuela” and stressed he wanted to get relief supplies into the country, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.

Putin told Trump that any external interference in Venezuela’s internal business undermines the prospects of a political end to the crisis, the Kremlin said.

Trump also raised with Putin the issue of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Trump has met twice with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but Kim has yet to agree to a disarmament deal.

Putin has just had talks with Kim Yong Un. NY Times: After Meeting Kim Jong-un, Putin Supports North Korea on Nuclear Disarmament

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia made a public show of support for North Korea on nuclear disarmament, seeming to undermine President Trump’s approach to nuclear diplomacy, as Mr. Putin and Kim Jong-un on Thursday wrapped up their first summit meeting.

Russian officials have long insisted they wanted to support Mr. Trump’s efforts at one-on-one nuclear negotiations with Mr. Kim, the North Korean leader. But speaking to reporters after the meeting in Vladivostok, on Russia’s Pacific Ocean coast, Mr. Putin said that North Korea needs security guarantees from more nations than just the United States before abandoning its nuclear arsenal.

At talks in February in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Mr. Trump had proposed a “big deal” to lift punishing economic sanctions in return for a quick and complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Kim offered, instead, only a partial dismantling of nuclear facilities — while keeping his arsenal of nuclear warheads and missiles — in exchange for relief from the most harmful sanctions.

After the breakdown in talks in Hanoi, North Korea vented its frustration with a weapons test and accusations that Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, were sabotaging negotiations.

But since then (Reuters):  North Korea fires ‘projectiles’, South Korea says stop raising tensions

North Korea fired several “unidentified short-range projectiles” into the sea off its east coast on Saturday, prompting South Korea to call on its communist neighbor to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula”.

Analysts suspected the flurry of military activity by Pyongyang was an attempt to exert pressure on the United States to give ground in negotiations to end the North’s nuclear program after a summit in February ended in failure.

I’m not sure where Realism fits in here.

 

 

 

Insights into the rise of the alt-right in the US

Some people involved in radical politics and extreme social activism can change. And repent. And good people need to stand up against those deliberately promoting bad stuff.

Katie McHugh’s story gives some insights into the rise of the alt-right white nationalist movement in the Unites States.

“Get Out While You Can” – A Former Alt-Right Member’s Message: Get Out While You Still Can

Once notorious for her racist and bigoted tweets, Katie McHugh saw the dark insides of the white nationalist movement.

Examples of past tweets:

“The only way to strike a balance between vigilance, discrimination, (& terror) is to end Muslim immigration.”

“Funny how Europeans assimilated, unlike Third Worlders demanding welfare while raping, killing Americans.”

“There would be no deadly terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn’t live there.”

An intruduction:

I didn’t know what to make of her. This was someone whom I’d known to be a bigot, someone who freely threw around the “cuck” slur and who represented the kind of ideology I have devoted much of my career so far to explaining and exposing. It was a little over a year after Charlottesville. The bad things from the internet had started to come to life, with terrible, violent, and real consequences. It was bizarre to see in person someone who had existed for me only as an online symbol of the very worst parts of contemporary politics.

She was saying she wanted to leave it all behind: her years as a far-right media figure and tweeter, and someone who close observers of right-wing media knew was one of Breitbart’s most obvious connections to the white supremacist core of the alt-right.

McHugh had dated Kevin DeAnna, the founder of Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct right-wing campus youth group that billed itself as promoting “the survival of Western Civilization and pride in Western heritage,” but was entwined with the white nationalist movement; Jared Taylor, the self-described “white advocate” founder of American Renaissance, once fundraised for the group.

Her disparaging tweets about people of color and Muslims made her stand out even at Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, which had launched Milo Yiannopoulos’s career, had featured a “black crime” tag for stories, and had been described by Bannon himself as a “platform for the alt-right.”

Her story is fascinating, and sometimes frustrating. She wishes she had never said the things she’s said or did the things she’s done, but when I first met her, she still insisted that they were often jokes gone wrong and that, on some level, she’d said these things because she’d been egged on by others. She seemed unable to face her full complicity in her own behavior.

Where was McHugh radicalized? Her story is about support systems and pipelines. It’s about how an angry young conservative with reactionary views got herself involved with a small coterie of ideologues in Washington and prepped for a conservative media career in the crucial years before the rise of Donald Trump, as extremism became more popular on the right and as people could optimize themselves for success through attention on social media.

It’s about how the organizations she worked for either turned a blind eye to or were genuinely ignorant of the fact that one of their young stars was leading a double life among hardcore racist activists. And it’s about how the cultlike atmosphere of the so-called alt-right helped people make more and more harmful decisions.

Her story is also about something that has ended. The events she described to me took place mostly between 2013 and 2017, a span of time in which the alt-right rose and fell dramatically as it attempted to go mainstream.

“I take responsibility for all my actions,” McHugh says now. “Everything I said that was terrible was my fault.” She says she knows she was a racist. She says that she has changed. And she’s ready to tell everything she knows.

A lengthy insight into her alt-right involvement follows.

In conclusion:

This titillating group shame is what McHugh thinks motivated her and the rest of the alt-right. And it allowed them to keep going even in the face of overwhelming social opprobrium.

“They indulge in negative social rituals, and that’s how their ties are bound tighter and tighter together,” she said. “By repeating these negative social rituals, they build tighter bonds with each other over ideology and shared experience. That’s why it’s hard for a lot of people to break out because they mistake these people for their friends.”

I see aspects of this here in New Zealand, on Twitter and Facebook, in Whale Oil posts and comments and in Kiwiblog comments. Familiar tactics, familiar phrasing, but these are loose associations, a sort of mob effort but encouraged on Whale Oil and pushed by individuals on Twitter and Facebook.

Knowing exactly what to do with McHugh isn’t easy; but the point is more what she is able to do, not what society is supposed to do for her. She said terrible things and helped empower a destructive social and political movement. She was part of a group of people who took advantage of others’ trust and obliviousness to smuggle racists into polite society.

Now, she says, she’s changed. She knows that many people won’t believe that she has. “That’s why I’m saying I take full responsibility for everything I said, every mistake I made, anyone who I hurt in this process, period,” she told me last year.

At age 28, she has made herself unemployable in the career field she chose — even on its fringes. She perpetually struggles to support herself financially. It’s easy to see how someone in McHugh’s position might regret the path she took that got her here. Would she regret it if she still had friends, still had a writing job?

McHugh has a message for the people on a similar path, though, one that can be considered regardless of whether you believe she’s actually changed.

“People like me should be given a chance to recognize how bad this is and that the alt-right is not a replacement for any kind of liberal democracy whatsoever, any kind of system; they have no chance, and they’re just harmful,” McHugh said.

“There is forgiveness, there is redemption. You have to own up to what you did and then forcefully reject this and explain to people and tell your story and say, ‘Get out while you can.’”

Exposure by people like who have been a part of the alt-right and promoters of white nationalism like McHugh help explains what has been happening, and may deter some or prompt them to get out while they can, but it won’t stop the sort of extremism that has used alternate media and social media to try to drive up hate and division, and to try to precipitate a sort of clash of civilisations

It is mostly still a sort of an uncivil war of words, but the Christchurch mosque massacres show that it can become far more damaging through the efforts of a single person encouraged by a toxic ideology.

On a world scale at this stage it is more isolated and less of a threat than radical Islamic terrorism, but in New Zealand it is a big deal. The death toll from the Christchurch attacks has just risen to 51.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke (include good women in that).

 

“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”

Partisan posturing over Donald Trump’s partial exoneration by the Robert Mueller report has dominated attention, but I think the most important aspect of the investigation has been sadly sideline. The report stated that “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” That should alarm people cross the divided US political spectrum.

New York Times editorial: The Mueller Report and the Danger Facing American Democracy

The report of the special counsel Robert Mueller leaves considerable space for partisan warfare over the role of President Trump and his political campaign in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But one conclusion is categorical: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

The Justice Department’s indictment of 13 Russians and three companies in February 2018 laid bare much of the sophisticated Russian campaign to blacken the American democratic process and support the Trump campaign, including the theft of American identities and creation of phony political organizations to fan division on immigration, religion or race. The extensive hacks of Hillary Clinton’s campaign emails and a host of other dirty tricks have likewise been exhaustively chronicled.

But Russia’s interference in the campaign was the core issue that Mr. Mueller was appointed to investigate, and if he stopped short of accusing the Trump campaign of overtly cooperating with the Russians — the report mercifully rejects speaking of “collusion,” a term that has no meaning in American law — he was unequivocal on Russia’s culpability:

“First, the Office determined that Russia’s two principal interference operations in the 2016 U.S. presidential election — the social media campaign and the hacking-and-dumping operations — violated U.S. criminal law.”

The first part of the report, which describes these crimes, is worthy of a close read. Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States.

Despite a thick patchwork of redactions, it details serious and dangerous actions against the United States that Mr. Trump, for all his endless tweeting and grousing about the special counsel’s investigation, has never overtly confronted, acknowledged, condemned or comprehended. Culpable or not, he must be made to understand that a foreign power that interferes in American elections is, in fact, trying to distort American foreign policy and national security.

It isn’t all about Trump. Far more importantly, it has been about the integrity of US democracy.

But Trump seems to see his win in the election as all important and he claims that to be on his merits alone and does not want credit attributed to the Russians (the lack of merit of Hillary Clinton was also a significant factor).

The earliest interference described in the report was a social media campaign intended to fan social rifts in the United States, carried out by an outfit funded by an oligarch known as “Putin’s chef” for the feasts he catered. Called the Internet Research Agency, the unit actually sent agents to the United States to gather information at one point.

What the unit called “information warfare” evolved by 2016 into an operation targeted at favoring Mr. Trump and disparaging Mrs. Clinton. This included posing as American people or grass-roots organizations such as the Tea Party, anti-immigration groups, Black Lives Matter and others to buy political ads or organize political rallies.

At the same time, the report said, the cyberwarfare arm of the Russian army’s intelligence service opened another front, hacking the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee and releasing reams of damaging materials through the front groups DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, and later through WikiLeaks.

The releases were carefully timed for impact — emails stolen from the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, were released less than an hour after the “Access Hollywood” tape damaging to Mr. Trump came out.

A carefully and deliberately orchestrated campaign. Whether there was any collusion or not between Russia and the Trump campaign, there were plenty of interactions that should be concerning.

All this activity, the report said, was accompanied by the well documented efforts to contact the Trump campaign through business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for Mr. Trump to meet Mr. Putin and plans for improved American-Russian relations. Both sides saw potential gains, the report said — Russia in a Trump presidency, the campaign from the stolen information.

The Times documented 140 contacts between Mr. Trump and his associates and Russian nationals and WikiLeaks or their intermediaries. But the Mueller investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

That is the part Mr. Trump sees as vindication, though the activities of his chaotic campaign team that the report describes are — at best — naïve.

With an absence of evidence of direct collusion it looks to me to be more like separate campaigns with a common purpose, with some opportunistic use of each other’s efforts.

It is obviously difficult for this president to acknowledge that he was aided in his election by Russia, and there is no way to gauge with any certainty how much impact the Russian activities actually had on voters.

But the real danger that the Mueller report reveals is not of a president who knowingly or unknowingly let a hostile power do dirty tricks on his behalf, but of a president who refuses to see that he has been used to damage American democracy and national security.

I think that it is pointless trying to rely on Trump addressing this. But this is what US authorities, and the US Congress and the Senate should now be focussing on – especially, how to prevent this sort of foreign interference from happening to the same degree again.

A perceived victory for Russian interference poses a serious danger to the United States. Already, several American agencies are working, in partnership with the tech industry, to prevent election interference going forward. But the Kremlin is not the only hostile government mucking around in America’s cyberspace — China and North Koreaare two others honing their cyber-arsenals, and they, too, could be tempted to manipulate partisan strife for their ends.

That is something neither Republicans nor Democrats should allow. The two parties may not agree on Mr. Trump’s culpability, but they have already found a measure of common ground with the sanctions they have imposed on Russia over its interference in the campaign.

Now they could justify the considerable time and expense of the special counsel investigation, and at the same time demonstrate that the fissure in American politics is not terminal, by jointly making clear to Russia and other hostile forces that the democratic process, in the United States and its allies, is strictly off limits to foreign clandestine manipulation, and that anyone who tries will pay a heavy price.

Trump is a problem, but he has been largely a distraction from a bigger and more important problem. The integrity of the US democratic system is at stake, and a lot of repair work is required for that to regain credibility.

 

 

 

The greatest economic transformation in US history as they slide into a veiled aristocratic system

One person writes that the US is undergoing the greatest economic transformation in their history (and that must impact on the world economy), and another writes that chronic disempowerment represents a threat to their democracy.

Andrew Yang: We’re undergoing the greatest economic transformation in our history

For Americans who are still trying to figure out why Trump is President, the answer is simple — we automated away millions of manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, and Trump spoke directly to the fear and anger of those voters. He promised them that he would restore those jobs — a promise on which he has notably failed to deliver.

Here’s the reality, though: The financial crisis of 2008 brought our 14 million manufacturing jobs (itself a low plateau from the 17 million in 2000) down to 11.4 million, and 10 years of expansion has only brought us back up to 12.8 million.

But what happened to manufacturing workers will soon happen to retail workers, call center workers, fast food workers, truck drivers and others, as the next Industrial Revolution takes hold of our economy.

Bain, a leading consulting firm, projects automation will disrupt jobs at about three times the rate of the Second Industrial Revolution, which sparked thousands of strikes and mass riots at the turn of the 20th century.

If you doubt that this is already happening, consider that America’s labor participation rate (the ratio of people who are working compared to the total population aged 16 and over) today has fallen to 63%, about the same level as Ecuador and Costa Rica.

For the US labor participation peaked around the turn of the millennium at just over 67% and largely declined through to 2013 and has been fluctuated mostly below 63% since then, so it isn’t a recent fall. See Civilian labor force participation rate

New Zealand’s recent trend in labour force participation rate is different, rising from 68.8% in January 2016 to level off at about 70.8-71% in mid 2017.

In the US, almost one out of five prime, working age men have not worked in the past year, and our life expectancy has declined for the past three years, in part due to surges in drug overdoses and suicides.

This is before a projected 33% of American malls and retail stores may be forced to shutter their doors, and it might not be long before truck drivers are replaced with self-driving trucks.

Malls and retail stores are being impacted by online sales.

But here’s the reality: We are undergoing the greatest economic transformation in our history, and we are dealing with it by pretending nothing is happening.

We need to wake up to the fact that it is not immigrants who are causing economic dislocations. It is technology and an evolving economy that is pushing more and more Americans to the sidelines.

Further, according to Marianne Williamson, it is pushing many people under – America is becoming an aristocracy

And many of the richest financial aristocrats are tech company owners.

While I have spent my career empowering people and turning them into leaders, Washington has been disempowering people and turning them into followers. The stress and anxiety that has become so endemic in American society, due to chronic economic and social despair, has fostered a population disconnected from civic engagement. Today, this chronic disempowerment represents a threat to our democracy.

Relatively few Americans have abused their rights at the expense of the many, turning the US government into their own personal playground. From tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest among us, to corporate subsidies that aid industries (oil, big pharma, agribusiness, etc.) already profiting to the tune of billions, money has been sliding for decades away from expenditures that support the public good to expenditures that support the lucky few.

Though American politicians continues to say we are a democracy, we are sliding ever more dangerously into a veiled aristocratic system. The mindset of the new aristocracy has not only imbued our politics — it has hijacked America’s value system, leading us to swerve from our democratic and deep human values. We have forgotten that public morality even matters.

We need to remind ourselves that economic injustice is a moral transgression. Neglecting the medical, educational and social needs of millions of people so that a few can swell their bank accounts is a moral transgression. And until we bring our political policies back into alignment with our moral core, then nothing will fundamentally heal this country.

Politics in the US has been dominated by huge amounts of money and rich lobbyists for a long time, but the democratic process has is now under serious threat from the use of technology to manipulate elections and opinion, with serious efforts being made to divide and conquer.

Financial favouritism has helped the rich get richer, but that has been at the expense of millions of Americans suffering from inferior education, health services and living conditions.

If the third (and claimed to be the greatest) industrial revolution reduces employment opportunities and levels further, and more drastically, then the divide will get worse.

There is no sign of political leadership or will to address this.

Our situation in New Zealand is on a much smaller scale, but we are also vulnerable. We also have political leadership that is talking as if they understand at least some of the problems of financial inequity, but they haven’t yet done much to address it. There is a lot of interest on what will be delivered in next month’s ‘well-being’ focussed budget.

Growing warnings about world economic outlook

In general the world economy has recovered and prospered since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, but there are growing warnings that the bubble might at least slow down. There is always a risk of it bursting.

International Monetary Fund:  World Economic Outlook, April 2019 Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

After strong growth in 2017 and early 2018, global economic activity slowed notably in the second half of last year, reflecting a confluence of factors affecting major economies.

China’s growth declined following a combination of needed regulatory tightening to rein in shadow banking and an increase in trade tensions with the United States.

The euro area economy lost more momentum than expected as consumer and business confidence weakened and car production in Germany was disrupted by the introduction of new emission standards; investment dropped in Italy as sovereign spreads widened; and external demand, especially from emerging Asia, softened.

Elsewhere, natural disasters hurt activity in Japan. Trade tensions increasingly took a toll on business confidence and, so, financial market sentiment worsened, with financial conditions tightening for vulnerable emerging markets in the spring of 2018 and then in advanced economies later in the year, weighing on global demand.

Conditions have eased in 2019 as the US Federal Reserve signalled a more accommodative monetary policy stance and markets became more optimistic about a US–China trade deal, but they remain slightly more restrictive than in the fall.

Greg Jericho (Guardian Australia): The outlook for the global economy goes from bright to precarious

At the start of last year things were looking almost upbeat. The title of the IMF’s January update, Brighter Prospects, Optimistic Markets, Challenges Ahead, is economic speak for “cripes, aren’t we all a bit unusually happy!”. By April 2018 the title had become “Cyclical Upswing, Structural Change”, which again spoke of economic sunshine, even if it did warn of the need to adjust to the post-GFC world.

By the middle of last year the July update was warning “Less Even Expansion, Rising Trade Tensions”, and the October outlook was a decidedly measured if still somewhat neutral, “Challenges to Steady Growth”.

But with this new year, all neutrality has disappeared. The January update stated it plain: “A Weakening Global Expansion”. And just in case you had not caught their drift, the latest outlook, released this week, was headed, “Growth Slowdown, Precarious Recovery

From brighter prospect to precarious recovery in less than two years. Hope you enjoyed that moment of economic joy while it lasted.

The decline is across roughly 70% of the world’s economies, with the IMF blaming the “escalation of US–China trade tensions”, troubles in the “auto sector in Germany” plus “tighter credit policies in China, and financial tightening alongside the normalization of monetary policy in the larger advanced economies.”

In effect the structural changes and rising trade tensions warned in previous outlooks all came to pass.

Financial Times:  US consumer sentiment misses view as economic outlook softens

US consumer sentiment dipped in April as consumers’ economic outlook weakened and as they thought “stimulative impact” of the tax overhaul “has run its course”.

The University of Michigan’s preliminary consumer sentiment survey slid to 96.9 in April, from 98.4 the previous month. That missed analysts’ expectations for a drop to 98, according to a Thomson Reuters survey of economists.

Despite the modest decline, sentiment over the past 30 months remains higher than any other time since the 1997-2000 US economic expansion, as consumer confidence “continued its sideways shuffle in early April”, the report noted.

The report also showed the impact of the 2018 US tax overhaul on consumer sentiment has “all but disappeared”. The decline in consumer confidence follows the best first quarter for the S&P 500 in 21 years but comes amid uncertainty about the US economic outlook. The report showed the index of consumer expectations about the future fell to 85.8 — its lowest level in more than a year — from 88.8 the previous month.

Officials at the Federal Reserve have outlined “significant uncertainties” over the US and global economic outlook, according to the minutes of the central bank’s latest meeting, with some officials stressing their outlook could “shift in either direction”.

The Newyorker: The High-Stakes Battle Between Donald Trump and the Federal Reserve

For months now, Trump has been publicly railing against the Fed. In private, Bloomberg reported, he has been asking his aides if he can fire Powell, a sixty-six-year-old Republican banker who was confirmed at the start of last year. (According to legal experts, the question is a murky one.) On Friday, Trump again defied the convention that the President stays out of monetary policy, calling on Powell and his colleagues to cut interest rates in order to boost the economy.

Referring to the rate hikes that the Fed introduced last year, which were the source of his animus toward Powell, Trump said, “I think they really slowed us down.” Trump’s senior economic adviser in the White House, Larry Kudlow, has also called for a rate cut.

In addition to jawboning the Fed, Trump has moved to exert more control over its deliberations by announcing his intention to nominate two of his ardent political supporters to its board of directors: Stephen Moore, a conservative commentator who served as an economic adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, and Herman Cain, a Republican businessman who ran for President, in 2012.

Ignoring widespread criticism that neither Moore nor Cain is remotely qualified to sit on the Fed’s board, Kudlow said on Sunday that Trump is standing behind both of them. “We have two open seats,” he told CNN. “The President has every right in the world to nominate people who share his economic philosophy.”

Business Insider: Trump’s pick of former pizza-chain CEO Herman Cain for the Federal Reserve already looks like it could crash and burn

It’s been less than a week since President Donald Trump announced the selection of Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, for the Federal Reserve Board. The outlook already doesn’t look good for the potential nomination.

Washington Post: Four Senate Republicans signal opposition to Trump’s plan to put Herman Cain on Federal Reserve Board, all but sinking nomination

A swift defection of at least four Senate Republicans has all but doomed Herman Cain’s chances of winning a seat on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, a striking rebuke to President Trump in his drive to remake the powerful U.S. central bank.

The rapid rejection of Cain — a 2012 GOP presidential candidate — pauses Trump’s effort to remold the central bank into a more political body with outspoken individuals who share his views. It also reflects a growing unease among Senate Republicans with the way Trump has tried to bend the institution to his will in the past six months.

Trump has jawboned Fed officials and pushed them to slash interest rates and flood the economy with cheap money, even though during his presidential campaign he accused the central bank of creating a “big, fat, ugly bubble.”

So uncertainty in the US doesn’t help.

RNZ Robertson: NZ economy well placed to handle impact of global downturn

The IMF is predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries in the face of a delicate moment for the global economy, Finance Minister Grant Robertson says.

Two days ago the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for world economic growth this year as the global economy slowed more than expected, raising risks of a sharp downturn.

The impact of trade tensions between the United States and China and issues in Europe, including Brexit and some poorer performing economies among EU member countries, were among key risks contributing to a “delicate moment” for the global economy, IMF chief economist Gita Gopinath said.

In its third downgrade since October, the IMF said the global economy will likely grow 3.3 percent this year, the slowest expansion since 2016. The forecast cut 0.2 percentage points from the IMF’s outlook in January.

The projected growth rate for next year was unchanged at 3.6 percent.

Mr Robertson, who is at IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, told Morning Report the IMF was predicting New Zealand’s growth rates will be well ahead of other OECD countries.

However, with economies slowing down in other parts of the world, there would be an impact for New Zealand as a small trading nation. The economy remained strong with sound fundamentals, including relatively low debt, low unemployment, and surpluses in the 2018 Budget.

So while the New Zealand outlook is relatively good any slowdown elsewhere in the world, especially the US, Australia (which is looking shaky) and China, will have a negative impact here.

Trump recognises Israel’s annexation of Golan Heights

Sovereign over the Golan Heights has been a contentious issue in the Middle East since Israel captured two thirds of the area from Syria in the Six Day War in 1967, and effectively annexed in 1981.

Donald Trump has earned praise from the embattled President Netanyahu by recognising Israeli sovereignty, the only country to do so, but could stir up tensions again in the Middle East.

Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the western two-thirds of the Golan Heights has been occupied and administered by Israel.

From 2012 to 2018, the eastern Golan Heights became a scene of repeated battles between the Syrian Arab Army, rebel factions of the Syrian opposition including the moderate Southern Front, jihadist al-Nusra Front, and ISIL-affiliated factions. In July 2018, the Syrian government regained control of the eastern Golan Heights.

Construction of Israeli settlements began in the remainder of the territory held by Israel, which was under military administration until Israel passed the Golan Heights Law extending Israeli law and administration throughout the territory in 1981.

his move was condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 497, which stated that “the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect”, and Resolution 242, which emphasises “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war”. Israel maintains it has a right to retain the Golan, also citing the text of UN Resolution 242, which calls for “safe and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golan_Heights

Washington Examiner – Trump: Time for US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights

The announcement comes just weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facingpotential criminal corruption charges, is up for re-election. Netanyahu, who has leaned heavily on Trump’s support, praised the announcement Thursday.

Speaking beside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for recognizing the region.

“President Trump has just made history. He did it again. First, he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the U.S. embassy here, then he pulled out of the disastrous Iran treaty and re-imposed sanctions, but now he did something of equal historic importance.”

Haaretz: Trump Signs Order Recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli Territory

In a joint press conference, Trump said: “We do not want to see another attack like the one suffered this morning north of Tel Aviv,” adding: “Our relationship is powerful.” Trump then said: “We will confront the poison of anti-Semitism.”

Netanyahu said he brought Trump a “box of the finest wine from the Golan Heights.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the proclamation, calling Trump “a true friends of the State of Israel.” Opposition head Shelly Yacimovich, as well as Labor chairman Avi Gabbay, also commended the move.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the decision a “blatant attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria on Monday, in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.

In a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Netanyahu said, “We feel that it’s a Purim miracle, President Trump made history today.” According to Netanyahu, “Trump recognized Israel’s sovereignty in the Golan Heights at a time when Iran is trying to use it as a platform to destroy Israel.”

The move by Trump caused an instant international uproar of protests: under international law, the Golan Heights are considered to be Syrian territory occupied by Israel, like East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel captured the Golan Heights, which is populated by around 25.000 Druze, in 1967 and de facto annexed the territory in a 1981 law.

After the Trump tweet, a European Union spokesperson in Israel told Haaretz the EU will not change its position regarding the Golan Heights in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration. Representatives of Russia, Turkey, multiple actors in the Arab world including Palestinians and Syrians also condemned the move.

Washington Examiner – Netanyahu to Trump: ‘Israel has never had a better friend than you’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Trump on Monday that “Israel has never had a better friend than you”.

“Mr. President, over the years Israel has been blessed to have many friends who have sat in the Oval Office. But Israel has never had a better friend than you. You have showed this time and again,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu, thanking Trump, said of the formerly Syrian Golan Heights: “We hold the high ground and we shall never give it up.”

Al Jazeera: Why Trump recognised Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights

While the US decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights is primarily being explained away with geopolitics, it, in fact, has much more to do with US domestic politics. With this move, President Donald Trump aims to cement the gradual shift in partisan support of Israel from the Democrats to the Republicans and rally evangelical Christians around his presidency.

He chose to sign the Golan Heights sovereignty decree on March 25 as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main Israel lobby group in the United States, was holding its annual conference in Washington. This year, the event took place against the backdrop of Democratic House Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments criticising the lobby and the decision of a number of Democratic presidential candidates to boycott it.

Trump and members of his administration took the opportunity to attack the Democratic Party, with Vice President Mike Pence rebuking the Democratic party for being “afraid to stand with the strongest supporters of Israel in America”.

A few days earlier, Trump was even more explicit: “I don’t know what happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they are anti-Jewish.”

The White House is purposefully feeding a narrative that the Democrats’ commitment to Israel is wavering and that there are growing signs of what one former Trump campaign aide has called “Jexodus” – the supposed exodus of American Jews from the Democratic camp, which they have traditionally supported, to the Republican one.

There has always been a complex political symmetry between Israeli and US politics. Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never got along with two liberal US presidents; Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. However, Trump is the gift that keeps on giving.

The current collusion between right-wing leaders in both the US and Israel is unprecedented and is marginalising the left in both countries and pushing back against what they perceive as liberal institutions, most notably the media and the judiciary branch. Trump hopes to use this alliance to engineer a sway to the right in US politics, similar to the one in Israel.

While political decisions favouring Israel are certainly boosting Trump’s and Netanyahu’s chances of re-election, they are conflicting with other US objectives in the Middle East. Pompeo’s March 22 visit to Beirut, for example, was eclipsed by Trump’s decision on the Golan Heights, which undermined his call on local political forces to deter Hezbollah.

The Trump-Netanyahu alliance is putting Arab allies of Washington in a difficult position, as unconditional US “gifts” to Israel are increasingly antagonising the Arab public. These policy distractions undertaken by the Trump administration are undermining the US’s attempt to deter Iran and are in many ways helping Tehran’s anti-US narrative.

The growing alliance between the US evangelicals and the Israeli right is polarising US and Middle East politics and, while it may secure short-term electoral gains for Trump and Netanyahu, in the long term, it may prove disastrous.

Dina Badie (Channel NewsAsia):  Why Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory matters

Trump is popular in Israel, particularly after recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocating the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently using the American president’s photos in his re-election campaign posters to take advantage of this.

In fact, some analysts and reporters have suggested that the timing of this announcement was politically calculated to bolster Netanyahu’s campaign in the upcoming Israeli elections on Apr 9.

So claims that both Trump and Netanyahu see election advantages foe themselves over the move by Trump.

I expect that the decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights will run into the same difficulties that afflicted the Trump administration’s change in policy with regards to Jerusalem for two reasons.

First, it reverses decades of consistent US policy that demanded any territorial recognition come as a result of direct negotiations, rather than unilateral declarations.

Second, it runs counter to international law, which does not recognise Israeli sovereignty over territories occupied during the 1967 War.

To be sure, Trump’s move is a symbolic, rather than legal, gesture. But given the dimensions of America’s global influence, US recognition could lend some legitimacy to Israel’s controversial annexation policy.

And I believe Trump’s approach to contentious issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict will further undermine the US government’s claim to be an honest broker. In my view, it makes peace in the Middle East less likely.

And claims that there could be flow on effects of this move by Trump.

Heather Timmons (Quartz): Why Trump’s Golan Heights move should worry India and Taiwan

By ignoring the United Nations charter pledge to refrain from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state,” Trump is putting the future of other long-disputed territory in jeopardy, foreign policy experts say.

“It sets a terrible precedent,” said Edward Goldberg, a professor with New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “If the US doesn’t recognize international law as the ‘cop,’ then who does?,” he said.

“What if China goes into Taiwan tomorrow, isn’t that the same thing?,” Goldberg said, “or Pakistan into Kashmir?”

Russia’s neighbors may also be affected. Russia has already called outUS “hypocrisy” over sanctions related to the Russian annexation of Crimea, notes Stacie Goddard, a professor of political science at Wellesley College.

“In the short run, this is most likely to bolster Russia’s confidence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” the breakaway territories that were once part of Georgia, but now supported by Russian military.

Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and the United Nations immediately condemned Trump’s proclamation, and the UN declared Israel’s annexation of the area “null and void.”

Stephen Blank (The Hill): Trump’s Golan Heights announcement will backfire for Netanyahu — and US

While the military situation in the Golan has not changed, Trump’s decision fundamentally alters the political context there. Rather than enhancing Israeli security this decision actually diminishes it. Trump’s statements have made it impossible for any future Syrian government, not only Bashear Assad’s regime, to make peace with Israel. No Syrian regime of any stripe will accept Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights leading to Damascus.

Moreover, Israeli annexation of the Golan furnishes an ideal and enduring pretext for Iran, and its client forces like Hezbollah, to stay in Syria to defend against the “Israeli threat.”

Thus, Iranian forces and terrorists associated with them will not only stay in Syria and threaten Israeli forces and civilians in the Golan and Israel proper, their belief in their cause and their recruitment will grow, causing major new security challenges and costs to Israel.

Likewise, it also furnishes an outstanding pretext for Moscow to strengthen its military bases in Syria. That also challenges U.S. and NATO forces in the Mediterranean. This will make Moscow even more resolute about trying to undermine U.S. policy across the entire Middle East and Africa as it is now doing with visible success.

Clearly, the U.S. has no viable strategy for building peace in the Middle East or for confronting the Palestinian or Iranian challengers to peace.

Nothing is simple in the Middle East. I think it’s difficult to predict what effect Trump’s recognition of the annexation of the Golan Heights will have, but it is unlikely to improve peace prospects.

Blatantly intervening in Israel’s politics ahead of an election, we have undercut our argument to everyone else that Russia (and implicitly China) must be countered because they interfere in our and our allies’ domestic politics. Here again, we have sacrificed principle for expediency and given our opponents the means to stigmatize our policy as being hypocritical.

Like Russia, the US is guilty of trying to influence and interfere in elections around the world for a long time.

Cynical politics rules.

North Korea restoring missile site, threats of further sanctions from US

The meeting in Vietnam last wee between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un ended abruptly last week, with a luncheon and signing ceremony cancelled.

Now relations between North Korea and US seem to be deteriorating.

Wall Street Journal –  North Korean Launch Site Is Being Built Back Up Again

Disclosure comes in the wake of failed U.S.-North Korean summit in Hanoi last week

North Korea is restoring a missile launch site it previously claimed to be dismantling as an overture to the U.S., according to newly released commercial satellite photos and people briefed on South Korean intelligence.

The move has sparked concerns that North Korea may be wavering on some of the gestures it made to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Reuters – U.S. will look at ramping up sanctions if North Korea does not denuclearize: Bolton

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Tuesday that the United States would look at ramping up sanctions on North Korea if Pyongyang did not scrap its nuclear weapons program.

Bolton told Fox Business Network that following the Hanoi summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Washington would see whether Pyongyang was committed to giving up its “nuclear weapons program and everything associated with it.”

“If they’re not willing to do it, then I think President Trump has been very clear … they’re not going to get relief from the crushing economic sanctions that have been imposed on them and we’ll look at ramping those sanctions up in fact,” said Bolton, a hardliner who has advocated a tough approach to North Korea in the past.

His comments came days after the Feb. 27-28 denuclearization summit between Trump and Kim broke down over differences on how far North Korea was willing to limit its nuclear program and the degree of U.S. willingness to ease sanctions.

Earlier on Tuesday, two U.S. think tanks and South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported that North Korea had restored part of a missile launch site it began to dismantle after pledging to do so in the first summit with Trump last year.

Yonhap quoted lawmakers briefed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) as saying that the work was taking place at the Tongchang-ri launch site and involved replacing a roof and a door at the facility.

Satellite images seen by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, showed that structures on the launch pad had been rebuilt sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2, Jenny Town, managing editor at the project and an analyst at the Stimson Center think tank, told Reuters.

That alleged rebuilding was taking place in the lead up to the meeting between Trump and Kim in Hanoi.

It looks like peace in Korea may be more difficult to achieve that Trump anticipated, but North Korea’s history suggests it was always going to be difficult.

Clinton rules out 2020 run for presidency a win for Putin?

Hillary Clinton has ruled out another run for the US presidency in 2020. This may be seen as a win for Vladimir Putin, with it being pointed out “how much Vladimir Putin hates Hillary Clinton” – the misogynist versus the sort of feminist.

Could Russia target Ardern and New Zealand democracy? Have they already done this?

CNN:  Hillary Clinton rules out 2020 run, but says ‘I’m not going anywhere’

Hillary Clinton said Monday that she is not running for president in 2020 but will continue to speak out about politics, saying, “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I’m not running, but I’m going to keep on working and speaking and standing up for what I believe,” the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee told CNN affiliate News 12 Westchester.

“I want to be sure that people understand I’m going to keep speaking out. I’m not going anywhere,” Clinton said.

When asked if she would consider running for governor, mayor or any elected office again, Clinton told News 12, “I don’t think so,” adding that she loves living in New York and is grateful for the time she spent as senator of the state.

“What’s at stake in our country, the kinds of things that are happening right now are deeply troubling to me.” She said the country has become “not just polarized, we’ve gotten into really opposing camps unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my adult life.”

Clinton said that “we’ve made a lot of progress” but “we still have a long way to go on women’s rights, on gay rights, on making sure that every person has the same chance to have their dignity and their identity respected.”

This may be why Russia got so involved in the 2016 US election. Whether Trump’s campaign ‘colluded’ with Russia, or whether Russia used Trump to dump on Clinton, are still unanswered questions. The Robert Mueller report may or may not provide answers.

More from Erynn Brook:

It’s basically impossible to say HRC’s name without being bombarded with memes and trolls and propaganda. And that’s all intentional. I’m not talking about her policies. I’m talking about the interpersonal dynamic between Putin and HRC playing out on a world stage.

Oh the dog incident with Merkel isn’t just “related”, it’s more evidence. It’s in the intelligence briefings that’s she’s afraid of dogs. He gave Merkel a stuffed dog the year before. It’s straight up psychological warfare.

Foreign Policy: Putin uses dog to intimidate Merkel

Remember that Hillary Clinton was First Lady when Putin became Prime Minister and then President. Remember that Hillary is widely cited as being the driving force behind her husband’s political career.

Remember that she had an objectively successful political career, AFTER her husband’s impeachment. I don’t mean a while after, I mean like while it’s happening she’s running for state senator in NY. Which she won. That should have been impossible.

Love her or hate her, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Hillary Clinton is demonstrably, a very, very good politician. It’s likely she decided she wanted to be president when she was a kid and that influenced a large majority of her life choices.

So Clinton becomes Secretary of State when Putin is Prime Minister for the second time, and she is a force to be reckoned with. AND she’s the wife of his former American counterpart. She’s the woman he used to tell his wife to entertain. She’s fucking decor to him.

I am begging you to get this: refusal to see the role misogyny played in all of this, in the state of our world right now, is making things worse.

Don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Do some real, substantial research.

And ask yourself: if the richest, most powerful, most dangerous misogynist in the world, thought that the woman who had been coming for him for decades, who saw through all his shit and wasn’t afraid of him, if she was about to get the one job she could get to take him down.

If he saw that coming towards him, if this dangerous man who built a career on crushing political dissidents iduring Cold War, if this “world class misogynist” felt threatened by a WOMAN…

What would he do? What could he do?

Here, I’ll even give you a few places to get started. By all means, if you can show me I’m wrong while still addressing all the Russia crap, without resorting to more misogyny, and with actual, demonstrable, critical analysis, I’d love to hear it.

Brook links to another thread:

And it’s a wider problem.

What are the implications for New Zealand? Jacinda Ardern has positioned herself in stark contrast to both Trump and Putin. New Zealand may not matter much to Russia, but it’s possible Putin could start taking potshots at Ardern. And at our democracy.

Has it already happened? Why did Cameron Slater and Whale Oil actively promote Winston Peters in our 2017 election?

A year ago Peters was in the news here for promoting a trade deal with Russia, and for fudging around while other Western countries condemned Russia for their involvement in the Salisbury nerve agent attacks.

Noted noted: What’s with Winston’s crush on Russia?

With Winston Peters, it’s the Secret Samovar. He has this thing about Russia, and no one can explain why. There was the suggestion, when he began harping on about restoring full trade relations with Russia some years ago, that his close ties with the fishing industry had made him hyper-sensitive to lost trade opportunities in seafood.

This week, Peters has repeated his scepticism that Russia shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in 2014 and expanded that refusenik-ism to cover the growing suspicion that Russia just poisoned a spy and his daughter in Britain.

He also averred that our getting a free-trade deal with Russia would be just as good, and should be just as big a priority, as scoring one with the European Union.

It may be that Peters admires Putin’s strongman approach in the way he shares some heartland electoral territory with Trump over immigration and protectionism. Among his startling comments as Foreign Minister this week was one expressing sympathy with the US’s proposed new tariffs on aluminium and steel – which had immediately to be contradicted by Trade Minister David Parker.

Anyway, Peters’ preoccupation with Putin’s Russia goes back years; it’s not something he’s just manufactured as a handy coalition prying bar. And dying in a ditch over Russia is hardly the gesture lost NZ First voters – or any other voters, for that matter – would rally around.

It may be a stretch to suggest a Russian-Peters-Slater conspiracy.

It could simply be that to different degrees Peters shares a similar misogynist view with Putin and Trump, seeing themselves as superior to female leaders, and attracted to each other in a ‘strongmen unite’ sort of empathy.