Trump dumps on France

Just after returning from a visit to France where Donald Trump had looked uncomfortable amid tensions between he ande Emmanuel Macron, and where macron had a dig at him over nationalism, Trump has let rip via Twitter in attacks described as lacking in common decency.

Four days ago Trump and Macron try to defuse tension: ‘We want a strong Europe’ – video (Guardian))

Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron sought to defuse tensions on Saturday after comments made by both leaders threatened to cast a shadow over a weekend celebration marking 100 years since the end of the first world war.

Three days ago: Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism: Macron lectures Trump (Stuff):

By the grave of an unknown soldier, under Napoleon’s grand arch, at the centenary of the end of a great, terrible war, France’s president lectured the powerful.

His audience, metres away, included presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and Recep Erdogan.

Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism, Emmanuel Macron declared. A withdrawal into isolationism would be “a grave error that future generations would very rightly make us responsible for”.

In France Trump looked uncomfortable a lot of the time – except he lit up when Putin arrived at one event.

Trump likes being the big man, the US leader, the world leader, the big ego.

But he seems to treat ‘lesser’ leaders, and those who don’t stoke his ego, with disdain. He dislikes doing many of the the sort of things that any significant and effective leader has to do – deal with other people who may have different views and goals.

On Trump’s return to the US:  Days after visit, Trump blasts France’s Macron as relations sour

U.S. President Donald Trump attacked his French counterpart on Tuesday in a series of tweets that underscored how much the once-friendly ties between the two leaders have soured, just two days after returning from Paris.

In five posts sent on the same day that French officials marked the anniversary of the 2015 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, Trump blasted the key U.S. ally over its near defeat to Germany in two world wars, its wine industry and Macron’s approval ratings.

White House Director of Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp, meanwhile, cast Trump’s Paris trip in a positive light.

“It was clearly a successful trip,” Schlapp told Fox News on Tuesday, saying Trump and Macron “had a productive meeting” on trade and NATO.

“He has sent a strong message to our European allies. And we have seen some changes and some positive shifts coming from our allies to pay more to NATO. We need their support,” she said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that Trump had isolated himself at one of the weekend events by deciding not to attend the Paris Peace Forum, which Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin attended.

Before his arrival, Trump had blasted comments that Macron made in a radio interview in which he appeared to cast the United States as a threat.

Both French officials and the White House said any misunderstandings had been cleared up after Macron and Trump held talks on Saturday.

It doesn’t look like things have been cleared up – it looks more like they have turned to mud.

That in particular is likely to fray raw nerves.

I guess Trump never claimed to be a diplomat, but this will be creating difficulties or US and French diplomats.

Guardian: He came, he sulked, he tweeted: preening Trump on parade in Paris

In political science classes in the decades to come, Veterans Day Weekend 2018 is bound to be popular essay topic in the course on the Narcissist Presidency.

It has all the hallmarks of the Trump era: a fabricated story that congeals as fact in the president’s brain and moments later is broadcast on Twitter. Countless diplomats and officials are sent scurrying to limit the damage, as the chief executive doubles down, refusing to admit a mistake.

On this occasion, after being generally complimentary to Macron during the trip, Trump woke up furious with the French president on Tuesday morning. He repeated the false claim about Macron’s intentions for a European army, and followed it up with the well-worn jingoistic claim that France would be speaking German if it had not been for US intervention in two world wars.

The president then pivoted, as he often does against domestic opponents, to deride the French president’s unpopularity and then signaled he would express his irritation through trade policy, claiming France imposed “big tariffs” on US wine and threatening retaliation. The tariffs on US wine are higher, but they are set by the EU, after trade negotiations with the US, not by France.

Over the first two years of his presidency, the point has been explained to Trump repeatedly. But in his outbursts against Germany, France and others, he ignores the distinction between the EU and its member states.

Whether Trump acts out of ignorance and deafness to expertise, or sheer political expediency has been much debated, but the distinction may not matter much. Raw attacks on other countries and talk of tariffs plays well with his base. Whether they are well founded or not does not matter.

At best, days of governmental effort will now be wasted, but no new tariffs will be imposed simply out of presidential ire. The outcomes could be far worse when it is not Emmanuel Macron on the receiving end of Trump’s petulance but say, Kim Jong-un after the honeymoon with the North Korean regime goes sour, and there are nuclear missiles rather than cabernet sauvignon at stake.

Who knows what trump may provoke internationally. He is very different to any world leader, past or present. His brashness, petulance and ego may shake some things up and do some good, but he is also high risk.

Trump looks to be a provoked disaster waiting to happen.

Making America Grate Again

The US mid term elections are tonight/tomorrow NZ time (Tuesday in the US).

I’m glad I can largely switch off and avoid what has become a despicable democracy. It is two party dominated, and ‘a plague on both their houses’

Trump just said ‘we’ve ended the war on beautiful clean coal’ and that may be one of the less silly sounding statements he has made.  It’s hard to know whether he is helping or harming Republican chances.

Whenever I hear him (he was just on RNZ) he grates. Bigly.

But the Democrats have enable Trump with poor candidate choices (Clinton) and awful campaigning.

FiveThirtyEight odds have moved just slightly against the Republicans holding the Senate and improved slightly for the Democrats to win the House:

  • Senate – chance Republicans keep control (83.6%)
  • House – chance Democrats win control (87.3%)

On Eve of Trump’s First Midterm, We’re in Uncharted Waters – Chris Buskirk, NY Times

Midterms Will Show Voters’ Love or Hate of Trump – Allan Lichtman, The GuardianJudgment Day Is Nearly Here: A Midterm Overview -Sally Persons, RealClearPolitics

Image result for cartoon plague both houses

Trump Claims He Can Overrule Constitution With Executive Order…

A report from the US:

Saying his latest executive order was legal due to an “underutilized but totally feasible workaround,” President Trump claimed Tuesday that he could overrule the U.S. Constitution by means of the relatively obscure “no one will stop me” loophole.

“My critics say a constitutional amendment or at least an act of Congress is necessary to end birthright citizenship, but what they don’t realize is that a seldom-evoked administrative guideline ensures I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, because zero people will stand in my way,” said Trump, adding that the largely unheard-of clause allows him to circumvent normal legal proceedings because it’s not like anyone in any branch of government remains effective enough to prevent him from doing so.

“Though few modern presidents have made use of it, this loophole has always given the nation’s chief executive unilateral power over the Constitution. Its provisions dictate that the president can sidestep any checks and balances on his power once he has abused his authority so many times that no one can keep track anymore.”

Trump added that while his opponents may try to challenge his executive order in court, the loophole also states that by then he will have achieved his immediate political aims.

Trump Claims He Can Overrule Constitution With Executive Order Because Of Little-Known ‘No One Will Stop Me’ Loophole is from Onion, but this isn’t:

President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to citizenship to everyone born in the country, an assertion that runs counter to the long-established legal interpretation of the document.

“So-called Birthright Citizenship, which costs our Country billions of dollars and is very unfair to our citizens, will be ended one way or the other. It is not covered by the 14th Amendment because of the words ‘subject to the jurisdiction thereof.’ Many legal scholars agree…..” Trump wrote in a Twitter post six days before U.S. congressional elections.

The Constitution’s 14th Amendment, added after the Civil War, grants citizenship to anyone born on American soil and was intended to give constitutional protections to former slaves. But some Republicans, including Trump, say it creates an incentive for people to enter the country illegally to have children.

It can be hard to differentiate between satire and what Trump actually says.

Rising signs of hate in the US

Three alarming incidents in the past week in the US – the pipe bombs sent to a number of individuals and companies, two black people shot in a grocery store, and the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting – have raised concerns that hate crime is on the rise.

President Donald Trump has inevitably been included in discussions in reaction to these incidents. It is difficult to judge how much Trump may have encouraged this sort of hate violence, but how he responds may make a difference – and while he has played lip service to outrage and condemnation, his actions continue to be troubling.

This apparent rise in hate crimes, the tip of a large iceberg of online intolerance and hate, is happening on Trump’s watch.

NY Times editorial: The Hate Poisoning America

What is going on in this country? Can’t we be safe in our homes, in our schools, in our most sacred places? Once again, Americans are left to ask each other these sorts of questions, after a gunman burst into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on the Jewish Sabbath and opened fire on families in the contemplation of their faith.

The attack came a day after a man was arrested in Florida for mailing pipe bombs to politicians and journalists across the country. In both cases, the suspects had nourished their animus online, on social media platforms where they could easily connect with people who shared their hatreds.

After the attack on Tree of Life, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Times, “I’m afraid to say that we may be at the beginning of what has happened to Europe, the consistent anti-Semitic attacks.”

Alongside anti-Semitism, anti-black hatred appears to be rising. It has been expressed recently not only in incidents in which white Americans have harassed black Americans for gardening, coming home, swimming, working or campaigning for public office, but in deadly attacks like the one by a bigot who shot two black people at a Kentucky grocery last week, after he tried but failed to enter a black church.

At least some of the hate behind attacks like this is fomented online.

The suspect in the Pittsburgh killings, Robert Bowers, had found a home for his hate on Gab, a new social network that bills itself as a guardian of free speech, unlike somewhat less permissive platforms like Twitter. There his online biography read, “Jews are the children of Satan,” a statement of personal values that he evidently expected to earn him not opprobrium but followers.

Mr. Bowers’s hatred of American Jews was apparently motivated in part by the generosity and empathy many of them have shown for non-Jewish refugees of conflicts worldwide. In their humanity, he found cause to dehumanize them. “It’s the filthy EVIL jews Bringing the Filthy EVIL Muslims into the Country!!” he wrote online.

Gun laws come up again after mass shootings, but little ever seems to change. And guns are just tools of extreme merchants of hate, many of whom build their bravado online.

What can be done? Certainly, common-sense gun safety regulation might make attacks like the one on Tree of Life synagogue less deadly— universal background checks, red-flag laws that take guns away from the mentally unstable, bans on high-capacity weapons like the AR-15 rifle that the alleged killer wielded.

Measures like these would help contend with the hardware of hate. It is far harder to disable the software, the ideas that now spread so readily.

It is difficult to confront online hate. Some of it ferments in protected bubbles.

Leadership that is unequivocal about condemning intolerance and hate would help.

Good speech may not be enough in itself, but that doesn’t mean that American society couldn’t benefit from much more of it today, particularly from its leaders.

So it was reassuring to hear President Trump condemn the attack in Pittsburgh, as he did the pipe bombs. And it was disappointing to see him immediately head back out on the campaign trail, as he did on Saturday, to disparage his opponents and critics all over again.

Until next week’s mid-term elections it seems that hate and division as tools of politics will continue.

It isn’t simply a Trump issue, but as the leader and commander-in-chief of the country he must take some responsibility for the escalations and do more than speak out of both sides of his mouth.

But there are alternate views, like this opinion from Steve Hilton from Fox News who blames it on Barack Obama: Trump and his supporters are being blamed for a climate of rage and hate – but here’s the truth

Predictably, the establishment is blaming President Trump and his supporters for a climate of rage and hate.

But let’s be honest, a lot of Americans have had a lot to be angry about for an awful long time.

This anger we’re seeing, it didn’t start with Donald Trump. I think it goes back at least a decade.

In 2008 you saw the elite bail themselves out while working people paid the price for their recklessness and incompetence.

And you saw a new tone enter our politics.

Reagan, the Bushes, Bill Clinton, Bill Clinton perhaps a bit too much – they weren’t haters. You got the sense they loved everybody.

But then we saw something new. A cultural elitism came in. Condescension. Even contempt.

Remember when then-presidential candidate Barack Obama said on April 6, 2008, “They get bitter, and they cling to guns or religion.”

How about when his wife Michelle said this on February 18, 2008; “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.”

We saw hate and divisiveness — from the top. And remember, from the left, not the right. From the elitists, not the populists.

What he claims is debatable (very much so) but there is one truth that can’t be denied – the current levels of division and hate are happening on Trump’s watch.

Arrest after pipe bomb mail campaign in US

A man has been arrested in Florida and is reported as beinng a suspect in this week’s pipe bomb campaign where twelve ‘bomb-like’ packages were mailed to various politicians and media organisations.

It sounds like it may not have been particularly sophisticated  bomb operation.

Miami Herald:  South Florida man arrested in connection with suspected explosive packages

A Florida man has been arrested in connection to the string of suspected explosive packages sent to prominent Democrats this week, law enforcement sources tell the Miami Herald and other outlets.

Law enforcement sources tell the Miami Herald a trail of DNA evidence on either the packages or the devices quickly led investigators to a suspect identified as Cesar Sayoc, a 56-year-old man from Aventura. He is being questioned by FBI agents with the Joint Terrorism Task Force since his arrest this morning at about 10 a.m.

Federal investigators quickly centered the investigation on the dozen crudely fashioned “pipe bombs” sent to top Trump critics, including Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker, on a mail sorting facility in Opa-locka. The devices have been recovered in New York, Washington D.C., California and South Florida, all with the return address of Debbie Wassermann-Schultz’s office. Several words, including her name, were misspelled on the packages.

Images posted on social media show federal agents examining a white van with windows covered in pro-Donald Trump and right wing stickers. Closeup photos of the van, posted by a Twitter user who said he saw the car at a stoplight in April, show rifle scope images over the faces of Hilary Clinton, left wing filmmaker Michael Moore and President Barack Obama. Another said “CNN Sucks,” along with an image of Trump standing on a tank in front of fireworks and an American flag.

This is likely to raise the rhetoric as the US heads into their mid-term elections.

Trump tried to use the bomb campaign to get out the republican vote.

There have been accusations flying in all directions.

It’s a very divided and toxic political situation in the US. Perhaps the President will show leadership and calm things down, but that seems unlikely this side of the election.

Trump is talking about it right now.

Trump:

These terrorising events are despicable and have no place in our country.

We must never allow political violence to take root in America. We cannot let it happen, and I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it, and to stop it now, to stop it now.

But the bottom line is that Americans must unify, and we must show the world that we are united together in peace and love and harmony as fellow American citizens. There is no country like our country, and every day we are showing the world just how truly great we are.

What Trump needs to do now is show that, over time, he can put his words into practice. He has been much the opposite of a unifying president so far. He won the election by attacking and dividing, and that’s how he has been running the current campaign.

Can he change?

Alarming claims and revelations in killing of Saudi journalist

Claims and revelations over the apparent killing of a Saudi dissident in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey are quite alarming.

New York Times: Turkish Officials Say Khashoggi Was Killed on Order of Saudi Leadership

Top Turkish security officials have concluded that the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on orders from the highest levels of the royal court, a senior official said Tuesday.

The official described a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulateby a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose.

Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have denied the allegations, insisting that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate freely shortly after he arrived. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has demanded that the Saudis provide evidence proving their claim.

The security establishment concluded that Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was directed from the top because only the most senior Saudi leaders could order an operation of such scale and complexity, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential briefings.

Fifteen Saudi agents had arrived on two charter flights last Tuesday, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared, the official said.

All 15 left just a few hours later, and Turkey has now identified the roles that most or all of them held in the Saudi government or security services, the official said. One was an autopsy expert, presumably there to help dismember the body, the official said.

A publication with close ties to Mr. Erdogan’s government, the newspaper Sabah, reported Tuesday that unnamed officials had said the police were examining the possibility that Mr. Khashoggi had been abducted and not killed, possibly with the help of another country’s intelligence officers.

The official who spoke about Mr. Khashoggi’s killing said that report and other similar ones were incorrect and were probably the result of the limited information shared among different agencies within the Turkish government.

Another person briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity to disclose confidential details, told The Times on Saturday that Turkish intelligence had obtained a video of the killing, made by the Saudis to prove that it had occurred.

A commentator close to Mr. Erdogan’s government said so publicly on Tuesday.

“There is a video of the moment of him being killed,” Kemal Ozturk, a columnist in a pro-government newspaper and the former head of a semiofficial news agency, said in an interview on a pro-government television network, citing unnamed security officials.

So alarming multiple claims, some disputed.

Fox News: US intercepted Saudi plans to capture missing journalist, report says

U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The Washington Post is reporting that before the journalist disappeared on Oct. 2, Saudi officials discussed a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia.

It remains unclear if the Saudi government intended to arrest or kill the journalist known for his writings criticizing the Saudi leadership, or whether the U.S. government informed Khashoggi that he was the target of the Saudi government, the report said.

Questions about what the US did, and if they knew whether they did anything to try to prevent what seemed about to happen.

The journalist’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote an op-ed on Tuesday expressing hope her man is still alive. “Although my hope slowly fades away each passing day, I remain confident that Jamal is still alive,” she wrote. “Perhaps I’m simply trying to hide from the thought that I have lost a great man whose love I had earned.”

Cengiz urged President Trump and his wife Melania Trump to help shed a light on the journalist’s disappearance. “At this time, I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance,” she wrote.

Washington Post: Trump wants answers about missing Saudi writer

President Donald Trump says the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and wants to bring his fiancée to the White House.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Wednesday that he has a call in to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.

Trump says nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead.

He says he’s spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.

It certainly looks like a bad situation. And a tricky one for the US – they supply a lot of weaponry to Saudi Arabia: U.S. sells 6,700 missiles to Saudi Arabia as part of $1 billion deal:

“This proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by improving the security of a friendly country which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic growth in the Middle East,” the State Department said, adding that the deal “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.”

The murder (or abduction) of Khashoggi puts the US in a difficult position.

Haaretz: Trump’s Saudi Policy Lets MBS Think He Can Get Away With Murder, ex-U.S. Officials Say

As fears grow about fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, whom Turkish authorities believe was killed in Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week, experts warn that White House silence is part of the problem

 Former U.S. officials believe the Trump administration’s friendly policy toward Saudi Arabia has caused its leaders to believe they face no consequences for their actions. The fears were raised following the mysterious disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last week, amid reports that he was murdered while visiting Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Trump administration has made a noticeable effort to improve America’s relations with Saudi Arabia, which became tense during President Barack Obama’s time in office. Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as his first foreign visit as president, in May 2017, and the Saudi leadership vocally supported his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

A close relationship has also developed between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

A former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations:

Miller’s “just about anything” statement refers to a series of steps previously taken by the crown prince to oppress opposition to his rule. Over the past year, he has had hundreds of Saudi businessmen and former officials arrested without due process. His government has also jailed women’s rights and anti-corruption activists, accusing them of a conspiracy to overthrow the government.

Crown Prince Mohammed has also intensified Saudi Arabia’s war against Iran and its proxies in Yemen – a war that has turned into a full-blown humanitarian disaster. The Saudis also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last November, reportedly holding him against his will and forcing him to resign as Lebanese premier (Hariri walked back that decision when back in Beirut).

As far as is known, the Trump administration didn’t criticize or warn Saudi Arabia about any of these policies. In fact, it actively supported and encouraged some of them. When the Saudi leadership rounded up hundreds of political rivals and held them at a Riyadh hotel-cum-interim prison, Trump tweeted:

That message was well received in Riyadh. “The Trump administration made it clear from early on that it had little interest in protecting human rights, except when it comes to the rights of Christian minorities,” Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former State Department official who is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told Haaretz.

Trump, she added, “said very explicitly that he is not interested in telling other countries how to run [their] government. Could this be seen as a green light for oppressive actions? Certainly when compared to the previous policies of every American president since the end of World War II.”

So the actions of Saudi Arabia in relation to Khashoggi are in the spotlight, but what Trump and his administration has done and does now is also very important.

17 years of rubble reduction in Afghanistan

It is seventeen years since the United States and Britain went to war (the latest one) in Afghanistan. There was some justof9cation for taking some sort of action, and there have been some successes, but it has largely been a failure. Long entrenched problems there remain unresolved.

It shows again that right (sort of) and might are not all-conquering. The US had already had a lesson on the futility of brute strength and ignorance in Vietnam, they were warned Afghanistan could be a mire too murky to force into being a model Western style state, but they tried anyway.

Washington Examiner:  Unhappy 17th birthday, Afghanistan War

Seventeen years ago today, the U.S. and Britain went to war to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. It was morally and politically justified by the Taliban’s failure to surrender al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks. The Western alliance drove the Islamic totalitarians from power swiftly, within weeks.

Yet, we’re still there. On Thursday morning, another American serviceman was killed in battle in Afghanistan. Nearly 2,400 Americans have now died in this war, and Afghanistan is still mired in poverty, chaos, and violence.

What are we doing there? Why are we still fighting this war after 17 years?

‘We’ includes New Zealand, with our army deployment extended until next year and that will be subject to review again.

The three presidents to preside over this war have all failed to focus the mission clearly toward America’s real interest, which is to prevent multinational terrorist organizations such as ISIS and al Qaeda from establishing a stronghold.

Instead, we took up the hopeless and endless task of nation-building. Every audit of American efforts to build a safe and stable Afghanistan have showed failure. The waste in money and lives goes on. The problem is not American incompetence or stinginess, but that the big goal has always been unrealistic.

Billions of dollars have been spent on schools, roads, and infrastructure projects in rural areas that remain under the heel of the Taliban. These projects could work only if America ran a police state, requiring hundreds of thousands of soldiers and Marines.

I think the US did learn something from their Vietnam nightmare – not to put large numbers of soldiers inn the firing line, but high-tech weaponry has only helped arms manufacturers to test their products and make money.

The issue in places such as Helmand is not simply that the Taliban dominate the area and cannot be dislodged, but that the area is a patchwork of fiefdoms run by local tribes with whom we are unable to deal.

The Bush dream that guns, money, and lawyers could build stable democratic societies anywhere on Earth has been tested in the field, and it has failed. In Iraq, where there was some memory of institutions, it has largely failed. In remote parts of Afghanistan, it has failed completely.

The hubris of the Bush doctrine was deeply unconservative. President Trump has taken a humbler route, directed toward wounding the Taliban to keep it weak, but not pretending to be able to eradicate it entirely. The administration has also finally made Pakistan understand it may not support our enemies in Afghanistan.

America’s goals should be to avoid making things worse in Afghanistan, contain the Taliban, and focus more on the Islamic State. These are not lofty goals, but lofty goals have proved to be pipe dreams that produced a 17-year nightmare.

What are the goals and dreams now?

The Economist: Donald Trump is doing better on Afghanistan than his predecessor (That’s not setting the bar very high):

A ONCE-popular argument that President Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy is not substantially different from Barack Obama’s is going down in a blaze of trade agreements. Yet on Afghanistan it remains broadly true. Mr Obama came to power describing Afghanistan’s conflict as the “war we have to win”, but never seemed convinced that that was possible. After a stab at escalating the conflict, he devoted his presidency to ending it.

It was time, he said in 2011, the year the war became the longest in American history, “to focus on nation-building here at home.”

Mr Trump has long said the same. His decision to launch a much smaller escalation last year came with the closest thing he can muster to an apology attached: “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like to follow my instincts.” Even so, his record on Afghanistan, including this week a promise of peace talks to add to that modest military reinforcement, is starting to look much better than his predecessor’s.

This chiefly reflects what a low bar Mr Obama set.

Unsurprisingly, then, Mr Trump’s measures have not transformed the battlefield, where the Taliban remain in the ascendant. Instead of encouraging the Afghan government to take back territory, America is reported to be urging it to withdraw from remote outposts to reduce casualties.

The level of violence continues to be horrifying, especially among civilians. More were killed in the first six months of this year than in any previous year on record, in part because of increased American bombing. Yet there is at least more confidence that the Taliban can be prevented from taking a major town. And the 315,000-strong Afghan armed forces are said to be improving. Compared with the debacle Mr Trump inherited, this represents progress.

Progress towards what?

America and its Afghan ally have been keen to negotiate with the insurgents since the demise of Mr Obama’s short-lived surge confirmed their inability to end the war militarily.

This is still a far cry from offering Mr Trump a way out.

Stitched together by British imperialists in the late 19th century, Afghanistan’s feuding ethnic groups have never shared power uncoerced, and 40 years of on-off civil war have made them even more reluctant to. The government is deeply divided along ethnic lines. It is hard to imagine how its members might accommodate the Taliban—even if they want to be accommodated. It is unclear that the mullahs have given up on a military victory.

It is even unclear which faction of the Taliban, the fundamentalist leadership or the more pragmatic rump, their representatives in Qatar might speak for. If Mr Trump does view the putative talks as a means to declare victory and quit Afghanistan, as some suspect, he has simply given up on the place.

Foreign Policy: One Year On, Little to Show for Trump’s Afghanistan Strategy

One year after President Donald Trump announced a new strategy for winning the war in Afghanistan, the United States appears to be no closer to stabilizing the country and quelling the Taliban insurgency, according to analysts and a report issued by U.S. Defense Department.

The strategy has included a greater focus on defending population centers while ceding much of the remote countryside to the insurgents.

Pentagon officials say the measures are working.

But the situation on the ground tells a different story. The Taliban maintain their grip on much of the country, and the civilian death toll has reached a record high, according to a recent report by the Pentagon’s inspector general. Also, the Islamic State in Khorasan, the Afghan arm of the Islamic State, continues to carry out high-profile attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians.

An Afghan girl walks amid the rubble of shops in Shadel Bazar after the US military dropped a GBU-43 Moab bomb.

Seth Jones, a senior advisor to the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said data suggested that the Taliban’s control of populated areas overall, primarily in rural regions, had actually increased.

The problem with the administration’s strategy of ceding the more remote areas of the country to the Taliban is that the insurgents increasingly are using the rural terrain to conduct attacks within major urban areas, he explained.

Another component of the U.S. military’s strategy in Afghanistan is to build up the Afghan military, train the Afghan air force, and equip it with high-end gear, such as fighter aircraft and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

But the Afghan air force’s rapid increase in strike capability seems to be accompanied by a steep rise in civilian casualties.

Jones said Trump’s strategy failed in another critical way: It has done little to prevent Pakistan from harboring Taliban fighters.

“What the U.S. has not been able to do is fundamentally change Pakistan’s behavior,” Jones said. “This is serious problem with the South Asia strategy. I’m not that optimistic over the long run.”

This cartoon from seventeen years ago may still be close to the mark.

The only rubble reduction on Afghanistan seems to be it’s size.

Meanwhile the US economy continues to thrive

Despite all the political turmoil and President Trump’s confrontational and divisory approach the US economy continues to do very well, but there are some warning signs

The US share market is easing off record highs – the boom there may be a good sign, but could also pose future risks of a big bust.

Market Watch:  Job creation, wages slip in September as unemployment falls to 48-year low

The U.S. unemployment rate sank to a 48-year low of 3.7% in September as the economy added 134,000 new jobs, setting the stage for a strong holiday season to finish out what’s been stellar year for the U.S. economy.

The increase in hiring was the smallest in 12 months and below the recent trend, perhaps reflecting the effects of Hurricane Florence. Economists polled by MarketWatch had forecast a 168,000 increase.

Yet the increase in new jobs was enough to lower the unemployment rate to 3.7% from 3.9%. The last time the jobless rate was lower was in December 1969 — when the first man walked on the moon.

Many economists predict the jobless rate will fall even further in the months ahead.

Reuters:  U.S. job growth cools; unemployment rate drops to 3.7 percent

U.S. job growth slowed sharply in September likely as Hurricane Florence depressed restaurant and retail payrolls, but the unemployment rate fell to near a 49-year low of 3.7 percent, pointing to a further tightening in labor market conditions.

“The weaker gain in payrolls in September may partly reflect some hit from Hurricane Florence,” said Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics in New York. “There is little in this report to stop the Fed continuing to raise interest rates gradually.”

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said on Tuesday that the economy’s outlook was “remarkably positive” and he believed it was on the cusp of a “historically rare” era of ultra-low unemployment and tame inflation.

Bloomberg:  Powell Heaps Trump-Like Praise on Economy as Rate Hikes Loom

In what Fed watchers say was unprecedented four public appearances over the past week, Powell repeatedly lauded the economy’s performance, calling it “remarkably positive,” “extraordinary” and “particularly bright.” And he said he expected the good times to continue.

“Interest rates are still accommodative, but we’re gradually moving to a place where they’ll be neutral,” neither holding back nor spurring economic growth, Powell said. “We may go past neutral. But we’re a long way from neutral at this point, probably,” he added.

The Fed raised its interest-rate target range last week to 2 percent to 2.25 percent.

Breaking with decades of presidential precedence, Trump has repeatedly criticized the Fed in recent months for raising rates. His latest salvo came on Sept. 26, just hours after Powell and his colleagues boosted rates for the third time this year.

Asked by veteran television anchor Judy Woodruff for his response to Trump’s outbursts, Powell replied, “My focus is essentially on controlling the controllable”.

The current economic expansion is already the second-longest in history, trailing only the 10-year period of the 1990s. If it continues, it will surpass that upturn next year.

But one trend should be of concern, US Government Debt:

Today the Federal Debt is about $21,605,363,414,469.16.

The amount is the gross outstanding debt issued by the United States Department of the Treasury since 1790 and reported here.

But, it doesn’t include state and local debt.

And, it doesn’t include so-called “agency debt.”

And, it doesn’t include the so-called unfunded liabilities of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

Forbes: Why The Federal Deficit Isn’t Cause For Panic… Yet

If you’re reading this, then it probably means you have also watched pundits scream at the top of their lungs about the impending doom brought about by the US deficit. Numbers like $20 Trillion are enough to scare anyone, so concern is warranted, however, panic is not.

The federal government is projected to add $985 billion to the federal deficit during fiscal year 2019. That’s because the government plans to spend over $4.4 trillion dollars, while bringing in only $3.42 trillion dollars. Nearly $400 Billion of the spending will go to service debt that’s already accrued over the years and that figure will only rise as interest rates increase.

While those numbers are astonishing and difficult to really wrap your mind around, it’s not as bad as it sounds. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) Budget and Economic Outlook: 2018 to 2028, “In CBO’s baseline projections, which incorporate the assumption that current laws governing taxes and spending generally remain unchanged, the federal budget deficit grows substantially over the next few years. Later on, between 2023 and 2028, it stabilizes in relation to the size of the economy, though at a high level by historical standards.”

Now I said not to panic earlier, because there are a number of adjustments and scenarios that will let the U.S. keep borrowing and spending long after any individual would have had their credit cards canceled. That said, at some point time will run out and our options to fix the situation will be less and less friendly. It’s the equivalent of waiting until you’re in the hospital to make lifestyle adjustments. By then, it might be too late.

The Baltimore Sun: U.S. debt addiction threatens national security

Arising China. An emboldened Russia. A nuclear Iran. Cyberwarfare. Ask a defense expert to name America’s biggest security concerns, and one of these will likely top the list.

These threats are real, of course. But one of the biggest dangers to our nation isn’t a hostile foreign actor. It’s a domestic one — our leaders’ addiction to debt.

The U.S. national debt is rising unsustainably. The Pentagon recently has been asking for more money, and Congress has been inclined to give it to them. Absent dramatic reform, national security will soon take a back seat to mandatory debt service.

The Hill: Congress approved $2.4 trillion in additional debt during fiscal year 2018: Watchdog

Congress approved $2.4 trillion in debt during fiscal year 2018, according to an analysis published this week by the watchdog group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CFRB).

Trump administration officials have insisted that the tax law will ultimately bring down the deficit due to economic growth, a conclusion that’s been rejected by many budget watchers as well as some official bodies.

“At a time when debt is already at record-high levels and growing unsustainably, the $2.4 trillion added to the projected debt over the past year is incredibly irresponsible,” CFRB wrong in a blog post. “These changes alone will increase projected debt from 86 percent of GDP to 94 percent.”

Trump is used to taking big financial risks in business, but the financial health of the United States as well as the world are at stake. If things crash it won’t be as easy to walk away as it has been from his business failures.

If the New Zealand Government was increasing debt here to anything like 86% or 94% of GDP they would be strongly and widely criticised, for good reason. But for some reason business leaning pundits don’t seem to care about those levels of debt in the US, they hail the economy there as great.

Kavanaugh inquiry seems like a political sham

Both Democrats and Republicans have dragged the Supreme Court nomination process down into a debacle, and the rushed and hobbled FBI inquiry has just added to a spectacle that should be an embarrassment to the United States.

It looks like the limited inquiry has just initiated more controversy, which is hardly surprising given how rushed it was.

Fox News: White House receives FBI report on Kavanaugh, ‘fully confident’ he’ll be confirmed

The White House on Thursday announced that it has received the FBI’s supplemental background investigation into President Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, and is “fully confident” that he will eventually be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The FBI was tasked by Trump last week to look into allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Kavanaugh by three women. The investigation commenced after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — the first woman to come forward — testified before the Senate Judiciary last week about her claims against the federal judge.

Raj Shah, the principal deputy press secretary for the White House, said the FBI report is currently “being transmitted to the Senate.”

“With [Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell’s cloture filing, Senators have been given ample time to review this seventh background investigation,” Shah said in a statement posted to Twitter.

‘Ample time’ is a joke.

“This is the last addition to the most comprehensive review of a Supreme Court nominee in history, which includes extensive hearings, multiple committee interviews, over 1,200 questions for the record and over a half million pages of documents.”

Shah said the “White House is fully confident” Kavanaugh will be confirmed to the Supreme Court in the Senate vote.

Fox News: Grassley says new FBI report backs Kavanaugh, urges Senate to send him to high court

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, declared earlier Thursday that nothing in the document changed his mind, and that it was time to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

“I’ve now received a committee staff briefing on the FBI’s supplement to Judge Kavanaugh’s background investigation file,” Grassley said Thursday. “There’s nothing in it that we didn’t already know. These uncorroborated accusations have been unequivocally and repeatedly rejected by Judge Kavanaugh, and neither the Judiciary Committee nor the FBI could locate any third parties who can attest to any of the allegations.

Republican swing senators on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination indicated Thursday they were satisfied with the FBI’s investigation into sexual assault allegations against the Supreme Court pick, stirring speculation they could back the embattled judge in the end.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has stayed mum on her Kavanaugh stance, said Thursday that the bureau’s supplemental background probe “appears to be a very thorough investigation.”

And Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who originally requested the FBI re-open its investigation into the claims leveled against Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, agreed.

“No new corroborative information came out of it,” Flake said on Capitol Hill Thursday. “Thus far, we’ve see no new credible corroboration—no new corroboration at all.”

But Flake continued to keep the public guessing, returning to view the report again saying he has “more reading” to do. He pulled a surprise last week when he publicly backed Kavanaugh, and then demanded the FBI probe before a final vote.

Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who also is considered a swing vote, was going to view the document Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to read it myself,” Murkowski said on her way to read the report for the first time. “I’m gonna go in with my eyes to it.”

But Fox News: Ford’s lawyers slam FBI investigation after McConnell signals Kavanaugh vote later this week

Attorneys for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford late Wednesday slammed the FBI background investigation into President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, after it was revealed that the agency’s probe appears to be over.

“An FBI supplemental background investigation that did not include an interview of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford– nor the witnesses who corroborate her testimony– cannot be called an investigation,” the statement read. “We are profoundly disappointed that after the tremendous sacrifice she made in coming forward, those directing the FBI investigation were not interested in seeking the truth.”

Sources previously told Fox News that Senators and some aides would be able to start looking at the FBI’s background investigation on Thursday morning and that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would be given the first chance to look at the report.

It sounds like conclusions have been reached before most people have had a chance to read the report.

Business Insider: ‘Our fears have been realised’: Democrats slam FBI investigation into Kavanaugh

  • Senate Democrats condemned the FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, calling it “incomplete.”
  • Democrats have accused the White House of limiting the probe, and they point to the fact that the FBI didn’t interview either Kavanaugh or his most prominent accuser, professor Christine Blasey Ford.

Senate Democrats condemned the FBI investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, arguing that the probe was limited by the White House and plagued by a lack of transparency.

After being briefed on the report, of which only one hard copy has been made available to senators under time limits and intense security, Democratic leadership called the probe “incomplete” and pushed for Republicans to release a redacted version of it and of the White House’s directive to the FBI instructing the law enforcement agency on how to conduct the investigation.

“We had many fears that this was a very limited process that would constrain the FBI from getting all the facts,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a brief press conference on Thursday morning. “Having received a thorough briefing on the documents, those fears have been realised.”

Schumer said that he disagrees with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s description of the report as containing “no hint of misconduct.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, called the report “a product of an incomplete investigation” and accused the White House of blocking the FBI from “doing its job.”

“The most notable part of this report is what’s not in it,” she said during the press conference.

Democratic lawmakers were given one hour on Thursday morning to view the report in a secure room in the Senate.

A rushed inquiry and rushed reading are very poor ways of dealing with such an important nomination.

Fox News: GOP senator said he urged Trump to pick someone other than Kavanaugh

During a passionate speech to his Senate colleagues, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse told lawmakers he “urged” President Trump earlier this summer to consider choosing another Supreme Court nominee after discovering Judge Brett Kavanaugh was his top pick.

Speaking about the #MeToo movement and the rancorous debate over Kavanaugh’s confirmation and the sexual assault allegations against him, Sasse said on the Senate floor Wednesday he asked Trump to “make a different choice” for the nation’s highest court as early as June. He also sharply rebuked the president for mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — the woman who accused the federal judge of sexual misconduct more than 30 years ago.

Sasse, from Nebraska, didn’t reveal who he asked Trump to nominate but did hint it was a woman. Amy Coney Barrett and Joan Larsen were considered on the short list for Trump’s consideration.

“Part of my argument then was that the very important #MeToo movement was also very new and this Senate is not at all well prepared to handle potential allegations of sexual harassment and assault that might have come forward,” Sasse said, adding his warning “was absent of knowing a particular nominee.”

The inquiry may may now lead the way to a vote for the appointment of Kavanaugh, but it is unlikely to calm the controversy down.

There have been a number of reports like this from the New Yorker: The F.B.I. Probe Ignored Testimonies from Former Classmates of Kavanaugh

Frustrated potential witnesses who have been unable to speak with the F.B.I. agents conducting the investigation into sexual-assault allegations against Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, have been resorting to sending statements, unsolicited, to the Bureau and to senators, in hopes that they would be seen before the inquiry concluded.

NBC News reported that dozens of people who said that they had information about Kavanaugh had contacted F.B.I. field offices, but agents had not been permitted to talk to many of them. Several people interested in speaking to the F.B.I. expressed exasperation in interviews with The New Yorker at what they perceived to be a lack of interest in their accounts.

The FBI did not interview either Kavanaugh himself, nor Christine Blasey Ford.

I’ve just heard a very slanted speech by Mitch McConnell who lauded Kavanaugh and slammed accusers. He said that the FBI couldn’t find any corroborating witnesses, but there have been a number of claims from people that they were ignored by the FBI.

This nomination is a mess that reflects very poorly on politics and justice in the US.

One thing seems sure – this will do nothing to calm the controversy down.

 

Kavanaugh unsuited for Supreme Court

While there is a concerted campaign by Brett Kavanaugh supporters to play down accusations and to discredit accusers, his suitability for the Supreme Court looks increasingly untenable.

There are valid points about ‘innocent unless proven guilty’ to some degree, but a judge of the Supreme Court of the United States must meet higher standards. Kavanaugh’s manner at the Senate hearing last week alone raised questions about his demeanour and his political bias. And claims of drunken behaviour and belligerence keep emerging.

Ana Navarro (CNN): For the good of us all, Brett Kavanaugh should step aside

The ideology of a nominee, and factors like race, gender, ethnicity and creed, are all solely the President’s choice. But there are other requirements for a Supreme Court appointment that should not be optional. A Supreme Court Justice should have intellectual heft, judicial temperament and lifelong fitness of character.

There is no doubt Kavanaugh meets the intellect requirement.

In his first hearings, he came across as calm and deliberative — a cross between a Boy Scout and an altar boy.

That all changed once Professor Ford’s allegations emerged.

Let me say clearly and unequivocally, I believe Christine Blasey Ford.

I believe her because she is not a partisan activist. I believe her because during his hearing, Kavanaugh lied about little things he didn’t need to. I believe her because his good friend, Mark Judge, wrote a book called, “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk,” which mentions a character named “O’Kavanaugh” he frequently got wasted with.

(See FBI interviews Kavanaugh friend Mark Judge)

A lot of people think we should not define a person’s entire life because of grave mistakes made as a teenager. I tend to agree with that. Kavanaugh is certainly not alone in doing things as a teenager that most of us as adults would rather forget.

But his nomination is for the Supreme Court. It is different than any other position in government. Once named, you can’t be fired. You are not accountable to voters or even a President. It is a lifetime appointment. And unlike appointments to lower courts, there is no retirement age and impeachment is almost unheard of. All of this makes the standard for confirmation higher.

I now believe Kavanaugh lacks the judicial temperament and character to serve on the Supreme Court. In the last hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was screaming, crying, disrespectful and partisan.

In his testimony in front of the committee, Kavanaugh was a partisan attack dog. He showed resentment and disdain for Democrats. He questioned Senator Klobuchar about her drinking habits. He brought Trump’s election into it. He blamed Professor Ford’s allegations on Clinton allies seeking revenge for his role in the Starr investigation.

But again, this is for the Supreme Court. Justices are supposed to be free from external political pressures. Given what we heard from Kavanaugh and the emotional scars this process will leave him with, given his animosity for Democrats and his indebtedness to Republicans, would he ever be capable of judicial independence? Every Senator, regardless of party, should ask themselves that question.

If Kavanaugh is appointed to the Supreme Court there will always be questions about his character and his political bias.

Mike Godwin is an attorney, author, and creator of Godwin’s Law.

And more and more facts against Kavanaugh are emerging.

NZH: Brett Kavanaugh and his staff reportedly sent text messages to cover up indecent exposure allegations

Last week, a separate report claimed he exposed himself during a drunken dormitory party in the same period, with various former classmates now publicly weighing in on his alleged out-of-control drinking habits in detail.

And now it has emerged that Kavanaugh and his staff were allegedly sending text messages to silence reports of indecent exposure — before the story had even broken.

Late last month, The New Yorker published a story in which Kavanaugh’s former classmate Deborah Ramirez claimed he exposed himself to others at a party in the early 1980s.

In the report, Ramirez, 53, claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself “at a drunken dormitory party” where she alleged he “thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away”.

The story noted she had “gaps” in her memory from drinking, and that she couldn’t clarify his role “with certainty” for six days after first speaking with the journalists who published the story.

Kavanaugh denies the claims.

“This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen,” he wrote in a statement. “The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name — and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building — against these last-minute allegations.”

But it’s now emerged that Kavanaugh, 53, and his staff were reportedly sending text messages to former Yale classmates to underplay these allegations — before the story was actually published.

In one message, Yarasavage said Kavanaugh asked her to go on the record to defend him. Another two messages show communication between Kavanaugh’s team and former classmates before The New Yorker story broke, suggesting Kavanaugh knew about Ramirez’s allegations in advance.

A judge trying to influence potential witnesses should raise legal eyebrows.

A one-time classmate of Kavanaugh said he was a habitual heavy drinker, challenging the judge’s Senate testimony to the contrary.

“I can unequivocally say that in denying the possibility that he ever blacked out from drinking and in downplaying the degree and frequency of his drinking, Brett has not told the truth,” Chad Ludington told reporters.

The North Carolina State University professor, who said he had contacted the FBI with his information, indicated on Sunday in a statement that Kavanaugh was “belligerent and aggressive” when he drank.

A separate report published by The New York Times today claims Kavanaugh has a history of alcohol-related violence during this period of his life.

Sure, valid criticisms can be made of how Democrats have politicised the nomination – but so have Republicans and Trump.

But partisan crap aside, Kavanaugh is looking increasingly risky for, if not outright unsuitable for, a position on the US Supreme Court,