Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement has started to take effect

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (now CPTPP) came into effect yesterday, 30 December 2018.

This ended many years of negotiations, the addition of a number of countries that totalled twelve when the agreement was first signed, but shrunk slightly to eleven when Donald Trump pulled the US out of it (the way he conducts international relations and trashes trade agreements and uses them as threats it is probably better the US is not trying to mess things up).

RNZ: CPTPP takes effect: Exporters first to benefit, govt says

The government is predicting New Zealand exporters will be the first to benefit from the re-jigged TPP deal, which takes effect at midnight.

The Minister for Trade and Export Growth, David Parker, said tariffs in three significant economies – Japan, Canada and Mexico – start reducing immediately.

The new deal, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), also comes into force for Australia and Singapore at midnight.

Mexico and Canada will cut tariffs further in a second round of adjustments on New Year’s Day, while Vietnam will make a double tariff cut when it joins the trade deal on 14 January, and Japan’s second round will be three months later on 1 April.

Mr Parker said the agreement will give a further boost to the competitiveness of New Zealand products in those markets.

“The CPTPP has the potential to deliver an estimated $222 million of tariff savings to New Zealand exporters annually once it is fully in force, with almost half of that – or $105 million – now available in the first 12 months,” he said.

One export to benefit is fish and fish products, which currently face tariffs of 20 percent into Mexico and up to 10 percent in Japan, Mr Parker said.

“The CPTPP will see all tariffs eliminated on fisheries exports, with the majority of savings from today.”

He said Marlborough wine producers will gain immediate duty free access to Canada.

In the South Island, Mid Canterbury seed farmers who produce 50 percent of the world’s radish seeds, will benefit from the elimination of tariffs on horticultural exports within 15 years under CPTPP.

And in the Otago region he said summer fruits would see big benefits.

“CPTPP will see total tariff elimination on summer fruits, including cherries, for which the tariffs into Japan will be eliminated within six years.”

Tokyo’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports that from today Japan will axe tariffs on kiwifruit, grapes and melons, and cut tariffs on imported beef from the current 38.5 percent to 27.5.

So it isn’t totally ‘free trade’, but it is a useful move in that direction.

Despite the benefits, National MP Todd McClay said the government needs to do everything it possibly can to bring the US back into the trade agreement.

“The government now needs to turn its attention to the US market, it’s the world’s largest consumer market, we haven’t got a trade deal with them, they need [the New Zealand government] to do everything they can to entice them back to the TPP and get better access for Kiwis for the US market”.

I don’t think it is worth the risk trying to get the US back into the CPTPP while Trump is President. He can’t be trusted to stick with trade agreements. He seems to think he can use agreements to threaten, and to renegotiate, at whim – as he has done with NAFTA. See “Either we build (finish) the Wall or we close the Border……”

Trump changes Syrian war, Kurds feel betrayed

Donald Trump surprised many people and countries with his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from Syria. In protest US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Brett McGurk, a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, resigned.

Trump’s decision has forced a sudden chaange of approach in the war by Turket, and Syrian Kurds, used by the US in the war but regarded as terrorists by Turkey, feel betrayed.

Reuters – Syrian surprise: How Trump’s phone call changed the war

President Donald Trump’s declaration in a phone call with Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border.

In the phone call two weeks ago, Trump had been expected to deliver a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to launch a crossborder attack targeting U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, U.S. officials say.

Instead, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.

“Trump asked: ‘If we withdraw our soldiers, can you clean up ISIS?’”, a Turkish official told Reuters. He said Erdogan replied that Turkish forces were up to the task.

“Then you do it,” Trump told him abruptly. To his national security adviser John Bolton, also on the call, Trump said: “Start work for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria.”

“I have to say it was an unexpected decision. The word ‘surprise’ is too weak to describe the situation,” said the official, one of five Turkish sources who spoke to Reuters about the Dec. 14 call between the two leaders.

Trump’s decision was also a shock in Washington, where senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, tried for days to change the president’s mind, U.S. officials said. When Trump made clear he would not back down, Mattis and a senior official coordinating the fight against Islamic State, Brett McGurk, both resigned.

For Turkey, Trump’s decision offers opportunity and risk.

Ankara has complained bitterly for years that the United States, a NATO ally, had chosen the Kurdish YPG militia as its main partner on the ground in Syria against Islamic State.

Turkey says the YPG is a terrorist group, inseparable from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which 40,000 people have been killed.

The U.S. withdrawal potentially frees Turkey’s military to push the YPG back from 500 km of border without risking a confrontation with American forces. It also removes a main cause of this year’s diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

But it also opens up an area of Syria far larger than anything Turkey had expected to fill, potentially pitting it against not just Kurdish forces but also the Damascus government – which is committed to regaining control of all of Syria – and its Russian and Iranian backers.

The YPG on Friday asked the Syrian government to take over the town of Manbij, which the Kurdish militia currently controls with U.S. support, to protect it from Turkish attack.

And if Turkish forces are to take on Islamic State in its last pocket of Syrian territory near the Iraqi border, they would first have to cross 250 km of territory controlled by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces.

“Erdogan got more than he bargained for,” said Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Program at the Washington Institute. “He had asked the U.S. to drop the YPG, but not withdraw from Syria”.

Alliances between groups fighting in Syria and countries involved in the war are complicated. Trump’s decision will force other countries to rethink their involvement, and will no doubt change the power struggles within and over Syria.

New York Times:  Syria’s Kurds, Feeling Betrayed by the U.S., Ask Assad Government for Protection

Feeling betrayed by the United States, its Kurdish allies in Syria asked the Syrian government on Friday to protect them from possible attack by Turkey.

The request surprised some American officials and could help open the way for the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, backed by Russia and Iran, to start retaking the Kurdish-held part of the country near Turkey’s border.

That would be a big step toward Mr. Assad’s goal of reclaiming all of Syria, upended by almost eight years of war.

It was also the first sign that President Trump’s abrupt announcement last week that he was withdrawing American troops from Syria was not only shifting alliances in the conflict but directly benefiting Mr. Assad — a brutal autocrat once described by Mr. Trump as an “animal” responsible for chemical attacks and other atrocities.

American-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G., said the Syrian government should send troops to the city of Manbij, near the Turkish border.

The request amounted to a United States ally calling on an enemy of the United States to protect it from another American ally, Turkey.

The Kurdish militias are regarded by Turkey as dangerous, autonomy-minded insurgents. The United States regards them as valuable partners in helping rout Islamic State extremists from Syria — the original purpose of the American military deployment four years ago.

Although the American troops in Syria number only about 2,000, they have been a deterrent to an assault on the Kurdish militias by the Turks. The American presence also discouraged Mr. Assad’s forces from sweeping into the area even as they retook major areas elsewhere from anti-government fighters, often with the support of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Trump’s surprise announcement that he would pull American troops had raised fears of a scramble by competing forces to exploit the resulting vacuum.

It’s hard to know whether trump understands the implications of his sudden decision or not.

Groups controlling land in Syria:

 

The areas run by the Kurds in Syria have long stood apart in the conflict. They had hoped, with their American friends, to pioneer an alternative model for Syria’s future.

While none of the other powers fighting in Syria liked the situation, they mostly avoided attacking the area for fear of provoking the United States. Now, with that deterrent set to end, the future of the northeast is up in the air.

Those most likely to gain, analysts say, are the Syrian government and its allies, who want to bring the northeast back under the control of Damascus, both for the good of Mr. Assad and for their own interests.

It’s anyone’s guess what will happen in Syria now.

Victim-in-chief has some worthwhile achievements

President Donald Trump is claiming to be the victim in advance of the Democrats taking control of the US Congress.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Democratic attempts at oversight in the coming Congress could amount to “presidential harassment.”

Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump again denied any collusion between his team and Russia when he was questioned about the investigative powers Democrats will assume come January.

“It’s probably presidential harassment and we know how to handle that. I know how to handle that better than anybody,” Trump said.

“You’re talking about millions and millions and millions of dollars of wasted money,” Trump said. “There’s been absolutely no collusion. But there has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats, with Russia and a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn’t have been dealing with, including very dishonest people.”

He has a record of blaming others for what he has done.

It’s a bit ironic Trump accusing others of harassment – or in this case possible harassment in the future. This could be seen as him harassing the Democrats to try to avoid being held to account.

“It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” Trump fumed, seated behind the Resolute Desk. “But other than that, I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.”

I just can’t help laughing at that. Time and again he comes across as a fool out of his depth.

But there has been some achievements in the two years he has been President (Barack Obama achieved some things too, al presidents do).

CNN: Five things even Trump critics can give him credit for this Christmas

President Donald Trump ends his second year in office isolated and under siege. A self-inflicted government shutdown is happening over Christmas, the stock market is suffering its worst month in a decade (compounded by his talk of sacking the Fed chair) and the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is sending shudders through America’s military and allies.

But these criticisms are for another day — pretty much any other day.

Today is Christmas. And in a spirit of finding the best in people, I promised myself I’d look for a few areas of agreement with a President with whom I disagree quite a lot.

After all, if you view politics through a historical lens, you’ll see that even our worst Presidents have some redeeming qualities. And if those can’t be found personally, they can be found in policy.

Criminal justice reform

President Trump got it done after decades of talk. He cobbled together a bipartisan coalition to pass the First Step Act and used his bully pulpit to push past a reluctant Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had pronounced the legislation “divisive” just weeks before. As a measure of that alleged divisiveness, the legislation passed by an overwhelming 87-12 margin.

The law blends common sense and compassion, redeeming reformed lives while saving money in the process. It promises to lessen the sentences of nonviolent criminals and reduce frankly racist sentencing disparities. And it’s the kind of bill that could only command Republican support if it were backed by a law-and-order candidate, which itself speaks to the stupid partisanship that usually outweighs policy.

Getting tough on China

…he’s been clear-eyed and mostly consistent when it comes to standing up to China’s exploitation of international systems to fuel its expansion while creating a technological surveillance state.

Team Trump has realized that time is running out to have any leverage on China in the effort to get it to act like a responsible global power. And while I don’t support Trump’s trade war tactics — mostly because they have lumped in allies like Canada with China — the President has been right to call out abuse of trade treaties by China that have created an unequal playing field on issues from manufacturing to intellectual property to massive state sponsored cyber theft.

Economic opportunity zones

The tax cut bill most often trumpeted as the prime achievement of the Trump era was actually a disaster. It stimulated an economy that was already overheated, promises to exacerbate the growing gap between the rich and poor (as well as the super-rich and middle class) and its failure to close corporate loopholes is already exploding our deficit and debt, reducing tax receipts in a booming economy.

That said, there is an excellent and overdue provision in the otherwise lousy tax bill — economic opportunity zones. Consider this the belated love child of Jack Kemp’s dwindling influence in the Republican Party, incentivizing investment in poverty-stricken neighborhoods through tax breaks on capital gains. It’s exactly the sort of smart, targeted government action that may finally spur development in our atrophied regional economies.

‘Right-to-try’ legislation

This is a comparatively small step, but it radiates common sense and actually shows a rare libertarian streak. The “right-to-try” legislation had been embraced by a number of states, but the federal government had been opposed until Trump pushed the bill into enactment.

Basically, it allows terminally ill patients to have access to experimental drugs. The logic is simple: what do they have to lose? Why not give patients and their families access to whatever experimental drug they want if it might be able to save or prolong their life?

The Music Modernization Act

… Orrin Hatch sponsored, and Trump signed, a worthwhile and overdue piece of legislation that stops musicians from getting screwed by streaming services and cuts down on the power of predatory middle men.

There will always be positives if you look for them. The hope has to be that they are not overwhelmed by negatives – and that the President is not overly distracted or even overwhelmed by negatives.

Oversight of the president, especially this president, is as important as ever, no matter how much Trump complains about it.

 

 

 

Russian influence in 2016 US election a social media facilitated democratic and social war

Foreign interference in a country’s election is a serious matter. A US Senate Intelligence Committee report details Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election using social media.

NY Times: Russian 2016 Influence Operation Targeted African-Americans on Social Media

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Texas, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report, which was obtained by The New York Times in advance of its scheduled release on Monday, is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

The second report was written by the Computational Propaganda Project at Oxford University along with Graphika, a company that specializes in analyzing social media. The Washington Post first reported on the Oxford report on Sunday.

The Russian influence campaign in 2016 was run by a St. Petersburg company called the Internet Research Agency, owned by a businessman, Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, who is a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Mr. Prigozhin and a dozen of the company’s employees were indicted last February as part of the investigation of Russian interference by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel.

So it would seem that Mueller has been doing some important and successful investigations.

Both reports stress that the Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names on virtually every available platform. A major goal was to support Donald Trump, first against his Republican rivals in the presidential race, then in the general election, and as president since his inauguration.

This wasn’t an anti-Democrat pro-Republican campaign of interference in the election, but also a pro-trump anti-Republican opponent campaign. So it started with interference in democratic selection processes of the Republican Party, and once that was successful it became an anti-Hillary Clinton and Anti-Democrat campaign.

US democracy was already in a poor state, dominated by monied interests, but it has now been trashed further by a foreign government.

And because some people got the election outcome the wanted they make excuses and ignore the serious nature of this interference.

The Russian campaign was the subject of Senate hearings last year and has been widely scrutinized by academic experts. The new reports largely confirm earlier findings: that the campaign was designed to attack Hillary Clinton, boost Mr. Trump and exacerbate existing divisions in American society.

The interference aims also included trying to divide and trash US society.

Questions still need to be answered about why Trump was aided in the candidate selection process and the presidential election. There are claims and indications that the Trump side saw financial and power rewards.

Did the Russians see a potential puppet whose strings they could pull to get US policies that favoured Russia? Or did they see an opportunity to diminish the power of the US by dividing their society? Possibly both.

The threats of nuclear war and the standoff of the Cold War are now history. Russia versus the United States has become a social media facilitated democratic and social war.

But Trump is president and that’s all that matters, the end justifies the means?

The problem with this is that the end is nigh, not done and dusted.

China and US resolving trade war, and ‘China needs NZ’

The trade war between the US and China seems to have been moderated after a meeting between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping.

Reuters: U.S., China agree trade war ceasefire after Trump, Xi summit

China and the United States agreed to a ceasefire in their bitter trade war on Saturday after high-stakes talks in Argentina between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, including no escalated tariffs on January 1.

Trump will leave tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports at 10 percent at the beginning of the new year, agreeing to not raise them to 25 percent “at this time”, the White House said in a statement.

“China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries,” it said.

“China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately.”

The two presidents also agreed to have talks on other contentious issues such as on structural changes with respect to forced technology transfers, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions and cyber theft, services and agriculture.

Meanwhile here in New Zealand, on Q+A last night, ‘Beijing-based economist Rodney Wigram explains why China needs New Zealand’:

 

Upper Hutt Posse: “Death to all oppressors”

I hadn’t heard of Upper Hutt Posse before but they have just been given a Legacy Award at the Legacy Award at the 2018 Vodafone New Zealand Music Award ceremony.

On accepting the award frontman Dean Hapeta spoke against involvement in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, suggested New Zealand should assist Palestine against ‘racist’ Israel, we should be helping the caravan of people walking through Mexico against US colonial power, and he finished saying “Death to all oppressors”.

While there has been a lot of jumping up and down about people coming New Zealand who are alleged to be guilty of ‘hate speech’ this was not given a lot of attention by media and was applauded journalist Mihingarangi Forbes:

A ‘controversial political speech’ which was headlined “‘Death to all oppressors’: Upper Hutt Posse’s political rant at the 2018 VNZMAs”.

Newshub (Youtube): Upper Hutt Posse’s passionate and furious speech at VNZMAs:

‘Passionate and furious’ and “Upper Hutt Posse frontman Dean Hapeta delivered a fiery political speech” with no criticism.

Newshub: ‘Death to all oppressors’: Upper Hutt Posse’s passionate and furious speech at 2018 VNZMAs

“Where’s that prime minister?”

“I got some words for you. All of our armed forces and military that have been fighting these fake wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for oil, for USA imperialism – get out of there!

“What you need to be doing is going to Palestine to fight against the racist terrorism of the Israeli state. That’s where all of our fighting energy needs to be.”

I don’t think that going to Palestine to fight against Israel is a sensible idea – and while one might cynically think that the NZ armed forces are small enough to slip into Palestine without being noticed, this just sounds crazy.

“Get to the Mexican/USA border and defend that caravan of indigenous people seeking refugee status in the United Snakes of Ameri-KKK-a”.

“They’re seeking refuge because their countries have been wrecked by that colonial power known as the USA.”

“Death to all oppressors!”

Maybe Upper Hutt Posse won’t be doing a tour of the US.

But here this just gets a passing mention from media as if it was a harmless rant by a crazy bugger.

1 News: Upper Hutt Posse frontman goes on astonishing rant while accepting legacy award at VMAs – ‘death to all oppressors’

Frontman for hip-hop pioneers Upper Hutt Posse, Dean Hapeta, has gone on a remarkable tirade at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, as his group were honoured with a legacy award.

In a controversial speech, Hapeta called for “death to all oppressors”.

I am sure it would be rarked up as more than ‘controversial’ if someone ‘non-indigenous’ called for the death of groups, whether Israel, the United States or otherwise.

This could be passed off as a crazy inconsequential rant by some fringe artist so it doesn’t matter, but it does indicate different standards for different people on speech that could be described as ‘hate speech’ or could be seen to be trying to provoke violence and murder.


UPDATE:

US preparing criminal case against Assange

In an apparent accidental revelation it appears that the US are preparing to indict Julian Assange on criminal charges.

Assenge has been confined to the Ecudor’s Embassy in London since 2012 where he received political asylum to protect him from facing charges against him in Sweden.

Assange headed Wikileaks, released hacked Hillary Clinton emails during the 2016 presidential election campaign, which was praised by Donald Trump.

Reuters:  U.S. prepares criminal case against Wikileaks’ Assange

U.S. prosecutors are preparing to pursue a criminal case against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, escalating a long battle targeting his anti-secrecy group.

According to a Thursday filing in an unrelated criminal case in a Virginia federal court, prosecutors have obtained a sealed indictment against Assange.

The charges were not immediately clear. Thursday’s filing had been sealed, but was made public this week for reasons that were also unclear, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, said the filing was made an error. Wikileaks said it a Twitter post that it was an “apparent cut-and-paste error.”

The disclosure came as U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller investigates possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and possible collusion by U.S. President Donald Trump’s White House campaign.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia obtained material through hacking, and Mueller’s office has brought various criminal charges against Russians and Trump associates.

For its part, Wikileaks has faced scrutiny for publishing emails hacked before the election from the Democratic Party and the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton, who Trump defeated.

U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors in Virginia have been conducting a lengthy criminal probe into Assange and Wikileaks.

Greg Barns, an Australian lawyer advising Assange, said in a statement it was “no surprise” that the United States was seeking to charge Assange, and Australian officials should allow Assange to return there.

I presume the US could seek extradition from Australia.

In a statement on Friday, Wikileaks said Assange was willing to work with British officials as long he was not extradited to the United States.

I don’t know if that sort of a deal protecting him from extradition laws and protocols would be possible.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service,” making that comment in April 2017 when he ran the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Trump praised Wikileaks during his 2016 campaign.

Trump praises anyone who helps his cause.

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.