Trump administration reversal on Paris climate agreement

WSJ: Trump Administration Won’t Withdraw from Paris Climate Deal

Trump administration officials said Saturday the U.S. wouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement, offering to re-engage in the international deal to fight climate change, according to the European Union’s top energy official.

The shift from President Donald Trump’s decision in June to renegotiate the landmark accord or craft a new deal came during a meeting of more than 30 ministers led by Canada, China and the European Union in Montreal.

“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said.

Each country already had flexibility over how the dealt with their commitments under the agreement.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

White House senior adviser Everett Eissenstat unveiled the U.S. plan, according to an official at Saturday’s gathering, as Ottawa, Beijing and Brussels accelerate their joint effort to minimize the fallout from a potential U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement.

All eyes on Twitter to see what Trump thinks?

Bannon leaving White House

The revolving door at the White House will slap Steve Bannon on the backside as he leaves in another turnover of senior staff.

Bannon’s association with Trump, especially his appointment as a senior White House adviser, has always been controversial.

Is this a clean up of someone unsuitable for his position, or the exit of someone else  disillusioned with the potential of Trump’s power?

Fox News: Steve Bannon out at the White House

The White House confirmed in a brief statement that Bannon, a hardcore populist who often sparred with his West Wing colleagues, would make Friday his last day — just over a year after he joined the Trump presidential campaign.

“White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.”

One White House aide told Fox News the departure was a long time coming, and that Bannon actually submitted his resignation in writing two weeks ago.

This would have been just days after Kelly joined as chief of staff. Kelly was said to have been the driving force in the ouster of former communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and speculation swiftly centered on Bannon as perhaps the next one to go.

Sources say Bannon has become increasingly isolated in the White House. Adding to the pressure, some critics also publicly attacked Bannon in the wake of last weekend’s Charlottesville violence, in which a counter-protester was killed at a white nationlist rally. Trump came under intense criticism for his response to that violence, and some blamed Bannon for the tone — though it’s unclear how much influence he had in any of Trump’s remarks.

Earlier this week, Bannon gave a candid interview to a liberal magazine where he slammed some of his adversaries inside the administration.

Speaking to The American Prospect, Bannon contradicted the administration’s statements on North Korea. He said despite threats to attack the regime, “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday rebuffed those remarks.

Bannon’s controversial comments in the interview last week seem to have been made with the knowledge that he would be leaving  Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump briefly addressed the speculation about Bannon’s future during a wide-ranging Q&A with reporters at Trump Tower on Tuesday afternoon.

“I like Mr. Bannon, he’s a friend of mine,” Trump said, while downplaying his impact in the 2016 campaign. “I like him. He’s a good man. He’s not a racist … but we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”

The departure eased criticism of the administration only slightly.

On Thursday, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone wrote a column saying that while he liked Bannon, he thought it was time for him to go.

“I am one who had publicly defended Bannon from false charges of racism and anti-Semitism yet I have concluded he is a spent force, never being willing to spend his political capital to help his friends and in some cases helping empower the very globalists he claims to oppose,” Stone said.

It is being reported that Bannon will go back to Breitbart News.

More from NY Times:  Stephen Bannon Out at the White House After Turbulent Run

Stephen K. Bannon, the embattled chief strategist who helped President Trump win the 2016 election but clashed for months with other senior West Wing advisers, is leaving his post, a White House spokeswoman announced Friday.

Earlier on Friday, the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon, according to two administration officials briefed on the discussion. But a person close to Mr. Bannon insisted that the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week. But the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.

The loss of Mr. Bannon, the right-wing nationalist who helped propel some of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises into policy reality, raises the potential for the president to face criticism from the conservative news media base that supported him over the past year.

Mr. Bannon’s many critics bore down after the violence in Charlottesville. Outraged over Mr. Trump’s insistence that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that erupted at a white nationalist rally, leaving one woman dead, human rights activists demanded that the president fire so-called nationalists working in the West Wing. That group of hard-right populists in the White House is led by Mr. Bannon.

More on Bannon’s interview a few days ago.

Mr. Bannon’s dismissal followed an Aug. 16 interview he initiated with a writer with whom he had never spoken, with the progressive publication The American Prospect. In it, Mr. Bannon mockingly played down the American military threat to North Korea as nonsensical: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

He also bad-mouthed his colleagues in the Trump administration, vowed to oust a diplomat at the State Department and mocked officials as “wetting themselves” over the consequences of radically changing trade policy.

Of the far right, he said, “These guys are a collection of clowns,” and he called it a “fringe element” of “losers.”

“We gotta help crush it,” he said in the interview, which people close to Mr. Bannon said he believed was off the record.

Privately, several White House officials said that Mr. Bannon appeared to be provoking Mr. Trump and that they did not see how the president could keep him on after the interview was published.

If Bannon had already handed in his resignation the interview may have been a parting shot.

Is the White House gradually becoming a part of the Swamp?

Scaramucci dumped

Anthony Scarramucci has already been dumped from the role of White House communications director, 12 days after his appointment was announced and before he actually took over the position.

Scaramucci went rogue last week, but lasted long enough in the limelight to stick a dagger into Reince Priebus who was finished off as Chief of Staff by Trump.

NY Times: Trump Removes Anthony Scaramucci From Communications Director Role

President Trump has decided to remove Anthony Scaramucci from his position as communications director, three people close to the decision said Monday, relieving him just days after Mr. Scaramucci unloaded a crude verbal tirade against other senior members of the president’s senior staff.

The decision to remove Mr. Scaramucci, who had boasted about reporting directly to the president, not the chief of staff, John F. Kelly, came at Mr. Kelly’s request, the people said. Mr. Kelly made clear to members of the White House staff at a meeting Monday morning that he is in charge.

Disapproval of Trump has reached a near record high of 56.1%, with 39.2% still approving on the RCP average.

US general discussion

News or views or issues from the USA.USFlag

The White House is seeking suggestions via an online survey on “ways to reorganize the executive branch and eliminate unnecessary agencies”.

Reorganizing the Executive Branch: We Need Your Input!

On March 13th, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order that will make the Federal government more efficient, effective, and accountable to you, the American people. This Executive Order directs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to present the President with a plan that recommends ways to reorganize the executive branch and eliminate unnecessary agencies.

President Trump wants to hear your ideas and suggestions on how the government can be better organized to work for the American people.

Getting ideas and views from the public is good in a democracy, but a self-selecting online survey won’t give an accurate idea of what the public overall want.

It is fine to get ideas, but is no good as a measurement of public opinion.

The fine print of the survey:

The White House welcomes and values all comments from the public in response to the request for improvements in the organization and functioning of the Executive Branch. The White House may not respond to every comment that is submitted and submissions do not bind the Office of Management and Budget or the Administration to further action. The United States Government reserves full rights to use, copy, or distribute submissions for its purposes without compensation or approval on the part of the submitter. Because your comment may be made available to the public, you are responsible for ensuring that your submissions are free of confidential information, such as personally identifiable information, copyright or other intellectual property restrictions.

By submitting, you agree to receive White House emails about this and other issues.

That last paragraph may raise some concerns – it looks like the survey could be used for email harvesting. That may put some people off submitting on the survey, which may skew the numbers.

US discussion – Bannon off NSC

News or views or issues from the USA.USFlag

Steve Bannon, ex-Breitbart CEO and now chief strategist for Donald Trump, was controversially appointed to the National Security Council, but has now been removed from that position.

Fox News: Steve Bannon removed from National Security Council

President Trump’s controversial chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, was removed from the National Security Council on Wednesday, Fox News confirmed.

Bannon was put on the NSC’s “Principals Committee” as a check on former National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn to make sure Flynn carried through with a directive to depoliticize the NSC, a senior administration official told Fox News.

That’s more than ironic given how political Bannon is.

Bannon’s promotion to a regular NSC seat proved to be a contentious move, with detractors questioning why a political adviser was being given a permanent voice on security issues.

Bannon only attended one meeting of the Principals Committee and Flynn was fired from his role in mid February after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with a Russian official.

With McMaster replacing Flynn, Trump saw no need for Bannon to stay on the committee as a check on Flynn, the official said.

Bannon is still permitted to go to NSC meetings.

It sounds like Bannon was some sort of a political enforcer on the NSC, and is still hovering.

Bloomberg: Bannon Taken Off Trump National Security Council in Shake-Up

President Donald Trump reorganized his National Security Council on Wednesday, removing chief strategist Stephen Bannon from a key committee and restoring the roles of top intelligence and defense officials, according to a person familiar with the decision and a notice published in the Federal Register.

The realignment increases the influence of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, whose public stances were sometimes at odds with those of Bannon. In addition to gaining greater control over the NSC, McMaster will have the Homeland Security Council under his authority.

Bannon, the former executive chairman of Breitbart News, is one of Trump’s most trusted and controversial advisers. He channeled the populist and nationalist sentiment that propelled Trump’s presidential campaign. His placement on the NSC committee drew criticism from some members of Congress and Washington’s foreign policy establishment who said it risked politicizing the security advice provided to the president.

A White House official portrayed the change as a natural progression rather than a demotion for Bannon. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, contended that Bannon was placed on the committee in part to monitor Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and never attended a meeting. He’s no longer needed with McMaster in charge of the council, the official said.

The Fox News report says he attended one meeting.

Still, his departure from the NSC role was applauded by some Republicans as well as Democrats. Republican Represenative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida called it “welcome news” in a tweet.


US businesses versus Trump

Donald Trump may be starting to find out that what may seem simple clampdowns on travel for ‘security’ reasons can have wide ranging effects that the new White House strategists may not have foreseen.

Trump now has more than a few judges opposing his travel restrictions, he now has many large US businesses challenging him legally.

The companies include Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook,Twitter, Intel, eBay, Netflix, Uber, Amazon and Expedia.

RNZ: Apple, Google, Facebook among 100 firms opposing Trump’s travel ban

Apple, Google and Microsoft have joined a legal brief opposing US President Donald Trump’s temporary travel ban, arguing it “inflicts significant harm on American business.”

The brief was signed by nearly 100 companies including Facebook, Twitter, Intel , eBay, Netflix and Uber, as well as non-tech companies such as Levi Strauss and Chobani.

The document is an amicus brief, which allows parties not directly involved in a case but who feel they are affected by it, to give their view.

Mr Trump’s executive order, the most contentious policy move of his first two weeks in office, faces crucial legal hurdles. It had temporarily barred entry to the United States by people from seven mostly Muslim countries, as well as suspending the US refugee programme.

A federal judge in Seattle on Friday blocked the move, and the Trump administration has a deadline on Monday (6pm Tuesday NZT) to justify the action.

“The order represents a significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than fifty years,” the brief from the companies stated.

“The order inflicts significant harm on American business, innovation, and growth as a result,” it added.

“Immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list.”

Immigrants and especially the next generation are often cited as a major terrorism risk, with scant evidence beyond a few isolated examples.

On the other hand, in reality land, immigrants and their families have been a huge part of American success for a long time.

US tech companies, which employ many foreign-born nationals, have been among the most vocal groups in speaking out against Mr Trump’s travel order. and Expedia, both based in Washington state, supported the Seattle lawsuit, asserting that the travel restrictions harmed their businesses.

It’s not just those who are directly restricted that cause problems. The uncertainties about entry to the US and about immigration is likely to cause many more people to reconsider the US as a destination.

Unforeseen effects and unintended consequences may end up becoming big issues for a very inexperienced White House.

And Trump’s habit of shooting from the hip at anyone who criticises him or opposes what he is trying to do may lead to mayhem, including a significant loss of business confidence in the US.

May: Trump “100% in favour of Nato”

In a visit to the White House UK Prime Minister Theresa May says that Donald Trump is 100% in favour of Nato.

From the Guardian: Donald Trump ‘100% behind Nato’, says Theresa May at joint White House press conference

Donald Trump starts. He says the UK/US relationship has been a force for peace. We pledge our support for this relationship, he says.

He says the US respects the UK’s right to self-determination.

A free UK is a blessing to the world, he says.

Trump calls May “Madam Prime Minister”.

Great days lie ahead for our two peoples, he says.

He thanks May for coming. It has been a great honour.

On torture and on Russia:

Q: You say torture works, you have praised Russia, you suggest there should be punishment for abortion. What do you say to people worried about you?

Turning to May, Trump jokes: “This was your choice for a question.”

Trump says General Mattis, the new defence secretary, has said he does not believe in torture. He does not necessarily agree, Trump says. But he say Mattis will over-ride Trump on this. Trump will rely on him. But Mattis is the “general’s general”.

He says he does not know President Putin. He hopes they have a good relationship. He wants them to go after Isis together. How the relationship works out, he doesn’t know. Sometimes he thinks he will like someone, and he doesn’t like them at all. And sometimes he likes people he did not expect to like.

On Mexico:

Trump says he thinks he has a good relationship with the Mexican president. But the US cannot continue to lose jobs. The US will renegotiate trade deals. That will be good for both countries. His call with the Mexican president today was very friendly. They will negotiate over the coming months.

What happened publicly yesterday between the US and Mexican presidents didn’t look like good relationships.

Q: You say we will have a good trade deal, and you support Nato. But you keep changing your position. And how will the two of you get on because you are so differrent?

Trump says he thinks he and May can get on. He says he is not as brash as people think.

He denies changing his stance. His views on trade have been the same for years. When he visited Scotland he said Brexit would happen. He was scorned in the press. But it happened, he says.

Brexit will be good for the UK, he says. It will be able to make its own trade deal.

He had a bad experience in his business life getting approvals from the EU.

(Is this a reference to the planning application in Ireland that he spoke about in his interview with Michael Gove?)

May says she and Trump want to put the interests of ordinary people first, the people who feel the odds are stacked against them. She and Trump both feel that these people deserve a fairer deal.

Perhaps May will be keeping an eye on Twitter and listening to see what Sean Spicer has to say over the next day or two.


Trump versus media, continued

It hasn’t taken long for tensions to surface between president-elect Donald Trump and the media. Trump has just visited the White House to have a chat with Obama and a look around.

Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!

His relationship with the White House Correspondents’ Association hasn’t started well.

White House Correspondents Association: Trump decision to leave DC without informing press could leave Americans “blind” during crisis


Trump may not know how things are expected to work yet. Or this could be the beginning of an uneasy and possibly contentious relationship between Trump and the media.

Trump owes his success to the attention given him by the media, but he indicated during the campaign a large amount of friction as well, when the media didn’t perform how he liked.

Trump’s apparently conciliatory conversion regarding Obama and Clinton does not seem to apply to media.

UPDATE: An NBC News reporter got a response from Trump on registration of Muslims and got a chilling response: Donald Trump Says He’d ‘Absolutely’ Require Muslims to Register

Donald J. Trump, who earlier in the week said he was open to requiring Muslims in the United States to register in a database, said on Thursday night that he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.”

Mr. Trump was asked about the issue by an NBC News reporter and pressed on whether all Muslims in the country would be forced to register. “They have to be,” he said. “They have to be.’’

When asked how a system of registering Muslims would be carried out — whether, for instance, mosques would be where people could register — Mr. Trump said: “Different places. You sign up at different places. But it’s all about management. Our country has no management.’’

Asked later, as he signed autographs, how such a database would be different from Jews having to register in Nazi Germany, Mr. Trump repeatedly said, “You tell me,” until he stopped responding to the question.

 More than a bit ominous.

Studies on medical cannabis “mostly poor quality” but prospects for change

It was interesting to see this posted on the United Future Facebook time line – Studies Supporting Use of Medical Marijuana are Mostly Poor Quality, Researchers Find.

The White House has just announced that it will be relaxing some of its strict regulations on marijuana research, making it easier for scientists to conduct clinical studies on the drug.

This could not have come at a better time, it seems, as a comprehensive review of 40 years of human trials that examined its potential use in treating a variety of ailments has suggested that high-quality evidence supporting its therapeutic use is lacking.

With its increasing popularity, now is the time to critically evaluate its effectiveness in clinical settings, which is precisely what a team of researchers from the University of Bristol recently set out to do.

As described in the journal JAMA, the team set out to review the benefits of cannabinoids in the treatment of various diseases or symptoms. Almost 80 randomized clinical trials were included in the study, which revealed that the majority found an improvement in symptoms with the use of cannabinoids. While this may sound positive, they actually found that most of these associated health improvements were not statistically significant.

Some study successes:

Of those that were considered to be of moderate quality, support was found for the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of chronic pain and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.

And some failures:

But for sleep disorders, weight gain in HIV infection, Tourette’s syndrome, and nausea due to chemotherapy, studies reporting improvements with cannabinoid use were considered to be of low quality.

An obvious need for more comprehensive studies.

So if the studies aren’t good enough, why is medical marijuana so widely used to treat certain diseases? The FDA actually requires a minimum of two randomized clinical trials of adequate quality before a drug can be approved for a specific medical condition, but it seems that many cannabis studies have slipped through the net. But as pointed out by anaccompanying editorial, this arguably reflects difficulties in conducting clinical studies on the drug due to its classification as a Schedule 1 drug.

It’s difficult to adequately study drugs that are illegal and use of them is prosecuted.

The take-home message from this review is therefore not that marijuana has no place in modern medicine, but that there is a clear need for more robust studies into its use, especially given the fact that more governments are now contemplating its legalization as a medicinal or recreational drug.

Shane responded to this on facebook:

Part of the issue is that public policy has outstripped the science due to restrictions in place. Many people are now well aware of its medical potential for things such as intractable epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, neuro degenerative conditions such as MS and MND, and my particular interest, chronic pain. The science is coming in to back up these conditions, but if we wait for 100% certainty of the science, people will needlessly suffer, Charlotte Figi would be dead without MC, of that we can be nearly certain, As well as as the countless chronic pain patients in the USA who have avoided overdosing on opiates with medical cannsbis as a safer alternative. A middle ground must be found to serve the public interest while those suffering wait impatiently for the science to catch up.

If there’s relatively low risk (especially compared to other drugs) and the chances of some benefits then more liberal controls make sense.

The costs of wars

If you wondered why the US economy is struggling, it’s not just the domestic mess:

Cost of war at least $3.7 trillion and counting

(Reuters) – When President Barack Obama cited cost as a reason to bring troops home from Afghanistan, he referred to a $1 trillion price tag for America’s wars.

Staggering as it is, that figure grossly underestimates the total cost of wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the U.S. Treasury and ignores more imposing costs yet to come, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The final bill will run at least $3.7 trillion and could reach as high as $4.4 trillion, according to the research project “Costs of War” by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

It’s an academic estimate, but whatever the total it is huge and growing.

In the 10 years since U.S. troops went into Afghanistan to root out the al Qaeda leaders behind the September 11, 2001, attacks, spending on the conflicts totaled $2.3 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

Those numbers will continue to soar when considering often overlooked costs such as long-term obligations to wounded veterans and projected war spending from 2012 through 2020. The estimates do not include at least $1 trillion more in interest payments coming due and many billions more in expenses that cannot be counted, according to the study.

The White House says the total amount appropriated for war-related activities of the Department of Defense, intelligence and State Department since 2001 is about $1.3 trillion, and that would rise to nearly $1.4 trillion in 2012.

Researchers with the Watson Institute say that type of accounting is common but too narrow to measure the real costs.

Some of the sombre human tally:

  • Killed: 224,000 to 258,000 people
  • Civilians: 125,000 civilians in Iraq killed
  • Wounded: 365,00 people
  • Displaced: 7.8 million people
  • Affected  indirectly:  from the loss of clean drinking water, healthcare, and nutrition.

What has all this bought? We probably won’t know how “successful the ME wars have been for another 5-10 years, once the US has pulled out.