Nel's New Day

February 1, 2017

Trump Keeps Campaign Promises, Alienates Growing Number of Countries

Have I demoted President Donald Trump (PDT) to just Donald Trump (DT) was a question sent me yesterday. The demotion was accurate because I cannot consider DT a president until he starts acting like one. His actions recently, however, provide a new descriptor for him—Dictator Donald Trump (DDT). Over a half century ago, Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, describing the dire consequences of the pesticide DDT including cancer and other destructive effects on the planet. In 1972, the U.S. banned the use of DDT for agricultural use in the nation. Donald Trump may be even more toxic for the United States.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 28: Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice on June 28, 2016 in Washington, DC. Volkswagen has agreed to nearly $15 billion in a settlement over emissions cheating on its diesel vehicles. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

As a dictator, DDT has decided to ignore the U.S. Constitution. Conservative press claims that Sally Yates should have been fired from the Department of Justice because she was insubordinate—that she should do anything the president wants, including supporting his unconstitutional actions. The office of the president can legally fire the Attorney General, but DDT’s action in this case and his petty language smearing her demonstrates his failure to understand that the DOJ is an independent agency. The Attorney General swears an oath to the U.S. Constitution, not to the U.S. president, yet DDT looks at the AG as his personal lackey.

Independence of the DOJ is especially vital at this time when some of the president’s associates are being investigated for their communication with Russia regarding the election.  Republican lawmakers understood the mission of the Attorney General when they confirmed individuals under a Democratic president. As with all else in the GOP world, however, fealty to the president is now of paramount importance with a Republican in the office.

As satirist Andy Borowitz wrote:

“Donald Trump fired the acting Attorney General, Sally Q. Yates, after learning that she had downloaded a copy of the United States Constitution to her computer, Trump told reporters on Monday night. According to the Trump Administration’s code of ethics, established by Steve Bannon, a counselor to the President, ‘possessing, reading, or referring to the United States Constitution’ is a violation that is punishable by termination.

“Suspecting that Yates was in breach of that rule, Bannon seized Yates’s computer at the Justice Department and discovered that she had secretly downloaded a complete copy of the 1789 document. ‘Sally Yates was hatching a covert plot to require my actions to be in accordance with the Constitution,’ Trump said. ‘We caught her red-handed.’

“Trump said he hoped Yates’s firing would send Justice Department staffers the message that ‘if you are caught flagrantly obeying the Constitution, you will be out of here. The American people deserve an Attorney General who will come to work every day ready to flout the Constitution, and in Jeff Sessions, they will have one,’ he said.”

With DDT and the current GOP crop, satire has come close to fact.

In DDT’s exuberance to capture terrorists coming in the country, his Muslim ban led to handcuffing a five-year-old boy and holding him in custody, separated from his parents for at least five hours, because he may have been “a threat to America,” according to Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) revealed that the child is a U.S. citizen who lives in Maryland and described the incident as “outrageous.” The boy was detained despite authorities having prior knowledge of his arrival. When Van Hollen tried to see if the child had been released, he was refused information by airport authorities.

With his new presidential powers, DDT is carrying out his campaign promises, one of them targeting the families of terror suspects. Although Press Secretary Sean Spicer indicated he was not aware of this DDT position, DDT said this on the campaign trail:

“[Y]ou have to take out their families. When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families. They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.”

DDT’s first military raid, carried out last Sunday, killed two U.S. citizens, a member of SEAL Team 6 and the eight-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, an al Qaeda leader born in New Mexico and killed in a U.S. strike five years ago. The purpose of the raid in southern Yemen was to gather intelligence, and an official said about the raid, “Almost everything went wrong.” Several other SEALs were injured, some seriously, and the child’s death has been useful for al Qaeda recruitment. Terrorist groups are circulating photographs of children who have been killed by the United States.

DDT attacked its (former?) ally in a telephone call last Saturday to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in that country’s attempt to confirm that the U.S. would honor its pledge to take 1,250 refugees. Before the call, DDT accused Australia of trying to export the “next Boston bombers.” A senior administration official stated that the call to Turnbull was “hostile and charged,” according to the Washington Post. Turnbull had assured that acceptance of the refugees was contingent on vetting, but DDT Trump said that he didn’t see how the U.S. would gain anything by honoring its promise. Although Turnbull tried to move on to discuss Syria’s conflict and other important foreign issues, DDT abruptly ended the call and said it was the “worst call by far.”

DDT’s call with the Mexican president seems even worse. Relationships between DDT and Enrique Peña Nieto have been strained since DDT told the Mexican president that he didn’t need to come to a meeting with him if Mexico wouldn’t pay for DDT’s wall between the countries. In this call, DDT threatened to send U.S. troops to stop “bad hombres down there.” Nieto denied that DDT had made this threat, but the Mexican press reported DDT’s statements:

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn announced that the U.S. has put Iran “on notice” for carrying out a medium-range ballistic missile test and attacks by proxy forces on a Saudi frigate:

“The Trump administration condemns such actions by Iran that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.”

The missile exploded when its reentry vehicle failed. Flynn declared that the launch violated a UN resolution, but Iran maintains that it has the right to missile development for protection from Israeli attack.  The UN has not made a decision about whether the launch violated its resolution.

Alienating countries in three continents, DDT has ignored Russia’s aggressive actions in escalating its illegal war in Ukraine.

Last week, DDT directed his irritation toward Theresa May, the UK prime minister who visited the U.S. During a joint press conference, May permitted a British reporter to ask this question:

“Mr. President, you’ve said before that torture works; you’ve praised Russia; you’ve said you want to ban some Muslims from coming to America; you’ve suggested there should be punishment for abortion. For many people in Britain, those sound like alarming beliefs. What do you say to our viewers at home who are worried about some of your views and worried about you becoming the leader of the free world?”

DDT avoided answering the question and then said to May, “This was your choice of a question? There goes that relationship!” It may become further strained with May’s opposition to DDT’s positions. She warned DDT and the Republicans to “beware” of Vladimir Putin and keep the sanctions, cautioned him that the West should stop trying to “remake the world in our own image,” backed the Iranian nuclear deal that DDT threatened to tear up, argued for all “diplomatic means at our disposal” to defeat ISIS, and strongly supported NAFTA.

In the first 24 hours after DDT announced his Muslim ban, over 1.5 million people in the UK, that has a population of 64.5 million, signed a petition opposing DDT’s state visit to their country. The petition reads:

“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official state visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

In addition, the House of Commons unanimously passed a motion condemning the “discriminatory, divisive and counterproductive” travel ban. On February 20, Parliament will debate whether to rescind DDT’s visit. DDT seems intent on alienating every country except Russia.

trumps-visit

July 19, 2016

Only GOP Gets Pass for Making Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes. That’s what Republicans said this week when Leslie Stahl asked GOP vice-president candidate Mike Pence about staunchly supporting the Iraq War and Donald Trump excused him. That’s what a GOP delegate said about Melania Trump’s speech on the first night of the GOP convention that copied segments about values from First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic convention, the wife of the man who Trump denigrated for his lack of values.

Plagiarism seems to be a family pattern for the Trumps:  much of the materials from Trump Institute’s “get-rich-quick” ideas came from “an obscure real estate manual published a decade earlier,” according to NYT’s Jonathan Martin. Plagiarism ended Joe Biden’s first presidential campaign in 1988, but Trump has been called the Teflon Man because nothing sticks to him. The GOP position that mistakes are no problem seem to not be extended to Democrats.

Last night at the convention was a night of fear and doom highlighted by Patricia Smith, mother of a man who died in the attack on the diplomatic post at Benghazi (Libya), when she emphatically said that she holds Hillary Clinton personally responsible for the death of her son. (Fox watchers missed her speech, however, because it broadcast a live interview with Donald Trump at the same time as her speech.) Smith claims that Clinton lied to her; family members of other losses at Benghazi do not agree with Smith. Steve Benen described the manipulation of a woman’s grief for political purposes as “the lowest point a party has reached in my lifetime.” Throughout the evening, the incessant cry of “lock her up” about Hillary made the delegates sound like crowds rioting during the French Revolution.

While the media’s obsession with Clinton and Benghazi, it largely ignored George W. Bush’s part in the Middle East conflicts, a disaster that has killed hundreds of times more people—both in the 9/11 attack and the ensuing wars—than the four tragic deaths at Benghazi. As Maureen Dodd reported in a recent column, “Bush’s Call to Invade Iraq Looking Even Worse,” Trump agrees with a report in Jean Edward Smith’s biography, Bush, “that W. ignored warnings before 9/11, and overreacted afterward.” He behaved like a teenager who didn’t pay attention while driving and then over corrected into the ditch—but millions of times worse.

Recent reports show that Bush’s actions, responsible for the current dangers from radical terrorists, ignored the results of the 9/11 congressional inquiry released in 2002. After 14 years, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) forced the release of 28 pages from this report showing that the United States blamed the wrong country for the 3,000 deaths on 9/11. Despite heavy redactions, the pages reveal that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack on the United states were paid by Saudi Arabia and identifies serious communication failures between the CIA and the FBI that provided intelligence failure before the attacks.

In addition, the view of Saudi Arabia as an “ally” led to the FBI’s refusal to investigate the Saudi hijackers. Within the 28 pages is that statement that connections “suggest … incontrovertible evidence [exists] that there is support for these terrorists within the Saudi government.” Another part of the newly-released findings is that “Saudi Government officials in the United States may have ties to Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist network.”

After the 9/11 attack, the FBI failed to interview key Saudi Arabian witnesses while relying on false second-hand information. Despite the FAA’s closure of the U.S. air space, they allowed key Saudi Arabians to almost immediately flee the United States because of their friendship with the Bush family. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were identified as Saudi citizens, but W. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.

Months before the attack on 9/11, however, W. and his administration had already begun planning to attack Iraq. He started immediately after his first inauguration when he also cut taxes by $1 trillion and created a deficit, beginning with $400 billion after the former president, Bill Clinton, had brought the country to a surplus. Dick Cheney said that “Saddam’s own son-in-law” told them that “Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.” Yet in 2003, reporters found that the son-in-law had said the opposite, that “all weapons—biological, chemical, missile, nuclear—were destroyed.”

Despite claims to the contrary from Cheney, and Condoleeza Rice, the aluminum tubes were the wrong size for centrifuges but appropriate for conventional, non-WMD rockets and “innocuous.” There were no links at that time between Iraq and a Qaeda although Colin Powell said the opposite.  W. claimed an IAEA report said that Iraq was “six months away from developing a nuclear weapon.” No such report existed, and the IAEA reported that it had “found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.” And on and on with the lies.

Over one million Iraqi men, women, and children have been killed in the conflict, and another two million are refugees in other countries. Another 1.7 million are displaced within the country. One million U.S. veterans were injured in the war, and 4,491 died.

W. always claimed that releasing this information would “make it harder for us to win the war on terror.” What he really means is that the release of the information would be harder for him to start the war that developed the terror in today’s Middle East.

To accomplish his goal, he enlisted the support of Tony Blair, then British prime minister, “to start a war on dodgy intelligence with inadequate planning to control the killing fields of a post-Saddam landscape, a landscape that eventually spawned the Islamic state.” That’s the conclusion of the 2.6 million-word report from the British government’s Chilcot inquiry. They ignored the report of U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix who said that he found no weapons of mass destruction. Blair expressed concerns about the French, and W. answered:

“Yeah, but what did the French ever do for anyone? What wars did they win since the French Revolution?”

Key findings from the British inquiry into the Iraq War:

  • There was “no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein” in March 2003 and military action was “not a last resort.”
  • The UK “chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted.”
  • Tony Blair’s note to George W. Bush on July 28, 2002, saying UK would be with the US “whatever,” was the moment Britain was set on a path to war
  • Judgments about the threat posed by Iraq’s WMD “were presented with a certainty that was not justified.”
  • Tony Blair told attorney general Lord Goldsmith Iraq had committed breaches of UN Security Council resolution 1441 without giving evidence to back up his claim
  • Planning for post-war Iraq was “wholly inadequate.”
  • Iran, North Korea and Libya were considered greater threats in terms of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons proliferation.
  • The joint intelligence committee believed it would take Iraq five years, after the lifting of sanctions, to produce enough fissile material for a weapon.
  • There was no evidence that Iraq had tried to acquire fissile material and other components or – were it able to do so – that it had the technical capabilities to turn these materials into a usable weapon.
  • Saddam’s regime was “not judged likely” to share its weapons or knowhow with terrorist groups.

After the report came out, W. admitted “mistakes” in Iraq but said that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. The U.S. created Hussein, employing him starting in 1959 and sending him millions of dollars, intelligence and tactical advice after making him the dictator in the 1980s. W. simply destroyed any Iraqi institutions remaining with no plan on how to rebuild these. Thirteen years later, poverty and violence in Iraq are rampant, and many people are without reliable electricity, running water, and healthcare.

As always, conservatives blame everyone except themselves—in this case the Iraqis. James Kirchick wrote in the National Review:

“If supporters of the Iraq War can be blamed for anything, it is being guilty of, at worst, a naïveté whereby they expected too much from Iraqis—not, as the latter-day inquisitors of George W. Bush and Tony Blair would have it, of a malignant desire to rape and pillage. Iraq’s tragic predicament is the result not of Western imperialism but of the particular pathologies of a Muslim-Arab world whose depredations are now on full view across the region, from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen and beyond.”

The GOP push at this time is to complete wipe out terrorists in the Middle East. That means eliminating whatever infrastructure exists in these countries, putting in more dictators, and then leaving the countries worse off that they were before they did their regime-building. The result will be more hundreds of thousands of people dead and more hundreds of thousands of people left homeless and wandering a planet where they are unwanted.

This is the party that wants to put Hillary Clinton in prison after she was exonerated of involvement with the deaths of four people in Benghazi. The GOP must keep bombing countries—14 of them in the Islamic world since 1980—because politicians make money from contractors creating the war machines. In addition, the U.S. accounts for 79 percent of weapons sales to the Middle East, and the majority of all foreign weapons sales around the world.   That’s one way that GOP candidates get elected; they beat the war drums and then use funding from manufacturers of war weapons.

June 29, 2016

Benghazi Panel Won’t Stop Going Nowhere

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 9:45 PM
Tags: , , ,

The House Committee on the tragic deaths of four people in a diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, has slogged along for almost 800 days—longer than the 704 days that the 9/11 Commission worked to dig out every piece about the worst terrorist attack on the United States. That committee created a bipartisan report endorsed by all the commission members. The Benghazi committee was created on May 8. It has lasted longer than investigations in Pearl Harbor, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the Hurricane Katrina debacle and found nothing new over the first seven Benghazi inquiries.

The committee isn’t finished. Although the Republicans on the committee has already released an 800-page report, they interviewed another witness today, a man who used the hashtag “#ifyouvoteforhillaryyouarebeyondstupid.” The Air Force mechanic posted an argument on his Facebook page that planes from his European base could have saved the people who died. His superiors have already testified that there’s nothing to what he claims.

The committee vote on whether to adopt the report is July 8, and Democrats are just getting copies. Not one Democrat on the committee was allowed to see the report before it was released to the public. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), leading Democrat on the committee, described today’s interview as further evidence of GOP attempts to smear Clinton. That one committee cost the public at least $7 million, and Cummings questioned why taxpayers should have to pay more money “to chase down unsubstantiated conspiracy theories against Secretary Clinton.”

The GOP’s sole goal in the investigation, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), was to discredit Hillary Clinton to keep her from becoming president. Whether the partisan witch hunt has succeeded in finding enough dirt on Clinton to destroy her differs depending who is reporting the information. The conservative publication from the nation’s capital, The Hill, announced, “Benghazi Panel Faults Clinton.” The headline from the popular Huffington Post was “House Republicans spent millions of dollars on Benghazi Committee to exonerate Clinton.”

The New York Times summarized the Benghazi report:

“Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.”

These seven “findings” in the report show how desperate The Hill is. Although Republicans may wish to believe that these are new, all seven emerged in the earlier seven investigations:

  • Ambassador Stevens, one of the four men killed, wanted to make the Benghazi facility permanent.
  • The military never got moving (probably because it was too far to be successful in stopping the attack).
  • Troops changed clothes four times. (That Marines in Rota, Spain were required to change four times from military to civilian attire and back again is irrelevant because no aircraft was at Rota and the Marines’ destination was Tripoli, not Benghazi.)
  • YouTube video dominated White House meeting, but the anti-Muslim video ultimately proved not to be a contributing factor.
  • Former Qadhafi loyalists evacuated U.S. people from Benghazi’s CIA annex to the airport.
  • Clinton blamed terrorists in private. (The report tried to show this as part of her deception.)
  • Rice went “off the reservation.” The racist statement from the State Department’s senior Libya desk officer in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was a criticism of then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice’s statements on the Sunday talk shows after the attack when she said the assaults were spontaneous. She was actually using information from the CIA, some of which the CIA admitted later were wrong.

In the almost four years since the tragic event at Benghazi, that one word is now defined as everything that went wrong in Libya since the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi, assisted by the U.S. The GOP focus on Clinton’s fault in the deaths kept any thoughtful consideration of U.S. interventions in other countries’ politics. The GOP opinion made only one shift: In the past, Republicans claimed that the Obama administration handled the crisis badly because they could have sent military forces but didn’t. Now they’re saying that the situation was badly handled because they had not positioned military forces to make a difference.

Donald Trump and his son, Eric, have viciously lied about Clinton “sleeping” while Ambassador Stevens was killed. Yet the attack occurred at 3:30 pm EST, and Clinton released a public statement after 10:00 pm. She was still sending emails after 11:00 pm that night.

Trump went so far as to tell people to ask Stevens’ family how they feel about Clinton. Dr. Anne Stevens, the ambassador’s sister said this about the tragedy:

“It is clear, in hindsight, that the facility was not sufficiently protected by the State Department and the Defense Department. But what was the underlying cause? Perhaps if Congress had provided a budget to increase security for all missions around the world, then some of the requests for more security in Libya would have been granted. Certainly the State Department is under-budgeted.

“I do not blame Hillary Clinton or Leon Panetta. They were balancing security efforts at embassies and missions around the world. And their staffs were doing their best to provide what they could with the resources they had. The Benghazi Mission was understaffed. We know that now. But, again, Chris knew that. It wasn’t a secret to him. He decided to take the risk to go there. It is not something they did to him. It is something he took on himself.”

The GOP-controlled Congress started slashing security funding for embassies as soon as they took over in 2011. The year before Benghazi, Hillary warned the GOP that their embassy security cuts put Americans at risk, but they refused to listen to her. Instead the report blamed the tragedy on positioning of “assets”:

“The assets ultimately deployed by the Defense Department in response to the Benghazi attacks were not positioned to arrive prior to the final lethal attack on the Annex. The fact that this is true does not mitigate the question of why the world’s most powerful military was not positioned to respond; or why the urgency and ingenuity displayed by team members at the Annex and Team Tripoli was seemingly not shared by all decision makers in Washington.”

Despite all their efforts, the GOP failed to place the blame: they just raised general criticisms and concerns about inadequate security resources, breakdowns among agencies, and bureaucratic inaction. Committee Democrats released a press statement that stated, in part:

“Decades in the future, historians will look back on this investigation as a case study in how not to conduct a credible investigation.”

The far right-wing has now moved from Hillary Clinton to a new scapegoat, committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC). The Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi released a 73-page Benghazi report against Clinton and President Obama that reads like a Trump speech and includes fantasy connections between the deaths and the Clinton Foundation and the president’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the report, one of the men who died, Ambassador Stevens, was at fault because he “rather romanticized the Libyan jihadis.”

Retired Gen. Thomas McInerney said that the congressional leadership’s “dirty little secret” is that they approved “black operations” to run weapons from Benghazi to ISIS in Syria. “We see a field of smoking guns,” said Roger Aronoff of Accuracy in Media, which convened the Citizens’ Commission at the National Press Club. And it’s not just the public—two committee members wrote their own report.

In The Guardian, Chris Stephen gave three questions that will probably never be answered: who launched the attack, why did they do it, and were US actions in the turmoil of post-revolutionary Libya a contributory factor? The mystery may never be solved because the CIA won’t provide any explanation of their presence in the city. The report has no information about why the CIA had a Benghazi annex with dozens of agents and contractors to organize massive transfers of weapons from the Libyan government’s stockpile to Syria.

Trey Gowdy knows that the Benghazi report would not be damning to Clinton. He released it just before the Fourth of July recess, a time when few people pay attention, and during the media focusing on the British vote to leave the European Union.

The taxpayers in the U.S. have paid more than $100 million to investigate all the myths surrounding the Clintons—Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, and Benghazi. The GOP certainly won’t have any concern about a few more million dollars.

As for Clinton’s guilt, Trey Gowdy asked people to read the 800-page report and decide for themselves. If you’re so inclined, it’s online here. At least Democratic committee members can now find the report.

June 27, 2016

Brexit Fails; So Will Trump

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 8:49 PM
Tags: , , , ,

The “Leave the EU” campaign has won, and it doesn’t seem to be working for them. Leading “Leave” politicians made failed promises:

“Leave” promise: EU cash will go to the National Health Service. The campaign even put the promise on its big red bus: The EU costs £350 million a week, “enough to build a brand new, fully staffed … hospital every week.” Politicians repeated the promise, but after the vote, Leave leader Iain Duncan Smith said that the campaign didn’t say “all” of the money, just “a significant amount of it.” After the vote Nigel Farage, another Leave leader, said, “No I can’t [guarantee it], and I would never have made that claim.” The UK gets about half that money back for farmers’ subsidies, research grants, and infrastructure funding.

“Leave” promise: We’ll take control of the UK’s borders. The claim was that the expected immigration to fall. “Leave” leader Nigel Evans said there had been “some misunderstanding” over the Leave campaign’s position on reducing immigration and that he didn’t say it would fall. The UK won’t separate from the EU for at least two years, and the UK may have to keep borders open to EU workers to freely trade with Europe. Boris Johnson, a leading Leave campaigner and wannabe prime minister, wrote, “British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes; and to settle down.” If that’s right, Europeans—including immigrants—will enjoy the same freedom of movement.

“Leave” promise #3: The economy will be fine. Anti-Remain campaigners laughed at the “Project Fear” that maintained the UK would suffer financial and economic turmoil. Yet, the pound is at the lowest level in decades, UK bank stocks collapsed, and GDP growth forecasts have been slashed. Companies are calling off investments, and markets throughout the world have gone down drastically, including the Dow Jones in the United States which lost almost 900 points in two days of trading.

“Leave” leaders have absolutely no exit plan.

Comments about Brexit:

Philippe LeGrain at The New York Times:

“Brexit’s supporters are deluded when they argue that Britain could cherry pick what it likes about the European Union and discard the rest. Since exports to the European Union (13 percent of G.D.P. in 2014) matter much more to Britain than exports to Britain (3 percent of G.D.P. in 2014) do to the European Union, the European Union will call the shots. Other governments have every incentive to be tough, both to steal a competitive advantage and to deter others from following Britain out the door.”

Damian Carrington at The New Republic:

“The crashing financial markets will damage the huge investments needed to create a cleaner and safer environment and will dent the nation’s fast-growing green economy, one economic sector where the UK could lead.”

From a financial authority:

The aftershocks from the UK’s EU referendum results continue to persist. Last Friday saw exceptionally sharp declines in the major global equity markets, though the sharpest drops were recorded in the Italian and German equity markets, down 12.5% and 6.8% respectively, compared with 3.1% for the FTSE100 index, although UK bank stocks were ‘hammered’ on speculation as to how ‘pass porting rights’ to the EU might be affected, as well as a cut in the UK’s credit rating. The S&P500 index fell 3.6% and the US 10-year Treasury yield made a new low for the year at 1.40%.

In the currency market, the US Dollar to Japanese yen briefly dipped below the 100.00, and the Japanese authorities might be ready to intervene in order to stabilise the currency. The Chinese currency went in the other direction and made a new low for the year, with investors sensing that the Chinese authorities are set to countenance some slippage in the exchange rate to act as a shock-absorber for the economy.

Cable dropped sharply from $1.5000 to $1.3200 and continues its slide today, touching $1.3122. UK 10-year Gilt yields fell below 1.00% this morning for the first time ever. (The Bank of England was founded in 1694.)

From a political perspective, the referendum decision has divided the UK. “Remain” members of the Conservative Party want to stop Boris Johnston from being the next Prime Minister. In the opposition Labour Party, a series of resignations in protested Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership style. In Scotland, the SNP is looking to block the “Brexit” vote and call for a second independence referendum. The scope for a constitutional crisis is quite high, and the Brexit vote has exposed the fault-lines in British politics.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said this morning that Article 50 of the European Union Treaty would not be triggered until October. Article 50 lays down the terms and conditions of the negotiation process between the UK and EU and the framework for the exiting country’s future relationship with the EU. Article 50 sets a 2-year deadline on talks that can only be extended by a unanimous decision of the other 27 EU countries. Once activated, Article 50 eliminates the UK from EU decision-making at the highest level. Article 50 is concluded by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining consent of the European Parliament.

The EU Summit this week looks to push for very early negotiations, but it is the UK Government that has to decide when to invoke Article 50. At the moment, UK PM David Cameron remains in place until October when a new Conservative Party leader and PM are to be announced. This might be too distant a time and the pressure for an early settlement to the leadership question is likely to intensify. There is no guaranteed timetable as to how it all works out.

From the EU’s perspective, the risk is that “Brexit” contagion’ spreads to other countries and encourages voters to think of breaking away from the EU. The results of the Spanish elections (the centre-right People’s Party won with 137 seats) yesterday mitigated some of that risk, though there is a question whether the appetite for ever-increasing integration is still there.

Italy holds a constitutional referendum in October, but Italian voters might view “Brexit” as a way of expressing their view on the EU. The Italian economy has suffered a very low economic growth rate for some time, but it is the Italian banks that remain under-capitalised and have the potential to trigger another banking crisis.

Some forecasters are talking about a UK recession next year and perhaps an early cut in UK interest rates. In the Eurozone, the sharper declines in equity markets and concerns over the health of the banking system are likely to keep the European Central Bank’s accommodative monetary stance in place. However, German criticism of negative interest rates in terms of the cost to German banks and German savers is something that the ECB cannot afford to ignore.

Wider afield, the “Brexit” uncertainty gives the U.S. Fed every excuse to defer an increase in US interest rates. The key upcoming dates are the US non-farm payroll report on July 8. The Fed meetings after that are July 26-27 and September 20-21, which seems to be the last opportunity to raise rates prior to the US Presidential Election on November 8. A faltering US economy might require quantitative easing.

Why did UK voters favor “Leave”? Many of them probably didn’t even know the consequences. The two most Googled questions in the UK on the day after the vote was announced was “What does it mean to leave the EU?” and “What is the EU?”  John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, had another funny, factual, hard-hitting piece about the vote. To the people who asked if they could change his vote, he emphatically said, “That was the f*cking vote! That was it!”

Although unlikely, Oliver might be wrong. The Brexit vote was not binding, and Members of Parliament could vote against it. Over 3.5 million UK residents have signed a petition demanding a second vote if support for either side was under 60 percent with a voter turnout under 75 percent. The turnout was about 72 percent, and the winning side had 52 percent of the vote. Scotland voted heavily to remain, and the Scotland Act 1998 requires the Scottish Parliament to approve measures that remove EU law from Scotland. The same might be true for Northern Ireland. The least likely scenario is that the EU could offer major concessions.

Yet the longer the uncertainty in a wait for the outcome, the greater the political and economic costs. The U.S. suffers from the same uncertainty as everyone waits for the outcome of the presidential election in a little more than four months with Donald Trump representing everything that the Leave campaign did—promises he cannot keep, an irrational xenophobia to turn the country white, and an untenable austerity approach toward the economy. The UK today could be the US this January.

June 25, 2016

Brexit Brings Buyers’ Remorse

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 1:26 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

brexit

Many people in the United Kingdom went to bed Thursday night feeling safe and woke up yesterday feeling they were in serious danger after the 52-percent vote for the UK to leave the European Union. EU leaders want Britain to move forward immediately to avoid further financial instability throughout the world, but leaders of the Leave campaign seem nervous about their win, perhaps because of the advantageous trade relationships between UK and EU.

Boris Johnson said that they’d rather not take any immediate steps, perhaps because he hopes to use the vote as leverage for becoming prime minister. He could even allow the UK to stay in the EU. People who voted for leaving the EU are now wishing they could change their vote, agreeing with one British voter who said she voted to leave but “I never thought it would actually happen.”

People who voted in favor of leaving the EU should feel remorseful. Predictions show a one percent drop in GDP, a fall of £19 billion equivalent to £720 (over $1,000 in US dollars) for each UK household. Each households could annually be £4,300 a year worse off by 2030. Prolonged uncertainty, reduced access to the single market, and decreased investment from overseas are joined by the banks’ loss of “passporting” rights to conduct business throughout the EU. In the hours after the vote was announced, the British pound’s 11-percent decrease hit a 31-year low against the dollar. A British recession seems likely because businesses usually defer spending during uncertain times. A bleak economy causes consumers to stop spending on big-ticket items. The collapsing pound will drive up inflation, cutting into incomes. Some jobs will disappear, and wage growth will fall.

The Cornwall area that soundly voted against staying with the EU is now worried about the annual loss of at last £60 million that it received in the past decade. European money provided infrastructure, universities, and broadband internet for them, and farmers and fishers had benefited from the EU policies. New trade deals between the EU and the UK mandate approval and unanimity by over 30 European, national, and regional parliaments that may be able to act only after national referendums. Goods leaving the UK will face tariffs, and everyone leaving the island will be forced to go through customs just to travel to Europe.

Both Northern Ireland and Scotland want to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU, and Spain wants to take back Gibraltar from the UK. After 95.9% of people in Gibraltar voted to stay with the EU, Spain renewed its claim that Gibraltar is its territory, something that Spain has declared for three centuries since the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. People living in Gibraltar are British citizens with British passports, but they also want to be part of the EU.

The economy of countries around the world started to take big hits. The world’s 400 richest people lost $127.4 billion yesterday, 3.2 percent of their total net worth.  In Canada, the loonie had its biggest drop in 18 months to around 76.8 cents. U.S. Oil fell by 3 percent. Asia’s stock market started the fall after the vote, followed by other main indices which fell by about 10 percent. In the U.S., Friday’s Dow Jones industrial average fell 611 points, causing a loss of $160 million in market value. Big corporations on the S&P index lost $627 billion–just yesterday. It could have been much worse, but this is only the beginning. The drops also hurt retirement funds. Tighter financial conditions makes it harder and more expensive for people and businesses to get money—less borrowing, less investing, and less economic activity.

Touting his new golf course in Scotland, Donald Trump saw the results through the prism of Donald Trump’s business ventures. The New York Times reported that his business interests “still drive his behavior, and his schedule. He has planned two days in Scotland, with no meetings with government or political leaders scheduled.” The Republican’s itinerary “reads like a public relations junket crossed with a golf vacation,” complete with “a ceremonial ribbon cutting.”

Trump didn’t even know that Scotland had overwhelmingly voted against leaving the EU: he said they were celebrating because “they took their country back.” NBC’s Katy Tur asked him whether he was traveling with any of his foreign policy advisors who talked to him about the vote. He said that he’d been in touch but that “there’s nothing to talk about.” Instead of talking about the vote, he talked about the golf course and its refurbished holes, plumbing, putting greens, and zoning. Asked about Brexit’s undermining the British pound value, he said that the decline is good news for him.

“If the pound goes down, more people are coming to Turnberry, frankly. For traveling and for other things, I think it very well could turn out to be positive.”

People traveling from the U.S. may get a better deal for their dollars, but the U.S. economy can suffer depressed exports because of the weak English pound and the possible ramifications in the EU. U.S. banks said Brexit could force an overhaul of their business in the U.K. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the dominos are falling.

Trump’s business ventures in Scotland bulldozed through its elected officials and land owners, and Trump sued the Scottish government to break environmental laws and obtain property through eminent domain. Scottish officials allowed Trump to flatten a third of the Foveran dunes complex, a legally protected site of special scientific interest. Whenever he couldn’t get permits, he built anyway.

The neighbors of his golf courses roundly despise Trump because he tried to tear down what he called their “ugly” houses. He called their houses “ugly” and wanted to tear them down. When they refused to leave, he built a tall earthen wall that blocked their view of the dunes and beach and put up a locked gate that blocked the public road to reach the beach. Security staff sit in 4×4 vehicles watching all their movements.

Trump claims that the Scottish people “love” him, but 200-300 protesters appeared with a mariachi band during his press conference at the golf course and threw red golf balls with swastika symbols on the ground. In the background, neighbors of both his golf courses flew the Mexican flag in solidarity with other peoples who he has denigrated.

Many people in the UK had no idea what the EU was before the vote or what the connection between the UK and the EU meant to everyday people. Like Donald Trump, the Leave campaign scapegoated immigrants and created a culture of hatred because of economic inequality. They also accused the country’s leaders of being the elite and maintained that “experts” know nothing. The Leave slogan was “Take Back Control.” Since 2010, the austerity measures of the Conservative Party slashed the social safety net and left deprivation in its place.

As in the United States, British leaders are increasingly purchased by corporate and financial interests. Democratic rights, promised by the Leave campaign, were taken by the wealthy and corporations that control the country’s politics and economy. The loss of the EU will worsen the situation for workers who no longer guaranteed the EU rights, and Conservative Party control will only exacerbate their problems. Less regulated British corporations will cause more environmental damage and more mistreatment of employees and customers. Like the U.S., the media fed the paranoia and the fear.

Is “Texit” next? Daniel Miller, head of the Texas Nationalist Movement, hopes so. In his revisionist history that overlooks the area’s original Hispanic (and of course Native American) residents, Miller said, “We come from a heritage of people that carved an empire out of a wilderness.” The TNN calls for a referendum, as one in the UK, to vote on secession from the U.S. The “Republic of Texas” goes farther, maintaining that Texas never ceded sovereignty to the U.S. when it joined the union in 1845.

Steve Willliams wrote on care2.com:

“If there is anything that can be learned from the UK’s political fight over the past months, it’s that alienation, fear-mongering and a deep distrust of other nations can create a perfect storm of political action that can lead even usually reasonable people to go against compassion, unity and progressive causes….

“Americans who reject all that Donald Trump stands for will want to make sure that doesn’t happen in the United States come November and will hope that the UK can serve as a wake up call for Americans who felt disengaged from the political process.”

Brexit lessons for people in the U.S.:

  • One should never underestimate the forces of right-wing nationalism and nativism.
  • Successful far-right nationalist parties, leaders, and campaigns leave immediate consequences.
  • Centrist political parties will reap what they sow if they slyly invoke nationalist and racist sentiments for their own purposes.

Williams calls for another vote—perfectly legal—for those people who suffer buyers’ remorse. The vote to leave the EU is not legally binding, and the deal is not set in motion until Article 50 is invoked. Over 2 million people have already signed the petition on the official UK Parliament website for another vote, a number well over the mandatory 100,000-signature level to force a debate in Parliament. The high volume of traffic caused the website to temporarily crash. Ironically, the petition had been placed earlier by a Leave supporter who was afraid that the referendum would support staying with the EU.

If Trump is elected this fall, however, the U.S. has no way back. An ignorant, megalomaniacal dictator will be in charge. Those who think that one person cannot make a difference should ask people in Scotland.

More details about Brexit background and impact.

June 22, 2016

BRexit Vote Scheduled Tomorrow

BRexit—the vote is tomorrow. Most people in the United States aren’t aware of it, and even more may not care about it. Yet it may be the reason that the stock market is going nowhere and could guide financial markets for the world—including those in the U.S.–as they head down. I pretty much ignored the whole situation until I watched The John Oliver Show last Sunday. Because comedians such as Oliver and Samantha Bee on Full Frontal probably give more information than anyone other than Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, I started searching for more information.

BRexit is short for “Britain Exit,” the question of whether Great Britain will leave the European Union. All British eligible voters can help make this decision, and voting will be done by 2:00 PST tomorrow. Up to 80 percent of the people may vote, and the polls are too close to guess the outcome. As a Britisher, Oliver urged the people of the UK to maintain its EU relationship, but his program won’t be televised in the UK until after the vote. He’s in accord with most experts in saying that the EU can be awful but the ensuing instability would be disastrous if the UK tried to go it on its own.

Many British citizens are suffering from the same opinions as Donald Trump followers—dissatisfaction and distrust of all establishment including the political parties and the media. The “leave” people are also highly conservative, opposed to immigrants, labor, and environmental protection. They think that austerity will save them although it never has in the past. Like Trump, the pro-BRexit people reject any positions of experts—economists, scientists, military commanders, business leaders, etc. It’s the portion of the population who might think that an auto mechanic is a good choice to take out their appendix.

No other country has ever left the EU although Greece considered doing that. If this first-of-its-kind vote succeeds, Britain would spend at least two years to negotiate its departure from the remaining 27 countries which will not give Britain its current privileged access to member countries’ customers or financial markets. More years will be consumed while the UK works to find and negotiate trade deals for other export markets at a time of spreading deflation and rising protectionism throughout the globe. Adding the politics of disengaging British business regulations from those of the EU, and the process might last at least a decade.

Another problem with leaving the EU is the common fisheries policy and agriculture. “Leave” people complain about the fishing quotas set by EU to manage fish stocks and protect marine environments. Voting to leave, however, does not mean that the UK won’t have to deal with the EU. With the separation, the UK couldn’t change EU policy but would still be subject to its restrictions. The UK also receives a larger fishing area than it controls; renegotiating fishing territories gives no guarantee of a better deal for the UK.

EU membership provides some protection against unregulated global markets, and losing that will sacrifice the UK social safety nets in desperate searches for new trade and investment deals to compensate for the loss of markets on the continent. The UK is composed of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland is pro-EU and may decide to issue a new vote on separating from the UK in order to join the EU. Welsh ministers have also indicated their desire to remain in the EU.

A decision to separate from the EU could be disastrous for the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, an area of bitter bloodshed since the 1920s. Ireland would still be a part of the EU, and Northern Ireland would be forced out. The resulting dividing line between the two countries could eradicate the uneasy 18-year-long peace that belonging to the EU has assisted since 1998. Customs checks that disappeared in 1993 when EU membership caused free movement of goods and services could return. Cross-border trade in manufactured products on the island was worth an estimated 3 billion euros in 2014.

At this time, Protestants in Northern Ireland want to stay with the UK, and the Catholic minority wants to join Ireland. The UK leaving the EU could end up in an armed conflict between these two factions regarding whether Ireland subsumes Northern Ireland. If both Irelands, Scotland, and Wales stay with the EU, the United Kingdom would revert to being just England–and the only part of the island that isn’t part of the European Union.

Those who want to leave the EU also support the new Deregulation Act, slipped through Parliament last year with little debate and less information to the public. According to the new law, all regulators must now “have regard to the desirability of promoting economic growth.” Any laws dealing with endangered species, speed limits, children’s health, wheelchair ramps, etc. must successfully show how they contribute to the GDP before being passed. As a result, Britain is becoming a place that launders money for drug cartels and terrorists who can keep their money there beyond police and tax inspectors. The “get-rich-quick” philosophy leads to problems that are then blamed on immigrants. Without votes, the prime minister made deals with the EU commission.

The current government has rejected science regarding insecticides, slashed renewable energy, and fights wildlife protection, but it can be worse. The EU has restricted UK policies to some extent. Without the EU, the UK would have carte blanche to destroy the environment. Leaving the EU would dismantle human rights protections, lead to a smaller labor and talent pool with tightening of borders for migrants, and lead to environmentally hazardous activities. The “Leave” backers also want to privatize and dismantle the National Health Service, leaving the country with uninsured people.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, right, listens as current Mayor of London Boris Johnson speaks at a mayoral election campaign rally for Britain's Conservative party candidate for Mayor of London Zac Goldsmith at a school in Ham, a suburb in south west London, Tuesday, May 3, 2016.   The Mayor of London election takes place on Thursday. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

boris johnson 2The face of the “Leave” campaign is former Mayor of London Boris Johnson (above left) who both behaves and looks like Donald Trump. If the UK leaves the EU, Johnson could become a leader in the right-of-center Conservative Party and perhaps even prime minister. Johnson even sounds like Trump, for example saying that this “part-Kenyan” had an “ancestral dislike of the British empire.” Although he’s fairly sure that leaving the EU would not cause problems, he said he would apologize publicly if Brexit caused a recession. [Above: Boris Johnson was invited to take part in a tug of war with the armed forces to launch Poppy Day.]

Clashes between the two sides in BRexit were largely verbal, but pro-EU Jo Cox of the Labor Party was shot and stabbed last Thursday. In the United States, killings with guns are an everyday matter, but this event shocked people on both sides of British politics. The tragedy was the first killing of a sitting British MP since the death of Ian Gow in 1990. The man charged with her murder said, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” He had bought a manual on how to build homemade guns and explosives from the National Alliance, a U.S.-based neo-Nazi group.

Brogan Morris wrote a comparison between the upcoming elections in the US and the UK, between Johnson and Trump. He holds the media largely responsible for allowing these no-nothing hate-mongers to build their popularity. Imagine a world in which Trump is president of the most affluent country in the world and Trump 2—Boris Johnson—is prime minister of one of this nation’s closest allies.

Once again, I highly recommend watching the segment from The John Oliver Show about the negative affect of UK leaving the EU.

January 16, 2016

President Brings Good News in Prisoner Release, Jobs, Cleaner Air

President Obama Lifts Sanctions on Iran, Gains Release of Prisoners, Stops Coal Mining on Federal Lands, & Tries to Improve Stagnant Wages

Ten U.S. sailors who wandered into Iranian waters were released after 16 hours, much to the great dismay of GOP candidates who were determined to start World War III. Today conservatives are equally distraught because President Obama’s diplomacy has arranged for the release from Iran of five U.S. citizens, including a Washington Post reporter, after 14 months of secret negotiations. In exchange, the U.S. will release seven Iranians held on sanctions violation with the option of remaining in the U.S. Donald Trump accused the president of “giving” Iran $150 billion, but that money belongs to Iran. The deal between that country and five other countries agreed that Iran would now have access to their own money.

It was the Iranian deal that allowed diplomats from the two countries to talk “face-to-face” about the prisoner situation. Iran negotiators wanted the release of over a dozen Iranians, but the U.S. reduced the list “to exclude anyone who was charged with a crime related to violence or terrorism.” President Obama refused to connect the prisoner release to the Iran agreement because it would be even more difficult to bring them home if the nuclear deal failed. Doing so would also encourage Iran to arrest more U.S. citizens in the future.

Last week Jeb Bush declared it “appalling” that “there’s been no effort to try to support the Americans held hostage by the Iranian government.” This is only one example of ignorant complaints from GOP presidential candidates. Iranians negotiators were very clear that Iran hardliners would cause the release arrangements to explode if the discussions were to be made public. For that reason, HuffPo sat on the information it received last fall from a state official. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal also did not publicize the negotiations.

Last spring, 21 senators, led by Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to demand the prisoners’ unconditional release. After the exchange, however, Rubio said that the U.S. should never engage in prisoner “swaps.”Chris Christie said that, as president, he would not accept any prisoner exchanges. Ted Cruz is pleased that Pastor Saeed Abedini is returned, but the exchange is still “bad.” Ben Carson said that he would withdraw from the Iran agreement on his first day as president even if it did lay the groundwork for the prisoners’ release. Donald Trump said that Iran got more out of the deal than the U.S.

Since the Iran agreement was signed, Iran released 15 people, disabled two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and poured concrete into its plutonium reactor so it can no longer be used to make a bomb. Instead of diplomacy, Republicans prefer to drop bombs on Iran.

As of today, the United States and other countries around the world have lifted sanctions against Iran because the country is fulfilling its promises. Iran will immediately be able to recoup $50 billion of its own money now held in restricted accounts, one-third of the $150 billion that they have been unable to access. This reward is for stopping its path toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The House had already decided not to sue the president over the Iran agreement but hasn’t come up with a plan regarding its proposed votes against the deal. This GOP failure may be another idiot plan for the history books.

The president’s Saturday morning address has more news that will annoy Republicans. A major problem with the recent recovery providing hundreds of thousands of new jobs is that companies re-hired at lower wages, creating stagnant salaries. This year, the president is initiating a plan of improved unemployment insurance, job training for those who can’t find a job, and wage insurance for people making under $50,000 a year who are re-hired at a lower wage. It would cover up to $10,000 in wage replacement over two years.

In addition, the president’s federally-funded plan would require states to provide insurance for workers laid off from jobs they had held for at least three years. The state unemployment insurance programs would administrate the program. Other measures would mandate that all states provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits and create a permanent program to automatically provide up to 52 additional weeks of federally-funded benefits for states experiencing rapid job-losses or high unemployment.

The proposal, part of the president’s budget and requiring congressional approval, would be paid through a slight increase in employers’ unemployment insurance tax. From 2008 to 2013, extended unemployment insurance benefits helped nearly 24 million workers and lifted 2.5 million people out of poverty in 2012 alone.

In another action that will infuriate conservatives, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a moratorium on new coal-mining leases on public land along with a multiyear review of how those lease contracts are awarded. Leases may become more expensive for mining companies with increased royalties for the government to offset the damage coal production and consumption do to the environment. This is the first review of the coal program in 30 years.

About 40 percent of all US coal extraction takes place on federal land, much of that in Wyoming, the nation’s top coal producer. Royalty rates for coal mining are much lower than for offshore oil or other publicly owned fossil fuels, a bad deal for the public that has to deal with impacts from local environmental degradation to global climate change. According to a 2015 study, 92 percent of U.S coal reserves need to stay buried in the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

The moratorium will stop about 50 pending coal leases, many of which would probably not have gone into production, but it won’t change existing mining operations. U.S. coal production is at a 30-year low, one of the country’s biggest companies recently declared bankruptcy, and once-promising export markets in China are drying up. Coal companies have currently stockpiled billions of tons of unmined coal that is ready to be developed; a targeted pause on leasing will have no impact on jobs, coal production, energy prices, or grid reliability.

More than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands comes from the combustion of coal. Coal mining in the Wyoming/Montana Powder River Basin is responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Strip mining and failed mine reclamation produce air and water pollution, and some companies avoid paying their cleanup costs, forcing the expenditures onto taxpayers. About 13,000 people are annually killed by power plant emissions with coal plants the deadliest type of power plant. Even as far away as 20 to 40 miles away from coal plants, women are more likely to give birth to children with low birth weights.

Since 2008, the coal industry’s decline of 15 percent has been largely driven by the rise in natural gas and changes in the global market. Green jobs are replacing those in the coal industry although the two industries employ different types of workers. For the third straight year, solar jobs grew 20 percent in the United States.  Last year, the solar industry added jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy—more than jobs created by oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined. Over the last year, the solar industry added jobs twelve times faster than the rest of the economy, even more than the jobs created by the oil and gas extraction and pipeline sectors combined.

The solar industry employs 208,859 people, 77 percent more than the people in the coal mining industry with fewer than 70,000 jobs. The only slowdown in the solar industry comes from states with policies to make electricity for solar households more expensive. For example, Nevada decided to kill solar jobs in its states.

At this time, the United States has a president who looks to the future, leading the nation through diplomacy and clean energy instead of increasing pollution and starting World War III. We can only hope that this trend continues instead of going back a century.

January 13, 2016

Iran–a Nightmare for the GOP

President Obama’s last State of the Union speech was one of his best, both in delivery and writing. Listening to it was a joy, but even more delightful were the frantic attempts of House Speaker Paul Ryan to keep a straight face, to appear somber and disapproving so that his party not pillory him for reacting in any way that might indicate approval of the president who the GOP is determined to hate. Here’s one of Ryan’s failed attempts.

sotu

The conservatives did have about 16 hours of joy after Iran picked up ten sailors and two Navy patrol boats that wandered into Iranian waters. While Secretary of State John Kerry was negotiating for their return, GOP leaders disparaged the president’s leadership abilities and, as usual, accused him of letting Iran “push us around.” Saint Ronald Reagan came into the dialog as the GOP tried to use the incident to start a war with Iran.

Forbes Senior Political Contributor at Forbes Rick Ungar used Facebook to explain how far off base the Reagan worshippers are:

“One of the advantages of having graduated high school with Abraham Lincoln is that I was quite present during the Reagan administration. I remember all too well when our Marine barracks in Lebanon was bombed during Reagan’s term of office, killing 241 Marines and injuring another 100. Reagan knew who did it- it was Hezbollah with the support of Iran and Syria. How did Ronald Reagan respond?

“First, Reagan assembled his National Security team and hatched a plan to seek retribution by blowing up the Sheik Abdullah barracks in Baalbek, Lebanon, which housed Iranian Revolutionary Guards that were there to train Hezbollah fighters. The only problem was that Reagan ultimately decided not to do it because it would harm relations with other Arab nations.

“Not only did he not do anything to avenge the deaths of our Marines, four months later he withdrew all of our Marines from Lebanon, never so much as firing a shot in retribution for our dead military. There was no shortage of people at that time who were incensed with that move, just like these armchair quarterbacks who are on Obama’s case because someone took a photograph they don’t like- forget killing over 200 of our finest.”

Like President Obama in the current era, Reagan realized that “carpet bombing” Damascus and Tehran wouldn’t solve any problems: it would just cause more conflict and destroy foreign policy. Yet conservatives follow the war hawks, Israelis, and defense contractors who are salivating for a fight with Iran to further line the pockets of the rich to the loss of U.S. soldiers, economy, civilians, and peace.

The GOP House has been determined to scuttle the Iran deal determined by six major world leaders, but Ryan seems unable to get his members into the chamber to vote in a timely fashion. Today the vote to trash the Iran deal passed on an almost strictly partisan vote of 191 to 106, meaning that over 50 Republicans were missing. Because Ryan kept to the 15-minute limit for voting, something that his predecessor had not done, he had a serious shortage of votes. The House Speaker than promptly scrapped the vote and set a new one for January 26.

The bill would force the president to certify that entities benefiting from lifted sanctions would have to prove they never supported terrorism or Iran’s missile program. The new vote may be too late to stop Iran from regaining about $100 billion of its own assets. Even if the bill had passed, House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said, “It’s a waste of all our time” because the president would veto the bill. This is the process, however, that the GOP continually follows—pass only bills that they know the president will veto.

Congress has another Iranian problem in the Supreme Court when it argued in Bank Markazi v. Peterson that the legislature is above the court system. That position didn’t sit well with the justices. Congress had ordered a federal court to determine how the U.S. could give almost $2 billion in security assets from Iranian’s bank to victims (and their families) of Middle East terrorist acts blamed on Iran by using language in its caption, including the case number of the victim’s lawsuit, for a law governing no other lawsuit. Justices seemed to initially go along with the process, but lawyers told the court that Congress could change any pending case in the courts by modifying a law to apply to only one case. Lawyer Theodore B. Olson told Chief Justice John Roberts that Congress does this all the time—in essence, tells the court how it shall rule—even saying that Congress could take such action in a Supreme Court case. Roberts wasn’t happy about Olson’s position.

In another Supreme Court case, Congress is trying to prove that it controls Puerto Rico instead of the country following its own constitution.

Convinced that Iran would not live up to its agreement to stop its path to a nuclear program, Republicans had a bad shock in the end of 2015. Iran has turned over almost all its enriched uranium to the Russians with plans to downgrade the little remaining material to fissionable reactor plates for an internationally supervised test reactor. The country will have no ability to produce weapons-grade material.

This positive move by Iran is not only irreversible but also months ahead of schedule. The country is also in the stages of completing other requirements, including dismantling the mandated number of centrifuges, reconfiguring the Arak heavy water reactor (to close down the pathway via plutonium), and allowing for more intrusive inspections. Although violating UN Security Council resolutions, Iran’s ballistic missile test does not violate the agreement. President Obama said he will address that problem by enforcing sanctions that are not part of the agreement.

Before the completion of the Iran deal, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) got signatures from 47 senators on a letter to Iran stating that the U.S. might not live up to their agreement. Living in relative obscurity since then, Cotton selected the night of President Obama’s last State of the Union speech to spread more lies about the U.S. boats being picked up in Iranian waters. According to the Tea Partier, it was not “coincidental” that Iran had selected that night to “seize” the boats and that the White House was “apologizing for Iran seizing two U.S. Navy vessels and holding 10 sailors hostage.” A minor blip on history was also blown out of proportion by GOP presidential candidates in an effort to score points and appeal to war hawks.

Republicans may have benefitted financially from their virulent opposition to the Iran deal. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials tried to bribe members of Congress to stop the agreement. They may have succeeded. The discussion shows that some legislators conspired with a foreign government to undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s foreign policy agenda—a definition of treason. The GOP has already evidenced its allegiance to Israeli’s lobbying groups such as AIPAC and the Israeli government. Sheldon Adelson, the 20th richest person in the world, spent $30 million on legislators to oppose the Iran deal.

Republicans have a reason other than supporting Israel to stop lifting sanctions on Iran: oil prices. Last spring, guesstimaters said that the price of oil could skyrocket to $250 a barrel with a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Now they wonder if the prices will drop even more because Saudi Arabia will drop its prices to force down those of Iran. With gas prices hovering at $2 per gallon and $30 per barrel, a 70-percent drop in the past 15 months, conservatives in Congress are considering action to raise oil prices. Fracking in the U.S. has caused an oil glut of oil, driving the prices down; thus lawmakers are considering retaliatory trade measures against Saudi Arabia for flooding the market with its own oil. A few years ago, Republicans blamed President Obama for high gas prices; now they complain about low prices.

All the GOP can hope for is a Republican president, one who would start World War III.

August 4, 2015

We Should Fear GOP Ignorance

Filed under: Foreign policy — trp2011 @ 7:37 PM
Tags: , ,

During some of the darkest days of the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” As William Saletan writes in this article about the congressional debate on the Iran deal, we now need to fear the possibility of the Republicans winning the White House and taking over the entire federal government. I have paraphrased his article below.

Instead of showing that they are ready for responsibilities of national security and foreign policy, Republicans have participated in “a spectacle of dishonesty, incomprehension, and inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.” According to Saletan, the danger comes from the interrogators.

“In challenging [Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Energy Secretary Ernest] Moniz, Republican senators and representatives offered no serious alternative. They misrepresented testimony, dismissed contrary evidence, and substituted vitriol for analysis. They seemed baffled by the idea of having to work and negotiate with other countries. I came away from the hearings dismayed by what the GOP has become in the Obama era. It seems utterly unprepared to govern.”

“Here are the lowlights of what you missed” in the 11 hours of hearings on July 23, 28, and 29:

  1. North Korea. In all three hearings, Kerry explained how the inspection and verification measures in the Iran deal are designed to rectify flaws that led to the failure of the North Korean nuclear agreement. He spent much of his opening statement outlining these differences. This made no impression. When the Senate held its next hearing a week later, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presiding Republican, dismissed the Iran agreement with a quip: “How did that North Korean deal work out for you?”
  2.  Israel. As evidence that the Iran deal is bad, Republicans point to criticism from Israel. But they seem more interested in the rhetoric of Israeli politicians than in the judgments of Israeli security experts. Kerry read from an article that quoted supportive statements about the deal from the former leaders of two Israeli intelligence agencies. Republicans batted the quotes away. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming scoffed, “That wasn’t even in the newspaper. That was a blog post.” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina dismissed the statements as irrelevant because they didn’t come from elected officials. Why listen to experts when you can rely instead on quotes from politicians?
  1. The IAEA’s “secret deal.” Kerry and Moniz have repeatedly explained that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which enforces nuclear conduct agreements, publicly evaluates each country’s compliance but keeps some details about inspection logistics private. The IAEA briefs other governments about its procedures but doesn’t give them the logistical documents. Republicans, having shrugged at this policy for decades, are suddenly outraged. Many of them seem to think the Obama administration is colluding with Iran and the IAEA. They claim that Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, has seen the IAEA’s Iran documents but won’t show them to Congress. Rep. Ted Poe of Texas asserted that Rice “said that she has seen this deal with the IAEA.” Kerry corrected him: “Susan Rice’s quote is, ‘We know their contents, and we’re satisfied with them. We will share the contents of those briefings in full and classified sessions with Congress.’ She has not seen them. She has been briefed on them.”

Kerry’s clarification should have settled the matter. But it didn’t. The next day, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma grilled Kerry” and constantly insisted that Rice had said she say the deal with IAEA. In attempting to quote Rice, Inhofe actually quoted Congressman Poe and then refused to understand, saying, “Who is quoting her. This is quotation marks.” He was actually quoting Poe’s misinterpretations.

  1. EMPs. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked Moniz about a 2008 commission report on EMPs, electromagnetic pulses, which could be triggered by nuclear detonations and could knock out the U.S. power grid. Moniz, the former chairman of MIT’s physics department, has spent his career working in nuclear science. He told Johnson that he was unfamiliar with the report but that “if you look at our Quadrennial Energy Review published in April, we do identify EMP as a risk to transformers, and we are beginning to try to work up a response to that.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas used this exchange to portray Moniz as an idiot. (Cruz finished his grilling by not allowing Moniz to answer a question and then saying, “OK. You’re refusing to answer the question.”
  1. Sanctions. Kerry uses the phrase snapback to describe how sanctions are automatically re-imposed if any permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, or Russia) decides Iran has violated its obligations. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska berated Kerry for using this term, since, although the agreement outlines this procedure, it doesn’t literally include the word snapback. Sullivan also argued that the term was misleading because, in originally building the sanctions, it “took years to get countries to divest out of the Iranian economy. It’ll take years to do it again.” But Sullivan ignored the implication of his own argument: As Kerry has said all along, the unhappiness of our allies about having to enforce these sanctions, let alone China and Russia, is why the sanctions won’t last if we reject these countries’ terms for the deal.
  1. Pariahs. Republicans accuse Kerry and Obama of isolating them by agreeing to terms that suit our allies but don’t suit Congress. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told Kerry, “You have turned Iran from being a pariah to now Congress being a pariah.” Sen. James Risch of Idaho offered the same complaint: “These negotiations have taken us from a situation where we had Iran exactly where we wanted them to now, if we don’t go along with this, then we are going to be the isolated pariah character.” The Iran talks involved seven countries. Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ed Royce chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Yet Royce protested that the deal gave Russia and China “a say in where inspectors can and cannot go,” failing to understand that international sanctions require international support. When everyone else in the talks finds terms they can agree on, we can’t hold out for our own terms and expect sanctions to persist.
  1. Bad guys. Republicans think that because Iran is dangerous, we shouldn’t negotiate with it. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the most outspoken critics of any deal, has consistently hammered this point. Rep. Randy Weber of Texas repeatedly used the phrase “bad actor” to dismiss Iran and the idea of negotiating with it. Rep. Dave Trott of Michigan invoked a motto from his business career: “You can’t do a good deal with a bad guy.” These are people who revere Ronald Reagan, who negotiated with the Soviet Union.
  1. Indifference. Republicans think it’s weak and softheaded to care what Iran thinks. Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania told Kerry we should demand a better deal, “and if the ayatollah doesn’t like it and doesn’t want to negotiate it, oh, ‘boo-hoo.’ We’re here for America.” Weber, speaking for others in his party, ridiculed Kerry’s concerns about Iranian distrust of the U.S.: “Me and my colleagues were up here thinking, ‘Who cares?’ ” When Kerry replied that the Iranians wouldn’t have negotiated on Weber’s terms, the congressman scoffed, “Oh, my heart pains for them.” A negotiator’s job consists of understanding, caring about, and accommodating the other side’s concerns.
  1. Winning. Graham is running for president as a foreign-policy expert. But three hours of testimony on Wednesday about the difficulties of using military force to stop Iran’s nuclear program taught him nothing. Wrapping up the hearing, Graham demanded that Defense Secretary Ashton Carter answer a simple question: “Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?” When he didn’t get the prompt answer he wanted, Graham thunderously answered the question himself: “We win!” He sounded like a football coach delivering a pep talk. The differences between football and war—what “winning” means, and what it costs—didn’t enter into his equation.
  1. Patriotism. You might think that Kerry’s service in Vietnam—a Silver Star, Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts—would deter Republicans from challenging his patriotism. But you’d be wrong. At the House hearing, Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York lectured Kerry: “A lot of Americans have fought and died to make our country the greatest nation in the world. And you, sir, respectfully, you don’t have the power to surrender our greatness.” Cruz, who has never served a day in uniform, ended the Wednesday Senate hearing with this remarkable assault on the secretary of state:

Cruz: Gen. Soleimani, the head of the al-Quds forces, has more blood of American service members on his hands than any living terrorist. Under this agreement, the sanctions under Gen. Soleimani are lifted. Now, Secretary Kerry said to the families of those men and women who gave their lives, who were killed by Gen. Soleimani, we should apologize. …

Kerry: Sir, I never said the word apology. I never mentioned apologize. I said we should thank them for their extraordinary service. I never said the word apologize. Please, don’t distort my words.

Cruz: Secretary Kerry, it is duly noted you don’t apologize to the family members of the service members who were murdered by the Iranian military.

Kerry: That’s not what I said, senator. [I said] I thank them for their extraordinary service and I would remind them that the United States of America will never take the sanctions off Qasem Soleimani.

Cruz: Sir, I just want to clarity. Do you apologize or not?

Saletan finished, “There’s plenty more I could quote to you. But out of mercy, and in deference to the many dead and retired Republicans who took foreign policy seriously, I’ll stop. This used to be a party that saw America’s leadership of the free world as its highest responsibility. What happened? And why should any of us entrust it with the presidency again?”

June 20, 2015

Congress Struggles with Defense, TPP Bill

Conflicting headlines this past week show the confusion with the defense bill in the Senate. On Thursday, senators passed the $612 billion defense policy bill that would ban torture and authorize weapons for Ukraine. The 71-to-25 vote also tightened restrictions on resettling detainees in other countries, blocking President Obama from closing the Gitmo detention facility by requiring congressional approval. The bill included a $38 billion slush fund for war, the same fund that allowed George W. Bush to spend billions outside the budget for his wars and sidestepped the sequester law restricting expenditures. GOP presidential candidates Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY), the only Republicans to vote against the bill, joined Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and 22 Democrats to oppose the bill. President Obama said he would veto the bill because it violates the sequester law.

Immediately after this vote, the Senate rejected a measure to pay for the defense bill because it didn’t lift spending limits in other areas of the budget. The bill to fund the defense budget failed to overcome a filibuster, 45 to 50, with only the only positive Democratic vote from Indiana’s Sen. Joe Donnelly.

While the Senate was struggling with defense bill, the House passed the TPP fast-track for the second time, still trying to give the president the authority to close trade deals. Last week, the vote was 219-211, but the companion measure, the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to help workers displaced by trade failed. This week the vote was the bare minimum of 218 to 208 with the promise the Republicans will support the TAA at some other time.

William Pitt described how the “trade adjustment” works. A worker for a software company gets a living wage and health benefits by doing customer assistance on the phone. The TPP can air-mail the job to the Pacific Rim because those workers get paid much less–$0.56 an hour in Vietnam, for example. All the other jobs have been sent across the ocean, too, leaving the jobless destitute. The “assistance” is the part that didn’t get passed although Republicans said they would get back to it—sometime. It’s a guarantee that TPP will kill jobs, and without the minimal “assistance” for “trade adjustment, ex-workers will have nothing instead of very little.

The GOP-dominated Senate requires two 60-vote majorities to pass the TPA (ability to fast-track the TPP without the bother of amendments or debate) and TAA separately before trying to connect them for return to the House. Representatives will have to vote on it and then provide reconciliation and another passing vote. The president has sworn that he won’t sign the fast-track without the money piece, but he may be desperate enough to get the TPP passed that he may change his mind.

Even legislators with good intentions have folded on their principles. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) passed out of committee an amendment to the TPP to bar Tier 3 nations, offenders of human trafficking, from being a part of the trade deal. The White House called the amendment a “deal breaker” because it wants Malaysia, and Menendez watered down his amendment to state that Tier 3 countries would have to make “concrete efforts” to stop human trafficking, also commonly known as slavery. President Obama is willing to accept slavery in order to get his trade deal.

On the same day last week that Congress slowed down the TPP by voting against the TAA, the House voted to overturn rules requiring country-of-origin labeling for meat. Support for the law came from a response to 1999 World Trade Organization rules while opposition declared that labeling the meat was “unfair” to foreign countries and worried about sanctions or lawsuits from countries sending meat into the United States. Overturning a labeling law would keep people from being informed consumers, supporting U.S. farmers, or knowing that their meat had been inspected.

The House struck down a law because they were afraid of international tribunals that adjudicate trade disputes. This Investor-State Dispute Settlement process is primarly controlled by corporations and their lawyers.  Trade agreements erase the ability to regulate commerce and finance which raises prices and guts laws for the common good.

Columnist David Brooks’ column about the harm from the defeat of the TPP needs fact-checking:

Claim: Damage the U.S. economy as evidenced by the growth in the nation’s manufacturing exports from earlier trade treaties. Fact: Lori Wallach reports that on NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, the U.S. has a $181 billion trade deficit with Mexico and Canada with a related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs and over $360 million paid to corporations because of the “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies. The United States Department of Agriculture has projected that GDP gains from the TPP is approximately zero.

Claim: Stifle future innovation. Fact: Proposed TPP copyright provisions silence businesses, researchers, and artists while expensive cost of enforcement would impede new Internet-based start-ups. Excessive copyright terms prevent artists and creators from accessing, remixing, and recreating new works out of existing ones.

Claim: Imperil world peace. Fact: With the conservative enthusiasm and history in attacking the Middle East, and now considering an attack on Russia because of Ukraine, this statement smacks of hypocrisy. Brooks claims that the TPP protects the U.S. from being controlled by China, yet there’s nothing preventing China from joining the TPP and taking over because corporations are in control of it.

money capitol tppLegislators are making millions of dollars—200 of them, to be exact—from their votes in favor of TPP. The highest paid representative was House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who brought in $5.3 million for his yes vote; Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was second at $2.4 million, the same as Paul Ryan (R-WI). Fourth spot was $1.6 million for Pat Tiberi (R-OH), the same as Steny Hoyer (D-MD) who changed to nay and got only $282,710 for that vote. Other House members getting over $1 million for yes votes are Joe Crowley (D-NY), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Richard Neal (D-MA).

 

For representatives who voted against the TPP, TPP lobbyists—security brokers, investment companies, and bankers—paid over $23 million to oppose them..

Information about the TPP:

With no currency provisions, the TPP will not help U.S. economy. Companies like Walmart and GE benefit from an over-valued dollar, since it allows them to buy and/or produce goods cheaply abroad.

Trade agreement will not increase the number of jobs in the U.S., but it increases barriers in copyright protection for drugs and Hollywood media and raises prices for drugs and media content.

The ballooning trade deficit from trade agreements weighs down economic growth and wages. For example, the agreement with South Korea increased U.S. exports by $1 billion while increasing imports by $12 billion. It cost the United States 75,000 jobs.

The TPP is weaker than the 2007 deals with Peru, Panama, and Columbia.

The TPP allows corporations to sue sovereign governments–such as the United States–for monetary damages in what companies perceive as “expected future profits.”

Only corporations can sue governments; workers don’t have that right.

In seeking to “harmonize” regulations, trade agreements set a regulatory ceiling that will, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, said, “punch holes in Dodd-Frank without directly repealing it,” by forcing regulators to roll back capital or leverage requirements. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Congress, “Normally in a trade agreement, the pressure is to lower standards [on regulations] and that’s something that we just think is not acceptable.” President Obama may try to hold the line, but a future GOP president will definitely use trade deals to further undermine regulations.

Weak “rule of origin” guidelines allow China to import goods into TPP member countries without any tariffs, while freed from following any TPP regulations.

The TPP is a secret deal that most members of Congress have not gone to the effort to read. Even if they have, they are forbidden from telling anyone what is in the agreement.

President Obama’s claim that everyone opposing the TPP is just a “politician” overlooks the fact that the president, too, is a politician. The TPP gives nothing to the United States and erases progress, going so far as to replace parts of the constitution.

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