TBR News November 22, 2016

Nov 22 2016

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C.  November 22, 2016: ” Hillary Clinton lost the Presidency for a number of very clear reasons.

The first is that she has a very bad background, earned when the First Lady.

She has a reputation for being ill humored with everyone, involved in patently crooked real estate ventures, strongly suspected of having improper knowledge of the sudden deaths of a significant number of persons hostile to her husband and lastly, of stealing valuable furnishings from the White House when she left. (She got caught and had to return it all)

The second is that she was allied with the DNC political machine.

The third is that Wikileaks released a huge trove of highly negative material on Hillary and the DNC prior to the election.

Clinton was a formula candidate in that her people followed earlier, and successful, procedures.

But another negative feature of her campaign were the repellent and vicious attacks on Trump, coupled with lavish praise of herself that, that over a period of time, were found by many, many voters to be disgraceful and patronizing to their perceptions.

The sociological/political pendulum always swings a full measure from left to right and then back again.

It has swung to the right this time.

And the self-righteous bleatings from the press about false news is very entertaining because almost all of the false news issued during the campaign came not from the Trump people but from the same Clinton menage that now is wailing like attendees at a Jewish funeral.

Flynn, Pompeo, and the Paradox of the New Nationalism

These two appointments underscore the contradictions at the heart of Trumpism

November 21, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


These two appointments underscore the contradictions at the heart of Trumpism

Life is full of contradictions: that’s what ideologues of all persuasions don’t get. And politics – with its inevitable vagaries, compromises, and unforeseen events – exemplifies this reality. You can multiply that principle by at least ten when analyzing President-elect Donald J. Trump and his nationalist supporters.

Nationalism, particularly the American variety, is not a consistent ideology to begin with: it starts out as an emotional bias, or – more accurately – an historical tradition, and takes on many disparate forms. One cannot extrapolate from its basic premise – that the American “national interest” is primary – the nationalist position on any given issue, because that “interest” is invariably defined in subjective terms.

Add to this the political necessity of building a strong governing coalition, and uniting a seemingly sundered Republican party under Trumpian leadership, and this is bound to multiply the complexities and variations involved. Which is why we can expect the incoming Trump administration to be full of disparate and often conflicting elements: in short, a hodgepodge.

That, at least, is what we have gotten so far, and yet there are some unifying themes in Trump’s national security choices. Let’s take them one by one.

Michael Pompeo, CIA  – A two-term Republican congressman representing the 4th congressional district of Kansas, Pompeo is the archetypal “Tea Party” GOPer: he has extensive ties to the Koch family’s political apparatus, and even claims to be a “libertarian.” However, he is very far from that: he is on record as supporting universal surveillance, including of American citizens, voted for the Patriot Act, and has called for the death penalty for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He supports torture and the maintenance of CIA “black sites.” In 2013, he supported a US military strike on Syria.

But of course some of these views merely mirror Trump’s, and most nationalists, who are fierce“Jacksonians” when they perceive a threat – real or imagined – to the US. On the other hand, the “isolationist” “America first” factor also comes into play with these types, and Pompeo is no exception. While initially supporting the Fox News/neoconservative position in favor of overthrowing Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and arming the “moderate” Islamist rebels, he seemed to back away from supporting the rebels. In another flip-flop, albeit this time in the wrong direction, Pompeo voted for a resolution calling for an end to the Libyan intervention, and yet voted against a resolution – supported by then House Speaker John Boehner – that would have defunded the effort. (Sen. Mike Pence, Trump’s Vice President, and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, a sometime libertarian lodestar often compared to Ron Paul, did the same.)

Along with neocon great white hope Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), Pompeo played a key role in the effort to sabotage the Iran deal, asserting that “secret” side-agreements gave the Iranians a free pass to develop nuclear weapons. This was and is false, but, again, it’s no different from what President-elect Trump said during the course of the campaign – although Trump, to be sure, said he wouldn’t “tear up” the agreement, while Pompeo would likely do so.

All in all from a noninterventionist “America First” perspective, Pompeo is a somewhat mixed bag, but in the context of the CIA, he would be a disaster. To begin with, count on him to be constantly looking for “intel” that “proves” Iran has violated its agreement not to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Secondly, as his flip-flop on the Syrian rebel issue shows, his first instinct is to pursue regime-change. Thirdly, his views on the collection of meta-data – the scooping up of everyone’s online trail, indiscriminately – and his opposition to even the namby-pamby reforms that have supposedly modified the US government’s activities in this regard, is bad news for those of us who believe in the Constitution.

Overall rating – Fail!

Michael T. Flynn, National Security advisor to the President – A hard-driving military man, Lt. Gen. Flynn rose through the ranks and quickly gained a reputation as a contrarian – in ways that offended the Establishment, and eventually got him fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

As head of the Joint Functional Component Command for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, chief of the Military Intelligence Board, Assistant DNI, and officer in charge of Intel for the Joint Special Operations Command, Flynn was an innovator much admired by his colleagues. Where he got into trouble was when he a) questioned the rosy scenario painted by the Obama administration about the alleged “success” of our endless “war on terrorism,” and b) when his DIA issued a controversial Intel report that not only predicted the rise of ISIS, but also pinned responsibility for this squarely on the “Sunni turn” taken by the Obama team, and in particular Hillary’s State Department.

In an extraordinary interview with Al Jazeera, he explicitly accuses US policymakers of aiding and abetting the growth and development of ISIS. Here is the exchange:

“Mehdi Hasan: Let me – let me just to, before we move on, just to clarify once more, you are basically saying that even in government at the time, you knew those groups were around. You saw this analysis –

Michael Flynn: [TALKING OVER] Sure.

Hasan: – and you were arguing against it. But who wasn’t listening?

Flynn: I think the administration.

Hasan: So the administration turned a blind eye to your analysis –

Flynn: I don’t know if they turned a blind eye. I think it was a decision. I think it was a willful decision.

Hasan: A willful decision to go – support an insurgency that had Salafist, al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood?

Flynn: [INTERRUPTING] Well, a willful decision to do what they’re doing, which, which you have to really – you have to really ask the President, what is it that he actually is doing with the, with the policy that is in place, because it is very, very confusing? I’m sitting here today, Mehdi, and I don’t, I can’t tell you exactly what that is, and I’ve been at this for a long time.”

I written about this issue at length, and I’d refer my readers to that column for a deeper dive. Also quite encouraging is Flynn’s recognition of the key part played by “blowback” in exacerbating the problem of how to deal with radical Islamism, as evidenced by this statement from the same Al Jazeera interview:

“When you drop a bomb from a drone you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.”

Amen to that.

However, in other respects, Flynn’s views are problematic: as Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan put it in the above-cited interview, “There’s a dove General Flynn and there’s a hawk General Flynn.” And this really encapsulates the paradox we face when we’re dealing not only with Flynn but with the entire Trump phenomenon.

Flynn apparently believes there is a worldwide “anti-American” alliance stretching from Venezuela to China, and including Iran and even Russia. This latter seems to fly in the face of the fact that he, like Trump, advocates cooperation with Russia in the campaign against ISIS — and despite accusations from the neoconservatives that Flynn is a Russian pawn, based on some appearances on Russia Today and his attendance at a dinner also attended by Vladimir Putin.

In Flynn’s view, Islam is as much a political ideology as it is a religion, which gets him in trouble with the liberal crowd. And his views on Iran are simply irrational and contradictory to boot: he insists Iran is a bad actor, but has nothing but vague generalities to offer as to how to deal with them, short of war. Like Trump, Pompeo, and the right-wing of the Republican party, he opposed the Iran deal.

And yet that deal is unlikely to be reversed, for the simple reason that it is a multilateral agreement and the floodgates have already been opened. If we go back on our word and impose more sanctions, it will just underscore our impotence, because the other signatories aren’t going to go along with us. More importantly, this anti-Iranian line contradicts the two elements that set Flynn and Trump apart from the foreign policy mandarins who hate them both: their willingness to work with Russia and their exclusive focus on ridding the world of ISIS. Iran is right in there fighting ISIS, as is Hezbollah: in the interview Flynn says they’re doing this “for their own reasons,” but isn’t it odd that a nationalist wouldn’t recognize the validity of this?

Overall rating: Pass.

I am reluctant to deal with the rumored nominees for other top national security positions, because none have been confirmed as of this writing. Among the list of potential nominees for Secretary of State, such disparate characters as Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California) and Mitt Romney have emerged as possibilities, as has former Democratic Senator Jim Webb (who is also being touted for Secretary of Defense). Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is said to be the leading candidate for Defense Secretary, but, as I said, it’s all up in the air.

Romney is clearly the most problematic: his nomination would constitute a major betrayal of Trump’s voters. After all, simply on political grounds – it was Romney who called Trump a “fraud,” a “phony,” and a “con man” – this would be putting a fox in the henhouse, not to mention that Romney’s strident internationalism would actively undermine Trump’s “America first” foreign policy.

However, analysis of probabilities rather than actual nominees is not something that’s worthwhile, and so I will desist at this point.

Different situations bring out either one or the other side of this paradoxical equation, and that’s why I’ve gone into so much detail dealing with just two of the appointments. In an election year in which nuance is not exactly favored, this approach is more necessary than ever. It may try the patience of one or another side in the political wars that are now dividing the country, but objective analysis is what’s required most of all at this juncture – and partisanship isn’t going to prevent me from doing my job and carrying out my duty to my readers.

Life is complicated. And that’s truer now, when we’re talking about the realm of international relations in the era of Trump, than ever before. Learn to live with it.

Media Stars Agree to Off-the-Record Meeting With Trump, Break Agreement, Whine About Mistreatment

November 22 2016

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

A glittering array of media stars and network executives made pilgrimage on Monday to the 25th floor of Trump Tower to meet with the president-elect. They all agreed that the discussions would be “off the record”: meaning they would conceal from their viewers what they discussed. Shortly after the meeting ended, several of the stars violated the agreement they made, running to the New York Post and David Remnick of the New Yorker to whine about Trump’s mean behavior. “The participants all shook Trump’s hand at the start of the session and congratulated him,” Remnick reported, “but things went south from there.” It’s difficult to identify the shabbiest and sorriest aspect of this spectacle, but let’s nonetheless try, as it sheds important light on our nation’s beloved media corps and their posture heading into a Trump presidency.

To begin with, why would journalistic organizations agree to keep their meeting with Donald Trump off the record? If you’re a journalist, what is the point of speaking with a powerful politician if you agree in advance that it’s all going to be kept secret? Do they not care what appearance this creates: the most powerful media organizations meeting high atop Trump Tower with the country’s most powerful political official, with everyone agreeing to keep it all a big secret from the public? Whether or not it actually is collusion, whether or not it actually is subservient ring-kissing in exchange for access, it certainly appears to be that. As the Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone put it: “By agreeing to such conditions, journalists expected to deliver the news to the public must withhold details of a newsworthy meeting with the president-elect.”

The pretext these media stars offer for such meetings is unpersuasive in the extreme. “Oh, we need,” they claim, “to negotiate access and how we’re going to work together, and this discussion can be productive only if everyone is confident that it won’t be reported.” But why do media organizations need to have cooperative access agreements with politicians? Just report on and investigate what he says and does. Don’t agree to ground rules that limit or subvert your ability to report aggressively. Don’t turn yourselves into vassals in order to be granted access to the royal court.

More to the point, nobody really believes that a discussion that takes place in a room filled with a couple dozen TV stars and their media bosses is going to be kept private, so the “off-the-record” agreement does not actually foster candor. It’s instead designed to achieve nothing other than creating a cozy atmosphere where — just as they do at the sleazy, Versailles-like White House Correspondents’ Dinner and on so many other occasions — media stars get to feel like they’re colleagues and friends with the president rather than his adversaries.

And, as was completely predictable, some of the TV stars immediately breached the off-the-record commitment they made — not by bravely reporting what occurred but by slinking around in the dark to anonymously whisper and gossip about what Trump said to them. Which is worse: agreeing to an off-the-record meeting with Trump, or then unethically violating the agreement by disclosing exactly what you promised in advance you would not disclose? (This is not the first time journalists have dubiously promised Trump off-the-record privileges and then violated their own commitments.)

Then there’s the content of their complaints. Trump, apparently, was very mean to them. His tone was unpleasant and uncivil — hostile even. He did not treat the august press corps with the respect and admiration to which they are entitled. At least two of them ran to David Remnick to whine about how mean and critical Trump was. Remnick himself was outraged on their behalf and conveyed this pitifully amusing anecdote:

Another participant at the meeting said that Trump’s behavior was “totally inappropriate” and “fucking outrageous.” The television people thought that they were being summoned to ask questions; Trump has not held a press conference since late July. Instead, they were subjected to a stream of insults and complaints — and not everyone absorbed it with pleasure.

“I have to tell you, I am emotionally fucking pissed,” another participant said. “How can this not influence coverage? I am being totally honest with you. Toward the end of the campaign, it got to a point where I thought that the coverage was all about [Trump’s] flaws and problems. And that’s legit. But, I thought, OK, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. After the meeting today, though — and I am being human with you here — I think, Fuck him! I know I am being emotional about it. And I know I will get over it in a couple of days after Thanksgiving. But I really am offended. This was unprecedented. Outrageous!”

Where to begin with this? First, if they really believed “that they were being summoned to ask questions,” a form of a press conference, then what remote justification is there for keeping it a secret? This expectation obliterates the standard excuse offered for why such meetings are appropriate.

Second, I’m really sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but yes: Donald Trump hates the U.S. media, as do the overwhelming majority of Americans. Even though every pampered star in that room is paid many millions of dollars a year and is flattered on a daily basis by teams of underlings, they are not actually entitled to respect and admiration, especially not from the powerful politicians they cover. The media was quite critical of Trump, and he hates them back. If they don’t want to be disliked by powerful politicians — if confronting hostility of this type traumatizes them this way and sends them running to David Remnick for therapy and comfort — then they should go find other work. Who cares if Trump is nice to Wolf Blitzer and Phil Griffin?

Third, the above-quoted journalist pronounced themselves so profoundly “offended,” crying: “This was unprecedented. Outrageous.” But in the next breath the journalist said this about the brutality they suffered: “I know I will get over it in a couple of days after Thanksgiving.” I have no doubt that’s true. Rather than doing their jobs and being adversarial to Trump, rather than responding to this sort of bullying with some dignity and return aggression, it is a very good bet that they will respond with greater submission (the way they all stayed passively in their assigned press pens during Trump rallies). The supreme religion of the U.S. press corps is reverence for power; the more Trump exhibits, the more submissive they will get. “I know I will get over it in a couple of days after Thanksgiving.” We believe you.

Finally, after everything Trump has said — about immigrants, Muslims, women, etc. — this is what upsets these journalists: that he criticized them to their faces using a mean tone. Remnick writes that “Trump whined” in the meeting and showed how “vain” he is. That may be true, but the same is true of his anonymous friends for whose petty grievances he is crusading. There is much oppression in the world and many serious concerns as Trump heads to the Oval Office; how Trump speaks to Chuck Todd and Jeff Zucker is not on that list.

All presidents have the temptation and potential to abuse their power. That’s why the American founders were preoccupied with creating safeguards against that, and one of those was a free press. The homage these TV stars and executives were prepared to make inside Trump Tower, followed by their self-absorbed whimpering afterward, suggests that one should look elsewhere for the vital checks that an aggressive press must provide.

‘Extraordinarily hot’ Arctic temperatures alarm scientists

Danish and US researchers say warmer air and sea surface could lead to record lows of sea ice at north pole next year

November 22, 2016

by John Vidal

The Guardian

The Arctic is experiencing extraordinarily hot sea surface and air temperatures, which are stopping ice forming and could lead to record lows of sea ice at the north pole next year, according to scientists.

Danish and US researchers monitoring satellites and Arctic weather stations are surprised and alarmed by air temperatures peaking at what they say is an unheard-of 20C higher than normal for the time of year. In addition, sea temperatures averaging nearly 4C higher than usual in October and November.

“It’s been about 20C warmer than normal over most of the Arctic Ocean, along with cold anomalies of about the same magnitude over north-central Asia. This is unprecedented for November,” said research professor Jennifer Francis of Rutgers university.

Temperatures have been only a few degrees above freezing when -25C should be expected, according to Francis. “These temperatures are literally off the charts for where they should be at this time of year. It is pretty shocking. The Arctic has been breaking records all year. It is exciting but also scary,” she said.

Francis said the near-record low sea ice extent this summer had led to a warmer than usual autumn. That in turn had reduced the temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes.

“This helped make the jet stream wavier and allowed more heat and moisture to be driven into Arctic latitudes and perpetuate the warmth. It’s a vicious circle,” she added.

Sea ice, which forms and melts each year, has declined more than 30% in the past 25 years. This week it has been at the lowest extent ever recorded for late November. According to the US government’s National Snow and Ice Data Centre, (NSIDC), around 2m square kilometres less ice has formed since September than average. The level is far below the same period in 2012, when sea ice went on to record its lowest ever annual level.

Francis said she was convinced that the cause of the high temperatures and ice loss was climate change. “It’s all expected. There is nothing but climate change that can cause these trends. This is all headed in the same direction and picking up speed.”

Rasmus Tonboe, a sea ice remote sensing expert at the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, said: “Sea surface temperatures in the Kara and Barents seas are much warmer than usual. That makes it very difficult for sea ice to freeze.

“When we have large areas of open water, it also raises air temperatures, and it has been up to 10/15C warmer. Six months ago the sea ice was breaking up unusually early. This made more open water and allowed the sunlight to be absorbed, which is why the Arctic is warmer this year,” he said.

“What we are seeing is both surprising and alarming. This is faster than the models. It is alarming because it has consequences.”

Julienne Stroeve, the professor of polar observation at University College London said ice that should be growing at this time of year was retreating. “It’s been a crazy year. There is no ice at Svalbard yet. In the last few days there has been a decline in sea ice in the Bering sea. Very warm air has flooded into the Arctic from the south, pressing the ice northwards.

“Air temperature drives the formation of the ice. It has been really delayed this year so the ice is also much thinner than it usually is. The speed at which this is happening surprises me. In the Arctic the trend has been clear for years, but the speed at which it is happening is faster than anyone thought,” said Strove.

“Ice is very sensitive to weather. There is a huge high pressure over the Kara sea, and Eurasia and Canada. We are seeing very strong winds bringing warm air north.”

The significance of the ice forming late is that this affects its growth the following year, with consequences for climate. “Extreme wind and high air temperatures [now],” she said, “could see ice extent drop next year below the record 2012 year”.

She added: “The ice could be even thinner than it was at the start of 2012. This is definitely a strange year.”

Ed Blockley, the lead scientist of the UK Met Office’s polar climate group, said: “The sea ice is extremely low. It is freezing but very slowly. Last week the Barents sea reduced its ice cover. There was less ice at the end than the start.

“These temperature anomalies are not unprecedented but this is certainly extraordinary. We are seeing a continual decline in ice. It it likely to be a hiccup but it puts us in bad starting position for next year.”


‘Brexit Negotiations Just Got More Complicated

Donald Trump’s election in the US has made negotiations over Britain’s departure from the EU even more complicated — and could create added difficulties for German businesses. The prospect of a “hard Brexit” is becoming ever more likely.

November 21, 2016

by Martin Hesse, Peter Müller, Christoph Pauly and Christian Reiermann


It was a symbolically powerful photo that Nigel Farage tweeted out to the world last week. It showed Farage, the Brexit proponent and head of the British populist party UKIP, grinning broadly with US president-elect Donald Trump in front of a gold-plated door inside the Trump Tower. Since the election victory of the similarly-minded Trump, people like Farage are hoping that Britain can reinvigorate its special relationship with America following the country’s decision to turn its back on the bureaucratic EU.

For European companies, that isn’t good news. Trump’s victory has created yet another variable in the game of Brexit poker: Many on the Continent are concerned that Britain could increasingly turn to the US instead of leaving their economy as open as possible to Europe.

Furthermore, if Trump moves ahead with the kind of protectionism he campaigned on, companies in Germany and elsewhere in Continental Europe will be facing a dual threat: They will have to worry about their exports to the US as well as to the UK.

Trump’s election has further deepened the rift between the EU and Great Britain, and previously visible differences are now becoming more distinct. Out of fear of the voters and the populists, the British and the EU are heading more than ever towards a hard Brexit.

There is widespread fear within the EU that nationalist forces will continue gaining strength and that more members of the union will decide to leave. Some in Europe hope that Brexit might serve as a deterrent. “There must be a threat, there must be a risk, there must be a price,” for leaving the EU, French President François Hollande said recently in Paris.

‘Quite Dramatic’

For British Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult to follow calls from the London financial lobby and other business leaders to make concessions to the EU and pursue a softer exit from the EU. After all, both the US election and the Brexit referendum were in part votes against the financial elite and their supposed proxies in the White House and 10 Downing Street.

Brexit is not unlike an amputation: The EU is losing one of its most economically powerful members in addition to a member of the G7’s exclusive ranks. “It’s quite dramatic for us,” EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said in Brussels on Wednesday. The British, meanwhile, are cutting ties with their most important trading partner: Forty-five percent of their exports go to the EU.

Since the referendum, the pound has fallen by 11 percent and the International Monetary Fund and several other economists have lowered their growth forecasts for the coming years for both the UK and the rest of the EU. British economic growth may have been surprisingly stable of late, but the effects of the Brexit poison are long term.

The timeline of the Brexit negotiations is only slowly becoming clear. Once Britain officially triggers Article 50, which it intends to do in March, the two-year negotiating period begins. Only then will the country’s new relationship with the EU begin to take shape. Companies on both sides of the Channel are facing what they most hate: years of uncertainty.

‘New Relationships with All EU Members’

“The most likely scenario is that following its exit, the UK will have a relationship to the EU that is similar to the status of a World Trade Organization member,” says Alexander Börsch, chief economist at auditing and consulting firm Deloitte. “When it comes to the financial sector, which is not subject to the world trade pact, the United Kingdom would potentially need to negotiate new bilateral relationships with all EU members.”

In Brussels, though, there is little to indicate that historic negotiations are approaching. Since the initial shock, the EU bureaucracy has been approaching Brexit as it would the creation of, say, new eco-design guidelines: the Council, Commission and Parliament have all formed working groups. Over 20 committees in European Parliament are currently working on a questionnaire about which subjects they believe are important for the upcoming negotiations.

The Commission’s EU task force is led by former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. He is currently traveling through European capitals to get a sense of what EU member states expect from the Brexit negotiations. The result will be a catalogue of criteria for the talks; the real negotiations would then begin next May or June. Member states’ expectations are far from consistent: While France is pushing for a tough negotiating stance, small countries like Malta, for example, are worried about university research cooperation with the British.

In London, there also seem to be differing expectations about which path to take out of the EU. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is pushing European partners to provide the UK free access to the common market, even after Brexit. Italian Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda told Bloomberg TV that Johnson sought to paint a clear image of the disadvantages lurking should Britain not remain part of the common market. “You’ll sell less prosecco,” Johnson said according to Calenda. The Italian answered: “You’ll sell less less fish and chips, but I’ll sell less prosecco to one country, and you’ll sell less to 27 countries.”

But even before Trump’s election victory, the UK’s cards in the upcoming game of negotiation poker weren’t so bad. EU negotiation leaders were concerned that the British could try to block issues like closer defense policy cooperation in order to get a better Brexit deal.

While politicians on both sides are engaging in unfocused preemptive skirmishes, the business community is trying to save what is seemingly unsalvageable. “We are striving for a relationship to the EU common market that is as close as possible to the current membership,” says Miles Celic, head of the lobby group TheCityUK, which represents the interests of the London financial sector. Gunter Dunkel, who was president of the Association of Public Banks (VÖB) in Germany until recently, is calling for the EU to oblige the Brits: “We need to address the four fundamental freedoms — for goods, services, work and capital — in other ways, otherwise we cannot keep Europe together.”

Two Paths for Banks

Such a redesign, however, is something that nobody in Brussels wants. May’s desire to continue providing goods and, especially, financial services to the EU without any barriers while limiting the immigration of workers will not be implementable. If she wants fewer EU foreigners in the UK, then Britain will be unable to remain in the common market. For this reason, the financial sector, particularly financial conglomerates that use London as a gateway to the European common market, is preparing itself for the worst-case scenario.

A significant number of foreign financial institutions have already made the decision to move their bases for EU business away from London, consultants are saying. They are concerned that Brexit will mean that their London subsidiaries will lose their so-called “EU passports,” meaning the right to sell products and services in the European Union from London. The only remaining question is where they will move them to.

To be on the safe side, foreign banks are considering two models. The more radical of the two would involve giving up their London subsidiaries and carrying out all future EU business via a new subsidiary in the remaining Union. The Russian bank VTB apparently has chosen this path: It has announced that it plans to carry out its European business operations from Frankfurt, Vienna or Paris in the future.

But most banks are leaning towards keeping London as an intermediate holding company and establishing a further subsidiary in the EU so as to maintain access to the common market. The investment bank Goldman Sachs, for example, is considering installing its European headquarters in Frankfurt. Many banks are planning on keeping their EU-based subsidiaries as small as possible, though EU regulators would not approve of mere shell companies.

According to Thomas Steffen, state secretary in the German Finance Ministry, the first relocations will take place next spring. Representatives of London-based financial institutions have made frequent visits to the German Finance Ministry in Berlin, he says, to see what kind of advantages they might be able to secure in the event of a move.

If a bank CEO comes in person, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble often speaks to them himself in an effort to praise the advantages presented by Frankfurt. When Schäuble was at the IMF and World Bank fall meetings in Washington in early October, the heads of four American banks sought him out to discuss moving their London subsidiaries.

Schäuble points to Frankfurt’s quality infrastructure, affordable cost of living compared to London or Paris and the proximity of the European Central Bank, which is responsible for the supervision of European banks. Unlike France, however, he isn’t interested in offering financial institutions a tax break.

Still, even if Frankfurt might profit from Brexit, Britain’s departure from the common market would create mostly losers in Germany. Cross-border trade would suddenly be slapped with new tariffs.

This is a horror scenario for the pharmaceutical industry in particular. According to a study by the Center for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Munich, it is “by far the most affected industry.” If the British introduce the external tariffs that are standard today, it could make the exports of chemical products to Britain around 200 million euros more expensive.

The car industry can also expect problems — on both sides of the Channel. “If there’s a ‘hard Brexit,’ then we will see a shift to central and southeastern Europe,” Matthias Wissmann, head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, said according to the Financial Times.

Americans Need EU More than UK

German car exporters would also suffer. In the past year, German auto makers delivered 810,000 cars to the UK, the third largest buyer of German vehicles. There are dozens of production facilities in the UK that are tightly integrated into the EU network. All of that is now in danger.

The example of the auto industry, however, also shows that Brexit negotiators understand the language of the lobbyists when jobs are in danger. Carlos Ghosn, head of Renault-Nissan, received an appointment on short notice at Downing Street when the decision arose as to whether the company’s Qashqai SUV should continue to be built in the UK. Prime Minister May hastily reassured him that he didn’t have to fear any negative consequences from Brexit. Nissan promptly announced that the new Qashqai would continue to be built in the UK.

Not even May knows if she can keep her promise. The EU Commission now wants to find out what concrete agreements May made with Nissan. If she promised financial help, her deal with the company might ironically trigger EU competition proceedings for unlawful subsidies just as Britain is leaving.

Prime Minister May’s newfound affinity for Trump won’t be able to help her out of the dilemma currently facing her and the British, especially since the fundamental rules of arithmetic still apply. “The EU is a much more important as a trade partner for the UK than the US is,” says Börsch, the Deloitte strategist.

The Americans also need the EU more than the UK as a market for its exports. Consequently, they are eager to avoid disrupting their supply chain to the European continent.

A recent policy paper by the US Chamber of Commerce notes that the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will have substantial implications for US investments in Britain, which the paper identifies as being worth $590 billion dollars, resulting in some 1.2 million jobs in Britain. The paper predicts a dark future for Britain: If the United Kingdom “were not to retain its current level of access” to the European market, the cost of doing business in the EU would increase — and “these costs are likely to be borne by British workers and consumers.”

The entire document is full of warnings to those in Britain who might dream of a close alliance with the US. Particularly since the financial centers of London and New York are in fierce competition. To understand what that means, the British only need to recall the slogan that helped Trump win the election: “America first.”

A Pentagon Rising

Is a Trump Presidency Good News for the Military-Industrial Complex?

November 22, 2016

by William D. Hartung

Tom Dispatch

As with so much of what Donald Trump has said in recent months, his positions on Pentagon spending are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions.  Early signs suggest, however, that those contradictions are likely to resolve themselves in favor of the usual suspects: the arms industry and its various supporters and hangers-on in the government, as well as Washington’s labyrinthine world of think-tank policymakers and lobbyists.  Of course, to quote a voice of sanity at this strange moment: it ain’t over till it’s over. Eager as The Donald may be to pump vast sums into a Pentagon already spending your tax dollars at a near-record pace, there will be significant real-world obstacles to any such plans.

Let’s start with a baseline look at the Pentagon’s finances at this moment.  At $600 billion-plus per year, the government is already spending more money on the Pentagon than it did at the peak of the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan initiated in the 1980s.  In fact, despite what you might imagine, the Obama administration has pumped more tax dollars into the military in its two terms than did George W. Bush. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the U.S. currently spends four times what China does and 10 times what the Russians sink into their military.

So pay no attention to those cries of poverty emanating from the Pentagon.  There’s already plenty of money available for “defense.”  Instead, the problems lie in Washington’s overly ambitious, thoroughly counterproductive global military strategy and in the Pentagon’s penchant for squandering tax dollars as if they were in endless supply. Supposedly, the job of the president and Congress is to rein in that department’s notoriously voracious appetite. Instead, they regularly end up as a team of enablers for its obvious spending addiction.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.  He’s on the record against regime-change-style wars like Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya.  He also wants our allies to pay more for their own defense.  And he swears that, once in office, he’ll eliminate waste and drive down the costs of weapons systems.  Taken at face value, such a set of policies would certainly set the stage for reductions in Pentagon spending, not massive increases.  But those are just the views of one Donald Trump.

Don’t forget the other one, the presidential candidate who termed our military a “disaster” and insisted that huge spending increases were needed to bring it back up to par. A window into this Trump’s thinking can be found in a speech he gave in Philadelphia in early September. Drawing heavily on a military spending blueprint created by Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation, Trump called for tens of thousands of additional troops, a Navy of 350 ships (the current goal is 308), a significantly larger Air Force, an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions, and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernization” program for the nuclear arsenal (now considered a three-decade-long project).

Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that, if Trump faithfully follows the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, he could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. Trump asserts that he would counterbalance this spending splurge with corresponding cuts in government waste but has as yet offered no credible plan for doing so (because, of course, there isn’t one).

You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that the defense industry, always sensitive to the vibes of presidential candidates, has been popping the champagne corks in the wake of Trump’s victory.  The prospects are clear: a new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon.

Veteran defense analyst David Isenberg has convincingly argued that the “military-industrial-congressional-complex,” not the white working class, will be the real winner of the 2016 presidential election. The Forbes headline for a column Loren Thompson, an industry consultant (whose think tank is heavily funded by weapons contractors), recently wrote says it all: “For the Defense Industry, Trump’s Win Means Happy Days are Here Again.”  The stocks of industry giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman rose sharply upon news of his election and the biggest winner of all may be Huntington Ingalls, a Virginia-based manufacturer of aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that would be a primary beneficiary of Trump’s proposed naval buildup.

The Ideologues Form Their Ranks

Of course, the market’s not always right.  What other evidence do we have that Trump will follow through on his promises to dramatically increase Pentagon spending? One clue is his potential appointees to national security positions.

Let’s start with his transition team.  Mira Ricardel, a former executive at Boeing’s Strategic Missiles and Defense unit, has been running the day-to-day operations of the defense part of the transition apparatus.   She also served a lengthy stint in the Pentagon under George W. Bush. As Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One has noted, she’s advocated for the development of space laser weapons and more military satellites, and is likely to press for appointees who will go all in on the Pentagon’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new nuclear bomber and a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles. So much for “draining the swamp” of special-interest advocates, as Trump had promised to do.  Vice President-elect Mike Pence, recently named to head the Trump transition team in place of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has promised to cleanse the transition team of lobbyists.  But government watchdog groups like Public Citizen are skeptical of this pledge, noting that corporate executives like Ricardel who have not been registered lobbyists are likely to survive any changes Pence may make.

The person currently rumored to be the frontrunner for the defense job is General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a 44-year Marine and former head of the U.S. Central Command who left the military in 2013 amid disagreements with the Obama administration over how many troops to deploy in Iraq and how hard a line to take on Iran.  According to a Washington Post profile of Mattis, he “consistently pushed the military to punish Iran and its allies, including calling for more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdictions of Iranian warships.”  These proposals were non-starters at a time when the Obama administration was negotiating a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but may receive a warmer reception in a Trump White House.

Another candidate for the Pentagon post is Jim Talent, a former senator from Missouri who is now based at the conservative American Enterprise Institute after a seven-year stint at the Heritage Foundation. Talent is a long-time advocate of spending an arbitrary 4% of gross domestic product on defense, an ill-advised policy that would catapult the Pentagon budget to over $800 billion per year by 2020, one-third above current levels. The conservative National Taxpayers Union has derided the idea as a gimmick that is “neither fiscally responsible nor strategically coherent.”

Another person allegedly in the mix for Pentagon chief is Kelly Ayotte, who just lost her Senate seat in New Hampshire.  She was a rising star in the ranks of the Capitol Hill hawks who roamed the country with Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain advocating an end to caps on Pentagon spending.  Ayotte’s name may have been mentioned primarily to show that Trump was casting a wide net (the whole spectrum from hawks to extreme hawks).  Conservative Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas — a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and an avid booster of increasing Pentagon spending beyond what even the Pentagon has asked for — is reputedly another contender.

Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, is looking for a job after losing his seat in a primary earlier this year. He has been mentioned as a possible secretary of the Navy.  The outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, he has been the most vocal advocate in Congress for a larger Navy.  Not coincidentally, Virginia is also home to Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Retired Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn has now been selected to serve as Trump’s national security adviser, where he may get the last word on foreign policy issues.  A registered Democrat, he was an early Trump supporter who gave a fiery anti-Obama speech at the Republican convention and led anti-Clinton chants of “lock her up” at Trump rallies — hardly the temperament one would want in a person who will be at the president’s side making life-and-death decisions for the planet.  To his credit, Flynn has expressed skepticism of military interventions like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has also advocated regime change as a way to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and criticized President Obama for being too “politically correct” to use the term “radical Islam.”  His own views on Islam and how best to deal with terrorism are particularly concerning.  He has described Islam as a “political ideology” rather than a religion, and has made demonstrably false assertions regarding the role of Islam in American life, including the absurd claim that Islamic law, or Sharia, has taken hold in certain communities in the United States.

The scariest potential Trump appointees — or at least the scariest voices that could have the president-elect’s ear or those of his closest advisers, are not necessarily the ones with preexisting economic stakes in high levels of Pentagon spending.  They are the ideologues.  R. James Woolsey, former CIA director and fierce advocate of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, punches both tickets.  He’s closely connected to right-wing think tanks that press for spending more on all things military and was a member of neoconservative networks like the Project for the New American Century and the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.  Woolsey is also an executive at Booz, Allen, Hamilton, a major defense and intelligence contractor.

Then there’s Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. A former Reagan-era Star Wars enthusiast turned professional Islamophobe, he has insinuated that President Obama might be a secret Muslim and slandered fellow conservatives for allegedly having questionable ties to radical Muslim organizations.  Such claims should make Gaffney unfit to serve in the government of a democratic society.  However, his advice is reportedly being listened to by key Trump insiders and appointing him to some national security post may not prove a problem for a president-elect who has already installed white supremacist Stephen Bannon as his strategic adviser in the White House.

And then there’s John Bolton, the hawk’s hawk who never met an arms control agreement he didn’t despise, and who took to the pages of the New York Times last year to advocate bombing Iran.  Prominent neoconservatives are pushing Bolton as a possible secretary of state in a Trump administration.  A potential obstacle to a Bolton appointment is his strong anti-Russian stance, but he could still get a post of significance or simply be an important voice in the coming Trump era. He has already called for Trump to scrap the Iran nuclear deal on his first day in office.  Another reported candidate in the race for secretary of state is Rudy Giuliani, perhaps the most undiplomatic man in America. Recent reports suggest, however, that the former New York mayor no longer has the inside track on the job. The latest name to be mentioned in the secretary of state sweepstakes is former Massachusetts governor and failed presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a harsh critic of Trump during the campaign.

Below the cabinet level, certain Republican foreign policy experts who opposed Trump or remained neutral during the campaign have been trying to mend fences — even some of those who signed a letter suggesting that he might be “the most reckless president in American history.”  Part of this backpedaling has included preposterous claims that Trump’s pronouncements have become more “nuanced” in the post-election period, as if he didn’t really mean it when he called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals or talked about banning Muslims from the country.

One hawk who hasn’t accommodated himself to a Trump presidency is Eliot Cohen, a leader of the “Never Trump” movement who had initially urged foreign policy specialists to put aside their reservations and enter his administration.  Cohen has since reversed course and suggested that no “garden variety Republican” go near Trump, arguing that he and his “mediocre” appointees will “smash into crises and failures” on a regular basis.

In the end, it may not matter much just how the contest for top positions in the new administration plays out.  Given the likely cast of characters and the nascent crop of advisers in the world of national security, it’s hard to imagine that Trump won’t be strongly encouraged in any efforts to pump up Pentagon spending to levels possibly not seen in the post-World War II era.

Reaganomics on Steroids?

One thing, however, does stand in the way of Trump’s current plans: reality.

As a start, how in the world will Trump pay for his ambitious military, “security,” and infrastructure plans?  A huge military buildup, a $25 billion wall on the Mexican border, a potentially enormous increase in spending on immigration enforcement officials and private detention centers, and a trillion-dollar infrastructure program, all against the backdrop of a tax plan that would cut trillions in taxes for the wealthiest Americans.  The only possible way to do this would be to drown the country in red ink.

Trump is likely to turn to deficit spending on a grand scale, which will undoubtedly exacerbate divisions among congressional Republicans and cause potentially serious pushback from the Party’s deficit hawks.  On the other hand, his desire to lift current caps on Pentagon spending without a corresponding increase in domestic expenditures could generate significant opposition from Senate Democrats, who might use current Senate rules to block consideration of any unbalanced spending proposals.

Nor will Trump’s incipient infatuation with Pentagon spending do much for members of his working class base who have been left behind economically as traditional manufacturing employment has waned.  In fact, Pentagon spending is one of the worst possible ways of creating jobs.  Much of the money goes to service contractors, arms industry executives, and defense consultants (also known as “Beltway bandits”), and what does go into the actual building of weapons systems underwrites a relatively small number of manufactured items, at least when compared to mass production industries like automobiles or steel.

In addition, such spending is the definition of an economic dead end.  If you put taxpayer money into education or infrastructure, you lay the foundations for further growth.  If you spend money on an F-35 fighter plane, you get… well, an overpriced F-35. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts indicates that infrastructure spending creates one and one-half times the number of jobs per dollar invested as money lavished on the Pentagon.  If Trump really wants to create jobs for his base, he should obviously pursue infrastructure investment rather than dumping vast sums into weapons the country doesn’t actually need at prices it can’t afford.

At present, with its proposals for steep military spending increases and deep tax cuts, Trump’s budget plan looks like Reaganomics on steroids.  A Democratic Congress and citizens’ movements like the nuclear freeze campaign managed to blunt Reagan’s most extreme policy proposals.  The next few years will determine what happens with Mr. Trump’s own exercise in fantasy budgeting.

Madame President Le Pen – Europe’s next political earthquake

November 22, 2016

by Finian Cunningham


After the shock of Brexit and then election of Donald Trump to the White House, anything now seems possible in the political world. Six months hence, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s Front National (FN), will be within reach of the presidency.

It’s a possibility that Le Pen is not alone in trumpeting, following Britain’s surprise vote to leave the European Union and Trump’s equally surprising US victory earlier this month. Last week, incumbent French Prime Minister Manuel Valls acknowledged that the FN leader could be elected the French republic’s new president when the country goes to the polls during April-May next year.

The 48-year-old Le Pen, a trained lawyer, is hoping that her bid for Élysée Palace will tap into the zeitgeist of what she calls a “popular uprising against ruling elites”.

Her chances of becoming head of state in the EU’s second largest member after Germany has just received a further boost from the expected nomination of Francois Fillon as presidential candidate of the center-right Les Republicains party. Fillon is way ahead of his party rival Alain Juppé in the nomination process, which concludes this coming weekend.

While Fillon has adopted Le Pen’s agenda of tougher immigration controls, there is a gulf of difference on economic issues, as well as on France’s relation to the EU bloc.

Fillon, a prime minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012), is an economic neoliberal hawk. He proudly claims the late British premier Margaret Thatcher as one of his ideological mentors. Fillon is promising to slash public service jobs and budgets, while also gutting French labor laws to remove statutory caps on maximum working hours and to increase the retirement age.

It is hard to conceive of a more politically tone-deaf candidate for the presidency. This year France has seen months of massive public protests against the very hardline austerity measures that Fillon is advocating.

So, while his tough rhetoric on clamping down on immigration and his socially conservative opposition to gay marriage might appeal to some citizens on the political right, Marine Le Pen appears to be more in tune with concerns of the broader electorate. Those concerns are motivated by economic insecurity and loss of democratic accountability in an era of seemingly implacable financial globalization.

The rise of FN in France and other eurosceptic political parties across Europe is not simply due to xenophobia and racial tensions over immigration. It is arguably much more about counteracting the excesses of a global oligarchy, which the EU and established political parties have come to embody.

Whereas Le Pen wants to follow Britain in quitting the EU altogether to reassert national control over the economy, Fillon has no such ambitions. He is a candidate for globalization and austerity, the very program that has become a totemic hate symbol driving the populist mood for revolt.

The FN has come a long way from its origins when it was considered a bete noire of French and European politics owing to perceived fascist and racist tendencies. Founded in 1993 by Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine, the party would never receive mainstream media coverage. Now it does.

Marine Le Pen cleans house

When she took over the FN leadership in 2011, Le Pen embarked on a “detoxication” of the party, cleaning up its image as an anti-Semitic, racist fringe movement. This has led to an acrimonious split with her father, who has been banished to obscurity as “honorary president” over his repeated remarks about the Nazi Holocaust being a mere “historical footnote”.

Under Marine, the FN has also adopted a more leftwing economic agenda, such as protecting employment rights, increasing the minimum wage and vowing to fight corporate capitalism by spurning neoliberal international trade deals.

This is perhaps where she promises to rally French voters when they go to the first and second rounds of the presidential election on April 23 and May 7.

The incumbent Socialist President Francois Hollande and his prime minister Manuel Valls have become toxic for French workers and traditional leftwing voters. Since his election in 2012, Hollande’s popularity has plummeted to record single-digit lows. The Socialist party leadership is vilified as “betraying” ordinary citizens by accommodating finance capital and embracing neoliberal austerity.

So abject has the Socialist party become in the eyes of the electorate, it is inconceivable that it will be able muster a viable candidate for the presidential election.

That in effect makes the ballot a face-off between Marine Le Pen and Francois Fillon, whose supporters may be betting on his anti-immigrant rhetoric to decisively capture the rightwing vote. The 62-year-old also has more than three decades of parliamentary experience, which might be viewed as giving him appeal for more centrist voters.

But such calculations are badly amiss in gauging the popular mood in France and elsewhere. The popular discontent with conventional politics goes beyond rightwing concerns over excessive immigration and “multi-culturalism”. It is about challenging the status quo of perceived economic oppression that politicians like Francois Fillon represent.

In this assessment, Le Pen stands to reap votes from a much broader constituency of French citizens, straddling both the traditional left and right, but all united under the banner of demanding democratic control over basic economic matters.

If the FN sweeps to power by May of next year, the European political landscape will be shattered. An outwardly anti-EU French presidency would herald the collapse of the 28-member bloc as we know it.

That will have radical implications for US, European and Russian relations. No longer shackled by pro-Washington Atlanticism, France and Europe would begin to realign with more balanced and mutual relations with Moscow. Given Donald Trump’s more pragmatic friendly intentions towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, the whole geopolitical outlook next year could be upended – and upended for the greater global good. The current US-led hostility towards Russia abandoned and flash-points in Ukraine and Syria defused.

Center-right presidential hopeful Francois Fillon has a more reasonable view of Russia compared with the slavish Socialist party leadership under Hollande and Valls. Last week, he called for a international coalition involving Russia as a partner in the global fight against terrorism.

However, Le Pen is again seen to be more in tune with the electorate on that issue. She has berated Washington and European leaders for demonizing Russia, wants to jettison self-defeating punitive sanctions against Moscow, and she openly aligns with Vladimir Putin on foreign policy objectives, including his support for Syria against illegally armed insurgents who also pose grave security threats to France and the rest of Europe.

Whether Le Pen can deliver on policies to ameliorate French society and the economy is a moot point. But the improved shake-up of France and Europe’s foreign relations with the US and Russia is something that one feels many French voters will be willing to take a chance on.

Brexit, Trump, Le Pen could prove to be three moments in a year of major upheaval. As with any change, there are always risks for downsides. But given the rottenness of conventional politics in the West, the possibility of change is welcome.

And a Le Pen political earthquake might be the final shock to bring a rotten edifice crashing down.


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