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Trump’s End-Game Could Become Ours, Too

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On March 28th, CNN headlined “An unheard-of problem: The President can’t find a lawyer” and reported that:  Five large law firms are passing on the opportunity to represent the President after a shakeup last week on his private defense team and as he anticipates giving possible testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Well-known Washington lawyers cited several reasons for declining the President in recent weeks, according to multiple sources familiar with their decisions. Among them: … Lawyers at large firms fear backlash from their corporate clients if they were to represent the President. And many want to steer clear of conflicts of interest that could complicate their other obligations. … 

One such firm told CNN: “Any large law firm has clients that have very strong feelings.” The implication was that those are extremely negative feelings about Trump, and that at no large law firm is there any countervailing preponderance of large clients who “have very strong feelings” that are in a positive direction toward him.

If this isn’t a rejection of Trump by the rest of the U.S. aristocracy, and an expression of their determination to replace him by Mike Pence, then nothing could be. They want Trump out.

The reader-comments to that story, which are posted at reddit, don’t even mention Pence, nor America’s aristocracy, nor billionaires’ control over this country, nor nuclear war, nor any of the other significant implications of the news-story, nor even the major back-story to it, but these important aspects of this news-item, will be discussed and documented here.

The people in actual power had originally evaluated Trump’s Presidential candidacy only on the basis of what he said on the campaign trial, because he had never actually served in any public office. And, so, they feared him, solely on account of his words, and Hillary Clinton received vastly more big-dollar donations than he did. Though some of her campaign promises were moderately opposed to what billionaires want, she had had a long and consistent record of ‘public’ service, including as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State, serving actually billionaires, at the expense of the public, and so they didn’t really care what she said in her campaigns, because they knew, from actual experience with her, that she would be loyal to them. But not so with Trump. They’ve wanted him forced out of office, ever since he first entered office.

Nothing in Vice President Mike Pence’s background suggests that the policies (which is all that the people in actual power care about — they don’t care about bumper-stickers or campaign speeches or other mere words) which a President Pence would pursue, would be any different from those which President Trump has already been pursuing. Pence has a long and consistent record in public offices, and it’s supportive of the mega-corporate agenda. For example, he has never said (far less done) anything at all like what Trump had promised before he became President (but hasn’t yet acted on):

Trump said then: “The approach of fighting Assad and ISIS simultaneously was madness, and idiocy. They’re fighting each other and yet we’re fighting both of them. You know, we were fighting both of them. I think that our far bigger problem than Assad is ISIS, I’ve always felt that. Assad is, you know I’m not saying Assad is a good man, ’cause he’s not, but our far greater problem is not Assad, it’s ISIS. … I think, you can’t be fighting two people that are fighting each other, and fighting them together. You have to pick one or the other.” Assad is allied with Russia against the Sauds, so the U.S. (in accord with a policy that George Herbert Walker Bush initiated on 24 February 1990 and which has been carried out by all subsequent U.S. Presidents) is determined to overthrow Assad, but Trump during the campaign was firmly opposed to that policy.

Months before that time, Trump had said: “I think Assad is a bad guy, a very bad guy, all right? Lots of people killed. I think we are backing people we have no idea who they are. The rebels, we call them the rebels, the patriotic rebels. We have no idea. A lot of people think, Hugh, that they are ISIS. We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t be fighting ISIS and fighting Assad. Assad is fighting ISIS. He is fighting ISIS. Russia is fighting now ISIS. And Iran is fighting ISIS. We have to do one thing at a time. We can’t go — and I watched Lindsey Graham, he said, I have been here for 10 years fighting. Well, he will be there with that thinking for another 50 years. He won’t be able to solve the problem. We have to get rid of ISIS first. After we get rid of ISIS, we’ll start thinking about it. But we can’t be fighting Assad. And when you’re fighting Assad, you are fighting Russia, you’re fighting — you’re fighting a lot of different groups. But we can’t be fighting everybody at one time.”

And:

Trump turned the conversation back to Iraq. “Where were the weapons of mass destruction, Brian?” Trump asked Kilmeade. Again, Kilmeade defended the former president: [Former Secretary of State] “Madeleine Albright said they were there, [former President] Bill Clinton said they were there, [former French President] Jacques Chirac said they were there, the Portuguese prime minster said they were there, [former Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak said they were there.” Trump retorted: “Well, they weren’t there, they didn’t find them. They found nothing. Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis, it was Saudi — take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents.”

The Intercept headlined on 29 February 2016, “Neoconservatives Declare War on Trump”. On 21 March 2016, the Washington Post bannered, “Trump Questions Need for NATO, Outlines Noninterventionist Foreign Policy”. On 23 March 2016, William Greider headlined in The Nation, “Donald Trump Could Be the Military-Industrial Complex’s Worst Nightmare”.

Trump as a candidate, had said: “Right now we’re protecting, we’re basically protecting Japan, and we are, every time North Korea raises its head, you know, we get calls from Japan and we get calls from everybody else, and ‘Do something.’ And there’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore. Now, does that [intervention] mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. Biggest problem, to me, in the world, is nuclear, and proliferation.”

He also said: “I have two problems with NATO. No. 1, it’s obsolete. When NATO was formed many decades ago we were a different country. There was a different threat. Soviet Union was, the Soviet Union, not Russia, which was much bigger than Russia, as you know. And, it was certainly much more powerful than even today’s Russia, although again you go back into the weaponry. But, but – I said, I think NATO is obsolete, and I think that – because I don’t think – right now we don’t have somebody looking at terror, and we should be looking at terror. And you may want to add and subtract from NATO in terms of countries. But we have to be looking at terror, because terror today is the big threat.”

Fighting against “radical Islamic terrorism,” however, isn’t nearly as profitable for firms such as Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics, as nuclear weapons systems — the anti-Russia weapons, the strategic weapons systems — are. The military-industrial complex had needed the 9/11 boost back in 2000, when the possibility of shrinking ‘defense’ budgets was a real threat they faced; but, after over a decade of the military contractors having been carried along by that boost, they needed to go back to some kind of ‘Cold War’, even without any communism or Soviet Union or Warsaw Pact. Obama gave them that enormous boost, of a returned ‘Cold War’, by his coup overthrowing the democratically elected Government of Ukraine (on Russia’s doorstep) in February 2014 (and some of that Obama-operation’s mercenaries even recently described in detail their participation in the coup), and America’s government contractors have boomed enormously ever since the coup, as a result of that coup and of the resulting restored ‘Cold War’.

But restoring the ‘Cold War’ isn’t the only thing they demand, and which he has supplied but they fear he still might reverse them on: There’s also the fossil fuels industries, and the sickness industries, and others, often having the same investors as do military contractors.

On 17 July 2015, Paul Blumenthal and Kate Sheppard at Huffington Post bannered, “Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Campaign Bundlers Are Fossil Fuel Lobbyists”  and the sub-head was “Clinton’s top campaign financiers are linked to Big Oil, natural gas and the Keystone pipeline.”

Her record did show that she represented those lobbyists, not the public. Trump couldn’t even have won the Republican nomination if he hadn’t verbally supported those polices and gone even beyond them, promised to out-do Hillary; but, unlike Hillary, he didn’t have any actual record.

Furthermore, Trump said, “It’s not just the political system that’s rigged, it’s the whole economy. … Hillary Clinton’s message is old and tired. Her message is that things can’t change. My message is that things have to change.” That’s basically the same message as Bernie Sanders was promoting.

Trump’s stated positions on this were basically like Sanders’s. Trump said:

“SuperPACs are a disaster. They’re a scam. They cause dishonesty. And you better get rid of them because they are causing a lot of bad decisions to be made by some very good people.”

“I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And do you know what? When I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them, they are there for me. … And that’s a broken system.”

There, too, he sounded like Sanders.

Trump also said:

“[JORGE RAMOS]: But should it be limited legally — TRUMP: I don’t know about the limits. I think the most important thing is transparency. You have to know who you’re dealing with. And right now you don’t. You don’t. And I’m talking about PACs in all fairness. I have good friends who like to put money into PACs. Many friends, I have some enemies too, by the way. But I have many friends. They put money in PACs. And you need transparency. You need to know who is putting up what. So when they start making deals in a year or two years or three years, you know what is happening.”

Glenn Greenwald wrote about Hillary Clinton’s campaign being founded upon a rejection of such “transparency”: “The Clinton argument actually goes well beyond the Court’s conservatives: In Citizens United, the right-wing justices merely denied the corrupting effect of independent expenditures (i.e., ones not coordinated with the campaign). But Clinton supporters in 2016 are denying the corrupting effect of direct campaign donations by large banks and corporations and, even worse, huge speaking fees paid to an individual politician shortly before and after that person holds massive political power.” Donald Trump had spoken clearly against all of that — he spoke, in principle, against the type of opacity in donations, which the Democratic Party under Clinton encouraged.

The Washington Post headlined on 1 March 2016, “GOP Super PAC’s Ad Portrays Donald Trump as a Predatory Huckster”. The next day, Politico reported:

The effort [by Republican mega-donors against Trump] is centered on the recently formed Our Principles PAC, the latest big-money group airing anti-Trump ads, which is run by GOP strategist Katie Packer, deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney in 2012. The group, initially funded by $3 million from Marlene Ricketts, wife of billionaire T.D. Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, wants to saturate the expensive Florida airwaves ahead of the state’s March 15 primary with hopes of denying Trump a victory that could crush the hopes of home state Sen. Marco Rubio. A conference call on Tuesday to solicit donors for the group included Paul Singer, billionaire founder of hedge fund Elliott Management; Hewlett Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman; and Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, one of Joe and Marlene Ricketts’ three sons. Wealthy Illinois businessman Richard Uihlein is also expected to help fund the effort. Jim Francis, a big GOP donor and bundler from Texas, was also on the phone call on Tuesday

These people were donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and were donating to it even during the primaries.

Trump even endorsed socialization of the most essential healthcare services:

Trump said he favored taxpayer-paid healthcare for Americans who cannot afford to pay for the basic healthcare they need:

Donald Trump: By the way. Everybody’s got to be covered. This is an un-Republican thing for me to say because a lot of times they say, “No, no, the lower 25 percent that can’t afford private.” But — Scott Pelley: Universal health care? Donald Trump: I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now. Scott Pelley: The uninsured person is going to be taken care of how? Donald Trump: They’re going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably — Scott Pelley: Make a deal? Who pays for it? Donald Trump: — The government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side.”

A CBS News story, 29 January 2016, by a reporter who clearly favored Hillary, was headlined “Hillary Clinton: Single-payer health care will ‘never, ever’ happen”, and noted that in 1994 she had described single-payer not as an attractive option worthy of being considered, but instead as being a threat:

“‘If, for whatever reason, the Congress doesn’t pass health care reform, I believe, and I may be totally off base on this, but I believe that by the year 2000 we will have a single payer system,’ she said. ‘I don’t even think it’s a close call politically. I think the momentum for a single payer system will sweep the country. … It will be such a huge popular issue … that even if it’s not successful the first time, it will eventually be.’”

Back in 1994, she was citing single-payer as being a threat — never a goal. Wall Street knew where she stood, even if her voters didn’t.

Moreover, when Donald Trump forced into the Republican platform a restoration of the Democratic Glass-Steagall Act, this was his statement, not something that somebody else forced upon him. He knew that doing this would antagonize Wall Street, but he did it anyway. Trump actually said he wanted to ‘break up the big banks’. On 9 August 2016, the far-right American Enterprise Institute headlined “How Can Trump Support Deregulation and Glass-Steagall?” and opened by saying, “The Republican platform’s proposal to reinstate Glass-Steagall is hard to understand, even in the confused policy mishmash created by Donald Trump. The best interpretation is that it’s an awkward outreach to the disappointed ‘progressive’ supporters of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. The worst is that it calls into question whether Donald Trump really supports financial deregulation.”

Even as President, Trump still hasn’t indicated whether he actually intends to push for that.

Other than on Glass-Steagall, he hasn’t as President been at all supportive of any of those progressive campaign positions which had terrified America’s political mega-donors. Mike Pence, even with his long record in public offices, has never — not even by mere words — supported any of those positions.

Trump, as the President, has done everything, both in words and far more importantly in policies, to satisfy his extremely wealthy opponents; but, evidently, it has all been to no avail; they still want Pence to replace Trump.

The U.S. aristocracy, whom Trump has been bending over backwards to satisfy, are now checkmating him.

He has only two choices: Go gracefully, and quit, or else go down fighting the military, whom he has done everything he could to accommodate. The latter option would be suicidal for him. The former option would be terminal for the entire world.

He’s a psychopath, but he also has an ego. He can’t preserve his ego without turning against the very people whom he has, until now, been serving: the generals, the neocons, Lockheed Martin, the Sauds, the sickness industries, etc.

It could go either way.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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