Friday, April 28, 2017

Trump Turns on NAFTA

He was speaking metaphorically during the campaign....

"Trump’s gyrations on NAFTA cause a flurry of head-scratching" by Paul Wiseman and Josh Boak Associated Press  April 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — So far, his trade policy has produced mostly confusion and division. At stake may be the president’s credibility.

It's already gone.

The latest puzzler broke out Wednesday over the prospect that the Trump administration would simply abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement rather than start to renegotiate it. The White House leaked that possibility to reporters, rattling investors and drawing protests from business groups and Republican lawmakers.

Trail balloon that was quickly deflated?

Hours later, Trump said he would instead seek to revamp the trade pact with Canada and Mexico and pull out only if he couldn’t secure a favorable deal.

The shift followed a reversal on his trade stance on China. Trump this month broke a campaign promise to label China a ‘‘currency manipulator.’’ He had decided, he said, to instead reward Beijing for helping deal with a belligerent North Korea.

Actually, on that one, I'm rather happy about it. If it's a move away from war, that's good (more later).

Nor has he followed up on vows to punish American companies that move jobs overseas or on threats to tax Chinese and Mexican imports. 

Hey, I didn't say he was perfect or that I was enthused about him. The truth is the $y$tem is bigger than him.

‘‘Unquestionably, he’s not delivered on his campaign promises,’’ says Lori Wallach, a critic of NAFTA and other trade deals and director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

Well, he did block the TPP, didn't he?

The president’s gyrations over NAFTA have been especially puzzling. On the campaign trail, Trump called the trade deal a job-killing ‘‘disaster’’ that had encouraged US companies to move factories to Mexico to take advantage of cheap labor. If he couldn’t get Canada and Mexico to make concessions, he said, he’d pull America out of the deal.

Then, in March, the administration sent a draft letter to Congress spelling out plans to renegotiate NAFTA. The plan kept much of the existing agreement. Many critics of the pact said they were deeply disappointed.

So it came as a surprise Wednesday when word leaked that Trump was again taking a harsh stance: Aides said the president was considering a draft executive order to pull out of NAFTA within days. The Mexican peso fell against the US dollar. American farm groups, which credit NAFTA with lifting US agricultural exports to Mexico, howled.

Mostly corn farmers, and that reminds me: notice how the Russia rigged our elections and Obama spying on the Trump campaign have gone away?

RelatedFlynn was warned not to accept foreign government payments

That's all they have now?

Many businesses complain that pulling out would disrupt the cross-border supply chain companies have built since the agreement took effect 23 years ago.

‘‘The whole NAFTA structure is interwoven in our economy in a very close and important way,’’ said Josh Bolten, former chief of staff for President George W. Bush and now head of the Business Roundtable, a trade association for CEOs.

That's why we didn't want it in the first place.

Then Trump announced that the leaders of Mexico and Canada had reached out to him Wednesday and that he would honor their request to try to fix NAFTA through negotiations before abandoning it.

Oh, the pre$$ure came from them, too. Also in corporate pocket.

‘‘I decided, rather than terminating NAFTA, which would be a pretty big, you know, shock to the system, we will renegotiate,’’ Trump said. ‘‘Now, if I’m unable to make a fair deal, if I’m unable to make a fair deal for the United States, meaning a fair deal for our workers and our companies, I will terminate NAFTA. But we’re going to give renegotiation a good, strong shot.’’


Mexico’s top diplomat said the country learned only through media reports that the Trump administration was considering a draft executive order to withdraw from NAFTA.

Little bit of a diplomatic faux pas, but what do you want? It's an empty building over there.

Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray said Mexican officials reached out to their counterparts in Washington to discuss the reports. At the end of the day Wednesday, President Enrique Pena Nieto called Trump, and the two leaders spoke for about 20 minutes.

Some analysts say the confusion reflects divisions within the administration between those who support Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric and those who take a more traditional Republican view favoring trade pacts.

It's the Bannon/Kushner thing, and you see who is winning every battle.


"Trump’s legislative promises for the first 100 days? He’s about to go 0-4" by Amber Phillips Washington Post  April 27, 2017

Trump has about exhausted his unilateral power. The rest of his agenda needs Congress to get it done.

So much for all the Hitler hype.

No president — no matter how much of a dealmaker — can force Congress to pass bills. But Trump set himself up for failure in a way past presidents never have. He promised to get his priorities through Congress in a matter of months.

That was an amateur move, according to pretty much anyone who knows anything about Congress. Major legislation doesn’t happen in increments of weeks or months. It happens in years: Medicare, gun reform, Obamacare. These things took years, if not decades.


The fact Trump would make promises like that also suggests he doesn’t have a lot of people around him who understand Congress. And that’s to Trump’s disadvantage on any day of his administration.

Look at the WaPo getting in their licks.

Congress has always been tricky for presidents to navigate, but this Congress is especially so. Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate, but it’s an ideologically divided majority. Making his life harder, Democrats are almost entirely unified behind one goal: to give Trump as many losses as they can.

Like McConnell and Obama!

Yes, the 100-day marker that’s the premise for writing this entire story is arbitrary. But it’s also the standard Trump set for himself. Yet even if he hadn’t said anything about the 100 days, it would be a fair marker to judge him by, especially when it comes to his relationship with Congress.

Hey, we are used it! Paper is full of them every day!

No one expected him to get tax reform, health care, a border wall, and infrastructure reform done in his first four months. No one except Trump....

And his supporters.


Make that 1 for 5.

RelatedTrump’s 100 days: Credit due for his flip-flops, moved goalposts, and bluffs

Yes, he has only himself to blame. 

And by comparison:

"How Trump’s first 100 days compares to past presidents" by James Pindell Globe Staff  April 27, 2017

No president has had such a low job approval rating at this point, but the knives have been out for White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus since the beginning. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears marginalized. Adviser Kellyanne Conway and press secretary Sean Spicer have earned their own “Saturday Night Live” characters. And then there’s the big battle between advisers Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon.

Tillerson marginalized?

This level of internal conflict may seem unprecedented — and in some ways, it is — but Reagan had similar issues during in his first 100 days. He came into the White House as a Hollywood celebrity, employing a handful of equally powerful advisers at the top — namely Edwin Meese, James Baker III, and Michael Deaver. There was significant infighting among them, as well as among the Cabinet members.

Much of this infighting was instigated by Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander Haig, who took on not just Vice President George H.W. Bush, but also the budget director over foreign aid, the transportation secretary on Japanese auto imports, and the agriculture secretary over Soviet grain imports. Reagan staffers also had to contend with a very powerful family member: first lady Nancy Reagan.

Huh. I didn't know Haig took him on. Just gained new respect for him.

The biggest difference between Reagan and Trump, at least so far, is that Reagan found one big issue — his tax cut package — and focused on it almost exclusively in his first 100 days. Trump has seized on a new issue nearly every day (or every hour, if you count the tweets).

They tried to do health care because they needed that pot of money for tax cuts, but hasn't worked out so far.

In many ways, this makes Trump’s first 100 days in office more comparable to Clinton’s.

The irony.

George W. Bush also started with a chip on his shoulder

When the second Bush took the White House, he did so by losing the popular vote and having the US Supreme Court essentially declare him the winner a month before taking office. Trump won the Electoral College outright, but he lost the popular vote.

I think the popular vote was jiggered to be used as a lever against Trump. Starts him off as illegitimate, something Bush certainly was.

Both began their first 100 days trying to reassert their power in office against the backdrop of a politically divided nation. Bush signed only seven pieces of legislation in his first 100 days. Trump has technically signed 28 pieces of legislation into law, but none has been considered a major triumph. 

The big thing for Bush was what happened 8 months into his presidency. It's been a horror show ever since.

Any 100 days comparison to Obama might be unfair

The easiest comparison for Trump is Obama’s first 100 days, but this history really isn’t a fair guide.

Yes, Obama was able to pass big legislative items like a stimulus plan, an auto bailout bill, and a fair pay act. But Obama had something that Trump doesn’t have: a national financial crisis. In the throes of the Great Recession, legislators knew the price of doing nothing would be much greater than passing bills, however imperfect.

Could soon.

This year? The economy is strong, albeit uneven. And compared to Obama’s time, at least, there is no immediate financial crisis. So far, many in Congress would rather cool their heels while they size up their new president....

They are always behind the curve anyway. Congre$$ wants $tatu$ quo because then their lavish lifestyles at taxpayer expense are not under scrutiny.


Trump's first promise was a wall, Obama's was to close Guantanamo -- and it remains open today.

$izing up the la$t president:

"Warren ‘troubled’ by $400,000 Wall Street speaking fee for Obama" by Victoria McGrane Globe Staff  April 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren gently criticized former president Barack Obama Thursday for his decision to accept $400,000 from a Wall Street firm to speak at a health care conference this fall.


The guy was such a fraud in every way, shape, and form.

Warren was asked about the controversy during an interview about her new book on the SiriusXM radio show, “Alter Family Politics.”

“I was troubled by that,” she said.

That's it? No stern rhetoric or screeching criticism?

That was the extent of her comments aimed directly at Obama. She quickly launched into a broader discussion of her views of the corrupting influence of money in Washington.

“I describe it as a snake that slithers through Washington. And that it shows up in so many different ways here in Washington,” she said, referencing her just-published book.


“The influence of dollars on this place is what scares me,” she continued. “I think it ultimately threatens democracy.”

Already gone.

While Warren’s critique was a far cry from the withering criticism some on the left have leveled at Obama, it’s rougher than anything she said during the 2016 campaign about former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of hefty speaking fees from Wall Street firms.

Unlike Obama, Clinton was considering running for office when she gave her controversial speeches, while the former president’s days in elected public office are behind him.

So what are they implying, she is racist?

In the SiriusXM interview, Warren said one of her reasons for writing the book is that she wanted to talk about how liberals can fight back against the money and power wielded by the rich and powerful.

“There are more of us than there are of them. And we’ve got to use our voices and our votes and fight back,” she said.

News leaked earlier this week that Obama had agreed to a $400,000 speaking gig, with the check being written by investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. The decision to accept such a large payday from one of the very establishments of the “fat cat bankers” Obama derided in office sparked chatter in Washington. (The sum is also nearly twice as large as the fees commanded by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton when she spoke to Wall Street audiences.) 

Oh, chatter in Wa$hington. Pfffffft!

Obama’s spokesman Eric Schultz defended the former president in a statement Wednesday.

“With regard to this or any speech involving Wall Street sponsors, I’d just point out that in 2008, Barack Obama raised more money from Wall Street than any candidate in history — and still went on to successfully pass and implement the toughest reforms on Wall Street since FDR,” Schultz said....

Those are rules they never finished writing and that are now being discarded. 

Strange defen$e there.


Also see:

John Kasich keeps his options open

It's another Globe book promotion, sigh!

They will even do your taxes for you. 

And lest you think I'm being unfair, I APPLAUD this NEXT REVERSAL:

"US admiral says N. Korea crisis is at worst point he’s seen" Associated Press  April 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — A preemptive attack isn’t likely, US officials have said, and the administration is pursuing a strategy of putting pressure on Pyongyang with assistance from China, North Korea’s main trading partner and the country’s economic lifeline.

With international support, the Trump administration said Thursday it wants to exert a ‘‘burst’’ of economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea that yields results within months to push the communist government to change course from developing nuclear weapons.

Susan Thornton, the acting top US diplomat for East Asia, said there’s debate about whether Pyongyang is willing to give up its weapons programs. She said the United States wants ‘‘to test that hypothesis to the maximum extent we can’’ for a peaceful resolution.

At that point I'm thinking Xi Jinping must have called Trump's bluff (which is what some have argued this has been all along. A big distraction). Or maybe the Senators and House weren't to keen on any action.

Then the web made me feel uneasy again:

But signaling that military action remains possible, Thornton told an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — a Washington think tank that has advocated tougher US policies on Iran and North Korea — that the administration treats North Korea as its primary security challenge and is serious that ‘‘all options are on the table.’’ 

That's a neocon war tank.

‘‘We are not seeking regime change and our preference is to resolve this problem peacefully,’’ Thornton said, ‘‘but we are not leaving anything off the table.’’


My feeling on this whole matter -- if the report is true and an imminent false flag not in the works -- is disaster averted. The Korean kid just has to sit there now and he knows it. He doesn't have to do a thing and this should all simmer down and blow over.

Meanwhile, in this hemisphere:

"President Trump called the situation in Venezuela “a mess” and “very sad,” when he met with his Argentine counterpart Mauricio Macri Thursday...."

The former president of Argentina made certain people angry.

Does Trump know it is likely his intelligence agency is at least partly responsible for fomenting unrest in a nation where the U.S. has not liked the leadership in a long time? One that has got a lot of oil?

Venezuelan oppositions vows to keep up pressure on Maduro
Journalist with Boston ties detained in Venezuela, relatives say
With Venezuela, the US needs more talk and less fighting
Venezuela’s VP shrugs off drug sanctions as US weighs policy

I'm sure awarding Putin a peace prize didn't help. Store shelves are full, but the effort to stage a coup, 'er, recall and its suspension came as a shock to many Venezuelans who are now crossing the border into Colombia.

I wonder what we are going to do this coming winter.