Sunday, March 25, 2018

Independent Trump

Let's hope he doesn't come into contact with Relationship Trump; otherwise, worlds will collide.

"Phase two of Trump presidency could be even more unpredictable" by Dan Balz Washington Post  March 24, 2018

WASHINGTON — Phase one of the Trump presidency is ending. However unpredictable and unnerving it has been, the coming phase could be even more so.

The opening phase came to a close in a week in which the president displayed the same characteristics that got him to the White House in the first place: a reliance on gut and guile, disregard for the experts, and a flair for the dramatic.

While advice may come his way, the president is making clear that after 14 months in the White House, he will operate independently.

This is amazing. He has become a captive of the neocons and the slumlord settler movement and the Washington ComPost is presenting it as if he is gaining independence.

Trump is now surrounded with advisers more likely to reinforce his own instincts rather than those who would attempt to nudge him gently in directions he prefers not to go.

Last week brought the abrupt (though not unexpected) removal of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, replaced by John Bolton, the hawkish former ambassador to the United Nations.

After the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the elevation of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the State Department, the appointment of Bolton could fundamentally change the character of Trump’s national security team at a time of momentous decisions looming on North Korea and Iran.

It is now clear what were the political forces behind Tillerson’s firing.

The week also saw the imposition of new tariffs on $60 billion in Chinese-made goods, along with tariffs on steel and aluminum from other countries. The actions sparked fears of a new trade war, which contributed to the Dow Jones industrial average declining by more than 1,100 points in two days.

Protectionists have been rising in the Trump administration, and the loudest voice in opposition, Gary Cohn, is heading back to New York. He will be replaced by CNBC’s Larry Kudlow, who also opposed the tariffs. Whether he pushes to temper the policy remains an open question.

There goes the TV show (appropriately titled Cohn and Kudlow).

There was also the departure of John Dowd, the lawyer leading the team dealing with the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, and the apparent hiring of former US attorney Joseph diGenova. Theodore Olsen, the former solicitor general, decided against joining the team.

He answered a different call.

And for the first time, Trump went after Mueller by name, an escalation in tactics that illustrated anew the president’s efforts to discredit whatever findings emerge, or perhaps to try to fire Mueller outright, despite claims by those around the president that no such thing is under consideration.

Just before Trump flew off to his Florida estate for the weekend, he put everyone through one more roller coaster moment by tweeting Friday morning that he was considering a veto of the just-passed $1.3 trillion spending bill. This generated alarm among his advisers until the president relented.

Hours after his tweet, he announced that he would sign the measure, but with dismissive words about the process and the package, and declared that he would never again sign such a bill, but the drama showed the president’s determination to free himself from the constraints around him.

And what would those be? 

"President Trump conceded Friday that Democrats had him over a barrel. Since Republicans needed Democratic votes to pass any spending bill, top Democratic leaders like Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer were able to demand comparable increases for domestic programs....."

Imagine how he is going to react to a Democratic House drawing up Articles of Impeachment.

In another assertion of his independence, Trump released an order Friday night banning most transgender troops from serving in the military except under ‘‘limited circumstances,’’ following up on his calls last year to ban transgender people from serving.

Trump surprised the Pentagon’s leadership in a 2017 tweet when he declared he would reverse an Obama-era plan to allow them to serve openly.

His push for the ban has been blocked by several legal challenges. The Pentagon said it would comply with court injunctions in the meantime, by allowing those serving to stay in the military, and letting transgender individuals enlist beginning Jan. 1.

Lawmakers and transgender advocates vowed to continue fighting the limits in court.

Before the November elections, the president has a foreign policy agenda of enormous consequence. He has expressed his willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, perhaps in May, although there are doubts about whether such a gathering will occur.

RelatedKoreas to hold high-level talks to set up summit

The president will also be asked again to decide whether to certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement negotiated by the Obama administration or pull out of the deal.

The president thinks it’s a terrible agreement, but he was prevented from abandoning it by the combined pressure of Tillerson, McMaster, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Bolton and Pompeo may not offer that kind of resistance.

Mattis is now the Lone Ranger, and that was where my print copy ended.

Potentially as momentous will be the product of the Mueller team. No one knows the timetable under which the lawyers are working, so to suggest that everything will be wrapped up before the elections is to pretend to know the unknowable. 

Where is Don Rumsfeld when you need him?

Trump’s lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller over the terms of an interview with the president, an event of high drama and potentially grave consequences for Trump.

And then there are the various lawsuits from adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal — both of whom have said they had affairs with Trump a decade ago — and Summer Zervos, a contestant on ‘‘The Apprentice’’ who has accused him of sexual misconduct that occurred while he was on the reality TV show. All are suing for the right to tell their stories.

And there you go. They couldn't keep quiet.


And to prove his "independence":

"Trump ready to expel Russian envoys over UK attack" by Jennifer Jacobs Bloomberg News   March 24, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Trump is preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the United States in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom, two people familiar with the matter said Saturday.

Trump agreed with the recommendation of advisers and the expulsions are likely to be announced Monday, the people said, though they cautioned that Trump’s decision may not be final.

Trump is prepared to act but wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia before doing so, aides said.

The United States considers the diplomats to be undeclared spies, carrying out intelligence activity under the guise of being embassy staff, one of the people said.

What's the big deal?

"CIA officers serving overseas often use the State Department as their official “cover’’ to avoid revealing the true nature of their work"  

Meaning U.S. embassies are, in reality, CIA stations. 

The advisers reached recommendations for a US response to the UK attack at a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and honed the proposals on Friday.

Trump discussed the issue Friday with US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and others, two people said.

A battle within the White House over how to best address the provocations of Russian President Vladimir Putin has been intensifying. The internal divisions flared this week after Trump congratulated Putin on his recent reelection without first reviewing written guidance that he not do so, a person familiar with the matter said.

That is why McMaster was fired.

Trump has meanwhile reshaped his national security staff. On Thursday, he announced he would replace McMaster, who favored a tougher public posture toward Putin, with John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations who is a staunch conservative and military hawk.

The print copy ended it there, with the dreams of a global empire in his eyes.

That move came just a week after the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had also adopted a more confrontational stance toward Russia, and nominated Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to replace him.

If you step back a bit he said a lot of different things. WTF?

Congress has pressured Trump to get tougher on Putin and passed legislation in August giving lawmakers the power to block the president from lifting punitive US measures imposed after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

Substantively, Washington’s policy toward Russia has become tougher in recent months, though Trump’s critics say he has dragged his feet in responding to Putin’s provocations.

In a separate development, Britain’s information regulator said Saturday it is assessing evidence gathered from a raid on the office of data mining firm Cambridge Analytica, the Associated Press reported.

The review is part of a wider investigation into alleged misuse of personal information by political campaigns and social media companies like Facebook.

More than a dozen investigators from the Information Commissioner’s Office entered the company’s central London office late Friday, shortly after a High Court judge granted a warrant.

The investigators were seen leaving the premises early Saturday after spending about seven hours searching the office.

‘‘This is one part of a larger investigation by the ICO into the use of personal data and analytics by political campaigns, parties, social media companies and other commercial actors,’’ the agency said.

Authorities in Britain as well as the United States are investigating Cambridge Analytica over allegations the firm improperly obtained data from 50 million Facebook users and used it to manipulate elections, including the 2016 White House race and the 2016 Brexit vote in Britain.

Both Cambridge Analytica and Facebook deny wrongdoing.

Why no mention of Bolton's use of it in 2014?


Now about the trade war with China:

"Trump’s tariffs keep allies, markets, and industry guessing" by Jim Tankersley New York Times   March 24, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s flurry of trade moves last week raised uncertainty and confusion among financial markets, trading partners, lawmakers, and US industry, prompting many to ask what his endgame might be.

Maybe this?

Just one day before stiff steel and aluminum tariffs were set to go into effect, Trump offered a temporary 11th-hour reprieve to several allies, including some of the biggest foreign suppliers of steel.

Many of them had spent the previous two weeks lobbying the administration for a permanent exemption, but the White House said late Thursday that those nations would have until May 1 to negotiate “satisfactory alternative means” to address the national security threat that America faced from a reliance on foreign metals.

In addition to the metals tariffs, the White House announced levies on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, a move that provoked immediate promises of retaliation by China and sent stock markets into a tailspin.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu, the country’s economic czar, told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone on Saturday that Beijing would defend its trade interests. He said the order Trump signed violates international trade rules, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Try choking that one down.

Liu said China is ‘‘ready and capable of defending its national interest and hopes both sides will remain rational.’’

China said Friday that it plans to raise tariffs on a $3 billion list of US goods, including pork, apples, and steel pipes, in response to the American steel and aluminum duties. China is the third largest global market for American pork.

On Friday, Trump boasted that his approach would produce better trade deals for the United States, including what he said was a breakthrough in negotiations with South Korea. “Some tremendous trade deals are being made with various countries,” he said. “We’re negotiating very long, very hard, but very quickly.”

But it is far from clear that such agreements will be completed and, if they are, who will be on the winning end.

What is clear to many on Capitol Hill and in the business community is that the White House is using trade as a negotiating tool, trying to use the nation’s economic dominance as leverage to pressure other countries to bend to its will.

How un-American, or so I've been taught and told! 

"WE" do not do that, in sharp contrast to other empires!

“Trump prefers to negotiate at the point of a gun,” said Robert E. Scott, a senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute in Washington. But he questioned the wisdom of not outlining the goals of the negotiation at the outset, particularly with allies.

With an itchy trigger finger?

The approach is rattling some of Trump’s otherwise ardent supporters, who worry that his unpredictable trade actions could hurt many of the industries and workers he has pledged to protect.

Forget impeachment, they can remove him via the 25th Amendment.

Don't worry, I'm sure he will have some support (as they hold the hat out!!)

“While serious problems persist in the global steel market, President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs were a blunt and misaimed response,” said J.D. Foster, chief economist for the US Chamber of Commerce.

Administration officials seem to see the chaos and fallout from blunt trade moves as a cost of doing business in a global economy.

Robert E. Lighthizer, the US trade representative, struggled Thursday to soothe farm-state senators on the Finance Committee who worried about Chinese retaliation against their constituents’ products.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was pressed Thursday by House Republicans and Democrats who, after US firms were forced to apply for steel and aluminum tariff exemptions, called it a chaotic process.

Ross rattled free-trade Republicans when, on CNBC, he agreed Chinese tariffs would produce “some ultimate retaliation, but I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the earth.”

But it is going to be the end of this post.


He is still a virtual certainty to be reelected president.