Brexit Deadlock: What Next?

I wrote about the Brexit deadlock for Impakter and here is the start of my updated article following the U.K. Parliament vote on May’s “Brexit deal” she had negotiated with the EU:

Less than eleven weeks to Brexit: March 29, the date of UK’s exit from the EU, is closer than ever. But right now we are living through a “Brexit deadlock”. And it will continue despite the historic contrary vote in Parliament on 15 January that rejected Prime Minister May’s controversial “Brexit deal”. The margin of defeat was enormous, May lost by 230 votes.

The defeat, however predictable and expected, still managed to shock many people. And EU Commission President Juncker expressed regret:

I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the @HouseofCommons this evening. I urge the #UK to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up #Brexit https://t.co/SMmps5kexn

— Jean-Claude Juncker (@JunckerEU) January 15, 2019

The EU Commission also released a formal statement on 15 January by President Juncker highlighting that the “process of ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement continues.  Because this Withdrawal Agreement (i.e. May’s “Brexit deal”) is:

“a fair compromise and the best possible deal. It reduces the damage caused by Brexit for citizens and businesses across Europe. It is the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”

The EU won’t budge on the Irish border problem. This is it – end of the road. As EU Council President Donald Tusk was quick to note , the U.K. should cancel Brexit since no better deal can be negotiated.

The government today is on the brink, with Labour Leader Corbyn calling for a non-confidence vote tonight.

The logic is to go back to the people and vote again, as suggested by Susan Wilson in her recent article on Impakter celebrating “2019: The Year We Finally Bury Brexit“. That is also what the markets expect and the pound immediately rebounded.

Unfortunately, little time is left to organize a referendum. Some people argue there’s no time left at all.

Yet a no-deal Brexit was excluded by a crucial Parliament vote on 8 January that passed almost unobserved by the mainstream media. But that vote ensured, to use Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s expression, that the UK cannot “legally go crashing out” of the EU on 29 March 2019:

In the days leading to the Parliamentary vote on May’s Brexit deal, panic was palpably spreading in the U.K.

The UK Guardian echoed the panic with a series of articles with dramatic titles: A no-deal Brexit will kill startups, say Eco-capsule coffee firm bosses; Brexit would be similar to ‘national suicide’, says leading Tory pro-European Dominic Grieve. Twitter is palpitating with the news. For example, Gillian Ford, Councillor London Borough of Havering and Deputy Chair LGA Children, immediately tweeted:

Dominic Grieve QC MP suggests the PM’s Brexit deal can satisfy no one. Views are polarised. There is only one way out, by going back to the public. A no deal Brexit is political suicide. @EA_CoR @The_Convention_ pic.twitter.com/WoYeezshaM

— Cllr Gillian Ford (@CllrGillianFord) January 11, 2019

Reading posts under the hashtag #ThinkAnewActAnew that covers events at the Convention: Think Anew Act Anew, Another Vote is Possible, held in London on 11 January is an eye-opener. Organized at very short notice by activist-journalist and UK Editor of Vanity Fair Henry Porter, it shows that there is now a strong, ongoing surge of popular support for a second referendum. Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas made a notable opening speech, reported on Channel 4 News:

“No wonder it is being called an unforgivable act of intergenerational theft.”

Green Party co-leader @CarolineLucas says more than 70 per cent of young voters backed Remain in the EU referendum – and there should be a second poll.#77DaysToBrexit pic.twitter.com/bnVhsqYvG8

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) January 11, 2019

Caroline Lucas underlines how Brexit was the result of a skewed “majority”, recalling that Brexit has been called an “unforgivable act of inter-generational theft”: over 70 percent of the people aged 18 to 24 voted for Britain to remain, as did 62 percent of the 25 to 34 years. Young people need to make their voice heard and be given a chance to do so. Note that nearly 50,000 people viewed the video embedded in this tweet.

The more extreme remainers have worked for quite a while on building up a case that Brexit is illegal, unconstitutional because fake news and lies misdirected the voters.

More on Impakter, click HERE to read. Let me know what you think!

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2018: A Watershed Year. Will 2019 Finish the Job?

On 1 January 2019, the following article was published on Impakter. In case you haven’t seen it, here it is – and a Happy New Year to all (despite everything!)

2018 was a watershed year. The geopolitical table turned: The world changed from order to disorder. True, the ordered world we had known since the end of World War II till 2016 was far from perfect. It had many problems and inequities. And it had been slow – some say too slow – in moving towards a common sustainable development agenda and a climate control agreement.

By contrast, the disorder brought in by Trump’s America First agenda is fast-moving. As fast as the Internet, it travels on social media.

The World is Like A Racing Car Without a Pilot

With Trump, the Monroe Doctrine is back in a lethal 21st century variant. In the 19th century, if America chose to isolate itself, it didn’t matter that much. The world had a driver (the Great Powers of Europe). Today the world is like a racing car without a pilot. Local wars and mass migration are more likely than ever before. And in July 2018, the U.S. stopped cooperation with the UN on human rights matter – sending, as the Guardian argued, a “dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.”

We’ll be lucky if we can avoid World War III and the climatic collapse of the planet.

The network of multilateral alliances created after World War II to contain the rise of Russia’s and China’s imperial ambitions is gone. Over the long run, as I have argued in a recent article, Eurasia is in our future, with a good chance that America is relegated to the sidelines.

Trump closed the year with a government shutdown. His aim? Always the same: To get the funding for the border wall he promised his fans. But one must question whether his end game is not something different and entirely personal: By raising the issue of “border security”, Trump is in fact deflecting attention from his looming problems with Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling of the presidential elections, a.k.a. “Russiagate”.

Over in Europe, there was another form of “shutdown” when British Prime Minister Theresa May kicked the can down the road asking Parliament to vote next year for the Brexit deal she had worked with the EU. Talk of a second referendum got louder though nobody seemed to agree on how to phrase the question. Also, the time left for organizing a referendum is getting squeezed, making it unlikely that the U.K. will in fact manage to reverse its decision and remain in Europe.

But it was Trump’s move – to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan – coupled with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation on the same day that really shook up Europe – even though, as the Washington Post and Foreign Policy reminded their readers, he was a “deeply flawed defense secretary” with a questionable record.

Pulling out of Syria was universally viewed as a serious mistake. As French defense minister, Florence Parly said (on RTL radio) said, refering to ISIS, “the job must be finished.” And with Mathis gone, it won’t be  – Mathis who was viewed by America’s allies in NATO, especially Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, as “as their most sympathetic and effective conduit to Mr. Trump” and the “adult of last resort” who could restrain an unpredictable president.

But Trump shook up Americans too – at least some of them, for example firebrand filmmaker Michael Moore admitted that this was  the “the first time” he’s actually“frightened for the country”:

One thing is certain: Trump made Russia very happy, opening the way to revived Russian influence in the Middle East. Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst, exclaimed: “Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving.”

The financial world perhaps understood best what happened as 2018 wound up: the past week in the stock market – from 18 to 21 December – has been the worst week since the 2008 crisis. Adding insult to injury, Trump discussed firing Federal Reserve Chairman Powell after the latest interest rate hike. Whereupon the dark shadow of a looming bear market caused the White House to retract. What was unprecedented was that both shares and bonds took a hit : normally they move in opposite directions.

What made 2018 a watershed year?

Politico asked American historians how History would remember 2018, asking the “smartest historians they knew” to write the paragraph about 2018 that History books in the future would include.

Some attributed a big role to Trump, others didn’t. The majority agreed on one thing: 2018 marked the end of American world leadership.

To give a sense of what they said, I will quote but one of them. Jacqueline Jones, professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote: “The traditional narrative of the United States as a noble world leader and defender of human rights was slipping away, and by the end of Trump’s second year in office, the country was in danger of sliding into a garden-variety authoritarianism.”

Others were concerned with more pointed issues, some specifically American (and Trump-related), others worldwide:

The rest on Impakter, click here.

Actually, I’m not pessimistic: as the 2018 midterms showed in America, voters still have in their hands their own future – and that of our planet. A bad regime (Trump’s) can be castigated. 

Brexit, as of now, appears unavoidable. The U.K., barring some unexpected referendum, will fall out of Europe and become some kind of super Singapore. 

But let’s hope that European voters will show equal awareness and sensitivity s American Democrats did when they vote in May 2019 for the European Parliament. What we DO NOT NEED is a wave of populists taking over Europe! That would be the end of both Europe and the fight against climate change.

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Gilets Jaunes Protests: The Roots of French Discontent

My analysis of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vests) crisis, just published on Impakter. It is far more complex than just another political crisis caused by Facebook. Here is the start of the article:

“He deserves to have his head chopped off, symbolically,” said Claudio, a 47 year-old mason and father of four (last name withheld), referring to French President Macron who has been often accused of draping himself in the symbols of pre-revolutionary France. Claudio lives in the northern town of Le Mans famous for car racing. Like many “Gilets Jaunes”, he likened their protests to the 1789 French Revolution. That, of course, is wishful thinking.

But wearing “Gilets Jaunes” (the yellow roadside safety vests required by law) is a stroke of genius. It made protesters highly visible both on the road and in the media. Ever since they began three weeks ago, Saturday 17 November, that is all one sees on our screens: yellow vests.

It turns out that Macron’s tax hikes on diesel fuel was the straw that broke the camel’s back and fueled the Gilets Jaunes’ anger. For them, what is at issue is fiscal justice. They can’t stomach his decision to raise taxes on pensioners at the same time that he scrapped wealth taxes. No matter he meant them as a tax break for investors to encourage them to invest in French business (notoriously under-invested) and create jobs.

The decision was perceived as unfair by the working classes, bogged down by taxes while the rich evades them, escaping to fiscal paradises. Macron is seen as “the president of the rich”. Out to impoverish the middle class.

“The guy thinks he’s God!” exclaimed Claudio, exasperated, as he dug in at a blockade outside a fuel depot of Le Mans, fortifying barricades. Along with some 50 companions, he is preparing for a long winter of discontent.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Find out what Facebook’s role in this crisis really was. Let me know what you think!

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G20 Surprise Show

Just published on Impakter:

The big news from the G20 meeting that just closed in Buenos Aires is the 90-day truce in the U.S.-China trade war that has rattled financial markets and threatened global growth. The smaller news is that Trump did not pull the rug under this meeting the way he had done at the last G7 meeting in Canada.

The prospect of a no-statement Summit similar to the G7 debacle had looked very real. As it turned out, the show was very different from what everyone expected, largely thanks to the strong action of French diplomacy, spurred by Macron who wanted a G20 summit statement on his favorite issues, climate change, globalization and growth. But the G20 meeting confirmed the previous G20 in Germany (July 2017): American isolationism is back.

To understand what happened, it helps to take a step back and consider what the G20 is really all about – just like the G7, acting at the margin of the United Nations.

The G20, born of a G7 meeting of finance ministers and central bankers in 1999, is made up of the world’s 19 most important countries in terms of their GDP, plus the European Union. The two giant state members are the United States ($19.39 trillion) and China ($12.24 trillion). Since the G20 was founded, both superpowers have distanced themselves from the pack as most countries’ GDP flat-lined:

In the diagram: Evolution of G20 Member countries Gross Domestic Product since foundation of G20 (1999) SourceData from World Bank  Last updated: Jul 6, 2018  ©2014 Google

In spite of the limitations of GDP as an indicator (it doesn’t capture social progress),the diagram is a striking depiction of the varying impacts of globalization, with the U.S. and China the big winners, at the expense of the rest of the world. And it shows clearly how the U.S., contrary to what Trump says, has always been “great” with the 2008 Big Recession a mere blip on its growth rate.

And it didn’t help that Europe (as a region) showed up in disarray at the meeting: The UK struggling with Brexit and not getting the expected support from Trump; Russia embroiled in an escalating fight with Ukraine; Merkel on her way out and rumored to be aiming for the presidency of the European Council; Macron battling yellow vests protests that are now in their third week and devastated Paris last Saturday.

That leaves on the international scene the two superpowers, the US and China. Some even talk of the emergence of a G2. In a sense, when Trump dined with Xi and crafted a truce in their trade war, that was a G2 meeting.

But if one of the superpower – in this case, Trump’s America – chooses to isolate itself with trade wars and its America First agenda, then China is left free to interact with the rest of the world. Which is precisely what happened. Let’s take a closer look.

The US-China 90-Day Trade Truce

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.
 
Featured photo: G20 Gala dinner 30 November 2018  Source: Official photo G20 Secretariat 

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Populism in Europe: Can the New Left Defeat it?

Just published on Impakter:

Trump is the face of populism in America and the midterms have shown that a Democratic “blue wave” could stop and even defeat it. How about populism in Europe? After the traditional parties on the left collapsed and the center right à la Emmanuel Macron is stalling, political winds are turning. A New Left is rising, as recent elections in Germany have shown. Can this New Left defeat populism? 

The next elections for the European Parliament in May 2019 will be the first big test for the New Left, with Europe as the prize. If populists win, the European Union and the dream of a United Europe will be badly broken as a retrograde “Europe of Nations” is installed. If the New Left wins, Europe will come out strengthened but it will have to undergo deep structural reform to bring its institutions closer to the people – and away from the private corporate interests that hold it hostage now.

The full extent of the growth of populism in Europe was  revealed this week in groundbreaking research conducted by the UK Guardian with inputs from leading political scientists and covering national elections in 31 European countries over two decades.

The findings are striking and show that populist votes have tripled since 1998, with one in four Europeans voting populist:

Credit: U.K. Guardian (screenshot)

Twenty years ago, populists were rarely in government: Only 12.5 million Europeans lived in countries where at least one cabinet member was a populist. Today the figure has jumped to 172 million. Note, as shown in the graph above, the research counts equally populist parties on the right, left and middle, but the “irresistible rise of the far right and populism”, as many UK Guardian readers have commented, is the crux of the matter. Far right populists have nearly tripled their votes, from less than 5 percent in 1998 to some 14 percent in 2018.

The rise of extreme right populism has been accompanied by a deep crisis in center-left parties that have suffered a sharp drop in support in several countries across Europe, notably in Germany when the German Social Democrats retreated in the 2017 German federal elections; in France when the Socialist Party collapsed in the French presidential and legislative elections in 2017; likewise in Italy with the Democratic Party (PD) going to a historic minimum in Italy in 2018.

Center-left parties are currently part of only six EU governments out of the 28 member states, notably in Spain with Pedro Sanchez, leader of the Socialist Party (PSOE) who came to power in May 2018. However the PSOE is not the “New Left”. Founded in 1879, it is the oldest party in Spain and, historically, the one most often in power (most recently from 2004 to 2011 under Zapatero). Moreover Sanchez has a very thin margin (only 84 seats over 350) that constrains his ability to steer policies. Most analysts don’t expect him to finish his mandate (it ends in July 2020). As of now his government is “blocked” on the budget issue and new elections are probable.

Why Populism is Successful

There are four reasons:

  1. Populist politicians are able to convince their audiences that they do not belong to the hated traditional political system, that they are not part of the establishment, of the “corrupt elite”; Trump famously succeeded in convincing his fan base that he could bring his businessman’s savvy to government (“the art of the deal”) even though, as a real estate tycoon,  he is clearly an oligarch, part of the “corrupt elite”;
  2. They focus on simple issues that people feel are close to them, threatening their personal well-being, like migrants taking their jobs and splurging on public services or China flooding the market with cheap goods; both are presented as sources of “unfair” competition and the cause of destruction of employment in manufacture;
  3. They are masters at stirring up emotions, a winning technique to drive voters to the polls as Trump amply demonstrated in the US midterms, cynically causing fear and anger with fake news about a supposed migrant invasion, a “caravan” threatening the southern border;
  4. They have been helped by the rise in social media over the past two decades; as noted by Claudia Alvares, professor at Lusofonia University Lisbon, “social media are very permeable to the easy spread of emotion”; they are also very permeable to cyber war techniques by the Russians and voter manipulations; the Cambridge Analytica scandal that affected millions of Americans on Facebook is proof.

Populism is on the march everywhere in Europe, notably in Eastern Europe where democracies are new. What is more surprising is to see populists leaders win power in West European countries where nobody expected them to be that successful:

  1. In Italy, right-wing and left-wing populism came to power together, in May 2018, a historical first and an unlikely alliance, built on the 17 percent won by Matteo Salvini’s extreme right League and the 33 percent won by Luigi Di Maio’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement;
  2. In Sweden, this summer when the Sweden Democrats,  a populist far-right anti-immigration party founded in 1988, with Nazi roots, had its best-ever results:
Read the rest on Impakter, click here.
Let me know what you think, I love to hear from you!
 
Featured image: A tramp in Paris (Palais Royal) Creditjeangui111

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The Future: America vs. Eurasia

Europe and China could change the course of History as Trump’s America First policies move America to the sidelines…Here’s the opening of my new article, just published on Impakter:

Bosphorus Bridge (Turkey) linking Europe to Asia – PHOTO JORGE1767


How will the future play out? Will Europe follow America’s example and sink into nationalist populism that will inevitably tear apart the European Union and open the way to Trump’s divide-and-conquer America First strategy? Will America’s trade war with China escalate in a real war that could go global as Trump’s stranglehold on world trade tightens further? I believe there is hope that neither will happen. Instead, we might witness something utterly different and much more likely: the rise of Eurasia.

Two events these days are early signs of such a shift for anyone who cares to look. One just took place in Paris at the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I organized by French President Macron. The other, thousands of miles away in Singapore, is the ASEAN Summit, from 11 to 15 November where a major new trade deal, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that for the first time included China, was on the agenda.

The trip was a diplomatic disaster for Trump. He started on the wrong foot even before leaving for Paris. On 9 November, Trump, misunderstanding a Macron statement about the formation of a “true European army”, sent an insulting tweet:

The misunderstanding was soon clarified: Macron had referred to the announced U.S. withdrawal from the I.N.F. nuclear arms treaty with Russia as a reason for establishing an independent army, not that the U.S. was an enemy. Macron in a speech welcoming 84 world leaders to the celebration on November 11, made another statement that shook Trump who considers himself a nationalist:

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying: ‘Our interest first. Who cares about the others?’ I do defend my country. I do believe that we have a strong identity. But I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody.”

From the ashes of the two World Wars came hope, he said. “This hope is called the European Union, a union freely entered into, never before seen in history, a union that has freed us of our civil wars”. Trump appeared “grim” and clapped only tepidly afterward. Significantly he missed the opening of a 3-day conference, the Paris Peace Forum that followed the ceremony to discuss how to strengthen multilateralism.

The next day, on 13 November, Trump took again to Twitter in a series of five aggressive tweets, astonishingly rude and misinformed, including this one:

Not the way to treat the leader of an American allied country. He forgets (or doesn’t know) that his own approval rating in France is abysmal (around 9%).  Macron was forced to respond. France, a historic ally, is “not a vassal state” he said in an interview on French TV: “At every moment of our history, we were allies, so between allies, respect is due. I don’t think the French expect me to respond to tweets but to continue this important history.”

Now that Angela Merkel is on her way out and Brexit is wobbling to its pell-mell conclusion – barring a last-minute legal reversal or a political crisis – there is no doubt that Macron is emerging as the main defender of a United States of Europe. A Europe increasingly under assault by Trump’s America First policies.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Euroasian continent, in Singapore, RCEP is the second major trade deal under discussion since Trump ditched the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January 2017. A serious political blunder considering that the goal of the TPP in the Obama administration’s intention, had been to exclude China. In March 2018, the situation had been reversed and it was America that was isolated: the remaining TPP members (including Canada and Australia) signed the first major Pacific trade agreement, keeping the original TPP content largely intact but renaming it the Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – to take effect soon, on 30 December 2018.

Brookings Institute experts see the new RCEP as something much bigger, “an optimistic answer to populist and protectionist trends around the globe”.

Massive, the new RCEP brings together 16 countries covering 3.6 billion people for a total GDP of some $25 trillion, exceeding that of the United States. The point is that it brings China in for the first time, together with India, Japan and South Korea. It builds on commitments already taken in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Not without difficulty of course. Of the 21 chapters of the treaty, so far agreement was obtained on only seven.

RCEP negotiations are expected to be completed only at the next ASEAN summit in Thailand in 2019. Predictably, problems range from India’s fear of being overrun with products from China, Korea and Japan to Trump’s trade wars, making some countries anxious of “losing” the American market.

How Likely is Eurasia to Replace America as World Leader?

Euroasia: A little used term for a vast continent that extends from Cape Dezhnev (Russia) in the East to the Monchique Islet (Portugal) in the West to Dana Island (Indonesia) in the South. A new geo-political entity that is not yet born. The road is rocky but if it emerges, it will be the largest ever, encompassing two-thirds of the world population.

Find out! Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Trump’s Hold on International Trade and Finance

Just published on Impakter:

The midterms handed the House to the Democrats but not the Senate, despite receiving some 12 million votes more than Republicans in Senate races. As a result, Trump’s ability to pursue his conservative agenda is largely crippled. But where he can count on the backing of the Senate, Trump retains full power, including the ability to nominate judges and pursue foreign policy. His hold on international trade and finance, notably through sanctions and tariffs, remains intact. With potentially devastating consequences.

The trade war on China is not about to stop but that is only the most visible part of the Trumpian iceberg. There are, as this article will show, other, more discreet elements buried under the surface, such as America’s grip over SWIFT, the payments transfer system universally used by banks everywhere.

Packing the Federal Court System with Conservative Judges

We all know how Trump packed the Supreme Court with two conservative judges, most recently with Brett Kavanaugh, a highly controversial figure. What is less well known is how Trump is also “packing” the Federal court system. As of 4 November, the Senate has confirmed 29 judges for the United States Courts of Appeals, 53 judges for the United States District Courts, all nominated by Trump. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, Trump has successfully appointed more federal appeals court judges at the same point in his tenure than Barack Obama and George W. Bush combined:

Source: Pew Research Center. (Screenshot; note data stops at July 12, 2018 and does not include the second Supreme Court appointment made by Trump)

Expect many more nominations over the next two years. Here however I am taking a close look at foreign policy, and in particular the area that has traditionally underpinned American “soft power”: international trade and finance.

Bending World Trade and Finance to the America First Agenda

Trump has now carte blanche to reshape the rules-based world trade system to serve his America First agenda – and this is something that should deeply worry America’s allies and foes alike.

This week-end Trump is in Paris for a meeting of world leaders, invited by French President Macron to celebrate the centenary of the end of World War I. A meeting that includes Putin and that is poignantly far away from the trip taken 100 years ago by President Wilson, his idealistic predecessor, bent on rebuilding the world. The reverse of Trump’s goal which is to take it apart. And he will not stop there. Trump is scheduled to attend in November the G20 meeting (China will be there). Expect fireworks.

Will Trump change his confrontational approach to American allies, especially Europeans? Not likely. So far, he has loudly pulled out of numerous treaties (the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asia and the equivalent treaty with Europe, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear agreement). Recently he has announced he will abandon the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed with Russia by Reagan; he threatens sanctions against the International Criminal Court and is pulling out of an 144 year-old postal treaty as part of his fight against China. He has repeatedly cheered Brexit, attacked NATO partners and declared that the “European Union is a foe”.

At the heart of Trump’s “art of the deal” are bullying tactics, plain and simple. And in a perverse way, they make sense.

The Strategy Behind Trump’s Bullying: Divide to Rule

Consider the world that we lived in until the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here. Do let me know what you think! 

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Trump’s Midterms Strategy: Fear and Anger

Just published on Impakter, here’s the opening:

Previous articles about why populism is dangerous have addressed the issue of austerity (here), the public health crisis (here),  the false “migrant crisis” (here), and the propensity for war (here). This article explores Trump’s midterms strategy to drive voters to the ballot on November 6: stoking up fear and anger with fabricated crises and false solutions.

The 6 November midterm elections are seen by many as a referendum on how American citizens are ranking Trump’s performance as President. Democrats are favored to win the House and Republicans the Senate.

Surprisingly, even though the economic news are favorable, with 55% of Americans rating current economic conditions as excellent or good, the political climate is not correspondingly as good for Republicans and Trump, the latest Gallup poll shows.

Congress’ 21% job approval rating is 10 points below the average since 1974 and similar to approval ratings in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump’s approval rating at 40% is well below the 52% average at midterms since 1974 and is one of the lowest ever for a president prior to a midterm election.

With such results, it is not surprising that Trump has pulled all the populist stops at his disposal:  fake news, fabricated crises, false solutions. All designed to fuel emotions, stoking fear and anger to push voters to the polls. Even famous memes are used, like the Stark family motto of HBO’s Game of Thrones “Winter is coming”, to announce the reimposition of sanctions on Iran. They will take effect on Monday 5 November, the day before the elections. To make sure everyone would notice, Trump exceptionally took the trouble of pinning the tweet at the top of his thread:

This caused a storm on Twitter and HBO did not appreciate the use of its intellectual property for political purposes.

No matter that this stokes divisions. That the country is increasingly polarized. That people die while praying in a synagogue. That the public postal system is used to send pipe bombs. For Trump, it’s collateral damage of little import. The point is to win.

This is the populist strategy for maximum voter turnout: as a populist, you may hold a minority of the voters but your hold on them is stronger because they are emotionally pumped up. It’s not a question of pushing the “undecided vote” as analysts have traditionally called it; it’s a question of pushing those who already support you to actually go to the voting booths. You don’t need to convince them (that’s done). What you need to do is fire them up so that they will make the effort to vote.

Trump’s Fear and Anger Strategy

Trump is in campaign combat mode. The language on race and gender is strident, the  anti-immigrant message oppressive.

The rest on Impakter, click here to read. Let me know what you think, I love to hear from you! 

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Why Populism is Dangerous: The Propensity for War

My latest article just published on Impakter:

Populism is dangerous and has shown overtime an irresistible propensity for war. Public safety, health and the economy are at risk. But populist propaganda is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. And if you divert their attention from real economic problems with the irresistible lure of national identity politics and blaming foreigners.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here), the public health crisis (here) and the false “migrant crisis” (here). Here we take a look at populism’s propensity for war. Historically, populist leaders have been warmongers, Hitler first among them, for waging war across national borders and Pol Pot within borders. Nowadays, exhibit A is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014, diverting Russians’ attention from a deepening recession. Exhibit B is Trump’s rising militarism that has just jumped to the next level with John Bolton’s visit to Moscow this week to tell Putin the U.S. will withdraw from the I.N.F. Treaty.

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, has no doubts: A new nuclear arms race has begun, he writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. He should know what he’s talking about. He is the man who signed with President Reagan in 1987 the I.N.F. treaty, one of the major arms non-proliferation treaties. For Europe, it is the most important since it aims at eliminating the arsenal of intermediate and shorter-range missiles.

Back then, Gorbachev was at the helm of a dying Soviet Union shaken by the fall of the Berlin Wall, and he, more than anyone, believed in a new age of peace and international cooperation. He famously talked of a “Common European Home” and hoped to bring Russia inside Europe as an equal partner.

That did not happen and the rise of Putin put paid to those hopes.

In that article, Gorbachev reminds us that the I.N.F. treaty was followed by two more important ones, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (a.k.a. Start 1, signed in 1991 by George H.W. Bush) and the New Start Treaty (2010 signed by Obama). By 2015, The US and Russia were able to report at the United Nations Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference that 85% of the arms had been retired and mostly destroyed.

An amazing success that Trump, another Republican President, is about to reverse. 

Predictably, Russia is accused of violations, the standard way to break off treaties. And yet, the Republican party was not always the party of the military-industrial complex, a notion another Republican President warned America against: It was Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961, who identified the threat and famously coined that phrase.

In the Trump era of America First, it’s hard to remember that just three decades ago, in the 1980s, there were politicians who had genuine liberal, progressive ideas – even in the Soviet Union that after 70 years of dictatorship looked like a hopeless case. Especially in the Soviet Union which, as events showed with Gorbachev’s Perestroika, was ready for a dramatic change, putting its Communist past and the Cold War in the dustbin of History.

Now, History’s dustbin is about to be emptied on the world stage, bringing the Cold War back. Firebrand John Bolton, Trump’s National Security adviser (appointed last April) is having his moment of glory.

A former U.S.Ambassador to the United Nations (under Bush), Bolton has always hated international treaties in general and the United Nations in particular. His fondest memory, he recalls in his 2007 memoir, was to pull the U.S. out of the International Criminal Court treaty. No matter the Court presented no particular danger to American sovereignty and that it was a major step forward for international law and justice. Bolton is an uncompromising hawk. For him the world is a jungle, justice is for sissies and the U.S. needs to be top dog.

Now he is pushing Trump to withdraw from all international treaties – including further blocking the ICC and even moving out of some minor treaties like the Universal Postal Union, a 144 year-old postal treaty run by the United Nations, accusing it of letting China ship goods at an unfair discount. That was done last week.

The fact that the ICC, as per its mandate, cannot prosecute any American without the consent of an American court is not mentioned by John Bolton or anyone in the Trump administration. They all prefer to present the ICC as illegitimate and a threat to American sovereignty. They do not accept the simple fact that the ICC is a UN body and therefore not illegitimate; and that it is never a threat to a country that respects international law and justice. And America used to be a paladin of justice but with populists in power, that has changed. Trump’s priority now is moving out of nuclear arms treaties – and that fits in nicely with his military build-up strategy.

Let’s tick off the ways Trump has gone about re-militarizing the U.S.:

  1. Pumping up the defense budget to a historic high of $717 billion, even though America has always spent more than the rest of the world combined on military expenditures; of special note: $21.9 billion for the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons programs that includes research and testing;
  2. Getting out of the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear activities;
  3. And now systematically pulling out of all remaining non-proliferation arms deals.

To be fair to Trump, the U.S. had already pulled out of the Antiballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. That was done by the Bush administration without a good explanation, much to the dismay of the Federation of American Scientists, an association created in 1945 by the scientists who built the first atomic bomb. Their 2001 letter of protest to Congress ended with the following words that apply equally well to all the treaties that Trump is seeking to undo:

“America has always sought to lead the world by example. Yet if other countries were to follow the example we have just set, the framework of international law would disintegrate. President Bush has just released NMDs first shot, and it has landed squarely in the heart of American security.”

Bolton’s trip this week in Russia was clearly intended to lay the ground to kill off the I.N.F. arms treaty, much to Putin’s barely concealed amusement. Watch him smile:

...(video)

See the video (it’s fun to watch) and read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Why Populism is Dangerous: The False Migrant Crisis and The Real One

My latest article in the “Populism is Dangerous” series, just published on Impakter:

In the photo: Migrants: Germany to accept 50 rescued migrants after Italy’s plea July 15, 2018 Source:Reuters article

Populism is dangerous and puts public health and the economy at risk. But it is hard to resist. Populist politicians thrive on fake news: it is so much easier to fuel people’s emotions if you feed them fabricated news of imaginary crises. Particularly the so-called “migrant crisis”.

Italy is a harbinger of things to come in liberal democracies. It is where political change often happens first. The largest communist party in Europe outside the Soviet Union was in Italy; yet it was the first to go after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Berlusconi, a showy media tycoon who came to power in 1994 was a proto-Trump.

Previous articles have addressed the issue of austerity (here) and the public health crisis (here). Now we look at the false “migrant crisis” fabricated by populists. Yet  there is a real migrant crisis caused by the lack of assimilation of migrants already in Europe. Because the issue is not correctly diagnosed, no European country, or for that matter the U.S., has yet developed a set of policies to address it – with the exception of Sweden with its pro-active labor policies and Italy with its “Riace model”.

There is a migrant crisis for sure, but it’s not the one described by populists.

Exhibit ABrexit. The UK voted to leave the European Union, panicked by the imagined threat of a migrant invasion and is now facing economic disaster.


In the photo: Brexit poster used by UKIP  

Exhibit B: Trump, with his assault on migrants and Muslims. In view of the midterm elections, he’s upped the ante in an exceptional op-ed he wrote for USA Today on 12 October and a few days later, he re-opened his “caravan” scare on Twitter.

In the photo: Note how they move from right to left, just as in the UKIP Brexit poster, but there are children here.  These are Honduran migrants, part of a caravan trying to reach the U.S., during a leg of their travel in Chiquimula , Guatemala October 16, 2018.  Source: REUTERS/Edgard Carrido Reuters article and video

In a string of tweets, he threatened to cut off funding to the countries from where immigrants fled (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador) and demanded that Mexico put a stop to it. If it can’t, he announced he would use the military to shut the southern border. The most striking tweet is this one:

It encapsulates his favorite accusation against the opposition (“All Democrats fault for weak laws!”) but it puts forward an astonishing new notion: His trade wars, he says, are less important to him, even the newly achieved NAFTA that now goes by the name USMCA, U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (it still awaits ratification). That’s remarkable, considering that he could claim USMCA as an achievement.

Like any good populist strategy, such technical considerations are set aside: the point is to divert public attention to fabricated issues – like “caravans” – that readily stir up emotions. Nothing is better than the true and tried recipe of evoking migrant invasions – just as was done by Brexit supporters. By comparison, trade is profoundly dull.  To whip emotions to a frenzy, there’s nothing like spreading fake news:  “A lot of money has been passing to people to come up to try and get to the border by Election Day,” Trump declared, without any evidence for this.

He immediately got support from the Republican party. U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. border security was a key election issue: “We have to secure that border once and for all,” he told Fox News in an interview.

The False Migrant Crisis

Trump tweets of “criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in”, a vivid, scary image. But how bad is it really to allow migrants to enter the country?

Historically, America has been a beacon for migrants because of its “values”. Which is exactly what Europe also offers. And Italy in particular, a Catholic country that hosts the Leader of the Universal Church, the Pope.  What values are they exactly? A respect for human rights and human dignity. And for political refugees in particular, the protection provided by the 1951 Refugee Convention that sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of host countries.

However that welcoming environment changed in Italy well before the populists came to power in March 2018, as this PBS video makes clear:

The ground was laid out for the arrival of the populists. What we need to realize is that the austerity policies imposed on Europe since the Greek debt crisis exploded in 2010 are the root cause of the problem.

Countries that are impoverished by austerity policies  – Greece lost half its GDP, Italy is stagnant and its youth suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe  – are easy prey to populist anti-immigration policies. Blaming foreigners for one’s woes is far easier and more satisfactory than trying to sort out the problem and come to a constructive solution.

Europeans have very negative views of migrants, and the countries with the most negative views (for example, Hungary) are those that close their borders, build walls and refuse to cooperate with European Union members:

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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