Trump Watch: It’s “Crooked Hillary”!

This week-end, as usual, my latest Trump Watch article was published on Impakter ( just updated this morning, 5 June 2018):

Among Western political leaders, Trump stands out. Normally, when the campaign is over, politicians forget the opponents they beat or at best, include them as allies in coalition governments. You never hear Macron mention Marine Le Pen and both Angela Merkel and Luigi Di Maio have formed governments with their opponents. Not so Trump. He is obsessed with Hillary Clinton and still treats her with insults, in campaign mode: “Crooked Hillary”! She is behind everything that’s wrong with this country!

The right words to describe Trump? Obsessed and delusional. His “Crooked Hillary” obsession is demonstrably  foundational. He tweets more about “Crooked Hillary” and everything he can attribute to her than about anything else. Even the policies he has launched and that could change the world come second, like climate change, North Korea, China or the trade war he has recklessly unleashed on America’s closest allies (Europe, Canada, Mexico).

Deep down, a doubt is eating him up: his electoral win was neither fair or indisputable. Hillary Clinton got over 2 million votes more than he did and that haunts him. We all know it was due to a quirk in the American electoral system: The votes she won in the cities weighted less than those he got in the GOP-controlled rural areas.

Trump can’t stand the idea that his win was not clear-cut, it drives him crazy. He denies the evidence, he takes refuge in delusions. His inaugural crowd was the largest, larger than Obama’s. Russia never helped him, neither did the Cambridge Analytica team (he is careful to never tweet about that particular scandal).

It was “Crooked Hillary” all along, a Dem conspiracy, they spied on him, they spied even before he got into the White House! The Justice Department and the FBI are infiltrated by Hillary Clinton people conspiring against him. The fake news press – CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post etc – is systematically misrepresenting his presidency.

Predictably, this is the kind of Fox news he loves to retweet (and he broke with protocol to tout the jobs data before it was released):

He’ll never retweet the New York Times…And he probably did not read that NYT article. If he had, he wouldn’t be so happy. …

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Italy: What the New Government Means for Europe

Yesterday was amazing, suddenly Italy had a new government! In this article, just published on Impakter, I explore what it really means:

On 31 May, Italian politics took an unexpected, spectacular turn. President Mattarella approved the very government he had vetoed – as was his constitutional right –  four days earlier. Now the two big winners of the March elections, Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement (M5S with  33 percent of the votes), and Matteo Salvini’s The League (17 percent) finally got what they wanted.

It had taken 88 days of hard negotiations to get there. And the unlikely alliance between an extreme right party (The League) with a centrist party (M5S) that has socialist roots (in the Partito Democratico, or PD). Both are populists and anti-establishment, The League with its base in Northern Italy and support from business, M5S with support from young people and the South and a fluctuating political platform shaped by social-media.   Di Maio and Salvini had hammered a 56 page contract for a so-called “government of change” and selected as premier an unknown non-politician, the economist Paolo Conte.

What made Mattarella change his mind? Much of it appears to be the result of unexpectedly nimble political work on the part of Di Maio, who, despite his youth and lack of experience, is apparently endowed with unusual political instincts. Improbably, after insulting Mattarella and calling for his impeachment, he withdrew the accusations and instead met the President eye-to-eye. And was  able to change his mind. The idea of a “technical” stop-gap government to prepare a return to the polls was abandoned and Conte came back with a new list of ministers.

What is remarkable is that the new list had only one notable modification: Paolo Savona, the Euro-skeptic 81 year-old economist Mattarella had objected to, was moved from Treasury where he had been originally assigned at Salvini’s request, to Minister for Relations with Europe.

An apparently slight correction but a significant one: Savona’s new position is much weaker than at Treasury, he is a minister without portfolio (i.e. without the support of a full ministry). The new man in the Treasury post is Giovanni Tria, a well-known economist with a long career both nationally and internationally – in short, a more moderate figure.

HAVE POPULISTS TAKEN OVER THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT?

On the next day, the international press, even staid and serious journals like Bloomberg, reacted with emotional headlines: the Populists have surged to power in Italy! They will take Italy out of the Euro and Europe!

Despite the scary headlines, investors took it in stride, and even welcomed the “stability” that a new government implied, as the Wall Street Journal was quick to note. In short, they have set aside the likelihood that Italy will exit the Euro.

Yet, the new man at Treasury, Giovanni Tria is really not very different from Paolo Savona. He agrees with Savona on Europe and that a reform of the Euro is essential. On the face of it,  pulling Savona from one key Ministry to another less powerful position seems like a gratuitous game.

How come markets are reassured by Tria and scared by Savona? What do investors know that the journalists don’t, what really happened?

THE REAL STORY BEHIND SAVONA’S REPUTATION

First, the scare over Savona was vastly exaggerated – almost a case fake news.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Italy 2018: Politics Shaped by Social Media

We are worried here in Italy with the way politics are playing out, a big mess. I just wrote about it on Impakter, here is the opening:

Italian politics is notoriously complex and unfathomable. One reason is that Italy often ventures in uncharted waters, foreshadowing the future. Today, Italy is the first big democracy in the West where social media gave birth to a leading party, the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle, M5S). Twenty-five years ago, Italy was where a media mogul famously won power: Berlusconi, an early version of Trump, served four times as Prime Minister between 1994 and 2011.

M5S won 11 million Italians, a third of the votes in the elections, two months ago. Since then, gridlock.  One of the worst in Italy’s convoluted political history.

Will M5S be better for Italy than Berlusconi?

Italians are weary, they all remember Berlusconi’s broken promises of reform, the endless series of sexual scandals (the Bunga-Bunga girls), the deeply embedded corruption that led to his being barred from running again (that prohibition was just lifted, he is now free to run again).

In short, since Berlusconi, the businessman turned populist-politician, appeared on the political scene, two decades of growth were lost.

With M5S, things may turn out differently but it doesn’t look promising. So far, M5S has given the Italians the usual spectacle of politicians hungry for power, with Luigi Di Maio, the young M5S leader initially demanding the job of premier – despite his youth (he’s 31) and total lack of academic credentials (he’s a college dropout), work or government experience.

How come M5S can’t express better candidates?

The Populist Roots of M5S

The party was anti-establishment and populist from the moment it was founded in 2009 by Beppe Grillo.  Who is Grillo? Very different from Berlusconi, he was in his fifties when he emerged on Internet, a (failed) comedian and political satirist, exiled from public television, but  a (successful) blogger whose main appeal was with the discontented. And back then, there was plenty of unhappy people.

The 2008 Great Recession had spread to Italy, causing unheard-of levels of unemployment, one the highest in Europe, especially among the young (over 40 percent). Waves of immigrants hit the coasts, turning into a tsunami with the Syrian war. And Italy, shackled by the rigid Euro rules, could not solve its problems with a quick devaluation, as it had regularly done with the Lira in the previous century.

Result? A strong dislike for Europe and hatred for the Euro, seen as the source of all the problems. Beppe Grillo was supremely adept at exploiting this discontent.

The rest on Impakter, click here.

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TRUMP WATCH: Spygate? A Monster Story!

My latest TRUMP WATCH piece, just published on Impakter, this is the opening:

Has Trump lost touch? In a single minute, on 25 May, before leaving to give the commencement speech at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, he managed to fire four tweets about Spygate. That’s the term he uses to talk about the FBI informant that supposedly “infiltrated” his campaign in 2016.

“Worse than Watergate!” Trump had tweeted a few days ago. But this time, it was a long statement, 190 words long, very unusual for Trump. So it had to be broken up to fit into Twitter’s framework.

Summarizing the four tweets, here is what he said: Spygate is a “monster story” but the “corrupt Mainstream Media hates” it (meaning it won’t share it); the “Informant” was “paid a fortune” (sic, how can he judge that?); and he was set up “way earlier than the Russian Hoax” began (not true).

Then he pretends to be horrified: “Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain?” Obviously not the case in a democracy like the U.S.

Yet that gives him the opportunity to chuckle, despite spending “far more money” than he did, the Democrats “LOST!” (in capital letters). Then he refers to what a Fox News journalist said (always Fox News, not part of the Corrupt Media):

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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Fighting the Next Pandemic and Watching Trump

I must apologize for the long silence: I have been so busy writing for Impakter that I never got around to updating you, my friends, on my blog. My latest in-depth article (out on 17 May) is about something that really worries me: The threat of pandemics and our general lack of readiness.

WHO’s quick reaction to the Ebola outbreak in D.R.Congo should not delude us into thinking we’re safe. We’re not. We really need to do something about this. Here is the start of the article:

 

GLOBAL HEALTH SYSTEMS: READY FOR THE NEXT PANDEMIC?

In a world traumatized by Trump’s America First agenda, many worry that nuclear conflict is around the corner. As a result, global health tends to be down at the bottom of the list of things to worry about. Yet, as we learned when Ebola struck in 2014, our lead institution, the World Health Organization (WHO), was shockingly slow on the uptake. Our global health governance was just not up to the task.

Now, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has just sent a letter to WHO Director-General – a letter also signed by the heads of Norway and Ghana – asking his organization to help draft a “Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-being for All” to be discussed at the 10th World Health Summit in Berlin in October 2018.

….

The rest on Impakter, click here.


Then, of course, I continued the series of TRUMP WATCH articles. For those of you who are curious to check them out, here’s a listing since the last one I told you about here – in chronological order:

  • North Korea Talks?  Trump seems ready to treat his upcoming North Korea talks as another game of ping pong, telling reporters on Wednesday…
  • Thank You Mary Matalin! On 22 April, out of a clear blue sky, Trump suddenly fawned over Mary Matalin: “I can die happy now…
  • The United States and France Forever!  Trump’s numerous tweets welcoming France’s President Macron on the first state visit of his administration, have been pompously presidential, replete…
  • A Total Witch Hunt  The Russia investigation is a “total” witch hunt, the just released House Intelligence Committee Report has confirmed it! Trump instantly…
  • Russian Collusion is Fake News! Listen to the Donald: This business about the “Witch Hunt” and Russian “Collusion” needs to stop, it’s all “fake news”,..
  • The Iran Deal and North Korea Show is On Nobody noticed but Trump once more exhibited his fine-tuned Reality TV showmanship when he conflated the news about pulling out…
  • Saving Chinese Jobs On Sunday, Trump tweeted his concern for Chinese jobs, vowing that he was working with the Chinese leader to “save…
  • Beautiful, Clean Coal! Coal, historically, is the dirtiest source of energy ever used. Yet, once again, this week-end, Trump tweeted that it was…

Wow, that’s eight Trump Watch articles in one month, and they all zero in on one of the many character traits of the man – it wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t the most powerful man on earth. But the closer you get to him (as I do, reading his tweets and his pronouncements every day), the scarier it gets…

Incidentally, when I look back, I see that over the last month I also added another article to my series on Bitcoin, reporting on a new development which is (in my view) deeply puzzling:

Sorry for not posting all those updates here, but you can see that I have been overwhelmed with work this month, with 10 articles published on Impakter. Not to mention the work I usually do as Senior Editor…

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TRUMP WATCH: Joining the Trade Pact Against China

This week more of my TRUMP WATCH articles were published on Impakter:

  •  TWEETS OF WAR warning the enemy – in this case Russia – of an impending missile strike in Syria (click here to read – updated with the news of the retaliatory attack on 14 April);  
  • HALF THE COUNTRY IS THE ENEMY: in this one Trump takes aim at California, reviling it as a “sanctuary state” overrun by hordes of criminal immigrants, ascribing the whole sorry situation to the “Dems” (see here);
  • CHEMICAL ATTACKS ON SYRIA: about Trump’s unprecedented tweets against Russia and the fact that, arguably, Trump’s own policies in Syria set the stage for “animal Assad’s” attacks (see here – also updated with the news of the retaliatory attack 14 April).

Here’s the latest one, JOINING THE TRADE PACT AGAINST CHINA, out on Friday 13 April:


Trump just woke up to the complexities of international trade. And how to push China into a corner. In the middle of his trade war with China, he has suddenly caught on to the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership: a clever way for the US to boost trade among Pacific-rim countries while excluding China.

In the middle of the night, this stunning mea culpa was tweeted out:

Well, only half a mea culpa. As usual, it’s Obama’s fault, and he “would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama.”

He may feel he has saved face, but in practice, this signals a major reversal in Trumpian trade policies. For once, he’d be joining an international treaty and not trying to pull it down.

And that is huge. Good for him to be able to backtrack.

I go on to analyze the damage done by the US pullout of the TPP and what might happen next now that the TPP has been signed by 11 Pacific rim countries, excluding the US.  

Just as the article was about to be published with a conclusion commending Trump for his wise decision to backtrack (never easy), he blew it, coming out with a seriously absurd blast against Comey and his tell-all book, calling him (among other things) a “slime ball”. 

Take a look, the article is here.

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TRUMP WATCH: Defying China on Trade

Just published on Impakter. Here’s the opening:


In a single tweet on 5 April, Trump gave a double whammy: against China, reminding everyone that he’s fighting China on trade, and against Amazon’s “chief lobbyist”, the hated “Fake News Washington Post”:

Not bad for a single tweet. To anyone wondering why the Washington Post’s headline is characterized as “phony” when the news about the levying of trade penalties is real enough, the answer is fairly simple.  Trump has recently engaged in an unprecedented flurry of tweets against Amazon, “ranting obsessively about it”. To the point where one is justified in wondering whether he has a personal grudge against Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post.

Maybe he does, but the truth is that the Washington Post has been very good at unearthing uncomfortable news about him. For example, they were the ones who discovered he had given highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador in the course of a visit to the White House back in May 2017.

Trade War or Trade Talks?

That’s the real question. Are Trump’s threats of trade penalties the opening salvo of a coming trade war? Or, more simply, trade talks?

Trump has just ordered the US Trade Representative to consider coming up with levies on $100 billion more of Chinese goods (that immediately sent US stock futures tumbling). This came on top of a Chinese announcement on Wednesday that China would levy a 25 percent tariff on about $50 billion of US goods (including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft). But the US had started it all, issuing on Tuesday a list of tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese products.

Tit for tat – and a clever tit from China…

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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#MeToo: Taking it to the Next Level

Also published on Impakter.

Here’s the opening:

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, 268 pages. Out on: 10 April 2018

This is a remarkable novel, a book for our #MeToo age.

To some it may look like another women’s fiction title, but it’s not. It goes beyond the recurrent themes of the genre – marriage, friends and the search for happiness, showcasing a strong woman who overcomes multiple obstacles. It brings home the universality of #MeToo, not an issue exclusive to America: It has become a number one issue around the world, India included. And it is a great read, the work of an exceptionally talented storyteller, with finely observed characters, unexpected twists in the plot and a deeply satisfying ending. This is a not-to-be-missed novel, including for those who do not normally read in the genre.

 Sweta Vikram iPiccy-collage

In my view, this book does something more: It adds a much needed, broader dimension to the #MeToo issue, shifting the focus squarely on sexual abuse. It’s not just a matter of recalling episodes of unpleasant groping and being threatened or blackmailed by an alpha male that can kill your career, your reputation or any hope you have for happiness. It is that too, of course, but it goes beyond. Sexual abuse is the one aspect of sexual violence that is unequivocally indefensible and morally deeply wrong, with no ifs and no buts.

And it does this in three ways.

One, the major event around which the story unfolds: A world conference on sexual violence against women – to be held in New Orleans, hence one of the reasons for the book’s title. There are others, and I shall come to them shortly. Ahana is charged with the organization of this conference, a task that is a big challenge and that pushes her to her limits. The conference logo she’s picked, No Excuse, is striking. In two words, it tells us we are facing the next level after #MeToo.

Two, the major themes in the novel: sexual violence against women and stalking/bullying on social media (in this case, in an online therapy group). These are deeply serious issues you find every day in the news headlines, yet they are lightly woven in the plot. And the author manages the feat of adding a new urgency to them – this is done through two intriguing characters, two diametrically different men, who erupt in Ahana’s life as she tries to organize the conference. And here we get to the other reason for the book’s title: Both men are from Louisiana, including the catfisher. And right until the middle of the novel, we can’t tell which of them is actually a ‘good catch’ for Ahana and who is the one ‘catching’ her in his net. One of them is not what he seems – hence the suspense.

Three, the viewpoint: The story is told from Ahana’s standpoint and Ahana is special. Highly educated, she comes from a wealthy upper-class Delhi family. She lives in two worlds, the traditional Indian one with all its customs, including the food and the gossiping “aunties”, and the Western one that she has been educated in. Tall and beautiful, an athletic yoga-practitioner, Ahana is recently divorced from Dev, a good-looking man but a sexually abusive husband.

Ahana is someone you grow to increasingly like and care about, and you find yourself wanting to tell her to stop, to be more careful about sharing personal stuff online. People throw up smoke screens, will Ahana see through them? Believe me, it’s a page turner.

Reading the book, I became curious about Sweta Srivastava Vikram, an author capable of creating such stunningly realistic characters, both Indian and American. If you peek at her bio, you discover she is of Indian origin, but she lives in America and has known entrepreneurial success in her own life just like Ahana. She has already had eleven books published, establishing her as a major poet – with only one of them (a novel) published in India, and she has won several awards.

Louisiana Catch is the first novel you publish in the United States. And you now live in New York with your husband. What inspired you to write this book? Any connection with your move to the United States?

Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Louisiana Catch is my 12th book but debut U.S. novel. My poetry books have been published in the U.S. before, but the novel is exciting on a whole different scale.

Louisiana Catch didn’t happen directly as a result of my move to the Big Apple. I moved to NYC about 20 years ago…

READ THE REST ON IMPAKTER, CLICK HERE.

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BIO: Sweta Srivastava Vikram, a graduate of Columbia University, was featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time”. She is a best-selling author of 12 books and a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee. She is also a mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s list of “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.

Website          Twitter            Instagram          Facebook          LinkedIn

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Featured Image Credit: New Orleans: French Quarter, Exchange Place – by wallyg flickr.com

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TRUMP WATCH: A SWIPE AT AMAZON, BUT WHY?

This is the latest Trump Watch article on IMPAKTER – two others were published earlier this week: one about Trump’s obsession with his Border Wall (here) and the other about his thundering silence following last week-end’s March for Our Lives (here) – a silence that I found truly disturbing. 

So now, here is the opening of my latest article in the Trump Watch series:

TRUMP WATCH: A SWIPE AT AMAZON, BUT WHY?

Everybody is getting worked up over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but Trump has a grudge against another tech giant: Amazon.

On Thursday he lashed out:

So why this bizarre obsession with Amazon? Because Bezos, the founder of Amazon, owns the Washington Post, one of the papers Trump fears and hates? Maybe.

But there’s another good reason why: Clearly, Trump has no intention to wade into the on-going Facebook-Analytica scandal. Hot stuff, and it could burn him. The fact that the Trump campaign used Analytica’s “psychographs” to sway election results is deeply embarrassing, and it doesn’t help that to do so it used private data stolen from some 50 million American Facebook users. Moreover, Cambridge Analytica has reportedly still not deleted all the user data as promised.

To read the rest, click here. 

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Trump Watch: John Bolton – A Super Hawk as National Security Advisor

We’ve started a new series at Impakter, called Trump Watch – in a short piece, we bring our readers up-to-date on the latest developments. This is the third article in the series, my friend Hannah Fischer-Lauder and myself are working on it. But we welcome the contribution of anyone interested. Contact me (see address on my blog) or Impakter (click here: http://impakter.com/contact/). We are looking for short pieces focusing on breaking news, most of them with Trump’s tweets as a starting point.

General H.R. McMaster is out, Ambassador John Bolton is in – with a tweet posted at midnight 22 March:

I am pleased to announce that, effective 4/9/18, @AmbJohnBolton will be my new National Security Advisor. I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on 4/9.

McMaster will move out on 9 April. The job of National Security Advisor does not need Senate confirmation, so Bolton will come on-board as soon as McMaster leaves. And he will be charged with overseeing a wide range of issues, from fighting ISIS to containing China’s rising economic and military power.

International diplomacy is likely to go into shock, John Bolton is not only a confirmed hawk, he is a sworn enemy of the United Nations.

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

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