Trump rages at Mueller in an effort to stave off disaster

 May 7 at 9:59 AM 
 2:33
Trump maligns special counsel investigators

President Trump attacked the special counsel investigators on May 4. “If I thought it was fair, I would override my lawyers” to speak to them, he said. 

THE MORNING PLUM:

President Trump is intensifying his confrontation with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — to the point that he may defy a subpoena for an interview — even as Trump and Republicans appear to be increasingly relying on the idea that the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt” to galvanize the base in the midterm elections.

That’s potentially a recipe for much worse to come.

Over the weekend, Trump lawyer (sic) Rudy Giuliani went on ABC’s “This Week” and openly stated that “we don’t have to” comply if Mueller issues a subpoena to try to compel the president to testify in a sit-down interview. While it’s possible that Mueller and Trump’s lawyers will compromise on a limited sit-down, Mueller is privately threatening a subpoena, and any resulting impasse would go all the way to the Supreme Court.

That’s a confrontation Trump would likely lose. But whether or not Trump is aware of that possibility, it’s now clear that the confrontation itself is what Trump wants — as a way to galvanize his voters heading into the midterm elections.

 2:56
Opinion | Trump can fire Mueller, but that won’t get rid of the Russia investigation

Opinion | If President Trump fires the bane of his legal troubles, he could spark a legal and constitutional crisis. 

Politico reports this morning that Trump’s team actively wants to frame the midterms as a referendum on whether his presidency should survive, by arguing that a Democratic-led Congress would result in impeachment. This strategy is favored by the former keeper of the Trumpist flame, Stephen K. Bannon, who is explicitly arguing that the GOP tax cuts won’t be nearly as successful in turning out the base:

“You’ve got to make it an up or down vote Nov. 6. I want Trump on the ticket in every district,” Bannon said in an interview. “You have to put Donald Trump on the ticket. You’re not voting for Congress. You’re voting for Donald Trump.”

One imagines that Democrats will seize on this quote: Yep, Trump is on the ticket in every district. And by the way, it isn’t just Bannon. Other GOP strategists have explicitly said that a war with Mueller will turn out the base. As one of them recently put it: “Voters see themselves in this fight with the president.”

It is certainly true that Republican voters view things this way. But independent voters do not. A recent Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of independents support Mueller’s probe into possible Russia-Trump campaign collusion, and 65 percent of them support his probe of Trump’s business activities. And a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 58 percent of independents say Mueller’s probe is fair.

As Amy Walter recently pointed out, even if Republican voters do “come home” to the GOP candidates this fall, a big question will be which way undecided and independent voters break — and right now, they don’t like the president. Given this and the broad support among independents for the Mueller investigation, it’s hard to see how a sustained confrontation with him will help GOP candidates among those voters.

But those GOP candidates will be required to rally behind the president and against Mueller, or risk depressing the base. Indeed, as Walter also notes, Republicans worry that GOP voters, as it is, are not as energized as Democrats, who are super-charged for the midterms. In swing districts, even successfully driving up GOP turnout might not be enough if independents break against the GOP, but betting it all on energizing the GOP base may be all they have left.

So Republicans appear to be lashed to Trump as he goes all-in against Mueller. This morning, Trump tweeted that the Mueller probe is a “Phony Witch Hunt,” and for good measure said this:

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination or anything else with Russia. So now the Probe says OK, what else is there? How about Obstruction for a made up, phony crime.There is no O, it’s called Fighting Back

Trump is openly admitting that efforts now being investigated as obstruction of justice did, in fact, constitute “fighting back” against a legitimate investigation into conduct by him and his top campaign officials. But this is the whole point: The message is that Trump is fighting the investigation, and his voters are not only persuaded that it’s a witch hunt; they also “see themselves in this fight with the president,” as the GOP strategist quoted above put it.

But this could further alienate independents and swing voters. And so the strategy of increasingly relying on the Mueller “witch hunt” to galvanize GOP voters looks like a fallback effort to hang on to districts that are heavy enough on Republican voters to remain in the GOP column even if independents break bigly for Democrats, provided that GOP turnout is sufficiently energized. And as we’re seeing in multiple GOP primaries, GOP candidates are appealing to Republican voters by mimicking Trump’s authoritarian assaults on the Mueller probe and the rule of law, a good indicator of what energizes the GOP base these days.

All this comes as Republicans are no longer even pretending that the GOP tax cut has the political potency that Republicans triumphally claimed it would. But that brings us to our next item.

* TAX CUT VANISHES FROM GOP MESSAGING: Reuters finds that among the most vulnerable House Republicans, there has been a remarkable dropoff in messaging about the GOP tax cut on social media, on congressional and campaign websites, and in digital ads:

All told, the number of tax messages has fallen by 44 percent since January. For several congressmen in tough reelection fights … messaging is down much more — as much as 72 percent.

The tax cut was supposed to be the GOP’s midterm savior, yet the focus is increasingly on the Mueller “witch hunt” instead. Says it all.

* GIULIANI ADMITS THERE MAY HAVE BEEN OTHER PAYMENTS: On ABC’s “This Week,” Giuliani was asked whether Trump lawyer Michael Cohen might have made “payments to other women for the president” in addition to the Stormy Daniels hush-money payment. He replied:

“I have no knowledge of that but I would think if it was necessary, yes. He made payments for the president, or he conducted business for the president, which means he had legal fees, monies laid out, and expenditures, which I have on my bills to my clients.”

Yeesh, you’d think a crack lawyer like Giuliani would have made it his business to inform himself of little details such as this one.

* STORMY DANIELS’S LAWYER CLAIMS PROOF OF TRUMP LYING: Also on “This Week,” Stormy’s lawyer Michael Avenatti was asked whether he has proof that Trump knew about the hush-money payment at the time. He replied:

“We have evidence that the president knew in the months at least following the campaign of this payment, certainly knew it long before his statement on Air Force One in April of this year where he effectively stood there and lied to the American people about not knowing anything about this payment.”

This would mean Trump agreed to reimburse Michael Cohen while also knowing what he was reimbursing him for, despite saying otherwise. If so, this evidence should come out at trial.

* KELLYANNE CONWAY’S ADMISSION: On CNN’s “State of the Union,” counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway was pressed on Trump’s claim on Air Force One that he didn’t know about the payment, and she said:

“In speaking with the president just yesterday, when the president said no on Air Force One, he was talking about he didn’t know when the payment occurred. … I’m going to relay to you what the president has told me, which is the best I can do. He didn’t know it at the time that the payment occurred.”

Their line is now that when Trump said he didn’t know about the payment, he actually did know about it, and was referring to whether he knew about it when it was made. That suggests Avenatti could be right.

* GIULIANI IS CERTAIN THINGS ARE GOING GREAT: Giuliani tells The Post that his media tour is going swimmingly:

“We all feel pretty good that we’ve got everything kind of straightened out and we’re setting the agenda … Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do.”

Well, if nothing else, this transparently absurd bluster shows that Giuliani knows his audience (of one, that is).

* MUELLER FACES A CALENDAR PROBLEM: The Wall Street Journal reports that many experts think Robert S. Mueller III will have to go quiet in the run-up to the midterm elections, to avoid perceptions that he’s trying to influence them:

Though Mr. Mueller doesn’t face any specific legal deadline, the fall midterms amount to a political one, according to experts and prosecutors. He will reach a point this summer when Justice Department habits dictate he would have to go dark so he doesn’t appear to be trying to sway voters’ decisions … Any action by Mr. Mueller … could play into whether Democrats take control of one or both houses of Congress.

You will recall, of course, that former FBI director James B. Comey intervened twice during the 2016 election and that Trump and Republicans widely exploited that both times.

* HOW REPUBLICANS SUCCEED IN TRUMP ERA: Politico reports that four House Republicans have become big GOP players by leading the charge against the Mueller probe:

They have demanded thousands of documents central to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. … This crew of hard-charging conservatives … have emerged as some of Washington’s most prominent Republicans, enjoying direct lines to the Trump White House and flights on Air Force One. … None of the four holds a powerful committee chairmanship, but they have something just as important: regular airtime on Fox News.

Running a 24/7 assault on the rule of law appears to be the route to Republican superstardom these days.

Ohio: A political landscape upended by President Trump

President Trump arrives Saturday at Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

  May 5 at 12:21 PM 
Until 2016, Ohio was the ground zero of presidential politics. Yes, there was also Florida, Ohio’s bookend in all recent elections. But the Buckeye State’s fiercely competitive environment, combined with its heartland sensibilities, often made it the nation’s preeminent political crossroads every four years.

Everyone assumed 2016 would produce another memorable struggle, this time between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But as with so much else in the campaign, Trump tossed aside the expected script, as he swept to a surprisingly easy victor. Trump won all but eight counties, the best for any Republican since Ronald Reagan in his 1984 landslide — and Reagan carried the state by 19 points.

Michael Dawson, an expert on Ohio election statistics, offered other examples of the breadth of Trump’s victory. The president ranked in the top 10 of best-ever Republican performances in 61 of Ohio’s 88 counties. In 38 counties, he had the best percentage of any Republican nominee dating back 10 elections. His victory margin in northwest Ohio was third best of any Republican ever. And with his America First message, he lost heavily Democratic northeast Ohio by the second smallest percentage of any Republican nominee.

Trump has turned the state’s Republican Party upside down, which has left Republican Gov. John Kasich almost a man without a party in his own state. Kasich, of course, lost the GOP nomination to Trump in 2016, boycotted the arena at the GOP convention in Cleveland and ever since has been a critic of the president — and a possible 2020 challenger.

The contours of Ohio’s new politics will be on national display over the coming days, beginning with the president’s Saturday visit to Cleveland. The trip comes at the end of a week of controversy for the president that, if his appearance at the National Rifle Association on Friday is any indication, has only hardened the support among his base.

His visit comes on the eve of Tuesday’s primary elections, in which the president is more than a bit player. The ultimate answer as to how Trump has changed the politics of the state will come in 2020, if he is on the ballot. But some clues will emerge from this year’s midterm elections, with Tuesday’s primaries providing the first indicators.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor are facing off for the Republican nomination for Ohio governor. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Kasich, who is term-limited, will be stepping down after eight years as governor. When he leaves office, Republicans will have held the governorship for 24 of the past 28 years, the lone break coming when Ted Strickland rode the 2006 Democratic wave to victory, only to be rejected by the voters when he faced Kasich in the big GOP tsunami of 2010.

Winning governorships is essential for Democrats if they hope to rebuild their party nationally. Ohio will present a major opportunity and a major challenge for the party in 2018. The Democratic primary reflects some of the fissures and tensions inside a party that has moved left and is debating just how far left is should go.

The primary features two former elected officials. The front-runner is Richard Cordray, who served as state attorney general and most recently led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Washington. He is a Democrat at least partially in the mold of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led the fight to create the CFPB. He is consumer oriented and a bane of Wall Street and big banks.

He is described as part of the party’s progressive wing, and on those kinds of Wall Street issues, that’s certainly correct. But on gun issues, for example, he is more moderate than many progressives. When he ran for reelection in 2010, he had an A rating from the National Rifle Association. His current rating is C-minus.

Though an ally of Warren on many issues, he lacks the Massachusetts senator’s energy and passion and has been tagged with running a colorless campaign. A cartoon in the Cleveland Plain Dealer Friday showed a Cordray caricature wearing a red cap that read, “Make Ohio Bland Again.”

His principal opponent is a familiar figure in the state and nationally: Dennis Kucinich, the former Cleveland mayor, former Congress member and former presidential candidate. He has long operated on the party’s left edge, and in this contest, that’s where he has planted his flag. He has support from some of those Democrats who backed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president in 2016.

Two factors threaten to hold down his vote, however. First is his lack of money, which has made it difficult for him to run television ads that could expand his appeal beyond his northeast Ohio base. Second and more significant was the embarrassment of having accepted $20,000 for a speech he gave to a group that included an organization sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kucinich announced that he would return the money, but past links to Assad have dogged him in the campaign against Cordray.

Democrats will be paying close attention to two things on Tuesday. First is the Kucinich vote and what it says about the power of the left within the party. Second will be overall Democratic turnout, compared to that of the Republicans. Early voting has shown Democrats with an advantage, but Republicans expect the overall vote to look different after Tuesday’s balloting. Democrats won’t win in November without a truly energized base.

The Republican primary pits Mike DeWine, the current state attorney general and former U.S. senator, against Mary Taylor, the state’s lieutenant governor. Notably, neither has sought the Kasich mantle in their campaigns. DeWine doesn’t particularly need it, given strong statewide identification and a record of his own. But it is more telling that Taylor, who was elected lieutenant governor on a ticket with Kasich, has also run away from him — sometimes quite awkwardly.

Taylor has sought to embrace Trump and cast DeWine as an establishment Republican. DeWine has tried to deflect those attacks by questioning whether she really supported Trump in the fall of 2016. But he is also mindful that he will need the support of Ohio Republicans and independents who don’t like the president to win the general election in November, if he wins the nomination on Tuesday.

DeWine is the favorite heading into Tuesday. His allies are confident of victory. If the primary turns out to be close, Taylor’s performance would be a sign of Trump’s influence among rank-and-file Republicans, and, if DeWine is the nominee, make the political balancing act more challenging.

The other primary drawing real attention is the contest for the GOP nomination in the 12th Congressional District, a seat left open by the resignation of Republican Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi. The contest pits Troy Balderson, who is Tiberi’s choice, against Melanie Leneghan, who is running as a proud Trump Republican. The vacancy will be filled with a general election in August and Democrats see the seat as a possible pick up, especially if Leneghan wins the nomination.

The Senate primaries hold little suspense, with Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Rep. James B. Renacci the expected general election candidates. But Brown’s candidacy adds another layer to the debate over the Democrats’ future. He is a populist Democrat, allied with the progressive wing and a supporter of Clinton in 2016. He has managed to navigate Ohio political terrain successfully and Democrats contemplating a presidential campaign in 2020 will be closely watching what he does this year.

The 7 most intriguing questions Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump

 May 1 at 8:00 AM 
 3:32
How Trump has performed under oath before

With questions circling about President Trump giving an interview in one of his legal cases, his manner in past depositions hints at how he may behave. 

Now we know what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III wants to ask President Trump (at least in part).

The New York Times reported Monday evening questions the special counsel’s team has previewed with Trump’s lawyers as they negotiate whether the president will sit for an interview. And although many of them are unsurprising — going over key events in the investigations of obstruction and Russian collusion in the 2016 campaign and what Trump knew about them — some hint at points of emphasis, previously unknown angles and mysterious subplots.

Below are seven questions that caught my eye.

1. “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

That middle phrase is the one that sticks out: “including by Paul Manafort.” Why specify him and only him?

Until a few weeks ago, Manafort wasn’t widely considered a key figure in the collusion investigation. He was mostly seen as someone who might flip on Trump because of the dozens of criminal charges he faces. But a court filing last month revealed that Mueller had sought authorization to expand his inquiry into allegations that Manafort “committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials.” And another filing shortly before that described a Manafort business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, as having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign. (It has previously been asserted that Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence, but not necessarily during the campaign.)

Manafort is hardly the only person linked to possible collusion. Others include Donald Trump Jr., longtime informal adviser Roger Stone and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior aide. The fact that Manafort is explicitly mentioned, when combined with these two recent filings, can’t help but raise eyebrows.

2. “How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?”

This sounds routine, but it could mean that Mueller is interested in a tweet sent from Trump’s account in December that said Trump fired former national security adviser Michael Flynn “because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!

That was important because shortly after firing Flynn, Trump approached then-FBI Director James B. Comey about seeking leniency for Flynn, according to Comey. That plea would be more problematic from an obstruction of justice standpoint if Trump knew Flynn had lied to the FBI and was in legal jeopardy because of it. It would suggest Trump wanted to help Flynn to protect himself.

Trump’s legal team quickly went into cleanup mode. Then-attorney John Dowd said that he was responsible for the sloppily worded tweet and that Trump was only generally aware of Flynn’s conversations with the FBI. Mueller wants to know Trump’s version of how that went down.

3. “What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?”

This is a real mystery. The Washington Post reported last year that Trump asked Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats if he could intervene to get Comey to back off Flynn, with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo present at the meeting. (The other official mentioned here is National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers.) But this isn’t that.

Lots of questions on the Times’s list are very general and clearly refer to things that have been reported publicly, but this seems to refer to a specific episode about which we don’t really know anything. Exactly what it is is anybody’s guess.

Robert Mueller, left, on June 19, 2013, and President Trump on December 15, 2017 (Saul Loeb and Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

4. “Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?”

Trump is big on loyalty, he has expressed frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and he has spoken glowingly how Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., “totally protected” Obama. But whether he has tied all those things together is another thing.

This suggests that Mueller wants to know whether Trump has directly asked Sessions for protection. We don’t know, of course, whether that’s because someone told Mueller that Trump did, or just because Mueller thinks it’s logical that he may have.

5. “What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?”

Another mystery is why Mueller’s own appointment is in the questions he wants to ask Trump. You’d expect Mueller to be interested in Trump’s efforts to fire him — and other questions deal with that — but this one is a head-scratcher.

Again, is there a specific event Mueller is aware of that he wants to ask Trump about? Or is this just a general inquiry?

6. “What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?”

The second part is the key. Trump seemed to publicly deny that he tried to fire Mueller, calling it “fake news.” This may suggest that Mueller is interested in whether Trump misled the American public about his own actions, or could allude to something else Trump did that we, again, don’t yet know about.

As I wrote at the time, misleading public denials were cited in special counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on President Bill Clinton, even as the president wasn’t under oath.

7. “During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?”

Trump boasted in 2015 that he met with high-level Russian business executives, including Aras Agalarov, and government officials during his 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. “I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals and top-of-the-government people,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you I met the top people.”

It seems Mueller wants him to go further than that.

Fareed’s Global Briefing

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks.

March 27, 2018

The Awkward Truth About That Poke in the Eye for Putin

The US decision to join European allies in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats sends a pointed message to Moscow about Western unity. But such expulsions are also an outdated weapon – and one that could end up hurting the United States, suggests Steven Hall for The Cipher Brief.

“[W]henever we get into these expulsion battles with the Russians, we pay a significant price because they will in turn reciprocate by expelling American diplomats, and they will try to expel as many intelligence officers as they can identify,” Hall writes.

“Expelling diplomats is a good first step, but it is a little bit of fighting the war with very old weapons when the Russians have already moved on to the next generation—and that’s my biggest concern. Russia is defining this new form of warfare with hybrid warfare, attacking Western elections and at least attempting and setting the battlefield to conduct cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the US—and we’re responding by expelling diplomats, which is a Cold War era tactic.

“We need to find better ways to push back against specifically Vladimir Putin, for example keeping them out of the SWIFT international banking system for a specific period of time to show how serious this is. We need to have a conversation about perhaps removing Russia from international organizations where they value their participation greatly because it gives them a sense of being a great power.”

Did Kim Take the Family Playbook to the Dragon’s Lair?

The White House refused Tuesday to confirm reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself was a passenger on a mysterious armored train spotted in China. If he was, that could make things even more complicated for the Trump administration, suggests Charlie Campbell in TIME. After all, the Kims have played this game before.

“Owing to pressure from Trump, Beijing has been enforcing the sanctions comparatively strictly, slashing imports of North Korea coal and labor that form the regime’s main cash cow. But Beijing and Washington are only loosely aligned, and over the decades the Kim dynasty has been deft at exploiting the cracks between adversaries to further its goals,” Campbell writes.

“It’s too early to say that any meeting means a rapprochement between the historic allies, which have grown estranged over recent decades as China flourished under ‘reform and opening’ while North Korea festered in impoverished isolation. Xi may just be signaling to Trump and Moon that he will not be sidelined in any negotiations to end North Korea’s nuclear program.

“But if Kim is ready to make concessions, then the fractures among nearby nations may widen.”

No, Repealing the Second Amendment Would Be a Bad Idea

The frustration of retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens over the Court’s gun rights decision in the landmark Heller case is understandable. But his call in a New York Times op-ed for the Second Amendment to be repealed is still a mistake, argues Noah Feldman for Bloomberg View.

“The First Amendment, like the rest of the Bill of Rights, has been around since 1791 without alteration. That very antiquity strengthens its protections — all of them. Opening the Pandora’s box of changing our fundamental rights because of a Supreme Court decision we don’t like threatens the very structure of the Bill of Rights itself,” Feldman writes.

“James Madison understood this very well. He hoped for the Constitution to ultimately earn ‘veneration.’ Although he recognized that the Constitution had to allow for amendment, he also wanted to avoid the rush to change that would have come with further constitutional conventions, which he hoped to hold off.”

“If you believe that the Supreme Court has the legitimate authority to find the constitutional rights to abortion, gay marriage and freedom to burn the flag, then you had better acknowledge that the court also has the legitimacy to expand the Second Amendment — even if you disagree with that judgment.”

Why the Arab World Suddenly Hearts Israel

The muted Arab reaction to President Trump’s announcement on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was just the latest example of a dramatic shift in the region, write Shai Feldman and Tamara Cofman Wittes for Foreign Policy. Israel is suddenly uncontroversial – and it’s not just a rising Iran that is uniting former foes.

“The recent 10-year, $15 billon agreement signed between Israeli and Egyptian companies for the sale of natural gas is a game-changer in Arab-Israeli politics. This agreement will allow Egypt to profit from liquefying and re-exporting the purchased gas to Europe and Africa, boosting its prospects as a regional energy hub and creating economic interdependence between two former enemies,” they write.

“No less significant are new opportunities for economic interdependence between Israel and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council rooted in Israel’s technological prowess and innovation economy…Just imagine the potential for civilian tech cooperation as Gulf states move to diversify their economies away from their complete dependence on oil and gas revenues to more service-based, technology-based, and knowledge-based economies.

“The growing advantages to Arab states of cooperation with Israel are further boosted by a parallel decline in Arab governments’ interest in the Palestinian issue. While these governments remain formally commitment to the Palestinian cause, they also show growing signs of fatigue regarding all matters Palestinian.”

China’s Big Lesson for America

In focusing on China’s trade practices – including announcing about $60 billion in tariffs – the Trump administration is missing the biggest lesson of China’s economic rise, suggests Steven Rattner in The New York Times. Beijing is making dramatic strides as it invests in its future – and the United States looks like it’s standing still.

“To be sure, China is a long way from overtaking the United States. Its gross domestic product per person is just $9,380, compared with $61,690 in the United States. Less visible than the sleek modern skyscrapers that now dominate China’s cityscapes are the 700 million people — about half of China’s population — who still live on $5.50 per day or less,” Rattner writes.

But “China continues to build airports, subway systems, renewable-energy facilities and the like at a torrid pace. Even its longstanding pollution problem is being addressed.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we rewrite our Constitution to emulate China. And I certainly understand the loss of freedom and civil liberties under the Chinese system. But that doesn’t mitigate the need for us to get our government to perform the way it did in passing the New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

Trump’s “Favorite” Middle East Strongman Should Be Worried

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is bound to win the ongoing presidential election. But don’t be fooled, writes Alexia Underwood for Vox. A sluggish economy for young people and growing political repression are storing up trouble that could ultimately explode in revolution.

“While overall employment has decreased to about 11 percent, almost 80 percent of people without jobs are young people,” Underwood notes. “A 2016 Brookings Institution report argues that if the Egyptian government does not deal with youth unemployment soon, ‘it will likely face instability — and perhaps another uprising — in the years to come.’”

“Sisi’s popularity also took a hit when he made the highly controversial decision to cede two islands in the Red Sea, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. The islands, located between the two countries, are uninhabited and had been controlled by Egypt for the past 60 years. Sisi was accused of ‘selling’ them to the Saudis in exchange for investment money and aid.”

“It remains to be seen if this growing discontent with Trump’s favorite Middle Eastern authoritarian leader will build, or fizzle out in the next few years. But if history is any indication, Sisi should be careful.”

Courtesy: CNN

Presidents for life? A conversation about Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin

Presidents for life? A conversation about Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin in Moscow on July 4, 2017. (Alexander Nemenov / AFP/Getty Images)

 

When China’s Communist Party proposed amending the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, allowing President Xi Jinping to rule for the foreseeable future, two names consistently came up among China-watchers searching for comparisons.

One was predictable enough: Mao Tse-tung, whose iron-fisted leadership in the 1950s through ’70s led to the deaths of millions.

The other was Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has found a way around Russia’s term limits and will be elected — there is no doubt — to another six-year term later this month.

Parallels between Putin and Xi are undeniable. Both project images of strength and stability. Both are avowed nationalists with territorial ambitious (Putin in Ukraine; Xi in the South China Sea). Both gained power not through war or coup, but through patient, skilled political maneuvering.

Yet the comparison is imperfect.

The Times’ Moscow-based reporter, Sabra Ayres, and Beijing bureau chief Jonathan Kaiman recently discussed how differences between the men — and the societies they’ve shaped in their image — shed light on the spectrum of authoritarianism, the legacy of communism, and ultimately, the fate of the world. Here is their conversation:

Jonathan Kaiman: Sabra, are people in Russia paying attention to the news about Xi? If so, what do they think about it?

Sabra Ayres: I would say that the average Russians — I mean the man on the street or one of my Russian friends — aren’t paying much attention to Xi or China in general. That’s particularly true here in Moscow and the European parts of Russia. Russians in the Far East think a lot more about China, because their local economies are closely linked to trade and labor opportunities. Otherwise, what happens in China is generally seen as Beijing’s “internal affairs” — a common phrase repeated on Russian state television about any country and used by the Kremlin to remind people that it’s the West, not Russia, that meddles in other countries’ domestic politics.

The news about China’s constitutional change was covered by the state media here, but only in the sense that it was an event that happened. The Russian television news, where most Russians still get their information, is dominated by anti-American themes. You can see how this plays out: A December 2017 public opinion survey conducted by the Levada Center here in Moscow asked respondents to name Russia’s biggest enemy. Sixty-eight percent said it was the U.S., while only 2% said China.

In 2008, Putin skirted around the consecutive, two-term presidential limit by becoming prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev. That same year, Russia amended its constitution to extend the presidential term from four to six years. Putin then returned to power in 2012. He’s now up for reelection on March 18. No one doubts he will win his fourth term and remain in power until 2024.

Are the Chinese following news about Russia’s election on March 18? Putin’s approval ratings are 80% here. What do the Chinese think about him?

JK: Putin is well-liked in China. Many Chinese equate Russians with toughness and bravado — some internet users call them “the warrior race” — and they see Putin as deserving of his perch. Putin will win next month “unless Mars hits Earth during the election,” said a user of zhihu.com, China’s version of Quora. Many social media users extol his tough-guy image, whether it’s him playing a Soviet folk song on the piano while visiting China last spring, riding horses shirtless, or flying with rare cranes. Xi is more aloof. His name and official portrait — half-smiling, eyes soft, skin unblemished — adorn billboards and book covers, projecting an image of benevolent authority. Xi is not one to fly with cranes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin flies in a motorized hang glider alongside two Siberian white cranes on the Yamal Peninsula in 2012.
Russian President Vladimir Putin flies in a motorized hang glider alongside two Siberian white cranes on the Yamal Peninsula in 2012. (Alexei Druzhinin / Associated Press)

 

What Chinese internet users rarely talk about is Putin’s legacy of repression. Chinese authorities restrict public criticism of, well, authoritarianism, and any jabs at Putin’s hard-line policies — or his alleged corruption — might edge too close to the line.

How repressive is Putin’s Russia, really? What are the “red lines” for dissent?

SA: When it comes to politics in Russia, there’s not much room for maneuvering around Putin’s managed democracy. Technically, there are eight candidates running for president on March 18. Putin is of course among them. But in reality, there’s really only one candidate, with a few side characters generally assumed to be approved by the Kremlin to make it look like a legitimate election.

In Russia, you don’t want to be seen as part of what Putin has called “the fifth column” — nongovernmental organizations cooperating with foreign donors, human rights activists, opposition leaders or outspoken journalists. To the Kremlin, these are the groups that are trying to destroy Russia from within.

There’s also a new red line that was drawn after the Crimean annexation in 2014: being unpatriotic. Putin once called the breakup of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Russians saw Putin taking back Crimea as restoring Russia to greatness. The Kremlin encouraged that image, and discourages bringing up some of Russia’s most difficult moments in history, such as Stalin’s political repressions. Those who have pointed out Russian faults or mistakes have landed in jail, even for something as simple as linking a post on social media that criticized Russian involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine.

One of the ways Putin has managed to remain so popular is that he has perpetuated the idea that Russia is a fortress under siege from the West, most notably America — from the Olympics ban to the “Russophobia” growing in Washington.

Does this sound similar to the situation in China?

JK: Xi truly believes in the Chinese Communist Party, and, like Putin, appears to believe liberal democracy has no place in his country’s political life. He has overseen China’s worst tightening of public expression since the early 1990s, with crackdowns on human rights lawyers, journalists, universities, religion, the internet, virtually all potential bastions of free thought. Most prominent Chinese dissidents are in jail, or exile, or under crushing surveillance. The term limit’s abolition “signals the likelihood of another long period of severe repression,” Jerome Cohen, a professor at New York University and expert in Chinese law, wrote in a blog post.

The move also precipitated its own rash of censored topics — on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, forbidden terms include “reelection,” “proclaiming oneself an emperor,” and “I don’t agree.” Censors have even blocked images of Winnie the Pooh, whose rotund frame and bemused expression have reminded countless web users of their leader.

SA: What does Xi’s move to potentially stay in power indefinitely mean for the U.S.?

JK: U.S. policymakers are probably concerned that the world’s second-largest economy, and the U.S.’s largest trading partner, could be run unchecked by a single man, with his own anxieties and caprices. Like Putin, Xi is an unabashed nationalist. Yet, unlike Russia, China appears poised to challenge the U.S. as the world’s top power. Xi has assured Chinese control over contested swaths of the South China Sea with an assertive island-building campaign, and his “Belt and Road Initiative” has pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure projects across Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, shoring up political support in areas where U.S. influence is waning. Putin may be moving into Ukraine and targeting the U.S. with cyberattacks, but Xi has his eyes on the globe. Unchecked rulers are known to make mistakes — just look at Mao — and the stakes for Xi couldn’t be higher.

Posters depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping next to former Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, left, and Deng Xiaoping, right, in Shanghai on March. 1, 2018.
Posters depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping next to former Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung, left, and Deng Xiaoping, right, in Shanghai on March. 1, 2018. (Associated Press)

 

When Putin’s tenure inevitably ends, what will that look like? What are the dangers of not having a clear succession plan, or even a mechanism?

SA: There’s lot of speculation on what a post-Putin Russia would be like. Most everyone believes he will handpick a successor before he makes his exit. But there’s even speculation about whether he will retire in 2024 — assuming he wins reelection on March 18. He’ll be 72.

Putin himself was a surprise successor handpicked by former President Boris Yeltsin in 1999. A friend once told me that when Yeltsin announced his name on national television, she and her family turned to each other and asked, “Who?!”

Some have speculated that Putin’s priority will be to find a successor who will prolong the kleptocracy built during his two decades in office. If that’s the case, the person would guarantee that Putin could retire and never face prosecution should there ever be an investigation into allegations of Kremlin-connected corruption scandals.

But lots of questions remain. Political insiders say there are two camps now vying for Putin’s favor behind the red-brick walls of the Kremlin. One camp believes in a more liberalized economy to boost Russia’s growth and modernization. Another group, mostly made up of former KGB agents like Putin, wants to hang on to the strict government controls over the economy and political process. Everyone will be watching how this tug-of-war plays out over the next six years.

Courtesy: L A Times

UN calls for global disarmament amid surging arms sales

With global arms sales rising, the UN chief has urged more “direction to the global disarmament agenda.” He warned that initiatives have been abandoned while “military power is glorified.”

Confiscated weapons in Argentina

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday announced a “new initiative” to encourage global disarmament at the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.

Arms sales have increased after years of decline, according to a report on the global arms industry published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) last year.

Read more: UN’s Arms Trade Treaty ‘too weak to make a difference’

Arms trade thriving

  • Guterres said that “global arms trade is thriving in a way not seen since the Cold War.”
  • Initiatives aimed at decreasing the size of militaries across the world have “been abandoned,” he noted, while “military power is glorified.”
  • He warned of new threats likely to emerge from technological developments, including lethal autonomous weapons.
  • He called for “greater impetus and direction to the global disarmament agenda,” saying Japanese diplomat Izumi Nakamitsu will consult with UN member states on a wider strategy.

Read more: ‘Killer robots’: autonomous weapons pose moral dilemma

Infographic showing share of global arms sales in 2016

Why are arms sales growing: The SIPRI report showed that growth was linked, in part, to increased production from armaments groups, particularly in the US. In Germany, arms manufacturers witnessed greater demand for their products in Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

What is the UN doing about it: Since 2013, more than 100 countries have signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which aimed to regulate the trade of conventional weapons. However, human rights groups and arms monitors have criticized the implementation of the treaty, citing a lack of transparency and weak oversight. For example, Germany sold weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE until last month despite their involvement in a gruesome war in Yemen.

Read more: German arms exports: What you need to know

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.ls/aw (Reuters, AFP)

COURTESY: DW

Populism is eroding human rights across the world, says Amnesty International

The human rights watchdog has published its annual report, urging more human rights protections. Amnesty has warned that “hate-filled rhetoric” from US President Donald Trump and others has eroded human rights globally.

Watch video04:19

New Amnesty report – DW exlusive with AI’s Markus Beeko

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Thursday published its annual report, warning of increased violations across the globe.

Amnesty International’s David Griffiths told DW that they made a conscious choice to release the report in Washington, given “how President (Donald) Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric has translated into reality.”

“There are complex links between human rights abuses and social inequality,” Griffiths added. “But one of the ways we see them connected is how many leaders have exploited people’s fears about economic fragility in order to promote hatred and fear.”

Read more: Is Europe doing enough to protect human rights?

But the United States isn’t the only place to witness a dangerous erosion of human rights due to populist leaders. Across the globe, Amnesty said, political leaders have used divisive rhetoric to shore up support for their causes, including in Turkey, Hungary and Myanmar.

Defenders targeted

The report said that at least 312 human rights activists were killed in 2017 because of their work. Journalists and media workers are increasingly being targeted by state actors, it noted.

Griffiths said the number of human rights defenders killed in 2017 marked an “increase on the previous year.”

Read more: EU launches initiative to ban trade of torture products

“But it is not just killing; it is also intimidation and smears and harassment, making life very difficult for those who choose to stand up for human rights,” he said. “And those threats are coming from lots of different places, whether it is governments or armed groups or companies or others.”

70 years since Universal Declaration

The report called on Germany to do more at the international level to defend human rights, especially for the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told DW that the human rights situation is “getting alarmingly worse in many places” across the globe.

“It seems people are forgetting it now, and that’s very worrying because then you risk a repeat of many of the awful things that have happened in not-so-distant history,” Colville said.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, backed by 48 of the 58 UN member states in 1948, was created in response to the atrocities committed during World War II.

“The anniversary this year is a critical opportunity to try and reclaim those values that are articulated so beautifully in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the idea of the fundamental dignity and equality of every member of the human family,” Griffiths said.

Watch video02:03

Rohingya crisis – pictures keep memories alive

COURTESY: DW

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