Trump And The Great ‘Deflation’ Of America

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

 

Make America Great Again. America First. President Donald Trump’s professed view of, and vision for, America is unabashedly self-focused, putting the interests of the United States ahead of longtime international leadership roles in trade and democracy-building. On a grand scale, it’s been a retreat from such multilateral pacts such as the Paris climate change agreement. On a more focused level, it’s been protectionist trade moves such as the steep tariffs Trump approved this week on foreign washing machines and solar gear. If there’s a schoolyard theme to the approach of a president derided by his critics as a bully, it’s that the United States isn’t going to be pushed around anymore.

But as Trump prepares to speak before world thought leaders in Davos, Switzerland, then deliver his first State of the Union speech next week, foreign policy experts and veterans of previous administrations worry about the impact abroad and at home. The nation’s image has taken a hit among foreign nations who historically have looked to the U.S. for help and leadership, while domestically, Americans are increasingly unhappy with the government many grew up thinking was the model for the world.



“We’ve become America, the unexceptional,” laments Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. As a foreign relations analysts and professor, “my job has been telling people not to panic,” whether it’s the 9/11 attacks or other crises. But now, “it’s really problematic,” Drezner adds.

“America’s standing in the world has dropped catastrophically,” says Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, a think tank. “It could be that the golden age [of America] and the conditions that created it are coming to an end. What’s remarkable is that all of this is happening without any debate in Congress about any of this.”

Experts underscore that the United States is still a major world power, with a strong economy and a popular culture consumed and copied by people around the globe. The U.S. is a center for innovation, Rosenberg notes. And to be sure, it is a place where 11 million undocumented immigrants are desperately hoping to stay, and where millions more hopeful immigrants would like to live.

But recent trends – including, but not limited to, the election, bombastic rhetoric and policies of Trump – have given the country a serious branding issue. The 2018 Best Countries rankings have the United States dropping (again) this year, to eighth place, down from seventh last year (and fourth in 2016 before Trump took office). The Ahholt-GfK Nation Brands Index last year showed similar results, with the United States dropping from first place to sixth in the space of one year among 50 countries ranked. International tourism to the U.S. is down as is attendance by foreign students (who not only become leaders in their own countries, but subsidize tuitions of domestic students). For all the Trumpian worries about Mexicans coming to the United States illegally, there are more Mexicans going back over the border into Mexico than are migrating here (though the trend predates Trump’s election).

The U.S. economy remains a world power, but less dominant than it was. A generation that grew up being told to clean their dinner plates because “there are children starving in China” are now middle-aged, looking at an Asian economic and political power that greatly challenges the American influence. While the U.S. still has the largest economy in the world, perception among important U.S. trading powers show that China is eclipsing that role. According to a Pew study, seven European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, see China as the world’s leading economy. And the U.S. Is no longer one of the ten best countries to start a business in. It fell from number seven in 2017 to 13 this year in the Best Countries rankings.

Some of the trends pre-date Trump, while others appear to be a direct result of Trump’s election and policies. He pulled out of the Paris accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership for global trade, and has talked about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, a pact Trump repeatedly has said is a bad deal for the United States but which free traders in his own party argue has been good for the economies of all three nations.

The trade moves, particularly the recent tariffs on washing machines and solar products, are not surprising from Trump, who owes his Electoral College victory to states like Michigan and Wisconsin which were hit hard from competition from overseas manufacturers, notes James Roberts, a former foreign service officer and an economics research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. But Roberts adds that global trade is here, and not going back. “We don’t want to make it easier for hard-working Americans to lose more ground, but we also know we have to be realistic. We aren’t going to be able to turn the clocks back,” Roberts says.

And Trump has been direct, too, about how much American effort and military might he’s willing to expend on so-called “nation-building,” laying out a doctrine of “principled realism” in a speech last August at Ft. Myer in Arlington, Va. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other counties in our own image. Those days are now over,” the president said. And while the words were welcome to those who have grown weary of the burden of being the world’s policeman, others view the foreign policy doctrine and retreat from global agreements as part of a pattern that will cause deep wounds – all self-inflicted – with America’s relationships. The crisis with North Korea is a case in point, veteran diplomat Michael Froman, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, noted at a symposium the center held last week on Trump’s first year.

“There’s a risk that we go from being the indispensable nation to being isolated to being irrelevant,” said Froman, who was U.S. Trade Representative and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. A recent Gallup poll suggests Froman is not overstating it: median approval among 134 countries and areas of U.S. leadership is at a new low of 30 percent down from 48 percent in 2016. And the Best Countries data show that the U.S.’s political stability rating, as judged by the rest of the world, went from 11th in 2016, before Trump was elected, to 23rd in 2018.

Meanwhile, Americans themselves aren’t too happy with their own government and institutions. Aside from survey after survey showing low approval ratings for both the president and Congress, pride in the country’s very democracy is eroding. More than a third of Americans – 36 percent – say they are not proud of the way the country’s democracy is working, down from 18 percent three years ago, according to a poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. Seven in ten say the nation’s political divisions are at least as big as during the Vietnam War. A Pew Research Center poll in December found that 60 percent of Americans believe Trump’s election has led to worse race relations in the country.

A separate Pew poll found that a paltry 18 percent of Americans feel they can trust the government in Washington to do what’s right “just about always’ or most of the time.” And an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reveals that Americans have limited confidence in almost every pillar of the country’s government and democracy, including the nation’s public schools, courts, organized labor and banks. Clocking in even lower on the confidence level were big business, the presidency, the political parties and the media. For the first time, a president went into the week before his State of the Union with the possibility that the government would not be open as he spoke because of disagreements within Congress and between Congress and the White House over immigration and children’s health care. During the standoff, Capitol Hill Republicans said they weren’t sure what the president wanted in the critical negotiations.

Congress approved a three-week fiscal extension earlier this week, sparing both branches of government that public embarrassment at Trump’s Tuesday speech to Congress.

“I do think its dangerous and it’s certainly possible that we got into a situation that is extremely hard to get out of,” says Michael Hanmer, a University of Maryland professor and research director of the school’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

“There’s a ton of disagreement on issues and how to do things. The only real agreement is that government isn’t working well,” Hanmer says. “The institutions that we fall back on are broken, and there’s a lack of faith in [both] those institutions and the people running those institutions.”

International relations professor David Rothkopf attributes much of the shaky world standing to Trump – but that also means the United States can recover. Much of the “reshuffling” of the world order, too, is due to the separate development in other nations, including Germany and France as well as China, he notes.

“It’s clear that the U.S. standing is falling in these polls. It’s also clear that some of that is due to the Trump presidency, so we have to wonder to what extent that is temporary,” says Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “America is not its president” alone, he says. Trump administration officials, meanwhile, assure Americans that this president is not engineering a global retreat. “America first does not mean America alone,” Gary Cohn, head of Trump’s National Economic Council, told reporters ahead of Trump’s Davos visit. But for the moment, at least, America is not in first place.

With Some Countries, China Is in the Red

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

With Some Countries, China Is in the Red

Supply chains and commodity needs mean China doesn’t run massive trade surpluses with everyone
August 20, 2017, 8:00 AM EDT

From

China’s big trade surpluses hog all the headlines, but imbalances go both ways.

South Korea’s $72.2 billion surplus with the People’s Republic in fact tops a list of more than 40 nations that export more to the country than they import from it, followed by Switzerland and Australia, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Besides commodity exporters such as Iran and machinery producers like Germany, smaller economies such as Ireland, Finland and Laos round out the tally.

Imports by the world’s biggest exporter show how its humming factories prop up other economies – and for some of those, what’s on the line should they find themselves involved with territorial disputes or geopolitical tensions with one of their biggest customers.

In Asia, South Korea and Malaysia are among the most vulnerable to China’s economic arm-twisting, while Japan and Vietnam look relatively immune, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates based on their trade surpluses with China as a share of total output.

One of China’s biggest appetites is for machines and electronics from South Korea, Malaysia and Germany, according to World Bank data from 2015, the most recent year available.

Semiconductors from South Korea and Malaysia account for much of that as they’re brought in and then installed in other electronic products assembled in China’s factories.

The iPhone itself is an ecosystem that illustrates the global reach of far-flung supply chains. China’s assembly lines for the device incorporate expensive components imported from sources including Germany, Japan, South Korea, the U.S. and Taiwan.

Such complex and crucial trade relationships give South Korea something of a buffer against Chinese reprisals like those it faced last year after agreeing to install a U.S. missile defense system.

“Eighty percent of Korean exports to China are intermediate goods, and everyday people can’t see them from the outside or feel them,” said Yang Pyeongseob, a senior research fellow at the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy in Beijing.

China’s factories, construction sites, vehicles soak up oil, metal and materials from commodity exporters around the world, so when the economy sneezes it spurs big swings in things like the Australian dollar or Mongolian gross domestic product.

Those two countries are key suppliers of iron ore, precious metals and coal. Meanwhile, oil from Angola, Oman, Iran, and Venezuela helps keep China’s cars and trucks running, and Turkmenistan sends natural gas. Chile offers metal, mainly copper, but wine and cherries are more familiar South American imports on Chinese supermarket shelves.

Swiss trade is driven by pharmaceuticals, chemicals and precision instruments and watches. The surplus size may have been distorted by commodities trading, which doesn’t necessarily lead to actual shipments.

South Africa’s shipments include diamonds, gold and wine. Elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, Brazil was China’s top overseas source of soybeans, soy oil, beef and sugar last year, according to China’s Ministry of Commerce. The most populous nation imported 38 million tons of soybeans alone from Brazil last year.

And farmers in New Zealand are increasingly stocking those supermarket shelves for more discerning consumers. China imported more lamb from New Zealand than anywhere else, the most wheat from Australia, and the largest amount of fruit and nuts from Chile.

 

 

— With assistance by Catherine Bosley, and Xiaoqing Pi

Couple’s Frozen Bodies Found on Glacier 75 Years After Disappearance

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

‘We Spent Our Lives Searching For Them.’ Couple’s Frozen Bodies Found on Glacier 75 Years After Disappearance

8:17 AM ET

The frozen bodies of a couple who disappeared 75 years ago have been discovered side by side on a glacier near a ski lift above the Les Diablerets resort in the Swiss alps.

Marcelin and Francine Dumoulin, who were 40 and 37 years old at the time of their disappearance, went missing after going to feed their cattle on a mountain pasture above Chandolin, on August 15, 1942. It was the first time Francine Dumoulin had accompanied her husband on such an excursion, the Swiss publication Le Matin reports.

For months after the couple’s disappearance, local villages carried out various search operations, to no avail. “One day, we had to [accept] the obvious,” the couple’s youngest daughter, Marceline Udry-Dumoulin, told Le Matin. “They were not coming back.”

Udry-Dumoulin, who is now 79 and became an orphan when she was four, said she and her six siblings spent their “whole lives” looking for their parents, “without stopping.” She told Le Matin that they hoped to give them “the funeral they deserved one day.”

“I climbed the glacier three times afterwards, always looking for them,” she said. “I kept wondering if they had suffered and what had become of them. I now have the pleasure of having answers to these questions.”

The couple’s bodies were discovered last week and their identity investigated by the Valais police. They were wearing World War II-era clothing and were said to be “perfectly preserved” in the glacier. According to Le Matin, such discoveries are becoming increasingly common as the glacier continues to melt.

U.S. Missile Attack On Syrian Shayrat Airfield Was Significant But Insufficient

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Shayrat Attack… Significant but Insufficient

Last week’s morning was a turning point in the US dealing with the Syrian crisis. When 59 missiles Tomahawk were launched towards Shayrat airport, this was the first direct attack by the |United States on Bashar Al-Assad regime since the beginning of the revolution six years ago.

The attack has stopped a US clinical sleep towards complications of a war that has resulted in the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. Surely, speaking about whether the US has started practically correcting its stance is early. This might be a sole step and reaction for a massacre that was one among many committed by Assad’s regime – but it is at least a sign that the world is facing a new US administration that has done in less than four months what has not been done by the former administration in eight years.

The attack on Shayrat airbase, although it was surprising and important, is a small step in changing the field condition and ending the Syrian tragedy. Maybe, if the attack happened when Barack Obama threatened with the “red line” in 2013 and before the Russian military intervention then its influence might have been bigger – it might have contributed to supporting the opposition and putting huge pressure on Assad’s regime.

One strike will not change the horrible way Assad treats civilians and will not affect his power, even if it prevents him from using chemical weapons soon. Nonetheless, Washington believes that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapon in Khan Sheikhoun massacre and, thus, it should be punished.

During the Iranian-Iraqi war, the US supported Iraq against Iran, but soon after that it turned against Saddam Hussein regime after it used chemical weapons in Kurdistan. Also, Shayrat attack might be viewed as a warning to Moscow that their might be consequences for the acts of its ally, Assad.

Russians deceived the international community in 2013 agreement that admitted Assad has submitted his ammunition of chemical weapons, although Moscow knew that Assad kept some storage that was used later on without facing any real consequences by the international community.

Throughout the past years, the regime has carried out airstrikes that killed hundred thousands of innocent Syrians – it used the tactics of starving and bombing hospitals as well as chemical attacks. Despite that, Assad did not face any real consequences, not even once, for his barbarism. However, this time, the Trump administration saw that it has to destroy one of Assad’s airbases to prevent warplanes from striking innocent people and dropping Sarin gas on them.

It is true that the US attack is a huge symbolic step but it will be considered a limited tactic if compared to the facts on ground. If Trump’s slogan was “America first” then this does not necessarily mean acting indifferently towards the world matters but means that America stays strong and leads the world.

The US is not Switzerland to act impartially towards international conflicts and 50 Tomahawk missiles alone will not trigger a huge change. If the US chooses the relatively low-cost option represented in limited military response such as Cruise missiles, then it can also take an international efficient step against Assad’s regime through exerting pressure to implement the international resolutions – establishing safe zones.

As much as striking Shayrat airbase has achieved several goals, its influence will be limited with time if it remained a sole step and not a new strategy. Six years of war have proven that only Russia, Iran and “Hezbollah” are messing in the Syrian territories to support a practically collapsed regime.

The military strike at Assad’s regime might be a first step towards regaining respect to the international resolutions and pushing the international community, US in the lead, to play its role in putting an end to the Syrian tragedy.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Reality Is: Honesty Or Truthfulness Is Not Tolerated Concerning Islam

(This article is courtesy of the Times of Israel)

After 4 years, Turkish pianist cleared of insulting Islam

A Turkish court has acquitted world-renowned pianist Fazil Say of blasphemy on Wednesday, four years after he first went on trial on charges of insulting Islam in a case that raised alarm about freedom of expression in Turkey.

The Istanbul court ruling ends a long-running legal saga which began in October 2012 when Say went on trial on charges “insulting religious beliefs” in a series of Twitter posts.

In a hugely convoluted process, the Turkish classical star was initially handed a 10-month jail sentence in 2013 before a retrial was ordered the same year in which he received an identical sentence.

Turkish pianist Fazil Say, center, stands during a performance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2009 (photo credit: AP/Virginia Mayo)

Turkish pianist Fazil Say, center, stands during a performance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2009 (photo credit: AP/Virginia Mayo)

But the Supreme Court of Appeal in October 2015 overturned the sentence, sending it back to a lower court for a final ruling.

And the Istanbul court on Wednesday supported the appeal court decision to overturn the sentence against Say and ruled he should be acquitted, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Say, 45, has played with orchestras across the world including in Berlin, New York, Tokyo and Israel and regularly gives sold-out solo recitals that often mix Mozart with Turkish traditional sounds.

The charismatic pianist — who is also a renowned composer — was prosecuted for Twitter posts in 2012 that allegedly attacked Muslims.

One of which was a re-tweet which said: “I am not sure if you have also realized it, but all the pricks, low-lives, buffoons, thieves, jesters, they are all Allahists. Is this a paradox?”

Jailed Princess: Will She Be Freed, Exiled, Killed, Or Become President?

(This article is courtesy of the Washington Post)

Uzbek president’s death puts a new spotlight on the strange story of the country’s ‘jailed princess’

September 3 at 7:25 AM

As the head of an authoritarian regime sometimes likened to North Korea, Islam Karimov was known to be ruthless. The president of Uzbekistan whose death became public Friday was accused of having his political opponents jailed, exiled or even killed.

A particularly delicate case, however, is his daughter Gulnara Karimova, 42, who was believed to be one potential successor of Karimov until a few years ago.

Her fall demonstrated how divided a country Uzbekistan had become — and how brutal Karimov’s leadership had turned.

Karimova made headlines in 2014, when she was put under house arrest by her father. Secret recordings, obtained by theBBC and published that year, offered a firsthand account of how Uzbekistan’s once-most prominent face has turned into the country’s most famous prisoner.

In the secret recordings that were later sent abroad via USB stick, Karimova said: “I’m not talking about myself now. We need medical help.” She indicated that “no one [answered] why we’re kept in the house,” and she seemed particularly worried about her daughter Iman, who suffers from a heart condition.

Did Islam Karimov consider his daughter a threat to his own popularity?

According to a confidential U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008, published by Wikileaks, Karimova used to be a favorite of her father and was simply referred to as the “Uzbek princess.” After graduating from Harvard in June 2000, she became adviser to several foreign affairs officials and advanced to the position of deputy foreign minister.

In a 2005 U.S. cable, she was described as “the single most-hated person” in the country. According to the cable, she was perceived as greedy, power-hungry and interested in using her father’s power to her own financial advantage. The diplomatic analysis concluded that recent PR campaigns “promoting [her] virtue and selflessness [were] likely part of a larger strategy to clean up the First Daughter’s image.” Another file from 2010 specifies that by then, Karimova was believed to own the largest conglomerate of Uzbekistan, which she used “in support of [her] private business interests.” But then, things started to go wrong.

When the suspicious conglomerate was abruptly shut in 2010, Karimova moved on to become ambassador to Spain and the Uzbek representative to the United Nations in Geneva. At the same time, she successfully worked on an alternative career as a singer. John Colombo, who produced one of her music videos, told theBBC that, back then, Karimova “owned the country. She was everywhere.” As her alter-ego GooGoosha, she dominated Uzbek radio stations and, according to Colombo, “people seemed to love her” — a remarkable change after having been described as the most-hated Uzbek only years earlier.

The glamour of her music videos, however, didn’t win over her critics. At a runway show in New York promoting Karimova’s brands in 2011, protesters demanded an end to alleged child labor in Uzbekistan and tried to raise awareness of the precarious human rights situation in the country. The show was canceled by organizers of New York Fashion Week.

In 2011, the Associated Press critically described Karimova: “Glamour queen. International diplomat. Plunderer of the poor.” In 2013, she was overwhelmed by a major corruption scandal in Sweden, in which journalists made public that Telecommunications giant TeliaSonera had allegedly bribed Uzbek officials to enter the country’s mobile phone market. Despite denials from TeliaSonera, the path of the money was traced back by prosecutors to Karimova — a scandal in which she seems to have lost the loyalty and support of her dictatorial father.

Karimova faced a separate investigation related to money laundering in Switzerland in March but is believed to have already been under house arrest back home by then. According to the Economist, Uzbek tax prosecutors had recently begun to look into her businesses.

Her empire rapidly crumbled: Charities and TV stations belonging to her were shut down, luxury stores and jewelry lines she had founded were closed. Although her Twitter account has since been suspended, she voiced loud protest on the social media platform, writing that the forced closures were “a serious attack on civic organizations, and on thinking society as a whole.”

Within only six years, Karimova went from being Uzbekistan’s deputy foreign affairs minister to the reputed owner of the country’s largest conglomerate. After working in secret, she became the most prominent face and voice of the Uzbek nation. Then, she turned into one of the most outspoken critics of the country’s government. Photos sent to The Washington Post in 2014 appeared to show confrontations between Karimova and her guards, while she was under house arrest.

Such confrontations “occur all the time whenever she tries to go out the door, to get some air or to see if people are around and particularly when she is requesting extra food,” her spokesman, Ryan Locksley, told The Post then.

Karimov’s death has now put a new spotlight on the fate of his daughter, who was once supposed to succeed him.

A version of this post was first published in 2014. It was updated Sept. 3, 2016. 

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