Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

China Started the Trade War, Not Trump (China started it long before Trump became president)

March 24, 2018

Unlike with steel and aluminum tariffs, economists see merit in Trump’s trade case against China

President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs were widely panned for hitting both China and law-abiding allies like Canada and western Europe alike. Above, a steel plant in China's Shandong province.
President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs were widely panned for hitting both China and law-abiding allies like Canada and western Europe alike. Above, a steel plant in China’s Shandong province. PHOTO: -/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

If there’s a trade war between the U.S. and China, don’t blame Donald Trump : China started it long before he became president.

Even free traders and internationalists agree China’s predatory trade practices—which include forcing U.S. business to transfer valuable technology to Chinese firms and restricting access to Chinese markets—are undermining both its partners and the trading system.

Mr. Trump’s China crackdown is risky, but it’s on firmer legal, political and economic ground than many of his other trade complaints, for several reasons.

1. These products are different: The classic case for free trade predicts that each country specializes where it has a comparative advantage, lowering costs and raising incomes for everyone. If China subsidizes exports of steel to the U.S., in theory the U.S. still benefits because consumers and steel-using industries will have lower costs, and while some steel jobs will disappear, more productive jobs elsewhere will take their place.

But starting in the 1980s, economists recognized that comparative advantage couldn’t explain success in many industries such as commercial jetliners, microprocessors and software. These industries are difficult for competitors to enter because of steep costs for research and development, previously established technical standards, increasing returns to scale (costs drop the more you sell), and network effects (the more customers use the product, the more valuable it becomes).

In such industries, a handful of firms may reap the lion’s share of the wages and profits (what economists call rents), at the expense of others. China’s efforts are aimed at achieving such dominance in many of these industries by 2025.

“China is undermining or taking away some of our rents, so we are relatively worse off and they are better off,” says Dartmouth College economist Douglas Irwin, author of “Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy.” Unlike Mr. Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum, “a lot of economists would hold their fire in terms of attacking Trump for his China actions. I don’t think anyone can really defend the way China has moved in the past few years, violating intellectual property and forced technology transfer.”

2. The WTO isn’t enough: When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, many advocates thought it would play by the global rules against advantaging its own firms and hurting others. Instead, China does so anyway in ways not easily remedied by the WTO.

Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, notes that a WTO case typically requires evidence from an aggrieved company. But many foreign companies are reluctant to complain about their treatment in China for fear of retaliation, such as being investigated for antitrust, consumer abuse, fraud or espionage, or losing sales to state-controlled companies. With no balance of powers or independent courts, “there is no rule of law to constrain Chinese officials from implementing arbitrary and capricious mercantilist policies,” Mr. Atkinson and two co-authors wrote in an extensive critique of China a year ago.

It is also difficult to hold China accountable for its WTO obligations because its system is so opaque. Mr. Atkinson says many discriminatory measures aren’t published, or published only in Chinese. When the central government, under external pressure, rescinds some discriminatory measures, they reappear at the provincial and local level, he says.

3. The U.S. isn’t alone: Mr. Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs were widely panned for hitting both China and law-abiding allies like Canada and western Europe alike.

By contrast, his ire at China is widely shared. French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a unified European Union policy against Chinese corporate takeovers.

“Everyone who trades with China faces this problem,” Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s trade adviser, told reporters Thursday. “Part of the process that we’ve undergone … is to have a significant outreach to our like-minded allies and trading partners.”

On Friday, the Trump Administration initiated a case at the WTO complaining that China unfairly treats foreign companies that license their technology to Chinese entities and uses contracts that discriminate against foreign technology. ​The U.S. hopes other countries ​join the case.

4. China isn’t like Japan: For decades, Japan, like China now, sought to help Japanese firms by limiting foreign access to its market, providing direct industrial support, and pushing western companies to license their technologies. Japanese companies did catch up in autos, electronics and computers, but the U.S. leapt ahead in new industries such as software and services. Japan’s economy entered a long slump in 1992 and hasn’t entirely escaped. Some say the current panic about China is similarly misplaced.

But Japan is different. It is a military ally and is thus sensitive to U.S. pressure on trade. China is a geostrategic rival pursuing and sometimes stealing U.S. secrets for both civilian and military purposes. Where Japan is democratic and transparent, China is authoritarian and opaque.

The scale is also different. Mr. Irwin notes that in 1987, President Ronald Reagan hit $300 million worth of Japanese imports with 100% tariffs for its failure to open its market to U.S. semiconductors. That pales next to the $50 billion worth of damage Trump officials say China’s trade practices inflict.

“New plays and musicals are often tried first in Philadelphia or Boston before going to Broadway,” says Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute. “Well, Japan was Philadelphia. Now, with China, we’re on Broadway.”

Japan was reluctant to retaliate because it valued its political and strategic ties with the U.S. China under President Xi Jinping is turning more nationalist and adversarial, making it more willing to retaliate than Japan was.

This, however, means that the collateral damage of a trade war, and thus the risks of Mr. Trump’s strategy, are also much greater. The breadth of his action elevates the potential harm to American consumers, supply chains and exporters.

Mr. Irwin says it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump’s strategy is right. Taking China to the WTO might be a less dangerous approach. But he adds: “No one is saying we shouldn’t do anything.”

Write to Greg Ip at

Appeared in the March 24, 2018, print edition as ‘Beijing Deserves the Blame For Starting This Trade War.’


Sessions Fires FBI Official McCabe Two Days Before He Was to Retire

March 17, 2018


ByChris Strohm

 Updated on 
  • Bureau veteran became a favorite target of Trump, Republicans
  • McCabe says his dismissal tied to testimony on Comey firing
Andrew McCabe Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe — a favorite target for President Donald Trump and Republicans — on Friday night, two days before he was to retire.

Sessions made the politically explosive decision after the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommended that McCabe be dismissed for not being forthcoming about authorizing discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation. Sessions said he relied on internal assessments that McCabe lacked candor on multiple occasions.

The move by the attorney general appeared to open a new episode in the criminal investigation into Trump being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

McCabe responded to the decision with a combative statement saying he was the target of a political attack by Trump and that he has knowledge of events that took place after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May.

McCabe said he had been “singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the president.”

Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who is representing McCabe, said the efforts to investigate and eventually fire McCabe came after disclosures that McCabe would be a “corroborating witness” against the president.

McCabe, a 22-year veteran of the bureau, already had stepped down from the No. 2 position and went on leave in January. He planned to retire officially from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Sunday, when he turns 50 and would become eligible for his full government pension.

‘Lies and Corruption’

By firing McCabe, Sessions may have averted an intense backlash from Trump, who has used his Twitter account to criticize Sessions as well as McCabe. Shortly after midnight, Trump praised McCabe’s dismissal in a tweet.

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” the president wrote. “Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

Sessions said the decision to fire McCabe was the proper response to an investigation into his actions.

“Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately,” Sessions said in a statement.

Sessions also said: “The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability.”

But Bromwich said the decision process was unfairly rushed.

Pension Question

McCabe’s dismissal may put his pension in jeopardy, either reducing or eliminating it. He became the FBI’s acting director after Trump fired Comey last May. He served in that role until Aug. 2 when Christopher Wray took charge.

“This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally,” McCabe said in the statement.

He also said that his dismissal was part of an attempt by the Trump administration to undermine both the bureau and Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work,” McCabe added.

The bureau’s professional responsibility office found that McCabe misled Justice Department officials about his role in letting bureau officials talk to a reporter about the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton Foundation in October 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attacked McCabe on Thursday, a day when he was meeting with Justice Department officials to appeal his case.

‘Bad Actor’

“We do think it is well-documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor and should have some cause for concern,” Sanders saidin a briefing for reporters.

Trump and Republicans railed against McCabe for his role in the FBI’s decision against charging Democrat Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information in her use of private email when she was secretary of State.

They also questioned McCabe’s involvement in the FBI’s continuing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether anyone around Trump helped in the meddling. The probe is now being run by Mueller.

McCabe became a Republican target partly because he helped oversee the Clinton email investigation in 2016 even though his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organizations for an unsuccessful campaign for the Virginia state Senate the previous year.

McCabe joined the FBI in 1996 and held management positions in the counterterrorism division and the Washington field office.

The Justice Department’s inspector general also has investigated decisions made in the department and FBI before the 2016 election, including events and actions involving McCabe, and plans to release its findings in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu, like Trump, is shifting norms of government

March 2, 2018

The two are holding on to bases that seem to revel in the angst their champions are inflicting upon the elites

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US President Donald Trump, right, speak at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter's departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US President Donald Trump, right, speak at Ben Gurion International Airport prior to the latter’s departure from Israel on May 23, 2017. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

AP — It looks mainly like a legal matter, with police investigating, prosecutors deliberating, journalists digging and shady associates cutting deals. But in this season of scandal in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, not unlike in Donald Trump’s America, what’s beneath the surface may be even more revealing.

When Netanyahu and Trump meet Monday, they will share circumstances that are as strikingly similar as they are historically rare: two elected leaders who are at loggerheads with their countries’ establishments, holding on, despite scandals, to a base that, if anything, seems to delight in the angst being wrought upon many of the wealthy, the educated and the cultured.

In Netanyahu’s case, legal complications are mounting by the day, with four cases under investigation and counting, two sets of police recommendations to indict him for bribery, two states’ witnesses against him and a grim collection of aides and other associates in detention or house arrest. Netanyahu is also suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from billionaire friends and breaking the law while trying to engineer favorable media coverage.

An associate is suspected of trying to broker a deal on Netanyahu’s behalf with a judge in exchange for dropping a case against Netanyahu’s wife. Another case involves suspected kickbacks in a massive deal to purchase submarines from Germany that may have benefited a Netanyahu relative. For good measure, the story line also includes a fortune in illicit gifts of champagne and cigars, as well as side plots featuring his son joyriding to strip clubs at taxpayer expense and his wife screaming hysterically at an aide.

For your average politician in more decorous times, it would be tough to bounce back from scandals this big. But Netanyahu — who faces police questioning on Friday, before meeting with Trump at the White House on Monday — is clearly determined to try to ride it out. He might succeed: the battle lines are drawn, and people seem entrenched.

For many Israelis the most disturbing aspect of all is Netanyahu’s abandonment of the norms of governance. Beyond the cases being investigated as actual crimes, these include his decision to appoint an attorney general — the highest prosecution official in the land — from among his close associates, to use relatives and friends in sensitive government work, to agitate not just against the media and the opposition but also against the police and judiciary, and to push the envelope on expenses, including on his private home.

US President Donald Trump (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on January 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

There is a striking parallel with the United States, where Trump has sidestepped numerous norms, including the tradition that presidential candidates release their tax returns and presidents clearly divest themselves of business interests while in office and don’t denigrate the intelligence community or the media. There, as in Israel, some people welcome this shaking up of a system they don’t trust while others fear for the Republic.

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon in unsettled times. In places like Hungary and Poland, elected governments are rolling back liberties embraced after communism fell, with many people who felt left behind cheering them on. In Turkey, a popular but divisive leader now leads a country where the media is not free. In China, a leader who does not claim democratic credentials is consolidating powers.

In Netanyahu’s case, he can retain his office until actually convicted of a crime, which could take years. He could even run again under indictment, as he has implied he will. The rules allow all of this — but it is not the norm.

The norm for legally embattled Israeli leaders was illustrated by Yitzhak Rabin, who resigned in 1977 after his wife was found to have an unauthorized bank account in the United States, a relatively minor offense now off the books. The norm was Ehud Olmert, who announced he would step down in 2008 because of a mere police investigation — under pressure, ironically, from Netanyahu, then the opposition leader.

Netanyahu seems to have no thoughts of doing the same. He’ll fall only if the Likud party throws him out in favor of a less compromised leader, or if one of several critical coalition allies in parliament abandons ship. But it seems the long knives will only come out at public opinion’s behest, and that’s not happening right now. Recent polls show that not only is support for Likud holding steady but so is backing for Netanyahu. Never mind that half the respondents said he is corrupt — his base seems not to care.

In Israel, even more than in most places, there are factors that explain some of this.

First, Netanyahu’s policy of holding on to the West Bank for security reasons despite the presence there of millions of Palestinians has vehement support in some quarters. In the unlikely event that Trump were to table an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan next week, everyone’s energies could shift in a new direction and give Netanyahu a chance to be a statesman.

Mostly, though, it comes down to the people, from various groups, left behind by the last several decades of prosperity and change. Israel, like the United States, has high levels of inequality. This feeds simmering disdain among a hard core of people who do not share the generally liberal tendencies of those who feel more comfortable in global capitals than in their neighborhoods back home.

Netanyahu, like Trump, is an unlikely champion of the salt of the earth, a lifelong man of privilege positioned improbably as champion of those without, asserting that only he will upend a system that serves those already there.

Columnist Yossi Klein described it like this: “Pay attention to the writing on the wall. … It’s no good, it says on the wall. You screwed us then and now we’re getting you back. … You are the police, you are the media, you are the state. … We understand all too well what bribery is, they’re saying, but we’re punishing you and ignoring it.”

Netanyahu “hates the police too,” Klein wrote for the upper-crust readers of his establishment newspaper, Haaretz. “He hates the media too. And most important: He hates you.”


Xi’s economic adviser arrives in DC to avert trade chill

February 27, 2018
Image may contain: 2 people, closeup
Shawn Donnan in Washington and Tom Mitchell in Beijing 

One of Xi Jinping’s top economic advisers will be coming to Washington on Tuesday bearing promises of accelerating economic reforms in an effort to forestall a possible trade war with the US.

But Liu He, a politburo member who is set to assume responsibility for economic affairs next month, is likely to meet a frosty reception from a Trump administration preparing for a trade crackdown on China and increasingly sceptical of the value of economic dialogue with Beijing.

Mr Liu took a similar reform message to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year at which he promised a series of “reform and opening surprises” that would exceed “international expectations”.

Among the measures Chinese officials are quietly touting is the further liberalisation of the banking, services and manufacturing industries and a significant loosening of foreign shareholding limits.

Chinese officials confirmed on Monday that Mr Liu would be in the US for discussions on trade and the economic relationship until Saturday.

People with knowledge of the situation said that Mr Liu was expected to meet President Donald Trump, and was scheduled to meet senior US officials including Gary Cohn, chief economic adviser, trade representative Robert Lighthizer, and Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary. Mr Liu will also meet a group of top US businesspeople at a roundtable event.

The promises of reforms out of China have been made for a long time . . . and we haven’t seen China ready to embrace those reforms in any meaningful way

Mr Trump has made it clear that he feels the same way but he sees the US’s trade deficit with China as an impediment to better relations.

“We’ve developed a great relationship with China, other than the fact that they’ve been killing us on trade for the last long period of time — killing us, absolutely killing the United States on trade,” Mr Trump told reporters on Friday. “As much as I like and respect — really respect — President Xi, we have to straighten out the trade imbalance.”

His administration, which includes longtime China hawks such as Mr Lighthizer, is now expected to roll out a series of actions in the coming months that some fear could provoke a trade war with Beijing. Those include proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports and an investigation into China’s intellectual property practices that is widely expected to lead to tariffs and investment measures.

The fear among some in the US agricultural and business community is that those measures could lead to retaliation by Beijing against companies operating in China or imports of agricultural products such as US soyabeans, which last year were worth some $14bn.

Mr Liu is considered one of China’s most able and ascendant economic emissaries.

At the annual session of China’s parliament, which opens on March 5, Mr Liu will replace Ma Kai as vice-premier with responsibility for financial and economic affairs, according to two people briefed on the upcoming leadership changes. Unlike Mr Ma, a conservative apparatchik who spent his entire career in China, Mr Liu studied at Seton Hall University and Harvard in the 1990s and speaks fluent English.

In addition to his financial and economic portfolio, people close to Chinese policymaking circles say that Mr Liu will also play a key role in Sino-US relations, potentially replacing Wang Yang as head of China’s team for its “strategic and economic dialogue” meetings with the Trump administration.

Despite Mr Liu’s reputation as both a reformer and one of Mr Xi’s most trusted economic advisers, the two men have delivered on very few of the bold economic and financial reform measures outlined by Beijing five years ago.

Mr Liu will be meeting with Trump administration officials like Mr Lighthizer who are increasingly sceptical of dialogue with Beijing and are dismissive of past attempts at diplomacy.

The administration last year quietly suspended the annual Comprehensive Economic Dialogue with China.

In a report to Congress last month Mr Lighthizer declared that the US had “erred” in allowing China to join the World Trade Organization. “Since China’s accession to the WTO, the United States has repeatedly attempted to work with China,” his staff wrote in that report. “These bilateral efforts largely have been unsuccessful — not because of failures by US policymakers, but because Chinese policymakers were not interested in moving toward a true market economy.”

Robert Holleyman, who oversaw trade discussions with China as deputy US trade representative in the Obama administration, said Mr Liu would likely face an uphill battle in his visit to Washington this week.

“The promises of reforms out of China have been made for a long time . . . and we haven’t seen China ready to embrace those reforms in any meaningful way,” he said. “I would be surprised if the Trump administration would accept that without having the Chinese actually deliver.”

Additional reporting by Sam Fleming in Washington and Lucy Hornby in Beijing


The Alarming Reason Israeli and Palestinian Activists Are Growing Closer

January 27, 2018



Israeli freedom of speech is being called into question, and that’s pretty ironic

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

What’s the exact measure of “Israeli democracy” these days? For that, it’s helpful to get a reading through the lens of a Palestinian.

Mai Da’na lives in Hebron. Late on a winter’s night in February 2015, Israeli soldiers entered her home. For Palestinians in the West Bank, this is an everyday part of life: As the Order Regarding Security Provisions stipulates, “An officer or a soldier is authorized to enter, at any time, any place” No search warrant is required, no legal standards such as “probable cause” or “reasonable suspicion” are even relevant.

In occupied Palestine, Giorgio Agamben’s constant state of exception is not philosophy: It is reality. In fact, this reality has been going on for 50 years, almost double 26-year-old Da’na’s lifetime. To fully grasp its meaning, one need only watch the video she took that night, when soldiers barged into her home, demanding that her young children be awakened.

Unlike Da’na, I am a Jewish, Israeli citizen. I live in West Jerusalem. My situation is very different, in the million ways in which the lives of subjects and the lives of masters diverge. And yet, our spaces are interconnected.

In recent years, Da’na began volunteering with B’Tselem’s Camera Project. Women videographers have consistently distinguished themselves among the 200 or so volunteers in this citizen journalism project, which aims to depict the reality of the occupation. So, it was no wonder that, in August 2017, when the project marked its 10th anniversary, B’Tselem decided to present at the Jerusalem Cinematheque a program entitled “Palestinian Women, From the First Intifada Until Today,” featuring footage entirely shot by women – including the video by Mai Da’na.

Screening the reality of life on one side of the Green Line on the other side of that line is easy enough. But what crossed the line through that screening was much more than only those images from Hebron and other West Bank locations. Following that evening, the Israeli Ministry of Culture very publicly wrote the Ministry of Finance, demanding that funding for the Jerusalem Cinematheque be re-examined in light of its screening of films by B’Tselem volunteers. The legal basis for such a demand was codified by the Knesset back in 2011, in the shape of the “Budget Foundations Law (Amendment 40): Reducing Budget or Support for Activity Contrary to the Principles of the State.”

In recent months, Culture Minister Miri Regev has been waging a campaign against artists, screenwriters, theaters – and yes, cinemas – that dare to go ahead with events, plays or films that “incite against Israel.” According to Regev, showing the truth about Israel’s rule over Palestinians is incitement.” She wishes to exercise what she calls, in true Orwellian fashion, “freedom of funding”: the liberty not to fund artistic speech that deals with that constant state of exception in effect just a few kilometers away from the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

Non-options, non-citizens

Citizens – especially Jewish citizens – living on the Israeli side of the Green Line are generally used to exercising their free speech rights. But in occupied Palestine, free speech has been a non-option ever since August 1967, two months after the occupation began, when Order No. 101 was issued. Its point of departure is that Palestinian residents have no inherent freedom of protest or freedom of expression, and that even nonviolent resistance and civil protest involving peaceful assembly are forbidden. For 50 years, we have been defining almost any Palestinian opposition to the occupation regime as incitement, while denying basic human freedoms as free speech. Is anyone really surprised that the screening of a video collection focusing on the occupation is now framed as – of course – incitement, and that the freedom of speech of Israelis is being called into question? One cannot deny the irony in this process, which brings Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and activists closer: not because the civil space is widening in occupied Palestine, but because it is shrinking in occupying Israel.

Of course, for the millions of Palestinian non-citizens, with no political rights, whom we have been ruling by military decrees for decades, democratic space collapsed long ago. The casual vulnerability of Palestinian homes is just one example of how fragile life can be, in a place where Israel controls with impunity through arbitrary administrative decisions people’s ability to travel abroad, receive a work permit, get married, access their land, build a home – to name just a few examples.

And what of life in Israel? Equating NGOs that oppose the occupation with treasonous servants of suspect foreign powers has become routine, from the prime minister down. In this current reality, an ongoing blend of intimidation, infiltration and legislation is the new normal. The need to maintain the appearance of democratic norms has now been mostly set aside, replaced by a political appetite to demonstrate to a cheering public that the government is after the fifth column.

The efforts led by the culture minister are only a few of many like-minded initiatives. Together, these spell out the shrinking of space for free speech and for civil society. It is a process that took place mostly in the last seven years, moving forward parallel to similar downward spirals in places like Hungary, India and Turkey. The rising authoritarianism in Jerusalem can be spotted even from as far as Berlin: In June 2017 a spokesperson for the German Foreign Affairs Ministry said of Hungary that it has joined “the ranks of countries like Russia, China and Israel, which obviously regard the funding of NGOs, of civil society efforts, by donors from abroad as a hostile or at least an unfriendly act.” A few months later, Israel had the dubious honor of being featured in the UN secretary-general’s annual report on “Cooperation with the United Nations, Its Representatives and Mechanisms in the Field of authoritarianism ,” known informally as the “reprisals report.”

Funding cuts

From Mai Da’na's video.
From Mai Da’na’s video.From Youtube

Of all the efforts made to act against human rights NGOs, the most steadfast one has been to try and curtail access to international funding. But the government cannot simply pass a law to which an addendum with the list of undesirable groups will be attached – that would be too blunt. It took several years and a few legislative iterations, until an administrative criterion that would apply almost exclusively to the, well, undesirables was identified: groups with a relatively high percentage of “foreign state-entity funding.” As foreign governments quite obviously are more likely to invest in promotion of human rights than in the advancement of the occupation, by looking at an NGO’s relative funding from such sources, one can assemble a de-facto list of the NGOs the government is after, without having to resort to listing them individually.

The above logic was at the core of the 2016 amendment to the Law Requiring Disclosure by NGOs Supported by Foreign State Entities, which stipulates that groups receiving 50 percent or more of their funding from “foreign state-entity” sources will practically need to identity themselves as foreign agent NGOs. The amendment was initially marketed as “advancing transparency.” Yet that was never the real issue, as NGOs were already required by law to make a public annual report of all donations they received of 20,000 shekels (about $5,900) and above. Moreover, since 2011, non-profit organizations are required to file quarterly reports of all donations from foreign state-entity sources. At all events, since the law was passed, it has served as the staging ground for further legislation, completely removed from “transparency,” but rather quite transparently about yet more public shaming and administrative limitations and burdens on human rights NGOs.

The amendment does not prevent receipt of foreign funding. However, in June 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly confirmed that he had tasked Tourism Minister Yariv Levin with formulating a new bill that would block foreign governmental funding to nonprofits, in an effort explicitly targeting human rights groups opposing the occupation. Minister Levin explained to Haaretz the change in the government’s position, from promoting a bill that did not limit foreign governmental funding to seeking legislation that would block it. He explained that the new U.S. administration has made it possible: “It wouldn’t have made it through in the period of the Obama administration. They were very uneasy about the bill. The present administration has no problem with it.”

Crossing the line

Palestinians cannot easily cross the Green Line and enter Israel: special permits are needed. Authoritarian thinking, however, needs no such permit, a green light from the powers that matter will suffice. Similarly, the winds blowing from Washington appear to be felt on both sides of the Green Line. A few weeks after Levin’s interview, it was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who used almost identical language – but now in the context of actions on the other side of the Green Line, namely, the possibility of going ahead with the demolition of entire Palestinian villages – Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem, and Sussia in the South Hebron Hills.

Mai Da’na’s footage also crossed the Green Line. Its modest screening in Jerusalem to an audience of 100 or so viewers was sufficient to trigger a McCarthy-style governmental review of one of Israel’s most established cultural institutions. For, to enable further oppression of Palestinians, stronger silencing of Israelis is now deemed necessary. Our fates are intertwined.

Similarly, the international mechanisms that somewhat delayed these developments are intertwined. Not only are many international actors used to taking their cue from Washington – now under Trump – but Israel’s leadership is also currently empowered by the favorable winds blowing from the rising authoritarian powers across the globe.

As rightfully worrying as these negative developments inside Israel are, they are not the reasons why the country cannot be considered a democracy. For that, we need not focus on recent years, but open our eyes to the past half century. Israel’s rule over millions of Palestinians with no political rights has been in effect for all but the first 19 years of Israel’s existence as an independent state. That is why Israel is not a democracy, and indeed has not been one for many a decade. We live in a one-state reality between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, a state whose constant state of exception is one of masters and subjects, of millions with political rights – and millions without.

Yet, here is what I genuinely embrace: Yes, the authoritarian global realignment is real. If you have any doubts, just listen to Netanyahu, Trump, Modi, Orbán, and the many others contending to join their ranks. But it is not preordained that this will be the only global realignment witnessed by humanity in the 21st century. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is too precious an achievement, won after unimaginable human suffering. We know what is at stake. We might as well stand together so that “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” are realized, so that “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” is rock solid. There are no assurances of success: only the certainty that it is a future worth fighting for.

Hagai El-Ad is executive director of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This piece originally appeared in a longer version in “Reclaiming civic space: Insights and learning from and for activists,” a special edition of the Sur International Journal on Human Rights.

Making the Dollar Weak Again — The one-two punch of protectionism and devaluation

January 25, 2018

Mnuchin and Trump want to reduce U.S. purchasing power.

Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, speaks during an Economic Club of Washington conversation in Washington, Jan. 12.
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, speaks during an Economic Club of Washington conversation in Washington, Jan. 12. PHOTO:ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

The Trump Administration contains dueling economic impulses good and bad, and this week we’ve seen the bad. First President Trump imposes tariffs on solar cells and washing machines, and a day later Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin decides to talk down the dollar.

“A weaker dollar is good for trade,” Mr. Mnuchin said from Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, and the greenback promptly tumbled to a three-year low against a basket of other currencies. The one-two punch of protectionism and devaluation also sparked a rally in gold to its highest level since August 2016.

What a spectacle: The man whose signature is on the greenback tells the world he wants its value to be lower so the U.S. can beggar its neighbors on trade. Mr. Trump has also said he favors a weak currency, and the buck has fallen some 8% in his first year.

The Sinking DollarDollar vs. the Euro, Nov. 1, 2017-Jan. 24, 2018Source: WSJ Market Data Group
Nov. ’17Dec.Jan. ’180.800.810.820.830.840.850.860.87

Someone ought to tell these fellows the history of strong- and weak-dollar presidencies. The weak include Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. The strong include Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. Perhaps Mr. Mnuchin aims to follow Michael Blumenthal, who held the Treasury job in the Carter Administration. His weak-dollar lobbying, along with an easy money policy at the Federal Reserve, led to a collapse of the dollar of more than 20% between January 1977 and October 1978 that fed higher inflation and elected Reagan.

Britain has repeated the experiment since it voted to exit the European Union in June 2016 and the central bank responded to economic weakness by cutting interest rates and more quantitative easing. By October the pound had reached a 31-year low. Inflation rose and wages stagnated, contributing to the Tory election embarrassment last year.

A weak dollar makes the U.S. worse off because Americans don’t live in an economic bubble. They buy from abroad because other countries make things Americans want or need. U.S. manufacturers import components to produce value-added goods like machinery and aircraft that are exported. Dollar devaluation makes those imports more expensive, which undermines competitiveness vis-a-vis foreign rivals. Commodities like oil and copper are traded in dollars so a weak dollar requires more of them. This is good for dictators in places like Venezuela. For Americans, not so much.

Devaluation can make the trade deficit look better for a time and there is often a short-term gain for corporate income statements. But it’s ultimately a fool’s game because the underlying terms of trade don’t change. Companies and prices adjust and, in David Ricardo’s classic formulation, one bottle of wine still equals 10 loaves of bread.

Mr. Mnuchin’s comments are all the more baffling because he and the Administration should be riding high. The U.S. is growing faster than it has in 12 years as deregulation and tax reform boost business and consumer confidence. Capital that was sidelined during the Obama years is being put to work. Unemployment is at historic lows. Why mess it up by imitating the economic policy of Argentina?

Appeared in the January 25, 2018, print edition.


This Could Be the Month of Reckoning for Trump’s Trade Agenda

January 4, 2018


By Sarah McGregor and  Andrew Mayeda

U.S. President Donald Trump

Photographer: Mike Theiler/Pool via Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s tough talk on trade could be reaching a moment of truth.

While Trump campaigned on clamping down on countries that engage in unfair trade, he managed to defer punitive actions in his first year by ordering his administration to study the challenges. Now the deadlines are approaching — some of them in just a few weeks — and the president will have the power then to move ahead with measures that could roil global trade.

Trump will have to decide whether to impose tariffs on imports of everything from aluminum and steel to solar panels and washing machines. Of course, he can always choose to do nothing or go for less heavy-handed remedies or ones that buy even more time, like negotiating a solution.

Mark your calendar with these milestones over the next month.

January 5 Talks to amend a five-year-old trade deal with South Korea take place in Washington. The U.S. wants Korea to provide more access for American cars and farm goods.
Mid-January U.S. Commerce must recommend whether to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports on national security grounds — aimed at China. Trump then has up to 90 days to take action.
January 23-28 Montreal hosts talks to revamp the Nafta pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. This sixth round is critical for a breakthrough so that efforts to rework the trade deal don’t soon collapse.
January 26 Trump is due to decide whether to take action on cheap solar panel imports to protect the U.S. manufacturing sector. The U.S. International Trade Commission has found that cheap foreign-made solar products are hurting domestic producers.
End-January The Trump administration could announce action on China’s intellectual property practices before his month-end State of the Union speech, according to industry publication Inside Trade. This could be delayed — an investigation into China’s alleged IP theft and forced technology transfers isn’t due until later this year.
Late-January The U.S. ITC is expected to give a final ruling on whether American industry has been hurt by Bombardier’s sales of passenger jets, as Boeing alleges. If the ITC sides with Boeing, duties on Bombardier C Series jets would become permanent.
Early February Trump is expected to make a decision on whether to impose tariffs on imported washing machines. The U.S. ITC has recommended imposing graduated tariffs over three years on a quota-basis.


Rex Tillerson: I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy (New York Times Op-Ed)

December 28, 2017

Rex Tillerson at the United Nations this month. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Over the past year, the United States has faced immense challenges in its dealings with North Korea, China and Russia, and in its efforts to defeat international terrorism. But Americans should be encouraged by the progress the State Department and United States Agency for International Development have made in pushing for global peace and stability.

When President Trump took office, he identified North Korea as the United States’ greatest security threat. He abandoned the failed policy of strategic patience. In its place we carried out a policy of pressure through diplomatic and economic sanctions. This year, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted three of the strongest sanctions resolutions in history, including bans on a wide array of North Korean exports such as coal, iron, seafood and textiles.

The United States has asked allies and partners to exert unilateral pressure against North Korea in order to force the regime to change its behavior. Many have responded with positive steps like shutting down trade, severing diplomatic ties and expelling North Korean laborers. Our peaceful pressure campaign has cut off roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s export revenue, much of which is used to fund illegal weapons development.

We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.

A central component of our North Korea strategy is persuading China to exert its decisive economic leverage on Pyongyang. China has applied certain import bans and sanctions, but it could and should do more. We will also continue to pursue American interests in other areas of our relationship, including trade imbalances, intellectual property theft and China’s troubling military activities in the South China Sea and elsewhere. China’s rise as an economic and military power requires Washington and Beijing to consider carefully how to manage our relationship for the next 50 years.

Defeating terrorism remains one of the president’s highest priorities. The administration’s aggressive strategy to counter the Islamic State delegates greater authority to American military commanders on the battlefield, giving our forces more freedom and speed to do what they do best, in partnership with indigenous fighting forces. As a result, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has accelerated operations and has recaptured virtually all of previously held Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria. While our military was helping clear Iraq and Syria of Islamic State forces, our diplomats were following up with humanitarian aid and assistance, such as clearing land mines, restoring water and power, and getting children back in school.

A commitment to stopping Islamist terrorism and extremism also motivated the administration’s decision to adopt a new South Asia strategy, which focuses on Afghanistan. That country cannot become a safe haven for terrorists, as it was in the days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Pakistan must contribute by combating terrorist groups on its own soil. We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorist organizations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us.

On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others’. The appointment of Kurt Volker, a former NATO ambassador, as special representative for Ukraine reflects our commitment to restoring the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Absent a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation, which must begin with Russia’s adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia.

While we are on guard against Russian aggression, we recognize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect. Nowhere is that more evident than in Syria. Now that President Vladimir Putin has committed to the United Nations-backed Geneva political process for providing a new future for Syria, we expect Russia to follow through. We are confident that the fulfillment of these talks will produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family.

Lastly, the flawed Iran nuclear deal is no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran. We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats. Part of this strategy entails rebuilding alliances with our partners in the Middle East, and in November we helped re-establish diplomatic ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We will continue to work with our allies and with Congress to explore options for addressing the nuclear deal’s many flaws, while building a like-minded effort to punish Iran for its violations of ballistic missile commitments and its destabilizing activities in the region.

I am proud of what our State Department and Agency for International Development teams around the world have accomplished this year, and our progress will continue in 2018 and beyond. To that end, we have undertaken a redesign of the State Department to strengthen our teams’ ability to deliver on our mission.

Our redesign doesn’t involve simply shifting boxes on an organizational chart. Our changes must address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations. By making changes like streamlining our human resources and information technology systems, better aligning personnel and resources with America’s strategic priorities, and reforming duplicative processes, we are giving our people more opportunities to flourish professionally and spend more time confronting the global problems they have dedicated their careers to solving.

When I wake up each morning, my first thought is, “How can I and my colleagues at the State Department use diplomacy to prevent people around the world from being killed, wounded or deprived of their rights?” In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests. My confidence comes from the knowledge that our efforts are carried out daily by patriotic and dedicated State Department employees who make sacrifices to serve with patience and persistence and who, by advancing democratic values the world over, are protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tillerson Defends U.S. Foreign Policy During Trump’s First Year

December 28, 2017


By Daniel Ten Kate

  • Former Exxon Mobil CEO hails gains in New York Times op-ed
  • Top U.S. diplomat has clashed with Trump repeatedly in 2017
Rex Tillerson.

Photographer: Patrick Doyle/Bloomberg

Rex Tillerson defended U.S. foreign policy during his first year as secretary of state, touting gains in pressuring North Korea, battling Islamic State and supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

In an op-ed titled “I am Proud of Our Diplomacy” published in the New York Times on Wednesday evening, Tillerson said Americans should be encouraged by progress made in pushing for global peace and stability. He also said a redesign of the State Department would allow diplomats to “flourish professionally” and spend more time solving global problems.

“In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests,” Tillerson wrote.

The former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. has had a bumpy year as the U.S.’s top diplomat. He’s clashed with President Donald Trump on issues from North Korea to Qatar, and faced criticism from the wider foreign-policy community for failing to fill key positions and sidelining career diplomats.

Trump rejected reports earlier this month that he was about to replace Tillerson as “FAKE NEWS,” saying that despite some disagreements “we work well together.” In the op-ed, Tillerson lauded “patriotic and dedicated” State Department employees who are “protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Tillerson Highlights

He also made the case that the administration’s foreign policy is working:

* North Korea: Tillerson said the U.S. has cut off 90 percent of the country’s export revenue, and that pressure would continue until Kim Jong Un’s regime shows it’s serious about abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

* China: Tillerson called on China to do even more to pressure North Korea, and said the U.S. would continue to pressure leaders in Beijing on trade imbalances, intellectual property theft and “troubling military activities” in the South China Sea.

* Terrorism: Tillerson said the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State has recaptured “virtually all” of the territory held by the group in Syria and Iraq, and called on Pakistan to combat terrorist groups seeking safe haven on its soil and in Afghanistan.

* Russia: Tillerson said the U.S. is on guard against election meddling and would keep up pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime until there is a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation. At the same time, he said the U.S. would work with Russia in places like Syria “where mutual interests intersect.”

* Iran: Tillerson said the nuclear deal is “no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran.” Instead, he wrote, the U.S. is “confronting the totality of Iranian threats” through rebuilding alliances in the Middle East, addressing flaws in the nuclear deal and punishing Iran for violating ballistic missile commitments.

Barack Obama tells Prince Harry: Leaders must strive to keep internet a safe ‘common space’ — “We can lead people to be radicalised.” — Swipe at Donald Trump?

December 27, 2017

Barack Obama warning over social media use in Prince Harry interview interpreted as veiled swipe at Donald Trump

Urged world leaders to promote responsible use of the technology.

Image result for Barack Obama, prince Harry, interview, photos

Leaders must ‘recreate a common space on the internet’ while fighting back against extremism and bullying, former President says

By Jon Sharman
The Independent

Barack Obama has warned that social media can leave people “cocooned” in alternate realities and urged world leaders to promote responsible use of the technology.

His words have been interpreted as a veiled reference to Donald Trump, his successor as US President, whose use of Twitter has kept diplomats, reporters and even his political allies on their toes.

Speaking to Prince Harry in an interview broadcast by the BBC, Mr Obama said that “all of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet”.

If intended as a nod in Mr Trump’s direction, the line was gentler and more oblique than the 44th President’s previous interventions in which he has told the billionaire he needs “an edit function” and to “think before you tweet”.

He has also joked that more women should be elevated to positions of power because men “seem to be having some problems these days”.

Asked by Harry whether he could have used the White House to prevent the problems of “trolling, extremism, fake news and cyber bullying” online, Mr Obama said: “Most of this is happening outside of government and in the United States in particular we have a very strong First Amendment.

“I am, as a former constitutional lawyer, pretty firm about the merits of free speech.

“The question, I think, really has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of our society, but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground?

“I’m not sure government can legislate that, but what I do believe is that all of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet.”

Mr Obama, 56, admitted that in US politics “there’s just a perpetual campaigning taking place”, adding he had developed “a very thick skin” after years of criticism of his actions.

He emphasised the importance of being offline and meeting people face-to-face.

He said: “One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.

“One of the things that I think I discovered even back in 2007, 2008, is a good way of fighting against that is making sure that online communities don’t just stay online.

“Social media is a really powerful tool for people of common interests to convene and get to know each other and connect. But then it’s important for them to get offline, meet in a pub, meet in a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood and get to know each other, because the truth is that on the internet everything is simplified.

“When you meet people face-to-face it turns out they’re complicated. There may be somebody who you think is diametrically opposed to you when it comes to their political views but you root for the same sports team. Or you notice that they’re really good parents.

“You find areas of common ground because you see that things aren’t as simple as had been portrayed in whatever chatroom you’d been in.

“It’s also, by the way, harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the internet.”

Facebook and Twitter have faced repeated calls to tackle abuse and extremism on their platforms.

Before Christmas representatives were hauled before Parliament’s home affairs committee where chairman Yvette Cooper accused them of “grooming and radicalisation”.

“Once people go on one slightly dodgy thing, you are linking them to an awful lot of other similar things” through algorithms, she said.

YouTube’s representative said it was limiting recommendations to prevent people being trapped in a “bubble of hate”.

Simon Milner, of Facebook, denied its algorithms were themselves radicalising users but admitted there was a “shared problem on how we address a person going down a channel that may lead them to be radicalised”.

While Twitter has made a “sea change” in how it responds to abuse, its public policy head told MPs, Ms Cooper said it had failed to take down racist posts flagged by politicians.