Saturday, 31 December 2016

Is Obama using Russia to force a wedge between Trump and his party?

Extract from The Guardian

If Donald Trump tries to remove Obama’s new sanctions, he could face GOP blowback. If he doesn’t, he could damage his relationship with Putin

Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama
‘For Obama, Russia is thus a uniquely effective wedge issue, with the potential to divide the president-elect from his party.’ Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky/Ria Novosti/Krem/EPA
But this is no ordinary transition. President-elect Donald Trump is urging Americans “to get on with our lives” rather than act on the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee with the intent of swaying the election in his favor. Obama therefore sees this as the last chance to hold Russia accountable and to limit Trump’s options for rapprochement with Vladimir Putin after 20 January.
On Friday morning, Putin announced he would not be expelling US intelligence officers in response, a clear sign of his optimism about the imminent Trump administration. However, Obama has suggested that additional covert actions may be taken against Russia in the near future. A true reciprocal response would involve the release of hacked information about top Russian officials. Russia is a highly centralized kleptocracy, and no one in power has clean hands. The Russian president himself remains stubbornly popular despite his own widely assumed corruption. But any official below him is vulnerable to exposure and disgrace, which the US probably has the capacity to inflict at will.
This kind of weaponized transparency has a certain appeal, as the reactions across the political spectrum to the DNC hacks have demonstrated. But there’s also a dangerous potential for escalation, as neither the US nor Russia has clearly defined cyberwar laws. This danger is exacerbated by the maddening fact that an unstable ignoramus is about to assume control of the US national security apparatus, and no one knows how he might use it.
Trump has consistently indicated a desire to improve US-Russian relations, with the encouragement of several advisers and planned cabinet appointees who have close ties to Moscow. This puts him at odds with the longstanding position of the Republican party, which includes hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom are now pressing for an investigation into Russia’s role in the election.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House speaker, Paul Ryan, also support this, although CIA sources told the Washington Post that McConnell blocked any investigation prior to the election, a breathtakingly cynical move that explains why Obama is only now retaliating.
Having compromised national security in order to defeat Hillary Clinton, the Republican leadership may now see Trump as expendable. After all, he chose a standard rightwing Republican, the Indiana governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate, which means McConnell and Ryan can always arrange to have Trump impeached if he becomes too much trouble.
For Obama, Russia is thus a uniquely effective wedge issue, with the potential to divide the president-elect from his party. If Trump tries to remove the new sanctions, he could face blowback from Congress; if he doesn’t, his friendly relationship with Putin could be damaged.
If, if, if. It’s dizzying trying to keep track of the conflicting agendas in Washington as Obama tries to salvage any kind of legacy, Trump scrambles to learn the basics of running the country, the GOP leadership moves to consolidate its Faustian victory, the intelligence community tries to compensate for its calamitous failure to prevent any of this and pundits left and right perpetuate confusion and despair. It’s increasingly unclear who’s in charge.
Meanwhile, in the Kremlin, Putin is as securely in power as ever and must be watching with amusement. Two months ago, it looked like Clinton, a staunch critic of Russia, would take control of the world’s most powerful country and enact more confrontational, and perhaps ill-advised, policies everywhere from Syria to Ukraine. Instead, Trump is poised to turn America into something much closer to Russia, except far more divided. And whatever consequences Obama hopes to inflict on Russia are likely to be brief and minor, in contrast to the substantial damage Putin has already inflicted on the United States.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Barack Obama orders Russia expulsions, sanctions for interference in US election

Updated 6 minutes ago

President Barack Obama has ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and sanctioned Russian intelligence officials who Washington believes were involved in hacking US political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

Key points:

  • The expulsions, sanctions mark a new low in US-Russian relations
  • Barack Obama is seeking to deter Russia and other foreign governments from leveraging cyber attacks in the future
  • Russian foreign ministry says the sanctions were counter-productive
The measures — taken during the last days of Mr Obama's presidency — mark a new low in US-Russian relations, which have deteriorated over serious differences on Ukraine and Syria.
"These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian Government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behaviour," Mr Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii.
"These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia's aggressive activities.
"We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicised."
It was not immediately clear whether President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures once he takes office on January 20.
Mr Obama is seeking to deter Russia and other foreign governments from leveraging cyber attacks in the future to meddle in US politics, former officials and cyber security experts said.
He has been under growing pressure from within his own administration and lawmakers of both political parties to respond more forcefully to the cyber attacks, which included leaked emails of Democratic Party operatives that became part of the media coverage in the campaign for the presidential election.
The Russian foreign ministry said the sanctions were counter-productive and would harm the restoration of bilateral ties.
Moscow denies the hacking allegation.

'We hope the Russian Government re-evaluates its own actions'

Mr Obama sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies "that provided material support to the GRU's cyber operations".
He said the State Department declared as "persona non grata" 35 Russian intelligence operatives and is closing two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes".
The State Department originally said the 35 were diplomats.
A senior US official told Reuters the move would affect the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco.
The Russians have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said.
Access to the two compounds, which are used by Russian officials for intelligence gathering, will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday (local time), the senior US official added.
"These actions were taken to respond to Russian harassment of American diplomats and actions by the diplomats that we have assessed to be not consistent with diplomatic practice," the official said.
The State Department has long complained that Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed US diplomats in Moscow, and US Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Mr Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
"By imposing costs on the Russian diplomats in the United States, by denying them access to the two facilities, we hope the Russian Government re-evaluates its own actions, which have impeded the ability and safety of our own embassy personnel in Russia," the official said.
The US official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled.

A crackdown on welfare while the richest pay no tax? It's one promise the Liberals kept

On Wednesday, Australia found out that only a few days before Christmas, a low-income single mother was hit with a wrongful debt notice from Centrelink, demanding she front up to them with $24,000 in “recovery fees” for a supposed overpayment.
She was a victim of Centrelink’s new automated “data-matching” compliance system, in which Centrelink and the Australian Taxation Office cross-reference their records, to see who is earning what where, and how earned income might affect their eligibility for income support, like the dole.
There have been calls to suspend the system, because the computers are making shocking mistakes. The woman mentioned above found herself subject to the wrongful notice because she’d recorded the name of her employer slightly differently in two different documents. The automated system decided that she was working for two different employers. So the experience of being on welfare in Australia – which is onerous in its reporting, punishing in its obligations and impoverishing in its conditions – became anxious and terrifying for an entire family at an expensive and stressful time of the year.
Are the government likely to heed calls for the faulty system’s abolition? Highly unlikely, and for three reasons.
Firstly, data-matching was actually a “cornerstone” of the Coalition’s final budget costings before the July election. Howling about a “budget emergency” before their 2013 election, the Liberals and Nationals insisted that only their economic management of could rescue the economy. Over the intervening four years, their economic management has consisted of a debt that has ballooned by the billions.
Spoiler alert: their much talked-about election “plan” to redress their own financial ineptitude was merely to cut spending, like kicking elderly Australians off the pension, defunding legal centres and this data-matching “crackdown”, which is supposed to yield the bottom line a cool $2bn.
Second, while the government is instilling terror into pensioners, single mothers and the unemployed with labyrinthine obligations around Centrelink payments, it can pretend it is doing something about the growing debtwithout addressing any of the real reasons it keeps getting bigger.
Like how income tax revenue is not increasing its contribution to government coffers because under four years of Liberal/National “management” wage growth has hit a record low. Wage growth is now a full percentage point lower than during the global financial crisis, and as a result real wages have not grown in three years. Three years.
And how has the government sought to redress these problems? Oh, with an aggressive fight against wage increases for public servants, stealing a failed overseas scheme in which young workers will take adult jobs for $4 an hour and flattering the business lobby’s attempts to cut penalty rates and abandon the minimum wage.
Income tax is not, of course, the only means of raising revenue. There’s company tax, too. Alas, the stated priority of the Turnbull government before the election was a $50bn tax cut to big business – a gift of some generosity when such a large number of corporations pay no tax anyway.
In October, the Guardian revealed that the government was forgoing “billions of dollars” of potential revenue from a failure to properly apply a petroleum resource rent tax to liquefied natural gas exports. And the government knew a year ago that 585 companies, each with $100m or more of annual turnover, were paying no tax.
Why non-tax-paying corporations that include ExxonMobil, Lend Lease, Glencore, Virgin or Mitsubishi need further tax breaks is as open a question as that which asks why the government will “crack down” on welfare recipients when 27 individual Australian millionaires paid close to no income tax in 2013-14 despite rustling together a combined $46.7m for the cost of “managing their tax affairs”. Or why the government has gone after part-pensioners when it is maintaining superannuation tax concessions for the super rich that’s costing the budget $35bn in tax revenue a year.
Unless, of course, we can all grasp the third reason for the unfairness: it’s what the Liberals and Nationals prioritise.
I wrote in 2014 about Joe Hockey’s willingness to punish welfare recipients at the same time he was offering amnesties to tax avoiders; Hockey has gone, the theme hasn’t changed.
And, frankly people, it’s not going to while the Coalition remain in power. The belief that taxes are “burdensome” and that the political mission is the “encouragement and facilitation of wealth” is not some partisan accusation against the Liberal party – it’s their explicit commitment. They will phrase it as they must to get elected, but theirs is a mission to defend the wealthy people and corporations; the poor, the vulnerable, the struggling – hell, even the merely ordinary – do not come into it.
Be outraged at the unfairness, but don’t be surprised – it’s the one electoral promise they really can be guaranteed to keep.

Environmentalist David Suzuki

Centrelink debt notices based on 'idiotic' faith in big data, IT expert says

Extract from The Guardian

Lawyers, privacy advocates and data experts join calls for Centrelink’s data-matching system to be suspended

income tax assessment form
‘We’ve all got bank accounts, we’ve all got tax returns, we’ve got people on Centrelink … you touch the government all the time,’ says Kat Lane from the Australian Privacy Foundation. Photograph: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Centrelink’s error-prone debt recovery system has been slammed for placing blind faith in big data and prioritising “efficiency over human welfare”, as lawyers, privacy advocates and data experts join calls for it to be suspended.
Labor has continued to press the Coalition to stop Centrelink’s automated debt recovery system, which senator Doug Cameron described as a deliberate targeting of the poor and vulnerable.
The government’s automated compliance system, which began in July, has been the subject of repeated complaints, which stem from its comparison of income reported to Centrelink and information held by the Australian Taxation Office.
It has been accompanied by threats of jail for those who do not pay, a joint police-Centrelink campaign targeting geographic areas, the imposition of a 10% debt recovery fee and plans to charge interest on welfare debts and remove the six-year statutory limit on retrieving overpayments.
Legal Aid Victoria, the Australian privacy foundation, the Australian council for social service, and independent Andrew Wilkie have all raised serious concerns, urging the human services minister, Alan Tudge, to intervene.
IT and data expert Justin Warren – who has worked for IBM, ANZ, Australia Post and Telstra, among others – said Centrelink’s system appeared to rest on the “idiotic” assumption that “big data was magic”.
“It’s not. It’s a messy, complex, statistical system that is wrong a lot,” Warren said. “All models are wrong, but some are useful. It’s the choice of how you deal with when the system is wrong that reveals how you view the world.”
Once a discrepancy is detected by the automated data-matching process – currently occurring at a rate of 20,000 a week – the onus then falls on welfare recipients to prove they were entitled to claim benefits, often forcing them to find payslips and employment information from up to six years ago.
“What the department has done, however, is placed all the work of proving an error exists on the humans they are supposed to serve (the clue is in the name),” Warren said. “The humans have to do a bunch of paperwork to prove the machine is wrong.
“Prioritising efficiency over human welfare is just one choice among many. I don’t think it’s the ethical choice.”
The Australian Privacy Foundation described the system as a “clusterfuck”, that wrongly assumed the initial data matching was accurate and then abandoned procedural fairness.
“There’s so much that can go wrong here that it’s astounding,” the foundation’s chair, Kat Lane, said. “And falsely accusing people of things, and sending them letters, and particularly some of our most disadvantaged people … you’d want to make sure you got it absolutely right before doing that.”
Lane said the sharing of data en masse should also cause significant privacy concerns for Australians.
“This is just the thin edge of the wedge, there is a clear plan to do comprehensive data matching of every silo of government,” Lane said. “It’s tracking, you’re tracking your citizens. You can’t live under a rock, we’ve all got bank accounts, we’ve all got tax returns, we’ve got people on Centrelink … you touch the government all the time.
“But what they want to do is track you, they want to gain efficiencies by tracking you.”
The government has continued to express its confidence in the compliance system, saying customers are given the opportunity to dispute discrepancies they believe to be incorrect.
The vast majority of disputes, they say, are resolved without the need for individuals to obtain payslips or letters from their old employers.
But Guardian Australia last week spoke with a Centrelink whistleblower, who works in the compliance area. The source said only about 20 of the hundreds of cases she had reviewed turned out to be legitimate debts
Legal Aid Victoria said there were real problems with using such an imprecise method of comparison.
The organisation’s civil justice, access, and equity executive director, Dan Nicholson, said it was inconceivable that such a flawed approach would ever be used to to levy tax debts to corporations.
“So it’s hard to understand why it’s acceptable for Centrelink to do so,” he said.
“I agree with Acoss that the system should be suspended until concerns are addressed.”
Nicholson called on those who felt they had been wrongly billed to consider challenging the decision.
He said most people who did so had a good chance of winning, but warned that many would simply pay without bothering to check if the debt was justified.
The opposition renewed calls on Thursday for the system to be suspended.
Cameron said the system should not be relying on a “robot” to deliberately target the poor.
“It’s deliberate, the cross-matching is a deliberate decision by the government to target welfare recipients. A deliberate targeting of some of the most vulnerable people in the community with a crude, inaccurate system,” Cameron said.
“We say suspend the system, do the analysis, do a proper check on what is being asked of individuals.”

Thursday, 29 December 2016

David Suzuki: Changing climate the ultimate crisis for our species

'Performing is a political statement': who will play Donald Trump's inauguration?

Extract from The Guardian

For some, the great honor of performing for the president has been tainted with risk, as Trump’s team struggles to find high-profile acts for inauguration day

Good vibrations? The Beach Boys are one of the groups considering playing Donald Trump’s inauguration
Good vibrations? The Beach Boys are one of the groups considering playing Donald Trump’s inauguration Photograph: George Jerman
“It should come as no surprise that Trump’s team is struggling to find big-name entertainers for the inauguration,” notes the industry observer and freelance music journalist Steven J Horowitz. “If you look at the pre-election support from artists for the presidential nominees, Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming favorite.”
Top performers such as Katy Perry and Beyoncé came out in support of Clinton, with Trump struggling to gain backing from mainstream acts. His divisive rhetoric and statements made it difficult for artists to side with him and show support, even in traditionally Republican-siding genres like country, for fear of turning off fans. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek offer from Trump’s bete noire Alec Baldwin, who suggested he could sing AC/DC’s Highway to Hell, the president-elect has struggled to secure concrete offers.
According to a recent report, not a single local Washington DC marching band has applied to perform during Trump’s swearing-in, making it the first time in decades regional band acts are not going to be involved in the festivities. For other artists, engaging in any form of politics is anathema, let alone when the politician you’d be backing is arguably the most controversial of the last 50 years in US politics.
“I think musicians are keenly aware of the dangers of isolating their fan bases by admitting they’re in favor of one political party over another,” notes Horowitz. “Artists who are traditionally non-political, like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake, risk making grand statements when they accept a gig like the Trump inauguration.”

Lip-sync battle: President Barack Obama, right, as Beyonce sings the National Anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in
 Lip-sync battle: Barack Obama, right, as Beyoncé sings the national anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

Howard Bragman, chairman of Fifteen Minutes Public Relations, echoes that sentiment. While he hasn’t been involved in inauguration planning, Bragman has advised a laundry list of high-profile celebrity clients over the years and knows the insight he’d offer if they were asked to perform. “In the past, one could say: ‘He’s the president,’” suggests Bragman. “But I’d tell a client who was asked that this one is different. In our politically charged world, performing for Trump is a political statement, and if one chooses to perform they should go in with their eyes wide open.”
At press time, the Trump team had managed to secure only one contemporary name: Jackie Evancho (although the Beach Boys haven’t turned down the offer they received yet). The 16-year-old singer, who rose to fame on America’s Got Talent and has since launched a successful career, is slated to sing the national anthem. It was recently reported that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was set to perform alongside the Marine Corps band, both positioned on the outdoor stand during Trump’s swearing-in. While the Rockettes will also perform.
The Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli was also approached by the Trump camp, but he declined the offer after a viral social media campaign dubbed #BoycottBocelli, in which his fans made their displeasure known. Meanwhile, curiously absent from discussions, at least so far, is the small crowd of artists who have publicly voiced their support of Trump, from the Vegas showman Wayne Newton to the country crooner Loretta Lynn and the rocker Ted Nugent.
The speculation and caution over taking the gig is in stark contrast to inaugurations past, none of which have met with such scrutiny. At Obama’s inauguration in 2013, the biggest controversy came when Beyoncé allegedly lip-synced the Star-Spangled Banner. Meanwhile, at Obama’s 2009 proceedings, performers included Aretha Franklin and Yo-Yo Ma, who provided a shareable moment rather than anything approaching controversy.
When George W Bush took office in 2001, he opted for a lineup of military choirs while also holding a full-blown concert boasting top pop acts of the day, such as Ricky Martin and Jessica Simpson. Past inaugural performers have included the likes of Mickey Rooney, on hand during Franklin D Roosevelt’s swearing-in in 1941, and Frank Sinatra, who handled the entertainment for John F Kennedy’s 1961 festivities.
Unlike any other year, however, the overarching theme of performing at Trump’s swearing-in is that of risk. “An artist would be risking too much,” notes Horowitz. “Their career, their fan base, their relationships in the music industry. As one of the most divisive president-elects in history, Trump shouldn’t be surprised that he’s facing a lack of support.”

Musicians who have turned Trump down:

Elton John

Elton John Photograph: Atlantico/REX/Shutterstock

Elton John
John was the subject of initial speculation about Trump’s inaugural after Anthony Scaramucci, vice-chairman of the inauguration committee, floated his name. John’s camp retaliated with the simple statement: “Elton will not be performing at a Trump inauguration.”
Garth Brooks
The country singer was also approached by the Trump camp and initially seemed open to the possibility in the press. However, he ultimately declined the offer.
David Foster
The Canadian mega-producer, who has worked with everyone from Alice Cooper to Mary J Blige, was rumored to have also been approached by the Trump camp to have a hand in planning the proceedings. Foster confirmed he was indeed asked, but he later nixed the idea, saying on Instagram that he “politely and respectfully declined”.
Gene Simmons
The Kiss frontman has praised Trump in the past (calling him “the truest political animal”), but later declined due to scheduling conflicts.

Government confident in Centrelink debt compliance system despite reported errors

Extract from The Guardian

The new compliance system introduced by Centrelink sent a single mother a $24,000 debt notice just before Christmas and there have been calls for it to be suspended

Department of human services general manager Hank Jongen said the government remained confident in the compliance system and the ‘associated checking process that we go through with customers’. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

Christopher Knaus
Thursday 29 December 2016 06.05 AEDT

The government says it remains confident in its new automated system for retrieving welfare debts, despite continued reports it is unfairly targeting vulnerable and low-income Australians.
Guardian Australia has received dozens of reports of errors about the new compliance system in recent weeks, including from a single mother who says she was wrongly issued a $24,000 debt two weeks before Christmas.
The system, introduced in July, works by automatically comparing income reported to Centrelink with information held by the Australian taxation officer. Where discrepancies are detected, Centrelink gives people three weeks to prove they were entitled to receive the benefits, which can be up to six years old.
The data-matching process was previously done manually. A Centrelink compliance officer told Guardian Australia last week that the automated system was too crude, generated a large number of errors and treated welfare recipients unfairly, particularly those on sickness allowances.
She said only a fraction of the cases she had reviewed were genuine debts but many people were paying the government back regardless.
Questions about the system were again put to the human services minister, Alan Tudge, on Wednesday. Tudge was on leave and the questions were referred to the department.
The Department of Human Services’ general manager, Hank Jongen, said the government remained confident in the compliance system and the “associated checking process that we go through with customers”.
“When data inconsistencies are detected, the system generates a letter ... advising people of the discrepancy and asking them to either confirm or update their details online using myGov,” he said.
“If, for example, an employer has incorrectly reported the time period for which income was earned, people are able to correct this information themselves using the online tool.
“If the employment income was earned before they began receiving or after they stopped receiving income support payments, then they will not incur a debt.”
He said 72% of those who received an online compliance letter since September had resolved the issue online. He said only 2% were asked to provide supporting documentation, like pay slips.
Complaints about the system were first raised by independent MP Andrew Wilkie earlier this month. Wilkie has since referred the matter to the Commonwealth ombudsman.
The system has been described as a “drag net”, which sends out about 20,000 notices a week that effectively reverse the onus of proof onto welfare recipients.
Many individuals do not receive the initial letter from Centrelink, due to either a change of address or the lack of a MyGov account. If no dispute is made, the government takes it to mean that the debt is accurate.
The government is charging 10% debt recovery fees, and Tudge has threatened those who do not pay with jail. Many problems appear to stem from the comparison of annual pay information reported to the tax office with the income reported to Centrelink fortnightly.
Labor, Wilkie, and the Australian council for social service (Acoss) have all called for the system to be temporarily suspended pending an investigation into the complaints.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

'Alt-right' groups will 'revolt' if Trump shuns white supremacy, leaders say

Extract from The Guardian 

Prominent members of the American far right predict that waning influence on the president-elect could trigger discord and vengeance within the movement

richard spencer alt right
White nationalist Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute arrives on campus to speak at a university campus event in December. Photograph: Spencer Selvidge/Reuters
Donald Trump will disappoint and disillusion his far-right supporters by eschewing white supremacy, according to some of the movement’s own intellectual leaders.
Activists who recently gave Nazi salutes and shouted “hail Trump” at a gathering in Washington will revolt if the new US president fails to meet their expectations, the leaders told the Guardian.
The prospect of such disillusion and internecine squabbling may console liberals who fear a White House tinged with racism and quasi-fascism. The analysis is all the more reassuring because it comes from far-right influencers and analysts, not wishful progressives.
Instead of enjoying proximity to power, according to this analysis, vocal parts of the loose coalition known as the “alt-right” could remain on the political fringe, wondering what happened to their triumph.
“Their hearts are bigger than their brains,” said Mark Weber, who runs the Institute for Historical Review, an organisation dedicated to exposing “Jewish-Zionist” power. “Saying they want to be the intellectual head of the Trump presidency is delusional.”
Jared Taylor, a white supremacist who runs the self-termed “race-realist” magazine American Renaissance, said the president-elect had already backpedalled on several pledges that had fired up the far-right. “At first he promised to send back every illegal immigrant. Now he is waffling on that.”
David Cole, a self-proclaimed Holocaust revisionist and Taki magazine columnist, envisaged the movement sliding into bickering and in-fighting, stuck in “rabbit warrens” of online trolling rather than policy shaping.
“In January Trump will start governing and will have to make compromises. Even small ones will trigger squabbles between the ‘alt-right’. ‘Trump betrayed us.’ ‘No, you’re betraying us for saying Trump betrayed us.’ And so on. The alt-right’s appearance of influence will diminish more and more as they start to fight amongst themselves.”
In an email interview Peter Brimelow, founder of the webzine, which alleges Mexican plots to remake the US, said Trump’s failure to deliver “important bones” could trigger a backlash. “I think the right of the right is absolutely prepared to revolt. It’s what they do.”
There is, however, a catch: Weber, Taylor and Brimelow – all classified as “extremists” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – said Trump’s victory energised the far-right and that the movement can grow with or without White House help.
The young crowd that roared “Hail Trump” at last month’s gathering in Washington will fight for its beliefs no matter what, Brimelow said. “None of them were looking for jobs in the Trump administration. These are not party loyalists. They know they’re entirely outside the establishment consensus. And they’re used to guerrilla warfare.”
Trump’s relationship with the far-right – an unruly grouping which includes opponents to illegal immigration, free trade, police reform, political correctness, miscegenation and mainstream Holocaust scholarship – will partly define his administration.

 A guide to Donald Trump’s potential cabinet of billionaires

The casino mogul turned Republican insurgent electrified this group during the election by calling undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. He vowed to deport 11 million undocumented people, ban Muslims from entering the US and build a wall on the southern border. He was slow to disavow an endorsement from David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
He put Steve Bannon, who turned Breitbart News into a platform for the far right, in charge of his campaign and rewarded him with a senior White House post.
A few weeks after Trump’s victory the innocuously named National Policy Institute, which espouses an “ethno-state” for Americans of European descent, held its annual conference in the Ronald Reagan Building a few blocks from the White House.
Its leader, Richard Spencer, concluded the event by shouting “Hail Trump! Hail our people!” and “Hail victory!”, an English translation of the Nazi exhortation “Sieg heil”. Some audience members gave the Nazi salute.
Some observers saw their worst fears realised: unbound, exuberant fascism.
But some of the far-right’s intellectuals saw something else: self-sabotage and delusion.
It was an “idiot conclusion” to a conference packed with other speeches and panel discussions, said Brimelow, who addressed the gathering.
Taylor, another speaker, agreed. “It was going very well until (then). Richard Spencer has said that the way he closed the talk was meant as pure irony, and I hope that’s the case, that it was all ironic and over-exuberance. I don’t think that anything that has any whiff of Nazism is a particularly effective way to bring Americans or even Europeans to an effective understanding of race.”
Cole said Spencer, a rising star of the far-right movement, overreached. “He blew a lot of goodwill ... and became an embarrassment to some of his own people.”
Spencer and his supporters will pay for hubris, Cole predicted. “They’ll burn out. After Trump’s victory they had a belief they were behind it, or had a lot of clout. All they can hope for is to get something on the immigration reform/restrictions. Otherwise they’re enjoying the bragging rights, saying they won it, even though they didn’t.”
Asked about that weekend and his impact on the white supremacist movement, Trump told the New York Times: “I don’t want to energize the group, and I disavow the group ... But it’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized I want to look into it and find out why.”
Spencer, unabashed, has continued touring university campuses and is considering a congressional run in Montana, where he lives. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the critiques are correct he and his supporters will, to co-opt a favoured “alt-right” term, have a rude awakening. “In the eagerness for hope many have latched on to Trump. They’re trying to get a step on the escalator. I’m convinced they’ll be disappointed,” said Weber. Far-right youths are “on fire” but Trump, he said, will not be able to turn the clock back to the 1950s, a perceived golden age for white America.
Taylor said some on the far-right fell, as did liberals, for what he termed media distortions. “Donald Trump was never a racial dissident of the sort that I am. He was never one of us. He’s an American nationalist. The left was wrong to think that he was dancing to the tune of people like myself.”
Taylor said the far right would need patience. “Racial nationalism has not triumphed in America. It will some day. But to think it has done so (already) is delusive.”

This story has been corrected to reflect that Richard Spencer is not a native of Montana

Climate change a Chinese hoax? Beijing gives Donald Trump a lesson in history

Extract from The Guardian 

China points out to global warming denier and president-elect that Republicans under Reagan and Bush actually put global warming on international agenda

A protest against climate change outside Trump Tower in New York.
A protest against climate change outside Trump Tower in New York. Photograph: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images
Trump, who is the first self-declared climate change denier to lead one of the world’s top emitters, has dismissed global warming as “very expensive … bullshit” and claimed the concept “was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”.
But speaking at UN climate talks in Marrakech on Wednesday, China’s vice foreign minister, Liu Zhenmin, pointed out that it was in fact the billionaire’s Republican predecessors who launched climate negotiations almost three decades ago.
“If you look at the history of climate change negotiations, actually it was initiated by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] with the support of the Republicans during the Reagan and senior Bush administration during the late 1980s,” Liu was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.
The IPCC was set up by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 1988 in a bid to better understand and respond to the risks of climate change. It received the 2007 Nobel peace prize for helping build “an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming”.
Less than three months ago climate campaigners were celebrating after China and the US, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, agreed to ratify the Paris climate agreement during a meeting between the Chinese and US presidents, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.
Signatories to the deal, which came into force at the start of November, committed to limiting global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, after which scientists believe its effects will become irreversible.
“We have a saying in America that you need to put your money where your mouth is. And when it comes to combating climate change that is what we are doing … we are leading by example,” Obama said during the announcement in China in September.
But the shock victory of Trump threatens to undo much of that work. The president-elect has pledged to pull out of the Paris climate deal and scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan to slash US carbon emissions.
“A Trump presidency might be game over for the climate,” Michael Mann, a prominent climate researcher, told the Guardian last week.
Fears over the environmental cost of a Trump presidency have been heightened by reports that Myron Ebell, a notorious climate change skeptic, has been appointed to head his Environmental Protection Agency transition team.
Such concerns have dominated the UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, the first such meeting since the historic 2015 talks in Paris. The Morroco talks began on the eve of the election and conclude on Friday.
With some fearing Trump’s victory could embolden other fossil fuel-rich countries to step back from their commitments under the Paris deal, China’s vice foreign minister told reporters it was “essential” the US continued to back the agreement.
“We hope that the US will continue to play a leadership role in the climate change process as people are worried about a repeat of the experience of the Kyoto protocol,” which Washington never ratified, Liu told reporters.
“We shall have to wait and see what position they will take … [But we] expect that they will take a right and smart decision to live up to the world’s expectations,” he added, according to Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
John Kerry, the outgoing US secretary of state, has sought to reassure politicians and activists in Marrakech while conceding that Trump’s victory had left the international community “feeling uncertain about the future”.
‘No one’s an exception’: toll of climate change, from US to the Marshall Islands – video
“While I can’t stand here and speculate about what policies our president-elect will pursue, I will tell you this: in the time I have spent in public life, one of the things I have learned, some issues look a little bit different when you’re actually in office compared to when you’re on the campaign trail,” Kerry told delegates at the talks.
He added: “No one, no one should doubt the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the US who know climate change is happening and who are determined to keep our commitments in Paris.”
But with the American commitment to fighting climate change suddenly in doubt, activists have urged Beijing to continue leading the international effort.

“Not only is climate change no Chinese hoax, but Chinese seriousness may be our best hope,” Deborah Seligsohn, an expert in environmental governance from the University of California at San Diego, argued in an article on the China Dialogue environmental website.

Bob Hawke blames decline in quality of politicians on intrusiveness of media

Extract from The Guardian

Former prime minister says the ‘poor quality of representatives’ is a worldwide phenomenon partly caused by media focus on politicians’ private lives

Bob Hawke
Former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke has become a drawcard at the Woodford Folk festival, speaking at it for eight years in a row. Photograph: Janine Israel for the Guardian
Bob Hawke has blamed “the increasing intrusiveness of the media into private lives of politicians” for what he sees as a decline in quality of MPs and leaders in Australia and abroad.
In a wide-ranging address at the Woodford Folk festival in Queensland, where the 87-year-old has spoken for eight years in a row, the former prime minister said “poor quality of representatives … is not a purely Australian phenomenon – it’s a worldwide phenomenon”.
Hawke said the world was living through a unique period where it was the first time since the end of the second world war that there hadn’t been “an outstanding political leader … anywhere in the democratic world”.
“Some people talk about Merkel and I do not run her down in any sense at all; I simply make the point that if you compared Angela Merkel with the chancellors of Germany in the postwar period, she’d rate about sixth.
“So is there some reason why the quality of people going into the parliament is not as high? I don’t know the complete answer but I think, in fact I’m sure, that part of it is the increasing intrusiveness of the media, the general media and social media, into the private lives of politicians and their families.
“I think this is more of a problem for the conservative side of politics than mine because on our side we tend to have some ideology-driven move which brings up good people.”
Four minutes into his 20-minute address to a crowd of more than 1,000 festivalgoers, the former prime minister had broached one of his pet topics, calling for an overhaul of the Westminister system and the abolition of the states.
“What we have today basically represents the meanderings of British explorers across the Australian continent more than 200 years ago,” Hawke said. “Lines were drawn on a map and jurisdictions and governments followed. And so you have 13 governments dealing with much the same issues and I believe that the simple fact is that the states should be abolished.”
Hawke also warned that if climate change was not immediately addressed it would result in the imminent and “total destruction of mankind on this planet”.
Drawing considerable ire from the progressive audience, Hawke advocated nuclear power as one integral part of the solution to climate change, returning to an issue he has been passionately pushing since the late stages of his prime ministership: that Australia, as the most geologically stable nation on Earth, has a responsibility to store the world’s nuclear waste.
“Nimby – not in my backyard – ignores the fact that the world’s leading geologists have said that we have geologically the world’s safest backyard and we cannot ignore that fact if we are to be serious to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. I think more work should be done on this by our government, leading to an affirmative decision.
“It would be a win for the global environment and it would be a win for Australia,” he said, arguing nuclear powered nations “would pay well for the storage of nuclear waste”. He also added that during a recent visit to Japan he met with the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who he said “nearly had an orgasm” when he raised the mere idea of Australia accepting nuclear waste.
Hawke said Indigenous Australians would be a “further winner” if Australia become the world’s dumping ground for radioactive waste.
“The greatest stain upon this great Australian nation’s character, without any question, is the great gaps that exist between our Aboriginal brothers and sisters in terms of their health, their education, their living conditions, their incarceration rates and life expectancy. It’s a great stain. I would argue strongly that a non-negotiable condition of taking this big decision to take the world’s nuclear waste … would be that a significant potion of the income that we got in this way should be directed to closing these gaps that exist amongst the most underprivileged in our nation, Aboriginal people.”
In his only dig at Donald Trump, which drew laughs, Hawke said: “There are few people of any substance – inside or outside the world scientific community – who now question the fact of global warming. I think there’s an incoming president of the United States, a guy called Trump, who says it doesn’t exist. To me that’s prima facie evidence of the fact it does.”
Speaking later in a one-on-one interview with Guardian Australia, Hawke said it was “almost impossible to overstate how dangerous” it was to have the leader of the US expressing scepticism about climate change.
He said if he was in Malcolm Turnbull’s position today and forced to play the diplomatic game with Trump, “I would hold out my hand to him. I would try to do all I could to be positive with him; to gently explain where I thought he was mistaken and where his pursuit of his campaign statements could create problems for the world.”
Hawke also expressed alarm at Trump’s pivot towards Russia and anti-protectionist leanings, saying: “If he starts to try and smash international trade, that will be disastrous.
“One of the things that worries me most about him is his closeness to Putin. The man he has appointed as secretary of state has a business relationship with him. I think Putin is an extraordinarily dangerous man. I think he’s trying to recreate the Soviet empire and it’s that connection which I think should be very worrying to a lot of people.”
Hawke said he did not advocate centre-left politicians emulating Trump’s populist style but stressed that every political party needed to be sensitive to the changing view of the electorate.
“One fundamental issue which Trump did take advantage of was the increasing disparities of income in the United States. So many people saw the rich getting richer and it not being spread around. It’s affecting European politics too now.”
Hawke also defended the prime ministership of his former treasurer and political rival, Paul Keating, conceding “I certainly would not argue that I would’ve done a better job than Paul” in guiding the Australian economy through the 1990s recession.
“Paul was a very competent treasurer and he must be commended from where he came from. He had no formal training in economics and indeed, in the early days of government he said to me: ‘God I hope they don’t ask me any detailed questions in parliament,’” Hawke laughed.
“But he grew in the job and become one of Australia’s great treasurers.”
Hawke has become a major drawcard to the annual six-day Woodford Folk festival, which is now in its 31st year and pulls crowds of more than 120,000.
On Tuesday night the former prime minister stole the show at the festival’s “welcoming ceremony”, leading a crowd of about 15,000 people in a rousing, operatic rendition of Waltzing Matilda complete with intermittent fist-pumping.