Donald Trump has not only normalised American foreign policy, he has arguably made it more effective.
With two high-profile, signal-sending bombing raids and a series of breathtaking policy reversals, President Trump has brought US foreign policy back in line with conventional thinking. But he has added to the equation a measure of force that gives Washington new clout.
When policy shifts so dramatically and with such little explanation, it can obviously shift again.
So we don’t know how long the new positions will last. Nato could be back out of favour, Putin back in, simply with a couple of 140 character tweets.
But Donald Trump is a voracious consumer of cable television and the hunch is he will like the near-universal praise he’s been getting on US talk shows this week.
There are clearly glaring inconsistencies in his new foreign policies – he bombs a Syrian air base because of the suffering of Syrian babies, but bans Syrian refugees from entering America.
There are pitfalls too. His switch on China appears largely based on a good rapport with Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago, but China still has interests which are not in sync with America’s – its expansion in the South China Seas is just one.
But, as one Republicans put it to me this week, Mr Trump has begun to know what he doesn’t know. That’s important. He has begun to understand that the world is more complicated than he thought.
You can laugh all you like at the sight of Mr Trump getting so publicly tutored on China, North Korea, the Export-Import bank and currency manipulation. Of course it was foolish to promise simple solutions to complex problems. But it’s better to learn now how difficult those things are than never to learn at all.
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His recent praise of Nato and rejection of Moscow immediately put this White House more in sync with European allies.
Europe has long believed that the real threat to global security comes from Russia, not China. That’s not what millions of Mr Trump’s voters believe. He will have to keep them in mind as he backs away from calling China a currency manipulator and slapping it with tariffs, as he had promised he would do in the campaign.
But the shifts do bring America back into the foreign policy mainstream.
The use of force, in Syria and Afghanistan, meanwhile, sends the message to America’s adversaries that Mr Trump is not as war-averse as his predecessor.
The White House was delighted that Xi Jinping got to hear the news, over dessert in Mar-a-Lago, that the US had bombed Syria. They wanted him to get the message that there’s a new sheriff in town – and ideally to pass that message on to their contacts in Pyongyang.
Those Tomahawks launched against the Shayrat air base didn’t really do much to limit Syria’s military capability, but they did send several effective signals to Syria and its friends.
First, using chemical weapons against civilians will have consequences. Second, this is a president who is prepared to use force fast and with no warning – Trump isn’t paralysed by analysis which was the criticism of Barack Obama.
Third, and perhaps more critical, it gave Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a large stick to pack in his luggage for his trip to Moscow.
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Mr Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, negotiated over Syria for years with no leverage because the Russians knew his boss wouldn’t sanction the use of force – not so anymore.
There was similar messaging printed on that massive bomb dropped on suspected Islamic State militants in Afghanistan this week. Dropping a big bomb is one thing, but you get a lot more attention when that bomb is rather gruesomely nicknamed “the mother of all bombs”.
It wasn’t just a bomb, it was the biggest conventional weapon ever used in combat. It was positively Trumpian.
That MOAB also sent signals. Mr Trump told his supporters during the campaign that his number one foreign policy priority was defeating so-called Islamic State. Some of those voters were not thrilled then that his first military intervention was in response to the suffering of Syrian children.
They are suspicious of America getting dragged into more Middle East conflicts that don’t help US interests. Bombing IS was a reminder that Mr Trump is focused on what he calls America’s number one national security challenge.
Ahead of the Easter weekend, with North Korea rumbling about a nuclear test, the Afghan strike may also have served as another reminder to Pyongyang that Mr Trump has big, bunker-busting weapons and will use them.
So, in two short weeks, and with a new more professional team in the White House, Mr Trump has stabilised foreign policy. Allies will wait to see if the change lasts and who really speaks for the president. But for the moment there is a collective sigh of relief that American leadership may be back in more conventional hands.
Very soon, the focus will shift back to domestic policy and there Mr Trump has more of challenge. He needs a legislative win fast. When Congress returns in a week, he will tackle health care, again, tax reform and he faces a government shutdown over America’s debt limit. Failure on those will quickly shift the tone of the TV commentators.
President Trump has no domestic equivalent of the confident, competent General H R McMaster, his new national security adviser.
The Republican party is divided and the conservative wing has already shown it is prepared to say no to the president. Democrats, having been berated on Twitter and on TV by Mr Trump, are now in no mood to abandon their angry liberal base and work with him.
Mr Trump has had a good couple of weeks. He has shown a capacity to learn and adapt as a result. He has begun to understand what he doesn’t know and he has marginalised the more populist members of his team.
He wants successes. It is easier for him to get them on the world stage than at home – it would be ironic if America’s isolationist president now decided to become a foreign policy president because that’s where the wins are.
A reporter in West Virginia was arrested at the state capitol after repeatedly trying to ask President Donald Trump’s health secretary Tom Price questions about a Republican bill to replace Obamacare.
The arrest of veteran journalist Dan Heyman on Tuesday in a hallway in the Charleston capitol building was strongly criticized by his lawyer and the American Civil Liberties Union.
And it came on the same day that two Republican congressmen blasted Price’s Health and Human Services Department for a “potentially illegal and unconstitutional” memo issued May 3 restricting his subordinates from communicating independently with Congress without first informing HHS.
The department said the memo “reflects consistent agency policy which has been in place for decades.” HHS also said it does not prohibit direct communications with Congress.
Heyman’s arrest came after he tried to question Price, who was in Charleston with Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, about the Republican Obamacare replacement bill, which the Trump administration has championed.
Specifically, Heyman said he was asking Price whether suffering from domestic violence would be classified as a so-called pre-existing condition under that bill.
The question relates to a provision in the bill that would potentially allow insurers in some states to charge people with pre-existing condition higher premiums than they would charge healthier people.
At a news conference after his arrest, Heyman said Price “didn’t say anything.”
“So I persisted,” said Heyman, a journalist for Public News Service who had been wearing his press pass during the incident. “At some point, I think they decided I was too persistent trying to do my job.”
Police mugshot of reporter Dan Heyman of Public News Service
An officer from the West Virginia capitol police then detained Heyman, and handcuffed him.
“I was arrested. The police did not ask me to back up. They didn’t give me the opportunity to walk away,” Heyman said Wednesday.
Heyman was charged with a misdemeanor: willful disruption of state government processes. Police said Price and Conway were being protected at the time by Secret Service agents.
A criminal complaint said Heyman was arrested after “aggressively breaching the Secret Service agents to the point where the agents were forced to remove him a couple of times from the area walking up the hallway in the main building of the Capitol,” according to NBC affiliate WSAZ-TV in Charleston.
The complaint also said Heyman caused a disturbance by “yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price.” If convicted, Heyman faces a maximum sentence of six months in jail, and a $100 fine, his lawyer said.
“He wasn’t doing anything different than what happens every day around the country, which is a reporter trying to get a question answered,” said Heyman’s attorney, Tim DiPiero on Wednesday. DiPiero also said he failed to see how Price walking through a hallway in the state house was a government process that Heyman interfered with.
Alleigh Marre, HHS’ spokeswoman, declined to comment on the arrest, referring CNBC to law enforcement officials.
She said Price was in Charleston “as part of a listening tour to learn from those on the front lines battling the opioid epidemic,” which included hearing from “state and local policymakers, recovery advocates, first responders, treatment centers, faith-based organizations, good neighbors, and many more.”
Jamie Lynn Crofts, legal director at the ACLU of West Virginia, called on authorities to drop the charges. She also said that the arrest of Heyman is part of a pattern that has occurred since Trump became president.
“They have shown us every day since Donald Trump took office they don’t care about the First Amendment or the free press. Today was just another example of that. It’s horrifying,” Crofts said.
DiPiero, the lawyer, on Tuesday said that the reaction by police “just seems way over the top,” and called it a “really bizarre” arrest.
“I’ve never had a client get arrested for talking too loud or anything similar to that,” DiPiero said at the news conference after Heyman was released on $5,000 bail.
Heyman said he has covered health-care issues for years.
“I think it’s a terrible example” by police, Heyman said. “I think it’s dreadful. I mean, well, this is my job. This is what I’m supposed do. I am supposed to go out and find out if somebody is going to be affected by this health-care law.”
Benjamin Wakana, who until January had been spokesman for Price’s predecessor as HHS secretary, Sylvia Burwell, told CNBC on Wednesday, “If I supported a bill that destroyed protections for people with pre-existing condition, I probably wouldn’t want to answer questions either.”
“But that doesn’t mean you can arrest the person asking questions,” Wakana added.
In Washington on Tuesday, two leading Republicans, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, issued a scathing press release criticizing Price for a potentially illegal directive to staff, saying it could prevent whistleblowers from notifying Congress about problems at HHS.
The May 3 memo from Price’s chief of staff had told the heads of various HHS divisions “any communications with Members of Congress and staff should not occur without prior consultation with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Legislation (ASL).”
“This includes requests for calls, meetings, briefings, technical assistance, policy development, hearings, oversight, detailees, etc.,” the memo said. The ASL is responsible for ensuring Secretary Price’s involvement on appropriate matters.
Grassley and Chaffetz, in a letter to Price, wrote, “The attached memorandum contains no exception whatsoever for lawful, protected communications with Congress.”
“In its current form, employees are likely to interpret it as a prohibition, and will not necessarily understand their rights,” wrote Grassley and Chaffetz, who are each chairmen of powerful congressional committees overseeing the judiciary and government affairs, respectively.
“These provisions are significant because they ensure that attention can be brought to problems in the Executive Branch that need to be fixed,” the duo wrote. “Protecting whistleblowers who courageously speak out is not a partisan issue — it is critical to the functioning of our government.”
“Absent such a clear communication from you, agency management may seek to intimidate whistleblowers from providing information to Congress. We will not allow that to happen and trust that nor will you. Protecting whistleblowers is crucial to effective government and the oversight process.”
HHS told CNBC that the department “is responding to the Chairmen’s inquiry,” and that “the purpose of the memorandum was to notify staff of the role of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Legislation in coordinating policy responses with Congress.”
“Transitions between administrations can mean significant staff turnover, which often leads to confusion and a breakdown of communications,” HHS said in a statement. “This type of memorandum is nothing new. It reflects consistent agency policy, which has been in place for decades, as has been confirmed by the HHS Office of the General Counsel.”
“There is no prohibition in the memorandum on direct communications. In fact, the Chairmen’s letter explicitly states, ‘Although the language of the attached memorandum does not ultimately prohibit all direct communications from employees … If an HHS employee has concerns about waste, fraud or abuse at the agency, we want them to contact the appropriate officials so it can be stopped.’ ”
A buzzing phone, glowing tablet or the sound of a favourite video game can be a powerful temptation many can’t resist.
Now new research shows the cravings we have to connect to our devices can in fact be a real addiction.
“Seventy-five per cent of people now say they can reach their phones 24 hours a day without having to move their feet,” says Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked.
He tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti that the average person spends 3 hours and 42 minutes staring at screens each day, and that number is rising.
Most people generally underestimate how long they are on their devices. Alter includes himself in this category and suggests several apps that can be used to track actual screen time use. (See below for apps)
Alter explains the success of social media platforms are that they have many ingredients that make it irresistible — the biggest being that a reward is within reach but yet never guaranteed, much like gambling.
“Paradoxically when you guarantee someone a reward they get bored and they stop doing something quite quickly. Whereas when you build in just a small dose of uncertainty … especially where the reward devices is driven by humans, we’re really fascinated by how humans think of us — is very hard for humans to resist.”
While it’s too early to know the longterm impact of our technological consumption, Alter says there is evidence that children who spend a lot of time on screens early in life have language delays and are not skilled communicators.
He tells Tremonti that a lot of nuances are lost when a person who would normally use precise language to communicate something funny like LOL when texting can’t factor in facial expressions or a lilt in a laugh.
“Everything is a cue. And we don’t even think about that if we’re skilled communicators who have spent a lot of time face to face,” Alter says.
“But if your early use of communication is spent LOL’ing and you don’t acquire those nuances, it’s very hard to acquire them later on.”
When it comes to toddlers, Atler refers to the quote, “never get high on your own supply” and suggests the best way to maintain distance from the “drug” of screen time is to “keep them away from your family.”
Alter says even Steve Job’s believed in some restrictions, pointing to a speech where Jobs publicly shared that his kids have limited technology use and there is no iPad in the home.
Alter’s advice to curb addiction to technology is to pick a time every day to be screen-free. He also puts his phone on airplane mode on Saturdays and uses his phone just as a camera.
“People at first find that’s difficult, they have a bit of withdrawal like they might from a drug. But over time it makes them feel like happier, healthier people.”
Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.