Trump’s claim that NATO will boost defense spending disputed
By JONATHAN LEMIRE and JILL COLVIN
Thursday, July 12
BRUSSELS (AP) — President Donald Trump closed out his chaotic two-day visit to NATO Thursday by declaring victory, claiming that member nations caved to his demands to significantly increase defense spending and reaffirming his commitment to the alliance.
But there were no immediate specifics on what Trump said he had achieved, and French President Emmanuel Macron quickly disputed Trump’s claim that NATO allies have agreed to boost defense spending beyond 2 percent of gross domestic product.
“The United States’ commitment to NATO remains very strong,” Trump told reporters at a surprise news conference following an emergency session of NATO members held to address his threats.
Trump had spent his time in Brussels berating members of the military alliance for failing to spend enough of their money on defense, accusing Europe of freeloading off the U.S. and raising doubts about whether he would come to members’ defense if they were attacked.
Trump said he made his anger clear to allies on Wednesday.
“Yesterday I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening,” Trump said, adding that, in response, European countries agreed to up their spending.
“They have substantially upped their commitment and now we’re very happy and have a very, very powerful, very, very strong NATO,” he said.
Trump did not specify which countries had committed to what, and it remained unclear whether any had changed their plans. He seemed to suggest a sped-up timeline, saying nations would be “spending at a much faster clip,” which if it panned out would mark a significant milestone for the alliance.
“Some are at 2 percent, others have agreed definitely to go to 2 percent, and some are going back to get the approval, and which they will get to go to 2 percent,” he said.
U.S. leaders for decades have pushed NATO allies to spend more on defense in an effort to more equitably share the burden in the mutual-defense organization.
NATO countries in 2014 committed to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense within 10 years. NATO has estimated that only 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.
Macron, in his own press conference, seemed to reject Trump’s claim that NATO powers had agreed to increases beyond previous targets. He said the allies had confirmed their intention to meet the goal of 2 percent by 2024 and no more.
The emergency session came amid reports that Trump had threatened to leave the pact if allies didn’t immediately up their spending, but officials said no explicit threat was made.
“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” Macron said.
Trump has taken an aggressive tone during the NATO summit, questioning the value of an alliance that has defined decades of American foreign policy, torching an ally and proposing a massive increase in European defense spending.
Earlier Thursday, Trump called out U.S. allies on Twitter, saying, “Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia.”
He complained the United States “pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe” and demanded that member nations meet their pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, which “must ultimately go to 4%!”
Under fire for his warm embrace of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump on Wednesday also turned a harsh spotlight on Germany’s own ties to Russia, alleging that a natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Angela Merkel’s government “totally controlled” and “captive” to Russia.
He continued the attack Thursday, complaining that “Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia.”
“Not acceptable!” he railed before arriving late at NATO headquarters for morning meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia.
During the trip, Trump questioned the necessity of the alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting after a day of contentious meetings: “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?”
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, shot back that she had “experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I’m very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that’s very good.”
Trump tweeted that NATO countries “Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025” and then rattled them further by privately suggesting member nations should spend 4 percent of their gross domestic product on defense — a bigger share than even the United States currently pays, according to NATO statistics.
Still, Trump has been more conciliatory behind the scenes, including at a leaders’ dinner Wednesday.
“I have to tell you that the atmosphere last night at dinner was very open, was very constructive and it was very positive,” Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the president of Croatia, told reporters.
Amid the tumult, British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union, sounded a call for solidarity among allies.
“As we engage Russia we must do so from a position of unity and strength – holding out hope for a better future, but also clear and unwavering on where Russia needs to change its behavior for this to become a reality,” she said.
Trump heads next to the United Kingdom. Although Trump administration officials point to the longstanding alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, Trump’s itinerary in England will largely keep him out of central London, where significant protests are expected.
Instead, a series of events — a black-tie dinner with business leaders, a meeting with May and an audience with Queen Elizabeth II — will happen outside the bustling city, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has been in a verbal battle with Trump.
Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, dismissed the significance of the protests, telling Fox News that one of the reasons the two countries are so close “is because we have the freedoms that we’ve all fought for. And one of the freedoms we have is freedom of speech and the freedom to express your views. And I know that’s valued very highly over here and people can disagree strongly and still go out to dinner.”
He also said meeting the queen would be an experience Trump “will really cherish.”
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Darlene Superville and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Colvin and Lemire on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and https://twitter.com/JonLemire
Guest opinion: We surveyed farmers: conservation is important
By Cora Fox, email@example.com, Center for Rural Affairs
Many farmers and ranchers value the opportunity the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) offers to enhance their existing conservation efforts, according to a survey we completed last year. Eighty-seven percent of respondents, all living in an area with a strong agricultural presence, stated CSP should be supported as a priority in the farm bill.
We recently released, “A farmer’s view: a look at the Conservation Stewardship Program,” which analyzes these survey results and examines the efficacy of CSP in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The questionnaire was distributed to 4,799 farmers, and 829 responses were received.
CSP is the largest federal conservation program by acreage that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service administers. The program differs from other working lands programs in that it rewards farmers and ranchers for performing conservation and also provides a path for them to increase levels of conservation for their entire operation.
Survey respondents reported positive changes to soil health, water quality, and other natural resources, which indicate the program is working as it should. Conservation enhancements chosen by farmers and ranchers are meant to address priority resource concerns that are not confined to a single farm or ranch, but rather impact the surrounding region. With enhancements that reduce erosion and prevent water runoff, CSP helps protect our most valued, and shared, resources.
With CSP, farmers and ranchers can access greater levels of conservation, see advantages of those practices, and value the education and financial support to help achieve these conservation benefits. This demonstrates the reassuring conclusion that CSP is working as it should.
To view the report, visit cfra.org/publications/AFarmersViewOfCSP.
Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.
What’s at Stake if Brett Kavanaugh Joins the Court
If Americans lose the right to privacy enshrined in Roe, they’ll lose a lot more than abortion access.
By Olivia Alperstein | Jul 11, 2018
President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. Why should you care? Because everything from reproductive rights to voting, education, and health care is now at stake.
Kavanaugh, a judicial ideologue committed to pulling the Court further to the right, may also reverse decades of key rulings that uphold the constitutional right to personal liberty and autonomy.
All Americans say they value personal freedom, especially the right to make our own decisions about our private lives. Every day, we take that liberty for granted, from exercising our right to free speech to lighting up sparklers on the Fourth of July. Cherishing our liberties is as American as apple pie — but our right to exercise those liberties could be undone.
Nowhere is the issue more critical than on reproductive rights. Kavanaugh’s nomination will mean a major battle to undo key protections in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that firmly established the right to access safe, legal abortion.
Striking down Roe would immediately outlaw abortion in states where pre-Roe anti-abortion laws are technically still on the books. As many as 22 states could be impacted over the course of two years.
That’s bad enough. But it’s also critical to remember the reasoning behind the historic 7-2 ruling: that people have a constitutional right to privacy.
Specifically, the Supreme Court upheld and enshrined the protections included in the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, holding that those protections applied to decisions a person might make about their own body.
Ultimately, that decision informed several other critical rulings, including cases that forbade bans on same-sex romantic relationships and affirmed the right to same-sex marriage. According to Roe, the right to make your own choices is one of the founding principles that govern this country.
If Roe is overturned, that could set off a chain reaction that upends this critical foundation behind other landmark cases — both those that came before and those that came after.
The constitutional right to privacy informed Loving v. Virginia, which struck down criminalization of interracial marriage, and Griswold v. Connecticut, which enabled the legalization of contraceptives. The constitutional right to privacy also played a key role in Carpenter v. United States, a recent ruling that prohibits warrantless collection of cellphone users’ data without reasonable cause.
Judicial precedent set by the Supreme Court has built a solid foundation for interpretation of the law — but all it takes is a stacked court to have that foundation tumble like a house of cards.
Supreme Court appointments are for life. The rulings these justices make affect the entire judicial system for decades, if not centuries, to come. Each year, dozens of critical cases come before the court that deeply impact people’s rights and daily lives.
While outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy wasn’t perfect, he was committed to upholding the personal right to privacy as enshrined in U.S. law. Kavanaugh, however, could roll back our hard-won freedoms — and those of future generations.
The Senate will be voting soon on whether to confirm Kavanaugh. A lot more than just a vacant bench hangs in the balance.
Olivia Alperstein is the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Comments on Congress
We’re All In This Together
BY LEE HAMILTON
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Americans disagree with one another on all kinds of issues. We need to accept and tolerate those differences, because we are far stronger when we seek to reconcile them rather than ignore or exacerbate them.
Our republic is under stress. So much so, in fact, that if you’re not worried about its future, you probably haven’t been paying attention.
What makes me say this? Our public discourse has become uncivil and shrill. Corruption and unethical actions by prominent politicians headline the daily news. Too many politicians make their mark by fueling division, exploiting frustration and casting doubt on our democratic institutions — and too many Americans respond by agreeing with them.
On the whole, Americans’ regard for our political institutions and the people who run them is scraping rock bottom. By two-to-one margins, parents urge their children not to go into politics.
And who can blame them? These days, it’s far easier to enumerate the things that are wrong with our republic than what is right. It’s marked by a proliferation of special interests, an avalanche of money, disregard for facts, gridlock, partisan gerrymandering, excessive partisanship, and indifference to the common good among political leaders.
So it’s not surprising that many Americans have tuned out. They understand our republic only vaguely and participate in it less. Voting rates are depressing, and a disturbing number of young Americans reject politics in all its forms.
While political engagement — as measured by people taking to the streets — may be on the rise, that’s not necessarily a sign of good civic health. In fact, we appear to be caught in a dangerous downward cycle. Government is seen as dysfunctional and corrupt; this causes the ablest people to stay out of government and politics; and this, in turn, hobbles politics and government.
The risk in all this is that as Americans disengage, we place the entire American democratic enterprise in jeopardy. Lincoln’s burning question at Gettysburg — “Whether a nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure” — was apt then; it is disturbingly so today.
So what do we do? There are plenty of steps we could take to strengthen our democratic institutions and make government more efficient, effective, and responsive. But what we need most of all is for our citizens — that’s you and me — to appreciate this democracy we’ve inherited, and to step up to the responsibilities it asks of us.
Our republic, despite its many challenges, is at its core a monumental achievement. It is marked by strong, independent branches of government, entrusted to exercise limited and defined powers within the bounds of the Constitution. It enshrines checks and balances, separation of powers, equal individual rights and opportunity, and the rule of law.
It provides fair, free elections — mostly free from fraud and manipulation. Most remarkably of all, it is constructed to allow us to seek a more perfect union — to improve it as the nation evolves. This is its great strength.
But we can only take advantage of its strength when we act as though we’re all in this republic together — when we work cooperatively to secure a country where all people have the opportunity to enjoy the promise of America by living a life of honor, excellence…and responsibility.
Because democracy places demanding responsibilities on its citizens — to cast an informed vote, to engage in the dialogue of democracy with civility and a willingness to learn, to make discriminating judgments about politics and politicians, to work with others to strengthen the institutions of democracy and improve our part of the world.
We will disagree with one another about all kinds of issues — but also know that we need to accept and tolerate those differences, because we are far stronger when we seek to reconcile them rather than ignore or exacerbate them.
Let’s not deny it: the trends these days are worrisome. We face a bewildering array of dangers to our republic. Authoritarian rule and autocratic leadership, once unthinkable, are now true concerns. We are subject to unwanted foreign influence, prey to public and private figures who use government to pursue money and power and manipulate the rules of the game for personal gain, and at the mercy of politicians who believe that whatever it takes to win is just fine.
But if we also lose trust that we, as citizens, can turn the republic around by shouldering our responsibilities to act, that’s when we’re truly sunk.
Lee Hamilton is a Senior Advisor for the Indiana University Center on Representative Government; a Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and a Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.