Awk­ward meet­ings at the G20. Paul Manafort and Nancy Pelosi un­der pres­sure.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Hamish McDon­ald

Hand­shakes must be awk­ward at the Group of 20 sum­mit that got un­der way in Buenos Aires on Fri­day and con­tin­ues on Satur­day.

Does Theresa May shake hands with Vladimir Putin, after his mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence sent a team to try to mur­der the Skri­pals with Novi­chok only in March? Or even with Don­ald Trump, who said her tran­si­tional Brexit agree­ment with the Eu­ro­pean Union “sounds like a great deal for the EU” – won­der­ful sup­port as she des­per­ately tries to mar­shal back­ing for the House of Com­mons vote on it on De­cem­ber 11.

And who wants to be pho­tographed in a clutch with Saudi Ara­bia’s Mo­hammed bin Sal­man, plau­si­bly ac­cused of or­der­ing the grue­some killing of his critic Ja­mal Khashoggi?

The sum­mit it­self is usu­ally an an­o­dyne af­fair, join­ing the de­vel­oped world and the larger emerg­ing economies in a paean for free trade. The ac­tion is on the side­lines, in the bi­lat­eral meet­ings to sort out press­ing is­sues. Un­less the White House pri­or­i­ties can be ad­justed, Scott Mor­ri­son is not sched­uled for a bi­lat­eral with Don­ald Trump, who is mak­ing time for the lead­ers of Ar­gentina, Ger­many, South Korea, Turkey and Ja­pan. Trump is also hold­ing a joint ses­sion with Ja­pan’s Shinzō Abe and In­dia’s Naren­dra Modi, sug­gest­ing the strate­gic Indo-Pa­cific “quadri­lat­eral” is more of a tri­lat­eral for Wash­ing­ton.

The main tango will be on Satur­day night, when Trump has din­ner with China’s Xi Jin­ping. Trump is hop­ing

Xi will blink in the trade war, and of­fer con­ces­sions on the trans­fer of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty Bei­jing re­quires of for­eign in­vestors and prom­ises to stop in­tel­li­gence tar­get­ing of United States tech­nol­ogy.

Un­less he gets such con­ces­sions, Trump told The Wall Street Jour­nal, he is “highly un­likely” to de­lay the planned rais­ing of spe­cial tar­iffs on $US250 bil­lion of US im­ports from China, from the cur­rent 10 per cent to 25 per cent on Jan­uary 1. He would also up the pres­sure. “If we don’t make a deal, then I’m go­ing to put the $267 bil­lion ad­di­tional on,” Trump said, re­fer­ring to the re­main­der of im­ports from China.

Mor­ri­son will be anx­iously await­ing the out­come. In China, steel prices have re­cently dropped sharply from fears of a deep­en­ing trade war. The price of iron ore has fol­lowed them down. If this fall is sus­tained, Mor­ri­son’s hopes of be­ing able to an­nounce a re­turn to sur­plus in the 2019-20 bud­get could be dashed.

Sal­man’s famine

Noth­ing can bring Khashoggi back to life, and the chances of get­ting the Saudi crown prince to con­fess or of Trump get­ting him dis­in­her­ited are re­mote. But the in­famy put on Mo­hammed bin Sal­man by the mur­der gives lever­age to end his ap­palling war in Ye­men.

It al­lowed the US de­fence sec­re­tary, James Mat­tis, to qui­etly end the US air re­fu­elling of Saudi and Emi­rati bombers that, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch, have car­ried out up to 90 “ap­par­ently un­law­ful coali­tion airstrikes” which “hit homes, mar­kets, hos­pi­tals, schools and mosques”. United Na­tions agen­cies and other or­gan­i­sa­tions had iden­ti­fied scores of oth­ers, the group said.

As har­row­ing pic­tures of skele­tal Ye­meni chil­dren at­test, the Saudi-led air and ground at­tacks on the Iran-backed Houthi forces con­trol­ling the north of the coun­try, and a naval block­ade, have cre­ated a mass famine. About 8.5 mil­lion of the es­ti­mated 29 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion rely on the UN’s World Food Pro­gramme, which re­cently fore­cast an­other 5.6 mil­lion would soon need help to sur­vive.

The crown prince launched the cam­paign three-and-a-half years ago in his then ca­pac­ity as Saudi Ara­bia’s de­fence min­is­ter. It has since be­come a ma­jor em­bar­rass­ment for the US and Eu­ro­pean pow­ers, who’ve been avert­ing their eyes or giv­ing some aid while con­tin­u­ing the lu­cra­tive trade of sell­ing arms to the Saudis and their Gulf al­lies.

Manafort knocks

Back in DC, things are not go­ing too well for Trump, de­spite his claims that re­tain­ing a se­nate ma­jor­ity for the Re­pub­li­cans while los­ing the lower house in the midterm con­gres­sional elec­tions last month was an amaz­ing vic­tory.

His for­mer pres­i­den­tial cam­paign chair­man, Paul Manafort, is in deeper wa­ter after pros­e­cu­tors with Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian as­sis­tance to the cam­paign ac­cused him of breach­ing his plea bar­gain by re­peated “crimes and lies” on “a va­ri­ety of sub­jects” dur­ing ques­tion­ing. All prom­ises are off, the pros­e­cu­tors said, but Manafort can’t change his guilty plea. The heat is re­ally on him to tell all.

Sep­a­rately, The Guardian re­ported that Manafort had vis­ited Ju­lian As­sange in the Ecuado­rian em­bassy in Lon­don in March 2016, just be­fore the flow of Demo­crat emails hacked by Rus­sian op­er­a­tives started via Wik­iLeaks.

Trump’s claim to be pro­tect­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs also came into ques­tion. Gen­eral Mo­tors said it was ceas­ing pro­duc­tion at four car plants in the north­ern states and one in Canada due to fall­ing de­mand for small cars. About 3300 US pro­duc­tion work­ers and 2500 in Canada will be laid off, plus about 8000 other staff. Ford and Fiat Chrysler also an­nounced cuts ear­lier in the year.

Mis­sis­sippi god­damn

But in the Deep South, the Re­pub­li­cans are hold­ing on. In a runoff for a US se­nate seat in Mis­sis­sippi on Tues­day, in­cum­bent Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tor

Cindy Hyde-Smith hand­ily beat her Demo­crat ri­val Mike Espy, an African Amer­i­can, af­firm­ing the Re­pub­li­cans now have 53 of the 100 Se­nate seats, up from 51.

A prod­uct of pri­vate col­leges set up to avoid de­seg­re­gated pub­lic schools, Hyde-Smith ran a racism-tinged cam­paign, at one point pos­ing with a sup­porter and say­ing, “If he in­vited me to a pub­lic hang­ing, I’d be on the front row.”

Ap­par­ently to make the point to black vot­ers, peo­ple have been hang­ing nooses from trees around the state’s leg­is­la­ture. The Equal Jus­tice Ini­tia­tive has listed 654 lynch­ings in Mis­sis­sippi be­tween 1877 and 1950.

Neg­a­tive Nancy

The stronger than ex­pected midterm re­sult for the Democrats in the house of rep­re­sen­ta­tives, bring­ing an in­flux of young faces, has also brought new dilem­mas about how to play the role of op­po­si­tion to Trump.

This week the lower house leader of the past 15 years, Nancy Pelosi, has been fight­ing off chal­lengers from two groups of congress mem­bers. One 16-mem­ber group wants the 78-year-old to step aside for a younger gen­er­a­tion. An­other of nine mem­bers wants her to agree to rule changes to pro­mote bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion. She won the cau­cus vote on Wed­nes­day, but 32 mem­bers voted against her and three cast blank bal­lots. When the new House meets in Jan­uary, Pelosi needs to win over at least 15 of the dis­senters to get the 218-vote bare ma­jor­ity to be­come speaker again. She still has a lot of per­sua­sion ahead. An en­dorse­ment by Trump has not been help­ful among the party’s pro­gres­sives.

The out­come will in­flu­ence how the Democrats han­dle things to­wards the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Un­less Mueller comes up with di­rect Rus­sian col­lu­sion, or Trump com­mits a “gross crime or mis­de­meanour” worse than the usual, im­peach­ment by the house is out, as the trial would prob­a­bly founder in the se­nate.

The pres­sure on Pelosi re­flects two view­points. One thinks a stri­dently anti-Trump stance would play badly with the Amer­i­can pub­lic, which sees Wash­ing­ton “grid­locked” by pol­i­tics. Bet­ter to be con­struc­tive on things such as in­fras­truc­ture and med­i­cal in­sur­ance. The other, ar­tic­u­lated by Sen­a­tor Bernie Sanders in a re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post ar­ti­cle, calls for Democrats to de­lin­eate their party as pro­gres­sive.

He urged poli­cies of dou­bling the min­i­mum wage, Medi­care and other so­cial se­cu­rity for all, mak­ing the wealthy pay more tax, free tu­ition at pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties, le­gal­is­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, low­er­ing im­pris­on­ment rates and ac­tion on cli­mate change. At 77, Sanders is show­ing it’s pos­si­ble to be both old and bold.

Saudi Ara­bia’s Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man(left) is greeted by Ar­gentina’s for­eign min­is­ter Jorge Fau­rie (cen­tre) and an em­bassy of­fi­cial on his ar­rival in Buenos Aires this week for the G20 sum­mit.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world ed­i­tor.

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