Trump and the Nile

By Christopher Harper

Against the backdrop of continuing tension in the Middle East, the United States is playing a peacekeeping role in a dispute among Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

You won’t read about the Trump administration’s mediation in the mainstream press because it doesn’t fit the meme of a war-mongering president.

So here goes. The three countries agreed to meet this week in Washington to tackle problems over a dam project on the Nile River that may greatly affect water resources in Egypt and Sudan.

The differences among the three countries date back to May 2011 when Ethiopia started building a dam, which is known as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The $5 billion hydroelectric dam would exist on the Blue Nile near the Ethiopia-Sudan border. The reservoir would hold up to 67 billion cubic meters of water and take at least seven years to fill, which would decrease the river’s flow for at least that period by 25 percent. For Ethiopia, the dam would aid water needs and economic development, as it is set to supply the country with more than 6,000 megawatts of electricity. But it could be devastating for Egypt, which relies on the river for irrigation, fishing, and transport.

The river is so vital that Egyptian officials have made it clear that military action may occur if Ethiopia doesn’t come to an agreement.

In 2015, the three countries signed the Declaration of Principles, which agreed that the downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, would not be negatively affected by the construction of the dam. In October 2019, however, Egypt blamed Ethiopia for hindering a final agreement. Under the earlier declaration, the three countries would seek mediation if they could not reach an accord.

Enter the United States as the mediator. Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia agreed to a series of four meetings in Addis Ababa, Cairo, Khartoum. This week’s meeting in Washington is the fourth in this round of negotiations.

It’s unclear whether the United States will be able to help settle this longstanding dispute. But it’s readily apparent that Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia think the Trump administration may be able to help.

Unfortunately, the American media are unlikely to mention this peaceful role the U.S. is playing.

Update (DTG): Delayed Instalanche, thanks Glenn, welcome folks take a look around. If you liked this piece by Christopher Harper a former member of the MSM and current professor of journalism writes here every Tuesday and often covers things nobody else bothers to, particularly on his oversees trips. Check out his previous pieces like Egyptians for Trump a Greek Getaway and Trump, on his Majesty’s service, and Fake News and me. Oh just check out the lot, both here and on the old host.

And if you think he and the rest of my Magnificent Seven are worth your time considering kicking in to DaTipJar and help keep them paid.

Egyptians for Trump

By Christopher Harper

It came as a pleasant surprise when I heard about the widespread support for Donald Trump in Egypt.

“No one wanted Hillary,” said one Egyptian acquaintance. “She and Obama were a disaster.”

I heard this sentiment several times during a two-week stay in Egypt.

Back in 2009, President Obama called for a “new beginning” between the Islamic world and the U.S. during a speech at Cairo University. He promised to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, to pursue Palestinian-Israeli peace, and to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq.

His promises went nowhere. It’s also worth noting that the president insisted on having a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood attend the speech, a group that eventually came to power and ushered in two deadly years at the head of Egypt’s government. 

By the end of his presidency, Obama faced a great deal of bitterness from Arabs. That view came across in a variety of Arab countries in a Pew Research Center survey in June 2015. Support for Obama was incredibly low: about a third of the Lebanese, 15 percent of Palestinians, and 14 percent of Jordanians. See https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2015/06/23/1-americas-global-image/

Although Egypt was not included in the Pew survey, the country got little support from Obama after the 2009 speech.

The Hoover Institution provided an analysis of what Obama did wrong in his relationship with Egypt:

–Obama ignored Egypt’s traditional role as a bridge between Arabs and Israel.

–The president ignored Egypt when taking on Libya and removing its leader.

–The administration failed to lean on the most significant military power in the Arab world during a variety of problems in the region. 

When the Egyptians finally got rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, Obama suspended military aid. 

Ultimately, Obama and Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi only met on the sidelines at the United Nations. That rebuff to a traditional Arab ally left a bad taste in the mouths of many Egyptians.

“For its part, Washington should expect to provide Egypt’s military leaders the political embrace that Obama was always reluctant to offer, but also requests from Egyptians that it would compensate them in the currency that matters most – U.S. regional leadership that would lead to a resumption of Saudi and other Gulf assistance to help Cairo weather crushing economic problems,” a Hoover Institution analysis argued at the beginning of the Trump era. 

Three years later, Trump has accomplished much of what the Hoover Institution suggested. That’s why Egyptians were happy that Trump beat Hillary and remain so today.

The stigma of Camp David

By Christopher Harper

The Camp David Accords—once heralded by the United States, Israel, and Egypt as a solution to the Middle East crisis—continue to stymie any significant efforts to address the problems in the region.

More than 40 years ago, I arrived in the Middle East just after the peace agreement was signed. At the time, Americans saw the agreement as a major step forward. Instead, the accords resulted in the isolation of Egypt—once the leader of the Arab world.

Until now, Egypt has been relegated to a secondary role in the region. Moreover, the agreement led directly to the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the rise of Saddam Hussein, and myriad troubles in the Middle East from Syria to Libya and even Iran.

For Egypt and Israel, the agreement has resulted in what many call a “cold peace” during which the two countries don’t face the possibility of war but with little interaction beyond cursory talks about security and economic issues.

For example, my wife and I have been traveling throughout Egypt over the past two weeks. We wanted to stop in Israel for a short visit. But we found it virtually impossible to find a way to travel directly between the two countries.

The huge volume of U.S. aid has had almost no impact on improving the lot of the average Egyptian, most of whom see little benefit from the Camp David agreement.

Cultural exchanges—once seen as a way to improve relations between Egyptians and Israelis–have faltered badly. For example, Farouk Hosnoy, the former minister for culture for more than two decades, refused to visit Israel and threatened to burn any Israeli book he found in the Alexandria library. Every year, organizers of Cairo Film Festival refuse to allow Israel to participate in the event. When the Israeli Center for Research and Information translated Alaa al-Aswany’s popular novel, The Yacoubian Building, he threatened to sue the center because he opposed to cultural normalization with Israel.

At one point, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld a ruling that ordered the revocation of citizenship from 30,000 Egyptian men married to Israeli women.

The long-term tension between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip that borders Egypt, has created problems for the Cairo government. The Egyptians, who brokered a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, has grown increasingly tired of the actions of both sides.

Despite the long list of diplomatic ills, however, a recent gas deal between Egypt and Israel provides some hope for the future.

Partners in Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar offshore gas fields agreed last year to sell $15 billion worth of gas to a customer in Egypt in what Israeli officials called the most significant deal to emerge since the neighbors made peace in 1979.

With this significant step in economic ties, perhaps the “cold peace” will at least result in some future cooperation between the two sides. But the Camp David accords—once hailed as the pathway to peace in the region—will remain a sore point for Egypt, Israel, and the rest of the Middle East.

Egypt Today

By Christopher Harper

Ahmed, a middle-aged tour guide, didn’t work for almost six years as Egypt’s economy fell into a downward spiral as a result of government instability, terrorism, and crime.

His health suffered, leading to two heart operations. His children’s plans to attend college had to be put on hold until recently.

Today, however, he’s optimistic about the future because the government of strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought stability to the largest country in the Arab world.

I first visited Egypt more than 40 years ago, and it’s been eight years since I last traveled there—a time of great hope after the 2011 revolution.

That hope became despair in only a few months after the Muslim Brotherhood took control of the government for two years until the military seized power in 2013.

My wife and I just started a two-week stay that will allow us to travel throughout Egypt.

The people I’ve spoken with share Ahmed’s optimism. For example, Mina, who is Coptic Christian, said the greater attention to terrorism and street crime has made Egypt far better than under the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the hope of the Arab revolution of 2001 failed to be achieved, Mina is content that times are better than in recent years.

The Coptic Christians, who make up about 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 100 million, came under intense harassment at the hands of Muslim extremists for several years. Copts were killed because of their religion. Their churches were burned. Most lived in fear of what would happen next.

Although security remains relatively tight around Coptic churches, my wife and I visited the center of the Christian population. The streets bustled with local residents and tourists, with little concern about possible attacks during the Christmas holidays.

After a visit to a Coptic monastery in the western desert, however, military police accompanied our tour bus until we made it to more populated areas.

Tourism seems to have picked up after the problems of the past decade, although my wife and I didn’t see too many Americans. Many of our friends thought we were crazy to make such a trip, so Egypt will have to convince people from the United States to return there.

El-Sisi and his team have rolled out a variety of economic programs, including a major building project at the Suez Canal to increase traffic. Also, the government has devalued the currency, making foreign investment far more appealing.

But Egyptian skeptics remain. One of my friends whom I visited during the 2011 uprising left the country for Central America. When I asked him if any of my acquaintances remained in Egypt, he responded, “They’re dead, in prison, or they left the country.”

El-Sisi and his supporters still have to convince some of their fellow countrymen that the economic and political situation will get even better.

One final note: A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you from Egypt!

Shut down the FISA court

By Christopher Harper

It’s time to get rid of the secret court created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

The approval of warrants to investigate the Trump campaign is the latest abuse of the court, which was created in 1978 to limit spying.

A FISA warrant is one of the most aggressive searches, authorizing the FBI “to conduct, simultaneous telephone, microphone, cell phone, email, and computer surveillance of the U.S. person target’s home, workplace, and vehicles,” as well as “physical searches of the target’s residence, office, vehicles, computer, safe deposit box, and U.S. mails,” as a FISA court decision noted. 

Even more important, the FISA court is extremely deferential, allowing about 99 percent of all warrant requests.

But there’s more. The FISA court has a long history of abuse. 

James Bovard, the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, provided some of the details:

–In 2002, the FISA court revealed that FBI agents made false or misleading claims in 75 cases.

–In 2005, FISA Chief Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly proposed requiring FBI agents to swear to the accuracy of the information they presented. That never happened because it could have “slowed such investigations drastically,” the Washington Post reported. FBI agents continued to exploit FISA secrecy to lie to the judges.

–In 2017, a FISA court decision included a 10-page litany of FBI violations, which “ranged from illegally sharing raw intelligence with unauthorized third parties to accessing intercepted attorney-client privileged communications without proper oversight.”

–Earlier this year, a secret FISA court ruling was released documenting the FBI’s illegal searches of vast numbers of Americans’ emails.

Keep in mind, the FISA court is closed to the public and the press, unlike almost every other court in the country. Therefore, there is virtually no oversight of the FISA court. 

The critics of the FISA court come from both sides of the political spectrum. Maybe there’s hope that this egregious example of injustice can be shut down.

Although many conservatives think the FISA court is useful in fighting terrorism, I think its abuses far outweigh its benefits.

Do ‘experts’ have any value?

By Christopher Harper

If you turn back the clock six months to the end of May, the “experts” predicted gloom and doom for the U.S. economy.

The key piece of information was the yield gap between three-month and 10-year Treasury bonds reach a low of minus 13 basis points. According to the “experts,” the gap forecast a recession.

Almost every talking head chirped on every cable outlet: Recession, recession, recession.

Fast forward to the current economic mood: Unemployment to record low levels. Jobs up. Consumer confidence up. Productivity up.

The disconnect between the facts and the “experts” even had The Wall Street Journal wondering: What would we do without experts?

The report noted that the “experts” had failed to predict that employers added 266,000 jobs in November—the fastest pace since 312,000 in January—and the jobless rate dipped to 3.5%, matching September as the lowest level since 1969. Wages also advanced 3.1% from a year earlier.

The “experts” were nonplussed. Even DaTimes acknowledged that many of the “experts” got it wrong.

“The mainstream view of the economics profession — held by leaders of the Federal Reserve, the Congressional Budget Office, private forecasters, and many in academia — was that the United States economy was at, or close to, full employment.”

The “experts” got it wrong by a full one percent, arguing that 4.7 was as good as it could get. The workforce prediction was off by more than one million people.

Fortunately, consumers and small business owners haven’t followed the advice of the “experts.”

Americans’ view of the economic outlook improved significantly in December, according to a University of Michigan consumer-sentiment survey. The University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment rose to a December reading of 99.2 from a final November reading of 96.8. Economists had expected a December reading of 96.9.

I guess we can add economists to the list of experts who can’t be trusted. That list already includes political analysts, sports commentators, and climate-change advocates.

One final note: We lost a true expert when Paul Volcker died this week. As chairman of the Federal Reserve under Carter and Reagan, he was responsible for bringing the country out of a deep recession and for stopping rampant inflation.

A Greek getaway and Trump

By Christopher Harper

At a lecture at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece, I sketched out why Donald Trump won in 2016 and was likely to do so again in 2020.

The group—mostly students and professors—get much of their information from the American and Greek media. Therefore, much of what they read and hear is wrong.

At the outset, I explained that I came from flyover country, the backbone of Trump’s support. The West and East coasts may dominate the entertainment and media industries, but the places in between determine who becomes president.

Second, I pointed out how poorly the American media had performed in 2016, failing to recognize that Trump’s support was stronger than they thought, and Clinton’s following was much weaker. As a result, the media are likely to get the 2020 campaign wrong, too, and should not be a significant source of information for those who want to know what’s happening in the election. Also, I examined how bad Clinton was as a candidate and how out of touch the Democrat candidates were this year.

Third, I outlined what I believe is central to Trump’s foreign policy. To Trump, economics is central to his policies. For example, he sees illegal immigration as creating economic issues from employment to government costs, including health care and schools.

Immigration is a topic that hits home for Greeks, who have faced a growing problem of their own. In fact, the government has instituted a crackdown on immigration over the past few weeks because of the growing cost of illegal immigrants.

One Greek journalist asked me about Trump’s tweets, arguing that they undermined his credibility. Not so, I replied. His tweets send his opponents reeling while his supporters find them funny. His constant social media presence allows Trump to go over the heads of the media and his detractors—much the same way Ronald Reagan used television.

I don’t know how many of the 40 or so people I convinced that Trump would be reelected. But at least I had the opportunity to provide them with an unfiltered view of what I saw as the importance of Trump’s election.

At another stop during my Greek trip, I encountered two sisters—both in their seventies—from Houston. Both supported Trump without hesitation. It was a refreshing conversation—one I almost never have in Philadelphia, a bastion of Trump haters. It’s rather sad to have to travel 5,000 miles to find fellow travelers.

An immigration crackdown in Greece

By Christopher Harper

Having spent the past few days roaming around Greece, I find it amazing that the U.S. press hasn’t picked up on the crackdown on immigrants.

The Greek government has adopted a policy to “shut the door” on migrants not entitled to stay — a hardening of its stance amid a new surge in arrivals.

That would be from a country that often tilts toward the left side of the political spectrum.

Simply put, recent elections tossed out the old leader as citizens got tired of the immigration crisis in the country.

“Welcome in Greece are only those we choose,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Parliament. “Those who are not welcome will be returned. We will permanently shut the door to illegal human traffickers, to those who want to enter even though they are not entitled to asylum.”

Greece was the main gateway into the European Union for more than a million people fleeing conflict in 2015-16.

In speaking with some local residents, citizens are unhappy that the refugees often have no desire to participate in the country’s social life, including keeping their children out of school. Few are trying to learn Greek.

“Greece has its strengths, but it is not an unfenced vineyard,” Mitsotakis said recently, using a Greek expression meaning the country is not open to anyone. “Those days are gone.”

Moreover, Mitsotakis’ government said it wants to move up to 20,000 asylum seekers out of sprawling island camps and onto the mainland by the end of the year and expects that new facilities will be ready by July 2020.

Medecins Sans Frontieres has raised concerns over the new centers, arguing that the new facilities would amount to detention centers. Human rights groups have also criticized a new framework for speeding up the processing of asylum requests as a “rushed” attempt that would impede access to a fair asylum process for refugees.

Separately, officials in neighboring North Macedonia said a police patrol detained a group of 33 migrants found walking through the southern part of the country, near its border with Greece. Police said the group consisted of 21 Afghan nationals, seven Pakistanis, three Iraqis, and two Iranians.

Although the Balkan route followed by migrants trying to reach Europe’s prosperous heartland has been closed since 2016, thousands still use it. They usually pay large sums to smuggling gangs to illegally get them through the closed borders.

Sound familiar?

Bribery and the Constitution

By Christopher Harper

Bribery?

That’s the latest means the Democrats have tried to get rid of Donald Trump.

But there’s a Democrat congressman, Alcee Hastings, who might make a useful addition to the witness list because he’s only one of three federal officials who’s been charged with bribery under the impeachment clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Hastings, who is one of the longest-serving representatives in Congress, was elected in Florida in 1992. In fact, he almost got elected in 2006 as head of the House Intelligence Committee now holding the impeachment hearings.

But here’s what Hastings doesn’t want everyone to remember.

In 1981, Hastings was charged with accepting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for a lenient sentence against two defendants when he was a federal judge in Florida. He also was accused of perjury in his testimony about the case. 

In 1983, Hastings was acquitted by a jury after his co-conspirator refused to testify in court. 

In 1988, the Democrat-controlled House took up the case, and Hastings was impeached for bribery and perjury a vote of 413–3. He was then convicted on October 20, 1989, by the U.S. Senate on eight articles of impeachment. 

His co-conspirator, attorney William Borders, went to jail again for refusing to testify in the impeachment proceedings but was later given a full pardon by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled in Nixon v. United States that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over Senate impeachment matters, so Hastings’s conviction and removal were upheld.

Hastings’s impeachment and removal had to do with an out-and-out bribe. No similar comparison can be made with the current investigation of Trump.

Nancy Pelosi and some Obama lawyers are trying to peddle the notion that the founding fathers had some other definition of bribery, but I’ve been unable to find the distinctions in my research of sources on the Constitution.

The past precedents for bribery under the impeachment clause, particularly that of Democrat Hastings, were clear cut examples of taking money for doing something that was illegal. 

Hastings would make an excellent example of what bribery really is under the U.S. Constitution!

Lessons from Watergate

By Christopher Harper

As a young reporter, I covered part of the Watergate story, including the offices of Howard Baker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee that investigated President Nixon and his administration.

What I remember most of all was the bipartisan nature and transparency of the hearings in the Senate and the later those in the House—a stark difference to what’s happening now.

On February 7, 1973, the U.S. Senate voted 77-to-0 to approve a resolution to establish the select committee to investigate Watergate, with Democrat Sam Ervin named chairman the next day.

The hearings held by the Senate committee were broadcast from May 17 to August 7, 1973. The three major networks of the time agreed to take turns covering the hearings live. An estimated 85 percent of Americans with television sets tuned in to at least one portion of the hearings.

Baker and Ervin, both Southern lawyers, shared the spotlight, with little pretense of partisan politics. Baker became well known for his question of Nixon aides: What did he (Nixon) know, and when did he know it?

As established under the Constitution, the House needed to consider the issues for impeachment. Here, too, the representatives put aside most partisan antics.

On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410-4 to authorize the Judiciary Committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president. During the debate over this measure, Chairman Peter Rodino, a Democrat said, “Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: This was the right course. There was no other way.” House Republican leader John Rhodes said that Rodino’s vow was “good with me.”

Nevertheless, the House committee was not as transparent as the Senate investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee opened its formal impeachment hearings against the President on May 9, 1974. The first twenty minutes were televised on the major U.S. networks, after which the committee switched to closed sessions for the next two months. Altogether, there were only seven days of public hearings.

When the committee finally voted on articles of impeachment, the tallies included bipartisan support, with roughly one-third of the Republicans and all of the Democrats supporting the three articles that were passed.

Furthermore, a group of prominent GOP legislators convinced Nixon he should resign.

At almost every step of Watergate, Democrats and GOP may have disagreed. Ultimately, however, they sought the truth in a bipartisan and relatively transparent way.

That’s an important lesson the Democrats should consider.