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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Elmau Castle (Germany) (AFP) – World leaders Monday warned Russia it would face stepped-up sanctions for its “aggression” in Ukraine, as they wrapped up a G7 meeting also pledging strong action to fight climate change.

At a luxury retreat nestled in the picture-perfect Bavarian Alps, the leaders of the most powerful countries also tackled threats to global security posed by Islamist extremism and risks to the global economy from Greece.

For the third time, Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin was barred from the summit due to what US President Barack Obama termed his “aggression in Ukraine”, as the group of seven top powers closed ranks against Russia.

“We … stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase cost on Russia should its actions so require,” said the leaders in a joint communique after the two-day huddle.

“We recall that the duration of sanctions should be clearly linked to Russia’s complete implementation of the Minsk agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the leaders added, referring to a peace deal struck in the Belarus capital.

The tough line from the world’s power brokers came as Ukraine’s defence minister accused pro-Russian rebels — backed by Moscow — of deploying an army of 40,000 men on the Ukrainian border.

The force threatening Kiev was equivalent to that of a “mid-sized European state”, said Stepan Poltorak.

Clashes in recent days between the Ukrainian forces and the separatists have threatened the ceasefire deal thrashed out in Minsk.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Canada’s Stephen Harper on Saturday made a point of visiting Kiev on their way to the summit, to voice support for Ukraine’s embattled leaders, as a recent flare-up in fighting in the east has left at least 28 dead.

Sanctions could also be “rolled back” if Russia lived up to its commitments, the communique said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, hosting the talks, also noted that Russia was involved in resolving several other global crises and called for their “cooperation.”

The leaders also sought to thrash out other threats to global security over a lunch of Thai chicken soup, trout and a peach dessert with almonds.

In an unusual move, the G7 leaders invited the heads of countries threatened by jihadist groups, including the leaders of Nigeria and Iraq, both battling deadly insurgencies.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was invited to discuss the US-led campaign to help his country fight the Islamic State extremists who launched a lightning offensive a year ago and have snatched over a third of the country’s territory.

Abadi also got one-on-one time with Obama to discuss the Washington-led campaign to help Baghdad recover territory lost to IS militants, whose self-proclaimed “caliphate” extends deep into neighbouring Syria.

Another visitor to the summit, Nigeria’s newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari, put a “shopping list” to the G7 leaders, seeking help to fight an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists blamed for 15,000 deaths since 2009.

Buhari has been tested with 11 separate attacks that have left at least 93 dead in the week he has been in the job.

“We reaffirm our commitment to defeating this terrorist group and combatting the spread of its hateful ideology,” said the leaders, in reference to the Islamic State group.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, pushed their G7 counterparts to reach consensus on another burning global issue, climate change, ahead of a crunch year-end United Nations summit in Paris.

The leaders stressed that “deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions” were required with “a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century.”

The aim was to send a clear signal to push other nations taking part in the Paris meeting to commit to reducing dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, which threaten to melt ice caps and glaciers, raise sea levels and bring more violent storms and floods.

Another pressing problem has been the haggling between debt-hit Greece and its international creditors — the EU, ECB and IMF — and the fear that a messy default could lead to Greece exiting the eurozone, with unknown repercussions for the world economy.

The issue arose again when the G7 leaders met another guest in their “outreach talks” Monday, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Merkel warned “we don’t have much more time” to resolve the debt crisis, with Athens and its creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and European Central Bank — having been locked in negotiations for five months on reforms needed to unlock 7.2 billion euros ($8 billion) in rescue funds that Athens desperately needs.

As has become tradition at such gathering, several thousand anti-G7 protesters marched over the weekend in largely peaceful demonstrations.

There were a handful of clashes with the police and a few arrests but overall the demonstrations were colourful and non-violent.

The summit also provided some colourful moments, notably just before talks when Merkel invited Obama to have beer with lederhosen-wearing locals in a small Bavarian village.

Photo: A group photo at the G7 summit near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in southern Germany, on June 8, 2015. (AFP / Mandel Ngan)

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]