Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 9:02 AM
Monday, April 24, 2017 at 8:08 AM
Despite having the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela has suffered for several years from high inflation, rampant crime and a shortage of basic goods.
The protests taking place across the country were expected to be the biggest in three years, putting extra pressure on President Maduro to negotiate with the opposition and find a way of easing the country’s economic crisis. …
Elections are not due until 2019, but the opposition says the country is on the verge of collapse.
(BBC, April 19, 2017)
The democratic protests dominating life in Venezuela today are all too reminiscent of those that dominated life in Egypt six years ago. This is why nobody should hope for a political awakening to spring from the former, given what sprang from the latter.
Specifically, far from harvesting the democratic freedoms hoped for, the protests in Egypt ended up harvesting an even more repressive dictatorship. I chronicled this fateful irony in many commentaries, including “Military Savior a Bigger Devil than Mubarak,” November 22, 2011, “Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Dictatorship,” March 25, 2014, and “Sisi Completes Egypt’s Vicious Circle by Releasing Mubarak,” March 24, 2017.
Egypt is now in a terminal winter of discontent. I fear the protests in Venezuela will end up harvesting the same — or worse.
[Twenty-two] protesters have died, President Maduro’s government is accused of using torture on protesters to obtain false confessions of ‘terrorism,’ and evidence of police abuse is circulating on social media. Despite the clampdown, the protests in Venezuela haven’t stopped since the end of March.
(Caribbean News Now, April 20, 2017)
Frankly, Maduro seems determined to make up in ruthlessness what he lacks in Chavismo – the charismatic cult of personality that enabled his mentor, Hugo Chávez, to balm his repression with a veneer of popularity.
Claiming he has “eroded democracy,” opposition forces are demanding Maduro step down. But he seems hell-bent on ruling Venezuela – even if that means killing protesters (emulating the infamous way Chinese leaders eventually squashed Tiananmen Square protesters) and nationalizing foreign companies (as he did with a GM plant last week).
In short, Maduro will turn Venezuela into the Zimbabwe of South America before he releases his death grip on power.
Five years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of sub-Saharan Africa; today, it is a basket case of starving people. Five years ago, there were 4000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe; today, there are only 400 – mostly unproductive – farms left.
(“Zimbabweans Pray for Liberation from their Liberator – Robert Mugabe,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 29, 2005)
I should add, as a cautionary note, that Zimbabweans have been protesting for nearly 30 years for the democratic freedoms Venezuelans are protesting for today.
I also cannot resist noting that Maduro is so desperate to forge foreign alliances, he hailed the election of “comrade” Trump. He even contributed $500,000 from government funds to Trump’s inauguration coffers in a, well, Trumpian attempt to curry favor. This, while most Venezuelans are finding it difficult to buy food and water.
Of course, millions are finding that investing in this Trump presidency is like investing in a pyramid scheme. Everyone from obscure Americans to famous Russians can ruefully attest to this. Seizing that GM plant last week suggests that even Maduro has come to this realization.
In any event, there’s clearly no way Maduro can win a free and fair election in 2019. He can only hope the Venezuelan army supports his dictatorship the way it supported Chavez’s. But in “Venezuela Finally Awakens from Chavismo Nightmare,” December 9, 2015, I warned that Maduro would be a fool to bank on this.
We’ve seen this oxymoronic state of affairs before. After all, Africa is littered with countries rich in natural resources but mired in poverty.
This excerpt – from “Chávez’s Chavismo: More Robbing Hoodlum than Robin Hood,” August 12, 2015 – gives an overview of the primrose path Venezuela took to arrive at this political and economic purgatory.
My socialist affinities are such that I used to be a big fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. … However, it did not take long before I began denouncing him as just another tin-pot dictator betraying the very socialist causes he championed – as such commentaries as “Bolivia’s Woes Expose Chávez’s Socialist Counter-Revolution as Little more than One-Man Three Ring Circus,” September 7, 2006, attest. …
Few Venezuelans appreciated that Chávez was a bigger crook than any drug lord who ever menaced South America. Yet he earned his rightful place in the rogue’s gallery of dead kleptomaniacs, which includes everyone from Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier of Haiti to Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire/DR Congo and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Crime bosses like Al Capone and drug lords like Pablo Escobar had nothing on political dictators like these. …
His family and cronies have nothing to fear, so long as the man to whom he bequeathed the presidency, his crony in chief Nicolás Maduro, remains in office. But all bets are off – with respect to their ill-gotten fortunes, and even their freedom – the minute any opposition leader assumes power.
Accordingly, I urge Maduro to negotiate blanket immunity (for himself and his family) in exchange for his immediate resignation.
Alas, the messianic Chávez really brainwashed poor Venezuelans with his Robin-Hood rhetoric; so much so that, having worshipped him as a god, many are now abiding his handpicked successor as the “son of god.” And Maduro is exploiting this for all it’s worth, including enlisting and arming them to fight (unarmed) opposition forces – just as Chávez used to.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he will expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias, providing guns to as many as 400,000 loyalists. …
The Bolivarian militias, currently at approximately 100,000, were created by the late Hugo Chavez to assist the armed forces in the defense of his revolution from external and domestic attacks.
(Fox News, April 18, 2017)
In fact, Chávez’s legacy is the all too foreseeable failed state Venezuela is becoming. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote a famously mocking homage to another fame-hungry crusader for the poor, Argentina’s messianic Eva Perón. I can think of no worthier homage to Chávez than paraphrasing it:
We cry for you Venezuela
The truth is he never loved you
He broke his promise
Please find your senses.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 7:28 AM
The country celebrated its first Earth Day in 1970. The environmental practices it inaugurated have become routine and universal; so much so that the symbolic replenishing of Earth’s natural resources — by planting trees — now seems trite, if not contrived.
Granted, to hear all of the alarmist talk about climate change, you’d think it was Al Gore who transformed public consciousness in this regard only years ago with sermons from his environmental bible, Earth in the Balance.
But this celebration of, and deference to, Earth’s natural wonders should be distinguished from Gore’s convenient truths about climate change. Truths, incidentally, that included using fake images of melting glaciers in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth just to scare people.
Earth Day ushered in conservation and greening trends that have led to cleaner air, more potable (lead-free) water, and a much less polluted environment; whereas, for all his prophesying, Gore has had no impact.
Nobel Peace Prize-winner Al Gore said in an interview published Monday that there had been no improvement in the fight against climate change since his Oscar-winning film on the issue was released.
(Agence France-Presse, April 20, 2008)
As CNN reported, scientist hailed this agreement as the “world’s biggest leap forward in climate change policy in history.” It committed the world to ending our dependence on fossil fuels by the end of this century, which would limit global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”
Past being prologue, I feared that getting each country to ratify this agreement, to say nothing of getting each to abide by the terms, would devolve into a terminal winter of discontent. I delineated my abiding doubts in “Paris Talks on Climate Change to Avert an Apocalypse? Hardly…,” December 2, 2015.
This is why I could not be more pleased that, as of March 2017, the United States (the world’s second-biggest polluter behind China) had led 137 countries in ratifying this agreement. Except that, apropos of past as prologue, supporters of this agreement can only hope President Trump continues his unprecedented streak of reneging on campaign promises. After all, he promised to “cancel” US participation. So here’s to another flip-flop.
Hope springs eternal.
Saturday, April 22, 2017 at 7:22 AM
Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah shocked Washington this week when he announced that this will be his last term in Congress. His announcement could turn out to be the most consequential event of Trump’s presidency. Yet the media are treating it as just another politician plotting his next move up the political ladder.
Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. That committee is investigating the myriad ways Trump and his kids are blurring the lines between their businesses and his presidency.
The House Oversight Committee is asking for details on how and when the Trump Organization will donate profits made from foreign government officials, which President Trump first promised to do in January. …
Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (Md) in a letter Friday asked one of Trump’s lawyers for details as to how and when those donations would be made. …
Meanwhile, recent news accounts have reported that the Trump Organization may have received payments from foreign government sources since President Trump’s inauguration.
(The Hill, April 21, 2017)
The consensus in Washington is that the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin’s Russia, will be the bane of Trump’s presidency. But I think Chaffetz’s Oversight Committee, which is investigating his conflicts of interest, will have that honor.
Chances are that your only point of reference for his name stems from the way he famously withdrew his endorsement after Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” comment went viral.
I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine. My wife and I, we have a 15-year-old daughter, and if I can’t look her in the eye and tell her these things, I can’t endorse this person.
(Salt Lake City Fox 13, Politico, October 7, 2016)
Except that Chaffetz soon betrayed his celebrated moral rectitude with this Clintonian spin:
I will not defend or endorse @realDonaldTrump, but I am voting for him. HRC is that bad. HRC is bad for the USA.
9:05 PM – 26 Oct 2016
I suspect his conscience has been eating away at him ever since that cowardly, politically expedient flip-flop. After all, it made every time he told his young daughter to do the right thing seem like sheer hypocrisy. Not to mention the unbearable shame he must feel every time he looks her in the eye these days.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, the powerful chairman of the House oversight committee, told supporters on Wednesday that he would not seek re-election to Congress — or run for any office — in 2018.
Mr. Chaffetz, 50, a Utah Republican who relished his oversight role more under a Democratic administration, said he was ready to return to the private sector after more than 13 years in public service, calling his decision a “personal” one.
(New York Times, April 19, 2017)
Despite his pro-forma denial of any further political ambition, the consensus in Washington is that he wants to run for senator or governor. But I think this devout Mormon just wants to atone for sacrificing his religious morals and political principles at the altar of Trump’s presidential ambition.
Of course, there’s no better way to atone than to oversee a thorough investigation of the conflicts of interest that define Trump’s presidency. More to the point, no investigator is more dogged than a religious one on a mission as much to expiate his sins as to vindicate justice.
So, if you’re one of the many millions now praying for the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, salvation will come not from the committee investigating his Russian ties but from the one investigating his conflicts of interest. And you can bet the ranking Democratic member of this Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, will be encouraging Chaffetz every day to do the right thing for the country, and then retire a hero.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday, at 8:17 p.m.
Friday, April 21, 2017 at 7:53 AM
Sure enough, the consensus among world leaders today is that North Korea poses an existential threat not just to its neighbors but even to the United States.
The Kremlin has sent Russian troops to the border of North Korea as a precautionary measure should armed conflict break out.
The move apparently follows Beijing’s deployment of 150,000 soldiers to the China’s frontier with the rogue state.
(Asia Times, April 21, 2017 2:20 AM UTC+8)
Therefore, you’d think Trump would seize this opportunity to demonstrate the strong leadership he boasts about, which he repeatedly accused Obama of failing to demonstrate throughout his presidency.
Here is a little of the word-salad response he gave to a question about dealing with North Korea during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni at the White House earlier today:
As far as North Korea is concerned, we are in very good shape, we’re building our military rapidly, a lot of things have happened over the last short period of time, been here for approximately 91 days we’re doing a lotta work. … I can’t answer your question [about Kim Jong-un’s mental stability], I hope the answer is a positive one not a negative one, but hopefully that will be something that gets taken care of.
I have great respect for the president of China … we got to know each other and I think like each other, I can say from my stand point that I liked him very much, I respect him very much and I think he’s working very hard. …
I actually told him, I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea, because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now.’
(WhiteHouse.gov, April 20, 2017)
Now just imagine the torrent of criticism if this were Obama offering China trade concessions to protect the United States from a North Korean nuclear attack. Hell, Republicans were accusing him of treason for merely forging an agreement with other nuclear powers to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And, unsurprisingly, Trump was in the vanguard of those tweeting damning criticisms.
But really, what kind of profile in leadership would JFK have demonstrated if he had tried to solve the Cuban Missile Crisis by offering the Soviet Union trade concessions to remove those nukes?
So, where’s the outrage?
Frankly, I’m beginning to feel like the proverbial John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness about Trump’s hypocrisy in this respect. “Trump ‘Leading from Behind’ as World Reacts to (Latest) North Korean Nuclear Test,” February 14, 2017, is a testament my abiding outrage.
That said, a key feature of Trump’s “art of the deal” seems to be stroking egos and begging for favors. This was on full display during Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s recent visit to the White House. Bear in mind that Obama found this president’s human rights abuses so abhorrent, he refused to invite him. Trump showed no such scruples. In fact, he lavished so much praise on al-Sisi, you’d be forgiven for thinking Trump regarded him as a latterday Winston Churchill.
Of course, Trump would argue that this was all part of a deal to get al-Sisi to do things, including redoubling efforts to combat ISIS and releasing American aid worker Aya Hijazi from an Egyptian prison. Significantly, she languished for three years as al-Sisi snubbed Obama’s self-righteous overtures to secure her release.
Trump could argue further that every president has sacrificed a settled democratic principle for an expedient political goal at one point or another. And, the Faustian bargain successive US presidents, including Obama, struck with the constitutionally undemocratic leaders of Saudi Arabia would support his contention.
The difference with Trump, however, is that there seems to be no principle he would not sacrifice to strike a deal with any foreign leader – no matter how lofty the principle, insignificant the deal, or unsavory the leader. The all too foreseeable consequences of his willingness to do so are untenable. That is especially so in this case — given that Xi is playing him for a fool with hollow promises and Jong-un is adding danger to this mockery by ramping up his nuclear brinkmanship.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Thursday, at 8:12 p.m.
Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 7:21 AM
I usually reserve updates for the annual book version of my commentaries. On occasions, though, my commentaries elicit such indignant criticisms from people I respect, I feel obliged to respond. This is one of those occasions.
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has been the top-rated host on Cable TV for over 20 years. This is why news that a number of women had accused him of “sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior” broke like wildfire two and a half weeks ago.
Back then, reporters and commentators alike were all too eager to fan the flames. Their schadenfreude was palpable.
Yet none could even fathom O’Reilly’s demise. They were all convinced Fox would never fire its golden goose – who was reportedly generating over $200 million in ad revenues annually.
I was not so convinced.
These accusations against O’Reilly come on the heels of similar ones that forced Fox News to fire its founding chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes. …
[It would be] fairer and more accurate to assert that Bill O’Reilly is the Bill Cosby of cable television. Indeed, the number of women coming out of the woodwork suggests that O’Reilly has harassed just as many women as Cosby has assaulted.
This is why Fox News will fire O’Reilly in due course. It’s the only way it can prevent the continuing flight of advertisers and recapture those who have already flown the coop. It’s also the only way Fox can atone for the moral turpitude of resigning him to a very lucrative contract knowing full well that he was every bit as compromised as Ailes.
(“Sex Pest Bill O’Reilly of Fox, the Bill Cosby of Cable TV,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 6, 2017)
Thus, unlike CNN’s Jake Tapper and everybody else, I was not at all surprised today when news of his firing broke.
Bill O’Reilly has been forced out of his position as a prime-time host on Fox News, the company said on Wednesday, after the disclosure of settlements involving sexual harassment allegations against him. His abrupt and embarrassing ouster ends his two-decade reign as one of the most popular and influential commentators in television.
‘After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel,’ 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, said in a statement.
(New York Times, April 19, 2017)
I am an avowed liberal. Therefore, you might think I’m as happy to see the back of O’Reilly as anyone at Fox’s liberal counterparts, CNN and MSNBC. But I am not.
No doubt there should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace. NBC sent an encouraging message in this respect when it fired Bill Cosby. Fox has done the same by firing Bill O’Reilly.
Unlike far too many commentators (and consumers of their commentaries), however, I see no value in the echo chamber of opinions that characterize so much of Cable news and public debate these days. O’Reilly was a committed champion of conservative opinion. And I often tuned in to the O’Reilly Factor; never mind that I invariably found him more entertaining than challenging.
But I will miss him. And I regret that he engaged in the reprehensible behavior that ended his reign today in such disgrace.
Sex pest Bill O’Reilly…
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Wednesday, at 6:06 p.m.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 7:12 AM
A defiant Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan denounced the West’s ‘crusader mentality’ on Monday after European monitors criticized a referendum to grant him sweeping new powers, won with a narrow victory laying bare the nation’s divisions. …
The president survived a coup attempt last year and responded with a crackdown, jailing 47,000 people and sacking or suspending more than 120,000 from government jobs such as schoolteachers, soldiers, police, judges or other professionals.
The changes could keep him in power until 2029 or beyond, making him easily the most important figure in Turkish history since state founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk built a modern nation from the ashes of the Ottoman empire after World War One.
(Reuters, April 17, 2017)
If you harbored any doubts about US President Donald Trump’s dictatorial envy, the public show he made of congratulating Erdogan should disabuse you of them.
President Trump called President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Monday to congratulate him on winning a much-disputed referendum that will cement his autocratic rule over the country and, in the view of many experts, erode Turkey’s democratic institutions. …
The statement did not say whether Mr. Trump had raised independent reports of voting irregularities during the Turkish referendum or the government’s heavy-handed tactics in the weeks leading up to it, when the country was under a state of emergency.
(New York Times, April 17, 2017)
Trump’s congratulation is especially damning when juxtaposed with the fact that other Western leaders were so troubled by the conduct and outcome of this referendum, they offered more admonition than congratulation.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Turkey’s leaders to address concerns about their country’s referendum on a new constitution and open talks with opponents, most of whom have disputed the vote’s legitimacy.
Ms Merkel and Sigmar Gabriel, her foreign minister, said in a joint statement on Monday that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s narrow victory in Sunday’s vote revealed the depth of divisions within Turkey. Her statement came as election observers said the referendum did not meet Council of Europe’s standards, and was carried out unfairly.
(Financial Times, April 17, 2017)
Hell, even the godfather of “democratic dictatorships,” Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sensible enough to congratulate Erdogan only on the down low.
To be fair, it appears Trump failed to read the script his foreign-policy team wrote for his call with Erdogan. Mind you, this blunder is understandable; not least because Trump is so clearly inclined to govern by executive order (a.k.a. presidential decree), which is how any democratic dictator worth his salt would … rule.
In any case, this forced White House staffers to follow up with an official statement, which duly expressed the US government’s misgivings about the conduct and outcome of Erdogan’s referendum.
Of course, such blunders are becoming a feature of his presidency. This is why political and business leaders worldwide are beginning to treat him like a crazy uncle, who’s liable to say anything. Instead, they are looking to his cabinet secretaries to explain official US policies.
Just days ago, for example, this crazy old fool had Navy officials “baffled” with his atavistic boast about sending an “Armada” to force North Korean President Kim Jong-un to “behave himself.” They were baffled because they knew the fleet he was referring to was in fact headed in the opposite direction – for long-scheduled military exercises off the coast of Australia. This forced Pentagon staffers to follow up with an official statement, trying to spin this blunder into a sensible commander-in-chief command.
In Trump world, these gaffes and blunders make him look crazy like a fox. In the real world, they make him look reckless like a bull in a china shop. But I digress …
It just so happens that – in “Turkey: Bungled Coup Fails. Grave Purge Begins,” July 16, 2016 – I presaged what no less a person than Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is now decrying as Erdogan’s “creeping authoritarianism.”
When news of it broke yesterday, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a single commentator condemning this coup, especially early on when it seemed a fait accompli.
They rationalized it as due comeuppance for the democratically elected Erdogan – who they claimed was ruling Turkey more like a sultan than a president. They also cited his fraternization with Islamists as evidence of his betrayal of the global fight against ISIS and its eschatological ideology, and his Islamization of Turkey’s secular culture to make it more like Saudi Arabia’s.
Truth be told, almost every criticism ever hurled at him is true. But none of it justifies a coup. …
Erdogan’s fixation on settling scores, no matter how irrational, explains why so many Turks took to the streets to defend democracy, not to support him. Except that, if they thought he was a dictator in democratic garb before, they have just emboldened him to reveal his true colors – with all of the repression of civil liberties that portends. …
Good luck, Turkey! Your struggle for democracy is far from over.
I fear this referendum has effectively put that struggle for democracy out of its misery. Ironically, only a (successful) military coup can save Turkish democracy now.
Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 6:49 AM
Scandals of all types have characterized Jacob Zuma’s presidency. I have decried those scandals in far too many commentaries. A case in point is “Jacob Zuma Issues Professional Fatwa against Cartoonist Zapiro,” December 22, 2008, which includes this prophetic cry:
It is a fact, however, that Zuma got off scot-free on a charge of raping a woman who regarded him as her father, despite effectively incriminating himself. He also got off on charges of racketeering and other financial crimes, despite evidence that would humble most Russian oligarchs.
Therefore, Zapiro’s depiction of him raping the South African justice system is as fair and accurate as any cartoon can be.
At any rate, Zapiro will defend himself by invoking the universal freedom of the press to comment on the public lives of public figures. Not to mention that truth is an absolute defense to claims of defamation.
Sure enough, Zapiro’s vindication came when the October 28, 2012 edition of the South African national paper Mail & Guardian heralded, “Zuma surrenders, drops lawsuit.”
Except that, as with any serial rapist, getting off only emboldened Zuma to rape more. It is hardly surprising then that Zapiro, renowned for his irreverent but unassailable caricatures, had cause recently to depict Zuma raping not just the justice system but all of South Africa.
Of course, mindful that Zuma-led South Africa has become the “rape capital of the world,” Zapiro took pains to say he did not publish this latest rape caricature lightly.
It depicts President Jacob Zuma zipping up his trousers as one of the Gupta brothers gets ready to ‘rape’ South Africa, depicted as a woman, with State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini and The New Age editor Moegsien Williams holding her down.
(South Africa News24, April 4, 2017)
What is surprising, however, is that so many who condemned Zuma as a serial rapist are now condemning Zapiro for depicting him as such.
I suspect this inconsistency stems from a visceral reaction to Zapiro capturing Zuma pulling train with Gupta – a non-African, state-capture vulture. After all, there might be liberating pride in condemning Zuma for raping the country, but there’s only neocolonial shame in facing the fact that someone like Gupta was doing so too.
Mind you, the viral tweetstorm his cartoon ignited probably struck Zapiro as manna from heaven. This, after all, is the kind of reaction political cartoonists pray for.
In any event, even Zuma is sensible enough to appreciate that suing for defamation would only vindicate Zapiro’s depiction. Therefore, it speaks volumes that the Guptas, who were clearly happy to jump on board the train, are planning to do so. But they would do well to remember who was zommin who.
Zuma saw nothing undemocratic, or even improper, in granting permission to one of his patrons, the Gupta family, to use a South African military base as their private airport.
Evidently, the Guptas wanted to spare the hundreds of guests they invited to a big, fat Indian wedding all of the indignities that attend landing at and departing from civilian airports; you know, like having to mingle with riff-raff. Not to mention concerns about personal security or loss of expensive wedding gifts; you know, as regular baggage handlers offload the plane: this is Africa after all.
But, in fairness to Zuma, what’s the point in being a wannabe African dictator if one can’t grant one’s friends such simple favors, eh? And how democratic of him to fire the officials who facilitated his favor, instead of jailing the commentators who criticized it. Amandla!
(“Zuma Zoomin South Africa … Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 5, 2013)
Interestingly enough, on November 2, 2016, the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court ordered the release of a special prosecutor’s “State Capture” report. It detailed the extent to which Zuma allowed the Guptas to exercise feudal control not only over South Africa’s resources but even over its government, including the hiring and firing of ministers.
Frankly, the only thing wrong with this latest Zapiro cartoon is that it depicted only one Gupta brother pulling train. It should have depicted the other two waiting their turn.
That said, Zapiro should be grateful he’s not living in Turkey. Because, as predatory and corrupt as Zuma is, he has never imprisoned his critics. By contrast, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has imprisoned tens of thousands. Chief among them is cartoonist Musa Kart – whose caricatures of Erdogan have made him even more famous in Turkey than Zapiro’s of Zuma have made him in South Africa.
After five months of imprisonment Turkey has finally, formally indicted the staff from Cumhuriyet newspaper including cartoonist Musa Kart who, if found guilty, faces a twenty-nine-year sentence.
As widely reported across Middle-Eastern media and by human rights organisations around the world yesterday, a total of nineteen names appear in the indictment with a variety of charges and proposed sentences for each suspect.
Musa Kart is accused of ‘helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member’ and ‘abusing trust’ and prosecutors have stipulated a maximum sentence of twenty-nine years.
(Cartoonists Rights Network International, April 5, 2017)
This is not to say Zapiro will get off scot-free. Because it might only be a matter of time before Zuma begins emulating his mentor, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, by having loyal thugs beat up his critics. Given the way they disrupted the recent memorial service for Zuma’s most revered critic, anti-Apartheid pioneer Ahmed Kathrada, they would probably relish beating the crap out of Zapiro to please their gangsta president.
Monday, April 17, 2017 at 6:34 AMDespite the untenable nature of colonialism, the British introduced a few customs that are still heartily observed throughout their former colonies in the Caribbean. Public holidays certainly fall within this cherished tradition.
Unlike the Americans, however, the British do not glorify their holidays with patriotic or reverential titles – like Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, or Thanksgiving Day. They just refer to almost all of them as Bank Holidays.
This curious designation probably came about as an unwitting homage to British mercantilism. But the official line is that it dates back to 1871, when national obsession with the game of cricket led to the Bank Holidays Act – to give bank employees a few extra days off each year to play and watch matches.
At any rate, “Easter Monday” seems to be the most ambivalent of all British holidays. After all, it has a reverential title but no discernible relevance to Jesus Christ (like Good Friday or Christmas). Perhaps even the British had qualms about appending a “bank holiday” to the holiest weekend on the Christian calendar.
Whatever the case, as a young boy, this was always my favorite bank holiday. Not just because it was the first bona fide beach holiday of the year, but also because it helped me recover from the trauma of wallowing in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Especially since all of the hosannas heralding His resurrection on Easter Sunday provided little therapy.
Meanwhile, with access to so many beautiful beaches, it’s a wonder the British did not leave us with many more bank holidays.
Sunday, April 16, 2017 at 12:18 PM
Yesterday, North Korea showed off what CNN reported as “a bevy of new missiles and launchers at its annual military parade.” Since then, military pundits have been all over TV offering dire insights on how this parade portends “thermo-nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.”
Except that there’s now a Groundhog-Day spectacle to North Korea’s military parades and missile tests. What’s more, they now trigger Pavlovian (tail-wagging-dog) reactions – from the United States to China and all countries in between.
Of course, the North Korean regime has an existential interest is performing this spectacle. For it survives on feeding its people the “big lie” that their lives of quiet desperation could have no greater purpose than sacrificing, evermore, to defend their country against ever-looming annihilation by the United States.
By contrast, the US government has a mostly mercenary interest. For it thrives on feeding its people all kinds of lies to justify appropriating the lion’s share of taxpayers’ dollars for the military industrial complex. As bogeymen in this context go, North Korea’s reckless and bellicose pursuit of nuclear weapons serves beyond measure, hence the applause.
Mind you, military pundits readily admit that many of the missiles North Korea shows off on parades are just elaborate floats – each packing the explosive power of a spud gun. In doing so, they unwittingly vindicate former president Dwight D. Eisenhower’s famous warning about warmongering pitches for budgetary dollars masquerading as military analyses for national security.
All the same, the hopelessly oppressed and isolated people of North Korea can be forgiven for playing along. But the purportedly liberated and informed people of the United States should be ashamed for doing so. After all, nothing betrays the folly of the “North Korean problem” quite like every president – from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump – mouthing the same warning about the clear and present danger it poses. One would be hard-pressed to say which country’s leaders are more venal in this context.
There’s no denying the nuisance North Korea causes with its apocalyptic rhetoric and military antics. Never mind that much of both seems scripted for an SNL sketch. But there’s also no denying that the only clear and present danger North Korea has ever posed stems from test firing missiles, each of which either landed harmlessly in the Sea of Japan or fizzled ignominiously upon take off.
As it happens, the latter was the case just yesterday, when North Korea punctuated its annual military parade with another missile test:
North Korea launched a ballistic missile Sunday morning from near its submarine base in Sinpo on its east coast, but the launch was the latest in a series of failures just after liftoff, according to American and South Korean military officials.
The timing was a deep embarrassment for the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, because the missile appeared to have been launched to show off his daring as a fleet of American warships approached his country to deter provocations.
(New York Times, April 15, 2017)
Frankly, it’s arguable that President Trump poses an even greater danger to the Korean Peninsula than Kim Jong-un. Trump has made a public show of vowing that — if China doesn’t “fix the problem” with economic sanctions — he will do so with “kinetic” action. But it’s only a matter of time before Jong-un calls his bluff, forcing Trump to back up his own reckless and bellicose rhetoric.
Meanwhile, I’m all too mindful that he won near-universal praise for launching cruise missiles at Syria and dropping a massive bomb on Afghanistan recently. I fear this might embolden the vainglorious Trump to seek even greater praise by bombing North Korea. This, of course, would be tantamount to swatting a fly and upsetting a hornet’s nest, respectively, and expecting them to react in similar fashion.
Instead, Trump should deal with the menace North Korea poses the way I urged Obama to in “North Korea to The World: Nuke Off!” December 13, 2012.
[Trump] should convene a coalition of the willing among Asia-Pacific countries (APEC) to forge agreement on the following resolution, which, significantly, would not be subject to a UN-style veto by any country (namely, China or Russia):
- Recognizing that the United Nations is unable or unwilling to stop North Korea from violating its resolutions (most notably, res. 1718 against conducting nuclear tests or launching ballistic missiles) with impunity;
- Finding that these violations pose an untenable threat to the Asia-Pacific region;
- Instead of continuing the feckless practice of bribing North Korea with cash, oil and food to get it to stop these violations, APEC shall henceforth impose the severest possible sanctions, unilaterally;
- If, either as a result of misfire or deliberate intent, any of North Korea’s missiles even threatens any APEC country, the United States shall lead the bombardment of all of its nuclear and missile facilities until they are incapable of even setting off firecrackers, let alone launching nuclear missiles.
All else is folly.
Saturday, April 15, 2017 at 8:14 AM
The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb, or MOAB, was dropped Thursday night on a network of fortified underground tunnels that ISIS had been using to stage attacks on government forces.
The strike in Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border killed 36 ISIS fighters, Afghan officials said. The US military previously estimated ISIS had 600 to 800 active fighters in the area but was unclear whether it had hoped to strike more.
(CNN, April 14, 2017)
That’s right folks, it managed to kill only 36 out of 800 terrorists. Yet everyone’s hailing the explosion as the motherlode.
- The last nuclear bomb killed ~50,000 in Nagasaki (the first killed ~80,000 in Hiroshima). One ISIS terrorist using a gun killed 49 and injured 53 in Orlando last June; another using a truck killed 84 and injured 202 in Nice last July. This MOAB killed 36. (So say US officials; ISIS terrorists say it killed nobody.)
- On any given day, any terrorist could buy a gun for $160 and replicate Orlando anywhere, or commandeer a truck for free and replicate Nice anywhere. This MOAB cost $16 million, and the logistical operations required to drop it cost millions more. Replicating this dubious feat would fatten the already overstuffed coffers of military contractors, but it would do nothing to make America safe again.
These points should throw cold water on the smug satisfaction American politicians and pundits clearly derived from this MOAB explosion. Nothing demonstrated this smugness quite like FOX News playing Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” over looping footage of the bomb’s impact.
But they should also demonstrate that, far from “sending a message of invincibility,” this MOAB explosion exposed just how desperate and feckless America has become in its war on terror. Indeed, given the barren effect last week’s 60 cruise missiles had on Syria, it’s arguable that never before in the history of warfare has a military so potent shot so many impotent blanks.
Beyond this, consider the juxtaposition between the way dropping a bomb on Nagasaki ended that six-year war, and the way dropping one on Afghanistan is only intended to send a message (an unwitting SOS perhaps) in this never-ending war. It speaks volumes.
It is self-evident that America must come to its senses about its entanglements in sectarian conflicts in the Middle East. I have pleaded for this awakening in many commentaries, including “Afghanistan: How Many More US Soldiers Must Die for a Mistake…?” September 19, 2012, “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, and “Obama Continues Vietnam-Style Mission Creep in Iraq (Afghanistan and Syria),” April 20, 2016.
Interestingly enough, if one could glean any sensible utterance from Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, it would be his constant refrain about the utter stupidity of such entanglements. Unfortunately, President Trump picked up right where President Obama left off; and, despite his campaign rhetoric lamenting their utter stupidity, President Obama picked up right where President Bush left off – so infamously.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Friday at 3:27 p.m.
Friday, April 14, 2017 at 7:17 AM
I grew up the son of a preacher man. One of the things I found most dispiriting about this was having to listen to the same sermon over and over again, knowing full well that my Daddy expected me to be moved by the Holy Spirit anew each time.
In fact, by the time I was ten, my mind, body, and soul had become inured to “inspired” sermons from the pulpit, all of which I could parrot (almost verbatim) from my church pew. Only the wife of a vainglorious politician could possibly relate.
Yet I never grew tired of the rituals that attended the Easter season. Indeed, I could never disguise the spirit of suspended animation that got me through it all — even as others affected the countenance each occasion warranted (i.e., by being appropriately maudlin on Good Friday to mourn the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and joyous on Easter Sunday to celebrate his resurrection).
Never mind that my animated countenance was due entirely to the anticipation of what fun Easter Monday would bring — as the first beach holiday of the year in the Caribbean Commonwealth.
But oh the guilt I suffered for supplanting religious pathos with this hedonistic inspiration during Christianity’s holiest days!
Thank God I deduced before my puberty was in full bloom that He will forgive me: Not only for my sinful thoughts, but also for the diabolical pleasure I derived from playing one of the soldiers who flogged Jesus Christ (as he crawled his way to Golgotha) in the passion plays our Church performed every Easter.
This brings me to the essence of my Good Friday sermon. I address it particularly to those Christian parents who will force their children to abide church services throughout this weekend just as my parents forced me to do when I was a child:
God will forgive the little ones for not getting all worked up each year for the scripted homage to his son’s crucifixion and resurrection. He will even forgive them for not writhing with the Holy Spirit on cue at revivals, at which it seemed only the souls of mischievous children, not those of sinful adults, needed salvation.
Moreover, he will not ruin their lives if the only spirit that moves them at Easter time is the one they hope will get them to the beach on Easter Monday; trust me!
That said, if you really must wallow in the macabre passions of the season, I suggest you buy the DVD of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and watch it today. Because, more than any Easter homily or play, this movie will evoke the funereal emotions and convey (in refreshing and entertaining fashion) the expiatory significance of these familiar words:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
(The Holy Bible, John 3:16)
Given the above, it would probably surprise none of you to learn that the elders of my church damned me to Hell for being a “backsliding reprobate” long ago. But this had more to do with the Pharisaic standards that govern conduct in most churches than any unpardonable sin I may have committed.
Indeed, I believe it is duly recorded on God’s Heavenly scroll that I am more spiritual, and live a more Christ-like life, than almost all of the tartuffes who bored me to distraction with their sermons in my youth!
Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at 8:22 AM
President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia had information that the United States was planning to launch new missile strikes on Syria, and that there were plans to fake chemicals weapons attacks there.
‘We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared … in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons),’ [he said].
(Reuters, April 11, 2017)
The psychopathology afoot here is called projection. It is defined by people attributing to others traits, faults, and blame that inhere in themselves. And it explains almost every insult Trump has hurled at his opponents throughout this presidential campaign.
So when you hear him calling other people crooked, insecure, weak, beholding to special interests, liars, etc., be mindful that he’s revealing self-conscious truths about himself, unwittingly.
(“Forget the Clinton Foundation. Shut Down the Trump Organization!” The iPINIONS Journal, August 26, 2016)
Specifically, Putin is projecting blame onto phantom terrorists – not only for last week’s gas attack, which he knows his puppet Syrian regime perpetrated, but also for future attacks, which he knows it plans to perpetrate (if only in a vain and diabolical effort to further implicate the phantom terrorists and vindicate him).
But Putin is also deflecting blame for his manifest failure to oversee the complete destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. You may recall that he famously promised to do so in exchange for Obama taking his finger off the trigger, which would have launched many more missiles at Syria in 2013 than the 60 Trump launched last week.
That said, I alluded above to Trump because he lies and projects more than any politician in the history of mankind. As it happens, his notorious “birther” claim is probably the best (or worst) example of both.
Specifically, he said he had information that Obama was born in Kenya and was planning to perpetrate the biggest fraud in US history. Yet it’s arguable that Trump is the one who perpetrated the biggest fraud in US history by colluding with Putin (via WikiLeaks and Russian peddlers of fake news) to get elected president of the United States.
Apropos of which, in “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected the Outcome of US Election,” December 12, 2016, I delineated (some of) the many reasons why the election collusion/bromance between Putin and Trump was doomed to implode. The most notable reason for this looming day of reckoning is that Putin will finally realize that, despite his flirtation, Trump’s policies towards Russia (especially re Ukraine-related sanctions) will be no different than Obama’s.
Frankly, the institutional constancy of US foreign policy is such that Trump could not alter its trajectory even if he wanted to. Nothing telegraphs this quite like Trump defying his own election rhetoric yesterday by signing a treaty to admit Montenegro into NATO, thereby expanding rather than disbanding it for being “obsolete.”
In other words, Trump was bound to disappoint Putin – just as he was bound to disappoint the poor fools who thought he really would, or even could, get Mexico to pay for that wall. Which suggests that Putin is not nearly as smart as he’s reputed to be.
And the more Trump disappoints him, the more Putin will have to explain himself to all of the Russians he had drinking champagne toasts to Trump’s election. Not least because he had them convinced that Trump was his puppet who he could manipulate to lift crippling economic sanctions in short order.
I cannot overstate this looming day of reckoning for their relationship. And nothing will characterize it quite like Putin unleashing the same leakers of secrets and peddlers of fake news to humiliate Trump and undermine his presidency (i.e., the political execution of the proverb – live by the sword, die by the sword).
NOTE: For the uninitiated, the “little green men” in my title has nothing to do with Martians. It’s a mocking reference to the patented way Putin secretly dispatched camouflaged Russian soldiers to sow unrest in eastern Ukraine. He then denied they ever set foot there, insisting instead that Ukrainian vigilantes were trying to frame Russian soldiers for their misdeeds.
Truth be told, Putin has become so reliant on denying the undeniable to further his political interests, he’d think nothing of denying Americans landed on the moon to do so.
Monday, April 10, 2017 at 12:09 PM
South Africa is in the death throes of becoming a Zimbabwean mess.
An esteemed judge famously found that the leaders of a failed state I know all too well showed “clear signs of political amorality, immaturity and general administrative incompetence.” Therefore, it speaks volumes that South African leaders make the leaders of that failed state look like Jeffersonian statesmen.
Notably, having robbed the treasury, wrecked the economy, and scandalized the people, South Africa’s rapacious leaders are setting their sights on the last repast of all pseudo nationalists: white-owned land.
President Jacob Zuma has called on parliament to change South Africa’s constitution to allow the expropriation of white owned land without compensation. …
Mr Zuma, who has lurched from one scandal to another since being elected to office in 2009, has adopted a more populist tone since his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party suffered its worst election result last August since the end of apartheid in 1994.
(London Telegraph, March 3, 2017)
South Africa is on an inexorable descent into the heart of darkness. Nothing characterizes this quite like the way hopelessly misguided thugs disrupted yesterday’s memorial service for veteran anti-apartheid activist, Ahmed Kathrada.
The Ahmed Kathrada memorial descended into chaos on Sunday afternoon as a rowdy crowd of ANC Youth League members heckled and booed speakers including former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize.
This was despite the Durban High Court granting an interdict preventing members of the youth league from disrupting proceedings at the event held at Sastri College in Greyville, Durban.
(IOL News, April 9, 2017)
No doubt such behavior would shock the conscience even of Joseph Conrad. It must certainly have Nelson Mandela rolling over in his grave.
But the reason for this latest eruption of fratricidal unruliness is irrelevant. All you need to know is that these kids were only doing what they thought President Zuma wanted them to – with all of the foreboding consequences that entails.
More to the point, though, everything that is playing out in South Africa, including growing anti-government protests, played out in Zimbabwe. And there’s every reason to fear that it’s only a matter of time before South Africa ends up where Zimbabwe is today – a dark, dangerous, destitute, desperate, diseased, dishonest, dyspeptic and dysfunctional mess. Indeed, Zuma’s venal shuffling of his cabinet, which provoked this latest round of protests, is akin to the fateful shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic.
But, even before South Africans elected him in 2009, I warned that Zuma would lead them down a primrose path to ruination. Therefore, I can look on events unfolding in South Africa with little more than resigned indignation.
Mind you, I support South Africans who are protesting these days: “Zuma must go!” It’s just that I’m humbled by the fact that I’ve been supporting Zimbabweans who have been protesting for over 20 years: “Mugabe must go!”
In any event, I can think of no better way to express my resigned indignation than to reprise “Zuma Doing to South Africa What Mugabe did to Zimbabwe,” December 12, 2015. It’s my I-told-you-so commentary, and sums up all I care to say about South Africa — so long as Zuma remains its leader.
I have written many commentaries over the years decrying South African President Jacob Zuma’s corrupt and incompetent leadership.
For example, here:
One wonders what could have prompted the ANC to emasculate Mbeki. … If he heeds the ANC’s recall … Zuma will become the next duly elected president. Then, I fear, he will do for South Africa what Mugabe has done for Zimbabwe.
(“South African President Mbeki Forced to Resign … Hail Zuma,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 22, 2008)
Rabble-rousing trade unionists (COSATU) and unreformed communists (SACP) have turned the ANC from a governing coalition into a band of pillagers. Therefore, Zuma enlisting them to intimidate his critics, like cartoonist Zapiro, should serve as a dire warning of what South Africa will become under his leadership.
(“Zuma Issues Fatwa against Cartoonist Zapiro,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 22, 2008)
I lamented the wayward path the country was veering towards two years ago. In doing so, I cited Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s foreboding prayer about the ANC choosing an alleged rapist and thief as its leader. …
I also invoked Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer’s political rebuke about the ANC betraying its values and losing its way.
(“South Africa Betraying Its Values,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 13, 2011)
Therefore, I was hardly surprised this week when even die-hard Zuma supporters began decrying his leadership too:
South African President Jacob Zuma’s sacking of his respected finance minister in favour of a relative unknown has shocked investors and emboldened critics who say the 73-year-old is driving the economy to ruin. …
Markets reacted unambiguously, with the rand plunging to a record low against the dollar.
(Reuters, December 11, 2015)
All I have left to say is, I told you so.
Sunday, April 9, 2017 at 8:57 AM
Syrian warplanes took off from an air base which was hit by US cruise missiles on Friday, and carried out air strikes on rebel-held areas in the eastern Homs countryside, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
(Reuters, April 7, 2017)
Only God knows what “message” Trump thought he was sending with his pinprick strikes. But Assad responded with the universally recognized middle finger. He even mocked Trump’s fecklessness by bombing more of the same innocent victims Trump claims are now his responsibility to protect.
Meanwhile, Trump spent most of his time between golf swings today tweeting fatuous explanations for Assad’s defiant response. Whereas he should’ve been trying to figure out what move to make now to save face — for himself and the United States. And, in doing so, he would have done well to remember this fleeting bit of intelligence … and be guided by it:
What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Aug. 29, 2013
Apropos of more debt, each of the cruise missiles Trump launched in his vainglorious attack cost $1 million. So that’s $60 million, plus millions more in operational costs, down the drain.
Mind you, as I posited in yesterday’s “Wag the Dog” commentary, Trump’s strikes were aimed more at lifting his poll numbers than destroying Assad’s military arsenal. Sure enough, reports are that he got a little bounce, which he’s exploiting (while it lasts) for all it’s worth.
Thus, for this self-aggrandizing schmuck, it was all money well spent.
Apropos of hypocrisy, Trump is just the most obnoxious among far too many Republican politicians and right-wing pundits who condemned Obama for proposing missile strikes after Assad perpetrated that infamous chemical attack in 2013. Yet, to a person, these same politicians and pundits are hailing Trump (and Trump is hailing himself) for doing what Obama merely proposed.
Incidentally, I am profoundly stupefied that putative liberal Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s GPS, joined this hailing frenzy. Specifically, he proclaimed that “Trump became president” by bombing Syria. But “Fareed’s Take” is especially stupefying because he went on, almost in the same breath, to concede that this bombing seems unhinged from any coherent strategy to deal with the Syrian crisis.
Sure enough, we’re already hearing inevitable second thoughts from those who, just yesterday, were hailing Trump as a latter-day Constantine the Great. And Turkey, America’s most reliable ally in the Muslim world, is leading this hangover chorus (in the voice of its Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu):
If this intervention is limited only to an air base, if it does not continue and if we don’t remove the regime from heading Syria, then this would remain a cosmetic intervention.
(Associated Press, April 8, 2017)
Actually, calling it a “cosmetic intervention” – for a man for whom image is everything – is probably quite flattering.
Meanwhile, in the midst of this wag-the-dog focus on Syria, Trump convened and ended his over-hyped summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping as if it were nothing more than a playa inviting his side piece over for a late-night booty call.
Why no press conference, for example? Am I the only one who noticed this? Especially given that he made a show of holding one after hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Jordanian King Abdullah, and Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.
Things must not have gone down too well between Trump an Xi. Specifically, the purported master of the Art of the Deal clearly negotiated nothing worth mentioning on hot-button issues like bi-lateral trade, North Korea, or Taiwan.
Only this explains Xi slinking back to China in the middle of the night on Friday. It also explains why he probably rolled his eyes when he heard Trump bragging about their “outstanding” friendship; you know, just as a woman might if she heard her minute-man lover bragging about their terrific sex life.
Wag the dog strikes…
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Saturday, at 6:23 p.m.
Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 7:46 AM
Friday, April 7, 2017 at 8:12 AM
The US military launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield late on Thursday, in the first direct American assault on the government of President Bashar al-Assad since that country’s civil war began six years ago.
The operation, which the Trump administration authorized in retaliation for a chemical attack killing scores of civilians this week, dramatically expands U.S. military involvement in Syria and exposes the United States to heightened risk of direct confrontation with Russia and Iran, both backing Assad in his attempt to crush his opposition.
Syria and Russia swiftly denounced the attack.
(Washington Post, April 7, 2017)
I telegraphed these strikes and their deflective intent in “Putin Ordered Puppet Assad to Gas Innocent Syrians…?” April 4, 2017. I urge you to read it.
With respect to this development, the following points are worth noting:
- Trump gave Putin (and thereby Assad) a heads-up (about timing and targets) before launching these strikes. This proves they were only for show; it also makes a mockery of Trump’s own claim that he would never give the enemy notice of his military intent.
- This heads-up gave Assad time to move his arsenal (notably the chemical weapons at issue and the aircrafts he used to deliver them) out of harm’s way. This validates my claim that military strikes in this context would amount to little more than “masturbatory explosions.” Incidentally, if my dismissing these strikes by alluding to the Mametian “Wag the Dog” is too hip for you, perhaps alluding to the Shakespearean “Much Ado About Nothing” will do.
- Trump could have taken out all six of Assad’s known military bases. He targeted only one, which is rather like a mosquito stinging the butt of a rampaging elephant to get it to change course.
- If you believe Trump’s spin about mission accomplished in Syria, you probably still believe Bush’s spin about mission accomplished in Iraq.
- Western politicians and pundit alike are hailing Trump as if he’d just won the Huntingtonian Clash of Civilizations. And they are wasting no subtlety in asserting that Trump demonstrated the strength and decisiveness Obama failed to. But the fact that Assad can launch another chemical attack today if he wanted to belies their praises.
- Assad retains the arsenal to continue terrorizing innocent Syrians. This includes the capacity to kill many more “beautiful little babies” with barrel bombs, which Trump evidently thinks he should be able to do with impunity. This, despite Trump claiming that he launched these strikes because he feels it’s “my responsibility” to save them. Not to mention that this is the same Trump who is still trying to implement a Muslim ban. After all, this ban would slam America’s door in the face of Syrian mothers fleeing – with these beautiful little babies in their arms – from Assad’s chemical weapons and barrel bombs.
- The only strategic goal these strikes accomplished was to (momentarily) deflect media attention from investigations into Putin’s meddling in the US presidential election, and from Trump’s allegation that Obama wiretapped his phone. Oh, this wag-the-dog stunt will probably give his historically low poll numbers a momentary bounce too.
- Trump gets to play military hero … for a day or two; and Putin gets to launch crocodile protests to give the impression that Trump is a traditional enemy, not his Manchurian puppet.
- Chinese President Xi Jinping probably resents Trump playing tough-guy military commander in the midst of their two-day Mar-a-Lago summit. But he undoubtedly appreciates the United States and Russia getting entangled in military misadventures in the Middle East. For this leaves China free to expand its sphere of influence elsewhere throughout the developing world … without firing a single shot, let alone launching a barrage of missiles. But if Trump thinks either Xi or his problem child Kim Jong-un will be impressed or intimidated by his pinprick strikes against Syria, well, he’s every bit as delusional as we all know he is.
That said, in “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected the Outcome of US Election,” December 12, 2016, I posited scenarios that will trigger the inevitable day of reckoning for the bromance between Putin and Trump. This was not one of those scenarios. That day is not today.
Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 8:23 AM
Pressure mounted on Tuesday for Fox News to take action against its top-rated host, Bill O’Reilly, as a series of prominent companies pulled advertising from his show and a leading women’s rights group called for his ouster.
Following an investigation by the New York Times over the weekend that revealed multiple settlements [with payouts totaling $13 million] over allegations of sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by Mr. O’Reilly, the network faced a major advertising revolt as more than a dozen marketers said that they were withdrawing their ads from the O’Reilly Factor. Escalating the tension, the National Organization for Women called for Mr. O’Reilly to be fired and said an independent investigation should be conducted into the culture at Fox News.
(New York Times, April 4, 2017)
Famed attorney Gloria Allred represents many of the women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Her daughter Lisa Bloom represents one of the many who have accused Bill O’Reilly of sexual harassment.
Of course, these accusations against O’Reilly come on the heels of similar ones that forced Fox News to fire its founding chairman and CEO, Roger Ailes. This is why Bloom can be forgiven for advancing her cause by alluding to her mother’s:
This is not my first case against Fox News and I don’t expect it will be my last. …
It’s already been dozens and dozens of women … to have come out against Roger Ailes and now Bill O’Reilly and others. …
This network is the Bill Cosby of corporate America.
(CNN, April 2, 2017)
Mind you, she would have been fairer and more accurate to assert that Bill O’Reilly is the Bill Cosby of cable television. Indeed, the number of women coming out of the woodwork suggests that O’Reilly has harassed just as many women as Cosby has assaulted.
This is why Fox News will fire O’Reilly in due course. It’s the only way it can prevent the continuing flight of advertisers and recapture those who have already flown the coop. It’s also the only way Fox can atone for the moral turpitude of resigning him to a very lucrative contract knowing full well that he was every bit as compromised as Ailes.
Incidentally, it hardly helps that President Trump has vouched for his character. This, after all, is the same notorious “grab them by the pussy” creep who vouched for Ailes’s to no avail.
What’s more, Trump is so clueless, I doubt it even occurred to him that, in defending O’Reilly, he was making a mockery of April as National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, which the White House proclaimed in his name, without any hint of irony, just days ago.
After commenting on the accusations against Ailes, however, there’s hardly any socially redeeming value, and even less titillation, in commenting any further on those against O’Reilly.
In fact, what I find most interesting about the unfolding O’Reilly scandal is the comment former Fox News contributor Jedediah Bila made about the “strict dress code” Ailes enforced:
People always say ‘Why didn’t you wear pants?’ You notice I wear pants a lot here. I didn’t wear pants because I wasn’t given a pants option. I had to choose skirts.
(ABC News, April 4, 2017)
It’s noteworthy that Bila shared this as part of a panel discussion on The View marking Equal Pay Day. But the reason I find it so interesting is that it affirms the cheeky observation I made about all of the women of Fox News in “Women Complain Fox News Head, Roger Ailes, Has Dick for Brains,” July 20, 2016.
Close friends will tell you that I have often decried the way all “prominent Fox News women” seem to abide a dress code that requires them to bare as much leg and wear as much makeup as possible.
Watching them, as I do on occasion for ‘fair and balanced’ news reporting, I always get the sense that they look more like beauty pageant contestants than cable news reporters. What’s more, camera shots invariably reinforce the impression that tits and butts are every bit as important as brains and skills.
Frankly, their objectification is such that Fox News women are often barely distinguishable from the vaudevillian ‘Benny Hill foxes.’ Hence, one can hardly blame Ailes for at least thinking of them, eponymously, as his Fox News foxes.
Far more troubling, though, is the rumor that he hired women based solely on whether or not he found them ‘f**kable.’ After all, these allegations not only give credence to that rumor, but also make it impossible to watch Fox News women henceforth without wondering what sexual favors they performed to get, and are performing to keep, their jobs. What little professional credibility they had has now been shot.
Finally, apropos of affirming another of my observations, there’s this tidbit about the professional credibility of all Fox News foxes being shot:
A new lawsuit against Fox News and its former chairman Roger Ailes has been filed by an on-air contributor [Julie Roginsky of The Five] claiming that she was discriminated against when she refused Ailes’ sexual advances — and was recruited to defend him amidst sexual harassment claims by another female host.
Roginsky claims Ailes would also make comments to her about other on-air talent who she appeared alongside on The Five.
‘For example, Ailes stated that Kimberly Guilfoyle would ‘get on her knees for anyone,” the complaint reads.
(BuzzFeedNews, April 3, 2017)
Fox News station markets itself as a Christian conservative sanctuary in a vast wasteland of moral degeneracy. But these scandals expose it as just a proverbial Peyton Place.
Women Complain Fox News head…
Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 7:23 AM
The deadliest chemical weapons attack in years in Syria killed dozens of people in northern Idlib province on Tuesday morning, including children, and sickened scores more, according to medics, rescuers and witnesses in the rebel-held province, who said the gas had been delivered by a government airstrike.
A few hours later, according to several witnesses, another airstrike hit one of the clinics treating victims, who had been farmed out to smaller hospitals and maternity wards because the area’s largest hospital had been severely damaged by an airstrike two days earlier.
It was one of the worst atrocities attributed to the Syrian government since President Trump took office
(New York Times, April 4, 2017)
This is an unconscionable crime against humanity. Unfortunately, it is one Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has repeatedly committed over the past six years — with impunity. And he has never shown any scruples about doing so.
This is why I suspect his puppet master, Russian President Vladimir Putin, thought nothing of ordering him to commit this atrocity. It would clearly take something this horrific to deflect media attention from yesterday’s terrorist attack on a train in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, which killed 11 and injured dozens. And Putin has his diabolical reasons for orchestrating this wag-the-dog deflection.
Foremost, it would mean no stoking terrorized Russians with unsettling reports on how their own president might have triggered this attack. This, after all, is a reasonable connection to make from Putin’s misadventure in Syria, where he evidently thought he could squash US-backed freedom fighters, destroy the ISIS Caliphate, and set up a Russian satellite state in seven days. It’s been seventeen months.
Not to mention that, just days ago, disgusted and disillusioned Russians were staging anti-government protests all over the country. An underground report incited their protests. For it exposed Putin and his cohorts living such an opulent lifestyle, it makes that of Louis XVI and his courtiers seem modest by comparison.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of Russians don’t even have cake to eat — the apocryphal nature of this quip notwithstanding. This specter of Soviet-style food shortages stems from the crippling economic sanctions Putin triggered with his ongoing misadventure in Ukraine, which included the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
But this chemical gas attack in Syria would also mean no humiliating punditry about strongman Putin being every bit as feckless as Western leaders when it comes to protecting their respective citizens from terrorist attacks. Bear in mind that his iron-fisted rule rests on propagating the hype that only he can protect the Russian people from all manner of evil – foreign and domestic.
Secondarily, this deflection would help his He-Man crush, Donald J. Trump, deflect media attention from ongoing investigations into how Russia’s meddling got him elected president of the United States. And, given the mess his indiscriminate bombing has created, Putin was probably happy to provide a pretext for Trump to willfully scapegoat his predecessor, Barack Obama, for all that is wrong in Syria.
Sure enough, Trump wasted no time doing just that. Specifically, he cited Obama’s failure to enforce that infamous “red line” four years ago to explain what will likely be his feckless response to this crime against humanity today. But blaming Obama is just passing the buck. Worse still, Trump is skirting his presidential duty by “leading from behind,” which is what he and Republicans always accused Obama of doing.
Frankly, his response thus far to this first international crisis on his watch has been pusillanimous, perplexing, and even puerile. This is especially so when juxtaposed with the way his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, responded by condemning Russia for being complicit in this gas attack. She even vowed that America will take unilateral action to avenge it if the international community fails to do so. If you didn’t know better, you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s one of those holdovers from the Obama administration who Trump has accused of trying to sabotage his.
Ironically, Trump’s response makes him look like the weakest of all Western leaders — who are condemning this latest chemical attack in the strongest possible terms but vowing to do nothing to punish Assad or stop him from launching another. Hell, their fecklessness is such that they can’t even get Russia and China to endorse a toothless UN resolution condemning Syria.
Mind you, trying to get either Russia or China to condemn Syria for crimes against humanity makes even less sense than trying to get America to condemn Mexico for the scourge of gun violence.
Russian and Chinese leaders are expressing solidarity with Assad because he happens to be emulating the brute force they have used, and intend to continue using, to hold on to power in their respective countries.
(“Now Houla: Assad of Syria Continues to Massacre with Impunity,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 29, 2012)
Accordingly, Trump should lead a coalition of the willing to set up a no-fly, safe, humanitarian zone in Syria – even if that means a de-facto partitioning of the country. It would not only save innocent Syrians from recurring atrocities, but also stem the tide of migration that is destabilizing so many European countries.
This is what I urged Obama to do to no avail in many commentaries, including “Migrant Invasion Causing Humanitarian Remorse in Germany,” September 28, 2015, and “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, which includes this excerpt.
Hailing Putin’s bombing as ‘shock and awe … on steroids’ ignores that it took hundreds of thousands of troops invading (not hundreds of jets bombing) for Bush to win his Pyrrhic victory in Iraq. …
Criticizing Obama for having little to show after bombing [Syria] for over a year ignores that he deems it as unconscionable as it is counterproductive to get off on killing thousands of women and children in a vain attempt to kill a few ISIS combatants. …
Staking out safe zones in Syria will stem the flow of refugees into Europe. It will also provide a base from which Western ground forces can launch strategic incursions to kill ISIS leaders and enemy combatants, not hapless Syrians unable to flee. Russia … should join forces with the United States and its coalition partners to implement this strategy.
All else is folly.
That said, I have a longstanding aversion to leaders venting outrage over the killing of hundreds with gas, while blithely condoning, even enabling, the killing of thousands with guns (and bombs). I expressed this aversion with respect to Syria in “Why Is Killing with Gas (Syria) any more Inhumane than Killing with Guns (Egypt)?” August 23, 2013.
The point is that you’d be hard-pressed to find among the Western leaders venting outrage over this gas attack in Syria one who has vented similar outrage over ethnic cleansing in South Sudan, where hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions more displaced.
One might even wonder why this gas attack should compel Western leaders to act any differently than they have to all of the others Assad has perpetrated over the years. Of course, if Trump joins (or begins leading) this chorus of outrage, he should be particularly pressed to explain this inconsistency. After all, here is the infamous way he warned Obama against retaliating after Assad gassed many more innocent men, women, and children in 2013.
The only reason President Obama wants to attack Syria is to save face over his very dumb RED LINE statement. Do NOT attack Syria, fix U.S.A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Sept. 5, 2013
And that was his most respectful tweet among the torrent he unleashed — all telling “foolish” Obama not to waste American blood and treasure for a few gassed Syrians. Granted, hypocrisy is second nature to Trump; so expecting consistency from him is rather like expecting chastity from a whore.
In any event, Putin’s attempt to deflect will undoubtedly work in Russia, where he controls all media and dictates the political narrative. But it won’t work in too many other countries, least of all Western ones.
More to the point, though, he has demonstrated time and again that there’s nothing he would not do to protect and preserve his strongman reputation, which he has spent his entire career cultivating. I have ridiculed many of his PR stunts in this regard in commentaries like “Putin’s Photo-Op Flop,” October 20, 2010, and “Putin’s Divorce Dents Public Armor,” June 12, 2013.
But, if you don’t think he could be so diabolical as to order Assad to gas innocent men, women, and children, I have one word for you: Chechnya.
NOTE: In “The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected Outcome of US Election,” December 12, 2016, I delineated the myriad reasons why a day of reckoning will come when, instead of indirectly colluding, Trump and Putin will be directly confronting each other. In her immediate response to this attack, Ambassador Haley echoed one of those looming reasons.
Let me be clear: Trump will likely coordinate with Putin to launch avenging strikes in Syria. But unless he defies Putin by decapitating the Assad regime, his strikes will amount to nothing more than the masturbatory explosions I decried in “Bombing ISIS Smacks of Masturbatory Violence,” November 18, 2015, which I excerpted in this commentary above. What’s more, no matter their coordination on Syria, it will not provide sufficient justification for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia related to Ukraine – much as he’d like to.
* This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 3:13 p.m.
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at 8:19 AM
In my original commentary, I posited the improbable prospect of South Carolina emulating UConn by having both women and men win their respective championships. Sure enough, Carolina women and men won. It’s just that the feat was more north-south than south-south.
For the women’s championship, South Carolina played a Mississippi team that seemed still in shock after upsetting prohibitive favorite UConn in the Final Four. It defeated Mississippi State in a relative rout 67-55.
Mississippi State slayed the giant, but South Carolina ended up with the spoils. …
While Mississippi State snapped Connecticut’s 111-game winning streak in the semifinals Friday night, it couldn’t replicate the magic in its third straight matchup against a No. 1 seed in this tournament.
(ESPN Bleacher Report, April 2, 2017)
South Carolina is now celebrating its first national championship.
For the men’s championship, North Carolina redeemed its buzzer-beating loss to Villanova in last year’s championship. It defeated Gonzaga handily 71-65.
The No. 1-seeded Tar Heels returned many of the players who left the court in Houston devastated a year ago. But at University of Phoenix Stadium, they could finally bask in the confetti that rained down from the rafters.
They beat Gonzaga, another No. 1 seed, which was making its first appearance in the Final Four.
(New York Times, April 4, 2017)
North Carolina is now celebrating its sixth national championship.