• Monday, July 31, 2017 at 7:13 AM

    Fail, Putin! All He Has to Show for His Meddling in the US Is More Sanctions

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Much has been made of the way Russian President Vladimir Putin meddled to get Donald Trump elected president of the United States. The prevailing view – in both Russia and the United States – was that a grateful or compromised Trump would do Putin’s bidding.

    The great expectation in this respect was that Trump would lift the sanctions that have been crippling Russia’s economy for years. Former President Barack Obama imposed them in early 2014, through a series of Executive Orders, after Putin annexed Crimea and began destabilizing the rest of Ukraine.

    Putin was banking on Trump wielding the kind of dictatorial powers in America he wields in Russia. And Trump did nothing to disabuse Putin of this misguided symmetry.

    But I found it stupefying that so many American commentators were giving credence to this. They seemed oblivious to powers Congress and the judiciary wield as coequal branches of government. I, on the other hand, was acutely mindful of those powers.

    It won’t be long before the bromance between Trump and Putin has its day of reckoning. …

    Whatever the nature of their He-man courtship, that fateful day could come … when Putin realizes that his puppet strings are no match for congressional and judicial powers, which place checks and balances on presidential powers. … He’s betting he can get Trump to use those powers to ease the sanctions that are crippling Russia’s economy and cramping the lifestyles of Russian oligarchs who help him misappropriate and launder tens of billions.

    (“The Issue Is Not Whether Russia Affected the Outcome of US Election,” The iPINIONS Journal, December 12, 2016)

    Sure enough:

    America’s ingenious system of checks and balances has so circumscribed Trump’s Putinesque impulses that all Putin has to show for his hacking and leaking is Russia suffering even worse economic sanctions and irreparable reputational damage. This pyrrhic effect is clearly not what Putin meddled for.

    (“France’s Marine Le Pen, Putin’s Latest Democratic Honey Trap,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 6, 2017)

    But I also found it stupefying that so many ignored the indelible and inexorable course of US foreign policy commitments, which would clearly preclude Trump appeasing Putin beyond idle flattery. I restated Putin’s looming disappointment in “Putin Blames ‘Little Green Men’ for Syrian Gas Attack – as Bloom Comes Off His Bromance with Trump,”  April 12, 2017.

    __________

    [T]he election collusion/bromance between Putin and Trump was doomed to implode. …

    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.

    __________

    All of which is why I wasn’t at all surprised last week when Congress defied Trump by slapping Putin in the face:

    The Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to pass a bill increasing sanctions against Russia … establishing veto-proof majorities for the measure that also allows Congress to block President Trump from easing sanctions against Moscow. …

    Lawmakers [were] worried by hints that the Trump administration might make concessions to Russia, specifically sanctions that the Kremlin has sought to have lifted. …

    [T]he bill codifies existing sanctions and steps up sanctions against Moscow over Russia’s involvement in the wars in Ukraine and Syria, as well as allegations that it interfered in the 2016 US elections.

    (Washington Post, July 27, 2017)

    Incidentally, Trump boasted throughout his campaign that he would get Congress to rubber stamp his legislative agenda, so much so that his supporters would “get tired of winning.”  Remember that? Therefore, the irony cannot be lost even on him that this sanctions bill, which he lobbied heavily to kill, is the only significant legislative achievement of his beleaguered presidency.

    In any event, a duly disappointed Putin retaliated.

    Russia took its first steps on Friday to retaliate against proposed American sanctions for Moscow’s suspected meddling in the 2016 election, seizing two American diplomatic properties in Russia and ordering the United States Embassy to reduce staff by September.

    The moves, which had been threatened for weeks, came a day after the United States Senate approved a measure to expand economic sanctions against Russia, as well as against Iran and North Korea. The White House announced late Friday that President Trump would sign the bill.

    (New York Times, July 28, 2017)

    Except that this retaliation actually betrayed Putin’s weakness. Again, US sanctions are not just crippling Russia’s economy but cramping the jet-set lifestyle of the oligarchs he depends on to protect and sustain his kleptocracy. Indeed, it speaks volumes that the richest Russians, including Putin himself, have more money in American banks than in Russian ones. Of course, this is why they are so susceptible to US sanctions.

    Yet all he did was kick hundreds of consular staffers out of the country – many of whom are probably all too happy to leave. In fact, the only people who will be adversely affected are the Russians lining up every day for these staffers to process visas for them to visit America – many of whom will overstay their visas … indefinitely.

    What’s more, the way he retaliated for the first round of US sanctions in 2012 only reinforces this weakness. For he merely banned Americans from adopting helpless Russian babies.

    [T]he adoption ban was drafted in response to the Magnitsky Act, a law signed by President Obama this month that will bar Russian citizens accused of violating human rights from traveling to the United States and from owning real estate or other assets there.

    (New York Times, December 27, 2012)

    This is why I fear the day of reckoning is nigh, when Putin will have to play the only card he has to justify the strongman reputation he has so carefully cultivated. That, alas, would be to launch military action somewhere that compels the US to retaliate … militarily.

    And, Trump might be unwittingly encouraging Putin to do so. Not least because he must seem to Putin (and other world leaders) like a clueless, hapless idiot tweeting his presidency away. He reinforced this impression just last week by tweeting to no avail to get

    • China to stop North Korea from launching ballistic missiles;
    • the US military to ban transgender troops; and
    • Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare.

    Weak!

    Meanwhile, Trump has been conspicuous in his unwillingness to tweet a condemnatory character at Russia for meddling in last year’s election and having the nerve to retaliate after being punished for doing so…?

    Incriminating!

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  • Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    Republican ‘War’ to Repeal Obamacare Fails in Spectacular, Humiliating Fashion

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Republicans’ ‘Seven-Year War’ to repeal the Affordable Care Act appears dead. Last night, three GOP senators bucked their party and president, siding with Democrats to vote down a last-minute effort to repeal portions of the law. …

    After this, it seems unlikely that Republicans will revive their legislative campaign against Obamacare.

    (Washington Post, July 28, 2017)

    No doubt you recall that Trump made repealing and replacing this Act the signature promise of his presidential campaign. But if you think he’s the biggest loser, think again.

    For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the one with egg all over his face. This is the only way to describe his look when the die was cast in the wee hours on Friday.

    Of course, this is the same McConnell of Kentucky who was the bane of Obama’s presidency. Because he spent every day executing an open and notorious Republican conspiracy to make Obama the worst president in US history.

    Here is how McConnell famously took pride in this conspiracy on the July 10, 2011, edition of FOX News:

    Well that is true, making Obama a one-term President is my single most important political goal along with every active Republican in the country.

    Repealing and replacing Obama’s signature achievement of healthcare reform was always their holy grail. And McConnell was hailed as such a master of the legislative process, everyone assume he could get his Republican caucus to pass this bill as easily as a DA could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.” This is why most will blame him more than Trump for this spectacular, humiliating legislative failure.

    But McConnell can still gloat over the unprecedented way he refused even to grant Obama’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing during the final nine months of his presidency.

    Still, here’s to Mitch for failing – not only to make Obama a one-term president but also to vindicate that attempt by repealing Obamacare.

    That said, I’d be remiss not to note the obvious ironies inherent in Senator John McCain of Arizona killing this bill, which he did in the well of the Senate with a dramatic thumbs down.

    Most notably, McCain was the candidate Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008. More to the point, though, he is the war hero Trump famously dissed with this infamous riff:

    He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.

    (New York Times, July 18, 2015)

    What you may not know, though, is that Trump pulled a complete 180. Specifically, he started this week hailing McCain as a hero and ended it on the phone groveling for his vote – just minutes before McCain gave his now famous thumbs down.

    As I texted an old friend, this was McCain serving it cold with a side order of “How do you like your hero now, bitch!”

    Related commentaries:
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  • Friday, July 28, 2017 at 8:36 AM

    First Cancer, Then Divorce, Now Bell’s Palsy? ‘Please cry for me, Angelina’

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Angelina Jolie is opening up about her difficult year, from a Bell’s Palsy diagnosis to her split from Brad.

    In a Vanity Fair cover story, Jolie reveals that in addition to high blood pressure, she developed Bell’s Palsy, a condition resulting from damage to facial nerves, which caused one side of her face to droop.

    (USA Today, July 27, 2017)

    I know my title conveys heartlessness toward this celebrity do-gooder. But Angie and me, we have history.

    That said:

    Poor pretty rich star

    How tortured you are.

    Dear God, what else can befall

    This fairest star of them all.

    Here is a reprise of my PSA from January 31, 2014. It explains why I suspect this much ado about her Bell’s Palsy is a justification for a face lift, just as the much ado about her cancer was for that boob job.

    **********

     

    Forget Angelina! Hannah’s the Breast Cancer Survivor Worthy of Praise

     

    Angelina Jolie famously elected to replace her healthy breasts with implants because she feared she might develop terminal cancer … someday. And she won near-universal praise for doing so. TIME magazine even ran a cover on May 27, 2013, heralding “The Angelina Effect” she would have on women.

    AngelinaJolieTombraiderI, however, stood virtually alone in pooh-poohing the hosannas to her. And I received near-universal flak for doing so. Notably, women got their panties in a twist because I dared to question whether Jolie was more interested in preserving the look of her two most bankable assets than preventing cancer.

    On Tuesday the New York Times published an op-ed by actress Angelina Jolie on her decision to have a double mastectomy. Almost immediately, she became the subject of media beatification the likes of which we have not seen, well, since Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 2008. …

    You’d never know from this coverage that tens of thousands of women, including lesser-known celebrities, have talked openly about having a double mastectomy. Alas, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, having an A-lister like Jolie do so somehow makes it okay, perhaps even fashionable. …

    Jolie did not opt to remain au naturel (i.e., flat chested). That would have been heroic, and truly worthy of media beatification. Instead, she got a boob job … too.

    Which raises the question: why hail Jolie as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors when all she did was elect to look like every other actress in Hollywood who makes a living by showing off the most titillating fake breasts money can buy?

    (“Angelina Jolie’s ‘Heroic Decision’ to Get Breast Implants?” The iPINIONS Journal, May 16, 2013)

    Even more shocking and dismaying, however, is that my critics seemed not the least bit chastened five months later when Professor Kefah Mokbel of the London Breast Institute issued the following warning, which the New York Post reported on October 3, 2013:

    We’re seeing a large number of women requesting a preventive mastectomy for peace of mind, women who’ve been diagnosed but don’t have a genetic predisposition so wouldn’t benefit.

    These are patients who say, ‘Can you do for me what Angelina Jolie had done?’ They’re on the increase.

    Not even when, around the same time, researchers at the University of Minnesota presented a report at the 2013 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons, which included the following dispositive finding (as reported in the October 7, 2013 edition of the Daily Mail):

    Women who have a healthy breast removed over fears they might later develop breast cancer may not improve their survival rate, according to new research.

    article-2547914-1B0D390200000578-367_306x423Well, given that scientific evidence did nothing to disabuse Angie’s avengers of their misguided praise, perhaps the sublime image of what a real patron saint of breast-cancer survivors should look like will. And, thanks to the March 2014 issue of Cosmopolitan no less, Hannah Foxley is a vision to behold, posing proudly, I dare say even seductively, with her bare, scared chest where her pert breast used to be.

    Hannah Foxley, who recently had a mastectomy, says she wants to show women you can still be beautiful even when you’ve had parts of your body removed.

    ‘I have learnt to love it and adopt a positive body image and I want to empower other women to do the same. I want them to see my pictures and say ‘she looks beautiful and I can too.’’

    Surely no woman in her right mind would praise the fake, Playboy-style body image Jolie represents over the real, naturally beautiful body image Foxley does … right?

    But let me hasten to clarify that nothing I’ve ever written on this subject is meant to convey any disrespect for women who opt for post-mastectomy reconstructive surgery.

    I just think a woman like Foxley is far more worthy of being hailed as the patron saint of breast-cancer survivors than Jolie. Don’t you?

    **********

    I hope that reprise suffices as, well, justification for my cynicism.

    In a similar vein, I hope you’ll forgive a final tidbit about this imperious Hollywood diva playing Mother Theresa in real life. It revolves around two quotes, which constitute Jolie unwittingly vindicating my cynicism.

    This first one is from the November 4, 2014, edition of Closer. It has Jolie swooning about her desire to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker.

    In a new interview with ‘Today’ correspondent Tom Brokaw, the Oscar-winning actress, 39, revealed since exchanging ‘I Dos’ in an intimate ceremony in the South of France Brad, 50, has inspired her to ‘be a better wife,’ and learn how to cook!

    This second one is from the August 2017 issue of Vanity Fair. It has Jolie still swooning about her desire to be a good … mother and homemaker.

    I’m just wanting to make the proper breakfast and keep the house. That’s my passion. At the request of my kids, I’m taking cooking classes. …

    I’ve been trying for nine months to be really good at just being a homemaker … but now I need to get my boots on and go hang, take a trip.

    Now bear in mind that she has six children between the ages of 9 and 15.  Yet she’s telling the world that she’s been trying to be a good homemaker only since her split from husband Brad Pitt. Further, that after only nine months of this re-commitment, she needs a break.

    One gets the sense that Jolie has no greater regard for marriage and motherhood than she has for movies – in which she’s always the star. This might explain why she appears to treat her home like itinerant movie sets, her kids like itinerant extras.

    No doubt Pitt would readily admit his faults. But it’s easy to see how Jolie’s episodic commitment to the prerequisites of home life might have contributed to the breakdown of their marriage.

    UPDATE

    Family friend affirms my cynical take on Jolie

    July 29

    I took a lot of flak for casting Jolie in such a cynical light, especially with respect to her using her kids as props. Well, as vindication goes, it doesn’t get any better than this:

    According to the family friend, Jolie’s candid conversation about the kids came as a shock, as Pitt’s main priority has always been to protect the privacy of their children, refusing to speak of them publicly. Because of that, it was unexpected to see the children’s lives at home exposed in the pages of Vanity Fair.

    ‘It’s surprising that Angelina would use the children to help herself in the story, especially after years where both were dedicated to protecting their privacy,’ the family friend told ET on Friday.

    (Entertainment Tonight, July 29, 2017)

    Related commentaries:
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  • Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Russians Arming Taliban to Fight Americans in Afghanistan…? Duh

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The Taliban have received improved weaponry in Afghanistan that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government, according to exclusive videos obtained by CNN, adding weight to accusations by Afghan and American officials that Moscow is arming their one-time foe in the war-torn country.

    US generals first suggested they were concerned the Russian government was seeking to arm the Afghan insurgents back in April, but images from the battlefield here corroborating these claims have been hard to come by. …

    Two separate sets of Taliban, one in the north and another in the west, claim to be in possession of the weapons, which they say were originally supplied by Russian government sources.

    (CNN, July 25, 2017)

    To be fair, the Russians insist they are only enabling the Taliban to fight terrorists in Afghanistan. But this is rather like the Iranians insisting they are only enabling the Sadr brigade to fight terrorists in Iraq.

    Powerful Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr instructed his followers on Sunday to target US troops deploying to Iraq as part of the military campaign against Islamic State.

    US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Monday the Pentagon would dispatch 560 additional troops to help Iraqi forces retake the northern city of Mosul in an offensive planned for later this year.

    ‘They are a target for us,’ Sadr said.

    (Reuters, July 17, 2016)

    Or perhaps it is more like the Americans insisting they were only enabling the Mujahedeen to fight communists in Afghanistan (during the 1980s) …

    Whatever the case, the following two quotes explain why this news about the Russians arming the Taliban smacks of American chickens coming home to roost.

    Do unto others…

    [In arming the Taliban] the Iranians are only doing to the Americans today what the Americans did to the Russians during the 1980s (when they were fighting an equally ill-fated war in Afghanistan). Anyone familiar with the derring-dos of Congressman Charlie Wilson, all of which are documented in Charlie Wilson’s War, knows this. Karma: it’s a bitch!

    (“Iran Arming America’s Enemies in Afghanistan … Duh,” The iPINIONS Journal, September 10, 2009)

    The enemy of my enemy…

    A further irony is that the shoulder-fired missile that was used to take down this American helicopter is very likely a remnant from the stash the Americans supplied the Mujahedeen to help them take down Russian helicopters. … In fact, it was such deadly missile attacks on helicopters that forced the Russians to finally turn tail and run. …

    This is why nobody can blame the Russians for expressing unbridled schadenfreude over this unfolding comeuppance for the Americans today.

    (“Afghanistan: Obama Saluting War Dead…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, August 10, 2011)

    But Russia using proxies to take pot shots at the United States is the least of what’s wrong with this never-ending war in Afghanistan. I have delineated the primary follies in numerous commentaries, including most recently in “Three More Americans Die for ‘Mistake’ in Afghanistan,” June 12, 2017. And that commentary includes links to many related commentaries, most notably “Obama’s Ironic Mission to Afghanistan,” March 3, 2010, which includes this prescient excerpt.

    __________________

    It is a fateful indication of how little progress the US has made in Afghanistan that President Obama had to deploy even more cloak and dagger maneuvers to visit there last weekend (over eight years into this war) than former President Bush did in 2006 (five years after launching it). …

    Yet the instructive irony of this embarrassing folly seemed completely lost on Obama. Only this explains him trying to rally war-weary troops by boasting that he’s ‘absolutely confident’ he’ll be able to stamp ‘mission accomplished’ on Afghanistan by July 2011.  Indeed, the irony of ironies is that he sounded every bit as delusional as his predecessor did when he made a similar boast about wrapping up the war in Iraq almost seven years ago. …

    The US legacy there will be distinguished either by a terminally wounded national pride – as American forces beat a hasty retreat in defeat (following the Russian precedent), or by thousands more American soldiers being lost in Afghanistan’s ‘graveyard of empires’ – as they continue fighting this unwinnable war (following America’s own Vietnam precedent): more troops only mean more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters.

    Therefore, Obama would be well-advised to cut America’s losses and retreat ASAP; let the Afghans govern themselves however they like; and rely on Special Forces to disrupt and dismantle Taliban and al-Qaeda operations in country and on aerial drones to attack their havens in the mountainous regions of Pakistan.

    The vietnamization of Afghanistan continues …

    __________________

    Clearly, I’ve been lamenting for years that America seems doomed to repeat the mistakes of Vietnam. Nothing reinforces my lamentation quite like this:

    When President Trump made his first major decision on the war in Afghanistan, he did not announce it in a nationally televised address from the White House or a speech at West Point.

    Instead, the Pentagon issued a news release late one afternoon last week confirming that the president had given the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, the authority to send several thousand additional troops to a war that, in its 16th year, engages about 8,800 American troops.

    (New York Times, June 18, 2017)

    Again, more US troops only means more sitting ducks for Taliban fighters to shoot.

    But even worse, these sacrificial troops also have to worry about getting shot in the back by the Afghan soldiers they’re training. The three who were killed and the lucky seven who were only wounded in separate “insider attacks” last month attest to this.

    The ubiquitous spectre of these “green-on-blue” killings have haunted America’s ill-fated war on terrorism from day one. I have bemoaned them in many commentaries, including recently in “Killing of US General Betrays Tragic Folly of US Presence in Afghanistan,” August 8, 2014, and “Obama’s Mission Creep in Iraq Channeling JFK’s Mission Creep in Vietnam,” November 12, 2014.

    Finally, Trump made quite a show of criticizing Obama for allowing Iran to do in Iraq what Russia is doing in Afghanistan. But think again if you think this loudmouth hypocrite is going to do anything to stop Russia.

    After all, if he’s too beholden to Putin to even criticize Russia for meddling in America’s elections, he’s hardly inclined to stop Russia from meddling in Afghanistan’s war. And this, despite the fact that Putin now has the blood of American soldiers on his hands.

    Of course, if Trump had any national pride or moral principles, he would be punishing Russia for meddling in last year’s presidential election. Beyond this, he would be arming Ukrainians to fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of their country. For American-armed Ukrainians would surely kill more Russians in Ukraine than the number of Americans Russian-armed Taliban are killing in Afghanistan.

    Instead, this narcissistic oaf of an American president is trying to absolve and reward Russia. Specifically, he’s trying to prevail upon Congress to lift the sanctions Obama imposed not only for Russia’s meddling in that election but also for its annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Eastern Ukraine.

    Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will reveal the ties that bind their antic bromance in due course. But it speaks volumes that even the Republican-controlled Congress defied Trump’s executive entreaty to appease Putin. It voted in rare-bipartisan fashion just yesterday to strengthen those sanctions by a veto-proof majority. The bill is now awaiting his signature.

    As is his wont, Trump thought it would help his entreaty to insinuate that Hillary’s campaign colluded with Ukraine the way his colluded with Russia.

    US President Donald Trump on Tuesday blasted the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s US election and raised questions, without offering evidence, about Ukrainian support for his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

    In a pair of early morning tweets, Trump also said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had ‘taken a very weak position’ toward the Democratic presidential nominee and cited ‘Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign – quietly working to boost Clinton’.’

    (Reuters, July 25, 2017)

    This would seem to preclude arming Ukraine: maybe, maybe not. One never knows with the fickle and unprincipled Trump.

    But what is most troubling is that his entreaty and insinuation are just two of many indicators that this leader of the free world is completely detached from political reality.

    God help us.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Monday, July 24, 2017 at 7:22 AM

    Trump Tweeting While Middle East Implodes

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Donald Trump assured the world that the only thing needed for peace in the Middle East was his ability to broker a deal and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s ability to manage it. He did it not only as political schtick throughout the campaign but even as government policy during the early days of his presidency.

    His assurances were patently absurd of course: Saudi Arabia showed just how when it reacted to Trump’s historic visit there in May by leading the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain in a blockade and embargo of Qatar. Israel did the same when it reacted to Kushner’s “peacemaking mission” there last month by imposing even greater, Apartheid-like restrictions on Palestinians.

    Saudi Arabia seemed determined to have its blockade and embargo of Qatar ape the futility of America’s 50-year embargo of Cuba. And, if it were up to the clueless Trump – who openly endorsed this Saudi-led “act of war,” that would’ve been the case.

    Except that, in what is becoming routine, his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is ignoring Trump’s clueless rhetoric. Specifically, Tillerson is leading efforts to end this blockade and embargo. What’s more, other Western powers, including the UK and France, are supporting those efforts.

    Not to mention that regional powers, notably Iran and Turkey, are showing that they are even more willing and able to help Qatar than the former Soviet Union was to help Cuba.

    Unsurprisingly, reports are that members of the Saudi-led group are now seeking a face-saving way to retreat. It speaks volumes that no less a paper than the Washington Post ridiculed this blockade and embargo in its July 18 edition as “a royal mess.”

    But I already commented too much on this all too predictable mess in “Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Messy Middle East Even Messier,” July 13, 2017.

    Meanwhile, Israel’s restrictions are merely reinforcing its perennial mistreatment of Palestinians, namely as squatters on their own land. The latest ones require Muslims to pass through metal detectors to enter their own Al Aqsa Mosque. This has created the untenable spectacle of thousands of Muslims kneeling in the streets to pray.

    It speaks volumes that no less a person than former US President Jimmy Carter decried this mistreatment in his 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

    Truth be told, though, even President Obama was too politically attuned to Israeli crocodile tears about security to hear Palestinian cries for freedom.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continually played the religious card to get Obama to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict only through the prism of the Holocaust. I continually denounced him for doing so, including most recently in “Netanyahu’s a Putz for Branding Obama a Judas Over UN Resolution,” December 29, 2016, which includes this excerpt.

    _________________

    Netanyahu seems hell-bent on emulating South Africa’s Apartheid leaders by turning Israel into a pariah state. …

    [He] is clearly playing the religious card by complaining about Obama and the UN ganging up on Israel throughout the peace process. But this is as factually and morally bankrupt as Trump playing the media card by complaining about Hillary and the media ganging up on him throughout the election process.

    Frankly, even in Trump’s ‘post-fact, post-truth’ world, there’s no denying that Netanyahu and his settlement policy have been the greatest obstacles to peace. Worse still, by expanding and fortifying this apartheid policy, Israel is rendering specious its clarion boast about being the only democracy in the Middle East. Indeed, with all due respect to Reagan, peace through strength to Netanyahu amounts to might makes right.

    And it does not bode well that Trump seems determined to parrot everything Netanyahu says and support everything he does. This would make a mockery of the role US presidents have traditionally played as honest broker in the Sisyphean Mideast peace process.

    ___________________

    The point (re Trump’s assurance) is that anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knew that, with all parties aping his reckless bravado, peace would become even more elusive during his presidency. Sure enough, the Palestinian Authority has now responded to Israel’s new restrictions in kind:

    President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who had cut short a trip to China to handle the spiraling crisis over the metal detectors, announced late Friday that he was freezing contacts with Israel at all levels until it canceled the new measures around the Jerusalem holy site. …

    The metal detectors were introduced after a brazen attack on the morning of July 14, when three armed Arab citizens of Israel emerged from Al Aqsa Mosque and fatally shot two Israeli Druze police officers who were guarding an entrance to the compound. …

    After the attack, in a rare move, Israel temporarily closed the contested and volatile holy site — which is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and emptied it of all workers while the police conducted searches.

    (New York Times, July 21, 2017)

    Frankly, the only thing that is noteworthy about these imploding developments is that Trump is the first president since the founding of Israel nearly 70 years ago who, evidently, couldn’t care less.

    You’d think that, at the very least, he would be tweeting feckless admonitions for all parties to appreciate and respect his peacemaking assurances – no matter how patently inadequate. But you’d be hard-pressed to find a single tweet about the Qatar crisis or this Al Aqsa one in the puerile sh*t storm that is his Twitter feed.

    (His guilty conscience keeps him tweeting about Russia, trying in vain to deflect attention away from the alleged collusion that helped him pull off the biggest presidential-election fraud in the history of the United States.)

    Some might say he’s fiddling while the Middle East implodes. But, with all due respect to Nero, Neville Chamberlain seems the more appropriate inspiration. Because here’s the Chamberlainian re-assurance Trump provided a few weeks ago – just as that “royal mess” was getting even messier:

    Spoke yesterday with the King of Saudi Arabia about peace in the Middle-East. Interesting things are happening!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017

    Idiot.

    For his part, Kushner is probably too busy trying to stay out of jail to be concerned about what is happening in the Middle East. He, of course, is now the prime suspect in the unraveling of the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russians to help “The Donald” defeat Hillary.

    In fact, the Senate Intelligence Committee summoned Kushner for a closed-door interview on Capitol Hill today. Staff attorneys will grill him to explain the growing tally of his lies (of omission and commission) about the role he played.

    Alas, peace in the Middle East be damned … again.

    Related commentaries:
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  • Saturday, July 22, 2017 at 8:01 AM

    Apparently, like her brother Michael, Janet Jackson has that recessive racial gene

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    That, of course, is the gene that causes their “biological” children to be born all-white.

    Fans got a first glimpse of Janet Jackson’s baby boy, Eissa, via the pop star’s website and social media on Friday.

    ‘My baby and me after nap time,’ Jackson wrote in the photo she shared that shows her hugging Eissa while he yawns.

    Jackson, 50, and her husband, Wissam Al Mana, welcomed their first child in January after a ‘stress-free healthy delivery,’ a representative for the singer said.

    (CNN, April 15, 2017)

    You really have to wonder about this, especially given that Janet would probably sing ring along with Michael that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white.”

    Nothing is more pathetic than watching his siblings on TV going on about how these kids look just like Michael — seemingly unaware that surgically or cosmetically altered features (like his pointed nose, bleached skin, and long wig) cannot be inherited.

    (“52nd Annual Grammy Awards,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 1, 2010)

    But you’d think it strained credibility enough for Janet to claim that she conceived and had a “stress-free delivery” at 50 …

    SMH

    Related commentaries:
    Grammys
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  • Thursday, July 20, 2017 at 4:09 PM

    OJ Paroled: Juice on the loose again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I have written many commentaries on the infamous O.J. Simpson saga, including on the occasion of his first parole hearing in “O.J. Simpson: He’s Baaaack,” May 15, 2013.

    In each I made clear my belief, beyond any reasonable doubt, that he is an unrepentant, even remorseless double murderer. This is why I greeted his conviction and incarceration on trumped-up burglary charges in 2008 with the proverbial: karma – it’s a bitch!

    But I see no point in joining the commentariat in turning today’s parole hearing into another national spectacle.

    A Nevada parole board granted O.J. Simpson [70] parole on Thursday after the former NFL star apologized for his role in a 2007 armed robbery, said he’d been a model prisoner, and promised that he’d have no conflicts if released. …

    Simpson has served nine years of a nine-to-33-year sentence for an armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. He is expected to be released as early as October, and said he plans to move to his home in Florida.

    (CNN, July 20, 2017)

    I agree with the board’s decision. And I wish OJ well.

    Except that I fear he is far from rehabilitated. His apology was patently self-serving. After all, he insists that he has lived a “conflict-free life,” betraying that he has not come to terms with his well-documented history of domestic violence, let alone those two infamous murders.

    Frankly, the only redemptive thing about his plea for parole today was his apparent health. He has obviously lost a ton of weight since 2013, and looks back in fighting form … to commit more narcissistic mischief.

    For obvious reasons, I felt obliged to at least acknowledge this hearing. That done, I’m OJed out.

    Related commentaries:
    O.J. Simpson

  • Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 7:27 AM

    Trump Threatens Venezuela’s Dying Economy with Economic Sanctions

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Venezuela has been on a political and economic descent into the heart of darkness for years. I have bemoaned this unfolding tragedy in many commentaries, including most recently in “Venezuela’s Death Spiral of Recession, Protest, and Repression,” April 24, 2017.

    But it speaks volumes that so much is being made of Sunday’s pyrrhic reprieve – when millions of hapless and hopeless Venezuelans participated in a symbolic referendum.

    Venezuelan opposition leaders have called for their supporters to escalate street protests and support a 24-hour national strike later this week after more than 7.1 million people rejected a government plan to rewrite the constitution. …

    More than three months of opposition protests have left at least 93 people dead and 1,500 wounded [and more than 500 protesters and government opponents jailed]. …

    [President Nicolás] Maduro and the military dominate most state institutions, but the opposition controls the congress and holds three of 23 governorships.

    (London Guardian, July 18, 2017)

    Foremost, it is noteworthy that many of those taking to the streets these days to protest Maduro’s ineffectual rule were taking to the streets a few years ago to hail Hugo Chávez’s dictatorial rule. After all, Maduro is the personification of the primrose legacy Chávez left behind for the poor, misguided Venezuelans who supported him. I commented on their rude awakening in “Venezuela Finally Awakens from Chavismo Dream,” December 9, 2015.

    As it happened, during the waning years of his rule (which ended when he died in 2013), I began analogizing Venezuela’s impending doom to the one that befell Zimbabwe. Now President Trump is threatening to intervene with economic sanctions instead of humanitarian relief, which would only reinforce this analogy.

    US President Donald Trump threatened on Monday to take ‘strong and swift economic actions’ if Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro goes ahead with plans to create a super-legislature known as a Constituent Assembly in a July 30 vote.

    ‘The United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles. If the Maduro regime imposes its Constituent Assembly on July 30, the United States will take strong and swift economic actions,’ Trump said.

    (Reuters, July 17, 2017)

    Of course, the cruel irony inherent in that threat is completely lost on Trump. Not to mention that it betrays Trump’s declared, America-First intent to stay out of the domestic affairs of other countries.

    But, if he follows through, that would plunge millions of long-suffering Venezuelans into a living hell. After all, Maduro has already demonstrated a determination to emulate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and successive North Korean dictators – who have defied similar “economic actions” for decades. But I fear civil war will erupt before Maduro seals his dictatorial legacy.

    In the meantime, there’s no denying the heartrending spectacle of so many once-proud Venezuelans living lives of Dickensian desperation – complete with increasing numbers scavenging for food:

    Some people had traveled across Venezuela to queue overnight hoping to cross [the border into Colombia] to buy food and other basics that are in short supply in Venezuela, which is steeped in an economic crisis. …

    Venezuela’s stores lack the most basic foods and medicines. Queues of hundreds and even thousands of people are common, and riots and looting are a daily occurrence.

    (Reuters, August 13, 2016)

    As indicated above, I marched in virtual solidarity with Zimbabweans on their descent into the heart of darkness. And, thanks to successive US presidents taking “strong and swift economic actions” to punish the Mugabe regime, long-suffering Zimbabweans are now 25-plus years into their living hell.

    Therefore, even if spared a civil war, things do not bode well for them. But I am loath to continue commenting on Venezuela’s in similar fashion, especially given that my commentaries did nothing to alter Zimbabwe’s death spiral.

    In fact, besides urging you to pray for Venezuela, I can probably do no better than to refer you to my April 24 commentary cited above, which includes this forlorn plea:

    We cry for you, Venezuela

    The truth is, he never loved you

    Despite Chavismo

    His revolution,

    He broke his promise

    Please find your senses.

    Related commentaries:
    Death spiral
    Venezuela awakens
    Zimbabwe

  • Monday, July 17, 2017 at 7:47 AM

    Wimbledon: Venus Triumphs Even In Defeat; Federer Pads Iconic Career with Victory

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Venus

    [Garbine Muguruza of Spain] powered her way to her first title at Wimbledon and second at a Grand Slam tournament Saturday, beating a fading Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 by claiming the final’s last nine games. …

    At 37, Williams was bidding for her sixth championship at the grass-court major, 17 years after her first. And she was so close to gaining the upper hand against Muguruza, holding two set points at 5-4 in the opener.

    (CBS News, July 16, 2017)

    Unfortunately, that Sjogren’s syndrome kicked in. That, of course, is the “energy-sapping autoimmune disease” Williams made famous. She was diagnosed in 2011 but was presenting telltale symptoms as early as 2009.

    In fact, despite many impressive results, she hasn’t had enough energy to win a Grand Slam tournament since winning this one in 2008. Sure enough, only Sjogren’s explains the way Williams appeared to just throw in the towel on Saturday – after losing a hard-fought first set.

    A win would have banked her eighth Grand Slam. And, entering Centre Court, she would have been forgiven for thinking it was money in the bank. After all, she had won five of her seven Grand Slams at this most prestigious one of them all (the other tournaments being the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open).

    Even so, Williams still managed to rewrite the record books. She became the oldest woman to make a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.

    Granted, her professional accomplishments pale in comparison to those of her trailblazing sister Serena, whose record-setting 23 Grand Slams make her the greatest of all time. But Venus remains not just my favorite Tennis player, but my favorite professional athlete.

    Nothing demonstrates why quite like the grace with which she handled this emotionally challenging development in the early stage of this tournament:

    Last week, it was revealed through a police report that Williams was found at fault in a car accident that left a 78-year-old man dead. …

    She was asked about the … car accident Monday [after her first-round match], and became very emotional. …

    The news conference ended shortly after with no further questions.

    (Sporting News, July 3, 2017)

    As it turned out, the police made a 180 just days later, releasing video surveillance to support a new finding that Williams was not at fault. Remarkably, this did not deter the man’s family from filing what can only be described as a vexatious wrongful death lawsuit.

    Therefore, in addition to dealing with the trauma this accident caused, Williams had to cope throughout with the intentional infliction of emotional distress this lawsuit caused. Two days after that emotional news conference, her lawyers filed an emergency court order to protect her as much as possible from litigious harassment. Perhaps that helped.

    This might prove her swan song, however. Because, given her record over the past eight years, she’s unlikely to ever repeat the improbable feat of making it to another Grand Slam final, let alone making it to two in one calendar year.

    Recall that she also made it to the final of the Australian Open earlier this year, where she lost in straight sets to Serena. But it’s arguable that Venus would not have reached the final of this tournament if Serena were not taking time off to have her first child.

    Still, I can think of no better tribute than to say farewell to Venus, the Grand Slam contender, the way I said hello to Venus, the Grand Slam winner, 12 years ago – the first year of this weblog:

    Here’s to Venus – the most athletic, graceful, intelligent and poised player ever in Women’s Tennis (and the most articulate too)!

    (“Venus Williams Wimbledon Champion…Again,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 4, 2005)

    Roger

    What can I say, especially given my declared preference for Women’s Tennis, which I first made in “Hail to 4-Time Wimbledon Champion Venus Williams,” July 9, 2007.

    Roger Federer became the first man to win Wimbledon eight times and extended his record to 19 Grand Slam titles with victory over Croatia’s Marin Cilic.

    The Swiss third seed won 6-3 6-1 6-4 as seventh seed Cilic struggled with a blister on his left foot and broke down in tears during the second set. …

    Federer surpasses Pete Sampras and William Renshaw, who won their seventh titles in 2000 and 1889 respectively, with only Marina Navratilova still ahead in terms of Wimbledon singles titles on nine.

    (BBC, July 16, 2017)

    Except that there is something to be said for Federer besting Williams by becoming the oldest man to win this tournament.

    Mind you, he’s only 35. Still, his performance smacked of rejuvenation given the context:

    Federer has now won three Grand Slam titles since turning 30, adding to his wins at Wimbledon in 2012 and at the Australian Open earlier this year. Only Rod Laver (four) and Ken Rosewall (four) won more majors after turning 30. Federer also becomes the second man at 30 or over to win multiple Grand Slams in a year since Laver completed the Calendar Slam – winning all four majors in a calendar year – in 1969.

    (ESPN, July 16, 2017)

    So kudos to Federer for his age-defying feat, which moved one match announcer to hail him as “the ageless wonder.”

    On the other hand, what are we to make of his cry-baby opponent, Cilic? After all, he took a three-minute timeout midway through the second set, during which he sobbed inconsolably because he developed a boo boo on his foot.

    That was bad enough. But the commentators kept speculating throughout the remainder of the match that a mysterious injury was hampering his play.

    In doing so, they undermined Federer’s eventual victory. And they compounded this unfairness by failing to mention that Cilic could only have suffered his alleged injury because the masterful Federer had him running all over the court like a chicken with its head cut off.

    Related commentaries:
    Venus Williams
    Serena Williams GOAT
    Hail Venus

  • Saturday, July 15, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    Lesson of Tiananmen Square for Chinese gov: Jails can be just as effective as tanks

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him a lengthy prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while locked away, died under guard in a hospital on Thursday. He was 61.

    (New York Times, July 13, 2017)

    Related commentaries:
    Hong Kong protesters surrender

  • Thursday, July 13, 2017 at 3:03 PM

    Blockading Qatar: Trump Makes Messy Middle East Even Messier

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    President Trump received near-universal praise for his state visit to Saudi Arabia in late May. But I found this praise utterly bemusing and delineated the reasons why in “WTF: Saudis Giving Islamophobic Trump the Royal Treatment,” May 20, 2017.

    Evidently, those praising him didn’t bother to ask why he made this cradle of terrorism his first trip abroad. Trump made fighting terrorism one of the hallmarks of his presidency after all. Which made Saudi Arabia an oxymoronic choice – to put it charitably.

    Terrorism experts will tell you it was no accident that almost all of the 9/11 terrorists hailed from this country. Even I am on record denouncing it for proselytizing its extremist Wahhabi doctrine. This, for example, was the essence of “Bush’s Smiling Assassin Jailed – Indefinitely,” March 2, 2005.

    So Nixon to China this was not; more like Chamberlain to Germany.

    In any event, Trump seemed determined to snub Canada and Mexico by making his inaugural trip to a country in this region. But Qatar would have been a far better choice: it not only hosts the largest American military base in the region, but is also the only country there that shows any interest in forming a Western-style democracy.

    In fact, this latter point has made Qatar a pain in the ass to regional autocracies, of which Saudi Arabia is the de facto godfather.

    This brings me to the chaos Trump left in his bull-in-a-China-shop wake.

    The Arab world’s biggest powers cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of support for Islamist militants and Iran, and reopening a festering wound two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for Muslim states to fight terrorism. …

    ‘What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance,’ tweeted Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, referring to Trump’s joining in a traditional dance with the Saudi king at the meeting.

    Closing all transport links with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave, and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari planes from landing and forbade them from crossing their air space.

    (Reuters, June 5, 2017)

    Nothing indicates how clueless Trump was/is about the trouble he caused quite like the, well, oxymoronic way he responded to this blockade.

    Last week, Trump criticized Qatar for funding extremist ideology after Saudi Arabia and several of its allies on Monday cut diplomatic ties with the small Gulf monarchy, ostensibly over its alleged funding of terrorist organizations. …

    But Emadi said Trump had struck a different tone during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia three weeks ago. ‘He started his speech by really praising Qatar,’ Emadi said, adding, ‘Qatar is really an important partner and actually combating terrorism and money laundering and the war.’

    (CNBC, June 11, 2017)

    That’s vintage Trump, talking out of both sides of his mouth and projecting onto others faults that lie elsewhere. But the projection’s the thing here.

    He does this mostly to deflect blame from himself, of course, But, in this case, he’s projecting blame on Qatar for funding an Islamic extremist ideology, which Saudi Arabia not only funds more than any other country but actually founded. Mind you, the only credible reason anyone can give for his antic targeting of Qatar is that Saudi Arabia feted him like an Arab king during his visit.

    Qatar shouldn’t take this too personally, however. After all, this is the same fickle president who, just recently, was patting himself on the back for getting China to apply unprecedented pressure on North Korea to stop its nuclear program. Yet only days later he was accusing China of stabbing him in the back for not applying enough pressure. And it’s only a matter of time before he swings back and forth in this vein again … and again.

    Meanwhile, it is also vintage Trump to leave it to one of his minions to clean up his mess. That dubious honor falls in this case on his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

    Wednesday’s trip to Saudi Arabia is the third leg of Tillerson’s four-day trip to the Gulf aimed at helping find a solution to the ongoing dispute in the region. …

    On June 22, the Saudi-led group issued a 13-point list of demands, including the shutdown of Al Jazeera, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country, as a prerequisite to lift the sanctions.

    [Qatar] rejected the demands and the countries now consider the list ‘null and void.’

    (Al Jazeera, July 12, 2017)

    I fear this dispute will prove every bit as intractable as the greater Sunni-Shia conflict, which Muslims have been trying to resolve (with intermittent Western intervention) for over a thousand years.

    Incidentally, ever since the Reagan administration, the United States has rated the success of these interventions by the number of times secretaries of state shuttled between the warring or disputing parties. So beware when you hear Trump, in due course, touting the success of Tillerson’s “shuttle diplomacy.”

    Frankly, the only suspense this dispute holds is seeing what becomes of US relations with this Saudi-led group if it persists in blockading Qatar; you know, the way the United States blockaded Cuba for over 50 years. Because, as indicated above, the United States has far more invested in Qatar than in any of the countries in this group, which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt.

    For the record, just as I stood with Cuba, I am standing with Qatar. And this take from the Arab street only reinforces my stand:

    There has been a stark gap between the clear recklessness shown by the blockading countries and the prudence and emphasis on diplomacy shown by the State of Qatar.

    Whether it will do Emir Tamim and his government any good or not remains to be seen, but they deserve our admiration and support for standing up for freedom of thought; emphasising the ongoing importance of Palestine to the Muslim world; and defending the integrity of Qatar’s sovereignty.

    (The New Arab, July 12, 2017)

    Finally, Trump made quite a show, during the early days of his presidency, of blaming Obama for leaving him a “mess” on the world stage. But even then he was unwittingly projecting blame for what he has now done.

    After all, this Qatari mess in the Middle East only compounds the messes he has already made: namely, throughout the Americas by threatening to build that wall and withdraw from NAFTA; throughout Europe by undermining the foundation of NATO; throughout Asia by withdrawing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); and throughout the world by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord. Idiot!

    Related commentaries:
    Saudi’s giving Trump royal treatment
    Bush’s smiling assassin
    Sunni-Shia conflict

  • Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 8:29 AM

    G20: Trump Clueless, Friendless, and Feckless (and those friggin’ Trump kids!)

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    [President Trump is a] man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as President at war with the West’s institutions — like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.

    He was an uneasy, awkward figure at this gathering and you got the strong sense some other leaders were trying to find the best way to work around him. …

    We learned Mr Trump has pressed fast forward on the decline of the US as a global leader.

    (ABC News Australia, July 9, 2017)

    This in essence is how Chris Uhlmann, the political editor for ABC News Australia, reported on this G20 summit. It only lasted 62 seconds, but his takedown of Trump went viral – complete with American pundits across the political spectrum hailing its incisiveness and derisiveness in equal measure.

    Mind you, I suspect the appeal for most Americans was not so much in what he said as in how he said it, namely, with an almost hypnotic, “general” Australian accent. But as I watched, I could not help thinking, I told you so. (If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to read my original commentary below, “G20…Much Ado About Nothing,” to see why.)

    More to the point, though, nothing demonstrates how clueless Trump was/is quite like juxtaposing Uhlmann’s take with his. Unsurprisingly, Trump thought the entire summit revolved around him, and that he struck historic deals to advance his America-first agenda.

    Just left China’s President Xi where we had an excellent meeting on trade & North Korea. …

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 8, 2017

    The G 20 Summit was a great success for the U.S. – Explained that the U.S. must fix the many bad trade deals it has made. … We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. … Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017

    And thus he tweeted proud nothingness for all the world to see …

    Even so, Vice President Mike Pence chimed in to lead cabinet members in hailing Trump’s success – as if they were North Korean generals who must flatter their “Dear Leader” or die.

    Have a safe trip home [President Trump]! Congrats on another successful trip. Great leadership on the world stage.

    — Mike Pence (@VP) July 8, 2017

    Incidentally, Washington is buzzing with rumors about Pence just lying in wait to assume power once Trump’s presidency implodes. And, given all the high crimes and misdemeanors Trump is committing, Pence seems destined to have his day. But it would be short lived.

    After all, there’s no escaping his record of variously cheering and excusing Trump’s debasing and corrupting of the presidency. Therefore, he’s bound to be even more unelectable in his own right following any implosion of Trump’s presidency than VP Gerald Ford was following the implosion of Nixon’s.

    That shared, discussions at this G20 summit focused on four major topics: climate change, North Korean nukes, cyber security, and the Syrian conflagration. Here is my pithy take one each one:

    On climate change

    As best as I can tell, most leaders merely vented incredulity that Trump had withdrawn the United States from the Paris climate accord. In fact, the only noteworthy thing about this topic was the unprecedented way host Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked Trump for doing so:

    ‘Unfortunately – and I deplore this – the United States of America left the climate agreement, or rather announced their intention of doing this.’ …

    She said the other 19 members of the G20, which includes the European Union, agreed that the Paris climate accord was irreversible and that they remained committed to it.

    (CNN, July 9, 2017)

    The problem is that Merkel knew, or should have known, that Trump’s withdrawal would provide an excuse for other, less-committed leaders to do the same. Sure enough, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wasted little time initiating this dreaded domino effect. On Saturday, he announced his intent to follow Trump’s lead.

    On North Korean nukes

    For all his boasting about striking deals and influencing people, Trump could not even get G20 leaders to include a condemnation of North Korea in their final communiqué. Notably, neither Chinese President Xi nor Russian President Putin respected or feared him enough to concede even this symbolic victory.

    Of course, it could not have helped that Trump’s bumbling traveling White House referred to Xi as president of the “runaway Chinese province” of Taiwan. They did this mere minutes after Trump’s bilateral meeting with Xi – in an official statement no less. Trust me, this is even more careless and insulting than referring to Petro Poroshenko, president of my favorite ex-communist country – Ukraine, as president of the “confiscated Ukrainian territory” of Crimea.

    To be fair, Trump had the good sense to assemble a seemingly first-rate national security team. In fact, many otherwise-sensible Republicans staked their support for him based solely on this. But one can fairly accuse these advisers of dereliction of duty for failing to secure unanimous condemnation of North Korea, which should have been a small concession to extract in the circumstances – even from China.

    Except that I warned of such geostrategic pitfalls. Not least because these national security advisers were acting like partisan political hacks from day one. In this regard, I refer you to “The Week Trump Kissed Up to Saudi Arabia, Kissed Off Europe, And French Kissed the Philippines,” May 20, 2017.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s de facto state news station, Fox News, is leading reports today about the United States going it alone in imposing sanctions on North Korea. But this betrays not only how feckless Trump was at this summit but also how friendless the United States has become. What’s more, he has been pleading in tweets for months to no avail for China to impose punitive, chastening sanctions. This clearly betrays the fact that the United States cannot go it alone.

    Alas, this is just one of the many ways in which Trump’s boneheaded, America-first policies are coming home to roost. In this case, the United States wouldn’t be going it alone if Trump hadn’t withdrawn it so impetuously from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

    This, of course, is the trade and security pact Barack Obama spent much of his presidency forging. It is composed of twelve countries, representing 40 percent of global GDP. Significantly, it includes countries like Japan, Vietnam, and Australia – all of whom saw the US-led TPP as a counter to China’s hegemonic influence in Asia, much as England, France, and Germany saw (and still see) the US-led NATO as a counter to the Soviet Union’s (and now Russia’s) hegemonic influence in Europe.

    Sadly, only Trump’s pathological compulsion to abort all of Obama’s major accomplishments explains his withdrawal. But this compulsion blinded him to the undisputed benefits of TPP. One of those benefits is that willing partners from this pact would have joined the United States in imposing sanctions on North Korea. This would have spared Trump the folly of looking to scheming adversaries like Russia and China to do so, and failing that, of making hollow pronouncements about going it alone.

    On Cyber Security

    I wrote in “North Korea’s Nukes Upstage America’s Fireworks … Again,” July 5, 2017, that leaders of rogue states are queuing up to play Trump for a chump. Putin demonstrated this with relish by getting Trump to boast that their “impenetrable Cyber Security unit” was a significant achievement.

    Sure enough, Republican senators led the chorus of ridicule: Marco Rubio of Florida mocked that this was akin to striking a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to monitor chemical weapons; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina chortled that it’s as close to the dumbest idea he has ever heard; and John McCain of Arizona quipped that Putin is ideally suited to oversee this unit because he’s responsible for most of the cyber hacking at issue.

    In fact, Trump was drowning in such a bipartisan flood of public ridicule that, within 13 hours of boasting about his and Putin’s Cyber Security unit, he tweeted the bald-faced lie that he never gave it any serious consideration.

    On Syrian conflagration

    Trump and Putin are getting praise for brokering a ceasefire. Except that those praising them seem oblivious to the fact that Putin and Obama brokered similar ceasefires on more than a few occasions. The ceasefire never holds. Indeed, I shall suffice on this point to refer you to “Alas, Syrian Ceasefire No. 44 Will Fare No Better…,” September 10, 2016.

    On Trump’s kids

    I’d be remiss to ignore the hullabaloo surrounding Ivanka Trump’s participation at this G20 summit. It stems from the way she sat in for her AWOL Daddy at a roundtable discussion with other heads of state.

    For a little context, here is what no less an authority than Larry Summers, treasury secretary for the Obama administration, said about this Trumpian version of musical chairs:

    When it is necessary [for heads of government to step away], their place is normally taken by the foreign minister or another very senior government official. There is no precedent for a head of government’s adult child taking a seat, as was the case when Ivanka Trump took her father’s place at the G20. There is no precedent for good reason. It is insulting to the others present and sends a signal of disempowerment regarding senior officials.

    (Financial Times, July 9, 2017)

    Frankly, this is all too consistent with the way Trump’s kids have revealed themselves – throughout these early days of his presidency – as little more than entitled schmucks and shysters.

    As it happens, Donald Trump Jr. is demonstrating this in incriminating spades. At issue is a bombshell report in today’s edition of the New York Times. It implicates him in a June 2016 meeting to discuss the Russian government’s efforts to peddle hacked dirt on Hillary to help his Daddy win the presidential election. E-mails show junior exclaiming, “I love it!” about the prospect.

    Now, instead of taking the advice of counsel to keep his mouth shut, this “kid pro quo” is emulating his Daddy’s mendacious bravado by tweeting evasive and distracting gibberish about Democrats, which only reinforces his consciousness of guilt. Idiot!

    Therefore, nobody should be surprised that Ivanka felt perfectly suited to sit where her Daddy sat. More to the point, here is why I was not at all surprised that it did not occur to her to resist enabling his insult to the other heads of state:

    I am now in the vanguard of those despairing at the willingness of so many liberal (and liberated) women to take solace in Trump making his ‘first daughter,’ Ivanka, ‘the most powerful first lady ever.’ No less a liberal authority than the Washington Post heralded Trump’s incestuous intent in its edition on December 16, 2016.

    Except that all of their talk about Ivanka having a positive, moderating influence on her Daddy is demonstrable bulls#!t. After all, this stepford daughter couldn’t even bring herself to criticize him for bragging about sexually assaulting women — complete with his infamous boast about ‘grab[bing] them by the pussy.’

    (“Trumpasites Already Gagging on Big Lies (a.k.a. ‘Alternative Facts’) and Outrageous Pledges They Swallowed,” The iPINIONS Journal, January 30, 2017)

    No doubt you recall political pundits of all stripes praising Trump’s kids last summer as the best thing about his candidacy. But I suspect they are eating even more crow these days than the political pundits who were praising his national security advisers just months ago as the saving grace of his presidency. A presidency, incidentally, that is turning out to be the biggest political fraud and farce in the history of mankind – to channel Trump himself.

    Epilogue

    I could go on, but I’m mindful that criticizing Trump is becoming as sadistic and futile as flogging a dead mule. Therefore, I shall end where I began – with the opening line of the aforementioned ABC News Australia report, which might prove its most poignant and prescient:

    The G20 became the G19 as it ended.

    To fully appreciate its import, it might be helpful to know that Obama marshalled other world leaders in 2014 to kick Putin’s Russia out of the even more exclusive G8. The G8 became the G7 – again. This was their initial response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But Russia has been a sanctioned pariah state ever since.

    Given this, the irony cannot be lost even on Trump that he is willfully doing to America what Obama did to Russia. In one of their presidential debates, Hillary called Trump a Putin puppet. He has been acting like one ever since.

    Related commentaries:
    G20 much ado about nothing
    Syrian ceasefire
    North Korean nukes
    Kissed up to Saudi
    Trump family of shysters
    Trumpasites

    * This commentary was originally published yesterday, Tuesday, at 3:09 p.m.

  • Monday, July 10, 2017 at 7:38 AM

    Happy Independence Day Bahamas!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Bahamas Flag V3

    The Bahamas celebrates 44 years of independence today. I heartily join in hailing our motto: “Forward, Upward, Onward Together” … my Bahamaland!

    We are a relatively young nation of only 377,000 people. Yet not even the hegemony of the United States can chasten our national pride.

    Except that this Promethean pride cannot disguise the mockery we are making of our “independence.” After all, we are still pledging allegiance to the British queen as our head of state and appealing to the British Privy Council as our court of last resort. Surely, after all these years, we should be referring to Her Majesty as nothing more than a fairy godmother, and appealing only to a Supreme Court of The Bahamas.

    I’ve been pleading the latter case for years to no avail, including most recently in “For Independence Sake, Caribbean, Abolish Privy Council,” February 1, 2016. And, with all due respect to the Caribbean Court of Justice, I’ve always maintained that there’s no point in ridding ourselves of a colonial arbiter of our legal fate, only to subject ourselves to a regional one.

    Then, alas, there’s the silly way we look aping the royal pretensions and appurtenances of our former colonial masters. My pet peeve in this regard is having to wear those stupid white wigs in court. I decried this folly for the sake of my profession in “Hey, Tony, What’s Up with the Brothers Wearing White Wigs,” March 2, 2007.

    But this shame is surpassed by the contempt I have for compatriots who covet British honorary titles; you know, like Sir before their names or OBE after them. I decried this putting on airs for the sake of all former British colonies in “Australia Bans British Honors. Other Commonwealth Countries Should Too,” November 3, 2015.

    Remarkably, the subjugating contradiction inherent in coveting such titles seems lost on most of our people. Not to mention that these “queen’s birthday honours” are often based more on a bribe given than any merit earned. I ridiculed this corrupt practice eleven years ago this week in “Pardon Me, Sir, but How Much Did You Pay for Your Knighthood,” July 14, 2006.

    As it happened, the London Daily Mail threw this covetousness into shameful relief a year ago today. Specifically, it published a report on Dominican-born Baroness Scotland – who now serves as Commonwealth general secretary – under the banner headline “Stop Posing as a Knight, Palace Warns ‘Baroness Brazen’ Sidekick,” July 10, 2016. That report spoke volumes.

    In any event, the time has long since passed for us to sever the umbilical cords of colonialism. We should be standing proud as a people – beholden only to ourselves, and completely free of British pretentiousness.

    Only then would we be able to take unencumbered pride in our independent song, “March On, Bahamaland.”

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  • Saturday, July 8, 2017 at 8:17 AM

    Westerners (still) more interested in ‘saving’ planet than people on it

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    I’ve written far too many commentaries on this topic to count. Unfortunately, they’ve done little more than lump me together with the “heretics” trying to temper increasing alarms about climate change with calming facts about environmental protection and conservation.

    Therefore, on behalf of all proud heretics in this respect, let me hasten to clarify that, while acknowledging climate change as a fact but hardly an existential threat, we have maintained that there are many “Global Priorities Bigger than Climate Change” – as the critically acclaimed Danish environmentalist, Professor Bjorn Lomborg, proffered in his now seminal TED talk in 2005.

    (“March to Save the Planet? Get Real!” The iPINIONS Journal, September 23, 2014)

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  • Friday, July 7, 2017 at 7:47 AM

    G20 Germany 2017 Summit in Hamburg: Much Ado About Nothing

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Foremost, with all the humbug about Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, bear in mind that American President Donald J. Trump might be a bigger danger to Westerner democracies.

    Putin must be laughing at his dumb luck. After all, he could never have imagined having an American president who seems almost as hell-bent as he is on undermining the democratic institutions, multilateral agreements, and military alliances that have reinforced America’s status as leader of the free world for the past 70 years.

    (“The Week Trump Kissed Up to Saudi Arabia, Kissed Off Europe, and French Kissed the Philippines,” The iPINIONS Journal, May 30, 2017)

    That said, much is being made of Putin and Trump having their “first” meeting today at the G20 Germany 2017 summit in Hamburg. But, trust me, it will be remembered far more for the media hyping it like a heavyweight boxing match than for any policy or substance emanating from it.

    Here, in a nutshell, is why it will amount to much ado about nothing:

    Putin wants Trump to lift US-led sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Crimea, destabilizing Eastern Ukraine, and meddling in American and European elections. This would show that Putin really is the master of the “black art” of political manipulation. But – even if he wanted to – Trump can’t lift them because

    • He’s under criminal investigation for all manner of high crimes and misdemeanors related to Russia; and
    • A bill is already making its way through Congress to make those sanctions even more onerous, and it will pass with a veto-proof majority.

    Trump wants Putin to strike deals with him to solve everything – from Syria’s internecine conflagration to Russia’s Ukrainian incursion and North Korea’s nuclear provocation. This would show that Trump really is the master of The Art of the Deal. But Putin will look him dead in the eye, promise everything, and deliver nothing – as former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama could have told Trump.

    And, for the record, I think Trump will bring up Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election to cover his ass back home. But I suspect neither of them sees any point in paying any more than lip service to it because

    • Putin knows he ordered it; and
    • Trump knows he not only encouraged it but won because of it, which would make blaming Putin to his face too churlish a case of biting the hand that fed you – even for the preternaturally churlish Trump.

    Incidentally, this should compel you to question conventional wisdom, which holds that Putin is a Machiavellian master – who moves other leaders on the world stage like pawns doing his bidding. No doubt he has a gift for creating mischief, but the long-suffering Russian people have precious little to show for all his machinations.

    Yet the futility of their talks will be surpassed by the futility of the gabfests that invariably define these summits. In fact, what I wrote about the G20 England 2009 summit in London remains as relevant today as it was back then.

    Here is an excerpt from “G20 Fails to Stimulate or Regulate Global Economy,” April 3, 2009.

    _________________

    The G20 is comprised of 19 of the world’s most developed countries plus the EU. Its purported mission is to ‘strengthen the international financial architecture and to foster sustainable economic growth and development.’

    But nothing demonstrates its failure in this respect quite like the fact that G20 countries were the architects of the financial house of cards that has now fallen and has the world teetering on the precipice of a 1930s-style depression.

    And G20 leaders compounded this failure by doing nothing to strengthen the international financial architecture. This, despite the communiqué they issued at an emergency summit in Washington just six months ago, in which they promised to take coordinated and substantive steps to do so. In fact, reports are that 17 members actually enacted protectionist legislation in direct contravention of that communiqué.

    To reinforce the point, recall that G20 leaders became notorious by their failure to take concrete steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions, despite promising to do so by signing the highly touted Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

    This record of failure is what informed my cynical belief that the communiqué coming out of this week’s summit would be full of “pious words and general principles” signifying nothing.

    __________________

    You might think my cynicism is unwarranted. If so, I urge you take note of this summit’s communiqué, and you will see in due course that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

    Nothing presages this quite like the shots summit host, Chancellor Angela Merkel, took at Trump earlier this week. For starters, she threw shade at him for withdrawing from the Paris Accord on climate change, which Americans across the political, corporate, and social spectrum spent the past decade forging. Then she accused him of pursuing “protectionist” policies at the expense of the Western political and economic architecture America had the biggest hand in building.

    Given all this, I’d be remiss not to give honorable mention to the itinerant, anti-globalization protesters – who always contribute to the futile spectacle these summits have become.

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  • Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 8:19 AM

    Clueless Emily Ratajkowski Thinks She’s ‘Too Sexy’ for Hollywood

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    The entitlement of safe-space seeking millennials is surpassed in its absurdity only by the narcissism of their Instagram-posing counterparts. Therefore, it is a spectacle to behold when a millennial exhibits that sense of entitlement and self-deluding narcissism in equal measure.

    This is the only way to explain Emily Ratajkowski whining about Hollywood blacklisting her because she’s too sexy.

    The 26-year-old stunner — best known for her topless role in Robin Thicke’s raunchy ‘Blurred Lines’ music video — moaned that she gets snubbed over her hot body. …

    ‘There’s this thing that happens to me: ‘Oh, she’s too sexy,’’ she told the [August 2017 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR]. ‘It’s like an anti-woman thing, that people don’t want to work with me because my boobs are too big. What’s wrong with boobs?’

    (New York Post, July 3, 2017)

    I know from personal experience that you do not have to be one of Ratajkowski’s Instagram followers to be treated to a daily dose of her soft-porn images. Because even mainstream newspapers now feature them with the same titillating intent with which ribald newspapers like The Sun used to feature “Page 3 Girls.”

    But it bears noting that this twit is talking about an industry that turned actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Raquel Welch into bona fide sex symbols. Not to mention that Hollywood has no problem casting Ratajkowski’s sexy (I dare say even sexier) peers like Scarlett Johansson (whose boobs are bigger – just sayin’), Margot Robbie, and Meagan Good, to name just a few.

    Unfortunately, Ratajkowski is clearly too self-obsessed to realize that, by littering social media with risqué pictures, she has typecast herself as little more than a modern-day pinup girl. Further, that it is this, and not her inflated regard for her boobs, that explains why casting directors probably consider her right only for movies that exploit female nudity.

    Of course, it’s not as if Hollywood is averse to making such movies – as everything from Last Tango in Paris to Wild Orchard, Blue Is the Warmest Color, and even Robbie’s Wolf of Wall Street attest.

    Ratajkowski’s problem is that she can’t act. I mean, did you see her cringeworthy performance as the “slutty other woman” in Gone Girl? At the risk of being gratuitously mean, she was actually playing to her stereotype and still couldn’t pull it off. (By the way, if you’ve seen her in “Blurred Lines,” you know she can’t dance either …)

    In any case, if Ratajkowski would only stop flaunting her body for a moment, she might learn something from looking at Bo Derek’s body of work. Because she would see what becomes of the IDMb filmography of starlets who seem more interested in sexy photo spreads than serious acting creds.

    Say what you will about Kim Kardashian, at least she’s sensible enough to exploit her entertaining assets for all they’re worth without whining about similar liabilities. Which reminds and compels me to reprise this:

    For some inexplicable reason, it seems Ratajkowski thought she looked fat in the Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams video that made her an overnight sex symbol. But frankly, it’s disturbing to see this grown woman looking like a prepubescent girl with lips pouted with collagen and boobs inflated with silicone.

    In virtually all of her pictures, she seems to be channeling Nabokov’s Lolita — posing wantonly for men who get off on kiddie porn. Sadly, there’s nothing any government can do to counter this viral trend.

    Thank God for the Rubenesque, selfie-obsessed Kim Kardashian…? Go figure.

    (“France Bans Skinny Models,” The iPINIONS Journal, April 16, 2015)

    I say, when it comes to making lemonade out of lemons in the entertainment industry, even Beyoncé has nothing on Kim.

    That said, it is a curious thing that feminist ingénues like Ratajkowski are mainstreaming the (sexual) objectification of women. After all, feminist doyennes like Gloria Steinem thought that battle was won. This is why they’ve been setting their sights on less sexual but more insidious forms of objectification (e.g., Hollywood producing a disproportionate number of movies about men, children’s books featuring a disproportionate number of boy characters, and men and women presumptively using the pronoun he instead of she).

    Mind you, I have no issue with women expressing their sexual liberation however they please. In fact, I firmly believe that supporting women’s rights (as I have always done) includes supporting a women’s right not only on issues like equal pay and abortion but also on issues like cosmetic surgery and prostitution.

    Incidentally, I also find it curious that progressive women’s magazines blacklist prostitutes who sell their bodies on the streets. Because these are the same magazines that celebrate prostitutes who sell (often fake) images of their bodies on social media.

    But, to be perfectly clear, I couldn’t care less that Ratajkowski’s idea of women’s liberation is publishing soft-porn images of herself. I just wish the editor-in-chief who interviewed her for this August 2017 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR did not gush over her entitled and narcissistic whining like a teenage girl gushing over a Justin Bieber song.

    To be fair, Harper’s BAZAAR is a glossy fashion magazine. I am mindful not to confuse it with Harper’s Magazine, its liberal intellectual sister.

    Still, this gushing editor should have seized the opportunity to educate not just Ratajkowski but the millions of impressionable teenage girls who idolize and follow her, literally. For it appears Ratajkowski does not understand that, while women’s liberation entitles her to flaunt her body all over social media, it does not entitle her to acting roles in Hollywood, especially in roles for which big tits are not marketing assets.

    Frankly, I don’t know what to make of this Kardashianization of the feminism movement – complete with its negritude predilections and Lachaisian enhancements. But I am stupefied by the way even celebrated feminists like Naomi Wolf are deferring to its appeal – even if with evident dismay.

    Nothing demonstrated this quite like the way Wolf conducted a similarly gushing interview with Ratajkowski for the August 2016 issue of Harper’s BAZAAR. Reading it, I got the sense of what it might be like to watch a newly converted Christian lecture the pope on the tenets of Catholicism, and see the pope nodding his head with apparent enlightenment after every sentence.

    God help feminism.

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  • Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 7:21 AM

    North Korea’s Nukes Upstage America’s Fireworks … Again

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Just nine days ago, I vowed to stop commenting on the Kabuki dance between North Korea launching ballistic missiles and the United States reacting with feckless outrage and hollow threats. I did so in “North Korean Nukes like Quicksilver for China and US,” June 26, 2017.

    But North Korea busted a milestone move in this 25-year dance yesterday that warrants an exception, especially coming as it did amidst America’s Fourth of July celebrations.

    The Trump administration confirmed on Tuesday night that North Korea had launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, which the government of Kim Jong-un claimed as a milestone in its efforts to build nuclear weapons capable of hitting the American mainland.

    ‘The launch continues to demonstrate that North Korea poses a threat to the United States and our allies,’ Dana W. White, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. ‘We remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies and to use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against the growing threat from North Korea.’

    (New York Times, July 4, 2017)

    No doubt, to add insult to the gravity of this launch, North Korea timed it to rain on America’s Independence Day parade. What makes this poke in the eye is all the more galling, however, is that it’s not the first time.

    North Korea did the same thing 11 years ago. Here in part is how I commented back then in “Space Shuttle Discovery Blasts Off … but So Do North Korean Missiles,” July 5, 2006.

    __________________

    North Korea called America’s bluff in daring fashion yesterday. It launched several ballistic missiles, including the dreaded long-range Taepodong. In doing so, it not only stole the thunder from the Space Shuttle but also overshadowed the lightening from the Fourth of July fireworks. This was humiliating enough. But North Korea also made a mockery of the warning of dire consequences, which President Bush said would follow if it dared to launch those missiles.

    Well, now it has. And to add insult to its derring-do, North Korea launched an additional missile today (‘the day after’). Meanwhile, Bush is just trying to find a way to save face after taking this humiliating poke in the eye.

    Unfortunately, in this game of nuclear chicken, the United States has already blinked. After all, Bush has been so cowered by insurgents in Iraq that he’s now mobilizing a coalition of the willing to retaliate against North Korea with nothing but more sanctions. But everyone knows that North Korea has become completely inured to sanctions. Indeed, it seems to relish its pariah status as the most sanctioned, inscrutable, and isolated nation in the world today. What we have here, folks, is a classic case of the tail (North Korea) wagging the dog (the United States). …

    American diplomacy vis-à-vis nuclear proliferation reeks of hypocrisy and fecklessness. For example, Bush took military action against Saddam Hussein because he did not want the smoking gun (confirming that Saddam possessed WMDs) to be a mushroom cloud over New York City. Yet he seems resigned to wait for Lil’ Kim to perfect his technology to create a mushroom cloud over Los Angeles before taking military action against this certifiable nut.

    __________________

    Sure enough, here we are. Of course, that Trump pretends to be an even tougher president than Bush compounds this fateful symmetry. What’s more, the way Trump tweets his feckless outrage and hollow threats makes them all the more humiliating.

    Here, for example, is how he declared that North Korea would never humiliate America on his watch, the way it did on the watch of every president since George H.W. Bush:

    North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017

    Well, it just did.

    And how does this wannabe strongman intend to back up his tough talk? In characteristic fashion by using schoolyard taunts in a vain attempt to goad the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea to do so for him:

    North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea…and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017

    Incidentally, you’d be forgiven a sense of utter consternation that he’s tweeting here about the most dangerous and urgent national security threat facing the United States today.

    In my June 26 commentary cited above, I restated the only sensible way to deal with a North Korea hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons. But I also observed that Trump is congenitally disposed to the bait and switch of talking tough and passing the buck.

    I’ve been trolling him for this disposition in such commentaries as “Trump ‘Leading from Behind’ as World Reacts to (Latest) North Korean Nuclear Test,” February 14, 2017, and “Leading from Behind” – Trump Depending on China to Protect US from North Korea,” April 21, 2017.

    That said, this ignoramus seems blithely unaware that neither South Korea nor Japan has the means to do anything about North Korea’s nukes. And this is just one of the many reasons so many are baffled that he got elected president of the United States. As it happens, I explained both in “Polls Show Americans Are Too Stupid to Poll on Any Critical Issue,” September 14, 2016.

    __________________

    I’ve been lamenting prevailing ignorance among Americans for years — as my commentary ‘On Syria (and almost Every Other Issue) the American People Are Insolent, Ignorant Idiots,’ September 10, 2013, attests.

    Their ignorance is such, in fact, that polling them on political issues is like polling athletes on medical ones. Only this explains the phenomenon of Donald Trump – who is nothing more than a narcissistic huckster exploiting the P.T. Barnum maxim about fecund suckers.

    This is why I could have predicted the findings of ‘A Survey on Global Literacy,’ which the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and National Geographic commissioned. They set out to determine ‘What College-Aged Students Know About the World’ and copublished their findings in the September 2016 issue of the CFR newsletter. Here is the ‘shocking’ highlight:

    ‘Respondents exhibited limited knowledge of issues critical to the United States. Only 28 percent of respondents knew that the United States is bound by treaty to protect Japan if it is attacked; just 34 percent knew this about South Korea.’

    __________________

    Frankly, it’s a scary thing to know that we now have a US president (and leader of the free world) who exhibits even less knowledge about such critical issues. But I hasten to clarify that we can deduce from their findings that at least two-thirds of college-aged students aren’t so stupid. The problem is that they’ve been made to feel too entitled to bother to vote. Perhaps leaving it to stupid people to elect Trump will scare them straight in this respect.

    In any event, given his pusillanimous dodge, you’d never know that Trump first threatened this:

    North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2017

    Then came this face-saving recognition:

    While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 20, 2017

    Except that, true to form, he had another about face this week. This had him variously pleading with China to do more and damning it for not doing enough. And let’s not forget the bizarre way he lumped South Korea and Japan in the midst of his tweet goading China to act.

    Such antic mix of arrogance, ignorance, and fickleness has America’s European allies reeling with consternation, frustration, and dismay. But it also has leaders of every other country queuing up to play Trump for a chump, especially given that all it takes is a little stroking of his infantile ego to do so.

    Finally, Trump and his national security team made quite a show a few months ago of pronouncing the era of “strategic patience” with North Korea over. But I can think of no strategy more patient than one that waits for China to deal with a menace that China clearly does not even think exists.

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  • Monday, July 3, 2017 at 7:22 AM

    Happy Fourth of July America!

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Dispiriting politics, wanton violence, and narcissistic postings dominate the news. And there’s no denying the national shame of having a president today who cannot tell the truth. After all, this stands in mocking contrast with having a president at the birth of this nation who could not tell a lie.

    I am mindful, however, that America not only survived eight years of George W. Bush, but fully compensated for his blundering, war-mongering presidency. It did so by giving us eight years of Barack Obama.

    This is just one of many reasons why I am so confident that America will not only survive Donald J. Trump, but fully compensate for his lying, brain-defying presidency. It will do so by giving us someone who is eminently more worthy of that office.

    So don’t worry, America. Be happy!

  • Saturday, July 1, 2017 at 7:52 AM

    China: Where Hong Kong Is Concerned, Britain Is Now Adrift at Sea

    Posted by Anthony L. Hall

    Today is the 20th anniversary of “the Handover” (as the British say) or “the Return” (as the Chinese say) of sovereign authority over Hong Kong from Britain to China. And to mark the occasion, China is going out of its way to disabuse Britain of any notion that it retains any authority at all.

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry has declared the Sino-British Joint Declaration, that laid the groundwork for Hong Kong’s handover, a ‘historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning,’ after Britain and the United States spoke of the binding effect of the 1984 treaty on China and the city. …

    ‘Now that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 20 years the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning,’ [ministry spokesman Lu Kang] was quoted by Xinhua as saying at a press conference.

    ‘It also does not have any binding power on how the Chinese central government administers Hong Kong. Britain has no sovereignty, no governing power and no supervising power over Hong Kong. I hope relevant parties will take note of this reality.’

    (South China Morning Post, July 1, 2017)

    In other words, China is daring Britain (and the United States) to interfere in its domestic affairs with Hong Kong. This, even as it takes democracy-trampling steps to make Hong Kong more like Beijing than London.

    As remarkable as this might seem, I think China is right to assert its exclusive and unconditional sovereignty in this respect:

    As one who lived under British colonialism, I appreciate why its colonial rule is preferable to China’s communist rule. But my national/racial pride is such that I have little sympathy for Chinese residents in Hong Kong who consented to be governed by British colonialists, but are refusing to be governed Chinese nationalists. Besides, the issue here is not between colonialism and communism; it’s between national unity and regional secession.

    Frankly, solidarity with Hong Kongers who want independence from China is tantamount to solidarity with Texans or Californians who want independence from the United States. Therefore, one can hardly blame Chinese President Xi Jinping for acting pursuant to the same principle that compelled US President Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union … by any means necessary.

    (“China Vows to Crush Hong Kong-Led Confederacy; and It Should,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 15, 2016)

    Britain is now left with only a few “Overseas Territories,” which dot the globe with as much significance as fleas on the butt of an elephant. This is why it’s fair to say that the sun has finally set on the British Empire.

    Good riddance, Britannia!

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