Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Short Takes

Dozens killed when Turkish cargo plane crashes into village.

FBI arrests wife of Pulse nightclub shooter.

Shootings in Miami MLK festival leave 8 injured.

Suspect in shooting in New Year’s Day Istanbul arrested.

Ten more detainees transferred out of Gitmo.

R.I.P. Eugene Cernan, 82, the last man to walk on the moon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Monday, January 9, 2017

Short Takes

Six dead, traffic snarled in nasty weather in the West and Southeast.

Four soldiers killed in truck attack in Israel.

300 U.S. Marines return to Afghanistan opium region.

Queen Elizabeth II makes first public appearance after illness.

Your complete list of Golden Globe winners.

Former Iranian leader Rafsanjani dead at 82.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back/Looking Forward

It’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up.  Let’s see how I did a year ago.

  • Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.  I have no idea who she will beat; I don’t think the Republicans know, either, but she will win, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it will be a decisive win.  The GOP will blame everybody else and become even more cranky, self-injuring, and irresponsible.
  • The Democrats down-ticket will do better than expected by taking back the Senate and narrowing their gap in the House.  This will be achieved by the number of voters who will turn out to vote for them in order to hold off the GOP’s attempt to turn the country back over to the control of white Christian males.

Both of those were spot-on until sometime in the late evening of November 8.  And I’m not the only one who blew that one.

  • The economy will continue to improve; maybe this is the year the Dow will hit 19,000.  The limiting factor will be how the rest of the world, mainly China, deals with their economic bubble.  I think a lot of the economic news will be based on the outcome of the U.S. election and the reaction to it.  If by some horrifying chance Donald Trump wins, all bets are off.  Economists and world markets like stability and sanity, and turning the U.S. over to a guy who acts like a used car hustler crossed with a casino pit boss will not instill confidence.

I covered my ass on that one but I think it’s still true.  By the way, the Dow did hit 19,000 in 2016.

  • ISIS, which barely registered on the radar as an existential threat to the U.S. and the west a year ago, will be contained.  There will not be a large American troop presence in Syria and Iraq thanks in part to the response by the countries that themselves are being invaded by ISIS.  Finally.
  • Refugees will still be pouring out of the Middle East, putting the strain on countries that have taken them in.  It will be a test of both infrastructure and moral obligation, and some, such as Canada, will set the example of how to be humane.

I’ll give myself a gentleman’s C on the first one because ISIS is still in play and Syria is looking like the horror that war brings and we’re no closer to an end to it.  As for the refugees, I underestimated the venality and xenophobia of some of the countries — including our own — in taking in the refugees.

  • Maybe this will be the year that Fidel Castro finally takes a dirt nap.

Got that one right, finally.

  • The Supreme Court will narrowly uphold affirmative action but leave room for gutting it later on.  They will also narrowly rule against further restrictions on reproductive rights.  And I am going out on a limb by predicting that President Obama will get to choose at least one more new justice for the Court, an appointment that will languish in the Senate until after the election.

I got that one right, including my out-on-a-limb one about President Obama having to pick a new justice for the court and the GOP sitting on it.  I hate it when I’m right about something like that.

  • Violence against our fellow citizens such as mass shootings will continue.  The difference now is that we have become numb to them and in an election year expecting any meaningful change to the gun laws or the mindset is right up there with flying pigs over downtown Miami.
  • Marriage equality will gain acceptance as it fades from the headlines, but the LGBTQ community’s next front will be anti-discrimination battles for jobs and housing.  It’s not over yet, honey.
  • We’re going to see more wild weather patterns but none of it will convince the hard-core deniers that it’s either really happening or that there’s anything we can do about it.

I’m sorry that those were right.

  • The Tigers will not win the division in 2016.  (Caution: reverse psychology at play.)

But the Cubs won the World Series so that makes up for it.

  • On a personal level, this could be a break-out year for my writing and play production.  I don’t say that every year.

One of my plays won a playwriting contest and I actually got a cash prize for it.  It has been submitted for a full production at a theatre in Boca Raton in their 2017-2018 season.  So that worked out.

Okay, predictions for 2017.

  • I have no earthly idea what will happen with Trump in the White House.  But I can say that for the first time in my life — and I will hit 65 this year — I am frightened both for myself and my country.
  • At some point in 2017 elements of the electorate will realize that they got conned into voting for Trump and that they were played for fools.  The backlash will begin when they find out he can’t follow through on his bullshit promises, and reach a peak when they find out that repealing Obamacare and deporting 11 million people effects them personally.  When it happens, it will not be pretty.
  • There will be a downturn in the economy thanks to the cyclical nature of economics and the instability in the market by the Twitter-In-Chief.  He will, of course, blame it on Barack Obama.
  • A year from now the Syrian civil war will still be dragging on.  ISIS will still be a factor, and if Trump does what he says he will do with the Iran nuclear deal, expect to see them re-start their nuclear program.  “Dr. Strangelove” will be seen by historians as a documentary.
  • The refugee crisis will continue and fester once nativists and right-wing elements win majorities in western European countries.
  • Our diplomatic thaw with Cuba will freeze as the attempts to end the blockade will not get through Congress.  Only until Trump gets permission to open a casino in Varadero Beach will there be any progress.
  • Violence against our fellow citizens will continue and take on a more xenophobic tone as the white supremacists think they are now in control.  The attorney general will do nothing to put an end to it because, in his words, “they had it coming.”
  • We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. 2016 was an especially painful year.  As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.
  • The Tigers will finish second in their division.
  • A year from today I will write this same post and review what I got right and what I didn’t.  But stick around and see how I do on a daily basis.

Okay, your turn.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Russian Dressing-Down

Charles P. Pierce on the sanctions for hacking and then what?

Well, the next 20-odd days are going to be interesting, anyway. Like the year itself, the president is playing right to the final whistle. On Thursday, he announced sanctions on Russia for its meddling in the presidential election just passed and, according to The Guardian, he wasn’t shy at all about stating his reasons why.

“I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” he said. “Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. “In addition, the secretary of the treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.” Obama added: “These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.”

 There should be no question any longer about whether or not the White House believes the Russians monkey-wrenched the election in order to put Donald Trump in the presidency. It plainly does, and now it’s telling Russia that there’s a price to be paid for enabling the onrushing catastrophe.

In Moscow a Putin spokesman said Russia regretted the new sanctions and would consider retaliatory measures. Diplomatic expulsions are normally met with exactly reciprocal action. In this case, however, Moscow may pause for thought. With Trump, who has spoken positively about Russia and president Vladimir Putin repeatedly, just three weeks away from the White House, the Russians may feel it is inadvisable to kick out 35 US diplomats. On Thursday, Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying the US move represented “the death throes of political corpses.” The Twitter feed of the Russian embassy in London, meanwhile, called the Obama administration “hapless” and attached a picture of a duck with the word “lame” emblazoned across it.

Who knew the Russian diplomatic corps had a daycare center? They were a lot grimmer when they were Communists.

The president’s actions also put the president-elect in an interesting place. Even El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago realizes that there’s a political price to be paid for being perceived to be Putin’s poodle. So, after he is sworn in, does he lift these sanctions, thereby removing all doubts on the subject? Chuck Schumer twisted this knife a little bit.

“I hope the incoming Trump administration, which has been far too close to Russia throughout the campaign and transition, won’t think for one second about weakening these new sanctions or our existing regime,” incoming Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “Both parties ought to be united in standing up to Russian interference in our elections, to their cyber attacks, their illegal annexation of Crimea and other extra-legal interventions.”

There’s no question that Trump is brazen enough not to care about the political fallout of lifting these sanctions as president. Hell, nothing he’s done so far has been enough to rattle his supporters. My advice: Watch the electric Twitter machine. Something’s coming.

We know that Moscow will respond in kind; they will expel diplomats and shut down American interests in Russia.  It will make things tense for a while with dark predictions of the return to the Cold War, etc.  We all remember that routine.  But what’s scarier is when the response from Trump is the unpredictable one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Talking Turkey

Via Raw Story:

In a preview of a Newsweek article due to be released Tuesday morning, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained that writer Kurt Eichenwald has uncovered evidence that President-elect Donald Trump may have already been compromised by a foreign leader holding the power to threaten his overseas holdings to gain a political advantage.

According to Maddow, Trump has a business relationship with the Doğan family, owners of Doğan Holding, which is building twin towers in Turkey bearing the Trump name for which the Trump family stands to make millions of dollars.

“The day after our presidential election in this country, one of the world leaders who called up Trump tower and spoke with the president-elect was the president of Turkey,” Maddow explained. “And one of the perk up your ears strange things reported about that call is that while Donald Trump was on the phone taking that congratulatory phone call from the president of Turkey, in that same call, Mr. Trump brought up to the president of Turkey by name that executive from the Doğan company, the guy who was the key guy on Trump’s big twin towers in Istanbul.”

Noting that Trump praised the man to Turkish President Erdoğan, Maddow continued.

“Now Newsweek reports that Turkey has figured out how to turn that to their advantage and how to put the president of the United States over a barrel in the process,” Maddow explained.  “On December 1st, the top representative of the Doğan company, in Turkey’s capital city, got arrested by the Turkish police. Again, Trump as president-elect had taken an official call from the Turkish president and used that occasion to tell the Turkish president how much this one particular company meant to him, going so far as to name specific executives.”

According to Maddow, President Erdoğan had the founder of the Doğan Holding, as well as an executive arrested on “threadbare” charges that  both were involved in an attempted military coup that happened in turkey this past summer.

Maddow then got to the heart of the matter.

“Turkey desperately wants the U.S. government to extradite an imam [Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen],” Maddow explained. “They [the U.S.] have said that they are not extraditing him. But if that’s what you wanted, what if you could squeeze the personal financial interests of the American president as a way to get what you want from the American government?”

“I mean, the Trump family and the president-elect themselves, they stand to make millions of dollars from their relationship with the Doğan group in Turkey. That will stop if they get locked up,” she continued. “So they started locking them up. Nice leverage, right? it would be one thing if it was business leverage — but it’s leverage against all of us as Americans.”

As Eichenwald notes in his article: “If Erdoğan’s government puts more pressure on the company that’s paying millions of dollars to Trump and his children, revenue flowing from that tower complex in Istanbul could be cut off. That means Erdoğan has leverage with Trump, who will soon have the power to get Gulen extradited.”

So it’s not just the Russians who are making Trump their bitch.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday Reading

No Surprise — Charles P. Pierce on Russia’s interference with the 2016 election.

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

—Graham Greene, The Quiet American

In the mid-1980s, the aides to the president of the United States committed serious crimes in their efforts to send sophisticated weapons to a state sponsor of international terrorism. The president of the United States likely committed impeachable offenses. We were told to get beyond it, that the “country” couldn’t afford another presidency crippled by its own crimes so soon after Richard Nixon had hobbled his. We got beyond it. We moved on.

In 1998, the House of Representatives impeached a president on the most spurious of grounds and full in the knowledge that the charges had no chance of prevailing in the Senate. There were many grand and glorious speeches on the floor of the House about the rule of law and about the House’s constitutional duties. It was a proud moment and many an ambitious young politician thumped his chest over the righteousness of his cause. By 2000, nobody in the political party that had brought the charges even mentioned it any more. We got beyond it. We moved on.

In 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States interfered in a presidential election in an extra-constitutional and unprecedented way. It essentially installed a man in that office who had lost the popular vote by half-a-million and likely had lost the crucial state of Florida, too, which would have denied him a majority in the electoral college. From all sides, even from the candidate who was so badly wronged, we were told that “the country” needed to “heal” from this terrible crisis, even though the country seemed to be rocking right along. We got beyond it. We moved on.

In 2008, we elected a president after eight years in which the country’s moral foundation had been winnowed away by faceless bureaucrats and torturers in black sites in Thailand and shipping crates in Bagram, and eight years in which much of the national wealth was stolen by brigands in expensive suits on Wall Street. The new president was a good man. He wanted to look forward and not back. We got beyond all of it. We moved on.

In all of these matters, both subtly and directly, and by many of our institutions, including the press, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as frightened children and our democratic republic as something made of candy glass that would shatter from the vibrations if our constitutional engines were revved up too highly or if they performed their essential functions too vigorously. We were convinced that our faith in our values was a fragile and breathless thing that would collapse if exercised too strenuously.

We were persuaded that we were far too delicate these days for the kind of brawling politics in which this country had been born, and for which the Founders had set up the Constitution to maintain something resembling boundaries. We were fed cheap junk food instead of actual information until we developed a serious jones for it. Our belief in our counterfeit national innocence was that with which we washed it all down. We became a fat and lazy excuse for a democratic republic.

So don’t tell me to be surprised by the blockbuster story that The Washington Post published about the involvement of the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election. This kind of thing has been a long time coming.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances. “It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

(By the way, I warned El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago months ago that he was fcking with the wrong executive editor, but would he listen?)

Do I believe the story? Of course, I do. Do I trust the CIA? Not implicitly, but I trust Marty Baron, and he wouldn’t have come within 10 miles of publishing this story unless he was extremely sure of its sourcing and its material. I also believe the story because of the truthless and lame-assed rapid response that came from the Trump transition team.

These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’

Every dipthong of that is a lie. The election was barely a month ago. Trump’s victory in the Electoral College was one of the slimmest in history. And, as for the shot at the CIA, it’s important to remember that a lot of the great work done by the McClatchy newspapers and others that debunked the case for WMDs in Iraq, the stories that nobody in the elite political media cared about at the time, also came from the intelligence community. Generally, intramural pissing matches among intelligence services are a boon to investigative journalism. For example, what was Mark Felt’s motive for going to Bob Woodward on Watergate if not Felt’s dissatisfaction with the way the FBI and the local federal prosecutors were handling the case? That statement is so transparently false and evasive that it inadvertently confirms what the Post reported.

And the fact remains that the embryonic Trump administration is lousy with Russian connections, right up to the oil baron who is expected to be nominated as secretary of state. (Did you know that Paul Manafort lives in Trump Tower? I didn’t.) The fact remains that the president-elect was noticeably touchy about his relationship with Vladimir Putin throughout the campaign. (“No puppet. You’re the puppet.” A legendary moment in American political rhetoric.) The fact remains that Putin is an authoritarian thug with no qualms at all about getting what he wants when he wants it, and the fact remains that Russian international ambitions do not change whether the government is Tsarist, Communist, or oligarchy.

The fact remains that we do not know fck-all about those to whom the president-elect owes money. The fact remains that, in October, the director of national intelligence accused the Russian government of hacking political organizations in this country. The fact remains that, less than a month ago, the director of the National Security Agency said pretty much the same thing, on the record, as the Post story reports that the CIA believes. Many facts remain. Many, many facts remain.

But, again, it seems, all of these facts that remain were less important than a desire to keep the real, grungy reality hushed up, lest it frighten the children. This is the most distressing passage in the Post’s story.

In a secure room in the Capitol used for briefings involving classified information, administration officials broadly laid out the evidence U.S. spy agencies had collected, showing Russia’s role in cyber-intrusions in at least two states and in hacking the emails of the Democratic organizations and individuals. And they made a case for a united, bipartisan front in response to what one official described as “the threat posed by unprecedented meddling by a foreign power in our election process.” The Democratic leaders in the room unanimously agreed on the need to take the threat seriously. Republicans, however, were divided, with at least two GOP lawmakers reluctant to accede to the White House requests. According to several officials, McConnell raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics. Some of the Republicans in the briefing also seemed opposed to the idea of going public with such explosive allegations in the final stages of an election, a move that they argued would only rattle public confidence and play into Moscow’s hands.

This president has been a good one, probably the most progressive politician we’ve seen in that office since LBJ was kicking ass in 1965. But he has made mistakes, and every single serious mistake he’s made has been because he assumed good faith on the part of his political opposition, misjudged the depth and virulence of his political opposition, or both. It’s 2016. Why would he still believe Mitch McConnell would act with dispassionate patriotism instead of partisan obstruction on anything? Why would he believe it of anyone in the congressional Republican leadership? Hell, he even admitted as much in an interview on NPR last July. I respect the president’s confidence in the better angels of our nature, but those angels have been deathly quiet since 2009.

El Centro — Gabe Ulla at The New Yorker profiles Versailles, the center of life in Little Havana now that Fidel Castro is dead.

On the night of November 25th, the owners of Versailles, Miami’s most famous Cuban restaurant, were at a Thanksgiving gathering when their phones buzzed with a news alert: Fidel Castro was dead. Nicole Valls, who helps run the restaurant with her father and grandfather, was used to false alarms; since 2006, when rumors of the leader’s ill health first circulated, she’d been keeping a folder in the trunk of her car containing protocol for Versailles in the event of Castro’s passing. Now, once she’d confirmed that Castro was really dead this time, she ran to grab the folder from her car and texted the restaurant’s managers with instructions: the parking lot would have to be cleared to make room for the many news vans that had reserved spaces for the occasion. In the early hours of the 26th, crowds surrounded Versailles, waving Cuban flags, banging out clave rhythms on pots and pans, and joining in chants in Spanish, including “Parriba, p’abajo, los Castros p’al carajo”—“Up and down, and the Castro brothers can go to hell.” The next day, when celebrations resumed, the restaurant ran out of croquetas by noon.

Nicole’s paternal grandfather, Felipe Valls, Sr., opened Versailles, on Little Havana’s Calle Ocho, in 1971, and in the decades since the restaurant has outlasted most of the local competition. The family today owns forty restaurants around the city, including one just down the block. But it’s their flagship restaurant that has become a de-facto town square for generations of Miami’s Cuban community, and the media’s go-to place for assessing the state of Cuban-American relations. The Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner, a close friend of the Valls family, told me, “How can you effectively reach the exiled community, an abstract concept of two million people spread throughout the world? Versailles is a concrete place that gives sense and form to that abstraction, and the media understand that.”

The restaurant has been an obligatory stop for politicians on the campaign trail since 1986, when the Florida politician Bob Graham, during his run for governor, put on a busboy uniform and worked a shift, wiping down tables and refilling water glasses. In 2000, the restaurant became a fixture of TV news segments during the custody battle over Elián González, when Cuban-Americans in the region rallied behind the boy’s family members in Miami. And in March, when Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge to visit Cuba, a group of protesters set up shop across the street from the restaurant, holding signs with messages like “Obama Miserable Comunista.” If Donald Trump attempts to undo Obama’s thawing of relations, as he has suggested he might, media outlets will look to the reactions of Versailles patrons.

But the Valls family knew that the most frenzied activity would come in the wake of Castro’s death. In “The Versailles Restaurant Cookbook,” published two years ago, Nicole Valls and her co-author, the local food and television personality Ana Quincoces, explained that one of the traditions of Versailles customers, especially at its outdoor café window, or ventanita, is “plotting Fidel Castro’s death.” Each time rumors surfaced that Castro had died, they wrote, “people flocked to the restaurant in droves to confirm the story and to celebrate the possibility that it might be true.”

Though my own father liked to slyly refer to Versailles by the nickname El Pentágono, for much of my early life I viewed the restaurant less as a political nerve center than as a place to get consistently good plates of ropa vieja with rice and sweet plantains. Versailles is where my parents, Cuban exiles who left the island in the early sixties and eventually settled in New York, would take the family for dinner whenever we visited cousins in Miami. The restaurant is open until 1 A.M. Sunday through Thursday and even later on weekends, so we’d go there after parties when every other place was closed. The restaurant’s many dining rooms are adorned with chandeliers and other faux-opulent homages to pre-revolutionary Havana, but Versailles, which has about four hundred seats, is really a cafeteria, a protean meeting ground with an inexpensive and expansive menu, plastic breadbaskets, and vinyl chairs. Like the long-standing Galatoire’s or Commander’s Palace, in New Orleans, it is a place for regulars who like to stick to their habits. A group of elderly exiles known as the Teen-agers eats lunch there every weekday, and devotees request specific tables based on the strength of the air-conditioning.

It is these old-timers whose political sentiments help to set the tone of Versailles’s coverage in the media. On Election Night, when it became clear that Trump would be the victor, a celebration erupted outside of the restaurant. Though the Cuban-American vote in Florida tipped in favor of the Republican candidate, a majority of Cuban-Americans support Obama’s policies toward the island. But the news stories from Versailles depicted a scene of pro-Trump fervor. Ana María Dopico, a Cuban-American professor at N.Y.U., told me that the media’s relentless focus on Versailles ends up selling a “caricature” of Cuban-American political feeling. The population of the Cuban-American community in Miami-Dade, a Democratic county, hovers close to a million. “The illusion of Versailles as a village square obscures how varied Cuban Miami is, and that Cuban-Americans are not a monolith,” she said.

The Mexican-American journalist and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who has lived in Miami since 1986, told me he’d found the post-Castro moment in Little Havana surprisingly subdued. Twenty years ago, when Castro seemed “all-powerful on the island,” there was a feeling that his passing could instantly provoke change, and inspire a mass immigration back to the island. “There is honor and dignity in confronting the dictator and outlasting the dictator,” Ramos said. But Castro ceded power to his brother Raúl in 2008, and the lessons of post-Hugo Chávez Venezuela made clear that a Cuba without Fidel wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Castrismo. Felipe Valls, Jr., Nicole’s father and the current head of the company, suggested a similar sense of ruefulness: “Castro lived a long time, and we weren’t able to say, in his face, ‘This is the new Cuba, and screw you.’ ” Exactly what Castro’s death, and Trump’s rise, will mean for Cuban-American relations remains uncertain. Versailles, more than providing campaign stops or media sound bites, will be most useful as a place for Cuban-Americans to process their continued sense of displacement—the trauma and complicated pride that stem from having roots in a country that an increasing number of Miamians never experienced firsthand.

A week and a half after Castro’s death, my parents and I all happened to be in Miami, and I went to sit with them one evening as they ate dinner at Versailles. The room was full. At one table nearby, four grandmothers drank batidos, or milkshakes, with their main courses. I picked at some croquettes, while my dad inhaled a plate of braised oxtail and my mom had filet mignon. At one point, our waiter, a man in his forties wearing the staff’s signature white dress shirt and green cravat, came by to check on us. I asked him about the celebrations earlier in the week, and when he expected Versailles’s next big party would be. “When Raúl goes, I guess,” he said.

The Highs and Lows — Daniel Wenger on the life of John Glenn.

“What is the reason for this?” John Glenn radioed from the threshold of outer space. “Do you have a reason?” The date was February 20, 1962, and the forty-year-old Glenn—then circling Earth at more than seventeen thousand miles per hour in Friendship 7, a capsule about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle—was responding to a set of rather unhappy instructions from ground control. In the next four and a half minutes, as Glenn reëntered the planet’s atmosphere, he was to perform a series of potentially life-threatening manual overrides. It appeared that Glenn’s heat shield had loosened, and the overrides were intended to secure it, so that he would not be incinerated. But ground control first wanted to insure that he understood the instructions, promising to “give you the reasons for this action when you are in view.” Glenn made the adjustments, and, during the topsy-turvy final stretch of his descent (he later reported that he felt like “a falling leaf”), he piloted the craft himself. This was a notable achievement even for a former Marine colonel who had flown a hundred and forty-nine missions in two wars, and who could maneuver himself “alongside you and tap a wing tip gently against yours,” according to a former squadron mate.

Glenn survived, of course, and for the rest of his ninety-five years he wore the halo of the pioneer astronaut—the sort of person who was “preselected by a committee of physicians, psychiatrists, and other experts looking for the healthiest, sanest, most highly motivated, and intelligent men they could find,” as Loudon Wainwright, Jr., a Life journalist who covered the early space program, wrote. The Italian writer Oriana Fallaci once called him “the most perfect fantastic Boy Scout in a nation of Boy Scouts.” Yesterday, when Glenn died, it was in suitably wholesome fashion—in the company of his children and his wife of seven decades, Annie, whom he had known, he once said, since they were “literally sharing a playpen” in New Concord, Ohio.

As befits a canonical twentieth-century American, Glenn, who was born in 1921, grew up during the Great Depression. He was close with his father, who took him flying for the first time, in an open-cockpit biplane, and brought him up Presbyterian. His engineering studies were interrupted by Pearl Harbor, which prompted him to enlist. After twenty-three years in the Marines, he gained national fame by flying a fighter jet from California to New York in three hours and twenty-three minutes, breaking the transcontinental air-speed record. Soon after, he was picked as one of the first crop of astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven.

After the Friendship mission, John F. Kennedy encouraged Glenn to retire from NASA and run for office. In 1964, Glenn made his first bid for a Senate seat, in Ohio, calling it “the best opportunity to make use of the experience I have gained in twenty-two years of public service.” The country had certainly seen military incursions on civilian office before, but Glenn’s announcement was archly received in certain quarters. “If our latter-day folk heroes take over the Congress, our legislators will all be out of work,” an unnamed New Yorker staffer wrote at the time. It took Glenn two more tries to get to the Senate—in the meantime, he worked as an executive at Royal Crown Cola—but almost as soon as he did, in 1974, he began to contemplate even higher positions. Two years later, he went into the Democratic National Convention as the favorite for the Vice-Presidential nomination, until his tepid keynote address apparently tipped the scales in Walter Mondale’s favor.

Glenn was a good legislator, in the end, more comfortable operating the machinery of government than he was selling it. His greatest success came in 1978, when the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act, a bill that was designed by one of his top aides, Leonard Weiss, became law. The act provided a framework for nations that were not bound by international treaties—India, Brazil, South Africa—to safely acquire nuclear-energy technology. In Glenn’s 1980 reëlection campaign, he portrayed himself as a man who “understands war but loves peace,” and he knew well how intertwined the two often were: the peaceful exploration of space grew out of military competition between Russia and the United States, and the rocket that had launched Glenn into orbit was derived from an intercontinental ballistic missile. Glenn, with his steady, stolid military voice and his socially liberal credentials—he was pro-choice and supported the Equal Rights Amendment—won a second term resoundingly. Reagan had taken Ohio the same year, and, in Democratic Party circles, there was immediate chatter about Glenn challenging the new President four years hence. When the 1984 primary rolled around, though, Glenn ended up playing the Martin O’Malley to Mondale’s Hillary and Gary Hart’s Bernie Sanders.

In the nineties, toward the end of Glenn’s Senate tenure, he took on campaign-finance reform, perhaps a kind of recompense for being tarred, during a 1990 Senate Ethics Committee investigation, as one of the so-called Keating Five—a group of senators who had received campaign contributions from Charles H. Keating, Jr., the chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, and appeared to have intervened with regulators on Lincoln’s behalf. In 1991, after Glenn had spent half a million dollars to defend his “honor,” as he put it, he was let off with the lightest possible censure: “poor judgment.” These events were, Glenn later reflected, the low point of his career.

If great lives have their own grading curves, it might be said that Glenn never quite aced his self-examination. He once admitted to being jealous of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong for landing on the moon. Perhaps that’s why, in 1998, as he prepared to retire from the Senate, he persuaded NASA to return him to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, becoming the oldest person ever to have escaped Earth’s gravity. “It is hard to beat a day in which you are permitted the luxury of seeing four sunsets,” he had said during a joint address to Congress, in 1962. Finally, after waiting more than thirty years, he was permitted eight more days—and, because they were orbiting so quickly, a hundred and thirty-four more sunsets.

 Doonesbury — The name game.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ms. Colebrook Regrets

I’m shocked, shocked.

WASHINGTON (AP) — When Donald Trump named his Treasury secretary, Teena Colebrook felt her heart sink.

She had voted for the president-elect on the belief that he would knock the moneyed elites from their perch in Washington. And she knew Trump’s pick for Treasury — Steven Mnuchin — all too well.

OneWest, a bank formerly owned by a group of investors headed by Mnuchin, had foreclosed on her Los Angeles-area home in the aftermath of the Great Recession, stripping her of the two units she rented as a primary source of income.

“I just wish that I had not voted,” said Colebrook, 59. “I have no faith in our government anymore at all. They all promise you the world at the end of a stick and take it away once they get in.”

Less than a month after his presidential win, Trump’s populist appeal has started to clash with a Cabinet of billionaires and millionaires that he believes can energize economic growth.

The prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department drew plaudits from many in the financial sector. A former Goldman Sachs executive who pivoted in the early 2000s to hedge fund management and movie production, he seemed an ideal emissary to Wall Street.

When asked Wednesday about his credentials to be Treasury secretary, Mnuchin emphasized his time running OneWest — which not only foreclosed on Colebrook but also on thousands of others in the aftermath of the housing crisis caused by subprime mortgages.

“What I’ve really been focused on is being a regional banker for the last eight years,” Mnuchin said. “I know what it takes to make sure that we can make loans to small and midmarket companies and that’s going to be our big focus, making sure we scale back regulation so that we make sure the banks are lending.”

But the prospect of Mnuchin leading the Treasury Department prompted Colebrook and other OneWest borrowers who say they unfairly faced foreclosure to contact The Associated Press. Colebrook wishes she could meet with Trump to explain why she feels betrayed by his Cabinet selection after believing that his presidency could restore the balance of power to everyday people.

“He doesn’t want the truth,” she said. “He’s now backing his buddies.”

Not to be too cruel to Ms. Colebrook, but it’s not like the warning signs weren’t there from long before Trump ran for president.  But no, you decided to go with him anyway.

The reason she’s a news story is that the vast majority of Trump voters who got screwed by the system he flaunts and sells will not recognize that they’re the ones still getting screwed.  When Obamacare goes away and their insurance either goes through the roof or just plain goes away and when the deficit soars back up to 2008 levels thanks to the ginormous tax cuts whooped through by the GOP, they’ll find a way to blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.  The next recession — and there will be one — will be called “Obama’s Recession.”  The next hurricane will be Obama’s Katrina.  And when Russia takes over Ukraine, Syria becomes an ash heap, and China hikes their tariffs on their stuff sold here, guess who will get the blame.

We told you that, too, Ms. Colebrook.

Bull In The China Shop

I wouldn’t presume to be any kind of expert on Taiwan/China relationships, but then again, I’m not the president-elect so it really doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know.

I defer to those who do.  One such is Josh Marshall at TPM.

Some people think Trump has no actual foreign policy. This is not true. He is extremely ignorant. But he has an instinctive and longstanding way of thinking about and approaching foreign policy questions which goes back decades before he ran for President. It is one that sees international relations in zero-sum terms (for me to win, you have to lose), sees the US as being taken advantage of by allies (either through advantageous trade deals or expenditures on defense). This is why you see economic nationalism going back decades with Trump and either skepticism or hostility toward international treaty organizations like NATO.

Now, in practice this can mean opposing the Iraq War, supporting the Iraq War, depending on how things are going at the moment and the state of public opinion. But this prism through which he sees the world (not unlike the way he approaches business, political campaigns, etc.) is consistent over time. What you also have in Trump is someone who is impulsive and aggressive by nature – you see these qualities in primary colors in everything he does. These are highly dangerous qualities in a President. They become magnified when such a person is being advised by people who provide an ideological purpose and justification to such impulsiveness and aggression.

That is where I fear and believe we are with Trump. Not everything in foreign policy is sacred. But here we have an impulsive and ignorant man whose comfort zone is aggression surrounded by advisors with dangerous ideas. His instinctive aggression makes many of their most dangerous ideas possible; and their ideological formulations give his actions a rationale and logic that transcends psychological impulses and the anger of the moment. Even President Bush had a coterie of more Realist-minded and cautious advisors to balance out the hotheads. They lost most of the key debates – especially in the first term. But they provided a restraining counter-balance in numerous debates.

At present there is no one like that around Trump at all.

One of the things Trump kept harping on in the campaign is that he would gather around him the best experts in to the world to advise him.  So far it seems to be the cast from “Dr. Strangelove” and “Duck Soup.”

Short Takes

Army Corps denies Dakota pipeline access route.

Will North Carolina governor concede re-election loss this week?

Survivors describe escape from warehouse fire in Oakland; toll rises to 30.

Austrians reject far-right candidate for president.

Jury appears to be one vote shy of conviction in Charleston shooting case.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sunday Reading

Clear and Present Danger — Ari Berman in The Nation on how voter suppression is just the start.

Donald Trump’s tweets yesterday about “the millions of people who voted illegally in 2016” and “serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California” cannot be dismissed as just another Twitter meltdown from the president-elect. (It goes without saying that Trump’s claims are categorically false.)

His conspiracy theories about rigged elections during the presidential race were meant to delegitimize the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s election. But now that he’s won the election we have to take his words far more seriously. He will appoint the next attorney general, at least one Supreme Court justice and thousands of positions in the federal government. His lies about the prevalence of voter fraud are a prelude to the massive voter suppression Trump and his allies in the GOP are about to unleash.

Unlike his Democratic and Republican predecessors, Trump has little respect for the institutions that preserve American democracy, whether it’s freedom of the press or the right to vote. As I wrote in The Nation recently:

Trump undermined the basic tenets of democracy in ways unseen by any previous presidential nominee. He said he might refuse to accept the outcome of the election if things didn’t go his way; his supporters explicitly called for “racial profiling” at the polls; and his campaign openly boasted that “we have three major voter-suppression operations under way” to reduce turnout among African Americans, young women, and liberals.

We can already glimpse how a Trump administration will undermine voting rights, based on the people he nominated to top positions, those he has advising him, and his own statements.

His pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, wrongly prosecuted black civil-rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in the 1980s, called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation,” and praised the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, saying that “if you go to Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, people aren’t being denied the vote because of the color of their skin.”

Trump’s Justice Department could limit voting rights in a number of critical ways, as I wrote in The New York Times last week:

It could choose not to vigorously enforce the Voting Rights Act, instead pressing states to take more aggressive action to combat alleged voter fraud. This could include purging voter rolls and starting investigations into voter-registration organizations.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a front-runner to head Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, has called for precisely this. During a meeting with Trump last week, Kobach brought a “strategic plan” for DHS that advocated purging voter rolls and drafting amendments to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, presumably to require proof of citizenship, like a passport or birth certificate, to register to vote, which prevented tens of thousands of eligible voters from being able to register in Kansas. It’s chilling that a top Trump adviser like Kobach views voting rights as a threat to homeland security.

Trump’s chief adviser, Steve Bannon, has even more radical views. According toThe New York Times, he “once suggested to a colleague that perhaps only property owners should be allowed to vote.” A co-writer of his on a Reagan documentary told the paper:

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”

Trump himself said, after courts struck down voter-ID laws in states like North Carolina, that “the voter-ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times.” Ironically, one of the only documented instances of voter fraud in 2016 was committed by a Trump supporter who voted twice in Iowa—and was caught in a state without a voter-ID law.

If you want a better idea of the lengths a Trump administration might go to suppress voting rights, take a look at what Republicans are doing in North Carolina right now. A month after the Supreme Court ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, North Carolina Republicans passed a “monster” voter-suppression law that required strict photo ID, cut early voting, and eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Like in so many-GOP controlled states, Republicans in North Carolina justified the voting restrictions by spreading false claims about voter fraud. (Such fraud was in fact exceedingly rare: There were only two cases of voter impersonation in North Carolina from 2002 to 2012 out of 35 million votes cast.)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found that North Carolina’s law targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.” But even after the court restored a week of early voting, GOP-controlled county election boards limited early voting hours and polling locations. The executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party called on Republicans to make “party line changes to early voting” that included opposing polling sites on college campuses and prohibiting early voting on Sundays, when black churches held “Souls to the Polls” voter-mobilization drives. The North Carolina GOP bragged before Election Day that “African American Early Voting is down 8.5% from this time in 2012. Caucasian voters early voting is up 22.5% from this time in 2012.”

Things got even crazier after the election. After Republican Pat McCrory lost the governor’s race to Democrat Roy Cooper by 9,000 votes, his campaign began filing bogus complaints about voter fraud in an attempt to overturn the election result or have the North Carolina legislature reinstall him as governor. Those challenged by the McCrory campaign include a 101-year-old World War II veteran in Greensboro wrongly accused of double voting.

That wasn’t all. After a black Democrat, Mike Morgan, won a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court, giving Democrats a 4-3 majority, Republicans have proposed expanding the size of the court by two justices, who could be appointed by McCrory in his last weeks in office, allowing Republicans to retain control. This would be an outrageous rebuke to the will of the voters and the rule of law, but you can’t put anything past the North Carolina GOP these days.

North Carolina is a case study for how Republicans have institutionalized voter suppression at every level of government and made it the new normal within the GOP. The same thing could soon happen in Washington when Trump takes power.

Hello, Taiwan — David A. Graham in The Atlantic on the background of our relationship with Taiwan.

It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.

Trump’s call was first reported by the Financial Times, but the Trump campaign soon confirmed it and issued a readout of the conversation:

President-elect Trump spoke with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, who offered her congratulations. During the discussion, they noted the close economic, political, and security ties exists between Taiwan and the United States. President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming President of Taiwan earlier this year.

Why would Trump not speak with Tsai? Here’s where the strangeness starts. The U.S. maintains a strong “unofficial” relationship with Taiwan, including providing it with “defensive” weapons, while also refusing to recognize its independence and pressuring Taiwanese leaders not to upset a fragile but functional status quo. It’s the sort of fiction that is obvious to all involved, but on which diplomacy is built: All parties agree to believe in the fiction for the sake of getting along.

The roots of this particular fiction date to 1949, when Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China was routed by Mao Zedong and the Communists, and Chiang fled to Taiwan. The U.S., in Cold War mode, continued to recognize the ROC in Taiwan as China’s rightful government, and so did the United Nations. But in 1971, the UN changed course, recognizing the People’s Republic of China—or as it was often called then, Red China—as the legitimate government. In 1979, the United States followed suit. Crucially, the communiqué proclaiming that recognition noted, “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”Officially, this has also been the policy of Taiwan for almost a quarter century. Under the 1992 Consensus, another artful diplomatic fiction, both Taipei and Beijing agreed that there was only one China and agreed to disagree on which was legitimate, as well as maintaining two separate systems. During the Bush years, the U.S. said it would defend Taiwan in an attack, but Bush also pushed back on Taiwanese moves toward independence.

Despite recognizing the PRC, the U.S. has kept close ties with Taiwan since 1979. The State Department notes that “Taiwan is the United States’ ninth largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s second largest trading partner.” More importantly, the U.S. has sold some $46 billion in arms to Taiwan since 1990, which are intended as defensive. Last December, the Obama administration sold $1.8 billion in anti-tank missiles, warships, and other materiel to Taipei. Of course, the “defensive” purpose to all of this is against China, the most plausible aggressor against Taiwan. Naturally, the arms sales have consistently annoyed the Chinese. (Recently, China has been on a campaign of land-grabbing and saber-rattling across the South China Sea, trying to assert greater control and influence.)

Though the triangle between the U.S., China, and Taiwan sometimes flares up, the general goal of all three has been to maintain the fragile status quo. By speaking to President Tsai, and praising U.S. relations with Taiwan, Trump threatens to upset that delicate balance. Reaction to the call was immediate and, for the most part, aghast.

“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House National Security Council, told the FT. “Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for U.S.-China relations.”Ari Fleischer, Bush’s first White House press secretary, noted that he wasn’t even allowed to refer to a Taiwanese government. My colleague James Fallows, not generally a man given to overreaction or caps-lock, was blunter: “WHAT THE HELL????” he tweeted.

As is typically the case with Trump, it’s hard to tell whether this blithe overturning of protocol is intentional or simply a result of not knowing, or caring, better.

There are various reasons Trump might be intentionally poking China. Trump spoke harshly about China throughout his presidential campaign, accusing Beijing of currency manipulation, land-grabbing, and taking advantage of the United States. He also showed a willingness, if not an eagerness, to slaughter nearly every sacred cow of American foreign policy.

Some Trump confidants have suggested existing policy on Taiwan should become one of them. John Bolton, who served as Bush’s ambassador to the UN, has been advising Trump, and Bolton has been a very public advocate of the U.S. cozying up to Taiwan in order to show strength against China.

Even if the provocation is intentional, that doesn’t mean Trump has acted wisely. “I would guess that President-elect Trump does not really comprehend how sensitive Beijing is about this issue,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The Hill.Some observers suggested that the call fits with the pattern of Trump intertwining his business and political interests, pointing out that he’s currently seeking to open luxury hotels in Taiwan.

But it’s also possible that Trump just stumbled into the matter, Being There-style. Trump tweeted Friday evening that Tsai had called him, presenting himself as just the guy who picked up the handset. It’s unclear how studied the decision to take it was, or whether it was studied at all. Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, assailed Trump for not taking it seriously. “Foreign policy consistency is a means, not an end. It’s not sacred. Thus, it’s Trump’s right to shift policy, alliances, strategy,” Murphy said in a pair of tweets. “What has happened in the last 48 hours is not a shift. These are major pivots in foreign policy w/out any plan. That’s how wars start.”

It’s also hard to know how big a deal Trump’s call is. China did not immediately comment. A White House official told The New York Times that the administration was only informed of the call after the fact, and said the fallout could be significant. There were other questions. Wouldn’t Beijing see that what Trump did was a blunder, but not a major shift in policy? Isn’t the Chinese government sophisticated enough not to take Trump at face value?

Trump’s previous conversations might provide hints on whether foreign governments will take Trump seriously. As Uri Friedman wrote today, Trump’s conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already had repercussions. The Pakistani government put out a readout that read suspiciously like a near-verbatim transcript of Trump’s words, capturing the tone the president-elect uses. His promise to “play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems” might sound to an American who just observed the election as so much Trumpian space-filling, but it made headlines in Pakistan, where some interpreted it as a nod to Pakistan’s conflict with India in Kashmir. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told the Times it appeared Pakistani officials had taken Trump’s words too seriously.China is perhaps a more sophisticated foreign-policy player than Pakistan; it’s certainly a more important one. But as Fallows points out, a China that sees Trump as buffoon probably isn’t good for American interests either.

For the time being, the most important thing to watch is probably for Beijing’s announcement. That will be the first clue as to whether Trump’s phone call will set in motion a huge realignment of American policy and relationships with China and Taiwan—or if it will be another Hainan Island incident, barely remembered 15 years on.

Beware of Bribery — Andy Borowitz’s humor.

NEW YORK (The Borowitz Report)—President-elect Donald J. Trump drew a line in the sand on Friday as he warned that U.S. companies planning to ship jobs overseas will be slapped with enormous bribes.

“If you think you’re going to get away with sending jobs out of the U.S., think again,” Trump said. “You are about to be bribed, big league.”

He raised the cautionary example of Carrier Corporation, which this week decided to keep a few hundred jobs in the U.S. in exchange for a seven-million-dollar government incentive. “I warned those boys at Carrier: we can do this the easy way, or the hard way, where you get seven million dollars,” he said. “They backed down so fast—it was terrific.”

The President-elect said that the Carrier story should strike fear into the hearts of all American businesses that might be contemplating shipping jobs overseas. “Do you really want to wind up like Carrier, with seven million dollars in your pockets?” he asked. “I don’t think so.”

In a parting shot, Trump warned companies that he was prepared to back up his tough rhetoric with even tougher action. “I will bribe you so hard, your grandchildren will get paid,” he threatened.

Doonesbury — Colorful language.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Diplomacy Ad Absurdum

The quote below is from the government of Pakistan.  I think the only word for this is “bizarre.”

Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif called President-elect USA Donald Trump and felicitated him on his victory. President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems. It will be an honor and I will personally do it. Feel free to call me any time even before 20th January that is before I assume my office.

On being invited to visit Pakistan by the Prime Minister, Mr. Trump said that he would love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people. Please convey to the Pakistani people that they are amazing and all Pakistanis I have known are exceptional people, said Mr. Donald Trump.

Go back and read that again and see if you can detect any clues to indicate this is actually from someone like Sacha Baron Cohen and his version of “Borat Part 2” or perhaps it’s an undiscovered manuscript from the Marx Brothers.  Because…  what?

If this is a true transcript of a conversation that took place between the Prime Minister of Pakistan and Trump really did heap praise on the country and promise to visit them, it’s not normal.  For one thing, our relationship with Pakistan is currently at a delicate stage.  Not only are they sworn enemies of India, one of our largest trading partners in the world, Pakistan’s role in the war in Afghanistan and the fight against the Taliban has, shall we say, been problematic.  So if Trump drops in on Pakistan, that will piss off the Indians beyond reasonable doubt and lend tacit support to Pakistan to keep on doing what they’re doing with terrorists.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Sharif could have called up and Trump thought he was talking to that other guy named Sharif; you know, that actor who was in “Lawrence of Arabia” and that Russian thing, and oh, yeah, didn’t he nail Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl”?  Omar!  That’s the guy.  So he landed a new gig as the head of Pakistan.  Nice.

omar-sharif-12-02-16

Yeah, except he’s dead.  And so, apparently, is diplomacy.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

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