Month: May 2017 (Page 2 of 3)

These past two weeks of Trump scandals were entirely predictable

The Republicans played with fire, and now they’re gonna get burnt

The past two weeks have brought developments in the ongoing saga of America’s executive office dysfunction that have shattered even previous high water marks of unbridled incompetence, corruption, and abuse of power. On May 9, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on transparent pretexts. A couple of days later, Trump admitted his pretexts were false. Later he made a threat to Comey, who is invited to testify before Congress, about having supposed “tapes” of his conversations, and the White House still won’t say if it is recording conversations, even as it faces a subpoena from Congressional investigators. Now, in the past few hours, it has come to light that Comey produced a memo stating Trump had told him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

If Trump’s attempts to derail the Russia investigation weren’t enough, Trump met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov literally the next day after firing Comey. Apparently without the White House’s permission, the Russian government photographer shared photos of the two men yukking it up in front of Trump with the Russian media that would go viral around the world—even as Trump didn’t allow any American photographers to capture images of the meeting. Didn’t Trump already learn from Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions the perils of meeting with Kislyak?

But the optics disaster was only foreshadowing what the public would soon find out happened during the meeting.

On May 16, it was reported by the Washington Post that “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador.” The information revealed was reportedly enough to let Russia figure out the source of intelligence shared by an ally (a very strong ally that Trump made much of claiming to support). Trump’s irresponsible mouth puts Israeli spies in ISIS-controlled territory at risk. It may threaten U.S. intelligence-sharing with Israel.

The saddest thing is, this was all completely predictable.

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Book Review: “The Strange Death of Europe”

‘The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam’ by Douglas Murray

Hardcover: 352 pages, Publisher: Bloomsbury Continuum (4 May 2017), Language: English. £18.99. Available at Amazon

 

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Douglas Murray is not known for shying away from controversial subjects, or for keeping quiet on matters that need the bright light of public discourse shone on them, whether people want that light shone or not.

He has been a vocal critic of radical Islam and Islamist terrorism for over a decade now and has always spoken with great lucidity and coherence on a range of very difficult subjects that won’t be made

any easier to face by ignoring. To watch him debate on the subject of whether Islam has anything to do with terrorism, for instance, is to watch a verbal heavyweight often crush the opposition with skilful rhetoric and salient facts that just will not go away, much to his opponents’ chagrin.

Douglas Murray’s latest book is a bringing together of the themes he’s been thinking, writing and talking about for years now, and as a result the argument presented within this extremely eloquent piece of rapid-fire literary slaying of sacred cows is a pleasure to read, even as someone who doesn’t agree with everything he has to say. Given that he opens with ‘Europe is committing suicide. Or at least its leaders have decided to commit suicide. Whether European people choose to go along with this is, naturally, another matter’ one can tell that he is, as usual, pulling no punches.

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Optimism in Korean peninsula

After months of political drama liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won in South Korea, a victory that ended over a decade-long conservative rule, which was by the end tarnished by extreme corruption and scandal, and ended in the impeachment and arrest of Park Geun-hye which triggered a snap election. The liberal victory was expected, given the current mood of South Korea, and a high turnout almost guaranteed the defeat of the incumbent conservatives. A simple plurality was needed for the liberals to win. Speaking at a makeshift podium, Moon was quoted to say “I will make a just, united country. I will be a president who also serves all the people who did not support me.”

In an interesting development, Moon said that he would be willing to go to North Korea to meet its leader Kim Jong-un, in a notable change of track from the previous conservative governments. Signaling that he is flexible and expressing willingness to negotiate immediately, the left-liberal-leaning Moon said that he is willing to do anything that might help bring peace to the continent. “I am willing to go anywhere for the peace of the Korean peninsula if needed. I will fly immediately to Washington. I will go to Beijing and I will go to Tokyo. If the conditions are right, I will go to Pyongyang,” he was quoted by Guardian.

Perhaps in a further indication that the new administration would be different than the old one, Moon even considers reviewing THAAD system placed in South Korea. The system has been a bone of contention between China and United States and was installed just a week before the elections. China has consistently opposed and urged the new president to scrap the system.

There has been talks reported by Reuters, where US officials have anonymously raised their concerns, about the new volatility in ties between South Korea and US. Moon and US President Trump are very different characters. There are chances of confrontation. Trump recently also demanded payment for THAAD placed in South Korea. That, added to the fact that Trump is positioning himself as a North Korea hawk, means that there are chances of difference of interest.

The US, of course, as per diplomatic rituals congratulated Moon, just as China and Japan did. The White House press secretary spoke of a continuing a strong alliance and enduring partnership.

That said, I would suggest a few cautions for both South Korea, and US. First of all South Korea needs to realise that any diplomatic maneuver, especially in such a volatile situation will inevitably bring up risks of cheesing off partners and adversaries. Any individual single effort to solve the Korean crisis would anger hardliners in both Washington and Tokyo. It is unlikely that Seoul, despite its good intentions is willing or able to take that risk or go that far. The idea in Washington is simple, that America is unwilling to coexist with a nuclear North Korea and that North Korea is a danger to American interests in the Pacific. Given that situation, if any country, especially South Korea intends to bypass American intentions to hand olive branch to the North, they will risk a collision course with Washington.

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Exclusive: The maritime balance of power slowly shifts in the Indian Ocean

Published in CLAWS.

The naval balance of power slowly shifts in the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the Indian ocean, as China launches its first domestically built, and the second aircraft carrier of its navy. The carrier was built in the northeastern port of Dalian, and is expected to join service, in 2020, but the bow and hull is already operational, and the arms and software needs debugging and fitting. The carrier’s development was already underway since 2015, and it shows the remarkable speed and expertise with which the carrier was built. China’s first carrier was the Soviet made Liaoning, which was also refitted in the same shipyard, and was only operational a few years back. The design is Soviet style ski jump, and not American style catapult launch. The carrier is supposed to base Chinese J-15 fighters. [1][2]

 

This is remarkable development and here’s why.

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Fox News pundits have got to be feeling embarrassed now

No less than 2 days after Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Fox News’s leading prime time hosts, and some guests repeating White House spin on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump stepped in to scuttle their (and his own) narrative.

On May 10, the day after Comey was fired, Joe Concha joined Tucker Carlson to bemoan the media’s coverage of Comey being fired in the midst of an investigation Trump desperately wants to go away. Concha repeated Trump’s claim that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein recommended Comey be fired.

“You have a Deputy Attorney General, just appointed two weeks ago, 94-6 vote, so he’s not seen as a partisan, recommending that Comey be gone,” Concha said.

That echoes statements from the Trump administration attributing the firing to Rosenstein’s purported recommendation that Comey be fired. The letter signed by Trump says, “I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” The statement from the White House press office says, “President Trump acted based on the clear
recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

On May 11, however, Trump admitted that he himself made the decision to fire Comey. In an interview with NBC News, Trump said,

He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time do it!

He also said he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey:

And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

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Hugh Hewitt on James Comey then and now

Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt defended Donald Trump’s act of firing FBI Director James Comey, who is presiding over an investigation of Trump’s campaign and administration officials for possible collusion with Russia’s interference in the election, on the grounds that Comey shouldn’t have held a press conference announcing the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email server. The press conference, in which Comey condemned Clinton, was viewed by many, including Hewitt, as damaging to the Clinton campaign.

Here’s what Hewitt wrote in his syndicated column defending Trump:

Last summer an old D.C. hand took me to one of those Beltway places of lore for lunch and a cigar and talked candidly about how shocked he was at then-FBI director James Comey’s decision to publicly discuss the Hillary Clinton email investigation and to walk the public through a hundred details of the case and then conclude she should not be prosecuted. Agree or disagree with that decision, he said, it’s not what the FBI does. Ever. Agents present facts to prosecutors. They may nudge or even push in one direction or the other, but they don’t decide. My interlocutor, a former assistant U.S. attorney and then-senior official in numerous positions and companies, was not so much outraged by Comey’s actions at the time as puzzled, perhaps even shocked.

Curiously, in an MSNBC segment with Brian Williams on the day of Comey’s press conference, Hewitt said of Comey’s decision to announce publicly:
“I think he may have made a political decision in the best interest of the FBI.”

One wonders how it could have been in the best interest of the FBI if it had harmed trust in the FBI or in the FBI’s director, as Hewitt and other conservatives now argue. Hewitt was either wrong then or he’s wrong now.

In the Brian Williams segment, Hewitt was never asked directly about whether he thought it was the right decision to announce. He did, however, make many gleeful statements about how much he felt the announcement hurt Clinton.

“Look, she wasn’t indicted today, but she was convicted. Director Comey convicted her of lying repeatedly about not receiving or sending classified markings. She was convicted of being vulnerable to hostile agents. Her aides are convicted of actually having been penetrated by hostile agents. So I think you’re going to see Donald Trump and his surrogates in the Republican Party play the Comey press conference again and again and again. It was damning.”

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First thoughts on election of Moon Jae-in as president of Korea

The election turned out just as expected. Moon Jae-in won with just over 40 percent, right around where the final polls predicted. The moderate and conservative split the hard-on-North-Korea vote. In fact, the next three candidates combined, conservative Hong Jun-pyo (KLP), moderate reformer Ahn Cheol-su (People’s Party), and reformist conservative Yoo Seoung-min (Baerun), combined for over 50 percent.

While Moon has expressed the desire to visit North Korea “if the time is right” and talk, he might be constrained by the political and security situation, I write in a forthcoming column I will link to.

UPDATE: My article is now published: A new president and new opportunities in Korea

The Warped Marxist-Feminist Ideology of the Kurdish YPG

An Exclusive Eyewitness Account of an American who Trained with the Kurdish Syrian Rebels

Getting retired from the United States Marine Corps at age 23 with zero deployments under my belt was a huge blow to what I figured to be my destiny on this planet. That “retirement” came in 2010 after three years on convalescent leave, recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained stateside. I got my chance to vindicate myself in 2015 by volunteering to fight in Syria with the Kurdish Yeni Parastina Gel (YPG), or the “People’s Protection Units” in Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish language).

The YPG is the military apparatus of the Partiya Yekitiya Democrat (PYD), the Democratic Union Party, and one of the main forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While they are a direct ideological descendant of the Soviet Union, their take on Marxism has a much more nationalistic bent than that of their internationalist forebears. At their training camp that I attended, they constantly spoke of their right to a free and autonomous homeland–which I could support. On the other hand, they ludicrously claimed that all surrounding cultures from Arab to Turk to Persian descended from Kurdish culture. One should find this odd, considering that the Kurds have never had such autonomy as that which they struggle for.

All of this puffed up nationalism masquerading as internationalism was easy to see through. The Westerners were treated with respect by the “commanders” (they eschewed proper rank and billet, how bourgeoise!), but the rank and file YPGniks were more interested in what we could do for them and what they could steal from us (luckily, my luggage was still in storage at the Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq). By “steal from us,” I mean they would walk up to a Westerner/American and grab their cap, glasses, scarf and whatever else they wanted and ask “Hevalti?” which is Kurmanji for “Comraderie?” and if you “agreed” or stalled (a non-verbal agreement) then they would take your gear and clothing. “Do not get your shit hevalti-ed,” the saying went.

Not only was their idea of Marxism fatuous, their version of feminism was even worse.

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Korean presidential hopefuls campaign with children’s song on final day

It’s the last day of campaigning before the Korean presidential election to replace impeached and indicted Park Geun-hye. That means Korea’s top candidates have mobile campaign platforms set up in Seoul to give speeches and sing children’s songs.

The song they really love to sing is a modified version of “Airplane” (비행기), which is itself a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The lyrics, “Let’s fly…”, have been replaced with the names of the candidates (listen for “Mun Jae-in” and “Hong Jun-pyo” in their respective songs).


Overall, the mood and location of the rallies seems to reflect the particular personalities and support bases of each candidate.

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What both sides would say about healthcare if they were honest

With the passage of the “Obamacare repeal” bill in the United States by Republicans in the House of Representatives last week, the debate over healthcare is full of bad faith arguments, oversimplifications, and lies.

Much of what the bill does is being mischaracterized, starting with “repeal.” The bill didn’t call for repealing Obamacare. It would change Obamacare. It would cut Obamacare. But it wouldn’t repeal Obamacare.

The Republicans, arguably because they are in the majority and thus must put forward an expansive argument about what their bill will do, are responsible for some of the most egregious dishonesty. But the Democrats have been intellectually dishonest in some of their attacks on the bill, too. It doesn’t “classify rape as a preexisting condition.”

The main reason each side has to resort to bad faith arguments is because they don’t want to be honest about the ideological underpinnings of their convictions and the costs and benefits of each approach.

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