Media (373)

 

Tango with the Taliban

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Over the weekend the President of the United States, who has nothing better to do, kept harping about the Alabama weather forecasters who had contradicted his warning that their state might be hit by hurricane Dorian.  Trump went even as far as telling his Chief of Staff to instruct his Commerce Secretary to order the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to put out a statement that the Alabama National Weather Service people had been dead wrong, eight days after Dorian had made a right turn and not even hit Florida.  While the president was taking care of this urgent business the news broke that as off 2017 the US Air Force had been making fueling stops at a small airport near Trump’s Turnberry resort in Scotland.  Not only does the Trump Organization have a business relationship with the airport, but occasionally crews overnighted at the resort, putting badly needed taxpayer dollars in Trump’s coffers.  After the president’s announcement that he wants to host the 2020 G7 meeting at his Doral resort in Florida this is not really surprising, but it takes his grifting to a new level and Congress is starting an investigation.

Also over the weekend Trump tweeted that he had cancelled a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David and put an end to all negotiations with them because a US soldier had been killed in an attack in Afghanistan.  The fact that the meeting -apparently ad hoc – had been scheduled was a secret, and there was absolutely no need to trumpet its cancellation, but apparently the president wanted a headline and credit for trying something different.  His effort backfired, because there was almost universal disapproval of even the thought of bringing the Taliban into the US in the week of 9/11, while the foreign policy community condemned the fact that months of difficult negotiations had fallen by the wayside.  The Taliban disaster was followed by National Security Advisor John Bolton’s departure from the White House, according to Trump because he fired Bolton Monday night and according to Bolton because he resigned Tuesday morning.  In the subsequent pissing contest with the president Bolton had the stronger stream, because Tuesday morning he was still announced as one of the speakers at a White House event later that day.

It was no secret that Bolton was already in the doghouse, because when Trump was in Tokyo he had been sent to Tadzhikistan and he gave his critical comments on the Taliban mishap from Warsaw, but the new vacancy means that Trump from now on will be his own NSA, and that is a very scary thought.  In a Q&A on Wednesday the president ping-ponged between trashing Bolton as the ‘not smart but tough guy’ who had gotten us into Iraq, and declaring that they still had a great relationship, probably scared of a tell-all book with which Bolton can make a fortune in 2020.

Next to Trump’s grifting his administration’s cruelty towards immigrants also reached a new level.  The Supreme Court upheld the policy that asylum seekers first have to ask for asylum in a country they are traveling through, in most cases Mexico, before they can ask for asylum in the US, and there is a good chance that very sick people receiving treatment in the US will be sent back to countries where that treatment is not available, as a result of which most of them will die.

In an Oval Office presentation about the dangers of vaping, for which Melania had been drugged and posted on a sofa, Trump declared that ‘she has a son,’ quickly adding ‘together’ because otherwise it would seem as if he had nothing to do with Barron’s conception.  Somewhere in the US Stormy Daniels must have laughed out loud and Karen McDougal must at least have had a chuckle.

 

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Trump is Never Wrong

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

After congratulating Poland with the attack by Nazi Germany 75 years ago and canceling his visits to that country and Ireland, sending Mike Pence instead, Trump spent the weekend playing golf and tweeting about the threat of hurricane Dorian.  In one of his tweets on Sunday he implied that among the states in Dorian’s path was Alabama, an assertion that was almost immediately contradicted by the National Weather Service.  It is against the law to file false reports about weather emergencies, because people’s lives are at stake, but Trump cannot be indicted, so he got away with yet another crime.  To prove his point, on Wednesday Trump produced a map from the National Hurricane Center that had been altered with a sharpie, the president’s favorite writing tool, to put Alabama retroactively in danger.  It is also illegal to modify government documents, but Trump truly believes that he cannot be wrong and that truth is a relative concept.   His mentor, political henchman Roy Cohn, taught the president never to apologize, but Trump did Cohn one better by making ‘never admit a mistake’ the guiding principle of his presidency.

Meanwhile the grifting went on.  Trump ‘advised’ Pence to stay at his Irish golf resort – which would put a significant amount of taxpayer dollars into the president’s pockets – even though the resort is on the west coast and Pence’s meetings were on the east coast, meaning that the taxpayers would also incur costs for two cross country flights of Airforce Two, and in DC it was revealed that Attorney General Barr will throw a $30,000 holiday party in Trump’s hotel.  To make Washington even more dysfunctional the president is encouraging Corey Lewandowski, a first class thug and his former campaign manager, to run for the US Senate in New Hampshire.  In order to build at least part of ‘the wall,’ one of his campaign promises, Trump diverted $3.6 billion from the Pentagon’s budget, money that was intended for military construction.  He may think that this will keep his base happy, even though the funding doesn’t come from Mexico, but in all 127 projects are affected in a large number of states, some of which Trump has to win to get re-elected.  Taking away federal money and thus jobs doesn’t seem like a winning strategy.

The Washington Post observed that during this last summer before an election year the president has done nothing to expand his base.  His plan, if there is one, appears to be to follow a very narrow path to a majority in the Electoral College, presumably with Russian assistance, leaving the national popular vote to the Democratic nominee.  However, with the manufacturing sector crimping for the first time in years and markets in disarray because of Trump’s tariffs, his approval ratings finally start to go down, not in the least because ‘Trump fatigue’ is slowly settling in thanks to all the drama the White House is responsible for.

Trump’s presidency is one of unkept promises: a significant tax cut for the middle class, great and affordable healthcare for everybody, and mining and manufacturing jobs coming back to the US, to mention a few.  The 33% wack jobs in the US population who are now members-for-life of the Trump cult will vote for him, but others may have their doubts: farmers, whose businesses have been destroyed by the trade war with China, and miners and factory workers, who begin to realize Trump lied to them.

A third group Trump cannot automatically count on consists of high earning executives, doctors and lawyers, who benefited from his tax cuts for the wealthy, but realize that no more give-aways are coming and dislike the president as a person.  Unlike these unprincipled opportunists the president is loyal to his soulmates:  in the middle of the UK’s current political mess he said: ‘Boris is a friend of mine and he’s going to win.’

 

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Home from Abroad

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump flew back to the US the day before I flew to Holland for a family visit.  Before the president left for the G7 he slapped more tariffs on imports from China, called both Fed chairman Jerome Powell and China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping  ‘enemies of the people,’ and ‘ordered’ US companies to get out of the latter’s country.  In Biarritz, France, where the G7 was held, Trump said that he had second thoughts about the tariffs, raising some experts’ hopes that the president understood the damage they were doing to American farmers and consumers, but his remarks were followed by a statement from the White House that Trump meant the tariffs might be too low.  Apparently understanding, however, that his actions were hurting his chances at getting re-elected, Trump continued his bizarre flip-flopping by suggesting that a deal with China was very close because the Chinese had already called him, something China denied.  In Biarritz the president did not attend the session on the environment, in light of the fires in the Amazon rainforest probably the most important part of the event in the eyes of the other leaders.

From France Trump sent a number of ludicrous tweets, among others that the question he was being asked most by the other participants of the G7 was why the US media hate America so much.   The president announced that he was strongly considering his struggling Doral Golf Course in Florida, a loss leader in the Trump Organization, as the site for the next G7, apparently because Doral has the biggest ballrooms in the state and no bed-bugs.  Trump added that he didn’t want and was not going to make any money from the event, something that is even less believable than his tweet about the US media.  Since France had surprised Trump by having the Iranian Foreign Secretary pay a visit to the G7 it is almost inevitable that the president will invite Putin to the next one, even though Putin’s presence in the US a couple of months before the elections may not help Trump, especially if there already are signs that Russia is again trying to interfere.  When the president was on his way back to the US the news broke that on numerous occasions he had suggested to bomb, even to nuke, hurricanes that are on their way to the US, ‘to prevent damage.’

In Biarritz it became obvious that the G7 is now the G6+1. The other participants treated Trump like an irritable child and tried to take care of business on the side.  At his closing press conference the president was good for a few more shockers.  He lied that he had missed the environmental session because he had meetings with Angela Merkel and India’s Prime Minister Modi, who each were shown attending the session.

Another beauty was his declaration that Melania liked Kim Jong-un, although she never met the Korean dictator, and his re-branding of Xi Jinping as a ‘great leader,’ in an attempt to flatter Xi into a trade deal.  The president called himself an environmentalist because he ‘likes clean air and water,’ and said that Obama could have prevented Russia’s annexation of Crimea by doing ‘whatever.’

In Amsterdam I decided to pay no attention to Trump for the rest of the week, which meant staying off Twitter, a welcome relief.  Still, almost everybody I spoke with wanted to talk about Trump, and the two most common questions were: ‘how much crazier will he get?’ and ‘can he be beaten?’  My answer: we’ll see what happens.


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The King of Kings

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

This week Donald Trump’s manic grandiosity reached a new pinnacle when he called himself ‘the King of Israel.’ That was after some majestic flip-flopping by the president.  Scared that a recession next year would sink his chances of getting re-elected he and his advisors were musing about cutting the payroll tax, after the Fed – in Trump’s eyes the culprit of all problems – would have implemented more rate cuts, and for the heck of it he also talked about reducing the capital gains tax, something that would do nothing for the economy but enrich Trump and the likes of him a bit more.  In the end, however, the president declared that the economy is incredibly strong and would even be stronger if the Fed had not raised interest rates in the recent past, and that no action was necessary.  After this pirouette Trump turned to gun control and came to a similar conclusion.  Initially he had shown some interest in expanded background checks, but after a 30 minute phone call with the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre Trump said that we already have very strong background checks, and that a new policy would lead to a ‘slippery slope,’ where ‘everything would be taken away.’

Having thus taken care of the home front the president turned his attention to the rest of the world.  Since Denmark was not excited about selling Greenland and its Prime Minister called the idea ‘absurd’ Trump called her ‘nasty’ and cancelled his upcoming state visit, for which the Danish Queen had invited him.  Next he proclaimed that the G7 should become the G8 again by re-admitting Russia, which according to him had been expelled because ‘Putin outsmarted Obama,’ apparently by seizing Crimea and starting a war in Ukraine while Obama was president.  Reflecting on the situation in Kashmir Trump called it ‘very complex,’ because ‘you have your Hindus and you have your Muslims and there you have it.’  Playing into the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are always more loyal to Israel than to the country where they live the president accused Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats of disloyalty to Israel.  With Israel still on his mind Trump called himself ‘the Chosen One’ who had to take on China, and declared that ISIS has been decimated. Secretary of State Pompeo disagreed, and said that ISIS is now stronger in some places than it has ever been before.

To deter asylum seekers and other transients of coming to the southern border the administration announced its intention to hold families with children indefinitely in detention, challenging the ‘Flores rule’ that says such detentions can only last 20 days.  The new policy won’t go into effect in the next 60 days and will undoubtedly face many challenges in court, but the purpose of the announcement was to send the message that ‘we’ll lock you and your children up if you dare coming here.’  To top it off the president gave notice of his plan to end birthright citizenship.

Also this week the news broke that Trump had violated the law when filling out his financial disclosure forms.  In the US he estimated the value of his Scottish golf courses at $165 million and reported that they had generated a profit of $23 million, but in Britain, where he has to pay taxes on these properties, he stated that they carried more debt than their value and earned him only $6.3 million.  Probably none of these numbers is correct and in the US the penalty for this duplicity is five years.

Finally, it became clear that the budget deficit will exceed $1 trillion in 2020, even without the purchase of Greenland and much faster than expected.  Republicans supporting Trump who have always had their mouth full of fiscal responsibility and balanced budgets will have a hard time convincingly falling back on their old positions after Trump has moved from the White House to the Big House.

 
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Trump Yells at the Data

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

With the images still fresh of Donald and Melania Trump triumphantly holding a baby that had been shot, the way Don Jr. and Eric Trump hold a baby elephant they have just murdered, the expectation was that the president might be willing to make a gesture, however minimal, on gun control.  Initially he said ‘I want something done,’ but a couple of days later that had deflated to ‘I think Mitch McConnell wants to do something.’  Meanwhile Jeffrey Epstein hung himself in a New York federal penitentiary, or so it seems, and Trump re-tweeted the conspiracy theory that Bill Clinton had a hand in Epstein’s death.  A president accusing a predecessor of murder is so unheard of that under normal circumstances it would be considered shocking, but in the Trump era it is just one more thing.  More than by last week’s mass shootings Trump was upset that he had been branded a racist for inciting the violence in El Paso and wasn’t able to shake that label.  Although ‘white supremacist’ is more accurate it would be smart for the Democratic candidates to keep the ‘Racist Trump’ tag alive, because it drives him nuts and causes him to make mistakes.

Trump’s vision of a predominantly white America was verbalized by Ken Cuccinelli, Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, who rewrote Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty ‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’ so that it now reads ‘give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.’  Just to prevent any misunderstandings Cuccinelli clarified that the poem had been written in a time when all immigrants were coming from Europe.  ‘Means-testing’ aspiring immigrants and admitting only self-reliant people will exclude the primarily colored transients who want to come to America to make a better life for themselves and are indispensable in many sectors of the US economy, and it will immediately face legal challenges.  Trump would have felt good about himself for driving more fear into the hearts of poor economic migrants and asylum seekers if the stock market had not lost 800 points, possibly foreboding a recession that would sink his re-election chances.

In spite of his often proclaimed business acumen the president knows nothing about economics and he doesn’t get much help in the White House.  His chief economic advisor only played an economist on TV, and his tariffs expert is considered a halfwit by real economists.  Parroting some words he just learned Trump tweeted ‘CRAZY inverted yield curve,’ as if he was yelling at the data, and blamed the Fed chairman, but he also finally acknowledged that his tariffs are hurting US consumers by putting new tariffs on Chinese imports off until after the holiday shopping season.

A normal president would have called China out on its threatening democracy in Hong Kong, according to pundits to honor the US tradition as guardian of freedom around the world, but  Trump didn’t get beyond a statement that the situation is ‘very tough’ and that he hopes ‘it works out for everybody, including China.’  In a tweet he later expressed his opinion that if Xi Jinping would only meet with the demonstrators a ‘beautiful solution’ would emerge almost immediately.

In an effort to distract attention from the economy and his tanking poll numbers Trump, in an unprecedented move, urged Israel not to admit two congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who happen to be dark-skinned Muslimas.  Netanyahu complied, but the president will get payback if New York City honors a petition signed by 290 thousand residents to rename the Trump Tower block on 5th Avenue to ‘Barack Obama Avenue.’

 

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