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The Terrible Cost of Obama’s Failure in Syria

Tuesday, 10 April, 2018 0 Comments

That’s the title of Kathy Gilsinan’s excoriating article in The Atlantic, which was, and is, an Obama-friendly publication. But there comes a time when the most loyal subjects and supporters have to face the truth, even when it is painful, and this is very, very painful, indeed. Snippet:

Four years ago, it almost looked as if chemical attacks on Syrian civilians would stop. “We struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out,” declared then-Secretary of State John Kerry on Meet the Press in 2014. Kerry was referring to Bashar al-Assad’s declared stockpiles of chemical weapons which, under a 2013 deal struck by the Obama administration following a sarin nerve gas attack that brought the U.S. to the brink of striking Syrian government forces, were dismantled and shipped out of the country.

But there were two important and deadly loopholes. The first was that Assad did not declare everything—a reality that Kerry acknowledged in a farewell memo to staff, in which he wrote that “unfortunately other undeclared chemical weapons continue to be used ruthlessly against the Syrian people.” The second was that chlorine gas, which has legitimate civilian uses, was not part of the deal. The Syrian American Medical Society and the White Helmets civil-defense group have documented 200 chemical attacks in Syria since 2012, many involving chlorine.

At the time, those familiar with the ways of the Syrian tyrant knew that this was a rotten deal. Yes, Damascus gave up some material to make it look like it was complying and the Washington spin-doctors were able to sell the story that Obama and Kerry had done something heroic, but Assad was left with an intact chemical arsenal. Terrible.


When the MSM “resistance” cries “Wolf!”

Sunday, 10 December, 2017 0 Comments

“I remember Watergate pretty well, and I don’t remember anything like this level of journalistic carelessness back then. The constant stream of ‘bombshells’ that turn into duds is doing much more to damage the media than anything Trump could manage.” So commented Walter Russell Mead yesterday. He was responding to this tweet by CNN Communications:

CNN’s initial reporting of the date on an email sent to members of the Trump campaign about Wikileaks documents, which was confirmed by two sources to CNN, was incorrect. We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of email

Glenn Greenwald provided readers of The Intercept with the background to this PR disaster for CNN, in particular, and US journalism, in general: “The U.S. Media Yesterday Suffered its Most Humiliating Debacle in Ages: Now Refuses All Transparency Over What Happened.” Snippet:

FRIDAY WAS ONE of the most embarrassing days for the U.S. media in quite a long time. The humiliation orgy was kicked off by CNN, with MSNBC and CBS close behind, with countless pundits, commentators and operatives joining the party throughout the day. By the end of the day, it was clear that several of the nation’s largest and most influential news outlets had spread an explosive but completely false news story to millions of people, while refusing to provide any explanation of how it happened.

The MSM “resistance” has thrown caution to the wind in its “gotcha” coverage of President Trump, but it’s a very risky strategy and those who have spent the past year crying “wolf” might find themselves being called “fakenews” in return.


Pursuing the undulatus asperatus

Friday, 28 July, 2017 0 Comments

“The work on this film began on March 28th and ended June 29th,” says stormchaser Mike Olbinski. He drove 28,000 miles across 10 US states and spent 27 days pursuing the storms that have been condensed into the spectacular clip he calls Pursuit. “I snapped over 90,000 time-lapse frames,” he writes. “I saw the most incredible mammatus displays, the best nighttime lightning and structure I’ve ever seen, a tornado birth caught on time-lapse and a display of undulatus asperatus that blew my mind.”


Vive la France!

Friday, 14 July, 2017 0 Comments

It’s the #jourdebastille and there are many reasons to celebrate it. For example, the 13th stage of the Tour de France from Saint-Girons to Foix. It’s being described as “brutal”, which should add to the enjoyment. Then we’ve got the Trump, l’« ami » américain de Macron bonding in Paris, and there’s always that classic scene from Casablanca when Rick Blaine, owner of the Café Américain, asks the house band to play La Marseillaise.


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


Trump vs. Media: 100 Days of Trust and Mistrust

Saturday, 29 April, 2017 0 Comments

American adults trust President Trump more than the national political media, according to a poll released yesterday. Thirty-seven percent trust the White House against 29 percent who believe the political media in the Morning Consult survey (PDF). Thirty-four percent are unsure or have no opinion.

Morning Consult found that nearly half say the national political media is tougher on Trump than past presidential administrations. Forty-eight percent said America’s political journalists are harder on Trump, compared with 16 percent who say they are easier. Twenty-three percent say they are “about the same,” while 13 percent have no opinion.

Yesterday’s results found a slight majority who say the national political media is “out of touch with everyday Americans.” Twenty-eight percent said it “understands the challenges everyday Americans are facing,” and 21 percent were undecided.

Morning Consult conducted its survey of 2,006 US adults via online interviews from 25 to 26 April. It has a margin of error of two percentage points.


Mr Tillerson goes to Moscow

Tuesday, 11 April, 2017 0 Comments

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits Moscow today and will there meet his counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. What makes the trip particularly noteworthy is that it comes after the US strike on Moscow’s Middle East proxy and armaments purchaser, Syria. President Trump has sent an unmistakable message that he is holding President Putin accountable for Bashar al-Assad and red lines mean red lines from now on for the new administration in Washington.

The oleaginous Lavrov learned his trade by in the days of Hafiz al-Assad, father of the current tyrant, and one wonders if Tillerson has prepped for his meeting by reading Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East by the late Patrick Seale. First published in 1988, it has lost little of its relevance despite the passing of time. Indeed, given what’s now going on in Syria, its 552 pages remain ultra- relevant. Despite, or perhaps because of his anti-Israel prejudice, Patrick Seale was an influential commentator on events in the Arab world and he possessed a deep understanding of the Arab mind and how it works. On page 412 of Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East, Seale displays his skills as an observer and writer when describing the cunning of Hafiz al-Assad. Snippet:

Assad “Over the years, Assad had developed a negotiating technique which he frequently used with foreign guests, and [Robert] McFarlane [national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1985] was no exception. He would begin by exchanging a few pleasantries. Then he might ask, ‘How is the weather in your country?’ A Western guest would usually reply to the effect that at home it was colder than in Syria , giving Assad his opportunity. ‘Indeed’, he would say, ‘it’s warm here because the United Sates is stoking the fire!’ There were two sorts of climate in the world, he would explain, one given by God, the other by the United States, and step by step he would make his point that the tension, crises and wars in the area must all be laid at Washington’s door. An American visitor would feel compelled to defend himself, starting the meeting at a disadvantage.

Assad’s next stratagem was to be extraordinarily digressive and argumentative. If the name of God were mentioned, this might set him off on a long discourse about Islam, Judaism and Christianity before he could be brought back to the matter in hand. Negotiating sessions would last for hours. More than one envoy who suffered this treatment came to the conclusion that Asad raised all sorts of irrelevant subjects simply to tire his visitors the better to control them. At the end of a wearisome session the temptation was to accept what he had to say simply to escape.”

Like father, like son when it comes to cruelty and cynicism, but Bashar al-Assad remains unable to read the writing on the wall, despite his training in London as an ophthalmologist. Maybe Rex Tillerson can help his patrons see things more clearly.


Portraits and Profiles of warriors and senators

Friday, 3 March, 2017 0 Comments

After leaving the White House in 2009, George W. Bush found inspiration in painting. This has now resulted in a book of 66 portraits of post-9/11 US veterans called Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors. The proceeds from the book will be donated to the George W. Bush Presidential Center, “a non-profit organization whose Military Service Initiative works to ensure that post-9/11 veterans and their families make successful transitions to civilian life with a focus on gaining meaningful employment and overcoming the invisible wounds of war.”

Portraits of Courage

Note: Portraits of Courage echoes Profiles in Courage, a 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Senator John F. Kennedy. Profiles consisted of short biographies describing acts of courage and integrity by eight United States Senators throughout the Senate’s history. The book became a best seller, but in his 2008 autobiography, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, Kennedy’s speechwriter Ted Sorensen claimed that, while the senator had provided the theme, the speechwriter wrote most of the book.


Thanksgiving

Thursday, 24 November, 2016 0 Comments

The poetry of Charles Reznikoff is marked by his love of the simple life and common things. Reznikoff was a New Yorker and “a collector of images and stories who walked the city from Bronx to Battery” in search of “the soul of the Jewish immigrant experience.” There is no mention of Thanksgiving in his Te Deum but he speaks of “the day’s work done” for the reward of a seat “at the common table.”

Te Deum

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

Charles Reznikoff (1894 – 1976)

Note: Te Deum takes its name from an early Christian hymn and its opening Latin words, Te Deum laudamus, are translated as “Thee, O God, we praise”.


Michael Wolff goes to Wolf Hall in Manhattan

Saturday, 19 November, 2016 3 Comments

“The real business of journalism, or at least a major sideline, is envy of those who get lucky,” writes the columnist Michael Wolff. “Nice to be the lucky one this time,” he adds. Wolff was responding to a barrage of Twitter criticism directed at his scoop interview for the Hollywood Reporter with Steve Bannon, chief strategist and Senior Counselor for the Presidency of Donald Trump. It’s a remarkable piece of reportage and one that will send shivers down the liberal spine. Snippet:

“It’s the Bannon theme, the myopia of the media, that it tells only the story that confirms its own view, that in the end it was incapable of seeing an alternative outcome and of making a true risk assessment of the political variables — reaffirming the Hillary Clinton camp’s own political myopia. This defines the parallel realities in which liberals, in their view of themselves, represent a morally superior character and Bannon — immortalized on Twitter as a white nationalist, racist, anti-Semite thug — the ultimate depravity of Trumpism.”

But now the tables have been turned. Bannon is in Trump Tower and world leaders are booking suites above his office in the hope of getting access to his boss, the US President-elect. It’s a revolution and heads are going to roll:

“Bannon represents, he not unreasonably believes, the fall of the establishment. The self-satisfied, in-bred and homogenous views of the establishment are both what he is against and what has provided the opening for the Trump revolution. ‘The media bubble is the ultimate symbol of what’s wrong with this country,’ he continues. ‘It’s just a circle of people talking to themselves who have no f—ing idea what’s going on. If The New York Times didn’t exist, CNN and MSNBC would be a test pattern. The Huffington Post and everything else is predicated on The New York Times. It’s a closed circle of information from which Hillary Clinton got all her information — and her confidence. That was our opening.'”

And now? And next? Time to read some of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which documents the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII. Steve Bannon has read it and understood it and intends to live it.

“I am,” he says, with relish, “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.” Some five hundred years from now, a lucky journalist might conduct an interview that concludes, “I am,” he says, with relish, “Steve Bannon in the court of the Trumps.”


The Making of the President 2016

Tuesday, 8 November, 2016 0 Comments

It has been an extraordinary election campaign in which some of the most selfless and some of the most squalid characters in American public life have played a role. Today is the day when their plans and calculations are subjected to the will of the people in the pageant that’s re-enacted every four years. Here’s how one chronicler captured the spectacular transaction by which a US president is chosen:

“They had begun to vote in the villages of New Hampshire at midnight, as they always do, seven and a half hours before the candidate rose. His men had canvassed Hart’s Location in New Hampshire days before, sending his autographed picture to each of the twelve registered voters in the village. They knew that they had five votes certain there, that their opponent had five votes certain — and that two were still undecided. Yet it was worth the effort. For Hart’s Location’s results would be the first flash of news on the wires to greet millions of voters as they opened their morning papers over coffee. But from there on it was unpredictable — invisible.

By the time the candidate left his hotel at 8.30, several million had already voted across the country — in schools, libraries, churches, stores, post offices. These, too, were invisible. But it was certain that at this hour, the vote was overwhelmingly Republican. On election day America is Republican until five or six in the evening. It is in the last few hours of the day that working people and their families vote, on their way home from work or after supper; it is then, at evening, that America goes Democratic. If it goes Democratic at all. All of this is invisible, for it is the essence of the act that as it happens it is a mystery in which million of people each fit one fragment of a total secret together, none of them knowing the shape of the whole.

The Making of the President What results from the fitting together of these secrets is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world — the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so, the power to guide and the responsibility to heal — all committed into the hands of one man… Yet as the transfer of this power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and the blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long full campaign fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait.”

An excerpt there from “The Making of the President 1960” by Theodore H. White. Much has changed since White wrote those words 56 years ago, but the fundamentals remain the same. After more than 200 years, the US system remains the best version of running a complex society yet devised. We hope there will be a winner today who is able to reconcile the red and blue states and we hope that people like Putin will have had no part in choosing the victor.