China

The State of the Department (Quack)

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

With apologies: Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

“guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of today....zero”

Anne Applebaum

We should be clear that by today, the columnist means Friday last, when she posted the tweet, which refers, in turn, to a report from Foreign Policy:

One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned this week after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in what officials and analysts say is part of a worrying brain drain from public service generally over the past 18 months.

Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.

Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.

Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.

Today is Tuesday, and elsewhere in the commentariat Steve Benen notes, “The article didn’t explicitly say that Johnson resigned in protest, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery about what happened here.”

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What They Voted For: The Laughingstock

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Because the first part of the making something great again is wrecking it so that it needs to be recovered:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of 'Fire and Fury', by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)On Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was pictured in a post on his Instagram feed at the Tehran Book Fair.

Nothing unusual there, but in one image he was seen reading a Persian-language edition of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. The subject of which, of course, is the chaos inside Mr Trump’s White House.

When the book was released in January, it was described as a “bombshell” by commentators as it raised doubts over Mr Trump’s mental health.

It claimed Mr Trump said he pursued his friends’ wives, that his daughter Ivanka would mock him, and that the US president would eat cheeseburgers in bed.

(BBC)

This is, of course, only days after President Hassan Rouhani responded to President Trump’s dereliction of a nuclear treaty by “conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China”.

Yes, this demolition of American prestige is precisely what Republicans voted for. They cannot prove to us that government doesn’t work unless they break everything; they cannot make the nation great “again” if they do not lay it low. And, yes, in their own way, a game show host and flaccid farce, an obvious subject for Ayatollah Khamenei to scorch with such easy, demonstrative, blistering critique, is precisely what Trump supporters voted for.

This is actually part of their supremacism: It is easier to foster a world war if supporters feel insulted by the designated enemy; Trump seems to think Iranians are as simplistic as his followers, so he makes it easy for the Ayatollah to zing the President of the United States because he knows the magagaga are, themselves, easy marks.

They did elect him, after all.

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Image note: Top — President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference after winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  Right — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei trolling Trump?” BBC News. 11 May 2018.

Neither Insignificant Nor Unexpected

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Special Counsel Robert Mueller (AP Photo)

The lede from Associated Press is not insignificant, but it is also expected:

Investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have interviewed one of President Donald Trump’s closest friends and confidants, California real estate investor Tom Barrack, The Associated Press has learned.

Barrack was interviewed as part of the federal investigation of possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations . . . .

. . . .One of the people who spoke to AP said the questioning focused entirely on two officials from Trump’s campaign who have been indicted by Mueller: Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates. Gates agreed to plead guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statement charges in February and began cooperating with investigators.

This person said Barrack was interviewed “months ago” and was asked a few questions about Gates’ work on Trump’s inaugural committee, which Barrack chaired, and but there were no questions about the money raised by that committee.

A second person with knowledge of the Barrack interview said the questioning was broader and did include financial matters about the campaign, the transition and Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

If the question is what Barrack’s interview means in the larger scheme, the fact of the interview itself is expected in part because of his proximity to candidate- and then President Trump, but also for his connection to convicted felon Rick Gates, which includes helping him gain access to the White House. And if the unsurprising news is not insignificant, we need only stick the proverbial pin and stay tuned.

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Rather Quite Obvious (Priorities)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Mexico City on 22 February 2017. The visit is the second foreign trip of Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department. (Carlos Jasso/Reuters)

The lede from Reuters:

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip an April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president and will travel to Russia later in the month, U.S. officials said on Monday, a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.

And a bit of the detail:

State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.

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A Note on Temperament and Character

#trumpswindle | #GOP

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the Central Intelligence Agency, 21 January 2016, in Langley, Virginia. (Photo: Olivier Doulier/Pool/Getty Images)

This is a bit worrisome:

I am not surprised by President Donald Trump’s antics this week. Not by the big splashy pronouncements such as announcing a wall that he would force Mexico to pay for, even as the Mexican foreign minister held talks with American officials in Washington. Not by the quiet, but no less dangerous bureaucratic orders, such as kicking the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of meetings of the Principals’ Committee, the senior foreign-policy decision-making group below the president, while inserting his chief ideologist, Steve Bannon, into them. Many conservative foreign-policy and national-security experts saw the dangers last spring and summer, which is why we signed letters denouncing not Trump’s policies but his temperament; not his program but his character.

We were right. And friends who urged us to tone it down, to make our peace with him, to stop saying as loudly as we could ‘this is abnormal,’ to accommodate him, to show loyalty to the Republican Party, to think that he and his advisers could be tamed, were wrong. In an epic week beginning with a dark and divisive inaugural speech, extraordinary attacks on a free press, a visit to the CIA that dishonored a monument to anonymous heroes who paid the ultimate price, and now an attempt to ban selected groups of Muslims (including interpreters who served with our forces in Iraq and those with green cards, though not those from countries with Trump hotels, or from really indispensable states like Saudi Arabia), he has lived down to expectations.

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have.

Eliot A. Cohen is a former Bush administration lawyer under Condoleezza Rice at the State Department. By no means should we disregard his analysis, but it is from the outset nearly stereotypical in its partisan and personal interest: Good for him, you know, because he is not surprised. And, hey, pat him and his friends on the back, because they were right: The problem is not President Trump’s policies, but his temperament, as his policies demonstrate. It is not his program, but his character, as his program makes clear.

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A Little Light Reading

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 12 January 2016.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci/Pool)

A’ight, that’s it.

More constructively, Josh Lederman and Kathleen Hennessey of Associated Press have filed a story that counts well among the things that make you go, Hmm....

President Barack Obama called off a planned meeting Tuesday with new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, seeking distance from a U.S. ally’s leader during a diplomatic tour that’s put Obama in close quarters with a cast of contentious world figures.

It’s unusual for one president to tell another what to say or not say, and much rarer to call the other a “son of a bitch.” Duterte managed to do both just before flying to Laos for a regional summit, warning Obama not to challenge him over extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

That would be part one, but the original URL for the story is a serial number and the phrase “obama-putin-agree-continue-seeking-deal-syria”. The first ten paragraphs go to the “bizarre rift” Rodrigo Duterte has apparently invoked ‘twixt himself and Barack Obama.

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Spectacularly Apocalyptic

Detail of image from Weibo showing a massive industrial explosion behind highrise buildings; at least seventeen people are reported dead in the 12 August, 2015 blast.

And then there is the end of the world. Not literally, but nobody’s blaiming Tianjin survivors for thinking so; it would seem that’s pretty much what it felt, sounded, and looked like.

Powerful explosions rocked the Chinese port city of Tianjin on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials and state media said.

China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, said that at least 17 people were killed and that 32 were in critical condition. Chinese media reported that at least 300 people were injured.

Xinhua, the state news agency, reported that the blast occurred at around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday at a warehouse storing “dangerous goods” and that the explosion and fire touched off other blasts nearby. Local media reported that the strongest was the equivalent of 21 tons of TNT.

(NBC News/Associated Press)

Far be it for us to try to keep up with real time reporting, but this one is pretty spectacular, and we all will be hearing much more about this in the next days’ headlines. Injury numbers have soared as high as four hundred.

Our best wishes to Tianjin.

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Image note: Apocalyptic horror ― Detail of image from Weibo showing a massive industrial explosion behind highrise buildings; at least seventeen people are reported dead in the 12 August, 2015 blast.

NBC News and Associated Press. “Blasts Rock Chinese City of Tianjin, At Least 17 Reported Killed”. NBCNews.com. 12 August 2015.

The Jeb Bush Show (Radical Restructure Remix)

Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush waits in a hallway after a campaign event Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. (Photo by John Locher/AP)

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours.”

Jeb Bush

This is an occasion when it is instructive to read past the superficial narrative. True, this is another occasion on which Mr. Bush required a do-overα, and the line really didn’t sound all that good. Still, though, the rebound was good enough to get Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)―the ostenisble House GOP budget wonk and former vice-presidential nominee―onboard. And even Democratic-sympathizing pundits and politicians alike can find a reason to go with the later iteration; to wit, Steve Benen:

For what it’s worth, the Florida Republican, not long after his interview, clarified that his comments were about part-time vs. full-time employment. The Washington Post reported Bush saying, “You can take it out of context all you want, but high-sustained growth means that people work 40 hours rather than 30 hours and that by our success, they have money, disposable income for their families to decide how they want to spend it rather than getting in line and being dependent on government.”

As a matter of Economics 101, Bush’s broader points have at least some technical merit. When an economy has more full-time workers, it means more economic activity. When employees work more hours, it means more output and greater growth. None of this is controversial.

The problem with Bush’s rhetoric, however, is the real-world implications, and the degree to which he fails to understand the issue.

For example, the Republican candidate, who made $5.8 million in “consulting and speaking” income in 2013, makes it sound as if sluggish economic growth is your fault – you’re just not working enough hours. In reality, however, full-time employment is soaring when compared to part-time employment, and Americans are already working, on average, 47-hour weeks.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-VT), running for the Democratic nomination, is also willing to follow that course.

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Weak Tea

The Washington State Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, 11 September 2012.  (Photo: Apaschen)

H/T WND / CORRECTION: This piece originally stated that the tea party activists took down the flag. It was taken down by a state worker with the activists looking on. (Huffington Post, 6 April 2015)It is, in its own right, an interesting paragraph:

The truth is, temporarily flying a foreign visitor’s flag during his or her diplomatic visit is pretty routine stuff. When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited with then-President George W. Bush in April 2006, the Republican White House flew “a Communist China flag” at “the same height” as “Old Glory,” too. It wasn’t a big deal. The republic remains intact.

(Benen)

Then again, what does it mean?

And do you really want to know?

The real question has to do with who is or isn’t paying attention, and why would anyone listen to the latter? The correction at Huffington Post is worth the time to read, if for no other reason than reminding what happens when one trusts World Net Daily. Of course, it also reminds that Benen is correct, and the Tea Party activists apparently have no idea what they’re on about. That latter is nothing new.

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Image note: Top―The Washington State Capitol building in Olympia, Washington, 11 September 2012. (Photo: Apaschen) Right―Correction appended to Jesse Rifkin’s article for Huffington Post, 6 April 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Sometimes, a flag is just a flag”. msnbc. 7 April 2015.

Rifkin, Jesse. “Tea Partiers Protest Chinese Flag At Washington State Capitol”. The Huffington Post. 6 April 2015.

Full Color Fabulous

“They have the same daily challenges as anyone else but also have the struggle of trying to navigate obstacles and attitudes. China is not an easy place sometimes, but for many they face the greatest difficulty in finding acceptance from their families.”

Kevin Frayer

Two words―breathtaking humanity.

Chinese drag queens perform at the Chunai 98 club on January 9, 2015 in Nanning, Guangxi Province, southern China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Other than that, JamesMichael Nichols’ brief Q&A with photographer Kevin Frayer, for Huffington Post, is just another link sitting on my desktop for far too long. And they really are awesome photos, really are that fabulous.

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Nichols, JamesMichael. “Kevin Frayer, Photographer, Showcases Stunning Drag Queens In China”. The Huffington Post. 8 March 2015.