The Armada that is Working It’s Way to Korea

There is much one could say about “President” Trump’s almost first one hundred days, but most of it isn’t worth dwelling upon, which is good news to a one handed typist.

It is not worth dwelling upon because most of it has been empty boasts, unfulfilled promises, fitful threats and ridiculous assertions.  This formula worked well in the TV surreality of the campaign trail, but is falling apart like Cinderella’s coach racing towards midnight now that Trump is expected to actually accomplish things.

Most of this charade most of us can live with while it plays out, but Korea stands out as an exception.  Someone has aptly called it ” a drawn out version of the Cuban missile crisis.”   I was around during that crisis and fear abounded.   If there is less fear around these days, it is because we are more closely wedded to TV’s versions of reality than the real thing.  We have become anesthetized.

As a reality TV show Trump’s tough guy stance is entertaining.  In reality, Trump’s posing is frightening.  He acts like a bloviating bully whose foreign policy comes at the spur of the moment.

Call it gallows humor, but I have to laugh at the fiasco of the fleet that was portrayed as being dispatched to Korea, but actually was going elsewhere on pre-planned maneuvers.   AND THEN IT WAS GOING TO KOREA…..   as spokesman Sean Spicer “explained.”   As always not admitting a screw up.   Blaming the press for misinterpretations.

Leisurely heading towards Korea is not the same as rushing there, implied in Trump’s tough guy talk.  That’s like saying  police are responding to a 9-1-1 call, as soon as they finish their coffee and donuts at Dunkin’s.

Whatever.  I have to hope that charade – which a number of South Koreans running for the presidency there call “a lie” and reason not to trust Trump in the future – does not foreshadow a mishandling of a huge, immensely complex problem that Trump promises to “take care of”, as if he were negotiating just another real estate deal.

REALLY FOLKS.  THIS IS A DANGEROUS SITUATION.

President Trump’s Address to Congress: Free Lunch for All.

President Trump got generally good reviews for his address to congress Tuesday night.

According to various surveys, Trump’s supporters loved the speech, not surprisingly, but even a majority of Americans polled who watched said they felt more optimistic having heard it.  His tone was surprisingly upbeat and uniting, except for those who don’t believe a word he says.  One Democrat described it as “same lies, different tone.”  I’d say the same B. S, but different tone, but let’s not quibble.

Still, the difference in tone was significant, presidential even, and the positive response to the speech of many confirms that.  But can this tone be kept given his temperament amidst a hostile political environment?  Furthermore Trump keeps making sweeping promises that seem impossible to keep because congress will have to get behind them and congress is divided, not just between the two parties but within each.

First:  Trump’s agenda is budget breaking – no, budget exploding – and many in the Republican party have built their careers on criticizing government for over spending and accumulation of debt.  Second:  The senate barely has a Republican majority, so only three Republican “mavericks” are needed to block any of Trump’s agenda, and Lindsay Graham and John McCain  have indicated opposition to several of Trump’s proposals, so that’s two right there.  Third:   There are all those Democrats to deal with.

However, while the Democrats figure to offer opposition often, they may be easier to deal with at times then the Republicans.  The Democrats seem split as to whether to resist all that Trump proposes, as the Republicans did with President Obama, or to just resist some things and work with him on others, like tax reform and/or building infra-structure.

Even though Trump’s selection of a generally conservative cabinet and a supreme court nominee has pleased the right, I think in typical Trump fashion he is only committed to himself and his need to appear successful.   If Republicans resist and deals can be made with Democrats I can see him making them.

And I might even like one here or there.  I’m not one of those resist-everything liberals.  I disliked the Republican party identity being reduced to being the Un-Obama party and I don’t want to see the Democratic party follow suit with Trump.

But no matter how it shakes out, Trump’s fantasied future faces a number of reality checks down the line.   And I will be curious to see what his free lunch is going to cost and who will be willing or forced to pay for it.


P. S. – For those who want to read a good analysis of Trump’s speech, I suggest this piece by Cathleen Decker in the Los Angeles Times.    She sums up the essence in one sentence.

“Trump shifts from doom-and-gloom to a more optimistic vision.  But he offers no clarity on how he’ll get there.”

Twirling Around in the Trump Tornado

Or is it swirling around down the rabbit hole?  Or toilet.  Choose a metaphor for how off balanced, how out of sorts, how discombobulated only three weeks of a Trump presidency has wrought.  Really?  Only three weeks?  OMG!   I don’t know if I can hold on for four years of this.

I feel the need to say something while questioning whether it is useful to say anything?   Since we cannot depend on Trump sticking to anything he says why do we spend so much time talking about all that he says?   The Trump administration brings to mind Macbeth’s reflection on life as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I imagine there is significance here or there, but it is a moving target that might turn around and shoot back.   Today’s biggest news flash is El Presidente finally recognizing a well established foreign policy doctrine that states mainland China is the “China” with Taiwan but a prodigal part, an unquestioned U.S. position for 38 years.  Until Trump indicated that was on the table along with the rest of our foreign policy.

So, today Trump officially recognized China.   Whoopi! 

A TV talking head called this a “sign of rationality”.  This is what qualifies as news in Wacky-land.   But it is news because people around the world have been unsettled by what policy Trump would have towards China, especially the Chinese.   In this one case, we can count on normalcy, at least for now, today.  A raft of international relief in an ocean of uncertainty.

What about all the rest of our foreign policies?  Will we know what they are by the end of Trump’s term? A jerry-rigged foreign policy will keep ’em guessing.  That’s what Trump likes.

Another news story today is that Jerod Kushner, Trump son-in-law and virtual ambassador at large, had chats with the Mexican foreign minister about The Wall, our shared economy and (who knows?) Ivanka’s clothing line?   The last-named is another hot topic today as special counsel Kellyanne Conway raised ethics flags by suggesting from the White House that viewers buy some of Ivanka’s clothes.

Untraditional foreign policy conducted by whomever and conflicts of interest seem likely to be daily reportorial fare.  While that would make sense in a normal presidency,  I think they are largely distractions in this one.  I don’t believe a majority of Americans really care about these things right now.  Even non-Trumpeteers don’t care because there is too much else to care about.

Trump supporters especially do not care and the more carefully argued the attacks on Trump for such things, the less they listen.   They want the story simple as Trump tells it.  To them complication is obfuscation.

The travel ban Trump has rolled out like a car with four flat tires still appears to keep his promise to increase our protection from terrorism, even though the so-called plan is mostly a show as I argued in my last post and, I would add,  heartless.  But it is Trump doing what he said and no matter how this turns out he will portray himself as a winner, or at least a victim of foul play.  A should be winner.

That’s enough babbling on.

It may be best to take the long view as expressed by Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser for President George W. Bush:  “Trump is an insurgent president leading a populist movement. He came in with an agenda that was disruptive and destructive — throw over the money changers’ tables. The next six months will see destruction, some of it creative and some just destructive. The question is what Trump will want to build after that.”

I wonder what will be left when we get to the “after that”.

Outside of Trump World the Immigration Ban Makes No Sense

No doubt those living in Trumpdom (the Kingdom of Trump) feel safer today now that there is a travel ban, albeit temporary, on seven predominantly Muslim  nations in the Greater Mid-East, but below is some information that suggests this step will change almost nothing, at least not for the good.  There could be lots of bad, as indicated by someone who suggested Trump is snuffing the torch on the Statue of Liberty.

First of all, the way this executive order was turned out shows the difference between promising the moon on the campaign trail and actually doing something in real life.   The president executed his order providing no time to develop an actual policy to implement it, so immigration officials were confused.   A number of people already approved to come here were halted in airports around the country, which in turn prompted demonstrations and law suits and a temporary stay of the order.

It’s no way to do business, Mr. Businessman.   But let’s say the administration had handled it much better, it still doesn’t make sense.  First of all, according to statistics tallied by the conservative-leaning Cato Institute, not” a single American was killed on U.S. soil by citizens from any of those countries between 1975 and 2015.”  You might want to read that sentence again.

On the other hand, most of the terrorist killings in this country were committed by natives of Muslim countries not banned, with Saudia Arabia leading that group supplying 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers.

So, why isn’t it on the list?   The Daily News makes an argument that Trump’s decision might be affected by the fact he has various business interests in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt and no obvious important business interests in the seven nations banned.

I don’t know and our new president isn’t inclined to enlighten us.  Perhaps it is some of that, but it might also be some of this.  Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt are all run by strong men and all of them hate Iran.  I imagine Trump thinks these are guys he can work with, like his buddy Vlad.  Just a thought.

But back to reality.  The Cato Institute estimates we each have about a one in 3.64 billion chance of getting killed by a terrorist with a much, much better chance of just getting shot by any good ol’ American who just doesn’t like us.  About 80% of the terror related deaths after 9/11 have not even been committed by foreigners but by native Americans who have become radicalized.   Travel bans aren’t going to stop that.

This travel ban is largely a show for Trump’s base.  He has gained power by playing to people’s fears and resentments creating a terrorist hysteria.  This executive order shows his supporters he will do what he said.

…..even if it makes no sense to the rest of us.

The Impending Reign of King Don

Observing the Donald J. Trump show since election day I am most struck by this:  We have not elected another president.  We have elected a king.  Every other American president has adjusted his life to this uniquely powerful position.   With Trump, our government and we the people are doing most of the adjusting, and at this point who knows how many more adjustments we will have to make.

Take King’s Don’s global business empire.   Because he can’t be forced to, he certainly won’t divest his businesses nor show his tax statements, so we’ll just have to keep guessing what conflicts of interest he has.   An ongoing distraction, but probably just one of many.  Get used to it.

And the rest of the world must as well.   For example, Trump makes an off hand comment or tweet vilifying NAFTA, and the Mexican peso goes down.   Or the Japanese Prime Minister visits his majesty at the tower and is probably surprised to find Princess Ivanka, who has her own business interests in Japan and no security clearance, joining them to chat.   Diplomatic protocols schmotocols.

In addition to protocols, Trump has ignored previous U. S. foreign policy positions, such as the one China policy (which recognizes big China as China, not little island Taiwan, which still thinks it’s the real China).   King Don has stated everything with big China is negotiable, including it being the only China.   This is likely but one foreign policy that the king will likely reconfigure in an offhand manner, while the rest of the world tries to figure out what he just tweeted.

Judging from the reaction of the heads of countries like China and Germany, they already realize the tweets of our boy king don’t mean much, which is a relief, as odd as it may be.

The label “King Don” occurred to me watching our soon to be No 1 Guy interviewing supplicants at Trump Tower seeking positions in the new administration.   I heard this described often as “going by to kiss the ring.”  Meanwhile New York City has been forking out about $750,000 per day in security and traffic control, and still will because King Don’s queen is staying put until their young son, the Barron, finishes out the school year.  Also, the king seems partial to sleeping in Trump Tower, so New Yorkers:  Get used to the detours and budget crunch.  The king is concerned about his comfort, not yours.

I think his royal majesty will largely reshape presidential life in whatever way that suits him.   For example, the White House might become more of a stopover  between Trump Tower and Mira Lago than a final destination.

After all he can make royal proclamations  (and slap back at critics) from anywhere a cell phone can be recharged.  Why get stuck in Washington with its often lousy weather, when VP Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus can take care of most of what Trump wants from congress, whatever that may be.

Also, his majesty’s royal court, his cabinet, are strong and capable (for the most part). Though many have never worked in government, most undoubtedly know more about his or her area of governance than King Don knows or would ever want to know.

Oh, I forgot.  His majesty has said he’d be putting his prodigious energy so fully into his job as president that he wouldn’t have time to go golfing or take vacations like other presidents who obviously were slackers in comparison.   So, maybe I’m completely wrong and he will stick to the national governing body like a tick.

I’m not sure which scenario I’d prefer.


P. S. – Barron’s remaining at his private school in Manhattan might work well for him, and Queen Mel, but others at the school aren’t so happy.  See this piece.

Why I Want Cabinet Nominees Rex Tillerson and James Mattis Confirmed

Tillerson for Secretary of State and Mattis for Secretary of Defense.  It is unlikely they will be stopped in a Republican dominated congress, but I think both outstanding picks in any event.   General Mattis is highly respected on both sides of the aisle, while Mr. Tillerson brings much experience in international affairs as the head of ExxonMobil.  His prominence in that company make some question whether he will be able to place serving our country above serving ExxonMobil.   I think he will and, if it seems useful, will argue that in another post.

While there are a multitude of things to judge a president on, I value most a presidential team who can best handle a “world in disarray”, in the words of foreign policy expert Richard Haass.   The potential for a more chaotic international situation abounds and that makes me more anxious than anything else.

That’s why I backed Hillary Clinton, not because I’m a flaming liberal as my more conservative friends think, but because she had the best credentials to deal with this chaos.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, may be more likely to add to it, if judged by his statements.   Fortunately, I do not take his statements seriously, unless he keeps repeating them, like building a wall on the Mexican border.

A contrary example is his proclaiming if elected he would launch an investigation of Hillary Clinton.  Once he won he didn’t care about that and chided his fans for dwelling on the idea, as if he needed to teach them the difference between what one says to win (which can be anything) and what one really cares about.

Beyond wanting full attention all the time, I’m still trying to figure out what Trump cares about.  I guess endless adulation might be a new goal.  Or being the second coming?

Whatever Donald Trump says is what he feels is useful to him at the moment.  He will change it later if some other words seem more useful.   He thinks he has great political instincts and he must have some or he wouldn’t be president.

Back to Mattis and Tillerson.    And I would add Michael Flynn.   General Flynn makes Mattis and Tillerson all the more important.  Flynn is Trump’s national security advisor, the guy tasked with basically synthesizing the foreign security information for the president each day.  He may often be the last guy in the room.

The three men make up the most significant advisers to President Trump when it comes to foreign affairs (1).  And, unlike the other two, Flynn seems a loose canon.   He has called Islam a “cancer,” not radical Islam, but Islam itself.   He also retweeted false and/or scurrilous information during the campaign (2).

While both Mattis and Tillerson seem more inclined to push back harder on aggressive efforts by Russia and other adversaries than has been true with President Obama , both seem likely to offer more measured responses than General Flynn might advise.

Consider this analogy.   Think of President Trump as a guy who drives around with the other three and often gets too drunk to drive, but at times can be persuaded to give up the keys.    I’m hoping that Mattis or Tillerson will be the one to grab them (3).


(1)  A caveat about those three being Trump’s primary advisers on foreign affairs.  It is impossible to know a this point how much Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, or his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, might influence any decisions he will make.  Kushner is hard to peg, but Bannon’s being the former head of Britebart News, which thrives on conspiracy theories, might give you a clue.

(2)   This article at CNN gives details on Flynn’s provocative tweets.

(3)  Yes, I know Trump doesn’t even drink.  But he often says things that remind me of a nasty drunk.   I do not feel much compunction to be fair to a man who was patently unfair to so many in his clamber to the top.  I will point out, however, things he does do that make sense to me, like nominating Mattis and Tillerson.

The Rex Tillerson Senate Hearing and Donald Trump

Too much news coming too fast to deal with in a post other than to do so impressionistically, which means I might regret something I say.   So be it.  The alternative is for me to not post at all.  I see an avalanche of Trump news forming this week, so I have to act fast.

Today two big events, Donald Trump’s first press conference since elected and, simultaneously, a senate hearing for Rex Tillerson, head of Exxon Mobil, who is nominated for Secretary of State.   The Tillerson hearing seems more significant and more interesting.   The guy is impressive, so much so I thought at times:  Too bad we can’t make him president.

The hearing was impressive, too, with better questions asked than I usually see at such events.  In other words, questions from both sides of the aisle were tough and seemed fair, with not much pressing of either party agenda.   Though the general tenor was that our foreign policy under Obama has made us weaker on the world stage.

Tillerson’s diplomatic skill showed when he talked about a lessoning of American prestige world wide over the last couple of decades (meaning he was not only blaming Obama but G. W. Bush, too).

Also, when pressed by Marco Rubio to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal, Tillerson asserted he could not say without access to secret intelligence.  Rubio cited a number of public instances indicating that in fact Putin is a war criminal, but Tillerson held his position.

Many would think that a bad thing, but if we want a working relationship with Vladimir Putin, we can’t begin by publicly labelling him a war criminal, even if we believe he is.  Need I remind anyone that we did not trash Joe Stallin when he was a key alley during World War II, and he was responsible for mass murders in Russia.

A common theme during the hearing was the tricky issue of responding to Russian aggression while also recognizing that there are areas that are  in our interest to cooperate.   Even if we might have a Jekyl and Hyde relationship with Putin, that’s the way it is and both nations have enough nuclear arms to destroy the world several times over.

A new year’s resolution is to get back to shorter posts, so I’ll only say this about the Trump press conference.   One point in Trump’s favor was his denouncing a dubious two page memo that asserts Russia has information on Trump that could be black mail material.    I saw reports on CNN and MSNBC which I hope they regret, as the information is unverified by any substantial source.   In fact, those cable stations kept reminding us the report was unverified, so I would ask:  If it is unverified then why do you keep talking about it?

Ah, what’s sensational grabs attention?

On the other hand, Trump overplayed his hand (as usual) by angrily denouncing the fact that  “information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.”

Oh my, how terrible!   This from the guy who for years kept spreading false information about Barack Obama’s birth place.   Citing his investigators who had raised serious questions about Obama’s birth, while never revealing who they were or what evidence they found.

And this guy is going to talk about “false and fake”?