Clueless

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s column from yesterday is astute, to-the-point, and well worth the few minutes it takes to read it.  He hits the nail on the head regarding Trump’s trade ‘negotiations’ with China.

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The Art of the Imaginary Deal

On trade, Trump is a rebel without a clue

Are we going to have a full-blown trade war with China, and maybe the rest of the world? Nobody knows — because it all depends on the whims of one man. And Tariff Man is ignorant, volatile and delusional.

Why do I say that it’s all about one man? After all, after the 2016 U.S. election and the Brexit vote in Britain, there was a lot of talk about a broad popular backlash against globalization. Over the past two years, however, it has become clear that this backlash was both smaller and shallower than advertised.

Where, after all, is the major constituency supporting Donald Trump’s tariffs and threats to exit international agreements? Big business hates the prospect of a trade war, and stocks plunge whenever that prospect becomes more likely. Labor hasn’t rallied behind Trumpist protectionism either.

Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans believing that foreign trade is good for the economy is near a record high. Even those who criticize trade seem to be motivated by loyalty to Trump, not by deep policy convictions: During the 2016 campaign self-identified Republicans swung wildly from the view that trade agreements are good to the view that they’re bad, then swung back again once Trump seemed to be negotiating agreements of his own. (We have always been in a trade war with Eastasia.)

But if there’s no strong constituency for protectionism, why are we teetering on the brink of a trade war? Blame U.S. trade law.

Once upon a time, Congress used to write detailed tariff bills that were stuffed full of giveaways to special interests, with destructive effects on both the economy and American diplomacy. So in the 1930s F.D.R. established a new system in which the executive branch negotiates trade deals with other countries, and Congress simply votes these deals up or down. The U.S. system then became the template for global negotiations that culminated in the creation of the World Trade Organization.

The creators of the U.S. trade policy system realized, however, that it couldn’t be too rigid or it would shatter in times of stress; there had to be ways to relieve pressure when necessary. So trade law gives the executive the right to impose tariffs without new legislation under certain circumstances, mainly to protect national security, to retaliate against unfair foreign practices, or to give industries facing sudden surges in foreign competition time to adjust.

In other words, U.S. trade law gives the president a lot of discretionary power over trade, as part of a system that curbs the destructive influence of corrupt, irresponsible members of Congress. And that setup worked very well for more than 80 years.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t intended to handle the problem of a corrupt, irresponsible president. Trump is pretty much all alone in lusting for a trade war, but he has virtually dictatorial authority over trade.

What’s he doing with that power? He’s trying to negotiate deals. Unfortunately, he really, really doesn’t know what he’s doing. On trade, he’s a rebel without a clue.

Even as he declared himself Tariff Man, Trump revealed that he doesn’t understand how tariffs work. No, they aren’t taxes on foreigners, they’re taxes on our own consumers.

When trying to make deals, he seems to care only about whether he can claim a “win,” not about substance. He has been touting the “U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement” as a repudiation of NAFTA, when it’s actually just a fairly minor modification. (Nancy Pelosi calls it “the trade agreement formerly known as Prince.”)

Most important, his inability to do international diplomacy, which we’ve seen on many fronts, carries over to trade talks. Remember, he claimed to have “solved” the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Kim Jong-un is still expanding his ballistic missile capacity. Well, last weekend he claimed to have reached a major trade understanding with China; but as J.P. Morgan soon reported in a note to its clients, his claims “seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated.”

Markets plunged earlier this week as investors realized that they’d been had. As I said, business really doesn’t want a trade war.

Let’s be clear: China is not a good actor in the world economy. It engages in real misbehavior, especially with regard to intellectual property: The Chinese essentially rip off technology. So there is a case for toughening our stance on trade.

But that toughening should be undertaken in concert with other nations that also suffer from Chinese misbehavior, and it should have clear objectives. The last person you want to play hardball here is someone who doesn’t grasp the basics of trade policy, who directs his aggressiveness at everyone — tariffs on Canadian aluminum to protect our national security? Really? — and who can’t even give an honest account of what went down in a meeting.

Unfortunately, that’s the person who’s now in charge, and it’s hard to see how he can be restrained. So the future of world trade, with all it implies for the world economy, now hinges largely on Donald Trump’s mental processes. That is not a comforting thought.Text dividers

Who Knows What Tomorrow Brings?

The stock market is more fragile than a newborn baby or a piece of fine china.  A word, a look can cause market fluctuations, sending analysts to their desks to … well, analyze.  The most recent example is the roller coaster ride the market took this week (and it’s only Wednesday, folks).  Volatility is the buzz word of the week on Wall Street.

Last weekend, during his trip to participate in the G20 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Trump announced that he and China’s President Xi Jinping had reached an agreement of sorts.  My own thoughts were that it wasn’t anything more than smoke and mirrors, Trump’s attempt to make it appear as if he had at least done something to justify the cost of himself, his wife, daughter, and son-in-law travelling all that distance on our dime.  The agreement seemed to be a non-agreement, for the only thing they actually agreed to was to try to come to some agreement on trade and tariffs within the following 90-day period.  Big deal.  Whoopee.  They could have done that without announcing that they agreed to do it.  Oh yeah, and Trump also said he told Xi that he wouldn’t add any new or additional tariffs on China during the 90 days.  No doubt that had Xi wiping the sweat off his brow.

Some people are apparently not as cynical about these things as I am, for they took great joy in calling their brokers and saying, “BUY, BUY, BUY!!!”  And thus, the stock market climbed on Monday, enough to wipe out the losses of the previous few weeks … losses that had wiped out the gains from the entire year.

But then, Trump appeared to waffle about the “agreement” with a Tuesday morning tweet …Trump tariff manAnd those same people who called their brokers on Monday, placed yet another call saying, “SELL, SELL, SELL!!!”  And thus was born an all new level of volatility in the S&P, the Dow Jones, and Nasdaq, with two-day losses thus far, more than wiping out Monday’s gains and then some.  You know those playground things, basically a board on a fulcrum that are called teeter-totters, or see-saws?  They go up-down-up-down …teeter-totterThat is what the U.S. economy is on.  Market fluctuations based on anticipation of economic or political events are not unusual.  However, rarely are they as significant and immediate based on naught more than a word or a tweet from a madman!  If … IF Donald Trump were a mentally and emotionally stable leader, one might understand why such a remark would set the wheels in motion for a market tumble.  But, given his rarely-coherent state of mind, his lies and reversals, I cannot imagine why anybody would base financial decisions on one of his multitude of daily tweets.

The internet is having great fun with Trump’s new nickname, Tariff Man …Tariff Mantweet-1

tweet-2tweet-3Once again, Trump has made himself, and by extension all of us, a laughingstock.  But it goes deeper than that.  He is playing a game, the rules of which he is ignorant.  And the stakes, for the average person like you and I, are our 401(k)s, our pensions and retirement plans.  On an even larger scale, he is playing with the economic well-being of not only the U.S., but global economies as well.

Our nation is going through enough turbulence at the moment without the person who should be reliable and steadfast creating so much chaos that the major indicator of our economy is swinging on a pendulum.  I am reminded of a line from a song, Up Where We Belong by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes:  Who knows what tomorrow brings?

Snippets Filled With Snarky …

So many things of interest in the news yesterday, that I don’t know where to begin.  Let’s start with my favourite …


The bully is losing his pulpit …

  • “The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”
  • “Apple does not tolerate hate speech. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
  • “We believe in giving people a voice, but we also want everyone using Facebook to feel safe. It’s why we have community standards and remove anything that violates them, including hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others.”
  • “When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”

Alex JonesFinally we are coming to see that there is a very real danger in the hate speech of Alex Jones and his ilk, and finally social media is taking a stand against it.  I am pleased.  Alex Jones, on the other hand, is not.

Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars’ editor at large, wrote, “Spotify has now completely banned Infowars too. Apple, Facebook, Spotify all within 12 hours of each other. This isn’t enforcement of terms of service, it’s coordinated big tech censorship. This is real election meddling.”

Jones tweeted (Twitter hasn’t yet banned him) that “America has been sold out”.  But then, to make it all better, he urged his followers to buy a t-shirt from him!  What a great guy, eh?Alex Jones shirt 2


Proof of ignorance, yet again …

The California wildfires started in early April this year and many are still less than half contained.  One of the fires nearly doubled in size over the weekend, making it the largest fire in the history of California.  Currently, 16 major fires are still burning in hot, dry and windy conditions.  At last count, more than 600,000 acres have burned, there have been at least 12 fatalities, and the cost is estimated to be more than $500 million.  The Carr fire alone destroyed more than 1,000 homes and I have no estimate for the total number of homes destroyed thus far, but I would guess it is at least in the tens of thousands. CA wildfireA pretty major disaster for our California residents, wouldn’t you say?  And yet, Donald Trump remained silent and apparently oblivious until Sunday.  He should have stayed silent and oblivious.

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”

And still not knowing when to shut up, he continued on Monday …

“Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water – Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals.”

GOOD GRIEF!!!  The ‘man’ has absolutely no idea what he is even talking about!  State officials and firefighting experts dismissed the president’s comments. “We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.

According to Henri Grissino-Mayer, a geography professor at the University of Tennessee, “California does NOT divert water to the ocean. Ridiculous. It’s true that water is diverted to the coastal cities for a constant water supply but all such water is used by the coastal communities.”

Somebody needs to remind Mr. Trump that he represents every single person in the United States, and that includes Californians.  If I were a resident of California, I would want to go to Washington and slap his face.  Oh wait … I want to do that anyway.  And just how many more times does Trump need to prove that he is both ignorant and incompetent before his followers come out from under their trance?


Trump loses a follower …Juarez.jpgSargeant Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez is an Iraq combat veteran who served as a Marine infantryman and then an Army National Guardsman.  He is a U.S. citizen and, until last week was a Trump supporter.  He has been married to his wife, Alejandra, for twenty years and they have two daughters, Pamela, 16, and Estela, age 9.  Alejandra came to this country illegally as a teenager more than 20 years ago, and has lived with her husband and two daughters in Davenport, Florida.  Until Friday, when she was deported.juarez-2Yes, you heard me right.  She was taken from her husband and daughters and sent to Mexico, a country where she is now a stranger.  Until last week, Temo didn’t really believe it would happen.  The couple had met with lawyers, there is a bill in her name pending in Congress, and they had contacted immigration officials asking for a hearing before an immigration judge.  But all their efforts were for naught, and on Friday Ms. Juarez returned, against her will, to Mexico under Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Mr. Juarez, once a supporter of Donald Trump, says “I am eating my words” in an interview with military newspaper Stars and Stripes.  What a way to treat a veteran who did three tours of duty in Iraq, eh?  Don’t expect any acts of human kindness from this administration, folks.


Pooh is not welcome in China …

Pooh-1-aYou may not remember, but it was just over a year ago that I wrote a post about Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Tigger and the rest being banned from China.  An attempt to seek them out on China’s social media outlet Weibo returned a message of “content is illegal”.  All this came about because Pooh and his friends had a bit of fun taking some photos of Pooh emulating Chinese President Xi Jinping.  They say that imitation is a sincere form of flattery, but Xi was apparently not flattered.

Last Friday, the new Winnie the Pooh movie, Christopher Robin, was released in the U.S.  China’s film authorities, however, have denied permission for the film’s release.  It has been suggested that the censorship of Pooh bear may be taking place because the comparisons with the President are seen by Beijing as “a serious effort to undermine the dignity of the presidential office and Xi himself”.  I sure am glad we don’t have such a thin-skinned leader!  {sarcasm dripping}

I feel sorry for all the poor Chinese kids who are being deprived of one of the most joyous icons of childhood, Pooh and friends.


And that wraps up this episode of Filosofa’s Snarky Snippets!  Thanks for visiting and stay tuned for more in the foreseeable future!  Have a great day, my friends!

Make Of It What You Will

quizzical confused emojiI’m working on some number of projects at the moment … I say ‘some number’, for I have no idea what that number even is, nor do I have a clue how many will reach fruition.  (Mind bounce in the rabbit hole can be a chancy thing) But for today, I had a bunch of snippets, bits ‘n pieces that I came across this weekend, most of which leave me shrugging my shoulders, saying, “make of that what you will”.  Hence the title of this post.


Equifax?

You all remember last September when Equifax, one of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies, reported that hackers had gained access to the data of some 143 million Americans, including social security and driver’s license numbers?  Well, two news stories this week about the Equifax breach are of concern.

About six weeks after the initial announcement by Equifax, they raised the number of people whose data may have been compromised from 143 million to 145.5 million, an additional 2.5 million people.  Then on Thursday, they added yet another 2.4 million to their estimate, bringing the total up to 147.9 million.  That is 147,900,000 people whose social security numbers, as well as other sensitive information may be in the wrong hands.

At the time, Richard Cordray was director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and he immediately authorized an investigation into the Equifax data breach.  But Cordray resigned in November and was replaced by Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as acting director of the CFPB.  As acting, or interim director, Mulvaney did not have to pass muster by a senate confirmation.

Although there has been no official announcement, every appearance indicates that the investigation into the Equifax breach has been halted.  CFPB has shelved plans for on-the-ground tests of how Equifax protects data. No subpoenas have been issued. The CFPB also recently rebuffed bank regulators at the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency when they offered to help with on-site exams of credit bureaus.

Prior to becoming director of the OMB, Mulvaney was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina, and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, the farthest-right group within the GOP.

Make of that what you will.


Trump praises Xi Jinping, and then …

“He’s now president for life, president for life. And he’s great.  And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday,” Trump said to cheers and applause from supporters.

Make of that what you will.


Roy Moore needs your help …

You remember ol’ Roy, right?  Last December he lost the election for the U.S. Senate seat previously held by current Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.  Roy, a former judge and a bigot, had been de-throned from the judiciary not once, but twice, for failure to uphold the very law he had sworn to uphold.  But that wasn’t likely what cost him the election, though it should have.  What cost him the election were the numerous (9 to date) credible accusations of pedophilia and other sexual abuses.

Well, ol’ Roy is now b-r-o-k-e, if he is to be believed. He is asking for help to pay his legal bills as he fights Leigh Corfman in court, a woman who claims she was molested by Moore when she was 14.

“Please help me fight this battle for the heart and soul of this Nation. Your financial contribution to my legal defense fund is crucial…My resources have been depleted and I have struggled to make ends meet.”

Moore is asking for $250,000, and has thus far received $32,000 in donations.

Make of that what you will.


Because Trump hasn’t said to do it …

Admiral Mike Rogers is a busy man … you can see it in his eyes, can’t you?  Mike is the director of the National Security Administration (NSA) and also heads up the Pentagon’s Cyber Command.  Nearly every single expert in cyber security has agreed that not only did Russia play a role in our 2016 elections in multiple ways, including cyber-hacking, but that they continue to do so and will no doubt do so in November when the mid-term congressional elections take place.

What are we doing to counter the Russian cyber-hacking?  Nothing.  That’s right … nothing.  Why?  Because Trump hasn’t said to do it.  Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday, Admiral Rogers said …

“Clearly, what we’ve done hasn’t been enough. I need a policy decision that indicates there is specific direction to do that. The president ultimately would make this decision in accordance with a recommendation from the secretary of defense.”

Rogers also expressed frustration that Trump failed to implement the sanctions against Russia passed by Congress last year, saying the Russians “haven’t paid a price, at least, that has significantly changed their behavior”.

Trump has denied that there was any interference by Russia, and even when he admits it, he is lukewarm.  And he also insists that he has been ‘tougher’ on Russia than President Obama (he hasn’t).

Make of that what you will.


Bye-Bye FedEx …

Dozens of companies have severed their ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the two+ weeks since the tragic shooting that killed 17 in Parkland Florida last month.  All of the major car rental companies, which had previously offered discounts to NRA members, have stopped doing so, and Delta Airlines severed ties, in spite of the threat from Georgia lawmakers to revoke tax breaks that benefitted Delta to the tune of about $40 million.  But one company stands out … FedEx.

FedEx refused to discontinue discounts to NRA corporate members, offering some b.s. excuse that it would be ‘discriminatory’.  The truth is that FedEx gives some special consideration to gun manufacturers shipping weapons around the nation.  The rules are that all guns must be shipped using FedEx’ Priority Overnight service, and that they will not ship handguns via FedEx ground.  But … if you are Smith & Wesson, Colt, Glock, SIG Sauer, or the NRA itself … well, the rules can be bent to let you use 2-day shipping and save a bundle! And of course, FedEx gets some percentage of that bundle.

Fred Smith, President & CEO of FedEx

The good news, however, is that companies that use FedEx have said that if FedEx won’t distance itself from the NRA, then they will distance themselves from FedEx. So far it is just a handful of companies, but if the momentum grows, FedEx may live to regret their unholy alliances.

Make of that what you will.


And now, friends, I have given you enough to ponder on for the rest of the day.  Hasta mañana.

BANNED: The Letter ‘N’

Many of us in the Western world may know little of politics in China, but even so, the following announcement from China’s party-controlled propaganda media outlet on Monday was pretty clear:

“The Communist party of China central committee proposed to remove the expression that the president and vice-president of the People’s Republic of China ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s constitution.”

XiChina’s leader, Xi Jinping, could now serve for life, or at least for as long as he chooses. Or until he is deposed.

When Xi took the reins of power in 2013, he vowed to restore China to its rightful place at the center of world affairs.  As part of that effort, he purged, humiliated and jailed so many powerful foes that China’s best-known political prison, Qincheng prison, is reportedly running out of cells.  In the five years since he took office, he has taken charge of not only the government, but the Chinese Communist Party, the military and the press.

Qincheng prison.pngOn the more positive side, Xi’s policies have begun to lift millions of people out of poverty, reformed state-owned enterprises, protected the environment and built strategic industries. It is predicted that China will eclipse the United States as the world’s largest economy in absolute terms within two decades.

An article in The Guardian earlier this week noted a couple of possible reasons for the move to remove term limits, one of which sounded eerily familiar …

“The obvious explanation is his apparent conviction that he, and only he, can make the ideologically lax, corruption-riddled Communist party – and China – great again.”

The article also suggested, however, that because of Xi’s treatment of his political foes, he fears for his life should he ever lose power.

China world powerWith the U.S. having largely given up its role as a global leader in this era of Trump, China is in position to step in and fill that void.  What does that mean for the world?  Possibly that Xi will take a global leadership role in such things as nuclear proliferation and climate change.  For China, it almost certainly will mean an increase in authoritarianism.  China’s economy has seen growth rate of 6%-7% in recent years, and if this continues, Xi may lead China to global economic dominance.

china-toon-2The Western leaders have been largely silent,  apparently unconcerned over Xi’s move to expand his power, in part because China was already an autocracy, with only one party, the Communist Party.  But another reason is global stability.  Rather the “bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” concept.  President Xi has proven that he is able to lead, has improved the economic status of China and the Chinese people, and is concerned over climate change.  With unrest in other areas, such as the U.S. under Trump, and the UK in the throes of Brexit, and the Middle East in a constant state of flux, the world does not need more chaos.

N-keyOn a more humorous side note, just this week, the letter ‘N’ has been banished from the internet by Chinese censors!  Yes, you heard me … the letter ‘N’.  Why?  Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania China expert, speculated it was “probably out of fear on the part of the government that ‘N’ = ‘n terms in office’, where possibly n > 2”. Make any sense to you?  Other things on the censor’s list are:

– ‘Ten thousand years’ (万岁), which is China’s way of saying: ‘Long live!’ or ‘Viva!’

– ‘Disagree’ (不同意)

– ‘Xi Zedong’ (习泽东) – a hybrid of the names of Xi and Chairman Mao Zedong

– ‘Shameless’ (不要脸)

– ‘Lifelong’ (终身)

– ‘Personality cult’ (个人崇拜)

– ‘Emigrate (移民)

– ‘Immortality’ (长生不老)

And they also banned Animal Farm and 1984, books by George Orwell.

Orwell books.jpgMuch as he might like to, Donald Trump cannot take a page from Xi’s book and eliminate the 22nd Amendment, which states …

“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once.”

To amend the amendment would require an act of Congress … literally … with 2/3 of both the House and the Senate in support of said amendment.  Try to imagine THAT happening any time soon! Now, stop laughing!  And meanwhile, remember if you are corresponding with anybody in China, keep your finger off of that “N” key!

Where’s Jared? Going to China!

Have you noticed we haven’t heard much about Jared Kushner lately?  See, here is how it works in the Trump era.  If you criticize Trump or go against his wishes, your name will be in the headlines endlessly, as he tweets nasty little comments about you forever and ever.  Note that he is still tweeting, as recently as yesterday, about “Crooked Hillary”.  But, if you are on Trump’s side and you get caught with your proverbial pants down, you will simply be kept in the background where the press will not see you and will likely forget about you and your troubles.

Back in July, Kushner made headlines nearly daily, most of it controversial.  He lied, or omitted numerous contacts with Russians on his security clearance form, he was found to be using a private email server for government business, and his testimony before the Senate committee investigating the Russian interference in the 2016 election left questions unanswered.  After giving his testimony before the Senate hearings, he made a brief statement to the press whereby he said, “I did not collude with Russia”.  I kept waiting for him to hold up his arms with two fingers sticking up on each hand, aka Nixon in his “I am not a crook” speech.

not a crookAnd then … we heard no more about Kushner for the most part.  The latest Kushner headlines:

  • “Inside the Decade-Long Relationship of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner …” – Business Insider
  • “Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner Celebrate 8 Years of Marriage” – Atlanta Journal Constitution
  • “Ivanka Trump and her Husband Are Secretly Awesome Matchmakers” – Business Insider

Does anybody care?  And when did Business Insider become a gossip rag? But digging a bit deeper, I found a few interesting things.  One in particular stands out …

“Kushner Will Take a Diminished Role on Trump’s China Trip” – Politico

Last I heard, many were questioning why Kushner retained his security clearance, in light of the controversy swirling around him.  Many were calling for his clearance to be revoked, though of course it has not been.  And now not only he, but also Ivanka Trump are accompanying Trump on the first leg of his Asian trip.  Neither Kushner nor his wife have any credentials that would explain the reason for them to be on this trip.  But wait … there’s more!

Of all the people slated for this trip, and believe me, there are many, the one person who is an expert on both China and trade policy, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy, and the Director of the White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, isn’t actually going.  Navarro is a harsh critic of China, and is also a proponent of reducing the national deficit, and something about that struck the wrong chord with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, and Navarro was cut from the trip.

Now, I have two questions, as one of the people who is funding this trip.  Why are so many people who have no relevant knowledge or experience going on our tax dollars?  Kushner serves as Trump’s chief diplomatic contact for China, but I can find nothing at all in his background that qualifies him for this position.  Ivanka?  C’mon folks, this is nepotism at its finest and last time she was allowed contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping, she came away with three new trademarks for her own personal business. Nepotism.

My second question is whether this trip at this time is even wise.  A different president, and I might not question, but Trump has purposely antagonized DPRK President Kim Jong-un almost ever since he took office, and tensions are high in the region.  Will he be able to keep his mouth shut while he is in Asia, or will he rant and babble, stirring controversy and further damaging the way the world views us?  I’m pretty sure we all know the answer to that question.

And a third question … A lot of  people going on this trip, and frankly I don’t know how many there are, but I am aware of at least 15 who are tagging along, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. And of course Jared and Ivanka, and the secret service, and I would not be surprised if Melania, her son, and Don Junior tagged along too.  I wonder if this isn’t more of a sightseeing trip for the Trump family than to conduct any actual business that couldn’t have been transacted by phone … or Twitter!  This is especially relevant in light of the fact that initially Trump was to conclude the trip by attending a key Asia summit in the Philippines that he has now decided to skip.

I will have more on the Asia trip soon, but for now, moving back to Kushner.  Trump kept him out of the public eye for three months to give the controversy time to die down, while he is still ranting about Hillary and Obama nearly a year after the election.  And the controversy surrounding Kushner is not gone, and not entirely forgotten, just pushed back behind the smokescreen.  There are still many questions surrounding the omissions on his security clearance forms, his use of a private email server, and his multiple meetings with Russians during the 2016 campaign.  Nepotism.

Winnie The Pooh BANNED In China!!!

Friends, it is with deep sadness that I must tell you our favourite ‘bear of very little brain’, Winnie the Pooh, is now persona non grata in the country of China.  What did he do, you ask?  Did he eat too much honey, leaving none for the 1.4 billion citizens of China?  Did he cause an earthquake with his rumbly tumbly antics?  Pooh loves everybody and it is hard to imagine what he might have done to be banned from the entire country.

Turns out his crime was to mock Chinese President Xi Jinping.  Now I am certain that Pooh never intended to hurt Xi’s tender feelings nor to bruise his fragile ego, but Xi is a sensitive man, a man who does not take perceived criticism lightly.  And now, not only Pooh, but his friends have also been expelled from the country and his presence removed from the internet.

It all started back in 2013, when Barack Obama was president of the U.S. and visited Xi Jinping.  The two were photographed walking down the street, then the next day, Pooh and Tigger decided to emulate that photo …

Pooh-1Xi, it is said, hated the picture, while Obama thought it was great fun! Then the following year, after seeing a picture of Xi shaking hands with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Pooh and Eeyore thought it would be great fun to emulate that photo as well, so they posed and piglet snapped the shot …

Pooh-2All in good fun, for we know that our friends in the Hundred Acre Wood have not a single malicious bone in their collective, furry bodies.  But, apparently by this time, Xi is getting a bit annoyed with the whole thing.  Well then one day in 2015, Rabbit saw a picture of Xi standing up through the roof of a parade car, looking rather ridiculous, as it were.  It just so happened that later that day, Pooh drove his toy car over to visit Rabbit, to see if perhaps Rabbit might just have a little smackerel of honey, and Rabbit snapped his picture as he arrived …

Pooh-3This one must have really gotten under Xi’s thin skin, for it became China’s ‘most censored photo’ of the year!  Now, I do not know if Pooh & friends have done anything more to mock President Xi since the 2015 picture, but on Monday morning, attempts to post the Chinese characters for Winnie’s name on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Facebook and Twitter, returned the message “content is illegal”.  Stickers, GIFs and other Pooh-related content was no longer available to the Chinese public.  Poof!  Gone!

No official explanation for the censoring of Winnie the Pooh has been given, but sources say that the government will not tolerate ridicule of the country’s leader, they do not want this beloved children’s character becoming a kind of online euphemism for the Communist Party’s general secretary.

I spoke briefly by phone with Pooh yesterday, who said only, “Oh bother”.

Pooh-sad

Pooh is not alone in being designated ‘persona non grata’ … President Xi has also banned a beetle that was named in his honour …

Pooh-Xi-beetle

The News Below The Fold

Above the fold is the upper half of the front page of a newspaper or tabloid where an important news story or photograph is often located. Papers are often displayed to customers folded so that only the top half of the front page is visible. Thus, an item that is “above the fold” may be one that the editors feel will entice people to buy the paper.

Yesterday, and the day before, all the news that anybody saw was about the U.S. airstrike on Shayrat air base in Syria.  Until some questions are answered, until additional facts are forthcoming, I have said all I can say on that topic and have frankly tired of the speculation.  However, behind the smokescreen that news provided, there was other news that I would like to take a further look at, as it was largely (completely?) overlooked for the past two days.


The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into whether Russia interfered in last year’s presidential election and to what extent the Trump campaign colluded in that effort derailed at the end of March, after Representative Devin Nunes’ credibility was called into question by his exchange of classified information with the White House.  On Thursday, Nunes announced that he is stepping down from the investigation.  This is still not a guarantee that the committee will be able to do its job and hold an impartial, unbiased, bi-partisan investigation, but it is a step in the right direction.

In other related news, the New York Times reported on Thursday that as early as August of 2016, CIA director John Brennan had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald Trump.  The article is lengthy, but well worth the read.    According to the report, Brennan was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress.  Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, and also that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The FBI, conducting its own investigation at the time, was convinced Russia’s cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America’s political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected.  In and of itself, the suspicions posed here are nothing new, but what is new … and disturbing … is that this information was known by the CIA, the FBI, and at least eight members of Congress some three months before the election!


gorsuchNo surprise, but Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court on Friday.  There was really never any doubt that this confirmation would take place, despite the efforts on the part of Democrats in the Senate to filibuster that, had it been successful, would have forced a 60-vote majority rather than a simple 51%.  Senator Mitch McConnell made sure to change the rules, thus effectively blocking the filibuster and ensuring Gorsuch’s confirmation.  It reminds me of my sister-in-law trying to teach me a card game, while she changed the rules to her advantage nearly every hand. Sigh.  McConnell has outlived his usefulness in the Senate and is no longer a representative of the people of his state (Kentucky), but rather represents only the Republican Party and his own interests.

As early as next week, the court will be deciding whether to consider expanding the breadth of the Second Amendment. Other cases on the docket include a case about whether business owners may refuse to offer their wedding services to same-sex couples, voting rights issues, and a case involving the concept of separation of church and state.  Gorsuch is a strong conservative, but has been noted as being fair, so we can only hope that he is driven by his conscience rather than political motives, especially once Trump’s travel ban comes before the Supreme Court, as it is almost certain to eventually do.



trump-xi

And finally, what would otherwise have been the day’s big news, was barely a blip on the radar:  the meeting between Trump and China President Xi Jinping.  According to foreign policy expert Richard Bush, writing for Brookings Institute, the talks covered four major areas:

  • Trump’s commitment to visit China this year
  • The restructuring of the senior-level dialogues
  • The declaration of a 100-day process for addressing economic frictions
  • Agreement to coordinate actions on North Korea

On North Korea, Trump repeated his warning that if China did not do more, the United States would act on its own to constrain the belligerent actions of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un. According to Bloomberg, the biggest accomplishment to come out of the meeting was the two leaders sizing each other up, ‘getting to know’ each other.  There were “no trade or investment deals announced, no agreement to contain North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, no plan stitched together to reduce tensions in the South China Sea.” 

While Trump tweeted that the meetings had created “tremendous goodwill and friendship”, the Chinese state-run media wasted no time in denouncing the U.S. airstrike on Syrian air base Shayrat, calling the move an act of a weakened politician who needed to flex his muscles. Some Chinese political analysts posed the same thought that I had, considering the timing to be no coincidence, but rather a well-timed message to Xi Jinping that the U.S. could attack North Korea, if they saw fit.


One problem I see with the media, but also with the news-consuming public, is that one story can, and often does, dominate the headlines to the exclusion of most other news.  We gobble up any tidbit, even if it is only a repetition of what we read two hours before, and in the chaos created by something as big as the Syrian air strikes, all else becomes insignificant.  While I am not suggesting the major stories are not important, they should not blind us to what else is going on in the nation, the world.  This is the intent of the administration with their smokescreen policy to detract as much attention as possible from their own foibles and antics.  We need to follow the big stories, but we also need to read “below the fold”, for often that is where the real news is.

news

More Questions Than Answers …

In the matter of the U.S. attack on Shayrat air base in Syria, I urge caution.  Much has been said, and I find that the more I read, the more questions I have.  I do not have all the answers, nor, at this point, does anybody.  I have many questions and an almost equal number of concerns, but I think it behooves us to step back for a few moments, to take a few deep breaths before we ascribe to one theory or the other, and identify the questions and concerns.  I present my lists … please feel free to add to them as you see fit.

Questions:

  • Why did Assad use chemical weapons (reportedly Sarin) on civilians in Idlib?
    • He had consolidated his power, the rebels were on their heels and the United States had just declared that ousting him was not a priority – why stir the pot? He had to know there would be a global hue and cry.
  • Why did it take 59 Tomahawk missiles to do minimal damage?
    • While six Syrian military planes were destroyed, the runways were undamaged. 59 missiles at an approximate cost of between $60 million and $94 million, and they couldn’t hit a single runway? Reportedly, only 23 of the 59 missiles hit their mark.  Why?
  • What was the cost of each Tomahawk missile?
    • Estimates from reliable sources vary widely from $1 million each to $1.6 million each. This should not be rocket science. Their value is finite, not a moving target!
  • Why did Fox News, the New York Post, and Breitbart, all right-leaning, less than credible sources, report ominously on Friday night that a Russian warship was “heading toward the US destroyers that launched Syria strikes”?
    • No credible sources other than The Hill reported on this, and The Hill stated that there was no perception of threat, that this was not outside the normal. Was this an attempt to incite fear among the American people? All indications are that there is no reason for concern, if in fact this is not simply another ‘alternative fact’.
  • Why does Trump suddenly care about the civilians in Syria who were killed or injured during the chemical attack on Tuesday?
    • In 2013, when a much larger-scale chemical attack was perpetrated against the citizens of Damascus, Trump shrugged and claimed it wasn’t our problem and we should not interfere.
    • Trump’s stalled travel ban would specifically ban Syrian asylum-seekers and refugees from entering the U.S. But now, suddenly, he is outraged at the treatment of the very people he has subjected to this treatment by turning his back?
  • Who first proposed the strike against Shayrat?
    • McMaster? Mattis?  Or Trump himself? This may seem fairly meaningless, but I think it is an important question to which I would like an honest answer.
  • Russia claims to be incensed over the attack, calling it an illegal act of aggression on a “made-up pretext” to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq, and claim that it will adversely affect U.S.-Russian relations. This seems strangely fishy … is this said, I wonder, with a “wink, wink”?
    • There seemed to be an element of ‘ho-hum’ to this statement, rather than genuine anger.
  • The timing is interesting and puzzling. The attack took place without time for a great deal of planning, just some 63 hours after the chemical attack that allegedly triggered the U.S. response, but more importantly, as Trump was entertaining China’s President Xi Jinping.  Was there a message also being sent to Jinping about U.S. willingness to take a tough stance?
    • And speaking of which, why is Trump meeting with Jinping at his Florida estate rather than the White House, costing the taxpayers millions of additional dollars for travel and security?

Concerns:

  • This takes certain other serious issues, such as the ties between Trump’s administration and the Russian government prior to the election, Trump’s false claims of wiretapping, and other issues currently under investigation, out of the limelight. Is there an intent to do just that?
  • Retaliation by Syrian allies, or by Russia if Putin was not, in fact, part of the plan from the beginning.
  • U.S. involvement into the Syrian Civil War.
  • Additional bombings at additional cost, that do nothing to help the humanitarian cause, but merely take more lives.
  • A trigger-happy Trump could decide at some point to use nuclear weapons.
  • Lastly, and this is in fact my main concern, will the fallout from this attack be used as justification to implement some sort of ‘emergency measures’ that place more power in the hands of the president and his minions? Can it happen?  Certainly it can.  Will it?  I do not know.

Certainly there are more questions that should be asked, and more concerns that need to be voiced, but the hour grows late and Filosofa grows weary.  Please, feel free to let me know your questions, concerns, comments.  It will be some time before we get answers to our questions, assurances to ease our concerns, if ever.  I would likely have fewer of both if I trusted the ‘man’ at the helm of this ship, but admittedly, I do not.  He is not well-versed in the ways of the world, in international relations, foreign policy. His concern is first and foremost for himself. He is not a humanitarian and cares not a whit for individuals either in foreign nations or his own country.  I strongly suspect there is a hidden agenda somewhere, I am just not quite sure yet what it is. Meanwhile, I leave you with a final word of warning:  Do not believe everything you read or hear … stop, think, step back, and ask Ask ASK questions!