Category Archives: The World

A Q&A with David Beasley, who is recovering from COVID-19

Visiting as head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley is welcomed by the villagers of Koundougou, in Burkina Faso.

Visiting recently as head of the World Food Programme, David Beasley is welcomed by the villagers of Koundougou, in Burkina Faso.

Recently I reached out to our state’s most prominent coronavirus sufferer, former Gov. David Beasley, with some questions about what he was going through. It took him a few days to get back to me — he naturally waited until he felt up to it. But he sent me these replies on Friday (and I only saw them in my woefully neglected inbox today).

To update y’all, these days the former guv serves as executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme. Mr. Beasley felt ill after returning from a trip to Canada in mid-March, and self-quarantined for several days before testing positive for the coronavirus.

Here are his answers to my questions:

Q: How are you feeling?

A: I am definitely at the end of this now, with several days in a row feeling good. I feel stronger and much better. I took a walk of about a mile on the farm yesterday and it felt great. While I am doing good now, there were days when I had fever, aches, sore throat, congestion and was very tired. But never felt just awful, nor did I have extremely high fever. Just a general blahhhh.

Q: Are you at home?

A: Yes, I am at home and self-quarantined. Mary Wood is bringing me food through a door!

Q: Is the rest of your family well?

A: Thankfully, as of today, everyone is doing good.

Q: How did this come on? When did you suspect you had the virus? Where were you at the time?

A: I began to feel bad when I returned from a WFP trip a little more than three weeks ago. At first I thought it was just allergies. I had been tested twice before and both were negative. But this time, it was positive.

Q: As head of the World Food Programme, how do you see the coronavirus affecting food supplies around the world? And what should we be doing to address those effects?

A: This is a complex issue, but I’m very concerned about the overall impact the virus and this crisis is going to make on those who are hungry around the world in a number of areas. First, I’m concerned about the health impact. People who have to struggle every day to feed themselves or their families aren’t able to stockpile a couple of week’s worth of food while they stay at home to protect themselves against the virus, and at the same time their immune systems are weak. So they are very vulnerable to disease and, at the same time, they are out there, working in their fields or doing what it takes to find food. If the virus spreads to their communities, they will have much fewer resources to stem its spread and a much weaker immunological system.

Secondly, I’m concerned about the economic damage this is doing or going to do to countries that already are struggling or that are unstable politically. And, to get to the heart of your question, one of the areas that could sustain damage is the complex global food supply system. There’s no doubt that that supply system will be tested and strained in the coming weeks or months. As of now, the good news is that disruptions appear to be minimal. But April and May could get a lot worse. We’re worried about transportation restrictions and quarantines that could make it even harder for farmers to get access to markets, which is already an issue even in the best of times in places where we work. And we could see labor shortages in production and processing of food, especially in labor-intensive crops, and that could make a real impact on countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

To get at what can be done, you have to know where the problems are, and this is one place that WFP does extremely well — collect and analyze data. When you operate in more than 80 countries and feed 87 million people on any given day, you get pretty good at knowing what’s happening on the ground. So when it comes to food supply chains, we know close to immediately if there are food shortages, supply chain breaks and rapid increases in prices. We’ve already established our early warning system, so we can move right away, doing things like pre-positioning food in areas where we anticipate shortages or other access challenges. Right now, we are working with governments to speed up nearly $2 billion in contributions so we can do those things now, such as pre-position food and pre-purchase buffer stocks of food and cash so we have at least three months of assistance available for the most fragile places. We’ll also need additional resources for logistics, such as air transport. WFP is the main logistical arm of the United Nations — when you see planes taking aid workers to a place that needs help, they’re on one of our planes. We’re delivering needed medical equipment for the World Health Organization, for example. The entire world is now relying on WFP’s logistical network to manage the humanitarian and health response to the coronavirus.

Third, I do want to say that am concerned about the tremendous fiscal pressures that WFP donor governments are going to be under over the next few months. I am hearing encouraging signs from all our donor governments, including the United States, about how important our work is and that they continue to view it as a priority. But I do know many leaders are going to be under tremendous fiscal pressures over the next few months and years. And as for what individuals can do, you can donate to our work by going to wfp.org or wfpusa.org. You can also continue to express to your elected leaders that you believe it is in America’s economic and national security interests to support the work that the World Food Programme does. When countries make progress against hunger, they are more peaceful, more stable and there is less forced migration. That’s good news for all of us! If there’s one thing this virus has taught us, it’s that we are all connected in good times and bad ones.

Q: As a former governor, do you have any advice for Henry McMaster or other leaders on the state and local level?

A: I am certain they are listening closely to the advice of health experts and others, as they should. I’ve been in that position and they have some tough calls to make. I’m sure they are all doing their best to take public health and safety into account as they make decisions about our personal and economic freedoms.

Q: Simply as a person suffering from the virus, what advice do you have for the rest of us on a personal level?

A: This is a serious illness, so take the warnings from health experts seriously. Of course, wash your hands thoroughly and frequently, stay at a safe distance from others, do all the other things health experts say to do, use common sense and take plenty of vitamins that will help your immune system. Trust me, you do not want to get this virus, and you don’t want to contribute to its spread.

Thanks, governor. May your recovery continue at full speed!

Et tu, Bernie? The Russian plot sickens

Well, boys, I reckon this is it - electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

Well, boys, I reckon this is it – electoral combat toe to toe with the Roosskies.

I hadn’t even had a chance to post about the Russians working to help elect Trump again, when we learned they were trying to help Bernie, too.

Which makes sense, of course. It fits their M.O., and their interests, in two ways:

  1. Their priority is helping Trump, because having Trump as president hurts America, sends us on a downward slide as a nation, and keeps us bitterly divided. And they feel quite sure, like many U.S. observers, that Bernie is the best possibly opponent for their boy.
  2. If they can’t have Trump, might as well elect the most divisive figure on the Democratic side as a backup. Because the point is weakening America, and having us all stirred up and angry is a great way to do that. (It’s working for them so far, after their successful efforts in 2016.)

Putin may be evil, but he’s not stupid.

All of that said, I want to give Bernie a big pat on the back for showing how a presidential candidate should react to such news:

“Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election,” Mr. Sanders said.

He also told reporters that he was briefed about a month ago.

“The intelligence community is telling us Russia is interfering in this campaign right now in 2020,” Mr. Sanders said on Friday in Bakersfield, Calif., where he was to hold a rally ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. “And what I say to Mr. Putin, ‘If I am elected president, trust me you will not be interfering in American elections.’”…

If only a certain other party would take a hint.

Basically, this is all part of a pattern that began in 2016. Then, workers at a Russian troll factory were told, “Use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest except for Sanders and Trump — we support them.”

Which brings me to the point I was going to post about all this before we learned about the Bernie wrinkle…

Remember that we learned several months ago that the key CIA asset who had let us know that the Russians were trying to elect Trump in 2016 had to be exfiltrated to save his life back in 2017? As the NYT reported at the time:

The move brought to an end the career of one of the C.I.A.’s most important sources. It also effectively blinded American intelligence officials to the view from inside Russia as they sought clues about Kremlin interference in the 2018 midterm elections and next year’s presidential contest….

OK, well… if this guy was so golden, so well-placed, so irreplaceable… how do we know they’re doing the same in 2020?

Obviously, we don’t know everything. Which is probably a good thing, if we’re still getting such good intel. Better that the new source not be compromised, too.

Or, is this one of those hyperclever inside-out deals where the idea of our key source being extracted was disinformation, which news media eagerly lapped up, meant to protect the real source?

If so, I hope these news revelations aren’t endangering him. Or her

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

Did our top asset really come in from the cold? Or is he, or she, still out there?

A Modest Proposal on Iran: We just have to play to Trump’s ego. It might even be worth it.

There’s a window of opportunity here, but it probably only stays open as long as the Iranians are content to have fired a few missiles without having hurt any Americans.

It won’t be easy. It will require a lot of people being in on the plan and sticking to it. And it will be distasteful, because it will involve flattering and kowtowing to Trump as though we were a bunch of Lindsey Grahams or something.

But it could definitely be worth it. Bear with me.

All of our allies would have to be in on it — the ones who have labored so to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is assuring them is kaput. As for Israel — well, it will require some forbearance from them.

All the Democrats will have to play along. Nancy Pelosi’s role will be key. We’ll need the Republicans, too, but no sweat… this sort of toadyism is reflexive to them, so we don’t even have to ask for their help.

Here’s what we do: We all get together and communicate the following to Trump:

Oh, wow, you really showed those ayatollahs! You whacked their guy and after a bunch of bluster, they only had the guts to blow up some sand! You really had their number! You owned them, the way you always do with the libs! We can’t wait to see what you do next! Actually… we have a suggestion, not that it wouldn’t occur any moment to someone as brilliant as you…

You know that stupid Obama nuclear deal that only you saw needed to be scrapped? You know how the “allies” are all being so petulant about that? Well, let’s show them something. Let’s show them how it’s done by a real dealmaker! Negotiate a REAL deal, an America-First deal that makes everybody else they they got a great deal, too (the saps!)…

It won’t even be much trouble. Just take the stupid deal that Obama sweated over, work some of your magic on it to make it your own, and presto! The Trump Comprehensive Plan of Action will avert war, settle down the whole region, prevent nuclear proliferation and probably help with that global climate change thing that people keep yammering about!

It will be easy, for someone with a brain as brilliant and normal as yours! It would be just like what you did with NAFTA — knock it down, then replace it with something that is basically the same but less sad, a beautiful new thing with the glittering Trump brand on it — just chock full of real class! Something you can stand up and strut about…

As you see, we’ll probably have to work hard on the sincerity in doing this, but he’s so eager to be validated in his illusions about himself that he won’t examine it too closely. He’ll lap up the flattery, and next thing you know we’ll have a real breakthrough that would increase peace and security in the region and the world.

I mentioned Nancy Pelosi’s role. It’s essential, although fairly easy for her. She just needs to keep holding back the impeachment from the Senate. The hardest part for her will be that she’d have to say that she’s doing it because what our wonderful president is doing is so important that he must not be distracted!

We should be able to get all this done in a month or so — as I say, all the actual work got done in the Obama agreement — and then get on with impeachment, and the election.

What do you think? I’ll tell you what I think:

It. Could. WORK!

via GIPHY

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it, and other thoughts on the killing of Soleimani

1200px-Qasem_Soleimani_2019-10-01_05

Why have I gone so many days without commenting on the assassination of Qasem Soleimani by the United States?

Because I’m still not sure what to say. I don’t have enough information to say “this was a good thing” or “this was a bad thing.” And ever since I made the move from news to editorial in 1994, I’ve been disinclined to write about anything that I couldn’t offer some sort of judgment on.

What follows is a few of the thoughts that have been going through my head since this happened…

We can’t get around the fact that this is Trump doing this.

First, if this is a classic “wag the dog” move, Trump has miscalculated. Because this incident underlines more starkly than anything else that’s happened in the past three years why it is an extraordinarily bad idea to have such an ignorant and deeply flawed person in the role of commander-in-chief.

Yes, the natural impulse in such a situation is for the American people to close ranks with the president and give him the benefit of the doubt. But how can anyone, other than the blindest of his base, do that with this man? Most people in the country know that he only cares about his own self-interest. There could be a situation in which his interest and the country’s coincidentally line up — the stopped-clock principal — but we know that to him, the country’s interest is simply not an operative variable.

And he lies. About everything. He doesn’t misspeak and then backtrack when the untruth is exposed, the way other people in politics do. He lies with utter abandon, and when the lie is proved beyond any doubt, he doubles down on it.

In a situation like this, in which (I’m assuming here) the American people can’t be shown all the evidence without compromising intelligence sources, it is essential that we have some faith in the truthfulness and judgment of the president, whether we like him or not. That is utterly impossible in this situation. So instead of persuadable people going, “This is a dicey situation, so we’d better rally around the president,” they are more likely to go “Oh, my God, how soon can we get someone else — anyone else — into the White House?”

Forgive me for starting with the political calculation, but the fact that this guy is in this job affects all the other things I have to say.

This is a job for the Deep State.

I can’t trust anything Trump — or anyone who owes his or her job to him — says about the situation. I know I can’t trust Republican members of Congress, either, based on their completely surrender of their minds to Trump. Nor am I terribly interested in what the Democratic presidential candidates think about it. (Yes, their statements may help us choose between them, but their reaction isn’t helpful in assessing the immediate situation, which is what I’m talking about here.)

What I want, what I need, to know in order to form a judgment is what the Deep State thinks. I need the views of experts who have no political dog in the fight.

Is it the consensus of our intelligence community that there was an imminent threat that justified taking the extraordinary chance (given that we don’t know what Iran will do) of killing this guy? Oh, and while I’m asking, what do they think we should do next?

Often in these situations, within a few days after the story has initially broken, there will be a piece — probably in The New York Times — from a reporter with excellent intelligence sources who has interviewed them about the situation and gleaned some sort of consensus from those sources.

This would be a great time for such a story. I’m not asking for the moon — I don’t expect something as definite as, for instance, the fact that ALL of our intelligence agencies agree that Russian interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. I’m not greedy. I’d just like to know in general what people who know a LOT more about this than I do are thinking. That might help me decide what I think.

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.

When in doubt, quote a Clint Eastwood movie, right?

I don’t think anyone in this country, outside of people like this out-of-work football player, doubts for a moment that Soleimani had it coming.

But he’s had it coming for a long time, and we’ve had the ability to kill him before now, and we haven’t done so. The question isn’t, “Did he deserve it?” The question is, what changed that switched the calculus toward a decision to kill him now? And was that calculation sound?

In other words, someone might be a bad guy, but killing him may be a bad idea. (In fact, as an opponent of the death penalty, I would argue that it’s usually a bad idea to kill someone just for being a bad guy.)

And we just don’t have enough reliable information to know.

No one, but no one, thinks war with Iran is a good idea.

No matter how crazy and bloodthirsty you may think neocons are, I can’t think of anyone in that camp that has ever put forth outright war with Iran as a good idea. (Neo-cons don’t usually count John Bolton among their number.) I’ve never seen the case credibly made that it would be in anyone’s interest, except maybe people on the sidelines who don’t like us, such as Russia or China.

So, you know, we probably need to do what we can to avoid it from this point on… which brings us back to my fervent wish that a normal human being of any party was in the White House right now… Something I heard on the radio earlier today struck me as ironic in the extreme: A Republican member of Congress (I think; I didn’t catch the name) was making the point that the Iranians aren’t totally crazy; they don’t want war with the United States. How weird is that? We’re counting on the ayatollahs to be more rational and mature than the president of the United States

I could say much more, but I figure that’s enough to get a conversation going. Sorry to have taken so long, but as I say, I was hoping to know more….

In case you doubt corporations are taking over the world…

jobs dec 30

I want to say it was sometime in the ’70s when fiction started portraying a dystopian future in which corporations ruled the world instead of the governments of nation-states. Or maybe the ’80s. I have trouble remembering any specific works that had this as a theme, and this list I found only covers books from this century. But suffice to say that it’s a well-established trope, even older than the national emergence of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and their paranoia-based campaigns.

Anyway, I couldn’t help thinking of that when I saw the top two job postings today.

I saw the job titles, and assumed the employer would be the CIA, NSA, DIA or something along those lines.

But no, they’re both for Microsoft. And note we’re talking “Senior Intelligence Analyst,” which suggests there are other intelligent analysts junior to that one, which in turn seems to indicate there are agents out there to collect the intelligence that they analyze…

This is not quite as disturbing to me as it once might have been. I’d much rather have Bill Gates (or some random guy pulled off the street, for that matter) in charge of our foreign policy than You Know Who. And of course, in order to carry out that task, he’ll need good intel. And the great thing is, unlike our current president, he would actually take the facts thus uncovered into consideration…

Oh, as for the last posting you see in that screenshot… it would be fun to do another campaign, and I really, really need to lose the weight… and I met Tom Steyer’s wife a couple of weeks ago and she seemed nice and all, but… I’m still totally in Joe’s camp. So until he calls and asks for my help, I’m sitting this one out…

Look at them telling themselves, ‘Keep a straight face… Act like this is totally normal….’

macron

So it appears our president is over across the pond embarrassing us, again, squabbling with allies and roiling markets.

For me, it’s interesting to turn the sound down and just watch these foreign leaders sit next to him and labor to keep a straight face.

I give Macron some credit for breaking out of this pattern and confronting Trump, which you see above. But most continue to play the game, trying not to have a diplomatic incident.

I’m very sorry that we keep putting our friends through this…

There was yet another LOOOONG debate last night…

oct 15 debate

I’ll share two or three thoughts, and then some Tweets, just to get things started:

  • Most of the night I waited for Syria — or anything having to do with the rest of the world — to be mentioned and discussed. I tried to be patient, knowing these are Democrats and their fave mode is to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Finally, it came up, and I was pleased with most comments, except Tulsi’s ranting about regime change — as though THAT were the problem with abandoning the Kurds. I liked that my man Joe spoke most on the topic, followed by Pete Buttigieg. Joe spoke about it almost, but of course not quite, as much as Elizabeth Warren spoke about income inequality. Of course, Joe happens to understand better than any other what the presidency is mainly about.
  • A lot of people interpreted the fact that so many were jumping on Elizabeth Warren as being entirely due to her emergence as a front-runner, if not the front-runner. And I’m sure that’s a big part of it. But I think another factor contributed, and I think it’s odd that I haven’t heard it mentioned. I think a lot of them see it as less OK to give Joe a hard time, seeing as how he and his son are the targets of Trump’s mulilateral abuses of power. This makes Joe an even more sympathetic character than usual, so they laid off him.
  • Oh, and I came close to a decision last night. I think I’d like to see Amy Klobuchar as Joe’s running mate, assuming everything goes right and Democrats decide they actually want to beat Trump. It would probably be Mayor Pete if he weren’t so young and inexperienced, and if he didn’t keep reminding us of it (But that happened five minutes ago, and as I may have mentioned previously, I wasn’t born yet…). I don’t see Sen. Klobuchar as quite ready to be president yet, but she comes close, and would be a good understudy.

That’s enough points for now. I’ve got work to do. Here are my Tweets from last night and this morning:

As you can see, I dialed back the Tweeting last night. Just wasn’t inspired all that much, and I’ve heard so much of this stuff so many times already. Of those things I Tweeted about, I’d most like to chat further on ones about Facebook (someone on the stage, I forget who, made the point I’d made about lots of little Facebooks right after I posted it), and the thing about Trump’s Twitter. I’m still thinking I may have misunderstood what Kamala wanted…

Oh, and further discussion of Bernie’s fantasy version of Medicare might be in order. Bernie should have read this in the Post the other day… Dang. I can’t find it. Well, maybe later. Anyway, it was a column by a 64-year-old who seems to have just discovered that Medicare isn’t free, and it doesn’t pay for everything. Like, duh. These kids today and their inflated expectations…

It’s Johnny’s Birthday

Once again, it is John Lennon’s birthday.

I always remember it, and not the other Beatles’ birthdays, not merely because it comes six days after my own. It’s because of Nueve de Octubre, and that looms large because when I was a schoolboy in Ecuador, we always got a whole week off for it — while only getting a day and a half for Christmas.

At the time, I thought that it was Ecuadorean Independence Day. I mean, it would have to be at least that, right — who would take off a whole week for anything less?1024px-Escudo_de_Guayas.svg

But it turns out that it’s only when the province of Guayas, which contained the city of Guayaquil — where I lived — declared its independence from Spain. Not the whole country.

Bonus fact ripped from today’s headlines: Guayaquil is now effectively the capital of Ecuador, since unrest in Quito caused el presidente to have to relocate the seat of government.

Now you know.

Let’s close with one of John’s better songs…

Brooks lists reasons why impeachment means trouble

David Brooks has a column today headlined “Yes, Trump Is Guilty, but Impeachment Is a Mistake,” with the subhed “This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.”

Yep. That’s quite likely. That’s why this is a bad place to be, if you want to get rid of Donald Trump.

Here’s the list of reasons Brooks offers:

  • “This will probably achieve nothing.” If you mean, he won’t be removed from office, you’re almost certain right. Two presidents in our history have been impeached, and neither was removed from office. There is no reason to think this time will be different — especially if you listen to the alternative-reality nonsense coming from the mouths of Senate Republicans.

    Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

    David Brooks

  • “This is completely elitist.” Brooks means inherently, in that you put Trump’s fate in the hands of 100 senators instead of the voters. But elitism comes into this another way: Some of the people out there saying Trump hasn’t done anything wrong actually think that. They are low-information people who subscribe to the “They all do it” school. You sort of have to have above-average understanding of the norms of diplomacy, politics, and presidential behavior to understand how stunningly unprecedented this is, and understand that if this isn’t impeachable, it becomes hard to imagine what would be.
  • “This is not what the country wants to talk about.” Well, no, it’s not what I want to talk about, either. I want to talk about why Joe Biden must be the Democratic nominee, and must be elected. Of course, if you mean the country wants to talk about football and reality TV, you lose me. I don’t feel obliged to respect apathy.
  • “Democrats are playing Trump’s game.” Oh, yeah. Indeed. The more divided the country is, the more this parasite thrives.
  • “This process will increase public cynicism.” Yeah, maybe, among the uninformed. And that’s a lot of people.
  • “This could embed Trumpism within the G.O.P.” This is an interesting argument, and it makes some sense. It goes this way: Electoral defeat will discredit Trumpism among Republicans (if it doesn’t just crush the GOP permanently). This will harden Trump’s position as being at the heart of the party, with all the loyalists gathered ’round him.
  • “This could distort the Democratic primary process.” Yep, and in unpredictable ways.

Of course, in the end, if I were a House member — of either party, or (my preference) no party — I don’t think I would feel like I had an alternative. Sure, you know he’s not going to be removed from office, and given that we’ve seen over and over that his supporters are impervious to reason, it will greatly increase his chances of being re-elected.

But the Constitution charges the House with a responsibility. And it’s hard for me to see how the House walks away from that responsibility, in light of what Trump has done. You can’t just act like, yeah, it’s OK to do that and still be president. You have to say, “No!”

This is a terrible moment to be a House member. And a worse moment for the country….

Biden should promise to make Obama secretary of state

The once and future team?

The once and future team?

I’ve had this idea kicking around in my head for weeks now, and I’ve been waiting to have time to present it thoughtfully, with extensive, carefully constructed arguments that will be perfectly unassailable, and I finally decided I’m not going to have time for all that stuff.

So here goes.

Joe Biden should promise to name Barack Obama as his secretary of state. Assuming he can talk his old boss into it. And assuming his old boss can talk Michelle into it, which could prove to be a bridge too far. But it’s worth trying (assuming it’s constitutional, which I think it is), for a number of reasons.

Joe’s campaign is all about restoring sanity in the White House — or saving the nation’s soul, as the former veep likes to put it. Just today, I was listening to an interview with him on NPR. Don’t be put off by the headline, which is “‘Details Are Irrelevant’: Biden Says Verbal Slip-Ups Don’t Undermine His Judgment.” It actually contains substance, rather than just more pointless yammering about trivial mistakes made now and then by a guy who talks all day. (I’m convinced that if the media adopted the same attitude toward other candidates — We’ve gotta watch him like a hawk to catch him sounding senile — they’d succeed in coming up with similar “proof” of the hypothesis.)

And one of the points of substance is about the heavy lifting that the next president will have to do to repair our relations with the rest of the world, restoring America’s status as a country that other countries — friends and foes — can respect.

“The next president is going to have to pull the world back together,” Biden asserts in the interview. And he’s right.

It’s hard to imagine a gesture that could more convincingly persuade foreign leaders of his seriousness and good faith on that point than to make the last president the world could respect his point man in dealing with the rest of the globe.

I find it hard to think of another living human being who could restore our nation’s dignity on the world stage as well as Barack Obama. And Obama could, by accepting the post, perform a more direct and dramatic service to the country in his post-presidential life than any president since John Quincy Adams served in the U.S. House after 1828. He would make a real difference in the world.

Not to mention how such a promise would make Biden more likely to be in a position to keep it. Some of his Democratic rivals have dared to quibble with the Obama-Biden legacy. But it would be really hard for them to make a winning case against an actual reunion of the party’s last winning team.

And no, it’s not the same as asking Obama to be his running mate. It’s far more substantial than that. I see it as being like the relationship between Lincoln and Seward. Seward was such a respected figure that when he was named secretary of state, many people mistakenly assumed he’d be the real president and country-bumpkin Lincoln would be a figurehead.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but nevertheless Seward was Lincoln’s right-hand man, a partner with real political juice of his own, helping our greatest president guide the country through its greatest crisis.

I think the prospect of Obama being secretary of state would change the whole tenor of the campaign from here on out.

And it would prove to be a very, very good thing not only for the country, but for the whole world…

… and my regards to Her Majesty. Mind how you go…

tumblr_pns5up2Dsh1rnn3e6o3_250

I had a brief contretemps with a Brit today, which as you can imagine — yours truly being such an unabashed Anglophile — made me frightfully uncomfortable.

But all ended well.

I tried to be a wag this morning with regard to Her Majesty’s former ambassador to her ancestors’ former colonies:

But one of our friends across the pond took it amiss:

I immediately sought to mend the rift:

Fortunately, my explanation was accepted:

So all is well, I believe. Fortunately, the English have no problem admitting error, unlike us. “Sorry” is their favorite word. Which is one of the things I love about them, in spite of my recent tour of Ireland, which should have radicalized me against the Sassenach. But it didn’t…

Make no mistake: I wish all the best to Mr. Darroch, and hope Her Majesty will find a good situation for him going forward. He’s the Queen’s good servant, and a friend to this country as well. It’s the truest friend who tells us what we need to hear.

So to all my friends over there, ones I’ve met and those I haven’t: God Save the Queen. And mind how you go…

The shadow that hung over our time in Ireland

Of course, the threat of Brexit didn't keep us from having plenty of craic. Here a couple of ladies from our group celebrate with some local lads on the evening of March 17.

Of course, the threat of Brexit didn’t keep us from having plenty of craic. Here a couple of ladies from our group celebrate with some local lads on the evening of March 17.

While we were in Ireland recently (March 13-22), we didn’t follow news all that closely — and we never let it spoil our fun — but we were aware that the biggest story in the Republic’s media was Brexit. Not just because it was a big drama playing out right next door, but because it was an issue with ominous implications for Ireland itself.

It might even, we kept hearing, bring back the Troubles. Here’s a fairly succinct description of the situation:

Brexit, in its most basic sense, means that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will exit from the European Union and, as voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum were told, will “take control” of its border. Brexiteers promised that the U.K. would be able to restrict the free movement of goods and people—thus abandoning the central commitment of E.U. countries—and discard E.U. regulations.

But the U.K.’s borders also draw a line between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is—and will remain—a member of the E.U. The Irish border meanders for some three hundred miles through towns, villages, and the countryside, separating twenty-six counties in the Republic from six counties in the North—a division that emerged from the Irish War of Independence and the creation of the Irish Free State, in 1922.

Here’s the problem: the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland are parties to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which relies on the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland. For example, the accords created common Irish cross-border institutions, such as a joint parliamentary association, and removed the checkpoints and watchtowers at which British soldiers had been stationed during three decades of strife known as the Troubles. During those years—chronicled in Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book, “Say Nothing”—the Irish Republican Army conducted a violent campaign to push the British out of Northern Ireland; unionist paramilitary groups, whose goal was to remain part of the U.K., committed their own acts of violence; and British forces were frequently complicit with the unionist paramilitaries and, at times, engaged in torture and illegal killings. Sinn Féin, the political party associated with the I.R.A., is also a party to the Good Friday Agreement, as are parties associated with unionist paramilitary organizations. The accords have worked, bringing peace.

This is the paradox and the tragedy: Brexit fundamentally conflicts with the Good Friday Agreement, but the U.K. government is in a state of denial about that conflict. It insists that it is committed both to Brexit and to the peace accord: Brexiteers claim that they can maintain a “frictionless” open border with the Republic of Ireland after Brexit—in the same place that the newly hardened border with the E.U. will be….

Ireland doesn’t need that kind of tension on its border with Ulster, a place that will be freshly seething over what Britain has wrought upon them. Britain doesn’t either. Yet the U.K. keeps staggering toward what increasingly looks like a ragged, disorganized exit, with little provision made for the aftermath. That’s what government by referendum gets you.

I thoroughly enjoyed visiting that beautiful country, and hope and pray its future isn’t like its past. That past was always with us, and not just because of our tour manager, a bluff, ruddy Englishman who sometimes seemed to forget that this American tour group contained a healthy proportion of Irish Catholics (you’d think my brother-in-law’s name, Patrick Cooper Phelan, would have been a reminder to him). He made a number of references to the IRA, only he always said “IRA terrorists.”

But that’s nothing compared to the carelessness of his countrymen who voted for Brexit.

A Kilkenny street scene...

A Kilkenny street scene…

Kaplan says it’s time to get out of Afghanistan. But there’s a catch

Time to Get Out of Afganistan” over the byline of Robert Kaplan grabbed my eye this morning. Of course, it did so in part because I’m one of the dummies who confuses him with Robert Kagan. But it was still interesting.

It starts out this way:

Kaplan, not Kagan

Kaplan, not Kagan

The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether…

And then continues with words that sound like they should be read aloud by Peter Coyote, as I’ve been rewatching Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam during my morning workouts lately:

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept….

Not only that, but he suggests that our efforts there, which provide a modicum of stability for the moment, are actually proving to be an advantage to the Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians — allowing them to operate in the area with some safety at our expense — than they are to us and out interests.

But before we stark striking camp and heading for home, read what Kaplan writes further down:

An enterprising American diplomat, backed by a coherent administration, could try to organize an international peace conference involving Afghanistan and its neighbors, one focused on denying terrorist groups a base in South-Central Asia.

It is the kind of project that Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke, James Baker III or George Shultz would have taken up in their day. But it is not something anyone can reasonably expect this administration, as chaotic, understaffed and incompetent as it is, to undertake, especially with the departure of Mr. Mattis….

Oh, well…

Let’s go back to the moon, people

BuzzhHeader

I missed this piece in The Washington Post last week. It’s a good one, in which a couple of rocket scientists advocate that we go back to the moon to establish a base, something that is completely within our power and would imbue NASA, and the nation, with a sense of purpose they — we — have lacked for a long time.

An excerpt:

This plan, which we call Moon Direct, doesn’t take rocket scientists to comprehend (although we both hold that title). And we could accomplish it in just three discrete phases: First, we deliver cargo to the lunar surface and initiate robotic construction. Second, we land crews on the base, complete construction and develop local resources. And third, we establish long-term habitation and exploration.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which can launch 60 tons to Earth orbit and 10 tons to the moon, could easily handle the first phase. And NASA’s Space Launch System, still in development, might eventually be used along with heavy lift rockets such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. (Blue Origin’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.) Rather than spend a fortune and take years to build a Gateway for obscure reasons, we could immediately go straight to the surface of the moon and set up shop.

The key to crew operations, the second phase of building our moon base, is a spacecraft we call the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, which would operate outside our atmosphere and therefore need no heavy heat shields or Earth landing systems. The LEV would fly from Earth’s orbit to the lunar surface and back again. New York to Paris, Paris to New York. Nothing could be simpler. All we would need to do is get to the airport — in this case, low Earth orbit — where the LEV would be “parked” for refueling and used again and again, just like a passenger airplane….

I’m all for it. Ground Control to Major Tom — let’s go!

Amazingly, they’re actually getting the boys out of the cave

Ekapol and players

Ekapol Chanthawong and some of his players.

I really spoke too soon the other day when I celebrated the discovery of those boys missing in the cave in Thailand. I was far too sanguine.

Turned out their situation was still horrifically perilous. So perilous, in fact, that this just would not work as fiction. In “Lassie,” Timmy was always falling down an old mineshaft or something (this was such a common plot device in the late ’50s that as a little kid I had the impression the whole country was honeycombed with abandoned mines, all of them covered only with rotting boards that wouldn’t even hold a small boy’s weight). But all Lassie had to do was get within hearing of the shaft, hear Timmy yell, “Go for help, girl!” and the day was saved.

A fictional plot like this would be dismissed by the most credulous viewer as too contrived: It takes six hours, much of it underwater, even for an elite diver to get to the precarious shelf where the boys are, cut off by rising rainwater. It’s so difficult that a veteran diver, a former Thai Navy SEAL, died Friday just trying to place spare air tanks along the route. The boys can’t swim. Even if they could, they’re not trained SCUBA divers. Some of the passages through which they have to pass are so tight that air tanks would have to be removed for even the kids to get through them. It’s so hard to get them out that consideration was given to leaving them there for months until the rainy season is over, resupplying them for the duration. But no — the monsoons continue to fall, meaning the water in the cave will rise.

What else could possibly go wrong?

And yet, amazingly, things went wonderfully right today: They got four of the boys out! Which is just astounding as well as wonderful. But it will be hours, perhaps a day, before more get out. Imagining the terror, the physical exertion, the determination and courage it took those four weakened boys to get out makes me shudder.

But they got out!

A lot of attention has focused on the one adult with them, 25-year-old assistant soccer coach Ekapol Chanthawong, a former Buddhist monk. Some have been critical, saying he should never have gotten the boys into such a situation. But the story plays differently within Thailand itself:

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”…

During my brief stay in Thailand three years ago, I was often impressed by the straightforward piety that runs through the hearts of the people there. Just one of many illustrations: We spent two nights in the farmhouse of my daughters’ adoptive “grandparents” in the rural village in which she served her two years in the Peace Corps. In the corner of the room in which we slept on floor pallets there was a small Buddhist shrine.

On the morning we were leaving, before she would let us go, the “grandmother” kneeled before the shrine and let us know we were to kneel beside her. Of course we did, as she prayed for our safety during the rest of our journey. We were deeply touched.

And as it happened, we had a wonderful time, and our trip was remarkably free of untoward incidents.

Call that good luck if you like, but I think all good-faith efforts to reach out sincerely to the Divine have value, however you define the Divine and whatever your dogma. In any case, the presence of that spiritual young man seems to be helping to keep those boys going under the most trying of circumstances.

I don’t have a shrine in my house, but I’ll be going to Mass later today. And on this Sunday, I hope and pray the other nine boys get out as safely as the first four. And that Ekapol does, too…

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don't think I'll do that again...

We explored a cave while we were in Thailand, too. Here, our guide gives us some pointers at the entrance as we prepare to climb down into it. I don’t think I’ll do that again…

So what IS it with Lindsey Graham and Trump, huh?

thumb

It started with a shout-out, or perhaps I should say a taunt, from my old friend and colleague Mike Fitts:

 

I responded to Mike by saying, “I can’t. The toady tweet yesterday with the thumbs-up in the Oval Office was already more than I could take. I hope John McCain didn’t see it…”

That’s it above. The picture came from the Tweet in which Graham said… and I’m not making this up:

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

You’re keeping your promise to make America safer and more prosperous. And unfortunately for me, you’re doing all this without losing a step in your golf game!

I’ll pause for a moment while y’all go hurl after reading what Lindsey posted….

…OK; let’s resume…

Do you think “toady” was strong enough? Probably not…

Anyway, someone responded to my response thusly:

I responded that I’m not inclined to justify this behavior in any way, but I suspect that if he (Graham) were offering excuses, and being totally honest, he’d say he’d do anything to have some national security influence over this grossly clueless, unstable president…

That’s what Lindsey always cares about. He and McCain reached out to try to work with Obama after McCain lost the 2008 election, hoping to bring about policy continuity. And such continuity was maintained throughout the Obama years, even though, after a showy start right after the election, McCain and Graham seemed to have little hand in.

The tragedy here is that Graham is now abasing himself to a disgusting degree while foreign policy continuity — by which I mean the wise policies followed internationally by presidents of both parties ever since 1945, the maintenance of the global order America helped create and has led my entire life — is not only NOT achieved, but is ignored, blown apart, defecated upon by the ignoramus in the White House.

Our allies are slapped in the face, repeatedly and with increasing vehemence. And the worse the foreign strongman, the more passionately Trump embraces him.

So what is it that Lindsey Graham thinks he is achieving? He’s trading away his self-respect, and getting what, exactly? Does he think things would be worse if he weren’t playing golf with this guy and lavishing childishly transparent praise upon him?…

Good for you, John Brennan…

I very much appreciated this column today from John Brennan, former director of Central Intelligence, headlined “I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House.” An excerpt:

My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.

John Brennan

John Brennan

I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us….

I’ll have to stop excerpting there because I suspect I’m already pushing the outside of that ol’ envelope on Fair Use.

Suffice to say that eventually he notes that people question why he keeps speaking out on this subject. They seem to think it’s not fitting for a career intelligence officer to be mixing in politics this way.

Those people don’t get it. And the amazing thing to me is that there are so many people who still don’t get it. They think this is politics as usual — sometimes your guy wins, sometimes the other guy wins.

That’s why we need people such as Brennan who are outside the stupid Democrats-vs.-Republicans game to tell us that the problem we face right now is most assuredly NOT about that game.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the most powerful position in the world is held by a grossly unqualified, unfit, unstable man with no priorities but serving himself and what he perceives to be his personal interests. For the first time in living memory and probably ever, our chief magistrate is a person that devoted public servants such as Brennan cannot possibly respect.

And that has to be said again and again until the people who don’t get that — and amazingly, such people are legion — finally do get it…

Graham’s extremely careful praise of Macron’s speech

Macron speech

To everyone else, Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress yesterday was a forceful refutation of everything Donald Trump stands for, made all the more dramatic by the hugs and kisses earlier:

The fact that the important thing about Macron’s speech was the way it refuted Trump and all he stands for presented our senior senator with a conundrum:

Practically everything the French president said had to be music to foreign policy wonk Graham’s ears. Yet… he’s trying so hard these days to play nice with Trump, even though he knows (and he knows we know he knows) the current U.S. president is wrong about very nearly everything.

So he applauded Macron without a word about how Trump’s policies had been slammed:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on President of France Emmanuel Macron’s address before a joint meeting of Congress.

“President Macron delivered an eloquent and inspiring address to Congress.  He described the unique relationship between France and the United States which is based on common values that have stood the test of time.

“President Macron has been a great partner to President Trump in confronting the challenges of terrorism and globalization.

“In President Macron’s speech about preserving the post-World War II world order and rejecting the false promises of isolationism, I heard the voice of John McCain – an ally and kindred spirit for the thoughts expressed by President Macron. 

“As to the Iran Nuclear Deal, it must be made better or we must withdraw. The Iran Nuclear Deal in its current form ensures a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. President Trump is right to withdraw if the deal is not made substantially better. I hope President Macron can convince the world community to bring about the much-needed changes.”

#####

Awkward…

Macron 2

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

Nikki Haley needs to remember that she works for Donald Trump, who won’t back her up — especially on Russia

nikki talk

This is just classic. From The Washington Post:

Nikki Haley finds herself under the bus as Trump shifts course on Russia

The Washington Post reported late Sunday that President Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.”

Less than 20 hours later, Trump has now reversed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that the United States would be ramping up sanctions on Russia.

Hmm.

The sudden reversal of Haley’s Sunday-morning announcement is hardly the only example of the right hand in the White House not always knowing what the left hand is up to. Trump often seems to be negotiating not just those around him but also with himself and has been unafraid of contradicting top aides and even Cabinet-level officials like Haley.

But on Russia and on an issue of such import, the quick reversal is stunning — and relatively rare. There is no clear indication whether Haley or someone else is at fault, but as The Post’s team notes, she has a tendency to clear her remarks with Trump personally before she makes them. It seems entirely possible that she got Trump to sign off on saying more Russia sanctions were coming on Sunday morning, and then the White House got cold feet (possibly because Trump suddenly felt the need to exert himself over the process)….

Remember, Nikki, you’re working for a 2-year-old — and one who thinks Vladimir Putin is one of the cool kids…