Harvey and Irma were hard. But most of the world’s disasters are ignored

What a disastrous few weeks. Historic hurricanes, massive earthquakes, and large-scale wildfires have all simultaneously struck the Americas, grabbing headlines and inspiring telethons. The reporting has been extensive and the outpouring of generous homegrown support seems endless.

American society might be uniquely constituted to work together during crises, with national self-reliance a distinct part of this country’s character, heritage, and mythology. American leaders call attention to disasters and ask communities and their political representatives for help and money. A free, open and independent media report it all.

Hurricane.jpeg

Elsewhere in the world, however, bad instincts or habits lead political and corporate leaders to mislead, hide, and deny disasters or impending doom. Russia and China are particularly susceptible to this trait, but it is generally true for less democratic and minimally accountable governments and institutions where disaster can translate into political crisis or even the threat of regime change.

In the former Soviet Union, the initial reaction and official denial of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and crisis set in motion the conditions for the eventual downfall of the entire empire. In a new biography about Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, the Chernobyl cover-up was considered the turning point that put Gorbachev on the political reform path toward a greater openness that became unstoppable.  READ MORE

Obama’s Asia Pivot is in full, disastrous swing under Trump

Characterizing himself as “America’s first Pacific president,” Barack Obama tried to shift America’s focus, strategic commitments and resources to Southeast Asia. Hillary Clinton was all for it, too, authoring a 2011 vision for an Asia-focused foreign policy titled “America’s Pacific Century.”

President Trump – consciously or not – is now suddenly fast-tracking the Obama-Clinton policy goal with his new, crisis version of the “Asia Pivot”.

In this Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea has announced a detailed plan to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, a major military hub and home to U.S. bombers. If carried out, it would be the North's most provocative missile launch to date. Ahn Young-joon AP

In this Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea has announced a detailed plan to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles toward the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, a major military hub and home to U.S. bombers. If carried out, it would be the North's most provocative missile launch to date. Ahn Young-joon AP

North Korean nuclear blasts and ICBM testing met by intransigent American rhetoric and military might have suddenly and intensively led to a rapid, if perhaps accidental, Asia Pivot 2.0. This new pivot is made up of more guns and less butter. If the Clinton-Obama policy led with trade, the Trump Pivot leads with tirade.

This quickly evolving Trump pivot is now in full swing, being implemented more by circumstance and reaction than design. A hydrogen bomb can focus the mind and crystallize a new policy. All the world’s eyes are watching to see how it plays out as miscalculation, mistake or failure could be catastrophic.  READ MORE

Can an America First nation get the world’s help after Harvey?

Natural disasters know no political boundaries. And that’s why international humanitarian relief flows so quickly, and in such great and humbling quantities, when hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis strike.

But today, with Houston suffering as Mother Nature’s latest victim, will the world’s giving nations step-up and step-in to help American relief efforts?

Or are things in an America First world different?

Hurricane Harvey.jpeg

Questioning the world’s appetite to help Trump’s America at this moment is a serious question.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans tragedy that followed, the world was tripping over itself to help George W. Bush and Louisiana. The relief efforts ranged from offers of Afghan cash to deployment of Thai doctors and nurses. The Spanish sent crude oil, electric generators and food rations and Swedes airlifted over an emergency mobile phone network. The outpouring of help was overwhelming.  Read more

Trump preps Afghan war for sale to India

Fighting his instincts, reneging on campaign promises, and disregarding his anti-globalist advisers, President Trump told America he changed his mind about Afghanistan. It is the kind of reversal he hates because it dilutes his brash brand.

An Afghan National army soldier stands guard a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. On Monday, President Donald Trump delivered his first formal address to the nation since taking office as he revealed his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Rahmat Gul AP

An Afghan National army soldier stands guard a checkpoint on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. On Monday, President Donald Trump delivered his first formal address to the nation since taking office as he revealed his strategy for the war in Afghanistan. Rahmat Gul AP

But true to his gut, he won't be nation building, constructing hospitals, or making sure girls can once again wear miniskirts to school. The Trump strategy instead is to make sure Afghanistan doesn't further devolve while he looks to hand off the problem to someone else.

Like a distressed property, Trump wants to offload the war and Afghan reconstruction at the right discounted price in a handshake deal.

His ideal buyer is not a mercenary band, though he was pitched and considered the idea. It’s not to a still incapable Afghan government or even to tired and distracted European allies. They aren’t buying. No, Trump figures that with a mini-surge of patching and fresh paint, he can sell this problem asset as an opportunity to someone in the neighborhood with interest in the location, location, location.

India tops the list.

Confederate monuments deserve Soviet treatment

Budapest’s Freedom Square hosts a prominent and controversial Soviet war memorial. Hungarians regularly argue for its removal, but it remains unmoved and guarded. It is an exception.

The bulk of Soviet-era statues in Budapest and in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain have been removed, relocated, and reinterpreted. The idea is not to erase history, but to contextualize it. And now, as recent events and President Trump rekindle the debates surrounding Confederate statues and monuments, America should look to other countries’ tortured histories and controversial memorials to get a grip on how to handle its own.

The bronze statue of Lenin at Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary, a museum exhibiting dozens of Socialist-era statues and monuments removed from the streets of Budapest after the fall of the communist regime.

The bronze statue of Lenin at Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary, a museum exhibiting dozens of Socialist-era statues and monuments removed from the streets of Budapest after the fall of the communist regime.

In Hungary, Freedom Square’s remaining Soviet monument is a fenced off, sometimes vandalized reminder of a WWII liberating army. Notably located, the Soviet obelisk stands next to the U.S. Embassy, just below the ambassador’s window. Unlike other U.S.S.R. monuments in Budapest, a treaty guarantees this one’s place and preservation.

Other Communist monuments, however, have been removed and relegated to a final resting place just outside of town in Memento Park. The park boasts “the biggest statues of the cold war” and is a lesson in how to reinterpret a nation’s painful past. Supersized statues of Communist-era commissars stand quietly in the elements, without interpretation. Nearby, however, a museum barracks full of educational material puts the era and objects into complete and nuanced context. School groups and tourists visit regularly.  Read More

Trump won’t blink in North Korea standoff. But China might.

In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy was facing the threat of nuclear weapons within striking distance of the United States. The Soviet forward-deployment forced America to stop Russia’s advance, just 90 miles from the homeland. Brinksmanship brought Kennedy “eyeball to eyeball” with Nikita Khrushchev. It was the Soviet president who blinked.

Fast forward to 2017. President Trump will not be the one who blinks, but someone else might. If it is Kim Jong-un, then the game of chicken and nuclear confrontation has paid off for this U.S. administration. The real challenge in this crisis, however, faces not Kim but his patron in Beijing.

Indeed, the real question in 2017 is whether Chinese President Xi Jinping will blink.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square carrying placards and propaganda slogans as a show of support for their rejection of the United Nations' latest round of sanctions on Wednesday Aug. 9, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Jon Chol Jin AP

Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered for a rally at Kim Il Sung Square carrying placards and propaganda slogans as a show of support for their rejection of the United Nations' latest round of sanctions on Wednesday Aug. 9, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Jon Chol Jin AP

Trump’s team won a remarkable unanimous-vote UN Security Council resolution to punish North Korea last week. It was a diplomatic coup that set the legal and multilateral stage for action against North Korea and any nation aiding and abetting the pariah state. Mainly, that means China.  Read More

America forgot Afghanistan. Donald Trump’s chief of staff has not.

Americans may have lost sight of the Afghan war, but Donald Trump’s new chief of staff, General John F. Kelly, has not. He sacrificed his son to that war. He knows that what happens in Afghanistan does not stay in Afghanistan. Now, if he can focus West Wing minds, he may bring Afghanistan back to the public consciousness, where it belongs.

Americans pay more attention to fantasy sports, Instagram feeds, and “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” than they do to the longest war in America's history. If there is collective attention deficit disorder, it's understandable. The war is white noise.

John Kelly, then-Homeland Security secretary, talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Andrew Harnik AP

John Kelly, then-Homeland Security secretary, talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Andrew Harnik AP

War reporters call kinetic action “boom-boom.” Exploding stuff makes good pictures and gets attention. But nearly 16 years of boom-boom has dulled Americans’ senses, and their outrage. Years of fighting to turn out the Taliban evolved into nation building, troop surges and active counterinsurgency and then morphed into rounds of presidentially-ordered redeployments and more training of Afghan forces before creeping, finally, into the supposedly narrow counterterrorism mission that falls short of the withdrawal politicians every election cycle say they support.

Clearly, something happened along the way.  READ MORE

This is Steve Bannon’s nightmare

LESBOS, GREECE 

Docked alongside Greek fish taverns and cafes, multi-flagged naval vessels unload their human cargo, and their crews’ depleted spirits, onto this postcard-perfect island. Muslim migrants and refugees flow onto Greece’s shores, fleeing troubles at home and looking for a better, European future.

It is the stuff of Steve Bannon’s nightmares.

Humanitarian images on Lesbos’ sunny beaches and camps likely look to President Donald Trump’s chief strategist like the geopolitical frontline in his perceived war on Western civilization. Bannon sees here the starting point for a great Muslim march across Europe — a condition he identifies as “civilizational jihad personified by this migrant crisis.” His boss has picked up on the theme.  Read more...

Trump’s friend Putin urges Americans to question more. The hypocrisy is rich.

Marketing to Americans, the Kremlin-sponsored global television network – Russia Today – challenges viewers to "Question More." That award-winning slogan is at the top of its website and appears on billboard ads in major markets, asserting that there is always more to uncover beneath the surface of every story.

In a world where “fake news” has become a powerful meme fueled by President Donald Trump’s charge against journalism he dislikes, questioning more is a good idea. After all, critical thought is a key to understanding the motivations of institutions and individuals. Everyone should question more.

Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, speaks to the press at the presentation of Russia Today and Russia al-Yaum English and Arabic news channels, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007 in New York. DIMA GAVRYSH AP

Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, speaks to the press at the presentation of Russia Today and Russia al-Yaum English and Arabic news channels, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2007 in New York. DIMA GAVRYSH AP

RT’s gambit, however, should be questioned a bit more too. Why does this Russian network put so much emphasis on its slogan?

In the American context, it wants its U.S. audience to question the American political system by playing to conspiracy theories and an underlying belief that corruption lies at the heart of all American politics. Unfortunately, this is fertile territory, from congressmen who stash cash in freezers to administrations ginning up intelligence to support a war. A 2015 Gallup poll showed three out of four Americans believe their government is corrupt.

RT’s approach intends to turn an already skeptical American electorate into a distrustful mob of political cynics.  READ MORE

Don’t cheer China’s climate progress until it’s for real

America’s abandonment of global leadership during the Trump administration does not mean that Americans are ready to give up the fight for a safe and peaceful future. In fact, President Trump’s retreat from challenges to the global commons brings more attention to Gov. Jerry Brown’s efforts to act on climate change.

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to journalists on board a high speed rail leaving from the Beijing South train station during his last trip to China in 2013. Ng Han Guan ASSOCIATED PRESS

California Gov. Jerry Brown speaks to journalists on board a high speed rail leaving from the Beijing South train station during his last trip to China in 2013. Ng Han Guan ASSOCIATED PRESS

Brown’s upcoming visit to Beijing will focus on keeping up the COP21 Paris accords momentum Trump wants to radically reverse. California’s aggressive stance on pollution controls and environmental standards will be highlighted. The governor wants to make a lasting difference in the world.

Some are critical of a state’s role in concluding agreements with sovereign nations like China, arguing that only the federal government has the right to enter accords. But Trump’s climate change denial and waning global influence creates an international opening for California to assert both its power and promise.  READ MORE

A solution to eliminate chemical weapons

Gassing children is abhorrent. Killing children in any way is abhorrent, but President Donald Trump said he was particularly moved by the images of the recent Syrian chemical weapons attack. That is understandable because the use of chemical weapons in warfare is arguably worse than other types of wartime battlefield killing.

Inert 105 mm shells are ready to enter an explosive destruction system used for chemical munitions inside the Pueblo Chemical Depot in southern Colorado. President Donald Trump should build a coalition of military powers to accelerate the destruction of chemical weapons in the U.S. arsenal and around the world. Brennan Linsley Associated Press file

Inert 105 mm shells are ready to enter an explosive destruction system used for chemical munitions inside the Pueblo Chemical Depot in southern Colorado. President Donald Trump should build a coalition of military powers to accelerate the destruction of chemical weapons in the U.S. arsenal and around the world. Brennan Linsley Associated Press file

The reason: Modern killing by chemicals is a cruel and calculated way to destroy humans but preserve physical structures, roads and machines. A warmonger who wants to preserve infrastructure but destroy the lives of opposing armies, collaborating civilians and innocent bystanders has decided that life is cheap but buildings are not.  Read More.

Making Russia, Turkey and China great again

Greatness. It was candidate Donald Trump’s central promise: He would Make America Great Again, or #MAGA for short.

But how does a nation achieve greatness? The expansion of territory, influence and power is a good historic measure of a nation’s drive toward greatness.

In the early 21st century, there are many nations actively seeking to achieve greatness. America, however, may be taking a breather.

Today, large and powerful countries are striving to achieve a greatness that was previously unattainable. Once the United States began to retrench, however, and norms governing world order, borders and sovereignty were no longer respected, the rules of the global game changed. Read more.

When Hollywood endings turn deadly

Hollywood is the new 21st century think tank. Policies, projects, political personalities – not to mention plot twists – are cultivated in entertainment industry hothouses.

In this images made from video released by KRT on March 7, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, reacts during the launch of four missiles in an undisclosed location North Korea. Kim Jong-un has likely taken the storyline of a movie about him and twisted it to kill his half brother.

In this images made from video released by KRT on March 7, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, reacts during the launch of four missiles in an undisclosed location North Korea. Kim Jong-un has likely taken the storyline of a movie about him and twisted it to kill his half brother.

Donald Trump is only the latest manifestation of a TV personage to turn his reality show ratings and rantings into real political power. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan also come to mind. This phenomenon has been a growing and gathering domestic trend.

Now, foreign governments and leaders seemingly are relying on Hollywood for new actionable ideas as they pursue their national interests. In a twist that is only imaginable as a spy plot of an international thriller, Kim Jong-un has likely taken the storyline of a movie about him and twisted it to kill his half brother.  Read more.

Cuba’s impact on America

HAVANA, CUBA --  Russia worked to take down Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it may have been Cuba that delivered Donald Trump the White House.

Cuba brought the world Trump? It’s hard to imagine Cuba had anything to do with the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Contemporary America seems so far away for anyone sitting on a Havana tourist rooftop overlooking renovations of its Capitol, listening to the street sounds of rhythmic music, or watching lumbering ’50s Chevys cruise down seaside boulevards.

Internationally known Cuban artist Damian Aquiles and his American wife, Pamela Ruiz, stand in front of his “Walking Men” work, which was also commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations office in Washington, D.C. Evolving political change in Cuba is giving artists and budding entrepreneurs a glimpse at new opportunities. - Markos Kounalakis

Internationally known Cuban artist Damian Aquiles and his American wife, Pamela Ruiz, stand in front of his “Walking Men” work, which was also commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations office in Washington, D.C. Evolving political change in Cuba is giving artists and budding entrepreneurs a glimpse at new opportunities. - Markos Kounalakis

This beautiful island nation struggles with basic goods, has no easily available internet, and could use a lot of plaster and a good paint job. The furthest thing from this news-controlled, social-media-free, communist-rundown country is the sense that it plays any geopolitical role.  Read more here

The Trump World Order

Guessing what the world will look like in the Trump era is a risky game. A President Donald Trump has no governing track record, and his campaign was full of contradicting policies and statements that make only one thing certain: Unpredictability.

Surprise is an element that Trump relishes both in deal-making and, already as PEOTUS, in policy. America and the world need to get ready for a wild ride.

During the first 100 days, it is safe to expect a series of surprise moves. On the one hand, his opponents will question his presidency’s legitimacyconflicts of interest and seeming disregard for governing institutions. On the other hand, startling shifts will also come from a White House manically pitching and tweeting new domestic and foreign policy directions.  Read more.


 

Where will Trump venture for his first state visit?

Barbra Streisand and Lena Dunham may be some of the higher profile Trumpfugees leaving the country and heading to Justin Trudeau’s Canada. What is less certain is if a President Donald Trump will make Ottawa his first foreign port of call – a long-standing presidential and foreign policy tradition.

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto and presidential candidate Donald Trump met in Mexico City in August in a surprise visit. There are any number of early Trump supporters in other countries who could be rewarded and elevated by a presidential visit. Dario Lopez-Mills The Associated Press

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto and presidential candidate Donald Trump met in Mexico City in August in a surprise visit. There are any number of early Trump supporters in other countries who could be rewarded and elevated by a presidential visit. Dario Lopez-Mills The Associated Press

Post-election, Trudeau quickly called to congratulate PEOTUS Trump on his victory and the Canadian tweeted “we agreed to meet soon to keep building the Canada-U.S. relationship.”

Trump may want to use the high-visibility first trip to do something other than affirm tradition and reflect the importance and strength of U.S.-Canadian ties. He may want to make a grand strategy statement, letting the world know that he is going to shake up the global status quo. Read more here

 

Instead of global news we have national cacophony

A series of dramatically extraordinary events are occurring worldwide. That’s an understatement, of course. But watching the former television staple – the network evening news programs – would leave citizens ignorant of any global tectonic shifts.


Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/markos-kounalakis/article116839393.html#storylink=cpy
Walter Cronkite was once considered America’s “most trusted” person as he summarized the day’s most important events on the CBS Evening News.

Walter Cronkite was once considered America’s “most trusted” person as he summarized the day’s most important events on the CBS Evening News.

Recently, Brazil impeached its president, Columbia arrived at a peaceful agreement (but failed referendum) to a decades-long civil war, and the Middle East became more volatile after Turkey unilaterally invaded Syria. The list goes on.

The network news on that eventful day, however, was dominated by two extreme East Coast weather events, a photo-op in Mexico, and a few viral YouTube videos.  Read more here

#NeverComcast #NeverDirectTV

Voting results are in. The winners are clear.

Losers are clear, too.

What is unclear is how this diverse nation with varied, often polarized opinions and divergent factual understandings moves toward a greater, more unified and stronger future.

Commentator Sean Hannity did more than talk politics on Fox News; he also touted Donald Trump in a campaign video. Carolyn Kaster The Associated Press

Commentator Sean Hannity did more than talk politics on Fox News; he also touted Donald Trump in a campaign video. Carolyn Kaster The Associated Press

Americans cast their ballots, but there is one vote that they now need to make against the people who failed and misled this citizenry. Donald Trump railed against them incessantly; Hillary Clinton considered them part of a vast conspiratorial plot.

“They” are the gatekeepers and party crashers. The false prognosticators and the misleading arbiters of speech, thought and norms. “They” are the ubiquitous, incessantly chattering, consistently erring and holier-than-thou television media.  Read more.

 

Putin’s powerful playbook: Hack, steal, disrupt, mislead, confuse

Presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton included a third participant: Vladimir Putin, standing in the background, stealthily inserting himself in the process.


Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/markos-kounalakis/article111147882.html#storylink=cpy

Putin hacks. Putin cyberattacks. On the one hand, the Republican nominee refused to acknowledge the cybercrime; on the other, he invited it against his opponent.

Russia’s technological capacity to damage America extends beyond the recent digital probing, snatching, culling and embarrassingly selective release of data about Democrats. The cybersecurity breaches are serious, of course, but ultimately survivable.  Read more

 

Ethiopia’s promise, potential at a crossroads

Coffee delivers a taste of Ethiopia to Americans daily. Coffee beans were discovered in Ethiopia, and a morning Starbucks is generally as close as most Americans get to that African nation.

Ethiopia hit closer to home last week, however, when UC Davis plant biology researcher Sharon Gray was killed by rock-throwing rioters outside the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. Gray’s car was pelted and she became the first foreigner to die in anti-government protests that have already claimed hundreds of Ethiopians since last November.

Sharon Gray, 30, a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher, was killed in Ethiopia while riding in a vehicle that was stoned by protesters in the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Gray, who worked in the university’s plant biology department, was in the East African nation to attend a meeting related to her research.

Sharon Gray, 30, a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher, was killed in Ethiopia while riding in a vehicle that was stoned by protesters in the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Gray, who worked in the university’s plant biology department, was in the East African nation to attend a meeting related to her research.

In the wake of Gray’s death, Ethiopia’s domestic tensions seem to have worsened. Last Sunday, Ethiopia’s leader declared a six-month state of emergency, recognizing the growing unrest and hoping to quell further political violence.   Read more