After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change


October 9, 2017

THE ECONOMIST

A deathly silence

After the massacre in Las Vegas, nothing is set to change

 

But do not despair. Some progress on gun laws is possible in America

Print edition | Leaders

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Panoramic Photo of The Las Vegas Strip,Nevada

AFTER the worst mass shooting in recent American history, in which 58 people were killed and 489 wounded, both the president and the majority leaders in Congress sought to keep talk about new gun laws to a minimum. In Vegas that kind of reticence is called a tell. Had Stephen Paddock used a new technology—an armed drone, say—to kill from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, or had he been an immigrant from the Middle East, lawmakers would be rushing to legislate or tighten borders. But he was a retired white man who used some of the 49 guns he owned, so it is the price of freedom.

Image result for the mandalay bay resort and casino

There is a weariness to America’s gun debate and the familiar ritual after mass shootings, which are more frequent than in any other rich country. One study counted 166 of them in 14 countries in 2000-14; 133 were in America. Yet, nothing happens, partly because the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has evolved from an armed version of the Boy Scout movement into the foremost mouthpiece for a view of America in which everyone must be armed for their own protection, has a veto in Washington—including over banning “bump stocks” which make semi-automatic guns more lethal.

If America could not overhaul its gun laws after Sandy Hook, when 20 children aged six and seven were shot at school, then what chance is there now? And even if tighter laws on new guns were introduced tomorrow, there would still be a stock of 300m firearms to reckon with.

Such despair is unworthy of this week’s victims. There are plenty of down-is-up arguments about guns, but the Las Vegas shooting, in addition to being the most deadly, has shown up the old NRA line that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun as the most deceitful of the lot.

Granted, America has chosen permissive gun laws for itself. But the body count does not have to be as high as it is today. Research into murder and suicide suggests that making it just slightly harder to get hold of a weapon can reduce the number of killings, many of which are spontaneous and unplanned.

Image result for The National Rifle Association, Washington DC

The NRA has Senators and Congressman in its back pocket. No meaningful change in US Gun Laws is possible. Las Vegas is, therefore, not the last word on Gun Violence in the Land of the Brave and the Free.–Din Merican

It ought to be possible to write laws that respect the right to bear arms while banning weapons and modifications that make it astonishingly easy to kill a lot of people quickly. Most Americans favour such laws and would like universal background checks on gun purchases, too (though support for gun control is less fervent than for gun rights). Such a regime would still leave America with an unusually high number of murders, suicides and fatal accidents involving guns, but the disparity with other countries would be less glaring.

The road from Mandalay Hotel

Tired of waiting for Congress, some cities have introduced their own laws. In upstate New York, where plenty of people hunt, gun laws are permissive. In New York City those laws do not apply. Anyone who wants to carry a gun down Fifth Avenue must first obtain the permission of the NYPD. New York state tightened its laws after Sandy Hook, in effect banning assault weapons. Four other states did the same, though a further 16 responded by making guns easier to buy or carry.

Las Vegas, which sits in a state with some of the loosest rules in the country, should rewrite its own gun laws, too. Real conservatives, who champion local fixes for local problems, ought to cheer that. Of course it would not completely solve the problem. Cities like Chicago, near states with permissive laws, would still be flooded with guns. But in a country with 30,000 gun deaths a year, even small improvements would save a lot of lives. A rough calculation suggests that in the time between the Las Vegas shooting and the publication of this article, a further 320 Americans lost their life to a bullet.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “Deathly silence”

 

NY Times Book Review: “We Were 8 Years in Power”


October 6, 2017

NY Times Book Review: “We Were 8 Years in Power”

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “We Were Eight Years in Power” has yet to come out, but it’s already generated a storm of discussion. The Atlantic ran an excerpt; conservatives went on the attack; George Packer, a highly-regarded and left-leaning journalist who got caught in Coates’s cross hairs, issued a rebuttal. A new book from Coates is not merely a literary event. It’s a launch from Cape Canaveral. There’s a lot of awe, heat, resistance.

The simplest way to describe “We Were Eight Years in Power” is as a selection of Coates’s most influential pieces from The Atlantic, organized chronologically. The book is actually far more than that, but for now let’s stick with those pieces, which have established Coates as the pre-eminent black public intellectual of his generation.

It’s not an accident that these reported essays span the years of Barack Obama’s presidency. “Obama’s presence opened a new field for writers,” Coates writes, “and what began as curiosity about the man himself eventually expanded into curiosity about the community he had so consciously made his home and all the old, fitfully slumbering questions he’d awakened about American identity.”

Coates was one of the first to show up to discuss all three of these themes: The man, the community, our national identity. He critiqued respectability politics. He wrote about mass incarceration. He wrote about Michelle Obama and Chicago’s South Side. He wrote about how Barack Obama was exceptional, in many senses, and about the paradoxical limits of the first black president’s power to address race and racism. He wrote about the qualitative difference between white economic prospects and black economic prospects, thanks to discriminatory policies promulgated by the government even during progressive times, and about how, in his view, reparations would be the only way to redress the problem.

Coates often discussed matters of race in a way that many African-Americans wished Obama could have.

One of the book’s most persistent, recurrent themes, a shuttle that flies through the loom, is that black progress is always met with a violent backlash — the modern apotheosis of which was the election of Donald J. Trump. Most of these pieces force a reckoning with ideas that people, mainly whites, avoid contemplating or reject or insist (sometimes rightly) are more complicated: That American democracy was predicated on an enslaved class of Africans; that most white Americans still can’t tolerate the idea of equality; that acknowledging the many legacies of slavery is too much to ask of most whites, because it would disrupt our conception of our country and ourselves.

Coates provokes and invites argument. He’s had a rich life as a blogger, and one of the ways he’s learned — he’s not shy about noting he’s an autodidact — has been through his many followers. It’s as if he’s still carrying on the conversation in his magazine stories.

As indispensable as his voice is, he might well have been crowned “America’s best writer on race,” as one newspaper put it, prematurely. Simply reading and name-checking him came to feel sufficient for some white readers, preventing them from consuming other African-American voices with different points of view and different readings of history.

But taking in Coates’s essays from start to finish is still a bracing thing, like drinking a triple scotch, neat.

Perhaps an even more compelling reason to read “We Were Eight Years in Power” is for the new material Coates has written. He introduces each magazine story with an essay that serves not just as connective tissue, binding one work to the next, but as meta-commentary, reminiscent of Mary McCarthy’s italicized re-reflections in “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood.” He calls each one “a kind of extended blog post,” offering a glimpse into what he was thinking and feeling when he wrote the article that follows it. You see in these mini-essays the same mixture of feelings that saturated his two previous works, “The Beautiful Struggle” and “Between the World and Me”: pessimism and vulnerability, mistrust and melancholy, anger and resignation. You realize they must inform, to some degree, his outlook and his journalism. “I had no expectations of white people at all,” he writes at one point.

Photo

Credit Sonny Figueroa/The New York Times

His disposition also informs his reaction to the experience of sudden celebrity. Coates was dogged by feelings of failure and inadequacy even after he published his first story for The Atlantic, which landed with a splash and a whorl. (“My chief identity, to my mind, was not writer but college dropout.”) As his fame grew, he started getting invited to the White House, and he would leave those visits in a fug of self-doubt. The first time, he thought he had “failed” to get his points across to Obama; the second, he feared he had argued with the president too theatrically. “I was trying to prove to myself that I would not be cowed or seduced by power,” he writes. “It was ridiculous.”

More confusingly to him, white liberals started to bathe him in praise. Throughout his career, Coates had strained against writing anodyne pieces that would soothe the white conscience. What was “The Case for Reparations” if not an argument that sorely tested the imaginations of whites, arguing for “ideas roundly dismissed as crazy”? Yet still he was anointed. It’s a position he finds uncomfortable, which may explain the weariness one periodically sees in Coates’s appearances before largely white audiences, when they come seeking assurance and he responds with all the encouragement of a slamming door. “What if there was no hope at all?” he asks. “Sometimes, I said as much and was often met with a kind of polite and stunned disappointment.”

This is where Coates obviously parts company with Obama, who campaigned on the very notion of hope and the perfectibility of America. Obama still seems to believe that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice. With Obama’s election, Coates briefly allowed himself to entertain the same belief. He was quickly disenchanted. It’s clear he now believes this arc, at best, reaches an asymptote — that dastardly dotted line it can never quite touch. And even that’s probably too optimistic a reading.

One can understand this point of view and deeply sympathize with it. But there are times when Coates seems to unwittingly complicate it. When he writes that he realized, after living in France, that he was lucky not to have been born there — “It is, I think, the very chaos of America that allowed me to prosper” — one wishes he would reckon with this idea for more than a paragraph.

In the election of Trump, Coates sees an affirmation of his bleak worldview. “To Trump whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power,” he writes in the final essay here, recently published to much attention in The Atlantic. “Every Trump voter is most certainly not a white supremacist,” Coates writes. “But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”

In their quest for affirmation, it’s true that human beings have a depressing capacity for selective listening. Some white voters without a college education, Trump’s most overwhelmingly enthusiastic constituency, took his racism far less seriously than they should have, or just overlooked it — and those are the best-case scenarios. Others privileged their anti-abortion beliefs above all else, or their fealty to the Republican Party, or (in a different vein entirely) their hatred of Washington, hoping to shake the Etch A Sketch and start anew. Or they thought Hillary Clinton was a criminal and moral degenerate.

But I would add that many of us can listen selectively — including Coates. In the first piece in this collection, he recalls the exhilaration of attending the Million Man March organized by Louis Farrakhan. “For us, Farrakhan’s opinions on the Jews mostly seemed beside the point,” he writes. “What stuck was the chance to assert our humanity and our manhood by marching on the Mall, and not acting like we were all fresh out of San Quentin.”

He had to hold contradictions in his head in order to allow himself to get swept up in a moment led by an inflammatory figure. Some Trump voters may have done the same.

It is to Coates’s credit, though, that by the time you’re done reading “We Were Eight Years in Power,” you also see what he does — namely, that far too many whites are overlooking what is so plainly staring them in the face, and that America couldn’t have a black president without boomeranging back to its ugliest self.

Hence Coates’s subtitle: An American tragedy.

Trump appeases an authoritarian Malaysian Prime Minister to The White House


September 13, 2017

Trump appeases an authoritarian Malaysian Prime Minister to the White House

By Editorial Board, The Washington Post

The Post’s View

Opinion

 

Malaysian PM Najib Razak reviews an honour guard at The White House. Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

PRESIDENT TRUMP has made a habit of embracing authoritarian rulers he regards as friendly, without regard for their subversion of democratic norms or gross human rights violations. Yet his meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at the White House on Tuesday sets a new low. Not only is Mr. Najib known for imprisoning peaceful opponents, silencing critical media and reversing Malaysia’s progress toward democracy. He also is a subject of the largest foreign kleptocracy investigation ever launched by the U.S. Justice Department.

U.S. investigators have charged that Mr. Najib and close associates diverted $4.5 billion from a Malaysian government investment fund for their own uses, including $730 million that ended up in accounts controlled by the Prime Minister. Justice first filed civil suits seeking the freezing of some $1.7 billion in assets in the United States, including real estate, artworks and stakes in Hollywood movies; more recently, the department asked that those actions be put on hold while it pursues a criminal investigation. Mr. Najib has not been charged with a crime and denies wrongdoing, but the U.S. investigation prompted speculation in Malaysia that he could be arrested if he set foot on American soil — not good PR for a leader who is obligated to call an election sometime in the next few months.

[Here’s what President Trump should tell Malaysia’s prime minister]

With his White House invitation, Mr. Trump has neatly gotten Mr. Najib off that hook and provided him with what the regime will portray as a tacit pre-election endorsement. Despite his repression, Mr. Najib could use that sort of help: In the last election, in 2013, his party lost the popular vote and retained power only because of the gerrymandering of election districts.

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President Trump and other top American officials, left, met at the White House with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia and his delegation, right .The Post’s Editorial states: “The best way for the United States to build a stronger alliance with Malaysia and bolster its independence from China is to encourage those in the country who support liberal democratic values — while holding Mr. Najib accountable for his human rights violations, as well as any financial crimes he may have committed in the United States”.

If the White House received anything in exchange for that huge political favor, it’s not evident. That’s particularly unfortunate because Mr. Najib’s regime is not only a conspicuous violator of human rights but a relative friend to North Korea. The regime of Kim Jong Un has exported workers to Malaysia to earn hard currency. Kim Jong Un’s estranged half brother was murdered in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport — so far with no consequences for Pyongyang.

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Mr. Trump isn’t the only  U.S. President to pursue a policy of appeasement toward Mr. Najib. Barack Obama was the first appeaser who played golf with and visited the Malaysian Prime Minister in Malaysia.

Mr. Trump isn’t the first U.S. President to pursue a policy of appeasement toward Mr. Najib. President Barack Obama golfed with the Prime Minister and flattered him with the first visit by a U.S. President to Malaysia in nearly half a century. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump may imagine that courting Mr. Najib is a necessary counter to China, which has hosted him twice in the past year and wooed him with promises of about $100 billion in investments. Yet Mr. Najib’s corruption and disregard for democratic norms mean he will inevitably prefer the values-free patronage of Beijing over alliance with Washington.

The best way for the United States to build a stronger alliance with Malaysia and bolster its independence from China is to encourage those in the country who support liberal democratic values — while holding Mr. Najib accountable for his human rights violations, as well as any financial crimes he may have committed in the United States. If Mr. Trump makes a start at that on Tuesday, he could begin to mitigate the error of inviting Mr. Najib to the White House.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/trump-welcomes-an-authoritarian-to-the-white-house/2017/09/11/9d19f51c-9707-11e7-b569-3360011663b4_story.html?utm_term=.e59f606520a0

WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT


September 9, 2017

WASHINGTON POWER PLAYERS WANT TRUMP TO CANCEL NAJIB VISIT–ENCORE Posting–SARAWAK REPORT

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 Malaysian Prime Minister and his wife are not welcome to the United States. Both are likely to get a roasting from the US media when they call on President Donald Trump and FLOTUS on September 12 at The White House. It is a repeat of the Obama Administration’s folly. Trump will blame the State Department for yet another diplomatic snafu.–Din Merican

 

by Sarawak Report

Today’s Editorial (September7)  in The Wall Street Journal (see below) will not go unremarked on Capital Hill.  More so, given it is just one of a growing body of articles condemning Trump’s ill-advised and so far inadequately explained invitation to Najib.

The WSJ points out that Trump is falling for the very same ruse that Malaysia’s Toxic Twosome pulled on Obama, employing yet another lobbyist who had been close to him on the campaign trail, Frank White.  Nowadays Najib has Healey Baumgardner, a campaign manager for Trump, on his payroll instead.

Image result for Najib and RosmahPresident Barack H. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama seen with Malaysia’s notorious couple

 

But, as the WSJ points out, The State Department bears responsibility for allowing Trump to step into this particular piece of dog-do that can only make his look both a hypocrite and a fool.  Neither will supporting Najib’s PR machine at election time do US interests one bit of good:

Trump’s Malaysia Swamp
Did Tillerson tell his boss he’s repeating an Obama mistake?

in the September 7, 2017 Print Edition

A visit to the White House is a diplomatic plum that world leaders covet. So why is President Trump bestowing this honor on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who jailed an opposition leader and is a suspect in a corruption scandal that spans the globe?

Mr. Najib will visit the White House next week for a presidential photo-op that could help him win the next general election and imperil Malaysia’s democracy. Yet it isn’t clear that Mr. Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are getting anything in return for associating with a leader their own Justice Department is investigating. This could set them up for a repeat of the way Mr. Najib humiliated Barack Obama.

Mr. Najib oversaw the creation of 1MDB, a state-owned fund that was supposed to attract foreign investment. The U.S. Justice Department alleges that the Prime Minister and his associates looted the fund of $4.5 billion. The DOJ has filed civil lawsuits to freeze more than $1.6 billion of assets allegedly stolen from the fund. Five other nations are also investigating, and Singapore has convicted five financiers of money laundering and fraud. Mr. Najib hasn’t been charged and denies wrongdoing, and Malaysia’s Attorney General cleared him.

Under Mr. Najib, Malaysian authorities also conducted a six-year prosecution against opposition leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on dubious charges of sodomy, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. That legal farce helped Mr. Najib’s party win a narrow victory in the 2013 election.

So how should the U.S. engage a troubled Malaysia? Mr. Obama cozied up to Mr. Najib and chose to ignore the prosecution of Mr. Anwar when he made the first visit by a U.S. President in 60 years to Kuala Lumpur in April 2014. Eight months later, he invited Mr. Najib for a showy round of golf in Hawaii.

But that precedent is not consistent with Mr. Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington politics. Two months after that golf round Mr. Anwar was jailed again. And shortly after Mr. Obama made nice with Mr. Najib, Frank White Jr. , who served as co-chair of President Obama’s re-election committee before becoming a lobbyist for Malaysia, sold a stake in a 1MDB-linked solar technology firm back to the fund for $69 million.

The benefits of communing with Mr. Najib aren’t obvious. Perhaps Mr. Tillerson thinks Malaysia will help tighten the financial screws on North Korea, which has long used the country as a business hub. But Mr. Najib isn’t likely to stop his strategic drift toward China. Keeping 1MDB afloat will require cash infusions, and China, eager to help fellow authoritarians, can deploy its One Belt, One Road slush fund. Mr. Najib can then buy off the opposition and consolidate power.

If Malaysia slides into dictatorship, it will almost surely fall into Beijing’s orbit. The U.S. relationship depends on Malaysia remaining a viable democracy. That’s why helping Mr. Najib at this critical moment is a mistake.

Mr. Trump will be told that it’s too late to cancel the meeting, but the U.S. can find a diplomatic excuse in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or congressional battles. Any embarrassment is better than giving a scandal-tainted leader a White House photo-op.

 

 

America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe


May 26, 2017

Today's WorldView

America’s past and future collide on a single day in Europe

 By Ishaan Tharoor

Call it a tale of two Presidents. On the same day that President Trump visits the gleaming new NATO headquarters in Brussels, his predecessor will give a high-profile speech in Berlin.

Former President Barack Obama is expected to return to the Brandenburg Gate on Thursday, basking in the admiration of his many European admirers while speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leader with whom he has a famous friendship. Obama will be participating in the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant church. That it coincides with Trump’s tour of the Belgian capital is a scheduling quirk, but it’s a coincidence that feels fraught with symbolism.

On Wednesday, Trump entered the den of the proverbial globalists. Brussels is not just the headquarters of the West’s preeminent military alliance, but also the heart of the European Union and home to the sort of technocratic elites that Trump and the continent’s far right frequently rage against. Before he entered the White House, Trump deemed NATO “obsolete” and seemed to suggest that he would welcome the further dissolution of the European Union after Brexit.

“The mere fact that Trump has agreed to visit a city filled with international organizations he once called ‘obsolete’ is a victory,” The Washington Post’s Michael Birnbaum and Anthony Faiola wrote.  And although a few months in office appear to have moderated Trump’s message, Obama’s star turn in Berlin will only deepen the sense of dissonance surrounding his successor.

An editorial in the Leipziger Zeitung newspaper said Obama’s presence in Germany would be that of a “healer.” Obama, the newspaper declared, “is a painfully missed ex-president,” an “eloquent, charismatic preacher.” These are qualities, it claimed, that Trump entirely lacks.

No matter the polarization that seems to define American politics, Obama remains an incredibly well-regarded figure in Europe. An estimated 200,000 Germans rallied around Obama in Berlin before his first election in 2008, and that enthusiasm endured. A Pew Research Center survey last June found that 77 percent of Europeans had confidence in Obama, while only 9 percent felt the same way about Trump.

Obama’s popularity was even greater in Germany, where 86 percent of respondents said they had confidence in him. His Thursday appearance at the Brandenburg Gate, where Ronald Reagan famously upbraided the Soviet Union’s final leader, may reaffirm the spirit of American friendship — or at least spark some nostalgia for a cuddlier past.

“The choice of the location seems like a staging for the ‘good American’ Germans would have liked to have seen in office,” Thomas Jäger, Professor of international politics and foreign policy at Cologne University, said to my colleagues. “Trump, on the other hand, in the German perception embodies every negative American stereotype … a grandstander, too loud, successful in a way that one doesn’t like at all.”

The expectations surrounding Trump’s time in Brussels are not particularly high. At NATO he will stick to a familiar and safe script, urging the United States’ partners to share more of the burden in maintaining international security and emphasizing the need to focus on the war against Islamist extremism — two issues where he will find no resistance among NATO’s member states. Conspicuously, serious discussion about the challenge of Russia is not on the agenda. Trump will also meet several European leaders, including recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron, who campaigned with Obama’s blessing from afar and at times seemed to point to the perils of Trump’s presidency as a reason to vote against his own right-wing opponents.

 

But now that the sitting U.S. president is in Europe, his interlocutors on the continent will hope he can be persuaded to embrace the institutions and the wider liberal order he railed against just months ago.

“There’s still a high degree of uncertainty when it comes to the aims and objectives of the Americans,” Cornelius Adebahr, an associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said to The Post. “One of the main objectives is to convince the Americans of the value of these formats.”

Trump is “someone who doesn’t believe in the whole idea of engaging with European allies,” Tomas Valasek, head of the Carnegie Europe think tank, said to my colleagues. “At least part of the European countries’ strategy for dealing with Trump is essentially to hunker down and wait until he goes away.”

Ahead of the Group of Seven meeting in Sicily, where Trump will be in attendance, Merkel called for unity in the fight against global warming. The move was seen in part as a bid to push back against the Trump administration’s apparent desire to pull out of the Paris climate accords — a pact championed by Obama. There is hope among European officialdom that the “grown-ups” in the White House will coax Trump away from extreme positions and keep his foreign policy more in line with that of a traditional Republican president. Others caution against such complacency.

“European policymakers hope that [Trump] will listen to his team, live up to their promises, and not destroy the NATO alliance or the European Union in a fit of pique,” wrote Jeremy Shapiro of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They would be wiser to hedge against his predictable unpredictability and seek their own means of securing their position in the world.”