Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

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Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

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Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

Steve Bannon’s Book Club


February 6, 2017

Steve Bannon’s Book Club

by Marc Tracy

On the day after Christmas, I was walking through Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport when I caught sight of a slightly rumpled man waiting for a flight. He seemed familiar, the way figures in dreams do.

It was, I thought, Stephen K. Bannon, who had been named chief strategist to Donald J. Trump after serving as his campaign’s chief executive. When the man put on a Barbour jacket, which Mr. Bannon has made something of a trademark, I was convinced I was not engaged in waking fantasy.

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Mr. Bannon was carrying a book, and when an incoming President’s guru is reading a book, you should find out what it is. I walked by and peeked. It was “The Best and the Brightest,” David Halberstam’s 1972 history of the strategic errors and human foibles that birthed the disastrous American involvement in the Vietnam War. It begins with John F. Kennedy’s transition to the White House, in December 1960.

“Who’s asking?” he replied, smiling a contrived pirate’s grin. I again identified myself, adding my name, and he acknowledged who he was and shook my hand. (I am relying on my memory and notes jotted down immediately after.)

I asked if he was indeed reading “The Best and the Brightest.”“Oh, yes,” he said.

He seemed surprised that I was surprised, although really I was stunned at the situation’s surreal appropriateness. If a novelist were imagining the Trump presidency, this book, a case study in what can go wrong from the outset of an administration ushered in by a change election in uncertain times, is precisely what Mr. Bannon would be reading.

“I’m having everyone in the transition read it,” Mr. Bannon continued, later clarifying that “everyone” meant several people.

“It’s great,” he said of the book, “for seeing how little mistakes early on can lead to big ones later.”

We talked a few minutes more — about Mr. Halberstam’s other books; about college football, which I cover — and parted ways, myself wondering which lessons of the book Mr. Bannon would imbibe.

The central argument of “The Best and the Brightest” is that the very brilliance of the men whom President Kennedy appointed to his cabinet and senior advisory roles was responsible for what Mr. Halberstam, who had reported from Vietnam for The Times, saw as epic failure.

The phrase “the best and the brightest” is frequently misused, “failing to carry the tone or irony that the original intended,” Mr. Halberstam said in a 1992 preface. For instance, when Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said in November that President-elect Trump sought to fill his administration with “the best and brightest in the country,” he presumably meant it in earnest.

But the implied irony was not that the advisers weren’t impressive men (always men, usually men who had attended Harvard). They were. Rather, Mr. Halberstam’s caustic title and the nearly 700 pages that follow indict the notion that society’s smartest are necessarily the ones best equipped to tackle society’s biggest problems.

Mr. Halberstam’s bull’s-eye is painted on a specific kind of smart person. President Kennedy chose his men based on general wits, rather than on specific knowledge. Perhaps the most famous example was Robert McNamara, an ingenious scientist of managerialism, a president of Ford Motor Company, who as secretary of defense, said Mr. Halberstam, “knew nothing about Asia, about poverty, about people, about American domestic politics.”

“The book speaks to a concern about having a government-run by technocrats,” Fredrik Logevall, a Vietnam War scholar, told me.

It scarcely requires the effort to see how Mr. Bannon’s anti-establishment worldview and his own assumption of broad power — he has been elevated to the National Security Council’s “principals committee,” an unusual move for a political adviser — could find ballast in “The Best and the Brightest.” He is no technocrat, but a former Goldman Sachs banker, film producer and media impresario whose national security experience appears limited to several years as a Navy officer and a master’s degree.

However, also unlike McNamara and the rest, he has definite beliefs about the world.

Mr. Bannon envisions President Trump as unencumbered by ossified default norms so he is able to push, he told The Times, “populist nation-state policies.”

These policies have worried civil rights groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Bannon called Breitbart News under his editorial stewardship “a platform for the alt-right” — a movement whose tenets include white nationalism and anti-Semitism. He has also advocated “a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam,” which may help explain Mr. Trump’s executive order banning entry to people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

If “The Best and the Brightest” is a brief against the East Coast meritocracy, though, its proposed alternative is not pure ideology. It is expertise.

Time and again, in Mr. Halberstam’s telling, lower-level government officials who understood Vietnamese politics, sentiments and even geography assessed reality accurately and offered correct policy recommendations to the major characters — who shunted them aside.

In early 1964, for instance, a State Department study concluded that bombing North Vietnam to reach a favorable political settlement would fail. The finding “reflected the genuine expertise of the government from deep within its bowels,” Mr. Halberstam writes. But the higher-ups favored bombing, and so there was bombing. (Which failed.)

“You’ve got these guys that are so brilliant, but they’re generalists,” said Mr. Logevall. “There’s a distinction to be drawn, he concludes, between this abstract quickness, this verbal facility, and true wisdom, which he says was missing.”

Such a reading prompts thought of the more than 1,000 State Department employees who signed a dissent cable opposing the immigration executive order — an order that, according to reports, was written by Mr. Bannon and the Trump adviser Stephen Miller, neither of whom are counterterrorism experts (or lawyers).

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In this light, Mr. Bannon seems less a repudiation than a reincarnation of the tragic protagonists of “The Best and the Brightest.” Walt Rostow, who occupied various foreign policy positions before ascending to national security adviser, comes to mind. Like Mr. Bannon, who has said he grew up in a working-class Catholic household in Richmond, Va., Mr. Rostow, the son of Jewish Socialist immigrants in New York City, began as an outsider.

Mr. Rostow was an economist, and in foreign affairs Mr. Halberstam shows him to be a dilettante. As bombs fell on Pleiku, he writes, “Rostow wandered around the White House clapping Air Force officers on the back, asking about the weather, reminding them that he had once picked targets, and he knew that weather was important.”

Mr. Rostow’s wartime experience in the Office of Strategic Services ostensibly justified his influence, much as Mr. Spicer claimed that Mr. Bannon’s Navy tenure qualifies him for full membership on the National Security Council. That’s a perch from which he might redefine American engagement with the world.

Are Mr. Bannon’s early moves “little mistakes”? To go by Mr. Bannon’s book report on “The Best and the Brightest,” we may not know until years from now — by whether they led to big mistakes later on.

Grow-Up, Mr. Trump–You are not Robinson Crusoe


January 4, 2017

Comments from Paul Krugman

Grow-Up, Mr. Trump–You are not Robinson Crusoe

For the past couple of months, thoughtful people have been quietly worrying that the Trump administration might get us into a foreign policy crisis, maybe even a war.

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Trump with Michael Flint (National Security Advisor) and Steve Bannon (White House Chief of Staff)

Partly this worry reflected Donald Trump’s addiction to bombast and swagger, which plays fine in Breitbart and on Fox News but doesn’t go down well with foreign governments. But it also reflected a cold view of the incentives the new administration would face: as working-class voters began to realize that candidate Trump’s promises about jobs and health care were insincere, foreign distractions would look increasingly attractive.

The most likely flash point seemed to be China, the subject of much Trumpist tough talk, where disputes over islands in the South China Sea could easily turn into shooting incidents.

And while there may be an element of cynical calculation in some of the administration’s crisis mongering, this is looking less and less like a political strategy and more and more like a psychological syndrome.

The Australian confrontation has gotten the most press, probably because it’s so weirdly gratuitous. Australia is, after all, arguably America’s most faithful friend in the whole world, a nation that has fought by our side again and again. We will, of course, have disputes, as any two nations will, but nothing that should disturb the strength of our alliance — especially because Australia is one of the countries we will need to rely on if there is a confrontation with China.

Donald Trump: Americans apologise to Australia after US President’s phone call with Turnbull

But this is the age of Trump: In a call with Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s Prime Minister, the U.S. President boasted about his election victory and complained about an existing agreement to take some of the refugees Australia has been holding, accusing Mr. Turnbull of sending us the “next Boston bombers.” Then he abruptly ended the conversation after only 25 minutes.

Well, at least Mr. Trump didn’t threaten to invade Australia. In his conversation with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, however, he did just that. According to The Associated Press, he told our neighbor’s democratically elected leader: “You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

White House sources are now claiming that this threat — remember, the U.S. has in fact invaded Mexico in the past, and the Mexicans have not forgotten — was a lighthearted joke. If you believe that, I have a Mexico-paid-for border wall to sell you.

The blowups with Mexico and Australia have overshadowed a more conventional war of words with Iran, which tested a missile on Sunday. This was definitely a provocation. But the White House warning that it was “putting Iran on notice” raises the question, notice of what? Given the way the administration has been alienating our allies, tighter sanctions aren’t going to happen. Are we ready for a war?

There was also a curious contrast between the response to Iran and the response to another, more serious provocation: Russia’s escalation of its proxy war in Ukraine. Senator John McCain called on the president to help Ukraine. Strangely, however, the White House said nothing at all about Russia’s actions until Nikki Haley, the United Nations ambassador, issued a condemnation late Thursday night to the Security Council. This is getting a bit obvious, isn’t it?

Oh, and one more thing: Peter Navarro, head of Mr. Trump’s new National Trade Council, accused Germany of exploiting the United States with an undervalued currency. There’s an interesting economics discussion to be had here, but government officials aren’t supposed to make that sort of accusation unless they’re prepared to fight a trade war. Are they?

I doubt it. In fact, this administration doesn’t seem prepared on any front. Mr. Trump’s confrontational phone calls, in particular, don’t sound like the working out of an economic or even political strategy — cunning schemers don’t waste time boasting about their election victories and whining about media reports on crowd sizes.

No, what we’re hearing sounds like a man who is out of his depth and out of control, who can’t even pretend to master his feelings of personal insecurity. His first two weeks in office have been utter chaos, and things just keep getting worse — perhaps because he responds to each debacle with a desperate attempt to change the subject that only leads to a fresh debacle.

America and the world can’t take much more of this. Think about it: If you had an employee behaving this way, you’d immediately remove him from any position of responsibility and strongly suggest that he seek counseling. And this guy is commander in chief of the world’s most powerful military.

Thanks, Comey.

This column has been updated to reflect news developments.


A Britisher in Philadelphia: Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the Republicans


January 27, 2017

A Britisher in Philadelphia: Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the Republicans

The first foreign leader to visit Donald Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Republicans on her country’s special relationship with the United States, bringing back memories of Ronald Reagan and Dame Margaret Thatcher.  Listen to this eloquent leader who is a “conservative”, not a populist. We are not sure about political leanings of President Donald Trump except to note that the 45th President of the United States is all about America First and Making America Great Again.–Din Merican

Shameful Injustice


January 20, 2017

Shameful Injustice

by KJ John@www,malaysiakini.com

What is the cost of one human life? What if the person is an Islamic State (IS) terrorist? Does his life cost any less? What if the person is a Palestinian? What about an Israeli? Are there different rules of human value for different peoples? What would be that basis? Would it be colour or ethnicity or looks or brains? What then do we humanly mean by rule of law, in any state; is it not more like, all men are brothers, but some are more equal than others?

Recently, a court in Israel found a soldier “guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder”. I do not know the full facts of the case, nor am I really too interested in specifics, but suffice to know that I heard three versions of news reports on the matter; from Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN. To me, it was a simple case story of an act of cold-blooded murder.

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Elor Azria was the Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a prone and wounded Palestinian assailant in the head.

All three channels spoke of “obvious and willing killing of the injured Palestinian with a shot through his forehead by that lone soldier”. It was a military court in Israel that found him guilty of manslaughter but my question is, why was it re-framed as “manslaughter” when it was obvious that the criminally convicted soldier knew that the Palestinian was already badly injured and “essentially captured”?

But this soldier still chose to put a bullet through the Palestinian’s forehead. Did we not already deal with such concerns at the Nuremberg Trials? Adolf Eichmann claimed he was following orders and was declared guilty by an Israeli court.

Culture of closing one-eye on facts

The scientific method of verification of truths in a modern court is based on two equally rational systems of fact-finding; one based on evidence-based facts, and then there is a due process of rule-making and decision-taking but all designed to questioning and challenging these methods for certainty assertion. The judges decide finally.

Therefore, when all such due processes are followed, in all matters, the question of how the judgment is received is moot and quite irrelevant! But, in the above specific case, my concern is that “the system had compromised justice even before the case started”. Why do I say this?

Image result for Chelsea Manning and President Barack Obama

Private Chelsea Manning who leaked classified information to Wikileaks was pardoned by President Barack Obama–A Controversy.

Why would the public prosecutor agree that the original charge made, after police investigations, to be reduced to manslaughter? Why would the Israeli military court allow such a negotiated compromise even before hearing the facts in this case? The soldier shot the injured Palestinian through the forehead 11 minutes after he was lying on the ground. It was murder by most definitions.

Is this ‘really showing grace’ or was this not really ‘an abuse of the due process of law?’ There are already international rules of conduct in public places under non-war conditions. Even if their Israeli mindset is in a constant state of war-mindedness, is such an act and visible breach of human law of mutual regard, by another human being, right, good, and true?

How then can an entire onlooker global and Israeli system choose to close one eye if the appeal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abrogate the verdict is subsequently taken seriously? Are we not creating and promoting a culture of obvious wrongdoing and closing one eye to all such wrongs?

High-level collusion for corrupt motives

Whether in Israel, or Myanmar, or ‘Melayusia’; are not a culture of collusion in favour of corrupt values, and the consequent abuse of democracy, a denial of our only real ideal?

In my current lived geography, quite unaware of what they are really doing, a group of vigilantes have been doing almost a similar thing, as follows:

1. Some volunteers formed a society and registered it with the Registrar of Societies (ROS). But their constituent members are only selective members (of only four roads) even though they claim to represent the entire community or settlement with their name ‘Katura’ or Kampung Tunku Residents Association which should theoretically represent all 30 roads of the Kampung Tunku settlement, and not just the selected four.

2. They claim to have got the Petaling Jaya City Council’s (MBPJ) agreement with their ‘illegal and unrepresentative proposal’ to create a pseudo-guarded community made up of only four out of 30 streets.

3. I have registered more than one complaint with the mayor, and another with the council and a third with the police and to date there is still no hope on the horizon for those of us who feel like Palestinians in an Israeli-claimed geography.

4. Recently also, all others who are badly affected by the programme’s road closures are also protesting. These three road closures are affecting drivers who access these roads to get to where they are going. My understanding is that such closures should only be at midnight, but obviously these vigilantes are self-made heroes, right? They follow their own rules.

5. My police report to police HQ by Internet filing no is: RMP.008579. They promised a response in three days and so I will choose to wait before I pursue the matter with them.

My core question to all in local governance is“when was security of our lives privatised to Nepali guards by the Royal Malaysian Police?” When was the Federal Constitution amended to make the this concession? Even the National Security Council (NSC) Act does not allow this, yet.

Privatising motives to ‘illegal others’

Ever since ‘the government’s privatisation policy’ was abused, over time, into a policy for cheating, stealing and lying (CSL), to achieve specific agenda of promoters, those perpetrators began a culture of cheating, stealing, and lying to cover their tracks. But such rape and theft continues unabated in spite of a change of government at the state level. Now, proofs are made available by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arresting a secretary-general.

I have always labelled such an abusive policy, a ‘piratisation policy’, or a policy that seeks to use public assets and resources for private motives, including for a political party’s sectarian goals or agenda. Public Policy always exists to protect and preserve Public Interest.

Image result for Najib is Malaysian No 1 Official

The world-famous Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) is one classic case of such a ‘piratisation’ agenda as revealed by evidences from the US Justice Department (DOJ), the Swiss and the Singapore government agencies.

In fact in a different way, I heard even Dr Mahathir Mohamad say that “such stealing” was not so blatant under his governance of UMNO; he in fact even argued that he was always concerned that more than one trustee was appointed to manage all such UMNO funds. He also claimed that he never allowed such monies into private accounts of any one person.

Now, is my geography also adopting such a CSL policy with impunity? I have acted against these illegal actions every step of the way, in the last 30 years, but I have not been successful to stop this rot and growing culture of corruption. The sad reality is that such abuse has continued, even if at a slower rate, with a different political alliance leading the state. Nonetheless, it still appears like more of the same even if at a slower rate. Power does in fact corrupt all.

If Anwar Ibrahim was charged with abusing political influence wrongly, and for improper motives, my question to the MACC chief commissioner is, while you appear to be a new broom sweeping our dirt clean; why only pick on public servants and not yet the most important politician? And, especially those who by default have been proven to have abused public funds by putting them into personal accounts; even if unknowingly?

By the way, was tax paid for personal funds in the account held by MO1?

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We are Malaysians–Dumb Ones

As a Malaysian, I am also frankly tired of seeing everything wrong with every Israeli action but with an inability to seeing wrong with similar issues in our own country. Actually, we govern ourselves almost exactly like the Israeli’s govern their system with two different sets of laws; one for the governed and another for the governors.

Rakyat Malaysia, how can we change this form of mis-governance for the good of every citizen; and especially those who have greater needs?

Thank You, Mr. President and God Bless You and Michelle Obama


January 9, 2017

President Barack H. Obama–Farewell Message to the American People

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The 44th President Barack H. Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama

My Fellow Americans,

It’s a long-standing tradition for the sitting President of the United States to leave a parting letter in the Oval Office for the American elected to take his or her place. It’s a letter meant to share what we know, what we’ve learned, and what small wisdom may help our successor bear the great responsibility that comes with the highest office in our land, and the leadership of the free world.

But before I leave my note for our 45th president, I wanted to say one final thank you for the honor of serving as your 44th. Because all that I’ve learned in my time in office, I’ve learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

Throughout these eight years, you have been the source of goodness, resilience, and hope from which I’ve pulled strength. I’ve seen neighbors and communities take care of each other during the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers — and found grace in a Charleston church.

I’ve taken heart from the hope of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch, and wounded warriors once given up for dead walk again. I’ve seen Americans whose lives have been saved because they finally have access to medical care, and families whose lives have been changed because their marriages are recognized as equal to our own. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other.

I’ve seen you, the American people, in all your decency, determination, good humor, and kindness. And in your daily acts of citizenship, I’ve seen our future unfolding.

All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into that work — the joyous work of citizenship. Not just when there’s an election, not just when our own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime.

I’ll be right there with you every step of the way.

And when the arc of progress seems slow, remember: America is not the project of any one person. The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.’ ‘We the People.’ ‘We shall overcome.’

Yes, we can.

President Barack Obama

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