Category Archives: Donald Trump

Politics and Pricey Hook-Ups: from Rome to Exclusive Golf Resorts of America……

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In Italy, they have no dominant political position like a US president. The biggest mouth in town, in Rome, used to be Silvio Berlusconi. He is trying to make a political comeback now through the highly (and perennially) volatile Italian political scene.
Berlusconi is in many ways like other European politicians. He is not a GOP/Tea Party American-style right-winger, nor is he a rabid believer in deregulation and corporatism (no leading European politician is). He sees an opportunity after the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Very likely he hopes to hook up with Trump, exchange notes and memoirs about the techniques of business, governance, and pricey not-so-discreet hook-ups……

That leaves out the Le Pen women in France (both mother and daughter)………

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

Fire and Fury of Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks and the Trumps ……….

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just finished reading the book Fire and Fury, about the dysfunction, internal squabbles, and mutual backstabbings of the first year of the Trump White House. The author is not exactly a Theodore White, but then these are not Teddy White days, and the book’s focus was on the post-election rather than the campaign.

It took me a few days because I usually read several books at the same time, a habit from undergraduate university days. Here is my brief take, succinctly put: 

Beyond all the headlines and the cacophony which focused on Donald Trump and his inadequacies and consequent insecurities. The picture drawn in the book, at least the picture I saw, was one of a bunch of  self-serving extremely disloyal players. Everyone of the White House staff seems to be in the game for themselves, everyone focuses on their own role and its continuation.

Nobody gave priority to “serving” Trump and what is good for his tenure. That includes his own immediate family who took offices in the West Wing. That includes his New York in-laws. Everyone seems to have forgotten political convictions and principles and what Trump promised the voters. One young lady who apparently had some ‘boy trouble’, Hope Hicks, was/is probably loyal to the Trumps.

But there was one more other significant exception: one person who did not seem, from the author’s depiction, to be looking after personal gain and the one who did not play the sycophant. Perhaps the most ideological, most zealous person among them all.

Oddly that is the one person whom much of the media focused on and incessantly reviled during his brief tenure in the West Wing: Steve Bannon.

(P.S.: funniest thing in the book? Was the part about NSC candidate General H R McMaster showing up in a large suit and Trump thinking he looked like a ‘beer salesman‘)

Cheers

M H Ghuloum

Iran at a Brezhnev Crossroad: an Aging Revolution, a Younger Unhappy Population, a Sistani Alternative…….

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On the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted this:
” @khamenei_ir
Dear prideful nation of #Iran! The greatness of your gatherings today, which, according to precise calculations, was more populated and morepassionate than previous years, was a resolute response to the enemies and oath-breakers….”
“Relying on their distorted false perceptions of Iran and Iranians, the enemies had spent all their propaganda efforts on trying to turn this year’s revolution celebration frigid or probably anti-revolution. You’ve exhibited the livelihood & dynamism of the revolution in practice…..”
Feb 11, 2018

This year’s anniversary of the last of the great popular revolutions of the twentieth century has been surrounded with interesting domestic developments. We know what happened with the other two revolutions, in Russia and China. In Russia they openly gave up on the ideology; in China they still pretend that the Communist system of Chairman Mao exists, but only as a means to legitimize one-party rule of a new oligarchy. In Iran, Ali Khamenei is trying to keep the flames of the old aging revolution alive. Did I leave out Cuba?

In a nation that is younger and wants more freedoms, more accountability, in an age of spreading social media and access to opinion. What to do?
Violent repression, for example Egyptian Sisi style, will not work anymore in Iran. During the recent protests a few weeks ago, many of the security forces were noticeably sympathetic to the protests. More subtle forms of protest continue. There will be more periodic protests; for years now people have been testing the limits of the freedoms allowed. And these limits have also expanded.

There has been gradual and incremental but unannounced openness by the regime, forced by the people. Giving in more publicly and at once will eventually open the floodgates to more encroachment of the feared global culture, and more demands for more openness and more freedoms.

What to do? Perhaps a Chinese solution? But the Chinese regime is now agnostic: politically Communist in the name of the one ruling party; economically and socially capitalistic and oligarchic to boot.

The Iranian ayatollahs pride themselves on some kind of “purity”, along the model of the old stubborn Soviet regime in the Brezhnev era, when all the revolutionary thrill was gone from the younger generation. But Iran is not a Soviet-style closed system: freedom of travel and emigration has never been curtailed. Social media thrive, as do international satellite television. Expatriate non-political Iranian exiles are freely allowed back into the country. All that has allowed a sort of safety valve but also created demands for more.

Rouhani is trying some short-term solutions. But that would only underline the need for a longer-term deal between the people and their government. The weak point is the position of the Supreme Leader. Chairman Mao is dead in China, but Ayatollah Khamenei is an unelected veto-holder. He is in a way selected by an elected assembly created to gate-keep access to power. But even so, he shares power with various other centers of power: the elected president of the republic (Rouhani), the elected and contentious parliament that takes its powers very seriously, other various senior clerics (more senior than Khamenei).

Then there is the ultimate theological marja’iya (last recourse in Shi’a theological matters) located in Najaf (Iraq). Najaf, where Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani is located, is like the Rome for Shi’a Muslims.

Ali Sistani does not support the idea of rule by the clergy, nor do many others, possibly most Shi’as. It is unlikely that this political ideology chasm between Najaf and Tehran/Qom will ever be closed on Tahran’s terms. If there is a closing, it will be Tehran and Qom moving closer to the Najaf school of thought in governing. A largely Islamic but diverse state with elected civilian non-clerical rule. That was the case in Iran under Mossadegh until August 1953, when his overthrow was engineered by Western intelligence agencies (CIA and British intelligence).

Iran has had at least one case of a Gorbachev in the past four decades. Khatami was paralysed by a conservative parliament, and the Supreme Leader. Rouhani may manage things better, but he has only a couple of years left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the people, especially in the cities, will continue to chip away at the restrictions imposed by the clerics. The trend towards more openness will continue and accelerate; unless Donald Trump is talked by the hawks in the US Senate/Congress and by the Israeli likud and a couple of despotic Arab kings to start a new war. That will immediately lead to consolidation in Tehran. It happened before when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq started the eight-year war. He lost, but so did the people of Iran.

Oh, and forget about the regime change nonsense being peddled by frustrated hawks and chickenhawks in the USA. Remember: the 1953 Western intervention led to the current situation…….

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Iran Nuclear Deal: Is Europe Going Back to its Historic ‘Plan B’ of Appeasing a Bully?……..

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“It looks as though Britain, France, and Germany have decided to appease President Donald Trump to discourage him from withdrawing the United States from the July 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA). “After meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May… and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said they had agreed to set up a working group of experts on fixing flaws in the landmark 2015 agreement that President Trump has warned he will walk away from this spring unless adjustments are made to his liking.” (PBS)….. “France’s foreign minister said on Sunday he would visit Iran on March 5 to discuss its ballistic missile program and the nuclear deal agreed with world powers in 2015.” (Reuters)…. “Germany is lobbying among European allies to agree new sanctions against Iran …………”

So, there are some early signs of fissure. Weak signs so far, but ominous. Are the Europeans, sans Russia, going back on their own commitment to the nuclear deal (JCPOA)? Are they going to unwittingly nickle and dime it to death by chipping away at its credibility? Are they going to yield, gradually, to the new loud-mouth bully in the White House?
Are they falling back on their perennial Plan B  when facing pressure from bullies? Are they going back to their own old pattern of appeasement of bullies who threaten war?

Appeasement eventually leads to what it was hoped to prevent, just as it did in Europe decades ago. The war the Europeans have tried to avoid.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Trump Economics, Friedman Economics: the Oligarchy, the Swamp, and the Cesspool…….

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And the beat goes on……
This time I’ll keep my feet on solid ground
Now I understand myself when I’m down
Like the sweet sound of hip music
There’ll always be something new
To keep the tables turning
Hey, this super song
There’ll never be an ending…
And the beat goes on……”    
The Whispers

Betting Against Trump Was a Market-Beater. The companies the president disparaged have done much better than those he favored. Remember when President Donald Trump would call out a company by name, causing its stock price to gyrate madly, whacking a few billions off its market value with just one offhanded tweet? ……. Looking back on this one year later is revealing. From the November 2016 election until when we looked at it January 2017, the Oligarch Index was thoroughly trouncing the Drain the Swamp Index, 15.8 percent to 3.5 percent. Trump hadn’t even been sworn in, yet he was already making his heft felt in the marketplace. Things change…….”

So the famous bi-partisan, lobbyist-driven, Washington Swamp beat the Trump-favored Oligarchy in terms of market performance, at least for the first year. During the past year, the Oligarchy started quickly to morph into what it has always had the potential to be: a Cesspool……….

But still the Oligarchy is not done: it has at least three more years, potentially seven more years. The Swamp will expand and get more odorous for now, become more of a new oligarchy Cesspool. Until the next bubble created by deregulation and natural greed and hubris bursts. Then look out for all the flying “stuff“. Then the new need for “government” help and “regulation”. Back to 2008 and 2009, and……
Perhaps hopefully a more-lasting New Deal (after all, Milton Friedman is dead, along with his brilliant but misguided mind and his Nobel)……….

And the Beat Goes On…..

Cheers
M Haider Ghuloum

Economics of Spanking: Forbes Magazine Allegedly Edified in a Stormy Style……..

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Stormy Daniels Reportedly Spanked Trump With A Copy of Forbes Magazine. In the wake of a Wall Street Journal article that alleges Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid off porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual encounter with now-president Donald Trump, several other stories about Daniels’ rendezvous with Trump have surfaced – including one account that she spanked Trump with a copy of Forbes…… “She says one time he made her sit with him for three hours watching ‘shark week.’ Another time he had her spank him with a Forbes magazine.”……..”

Talk about mixing ‘business’ with pleasure…..
I can see Steve Forbes’ famous lopsided smile/grin that some think lost him the Republican nomination so many years ago (he had no chance anyway). His magazine has been edified with the rump of a future (now current) President Trump.

The suddenly-wittier-than-usual Bill Kristol (of Weekly Standard) tweeted that it was a Supply-Side spanking: thus introducing a risky mix of dismal economics with kinky sex.
Which probably (hopefully) tells us what he really thinks of the theoretical underpinnings of the economic policies of Ronald Reagan, Steve Forbes, and possibly Trump (not clear if the latter focuses beyond self-interest). 

Yet I have some doubts about this Stormy story, until I see, hear, read more. No savvy politician or prominent businessman (even some not-so-prominent ones) would engage such services in a hotel room. Probably not even a New York businessman-about-town who is steeped in the culture surrounding beauty pageants and reality shows. There is always the possibility, nay the probability, of electronic recording and taping and blackmail. So all this spank-gate can be fake news as well, even in the case of someone as impulsive as Donald Trump. Maybe, maybe not.

On the other hand: this that allegedly happened, if it happened, was a completely private matter. Besides, there are so many houses of glass around, on both sides.

Either way: way to go, Stormy….

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

America in the Twilight Zone of Trump: Which Countries Qualify as Genuine Shitholes?………

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In the Beginning:
There were the Axis of Evil countries none of whose citizens were involved in the September 2011 terrorist attacks on the USA (I thought that was a stupid term at the time)….
Then the Coalition of the Willing (the war on Iraq)…..
Then the Muslim Ban list against “potential” terrorists that included only countries whose citizens have never committed terrorism in America…
Then the Muslim-Arab-American Summit i Riyadh Against… everybody else….
Then….

Now America is in a twilight zone she had never been in before in the modern era. Nothing, no term, is taboo now. Now we have a new term, rather a new use of an old privately used American term:
People who immigrate from Haiti, Africa, other Central American and Latin and Arab countries came out of Sh*tholes….. and should not be allowed…

A country has the right to decide whom to allow in and whom to keep out. Other countries do it as a matter of routine, and America has been quite generous towards aspiring immigrants. But the leaders of these other countries, their heads of state, never ever use the term shithole for another country. No Arab or Muslim or African or Latin leader ever called another country a shithole. Not publicly and not in a quotable setting. The Saudi rulers, for example, never call their rivals in Qatar or Iran by such an epithet. The Arabs, even Hezbollah, never call Israel a shithole, and vice versa….

In the Middle East, leaders, dictators, kings, and potentates are now pouring over memos from their advisers. All trying to answer the newest most important Trumpian question of the week: Are We Among the Select Shithole Countries? (I expect Mr. Netanyahu will be the usual exception: he will probably tweet a line of strong support for Mr. Trump, as he has done with the Mexican Wall and other issues).

Remember, as someone on a big News Network said just an hour ago: talking of immigrants, with all respect, the homeland of the First lady Melania, Slovenia, is not exactly the “Jewel of Europe”…

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Fast and Furious Iterations of Steve Bannon…..

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“Steve Bannon is stepping down as executive chairman of Breitbart News. NYT’s Jeremy Peters reports his exit was forced by financial patron Rebekah Mercer amid the backlash from President Trump following Bannon’s comments in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury…….”

A new iteration for Steve Bannon:
Out of the White House…
Back to Breitbart….
Out of Breitbart….
A new iteration coming soon, no doubt. I wouldn’t be (too) surprised if Mr. Bannon lengthens his beard, flies into Istanbul, hires a car and heads for the Syrian border……
Or, he can join the other side by flying into Damascus or Beirut…..
How about Iran? I doubt that he would enjoy the (not very) Islamic ambience of Tehran…

It is tempting to say: “Steve, we hardly knew ye“, but I suspect you’re not fading away yet…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Second Frustration of Prince Bin Salman: a Fiasco in Qatar……

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known affectionately and otherwise as MBS, has had a rocky period. But that is to be expected for a young man who finds himself suddenly at the helm of a country, purely by the coincidence of birth. In my last post I covered briefly his Yemen adventure. But the adventures were not done.

Last Spring came the Qatar fiasco. Qatar generally stood on the Saudi side in the losing Syrian war. But Qatar supported its own version of Islamic Jihadists, not the Salafist Wahhabis that the Saudis funded and armed (who later became AQIS and ISIS). Yet as long as they were both on the same side against the Assad regime things were mostly fine.

But there has been serious tension between the two Gulf states in the past. In the 1990s the Saudis engineered a coup attempt in Doha to overthrow the father of the current Emir and reappoint his predecessor (his father) who was more to their liking. The coup attempt failed, and Qatar continued to be a thorn on the Saudi side. The Qataris also supported and funded the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis (and Emiratis) disliked almost more than the Iranians. Then there was  the Aljazeera network, which was too outspoken on regional issues for the Saudi (and Emirat) taste.

So, finally, after several bouts of alternately making up and breaking up, the dark cloud of Donald Trump and his avaricious clan showed up in Arabia. I posted here at the time that Trump’s visit to the Arabian Peninsula in May of 2017 was a most poisonous visit. Apparently the potentates of Saudi Arabia and the UAE convinced Trump that Qatar was a major source of trouble and terrorism; they also bribed him with promises of hundreds of billions of dollars of arms purchases and investments. Somehow they got the impression that Trump was on their side, and that he would condone any action they might take against the smaller Wahhabi emirate.

So, early in Summer 1917, they announced a complete break with Qatar including land, air and sea blockades, with the support of the Egyptian regime which fears the MB as much as they do. The inexperienced new Saudi strongman Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was told that it will be easy, that the Qataris will fold, but that unlike the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Americans will not object.


There were signs of trouble from the start with the campaign against Qatar. First: Oman and Kuwait, almost half the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members refused to join the boycott and blockade and the threat of invasion against Qatar and its citizens. Second: Turkey stepped in to shore up its budding military alliance with Qatar. Third: Iran, which shares a huge gas field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar, opened her airspace and sea lanes and land routes to Qatar in order to go around the closure of the Arab routes. Soon plentiful Turkish and Iranian foods started replacing Arab sources of food and other imports. One pathetic Saudi commentator went so far as to absurdly tell the Qataris on Saudi semi-official Alarabiya TV that their stomachs were not used to Turkish and Iranian food products.

So far the Qatar adventure has failed. Qatar’s rulers  have not become Saudi satraps or an appendix like the rulers of rebellious Bahrain.

Another major miscalculation that has backfired and further weakened the Saudi hold and influence on the GCC alliance.

Stay tuned. More to follow….

GCC AND PLIABLE ARAB REVOLUTIONARIES: QATARI-SAUDI MICRO COLD WAR……

MEDIA WARS: CAN SAUDIS AND QATARIS BUY THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE ARAB WORLD?………

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

D-Day At Camp David: a Stable Genius, a Gaggle of the Worst, a Suicidal Teddy Roosevelt…….

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Donald Trump made another of his usual daily headlines this weekend. The headlines read: Trump, Defending His Sanity, Says He’s a ‘Very Stable Genius’.

A president of the United States needing to assert that he is “a very stable” genius. Meaning: he is not as unstable nor as stupid as the rest of the world believes him to be…..
He might be a genius in his own right. After all, as a newcomer he did defeat that other Democratic female genius, the former wonder woman of politics. What is at issue is the term “stable”.

Richard Nixon once famously declared to a Sam Donaldson question: “I am Not a Crook“, months before he was forced to resign.

Even Warren G. Harding, wherever he is now, is probably shocked at all this.

Abe Lincoln can’t believe how such a gaggle of aspiring Social Darwinist jungle-dweller quasi-Nazis have taken over “his” party. How the worst and least bright have floated to the top of “his” party in recent years, just in time to manipulate their new extremely insecure leader.

The no-nonsense Teddy Roosevelt, rightly known as a true patriot, would look at all this going on with “his” party, and very likely end up having his name headlined in a murder-suicide crime case. Dying twice is the same as dying once, he would argue.

Dwight Eisenhower? Ike would start planning a new D-Day for this weekend. Target? Camp David (as he named the presidential retreat), the new Normandie (or Normandy, if you prefer)…..

Stay tuned: unfortunately there’s more. The fun has just begun, I’m afraid…..

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum