The Trump Doctrine

At times I feel like the only person in the country not emotionally invested in the likely death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, killed, apparently, in quite the gruesome manner in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Instanbul, Turkey.  OK I get it, terrible story, but why exactly does this require a diplomatic response from the United States?  The US government doesn’t get involved in every foreign Coca-Cola employee in the third world who gets dragged away by a death squad.  And the death of a dissident to a despotic regime isn’t exactly breaking news.  It’s fair to say that this happens every day somewhere in the world, without the accompanying MSM hysterics.

The answer of course, is that he was employed as a journalist at The Washington Post, and in an age in which the West has abandoned religion, a new priestly caste has emerged, the MSM journalist.  That’s why the MSM has turned a minor story into a US foreign policy crisis.  This has already occupied the breaking news and top story for a week, and the new rule is if Eugene Robinson and the table at the MSNBC set are outraged, then everyone has to be.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood and someone who was a friend of Osama Bin Ladin, who mourned his death.  You really need to make a much stronger case to me on why his death shouldn’t be cheered, rather than causing spasms of outrage.  If there is a reason for outrage in this story, its how such a person got a green card in the first place?  Let’s investigate that.

Trump’s initial instincts on this seem to have been correct, dismissing it as not that big a deal, before the media blew it up into THE STORY of the week.  No doubt the view that this is THE STORY reflected the view of many of Trump’s advisors.  After all, doesn’t everyone seem to accept the judgement of the Post and other news outlets as to what is news, and what is major news?  It is interesting though that Trump’s default position is quite different from what the current White House line is…

Over at the Lion of the Blogosphere a few months ago, Lion did a post describing the “Trump Doctrine.

“If there is a Trump doctrine, it is that we have to accept foreign countries the way they are, and not turn them into copies of Western democracies. Russia has never had a democratic government like the United States, but the Trump doctrine is that we can still be friends instead of trying to sabotage their government for not being exactly like America or Germany.”

As a working definition, it’s not a bad one.  And why shouldn’t he define it?  It’s not as if Presidential “doctrines” are released as a White Paper or press release.  They are discovered by observing the administration in action.  Most famously the “Bush Doctrine” was ham-handedly used by Charlie Gibson in a rather famous gotcha interview with Sarah Palin in which she described the Bush Doctrine, just not the way Charlie Gibson wanted.  However the actual author (or discoverer) of the Bush Doctrine, the late Charles Krauthammer, defended Palin’s take.

But I had been thinking of this for a while.  Back in 2014, I had started, but never finished, a draft of a post called, “Realpolitik,” to describe what I thought should be the style and direction of US foreign policy.  Inspired, of all people, by neo-con former Wall Street Journal columnist and current New York Times official Never-Trumper Bret Stephens, in a column he wrote for the WSJ called, Relearning Republican Foreign Policy.  With the line, “A policeman is not a priest,” Stephens made the case for a muscular foreign policy without the moralizing and messaging of either George Bush’s freedom agenda or Obama’s “reputation of a faithless friend and feckless foe.”  This line, though, is the killer:

“Someday, maybe, a Republican will be in the White House again. If that’s to happen, Americans will need some reassurance that the GOP knows how to steer a straight course between the temptations of Barack Obama’s strategic timidity and George W. Bush’s idealistic excess.“

In probably the greatest Monkey’s Paw wish of all time, Stephen’s got exactly what he asked for in this 2014 op-ed with the election of President Donald Trump.

Stephens must be exhausted from all of his spinning around and changing positions, since in this week’s NYT post, Khashoggi’s Killing Isn’t a Blunder. It’s a Crime, Stephens is back to his neo-con roots, ready to lead a new moralistic crusade against the Saudi’s.

It’s actually fair to say that a more moralistic foreign policy has a time and place.  It was integral to Reagan’s policy initiatives in fighting the Cold War, but Reagan didn’t shy away with allying with some less than savory folk in order to oppose what he saw as the graeter evil: the Soviet Union.  But we are in a different time and place, and our foreign policy challenges are totally different than the bi-polar cold war steady state which occupied US foreign policy for decades.

In the current era it seems clear to me that not every struggle around the world is our struggle, and not every fight all over the world is our fight.  We have limited resources, not just of military might or money, but time and attention.  Time wasted on this Khashoggi matter is time not spent on other foreign policy issues like trade, or domestic ones, like immigration.  And no outcome in running down every Saudi royal guard is likely to benefit US foreign policy in the slightest.

Trump’s instincts, the “Trump Doctrine,” are Realpolitik; a foreign policy based on US national interests and practical benefits rather than ideology or faux outrage.  If the GOP picks this up as a foreign policy template, that’s yet another Trump “win.”

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Quick Takes on the New Fall 2018 TV Shows

Manifest

I wasn’t sure I wanted to get involved in another Lost-like “mystery” show.  You know the type; the “mystery” is the central premise of the show and you hope that eventually the show will unravel the “mystery” with some satisfying and clever clues along the way. Certainly the reviews I read warned that this was exactly that type of show.  But…I decided to give it a try anyway and based on the first few episodes, it’s better than I thought.

The “mystery” is “…Montego Air Flight 828 landed safely after a turbulent but routine flight, the crew and passengers were relieved. Yet in the span of those few hours, the world had aged five years and their friends, families and colleagues, after mourning their loss, had given up hope and moved on. Now, faced with the impossible, they’re all given a second chance. But as their new realities become clear, a deeper mystery unfolds and some of the returned passengers soon realize they may be meant for something greater than…” blah blah blah.

Surprisingly, the show is interesting.  Besides the usual soap opera drama of people presumed dead for 5 years, they are hearing voices and are having psychic visions.  So…what’s up?  Assuming there is really a showrunner out there who actually knows what’s going on (instead of faking it week to week) then this could be a good show.  Just please don’t “Lost” me.  So thumbs up for now.

The Neighborhood

Cedric the Entertainer tries to pull a reverse Archie Bunker in this show about a Midwestern-nice white couple moving into a black neighborhood, disturbing the segregationist Zen of the main character. The over the top curmudgeon Calvin doesn’t really explain his over the top hatred of whites so it’s hard to take the character seriously.  He’s simply being played as mean guy who will learn some sort of lesson about togetherness each episode.  Meanwhile the white couple, the Johnsons, will learn supposedly some valuable lesson about black people, but are so clueless about…everything, that they first need to learn how to call a plumber when having plumbing problems.

In theory, I’m in favor of the reverse-Archie, and think TV needs more shows that can pull it off, like the late lamented The Carmichael Show, which really got the formula down pat.  However this show, with it’s ridiculous white family playing the role of clueless whiteys (like Tom Willis from The Jeffersons) gets a thumbs down.

Happy Together

Hands down, the dumbest new show of the season.  In fact, I tuned in because I couldn’t figure out what the show was about from the promos, and having seen the pilot episode, I get why; it’s too dumb to think they would actually produce a show like this. Damon Wayons, Jr and Amber Stevens West (who manages to bounce around from show to show and land on her feet) star as a couple who has an Australian pop singer move in with them so he can avoid the paparazzi.

That’s it.  Thumbs down.

The Cool Kids

This show is supposed to be The Golden Girls, only with dudes.  Since I never liked The Golden Girls, I’ve no idea if this show succeeds or not, I just know I found it boring.  That doesn’t mean the show isn’t going to be a success; after all, The Golden Girls was a massive success. But it does have Vicki Lawrence.  So that’s something.

Thumb drop.

I Feel Bad

Of the new sitcoms, this is one I had the most hope for, mainly because you can’t have enough bickering Indian parents on TV.  Sarayu Blue stars as a hurried mom who is “just figuring it out like the rest of us.”  In other words, this is a show by women, for women, about women doing it all in a man’s world…you get the drift.  Although I’ve bailed, this may have an appeal that I can’t see.  Let your own thumb decide.

 

Fear the Walking Dead finishes Better than it Started

Now with spoilers.

Now that the season four finale has concluded, I’ve got a few things to say. I last wrote about Fear the Walking Dead back in April, and didn’t expect to revisit it.  After all, my review was mostly negative, and I didn’t actually expect the show to get better did I?  I’m not alone in that assessment. The website CBR has a pretty good take on what went wrong with FTWD and it matches up roughly with my own thoughts. And with the season four premiere up through the mid-season finale, it seemed like the same old crappy Fear.

It starts off with some time having passed since the season three finale, with Madison and her surviving crew is now occupying a baseball stadium somewhere in Texas.  However Madison is acting totally out of character. Very differently than the way she has previously been portrayed; less Negan and more Rick and she’s not wrecking every situation she stumbles into.  That of course makes no sense since we’re never shown the character arc that took her from a selfish piece of garbage to a savior. But that’s less important than the fact that the entire story, from episode one to the midseason finale in episode 8, makes no sense because of, you guessed it, erratic time jumps, the entire story was played out of order, for what assumedly are “artistic” reasons, but story wise are just a distraction, since you never know from one scene to the next where in the timeline the story sits.  This made this story arc more or less unintelligible.

Long story short, Nick (Frank Dillane) and Madison (Kim Dickens) both wind up dead; with Madison’s pointless death somehow appearing to be heroic.  At that point, I just didn’t care because it seemed so out of character that I really didn’t find anything self-sacrificing about it at all; particularly when their foe was probably the stupidest concept for a roving band ever.  The “Vultures” methodology was to set up outside of an encampment and just tailgate until the people in the camp got so bored with them they would voluntarily open the gates and let the Vultures loot.

Seriously.

Luckily for the show, the second half of the season took a totally different path.  The only surviving member of the Clark family and from the pilot episode was Alicia (Alycia Debnam-Carey).  The survivors of both the Vultures “attack” and Madison’s immolation of their baseball field compound are scattered with a Hurricane bearing down on them.  The lack of any sort of early warning for the hurricane plays a role in the desperate situation the group finds itself in.

Having a liner timeline, instead of weird artsy time jumps across the story, definitely was an improvement on what came previously.  Killing Madison, as unlikable a lead character as any I’ve come across helped as well. This allowed the producers to rebuild the show with a new, much improved cast.  Basically they’ve fire blasted what came before, and rebuilt a totally new show in its place. That was the sort of major restructuring that was needed if this show was going to survive.  How much that is due to new showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg is anyone’s guess, but they’ll be sure to get the credit if Fear’s ratings improve.

The show was so much improved that I was actually entertained by some of the episodes, particularly episode 10 “Close Your Eyes,” which had Alicia and pre-teen Charlie (the killer of Alicia’s brother Nick) trapped in a house together during the hurricane, while the house is under siege by the dead.  That’s probably the best episode of the entire series.  If Fear can keep cranking out a few episodes like that every season, it might finally shrug off its poor history and become a worthy member of the Walking Dead Universe.

Observations

The Walking Dead Universe used to be more observant of the fact that at this point, approximately 2 years after the Zombie Apocalypse, every car battery that’s actually connected would be dead.  That’s not even counting that the fuel would be going bad, but hopping in a Paramedic vehicle that’s been sitting for two years and just taking off seems like a big ole story telling gap.  That’s not even counting Morgan’s stunt of throwing a body off the roof of a building onto a car and the car alarm starts blaring…come on.

Weirdly, the Walking Dead Universe regards middle aged women as the incredible bad asses who are both greatest asset and greatest danger.  On the Walking Dead, Carol goes from abused housewife to commando killer.   On Fear, new character “Martha,” a former English teacher in her 50’s is the thorn in the side of the group.  Sorry, I’m just not buying it.

Screw Puerto Rico

I barely noticed the imbroglio over the Harvard and George Washington studies that contradict the official Hurricane Maria death toll for Puerto Rico by raising the deaths to several thousand, 4,645 for the Harvard Study and over 3,000 for the George Washington University study.  I figured that they were in some way phony, and were just a grab for federal cash, and my checking the methodology of the George Washington University Study showed I was right:

“We implemented the project as three studies, each with specific yet complementary methodologies. Our excess mortality study analyzed past mortality patterns (mortality registration and population census data from 2010 to 2017) in order to predict the expected mortality if Hurricane María had not occurred (predicted mortality) and compare this figure to the actual deaths that occurred (observed mortality).The difference between those two numbers is the estimate of excess mortality due to the hurricane. “

In other words, the studies were simply statistical analyses, with no examination of the actual causes or mortality.  Living in a hurricane zone, I’m well familiar as to how hurricane deaths are actually counted, and that’s through death certificates; the actual causes of death.  Imagine its three days after a hurricane and a family runs their generator inside their home and die of carbon monoxide poisoning (it happens after every hurricane):  That’s a hurricane death.  Choke on a peanut?  Not a hurricane death.   It’s not difficult and doesn’t add up to a requirement to run a statistical analysis of any sort.  Just look at the death certificates.

So in spite of the running around by Puerto Rican officials shopping around these fake reports as a way to say screw Trump and Trump please send us more money, I ignored the issue until I happened to catch this interview with Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Morning Joe last week.

Most of the interview is Rosselló making the case for the studies, and the various needs of the island for disaster preparation but there was a point in which I found myself, as the kids say, triggered, by Rosselló’s comments.  Starting around 6:28, “legendary” journalist Mike Barnicle asked Rosselló to make his case for statehood. Rosselló went on to blabber that the only reason that Puerto Rico’s recovery was different from other areas was because Puerto Ricans are treated as second class citizens and Puerto Rico is a colonial possession of the United States, and the “root cause” of the problem is colonialism. He phrased it thusly, “Do you want the United States to be the standard bearer of democracy while carrying colonial territories in the 21st Century? How can you go to Cuba or Venezuela and preach democracy while you have over 3 million US citizens disenfranchised?”

This is his case for statehood?  That the United States is an oppressive colonial power, therefore let us join it?

Throughout history, there has been one solution to imperialism for a colonial territory, independence.  If Rosselló really has a vision of the United States as an imperial boot on the necks of freedom loving Puerto Ricans, that actually really isn’t different from the views of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments toward the United States, and it’s not that different from the view the old Soviet Union for that matter. Why the hell is he serving as governor of a territory that’s, in his view, is an occupied territory?  That makes him no better than a Quisling.

If Rosselló and Puerto Rico feel so damn oppressed by the imperialist colonial running dogs of the United States, I feel the only and correct solution to such an injustice is for Congress to act and grant immediate independence to the “colonial’ territory of Puerto Rico.

Good luck with your next hurricane.

Amazon Prime Video-Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan

When I heard that Amazon was coming out with a Jack Ryan series, I was a bit surprised, because I figured that was a character, and a universe, that had run its course.  Don’t get me wrong, I had been a Tom Clancy reader since the 1980’s, and had watched most of the film iterations of Jack Ryan.  But that was a character created in the Cold War and the world now is so different from the one where a young Jack Ryan was on the chase for the Soviet submarine Red October.

But…after seeing a devastating review in Vanity Fair:

How could I say no? So I decided to give the show a chance.

Color me pleasantly surprised.

First off, John Krasinski really pulls it off as Ryan.  I’ve heard some people argue that they just can’t get past his goofy Jim from The Office persona.  However having already seen him take on a tough guy roll in 13 Hours I had no problem suspending my disbelief. In fact, if anything it helps the role of someone who is primarily an academic but is reluctantly thrust into the action role.  Of course, an academic being thrust in action roles does strain the bounds of credulity. That was one of the weaker parts of the show in my opinion, Ryan’s boss James Greer (Wendell Pierce) does have an operator background, yet constantly drags Ryan into dangerous situations, totally out of his skillset.

The other notable on the show is Ali Suliman as the terrorist mastermind, Mousa Bin Suleiman.  As noted in another review of the show, this actor really sells it as a complicated villain.  He could have simply played this as a simple, evil, religious fanatic, but he has a backstory that gives his actions, if not exactly justification, at least reasonable within his mindset, and it shows.  If anything, he has the most difficult role in the series and manages to pull it off beautifully.

One thing I noticed in the pacing of the show, in deference to it appearing on a streaming service, is each episode ends leaving you wanting more.  And although I’m just not a binger, we did end up watching the last three episodes back to back.  I didn’t want to stop.  So yeah, I have to give the show a big thumbs up.

And as for the Vanity Fair reviewer?  She was totally wrong.  This wasn’t any sort of jingoistic right wing Fox News anything.  You would be hard pressed to find any sort of political bias in this show, unless you regard Islamic terrorism as a fiction created by right wing Republican Presidents.  In any case, this show has already been renewed for season 2, so the reviewer (and me) will get a second chance to reconsider when the show’s focus swings around to…Russia!

Rebooting Old TV with Diversity in Mind

In an age when Hollywood has been totally mined out of original ideas for television, but the number of platforms have expanded with room for more and more television, comes the TV answer for zero ideas but lots of airtime to fill: The reboot. But it’s not enough to simply reboot old television shows, they need to be rebooted through a social justice warrior lens to give show concepts like this:

Just before he recently departed ABC Studios to embark on a rich overall deal at Netflix, Black-ish creator Kenya Barris sold one last high-profile project to ABC: Bewitched, a single camera, interracial blended family comedy based on the popular 1960s sitcom of the same name.

In Bewitched, written by Barris and Taylor, Samantha, a hardworking black single mom who happens to be a witch, marries Darren, a white mortal who happens to be a bit of a slacker. They struggle to navigate their differences as she discovers that even when a black girl is literally magic, she’s still not as powerful as a decently tall white man with a full head of hair in America.

This description of the show sounds hilarious for all the wrong reasons.  One would almost think it’s a parody of a socially aware TV reboot but no, it’s serious.  Am I intrigued by the description?  Darn right!  I would definitely sit down and watch a show in which an immortal magician is still under the thumb of Trump’s America.  The possibilities are endless!  I’m sure we can expect to see Samantha pulled over by white cops and she turns them into actual pigs, and she teaches the slacker Darren about hard work by transforming him into a black slave in the 1850’s. Nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz will be the White Nationalist neighbor across the street, spying on the interracial couple. Uncle Arthur? Played by RuPaul of course!

Just a few weeks prior there was the announcement that Joss Whedon was rebooting Buffy the Vampire Slayer, only this time with a Black Buffy. So everything old can be new again if you diversify it up a smidge.  Never mind that they already had a Black Slayer in the original run of the show…diversity.

I’m not opposed to reboots, reimagining’s, or however you want to describe them, with diversity, but let’s don’t pretend that diversity is actually a new idea. It’s really about saying,” I don’t have any new ideas, and I want approval from twitter.”

I will seriously watch this if it gets through development hell and actually airs somewhere.  Not because I think it will be quality entertainment, but because I expect it will be an entertaining hot mess.

The Long #resist Funeral

John McCain died Saturday, August 25th.  His funeral was yesterday, September 1st, and today, the news and talking head shows are still talking about him.  I can’t think of any American politician who has this kind of death coverage, not Ronald Reagan, and not Ted Kennedy, each whom had extensive news coverage of their death and funeral, but nothing like this.

In some ways this was far worse than the Paul Wellstone funeral, which is looked on as ground zero by the right of the left politicizing the most sacred and solemn rituals in our culture.  However the leftist protest march that the Wellstone funeral became was spontaneous, or at least not planned by the family.  Of course Wellstone died in a plane crash so he probably hadn’t been thinking of the details of his funeral arrangements. John McCain, on the other hand, had been staring down the barrel of a death sentence for over a year.  He had plenty of time to think about the end, and what sort of message and legacy he wanted to leave.

And the message was revenge.

I find it hard to grasp the kind of hatred that McCain had for Trump that he dedicated his death to him.  In a similar situation, I can’t imagine I would spend my final days trying to get back at someone for some long ago insult.  And yet John McCain, a man who had been extensively tortured by the North Vietnamese for years, was able to forgive them for what they did, but couldn’t begin to put behind him the insult of man who simply said he wasn’t a hero.

That’s an interesting window into McCain’s character; make of that what you will.