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“Impressed By His Efficiency”: For His Next Trick, Trump Offers Praise For Saddam Hussein

Donald Trump’s views on Iraq have long been at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy. The GOP candidate, for example, has said more than once that he believes the Bush/Cheney administration “lied” about weapons of mass destruction. Trump also likes to say he opposed the U.S. invasion from the start – a claim that’s patently false.

But the presumptive 2016 Republican nominee also appears to be the only politician in America who’s willing to publicly praise Saddam Hussein.

Donald Trump praised former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein Tuesday night, allowing that he was a “really bad guy” but had redeeming qualities when it came to his handling of terrorists.

Trump lauded the former U.S. adversary for how “well” he killed terrorists, recalling that he “didn’t read them the rights, they didn’t talk. They were terrorists, over.”

Oh. So in Trump’s mind, Hussein may have been “bad,” but Trump is nevertheless impressed by the efficiency with which the Butcher of Baghdad massacred people without regard for due process.

Let’s also note that the Republican’s praise is at odds with reality. As the New York Timesreport noted, Trump’s recollections of Saddam Hussein thwarting terrorists “are not grounded in fact. While Mr. Hussein’s interests were not aligned with jihadists … Iraq was listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 invasion. In the 1980s, Mr. Hussein fired scud missiles at Israel and used chemical weapons on tens of thousands of Iraqis.”

If Trump’s admiration for Saddam Hussein’s policies seems familiar, it’s because last night wasn’t the first time the GOP candidate praised the Iraqi dictator, though as defenses go, I’m not sure it helps his case to say, “Donald Trump keeps expressing admiration for Hussein.”

But as remarkable as it is to have an American presidential candidate publicly complimenting Saddam Hussein over and over again, there’s also the broader pattern of Trump praising authoritarian regimes.

I’m reminded of something Hillary Clinton said in a speech last month:

“I have to say, I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre; he said it showed strength. He said, ‘You’ve got to give Kim Jong Un credit’ for taking over North Korea – something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully, like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A.

“Now, I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants.”

I take Clinton’s point, but perhaps it’s best not to leave this to the psychiatrists. Rather, it may be worthwhile for all of us – voters, journalists, officials in the political arena – to come to terms with Donald J. Trump and his frequent admiration for authoritarian regimes.

As of last night, it seemed some conservatives weren’t altogether pleased with the GOP candidate’s judgment. John Podhoretz, for example, responded to Trump’s praise of Hussein by saying the presumptive 2016 nominee is “f—ing insane,” while Amanda Carpenter, a former aide to Ted Cruz, added, Seriously. “How do you screw up messaging Hillary’s ‘extreme carelessness’ by praising Saddam freaking Hussein”?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 6, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Dictators, Donald Trump, Saddam Hussein | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Chill Wind Blows”: Something More Dangerous Than An Ideological Animosity Toward The Press

Donald Trump, a man who tosses the truth around with the callous disdain of a spoiled child with a toy he has outgrown, has spent much of his campaign calling the media dishonest, even though his manipulation of the media is the only reason he’s the last Republican standing.

He seems to view any unflattering, or otherwise critical, coverage as an attack. His rhetoric suggests that in his mind, adulation is the only honesty.

Such is his wont. And no Republican in a party that continues to veer dangerously toward fact-hostile absolutism has ever lost points with his base by calling the media biased against him.

But there is a strand of these comments and behavior that heralds something more dangerous than an ideological animosity toward the press. Trump keeps signaling that if he had his druthers, he would silence dissent altogether.

At a spectacle of a news conference on Tuesday, Trump laid into reporters for asking simple accountability questions about funds going to charity groups. He even called one reporter a “sleaze” and complained that coverage of his donations to the groups “make me look very bad.”

This isn’t the first time he has used base language to attack reporters with whom he disagreed or was annoyed. The New York Times has collected a comprehensive list of his Twitter insults (often waged against journalists), which simply boggles the mind. (I am among those he has accused of “dishonest reporting.”)

But even that isn’t what’s most troubling. What’s troubling is that under a Trump administration, the First Amendment itself — either in spirit or in law, or both — could be severely weakened. What we have to worry about is a chill wind blowing from the White House.

This is no small thing. Our constitutionally protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press are pillars that make this country great, and different.

Not only did Trump say Tuesday that if he became president he was going to “continue to attack the press,” but in February, he said:

One of the things I’m going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we’re certainly leading. I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We’re going to open up those libel laws. So that when The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.

Exceptions for falsehoods are already part of our libel jurisprudence, but the worrisome nature of that comment lies in its vagueness. What does “open up our libel laws” mean? Is he equating “purposely negative” and “horrible” — both subjective determinations — with “false”?

These principles of free press and free speech, which are almost as old as the country itself, are not things to be tinkered with on the whim of a thin-skinned man who has said flattering things about dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, ruler of a country that the press watchdog group Freedom House calls “one of the most repressive media environments in the world,” where “listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and possessing dissident publications are considered ‘crimes against the state’ that carry serious punishments, including hard labor, prison sentences, and the death penalty.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that this week Time magazine reported that “a North Korean state media outlet has praised Donald Trump as a ‘wise politician’ and ‘farsighted candidate’ who can reunify the Korean Peninsula.”

Trump’s dictatorial instinct to suppress what he deems “negative” speech, particularly from the press, is the very thing the founders worried about.

In 1737, more than 50 years before the Constitution was adopted, signed and ratified — before the First Amendment was adopted — Benjamin Franklin wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”

Our unfettered freedom to interrogate and criticize our government and our leaders are part of our patriotism and an expression of our national fealty.

James Baldwin put it this way: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

And that extends to the country’s politicians.

This idea is so much bigger than Trump, a small man of small thought who is at war with scrutiny.

Freedom of speech and the press are principles that we must protect from this wannabe authoritarian.


By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, June 2, 2016

June 6, 2016 Posted by | 1st Amendment, Donald Trump, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trump Wants To Play Nice With Kim Jong Un”: What Does Trump Have That North Korea Wants?

Donald Trump has reprised his willingness to engage with autocrats. According to an exclusive interview with Reuters yesterday, Trump said he would be willing to speak to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the latest in a line of positive comments about strongmen around the world.

“I would speak to him, I would have no problem speaking to him,” said the likely Republican nominee. Trump said he would use his own strongman tactics against North Korea’s sole international supporter, China.

“I would put a lot of economic pressure on China because economically we have tremendous power over China. People don’t realize that,” he said of a nation of 1.3 billion people that makes up the world’s second largest economy to get North Korea to the table, given it is the Hermit Kingdom’s only major diplomatic and economic supporter. “And we have tremendous power over China. China can solve that problem with one meeting or one phone call.”

His hunch on how engaging with a country that has closed its borders to the world for over half a century appears incredibly naive. Asked how China could make a difference in North Korea’s stature, he said, “Because they have tremendous power over North Korea.”

He further tried to dispel questions about his knowledge of international affairs by reminding the interviewer that China, like North Korea, also had nuclear weapons.

But the bigger question, one left unasked by Reuters‘ reporters, remains. What does Trump have that North Korea wants? The country exists outside the capitalist global economy. Its leadership has maintained an iron grip over all public life, a grip that’s gotten even tighter since Kim Jong Un succeeded his father in 2011.

Sanctions have done little to dissuade it from continuing to pursue a nuclear program. Nor did the Sunshine Policies, a series of friendly actions enacted between 1998 and 2007 by South Korea which resulted in increased aid to the north, lead to changes in North Korea’s behavior.

“There are no positive changes to North Korea’s position that correspond to the support and cooperation offered by us,” said a report released by the South Korean government shortly after ending the program.

The Chinese government responded to the comments by also supporting dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. “China supports direct talks and communication between the United States and North Korea. We believe this is beneficial,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.

This is not the first time Trump has spoken positively of autocratic regimes. Last December, he praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” Then in March, he drew the ire of many when he described the Tiananmen Square massacre as a “riot” that was “put down with strength.”

However, international politics requires more than the willingness to talk, especially when it comes to North Korea, a country whose leadership remains ideologically opposed to the U.S. and capitalism. North Korean propaganda depicts America as the literal embodiment of capitalist excess, and it’s uncertain if North Korean leadership would even be interested in speaking to Trump in the first place.


By: Saif Alnuweiri, The National Memo, May 19, 2016

May 19, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Foreign Policy, North Korea | , , , , | Leave a comment

“Playing On Right Wing Stereotypes, It’s Hardly The First Time”: North Korea’s Racial Slur Of President Obama Is Business As Usual

The racial taunt by North Korean official’s of President Obama as a monkey was no real surprise. The regime has blasted Obama before with border line racial jabs. Obama is the most visible and inviting target for North Korea to single out for blame and vitriol after its bare bones Internet and mobile phone networks were disrupted for a few days. North Korean officials apparently saw this as retaliation for allegedly hacking Sony picture executive’s internal emails.

It’s hardly the first time that some official or official source in North Korea has gotten caught with its racial dirty linen waving. Last May, the Korean Central News Agency drew fire when it lambasted Obama with the admonition to “live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo.” North Korean officials deny that there is any explicit intent to racially demean Obama. They contend that the criticism is simply part of the ongoing war of words between two countries. The verbal war is the outcrop of the deep suspicion, distrust, antagonism, and confrontation that’s characterized relations between the U.S. and North Korea for decades.

It is true that North Korea has leveled choice verbal derogatory broadsides on foreign leaders it considers hostile overtly to the regime. A prime example is its attack last August on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It called him a “wolf donning the mask of sheep.” This jab at Kerry was in response to Kerry allegedly calling for peace at the same moment the U.S staged its annual military drills with South Korea. The wolf characterization was harsh but that’s an image that’s more in keeping with a not uncommon vilification of someone who’s seen as predatory. North Korean officials have also called South Korean President Park Geun-hye a prostitute. This too was insulting and demeaning. But that’s also a common usage epitaph often hurled at supposedly on the make politicians.

These types of insults, no matter how disreputable and loathsome, at least make some political sense. The continual reference to Obama as a monkey is something else. It shouldn’t surprise, though, that North Korea would latch onto that image. They are just following playing on the stereotype that the pack of race baiting websites, chat rooms, some college frat parties, and student websites has frequently used in assorted offbeat, crude, vile cartoons to ridicule Obama and First Lady Michelle and African-Americans. The racial tie to that depiction was tested in 2007.

Then Penn State researchers conducted six separate studies and found that many Americans still link blacks with apes and monkeys. Many of them were young and had absolutely no knowledge of the vicious stereotyping of blacks of years past. Their findings with the provocative title “Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization and Contemporary Consequences,” in the February 2008 issue of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was published by the American Psychological Association.

The overwhelming majority of the participants in the studies bristled at the faintest hint that they had any racial bias. But the animal savagery image and blacks was very much on their minds. The researchers found that participants — and that included even those with no stated prejudices or knowledge of the historical images — were quicker to associate blacks with apes than they were to associate whites with apes.

This was not simply a dry academic exercise. The animal association and blacks has had devastating real life consequences. In hundreds of news stories from 1979 to 1999, the Philadelphia Inquirer was much more likely to describe African Americans than Whites convicted of capital crimes with ape-relevant language, such as “barbaric,” “beast,” “brute,” “savage” and “wild.” And jurors in criminal cases were far more likely to judge blacks more harshly than whites, and regard them and their crimes as savage, bestial and heinous, and slap them with tougher sentences than whites.

North Korea would be especially susceptible to trade in this type of crude race baiting, and name calling given its self-imposed isolation from global discourse and its near paranoid xenophobic view of itself as somehow an ethnically pure nation. This notion is deeply tinged by race and racial chauvinism. This, and the regime’s political insularity, inevitably instills in the regime an us versus them fortress wall to keep out anything that sullies its notion of its superiority. North Korean leaders have played hard on this for decades as a political serving mechanism to insure domestic control and compliance with its brutal policies.

There was some talk that former NBA player Dennis Rodman’s much criticized tour of North Korea earlier in 2014 with a team of mostly black former pro basketball players might dent the regime’s racial insularity. There is no evidence it did. It gave the regime a momentary PR boost, but it was passing. An apologetic Rodman got the message and vowed not to return to the country. It wouldn’t have mattered. Two months later it branded Obama as a monkey and now it has repeated the slur. For North Korea this is simply racial business as usual.


By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Huffington Post Blog, December 28, 2014

December 31, 2014 Posted by | North Korea, Racism, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Year In Fear”: From Ebola To Street Violence To Comrade Kim

There a lot of things about the Sony Pictures hack attack and the resulting cancellation of the Seth Rogen-James Franco movie “The Interview” that don’t make sense. It isn’t just that the entire episode feels fictional; it feels like a stretch as a fictional episode. Some upstart satirical novelist fresh out of the Iowa Writers Workshop writes a book in which the dictator of North Korea, the nation where every day is Throwback Thursday, forces a multinational media corporation to kill a Hollywood comedy built around a couple of snarky, self-referential stars. Two versions of meta-reality collide: the delusional gaze of dead-end Leninism meets the smug smirk of dumbed-down postmodernism, and the world explodes. Oh, come on. Couldn’t happen.

But it fed our fear. It fed our love of fear. We are a nation addicted to fear. We seek it out wherever we can find it, and we cling to it. When it doesn’t exist, we invent it. We manipulate it for cynical purposes, to sell bad products and push bad ideologies. How much have you heard about Ebola and ISIS since the Republicans won their glorious victory in the midterm elections? We invoke it soberly, on both the right and the left, as a warning from the heavens urging us to repent of sin and choose the path of righteousness. If a Bible-thumping preacher inveighing against gays and Muslims taps into our love affair with fear, so does every left-wing warning of eco-catastrophe, from Rachel Carson to Al Gore and beyond.

Not all fears are equally unreasonable, to be sure. But if we can never agree about exactly what to fear, we are unanimous in embracing fear itself, and we line up to suckle poisonous milk from its brain-freezing breast. Fear is a powerful and dreadful thing, a toxic and odorless gas that permeates all thought and all substance. It conquers reason and love. It makes us shriveled and small-minded. A society ruled by fear stumbles along from crisis to crisis, guided by no clear principles and riven by contradictory impulses. It chooses leaders who feed the fear and leaders who promise to banish it (often the same people). In the name of conquering fear, it ends by giving up everything that is not fear. Constitutional freedoms, the ideals of democracy, civil rights and even the sanctity of the human individual, perhaps the greatest innovation of capitalism – all are subjugated to the Ministry of Fear.

Here’s the detail in the Sony/”Interview” snafu I keep getting stuck on: Apparently sane and normal people had to pretend, if only as a term of art or a legal fiction, that there was something to be afraid of here. We had to “assess the risk” that the incoherent threat made by Kim Jong-un or whoever-the-hell against people who went to see “The Interview” in movie theaters, represented actual danger in the real world. (The more I reread the backward syntax and throttled grammar of that message – “Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment” – the more it sounds like the work of some cackling, bearded anarchist in Brooklyn.) I don’t mean the microscopic, act-of-God danger that can never be eliminated: A plane might crash into my house before I finish writing this column, or whatever. We had to sit around like an entire nation of TV pundits pulling on our chins and consider the possibility that the North Koreans were actually going to blow up a suburban movie theater in Syracuse or San Antonio.

Well, no, it probably won’t happen (said the sane and reasonable people, and their lawyers), but there was a threat. A “threat”! It’s not worth the “risk.” Just imagine the carnage in the food court, and the horror at Sunglass Hut, if the Shoppes at Fox Run Estates became the target of a North Korean nuke attack. We can’t be too safe. Well, here’s the thing: You can be too safe, and in a certain sense Americans are too safe. At least, we are too cosseted from life in the real world, too securely packaged in the polyvinyl peanuts of our consumer lifestyle, too oblivious to real dangers and too fixated on imaginary ones. Can I tell you for certain that no one would have gotten murdered for watching “The Interview”? No. But I can tell you that those moviegoers were far more likely to die in car accidents on the way to the mall, and that the fear of that vanishingly small possibility is more destructive than the possibility itself.

You could say that every year since 2001 has been a year of fear in America, but 2014 feels special in this regard. There were enemies both foreign and domestic to fear; there were numinous psychological terrors and dreadful real-world events. It was a year of racialized fear and sexualized fear, a year when citizens felt under attack by law enforcement and the intelligence bureaucracies, and vice versa. We were instructed to fear a deadly new plague and a murderous new Islamic cult, both presented as the potential end of civilization and requiring the further renunciation of democracy and due process. To end the year by abandoning a stupid movie in terror of a cartoon dictator from an impoverished and isolated country 6,000 miles away was entirely too fitting.

If there’s one thing we know about Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, it’s that he genuinely felt afraid. Now, the reasons why Wilson felt afraid of an unarmed black man, and believed he had no alternative but to use lethal force, belong to a long and pathological skein of hatred and fear stretching deep into American history. I understand why many people wanted to see Wilson prosecuted, along with the other perceived rogue cops of 2014. But Wilson did not invent the climate of fear that makes black men and boys appear threatening to authority figures whether or not they are armed, and whether or not they are doing anything illegal or confrontational. He was soaked in that fear, like a piece of human litmus paper, and was too weak to resist it.

It might be tempting to conclude that the cases of Brown and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and the other unarmed African-American males killed by cops this year were isolated instances that got blown out of proportion, rather than evidence of a larger pattern. But the fear-driven and intensely racialized response to those killings suggests otherwise. In the zero-sum game of American racial politics, a distressingly large number of white people interpret any criticism of the police, and any discussion about enduring racial prejudice or white privilege, as an all-out assault. Like everybody else of any color who has tried to write about this issue, I’ve been barraged all year long by correspondents eager to discuss the purported epidemic of black-on-white violence ignored by the media, Barack Obama’s impending “final solution” to the white problem, or the coming alliance between ISIS agents and urban black radicals aimed at overthrowing the U.S. government from within. (I heard about that one, from a self-styled terrorism expert, just last week.)

I’m not suggesting that most white Americans manifest that kind of extreme paranoia. But it isn’t as rare as those of us in liberal coastal cities would like to believe, and even the crude data of public opinion polls suggest that the climate of fear that enabled Darren Wilson is widespread in white America. Like so many other things about our perishing republic, this is paradoxical. Amid all this psychic distress, it’s easy to overlook the objective facts: Violent crime is at or near a 50-year low in this country, and by some measures an all-time low. The overt racial discord and confrontation of the 1960s and ‘70s is largely absent from American life (or at least it was, until very recently). A black man with a foreign-sounding name has twice been elected president, by comfortable margins.

If white Americans – who are and remain a uniquely wealthy, privileged and protected group as a whole — choose to view themselves through a prism of fear, invoking the same rhetoric of victimology they often claim to despise in others, they are not alone. We saw a similar defensive reaction among men during the hashtag war that erupted after the Santa Barbara shootings last spring, as if the #YesAllWomen consciousness-raising moment, which could have provoked thoughtful reflection, had been a call for a feminist police state and universal castration. Instead we learned that #NotAllMen are violent creeps. Well, congratulations.

Both of these fear-driven reactions are mimicked again, and repeatedly, on the national scale. Americans seem determined to process the trauma of 9/11 – which at this point feels like the cherished and nourished trauma of 9/11 – by convincing ourselves that we’re not actually a blundering imperial superpower but an embattled underdog, about to be overrun from outside and eaten away from within by a legion of comic-book supervillains. I’m aware this is nothing new. This current of xenophobia and panic, the terror that our shining city on a hill will be corrupted by savages and pagans, goes back at least as far as the Salem witch trials. With the delusion known as American exceptionalism comes the delusion of persecution. Remember the scene in “Fahrenheit 911” when Michael Moore gets people in the Michigan backwoods to explain why their county is a likely target for Islamic terrorists? They hate us for our freedom!

After the Edward Snowden revelations, and after the Brown and Garner grand jury decisions, many of us have found new reasons to fear the state apparatus, whether in its covert form or its paramilitary street-level domestic operatives. As I said earlier, not all fear is unreasonable, and those fears may find both positive and negative modes of expression. I will never know the vulnerable feeling of being an African-American potentially subject to street harassment, arbitrary arrest or summary execution by police. What is most noteworthy about the widespread and generally peaceful demonstrations in response to the Brown and Garner cases, in fact, is that they represent not the triumph of fear but a triumph over fear. The anguish, grief and fear of black people and other citizens have been translated into social action – into people on the street together, which is the most powerful antidote to fear.

Executives at Sony could perhaps have summoned the possibility of social action – if they lived in some alternate universe where they believed in something beyond corporate ass-covering. Since they don’t, they ditched a film they never believed in, in response to a fear they didn’t really feel, because the lawyers told them to. A profile in courage that sums up the year in fear just a little too well.


By: Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, December 20, 2014

December 25, 2014 Posted by | Fear, Police Brutality, Sony Pictures | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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