Archive for the ‘OUR WORLD’ Category

CONFESSIONS OF A TRIBALIST

Last May, the author Michael Chabon—himself Jewish—told graduating Reform rabbis and educators they needed to help dissolve Judaism. The goal? A world where everyone’s the same. Amy Chua, the Chinese-American Yale law professor, who authored Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, opposes that view. I side with Chua.

In “Tribal World: Group Identity is All” (July/August 2018 Foreign Affairs), Chua writes, “The human instinct to identify with a group is almost certainly hard-wired…” In that context, she faults U.S. policymakers for underestimating “the role that group identification plays in shaping human behavior.” Tribes are for real.

I’m guilty of upholding my Jewish identity. Some friends brought up as “just Americans” have confided they envy my ethnic identity. Granted, many North American Jews exhibit no particular concern for Judaism and Jewish life, as Chabon would have them do.

The Talmud (Shevuot39a) teaches, “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh.” All Israel [the Jewish people] are responsible each for the other. I take this to heart.

I read baseball box scores each morning and note the performance of each Jewish player. As of yesterday, the Astros’ Alex Bregman—this year’s All-Star Game most valuable player—had 22 homeruns and 71 runs batted in. The Dodgers’ Joc Pederson hit two home runs last night. The Red Sox’ Ian Kinsler  had three hits. The Orioles’ Danny Valencia, a position player, pitched.  When Orioles relief pitcher Richard Blier—having a great year—went out for the season with an injury, that hurt. Basketball’s Omri Casspi signed with Memphis. Hooray!

It’s not just sports. Last Sunday night, Carolyn and I went to the Jewish Film Festival to see a documentary about Sammy Davis, Jr. As my synagogue’s congregation and Israel’s population attest, Jews display a wide variety of genetics and cultural backgrounds. I believe in Am Yisrael Echad—the people Israel is one. We’re universalists despite our particularism.

Am I offending others, such as Whites, Blacks, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Asians, Latinos, Cat Lovers, and Chocaholics? If so, who determines our universalistic identity? Hopefully, no one. I can see the inevitable outcome: Jews forego Chanukah for Christmas to be “like everyone else.”

Yes, tribalism can be toxic. Witness the Greater Middle East and India, for example. Examine Europe: France’s Jews, who suffered during the Holocaust with French complicity, endure violent anti-Semitism, much at the hands of Muslims. European Muslims don’t have it easy, either. A Muslim friend born in England is achieving great success as an actor yet remains wary. Mesut Ozil, five-time German soccer player of the year, left the national team after criticism for posing for a photo with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (admittedly not my favorite political leader).“I’m a German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” wrote Ozil, born in Germany.

The United States offers ample proof that tribalists can be loyal citizens, who take our Constitution and values to heart. The hyphenated American—Jewish-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans, Japanese-Americans and so on—helped make this nation great. When the current political idiocy ends, we will continue to do so. The hyphen enables us to bring varied religious and cultural backgrounds to a common table heaped with bagels, ribs, Mongolian beef, tacos, chicken vindaloo—and respect. All enrich the American experience.

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I, VLADIMIR

I, Vladimir Putin, meet privately with President Trump in Helsinki earlier in week. In private, we discuss many important things. Now, I tell Americans at higher ends of intelligence about what I say to my tovarichDonald.

We start with golf. I love it. Even in deepest, darkest winter, I play 36 holes bare-chested. (Also work at desk bare-chested.) My lowest 72-hole score 45. This is 27 strokes under par. For president of Russia, holes move closer. Donald appreciates.

Women we also love. Donald is my idol. Smart man divorces wife when she stops being hot. Donald does this twice so far. I divorced Lyudmilla after 30 years. She was bad for image. My girlfriend Alina only 30. Even hotter than Melania, though I don’t say this. (Donald Jr. wise to follow father’s example, dump his wife, too.)

We compare popularity. Crowds cheer me everywhere. We have ways to educate people whose hands fail to clap. I say, “Donald, you are rock star.” In speech in Montana early this month, he tells supporters he broke all Elton John’s records. He says Elton John needs organ to draw crowds, not Donald Trump. I nudge his arm. Donald Trump has organ. Not bigger than mine, but huge.

We discuss most serious issues. I tell Donald little green men in Ukraine not Russians, but droids produced by Disney. Crimea always part of Russia. I give Crimea’s Russian speakers chance to come home. Like Donald wishes to make Canada part of U.S., free Canadians from Justin Trudeau and government from foolish burdens like providing healthcare. For Donald’s 2020 campaign theme, I propose “Make America 62 States.” Why not? U.S. took over Mexican territory, lands of native peoples, Hawaii. All Russia asks for is control Near Abroad: Belarus, Moldova, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Georgia. Maybe Syria to protect naval base at Tartus.

We laugh about income taxes. Only fools pay. Giving tax returns to fake media? This not for rich people with money laundered in Zurich, London, New York, Miami. And why should Russians connected to Kremlin reveal loans and equity positions arranged with orange-haired American developers? Private enterprise should be private.

Biggest item is supposed interference in 2016 election. I ask, “How could Russia do or not do this?” I answer, “We are too busy interfering in our own elections.” (I first was elected president in 2000—may Donald serve his people for 20 years!). Is my duty to keep voting process free from outside agitators like university professors, artists, writers, fake journalists, students, housewives, doctors, businessmen who not oligarchs or mafia, grocery store owners and ice-cream sellers. Besides, I say, we know how world works. Interference? Could have been Democrats or anyone.

I remind Donald in last election I receive 92 percent of vote. (We announce lower percentage to show world Russian elections fair.) I tell him this is five more points of popular vote than he says he really received—American vote totals rigged for Crooked Hillary.

Russia and America can be good friends. Man like Donald Trump understands what international relations all about: I grab mine. You grab yours.

I say, “Let us chat soon in Washington.” We will talk about many cultural favorites we share. Song: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” TV: “The Americans.” Cinema:Manchurian Candidate.

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PIXI(E)LATED

On Wednesday, following his meeting in Singapore with Kim Jong-un, President Trump tweeted that there is “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” Why am I not relieved?

Two words come to mind. Pixilatedmeans acting in a mentally unbalanced, unstable way. Pixelated—note the “e” replacing the first “i”—refers to the number of pixels on a digital device’s screen. The more pixels, the sharper the image. There’s a connection.

In Singapore, Trump elevated Kim to the world stage before attempts to negotiate a detailed agreement ridding North Korea of nuclear weapons. Standard diplomacy would have members of both leaders’ staffs first work out the fine print. Then the leaders would meet and sign an accord. Trump signed a vague preliminary 400 words that failed to reference verification. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented that such a term is understood. Really?

What happens if, following Trump and Kim’s mini-love fest, terms are not agreed upon? Brotherly affection could turn to anger and a sense of betrayal. The risk of war, including the use of nuclear weapon, escalates—especially factoring in super-hawk national security advisor John R. Bolton. So, does the Singapore summit reflectpixilated—unstable—thinking? Only in part.

It also demonstratespixelatedthinking—the desire to make a visual splash in the media from standard to social. If a picture is worth a thousand words, endless videos of Trump and Kim smiling and shaking hands surely speak volumes. But volumes of what?

For Kim, Singapore provided legitimacy. No longer the dictator of the Hermit Kingdom, he created a new image of himself as a statesman. Forget North Korea’s prison camps, assassinations and mind control. Despite ruling a small nation of 25 million, Kim has his finger on a nuclear button and must be respected. Or feared. His people—indeed, the world—have seen him hobnob with the presidents of South Korea, China and the United States.

Moreover, Donald Trump stated how very much Kim loves his people—then tweeted that Kim’s “done some really bad things,” but so have other nations. So maybe Kim’s not all that bad. Trump also suggested fabulous real-estate opportunities lying ahead for North Korea. A Trump Resort Wonsan?

For Trump, the digital wave again made him the focus of world attention. He portrayed himself as an aggressive, rule-breaking negotiator. The artist of the deal. “Look at me,” he seemed to say. Or tweet. “I’ve done what no president before me has done. Rank me up there with George and Abe. And don’t forget, I’m the toughest kid on the block. Before Singapore, I kicked ass at the G-7 summit.”

Of course, the other six G-7 governments are America’s allies. Or were. Trump prefers adding Russia to a restored G-8. Since the G-7 won’t allow it, perhaps they’ll become the G-6 opposite a G-2 constituted of the United States and Russia headed by best buds Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Then a G-3 including North Korea.

The future defies prediction. I hope that the U.S. and North Korea reach a meaningful agreement. That the nuclear threat evaporates as the result of strict terms accepted by Kim. But we’ve just witnessed the confluence of pixilatedand pixelated. Down the road, pixi(e)latedcould prove at best meaningless. At worst, explosive.

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DONALD TO KIM—GAME ON

Posted Jun 8 2018 by in OUR WORLD with 4 Comments

Preparing for the U.S.–North Korea summit on June 12, Donald Trump sent a letter of introduction to Kim Jong-un. It was leaked. I present it unedited.

Dear Kim:

Can I call you Kim? Call me Donald. I like first names. Hold that. This guy looking over my shoulder says Koreans put their family names before their Christian names. Dumb! But who am I to judge? Well, you know Who. But calling you Jong or Jong-un seems weird. Like that kimchi cabbage stuff you guys eat.

I’ll call you Kimmy. Like that character on TV, “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” She’s not bad looking, but she’s a Redhead. I’m into Blondes. You probably know that. I bet you dig Blondes, too. Not that Mrs. Jong-un isn’t a Babe. From the photos and videos, I’d say so. Love to get to know her better (wink, wink). Even if she’s not a Blonde.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you in Singapore. We have lots in common. Like our Hair. Not the same-old same-old. I had a Sofa in the Oval Office upholstered to match the color of my hair when I went from orange to yellow. People who see me on TV think Me and the Sofa are Twins. I’m the Smart One. And nobody sits on The Donald.

Nobody sits on Kimmy, either. I get that. We both have these disloyal Underlings. A shitload. But you’ve got it better. You get to blow them away with Anti-Aircraft Guns or whatever. All they let me do here is fire them. “You’re fired!” I love the ring to that. I’m dying to say that to a certain Attorney General. Wait. I’m not supposed to write that. Fuck the Underling looking over my shoulder. Donald Trump is the President of the United States and Everything in the World America owns. MAGA!!

What I’m saying, Kimmy, is that you and Me can do a lot in Singapore. Talk? Sure. We’ll talk. This Nuclear stuff? Important. I’m hitting the road (flying actually) to impress on you I’ve got more Nukes. A shitload more. Bigger, too. Yuge!!! I can charbroil your capital city (like I’m supposed to remember some crazy Asiatic name and how to spell it?) anytime I want!!!! Don’t expect help from my Underlings like the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Who elected them?

Bet your ass I won My election by an even bigger percentage than you won yours!!!! Wait. They say you don’t have elections in North Korea. Really? Damn. I love that!!!!!

So—Singapore. We’ll shoot the shit. Talk about the Babes we’ve bagged. I’ve bagged way more than you, but that’s not the point. Well, it is. But Guys? That’s how we bond. Then we’ll see what the Underlings can do to get North Korea to get on its Knees to America. We’re the Big Dog, right? Except for Russia. Not as Big, but big (lower case). Love that Vlad!!!!!!

Anyway, we can play golf. Scarf up the McDonald’s I’m bringing. Definitely check out videos of some of my political rallies so you can see you’re dealing with a Guy from Queens.

See ya,

Donald

P.S. What kind of Christian name is Jong-un anyway?

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TEOTIHUACAN

An “us vs. them” world tends to produce belief in cultural superiority. But human beings share more in common than perceived—and, admittedly, sometimes real—differences that may separate us. Exhibit A: Teotihuacan.

Teotihuacan is a sprawling pre-Columbian archaeological site northeast of Mexico City. Famed for its huge pyramids, Teotihuacan once contained 125,000 residents. Carolyn and I went there over 40 years ago. So naturally, we attended the recent exhibit of Teotihuacan artifacts at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

One piece particularly fascinated me: an incense burner dated 350–550 CE. No photo—at least taken by me—can do it justice. Fifteen to 18 inches high, it depicts a king or priest with a huge headdress. Its multi-planar construction could suggest a 21st-century artist. I didn’t over-think the piece. I just stared in awe.

Some Americans might think this piece primitive since it’s highly stylized rather than realistic. But such art, found worldwide, speaks to me far more than European art of the medieval and Renaissance periods, at first stylized then trending towards realism.

The Teotihuacan piece led me to wonder: How do Americans who don’t visit museums view art from outside the U.S. and Europe? Do they consider valid only European art of the 12th through 19th centuries? Do they think that legitimate art comes only from white Christian civilization, and its Greek and Roman antecedents?

No knock on European art, but my preferences run to Native-American, Latin-American, African, Middle-Eastern and Asian art—along with anything from antiquity. Also, the European Impressionists and many modernists. Why?

Stylized or representative art involves me precisely because it isn’t photo-realistic. Here I turn to Plato, who wrote of numina and phenomena. Simply put, all physical objects in the world represent—but cannot duplicate—their conceptual ideals, known as numina. For example, all physical chairs—phenomena—cannot replicate the ideal no matter how beautiful or utilitarian.

Likewise, no painting or sculpture of a horse can depict the ideal horse. By definition, any physical image is too specific and thus limited in scope. But artists still grapple with numina. Picasso drew a horse utilizing a single line—what appears to be a simple outline. The viewer’s imagination fills in the details and comes to some understanding of the concept of horse. That’s what makes representative art so engaging.

Regardless of style, representative art—like realistic art—expresses the universal human desire to understand the world in which we live and in doing so, ourselves. With clay, wood, metal and plastic; on board or canvas or rock; in leather and fabric; on slabs of stone or cave walls, artists from all places and times have sought to come to grips and move us with a greater reality.

The need for art is so basic, all cultures pursue it. Placing geographical constraints on art’s value dehumanizes artists—and ourselves. Moreover, variance in form and style does not make one culture’s art superior to others. There’s art well-done and art not particularly accomplished. Art presents is with a win-win proposition.

We can learn much from the art of other cultures, past and present. Their history and religions can inform us, too. As the old saying goes, we’re all different just the same.

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FOLLOW THE MONEY

The media continues to follow Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia. A fuss was made this past week about Trump knowing that his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, lied not only to Vice President Mike Pence but also to an FBI agent before Trump fired him. Don’t get excited. This represents some of the what of the matter. But it’s just part of the story.

The investigation will bear fruit only when we understand why Trump turned his back on, and even condemned, the United States’ top security agencies for reporting that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Why he admires Putin and his governing style yet has chided leaders of allied governments. Why he fired FBI head James Comey. And why, early this week, he trashed the FBI.

We know Trump believes good relations with Russia can be to our advantage. But that’s like advocating mom and apple pie. It’s always preferable to establish good relations with all nations— even those with whom we have conflicts, such as Iran and North Korea. But Trump has never assumed the role of statesman and geopolitical thinker. He has never written or delivered cogent speeches or position papers detailing the ways American-Russian engagement can make the world safer and freer.

So back to the key question: Why all the contacts between Trump’s people and Russia? Why did members of the Trump team mention the easing of sanctions imposed by Barack Obama before the inauguration? Why the guilty pleas from Trump team members, which may cripple or end the careers of those who entered them? And why the constant discovery of more questionable contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams, and Russia?

Follow the money!

On Tuesday, Thompson Reuters reported Mueller subpoenaed global banking giant Deutsche Bank for information regarding Trump and his family’s accounts and transactions. Might this relate to past New York Times and Vanity Fair articles on Russians laundering money through Trump condominium projects in New York and Florida? Will it reveal other Trump-Russian financial arrangements? Whatever, this form of inquiry represents the search for key answers.

It’s also critical to know why Trump refused to release his tax returns as all other candidates have over the last forty years. Look for Mueller’s team to review Trump’s tax returns soon—if they’re not doing so now. Their examination will go way past the tasks performed by the IRS. A tax expert told me that the IRS doesn’t look for illegal activities when individuals or entities state appropriate revenues, claim reasonable deductions and pay appropriate taxes. Additionally, sources of revenue and recipients of expenses don’t draw attention. It’s all about the numbers.

Mueller’s forensic accountants and investigators will dig deep. They’ll search for sources of revenue and recipients of financial obligations not listed on Trump’s returns. They’ll seek to uncover layers of shell companies to find the real people and organizations behind Trump’s business dealings.

When Mueller and his staff reach conclusions, they’ll know if Trump sought to enable Russians to profit from equity positions in some of his projects and to collect on large debts he owes Russian banks, oligarchs and mobsters. The truth is out there. To find it, Mueller will follow the money.

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WHAT PUTIN TOLD TRUMP

A week ago, at an economic conference in Da Nang, Vietnam, Donald Trump met with Vladimir Putin to discuss vital issues concerning the United States and Russia. According to President Trump—again—Russia did not attempt to sway America’s 2016 presidential election. At least, that’s what Putin said and, according to Trump, Putin’s a stand-up guy. And if you haven’t heard, Putin also cleared the air with Trump on several other important matters.

— The “little green men” who fought in Eastern Ukrainian for Russian-speakers’ separation from Kiev were Martians. Russia long has been a global leader in astronomy and space exploration, and communicated with Martian visitors well before “The X Files” became a hit on American television. Russia and the Martians kept the matter quiet to avoid panicking our planet.

Trump’s response: “Who knew that Martians spoke Russian? But it makes sense since Martian and Russian end in the same three English letters.”

— The gas purportedly used by Syria’s Assad regime on its own people—with Russia’s knowledge and guidance—was not Sarin or anything else poisonous. Instead, Assad sprinkled war zones with laughing gas to raise the spirits of people whose neighborhoods had been shattered, those suffering grievous injuries from purported barrel bombs (“no wine casks were damaged in the bombings”) and refugees. The gas was purchased from the Russian Institute of Advanced Dentistry over a decade earlier, and the Kremlin has all the receipts. Humanely, the gas did not prompt belly laughs which injure internal organs but produced only small chuckles as revealed by the grimaces grins on the faces of motionless Syrians photographed while napping.

Trump’s response: “I bet you and Assad also mixed in some pixie dust like I brought with me on Air Force One. I hear it’s a hell of an aphrodisiac.”

— Accusations by international sports doping bodies that Russian athletes take banned drugs reveals fake news at its most fake and un-newsiness. Russian athletes do test new types of vitamins, which Russian scientists continually refine for the betterment of health worldwide. This further proves Russia’s advanced research and production capabilities. History has long acknowledged that Russians invented baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet along with rhythm and blues, the button-down shirt and Buffalo chicken wings.

Trump’s response: “Can you invent something that makes Robert Mueller disappear?”

— Like George Washington, Vladimir Putin has never told a lie. Honor and integrity represented key values in his training and career with the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency responsible for keeping foreign powers—aka the United States—from soiling the spirit and legacy of Communism. Such admirable traits—and the occasional doing away with journalists and political opponents opposed by 99.9 percent of the people—impelled Russians to keep Putin in power since 1999 with no end in sight.

Trump’s response: “If I tell only the truth, do you think my fantastically high approval ratings of 38 percent will go even higher? And can you make Robert Mueller disappear?”

This straight talk should enable you and people across the globe—including Kim Jong-un—to sleep better. Or, as Mr. Trump tweeted on his “personal” account: “Nothing wrong with a man-crush as long as you still try 2 grab women by the pussy.”

With a snafu patched, my novel THE ODD PLIGHT OF ADONIS LICHT again is available for the Kindle at Amazon as well as in softcover.

The blog will take off for Thanksgiving and return on Friday, December 1.

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FIRE AND FURY

Last Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea has miniaturized a nuclear device to fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile. President Trump responded publicly that further threats by North Korea would be met by “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” I turned on CNN. For several seconds, national security reporter Jim Sciutto’s face revealed a fear I’ve never seen displayed by another journalist.

Will North Korea launch a nuke towards Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco or Los Angeles? Will Kim Jong-un send missiles to Guam? An attempted strike by North Korea would be met by a harsh American response leaving Kim dead or with no functioning nation to rule. Yet it would be foolish to say that Kim might not launch a suicidal attack if he saw a concrete threat to his regime. American foreign policy must weigh the odds of all possibilities and measure its words. The difference between slim and none can be deadly.

Sophisticated diplomacy can reduce—although not eliminate—the chance of a strike by North Korea. This involves firmly but calmly communicating America’s commitment to use all the power we can summon in response to such a strike. For entirely practical matters, that warning should be made in private.

Why not a public statement like that voiced by Trump? As military and law enforcement strategists know, cornering an enemy often makes him more dangerous. We receive continuing reports of police requiring more training to de-escalate difficult situations. A peaceful outcome isn’t always possible, but it’s more probable when criminals or the emotionally disturbed—or a Kim Jong-un—see a way out without losing face.

I’m reminded of a story I read decades ago about a high-school teacher in Chicago. He encountered a student confronting others with a gun. He made no threat. Rather, he calmly said, “Here, let me hold that for you.” The student yielded his weapon. The teacher averted potential carnage.

Nuclear proliferation, particularly involving countries engaged in hostile rhetoric, such as Iran, must be taken seriously. Still, the United States and its allies—those we have left—must recognize a reality not of our choosing and one we may be powerless to reverse. Today’s interconnected world makes the transfer of technology relatively simple and swift. Added to that, nations in Asia and the Middle East—as elsewhere—boast people who are as bright and inventive as us. Disturbed as we may be, regimes with whom we maintain profound disagreements probably will develop nuclear weapons.

I’m hardly the first person to suggest we adapt our foreign policy to recognizing proliferation’s sad inevitability. To prevent calamity, we must make clear that our commitments to friends remain firm, and that we maintain the option to use nuclear weapons in response to nuclear attacks or massive conventional aggression. We must also make clear that talking out our differences, even if we don’t reach resolution, makes far more sense. And we must do this within the framework of diplomacy.

Responding to threats, no matter how vile, with public counter-threats raises the global temperature and risks buttons being pushed in the heat of the moment. Dealing with this issue requires level-headedness and considerable discipline. Mr. Trump’s comment this morning that the U.S. is “locked and loaded” again evidences failure to display these qualities.

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DON AND VLAD AT THE G-20

While the mainstream media lacked access to the conversation between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at the recent G-20 conference, sources of mine with digital flies on the wall produced a transcript of the first part of their private meeting. It’s kind of interesting.

Don: “So, Vlad, we finally meet face to face. My face, of course, being much more manly and handsome than yours. I mean, the tan. And the hair. But I envy you. You get to be in a room with Donald Trump and his lackey. Sorry, Rex. No one held a gun to your head. Anyway, Vlad, you have anything worthwhile to say while I make you look important?”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “I’m glad you called me that, Vlad. Because I am president. And I’m making America great again. Wait. Since I’m President, America is great again. That’s what my other lackeys tell me. Sorry, Rex, but I’ve always had lackeys. They’re beautiful. Know why, Vlad? And you, too, Rex. Because I can say and do anything, and my lackeys go, ‘Fabulous, Mr. Trump. May I kiss your ass again? It’s been so long. Since yesterday.’ When you’re the billionaire President of America, you’re big. Huge.”

Vlad: “Mr. President…”

Don: “There you go again with that Mr. President thing. You respect me. You love me. Not in that way. Or maybe. But a guy with the three wives Donald Trump has had doesn’t swing the other way. Jesus, I’ve had women you can’t imagine. Remember my 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow? Beautiful girls all over me. Know why? Because I’m big, Vlad. Spelled h-u-m-o-n-g-o-u-s. You? You like to ride stallions. Me? I am a stallion. Not that you’re ever going to ride me. Maybe you swing that way. Is that a Russian thing? I don’t know anything about Russia. Except maybe nukes. You have nukes. Big deal. The frickin’ French have nukes. I mean, a guy like Macron has his finger on the button. Or whatever they use. Incredible. He could run the Miss Universe pageant in frickin’ Paris and never get laid.”

Vlad: “Mr. President, that’s what I want to speak with you about. Several contestants at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant have had babies. They claim you are the father. We provided DNA tests, since we have, of course, your DNA. You may have some explaining to do.”

Don: “You think I don’t use protection? Or maybe I didn’t. Doesn’t matter. Donald Trump controls his baby making thing at will. So, don’t think you can make up some ridiculous story to get me to make you a big shot by inviting you to the White House. And don’t tell me you made me President. Although I hear Russians are as good with computers as 400-pound guys in Jersey. See, America loves me. Look at this hair. I won the electoral college in the biggest landslide ever. Plus, I won the popular vote by ten million. Don’t tell me you win by more, because you’re always the only real candidate. And don’t have a cow. I’ll pay back those loans I took out from you guys by the end of my first term. Maybe after two. Possibly three. Four even. Why not more? Like you. Unless, after Christmas, I bail.”

Now you know.

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MOSCOW, ANKARA AND WASHINGTON

A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.

Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.

Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.

How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.

Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?

Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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