This is the Dawning of the Age of Autocrats


“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” – Niccolò Machiavelli

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived.” – Ibid.

“The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar.” – Ibid.


This is How a Great Country Loses Even More Allies: The Great US-North Korea Nuclear Summit can be summed up best by a phrase Texans use–pretty much “all sizzle and no steak.” Yes, there were scads of friendly-looking photo ops for President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, as the two stood in front of co-equally-positioned flags, no less. True, with the face-to-face meeting, Trump accomplished something no other sitting president has ever done. But he also heaped a lot of flattery on a murderous dictator, which was a stunning turnaround from Trump’s antagonistic, demeaning Twitter rants against Kim just a few months ago.

The president boasted that what the two men had signed was “a very comprehensive agreement,” after which he reported on details that weren’t in the agreement at all, and made a completely unexpected concession that would probably make America less secure, and certainly terrify its allies in the region. All this within days of an inexplicably acrid performance toward America’s real, long-time allies.

The main purpose of the Singapore summit was to address North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Trump told reporters Kim had agreed to “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” that such denuclearization would be “verified,” and that a “major missile engine testing site” would be destroyed. No language in the joint statement addresses either “verification”–no process for it is outlined, and no timetable for denuclearization is mentioned–or destroying missile sites. Overall, what the agreement lacks in substance it makes up for with vague aspirational vows.

The unexpected concession Trump made at the press conference was that the US would halt the “provocative war games” it holds with South Korea. He also said he wanted to withdraw US troops from the South and send them home, which would “save a lot of money.” First, the joint military exercises the US holds with South Korea are just that, military preparedness exercises aimed at discouraging war, not “provocative war games.” Second, not only do the exercises reassure our Southeast Asian allies that we have their back, they are a deterrent to aggression. Besides, South Korea foots half the bill to keep US troops in their country. Speaking of footing the bill, the summit is costing Singapore about $20 million including security, and it’s comping the entire hotel bill for Kim’s entourage.


– Brazil’s government not only commissioned a rare study to measure the economic impact of violence in the country, but on Monday it released the results. The study looked at the years from 1996, when the cumulative cost of crime (including estimates of the loss of productivity and the cost of policing and incarceration) was estimated to be $54 billion, through 2015, when the cumulative crime cost had risen to $138 billion, or 4.3 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. (NYT)

– Two Nigerians living in Dallas, Texas posed as property sellers and requested a $246,000 wire transfer from a real estate attorney. They were among the 74 people arrested in a coordinated crackdown on email scammers by local and federal law enforcement agencies. The scammers, who often impersonate business partners or colleagues, try convincing correspondents to wire them money for fraudulent activities. No word if the real estate attorney fell for it. (BBC)

– A new drug that prevents HIV infection was introduced in Australia and is so effective, gay and bisexual men are throwing away their Trojans. Just quoting the study here. (NYT)

– The American Institute in Taiwan was dedicated Tuesday in Taipei. It cost $250 million to build and will serve as the unofficial US embassy. The low-key dedication ceremony was intended to signal US support for the self-governing island but avoid a bigger clash with China, which claims Taiwan as its territory. The US broke off formal relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it switched recognition to the Communist government in Beijing. (NYT)

– China’s technology mascot, ZTE, darn near crashed and burned after the company violated American sanctions on North Korea and Iran, and the Trump administration cracked down. Quite a humbling experience, one demonstrating that China’s technology boom, after all, has been largely built atop Western technology. The Chinese call the whole fiasco the ZTE incident. But it kinda feels like when Americans stood by sheepishly in 1957, watching the Soviet Union win the race to launch the first human-made satellite, adoringly named ‘Sputnik’. Yep, this ZTE thing kinda feels like China’s Sputnik moment. (NYT)


Sessions Stops Asylum Seeking Spouses Fleeing Violent Relationships From Entering the United States: In 2016 the Board of Immigration Appeals held that a woman from El Salvador qualified for asylum because she was part of what the asylum system refers to as a “particular social group.” The Board reasoned that the particular social group encompassed women forced to stay in violent relationships because their government failed to protect them. The same reasoning was applied to victims of gang violence. On Monday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions reversed that ruling, saying “The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.” The Obama administration had allowed more women to claim credible fears of domestic abuse. But Sessions seemed to suggest women seeking asylum under those circumstances were simply inventing a grievance and said the Obama administration created “powerful incentives” for people to “come here illegally and claim a fear of return.” (NYT)


“How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.” – Niccolò Machiavelli

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