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Ann McFeatters: Too few realize all the damage Trump is doing

WASHINGTON — There is growing concern that a new world order is taking shape. If that proves true, it bodes ill for the United States.

Donald Trump was told flat-out at the NATO meeting in Brussels that he should stop trolling close allies because, frankly, America doesn’t “have that many” any longer.

Many Americans don’t realize how damaging Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents has been to the country’s image abroad as he continues to pursue his anti-immigrant policies, including efforts to curtail legal immigration.

His administration’s failure — even inability — to obey a court order to return children to their parents has stirred heartstrings around the globe, making the U.S. seem heartless and incompetent. Moreover, Trump’s disdain for asylum seekers, has become embarrassing. There is no tidal wave — only 26,000 asylum seekers each year are successful. And taking away the children — sometimes losing them — of people who are obeying the law is just cruel. It is also a violation of international law.

Trump’s inexplicable charge that Germany is “totally controlled” by Russia (for importing less than 20 percent of its energy needs) stunned NATO allies, making them whisper that this president increasingly is coming off as extremely uninformed. Some have even pointed out behind their hands that America imports energy from Canada but doesn’t consider the Canadians their puppet master.

Trump, who is part of a criminal investigation in a case involving Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election that already has resulted in numerous guilty pleas and indictments by former lieutenants, still has no compunction about continuing to express open admiration for dictators, especially Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s thumbing his nose at U.S. allies by holding a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a summit that accomplished nothing but made Trump look ridiculously incompetent and easily flattered, has lowered respect for him significantly. As for Kim, he is increasing nuclear weapon production and met with potato farmers rather than with the U.S. secretary of state to continue negotiations. So much for “denuclearization.”

Meanwhile, as Kim demanded, the U.S. has cancelled military exercises with South Korea, jeopardizing readiness. Although Trump called the exercises “tremendously” expensive, they cost $14 million out of the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget. Cancelling them is more costly.

Trump’s pointless trade wars, especially with China, are hurting his own supporters, farmers and consumers, although most of them continue to hold out forlorn hope that somehow a man who has never negotiated a successful deal for his country has an economic insight that the vast majority of economists say is preposterous.

At the NATO meeting, Trump excoriated allies for not paying 2 percent of their gross domestic product toward joint defense. Then he upped it, saying they had to pay 4 percent. Even the United States doesn’t meet that high standard, contributing about 3.5 percent. Most NATO members have steadily been increasing their share, but Trump still is threatening to shift the U.S. military presence in Europe without much higher expenditure by European nations on defense. Ill will is mounting.

Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Trump ally, said NATO is as important as it ever was, especially since Russia continues military skirmishes against Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea. Most international analysts say NATO is the most important alliance in the history of the world. By a rare consensus vote of 97 to 2, the Senate confirmed its support of NATO. Yet Trump constantly disparages NATO, getting the facts wrong.

Putin either wants to join and weaken NATO, formed to block Russian aggression, or watch it fall apart. Yet instead of promoting NATO unity, Trump dismisses Putin’s critics, defending him as “just people.”

Most perplexing is Trump’s refusal to take seriously Russian hacking of the election and the U.S. electric grid and other Russian cyberattacks. We don’t know whether Trump, urged to denounce Putin’s meddling, is just stubbornly doubling down or whether Putin is blackmailing Trump. The Mueller investigation may tell us.

Until then, Trump is damaging our reputation and standing in the world, not knowing or apparently even caring what he doesn’t know and potentially endangering the freedom of millions of people.

If respect for America’s dominance in world affairs, based in large part on moral suasion, diminishes too much, China and Russia will rush in to fill the gap, and American military might won’t be enough to stop them.

Unless the U.S. abandons all her principles.

Editorial: Cecil the lion’s revenge?

An editorial from the Chicago Tribune:

Remember Cecil, the African lion killed in 2015 by a Minnesota dentist? The dentist shot Cecil with a crossbow, skinned him and then took his head as a trophy.

Cecil’s death stirred worldwide revulsion, forced the dentist into hiding and, we trust, scared off other trophy hunters who would kill these magnificent beasts for sport.

We don’t know if lions hold grudges, but we’re tempted to say that Cecil’s relatives in Africa may have long memories.

That was our first thought when we heard about what happened to a group of rhinoceros poachers who recently crept into a South African game reserve. The armed poachers apparently intended to kill rhinos and saw off their horns (worth about $9,000 a pound).

What happened looks a lot like sweet revenge. Officials found a skull and a “bit of pelvis,” Nick Fox, owner of the private game reserve, told Newsweek. “Everything else was completely gone.”

Fox wasn’t even sure how many poachers there were, but three sets of shoes and gloves were found. “I think we had a stroke of luck here,” he said. “The lions got to them before they got to the rhinos.”

Veterinarians and conservation workers assessed six lions believed to be among the culprits. Conclusion: The lions’ behavior was normal. Apparently, the animals react differently toward people in vehicles who come to gawk than they react to people on foot who come to make mischief.

Our surmise: When lions see people in vehicles, they may think, “tourist.” When they see people on foot with guns, they think “lunch.”

Sadly, rhino poaching is a big criminal business in South Africa, with more than 1,000 rhinos slaughtered in 2017. Poachers have already driven one rhino species, the northern white rhino, to near extinction. Only two females remain. But researchers say they’ve developed a hybrid rhinoceros embryo to be implanted in a surrogate rhino in hopes of restarting a herd. That would be wonderful. Even more wonderful would be to develop better ways to discourage poachers from killing endangered animals in the first place.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen while black markets thrive. Which means animals will continue to be driven to near extinction by the most treacherous beast of all.

“The northern white rhinoceros didn’t fade from evolution, it faded because it wasn’t bulletproof,” said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Poachers who kill and mutilate for profit don’t deserve much sympathy. Looks like they didn’t get any from the lions.

Rest easy, Cecil.

Editorial: Can Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh find the center?

An editorial from Newsday:

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court ensures that the nation’s top court, already more conservative than it has been in decades, would be more reliably so, just as the president promised.

Now the U.S. Senate must determine whether Kavanaugh is an unwavering ideologue unfit to be on the court or someone with the wisdom, creativity and flexibility to transcend the nation’s cultural divide. As with most of our national conversation, we need to find some commonality to move the country forward.

The confirmation hearings to replace Anthony Kennedy should elicit whether Kavanaugh has preset ideas on raging social issues, and the Senate should not confirm him if he does. Ideally, the next justice should be willing to take a modest view of the court’s power. Making the court less of a cudgel in our tribal warfare would be a very good way of exercising its power.

The difficulty facing any modern-day nominee is that elected officials make cynical pledges to appoint justices who will deliver a specific policy agenda. Unfortunately, Trump reinforced that view when he outsourced recruitment to a conservative group whose list has yielded his nominees. Before Kavanaugh even finished his remarks at the White House, the hypercharged ads in support and against his nomination had begun.

Unfortunately, Kavanaugh is too much like Trump’s first pick, Neil Gorsuch, with whom he went to high school and who has punched all the boxes of the insider elite, someone who thrives on the Washington parlor games of conservative legal theory. Some regional and educational diversity would have been better for the court. Kavanaugh is sure to be deeply questioned on his overly partisan and aggressive role in special counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton, which led to his impeachment. While Kavanaugh does not believe a president can be prosecuted in a criminal case or face civil liability while in office, he does believe a president could be impeached for misleading the public and lying.

Ironically, Monday’s nomination came on the 44th anniversary of the death of former Chief Justice Earl Warren, whose court ushered in the most sweeping expansion of individual rights in the nation’s history, cases that struck down school prayer, established the right of education equity for minorities, expanded the protection of those accused of a crime to remain silent and have the services of a lawyer, and protected suspects from improper police searches. Under Warren, the court also found a constitutional right to privacy, a case that later became the intellectual underpinning for Roe v. Wade. The struggle to swing the pendulum back on some of those rulings has created this successful political movement to shift the court’s ideological balance toward the right.

In accepting the nomination, Kavanaugh said, “I will keep an open mind in every case.” In 1987, this editorial page supported the confirmation of Ronald Reagan’s choice of Anthony Kennedy because we said he would decide “each case as it comes before him without preconceived notions.”

The upcoming Senate hearings will determine whether that can be said again.