Sunday, June 9, 2019

Last Call For Hong Kong, Kablooey

At least 500,000 protesters took to the streets this weekend in Hong Kong to march against a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects of crimes to be tried and jailed in mainland China, with city Chief Executive Carrie Lam's job very much up in the air.

Hong Kong was plunged into a fresh political crisis on Sunday night after more than half a million people took to the streets to thwart a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China to face trial.

Organizers said the turnout outstripped a demonstration in 2003 when 500,000 hit the streets to challenge government plans for tighter national security laws.

Those laws were later shelved and a key government official forced to resign. Sunday’s outpouring was already raising the pressure on the administration of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her official backers in Beijing.

“She has to withdraw the bill and resign,” veteran Democratic Party lawmaker James To told crowds outside the city’s parliament and government headquarters on Sunday night.

“The whole of Hong Kong is against her.”

After To spoke, thousands were still arriving, having started the march five hours earlier, filling four lanes of a major thoroughfare. Some sat in a nearby park singing “Hallelujah” while police increased their numbers around the area.

Lam had yet to comment on the rally. The demonstration capped weeks of growing outrage in the business, diplomatic and legal communities, which fear corrosion of Hong Kong’s legal autonomy and the difficulty of ensuring basic judicial protections in mainland China.

The protest descended into violence in the early hours of Monday as several hundred protesters clashed with a similar number of police outside the city’s parliament.

Protesters charged police lines to try to force their way into the Legislative Council building, and police charged back, using pepper spray, after warning the protesters. The standoff ended in the early hours of Monday.

U.S. and European officials have issued formal warnings - concern matched by international business and human rights lobbies that fear the changes would dent Hong Kong’s rule of law. The former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 amid guarantees of autonomy and various freedoms including a separate legal system, which many diplomats and business leaders believe is the city’s strongest remaining asset.

 This would be the equivalent of a half million people taking to the streets of New York City. People are going to pay attention, and we'll see if Lam survives.

Sunday Long Read: Laugh Through The Pain

Stephen Colbert is doing tremendously well on CBS's The Late Show in the Era of Trumpian Excess, and this week's Sunday Long Read is the comic and late night host's interview with NY Times writer David Marchese.

Even though it has been a few years since Stephen Colbert stepped out of the blowhard conservative-pundit role that he played for nearly a decade on “The Colbert Report” and into the role of, well, himself, as host of “The Late Show” on CBS, the 55-year-old’s popularity only continues to grow. His show, already No. 1 in late night, took over the top spot among viewers ages 18 to 49 earlier this year, a demographic that had long been owned by Jimmy Fallon and “The Tonight Show.” As it turns out, what Colbert and his show offer — an “explicative deconstruction of the day’s news,” as he puts it — is exactly what many people want. “It’s so confusing today,” said Colbert, who is also an executive producer on Showtime’s animated comedy “Our Cartoon President.” “And that confusion leads to anxiety, and the anxiety makes the audience want the jokes.” Which, Colbert added, is “the same reason we want to do them.”

“The Late Show” is doing very well, and there are obvious explanations you could point to: You’ve had a few years to learn how to do the job. You’re benefiting from a Trump bump. But what’s your own hunch about why the show is resonating? 
By the spring of 2016, we had figured out how I want to do a monologue: We never do setup, punch, setup, punch. Instead, it’s always, I’m going to tell back to you what happened today. When the presidential campaign came around in 2016, that helped focus us on the things that we most enjoyed, which is the news of the day. But you say “doing very well,” and I know you mean numerically.1 This is a long preamble to the real answer to your question: It’s almost as if the president is trying to cast a spell to confuse people so they cannot know the true nature of reality, and what we do is pick apart the way in which the [expletive] was sold to you. I think that’s why it’s going well. Our job is to identify the [expletive], and there’s never been more.

I remember Jon Stewart2 saying, when he was on “The Late Show,” that he was glad he wasn’t digging in the turd mines anymore. Is it ever dispiriting to spend so much time engaging with bad news? 
The metaphor that I use is that there’s this pool of radioactive sludge, which is the daily news. My job is to be lowered like carbon rods into that radioactive sludge and absorb the radiation of the insanity that happened today. Then they take me out and put me in front of the camera, and I irradiate it back at the audience at a much lower, nonlethal rad level. That’s kind of the job. It’s a transformation of the poison into something entertaining. Do I feel poisoned by doing that? Yeah, a little bit. But I get to go do the jokes. I need the audience as much as some of them say they need the show. If the show really works and it feels organic, then the poison’s drained out of me.

The suggestion there is that comedy or satire can relieve people’s tension or anxiety about the world. But as far as I can tell, no one is feeling any less tense or anxious. Do you really think the show actually performs a stress-relieving function? 
Momentarily. You know, my doctor has informed me that if I could drink less during the week, that would be good. Because that would be one of the things I would want to do when I go home: have myself an old-fashioned that could stun a buffalo. It’s relaxing at first, but your blood pressure actually goes up again the next day because you drank four ounces of Maker’s Mark the night before.

If we take that as a metaphor, where do you fit in it? 
I’m the alcohol. I might be the alcohol. I don’t know what the next day is like for anybody. If the show goes well, maybe the audience sleeps a bit better. And maybe that’s all the show should be. I have said this before, but I know that when you’re laughing, you’re not afraid.

Is that true, though? Isn’t nervous laughter a laughter that comes from fear? 
Nervous laughter is not the same thing as laughing, in my opinion. I would say nervous laughter is evidence that I’m right, because that is your body autonomically trying to relieve tension. If someone can do that for you from the outside, it relieves that tension and fear, and you are momentarily not afraid. If you’re not afraid, you can think, and we have to think our way out of this one.

It's good stuff, and yeah, Colbert is just as indispensable as he was a decade or fifteen years ago now.

Deportation Nation, Con't

To the surprise of no one, the actions Mexico agreed to take "this week" to stop the flow of asylum seekers to the US from Central America were actually agreed upon earlier this year, but Trump decided he was going to nearly break the deal in order to create news to get the Democrats (and the bad jobs report) off the front page.

The deal to avert tariffs that President Trump announced with great fanfare on Friday night consists largely of actions that Mexico had already promised to take in prior discussions with the United States over the past several months, according to officials from both countries who are familiar with the negotiations.

Friday’s joint declaration says Mexico agreed to the “deployment of its National Guard throughout Mexico, giving priority to its southern border.” But the Mexican government had already pledged to do that in March during secret talks in Miami between Kirstjen Nielsen, then the secretary of homeland security, and Olga Sanchez, the Mexican secretary of the interior, the officials said.

The centerpiece of Mr. Trump’s deal was an expansion of a program to allow asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico while their legal cases proceed. But that arrangement was reached in December in a pair of painstakingly negotiated diplomatic notes that the two countries exchanged. Ms. Nielsen announced the Migrant Protection Protocols during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee five days before Christmas.

And over the past week, negotiators failed to persuade Mexico to accept a “safe third country” treaty that would have given the United States the legal ability to reject asylum seekers if they had not sought refuge in Mexico first.

Mr. Trump hailed the agreement anyway on Saturday, writing on Twitter: “Everyone very excited about the new deal with Mexico!” He thanked the president of Mexico for “working so long and hard” on a plan to reduce the surge of migration into the United States.

It was unclear whether Mr. Trump believed that the agreement truly represented new and broader concessions, or whether the president understood the limits of the deal but accepted it as a face-saving way to escape from the political and economic consequences of imposing tariffs on Mexico, which he began threatening less than two weeks ago.

Having threatened Mexico with an escalating series of tariffs — starting at 5 percent and growing to 25 percent — the president faced enormous criticism from global leaders, business executives, Republican and Democratic lawmakers, and members of his own staff that he risked disrupting a critical marketplace.

After nine days of uncertainty, Mr. Trump backed down and accepted Mexico’s promises.

Officials involved with talks said they began in earnest last Sunday, when Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, met over dinner with Mexico’s foreign minister. One senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door negotiations that took place over several days, insisted that the Mexicans agreed to move faster and more aggressively to deter migrants than they ever have before.
Their promise to deploy up to 6,000 national guard troops was larger than their previous pledge. And the Mexican agreement to accelerate the Migrant Protection Protocols could help reduce what Mr. Trump calls “catch and release” of migrants in the United States by giving the country a greater ability to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.

Once again, I smell Stephen Miller's spoor all over this mess.  This looks like a concerted effort to bury Kirstjen Nielsen's involvement and success in these negotiations completely while buying Trump several news cycles as a bonus.

Mission accomplished there, I guess.  But the real problem is now Mexico has given in to the bully's demands, and in the immortal words of Darth Vader in Empire...

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