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Donald Trump picks Rex Tillerson as his foreign minister to improve ties with Russia

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] he wealthy businessman Donald Trump, the US president elect to replace Barack Obama, as speculated, has opted for wealth people for his cabinet positions and billionaire ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his top diplomat is one.

Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s apparent choice to be the next foreign minister in his government, has ample experience in dealing with Russia and many other nations, but strictly as a businessman, not a diplomat. Exxon has operations in dozens of countries, some of them politically volatile or estranged from the USA. First among them is Russia, which has leaned heavily on Western companies for technology and know-how to tap its vast oil and gas resources.

Persons close to Trump’s transition team said that Trump had selected Tillerson to be America’s top diplomat. The prospect of Tillerson’s nomination for secretary of state has raised concerns, given intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the US presidential election to help Trump.

Trump’s tapping of Tillerson lifts hope of US rapprochement as relations between former Cold war rivals have not made any significant improvement even after the 9/11 to terrorize Islamic world when Russia moved closer to US by supporting for Bushdom war on terror.

Rex Tillerson, a friend of Russia

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, 64-year-old Tillerson is a career Exxon employee, having joined the company after graduating from the University of Texas in 1975 with an engineering degree. Groomed for an executive position, he spent years in the rough-and-tumble world of oil production, working in Exxon’s central US, Yemen and Russian operations. By the 1990s, Tillerson was overseeing many of Exxon’s foreign operations. He played a key role in Exxon’s involvement in the huge Sakhalin oil and natural gas project on Russia’s eastern coast. That was a warm-up for a $3.2 billion deal in which Exxon and Russian state-controlled Rosneft announced they would work together to explore for oil in Russia’s Arctic region. Production is expected to begin in the next decade.

Tillerson joined ExxonMobil in 1975 as an engineer, before rising to become president and chief executive on 1 January 2006, overseeing business activities in more than 50 countries. Appointed CEO in 2006, he had been due to retire in March. But his lack of formal policy and government experience, and embedded relationship with a hugely powerful energy company is bound to result in sharp questions in the Senate confirmation hearings. Tillerson expected to retire next year. His heir apparent, Darren Woods, has been in place for a year, so there would be virtually no disruption to Exxon’s succession plans if Tillerson were to become secretary of state.

Tillerson took charge of Exxon’s operations in Russia in 1998, and navigated the company through major difficulties after Vladimir Putin came to power and the Kremlin demanded that earlier oil-and-gas deals be revised in favor of Russia’s state energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft. In 2011, as Exxon CEO, he negotiated a long-range, multi-billion dollar joint venture with Rosneft to explore for oil in Russia’s Arctic.

Tillerson has argued against sanctions that the US and European allies imposed on Russia after it annexed the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. He also has backed free trade and an expansive US presence in the Middle East, stances at odds with the more isolationist approach Trump has pitched to his supporters during the campaign.

The businessman has publicly opposed sanctions on Moscow that thwarted his attempt to pursue huge oil deals in the Russian Arctic. For this, he was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin in 2013 and the Kremlin welcomed his nomination with an aide praising him as a “very solid figure” with whom Putin and Russians have “good, business-like relations.”

In 2011, Tillerson flew to the Russian resort town of Sochi to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for the announcement. As news photographers recorded the scene, the men shook hands and smiled broadly at each other. “This project promises to be highly interesting and ambitious,” Putin said, according to a Rosneft press release. Exxon exploration in Russia, he said, “will open new horizons.”

Exxon steadily expanded its Russian business while its rivals faced expropriation and regulatory obstacles. Interestingly, in 2013 Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, an honor given to only to highly friendly foreigners who improve relations with Russia. Tillerson is a special case. “My relationship with Vladimir Putin, which dates back almost 15 years now, I’ve known him since 1999 and have a very close relationship with him,” Tillerson said in a speech a few years ago at the University of Texas-Austin.

The sanctions against Russia, if they remain in place for an extended time, could threaten the joint venture with Rosneft, and at Exxon’s annual meeting in 2014, Tillerson urged Western political leaders to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions.

Besides Russia, Exxon also has operations in Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and many other countries. Africa and Asia were its leading sources of oil production in 2015. The company says its diverse global portfolio of oil and gas projects helps mitigate risks. In 2015, Exxon paid Tillerson compensation that the company valued at $27.3 million, most of it in stock awards. At the end of 2015, he held awards that had not yet vested that were worth $149.2 million.

New direction

Donald Trump defended his nomination of Tillerson as America’s next secretary of state, dismissing concerns about the oilman’s ties to Russia and saying US foreign policy needed a new direction. The nomination, which capped weeks of debate about the right candidate, was the most keenly awaited in Trump’s cabinet as the world waits to see how the incoming Republican president intends to alter US foreign policy.

Since it looks certain that Tillerson would be Trump’s secretary of state, by law, he would have to either sell his Exxon shares and stock options or recuse himself from government matters that have a “direct and predictable” effect on his financial interests. Failure to do one or the other would likely result in criminal charges, since Cabinet members, unlike the president and vice-president, are covered by statutes designed to prevent conflicts of interest. If Tillerson didn’t sell the stock, he would have to stay out of decisions for a wide swath of the secretary’s job including climate change matters, the oil industry or many dealings with Russia. it’ may be unacceptable to have a secretary of state who has a lot of oil company stock or stock options. Putting the stock in a blind trust would not be allowed because it would remain a financial interest for Tillerson

Still, it’s not unheard of for a high-profile businessman to serve as secretary of state.

Bechtel, the big, privately held San Francisco engineering and construction firm, gained stature and prestige — and likely an advantage in bidding for foreign contracts — when President Ronald Reagan picked George Shultz as secretary of state and Caspar Weinberger as secretary of defense. Both had been top Bechtel executives. Most so-called democracies promote top businessmen for ministerial berths as per the capitalist system requirement. At the time, Bechtel had its own foreign policy, especially in the Middle East and didn’t particularly care if its objectives were not aligned with those of the USA.

Trump has stoked alarm among Democrats and fellow Republicans ahead of his 20 January inauguration by calling for closer ties with Moscow, in contrast to received wisdom in Washington that Russia remains a global security threat. That sentiment — coupled with the fact that Trump is at loggerheads with some Republican senators over a CIA assessment that Russian hackers helped him win the election — may complicate Tillerson’s confirmation hearings.

Trump, who announced the nomination, hailed Tillerson as a “great diplomat” and “one of the greatest and most skilled global business leaders of our time” at a campaign-style rally in the traditionally Democratic-leaning state of Wisconsin that helped elect him. The 64-year-old Texan, who, like Trump, has no experience in government and spent his entire career at Exxon, “has the insights and talents necessary to help reverse years of foreign policy blunders and disasters,” Trump told the crowd. “Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don’t get along with and some people don’t like that,” Trump told the crowd in West Allis, without mentioning Russia or Putin. “They don’t want him to be friendly. That’s why I’m doing the deal with Rex, because I like what this is all about,” he added. “Instead of jumping recklessly from one intervention to another, my administration will build a long term strategy for stability, prosperity, peace, and rebuilding our own country.”

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed concerns over Tillerson’s ties to Russia. Senior Republican Senator John McCain has called Tillerson’s ties to Putin “a matter of concern.” “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” McCain has said. McCain and other senators have backed a congressional probe into intelligence assessments on Russian election interference, putting top Republicans on a collision course with Trump, who dismissed the reports as “ridiculous”.

A series of establishment Republicans, including former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker, and former defense secretaries Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates have lined up to praise Tillerson.

If confirmed, Tillerson will face the hugely sensitive job of representing overseas a president apparently intent on trashing protocol and upending relationships built on decades of delicate diplomacy. Beyond thorny ties with Russia, Sino-US relations are strained after a series of moves by Trump that provoked China, now the world’s second-largest economy, and controversy is also rife over his global business empire.

Trump postponed a press conference at which he was to unveil plans for separating himself from his global business dealings, instead writing on Twitter that his adult sons would manage the company. The 70-year-old billionaire is now putting the finishing touches to his cabinet with former Texas governor Rick Perry and Montana Representative Ryan Zinke his reported picks for energy and interior secretary respectively.

Last week Trump greeted a stream of special guests in New York including rapper Kanye West and Bill Gates, the richest man on the planet who dedicates his life to philanthropy. Gates said Trump had an opportunity to inspire Americans to embrace innovation as John F. Kennedy once promoted space exploration. “We had a good conversation about innovation, how it can help in health, education, the impact of foreign aid and energy, and a wide-ranging conversation about power of innovation,” Gates said afterward. Trump also met with Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who was a vocal supporter of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Observation: Implication for US-Russia relations

This economic development took place even while USA and Russia are officially at loggerheads over several issues, including the western economic sanctions. Success in Russia required aligning the company’s interests with those of the Russian government, and good relations with Russian strongman President Putin.

Donald Trump’s decision to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is proving to be a pleasant surprise to Russia. It’s a rarity for Moscow to be enthusiastic over a US president’s choice for secretary of State. It certainly wasn’t the case for either of the past two secretaries, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Even more than the election of President Trump, which brought Russia’s State Duma to its feet in a standing ovation, the nomination of Tillerson seems evidence to Russians close to the Kremlin that the new government will move seriously to implement Trump’s sketchy campaign promises about restoring good relations.

Putin, who has met frequently with Tillerson, Tillerson is well known and liked in Moscow, where he has been doing business for almost 20 years, but he is also seen as a completely different type than the US diplomats the Russians have regularly dealt with. Tillerson as Secretary of State would signify the greatest discontinuity in US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

For the foreign policy establishment in Moscow, Tillerson is a realist not driven by ideology, but a hard-nosed pragmatist who will focus on getting things done, and leave aside the many political and philosophical issues where Russia and the US will never agree. Sergei Karaganov, one of Russia’s most senior foreign policy hands, has met Tillerson and says that his ratification would be a signal that genuine and lasting detente between the two powers is a real possibility. Karaganov is sure Russia can re-align the relationship in ways that will stress areas of concord and cooperation, and find ways to manage the differences.

Sergei Markov, a past adviser to Putin, says the whole foreign policy team that Trump is assembling makes it look like a break with past practices may be imminent. “We see Gen. James Mattis being named to be Defense secretary, and that looks to us like someone who could steer military cooperation between the US and Russia away from constantly obstructing each other and toward cooperation..” Michael Flynn, who’s going to be White House national security adviser, is a person who advocates clear-eyed cooperation with Russia in areas that matter to both of us,” Markov says, “We don’t imagine these people are special friends of ours, or anything like that, but it will be very refreshing to have diplomatic counterparts who are interested in practical deal-making. “Our experience over the past decade and a half is that we don’t have negotiations in any real sense, we just get lectures and ultimatums from our US counterparts,” Markov adds.

But some Russian experts are more skeptical that there are a lot of illusions on both sides as Russians and Americans really don’t want to know each other. They suspect there will be a hard awakening for Trump’s people, when they realize that making deals in the very complex realm of diplomacy is not much like the business world. Alexander Konovalov, head of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow argues Putin knows what he wants, but not sure if Trump has a very clear idea how to handle Russia.

One has to wait for January 20, on which President Trump assumes power as the boss of US super power, for his new foreign policy course to take real shape.

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In Praise of the Lioness of Law: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her Jurisprudence

Punsara Amarasinghe

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image credit: Wikipedia

The death of the US Supreme Court Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg has created an abyss in the court for the liberal voice where justice Ginsburg was seen as the linchpin of the liberal block of the Supreme Court at a time when that block was shrinking. Especially late judge had vociferously advocated for women ‘rights, environmental issues and often came up with unique dissents in delivering her judgements which were propelled by her jurisprudence which embodied the solemn ideal in American legal system “Equal Protection under the Law “. She was on a quest to defend the delicate balance between honoring the timelessness of American Constitution and recognizing the depth of its enduring principles in new centuries and under new circumstances.

She grew up in an era where men held the helm in every aspect of social life and especially the legal profession was utterly dominated by men. Recalling her legal studies at Harvard law school in the 50’s judge Ginsburg had stated later how she was once asked by the Dean of Harvard law school to justify her position as a law student that otherwise would have gone to a man. Yet she had the spunk to overcome all the obstacles stood on her way and excelled as a scholar becoming the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

In tracing her legal career that it becomes a salient fact, Judge Ginsburg marked her name in American legal history even decades before she joined the bench. While at the American Civil Liberties Union in the early seventies she made an upheaval in American in legal system in famous Supreme Court Case Reed Vs Reed. In Reed Vs Reed the brief drafted by Ginsburg provided an astute analysis on the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, the Equal Protection Clause. Ginsburg’s brief changed the aged long practice existed in the State of Idaho on favoring men over women in estate battles by paving the path for a discourse on gender equality rights in the USA.

Judge Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court in 1994 during Clinton administration marked the dawn of new jurisprudential chapter in the US Supreme Court. Two terms later, in the United States v. Virginia (VMI), Justice Ginsburg applied her lucid perspective to a sharply disputed constitutional claim. The United States challenged Virginia’s practice of admitting only men to its prestigious military college, the Virginia Military Institute. Writing for six Justices, Ginsburg held this policy unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause. In reaching this result, Ginsburg adroitly cut away potentially confounding issues about women’s participation in the military or the advantages of single-sex education.

Her robust activism in securing gender equality often attracted the admirations of the feminist scholars and activists, but it should be noted that her contribution was not only confined to the protection of gender equality. She was a robust critique of racial dissemination which still pervades in American society and she frequently pointed out how racial discrimination has marred the constitutional protections guaranteed to every citizen. Especially in the case of Gratz Vs Bollitnger, she stressed on the commitment that the state ought to fulfil by eliminating the racial biases existing employment and education. Moreover, disabled citizens. In Olmstead v. Zimring, she held that “unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination” violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.45 She elaborated a two-fold concept of discrimination, noting that unneeded institutionalization both “perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life”.

In remembering the mortal departure of this prudent judge that one cannot forget her keenness in incorporating international law into her judgements regardless of the disinclination shown by conservative judges like Antony Scalia. Going beyond the mere textualism approach to the law, Ginsburg’s jurisprudence was much more akin to using international law to make substantive decisions. For instance, in her concurring verdict in Grutter Vs Bollinger, Justice Ginsburg relied upon international human rights law, and in particular upon two United Nations conventions, to support her conclusions.

Indeed, the demise of Ruth Ginsburg is a major blow for the liberalists in the USA, especially in an era where liberalist values are at stake under the fervent rise of populist waves propounded by Donald Trump. Especially late judge had been one of the harsh critics of Trump even before ascendency to the Oval office. The void created by the demise of judge Ginsburg might change the role the US Supreme Court if the successor to her position would take a more conservative approach and it will fortify the conservative bloc in the US Supreme Court. Trump has already placed Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh and the third pick would more deeply entrench the conservative views in the US Supreme Court, which would inevitably undermine the progressive policies taken during Obama’s administration towards issues such as the environment. The political storm appeared after the death of the late judge has already created a tense situation in US politics as president Trump is determined to appoint a judge to fill before the presidential election in November.

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The Politics of (In)security in Mexico: Between Narcissism and Political Failure

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Wikimedia

Security cannot be that easily separated from the political realm. The need for security is the prime reason why people come together to collectively form a state. Providing security is, therefore, one of the most basic functions of the state as a political and collective entity.

Last Friday, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) laughed during his daily morning press briefings over a national newspaper headline about 45 massacres during his presidency. This attitude summarises in a macabre way his approach to insecurity: it is not his top priority. This is not the first time that AMLO has showed some serious and deeply disturbing lack of empathy for victims of crimes. Before taking office, he knew that insecurity was one of Mexico’s biggest challenges, and he has come to realise that curbing it down will not be as simple as he predicted during his presidential campaign.

Since the start of the War on Drugs in 2006, Mexico has sunk into a deep and ever-growing spiral of violence and vigilantism as a result of the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide safety to citizens. Vigilantism is when citizens decide to take the law into their own hands in order to fill the vacuum left by the state, or to pursue their own very particular interests. Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, Tabasco, Tamaulipas and Veracruz have over 50 vigilante organisations that pose substantial danger to the power of the state.

Vigilantism is not the only factor exacerbating the security crisis in Mexico: since 2006, young people have also started to join drug cartels and other criminal organisations. There are important sectors of the population who feel that the state has failed to represent them. They also feel betrayed because the state has not been able to provide them with the necessary means to better themselves. These frustrations make them vulnerable to the indoctrination of organised crime gangs who promise to give them some sort of ideological direction and solution to their problems.

As a result, it is not enough to carry out a kingpin arrest strategy and to preach on the moral duties we have as citizens as well as on human dignity. People need to be given enough means to find alternative livelihoods that are attractive enough to take them out of organised crime, Mexico can draw some important lessons from Sierra Leone who successfully demobilised and resettled ex-combatants after the armed conflict. Vigilantism, recruitment by organised crime, and insecurity have also flourished because of a lack of deterrence. The judicial system is weak and highly ineffective. A large proportion of the population does not trust the police, or the institutions in charge of the rule of law.

A long-term strategy requires linking security with politics. It needs to address not only the consequences but also the roots of unemployment and deep inequality. However, doing so requires decisive actions to root out widespread and vicious corruption. Corruption allows concentration of wealth and also prevents people from being held accountable. This perpetuates the circle of insecurity. Mexico has been slowly moving towards a borderline failed state. The current government is starting to lose legitimacy and the fragility of the state is further perpetuated by the undemocratic, and predatory governance of the current administration.

Creating a safer Mexico requires a strong, coherent, and stable leadership, AMLO’s administration is far from it. His popularity has consistently fallen as a result of his ineffective policies to tackle the pandemic, worsening insecurity, and the economic crisis. Mexico has reached over 72,000 Covid-19 deaths; during his initial 20 months as incumbent president, there has been 53,628 murders, among them 1800 children or teenagers, and 5888 women (11 women killed per day) This criminality rate is double than what it was during the same period in the presidency of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012); and 55% higher than with the last president, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). Mexico is also experiencing its worst economic recession in 90 years.

Insecurity remains as the issue of most concern among Mexicans, seeing the president laughing about it, can only fill citizens with yet more despair and lack of trusts in the government and its institutions. AMLO’s catastrophic performance is not surprising, though. Much of his failures and shortcomings can be explained by both ideology and a narcissistic personality. Having someone with both of those traits ruling a country under normal, peaceful times is already dangerous enough, add an economic crisis and a pandemic to the mix and the result is utter chaos.

AMLO embodies the prototypical narcissist: he has a grandiose self-image; an inflated ego; a constant need for admiration; and intolerance to criticism. He, like many other narcissists, thinks about himself too much and too often, making him incapable of considering the wellbeing of other and unable to pursue the public interest. He has a scapegoat ready to blame for his failures and mistakes: previous administrations, conservatives, neoliberalism, academics, writers, intellectuals, reporters, scientists, you name it, the list is long and keeps getting longer.

AMLO keeps contradicting himself and he does not realise it. He has been claiming for months that the pandemic is under control: it is not. He declares Mexico is ready to face the pandemic and we have enough tests and medical equipment: we do not. He says Mexico is on its way to economic recovery: it is not. He states corruption is a thing of the past: it is not. He says Mexico is now safer than ever before: it is not. When told the opposite he shrugs criticism off and laughs, the behaviour of a typical narcissist.

AMLO, alike narcissists, due to his inability to face criticism, has never cared about surrounding himself by the best and brightest. He chose a bunch of flunkies as members of his cabinet who try to please and not humiliate their leader. A further trait of narcissistic personalities is that they love conflict and division as this keeps them under control. The more destabilisation and antagonism, the better. AMLO since the start of his presidency has been setting states against states for resources and for pandemic responses, instead of coordinating a national response. He is also vindictive: playing favourites with those governors who follow him and punishing those that oppose him.

Deep down, narcissistic leaders are weak. AMLO is genuinely afraid to lead. He simply cannot bring himself to make decisions that are solely his. This is why he has relied on public referendums and consultations to cancel projects or advance legislation. He will not take any responsibility if something goes wrong: It was not him who decided, it was the people, blame them. He inherited a broken system that cannot be fixed during his term, blame the previous administrations, not him.

AMLO is a prime example of a textbook narcissist, unfortunately he is not the only one: Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Recep Erdogan, Rodrigo Duterte are only a few more examples of what seems to be a normalised behaviour in contemporary politics. Every aspect of AMLO’s and other leaders presidencies have been heavily marked by their psychopathology. Narcissism, however, does not allow proper and realistic self-assessment, self-criticism, and self-appreciation therefore such leaders will simply ignore the red flags in their administration and have no clue how despicably and disgracefully they will be remembered.

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Minor Successes And The Coronavirus Disaster: Is Trump A Dead Duck?

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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That reminder from the Bible, ‘He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone’ may give us pause — but not journalists who by all appearances assume exemption.  And the stones certainly bruise.

Evidence for the bruises lies in the latest poll numbers.  Overall, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump 50 to 43 percent, a margin that has continued to increase since January.  It is also considerably wider than the few points lead Hillary Clinton had over Trump four years ago.  It gets worse for Trump. 

In the industrial states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, which Trump in 2016 won by razor thin margins, he is losing by over 4 percent.  Also key to his victory was Wisconsin where, despite his success in getting dairy products into Canada, he is behind by a substantial 7 percent.  Key states Ohio and Florida are also going for the Democrats.

Trump was not doing so badly until the coronavirus struck and during the course of his news conferences he displayed an uncaring persona larded with incompetence.  Dr. Anthony Fauci, the man he fired for correcting Trumpian exaggerations became a hero and Trump the bully.

If that bullying nature won him small rewards with allies, he hit an impasse with China and Iran … while bringing the two closer to each other.  Then there is the border wall, a sore point for our southern neighbor Mexico.  President Lopez Obrador made sure the subject never came up at the July meeting with Trump,   Thus Mexico is not paying for it so far and will not be in the foreseeable future.

The United Arab Emirates, a conglomeration of what used to be the Trucial States under British hegemony. have agreed to formalize its already fairly close relations with Israel.  In return, Israel has postponed plans to annex the West Bank.  Whether or not it is in Israel’s long term interest to do so is a debatable question because it provides much more powerful ammunition to its critics who already accuse it of becoming an apartheid regime.  However, it had become Prime Minister Netanyahu’s sop to the right wing who will have to wait.  Of course, the reality is that Israel is already the de facto ruler.

If Mr. Trump was crowing about the agreement signed on September 15, although it is akin to someone signing an agreement with Puerto Rico while the United States remains aloof.  As a postscript, the little island of Bahrain also signed a peace deal with Israel.  Bahrain has had its own problems in that a Sunni sheikh rules a Shia populace.  When the Shia had had enough, Saudi and UAE troops were used to end the rebellion.  Bahrain is thus indebted to the UAE.

How many among voters will know the real value of these historic (according to Trump) deals particularly when he starts twittering his accomplishments as the election nears?

There things stand.  As they say, there is nothing worse than peaking too early.  Bettors are still favoring Trump with their money.  The longer anyone has been in politics the more there is to mine, and for an opponent to use to his/her advantage.  Time it seems is on Trump’s side.  

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