Trumps mis­fires on Las Ve­gas shoot­ing, Puerto Rico and North Korea. Cata­lan protests grow­ing. UN com­mit­tee re­jects West Pa­pua pe­ti­tion.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents | The Week - Hamish McDon­ald

We’ve been hear­ing a lot from Don­ald Trump about weapons of mass de­struc­tion get­ting into the hands of sup­posed cra­zies such as Kim Jong-un and Iran’s Qasem Soleimani, and how we can’t just stand by and let this hap­pen.

But when a do­mes­tic crazy sets a new record in mass killing – as Stephen Pad­dock, a 64-year-old white man, did last Sun­day in Las Ve­gas, killing at least

59, in­clud­ing him­self, and wound­ing more than 500 – he and other Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tives get all fa­tal­is­tic. This was “pure evil”, Trump said, as though it ap­peared from nowhere like the work of Beelze­bub.

Pad­dock was “a sick man, a de­mented man”, he said. The lo­cal po­lice chief, Sher­iff Joseph Lom­bardo, was quick to de­scribe Pad­dock as a “lone wolf” whose in­ten­tions couldn’t have been de­tected.

Trump joined Repub­li­can con­gress­men – most of them, like him, po­lit­i­cal clients of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion –in mov­ing quickly on from the usual “thoughts and prayers” with the vic­tims to praise the re­sponse of po­lice and med­i­cal teams. “What hap­pened is, in many ways, a mir­a­cle,” Trump said.

As for gun con­trol? “We will be talk­ing about gun laws as time goes by,” Trump said. How Pad­dock man­aged to as­sem­ble the 23 weapons he had in his ho­tel room – in ad­di­tion to the 19 other firearms, ex­plo­sives, elec­tronic de­vices, and thou­sands of rounds of am­mu­ni­tion found at his home – with­out rais­ing any alarm is just one of life’s baf­fling ques­tions, it seems.

Pad­dock, a for­mer ac­coun­tant in de­fence-re­lated com­pa­nies who lived more re­cently as a pro­fes­sional gam­bler, was not known as a mem­ber of any ex­treme re­li­gious or po­lit­i­cal fringe group. But just as­sem­bling such an arse­nal un­no­ticed any­where else in the West but Amer­ica is un­think­able. If he’d been a Mus­lim, we can imag­ine the col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity be­ing as­signed to the en­tire faith.

Hurricane Idol

Strange to think, it’s al­most a year since Amer­i­cans elected Trump as their pres­i­dent, and yet we’re see­ing no signs of his ad­min­is­tra­tion set­tling down to co­her­ent poli­cies or Trump him­self mod­er­at­ing his crass pro­nounce­ments.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion by for­mer FBI di­rec­tor Robert Mueller is dis­cov­er­ing more and more of the Trump cir­cle’s links with Rus­sia. The sec­re­tary of health, Tom Price, re­signed for us­ing air force flights for per­sonal travel. The Trump pro­posal for a big tax cut for com­pa­nies and peo­ple like him is rolled out again.

This week Trump be­lit­tled the im­pact of the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico, leav­ing most of its 3.5 mil­lion Latino peo­ple in dam­aged homes, with­out power, wa­ter and sew­er­age. Be­cause only 16 dead were counted (the fig­ure is rapidly ris­ing), this was not “a real catas­tro­phe” akin to 2005’s hurricane Ka­t­rina, which caused 1833 deaths on the US main­land.

Skip Rex

In the lat­est on North Korea, Trump said Rex Tiller­son is “wast­ing his time”, af­ter the sec­re­tary of state re­vealed on a Bei­jing visit that chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion were open to Py­ongyang, though a re­sponse hadn’t yet been re­ceived. “Save your en­ergy Rex,” Trump tweeted. “We’ll do what has to be done!”

US ex­perts such as Christo­pher Hill and Sue Mi Terry said it was ex­ces­sive even for a good cop, bad cop rou­tine, and dam­aged Tiller­son’s stand­ing with the Chi­nese. This week Tiller­son had to fend off a re­port he’d called Trump a “mo­ron” over his re­marks at a Boy Scouts con­ven­tion in July and had to be talked out of re­sign­ing by the vice-pres­i­dent, Mike Pence.

Still, Aus­tralia re­mains joined at the hip to the US. Julie Bishop says Trump has brought China off the fence on sanc­tions, and had “changed the de­bate” com­pared with Barack Obama’s cau­tious diplo­macy. “I ac­tu­ally be­lieve that the Chi­nese re­cal­cu­lated their risk when Pres­i­dent Trump upped the ante in terms of rhetoric,” she said on the ABC’s In­sid­ers, say­ing China now backed “the tough­est and most com­pre­hen­sive set of sanc­tions on North Korea yet”.

The only prob­lem is Trump doesn’t seem to have much faith in those sanc­tions. Nor do many US strate­gists see Kim agree­ing to scrap his nu­clear mis­siles un­der any threat or in­duce­ment. How­ever, the sanc­tions will hurt. The day Bei­jing an­nounced it was cut­ting back oil sup­plies to North Korea by about one-third, Py­ongyang’s Rodong Sin­mun (“Work­ers’ Daily”) had an un­usual blast at China’s of­fi­cial Peo­ple’s Daily and Global Times news­pa­pers, ac­cus­ing them of “col­lu­sion with the im­pe­ri­al­ists” and other “rep­tile” acts.

Span­ish over­reach

This week we’ve been watch­ing the tur­moil in Cat­alo­nia where the Span­ish gov­ern­ment sent masses of po­lice in an ef­fort to foil the ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment car­ried out last Sun­day.

If ever there was a self-de­feat­ing move by a gov­ern­ment, it was this ac­tion by Spain’s prime min­is­ter, Mar­i­ano Ra­joy, which led to about 900 peo­ple in­clud­ing grand­moth­ers be­ing hit by his wal­lop­ers in front of the world’s cam­eras. Be­fore this, the in­de­pen­dence push had fairly equiv­o­cal sup­port among the Cata­lans. Ra­joy would have been bet­ter to let it hap­pen, then de­clare the re­sult had no le­gal force be­fore pick­ing up the ques­tion of greater re­gional au­ton­omy.

West Pa­pua acts

Far from the global me­dia, an­other sep­a­ratist move­ment has achieved a quiet mir­a­cle. Over months, ac­tivists took a pe­ti­tion around the com­mu­ni­ties of West Pa­pua that calls for a new act of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion in the ter­ri­tory, deemed part of In­done­sia by the

United Na­tions since 1969.

Benny Wenda, a leader of the United Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment for West Pa­pua who is based in Ox­ford, much to the fury of In­done­sia’s em­bassy in Lon­don, says it has been signed by some 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple − 1.7 mil­lion of them Me­lane­sians, or 71 per cent of the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion, plus some 96,000 In­done­sian set­tlers.

The for­mer Dutch half of the is­land of New Guinea was handed over to In­done­sia in a cyn­i­cal sop to the late pres­i­dent Sukarno by the Kennedy ad­min­is­tra­tion in 1963, on con­di­tion of an “act of free choice” be­ing held later. In the re­sult­ing 1969 ex­er­cise 1026 lo­cals were picked, bribed and threat­ened by Jakarta’s op­er­a­tives into a unan­i­mous vote to join the repub­lic.

The ter­ri­tory has been restive ever since, and re­mains dif­fi­cult to access for for­eign me­dia and other in­ves­ti­ga­tors, de­spite a rash pledge by new pres­i­dent Joko Wi­dodo in 2014 that it was open to all. Wi­dodo is now aim­ing to get a ma­jor­ity share in its rich­est as­set, the US-owned Freeport gold and cop­per mine, trans­ferred to Jakarta ahead of his re-elec­tion bid in 2019.

Wenda took the pe­ti­tion along to the UN in New York last month when the world’s lead­ers con­vened there. He got sup­port in the gen­eral assem­bly from the prime ministers of the Solomon Is­lands and Van­u­atu, and at least one Caribbean leader. But he found the UN de­coloni­sa­tion com­mit­tee, known as the C24, had closed its let­ter­box.

It’s chaired by Venezue­lan diplo­mat Rafael Ramírez, with In­done­sia’s

Dian Tri­an­syah Djani as one of his deputies. Ramírez in­sisted his man­date ex­tended only to 17 “non-self-gov­ern­ing ter­ri­to­ries” listed by the gen­eral assem­bly. West Pa­pua was taken off the list af­ter the assem­bly ap­proved the

1969 vote. “One of the prin­ci­ples of our move­ment is to de­fend the sovereignty and the full in­tegrity of the ter­ri­tory of our mem­bers,” Ramírez told The Guardian. “We are not go­ing to do any­thing against In­done­sia as a C24.”

In­done­sia’s me­dia have ig­nored the pe­ti­tion, which its UN mis­sion de­scribed as a “hoax”. Still its au­thor­i­ties took it se­ri­ously enough to ar­rest some 57 peo­ple for or­gan­is­ing it, and shut down one

• web­site pro­mot­ing it.

HAMISH McDON­ALD is The Satur­day Pa­per’s world edi­tor.

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