State of the Yum-yun.

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Seems like a good time to respond to some choice bits from Trump’s first state of the union (or state of the umion, pronounced Yum-yun, if you’re reading the official announcement).

First, the big fat entrance. Rep. Claudia Tenney gets a word in Trump’s ear as he’s working his way down the aisle. Always wearing some bright color and right up front when Trump is in town.

First flub goes to Ryan: “I have the distinct privilege of preventing … presenting to you the President of the United States.”

Now, on to Trump’s remarks, delivered in a slithering, slow voice, lots of breath. Kind of nauseating, frankly.

The chief and his enablers.“A new tide of optimism was already sweeping across our land,” he tells us, referring to a year ago, then  jumped right in with the anecdotes and the guests of honor. “We always will pull through together, always.” Runs through a litany of lifesavers, mostly from disasters of our own making, through climate change, gun violence, etc. “The state of our union is strong because our people are strong. And together we are building a safe and strong and proud America.” Platitude.

Touting more jobs for Black and Hispanic people. Big cheer for “massive tax cuts,” of course. More take home pay! (Mitt Romney, come back – all is forgiven.) Calls out “cruel” tax of the individual ACA mandate, which very few people actually paid – big cheer from Republican recipients of government subsidized health insurance. Crowing about the titanic benefits of this “new American moment.” “You can dream anything, you can be anything, and together we can achieve absolutely anything.”

Some short takes:

  • “We share … the same great American flag …The motto is ‘In God We Trust,'” he says, then makes a big point about standing for the national anthem. So much for Mr. We’re All In This Together.
  • We’re “…totally defending our second amendment and have taken historic actions to protect religious liberty.” Shoot ’em up.
  • Calling on congress to empower cabinet secretaries to fire people. Is that novel?
  • “We have ended the war on American energy and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.” So much for the section on climate change.
  • “Companies are roaring back, they’re coming back. They want to be where the action is.” Well, it’s a kind of silent roar.

Trump starts talking about reducing the price of prescription drugs, and he gestures to the Democrats to stand and applaud. He does it again as he talks about repairing infrastructure, though the focus of this section sounds like he wants to roll back the environmental impact review process. He proposes $1.5 Trillion plan for infrastructure, but it must provide for streamlined permitting. Smell a rat?

Starting to talk about lifting people out of “welfare”. “Let’s invest in workforce development and let’s invest in job training, which we need so badly.” Calls for vocational schools and paid family leave – probably the Ivanka plan. A bleat on prison reform – very vague.


“For decades open borders have allowed drugs and gangs come pouring in.” Now he’s naming “guests” whose kids were killed by immigrants! MS13. Using them to call out “alien minors”. This section is fucking disgusting, worthy of Der Sturmer. He is “calling on congress to close deadly loopholes” in immigration laws. Dirtbags are clapping.

He wants to protect all Americans. How? He wants to defend Americans. “Americans are dreamers, too.” Oh, I see. Pretty much the only immigrants he’s talking about is gang members. MS13 again. Talking about arrests of gang members. So what is the problem? They’re going to prison. But Trump is talking about sending reinforcements. Now talking about bipartisan immigration reform – his draconian plan. Building a “great wall”. His rhetoric on immigration is all about violence by immigrants, merit and race based rules, and “protecting the nuclear family by ending chain migration.” Then he’s blaming opioid deaths on immigrant drug dealers. Just a lot of thinly coded language aimed at racial division.

Next, he’s praising cop – another guest in audience – who stopped a pregnant woman from shooting heroin. Then he adopted the baby. Point? This is not a speech; it is a series of extended anecdotes. It’s like a fucking variety show. He’s using these people as human shields.

Foreign policy and military section:

  • “Weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.” Calling for end to defense sequester. Well, the GOP created it, so why not, right?
  • Taking credit for eliminating ISIS.
  • Calling terrorists “enemy combatants”. Sounds like the start of an argument for torture, Gitmo, etc. Just signed an order to re-examine detention policies and keep open Gitmo. Score one for the jihadist propagandists.
  • Touting new rules of engagement. Calling out artificial timelines. Recognizing Jerusalem as capital of Israel. Asking to cut off aid to countries that criticize us at UN. “Enemies of America.” “America stands with the people of Iran in their courageous struggle for freedom.” “Terrible Iran nuclear deal.” “Communist and socialist dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela.”
  • Threatening North Korea again. “Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite … aggression.” Applauding that kid Warmbier. Extended anecdote about Korean guest who crawled to freedom and a further tirade against North Korea. Jesus H. Christ.

Big fat ending:

Patriotic claptrap roll call. Republicans chanting “USA, USA, USA!”

“The people dreamed this country, the people built this country, and it’s the people who will make America great again.” Yep. When they get rid of you.

Korea’s January thaw.

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Sometime in the coming days, the North and South Korean Winter Olympic Teams will march together under a unified flag, and the Women’s Hockey Teams will play on the same side. And it looks like it’s happening, now that the International Olympic Committee has said it’s okay. Think about that statement for a moment – did they really need to deliberate on this? It’s just a freaking game, people. If it provides a means of reducing tensions, why would your cheesy rulebook ever stand in the way? Score one for President Moon Jae-in, over the objections of his country’s hardliners and, of course, the United States.

The imperialist's nightmare.Think it strange that the U.S. would be against a lessening of tension? Well, it’s not just a Trump thing. There’s a deep imperial institutional bias against ending that conflict, and it manifests itself in a host of different ways. Just Wednesday of this week I saw an NBC story about the North Korean woman who allegedly blew up a South Korean airliner; she is out of jail, living in exile as a defector in South Korea. The bombing was decades ago – so why did the network decide to dredge this story up now and hang it around the father of the current North Korean leader’s neck? I would say that NBC is about as close to the core of the U.S. foreign policy establishment as any institution can be. With a lot of positive stories coming out about the glimmer of North/South detente in Korea, it’s no surprise that this old chestnut would bob up to the surface.

Of course, blowing up an airliner is a heinous crime. We’ve done it – recall the shootdown of the Iranian Airbus back in July 1988, to say nothing of our support for CIA asset Luis Posada Carriles’ downing of the Cuban airliner carrying their Olympic fencing team in 1976 (the perpetrator now living unmolested in Miami). Of course, so too is blowing up a whole country. We’ve done that, too … to North Korea, for instance. Putting that aside for a moment, it seems clear to me that we have a strong resistance to defusing this Korean bomb. When obvious peaceful solutions are available and remain untried, it’s reasonable to assume that there are other considerations at work.

Consider this: the Korean conflict gives us a strong foothold in Asia. When it flares up, the many of the regional players turn to us. It provides justification for our massive military presence in the south and substantial presence elsewhere in the region. Most importantly, the conflict prevents greater international cooperation leading to full integration of that region’s economies, independent of the American-dominated global system. That, I suggest, may be the nightmare scenario that keeps our planners awake at night – not the prospect of nuclear war.

Changing our priorities in Korea is going to take real work. It goes way beyond party and personalities.

luv u,


Between truces.

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It’s been more than 15 years and we’re still at war in Afghanistan; a deployment and occupation considerably longer than that of the now-defunct Soviet Union. It’s been more than 14 years and we’re still at war in Iraq, a conflict longer than the one military historian Dilip Hiro once described as “The Longest War” (the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s). We’re killing people in Roqqa, Syria, in Mosul, Iraq, in Yemen, and quite a few other places. Far from stepping away, we are preparing to double down, sending another contingent of thousands of American troops to Afghanistan on some quixotic effort to tamp down the wildfire we helped ignite thirty-seven years ago.

Well, it was at the time.Endless war in an of itself is now an invariant reality of modern U.S. foreign policy, regardless of which major party holds the reins of power. The broad political consensus has built a nearly unassailable war machine – not in the sense that it is impervious to military defeat, but rather that it is designed to run on and on regardless of what the American people have to say about it. The killing machine is well insulated from the voting, tax paying public – there’s no conscription, no war tax, no apparent sacrifice associated with these extended deployments except with respect to the volunteer soldiers who are sent to fight, be grievously wounded, and even die. The beauty of this political creation is that it appears to defy gravity; only a herculean effort on the part of the American people could stand a chance of ending these wars.

Of course, Donald Trump has now been stitched into the driver seat of the killing machine. I am among those who consider this a very dangerous state of affairs, even though the background level of warfare remains about the same. The danger is in the fact that Trump is (a) phenomenally ignorant, (b) supremely incurious about any topic that doesn’t bear directly on him, his image, his family, his fortune; and (c) recklessly arrogant in a third-world dictator kind of way. His response to foreign policy challenges reminds me of D’artagnan on his first day in Paris, unwittingly challenging all three of his future fellow musketeers to a duel. A dispute with the Syrians, the Russians, the North Koreans, and the Iranians all in one week. It’s not too hard to imagine a quintet of new conflicts breaking out all at the same time, largely because Trump doesn’t really understand or believe in diplomacy.

We live in dangerous times, to be sure. But at the very least, unless we all decide to make a point of it, we are well and truly stuck with these wars for years – even decades – to come.

luv u,


Just like old times.

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This probably isn’t a wise practice, but I sometimes view Morning Joe as a bellwether of establishment opinion, particularly regarding foreign policy. Their panel covers the spectrum from neocons to liberal interventionists – a narrow span to say the least. And they appear to be as happy as the proverbial pig in shit about Trump’s recent cruise missile attack in Syria. Both the liberal interventionist wing and the neocon wing have been highly critical of Obama’s failure to start a unilateral, extra-constitutional war with Syria back in 2013, so this past week was sweet validation for them all. As a group, they seem anxious for evidence that Trump’s administration is “normalizing” and settling in to the usual, conventional insanity, so they tend to jump on every lurch towards the institutional consensus.

Mother of all BullshitAnd clearly, there is a solid, institutional consensus on American foreign policy. It’s a relatively small box that contains, on one end, the Obama approach, then the center-left liberal interventionist school (Clinton, Samantha Power, etc.), followed by the center-right establishment Republicans (James Baker, Kissinger, etc.), the hot-head interventionists (McCain, Graham, Cotton), and the neocons (Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Elliot Abrams, etc.). In terms of blowing things up and killing people, there isn’t a lot of distance between any of these groupings, and they all share a common imperial worldview. The encouraging development for the Morning Joe crew is the notion that Trump has now put himself in that box.

If this turns out to be a feature, not a bug, of the Trump Administration, the 2016 general election had no impact on foreign policy at all. Policy-wise, Trump appears to have put himself pretty close to Obama on that score. He maybe has a little more bomb than Obama, but it’s basically the same stuff, and the Morning Joe crowd has little to say about that. I sometimes wonder if these people remember last year, let alone 16 years ago. Do they remember that W. Bush ran a hair to the left of Gore on foreign policy – no “nation building”, right? – then pivoted back to the center-right of the consensus box after a few months (certainly after 9/11).? Obama did something similar. It’s pretty simple: presidents put out pleasing rhetoric during campaigns, then peddle back to the default policies when they win office.

Now Trump has dumped the MOAB super bunker-buster bomb on Afghanistan. What is this routine  now, bomb-drop Thursday? I guess we’ll see … next Thursday.

luv u,


A look overseas.

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Another turn at the fire hose. Man, this is kind of dizzying. We’ve just seen a week in which the President has essentially undone the clean power plant rules, scuttled the Paris Accords on climate change, approved the Keystone XL pipeline project, and escalated his attacks on undocumented residents and on the poor miserable souls in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen who cope with our bombs on a daily basis. I could write five posts, but that would take the rest of human history, so suffice with this sorry tirade on foreign policy.

Making Mosul great (again).I didn’t want to let the week go by without saying something about the hundred-plus killed in a coalition raid in Mosul. Civilian deaths have been on the rise in that conflict since our military began its air assault on the more densely populated western side of Mosul. Well, that’s predictable enough. We are fighting the legacy of the previous decade’s catastrophic policy, which was itself a response to another previous decade’s catastrophic policy, and so on. ISIS or ISIL is Al Qaeda in Iraq 2.0, drawing on ex Baathist military personnel for many of its cadres, as well as disaffected Sunni youth, targeted by both the U.S. and the Baghdad government. The destruction/”liberation” of Mosul will not change the fundamental problems that prompted these people to turn, in desperation, to the extremists they once fought against.

We are also doubling down in Syria, now with hundreds of Special Forces on the ground. And as actual journalists like Anand Ghopal have reported, the U.S. is effectively fighting in tandem with the Syrian government, particularly in places like Palmyra, where nominally pro-western groups like the Free Syrian Army cannot operate. Our bombers hit a mosque a few weeks back – like the Mosul raid, our military denied it, then gradually admitted it. Each one of these generates more converts to the jihadi cause, and contributes to another catastrophic policy that we will be grappling with in the next decade.

Then there’s the bleeding sore that is Yemen. The Intercept’s Iona Craig has reported extensively on the Al Ghayil raid that killed dozens of civilians in a mountainside village on the pretext that Al Qaeda leadership were in hiding there. They weren’t – some low-level operatives were reportedly in one of the buildings. The village has been in the thick of the Yemeni civil war, and residents thought the U.S. attackers were Houthi rebels – hence the armed resistance. Again … this “highly” successful raid appears to have aided the side we officially oppose in that fight, though that’s a minor consideration in light of the heavy casualties suffered by the people of Al Ghayil.

Only eight weeks in and these conflicts are getting even more septic. Not a good sign.

luv u,


Hostage to history.

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I’m going to rant about something that has really gotten under my skin this week, and I want to say up front that I am not raising this in defense of Obama’s foreign policy so much as in response to a thirty-five year hyper-nationalist obsession that shows no sign of abating. I’m referring to the recent stories about the $400 million transfer to Iran coinciding with the release of some key detainees, and the consequent hysterical response and cries of “ransom!” on the part of center-right pols and pundits. Even purported liberals have adopted some of the language of this crusade, pointing out apparent “linkage” between the payment and the release. Let me make just a few points in response.

Yes, it's been 37 years of this crapFirst, the $400 million is not our money; it is Iran’s money. It represents funds paid by the Iranian people for arms sold to the despotic Shah before his overthrow; the arms were never delivered, and with the application of sanctions, the money was frozen, like the proceeds from oil sales. As a component of the nuclear deal, the United States and its partners agreed to free up this money while keeping the bulk of the sanctions in place. Once the agreement was settled, the administration apparently reserved delivery of these funds – the $400 million in cash, since Iran still can’t use the international banking system – as some surety that the prisoner release (negotiated as a side agreement) would actually happen.

So let me put this as simply as possible. Giving people back their own money is not the same as paying them ransom. I know it’s fun to play with the word “ransom”, but it simply doesn’t apply here.

Ironically, many of those who are now calling it “ransom” are the same fuckers who complained during the nuclear negotiations that Obama’s administration was not working hard enough to release the prisoners. Clearly they were working on this. But the return of Teheran’s money was not payment for the release; it was compliance with the terms of the nuclear agreement.

Lastly, this is not like the Iran/Contra scandal; not at all. Reagan was trying to find off-the-books ways to fund his terror army in Nicaragua, since funding had been prohibited by Congress. He arranged a sale of arms to Iran (while in the midst of helping Saddam Hussein attack Iran) as a payment for release of prisoners captured in Lebanon, then funneled the proceeds of the sale to the Contras. There was a quid pro quo there – arms for hostages – but also the broader crime of illegal aid to the psycho killers attacking community centers and health clinics in Nicaragua.

None of this will appear in the media coverage. That’s because the war party in the U.S. – Democrats and Republicans alike – have had Iran derangement syndrome since 1979. Iran took something from us back then and we have never forgiven them for it – something very valuable, namely, Iran. That means endless demagoguery on this issue, regardless of the facts.

luv u,


Memory’s minefield.

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It’s always interesting when American Presidents in particular visit nations we have destroyed in past wars. This past week President Obama traveled to Hiroshima to deliver the resounding message that we are not sorry …  repeat, not sorry …  for using the most destructive weapons in the history of mankind on this unfortunate community. He also delivered some claptrap about reducing the number of nuclear weapons, even as his administration moves forward with an ambitious plan to engineer a highly destabilizing new generation of nuclear weapons.

U.S. to mankind: still not sorry.Empire means more than never having to say you’re sorry. It mostly means never even contemplating the concept of “sorry” – an imperial value not lost on the likes of NPR, whose Morning Edition host Renee Montagne reliably informed us that “in America – the view of the bombing – though everyone recognizes this as horrific – the view of the bombing is it was done because it had to be done.” So that’s what “the view” is, eh? Thanks, Renee. Up to your usual journalistic standards.

Obama’s previous stop was in Vietnam. No apologies there, either. Though the central thrust of his mission was to announce the lifting of an arms embargo on Vietnam that has been in place since the American war began, tightened under Reagan. Obama referred to this as a vestige of the Cold War, though the Cold War was not so cold in Vietnam, it bears reminding. Interestingly, the President’s aims in Vietnam are not dissimilar from the aims of the American war itself. One of the core objectives of U.S. policy in its Indochina wars was that of keeping the region from accommodating to China so that they would instead provide materials, markets, and cheap labor to Japan – an American version of the “co-prosperity sphere” imperial Japan aggressively sought to establish in the 1930s and ’40s.

Today, the goal is … well … to have Vietnam integrated into the American-led global economic order, via the TPP and other instruments, thereby containing what our government perceives as China’s expansionism. It is, in some respects, an effort to reclaim the maximal objective of the Vietnam war, which proved beyond our reach. (I tend to agree with Chomsky, however, that the U.S. did, in fact, essentially prevail in the Vietnam war by destroying three countries and ensuring that Indochina’s crippled post-war independence would serve as a model for no one.)

The coverage of this trip has been pretty abysmal. No surprise there. Once the mainstream media has worked out what “the view” is on a given topic, there’s no point in wasting any energy on actual reporting.

luv u,


The golden beverage.

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Panetta’s out hawking his book about how Obama isn’t enough of a hawk. Of course, he is likely acting as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton, who appears to be advocating a more knee-jerk approach to foreign intervention. She and John McCain  (and his various clones) really, really wanted that Syrian war, and now both seem to believe that the advent of ISIS is the result of our having failed to jump in ass first last year (essentially on ISIS’s side, it’s worth pointing out). Shades of Bush/Cheney – I guess it’s been long enough since the total disaster of the Iraq war for some people to yearn for the days of pre-emptive war, of “shock and awe”, of taking the gloves off. Included in that number is the putative front-runner of the Democratic field for President.

Clinton tool ... or just plain tool?So, after six years of being compelled to drink the fragrant golden beverage of Obama’s national security policy – drones, bombs, domestic spying, whistleblower-persecution and all – we are now to be treated to even more acrid delicacies offered up by Clinton, the next generation. I guess this is an indication of bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, though it remains to be seen how the GOP will outflank the Democrats on the crazytown side. This is truly a race to the bottom. That’s the power of this lesser of two evils electoral philosophy.

I suppose I needn’t remind anyone of the process I and people like me went through during the last couple of presidential elections. In 2008, I was voting to avoid McCain, who most certainly would have gotten us into several wars before the end of his first hundred days, to say nothing of the Hoover-like response to the financial crisis he was planning (remember the spending freeze?). That was a close brush with true catastrophe, I’m pretty sure. 2012 was less dramatic, but still … Mitt Romney was a disaster in the making. He would have brought in a gaggle of Bush II retreads who are now waiting for the impending Cruz or Perry administration. He would have rewarded his rich friends with more riches. Not a huge difference from Obama, you understand, but enough to be worth a vote.

After years of drinking rancid urine, however, I have had it. Obama’s policy regarding Syria, Iran, Iraq, Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, and other nations is disgusting. Attacking him from the right is inexcusable.

luv u,


Back to the future.

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I sometimes forget how Bill Clinton turned my parents into hawks. In these troubled times, it’s worth remembering the degree to which people’s political affiliation determines their worldview. If George W. Bush dropped bombs on Serbia, mom and dad would have been against it, but Bill Clinton … he must have had a reason.

We’re seeing some of the same effect with Obama. His new policy on Iraq and Syria differs from George W. Bush’s Iraq policy mostly in its implementation. Bush trumpeted his intention to go in strong, drop a bunch of bombs, “shock and awe” them. Obama is incrementalist – we’ll do A but not B, then a week later, we’re doing B and C with promises (soon broken) that we won’t move on to D. Ultimately this ends up with regime change, as it did in Libya with disastrous results. What’s the difference? Psychology. Obama knows marketing. He knows that we’ll only eat one or two of those big cookies, but a boat load of those little ones.

Taliban: the next generationThe media, as always, is in the tank for this war. On the morning after bombing began in Syria, the first voice you heard on NPR’s 6:00 a.m. newscast was that of a retired general who had “crafted” America’s bombing campaign during the Gulf War – a man who thought we weren’t bombing Syria hard enough. That’s NPR, no surprise, but don’t expect any better from the liberal media. Rachel Maddow, while a war skeptic, gave a thumbnail recent history of the Iraqi Kurds and the Gulf War that might have been torn out of a Bush campaign media release. Our only role in that saga, according to this telling, was liberating freedom-loving Kuwait and helping the Kurds preserve evidence of Saddam’s pogrom against them.

Maddow left out the small detail that the U.S. helped Saddam to the hilt throughout the 1980s, including during the campaign against the Kurds, then looked the other way when Saddam attacked them again after the Gulf War (until Bush I was shamed into establishing a no-fly zone in northern Iraq). I suppose I should excuse this level of ignorance due to her relative youth – she probably doesn’t remember the events very clearly. I sure as hell do. It was the genesis of the conflict we are entering now, just as our Afghan war was the birth of Al Qaeda.

We go through this cycle of attack repeatedly, and the results are always the same – a bigger mess, more people hating us, more misery in the region. The fact that people like Maddow, who should know better, don’t understand that makes it that much harder to stop this from happening yet again.

luv u,


Persistent truths.

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As I write this post, the parliament in Crimea has just voted to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, to which it belonged until the mid 1950s. The Russian parliament, in turn, is considering legislation to enable it to accept new provinces, an ominous turn to Where's America in this picture?be sure. There is a referendum on Crimean secession scheduled for later this month, and the new Ukrainian government is crying foul. So … are we on the brink of a new Crimean War? Charge of the Light Brigade, anyone?

The “Putin is Crazy” narrative is dominating the news cycle here in the United States. I can hear it right now, on the evening news. Even supposed activist liberal shows like Rachel Maddow are playing this as a crisis for which Russia is solely responsible, and strong evidence of Putin’s departure from reality. He’s living in another world, the German premier suggests, and that claim is being hammered home, day after day, on every network, every news channel, every media outlet. One would think no one had ever occupied a square mile of foreign territory before. (Ummm …. Afghanistan? Guam?)

I hate to be the lone dissenting voice on anything, but this thing is obviously spinning out of control, and the potential consequences are enormous. Despite his autocratic tendencies, Putin is not hard to figure out, friends. He doesn’t want another Syria as his next door neighbor. With the ouster of Yanukovych, he sees the potential for civil conflict, possible failure of the central government, etc. Putin sees the United States and Europe as having stoked the opposition, and in all frankness, it’s probably true that we did. We regularly support political movements in other countries to an extent that we would consider unacceptable should another country attempt the same on us. Now we openly support the revolution in Ukraine.

Is is about supporting democracy? Well, that’s certainly not a prerequisite for U.S. support. See Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, etc., etc. In all honesty, I think it would be a really good idea to work towards a diplomatic solution with greater energy. There is a tendency to fall into old cold war habits – a fact that reveals the bankruptcy of our obsession with communism back in the day. It’s really just about great power competition, and that should be considered illegitimate, particularly when so many lives are at stake.

Between us, we still have thousands of nuclear weapons. This is not something to fool around with.

luv u,