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,

jp

Overseas.

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Hmmm… crazy racist grandpa has been mouthing off again. Trump is truly breaking all records in the bigot category, at least with respect to the modern presidency. But I digress.

There has been so much news about various story lines in the Trump scandal that a lot of consequential international news gets blown out of the water. These are extremely volatile times and we would do well to pay closer attention to what’s happening overseas, particularly when our country is playing a significant role in it. Of course, some attention is paid to the Korean crisis, perhaps in part because of the high human stakes involved, but more likely because of the insipid pissing match between Kim Jong Un and our madman president, who is singularly uninformed about the history of that region. Our news media loves pissing matches – so easy to report on.

There he goes again.The two Koreas have taken some tentative steps to de-escalation, and I for one am glad to see that. In fact, I wish they would just bury the hatchet and tell us to take a hike, frankly. But it’s the kind of detente that can easily be upended by a volatile president, and Korea is one of those issues over which even the craziest commander-in-chief can find willing allies in Congress. Israel/Palestine is another. Trump’s policy on Jerusalem is appalling, but it also happens to be the same policy Congress long ago approved and a previous president (Clinton) signed into law. This is a symbolic issue domestically and a very substantive issue internationally; I am guessing that most Americans have no idea what the implications of this policy are, no notion of how large the municipality now called Jerusalem has grown over the past three decades. Underwriting Israel’s unilateral annexation of this city essentially eliminates any chance of a two-state solution, period. Some of my countrymen know this; many more do not, or simply do not care.

Even Trump’s domestic policy, enabled by Congress’s inaction, has international implications. Take his ending of Temporary Protective Status for refugees from El Salvador. There is no way in hell that the husk of a country those people left behind decades ago can absorb 200,000 of them, even if they wanted to go back. Haiti is a similar story. But this is the reality we live in now. This executive policy shatters lives and threatens the stability (to the extent that there is any) of Central America and the Caribbean. Again, Congress could stop this … but does nothing.

Color me disgusted.

luv u,

jp

 

Pappy’s back in town.

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The 100-day mark is fast approaching for the Trump administration, and this week they kicked it into high gear in an attempt to create the impression that they accomplished something over the last three months – namely, something that was on the President’s list of promises he made over the course of his craven campaign last year. With this in mind, they tossed out a few desperate efforts towards meaningful legislation, one of which being a one-page tax break proposal announced by Mnuchin on Wednesday.

This is a clear return to the G.O.P. presidential playbook, in a Trump kind of way. Of course, it smells more like a scam, the sparsely written outline providing very little detail or guidance for what would likely be a contentious legislative drafting process. But the outlines are there, and what it means effectively is that old Pappy Tax Cut is back once again. We haven’t seen Pappy since the days of Dubya Bush and his high-earner tax cut that blew a huge hole in the budget – one that we’re still grappling with, even with the minor clawback Obama extracted from the Republicans.

Shocker: more breaks for the rich.What’s in it? Prepare to be amazed. Massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. Reducing the top corporate tax rate to 15% and eliminating the estate tax altogether. If anything resembling this vague framework were to come into effect, it would shower enormous dividends on the most well-heeled people in the United States and cost the U.S. treasury about 2 trillion dollars. Suddenly Republicans aren’t worried about the deficit/debt anymore – astonishing! And why wouldn’t they give a massive break to the only people in the country – the one percent – who did well throughout the financial crisis? No reason at all.

Trump allies in congress were touting a new compromise on the “American Health Care Act” between the right and the extreme right, but that’s probably a non-starter. The act has been changed up to reflect more of the “Freedom Caucus” (i.e. a bunch of white dudes) agenda, including allowing states to make core benefits optional, letting health insurance providers charge a lot more to people with pre-existing conditions, like … I don’t know, pretty much anything that happens to you.

Then there’s impending war with Korea. Don’t even get me started on that. There’s such bad thinking on that issue from both major parties that it’s hard to know where to turn next.

luv u,

jp

Idle threats.

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This has been a week of sobering political news, to be sure. The gradual implosion of the institutional republican party continued apace, their preferred candidate falling into a deep hole that I suspect neither Mitt Romney nor an MSNBC town hall can pull him out of. Far more disturbing was various pieces of news from overseas: the heightened war of words on the Korean peninsula, the continued saber-rattling over Iran, and a strike in Somalia that killed 150 “terrorists”, though no one is quite sure who these people were.

Fine when we do it.Korea is potentially the most volatile of these. There are literally millions of people living under the gun there, and while the North’s leadership is ultra paranoid and appears irrational, they have been driven to this point by the presence of an existential threat: us. We have scores of military bases in South Korea. The South Korean military is under the operational command of our Pentagon. On top of that, we engage in the annual provocation of our joint exercises with Seoul, which amounts to a massive mock-invasion of North Korea. Given our troubled history with Pyongyang (and the memory of a war that cost 3 million Korean lives), you might think we would try to err on the side of diplomacy. North Korea wants direct bilateral talks with us because we are their principal adversary. They are not a direct threat to us, but they can do a lot of damage to Seoul, so for the sake of all those people we should ratchet down this conflict now.

With respect to Iran, I am going to set aside whatever they claim to have scrawled on the outside of their test missiles (incendiary as it is, it only makes me think of the racist crap IDF soldiers wrote on the walls of destroyed Palestinian elementary schools during the second Intifada). The reporting on the facts of their test launch is instructive. The missiles are not nuclear-capable, so they are not covered by the recent agreement – this was acknowledged in press reports. The expectation of the Security Council, we are told, is that Iran will not test missiles, but they are not “bound” by that expectation. So why the hair on fire? Why should they be the only power in the world not to test their weapons? I think that’s the reason why they led the story with the stuff written on the outside.

Regarding the 150 killed in Somalia, I’m trying to imagine how this gets Somalia closer to peace. But then … that was never the objective in Somalia. Imperial utility is more what we were looking for when we started intervening there in a big way during the late Carter administration – a convenient replacement for Iran.

All I can tell you is that it’s likely only to get worse after this coming election. Unless we vote and stay engaged. You heard it here.

luv u,

jp

Flyover country.

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I’m going to take a break from my wall-to-wall election 2016 coverage to talk about one of those very serious issues that were already septic when Obama took office in 2009 and have remained that way throughout his presidency. One of the big ones is Korea, which this president is handling pretty poorly, though perhaps marginally better than his predecessor, who chose to include North Korea in his “Axis of Evil”.

Scare tactic Obama hasn’t gone that far, but with all that’s at stake on the Korean peninsula, it is reckless merely to follow the same path as even some of your more sane predecessors in office. It’s late in the game, but a real effort should be made to defuse this confrontation before someone makes a mistake. Mistakes in Korea can cost hundreds of thousands of lives in a very short time; no policy of either containment or rollback is worth that level of risk.

I raise this now because over the last week, Obama flew some nuclear-capable stealth fighters over South Korea in an obvious demonstration of our willingness to “go there” – this in response to a missile test by Pyongyang. I guess the annual joint exercises we do with South Korea every March is not enough, though the well-rehearsed maneuvers are designed to mock an amphibious invasion of North Korea. With something like 50 U.S. military installations in South Korea, effective operational control of Seoul’s armed forces by the U.S., and plenty of American war planes and troops on the premises, it’s little wonder that North Korea wants a deterrent.

It’s probably wise to recall that the North was bombed to a fare-the-well during the Korean War. They have a living national memory of what it is like to be annihilated. It’s a large measure of what makes them kind of crazy. I know we have a tendency to shrug off other nations’ concerns about our saber-rattling, but in this case we’re dealing with a country that has already been blown up by us once. When we fly nuclear-capable aircraft over the peninsula, the intended threat has some resonance. Their dispute is more with us than with the South. When they go out of their way to get attention, it’s to get OUR attention. Given all that’s at stake, we should talk to them … like, now.

Next week: Scalia and the election.

Big week.

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This has been one of those weeks, to be sure. A lot has happened and very quickly, so let me take these one at a time.

Cuba.  President Obama announced a reset of relations with Cuba this past Wednesday, an initiative that includes establishment of an American embassy in Havana and the release of the remaining members of the Cuban Five, as well as the return of Alan Gross. This somewhat surprising announcement was, of course, met with flaming hair by the conservative majority in Congress and by other longtime critics of the Cuban revolution. Marco Rubio, for instance, bemoaned the fact that the maximalist goals of conservatives were not realized on the first day of the new relationship.

Patience, Marco! The cause of neoliberalism is not yet lost. To listen to Obama’s defense of his decision, you would think the prime motivation for improved ties between the two countries is for the joys of capitalism to rain down on the hapless Cubans. God help them. Still, a pretty momentous day, to be sure.

What North Koreans find hard to forgetNorth Korea.  When you produce a movie that makes a joke out of the assassination of the leader of a garrison state, its back against the wall for decades, you should respect a negative reaction. Agents purportedly working for North Korea have threatened violence against theaters running “The Interview”, promising 9/11 type attacks, somewhat incredibly. SONY Pictures pulled the film, generating a mountain of criticism. An AP article suggested that SONY feared hostilities against Japan by a nuclear-armed North Korea.

This is pretty overblown. Rhetoric is one thing; credible threats are something else entirely. Pyongyang’s rants against the United States and its allies are delivered in the absence of any capability to act upon them. On the other hand, when our government states that “all options are on the table” with regard to North Korea, and when we conduct massive joint maneuvers with South Korea (including mock invasions of the North), we do so in the context of overwhelming power that has been exercised against the North Koreans in the past. Best to remember that their section of the peninsula was utterly destroyed by our military in 1950-53; not a single standing structure remaining by the time we were done, and deaths in the millions. That leaves a lasting impression.

Our media-driven culture emphasizes the crazy when it focuses on North Korea. And sure, they seem particularly crazy when you ignore the history. History doesn’t excuse malevolent behavior, but it does render it more comprehensible. At the very least, it enables you to understand why a comedy about assassinating their leader might, well, make them angry.

luv u,

jp

Ripped from the heads.

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This is just another survey of current issues in the news – don’t mind me. Tired, can’t focus.

Best friend
Some best friend you got there, doggy.

The Koreas. Yes, there are two of them. And yes, there was a war. But that’s about all Americans know about the Korean peninsula except that “North Korea started the war!” and “Kim Jong Sombody is crazy!” Meanwhile, we are flying stealth bombers and stealth fighters and nuclear armed B52s over South Korea in ostentatious demonstrations of force, using some of the very same aircraft that once turned the North into an apocalyptic hellscape. Earth to Obama: There is no military solution to this problem. You’ve got a State Department full of diplomats – send a few over to fashion a treaty with the North, and this will stop being a problem.

K-9 abuse. A few weeks ago, when the latest gun nut incident took place in nearby Herkimer, the State Police used a dog to sniff out the suspect in an abandoned building. The dog was shot dead, as you may have heard. Since then there have been several news stories about K-9 patrols, how the police care about them, etc. Bullshit. These animals should never, ever be put in harm’s way in this manner. There was no reason to sacrifice that dog for the sake of capturing this suicidal dead-ender who had nowhere to go but jail or the grave. I think the police lose sight of the fact that, for all their utility, working dogs are dependent upon humans for their welfare. They are, in essence, like toddlers in that they are trusting, inquisitive, and unable to make their own decisions. They rely on us to keep them from needlessly sacrificing themselves.

Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t allow a young child to do something, don’t ask a dog to do it either.

Debt Patrol. Egyptians may have thought things were going from bad to worse over the last couple of years. Now the IMF has pulled into town, and the likelihood is that their misery has just begun. Mubarak had already substantially “liberalized” the country’s economy. Now their foreign reserves are extremely low, thanks in part to years of political upheaval and disruptions in tourism and other industries. Next stop, the Bolivia / Argentina treatment. One would hope that, once they’ve endured some of that, they will follow South America’s lead and break free of the global neoliberal institutions of economic control that have led so many to the land of misery.

luv u,

jp

Short memory

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North Korea has unilaterally withdrawn from its 1953 ceasefire agreement with South Korea, cutting the emergency hotline between the two halves of this divided peninsula. The move has been roundly condemned as provocative and an indication of increasing cravenness on the part of third-generation great leader Kim Jong Un, whose government recently tested a nuclear device. As reported on NPR and other major news networks, this behavior is portrayed as almost innate, not rooted in anything other than blind aggression and dogmatic fealty to the North’s longstanding cult of personality and garrison state mentality.

All they know of us.
All they know of us.

Now, it is true that the North Korean state is an ossified, garrison state, very oppressive – a dungeon, even. I can’t defend it. But they didn’t arrive at this state of affairs without prompting. There is one thing they want: a non-aggression treaty with the United States. Because the war of 1950-53 was fought with the U.S. more than with South Korea, and that was a war of genocidal proportions, particularly for the North. The U.S. unleashed everything short of nuclear weapons on the North during that period, until no standing structures remained north of the 38th parallel. This after years of oppressive U.S. occupation of the southern half of Korea, which itself followed more than three decades of Japanese occupation.

When North Koreans talk about destruction, they know the meaning of the word. It is not an abstraction for them. After all, they share Poland’s great misfortune of being geographically located between two great powers, frequently at odds. Worse yet, they became ground zero of a growing cold war that was never hotter than it was during that three year period in the Korean peninsula. If they have nuclear weapons, it’s because they don’t want to be attacked. And if they take exception to the annual mock-invasion of the north conducted by Washington and Seoul, it is because they have a deep memory of the devastation of sixty years ago.

In America, we haven’t forgotten the Korean War so much as simply never known it in the first place, except for the dwindling number of veterans who fought there. It’s high time we stopped acting like an aggrieved empire and found a way to settle this conflict … before it explodes again.

luv u,

jp

Look back.

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Lots of news about official enemies this past week. Plenty of footage from the funeral of Kim Jong Il, showing legions of North Koreans – many in uniform – displaying their exaggerated grief. (Hey… those folks know what they need to do to get ahead.) And of course the Iranian threat to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if the latest round of draconian sanctions recently passed by the Senate – 100 to 0, mind you – become law. The latter is, naturally, the primary obsession of our news media and our government; the former a mere source of fascination and amusement. Both provide ample opportunities to perpetuate the official line on each of these societies, about which the less we know the better.

But let’s look a little closer. Why is North Korea such a strange, strange place? Lots of reasons. The hermit kingdom is a major thread running through Korean history. More importantly, though, is the experience of the last century – namely, that of the thirty year Japanese occupation, followed by occupation and subsequent destruction by the U.S. during the Korean War. Few Americans know the impact that war had on North Korea; we mostly focus on the fact that the North invaded the South – Korea invading Korea  – but not on the devastating attack we mounted against them. Christine Ahn of the Korea Policy Institute spoke to this fact on Democracy Now! last week:

When I went to North Korea, others-I had a very interesting insight, where I would travel around the country, and with our guides, you know, they would always point to this building. This was a restaurant. It was, you know, a very ancient-looking Korean building. But it was-I was wondering, why are-why do they always keep pointing that building out? And the thing that was really surprising is that was the only building that remained since the Korean War. Otherwise, the rest of Pyongyang was essentially leveled. And that was because of the devastating air raids. More bombs were dropped in the Korean War than in World War II. Napalm was introduced. I mean, the U.S. bombed dams, which was considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention.

It’s a similar story with Iran. Around the time we stopped drenching North Korea with napalm, we were fomenting a coup in Iran that brought in the Shah, who tortured his way through the next 25 years until the Iranian revolution. After that, we supported Saddam Hussein’s 8-year attack against Iran, which cost them about 800,000 lives. If Iran wants a nuclear capability, it’s likely as our own intelligence service estimates suggest – an attempt at building a deterrent. We invaded countries on both sides of Iran, neither of which had nuclear weapons. We did not attack North Korea, which does have nukes. What lesson should the Iranians draw from that?

There’s a tone of near outrage over the notion that the Iranians would threaten retaliation over sanctions. Fact is, they’ve seen what sanctions can do, both at home and in neighboring Iraq. Much as they are a repressive regime with a poor record on human rights, it is easy to understand why they would respond in this way. What I don’t understand is why we seem unable to anticipate that.

luv u,

jp