In with the old.

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It’s manifestly obvious that Trump is an incompetent boob, grandfathered into the presidency by virtue of that mother of all mulligans served up by our founding fathers: rich white guy can’t win the support of the majority, so kick it to the electoral college. (Apparently Trump’s win came as a real shock to his family and himself.) That said, it would be a mistake to suppose that his ignorance is in any way blissful for the opposition – quite the contrary. The President and his party are making tremendous strides across a broad front, setting policies that will take a generation to turn around. Nothing less than that.

World's most effective boneheadI’ve written about the speed-dating approach to judicial appointments; suffice here to say that Trump has broken a first-year record on this. (These are lifetime appointments, mind you, and his picks are ghastly from a left-progressive standpoint.) He has also made a full frontal assault on regulations, removing the ban on fracking on public lands, fines for abusive nursing home care, safety requirements for blowout protectors on deep-water oil drilling operations, the fiduciary rule requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest ahead of their own, and so on. Other great accomplishments of the last year include loosening the already weak DOD restrictions on civilian casualties, trashing net neutrality despite massive, broad-based opposition, and canceling national monument status for large swaths of land in western states, thereby opening them up for resource and mineral extraction. There’s a lot, lot more, but I will stop there.

As we start the new year, we are faced with some truly grave prospects regarding this administration and the GOP agenda more broadly. Trump’s terrifyingly childish nuclear threats are bad enough in and of themselves – this tragic-comic display could easily result in terminal thermonuclear war, no joke. If we survive the year, we will be grappling with part two of the wrecking crew’s plan to tear down what’s left of America’s social safety net, from the ACA to Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – programs we all rely upon to some extent. In that respect, this is merely an extension of a long-term project; a “generational” obsession, to borrow Speaker Ryan’s favorite modifier. That is going to be a fight, my friends.

So 2018 is looking a lot like more of 2017. No rest for the weary. Just keep your marching shoes handy, and plan on voting as if your life depended on it.

luv u,

jp

Wanting more.

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It’s hard to overstate how disturbing the news has become over the last couple of weeks. Gradually some elements of the Republican political establishment are beginning to acknowledge the obvious fact that Donald Trump is fundamentally unfit for the office of the Presidency. Astonishing. Why someone like Senator Corker wouldn’t have realized this more than a year ago, when he had the opportunity to help prevent this disaster, defies belief. Like his colleagues, it obviously wasn’t as important to him as having a Republican president – any Republican president – who would sign legislation and implement the extreme right policies his party has long advocated. They did everything in their power to put an unstable man in the most powerful office on earth and place the nation in jeopardy just to gain marginal political advantage.

Maybe THEY buy it.Now Corker and his colleagues can feign surprise when the bonobo they elected throws feces at them from his perch in the White House. And because the Tennessee Senator has announced his retirement, he can channel his colleagues’ unease when Trump (a) demonstrates he knows nothing about America’s nuclear strategy or the history of that strategy, (b) breezily demands we return to an arsenal of 32,000 warheads, and (c) makes a habit of cryptically threatening to start World War III on the Korean peninsula. The man is a terrorist, plain and simple – hinting that there’s some kind of “storm” coming, teasing some violent response or initiative, then dropping a smirking “you’ll see,” like a petulant four-year-old. Fit for the presidency? The man isn’t even qualified to be dog catcher.

I wish this were the kind of joke that so many people think it is (including many of Trump’s core supporters, who revel in the discomfort of liberals and the like), but it’s not. Trump is alluding to some kind of military action in the near future, probably regarding North Korea. Any action commenced by the United States stands the very real risk of provoking a counterattack on Seoul, South Korea – a city of 20 million people and no small number of Americans – plus the involvement of China and perhaps Russia (China’s leaders have said that they would respond to an unprovoked attack on North Korea by the U.S.) That is the World War III scenario that Corker is alluding to. Even short of that, we could be looking at loss of life in the hundreds of thousands within a very short period of time – far beyond anything we’ve seen in decades. (Congo may be an exception, though that conflict took place over many years and in some respects is still ongoing.)

In my humble opinion, it’s 25th Amendment time. Will anyone in the senior leadership of this administration put the country before his or her career? Remains to be seen.

luv u,

jp

Brinksmanship redux.

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It’s a little hard to sort out what to write about this week. The catastrophic hurricane that hit Texas or the one that’s bearing down on Florida? North Korea? DACA? What the hell … welcome to the Trump era, when everybody drinks from a firehose. What a non-stop freaking joy this administration is. I will leave to more able correspondents (like David Sirota) the telling of how Trump and the congressional Republicans have worked overtime over the last few months to make east Texas more vulnerable to this kind of disaster. As unprecedentedly powerful storms line up to cause havoc around the Caribbean and up the coast, no doubt the climate change deniers will continue to strip away what little protection people have from flooding, the release of pollutants, and bankruptcy (particularly in a place like Puerto Rico).

Highly predictable.Then there’s North Korea. Perhaps the most remarkable piece of this crisis is the total lack of voices in favor of doing the right thing. From the various talking heads (mostly foreign policy establishment people, retired generals, current generals, and conservative think tankers), I keep hearing that there are military options, however limited, and that it’s either strike or learn to live with a nuclear-capable North Korea. Of course, we have had that for a while. We have lived with a nuclear-capable Russia and China for a long time. I also hasten to add that the world has lived with a nuclear-capable United States for even longer. My feeling is simply that if they can live with us, we can live with them … just as we have for about a decade.

Here are a few things  that you won’t hear on the talk shows: 1) This is not the cold war. It is not an ideological battle, for chrissake. No one is interested in emulating North Korea, and they aren’t trying to export their model of governance to anyone else.  2) We don’t have to demonstrate that we are stronger than them. They know this in their bones since we destroyed their society in the 1950s. Our strength is the central reason why they’re doing this. 3) This situation is not China’s fault, nor is it their responsibility. North Korea’s dispute is with us, not China … or even South Korea. They and the Russians have encouraged us to take reasonable steps to disarm this time bomb: hold off on military exercises, build confidence, etc.

An NPR correspondent this week asked if diplomatic approaches would make us look “weak”. This is the mentality that leads to war. North Korea is not Germany in the 1940s. Appeasement doesn’t apply here. That only works when you’re weak and they’re strong.

luv u,

jp

Unfit.

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The president this week took a break from his 3-week vacation to issue an existential threat against a sovereign nation. If the intention was to intimidate the target country, well, it didn’t work so well – the DPRK responded with a thinly veiled threat to launch missiles at Guam, home to 160,000 people and two major U.S. airbases. That prompted another nuclear threat from Trump. Then he threatened to invade Venezuela. This may turn out to be the longest summer vacation in history.

In some respects, this feels very familiar. The Defense Intelligence Agency leaking an intel assessment about North Korea being able to miniaturize nuclear weapons to a warhead-ready size – that sounds like the Iraq war run-up to me. Clearly someone likes the idea of another catastrophic conflict on the Korean peninsula. The cheap, sloppy trash-talking, though, is different. The only close to comparable incidents I can think of from other presidencies is, perhaps, W. Bush calling Kim Jong Il a “pygmy”. No, this was full-throated nuclear sabre-rattling of a type that only pathetic posers like Seb Gorka could admire.

In charge of nuclear weapons.So now we’re in a nuclear pissing-match, by conscious choice of the president. That is unacceptable, though quite predictable. During the campaign last year he lamented that the nuclear arsenal was a kind of white elephant and wondered about its utility is we never used it. People voted that guy into office, and now – six months in – he’s threatening people with fire and fury. Trump is what many had surmised before: a man unfit for service in any capacity, let alone the Presidency of the United States. But an unfit man cannot be president – it is far too potentially destructive a job to be held by someone with severe mental problems.

Based on his comments this week, it’s clear that Trump must be removed from office. The constitution provides for this outside of the impeachment process – it requires the Vice President and a majority of the heads of federal agencies to certify that the president is unfit. I know some of my progressive friends are growning at the thought of a Pence presidency – so am I – but the problem with Trump supersedes any political considerations. They need to invoke the 25th Amendment and save the country and possibly the world. I’d sooner spend the next three years fighting the Pence Administration than stand with my arms folded as millions more Asians are kicked into a mass grave by this murderous dunce in the White House.

Let’s face it: Trump won the presidency by virtue of our constitution. We need to encourage others to utilize that same constitution to protect the nation and remove President Trump from office.

luv u,

jp

Another one.

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I’m not going to spend a lot of column space on the foibles of the Trump White House, entertaining as they may be. You’ve heard it all, right? Everything about Scaramucci, Priebus, and whoever the fuck. Hey, we elected a clown-car cartoon character president – we should expect this. What’s really much more disturbing is what they’ve been up to behind the screen of all this palace intrigue. Some of it is fairly clear, like the disingenuous attack on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid (i.e. Trump’s repeated promises that the new bill would be better, that everyone would be covered, and that premiums and co-payments would be low). Some is not so obvious, and the devil in this administration is truly in those details.

Mr. WonderfulTake the Sessions Justice Department (please). Reporting this week has indicated that they are redirecting the Civil Rights Division to look into cases of reverse discrimination in college admissions. They are denying it up and down, but it would in no way be out of character for Beauregard and his new Civil Rights Division chief, John Gore, who was part of a law firm defending North Carolina’s recent “bathroom bill” anti-LGBTQ legislation as well as working for increased ballot access restrictions. I think it’s obvious that any agency or division in the Executive branch not currently headed by someone who opposes its core mission is on borrowed time.

Foreign affairs is a mess, of course. Trump has expressed interest in the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, raising the specter of an even further resource-fueled extension of our pointless war in that unfortunate country. Meanwhile, Iran and North Korea are both on notice again, the Trump team trying its best to ratchet up the tension in the powder keg that is the Korean peninsula while setting the United States on a course to war with Tehran. Just what we need: too more pointless, avoidable wars. (Trump felt it necessary to do the typical fake bombing runs over Korea as well as test one of our massive arsenal of ICBMs.) It should come as a surprise to no one that a foreign policy left mostly to the generals will tilt toward warfare.

Okay, I haven’t covered much, but there will be plenty of time to go into all that is left (I hope). As horrendous as all this sounds, it’s really just been another week of the Trump administration …. which actually sounds even more horrendous, particularly with 3-1/2 years to go. Fuck me – this is awful.

luv u,

jp

One way out.

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Rockets went off on the Fourth of July as usual, though some were not the variety you can now apparently buy in New York State at any of what seems like a million roadside stands. I am of course referring to the launch of the North Korean “ICBM” and the response by the American expeditionary force permanently stationed in South Korea – namely a volley of missiles fired into the sea. The North Korea missile story was teased for a couple of days by the likes of Joe Scarborough, in between his raking over the details of some petty blackmail Trump’s flunkies were pulling on him and his partner. Now it’s full-court press on North Korea, reminiscent of the kind of rhetoric we heard prior to the Iraq war.

The first report I heard started with the term “provocation”. It went downhill from there. The fact is, I have yet to hear from anyone on mainstream media programming who doesn’t subscribe to the general consensus view that (a) North Korea is a madman aggressor nation, (b) only pressure on China can “bring them to heel”, and (c) we tried negotiations and it didn’t work. In fact, I have yet to hear any politicians on the center-left raise doubts about this toxic consensus. It seems with respect to this and similar conflicts, politics stop at the water’s edge. That would be fine if they had it even half-right, but they don’t.

Not worth itFirst of all, the madman aggressor notion ignores the fact that we maintain the most powerful military force on the peninsula. It also frames the issue as one centering on a leader’s irrationality. Whatever the faults of the Pyongyang regime, it’s not hard to see why they want a credible nuclear deterrent. It’s actually a relatively sane response to the threat of attack from a superpower that (1) destroyed them once in the 1950s and (2) is a constant menacing presence, running mock invasions and leadership decapitation exercises several times a year. Second, the China “card” is irrelevant – North Korea’s disagreement is with us, not China. That’s why they’re building an ICBM. They want what they’ve always wanted – a non-aggression guarantee from us, which is what China and Russia have called for – along with restraint from Pyongyang – after their recent summit.

Finally, the “we tried it” claim is false. We reneged on the 1994 nuclear deal, which involved our providing the North Koreans with a light-water nuclear reactor – something Clinton and the GOP Congress never followed through on. The 2000 election debacle stopped the Clinton foreign policy team from working out a non-aggression agreement with Kim Jong Il at the last minute, then two years later North Korea was added to the “Axis of Evil” by the Bush II administration, placing a big red bull’s eye on their flank. That pretty much guaranteed the continuation of their nuclear weapons program.

We are experiencing the bitter outcome of consistently bad policy implemented by both major political parties. Such a longstanding consensus implies that there may be some merit to the suggestion made by Chomsky and others that the continuing Korean conflict serves our grander imperial vision by preventing the ultimate economic integration of northeast Asia. If China, Japan, and Korea lessened tensions and formed a cooperative arrangement of sorts, it would be a formidable economic rival to U.S. hegemony, to be sure.

The downside risks of this kind of brinkmanship are too great. There’s one way out of this disaster: talk to Pyongyang. This is no longer an ideological dispute as it was framed in the 1950s (North Korea is a model for no one). This is about safety and survival for everyone on the Korean peninsula, and that needs to be the guiding star for our Korea policy moving forward.

luv u,

jp

Between truces.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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,

jp

Bigfoot.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

Another week on foreign policy, mostly because it has been so heinous lately. The gas attack in Syria was particularly upsetting, in part because there was video footage of the aftermath (unlike in the case of the U.S.’s Al Ghayil raid in Yemen that killed a score of civilians, including nine children, or the bombing in Mosul last week). The Syrian regime, once again, is doing the one thing they do in response to a restive population: kill and torture. They literally know nothing else. That said, there seems to be a universal media consensus that the United States should fly its bombers in there and start blowing the place apart, as if that has ever made anything better over the past 50-60 years. (Spoiler alert: it hasn’t. It has made things exponentially worse.)

Trump arrives at a decision.Then there was the missile launch in North Korea. Deliberately provocative, yes, though again, our military rules on that peninsula – we’re constantly running joint exercises with the South Korean military that can only be seen as provocations by Pyongyang. Trump is going to take this up with China this weekend in his cheesy Florida resort getaway, but that just marks a continuation of the same disastrous policy. North Korea wants to talk to us, not China. This only possible way to reduce this massive threat to human existence on the Korean peninsula is provide Pyongyang with some guarantees of non belligerence. That is simply not on the table.

How will the Trump administration react to all of this, aside from blaming everyone else (e.g. their predecessors, the Muslims, the Chinese, immigrants, etc.)? It’s a little hard to say. Either one could blow up in our face on a moment’s notice. It sounds to me like Trump is leaning toward differentiating himself from Obama on Syria – that is, taking a more interventionist stance. That appears to be supported by the jabbering classes, as I mentioned earlier. (I heard a congressman from the GOP hair-gel caucus on Thursday’s Morning Joe urging a “no-fly zone” and suggesting that, if we hit Russian personnel or assets in the process, well, that would be “on them”.) This is how world wars start, so one would hope that whatever money laundering Trump has done for Russian oligarchs over the years, it will give him enough reason to at least adequately de-conflict with the Russian military before going all Lindsay Graham on Damascus.

Korea may be just as problematic, since I don’t think Trump owes a lot to Chinese fixers. They may be crazy enough to lob a bomb over there – we’ll have to see. Scary times.

luv u,

jp

P.S.  Spoke too soon. Trump is bombing Syria. This is getting really ugly. The TV commentators all have their “war faces” on, talking to admirals. Trump did a hostage-video style pre-taped announcement last night (strangely, from a podium, reading off of two teleprompters as if there were an audience – the sound quality was horrible). Everyone is beating their chests: American credibility has been restored. (Apparently no one in the world thought we would attack at random anymore, even though we’ve been doing it non-stop for 16 years.) Bigfoot is stomping around.

Waiting to happen.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Uncategorized

There’s a lot of Trump news this week, but I wanted to return to the subject of Korea since that has such enormous potential for disastrous loss of life. The North test launched four ballistic missiles, setting off a firestorm of media coverage and a torrent of speculation from military and diplomatic spokespeople. As usual, most of it misses the mark by a mile. The New York Times articles on the developing crisis mention only in passing the massive join military exercises currently underway by the U.S. and South Korea. One wonders how many rounds, missiles, etc., are typically expended in such exercises.

North Korea's war memoriesUPI reports that there will actually be two joint exercises underway over the coming weeks; one a ground, air, and naval exercise that will include landings (i.e. mock invasions of the north). The other is more a command exercise involving the new THAAD anti-missile system the U.S. is installing in South Korea. So think about this – a practically constant stream of large scale drills, and now a missile battery that threatens to negate what Pyongyang likely thinks of as its nuclear deterrent. Got that? Now combine that with something utterly unknown to Americans – the kind of paranoia that stems from having been invaded and bombed out of existence six decades ago. That may have something to do with these missile launches.

How will the Trump administration react to these tests? It’s hard to say, but if I were to guess I would suggest that their reaction might be similar to the tack taken by the last GOP administration. Dubya (Bush 43) put North Korea on the “Axis of Evil” short list for invasion, perhaps just to make Reverend Moon happy, but I’m not certain of that. That in and of itself might have been the best argument for developing a deterrent. Combined with other factors relating to our long history with Pyongyang, it’s a compelling case. I don’t condone their nuclear weapon design and production programs, but it’s not hard to work out why they might want such weapons. Deterrence, and a prompt to get the United States to a negotiating table. They don’t want six party talks, or three party talks … they want one on one with America, because we are their principal adversary.

This standoff should have ended decades ago. The fact that it’s happening while Trump is president is testament to that very painful truth.

luv u,

jp

Flyover country.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Political Rants

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.