Minutes to midnight.

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After a week like the one we’ve had, I feel like I have to write this quickly. We are literally on the brink of a major power conflict brewing in Syria, and it’s hard to see how it can effectively be prevented. An apparent chemical attack has, once again, triggered the Pavlovian imperial response from Washington – namely that no problem can’t be solved by dropping high explosives on it. The trouble is that the Syrian conflict is so complicated, with major regional and global powers backing different factions in pursuit of their own narrow interests (and civilians be damned). So while the Trump cabal claims to want to strike at Bashir Al Assad’s government, they can hardly do so without hitting Russian personnel.

Mr. Atomic Clock himselfThreats are being exchanged, partly via Twitter, and this is becoming a very volatile situation. A situation like this makes clear why the Democratic/Liberal approach of blaming everything on Russia is short-sighted and foolish. Trump is now under pressure to be “tougher” on Russia, and it seems he is willing to move in that direction. So in a sense both major political groupings are either pushing for war or indifferent, and that’s a dangerous state of affairs, particularly with this venal, unstable, insecure president. Oh, and did I mention that Monday was John Bolton’s first day on the job as National Security Advisor? Jesus.

Earlier this year the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the minute hand on their doomsday clock to 2 minutes before midnight – the nearest their estimate of risk has come to nuclear Armageddon since 1953. I think they are on to something. President drunk uncle bigot, the Twitter troll, is a crack head, but what he does in his evident dementia is demonstrate how out of control presidential power has become. The power to destroy the world should not be in the hands of the president. I would argue it should be in no one’s hands, but so long as the capability exists, it should be subject to extensive review by more than one branch of government. The more people involved in this process the better. After all, we’re talking about blowing up the whole planet – we should require our war-hungry leaders to keep asking different people until they find someone sane enough to say “no”.

I hope I am just being alarmist about this. All I can say is that, whatever happens in the next week or two, it’s going to be a long, painful three years.

luv u,

jp

Another week that was.

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I know we’ve all been drinking from a news fire hose this week and you hardly need me to remind you of that. Still, I’m going to do some short takes on various topics … unless I get on a tear, then all bets are off. (No betting!)

Iraqi-versary – It’s been fifteen years since the American invasion of Iraq. Still seems like yesterday, particularly when you consider the state Iraq is in right now – divided on a sectarian basis, barely holding together, bombs going off at regular intervals, struggles persisting over the rubble of its cities. Our war cost them upwards of a million lives, and that’s compounded on the many hundreds of thousands who died in the 11 years of sanctions that preceded the 2003 attack. No one has been held accountable for this, so I’m confident it will happen again in some form.

Total ass clown.Bolton – Speaking of being held accountable, HE wasn’t, and now he’s going to be National Security Advisor. All I can say to that is, expect war with Iran … but don’t expect it to be the cakewalk that Iraq was. (Yes, I know … but Iraq will seem like a cakewalk once we wade into Iran.)

Yemen Vote – The Sanders-Lee-Murphy amendment to force debate on an authorization for supporting the Saudi assault on Yemen garnered 44 votes, which is encouraging but not enough to save the millions facing hunger, cholera on a biblical scale, and endless death and destruction rained down by a U.S. sponsored and guided Saudi air force. We need to do better for the people of Yemen. Be sure to remind your federal legislators (and our president) that this is on them. And bear in mind that Trump pushed for the bill to fail as not to displease his beloved weasle-prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is a primary architect of this slaughter.

Cambridge Analytica – Count me as someone who doesn’t believe the machinations of Russian bots and dodgy data companies like CA had a decisive effect on the 2016 election. That’s not to say it didn’t have ANY effect. And that’s also not to say that they aren’t tremendous dicks for steeling millions of people’s data and using it to help elect a self-aggrandizing racist moron president of the United States. My feeling is that they – and, in fact, Facebook as well – should be broken up and scuttled for all they’re worth. If you want to stop rogue billionaires, the best way to do it is by taking away their billions. Let them rough it as mere millionaires, poor sods.

Russia Probe – Message to Donald Trump: Please, please talk to Mueller or to the grand jury. Get your side of the story down, dude. It’s the only way out of this mess. You can do it, Donald. Just wear your white sheet and speak truth to power.

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

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

Peachfuzz bridge.

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It is astonishing to see how astonished people are at the President’s last couple of weeks. Reality check: we elected Donald Trump President of the United States. That’s why this administration is unloading like a clown car at a funeral. There’s no other way for me to put this: the man is a hyper-narcissistic dolt with the emotional maturity of a 7-year-old. He is temperamentally unfit for this or any political office. He has not even a vague understanding of the structure or traditions of our constitutional system, and has no interest in learning. Verily, he has little interest in anything other than large piles of money. When he told the Russian ambassador about the intel on ISIS , that was probably the first time that information had offered any utility from his perspective – he could use it to impress someone, at least. Otherwise, he has no interest in intelligence briefings and confines himself to a single page of bulleted items that he proceeds to ignore.

Captain PeachfuzzSo, what to do about this dolt? It’s hard to imagine the GOP-led House taking up impeachment proceedings, even with this level of ludicrousness. Investigations can swirl around Trump and criminal accusations may mount, but basically the only process by which he can be removed from office is a political one, and that is a non-starter with regard to a caucus that sees him as a signing machine. I’m thinking the republicans in the House and Senate will use something like the Captain Peachfuzz approach with Trump.

How does that work? Simple. On Rocky and Bullwinkle, all Captain “Wrongway” Peachfuzz’s crew needed to do was create a phony bridge, lead the captain into it, and then go about their normal duties. Captain Peachfuzz would be shouting commands, pulling levers, twisting knobs and the like, none of which were attached to anything. THAT’S what we need for Trump. Of course, we would have to avoid the problem that Peachfuzz’s crew encountered when the crackpot captain wandered by mistake onto the real bridge one day and started driving the ship like the proverbial drunken sailor. Of course, that’s what we have now, right?

Phony up a war room for the guy, people. Do it now before it’s too late. Your nation will thank you.

luv u,

jp

Dumpster fire.

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Every time I see that standard shot of the White House on one of the major networks, I expect to see a plume of black smoke rising from an open window. This administration promised to be a major dumpster fire and it hasn’t disappointed, the firing of FBI Director Comey this week (as he was requesting an expansion of the Trump Campaign/Russia probe) being just the latest flare-up. As predicted by some of the more observant commentators, the leaks began almost immediately – the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal¬†all posted pieces that put the lie to the various hastily concocted stories flying out of the White House. If they’re not hiding something very, very compromising, they’re doing a tremendous imitation of it.

Trump, day 110.The thing about dumpster fires – or any trash-fueled conflagration, for that matter – is that they conceal as well as destroy. It’s hard to ascribe intentionality to the Trump administration; they are without a doubt the dumbest box of rocks that ever rolled into the oval office, so the idea that they could cook up some massive deception campaign is kind of ludicrous. If they are not deliberately distracting people with their antics, they are certainly playing the role of the useful idiot. I’m not suggesting they’re running interference for Russia or anything like that. What their ineptitude facilitates more than anything else is the steady progress of the broader GOP agenda – namely, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, dismantling of our rudimentary social safety net, scuttling the ACA, pulling down regulatory constraints on industry, and so on.

We face some major threats. One is that Trump will launch another war as a means of changing the conversation. Another is that a terror attack will flip the script, as it did in 2001, and we will be riding the revenge juggernaut to the end of the Earth, literally. But not least among these is the threat that the Republicans will get most if not all of what they’re calling for. They already have Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. Don’t think the Senate won’t pass some version of their draconian health care reform / tax cut. These are less dramatic outcomes, but no less destructive of our society.

Trump probably has extensive ties to Russian gangsters, just as he has with the domestic variety. It will likely come out eventually, but I warn you – don’t be distracted from the real work that’s going on in Congress right now.

luv u,

jp

Bigfoot.

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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.

Nuclear option.

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I’m undecided as to whether this is a great time to be a political writer or an abysmal one. There is so much going on every day of this new presidential administration, it’s enough to fill a months worth of posts. It’s hard not to return to the “drinking from a fire hose” cliche, frankly. Even so, I’ll take a whack at some of what happened this week in my wobbly, amateurish way and we’ll see where we end up.

Russia and Germany. Trump’s visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel was odd and awkward. She had that kind of hostage video look, sitting there with Herr Mr. Hair, asking for a handshake and being rebuffed by the new leader of the “free” world. If she isn’t uneasy about this president, I don’t know what it would take; just listening to the press conference exchanges between Trump and the German press is enough to convince anyone that the man needs professional help. And the rebuff over the handshake will only feed the notion that he is a man who will say or do nothing to offend one V. Putin.

Mr. not-so-nice guyThat’s the stuff conspiracy theories are made of. So … why does he keep fucking doing it? If there turns out to be no serious collusion between Trump’s people and the Russian government, his administration is the most productive conspiratorial smoke machine ever constructed. Major administration advisors had conversations with Russian officials during and after the campaign, lied about it, then fessed up when the lie was exposed. If it’s above board, why don’t they just effing say so? I don’t get it.

Blind Justice. Gorsuch took the stand in his confirmation hearings this week in the U.S. Senate. Big charm offensive, though it’s obvious where he’s coming from both judicially and politically. Still, I count myself among the number who simply oppose Gorsuch because he was nominated by Trump. It they blow up the filibuster, fine … there’s no saving it for later. If when you use it you lose it, then it doesn’t really exist anyway.

It appears as though the Democrats are leaning towards this strategy, based on what Schumer and others are saying. Some of the Democratic senators, like Franken and Whitehouse, delivered some very strong criticism not only of Gorsuch but of the entire right-wing judicial and broader political agenda, so that’s all to the good.

The health insurance went down in flames, so I’ll return to that next week. My guess is that, AHCA or no AHCA, the GOP congress and Trump Administration will do everything in their power to crash the ACA through deregulation, funding cuts, and more. This fight will continue.

luv u,

jp

Consenseless.

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The Syrian meltdown is horrible to watch, and thanks to the fact that much of the killing is being done by official enemies of the United States, we are actually able to watch it. The Syrian regime is doing the only thing it knows how to do – killing and torturing those who oppose it. The Russians, too, have only one speed on their killing machines. Lebanese Hizbullah fighters are there to support the regime, just as the regime and the allied government of Iran was there to help them in their time of need – it’s hard for me to blame them, frankly. But the true crime of Syria is that there are many players involved in this senseless war and their all pursuing their own agendas.

Syria? Nope. It's Yemen.The United States has had dogs in this fight for years, despite what you’ll hear on bullshit broadcast outlets like Morning Joe. They have provided covert support to rebel groups in Syria since before the uprising, so there’s little doubt that some of those fighters assumed – as Chalabi did with regard to Iraq – that Uncle Sam would swoop in and save the day, Kosovo style. The notion that the United States could somehow fix this problem through the application of military force has remarkable currency among politicians, pundits, and talking heads.

Everyone from Clinton to McCain to Joe Scarborough talks about no-fly zones like they’re as simple as pitching a tent in the backyard. My guess is that their conception of this pulls from their memories of the Gulf War aftermath, when the U.S. established no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. That required very little additional firepower because we had already blown the country up, destroyed its air defenses, its command and control infrastructure, and so on. Syria still has all that stuff, plus the Russian air force.

Sometimes broken stuff stays broken (see Iraq). I don’t condone Russia’s role in Syria, but it seems pretty clear why they intervened: they saw what happened with various other failed states we created through our interventions over the past fifteen years, and they’re determined not to let that happen to one of their client states. They have obviously gone way, way too far, and we are seeing every lick of it. What we’re NOT seeing is what’s happening in Yemen, which we could truly bring to an end with a stern phone call.

Our responsibility as a nation to protect innocent lives is most acute in those areas where we have the most influence. We can rail against abusive foreign leaders until the cows come home to little effect, but when we’re picking up the tab, as in Yemen, it’s incumbent upon us to act. If you’re really worried about human suffering, tell Obama to do so before he packs up and leaves.

luv u,

jp

Stays in Vegas.

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We were treated to the third and final presidential debate this week, moderated by Chris Wallace of FoxNews. I can’t decide which I found more annoying – the ridiculous utterances by the candidates themselves or the clueless pundit commentary on what a great moderator Wallace was. Maybe MSNBC is planning on hiring Wallace, I’m not sure – it seems like they were blowing him pretty hard the morning after, even though he apparently cribbed questions from the Peterson Institute and Operation Rescue. “Partial birth abortion,” really? And no questions about climate change, of course. What a great news man.

Real sense of proportion.I could sit here an write about the obviously outrageous statements made by Trump over the 90 minute program, but you’ve probably heard enough of that. Suffice to say that the guy proves his unsuitability for the office of the presidency every time he opens his big yap. No one should need additional convincing, but alas … this is America. No, what astonishes me is some of what gets discussed (and what doesn’t get discussed) in the wake of these debates. That in itself is enough to make you want to rip your own head off. Take Syria. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe, it’s pretty much a consensus that the Syrian conflict is a failure of the Obama administration on the scale of Bush’s Iraq invasion. Scarborough himself regularly refers to the conflict with terms like “holocaust” and “genocide”, which is frankly offensive.

I have never been a fan of the Obama administration’s foreign policy, but the comparison with Iraq doesn’t pass the laugh test. For one thing, more people were killed in the Iraq conflict than thus far in Syria, and that was entirely down to us. Syria is a civil war stoked by extremist remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq (thank you, Bush and Cheney) and other elements covertly supported by the US (thank you, Obama), facing off with an ossified authoritarian regime that knows only one thing: crush dissent. The Morning Joe crew is apparently disappointed that we didn’t roll into Syria in 2013 and turn it into an even broader international conflict, which would have resulted in open war with Iran, probably Lebanon, and maybe Russia. Would Scarborough want one of his sons to fight that war? Doubt it.

Nothing out of either candidate last night gave me any confidence that we wouldn’t get more deeply involved in this wretched civil war after January 21.¬† It’s up to us as a nation to make certain that the war fever we heard last night stays in Vegas and doesn’t guide American policy moving forward.

luv u,

jp