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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

IMF Reports US Standard of Living is Falling

The Daily Escape:

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Is it the best of times or the worst of times? This is no longer a partisan discussion. We have an economy in the midst of a long expansion, the third longest since 1850. The statistics say we are close to full employment. But, our mortality rate is moving in the wrong direction, and we have an opioid epidemic that is serious enough to cause jobs to go unfilled. The NYT reports that in Youngstown Ohio, middle class factory jobs go begging:

It’s not that local workers lack the skills for these positions, many of which do not even require a high school diploma but pay $15 to $25 an hour and offer full benefits. Rather, the problem is that too many applicants — nearly half, in some cases — fail a drug test.

The Fed’s regular Beige Book surveys of economic activity across the country in April, May and July all noted the inability of employers to find workers able to pass drug screenings.

So the best of times? Probably not. Bloomberg reports that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) looked at the US economy. This is what they see:

For some time now there has been a general sense that household incomes are stagnating for a large share of the population, job opportunities are deteriorating, prospects for upward mobility are waning, and economic gains are increasingly accruing to those that are already wealthy. This sense is generally borne out by economic data and when comparing the US with other advanced economies.

The IMF then goes on to compare the US with 23 other advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in this chart:

The chart is a bit of an eye test unless it’s viewed on a big monitor, but its overall point is that the US has been losing ground relative to its past OECD reports by several measures of living standards. 35 countries make up the OECD. The members include all of Western Europe, Russia, Japan, Australia, and several developing nations like Korea and Panama.

This from Bloomberg:

And in the areas where the US hasn’t lost ground (poverty rates, high school graduation rates), it was at or near the bottom of the heap to begin with. The clear message is that the US — the richest nation on Earth, as is frequently proclaimed, although it’s actually not the richest per capita — is increasingly becoming the developed world’s poor relation as far as the actual living standards of most of its population go.

This analysis is contained in the staff report of the IMF’s annual “consultation” with the U.S., which was published last week. The IMF economists haven’t turned up anything shocking or new, it’s just that as outsiders, they have a different perspective than what we hear from our politicians and economists.

For example:

Income polarization is suppressing consumption…weighing on labor supply and reducing the ability of households to adapt to shocks. High levels of poverty are creating disparities in the education system, hampering human capital formation and eating into future productivity.

What is to be done? Well, the IMF report concludes:

Reforms should include building a more efficient tax system; establishing a more effective regulatory system; raising infrastructure spending; improving education and developing skills; strengthening healthcare coverage while containing costs; offering family-friendly benefits; maintaining a free, fair, and mutually beneficial trade and investment regime; and reforming the immigration and welfare systems.

In other words, they suggest substantial reform. It’s doubtful that America can take care of these things anytime soon.

The subtext to most of their suggestions is that other affluent countries have found ways to improve in these areas, while the US has not. We don’t have to look too far into the past to see when those countries were modeling their economies on ours. But today, on all sorts of issues, like taxation, labor markets, health care, and education, the opposite is now true.

One major difference between the US and the rest of the developed world is ideological: Voters and politicians in the US are less willing to raise taxes to finance a better life for our citizens.

Other wealthy countries have figured out how to raise revenue, provide quality education, help the the unemployed, reduce poverty, and keep their citizens healthier than America has.

We must catch up, or admit our time as the world’s indispensable economy is over.

Today’s music (dis)honors the turmoil in the White House. See ‘ya Mooch! Remember that in just six months, Trump has gone through two National Security Advisers, two Chiefs of Staff, two Communications Directors, two Press Secretaries, and two Directors of the FBI.

Here is “Disorder in the House” by the late Warren Zevon and Bruce Springsteen:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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“We Don’t Need No Education”

The Daily Escape:

Antarctic Relic, 2017 – photo by Daniel Kordan

Pink Floyd’s big mainstream hit has new relevance today, since Pew Research produced these interesting findings on US attitudes towards higher education: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

While a majority of the public (55%) continues to say that colleges and universities have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days, Republicans express increasingly negative views.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

The Pew study, conducted from June 8 to 18 among more than 2,000 respondents, found that Democrats and Republicans are growing substantially more divided in their opinions on public institutions, including higher education.

According to the survey that Pew released on Monday, this is the first time that a majority of Republicans have thought that higher education is bad for the country. As recently as 2015, 54% of Republicans said colleges and universities had a positive impact on the way things were going in the country, but by 2016, those results split to 43% positive and 45% negative. On the other side of the aisle, 72% of Democrats continue to think colleges and universities have a positive effect on the country, holding steady with past years’ results. Here is a chart with the study’s top findings:

And if we get granular about the viewpoints, we see the positive view by Republicans has declined dramatically in just three years:

Only 1/3 of Republicans who have graduated from college now believe that college is a positive contributor to the way things are in America today. In fact, Republicans over age 50 support college and universities the least (28%). Even a majority of GOP Millennials do not see higher education as a positive force in our society.

While Pew doesn’t speculate on the reasons for the shift in thinking, it is clear that the last few years have not been kind to higher education. Elite colleges have made headlines for a series of controversies and protests around racism, free speech, and civil rights. We hear constant debate about “trigger warnings”, and “safe zones” for students who can’t be exposed to uncomfortable ideas or situations.

In 2015, the football team at the University of Missouri went on strike to protest the handling of racist incidents on campus, and Yale was rocked by controversy about the proper way to address insensitive Halloween costumes.

More recently, students have protested and sometimes disrupted appearances from controversial figures. But only 28% of college-educated GOP’ers support higher education? From Booman:

It’s really not compatible with being a country club Republican to have a negative view of a college education. A college degree confers respectability and signals status.

Booman makes the point that more and more of them home school their kids to protect them from the opinions of educated people who might have different views, and fewer of them want their children to go to a college where those religious and political views may be undermined.

Perhaps it also says that college is NOW no longer a good thing, either due to economic factors, or all the strict social/cultural paths people want their kids to follow. But, in America today, the unemployment rate for college grads is 2.4%, while it is 4.6% for those without a degree.

Why would Republicans want to deny their children the opportunity to earn a living?

And there is our PISA ranking. PISA rankings are produced by the OECD based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in more than 70 countries every three years. Comparing the US ranking in both 2012 (the last time the test was administered) and 2015, the US fell to 38th from 28th in math out of 71 countries. We ranked 24th in science. For whatever reasons, we just don’t do a good job educating our kids.

But to the larger point, perceptions of college’s value/non-value is symptomatic of a much deeper and very dangerous schism, the devaluation of facts and scientific evidence. The GOP discredits facts and reality. They emphasize school choice (although it is the only thing that they are pro-choice about).

Resentment and fantasy based on ideology drives our discussion of education. So education has become a low priority for the young and old alike.

Today’s tune is appropriately, “The Wall” by Pink Floyd. It was their 11th studio album, released as a double album in November 1979:

Takeaway Lyric:

We don’t need no education

We don’t need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom

Teachers leave them kids alone

Hey! Teacher!

Leave them kids alone!

All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall

All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

 Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Saturday Soother – June 17, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Mt. Fuji, Japan- photo by Takashi Yasui

The news and the pundits are non-stop in their analysis of the shooting in DC that critically wounded Republican Congressman Steve Scalise and 3 others. Much has been written, but Wrongo likes what Charlie Pierce wrote the best:

Violence doesn’t “intrude” on everyday life in America. Violence is a part of everyday life in America. A little more than a week ago, five people were shot to death in warehouse in Orlando. Is a warehouse in Orlando less innocent than a Virginia ballfield? Is a disgruntled worker taking his mad vengeance less of a demonstration of a country unhinged than a home-inspection specialist who fried his brain over politics? Is somebody who wounds over politics a worse murderer than someone who kills because he got fired? I admire the ability of anyone who can make that measured a moral choice.

On the whole, people shouldn’t get shot. They shouldn’t get shot in the streets. They shouldn’t get shot in school. They shouldn’t get shot in the workplace. They shouldn’t get shot while carrying snack food in the “wrong” neighborhood, and they shouldn’t get shot while they’re trying to surrender. They shouldn’t get shot while dancing in a nightclub. And they shouldn’t get shot on the ballfield on a spring morning.

In the main, one victim is not more “innocent”—and, thus, of more value—than any other one. Their occupation shouldn’t matter. Their politics shouldn’t matter. There is a violence inherent in the country’s history and there is a wildness present in its soul and, on occasion, both of these surface more clearly than is usual. Technology has made the violence more lethal and the wildness more general. The uniquely American conflation of innocence with hubris is a luxury we can no longer afford.

OTOH, according to Heather Digby Parton:

Meanwhile, 93 people on average are shot and killed every day in America, many of them in incidents involving multiple victims. More than 100,000 people are struck by bullets every year. President Donald Trump was right to speak about “carnage” in America in his inaugural address. He just didn’t acknowledge that the carnage is from gun violence. According to the gun safety website The Trace:

Using data from the World Health Organization, researchers found that America accounted for 82 percent of all firearm deaths among 23 comparable nations in 2010. Ninety percent of women killed by guns in the study were in the U.S., as were 91 percent of children under 15.

There is no solution for this that will fly politically in this country. The gun-toter, and the no guns crowds are already spinning their version of the narrative to the crowd that sits in the pews directly in front of them.

America just has to accept that this is perhaps the most concrete way in which America is exceptional, and, it.just.sucks.

It is difficult to get to a soothing place on this Saturday, with all that has happened. Also, my brother died a year ago this week. Back in the late 1970’s he was (very) down on his luck, and each weekend, he would come to visit Ms. Right and me to get fattened up for the coming week. He would walk into the house, grab the album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and play its opening track, Funeral for a Friend”. There would be no talking until 11 minutes later when it ended:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Feelin’ Great, Because America is Just Great

The Daily Escape:

Via: Naked Capitalism

He said he would make America great again. He was elected on a messianic platform, to reform DC from the outside, to create jobs, to drain the swamp, all while saving the social safety net, and ending our foreign adventures.

He promised all of those things. He actually said he would do them − in many places and at many times, and in differing contexts.

The dissonance should be hitting his supporters very hard about now.

In the nearly six months Donald Trump has been in power, he has accomplished only the dismantling of major parts of Obama’s agenda. For example, the EPA announced that it will delay implementation of an Obama-era chemical safety rule for nearly two years while it reassesses the necessity of the regulation: (parenthesis by the Wrongologist)

(Obama administration) Officials moved to overhaul chemical safety standards after a 2013 explosion at a chemical plant in Texas killed 15 people. Their rule would require companies to better prepare for accidents and expand the EPA’s investigative and auditing powers. 

Trump and Scott Pruitt will MAGA by ensuring more workers die on the job from unsafe working conditions. Of course, like 90% of Trump’s agenda, this is just standard Republicanism.

Couldn’t the GOP just “lead by example” on the whole “getting killed at work” thing?

Just in case anyone is interested, here is a link to the White House’s list of all legislation signed since the Orange Flake took office. If it weren’t for things like approving the name change for an outpatient VA clinic in Pago Pago, his big agenda items like passing a budget, replacing Obamacare, reforming taxes, or rebuilding our infrastructure remain aspirational.

So, where is the plan to make America great? As Derek Thompson said in the Atlantic:

There is no infrastructure plan. Just like there is no White House tax plan. Just like there was no White House health care plan. More than 120 days into Trump’s term in a unified Republican government, Trump’s policy accomplishments have been more in the subtraction category (e.g., stripping away environmental regulations) than addition. The president has signed no major legislation and left significant portions of federal agencies unstaffed, as U.S. courts have blocked what would be his most significant policy achievement, the legally dubious immigration ban.

The simplest summary of White House economic policy to date is four words long: There is no policy.

Republicans are held hostage by campaign promises that they cannot fill. The White House is hostage to the president’s perpetual campaign, a cavalcade of promises divorced from any effort to detail, advocate, or enact major economic legislation.

Trump uses public policy as little more than a photo op, and that isn’t going to make anything great.

Let’s turn to poetry. Lawrence Ferlinghetti turned 98 in March. Here is “Pity the Nation”, a poem he wrote in 2007:

Pity the nation whose people are sheep,
and whose shepherds mislead them.
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars, whose sages are silenced,
and whose bigots haunt the airwaves.
Pity the nation that raises not its voice,
except to praise conquerors and acclaim the bully as hero
and aims to rule the world with force and by torture.
Pity the nation that knows no other language but its own
and no other culture but its own.
Pity the nation whose breath is money
and sleeps the sleep of the too well fed.
Pity the nation — oh, pity the people who allow their rights to erode
and their freedoms to be washed away.
My country, tears of thee, sweet land of liberty.

That was written in 2007 folks.

Here is a video of Ferlinghetti reading “Pity the Nation” in 2007:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 4, 2017

Re: The Trump severed head “joke”: Kathy Griffin isn’t funny, and this wasn’t a joke. Here’s the problem with what Griffin did: A joke has to be funny, and this simply wasn’t. The only message you can take from her severed Trump head photo is: “look at me, I’m Kathy Griffin!” Griffin is getting what she deserves for putting her desire for attention ahead of everything else.

Yes, she has the right to produce the image, but that doesn’t mean it has to be accepted by the rest of us. If you mimic what ISIS does to their victims, you deserve to lose your job on CNN. She needs to grow up; CNN did the right thing.

On to cartoons. Quite the week for climate change drama. Trump’s action on Paris could have been inspired by the Saudi sword dance, but it is it different than Griffin’s?

Trump said he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris. Trump lost Pittsburgh to Clinton, and Pittsburg’s mayor says the city will follow the Paris Accords. But, in Trump speak:

Trump seems intent on completely eradicating the Obama legacy:

The news about back-channel communications with Russia leads to Jared Kushner:

The medicine in Trumpcare II is no better than in Trumpcare I:

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Saturday Soother – June 3, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Trolltunga (Troll’s Tongue) Norway – photo by B. Krustev

What is left to say about Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement? The world is looking at a post-agreement future as if we were standing on the edge of Troll’s Tongue. The Paris deal wasn’t a binding agreement, it was aspirational, with voluntary targets and no mechanism for enforcement. But, this quote from Abu Ivanka tells all:

At what point does America get demeaned? At what point do they start laughing at us as a country? We want fair treatment. We don’t want other countries and other leaders to laugh at us anymore.

This is the core problem with Trump’s view of the world: He and the members of his Party see the world agenda as a zero-sum game, in which only one nation can win. Therefore, we gotta win, or else we lose, and God forbid, we can’t lose. At anything.

Zero-sum thinking is what causes voluntary agreements to fail; they require non-zero sum thinking to succeed.

But, in a zero-sum world, there will always be someone in some country who thinks, rightly or wrongly, that they’re being screwed over, that other countries are using the climate issue to pursue an economic advantage.

In this case, Trump gets into power. He then abandons the agreement, or attempts to renegotiate it.

The new terms on offer will be unacceptable, possibly even designed to fail. So it will be with Trump, who is looking to force both China and India into binding targets in order to continue with the agreement. That’s what Republicans consider “fair treatment”.

In other climate news, the Tampa Bay Times points out that the hurricane season started with nobody in charge at FEMA or NOAA.

What could go wrong?

And farther south, a massive crack in the Antarctica ice shelf grew 11 miles in only 6 days.

But America’s coal miners gotta work. Trump is in thrall with an industry that is among those dying out in America. In March, the WaPo reported that:

The coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies.

That’s fewer people employed than at other shrinking industries, like travel agencies (99,888), used-car dealerships (138,000), or carwash employment (150,000).

Maybe Trump will gin up a reason why climate change is killing jobs in those industries as well.

You need to relax, you need to think about something other than Trump, Ivanka and Jared, or Putin and Megyn Kelly. In other words, you need to turn off your devices, sit quietly and take a long look out the window at the natural world. It helps if you can have a strong cuppa something while you kick back.

Wrongo recommends brewing some Sumatran Mandheling coffee (only $11.44 for 16 oz.) and some beautiful music. This morning, we are listening to a Russian and a Latvian singing beautifully together. Here are Anna Netrebko & Elina Garanca performing the Flower Duet by Léo Delibes at the Baden-Baden Opera Gala in 2007:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Wake Up Call – Memorial Day 2017

The Daily Escape:

NYC’s Grand Central Station – 1943

On Memorial Day we commemorate those who died in the military service of our country. In 1974, a sci-fi novel called “The Forever War” was released. It is military science fiction, telling the story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war. The protagonist, named Mandella, is sent across the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Sound familiar? Today the forever war is not simply fiction. Our all-volunteer military has been fighting in the Middle East for the past 16 years in the longest war in American history. And there is little reason to hope that we will not be fighting there 16 years from now. Brian Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who served three tours in Iraq, observes:

Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.

We can’t get our fill of war. In fact, since 1943, the year the picture above was taken in New York City, the US has been at peace for just five years: 1976, 1977, 1978, 1997 and 2000 were the only years with no major war.

So today, we gather to celebrate those who have died in service of our global ambitions. We watch a parade, we shop at the mall, and we attend a cookout. Perhaps we should be required to spend more time thinking about how America can increase the number of years when we are not at war.

Wrongo can’t escape the idea that if we re-instituted a military draft, and required military service of all young Americans, it would soon become impossible for the politicians and generals to justify the forever war.

So, wake up America! Instead of observing Memorial Day with another burger, get involved in a plan to re-institute the draft. It won’t stop our involvement in war, but it will unite American mothers and fathers to bring about the end of this forever war, and any future “forever war”.

To help you wake up, we also remember the death of Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Here is “Blue Sky” from their “Eat a Peach” album. Wrongo loves the guitar interplay between the long-gone Duane Allman and Dickey Betts on this tune:

Dickey Betts wrote this about his Native American girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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Thoughts on Tax Day

The Daily Escape:

Tu Lien Bridge (design, to be built) – Hanoi, Vietnam

Today is officially the day our federal income tax returns are due. That’s because April 15 was a Saturday, while Monday is a holiday in Massachusetts. And as the Bay State goes, so goes America when it comes to filing taxes. Wrongo appreciated the extra time.

Americans shouldn’t mind paying their taxes. We live in a great country, and if you want to fly first class, you gotta pay the fare (unless, of course, you’re flying Air Force One).

The process of filing taxes could (and should) be simplified, but reducing taxes would be a mistake. America has deferred spending for social needs and for infrastructure, and not just on the federal level. Wrongo sits on his town’s Roads Committee. If we were to continue to fix our local roads at the same rate going forward as we have for the past few years, it will take us 40 years to fix just the roads that are rated “poor” quality or worse. Still, many in town think we should spend less, so they could be taxed less. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted in a dissenting opinion in a 1927 Supreme Court case:

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Some of us are still learning that.

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Saturday Soother – April 15, 2017

Bombs Away! Another week of American Trumpceptionalism is in the books. Dropping the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat left 36 ISIS fighters dead in a tunnel complex in Afghanistan. The so-called Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb (MOAB) used 11 tons of explosives in one shot. One MOAB costs about $16 million, and 20 have been produced. $16 million for 36 ISIS fighters.

That’s $444.4k per dead fighter if you are keeping score.

The MOAB looks mostly like another “boys and their toys” deal. It is hard to see this kind of weapon doing much against the Taliban or ISIS in Afghanistan. It seems more likely that our military has run out of better ideas.

We are in the final countdown to Tax Day on April 18th. Tax preparation at the Mansion of Wrong is the reason for the skimpy column production this week. By the way: about 22% of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to file.

So you and Wrongo need a Soother today at least as much as we did last week, and today’s Soother is a feel good story from Croatia, where a pair of Storks have become a national obsession. From the Daily Mail:

A stork has melted hearts in Croatia by flying to the same rooftop every year for 14 years – to be reunited with its crippled partner. The faithful bird, called Klepetan, has returned once again to the village of Slavonski Brod in east Croatia after a 5,000 mile migration. He spends his winters alone in South Africa because his disabled partner Malena cannot fly properly after being shot by a hunter in 1993. Malena had been found lying by the side the road by schoolteacher Stjepan Vokic, who fixed her wing and kept her in his home for years before helping her to build a nest on his roof. After placing her there, she was spotted by Klepetan 14 years ago. And now every year they are reunited in the spring. Klepetan keeps a very strict timetable, usually arriving back at the same time on the same day in March to be welcomed by locals.

Here is Klepetan’s flight plan:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Klepetan didn’t arrive on time this year, but things worked out for the love birds:

But this year he was running six days late, causing panic among local media and fans of the stork couple. Such is the popularity of the pair that there is even a live feed on the main square in the capital Zagreb showing the two storks. There was huge excitement when stork-watchers saw what they thought was Klepetan circling over the nest, and then coming in to land. But the new arrival turned out to be a different stork that was attempting to woo Malena. She quickly attacked him and drove him off and continued to wait for Klepetan. Stjepan Vokic, whose roof the couple nest on, said: ‘She was pretty clear about the message, I doubt he will be back again.’ Vokic has taken care of Malena since she was first injured by hunters and says that she – like her partner – is now part of the family.

But he’s back, and on the case! They are raising this year’s brood of little storks:

And what about Malena in the winter? She goes indoors:

During the winter, Vokic keeps her inside the house, and then lets her go to the roof each spring where she patiently waits for her partner. This year, Malena made a rare flight and the couple were reportedly inseparable for hours. She does have the ability to make very short flights but her wing has not healed well enough for her to make the trip to Africa, or even to properly feed herself. Every summer, the pair bring up chicks, with Klepetan leading their flying lessons in preparation for the trip south in summer. The oldest recorded living stork was 39. Locals are hopeful the couple’s long relationship will continue for years to come.

This is proof that some animals live their lives by a higher moral code than some humans.

Hat tip to Raul Ilargi for posting this.

Here is Fleetwood Mac’s “Wish You Were Here”, a 2016 remastered version of the song from 1982, a song the storks might sing, if they could play guitar:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

There’s distance between us
And you’re on my mind
As I lay here in the darkness
I can find no peace inside
I wish you were here holding me tight
If I had you near it would make it alright
I wish you were here
‘Cause I feel like a child tonight

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North Korea Poses a Problem for Trump, Bigly

The Daily Escape:

(Key West flower by Denise M. Riggs)

CNN reported that on Monday, North Korea (NK) fired four ballistic missiles into the Japan Sea. CNN was told by a US official that a fifth missile failed to launch. More from CNN:

Later on Monday, two US officials told CNN that US intelligence is closely monitoring the underground nuclear test site via satellite amid signs the regime could be preparing for another underground test…A US official also said that Washington is continuing to see activity including missile engine tests at another North Korean launch site, that signal potential additional launches — which the US widely expects.

This creates a strategic problem for the Trump administration. Trump has already signaled his preference to respond aggressively to NK’s missile program. In a Twitter post after Kim Jong-un issued a warning on New Year’s Day, Trump tweeted “It won’t happen!

Obama used a different approach:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach…Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And…North [Korea] is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of its intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

The US lacks the ability to fully counter the NK nuclear and missile programs. The NYT’s reporting indicates that the NK danger was great enough that as Obama left office, he warned Trump it was likely to be the most urgent problem he [Trump] would confront.

As a presidential candidate, Trump said “we’re obsolete in cyber”. Now, one of the immediate questions he faces is whether to accelerate, or scale back existing cyber efforts. The US is also looking at ways to freeze the Kim family’s assets, some of which are held in Chinese banks. The Chinese have opposed the US deployment of the US high-altitude missile defense system known as THAAD in South Korea; but the Trump team may also deploy THADD systems in Japan.

A Trump administration official told the NYT that they are looking at pre-emptive military strike options, although the challenge is huge, given the country’s mountainous terrain, deep tunnels and bunkers. This is complicated. NK missiles are fired from multiple launch sites and are moved about on mobile launchers in an elaborate shell game meant to deceive adversaries.

Putting American tactical nukes back in South Korea (they were withdrawn 25 years ago) is also under consideration, even though that could accelerate a regional nuclear arms race.

Trump could re-open negotiations with NK to again freeze its nuclear and missile programs, but that would leave the current threat in place. He could prepare for direct missile strikes on the launch sites, but there is little chance of hitting all targets. He could press the Chinese to cut off trade and support for NK, but Beijing has always stopped short of steps that could lead to the regime’s collapse. The NYT said:

In two meetings of Mr. Trump’s national security deputies in the Situation Room, the most recent on Tuesday, all those options were discussed, along with the possibility of reintroducing nuclear weapons to South Korea as a dramatic warning. Administration officials say those issues will soon go to Mr. Trump and his top national security aides.

Dealing with NK requires a steady hand, and an ability to sort through complex relationships. Rash decisions will not work, while well thought-out tactics might.

Sadly, Trump has not convinced us that he has the temperament to deal with a complex situation like NK presents.

Here is the Moranbong Band, an all-female North Korean group whose members were personally selected by Kim Jong-un. Here they are performing “My Country Is The Best!”:

Everyone thinks their country is the best.

This has a decidedly Euro pop flavor. One wag said all that is missing is Robert Palmer standing in the foreground singing “Addicted to Love”. Check out the woman playing lead guitar at 2:34.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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