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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 13, 2017

This just in from PBS shows how badly Democrats have hurt themselves since 2008:

After high-profile candidates lost decisively in the last two elections…the party now finds itself in unprecedented territory for the 2018 ballot: with no major candidate to run. Democratic leaders haven’t yet lined up a substantial name to represent the party and its message despite months of trying.

Ann Richards, elected in 1990, was the last Texas Democratic governor. And now, no major Dem candidate will run for governor. This is despite a booming Hispanic population and Democratic dominance in the state’s largest cities.

Democrats have expanded their advantage in California and New York. Combined, these states gave Clinton a 6 million vote edge, more than twice her national margin. But those two states elect only 4% of the Senate.

We once thought that there was an “Obama coalition” that would only grow because of demographics: Left-leaning populations were growing, America was becoming less white, and this alone would guarantee Democrat majorities well into the future. This idea has failed. Is it time for the DNC establishment to accept the awful truth that they are no longer a national party?

The Cook Political Report says that even if Democrats won every single 2018 House and Senate race for seats in districts that Hillary Clinton won, or that Trump won by less than 3 percentage points, they would still fall short of the House majority and lose five Senate seats. Some permanent majority. Time for a few new Democrats to lead.

On to cartoons. Many people pointed out that there were some similarities between Trump and Kim:

Strategic thinking, Trump-style:

Uncle Rex tells America a bedtime story:

Trump said that his North Korea comments were similar to a few other guys:

Foxconn gets $3 billion in tax breaks in exchange for building a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin. It will take 20 years for the state to break even:

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Can We Rein in North Korea?

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker, Litchfield County Connecticut – photo by J Clery

On Independence Day, North Korea (NK) launched what looks to be its first intercontinental ballistic missile, capable of hitting Alaska. Pundits, including Wrongo have been saying that the US has no viable military option to blunt NK’s growing threat, because any attempt to do so would cause a brutal counterattack against South Korea that our military thinks is too bloody and damaging to risk.

Here is the NYT’s analysis: Nearly half of South Korea’s population lives within 50 miles of the Demilitarized Zone, including 10 million people in Seoul, its capital. NK has positioned 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack. That means it can inflict tremendous damage without resorting to weapons of mass destruction. The NYT quotes Robert E. Kelly a professor at South Korea’s Pusan University:

You have this massive agglomeration of everything that is important in South Korea — government, business and the huge population — and all of it is in this gigantic megalopolis that starts 30 miles from the border and ends 70 miles from the border… In terms of national security, it’s just nuts.

Not all of the NK’s weapons can reach Seoul. Most of its artillery has a range of three to six miles, but it has about 1,000 weapons that could hit Seoul, most hidden in caves and tunnels. But under a traditional artillery strategy, the North would never fire them all at once. Instead, it would hold some in reserve to avoid giving their positions away and to conserve munitions.

A study published by the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability in 2012, accounting for these and other factors such as population density, concluded that the initial hours of an artillery barrage by the North focused on military targets would result in nearly 3,000 fatalities, while one targeting civilians would kill nearly 30,000 people. That’s without NK using any of its small nuclear weapons.

Regardless of how this plays out, unless there is a durable peace, it will end very badly for South Korea.

So, America has few strategic options, and none have a high probability of success. Questions remain about whether the North can miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit within an ICBM missile nosecone, or if it has mastered the technology needed to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Trump thought he could count on China to rein in NK, but that isn’t occurring. Trump held out hope that China would see that a nuclear-armed North Korea isn’t in its interests. But Beijing’s behavior suggests that it hopes the North Korean nuclear threat can be used to drive the US out of North Asia.

China remains very sensitive about what happened in Korea in 1950, when US forces moved into NK stopping at the Yalu River that marks the NK-Chinese border. The Chinese lost close to a million men repulsing that invasion. That was only 67 years ago, a blink in China’s history.

Trump now has some hard decisions to make. More sanctions could increase the pressure on the Kim regime, but NK is already the most-sanctioned nation, and they haven’t worked so far to disarm the North.

We shouldn’t rule out a pre-emptive US attack, but there is a risk of a nuclear counterstrike on South Korea (and/or Japan) should even one NK nuclear missile survive.

We can return to the negotiating table, but three US administrations have tried that, and failed. The NK freeze might be phony, and if the NK demands were not being met, they could leave the table and resume weapons development like they have in the past.

We can work for regime change, but there is no guarantee that what comes next will be easier to work with. And our track record with regime change is terrible.

We can work for reunification of the two Koreas, and let them get on with partaking in the Asian Century. The story would become less about US needs or perceptions of the North. We would have to admit that we are not competent to control the history of this region.

Let’s see what the world’s greatest negotiator, he who alone can fix things, the smartest man with the highest IQ, comes up with. So far all he has done is what he always does, pass the blame. In this case, its China’s fault. Thinking that China will help is a dream; they love the situation we are in.

NK will not become another Iran, with a 20-year freeze on nuclear weapons development. Time to think Reunification.

Here is a nuclear musical interlude with Randy Newman’s “Political Science” from 1972:

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

Takeaway lyric:

We give them money, but are they grateful?
No, they’re spiteful and they’re hateful
They don’t respect us, so let’s surprise them
We’ll drop the big one, pulverize them

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Russia’s Growing Influence With North Korea

The Daily Escape:

Lanterns lit last week for Buddha’s Birthday, Samgwangsa Temple, Busan, South Korea – photo by Jason Teale

Yesterday, Wrongo mentioned that Russia might prove helpful to Donald Trump in his efforts to deal with a nuclear-capable North Korea (NK). Today, Stratfor has a column about Russia’s relationship with NK. Rather than quote extensively from a long article, Wrongo has condensed from it, particularly about the history of Russia/North Korean relations.

History gives perspective: The Soviet Union and the US were the actors that split North and South Korea at the end of WWII. In the 1950s, both Koreas became a proxy battleground, pitting the communist North against the US-aligned South. After China and North Korea agreed to an Armistice with the UN and South Korea in 1953, the Soviets helped to build up the military and security forces in NK, ensuring its stability. Some Soviet-era military equipment is still in use today.

The Soviets were a key NK economic partner throughout the Cold War. They accounted for nearly half of NK’s foreign trade in the 1970s and 1980s. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, trade dropped off. China now accounts for 90% of NK’s imports, but about a third of that is Russian-sourced.

Putin saw the strategic value of good relations with NK, including how Russia could manipulate its influence in the region to pressure NK, or to put pressure the US and South Korea. Russia has criticized NK’s nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile programs, and participated in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks along with China, the US, Japan and North Korea and South Korea.

In 2014, Russia joined in levying sanctions against NK, halting supplies of ships, helicopters and minerals in response to its continued nuclear tests. But, neither China nor Russia has cut their economic or military ties with NK. And both governments have opposed expanded sanctions or regime change.

Russia and NK have improved ties since the breakdown in Russia’s relations with the West over Crimea and Ukraine. In 2014, Moscow officially settled NK’s Soviet-era debt of $11 billion, forgiving most of it. NK granted Russian business executives long-term multiple-entry visas for the first time. In addition, Russia has provided millions of dollars’ worth of food aid to NK in recent years, including nearly half of the country’s grain imports.

One way that the two countries have expanded their cooperation is through the employment of temporary NK workers in Russia. Nearly 50,000 North Koreans were granted Russian work permits in 2015. In April, Russia’s parliament passed a bill allowing NK workers to travel visa-free to Vladivostok. Russia estimates that North Korea receives $170 million in remittances from its workers in Russia.

No doubt, Russia sees its relationship with NK as small potatoes. But Russia is not small potatoes for NK. While it will not replace China as NK’s primary partner, Russia has the capacity to play spoiler to the US plans to control NK’s nuclear ambitions. Today, Russia has its hands full with Syria, Crimea and Ukraine. But, its influence on the North Koreans can give it leverage, in the event that America’s Orange Negotiator needs help making a deal on the Korean peninsula.

Putin could add weight to China’s effort to lean on NK, forcing NK to come to the table. In return, His Orangeness might be persuaded to go easy on Putin’s goals in Ukraine or Syria, in addition to whatever he will owe China, if the pressure succeeded.

Russia can’t solve our problem with NK, but it might be able to move the dial enough either to play the spoiler, or to be an ally in any American efforts to defuse the Korean problem.

Here is a martial song from North Korea: “Leader, Just Give Us Your Order!” Don’t you just wonder what that order will be?

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

Warning! Don’t scroll through the comments, it weakens the mind. A recent one says:

“Comrade Kim Jong Un, just give us the order to wipe out all imperialists and to reunificate Korea!”

Reunificate!

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Saturday Soother – April 29, 2017

The Daily Escape:

Welcome to spring, which has brought a dandelion horror show to the fields of Wrong. Apparently, these are mutant dandelions, completely immune to the weed killer we put down three weeks ago.

But that is far from the only horror show underway in the lives of average Americans. The Trump 100-day roasting or celebration, depending on your viewpoint, is underway today. The NYT’s David Brooks has a perceptive look at the Trump presidency so far: (emphasis by Wrongo)

I wish we had a president who had actual convictions and knowledge, and who was interested in delivering real good to real Americans. But it’s hard to maintain outrage at a man who is a political pond skater — one of those little creatures that flit across the surface, sort of fascinating to watch, but have little effect as they go.

Hard to maintain outrage? Brooks, (not a Wrongo fave) elsewhere minimizes the real and potential damage that the country will face with our Orange Overlord. He still is commander-in-chief and, as such, has his (figurative) finger propped on the (figurative) nuclear button, and can order military action at a moment’s notice. Yesterday, Trump said that

There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely…

That should have made David Brooks cringe, but it didn’t, Brooks opined that:

His foreign policy moves have been, if anything, kind of normal…

Really? Trump says whatever is on top of his mind, words that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un just might take as a pre-invasion threat. That could lead to war with millions of South Koreans, Japanese, or American citizens paying the price for Trump’s bellicosity.

Think about how the Trumpets created a nuclear scare in mid-April: NBC News reported that they were considering a pre-emptive nuclear strike:

EXCLUSIVE: US may launch preemptive strike if North Korea reaches for nuclear trigger, intelligence officials say http://nbcnews.to/2owFmep

After some hysteria, including the false (inaccurate?) reporting of the location of our Aircraft Carrier Carl Vinson, which wasn’t steaming toward a North Korea confrontation, cooler heads have prevailed, and we are now talking about direct talks with the NK’s. Not much of this is new. Consider this from 2010 by Mark Landler of the NYT:

President Obama’s patience with China had been fraying for months, and by November 2010 he was fed up. Meeting with President Hu Jintao in Seoul, South Korea, Mr. Obama warned that if China did not do more to curb North Korea’s bellicose behavior, he would have to take steps to shield the United States from the threat of a nuclear missile attack from the North.

Sounds like where we are today, although the GOP likes Trump’s mas macho ways better than it liked Obama’s.

Once we are done insisting that China will fix this problem for us, and it turns out there’s no real Plan B, Trump will have to consider what it takes to strike a bargain with the North Koreans, or we’ll learn to live in the same dangerous situation that Japan and South Korea already face.

Onward to something that both calms and soothes. Wrongo is going for Chai Latte this morning, along with his Saturday music. Your mileage may vary.

Edward Elgar composed the Enigma Variations between October 1898 and February 1899. It is an orchestral work comprising fourteen variations on a theme. The “Nimrod” is variation IX. This variation is sometimes used at British funerals, memorial services, and other solemn occasions, like your review of Trump’s first 100 days in office. Here is Daniel Barenboim conducting the Chicago Symphony at Carnegie Hall in 1997 in Elgar’s “Nimrod” variation:

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

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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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