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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Japan Re-thinks Role of Its Military

The Daily Escape:

Unusual cloud formations, pre-dawn at Mt. Fuji, Japan – photo by Takashi Yasui

Wrongo lived in Japan while working for the big multinational bank, back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. During his three-year stay, he learned enough Japanese to navigate in business meetings, and bars. When he was there, it had only been 30 years since the end of WWII, and the nuclear-ravaged parts of Japan still had scars, some of which intentionally remain visible today.

One impact of losing the war was that Japan got a new constitution, helpfully provided by us, the conquerors. Enacted in 1947, it made the Emperor a constitutional monarch, where before the war, the Emperor was an absolute ruler. Japan’s constitution is known to some as the “Peace Constitution“. It is best known for Article 9, by which Japan renounced its right to wage war.

No amendment has been made to it since its adoption, but that could be about to change.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is seeking to revise the constitution in the very near future, including changing Article 9. In May, Abe announced that he wanted to add Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Article 9. The Nikki Asian Review quoted Abe: (brackets by Wrongo)

Over the past year, discussion of [constitutional] revisions has grown much livelier and more specific….The document currently includes absolutely no provision for our self-defense….We must put an end to debate over [the JSDF’s] constitutionality…

This is on top of evolutionary changes to the use of the JSDF over the past two years. Revised laws authorized military action that previously would have been unconstitutional, including actions in response to “an infringement that does not amount to an armed attack”, or actions outside of Japan, such as minesweeping in the Straits of Hormuz, near Iran.

The key point is that the new changes lower the threshold for the use of force outside Japan.

Robert Farley writes in The Diplomat: (brackets by Wrongo)

Nevertheless, even these [recent] changes allow Japan to act more assertively as a coalition partner in its region. This means acting in either a direct or supportive role for allies or coalition partners threatened by China (or some other international actor). The reasons for such a shift lay in both the increasing power of China, and in uncertainty about the United States.

The world’s power balance is changing. It is totally unclear if the US can be counted as a reliable partner in mutual defense for Europe, or in Asia. Our allies fear that moves towards isolation by the current or any future administration, could leave Japan swinging in the wind.

Add to this the looming threat from North Korea. Japan’s total reliance on the US to blunt that threat, means that Japan feels it must look at a more assertive ability to use military force. Japan has recently purchased the Ageis Ashore system from Lockheed Martin to help partially protect it against North Korea.

Another consideration is Japan’s rapidly shrinking population. The birthrate in Japan is just over 1.3. It needs to be 2.1 to maintain its current population. The Japanese skew quite old, but Japan also refuses to allow immigration. Estimates are that its population will drop from 130 million today to 80 million by 2050.

Japan is likely to become very insecure about the declining population and the increasing regional threats. And that insecurity will be reflected in their next-generation military strategies.

In fact, today’s JSDF is sort of legal fiction. It is said to be an extension of the national police force. But the JSDF has several hundred tanks, 26 destroyers and 19 submarines. Since they already have a military, it doesn’t seem like changing the constitution to allow them to have and use its military should really matter.

OTOH, there is a residual fear of a militarized Japan in Asia and in the West. Some think that Japan, like Germany, is among the countries that shouldn’t be taking on expanded military roles. This is why the US has large, permanent bases in both countries.

Wrongo thinks that this is a superficial reading of today’s issues. Obviously Japan hasn’t fully apologized for its actions in WWII, or earlier, and both the Koreans and Chinese work to ensure that we never forget.

In the real world, Japan is an amazingly under-defended country. It has traditionally relied on the US to fund its defense, and make most of the hard choices about its defense.

Well, now that we’re no longer totally reliable, they really have no plan at all.

We shouldn’t have a particular problem if Japan or Germany decide they want to avail themselves of the full range of diplomatic and yes, the military options available to sovereign nation-states.

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Trump’s Tariffs Unite China and Russia

The Daily Escape:

Detail of the Peacock Gate, the City Palace, Jaipur India – photo by Miya.m – CC BY-SA 3.0

Do you know about the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF)? The EEF was started by Russia in 2015, as part of Moscow’s push to revitalize its ties with Asia after its relations with the West began to sour. The US doesn’t attend, although CA governor Jerry Brown attended in 2017.

Now, it attracts heads of state from around the East Asian region. President Xi of China attended this year for the first time. It was the third time that Xi and Putin have met in 2018, and the outcome of the EEF meetings could have significant implications for the US.

The Diplomat reported that according to Li Hui, China’s ambassador to Russia:

At present, China-Russia relations are at their best in history…the two heads of state attending significant events held by each other are important manifestations of the high-level bilateral relations.

So, why now? What’s behind China’s and Russia’s fast-developing relationship? It seems to be the US tariff war. The Asia Times says:

Xi defines the partnership as the best mechanism to ‘jointly neutralize the external risks and challenges’. For Putin, ‘our relations are crucial, not only for our countries, but for the world as well.’

At the EEF, Putin and Xi agreed to keep increasing bilateral trade payable in yuan and rubles, bypassing the US dollar. Putin also swiped at Trump’s tariff policies:

The world and global economy are coming up against new forms of protectionism today with different kinds of barriers which are increasing….basic principles of trade — competition and mutual economic benefit — are depreciated and unfortunately undermined, they’re becoming hostages of ideological and fleeting political situations, in that we see a serious challenge for all of the global economy, especially for the dynamically-growing Asia-Pacific and its leadership…

Reuters reported that Xi also appeared keen to foster closer relations with Russia:

Together with our Russian colleagues, we will increase fruitful co-operation in international affairs and intensify co-ordination…to oppose the policy of unilateral actions and trade protectionism…

Their relationship will continue to improve, since the Trump administration plans to continue ratcheting up its trade war. Trump recently threatened placing tariffs on all Chinese exports to the US.

And, on the same day as Xi arrived for the EEF, Russia kicked off its Vostok 2018 military exercises, with China taking part for the first time.

All of this is largely a giant signal to the US, since Russia can’t come close to replacing the US as a major trade partner for China. Sino-Russian trade is less than $100 billion per year, while trade between the US and China was more than $630 billion last year.

China’s strategy is to start by reducing its dependence on US agricultural imports. One example is soybeans. Econbrowser reports:

The Chinese plan is — in addition to relying on Brazil and Argentina — to switch to other sources, like palm mill, rapeseed, sunflower seed, and other countries, such as Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, for soybeans. Obviously, the development of other countries’ ability to grow soybeans will take time. But that was also true for Brazil.

More broadly, attending the EEF gave Xi another platform from which to attack the US trade war, and pledge to defend rules-based trade. Our partners, the presidents of South Korea and Japan, also are watching closely. South Korea is looking to build a rail connection across Siberia, which requires help from China and Russia. The South China Post reported on Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, who attended the conference, and agreed to a summit with Russia:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday on further details of joint economic activities on disputed islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido

They also confirmed their close cooperation toward the denuclearization of North Korea ahead of the third summit between North and South Korea, scheduled for September 18.

The message is that the nations of Asia no longer see us as a reliable partner, and are walking toward forging new alliances with both China and Russia.

Our walking away from the Trans Pacific Partnership, which included all Asian countries except China in a free trade zone, seems to have been a geopolitical error. Trump’s tariff war seems to be another.

The US is alienated from Russia over US election interference, cyber warfare, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria. We have responded with sanctions, and truculence.

The US is alienated from China over trade, and the Trump administration’s perception that China isn’t helping our negotiations with North Korea.

We are at risk of being sidelined in Asia, and our allies are watching.

What’s this administration’s plan to succeed on all of these fronts in Asia?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 29, 2018

They found water on Mars. It appears to be salt water. Maybe we’ll build a giant desalinization device, and a few survivors of this hell on earth can give a fresh start to humanity on Mars. Also, Russian scientists found nematodes in Siberia that have been frozen for nearly 42,000 years. With climate change, they were visible to scientists. A few came back to life in the lab:

After being defrosted, the nematodes showed signs of life, said a report today from Yakutia, the area where the worms were found. ‘They started moving and eating.’ One worm came from an ancient squirrel burrow in a permafrost wall of the Duvanny Yar outcrop in the lower reaches of the Kolyma River….Another was found in permafrost near Alazeya River in 2015, and is around 41,700 years old….They are both believed to be female.

Both of those news items are more believable than much of what we hear from Washington, DC these days. For example, Trump’s speech to the Veterans this week included his caution about believing the news media. That led to this cartoon by Darin Bell:

And consider the gloating about “historic growth” in GDP by Trump. John Harwood schools us on the data:

If you think that’s fake news, check out the data.

Trump went off on Iran. What could be behind President Rouhani’s provocations?

Michael Cohen stayed in the news again this week. He’s gonna get a TV series:

Tariffs are always a tax on consumers. Donny is here to collect:

Americans no longer have unlimited voting rights, or election security in the US. This is believable:

Establishment Democrats always react the same way:

Wrongo isn’t on board with the democratic socialism platform, but he believes that corporations should be subjected to tighter regulations. They should pay more in taxes. They should be forced to reimburse the people for the deleterious impacts of their activities, like cleaning up factory sites that have polluted the land.

And every American should have access to healthcare, childcare, and some form of employment. We could make the choice to provide a free education to every American if it were a higher priority than new bombers, or aircraft carriers. ICE should be reformed, not abolished.

Establishment Democrats are trying to scare voters away from candidates who support the democratic socialism agenda. They should relax, democratic socialism isn’t about taking everything what you have away, and making it government-owned.

When you consider the perils and benefits of democratic socialism, you should think about Europe. Five of the top 10 happiest nations in the world (according to the UN) are Scandinavian: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden. And they are all democracies.

Ever since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset the 4th ranking House Democrat by running on a democratic socialist platform, Dems worry that what worked in the Bronx won’t work in Kansas. They’re right, it won’t work in Kansas. That’s why candidates need to run on issues that are important to their districts. A voter in Kansas is probably more concerned over the price of wheat than he is about gay marriage.

But, running on the economy and jobs works everywhere.

Ocasio-Cortez campaigned with Bernie Sanders in Kansas. James Thompson, a centrist Democrat running for Congress in Kansas, said she might as well come out, because the local Republicans were going to call him a socialist anyway.

Democrats were called socialists in 1992 when Bill Clinton won. They shouldn’t panic – they should own the accusation.

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Saturday Soother – July 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Newhaven Breakwater Lighthouse, East Sussex, England – photo via @mindcircle

It was a tough week for our Orange Overlord, what with picking fights with NATO, and with Theresa May about Brexit. Who knew that he would get sucker punched by his good buddy North Korea’s Kim Jong Un? From the NYT:

North Korean officials did not show up on Thursday for a meeting with Americans at the inter-Korean border to discuss the return of remains of United States soldiers killed in the Korean War, officials said.

You may remember that at the Singapore summit in June, Kim Jong Un, and America’s Very Stable Genius agreed that the remains of American soldiers killed during the Korean War would be repatriated. North Korea has returned the remains of some American soldiers since 1953, but about 5,300 Americans presumed to have been killed in the North remain unaccounted for.

Secretary of State Pompeo said after meeting with officials in North Korea last week, that working-level talks on returning the remains would be held in Panmunjom on Thursday. More from the NYT:

Though American military officials went to Panmunjom for the meeting on Thursday, their North Korean counterparts did not, according to a United States defense official….A South Korean government official, who also asked for anonymity, confirmed that the North Koreans had not shown up at Panmunjom.

Was North Korea just late to the party, or were they sending a message to Trump that he needs to give something to get something? It seems that we were caught flat-footed by the NorKo no-show:

Last month, Trump told a Republican convention in Las Vegas that North Korea had “already sent back, or are in the process of sending back” the remains of 200 US or allied service members following his summit with Kim.

The US military also announced that 100 wooden coffins had been dispatched to Panmunjom to receive the remains, although repatriation has yet to take place.

Remember when Trump said that hundreds of parents of Korean War vets (they’d all had to have been at least 99 years old) begged him during the campaign to help get the remains of their dead sons back? Do you remember that on June 13, Trump said on FOX that he’d gotten it done in Singapore?

Doesn’t look like it’s happening at the moment.

But Trump tweeted that everything is fine, because he got a nice note from Kim. From the Guardian:

“A very nice note from Chairman Kim of North Korea. Great progress being made,” the president said in a tweet that included both a copy of Kim’s letter, dated 6 July, and its translation.

If you are a True Believer in Trump, you say he’s shaking things up, and soon his stellar negotiating skills will have us wading hip-deep in all of the global winning. If you’re not a True Believer in Trump, you need some Saturday soothing.

It looks like a warm weekend in the Northeast, so start by brewing up some Yemen Microlot from whole beans, roasted by Dragonfly Coffee. Dragonfly is a Boulder, Colorado-based micro-roaster. The Yemen Microlot is delicate, and richly sweet. It tastes of caramelized apple, baker’s chocolate and tangerine zest, and its only $75/8oz.

Now, take a short walk outside, barefoot. Listen to the birds, avoid stepping on any bees. Settle somewhere in the shade, and listen to Matthew McAllister playing Sonata Pathétique, the 2nd movement of the Adagio Cantabile by Ludwig van Beethoven. Although it is a piano sonata, McAllister is playing it on guitar. It was written in 1798 when Beethoven was 27 years old:

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

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Pompeo Played in Pyongyang

The Daily Escape:

Ramona Falls, Mt. Hood, Oregon – 2018 photo by higher_moments

US Secretary of State Pompeo visited North Korea (NK) to further the agenda President Trump and Chairmen Kim had agreed upon in Singapore. The visit did not go well. As Bloomberg reports, there were issues from the start:

As US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touched down in Pyongyang at 10:54 a.m. on Friday, he had few details of his schedule in the North Korean capital — even which hotel he and his staff would stay in.

Pompeo didn’t stay at either of the hotels where he thought he’d be. The North Koreans took him, his staff and the six journalists traveling with the delegation to a gated guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital.

It was the start of a confused 27 hour visit, including a pair of banquets that the secretary and his staff appeared to dread for their length, and the daunting number of courses presented by unfailingly polite waiters. And a meeting with Kim Jong Un never happened, despite strenuous efforts by Pompeo’s staff.

More from Bloomberg:

The lack of US control clearly rankled Pompeo. A former military officer accustomed to short, focused meetings, he was made to sit through multi-course meals with Kim and his staff, as waiters brought plate after plate of food — foie gras, turkey, pea soup, boiled oak mushrooms, kimchi, watermelon and ice cream, plus a drink branded “American Cola.”

By the morning of his second day, Pompeo had enough. Instead of the elaborate breakfast prepared for him, he ate toast and slices of processed cheese.

The specifics of what happened behind closed doors remain unclear, but there was a clear difference of opinion about the results of the brief meetings:

As he was leaving, Pompeo told reporters the conversations were “productive and in good faith.” Hours later, North Korean state media issued a statement that did not mention him by name but called the demands he presented “gangster-like.”

One North Korea watcher, Duyeon Kim, Senior Fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum and a columnist for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, had this tweet describing Pompeo’s and the Trump administration’s failure to understand even the basics of its joint Singapore communique with Kim Jong Un:

Duyeon Kim thinks that Pompeo and the Administration have the cart before the horse on the path to denuclearization.

In another tweet in her thread, Duyeon Kim says that NK sees denuclearization as part of a package that happens only after the military threat the US poses is removed, in other words, after items #1 and #2 above are negotiated. She makes the point that NK’s reaction to the Pompeo visit reaffirms that its priorities remain in that order.

Confirming her viewpoint, the statement released by the NK Ministry of the Foreign Affairs said in part:

The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war…

Let’s take a close look at the Singapore Joint Statement signed by Trump and Kim. It included the following: (emphasis by Wrongo)

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. [3a] to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and [3b], The DPRK commit to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

As far as we know, Pompeo didn’t talk about item #1, which would include the opening of embassies and economic engagement. He did not talk about item #2, i.e. a peace treaty. He also did not talk about Item #3a, the “security guarantees to the DPRK”. The only item he talked about was 3b, the last item on the list.

So in the words of the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, “what we have here is a failure to communicate”.

Pompeo came to Pyongyang and tried to go all gangster on Kim by asking for details about NK’s nuclear program, and its plans to abandon it. But NK wanted to talk about embassies and diplomatic relations.

The scorecard after Singapore: Kim 1, Trump 0

The scorecard after Pompeo’s visit: Kim 1, Trump 0

When does all the winning begin?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 8, 2018

The trade war has started. Bloomberg has an interesting map that shows how Chinese retaliation is directed at creating political damage for Republicans in the mid-term election this November. Soybeans are among the largest targets for the Chinese, and here is how Congressional districts most affected break down by political party:

From Bloomberg: (edit and emphasis by Wrongo)

Of the 30 districts most reliant on soybeans, Republicans represent 25 and Democrats 5; all [30 districts] voted for Trump in 2016.

Bloomberg thinks this could hurt farm state Republicans in the midterms. Maybe. Wrongo will become a believer if it actually happens. These are Trump voters, they aren’t economics voters. Unless he revives DACA or creates a pathway to permanent residence or citizenship for a whole lot of people, Wrongo believes Trump is fireproof in farm country.

On to cartoons. Last week, Justice Kennedy retired, EPA head Scott Pruitt quit, and Secretary of State Pompeo met with North Korea, and it didn’t go well. Next week, Trump heads to Europe to meet with our NATO partners. He’s also meeting the Queen while in London. Then it’s off to his annual performance review with Mr. Putin.

When Kennedy hung up the robe, a few other things also got hung up:

Pruitt climbed out of the swamp:

Trump’s trade war and its potential to hurt the economy doesn’t bother the GOP so much:

Trump can’t wait for his really cool meeting:

Trump says nobody can attend the first hour of his meeting with Putin:

Trump misunderstood that what happened in Singapore was supposed to stay in Singapore:

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – June 17, 2018

Jeff Sessions isn’t the only Republican who is anti-immigrant. Arizona Republican State Representative David Stringer addressed the Yavapai County Republican Men’s Forum this week. He called immigration an “existential threat” to America: (emphasis by Wrongo)

60% of public school children in the state of Arizona today are minorities. That complicates racial integration because there aren’t enough white kids to go around.

Stringer helpfully explained what happens when there aren’t enough white kids:

And when you look at that 60% number for public school students, just carry that forward 10 or 15 years. It’s going to change the demographic voting base of this state…..Immigration is politically destabilizing.

He says 60% of the kids are “minorities”, but the math says they are the majority. Maybe he’s using the “nonwhites are 3/5ths of a person” rule.

On to cartoons. It was difficult to know if Singapore was real, or a reality show:

Kim and Trump agreed on one thing:

Kim debriefed the team back home:

The big thing we have to fear:

Sessions fails bible study. The Boss wasn’t amused:

Sessions asks excellent question in bible study. Gets correct answer:

California’s referendum on whether to break into three states isn’t necessary:

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Saturday Soother – June 2, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Claude Monet’s home, Giverny, France via @archpics

So much to think about as the week ends: It is one year since Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. The nuclear summit with North Korea is back on. Trump now has a trade war going on against Europe, China, Canada and Mexico.

It is difficult to see how the US emerges as a winner in any, or in all of these, when the other side always has the option to say “no”. But this weekend, let’s ignore Roseanne Barr’s tweet about Valerie Jarrett, and talk about Trump pardoning the racist conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza.

On May 19, 2014, D’Souza plead guilty to making illegal campaign contributions to a Republican senatorial candidate. He confessed and admitted his guilt. D’Souza admitted that he violated federal campaign financing laws, and by pleading, he became a convicted felon.

As an admitted criminal he need to pay his debt to society for his transgressions. But D’Souza is a member in good standing of the Party of Personal Responsibility, so he was pardoned by Donald Trump. After all, the rule of law is based on the assumption that Republicans are patriots and Progressives are America-hating zealots. And, D’Souza had surely paid a price for his patriotism … or something. Let’s review what D’Souza said in court:

I knew that causing a campaign contribution to be made in the name of another was wrong and something the law forbids…I deeply regret my conduct.

This is the person Trump claims “was treated very unfairly by our government!” It is possible to claim that D’Souza was persecuted because of his politics, but there’s absolutely no proof that was the case. D’Souza pled guilty in order to receive the lightest possible sentence for the federal crime he admitted to.

The pardon serves Trump’s purposes in one important way: It sends a signal to members of the Trump followers who are under investigation by Robert Muller that they will not be held accountable by the federal government for crimes committed on Trump’s behalf while he holds office.

The true problem was captured in a tweet by David Frum about the D’Souza pardon:

And this is exactly why Trump’s contempt for democratic norms and values really matters.

But, enough of politics! It is time to take a few moments to untether from the internet, and get soothed by contemplating the natural world. So, turn off your phone (unless you are reading this on your mobile). Brew up a vente cup of Finca La Maria Geisha Natural from San Diego’s Birdrock Coffee ($51.00/8oz). Taste its bright notes of stone fruit and honeysuckle, its plump mouthfeel and flavor-saturated finish.

Now, sit in front of a large window, and listen to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59,  No. 3, published in 1808. Here it is performed live by the Jasper String Quartet at the Jerome L. Greene Performance Space in New York for WQXR’s Beethoven String Quartet Marathon on November 18, 2012:

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

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North Korea May Not Negotiate With Trump

The Daily Escape:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai, Hawaii – 2018 photo by Chaebi

North Korea made big news on Wednesday. From the WaPo:

North Korea is rapidly moving the goal posts for next month’s summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump, saying the United States must stop insisting it “unilaterally” abandon its nuclear program and stop talking about a Libya-style solution to the standoff.

The latest warning, delivered by former North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Gye Gwan on Wednesday, fits Pyongyang’s well-established pattern of raising the stakes in negotiations by threatening to walk out if it doesn’t get its way.

North Korea (NK) has been a challenge for several presidents, and Donald Trump will be no exception.

NK has nukes, and possibly, the means to deliver them as far as the east coast of the US. South Korea is armed, and our military backs them up. Neither side has a true advantage militarily. Whichever leader best uses diplomacy in the face of a military stalemate will win.

But that leader might not be Donald Trump. Kevin Drum notes this:

The upcoming summit meeting with North Korea has been orchestrated entirely by Kim Jong-un. It started with his outreach at the Olympics. Then he proposed the meeting with Trump. He halted missile testing. He met with South Korea and it was all smiles. He’s implied that he’s in favor of complete denuclearization. He released three American hostages. And he’s now planning a public spectacle of destroying North Korea’s nuclear testing site.

And what did Kim get in return? He got this from John Bolton on Fox last Sunday: (emphasis by Wrongo)

WALLACE: Now, the joint statement from the two Koreas on Friday called for…a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and some people have suggested the North Koreans will give up everything they’ve got. But in return, the U.S. would agree that we are not going to allow any nuclear-armed airplanes or nuclear-armed ships on the Korean peninsula.

Is that acceptable?

BOLTON: Well, we certainly haven’t made that commitment. And again, I’m looking at the Panmunjom declaration as they call it in the context of a series of earlier North-South Korean agreements. And again, looking at the 1992 joint declaration, when they said nuclear-free, they meant with respect to the two Koreas.

WALLACE: So, you don’t view this as involving any kind of commitment from the U.S.?

BOLTON: I don’t think it binds the United States, no.

Personnel is policy, and Trump’s recent personnel moves brought in new wacko hardliners in key positions. Trump seems to be under the impression that the Singapore meet-up is a surrender ceremony, while the NK’s see it as two nuclear equals attempting to negotiate a final peace deal.

And Bolton is playing his usual games. It’s been true since the 1990’s that Republicans have a reflexive need to press for whatever seems more “hawkish” than whatever the Democrats had tried when they were in control.

That includes Republicans saying that “regime change” is the only realistic option when states object to the US, or its objectives in their region. The GOP is always outraged that the feckless, effeminate Democrats haven’t backed regime change since Vietnam. Iran is the GOP’s latest experiment, where throwing away the JCPOA was their goal, and Trump delivered it.

Of course, all foreign policy troubles would be solved if only our Adversaries and Enemies were magically replaced by Friends and Fans, but for some reason, that never happens.

The NK’s are doing what they have always done whenever negotiations get to this point. What Kim is doing is so blindingly obvious and predictable that only pundits and politicians could be surprised by it.

Trump says his strength is that he is unpredictable. But, in the case of NK, he put all his cards on the table, assuming that his strongman tactics would lead to peace and a legacy. Instead, it looks like Kim simply upped the ante on being unpredictable. Kim may think Trump wants the deal more than NK.

Seventeen years ago, Clinton made a deal to give NK aid and trade in return for halting nuclear weapons development, backed by inspections and monitoring. It wasn’t a perfect deal, and NK broke it, at least in spirit. The US decided to break the deal explicitly because the incoming George W Bush administration wanted regime change. The Bushies blamed NK’s breaking the deal in spirit, and wouldn’t give NK the promised aid.

Remember when Trump flattered Kim, calling him “very honorable”? What’s a guy gotta do to unify a peninsula around here?

And Trump was THIS CLOSE to becoming president for a second term based on a foreign policy triumph and a Nobel, too. Such a shame. Well, there’s always Syria.

Or, Israel. Or, Iran. Or, Afghanistan.

So many deals to try, and so few skills.

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Saturday Soother – May 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Cherry blossoms at Hirosaki Castle, Aomori Prefecture Japan. It was built in 1611. Photo by Huffington Post

Spring is in full flower on the fields of Wrong. Our pear, plum, cherry, quince and crab apple trees all bloomed on Monday. By Friday, most began shedding their flowers. While they were in full bloom, honey and bumble bees swarmed the flowers, making each tree sound as if tiny motors were running on every branch. We also had both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles working hard to strip the crab apple trees of their setting fruit. It was a delight to watch and listen while standing under the trees.

But now, the birds and the bees are moving on to more promising targets, just like Trump is doing with his foreign policy. He’s leaving behind the so-called “bad deal” in Iran, for what will almost certainly turn out to be a similar deal with North Korea. Some have started a victory lap on North Korea, saying that only Trump could have brought Kim Jong-Un to the table. Maybe, but declarations of victory are certainly premature. We have been at least this far with North Korea before.

Wrongo doesn’t buy the outrage in Washington about CIA Director-designate Gina Haspel. Few of us who work inside large organizations have the strength to stand up and refuse to take an action simply because it offends our moral sensibility. We balance the thought that it could cost our job, or our next promotion. And besides, the boss is telling me it’s OK to do it.

Wrongo despises the idea of torture, and believes that America must provide the world with leadership that, by our example, shows that torture is wrong. OTOH, at the time, Haspel was part of a large system that said torture was legal. She was faced with a dilemma: to choose between what she was ordered to do, and what she now says she wouldn’t do again. And don’t trot out that “only following orders” is no defense. Often, in a large system, not following orders leads automatically to dismissal.

Try not to have knee-jerk outrage for someone who, like you, hasn’t always been in a position with sufficient power to use their sense of morality as their guide to all actions.

And we can’t let the week end without a comment on Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. The WaPo has internal company records that show Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Three days after President Trump was sworn into office, the telecom giant AT&T turned to his personal attorney Michael Cohen for help on a wide portfolio of issues pending before the federal government — including the company’s proposed merger with Time Warner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The internal documents reveal for the first time that Cohen’s $600,000 deal with AT&T specified that he would provide advice on the $85 billion merger, which required the approval of federal antitrust regulators.

You may remember that Trump said he opposed the ATT/Time Warner merger, so who better to retain than his personal lawyer?

You might ask, what insight Cohen, a real estate attorney and taxi cab owner could provide AT&T on complex telecom matters? And AT&T has now admitted they messed up by trying to use Cohen as a way to reach Trump.

Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s simply released his own critters into it.

So on this Saturday, relax and see if you can get soothed before starting your yard work, or whatever other spring project awaits. Begin with a strong cup of “Thanks Mom” coffee ($20/12oz) for Mother’s Day from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters in La Jolla, CA. They say its decadent flavors of caramel, red cherry and apple blossom will surely create a Mother’s Day to remember.

Your mom’s mileage may vary. She may prefer dinner at a fancy restaurant.

Now, put on your Bluetooth headphones, sit in the sun and listen to “Moorland Elegies: No. 1. Come, Walk With Me” by Estonian composer, Tõnu Kõrvits. The Moorland Elegies is a nine-part cycle for mixed choir and string orchestra. The texts are poems by Emily Bronte. It is a sonic tone painting.

It is performed here by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Risto Joost in Tallinn’s St. John’s Church in October, 2015:

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

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