Saturday Soother – September 15, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Putin and Xi making blinis at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, RU last week. As usual, Putin looks like he knows what he’s doing. Xi, not so much.

Wow, what a week! We seem to say this all the time, and Wrongo thinks we have become inured to all the drama. On Friday, Hurricane Florence made landfall in NC. And what lies in her path? The New York Times reports that Florence’s path is strewn with toxic hazards, including:

…ponds of coal ash, toxic sites, and thousands of industrial hog farms with lagoons of pig waste.

THAT should be one stinky clean-up. Speaking of dirt, the Kavanaugh confirmation was delayed a week, and up popped a confidential memo about a possible sexual assault that occurred while he was in high school. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) sent it to the FBI, who say they do not plan to investigate. The details are salacious. Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker tweeted:

A woman alleged to two democrats that, during high school, Brett Kavanaugh held her down and attempted to force himself on her, placing a hand over her mouth and turning up music to conceal her protests.

Sadly, this accusation is too old, and since the accuser wishes to remain anonymous, it will have no effect on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

Has the biggest rat turned on Trump? Paul Manafort has agreed to a plea and cooperation agreement in his continuing legal troubles with the Special Counsel. He has agreed to sit for interviews with Mueller’s special counsel team, testify in any future cases, and submit related documents. Whether he truly cooperates, and whether he has information of any value, remains to be seen.

Finally let’s turn to Donald Trump’s inexplicable claims about hurricane deaths in Puerto Rico. He denied that a mass casualty event, equivalent to 9/11 in its loss of life, ever happened. Political Wire reported:

President Trump tweeted that he didn’t believe that roughly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Said Trump: “3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”

He added that it was “done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

So, 3,000 people didn’t die in Hurricane Maria, but 3 million people voted illegally for Hillary in 2016.

We’re talking here about the President of the United States denying a carefully and professionally researched study of the hurricane death toll, while blaming his opponents, and without a scintilla of evidence to back up his claim.

He asserts that his administration didn’t screw up first, by neglecting the disaster, and second, by not staying the course to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Plus, do you believe he actually raised “billions” to rebuild PR? He might as well say Wrongo personally donated a million dollars to PR relief.

The bottom line from this week is that the next two years will be about Trump defending himself from impeachment charges, while Kavanaugh gleefully repeals Roe v. Wade.

It’s way too much! Time to unplug from all the cacophony, and seek some Saturday soothing. Start by brewing up a pot of Finca El Socorro Maracaturra ($22.50/12 oz.) from PT’s Coffee Roasting Co in Topeka, KS.  The roaster says that it is richly sweet, balanced, and intricately layered. They say it tastes of frankincense (!), almond nougat, honeysuckle, and dried black cherry.

Now, find a comfortable place to sit where you can view the world outside, and listen to 2CELLOS play “Gabriel’s Oboe” from film “The Mission” by Ennio Morricone. Here, Luka Sulic and Stjepan Hauser, who are the 2CHELLOS, perform with the Zagreb Soloists at their “Back to the Roots” concert at the Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb, June 2015:

The American cellist Matt Haimovitz, has said that the cello’s range is closest to the human voice. Maybe that’s why the cello is Wrongo’s favorite instrument.

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

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Will Nike/Kaepernick Adverts Change The Discussion?

The Daily Escape:

Sunrise, Grand Teton NP – 2018 photo by BrandonUlp

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s the tag line in a new Nike advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Branding is about identity. Successful branding requires authenticity. The spokesperson must represent the brand authentically, and vice-versa. What Kaepernick and Nike have done is create a truly authentic campaign defined by who Kaepernick is, and what he stands for.

For readers who do not follow either Trump or sports, Colin Kaepernick is the football quarterback who refused to stand for the National Anthem. Trump has used the failure of professional athletes to stand to try to destroy their image, and that of the National Football League, unless/until there is zero expression of dissent during the National Anthem.

There couldn’t be a better campaign to elevate Kaepernick’s legacy in America’s consciousness. Sticking to his beliefs has cost him his job in sports. He hasn’t worked as a professional quarterback since 2016. In fact, he has a lawsuit underway accusing the NFL of collusion, since he received no job offers in 2018. That lawsuit will be going forward after the arbitrator appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association rejected the NFL’s attempt to have Kaepernick’s case dismissed.

Nike and Kaepernick have taken the essence of a particular player, in this case, his dissent, empowerment, and integrity, and created a brand. It serves as a lesson every athlete needs to learn: You should be more than the game. Professional basketball players already know this, and are on social media celebrating their viewpoints all the time.

Despite not having played in the league in two years, Kaepernick is among the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL. His football jersey is among the top 50 sellers.

The Holy Week of McCain showed us that we remain chronically short of heroes.

We want leaders, we’re yearning for inspiration. We don’t consider most celebrities who hawk goods to be our heroes; they seem clearly in it for the money. Then, there’s Colin Kaepernick. A man of color standing up for what he believes, a straight arrow who has not been featured in the tabloids for mistakes of character. He’s a man who’s risked his career, and his salary for an idea.

Could he be the hero we’re looking for? Highly unlikely, but he’s one of the few willing to challenge the system.

We’re living in a time when stepping out of line seems very risky. There’s groupthink everywhere, and everyone’s afraid of negative social media repercussions, especially corporations. While a few giant corporations have stood up to the Orange Overlord, the NFL has zero desire to challenge him. They fear viewer backlash in an already challenged TV ratings environment.

So Nike weighs in. Nike isn’t simply calling the NFL’s bluff. It’s calling Donald Trump’s as well.

Change starts with the actions of a few individuals. Kaepernick is trying to change professional football’s mentality, which argues that the players are interchangeable, that only the coach, and the owners matter. Their pitch is that you’ve got to sacrifice your identity for the team. It’s certainly creating some interesting waves of all aspects of the sport – with sports betting sites like https://sportsbook.fanduel.com/ reacting and adjusting on a near constant basis.

Trump plays on that. He berates the NFL owners, and re-frames the protest by Kaepernick and others against police brutality, saying its about patriotism and support of “the troops”. But, those who refuse to stand for the Anthem will tell you that their message has nothing to do with the flag or the military. Trump’s choosing to make it about the flag and the military, and as usual, many Americans are buying Trump’s pitch.

The story on Kaepernick’s side is of freedom of speech, of fair treatment for African-American men and boys. Which will prevail should be clear, despite the anti-Nike and anti-Kaepernick thoughts on social media today.

We have 62 days until America votes whether to take the House away from the Republicans, or, to leave them in charge. Believe it or not, that fight will be helped by one guy and a company who decided they’d refuse to bend to Trump’s rabble-rousing.

The Trumpists say they’ll refuse to watch the NFL. They’ll say they refuse to buy Nike gear. But, they’re sure to do both in massive numbers.

Nike has made a business move, not a social move. Here is what Nike’s first ad looks like:

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Cohen, Manafort and Facebook

The Daily Escape:

The Moses Bridge, Netherlands – photo via @archpics. The bridge, which crosses a moat, is made from waterproof wood.

We’re all busy trying to figure out what the twin “guilty” findings about Manafort and Cohen really mean, but Steve Breen nailed it:

Michael Cohen clearly put Trump in trouble by saying that Cohen had worked in coordination with Trump to silence the two women that Trump had affairs with, in order to influence the 2016 election.

Republicans say that finding two of Trump’s inner circle guilty has nothing to do with Russia, or with Trump, and Wrongo remains skeptical about what Mueller will actually prove.

OTOH, Cohen worked on a Trump Tower project that was supposed to be built in Moscow. He worked on that project during the 2016 presidential campaign. You may remember that in 2017, Trump said that no such relationship with Russia ever existed.

Manafort was convicted of tax evasion. The taxes Manafort didn’t pay were on income from Russian proxies, one of whom, the president, was running Ukraine for the Kremlin. Manafort’s conviction on bank fraud was related to bank loans he tried to get at least in part, to pay back $20 million he owed to a buddy of Vladimir Putin. His business also employed a Russian intelligence officer for years, and once Manafort was the Trump Campaign Manager, he offered that intelligence officer private briefings on the Trump campaign.

So, there are links to Russia for both men. But, the big ugly shoe to drop is whether Michael Cohen can corroborate what McClatchy journalists Peter Stone and Greg Gordon said a few months ago:

The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign…

No real proof has emerged that ties Cohen to a visit to Prague, or to meeting Russians. Cohen could tell Mueller whether the trip took place, and if Cohen strategized while there with Russians about the Kremlin’s playing a role in the US election.

Wrongo is again, skeptical. He doubts that the Trump organization would have Cohen undertake such a mission. But, if true, It would prove that the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.

Let’s turn briefly to a related idea: Facebook’s role as a platform for the spread of both disinformation, and as a rallying site for angry groups. In under the radar item at the NYT, a landmark study about violence against refugees in Germany shows that the most significant variable among towns with instances of violence was use of Facebook.

The work by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz, researchers at the University of Warwick, shows:

Their reams of data converged on a breathtaking statistic: Wherever per-person Facebook use rose to one standard deviation above the national average, attacks on refugees increased by about 50 percent.

The researchers scrutinized every anti-refugee attack in Germany, 3,335 in all, over a two-year span. In each case, they analyzed the local community by all relevant variables. One thing stuck out. Towns where Facebook use was higher than average reliably experienced more attacks on refugees.

That held true in virtually any sort of community — big city or small town; affluent or struggling; liberal haven or far-right stronghold — suggesting that the link applies universally. From the NYT:

The uptick in violence did not correlate with general web use or other related factors; this was not about the internet as an open platform for mobilization or communication. It was particular to Facebook.

This has huge implications: Does social media scramble users’ perceptions of outsiders, of reality, even of right and wrong?

We all believe that Facebook has had an impact on amplifying division in our society. We all are dimly aware that Facebook uses algorithms to determine what appears in each user’s newsfeed. That algorithm’s mission is to present content that maximizes user engagement.

Posts that tap into primal emotions, like anger or fear, perform best, studies have found, and so proliferate. Wrongo said this a few days ago:

…fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

There are two powerful forces within Facebook’s algorithms: A combination of fear of social change, and the “us-versus-them” rallying cries. Everybody knows that they are common on Facebook.

What should we as society, do about it?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – August 19, 2018

Everyone in the media is talking about John Brennan, who lost his security clearance this week. On the Trump side of the ledger, Brennan is an enemy of the people. On the other side, he’s America’s hero for talking truth to power.

Wrongo won’t shed any tears for Brennan.

Let’s go back in time: When Barack Obama became president, he tried to make Brennan Director of the CIA. But even Democrats in Congress were opposed to that, because, while serving under GW Bush, Brennan enabled the rendition of terror suspects to countries where they could be tortured. So, Obama made him Deputy National Security Advisor, where he created and managed Obama’s “drone kill” list.

After Obama’s reelection, Brennan was named CIA director. In that role, he ordered the CIA to spy on the Senate Intelligence Committee that was at the time, investigating CIA torture. While under oath, he lied to Congress, denying it. When it was proven that the CIA did in fact spy on Congress, he had to apologize. At the time, a WaPo editorial said: Obama should fire John Brennan, but nobody remembers any of this today.

Brennan is a hot, steaming pile of CIA shit. But, since he recognized the threat that Trump represents, suddenly we should make him America’s sweetheart? Brennan will have a long career, now that Trump has elevated him to be his foil. We shouldn’t allow Brennan to be the face of the resistance to Trump. Brennan’s a corrupt and terribly flawed messenger.

While Trump and Truth both contain 5 letters of the alphabet, they have never met:

A cartoon from the past reminds us that the priest pedophilia never ends:

After all, you can’t molest the unborn:

Who says Trump can’t unite America?

These two richly deserve being each other’s enemy:

Aretha meets St. Pete:

 

Losing Aretha unifies the country for a few days:

 

 

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Alex Jones Spews Fake News. Should He Be On Facebook?

The Daily Escape:

Nizina Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Melting ice formed a lake in 2000. 2018 photo by Nathaniel Wilder for Smithsonian Magazine

Should fake news be protected under the First Amendment? Should private companies be able to ban the toxic stuff that people like Alex Jones spew? Spew like his denial that the Newtown shootings happened, or his speculation that Brennan Gilmore, a former State Department official who attended last summer’s violent far-right rally in Charlottesville, VA was really with the CIA.

Earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Apple, Spotify and Pinterest, within hours of each other, banned Alex Jones and his Infowars web site. Does losing his place on these platforms abridge his freedom of speech?

When someone says that something we otherwise believe is fake, it stirs deep emotions. Consider the immunization scam when Andrew Wakefield published in the Lancet that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose to autism in children. Although false medical science, it circulated widely, and was widely believed. Today, communities are at risk, because kids are not being vaccinated by their parents, and regional outbreaks of these diseases which were largely extinct, are occurring again. So, despite the best efforts by the medical community to educate parents that the MMR vaccine is safe, the fake news outran any efforts to contain the lie.

Each day 100 million+ stories hit the internet, so we can’t possibly vet even a fraction of them. Fake news will get through, and spread. In the midterm elections, and in the presidential election in 2020, technology will build on what was learned in the 2016 presidential campaign: (brackets by Wrongo)

Trump ran 5.9 million different versions of ads during the presidential campaign and rapidly tested them [and]…spread those that generated the most Facebook engagement…. Clinton ran 66,000 different kinds of ads in the same period.

The next iteration of the technology will bring each of the 156 million registered voters in the US a stream of personalized messages. That’s because nearly everyone has a social media presence, and their information and preferences will be shared by the platform companies with the campaigns.

People who have influence on social media utilize these new technologies extremely well. Alex Jones uses it well, and is on the toxic end of the fake news spectrum. And there’s Trump, master of the continuous Twitter falsehood. He turns the lie around, accusing his detractors of spreading fake news. With the GOP in power, there will not be any government crackdown on misinformation. Here’s why: the Daily Beast reports on a disturbing poll by Ipsos:

43% of self-identified Republicans said that they believed “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior”…..48% of them said they believed “the news media is the enemy of the American people”.

If you trust what Alex Jones says, fine. But now, your ability to amplify his toxic brand of fake news has been hampered by the platform companies throwing him off. Parsing what is considered free speech is a slippery slope, and we won’t know just how slippery it is, until we start sliding down.

Case law says we’re able to protest, saying whatever we want, within some limits. We used to do that in town squares. A big question is: Are Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter the town squares of today?

That’s a question that hasn’t yet been decided. It is why who gets to sit on the Supreme Court is so damn important, particularly if Republicans agree that the president should decide which news outlets are allowed to publish.

Democracy requires conflicting opinions. Anybody can build a platform, and appeal to a niche audience. Today, you can spew falsehoods, like Alex Jones or Trump, who do just that every day.

We live in an era of doublespeak. Automobiles that get higher mileage kill their drivers. Fires are raging in California because there’s not enough water. When the president is an unreliable source of information, fake news carries the same importance as real news. But, legal scholars remind us that:

false news doesn’t serve the public interest in the way that true speech does.

Social media holds the potential of democratizing information, making it universally available. OTOH, fake news spread on social media has been proven to have a bigger impact, and to spread further and faster than real news.

Should the platform companies be able to ban someone, or some messages, even if they do not reflect a clear and present danger? Maybe. Jones and his ilk have other outlets for their spew. And they can build others, and their followers will find them.

This is the beginning of a pushback against fake news, and it’s only the beginning of a revitalized free speech debate pitting the main stream media against those who spew fake news.

If you only want to look at kittens online, go for it. It shouldn’t be all that our Constitution allows, but, where should we draw the line?

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Monday Wake Up Call – Bad Journalism Edition

Raul Ilargi of The Automatic Earth gets us thinking about truth in journalism:

The two most viral photographs of the ‘Trump Separation Scandal’ have now been debunked, or at the very least been proven to have been used ‘out of context’. This is a dangerous development, as are the reasons to use them the way they have been. Both pictures are of children who had not been separated from their mothers at all. But both were used to depict just that: a child being taken away from its mother.

Here are the two pictures. The first shows a Honduran toddler sobbing. The photo was taken on June 14th.  It was used widely by the media, with the accompanying message that the child was about to be separated from its mother:

But the NYT reports the child was not separated from her mother. That was reported on June 23rd. Pro-Trump news outlets have had a fine time calling the photo fake news. And the same photo was photoshopped by Time Magazine for a cover that used the little girl juxtaposed with Donald Trump looming over her, with the caption, ”Welcome to America”:

Now, Time may not have known the true status of the child at the time when they made the choice to place her on the cover with Trump, but they’re absolutely ok with using it. The NYT quotes them:

Our cover and our reporting capture the stakes of this moment.

But, there is a major difference between illustrating a moment, and reporting. A Facebook funds-raising page using the original photo above inspired hundreds of thousands of people to donate $19 million for a nonprofit legal defense fund for immigrants and refugees.

Is that a good outcome from bad reporting? If people are interested in donating, why trick them into doing it? Back to Ilargi:

That’s what is dangerous: seeing a photo of a child in distress makes people halt their critical thinking. That’s also why such photos are used. They help build a narrative that doesn’t have to be factual to shock people. But at that point TIME becomes a fiction magazine; it’s where it leaves journalism behind.

There also was a picture of a caged little boy crying, “Detained by ICE at a border facility” said the caption:

But the image of the crying, caged young boy, which went viral, was actually taken at a demonstration. RT reports that this photo was shared by activist journalist Jose Antonio Vargas as a comment on the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown on families. More from RT:

It has since emerged that the picture was in fact not from a detention facility at all, and instead was taken at a protest against Trump’s immigration policies held on June 10 outside Dallas City Hall.

Some activists argue that the origin of the photo is irrelevant, that it portrays a true problem, even if this particular image is not a true representation of the facts on the ground.

But we’re on a slippery slope with that reasoning. We shouldn’t be using any available means to message against even a wrong policy.

What’s dangerous about this approach is that if journalists are allowed to spread a narrative that isn’t confirmed as true, they may be “reporting” unsourced stories simply to make a point. Then, no one will ever know fact from fiction.

This is the downside of instant, global communications. The narrative can outrun the truth, the myth can become fact. Since social media compensation is often tied to “clicks” on an article, publishers and editors have a conflict of interest: sell the truth, or sell the narrative?

Children are being taken from parents at US borders, and Trump’s policy needs a healthy debate. But playing loose with the facts cannot be permitted by the media.

Time for the media to wake up! It helps no one if the charge “Fake News” is true. To help them wake up, here is Billy Bragg doing “It Says Here” from his 1984 album “Brewing Up with Billy Bragg”:

Sample Lyrics:

It says here that the Unions will never learn
It says here that the economy is on the upturn
And it says here we should be proud
That we are free
And our free press reflects our democracy

If this does not reflect your view you should understand
That those who own the papers also own this land

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 14, 2018

The Daily Escape:

Orchard Oriole in crab apple tree  –  May 2014 photo by Wrongo

We are divided, and nothing shows that better than the callous remark about John McCain’s brain cancer by White House staffer Kelly Sadler. She said, regarding McCain’s unwillingness to vote for Gina Haspel for CIA Director, “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”  Press Secretary Sarah Sanders then said, “I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too. And that’s just disgusting.”

She thought that the leaking of Sadler’s comment was disgusting. The comment was fine.

Axios reported that WH strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp said, “You can put this on the record, I stand with Kelly Sadler.” That is the same Mercedes Schlapp who walked out of the WH Correspondents Dinner when she felt that Michelle Wolf’s routine spoofing Sara Sanders’s eye makeup was over the line.

And yet, she stands by Kelly Sadler’s making a joke at the expense of a dying John McCain. Hypocrisy is alive and well in the White House.

Sadler’s comments almost made Wrongo want to reconsider John McCain’s maverickitude, and warm up to his career as an unvarnished political hack who loyally served the GOP.

But he can’t. There was absolutely no difference between McCain and right-wingers on any economic issue. In 2016, he changed his mind that presidents should be able to choose who they want to put on the Supreme Court and announced that a Hillary presidency would result in the Scalia seat remaining unfilled until Republicans took power.

So, despite his vote not to eliminate Obamacare, let’s continue to have a clear eye for hackery and hypocrisy, wherever we see them.

The NYT’s Week in Review section was filled yesterday with op-eds about how important it is for liberals to moderate their outrage. On the front page, above-the-fold, was an article titled: “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart as You Think“, by Gerard Alexander, an associate professor at the University of Virginia.

That Wrongo read the entire thing proves Alexander’s point.

OTOH, Professor Alexander was right to point out that liberals can be as guilty of being arrogant and insulting as conservatives. Much of what the right says is angry, closed minded and based on ignorance.

And they say it loudly and often to anyone who will listen.

Progressives need to understand that if our views are based on smugness and arrogance, or if we fail to check all of the facts before arguing, we are unlikely to convince anyone to come over to our side. It does no good to malign a group with broad brush strokes.

But simply turning the other cheek and making nice has landed us where we are.

The problem is that Dr. Alexander implies that there are two equally valid polarities in US politics, and those who love Trump must be regarded as respectable as those who loath him. These are not equal: One side likes a leader who tears things down without any plan for replacement. The other side does not appreciate him in the slightest.

This is not like the difference between those who are pro-free trade, and those who are against it. It’s the difference between the politics of anger and exclusion and the politics of patience and inclusion.

Alexander’s work reads as sloppy thinking from a blogger, not the work of a political scientist at a premiere university. The Trumpalos are willing to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. And those who voted for Trump show a great deal of comfort with anger and outrage, regardless of how Alexander thinks they should be perceived by the rest of us.

Their calls to cool it are good news. We’re getting under their skin.

Time to double down. We need to make our case clearly, and to all who will listen.

Time to wake up America, we are sliding down to a dangerous level. To help you wake up, here is Gil Scott-Heron with “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. The song’s title was originally a popular slogan among the 1960s Black Power movements in the US:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGaoXAwl9kw

Scott-Heron has it right. The revolution will be streamed.

Sample Lyrics:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people
You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom
A tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat
The revolution will not be televised.

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

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Trump and Kim: Can Peace Really Break Out?

The Daily Escape:

Photo of TV broadcast by the Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea

We’ve gone from Trump and Kim Jong-un tweeting about who had the bigger nuclear missile button to possibly sitting down together in June. Joe Cirincione writes at Defense One:

Even if you politically oppose President Donald Trump and CIA Director Mike Pompeo, you should welcome Pompeo’s surprise meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un. More than anything else that has happened in the Trump presidency, this trip could bring us closer to resolving one of the most dangerous nuclear crises in the world today.

If the meeting happens, it will be the first meeting between any President Kim and a US president. The highest-level contact between the two nations occurred in 2000 between Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il.

Those talks came close to forging a deal to end North Korea’s nuclear program before they had even tested any bombs. Albright’s successor as Secretary of State, Colin Powell, promised in March, 2001 that the GW Bush administration would pick up where the Clinton administration left off.

But Bush identified North Korea as one of the Axis of Evil, and he, along with Dick Cheney, killed the negotiation process. North Korea exploded its first bomb five years later. Jung H. Pak writing for Brookings, picks up the story about Kim the Younger:

For the first seven years of his rule, from December 2011 to December 2017, Kim has gone full force on his version of “maximum pressure.” He has tested nearly 90 ballistic missiles (three times more than that of his father and grandfather combined) and conducted four of North Korea’s six nuclear tests, including the biggest one in September 2017, which had an estimated yield of 150 kilotons.

At the same time, he refused attempts by the US, South Korea, and China to engage, refusing to meet with any foreign head of state. Until now. Back to Joe Cirincione:

The Pompeo trip is an effort to correct the mistakes of the past. His talks with Kim, and the high-level talks between North and South Korea in preparation for their own summit, clearly establishes new, serious momentum towards deals with Pyongyang.

And now, Republicans and a few neo-cons are offering strong support for the very negotiations they slammed when Democrats (and Powell) tried them. Now that the GOP has the presidency, negotiation with North Korea is no longer appeasement. Cirincione concludes: (emphasis by Wrongo)

This is why Republicans do arms control better than Democrats. They are not smarter nor do they strike better deals. But when a Republican president supports arms reductions or peace talks, he takes three-quarters of the party with him and the Democrats swing solidly in support. That delivers the bipartisan consensus needed for sustained national security policy. Republican presidents have led the way in nuclear reductions.

Will Trump and Kim meet? Probably, but where is a big question. The NYT reports that Kim doesn’t have a plane that can travel more than 3,000 miles. The Times quotes Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who worked on Korea issues:

We know he has a plane, but it’s an old plane….No one really knows if it works.

Imagine: His missiles can fly for 8,000-12,000 miles, but his plane can’t.

Should we have any faith that Trump can work with South Korea to finally end the Korean War and de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula? Lots could go wrong, and the summit won’t take place until June. That is years away in Trump time.

It is difficult to imagine that North Korea will give up its nukes any time soon. What assurances can Trump give Kim that North Korea would not be sacrificing its security if it denuclearized? Is the US credible if Trump says he’ll guarantee North Korea’s security? Of course not.

Maybe both win just by having a meeting, even if it fails. Kim can be seen as continuing to call the tune in North Asia, while Trump can say that he tried a bold move to achieve a lasting peace, without losing anything strategically.

Would the two sides agree to a verifiable freeze of North Korea nuclear programs? And what would the US give in return? Remove its troops from South Korea?

A grand bargain may be impossible, but isn’t walking towards disarmament better than running toward nuclear war?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 15, 2018

Friday night, the US, UK and France launched what now looks like a symbolic attack on Syria. They took great pains to avoid hurting the Syrian government, its people or its allies. So far, there is no report of civilian casualties. Despite Trump saying the bombings were because Syria again stepped over a red line on chemical warfare, we haven’t seen solid evidence: a) that it was a gas attack, and b) that it was caused by the Assad regime. It seems illogical to Wrongo, but the UK and France joined in the exercise, and other western heads of state, like Trudeau in Canada said it was the right thing to do.

What did the bombings accomplish? The WaPo reports that:

Syria, Russia and Iran shrugged off strikes on Saturday by the United States and its allies against three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, which drew angry condemnations but no indication that there would be a wider escalation.

Here on Sunday, it looks like the only purpose of the attack was to “do something”. This is called the “Politician’s Syllogism”, a logical fallacy, taking this form:
1. We have to do something
2. This is something
3. Therefore, we have to do this.

Do we have any strategy at all in Syria? Two weeks ago, Trump said we were leaving. Today, we’re hip deep in the place. And does this bombing set a precedent? Will Trump send cruise missiles into Syria every time there is a gas attack? What if the gas attack is by the rebels, or the jihadis?

Remember that these bombings are happening while Trump’s travel ban prevents Syrian refugees from entering the US. And France and the UK are placing strict limits on refugees as well. Syria is in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in recent history, but, since a few of those who are fleeing might be terrorists, America’s door is closed. On to cartoons.

The war room worked late into the night on Trump’s priorities:

There are times when the dog must be wagged:

It’s a bit awkward to see that Trump can’t learn from history:

Trump had other priorities this week besides Syria:

Paul Ryan, man of action, bolts:

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1968 – America Has Never Been The Same

The Daily Escape:

National Guard, March 29, 1968 during a strike supporting sanitation workers in Memphis, TN. MLK would be assassinated in Memphis on April 4th.  

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. It was a signal event that for practical purposes, ended the era of 1960’s activism in the US.

Dr. King was an exemplar who reached all Americans with a peaceful, moral message that still resounds today. Wrongo is aware that many blog readers were not alive in 1968, and thus have no personal connection to a time when doing the right thing was still paramount in our society.

All of us, those who lived through the 1960s and those who did not, should stop today and look back on the events of 1968, and their meaning for today. On March 31, 1968, President Johnson announced that he would not run for another term. Despite all of his legislative achievements, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts, his undoing was the Vietnam War.

Four days later, Dr. King was killed in Memphis. Subsequently more than 100 riots took place in our cities.

Two months later, Robert Kennedy too would be dead, assassinated like both his brother and Dr. King. Their murders dashed the hope that figures like King and the Kennedys had stirred in the American people earlier in the decade. In August, anti-war riots also had a large impact at the Democrat’s national convention in Chicago.

The riots showed the frustration and fury felt by many African-Americans who lived in poor housing with minimal opportunities, thanks to institutional racism and discriminatory government policies. For others, however, the riots reinforced the sense that the country was spinning out of control and that only a heavy hand with rioters and criminals would restore peace and keep our prosperity.

This dichotomy continues to shape our politics today.

In November ‘68, Richard Nixon was elected by 512,000 votes over Hubert Humphrey. He would continue the war, and later resign over Watergate.

The assassinations and the riots, combined with the lack of trust caused by the Vietnam War and Watergate eroded Americans’ faith in government. Without trust in government, America moved in many different directions. And voters eventually soured on liberal activist policies for more than a generation.

According to Lenny Steinhorn, a historian at American University who has studied the 1960s:

1968 was the perfect storm that crystallized the differences in society. The Tet offensive drove home the un-winnability of the war, and the assassinations drove home the despair…. All these clouds that were gathering became an electrical storm…. What was clear was how we were divided and this played out for the next 50 years.

Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, says:

It was a terrible year. I think it was the worst year for American society since the Civil War. It was a combination of race, gender and Vietnam that was a lethal cocktail…. We were in even worse shape than we are now. We were divided about things that are more fundamental than we are now. It felt like the country was coming apart at the seams, the fabric pulling apart. But we got through it.

1968 illustrated how change can arrive suddenly and fundamentally, even in America. And many Americans see 2018 shaping up as another 1968.

We are as polarized as we were then, and this time it’s also along ideological and partisan lines. Deadly violence is again regularly erupting, this time in the form of mass shootings such as the massacres in Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino and Parkland. And we saw ideological violence in Charlottesville.

Our political system is under attack again, led by President Trump and his followers who believe in disrupting the status quo, without a coherent thought about what should replace it.

If the decade of the 1960’s marked an American apogee of sorts, will the 2020’s mark its perigee? We have not faced this particular set of circumstances before, so we can’t know just now, but it is likely we may know soon.

One bright spot is the return of teenagers to activism. We have had many marches over the 50 years since 1968, but few have felt as if they would deliver political change. The Parkland activists, joined by teens all across America are media-savvy. They use different tools, and seem to be more than a flash in the pan. So maybe, the mass movement-type of activism will make a comeback.

Parkland’s student leaders have accomplished something, but we’ll have to see if it delivers results in the voting booth.

MLK remains the hero of a generation of Americans for whom activism was a building block of their personal journey to adulthood. In most ways, our nation has never recovered that sense of can-do, or that achieving your Big Idea remains possible.

Can we get it back?

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