Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 19, 2020

What to make of the new trade deal with China? The deal seems to restore the US-China trade relationship to where it was before Trump launched his “easy to win” trade war. Nothing that China has agreed to departs markedly from what it agreed to during the Obama administration. In 2015, Obama and Xi Jinping announced an end to cyber-intellectual property theft and embarked on a next round of negotiations over market access.

Trump’s Phase I agreement barely restores China’s agricultural purchases to where they were before 2017, even though Trump presented it as a victory. If one of your main customers boycotts you and then agrees to start buying again, but is buying fewer goods, it’s disingenuous to announce that they had promised to buy more.

After two years of mounting tariffs hostilities, the Phase I agreement has cost the US more than $30 billion in subsidies to American farmers. It has cost American consumers tens of $ billions in tariffs. It has forced some US companies to diversify their supply chains out of China at an additional cost of $ billions.

Trump and his trade sidekick Peter Navarro, fundamentally misread the relative strengths of both the US and China. They thought that Chinese exports to the US are the key driver of the Chinese economy. If that were true, tariffs would be a potent weapon.

But a recent McKinsey study shows that China has aggressively shifted from an export-driven economy to a domestic consumer-driven one. Much of any gain in Chinese exports primarily accrues to the multinational companies like Apple that source in China, and not to the domestic Chinese economy.

At best, Trump fought China to a draw. At worst, China now understands that less economic engagement with America is in its self-interest. The trade war and its new, paper-thin truce leaves America with less leverage going forward. On to cartoons.

Was Round One a win?

Why are our sports teams held to a higher standard than our politicians?

Liz ponders:

There are Senate tools that always go unused:

What to expect from Ken Starr:

Pretty sure that’s Susan Collins:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Cartoon Blogging – May 13, 2019

Too much commencement fun has led to Sunday’s cartoons arriving on Monday.

Enforced Mother’s Day is the law in Georgia:

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex had a baby. Americans are envious:

Trump’s right to confront China. Too bad he’s using the wrong weapon:

Another cover up for the Orange Overlord:

Trump’s hiding a few things by using his tax forms to cover up. You can’t unsee this:

If its comfort food you’re after, Joe’s for you:

Facebooklinkedinrss

Monday Wake Up Call – February 12, 2018

The Daily Escape:

The Three Sisters, viewed from Canmore, Canada – photo by DiscInPc

Strategy must be lost on the Trump administration. We revisit Afghanistan. Pepe Escobar reports that for the past two months, Beijing and Kabul have been discussing the possibility of setting up a joint military base on Afghanistan’s border with China. Escobar quotes Mohammad Radmanesh, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense:

We are going to build it [the base] and the Chinese government has committed to help financially, provide equipment and train Afghan soldiers…

Escobar says that the military base will be built in the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous and narrow strip of territory in northeastern Afghanistan that extends to China, and separates Tajikistan from Pakistan. He also reports that, according to local Kyrgyz nomads, joint Afghan-Chinese patrols are already active there.

Beijing is trying to prevent Uyghur Islamic fighters, who are exiled in Afghanistan, from crossing the Wakhan Corridor and conducting terror operations in China’s Xinjiang territory. Xinjiang is an autonomous territory in northwest China that has seen years of unrest, primarily from Muslims.

China’s concerns are backed by solid evidence. In 2013, al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri supported jihad against China in Xinjiang. In July 2014, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, supported a move against Xinjiang.

China doesn’t want its Belt and Road Initiative, or the New Silk Road, which will connect China with Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe to be compromised by terrorists. And one of its links, the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), could be hurt if terror threats abound in Central and South Asia. It could also affect China’s investments in Afghanistan’s mineral mining industry.

The Chinese are smart. Their new ambassador, Liu Jinsong, was raised in Xinjiang and was a director of the Belt and Road Initiative’s $15 billion Silk Road Fund from 2012 to 2015. He understands how the local problems could hurt the New Silk Road. The plan is to prevent terrorists from having access to Chinese territory, and work to broker a deal between Kabul and some factions of the Taliban. If this sounds familiar, it is also Russia’s strategy, and Iran’s, and India’s as well.

Compare this joint approach with Washington’s strategy. Trump’s plan for Afghanistan involves defeating the Taliban, and then forcing them to negotiate. Since the Taliban control key areas of Afghanistan, the US strategy requires a new mini-surge.

This pits the US “coalition” against all of the great powers of the region. Think we are likely to succeed?

Let’s link this up with another Trump idea, his parade. Danny Sjursen, an Army major who served in Afghanistan wrote in an article in the American Conservative, “Parade of Defeat: Trump Prefers Spectacle Over Strategy”:

Remember when military parades actually celebrated victories? Those were the days, or, better yet, the day—June 8, 1991…after the US military’s 100-hour lightning ground war ejected Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait, some 8,800 soldiers marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington, DC…The White House called it the National Victory Celebration.

Sjursen adds: (brackets by Wrongo)

So, one cannot help but wonder what it [Trump’s Parade] is…celebrating. Nearly 17 years of indecisive quagmire?

He goes for the kill: (emphasis by Wrongo)

Trump…has turned the petty political appropriation of the troops into an art form. Soldiers are a pawn in the game, a very old game, in which the hawkish interventionists inspire the base and depict the opposition as dovish traitors. This is…meant to disguise what amounts to paltry policy in foreign affairs; it’s spectacle not strategy.

Linking our non-strategy in Afghanistan, which all of the region’s powers hope to solve with trade and diplomacy, to Trump’s parade, a good question is: How are our wars doing? The short answer: Badly. But haven’t we “beaten” ISIS?  Not really. ISIS has leaped across the borders of Syrian and Iraq to Africa and Asia. That’s why China is building a base in Afghanistan.

For all the talk of new strategies about “turning corners” and “breaking stalemates,” more fighting in Afghanistan will just waste more of our resources. Today, a record number of Afghan provinces and districts are under the control of, or contested by, the Taliban. Short-term success isn’t sustainable.

Trump has no exit strategy. But no worries, he has a parade strategy.

So, time to wake Trump the (family blog) up. He’s got to get focused on closing a deal with his Russian and Chinese friends. To help The Donald wake up, here is the “Unity JAM” by Tony Succar, a percussionist and arranger:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

Trump Plays “Let’s Make a Deal” With China

The Daily Escape:

Georgian Sheep returning for the winter from the high mountains. Mixed among the sheep are Georgian Shepherd dogs who are the same size and color, who protect the flocks from wolves – photo by Amos Chapple

Donald Trump is in China for a two-day visit, and North Korea (NK) is certainly on the agenda. While in Seoul, Trump urged “responsible nations” to unite and stop supporting NK:

You cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept…every nation, including China and Russia [must] fully implement recent UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

Trump praised China for taking some steps against NK, but urged them to do more, as administration officials believe the border between China and NK still remains a trade corridor. From Trump:

I want to just say that President Xi — where we will be tomorrow, China — has been very helpful. We’ll find out how helpful soon…But he really has been very, very helpful. So China is out trying very hard to solve the problem with North Korea.

What Trump and his administration need to figure out is a new strategy for NK. It is doubtful that China would cut off NK, because it fears that if the Kim regime collapses, millions of NK refugees will stream across the border into China.

Mike Chinoy, an expert on East Asia policy at the US-China Institute of the University of Southern California thinks that the US has dug a hole with China that is very hard to climb out of:

Trump has mortgaged the whole US-China relationship to get the Chinese on board with the North Korea plan…He is now coming at it from a position of weakness.

Here is another idea. William S. Lind suggests that if we look at the big picture, it is obvious that NK might become a greater threat to China than it is to us:

North Korea is unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on the United States. However, if North Korea retains its nuclear weapons, it is likely to lead South Korea, Japan, and possibly Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam to go nuclear themselves. From the Chinese perspective, that would be a strategic catastrophe.

He makes the point that China has never sought world domination, in fact, it wants to maintain strategic distance from its neighbors. However, maintaining that distance requires a buffer zone around China, which historically China has sought, and is seeking now in the South China Sea.

Lind suggests that if the states on China’s periphery had nuclear weapons, China would be unable to keep a buffer zone of weak neighbors that it can dominate. Even Vietnam could stop China cold if they had nukes. The states bordering China, instead of serving as a buffer, could become existential threats sitting right on her frontier.

Lind’s idea is that Trump should make the case about the need to restrain North Korea’s nuclear program, but instead of threatening with trade or sanctions if China refuses, he should say:

If North Korea retains its nukes and delivery systems, we can no longer advise our allies in Asia not to go nuclear.

However, that would be a transformational change in the bedrock US principle of nuclear non-proliferation.

Lind explains that while Beijing does not care about the threat NK nukes pose to the US, they fully understand the strategic threat of nuclear weapons pose in the hands of America’s regional allies.

Wrongo doesn’t have much time for Mr. Lind, who has advocated that police in the US carry rocket-propelled grenades, and who has said that the “next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.”

The idea of proposing doubling the membership in the nuclear club goes against American values, despite its source, might give the US some additional leverage with China.

But, China already knows all of this, so would it achieve much?

What China can do is push North Korea to the negotiating table. But, President Trump has not only to be willing to negotiate, he has to give a carrot to China. That would be to partner with them in a South Asia trade deal. China can’t be bullied by Mr. Trump into bullying NK. Trump will need “strategic patience” to get a deal that involves China, Russia, Japan, and, of course, both North and South Korea.

There may be a “deal” to be made, but does the Deal-maker-in-Chief has the ability to make it?

Facebooklinkedinrss

Your Holiday Gift Is Team Trump

From Ian Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Trump is now Team Trump. The two most influential people in his court appear to be his son-in-law, [Jared] Kushner, a fellow real-estate developer and the guy who made the key strategic decisions which led to Trump’s victory; and {Steve] Bannon. Bannon is an economic nationalist with white nationalist leanings, who identifies with the working class and wants to bring manufacturing back to America. He’s quite willing to have a trade war to do it.

And while we are at it, Wrongo is sure that all of the Goldman Sachs alligators Trump is dumping into DC’s undrained swamp have lots of winning in mind for America. Welsh adds:

Trump’s children are influential, and it appears that Ivanka, his daughter, is the most influential of the three. She’s probably the most liberal person in the administration (even if she, strictly speaking, isn’t in the administration.)

Despite Welsh saying Ivanka won’t be in the administration, US News reported that she will set up shop in the White House space usually set aside for the first lady, which is in the East Wing. That sounds like influence!

With almost five weeks remaining until the inauguration, attempting to understand what Trump’s administration will do to you (or for you, if you are a fan), is America’s favorite holiday party game.

Trump has loaded up on oligarchs and generals to help steer his thinking on policy. More from Welsh: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

So, for example, his shift on China policy [to confrontation] is in alignment with what a lot of generals think (China is the real threat) and with what Bannon thinks (manufacturing jobs, economic nationalism.)

In some ways, Trump’s China policy is a continuation and extension of existing policy, but his style is confrontational, and more focused. All of Trump’s complaints about Chinese actions are long-standing US complaints that had not been addressed by previous administrations.

When we look at Trump’s team, they are anti-labor, pro-corporatist, pro-Wall Street, pro-MIC, Big Oil, Big Coal, climate changing denialists. With Pruitt @ EPA, Perry @ Energy, and Ryan Zinke @ Interior, all the news looks bad for those of us who want to see more alternative energy and a radically improved global environment. And Price @ HHS will have the largest and quickest negative impact on Americans.

These proposed cabinet appointments are not the source of any Christmas cheer if you favor our current domestic policies.

And it will get worse: Congressional Republicans told BuzzFeed News that the GOP plans to re-introduce the First Amendment Defense Act. The act prohibits the federal government from taking action against private businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people (or others) due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Trump has already stated his support for the First Amendment Defense Act:

If I am elected president and Congress passes the First Amendment Defense Act, I will sign it to protect the deeply held religious beliefs of Catholics and the beliefs of Americans of all faiths…

We got to this precipitous place after a very close election. Paul Campos tells us that the US has recorded the popular vote in 34 US presidential elections (despite having had 57 of them), and Trump received the smallest share of the popular vote of any winning candidate in US presidential election history, if we exclude elections which featured a significant third-party vote.

Jacob Levy points out that Trump eked out victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and therefore the presidency, by a combined 80,000 votes across those three states.

That is a .05% vote margin in a 137 million vote election.

This is why vast numbers of people head into the holidays scared for their families and future.

So you need an Xmas soother. It’s not bad enough to be late in buying presents for people who you know will be disappointed when they open them. Now you gotta deal with Team Trump, and all of the winning we will see in the next four years.

Here are the Piano Guys with O come, O come, Emmanuel. It was filmed at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Jerusalem Movie Set in Goshen Utah:

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

Facebooklinkedinrss

China is the Enemy Trump Wants

Rudy Giuliani, the presumptive secretary of state in the Trump administration, said that Trump intends to prioritize building a “gigantic” military force to blunt China’s ambitions in the Pacific.

Speaking to business leaders in Washington on Tuesday, Giuliani said the US would increase its number of troops to 550,000, instead of shrinking it to 420,000. He also said they intended to take the navy up to 350 ships. It currently has around 280, but the plan is to decrease to 247: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

At 350, [ships] China can’t match us in the Pacific. At 247 ships, we can’t fight a two-ocean war; we gave up the Pacific. If you face them with a military that is modern, gigantic, overwhelming and unbelievably good at conventional and asymmetric warfare, they may challenge it, but I doubt it

Out of the probable Clinton/Nuland frying pan, into the reality of the Trump/Giuliani dumpster fire.

The Trump plan is to build up the Navy in order to fight a “two-ocean war”. It’s going to be difficult to build that size fleet in four years. A 350 ship Navy will be prohibitively expensive – the Navy’s new DD(X) destroyers cost $4 billion each; 70 new ships @ $4 billion each is $2.8 trillion, (and it might be more like 100 ships). But the DD(X) is not yet proven to work very well in rough seas, which seems a bit of a problem.

Giuliani thinks that China wouldn’t challenge 350 ships. He may be correct. That will stretch our economy, and it would certainly stretch China’s. China of course, is likely to respond with a military build-up of its own: They can probably build 350 (or more) anti-ship missiles with nuclear warheads in four years, and have the ability to blow up quite a number of the Giuliani-class navy vessels if necessary.

Want to see a few more Pacific reefs? A US/China military contest could deliver them.

Trump ran to the left of Clinton regarding Russia and the Middle East. He spoke about normalizing relations with Russia and lately, he has said Russia and the US should cooperate on defeating ISIS in Syria. What is the point of seeking decent relations with Russia, the other nuclear super-power, if you are going to press a military bet with the third largest nuclear weapons state?

We thought that Trump wanted a trade war with China, but we were only half right. He’s going to re-engage with battleship diplomacy, in true Ronald Reagan Cold War fashion.

Trump wouldn’t bother augmenting the Pacific fleet unless his objective was to try to out-gun, out-spend, out-trade and outright suppress the rise of China.

That strategy will lead to a sharp Chinese response. It isn’t at all clear that Russia would stay neutral in this power game. Russia might support China, like they did in the 1950s. Forbes says this: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Although the Chinese and Russians may not be natural economic allies due to historical grievances…and alleged xenophobia of Russians toward Chinese businessmen, an expanded alliance between the two countries could unfold if either presidential hopeful, particularly Donald Trump, acts on promises to get tough on China…A Chinese-Russian economic relationship that develops naturally, rather than out of security fears on both ends, is one that is more favorable to the US.

There has always been some sense in a muscular China policy. That was why Obama’s plan was to “pivot” toward Asia.

China shows every intention of expanding its influence outward. Containment has always been our best option with them, unless you believe in military confrontation. We should continue the current strategy of promoting/supporting resistance by China’s neighbors, supporting a regional arms buildup by South Korea, Japan, India, Vietnam and others. We can hope that this strategy will, over time, convince the Chinese to give up their imperial dream of dominating the South China Sea and its contiguous states.

Trump got elected on a more isolationist premise than Clinton’s or Obama’s. He led people to believe that he’d be far more focused on domestic policy and domestic security, including things like terrorism and immigration.

But since GOP controlled Congress will move quickly to end the Sequester, which could add $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade, now it seems that his administration will be more hawkish, possibly even more than what Hillary Clinton would have wanted.

Can’t we put these war-mongering dinosaurs out to pasture? Then they can dress up like WWII Generals and play out their global dominance fantasies whenever they want.

Facebooklinkedinrss

The Pant Suit’s Scary Foreign Policy

There may be reasons not to vote for Hillary Clinton, but there are no reasons at all to vote for Donald Trump — except for pure nihilism. For the Trumpets, there is little coherence about why he is their choice. Two threads emerge: First, that Trump will shake things up, that DC is its own bubble that must be burst. The current two party system is fraudulent and corrupt. Second, that rage against Hillary is sufficient reason to vote for the Donald. Neither idea, nor are both ideas, sufficient reason to elect the Pant Load.

So, Hillary has to be the choice for this election. She has a track record, and the only things you have to go by with respect to Trump are his mostly appalling business practices, and his appalling character, neither of which should inspire voter confidence.

However, Clinton’s track record and policies are not without concern. In particular, her foreign policy positions are frightening. It is clear that Clinton proposes to pursue a more militaristic version of the policies that have brought us where we are in the world. She would:

  • Enforce a “no-fly” zone inside Syria, with or without Syrian and Russian agreement
  • Issue an even larger blank check to Israel
  • Treat Russia as a military problem rather than a factor in the European balance to be managed
  • Try to tie China down in East Asia

We have little idea about what would she would do differently in Afghanistan or Iraq. What would she do differently about North Korea, Iran, or Turkey? We don’t know, but this should be frightening:

In the rarefied world of the Washington foreign policy establishment, President Obama’s departure from the White House — and the possible return of a more conventional and hawkish Hillary Clinton — is being met with quiet relief. The Republicans and Democrats who make up the foreign policy elite are laying the groundwork for a more assertive American foreign policy…

And there is more: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The studies, which reflect Clinton’s stated views, break most forcefully with Obama on Syria. Virtually all these efforts…call for stepped-up military action to deter President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Russian forces in Syria.

The proposed military measures include…safe zones to protect moderate rebels from Syrian and Russian forces. Most of the studies propose limited American airstrikes with cruise missiles to punish Assad if he continues to attack civilians with barrel bombs…

Obama has staunchly resisted any military action against the Assad regime.

Apparently, the Iraq war was such a success that these policy experts want to repeat it in Syria. But, we are not as popular as we used to be, what with our drones droning all over the Middle East.

It is important to remember that when the Arab Spring erupted in 2010, the total Arab ME population was 348 million (World Bank data); today, it is 400 million. In the past six years, 52 million new Arab citizens were born in the ME, few of whom know a world without war, many who have limited education, schooling and economic prospects.

Should our next president be making new enemies in the ME?

We have a yuuge problem if our so-called foreign policy “elites” think the most “dovish” policy available is Obama’s current foreign policy. If this is the best that our serious policy thinkers can come up with, maybe we should just burn down the Kennedy School and Georgetown.

Wrongo thinks that 2016 is reminiscent of 1964, when LBJ ran against Goldwater. We had an anti-communist foreign policy elite looking for a fight with the USSR, and Goldwater was their man. America chose LBJ, because it was impossible to conceive of Goldwater having his finger on the nuclear button. LBJ was solid on domestic policy, but he listened to the elites, and launched us into Vietnam for no good reason, and with little public enthusiasm.

Today our anti-Russian foreign policy elites have Hillary’s ear, and there is a potential that she will mirror LBJ, getting us into another calamitous foreign policy adventure.

Wrongo will vote for her despite these concerns, as there is no alternative.

Bush’s policy should not be the starting point, with Obama’s foreign policy being the end point in terms of Hillary Clinton’s possible foreign policy options. If Bush’s policy was a complete failure, why on earth would she rely on a variant of it as the basis for our foreign policy?

Sadly, we are having this discussion less than two weeks before the election.

We have to hope that Hillary Clinton can be a good listener to options other than what the Neo-Cons are proposing.

Facebooklinkedinrss