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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 11, 2018

We watched the time-delayed opening ceremony of the Seoul Olympics. Yesterday’s news at night.

Time seemed to move slowly, except when the cameras showed Mike Pence frowning. That guy should never get a real job in government. Wait, he has one? Ohh. Sorry.

Not shaking hands with the North Korean representatives is beneath America’s leaders. His stony behavior won’t make any friends on the global stage, and while the NoKo’s clearly are not our friends, what does not shaking hands prove?

Then there’s this: Pence skips Olympics dinner in snub to North Korean officials. Instead, he had dinner with the US team. Maybe what caused him to cancel attending the Olympic dinner was a desert, called “A Plate of Hope”. It featured a map of Korea with chocolate barbed wire dividing it. By pouring on a hot sauce, the barbed wire between the north and south melted away. How would America benefit from that?

Is it now considered appropriate to be disrespectful to your host because you don’t like his guest list? Is bailing out on the official Olympic dinner, and not shaking hands the worst Pence will do while representing us at the Olympics?  Let’s hope so. On to cartoons.

A wife beater without a security clearance reading everything in the White House is the shocking part:

The Olympics hits close to home:

We’re gonna see something really special at Trump’s big parade:

Trump’s gonna see something really special at the parade too:

A Tesla in orbit gets noticed:

Our local bookstore’s display:

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North Korea and Our Terrible Missile Defense

The Daily Escape:

Near Rocky Creek Bridge, Big Sur CA – 2017 photo by Charlene Renslow

We didn’t attempt to shoot down the Hwasong-12 North Korean (NK) missile on Tuesday. The official reason was that it was clear that the missile wouldn’t hit American soil. Based on the US reasoning, there are at least two things to consider:

  • We have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range missiles, but do not want to give NK and China any free intelligence on our capabilities.
  • We do not have the capability to shoot down NK medium-range (or greater) missiles.

Now, Wrongo has some “expertise” in the missile defense biz. He managed a nuclear missile unit in Germany during the Vietnam era. One mission of the unit was anti-tactical ballistic missile defense. That meant we were supposed to shoot down enemy missiles.

So, when Wrongo hears the US’s reasoning, it makes sense. Why give a potential enemy a free look at your weapons? Why take an aggressive action when we are not threatened? Both are reasonable positions. Shooting down an enemy missile aimed at US territory is logical, but shooting down a missile test aimed at the sea would be considered an act of war by NK. We could adopt a policy to intercept certain types of missiles or those on certain kinds of trajectory. But, we haven’t made that policy choice at this point.

The second possibility is frightening. Since the 1950’s, we have made a huge investment in anti-missile weapons. Today, we have 33 Aegis warships that are designed to hit a mid- or intermediate-range missile like the Hwasong-12. Sixteen of those warships are currently in the Pacific. But, right now we only have eight Japan-based Aegis ships, and two of the eight are out of commission due to the collisions of the Fitzgerald, and the John S. McCain.

But it gets worse. From the NYT: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The allies could do little more than track the [NK] missile Tuesday as it arched over Hokkaido and splashed into the northern Pacific. Analysts said Japan could have tried to shoot it down if its Aegis destroyers, which are armed with SM3 Block I interceptor missiles, happened to be in waters between North Korea and Japan. But because the SM3 is slower than the Hwasong-12, they would have had to make the attempt before the missile passed over the ships.

In order to hit the NK missiles, Aegis destroyers would have to be dangerously close to the NK coast to get a chance to strike an ICBM in the “boost” phase, before it gained altitude. If our ships were that close to NK, they would be vulnerable to North Korean submarines.

And the SM-3 anti-missile interceptors on the Aegis ships have a testing record that includes many failures. Between January 2002 and August 2017, the DOD attempted 37 intercepts of a mid-range missile and hit the target 29 times with an SM-3. On Wednesday, we conducted a successful intercept test using a newer generation SM-6 missile against a medium-range ballistic missile target:

The USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked a target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar…

This is the second time an SM-6 missile has intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile target.

Our problem is that, while the Obama administration pushed for a ship-based defense against mid-range NK missiles aimed at Japan or Guam, we now know that we have a better chance of hitting missiles that can’t fly so high. From Defense One:

The highest probability of success is to hit the enemy missile closer to the ground, during the so-called boost phase. That’s what America’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is aiming for in the future.

Decoding all this: If we attempt a shoot-down, and it fails, all of those Aegis ships are worthless, and Russia, China and NK will know it.

We also have the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system deployed in South Korea. There have been 15 intercepts in 15 tests for the THAAD system, according to the MDA. Now, there is talk of deploying them in Japan. THAADs are currently also deployed in Guam and Hawaii.

Finally, there is the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System (GMD). GMD, like THAAD, is a hit-to-kill system. Unlike THAAD which intercepts missiles during their terminal phase, GMD is aimed at destroying them in midcourse. It is the only system the US has that could be capable of destroying an ICBM launched at the US by NK. There are 40 GMD interceptors deployed in Alaska at Fort Greely, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The GMD has a troubled history, with many failed, or incomplete tests.

The military’s next anti-missile solution won’t even begin testing until 2023.

Until then, every time an NK missile heads toward Japan, Guam, or anywhere else, the president will have to decide whether attempting to shoot it down is worth the costs of probably missing it.

And without a missile defense, our next best alternative is massive nuclear retaliation on the NK homeland.

That’s a ticket for the destruction of South Korea and Japan.

And a likely war with China.

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Can We Rein in North Korea?

The Daily Escape:

Pileated Woodpecker, Litchfield County Connecticut – photo by J Clery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takeaway lyric:

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

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Saturday Soother – April 29, 2017

The Daily Escape:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – April 23, 2017

Sorry for the lack of columns; Wrongo has an acute case of Trump Fatigue. It is difficult to: a) think of anyone or anything else, and b) when writing a column, everything seems linked to every other thing, and none of you want to read a thousand-word rant. On to the rich harvest of cartoons.

Le Pen’s ballots in today’s election in France may be enough to force the big box to open:

The March for Science, unsurprisingly, has opposition:

 

It isn’t enough to just think about the planet on Earth Day:

Fox replaces O’Reilly with another loser:

Why do we still call it the Presidency when the differences are so stark?

Why would millions of people willingly watch a real-time murder?

 

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North Korea Poses a Problem for Trump, Bigly

The Daily Escape:

(Key West flower by Denise M. Riggs)

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

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

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

Obama used a different approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone thinks their country is the best.

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

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

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Monday Wake Up Call – May 11, 2015

Peter, a new reader to the Wrongologist asks: “Is there a Rightologist?” Wrongo has no idea. His first thought was maybe the Pope qualifies, because infallibility. Few people know that Pope Francis wrote a book in 1998 about Cuba called “Dialogues between John Paul II and Fidel Castro” that was a collection of observations between the two leaders on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Cuba. Popes have been pushing to end Cuba’s isolation for decades. Among them were Pope Benedict, who visited Cuba in 2012, and John Paul II, who visited in 1998 along with then-Archbishop Bergoglio.

And today, we know that Pope Francis had a key role in the diplomatic thaw between the US and Cuba. It was the right move. So, the Pope can be the Rightologist.

For today’s Wake-up, here is the Tocororo, the national bird of Cuba. It is found only in Cuba, is rare, and few Cubans have seen it:

For those who read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.

Monday’s Hot Links:

North Korea said Saturday that it had successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine. If true, this would be a game-changer in North Asia. It would pose a new challenge to the US and South Korea and Japan, since submarine-launched missiles are much harder to detect and intercept, and these countries are very close to each other.

We don’t know jack about Joe: Joe is General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., Commandant of the Marine Corps and Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s only been the top officer of the Marines since October. Before that he was commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan for 18 months, not a lot of time in grade, but Obama likes him.

China has signed a deal with Saudi Arabia to sell it Chinese drones. Saudi is buying the Wing Loong medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle, called the Pterodactyl I. Chinese media have indicated that the drone has a wide variety of military applications, including “precision strikes and long-duration, long-distance reconnaissance.” Some say it is a knock-off of our Predator. Isn’t Saudi Arabia supposed to recycle petrodollars into US military hardware, or wouldn’t we sell our drones to them?

For the past 15 years, the Pentagon has used a $90 billion slush fund to keep certain defense spending “off budget”. It’s called the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. Remarkably, the $90 billion in the OCO account for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 exceeds the budget of every federal department and agency, except for the Defense Department. Last September, the Defense Department tried to use $2 billion of OCO funds to pay for eight F-35’s.

Skeletal evidence from the last 30k years suggests that our brains have become smaller. Scientific American says that that our brains have shrunk by an amount equivalent to a tennis ball, for two reasons. First we have smaller bodies, so the brain would naturally be smaller. Apparently, SA has never been in Indiana. Second, we now store and process information externally, like in the cloud. Your tennis ball is in a data storage facility somewhere in the NSA’s data center in Bluffdale, Utah. This explains why we can’t paint like the cavemen anymore.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) reminded us that God “wrote the Constitution”. He told Matt Hagee:

I think we got off the track when we allowed our government to become a secular government…When we stopped realizing that God created this nation, that he wrote the Constitution…

Despite those like Mr. DeLay and Minister Hagee, who would have us believe that America is only a nation for Christians, we’ve somehow managed to keep religion out of our government. Perhaps it’s the recognition of what theocracy does to places like Pakistan, Iran, and Somalia.

Couldn’t be respect for the Constitution, written the way George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison intended.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 21, 2014

A week where Colbert moved on, and all but the anti-Castro diehards moved on.

And Sony? Think of it this way: A Japanese company with offices in California was hacked. Several terabytes of data were copied from its internal networks and some was put on file sharing sites. One of the items copied was The Interview, a film produced in Canada that is a comedy about killing a current (although illegitimate) head of state. Tons of other data were stolen, like social security numbers, payroll data, and internal emails, all of which might have been the real targets of the hackers.

Sony is a wonderful object lesson. A few rogue hackers, possibly affiliated with North Korea if you believe the FBI, have forced the company to cancel the movie. The larger issue is that America is no longer free to watch bad movies. The problem for the US is that cyber warfare is cheap and effective. Unlike our military, it isn’t capital intensive, and it can’t be defeated with aircraft carriers and nukes. Yet, the new Congress will probably vote for more jets and tanks.

The tools used to hack Sony are well known and in the public domain. Sony has lousy internal network security and has been hacked before. It’s time that dysfunctional corporations like Sony, invest in protecting themselves. It isn’t the government’s responsibility.

Hollywood, that bastion of free speech, heads for the exits:

COW Sony

It hurts to give up when you are so close to, what, exactly?
COW Cuba

Mr. Obama’s unilateral action on Cuba shows his callous disregard for his lame-duckitude. It also shows his disrespect for the Constitution, Christianity, and everything Americans hold dear.

Cuban economy is about to change:

COW Costco

Colbert packs up, heads towards Letterman:
cOW Colbert

Another idea we need to put behind us:

COW Thied Bush

The Torture Report was a mixed message:

COW Not Who We are

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