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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Sunday Cartoon Blogging – January 8, 2017

Congress returned, and immediately shot itself in the foot by being against ethics before they were for them. That made no sense, even to Overlord Donald I, so Congress backed down. Then Congress got down to business: They revived a rule allowing them to reduce the pay of individual government workers, which was why they were building lists of pro-climate change bureaucrats. Now, they are working on the process for dismantling Obamacare. Dr. Pence nailed the GOP theme:

The GOP will try to baffle the people by guaranteeing “Universal Access”, to health care. That does not ensure that anyone actually has insurance:

The big story of the week was the Russian hacking. Trump was briefed on Friday. Wrongo is skeptical that it made any difference to the election result. Trump’s public skepticism that Russia was behind it is also troubling:

Don’t worry about Trump releasing any secret stuff. The hacking report is 50 pages long, so he’s not reading it. He’ll watch the declassified stuff on Fox News and tweet what he thinks:

The Inauguration is coming. It might look like this:

(This cartoon is by Marian Kamensky, Slovakia)

Once in office, here is Trump’s foreign policy:

(This is from Tom Janssen, The Netherlands)

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Wrongo’s Useless 2017 Predictions

It’s tough to make predictions. Especially about the future.”Yogi Berra

Since you have already plunged a stake into the heart of 2016, it is time for some predictions about 2017, which most likely, won’t happen. We can expect the following:

  1. There will be more global political and social turmoil:
    1. The EU could collapse. France is a Marine LePen government away from pursuing an exit from the EU, so there would be a Frexit to go along with Brexit.
    2. China’s economy is wobbling, and China’s president Xi has leaned into a populist message:

On this New Year, I am most concerned about the difficulties of the masses: how they eat, how they live, whether they can have a good New Year…

  1. The US will continue to lose influence globally despite “Mr. Unpredictable” becoming our Orange Overlord: Trump brags about winning when he negotiates. That has been undeniably true in his real estate and name brand licensing. He will find that when the other side doesn’t need access to his brand in order to succeed, he will have to resort to instilling fear. That may work once, but it will not work consistently.
  2. A corollary: Trump arrives in the Oval Office as an overconfident leader, the man with no plan but with a short attention span, and within six months, he will have his first major policy failure. Getting his hand burned will make him more subdued, more conservative and less populist thereafter.
  3. A second corollary: The triumvirate of Russia/Turkey/Iran will elbow the US firmly out of the Fertile Crescent, and secure friendly regimes in Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran. This will push American influence in the Middle East back to just the Gulf States, a weakened Saudi Arabia, and an increasingly isolated Israel.
  4. Domestically, drug abuse, suicide, and general self-destructive behavior will continue to climb and become impossible to ignore.
  5. The Trump stock market rally has already turned into the Santa Selloff. The Dow peaked on December 20 at 19,975, 25 points away from party-hat time. But since then, Dow 20,000 slipped through our fingers like sand. It closed the year at 19,719, down 281 points from 20k.
  6. Regarding the stock market, many people who want to sell stocks waited until 2017 in order to pay lower capital gains tax. Selling in January could lower prices further.
  7. The growing antibiotic resistance to main stream drugs will impact health in the US.

Meta Prediction: It is certain that few Trump voters will get the results they voted for. Some people who voted for Trump have incompatible outcomes in mind, so it’s a virtual guarantee that a sizable minority are going to feel cheated when they fail to get what they were promised.

OTOH, when Trump fails, most of his base will blame anyone but the Donald. The question is, when disillusionment sets in, will the reaction be a turning away, or a doubling down on the anger?

Wrongo thinks anger will win out.

The coming Trump administration will seem like a fractious family outing: Just under half of the family (the “landslide” segment) wanted to go out, but now, the whole family has to go. Those who wanted to stay home will sulk in the back seat while Daddy tells them to stop bitching.

Meanwhile, once we are out of the driveway, it dawns on everyone that Daddy hasn’t decided yet where to go. Everyone pipes up with suggestions, but Daddy again tells everyone to shut up, because it’s his decision alone. There will be the usual “are we there yet?” complaining, some motion sickness and incessant fighting over who is touching whom.

Daddy won’t reveal the destination, but insists everyone will love it once they get there, even those who wanted to stay home, those who wanted to go the beach, and those who wanted to head over the cliff like Thelma and Louise.

Time for our Monday Wake Up Call, “Wake Up Everybody”, originally by Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Teddy left the group for his solo career after this album.

But, today we will hear and watch John Legend’s cover of the tune, backed by the Roots Band along with Melanie Fiona, and Common. The song is as strong as it was 42 years ago when it was released:

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

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Trump’s Nuclear and Israel Policies

2016 is ending on a somber note: We elected Donald Trump. We have confirmed his modus operandi, his lack of tweeting impulse control. We’ve seen his appointments to senior positions.

2017 will be an abrupt shift from the policies and guiding principles of the post-Reagan era. This will be true for the social safety net, tax policy, and several other primarily domestic policies, some which had their genesis in FDR’s New Deal. Then there is the Supreme Court.

It is doubtful that Trump can undo the Iran nuclear deal, but two other international policies will change.

First, America’s nuclear weapons policy: Donald Trump has recently tweeted that the US needs to “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.” We have had a 50-year period of nuclear arms control with Russia, mostly delivered by Republican presidents. It tamed and then downsized the nuclear arms race. But Trump’s national security appointees and Republicans in Congress now want to throw away their inheritance. They will try their best to bankrupt Moscow again. They will seek to chip away, if not walk away, from the New START and INF treaties. They will try to remove the CTBT from the Senate’s calendar and reduce funding for that Treaty’s global monitoring system.

Trump has shown little interest in intelligence briefings. This is reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s first term. Recently declassified documents from the Reagan presidency show how slowly Reagan was brought up to speed on national security issues. Reagan took office in 1981, and was not fully up to speed by 1983, preferring to let his national security team handle those details. This is from the National Security Archive: (Emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Sharper understanding at high levels of the grave danger of nuclear war was one consequence of a Defense Department nuclear war game that occurred in mid-1983. In the “Proud Prophet” game…the lead players were JCS Chairman John W. Vessey and Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger… during the game Vessey and Weinberger followed standard policies constructed for crises; as a U.S.-Soviet conflict escalated, their actions initiated a major nuclear war. “The result was a catastrophe” in which “a half billion human beings were killed in the initial exchanges and at least that many more would have died from radiation and starvation.”…Proud Prophet had a chastening and moderating impact on the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and thinking about nuclear war….but…The Proud Prophet report remains massively excised and it is unknown even if or when Weinberger briefed Reagan on it.

(h/t Booman)

This history shows that the (unelected) national security apparatus thinks it prudent to keep newly elected presidents in the dark for a long time after they are elected. In the case of Harry Truman, he didn’t even know we had nuclear weapons until he was asked for permission to use them!

Our only hope with nuclear is that Trump seems to want to forge a working alliance with Russia. We know that a renewed nuclear arms race is not in either country’s interest. It’s possible that Trump will surprise us by doing deals with Vladimir Putin, who cannot afford an arms race.

Second, is Israel’s out-of-proportion reaction to the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2334, which passed with the US abstaining, rather than exercising its veto. The resolution condemns Israel’s construction of settlements within the occupied Palestinian territories. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t take the Resolution well. He vowed revenge on everyone, except Trump. Netanyahu said that Israel will “re-evaluate diplomatic relations” with all 14 countries who voted yes, including permanent Security Council members Russia, the UK, China and France. “Re-evaluation” will have no meaning to them, but for the other nine, who knows? Bibi singled out Senegal and halted Israeli aid. He recalled Israeli ambassadors from some of the countries that voted for the resolution, called for re-evaluation of Israel’s relationship with the UN, including its funding commitment.

Republicans, emboldened by their love of Israel, have made threats to defund the UN, something we haven’t heard since John Bolton was relevant.

Almost certainly, Netanyahu’s strategy is to exploit the UN vote to convince Trump and his team that Israel needs to be compensated in some way for what the UN, and especially the US, has done.

More compensation. How Republican of them. America has given Israel $124 billion in aid, and Obama just authorized another $38 billion over the next ten years.

It’s time to cut Netanyahu adrift. What we have here is a US client state that thinks it’s in charge. The question is how bad do Israel’s policies have to be before it provokes some sort of reassessment by Congress? Or is everything to be swept under the rug of “existential necessity”?

The Trump and the I-love-Israel-more than-life-itself crowd in Congress are on track to do severe damage to the UN and to our ME strategy during the next four years.

Trump’s foreign policy is giving Wrongo the year-end blues.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 5, 2016

We’ve entered uncharted territory. Trump had a phone call with the president of Taiwan. Why is that such an issue? Presidents speak to other world leaders all the time, but American presidents have not spoken to the president of Taiwan since 1979. This studied form of non-recognition is at the core of the One-China Policy.

That policy states that there is only one state called “China”, despite the existence of two governments claiming to be China. This diplomatic dance works precisely because everybody agrees to abide by rules that don’t make complete sense.

We learned from experience in Korea and Vietnam, where we acted with hostility to both “two country” standoffs between a communist and a non-communist government. We learned, and then changed the game when it came to the two Chinas. That is, until President-Elect Trump was lured into the Taiwan call by his advisors, John Bolton and Stephen Yates. This from the Guardian: (strike out and brackets by the Wrongologist)

Bolton wrote in the Wall Street Journal in January: “The new US administration could start with receiving Taiwanese diplomats officially at the State Department; upgrading the status of US representation in Taipei from a private ‘institute’ to an official diplomatic mission; inviting Taiwan’s president to travel officially to America; allowing the most senior US officials to visit Taiwan to transact government business; and ultimately restoring full diplomatic recognition.”

Stephen Yates, a former White House aide to Dick Cheney now advising the Trump transition was in Taiwan at the time of [Trump’s] the call. “It’s great to have a leader willing to ignore those who say he cannot take a simple call from another democratically elected leader,” Yates tweeted.

China reacted by saying Trump needs to be educated about the world. Scott Adams, Trump butt-boy, puts it in about the most favorable light possible:

Trump is “setting the table” for future negotiations with China. He just subtracted something from China’s brand that they value, and later he will negotiate with them to maybe give it back in some fashion. Probably in return for some trade concessions.

It didn’t end there. Trump apparently has invited Philippine President Duterte to the White House. Figuring out how to resolve Duterte’s issues with the US, his embrace of China, and his demonstrated abuse of human rights in the Philippines should be high on the new administration’s list of issues. It would have been smart to have the outline of an agreed joint solution in place before rewarding Duterte with a state visit.

And there was Trump’s phone call with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. According to the Pakistani account of the conversation, Trump told Nawaz Sharif that Pakistan is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president.

Just awesome, except for Trump ignoring that India, our real partner in that part of Asia, is Pakistan’s enemy. Trump risks appearing to reward Pakistan at the expense of our relationship with India. Again, the US has maintained a balancing act between these two countries, who have a history of war and skirmishes over their disputed border.

The jury is out on what Trump is trying to do, and whether it is based on strategy, or ideology. Speaking with Taiwan’s and Pakistan’s leaders are potentially dangerous moves, as is his engagement with Duterte.

They are also potentially revolutionary. Every out-of-the-box move by Trump challenges norms and potentially blows up longstanding ways of doing things. If you are gonna shake things up, it’s all-important that you understand exactly why we have done things the way we have, and what the implications are of change. We know Trump is an instinctive guy, and not a willing student. The danger is his willingness to overturn complex situations where governmental institutions have had very good reasons for the policy they support.

This is the dark underbelly of Trump’s populism. He was elected to shake things up by voters who dismiss facts, if presented by journalists.

You start by discrediting what came before. You call it elite failure. You shake things up because you can.

Time to wake up, America! Think about Michael Moore’s calling Trump a human Molotov cocktail on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:

Across the Midwest, across the Rustbelt, I understand why a lot of people are angry. And they see Donald Trump as their human Molotov cocktail…I think they love the idea of blowing up the system.

So, let’s wake up today with the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. The lyrics to this song catalog both personalities and historic events from 1949 until 1989:

We didn’t start Trump’s fire, but get ready, we may very well have to put it out.

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

Sample lyrics:
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 4, 2016

Quite the week. Trump makes Cabinet appointments, he tweets about taking citizenship away from US flag burners exercising freedom of speech, he takes a call from the president of Taiwan, and gets a formal protest from China.

That wasn’t all. You missed it, but Congress passed HR 5732, the “Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act”. The bill sets the stage for the implementation of a no-fly zone (NFZ) over Syria. It requires the administration to submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report:

That assesses the potential effectiveness, risks and operational requirements of the establishment and maintenance of a no-fly zone over part of all of Syria.

These Congressional chicken hawks may not realize that NFZs are a form of limited war. Politicians are usually the first to forget that limited wars only stay limited by mutual agreement. The military will tell you to never declare an NFZ unless you are entirely willing to fight a real air and ground war to enforce it. In the case of Syria, a No-Fly Zone would require the destruction of Syrian aircraft and missile systems from Day 1, probably leading to the death of Russians shortly thereafter. We could have a shooting war with Russia by the end of the first week.

Syria has over 130 air defense systems. A dozen or so are in the Aleppo area. Syria also has over 4,000 air defense artillery pieces and a few thousand portable infrared-guided missile systems. Russia has also located its advanced S-400 anti-aircraft missiles into Syria to protect their bases in Latakia Province. Those missile systems effectively give Russia control over Syria’s airspace, and for the US to impose a no-fly zone would require an air battle with Russia, which would all but guarantee the loss of a large number of US warplanes.

Over the last 25 years, there has been an evolving political infatuation with two pillars of “political airpower”: airstrikes and no-fly zones. Did we get the results our politicians promised?

Onward to cartoons. Trump goes to Indiana, gives Carrier tax breaks:

cow-carrier

It was great political theater, but it is a standard “socialize the losses” GOP play: tax breaks for jobs. The taxes earned from keeping the jobs never pay the cost of the tax credits.

Paul Krugman had a good observation:

cow-krugman-on-carrier

Fidel Castro dies:

cow-fidel-hell

Free speech isn’t well understood by the Orange Overlord:

cow-burn-this

Nancy Pelosi is reelected as Minority Leader. Many are pleased:

cow-pelosi

Mitt wants work, will say anything:

cow-mitt-agrees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump still has lots of posts to fill. Word is that former vice presidential candidate and Tina Fey impersonator Sarah Palin is on the list of possible Cabinet appointments.

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Will Erdogan Remain In The Trump Fan Club?

Trump has two towers in Istanbul. In December 2015, his local partner explored legal means to take Trump’s name off the towers after the Orange Overlord called for a ban on Muslims entering the US. In June, Turkish President Erdogan reportedly called for the removal of the Trump name from the towers.

But things have changed. The Economist reports that:

Mr. Erdogan appears to have changed his mind, both about the towers and about the man whose name appears on them. Although polls show that most Turks would have preferred to see Hillary Clinton as America’s new president, Mr. Trump’s election has been greeted in Ankara with a mix of schadenfreude and hope.

In fact, Erdogan has called US protests against Mr. Trump’s election “a disrespect to democracy”. The Economist says that Trump reportedly told Mr. Erdogan over the phone that his daughter, Ivanka, admired him, and flattery works all over the world.

Erdogan thinks that our Orange Overlord may be more amenable to extradite Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher whom Turkey accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt in July. Since July, Turkey has pressed the Obama administration to extradite Mr. Gulen. The Turks felt sure that Hillary Clinton would not extradite him, since her campaign accepted donations from his followers.

In November, Trump’s National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn, strongly supported Turkish President Erdogan in an op-ed at The Hill, suggesting that Erdogan is under siege by “radical Islam” and desperately needs our help. Flynn said:

The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.

Flynn also seemed to dismiss Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissidents and the dubious circumstances of the attempted coup which allowed Erdogan to solidify his power. So let’s review Erdogan’s actions since July:

  1. Turkey now has outstripped China as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. In addition, 150 news outlets have been closed, ranging from TV stations to online enterprises.
  2. Erdogan has suspended or fired 110,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, journalists and soldiers. This has gutted the educated middle class of Turkey.
  3. He has restarted an internal war with Kurds in Eastern Turkey, and has arrested the leadership of the Kurdish minority HDP party, which got more than 10% of seats in the last election.
  4. He has sent the Turkish Army into Syria in what was first described as border defense against ISIS (a group he has long supported), but it has been revealed that his plan is to reach central Syria and depose Bashar Assad.
  5. The EU has suspended negotiations for Turkish membership for civil rights backsliding, but not before they gave Turkey €6 billion to stop sending refugees into the EU.
  6. Erdogan has threatened to reopen the flow of refugees if the EU doesn’t agree to further Turkey’s application to join. Opening the refugee flow is an existential threat to the EU, and thus, to NATO.

Trump is holding a tough hand while playing poker with Turkey. As a NATO member with the largest standing army in Europe, Turkey occupies an important place in NATO’s strategy. Trump has to balance Turkey’s support for the mutual defense of Europe against Turkey’s intentions to go one-on-one against Syria.

He has to balance the shaky EU refugee deal with Turkey against Erdogan’s effort to engage militarily against the PKK, a Kurdish group in Iraq and Syria who are allied with the US against ISIS.

Erdogan has made an overture towards Russia and China. A link with them would destabilize NATO even further. Erdogan seems to be testing Trump’s resolve and his commitment to NATO at the same time. Perhaps he sees an opportunity to garner some good old American baksheesh, so he’s putting a foot in the water to see if it’s comfortable enough to dive in.

That may be a poor play, since while Trump may be sympathetic to Turkish concerns about Mr. Gulen, the cleric’s fate rests with America’s courts. Meanwhile, The Economist reports that Trump’s team wants to list the Muslim Brotherhood as a terror group, roll back the nuclear deal with Iran, and continue arming the PKK’s Syrian wing against ISIS.

Erdogan opposes all of these measures vehemently.

Some of Trump’s new team are not fans of Erdogan. In a tweet, Trump’s CIA-designate, Mike Pompeo, called Turkey an “Islamist dictatorship”.

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Trump show certain similarities. Both are busy recasting and ruining their countries at the same time.

Let’s hope it doesn’t last.

 

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