Saturday, April 14, 2018

Trade War Casualties

The trade war started gloriously on March 2 with Donald Trump talking about putting tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum to protect American jobs. Trump tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”

Trump, for good reasons, later backed off tariffs on steel from Canada, Mexico and Europe to focus on low-cost competitors in Asia and South America. China on April 2 retaliated with tariffs on about $3 billion worth of 128 US imports, ranging from pork, meat and fruit to steel pipes. Trump raised the stakes April 3 with threats to place 25% tariffs on 1,300 Chinese products, worth $50 billion, including flat-screen televisions, medical devices, aircraft parts and batteries in a sweeping trade measure aimed at penalizing China for its trade practices. China replied April 4 with proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of American soybeans, corn, cotton, beef, pork, orange juice, tobacco, whiskey and other goods, much of which comes from Republican-dominated states that voted for Trump.

Midwestern farmers who voted for Trump should worry that he will sell them out as he has sold out “partners” throughout his business career, as he pursues a trade war with China with little regard for the damage it may do to the rural economy.

White House officials held out the possibility that the tariffs might never go into effect. “There’s no trade war here,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s new top economic adviser, said April 4. He described the threat of tariffs as “just the first proposal” in a process that would involve negotiations and back-channel talks. “I understand the stock market’s anxiety,” he said. “But on the other hand, don’t overreact.”

However, pork prices already have dropped about a third since January, John Fischer, a farmer from Neola, Iowa, told ABC News April 8, and farmers are preparing to plant corn and soybeans, whose value would be heavily impacted by changes in Chinese buying patterns.

The American Soybean Association noted that the price of soybean futures dropped 40 cents a bushel, or $1.72 billion in value for a projected crop of 4.3 billion bushels in 2018, the morning after Chinese authorities announced the retaliatory tariffs. The soybean group urged Trump to scrap the tariffs and instead negotiate with Beijing to end the trade dispute.

Corn was bringing $3.50 a bushel, half of what farmers were getting in 2012-2013, and politicians from the Corn Belt were feeling the pressure, particularly after the White House threatened April 5 to impose tariffs on another $100 billion worth of Chinese goods. “If he’s even half-serious, this is nuts,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told the New York Times. “Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behavior, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us. This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Trump acknowledged in a radio interview April 6 that the tariffs may be tough on some people and businesses, but said it’d be better for the country in the long run.

“I’m not saying there won’t be a little pain, but the market has gone up 40 percent, 42 percent so we might lose a little bit of it,” he said on WABC Radio’s Bernie & Sid morning show in New York City. ”But we’re going to have a much stronger country when we’re finished. So we may take a hit and, you know, what? Ultimately, we’re going to much stronger for it.”

Trump also has threatened to dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement and he has repeatedly slammed Mexico, which has become a major importer of American corn, pork and poultry. No matter what you think of NAFTA, over the past 18 years the competition from US agribusinesses has destroyed the campesino culture in Mexico and many of those former Mexican farm workers have moved north to find jobs in maquiladora factories that assemble products formerly made in the US, or they migrate into the US, to states such as Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin, to work on farms or in meat processing plants slaughtering pork, beef or poultry.

As these undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America are being collected and deported by Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), farmers who voted for Trump will find it difficult to find US citizens willing to work as hard for as little pay.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said Mexico is looking at Argentina and Brazil to find a more certain marketplace in the wake of Trump’s comments on trade with Mexico.

Trump suggested in an April 4 tweet that he saw no reason to back down, since the US was already on the losing end of trade with China.

“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the US,” he wrote. “Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!”

He added in another tweet, “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!” (Actually, the trade deficit with China was $336 billion in 2017. And you certainly can lose — the market for your product long enough to put you out of business!)

Trump’s inattention to details like these may be one of the reasons his companies were forced six times to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Corn Belt Republicans who are leery of free-market solutions to international trade disputes should work with Democrats to fashion a farm bill that will protect family farmers and ranchers from the collateral damage that occurs in the trade war.

The Bully’s Pulpit

We’re sorry to keep returning to Trump’s record as a liar, but honest Americans cannot ignore the president’s reckless disregard for the truth, which has accelerated since he was appointed president.
The Washington Post’s Fact Checker has been tracking Trump’s lies, and has documented more than 2,400 misstatements since he was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017. On March 2, the Post reported that in the 406 days since he had taken the oath of office, Trump has made 2,436 false or misleading claims — an average of six false claims a day. That was up from an average of 4.9 false claims a day during the first 100 days.

Lying Donnie went the extra step in disgracing his office April 3, when he tweeted, “Thank you to Rasmussen for the honest polling. Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin’ Obama at the same time in his Administration.”

Trump does not explain why he called Obama a cheater, but it fits his practice of acting like a middle-school bully. Rasmussen is a right-leaning polling firm that consistently ranks Trump’s approval higher than other polling firms; still, April 3 was the first time Trump’s approval rating was higher than Obama’s 46% on April 3, 2010. But most reputable pollsters still have Trump’s approval in the high 30s or low 40s. The Gallup poll showed Trump with a 39% approval rating on April 2, compared with Obama’s 49% approval in a comparable period in 2010, Gallup noted.

A popular Facebook meme by The Other 98% notes that “Trump – who has cheated on all three of his wives, dodged the draft, had to pay out a $25 million settlement for his scam university, refuses to release his taxes and is under federal investigation for cheating in the 2016 election — just referred to his predecessor as ‘Cheatin’ Obama.’”

If Trump were a drinking man, we could hope he’d get sober. But he claims to be a teetotaler. Until Republicans become embarrassed at the unhinged Tweeter in Chief, he’ll continue to embarrass — and possibly endanger — the rest of us. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the May 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Igor Bobic and Daniel Marans
Trade war could cost the GOP at the ballot box


EDITORIAL
Trade war casualties; The bully’s pulpit


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
How Trump gets to yes


DISPATCHES
Steel tariff talk causes Korea to yield;
Trump’s store ducks sales taxes;
Impeachment is the latest GOP bogeyman;
Rs mull spending cuts to nibble deficit caused by billionaire tax cuts;
Govs balk at sending Guard to border;
FBI raid targets Trump's lawyer;
Rick Scott wants to take his bad ideas to Washington;
Scott Pruitt hasn't saved taxpayers anything;
Iowans gain right to buy worthless health insurance;


ART CULLEN
The real soy worry


BOB BURNETT
Facebook, Trump and Russia


JOHN YOUNG
Second Amendment and fraudulent hucksters


GENE NICHOL
In NC’s struggling regions, many ‘feel like they’ve had the hell kicked out of them’


JOEL D. JOSEPH
Why trade deficits matter


JASON SIBERT
Cash is weaponized in public dialog


GRASSROOTS/Hank Kalet 
Posse Trumpitatus


WENONAH HAUTER
Martin County, Ky., facing a water crisis


SETH SANDRONSKY
‘I won’t keep calm I have a black son’


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
‘Promises promises’: Right to try legislation


SAM URETSKY
Administration with no concern for the truth


BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel
Tracking the rebirth of white nationalism in America


WAYNE O’LEARY
Return of the wildcat


JOHN BUELL
Corporate trade treaties and the revenge of the deplorables


MARK ANDERSON
Conservatives see ‘liberal’ world order fraying


FR. DONNELL KIRCHNER
When can one disobey the law?


ROB PATTERSON
Netflix series look at days gone by


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
Lost in translation


ED RAMPELL
Interview: Gloria Allred talks #MeToo and ‘Seeing Allred’

Friday, March 30, 2018

Editorial: Expect the Worst

Nothing good can come of the appointment of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as President Trump’s national security adviser. Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster didn’t accomplish much in those roles, but they kept Trump from starting a new war, so that first year might count as the golden era of the Trump Reign.

Now, in Pompeo and Bolton, Trump has foreign policy soulmates who have been pushing for the US to flex its military might to advance national interests. They are a lot less likely to try to talk Trump out of attacking Iran or North Korea. Bolton is a big proponent of pre-emptive war, not excluding nuclear war. In 2009, he said “unless Israel is prepared to use nuclear weapons against Iran’s program, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the very near future.” In February he wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal arguing that it was “perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.”

We had no confidence in Trump when he announced in early March that he will meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to discuss denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Ordinarily, we would say engagement of an adversary in face-to-face talks is a good thing, especially when the alternative is escalating name-calling that might lead to a nuclear exchange. But, we ask ourselves, what could go wrong? With Trump, plenty. And Pompeo and Bolton replacing Tillerson and McMaster only makes the prospects worse.

South Korea President Moon Jae-in made overtures toward more normal relations with the North — and to cool off the rhetoric between Kim and Trump. A South Korean emissary, who had met with Kim in North Korea, relayed Kim’s proposal to suspend nuclear and missile testing while talks are ongoing, and Trump surprised his advisers by accepting.

Tillerson was apparently blindsided. “We’re a long way from negotiations. We just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” he said March 8, just a few hours before the news broke. It wasn’t Tillerson’s last surprise.

Trump is supposed to meet with Kim in May, but the State Department is understaffed and Trump appears to be in no hurray to fill the glaring vacancies. He doesn’t have an ambassador to South Korea, and the State Department’s point person on North Korean issues just retired and hasn’t been replaced. But Trump does not appear inclined to listen to advice when it is offered anyway.

Trump fancies himself a dealmaker, but Kim comes from a family that has been conning Americans since 1994, when his grandfather agreed to stop nuclear weaponization in exchange for energy assistance. Kim is unlikely to give up his nuclear program — he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi after they gave up their nuclear programs — nor is he likely to submit to international inspectors.

Robert Kuttner wrote, “The best we might hope for would be a series of ‘trust-building’ baby steps: a moratorium on the name-calling; a suspension of tests; and more moves toward rapprochement between South and North, with Washington’s blessing. This might give both Trump and Kim some favorable publicity, but if it did nothing to slow the development of stronger bombs and longer-range missiles, the advantage would be Kim’s.”

I don’t see much trust building under Trump with Bolton at his ear and Pompeo representing our diplomatic efforts. Is Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis our last, best hope for a peacemaker?

Adding to the complications, Trump apparently does not value China’s cooperation in dealing with North Korea, as he has chosen to initiate a trade war with China a few weeks before the engagement with North Korea.

Perhaps the best case for Trump is if he can convince Kim to authorize a Trump hotel in Pyongyang. Maybe that will divert the war Trump intended to bring up his approval rates at home.

But if Trump is spoiling for a military adventure, the more likely target is Iran. Unlike North Korea, Iran has neither a nuclear weapon nor a US ally within easy range of Iranian artillery. And Iran has done nothing to provoke an attack from the US. Instead, UN nuclear inspectors have certified Iran is compliant with the deal it reached with six world powers, including the US, in 2015 to scale back its uranium enrichment with its promise not to pursue nuclear weapons. In return, international sanctions were lifted, allowing Iran to sell its oil and gas worldwide, which has contributed to lower fuel prices. Trump persists in saying, “This is the worst deal. We got nothing.” He may have been referring to American oil companies.

Pompeo has said Trump was right in calling the deal a “disaster.”

Shortly before Trump’s election, Bolton spoke to a right-wing group in California about the spread of “radical Islam” and its threat to the West, and called the 2015 nuclear deal “the worst act of appeasement in American history,” Ted Regencia reported at Al Jazeera.

“The government in Tehran is left with an essentially unimpeded path towards nuclear weapons,” Bolton said, ignoring multiple findings by UN nuclear inspectors that contradict his claim.

Without offering evidence, Bolton told the crowd that Iranian nuclear weapons could be delivered through ballistic missiles, or smuggled by “terrorists” into the US, and detonated “at a time most suitable to them.”

On Jan. 12, Trump announced he was waiving US sanctions for the “last time,” and said if his demands are not met within 120 days, the US will withdraw from the deal. The deadline is May 12.

Iranian officials insist that Tehran will never pursue nuclear weapons despite the expiration of some provisions of the pact, but Iran also rejects Trump’s demands for more inspections of its military sites and an end to its ballistic missile program.

At the CIA, Pompeo backed Trump’s decision to decertify the deal, and has tried to link Iran to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), failing to mention that Iran-backed forces fought against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, Regencia noted.

In 2017, Bolton, who had been blamed for pushing defective intelligence that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, renewed his call for “regime change” in Iran, a country of 80 million people, by 2019. On March 25, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported that he tried to convince Israel to bomb Iran when he was US ambassador to the UN during George W Bush’s administration.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) has questioned if Bolton can obtain a full security clearance after Bolton’s “contacts with foreign governments,” notably in Russia, pointing to a 2013 video for a Russian gun rights group in which Bolton appeared. Bolton also might be questioned about work on behalf of Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations for having killed American citizens before Bolton and others successfully lobbied to have the designation removed in 2012, Jason Rezalan reported in the Washington Post March 24.

Rezalan, who was the Post’s Tehran correspondent from 2012 to 2016, including 544 days imprisoned by Iranian authorities, concluded, “The MEK is the type of fringe group that sets up camp across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and hands out fliers filled with unsubstantiated claims. This is America — we let crazy people talk. That’s their right, and I would never suggest that they be prohibited from doing that. But giving the MEK a voice in the White House is a terrible idea.

“In John Bolton they have someone who will do it for them.”

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive Populist, PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the April 15, 2018 issue

COVER/Robert Borosage
Opening a new way for Democrats to run and win


EDITORIAL
Expect the worst from Pompeo and Bolton


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
A conservative’s guide to the real Pope Francis


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen  
With pesticides, if you catch your neighbor’s drift, you’re in trouble

DISPATCHES
New report shows midterms rigged for Republicans;
Fair Elections issue on Ohio ballot;
NRA mocks gun violence survivors;
What’s in the spending bill?
Spending bill saves border wildlife refuge;
Congress funds EPA, clean energy programs Trump planned to slash;
Puerto Rico passes six months without full power;
Trump has trouble finding and keeping lawyers;

MSNBC silent in run-up to vote to end Yemen war ...

ART CULLEN
Kander wants to talk to rural Iowa


JILL RICHARDSON
To believe in science, you have to understand how it’s done


JOHN YOUNG
This week on: ‘(US) House Makeover’


BOB BURNETT
Forecasting midterm elections in Midwest


LEO GERARD
Labor organizes a congressional win


STEPHANIE SAVELL 
15 years after the Iraq invasion, what are the costs? 


WENONAH HAUTER
Bottled water, brought to you by fracking


ROGER BYBEE
The unhinged and ignorant vs. clueless and complacent on tariffs

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas 
A better target: The NRA


SAM URETSKY
US health declines toward third-world status


WAYNE O’LEARY
The banksters are back


JOHN BUELL
Sexual exploitation and corporate power


KENT PATERSON
Will an ‘inconvenient’ Lopez Obrador be Mexico’s next president?


GRASSROOTS/Hank Kalet 
Drug war tougher than smart


ROB PATTERSON
Dylan’s Christian excursion revisited in ‘Bootleg Series’


BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky 
Resisting oppression


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Tim Robbins tackles the refugee crisis, racism, and modern life


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson 
We’re lucky to have him


and more ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Trump’s policies all feed the fear that many white Americans have of anyone or anything different from their lifestyle and beliefs


By Marc Jampole

Something quite wonderful happened to my wife and me the other day during our annual public humiliation, which is how we refer to our one trip a year to buy sweet kosher wine—always for our Seder. We entered the neighborhood liquor store near Hunter College and sheepishly asked a group of employees gathered in front, “Where’s the sweet kosher wine?” I added, as if telling a joke, “You know, once a year…” to which the store manager answered with a lilting empathy that seemed to come from years of experience, “I know, once a year!” We were sharing a moment.
Except the manager was most certainly a sub-continental or Persian, and thus probably Muslim or Hindu and not Jewish.
In all, six ethnic groups were involved in this public ritual that always proceeds our private religious-cultural celebration: A secular Syrian Jew and his Quaker wife of German-Dutch-English descent are served first by a South or Central Asian who asks his Latino employee to show us where to look—he said, “Jose, show them.” The cashier is a very friendly African-American woman.
Syrian Jew, WASP, Asian, Latino, Black—that’s five cultures. Six, when you count the man to whom the store manager was talking the entire time we were in the store—a jovial heavyset, tow-haired guy with an Eastern European accent.
Diversity and respect for everyone. It’s what I love about New York City, and what I love about America.
And it’s what Trump supporters fear.
Core Trump supporters fear the other—other cultures, other skin colors, other religions, other sexual predilections, other nationalities. They fear being invaded or physically harmed. They fear losing their traditions. They harbor a completely irrational fear of being displaced, after centuries of enjoying preferential treatment.
Virtually all the Trump positions that appeal to his white, mostly rural or working class, base begin with a fear of the other: The policy to build a wall, shut down immigration and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. The policies to get tough on crime and gut poverty programs, which appeal to the many white Americans who mistakenly believe that the majority of both criminals and the poor are people of color. The defense of Christmas, which isn’t so much a defense against encroachments on religious celebration as an attempt to assert the prerogatives of one religion as dominant and therefore normal. The anti-LGBTQ policies such as Trump’s several attempts to kick transgendered people out of the armed forces. The gun policies, as surveys show that those hoarding guns and spewing out NRA rhetoric tend to be whites who are afraid of African-Americans. Even Trump’s “America first” foreign policy reflects a fear of the other.
If it’s different from the normal defined by Walt Disney in the 1950’s, then Trump’s America hates it.
But it’s differences that I love in my America, an America I share with more than half the population, congregating primarily in big cities and their immediate suburbs along the coasts and major rivers and transit points.
In our America, we don’t fear the other, we embrace all others, as we’re likely an “other” ourselves. We enjoy our freedom to express our culture in our homes, our community centers and yes, sometimes in the streets. We love to see others express their cultures. We love to dabble sometimes in the culture of others—Native American, Puerto Rican, Jamaican, Ethiopian, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Turkish, Persian, Indonesian and a myriad of other cuisines, parades, neighborhoods, music festivals and exhibits. We are not threatened by diversity. Diversity makes our surroundings more interesting and provocative. Being part of a big-tent America also protects us—or is supposed to protect us—from discrimination.
Those who fear the other have always been around to impede what Martin Luther King called the long arc of our history towards justice for all. Fear of the other has a long tradition in American culture and politics. It served as a justification for both slavery and how we treated freed African-American slaves. Fear of the other animated the nativist political movements of the 19th centuries and our restrictive immigration policies between the World Wars. It guided our housing, mass transit, urban renewal and land development policies and fueled the flight to the suburbs after World War II.
Over the past twenty years, the country seems to be polarizing around these two visions of American more than ever before. With the Republican and Democratic Parties taking turns as the dominant political force, our national politics must appear bipolar to the outside world, as we violently shift between policies that stultify diversity with those that encourage it.
Sadly, the GOP even before Trump has for years exploited the irrational fear of the other to gain support for an economic agenda that has inflicted severe harm on the very constituency most susceptible to their fear-mongering—less educated, rural and working class whites.
The ironic thing about this never-ending Kulturkampf is that Trump’s Americans—the evangelicals, the cultural conservatives, the gun lovers and even the white supremacists can live their lives as exactly as they want in the privacy of their own homes, community centers and hunting lodges in an America based on diversity, as long as they don’t insist on foisting their beliefs, cultural artifacts and definitions of normalcy on others. You do your thing and let me do mine. And we’ll keep public places and institutions secular and open to all.
I’m reminded of a heated discussion about what constitutes America that I had with my much younger step brother when he was in his angry white guy phase decades ago. He was blasting away against anti-American values and the threat of Blacks and foreigners, all the while eating a taco from a fast food emporium. When I pointed out that he was eating Mexican food, my then callow step brother insisted with some vehemence, “No, I’m not. Tacos are American.”
You’ll get no argument here.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Students marching for stiffer gun control should get “woke” to the fact that their struggle is related to #MeToo, BlackLivesMatter & the pro-immigration movement


By Marc Jampole

The students of America haven’t been so united since the protests against the War in Viet Nam that followed the killing of students at Kent State University and Jackson State College (now University) in 1970.
Like most sane Americans and surely all of the almost 70% of us who want to ban all private ownership of assault weapons, I applaud the many high school and college students who marched across the country over the weekend, and especially the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School students who cast aside their shock and sorrow to get the ball rolling.
But in the exuberance of the moment, I can’t help but notice one interesting and perhaps troubling similarity about the Viet Nam War protests in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In both cases, large waves of students, most of whom have never engaged in protests on other issues, were united to protect themselves from getting senselessly killed.
No war since Viet Nam has directly threatened the lives of large numbers of American youths simply because in no post-1960’s war has the U.S. military forced people to serve. The ending of the draft in January of 1973 effectively ended all mass student protest against the Viet Nam War—and any sustained large-scale sustained movement to oppose any subsequent war. While there were some major marches before the First Iraq War, for example, as soon as the troops landed virtually all opposition disintegrated. Certainly in no antiwar protest or movement since Viet Nam has the Youth of America (to borrow Casey Stengel’s phrasing) played a predominant role.
Contemporary high school and college students literally have more to fear from on-campus gun violence than dying in war. It makes sense they would rise up to oppose our irresponsible and anti-social current gun laws.
But again, like the Viet Nam War, the primary motivation to protest is self-interest and not commitment to a political, social or economic ideal or policy.
I’m not chiding the kids. I love them. They’re smart, educated and articulate. In their leadership and organizational efforts, they seem to take American diversity and equality as givens. But all they’ve proven so far is that they can mobilize when their own lives are in danger, which ends up being the only thing that the Baby Boom generation ended up proving, too.
While expressing my enthusiastic support of the marchers, I also want to issue a challenge: Don’t limit yourself to this one issue which deeply involves you and your continued existence.
Students should keep in mind that gun control is connected in many ways to the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, LBGTQ and pro-immigration movements, and to the much smaller and less well-known movements to shrink the military and ban nuclear weapons. One big connection is that these movements all have the same opponents, the Trump base of misogynists, racists and nativists, encouraged by the big-money ultra-right wing. Surveys show that those who hoard guns are primarily whites afraid of blacks. To a large extent, the gun culture, the white supremacy culture and the hetero-white-men-are-superior cultures overlap in their adherents.
But there are also subtler relationships between the sudden wave of anti-gun activity and existing grass roots movement that lean left: virtually all American mass shooters displayed racist or sexist behavior in their past, and all fed on the same pool of hate and fear that animates racists, nativists and misogynists. Moreover, the companies selling weapons and funding the National Rifle Association are often subsidiaries of the companies selling American weapons to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt and dozens of other countries. The United States sells almost as many military arms to other countries as the rest of the world combined. The current administration is loosening regulations to make it easier for U.S. companies to sell arms abroad. The weapons industry is one of the most dominant forces in both state and federal government and one of the most insidious forces in mass culture.
When I started my anti-War activity at the age of 16, I was pretty dubious of the declarations of some of the more radical, and usually highly educated, among us that the War in Viet Nam was intimately connected with the abuses that the Civil Rights movement was battling. Soon enough I became “woke” to the relationship between racial injustice, cultural imperialism and unregulated free markets abroad and on the home front.
It’s time for the marchers in favor of stricter gun control laws to get “woke.”

Friday, March 23, 2018

Replacing McMaster with Bolton & Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war & an authoritarian regime at home


By Marc Jampole

Now I’m worried.
Correction: Scared out of my shoes.
A guy who is so bellicose in his pronouncements that he couldn’t get a Republican Senate’s approval to be Union Nations Ambassador, a mere spokesperson role, is going to be National Security Advisor, the person most responsible for formulating and implementing our foreign policy.
John Bolton is the kind of one-dimensional Dickensian fool who makes great confrontational TV, but dangerously ignorant policy.
Bolton has in the past expressed a desire to bomb North Korea and Iran. He fully supported the Iraq War from day one until today, even after it was revealed that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction or no ties to Al Qaida. He famously has opposed the International Criminal Court and the Biological Weapons Convention. He fully buys into the idea of a worldwide cultural war between the West and Islam. But like Trump, he doesn’t really like any other country. Correction, Trump does seem to harbor a fondness for totalitarian regimes, and Russia in particular.
If Bolton gets his way, thousands of American soldiers will die fighting major wars with Iran and North Korea, and tens of thousands more will have their lives ruined by physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of Koreans and Iranians will die, be injured or have their lives uprooted, most of whom will be innocent civilians. We will waste trillions of dollars that could go to infrastructure improvement, alternative fuel development and commercialization, education and help for the poor and elderly. Even worse, if nuclear weapons are detonated, it will poison our entire biosphere, leading to cancers and birth defects all over the world for decades, if not longer. It could also perhaps trigger the use of nuclear weapons against us by allies of Iran or North Korea.
At the very least, Bolton will encourage Trump to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal, which will further isolate the United States from the rest of the world. The new tariffs on foreign goods, leaving the Paris Accord, not joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Trump’s desire to renegotiate NAFTA and his constant rhetoric already have compelled the rest of the world to start cutting deals that cut America out. The result of the “America First” policy will be a slow, then faster shrinking of our economy.
Bolton plays to all of Donald Trump’s worst instincts and most pernicious beliefs. Trump has expressed the idea that only a war can bring the United States together. My take on that comment is that he means that a war behind which everyone unifies is the only way to retain his current job in 2020, and perhaps the only way to avoid legislative disaster in 2018. Perhaps a war could serve as an excuse for suspending elections or declaring Martial Law, or for censoring the press or rounding up scores of innocent Muslims for a new round of detention camps run primarily by private prison companies.
Unfortunately, in weighing whether to follow Bolton’s counsel and go to war, Trump will not think about the financial costs, because he’s used to going bankrupt and leaving investors holding an empty bag.
He won’t think of the death and destruction a war will bring because he doesn’t think of other people’s suffering ever, except the suffering of adversaries, which he gleefully reveals in seeing.
He won’t consider that the likely outcome of a war against North Korea or Iran will not be a western-style democracy pliantly under America’s hegemony, but increased regional instability, decades of civil war, the creation of millions of refugees, an explosion of terrorism worldwide and the possible bombing of U.S. territories or territory. He’s far too enamored of the tough-guy persona and the us-versus-them narrative to consider the past in predicting a war’s outcome.
He certainly won’t consider how much progress has been made to address the world’s problems following the principles of multilateralism and economic sanctions because he prefers the disproven myths of his 1950’s childhood to facts and scientific analysis.
No, he will only consider one factor: Will it help him?
And in his distorted, self-centered, corrupt and mean-spirited universe, the answer could be that war will help Trumpty-Dumpty.
And it might in the short-term. The First Iraq War and our three-day farce in Grenada demonstrate that Americans like short wars that we win. The public even liked the Second Iraq War at first, despite the fact-filled arguments of those opposed to it. But the longer any war goes on, the less Americans like it. After 15 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have grown especially cynical. The public’s attention span for everything has shortened considerably—something that Trump’s speaking style takes advantage of—and is probably much shorter when it comes to suffering warfare than ever before. In other words, declaring war on Iran, North Korea, both or another imaginary bogeyman may backfire or may give Trump a very temporary lift. Unless, of course, he uses a major conflagration to grab authoritarian power.
Before now, the craven and unethical way that the GOP has tolerated Trump instead of working with Democrats to replace him has irritated but not concerned me. I—like many—have depended on the Democrats to take power in 2018 and use the results of the Mueller probe to rid us of the cancer that is Donald Trump. The current administration has already inflicted tremendous damage to our economy, our reputation around the world, our security, the environment and immigrants and other individuals, most of the harm could be quickly reversed, except for that done to individuals.
But a major war, especially one that could go nuclear or serve as an excuse to for an executive takeover, would be catastrophic. Replacing McMaster with Bolton and Tillerson with Pompeo brings us closer to both a nuclear war and an authoritarian regime at home
That’s why I’m scared. Very scared.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Which Senators will vote to confirm former torture supervisor Gina Haspel? Only those so corrupted by politics they no longer have a moral compass


By Marc Jampole

The big question in my mind since learning that former torture Chief Gina Haspel has received the nomination for next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been: what should we demand of Haspel to demonstrate that she won’t allow torture to take place under her watch?
Haspel gained notoriety when the news media revealed that she was in charge of a CIA torture facility in Thailand at which at least two suspected terrorists underwent waterboarding. Haspel later participated in an attempted cover-up of the American torture gulag by helping to destroy videotapes that showed torture at a number of secret CIA locations throughout the world. This cover-up strongly suggests that Haspel and her comrades knew that the cruel techniques that they were ordering others to use to interrogate human beings were both illegal and morally wrong.
Certainly a simple statement that she will follow all U.S. laws will not suffice to convince us Haspel’s torture days are in the past, since she could turn around at a later date and say that torture is legal or use an interrogation technique that is clearly torture but declare it isn’t, backed by the weaselly lawyering of the next generation of John Yoos and David Addingtons.
But is it enough for her to state unequivocally that the CIA will not engage in torture nor encourage the intelligence forces of our allies to do so? Doesn’t she also have to define in the most explicit terms what she means by torture and detail the horrific, inhumane acts that she won’t allow to happen under her watch? Will it help if she also cites the overwhelming evidence gathered through centuries that torture does not work?—evidence that the CIA and the Bush II administration chose to ignore.
Will laying out a full policy against all types of physical and mental torture be sufficient to convince the Senate—and the American people—that the CIA won’t revitalize the torture gulag that the Bush II administration established in the first decade of the 21st century? Does she also have to admit that what she ordered others to do was illegal and wrong and that she regrets doing it? Will anything less than a complete and abject mea culpa satisfy our need to protect the United States from ever debasing itself again through the use of torture.
No.
None of it will be enough. There is nothing that Gina Haspel could say or do that could convince any Senator to vote to confirm her as CIA chief except for those so corrupted by politics and self-interest that they no longer have any interest in the United States following its ethical compass.
That doesn’t mean that I believe that once they have served their time we should not give criminals a second chance, restore their rights and let them feely pursue careers and other interests. I believe fully and faithfully in rehabilitation and reintegration of virtually all who commit criminal acts. If you did the time, we should set aside the crime. But I don’t believe in asking the fox to guard the henhouse. We’d be foolish to make a reformed embezzler chief financial officer of a company or to have a reformed sex offender chaperone a field trip of college-aged women.
Besides, up to now Haspel has admitted to no wrong-doing and has never been punished for either the torture or the attempted cover-up. While condemning our use of torture, the United States government has done nothing to punish or even condemn those who established the torture regime and gave the orders to put dozens of people—many innocent of anything other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time—through excruciating mental and physical anguish, despite the fact that virtually all studies show torture to be ineffective in gathering information from enemy combatants. Many like David Addington, John Yoo and Gina Haspel have fallen on their feet with cushy jobs or are enjoying a posh retirement like Bush II and his vice president.
There can be no doubt that Donald Trump likes the fact that Haspel engaged in torture. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he spoke often of bringing back torture and adding prisoners to Guantanamo, which with Bagram and Abu Ghraib has come to symbolize the American torture machine. He has called for “worse than waterboarding.”
There is a cruel streak to most autocrats. The ability to inflict meaningless or excess pain on one’s enemies or even those who disobey seems to come naturally to the dictators of the world. They don’t want merely to win, they want to crush their opponent into fine particles.
Cruelty not only reassures the autocrat of his extensive power, it also serves as a warning to others who might dare to cross the ruler. That was surely the intent when Trump pressured Jeff Sessions to fire Andrew McCabe, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) the day before he was eligible for retirement. Firing McCabe for political reasons, as Trump admits happened, was the government’s misguided prerogative. But to do it just before McCabe could cash in on all his years of loyal and competent service to his country was cruel, to say the least. Living in the high-cost D.C. area with two children, how likely is it that McCabe depended heavily on his government pension for his and his wife’s retirement. Unless the plan to work for a Democratic Congressional representative works out or he has enormous success in a post-governmental career, McCabe and his family may find themselves in an economic freefall. The cruelty of the act certainly serves as a warning to others in government wanting to speak up against Trump or cooperate with the Mueller investigation.
Haspel’s best possible excuse for ordering and overseeing the torture committed by her subordinates—that she was only following orders—is what makes her particularly attractive to the autocratic Trumpty-Dumpty. The autocrat likes people who blindly follow orders, even if they are incompetent or unsuited to their jobs. For the autocrat, an order-follower who is also extremely talented and accomplished is a rare jewel indeed. And one who will do anything, who will stoop to any level, who will throw away all scruples—what an extraordinary find that is indeed. Gina Haspel is tailor-made for the Trump administration.
Which is why confirming her as CIA Director would be bad for the country. I’m urging all readers to write their Senators and tell them explicitly that if they vote to confirm Gina Haspel they will lose your vote and support.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Editorial: Half a Cheer for Trump

We’ll give it to Donald Trump that he followed up on a campaign promise to American steelworkers when he announced that he would put tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum imported into the US. But we fear that Trump, through his incompetence, likely will end up fulfilling the bad reputation tariffs have.

There is a role for tariffs in protecting American manufacturing capacity, particularly in targeting unfair foreign competition to the steel industry that has resulted in the closure of many American steel mills in the last 37 years. Trump justified putting tariffs of 25% on foreign steel and 10% on foreign aluminum, based on the national security grounds that the US should not rely on foreign producers. He undermined that justification somewhat by first including Canada and Mexico in the tariffs, then, after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded him that he risked damaging key alliances, announced that he would exempt Canada and Mexico from the tariffs — but only as long as there was progress in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. He tweeted: “Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum will only come off if new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed.”

Robert Holleyman, deputy US trade representative under President Barack Obama, told Greg Sargent of the Washington Post that Trump’s stance could weaken the administration’s legal case that the tariffs actually are based on national security.

The US is the largest steel importer in the world. Canada, which exported 5.8 million metric tons of steel to the US in 2017, is the top source of foreign steel, according to a Commerce Department report, issued in January to document the problem of Chinese overproduction of steel. After Canada, the top US sources of steel are Brazil, 4.7 million; South Korea, 3.65 million; Mexico, 3.25 million; Russia, 3.1 million; Turkey, 2.25 million; Japan, 1.78 million; Germany, 1.37 million; Taiwan, 1.25 million; India, 854,026 million; and China, ranking 11th at 784,393 million.

US steel has the highest costs, at $684.11 per metric ton in 2017, while northern European steel was next highest, at $604.90. Chinese steel cost $572 but other Asian steel cost $534.75.

Some of Trump’s rural supporters are concerned about talk of retaliatory tariffs. John Heisdorffer, the president of the American Soybean Association, called the tariffs “a disastrous course of action from the White House” that could put farmers at risk at a time when the agriculture industry is already struggling. “We have heard directly from the Chinese that US soybeans are prime targets for retaliation,” he said, according to the New York Times. Soybeans are the United States’ biggest agricultural export.

However, some Democrats in industrial states supported Trump’s tariff announcement. “Good, finally,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, a progressive Democrat from Ohio, as he cheered Trump’s move. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who has called for Trump to resign, agreed.

“I urge the administration to follow through and to take aggressive measures to ensure our workers can compete on a level playing field,” Casey tweeted.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also welcomed the tariffs. “For years, we have called attention to the predatory practices of some steel exporting countries. Such practices hurt working people and cheat companies that produce in the US. We applaud the administration’s efforts today to fix this problem.”

Tariffs have acquired a bad reputation in the era of globalism. In 2002, President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs of up to 30%. But facing an adverse ruling by the World Trade Organization and retaliation by trading partners, he lifted them 15 months before the end of the planned three-year duration. Studies found that more jobs were lost than saved and Republican leaders vowed not to repeat the experiment.

The Trade Partnership, a research firm cited by pro-trade advocates, has concluded the same would happen with Trump’s tariffs. It estimated that the tariffs would create 33,464 jobs in the metals sectors but cost 179,334 jobs in other sectors for a net loss of nearly 146,000.

But Thom Hartmann, writing for AlterNet, wrote that tariffs might be needed to restore American manufacturing. When Ronald Reagan came into office in 1981, Hartmann noted, the US was the world’s largest importer of raw materials, the worlds largest exporter of finished, manufactured goods, and the world’s largest creditor.

“We bought iron ore from other countries, and manufactured it into TVs and washing machines here that we then exported to the rest of the world. And when countries couldn’t afford to buy our manufactured goods, we loaned them the money.

“After 37 years of Reaganomics, we’ve completely flipped this upside-down. Under neoliberal policies, we’ve become the world’s largest exporter of raw materials, the world’s largest importer of finished goods, and the world’s largest debtor.

“We now export raw materials to China, and buy from them manufactured goods. And we borrow from them to do it. This, by the way, is the virtual definition of a third-world country.”

Hartmann argues that we should charge an import tax – a tariff – on goods made overseas that compete with domestic manufacturers (particularly in essential industries), while keeping import taxes low on raw materials that domestic industries need.

As Hartmann says, we also should pull out of the WTO, NAFTA, CAFTA and other “free trade” pacts, if necessary, to restore sovereignty, and instead mandate that all purchases made with US taxpayers’ dollars be spent on goods and services provided by American workers employed by US-domiciled and incorporated businesses on American soil.

And the US government should support new and emerging industries through tax policy, direct grants and funding things like the National Institutes of Health, which funds most university research that leads to profitable new drugs for our pharmaceutical companies.

“Of course, such protectionist policies would not sit well with some of the multinational conglomerates, whose loyalty is not to America, but only to their investors and shareholders,” Hartmann noted. “A lot of them, like Trump with his Trump brand products, manufacture things in China or Vietnam and sell them here at a huge profit without giving a damn about the consequences of these actions to American workers.”

Josh Bivens, director of research at the progressive Economic Policy Institute, wrote in the New York Times, “The proposed tariffs can provide a countervailing force against these foreign subsidies and protect American metal producers until a comprehensive solution is found. Am I confident that the Trump administration will back a smart and efficient solution to the larger problem? Not really — but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be happy to have some breathing room to find one.”

Democrats should lend a veneer of bipartisan support to the president’s tariffs. They can take satisfaction knowing it gives heartburn to congressional Republicans and their multinational corporate sponsors. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2018

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Copyright © 2018 The Progressive Populist
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Selections from the April 1, 2018 issue

COVER/Valerie Vande Panne
Tech moguls driving mass layoffs propose universal basic income


EDITORIAL
Half a cheer for Trump


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

DON ROLLINS
Progressive millenials and how to get them elected


RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Lies outrun the laughs


DISPATCHES
Trump’s EPA broke law by failing to implement smog rule, court rules;
House within reach for Dems;
Health care still #1 economic issue;
Trans-Pac Partnership pact expands investor-state dispute settlements;
GOP’s hastily passed tax scam is error-riddled;
Trump could feed every homeless vet for cost of his militry parade;
Trump has made 2,436 false claims as prez;
Number of people who hate Trump's offshore drilling plans keep growing;
Trump wants new authority over polling places;
Oil and gas industry panel on extreme hurricanes never mentions climate change ...


ART CULLEN
Relief for some


JILL RICHARDSON
The stunning new cruelty of immigration enforcement


JOHN YOUNG
Porn star’s payoff and other Trump debts


BOB LORD
Just how unequal are America’s major corporations?

SAM PIZZIGATI
The wealthy, the poor, the vulnerable


HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Immiseration: Karl Marx meets Donald Trump


SAM URETSKY
Don’t fear nuclear missiles. Fear those who deploy them.


BOB BURNETT
Forecasting the midterm elections in the South


WAYNE O’LEARY
Enablers of financial catastrophe: A retrospective warning


JOHN BUELL
Sports, technology, and truth


N. GUNASEKARAN
The squalor of the so-called informal sector


GRASSROOTS/Hank Kalet
Fake news gets fake democracy


SETH SANDRONSKY
Cheap drivers


TERRY STULCE
Dangerous American gun myths and fantasies


ROB PATTERSON
How far music recording has progressed


SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Send in the clowns


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Filmmaker Raoul Peck talks about Karl Marx, revolutionary love, and Trump


and more ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A contrast in ethics: SF ICE spokesperson quits rather than lie v. the whitewashing in the House GOP final report on Russian meddling in 2016 election


By Marc Jampole

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) just resigned rather than tell a bold-faced lie that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other ICE officials have been floating. Sessions and other ICE-ers have been complaining that about 800 undocumented immigrants escaped arrest because Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned the community that ICE raids were coming. ICE’s San Francisco spokesperson James Schwab knew the real number was much, much lower and recommended that ICE use the correct figure. ICE wouldn’t change its overblown estimate, so Schwab quit.
Good for him! Like the scientists and career diplomats who are abandoning the current administration, Schwab makes us remember that professional ethics and the truth take precedence over the pursuit of money and influence. His act shouldn’t seem heroic, but in our second Gilded Age, it does.
That Schwab’s act of integrity should be reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the same day that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ended their investigation into Russian interference in the last presidential election is the most bitter of ironies. Schwab placed the truth above politics. The Republicans have applied the thinnest of whitewashes to what all indications amounts to an enormous stain of collusion and cover-up. Over the frequent protestations of Democrats and some Republicans, the House investigation has been shoddy—not gathering enough evidence and not interviewing enough people. Moreover, the investigation took ridiculous detours, as when Republicans issued the Devin Nunes-produced memo that purported to show that Robert Mueller’s independent investigation was unwarranted but in fact only revealed that the FBI had plenty of cause to start their investigation (which morphed into the Mueller probe after the firing of FBI director James Comey).
The Republican’s latest conclusion—that Russia interfered in 2016 but not to favor any candidate—reminds me of the three monkeys who see, hear and speak no evil. Or perhaps the dignitaries politely applauding from their special loft as the Emperor sashays by in his birthday suit. Whereas Schwab wants us to look at the facts, House Republicans—and just about all of the current Republican power structure—want us to look away from a horrifying truth.
Republicans are too invested in the Donald Trump phenomenon to walk away from the Donald. Instead they try to protect him by issuing a report that they hope will short circuit the Mueller probe, which seems to be getting ever closer to proving that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the results of the 2016 presidential election in his favor. But by trying to cover-up the truth, the GOP subvert our democracy.
So what else is new?
The right wing, which has pretty much taken over the Republican Party, has done a lot to undermine our democracy over the past decade or so:
  • Established dozens of foundations, research centers and publications that routinely publish shoddy research and self-serving analysis of our economic challenges while pushing the right’s myth-based economic and social agenda.
  • Developed a huge alternative media universe that has spewed the right’s propaganda, pushed its agenda and sought to besmirch every prominent Democratic or progressive candidate.
  • Groomed a generation of Republican candidates and elected officials to be their willing and well-paid toadies.
  • Gerrymandered Congressional districts to give Republicans an edge.
  • Passed a number of laws that make it harder to register to vote and harder to vote.
  • Blocked the nomination of a centrist Supreme Court justice in hopes that a Republican president would nominate a more conservative judge.
  • Held their collective nose as the current administration—perhaps the most corrupt since the establishment of civil service rules in the late 19th century—breaks all rules of ethics in mixing government with private business, exploiting the White House for self-enrichment, using government funds for private inurement and rewarding contributors and cronies.
In the context of these subversions of democracy, perhaps the Republicans consider collusion to interfere with an election as fair play—even if does involve a global adversary trying to weaken us. As with Nixon’s treasonous backroom deal with the South Vietnamese government to postpone the Paris Peace talks until after the 1968 election and Reagan’s surreptitious deal with Iran to postpone release of the hostages in return for secret weapons sales, the Republicans have long tolerated treason in the service of winning elections.
The Republicans have both demographics and ideology against them. On economic and social issues, most Americans are centrists or progressive. Odds are they will look even more leftward politically in the future, as our population continues to become more ethnically diverse and younger voters with more progressive views replace older voters. The only way to maintain control for the benefit of the ultra-wealthy is to fix the system anyway they can.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Russia’s desire to build pipeline through N. Korea had more to do with Kim’s decision to stop nuclear development & meet Trump than Trump’s saber-rattling


By Marc Jampole

Sometimes bad people do good things. And only those who hold the absurd notion that the small, impoverished country of North Korea is an evil devil incarnate don’t see that Donald Trump meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is a good thing.
The main complaint, as exemplified by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, is that the United States gave away too much. That’s ridiculous. North Korea is going to temporarily stop nuclear weapons development and the sanctions remain. The “too much” is the de facto legitimization of the North Korean government that a visit from a U.S. leader entails; as Peter Baker put it in the New York Times, “they did not want to reward Pyongyang with the prestige of such a meeting unless there was substantial assurance of a breakthrough.” That’s ridiculous. The Old Testament proverb that “pride goeth before a fall” applies to those who think that a presidential visit has tangible value at a negotiating table as much as it did to the planners of the Vietnam and Second Iraq wars.
Another concern is that it’s Trump who is going, so we can all hold our breaths like parents of a poorly socialized four-year-old in expectation of bad behavior: saying the wrong thing, snubbing the hosts with cultural faux pas, getting pissed off, and making idle threats. But that sounds like the way he treats our allies, not autocrats like Putin, Xi and bin Salman. Who knows? Trump may come away with some good ideas for his military parade. The bigger threat of course is that he gives away the store, as he has proven to be a terrible negotiator in government.
The last objection is that if the negotiations fail, it will bring us closer to war, as that will demonstrate to Trump that his view that war with North Korea is the only answer is correct. That’s what Victor Cha, former national foreign policy advisor to Bush II, is saying. But should we then wait for Trump to conclude that negotiations don’t work without even trying them? Yes, it would be nice if Trump and Kim followed diplomatic niceties and first had their people work out the details of what would be discussed before agreeing to a sit-down, but doing so would not have guaranteed a successful outcome, especially with two people as erratic and publicity-seeking as Trump and Kim. The sudden surprise and the big splash is more their style.
Besides, negotiating is always better than saber-rattling or bomb-dropping, no matter who is doing the negotiating. Period.
Let’s not, however, confuse this development with Nixon going to China, as many Trump admirers want to do. Just hold in your mind for one minute three words and you’ll see the difference. The words are: China. North Korea. A country with more than a billion people versus a country of 25 million. What is the difference in trade potential with China in the 1970’s versus with North Korea today? The potential impact of a war with either? The significance in terms of the international balance of power?
The question at this point should not be whether a Trump trip to North Korea is a good thing, but if Trump has achieved a diplomatic success by his tough talk? Is the Trump bluster—pushing our weight around with threats of military intervention and trade wars—a more effective tool than diplomacy and alliance building?
To answer that question let’s first analyze what happened. Trump made violent threats and Kim responded by launching rocket tests. Meanwhile, sanctions kept up their slow torture of the North Korean economy. Trump shut up for a few months and Kim came to the table after much traditional courting by the South Koreans. Those facts don’t make a good case for Trump’s brand of speaking loudly and wielding a big stick.
I am going to propose some other reasons that Kim decided to halt North Korea’s nuclear arms development while still under sanction and to meet with the United States. Some combination of all these reasons probably compelled Kim to act. Spoiler alert—I think it’s the last one mentioned:
  • The Olympics made Kim recognize the advantages of being part of the society of world nations and the global economy, and not an isolated outlier constrained by economic sanctions.
  • The sanctions worked and Kim realizes that he has to bend to the will of the rest of the world.
  • Kim has run out of money for further development of a North Korean nuclear capability for a while.
  • Russia put pressure on North Korea to get serious about negotiations with South Korea. Russia is interested in building a natural gas pipeline through North Korea to supply South Korea with natural gas. That would explain both South Korea’s overtures and North Korea’s willingness to listen and talk. Sounds like the type of deal that’s getting done a lot lately, like the new Trans-Pacific Partnership—done without the United States.
So I don’t think Trump’s actions instigated Kim, but recent events do represent a turnaround in what he’s been saying for a long time: that negotiations have failed and we have to take further action. Maybe now that he’s ready to talk to Kim—even if it’s for no other reason than to see another parade and hear the cheers of another crowd of people in a foreign land—Trump might recognize that using sanctions and negotiations to stop countries from developing nuclear capabilities is a good thing and change his mind about the Iran nuclear deal. Of course, first he would have to get over his racist notion that if a black man did it, it couldn’t be good.