Sunday, February 10, 2019
Nothing much on Korea this week, other than
Trump announces second Kim summit will be in Hanoi, Vietnam, a few
weeks out (Feb. 27-28). The
Wichita Peace Center was pleased
to host a couple of events last week when Professor
Nan Kim from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, author of
Memory, Reconciliation, and Reunions in South Korea: Crossing the
Divide (2016), an activist in
Women Cross DMZ
Twitter). I expect
we'll be seeing a lot of speculation and spin on Korea over the next
few weeks, especially from neocons so enamored with perpetual war --
but also from Democrats hoping to score cheap points against Trump.
I've written a fair amount about Korea over the years. I won't try
to recapitulate here, but here's a bit from a letter I wrote last
year, with links to various key writings:
I wrote up some further comments on the Korea situation in the intro
August 26, 2018 Weekend Roundup blog post.
I was born in October, 1950, the same week as the Chinese entry, a
date which marked the maximal US advance in the peninsula. I wrote
several pages about this in a memoir. I've written a fair amount about
Korea over the years -- mostly when US presidents threatened to blow
it up. For instance:
Many lesser references, including virtually every month since March 2017.
I've also been known to make a pretty decent kimchi, and a couple dozen other
On nuclear weapons, I wrote a fairly substantial
post on Aug. 6, 2005,
another on Aug. 21,
I've read Rhodes' four books on nuclear weapons, plus quite a bit more.
I believe that Kurlansky's
2nd point is generally correct
["Nations that build military forces as deterrents will eventually use
them"], but nuclear weapons are something of an exception: most politicians,
even ones as ill-disposed toward peace as Kennedy and Krushchev, seem to
have drawn a line there, so I tend not to worry as much as most of us
One thing I hadn't thought much about until Saturday was the economic
problem of unifying Korea. I was aware of the German "model" -- and thought
at the time that people were following a lot of bad ideas (e.g., totally
shuttering the East German auto industry because their cars weren't good
enough to sell in the West). But I didn't follow it much later -- I do
know more about the economic failures in Russia, especially in the 1990s,
when as David Satter put it, "[Russia's reformers] assumed that the initial
accumulation of capital in a market economy is almost always criminal, and,
as they were resolutely procapitalist, they found it difficult to be
strongly anticrime. . . . The combination of social darwinism, economic
determinism, and a tolerant attitude toward crime prepared the young
reformers to carry out a frontal attack on the structures of the Soviet
system without public support or a framework of law." (Quote in my
17/04 notebook, referring back to
Anyhow, I now think the utter impossibility of unifying the two Korean
economies is an important point -- one of several that Americans don't
seem to have a clue about.
I'll add one comment here. One thing I was struck by in Trump's State
of the Union address was this:
On Friday, it was announced that we added another 304,000 jobs last month
alone -- almost double what was expected. An economic miracle is taking
place in the United States -- and the only thing that can stop it are
foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.
If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war
and investigation. It just doesn't work that way!
My bold. Of course, the point everyone noticed was his plea that for
the good of the country (i.e., Trump) Democrats must give up their efforts
to investigate (e.g., Trump, for possible crimes or other embarrassments).
Of course, he had no hope of getting his way there, even if his intent was
truly threatening -- e.g., that if the Democrats investigated him, he might
start a "wag the dog" war as a diversion, hoping the people would blame
the Democrats. Still, I think the quote does show that when his personal
financial interests aren't slanted otherwise, Trump is inclined to favor
peace. The saber-rattling over Iran is clearly a case where the corrupt
money (from Israel and the Saudis) is able to make Trump more belligerent.
Venezuela is another case where Trump's corrupt influences may lead to
war. But Korea is one case where the major influencers -- even if you
discount Russia and China -- are pushing Trump toward war, so it offers
a rare opportunity to claim success at achieving peace. Granted, the
neocons and the defense industry don't like it, but they may be just
as happy to pivot to higher budget, lower risk "threats" like Russia
and China. That's one of several reason to be cautiously optimistic
that Trump might be able to deliver a peaceful outcome. On the other
hand, I think that Democrats need to be very cautious, lest Trump be
able to make them out to be dangerous, war-thirsty provocateurs. I
still believe that a major reason Trump beat Clinton in 2016 was that
she came off as the more belligerent (e.g., her claims to superiority
in "the commander-in-chief test").
Some scattered links this week:
Dear Howard Schultz, you don't understand the American Dream: "The
phrase was coined by a banker-turned-Pulitzer prize-winning historian
[James Truslow Adams] who believed in the redistribution of wealth and
thought culture was more important than money." For another 'Dear Howard"
piece, see: Michael Tomasky:
Howard Schultz is wrong about 'both sides.' It's Republicans who ruined
America's original identity politics: Long piece by the author of the
book, Behold, America: The Entangled History of "America First" and
"the American Dream" (2018). I quickly grow bored of talk of identity
politics, but can draw the point that when Mark Lilla argued for a return
to "pre-identity liberalism," he would have had trouble finding such a
time in the past.
The brutal economy of cleaning other people's messes, for $9 an hour:
Review of Stephanie Land's book, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay and a Mother's
Will to Survive. Foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote about house
cleaning in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001).
I remember reading a book along these same lines a bit earlier -- don't
recall the title or author, too early to show up in my reading lists. I
don't recall it as being quite this grim, but I wouldn't be surprised to
find working conditions have deteriorated. I also read Sarah Smarsh's
recent memoir, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke
in the Richest Country on Earth, which is about how hard it is to
break out of the traps Stephanie Land fell into.
Asked to stop investigations, House digs in.
Russian-style kleptocracy is infiltrating America: "When the USSR
collapsed, Washington bet on the global spread of democratic capitalist
values -- and lost." Sentence would make more sense if you dropped the
adjective "democratic," as indeed most American policy-makers had no
qualms about doing. It would actually be more accurate to say that
Russian-style kleptocracy is simply the adoption of American-style
capitalism without the countervailing powers that keep its excesses
in check. As such, Russia has become a model for the US right as they
seek to enshrine the profit motive as the only force that matters in
American policy. [By the way, I was thinking of the Satter quote in
the introduction above here, but when I wrote this not planning on
looking it up.] That we don't think of kleptocracy as American owes
much to tradition:
America's fear of kleptocracy goes back to its founding. . . . The perils
of corruption were an obsession of the Founders. In the summer of 1787,
James Madison mentioned corruption in his notebook 54 times. To read the
transcripts of the various constitutional conventions is to see just how
much that generation worried about the moral quality of public behavior --
and how much it wanted to create a system that defined corruption more
expansively than the French or British systems had, and that fostered a
political culture with higher ethical ambitions.
In her important history, Corruption in America, Zephyr Teachout,
a legal scholar and liberal activist, argues that during the country's first
200 years, courts maintained the Founders' vigilance against corruption. For
a good chunk of American history, a number of states criminalized lobbying
in many forms, out of a sense that a loosening of standards would trigger
a race to the bottom. That near-phobia now looks quaint, and also prescient.
The political culture, the legal culture, the banking culture -- so much of
the culture of the self-congratulatory meritocratic elite -- have long since
abandoned such prudish ways.
Samuel G Freedman:
In revering Trump, the religious right has laid bare its hypocrisy:
Not that it matters: hypocrisy is as American as violence and apple pie.
Sure, I (for one) was turned off evangelical christianity by hypocrisy,
but anyone who might follow my lead must have noticed the problem long
before Trump. The fact is that hypocrisy is a bedrock faith: the whole
point is that it doesn't matter what you do, only that you say the right
things in public. And that's a litmus test that even someone as flawed
and compromised as Trump can pass. This actually is the polar opposite
of Calvinism, which maintained that one's fate was determined by works
and God's grace, irrespective of public piety. Born-again christianity
is a religion fashioned to appeal to lazy sinners, folk constantly in
need of forgiveness. Of course, Trump is their hero.
How Trump's State of the Union guests embodied his politics of fear and
A cruel war on immigrants.
A confederacy of grift: "The subjects of Robert Mueller's investigation
are cashing in."
Allegra Kirkland/Josh Kovensky:
Why Trump's inauguration was so sleazy, even for Washington.
What to expect when you're expecting to eliminate private
Lachlan Markay/Asawin Suebsaeng/Maxwell Tani:
Private eyes detail inner workings of National Enquirer 'blackmail'
machine: a story bigger than Jeff Bezos' penis. More: Allyson
Ronan Farrow says he also faced 'blackmail efforts from AMI' for reporting
on the National Enquirer, Trump. Also: Molly Olmstead:
The National Enquirer started doing shady things long before this Jeff
Why disaster capitalists are praying for a no-deal Brexit.
The Supreme Court has blocked a Louisiana abortion law -- for now.
Why the wall will never rise: For one thing, buying up border land
is very expensive and time-consuming.
The Green New Deal will never work: I haven't (and probably can't)
read this closely enough to decide whether I agree, let alone whether
Pesca actually believes what he's written. I do share his skepticism
about aiming for 100% of pretty much anything. I'm not sure that 100%
renewable energy is even desirable much less practical, but I am sure
that the direction the Green New Deal proposes is the right one, and
I'm not seriously worried about whether the last few steps will be
worth the trouble. Similarly, it may be impossible to achieve complete
equality, but we can do much better than now, and right now we'd be
much better off moving in that direction.
Pesca makes an offhand remark: "Similarly, there is a jealousy of
the detail-free triumphs of the right as expressed by
Shadi Hamid. It looks like Hamid's another guy who makes
his living as a confusing contrarian; e.g.:
There's now an official Green New Deal. Here's what's in it.
The Green New Deal, explained [updated]. By the way, this seems to be
a Trump tweet:
I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with
their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called "Carbon
Footprint" to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas
& the Military - even if no other country would do the same.
Most likely he thinks he's being sarcastic, but if you filter out
the nonsense it reads as an endorsement. When I tried to cut/paste,
Twitter displayed a long thread of replies, most of which were truly
dumb, many offensive and demeaning. I take it that's a cross section
of the Twitterverse -- something I'm normally spared because I only
follow a couple dozen generally sane feeds.
For a better example of sarcasm, consider Michael Musto's response
to a Trump tweet with a picture of him, Melania, and Baron, and the
caption: "Name a better family, i'll wait": Musto's reply: "I'll start:
Trump has no clue how to strike a deal with Dems. His State of the Union
speech proved it.
Chris Christie's Agonizing New Memoir: "The inside story of the man who
welcomed Donald Trump into the political mainstream and got nothing in
But Christie -- who releases his book amid "news" he "won't rule out" a
presidential run in 2024 -- can't give up the dream of being taken seriously.
So Let Me Finish ends up being a furious allegory about the perils
of not being as smart as you think you are.
Christie was once an insider favorite to succeed Barack Obama as president.
He was the Beltway's idea of a "crossover" political star, i.e. mean enough
to parallel park over a homeless person, but maybe able to name three good
movies. . . .
He was probably headed to the White House -- until his staff was caught
intentionally causing traffic jams on the George Washington bridge. . . .
"Bridgegate" instantly changed Christie's rep, from an asshole with a
future to just an asshole.
The first half of Let Me Finish shows Christie boasting about
what a mean, uncompromising, double-dealing negotiator he is. He spends
the second part, about Trump, complaining about being the victim of such
That freezer is watching you: "The Microsoft-backed Cooler Screens is
testing targeted ads in pharmacy frozen food aisles." There are lots of
things wrong with America these days, but advertising is truly the bane
of our existence.