Archive for the ‘North Korea’ Category

Transparency

Tuesday, June 4th, 2019

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President Trump won the 2016 election on the strength of his personality. Since then, he has forced all who support him to regularly re-affirm their loyalty.

Each crisis, gaffe, insult, unseemly revelation, or assault on democratic norms forces a choice. A long list of appointees left or got fired. Some went to jail. With each concession, his defenders get dragged deeper into an alternate reality of Trump’s own making where he is defending the country against an imaginary “deep state” army of traitors.

Despite numerous dead-end investigations chasing down one rabbit hole after another, there is no evidence to support this claim of organized secret opposition, but then proof was never really the goal.

The goal is to position Trump as the only reliable source of information for his supporters.

This reality distortion field allows him to claim that he doesn’t do cover-ups, even though he’s on tape approving the one that jailed his lawyer.

Everyone outside his reality distortion field KNOWS that US businesses and consumers are paying his Chinese tariffs. The Fed estimates it will cost every US family $831/yr. When Kudlow publicly contradicted him, Trump read him the riot act according to some sources.  Sources quoted in the Washington Post suggest that he is willing to put the economy at risk in order to get re-elected.  

President Trump is telling advisers and close allies that he has no intention of pulling back on his escalating trade war with China, arguing that clashing with Beijing is highly popular with his political base and will help him win reelection in 2020 regardless of any immediate economic pain.

In other words, Trump expects that his base will not hold him accountable for lying about tariffs and will not hold him accountable for the damage those tariffs are doing to individuals and the economy.  He believes that his base will re-elect him BECAUSE he is willing to confront China in a zero-sum celebrity death match.  They WANT to see this country assert itself on the international stage in a “might makes right” exercise.  This was the attitude that had us begin a foolhardy neocon mission to remake the middle east in our image and likeness.  Almost 20 years and trillions of dollars later we’re still mired down in Afghanistan, Iraq is still a mess, Iran is still a threat, Syria has collapsed, and Israel is still fighting with her neighbors.

He responded to criticisms by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by circulating a crudely altered video of her and questioning her health or sanity.

He accused Comey and McCabe of treason punishable by death and implicated Lynch and Obama. He demanded justice department investigations of his political opponents. His press secretary justified the investigations because of unproven claims that the President is already aware of “outrageous amounts of corruption” at the FBI. His AG agreed to investigate that “corruption” while at the same time acknowledging that he was unaware of any treasonable acts. He celebrated the fact that Kim Jong-un, one of the worst dictators in the world with whom he claims to have a close personal relationship, shared his same low opinion of the leading Democratic candidate for President.

This isn’t supposed to happen in a free and open democracy.

In his most stunning “through the looking-glass” moment, he claimed to be the most transparent president in history. He’s the one refusing to release his tax returns, divest himself of his business interests, appear before the Mueller grand jury, accept court losses, or agree that the constitution grants Congress the right to oversight.

His treasury secretary suggested that the 2016 election already decided the issue of releasing his taxes and the American people don’t care. He also suggested that the courts will decide what should be done, as they have done in the past. The reality, however, is that we haven’t had a situation in the past where the courts had to compel a President to release his taxes.  That’s because all candidates for President for the past several decades have voluntarily released their tax returns during their campaigns for office. Trump did not campaign on keeping his tax returns private.  He promised the American people that he WOULD release his taxes once the IRS had concluded their audits of him. The IRS has since declined to confirm or deny that he was under audit, but stated that a public release of a tax return would not affect the outcome of an audit. Beyond that, he is opposing all other efforts, by Congress and at a state level, to release any tax information. An audit doesn’t appear to be his primary concern. Currently a majority of Americans polled would like to see his tax returns released.

The result of all of this is a deepening divide between those who feel Trump is a welcome change and those who are aghast at the destruction he is leaving in his wake. Trump’s supporters believe he’s a victim. History suggests otherwise. We’ll get to vote on that in 2020. Healing our damaged democracy will likely take much longer.

Liar’s Poker 2

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

The ink isn’t dry yet on whatever it was that Trump and Kim signed and we are already dealing with WILDLY divergent claims about what happened and why.

Before we start, however, I do want to acknowledge that at least in the short term, this is much better than threatening any kind of conflict. On the other hand the long term costs may be significant.

Let’s start with Trump.

He held a press conference yesterday to celebrate his supposed success. Here are some of lies that he told in the process.

“Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula….We signed a very, very comprehensive document.”

Simply not true. Compared to past documents that were signed between NK and the US, this document has been described as “remarkably vague, leaving it open to interpretation and debate”.

Here’s just one example from the Wash Post.

The statement said North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) committed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The phrase is not defined and “toward” is rather weak. In the past, North Korea viewed “denuclearization” to mean the United States removing the nuclear umbrella it provides to Japan and South Korea; there is no indication its definition has changed.

Contrast the Trump-Kim statement, for instance, with the Sept. 19, 2005, agreement signed by North Korea, the United States and four regional neighbors, which was much more specific:

“The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.”

“We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money. Unless and until we see the future negotiations is not going along like it should. We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus. It is very provocative. … They are tremendously expensive. The amount of money we spend on that is incredible.”

Trump provided no facts to back up his claim. What we know is that SK pays 50% of the non-personnel costs to keep US troops in the region. Since the troops are not leaving, there is no cost savings there. Also this was primarily a training exercise. Since troops will still need to be trained it is unclear how training them some other way will save a lot of money over training them in the same way that we have trained them for decades. If he plans to simply skip the training, then you have to ask the question of how that will affect their readiness to respond in case they are needed.

“In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime. Took billions of dollars and nothing happened.”

A big lie.

The Clinton NK deal centered on NK decommissioning a nuclear power plant that could also be used to create weapons grade plutonium. In return the US promised two things. We would supply heavy oil every year to replace the electricity that NK would get from the plant. We would also (as part of a consortium of nations) build NK different reactors that could supply electricity but couldn’t be used to make weapons grade material. This was the deal the George Bush blew up.

The US spent about $50M over the 8 years of the Clinton administration supplying fuel oil. The consortium spent $2.5B on the reactor project before the US withdrew. $2B of that was paid for by SK and Japan.

NONE of that money went to NK. It was spent on power plant contractors and oil producers. Also during that period of time, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed through regular inspections that NK did put all of the fuel rods from their reactor in cooling ponds and there was no evidence of any other enrichment activities. NK didn’t restart their program until Bush II pulled out of the deal and invaded Iraq.

“On the Iran deal, I think Iran is a different country now. I don’t think they are looking as much to the Mediterranean and so much as Syria like they were with total confidence.”

There is no evidence that Iraq has stopped supporting the insurgent groups that they have been supporting.

“I notice some of the people are saying the president has agreed to meet. He has given up so much. I gave up nothing.”

Presidential summits are usually reserved for the end of a negotiating process and are the reward for getting a deal done. Putting the summit at the front end of the process is a significant concession. Evidence is what NK is claiming was also promised.

“When you look at all of the things we got and when we got our hostages back, I did not pay $1.8 billion in cash like the hostages that came back from Iran which was a disgraceful situation.”

Another big lie which Trump has continued to tell even though it has been widely debunked.

The money ($1.7B) was paid by the Shah to the US for military equipment. Delivery on that equipment was suspended when the Shah was overthrown. But we kept the money. In parallel with the nuclear discussions were negotiations to return some hostages and give them their money back for purchases that we never delivered.

“[Iran was a] terrible deal. … I don’t think a deal could be softer. First of all, we’re not paying $150 billion.”

Another repeated lie.

The US IS NOT paying Iran. As Iran meets the various milestones of their agreement, billions of dollars of IRAN’s MONEY which had been frozen in foreign banks around the globe will become accessible to them. Most of that money was in payment for oil. Our Treasury Department estimates that the amount of money that will eventually flow back to Iran is $55B. Iran’s estimates are even lower than that ($32B).

“His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”

This is the most frightening thing that Trump has said regarding NK. NK is a gulag state with prison camps, forced labor, torture, and death for anyone who opposes KJU. Celebrating Kim’s regime sets the cause of freedom and democracy back decades.

Trump has already laid a solid foundation for being regarded as the worst president in history. He is now running the risk of going down in history as the Neville Chamberlain of his generation.

Here’s what the NK said they got from the deal.

“it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

We’re saying that this is going to be a rapid total and complete de-nuke process.

Rodong Sinmun, official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party — also claimed that the president pledged to suspend military drills with South Korea, and lift sanctions on the North.

Trump did suspend the military drills. He did not say he would be lifting sanctions. Though this WAS something that China recommended.

The KCNA report, as well as the joint statement after the summit, also mentioned that the president had offered North Korea unspecified security guarantees, which Pyongyang considers an indispensable precondition for nuclear disarmament.

Trump did not mention what security guarantees he had been offered.

Summary

The devil is always in the details and there just aren’t a lot of details. It is much better to be talking versus threatening to lob missiles at each other. This agreement is little more than an agreement to start working on an agreement, yet it is being promoted as a peace plan that will save the world from nuclear war.

The optics of this particular deal are that the meeting itself gave both Trump and Kim something that they wanted. It did little to advance the cause of a real and lasting peace. What is likely is that talks will continue for a LONG period of time. That will also benefit both parties. Kim will be able to pretty much continue what he has been doing without the threat of being overthrown. Trump will continue to live in his fantasy world about how much progress has been made and paint himself as an expert in solving intractable foreign relations problems.

KJU has not demonstrated that he has any interest in changing. Until he does, he is a dangerous person that we should not be treating as a friend. The risk is that KJU is a realist and fantasy rarely survives when confronted with reality.

The long term costs of accepting a NK as legitimate member of the international community without a commitment on their part to human rights reform is chilling. Apparently, a different set of rules applies to countries with nuclear capabilities. That lesson is not lost on the other dictators of the world.