Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Cruising the Web

For all the hoopla and self-congratulation from Trump about his meeting with North Korea, the agreement that he and Kim signed in Singapore is really rather a nothingburger. North Korea has been promising to denuclearize since Clinton's time. And they've continually made promises and then gone back on whatever they promised. There was nothing in the document they signed about verification. Trump might call this "complete denuclearization," but that is just wishful thinking.

Does anyone really trust North Korea to follow through on any promise they make? They can't even agree what "denuclearization" means.
Months before Trump and Kim met in Singapore, experts began to call attention to a festering bilateral issue: The two sides did not share the same definition of “denuclearization,” despite the fact that this was the subject of the summit.

U.S. officials appeared to be calling for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (or as experts refer to it, CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program — unilateral disarmament. North Koreans referred obliquely to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which would include an end to the U.S.-South Korea alliance and removal of U.S. troops from the peninsula — removing that threat from North Korea’s doorstep.

Paradoxically, failing to clearly define the talks’ objective was what allowed diplomacy to proceed, because each side could believe — or say it believed — that its objectives were in sight.
Trump is blithely ignoring the history of North Korea's previous promises.
Trump touted the North Korean leader’s “unwavering commitment to the complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. (At the end of the 2005 Six Party talks, for instance, the declaration read: “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.”) North Korea is a nuclear power. There has been some wavering.

Trump says that history doesn’t concern him. He knows better. “Chairman Kim is on his way back to North Korea. And I know for a fact, as soon as he arrives, he’s going to start a process that’s going to make a lot of people very happy and very safe,” Trump said at his press conference. “I think he wants to get it done. I feel that very strongly.”

By Trump's own telling, Kim told Trump what he wanted to hear and Trump discovered a deep bond. "He said no other president could have done this. I think he trusts me and I trust him."

If it was disconcerting to watch Trump’s eagerness to serve as a character witness, in effect, for Kim Jong-un, what he said at the end of his press conference was even more worrisome.
Since Trump has never demonstrated any knowledge at all of history, it's easy for him to ignore it.


But Trump not only agreed to stop joint military operations with South Korea and adopted language Kim mus have love by calling the war games "very provocative."
Did Trump have to basically sound like Kim's propaganda minister? It was truly shameful was how Trump went overboard several times to praise Kim. This man runs a slave state. Hundreds of thousands of his citizens suffer in prison camps for no real reason. His people starve. And our president praises him. It is just shameful!

Trump has come a long way
from the strong rhetoric he employed against North Korea in his State of the Union.
“He is very talented,” Trump said of Kim at a news conference. “Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it and run it tough — I don't say it was nice or I don't say anything about it — he ran it. Very few people at that age — you can take one out of 10,000, probably, couldn't do it.”
What talent does it take to inherit a dictatorship from his father and then have any possible opponents murdered.

This is what Trump told George Stephanopolous.
is country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They're gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people -- that they’re so hard working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not too distant future, it will be something that.

G: You say his people love him. Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people. And listen, here’s the rub. Kim is a brutal dictator. He runs a police state, forced starvation, labor camps. He’s assassinated members of his own family. How do you trust a killer like that?
T: George, I’m given what I'm given, okay? I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I've spoken with him, and I’ve met him. And this was, as you know, started very early and it's been very intense. I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea. I think he wants to denuke, it’s very important.
Oh, please. He loves his people so much that he starves and imprisons them. Has any president ever before issued such praise for such a murderous dictator?

Here is his blathering on to Greta Van Susteren.
Trump: “Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people. And I think that we have the start of an amazing deal. We’re going to denuke North Korea. It’s going to start immediately and a lot of other things are happening, including getting the remains back. You know — that’s been — know you’ve been so involved in North Korea, but getting the remains back Greta is so important to so many people. They’ve called me, they wrote me letters, “Please can you do it?” and he’s agreed to do that, thousands of people so — who died in the war — so that’s a big deal.”

Van Susteren: So you put the human rights issue on the table today and he reacted how?

Trump: “Very well. I mean, we obviously were talking about the denuclearization 90 percent of the time, but we put a lot of other things, including human rights were mentioned, getting the remains back were a big factor, in fact we put it in the document, we were able to get that in the document, we got a lot of good things in that document, that was far beyond what anyone thought was going to happen.”
Notice how he just evades the question of human rights. Greta pressed him on human rights and Trump just waves the subject way.
Van Susteren: “But he’s starved them. He’s been brutal to them. He still loves his people?”

Trump: “Look, he’s doing what he’s seen done, if you look at it. But, I really have to go by today and by yesterday and by a couple of weeks ago because that’s really when this whole thing started…

Van Susteren: “Because this is Voice of America it will be heard in North Korea by the citizens of DPRK of North Korea. What do you want to say directly to the citizens of North Korea?”

Trump: “Well, I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well. We had a great chemistry — you understand how I feel about chemistry. It’s very important.
I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

As Philip Bump writes, previous presidents have met with dictators before, but they didn't praise them. If Obama had spoken this way about any dictator, those on the right would have blown a gasket. Sure, Obama gave away way too much to Iran and opened up relations with Cuba without getting anything in return, but he didn't talk about how smart and talented those country's leaders were. There was no need for Trump to go so overboard in his praise for Trump, but Trump can't stop himself from going full Trump.

I guess the only consolation is that Trump didn't give the North Koreans billions in exchange for promises. But our sanctions are already being weakened.
Meanwhile, China and South Korea are already easing up on economic sanctions. The multilateral nature of those sanctions helped bring North Korea to the table. With Trump increasingly isolated from the United States’ traditional allies, it will be difficult for him to muster the coordinated international political will to keep that pressure on.
That is especially true when Trump is going around talking about what a great guy Kim Jong Un is.

North Korea has really given up nothing except a couple of hostages and some bones of soldiers from the Korean War. In exchange he got what North Korea really wanted - a photo op with the president of the United States. People were cheering him when he arrived at Singapore as if he were some political hero rather than a murderous dictator.


This is prime Trump.
When asked if he believed that his North Korean counterpart would follow through on the promises he made during the two leaders' conversation, President Trump said he "really believes" he'd keep his word.

Citing a missile engine testing site that Kim Jong Un had also pledged to shut down "in addition to the other things we were able to do.

"I may be wrong and stand before you in six months and say, 'Hey I was wrong,'" before pausing.

"I don’t think I’ll ever admit that," he said.
So typical,
“I honestly think he’s going to do these things,” Trump said of Kim’s promises, before allowing for the possibility that Kim will not, in fact do these things. "I don't know that I'll ever admit that I was wrong. I'll find some kind of excuse."
There you have it, ladies and gentlemen, the promise from our president to lie to us at some point in the future.


So now we know what Trump will do post-presidency - build a Trump Hotel in North Korea. He's selling Kim on declearizing so he can build beach condos - because so many North Koreans can afford to live in such hotels.
President Trump said he brought North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table by showing him what the future could look like should he choose the path of peace.

Trump, the seasoned real estate executive, said he told Kim that involved beautiful beaches, great condos, and "the best hotels in the world."

"As an example, they have great beaches," he said, "You see that whenever they are exploding the cannons into the ocean. I said, 'Boy look at that view.' Wouldn't that would make a great condo? I said, 'Instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world.'"

Trump said: "Think of it from the real estate perspective. South Korea and China and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that?"

Trump said Kim reviewed a video that showed all this on a iPad, and he was impressed by what he saw.
Does Trump live in a fantasy world?

Just as I wrote the other day, Donald Trump's tweets about Canada totally undermined his supposed justification for tariffs. Somehow, we need Canadian dairy products for national security. Riiiight.
Are Canada’s dairy tariffs a national security threat to the United States?

That’s what President Donald Trump seemed to imply over the weekend when he split with the White House’s official explanation for implementing tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports this spring. Trump used Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act in order to impose the tariffs without congressional say-so by claiming that foreign steel and aluminum constitute a threat to the United States.

“Current quantities and circumstances of steel and aluminum imports into the United States threaten to impair national security,” the White House said in a release last month.

But on Saturday, Trump said the move was actually in direct response to Canada’s hefty tariffs on foreign dairy products. “Our Tariffs are in response to [Canada’s] of 270% on dairy!” Trump tweeted in the middle of a tirade about Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. It was a new claim: Canada’s dairy tariffs did not come up in the administration’s prior steel and aluminum studies, nor in its explanations when the tariffs were announced. And it remains an open question as to why the president would unleash tariffs globally if they were designed specifically in response to Canada’s protectionist policies....

Trump’s mixed messages lent credibility to the arguments of some Republican lawmakers that the president is abusing Section 232 in order to advance a protectionist trade agenda, rather than for genuine national security reasons.


One Israeli soldier describes what it is like to serve on the Gaza border.
You know what was the hardest part of all this?

It’s not the fact we didn’t take off our shoes the past week nor shower. Not the fact we didn’t talk to our friends and family the past week. It’s not the fact we sleep in average 4 hours a night.

Let’s not talk about when was the last time we went home.

It was the fact we did all of this, and at the end of the week, we saw in the media only criticism, on how we kill Innocent Palestinians.

Well, I wanna put things straight. (Since I’m actually here)

Have you ever seen 4,000 people running towards you full of hate and yelling “Allah Akhbar”? Have you ever seen 4,000 people men woman and kids full of hate and anger?

Can a knife kill? A Molotov cocktail? Fire kites? Bomb? AK-47?

Well, that’s a daily threat on the border.

My friends and I felt all the things above.

We SAW 4,000 people run to the fence, WE have been shot at, WE saw a bomb explode that was meant for us, WE saw people run towards us with knives and axes meant to KILL us.

The feeling that goes through your body after all this is indescribable.

We have the right to defend our people, family, friends. We know if they pass us they are going for them.

Our last resort is to shoot, we first send papers describing we don’t want this, we send smelly bombs to keep them away. No country in the world does that.

After all this, they keep coming … we shoot.

Every shot you take needs to get approved by 2 different people. Every shot that you take is written down and checked by officials.

The first rule as a sniper is to never close your eyes so you won’t miss a thing.

Sometimes, you see things you will never forget.

All in all, I can assure you at the end of this tour we as a unit don’t regret a shot we took.

Every shot we took was to protect the people we love.


The Democratic Party is close to getting rid of superdelegates at their presidential nominating convention. The idea behind superdelegates is that party leaders would be able to exercise some control over the nominating process to keep the activists from pushing through the nomination of someone (like George McGovern) who couldn't win over states not usually predisposed toward liberal Democrats. Of course, the superdelegates haven't really exercised that sort of control in previous years. I remember when Hillary Clinton was clinging to the pledges from superdelegates to put her over the top in 2008 in the face of how Obama was racking up victories in caucus and primary states. At the time I told my students to write this prediction down so they could marvel later - as soon as Obama had a clear majority of regular delegates, those Clinton superdelegates would start abandoning her to support Obama. These are elected politicians who would see no premium in going against how their constituents were voting in support of Obama But the idea of superdelegates acting as the mature people in the room was always a nice fantasy. Now that Bernie Bros are still angry over how their guy was jobbed out of a victory in 2016, the DNC is preparing to neuter the superdelegates.
Over loud protests from some veteran members of Congress, last weekend the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee pressed forward with a plan that would prevent superdelegates from casting meaningful votes on the first presidential nominating ballot at the convention in the summer of 2020.

Instead, their votes would count only if the outcome was already decided by the pledged delegates — similar to the way the Democrats, when they last ran the House a decade ago, permitted the delegates from U.S. territories to cast votes on the floor only if their positions did not alter the result.

Under the new system, which could still get altered in the coming weeks, the party insiders would have a formal hand in finding a solution only if there’s a first ballot deadlock. But such a prospect seems theoretical at best; brokered conventions get predicted all the time, but the Democratic gathering of 1952 was the last to require more than a single ballot.

DNC Chairman Tom Perez has been pushing the idea as a compromise, because plenty of liberal activists, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont most passionately among them, have called for neutralizing the superdelegates altogether.
It will be interesting to see what happens if the Democratic vote in the 2020 primaries is splintered among so many candidates that no one emerges as a clear winner. Political observers always hope for an open convention. I thought we might have one in 2016, but no such luck. I'll keep my fingers crossed for 2020.


I guess Seattle's City Council, or at least some of them, deserves props for being willing to admit they made a really stupid mistake.
Less than a month after roiling Seattle and making national headlines by voting unanimously to pass a controversial head tax on big businesses such as Amazon, the City Council now plans to abruptly reverse itself and vote to repeal the tax.

Council President Bruce Harrell announced the move without warning Monday and vowed to move at lightning speed to kill the measure, responding to a backlash from business leaders and residents who say they don’t trust the council to spend wisely.

Harrell scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday and said he would sponsor the repeal legislation, which appears to have enough votes. He and six others on the council joined Mayor Jenny Durkan in a statement Monday signaling their support for nixing the $275 per employee, per year tax, which was supposed to raise about $47 million per year starting in 2019 to fund low-income housing and homeless services.

Council members said talks with constituents had persuaded them to change course.
It turns out that businesses don't like staying in or moving to a city that is going to penalize them for being big employers. Who knew?


It turns out that socialism is not good for the health of its citizenry as a disease that had been eradicated returns to Venezuela.
Nearly 30 years after declaring Polio eradicated in Venezuela, the first case of the disease has been reported in the country as it reels from an economic crash crippling its healthcare system.

The case in the eastern state of Delta Amacuro was reported as basic vaccine coverage continued to fall amid the worsening political and economic crisis.

The news comes as the country faces an increase in other diseases, some also formerly eradicated, such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and malaria.

Polio, or poliomyelitis, can be a crippling childhood disease but is preventable through immunisation.
The disaster that socialist dictators have made of a once prosperous country is a subject that should not be forgotten. And those like Bernie Sanders and Sean Penn who used to praise the country shouldn't be left off the hook for the results of policies they once supported.


Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, having solved all the other problems plaguing London, is now tackling the really important problems facing the world - the gender gap among Wikipedia's editors. I kid you not.
With 83 per cent of biographies on Wikipedia about men, you may not be surprised to learn that men also make up around 85 per cent of those who edit pages on the site. That is also something we want to see change - after all, anyone can be a Wikipedia editor if they want to, and this could go a huge way in leveling the playing field.
So he's working with Wikipedia and Bloomberg to set up a series of Edit-a-thons to help address this gender gap. I know it's a self-hating sexist thing to say, but havent the overwhelming majority of great people in history been men? Is it any surprise that there would be considerably more Wikipedia entries about men?


This story should be a salutary lesson
for all those people who put their faith in government bureaucrats to ameliorate policies for problems confronting society.
NYCHA managers have for years used carefully crafted lies and elaborate deception to cover up the squalid condition of public housing, filing false documents, tricking federal inspectors and betraying the 400,000 tenants who have long endured heartbreaking conditions and the growing sense that nothing will ever change.

A blistering complaint made public Monday by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman ripped the lid off the New York City Housing Authority’s longstanding culture of deceit, revealing a bureaucratic tradition of lying about NYCHA’s failures to address everything from toxic lead paint to mold infestation to rat burrows.

Most alarmingly, Berman charged that NYCHA and the city Health Department deliberately underplayed the extent of lead poisoning in children living in public housing, choosing not to count untold hundreds who’ve tested positive for blood-lead levels considered dangerous by the federal government.
Shades of Flint, Michigan!


The bill is starting to come due for Los Angeles' schools. For years, politicians have been promising the moon and stars to the teachers' union and now pensions and benefits for teachers are eating up the education budget.
An analysis by the nonprofit journalism organization CALmatters showed that the cost of L.A. Unified’s employee benefits has been growing faster than its base funding for five years. And a report by an outside task force put the district’s dilemma in blunt terms:

“L.A. Unified is facing a structural budget deficit which threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs. The District’s own forecasts show it will have exhausted its reserve fund balance by 2020-21, will have a budget deficit of $400 million in 2020-21, and therefore be insolvent.”

The report noted that the district’s pension contributions will rise dramatically in coming years. And for the report’s ultimate shocker, there’s this: Within 13 years, the district’s healthcare and pension costs will eat up more than half its annual budget.

The report offers no hope of rescue coming from outside. A softening economy is forecast for the state, limiting future funding increases for schools. The district was already plowing through its healthcare reserve this last academic year to pay for higher medical costs.
Quite a few other California towns are facing similar problems. The teachers are resisting any cut to their pay or benefits, but even the LA TImes is calling for such cuts so that there will be money for other education needs.
Union officials object to any cuts in pay or increases in contributions toward benefits; they say the district can sit tight and count on a bailout from the state, which has always found more money for schools when needed — and they may be right.

But L.A Unified cannot run on union leaders’ faith. The district’s single biggest expense is teachers — as it should be — and if significant sums have to be trimmed, it’s unlikely that can be done without some kind of hit on teachers. The district’s class sizes already are too large; those cannot be expanded substantially to bring down costs. Instead, the pressure will be on salaries and benefits, which could make it hard for L.A. Unified to attract and retain good teachers in a seller’s market.