The Banana States of America — Part I

dana milbankA recent OpEd piece in The Washington Post by journalist Dana Milbank, carried the same title as this post … yes, I ‘borrowed’ it from him.  The premise of the article was that this 115th Congress is the most authoritarian in the history of the United States.  An excerpt from Mr. Milbank’s column

“Hillary Clinton warns of a “full-fledged crisis in our democracy.” Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state fired by President Trump, now warns that “American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.” (Too bad he didn’t say so when he was on the job.)

They are both correct, in a sense, but right now the fear of the United States going totalitarian doesn’t feel quite right. This crowd is too clownish to be Stalinist. Rather, the United States is turning into a banana republic …”

That is precisely what our friend Roger has been saying all along.  And he (Milbank, not Roger) goes on to cite some specific examples, such as …

“The president of the United States orders the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. The Justice Department complies.

The president, The Post reports, personally urged the postmaster general to double the rate it charges Amazon, apparently because he doesn’t like the coverage by The Washington Post, owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.”

But rather than dwell on the article, which you can read from the link above, I wanted to find out what, exactly, constitutes a ‘banana republic’, so I did some research.  Technically, the term ‘banana republic’ refers to a country that is politically unstable with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product, e.g. bananas, minerals, etc. But in today’s conversations, it became an epithet for a country whose governing institutions are corrupt, arbitrary, and generally inadequate.  Clownish.

I came across a list of ten criteria that defines a banana republic in the modern day usage.  The United States, at this point under the leadership of Donald Trump, fits the bill for 8 of the 10, the only two missing being ‘torture’ and ‘high unemployment rates’.  I think we should take a look at these points.  As I researched, pondered, and wrote, this piece well exceeded my self-imposed outer limit of 1,200 words, even though I trimmed as much as I felt it appropriate to trim.  Thus, this became, over the course of a few days, a two-part series.  This is Part I, and Part II will follow this afternoon.  I also subtly changed the direction of my thoughts as I read, studied and learned more.   Where feasible, I have included links for those who may wish to learn more. Please forgive my wordiness, but I do hope you will give some thought to what I am about to say.

#1 – Rising income inequality and a shrinking middle class.  This isn’t a new complaint, for five years ago, in 2013, a well-researched report in the Journal of Economic Perspectives asserted that the U.S. now has the highest income inequality and lowest upward mobility of any country in the developed world. They found that while the picture grows increasingly bleak for American’s embattled middle-class, “the share of total annual income received by the top 1% has more than doubled from 9% in 1976 to 20% in 2011.” And earlier this year, a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development OECD also found that the U.S. now leads the developed industrialized world in income inequality.

#2 – Unchecked Police Corruption and an Ever-Expanding Police State. Let me just throw out a few names for you, folks, starting with Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, and the list goes on … and on.  Unarmed black men and women who were killed by police only for the crime of … being black.  And in every case except that of Walter Scott, the police who did the killing walked away scot free.  But more … add to that the way immigration raids by ICE are conducted, the way drug raids are conducted, enhancements to FISA, and you see a pattern of an authoritarian police force.

#3 – Highest Incarceration Rate in the World.  The U.S. has an incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000!  The next highest is Russia, with 615 per 100,000 people.  Does this mean that U.S. citizens are the most criminal in nature?  No, not at all.  Much of it is due to the ‘war on drugs’, which has emphasized draconian sentences for nonviolent offenses.  The prison industrial complex has become quite a racket. From prison labor to construction companies to companies specializing in surveillance technology, imprisoning people is big business in the United States—and the sizable prison lobby has a major stake in keeping draconian drug laws on the books.

#4 – Corrupt Alliance of Big Business and Big Government.  Need I say more than gun-makers, NRA and Republicans in Congress?  Consider Benito Mussolini’s definition of fascism: the merger of state and corporate power. Consider the previously unchecked power of the too-big-to-fail banks.  And now, with Trump rolling back the Dodd-Frank banking regulations, we are returning to that state.  Banks, oil & coal companies, the gun manufacturers and others are holding hands with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress as regulations to protect the environment and the people are demolished.

To be continued …

There Was An FBI Informant Asking Questions Of President’s Campaign Team In 2016

For several days, Donald Trump has been claiming his campaign was spied on, infiltrated, by the FBI. To what end? Who knows. It is a paranoid delusion from the mind of a madman, if you ask me. As always, our friend Gronda is on top of the story with a nice summary of what is true and what isn’t, and what Trump’s likely goal is — to shut down the Mueller investigation. A man who is innocent does not act guilty, as Trump is doing. Please take a minute to read Gronda’s summary, for it clarifies the issue nicely. Thank you, Gronda!

Gronda Morin

Image result for cartoons of fbi informant trump

The FBI has been resisting providing the name of one of its confidential informants to GOP members in the White House and the US Congress because this would risk the informant’s life. But the GOP who are doing the president’s bidding could care less.

President Trump and his supporters including the US House Intel chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) are convinced that finding this man could derail the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe being led by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller III.

Image result for cartoons of fbi informant trump

As per a May 17, 2018 Washington Post report, “President Trump’s allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret FBI source. The effort reached new heights Thursday as Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be “bigger than Watergate!”

The fact is that there was an informant…

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We Have Met The Enemy …

… And He Is Us

Some may think that I am over-reacting when I say that Donald Trump, with his decisions last week to renege on the Iran nuclear deal and to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, has seriously jeopardized our relationship with our allies abroad.  I realize that I am sometimes considered, especially by my republican friends, to be a purveyor of ‘gloom and doom’, an alarmist.  But this morning I was directed to an article in the German publication, der Spiegel, a well-respected publication, that reinforces my opinion.  I think it is very important that we, as citizens not only of the United States, but also of the world, realize and comprehend just what we have lost, what our friends think of us now.  One can criticize ‘globalism’ as much as one likes, but the reality is that we are living in a global world, we can no longer afford to take an isolationist view, or an ‘America First’ view.  We have lost much this month.  We are no longer the treasured friend, but merely the tolerated annoying and untrustworthy cousin.  How long before we are considered ‘the enemy’?

On the cover is this image:

der Spiegel cover

Time for Europe to Join the Resistance

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal marks the temporary suspension of the trans-Atlantic alliance. What now?

© DER SPIEGEL A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Klaus Brinkbäumer

Trump’s renown is rooted in American hero myths. Trump says that women like Carla Bruni lust after him, something that women like Carla Bruni vehemently deny. Trump says he is exorbitantly rich, yet Trump ran himself into the ground with his casinos to the point that he was 295 million dollars in debt in 1990. He was bailed out by the banks and by his father. The greatest myth, though, has to do with Trump’s alleged negotiating expertise. This too is nonsense. Trump was never proficient in the art of the deal. As a businessman, he paid far too much for substandard properties and has shown no patience as a politician. He isn’t curious. His preparation is nonexistent. Strategy and tactics are both foreign to him. Trump is only proficient in destruction. And that’s what he does.

He backed out of the Paris climate agreement while promising a “better deal for America.” But nothing came of the promise, neither a plan nor meaningful talks. In Trump’s Washington, the only thing that matters is dismantling the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump also promised to improve Obama’s health care plan, but the details are complex and bothersome. So Trump destroyed Obamacare and has done nothing to replace it.

Now, he is playing the same game on the world stage with the Iran nuclear deal. Trump refers to it as “the worst deal ever,” which is why he has now pulled the U.S. out of it. The negotiations that resulted in the deal in 2015 were a masterpiece of international diplomacy, but there are no plans in place to launch new talks.

Trump wants to bring the Iran regime to its knees with sanctions, but domestic political considerations in Tehran make it unlikely that the country will buckle. Leaders who demonstrate weakness in Iran are discarded. It seems more likely that they will close ranks. Iran-supported groups like Hezbollah are likely to pour fuel on the fire of conflicts in Yemen or Lebanon — as close as possible to Israel’s border. Iran presumably won’t pursue the path of extreme escalation, since such a path wouldn’t be beneficial, but it will likely cease allowing observers into the country, stop providing information on its uranium enrichment activities. It will seek to conceal what the West would like to know.

And what are the benefits of Washington’s radical move? There are none. Just chaos where there was once order. Just American capriciousness after decades of stability.

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months.[Emphasis added] Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side. And what will happen in the remaining two-and-a-half years (or six-and-a-half years) of Trump’s leadership? There is plenty of time left for further escalation.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn’t lead anywhere either — because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn’t reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.

And combine that with EU President Donald Tusk’s tweet of yesterday …

Tusk tweet

“Just chaos where there once was order.”  Says it all, don’t you think?

There Once Was A Time …

There once was a time when the United States was a trusted ally to all the nations in the EU as well as the UK.  There once was a time when we had the respect of our allies, and even the grudging respect of some who weren’t.  There once was a time that the U.S. was considered a world leader and looked up to, looked to for solutions to global issues.  There once was a time that the U.S. had a leader. Tusk tweetWhen Donald Trump made the decision to pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, he set off what will become a series of events that will inevitably re-shape global politics and alliances.  Iran has every right to be angry, for they were upholding their end of the bargain and Trump failed on his end.  The other nations in the agreement, the EU, UK, Russia, and China have the right to be angry, for Trump single-handedly destroyed an agreement without consideration for the other signers.  The citizens of the world have a right to be angry, for Trump single-handedly made the world far less safe than it was a short few days ago.

It was not that Iran wasn’t upholding their end of the deal, as Trump falsely claimed.  There was only one problem, in Trump’s mind, with the deal …trump-iran-dealThe deal was working, Iran was keeping to their promises, and there was no reason to scrap it.  However, having pulled out, the team of Trump/Bolton now plans to re-impose economic sanctions on Iran.  And if that weren’t enough, Trump is threatening to impose economic sanctions on our friends and allies if they continue to do business with Iran.  This is unconscionable behaviour from the leader of a once-respected nation!  An analogy …

I come back from the grocery one evening and I’m fed up with my local store, Kroger, because once again they were out of celery.  I’m never shopping there again!  So, I go round to all my neighbors and tell them that they must not ever shop at Kroger again.  Period.  “But, it’s only right across the street – so convenient, and we get coupons and discounts,” they reply.  Fed up, I tell them, “If you ever shop at Kroger again, I will break every window in your house … and kill your dog for good measure!”

Ludicrous?  Sure.  But it is the exact thing, only on a much smaller scale, that Donald Trump and John Bolton are doing.  Now, under the above scenario, how long do you think it will be before my neighbors run me out of da hood?  And perhaps even more importantly, if my car won’t start one morning, or I become ill, or my house catches fire … how willing do you think they would be to come to my rescue?  International relations work much the same way as personal relationships do … it is a series of give-and-takes.  Donald Trump is all about the taking, and not at all about the giving.  And this is the man who believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize???

trump vs alliesWhile we have alienated our allies, there are a couple of groups who are seeing Trump’s foolery in a positive light:

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted the United States to exit the Iran nuclear deal. He gave a televised presentation of Israeli intelligence last week that was a naked attempt to convince Trump to quit the deal.

  • Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has long opposed the agreement and mounted a quiet lobbying campaign to kill it. He has befriended Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to lobby for his cause.


  • Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who makes the final decisions in Iran’s political system, always seemed inclined to favor the hardliners, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, over the Rouhani faction. Now Trump has given him reason to continue down that path — meaning more confrontation with Iran’s regional rivals in the Middle East and with the United States is practically certain.

map of alliesTake a look at the map above, then get out your crayons, for the colours are soon likely to change. I see the greens being exchanged with the orange/red if we stay on the current path. Trump panders to the likes of Putin, Duterte and Netanyahu, while slapping our friends.  Make no mistake … there will be a price to pay for his foolishness.  Just how great a price remains to be seen.  There is no doubt that because of Trump/Bolton, tensions will increase throughout the Middle-East.  Will it lead to a full-fledged war?  I cannot predict, but don’t rule out the possibility.  It does not appear that Trump has a strategy beyond bullying friend and foe alike, and unraveling every agreement that carries President Obama’s signature.  John Bolton has long been a graduate of the school of ‘bomb-first, talk-later’, and he is now our National Security Advisor.

Trump’s followers and the Israelis are applauding and cheering in the street.  Believe me, folks … there is nothing for us to cheer about today.  Not one single thing.

N Korea Is Responding To John Bolton’s Hard Line Rhetoric For Libya Style Deal

Yesterday, the North Korean government announced that the summit scheduled for next month between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump may not come to pass. Frankly, this news did not surprise me one bit, as when the meeting was first announced, I made a bet with myself as to which leader would be the first to find fault and cancel the meeting. Frankly, I lost the bet, for I thought it would be the petulant Trump who would cancel first. Our friend Gronda has done a fine job of bringing us up to date on the situation as it presently stands, and the reasons for North Korea’s stance, and so I am sharing her excellent post, rather than re-invent the wheel. Please take a few minutes to read, for this is a situation that is likely to be volatile for some time to come, and we need to be aware. Thank you, Gronda!

Gronda Morin

Image result for photos of john bolton JOHN BOLTON

Well the inevitable happened. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un has just put the US on notice that the talks scheduled between the republican Donald Trump and he for June 2018 may not happen. A top level Korean official, Kim Kye-gwan specifically took aim at the president’s new National Security Advisor John Bolton’s advertising this past weekend of May 12, 2018 that the US is anticipating a Libya type deal. In the Libya scenario, its former Leader Gaddafi gave up his nuclear stockpile only to end up brutally murdered as a result of US intervention.

This hiccup was to be expected as it is in line with what had happened in past attempts of US to construct a peace agreement with N Korea, going back decades.  The planned summit will likely go forward but it behooves the president…

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Does This Look Like Peace?

Yesterday, the United States officially relocated its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  The move was not one I applauded. The timing could not likely have been worse, and the result was disastrous.  Donald Trump is playing a dangerous game on behalf of the nation he supposes to represent, the United States, and he is playing it with human lives as pawns.JerusalemJerusalem is a controversy in and of itself.  Jerusalem has been fought over sixteen times in its history. It has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Today, both the Palestinians and the Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital, and the city contains sites sacred to both Jews and Muslims, as well as Christians.  The embassy move has been considered in the past by former presidents Clinton, Bush (Jr.), and Obama, but each of those held back, because it has long been the policy of the U.S. to remain neutral in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and moving the embassy would place the U.S. squarely on the side of Israel … and against Palestine. Ilan Goldenberg, a Middle East expert with the Center for New American Security, said that where the U.S. is “supposed to be acting like the fireman, instead, we’re acting like the arsonist — we’re making things worse.”

The move of the U.S. Embassy signals far more than a simple relocation … it signals that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Think about that one … who gave the U.S. the right to decide where Israel’s capital lies?  Nobody, that’s who.  So why did we do it?  Because he likes to keep campaign promises made to his base. Plain and simple. His base lobbied hard for the move, including evangelicals and, of course, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner lobbied for the idea as well.

The opening day festivities got under way, and it was a matter of minutes before trouble started.  The region, already in a heightened state of upheaval, partly as a result of Trump’s other disastrous decision to renege on the U.S.’ commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, erupted into chaos.  Well, technically, it should not have been considered chaos, as most of the Palestinian protestors were unarmed and were merely trying to get into Jerusalem.  But then the Israeli military opened fire.  As of this writing, there are at least 60 confirmed dead and more than 2,700 injured. No Israelis have been injured.  Donald Trump and Benjamin Netahyahu must own each and every one of those unnecessary deaths.

Meanwhile, the Kushers had a great time …kushners-partyThe utter ludicrousness of the scene was enhanced by the two U.S. evangelical pastors who took part in the opening ceremony. One, Robert Jeffries, was awarded Filosofa’s Idiot of the Week in November 2016 for his bigotry and hypocrisy  .  The man who once said that “Jews and Muslims will go to Hell”, yesterday said, “Israel has blessed this world by pointing us to you, the one true God, through the message of her prophets, the Scriptures, and the Messiah.”  He also managed to get in a plug for Trump, saying Trump “stands on the right side of you, O God, when it comes to Israel.”  Quick, somebody get me a bucket!

I am told that evangelicals believe an embassy in Jerusalem is a key step to the ‘end of days’.  Not being of their faith, I fail to see how ‘end of days’ is seen as a good thing, but given the chaos the move created, it appears they may well have hastened that event, at least for many living in the Middle-East.

When Trump first announced his intention to move the embassy, he called it, “a long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”  Does this look like peace to you?Peace-not

Skewed Priorities …

Today, as more than a thousand people are injured and at least 52 dead in the Gaza Strip due to the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, and the violence continues, the following was the only “Breaking News” update to cross my screen this afternoon:

“Breaking News: Melania Trump, the first lady, had a surgical procedure for a kidney condition. It was successful, and she will stay in the hospital to rest.”

I received this notification from three separate media entities, but not a single one about the violence in the Middle East.  Yep, folks, our priorities are seriously skewed.

The Biggest Bully …

As we all know, last week Donald Trump reneged on our commitment to the Iran nuclear agreement, calling it a ‘terrible deal’.  It was an extremely poor decision – nay, it was a disastrous decision.  Within 24 hours after his announcement, tensions in the Middle East increased and Iran, Israel and Syria were playing a game of ‘chicken’.  Our allies looked at us as if we had two heads, shook their own heads, and then began frantically scrambling to salvage the deal, if possible, without the U.S.  Frankly, we have now become a non-player, a pariah in the global world, an albatross to our allies, and a danger to global peace, such as it is.  But there’s more …

Donald Trump, with advise from his new National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has announced that he will impose sanctions on any of our allies who conduct business with Iran!  Just who the Sam Hell died and left him boss of the world???  Donald Trump has absolutely no concept of how global relations work, and worse, he has surrounded himself with warmongers who advocate bombing first, asking questions later.  Diplomacy is not in their vocabulary, apparently.

According to The Guardian …

“Trump’s most senior foreign policy aides signalled that the US would continue pressuring allies to follow Washington in backing out of the pact, which gave Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for halting its nuclear programme.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, predicted that “the Europeans will see that it’s in their interests to come along with us” rather than continue with the 2015 deal, under which major European corporations have signed billions of dollars of contracts in Iran.

US sanctions on Iran reimposed following Trump’s withdrawal not only block American firms from doing business in the country, but also bar foreign firms that do business there from accessing the entire US banking and financial system.

Trump’s decision to scrap the nuclear deal was sharply criticised by European leaders, who have pledged to uphold their side of the agreement.”

This is bullying, pure and simple.  A simple example … five children are on the playground:  Rouhani, Donnie, Theresa, Angela and Emmanuel.

The children are playing companionably, when all of a sudden Donnie gets mad at Rouhani and jerks the toy out of Rouhani’s hand.  Then Donnie kicks sand in the other children’s faces and stomps off.  The other children remain and try to start playing again, but Donnie stomps back over and jerks the toys out of the hands of Theresa, Angela and kicks Emmanuel in the face before taking his toy also.  This is beyond being a bully … this is a kid with psychopathic tendencies.  This is exactly what Trump is doing … to our allies!  Our friends!!!

The United States ceded its role as a global leader.  Donald Trump made it perfectly clear in May 2017 when, at the Nato summit in Belgium, he refused to reiterate the U.S.’ support of Article 5, which affirms that NATO members will come to the mutual defense of any member that is under attack. Every president since Harry Truman in 1949 has pledged to honour Article 5 … but Trump refused. That wasn’t the first sign, but it was the first major red flag to our allies that he was planning to kick sand in their faces.

The very next month, he announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, making the U.S. the only nation on the globe that is not committed to doing its share to protect our planet.

It was only three days after his inauguration that he signed an executive order ending the United States’ participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade agreement between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and United States that had been signed one year prior.  This was, perhaps, the beginning of the end – the first move away from being a player in the global economy and a step toward isolationism.

And then, of course, there was the announcement that we would not fulfill our responsibilities on the Iran nuclear deal, formally Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  With all these moves, plus many more less far-reaching, Trump has signaled to every other nation on the globe that he doesn’t plan to be a global player, that he is not a part of the team, and he plays only by his own rules, nobody else’s.

Trump’s decision to isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world, even wishing to build walls on our borders, is a very dangerous move, but any way you look at it, there is nothing … nothing … that gives him the right to dictate to other nations with whom they are allowed to do business.  Not only, would it seem, is Trump determined to escalate tensions in the Middle-East with his poor knowledge and judgment, but now he is trying to cause the very nations that were once our allies to declare war on us!

Meanwhile, he panders to the likes of Saudi King Salman, Russian President Putin, and President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.  And he practically falls to his knees when he hears the name Netanyahu. Dictators all, to a greater or lesser degree.  While he bans immigrants from other predominantly Muslim nations, claiming they may be terrorists, he leaves the borders open to the Saudis, even though 15 of the 19 terrorist hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia!  When he visited Saudi Arabia in May  2017, he told King Salman that they “will never question our support,” adding, “We are not here to lecture.”

There are plans for Trump to visit the UK and meet with Theresa May, and possibly, though it is not yet certain, meet the Queen on Friday, July 13th (think about that date, folks!).  But, in light of his multiple slaps in the face to the UK and other European nations, I would not be surprised if the invitation is rescinded.  Frankly, I hope it is, for the British people emphatically do not want him there, and I don’t imagine that Ms. May is any too happy with him at the moment.

Donald Trump has become every bit as much a bully as any dictator in the world.  He is leading the U.S. down a path toward being a lone island, with few who will stand beside us.  Economically, between his horrendous ‘tax bill’ last December, the tariffs he is imposing on our allies, and pulling out of the TPP, we are likely to see our economy in far worse shape by the end of this year.  Everything he has touched, he has destroyed.  The United States should hang her head in shame, for we have lost everything we could once be proud of.  Our leader is a bully and we will pay the price.

** A brief footnote:  Because of Donald Trump’s poor decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem with all due haste, last night, at least 52 Palestinians protesting at the  border were shot dead by Israeli soldiers and more than 1,700 were injured.  Those 40 deaths lie directly at the feet of none other than Donald Trump. 

The Three Kims …

In the early hours of the morning on Thursday, May 10th, three men arrived back on U.S. soil after having been held in prisons in North Korea.  I am happy the men have been released and returned to their families, but I am disgusted by the way the situation was used as a political tool, so I had no intention of writing a post about it.  However, a friend, rawgod, asked me a series of questions about the situation that I didn’t know the answers to, yet they were good questions, so I reversed my original idea and am writing this post to answer those questions and provide whatever other information I can.

The questions:

  1. How many Americans are currently in NK prisons? How many of those are political prisoners? How many foreign nationals are in NK prisons? How many of those are political prisoners?

  2. Who are these three prisoners that were released? Are they poor people, middle class, or part of the American elite? What were their “crimes”? What were their sentences? Why were they chosen for release over those who were not chosen?

  3. What did the Orange Trumphole give up in order to get these three people released? Was it a “good faith” showing from Kim, or was it a trade, or what. Was money involved in the negotiation? We’re arms involved in any way in the negotiation?

  4. Who approached who to start this negotiation? Was the US negotiator the acter, or the reacter? Was there any other country involved in this negotiation? Who, and what part did they play?

First, let me start off by introducing these three men who, coincidentally all have the same surname, Kim, but are not related.

Kim Dong-chulKim Dong-chul is a businessman and naturalized American citizen from the Virginia suburbs of Washington. Arrested in October 2015, he had been sentenced to 10 years’ hard labor in April 2016 after being convicted of spying and other offenses. He had confessed to committing crimes against the country and pleaded for mercy.  In January 2016, he was allowed to do an interview with CNN, in which he said he used to run a trading and hotel services company in Rason, a special economic zone that North Korea operates near its borders with China and Russia. He also said he had begun spying on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” in 2013, by bribing North Korean residents to collect data about the North’s military and its nuclear program. He said he was arrested in October while he was meeting one of his local sources, a former North Korean soldier.

Kim Sang-dukKim Sang-duk (also known as Tony Kim) had just finished spending a month teaching accounting at a Christian-funded school, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, when in April 2017 he was arrested as he boarded a plane for home. He was charged with “hostile criminal acts with an aim to subvert the country.”

Kim Hak-songKim Hak-song was born in China near the North Korean border and emigrated to the United States in the 1990s.  He later returned to China, and later settled in Pyongyang, North Korea.  At the time of his arrest in May 2017, he had been volunteering at the agricultural research farm of the same school where Kim Sang-duk had taught.

These three were the last remaining hostages from the U.S. in North Korea.  The only other foreign nationals still being detained in North Korea are four South Koreans.  At least one had confessed to spying.  Over the years, North Korea has detained several Americans on accusations of illegal entry or spying and other “anti-state” crimes. It has often permitted them to speak to outside news media in interviews or at news conferences in Pyongyang.

They invariably confessed to committing crimes and apologized, asking North Korea for leniency and urging their governments to facilitate their release. But some told reporters after their release that officials had coerced them into making such statements.  I cannot say whether any of the three were guilty of the crimes with which they were charged, and I suspect we will never know for certain.

It does not appear that any concessions were exchanged for the release of the hostages.  It seems to be an act of ‘good faith’ on the part of Kim Jong-un, but … I have a suspicious nature, and somehow I cannot help but wonder if Kim, not Donald, is the one doing the manipulating.  The goals, I believe, that North Korea hopes to meet in his ‘summit’ with Trump in June are, a) to have the sanctions imposed by the U.S. lifted, and b) to have less U.S. involvement in the Korean Peninsula.

Pompeo clearly said that sanctions would not be lifted in a piecemeal fashion, but that Kim would have to fully de-nuclearize before sanctions would be lifted.  In any case, neither Kim nor Trump have a history of honesty and integrity, so from either perspective, I would be leery.  Seeing is believing. Based on the information I could find, the negotiations for the hostages were simply between Pompeo (acting at the direction of Trump, no doubt), and Kim.  South Korean or Japanese leaders may have had input, but I can find nothing to indicate this.

And now that I’ve given you all the pertinent facts I can glean, please allow me to editorialize for just a moment here.  I think it was crass, vulgar and in poor taste for Donald Trump to turn the hostages’ arrival back in the U.S. into a photo-opportunity, a back-patting (himself) session.  It was 3:00 a.m.  These men had been in-flight for hours, and before that had been in forced labour camps for between 1-3 years.  I’m sure all they wanted was to see their families, but no, instead they were forced to be put on display like a performing animal in a circus, and to pander to a megalomaniac.

trump takes creditTrump credits himself with the hostages’ release, but in truth, he had little to do with it.  He also said he had succeeded in getting them released, where Obama had failed.  But two of the three were taken hostage under Trump’s watch, in 2017.  Trump has also said he believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for getting the hostages released.  Here is a list of hostages released from North Korea under the Obama administration:

Euna Lee
Laura Ling
Robert Park
Aijalon Gomes
Eddie Yong Su Jun
Merrill Newman
Jeffrey Fowle
Kenneth Bae
Matthew Miller
Sandra Suh
Arturo Pierre Martinez 
hostages releasedKim Jong-un is a dictator and releasing the hostages was a means to an end.  It was a display of good faith, if you wish to call it such, but on Kim’s part, not Trump’s or Pompeo’s.  And it was not done out of kindness, but rather diplomatic negotiations.

Eight Reasons Why Ending the Iran Deal is Stupid

I have been working for two days to try to put together a post that explains why Trump’s decision to dishonour our committment on the Iran deal is such a stupid move, and I have yet to be able to manage to say what I want to say coherently. However, when it comes to anything economic, my ‘go-to’ person is Erik Hare at Barataria, and tonight I found he had successfully accomplished what I’ve struggled with for two days. Not seeing much point in re-inventing the wheel when Erik has done such a great job, I am sharing his work with you. His explanations are concise and very understandable, and I urge you to take just a few minutes to read his excellent post. Thank you, Erik, for helping us all understand the total picture, and for your generous permission (given years ago) to re-blog!

Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

The United States has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal. It is probably the stupidest possible thing to do at this time. Why? Here are eight reasons, most of which are fairly conservative in nature.

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