Donald Trump accelerates likelihood of disaster with North Korea

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In an off-the-cuff remark in August, President Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury,” widely interpreted as a euphemism for nuclear war.

Long before he was elected president, the danger of America’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of a short-tempered, ignorant vulgarian like Donald Trump was clear. With his finger on the button, the globe might be one childish slight away from nuclear war. Only eight months into his presidency, escalation between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the two most unstable nuclear-powered leaders on earth, is threatening to realize the worst of those fears.

The latest flare-up came early last week, when North Korea detonated its sixth and largest-yet nuclear device. The week before that, Pyongyang launched a non-nuclear missile which flew over northern Japan. It has tested several intercontinental ballistic missiles this year. President Trump did everything he could to escalate the tensions by threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” if they didn’t cease their provocations, and he sent out incendiary tweets including, “Talking is not the answer!” and, “They only understand one thing!”

Trump’s innuendo has suggested a coming military assault on North Korea, but much of his bombastic rhetoric has been undercut by his staff. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the U.S. is “never out of diplomatic solutions,” and Trump’s former strategist, Steve Bannon, said, “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die… I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

Little of this is consoling, though. Many South Koreans are actually more afraid of Trump than they are of the Kim regime, whose threats they largely tune out. Trump could still order a strike, either to prove that his threats are not idle or to boost his ratings. And if he chooses a military route, against his own administration’s apparent wishes, he would enjoy broad congressional support from hawks like Lindsey Graham.

Public opinion on North Korea is a hodgepodge of paranoia, contradictions and misinformation. As many as half of Americans apparently support war with North Korea, but less than 20 percent have “a great deal of confidence” in President Trump’s ability to navigate such a situation. Nearly as many Americans now label North Korea a “very serious threat” as they do ISIS. Seventy-seven percent believe North Korea can hit the US mainland with a nuclear weapon, despite extremely uncertain evidence for it.

The extent of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities is still largely unknown, though it’s regularly guessed at in the media by the usual anonymous intelligence sources. But as The Conversation notes, “Even if [Pyongyang] might (and only might) be able to fit a hydrogen bomb onto a missile, it still has to solve other stubborn technical problems, particularly how to design long-range missiles that can re-enter the atmosphere without burning up.”

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Kim Jong Un poses with senior officials after the successful detonation of North Korea’s largest-yet nuclear weapon.

All we know for sure is what North Korea has openly displayed, and while that’s plenty bad enough, they haven’t demonstrated an ability to nuke the US mainland. Even if they could, the risk of a direct attack is extremely small – such a move against the US or its allies would be suicide, and everybody involved knows it.

For the last 70 years, the guiding global nuclear philosophy has been deterrence. Small nations seek nuclear weapons to protect themselves from outside attack. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya were both overthrown by the US after surrendering their non-conventional weapons. Kim Jong Un has plenty of reason to be suspicious. His nuclear weapons are intended as a deterrent against a nation that, to this day, deploys nearly 40,000 troops near the North Korean border.

During the Korean War, the US military slaughtered as much as 20 percent of the North Korean population. Out of that historic atrocity emerged the infamous cult regime of the Kim family, and hatred of the United States has been something of a national religion ever since. Despite some periods of normalization, North Korea’s departure from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003 and a propaganda war carried out by President Obama caused relations to completely disintegrate.

Contrary to Trump’s insistence that talking hasn’t worked, we have hardly talked with North Korea at all in recent years. Pyongyang has, in fact, suggested it may be willing to put its nuclear weapons on the negotiating table, but it wants the US to cease its own hostility and nuclear threat. Such a deal is laughable to the American media and military establishment, so to them, it may as well be as though North Korea never offered anything.

In fact, the media may be the most dangerous element of the whole equation. Trump lives for their praise and adoration, and the surest way he’s found to get it from them is to bomb people. Their poor presentation of the issue is reflected in public opinion. And much of the pundit class is already salivating for war: Last week, the New York Post printed the genocidal line, “Better a million dead North Koreans than a thousand dead Americans.”

Soberer analysts, for now, seem to think that the threat of war is low. North Korea’s nuclear weapons are doing for them exactly what they were intended to do: keeping the US at bay. But Trump is hot-tempered, unpredictable, and hates being told what to do. He has displayed stunning ignorance on some of the basics of nuclear weapons. If he continues on his course of belligerent antagonism, Pyongyang will likely only accelerate its nuclear program.

It is a difficult, and perhaps impossible, situation. The only solution any moral person can accept, however, is a non-nuclear one. For once, Steve Bannon is right: they got us. Even a conventional military strike would likely lead to millions dead in North Korea, South Korea, and perhaps even into Japan, China, Russia, and elsewhere. A nuclear first strike would be the greatest war crime in history – and possibly the last.

Hopefully, we never have to learn the extent of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. But we do know what ours are, and they’re sufficient to wipe human civilization from every corner of the globe. And North Korea, for all its bluster, has not invaded another country in over 60 years. Not only does the US routinely attack other sovereign nations, we are the only country in history to actually use an atomic bomb against an enemy.

Every single nuclear warhead on earth, no matter whose hands it’s in, is potentially cataclysmic. If either Washington or Pyongyang commit a real act of war, the world will be in grave peril. We need a cool head to de-escalate with North Korea, someone who is willing to make reasonable concessions, and right now we don’t have it. There’s a good reason South Koreans are more anxious about the madman overseas than the madman to their north.

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The socialist claim to liberty

fistBy Kyle Schmidlin and Eldon Katz

Everyone has friends or family members who define themselves as “socially liberal; but fiscally conservative.” The conservative libertarian views their ideology as a mature, pragmatic, and disciplined compromise, the best way to get as many people what they want and maximize everybody’s liberty and opportunity.

But this vision of liberty is perverted and one-sided in favor of the powerful. It grants people the freedom to exploit, but not freedom from exploitation, effectively treating the liberty of the powerful as absolute but anyone else’s liberty as flexible. As Bertrand Russell put it, “The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate.” Continue reading

Bannon’s White House ouster may not be as dramatic as it seems

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Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart who salvaged Donald Trump’s flailing presidential campaign, is out of his White House post.

Steve Bannon is out at the White House. For weeks, politicians and pundits have called on Trump to fire the man who made him president, and today it was confirmed Bannon is moving out. While this could hardly be seen as bad news – and after this week, anyone who feels like taking a moment to celebrate probably should – it’s not quite the earth-shattering event that the headlines it’s generated make it seem.

Continue reading

America’s new battle with Nazism is only beginning

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Self-described “identitarian” Peter Cvjetanovic denies being a racist. His face went viral as he marched alongside torch-bearing neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, the alt-right – call them what you will, this group of angry, white men had a busy weekend. Hundreds of them descended on Charlottesville, Virginia, for a Unite the Right rally. Demonstrators began a torchlit march on Friday night and by Saturday had turned the city into a warzone, culminating in an act of right-wing terror that caused one death and injured 19 others. In response, President Trump couldn’t bring himself to denounce one side more than any other. Continue reading

Trump’s stock market enthusiasm shows how out of touch he is

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Trump’s unpredictability initially caused the market to worry, but since his election stock prices have soared.

President Trump held a pep rally for himself on Twitter earlier this week, touting his base as “bigger and stronger than ever before” despite all the “fake news” – into which category he put virtually every media source except his dedicated propaganda networks, Breitbart and FOX. Trump then listed some of his successes so far, including economic enthusiasm, the stock market, jobs, and deregulation. As usual with Trump, he is wrong in more ways than are easily counted. Continue reading

The simple reason Republicans can’t reform healthcare

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Disabled protesters outside Senator Mitch McConnell’s office are removed from their wheelchairs and kicked off the premises for voicing their opposition to Trumpcare.

Millions of Americans celebrated last week when Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act seemingly hit a brick wall. After weeks of backroom deal-making, renegotiations, and demonstrations by committed healthcare activists, three Republican senators defected from their party and pushed the latest vote to 51-49 against repeal. President Trump is already working with some senators to revive the effort, but there is a simple reason Republican healthcare reform hasn’t gone well: it has nothing to do with healthcare. Continue reading

The real reason Trump banned trans people from the military

Transgender airman: ‘I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military’

After his commander-in-chief’s tweeted declaration, Logan Ireland, a trans member of the military, said, “I’d like to see them try to kick me out of my military.”

In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump dictated a new policy for the US military: transgender people will not be allowed to serve. Reaction was swift, emphatic and hotly divided. Many citizens, celebrities and service members were dismayed and expressed support for trans troops. But on the far right, especially at outlets like Breitbart, the ban was enthusiastically applauded. While the ban seemed arbitrary and capricious, the divisive reaction to it may have been precisely the point. Continue reading

What if climate change is a hoax?

Australia blog about climate change science media coverage : Anti-carbon tax protesters in Canberra

Pro-oil protesters hold signs at a demonstration against taking action on climate change.

The most demanding issue of our time is environmental protection. Over hundreds of years of exploding populations, consumption-driven economies, and carving up the planet for resources, the human species has completely reshaped its humble home world. For decades now, scientists have warned that this behavior, unchecked, could have an ominous consequence. Science has given humanity a simple ultimatum: change our behavior or face nature’s wrath.

This has led to a deep schism. Those who are most heavily invested in the current system fight scientists’ claims aggressively. Corporate giants have spent untold millions on disinformation campaigns and disseminated their propaganda through far-right outlets. They have successfully transformed a scientific and moral issue into a political one.

But for the sake of argument, suppose the denialists are right. If we turn our resources to the fight against climate change and it turns out to be a hoax, what will we have done? Continue reading

A brief history of Republican presidents as mascots

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Donald Trump makes an entrance fit for a Lady Gaga concert at the 2016 GOP Convention.

In a sixth season episode of The Simpsons, Springfield’s Republicans gather to discuss their next mayoral candidate. Mr. Burns insists on “a true leader, who will do exactly as he’s told.” A political strategist says the next mayor of Springfield is just behind the door. When it’s opened, there’s nothing there but a water cooler, prompting a round of applause. Moments later Sideshow Bob, a former TV personality, steps into frame, and the Republicans decide he’s even better.

Three of the last four Republican presidents – Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump – could have easily been devised in such a meeting. In real life, as on The Simpsons, the Republican Party has shown a preference for presidential candidates who lack substance but put on a good show. It seems they don’t want a president so much as they do a mascot. Continue reading

What happens when the worst person in America becomes president

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After shoving a diplomat out of the way, President Trump adjusts his jacket and takes center stage.

Donald Trump is not, yet, the worst-ever president. He’s trying to be, but his administration has been too hamstrung by controversy to get much done. Part of this is because, on a personal level, Trump is almost certainly the worst person to occupy the White House. He’s crude, ignorant, abusive, and greedy – just for starters. Whatever he does or doesn’t accomplish in terms of policy, having such a toxic person in the nation’s highest office is already having destructive consequences. Continue reading