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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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

Far right blames negative Trump coverage for congressional baseball shooting

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At rallies across America during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump called for violence from his podium.

At a practice for the Republican congressional baseball team Wednesday morning, a mass shooter opened fire and struck five people. One of them was Steve Scalise, the third-ranked Republican in the House of Representatives. The shooter, identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson, was killed in a shootout with Capitol police. In the ensuing news cycle, Hodgkinson’s political persuasion became public knowledge. He was, apparently, a political progressive who volunteered on the Bernie Sanders campaign and despised Donald Trump’s presidency.

Figures on the far right wasted no time blaming Trump’s critics for the attack. Comments on right-wing message boards, and on Hodgkinson’s own Facebook page, excoriated liberals for dividing the country and encouraging violence. Sean Hannity, whose FOX News program is the leading Trump propaganda hour on cable, warned, “When Democrats continue to dehumanize Republicans… the climate around the country becomes more than toxic.” Newt Gingrich blamed “an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.” Continue reading

Left and Right PC outrage in the Trump era

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This picture earned more than its thousand words, but it didn’t get as many laughs.

From comedians to journalists, high-profile members of the left and right found themselves in Trump-related controversy in recent weeks. The incidents provide a useful microcosm to paint a bigger picture. When the political correctness of each side is analyzed one thing is clear: the left holds its own to a much higher standard than the right does. And while liberals spend much of their time infighting, Republicans are radicalizing further rightward and running away with the country. Continue reading

Media reinforces Donald Trump’s most dangerous behavior

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Iraqi citizens gaze at the devastation in Mosul, where Trump-authorized airstrikes have killed hundreds of civilians.

For the first several weeks of his presidency, it looked as though mainstream media might hold Donald Trump at least partially accountable for his actions. Stories regularly aired that were critical of Trump’s brutal budget and discussed his pathological lying. All of it prompted Trump to label the media the “opposition party.” Then, late last week, Trump fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase. His fireworks show earned Trump bipartisan media and political praise.

Even before Trump launched the attack, Hillary Clinton called for it. Both the Democratic Senate and House Minority Leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, praised the attack, as did prominent Republican critics of Trump like John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Liberal CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria declared Trump “became president of the United States” with the attack while NBC host Brian Williams described the bombing as “beautiful.” FAIR found that of 47 editorials published in major papers, only one was critical. Continue reading

Trump sticks to a script; media gushes with praise

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President Trump points for emphasis while Vice-President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan applaud.

On Tuesday night, President Trump went before Congress to deliver an address to the American people. It capped off a day during which Trump courted controversy by blaming the military for a botched raid in Yemen and suggesting that Jews were committing their own acts of anti-Semitism to make him look bad. But in a classic demonstration of the 24-hour news cycle’s short attention span, all was forgiven when Trump stuck to script and delivered a serviceable speech. Continue reading

Bill Maher grants professional alt-right troll a mainstream platform

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Among the people Yiannopoulos makes a career out of hating are poor immigrants.

A micro-controversy is bubbling in the world of liberal infotainment. Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor and self-described internet supervillain, was booked as a guest on Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher. In protest, Jeremy Scahill, a founding editor for The Intercept, canceled his own scheduled appearance on the show. Maher responded by saying, in part, “Liberals will continue to lose elections as long as they follow the example of people like Mr. Scahill.”

Maher further explained, “If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims – and he might be – nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.” But Maher is missing the point. Exposure is precisely what Yiannopoulos craves. It doesn’t matter if he’s revealed as a full-throated Nazi and booed out of the building; he has already won. Continue reading

No, Donald, the ‘real story’ isn’t why there are leaks, it’s what they reveal

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During Trump rallies, Flynn, right, would lead the crowd in “Lock her up” chants. After 24 days in office Flynn has resigned over a likely violation of the Logan Act.

The biggest scandal this week in the Trump Administration is the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and hard-right conspiracy theorist who had no business in the position in the first place. Flynn was forced to resign when it became known that he communicated with his Russian counterpart prior to Trump’s inauguration and lied about what was discussed. After Flynn’s resignation Trump tweeted, “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Continue reading

How conservatives were able to normalize Trump

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters through a bullhorn during a campaign stop at the Canfield County Fair in Canfield

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to supporters through a bullhorn during a campaign stop at the Canfield County Fair in Canfield, Ohio, U.S., September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX

Even someone who doesn’t follow politics can see in Donald Trump a truly unusual president. Liberals are often astounded that conservatives don’t recognize Trump’s pathological lying and disregard for constitutional democracy as existential threats to civilization. But Republicans’ worldview has been shaped by relentless, far-right, corporate propaganda. In such a paranoid and disturbed bubble, Trump may be a bit unorthodox, but desperate times called him to office.

In many ways, the reality of Trump matches the caricature of President Obama in the conservative imagination. Conservative commentators hardly ever mentioned the former president without first rattling off a list of pejoratives. Consumers of conservative media spent years hearing Obama referred to as an arrogant, ego-driven, race-baiting, divisive, wannabe dictator. When someone like Trump came along who actually was all those things, and openly so, Republicans normalized him with relative ease. Continue reading