Advertisements

Meanwhile, Far Away in the Far East

President Donald Trump picked as good a time as any to embark on an extended multi-nation tour of Asia, given all the bad political news for the Republicans over the past week, but as usual he managed to grab his share of the attention.
During the campaign Trump frequently claimed that America had been “raped” by China in their trade relationship, but while in China he basically said that America was asking for it. “Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for their benefit of their own citizens?,” he said to an audience of Chinese political and business and leaders quite a few American businessmen, who responded with a slight and nervous-sounding laughter. He placed the blame for America’s trade deficit with China squarely on “past administrations,” apparently beginning with the Nixon administration, a charge he later reiterated via “tweet,” and the die hard-supporters back home were all more robustly cheering the implication that things are going to be different from now own.
Trump wasn’t talking the campaign talk labelling China a currency manipulator or slapping 45 percent tariffs on Chinese imports or holding the negotiations over a Big Mac and fries rather than a state dinner, though, and he didn’t give any details about what he wanted to change. We don’t claim to be the masterful negotiator that Trump claims to be, but we note he also didn’t give any details about how he’s going to persuade the Chinese to go along with his announced plan to take advantage of them for the benefit of his citizens, and most of the business leaders in the audience seemed to be hoping for a different tactic.
China is going to have to reconfigure its entire economy to get its citizens buying enough Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Gibson electric guitars to make much of a dent in the trade imbalance, and although it probably would make the country a whole lot cooler they’re unlikely to do so for Trump’s sake. America’s economy will also require a lot of reconfiguring before Americans stop snatching up low-priced Chinese-made products at Wal-Mart, although doing without some of that junk might also make America cooler, and there’s also the matter of the high-end airplanes and delicious wheat that folks here in Kansas make and the Chinese spend a lot of money on, so the Chinese will have some some threats of their own to make when any treaty is being debated in the Senate. Something better than the status quo is possible, and we wish Trump well in achieving that, but for the foreseeable future a balance of trade isn’t possible, and neither is it necessary desirable, so we hope Trump will be more understated and realistic in the future.
The trip also took Trump to Vietnam, which gave his critics an opportunity to chortle about the bone spurs that prevented him from serving in a war there, and brought him into direct contact with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, which also gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump told reporters that Putin had assured him that Russia didn’t do the tiniest bit of meddling in the past American presidential, and Trump said that he believed him, although after the predictable outrage he quickly revised that to mean that he believed that Putin actually believed that, and that in fact he believes the contrary conclusion of America’s intelligence agencies, at least now that they’re headed by his appointees and saying the same things they said under Obama’s appointees.
Continuing his penchant for disparaging past American governments in front of foreign audiences, Trump dismissed Obama’s past intelligence chiefs as “political hacks,” although both began their careers in Republican administrations and were decorated combat veterans of the war in Vietnam, and said the same things about Russian meddling that the Trump appointees are saying. In any case, Trump made clear that he didn’t see any reason why Russian attempts to sabotage an American should stand in the way of friendly relations.
There was also a stop in the Philippines, where the current President is Rodrigo Dueterte, who has cursed the Pope as the “son of a whore” and called an American president a “black bastard” and routinely forces kisses on women at his campaign rallies and unleashed gangs of vigilantes who have killed thousands of suspected drug users. Trump has previously praised Dueterte’s approach to the country’s problem, and always seemed quite comfortable with the rest of it, and Dueterte seems to like Trump’s style, too, so their meeting was fairly cordial. There’s a huge “Trump Tower” being built in downtown Manila, too, and Trump hasn’t divested himself of the branding agreement that’s expected to earn him millions of dollars, and the real owner of the property also happens to be Dueterte’s trade minister, so we expect it to remain cordial no matter how many suspected drug users are shot down without so much as a warrant.
The Philippines has lately benefited from America’s military support in quashing one of its occasional outbreaks of terrorism from it’s long-troublesome Muslim minority in the southern islands, too, and Dueterte has tamped down his anti-American rhetoric. He remains resistant to restoring America’s past military presence in the country and continues to make concessions to the Chinese in an apparent belief that they’re a more reliable diplomatic and economic partner.
During a stop in South Korea Trump managed to avoid making many big headlines, at least not to big enough to nudge the electoral losses or a Southern Gothic sex scandal out of the way, as he carefully avoided to referring to North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Ung as “Little Rocket Man.” The talk was tough, but within the usual diplomatic bounds, so the critics couldn’t muster of a case that he was taunting the North Korean nutcase into a nuclear confrontation by lowering himself to the dictator’s level of personal insult. After Kim once again called Trump a dotard, meaning an old and demented person, though, Trump “tweeted” back that “Why should Kim Jong-Un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat.’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend — and maybe that will someday happen!” Around the same time he offered to arbitrate some of China’s disputes with its neighbors over islands in the South China Sea, citing his great negotiation skills, but was politely declined by all parties.
At every stop along the way the leaders went out of their way to provide the most lavish welcomes and flattering praise, however, and Trump seemed to thoroughly enjoy it. Our guess is he and his fans will take it was proof that they’re making America great again, but that’s about all they’ll get out of it.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

The Fourth of the July on the Korean Peninsula

While America was firing off fireworks to celebrate its independence, the nutcase regime running North Korea was testing yet another intercontinental ballistic missile. According to the United States Pacific Command this one went 1,700 miles into space and landed 580 miles away from its launch off the South Korean coast line, so if you flatten that trajectory it could have landed in Alaska, which complicates what had already been a darned complicated situation for more than 50 years.
President Donald Trump defiantly responded with a “tweet” taunting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un by asking “Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” It’s a valid question, of course, but we doubt Trump’s “tweets” will deter Kim from his nuclear ambitions any more effectively than they’ve deterred Mika Brzezenski from criticizing Trump on her early morning cable news show, and Trump’s “tweeted” promise as president-elect that the North Koreans wouldn’t dare an ICBM test when he got into office obviously hasn’t come to pass. Trump hasn’t yet declared any red lines or stated any demands or ruled out any possible options, which suggests that the more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his well-regarded defense secretary and and his widely-respected national security advisor are exercising some control over the presidential “twitter” feed, and for now we hold out hope for an old friend of ours who lives in Anchorage.
America’s options were always limited to a narrow range of bad to worse, though, and Tuesday’s test seems to have narrowed them further. A pre-emptive first strike on the nutcase North Korean regime’s missile launching sites always carried the risk of devastating retaliatory strikes on nearby American allies South Korea and Japan, the South Korean capital of Seoul could be easily shelled from the the demilitarized zone with World War I-era artillery, and geography has given always the North Koreans an unearned that advantage that made any miscalculation catastrophic. Even if you’re so ruthlessly American First that you’d ignore the humanitarian consequences of bombs landing on such densely populated places as Seoul and Tokyo, you’d have to admit the economic consequences would eventually be felt deep in the heartland. With the North Koreans seemingly in missile range of Alaska and maybe even such densely populated places as Los Angeles and San Francisco, even such a seasoned head and steady hand and instinctive first-strike hawk as well-respected former defense secretary William Perry is saying “it changes every calculation.”
There are still plenty of potential diplomatic solutions, of course, but all of those have always been darned complicated and are lately more complicated yet. China’s President Xi Jiping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement proposing that North Korea refrain from further missile tests in exchange for the United States canceling a planned joint military exercise, which sounds reasonable but is pretty darned complicated. Trump ran on a China-bashing platform but has been remarkably friendly to China ever since Xi visited Mar-a-Lago and granted some long-sought patents to Trump’s daughter’s business, and by now everyone knows that his relationship with Putin is endlessly complicated, and even his relationship with South Korea has been complicated by his protectionist rhetoric and insistence that the country pay more for a missile defense system that might shoot down something pointed at Alaska. That joint Sino-Russian proposal was a hard enough call in any case, aside from the embarrassing fact it had two leaders Trump has sucked up to colluding against him. Accepting would be a sign of weakness, and undermine a longstanding American-South Korean alliance, and refusing might now prove that that catastrophic miscalculation that the the past 50 years of American presidents have sought to avoid.
Given the situation we’re now in there’s argument to be made that all of those presidents of the past 50 years made some miscalculations. President Harry Truman was the first president who waded into the Korean Peninsula, although that was largely a result of his predecessor’s actions and those of presidents going back to Theodore Roosevelts first adventures in Asia, and for all the historical debate at least it ended up with a capitalist and mostly democratic South Korea and all those great K-Pop videos.
Those communist and totalitarian China and North Korea regimes lingered through the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and then the cold warrior Republican President Richard Nixon famously went to China. After Vietnam and Watergate the Republican Ford and Democratic Carter administrations maintained the stalemate on the troublesome peninsula, and although the Republican administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush brought down the Soviet Union they didn’t much change the situation with the commies on the Korean peninsula. The Democratic President Bill Clinton struck a bargain with the North Koreans that looks dreadful and will perhaps look worse in the history books, Republican President George W. Bush didn’t rectify that, and the latest headlines in even Te New York Times and The Washington Post admit that Democratic President Barack Obama also failed to definitively solve the problem.
Now we find ourselves with President Donald Trump facing these complications, and hoping those more seasoned heads and steadier hands of his will somehow prevail at least enough to kick this can further down the road.

— Bud Norman

Even “Team America” Can’t Rescue Free Speech

Although we are not fond of the comedy of Seth Rogen, we were nonetheless dismayed to hear that his latest motion picture is being pulled from theatrical release because of terroristic threats by the North Korean government. When the tinpot dictator of a third world basket case can determine the choices of the American movie-going public it is a blow to free speech, and we are fond free speech. When the likes of Kim Jong Un can even halt a screening of “Team America: World Police,” the kind of movie that free speech was invented for, we are doubly outraged.
“Team America: World Police” isn’t a movie we recommend to everyone, as it is only suited to certain unrefined tastes. The polite word for its style of humor is Rabelaisian, but such a highfalutin term isn’t quite appropriate to such a deliberately foul-mouthed and dirty-minded puppet show. Those whose minds are already in the gutter and whose stomachs are strong enough for such fare will find it hilarious, though, and notice it has more shrewd points to make than the next ten indie flicks that will play your local art house put together. First released in 2004, the movie spoofs the Bushian patriotic fervor of America in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, but that’s mostly rendered with the sort affectionate understanding that the great Preston Sturges brought to his classic satires “Hail the Conquering the Hero” and “Miracle of Morgan’s” during the similarly proud days of World War II. By far the harshest barbs are aimed at Islamist terrorists, the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, and their equally anti-American sympathizers in Hollywood. “Team America: World Police” is such a convincingly scathing indictment of Hollywood’s limousine liberalism that it’s a wonder Hollywood ever released it, but at the time Hollywood didn’t have the ready excuse of not wanting to offend any of the various Kim Jongs of North Korea.
Since the original release of “Team America: World Police” the North Koreans have been cast as the villains in several movies, including that awful remake of “Red Dawn” which somehow retained all the stupid improbabilities and bad acting of the original but somehow omitted all the popcorn-chomping patriotic fun, probably for lack of politically correct and liability-proof options. Hollywood stopped doing commie villains as soon as the Cold War ended, and even wound up re-making “The Manchurian Candidate” with some vaguely Koch Brothers-ish corporation as the bad guys plotting world domination, and was more likely to release an adoring bio-pic of Che Guevara. Neo-Nazis still make an occasional appearance in the movies, but that beloved cliche has mostly played out from overuse. Christians and Republicans and especially Christian Republicans can always been employed to stop a high school dance or say unpleasant things about a cross-dresser or complicate someone’s abortion or provide some other villainous plot twist, but that’s only good for the women’s market, and is insufficiently violent for the action-adventure fare that brings in the really big box office, and it probably doesn’t translate well to the foreign market.
Islamist terrorists are widely unpopular domestically, a sentiment that probably prevails in a profitable segment of those foreign markets as well, but of course they’re terrorists and might prove more expensively dangerous to offend than whatever’s left of the Neo-Nazis or the Koch Brothers-ish corporations or Christians or Republicans or even Christian Republicans. From the still-in-hiding Salman Rushdie to that besieged Danish magazine that published the Mohammad cartoons to the murdered Theo Van Gogh, criticizing the Islamists has never proved a profitable enterprise. The same ribald fellows who did “Team America: World Police” also do the foul-mouthed and dirty-minded and frequently brilliant “South Park” cartoon, but when they dared to depict Mohammad in solidarity the Comedy Central network did not air the offend segment. The same network’s Stephen Colbert recently received the effusive thanks of the Democratic party for his long service to its cause, which they will cite as proof of how very daring they are, but they are by no means alone in Hollywood in their preference for a safer sort of daring.
Kim Jong Un has apparently noticed this tendency, if that reports that it’s actually a big publicity push for some otherwise unsaleable Seth Rogen flick can be discounted, and now he can enjoy the same immunity from Hollywood villainy as his friends in Iran and Cuba. The studio has already suffered from a cyber-attack that has revealed e-mails and other internal documents confirming that everyone in Hollywood is as self-absorbed and shallow as you’d always thought, and apparently believes that the North Koreans can make good on its more deadly threats. A few theaters decided to show “Team America: World Police” as a protest against the Sony Corporation’s capitulation to the terrorist threat, but the studio decided to pull even that worthier production from the theaters as well. Any other tinpot dictators of third world basket-cases seeking some say in which pictures get green-lighted can expect the same response, and it will likely have an inhibiting effect on the American cinema. At this rate, the next James Bond will have the intrepid secret agent saving the high school dance that one of those creepy Christian Republicans was trying to shut down.

— Bud Norman