Archive for category Politics
Stay Cool. Call North Korea’s Bluff.
By ANDREI LANKOV
Published: April 9, 2013
SEOUL, South Korea
NORTH KOREA is a tiny dictatorship with a bankrupt economy, but its leaders are remarkably adept at manipulating global public opinion. In recent weeks, we have been exposed to yet another brilliant example of their skill.
Scores of foreign journalists have been dispatched to Seoul to report on the growing tensions between the two Koreas and the possibility of war. Upon arrival, though, it is difficult for them to find any South Koreans who are panic-stricken. In fact, most people in Seoul don’t care about the North’s belligerent statements: the farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here.
The average South Korean’s calm indifference is understandable: he or she has been through similar “crises” many times. By now South Koreans understand Pyongyang’s logic and know North Korea is highly unlikely to make good on its gothic threats.
People who talk about an imminent possibility of war seldom pose this question: What would North Korea’s leadership get from unleashing a war that they are likely to lose in weeks, if not days? Even if they managed to strike Japan, the United States or South Korea with nuclear weapons — a big if, given that they do not have a reliable delivery system — they could not save themselves from ultimate defeat. On the contrary, the use of nuclear or other terror weapons would be certain to invite overwhelming retaliation, delivering North Korea’s decision makers to a fiery oblivion.
Suggestions that those leaders are irrational and their decisions unfathomable are remarkably shallow. North Korea is not a theocracy led by zealots who preach the rewards of the afterlife.
In fact, there are no good reasons to think that Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s young dictator, would want to commit suicide; he is known for his love of basketball, pizza and other pleasures of being alive. The same logic applies to his advisers, old survivors in the byzantine world of North Korean politics who love expensive cars and good brandy.
Moreover, there is almost nothing particularly unusual in the recent developments. In the last two decades, North Korea has on various occasions conducted highly provocative missile and nuclear tests and promised to turn Seoul into a sea of fire. Now it has declared its withdrawal from the 1953 armistice agreement that ended fighting in the Korean War but not the war itself. It has denounced American and South Korean military exercises as an act of war. And on Tuesday, North Korea told foreigners in the South to look for shelter or consider evacuating because the Korean Peninsula could soon be engulfed in nuclear war. This time, the tune is being played louder, but that is the only real change.
A closer look at North Korean history reveals what Pyongyang’s leaders really want their near-farcical belligerence to achieve — a reminder to the world that North Korea exists, and an impression abroad that its leaders are irrational and unpredictable. The scary impressions are important to North Korea because for the last two decades its policy has been, above all, a brilliant exercise in diplomatic blackmail. And blackmail usually works better when the practitioners are seen as irrational and unpredictable.
Put bluntly, North Korea’s government hopes to squeeze more aid from the outside world. Of late, it has become very dependent on Chinese aid, and it wants other sponsors as well.
The leaders in Pyongyang read their history books. In 1994, after a year of tension over North Korea’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with oil shipments and light water reactors in exchange for the North’s promise to halt its weapons program. Then, in 2002, a clandestine North Korean uranium enrichment program was unmasked, and for the next four years North Korea could not get much American aid. But after it conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, the United States promised significant concessions, in hopes that new negotiations could halt the North’s weapons program after all. They did not.
If history is any guide, in a few weeks’ time things will calm down. North Korea’s media will tell its people that the might of the People’s Army and the strategic genius of their new young leader made the terrified American imperialists cancel their plans to invade the North. Meanwhile, North Korea’s diplomats will approach their international counterparts and start probing for aid and political concessions.
In other words, it is business as usual on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps, when the atmosphere cools down, an argument can be made for giving North Korea’s leaders some of the assistance they want, if they are willing to make concessions of their own.
But it does not make sense to credulously take their fake belligerence at face value and give them the attention they want now. It would be better if people in Washington and New York took a lesson from the people of Seoul.
- North Korea Urges Foreigners to Vacate South Korea (abcnews.go.com)
- North Korea urges foreigners to vacate South Korea, says nuclear war imminent (vancouversun.com)
- North Korea tells foreigners in South to consider evacuation (newsinfo.inquirer.net)
- South Korea: ‘Indication’ North Korea prepping for nuke test (metronews.ca)
- North Korea tells foreigners to leave the South as a nuclear war is imminent (mirror.co.uk)
- North Korea Urges Foreigners To Vacate South Korea (huffingtonpost.com)
- South Korea says North Korea behind computer crash in March (technology.inquirer.net)
- South Korea says North Korea behind computer crash in March (foxnews.com)
- Seoul’s Nukes (carnegieendowment.org)
- North Korea urges foreigners to vacate South Korea (foxnews.com)
The end of majority rule?
The National Rifle Association is facing attacks from Gun Owners of America for being too soft on gun control. This is like a double cheeseburger coming under severe criticism for lacking enough cholesterol.
Universal background checks are supported by 91 percent of Americans. Yet there is enormous resistance in Congress to passing a strong bill to keep arms out of the wrong hands. What does “rule of the people” mean if a 9-to-1 issue is having so much trouble gaining traction?
Or consider the Morning Joe/Marist polllast week showing 64 percent of Americans saying that job creation should be the top priority for elected officials. Only 33 percent said their focus should be on reducing the deficit. In light of Friday’s disappointing jobs report, the public’s instinct is sound. Yet politicians in our nation’s capital are so obsessed with the deficit you’d imagine they still haven’t heard how many Americans are unemployed or underemployed.
These three non-randomly selected facts illustrate a deep structural tilt in our politics to the right. This distortion explains why election outcomes and the public’s preferences have so little impact on what is happening in Washington. At the moment, our democracy is not very democratic.
Start with the weirdness within the gun lobby. Once upon a time, the NRA supported background checks for gun buyers, and why not? Polls show that gun owners overwhelmingly support background checks, too.
But the political far right is, among other things, a big business. The NRA’s chief concern is not sane public policy. Its imperative is to maintain market share within a segment of our country that views the federal government as a conspiracy against its liberties and President Obama as an alien force imposed upon them by voters who aren’t part of “the real America.” Within this market niche, background checks are but a first step toward gun confiscation.
In a well-functioning democracy, the vast majority of politicians — conservative, moderate and liberal — would dismiss such views as just plain kooky. But here is the problem: A substantial portion of the Republican Party’s core electorate is now influenced both by hatred of Obama and by the views of the ultra-right. Strange conspiracy theories are admitted to the mainstream conversation through the GOP’s back door — and amplified by another fight for market share among talk radio hosts and Fox News commentators.
That’s because the Republican Party is no longer a broad and diverse alliance but a creature of the right. According to a March Washington Post/ABC News poll, 65 percent of Republicans called themselves conservative, just 27 percent were moderates and 7 percent were liberals. Democrats, by contrast, are far more middle of the road: 43 percent called themselves liberal, 38 percent moderate and 16 percent conservative. Among independents, moderates predominated at 46 percent.
Practical Democratic politicians thus need to worry about the political center. Practical Republican politicians, especially those in gerrymandered House districts where primaries are all that matter, will worry almost entirely about an increasingly radicalized right.
And our Constitution combines with the way we draw congressional districts to overrepresent conservatives in both houses. The 100-member Senate is based on two senators per state regardless of size. This gives rural states far more power than population-based representation would. The filibuster makes matters worse. It’s theoretically possible for 41 senators representing less than 11 percent of the population to block pretty much anything.
In the House, those gerrymanders helped Republicans keep control even though more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2012 congressional races.
This representational skew affects coverage in the media. Most Americans may care more about jobs than deficits. But if a right-tilted power structure is talking about deficits all the time, members of the media feel obligated to cover the argument they hear in Washington, even if that means downplaying views held by a majority of the voters — and even if the economic data say we should be talking about growth, not austerity.
There’s also this: While background checks probably would pass the Senate with relative ease if there were no filibuster, the media cover a world in which 60 votes is the new 51. Thus do the battles for 60 percent of the Senate, not the views of 91 percent of Americans, dominate journalistic accounts.
There is no immediate solution to the obstruction of the democratic will. But we need to acknowledge that our system is giving extremists far more influence than the voters would. That’s why American democracy is deadlocked.
- E.J. Dionne Jr.: Have voters in America embraced the end of majority rule? (sacbee.com)
- The end of majority rule on gun control?: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- Dionne: The end of majority rule? (wickedlocal.com)
- Dionne: The end of majority rule? (metrowestdailynews.com)
- E.J. Dionne: Sane gun laws are coming (goerie.com)
- E.J. Dionne: Should only rich influence politics? (goerie.com)
- Will the GOP submit to the NRA and block background checks?: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- Week In Politics: Jobs Numbers, President Obama’s Budget (npr.org)
- The case for using (and reforming) the political contributions system: E.J. Dionne Jr. (oregonlive.com)
- “The End Of Majority Rule?”: Giving Extremists Far More Influence, Our Democracy At The Moment Is Not Very Democratic (mykeystrokes.com)
Back in the winter, Republicans were perfectly happy to let the sequester happen. They hewed to their math-challenged belief that Washington could slash the budget deficit by taking an axe to entitlement programs, preserving or hiking defense spending, lowering tax rates, and foregoing any new revenue. And if the Obama administration refused to go that route, Republicans were fine to let the sequester kick in on March 1 – as mandated by the 2011 deal between the parties.
Monte Wolverton / PoliticalCartoons.com
Granted, the sequester was never supposed to happen – draconian by definition, it was designed to bring everyone to their senses – but Republicans figured it had an upside. Federal spending would be cut 2.5 percent across the board, and, to them, that smelled like victory. Nobody in the real world would really get hurt, they said, and anybody who claimed otherwise was just a scaremonger.
Five weeks later, it’s bye bye mockery. Republicans have awakened to reality. They’re still fine with the sequester in the abstract, of course, but they seem displeased with how it’s starting to bite in their own backyards. Funny how that works.
It should be noted that their whining is quite selective. They’re basically silent about the imperiled or reduced Head Start programs for kids in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and Morris County, New Jersey and Cincinnati Ohio; about the special-education cuts and the imperiled rent assistance program in Sacramento, California; about the research funding cuts at the University of Florida and in the Human Genome Project at Missouri’s Washington University; about the Medicare cuts that are already prompting cancer clinics to turn away patients because the clinics can’t shoulder the cost of expensive chemotherapy drugs. (As one cancer clinic executive said, “A lot of us are in disbelief that this is happening.”)
Republicans don’t seem particularly upset about that stuff, but they’re shocked to discover that certain cuts are aimed at their own enclaves. Why, it’s an outrage!
For instance, Texas congressman Steve Stockman is fulminating about possible cuts at NASA (which is situated in his district). NASA has a “legitimate function of government,” he said, because it helps American avoid getting “hit by an asteroid.” And South Dakota senator John Thune is upset that the feds have closed some campgrounds at Wind Cave National Park (which is situated in his state). He says that these campgrounds are “a revenue source,” and he thinks that the Obama administration’s shutdown decision is “politically calculated.”
But Republicans have reserved their finest whine for the spending cuts at rural airports.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has been ordered to slash $637 million for the rest of the current fiscal year, has announced that it will close 149 air traffic control towers at small airports. The air-traffic controllers who work there can be laid off immediately because they’re private contractors; unionized air-traffic controllers, who work at the bigger airports, can be laid off only after a one-year negotation period. The rural skies will remain safe, says an AP story, because “pilots will be left to coordinate takeoffs and landings among themselves over a shared radio frequency with no help from ground controllers, under procedures that all pilots are trained to carry out.”
A huge share of these rural airports are in red states and red congressional districts. So of course Republicans are asking that the cuts be rescinded, that they receive special treatment. Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann (I’m trying to finish this sentence with a straight face) says that the FAA decision to close a tower in her district “shows a troubling lack of priorities.” Missouri senator Roy Blunt says that the decision to close a rural tower in his state is “interrupting Americans’ lives and air travel.” Florida congressman Dennis says that the “arbitrary” closure of an “important” tower in his district could have a “devastating” impact on the upcoming “Sun n’ Fun,” an annual convention that “serves our children.”
In response to this whining, I will simply invoke Mr. Pink, the film character in Reservoir Dogs played by Steve Buscemi, who rubbed his fingers together and said, “You see this? This is the world’s smallest violin, playing just for you.”
Yo, Republicans: You wanted across-the-board spending cuts? Fine, you’ve got them. It’s not just kids and cancer patients and 47 percenters who get hurt. Welcome to your own back yard.
- Sequester Cuts: Not In My Backyard! (athomesense.com)
- The Sequester Takes Effect On Norwood Airport (wbur.org)
- FAA may eliminate contract weather observer stations at Yeager, other airports (wvgazette.com)
- Republicans can’t stop whining about the sequester they caused (dailykos.com)
- About those air traffic control towers being forced to close because of sequester… (bluegrasspundit.com)
- Montana Airport Sues To Prevent Closure Of Air Traffic Control Tower (kmvt.com)
- Republican sequester causing airport tower closings! (americanliberaltimes.com)
- Sequester Tantrums Reveal Yet Again That Republicans Are Developmentally Stunted (politicususa.com)
- FAA delays closure of air traffic control towers (foxnews.com)
- Texas Deals With Air Traffic Sequester Cuts Like A Boss (personalliberty.com)
Attorney General Eric Holder has a solid record on voting rights, and he’s criticized Republican state lawmaker’s efforts to restrict the franchise in the past — at one point comparing voter ID laws to an unconstitutional poll tax. At a speech in New York yesterday, Holder added a new line to his previous attacks on voter suppression, suggesting that DOJ will respond with legal action if any Republican state lawmakers move forward with their proposals to rig the Electoral College:
Long lines are unnecessary. Shortened voting periods are unwise and inconsistent with the historic ideal of expanded participation in the process.. Let me be clear again: we will not sit by and allow the slow unraveling of an electoral system that so many sacrificed so much to construct.
There are two versions of the GOP’s election rigging plans, both of which Republicans want to enact exclusively in blue states. One version would allocate electoral votes in several targeted blue states by Congressional district, rather than to the winner of the state as a whole. The other version, which is currently being pushed by Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R), would allocate electoral votes proportionally — so that Mitt Romney would have won a significant chunk of Pennsylvania’s electoral voters even though President Obama carried the state. As with the congressional districts plan, Pileggi’s election-rigging plan would give away electoral votes to Republicans in his blue state, while still keeping all red state electors in GOP hands:
Holder’s suggestion that he would bring the full weight of the Department of Justice down upon any state that tried to steal the White House is certainly welcome, although it alone will not be enough to stop these election-rigging plans. Ultimately, the Justice Department’s ability to protect voting rights depends on a Supreme Court that is not openly hostile to the franchise — and the Roberts Court’s contempt for voting rights pervades their decisions. If the GOP election-rigging plans are to be defeated, it will require citizens in states like Pennsylvania raising their voice in outrage at this blatant attempt to steal American democracy.
- AG Holder: ‘We Will Not Sit By’ While Republicans Rig The Electoral College (thinkprogress.org)
- Democrats Hold Near Lock on Electoral College (politicalwire.com)
- Holder criticizes some states over electoral college maneuvers, calls some prison sentences too long (dailykos.com)
- Michigan GOP backs electoral college rigging scheme (tv.msnbc.com)
- That zombie Republican electoral college rigging scam — it lives! (washingtonmonthly.com)
- 13 GOP Pennsylvania Senators Introduce New Plan To Rig The Electoral College For Republicans (thinkprogress.org)
- The Republcan Pennsylvania Plan To Rig The Electoral College (alan.com)
- Electoral-vote scheme still simmering in Pennsylvania (maddowblog.msnbc.com)
- Ed Rendell on election rigging in Pennsylvania: “A really big deal” (democrats.org)
- GOP leader revisits Electoral College plan (triblive.com)