Quote of the Day: Trump Going To North Korea Compared To Nixon Going To China

“It’s like Richard Nixon going to China, but if Nixon were a moron.” –Jeffrey Lewis, writing in Foreign Affairs about Trump going to North Korea. (Hat tip to Political Wire for link. Picture is of Kim and Trump impersonators from Foreign Affairs.

Edward Snowden On Putin, Obama, Trump And Questioning Power

With the high level of McCarthyism coming from pro-Clinton Democrats in recent months, it has been commonplace recently for such Democrats to falsely attack those they disagree with as being pro-Russia. They fail to understand that people can be opposed to Clinton, Trump, and Putin–with all three actually sharing many characteristics with their mutual lack of respect for the norms of liberal democracy. This week several blogs on the left have pointed out that Edward Snowden has joined others in posting videos exposing ballot box stuffing in the recent Russian election:

Snowden posted the video with this caption: “The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people. Demand justice; demand laws and courts that matter. Take your future back.”

Glenn Greenwald retweeted this and said, “How many days will elapse until we see the next tweets claiming that Snowden never criticizes Putin or Russia – something he in fact does with great vigor and frequency?”

Stefania Maurizi recently interviewed Edward Snowden for La Repubblica. The first question was about the Democrats who joined with Republicans to support mass surveillance:

Five years have passed since you revealed the NSA’s mass surveillance activities, and we have just seen dozens of US Democrats voting with the Trump Administration to renew the NSA’s surveillance powers, we’ve seen Italy approve a law which extends mandatory data retention to six years, but we’ve also seen a UK Court ruling that the UK’s mass surveillance regime is unlawful. The debate is still ongoing and the picture is mixed. In the long run, will mass surveillance be downsized in our democracies, or will it continue to flourish?

“That’s a big question…(he smiles). For one it’s certainly a real shame, I think, for the Democratic party, and unfortunately this has become quite routine, that the party that is presenting itself as a progressive force is so often joining in to limit the rights that the public enjoys. I don’t think this is unique to the Democratic Party, we see this happening even in countries that don’t share the same dynamics. What we are seeing is a new kind of creeping authoritarianism spreading across the globe.

Having said that, we have made some limited progress: in the United States, of course, we had the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which is the first surveillance law in 40 years that limited the powers of intelligence agencies rather than expanding them, but it is not guaranteed that this progress will continue, and in fact we see laws like the section 702 of the FISA [the NSA’s surveillance powers reauthorized by the U.S. Congress]…

He was later asked about Obama and Trump:

We saw that President Obama, who was an outsider to the US military-intelligence complex, initially wanted to reign in the abuses of agencies like the CIA and the NSA, but in the end he did very little. Now we see a confrontation between president Trump and so-called Deep State, which includes the CIA and the NSA. Can a US president govern in opposition to such powerful entities?

“Obama is certainly an instructive case. This is a president who campaigned on a platform of ending warrantless wiretapping in the United States, he said “that’s not who we are, that’s not what we do”, and once he became the president, he expanded the program.  He said he was going to close Guantanamo but he kept it open, he said he was going to limit extrajudicial killings and drone strikes that has been so routine in the Bush years. But Obama went on to authorize vastly more drone strikes than Bush. It became an industry.

As for this idea that there is a Deep State, now the Deep State is not just the intelligence agencies, it is really a way of referring to the career bureaucracy of government. These are officials who sit in powerful positions, who don’t leave when presidents do, who watch presidents come and go, they influence policy, they influence presidents and say: this is what we have always done, this is what we must do, and if you don’t do this, people will die. It is very easy to persuade a new president who comes in, who has never had these powers, but has always wanted this job and wants very, very badly to do that job well. A bureaucrat sitting there for the last twenty years says: I understand what you said, I respect your principles, but if you do what you promised, people will die. It is very easy for a president to go: well, for now, I am going to set this controversy to the side, I’m going to take your advice, let you guys decide how these things should be done, and then I will revisit it, when I have a little more experience, maybe in a few months, maybe in a few years, but then they never do.

This is what we saw quite clearly happen in the case of Barack Obama: when this story [of Snowden exposing the NSA’s mass surveillance] came forward in 2013, when Obama had been president for five years, one of the defences for this from his aides and political allies was: oh, Obama was just about to fix this problem!  And sure enough, he eventually was forced from the wave of criticism to make some limited reforms, but he did not go far enough to end all of the programs that were in violation of the law or the constitution of the United States.

That too was an intentional choice: he could have certainly used the scandal to advocate for all of the changes that he had campaigned on, to deliver on all of his promises, but in those five years he had become president, he discovered something else, which is that there are benefits from having very powerful intelligence agencies, there are benefits from having these career bureaucrats on your side, using their spider web over government for your benefit.

Imagine you are Barack Obama, and you realise – yes, when you were campaigning you were saying: spying on people without a warrant is a problem, but then you realise: you can read Angela Merkel’s text messages. Why bother calling her and asking her opinion, when you can just read her mind by breaking the law? It sounds like a joke, but it is a very seductive thing. Secrecy is perhaps the most corrupting of all government powers, because it takes public officials and divorces them from accountability to the public.

When we look at the case of Trump, who is perhaps the worst of politicians, we see the same dynamic occurring. This is a president who said the CIA is the enemy, it’s like Nazi Germany, they’re listening to his phone calls, and all of these other things, some claims which are true, some claims which are absolutely not.  A few months later, he is authorizing major powers for these same agencies that he has called his enemies.

And this gets to the central crux of your question, which is: can any president oppose this?  The answer is certainly. The president has to have some familiarity going in with the fact that this pitch is going to be made, that they are going to try to scare him or her into compliance. The president has to be willing to stand strongly on line and say: ‘I was elected to represent the interests of the American people, and if you’re not willing to respect the constitution and our rights, I will disband your agency, and create a new one’. I think they can definitely be forced into compliance, because these officials fear prison, just like every one of us.”

He was asked about attacks claiming that he only exposes problems with  the United States:

How do you reply to those critics who attack you for “only” exposing the US mass surveillance and saying that the Chinese and the Russian surveillance complexes are no less threatening?

“This is an easy one: I am not Chinese, I am not Russian, I didn’t work for the Chinese secret services or Russian secret services, I worked for the US ones, so of course my information would be about the US”.

Critics say we should also expose the Russians and the Chinese…

“Yes, if I could, I would. We need more Chinese whistleblowers, we need more Russian whistleblowers, and unfortunately that becomes more difficult to make that happen when the United States is itself setting a precedent that whistleblowers get persecuted and attacked, rather than protected”.

How do you see this serious diplomatic crisis between the UK and Russia?
“I haven’t followed it that closely, but the idea that political violence is being used in any form is reprehensible, it needs to be condemned. If the UK allegations are correct, poisoning people, particularly people who are long out of their service, and in a different country, is contemptible”.

Snowden did subsequently have the opportunity to help expose problems in Russia with the video in the tweet at the start of this post.

The interview concluded with Snowden’s being asked for his advice for young and talented people who want to do the right thing:

“Question power. I don’t want people to trust me, I want people to doubt me, but I want them to take that experience and apply that to the real powers of society, not just isolated, exiled whistleblowers. Think about politicians, business leaders, the people who shape your society. Shouldn’t it be that the ones who wield the most power in society are the ones who are held to the highest standard of behaviour?

And look at the way the system works in your country, around you today, and ask if in fact the most powerful people in society are being held to the highest standards, or if you see cases where if the ordinary person breaks the smallest law, they’re going to jail, but if the most powerful people in society are engaged in criminal activity on the grandest scales, they can simply apologize and face no consequences. If that is the case, think about what you can do to fix that. The first step is always to question if this is the way things should be, and if it’s not, it’s time to change it”.

SciFi Weekend: Stephen Hawking, Scientist & Genre Star; The 100; Martin Freeman on Sherlock; Alexis Bledel on A Handmaid’s Tale; Double Renewal For Eric McCormack–Will & Grace & Travelers; The Americans; Nathan Fillian To Reprise Firefly Role; Saturn Award Nominees

Stephen Hawking died last week leading to recognition not only from the scientific community, tributes from many in actors due to his many appearances on genre television. He was the only historical figure to play himself on Star Trek. In the video above from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hawking played cards with  Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Data in the holodeck. Syfy Wire has several tributes to Hawking from the cast of multiple versions of Star Trek. More at TrekMovie.com.

Sheldon Cooper met Stephen Hawking on The Big Bang Theory in the clip above. TV Line has tributes from the cast of The Big Bang Theory. IO9 has additional television cameos.

The 100 ended last season with major changes, and a quick glance of the future. An extended trailer for the the fifth season has been released, showing a new enemy to contend with. The 100 returns on April 24.

It has been a huge question as to whether Sherlock would return considering how the careers of both stars have taken off. It does not sound encouraging that Martin Freeman will want to return after he said that it wasn’t fun anymore in a recent interview:

In a new interview in The Telegraph, the Black Panther actor was asked if there were any talks about a fifth season of the BBC fan favorite.

“Not massively,” the Dr. Watson actor said. “Um… I think after series four [it] felt like a pause. I think we felt we’d done it for a bit now. And part of it, speaking for myself is [due to] the reception of it.”

Martin, the article explained, was referring to 2017’s fourth season which seemed to struggle to continue building on fans’ expectations of previous outings.

“To be absolutely honest, it [was] kind of impossible,” he explained. “Sherlock became the animal that it became immediately. Whereas even with [the U.K. version of] The Office, it was a slow burn. But Sherlock was frankly notably high quality from the outset. And when you start [that high] it’s pretty hard to maintain that.

“Being in that show, it is a mini-Beatles thing,” he concluded. “People’s expectations, some of it’s not fun anymore. It’s not a thing to be enjoyed, it’s a thing of: ‘You better f—ing do this, otherwise, you’re a c—.’ That’s not fun anymore.”

The Handmaid’s Tale returns to Hulu on April 25. Entertainment Weekly interviewed Alexis Bledel:

This season, we get to learn a lot about Emily’s life from Before. Was her backstory something you’d thought about before this episode?
Yes, I loved filming Emily’s flashbacks. [Executive producer] Bruce Miller and I had talked about what her pre-Gilead life might have been like even before I started working on the first season. I think much of her worldview is informed by her previous life as a professor of cellular biology. Life in the Colonies is a last stop. Emily does not have a great deal of hope for a future there; she knows her days are numbered.

Marisa Tomei costars with you in the second episode. What was that like?
It was amazing to work with her; she’s someone whose work I admire. We had these incredibly dark, dramatic moments to play out that she brought so much depth to.

I keep thinking/wondering what’s worse: life as a Handmaid or living in the Colonies?
Being forced to exist in either Gilead or the Colonies threatens to destroy a person’s soul in different ways. Handmaids are forced to follow an extremely limiting set of rules to comply with the mandates of the Gileadean regime, including the horrific monthly ceremony. Anyone in Gilead would be terrified to be sent to the Colonies. Everything from the soil the unwomen turn over to the water they use to wash is toxic in the Colonies, so a person’s health begins to rapidly deteriorate as soon as they get there. They know they will die there, all the while forced to do hard labor without decent food to eat or clean living conditions.

We are going to be seeing more of Eric McCormack on television next year. NBC has renewed the Will & Grace revival for a second season, and is extending it to eighteen episodes. Fewer people might be aware that Eric McCormack also stars in an excellent Canadian science fiction series called Travelers. The first two seasons were broadcast on Showcase and later shown on Netflix–although once I discovered this show I wound up downloading episodes rather than waiting for it to be available on Netflix.

Travelers has been renewed for a third season, and McCormack will be directing the first episode. However, instead of airing first on Showcase, the show will be shown exclusively on Netflix. I wonder if this was a case of Netflix saving the show if Showcase was not going to continue it, or (I suspect more likely) Netflix has business reasons and the power to take it over.

Travelers is technically a time travel show but the series takes place entirely in the present, with people from the future taking over the consciousness of people at the moments they were to have died. The characters must deal with not only their mission to save the earth , but also must deal with the personal lives of the bodies they take over. I won’t give specifics for those who have not seen it, but the second season ended with major changes for everyone, making fans eager to see a third season.

The Americans returns for its sixth and final season on March 28. FX has released the above official trailer.

Earlier in the week I had this post regarding a social credit system in China which sounds like something out of Black Mirror. It is also reminiscent of Majority Rule, an episode of The Orville.

Storing the contents of one’s brain provided for a fascinating story on Altered Carbon. A company is claiming that they can store the contents of your brain, but there is a huge catch.

Nathan Fillian is going play himself on an upcoming episode of American Housewife, and will be suiting up as Captain Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly.

(more…)

China’s Social Credit System Sounds Orwellian, And Like An Extension Of Current Facebook Censorship

Recent reports on China’s  social credit system sound Orwellian, or like something out of Black Mirror. The Verge summarized how the system works:

Starting in May, Chinese citizens who rank low on the country’s burgeoning “social credit” system will be in danger of being banned from buying plane or train tickets for up to a year, according to statements recently released by the country’s National Development and Reform Commission.

With the social credit system, the Chinese government rates citizens based on things like criminal behavior and financial misdeeds, but also on what they buy, say, and do. Those with low “scores” have to deal with penalties and restrictions. China has been working towards rolling out a full version of the system by 2020, but some early versions of it are already in place.

Previously, the Chinese government had focused on restricting the travel of people with massive amounts of debt, like LeEco and Faraday Future founder Jia Yueting, who made the Supreme People’s Court blacklist late last year.

The new travel restrictions are the latest addition to this growing patchwork of social engineering, which has already imposed punishments on more than seven million citizens. And there’s a broad range when it comes to who can be flagged. Citizens who have spread “false information about terrorism,” caused “trouble” on flights, used expired tickets, or were caught smoking on trains could all be banned, according to Reuters.

But the system, as it stands, is opaque; citizens are seemingly just as likely to be flagged for minor infractions like leaving bikes parked in a footpath or issuing apologies that are deemed “insincere” as major credit defaulters like Jia. And it’s often unclear whether they’re on a blacklist in the first place, let alone what kind of recourse is available. “Chinese government authorities clearly hope to create a reality in which bureaucratic pettiness could significantly limit people’s rights,” Maya Wang, senior researcher for the non-profit NGO Human Rights Watch, wrote in December.

Wired has further information on how the system works:

Individuals on Sesame Credit are measured by a score ranging between 350 and 950 points. Alibaba does not divulge the “complex algorithm” it uses to calculate the number but they do reveal the five factors taken into account. The first is credit history. For example, does the citizen pay their electricity or phone bill on time? Next is fulfilment capacity, which it defines in its guidelines as “a user’s ability to fulfil his/her contract obligations”. The third factor is personal characteristics, verifying personal information such as someone’s mobile phone number and address. But the fourth category, behaviour and preference, is where it gets interesting.

Under this system, something as innocuous as a person’s shopping habits become a measure of character. Alibaba admits it judges people by the types of products they buy. “Someone who plays video games for ten hours a day, for example, would be considered an idle person,” says Li Yingyun, Sesame’s Technology Director. “Someone who frequently buys diapers would be considered as probably a parent, who on balance is more likely to have a sense of responsibility.” So the system not only investigates behaviour – it shapes it. It “nudges” citizens away from purchases and behaviours the government does not like.

Friends matter, too. The fifth category is interpersonal relationships. What does their choice of online friends and their interactions say about the person being assessed? Sharing what Sesame Credit refers to as “positive energy” online, nice messages about the government or how well the country’s economy is doing, will make your score go up…

Posting dissenting political opinions or links mentioning Tiananmen Square has never been wise in China, but now it could directly hurt a citizen’s rating. But here’s the real kicker: a person’s own score will also be affected by what their online friends say and do, beyond their own contact with them. If someone they are connected to online posts a negative comment, their own score will also be dragged down…

…people with low ratings will have slower internet speeds; restricted access to restaurants, nightclubs or golf courses; and the removal of the right to travel freely abroad with, I quote, “restrictive control on consumption within holiday areas or travel businesses”. Scores will influence a person’s rental applications, their ability to get insurance or a loan and even social-security benefits. Citizens with low scores will not be hired by certain employers and will be forbidden from obtaining some jobs, including in the civil service, journalism and legal fields, where of course you must be deemed trustworthy. Low-rating citizens will also be restricted when it comes to enrolling themselves or their children in high-paying private schools. I am not fabricating this list of punishments. It’s the reality Chinese citizens will face. As the government document states, the social credit system will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step”.

This sounds a  lot like what was depicted on an episode of The Orville entitled Majority Rule.

The system is voluntary now and becomes mandatory in 2020. Wired suggests that people are signing up now out of fear of reprisals if they do not, and as high scores can be a status symbol:

Higher scores have already become a status symbol, with almost 100,000 people bragging about their scores on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) within months of launch. A citizen’s score can even affect their odds of getting a date, or a marriage partner, because the higher their Sesame rating, the more prominent their dating profile is on Baihe.

Sesame Credit already offers tips to help individuals improve their ranking, including warning about the downsides of friending someone who has a low score. This might lead to the rise of score advisers, who will share tips on how to gain points, or reputation consultants willing to offer expert advice on how to strategically improve a ranking or get off the trust-breaking blacklist.

Wired compares this to “a big data gamified version of the Communist Party’s surveillance methods.” People are also likely to seek ways around the system:

We’re also bound to see the birth of reputation black markets selling under-the-counter ways to boost trustworthiness. In the same way that Facebook Likes and Twitter followers can be bought, individuals will pay to manipulate their score. What about keeping the system secure? Hackers (some even state-backed) could change or steal the digitally stored information…

In China, certain citizens, such as government officials, will likely be deemed above the system. What will be the public reaction when their unfavourable actions don’t affect their score? We could see a Panama Papers 3.0 for reputation fraud.

While this sounds absolutely Orwellian, businesses here are regularly rated on line, and their success can be affected by the whims of anonymous reviewers.

While we do not face restrictions as severe as those described in China, this is also analogous to the current censorship we are facing on Facebook. While the internet can increase opportunities for free expression when anyone can write from their own web page,  increasingly communication is being channeled through limited sources. Facebook has become indispensable for communicating, now with over two billion active users worldwide. Facebook will often cite violation of Community Standards to justify restricting individuals, but quite often there is no evidence of violating any of the Community Standards actually posted by Facebook, and no response to appeals. This has led many people to start using social media sites including MeWe, Steemit, Minds, and Tremr. Unfortunately it is far harder for Chinese to change where they live to avoid repression based upon unclear standards than it is to use alternative social media sites here.

Lindsey Graham’s Insane Belief That War With North Korea Would Be “Worth It”

Donald Trump very well might be the worst president in our history, but that doesn’t mean that there are other policians who are also very dangerous. For example,  Lindsey Graham said in an interview on CNN that war with Korea would be worth it: “All the damage that would come from a war would be worth it in terms of long-term stability and national security.”

In reality such a war would probably lead to considerable instabilty for years to come, on top of the immediate damage such a war would cause.

Here are some responses from around the blogosphere, and across the ideological spectrum. Daniel Larison at The American Conervative wrote:

There is no way that a war with a nuclear-armed North Korea could be “worth it,” and saying that it would be shows a monstrous disregard for the lives and well-being of tens of millions of people on the Korean Peninsula. A war with North Korea would be an unmitigated disaster for everyone on the Korean Peninsula, and it would be extremely costly for the U.S. and the surrounding region. In the worst-case scenario, a U.S. attack could precipitate the very nuclear attack on American soil that it is supposed to “prevent.” If the U.S. gives the North Korean government reason to think that they have nothing to lose, that scenario is not so far-fetched.

Beyond the immediate massive loss of life and property, the damage to the global economy would be extensive. The region would be dangerously unstable for many years and probably decades afterwards. Even if we assume that China stayed neutral in a major war on its doorstep, tensions with China would be very high for a long time to come. If China chose to intervene on North Korea’s side as they probably would, the U.S. might even lose the war or be forced into another stalemate at great cost. Victory in a war with North Korea would be Pyrrhic, and could not possibly be “worth” the price that it would cost.

Doug Mataconis wrote at  Outside the Beltway:

The sheer arrogance and idiocy behind this comment from Graham cannot possibly be understated. As I’ve noted here several times in the past, a war on the Korean Peninsula would be unlike anything this nation or any of our allies have seen since young American men were being killed by the hundreds every day in Vietnam, or since the first Korean War itself which resulted in an estimated 2.7 million civilian casualties, just over 300,000 allied war dead (most of which were South Korean), more than 600,000 military deaths on the North Korean/Chinese side, plus roughly 800,000 wounded among the allied nations (again with the majority being South Korean) and a similar number wounded on the Communist side. (Sources here and here) This is a far cry from the wars that Americans have become used to since the post-Vietnam War such as the Persian Gulf War (341 Allied Killed In Action), the Afghan War (3,405 Allied KIA),  and even the Iraq War (4,809 Allied KIA). It’s also worth noting that a new war on the Korean Peninsula would play out in real time in the United States and around the world in a way that the first war, or indeed Vietnam or any of the other recent wars, have been thanks not only to cable news but also social media and the Internet. It would be difficult if not impossible for Americans to avoid seeing the consequences of such a war and how they would react to that is hard to predict at this point

In addition to being utterly illegal, a new war in Korea would most likely not last nearly as long as the first one did, that doesn’t mean that the toll it would inflict would not be horrible. As just one example of this, there’s the fact that the current population of Seoul and its immediate metropolitan area is roughly 9.86 million people, making it more populated than cities such as Tokyo and New York City. The nearby city of Inchon, the city of General Douglas MacArthur’s famous amphibious invasion that is credited with turning the tide of the Korean War when it helped to relieve a beleaguered South Korea, has a population of just under 2.9 million people. Both of these areas are well within the range of the tens of thousands of artillery pieces and rockets that North Korea has placed on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, as are a number of American military bases. Additionally, Japanese cities such as Toyko and Kyoto, and of course American bases in Japan, are well within the range of North Korean missiles that are most assuredly operational albeit likely to “only” carry conventional military casualties. In North Korea, the capital Pyongyang, which would be a prime target of American air power, is estimated to have a civilian population of just under 2.6 million people. Even in a short conflict, the potential for massive civilian casualties is something that can’t simply be swept aside.

For Graham to simply brush aside the potential losses that would likely unfold from a war on the Korean Peninsula is irresponsible, callous, and stupid. While it is true that the likely outcome of a war in Korea would be the downfall of the Kim regime, the price that would have to be paid to get there, particularly by civilians in the Republic of Korea or Japan, is hardly something that can be dismissed in the cavalier manner that Graham does is outrageous and stupid. It’s the same kind of attitude that led the United States to go to war in Iraq in 2003, which led to civilian casualties that are estimated to be well over 100,000 people and to continue to fight in Afghanistan despite the lack of a clear and coherent objective, leading to estimated civilian casualties numbering at least something more than 31,000 people. Graham’s apparent lack of concern for a similar bloodbath in Korea is a sign of just how insane his position actually is.

David Atkins wrote at Washington Monthly:

This is patently insane, and a far more crazy and irresponsible statement than Donald Trump has ever tweeted in his life. A military strike on North Korea has the very high probability of resulting in cataclysmic death and destruction the likes of which we have not seen at least since World War II–and that’s assuming that the conflict doesn’t spiral into a world war dragging in Russia and China. North Korea isn’t just prepared to potentially launch a nuclear missile against the United States. That may or may not work, and the U.S. may or may not be able to defend against such a threat.

More urgently and inevitably, North Korea has thousands of conventional missiles aimed directly at the entirety of South Korea and Japan. Even without nuclear missiles, the bombardment of Seoul and Tokyo would cause the deaths of millions, and send the entire world into an economic catastrophe lasting decades. For the jingoistic moral cretins in the room who only care about American lives, these millions would also include thousands of U.S. soldiers and ex pats.

It’s worth noting in this context that most of Trump’s crimes are against the norms of democracy, equality and basic moral decency–but nothing he has yet done comes even close on the scale of crimes against humanity that the Bush Administration did in deliberately misleading the world into a war in Iraq that has cost tens of thousands of lives–even excluding all the deaths indirectly attributable to it in Syria and elsewhere today–and trillions of dollars in treasure. The Trump Administration has done horrible things, but it hasn’t yet intentionally outed a CIA agent who tried to blow the whistle on the hastily manufactured rationale for a war of choice on a sovereign nation.

There is no question that Donald Trump is a terrible menace. But let’s not pretend there’s a safe alternative to him in the GOP.  Better the crazy man tweeting inanities while watching Fox and Friends and straitjacketed by his own chaotic incompetence, than the banal evil of a man like Lindsey Graham who would calmly, slowly and quite deliberately obey all the norms of American governance in sending millions to their deaths.

Donald Trump Seeks Confrontation With Eurasia and Eastasia

Donald Trump spoke on his national security strategy today, remaining incoherent on foreign policy. While probably less hawkish, and less likely to get us into further wars, than the policies of Hillary Clinton, the speech was more reminiscent of a Cold War atmosphere than any attempt to improve relations with Russia as he has (inconsistently) advocated in the past. In Orwellian terms, Trump’s previous talk of peace is down the memory hole. We have always been at war with Eurasia and Eastasia.

Trump’s classification of “revisionist powers, such as China and Russia” is also reminiscent of George W. Bush’s axis of evil.

The strategy paper proposes to “preserve peace through strength by rebuilding our military so that it remains preeminent, deters our adversaries, and if necessary, is able to fight and win.” It is rather absurd to speak of preserving peace when the United States is in a state of apparent perpetual warfare around the world, and outright Orwellian to speak of rebuilding our military when it is already so massive.

Daniel Larison responded to Trump’s speech:

If the administration is rethinking the wisdom of engagement with Russia and China and inclusion of them in international institutions and commerce, that seems to imply a desire to reverse course. If that’s right, this implies that the administration wants to emphasize confrontation and exclusion in its dealings with the other major powers, and it is hard to see how that leads to anything except a stronger partnership between Moscow and Beijing opposed to the U.S. The danger of this “strategy” is twofold: it likely increases tensions with both major powers in Eurasia at the same time, and it gives them added incentive for them to work together against the U.S.

Trump will probably refer to this “strategy” as the product of “principled realism,” but that won’t make it so. An administration conducting a realist foreign policy would not gratuitously call out the other major powers in the world when the U.S. needs their assistance on a number of international issues, and it would not pit them both against the U.S. at the same time. We didn’t really need more proof that Trump isn’t a realist, but this statement of the administration’s “strategy” gives us exactly that.

While Trump sees dangers around the world, he is intentionally ignoring a real one–altering from established policy in no longer seeing climate change as a threat. From Vox:

The Trump administration is backing away from calling climate change a national security threat, a move that contradicts nearly three decades of military planning.

Conspicuously absent from the National Security Strategy report released Monday is any mention of climate issues critical to national security, like how extreme weather drives conflict or how rising sea levels are a looming danger for coastal military facilities.

Compare this to President Obama’s 2015 National Security Strategy, which mentioned “climate change” 13 times across 35 pages and had “Confront Climate Change” listed as a security priority…

The softening on climate change as a national security threat is part of an ongoing effort to dismantle climate change efforts across all government agencies. But it is at odds with the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump signed into law earlier this month. The $700 billion law describes climate change as a “direct threat” to US national security.

The military has long considered climate change a “threat multiplier,” with assessments dating back to 1990. In 2014, the US Department of Defense published a climate change adaptation road map, oblivious to the political wrangling on the issue and writing that “[r]ising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict.”

Record Number Of Imprisoned Journalists At Historical High With Actions Against Journalists Encouraged By Donald Trump

The Committee To Protect Journalists reports that, for the second year in a row, the number of journalists in prison around the world is at a historical high. They also argue that Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press contribute to the problem. From their report:

The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit another new record in 2017, and for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt. The pattern reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoricfixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21…

In China, the number of journalists behind bars rose to 41 from 38 a year earlier. On a visit to Beijing in November, Trump made no public reference to human rights, despite an ongoing crackdown that has led to the arrests of Chinese journalists, activists, and lawyers. With tensions high between the U.S. and China’s neighbor North Korea, and Trump keen to renegotiate the trade balance with Beijing, “Trump seemed to signal a reversal of roles: the United States may now need China’s help more than the other way around,” The New York Times wrote.

The visit came shortly after Xi tightened his grip on power at the Communist Party Congress, where his name was written into the Constitution and no successor was identified. According to news reports, analysts don’t expect improvement in human rights.

Donald Trump’s Phone Calls To World Leaders Would Sound Like A Parody If Not For Dangers

trump-phone

Donald Trump has created quite a stir today by speaking with Taiwan’s president, possibly risking problems with China. The New York Times reports:

President-elect Donald J. Trump spoke by telephone with Taiwan’s president on Friday, a striking break with nearly four decades of diplomatic practice that could precipitate a major rift with China even before Mr. Trump takes office.

Mr. Trump’s office said he spoke with the Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, “who offered her congratulations.”

He is believed to be the first president or president-elect who has spoken to a Taiwanese leader since 1979, when the United States severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan after its recognition of the People’s Republic of China.

…the potential fallout from the conversation was significant, the administration official said, noting that the Chinese government issued a bitter protest after the United States sold weapons to Taiwan as part of a well-established arms agreement.

Mr. Trump’s call with President Tsai is a far bigger provocation, though the Chinese government did not issue an immediate response. Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has adamantly opposed the attempts of any country to open official relations with it.

This comes after another story on Donald Trump making phone calls to world leaders which sounded more like a parody to diplomats seeing the read outs of his conversations:

President-elect Donald J. Trump inherited a complicated world when he won the election last month. And that was before a series of freewheeling phone calls with foreign leaders that has unnerved diplomats at home and abroad.

In the calls, he voiced admiration for one of the world’s most durable despots, the president of Kazakhstan, and said he hoped to visit a country, Pakistan, that President Obama has steered clear of during nearly eight years in office.

Mr. Trump told the British prime minister, Theresa May, “If you travel to the U.S., you should let me know,” an offhand invitation that came only after he spoke to nine other leaders. He later compounded it by saying on Twitter that Britain should name the anti-immigrant leader Nigel Farage its ambassador to Washington, a startling break with diplomatic protocol.

Mr. Trump’s unfiltered exchanges have drawn international attention since the election, most notably when he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan with only one other American in the room, his daughter Ivanka Trump — dispensing with the usual practice of using State Department-approved talking points.

On Thursday, the White House weighed in with an offer of professional help. The press secretary, Josh Earnest, urged the president-elect to make use of the State Department’s policy makers and diplomats in planning and conducting his encounters with foreign leaders.

“President Obama benefited enormously from the advice and expertise that’s been shared by those who serve at the State Department,” Mr. Earnest said. “I’m confident that as President-elect Trump takes office, those same State Department employees will stand ready to offer him advice as he conducts the business of the United States overseas.”

“Hopefully he’ll take it,” he added…

In a remarkably candid readout of the phone call, the Pakistani government said Mr. Trump had told Mr. Sharif that he was “a terrific guy” who made him feel as though “I’m talking to a person I have known for long.” He described Pakistanis as “one of the most intelligent people.” When Mr. Sharif invited him to visit Pakistan, the president-elect replied that he would “love to come to a fantastic country, fantastic place of fantastic people.”

The Trump transition office, in its more circumspect readout, said only that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sharif “had a productive conversation about how the United States and Pakistan will have a strong working relationship in the future.” It did not confirm or deny the Pakistani account of Mr. Trump’s remarks.

The breezy tone of the readout left diplomats in Washington slack-jawed, with some initially assuming it was a parody. In particular, they zeroed in on Mr. Trump’s offer to Mr. Sharif “to play any role you want me to play to address and find solutions to the country’s problems.”

I imagine that it is better that he speak to world leaders than to tweet messages to them.

Trump might be a little less prone to saying foolish things if he hadn’t decided to ignore intelligence briefings since his election.

Chinese Censorship Reaching Beyond China

An essay by Emily Parker in The New York Times discusses the problem of Chinese censorship–not in China but in the rest of the world. Increasingly China is using its international clout to pressure other groups, leading to self-censorship by many authors who are afraid of offending the Chinese government:

As China’s influence spreads throughout the world, so does a willingness to play by its rules. In March, Google shut down its Internet search service in mainland China, saying it no longer wanted to self-censor its search results to comply with “local” law. But these laws may not be local anymore. Interviews with a number of writers and China watchers suggest that Chinese censorship is becoming an increasingly borderless phenomenon.

“I remember clearly the days when you could safely assume that as long as you wrote something abroad, it was free and clear from repercussions within China,” said Orville Schell, the director of Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations (where I am a fellow) and author of nine books on China. One turning point, he said, was the growth of the Internet, which increasingly unites the once “discrete worlds” of Chinese and Western reading material. Another factor is the growing business entanglement between China and the rest of the world.

“Suddenly we’re all Hong Kong, where no one wants to offend the mainland because it’s too close,” Schell said.

Last fall, in advance of the Frankfurt Book Fair, China pressured organizers to disinvite two dissident writers to a symposium on “China and the World.” (They were reinvited after a public outcry.) But more often, potential critics silence themselves pre-emptively. In a 2002 essay in The New York Review of Books called “China: The Anaconda in the Chandelier,” the China scholar Perry Link described Beijing’s censors as a dangerous creature coiled overhead. “Normally the great snake doesn’t move,” he wrote. “It doesn’t have to. . . . Its constant silent message is ‘You yourself decide,’ after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments.”

American Influence Improves Due To “Obama Effect”

International opinion regarding the United States has rebounded sharply since the Bush years according to a recent BBC survey.It is especially notable that American “soft power” has increased while Chinese influence has been “in neutral.”

For the first time since the annual poll began in 2005, America’s influence in the world is now seen as more positive than negative.

The improved scores for the US coincided with Barack Obama becoming president, a BBC correspondent notes.

As in 2009, Germany is viewed most favourably while Iran and Pakistan are seen as the most negative influences…

“People around the world today view the United States more positively than at any time since the second Iraq war,” said Doug Miller, chairman of international polling firm GlobeScan, which carried out the poll with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (Pipa) at the University of Maryland.

“While still well below that of countries like Germany and the UK, the global standing of the US is clearly on the rise again.”

Pipa director Steven Kull noted: “After a year, it appears the ‘Obama effect’ is real.

“Its influence on people’s views worldwide, though, is to soften the negative aspects of the United States’ image, while positive aspects are not yet coming into strong focus.”

He added: “While China’s image is stuck in neutral, America has motored past it in the global soft-power competition.”

Of the full list of 28 countries surveyed this year, the US is viewed positively in 19 (20 including the US itself), while six lean negative and two are divided.

Compared with 2009, positive views of the US jumped 21% in Germany, 18 in Russia, 14 in Portugal and 13 in Chile – though Russia and Germany continued to have a negative view of the US overall.

Meanwhile, negative opinions of the US declined by 23% in Spain, 14 in France and 10 in the UK, with the result that all three lean towards a positive view of the country.

Such an improvement  in American influence was anticipated by Obama supporters and Andrew Sullivan points out that, “One argument many of us made in favor of the election of Barack Obama was that he would instantly help the US recover from its nadir of global reputation in the Bush-Cheney pre-emptive war-and-torture era.”