Trump seems to be bargaining with individual American’s lives when he tweets on North Korea; Senator Kaine’s plan for diplomacy and treaty

Well, here we go again.  President Trump responds to a New Year’s Day message from Kim Jong Un with a tweet about button size (I can think of an analogy, as can we all).  One immediate problem is that Trump is implying an unstable nuclear standoff is acceptable to him because “we” would win the warz’. That means Trump is willing to bargain away the lives (or personal futures) of many individual Americans in more vulnerable areas because we have something to lose, while the average North Korean has nothing at all.  That’s not to mention South Koreans and Japanese. This is deeply offensive in a personal way.  A life that is ruined by the actions of another is still ruined.  It’s time for some objectivism and existentialism.

I could say that Twitter ought to consider suspending Trump’s account as a matter of national security and possibly preventing an unintended war, maybe even with catastrophe to the homeland, as speculated by Jeffrey Lewis of the Washington Post on December 8.  I’d say, “We Were Warned”. (That’s ironically the title of a 2007 film about an earlier fuel crisis)  I’ll balance this with an earlier Huffington piece by Elvibyn Aghayev.   If you connect the dots with the Sony hack over a movie from Sony Pictures in 2014 (“The Interview”), you have to wonder if it is possible for asymmetrically delivered content from private company or even citizen to provoke war.  Although North Korea blocks the world wide Internet to its own people, some of it leaks, and Kim Jong Un obviously has access to everything and seems easily insulted.  Young and personable CNN correspondent Will Ripley (“Secret State: Inside North Korea“) has expressed specific concerns on the insult risk.

Tim Kaine, democratic Senator from Virginia, outlines a broad plan to start some kind of diplomacy after all.  A key concept is whether North Korea and South Korea would accept a formal peace treaty (technically they are still at war) with North Korea’s calming down its missile programs.  Another key problem is whether the United States would have to lower its presence in the region, particularly if North Korea broke the treaty later. This sounds like the old McNamara Domino Theory from the Vietnam days (and from my own summer in the Pentagon while in the Army in 1968, as I outline in Chapter 2 Section 10 of my own DADT-1 book).  Kaine gives a useful reference to an AP article on Bloomberg by Richard Gardner on the authority of Congress to supervise the president on going to war.  Congress needs to be more diligent on this.   Senators like Feinstein, McCain, Graham, and various House Armed Services Committee members need to be actively involved. Congressional supervision needs to be bipartisan.

I’ve written here before about another complication, the EMP wildcard.  The media, seeming noseblind, have not provided reliable reports on whether North Korea is capable of detonating fission (E1) or even thermonuclear (E3) weapons in space from orbit.  For example, instead of a missile launch North Korea could do another satellite launch and claim EMP capabilities, which we don’t seem to be able to deny.  That follows on James Woolsey’s claims last March, and NPR has a spoofy piece on this here.

The idea that the threat of war can affect private citizens has certainly been with us since 9/11 with respect to radical Islam (even more so in Europe recently), but now Communism or post-Communist statism seems to be roaring back.   Russia arguably was able to affect the 2016 election and sow more divides among the American people because Putin correctly senses that “elite” Americans don’t personally care about people in disadvantaged classes or pay attention to how the latter perceives information (even the film “The Florida Project” which I saw yesterday seems to make that point).  Putin managed to turn the asymmetry of Internet debate, which I have leveraged myself, on individual speakers.

I also have experience in my background with the Vietnam era draft, with the student deferments on one side and “McNamara’s Morons” as cannon fodder on the other. (I will soon review Hamilton Gregory’s book “McNamara’s Folly” soon.)  I know what it means for governments to play with individual people’s lives.  I guess when I was a math instructor at the University of Kansas as a grad student before I was drafted myself I was complicit in the process.  What karma.

(Posted: Thursday, January 4, 2018, at 11 AM EST)

Update: Friday, January 5 at 3 PM EST

Again, let us reinforce the singularity of the existential threat to our way of life the EMP (especially E-3) could lead to. It hasn’t happened. In a difficult time of my own life, when I was a patient at NIH in the fall of 1962, after my own college expulsion almost a year before, we lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I wondered if we “deserved” to live if something happened.

The Washington Times (again, a conservative paper) has an op-ed Jan. 4 by Henry Cooper summarizing how we have slept on this threat, here. Where is is The Washington Post on reporting this?  The article doesn’t distinguish E-1 (a lot more likely in practice) from E-3 but it correctly notes that Kim Jong-Un would not need to demonstrate re-entry survival to use EMP.  It also notes that Russia has in the past delivered “low yield Super EMP technology” to North Korea (it sounds like E-1).   It mentions the threats also to transoceanic cables.

I also note that, despite other recent reports that Trump has become aware of the EMP issue (Dec. 22), the administration apparently shut down the EMP Commission in October (“The Hill” report).

On the other hand, there seems to be a “ray of hope” in the diplomacy between North and South Korea before the Winter Olympics (CNN analysis).  But, as we know from the “McNamara Theory”, even this diplomacy has its downstream risks.

“Twitter Purge” renews debate on what is an acceptable “group” and what is “affiliation”

After the Charlottesville riots, there was a lot of flak when Trump seemed to speak of “groups” on the Far Right and Far Left as morally equivalent, and was not willing to announce that White supremacists or KKK-like groups are morally less acceptable than, say, extreme Communist groups (or groups that claim they are just resisting fascism or white or Christian supremacy).

Conor Friedersdorf expanded on all this with an Aug. 31 piece in The Atlantic, “How to Distinguish Between White Supremacists, Antifa, and Black Lives Matter.”  (Maybe the preposition should be “among”.)

While I follow his reasoning:  historical experience with the purposes of a group does matter, I would have a few questions. First, it appears that domestic hate groups have First Amendment protections that foreign terror groups do not.  It appears that the legal consequences, in federal criminal justice, for supporting a hate group normally apply only to foreign organizations, unless a domestic organization has been found to launch a specific conspiracy to commit a specific crime (like another OKC).

Nevertheless, employers (including the federal government in the past) have certainly been able to deny employment or fire people for membership in “known” groups, and this used to be more true of membership in the Communist Party.

The question has arisen because Twitter recently announced a policy change where starting today it will suspend or close accounts of those with “affiliation” to terror groups, including domestic hate groups (usually right wing such as neo-Nazi or white supremacist). In fact, there was a high profile suspension of someone Trump had retweeted today.

Then the rather obvious question becomes, what is a “group” and what does “affiliation” mean?  Is retweeting the group evidence of affiliation, or repeatedly visiting the sites (which might be detectable, at least by hacking).  Twitter probably just means that people already well known to be connected to a group can’t use the platform to send sanitized messages to recruit people (and this could be motivated by ISIS more than by neo-Nazis).

Another interesting part of Twitter’s rules was the mention of the targeting of civilians for political purposes.  But this is indeed what some of our enemies do, as have other aggressors in most other large wars.  The US did this in retaliation, as with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another problem is that the “Left” in the US sometimes demands that others (like independent bloggers like me) go along with their combativeness if the enemy (neo-Nazis in this case) is egregious enough or poses a specific threat to a specific protected group (blacks or Jews or even gays and trans).  But combativeness (as Flemming Rose at Cato has often pointed out) appeals to the idea that “the end justifies the means” and finally can result in a group’s have intentions that are as dangerous of the enemy it replaced.  I don’t like to be drawn into passing relative judgment on groups.  It’s like saying that somehow Stalin (or even Kim Jong Un) is “better” than Hitler.  History teaches us that Leftist regimes are often as repressive as those they had replaced (although Vietnam and China have gradually become somewhat acceptable countries).

(Posted: Monday, December 18, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)