Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grinding Poverty? In America? Mostly In Areas Controlled By Republicans


Just before the Civil War, Issaquena County, Mississippi was the second richest county in America. That's because 92.5% of the inhabitants were slaves. 115 slave owners owned everyone else. They were rich because of the value of "slave property." Today Issaquena County has the 3rd lowest per capita income of any county in America-- $18,598 compared to $48,112 for the country as a whole. It's part of Mississippi's 2nd congressional district, represented by Bennie Thompson. The county, which had given Obama a 61-38% win over Romney, voted for Hillary over Trump, 56.5% to 42.6%. At least it has a congressman who advocates for policies that help poor people. Almost none of America's other poorest counties do.

The two counties in the country worse off than Issaquena are Wheeler County, Georgia and Union County, Florida. Wheeler is named for Confederate General Joseph Wheeler, who was also a reactionary congressman from Alabama until 1900. Wheeler Co. (where the per capita income is $16,007) is part of Georgia's 12th congressional district, represented by right-wing kook Rick Allen, who was reelected in November with 61.6% of the vote. Trump won the congressional district 56.9% to 40.7%. Wheeler was even more Trump-oriented-- 67.6% to 30.7%. Allen is a knee-jerk GOP reactionary who does everything he can to make the lives of the poor folks in Wheeler County unbearable. Union County ($18,255) is the second poorest county. Part of Florida's 3rd congressional district, this backward hellhole is represented by far right nut case Ted Yoho, who is one of the most anti-working family members of Congress. He was reelected with 56.6% this past cycle and Trump took the district 56.2% to 40.2%. But Union County went for Trump in much greater numbers-- 80.2% to 17.8%.

These are the dozen poorest counties in America:
Wheeler County, GA- $16,007- Rick Allen (R)
Union County, FL- $18,255- Ted Yoho (R)
Issaquena County, MS- $!8,598- Bennie Thompson (D)
Telfair County, GA- $19,306- Austin Scott (R)
Bledsoe County, TN- $20,719- Scott DesJarlais (R)
Ziebach County, SD- $20,944- Kristi Noem (R)
Stewart County, GA- $21,677- Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog)
Elliott County, KY- $21,745- Hal Rogers (R)
Concho County, TX- $22,008- Al Green (D)
Glades County, FL- $22,121- Tom Rooney (R)
Long County, GA- $22,525- Buddy Carter (R)
Lafayette County, FL- $23,012- Ted Yoho (R)
Only two of the dozen poorest counties, Concho in Texas and Issaquena in Mississippi, are represented by congressmembers who advocate for poor people. The other 10 are represented by conservatives who are handmaidens of the wealthy and powerful.

Trump won most of these counties by overwhelming margins-- 82.9% in Concho, for example. Hillary won Issaquena and Georgia's Stewart. According to Brookings, most poor people in the United States live in a community represented by a Republican and Republican districts have more poor residents overall: 25.1 million poor people lived in red districts in 2010-14 compared with 22.7 million in blue districts.
Between 2000 and 2010-14, the poor population grew faster in red districts than blue. The number of people living below the poverty line (e.g., $24,230 for a family of four in 2014) in Republican districts climbed by 49 percent between 2000 and 2010-14 compared with a 33 percent increase in Democratic districts. As a result, Republican districts accounted for 60 percent of the increase in the nation’s poor population during that time. At the same time, poverty rates rose by similar margins in both red and blue districts (3.3 and 3.2 percentage points, respectively).
According to a new book by MIT economist Peter Temin, The Vanishing Middle Class, America is regressing to have the economic and political structure of a developing nation, as it already has in the counties listed above. Our roads and bridges, he writes look more like those in Thailand and Venezuela than those in parts of Europe.
The economist describes a two-track economy with on the one hand 20 per cent of the population that is educated and enjoys good jobs and supportive social networks.

On the other hand, the remaining 80 per cent, he said, are part of the US’ low-wage sector, where the world of possibility has shrunk and people are burdened with debts and anxious about job security.

...He found that much of the low-wage sector had little influence over public policy, the high-income sector was keeping wages down to provide cheap labour, social control was used to prevent subsistence workers from challenging existing policies and social mobility was low.

Mr Temin also claims that this dual-economy has a “racist” undertone. 

“The desire to preserve the inferior status of blacks has motivated policies against all members of the low-wage sector.

“We have a structure that predetermines winners and losers. We are not getting the benefits of all the people who could contribute to the growth of the economy, to advances in medicine or science which could improve the quality of life for everyone — including some of the rich people," he writes.

Commenting on Mr Temin’s findings, Lynn Parramore, senior research analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking, writes: “Without a robust middle class, America is not only reverting to developing-country status, it is increasingly ripe for serious social turmoil that has not been seen in generations.”


The Brotherhood Of The Traveling Five Eyes


4 Trump is willing to see go to prison for Putin-Gate

-by Alex Campbell

At some point on Sunday while most Americans were enjoying a pleasant weekend afternoon, a week long conference started all the way across the globe at a tony golf resort called Millbrook located in Invercargill, New Zealand. No one knows what the subjects covered at the conference will be. And the participants at the conference won't even confirm that is happening and who is in attendance. The prime minister of New Zealand, Bill English, has said publicly that it is a meeting of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance and said to Radio New Zealand on Monday that it is "one of the regular conferences that they have, we work with the other four countries, combating terrorism, protecting our citizens around the world."

The Five Eyes alliance is comprised of the intelligence agencies of the five English speaking countries of the world--Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The information sharing network was born out of the alliance formed in World War II between the U.S. and UK and after the war was officially expanded to include the other three Anglophone countries. In the spy community and intelligence circles, it is regarded as the closest alliance of intelligence agencies amongst countries. And the relationship between the UK and the U.S. agencies is especially close as reported by Buzzfeed last month when they covered Trump's "wiretapp" allegations and the subsequent fallout.
"The US and UK’s intelligence cooperation is so deep that neither country’s signals intelligence-- material harvested from communications networks across the world-- is capable of operating independently. GCHQ and the NSA rely on each other’s code, access points, physical sites and staff to maintain their surveillance. GCHQ and NSA staff work from the same buildings, within feet of each other, at sites in the UK and across the world. It is by far the closest and most significant intelligence relationship for both nations-- and now that relationship is strained."
On April 13, The Guardian reported that it was British spies who were the first to spot Trump team's links to Russia and turned that information over to American authorities:
"GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said. The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence-- known as sigint-- included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said. Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors. It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US."
We don't have a confirmed list of participants for the meetings in New Zealand but we do know FBI Director James Comey arrived over the weekend due to local reporting as there is a photograph of him disembarking. And CIA Director Mike Pompeo is rumored to be there as well-- a Gulfstream jet with a registration number linked to the CIA was also spotted arriving at the Queenstown airport.

The Five Eyes intelligence network has done a lot of the heavy lifting in the Trump/Russia affair, if the leaks to the press so far are even half accurate. So lets hope that Russia is a major topic at this conference. This morning it was reported that the Senate's Intelligence Committee investigation into Russia and the election is possibly being slow walked by Trump toadie Republican Senator Burr. Is anyone surprised by this? Recall that Burr was asked by Priebus in February to push back on reports that there was an FBI investigation into Trumpland on Russia and also remember that Burr was an advisor to the Trump campaign and ask yourself why anyone thought Burr wouldn't impede an investigation? At this point the FBI and the Five Eyes alliance might be our only hope to shed light on the truth between what really happened between Putin and Trump. Because it is becoming obvious that Republicans are putting party over country.

There are a lot of rumours out there about what is going on with the Trump/Russia investigation. And there are coordinated efforts to take out and discredit people promulgating those rumours. The White House is still worried, as evidenced by the Devin Nunes affair and the active GOP smear campaign to blame the Obama administration for spying on Trump. Flynn and Manafort have supposedly lawyered up and aren't talking to anyone. Carter Page is talking to everyone unconvincingly. And the latest rumour is that Rudy Giulani is embroiled in this affair and is seeking a deal but has been turned down by James Comey. Giulani, who never met a camera or microphone he didn't like, has been noticeably absent from the airwaves of late, so I tend to give that rumour some credence. I saw it first mentioned by Claude Taylor on twitter @TrueFactsStated, who is a Beltway insider and worked in the Clinton administration.

Something is happening under the surface, but the only people who really know are at a golf resort in New Zealand. Let us hope that at this golf course, some actual work gets done, unlike with the Cheeto-in-Chief's weekend visits to the golf courses in his fiefdom.

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15 House Republicans Join The Democrats To Stand Up Against Encroachments By Big Brother


Do you remember what these 15 congresscritters have in common?
Justin Amash (MI)
Mo Brooks (AL)
Mike Coffman (CO)
Warren Davidson (OH)
Jimmy Duncan (TN)
John Faso (NY)
Garret Graves (LA)
Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA)
Walter Jones (NC)
Tom McClintock (CA)
Dave Reichert (WA)
Mark Sanford (SC)
Elise Stefanik (NY)
Kevin Yoder (KS)
Lee Zeldin (NY)
Yes, they are all Republicans. Some are crazy right-wing lunatics from the Freedom Caucus like Mo Brooks and Warren Davidson; some are libertarians like Walter Jones, Jimmy Duncan and Justin Amash; some are relatively mainstream conservatives like John Faso snd Jaime Herrera Beutler. Because of the nature of their districts, some are in precariously vulnerable positions for reelection, like Mike Coffman, and some are set-for-life, like Garret Graves. But all 15 crossed the aisle on March 28 of thise year to vote with every single Democrat against Jeff Flake's Joint Resolution-- which has since been signed into law by Trump-- to allow Internet providers to sell our personal online data to the highest bidders without our permission and, in fact, without even informing us.

That was insane for the Republicans-- regardless of how many of them took massive bribes from the internet providers-- to do. The bill passed narrowly, 215-205 and it makes every Republican, other than those 15, vulnerable on an issue millions American voters care very much about regardless of partisan politics.

Matt Coffay is a leader of Our Revolution in western North Carolina. He's running for Congress, taking on Freedom Caucus chieftain Mark Meadows, one of the Republicans who voted to allow Internet providers to sell our personal information to whoever wants to buy it. Matt disagrees with that vote. This morning he told us, "My position on internet privacy is much like that of Senator Bernie Sanders: your internet history belongs to you, and not to corporations. This isn't complicated, or radical. How can Republicans in Congress claim that they want government to stay out of people's lives, and then vote for a bill that allows people's private browsing data to be sold to the highest corporate bidder? This bill is a violation of our right to privacy, plain and simple."

David Gill is the progressive candidate for the IL-13 seat currently held by knee-jerk Republican Rodney Davis, who, of course, backed giving the Internet providers the green light to sell our personal information. David wasn't amused by his decision. "This vote represents yet another betrayal of his constituents by Rodney Davis: he took $49,000 from the telecom industry, and then he voted to allow those companies to sell your web browsing history to marketers and other third parties-- so much for privacy! I support undoing Citizens United & reforming campaign finance laws. When we take those steps, we'll have representatives who stand up for their constituents, rather than reps who sell out their constituents."

Three years before Flake wrote his Joint Resolution, Michael Gurnow wrote The Ed Snowden Affair, a book that tackles many of the issues the GOP legislation starkly brings up for Americans. Even back then, he wrote that "data brokers take their information, organize it into precise little profiles, and offer it to anyone with an open checkbook."
This includes the obvious customers, U.S. government and corporations, but they have other steadfast clients. Many “people locator” websites purchase data mining profiles and resell them to the general public. For a nominal fee, anyone can access a person’s birthday, place of birth, current and past residences, family relations, social security and phone number, educational background, email address, place of current and former employment, and medical, property and court records. Medical insurance firms are curious whether a potential client prints Internet coupons for over the counter headache medicine and pays in cash to avoid a rate-hiking paper trail. Employment agencies want to know an applicant’s hobbies and proclivities without having to ask. Loan companies are interested in a candidate’s choice of recreational locales, be it a casino, truck rally or library. Once this data is combined with receipts from many of the major corporations, buying habits are then merged with wants and desires. The result is a very concise, detailed picture of an individual’s pos- sessions, activities and goals. This is then compared to established buying patterns. The end result is daunting. The owner of an analyzed profile knows who a person was, is, and is going to be. Corporations refer to this as market research. Privacy advocates consider the process an infringement upon the Fourth Amendment and argue third-party cookie usage violates the last sanctuary of privacy, one’s thoughts. Orwell’s prophecy is modestly conservative by 21st-century standards. The main character in Nineteen Eighty-Four believes, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.”

The surveillance debate has intensified since June 5 and lent new perspectives upon the concept of the safety technol- ogy can provide. The underlying political issue is who has the right to particular varieties of information.

The public believes there are two types of conversations, public and private. The intelligence community doesn’t agree. In the Internet Age, a person can “Like” the activity of fishing enough to let the world know by making it public knowledge on one’s Facebook profile. The individual can also choose to obtain a vanity Facebook URL by confidentially submitting one’s telephone number to the social networking site. The phone number is used for authorization purposes to verify the request is coming from the Facebook account holder. Though it is not placed online, the number is nonetheless (questionably) stored on the company’s servers. David Omand, former head of GCHQ, has no problem with collecting the publicly-known fact Bob likes fishing along with his cell number via Facebook’s FISC order permitting the U.S. government access to the information. For the watchers, there is no line dividing what an individual puts on the Internet and what people have privately entrusted to another party, be it a website, bank, doctor or telephone company.

Government spies also scoff at the notion of intellectual property rights. Bought-and-sold politicians agree. If something is publicly or privately posted online, it automatically becomes the property of the website’s owner. (This is also why most businesses permit and encourage employees to use their company-issued phones and email accounts for personal communications-- the firms have legal license to review an employee’s private network and communications, because they own the devices and programs and therefore the data on them.) It is an absurd proposition analogous to stating an individual surrenders rightful ownership of a vehicle to a bank when it is parked on property whose tenant has yet to pay the mortgage in full. This policy refuses to acknowledge the resources and labor provided by the Facebook account holder, i.e., the computer used to access the social networking site, time it took to create a profile and mental ingenuity in deciding how and what to say about oneself. It is understood that the website has issued the venue which, in turn, makes the information available worldwide but the skewed exchange undermines the statement that profiles are “free.” No profit sharing is offered the user. Without account holders, social networking sites would be empty voids on lonely servers and not multinational corporate affairs.

In the surveillance communities’ opinion, everything is public domain and no one has the right to ask “Do you mind?” to someone eavesdropping on a conversation. Their argument is that if a person doesn’t want what is being said to be known (by whomever), the individual best not speak at all. In the cloak-and-dagger world of data mining, the person having a discussion cannot reasonably expect privacy, because the individual is voicing one’s thoughts, period. It does not matter whether they are spoken in confidence and directed to a particular person, much like an email is addressed “To: Bob” and not “To: Bob; Bcc: The NSA.” If the speaker is naïve enough to say something at a volume where a microphone can detect it, it is de facto public knowledge. Whereas government surveillance only exchanges the recorded conversation with its own kind, corporate surveillance broadcasts the discussion to anyone who is willing to pay to hear it. In the surveillance world, the only guarantee of privacy is dead silence.

The U.S. government knows the difference but deliberately ignores it. It does not want a distinction to be made, because it would restrict its power and the power of those who fund political campaigns: defense contractors, telecoms, Internet companies, corporate retailers, fast food enterprises and mul- timillion-dollar data mining firms. The last thing the U.S. government or private business wants is account holders to have control over their own information.

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Are The 2018 Midterm Elections Turning Into A Dysfunctional Free-For-All?


What is the DCCC looking for in candidates?
Wealthy self-funders
Republican-lite conservatives
ex-military officers
followers (as opposed to leaders)
And what are they not looking for? Primary challenges to their own weak incumbents like these and idealistic progressives (i.e., Berniecrats). But that's what's comin' their way. Yesterday, Alex Thompson, who, very appropriately, doesn't know much-- if anything at all-- about electoral politics, penned a post for Vice, Trump Pushes Hundreds To Run For Congress about "an unprecedented early surge of Democrats"-- already over 400 of them-- running for House seats. He speculates that "This tsunami of Democratic challengers will likely make it more difficult for President Donald Trump to pass his legislative agenda as members of Congress-- Republicans and Democrats alike-- will be wary of casting votes that provide ammo to progressive Democratic challengers." I'm not as sanguine as Thompson on that point but I hope progressive candidates like Marie Newman and Talia Fuentes can force corrupt conservaDems Dan Lipinski and Kyrsten Sinema moderate their extreme Republican tendencies.

Aside from the DCCC, groups across the spectrum of Democratic politics, from EMILY's List on the right to some of the Bernie-inspired groups on the left, everyone is recruiting and training and backing candidates, some of whom are awesome and some who are... less so.

Thompson talked with Randy Wadkins, a chemistry professor at the University of Mississippi who is running in MS-01 in the northern part of the state, a district with a PVI of R+16, that includes suburbs south of the Memphis Airport, like Southaven, plus Oxford and Tupelo and most of the hill country. Both McCain and Romney beat Obama there with 62%. Last year Trump triumphed over Hillary 65.4-32.4%. The incumbent, backbencher Trent Kelly beat Democrat Jacob Owens 203,142 (68.8%) to 82,133 (27.8%). Owens didn't raise the $5,000 that would have triggered an FEC report. Kelly raised $1,053,947. Thompson wrote that "The anti-Trump resistance is so decentralized that dollars are already flowing Wadkins’ way even though the race is not considered competitive by political forecasters. He has raised $13,630 through Crowdpac from donors around the country in his first few weeks, a fraction of what he knows he will ultimately need. 'I refuse to believe it's a lost cause,' he wrote."

And maybe he's right. If Trump and the Republican Congress trigger a depression, Wadkins would have a shot-- albeit a slim one-- at displacing Kelly.
At least 140 new Democrats have already begun their campaigns since Trump’s inauguration, many in places where Democrats aren’t usually expected to compete. Some of them are people who have run previously and lost, but the majority are political novices, many of whom emerged from newly minted anti-Trump groups. Many also do not fit the Democratic Party’s typical focus-grouped profile for recruitment.

They include several 27-year olds, a former writer for The Onion, a 34-year-old PhD student whose campaign staff is made up mostly of friends from Semester at Sea, and a woman who, fitting the times, goes by the name Mad.

Patrick Nelson, a 27-year old who served asa delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention last summer, was a staffer in the New York State Assembly and worked for the last two Democratic candidates in New York's 21st district, both of whom lost.

Fed up, he decided to announce his own candidacy this year, and announce early. When asked about his qualifications, he told Vice News that he “would hesitate to think there is any person in the world that has knocked on more doors or called more people than I have in the 21st district. People of our generation have created multi-billion dollar businesses, we are very capable.”

If Nelson wins the nomination next year, he will face off against the youngest member of Congress, 32-year old Republican incumbent Elise Stefanik.

Glenn Miller, also 27, is running in Indiana's 8th district. Asked about his previous experience, he said that he “was very vocal on social media” during Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic nomination.

Interviews with more than a dozen novice Democratic candidates showed they are united by both their dislike of Trump and their distrust of the Democratic Party establishment following Clinton’s loss last November.

...The candidates, mirroring Trump, appear to have little reverence for the normal campaign playbook. For example, candidates typically don’t declare their candidacies until after April 1 or the beginning of another quarter so that their first quarterly finance report doesn’t show a low number.

“We welcome candidates with an outside-the-box background to run against career politicians,” Kelly said. “We also need those candidates to show they can run strong campaigns.”

The sheer volume of candidates all over the congressional map promises to pose some difficult decisions for the national party about whom to support and where to send money. At the moment, the DCCC is prioritizing Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton won or was close to winning last November.

...Some of those outside groups are raising money for Democrats in reliably red districts that normally wouldn’t receive much support from the party. In Utah’s 3rd district, one of the most conservative in the country, Democratic candidate and political neophyte Dr. Kathryn Allen has already raised more than $500,000-- one of the highest first-quarter totals ever for a first-time candidate-- through the political crowdfunding site Crowdpac.

The DCCC argues that it needs to spend its time and money where it can actually win, while many progressives and new candidates think the national party is no longer a reliable judge of Democratic strength.
I certainly agree that the DCCC isn't a reliable judge of Democratic strength and that isn't even close to the worst crap about them. That said, IN-08 saw Hillary sink from Obama's 40% of the vote to just 31% while Trump out-performed Romney 65% to 58%. That's a tough district and unless someone has unlimited resources, it's hard to make the case to spend national money there rather than in any of 60 districts with far better chances to turn from red to blue.

Look at TX-21, the district where so much progress was made last year towards displacing Congress' chief science denier Lamar Smith. So far there are 8 declared candidates and perhaps more joining soon. The DCCC craves a very wealthy "ex"-Republican, Joseph Kopser, their kind of candidate. He's the only non-progressive. The other 7 could well split the vote so badly that Kopser could win, throwing out completely all the work Tom Wakely and his volunteers put in in the 2016 cycle.

Don't let anyone ever tell you democracy isn't messy. Meanwhile... vetted and ready:
Goal Thermometer

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If Bannon Gets To Shut Down The Government Friday, How Badly Will Congressional Republicans Pay In 2018?


Will the government be open in 5 days? We speculated the other day that Bannon would like to make sure it isn't. Congressional Republicans feel otherwise. In yesterday's NY Times, Matt Flegenheimer explained that the congressional leadership-- as a matter of electoral self-preservation for its members, is "eager to forge a deal before government funding expires Friday" while the Regime "wants to use the deadline as a point of leverage that Democrats-- and at least a few Republicans-- do not believe they have, raising the prospects of a shutdown that had seemed unlikely." Trump claims he won the election, at least in part, because of his promise to build a wall to keep out Mexicans but he always-- like, totally always-- promised that Mexico would pay for it, which, obviously, they won't. Plenty of Republicans have no intention of shutting down the government over Trump’s crazy promises about a wall that not a single border state senator or House member of either party embraces. Bannon thinks it's a battle worth fighting with Ryan and McConnell (and the Democrats). Supposedly, Bannon's enemies inside the Regime are happy to see him take on this losing battle and hasten his own demise.
In 2013, at a time of peak conservative fury at Mr. Obama, some Republicans did not seem to mind positioning themselves as faces of the shutdown, which supplied a soapbox for ambitious hard-liners like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

This time, at least so far, no one seems to want any fingerprints on an impasse... [T]here seems to be little public patience for another round of Washington dysfunction.

...Republicans in Congress appear keenly aware that a shutdown would be blamed largely on them, despite Mr. Trump’s attempts to shift responsibility to Democrats.

And while many are unlikely to say so publicly, some Democrats would plainly relish the political upside of a unified Republican government ushering in Mr. Trump’s 100th day by failing to keep the lights on.

“Shutdown is not a desired end,” Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s budget director, said on Fox News Sunday. “It’s not a tool. It’s not something that we want to have.”

But, he added, “we want our priorities funded.”
Monday morning's Politico published a more generally alarming piece for Republicans by Alex Isenstadt, that pokes around into how Trump's toxicity with voters will impact the 2018 midterms. Before we look at it, let's just forget that most of the advantages the Democrats have will be negated by a structurally incompetent and venally corrupt DCCC. We'll make believe, for the sake of this pst at least, that the DCCC is a well-functioning normal electoral committee instead of what it actually is. Isenstadt began with some good tidings for the Dems: "Republicans say" Señor Trumpanzee needs to turn things around fast-- "or the GOP could pay dearly in 2018." Ryan and McConnell are freaking out about el Señor's "lack of legislative accomplishments, his record-low approval ratings, and the overall dysfunction that’s gripped his administration." So how's the nightmare starting to shape up in terms of the midterms?
The stumbles have drawn the attention of everyone from GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who funneled tens of millions of dollars into Trump’s election and is relied upon to bankroll the party’s House and Senate campaigns, to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Adelson hasn’t contributed to pro-Trump outside groups since the inauguration, a move that’s drawn notice within the party, and McConnell is warning associates that Trump’s unpopularity could weigh down the GOP in the election.

Potential GOP candidates whom party leaders want to recruit are afraid of walking into a buzz saw, uncertain about what kind of political environment they’ll be facing by the time the midterms come around-- and what Trump’s record will look like.

...[I]nterviews with more than a dozen top Republican operatives, donors and officials reveal a growing trepidation about how the initial days of the new political season are unfolding. And they underscore a deep anxiety about how the party will position itself in 2018 as it grapples with the leadership of an unpredictable president still acclimating to Washington.

“It’s not the way you’d want to start a new cycle,” said Randy Evans, a Republican National Committee member from Georgia. “At some point, they’ve got to find some kind of rhythm, and there is no rhythm yet.”

“They’ve got to put some drives together,” he added.

Appearing Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus pushed back on the suggestion Trump has accomplished little. Among other things, Priebus pointed to the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and reports that border crossings have plummeted since the start of the new year.

“He is fulfilling his promises and doing it at breakneck speed,” Priebus said.

Goal Thermometer Behind the scenes, the administration is keeping a watchful eye on the 2018 election. Priebus remains in touch with his political allies from his time as party chairman. There’s talk Priebus may attend an RNC meeting in San Diego next month and a Mitt Romney-hosted donor summit in Park City, Utah, slated for June. The midterms are likely to be front and center at both events.

Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon are carefully tracking the special election for a Republican-leaning Georgia House seat, a contest the administration sees as a key early test of the president’s political standing. White House officials were heartened that Democrat Jon Ossoff-- whom Trump attacked on Twitter and robocalls-- fell short of an outright victory in the first round of voting, triggering a June runoff against Republican Karen Handel.

Yet as Republican strategists examine that special election, and one for a conservative Kansas seat a week earlier, they’re seeing evidence of a worrisome enthusiasm gap. In the run-up to the Georgia election, low-propensity Democratic voters-- people who in years past did not consistently turn out to the polls-- cast ballots at a rate nearly 7 percentage points higher than low-propensity Republicans, according to private polling by one Republican group.

In Kansas, the chasm was wider. Infrequent Democratic voters cast ballots at a rate of 9 percentage points higher than low-propensity Republicans did. The GOP nonetheless held the seat.

Former Rep. David Jolly, a Florida Republican who won a 2014 special election that was a precursor to a broader GOP sweep in that year’s midterms, said the Georgia race was rife with warnings for his party.

“It's a verdict on Trump's first 100 days,” Jolly said. “Ossoff simply has to speak to the president's failure, while Republicans have to wrestle with whether and how to defend Trump's historically low approval ratings and how closely to align with a president who at any moment could undermine Handel's entire messaging strategy with an indefensible tweet or an outright lie.”

Jolly, who lost reelection in 2016 and is considering running again, said he and other would-be GOP midterm contenders are struggling to take measure of what they’d be getting themselves into. The election is bound to be a referendum on Trump’s first two years. Two Republicans, Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy and Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks, recently announced they will be forgoing Senate runs.

"If you're a prospective candidate, boy, it's tough," Jolly said. Republicans are far more concerned about the House than the Senate. The GOP has a four-seat edge in the Senate and a map tilted heavily in its favor. House Republicans, by contrast, have a 24-seat margin but must defend dozens of swing districts. It’s a scenario not entirely unlike the first midterm election of Barack Obama’s presidential tenure, when Democrats lost control of the House.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of GOP leadership, said the lack of legislative progress so far has imperiled his party’s hold on the House. But Cole doesn’t point the finger at Trump: Instead, he said, fellow Republicans unwilling to compromise on key agenda items like health care are to blame.

“The majority is not safe,” he said. “We need to be more constructive legislatively, and there are going to be political implications if we don't."

“I'm confident President Trump and the Congress will deliver meaningful results for the American people,” said Henry Barbour, an influential RNC member from Mississippi and the nephew of former Gov. Haley Barbour. “We don't have another option, particularly as it relates to the House in 2018.”

Goal Thermometer Not every Republican is confident about the Senate, either. McConnell has privately expressed concern about Trump’s approval ratings and lack of legislative wins, according to two people familiar with this thinking. A student of political history, the Senate leader has warned that the 2018 map shouldn’t give Republicans solace, reminding people that the party in power during a president’s first term often suffers electorally.

“We do have to do something with our full control of the government,” said Scott Jennings, who served in George W. Bush’s White House and oversaw a pro-McConnell super PAC during his 2014 reelection. “Doing nothing is not an option. There’s time-- the midterm elections aren’t until November 2018-- but at some point we have to finish the things we ran on.”

Republican fundraising, bolstered by the party’s full control of the federal government, has been robust. The RNC reported raising $41.5 million during the first quarter of the year, a record.

Yet Trump’s rocky start is causing restlessness in some corners of the donor world. Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul, has privately complained about Trump’s failure to fulfill his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, three people close to the billionaire said. Adelson is also rankled that some people he recommended for administration posts haven’t yet been tapped.

More fundamentally, Adelson is dismayed by what he sees as a state of chaos in the new administration, these people said. In what some Republicans are interpreting as a sign of his frustration, Adelson has yet to give money to any of the pro-Trump outside groups set up to boost the president’s agenda.

An Adelson spokesman, Andy Abboud, said the billionaire is “overall not angry or unhappy” with the president and is pleased with his decisiveness on certain issues. Adelson, he said, is waiting patiently for action on the embassy.

Others are less forgiving. Texas businessman Doug Deason and his billionaire father, Darwin, have become so annoyed with the lack of progress that they have told Republican members of Congress they will not donate to them until the president’s agenda is approved. The younger Deason, a member of the Koch brothers’ political network, said he blamed House and Senate Republicans for the impasse, not Trump.

"I think generally people are happy, but we're in a rare position where we have the presidency and both houses of Congress, and we want to get things done," he said.

In recent weeks, party leaders have taken steps to assure nervous donors that the political environment remains stable for Republicans and that the president’s agenda is on track. During a recent donor summit in Palm Beach, Florida, hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, organizers stressed that health care and tax reform could still get done.

Indeed, some Republicans say it’s premature to start fretting about an election 18 months away, regardless of Trump’s early blunders.

“This is part of the growing pains of the new administration. It’s like fumbling a football in the first three minutes of the game,” said Ken Abramowitz, a New York businessman and major GOP donor. “It’s not great. But if you’re going to fumble the football, it’s good to do it in the first three minutes.”
How this is specifically playing out for Democrats thinking about running for Congress is something we're going to have a look at later this morning in the next post.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Apple Does Not Fall Far From The Orange-- Ivanka's and Jared's Fabulous Adventure


John Oliver's segment this weekend on Ivanka and Kushner-in-law was classic. You've got to watch it. This morning his analysis was examined by Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly and the New York Daily News. You don't need them; just watch it.

Stephen Walt's Jared Kushner Will Be Eaten By The Blob in Foreign Policy is not a prediction of how Chris Christie will eventually get his revenge on Kushner for getting his revenge on Christie (due to Kushner's father Charlie getting his revenge on someone else). "Kushner," he wrote, "may be unusually inexperienced, but he’s hardly the first person to achieve a position of political, and even diplomatic, prominence largely because of personal ties to a president." His role inside the Trumapnzee Regime "has provoked heated criticism from Democrats and skepticism from an array of pundits. It has also given late-night comics, satirists, and the Twitterati plenty of free material. And at one level their responses are understandable: Not only does Kushner’s role reek of good old-fashioned nepotism, but it is frankly absurd to think a young real estate developer can possibly perform all the miracles his loving father-in-law has asked him to produce. At last count, Kushner’s assignments include solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading a 'SWAT team' of private consultants that will reorganize and streamline the federal government, and serving as an informal presidential envoy to China, Iraq, and anywhere else Trump decides to send him. He also seems to have acquired the job of keeping Steve Bannon in check (or maybe getting rid of him entirely). Kushner hasn’t made his situation any easier by coming across like a spoiled rich kid who’d rather go skiing than govern. But he’d have his work cut out for him even if he combined the cunning of a Henry Kissinger and the political skills of a Lyndon Johnson... [T]he real issue is what his outsized position tells you about the president he serves and about the nature of political life in Washington, D.C."
Let’s start by remembering something important about Donald J. Trump: He’s old. A 70-year-old man is not going to learn a lot of new management tricks or adopt a new leadership style at this late stage of life. By most accounts, Trump’s management approach has long relied on promoting rivalries among subordinates and demanding intense loyalty from a circle of trusted insiders (such as his sons and now his son-in-law). Given the success of his highly unorthodox presidential campaign, why expect Trump to operate differently now?

...Kushner’s role in the White House actually reveals a deeper problem: Trump doesn’t actually care if his policies work or not. He doesn’t care if health care is ever fixed, if the climate warms up and millions of people die, if coal miners or autoworkers get new and better jobs, if the Islamic State is ever defeated, or if U.S. infrastructure is rebuilt. All he cares about is whether he can convince people that he’s responsible for anything good that happens and persuade them that adverse developments are someone else’s fault. It has been apparent from day one that Trump cares first and foremost about himself, his family, and his fortune. Full stop. Doing the people’s business-- that is, actually governing-- is hard work, and it really cuts into the time you can spend on the golf course.

Not caring about getting anything done is also liberating: It means you can hire whomever you want, give them a thousand impossible things to do before breakfast, and then get back to correcting your slice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Jared Kushner has a job in the White House that no one could possibly perform.

It’s also why you don’t see him devoting much time or effort to trying to resist the Washington foreign-policy establishment his father-in-law once so vociferously maligned, as evidenced by the recent humanitarian intervention in Syria and discussion of sending tens of thousands of ground troops there. It is entirely predictable that Kushner, and Trump, would abdicate to the Blob, since their stated political beliefs, even when they contained a glimmer of insight, were never moored by practical knowledge. The Trump family’s essential interest in the jobs they’ve acquired is personal vanity; they’re happy-- indeed, obliged-- to outsource those jobs’ other aspects.

But the fault ultimately lies not with Kushner (though a smarter person might have turned down the offer and concentrated on saving his own family’s business). The fault lies in the man from Mar-a-Lago.
Oh... and let's not forget this... which, I'm guessing, is going to turn out to be even more important:

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Democratic Unity-- By Backing Anti-Choice Assholes For Elected Office? No Way


Nancy Pelosi was one of Chuck Todd's guests on Meet the Press yesterday and he asked her "what should unify the Democratic Party? What should make somebody a Democrat?... Can you be a Democrat and win the support of the Democratic Party if you're [an anti-Choice asshole]?" He wanted to know if it was OK for the party to support an anti-Choice candidate, in this case Heath Mello, who's running for mayor of Omaha. Bernie is backing Mello and many progressive women's groups are furious. Pelosi, said "Of course. I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive-- my family would say aggressive-- position on promoting a woman's right to choose... Our values unify us." And then she elucidated mostly Berniecrat values-- "our commitment to America's working families," "job creation," "budget policies that invest in the future, good paying jobs..." But not Choice; when did that stop being a value that unifies Democratic elected officials. How doddering and senile has Pelosi become?

I wish Todd would have asked her how she'd feel about some old Southern Democratic Party racists coming back into the party and running for office. Or someone spewing hatred towards the LGBT community. Where does she draw the line? Apparently women's Choice is on the other side of the line.

Being anti-Choice (or racist or anti-gay, etc) is an automatic instant disqualification for being endorsed by Blue America. But being anti-Choice doesn't disqualify you from being embraced by Pelosi's House Majority PAC or by her woefully failed and despised DCCC. Think about that the next time the DCCC hits you up with one of their wretched e-mails for a contribution. There's every chance in the world that some of whatever you give them will go to some anti-Choice asshole running for Congress as a "Democrat." The DCCC has been very aggressive for over a decade in undercutting and sabotaging progressive candidates and favoring conservatives from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party, especially New Dems and Blue Dogs. Last cycle, for example the DCCC spent $2,680,676 and Pelosi's House Majority PAC spent $741,041 on former Republican Nebraska legislator Brad Ashford, now an arch-conservative Blue Dog. Similarly, the DCCC spent $2,547,108 and Pelosi spent $495,267 on Ami Bera's reelection campaign, not just for a right-wing New Dem, but for one of Congress' most overtly corrupt members who allowed his elderly father to take the fall for his own criminal activities and get locked up in prison. This is a horrible disgusting man who pollutes the Democratic Party brand every time he shows up on the floor of the House. Both Ashford, who lost, and Bera who won (barely) have grades of "F" from ProgressivePunch. This cycle-- so since Pelosi spent over $3 million saving his worthless hide-- Bera has wracked up, in a strong Democratic district, a 14.29 crucial vote score, second worst among House Democrats other than Kyrsten Sinema's 7.14 and tied with Garbagecrat Dan Lipinski (Blue Dog-IL), a virulently anti-Choice fake Democrat.

Goal Thermometer If the DCCC begs you for money to save Choice from the horrible Republicans, it is impossible that some of that money won't go to fake Democrats who vote with the Republicans to outlaw Choice. Solution: never give to the DCCC; only contribute directly to carefully vetted candidates who really do embody progressive values (including Choice), like the ones at the 2018 ActBlue congressional thermometer on the right. You're not going to find anyone like Heath Mello, Dan Lipinski, Ami Bera, Kyrsten Sinema or Brad Ashford on any Blue America pages, just actual progressives. In fact, we back primary candidates against Democrats like that-- and we already have two for the 2108 cycle-- and expect more.

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You Think Trump And The GOP Have No Accomplishments So Far? You Are Wrong


Do you respect the 62,984,825 voters (46.1%) who were ultimately responsible-- no matter Putin's and Comey's interference or Clinton's unsuitability-- for putting Trump into the White House? Earlier this morning we looked at how proud they still are for having backed Trump; no buyers' remorse there. But there should be-- lots and lots of it... at there there should be if the support for Trump was rational and based on something beyond racism, xenophobia, anger and blind hatred. 62,984,825 of them. Jesus! The Economic Policy Institute makes the clear case that the Trump Regime in its first 100 days has been working to shift power away from working people and towards corporations and the 1%, more a traditional Republican agenda than a Bannon-like nationalist agenda. If the Regime has been accomplishing anything at all for the Trump voters to think about-- if they were capable of actual thought-- it would be how the Trumpists have undercut wages and embarked on the destruction of protections for working people and consumers. Below are Trump's and the GOP's 10 ten achievements; how many of the 62,984,825 voters wanted this agenda?
1- Protecting Wall Street profits that siphon billions of dollars from retirement savers. At President Trump’s behest, the Department of Labor has delayed a rule requiring that financial professionals recommend retirement investment products that serve their clients’ best interests. The “fiduciary rule” aims to stop the losses savers incur when steered into products that earn advisers commissions and fees. The rule was supposed to go into effect April 10. For every seven days that the rule is delayed, retirement savers lose $431 million over the next 30 years. The 60-day delay will cost workers saving for retirement $3.7 billion over 30 years.

2- Letting employers hide fatal injuries that happen on their watch. The Senate approved a resolution making it harder to hold employers accountable when they subject workers to dangerous conditions. The March 22 resolution blocks a rule requiring that employers keep accurate logs of workplace injuries and illnesses for five years. This time frame captures not just individual injuries but track records of unsafe conditions. President Trump said he would sign the resolution. If he does, employers can fail to maintain-- or falsify-- their injury and illness logs, making them less likely to suffer the consequences when workers are injured or killed. Blocking this rule also means that employers, OSHA, and workers cannot use what they learn from past mistakes to prevent future tragedies. If the rule is overturned, more workers will be injured, and responsible employers will be penalized.

3- Allowing potentially billions of taxpayer dollars to go to private contractors who violate health and safety protections or fail to pay workers. The federal government pays contractors hundreds of billions of dollars every year to do everything from manufacturing military aircraft to serving food in our national parks. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule required that companies vying for these lucrative contracts disclose previous workplace violations, and that those violations be considered when awarding federal contracts. The rule was needed, as major federal contractors were found to be regularly engaging in illegal practices that harm workers financially and endanger their health and safety. On March 27, President Trump killed this rule by signing a congressional resolution blocking it. This will hurt workers and contractors who play by the rules, while benefitting only those contractors with records of cutting corners.

4- Undermining important regulations that protect workers and consumers. On January 30, President Trump issued an executive order mandating that for every new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination. This “2-for-1” executive order requires federal agencies to assess whether a regulation is worthwhile based solely on costs-- regardless of the benefits of the regulation. For example, an EPA regulation issued in 2015 that prevents dumping toxic pollutants into streams and wetlands could certainly represent a higher cost to companies that will need to take additional steps to properly dispose of their waste. But the obvious benefits-- keeping toxic waste out of our major water resources-- far outweighs the costs to businesses. (The Trump administration has already ordered the EPA to rescind or revise this rule.) This emphasis on costs threatens regulations that protect workers, consumers, and the environment.

5- Allowing employers to penalize employees who don’t want to reveal their private medical information. In March, the Republican chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce introduced a bill that would allow employers to penalize employees who opt not to share private genetic or medical information with their bosses. North Carolina Rep. Virginia Foxx’s pleasantly named Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1313) claims to promote innovative employee wellness programs and a healthy workforce. But it actually takes aim at the Equal Opportunity Commission’s efforts to ensure that “employers can only obtain or request protected genetic and medical information when the employee voluntarily provides it.” The bill would allow penalties of up to thousands of dollars a year for employees who choose not to share this information through employee wellness programs, clearly coercing them into divulging. Nearly 70 consumer, health, and medical advocacy organizations signed a recent letter opposing this invasive bill.

6- Gutting the strength of labor organizing by forcing unions to represent and protect non-dues-paying workers. In February, Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced a bill to bar unions from requiring the workers they represent to pay the equivalent of union dues. The bill would establish a federal “right-to-work” law, which is a deceptive name for legislation that forces unions to drain their resources representing non-dues-paying workers. The law would not make life better for hard-working Americans. “Right to work” laws are already on the books in 27 states and the results are clear: lower wages and less bargaining power for working people. Wages are 3.1 percent lower in so-called “right-to-work” states, for union and nonunion workers alike, even after accounting for differences in cost of living, demographics, and workforce characteristics. Rather than further degrading the power of working-class Americans to bargain for decent wages and benefits, Congress and the president should be addressing wage stagnation and inequality.

7- Cutting pay for construction workers on federally funded infrastructure projects. On January 30, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced the Davis-Bacon Repeal Act. The Davis-Bacon act requires that construction workers engaged in federally funded construction projects be paid no less than the local prevailing wage. Careful research has shown that the act protects both the living standards of construction workers and the competitiveness of local construction firms bidding against transient contractors who might win federal contracts by using less-skilled workers. Repealing Davis-Bacon would save taxpayers money purely by taking a chunk of construction workers’ wages. It would not actually make projects to build roads and schools and other public goods more efficient.

8- Putting the brakes on overtime pay for the middle class. The administration has made no move to support a 2016 rule that would extend overtime pay protections to millions of workers. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, most salaried workers making less than a given annual salary are automatically entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours per week. The threshold aims to protect low- and moderate-earning salaried workers from being required to work excessive hours without compensation. Over the years, the threshold has been eroded by inflation, and the current threshold of $23,660 is below the poverty line for a family of four. In 2016, the Department of Labor raised the threshold to $47,476. While this rule is on hold under a court order, the administration has made its priorities clear. President Trump’s first nominee for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder, opposed the rule. And after Puzder withdrew from consideration for the post, in his confirmation hearing the new nominee, Alexander Acosta, declined to assert support for the rule or even the department’s authority to raise the threshold. Raising the overtime salary threshold would directly benefit a broad range of working people, including 4.2 million parents and 7.3 million children.

9- Slashing the budget for the Department of Labor, hindering its ability to enforce wage theft and worker safety laws or provide job training programs. The “skinny budget” released by the White House on March 16 includes a 21 percent cut to the Department of Labor’s budget. Indifference or worse about the plight of U.S. workers is the message sent by cutting a fifth of the budget of the key agency that protects workers from being killed or injured on the job, safeguards workers’ pay and benefits, and provides displaced workers with job training and unemployment benefits.

10- Declining to raise the minimum wage and lift pay for low-wage workers. As of January 1, 29 states and the District of Columbia have a minimum wage that is higher than the federal minimum wage. In 2017 alone, minimum wage increases in 19 states will provide over $4.2 billion in additional wages to nearly 4.3 million affected workers in 2017 and will make a real, although modest, difference in the lives of workers and their families. But the federal minimum wage of $7.25 has not been raised since 2009 and is worth 25 percent less than its peak value in 1968. This decline in purchasing power means low-wage workers have to work longer hours just to achieve the standard of living that was considered the bare minimum almost half a century ago. On the campaign trail, President Trump spoke favorably of raising the federal minimum wage. It’s time to see bold action on this sentiment that could lift pay for the bottom quarter or more of the workforce.

Hillary Clinton Explains Our North Korea, South Korea, China Policy


by Gaius Publius

[Update: It's been suggested in comments (initially here) that Clinton's "we" in her answer to Blankfein's question was a reference to China's policy, not our own. I'm doubtful that's true, but it's an interpretation worth considering. Even so, the U.S. and Chinese policies toward the two Koreas are certainly aligned, and, as Clinton says, "for the obvious economic and political reasons." (That argument was also expressed in comments here.)  I therefore think the thrust of the piece below is valid under either interpretation of Clinton's use of "we." –GP]

"We don't want a unified Korean peninsula ... We [also] don't want the North Koreans to cause more trouble than the system can absorb."
—Hillary Clinton, 2013, speech to Goldman Sachs

Our policy toward North Korea is not what most people think it is. We don't want the North Koreans to go away. In fact, we like them doing what they're doing; we just want less of it than they've been doing lately. If this sounds confusing, it's because this policy is unlike what the public has been led to assume. Thanks to something uncovered by WikiLeaks, the American public has a chance to be unconfused about what's really going on with respect to our policies in Korea.

This piece isn't intended to criticize that policy; it may be an excellent one. I just want to help us understand it better. 

Our source for the U.S. government's actual Korean policy — going back decades really — is former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She resigned that position in February 2013, and on June 4, 2013 she gave a speech at Goldman Sachs with Lloyd Blankfein present (perhaps on stage with her) in which she discussed in what sounds like a very frank manner, among many other things, the U.S. policy toward the two Korea and the relationship of that policy to China.

That speech and two others were sent by Tony Carrk of the Clinton campaign to a number of others in the campaign, including John Podesta. WikiLeaks subsequently released that email as part of its release of other Podesta emails (source email with attachments here). In that speech, Clinton spoke confidentially and, I believe, honestly. What she said in that speech, I take her as meaning truthfully. There's certainly no reason for her to lie to her peers, and in some cases her betters, at Goldman Sachs. The entire speech reads like elites talking with elites in a space reserved just for them.

I'm not trying to impugn Clinton or WikiLeaks by writing this — that's not my intention at all. I just want to learn from what she has to say — from a position of knowledge — about the real U.S. policy toward North Korea. After all, if Goldman Sachs executives can be told this, it can't be that big a secret. We should be able to know it as well.

What Clinton's Speech Tells Us about U.S. Korea Policy

The WikiLeaks tweet is above. The entire speech, contained in the attachment to the email, is here. I've reprinted some of the relevant portions below, first quoting Ms. Clinton with some interspersed comments from me. Then, adding some thoughts about what this seems to imply about our approach to and relations with South Korea.

The Korea section of the Goldman Sachs speech starts with a discussion of China, and then Blankfein pivots to Korea. Blankfein's whole question that leads to the Clinton quote tweeted by WikiLeaks above (my emphasis throughout):
MR. BLANKFEIN: The Japanese -- I was more surprised that it wasn't like that when you think of -- all these different things. It's such a part of who they are, their response to Japan. If you bump into the Filipino fishing boats, then I think you really -- while we're in the neighborhood [i.e., discussing Asia], the Chinese is going to help us or help themselves -- what is helping themselves? North Korea? On the one hand they [the Chinese] wouldn't want -- they don't want to unify Korea, but they can't really like a nutty nuclear power on their border. What is their interests and what are they going to help us do?
Clinton's whole answer is reprinted in the WikiLeaks tweet attachment (click through to the tweet and expand the embedded image to read it all). The relevant portions, for my purposes, are printed below. From the rest of her remarks, the context of Blankfein's question and Clinton's answer is the threat posed by a North Korean ICBM, not unlike the situation our government faces today.
MS. CLINTON: Well, I think [Chinese] traditional policy has been close to what you've described. We don't want a unified Korean peninsula, because if there were one South Korea would be dominant for the obvious economic and political reasons.

We [also] don't want the North Koreans to cause more trouble than the system can absorb. So we've got a pretty good thing going with the previous North Korean leaders [Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il]. And then along comes the new young leader [Kim Jung-un], and he proceeds to insult the Chinese. He refuses to accept delegations coming from them. He engages in all kinds of both public and private rhetoric, which seems to suggest that he is preparing himself to stand against not only the South Koreans and the Japanese and the Americans, but also the Chinese.
Translation — three points:
  • The U.S. prefers that Korea stay divided. If Korea were to unite, South Korea would be in charge, and we don't want South Korea to become any more powerful than it already is.
  • We also don't want the trouble North Korea causes South Korea to extend beyond the region. We want it to stay within previously defined bounds.
  • Our arrangement with the two previous North Korean leaders met both of those objectives. North Korea's new leader, Kim Jung-un, is threatening that arrangement.
It appears that China has the same interest in keeping this situation as-is that we do. That is, they want South Korea (and us) to have a Korean adversary, but they don't want the adversary acting out of acceptable bounds — coloring outside the lines laid down by the Chinese (and the U.S.), as it were. Clinton:
So the new [Chinese] leadership basically calls him [Kim Jung-un] on the carpet. And a high ranking North Korean military official has just finished a visit in Beijing and basically told [him, as a message from the Chinese]: Cut it out. Just stop it. Who do you think you are? And you are dependent on us [the Chinese], and you know it. And we expect you to demonstrate the respect that your father and your grandfather [Kim Jung-il, Kim Il-sung] showed toward us, and there will be a price to pay if you do not.

Now, that looks back to an important connection of what I said before. The biggest supporters of a provocative North Korea has been the PLA [the Chinese People's Liberation Army]. The deep connections between the military leadership in China and in North Korea has really been the mainstay of the relationship. So now all of a sudden new leadership with Xi and his team, and they're saying to the North Koreans -- and by extension to the PLA -- no. It is not acceptable. We don't need this [trouble] right now. We've got other things going on. So you're going to have to pull back from your provocative actions, start talking to South Koreans again about the free trade zones, the business zones on the border, and get back to regular order and do it quickly.

Now, we don't care if you occasionally shoot off a missile. That's good. That upsets the Americans and causes them heartburn, but you can't keep going down a path that is unpredictable. We don't like that. That is not acceptable to us.

So I think they're trying to reign Kim Jong in. I think they're trying to send a clear message to the North Korean military. They also have a very significant trade relationship with Seoul and they're trying to reassure Seoul that, you know, we're now on the case. 
Clinton ends with a fourth point:
  • From the U.S. standpoint, the current problem is now on the Chinese to fix.
So they want to keep North Korea within their orbit. They want to keep it predictable in their view. They have made some rather significant statements recently that they would very much like to see the North Koreans pull back from their nuclear program. Because I and everybody else -- and I know you had Leon Panetta here this morning. You know, we all have told the Chinese if they continue to develop this missile program and they get an ICBM that has the capacity to carry a small nuclear weapon on it, which is what they're aiming to do, we cannot abide that. Because they could not only do damage to our treaty allies, namely Japan and South Korea, but they could actually reach Hawaii and the west coast theoretically, and we're going to ring China with missile defense. We're going to put more of our fleet in the area.

So China, come on. You either control them or we're going to have to defend against them.
The four bullets above (three, and then one) give a very clear definition of longstanding U.S. policy toward the two Koreas. I think the only surprise in this, for us civilians, is that the U.S. doesn't want the Korean peninsula unified. So two questions: Why not? And, do the South Koreans know this? I'll offer brief answers below.

The "Great Game" In East Asia — Keeping the Korean "Tiger" in Check

South Korea is one of the great emerging nations in East Asia, one of the "Asian tigers," a manufacturing and economic powerhouse that's lately been turning into a technological and innovative powerhouse as well.

For example, one of just many, from Forbes:
Why South Korea Will Be The Next Global Hub For Tech Startups

American business has long led the way in high tech density or the proportion of businesses that engage in activities such as Internet software and services, hardware and semiconductors. The US is fertile ground for tech start-ups with access to capital and a culture that celebrates risk taking. Other countries have made their mark on the world stage, competing to be prominent tech and innovation hubs. Israel has been lauded as a start-up nation with several hundred companies getting funded by venture capital each year. A number of these companies are now being acquired by the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google. Finland and Sweden have attracted notice by bringing us Angry Birds and Spotify among others. But a new start-up powerhouse is on the horizon – South Korea. [...]
In other words, South Korea has leaped beyond being a country that keeps U.S. tech CEOs wealthy — it's now taking steps that threaten that wealth itself. And not just in electronics; the biological research field — think cloning — is an area the South Koreans are trying to take a lead in as well.

It's easy to understand Ms. Clinton's — and the business-captured American government's — interest in making sure that the U.S. CEO class isn't further threatened by a potential doubling of the capacity of the South Korean government and economy. Let them (the Koreans) manufacture to their heart's content, our policy seems to say; but to threaten our lead in billionaire-producing entrepreneurship ... that's a bridge too far.

Again, this is Clinton speaking, I'm absolutely certain, on behalf of U.S. government policy makers and the elites they serve: We don't want a unified Korean peninsula, because if there were one, an already-strong South Korea would be dominant for obvious economic reasons.

As to whether the South Koreans know that this is our policy, I'd have to say, very likely yes. After all, if Clinton is saying this to meetings of Goldman Sachs executives, it can't be that big a secret. It's just that the South Korea leadership knows better than the North Korean leader how to handle it.


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