China Is Stirring

Try, if you can, to imagine the most extreme covid restrictions you experienced in 2020 lasting for over 2.5 years. Until now, China’s citizens have decided life in lockdown is preferable to being caught protesting the restrictions.

Except for North Korea, every populace, Iran and China included, has their limits. The reporting and pictures coming out of China are riveting.

I especially like how they’re using sarcasm. From the New York Times:

“When a police officer told people to stop chanting for an end to lockdowns, the crowd quickly pivoted. ‘Continue lockdowns!’ they chanted, in an echo of the sarcasm that had spread online in recent days, as people shared overblown praise for the government to protest censorship. ‘I want to do Covid tests!'”

People like me, with a built-in bias for democracy, are almost always disappointed by flickers of popular protest that are routinely squelched by the state.

That history won’t stop me from rooting for the underdogs, for sarcasm, and radical political change.

Related.

Why Did The Former Guy Pilfer Highly Classified Documents When He Left Office?

Fred Kaplan wonders in Slate. After some informative context setting, Kaplan cuts to the chase:

“And so we are left to ponder the final, most puzzling question: Why did Trump hang on to these documents? What could he gain from doing so? Some on Twitter speculate that he might want to sell the documents to foreign governments. I wouldn’t put much past Trump, but even I consider this theory extremely unlikely. (That said, storing these materials at a public place like Mar-a-Lago is stunningly irresponsible. It is proper that the FBI also sought surveillance video showing who was wandering into the storage area.)

My guess about Trump’s motives (and, at this point, it can only be a guess): pure, testosterone-driven ego.

The Washington Post reported back in February, when the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes of materials from Mar-a-Lago, that Trump retained much of his correspondence, including the ‘love letters’—as he once described them—with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The Post attributed this information to ‘two people familiar with the’ documents. This suggests that Trump showed the letters to people. Who were these people? We don’t know. Was he showing the letters in order to show off? It seems likely.”

Put me firmly in the “might want to sell the documents to foreign governments” camp. That’s what I concluded when the story started to take shape. There’s a lot I don’t understand about The Former Guy, but there is one thing I believe to be irrefutable. Having more money has always been his primary motivation. Follow the obsessive drive for more money.

And if your righty friends try to ruin your weekend with talk of Hillary’s emails, lay this little bit of Kaplan on ’em:

“While we’re on the subject, what about Hillary’s email? Of the 30,000 emails that the FBI examined, eight were found to contain Top Secret information. Seven of them were about CIA drone strikes, which had been reported in the newspapers (but were still technically classified). The other one was an account of a telephone conversation with the president of Malawi. (All conversations with foreign leaders are, by definition, Top Secret.) In other words, she revealed nothing remotely about nuclear weapons, signals intelligence, or anything that might have enlightened a foreign spy.”

When it comes to cattle futures, Vince Foster, and Benghazi, you’re on your own.

Outstanding Leaders Who Happen To Be Women

Demick providing global context on North Korea:

“. . . consider that, as many commentators have noted, the coronavirus crisis is accelerating the pace of change in technology and culture throughout the world. A widely noted aspect of the pandemic is that many of the countries winning high marks for containing the contagion and protecting their economies are headed by women—among the most notable, Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen. Could North Korea fare better under a woman, too”

Could the United States?

In North Korea, The Fourth Man Could Be A Woman

Barbara Demrick in The New Yorker:

“The conventional wisdom is that a woman could never ascend to the leadership of North Korea, a country stuck in a time warp of passé fashions, hairdos, music, and social mores. A toxic mix of Confucianism and totalitarianism indentures women to their husbands, to their in-laws, and, ultimately, to a male-dominated regime. With a few exceptions (the best known being the vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui), North Korea’s senior cadres are almost entirely male. The Supreme People’s Assembly—which currently has six hundred and eighty-seven members—is supposed to set aside twenty per cent of its seats for women, but the percentage has frequently dipped lower. And the primary function of these token deputies seems to be to brighten the optics, by wearing the jewel-toned, floor-length Korean gowns best known by the South Korean term hanbok. Since 1948, North Korea has been ruled by three men—the founder, his son, and his grandson—but, nevertheless, it is now conceivable that the fourth man will be a woman. That is because, with reports that Kim Jong Un is in failing health, the most obvious successor is his thirtysomething sister, Kim Yo Jong.”

And dig this:

“She was reportedly a favorite of her father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled from 1994 until his death, in 2011, and who, according to a former Russian official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, may have had a more enlightened attitude toward women than some of the North Korean élite. Pulikovsky, who travelled with Kim Jong Il by train and later wrote a memoir about the experience, told interviewers that the leader praised the intelligence of his daughter, while deriding his sons as ‘idle blockheads.'”

Despite being 36 years young, obscenely rich, and with access to world class medical care, Kim Jong Un is allegedly at risk of dying due to obesity, chain smoking and who knows what other vices. Dad’s assessment seems spot on, which begs the question, why didn’t he go with Kim Jo Young in the first place.

Most likely for two reasons. Too young and . . .

“‘North Korea is so outlandishly sexist, despite the fact that they are supposed to be a revolutionary society. When it comes to gender relations, it is like South Korea decades ago,’’ Katharine H. S. Moon, a political-science professor at Wellesley College who has written about gender issues in Korean politics, said. In fact, as Moon notes, women have not fared well in politics in South Korea, either, a nation that is routinely toward the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s list of developed countries’ rankings on gender equality. South Korea’s only female President, Park Geun-hye, was impeached in 2017, and is now in prison, serving twenty-five years for bribery, extortion, and abuse of power, which some maintain is harsher treatment than accorded men who committed comparable offenses.”

 

Stalemate

-1x600.jpg

Just finished The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, Anna Fifield’s masterful biography of North Korea’s third dictator.

Long story short, the West has underestimated his dictatorial acumen ever since he assumed power. He’s much more like his grandfather than his father, meaning especially brutal, strategic, and politically shrewd. His position inside North Korea is extremely strong.

North Korea’s economy has improved under KJU whose loosening of rules, or looking the other way rather, has freed up market activity throughout the country. Far from an “invisible hand” though, entrepreneurs have to pay off local authorities to ignore repressive laws on the books. No one is starving anymore, but some people are malnourished due to a lack of variety in their diets.

On the other hand, and most importantly, concentration-like labor camps packed with alleged political dissidents continue to operate with the same brutality. I suspect the people in those camps face the most inhumane living conditions on the planet. No one has ever been known to escape one.

And yet, President Trump shows no concern for those victims. Instead he talks of condos at North Korea’s Wonson beach resort.

Despite cozying up with KJU, the New York Times reports, “U.S. Braces for Major North Korea Weapons Test as Trump’s Diplomacy Fizzles“.

The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Donald Trump

I’m reading a biography of Kim Jong Un who Donald Trump seems to admire. One thing that fascinates me about North Korea is how an army of government apparatchiks use language (and song and art and media) to create as comprehensive a cult of personality as the world has ever seen.

What intrigues me seemingly inspires The Republican Congress and Donald Trump.

In an article titled “How the Kim cult of personality came to dominate North Korean life,” Fyodor Tertitskiy shares the most extensive title he has ever seen published in the Rodong Sinmun in December 1972, when Kim Jong Un’s grandfather was elected president for the first time. In one sentence, he was referred to as:

Peerless patriot, National Hero, Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Brilliant Commander, One of the Outstanding leaders of the International Communist and Workers’ Movement, the Great Leader of our Party and of our people respected comrade Kim Il Sung, who founded the Marxist-Leninist Party – the Workers’ Party of Korea and the true state of workers and farmers – the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and steadily leads our Revolution on the way of victories.”

How long until Trump’s Republican backers “borrow” from the North Koreans minus the references to communism and begin addressing him along these lines:

“Dear Leader Trump Peerless patriot, National Hero, Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Brilliant Commander, One of the Outstanding leaders of the World, the Great Leader of the United States and our people who resuscitated the Republican Party, made America Great Again, and leads our Revolution on the way of victories.”

Would that earn a retweet or is it insufficiently flattering?

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Japanese hotel room costs $1. But there’s a catch.

“Young people nowadays don’t care much about the privacy.”

2. Care about journalism? Maybe you should cancel your newspaper.

“As long as dead-ender subscribers continue to make Alden’s properties profitable, the company will have little incentive to improve its newspapers. The best that most Alden cities can hope for right now is the sale of their newspapers to local or better owners, as has happened to the Salt Lake Tribune, the Berkshire Eagle, and the New Haven Register.”

3. Best non-fiction books of 2019. I used this list to find my next book on North Korea. Ana Fifield, The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un.

4. The lies of (Netflix’s) the Irishman. Long story short, Frank Sheeran (Robert DeNiro) made it all up. Apparently never killed anyone. This isn’t an important/contested chapter of US history, so I don’t care, a great film regardless.

Sovereignty For Us, But Not Others

The Trump Administration may be most infamous for its “America First” doctrine. Nationalism rules. Globalists like Obama and Biden and their ilk are despicable elites who’d just as soon sell out US manufacturing jobs to foreign countries as they would sacrifice our sovereignty to international organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

The rest of the world be damned. Especially China. At least until they check their Individual Retirement Account balances, most Americans are sympathetic to the argument that it’s time to get tough on China in order to create some semblance of a trade balance and to stem intellectual property theft and cyber espionage against US businesses.

But there’s one central flaw in the administration’s economic and foreign policies that prevents me from enlisting full stop in the China Trade War and that’s the rhetoric spewed by Steve Bannon and others about the ultimate objective. . . destroying China’s “state sponsored capitalism” (see this documentary). This goal is based upon the simplistic and wrong-headed notion that when it comes to economic systems, it’s a winner take all contest.

Bannon says our version of free-market capitalism and China’s state-sponsored capitalism cannot co-exist even though they have been for decades. News flash Bannon—every national economy in the world exists on a continuum between laissez-faire free market capitalism and state-sponsored, command economics. Besides the obvious examples of North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela, Canada and many Western and Northern European countries prefer the center of the continuum. Amazingly, different approaches work for different people in different places.

How would Bannon, Trump, and the other nationalists in the administration react if another country tried to impose its economic system on us? They’re always harping about our national sovereignty while simultaneously trying to destabilize China’s economy and replace Venezuela’s government.

The moral bankruptcy of this hypocrisy is growing more and more apparent, but the Trump Nationalists continue to get aways with it. Here’s hoping the electorate wakes up by November 3, 2020.


Today’s best bumper sticker. . . Make America Grateful Again.

Rick Steves Wants to Save the World

One vacation at a time. Lengthy profile of the travel guru, but really well written and well worth the time. In the spirt of Steves, I’m off on a two-week vacation, during which I’ll be pressing pause on Pressing Pause.

I’m agnostic on marijuana. Apart from that difference, I’m down with damn near every other aspect of Steves’s worldview. At the same time, I get tired just reading about his frenetic pace. I’m far too slothful to aspire to be Steves-like, but his non-materialism and associated generosity are definitely inspiring.

I’ll post pics to Twitter, @PressingPause, of my travels. First person to guess the correct country wins an all expense trip to North Korea.