Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hussein: Don't Smear Me by Calling Me a Muslim

I love it how the press is always so quick to point out, like in this case, that Obama isn't a Muslim. "Indonesians are rooting for Obama not because he is some secret Muslim (they know he is a Christian) but because he spent some of his formative years in their capital city of Jakarta." What did Shakespeare say about these protestations? Hamlet Act III Scene III: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

If being a Muslim is so grand, why does his campaign consider being called a Muslim to be a smear? You can find a big entry about how B. Hussein is not a Muslim at fightthesmears.com

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Is America Responsible for North Korea's Bad Behavior?

North Korea experienced a moment of ignominy when President Bush declared them to be part of the “axis of evil” during his State of the Union in 2002. Following the attacks of 9/11/2001, the world expected that the United States would be mostly concerned with hunting Middle East terrorists, but the US signaled that North Korea was still a pressing concern. American attention was potentially worrisome given the political bias in the US in favor of attacking perceived enemies. However, the DPRK gauged that President Bush’s signal meant North Korea still had leverage in negotiations with the US. Pyongyang had the attention they wanted from Washington but that attention was of the most menacing kind. North Korea was engaged in a delicate balancing act, wanting to improve their negotiations posture as they always had through brinkmanship and intransigence, but wary of overly provoking a newly enraged America. Although the international context had changed, North Korea still sought to put the West into the same old dilemma: “wanting to respond punitively to DPRK misbehavior, but being forced into negotiations to minimize the risks of a costly larger conflict.”(Cha and Kang, pg 88)

While it is true that the US toughened the diplomatic tone in exchanges with North Korea following 9/11, there was no substantive change in the behaviors of American forces on the ground. For 50 years along the DMZ, there had been periodic swings in aggression and conciliation, and yet a familiar stasis has prevailed. What had changed was the US’s newfound willingness to overtly overthrow hostile regimes, and the North’s avowed pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The rhetoric and tension on the peninsula during this period should be evaluated in the context of the other contemporary crises confronting the US and previous North Korean actions. As always, for North Korea to command the attention of the US, it was necessary for them to be provocative. Both sides engaged in posturing, but no one ever made an overt move that would have disadvantaged North Korea and forced them into “doing anything, even if it is high-risk, to arrest such losses.” (Cha and Kang, pg 71) The US was belligerent in other areas of the world, and this seemed to spill-over into relations with North Korea, but relations on the Peninsula were essentially as they had ever been. 

When the crisis of 2003 is viewed in the light of the nuclear test of 2006, and the eventual dismantling of the cooling tower of 2008, it seems that the crisis was less an event onto itself, and more part of the overall negotiating strategy of the North Koreans. Trying to evaluate the crisis of 2003 is like evaluating any negotiation in medias res. It is not until after the end-game that one can evaluate the effectiveness of a particular intermediate tactic. American actions in the run-up to 2003 may have seemed reckless but with the apparent dismantling of the DPRK nuclear program, those actions can now be seen as measured and prudent.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kristof enlightens us

We should be so thankful we have Nick Kristof to point out what a moron Bush is. What an original idea for a column! I mean, Bush has consistently said that the only way to counter the Taliban is to bomb them, and with the most expensive bombs possible. Read this from the evil, moron Bush from 2002:

"We're also helping to rebuild schools and hospitals and clinics. Some of the first rebuilding is being done by the U.S. Army Civil Affairs soldiers, who are working with relief agencies to rebuild dozens of schools. With us today is Captain Britton London, who enlisted friends, family members, church groups to supply Afghan students with thousands of pens and pencils
and notebooks. Captain London is a man after my own heart. He started a --he got the equipment necessary to start the first post-Taliban baseball league. (Laughter.) He brought me a ball -- two balls signed by the Eagles -- the Eagles, the Eagles, the mighty Eagles of Afghan baseball. (Laughter.) And they practice -- they're practicing now, and the games are held once a

Our soldiers wear the uniforms of warriors, but they are also compassionate people. And the Afghan people are really beginning to see the true strength of our country. I mean, routing out the Taliban was important, but building a school is equally important."

Nick Kristof is a hack who does zero research about a subject if fits into his "Bush is an idiot" column template. So some mountain climber writes a book about building schools and hands out a press release about it and instead of talking about how this effort dovetails with that the military is already doing there, Kristof turns that into a club to beat Bush without any additional research. Such propaganda against Bush and the military is unsurprising from Kristof and the New York Times but this does not mean their casual slurs disparaging the efforts of civil affairs and engineer troops doing this same job of building schools throughout Afghanistan are not still offensive. 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Deterrence on the Peninsula

Since the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War, neither side has violated the Demilitarized Zone in strength. There have been minor skirmishes and provocations along this frontier, but there have been no events or series of events that has seriously threatened the status quo. The conventional foreign policy assessment as to why there have been no major violations of the armistice was conventional deterrence. Victor Cha puts it bluntly: “North Korea has not attacked for fifty years because deterrence works.” (pg 54) Cha does not define “deterrence” but the definition one selects for that word is crucial to determining how the policy works on the peninsula.


Cha implies that “deterrence” is actually the rational reaction to the balance of power, a rough equivalence in the war making capabilities of the two sides across the DMZ. The clear implication is that “deterrence” is the only rational response by one side to what an opposing side with equal capabilities is doing or can do in the near future. The way “deterrence/balance of power” is expressed on the peninsula, so long as the US neither provokes nor makes North Korea feel that the only possible response is a cross-DMZ attack, the balance is maintained. Unfortunately for classic balance of power calculations, no dispassionate analyst would assess the situation on the peninsula as a balance.

The US military is the most capable in the world. American forces have fought at least one war every generation using the most advanced armaments in regions all over the world. South Korea fights with and trains with the Americans around the world and has a population and economy that vastly larger than the North. There is little likelihood that North Korea is prepared for the combat power of the US and the ROK. Further, captured North Korean vessels are in such poor condition that it is hard to imagine that weapons kept in North Korean war reserve will be in better condition than that which is actually employed. Yet, even with such a disparity in capabilities, there still exists deterrence. The only explanation for this is that all sides have agreed to attribute lacks of attacks to balance of power when in reality; the South and the US have consciously chosen not to destroy the North.  


An alternate definition of deterrence is one has less to do with a country’s leadership’s rational reaction to the carefully weighted assessment of their enemy’s capabilities, and more to calculated self-interest. On the Korean peninsula, it is in every player’s interest to maintain the status quo. The North Korean leadership does not want to experience the catastrophe that awaits Communists whose countries fall violently. South Korea does not want the expense and recession that awaits should they be forced to assimilate the impoverished and backwards North. The United States has a myriad of other crises around the world and would prefer to put off the reckoning on the peninsula as far out in the indeterminate future as possible.  


Cha, Victor D. and David C. Kang. Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies (New York: Columbia University Press) 2003.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

I work on my creative wrting, and you are my victim


TWINK is in her office, rocking out to "Take on Me" by aha on her Ipod, arms gesticulating wildly, seemingly without reference to the music when a COWORKER comes in.

COWORKER: Hey Corky, the boss needs his BIOS defragged, if you know what I mean.

TULIP (removing ear buds): What?


TWINK is a hospital waiting room, with a TV mounted on the wall playing a Bon Jovi marathon. Since she is the only one in the room, she is singing along and keeping time to "Living on a Prayer." In another room, a NURSE is watching a monitor of the camera in the waiting room and talking on the phone.

NURSE: We have a Level I Corky in the waiting room, we need a straight jacket, a SWAT Team and 90 cc's of Phenobarbital, stat!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Obama and McCain breaking even

Obama and McCain virtually even in tracking polls.

Numbers from tracking polls for President are like the popular vote itself. Obama, like Kerry and Gore before him, will win New York City by a massive margin that will skew the overall percentages. In 2000, Bush lost the overall popular vote by 500,000 but lost New York City by more than 1 million. We won outside the 5 boroughs and won the election.  

I would think that breaking even in the popular polls means Obama is actually behind when that translates to electoral votes.  

Friday, July 11, 2008

I would drag you to watch this movie

I saw a movie yesterday on TCM that was a lot of fun to watch: Homicidal. The plot of this black and white film from 1961 was nothing special. A woman stages a phony marriage with a justice of the peace to get close enough to kill him and that killing has something to do with her real husband’s pending inheritance. I got it, pretty standard mystery-thriller fare.

What made this movie stand out was the casting gimmick. An actress named Joan Marshall, billed as Jean Arless, played the parts of Emily and Warren. Emily was a wasp-waisted homicidal hottie, who duped a bell boy into the phony marriage, then gutted the JP. She later careened around Solvang CA, seducing druggists, menacing her sister in law and tormenting a stroke victim. Warren, as portrayed by Joan, looked like a young Freddie Mercury to include the lisp and overbite. When “Warren” made his appearance on screen, I did not initially pick up on the fact that Joan was portraying him. However, I did think to myself, “that is one strange looking, overbiting effeminate actor with a really high voice who is wearing a really big, ill fitting suit coat.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Kissing bricks or peacefully praying for the destruction of the US and Israel?

You decide.


So often people ask me:  TO, why do you drink Gold Coast?

Why don't you vote?

Why do you write all those posts that you wrote?

Answers:  Because that stuff is so freaking strong and GOOD.

Because I am not a resident of this state, and I keep forgetting to get a ballot.

None of your beeswax.

Dumbest tradition in sports

Kissing the bricks.  So stupid

In which TO is sanguine about the economy

Sure, gasoline is expensive, but since the dollar is weak, prices in the US look really good to outsiders getting that influx in cash. They are turning around, borrowing more dollars to build plants to produce cheaper exports in their own country and that keeps our manufactured products cheap. Meanwhile, foreigners can buy our goods at a discount to them and invest their excess money here.

That is the reason high gas prices are not killing the economy. And I think we will see a oil price collapse, soon.  Gas prices are up, demand is down and I see many fewer cars waiting at pumps.  If Congress pulls their heads out and allows drilling, combined with this lower demand, means we would see gas under $3 by Labor Day.

What's going on in China

Stratfor mentioned the crucial aspect of Chinese industrial success, massive subsidy of energy prices. It is not just wage differentials keeping consumer products cheap, it is all the money that the central government is paying not to have a fuel cost shock like the American economy is enduring.

If individual Chinese people and companies had to pay market prices for gasoline and fuel oil, industries would shut down, people would park their cars and the country's economy would collapse. On the other hand, if China continues paying these subsidies, there will not be any money left to loan to companies to modernize to keep up with consumer demand. This too will doom their economy as countries and factories with cheap labor, access to Western capital markets and oil of their own (Mexico) are able to once again be competitive with the Chinese.

What did North Korea want during the Beijing talks?

North Korea had a simple goal for the Beijing talks with the United States. Pyongyang reckoned that direct talks with the US would convince Washington to decouple from Seoul and withdraw American troops. Such a withdrawal would open the peninsula to reunification on North Korea’s terms. The problem with the policy of “decoupling- withdrawal-reunification” was the single-mindedness with which Pyongyang pursued it. Rather than setting realistic intermediate goals that could actually be reached as confidence building measures, the North Korean maintained strident adherence to the over-arching goal. In addition, South Korea was adamantly against the US making concessions without being present for the negotiations.

For the US, the major concern in establishing a dialogue with North Korea was to establish a dialogue. The foreign policy advisors for the first President Bush had developed a mindset that talks themselves had intrinsic value. There was no need to give the interlocutors on the US side a goal or policy to pursue, since achieving talks was goal enough. Eventually, the US began to pursue minor concessions such as tangible steps to improve relations with South Korea and the return of remains of war dead. But since South Korea was cut out of the negotiations, the US was happy just to talk and the North Koreans were making unrealistic demands, there was little real incentive or expectation for progress. It was only when the US, Japan and South Korea offered tangible goods to the North through KEDO did negotiations begin to bear fruit. 

Why hasn't North Korea attacked?

Since the 70’s North Korean offensives against South Korea have only been at the negotiation table. North Korea has been careful to be only belligerent enough to give credence to their bluster at the negotiation table but not to such a degree that would provoke a substantial response from the South. What explains this inaction? Snyder seems to be arguing that North Korea has made a conscious decision that the best way to extract concessions is through a series of hard nosed and unpredictable negotiation stances which has obviated the need to actually invade. Oberdorfer makes the case that the various parts of the North Korean government do not have know what the strategy actually is, so they cannot present coherent policy positions.  

The combination of these two observations probably explains why it is North Korea has never actually attempted to forcibly reunite the country. Kim and his son have nurtured a personality cult but there is evidence that they must nonetheless still keep factions within their government off balance to prevent the rise of alternate power bases. The different style and tactics in North Korean negotiation are not so much Kim’s grand design, but instead are the concessions he must offer to the various factions who are vying for preeminence. The fact that the North has not invaded could be a rational assessment of the dominance of South Korean and American combat power but is probably because communist states cannot take precipitous action without unanimous consent among the ruling clique.