Author: Mitchell Blatt (Page 1 of 23)

Mafia Don: Trump as an Amoral Familist

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so strange it has caused columnists around the world to try to conceive of new frameworks to explain politics. But what if what is needed is really an old framework? In 1955, Edward C. Banfield visited a village in Southern Italy and described a dysfunctional politics based on the pursuit of personal and family profit above all else. He called the practitioners of this anti-social morality “amoral familists.” It was the behavior of the mafia and it is the behavior of Donald Trump and his cronies.

The amoral familist will, “Maximize the material, short-run advantage of the nuclear family” and “assume that all others will do likewise,” Banfield wrote. Trump has appointed his daughter and son-in-law into White House positions and put his two sons in charge of his business empire. The Trump administration has used official outlets to hawk his family’s products and has raked in cash from foreign diplomats staying at his DC hotel in the hopes of influencing him.

The effects of this lack of character and the assumption that all others lack character as well corrode to the core of a political system. Banfield noted how the locals in the small town had no trust in politics, and as such, no one trustworthy ran for office, and no one trusted the government to solve their problems. “[N]o one will further the interest of the group or community except as it is to his private advantage to do so.”

Banfield noted an additional 17 points that describe specific things one would expect to see in a society of amoral familists. It is worrying how many appear in Donald Trump’s United States in varying degrees.

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Memories of 9/11

When the editor of Bombs + Dollars heard that planes had crashed into the World Trade Towers, he knew it would change the world and affect his future path. A retrospective from 2014 on 9/11 and ISIS, originally published at China.org.cn.

I was in class in middle school when there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that airplanes had struck the World Trade Center towers in New York. The principal used delicate language when addressing the students, but I knew it was an attack. Commercial airline pilots don’t hit skyscrapers by accident. The rest of the day was surreal. Rumors circulated that a hijacked plane was heading towards my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Even after watching the images on TV when I got home from school, the magnitude of the attacks was hard to comprehend.

It was like life stood still for the next week. All news was 9/11 all the time. The National Football League and Major League Baseball canceled all sporting events that week. I went to the Cleveland Browns game the next weekend. I remember the patriotic songs they played all throughout the game. “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…” Lee Greenwood’s song became familiar at sporting events and was inserted into the seventh inning stretch at baseball games. Using the restroom, I could hear the guy next to me saying we were going to get bin Laden.

If seeing 3,000 of our fellow countrymen murdered in broad daylight and landmarks of New York City’s skyline disappeared from the sky wasn’t enough, the rest of the year featured anthrax letters and an attempted shoe bombing by Richard Reid. “Panic” might not be the right word — the threat posed by international terrorist organizations was real — but there were major changes made to people’s lives that seem unnecessary in today’s light. A school field trip to Washington, DC was canceled. Many Americans weren’t traveling anywhere, let alone to the capital.

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Korean Security Chat, II: Time to strike North Korea

“The only practical solution we have got is to make a first strike.”

Mitchell Blatt and Daniel Kim chat about North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and how this changes things.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: So let’s start with the biggest news of the year: North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test. This time it was a hydrogen bomb over 100 kilotons. That’s over 10 times as large as the last bomb it tested. Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang write in War on the Rocks that North Korea is now a nuclear power. Are they right?

Daniel Kim: Apparently yes. However, no country is gonna accept them as an official nuclear power.

MB: Have they proven they have an ICBM capable of hitting the mainland United States? Do they have the reentry vehicle?
DK: It is still questionable, though, I’m sure they can hit US soil. They have successfully completed hydrogen bomb. I don’t think that they won’t be able to develop a capable ICBM, if they haven’t already. (Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon says they might launch one at full range on Saturday.)

This reckless action wont help North Korea at all. Although almost every major American media outlet, even the Wall Street Journal, a conservative newspaper, is bugging Trump a lot, there is one thing they don’t really argue with him on. It is North Korea.

Trump may end up being the worst president in history, but I guarantee that he won’t let America get hit by external forces.

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Korean Security Chat, I: Fallout from Trump-Kim confrontation

Yesterday morning, B+D editor Mitchell Blatt chatted with former Korean army soldier Daniel Kim about the tense situation on the Korean peninsula in the first of a new series. Later that day, North Korea launched a missile over Japan. In our conversation, we discussed Korea’s relations with Japan, White House shakeups and what effect they will have on U.S. policy towards Korea, and Korean President Moon’s “North Korean sympathetic” policy.

Daniel Kim has served as an artillery man and an interpreter in the Republic of Korea Army and is currently enrolled at Eastern Washington University where he is majoring in interdisciplinary studies. He will be joining B+D on a regular basis to discuss Korea issues. Mitchell Blatt is a founder and editor of Bombs + Dollars and is pursuing a degree in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University.

Mitchell Blatt: First off, White House advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka have both been fired/resigned in the past two weeks. How do you think it will affect White House policy?

Let me start with my thoughts: Bannon was pushing for a minimalist response to North Korea. He let loose in an interview with The American Prospect the night before leaving, promising to fire many of the State Department’s East Asia specialists and undercutting Trump’s threats of military force against North Korea by saying, “There’s no military solution.” Trump was saber rattling, but it seemed like Trump was bluffing the whole time. I think Bannon leaving reflects existing White House policy more than meaning any changes. Mattis and McMaster have the situation in their hands. They want to increase pressure but do so rationally, knowing the risks of war.

You?

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Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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Why Confederate monuments should be taken down

American South and Japan share uncomfortable response to historic wrongs

The controversy over Confederate monuments isn’t new, but it has flared up in the past few years, and once again here it is front and center in the news. Because it’s not new, I wrote about it in 2015, and my thoughts are more or less the same today. And, as it happens, today is also the anniversary of Japan announcing its surrender in World War II.

This September [2015], China will host a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The United States will celebrate not just the anniversary of World War II, but also that of the end of the American Civil War. April 9 marks 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Northern General Ulysses S. Grant, unifying the United States and bringing about the end of slavery (although fighting continued under other generals).

Both wars played a role in ending brutal repression. Both wars preserved their respective federal government’s sovereignty over (most of) their land. Yet there is one more shameful similarity between the two wars, and that is this: neither Japan nor the former states of the confederacy have fully come to terms with their history.

In America, there remains an affinity among some southerners for the “lost cause of the south.” When The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote an article arguing that April 9 should be a national holiday, some conservatives, southerners, and southern conservatives reacted angrily. Rick Moran, an editor at PJ Media, accused Beutler of “hating the south.”

It shouldn’t be this way. After all, the Confederate States of America no longer exist and only existed for five years. The last living Confederate veteran died in 1951. No one today has any connection to the Confederacy.

Every country has made mistakes. In America’s case, slavery was a big one. At the same time, there is a natural desire for people to be proud of their ancestors and their history. Americans celebrate winning their independence from Britain and defeating the Nazis and Japanese imperialists in World War II.

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North Korea calls Trump’s bluff (Update on Trump’s statement)

Yesterday I wrote that Trump’s threat to send “fire, fury, and power the likes of which the world has never seen before” raining down on Pyeongyang if Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the U.S. was reckless because it would put American credibility at stake.

I said:

There are only two things that can come of Trump’s threat to respond with “power the likes of which this world has never seen before”:
1.) Trump is bluffing, and he doesn’t start a nuclear war with North Korea. Many lives are initially saved, but America’s credibility is damaged, causing North Korea to push forward with its nuclear weapons program and raising the risk of war later.
or
2.) Trump does incite a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.

It was just a few hours later that North Korea made a threat to strike Guam. As I wrote at the time, North Korea makes implausibly bellicose threats all the time, and it is wise not to always take them at face value. Yet Trump specifically mentioned “threats” in his statement (“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States”), so for him to not follow through would mean North Korea once again found his words to be not credible.

The result:
Trump just set his own, uncrossable ‘red line’ — and North Korea crossed it instantly – CNBC
North Korea just called Trump’s bluff. So what happens now? – Washington Post

Trump appears (wisely, it should be said) to have opted for choice #1 of the two choices, at least for now.

If and when the President does a real red line, however, will North Korea believe him? And if they don’t, would that mean war?

Maybe world leaders will realize that Trump is a buffoon and take their cues on America’s position from smarter men like Secretary of Defense Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, and National Security Advisor McMaster (who is currently facing an attack from the alt-right).

To that end, Mattis put out a statement, in much more refined language, that threatened strong actions should North Korea go too far but also affirmed America’s strength and ability to deter:

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Trump’s “fire and fury” threat on North Korea is reckless

Donald Trump’s saber-rattling towards North Korea has heated up as North Korea is getting closer and closer to having an operational intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the United States mainland.

This afternoon, he threatened “fire and fury” against Kim Jong-un’s thiefdom.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. He has been very threatening — beyond a normal statement. As I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Notice, too, that Trump’s strong words were made specifically in response to “threats” by Kim Jong-un and his government. North Korea makes farcical threats all the time. In 2013, years before he had the capabilities to hit even Los Angeles, Kim made a threat to attack Austin, Texas, of all places.

That Trump issued such fiery words in response to “threats” rather than anything of substance indicates his strange obsession with honor politics. He is a man whose argument for pulling out of deals is that “the world is laughing at us.” He took Cuban President Raul Castro’s absence at Obama’s arrival to Cuba as an insult to the United States.

North Korea, of course, poses some very real threats to the U.S. and its allies. It tested two ICBMs in July, prompting new UN sanctions, and a U.S. intelligence assessment holds that it has attained the capability of putting warheads on missiles.

But North Korea’s threat is just why Trump needs to be careful: hasty responses could cause miscalculation and could result in a war that would leave millions dead. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, 20 million civilians in the Seoul area and 28,500 American troops in Korea are at immediate threat of heavy artillery.

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“Free market” healthcare is a pipe dream of utopians

The healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians.

Republicans voted yesterday to move forward the process on an unformed version of the Trumpcare healthcare bill. The concept behind Trumpcare (also known as “Obamacare repeal”), as expressed by Republicans, is to make the healthcare market function more like a free market. Cut down on regulations and make end users pay more for their own healthcare, the argument goes, and there will be more competition and lower prices.

There’s just one problem: the healthcare market can’t function like a free market. Those who think it can are capitalist utopians who haven’t learned from history—the flip-side of communist utopians.

Go directly to my explanation of why the principles of free markets are incompatible with healthcare.

Whenever communists are faced with the inevitable failures of communism and radical socialism—whether it be that of the Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Khmer Cambodia, or present day examples like Cuba, North Korea, and burning Venezuela—they just as inevitably respond with one phrase, “True communism has never been tried.” No amount of data-points, no amount of evidence of human nature will ever convince them that communism doesn’t work. Nor will they be convinced that even if “true communism” hasn’t been tried, the many failures of revolutionary movements to implement true communism prove communism is fundamentally impossible to implement.

So it is with free market dogmatists. If high quality healthcare could be provided to the vast majority of people on the free market at reasonable prices, then you could look around the world for examples of a free market healthcare system working. If government regulations and universal healthcare distribution fundamentally destroys prosperity, then there would be no examples of prosperous countries with universal healthcare. American conservatives are hostile to the idea of explicitly looking to other countries (particularly “socialist” European countries) for guidance—“American Exceptionalism” and all—but looking at the world and at history is at least a good means to learn what works and doesn’t work in human civilization. It’s actually a very conservative thing to do to consider what works in practice, rather than relying on idealistic theories. After all, how do we know that communism doesn’t work?

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Donald Trump wants Republicans subservient to him

Jonah Goldberg writes about a “cult of personality” around Trump again this week. It’s a well-trodden subject, especially at National Review, in my own writings, and even from Trump’s own mouth (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue…”).

So far he hasn’t been able to translate his rabid base of supporters into much besides a solid 39 percent base of approval and a protective wall of Republican Congressmen who mostly want to do as little as possible to hold him accountable.

For all the Republicans have been leaking information favorable to Trump, going on TV making farciscle excuses, and (some of them) using questioning of Jim Comey to defend Trump, Trump has been shockingly ungrateful to Republicans for their help.

Over the past few weeks, he has attacked Jeff Sessions, his first Senate supporter, for recusing, questioned the allegiances of Ron Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who put his credibility on the line to help Trump fire Comey, and publicly threatened to primary Sen. Dean Heller, who is facing one of the toughest reelection fights of a Republican Senator in 2018, while sitting next to him.

Trump is noted for his views on “loyalty”–which got him in trouble with Comey–but it’s all about loyalty for he, not for thee.

But if there’s one thing Trump is in no short supply of, it’s narcissism and brazenness. This afternoon, the long-time Democrat demanded Republicans rally around him.

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