Author: Mitchell Blatt (Page 1 of 20)

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Trump flunks Middle Eastern geography test

While Donald Trump was meeting with Israelis, he seemed clueless as to Israel’s geography. “We just got back from the Middle East,” he said.

Some Twitter users thought they caught Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer stiffling a laugh.

Other things we have learned from Trump himself in his short tenure in office:
– Frederick Douglas is just now getting the credit he deserves.
– Korea was once a part of China.
– China has 8,000 years of history as a civilization. (Even the Chinese themselves only assert 5,000.)
– The Civil War would have been so easy to prevent. Andrew Jackson would never have let it happen!

And some we’ve learned from the Trump press office and other members of the administration:
Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons. Well, at least he didn’t use chemical weapons on his own people. I mean… (via Spicer)
The Jews didn’t suffer enough in the Holocaust to afford a specific mention on Holocaust Remembrance Day. (the whole administration)
Historically black colleges were pioneers of “school choice,” not the result of segregation. (DeVos)
– Trump had the largest inauguration crowd in history. (Spicer)

The exclusive cartoon was drawn by Xia Lan and provided to Bombs + Dollars for use.
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These past two weeks of Trump scandals were entirely predictable

The Republicans played with fire, and now they’re gonna get burnt

The past two weeks have brought developments in the ongoing saga of America’s executive office dysfunction that have shattered even previous high water marks of unbridled incompetence, corruption, and abuse of power. On May 9, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on transparent pretexts. A couple of days later, Trump admitted his pretexts were false. Later he made a threat to Comey, who is invited to testify before Congress, about having supposed “tapes” of his conversations, and the White House still won’t say if it is recording conversations, even as it faces a subpoena from Congressional investigators. Now, in the past few hours, it has come to light that Comey produced a memo stating Trump had told him to end the investigation into Michael Flynn.

If Trump’s attempts to derail the Russia investigation weren’t enough, Trump met with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov literally the next day after firing Comey. Apparently without the White House’s permission, the Russian government photographer shared photos of the two men yukking it up in front of Trump with the Russian media that would go viral around the world—even as Trump didn’t allow any American photographers to capture images of the meeting. Didn’t Trump already learn from Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions the perils of meeting with Kislyak?

But the optics disaster was only foreshadowing what the public would soon find out happened during the meeting.

On May 16, it was reported by the Washington Post that “Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador.” The information revealed was reportedly enough to let Russia figure out the source of intelligence shared by an ally (a very strong ally that Trump made much of claiming to support). Trump’s irresponsible mouth puts Israeli spies in ISIS-controlled territory at risk. It may threaten U.S. intelligence-sharing with Israel.

The saddest thing is, this was all completely predictable.

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Fox News pundits have got to be feeling embarrassed now

No less than 2 days after Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Fox News’s leading prime time hosts, and some guests repeating White House spin on the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Donald Trump stepped in to scuttle their (and his own) narrative.

On May 10, the day after Comey was fired, Joe Concha joined Tucker Carlson to bemoan the media’s coverage of Comey being fired in the midst of an investigation Trump desperately wants to go away. Concha repeated Trump’s claim that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein recommended Comey be fired.

“You have a Deputy Attorney General, just appointed two weeks ago, 94-6 vote, so he’s not seen as a partisan, recommending that Comey be gone,” Concha said.

That echoes statements from the Trump administration attributing the firing to Rosenstein’s purported recommendation that Comey be fired. The letter signed by Trump says, “I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” The statement from the White House press office says, “President Trump acted based on the clear
recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”

On May 11, however, Trump admitted that he himself made the decision to fire Comey. In an interview with NBC News, Trump said,

He [Rosenstein] made a recommendation, he’s highly respected, very good guy, very smart guy. The Democrats like him, the Republicans like him. He made a recommendation. But regardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time do it!

He also said he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire Comey:

And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

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Hugh Hewitt on James Comey then and now

Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt defended Donald Trump’s act of firing FBI Director James Comey, who is presiding over an investigation of Trump’s campaign and administration officials for possible collusion with Russia’s interference in the election, on the grounds that Comey shouldn’t have held a press conference announcing the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email server. The press conference, in which Comey condemned Clinton, was viewed by many, including Hewitt, as damaging to the Clinton campaign.

Here’s what Hewitt wrote in his syndicated column defending Trump:

Last summer an old D.C. hand took me to one of those Beltway places of lore for lunch and a cigar and talked candidly about how shocked he was at then-FBI director James Comey’s decision to publicly discuss the Hillary Clinton email investigation and to walk the public through a hundred details of the case and then conclude she should not be prosecuted. Agree or disagree with that decision, he said, it’s not what the FBI does. Ever. Agents present facts to prosecutors. They may nudge or even push in one direction or the other, but they don’t decide. My interlocutor, a former assistant U.S. attorney and then-senior official in numerous positions and companies, was not so much outraged by Comey’s actions at the time as puzzled, perhaps even shocked.

Curiously, in an MSNBC segment with Brian Williams on the day of Comey’s press conference, Hewitt said of Comey’s decision to announce publicly:
“I think he may have made a political decision in the best interest of the FBI.”

One wonders how it could have been in the best interest of the FBI if it had harmed trust in the FBI or in the FBI’s director, as Hewitt and other conservatives now argue. Hewitt was either wrong then or he’s wrong now.

In the Brian Williams segment, Hewitt was never asked directly about whether he thought it was the right decision to announce. He did, however, make many gleeful statements about how much he felt the announcement hurt Clinton.

“Look, she wasn’t indicted today, but she was convicted. Director Comey convicted her of lying repeatedly about not receiving or sending classified markings. She was convicted of being vulnerable to hostile agents. Her aides are convicted of actually having been penetrated by hostile agents. So I think you’re going to see Donald Trump and his surrogates in the Republican Party play the Comey press conference again and again and again. It was damning.”

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First thoughts on election of Moon Jae-in as president of Korea

The election turned out just as expected. Moon Jae-in won with just over 40 percent, right around where the final polls predicted. The moderate and conservative split the hard-on-North-Korea vote. In fact, the next three candidates combined, conservative Hong Jun-pyo (KLP), moderate reformer Ahn Cheol-su (People’s Party), and reformist conservative Yoo Seoung-min (Baerun), combined for over 50 percent.

While Moon has expressed the desire to visit North Korea “if the time is right” and talk, he might be constrained by the political and security situation, I write in a forthcoming column I will link to.

UPDATE: My article is now published: A new president and new opportunities in Korea

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Korean presidential hopefuls campaign with children’s song on final day

It’s the last day of campaigning before the Korean presidential election to replace impeached and indicted Park Geun-hye. That means Korea’s top candidates have mobile campaign platforms set up in Seoul to give speeches and sing children’s songs.

The song they really love to sing is a modified version of “Airplane” (비행기), which is itself a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The lyrics, “Let’s fly…”, have been replaced with the names of the candidates (listen for “Mun Jae-in” and “Hong Jun-pyo” in their respective songs).


Overall, the mood and location of the rallies seems to reflect the particular personalities and support bases of each candidate.

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What both sides would say about healthcare if they were honest

With the passage of the “Obamacare repeal” bill in the United States by Republicans in the House of Representatives last week, the debate over healthcare is full of bad faith arguments, oversimplifications, and lies.

Much of what the bill does is being mischaracterized, starting with “repeal.” The bill didn’t call for repealing Obamacare. It would change Obamacare. It would cut Obamacare. But it wouldn’t repeal Obamacare.

The Republicans, arguably because they are in the majority and thus must put forward an expansive argument about what their bill will do, are responsible for some of the most egregious dishonesty. But the Democrats have been intellectually dishonest in some of their attacks on the bill, too. It doesn’t “classify rape as a preexisting condition.”

The main reason each side has to resort to bad faith arguments is because they don’t want to be honest about the ideological underpinnings of their convictions and the costs and benefits of each approach.

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May elections: Why Korea and United States should consider two-round voting

It looks like when Koreans go to the polls to elect their next president on Tuesday, May 9, it will be the sixth time in their seven elections as a democracy that the winner did not receive a majority of the vote. Coming two days after the second round of the French elections, it ought to be a time for Koreans and citizens of other democracies around the world to consider the pros and cons of two-round voting systems.

In the wake of the Park impeachment scandal, Koreans are once again debating why their presidents are such bad leaders and what can be done to fix the system. Park is only the third Korean president to have been arrested after leaving office. Another, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide in the midst of an investigation. Presidents in the pre-democratic era have been assassinated, deposed by coup, and died in exile. One proposed reform is to allow for Korean presidents, who are restricted to a single five-year term, to run for reelection. “In order to get them motivated to not be as unpopular as they usually end up becoming, a good idea is to give them the opportunity to run for a second term,” John Lee said in an interview with Bombs + Dollars.

Another idea would be to have two-round elections.

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Bret Stephens, climate change, and “debate”

Bret Stephens is a good writer and a bright conservative mind. From the paranoid demagoguery that has taken over the American right, to the threats facing democracy around the world, to American foreign policy, and more, he had valuable things to say about many topics on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. What he is not, however, is an authority on global warming or climate change.

So it is strange that such a talented columnist decided to write about climate change in his first column in his new role with The New York Times. While he didn’t dispute that climate change is happening, he did question whether scientists and reporters asserting it is happening, with what he characterized as “total certainty,” undermines their case.

The left-wing responded just as expected: Joe Romm, environmental obsessive of ThinkProgress/Climate Progress, and the very publicly activist climate scientist Michael Mann both said the Times never should have hired him, and Mann called for people to unsubscribe. Conservative predictably responded that the left is anti-free speech and doesn’t want a debate.

Both sides should spare us the unhinged hyperbole. Of course no one should unsubscribe from the Times just because of one columnist writing one column.

But at the same time, open debate about Stephens’ views—and those of anyone else—should be encouraged. The right says they want a debate. Let’s have one.

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15 candidates, Trump posters, and a conservative divide in Korea

South Korea’s presidential election is coming up on May 9, and some supporters of break-away conservative candidates are using Donald Trump to make campaign appeals. Like most events that feature Donald Trump, it is chaotic.

Former president Park Geun-hye, who was the leader of the conservative Saenuri Party, was impeached in December, removed from office on March 10, and arrested March 31.

Her party quickly rebranded itself as the Korean Liberty Party, and Hong Jun-pyo, governor of South Gyeongsang Province, which borders Busan, was nominated as the KLP’s candidate for president in a primary that featured a paucity of strong conservative candidates. Former UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon briefly flirted with the idea of running for president as the conservative standard bearer, but apparently 2017, the year when the party is emerging disgraced from a major corruption scandal, just didn’t attract many takers. Hong is polling between 7-13 percent in recent polls.

Already Korean conservatives were divided by disaffection with Park. Even before the scandal was uncovered, the Baerun Party emerged as a group of conservatives in the National Assembly who didn’t strongly support Park. Now it includes 33 legislators and draws 3-4 percent of the vote.

Still, over a month after Park was removed from office, the grassy square outside of City Hall Station is filled with older conservatives waving Korean and American flags while bemoaning what they consider “a conspiracy to communize the South under the pretext of the unjustifiable presidential impeachment,” as a sign says.

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Representing the Saenuri supporters who still can’t let go of impeachment is Rep. Cho Won-jin, a legislator who has newly constituted a party with the name Saenuri and says he will “punish those who led her impeachment and seek Park’s release.”

But even the new Saenuri Party isn’t enough to satisfy all never-let-go conservatives. So on April 19, outside Sinchon Station, a university district nearby Yonsei and Ihwa universities lined with bars and restaurants, flag-waving middle-aged and senior Koreans campaigned for Nam Jae-jun, who served as leader of the National Intelligence Service under Park.

Nam, who represents the Unification Korea Party (or Patriotic Korea Party), said in 2013, “Unification is possible in 2015. Let’s die together to bring about the unification of our land under liberal democracy.”

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