Category: Politics

On Denuclearization

They value tribalism over actual plans with specifics, objective reality, or independent thought too. The logic currently being peddled seems to be that any diplomatic overture is vastly better than nuclear holocaust. Now I’m not one to make the argument that there’s a scenario where nuclear annihilation is preferable but it’s disingenuous to call this development a stunning success.

Don’t forget that there was progress in the late 90’s — until GW took over and sought to end the Agreed Framework. The US cut back diplomatic contacts in 2001 while the new administration’s policy was under review. By 2002, NK was asking IAEA inspectors to leave. In 2005, an agreement that might have allowed IAEA inspection was considered progress. Maybe GW was justified in distrusting NK’s concessions (or *not* trusting NK with light-water reactors) — although NK may have violated more the ‘spirit’ of the agreement than the actual substance. But, historically speaking, we’ve been lowering the bar for NK for over a decade. We’re no longer seeking access for IAEA inspectors, now we’re almost looking for agreement that nuclear weapons are a heap-o bad news.

Ignoring decades of history in Korea, Trump was still complicit in the brinkmanship – taunting someone into nuking you then celebrating your negotiating skills when tensions are reduced is a bit like “hero fireman” setting blazes and then saving people from the inferno. And somehow it’s a major bonus that Trump didn’t give un-freeze 150 billion in Iran’s assets for NK? (Republican marketing is winning in the Iran discussion, and Obama unfreezing billions in Iranian assets has been conflated with the US government forking over billions of taxpayer dollars … but what that has to do with North Korea I cannot imagine)

Destroying missile engine testing sites after you’ve got one that works? Not such a concession. Hell, promising not to test any more nukes isn’t a significant concession – once you’ve got the thing working, tests become a way of reminding everyone you’ve got the bloody things. The US has been adhering to terms of the CTBT since, what, 1996. Doesn’t mean we’ve denuclearized. Last year, NK detonated a 200+ kiloton bomb and launched the Hwasong-15 missile which gives them theoretical delivery to the US. Sure they might need more testing to get a functional re-entry vehicle. Worst case, launch with an untested re-entry vehicle. And their current design isn’t as apt to be obliterated on re-entry — it merely lacks accuracy. Well, as someone who lives in the “oops, we missed” zone for a few high probability targets … low accuracy nuclear strikes are still REALLY REALLY BAD.

The WSJ report a year and a half ago about Trump conceiving a brilliant strategy for dealing with NK … after Trump spoke with Putin. The strategy? Cease joint military exercises with SK. Because damaging US / SK relations doesn’t help Putin in any way? For a guy who pulled out of the Paris Accords ostensibly because it was such a bad deal for the US (which, I guess, has plans to jettison everyone with more than nine hundred thirty seven million dollars in net worth to some secret space colony where they’ll be able to fly around extracting resources from planets throughout the solar system), this move hardly seems in line with the “America First” doctrine. Stopping the ‘war games’ is something NK wanted – they offered to stop nuclear testing back in 2015 if we stopped the military exercises. And it’s only *saving* money if you don’t spend it elsewhere. Anyone think the US military budget will decrease by a few mill if we can “save” that by avoiding US/SK joint military exercises?

So we’ve seen destruction at some missile and nuclear test facilities (journalists were invited to watch the destruction at Punggye-ri. Journalists and IAEA reps watched the explosion at Yongbyon in 2008 – the destruction of a cooling tower. After which it was discovered that NK was building a new facility to continue production of fissionable material. And they used another method to cool the reactor at Yongbyon after the cooling tower was destroyed. So destruction at a facility isn’t {a} new or {b} terribly meaningful), agreed to suspend military exercises, and gained NK’s commitment to complete denuclearization. Sounds good on it’s face, once you add complete denuclearization in there.

But there *is* history in the relationship with North Korea. Objectively – “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” is what NK was pushing for as it involves eliminating American military presence on the peninsula too. It’s not the same as unilateral denuclearization. And if they want to consider delivery capabilities – complete denuclearization means eliminating all American nukes. Not like anyone included a three page appendix detailing what “complete denuclearization of the Korean Penninsula” means to both parties. There’s also the larger context of American military policy — even if we completely withdraw troops from the Korean peninsula, how does Trump’s desire to expand America’s nuclear capacity reassure, well, anyone?

But SCIENCE!

Trump’s press conference in Singapore where he tells us about the scientific fifteen year time period it takes to denuclearize — WTF? I’ve got all the respect in the world for PoliSci studies, but it’s not *scientifically* required that “you have to wait certain periods of time, and a lot of things happen”. Unless we’re talking about complete decay of the fissionable material – in which case fifteen years is WAAAAAY short. The half-life of U-235 is like 700 million years.

Blending it down to reactor-grade, though – NNSA contracts have down-blended well over a tonne of HEU a year. The problem is 1 tonne of HEU becomes 16 tonnes of LEU. And how many reactors, submarines, and space vehicles do we need to fuel? Doubtful NK’s got facilities for down-blending weapon-grade material, but “de-enrich my stuff at your facility for free and I won’t have nukes” would be a really strong negotiating position — and as much as Trump may decry billions Clinton spent to denuclearize NK … it would be billions well spent if there were no enriched material in the country. And NK has maybe half a tonne of HEU – the logistics of shipping the shit would take longer than down-blending it.

But we’ve got a president looking at what may be a reasonable political estimate of how long it would take the country to denuclearize and calling it a scientific requirement. Which is ironic given the number of *actual* scientific things the administration feels free to ignore.

Fake Wars!

Last week in fake history: just days before the Bowling Green Massacre, Canada invaded Washington DC and razed our federal buildings.

Historical ignorance (and sure it’s scary that Trump is both so ignorant of history AND unwilling to accept counsel), aside — so what if Canada *did* burn down the White House in 1814. Say Canada *were* a country aligned with England, and they participated in the war of 1812 by invading the US and burning DC. How does that make Canada a national security threat TODAY?

Bigoted Bakers

The Supreme Court decision in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case clarifies exactly nothing — maybe the ruling would have stood if the review had not disparaged the baker’s religious beliefs. I’m not sure I’d want a baker who hates me (or something I do) to bake me a cake — too many ways to accidentially ruin a cake. Same with the photographer — why risk accidental overexposure or data loss destroying your wedding photos?

But I can see being offended when someone refuses you service based on your sexual orientation (or religion, or ethnicity, or …). I had a whole host of medical problems — eventually learned that my body does not process sugars/carbohydrates well and simply limiting sugars and simple carbohydrates eliminated most of these problems. But a decade before that discovery, the only thing that sorted amenorrhea and fibromyalgia-like symptoms was hormonal birth control pills. My insurance copay was the same amount regardless of where I purchased medication, so I used a small, privately owned pharmacy in a boutique part of town. Until my state passed a law that permitted pharmacists to refuse to distribute anything that contravened their religious beliefs. Shortly thereafter, I got lectured about my sinful promiscuity instead of picking up my prescription. I’m sure there was some way to get the pills from that pharmacy, but frankly I was insulted and more than a little embarrassed. Not that it was the least bit of their business, but I was absolutely celibate. Just didn’t enjoy being chronically exhausted and in pain. Wasn’t worth arguing about, I transferred my prescription to a chain that wasn’t staffed by people who want to pass judgement on my medical prescriptions.

Thinking back to that embarrassment, I hope these anti-discrimination laws get tested by a case where the local officials don’t editorialize — just state the action violates the law and be done with it.

Show Respect

All NFL Players ‘Shall Stand And Show Respect’ For Flag And Anthem – Wow! I wish I was an avid football viewer so *not* watching football would be a state change. Hopefully being permitted to stay in the locker room enables players to make their point. If two guys on a team of, what, fifty people aren’t on the sideline you’d never notice. Half only emerge once the anthem is over? That makes a statement too. And someone’s camera would end up in the locker room to cover the protest. Any takers on how long it is before players aren’t permitted to stay off the field after that protest makes news?

‘Show respect’ is a ill defined term too. I assume this is so you don’t have guys standing backwards, but how is hanging back in the locker room playing candy crush *more* respectful than kneeling during the anthem? And for the guys on the field, some dude who was kneeling last season is a little slouchy in his stance, the team still gets fined to avoid a presidential tantrum?

The whole idea of being forced to stand for the anthem seems anathema to the ideals of our country, even if the long history of private employment shows we can be forced into just about anything if we want to continue receiving a pay cheque. The same could be said for being forced to stand and pledge allegiance to the country 180 days a year for thirteen years. Or more – I was rather dismayed to learn that my daughter’s preschool class was taught the pledge of allegiance so they could recite it at their graduation ceremony. Now I’ve got a bit of an Anabaptist philosophy – I don’t much see the point in having someone repeat words or go through a ceremony without *understanding* what they are doing. I avoided children’s clothing with words on it – overkill, yeah, but a six month old baby doesn’t *mean* to say “I just did 9 months on the inside”, “Grandma’s Drinking Buddy”, or make a boob joke, no matter how many people find the messages cute or silly. Until she knew and understood what the shirt said, she got shirts with pictures. Or patterns. Or plain colours. So I asked my kid if the teacher explained what allegiance *is*, or even explained any of the historic principals of the United States. Of course not; they were just given words to recite. Now we’ve had some discussion of the country’s principals and failings – she votes with me two times a year (primaries and general, this is not some admission of voter fraud), we’ve discussed how to affect local, state, and federal laws (and the diminishing influence an individual has as you move from local to state to federal government). But the principals of the Republic for which the flag stands is pretty abstract to convey to a preschooler. And pledging allegiance to a flag? The essence of a nation is not bound up in its cloth banner.

Forced recitations of pledges and vows do nothing to impart knowledge, develop skills, or promote good citizenship. As an intimidation technique, forced declaration of faith and loyalty are not new, although they are generally the hallmark of an insecure society. People do not become more patriotic through such declarations, but being subject to coercion can have the opposite effect.

On Proceedure

A little more than a year ago, Trump somehow thought that associates being the subject of a judicially approved wiretap somehow exonerated him. This week, the fact the FBI had sufficient evidence that his campaign received and possibly sought the aid of foreign governments to place an informant in the campaign organization is meant to show how the whole investigation is FAKE NEWS. And, hell, for all we know someone who worked for the campaign heard about these meetings and reached out to the FBI to report it.

And he compares an FBI informant in his campaign to Watergate — where burglars broke into the DNC HQ office, installed listening devices in the phones, and then broke in again. Difference is *burglars* broke into the office and planted devices to intercept conversations (and broke in again to ‘repair’ their initial work). When the FBI uses informants, on the other hand, “special care is taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use so the rights of individuals under investigation are not infringed. The FBI can only use informants consistent with specific guidelines issued by the attorney general that control the use of informants”. Which makes Trump’s claim another bit of ‘deep state’ paranoia.

It’s not unreasonable to conclude that evidence of the campaign’s interaction with foreign powers was discovered and prompted the investigation. Have the DoJ look into it and verify the FBI followed their internal policy, although that’s a bit of a stretch. Given the number of meetings with representatives of foreign governments the campaign took looking for campaign assistance, Trump’s assertion is a bit like a meth cook saying the whole system is corrupt as evidenced by the search warrant for his lab being signed off on by a judge.

The strangest bit of the whole assertion is that a deep state conspiracy to undermine Trump’s campaign would have been far more effective if it were announced prior to the election. After the fact, it’s pretty ineffective. Best case for an after-the-fact investigation is they manage to impede the process of governing until the next election cycle. The day before the last debate, publicize (or leak) news of this investigation? A day or two before the election?

It’ll convince the 30% who are out to prove Trump right on one matter — he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and still have their support.

 

The Horrors!

The TL;DR summary of the Trump Tower meeting, by way of the Senate Committee testimony, seems to be “we wanted dirt on our opponent to help win the election, and were right eager to accept said help from Russia but this meeting failed to provide what we wanted to procure”. Which, as far as defenses go … not a great one.

While one is not meant to consider the ramification of a legal decision, Trump Jr’s testimony brings to mind prostitution sting operations. I would love to see the defendant claiming that they had not in fact engaged in an illegal activity. Sure they wanted to exchange money for sex. The sex was never provided; ipso facto the law was not broken. Case dismissed! Sorry to inconvenience you, upstanding citizen.

Seeing Crime Everywhere

There have been a few stories recently about white people ringing up the police because someone with darker skin exists. This most recent story is a grad student who fell asleep while writing a paper in a common room. Not unheard of, there were kids dozing off in the library and residential common areas all.the.time. Kids fell asleep in my computer lab too. Sometimes even the work study kids who were meant to be supervising the area and assisting with computer problems. Almost a decade ago, it was a Harvard professor and his driver forcing a stuck door at his house. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve encountered a police officer while I was breaking into a car in a car park. It wasn’t just a police officer who happened across me. Dozens of people in the plaza didn’t look twice at the white chick forcing her way into a car.

It isn’t the police response that strikes me as much as the person making the report — it’s like we need a beer summit on a national scale. Why not approach the sleeping person, wake them, and suggest their room is going to be a comfier place for a nap. Or if they wake up and want to hang in the commons area, strike up a conversation. Ask their program, tell them about your program. And if you still think the person isn’t a student (doesn’t know the names of teachers in their department or knows totally made up profs, whatever) then call campus security or the police.

Sitting is the New Smoking

Some company official posted an internal article titled “Sitting is the New Smoking” to tell us all how bad sitting for prolonged periods of time can be for your health. While they make suggestions for using your break to do some exercises or suggest cube-exercises … frankly, they’ve designed a job that requires sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Some people have standing desks. Not all. Not most. My understanding is these things were purchased as accommodative equipment the company had to purchase based on medical need. If sitting is as bad for your health as smoking, did the company not just publish its own statement of medical need to support widespread purchase of standing desks?

Beyond near-term costs, though, the assertion brought to mind the Black Lung Benefits Act from nearly two decades ago. While mine operators may have been able to reduce exposure to coal dust, some level of exposure to coal is requisite in mining the stuff. A generally unavoidable environment based on the work being done caused a major medical problem that led to disability and death, and companies ended up shelling out disability payments and survivor benefits. It wasn’t quite the least they could possibly do to quell public outcry, but there are a lot of *’s on qualifying that let reasonable requests be denied or pushed off for years without retroactive payments. Even so, the payout is like eight grand a year per afflicted miner. And there are like 30k recipients (and something like 5k dependents, which can drastically increase the annual payout). That’s minimum two hundred forty million bucks in 2017. And it’s a LOT less now than a decade ago. There are nuances to determining the payer, but it is generally the mine operator most recently employing an affected individual. A significant portion of this money has been payed by mine operators.

Sitting at work is different from exposure to coal whilst mining coal. There’s no reason most jobs require sitting for hours on end. Historically there’s a component of elitism — a hundred plus years ago, low paying jobs were physically intensive, and it was a bit of an elite thing to be able to sit at work. Now the sign of affluence is a few spare hours a week to exercise, and sitting is just a norm no one has sought to change. If a company is aware of how bad sitting is for its employees, seems like said company would have a better defense against liability if they actively attempt to re-design their workplaces and jobs to avoid sitting. Sending out a mass mail telling you how bad something is or having a webinar to tell you how bad it is … but generally employing people to sit for hours at a time isn’t much in the way of due diligence. Routinely deploying standing desks, even in training classrooms, would reduce mandatory sitting among call centre staff. Walking meetings for one-on-one or small group sessions.

 

The History Of War And Peace

As Plato says for Clinias of Scambonidae — “For (as he would say) ‘peace,’ as the term is commonly employed, is nothing more than a name, the truth being that every State is, by a law of nature, engaged perpetually in an informal war with every other State.”, I have seen peace not as the normative state but as a temporary interlude in an ongoing war. What first drew me to study history was observing the chain of treaties to ‘end’ European conflict that extorted and humiliated the defeated parties. The Peace of Westphalia established the supremacy of the nation-state over religious states, but it also begat machinations to maintain a “balance of power” whereby ‘balance’ more or less meant your nation maintained some level of control throughout the continent. The Treaty of Frankfurt, with the indemnity France was forced to pay and territory it was forced to cede, did nothing to establish good will on the Continent. The Anglo-Ottoman Convention allowed British dominance in the Middle East, and the borders created largely ignored ethnic division. The Treaty of Versailles punishment of Germany undermined the Weimar Republic. European nations learned, my professor asserted, and sought to ensure the treaty ending World War II wouldn’t follow the long chain of humiliating, punitive treaties. An assertion ridiculous on its face – border adjustments in the Balkans under the Paris Peace Treaties begat revolution and conflict decades later as ethnically different peoples lumped into the same country broke apart.

Punishing and embarrassing a nation, or lumping people with a long history of conflict into the same country are hardly conducive to lasting peace. I oft wonder if that was the point — see: Eisenhower’s military industrial complex speech. Demanding four billion dollars from King Salman may not be an insurmountable financial burden to the Saudis, but such payment would certainly be seen as a national embarrassment. Violating the US out of the Iranian nuclear deal — and an extrapolation of what the US will ask from North Korea — is just another event in a centuries long chain of “we win, FU” so-called diplomacy.

Viewing North Korea’s summit in light of Iran – either a set of conditions are acceptable in North Korea but not Iran or North Korea will be told to completely eliminate their nuclear capabilities. It’s one thing for Korea to offer to dismantle their testing facilities — frankly, nuclear testing is frightening, and once you’ve got a bomb there’s not much point in repeatedly exploding a nuclear device — but denuclearizing and permitting frequent, invasive inspections to ensure the program is not renewed … that’s a big ask.