President Trump cancels diplomatic trip to North Korea, blaming everyone else

Blaming North Korea and China rather than his premature announcement in June that “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” President Trump tweeted today that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not visit North Korea as planned because of insufficient North Korean progress toward denuclearization. But Trump apparently did not want North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to take the snub too personally, for the president also tweeted “warmest regards and respect to Chairman Kim.” Which seems to me to take diplomatic niceties a bit too far while turning away from the more difficult work of face-to-face negotiations.

Trump also said that he himself may visit his good friend Kim in the future, once China kowtows to the U.S. demands on trade and obeys Trump by putting more pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program. Trump may be waiting awhile.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is not waiting for Trump to make peace or launch a war. He has proposed new economic and diplomatic measures with North Korea and has called for officially ending the Korean War, which North Korea wants but the U.S. still refuses to do, even though there has been no actual “war” between North and South Korea for decades.

A meeting of the three nations, possibly including China, too, to officially end the “armistice” with a peace treaty may do much to coax North Korea to make more serious movement toward dismantling its nuclear arsenal; a peace treaty between the South and North would merely acknowledge what already exists, please both nations and cost the U.S. nothing. Of course, as always, reducing our own nuclear capability would also help ease tensions with both North Korea and Russia; for that we all will keep waiting.

Ocean Plastic Pollution: Trump administration has its head stuck in a (plastic) bottle

You may have missed the news (as I did) that back in June, when the G-7 group of nations met in Canada, the United States, led by the Trump administration, opted not to sign a joint declaration to address the critical problem of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans.

Known as the “Ocean Plastics Charter”, it was signed at the G-7 summit by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Japan also did not sign on. While the U.S. is not among the world’s worst plastic polluters–we are ranked 20th–, we are in close proximity to vast floating islands of plastic in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. And, of course, being a large nation, we generate a lot of plastic. As Philip Bump of the Washington Post reported back in June:

In other words, the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean — which is a problem, including because of the negative health effects on sea life — is more a function of the United States than any of the other member nations of the G-7. That, too, is a function of scale, but it doesn’t really matter. Like climate change, the United States contributes more than other major developed economies.

And yet, despite our obvious role in the production of plastic pollution and our large coasts and marine life and fisheries that suffer from it, the Trump administration was not interested in agreeing to a basic statement of plastic pollution reduction. Here is part of the charter’s language:

We resolve to take a lifecycle approach to plastics stewardship on land and at sea, which aims to avoid unnecessary use of plastics and prevent waste, and to ensure that plastics are designed for recovery, reuse, recycling and end-of-life management to prevent waste through various policy measures.

Seems a pretty rational, gradual approach to the problem. So what was the issue for the U.S. and Japan?

Trump and Co., in the end, left the summit in a huff and didn’t agree, at least by signature, with anything the G-7 group had discussed. Reducing plastic pollution in the oceans will not be addressed at the federal level for awhile, it seems, but the rest of us can begin to pull ourselves and the oceans out of our plastic civilization by using less and recycling more plastic.

 

Pacific Environment

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Congressional Republicans See No Evil

Given the serious legal difficulties involving President Trump and other Republican representatives as revealed yesterday, Axios reports that a “top GOP guru” offered this bit of political analysis: “The Republican Party looks like a criminal enterprise.”

This dour view is not shared by Congressional Republicans, at least for the moment. Though former Trump lawyer and handyman, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty in federal court to, among other things, paying off two women at the direction of Trump (who say they had extra-marital affairs with the president) “for the principal purpose of influencing the election,” Congressional Republicans are withholding judgement. The Republican feeling seems to be that if Russia has nothing to do with it, what’s the big deal?

Serious charges, hey, Sen. Lindsay Graham? 

“Campaign finance violations — I don’t know what will come from that, but the thing that will hurt the president the most is if, in fact, his campaign did coordinate with a foreign government like Russia. Anything short of that is probably going to fall into partisan camps.” —NY Times

So a federal felony is now in the eye of the partisan beholder.

What about you, Sen. John Cornyn? Are you prepared to act upon Cohen’s statement in court?

“I have no idea about what the facts are surrounding his guilty plea other than the fact that none of it has anything to do with the Russia investigation.” —NY Times

I see. Well, Cohen said–this is a fact–that then-candidate Trump instructed him to . . .

“Well, I’m not very happy about it. It should never have happened to begin with.”–CNN

But it did happen. Shouldn’t the president be held accountable?

“The president should not be held responsible for the actions of the people he’s trusted.”–CNN

But Sen. Cornyn. Cohen said, under oath, that Trump directed him to make the payments. Wait, where are you going?

Ok, how about it, Speaker Ryan? Is impeachment in the works?

Ryan’s office responds: “We are aware of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point.”

Yes, but what about the information about President Trump’s alleged involvement?

Silence.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, surely you have something to say? Impeachment or indictment? 

Silence.

Fortunately, there is always one person in the District of Columbia whom we can count on to have something to say. Or tweet. President Trump himself had this to say in a tweet this morning about Cohen’s pleading guilty to high crimes:

Michael Cohen plead guilty to two counts of campaign finance violations that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled!

So the president claims that Cohen plead guilty to two “violations” that are not a crime. The violations are, in fact, felonies. Felonies are a crime. Obama’s campaign was merely fined for failing to report all donors in a timely manner. Obama himself was not involved. Notice that Trump does not deny what Cohen said he did– told Cohen to pay-off the two women.

Look! There’s Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley! Chuck, what’s the legal ramifications for President Trump after what Michael Cohen said in court? Impeach or indict? 

“All we know about it is he’s plead guilty and everything else that you’re asking me about is speculation. And I don’t think I should be speculating.” —CNN

Well, here’s some speculation: the eyes of the nation are opening up. At some point, maybe not until the November election, the vision of Congressional Republicans will also improve.

Is American “Romantic Conservatism” a Thing?

A recent short piece in The Atlantic caught my attention: “John McCain and the End of Romantic Conservatism.” Romantic conservatism seems an obvious oxymoron.

The author of the piece, Benjamin Wallace-Wells, contrasts the international idealism of Sen. McCain–now ill with cancer and absent from the Senate–with the “America First” nationalism of President Trump and most other D.C. Republicans through an interview with Mark Salter. Salter is McCains’ long-time speechwriter and co-author of a new McCain memoir, The Restless Wave:  Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations. 

Sen. McCain is apparently a conservative “romantic” in the eyes of both Wallace-Wells and Salter because he still believes in spreading democracy and human rights (McCain has long spoken out against justifying torture), rather than making nice with various dictatorships. While this may be true, McCain has also been a leading vocal supporter of U.S. military intervention in the neoconservative vein.

Neoconservatives are, to put it bluntly, anti-romantic warmongers.

Diplomacy, in which people romantically, idealistically attempt to resolve international conflicts without resorting to war, has not been a big part of Sen. McCains’ conservative philosophy. But, on the other hand, Sen. McCain did work with former Sen. Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform and cast the deciding vote to preserve what remains of the Affordable Care Act; McCain was also censored in 2014 by the Arizona Republican Party for his supposedly liberal voting record. So I suppose that, compared to most American conservatives, Sen. McCain is “romantic.” Wallace-Wells writes of the general acclaim McCain is now receiving:

But the homage has been so personal that it has obscured the political matters of why the President continues to make an enemy of him, and of what conservatism will lose when McCain is gone.

What conservatism will lose when Sen. McCain is gone is a moderating voice (at least in terms of domestic policy), but to what extent has American conservatism in general ever been “romantic” in the literary/philosophical sense of the word?

I’d say, except for the marginalized agrarian conservatism of someone like Russell Kirk (which links back to the agrarianism of Thomas Jefferson), just about zero Romanticism. Conservatism and conservation have long been divorced, as has official conservatism and the imaginative emotion of sympathy for the disadvantaged. I do believe, however, that there is a true source of Romantic conservatism (traditional liberalism?) to be found in Britain and Canada. More on this in a following post.