Thursday, December 24, 2015

Is Donald Trump taking the GOP down a death spiral?

This was first posted on Asia Times. This version has three links to other sources for readers' convenience.

I believe what happened to the Republican Party in California bears relevant lessons for the GOP, and if unheeded, will mean a disastrous outcome in the coming presidential election and for a long time to come.

If California, heretofore a trend setting state, indeed portents the future of the national GOP, this is what they can look forward to. In California, the Republican Party has not won any of the statewide offices since Arnold Schwarzenegger left the governor’s office.

There has not been a GOP elected to the U.S. Senate since Pete Wilson resigned in 1991 to become governor. Democrat Dianne Feinstein won his seat to join incumbent Democrat, Barbara Boxer. They have been the only senators from California ever since.

From the GOP side, only candidates for Senate with the credentials to win the approval of the extreme right wing of the state can win the GOP primary but they are not electable. Candidates with moderate credentials that stand a fighting chance in the general election can never get pass the primary.

In 1994, Pete Wilson faced with a difficult re-election campaign took on a strong anti-immigrant position and vigorously supported Prop 187, a proposition denying services to illegal immigrants.

Wilson found the formula to win his re-election but inflicted a long-term injury to his party. Today, nearly three quarters of the Hispanic voters identified the state GOP as anti-immigrant and voted for the Democrats. A three-to-one edge on 22% of the electorate in California has been and will continue to be a formidable hurdle facing any GOP aspirant for statewide office.

Despite his outrageously irresponsible remarks, Donald Trump continues to lead the polls among the GOP presidential candidates. If he does become the standard bearer for the 2016 election, it’s certain that Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist statements that won him the primary will backfired on him in the general election. Trump’s bigotry will come back to bite him in the rump and the consequences will be even more painful for the Republican Party.

According to Los Angeles Times and other pundits, the eventual GOP nominee will need to win almost half of the Hispanic votes nationwide to win the general election. With Trump leading the ticket, it would be the same as the proverbial fat chance.

According to a recent fact checker compilation in the New York Times, Ben Carson and Trump led the pack of GOP nominees in making false statements; as much as 80% came out of their mouths as lies. (The Democratic candidates were more modest and lied less than 30% of the time.)

Of course, the more the eventual winning candidate had to lie his/her way to a winning nomination, the more undoing of the lies would be necessary in the general campaign. Some, such as the racist bigotry comments, will be indelible and not come out in the wash.

The analogy with California is that it may be necessary to take on extreme right wing positions to lead in the polls and win the nomination. But the baggage Trump and others pile on in the race to the nominating convention may be impossible to disown in the general election.

Now fighting desperately just to win over one-third of the state legislature and keep the Democrats from a super majority, The Economist has dismissed the GOP in California as fading into irrelevance. Based on the way the primary contest has progressed so far, the national party appears to be on the same trajectory toward irrelevance.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How Beijing missed out on a K-Pop cultural event

This item was first posted on Asia Times.

Arguably nobody knows more about the unpredictability in dealing with North Korea than China. Even so, Beijing was caught by surprise by the latest flap.
Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un
Moranbong, the 21 all girl band organized and each member personally selected by dear leader Kim Jong-un and named after the peony peak in the Hermit Kingdom, was to perform in Beijing for three successive days as part of a high-profile culture exchange.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, early in the afternoon of the first day of the band’s scheduled engagement, the band members abruptly left their hotel and went to Beijing’s Capitol Airport where they boarded a North Korean passenger liner and went home. They left in such haste that not all their personal luggage went with them. Needless to say, the performances were cancelled.
There were no public announcements or explanations from the North Koreans or from the officials in Beijing. Instead, the public was left with an assortment of rumors and speculations.
One of the allegations was that Kim objected to the intense interest the local Chinese media paid to Hyon Song Wol, the leader of the band said to have had an extramarital affair with Kim. Such attention was regarded insulting to the dignity of Kim. An older rumor, clearly untrue, was that the dear leader had her executed after he came to power.
Hyon Song Wol
Hyon Song Wol in Beijing
Another, along the frivolous line, was supposedly that the Chinese officials had asked the song troupe to skip performing songs with patriotic and revolutionary themes such as songs that salute the dear leader. Again, the dear leader was insulted, leading to the sudden termination.
A more complicated narrative of the developments that led to the abrupt about face was that Kim had originally viewed the cultural exchange as a step to initiating discussions for Kim to pay a state visit to Beijing. The Beijing side demurred which naturally hurt Kim’s pride.
Of course, Beijing had its reasons for being displeased with Kim when North Korea announced that they now have the hydrogen bomb in their arsenal. This was not exactly music to Chinese ears and they had to wonder if the disclosure on the day the song troupe was entering China was Kim’s way of thumbing his nose at Beijing.
Kim’s response supposedly went ballistic and ordered the prompt departure when he found out that only low-ranking officials were slated to attend the performances and that China’s president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang along with other senior officials would be absent.
Not known is whether the downgrade of the audience to the invitation-only event was Beijing’s way of expressing their disapproval of the surprising hydrogen bomb announcement or whether the senior ranking officials were simply not fans of the North Korean version of K-Pop.
In response to the sudden departure of the performers, Beijing sent 2,000 soldiers to the North Korean border as a precautionary measure.
North Korea's one and only K-Pop band
North Korea’s one and only K-Pop band
According to the South Korean press, after the performers’ return, over 100 ethnic Chinese living in Pyongyang were arrested and interrogated for possible espionage activities on behalf of China. The movement around the capitol by China’s ambassador to North Korean was also put under surveillance.
Instead of building warmer relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, the withdrawal of the Moranbong troupe has accomplished just the opposite. The relations are now more strained than ever.
Kim Jong-un came to power in December 2011 after the death of his father. He has yet to meet China’s titular leader, Xi Jinping, and this must grate in the mind of the supreme leader—especially so, since Xi has met South Korea president Park more than a half dozen times.
The erratic and impetuous behavior of young Kim—he will be 33 next January—has not endeared him to China, but he clearly believes he can continue to stretch the limits of bilateral relations.
Moranbong in military stage attire
Moranbong in military stage attire
As I said before, it would take a tri-party alliance between China, South Korea and the US to deal effectively with North Korea. So long as Kim sees his relationship with China as “lip and teeth,” or more importantly so long as China is stuck with the lip to counter the US/South Korea military treaty, Kim will continue to vent his frustration on his only ally.
So, Beijing’s loss was that they missed 21 comely young women in modest just-above-the-knee skirts performing their answer to K-Pop popularized by South Korea. The North Korean version includes strings, guitars, synthesizers and percussion to unambiguous beat. See video
In one of those ironic coincidences that could not be orchestrated, a real South Korean, all girl K-Pop band, “Oh My Girl,” were detained at the Los Angeles International airport as suspected sex workers about the time the North Korean troupe was in Beijing. After 15 hours in detention, the band promptly flew back to Seoul. Thus, America also missed out, in this case 8 young girls, probably more provocatively dressed, prancing on stage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

America is under terrorist attack but doesn't know it

First posted in Asia Times.

November was an eventful month and may go down as a fateful chapter in the U.S. history.

First was the IS attack on Paris. The calculated, cold-blooded violence shocked and horrified the world. The realization began to sink in that fanatical Islamic acts of terrorism isn’t limited to the Middle East but can strike anywhere. IS even boasted that Washington DC would be next.

Obama finally and grudgingly joined France’s Holland and Russia’s Putin to direct their full attention on IS and defer Syria’s Assad from immediate liquidation—as if merely railing from Washington was going to topple him.

As more information about the terrorists became available, it became known that the attackers of Paris were home grown, either having been native born from France or Belgium.

Their connection with IS in Syria was actually skimpy. Some of the attackers may have visited Syria for training under IS but none were natives originally from the Middle East. This is not quite the same as the threatening impression that IS has been dispatching teams of terrorists to cities in the West.

The homegrown terrorists were typically young, unemployed without any decent prospects of a future. They lived in ghettos, suffered from low self-esteem as they were surrounded by disapproval and disdain. Their suicide vests and AK-47’s represented their last statement to the world.

As a matter of fact, whether the media and politicians deign to label them acts of terror, America is already numb from random acts of violence on a scale far in excess of what took place in Paris.

Hundreds were killed and wounded in Paris whereas in the U.S., there were more than one shooting per day and more than 30,000 died in a year from gun violence.

But according to folks of the gun lobby, Americans were not supposed to be traumatized by the daily acts of terror because these perpetrators were merely exercising their 2nd Amendment rights. Some presidential candidates even suggested that the targets of violence, such as the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, were to blame.

Never are we to blame the NRA and the gun lobby. The latest shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California by a Muslim couple may even shift the focus away from prevalence of guns in America as a problem to fear based on bigotry.

In fact, the shooters in America have a lot in common with the terrorists in Paris. The American terrorists were also disenfranchised in some way but the difference is that they can express their grudge and rage easily with guns and automatics they can buy legally in the open market and then go hunting for innocent lives.

The Obama administration has shown that they are not capable nor willing to resolve the crisis in Syria or root out the cause of IS. Letting Putin take the lead can’t be as bad as not doing anything.

Whether Obama can stop the jihadist from crossing international borders to wreak havoc in America remains to be seen. Even stopping the more urgent matter of domestic terrorism—yes, if the shooter is as terrifying as any terrorist, then he’s a terrorist—is in question.

That’s because a significant part of America is obsessed about the right to bear arms even against the interest of his/her own safety and the safety of the public. America’s fanaticism about guns is just as extreme in religious fervor as the Islamic jihadists.

If the latest incidences of gun rampage won’t convince American public to impose gun control and to deal with the reality of domestic terrorism, it would become another tragic piece missing from Obama’s legacy.