How Do You Like Your Blue Eyed Boy Mr. Death?

(Reposted from icky Facebook)

Regarding Pete Ricketts, our bloodthirsty “Catholic” governor, and his pious [sic] God the Father Joe Ricketts: you both can feel good today about having put to death a helpless prisoner of the state for no reason other than that you desperately wanted to. You did it despite a legislative veto override by usurping the legislature’s constitutional authority to make law. You spent hundreds of thousands of dollars – of your own money and ours – to do it.

You did it despite the courts ordering you to divulge the source of your illegally obtained drugs, an order you never obeyed because it would have legitimized the lawsuits brought against you by the drug companies you stole your death drugs from. You broke the law to do it. You admitted the drugs you are using were improperly (and incompetently) stored at room temperature and may be corrupted – you did it anyway.

You did it despite your faith’s universal condemnation of the death penalty – in all cases – calling this church doctrine “the pope’s opinion,” which you somehow “respect” but ignore, thus demonstrating your defiance of your faith’s commandments when they do not fit your agenda. In fact, you did it despite your membership in a diocese group that pledges fealty to the pope’s teachings (time to resign from that one). You did it despite the last-minute pleadings of your Bishops, your Priests, your Sisters – despite the desperate pleadings of some 600 clergy, in fact, comprising the bulk of the Catholic faith community in Nebraska. You did it despite pleas from tens of thousands of ordinary Nebraskans.

You did it despite the academic community having soundly debunked your garbage theories on “deterrence,” which you know have always been garbage theories.

You have no reasoning to stand on. You are not reasonable.

In the end, you did it for one selfish reason: to demonstrate that you arbitrarily wield the power of life and death over us powerless peasants. And you believe if you can hold that terrible power over us, you hold complete power over us. You can kill the state’s prisoners—or not kill them—for your sport, for now, and that probably feels like the ultimate power, like the power of God. But we all know how history ultimately treats would-be tyrants who ignore their conscience, abuse their powers and defy the law they were elected to uphold. It’s too late for justice – vengeance has owned the day. But I believe that one day, justice will be served.

And you won’t like how that feels.

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White Man’s Brethren

I am white, and a man. That puts me in some storied company, and it also puts me in a category. How should I feel about my story? My company? My category?

It’s true I never owned any slaves or denied anyone a seat on a bus or at a lunch counter, but I live in a nation where much of the capital city was built by slaves, where for centuries men who look just like me bought and sold people as if they had that right. And even after that wrong was undone, Jim Crow laws and – now – quiet institutional racism (in the courts, corporate America, schools – it goes on) keep African-Americans at arms length from the breaks, resources and opportunities whites take for granted. And of course I live in a history-damaged culture that automatically assumes the best about me as it automatically assumes the worst about black and brown people.

Everywhere I go. I don’t get followed around in stores, people don’t cross the street when I’m walking towards them on the sidewalk. I haven’t been pulled over in 30 years. And even if I were to be pulled over, chances are I’d be treated with automatic respect rather than automatic suspicion.

All of which means that even if I don’t promote racism or racist hegemonic policies, I benefit from those in power who do, as do those who keep them in power with their votes. And that means staying silent about this massive inequity built into our system is a kind of silent assent. It is equivalent to the “wink” received by the late student who is the teacher’s pet, while the other late students languish in detention for the same offense.

In today’s parlance, what I am trying to achieve is known as being “woke”. Part of that is being awake to the reality that it is not laziness, or genetic differences (which don’t exist by the way) or even cultural differences that leave African-Americans and other “visible” non-whites behind the starting gate and perennially behind the curve. it is our color-coded institutions themselves, and our willful ignorance of the reality of the lives of minorities, that perpetuates this inequality, this injustice that has spanned centuries.

There are plenty of statistics on this, if you’re into that. But it should not be necessary to see the hard data to know, as an American, that our playing field is far from level. You see it play out every day, in the color of gangsters, the color of kids in detention or juvenile court, the color of kids in failing schools, versus the color of kids in private preschools, suburban Debate Team kids, Senate interns, private college alumni and beer-soaked fraternity brothers. Yet we persist in this fantasy – that “everyone” has the same chances to work hard, get ahead, be successful, what have you. We trot out anomalous examples like Colin Powell (2nd gen Jamaican American) and Barack Obama (2nd gen Kenyan American) as if these men put the lie to the millions of citizens who are struggling to stay alive and make ends meet in a society that cares little about whether they do or not.

In fact, these examples do more to prove the rarity of such achievement than how common it could be “if minorities would only take advantage of all the opportunities this country has to offer”. News flash: those opportunities are rare in the ghetto. Powell and Obama are unicorns, the million-to-one black Americans who never lived in public housing, whose family legacies in this country did not begin with being another man’s property. But they were still black. They made it big despite the mountain of obstacles that still stood in their way. So yes, these are exceptional men. And we could expand these examples to people like Clarence Thomas, Valerie Jarrett, Maxine Waters, Oprah, Beyonce, Tiger, and all the way back to ML King, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and further back to W.E.B. DuBois, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglas, not to mention the many successful black and minority athletes, entertainers. and business achievers over the centuries.

But the fact that we can name so many of these people from memory demonstrates that they are the exceptions, not the rule. And good for them, for their amazing talents show us also that there is by no means an intellectual, creative or moral “advantage” to being white (as Thomas Jefferson fervently believed). Quite the contrary: it is the narrow thinking and immorality of white America’s past-into-present that has kept their numbers so low. Witness also how many of these well-known and well-regarded black Americans are from our recent past, a time when at least the non-corporate world has opened up more and more opportunities for minorities to demonstrate their chops. It is particularly interesting to note that where black and minority Americans seem to succeed the most – in athletics, in entertainment, in the military, in medicine, in politics and the law – these are fields where your success depends the least on “who you know” and the most on “what you can do.” Yes – sisters are doing if for themselves, and brothers are willing to work it out.

Of course, we can say the same thing about women. How many female Senators were there in 1950? How may female CEOs? How many female Supreme Court justices? Was it because women back then were too “emotionally unstable” to hold such authority? Of course not, it was because the idea of mental weakness was projected onto them by men who were bent on retaining the exclusivity of their governing club. Having lived with women all their lives, having had mothers who raised them, they knew all too well of the vast capabilities of women. They simply pretended such abilities were overshadowed by an “Achilles heel” attributable to their sex. Nothing personal, ladies!

If I ever feel put-upon or unfairly judged for being white, or male, or a white male, I need to remember to suck it up and embrace the pendulum theory and the various philosophies of liberation that instruct my thinking:  if I am going to identify as a white man (as I must), I need to humbly acknowledge my cohort’s past behavior (and in too many cases, present behavior). I may not be responsible for it personally, but I am – by virtue of being born and especially by virtue of enjoying the tacit “entrée” of a white man’s world – a legacy member of the club that is responsible. Unless I vociferously  condemn the actions of men who have controlled and brutalized whole societies and half the world’s population for centuries (even when women are IN the same society), it would be reasonable to assume I tacitly condone such actions and beliefs. After all, I benefit from them.

But I condemn them now, and will always condemn them. Here is my humble manifesto: I reject the politics of hegemony, and in fact the very idea of hegemony, in what should be celebrated as a diverse, pluralistic society capable of fairness and equality, both under the law and in terms of the preparation of the next generation and legal reparations for those who’ve been oppressed and denied opportunities such as I have had for far too long. As we continue to divide along political lines, I am not on any “side,” because there should be no sides. I am on the side of justice, equality, and fairness.

Perhaps this is akin to what William Blake—a cultural rebel–was thinking when he wrote, “I must create a system, or be enslav’d by another man’s.” I am trying to live these words, to reify this vision, not just say the words to hear myself talk in lofty tones. And I’m not waiting for consensus. These words are true in and of themselves.

So if the pendulum is finally swinging, at least in the cultural imagination if not in the actual halls of power in 2018, the other way–toward condemnation of past practice and the awakening of those who suffered so long under the arbitrary caprices of various white European manipulators and oppressors—then I can draw no other conclusion but that it is a good thing. If as a result we, the reverse doppelgangers of the likes of Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions and Adolf Hitler, need to stand aside and let these people breathe free and speak their minds freely regarding our past performance, that is a good thing too. (I am suddenly reminded of South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation” commission. Maybe we need one of those.) If we all celebrate equality and, on the part of the oppressor demographic, practice humility and reconciliation, then perhaps the idea of egalitarianism can eventually take hold among the populace at large and, eventually, work its way all the way up to corporate board rooms and Washington’s halls of Ivy League-branded power. We’ve done something like it before (shout out to MLK and Barack). But in 2018 we have dropped the ball.

Although there are powerful forces arrayed against those who would leave nostalgia for the old white America behind, I think the majority of society will keep pushing that pendulum to the side of equality and universal liberty for the simple reason that we in the privileged class are outnumbered—soon we white folks will be just another minority. And if nothing else will motivate us, perhaps the looming prospect of  our chickens coming home to roost will. It’s how the good stories end, after all, with the downfall of the tyrant, brought on by those under his thumb who realize they have the will – and now the numbers. As we become that minority, I hope we will not need the threat of revolution to get all the way past the notion that anyone deserves any special privileges merely by reason of the circumstances of their birth.

End the Charade

It’s time for journalists to stop pretending the president doesn’t know what he’s doing – that his egregious policies are somehow “blunders” or based on a faulty understanding of how the world works.

That’s a cop-out. I don’t believe that. I think the president knows exactly what he’s doing: he’s weakening this nation economically (stupid tariffs) and in the eyes of its allies (stupid NATO belligerence), and undermining the rule of law (attacks on the Justice Dept.) all while cozying up to dictators (Kim, Putin, Xi)  with whom he identifies and shares values like strength and dominance over enemies (so many enemies). The president is not “ignorant” about democratic traditions and principles (like telling the truth or not enriching oneself via federal office, for example). No, he is simply antagonistic towards them. Whether this is based on learning, persuasion or his famous “instincts” does not matter. He is the anti-American president and he’s not shy about that. His supporters rejoice when he pardons criminals like Joe Arpaio and the insurrectionist ranchers. They don’t like the government, and neither does he.

Instead of “explaining” to the president how his policies threaten the very core of this society, journalists should start asking WHY the president and his allies in Congress are taking positions and implementing policies that threaten this society. The question they must answer: Why are you hurting your own society?

  • We have a trade war with zero stated goals or expected outcomes. Why? Why have a trade war and not say what you want? Vague accusations of “unfairness” are not something the Chinese can work with, especially when the stick (tariffs) is wielded before even attempting the carrot (negotiations). For that matter, there are no established lines of communication or designated teams on either the US or Chinese  side dedicated to negotiations from here on – all we have is the war. For what reason do you start a trade war – one that is sure to damage your own economy – when you have no stated demands which, if met by China, would end the war? One answer: the president is simply doing what he can, with the tools he has, to cripple the American economy.
  • We have repeated accusations that NATO countries aren’t “paying their fair share” – likening the countries of Europe to Trump’s deadbeat apartment tenants in Queens. Over and over, the president repeats the lie that NATO countries are “delinquent” when they are no such thing. The 2% GDP defense spending goal was just that – a goal. Not a commitment, not enforceable by any means, and most certainly not an amount “owed” to the president or anyone else. The 2% goal was a shared policy goal among sovereign democracies, not a “promise” to the United States. Why do we allow the president to keep pretending he does not know this?  It’s a simple thing to learn, and for my part I don’t believe he does NOT know this. He is simply using this lie as an excuse to do the dirty work of tearing down a post-WW2 alliance that has kept Europe (and America) protected from Russian expansionist policies for decades. He is actively weakening the alliance for no reason that could possibly help America or Western societies in general. Why? And who DOES it help when NATO is weakened?
  • As for the Justice Department – is America ready to concede that our own Justice Department is a secret society of Hillary worshipers and Deep State luminaries who “really” run the department for the sole purpose of continuing Obama-era policies and de-legitimizing the icky Republican president for purely partisan reasons? After firing FBI director James Comey for the stated reason that he was “thinking about the Russia investigation” (this is obstruction of justice, for those interested), the president has proceeded on a “witch hunt” of his own, transforming an obedient, feckless Congress into his own personal Spanish Inquisition bent on prosecuting a “corrupt” Justice Department. Yes, as the Mueller investigation racks up confessions, indictments and guilty pleas from the president’s campaign staff, the Justice Department overseeing that investigation is all of a sudden a quagmire of corruption and lies requiring Congress to intervene and “fix” it. That’s right. The president and his crew, under multiple investigations which have turned up multiple instances of criminal wrongdoing threatening the very existence of this nation –they are the ones being persecuted. It is the Justice Department and the FBI that are now criminal, because of course in this scenario, where they are piling up the evidence against you – they have to be. This is what’s known in lawyer circles as “putting the police on trial.” When your client is obviously guilty, you find a way of making the police look even more guilty by virtue of the methods they used to uncover and prosecute your wrongdoing. And abuse of power, you know, is much more serious an offense than – what – having a conversation or two with some Russian friends who just want to help both nations break through this silly Crimea annexation sanctions business and start making deals? And when you have a devoted throng of willfully ignorant followers in Congress and at your endless “love me” rallies (who hate your new enemies as much as you do, they just need you to point them out), it’s even easier to make the prosecution of your illegal behavior look like a partisan smear job. But again, it is incumbent on us to ask: Why destroy the American public’s faith in its institutions devoted to the rule of law just to provide cover to a president whose campaign for office was a hotbed of criminal traitorous activity, a man who lies to the American public every single day and will continue doing so? How is that a trade-off that ‘s good for the nation? Or if it’s not good for this nation, who IS it good for?

 

Divided We Stand

I was going to link to an Omaha World-Herald article here, but now can’t find the confounded thing. It’s an article by Erin Grace, a great reporter. But she was apparently given the assignment to write about the “common ground” between conservative and progressive neighbors in the Field Club area as they prepare for their non-political July 4th parade. What she found there were a progressive gay couple who try not to talk politics with their clients, and a Republican woman who is a stay-at-home mom (and she recycles). Her husband, a more politically active Republican, wasn’t home. Also, they were interviewed separately, not together. Hm.

 

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The article was an earnest attempt at completing the writing assignment, so why did it just make me more pessimistic about this society’s future? Maybe because the very few (3) subjects in this article really don’t represent the enormous gulf that has opened up between those of us who want a compassionate government and those who want a Trump-style regime of fear and intimidation. The two progressive men seem reasonable enough, to be sure – they are tolerant of their conservative clientele and “listen” more than talk with them. Who wouldn’t? And the “conservative” woman (who recycles?) seems normal enough – but of course her “politically active” conservative husband wasn’t available for comment. What would he have to say?

So – three Omaha neighbors, none of them straight white males, trying to put on a no-politics parade, working hard trying not to hate one another. Good stuff. But what if the journalist went beyond the niceties and started asking the progressive guys how they feel about kids in cages at the border? About the EPA being run by a flagrant criminal who hates the EPA? About Flint or Puerto Rico? Trump-Putin “summit” coming up and zero action on Russian election meddling? The millions of tax dollars being spent each month at Trump golf courses? The $82 million Jared and Ivanka made last year as “administration officials”? Continued insults to our allies and continued praise for dictators like Kim, Putin, Xi, Duterto? The economy-killing Trump trade war? Or how about the administration ignoring Pride Month, weakening LGBTQ legal protection, and trying to rid the military of trans people?

And how would the “conservative” woman defend these policies and this president? Would she defend them? We’ll never know. Perhaps it was incumbent on the World-Herald to go out and find some real Trumpers to provide the (civil?) “counterpoint” to the gay men’s politics of inclusion and tolerance (or even the Republican woman’s recycling)? I’m sure that a true Omaha Trumper (there are thousands out there) would have had a full-throated response consisting of lively arguments supporting the Trump agenda. They would also have let the reporter know exactly how they feel about liberal gay people and their wedding cakes, and I’m gonna go out on a limb here and predict that their defense of the administration and their ideas on liberals would not sound like “civility” to anyone not on board the Trump train. Go find some of those Nebraska boys in the MAGA hats “rollin’ coal” with their modified diesel trucks—the anti-environmentalists this state is famous for–sticking it to the libtards in their rice-burning Priuses. Or you could go to Lincoln and interview that Nazi student. Or if that’s too tough, just go talk to the governor and his cronies in the legislature. They’ll be happy to tell you what’s wrong with liberals and Democrats, and that they really ought to just keep quiet and leave the running of Nebraska to the GOP patriots.

The problem, I guess, is that the reporter was sent to interview “liberals” and “conservatives” about tolerance and partisanship. They left out the group actually running the country — the Trumpers.

America

It’s like when a loved one dies. Maybe you saw it coming, trying to prepare, but then it just rushes up into reality and becomes real and undeniable much more quickly than you were ready for: they are dead, and they are never coming back. Rest in Peace.

You look outside the window of the hospital waiting room after the team of doctors quietly leaves – the sun is shining, birds are singing, in the streets people come and go, traffic lights blink on and off. Why? Why does everything insist on continuing when your world is crushed like this? Everything should stop, and mourn with you. Because things will never be the same.

But it won’t stop. The world is the world, a machine, it runs even when we are broken down. It will run and run. Maybe it will do some recognizable things – day, night, winter, spring. But we’ll be different, changed, having lost some part of us we can’t really define, though we know it was an important part. The reality we occupied is gone, killed by a disease we are powerless to fight alone. And right now we all feel terribly alone.

It’s gone. It’s not coming back.

Rest in Peace.

Life in Thin Air

I realize the Squid has been a boring series of political screeds of late, for the most part. I can’t help it. I feel like an invisible Thomas Paine, distributing my pamphlets to an invisible New England. I suppose a lot of us invisible types feel that way. (When everyone has a megaphone, all we hear is a big noise.)

But in America there still exists, for now, a place called RMNP – Rocky Mountain National Park. The family and I recently scootered up there, to a great little rented house right off the main drag in Estes Park, CO. That might seem odd, but this wasn’t our first Estes Park rodeo (they have those too),  and we’ve learned the reason downtown is downtown is that it’s the middle of everything. Being smack in the middle of downtown means you are smack in the middle of everywhere you want to go. What’s more, even with a crass commercial “strip” 100 feet from our door (and down the mountain), if we look any other direction we see – you guessed it – mountains. “Slanty living,” I call it, where there’s nowhere to set your water bottle or your camera bag down because the ground is just not flat anywhere. It’s the same in downtown Estes as it is everywhere else (except the golf course).

I love Estes Park not just for its scenic beauty, but also for its built-in mid-century kitschiness. It’s a compact little vision of what American vacationing was always meant to look like: beautiful views, fresh mountain air and sun, shady RV parks, ice cream and taffy, Indian jewelry, and mini golf. Lots of mini golf. We even took the tram up the mountain this time, something we’ve never bothered to check out on earlier trips. It was fantastic. Very trammy, just like you’d expect. 

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But getting up into the park, into the real mountain air – that is the reason you go. It’s materially different, a different feeling altogether than walking around at sea level, buying gum or waiting for a bus or something. You are acutely aware of every moment – every breath, really – because the air is not giving it up for free, the oxygen. You have to work for it. And if you do you get that new energy that will take you up one more vertical foot, or yard. But it’s not unpleasant (for me, though it can be for some) to work for it. To greedily gulp up the mostly-nitrogen air to capture  those few precious oxygen molecules a lungfull offers. It’s a challenge. And the light – the light seems to be somehow unbowed from the atmosphere up there – pure, brilliant – razor sharp, enough to cut through what haze there might be, the misty mountain mornings, within an hour or so. (From our vantage just above the city, our cabin’s big front window captured the whole “bowl” of downtown Estes, and in the mornings sometimes the clouds were lying down on the mountaintops, a misty blanket. It burned off by 10 or so, replaced with that big smiling sun that, as bright as it shines, can be a devil to locate among all those pointy peaks. They shadow one another, or the cloud shadows roam across their glowing granite rock faces and clingy pines.)

And the water – of course all the water up there is snowmelt, erstwhile ice racing down the mountains on all sides to find its new level. Such a hurry! Over polished boulders and rotting aspens and pines, fish flipped out by anglers where it runs smoother on the levels. Crystal clear, but foaming and bubbling too, mountain champagne – you want to stoop by the bank, cup a hand and drink its coldness (but you don’t). Here you can find a peaceful wood at the Wild Basin – near the foot of Long’s Peak, a few yards from that pond where we saw a young moose at play in the still water –a peaceful place that is not peaceful at all, as you step into the woods and feel the momentum of the river crashing over huge rocks and coming together in that unmistakable sound of rushing water gone mad with flight, obstacles be damned. Subtle at first, like a highway in the distance, when you arrive it’s a jet engine next to your ear, yet it’s peaceful noise, nature’s noise, with just you, your family, the rocks and the water and the trees, those immortal sentinels. A kind of cacophonous silence, a blaring quiet. It’s other-worldly, because usually we don’t get to live in this other world – the real world. Usually we’re stuck in the rough copy we made.

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We won’t make a habit of future trips to the Rocky Mountains, it would not be fair to those who suffer from the altitudes. But I at least will probably need to find my way back a few more times, for the refresh. I have an inner, insistent need now, at this part of life, to find such soul-enriching places and promptly suck up the enrichment they offer. My soul depletes—especially during this tragic moment my country endures, when we continue to phone in our former lives in a kind of embarrassed, resigned dull dread while we wait for the other shoe to drop. And the one after that.

The canyons of Utah proved to be such a place (but also high in the sky, a bit ironic for canyons). So too the canyons of Chicago or New York – electric cities– where the thrill to the soul is more man-made but no less evocative of that unnamed thing—the essence of life—the thing that escapes our book of days and visits us only when we set it aside for a respite, a rest, a difference. Such moments, we think – the fleeting moments, almost invisible as if glimpsed out of the corner of our soul’s eye—such moments are a brief delve into what our world was meant to be for us, before we lost our way: bright, electric, alive, immediate, moving—moving—never at rest, but always at peace with its wild self.

 

 

 

 

The Trickster and the Fool

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It’s disheartening to see the U.S. – North Korea kabuki theater performed again and again, always to the advantage of the Kim dynasty and the disadvantage of the West. The dictatorship has one unerring talent: the ability to fool American presidents into playing their zero-sum game. It starts with the rhetoric – bombast hurled at the new U.S. leader in hopes it will be returned (worked like a charm this time around). Then the nuclear brinkmanship (the reason for NK’s program being diplomatic leverage), and the ensuing worldwide panic, followed by the “high level” talks that pull all threatened parties into the mix (China, South Korea, Japan, etc.). The cumulative effect of these actions and their media-grabbing headlines is the only one the Kim dynasty is interested in, namely worldwide recognition of the power, legitimacy and importance of the North Korean regime.

But Kim, like the American president, is playing mostly to a domestic audience. The message? “It would be dangerous to remove me during this (never-ending) crisis.”

Americans should (but probably don’t) remember that this all played out previously, in 1994 under the Clinton administration and later between 2006 – 2007, as the Bush administration announced a “path to normalization” with Pyongyang. For both “agreements” North Korea had agreed to demolish its nuclear development facilities (!) and in the 2007 negotiations provided (doctored) footage to prove it had done so. Clinton and Bush were, of course, hoodwinked as today’s evidence shows. The 1994 Agreed Framework and 2006-2007’s so-called Six-Party Talks were nothing but stall tactics. The result is a nuclear-armed North Korea, now with ballistic missile capabilities. Soon they will have a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile, if they don’t already, capable of striking anywhere in the world.

Today, apparently, the regime released three American prisoners , two of them having been scooped up under the current U.S. administration in order to create the leverage Kim is now strategically ceding. This is of course part of the wider, long-range gambit, which also includes a seeming cool-down between the two Koreas. Now the U.S. president will become overconfident. He will strut into the summit trap Kim has set thinking he has “the advantage.” (It’s The Art of the Deal, you know.)

I predict that at the peak of bilateral negotiations, per the dog-eared script, the Kim regime will find an excuse to introduce delay after delay as they produce false promise after false promise, backed by false evidence, their mission having already been accomplished: widespread media coverage of their power and influence, and a U.S. regime that has completely lost face by walking into their predictable, time-worn diplomatic trap. My question bares repeating: How will he react?

This is why the Obama administration refused to even engage with North Korea – they knew from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s experience that there was nothing in it for them. Unless sponsor state China does something about the Kim regime’s recklessness, there is nothing to be done by any other parties short of starting a world war:  China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran versus an isolated United States.

I hope it comes out differently this time, I hope North Korea is serous about denuclearization. But I’ve never seen the sun rise in the West.

Update: When I’m right, I’m right. Also – that was fast.