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The death of Otto Warmbier is an outrage. Mr. Warmbier was a University of Virginia student, apparently with some wanderlust and a sense of curiosity. So he arranged to go on a tour of North Korea. The North Korean government made him out to be an enemy. For what? For briefly considering stealing a poster.

I’m not sure what the right answer is with North Korea. But the “strategic patience” route. doesn’t appear to be working. There needs to be a serious consequence for Mr. Warmbier’s senseless death, and I don’t think simply tightening economic sanctions on the whole country would be effective. It’s not the government that gets hurt by those sanctions, it’s millions of innocent, already abused people. I’ll leave it to others to speculate on what specific actions we could take, but I’m sure the State Dept. and the Pentagon have a menu of measured, proportional responses – without resorting to overt military conflict that would needlessly harm innocent people – to get America’s point across to a man with a luxurious private island and a $7 million yacht. I recognize this is complicated by the fact that the North Koreans have other prisoners, but doing nothing or doing something weak, will only invite further outrages. The North Koreans must learn that thuggishly beating one of our citizens to death over a poster is not worth it. This is not how civilized countries act.

Mr. Warmbier was a young man, full of promise, and empty of malicious intent. Kim Jong Un chose to send a message to our government by murdering him. We need to send a strong message back that even he can understand.

1TF

A last thought on the general election in the United Kingdom.

Take a good look at the Labour party ads, particularly two that went up near the end of the campaign. The first one uses the a cover of the Keene song “Somewhere Only We Know”. The visuals look like a takeoff on the old Reagan “Morning in America” ads, but whereas the narrator in the Reagan ads talks about how far America had come in four years, these ads had an aspirational quality, “Look who we are, look who we can be, and look who really cares about us.” The song strikes a sad but hopeful tone; if it’s patriotic, it’s of the “look what we could be” variety.

The second has candidate Corbyn quoting Shelley’s “Masque of Anarchy”:
“Rise like lions after slumber,
In unvanquishable number ,
Shake your chains to earth like dew,
That in sleep had fallen on you.
Ye are many,
They are few.”
That first line “Rise like lions …” is an inspiring summons of the trumpet, and then the commercial builds with scenes of teeming crowds gathered for Corbyn. He starts the poem alone, but by the time he gets to the end, some in the crowd are reciting with him. The ad makes you feel the momentum of the Labour campaign, and the tag line, “For the many, not the few” is an effective way of making a class-based argument. Without being angry itself, it appeals to the same rage that motivated the Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump movements in the United States.

The ads wouldn’t work if there wasn’t an actual groundswell; those teeming crowds shown in the ads are real. I still find it hard sometimes to see the appeal of a candidate as far to the left as Corbyn. I think that, like Bernie Sanders, Corbyn is peddling a utopian economic plan where the numbers don’t work. So I for one underestimated him, or maybe overestimated the policy realism of the British public. But it was something to see him increasing in both strength and confidence near the end. And – other than Brexit where he switched to being pro-Europe – Corbyn’s been offering the same political philosophy for decades. In an age where people are desperate for authenticity, that sort of consistency can be attractive; it turned his stale bread socialism into French toast. He didn’t win – people seem to have forgotten that – but he wildly exceeded expectations, strengthened his party (especially his wing of that party) and weakened his opponents. He is to be congratulated.

I return to the ads to say this – Americans take note of them. You’re likely to see ones quite similar to them in our country next year. They were quite good.

-1TF

Reputation

Over the coming weeks, we may be getting an object lesson in the importance of a person’s reputation. Reputation matters. Reputation is something that is built up by years of discipline and habit. Reputation is not character – character is what you are; reputation merely what people think you are. However, if one is in the public eye enough, so that the public has had a sufficient amount of actions to judge a person by, than reputation can serve as a rough approximation of character.

James Comey has a strong reputation built through three decades of diligent service in the law. Perhaps the most dramatic example of James Comey’s independence and willingness to go where the evidence lay was in 2004 when as Deputy Attorney General, he faced down the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff and refused to agree to the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program

I’m not a President Obama fan, but I was impressed by his decision to appoint James Comey to the FBI Directorship; it showed Mr. Obama was serious about the FBI investigating alleged crimes without fear or favor. Mr. Comey had built a reputation for fair play that both parties appreciated.

Then there’s President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has built a reputation over the course of the last three decades too. It’s one of brashness, attention-seeking and ignorance.

Yesterday, Mr. Comey said accusations the White House had made about him and the FBI “were lies, plain and simple.” Today, Mr. Trump answered in kind, saying what Mr. Comey said wasn’t about their meeting wasn’t true. Whom to believe? It’s times like these that you wish you had built up a reputation for integrity and truthfulness. Mr. Comey has; Mr. Trump hasn’t. And in the next few weeks, Mr. Trump may come to wish he had.

-1TF

Tomorrow, voters in the United Kingdom will go to the polls to vote for Parliament. The terrorist attacks they have endured will be on their minds as will the ramifications of Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has fallen precipitously in opinion polls in the past month, from a lead of 20 percentage points when May called the election to just a single point this week. The Labor Party ought to be ready to sweep into 10 Downing Street. But that’s unlikely due to its standard bearer.

The Opposition Leader is one Jeremy Corbyn. an avowed socialist, advocate for unilateral disarmament, former supporter of the Provisional IRA (not simply the regular IRA, but the actual violent wing), who used to be paid to appear on an Iranian government TV show. In short, the Labor Party nominated someone who is anathema to a lot of regular Britons might otherwise be tempted to support a change in government.  Labor has the good fortune in that voters simply vote for their own particular Member of Parliament, but having Corbyn on the ticket – even with him performing better than expected in the campaign – is probably a drag on their ticket.  Political myopia seems to be a problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  Amongst the major parties of Britain, France and the United States, only the UK Conservatives chose a candidate who wasn’t eventually detested by the other side (and May is merely perceived as “okay, although we have our doubts”.)  Conservatives are poised to hold onto power by default; May ought to avoid pretending she’s got a significant mandate.  Her steep fall in the past month indicates she will not.  Were it not for Jeremy Corbyn helming the party of the left, she might not even have 10 Downing Street.

-1TF

Today is D-Day, the 73rd anniversary of the Normandy invasions which began the Allied retaking of northern Europe. It is good to reflect on the bravery and devotion to duty of so many who gave up so much – for some it was their very lives. For many on the homefront, it was, like today, a relatively quiet Tuesday – they didn’t yet realize their son or brother, husband or fiancee, or father was being torn from them.  We owe the dead and wounded our gratitude.  We also owe it to learn and employ the important lessons their sacrifice yielded.  A few of those lessons are particularly timely these days.

The first lesson is that hard undertakings are a little easier when there is effective cooperation.  D-Day involved the cooperation of many allies, primarily Americans, British and Canadians, but also some Australians, Free French, Irish and citizens several other countries helped in the assault.  America is the strongest nation, but we’re not the only nation.  Other Western nations are usually our friends, and as frustrating as they (and we) can be, we should be try to care and feed these relationships as best we can.

The second lesson is the importance of security; be careful whom you allow access to information. Operation Overlord involved loyalty and secrecy. Allied headquarters conjured an entire fake Army division to convince the Germans we were either attacking at Calais or even into Scandanavia rather than Normandy. Given recent headlines, one is left to wonder if a similar diversion could be used to today, given the willingness of some in the press’ interest in printing anything in the rush for clicks, and the willingness of those trusted with secret clearances (e.g. Snowden, Manning, Winner) to provide their favorite press outlet with secret information.

The third lesson is that completing a great enterprise will entail patience and perseverance. The Normandy invasions were not initially successful. Anyone who watched Saving Private Ryan saw some of the difficulty in achieving a beachhead. None of the major military objectives were taken on that first day (although the Allies were able to establish a beachhead).  It took six weeks of effort for the Allies to capture the last of those objectives, the village of Caen.  The enemy was working hard to stop them.  Another enemy is working hard to stop the West.  Patience, vigilance and perseverance are still key to eventual victory.

Appreciate what those brave soldiers did, and learn from their efforts so that we may be up to the challenge we face, just as they were.

-1TF

 

Perhaps I’m getting jaded. I read today where there’s a plan to publish the daily morning scriptural meditations that Hillary Clinton reportedly received from her preacher, the Rev. Dr. Bill Shillady. My first thought was, “I guess she’s really planning on running again.” She barely uttered a word about religion in the 2016 race. Her campaign appeared to see the business community and the secular progressive party base, neither of which cotton to a lot of “God talk” as the key to victory in November, and campaigned that way.

Now, she may be seeing something different. Hillary may also be channeling Mitt Romney. In 2008, like Hillary, Romney ran for his party’s nomination and finished second. The second time around, he won the nomination (albeit with little party enthusiasm) and was defeated in the general election. Had he thrown his hat in late in 2016, the party establishment may well have welcomed him. And in a general election, he, like most Republicans, would have had a good chance against the polarizing Democratic nominee. Secretary Clinton may see a path like that opening up for her. Whoever wins the Democratic nomination in 2020 would have a very good chance against the incumbent were he to run for reelection. And Clinton may well think she’s got as good a shot as anyone in a contested primary next time.

For those who think it can’t happen, picture this – several Democrats (e.g. Senators Warren and Booker, Governors Cuomo and Patrick) all run to the left, trying to get that energetic movement progressive vote; that leaves an open lane for the one so-called centrist (really the one ambitious non-ideologue) in the race, especially if those progressive candidates – all of whom see a savior of the progressive cause in the mirror – refuse to drop out early. In short, she runs the Trump campaign on the Democratic side Trump was the least conservative (and for my money, least likable) candidate in the Republican nominating race. But the conservatives – all spoiling for a run against Hillary – failed to drop out, and split the base vote, allowing Trump to win.

This also appears to channel Bill Clinton’s comeback after losing the Arkansas governorship in 1980. Bill Clinton had been perceived as being more liberal (particularly by hiring some liberal out of state staff) than he had let on in the 1978 campaign. The Clintons called in Dick Morris, tacked to the center, and won the mansion back in 1982.

As much as many of us would like to see the Clintons move on to a dignified retirement, I just don’t believe either retirement or surrender is in their vocabulary. It’s a bit early to write Hillary’s political obituary. I admit it’s jaded, but I really have to wonder if this book of morning meditations is the first move in a long game for 2020. Maybe she’s sincere – maybe. With the Clintons, one often has to wonder.

-1TF

Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each died on this day. It’s also World Environment Day; I must admit, I hadn’t realized “WED” existed; I’m trying to understand how it’s different from Earth Day. Nevertheless, in the spirit of World Environment Day, I thought I’d write a little about something these two prominent American political figures offer us in our current political environment.

As it happens, RFK and Reagan each offers something particularly valuable to his party’s opponents. Kennedy, a liberal Democrat, showed that sometimes, when you feel your own party is on the wrong track, you need to speak up. Kennedy saw Johnson as being from a different wing of the same political party.  He also found Johnson to be a dishonest, deeply flawed human being on a personal level. Nevertheless, Kennedy supported President Lyndon Johnson on subjects like civil rights and poverty, where he agreed.  But then Kennedy came around to thinking (rightly or wrongly) that Johnson had gotten the country mired in an unwinnable war in Vietnam early in 1967. He, like many in the media, saw a “credibility gap”, where the facts on the ground in Southeast Asia didn’t square with what the White House was saying.  At that point, Kennedy challenged Johnson on the subject. RFK knew that party loyalty had its limits. He was not going to continue following a man he loathed who was enacting policies he opposed.  Republicans may want to note this.

In 1976, Reagan also opposed a leader of his own party (ie. Gerald Ford); that was mostly ideological, not personal, as even Reagan would tell you Ford was a decent man. Democrats may want to take a fresh look at Reagan for a different reason. Reagan’s overarching philosophy in the 1980 campaign against Carter wasn’t all that different from Barry Goldwater’s in 1964, but his approach was miles apart. Goldwater saw himself as a courageous speaker of hard truths. Reagan was a bit more of a pragmatist, and crucially, he appeared transparently to like people, even those who disagreed with him. Democrat attacks on him as apt to start a war didn’t square with the warm images voters saw on television. It was said of Reagan that when a baby saw him, the baby smiled. People are more likely to tolerate policies from the other side of the political center if they believe the person is pushing those ideas actually likes them. Many of the 2016 voters who surprised with their votes were those who had felt forgotten or disregarded by the party in power. In the 80’s, it was different. Reagan liked the American people, including his opponents – and even his opponents knew that. Perhaps that’s one reason the political environment was a bit healthier then.

– 1TF