Hollywood, Sunday, February 24, 2019 – There’s a glow in the distance, about ten blocks east. That’s the Oscars. They’re handing out the little gold statues again. This happens every year. The locals hide, but everything will be back to normal by noon on Tuesday. They strike the set on Monday and cart it all away. They clear the streets. And then everyone forgets it all. It was all about fantasy and illusion after all, or delusion – none of it matters much – but this year was special. The show had no host. The Academy couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t morally or ethically or socially compromised, and thus unacceptable, or anyone who wanted to stand up there and offer ironic banter to those rich and famous and pretty and smug perfect people for three hours. And that worked just fine. Everyone knew what to do. There was no need for anyone to stand up there and pretend to tie it all together. They’d only embarrass themselves. Things would run fine without them. Things did. People know what to do.
That’s one way of looking at the Trump presidency too. People know what to do. But we have a host, and this host’s clever banter doesn’t help. It makes things worse. The Washington Post reports this:
The White House plans to create an ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet, according to three senior administration officials.
The National Security Council initiative would include scientists who question the severity of climate impacts and the extent to which humans contribute to the problem, according to these individuals, who asked for anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The group would not be subject to the same level of public disclosure as a formal advisory committee.
This is quite simple. Everyone is all wrong about all of this, and these guys will explain that, but no one can ask who the hell they are and where they come from – there will be no public disclosure. There will be no public record of their deliberations. There will be statements. That’s the plan:
The idea of a new working group, which top administration officials discussed Friday in the White House Situation Room, represents a modified version of an earlier plan to establish a federal advisory panel on climate and national security. That plan – championed by William Happer, an NSC senior director and a physicist who has challenged the idea that carbon dioxide could damage the planet – would have created an independent federal advisory committee.
But they couldn’t go that far:
The Federal Advisory Committee Act imposes several ground rules for such panels, including that they meet in public, are subject to public records requests and include a representative membership. The new working group, by contrast, would not be subject to any of those requirements.
But that’s okay, because Donald Trump is angry:
During the Friday meeting, these officials said, deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman said President Trump was upset that his administration had issued in November the National Climate Assessment, which must be published regularly under federal law. Kupperman added that congressional Democrats had seized upon the report, which is the product of more than a dozen agencies, to bolster their case for cutting carbon emissions as part of their Green New Deal.
It seems that scientists in his own government and his own government in general have been going out of their way to make him look bad, so he found the one man who would make him look good:
Happer, who headed an advocacy group called the CO2 Coalition before joining the administration in the fall, has challenged the scientific consensus on climate change inside and outside of government.
Public records show the coalition, which describes its mission as informing policymakers and the public of the “important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy,” has received money from far-right organizations and donors with fossil fuel interests.
In 2017, according to federal tax filings obtained by the Climate Investigations Center, the group received $170,000 from the Mercer Family Foundation and more than $33,000 from the Charles Koch Institute.
And thus things will be fair and balanced:
One senior administration official said the president was looking for “a mixture of opinions” and disputed the National Climate Assessment, a massive interagency report, in November that described intensifying climate change as a threat to the United States.
“The president wants people to be able to decide for themselves,” the aide said.
The president wants the public to decide that these deluded fools are dead wrong:
In 2003, the Pentagon commissioned a report to examine how an abrupt change in climate would affect the country’s defense capabilities: Its authors concluded that it “should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.”
Last year, a military-funded study warned sea level rise and other climate impacts could make more than a thousand low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean “uninhabitable” by midcentury, including an atoll where a missile defense site is located.
Just last month, the national intelligence director delivered a worldwide threat assessment that “climate hazards” including extreme weather, wildfires, droughts and acidifying oceans are worsening, “threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”
People do know what’s happening and what they need to do without commentary from the current master of ceremonies, however clever he might be. In fact, the guy is embarrassing, and, in fact, dangerous:
Retired Rear Adm. David Titley, who served as oceanographer of the Navy and chief operating officer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the new initiative could imperil national security by clouding “truthful assessments of the risks stemming from a changing climate.”
“I never thought I would live to see the day in the United States where our own White House is attacking the very science agencies that can help the president understand and manage the climate risks to security of today and tomorrow,” said Titley, who sits on the advisory board of the Center for Climate and Security, a nonpartisan group focused on climate-related risks. “Such attacks are un-American.”
Not only that, Josh Marshall says such attacks are totally pointless:
From what I can tell from the Post article the idea is at least in part to scour the federal government for climate denier scientists, get them all on one panel and produce reports which dispute the scientific consensus on climate change. At some level, sure, they’ll get a government report that says climate change isn’t real or isn’t caused by carbon or humans or whatever. But to the extent that we have a big minority of the population that currently disbelieves climate science, mainly for partisan reasons, they don’t seem to need more encouraging. They’re doing fine disbelieving it on the basis of things they hear on Fox News or seeing guffaws when there’s a cold spell on the theory that that disproves ‘warming’.
And there’s this:
What’s equally true is that the Trump administration seems quite content to disregard the views or findings of government scientists and continue to pursue their fossil fuel intensive policies. Various laws can allow government findings to constrain policy decisions. But the Trump administration generally seems comfortable disregarding them or changing the regulations that create the constraints.
And there’s this:
The world and basically everyone in the United States, regardless of which side of the equation they’re on, realizes that the US government is officially indifferent to climate change and against the range of policy actions virtually every other government in the world, at least in principle if not always in practice, supports. It’s hard to see how this changes that or even strengthens that position. It seems more like just a rightwing hobbyhorse…
In short, it’s unnecessary clever banter that’s just kind of embarrassing for everyone. The man just says things, and some want him to stop that right now:
A bipartisan group of 58 former senior national security officials will issue a statement Monday saying that “there is no factual basis” for President Trump’s proclamation of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The joint statement, whose signatories include former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, will come a day before the House is expected to vote on a resolution to block Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration.
The former officials’ statement, which will be entered into the Congressional Record, is intended to support lawsuits and other actions challenging the national emergency proclamation and to force the administration to set forth the legal and factual basis for it.
They’ve had enough:
“Under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the president to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border,” the group said.
They say this is the actual evidence:
Among other things, they said, illegal border crossings are at nearly 40-year lows. Undetected unlawful entries at the U.S.-Mexico border decreased from 851,000 to nearly 62,000 between 2006 and 2016, they said, citing Department of Homeland Security statistics.
Contrary to the president’s assertion, there is no documented emergency at the southern border related to terrorism or violent crime, they said, citing administration reports and independent think tank analyses.
Similarly, they state that there is no drug trafficking emergency that can be addressed by a wall along the southern border, noting that “the overwhelming majority of opioids” that enters the United States are brought in through legal ports of entry, citing the Justice Department.
They keep citing his government’s reports. He keeps saying that his own government has been going out of its way to make him look bad – all of it – every damned parts of it. They’re all out to get him. He hates his own government because his own government obviously hates him – or something like that. But there’s more to this:
They also argue that redirecting money pursuant to the national emergency declaration “will undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.” And, they assert, “a wall is unnecessary to support the use of the armed forces,” as the administration has said.
So this is more than embarrassing. This is dangerous. And this is not new:
Some of the same former officials wrote a joint declaration disputing the factual basis for the president’s order shortly after he took office in January 2017 barring entry to foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The former officials asserted that the order was not based on a bona fide national security assessment but on “a deliberate political decision to discriminate against a religious minority.”
The guy just says things, and this has to stop:
Senior Senate Democrats on Sunday demanded that President Donald Trump’s second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “demonstrate tangible, verifiable progress on denuclearization and reducing tensions” with the rogue state and urged the president to “execute a serious diplomatic plan” when the two leaders come face to face in Vietnam this week.
Sure, go to Hanoi, but don’t just say things, don’t wing it:
“We hope,” the lawmakers wrote, “you will execute a serious diplomatic plan, which includes a sequenced process to verifiably freeze and roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs in conjunction with continued appropriate sanctions and other pressure; a robust deterrence posture; strengthened alliances; intensified diplomatic and economic engagement; and a deepening of North-South dialogue that over time can provide the pathway to full denuclearization and a durable peace agreement.”
In fact, don’t do what you did last time:
The Democrats criticized the president’s June summit in Singapore with Kim, arguing that the historic meeting granted “legitimacy and acceptance on the global stage” to the “leader of perhaps the world’s most repressive regime.” Trump was the first sitting American president to meet with a leader of North Korea, which has technically been at war with South Korea since 1950. An armistice was signed in 1953.
Since that first conclave, the lawmakers said they “remain concerned” after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ told Congress last month that North Korea is unlikely to surrender its nuclear weapons.
“We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its weapons of mass destruction capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival,” Coats told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee – breaking with Trump’s assessment that the U.S. is making progress in its efforts to persuade North Korea to yield.
Everyone seems to agree that Trump will fire Coats soon, because he and these Democrats and everyone else are wrong:
“Chairman Kim realizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that without nuclear weapons, his country could fast become one of the great economic powers anywhere in the World,” Trump tweeted Sunday morning. “Because of its location and people (and him), it has more potential for rapid growth than any other nation!”
Approximately an hour before the Senate Democrats released their letter on Sunday afternoon, Trump posted another message online: “So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!”
He’ll wing it. What good did planning ever do anyone ever before? And he’ll do it one-on-one with Kim. No one in his own government will ever know what they said to each other. Nothing else has ever worked, so this has to work. That’s only logical, right?
And so he’s being a bit casual about it all:
Days ahead of his second summit with Kim Jong-Un, President Trump is redefining success in his bid to force North Korea to relinquish its nuclear program, tamping down public expectations amid evidence that Pyongyang has done little to curb its weapons production.
Trump is hopeful that his bilateral meetings with Kim this week in Hanoi will re-create the international media spectacle of their historic first summit in Singapore last summer – and perhaps distract from mounting domestic political turmoil. But wide gaps remain between U.S. and North Korean negotiators, who have yet to agree on a basic definition of what “denuclearization” means to both sides, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the talks.
That is a problem – even now neither side knows what the other side is actually talking about – and there’s this:
Senior Trump aides have privately expressed skepticism over the prospects that a deal can be reached to significantly advance the largely symbolic agreement announced in Singapore. Some fear that Trump could feel pressure to make a major concession to Kim during face-to-face talks, including a one-on-one session, in hopes of securing a reciprocal commitment he can herald as a political victory.
The guy just says things and they’re afraid of what he just might say off the top of his head, because he is winging it:
In recent days, Trump has sought to create the conditions to declare the summit a success regardless of the outcome. Having once demanded that the North give up its weapons quickly, Trump said last week he is in “no rush” as long as the regime maintains a testing moratorium on nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles that has been in place since November 2017.
“I have no pressing timetable,” he said, adding that he expects his meeting with Kim in Hanoi won’t be their last.
That’s not exactly comforting, and there’s Foster Klug, the AP’s bureau chief in South Korea, who has covered the Koreas since 2005, with this worry:
The nightmare scenario heading into the second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un isn’t so much “fire and fury” and millions dead. Rather, some experts fear the meeting could result in an ill-considered deal that allows North Korea to get everything it wants while giving up very little, even as the mercurial leaders trumpet a blockbuster nuclear success…
With the stakes so high, a growing chorus of experts highlight a particular risk: that Trump, burned by criticism that the results of his June meeting with Kim in Singapore were vague at best and an outright failure at worst, will ignore his more cautious aides and try to strike a deal that’s cobbled together on the fly with little preparatory work.
That might look like this:
There’s a joke being shared by some North Korea experts: Did you hear that Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump both want the same thing from their Hanoi summit? The United States out of South Korea.
Funny or not, the dark humor gets at serious doubts churned up by Trump’s repeated public expressions of a deep wariness about the U.S.-South Korea alliance that many in Seoul and Washington see as a lynchpin of Northeast Asian security.
The best example may be Trump’s stunning announcement in Singapore of the suspension of annual military drills by Seoul and Washington that North Korea rails against as “invasion preparation.”
Trump called the drills “very provocative,” mirroring North Korean language.
Although his lieutenants say the removal of American troops isn’t on the agenda in Hanoi, Trump has said that he wants to eventually bring home the 28,500 troops stationed in the South. Just this month Trump said: “South Korea – we defend them and lose a tremendous amount of money. Billions of dollars a year defending them.”
Will Trump do it? Let China and North Korea divvy up the Far East. We’re outta there! Look at the money I just saved!
Trump may not do that, perhaps, but Nicholas Kristof sees this:
President Trump and Kim Jong-Un have something in common: Each apparently looks in the mirror and sees a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!” Trump tweeted last summer. He seems to see his legacy in part as the great peacemaker of the Korean Peninsula and recently boasted that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Many other people feel that way, too,” Trump told reporters, as he spoke about the “beautiful” letter that Abe had written to nominate him.
Abe, apparently mortified that his effort to stroke Trump had become public, refused to confirm this. And two leading Japanese newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun and The Yomiuri Shimbun, reported that Abe’s letter was written at the White House’s request.
That’s one set of delusions, to match the other set:
In surprising symmetry, North Korea is said to be abuzz with talk about the Nobel Peace Prize and the possibility that it could be awarded to Kim. The Kims are generally overachievers: Kim is said to have started driving at age 3, and his father had five holes-in-one in his first game of golf, not to mention a perfect score of 300 the first time he bowled.
But that’s just two guys talking:
It is, of course, delusion to think that either Trump or Kim will win the Nobel Peace Prize, and in general it’s not a good thing for leaders to go into a summit delusional. Many security officials in the United States and abroad worry that in his quest for the prize Trump might make some rash pledge, such as to withdraw American forces from South Korea.
That does keep coming up, because the guy just keeps saying things:
Last year, Trump was bamboozled at his first meeting with Kim. There were minimal preparations, and Trump made major concessions such as suspending military exercises in exchange for nothing as significant.
Trump compounded his diplomatic ineptitude with rhetorical grandiosity. He tweeted, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” and he later asserted that Kim had sent him “beautiful letters” and “we fell in love.”
And now he’s stuck. He keeps saying things, just things – clever, ironic, bombastic, mean as hell, cutting, all meant to be amazingly effective, and then they begin to fall flat. Some are just embarrassing. And then that gets worse. Perhaps he should stop right now. People know what to do with his running commentary. After all, the Oscars worked fine without a clever host this time. There’s a lesson there.