The Unbearable Heaviness of Elections


We are visiting Boston this week and it’s been pretty warm. The weather reminds us of when we use to overhear older folks in the South remark “is it hot enough for you?”

We took a walking tour of Boston and our tour guide remarked how only five people died in the Boston massacre. Our founding fathers, those opportunistic rebels, used the “Boston massacre” as a rallying cry for independence. The tour reminded us how effective (normative judgments aside) politicians, like our founding fathers, use language and framing to rally public support. And other so-called massacres (St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or Saturday Night Massacre) versus real ones.


Japanese Prime Minister Calls Snap Election: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been in power for five years, called a snap election to take advantage of higher approval ratings and to secure a stronger mandate as the country responds to increasing threats from North Korea. Pyongyang & “Rocketman” has fired two ballistic missiles over northern Japan in recent weeks. The move comes one year before scheduled elections and after a difficult time for Abe and his government, which has weathered two corruption scandals linked to Abe and his wife, and the resignation of defense minister Tomomi Inada over an alleged cover-up.

The crisis over North Korea is also forcing the country to reconsider its defense strategy. Earlier this year, Abe set a 2020 deadline for changing Japan’s pacifist constitution, which was imposed on it by the US after World War II and bars the country from maintaining armed forces. Abe wants to remove restrictions on the country’s Self Defense Forces, the de facto military, as they engage in more exercises and other activity with US and allies amid growing tensions with North Korea. Another sign that the post World War II era of agreements and worldview is crumbling away. While Abe’s arguments for constitutional changes make sense given Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear tests, they are opposed by China and South Korea–who suffered under Japanese colonial occupation. The proposed constitutional changes also have limited support within Japan.

The Kurdish Referendum – A Kurdish Dream And a Major Controversy in the Middle East: Hundreds of Kurds, many in traditional dress, lined up at polling places early Monday morning in Irbil, Iraq, to cast a long awaited ballot in a controversial independence referendum. Election officials said 72% of those eligible had cast votes. Kurds are Iraq’s largest ethnic minority, inhabiting a semi-autonomous region in the north, and for decades they have hoped to become an independent state. The Kurdish people are the largest ethnic group in the world without a country, with around 25 million people across 5 countries. Kurdish forces have played a vital role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which may have led leaders to think the international community would support their nationalist aspirations.

Unfortunately the referendum has been met with a strong backlash from many world and regional powers. Iran, Turkey, the United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations all  opposed the vote and warned it could further destabilize the Middle East and detract from the campaign against ISIS. Both Iran and Turkey have sizable Kurdish minorities and fear a vote for independence in Iraq might galvanize movements in their countries. After issuing several condemnations against the vote, Iran closed its air space to the autonomous Kurdistan region on Sunday.

On Monday Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to cut off the pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, thereby depriving the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of a key source of revenue. Erdogan said the Kurds “separatist” referendum was unacceptable and Turkey would not recognize the outcome. He further warned that economic, trade and security counter-measures would be taken against the KRG, including  punitive measures involving borders and air space. Meanwhile, some people want to recognize trash the size of France in the Pacific Ocean as an official country.


Emails Cause Cacophonous Change of Chants From Lock Her (Clinton) Up to Lock Him (Kushner) Up?: In 2016 candidate Donald Trump repeatedly castigated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account to handle government business when she was secretary of state. Trump supporters yelled “Lock Her Up” at rallies whenever the subject of using private emails to conduct government business was broached. The FBI even investigated it, twice. On Sunday Jared Kushner’s lawyer confirmed that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser had used his private email account, set up last December during the transition, on dozens of occasions to communicate with colleagues in the White House. Other West Wing officials have also used private email accounts for official business.

Jared is married to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, now a senior White House adviser, who also has used her private email to correspond within the administration before she joined it.  Many in the White House have also used encrypted apps like Signal and Confide that automatically delete messages. Former press secretary Sean Spicer issued a warning last February to communications staffers that using such apps could violate the Presidential Records Act, a federal law requiring all White House records, including emails, be preserved.


North Korean and US Name Calling and War Rhetoric Greatly Escalates: The U.N. General Assembly is still meeting in New York, and the heated exchange of rhetoric between U.S. President Donald Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs also continues. The latest round of verbal volleys began when, in his first U.N. address last Tuesday, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the U.S. or its allies. Then Friday, in an unprecedented direct statement, Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” he would tame with fire. On Saturday, Kim’s foreign minister told the U.N. General Assembly that  targeting the U.S. mainland with its rockets was inevitable after “Mr. Evil President” Trump called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission. We promise this reporting is a summary of actual events and not a summary of an Austin Powers movie, yeah baby!

After the latest statement, Trump tweeted that North Korea’s foreign minister and it’s leader “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats. On Saturday, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers, escorted by fighters, flew east of North Korea in a show of force. On Monday Kim’s foreign minister declared that Trump’s tweets amounted to a declaration of war, saying  ”Since the United States declared war on our country, we will have every right to make countermeasures, including the right to shoot down United States strategic bombers even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country.”

Meanwhile leaders of every other nation on earth are calling for a cooling off of the rhetoric and a diplomatic solution of the crisis. “We want things to calm down. It’s getting too dangerous and it’s in nobody’s interest,” China’s U.N. Ambassador told Reuters. “We certainly hope (the U.S. and North Korea) will see that there is no other way than negotiations to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula …The alternative is a disaster.”

The above section brought to mind two works of history & art: Hiroshima by John Hersey and Hiroshima mon amour.


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