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August 18, 2023 Heather Cox Richardson



Do you remember last April, when the president of South Korea (formally the Republic of Korea, or ROK), Yoon Suk Yeol, sang “American Pie” at the U.S. state dinner held in his country’s honor? That was part of a historic shift in global, and U.S., foreign policy.

That shift is being marked this weekend at the U.S. president’s private retreat in Maryland, Camp David, about 60 miles outside of Washington, D.C., which since President Jimmy Carter’s presidency has signaled historically significant diplomatic meetings. (This is one of the reasons why former president Trump’s plan to bring Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders to Camp David to sign a peace plan was so shocking; in the end, Trump never hosted a foreign leader at Camp David.)

President Biden is meeting at Camp David with President Yoon and Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida in the first-ever trilateral summit between their countries. Japan and the ROK are two of the largest allies of the U.S. in eastern Asia, but their own history of conflicts has made the idea of a joint summit impossible before now. 

In remarks to reporters this morning, President Biden thanked his counterparts for their “political courage” and for stepping up to do the hard and, arguably, historic work “to forge a foundation from which we can face the future together.” President Yoon responded by noting the significance of meeting at Camp David, and predicting that “our trilateral partnership is opening a new chapter, which carries great significance.” Prime Minister Kishida agreed that the three “are indeed making a new history as of today. The international community is at a turning point in history,” he said. 

It was also significant that in his short remarks, Kishida expressed his gratitude “for Joe’s initiative.” As Sue Mi Terry, who directs Japan and Korea affairs at the National Security Council, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote yesterday in the Washington Post, “[i]t is hard to exaggerate the significance of Friday’s summit at Camp David,” and while “[t]he primary acclaim must go to the courageous leader of South Korea and the pragmatic leader of Japan for moving beyond historical grievances…the Biden administration also deserves considerable credit for enabling this rapprochement.”  

From its beginning, the Biden administration has sought to strengthen democracy at home and abroad, but promoting democracy without colonialism has always been a problem for the U.S. Biden and his advisors have apparently tried to square that circle by reconceiving of global affairs based on regional power, with the U.S. taking a seat at the table rather than dictating terms through military might. The Indo-Pacific has been key to that reconception. 

In February 2022, the Biden administration released a document outlining its “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” claiming that the U.S. is part of the Indo-Pacific region, which stretches from our Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean. The area, the report says, “is home to more than half of the world’s people, nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy, and seven of the world’s largest militaries. More members of the U.S. military are based in the region than in any other outside the United States. It supports more than three million American jobs and is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the United States. In the years ahead, as the region drives as much as two-thirds of global economic growth, its influence will only grow—as will its importance to the United States.”

With its new strategy the administration promised to compete responsibly with China not by changing it but by shaping the strategic environment in which it operates, “building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favorable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share.” Crucially, the document focused not on the trade deals that made the Trans-Pacific Partnership so unpopular, but on ideological ones, promoting “a free and open Indo-Pacific,” where countries “can make independent political choices free from coercion.” 

Since then, the Biden administration has emphasized cooperation with countries in the region. It has featured cooperation with the “Quad,” the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, consisting of the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan; AUKUS, the trilateral pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., formed in 2021; the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), an economic and political union of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, whose population is more than 600 million people; the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), formed in May 2022 and including the U.S., India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam; and the Pacific Islands Forum, an intergovernmental organization of Pacific Island nations. (Remember when Biden had to cut short a trip to Papua New Guinea to deal with the Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling? That would have been the first visit ever by a sitting U.S. president.)

Biden noted today, “[S]trengthening the ties between our democracies has long been a priority for me, dating back to when I was vice president of the United States. That’s because our countries are stronger and the world is safer—let me say that again—our countries are stronger and the world will be safer as we stand together.  And I know this is a belief we all three share.” He has worked toward such cooperation since he took office, hosting leaders from Japan and the ROK shortly after he took office and visiting those countries on his first foreign trip to Asia, cultivating his own personal ties and those of senior staff with their foreign counterparts. 

The trilateral meeting will focus on presenting a united front against the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and providing an alternative to China for smaller countries to cooperate with. It will also emphasize plans for long-term economic and military cooperation. This afternoon the three leaders released a joint statement called “The Spirit of Camp David.” It hailed that the statement comes at “a time of unparalleled opportunity for our countries and our citizens, and at a hinge point of history, when geopolitical competition, the climate crisis, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and nuclear provocations test us. This is a moment that requires unity and coordinated action from true partners, and it is a moment we intend to meet, together. Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the United States are determined to align our collective efforts because we believe our trilateral partnership advances the security and prosperity of all our people, the region, and the world.” 

It calls for the three countries to consult with each other over regional challenges and threats, sharing information, aligning messaging, and coordinating responses. That cooperation will require annual trilateral meetings at the highest levels of government among the three countries. Japan, the ROK, and the U.S. confirmed the centrality of ASEAN in the region and reiterated their support for Pacific Island countries. 

The statement says the three countries “share concerns about actions inconsistent with the rules-based international order, which undermine regional peace and prosperity,” by which they mean “dangerous and aggressive behavior” from the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea. They called again for North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The U.S. “unequivocally reaffirms” that “the full range of U.S. capabilities” backs Japan and the ROK as a deterrent to North Korea, and all three countries reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine.

The statement contains promises of scientific and economic cooperation—neither Japan nor ROK likes that the U.S. tax break for electric vehicles only applies to ones made in North America—as well as an agreement to work together to combat disinformation. 

“As we embark together in this new era, our shared values will be our guide and a free and open Indo-Pacific, in which our half-billion people are safe and prosperous, will be our collective purpose,” they wrote. “We depart Camp David with a shared resolve and optimism for the future. The opportunity that lies before us was not guaranteed—it was embraced. It is the product of a determination, fiercely held by each of us, that if we are to deliver a peaceful and prosperous future for our people, and the people of the Indo-Pacific, we must more often stand together.”




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TGIF: WWIII May Come Tomorrow, But. . . Nellie Bowles




Google employees protesting at the office. They were later fired. (Via X)

Welcome back. World War III watch over here continues. The Axis of Resistance seemed ready to kick off a major war, but then our Ayatollah stood down. The Houthi Youth at Columbia University camped out in solidarity, but the rebellion was short. Then, at press time, Israel struck back against Iran, so World War Watch resumed. You know what helps my stress? A good book. This one, by your faithful soldier, is out May 14.

→ Trump’s Gettysburg Address: Before Trump hit the campaign trail, I’d forgotten a little what he sounds like. In the amber of my mind, he was just “MAGA” and “Shithole countries” on a loop. Now, thanks to a campaign speech Saturday in Schnecksville, PA, we are back in the game with the craziest American orator who’s ever been in the game. The topic was Gettysburg. And our former president gave an impromptu slam poetry interpretation that left me snapping. 

Gettysburg, what an unbelievable battle that was. I mean, it was so much and so interesting and so vicious and horrible and so beautiful in so many different ways. It represented such a big portion of the success of this country. Gettysburg, wow. I go to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to look and to watch. And the statement of Robert E. Lee—who’s no longer in favor—did you ever notice that? He’s no longer in favor. “Never fight uphill, me boys, never fight uphill.” They were fighting uphill. He said, “Wow, that was a big mistake.” He lost his great general. They were fighting, “Never fight uphill, me boys,” but it was too late.

Vicious and horrible and beautiful. And the sun that blazes over the October sky. Who will watch the watcher? Who will sing the song of the lonely? Check out my self-published novel in the back, Trump says. 

→ Biden continues paying off successful young voters: Sorry, I mean “forgiving student debt.” Biden this week paid off another $7.4 billion in student loans, making his total student loan cancellation something like $153 billion. And by cancellation, I mean tax dollars were used to make the ledger go to zero. How much exactly? From Penn Wharton’s analysis: “We estimate that President Biden’s recently announced ‘New Plans’ to provide relief to student borrowers will cost $84 billion, in addition to the $475 billion that we previously estimated for President Biden’s SAVE plan.” But that goes to really needy people, right? Well, actually, at least 750,000 of those households are “making over $312,000 in average household income.” Meanwhile, to anyone who questions this allocation of resources, the White House answer is to shame them from official White House accounts by listing how much in pandemic loans were forgiven for House Republicans who own individual small business, which is weird because the reason businesses needed pandemic relief was because the White House banned them from operating. It’s a trap! And the only answer is to pay off every Media Studies PhD student’s loan. Colleges, for their part, are now charging up to $100,000 a year. Yes, literally. And since that’s ultimately going to be paid for by the taxpayers, why work to make it less expensive? Why cut corners when you need to remodel the cafeteria?

→ Oh, RFK’s running mate: For a flash I was thinking, Am I an RFK voter? I’m a mom who worries about plastics, and no, I don’t like how our national conversation is getting so divisive these days. And those steely blue eyes. It just felt right. But this week, my love affair hit a snag. Here’s RFK’s new vice-presidential pick, Nicole Shanahan, arguing that the Covid vaccine is not just bad, that it’s not just something she personally doesn’t want and should have the freedom to choose not to take, but that it should be banned. Over to Nicole: “Here is the devastating reality: it is not a safe vaccine, and must be recalled immediately. Many people are suffering who took it.” I guess this is really the agenda: RFK Jr. might be just asking questions, but if Nicole is chief executive, it sounds like she’s going to be executing. And that looks like legally required sound baths and astrology readings. The government understands that you want to take antibiotics, but you haven’t even tried rubbing yourself in honey yet. 

→ Wow, Kari Lake comes out as really pro-choice: Kari Lake, the Republican running for Senate in Arizona, has released a video about how she disagrees with Arizona’s total abortion ban, a ban she previously supported. I’m all for mind-changing. I actually want our politicians to put their finger to the wind every once in a while. Here’s Lake: “We as American people don’t agree on everything all of the time. But if you look at where the population is on this—a full ban on abortion is not where the people are.” 

She says, “I chose life, but I’m not every woman.” She pivots to Europe, which has all those annoyingly sensible abortion laws, and which is my exact same move: “I had the opportunity to visit Hungary, and it completely changed my view of how we should deal with this complicated, difficult issue.”

Is this Kari Lake sounding normal? In case you need to be reminded of the old Kari, here she is shaking hands with a statue. 

→ Oh no, “get out the vote” helps. . . Trump? Now that young people are for Trump and old people are for Biden, there’s another switcheroo: those who vote less or have never voted are more likely to be Trumpers. Call off the Rock the Vote campaigners! Return the blue t-shirts! The new message for Democrats to win needs to be: do not register new voters. Keep on keeping on. Stay home, save lives.

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April 18, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson




I will not spend the rest of 2024 focusing on Trump and the chaos in the Republican Party, but today it has been impossible to look away.

In Trump’s election interference trial in Manhattan, Judge Juan Merchan this morning dismissed one of the selected jurors after she expressed concern for her anonymity and thus for her safety. All of the reporters in the courtroom have shared so much information about the jurors that they seemed at risk of being identified, but Fox News Channel host Jesse Watters not only ran a video segment about a juror, he suggested she was “concerning.” Trump shared the video on social media.

The juror told the judge that so much information about her had become public that her friends and family had begun to ask her if she was one of the jurors. Legal analyst Joyce White Vance noted jurors’ fear for their safety was a concern normally seen only “in a case involving violent organized crime.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, twelve people had been chosen to serve as jurors. Tomorrow the process will continue in order to find six alternate jurors. 

It is a courtesy for the two sides at a trial to share with each other the names of their next witnesses so the other team can prepare for them. Today the prosecution declined to provide the names of their first three witnesses to the defense lawyers out of concern that Trump would broadcast them on social media. “Mr. Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses. We’re not telling them who the witnesses are,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said. 

Merchan said he “can’t blame them.” Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche offered to “commit to the court and the [prosecution] that President Trump will not [post] about any witness” on social media. “I don’t think you can make that representation,” Merchan said, in a recognition that Trump cannot be trusted, even by his own lawyers.

An article in the New York Times today confirmed that the trial will give Trump plenty of publicity, but not the kind that he prefers. Lawyer Norman L. Eisen walked through questions about what a prison sentence for Trump could look like.

Trump’s popular image is taking a hit in other ways, as well. Zac Anderson and Erin Mansfield of USA Today reported that Trump is funneling money from his campaign fundraising directly into his businesses. According to a new report filed with the Federal Election Commission, in February and March the campaign wrote checks totaling $411,287 to Mar-a-Lago and in March a check for $62,337 to Trump National Doral Miami.

Experts say it is legal for candidates to pay their own businesses for services used by the campaign so long as they pay fair market value. At the same time, they note that since Trump appears to be desperate for money, “it looks bad.”

Astonishingly, Trump’s trial was not the biggest domestic story today. Republicans in Congress were in chaos as members of the extremist Freedom Caucus worked to derail the national security supplemental bills that House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) has introduced in place of the Senate bill, although they track that bill closely. 

The House Rules Committee spent the day debating the foreign aid package, which appropriates aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan separately. The Israel bill also contains $9.1 billion in humanitarian aid for Gaza and other countries. A fourth bill focuses on forcing the Chinese owners of TikTok to sell the company, as well as on imposing sanctions on Russia and Iran. 

At stake in the House Rules Committee was Johnson’s plan to allow the House to debate and vote on each measure separately, and then recombine them all into a single measure if they all pass. This would allow extremist Republicans to vote against aid to Ukraine, while still tying the pieces all together to send to the Senate. As Robert Jimison outlined in the New York Times, this complicated plan meant that the Rules Committee vote to allow such a maneuver was crucial to the bill’s passage.

The extremist House Republicans were adamantly opposed to the plan because of their staunch opposition to aid for Ukraine. They wrote in a memo on Wednesday: “This tactic allows Johnson to pass priorities favored by President Biden, the swamp and the Ukraine war machine with a supermajority of House members, leaving conservatives out to dry.”

Extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Thomas Massie (R-KY) vowed to throw House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) out of the speakership, but Democrats Tom Suozzi of New York and Jared Moskowitz of Florida have said they would vote to keep him in his seat, thereby defanging the attack on his leadership.

So the extremists instead tried to load the measures up with amendments prohibiting funds from being used for abortion, removing humanitarian aid for Gaza, opposing a two-state solution to the Hamas-Israel war, calling for a wall at the southern border of the U.S., defunding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and so on.

Greene was especially active in opposition to aid to Ukraine. She tried to amend the bill to direct the president to withdraw the U.S. from NATO and demanded that any members of Congress voting for aid to Ukraine be conscripted into the Ukraine army as well as have their salaries taken to offset funding. She wanted to stop funding until Ukraine “turns over all information related to Hunter Biden and Burisma,” and to require Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to resign. More curiously, she suggested amending the Ukraine bill so that funding would require “restrictions on ethnic minorities’, including Hungarians in Transcarpathia, right to use their native languages in schools are lifted.” This language echoes a very specific piece of Russian propaganda.

Finally, Moskowitz proposed “that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene…should be appointed as Vladimir Putin’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress.” 

Many congress members have left Washington, D.C., since Friday was to be the first day of a planned recess. This meant the partisan majority on the floor fluctuated. Olivia Beavers of Politico reported that that instability made Freedom Caucus members nervous enough to put together a Floor Action Response Team (FART—I am not making this up) to make sure other Republicans didn’t limit the power of the extremists when they were off the floor.

The name of their response team seems likely to be their way to signal their disrespect for the entire Congress. Their fellow Republicans are returning the heat. Today Mike Turner (R-OH) referred to the extremists as the Bully Caucus on MSNBC and said, “We need to get back to professionalism, we need to get back to governing, we need to get back to legislating.” Derrick Van Orden (R-WI) told Juliegrace Brufke of Axios:  “The vast majority of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives…are sick and tired of having people who…constantly blackmail the speaker of the House.”

Another Republican representative, Jake LaTurner of Kansas, announced today he will not run for reelection. He joins more than 20 other Republican representatives heading for the exits.

After all the drama, the House Rules Committee voted 6–3 tonight to advance the foreign aid package to the House floor. Three Republicans voted nay. While it is customary for the opposition party to vote against advancing bills out of the committee, the Democrats broke with tradition and voted in favor.





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April 17, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson





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