bookmark_borderPost-404: Germany’s Super-Election-Year 2021, thoughts and developments

Six German state governments have elections this year. Two others have local elections. That’s a total of eight states of sixteen having some kind of elections. Everyone in Germany has the all-important national Bundestag election in September 2021, eight months from this writing. They’re calling it a Superwahljar (Super-Election-Year). It’s really a Super-Election-HalfYear, because they all occur between mid-March and late-September, good weather months.

Recent news has brought my attention back to something big that happened in Germany in 2020, which I followed closely at the time and wrote about on these pages. It was the sudden breakthrough of the AfD party in forming a state government, in Thuringia. I wrote about the Thuringia shock and crisis (Post-383: High Drama in Erfurt) and then a series of long comments on the political crisis as it happened, and reactions to it, a kind of political journaling mixed with my own recollections and insights. Thuringia was a big deal, and remains a big deal as I look back, now, almost one year later.

But then the Virus Panic of 2020 happened and shifted political support levels significantly. In fact in such a dramatic way, in fact, that one understands why politicians have dragged on the irrational responses. The media succeeded in scaring people, who were then easy pickings for political demagogues.

In any case, this is the biggest year for German electoral politics in a while. Following are comments and observations.

Continue reading “Post-404: Germany’s Super-Election-Year 2021, thoughts and developments”

bookmark_borderPost-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)

History-making happens when you don’t expect it.

What to “make” of the occupation of the U.S. federal Capitol grounds, in Washington, in the afternoon and into early evening, Jan. 6, 2021?

My immediate impression. This will be remembered as a major, historic, ‘landmark’ moment in history. A moment ranking with the most historic of my adult lifetime so far.

As a protest, and as protests go, it was a stunning success. The occupation of central government building by unarmed protestors? Wow.

(The Occupation of the U.S. Capitol grounds, Jan. 6, 2021.)

Also a humiliation, if there ever was one, for the U.S. federal government.

The following was written about 48 hours after the event. Thoughts on context for this moment in history, how such as dramatic as this comes to happen, and then some notable scenes from the occupation.

(original: 2000 words) (updated, Jan. 9: now 3300 words.)

Continue reading “Post-402: “Storming the Capitol” (Jan. 6, 2021)”

bookmark_borderPost-401: Seoul mayoral races, 2011 to 2021, reminiscences and thoughts

The sitting Mayor of Seoul committed suicide in July 2020.

Park Won-soon (elected mayor of Seoul, Oct. 2011; reelected, June 2014 and June 2018)’s suicide triggered an early mayoral election, now set for April 7, 2021. The early phase of the campaign is underway.

The leading candidates in the Seoul mayoral special election are:

  • Ahn Chul-Soo (also spelled Ahn Cheol-soo),
  • Park Young-Sun, and
  • Na Kyung-won.

The first of these, Ahn, is a former software developer, PhD, and professor who spent the 2010s bouncing around politics, and who by now qualifies as a “perennial political candidate,” popping up in races all over. I have a surprisingly long tradition on these pages of writing about him, and he appears as an important feature in Post-66, Post-71, Post-340, Post-342. This post will have the biggest treatment of Ahn Chul-soo yet, and I am writing today with a much more mature understanding (althought still lacking) understanding of Korean politics.

A recent political cartoon of Ahn’s late-December 2020 announcement that he was running for Seoul mayor has him as the champion of the “anti-Moon federation,” trying to see which way the winds are blowing:

(Political cartoon of Ahn Chul-soo, late Dec. 2020, KoreaHotNews.)

Ahn’s competitors are both women: Park Young-sun is of the Establishment-Left (Moon’s) party; Na Kyung-won is of the Establishment-Right party.

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This post started as a brief mention of the upcoming 2021 election but has since grown into something more meaningful, correspondingly longer, and more personal. I also meant to write about the 2018 election at the time but never got around to it; it’s good I’m finally getting it done now.

Recorded are thoughts, experiences, and other material on the 2011, 2014, 2018 and 2021 Seoul mayoral elections, during all of which I happen to have been in Korea. There is a mix of personal reminiscence and political analysis/commentary through personal reminiscence, especially on 2018, having dug through old photos, I am posting many of them here. (I’ve come to view the recording of personal reminiscence and thoughts as the purpose of my writing on these digital pages, and those who wish to take the time will find as much below.)

(Original, Jan. 4: 1600 words.)
(Updated: Jan. 5 and Jan. 6; expanded significantly to 7700 words with many pictures and one video taken by me at the time.)

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I start with the immediate past (2018), then circle back to the present (2021), jump back to memories of the more-distant past (2011 and 2014), and finish with thoughts on the future (2022, the next presidential election, of which this special Seoul mayoral election is an important stepping stone).

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The Seoul Mayoral Campaign of 2018

I was in Korea at the time, in June 2018. In the peak-campaign period I was mainly in Seoul itself, and did soomething of an on-the-ground investigation, the results of which I had not compiled and published in disciplined written, until now.

Continue reading “Post-401: Seoul mayoral races, 2011 to 2021, reminiscences and thoughts”

bookmark_borderThe Two U.S. political hegemonies of our time

On historical trends of our time. I wrote about the general concept yesterday that eras often do not align with their calendar-numbers, with one example arguably being “the 2000s” ending Sept. 2008 with the financial crisis. (Some also argued “The 1960s” really ends with either the Nixon resignation or the evacuation of Saigon, which by calendrical dating were already in the mid-1970s, and maybe it really began about 1964, so at least that’s still a ten-or-so-year decade.)

I want to put digital pen to paper on a related topic again: The thirty-year cycle we are still (?) in.

In February 2020, I read State Dept. figure William J. Burns’ memoir (his career was from 1980 to 2014 and he rose unusually quickly; my comments on his unexplained rapid rise fill the margins of the book). I began to suspect something that had not quite occurred to me before. It was this: The USA was in a long arc that began thirty years ago, specifically in 1990-91, traceable to two landmark events (Rodney King and the U.S. decision to fight Iraq) which do not have immediate precursors at the time. The rest of this post will be an update on this idea including events of the last ten-and-a-half months. I think “2020” validates the thesis, which I published in these pages about one month before the Corona-Panic began, in a big way.

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The two events, the decision to invade Iraq and Rodney King, occurred from late July 1990 to early March 1991, only seven months’ space of time.

The two events were almost trivial in their time and are often not remembered, in and of themselves.

I myself am too young to remember either of them. In the 1990s during my own process of socialization I became aware of them as minor landmark events of the recent past.

[1.] The decision to intervene against Iraq and crush it as a regional power (apparently made by top U.S. officials in late July 1990, according to Burns who witnessed it) set up a long chain process of very-free-hand Mideast interventionism, in a way that the U.S. would absolutely not meddle or intervene or bomb or invade any place in its own hemisphere (anymore), which itself is strange to think about.

When I was in high school I believed the U.S. might invade Colombia, in response to the rebels trafficking drugs there causing trouble. Nothing like that ever happened at all. But meddling in the Midwest over much more abstruse reasons is the norm, is expected, and one hears muted criticism of it. It is a consensus position.

There became an ingrained cultural attitude that The Evil-Doers (to use what I vaguely recall as a George W. Bush phrasing) are out there, and are mainly in the Midwest, so we have to constantly meddle, and attack, and bomb, and use the map as a giant chessboard, or the Evil-Doers win. It puzzles me how this is uncontroversial.

Intervention predates George W. Bush, continued through Clinton, and began with George H. W. Bush, not that the nominal president at any given time was the decisive factor, because they’ve all done it, steadily so, and as I say, seemingly as if a Foreign Policy Prime Directive, beyond the point of possibility of dispute by good people (an enforced consensus). This was much less a story in 2020 than other years, but it never really went away. A much bigger story in 2020 was the second trend:

[2.] The decision (?) to turn to race-demagoguery with the Rodney King incident (traffic stop and arrest of a man high on cocaine) as some kind of regularized, semi-controlled, moral-hysteria process. This functions to unify the regime and its loyalists against the Bad People out there. This strategy was subtle at first but increasingly embraced by Good People, and largely as a matter of course by those born in the 1980s and beyond, especially the Good People therein. Soon the strategy was by the state itself, the state being run by Good People. It was manifestly certain that this was our reality by the 2010s.

The Los Angeles Riots followed the initial Rodney King incident a year later. The pattern was set, and would reach epidemic proportions in the 2010s, and then in May-June 2020. The latter was not the breakout of mass-psychosis that it may have appeared to be, to many, but follows a specific line back to Rodney King. The pattern was: Take a minor, local story of ambiguous nature etc., etc., inflate into national importance, garnish with lies of commission and omission as needed, and riots are okay in pursuit of The Goal (whatever the goal is — but you wouldn’t want to be on the side of the Bad People, would you?).

Even if there are distant ancestors of this strain of domestic politics (most notably, the mid-late 1960s riots), and even though the cultural energies may have been hanging around in the 1980s, they didn’t manifest until 1990-91, and they have been near-hegemonic in our discourse since then, framing our accepted reality (to use academic-esque language).

Later events were faded carbon-copies of the Rodney King case, and they kept getting trotted out, one after another, dominating domestic-news in bizarre ways, and even Orwellian ways.

This all became depressingly in-your-face by 2020, highly demoralizing given that nothing was done against them. (I should know; I witnessed some of these things at their peak, at close range. I showed up. No one knew, at first, that riots were going to happen, but people locked down for months and recently released were ready for some fun; it was the only way young people could gather, all other options disrupted or closed-off to them by the Panic-Lockdown regime(s). I saw open rioting/vandalism/fires, and looting, in front of me. I saw the police stand-down. The rumors were/are true.)

The younger half or so of the population, socialized after Rodney King, thinks it more-or-less normal that this bizarre game is effectively our Domestic Policy Prime Directive.

Some at the top have profound sympathies for their own reasons, with many of them, if not most, even talking themselves into it with the other moral-frenzy-ists.

Whatever the 2010s were, as a decade, and whatever their true beginning and end should be, they seem to me to follow a longer thread that began in 1990-91. I don’t know how much energy this thirty-year historical-cycle has left in it, the Virus-Lockdown-induced, Elite-approved riots of mid-2020, the seeming Apotheosis, and the sudden statue-toppling, all-placenames-are-to-be-replaced mania (always fight the Bad People, no matter what, and if you run out of them, just find more) notwithstanding.

bookmark_borderThe 2020s, Day 2 or Day 368?

I received a long, reflective email from an Australian friend living in Korea, sent to a large group of his contacts. It started:

Welcome to the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium Anno Domini 2021.

I see that I first wrote about this exactly a year ago.

The idea, here, is the “third decade” of the century starts with Jan. 1, 2021, and not Jan. 1, 2020, because there is no “Year 0.”

In our counting system, “Jan. 1st of AD 1” was the first day of the first year of the era, approximately around the time of Jesus’ birth. Therefore Jan. 1st of AD 2021 would be the first year of the new decade.

I think this is too complicated and decades ought to be measured by the third digit for clarity and simplicity’s sake, and therefore we are now at Day 368 of “the 2020s” (Leap Year 2020 at 366 days, plus Jan. 1st and now Jan. 2nd = 368). Before you know it we will hit the 11% mark of the decade. And for how terrible a decade it’s been so far, one might hope it will get better.

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There is another way or counting eras, only possible in retrospect, always subject to possible dispute. The (“Short”) 20th century was really Nov. 1918 to Nov. 1989. A clean seventy-one years, from the end of the Great War in Europe, which unleashed the era of competing ideologies, until the Fall of Communism process, a complicated process but symbolized by the peaceful Fall of the Berlin Wall, Nov. 1989.

In more recent times, “the 2000s” may have ended in Sept. 2008 when the financial crisis suddenly hit, or at least that’s when the panic in the news hit, preceded by the strange oil price spike of mid-year 2020. I remember it.

Economic disruptions affect almost everyone at least a little, and some a lot, often in ways they don’t recognize or appreciate. I was determined to go abroad in 2009 and did. The 2008-09 recession had a long, lingering effect. If my old job were still there, in Sept. 2010, when I showed back up, I would have taken it back. Instead, I did a lot of other things. The 2010s went in unexpected directions for me, but I never had a master-plan anyway, and maybe it was for the better. I did some interesting things in the (calendrical) 2010s.

Now the harder question: When did “The 2010s” begin and end? Or have they not ended yet? We’re too close to say. Check back on this in the 2030s.

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bookmark_borderAnnus Horribilis Twenty-Twenty

I distinctly recall, as I write this, rushing to make an end-of-year post on Dec. 31, 2019. It is now Dec. 31, 2020. Here I am again. The hours of the year are fading fast.

People tend to do review the events of the wider world, or their own lives in a narrow sense, at such times. What can one say about 2020 except this:

This is the “annus horribilis” of the firstquarter of the twenty-first century. With four years left in this quarter-century, I can’t imagine any of the others being worse. Across almost all possible measures, a terrible year.

(Without getting into it, I think the problems are much more of our own making than anything. Certain historical trends are active which have inevitably found at outlet, if not through the surreal craziness through which they manifested in 2020, then some other way sooner than later. But we could have, and should have, done better. I am ashamed of us.)

In some ways I feel it still is Dec. 31, 2019, right now, and there has been a 366-day (leap year) pause. Nothing has advanced. We’ve lost a lot of time.

But it wasn’t all bad. I worked hard for a time I greatly enjoyed and greatly excelled at, being promoted to a leadership position on merits and being consistently one of the best performers. I have been juggling other projects. Life moves on.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Scenes #7: Trump signs abundant in western Maryland

Taking advantage of unseasonably good weather and clear skies, from October 25 to 28 I was hiking in western Maryland, primarily in Washington County. I did a long tour of Antietam battlefield as part of this, which is entirely within Washington County. Harpers Ferry is also part of the general battle theater, which is where I came up from. (I don’t know how many people do an all-on-foot tour of Antietam, but it can’t be many. The battlefield area is definitely car-oriented.)

Antietam battlefield scene, preserved as it was in 1862

Maybe I’ll have another opportunity, another day, to write about that hike itself. I have done many such hikes and they are always liberating and you always learn a lot, regardless of what you think you know.

The most notable thing in Washington County, Md., was the overwhelming support for Trump. Granted, western Maryland is ‘red’ anyway. But Arlington is ‘blue,’ an there was a distinct lack of signs for Biden around Arlington, which I wrote about in a recent post. This is a strong contrast I was immediately hit by.

It feels like I felt ten Trump signs for every Biden sign in Washington County, which if much higher than the actual likely vote ratio.

One of the few Biden signs I saw actually included a separate sign next to it apologizing for the Biden sign:

Sharpsburg, Maryland, October 2020. The sign on the right says: “Just to be Clear! I support police officers, but not the ones who commit crimes. I support protestors, but not the ones who commit crimes. Yes, it really is that simple.”

This elaborate explanatory note attached to the Biden-Harris yard sign display is something I’ve never otherwise seen. I interpret it as an apology for Biden support in this area, given the strength of Trump support.

The same is true in much of Middle America. Washington County, no doubt has people in it tied economically or otherwise to the Washington DC-centric core, but the basic population stock here is Middle America Whites, the Trump 2015-16 base.

I didn’t bother taking pictures, in part because I was trying to preserve my phone battery and in part because there were just so many houses with Trump signs. Here is one, a very large sign (see the mailbox opposite for scale):

The largely rural landscape here fits with the image of core Trump supporters.

Here someone took it upon themselves to decorate a stop sign at the intersection with the Harpers Ferry Road (which dates back two centuries and featured in the battle at Antietam):

Being here a few days made me think of Iowa, my father’s home state. His home county delivered the biggest margin to Trump in Nov. 2016 than it ever gave to any presidential candidate in history. Trump is the type who tosses around words like “historic,” but in that case it really was, literally ranking number one in the modern political era. There are lots and lots of counties like this, once you step out of core metro areas, which broke much more ‘Red’ than they normally do. Deep-blue areas tended to do the opposite, which led to Hillary’s win in the popular vote.

What to make of clear and strong Trump support in western Maryland and places like it? For one thing, Maryland is a locked-up blue state. Everyone knows who’s getting its electoral votes. The fact that these people in western Maryland are so dedicated to the Trump movement, despite knowing full well they won’t swing the state, speaks to the mystique and power of MAGA many have spoken of.

If Trump wins again in most of the key states, the belt of Obama-to Trump states, Pennsylvania to Minnesota, and thus wins the election, it may be because of strongly motivated core supporters like these. I even spotted evidence of sign wars in Northern Virginia:

(“Vote for Democrats” sign vandalized with a “Trump 2020” bumper sticker, Northern Virginia, late October 2020.)

As I write this, it is just past noon on election day. There are a few more of these types of stories I wanted but I got in mostly what I wanted. There is always more to say. I’ll be in DC in the evening and till late with more stories to tell.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #6: Blue Lives Matter

In the first two weeks of October, I was doing daily census work in the field in DC (their operation was in considerably much worse shape than ours in Northern Virginia was, by late September; there was a tentative October 5 end date at the time. It was announced we were being transferred us over on I think September 29).

I never had time to stroll around making “Election Week” observations, but on several days I did pass in the general White House area for one reason or another. October 10 was one such day.

Here was the scene in Constitution Avenue, south of the White House (visible in the distance):

Here we see the Blue Lives Matter flag, something I was not familiar with before the June riots and the flurry of activity that felt a lot like a color revolution attempt. (I was up close and personal to much of the worst of it in DC. I even got a black eye out of it.)

I have long admired the area around the White House for being what I thought of as a town square, a place for mutual exchange of ideas. Everyone with their little causes, and almost always a crowd of some kind around. You could also see something new. It helped a lot that the Pennsylvania Avenue north of the White House has long been closed to traffic.

While “Open Schools Now” only partially and ambiguously overlaps with “Trump 2020” as a campaign, “Blue Lives Matter” overlaps something near 100%. I can’t imagine many Blue Lives Matter flag-carriers are voting Biden-Harris.

I see a handful of Blue Lives Matter flags around, but in political-Left-heavy areas of Northern Virginia they are far outnumbered by Black Lives Matter. (In non-Black areas, Black Lives Matter yard signs are almost exclusively seen in wealthy neighborhoods. This must be a puzzling phenomenon to foreigners to observe. I was through many non-Black and non-White areas for the census, especially Hispanic areas, and really never saw Black Lives Matter signs at all.)

This good feeling I had for the area of the White House which I have described to others as feeling like a political town square was disrupted in June by the fact that the riots reached there, and then weeks of occupation of the area proceeded — blessed by the mayor, who cynically ‘renamed’ the street Black Lives Matter Plaza.

The protests and street-partiers in which the rioters moved (the rioter, maybe, moves among the crowd as the fish swims in the sea, to quote Mao) were as far as the park north of the White House, a focal point for them. It proved to be unfortunate for them that this became the focal point, because it is so easy to defend. The rioters did the most damage when the battles were scattered all over, looting here, burning garbage cans there, no way for police to mount a defense.

The riots were shocking enough, an if Trump wins I expect a common ‘take’ will be people in Middle America — who really are the forgotten people in national dialogue, looked down on or ignored — did not like the riots.

On this the last weekend before the election, there have been impressive showing of Blue Lives Matter and Trump supporters all over, in marches and car caravans. It’s for this reason I think Trump has at least a 50-50 chance, not the <10% chance the pollsters and pundits give him.

bookmark_borderElection Week 2020 Street Scenes #5: Open Schools Now

Political yard signs are not limited to actual yards in front of houses or windows, and the US has a long tradition now of people putting them up in public places, especially in median strips on roads or other comparable places.

One you’d never have guessed you’d see is this one:

This particular median strip got more crowded with political signs as time went by. If you’d shown this to someone in 2019, they’d never guess what the sign was supposed to mean.

“Open Schools Now” is a defacto political slogan, overlapping with national politics but not identical, though the two positions have grown closer over time as people rearrange themselves into familiar political boxes.

Schools in Arlington remain fully closed, as the Panic crowd demanded and, in retrospect, easily got. In August, there was a sign campaign demanding no opening at all until there were “fourteen days with no new cases,” which I’, sorry but is an insane position. It’s a respiratory/flu virus, people. What are you thinking? And elected leaders caved in.

(Schools never should have closed at all, not in March and not to the present. It was never an evidence-based or data-based position. It was purely a panic-based, emotion-based decision. The negative effects of this decision far, far outweigh any potential positives. This is my position, reached through analysis of the data. But if I’ve learned nothing else from other people in my time, it’s that most people don’t think like that — which is why it’s a good think public policy people generally do, to avoid constant disruptive panics.)

The Coronavirus Panic overlapped this year with regular political currents, but at least at first it didn’t fit previous division lines, so you saw people all over the place in their positions. The media drumbeat terrified people, putting the cart miles ahead of the horse because they never bothered to wait for evidence to come in.

Meanwhile, the “Open Schools Now” people are like figures out of the Twilight Zone, the kind of episode where the protagonist is the same and everyone else one day is different (“they were all like that,” Seinfeld said). Very few, early on in this virus panic, would have wanted schools closed for a full one and a half school years, as may now be the case.

So this “Open Schools Now” campaign seems hopeless, with the people in it, mainstream just months ago, are now cornered into looking like malcontents or perennial candidates for office, like the Clement sign behind the Open Schools Now sign. Clement is a perennial candidate and critic of the local one-party state of total Democratic Party machine control. She won’t win because most Arlington voters are transients (don’t know much about the local area, nor care) who vote straight Democrat.

Arlington is the kind of place where schools were shut down and have not reopened as of election week. It’s impossible to trust the media on Corona and all topics related to it, given their responsibility for frankly creating the Panic and leading the digital lynch mobs that demanded shutdowns. I don’t know if Open Schools Now is a position from which a candidate could win, if an election were a pure national referendum on it.

In April I started to sense that the November 2020 general election might be a partial referendum on Shutdowns/Lockdowns, and that prediction has turned out quite right. In simple form:

Pro-Shutdowns/Lockdowns, Vote Biden. Anti-Shutdowns/Lockdowns, Vote Trump.

It’s not that simple, but both candidates have made moves suggesting they are comfortable carrying that banner. The all-important question is which direction that pushes Pennsylvania and the rest of the key states that swung to Trump in 2016. Demanding schools stay shut indefinitely feels to me like it’s more like a Blue Bubble position, but it’s hard to say. It’s really not political, of course, but more personality based.

I must say, in any case, that I pity students and am glad I am not one just now.