Everybody’s a winner in the so called North Korea “crisis”

No, not you and me but everybody who’s anybody, the powers that be from Washington to Beijing. First let me tell you what I know about China, I’ve never been there but I know something about China history not many know.

In the summer of 1976 Richard Nixon made a special request to his Secret Service detail, to arrange a secret meeting. He’d told the Secret Service “I just want to meet this man, see his face, shake his hand.” The man Nixon wanted to meet was the CIA counter intelligence agent whom Nixon viewed as being largely responsible for the thaw in US-China relations, culminating in Nixon’s famous China visit in 1972.

Nixon wanted to end the war in Southeast Asia and he wanted to use China as leverage over the Soviet Union but the US had nothing in China. After Mao Tse-tung took over China, the FBI – as they say in the intelligence community – had tried to “get in” with the Chinese for 20+ years to no avail. One man changed all of that. Through a lot of shadowy diplomacy, contacts in Romania, Japan, an outfit called 7-Air Santini, the New York mob, the head of the Trans-Siberian railroad, FTZ24 in Pittston PA, a CIA counter intelligence agent named Bert succeeded in “getting in” with the Chinese in a period of 2.5 years, leading up to the Nixon visit to China.

As it were, right about when the Secret Service set up the meeting Nixon had requested, Viktor Belenko flew his Mig-25 to Japan and sent the US intelligence community in overdrive. The meeting didn’t happen and to my knowledge Nixon never met the CIA agent he felt had been responsible for the thaw in US – China relations.

I knew Bert well, he was my best friend when he died. Even though 1972 was a long time ago you can be sure not much has changed in shadowy diplomacy and back channels.

So who’s all winning in this North Korea “crisis” you ask?

NPR asks “How much can China actually do to help influence the situation in North Korea?”

Seriously? If you believe that I can make you a great deal on a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. What’s probably more accurate is that the Chinese recognized despite all of President Trump’s personal shortcomings that his anti-globalization platform does resonate with many in the US and beyond and this could hurt Chinese leadership where it matters, in their pocketbook. So explicitly or implicitly the Chinese encourage the jerk in North Korea to ratchet up his belligerence a notch and now there’s leverage.

Everybody wins.

Eventually there will be back-channel concessions to the Chinese and their global ambitions in return for the jerk in North Korea ratcheting down his belligerence. The Chinese score a win at home, no hit to their pocketbooks. Washington turns it into a win at home, “we got North Korea to bow down”. It doesn’t matter if it’s still the Donald or somebody else by the time this all calms down, the powers that be are fairly nameless.

The winning doesn’t end in Washington and Beijing.

How about Japan and the Philippines? It’s fair to say both of those countries have a good deal of internal issues at the moment and there’s nothing better for shaky regimes to shore up domestic support than a big bad bogeyman threat next door.

But don’t think the winning ends with political regimes, no.

Cha-ching! The military industrial complex is liking this “crisis” already. Did you read that Australia should upgrade their missile defenses in light of this threat? I’m sure that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

But it’s all very dangerous. At the height of the so called Cold War there was very real fear of a war that would end all wars. As a young adult Bert had gotten badly hurt in the US Navy, he knew war was not pretty. And despite all his failures Nixon understood that war was not the desired outcome either.

If the jerk in North Korea realizes one day in a bad drink that he’s been played like a cheap violin by everybody who’s anybody he might just do something stupid. Let’s hope there are enough people in today’s intelligence community who understand that war is not the outcome we want.

Teachers strike continues – avoid Cusco

Teachers have been on strike in Cusco for over a month. There have been near daily protest marches, road blocks and difficulty getting to or from the airport. Recently parts of the railroad to Machu Picchu and an airport wall have been damaged by striking teachers. In the past few days the tourism industry workers have been protesting against the disruptions caused by the teachers, ostensibly supporting the “peaceful” protests but I’m sure if you asked most tourism workers what they really think about the striking teachers you’d get quite an earful.

Nobody, not the teachers union, not the regional government (who, as I understand, are responsible for the teacher’s salaries) not the national government seems to give a rat’s behind about only ones who are really done wrong here: the kids who haven’t gotten classes in over a month.

I’m done with the “everything is wonderful in Cusco” thingy because it’s not, leadership in Cusco is an embarrassment.

The sad state of Peru

Former Peru President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine both got sent to prison yesterday, ostensibly over the Odebrecht bribe scandal that’s rocked South America politics. This has all been covered in world media but the context is truly sad.

If you think about recent Peru politics, the list goes like this: most recent ex-Prez Humala is in jail, before him came Alan Garcia, before Alan Garcia came Alejandro Toledo who’s hiding out in the US while arrest warrants are out for him in Peru, before Toledo came Alberto Fujimori who’s in jail (I’m skipping the transition gov’t between Fujimori and Toledo).

Walking into the office today I pondered about one of our developers, Carlos. He’s a young guy, 20-something, got a university degree, makes a small bundle of money, has a girlfriend who’s probably going to be Mrs. Carlos soon. Sure he’s still young but he’s also not a kid. How sad is this: with exception of Alan Garcia, everybody who’s been President of Peru in this young man’s lifetime is either in jail or on the run from justice in Peru.

Carlos is not too far from the median age in Peru. That means half of all Peruvians have only known 1 President in their lifetimes who’s not in jail or on the run from the law. Think about that for a moment.

Sadly, the only 2 takeaways are that Alan Garcia is the best political animal in Peru (Otto says so too) and that Peru has very serious structural problems.

Don’t come to Cusco today or tomorrow

There’s a big strike in the entire Cusco region today, July 12, and tomorrow as well. Roads are blocked, transportation is largely shut down, most business are closed or operating in limited capacity. I believe the reason for the strike is to demand the start of construction of the “new” airport in Chincheros, which on a scale of stupidity 1 to 10 is about a 400. If PPK had a spine, he’d cancel the entire Chincheros airport concession contract and start over.

In fact, at risk of incurring the collective wrath of the internet and Peru at large, I think this might be the first post in a series as to why you should not come to Cusco, period. Essentially 2 reasons: 1) you can probably find better ways to spend your vacation dollars and 2) the tremendous amount of tourist dollars flowing to Cusco, free money if you will, is not improving the quality of life in Cusco, rather the opposite is happening: free tourist money is bad for Cusco, IMHO.

Gregg Allman, QEPD

Once upon a time I set out to look for a date to take to the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. I ended up going to the concert alone but I did meet a Peruvian princess on that fateful night and now I live on top of a mountain in Peru with said Peruvian princess and 3 wawachas. Needless to say, that concert was a defining moment in my life.

Since Gregg Allman passed away recently I’ve been listening more to Allman Brothers Band music again. If you’re a music fan, especially someone who likes to get carried away by music, you’ll want to check out the Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East” album, considered one of the greatest live albums in classic rock.

But on a lighter note, I stumbled across this Youtube and 3 things came to mind:

  • I was in diapers when this was recorded.
  • Gregg Allman has now passed away, QEPD.
  • Cher, still looks the same. Life is not fair!

New wheels

Our 4 year old got her first “real” bike this week. Look at that baby, at night she’s lit up like a fair ride and she’s got better headlights than my dad’s Oldsmobile Diesel did. Then there’s the stereo system. None of my first 5 cars had a USB stereo! Although I did own a ’78 Cadillac with an 8-track tape system in it many moons ago and yes do I ever regret selling that baby!

But back to the bicycle, I’ve flown airplanes with less electronics in them than my 4-year old’s bike. Think I’m kidding? I’m not. (hint, search for “electrical system”)

Missed connections

I had a birthday last week so we had a small party at the house with family and friends. If my grandfather were still with us he would’ve said something like “God willing, you’re about halfway there!”

I’m a pretty traditional party food guy – the pizza and wings type – but this time around we’d decided to get Chifa for our guests, Peruvian style oriental food. Mamacita Linda called in a big take out order to Chifa Status and my brother in law and I set out to pick up the food. The restaurant was busy so we sat down and had a drink waiting for our order.

A large group was seated at the next table. The group consisted of about 12 or 15 young men and one beautiful young girl. The men were all dressed alike in black leather jackets and the girl also dressed in black. The men all acted confident, almost cocky, as if they owned the place. Rarely any of them made eye contact outside their group. I started to get a bit suspicious. If you’d ever been to a restaurant owned by the Italian mob in NY, you’d expect the mob family to look just like the group of young men I was seated next to. Was I seated next to a gang? Or maybe not? Peruvian gangs don’t exactly get dressed up to go out to the best Chifa in town. The guys all looked confident and slightly cocky but didn’t look they were up to anything.

When one of the guys got up I had a chance to look at the design on the back of his black leather jacket, and the words “Rosita de Espinar.” Wait, what?! All these guys were wearing “Rosita de Espinar” jackets. And I’m her biggest number one gringo fan! So 12 guys with one girl, the girl has to be Rosita de Espinar right?

Unlike me, many middle class Peruvians would rather die than to be caught listening to Peruvian folkloric music. Me, on the other hand I’ll go nuts playing air-banjo, air-guitar, air-drums and air-anything else in the car when some Peruvian folk music comes on the radio. With the kids all yelling “change the station you’re embarrassing us!”

Now I wish I could tell you I ran over, got a picture and an autograph from Rosita de Espinar for my best birthday present ever but I didn’t 😦

I couldn’t believe this group of guys who – save for polyester pants – could’ve come straight out of “Saturday Night Fever” were a group of Peruvian folkloric singers. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the girl was Rosita de Espinar. I’ve never seen her perform live or seen her pictures other than where she’s always dressed in traditional folkloric costume promoting her shows. Here she was all cosmopolitan, the girl in black dressed to the hilt, looking nothing like those folkloric images. In fact, she’s much prettier in real life than in the pictures where she’s in costume.

Right about this time the group started to leave and our food was ready so we left as well. We got to the house and of course Mamacita Linda was fully understanding of my idiocy:

“What do you mean you didn’t know if it was Rosita de Espinar??? Do you think 12 guys with Rosita de Espinar jackets are going to be hanging out with Dina Paucar or Lady Gaga? You missed your chance you big idiot!!!”

Hey Rosita, come back and have Chifa with us another day, my kids would love to meet your musicians!