Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Reading

He’ll Believe It When He Sees It — Charles P. Pierce on Trump’s trip to Pyongyang.

Personally, I won’t believe it until he gets off the plane in Pyongyang. But, if the president*’s visit to North Korea actually comes off, my fondest hope is that they don’t throw him a huge parade with all the trimmings, because, in that case, he might sell them Rhode Island. From CNN:

The talks would be the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader and will take place by May, according to South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, who delivered the invitation to Trump after a visit by his delegation to Pyongyang earlier this week. Chung said Kim had offered to put Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile program on the table. The White House said Trump had agreed to the encounter. “He will accept the invitation to meet with Kim Jong Un at a place and time to be determined,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders. Trump’s decision, after a year in which the two have repeatedly traded insults, is a remarkable breakthrough. It brings the North Korean regime close to its long-desired aim of recognition on the international stage, and offers Trump the tantalizing prospect of a historic diplomatic victory. But the consequences of such a high-stakes gamble remain hard to predict.

Someone smarter than me is going to have to explain how bringing the world’s most paranoid and dangerous one-man show closer to any of its long-desired aims is an historic diplomatic victory. Inviting Kim Jong-un and his country into the international community of nations without some whopping-big concessions on his part doesn’t sound altogether like winning. Apparently, one of the keys to getting Kim to move is to get sockless with him over dinner.

During the visit, Kim reportedly joked over dinners of Korean hotpot and cold noodles. At one meeting, he said previous missile tests had caused Moon to schedule early morning national security meetings. “I decided today (to freeze the tests) so he will not lose sleep anymore,” he said, according to a South Korean presidential official. Kim and the officials shared several bottles of wine, liquor made of ginseng and Pyongyang soju, the official said. “The bottles kept coming,” said another administrative source who had official knowledge of the meeting.

(An aside: during my brief time in South Korea in 1988, I had an encounter with soju, a kind of high-intensity Korean poitin. If these cats were drinking soju by the bottle, it’s a wonder that they all didn’t get up on the tables and dance 60-odd years of hostility away.)

Of course, we have taken a ride on this Tilt-A-Whirl before. Remember the Agreed Framework? That was the deal struck between the Clinton Administration and North Korea back in 1994, by which Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, agreed to freeze his nuclear program in exchange for being allowed to build two nuclear reactors capable only of providing power. The United States also agreed to sell North Korea some fuel oil. There was a picture of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toasting the deal with Kim that sent the heads of many conservative commentators to spinning.

That deal began to come a’cropper in 1998, when North Korea fired off a missile test. (They also copped to developing a uranium-enrichment program.) The Clinton Administration decided to pursue negotiations for further agreements under the Agreed Framework. Then, the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in the White House and everything went to hell. Bush appointed noted Death Eater John Bolton as his arms-control czar and, as points out, Bolton had his own plans for dealing with North Korea.

Rather than confront the North Koreans and demand they halt their efforts to create a uranium enrichment capability, the intelligence findings gave those in the Bush administration who opposed the Agreed Framework a reason to abandon it. John Bolton, then- undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, later wrote that “this was the hammer I had been looking for to shatter the Agreed Framework.” At the behest of the Bush administration, KEDO announced Nov. 21, 2003 that it would suspend construction of the two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea for one year beginning Dec. 1. The suspension came in response to Pyongyang’s failure to meet “the conditions necessary for continuing” the project, according to the KEDO announcement.

KEDO further stated that the project’s future “will be assessed and decided by [its] Executive Board before the expiration of the suspension period.” But a Department of State spokesperson said several days earlier that there is “no future for the project.”

It is here where I point out that Bolton is under active consideration to replace General H. R. McMaster as the president*’s National Security Adviser. Nobody else wants the job, but almost anybody up to and including Zombie Cordell Hull would be a better choice. This also makes clear another perilous element to this sudden diplomatic coup—to wit: nobody knows anything, as the Voice of America points out.

Aaron David Miller, a senior analyst at the Wilson Center, has advised a number of Republican and Democratic secretaries of state. Miller told VOA he believes if this recent offer of direct talks does represent a transformative change in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s position, then it is too valuable an opportunity to waste, and the U.S. should test it — first through discreet dialogue before any structured negotiations take place. Asked who in the Trump administration could prepare and conduct sensitive, complicated and grueling direct talks with North Korea, Miller drew a blank. “Right now, it is hard to identify any single individual or team of individuals that has both the negotiating experience and knowledge of the history, the cultural and political sensitivity, and knowledge of how the North Koreans behave and how they see the world,” he said. He added: “In this republic, you might have to reach for people who have had experience and who are part of another administration. This administration may not be willing to do that.”

So far, it seems to have been the South Koreans who’ve done most of the heavy-lifting, and most of the heavy elbow-bending, to bring us to this point. As I said, I’ll believe this when I see it, but, if the president* does make the trip, oh, what a parade they’re going to throw him. Look out, Providence.

Back To Reality — Emily Witt in The New Yorker on the MSD students’ return to partisanship.

Three weeks after a former student had shot seventeen pupils and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and three days after classes had resumed, the campus was settling into a routine again. A few patrol cars and a small squadron of sheriffs on motorcycles were all that remained of the police presence. The sign-waving supporters outside were gone, and the farm animals trained in emotional support had returned to their paddocks. By the time the school bell rang on Friday, at 7:40 A.M., the one television crew on site was breaking down its tripod. Outside the school fences were piles of rotting flowers, Teddy bears, deflated Mylar balloons, and pinwheels spinning in the sun. What had begun as an emergency was settling into finality.

In the days leading up to the Stoneman Douglas students’ return to school, the movement for gun control they had started had grown far beyond the city, out in the world. The teen-age activists had tolerated expressions of empathy from daytime talk-show hosts (Dr. Phil and Ellen DeGeneres) and lame jokes from the nighttime ones (Jordan Klepper and Bill Maher). John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, and other celebrities had made large donations for the upcoming march on Washington. As bereaved parents gave furious speeches at the Florida statehouse, where the legislature was considering a school-safety bill, a delegation of Stoneman Douglas students travelled to Washington, D.C. They met with the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, and the Florida congressional delegation, all of whom afterward posted photos on social media of themselves engaged in thoughtful conversation at conference tables. The students posted photos of themselves with Congressman John Lewis, of Georgia, the civil-rights leader, and with the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.

Emma González, one of the student leaders, hadn’t joined the delegation to Washington, but had stayed at home to work on recruitment for the March for Our Lives, to be held on March 24th, in Washington. The afternoon of her third day back at school found her in the gymnasium of the recreation center at Pine Trails Park, preparing for an information session. Since her return to school, González had dedicated herself to selling the march to her fellow-students. This meant sharing Never Again’s platform about gun control, while also being sensitive to a wide range of political viewpoints. At a meeting the previous day, some students expressed worry that the march’s message was too partisan.

“These are my opinions,” González said to Jeffrey Foster, her A.P. Government teacher, who was there to answer questions from parents. “I’m, like, you can say whatever you want about whatever topic, I’m not telling you what to say there, but make sure the message is cohesive. Here’s how I feel, and here is what goes through my head. You don’t have to listen to me on this, but if you want to help this is a really important way to help.”

The gym had been stocked with pizzas, boxes of tissues, and coolers of drinks. Students arrived, many of them accompanied by their parents, and took their seats. González checked to make sure that bottles of water and paper plates had been put out. She wore a maroon sundress and pink sneakers. Less than two weeks before, I had watched as she sat at a picnic table and chose a Twitter handle. Now she had more than a million followers on Twitter—more, as many pointed out, than the N.R.A. But all of this had happened outside of school. I asked how it was to be back.

“It’s pretty good,” she said. “And if news developments happen in the day—like today, when we found out about the shooting, my friend got upset, and I was immediately able to talk to her. I didn’t have to drive over to her house or run over there, like, she walked down the hallway and we were able to talk to each other. That’s nice. And the support dogs—have you heard about the support dogs?”

The shooting that day had happened at Central Michigan University, where a nineteen-year-old named James Eric Davis, Jr., had killed his parents, who had arrived to pick him up for spring break. For González and the other students, the news of yet another act of gun violence on a campus had renewed their sense of purpose but also their feeling of powerlessness.

“It feels like we’re not getting anything done,” González said. “The wheels of bureaucracy turn so slowly that, no matter what we say and how many people we get to sign petitions, we can’t vote anybody out until midterm elections, which are so far away.” As February gave way to March, two points were proved about the gun-control debate: first, that cynicism about it was not unfounded; second, that, even as the students advocated, the violence would not stop.

To insure that students would be comfortable asking questions, the media were not allowed to remain in the gym for the lecture, so, as González dimmed the lights and began her presentation, I stepped outside. Near the entrance of the rec center, Ryan Deitsch and Delaney Tarr, who had been among the students who went to Washington, D.C., earlier in the week, sat at a table. Never Again had developed a platform, the main tenets of which Tarr read out to me from a yellow notebook with the words “Anything Is Possible!” embossed on the cover in gold.

“Of course, the assault-weapons ban is the most difficult, and that’s the longest-term thing,” she said, flipping pages until she found her list. “But now what we’re really getting into is universal background checks. That would also entail closing the gun-show loopholes, closing straw purchases, and instilling the red-flag system. We also want to get rid of high-capacity magazines, and we want to raise the age from eighteen to twenty-one.” In Washington, particularly when talking to pro-gun politicians, the students focussed their arguments on narrower problems: the law that forbids the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives from creating a searchable database; the Dickey Amendment, which prevents research that advocates or promotes gun control; bump stocks, which allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire at a rapid clip. The students became increasingly adept at identifying political obfuscation: the congressman who might discuss “extensive background checks” rather than universal ones; the congresswoman who brings up mental illness to change the subject from gun control. With Senator Charles Schumer, of New York, they discussed the flaws of the background-check system, and how to improve the original assault-weapons ban, from 1994, which Schumer co-authored, and which the students think could be more effective with the addition of a gun-buy-back program.

I asked what it was like to go back to school. “Boring,” Deitsch said. “It’s been coloring and Play-Doh.” Classrooms had been supplied with games and something called “kinetic sand” to ease the students’ reëentry. “When you sit down with the Speaker of the House and then you’re told to just play with a lump of clay, it’s not really stimulating.”

The Speaker of the House, it turned out, had given the students some pushback on their critique of the Dickey Amendment, and a hallway encounter with Congressman Darrell Issa, of California, had turned downright contentious. The Democrats had been more amenable, but, after speaking to them, the movement added another message. “We also wanted to tell them, ‘Listen, we’re so grateful for the help and everything, but we’re not your pawns,’ ” Chris Grady, a Stoneman Douglas senior who went on the trip, said later, after the meeting in the gymnasium. “Make no mistake about it: we’re our own movement.”

The following evening, the second annual Obama Roosevelt Legacy Dinner, advertised as one of the “premier events for the Broward County Democratic Party,” was held at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel, in Fort Lauderdale. Valets waved attendees into parking lots that overlooked a marina filled with gleaming white yachts. The dinner, tickets to which cost a hundred and seventy-five dollars or more, had been planned long in advance of the shooting, but the agenda had shifted. Bowls of ribbons in Stoneman Douglas colors were available for guests to pin to suit lapels and sequinned cardigans. The crowd was friendly, mostly over the age of forty, and clad in sensible shoes. The yachts outside likely belonged to other people; Mar-a-Lago was a county away. Several Stoneman Douglas students had come to the fund-raiser, too, although not, they emphasized, to endorse a particular candidate. If anything, it was the politicians who wanted their photos taken with the students. In their cocktail-hour soapbox speeches, the Democratic candidates for Florida’s 2018 gubernatorial race emphasized their records and sentiments on gun control. Afterward, a host encouraged guests to proceed to dinner in a “blue wave.”

The national anthem was sung and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, and then the ceremony began. The focus of the night was the violent act that had happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and what to do about it, as if the students had woken the politicians from a long enchanted slumber. There were only perfunctory mentions of health care, climate change, or the tax cut that Republicans had passed earlier that year. There was no mention of the resignations and allegations plaguing the Trump Administration, which had shared the headlines with the shooting and its aftermath for the past two weeks.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz spoke of “the three-legged stool on which future generations can build and thrive: faith, hope, and courage.” Congressman Ted Deutch, at whose behest the students had visited Washington, said “Never again can we fail to take action.” Philip Levine, a candidate for governor, referred to to the students in attendance as “a new greatest generation right here.” Cynthia Busch, the county chairwoman, said that the Broward County e-mail list had tripled in the last week.

“No more deals, no more compromises,” she promised. “We are here to fight.”

The keynote speaker was Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, of Massachusetts. Kennedy is a ginger who speaks in the short staccato bursts of his great-uncle and grandfather. At thirty-seven, he has been tapped by the Party as a rising star, not only because of his dynastic connections and his relative youth but because of his ability to speak about important things without sounding phony. Earlier in the year, he was selected to give the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Now he issued a statement on an issue that, thanks to the relentless activism of the students, was going to be decisive in the midterm elections.

Kennedy began with acknowledgments and a joke about his family’s love of Florida. (“From what I can tell, President Kennedy didn’t get that winter tan ice fishing on Cape Cod.”) But he soon moved on to the heart of the matter.

“Our children wake up every morning in a country where nearly a hundred lives will be lost to guns by the time they go to bed, and they hear a Republican Party say that that is the price of freedom,” he said.

Kennedy recalled other instances of youth activism in American history: the mill girls of Lowell in the mid-nineteenth century; the Little Rock nine, in 1957; the children who marched for civil rights in the “children’s crusade” and were arrested in Birmingham, in 1963; the four students killed by the National Guard at Kent State, in 1970. “From Stonewall to Selma to Seneca Falls, America’s youth forces us to confront where we have fallen short,” he said.

He concluded with a promise that this time the adults would try harder. “Broward, have no doubt: our nation will follow you,” he said. “We will be better than we were in Little Rock, and in Birmingham, and in Kent. We will not force our kids to march alone. We will not tell them to do our government’s job.”

Was the government doing its job? In Florida, the state legislature passed a bill—which now awaits the signature of the Florida governor, Rick Scott—raising the age at which a person can buy an assault rifle to twenty-one. It also allotted sixty-seven million dollars to train and arm teachers, despite opposition from students and lawmakers who predicted that the policy would put more children, particularly African-American students, at risk. (There was also the opposition of Florida state representative Elizabeth Porter, who asked, “Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says no homework?”) In the U.S. Senate, Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, co-sponsored another bill raising age limits. The President expressed support for the idea, saying at a meeting with lawmakers that “It doesn’t make sense that I have to wait until I’m twenty-one to get a handgun but I can get this weapon at eighteen.” I thought back to what Ryan Deitsch, the Never Again activist, had told me while sitting in the Pine Trails Park rec center the day before: “Until the politicians vote and pass something, all of their words mean nothing. As soon as they’re shot down, it just means that everything we talked about, everything we did in Washington, everything we did in Tallahassee amounts to nothing. And we choose to refuse that reality.”

Time For A Change — Jess Bidgood in the New York Times notes that Florida isn’t the only place where they’re looking at going to the Atlantic Time Zone.

DAMARISCOTTA, Me. — Several years ago, the owner of a sandwich shop on the main drag here grew so tired of turning the clocks back in the fall — and witnessing the early sunsets that followed — that he simply decided not to. That year, he kept his shop on daylight saving time all winter.

“We have such short days,” said Sumner Fernald Richards III, the owner. “It was very nice to get out in the afternoon and still have an hour or two of daylight.”

Changing the clocks brings grumbles around the country, and especially here, in the nation’s Easternmost region, where “falling back” in the wintertime means sunsets as early as 4 p.m. and sometimes earlier. But as the clocks once again were nudged ahead to daylight saving time in many parts of the nation over the weekend, foes of turning the clocks back in the first place saw a glimmer of hope in New England.

Efforts to alter time zones pop up around the country like spring tulips every year, and rarely get very far. But some in New England are trying a different tack this time: They want, in essence, to stay on daylight saving time throughout the year, and think that a concurrent regional approach could be the key. If multiple New England states make the jump at the same time, the thinking goes, it just might happen — even if that means taking the unusual step of splitting from the time zone of the rest of the East Coast, including New York City.

“We are a distinct region of the country,” said Tom Emswiler, a health care administrator in Boston who is part of a dedicated smattering of New Englanders pushing for the change. “If New York wants to join us on permanent Atlantic time: Come in, the water’s fine.”

The efforts to join Atlantic Standard Time would mean that, for about four months out of the year, some New England states would be an hour ahead of the rest of the Eastern time zone. Last year, Massachusetts created a commission to study the question. The states have not coordinated, but in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, proposals have been filed that could open the possibility for such a change, at the very least, if their powerful neighbor — home to Boston, an economic driver — does.

“Our markets and our businesses would be operating ahead of New York; I don’t know how they’d like that,” State Senator Eileen M. Donoghue of Massachusetts said. She is chairwoman of the state’s commission, which has a major public hearing this week.

The idea, the senator said, requires much more study and perhaps, down the line, will merit a summit meeting of the interested states.

“When you look at the geography, we certainly line up more with the Atlantic time zone,” Ms. Donoghue said. Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and parts of Canada including Nova Scotia are on Atlantic Standard Time now.

Experts say the plan seems unlikely to come to fruition. Even if state legislatures passed these bills — and, so far, only New Hampshire’s House has — it would require either a regulatory action by the federal Department of Transportation, or an act of Congress. The governors of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have expressed reservations about making such a break.

But the debate has renewed musings about why, exactly, this part of the country is part of a time zone that may better serve cities to its west, and whether the region ought to boldly step away from its neighbors — maybe even on principle.

“Why do we essentially torture ourselves — in the spring in particular — and keep changing the clocks and messing everybody up?” asked Donna Bailey, a Democratic state representative from Saco, Me., who filed a bill on the matter this year. Under the current form of the bill, she said, Maine would have a referendum on the issue if both Massachusetts and New Hampshire made the switch.

“If we do it on a regional basis,” Ms. Bailey added, “you carve out a niche for yourself, that you don’t have to be so dependent on New York City.”

Any such switch would create a special complication for Connecticut since the northern part of the state is closely tied to Massachusetts, while many residents of the southern section commute to New York City.

The most frequently cited argument against a change is its effect on schoolchildren, who would most likely board buses in the dark on winter mornings. Proponents counter that the whole state of Maine, as well as communities including Boston, are considering pushing school start times back, too.

Plus, opponents say, such a change could create confusion for businesses and chaos for passengers taking Amtrak trains from New York to Boston and trying to figure out what time it is. Broadcast schedules — and with them, teams like the Patriots and the Bruins — could be affected as well.

“Once you start toying with the clocks, there are repercussions that people don’t bear in mind,” said Michael Downing, the author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.”

Time was kept locally in the United States until 1883, when railroad companies established the time zones. Daylight saving time began in Europe during World War I as an effort to save energy. It was adopted by the United States in 1918 but repealed the following year after strident objections from farmers, who preferred having more light in the morning, not in the evening.

But more cosmopolitan and some Eastern areas, like New York City and the state of Massachusetts, decided to keep it, opening up an inconsistent approach to timekeeping until Congress split the difference in 1966 and set the rule as six months of standard time and six months of daylight saving time. It is now observed between the middle of March and the beginning of November — except in Arizona and Hawaii, which have opted out.

If nothing else, the bills have sparked renewed rumination on time and light here in New England, and many people have their reasons for considering a change.

“Definitely it would mean a longer day of business,” said Lynn Archer, a chef who owns two restaurants in Rockland, Me., and groaned the other day as the harbor there glowed pink during an early evening sunset.

But the idea has left others — including the editorial board of The Bangor Daily News — aghast, saying it would isolate the state and hurt business. Plus, many Mainers are used to things as they are.

“You’re tough New Englanders, it’s just like — yeah, it’s cold and dark,” said Susan D’Amore, of Washington, Me. “So?”

Doonesbury — Job applicant.