Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Snookered

To no one’s surprise at all.

U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country’s first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States, according to officials familiar with the intelligence.

Newly obtained evidence, including satellite photos taken in recent weeks, indicates that work is underway on at least one and possibly two liquid-fueled ICBMs at a large research facility in Sanumdong, on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe classified intelligence.

The findings are the latest to show ongoing activity inside North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities at a time when the country’s leaders are engaged in arms talks with the United States. The new intelligence does not suggest an expansion of North Korea’s capabilities but shows that work on advanced weapons is continuing weeks after President Trump declared in a Twitter posting that Pyongyang was “no longer a Nuclear Threat.”

Kim Jon-un’s next offer to Trump: there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that’s just come on the market…

Did anyone really think that a smile and a handshake would end nearly seventy years of hostility and the total shut-down of the one thing that North Korea has that has any clout outside of their sealed-off world?

Now Trump is talking about meeting up with Iran’s president without any pre-conditions at all.  (Remember when Obama said he’d consider talking to our adversaries and the right-wingers hit the roof?)  So far Iran is not interested — they don’t think it’s worth their time talking to a lunatic, I guess — but they could be passing up a great opportunity to get a free pass to start up their nuclear program again.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Sunday Reading

The Forgotten Border — Porter Fox in the New York Times took a trip along the Canadian border with the U.S.

At 5,525 miles, the United States-Canada border is the world’s longest land boundary, more than double the length of the United States-Mexico line. It passes through remote terrain arrayed with 8,000-foot peaks, millions of acres of wilderness and four of the five Great Lakes — a lot of it essentially unguarded.

With President Trump’s unrelenting focus on the Mexican border and all the dangers he says it poses for America, the nation’s northern boundary has remained mostly an afterthought — even though it is potentially more porous than the southern border. More unsettling, haphazard enforcement and surveillance efforts there have upended commerce with our No. 2 trading partner and have struggled to stop extremists, drug traffickers and illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

“The problem is that we don’t know what the threats and risk are because so much attention is given to the Southwest border,” Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, told The New York Times in 2016. She was the author of a bill that required the Department of Homeland Security to develop a threat assessment for the northern border.

Last month, the department announced its latest strategy to secure the border. Its report says that the principal challenge is ending the illegal flow of drugs between Canada and the United States. But there are other issues, like making it easier for people who live in cross-border communities to pass over the line, and speeding up the flow of trade and services — all while keeping up the country’s guard.

I spent the last three years traversing the northern border for a book about that so-called Hi-Line. The northland is a singular place, occupied by the sort of small towns that modern America has skipped over, obscure industries and old-world professions that rely on hands, not machines. It is also a wild place, with forests of old-growth hemlock, fir and birch; wild rivers; unnamed mountain ranges; and some of the largest roadless areas in America.

For much of my journey, it was difficult to discern where the border even was. I unintentionally crossed it dozens of times without seeing an agent or border monument. A French teenager jogging along a beach in British Columbia recently wasn’t so lucky. When she inadvertently crossed the unmarked border into the United States, she was detained for two weeks.

What I did see and hear were unhappy citizens on both sides of the line who said that the northern border’s “Mexicanization” — essentially, the American government’s mimicking of procedures it uses in the south — has resulted in congestion at ports of entry, invasive questioning at checkpoints, racial profiling and long delays, all of which that have changed life for the worse on both sides of the border.

Since the 18th century, when the northern border was first hastily sketched, the boundary has had the appearance of a scrawl. It divides more than a dozen American Indian tribes, and in Niagara Falls, N.Y., it cleaves North America’s most famous waterfall. Homes, businesses, golf courses and factories sit on the border. During Prohibition, taverns were built on the line so that Americans could be welcomed on one side and sold booze on the other.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, half of the crossings between the United States and Canada were left unguarded at night. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has increased the number of agents in the north by 500 percent and installed some of the same sensors, security cameras, military-grade radar and drones used on the United States-Mexico line.

The number of apprehensions along the northern border is relatively low compared with those along the southern line — about 3,000 in the 2017 fiscal year versus about 300,000 in the south.

Even so, every year, millions of dollars worth of smuggled drugs, including large quantities of opioids, like fentanyl, and an untold number of immigrants cross the border illegally into the United States. Motion sensors and cameras detect illicit crossers, some armed, in remote areas, but the agents can’t always get there in time to catch them.

Illicit drugs and illegal immigration are not the only concerns. A 2015 report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs said, “Some experts also believe that terrorists could exploit vulnerabilities along the northern border to carry out an attack on the U.S.” and noted that in 2011, Alan Bersin, a former commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that in terms of terrorism, “it’s commonly accepted that the more significant threat comes from the U.S.-Canada” border rather than the border with Mexico.

Today, according to the Department of Homeland Security report, the potential terror threats come “primarily from homegrown violent extremists in Canada” who are not on terrorist watch lists and thus can cross into the United States legally.

Beyond the terrorism threat, the government has the challenge of overseeing a border crossed every day by more than 400,000 people and $1.6 billion in goods through some 120 points of entry. According to a 2011 study by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, increased secondary searches and unpredictable waiting times at the border were costing Americans and Canadians as much as $30 billion annually. Homeland Security has been working to minimize those waiting times.

Intensified security at border crossings also has disrupted centuries-old international communities that straddle the line. Two centuries of intermarrying among French, Acadian, Indian, German, Scottish and Dutch people created families and communities that span the border. After decades of being able to cross the line at will, families, Native Americans, members of church congregations, and employees at hospitals and small businesses now find themselves confronted with a sometimes impassable and, occasionally hostile, barrier.

In the coming months, Homeland Security will begin to put in place its border management plan, which calls for enhanced border security while also doing a better job of facilitating cross-border trade and travel. Some of the actions proposed to achieved those ends have been suggested before, with little follow-through.

This time, perhaps, our border to the north will get the attention and resources it needs.

[Photo of border at Point Roberts, Washington, by Florian Fuchs.]

Doonesbury — More tweets from the twit.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Camping Out

From McClatchy:

The Trump administration is looking to build tent cities at military posts around Texas to shelter the increasing number of unaccompanied migrant children being held in detention.

The Department of Health and Human Services will visit Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army base near El Paso in the coming weeks to look at a parcel of land where the administration is considering building a tent city to hold between 1,000 and 5,000 children, according to U.S. officials and other sources familiar with the plans.

HHS officials confirmed that they’re looking at the Fort Bliss site along with Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene and Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo for potential use as temporary shelters.

“HHS will make the determination if any of the three sites assessed are suitable,” said an HHS official.

It gets hot in Texas in the summer.  Very hot.  The average high in San Angelo in July is 95 F.  People left out in the sun die from heat exhaustion.  Air conditioning a tent is like trying to cool your house by leaving the freezer open.

But that’s just the practical side of the matter.  What kind of country separates children from their parents, regardless of the legal status, and forces them in to a refugee camp?

That photo is not from Texas… yet.  It’s a Syrian refugee in Jordan in 2017.

Every day when Ali Jibraail wakes up he worries about his falafel shop. Will this be the day the electricity generator fails? Can he continue to ward off an increasing number of competitors? Might his suppliers begin to resent crossing the desert to make deliveries and raise their prices?

This is Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to 80,000 Syrians who have fled the devastating war, and – established four years ago – Jibraail’s is its longest serving restaurant.

Each day the Damascus-born chef and his nine staff serve up 7,500 falafel balls, at five Jordanian dinars (€6.66) for three. “The whole camp eat here,” Jibraail says, proudly.

The restaurant is located on Zaatari’s main shopping street – where residents can procure everything from bicycles to wedding dresses to canaries. UN workers cheerfully title it the “Champs Élysées”. “But only the foreigners call it that,” says Ala (25) from Daraa in southwest Syria. “We call it Hamidiyah market – [after] the largest market in [the Syrian capital] Damascus.”

This month the Syrian war enters its seventh year. With no end in sight, life for the displaced trundles on through births, deaths and marriages – milestones muted by the feeling of transience. A sizeable portion of Zaatari’s residents have more significant memories inside the camp than out.

Cradling her newborn son in a ward of the on-site field hospital, 16-year-old Amal Hamoud hasn’t been to school since she left Syria and was forced to abandon 5th grade. “My son looks like his father,” she says.

At least in this camp, in the heart of one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II, they’re not separating children from parents.

Of course there’s a difference between the civil war in Syria and immigration across the U.S. southern border.  But how we’re handling it tells us a lot about our country and who’s running it.

Annals of Diplomacy

Joint Communique from Singapore via CNN:

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

Historic summit?  Yeah, just like this one.

Or this one.

Or this one.

But it’s probably closer to this one.

Charlie Pierce:

The two anomalous creatures signed an anomalous document that really doesn’t commit anyone to anything. There is really nothing to comment upon, except for the fact that an American president* met a leader of North Korea for the first time. There’s no reason for them to trust each other, and no reason for the rest of us to trust either of them.

And, besides, no country in the history of the world willingly has given up all its nuclear weapons once it had them. I am skeptical that North Korea under its present leadership is going to be the first one to do so. But, hey, maybe they really want a yacht club and a couple of casinos.

 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Who’s The Bad Guy Here?

A photo from today’s summit between Kim and Trump”

Meanwhile, Dana Milbank at the Washington Post on how Trump really took out our enemies over the weekend.

O Canada: You had it coming, eh.

They inflicted Nickelback on us. We did nothing.

They sent us Justin Bieber. We turned the other cheek.

They were responsible for one abomination after the other: Poutine. Diphthong vowels. Hawaiian pizza. Instant mashed potatoes. Ted Cruz.

Still, we did not retaliate — until now.

Finally, the United States has a president with the brains and the guts to stand up to the menace of the north. This weekend President Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “meek,” “very dishonest & weak” for protesting U.S. tariffs. Trump’s trade adviser said “there’s a special place in hell” for Trudeau, and Trump’s economic adviser said Trudeau “stabbed us in the back” and is guilty of “betrayal” and “double-crossing.”

How do you feel now, Canada? Or, to put it in a language you understand: How’s she bootin’er?

Trudeau earned his place in the underworld for some truly appalling rhetoric, saying “we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around.” Offensive! He also found it “kind of insulting” that the Trump administration said it was imposing tariffs on Canadian goods “for a national security reason” given that Canadians “stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward.”

Canada is not a national security threat to the United States? Au contraire, as they say in (very foreign) Quebec.

Trudeau conveniently omits the invasion of Detroit from Canada in 1812. And there was that ugly dispute in 1844 when soon-to-be President James K. Polk wanted the U.S. border to extend all the way north to Alaska at 54 degrees, 40 minutes latitude (slogan: “Fifty-four forty or fight!”) but was forced to accept the 49th parallel, a humiliation that denied us Vancouver and many great Chinese restaurants.

And let’s not even get started about the softwood lumber dispute. Too painful.

[…]

Inexplicably, these foreigners are not putting America First. That’s why Trump needs to quit the group and make his own G-8 — the Great Eight — with more sympathetic world leaders:

Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who enjoys “a great relationship” with Trump as he deploys extralegal killing squads.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is “very open” and “very honorable” in running the most repressive regime on Earth.

Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who established himself as a “fantastic guy” with his bloody crackdown on dissidents.

The Saudi regime, which has been “tremendous” as it purges business leaders and critics.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is “getting very high marks” as he jails opponents.

China’s premier, Xi Jinping, who did something “great” in making himself president for life.

And, of course, Russian President Vladimir Putin, “getting an A” for his leadership and receiving a congratulatory call from Trump after his “election.”

There is no room in this G-8 for Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Japan — and certainly not Canada. Canadians say “ Sorry ” for everything. But Trudeau not only failed to apologize to Trump, he won praise from his political opponents for defying Trump. This is a clear and present danger to the United States. Given Canadians’ well-known instability — their currency is called the “ loonie ” — there can be only one solution: We are going to build a wall from Maine to Alaska — and Ottawa is going to pay.

Fifty-four forty or fight! MAGA! Take off, hosers.

Democracy and compromise is a sign of weakness to Trump.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Trump Diplomacy

Sending out Rudy Giuliani to share diplomatic methods with our allies is like trying to find a gas leak with a box of matches.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un got “on his hands and knees and begged” for their summit to be held after Mr. Trump canceled it last month….

Speaking at an investment conference in Israel hosted by the “Globes” newspaper, Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Trump canceled the summit last month because senior North Korean officials insulted top Trump administration officials.

“They also said they were going to go to nuclear war with us, they were going to defeat us in a nuclear war,” Mr. Giuliani said. “We said we’re not going to have a summit under those circumstances.”

After Mr. Trump canceled the meeting, Mr. Giuliani said: “Well, Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.”

Given the touchy nature of Mr. Kim’s personality and his propensity for feeling slighted at the littlest thing — he once had a government official executed for falling asleep in his presence — this statement should go over well in Pyongyang.

This crowd would serve cheeseburgers at a Seder.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Steel Away

This should go over well in certain places.

Trump wants to impose a total ban on the imports of German luxury cars, according to a new report from CNBC and German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

Several U.S. and European diplomats told the news outlets that Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron about his plans last month during a state visit.

Trump reportedly told Macron that he would maintain the ban until no Mercedes-Benz cars are seen on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Shares of Daimler, Porsche and Volkswagen were lower on Thursday, shortly after the weekly German business magazine published the report.

Calling these automobiles “imports” is a bit of a misnomer.  While they may have corporate headquarters in Germany, the cars you see on Fifth Avenue in New York are assembled in places like Alabama and South Carolina.  I think the people who put the cars together there vote, too, as well as the people who buy them.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Of Course They Did

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is out with a book that answers the question about Russian influence in the 2016 election.

“Of course the Russian efforts affected the outcome. Surprising even themselves, they swung the election to a Trump win. To conclude otherwise stretches logic, common sense, and credulity to the breaking point. Less than eighty thousand votes in three key states swung the election. I have no doubt that more votes than that were influenced by this massive effort by the Russians.”

Was there active collusion between the Trump campaign — or the candidate himself — and Russian proxies or agents? Clapper does not go that far because he doesn’t have proof. But what he calls Trump’s “aggressive indifference” to the intelligence community’s detailed presentation of Russian activities is, in his view, damning enough. “Allegations of collusion and the results of the election were secondary to the profound threat Russia posed — and poses — to our system,” Clapper writes, and he does a fair job explaining why.

It’s understandable why Trump would display “aggressive indifference” to the Russian activities: it was his magnificent gloriousness and broad appeal to the masses that won the election, see.  Anything else calls into question his legitimacy, and worse, it would be an admission that he was just a pawn in Putin’s attempt to get back at the U.S. for all their meddling in Russia and their proxies during the Cold War.  Putin didn’t want Trump to necessarily win; he just wanted us to lose.

It’s Good It Didn’t Happen

The way things were going for the North Korea summit before Trump sent his petulant I-don’t-wanna-play-in-your-yard letter to Kim, it was lining up to be a disaster on the scale of the Hindenburg meets New Coke.  We’d already gotten China and Japan nervous, and then sent out Bolton and Pence to basically threaten North Korea with comparisons to the regime change in Libya.  Trump would have come out of Singapore looking more like the blundering vulgarian that we already know he is, except this time he’s done it on a global scale with real lives — several million in one blow — at stake.

And the Swedish Academy can breathe a sigh knowing that they won’t have to worry about pussy-grabbing in Oslo in December.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

No Show

The North Korea summit is off.

“I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” President Trump wrote to Kim in a letter released by the White House.

The summit had been planned for June 12 in Singapore.

Gee, what a shock.  Trump and the gang have done everything to provoke a nasty response from Kim Jong-un, and now he — Trump — is blaming it all on him for reacting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Stockholm Syndrome

Don’t start rehearsing that Nobel Peace Prize speech yet, Trump.

North Korea threw President Trump’s planned summit meeting with its leader, Kim Jong-un, into doubt on Wednesday, threatening to call off the landmark encounter if the United States insisted on “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The statement, made by the North’s disarmament negotiator, came hours after state media warned that the summit meeting might be canceled to protest a joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea that began this week.

The warnings caught Trump administration officials off guard and set off an internal debate over whether Mr. Kim was merely posturing in advance of the meeting in Singapore next month or was erecting a serious new hurdle.

In a statement Wednesday, Kim Kye-kwan, a vice foreign minister, rejected the administration’s demand that it quickly dismantle its nuclear program as Libya did 15 years ago, singling out John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s new national security adviser, for condemnation.

“If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the D.P.R.K.-U.S. summit,” the statement said, using the abbreviation for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Mr. Kim said his country would never follow the path of Libya and Iraq, which he said met a “miserable fate” at the hands of “big powers.”

He said North Korea had “shed light on the quality of Bolton” in the past, “and we do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him.”

This could be just them posturing and jockeying for position, but it could also be that North Korea saw them coming a mile away and Trump and Bolton got played big time.

It will now be up to Trump et al to come up with a cogent response that assures the world that no one really meant to suggest that North Korea would have to get rid of all of their nukes, which is exactly what Trump has been saying they promised to do all along.

In other words, the Trump folks were talking results and crowing about polishing up their plans for Stockholm next winter without bothering to go to all the trouble of having a successful summit in the first place.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Friday, April 6, 2018

Short Takes

Oklahoma teachers continue their march to the state capital.

Pruitt under pressure: EPA chief’s problems keep growing.

Yeah right: Trump says he was unaware of payment to Stormy Daniels.

Cyclist fired for flipping off Trump sues her former employer.

New Russia sanctions go after oligarchs.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Short Takes

87 million: That’s the number of Facebook users who got swept by Cambridge Analytics.

Trump backs off immediate Syrian withdrawal.

National Guard at the border will not touch immigrants.

No kidding: Rubio says federal funds needed to help the Keys recover from hurricane damage.

There are dozens of black holes at the center of the Milky Way.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018