North Korea

Breaking: Otto Warmbier Has Died

From ABC News yesterday:

Over and over, Otto Warmbier apologized and begged — at first calmly, then choking up and finally in tears — to be reunited with his family.

North Korean officials seated at long tables watched impassively, with cameras rolling and journalists taking notes, as the adventuresome, accomplished 21-year-old college student from suburban Cincinnati talked animatedly about the “severe crime” that had put him there: trying to take a propaganda banner for someone back home, supposedly in return for a used car and to impress a semi-secret society he wanted to join, and all under the supposed direction of the U.S. government.

“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed as his formally staged Feb. 29, 2016, “confession” to anti-state activities ended in Pyongang.

More than 15 months later, he has finally been reunited with his parents and two younger siblings.

Whether he is even aware of that is uncertain.

“His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system. Doctors say he has suffered “severe neurological injury,” with extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes will open and blink, but without signs of understanding verbal commands or his surroundings.

Warmbier, now 22, remains hospitalized at the UC Medical Center immediately after his arrival late Tuesday aboard a medevac flight following North Korea’s decision to release him for what it called humanitarian reasons — and under strong pressure after the Trump administration learned of his condition in a special U.S. envoy’s June 6 meeting in New York with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced March 16, 2016, to 15 years of prison with hard labor.

If life had gone to plan, he today would be in his first month as a new graduate of the University of Virginia.

So basically, the DPRK tortured and murdered a US Citizen for allegedly taking a propaganda poster off a wall.  Will this become an international incident?

Day 116. Jeopardized.

1/ Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their Oval Office meeting last week, which has jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. Trump’s decision to disclose information risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. A US official said Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Trump’s disclosures are not illegal as he has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it represents a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship. (Washington Post / New York Times)

2/ Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and Sean Spicer. Trump is irritated with several Cabinet members and “frustrated, and angry at everyone.” (Axios)

3/ Senate Republicans are looking at steep cuts to Medicaid that could drop millions of people from coverage and reduce programs for the poor. Under pressure to balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending on food stamps, welfare, and even veterans’ benefits through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate. If the Medicaid cutbacks get passed by both chambers, it could significantly scale back the federal-state insurance program that covers 73 million low-income or disabled Americans and shift significant costs onto hospitals and states. (Politico / Wall Street Journal)

4/ James Clapper said that US institutions are under assault from Trump and warned that federal checks and balances are eroding. Former Director of National Intelligence called on the other branches of the federal government to step up in their roles as a check on the executive. (CNN / Associated Press)

  • Republicans and Democrats agree that if Trump has tapes, he’ll need to turn them over to Congress. Lawmakers from both parties said any White House recordings must be preserved for congressional review and that “it’s probably inevitable” that they would be subpoenaed. (Washington Post)

5/ North Korea successfully test-fired a new type of ballistic missile, signaling an advance in their development of an intercontinental ballistic missile program. North Korea said the new “medium long-range” missile is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, warning that the United States’ military bases in the Pacific were within its range. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Reuters / Associated Press)

  • Putin warns against “intimidating” North Korea after its latest missile launch. Putin called for a peaceful solution to the ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula and said that Russia is “categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states.” (CNN)

6/ The 9th Circuit Court will hear the travel ban appeal, again. A three-judge panel will hear a challenge to a Hawaii judge’s decision to halt travel ban 2.0. Lawyers at the Justice Department must convince at least two of the judges to ignore Trump’s record of campaign calls to ban Muslims from entering the US. (CNN)

7/ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate on Thursday about the firing of James Comey. The briefing is classified and will take place in the regular secure room in the Capitol Visitors Center. (CNN / Washington Post)

8/ The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a statement noting that there was a dispute about who represented the state in the case and that nothing should be read into the court’s decision to decline to hear it. (Associated Press / Politico / New York Times)

9/ The Dakota Access pipeline has its first leak. The $3.8bn oil pipeline is not yet fully operational, but managed to spill 84 gallons of crude oil. (The Guardian)

10/ White Nationalist Richard Spencer led a torch-bearing group protesting the sale of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The group chanted “You will not replace us.” Spencer added: “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced.” (NPR / Washington Post)

11/ Trump thinks that exercising too much uses up the body’s “finite” energy. Trump mostly gave up athletics after college because he “believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.” (Washington Post)

12/ Comey said he’d be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but wants it to be in public. Comey originally declined an invitation from the committee to be interviewed in a closed-door hearing. (New York Times)

13/ Syria is using a crematorium to hide executions, the State Department said. The US believes Syria’s “building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison.” A State Department official said the regime could be killing as many as 50 detainees a day. (CNN / BuzzFeed News / Washington Post)

14/ Senate Republicans are breaking away from Trump as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes. Republican senators are drafting a health care bill with little White House input and pushing back on Trump’s impending budget request. Many high-ranking Republicans have said they will not support any move by Trump to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. (New York Times)

poll/ 29% approve of Trump’s firing of James Comey. Trump’s job-approval rating stands at 39%. (NBC News)

Testy Trump Gets Testy When Press Holds Him Accountable

Not long ago, in late January, Trump skipped a GOP debate in Wisconsin.  Instead, he held an event in Des Moines which, he claimed, raised $6 million for military veterans.

Trump, not used to being called out on his lies, had a bit of a problem.  The press, as time went on, started reporting that the $6 million was untrue, and it all came to a head yesterday, Memorial Day.

So today Trump held a press conference to clear up what happened to the “over $6 million” he claimed to have raised when he skipped the GOP debate. Not unexpectedly, the presser became contentious as Trump blamed the media for actually following up on his claim.

Via Politico:

Donald Trump railed against the media on Tuesday morning as he released details of the money he’s raised and distributed to veterans organizations, even calling out one journalist as a “sleaze” during a combative news conference.

Trump has faced pressure to release information on where the money went after he held a fundraiser for veterans in January in lieu of a Fox News debate.

Speaking with veterans behind him at Trump Tower on Tuesday morning, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said his campaign has sent off $5.6 million to veterans organizations, which he named one by one after railing against the media for coverage over the disbursements.

“I raised close to $6 million,” Trump said. “It’ll probably be over that amount when it’s all said and done, but as of this moment it’s $5.6 million.”

He also blasted the Fourth Estate, telling reporters that the media should be ashamed.

“Instead of being like, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone said: ‘Who got it? Who got it? Who got it?’” Trump said. “And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing a good job.”

Minutes later, he called out Tom Llamas, a journalist with ABC News.

“I could have asked all these groups to come here and I didn’t want to do that. I’m not looking for credit,” Trump said. “But what I don’t want is when I raise millions of dollars, have people say, like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC. He’s a sleaze in my book. You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.”

He’s not looking for credit? Really? Then why does he mention it constantly?

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out, the only reason that veterans got what Donald Trump promised them was because the media followed up on his promises:

1. Trump said, on the night of the event, that he had raised $6 million for veterans groups. This from a CNN report of the speech:

He did it Thursday night, dazzling a crowd of hundreds of enthusiastic supporters by announcing that he had raised more than $6 million for veterans in one day — $1 million of it from his own checkbook. “We love our vets,” he said.

2. Trump made the $1 million personal donation to veterans groups a week ago and only after WaPo’s David Fahrenthold did a deep dive into where the promised money went. That was four months after the speech/fundraiser where Trump trumpeted that he had donated the money.

What you saw this morning at Trump Tower was the press at its best, not at its worst, as Trump said over and over again.

Good for the press in keeping on him.  Now if they can only do this regarding his tax returns.

Not ALL the press is giving Trump a hard time.  . In fact, the official North Korean newspaper has all but endorsed Trump:

An editorial published Tuesday heaps praise on Trump as a “wise politician” and a “far-sighted presidential candidate,” according to a report by NKNews.org, which noted that the article referred to many of the presumptive Republican nominee’s statements on foreign policy with respect to North Korea in particular.

“Trump said ‘he will not get involved in the war between the South and the North,’ isn’t this fortunate from North Koreans’ perspective?” the writer of the piece, identified as Chinese North Korean scholar Han Yong Mook, who also referenced Trump’s comments in March saying that he would consider withdrawing United States troops from the Korean peninsula if South Korea does not pay more for its defense.

“Yes do it, now … Who knew that the slogan ‘Yankee Go Home’ would come true like this?” Han wrote, according to the report. “The day when the ‘Yankee Go Home’ slogan becomes real would be the day of Korean Unification.”

Well done.

North Korea’s Got One Too (Just To Use On You Know Who)

There was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake yesterday in North Korea.

N Korea Earthquake

Except it wasn’t an earthquake.  North Korea announced that it had detonated a sophisticated hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s three previous nuclear tests since 2006 have been met with international condemnation, including resolutions and sanctions from the Security Council. But North Korea has ignored the U.N. on this.

The good news is this: as the UN Security Council held an emergency session on Wednesday to respond to North Korea’s action, the White House said that initial US findings were “not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test”—something that would have represented a major ramp-up in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said initial data from various monitoring sources were “not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test.”

Nuclear monitors also said the magnitude of the blast suggested an atomic explosion rather than one produced by an exponentially more powerful hydrogen device — potentially more than 1,000 times more destructive than the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima near the end of World War II.

But that’s not conclusive.  We (the United States) reportedly sent our WC-135 “sniffer plane” from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Wednesday, while Japan said it dispatched three aircraft. Gases can sometimes leak out for several weeks after a test, so it might take some time for this question to be answered.

After the 2006 test, a significant amount of gas was detected, enabling analysts to say it was a plutonium-based device, while in 2009, no gases were found. The residue from the 2013 test was very faint, meaning it was impossible to draw any conclusions, analysts say.

We’ll know more in a few weeks.

Does this mean the U.S. is at risk, if they have that technology?

Probably not.  They still need missiles that will get through our missile defense shield.  And miniaturization technology, which is huge (if you can’t get a bomb on a missile, there’s no point).

But a weaponized North Korea could spell trouble for our allies, particularly Japan and South Korea.  And Kim Jung Un is such a loony tunes, who knows what he might do.

Tensions In The Koreas

This is ugly:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered front-line military units to enter “a wartime state” after an exchange of fire with South Korea, his country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Friday.

The announcement, employing bellicose language typical of North Korea, adds to the edgy situation in the region.

The two sides traded artillery fire over their heavily fortified border on Thursday afternoon, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

Two shells came from the North Korean side, the ministry said, and South Korea fired dozens of shells in response.

No casualties were reported from the exchange of fire.

I know it doesn’t sound like much, but North Korea is freaking crazy.  Well, Kim Jung Un is.  Last week, he put North Korea on its own unique time zone.  (North Koreans already have their own calendar. Instead of counting from the birth of Christ, they count from the birth of founding leader, Kim Il Sung. Kim was born in 1912 — known in North Korea as Juche 1, making this year Juche 104.)  And he’s got nukes (maybe).

Both North and South Korea are blaring propaganda messages over loudspeakers at each other.  Which is better than the alternative, I suppose.

This all comes as the United States and South Korea are engaged in joint military exercises.

Military analysts are saying this “military theater” rather than actual military engagement, and that Kim Jung Un has the most to lose from an actual military engagement.  That’s good — I hope HE knows that.

I see scattered reports that North Korea is having Internet problems….

… but nothing in the mainstream news.  Maybe we’re messing with North Korea.  Or maybe the change in time zones is screwing them up in a Y2K kind of way.

Tensions are always high when it comes to North Korea, but this is a little unnerving.

Welcome Home

Laura Ling's touching and emotional press conference on the tarmac after returning to America following President Clinton's intervention with the North Koreans:

It should be noted that these Americans were freed, we didn't have to give up anything, and no shots were fired.

This, of course, has the rightwingers pissed, apparently because they weren't rescued by Chuck Norris using laser guns.

Yet Another Reason Why John Bolton Should Shut Up

So you may have heard that former President Bill Clinton went to North Korea today to negotiate the release of two American journalists being held by the North Koreans.

Arch-conservative and former U.N. Ambassador under Bush, John Bolton, wrote this morning:

Clinton’s Unwise Trip to North Korea

[…]

The point to be made on the Clinton visit is that the knee-jerk impulse for negotiations above all inevitably brings more costs than its advocates foresee. Negotiating from a position of strength, where the benefits to American interests will exceed the costs, is one thing. Negotiating merely for the sake of it, in the face of palpable recent failures, is something else indeed.

The results, this afternoon:

N. Korea Says Two U.S. Journalists Have Been Pardoned

North Korea announced Tuesday that it had pardoned two detained American journalists, hours after former president Bill Clinton met in Pyongyang with reclusive dictator Kim Jong Il as part of an unannounced and highly unusual diplomatic mission to win their freedom.

Kim issued an order “granting a special pardon to the two American journalists who had been sentenced to hard labour in accordance with Article 103 of the Socialist Constitution and releasing them,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

Right, John.  Wasted trip.  Bad idea.

Obama May Pick Republican for Commerce Secretary

I think Obama's gesture to the right is noble, but ultimately self-defeating.  As the House vote on the stimulus package shows, Republicans simply aren't in a mood to compromise or be post-partisan.  So why bother?

That's why I am troubled by this:

The Obama administration has been floating the idea of naming Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (N.H.) to be Commerce Secretary, several Senate sources said Thursday.

Really?  Is he the best person for the job.

Of course, there is a silver lining.  With Gregg out of the Senate, his replacement would be appointed by New Hampshire's governor — a Democrat.  If she appoints a Democrat (and assuming Al Franken gets seated), that will result in a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Milestones

U.S. Population hit 300,000,000 at 6:58 a.m. today.

Coalition forces death toll hit 3,000.

Bush’s disapproval rating at an all-time high for CNN polling.

UPDATE:  More tidbits from the CNN poll:

64 percent disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq.

70 percent of women and 58 percent of men now oppose the war in Iraq.

60 percent of Americans believe the situation with North Korea can be resolved using only economic and diplomatic measures.

More than 70 percent of Americans believe the war in Iraq is making it harder for the United States to deal with North Korea.

Chummy Rummy

You know how North Korea — a member of the "Axis of Evil" — just set off its first nuclear weapon?

You know how Republicans are trying to blame Clinton for that, even though Clinton managed to keep North Korea from becoming a nuclear power during his presidency?

Well, funny thing ’bout that North Korean nuke.

The nuclear material used to make the bomb was made in nuclear reactors.  Where did North Korea get those nuclear reactors?

Well, six years ago, a Zurich company named ABB sold designs and key components for those reactors to North Korea.

Guess who served on the board of directors of ABB, and was asked to lobby in Washington to allow North Korea to get those nuclear reactors?

Donald Rumsfeld.

Just sayin…

I’ll let The Talent Show pick up the thread:

Give it a second for those last few paragraphs to sink in. One of the biggest enemies of the United States just joined the nuclear club over the weekend and our secretary of defense was involved in selling them the technology to do it. I won’t even bother to speculate about the ulterior motives that have surely shaped our policies towards North Korean non-proliferation, but I’d love to know how much money Donald Rumsfeld has made helping Kim Jong-il make a nuclear bomb. Between Rummy and North Korea, the Bush family’s close ties to the Saudis, and our nuke-selling, Bin Laden-harboring "close allies" Pakistan, I can’t help but look forward to 2008 when our country has another chance to choose a leader who isn’t all chummy with the bad guys.

Rummy?  Chummy with the bad guys?

Rumsfeld_hussein

Oh, right.

Magnitude 4.2 NORTH KOREA Monday, October 09, 2006 at 01:35:27 UTC

The US Geological Survey records a seismic event in North Korea:

130_40

It wasn’t no earthquake.

Mushroom_cloud

Feel safer yet?

All North Korea wanted was (a) talks with the U.S. and (b) some humanitarian aid, in exchange for which they would cease their nuclear weapons ambitions.

But nooooooo — we had to play "tough cowboy" (because diplomacy is for faggy hairdresser types, doncha know).

Read this:

In 1993, North Korea announced it would pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, leaving it free to divert nuclear material from its energy reactors to make a nuclear weapon and setting off a round of crisis diplomacy led by the Clinton administration. The result was the so-called agreed framework, which – in return for supplies of fuel oil to North Korea – froze most aspects of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme for the rest of the decade.

The agreed framework was in effect consigned to history when the Bush administration came to power in 2001. The new administration argued that although the road to a plutonium-based nuclear bomb had been frozen, the North Koreans were cheating by attempting to develop a uranium-based bomb that was not explicitly addressed by the agreement.

That five years later, North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon will be widely interpreted as a sign of the failure of the tougher approach favoured by the Bush team.

Clinton success, Bush failure. Again.

So here we are now.

Nice going, Bush.  Josh Marshall has a pretty good take on how hard it will be, post Foley, for most Americans to escape the obvious conclusion that NoKo was a monumental Republican/Bush fuckup :

Threats are a potent force if you’re willing to follow through on them. But [Bush] wasn’t. The plutonium production plant, which had been shuttered since 1994, got unshuttered. And the bomb that exploded tonight was, if I understand this correctly, almost certainly the product of that plutonium uncorked almost four years ago.

So the President talked a good game, the North Koreans called his bluff and he folded. And since then, for all intents and purposes, and all the atmospherics to the contrary, he and his administration have done essentially nothing.

Indeed, from the moment of the initial cave, the White House began acting as though North Korea was already a nuclear power (something that was then not at all clear) to obscure the fact that the White House had chosen to twiddle its thumbs and look the other way as North Korea became a nuclear power. Like in Bush in Iraq and Hastert and Foley, the problem was left to smolder in cover-up and denial. Until now.

Hawks and Bush sycophants will claim that North Korea is an outlaw regime. And no one should romanticize or ignore the fact that it is one of the most repressive regimes in the world with a history of belligerence, terrorist bombing, missile proliferation and a lot else. They’ll also claim that the North Koreans were breaking the spirit if not the letter of the 1994 agreement by pursuing a covert uranium enrichment program. And that’s probably true too.

But facts are stubborn things.

The bomb-grade plutonium that was on ice from 1994 to 2002 is now actual bombs. Try as you might it is difficult to imagine a policy — any policy — which would have yielded a worse result than the one we will face Monday morning.

UPDATE:  Predictably, the rightwingers are blaming this on Clinton and Carter.