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1  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Mexico-US matters on: Today at 12:15:23 PM
Clashes with Mexican security forces leave two cartel leaders dead

2017-04-23 | Mexico | Security — Mexican authorities confirmed the deaths of two cartel leaders in separate operations in Tamaulipas on 22 April 2017 (El Universal). In Reynosa, Cartel del Golfo head Juan Manuel Loisa Salinas, alias El Comandante Toro, was killed during clashes with state and federal security forces (El Universal). Following the confrontation, suspected Cartel del Golfo members caused chaos in Reynosa. The cartel members set up at least 32 roadblocks around the city including the use of burning vehicles as blockades set fire to a number of buildings and businesses. In Ciudad Victoria, personnel from the Mexican Navy came under attack and killed Los Zetas member Francisco Carreón Olvera, alias Pancho Carreón, during the gun battle (El Debate). Authorities in Tamaulipas noted the pair were principle actors responsible for violence in the region (El Universal).

2  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Venezuela on: Today at 12:14:26 PM
Venezuela threatens to leave OAS over possible meeting

2017-04-25 | Venezuela | Politics — Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez stated on 25 April 2017 that if the Organization of American States (OAS) convenes a meeting of its foreign ministers, Venezuela will leave the organization. Seventeen member countries requested a meeting scheduled for 26 April to debate calling a session of the bloc's foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Venezuela (Tal Cual). Rodríguez specified that if the OAS approves such a meeting without Venezuela's approval, President Nicolás Maduro has instructed her to initiate Venezuela's withdrawal from the OAS (El Nacional). Globovisión noted that eighteen votes, an absolute majority of the OAS' 35 members, are needed to call a meeting of the group's foreign ministers. Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay requested the meeting.

Venezuelan government publishes opposition leaders' home addresses

2017-04-25 | Venezuela | Security — Venezuelan opposition Deputies José Guerra and Tomás Guanipa on 25 April 2017 demanded that the Public Prosecutor's Office investigate the government's Plan Zamora and the release of the Manual del Combatiente Revolucionario, which includes photos, personal details, and home addresses of opposition leaders. President Nicolás Maduro launched Plan Zamora on 18 April, labeling it as a civic-military plan to maintain internal order but not offering further details (El Nuevo Herald). PSUV Vice President Diosdado Cabello promoted the release of the manual on his television program on 19 April as part of Plan Zamora, commenting that government supporters must go where they need to go (Tal Cual). The manual contains personal information about opposition leaders such as Lilian Tintori and Deputies Henry Ramos Allup, Freddy Guevara, and Tomás Guanipa. In a statement, Guanipa urged the the Public Prosecutor's Office to open an investigation into Plan Zamora and the manual, which he described as instruments of repression and assault against Venezuelans that think differently (El Nuevo Herald).

PDVSA pays off US$237 million in debt

2017-04-21 | Venezuela | Energy — Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami announced on 21 April 2017 that state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) made US$237 million in debt payments. According to El Aissami, PDVSA has paid US$2.819 billion of the US$3.2 billion it owes, taking into account a recent payment of US$2.5 billion and an upcoming payment during the week of 1 May (El Nacional). El Aissami assured that future payments are guaranteed and added that President Nicolás Maduro has honored the country's debt payments without diminishing Venezuela's international reserves (Globovisión).

3  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Strong defense of Gorka on: Today at 10:41:35 AM
4  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / What President Trump's Next 100 Days Will Look Like on: Today at 12:39:47 AM

As U.S. President Donald Trump approaches his 100-day benchmark on Saturday, a media deluge has already begun bemoaning the demise of the liberal order, celebrating waves of deregulation or simply blaming the president's rocky start on the "disaster" he inherited on taking office. Rather than wade into that predictable morass, we prefer to focus instead on what the next 100 days hold in store.

A Slippery Slope in Trade

Trump is often described as a "transactional" president who sees the world as one big negotiating table where he can leverage his business experience to exact better terms and conditions for American workers and corporations. Trump will therefore try to keep his core agenda focused on what he regards as his sweet spot: U.S. economy and trade. But even though the domestic economy may be the thing closest to the president's comfort zone, it's also where he comes up against a wall of institutional barriers. As a result, his much-touted tax overhaul attempting a steep reduction in the corporate tax rate will remain gridlocked in congressional battles over health care and the budget.

The new U.S. administration will have a bit more room to maneuver on trade issues. Its simplistic fixation on countries with which the United States has a large deficit will become more nuanced with time. The United States cannot simply force other countries to buy more of its goods in volumes that would make an appreciable difference in the trade deficit. And in some cases, America's existing factory capacity is neither ready nor able to meet a sizable increase in demand from abroad. Instead, for select industries, Washington will try to boost U.S. purchases of American goods and the enforcement of trade measures to restrict certain imports from abroad.

The steel sector is a logical place for the White House to focus its attention. After all, it's an industry that appeals to Trump's support base in the Rust Belt (though price hikes risk alienating big U.S. steel consumers); the United States has the domestic capacity to meet most of its steel demand (save for specific, often military-related applications); and there are several World Trade Organization (WTO) provisions that the United States can use to tighten restrictions on imports (well before Trump's election, Washington had placed more than 150 countervailing and anti-dumping duties on steel imports).

A number of these measures will inevitably invite challenges in the WTO, but a much bigger and more consequential question will still hang over U.S. trade partners. The Trump administration has outlined a trade policy to Congress that "will aggressively defend American sovereignty over matters of trade policy." Specifically, the White House has said the United States would not subject itself to WTO provisions that are "inconsistent" with U.S. law. This raises the question of just how far a protectionist White House will try to stretch trade loopholes — and what it will risk in the process. Trump has ordered the Department of Commerce to open an investigation into whether importing steel harms the national security interests of the United States by sidelining domestic producers. Based on precedent and the current definition of national security in the context of trade, it will be difficult for the United States to argue that it does. But the national security clause is an extremely powerful tool in the hands of the executive. If the Trump administration expands that definition to include issues such as employment and domestic stability, the White House would have a much broader set of tools with which to target other industries under duress from foreign competition.

Trump is thus at the top of a slippery slope. If the United States aggressively plays the national security card in trade, its trade partners will be compelled to do the same. The tit-for-tat would severely undermine the foundation of the international trade order that the United States has underpinned as part of its global hegemonic responsibilities for the past 70 years.

Trump is thus at the top of a slippery slope. If the United States aggressively plays the national security card in trade, its trade partners will be compelled to do the same. The tit-for-tat would severely undermine the foundation of the international trade order that the United States has underpinned as part of its global hegemonic responsibilities for the past 70 years.

Still, this isn't cause for alarmist predictions of the end of free trade as we know it. Decades of interwoven supply chains wrapped around the globe will not be undone by a single president. Moreover, there's no guarantee that the White House will follow this course to its extreme end. The Trump administration is not prepared to absorb the political cost of greatly compromising its trade links abroad, and the White House still needs a credible WTO to enforce many of the trade measures it is already trying to invoke. In fact, the mere threat of upending international trade governance may simply be a useful negotiating tactic as the White House tries to improve its bilateral trade terms with countries such as Mexico and China.

A Familiar Conundrum in North Korea

Trump has broadcast to the world that the trade pressure he has applied on China will achieve things "never seen before" in managing the North Korean crisis. But intertwining trade with foreign policy gets messy very quickly. The president has framed his recent reversal on labeling China a currency manipulator as a negotiating tactic intended to push China to do more in pressuring North Korea. But there was little weight behind the threat of using that label in the first place. China has been defending, not devaluing, its currency for the past three years; in fact, it hopes to avoid a steep fall in the value of the yuan, which would exacerbate capital flight and hamper Beijing's efforts to boost domestic consumption and reduce its heavy reliance on exports. China is concerned, of course, about the more selective trade measures the White House is pursuing to target Chinese imports, and it will float promises of granting U.S. investors greater market access in certain sectors to keep those frictions manageable.

Does this U.S.-China trade dynamic amount to substantive change in how North Korea is handled? Not exactly. While consolidating power at home ahead of this year's Communist Party Congress and fending off trade attacks from Washington, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been using a careful blend of economic incentives and military moves with its neighbors to carve out and seal a sphere of influence in its near abroad, squeezing out the United States. North Korea has interfered with those plans. As Pyongyang inches closer to fielding a long-range weaponized nuclear device, the United States is drawn deeper into the Asia-Pacific, encroaching on what China regards as its regional turf.

So, even as "strategic impatience" begins to dominate Washington's rhetoric about North Korea, Trump will likely meet the fate of his predecessors.

China is far more concerned about having an unstable North Korea on its doorstep than a nuclear one. And though China does have substantial economic leverage over North Korea, there are clear limits to how far Beijing will go in applying sanctions. The Chinese do not want to face a refugee crisis on their border and are not interested in triggering the government's collapse in Pyongyang if it also means accelerating a scenario in which China must contend with a reunified Korea tucked under a U.S. security umbrella. Military planners in the region and the United States know that there are simply no good military options for managing North Korea's actions when Seoul is in range of a massive artillery barrage and both Japan and China are in range of North Korea's missile arsenal. Real potential exists for a military crisis on the Korean Peninsula to escalate into a regional conflict. Kim Jong Un's reclusive government, meanwhile, has done an exceptional job of keeping China (and the rest of the world) at arm's length to muddle intelligence estimates and leave adversaries with little choice but to factor the worst-case scenario — regional war — into the cost calculations of their military plans.

So, even as "strategic impatience" begins to dominate Washington's rhetoric about North Korea, Trump will likely meet the fate of his predecessors. After reaching the limits of exerting economic pressure through China, his administration will reserve the high-risk military option of conducting a pre-emptive attack against North Korea for the event that Washington detects Pyongyang's preparations for a suicidal strike against the United States, Japan or South Korea. Pyongyang, for its part, will proceed apace with the development of its nuclear deterrent. The United States will try to mitigate this threat in other ways by focusing on covert means of disrupting the program, stepping up missile defense in the region, and reinforcing the defenses of Japan and South Korea. A heavier U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific will worsen tension between China, on one hand, and the United States and its security partners on the other. And with the reality of a nuclear North Korea setting in, Washington's security commitments in the region will be tested. If Japan and South Korea have reason to seriously question their protection under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, they could well take steps to develop their own nuclear weapons programs, just as Trump himself bluntly advocated during his presidential campaign.

An Enduring Standoff in Eurasia

The United States' relationship with Russia will remain rocky in the months ahead. An unrelenting congressional probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election is a political fire the White House will be unable to completely stamp out. As a result, the issue of easing sanctions will likely continue to be too thorny to touch for the time being.

Neither the United States nor Russia will let its military guard down in Europe as the standoff endures. If Moscow and Washington hold a substantive negotiation of any kind over the next 100 days, it will be on the matter of arms control. But they will encounter major obstacles there as well. With U.S. ballistic missile defense expanding and a race for hypersonic weapons underway, Russia has no intention of hamstringing itself under foundational agreements such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which is rapidly becoming defunct. And as China sits out of the arms control discussion, both Russia and the United States will have motivation beyond their competition with each other to operate outside the obsolete bounds of their 20th-century pacts. All the while, however, they will be trying to suss out where new deals can be made.

An unrelenting congressional probe into Russian meddling in the U.S. election is a political fire the White House will be unable to completely stamp out. As a result, the issue of easing sanctions will likely continue to be too thorny to touch for the time being.

As he copes with rising discontent at home, Russian President Vladimir Putin will stick by his long-standing strategy of cracking the core of the European Union and NATO. The first round of France's presidential election pit the politically hollow and moderate Europeanist Emmanuel Macron against far-right National Front Euroskeptic Marine Le Pen. Though the second round will likely favor Macron, thus buying Europe time to hold itself together, the Continent is still on shaky ground. A polarized French electorate and the potential for gridlock to emerge from National Assembly elections in June — not to mention the deeper issues driving economic stagnation and social tensions — will keep the country's Euroskeptic current alive and hinder structural reforms. At the same time, Italy, still highly fragile, will inch toward its own elections, and the north-south chasm in Europe will widen — just as German voters prepare to head to the polls in the fall. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, is gearing up for the long and arduous negotiation ahead as it divorces itself from the European Union. (In the process, it will be creating a template for other members of the bloc to potentially do the same.) The White House has openly endorsed the Euroskeptics' vision for Europe, in line with its own view that national self-interest is not just preferable but also plain sensible. Nonetheless, this is a precarious and all-consuming path for Europe that will leave little room for the United States to impose its preferences on the bloc — and plenty of loose threads for Russia to pull in trying to unravel the Western alliance.

Risky Readjustments in the Middle East

As tremors spread across Europe and Asia, the United States will be occupied by trying to dodge pockets of political quicksand throughout the Middle East. The Syrian battlefield offers opportunities for decisive shows of military action, as demonstrated recently when Trump ordered a limited strike on a Syrian air base in response to a chemical weapons attack. But Syria is also a siren song for mission creep that the United States will struggle to resist while staying focused on the fight against the Islamic State. Within that fight, Russia will alternate between playing spoiler and mediator, trying to poke and prod the United States into a more productive dialogue. Turkey, fresh off its win in a recent constitutional referendum, can also be expected to butt heads with the Americans, Russians and Iranians while staking out its own sphere of influence across northern Syria and Iraq in the name of containing the Kurds and protecting the Sunnis against Iranian encroachment.

The leading Sunni powers of the region, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, will find this U.S. president much more willing to help keep Iran at bay than the last. While former U.S. President Barack Obama undertook the task of neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat so that the United States could avoid being pulled into another Middle Eastern war, Trump will now work to further tilt the regional balance of power toward the Sunni camp. This doesn't mean the Trump administration is prepared to walk away from its nuclear deal with Iran and reopen yet another potential theater for conflict. Instead, the White House will take a tougher stance on Iran by reinforcing its Sunni allies in proxy battles in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. Sanctions that directly interfere with the Iranian nuclear deal will likely be averted, and sanctions waivers tied to the nuclear deal will likely be extended, but additional sanctions related to human rights abuses and Iran's sponsorship of terrorism can be expected. And with Iran's presidential election set for May 19, a hard-nosed U.S. administration's efforts to keep Iran in check will have the unintended effect of bolstering Iranian hard-liners, injecting more uncertainty into the tenuous working relationship between Washington and Tehran.

Deepening Crisis in the Caribbean

The United States will also have a tough time ignoring the alarms sounding in the Caribbean in the months ahead. Deteriorating economic conditions in Venezuela have finally given way to large demonstrations in the country's urban core, including the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas where the once-powerful ideology of Chavismo has faded. The risk of state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) defaulting on its debt will rise substantially in the second half of the year, adding yet another source of instability. As that specter looms, the Venezuelan government — led by embattled President Nicolas Maduro and riddled with corrupt officials trying to evade extradition — will take steps to consolidate power into a one-party state and hunker down for the impending struggle in the streets. But deep rifts among the security and military forces charged with quashing unrest threaten to tear the government apart. The United States has the option of accelerating the administration's collapse by leveling weightier sanctions against PDVSA, but with a number of other crises and priorities to consider, it could opt to keep its distance as the country crumbles from within.

100 Days in Perspective

Despite the prestige the U.S. presidency traditionally carries, it is an office designed by America's founding fathers to be hemmed in from many sides. And though the executive branch has a little more room to shape foreign policy than domestic law, it must often contend with jagged geopolitical realities that cut into, rather than bend with, the president's worldview. "America First" also means "China First," "Russia First," "Germany First" and so on. Each state will pursue its national interests and, in doing so, often find its imperatives collide with others'. The irreversible technological, demographic and economic forces shaping global trade, the menace of a Northeast Asian war started by North Korea, the historical distrust between Russia and the West and within Europe itself, and the deeply rooted ideological and sectarian battles being waged within the Islamic world are a daunting collection of crises for any president to grapple with. And whether we look 100 days behind us or 100 days ahead, there is no question that the bounds of U.S. presidential power are being put to the test.
5  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Elizabeth "Forked Tongue" Warren gets one right on: Today at 12:31:37 AM
6  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Flynn going down? on: April 25, 2017, 05:50:43 PM

A touch of irony here , , ,
7  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Legal issues on: April 25, 2017, 05:22:59 PM

“Government implies the power of making laws. It is essential to the idea of a law, that it be attended with a sanction; or, in other words, a penalty or punishment for disobedience.” —Alexander Hamilton (1787)
8  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Fed judge blocks Trump on Sanctuary Cities on: April 25, 2017, 04:57:26 PM
9  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Coming soon to Berkeley on: April 25, 2017, 03:50:29 PM
10  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Take it back! Or you'll be sorry! on: April 25, 2017, 03:06:30 PM
11  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North and South Korea on: April 25, 2017, 11:36:26 AM
"Are we negotiating?"

12  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Nunes fundraiser on: April 25, 2017, 11:28:47 AM
13  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Natural counter to Lyme Disease? on: April 25, 2017, 11:14:47 AM
14  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Time to end foreign aid for the right reasons? on: April 25, 2017, 11:12:08 AM
15  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Holocaust in the Ukraine on: April 25, 2017, 11:03:59 AM
16  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Remembering the Warsaw Uprising on: April 25, 2017, 10:54:32 AM
17  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North and South Korea on: April 25, 2017, 10:24:32 AM
18  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Holocaust in the Ukraine on: April 25, 2017, 10:18:03 AM
19  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Robert Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on: April 25, 2017, 10:11:07 AM
20  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Infighting cools on: April 25, 2017, 09:52:46 AM
21  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glick: German payments to anti-Israel groups on: April 25, 2017, 07:26:44 AM
Good for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - בנימין נתניהו for insisting that he will only meet Germany's anti-Israel foreign minister Sigmar "Israel is an apartheid state" Gabriel if Gabriel cancels his meetings with his anti-Israel agents B'tselem and Breaking the Silence.

To get a feel for how invested Germany is in promoting anti-Israel propaganda spewed by these two groups, I tallied up German and EU annual financial transfers to them from NGO Monitor's website.

From 2013-2016 Germany transferred 2,838,321 shekels to B'tselem and from 2012-2016 Germany transferred 1,848,912 shekels to Breaking the Silence.

From 2013-2016 the EU transferred 2,670,150 shekels to B'tselem. From 2012-2015 the EU transferrd 1,660,251 shekels to Breaking the Silence.

This is a major investment and it is clear from the money transfers and from Gabriel's insistence on meeting with the groups despite the Prime Minister's ultimatum, that the Germany government views them as agents.

Israel cannot have normal relations with Germany or any other foreign power when they are actively subverting Israeli democracy by funding organizations whose goal it is to delegitimize Israel internationally and make it impossible for the government to carry out the will of Israeli voters.

Moreover, as the investigations that Ad Kan - For a strong Israel conducted of these groups showed, they may well be being used by their foreign governmental funders to conduct military espionage against the IDF and to plan the murders of Palestinians who wish to exercise their civil rights in a manner that does not align with the Israel-registered, foreign government funded organizations' anti-Israel positions and missions.
22  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama's hidden Iran Deal Giveaway on: April 24, 2017, 08:47:24 PM
Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway
By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.
23  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Obama's hidden Iran Deal Giveaway on: April 24, 2017, 08:46:54 PM
Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway
By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

24  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / America's dangerous love for Special Forces on: April 24, 2017, 04:24:43 PM
25  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Accuser walks back Hannity accusations on: April 24, 2017, 03:52:56 PM
26  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTB: No such thing as a failed missile launch on: April 24, 2017, 03:38:13 PM

 There's no such thing as a failed missile launch: Lessons from North Korea, the post-truth capital of the world
In this Saturday, April 15, 2017, photo, soldiers salute as their national anthem is played during a

Soldiers salute as their national anthem is played during a military parade to celebrate the 105th birthday of Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Wong Maye-E / Associated Press)
Jonathan Kaiman

All afternoon we obsessively checked our phones, seeking a reason — or even a clue — as to why North Korea wouldn’t let us leave.

I was among roughly two dozen foreign correspondents, tourists, and diplomats waiting at the Pyongyang airport’s departure gates on Monday. Our flight to Beijing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m.; now it was nearly 4 p.m., and as the evening loomed, the question felt increasingly urgent. We had no explanation for the delay, and no information on rescheduling. Soon, as we exhausted the limited cellular data allotted by our exorbitantly expensive North Korean plans, we would have no connection to the outside world.

Saturday was the most important day on the North Korean calendar — the 105th birthday of its founding president, Kim Il Sung. His grandson, Kim Jong Un, planned to preside over a massive military parade in Kim Il Sung’s honor, and the North Korean government invited about 100 foreign journalists to attend. It clearly intended to send a dark but unambiguous message to the outside world: that the country was well-armed, unfazed by U.N. sanctions over its budding nuclear program, and prepared to go to war with the U.S.

It clearly intended to send a dark but unambiguous message to the outside world.

All week, the mood was tense. The U.S. had reportedly dispatched a naval strike group to the Korean peninsula, and there were reports that officials were considering a preemptive strike. (It would later turn out that the naval group was headed in the opposite direction.) North Korea threatened to retaliate, raising the specter of nuclear conflict. "We will go to war if they choose,” a high-ranking North Korean official told the Associated Press.

So at the airport, we puzzled over the delay and feared the worst. We ruled out the weather, unofficial Chinese government measures, and a mechanical issue with the plane — Pyongyang and Beijing both had clear skies, and a flight from Pyongyang to the Russian city of Vladivostok was also grounded. Several people waiting had visited North Korea on multiple occasions, and they were equally perplexed.

Rumors flew. What if the government had closed its airspace for a missile test? What if it didn’t want us to leave? Suddenly, just after 4 p.m., the departures board went dark, and the group went quiet.
‘Liberation of the fatherland,’ then sandwiches

On April 12, I flew from northeastern China to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, North Korea’s state airline. About a half-hour after takeoff, a flight attendant announced that we had entered North Korean airspace. "Our President, Kim Il Sung, came across the river with great ambition for his country,” she said in English. “It reminds us of his revolutionary exploits in his liberation of the fatherland.” She then distributed sandwiches.

Since the late 1940s, the Kim family has ruled North Korea with an iron fist — hundreds of thousands of political prisoners have died in its vast network of internment camps, according to best estimates. Any sign of dissent, or even disillusionment, can carry unspeakable consequences.

Its capital, Pyongyang, is a city of clean streets and modest apartment blocks. It’s also an urban testament to a personality cult so entrenched that it subsumes many aspects of its residents’ daily lives. Golden statues of Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il, the country’s ruler from 1994 to 2011, tower over the city. Their smiling portraits stare out from socialist-style edifices, living room walls, and red lacquer badges that all North Korean adults are required to wear in public, on their left lapels over their hearts.
Reporter Jonathan Kaiman with his government minder Kim Jin Hyok.
Reporter Jonathan Kaiman with his government minder Kim Jin Hyok. (Los Angeles Times)

Each journalist was assigned a government minder. We were not allowed to report, or even leave the hotel, on our own. On Thursday, my minder — Kim Jin Hyok, 27, a handsome Foreign Ministry employee — roused me at 4 a.m. for an “important event,” and instructed me to leave my phone and computer in the hotel room.

Bleary-eyed, the journalists stumbled onto our buses, spent four hours in a security line — every bag, every camera, every pocket was scoured — and arrived at a huge, empty square. At one end was a red-carpeted stage, and behind that, Ryomyong Street — a row of gleaming new high-rise residential buildings that, according to North Korean media, were built within a year.

“The mode of the respected leader Kim Jong Un is to improve the living standards of the people,” one official told me. “It’s to show that even if the U.S. places sanctions on us, we can still move forward at tremendous speed.”

People soon began filing in, until the square was a sea of dark suits, military uniforms and colorful dresses. I saw thousands of soldiers; many were heartrendingly small and thin, a reminder of the malnutrition that remains widespread outside the capital.

At about 9:30, Kim Jong Un arrived in a black Mercedes limousine. The crowd roared. The country’s prime minister gave a speech. After about 15 minutes, Kim stepped back into his limousine. He never said a word.

When he departed, the applause abruptly stopped. It echoed for several seconds, as if within a vast stone church.
What do you do for fun?

North Korea is perhaps the world’s foremost post-truth society. Most citizens cannot access the Internet, or unfiltered foreign information of any kind. Domestic media exists only to glorify the country’s leaders, or rehash ideological dogma and grievances against South Korea and the U.S.

Our minders constantly hovered over us, openly surveilling our cameras and notebooks. We had no recourse — even our minders had minders. They’d taken our passports on arrival. If they caught us photographing something forbidden — an off-duty soldier, a particularly revered political portrait — they didn’t hesitate to forcibly delete our photos.

Everything raised questions. Who decided our itinerary, and why didn’t our minders ever seem to know it until the last minute? Why were we allowed to photograph some portraits of the Kims, but not others? What was the average salary in Pyongyang? The minders didn’t know, or wouldn’t tell us.

In the absence of information, we formed our impressions through visual details, the cadence of conversations, the hum of Pyongyang’s city life.

Through the bus window, we observed the city’s old-fashioned bicycles, its pastel-colored mid-rises, its construction sites and rail depots. Experts had told me that the country’s economy was improving, and it appeared to be true. New cars lined the streets. Women wore high heels; men wore sneakers. Some rode electric bicycles, cellphones pressed against their ears.

“Do you believe in God?” my minder suddenly asked me as we sat on the bus. It was a surprising question — North Korea is an officially secular state, where religion is severely restricted.

“Not really,” I replied. “Do you?”

He paused, and smiled. “I believe in Juche revolutionary ideology,” he said, referring to Kim Il Sung’s ideology of self-reliance.

I laughed, and he laughed too.

We chatted about ourselves — our jobs, our families, our friends and relationships. He agreed to interpret several interviews with ordinary Pyongyang residents. I asked them about the U.S.-North Korea relationship, and they responded with state-sanctioned lines about “U.S. imperialist aggression” or “the benevolence of the respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.”

Yet other questions elicited incoherent answers or blank stares. Nobody could explain what they did for fun. A woman expressed her hope to someday visit Mt. Paektu, North Korea’s holy mountain. A man said that he was an architect. I could find no better way to ask the question, so I changed the subject.
Missile launch? What missile launch?

Saturday’s military parade was a blur of color and noise. For two hours, Kim stood and waved from a high rostrum, overlooking an endless procession of tanks, missile-bearing trucks, and soldiers who goose-stepped with such precision that the ground shook. Civilians marched by clutching North Korean flags, their necks craned towards Kim. They shouted “long live,” tears streaming down their faces.

Analysts expected North Korea to mark the holiday with a missile or nuclear test — and sure enough, the following morning, U.S. and South Korean officials reported that North Korea had tested a missile, though it fizzled shortly after takeoff.

In the U.S., talking heads debated the prospects of war. Yet North Korean state media didn’t announce the test — it never reports on failures. For ordinary North Koreans, it simply never happened.

That afternoon, at the Pyongyang Zoo, hundreds of middle-class Pyongyang residents filed past healthy-looking seals, hippos and orangutans. Three little girls petted a tortoise, their eyes filled with wonder, as their mother snapped pictures. No military marches piped in through speakers, and no portraits of dictators adorned the walls.

You can’t fake this, I thought. These were real people with loving families, having genuine fun. Some of them were almost certainly the same people I’d seen sobbing at the parade. The thought filled me with sadness.
Departure board goes dark

On Monday, my minder and I said goodbye. He returned my passport, and I stepped through immigration.

An hour after the departure board went dark — and just as we began wondering how we’d spend the night — it flickered back to life. An airline employee announced that all flights would depart immediately. She gave no further information — no explanation, no apology. We boarded the tired-looking Tupolev jet, and held our breaths as it shuddered down the runway.

This time, when we crossed the Yalu River and the flight attendant praised Kim Il Sung’s “revolutionary exploits,” the words filled me with relief.
27  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Tucker Carlson on: April 24, 2017, 02:26:03 PM
28  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Battle for Berkeley on: April 24, 2017, 06:54:25 AM
crude footage
29  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Battle for Berkeley on: April 24, 2017, 06:53:46 AM
30  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Glick: Support domestic opposition on: April 24, 2017, 06:26:01 AM
The safest, most effective way to scuttle the plans of today's would be destroyers of the Jews -- the evil nuclear bomb builders and terror supporters in Iran -- is to support their domestic opposition.

I have received multiple reports over the past 24 hours that there are anti-regime demonstrations taking place in every major city in Iran.

Look at the young student in the clip below and you see what the face of courage looks like. The men standing next to him, pacing angrily back and forth as he speaks are a less than subtle indication that this student has already been carted off, jailed and tortured for his heroic remarks.

Millions of Iranians oppose the regime and have openly demonstrated against it in recent years. They have repeatedly, desperately turned to the West -- even to Israel -- for help in their bid to overturn the regime that will, if left in place, bring about a global cataclysm the likes of which humanity has never seen.

Under Obama, the US sided with the regime. Israel saw its anti-regime efforts leaked to the New York Times by Obama officials.

Now is the time for the US to work with Israel to right Obama's wrongs. Now is the time to stand with the Iranians who willingly risk -- and often sacrifice -- their lives to bring down their evil regime.
31  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Earth Day predictions over the years on: April 23, 2017, 07:53:24 PM
32  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Make mental note of the list of donors on: April 23, 2017, 06:18:58 PM
second post
33  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Behead Berkeley College Republicans on: April 23, 2017, 02:28:18 PM
34  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Comparing Jihad and the Crusades on: April 23, 2017, 01:50:46 PM
35  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / France: Marine Le Pen on: April 23, 2017, 01:36:26 PM

Not often discussed-- the attitude/alliance with/money from Russia thing raises serious questions. 
36  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Next pick for SCOTUS? on: April 23, 2017, 01:33:36 PM
37  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Bolton: Nork Subs on: April 23, 2017, 01:09:29 PM
38  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / POTH: To whom does Trump turn? on: April 22, 2017, 08:51:16 PM
39  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: North and South Korea on: April 22, 2017, 04:38:43 PM
40  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Intelligence and Psychology on: April 22, 2017, 04:19:56 PM
Thank you!
41  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Vanity Fair: Chelsea on: April 22, 2017, 03:51:08 AM
Marc:  What do you get when you cross a crooked lawyer with a slimy politician?


42  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Henninger: A Trump Alliance Strategy on: April 22, 2017, 03:38:34 AM
 By Daniel Henninger
April 19, 2017 7:01 p.m. ET

After 59 Tomahawk missiles landed on a Syrian airfield, followed by the dropping of a 21,600-pound bomb on Islamic State’s hideouts in Afghanistan, the world has begun to ask: What is Donald Trump’s foreign policy? And so the search begins by pressing what Mr. Trump has done so far against various foreign-policy templates. Is he a neoconservative, a Scowcroftian realist or a babe in the woods?

We know this is a fool’s errand. There will be no Trump Doctrine anytime soon, and that’s fine. The Obama Doctrine, whatever it was, left his successor a steep climb in the Middle East and Asia. It is difficult to find doctrinal solutions for issues that everyone calls “a mess.” It is possible, though, to see the shape of an emerging strategy.

The place to look for that strategy is inside the minds of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

During his Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. Mattis said something that jumped out at the time. He called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “the most successful military alliance probably in modern history, maybe ever.”

This was in notable contradistinction to the view of his president that NATO was obsolete. Then last week, after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump said of the alliance: “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”

Let’s set aside the obligatory sniggering over such a remark and try to see a president moving toward the outlines of a foreign policy that, for a president who likes to keep it simple, may be described with one word: allies.

NATO emerged as a formal alliance after World War II. Less formally, the U.S. struck alliances with other nations to base troops and ships, as in the Persian Gulf.

After the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, foreign-policy thinkers began to debate the proper role of the U.S. as the world’s only superpower. Liberals argued that maintaining the U.S. at the apex of this alliance system was, well, obsolete. Instead the U.S. should act more like a co-equal partner with our allies, including international institutions such as the United Nations.

The idea of a flatter alliance structure, or leading from behind, came to life with the Obama presidency. It doesn’t work.

If indeed Jim Mattis and H.R. McMaster are the architects of an emerging Trump foreign policy, their most formative experiences, in Iraq, may shape that policy.

After the Iraq War began in 2003, the U.S. tried to defeat the enemy essentially with brute force. Serving in different areas of Iraq—Gen. Mattis in Anbar province and then-Col. McMaster in the city of Tal Afar—the two men realized that force alone wasn’t winning. Instead, they sought, successfully, to gain buy-in from the local populations and tribal leaders. In return for that buy-in, U.S. forces provided security to their new allies.

The difficult and ultimately tragic question was, what happens after the U.S. leaves? In strategic terms: How does the U.S. stabilize a volatile world without becoming a permanent occupying force?

Last month, Gen. McMaster brought onto the NSA staff Nadia Schadlow, who has thought a lot about that question. Her assignment is to develop the National Security Strategy Report. The title of her just-released book, “War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success Into Political Victory,” summarizes its core idea:

Unlike its pullout from Iraq, the U.S. has to remain involved—engaged—in the turbulent political space that always exists between conflict and peace, a space filled with competition for influence and power. What Gens. Mattis and McMaster learned in the wake of Iraq is that if you make allies, you should keep them.

Thus, Vice President Mike Pence stood at the DMZ across from North Korea reconfirming the U.S.’s alliance with South Korea. A day later, he did the same in Japan.

Mr. Trump met in recent weeks with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi of Egypt and, most importantly, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Salman. This week, Mr. Trump called to congratulate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his referendum “victory.”

These are the Middle East’s “tribal leaders,” or allies, whose buy-in will be necessary if the U.S. is to consolidate gains from the military strikes in Syria and Afghanistan—possibly with the partition of Syria into three tribal sectors.

Russia has separated itself by choosing instead an alliance with Iran to create a Russo-Iranian Shiite crescent extending across the Middle East to the Mediterranean.

The Mattis-McMaster foreign policy taking shape looks like a flexible strategy born of military experience in fast, fluid circumstances—our world. It is based on both formal and mobile alliances with partners willing to use diplomatic, financial, political and, if necessary, military pressure to establish stable outcomes. The word “abandon” doesn’t fit here.

Some might say that sounds like the U.S. leading alongside. With one big difference: The U.S. is in fact leading.

43  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / When to doubt "scientific consensus"; Red Team on: April 22, 2017, 03:29:07 AM


A ‘Red Team’ Exercise Would Strengthen Climate Science

Put the ‘consensus’ to a test, and improve public understanding, through an open, adversarial process.
Opinion Journal: The Climate Change Debates You Never Hear About
Former Energy Department Undersecretary Steven Koonin on scientific self-censorship. Photo: istock images
By Steven Koonin
April 20, 2017 6:49 p.m. ET

Tomorrow’s March for Science will draw many thousands in support of evidence-based policy making and against the politicization of science. A concrete step toward those worthy goals would be to convene a “Red Team/Blue Team” process for climate science, one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.

The national-security community pioneered the “Red Team” methodology to test assumptions and analyses, identify risks, and reduce—or at least understand—uncertainties. The process is now considered a best practice in high-consequence situations such as intelligence assessments, spacecraft design and major industrial operations. It is very different and more rigorous than traditional peer review, which is usually confidential and always adjudicated, rather than public and moderated.

The public is largely unaware of the intense debates within climate science. At a recent national laboratory meeting, I observed more than 100 active government and university researchers challenge one another as they strove to separate human impacts from the climate’s natural variability. At issue were not nuances but fundamental aspects of our understanding, such as the apparent—and unexpected—slowing of global sea-level rise over the past two decades.

Summaries of scientific assessments meant to inform decision makers, such as the United Nations’ Summary for Policymakers, largely fail to capture this vibrant and developing science. Consensus statements necessarily conceal judgment calls and debates and so feed the “settled,” “hoax” and “don’t know” memes that plague the political dialogue around climate change. We scientists must better portray not only our certainties but also our uncertainties, and even things we may never know. Not doing so is an advisory malpractice that usurps society’s right to make choices fully informed by risk, economics and values. Moving from oracular consensus statements to an open adversarial process would shine much-needed light on the scientific debates.

Given the importance of climate projections to policy, it is remarkable that they have not been subject to a Red Team exercise. Here’s how it might work: The focus would be a published scientific report meant to inform policy such as the U.N.’s Summary for Policymakers or the U.S. Government’s National Climate Assessment. A Red Team of scientists would write a critique of that document and a Blue Team would rebut that critique. Further exchanges of documents would ensue to the point of diminishing returns. A commission would coordinate and moderate the process and then hold hearings to highlight points of agreement and disagreement, as well as steps that might resolve the latter. The process would unfold in full public view: the initial report, the exchanged documents and the hearings.

A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits. It would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties. It would more firmly establish points of agreement and identify urgent research needs. Most important, it would put science front and center in policy discussions, while publicly demonstrating scientific reasoning and argument. The inherent tension of a professional adversarial process would enhance public interest, offering many opportunities to show laymen how science actually works. (In 2014 I conducted a workshop along these lines for the American Physical Society.)

Congress or the executive branch should convene a climate science Red/Blue exercise as a step toward resolving, or at least illuminating, differing perceptions of climate science. While the Red and Blue Teams should be knowledgeable and avowedly opinionated scientists, the commission should have a balanced membership of prominent individuals with technical credentials, led by co-chairmen who are forceful, knowledgeable and independent of the climate-science community. The Rogers Commission for the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Energy Department’s Huizenga/Ramsey Review of Cold Fusion in 1989, and the National Bioethics Advisory Commission of the late 1990s are models for the kind of fact-based rigor and transparency needed.

The outcome of a Red/Blue exercise for climate science is not preordained, which makes such a process all the more valuable. It could reveal the current consensus as weaker than claimed. Alternatively, the consensus could emerge strengthened if Red Team criticisms were countered effectively. But whatever the outcome, we scientists would have better fulfilled our responsibilities to society, and climate policy discussions would be better informed. For those reasons, all who march to advocate policy making based upon transparent apolitical science should support a climate science Red Team exercise.

Mr. Koonin, a theoretical physicist, is director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. He served as undersecretary of energy for science during President Obama’s first term.
44  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Citizenship revoked on: April 22, 2017, 03:10:27 AM
second post
45  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Why didn't FBI warn about Garland, TX? on: April 22, 2017, 02:49:33 AM
46  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Up from the memory hole: Obama's passport and trip to Pakistan on: April 22, 2017, 01:22:35 AM
47  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / US, Russia, and Exxon: Waiver denied on: April 21, 2017, 08:43:07 PM
48  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Rush on the underlying theme of the O'Reilly affair on: April 21, 2017, 08:31:34 PM
49  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Where oh where can the USS Vinson be? on: April 21, 2017, 08:28:04 PM
50  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Caroline Glick on Bret Stehphens on: April 21, 2017, 09:48:23 AM

CG comments on the article:

The JTA's profile of Bret Stephens posted below is a largely fair and accurate portrait of the extraordinary career of a fantastic writer.
But I have one problem with it. I have a problem with the article's strange, unfair and distorted portrayal of the Post's former publisher Tom Rose.
During his tenure as publisher of the Jerusalem Post, in 2002 Tom Rose hired Bret Stephens, then a young editorial writer at the Wall Street Journal in Europe, to serve as editor of the Jerusalem Post, a major newspaper with a global audience.
This would have been an enormous promotion for anyone. It was certainly a career maker for a 28 year old writer.
Bret Stephens in turn hired me to serve as a senior columnist and deputy managing editor of the paper. This too was a major development in my career. Until then, I had no significant exposure to the English language audience. I was then serving as a senior writer for Makor Rishon.
I was then, and remain still today, deeply appreciative to Bret for recruiting me to the paper.
There are many things that I appreciate about Bret, beyond the fact that he hired me. The role he played in getting Tom fired is not one of them.
This is very old news, and would not be worth recalling, except that strangely, for no apparent reason, the 13 year old episode was highlighted in the JTA profile of Bret, on the eve of his move from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times.
Over the years that passed since his departure from the paper, Tom and I struck up of friendship. We haven't spoken for several months, and it is important for me to note that at he did not, and never would, ask me to write about this. In fact, I imagine he wouldn't want me to say anything at all. But like I said, we haven't spoken for awhile so I am doing what I think is right, under these strange circumstances.
Tom was hired by Hollinger to serve as the Post's publisher with the specific duty to de-unionize the paper.
Not surprisingly, a lot of people hated him for it.
Bret's hire was also part of the transformation the Post underwent under Tom's leadership from a cumbersome, expensive, local Israeli paper, owned by the Histadrut labor union if I am not mistaken, into a lean, global publication, that ran on a streamlined budget.
If Tom hadn't been there, Bret would not have received the opportunity of his lifetime, (and he wouldn't have hired me, giving me an opportunity of my lifetime).
Tom, like Bret, (and like me), has his share of rough edges. He is however, a brilliant, exceedingly competent professional and a wonderful person. He doesn't deserve to be assaulted again, 13 years later in a weird attempt to provide a foil for Bret's many good qualities. It is unfair and it feels vindictive.
I have to say that I am mystified at the motive.
I wish Bret the best of luck at the New York Times. He is a gifted writer and he did me a great service 15 years ago when he asked me to join him at the Post.
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