100 days later, the same old problems.
The 'North Korea problem,' continued
Both US and North Korean forces have begun posturing in what many experts are beginning to fear is the prelude to armed conflict. Following news on Tuesday that the US had (1) docked a submarine “designed to carry ballistic missiles and cruise missiles” in a South Korean port and (2) deployed an aircraft carrier strike group to Korean waters, North Korea launched “a large number of long-range artillery units on its east coast for a live-fire drill,” according to a spokesperson for South Korea’s military. In response, South Korea conducted its own live-fire drill and its Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released a statement asserting its military was “firmly maintaining readiness.”
Tuesday also marked the 85th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s military.
Early on Wednesday, the US “started moving parts of an anti-missile defense system to a deployment site in South Korea.” The decision to deploy the THAAD system early was criticized both by the frontrunner in South Korea’s presidential election and by China, which believes THAAD’s “advanced radar can penetrate deep into [Chinese] territory and undermine its security, while it will do little to deter” North Korea. In a press briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang claimed that “China will resolutely take necessary steps to defend its interests,” without offering any further details.
China, North Korea’s only regional ally, has been critical of North Korean aggression, and is seen by the Trump administration as key to resolving the increasing tensions. In a potential sign of things to come, China launched its very first home-built aircraft carrier this week. As the Washington Post reports, “as China expands its navy, it is projected to have a total of 265-273 warships, submarines and logistics vessels by 2020…that compares with 275 deployable battle force ships presently in the U.S. Navy.”
In an unusual move that some experts believe might indicate how serious the issue is, the White House hosted the entire US Senate for a classified briefing. Following the Senate briefing, White House officials traveled to Capitol Hill to deliver a briefing to the House.
On Friday, the UN Security Council will meet to discuss sanctions against North Korea. As Rob Schmitz reports for NPR’s Up First podcast on Thursday, “If [China] really wanted to do something, it would probably put some pressure” on the China-North Korea Friendship Bridge, the “lifeline” for North Korea that sees around 70% of North Korea’s foreign trade pass into the country.
Trump's tax reform proposal
On Wednesday, the Trump administration released its tax reform proposal, and among the highlights is a cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% - one of the highest corporate tax rates in the developed world – to 15%. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Secretary of Treasury, asserted in his announcement of the proposal that, if passed, it would “be the biggest tax cut and the largest tax reform in the history of our country.” Other features of the proposal: the number of tax brackets would be reduced from seven to three – those who’d pay 10%, those who’d pay 25%, and those who’d pay 35% - and the first $24,000 earned each year would not be taxed at all. Also: the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), the estate tax (which, as Eric Farr has written, is not the bogeyman Republican politicians have made it out to be), and the Obama-era tax on investment income would all be repealed.
At The Atlantic, Derek Thompson takes a thorough look at the plan, concluding “it’s [either] political theater, or it’s hypocrisy.”
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget asserts the proposal would add $5.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade.
This week in Russia
On Tuesday members of the House Oversight Committee asserted that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn “may have violated federal law by not fully disclosing his business dealings with Russia when seeking a security clearance to work in the White House.” On Thursday, the Pentagon’s inspector general announced he would be launching a probe into the issue.
Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 8th as part of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry is one of four federal investigations into Russia’s role during the election – the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the FBI are also looking into the links between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a phone call this week that sanctions against Russia won’t be lifted until Crimea is returned to Ukraine, as Newsweek reports.
A Russian intelligence ship sank off the coast of Turkey on Thursday after colliding with “a vessel carrying livestock.” Turkish authorities claimed the collision was due to fog and low visibility.
As the 100-day mark for the Trump administration approaches, take a look at this piece in NPR detailing Trump's accomplishments to date.
A ruling that Wisconsin legislators illegally gerrymandered districts along partisan lines is heading to the Supreme Court…On Saturday – Earth Day – tens of thousands of people across the world marched to support science and scientists…After advancing to the second round of the French presidential election on Sunday, Marine Le Pen stepped away from the far-right National Front party in an attempt to coax independent voters away from Immanuel Macron, the 39-year-old liberal centrist and former banker who currently has a commanding lead in the polls…Trump pulled back late Wednesday from an earlier report that he was considering withdrawing from NAFTA, agreeing instead to begin renegotiating the treaty with Canada and Mexico…the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs was heavily criticized for what some believe was an advertisement for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort…on Monday, Barack Obama made his first public appearance since leaving the presidency, speaking to young activists at the University of Chicago…a San Francisco federal judge on Tuesday “blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a threat to take away funds from sanctuary cities”…Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney announced on Tuesday that Trump would sign a federal spending bill that does not include funding for a border wall, removing what many believed to be a major obstacle in passing the bill by Friday’s deadline.
above image: "North Korea — Pyongyang Opera," (stephan) / flickr