'freeze for freeze'
North Korea – the world’s most dangerous game of chicken
According to a Reuters report published Monday, two shipments by North Korea “to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program” were intercepted in the past six months. The report came out just a day before North Korea and the United States “accused each other of posing a nuclear threat” at the UN’s Conference on Disarmament. At a forum in Geneva, diplomats from the US and North Korea traded speeches accusing the other of fanning the flames of the conflict, while a Chinese diplomat urged a “freeze for freeze” proposal as a way for the two countries to open a dialogue: “China has called for ‘dual suspension’, that is of North Korea’s nuclear activities and joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States,” said Fu Cong, China’s disarmament ambassador.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Tuesday that North Korea has “demonstrated some level of restraint” in recent weeks despite harsh new UN sanctions against the regime, noting that there hadn’t been a missile launch or other “provocative acts” since late July. Tillerson also expressed optimism about opening dialogue with North Korea, claiming that “perhaps, we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future, having some kind of dialogue.”
Tillerson’s comments came the same day the US Treasury Department “placed sanctions on Chinese and Russian individuals and firms that it said had conducted business with North Korea in ways that advanced the country’s missile and nuclear weapons program.” According to The Washington Post, the sanctions against 10 companies and six individuals are “the fifth set of U.S. sanctions related to North Korea this year, and the largest.” China and Russia both condemned the sanctions, with China going so far as to urge the US “to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues.”
On Wednesday, North Korea’s state news media “released a photograph suggesting that the North was working on a more powerful solid-fuel ballistic missile, and said the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had ordered the production of more rocket engines and warheads,” according to the New York Times. The report comes as the US and South Korea engage in annual military exercises on the Korean peninsula. The drills, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, have been “held since at least 1976 under various names,” according to the Los Angeles Times, and “are confined largely to command posts and computers, not live weapons.”
At The National Interest, Sergey Radchenko and Campbell Craig assert that a nuclearized North Korea might in fact be a good thing, since “the ICBM, in the greatest irony of all history, has so far been a force for peace.”
On the climate crisis
A new study published by Stanford researchers in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment finds that allowing “businesses to fund forest preservation in lieu of turning in some of their allowances under the state’s cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases” – a practice known as carbon offsets – “do produce genuine emissions reductions.” According to the study, “offsets from forests totaled 1 percent of emissions under the cap in 2015, or roughly 4.7 million metric tons of carbon.”
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the Trump administration “has decided to disband the federal advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment, a group aimed at helping policymakers and private-sector officials incorporate the government’s climate analysis into long-term planning.” The news comes just weeks after a draft of the Climate Science Special Report was widely publicized by The New York Times – that report, scheduled for official release in 2018, concluded that “Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.”
Daniel Kammen, the Trump administration’s science envoy to the State Department, quit on Wednesday over Trump’s “failure to condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazis,” according to his resignation letter, which was posted to Twitter. “Particularly troubling to me is how your response to Charlottesville is consistent with a broader pattern of behavior that enables sexism and racism, and disregards the welfare of all Americans, the global community and the planet.” The first letter of each paragraph in Kammen’s resignation letter spelled out the word “IMPEACH.”
At Scientific American, Annie Sneed talks to Kammen about why he chose to resign.
Two Harvard researchers said in a study published Wednesday that “as early as 1979, Exxon scientists acknowledged burning fossil fuels was adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and causing global temperatures to rise, but…the company’s position in newspaper ads remained significantly different by consistently asserting doubt about climate science.”
A new report released by the US Energy Department “made recommendations for regulatory changes that…would alter the way prices are determined in electricity markets, ease environmental reviews for coal plants and speed the permitting process for a variety of energy sources.” The recommendations, if adopted, would benefit the coal industry and nuclear power, as the Chicago Tribune reports.
On Thursday, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke recommended reducing the size of three national monuments: Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
This week in Russia
Vladimir Putin appointed former deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov as the new Russian ambassador to the US. Antonov, whose role in the Ukrainian crisis and Syria has “earned him a hawkish reputation,” is replacing Sergei Kislyak, whose frequent contact with Trump’s family members and associates during the 2016 presidential election had received intense scrutiny as part of the larger investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence.
Congressional investigators uncovered an email from Trump deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn “that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin,” according to CNN. Though the exact contents of the email remain unknown, “sources with direct knowledge of the matter” claim that an individual from “WV” – a reference to West Virginia – tried to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump campaign staff, an offer that Dearborn was reportedly skeptical of. The email was sent in June 2016, the same month that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in the Trump Tower.
At The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin wonders: “If Trump has nothing to hide, why is he so obsessed about halting the Russia investigation and staying on Putin’s good side?”
A Saturday free speech rally in Boston which included speakers with “ties to extremist [right-wing] elements” attracted 30,000 to 40,000” counterprotestors, according to a police estimate cited in the Boston Globe. The rally, which itself only attracted about 50 attendees, was quickly dwarfed by the “throng of demonstrators that at times was 2 miles long.” Despite a few skirmishes, no one was seriously injured and only 27 people were arrested, “mostly for disorderly conduct and assault and battery on police officers,” with “some in the crowds [throwing] rocks and urine-filled bottles” at police – following the event, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans told the Globe that “99.9% of the people here were [here] for the right reason, and that’s to fight bigotry and hate.”
On Sunday the US, Mexico and Canada “wrapped up their first round of talks to revamp the NAFTA trade pact,” concluding five days of meetings in Washington with a vow “to keep up a blistering pace of negotiations” and begin implementing the revised trade agreement by early 2018. Reuters reports that all three countries made “detailed conceptual presentations” and worked on “some of the agreement’s texts,” although no details were provided. The next round of negotiations is scheduled for September 1 – 5, in Mexico.
A bipartisan pair of governors, Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Republican John Kasich of Ohio, “are working on a joint plan to stabilize the country’s health insurance markets.” The governors are planning to release their health care proposal before the US Senate is scheduled to begin hearings on other bipartisan health care proposals in September.
The US Navy dismissed 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command” after the USS John McCain collided with a merchant tanker on Monday, “which left 10 U.S. sailors missing and presumed dead.” The collision tore a large hole in the side of the McCain. Just two months ago, as CBS News reports, “another ship from the 7th fleet, the USS Fitzgerald, collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan,” an incident which left 7 sailors dead. Following the McCain collision, the Navy officially took an “operational pause” across the board to “give ship commanders a chance to review basic seamanship and teamwork.”
In a televised address to the nation Monday night, President Trump announced his administration’s new strategy on the war in Afghanistan, claiming that “we are not nation-building again” despite a decision to continue the war. As CNN reports, Trump “offered few details, sticking to broad outlines” – the result of a previous decision to allow Secretary of Defense James Mattis to manage troop levels. Trump’s decision to keep troops in Afghanistan “was less a change of heart than a weary acceptance of the case,” according to a report by The New York Times.
At Dissent, Jedediah Purdy argues that the “Forever War” in Afghanistan “has a knack for thwarting promises to end it, or at least revealing their hollowness.”
Following a Tuesday night vote by the Charlottesville City Council, “workers shrouded statues of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in black” on Wednesday to acknowledge the previous week’s events and honor 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed after a car plowed into a crowd of demonstrators protesting the “Unite the Right” white nationalist event which took place in Emancipation Park.
A federal judge “approved a [Justice Department] request to access data from a website used to organize protests against President Trump’s inauguration” – a decision which the site hosting company, DreamHost, calls “chilling.”
header image: "photo of the day: 8/22/17," the white house / flickr