'red-hot focus'

'red-hot focus'

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma walloped parts of southern and western Florida this weekend, devastating the Keys and riding up the Gulf Coast as a category 4 storm. The most powerful hurricane ever formed in the Atlantic “destroyed a quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys and badly damaged many more,” according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and left 30 dead in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, as well as 37 in the Caribbean. It’s still not clear, as the Sun-Sentinel reports, “how many casualties Irma caused on the Keys.”

Elsewhere in the state: parts of Miami flooded after getting lashed with 100mph winds and lots of rain, and Jacksonville experienced “the worst flood in a century,” according to its mayor. More than 6 million people were without power after the storm had passed through – about one-third of the state’s population. “In a state built on air conditioning,” as the Associated Press reports, power outages endanger lives: “eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died,” in Hollywood, Florida due to the heat.

North Korea – the world’s most dangerous game of chicken

On Monday, the UN Security Council “unanimously adopted a US-drafted resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea,” according to CNN – the strictest measures yet against Pyongyang, which aim, according to an anonymous US official (cited in that same CNN report), to “cap North Korea’s oil imports, ban textile exports, end additional overseas laborer contracts, suppress smuggling efforts, stop joint ventures with other nations and sanction designated North Korean government entities.” The resolution, adopted just a week after North Korea’s sixth – and most powerful ever – nuclear test, was described by President Trump on Tuesday as “just another very small step, not a big deal.” He went on to claim that “those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen” – a vague assertion troubling to some in the international community, considering those ‘fire and fury’ comments he made weeks ago. The resolution had originally included a full oil embargo against North Korea, but was revised after China and Russia expressed doubts.

At an intelligence hearing on Tuesday, “frustrated U.S. lawmakers called for a high-powered response to North Korea’s nuclear tests,” arguing that the US should sanction Chinese banks and companies that do business with North Korea, as a way of pressuring China into choosing sides.

On Thursday, US and South Korean militaries confirmed that North Korea had launched a missile over Japan last Friday, “trigger[ing] sirens and warning messages in northern Japan but caus[ing] no apparent damage to aircraft or ships.” This was the second missile launched over Japan in less than a month, “a serious act of provocation” according to Japan’s chief Cabinet secretary. In response to the launch, South Korea fired a missile of its own.

At the National Review, Victor Davis Hanson wonders what would happen if the roles were reversed, and South Korea acted like North Korea.

At Lawfare, James W. Davis uses behavioral economics to lay out one possible framework for a deal between North Korea and the United States.

This week in Russia

According to a report in The Hill, Trump’s campaign team has started providing documents to Robert Mueller’s special counsel office – the first confirmation, as that same report observes, that the Trump campaign has turned over documents to Mueller.

CNN reports that former Gen. Michael Flynn “has refused a new request to appear as a witness before the Senate Intelligence committee.” This is not Flynn’s first refusal to comply with the investigation into the links between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence: in May, Flynn refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the Senate – which he did again recently, after the subpoena was reissued. Flynn was also subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee and, in a letter released publicly on Wednesday, two Democratic congressmen, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Rep. Eliot Engel of New York reported that Flynn’s former business associates “told lawmakers that he traveled to the Middle East in 2015 as part of a private proposal to build nuclear power plants across the region” – more information that Flynn had failed to disclose before taking a job in the Trump administration. Flynn’s son has also come under investigation, as NBC News reports: “the inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group.”

Some of Trump’s lawyers this summer pushed for Jared Kushner to step away from the administration, “worry[ing] that the presence of Kushner…created potential legal complications for Trump, while the probe threatened to limit Kushner’s ability to perform his job.” Trump’s current White House legal team has pushed back against the report – Ty Cobb, the lawyer charged with directing Trump through the Russia investigation, “blamed the disclosure of the internal debate on former White House staffers seeking to tarnish Kushner,” thought he refused to say whom.

Take a look at this POLITICO report detailing the Office of Government Ethics’s recent decision to reverse its policy to allow “anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers who have legal defense funds.”

As the various investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election have begun turning a ‘red-hot’ focus on digital warfare – Russia’s two-fold strategy of influencing public opinion through social media, and hacking polling software – the Trump administration “moved to ban the use of a Russian brand of security software.” The software, produced by Kaspersky Lab, is used by “at least a half-dozen federal agencies,” and is being removed due to Department of Homeland Security concerns “about the ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence.”

On Thursday, Russia officially kicked off its Zapad – or “West” – war games, which NATO officials say is larger than publicized, “numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve[ing] firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.” As Reuters reports, some US officials, including Gen. Ben Hodges, the head of the US Army in Europe, “have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a ‘Trojan horse’ to make incursions into Pland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.”

Bonus round:

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court blocked a ruling by a lower court that would have required Texas to immediately redraw congressional and legislative districts previously ruled to be gerrymandered along racial lines.

Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court “granted a Trump administration request to continue to bar most refugees under its travel ban.” The decision overturns “a federal appeals court ruling from last week that would have exempted refugees who have a contractual commitment from resettlement organizations from the travel ban while the justices consider its legality.”

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that Hope Hicks, the president’s longtime aide, would be named the new communications director.

On Wednesday, Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released his “Medicare for All” bill – “his attempt to push single-payer health care.” He also wrote an op-ed about it in the New York Times.

After last week’s successful deal with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi – affectionately dubbed “Chuck and Nancy” – President Trump tried it again: at a working dinner Wednesday night with Schumer and Pelosi, “the president reached a tentative agreement with the Democratic leaders: The young undocumented immigrants known as ‘dreamers’ would be allowed to stay in the country in exchange for a border security package that does not include funding for Trump’s wall.” The deal gave hope to those still hoping Trump will emerge as the bipartisan dealmaker he at times promised to be on the campaign trail, but profoundly alienated supporters who’d expected Trump to make good on his oft-repeated promise to “build the wall.” It also confused a lot of people, as The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker observes.

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed a $1.2 trillion budget for the fiscal year beginning October 1. The bill, which passed largely along party lines, contains “many controversial elements” – including big spending increases on security – that won’t fly in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass.

According to a memo leaked to Buzzfeed News’s Chris Geidner, the Trump administration is “warn[ing] employees across the entire federal government about the dangers and consequences of leaking even unclassified information,” and requiring every federal department and agency to hold a one-hour training session next week on “unauthorized disclosures.”

California legislators are debating whether to “approve the most ambitious clean energy goal in the country: 100 percent clean energy by 2045.”

BONUS: Goodbye, Cassini:

header image: florida national guard / flickr

rocket man

rocket man

‘predictable and counterproductive’

‘predictable and counterproductive’