Saturday, December 25, 2010
Zimbabwe Fears Strife in Mugabe’s Quest for Control - NYTimes.com
HARARE, Zimbabwe — The warning signs are proliferating. Journalists have been harassed and jailed. Threats of violence are swirling in the countryside. The president’s supposed partner in the government has been virulently attacked in the state-controlled media as a quisling for the West. And the president himself has likened his party to a fast-moving train that will crush anything in its way.
After nearly two years of tenuous stability under a power-sharing government, fears are mounting here that President Robert Mugabe, the autocrat who presided over a bloody, discredited election in 2008, is planning to seize untrammeled control of Zimbabwe during the elections he wants next year.
“Everything seems to point to a violent election,” said Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist and pollster.
Having ruled alone for 28 of the last 30 years, Mr. Mugabe, 86, has made no secret of his distaste for sharing power with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, since regional leaders pressured them to govern together 22 months ago.
In recent months, Mr. Mugabe has been cranking up his party’s election-time machinery of control and repression. He appointed all the provincial governors, who help him dispense patronage and punishment, rather than sharing the picks as promised with Mr. Tsvangirai. And traditional chiefs, longtime recipients of largess from his party, ZANU-PF, have endorsed Mr. Mugabe as president for life.
Political workers and civic activists who lived through the 2008 campaign of intimidation and repression — in which many foot soldiers in Mr. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change were tortured or murdered — say ZANU-PF will not need to be so violent this time around. Threats may be enough.
In Mashonaland West, Mr. Mugabe’s home province, people said they were already being warned by local traditional leaders loyal to Mr. Mugabe that the next election would be more terrifying than the last one, when their relatives were abducted and attacked after Mr. Tsvangirai won some constituencies.
“They say, ‘We were only playing with you last time,’ ” said one 53-year-old woman, too frightened to be quoted by name, repeating a warning others in the countryside have heard. “ ‘This time we will go door to door beating and killing people if you don’t vote for ZANU-PF.’ ”
But even as many voice a growing conviction that Mr. Mugabe is plotting to oust his rival and reclaim sole power, he has retained his ability to keep everyone guessing. His political opponents and Western diplomats wonder if Mr. Mugabe is bluffing about a push for quick elections, perhaps to force the factions in his own party to declare their allegiance to him and extinguish the internal jockeying to succeed him.
Further complicating the picture, Mr. Mugabe struck a statesmanlike pose on Monday at a news conference where he graciously shared the stage with Mr. Tsvangirai. The next day, the state-controlled newspaper quoted him as boasting that he, Mr. Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara had brought peace to the country after the 2008 elections. But he also said that new elections would be held after the process of crafting a new constitution was completed, and that the power-sharing government should not be extended beyond August.
The contest between Mr. Mugabe, a university-educated Machiavellian, and Mr. Tsvangirai, 58, a former labor leader who never went to college and is often described as a well intentioned but bumbling tactician, lies at the heart of Zimbabwe’s tumultuous political life.
Not long after Mr. Tsvangirai quit the June 2008 runoff in hopes of halting the beating and torture of thousands of his party workers and supporters, the two men suddenly found themselves alone in the same room. Thabo Mbeki, then South Africa’s president and the mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, vanished during a lunchtime.
In his resonant, cultivated voice, Mr. Mugabe invited Mr. Tsvangirai to join him for a traditional meal of sadza, greens and stew, prepared by Mr. Mugabe’s personal chef, but Mr. Tsvangirai, who had been viciously beaten by Mr. Mugabe’s police force the year before, refused to eat, aides to both men say.
“I can assure you,” Mr. Mugabe said, according to his press secretary, George Charamba, “I’m not about to poison you.”
In 2009, under excruciating pressure from regional leaders, Mr. Tsvangirai agreed to a deal that some in his own party saw as a poisoned chalice. It made him prime minister, but allowed Mr. Mugabe to retain the dominant powers of the state.
Mr. Tsvangirai admits he initially found Mr. Mugabe “very accommodative, very charming.” The men met privately each Monday over tea and scones. When Susan, Mr. Tsvangirai’s wife of more than three decades, died in a car crash just weeks after the government was formed, Mr. Mugabe comforted him. Mr. Mugabe also complained about problems in his own party, and the two men commiserated about how to deal with their hard-liners, Mr. Charamba said.
But Mr. Tsvangirai said in a recent interview that he had come to believe it was Mr. Mugabe himself, not military commanders or other members of the president’s powerful inner circle, who was the principal manipulator.
“He goes along,” Mr. Tsvangirai said, “pretends to be a gentleman, pretends to be accommodative, pretends to be seriously committed to the law, and turns around, sending people, beating up people, using violence to coerce and to literally defend power for the sake of defending power.”
After a decade resisting Mr. Mugabe’s rule from the outside, Mr. Tsvangirai, other leaders of his party and a small breakaway faction have found themselves at the table with him in Tuesday cabinet meetings. They have studied the qualities that have helped Mr. Mugabe hang on to power for 30 years: stamina, mental acuity, attention to detail, charm and an uncanny instinct for the exercise of power.
“Let me tell you, that man’s brain is still very, very, very sharp, but his body is frail,” Mr. Tsvangirai said.
While polls show that Mr. Tsvangirai remains the country’s most popular politician and the likely victor of a fair election, analysts say Mr. Mugabe has been emboldened by a major development: the recent discovery that diamond fields in eastern Zimbabwe, which fall under a ministry controlled by ZANU-PF, may be among the richest in the world.
The minister of mines, Obert Mpofu, insisted in an interview that “ZANU-PF has not gotten a cent from diamonds, not one cent.” But Mr. Tsvangirai and analysts here say they assume that illicit diamond profits are enriching the party’s coffers and helping buy the loyalty of the security services that enforced ZANU-PF’s violent election strategy in 2008.
Mr. Charamba, the president’s press secretary, rejected the assertions, saying there would be “an all-out deployment to assure there is no violence” by any party.
Since Mr. Tsvangirai joined the government, Mr. Mugabe has openly tested the limits of their deal, unilaterally appointing many senior officials and refusing to swear in one of Mr. Tsvangirai’s closest advisers. Mr. Mugabe, in turn, claims that Mr. Tsvangirai has not held up his end of the bargain: lobbying the West to end travel and financial sanctions on him and his coterie.
Mr. Tsvangirai admitted that after leading the struggle against Mr. Mugabe’s rule since 1999, he had no ready answers for establishing “a democratic struggle without guns, without using violence” in the country.
“There’s no template about the solution to the Zimbabwe crisis,” he said. “We have learned this over the last 10 years. There is no template for how we’re going to deal with Mugabe.”
Friday, December 24, 2010
Atlanta weather | First Christmas snow pile since 1800s | ajc.com
Forecasters were saying Friday morning that snowfall was "likely" and that there was also a good chance that it would fluff on the ground -- until hordes of children scurry outside to pat it down.
The morning is expected to start with rain and with temperatures just above freezing. That should change as Arctic air from somewhere near the North Pole collides with warmer, water-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico.
"We won’t wake up to a white Christmas tomorrow morning, but snow is in the forecast later in the day," Channel 2 Action News meteorologist Brad Nitz told the AJC Friday morning. He sees accumulations of as much as a half inch to an inch in some metro Atlanta locations, with one to four inches settling on the mountains of North Georgia.
It would be the first snow to fall in Atlanta behind St. Nick since 1993, and the first accumulation since 1882, when nearly a third of an inch lay on the ground.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Daily Kos: Poll: Lame duck boosts Obama; GOP slips
Opinion Research Corporation for CNN. 12/17-19. 1,000 American adults. MoE 3%.
As you may know, over the past few weeks Congress has been meeting in what is sometimes referred to as a "lame duck" session to consider issues including tax cuts, unemployment benefits, government spending, gays in the military, and nuclear arms. Please tell me whether you approve or disapprove of the way each of the following have handled those issues under consideration during this session: (RANDOM ORDER)
Barack Obama: 56% approve, 41% disapprove
The Republicans in Congress: 42% approve, 53% disapprove
The Democrats in Congress: 44% approve, 52% disapprove
Overall, 42% had a favorable opinion of the GOP while 50% had an unfavorable opinion. The public was split at 47% on the Democratic Party.
One important finding from the poll is that the public believes President Obama has done an effective job at reaching out to Republicans -- but they don't believe Republicans have done an effective job at reaching out to President Obama. 59% said President Obama was doing enough to work with Republicans (up from 47% in February), but just 28% said Republicans were doing enough to work with President Obama.
This hasn't just boosted Obama's ratings, it's also boosted Democrats relative to Republicans. In February, 35% said Democrats were mostly responsible for the lack of cooperation in DC compared and 37% blamed Republicans. Now, 46% blame Republicans and just 28% blame Democrats.
The implication of this is that the public is looking to the GOP to give more ground the next time compromise is required. In February, 51% felt Democrats needed to give up more than Republicans compared to 43% who felt Republicans needed to give up more than Democrats. That's now shifted: 45% say Democrats need to give up more while 47% say Republicans need to give up more.
While it's true that allowing Republicans to take hostages during the tax cut debate validated their hardline stance, it's also true that the public noticed what the GOP did. They might find legislative success if they pursue the same hostage-taking strategy again during the budget and debt ceiling battle which will play out this spring, but they will do so at the expense of turning the public further against them. That means despite the outcome of the tax cut battle, Democrats and the Obama administration are in better position now to hold the line in negotiations, at least as far as short-term public opinion goes.
- CNN Poll: Public Approves of Obama's Handling of Lame Duck Congress Issues (themoderatevoice.com)
- Obama's lame-duck victory lap (politico.com)
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Senate Passes Arms Control Treaty With Russia, 71-26 - NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final approval on Wednesday to a new arms control treaty with Russia, scaling back leftover cold war nuclear arsenals and capping a surprisingly successful lame-duck session for President Obama just weeks after his party’s electoral debacle.
The 71 to 26 vote sends the treaty, known as New Start, to the president for his signature, and cements what is probably the most tangible foreign policy achievement of Mr. Obama’s two years in office. Thirteen Republicans joined a unanimous Democratic caucus to vote in favor, exceeding the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.
The ratification vote was the third bipartisan victory for the president in the waning days of the session, while Democrats still control both houses of Congress. The treaty had assumed such symbolic importance for Mr. Obama’s presidency that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took the rare step of presiding personally over the vote, in his role as president of the Senate. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, a former Senator, was on the floor as well.
Mr. Obama argued that the treaty was vital to rebuilding the Russian-American relationship, and that it represented a small first step toward his vision of eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Republican opponents said the treaty could not be adequately enforced and would undercut national security by giving Russia leverage to try to obstruct American missile defense plans.
The treaty obliges each country to have no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers deployed within seven years, and it provides for a resumption of on-site inspections, which halted when the original Start treaty expired last year. It is the first arms treaty with Russia in eight years, and the first that a Democratic president has both signed and pushed through the Senate.
While it will make smaller reductions in deployed weapons than its predecessors did, the treaty took on outsized importance in recent weeks as both American political parties invested it with greater meaning and turned the ratification debate into a proxy fight over national security in the 21st century. No other Russian-American arms treaty that was ultimately ratified ever generated as much opposition on the final vote.
Republican opponents said the treaty reflected a dangerous and naïve approach by Mr. Obama to the world, “a foreign policy that sends a message of timidity” in search of “a fantasy world that’s nuclear free,” as Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it. Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, said the treaty represents “a continued pattern of appeasement.”
But supporters said the treaty, even if flawed, was an important step in reducing nuclear arms, resuming mutual inspections and keeping Russia within a legal agreement. “There’s no question in my mind that this is in our country’s national security interest,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said in an interview. “This is not one of those votes where you wonder. This is not even a close call.”
The treaty had the support of the nation’s uniformed military leaders and of a host of Republican national security veterans, including former President George H. W. Bush and five former secretaries of state, Henry A. Kissinger, George P. Shultz, James A. Baker III, Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice. But many of the party’s potential 2012 presidential candidates, like Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John Thune, came out against it, as did the two top Republican leaders in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Jon Kyl of Arizona.
Just a month ago, prospects for the treaty appeared to be bleak, when Mr. Kyl, the lead Republican negotiator, declared that there was not enough time to approve the treaty before the end of the year. Mr. Obama decided to wage a high-profile campaign for the treaty over Mr. Kyl’s objection, risking a large share of his prestige and testing his clout in the new political environment.
To bypass the hostile leaders and win over other Republican Senators, Mr. Obama made a commitment to spend $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, so that the smaller arsenal would still be well-maintained and effective. He also gave repeated assurances that he would follow through on development of missile defense in Europe, despite Russian resistance.
The final vote on the treaty came after the Senate disposed of a raft of Republican-proposed amendments Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Most of them were rejected entirely, but Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who led the Democratic effort to win approval of the treaty, accepted a few of them as side statements, which do not formally become part of the treaty and therefore do not require renegotiation with Russia.
Among those accepted on Wednesday was one by Mr. Kyl on modernization and one by Mr. Corker on missile defense. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who had been trying to work out his own side statement on missile defense, joined in backing Mr. Corker’s amendment instead.
Mr. Kerry also accepted on Tuesday night a declaration that the United States should open new talks with Russia within a year to negotiate a new treaty curbing tactical nuclear weapons, the smaller battlefield bombs that are not covered by New Start or any previous Russian-American treaty.
Russia has far more such weapons than the United States, and according to American officials, as recently as last spring Russia moved some of them closer to its borders with NATO nations, as a n response to American missile-defense deployments. Some experts consider these smaller bombs a greater risk of theft or black-market diversion to rogue states or terrorist groups.
The New Start treaty lowers the ceiling on strategic weapons set by previous Russian-American treaties, which it will now supplant. Under the Treaty of Moscow, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002, each side was allowed no more than 2,200 strategic warheads as of 2012. Under the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, signed by the first President Bush in 1991, each side was required to reduce launchers to 1,600 before the treaty expired last year.
The United States currently has 1,950 deployed strategic warheads and 798 deployed launchers, according to the Federation of American Scientists, while Russia has an estimated 2,540 deployed strategic warheads and 574 launchers. The technicalities of counting rules mean that not as many weapons may have to be shelved as those figures imply. The limits do not apply to the thousands of weapons kept in storage.
The treaty must still be approved by the Russian Parliament, an endorsement that the Kremlin had withheld while waiting for the Senate to act. Given the authoritarian nature of Moscow’s political system, that approval is seen as certain.
In addition to Mr. Corker, the Republicans voting for the treaty on Wednesday were Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Robert F. Bennett of Utah, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and George V. Voinovich of Ohio.
- Senate Advances Arms Treaty, 67-28 - NYTimes.com (armwoodnews.com)
Deal for 9/11 Health Bill Reached in Senate - NYTimes.com
1:49 p.m. | Updated A deal has been reached in the Senate to approve a bill that covers the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The compromise on Wednesday was reached after Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, agreed to changes demanded by conservative Republicans, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost.
Under the new agreement, the bill provides $4.3 billion over five years for health coverage to the 9/11 workers, instead of the original $7.4 billion over eight years.
In a joint statement issued on Wednesday, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand called the deal a “Christmas miracle.”
“Over the last 24 hours, our Republican colleagues have negotiated in good faith to forge a workable final package that will protect the health of the men and women who selflessly answered our nation’s call in her hour of greatest need,” the statement said. “This has been a long process, but we are now on the cusp of the victory these heroes deserve.”
With lawmakers eager to get home for the holidays, the Senate is expected within the hour to take up the bill by unanimous consent, an agreement made between the parties to bypass any potentially time-consuming debate.
One of the main critics of the bill, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, expressed satisfaction with the legislation’s final price tag.
“Every American recognizes the heroism of the 9/11 first responders,” he said. “But it is not compassionate to help one group while robbing future generations of opportunity.”
The deal was a major turn of events for a bill that had been stalled in the upper chamber. Only 12 days ago, Senate Republicans blocked the legislation from advancing to a floor vote.
But Republicans backed down after facing a barrage of criticism — not just from Democrats, but also from traditional Republican allies, including former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York, and conservative news outlets like Fox News.
Should the Senate pass the measure, it will go to the House, where it is expected to be swiftly approved and then sent to President Obama for his signature.
Heartburn drugs linked to increased pneumonia risk - WIN 98.5 Your Country
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People on two types of widely prescribed heartburn medications may have a higher-than-average risk of developing pneumonia, a new research review finds.
The drugs in question belong to two classes frequently used to treat heartburn or stomach ulcers: proton pump inhibitors, which include drugs like Nexium, Prevacid and Prilosec; and H2-receptor blockers, such as Pepcid and Zantac.
In the U.S. alone, people spent $27 billion on these medications in 2005.
Some studies have found a connection between the heartburn drugs and a heightened risk of pneumonia. One theory is that by curbing stomach acid, the medications allow ingested bacteria that would otherwise be killed to instead survive and thrive -- and potentially get into the lungs.
For the new analysis, South Korean researchers pulled together 31 international studies looking at the connection between heartburn drugs and pneumonia.
When they combined the studies' results, they found that people on either proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers were about one-quarter more likely than non-users to develop pneumonia.
Some studies focused on people who became infected while in the hospital, where pneumonia is a common, and often deadly, problem. Other studies focused on out-of-hospital infections. People who used heartburn drugs were at increased risk in either case.
The risks to any individual medication user were not huge. The researchers estimate, for example, that among hospital patients on the heartburn drugs, there would be about 25 cases of pneumonia per 1,000 patients. That compares with 20 cases per 1,000 among hospital patients not on the drugs.
And it's not certain that the drugs themselves are to blame, Dr. Sang Min Park, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
It's possible that chronic acid reflux itself could at least partly account for the link, according to Park, of Seoul National University Hospital. Acids that back up out of the stomach can sometimes be sucked into the airways, where they could cause pneumonia.
Still, Park said the findings suggest that doctors and heartburn sufferers should use some caution when it comes to acid-suppressing drugs.
Discuss the pros and cons with your doctor, the researcher advised, and use the medications only if necessary to control your symptoms -- in cases where diet and other lifestyle changes don't work, for example -- and at the lowest dose possible.
Caution would be especially important for people already at higher-than-average risk of pneumonia, such as the elderly and people with emphysema or other chronic lung diseases, according to Park.
The findings, reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, are based on 31 studies from Europe, Asia and North America.
Based on the hospital studies, Park's team estimates that acid-suppressing drugs could contribute to an extra four to five cases of pneumonia for every 1,000 hospital patients.
The researchers point out that anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of hospital patients are on one of these drugs. This, they say, suggests that the medications could account for a "considerable" portion of hospital-acquired infections.
The researchers could not perform a similar overall estimate for out-of-hospital infections. But one study they reviewed gives an idea of the drugs' potential contribution to pneumonia cases outside hospitals.
In that study, Dutch researchers looked at out-of-hospital pneumonia rates among nearly 365,000 adults over seven years. Of the people on proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers, 2.5 percent developed pneumonia per year, versus 0.6 percent of those not on the drugs.
Alternative ways to manage frequent heartburn include lifestyle changes, like avoiding foods that trigger symptoms, eating smaller meals and losing weight, and quitting smoking. Over-the-counter antacids, which neutralize stomach acids, can bring quick symptom relief.
Some people with frequent or severe heartburn, however, may need an acid-suppressing medication to control their symptoms and prevent or treat damage to the esophagus or stomach lining.
- How to Treat Heartburn (everydayhealth.com)
- Acid suppressive medication may increase risk of pneumonia (eurekalert.org)
- It's enough to give you heartburn (sciencenews.org)
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Image by Getty Images via @daylifeHaley Barbour's Praise For Racist Group Gets Noticed : It's All Politics : NPR
Updated at 1:11 pm: Gov. Haley Barbour has issued a statement clarifying his position on the activities in the 1950s and 1960s of the Citizens' Council in his hometown of Yazoo City.
—— original post below ——
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is getting much more national attention than he usually does this week following a Weekly Standard profile in which the Republican with presidential aspirations lauds a group that was part of the racist reaction to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.
In the piece headlined, "The Boy from Yazoo City" by writer Andrew Barbour, the governor, a former Republican National Committee chair, has a fond memory of the Citizens' Council in his hometown that dresses up the real history of such groups.
It's this excerpt from the piece that has caused collective eye-brow raising:
Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
Needless to say, this is a version of history that is unrecognizable to many who lived through the Civil Rights period in the South or have studied it.
The following is from Bruce Watson's "Freedom Summer: The Savage Season That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy."
As in resisting Reconstruction, Mississippi led resistance to the civil rights movement. Two months after the Brown decision, planters, lawyers and other prominent Delta men met in Indianola to form the White Citizens' Council. The council often clothed its policies in the garb of "states rights," but one pamphlet succinctly defined its purpose: "The Citizens' Council is the South's answer to the mongrelizers. We will not be integrated! We are proud of our white blood and our white heritage..."
Sometimes called the "Uptown Klan" Mississippi's Citizens' Councils used a variety of tactics. They held high school essay contests on "Why Separate Schools Should Be Maintained For the White and Negro Races."
Specifically to the point of the Citizens Council in Yazoo City, Michelle Goldberg, in The Daily Beast, writes specifically about that franchise of the organization.
It's true that in Yazoo, the local Citizens Council stood against the Klan—because it was worried about the competition. Citizens Councils were white supremacist organizations that were formed in the 1950s to defend segregation. They tended to be more upscale and respectable than the Klan, but they didn’t disagree with Klan racism. In his book Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi, John Dittmer wrote, "The Yazoo City chapter of the Citizens Council went on record opposing the Klan, adding that 'your Citizens Council was formed to preserve the separation of the races, and believes that it can best serve the county where it is the only organization operating in this field.'"
So Barbour has something of a problem. His version of history is at best incomplete and at worst it's a misrepresentation.
Meanwhile, if you're Barbour, you can't ignore how your fellow Mississippian Trent Lott lost his U.S. Senate majority leader's post after publicly praising Sen. Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.
That showed how much many in the Republican Party recognized the need for their party to broaden its appeal to people of color, a growing part of the population.
Barbour's embrace of the Yazoo City Citizens Council will seem a lot like Lott's praise for Thurmond's segregationist years. It didn't work for Lott and it's going to be hard for Barbour to make it work for him.
After all, a headline like this one in The Daily Beast can't be good in 2010: "Is Haley Barbour a racist?" Goldberg's answer, for the record, is yes.
The interesting thing about the Weekly Standard piece, then, isn't the revelation of Barbour's racism. It's that Barbour, a man with a deep knowledge of Republican politics, believes that his party's base sees race the same way he does.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative who blogs at the Washington Post, makes the point that many conservatives reject racism so the notion that a Southern Strategy would get him very far in Republican presidential politics is mistaken.
The notion that this is all part of a "Southern strategy" (which Greg Sargent tells us is being discussed in the left-leaning blogosphere) is tinfoil-hat sort of stuff that reminds me how little the left understands today's conservatives.
- Haley Barbour's new fake history (maddowblog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Haley Barbour and the KKK in Yazoo City (salon.com)
- Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour Criticized for Downplaying '60 Racial Tensions (politicsdaily.com)
- Haley Barbour accused of praising 'racist organisation' (telegraph.co.uk)
- Barbour backtracks on Citizens' Councils, but is it too little, too late? (dailykos.com)
Rep. Holt: Sen. McCain Objected To My Military Suicide Prevention Bill
WASHINGTON — In 2008, a young sergeant named Coleman S. Bean took his life. After completing his first tour of duty in Iraq, he had come home and been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nevertheless, he was deployed to Iraq a second time. Bean had sought treatment for PTSD but as a member of the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR), he found fewer resources available to him than to veterans and active-duty members.
In April, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced legislation named after the late soldier meant to provide more resources for suicide prevention to Reserve members. The House in May incorporated it into the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, but it was stripped from the final version, and Holt is pointing the finger at the lead Republican negotiator on the Senate legislation, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
"Twice now, the Senate has stripped this legislation from our defense bill," Holt told The Huffington Post Tuesday. "It's hard to understand why. I know for a fact, because he told me, that Sen. McCain doesn't support it. Whether he's the only one, I don't know. But there was no effort to try to improve the language or negotiate changes; it was just rejected, and I think that is not only bad policy, but it's cruel. It's cruel to the families that are struggling with catastrophic mental health problems."
"He [McCain] said having these counselors check in with the Reservists every few months this way overreaching," continued Holt, relaying a phone conversation he had had with the senator. "I asked him in what sense it was overreaching. Surely he didn't think there wasn't a problem, did he? I must say I don't understand it."
The major piece of Holt's amendment would require the Defense Department to ensure that every member of the Reserves who completes at least one tour of duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan receives "a counseling call from properly trained personnel not less than once every 90 days so long as the servicemember remains a member of the IRR." If they were determined to be at risk, they would receive counseling or mental health treatment.
The legislation is modeled on a program run by the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, which provides veterans with peer counseling and clinical assessments. Unlike the program proposed by Holt, however, veterans and their families are the ones to initiate assistance.
McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan took issue with Holt's version of events, saying that he should look to his House colleagues for why the amendment was removed.
"Unfortunately, and with all due respect, Holt's office is mischaracterizing Senator McCain's 'support' for the provision," wrote Buchanan in a statement to The Huffington Post. "The fact is the provision never entered conference and was actually removed on the House side before the bill was taken to conference. So whatever frustrations or concerns Congressman Holt may have should be directed to his colleagues on the House side. Senator McCain is committed to providing the necessary support to every service member and appreciates the special needs of our armed forces and the particular hardships they face both at home and abroad."
A Holt spokesman responded that the reason it was removed from the House version this year was because of pre-emptive objections from the Senate.
This week, Coleman's father Gregory, wrote a column expressing disappointment with McCain. "Late last week, the defense appropriations bill passed without Holt's measure as a part of it. Holt says he's furious; so are we," he stated. "In fact, I'm so angry that McCain -- who has dined out for decades as an 'advocate' for veterans -- made a unilateral decision to squash this fine, bipartisan measure that discretion dictates I write no more about it until I cool down."
Holt said going forward, he'll re-introduce his legislation as a stand-alone measure, try to get the language included in military health care legislation and help the Pentagon improve mental health services.
"I'll keep trying to have the best possible federal policy to provide this help," said Holt. "I thought it was just an oversight or a mistake when the Senate rejected this last year, but when they really deliberately and knowingly rejected it this time, I was just appalled."
In 2009, Holt also included his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010, but an anonymous senator blocked the measure, and it was stripped out.
Image via WikipediaSenate Advances Arms Treaty, 67-28 - NYTimes.com
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON —The Senate voted 67 to 28 on Tuesday to advance a new arms control treaty that would pare back American and Russian nuclear arsenals, reaching the two-thirds margin needed for approval despite a concerted Republican effort to block ratification.
Eleven Republicans joined every Democrat present to support the treaty, known as New Start, which now heads to a seemingly certain final vote of approval on Wednesday, as the Senate wraps up business before heading out of town. Voting against the treaty were 28 Republicans who argued that it could hurt national security.
“Today’s bipartisan vote clears a significant hurdle in the Senate,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who led the floor fight for the treaty. “We are on the brink of writing the next chapter in the 40-year history of wrestling with the threat of nuclear weapons.”
The vote represented another bipartisan victory for President Obama, who emerged politically wounded from last month’s mid-term elections but turned around to successfully press the outgoing Congress to enact several of his top priorities. At his behest, lawmakers passed an $858 billion package of tax cuts and unemployment benefits, and they ended the longstanding ban on gay men and lesbians serving in the military.
The New Start treaty was the last major challenge of the session for Mr. Obama, and in some ways the most emboldening for him. The tax-cut deal required the president to swallow a compromise that extended the expiring Bush-era lowered tax rates even for the wealthy, costing him support within his own party. The overturning of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military policy was driven as much by senators as by the White House.
But it was Mr. Obama who decided to make passing the treaty before the end of the year a high-profile test of his remaining clout. Despite bleak prospects for the treaty just a month ago, Mr. Obama mounted an unusually relentless campaign to win over enough Republican senators on his terms, enlisting former Republican luminaries, the nation’s military commanders and Eastern European leaders to knock down any objections.
The treaty requires the United States and Russia to reduce their nuclear stockpiles so that within seven years of ratification neither deploys more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 launchers. It would also require the resumption of on-site inspections that lapsed last December when the original Start treaty expired.
The White House and its ally, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, have locked down Republican votes in recent days in part with a series of letters and statements intended to address concerns about the treaty’s impact on missile defense, nuclear modernization and verification.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, originally an appointee of President George W. Bush, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation’s top military officer, appealed to Republican respect for the military and urged support for the treaty.
In a letter to several senators, Mr. Obama repeated his commitment, beyond the current budget, to a 10-year, $85 billion program to modernize the nation’s nuclear weapons complex, to ensure that a shrinking nuclear arsenal would still be well maintained and effective.
“I recognize that nuclear modernization requires investment for the long-term, in addition to this one-year budget increase,” Mr. Obama wrote. “That is my commitment to the Congress — that my Administration will pursue these programs and capabilities for as long as I am President.”
The reassurances appeared to win over enough Republican support to ensure ratification of the treaty. Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who last week voted with other Republicans to block consideration of the treaty during the lame-duck session, cited Mr. Obama’s support for modernization in announcing his decision to vote to approve it on Tuesday morning.
“I’m convinced,” Mr. Alexander said on the floor, “that America is safer and more secure with the New Start treaty than without it.” He said he was convinced that the treaty still left the United States with “enough nuclear warheads to blow any attacker to kingdom come.”
Senator Johnny Isakson of georgia, who voted for the treaty in committee but had not declared whether he would follow suit on the floor until Tuesday, said in a statement: “Only through setting the example, without giving in or capitulating a thing, do we give hope to the future that my grandchildren and yours can live in a world that will not be free of nukes but will be secure.”
Republican opponents continued to hammer away at the treaty, arguing that its verification procedures were inadequate and that nonbinding language in its preamble could give Russia leverage to try to keep the United States from deploying missile defense installations in Eastern Europe. They said Russia got more out of the treaty than the United States.
“The administration did not negotiate a good treaty,” Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican, told reporters. “They went into negotiations, it seems to me, with the attitude with the Russians just like the guy that goes into the car dealership and says, ‘I’m not leaving here until I buy a car.’”
Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, bristled at Russia’s warning Monday that the Senate should not try to rewrite the treaty. “The Senate is not a rubber stamp — not for the administration, not for Russia,” he said. “And as one senator, I am not ready to stamp this treaty.”
The Senate planned to vote later Tuesday on whether to close off debate after a week of floor discussion, which requires 60 votes. For final passage, the Constitution requires that two-thirds of senators present vote their approval. With Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, absent after prostate surgery, that means supporters need 66 votes. If they get that many on the Tuesday vote, it presumably would foreshadow the final outcome, which could come Wednesday.
Left unclear was whether the administration would come to an agreement with Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was trying to fashion a compromise to reassure Republicans that the treaty will not constrain American missile defense plans.
The White House and Pentagon have insisted from the beginning that the treaty would do nothing to block American missile defense plans. On Monday, Mr. McCain unveiled a proposed amendment to the resolution of ratification that accompanies the treaty affirming that the United States will proceed with all four planned phases of missile defense in Europe by 2020 as Mr. Obama has committed to doing.
The growing support from Republicans suggested that the White House no longer needed Mr. McCain and it may choose to pocket what seems to be shaping up as a victory without making further accommodations. At the same time, it may decide to come to an agreement with Mr. McCain in the interest of building a stronger bipartisan vote for the treaty beyond the bare-minimum 66. As a separate statement, Mr. McCain’s amendment would not change the treaty itself or require renegotiation with the Russians; it would only be a declaration of American policy.
In addition to Senators Alexander, Isakson, Corker and Murkowski, the Republicans who have pledged their support include Senators Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, and Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.
Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire said on Monday that he would most likely vote yes as well.
For the treaty to take effect, the Russian parliament must ratify it as well. But given the Kremlin’s control over the Russian political system, that is viewed as a formality.
China urges North Korea to accept nuclear inspectors - The China Post
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
By Wee Sui-lee and Sylvia Westall, Reuters
BEIJING/SEOUL -- China on Tuesday urged North Korea to follow through on its offer to allow U.N. nuclear monitors into the country as a way to alleviate international tensions during a standoff with the South.
China, North Korea's only major ally, has continually urged dialogue to resolve the crisis and has been reluctant to blame its neighbor for the shelling of a South Korean island last month, in which two Marines and two civilians were killed.
South Korea held further live-fire drills on the island on Monday, raising fears of all-out war, but the North did not retaliate. Instead, it offered to accept nuclear inspectors it has kicked out of the country before.
"North Korea has the right to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes, but also at the same time must allow IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors in," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing.
"All parties should realize that artillery fire and military force cannot solve the issues on the peninsula, and dialogue and cooperation are the only correct approaches."
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson said on his return from a visit to Pyongyang, where he acted as an unofficial envoy, that North Korea had promised to allow in inspectors to make sure it is not processing highly enriched uranium.
He told reporters North Korea had shown a "pragmatic attitude" in his unofficial talks.
"The specifics are that they will allow IAEA personnel to go to Yongbyon to ensure that they are not processing highly enriched uranium, that they are proceeding with peaceful purposes," Richardson said in Beijing, referring to the North's main nuclear site.
But analysts said it was unclear how much access IAEA inspectors would really get because North Korea has limited their oversight in the past. They also said the major worry was whether there were other nuclear sites hidden outside of Yongbyon.
"The question that remains is whether this is the only facility. A uranium enrichment programme is much easier to hide than a plutonium one," said Andrei Lankov at Kookmin University in Seoul.
South Korea and the United States suspect North Korea has more sites geared to enriching uranium outside Yongbyon, the complex which is at the heart of the North's plutonium weapons programme.
It consists of a five-megawatt reactor, whose construction began in 1980, a fuel fabrication facility and a plutonium reprocessing plant, where weapons-grade material is extracted from spent fuel rods.
Lankov said the North's suggestion of compromise after provocation was a "usual tactic" of the impoverished state that had worked in the past to win aid.
"They create a crisis, they show that they are dangerous and drive tensions high," he said. "Then they show they could make some concessions."
If IAEA inspectors were allowed to carry out such monitoring, it could help to address a key concern about North Korea's uranium enrichment work because highly-enriched material can be used in atomic weapons.
Seoul shares rose 0.8 percent, broadly in line with other regional markets, to end at a three-year high on Tuesday, as anxiety over tension on the Korean peninsula eased, but the won currency remained under pressure.
The mood on Yeonpyeong Island had eased after the previous day's drill, with military personnel visibly relaxed and preparing to sail back to the mainland.
'Deeds, not Words'
North Korea, which has refused full IAEA oversight since 2002 and expelled inspectors last April, has said it only wants to enrich uranium to the low level used to make fuel for a civilian atomic power programme.
But in order to check this, the IAEA would need continued, unfettered access to all of North Korea's uranium enrichment activities. It would usually require frequent inspections, video cameras and special seals to ensure that none of the material is being diverted for military use.
Richardson said of the North's offer: "I believe that's an important gesture on their part, but there still has to be a commitment eventually by the North Koreans to denuclearize, to abide by the 2005 agreement that says they will terminate their nuclear weapons activities."
"...Now there has to be deeds and not words," he said.
He said the offer might pave the way for the resumption of six-party talks that also involve the United States, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea -- although Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have been cool to this idea, reluctant to reward perceived bad behavior.
"I think this provides an opportunity, this incident, for a new chapter in easing tensions. It's not going to resolve the problems in the peninsula, but maybe it's an opportunity for all sides to get serious, especially North Korea," he said.
A key South Korean government official said the recent aggression by the North was closely linked to the succession from ailing leader Kim Jong-il to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, and was intended for its domestic audience as much as for anybody.
"We don't want to give them the misperception that their provocations will help their national interest," he said.
The U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked in its efforts to ease tensions on the Korean peninsula, but North Korea's refraining from retaliation and the nuclear offer made to U.S. trouble-shooter Bill Richardson offered some breathing space.
But the South Korean government official, who declined to be identified, said Seoul could not take the North Korean offer seriously as it was not official. He said the five parties had to agree first on what to offer the North.
"Then we can pursue six-party talks. But the next six-party talks will be the grand bargain. That means a target year (for dismantlement) and the whole picture in the next round, not partial elements."
Shen Dingli at Shanghai's Fudan University, said North Korea's latest moves did not mean that it was moving any closer to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.
"North Korea wants nuclear weapons and won't abandon them, and if there are new six-party talks it will defend that right."
- US envoy sees N Korean 'progress' (bbc.co.uk)
- North Withholds Fire After South Korean Drills - NYTimes.com (armwoodnews.com)
- Defying North, South Korea Conducts Live-Fire Drills - NYTimes.com (armwoodnews.com)
Image via WikipediaWikiLeaks Founder: We Have Enough Information To Make An Exec At A Major Bank Resign
An upcoming data dump by WikiLeaks will be damaging enough that an executive at a major American bank will resign, the organization's founder Julian Assange told the U.K.'s Times in a recent interview.
Speculation has swirled that WikiLeaks may be targeting Bank of America in its next leak, which Assange said in a Forbes interview will target at least one major bank. In a 2009 Computer World interview, Assange said that he had 5 GB hard drive from a Bank of America executive. The bank recently stopped processing WikiLeaks payments.
In an interview with the Times, Assange said: "We don't want the bank to suffer unless it's called for. But if its management is operating in a responsive way there will be resignations."
New York Times scribe Andrew Ross Sorkin, for his part, says it's not Wall Street executives who are worried about WikiLeaks' next bombshell, it's Wall Street regulators. Here's Sorkin:
It seems the prospect of gigabytes of e-mail and other documents from financial institutions can be viewed one of two ways: as a treasure trove for regulators to scrutinize -- or as an embarrassment for the United States government, which has spent millions of dollars investigating Wall Street in the last two years without a scalp to show for it.
Inside the Securities and Exchange Commission, the organization is bracing for a public outcry, according to people who have recently spoken with some high-ranking officials about the prospect of a WikiLeaks release of bank documents.
If WikiLeaks reveals truly damaging information, Wall Street regulators may in a particularly awkward situation: they'll end up being scooped by an organization that has been branded as a terrorist group.
- Bank of America cuts off WikiLeaks (news.cnet.com)
- Bank of America Suspends Payments to WikiLeaks (nytimes.com)
- Bank Of America Will Stop Processing WikiLeaks Payments, WikiLeaks Responds On Twitter (huffingtonpost.com)
North Withholds Fire After South Korean Drills - NYTimes.com
PYONGYANG, North Korea — An ominous showdown between North and South Korea was forestalled Monday after the North withheld military retaliation for South Korea’s live-fire artillery drills on an island that the North shelled last month after similar drills.
The North claims the island and its surrounding waters and had threatened “brutal consequences beyond imagination” if the drills went forward. But the North’s official news agency issued a statement Monday night saying it was “not worth reacting” to the exercise, and a statement from the North’s military said, “The world should properly know who is the true champion of peace and who is the real provocateur of a war.”
The apparent pullback created a palpable feeling of relief in South Korea, where many people had been bracing for a showdown.
Many had expected a repeat — if not worse — of the North’s hour-long barrage on Yeonpyeong Island, just eight miles from the North Korean coast, which left two South Korean soldiers and two South Korean civilians dead.
Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former ambassador to the United Nations who spent five days on an unofficial visit to North Korea to try to break through the North’s isolation, said the talks had yielded “important progress” on its nuclear program, including a resumption of visits by United Nations monitors.
“I believe the North Koreans responded positively because they had pushed themselves into the precipice and into the brink and they had to pull back,” Mr. Richardson said.
North Korea’s recent aggressive actions have left it more isolated than ever, he said, “and they need food and fuel and the easing of sanctions.”
“Maybe we had a little impact,” he said of the North’s restraint over the drills.
After repeated delays attributed to bad weather, the drills began Monday afternoon.
The 94 minutes of operations included F-15K fighter-bombers overhead and shelling into waters claimed by both Koreas. About 20 American military personnel took various support and observer roles. The United States has been South Korea’s protector since the Korean War, with 28,500 military personnel stationed in the country.
South Korea insisted that the drills were routine and that it had the sovereign right to conduct such exercises, even at a time of heightened tensions.
The North has made a series of provocative moves this year: sinking a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors; shelling the island last month; and revealing a new and highly sophisticated nuclear facility. North Korean officials have denied any role in the sinking of the warship.
Some North Korea watchers in Seoul said that the sudden softening in tone by the North was most likely part of a broader strategy to nudge both South Korea and the United States to the negotiating table. North Korea, they said, is desperate to obtain food aid from the South and possibly even security guarantees from Washington as the North’s ailing dictator, Kim Jong-il, tries to engineer the succession of his young and untested third son, Kim Jong-un.
“North Korea was thinking very strategically when it backed down from its confrontational stance,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “I think they are trying to create the mood for dialogue.”
Tony Namkung, a senior advisor to Mr. Richardson and an Asia specialist who accompanied the governor to Pyongyang, said Tuesday: "This does not add up to a breakthrough or even a turning point. It is a small opening, a reprieve from the current tensions and an opportunity."
Mr. Richardson said the United States, South Korea and other nations involved in earlier, failed negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program should exploit "this potentially new, constructive attitude" in Pyongyang.
The South was unwilling to back down over the drills, with President Lee Myung-bak, a conservative, under pressure from his right-wing base for failing to respond more robustly both to last month’s attack and the sinking of the warship. The new South Korean defense minister, a former four-star general, has vowed to strike back hard at North Korea — including airstrikes — should it attack again.
Last month’s attack was particularly shocking in the South because it appeared to target the island’s small fishing community of about 1,350 civilians, as well as its military garrison. This led to uncharacteristic calls for revenge against the North.
Diplomatic efforts to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and perhaps halt the drills, faltered on Sunday. The United Nations Security Council held a special session, but in six hours of talks failed to agree on a measure calling for moderation and restraint by the two Koreas. Seoul also rejected calls by China and Russia to cancel the exercise.
At the Security Council meeting in New York, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, defended Seoul, saying it was “important to recognize that there is nothing unusual about these planned drills.”
“They are exclusively defensive in nature, and they have been regularly conducted for years,” she said.
There had been some concern over the weekend that the South Korean Coast Guard’s detention of three crewmen from a Chinese ship fishing illegally in South Korean waters 170 miles south of Seoul might aggravate relations with China, North Korea’s most important ally, which has sought to defuse the North-South crisis. But both China and South Korea played down the dispute.
On Monday, Mr. Richardson detailed the concessions he said the North had made related to its nuclear program, a main source of tension on the peninsula. After meetings with high-ranking military officials, the North Korean vice president and members of the Foreign Ministry, he said, the North agreed to allow United Nations nuclear monitors back into the Yongbyon nuclear complex, the site of its new facility, to ensure that it is not producing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The monitors were expelled last year.
North Korean officials also told Mr. Richardson that their government was willing to sell 12,000 plutonium fuel rods to South Korea, removing bomb-making material from the North, he said. “I would describe this as important progress,” he said of the concessions.
If allowed access to the Yongbyon complex, monitors could verify how many of the 2,000 centrifuges North Korea says it has installed in the new facility are actually operating. They could measure production and declare whether the country is making reactor-grade or bomb-grade fuel at the complex.
But without access beyond Yongbyon, the monitors would not be able to observe any plants that North Korea may be running elsewhere. American and European experts have all said in recent days that they believe that the North must have other production and research facilities; without them, it would have been virtually impossible to assemble so many centrifuges, which enrich uranium, so quickly.
Sharon LaFraniere reported from Pyongyang, and Martin Fackler from Seoul, South Korea. Mark McDonald contributed reporting from Seoul and David E. Sanger contributed from Boston.
- Defying North, South Korea Conducts Live-Fire Drills - NYTimes.com (armwoodnews.com)
- US envoy sees N Korean 'progress' (bbc.co.uk)
- South Korea orders residents to take shelter in anticipation of drills - CNN.com (armwoodnews.com)
Monday, December 20, 2010
Defying North, South Korea Conducts Live-Fire Drills - NYTimes.com
SEOUL, South Korea — Defying North Korean threats of violent retaliation and “brutal consequences beyond imagination,” South Korea on Monday staged live-fire artillery drills on an island shelled last month by the North.
The drills, which included F-15K fighter-bombers overhead, came after the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a measure calling for moderation and restraint by the two Koreas. Seoul also rejected calls by China and Russia to cancel the exercise.
The drill, in which shells were fired into waters claimed by both Koreas, escalates what is already an ominous standoff that American military officials have warned could spiral out of control. South Korea insisted that the drill was routine and that it had the sovereign right to conduct such exercises, even at a time of such heightened tensions.
A spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said marine artillery units on Yeonpyeong Island began firing Monday at 2:30 p.m. and ended at 4:04. The South Korean island, which sits just eight miles off the North Korean coast, was the site of last month’s artillery barrage by the North that killed two marines and two civilians.
“There was no North Korean response,” a Defense Ministry official said Monday evening in Seoul. “We keep watching and monitoring. No trouble.”
He declined to say how many rounds had been fired during the drill.
Earlier Monday, South Korean television showed footage of the few remaining residents of the island’s fishing community moving into bomb shelters and trying on gas masks as the mainland also braced itself for possible North Korean retaliation.
Gen. Walter L. Sharp, the commander of American forces in South Korea, and Kathleen Stephens, the American ambassador to Seoul, went on Sunday to the Blue House, the presidential offices and residence. The embassy declined to comment Monday about the Blue House visit or the drill.
“The U.S. side said it supports South Korea’s military training plan irrespective of North Korea’s response, and that it will stay with us whatever happens,” said Kim Hee-jung, a spokeswoman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Some 20 American military personnel attended the artillery drill in various support and observer roles. The United States has been South Korea’s protector since the Korean War, with some 28,500 military personnel currently stationed here.
At the Security Council meeting in New York, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E. Rice, defended Seoul, saying it was “important to recognize that that there is nothing unusual about these planned drills.”
“They are exclusively defensive in nature, and they have been regularly conducted for years,” she said.
An unofficial American envoy visiting North Korea, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former ambassador to the United Nations, said that the North was taking the drill and the ongoing tensions very seriously. He said the North had offered concessions on its nuclear program, including a resumption of visits by United Nations inspectors.
Some political analysts said the government of South Korea’s Mr. Lee appeared keen to press forward with the exercise to demonstrate its newly bolstered policy of standing up to the North’s threats. Mr. Lee and his government have faced withering public criticism for what has been seen here as weak responses to the shelling of Yeonpyeong on Nov. 23 and the sinking in March of a South Korean warship in nearby waters.
“They want to show they are tough,” said Andrei Lankov, a longtime observer of North Korea and a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “Lee Myung-bak cannot show his weakness, both domestically and in front of North Korea. “
An opposition lawmaker and a former Unification minister, Chung Dong-young, said on Monday that Mr. Lee’s government was “incompetent” in matters of security and had veered into “military adventurism and even recklessness.”
“It’s not acceptable the way the military has responded,” he said, adding that the inter-Korean situation had become “an unprecedented crisis.”
The rising tensions have centered on the Yellow Sea around Yeonpyeong, with the North suddenly growing more assertive in disputing the so-called Northern Limit Line, a maritime boundary that was drawn by the United States after the 1950-53 Korean War.
A number of political analysts say the North appears to be engaged in military brinkmanship aimed at forcing the South to resume food aid and other assistance to North Korea’s decrepit state-run economy, and possibly to burnish the military credentials of the youngest son and presumed heir of Kim Jong-il, the North Korean dictator.
For its part, the South also appears unwilling to back down this time, as President Lee, a conservative, has come under pressure, particularly from his right-wing base, for failing to respond more robustly both to last month’s attack and the sinking of the warship. The new South Korean defense minister, a former four-star general, has vowed to strike back hard at North Korea — including airstrikes — should it attack again.
Last month’s attack was particularly shocking in the South because it appeared to target the island’s small fishing community of about 1,350 civilians, and its well dug-in military garrison. This has led to uncharacteristic calls for revenge against the North.
For its part, the North denies responsibility for the sinking of the warship, the Cheonan, and maintains that the shelling of Yeonpyeong was in self-defense. It promised to respond fiercely if the South fired into waters it claims, including those around Yeonpyeong.
The question now is whether the North will make good on its promises to retaliate, and how it might do so. Mr. Lankov, the analyst, said he did not expect a massive response by Pyongyang because the recent incidents are part of a North Korean “strategy of tensions,” meaning that North Korean leaders want to choose when and where to strike.
“I do not think the North Koreans will do much this time,” Mr. Lankov said. “They’d rather deliver a new blow later when they will be ready. But the maneuvers still mean a great risk of escalation.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Richardson said the North had agreed to concessions related to its nuclear program, a main source of tension on the peninsula. A former United States special envoy to North Korea, Mr. Richardson was on an unofficial trip approved by the State Department. He met with high-ranking military officials, the North Korean vice president and members of the Foreign Ministry over four days.
Mr. Richardson said the North had made two significant concessions toward reopening six-party talks on the country’s nuclear program. The North’s proposal would allow United Nations nuclear inspectors back into the Yongbyon nuclear complex to ensure that it is not producing enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. The North recently showed an American nuclear expert a new and stunningly sophisticated facility there. It expelled international inspectors last year.
North Korean officials also told Mr. Richardson that their government was willing to sell 12,000 plutonium fuel rods to South Korea, removing bomb-making material from the North, he said. “I would describe this as important progress,” he said of the concessions.
But in Seoul, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the concessions had no bearing on the South’s decision to hold the drills.
Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting from Pyongyang, North Korea.
- South Korea orders residents to take shelter in anticipation of drills - CNN.com (armwoodnews.com)
- S Korea fires into disputed waters (guardian.co.uk)
- UN crisis talks on Korea tension (bbc.co.uk)
- South Korea Starts Live-Fire Drills on Island Near the North (nytimes.com)