Sunday, January 14, 2018

Last Call For Sitting This One Out

Neither China nor Russia will attend a Vancouver diplomatic meeting this week of major world powers on North Korean sanctions and nuclear proliferation, meaning the conference is basically nothing but show.

Foreign ministers from around 20 nations gather on Tuesday to discuss how to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic and financial pressure, but China, seen as a key player in any long-term solution, will be absent.

The Vancouver meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, comes amid signs that tensions on the peninsula have eased, at least temporarily. North and South Korea held talks for the first time in two years last week and Pyongyang says it will send athletes across the border to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

But the United States and others say the international community must look at ways of expanding a broad range of sanctions aimed at North Korea’s nuclear program.

“There is growing evidence that our maximum pressure campaign is being felt in North Korea. They are feeling the strain,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning.
Hook told a briefing in Washington that participants, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would examine how to boost maritime security around North Korea to intercept ships trying to defy sanctions as well as “disrupting funding and disrupting resources.” 
The 17-nation Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, on Friday said “it is imperative for us to redouble our efforts to put maximum pressure on North Korea”.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of willingness to give in to U.S. demands and negotiate away a weapons program he sees as vital to his survival.
Another challenge in Vancouver will be the absence of China, which has significant influence in North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang’s only ally and its chief trading partner. 
The meeting primarily groups those nations that sent troops to the Korean war of 1950-53, when China fought alongside the North. Beijing condemned the gathering. 
Holding this kind of meeting that doesn’t include important parties to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue actually cannot help in advancing an appropriate resolution to the issue,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

China doesn't want to lower the boom on Pyongyang, not with tens of thousands of US troops nearby in South Korea.  It's not like they trust Trump, either...or Russia for that matter.  People keep forgetting that Russia shares 2,600 miles of border with China and that Putin's power grabs in Europe don't exactly endear him to Beijing.

The US wants China to do the heavy lifting on reining in Kim Jong Un and his nuclear ambitions and they don't want any part of it, not yet anyway.  The two Koreas may be making nice for the Winter Games next month, but after that who knows.  It's a mess.

Certainly Trump won't make things better.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Part of the reason why Republicans have been able to do lasting damage to the country over the last eight years has been their historic midterm wins in 2010 and 2014 that shifted blue and purple states into Republican hands, not just governor's mansions but entire state legislatures in states like Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada and Virginia.

But the ongoing disaster that is Trump is finally breaking the GOP stranglehold on America.  Just six months ago, Republicans controlled 35 of 50 states.  That's already started to change as the country shifts back in response to the GOP, and 2018 will go a long way in deciding how 2020 plays out.

Buoyed by November election results, a surge in fundraising and expectations of a massive liberal wave, Democrats are preparing for an assault on one of the GOP’s most heavily fortified positions: governor’s mansions.

It’s a far cry from last summer, when Democrats bottomed out at the state level. Back then, after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched allegiance to the GOP, the number of governorships in Democratic Party hands fell to just 15, a historic low.

But the atmospheric conditions have changed since then. Republicans are hampered by an unpopular President Donald Trump. Suburban voters are threatening to desert the party en masse. And Democrats have seen a massive increase in their fundraising numbers after gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey in November.

The GOP is forced to defend 13 states that former President Barack Obama won — from Maine to New Mexico to Wisconsin — while Democrats are protecting just one — Pennsylvania — that fell to Trump

Republicans now admit that a handful of once-competitive battlegrounds are nearly out of reach for them in 2018. Meanwhile, Democratic hopes are rising in a handful of conservative strongholds.

“I would describe our attitude as rational exuberance, and the reason I say ‘rational’ is it’s based on objective evidence that’s consistent in basically every election since the 'stable genius’ got to the White House,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, using Trump’s recent Twitter description of himself. “The map has expanded in the last several months, because these patterns exist even in red states."

Democratic confidence has been building since the party’s sweeping wins last fall. At the DGA’s meeting in New Orleans last month, political director Corey Platt gave governors a presentation indicating that the organization is now targeting 17 GOP-held seats for pickup in 2018, according to slides from the presentation obtained by POLITICO.

The growing optimism on the left is mirrored by a burgeoning Republican pessimism, according to a wide range of GOP operatives and lawmakers involved in this year’s races.

This is the kind of fighting I want to see.  If the Dems cant take back even half of those 17 states,  the country's politics shift dramatically.

I think it will be more.  Dems taking back a majority of states will go a long way towards starting to repair the damage from Trump, and putting the pieces of this country back together.

Sunday Long Read: Native Lives Matter

BuzzFeed's John Stanton gives us this week's Sunday Long Read, a hard reminder that there's one ethnic group in this country that faces even worse odds of being victims of police brutality than African-Americans do.

Hours after seeing her 14-year-old grandson, Jason, lying in the street just feet from her home, with police and EMS hovering over his motionless body, Cheryl Pero found herself in the cavernous gymnasium of the Bad River Reservation community center.

Cheryl and her husband, Al, couldn’t go home — where they’d raised Jason since infancy — because it was a crime scene.

So the family awaited word in the local gym about why an Ashland County Sheriff’s deputy had just fired two shots into the chest of Jason, who friends and family say was a relatively normal, happy child. With news of the shooting spreading rapidly via text message and Facebook, members of their tight-knit tribal community soon joined them.

Tracy Bigboy, a neighbor and victim services coordinator for the tribal government, was dispatched to take care of the Peros’ needs. She stood in the cold air outside of the community center, quietly smoking a cigarette, until Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan pulled off Highway 2 and into the parking lot.

With his squared-off shoulders, neatly cropped silver hair, and mustache, the 62-year-old Brennan has a carefully crafted by-the-book reputation and looks every inch the small-town sheriff. As he and one of his investigators approached, Bigboy stopped them, warning the sheriff that emotions were running high inside the gym and urging him to talk to the family privately.

As the Peros huddled in private with Brennan, it seemed to the family that the sheriff hadn’t come with answers, or even condolences. His main message, as the grieving Peros remember it: Let him control the public narrative of Jason’s death.

“Don't talk to the media,” Bigboy and the Peros remember Brennan telling them. “Let us go first so we can tell you what to say.” And they say he had a warning for the community: Settle down and don’t riot.

Now, two months after Jason took two bullets to the chest on Nov. 8, his family still doesn’t know exactly what happened the morning that Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot him dead. Jason’s family says the sheriff has told them nothing, and Brennan did not respond to multiple requests to speak to BuzzFeed News about the shooting and about local law enforcement’s relationship with the Bad River community. Michael Nieskes, the St. Croix County District Attorney who has been appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the case, declined to comment.

The feeling of sadness and loss is palpable among members of the Bad River Band. But there’s also a deep sense of numbness and fatalism here that manifests in the nonchalant ways people talk about other violent encounters involving law enforcement and Native Americans. Jason’s death was at least the second time in as many months that a member of the Bad River Reservation had been killed by uniformed officers: On Oct. 28, a Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 27-year-old Lucas DeFord in nearby Black River Falls.

Locals have long complained about being pulled over for what they consider no good reason. “Driving while Indian,” they call it. And then there’s “the women,” a sort of shorthand that refers to allegations detailed in federal lawsuits that Sheriff Brennan did nothing as one of his jailers repeatedly raped and assaulted Native American women. “You’ve heard about the women, right?” locals say almost between thoughts.

The lack of information since Jason’s shooting has only compounded tensions here, laying bare the deep-rooted, systemic racial divisions between the Bad River tribe and the white community of Ashland.

“This has been going on for generations and generations, and it’s not going to stop,” Bigboy said.

The death of a young Ojibwe boy at the hands of a Wisconsin sheriff's deputy turned into a major news investigation of county law enforcement and the criminal mistreatment of peoples America long ago trapped in the hell of reservations.  Still trapped today, with police still treating them even worse than black America.

And that's saying something.

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