War With North Korea Starts to Look Inevitable

Original Article

By Gordon G. Chang

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we could do at the Security Council at this point,” said Nikki Haley on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, referring to North Korea. “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said. “If that doesn’t work, General Mattis [Defense Secretary James Mattis] will take care of it.”

The comments, no off-the-cuff remarks, mirrored her words at a White House press briefing Friday, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, standing next to Haley at that briefing, was even more explicit. “I think we ought to make clear what’s different about this approach is, is that we’re out of time,” he noted, referring to sanctions. “As Ambassador Haley said before, we’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.”

When senior Trump administration officials talk about the end of diplomacy they raise the prospect of war. But have all measures short of war been exhausted?

CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Saturday, “North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test has renewed discussion at the highest levels of the Trump administration about how military force could be used to stop [North Korean Leader] Kim Jong Un’s development of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”

The war talk is the result of exasperation by American officials who see that their actions so far have not convinced Kim, the North Korean supremo, to slow down the testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Take Haley’s CNN comment. Even as President Donald Trump, a U.N. skeptic, prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly, many Americans, viewing the nine ineffective sets of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, say the Security Council itself is broken.

But the Security Council is not “broken.” It was never designed to work in an era of disagreement among the five veto-wielding permanent members.

What is not working is the United States. Unfortunately, from administration to administration, American leaders have failed to use all the elements of American power. If China and Russia use their vetoes to frustrate efforts to disarm North Korea—and they do—it is because the United States has not been willing to coerce them into acting responsibly.

With regard to Moscow, recent American policymakers have been more worried about a weak Russia than a strong one. Therefore, they have opted for mild sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s dangerous behavior. Ronald Reagan, at a time when the U.S. was far weaker than it is today and the Soviet Union was far stronger than Russia is now, used American economic might to end the Cold War. Putin today is able to bedevil the U.S. at the Security Council only because Americans are afraid of what happens if they move to take him down.

At the same time, the U.S. has not stopped the People’s Republic of China. Washington has allowed Chinese banks, large and small, to launder money for the North Koreans for decades. Americans reportedly have permitted Chinese leaders to help Pyongyang transfer missiles to the Iranians. The White House did nothing when enterprises connected to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army sold mobile launchers for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. has not asked the Chinese, at least in public, how North Korea’s most advanced missiles appear to be derived from China’s Jl-1. And Washington acted as if it did not matter when Chinese businesses allegedly sold uranium hexafluoride, components, and equipment for the Kim regime’s nuclear-weapons program.

No wonder the Chinese feel free to support their North Korean allies. U.S. policymakers, they can see, have been feckless. It is one thing for, say, Liechtenstein to fail to convince Beijing to do the right thing. It is quite another for the United States of America to fail to do so. American policymakers have simply failed to coerce Beijing, failed to leave it no choice but to join in the effort to disarm the Kims.

What can the United States do to China? It can declare its largest banks “primary money-laundering concerns” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act, thereby denying them the ability to transact business in the world’s dominant currency. That would be essentially imposing a death sentence on the Chinese banking system and possibly China’s economy, perhaps the Communist Party itself.

Trump can also remind China’s leaders that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the middle of last month formally initiated, pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, an investigation into Chinese intellectual-property theft. A finding of such theft—virtually assured—can lead to the imposition of high across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods.

And this month, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, appears to have driven the renminbi lower, an indication central technocrats are once again “manipulating” their currency as that is defined by U.S. law. That gives Trump another point of leverage.

The Chinese economy, debt-fueled for years, is particularly vulnerable, especially in the run-up to the historic 19th Communist Party Congress, which begins Oct. 18. General Secretary Xi Jinping, who seeks to grab unprecedented power, cannot afford to see a major disruption of relations with the United States at this sensitive time.

The Trump administration, with the series of actions it took in the last week of June, signaled it would move against China for its support for North Korea. For instance, the Treasury Department sawed off Bank of Dandong, a small Chinese financial institution, from the global economy due to its persistent money-laundering. The Chinese, unfortunately, have continued their support for the Norks at the Security Council.

So what should the United States do? It could just give up efforts to disarm Pyongyang, as James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, suggested in widely reported comments to CNN last month. There is an air of defeatism in American policy circles these days.

The assumption among Clapper and others is that the U.S. can deter the North Koreans indefinitely. Perhaps Washington can do that and, at the same time, stop their sale of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran and make sure they do not begin merchandising thermonuclear devices to established weapons customers, some of them terrorist groups.

But perhaps deterrence is not possible. Kim Jong Un, who surely knows what Clapper and others are saying, is obviously defiant these days. And the core goal of the Kim regime—the basis of its legitimacy—is taking over the other Korea, the one governed from Seoul.

Kim, once confident about his nukes and the means to deliver them, will almost surely attempt to use the threat of war to break America’s 64-year-old mutual-defense treaty with South Korea and get America’s 28,500 service personnel off the peninsula. Once he accomplishes that, he surely thinks he can intimidate the South into submission.

Kim has recently been talking about “final victory,” a reference to taking over the South. An overconfident despot could miscalculate and begin a chain of events spiraling into war.

Although Americans are confident in their “overwhelming” capabilities, as Trump’s comments at Joint Base Andrews on Friday indicate, the North Koreans probably do not view it that way. They have long memories and they know they grabbed the Pueblo, an unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance vessel, from international waters in 1968 and held the crew for almost a year, killing one sailor and even getting an apology from the Johnson administration. They no doubt recall they killed 31 Americans when, a year later, they shot down a Navy EC-121. In 1976, they hacked to death two U.S. Army officers in the Demilitarized Zone. In no case, did North Korea pay a price. So Americans do not look especially intimidating to the Kim family.

And although many Americans call Kim “irrational,” would it be crazy for him to think, now, that Washington will not stop him?

War, through miscalculation and misconception, is beginning to look probable, if not inevitable.

North Korea Fired Missile That Flew Over Japan And Landed In Ocean

Original Article 

By Jacob Pramuk

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on “all nations to take new measures” against North Korea after the pariah state launched another missile over Japan on Friday local time.

Tillerson added that “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”

“These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation,” the secretary of state added.

North Korea launched an unidentified missile Thursday that landed in the sea after passing over Japan, the latest escalation as the isolated regime flaunts its nuclear weapon ambitions, according to multiple reports.

The missile was launched from the communist dictatorship’s capital of Pyongyang at about 6:57 a.m. local time Friday headed east, reports said. The projectile passed over Japan before landing in the sea at roughly 7:16 a.m., roughly 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles) east of Japan’s Cape Erimo, according to reports.

South Korea conducted its own missile exercise as Pyongyang fired its missile, taking into account the distance to North Korea’s firing site, according to NBC News.

The United Nations Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. ET on Friday to discuss missile test, diplomats said, at the request of the United States and Japan.

This story is developing. Please check back for further updates.

—Reuters and CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

Post-Harvey Mosquito Invasion Seems Terrible

Original Article

By Adam Clark Estes

Screenshots: YouTube/Tyler Bennett

Plenty of people have described Hurricane Harvey as a disaster of biblical proportions, and it seems the next plague is upon us. It’s not locusts. Thanks to untold quantities of filthy standing water, millions of mosquitos are starting to hatch. And yes, they do bite. They love to bite.

A little bit of itch isn’t what folks in Texas are afraid of, however. Public health officials warn that the surge in the mosquito population caused by the flooding could lead to a spike of mosquito-borne illness. As the Centers for Disease Control explained in a recent advisory, the mosquito population increases dramatically after a major flooding event as dormant eggs hatch. These so-called floodwater mosquitoes are a different breed than those that would typically carry dangerous diseases, however.

“Most of these mosquitoes are considered nuisance mosquitoes and will not spread viruses,” said the CDC. “However, some types of mosquitoes could spread viruses like Zika, dengue, or West Nile.”

Before we get into the threat of disease, let’s have a look at what large populations of nuisance or floodwater mosquitoes look like. This video was filmed near Refugio, Texas:

That looks like a nuisance indeed! Without that netting, the worker’s face would undoubtedly be covered with mosquitoes and—what’s worse—mosquitoes that like to bite. Meanwhile, someone posted this horror show to the Houston subreddit:

And the follow up is actually worse:

Considering these images, calling these bugs a “nuisance” seems like an understatement. Dr. Charles Allen, an associate professor of entomology at Texas A&M, uses more colorful language to describe the behavior of the post-flood mosquito populations. They are definitely rude little bastards, but for now, they’re probably not deadly.

“There will soon be a lot of mosquitoes and they will be very noticeable, because of their sheer numbers and because they are vicious biters,” Dr. Allen said in a press release. “It’s important to realize though that as unpleasant as these will be, they are not a species that typically transmits disease. So at least in the short-term, it’s not a Zika issue and it’s not a West Nile Virus issue.”

Over time, the threat of West Nile and Zika will unfortunately come back, and it might do so with a vengeance. West Nile, specifically, is a concern. The virus has been in Texas at least since 2002, and last year, there were370 recorded cases. And while the floodwater mosquitoes will be a conspicuous pain in the ass for the next few weeks in the areas affected by Harvey, the more dangerous mosquitoes will eventually come back, perhaps with a vengeance. For instance, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the West Nile Virus wasn’t a major problem for New Orleans, but the following year saw twice as many cases in the area than were recorded before the storm.

Texans can do their best to temper the mosquito explosion for now by eradicating any standing water that could become a breeding ground. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to wear long sleeves and pants. A good douse of DEET will also help. If all else fails, just stay inside and keep the windows closed. Because based on the images coming out of Texas, the mosquitoes will find you when you go outside. And they will bite you.

Houston: A Global Warning.

Original Article

By Jeff Goodell

Let there be no doubt: the horrific damage wrought by Hurricane Harvey was an almost entirely man-made catastrophe, one fingerprinted by all-too-human neglect, corruption and denial. If we needed a reminder of the power of water to destroy an American city, Hurricane Harvey provided it. In Houston, a fast-growing metropolis of more than 2 million people, it wasn’t the wind that was so damaging, or a storm surge pushing in – it was just water everywhere, falling for days in biblical torrents and transforming highways into rivers, flowing into homes, killing dozens, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing for higher ground. It was a terrifying and deadly display of what happens when nature collides with urban life on a planet radically altered by climate change.

Harvey is the worst rainfall event ever in the continental U.S. More than 50 inches of rain deluged parts of Houston. The amount of water that poured from the sky is difficult to conceptualize. By some estimates, 19 trillion gallons of water fell in five days. That’s roughly a million gallons of water for every person in southeastern Texas. Harvey’s economic toll will likely exceed Katrina as the most expensive disaster in American history.

Hurricanes are nothing new in Texas. In 1900, a hurricane hit Galveston, causing 15-foot storm surges, killing an estimated 8,000 people. But given what scientists know now about how rising CO2 levels impact the climate, it’s wrong to dismiss Harvey as a purely “natural” event.

First, thanks to increasing carbon pollution, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico, over which Harvey formed, were about five degrees higher than average. “As the world warms, evaporation speeds up,” explained climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe. So on average, there is more water vapor in the air now to sweep up and later dump over land. Also, because hurricane winds are generated by the difference in temperature between the atmosphere and oceans, the warmer waters tend to intensify a hurricane’s gales.

Second, a warming climate fuels sea-level rise, which is the result of the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers. Higher seas mean bigger storm surges, which can be devastating (recall the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy). But when the seas are higher, it also means that it is more difficult to drain rainwater into the ocean. And that is what happened in Houston: The water had nowhere to go.

“19 trillion gallons of water fell from the sky in five days, roughly a million gallons for every person in southeast Texas.”

This was a disaster foretold. In the 1990s, climate scientist Wallace Broecker said that the Earth’s climate was “an angry beast” and that by dumping massive quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere, we were “poking it with sticks” – and nobody could say how the beast would react. That’s where we are today. Harvey is the third 500-year flood to hit the Houston area in the past three years. Ten years ago, most scientists thought we might see three feet of sea-level rise by 2100. Now, estimates by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the worst-case might be eight feet by 2100, while former NASA scientist James Hansen argues that it could be 10 feet or more. The larger reality is, we’re moving into an era of unknown impacts, where it is impossible to say how fast our world will change, or how bad it will get. “We are dealing with an event that no human has ever witnessed,” Penn State scientist Richard Alley recently told me as we discussed the collapsing Antarctic ice sheets. “We have no analog for this.”

At the same time, we’ve allowed cities like Houston to become empires of denial. If you set out to design a metropolis that is poorly adapted to the future, you couldn’t do much better than Houston. Consider the rate at which it’s paved over the wetlands, nature’s sponges for absorbing water. Thirty percent of the surrounding coastal prairie wetlands was developed between 1992 and 2010, creating what amount to concrete catch basins that capture the water and funnel it toward destruction. In Houston, the bayou is just a place to drive your Lexus – this is a city that’s said to have 30 parking spots for every resident.

Houston proudly touts itself as “the City With No Limits,” playing up its Wild West heritage of endless land and opportunity. But it is also the largest U.S. city to have no zoning laws, meaning you can build whatever you want, wherever you want. While that makes developers happy, it’s not how you build a climate-resilient city. According to a Washington Post investigation, more than 7,000 residential buildings have been constructed in 100-year FEMA-designated flood plains since 2010. But given that FEMA’s flood maps haven’t been updated to reflect sea-level rise and other factors, the actual number of new buildings constructed in high-risk places is likely much larger. And this is true not just in Houston but in Miami, South Carolina and every other flood-prone region. Ten years ago, Houston officials banned development in areas with high risk of flooding. But developers sued, until the policy was weakened by the City Council. Government officials tried putting up flood gauges in low-lying areas to show how high the water could get during a hurricane, but pressure from real-estate agents got the signposts removed.

The feds bear some responsibility for the disaster-friendly design of Houston, too. Virtually all flood insurance in America is administered through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is supposed to prevent risky development by requiring better building standards and relocation of buildings that flood repeatedly. But since it was founded in 1968, the program has been contorted by developers, real-estate agents, and politicians lobbying for special treatment for their constituents. In places like Houston, the program helps enable development in high-risk areas by offering subsidized insurance rates that don’t reflect the real cost of living in flood-prone areas, as well as by offering repeat payouts for often-flooded homes. Even before Harvey, the program was already $25 billion in debt.

As always, it’s poor people and people of color who end up bearing most of the risk. “They not only have to deal with flooding in their homes, but pollution in water that’s contaminated when water floods refineries and plants,” Texas Southern University sociologist Robert Bullard told Huffington Post. “You’re talking about a perfect storm of pollution, environmental racism, and health risks that are probably not going to be measured and assessed until decades later. The fact is that laissez-faire, unrestrained capitalism and lack of zoning mean people with money can put protections up, and people without can’t.”

In moments like this, it’s always tempting to say that a disaster like Hurricane Harvey is a game-changer, that seeing the devastation and suffering this storm has wrought will help us think differently about the world we live in. In the past, big catastrophes have led to big changes. The fire on Ohio’s Cuyahoga River in the 1960s resulted in the Clean Water Act; after the spill of the Exxon Valdez,Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act. In a rational world, Harvey would lead to (among other things) passage of carbon legislation to reduce emissions, as well as a fundamental restructuring of the National Flood Insurance Program to quit subsidizing development in risky places.

Instead, we are likely to get a lot of rah-rah about rebuilding Houston bigger and better than before, some marginal improvements in building codes, and a lot of fighting in Congress over how much money to spend on recovery. President Trump will tout the heroics of the rescuers and the TV ratings of the storm – he is his own empire of denial. He not only pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate deal, but just weeks before Harvey hit, he rolled back common-sense requirements for flood protection in federal projects.

Beyond the post-storm platitudes, it’s not hard to foresee what is coming. There will be another hurricane – next time it might hit Charleston or Miami or Norfolk, and it will destroy buildings and highways built in harm’s way and it will again cause billions of dollars worth of damage. Eventually, taxpayers in Kansas will get tired of bailing out people who live on the coast, and disaster-relief funds will dry up. As seas rise, mortgage companies will stop writing 30-year loans for homes by the sea. Bond ratings for cities will fall. Coastal roads will be washed away. Airports will be flooded. And the great coastal retreat will begin.

The simple truth is, it’s not just Houston that’s done a poor job of thinking about the future – it’s all of us. We’ve spent 40 years denying the risks of climate change, thinking that if we can just get everyone to buy a Prius and recycle their plastic, everything will be OK. The message of Hurricane Harvey is that it will not be OK. We’re living in a new world now, and we better get ready. Mother Nature is coming for us.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Sandra Bullock, Kevin Hart among the actors and artists leading the donations for Hurricane Harvey relief. Watch here.