Radioactive fallout from Trump’s arrogance?

The fallout from an atmospheric test would most likely be picked up by the wind currents and end up affecting the west coast of the United States

If North Korea follows through on its threat to conduct an atmospheric nuclear test, it would be a far more dangerous step than anything Kim Jong-un, its leader, has attempted — and poses a host of hard decisions for the Trump administration because attempting to stop the test could be as dangerous as letting it go ahead.

All six of the North’s nuclear tests have been underground, containing the radioactive fallout. But an atmospheric test — perhaps with a warhead shot over the Pacific on a North Korean missile, or set off from a ship or barge — would put the populations below at the mercy of the North’s accuracy and at the winds that sweep up the radioactive cloud.

That is why the United States and the Soviet Union banned such tests in their first nuclear test-ban treaty, more than a half-century ago.

It is exactly that fear of an environmental or humanitarian calamity that Mr. Kim appears eager to foster as he looks for ways to strike back at the United States, Japan and others seeking to choke off his money and trade. But experts who have been through the uncertainties of nuclear testing say there are risks all around, for Mr. Kim as well as his foes.

“It is not clear North Korea has that capability yet,’’ said Siegfried S. Hecker, the former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and the nuclear weapons expert the North Koreans let in to see their uranium enrichment plants years ago, when they wanted to make clear to the Obama administration that their atomic weapons program was moving ahead, unimpeded by sanctions.

“Besides,” said Dr. Hecker, now a professor at Stanford University, “a live missile test — one loaded with an H-bomb — poses enormous risk.” He recalled that when the United States performed such tests in the early days of the Cold War, “one blew up on the launchpad and one had to be destroyed right after launch, creating significant radioactive contamination.”

The North Koreans have studied this history, too, according to current and former American intelligence officials. But the appeal of an atmospheric test is obvious: It would create a sense of fear that an explosion deep inside a tunnel in North Korea does not. The underground tests are detected on a Richter scale; an atmospheric test, like the kind the United States conducted at Bikini Atoll starting in 1948, creates a terrifying mushroom cloud.

The largest of those, a 1954 test code-named Castle Bravo, turned out to be roughly three times larger than American bomb designers anticipated. They had made a mathematical miscalculation about the power of one of the nuclear fuels contained in the weapon, and the explosion spread radioactive material across the globe. Ultimately, Castle Bravo helped fuel the call for a ban on atmospheric tests.

No one knows what kind of test the North Koreans have in mind; the country’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, did not specify when he raised the possibility when talking to reporters at the United Nations on Thursday. “This could probably mean the strongest hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean,” he said. “Regarding which measures to take, I don’t really know since it is what Kim Jong-un does.”

But the presumption is that if Mr. Kim decided to go ahead, the North would attempt to conduct the test by firing it on a missile, presumably to an empty spot in the Pacific. The goal would be to demonstrate that it had solved all the technological issues involved in delivering a nuclear weapon to an American city.

But that form of testing — putting a live weapon on a missile — is particularly risky. Other countries have blanched at the potential for disaster, Dr. Hecker noted, including the Chinese, who conducted one missile launch with a live nuclear weapon in the warhead. It worked as planned, he said, but “the Chinese considered the risks unacceptable” and never tried it again. In the hands of the North Koreans, some say, it would be even riskier.

“This would be a regional nightmare” for East Asia, said Heather Conley, a former senior State Department official, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

It is possible the threat will never come to fruition. Detonating a weapon inside a missile warhead, or even from a ship or barge, would be far more difficult for the North than setting one off inside a mountain, where engineers have months to wire up the weapon, and no time pressure. It would require what experts call a “weaponized device” that could survive shocks, stresses and, if launched from a missile, the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere, something North Korea has never demonstrated it can handle.

“The DPRK would be taking a big risk — missile tests fail,” said Philip E. Coyle III, a nuclear scientist and former head of the Pentagon’s weapons testing. The live nuclear warhead could come down on a neighboring country, or if the missile blew up on the launchpad — as has been known to happen — set off the nuclear warhead in North Korea.

The transportation risks would be enormous, including the chance of an accidental detonation before the nuclear device reached the target zone. And while the world’s best missiles fail roughly once in every 100 flights, the failure rate for the North’s missiles is much higher. Last year, one type of missile failed seven out of eight times, perhaps in part because it had been targeted by a series of cyber attacks ordered by President Barack Obama. Since then, the North has ceased testing that type of missile and been more successful with others.

And even if one of the North’s missiles succeeded in lofting a nuclear weapon, the bigger challenge would be bringing it back down during the fiery re-entry. The heat, pressures and forces of deceleration are enormous. To date, evidence from the North’s test launches suggests it is still in the beginning stages of learning how to build a survivable warhead.

It would be far easier for the North to entrust a nuclear weapon to a plane or a boat. But it has few with the long-range capability for the job, and the chances that the United States or its allies would detect it in transit are considerable.

It would also break a taboo. It has been 37 years since any nation tested a nuclear weapon in the planet’s atmosphere. And given what is now known about the effects that radioactive fallout from such tests has on human health and the environment, one now would only intensify the international opprobrium Mr. Kim already faces.

According to one estimate by a physicians group opposed to nuclear weapons, 2.4 million people could die from cancer caused by the radioactivity from the more than 2,000 known tests that have already taken place.

The last atmospheric test took place on Oct. 16, 1980, when China fired what experts believed to be a nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles into a desert salt flat along what was once the Silk Road, more than 1,300 miles west of Beijing.

The United States attempted a missile-launched nuclear test so only once — on May 6, 1962 — during a frenzy of Cold War tests. A submerged submarine, the Ethan Allen, fired a Polaris A-2 missile in the direction of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. After traveling more than 1,200 miles, its warhead exploded at an altitude exceeding 10,000 feet.

That test helped spur negotiations that ultimately led to a treaty banning tests in the atmosphere, outer space or underwater. It was in signed in 1963 by the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain.

In 1996, a far broader agreement to ban all nuclear testing, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, was adopted at the United Nations and has been ratified by 166 states. The United States, China and North Korea are among the holdouts, along with Egypt, India, Israel, Iran and Pakistan.

An effort by the Clinton administration to ratify the treaty failed; Mr. Obama promised to resubmit it for ratification but never did, fearing a second defeat. The United States and China have adhered to its restrictions, even if neither has ratified it.



Nuclear war or Trade war?…..hmmmmm

Trump on Sunday floated cutting off all US trade with any country that maintains economic ties to North Korea, a not-so-veiled threat to the country’s primary trading partner, China.

“The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

It could be an empty threat. China remains a major US trade partner — according to the US Trade Representative, US goods and services traded with China in 2016 alone totaled an estimated $648.2 billion. Other US trade partners like India, Thailand, and the Philippines also maintain some economic ties with North Korea.

I Trump’s comments came several hours after US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called for an additional round of sanctions on North Korea on Sunday following the test of the country’s most powerful weapon yet.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said North Korea’s test of what it claims was a hydrogen bomb was “completely unacceptable behavior.”

“We’ve already started with sanctions against North Korea, but I’m going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration,” Mnuchin said.

He added: “People need to cut off North Korea economically.”

Mnuchin also did not rule out implementing stronger regulations on Chinese companies and financial institutions that regularly interact with North Korea.

“China has a lot of trade with them, there’s a lot that we can do to cut them off economically, much more than we’ve done already,” Mnuchin said.

North Korea claimed that Kim Jong Un on Sunday inspected a hydrogen bomb that could eventually be mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Following news of the test, Trump chided China for refusing to cut economic ties with Noth Korea, and reiterated his hints at using potential military force to eliminate North Korea’s weapons.

Korea Gives Trump the Middle Finger With Bomb Test

The test is apparently Kim’s answer to Washington’s recent overtures. On August 22, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Pyongyang had “demonstrated some level of restraint that we have not seen in the past” and raised the possibility of talks. “Perhaps,” he said at the time, “we’re seeing a pathway to, sometime in the near future, to having some dialogue.”

Kim Yong Nam, president of the DPRK Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly reacts during a meeting with Hassan Rouhani, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran during their meeting in Teheran in this undated photo released on August 7, 2017 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang.

On that same day, President Trump said he believed Kim was “starting to respect us.”

Kim’s initial response was to launch a salvo of three ballistic missiles on August 26 and one on August 29. The second part of the response was Sunday’s test of a nuclear bomb of some sort.

North Korea’s next step, to prove it is able to integrate its new capabilities, could be to land one or more missiles in waters near Guam, as the regime threatened to do on August 10. When Pyongyang first made that threat, it said its missiles would fly over Japan on their way to the American territory in the Pacific Ocean.

Last Saturday, Pyongyang flew a Hwasong-12 missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, thereby fulfilling the first part of the August 10 threat. Because the North usually carries through on specific threats—at least eventually—it is possible that Kim will send missiles to Guam soon.

The second thing Kim could do is load a nuclear device onto a ballistic missile and conduct an atmospheric test. After all, state media has twice suggested it can mate a thermonuclear device to a missile.

What now? As Bechtol, the author of North Korea and Regional Security in the Kim Jong-un Era, noted, the North Korean regime has just put President Trump on the spot. “The political fallout from the detonation will be immense,” he said in e-mail comments Sunday.

In a few days, therefore, the focus of attention will be on what the U.S. should do about Kim’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Many, if not most analysts, say Washington’s sanctions policy has been a failure. They are obviously correct. Observers then jump to the conclusion that the administration should begin efforts to talk to the North Koreans.

In view of Pyongyang’s harsh responses to Trump’s and Tillerson’s overtures, talking to the regime, even if possible, is unlikely to produce a constructive result at this moment. Kim is feeling particularly bold now, and he may have picked this weekend to carry through on the long-awaited test because he felt the Trump team is not in a position to respond effectively.

The U.S., despite what most analysts believe, has the leverage to peacefully disarm Kim. Washington can, for instance, use its overwhelming leverage over China so that China uses its overwhelming leverage over North Korea.

What the administration should do is demand that Beijing and Moscow accept a complete embargo on North Korea. If they do not comply, the administration should threaten to impose severe costs on them. For instance, Trump could hand down what are essentially death sentences on the largest Chinese banks, like Bank of China, for laundering money for the Kim regime. The president can do that by designating them “primary money laundering concerns” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act. Such designations would deny these institutions the ability to transact in dollars.

Sanctioning the largest Chinese banks in such a manner could throw the Chinese financial and political systems into turmoil, and Beijing knows it. Therefore, the White House has the means to persuade China’s leaders to disarm the Kim regime.

Fortunately, Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, is particularly vulnerable at this moment. The 19th Communist Party Congress, which begins on October 18, is when Xi must consolidate his power if he is to continue strongman rule. He will be blamed by his many adversaries if relations with the U.S. are disrupted before the meeting.

Going after Chinese banks would mirror what the U.S. did to bring Iran to the bargaining table during the Obama administration, which levied stiff fines on banks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday, in her weekly podcast, talked about employing the Iran model to get the North Koreans to agree to denuclearization.

That’s what Trump should do. As important, there is something Trump should not do. The president in comments on Saturday hinted he will this coming week give Seoul notice of termination of the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement. Withdrawal was never a good idea for strategic reasons, and next week would be absolutely the worst time to do so. The U.S. needs all its friends and allies on board as it confronts North Korea and its backers.

In the meantime, Kim is stocking up on oil, presumably in anticipation of sanctions. So now is a particularly good time to pre-emptively hit him before he can fill up his storage tanks.

There is a window for Trump to act, and it could close soon.

The march toward full Republican acceptance of a Trump Dictatorship 

52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress were behind this.

Moreover, nearly half of Republicans (47 percent) believe that Trump won the popular vote, which is similar to this finding. Larger fractions believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted (68 percent) and that voter fraud happens somewhat or very often (73 percent). Again, this is similar to previous polls.

Not surprisingly, beliefs about the 2016 election and voter fraud were correlated with support for postponement. People who believed that Trump won the popular vote, that there were millions of illegal votes in 2016, or that voter fraud is not rare were more likely to support postponing the election. This support was also more prevalent among Republicans who were younger, were less educated, had less factual knowledge of politics and strongly identified with the party.

Of course, our survey is only measuring reactions to a hypothetical situation. Were Trump to seriously propose postponing the election, there would be a torrent of opposition, which would most likely include prominent Republicans. Financial markets would presumably react negatively to the potential for political instability. And this is to say nothing of the various legal and constitutional complications that would immediately become clear. Citizens would almost certainly form their opinions amid such tumult, which does not at all resemble the context in which our survey was conducted.

Washington Post

Bernie Sanders and William J Perry talk about how to avoid war with North Korea  


Bernie Sanders talks to the former secretary of defense William J Perry, who served in the Clinton administration. The subject of their chat?  How to avoid war North Korea!

 Welcome everyone. This show has a tendency to focus on domestic issues. On the economy, healthcare, education, the environment. We are delighted to be talking about a topic that deserves a lot more discussion: foreign policy. Former secretary Perry, thank you so much for joining us today.

Perry Senator Sanders, the problems you have to face every day are healthcare, budget, education and so on. But there is a real existential danger we face with nuclear weapons.

Sanders There are no ifs, buts or maybes. In a world where many countries have nuclear weapons, this is an issue that we have got to deal with.

Mr Secretary, you and a number of retired senior security officials released a letter recently urging President Trump to begin negotiations – without preconditions – with North Korea over its nuclear program.

In your judgment, why is that the best course of action? Haven’t we tried negotiation with North Korea in the past?

Perry North Korea today has a real nuclear weapons arsenal. That’s very dangerous. But North Korea is not a crazy nation. They are reckless, ruthless, but they are not crazy. They are open to logic and reason.

Their main objective is to sustain their regime. If we can find a way of dealing with them that they can see gives them an opportunity to stay in the regime, we can get results.

Sanders But do you think Kim Jong-un is a leader with whom we can seriously negotiate?

Perry He is a leader with whom we must negotiate. He is working on getting an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. In all probability, he will achieve that goal within a few years.

Sanders An ICBM capable of reaching the United States?

Perry Yes.

In the meantime, he already has medium-range missiles capable of reaching Tokyo and Seoul. The problem is here and now. We can do things to stop that and slow him down, and we should be doing those things for our own security.

Sanders You mentioned that Kim Jong-un is not crazy. What do we know about this very secretive regime?

Perry Everything we know suggests that he is just an extension of the Kim family. All of the leaders they’ve had in the past have been ruthless. All of them have been reckless. All of them have pursued a nuclear weapon program.

His main objective is to stay in power. We have to understand, that’s what he’s trying to achieve. Our understanding and our goal would be to lower the danger from the nuclear weapons and, eventually, to eliminate them.

I think its possible to achieve that. It will require some teaming with China. With China, we can put together both the carrots and sticks. We cannot simply point to China and say: “You solve the problem.” We have to work together with them.

Sanders Do you have confidence that China is prepared to do what it takes to develop a nuclear agreement with North Korea?

Perry China is more concerned about the nuclear weapons program in the North than they were a decade ago. But they have to be convinced that the negotiating path that we put together is not designed to overthrow the regime. They are opposed to doing that.

As long as they think that’s the objective, they will not team up with us. If we can convince them that we have the same objective, which is to lower the nuclear danger, then we can put together a [negotiation] package with China.

Sanders If China were seriously involved in that effort, what might that nuclear agreement look like?

Perry We’d have to look at it in two stages.

The first-stage agreement would be to lower the dangers. We’d do that by freezing their missile testing, and by freezing their nuclear testing.

That is an objective in and of itself worth achieving because it would keep them from getting an ICBM. It would also keep them from getting a hydrogen bomb. That objective is worth achieving.

Using that as a platform, we could then work to get them to roll back the nuclear platform. So we’d have to see it, I believe, as a two-stage program.

Sanders And what does one offer them to achieve that?

Perry We need to offer both carrots and sticks.

We and our allies, Japan and South Korea, have many carrots to offer. South Korea and Japan have both offered economic incentives in the past, and would be willing to offer them again. The US could offer security assurances. That doesn’t cost anything, but it’s something we could offer.

The sticks would have to come from China, which would be cutting off the trade they have. They would not do that by themselves. As part of a package, we might be able to persuade them to do it.

Sanders From your perspective, the main goal of the regime is to maintain their power?

Perry That is their goal: to sustain the regime in power. If they see a package that allows them to do that, they may be willing to cut back the nuclear weapons.

Sanders This is a country that has in the past allowed its people to literally starve to death in order to fund a nuclear program. Is that correct?

Perry This is an abhorrent regime. It’s a regime that we rightly detest. But they do have nuclear weapons. We cannot ignore that fact. We have to deal with that fact. Those nuclear weapons pose a threat to South Korea, Japan and, in time, will pose a threat to us –

Sanders Right – and to the whole world.

Perry We have to separate out the variables here. There are the things they are doing that we don’t like, and then there are the things that could cause nuclear catastrophe.

Sanders Right, I get that. But what I’m suggesting is that a country with severe economic problems in a rational situation [might be willing to] accept some carrots that might be offered, at least in terms of economic aid –

Perry We’ve offered them carrots in the past. They are not enough. They’ve demonstrated over and over again that they are willing to suffer economic hardship, they are willing to let their people starve in order to keep the nuclear program. We must learn from that lesson.

Sanders Well, if there’s anybody who knows about that, it’s you. Could you review for us the work you did and what happened?

Perry I was involved first of all as a secretary of defense in the 90s. The first crisis I faced as secretary was a crisis with North Korea. That was in 1994. We nearly went to war with North Korea.

Sanders Remind us, as not everybody remembers that.

Perry North Korea had a nuclear facility at a place called Yongbyon. They were processing plutonium. Had they completed that processing, they would have had enough plutonium to build six nuclear bombs.

We were determined that they should not do that. We confronted them and we threatened them with military action. We offered them economic incentives. A combination of that led to the agreement known as the Agreed Framework which, for at least a period of seven to eight years, stopped the program.

Sanders It did stop the program?

Perry Yes, it did stop the program at Yongbyon. It did not stop their aspirations for nuclear weapons, but it did stop that program.

Had we not had the Agreed Framework, which was signed in 1994, by the year 2000 they could have had as many as 50 nuclear weapons. That bought us time. It didn’t solve the fundamental problem of how they provide for their security. That had to be done in future negotiation.

Sanders Do you have optimism that the approach you are suggesting can succeed?

Perry I have optimism that it can succeed if we take the opportunity. But I do not have optimism that we are going to take the opportunity.

That involves some very sophisticated diplomacy. First and foremost, in forming some sort of a team with China, where we agree on what the objectives are, we agree on what the carrots and sticks we are going to offer them.

If we can put together that diplomatic package, then we have a great chance at succeeding.

But there is a big “if”, there. It requires us dealing constructively and intelligently with China, to make them see we have the same objectives and are trying to achieve the same thing.

Sanders Is there anything that we can learn from the Iran nuclear agreement that could give us some lessons for North Korea?

Perry Yes, I believe so. The Iran agreement successfully – as a minimum – put off the program for a decade or so. That in itself was worth achieving. It also gives us a platform for which we can go further than that.

With North Korea, we should use that as a model. We should use it as a way to delay the nuclear program, and their long-range missile program. I think we can do that. Then we may be able to go further and get the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons in North Korea.

We have to understand, though, that they have regime survival very strongly in mind. They see the nuclear weapons program as a key to that. So they may look to ways to evade the agreement – as they have done in the past – so we should be very wary of dealing with North Korea. But the alternative is very, very stark.

The option of a pre-emptive strike, which we had considered in 1994, is not really there today. A pre-emptive strike has very few upsides, and very many, and very great downsides. So I would not recommend that. I considered it in the past, but I would not recommend it today.

Sanders We have, to say the least, a very, very difficult situation.

Perry Very difficult and very dangerous. It’s not dangerous because North Korea is going to launch nuclear weapons at Seoul or Japan or the United States in an unprovoked way.

They are not crazy. They know that if they did that, the regime would be destroyed. Deterrence does work with North Korea. But the actions they take and the actions we take could lead to some sort of a military conflict. That could well escalate into full-scale war.

In a full-scale war, North Korea would lose. The military power of the United States and South Korea is far superior to theirs. But as they lost, they might use their nuclear weapons.

That’s what’s dangerous. Not that we deliberately enter into a nuclear war, but that we would blunder into a nuclear war. That would be truly catastrophic.

Sanders It truly would.

Trump’s “Northern Triangle” Tangle – Cops, Soldiers, and Cartels on the Same Team

Inside Trump’s Disastrous ‘Secret’ Drug War Plans for Central America

At closed-door meetings in Miami, Trump and his generals plotted a muscular military response to violence in Central America..

Scores were killed or wounded during what Hondurans still call El Golpe de Estado (the phrase means “coup d’état”; those who backed it are called golpistas). To further intimidate the opposition, and break the will of the nonviolent Resistencia movement, human rights centers sheltering victims were deliberately targeted by government troops. Well, we all learned the hard way back in those days. But at least we did learn just how dangerous democracy-hating, Third-World warmongers can be.

The same can’t be said of the Trump administration. As of now, it’s set to double down on the same hard-line, authoritarian strategies that enabled the Honduran president-snatching in the first place—and resulted in the country’s descent into a gang-ridden, apocalyptic nightmare from which it has yet to awaken.

The “Northern Triangle” Tangle

The corner of the Central American isthmus consisting of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras is referred to by military strategists and policy geeks as the “Northern Triangle.” Over the last 10 years or so it’s become one of the deadliest regions on earth. Young people are particularly impacted. The homicide rate among youths is a staggering 90 per 100,000, in part due to rampant gang violence. Based on murders per capita, the Triangle is far more dangerous than Mexico, no matter what Mr. Trump says on Twitter.

The Triangle is an important stopover on the smuggling routes that connect the cocaine breadbaskets of South America with their cartel distributors in Mexico. As such it suffers under powerful maras (gangs) with names like Barrio 18 and the Salvatruchas—both of which originated in the U.S. prison system, incidentally, and arrived in Honduras thanks to mass deportations.

These street gangs are tangentially linked to the cartels operating out of Mexico, as well as places like Colombia. The maras are often hired to hack out small airstrips in the jungle for drug-smuggling planes, or to run overland narcotics shipments across international borders. And they find plenty of time to torture local residents. The gangs rule entire neighborhoods, specializing in rape, forced recruitment tactics, abduction for ransom, drug dealing. Blackmail is rampant, and they often collaborate with local authorities in shaking down their victims.

Gang violence is one of the driving factors behind the Central American migrant crisis, which has sent hundreds of thousands fleeing northward, many of them children.

All that mayhem finally caught the attention of the Trump regime. But, as usual when it comes to narcotics interdiction efforts under Trump, the proffered solution seems to be more show than substance—all at the expense of American taxpayers.

A shadowy summit last month in Miami brought together Vice President Mike Pence, high-powered cabinet members like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the leaders of all three Triangle nations, and officials from at least nine other countries. The plan they espoused? Spend untold millions more dollars on a strategy that, according to experts, is guaranteed to fail. So what’s not to like about that?

Co-hosted by Mexico, the two-day session was grandly touted as “The Conference for Prosperity and Security.” The first phase focused on wealth creation; it went down at Florida International University on June 15, and was immediately met by protests on campus.

“We’re in this together,” Pence told Central American leaders at the end of the day. He then went on to emphasize that sense of fellowship by adding, “President Trump has already taken decisive action to protect the American people from the harshest consequences of illegal immigration…” In other words: We’re here for you, neighbors—just stay the hell on your side of The Wall.

The second stage was geared toward the “Security” side of the equation, and took place the next day behind closed doors at the SOUTHCOM military base. Because press access was restricted, it’s hard to know all the specifics that were discussed. But there are clues that point to a coming crackdown.

Despite the cloak-and-dagger staging of the conference, some of the Trump administration’s harsh plans for escalating the Drug War have already been hinted at in speeches, budget proposals, and conference calls with the press. And critics contend this “old-is-new” approach is unlikely to result in either “Prosperity” or “Security” in the region.

An editorial on the conference by the watchdog group InsightCrime referred to the Trump doctrine for the Northern Triangle as “heavy-handed” and “going backwards.” It also pointed out that all three leaders from the Triangle countries in attendance had been accused of corruption or involvement with drug traffickers or both—in fact the vice president of El Salvador showed up in Miami already under indictment back home.

The InsightCrime op-ed concluded by lambasting Trump’s vision “that the main threats to U.S. national security come from impoverished migrants, the majority of whom have no ties to the organized crime groups, gangs, or drug traffickers that safely operate under state protection in Central America.” (Italics added.)

The statement issued by Doctors Without Borders about the goals set forth in Miami is even more damning. Likening conditions in the Triangle to those found in “some of the world’s deadliest war zones,” the group estimates the number of immigrants bee-lining it out of their native countries to be about 500,000 a year.

As for the solutions proposed by Trump’s proxies, Doctors Without Borders accused conference planners of “turning a blind eye” to the emergency and went on to say, “Addressing the crisis in Central America cannot only be about future prosperity and security; it must also be about saving and protecting lives today.”

Militarization Nation

There are two schools of thought on how you help countries climb out of multifaceted maelstroms like the one currently walloping the Northern Triangle. The first, as favored by the Obama administration, is an aid-based approach, usually involving democracy-building incentives, humanitarian programs, and the strengthening of law enforcement and judicial actors.

Obama’s legacy in the region is far from pristine, but to his credit he intuited that the coup in Honduras was a mistake not to be repeated. (He also understood the importance of development to affect positive change even if, as with Afghanistan, he thought the military had to play a major role.)

The second method is just to send on down millions of dollars for “security assistance”—oversight be damned—and hope for the best. Care to guess which strategy Team Trump prefers?

POTUS’ congressional budget proposal called for a $54 billion increase in military spending, with an undisclosed amount of that earmarked for ramping up the counter narcotics campaign and barricading borders against migrants. Meanwhile the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would see their budgets slashed by about 39 percent from last year’s levels under the Trump budget.

Economic aid and assistance to Central America is projected to fall from $520 million down to about $300 million, according to a study by the Washington Office on Latin America. All that “charity” chopping will directly endanger social and educational programs in the Northern Triangle—further reducing quality of life overall, and making immigration (legal or otherwise) all the more tempting, observers say.

The focus of the Trump agenda is not about solving the root problems like poverty and government corruption that drive gang violence and narcotics trafficking, says Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, D.C.

Johnston refers to the Trumpite approach as “outsourcing security to countries with checkered pasts [on] human rights.” Far from winning the Drug War, or curbing the flood of migrants, he tells The Daily Beast, “empowering these sectors is only going to exacerbate those problems.”

But strong-arming our way to victory remains a popular fantasy, especially among Trump’s all-gringo cabinet. Johnston says Homeland Security boss Kelly—also a retired general and the former director of SOUTHCOM—seems determined to apply the belligerent approach in Central America, and is responsible for the “reprioritization” away from programs like USAID, which directly targeted problems like economic inequality in the region.

“It’s unprecedented that the conference took place behind the gates of a military barracks,” says Johnston. “The security apparatus and the Pentagon’s specific plans [for the Triangle] are incredibly opaque,” although the overall implications are clear enough.

“The writing’s on the wall that this is a shift away from soft power to hard power,” says Johnston, who’s been conducting research into Latin American economic issues for the last decade.

During a Senate hearing in late May, police officers from multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. lectured lawmakers about just how ineffective, even dangerous, the Trump administration’s brand of steroidal, community-alienating policing can be when it comes to fighting entrenched gangs like the Salvatruchas.

Nevertheless, says Johnston, “in the future, U.S. diplomacy in the region will likely be wearing a uniform instead of a suit.”

Cops, Soldiers, and Cartels on the Same Team

Over the last two decades of the Drug War, the Pentagon’s penchant for propping up repressive generalissimos in places like Mexico, Colombia, and Central America has caused widespread suffering among the populations of those nations, including a plague of extrajudicial killings.

To get a precise read on current conditions in heavily occupied regions of the Triangle zone, I reach out to the national coordinator for the Honduran Solidarity Network (HSN), Karen Spring, who is based in Tegucigalpa.

“Honduran society is already very militarized,” said Spring, in a phone interview on the eve of the Miami conference. “Since the 2009 coup they’ve created a whole series of new police and military units like the Tigres, who are vetted and trained by the U.S. government.”

Following the 2009 coup the U.S. has sent some $200 million in security aid to Honduras, despite a petition signed by dozens of American congressmen asking for a boycott over human rights concerns. And yet in spite of all that martial funding the country remains mired in one long, slow-burn Armageddon, with one of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

At the same time, says CEPR’s Johnston, the post-coup years have also seen “a real spike in poverty and economic inequality” despite the millions flowing south from Washington.

According to Spring, of the Solidarity Network, the militarization craze has also sparked a rise in human rights abuses, including right-wing death squads tasked with eliminating political dissidents. The fact that “the military is not trained to be providing civilian security” is part of the problem Spring says. But the troubles go far deeper than that.

“The police and military are known to be linked to, or infiltrated by, the drug cartels,” says Spring, who first went to Honduras eight years ago as a human rights worker sent down in the wake of the Zelaya takedown.

(Full disclosure: I knew Karen Spring back in those woeful, post-coup days in Honduras, and have seen this brave young woman stand her ground against civil abuses by armed actors more than once.)

“Even high-level military officials are known to be involved in drug trafficking,” she says, and yet, “impunity rates have not gone down. If you are not punishing people who are corrupt—especially people in positions of power—what deters them from committing crimes?”

Indeed, that corruption permeates Honduran politics at the highest levels, according to a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (PDF), which describes the country as being run by “intertwined, or ‘integrated,’ … kleptocratic networks.” Even the son of the former president was recently accused in a New York courtroom of working with organized crime.

Death and (War) Taxes

“The way that gangs down here are portrayed in the international press and by the government is that they’re these autonomous actors that take over communities and prisons,” says Spring, when our conversation turns to the dreaded maras.

“That’s an elaborate narrative,” she adds, and a false one.

“I work in urban communities every day—and nobody here believes gangs are acting on their own.” Instead, they “work alongside and are enabled by a corrupt police force.”

In Spring’s eyes, the social-aid-first ethos espoused by President Obama—who also took his fair share of flack for sending down questionable military aid to Honduras—has done little or nothing to curb connivance between authorities and organized crime. Trump’s hardball tactics, on the other hand, are “much worse for everybody.”

“I don’t think any aid from the U.S. to Honduras has made any changes for the majority of the population,” she says, and as evidence cites the fact that “60 percent of the country is still in poverty.”

The soft-power initiatives seem to have proven useful in some cases, but Spring also accuses them of “promoting very specific interests” that don’t “have an impact on security or why people live in fear.”

Johnston, of CEPR, also wonders if the soft programs are adequate. “State and USAID have rolled out a number of community-driven crime prevention programs and held them up as illustrative of their success but the reality is we have little knowledge about their actual effectiveness.”

The playbook on social development might need fine-tuning or expansion, but it’s far better than indiscriminately empowering crooked goon squads. As human rights worker Spring puts it, “hard power just doesn’t do anything to address the problems that are perpetuating” Honduras’ downward spiral.

To illustrate the failure of the stick-before-carrot strategy, she goes on to describe a neighborhood where she works in Tegucigalpa:

“The 18 Street gang controls the community,” Spring says, and all local business owners must provide a regular quota for the privilege of living under thug tyranny, or risk being shot.

“It’s literally called a war tax,” she says. “An impuesto de guerra,” and from taxi and bus drivers to “the women selling tortillas,” everyone has to pay it.

A special unit of military police set up a permanent base on the same barrio’s soccer field, back in 2013, which has put the kibosh on local futbol games as well—one of the few innocent pastimes formerly available to local kids.

Although the borough is now an occupied zone, “everybody is still paying the war tax,” Spring continues. “Extortion is still going on. There’s still a high level of control in the neighborhood by the gang.”

In fact, the barrio taxi stand “is right in front of the military-police base—but the drivers are still paying” tribute to the gangs. And that’s not a coincidence.

The blackmailing goes on in front of the barracks where the officers “eat, sleep, and live,” and not by accident, but because “the police are involved in organized crime.” Everyone in the area knows “they’re working with the gangs, extorting people for profit.”

Far from being independent entities, she says, the gangs are often tools of the authorities, who “use them for their own purposes.”

Most citizens know they can’t “call the Honduran police for help” when they’re targeted themselves since “they assume [officers] are involved” with the maras.

“You can’t just walk into a community with a complex social structure and take it over,” Spring says. “Militarization is not solving the problem—it’s making it worse.”

Drug War Redux

As a general rule, when arming oppressive regimes, lack of accountability is the root of all evil. When we send military aid to tropical tyrants we shouldn’t be shocked when they commit atrocities with those expensive and deadly toys.

Take the March 2016 murder of, a well-known Honduran activist and winner of the prestigious Goldman environmental prize. During the counter-coup movement, Cáceres gained fame for her habit of striding out to meet with army commanders in the streets of Tegucigalpa, in an effort to stem the assaults on protesters. So it wasn’t a great surprise when her killers were found to have ties to the Honduran military.

(Since her death, at least two other members of Cáceres’ NGO have been assassinated.)

One oft-proffered solution by hawks in Washington is to improve screening and background checks on individual units south of the border. The sad truth, however, is that even our best attempts to vet security forces engaged in the Drug War in Mexico, Central, and South America have proven fruitless.

A prime example of this futility went down in the remote Ahuas region of Honduras, during a botched DEA raid on an indigenous village in Moskitia that left four innocent people dead, and several others wounded.

A State Department chopper team, working with a vetted Honduran unit, opened fire on a boatload of locals after mistaking them for drug smugglers.

“The Honduran door gunner didn’t fire until he received orders from the DEA agent,” according to CEPR’s Johnston, who co-authored an article on the incident. (The DEA declined to respond to an interview request for this story.)

As reported by The Daily Beast last year, another badly bungled Drug-War op took place in Mexico’s Coahuila state, in 2011, when DEA officers shared intelligence with Mexican officers—who then leaked that intel to the Zetas cartel, resulting in a massacre that wiped out parts of an entire town.

“We know from experience that the violent model that has been in place in Mexico is to be intensified in the Central American countries as well,” says Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program, in Mexico City. Some 160,000 people have lost their lives since Mexico’s Narco Guerra began in 2006.

“Lack of justice and collusion between [authorities] and organized crime,” are hallmarks of the war in Mexico, Carlsen says. “In cases of assassinations of journalists and attacks on human rights defenders, at least 50 percent of the perpetrators are identified as government officials.” And yet conviction rates hover in the single digits.

Mexico’s Other Wall

A preview of what’s to come in the Northern Triangle is already on display along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. That’s where the Pentagon and [DHS Director] Kelly “have placed a real emphasis on militarizing,” says Americas Program director Carlsen.

That plan for shutting down the border—or the Frontera del Sur initiative—was also on the docket at the recent conference in Miami, where Vice President Pence bragged about how it’s already stifled immigration from Triangle-land by 70 percent. Carlsen describes the clampdown as another attempt to “make Mexico pay for The Wall again—only this time on its own southern border.”

Thanks to Frontera del Sur, Mexico now deports more Central American migrants than does the U.S. And in fact our own Border Patrol reports that illegal immigration from the isthmus has been halved since this same time last year. And yet that reduction has come with a price.

The crackdown on the Guatemalan border “has had a devastating impact on migrants,” says Carlsen, who has worked in Mexico since the mid-1980s.

The refugees “are fleeing very serious violence in their country.” Yet instead of offering succor, Mexico is now “attempting to box them in,” in part to curry favor with President Trump and his advisers ahead of upcoming NAFTA negotiations.

Mexican cartels are “delighted at these kinds of policies,” she goes on, “because they criminalize migrants, and turn them into into prey.”

For Carlsen, the Trump team’s script for the Drug-War reboot has “much more to do with repressing people than trying to solve deeper social problems that they’re facing.”

CEPR economist Johnston believes the Trumped up approach to immigration and the Drug War will actually worsen Central America’s ongoing crisis. Nothing presented at the Miami conference will “address the problems that are actually driving people to leave these countries,” he says.

Karen Spring agrees. But she also holds that it shouldn’t be left to the Trump administration to implement ham-fisted fixes in the Triangle. Viable solutions have already been put forth by those closest to the violence, who know the risks and realities best of all—if only the ruling junta would hear them out:

“There has never been a space in Honduras to really listen to some of the proposals that are put forward by local communities and organizations,” explains Spring, who laments what she calls a “failure of democracy” in the Northern Triangle.

Former President Zelaya tried to listen, but his modest attempts to fight economic inequality got him shanghaied by his own troops. Trouble-making crusaders like Bertha Caceres have been assassinated for daring to suggest land-ownership reforms that challenge traditional elites and transnational corporations.

“It’s the voices which have typically been excluded that are trying to promote an alternative,” Spring says, “and for doing so they’re being killed, criminalized, and silenced.”

Rep. Barbara Lee’s lonely 16 year struggle to curb the “Blank Check for Endless War”

Even Some Republicans are ready to limit Trump’s unchecked ability to use Military Force

After 16 Years, House Panel Takes Step to Cancel ‘Blank Check for Endless War’

‘The 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war’

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is a modern day prophet!


A House committee on Thursday took a surprising—yet welcome—step towards canceling the “blank check for endless war.”

That’s because the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee passed a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been used justify ongoing military actions in regions around the world spanning the George W. Bush, Obama, and now Trump administrations.

The amendment to the 2018 Defense Appropriations Bill was put forth by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)— the sole member of Congress to vote against the AUMF passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack—and would repeal the AUMF 240 days after enactment of the appropriations bill.

On Twitter, Lee said the vote “was 16 years in the making,” adding that “a floor debate and vote on endless war is long overdue.” At long last, I am pleased that my Democratic and Republican colleagues supported my effort to put an end to the overly-broad blank check for war that is the 2001 AUMF,” Lee said in a statement Thursday.

“If passed into law as part of the DOD bill, it would repeal the 2001 AUMF eight months after enactment of this legislation. That would allow plenty of time for Congress to finally live up to its constitutional obligation to debate and vote on any new AUMF. It is far past time for Congress to do its job and for the Speaker to allow a debate and vote on this vital national security issue,” she said.

Writing at Lawfare blog, Robert Chesney called the amendment’s near-unanimous passage a “pretty remarkable development.” Politico adds: “Even Republicans with military experience embraced Lee’s defense spending bill amendment, which would repeal the 2001 authorization.”

Committee member Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) for her part, said the passage meant her “colleagues on both sides of the aisle finally said ‘enough is enough.'” Indeed, according to The Hill, “Lawmakers applauded when the amendment was added by voice vote to the defense spending bill.”

Foreign Policy writes that the amendment’s adoption “could signal Congress’s increasing willingness to straitjacket the Trump administration’s ability to wage war against terrorist organizations without prior congressional approval.”

Addressing that issue, Robert Naiman, policy director at the advocacy organization Just Foreign Policy, said his group hopes “that it will set the stage for Congress to block President [Donald] Trump from using military force that Congress has never authorized against actors in Yemen and Syria that are clearly not associated forces of Al Qaeda, including the Houthi-Saleh alliance in Yemen and Syrian government and allied forces in Syria.”

The development was praised by anti-war organizations.

“Over the past sixteen years, the 2001 AUMF has provided three administrations with a blank check for war. Not only does Rep. Lee’s amendment stand as a strong statement against endless warfare, but we hope that it will also promote debate and compel Congress to reckon with its history of inaction on this issue,” said Yasmine Taeb, a lobbyist for human rights and civil liberties at Friends Committee on National Legislation.

Peace Action welcomed the development as “an opportunity to course correct after a decade and a half of failed U.S. policy in the Middle East.”

“The 2001 AUMF is the reason the U.S. has been involved in military campaigns in at least seven countries. It’s the reason we’ve allowed the war in Afghanistan to become America’s longest war. It’s the reason a whole generation has grown up not knowing a time without war,” said Jon Rainwater, executive director of the peace organization.

“Rep. Lee has championed opposition to endless war brought on by the 2001 AUMF since day one with her sole vote to oppose it. The adoption her amendment to repeal it gives Congress a chance to reclaim its constitutional role as an arbiter of war and peace,” he continued.

The amendment’s passage is no sure thing, “as the defense appropriations bill will have to be eventually reconciled in the Senate, giving congressional leaders the ability to strip the AUMF language from a final spending bill,” CNN notes.

Thus, Win Without War director Stephen Miles called on Congress to keep the provision as it continues to weigh the appropriations bill, saying: “The men and women elected to serve us have no more important duty than deciding whether to send the American military to war. This important legislation is the only way to finally force Congress to once again fulfill that solemn duty.”

Swooning news media fails to learn anything

War porn, the 100 million dollar light show that changed nothing

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took major cable news organizations to the woodshed on Monday over their cheerleading for President Donald Trump’s use of military force in Syria.

In his Monday column, Krugman explained that Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike against a Syrian airbase was mostly an empty gesture that did little to change the dynamics of the Syrian civil war.

“Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy,” he noted. “Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.”

Nonetheless, the strikes earned swooning reviews from cable TV news personalities such as MSNBC’s Brian Williams and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria — which led Krugman to conclude that much of the media is making the same mistakes that it made in the lead up to the Iraq war.

“The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures,” he wrote. “The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump ‘became president.’ Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.”


Paul Krugman’s full column:

Does anyone still remember the Carrier deal? Back in December President-elect Donald Trump announced, triumphantly, that he had reached a deal with the air-conditioner manufacturer to keep 1,100 jobs in America rather than moving them to Mexico. And the media spent days celebrating the achievement.

Actually, the number of jobs involved was more like 700, but who’s counting? Around 75,000 U.S. workers are laid off or fired every working day, so a few hundred here or there hardly matter for the overall picture.

Whatever Mr. Trump did or didn’t achieve with Carrier, the real question was whether he would take steps to make a lasting difference.

So far, he hasn’t; there isn’t even the vague outline of a real Trumpist jobs policy. And corporations and investors seem to have decided that the Carrier deal was all show, no substance, that for all his protectionist rhetoric Mr. Trump is a paper tiger in practice. After pausing briefly, the ongoing move of manufacturing to Mexico has resumed, while the Mexican peso, whose value is a barometer of expected U.S. trade policy, has recovered almost all its post-November losses.

In other words, showy actions that win a news cycle or two are no substitute for actual, coherent policies. Indeed, their main lasting effect can be to squander a government’s credibility. Which brings us to last week’s missile strike on Syria.

The attack instantly transformed news coverage of the Trump administration. Suddenly stories about infighting and dysfunction were replaced with screaming headlines about the president’s toughness and footage of Tomahawk launches.

But outside its effect on the news cycle, how much did the strike actually accomplish? A few hours after the attack, Syrian warplanes were taking off from the same airfield, and airstrikes resumed on the town where use of poison gas provoked Mr. Trump into action. No doubt the Assad forces took some real losses, but there’s no reason to believe that a one-time action will have any effect on the course of Syria’s civil war.

In fact, if last week’s action was the end of the story, the eventual effect may well be to strengthen the Assad regime — Look, they stood up to a superpower! — and weaken American credibility. To achieve any lasting result, Mr. Trump would have to get involved on a sustained basis in Syria.

Doing what, you ask? Well, that’s the big question — and the lack of good answers to that question is the reason President Barack Obama decided not to start something nobody knew how to finish.

So what have we learned from the Syria attack and its aftermath?

No, we haven’t learned that Mr. Trump is an effective leader. Ordering the U.S. military to fire off some missiles is easy. Doing so in a way that actually serves American interests is the hard part, and we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Mr. Trump and his advisers have figured that part out.

Actually, what we know of the decision-making process is anything but reassuring. Just days before the strike, the Trump administration seemed to be signaling lack of interest in Syrian regime change.

What changed? The images of poison-gas victims were horrible, but Syria has been an incredible horror story for years. Is Mr. Trump making life-and-death national security decisions based on TV coverage?

One thing is certain: The media reaction to the Syria strike showed that many pundits and news organizations have learned nothing from past failures.

Mr. Trump may like to claim that the media are biased against him, but the truth is that they’ve bent over backward in his favor. They want to seem balanced, even when there is no balance; they have been desperate for excuses to ignore the dubious circumstances of his election and his erratic behavior in office, and start treating him as a normal president.

You may recall how, a month and a half ago, pundits eagerly declared that Mr. Trump “became the president of the United States today” because he managed to read a speech off a teleprompter without going off script. Then he started tweeting again.

One might have expected that experience to serve as a lesson. But no: The U.S. fired off some missiles, and once again Mr. Trump “became president.” Aside from everything else, think about the incentives this creates. The Trump administration now knows that it can always crowd out reporting about its scandals and failures by bombing someone.