I’ve been occupied with other projects today and on top of that WordPress wasn’t working for me for most of the afternoon. So you’re getting a compressed update this evening, sorry.
A Taliban attack early Thursday in Farah province killed four Afghan policemen.
North Korea released photographs and video of its Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile, the one it appears to have tested successfully on Wednesday. From outward appearances, at least, it represents a substantial–greater than I think analysts were expecting–upgrade over the Hwasong-14 model, one that genuinely does threaten the entire continental US:
The Hwasong-15 is a two-stage, liquid-fueled ICBM. Photographs of the Hwasong-15 reveal that its first stage is powered by a pair of engines that share the same external features found on the single chamber engine used by the Hwasong-14. The two-chamber configuration found on the Hwasong-15 is very similar to the original design of the RD-251 engine block developed and produced in the former Soviet Union, suggesting that the total thrust generated at lift-off is about 80-tons force. This is reasonably consistent with the estimated mass of the new missile, which is between 40 and 50 metric tons. The configuration of the second stage is not known, though its overall size suggests it contains 50 percent more propellant than the Hwasong-14. Taken together, and applying conservative assumptions about the second-stage propulsion system, it now appears that the Hwasong-15 can deliver a 1,000-kg payload to any point on the US mainland. North Korea has almost certainly developed a nuclear warhead that weighs less than 700 kg, if not one considerably lighter.
The extra payload capacity could be used to carry countermeasures to defeat American missile defense systems, should it come to that.
Emperor Akhito plans to abdicate on April 30, 2019. Good for him.
Fayez al-Sarraj, the
Mayor of Tripoli head of Libya’s internationally recognized Government of National Accord, would like the United Nations to “partially” lift an international arms embargo against “some branches” of his military. Maybe with some more guns his government could actually do something about those slave markets along the Mediterranean coast. Or perhaps it could extend its zone of control as far as Tripoli’s city limits. The sky’s the limit, I suppose.
I so very badly did not want to have to write about this story, but here we are. On Wednesday, Donald Trump decided to let his freak flag fly a little bit and started retweeting unverified videos of supposed criminal acts committed by Muslims that had initially been tweeted out by a far-right organization called “Britain First.” Britain First makes UKIP look like the NAACP, if you’re interesting in contextualizing exactly what it means for the fucking President of the United fucking States of America to have signal boosted their bigoted trash. They’re too far right for Theresa May’s taste, which is no small feat, and May told British reporters on Wednesday that Trump was “wrong” to have engaged with them.
Then, early Thursday morning, Trump tweeted this:
He actually tweeted it twice, because the first time he addressed it to @theresamay, who is just some lady who lives in Bognor and at the time had all of six Twitter followers. May’s open invitation to Trump to make a state visit to London may now be withdrawn, which when you consider the collection of assholes who have been given the honor (honour, I guess) of a state visit to London over the decades, that’s really saying something. It’s more likely that the invitation won’t be withdrawn, the trip will just never be formally scheduled. Which doesn’t mean Trump won’t go to the UK, it just means he probably won’t get to visit with the Queen or whatever.
The state of US-UK relations is what it is, and has probably never been more irrelevant to world affairs than it is now, but I can’t disagree with NYU’s Daniel Altman when he argues that Trump’s engagement with a group like Britain First is a big deal, even if it’s just a few retweets:
Some of the greatest crimes in human history have begun with moments like this one. Social scientists agree that attacks on an entire class of people — whether identified by their race, religion, education, or any other distinguishing characteristic — do not happen spontaneously. First the mob has to be primed. The targeted group has to be demonized through a campaign of hateful misinformation, always presented as legitimate information by people in positions of trust. Then the signal for violence falls on ready ears.
It happened this way in Germany, Cambodia, Rwanda, and countless other sites of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and mass persecution. The pamphlets, megaphones, and radio broadcasts came before the pogroms, murders, and forced relocations. And today, we have even more effective ways to reach millions of people at a time, as the president’s more than 43 million followers on Twitter can attest; the established media only magnify his reach. But could another crime on this scale happen here?
Riot police in Honduras have clashed with supporters of the main opposition contender in the presidential election, Salvador Nasralla, after he accused the electoral court of fraud.
Police fired tear gas at protesters on the streets near the centre where the result is due to be announced.
At least one protester was reportedly shot by police in Tegucigalpa, but I haven’t seen any reports of fatalities so far. There’s still been no official announcement of the results, but President Juan Orlando Hernández was ahead of Nasralla by about 40,000 votes at last count.
The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.
Mr. Pompeo would probably be succeeded at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
Mr. Trump has not signed off on the plan developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, officials said, but the president is said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and is ready to make a change at the State Department. Mr. Trump spoke harshly about Mr. Tillerson in front of White House aides as recently as Thursday but did not seem ready yet to replace him, according to one person close to the president.
Tillerson has been on borrowed time since the “fucking moron” story came out last month, but it remains to be seen what James Mattis and Steve Mnuchin, of the alleged “suicide pact” with Tillerson, will do if Trump makes this move.
Tillerson has been a disaster as Secretary of State, but Pompeo, fresh off of selectively leaking the Osama bin Laden document stash to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies so they could whip up a little “Osama and the Ayatollah” slash fiction, could easily be worse. Whatever qualifications Tillerson lacks for the job, Pompeo lacks most of the same ones–the exception being that he’s been much better at kissing Trump’s ass than Tillerson has been. Pompeo is unlikely to reverse Tillerson’s efforts to relieve the country’s main diplomatic institution of anyone with any actual experience in diplomacy, and he’s considerably more ideological than Tillerson.
In fact, this move combined with Cotton going to the CIA (which is less certain because of the Senate opening it will create) could easily be described as a complete neoconservative takeover of Trump’s foreign policy team. Which has been inevitable almost from the start, despite Trump’s campaign rhetoric, because when you elect a moron cipher president, that person tends to be quickly captured by whatever ideology is dominant in his political coalition. For the Republicans on foreign policy, that’s still neoconservatism. Tillerson, for as bad a secretary as he’s been, has in some ways been a brake on the worst elements of Trump and his team.
Marcy Wheeler thinks the NYT story represents Trump trying to scare Tillerson “straight,” akin to previous reports about Jeff Sessions’ supposedly imminent firing. She’s got a good point there, though the point of leaking the story to the NYT might also have been to nudge Tillerson to resign before he gets canned. There also doesn’t seem to be much Congressional support for this move–Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, doesn’t seem too enamored of the possibility of Pompeo replacing Tillerson, and it’s possible Trump could be talked out of picking a fight with Congressional Republicans even though it’s one he would certainly win.
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