The actions of North Korea in sinking a South Korean ship and shelling a remote South Korean island primarily because it was beyond the armistice line are clear violations of the 1953 armistice agreement. North Korea has been lead to believe by the lack of consequences for its bad behavior that it can do largely as it pleases in attempts to further extort financial assistance from a cowering West which seeks to avoid conflict above all else.
There are worse fates than conflict as we know from our history and bullies left unchecked do not generally improve their behavior.
Our hopes that China would see the craziness of North Korea’s behavior and do something—anything—to bring the regime in line has proved not well founded. China wants to be respected as a great nation and superpower but shrinks from stepping up to the plate to take a proportionate share of responsibility when the world needs it. While we clearly want to cooperate with China in finding a solution to this problem, we cannot subordinate our own strategic interests to China’s indecision.
Leaving North Korea unchecked is also dangerous because of its export of weapons and mischief to Iran and other bad behaving players around the world proliferating some of the worst weapons to some of the worst threats to global peace and security.
As we have learned before and the Wikileaks remind us again, often it is only the United States that has the capacity to change the game and provide the leadership to solve the world’s biggest problems.
That is what we need to do now.
Gordon Chang writing in the New Asia blog published on Forbes suggests a way to do just that. He proposes that since North Korea has already asserted that it does not plan to respect the 1953 armistice that the United States should follow suit and declare that it no longer is obligated to the armistice either and is free to take appropriate retaliatory action against North Korea for any violations. Chang suggests three specific steps that would tilt the playing field back to balance:
1. Order Financial Freeze on North Korean Assets. The US Treasury once before punished North Korea by ordering targeted banks used by North Koreas who hope to do business with or in the US to freeze assets and refrain from any transactions involving the North. This truly ticked off Kim Jong-Il and would do the same today especially if expanded much more broadly.
2. South Korea could close the Kaesong Industrial Complex. This industrial zone shared between the Korea’s was established as a bridge builder for future cooperation. We see how well that worked. Closing it would, according to Gordon Chang deprive the North of as much as $600 million in hard currency each year. Surely the manufactured goods could be relocated to other facilities inside South Korea.
3. Interdiction of North Korean Exports. Without the armistice, the US and other nations would be free to board, search and seize cargo shipped from North Korea that represented a violation of any UN resolutions, a proliferation of unauthorized weapons sale or a threat to global security.
To be sure these are acts of war and the North will wail it most belligerent epithets at even the suggestion of such actions. But mice do not generally pick fights with tigers especially when the tiger is hungry or angry.
A willingness of the United States to say ENOUGH!—and mean it would make possible a fresh start by all parties in resolving this problem once and for all. To back up this change in approach the US would need to demonstrate its resolve by:
1. Deliver a clear and unambiguous message to North Korea it will defend any attack against South Korea or any US interest will a full and appropriate military response.
2. Reaffirm US support for unified Korea and a willingness to work with China and others in Asia to facilitate such reunification when the North Korean regime collapses.
3. Announce that the US was engaging in discussions with South Korea, Japan and others within range of North Korea’s missiles for the deployment of US weapons including tactical nuclear weapons to back up the strategy.
Such a no nonsense strategy for trapping the errant mouse is the only thing a mouse as wily as Kim Jong-Il understands.
The Wikileaks release of thousands of purloined US Government emails and communications is certainly an embarrassment for the Government. But let’s hope that egg on the face of officials will result is better security for its “secrets”.
While the US Government should pursue, prosecute and make examples of those responsible for the leaks, it also should take steps to avoid the situation where a single person can make off with such sensitive information. Surely that is not too much to ask of bureaucrats charged with our national security.
But reading the tawdry gossip which represents most of these messages leaked reveals something else. We’ve suspected this unspoken truth for quite a while and now we know, the world’s leaders delight in publicly criticizing the US but secretly they plead for help, will propose the most audacious actions, and would slit the throats of their own grandmothers to stay in power.
The good news of the Wikileaks is that the US still have influence in the world, the question being posed to the Administration as a result of the leaks is whether we still have the ‘testosterone’ to use it to our advantage—-or must we now embark on yet another apology tour for our sin of allowing this leak?
Election officials finished counting the ballots in the remaining undecided contests and guess what?
Not a single incumbent was defeated in the election for Congress in California nor among major state office holders. Resisting the tide of change California voters stuck with the people who brought them to the current party even as they sought to change the rules for hosting the next party.
It is tough to explain this outcome—maybe California voters were all too busy lined up at their nearest medical marijuana facility refilling their prescriptions to notice that the state is sinking in red ink and bad karma.
Jerry Brown is back but no one can figure out why he or anyone else would want the governor’s job staring a $20 billion state deficit and 12%+ unemployment rate. Given the support of the public employee unions that helped him defeat Meg Whitman the prospects of real change are small in the major cost areas affecting the state budget.
The loss of the US House of Representatives to the Republicans also means California can kiss goodbye prospects of a Federal bailout. But the outcome does give President Obama hope for his reelection chances in 2012—at least California still loves him.
And then there is this:
Kamila Harris the District Attorney of San Francisco was declared winner of the race to be State Attorney General defeating LA County DA Cooley. She will be the first woman to hold that post except she has one of the worst conviction rates among the big city prosecutors and she refused to ever bring a death penalty case to court.
Oh and I almost forgot—-despite the failure of Proposition 19 to legalize pot possession Oakland is preparing to usher in the new year with actions to authorize as many as five “pot factories”—IKEA sized facilities designed to produce the product for the medical marijuana clinics which the City plans to’ tax to the buds’ to help close its financial gap.
You won’t need to smoke anything illegal in California—just drive around Oakland!
Remember last year at this time the world was in frenzy over the upcoming Copenhagen conference on climate change. It was a ‘save the world’ kind of thrill running up the leg of most of the delegates. Expectations were high that the United State under new President Barack Obama would join the party and commit to a giant transfer of wealth and technology from the developed world to the developing world.
“Pay me big time or I will emit again!”
Well, Copenhagen didn’t quite work out that way thankfully. Not for lack of trying or perhaps even the willingness of the United States and the EU to craft some compromise, but because China and other fast growing countries were unwilling to subject themselves to the same constraints they sought to impose on the developed world. Seeing the ruse staring them in the face, the developed countries said no.
But now a year has passed and the hype is not quite the same, but the global warming crowd is again trying to create the same drama surrounding the Cancun conference. China is playing its part:
“Senior Chinese officials said on Tuesday that next week’s climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, would succeed only if the West agreed to transfer technology to developing countries like China and to take the lead in cutting emissions.” New York Times, November 23, 2010
Only this time the world isn’t buying it.
The California High Speed Rail system is not only the largest single recipient of stimulus spending with $3.5 billion to date not counting state bond money for total spending of $4.3 billion. But this is the theatre of the absurd at work as the prospect of real construction ahead now is causing communities along the Peninsula south of San Francisco to complain that the train will come too near them for comfort—NIMBY at pure gold prices.
The problem for the High Speed Rail Authority is that the clock is ticking to get this money spent before the deadline runs out in 2017 or give it back. So there is a triage effort at work to identify the segments of the high speed rail that are ready to move forward and leave others behind.
Now don’t laugh!
The problem now is the sections of the high speed rail line designed to link the major metro areas of San Francisco in the North and Los Angeles in the south are out of the running because of these NIMBY problems with the routes. So two sections—San Francisco to San Jose, and Los Angeles to Anaheim—are now stalled. The section of the route to be built first is the one needed least either Merced to Fresno (60 miles in length), or Fresno to Bakersfield (113 miles in length). You can check out the route online on an interactive route map here.
So what happens if the other sections cannot be built by 2017? California will have spent $4.3 billion on a railroad to nowhere
By approving Proposition 20 assigning the independent California Redistricting Commission the authority to apportion Congressional as well as State Legislative District lines, the voters are sending a clear message—-the good old days are over for entrenched politicians of both parties. Voters also changed the primary election rules so that the top two vote getters—no matter what party—advance to the general election ballot.
California’s 53-seat delegation in the US House of Representatives includes 34 Democrats and 19 Republicans, but the population estimates tell us that people are moving eastward in the state out of the Bay Area and Los Angeles to the Central Valley and Northern California. That population shift within the state could also have profound effects on district boundaries. It seems highly likely that many of California’s entrenched Democrat legislators could feel the heat. In the 265 House races in California since districts were last redrawn, only two incumbents seeking re-election have been voted out.
For the first time in its 160 year history California will not gain a seat in Congress after this census because more people are moving out than moving into the Golden State. This itself is a biting indictment of California’s current predicament and it exacerbates a range of policy and other problems ranging from the budget deficit, school funding and economic growth and jobs creation.
The Independent California Redistricting Commission is taking shape as the pool of candidates is winnowed down in a lottery like drawing. Legislative leaders had an opportunity to exercise preemptory challenges in the first cut list, now the second draw has been completed by the state auditor, the final six commissioners will not be selected the same way by those chosen so far to complete the panel of 14. The Redistricting Commission is expected to complete its work next summer.
Other things legislators must worry about in 2012 include—-Florida voters also stripped the Legislature of the redistricting authority assigning it to an independent body and population estimates suggest Texas will pick up as many as 4 new Congressional seats at the expense of Northeast states like New York and Pennsylvania where the population is moving south and west.
Our election roadmap is changing dramatically because of the natural forces of demographics and migration but those changes are being amplified by action of the voters to make their legislative contests more competitive as a consequence of legislative reapportionment.
Is the Bank of America busted over its foreclosure documentation problems?
A few months ago, media reports alleged that employees or contractors of Bank of America, GMAC Mortgage, and other major loan servicers processed thousands of foreclosure documents without knowing whether the documents were accurate or true. This “robo-signing” problem brought to light the bigger problem facing the home loan market and the risk that legal challenges to haphazard foreclosure procedures could threaten the banks’ financial stability and drag out housing crisis if it is shown that the $6.4 trillion in American mortgages may be clouded by mishandling the documents and due process legally required steps to foreclose on a home.
The Congressional Oversight Panel was charged under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA), was tasked with restoring with reviewing the current state of the financial markets and the regulatory system. The risk being considered by the panel results from the mess created by the rapid growth of mortgage securitization which saw mortgages bundled and resold many times without an adequate paperwork trail to keep track of the original documents required to track mortgage loan ownership.
The report issued by the panel November 15th covered the current foreclosure processing problems in the mortgage market concerning the risk exposure for banks if holders of mortgage-backed securities force those banks to repurchase any loans found to be defective. The financial losses from such repurchases could easily threaten the financial viability of the banks.
“In the best-case scenario, concerns about mortgage documentation irregularities may prove overblown. In this view, which has been embraced by the financial industry, a handful of employees failed to follow procedures in signing foreclosure-related affidavits, but the facts underlying the affidavits are demonstrably accurate. Foreclosures could proceed as soon as the invalid affidavits are replaced with properly executed paperwork.
The worst-case scenario is considerably grimmer. In this view, which has been articulated by academics and homeowner advocates, the “robo-signing” of affidavits served to cover up the fact that loan servicers cannot demonstrate the facts required to conduct a lawful foreclosure. In essence, banks may be unable to prove that they own the mortgage loans they claim to own.”
“To put in perspective the potential problem, one investor action alone could seek to force Bank of America to repurchase and absorb partial losses on up to $47 billion in troubled loans due to alleged misrepresentations of loan quality. Bank of America currently has $230 billion in shareholders‟ equity, so if several similar-sized actions – whether motivated by concerns about underwriting or loan ownership were to succeed, the company could suffer disabling damage to its regulatory capital.”
This is the same Bank of America that is scrupulous about slamming me with a late fee if I am even one date late on my credit card payment.
It is very tough to feel any sympathy for these big banks. Let’s hope the Government holds their feet to the fire and demands “ show me the note” every time another foreclosure is sought.
The list below of ideas for Executive Orders from the Center for American Progress’s policy experts offers just some of the many possible actions the administration can take using existing authority to move the country forward:
1. Reduce oil imports and make progress toward energy independence.
2. Progress toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 17 percent by 2020.
3. Conserve federal lands for future generations.
4. Manage public lands to support a balanced energy strategy.
5. Convene and engage hunters and anglers in the development of a fish and wildlife climate adaptation plan.
6. Generate solar energy on U.S. Air Force hangar roofs.
7. Direct an assessment, strategy, and new policy development to promote U.S. competitiveness.
8. Launch new consumer financial protection bureau with an aggressive agenda to protect and empower consumers.
9. Increase small business hiring and purchases by accelerating implementation of the Small Business Jobs Act.
10. Promote automatic mediation to avoid foreclosure where possible and speed resolution.
11. Web portal to empower housing counselors, reduce burdens on lenders, and speed home mortgage modifications.
12. Stabilize home values by turning “shadow REO” housing inventory into “scattered site” rental housing.
13. Promote practices that support working families.
14. Partner with the private sector in health care payment reform.
15. Focus on health care prevention in implementing the Affordable Care Act
16. Streamline and simplify access to federal antipoverty programs.
17. Replace costly, inhumane immigration detention policies with equally effective measures.
18. “Educational productivity” initiative to help schools spend wisely to prepare our children for the 21st century.
19. Ensure students can compare financial aid offers from different postsecondary institutions.
20. Improve the quality, standards, and productivity of postsecondary education.
21. Scrutinize federal spending programs and tax expenditures to achieve greater returns on public investment.
22. Build the next-generation Recovery.gov web site to track all public expenditures and performance in real time.
23. Use new information technology for faster, more transparent freedom of information.
24. Create a virtual U.S. statistical agency.
25. Collect data on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans in federal data surveys.
26. Rebalance our Afghanistan strategy with greater emphasis on political and diplomatic progress.
27. Promote domestic revenue generation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
28. Appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa and the southwest Arabia Peninsula region.
29. Appoint a special commission to assess contracting practices in national security and foreign affairs.
30. Use executive branch authority to mitigate impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy if Congress does not repeal it.
31. Redouble support for Palestinian state- and institution-building efforts
32. Pursue dual-track policy on Iran while sharpening focus on Iranian human rights issues.
33. Reinvigorate the U.S.-Turkey strategic alliance.
34. Develop a comprehensive policy on the Russia-Georgia conflict.
Doesn’t all this send a thrill up your leg?
California Legislative Redistricting Gets Personal.
Under California’s new Legislative Redistricting Commission rules the 60 semi-finalists were submitted to the Legislative leadership and between the four Democrat and Republican leaders they have 24 peremptory challenges to the list and can knock off those they fear the most.
The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert Blog says those long knives have been drawn and the list of finalists reduced down to 36 evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and Independents or other minor parties.
But the process is far from over. Completing the panel requires culling the 36 down to 14 as follows: The state auditor randomly picks eight names from the 36 finalists remaining allocated three Democrats, three Republicans and two independents or minor party members. Those eight will then select six more members from the remaining list by December 31st to complete the panel of 14 out of the original 31,000 applicants.
The 14-member California Redistricting Commission by law must be composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and four independents or minor party registrants. It is supposed to be balanced by gender, ethnicity and region.
Why the arcane selection process?
Redistricting is a once every ten-year process following each census. It matters because the legislative district boundaries have traditionally been drawn by the State Legislature and, guess what, few of the districts were ever competitive. The members simply gerrymander the boundaries to assure safe elections for themselves and their compatriots.
This new independent redistricting commission is different and not only strips the Legislature of its ability to gerrymander the district lines but by approving Proposition 20 the voters also gave the new commission power over Congressional district boundaries including any new districts California may win after the census. So add it all up and you have:
- 80 Assembly districts,
- 40 Senate districts,
- 4 Board of Equalization districts and
- 53 Congressional districts to decide upon.
Do you see why this is bad news for incumbents?
The idea of genuinely competitive races is a nightmare for professional politicians especially with the cellar-level approval ratings of Congress and the State Legislature. It will take nine of fourteen votes on the commission to pass any plan.
Let the food fights begin.