Archives for April 2018

A Korean peace process is underway – but it still depends on the U.S. and China

By Ed Griffith, University of Central Lancashire

The meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in is certainly one of the most dramatic and momentous events in the recent history of East Asia. Beyond the symbolism of cross-border handshakes and tree planting (not to mention a controversially decorated mango mousse that briefly ticked off Japan), the joint declaration that a peace treaty will be agreed this year and that the two countries share a goal of denuclearisation marks the most important development in inter-Korean relations since the Armistice that ended the Korean War in 1953.

The first real opportunity for this dialogue seemed to come when South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February this year. But in practice, it’s unlikely that a conveniently located sporting event was the only catalyst for such a dramatic shift in North Korean foreign policy.

Among analysts of Korean affairs, a few theories are circulating. Some think that the Kim government made its overtures because it genuinely fears that economic sanctions could become an existential threat; others surmise that the regime’s programme of weapons testing has now provided it with sufficient reassurance that it could deter a serious attack. A third theory suggests that Donald Trump’s unpredictable approach to international relations gave the north a sense of urgency.

But whatever the precise stimulus or concatenation of circumstances, the north has turned out to be rather more diplomatically sophisticated than many observers thought. When Pyongyang first reached out to Seoul about the possibility of a meeting via its emissaries to the Winter Olympics, it was unclear how such a historic summit could be organised in such a short space of time. Such events ordinarily take months of planning and negotiation over the finest of details, yet the two sides gave themselves just a matter of weeks in which to arrange it.

[Read more…]

In a feel-good Korea summit, Kim lays the groundwork for meeting with Trump

The Washington Post reports:

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has laid the foundations for a meeting with President Trump as soon as next month, signaling a willingness to discuss denuclearization and trying to dispel the idea that he’s an unreliable “Little Rocket Man.”

In an astonishing turn of events, a beaming Kim on Friday stepped across the border into South Korea for a day of talks that began and ended with him holding hands with the president of the South, Moon Jae-in.

They talked, they joked, they walked, they ate, and when they signed a joint statement pledging to work toward their “common goal” of denuclearizing their peninsula, they hugged.

“Today we saw Kim Jong Un’s charm offensive in action,” said Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul. “He’s exerting his influence and trying to grab the spotlight with a big smile. But behind that smile, he was wearing his game face.”

Indeed, with Friday’s historic summit and the bold, if vague, pledge to discuss giving up his nuclear program, Kim is trying to rewrite the public narrative about him and ease some of the outside pressure on him.

“Good things are happening, but only time will tell!” Trump, who has championed a “maximum pressure” campaign against Kim, tweeted early Friday morning in Washington.

The warmth of the meeting and the positive images beamed onto TV screens across the globe have set the stage for Kim to meet with Trump at the end of May or early June. Trump has said he will go to the talks only if they promise to be “fruitful,” a bar that probably was met with Friday’s meetings. [Continue reading…]

Todd Rosenblum writes:

The stunning Panmunjom Declaration announcement by the leaders of South Korea and North Korea is sweeping and potentially strongly in the American interest. The three-page declaration is quite vague and open to multiple interpretations, but the United States should use the most favorable interpretation going into the summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.

The Panmunjom Declaration has four core elements. The first is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The second an inter-Korean peace regime within one year. The third installs liaison offices on both sides of the demilitarized zone. The fourth is inter-Korean family reunifications. There is reporting that South Korea will provide economic assistance to the North and seems likely, but remains unconfirmed as of now.

The total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is an enormous net gain for the United States, with caveats. First, is recognizing that this idea means no more U.S. Navy ship visits to South Korea because we do not confirm whether our warships are carrying nuclear weapons. Second, it probably means no more major South Korean – U.S. military exercises because North Korea will likely say such exercises are hostile acts and training for the potential use of nuclear weapons on the Peninsula.
Third, it likely means ending or greatly reducing the U.S. security guarantee to South Korea because the current guarantee implicitly covers protection to the South against the use of nuclear weapons. It may mean a major push, backed by China, that the United States has to dismantle its regional missile defense network, arguing that it is not needed if the Peninsula is a nuclear free zone. [Continue reading…]

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Say goodbye to the information age — it’s all about reputation now

By Gloria Origgi, Aeon

There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people’s judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced.

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

Let me give some examples of this paradox. If you are asked why you believe that big changes in the climate are occurring and can dramatically harm future life on Earth, the most reasonable answer you’re likely to provide is that you trust the reputation of the sources of information to which you usually turn for acquiring information about the state of the planet. In the best-case scenario, you trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out ‘truths’ from false hypotheses and complete ‘bullshit’ about nature. In the average-case scenario, you trust newspapers, magazines or TV channels that endorse a political view which supports scientific research to summarise its findings for you. In this latter case, you are twice-removed from the sources: you trust other people’s trust in reputable science.

[Read more…]

American Jews have abandoned Gaza — and the truth

Peter Beinart writes:

“In our time,” wrote George Orwell in 1946, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” British colonialism, the Soviet gulag and America’s dropping of an atomic bomb, he argued, “can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” So how do people defend the indefensible? Through “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” By obscuring the truth.

So it is, more than 70 years later, with Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip. The truth is too brutal to honestly defend. Why are thousands of Palestinians risking their lives by running toward the Israeli snipers who guard the fence that encloses Gaza? Because Gaza is becoming uninhabitable. That’s not hyperbole. The United Nations says that Gaza will be “unlivable” by 2020, maybe sooner.

Hamas bears some of the blame for that: Its refusal to recognize Israel, its decades of terrorist attacks and its authoritarianism have all worsened Gaza’s plight. Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority bears some of the blame too. So does Egypt.

But the actor with the greatest power over Gaza is Israel. Israeli policies are instrumental in denying Gaza’s people the water, electricity, education and food they need to live decent lives.

How do kind, respectable, well-meaning American Jews defend this? How do they endorse the strangulation of 2 million human beings? Orwell provided the answer. They do so because Jewish leaders, in both Israel and the United States, encase Israel’s actions in a fog of euphemism and lies.

The fog consists, above all, of three words — “withdrew,” “security” and “Hamas” — which appear to absolve Israel of responsibility for the horror it oversees. [Continue reading…]

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The deep roots of Trump’s war on the press

Tim Alberta writes:

You couldn’t miss it. Arriving in Cleveland for the 2016 Republican National Convention, visitors found themselves staring at an enormous white billboard, slapped across the top of a tall concrete building in the city’s bustling downtown, screaming a simple directive: “DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!”

The signage—black letters against a white backdrop, save for “LIBERAL MEDIA” in bloody red—was ample around town the week of Donald Trump’s coronation in Cleveland. It was carried on top of taxicabs; projected with lights onto a sleepy city building; and held on posters behind live cable news broadcasts throughout the week. The message paired splendidly with Trump’s remarks in accepting the GOP nomination. “Remember, all of the people telling you that you can’t have the country you want are the same people telling you that I wouldn’t be standing here tonight,” he said. “No longer can we rely on those elites in media and politics who will say anything to keep a rigged system in place.”

But the displays in downtown Cleveland weren’t paid for by Trump’s campaign, or the Republican National Committee, or an affiliated super PAC. They were a victory lap of sorts for conservative activist Brent Bozell and his advocacy group, the Media Research Center—one of the most active and best-funded, and yet least known, arms of the modern conservative movement. It was as if the billboard was announcing that the right’s decadeslong jihad against the mainstream press had reach its apogee in Trump, a candidate who made vicious rhetorical attacks on journalists a staple of his raucous campaign events, railed about the “crooked” and “lying media” in nearly every debate, and even went after individual reporters by name.

It remains something of a myth that Vietnam and Watergate shattered Americans’ innocence and launched an era of institutional mistrust. As of 1986, Gallup was finding that 65 percent of Americans still felt a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence in the press. The next year, inside a rickety townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia, the Media Research Center—or MRC—was born. Its mission was simple: Highlight examples of alleged bias from the nation’s major news organizations and hold them accountable. Bozell, born into right-wing royalty—the nephew of National Review founder William F. Buckley, and son of Brent Bozell Jr., Barry Goldwater’s speechwriter and the ghost-writer of his book, Conscience of a Conservative—had not yet distinguished himself in the conservative movement. That would soon change. Over the ensuing decades, with the assistance of tens of millions of dollars from prominent Republican donors, the MRC moved to the front lines of America’s culture wars, relentlessly assailing what it viewed as a godless, condescending, out-of-touch national media—and systematically chipping away at its credibility in the minds of voters. The results were manifest: 30 years after that 1986 survey, as Trump steamrolled his way into the White House, Gallup released new numbers showing confidence in the press at all-time low of 32 percent. Among Republicans, it was just 14 percent. [Continue reading…]

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Two mass murders reveal how difficult—and important—it is to correctly identify terrorism

J.M. Berger writes:

Two mass murders took place within 48 hours this week. Both attackers were adherents of extremist ideologies. Both terrorized people. But one of these two attacks was clearly terrorism, and one was apparently not. What’s the difference?

Early Sunday morning, Travis Reinking walked into a Tennessee Waffle House wearing nothing but a jacket and started shooting, killing four and wounding several more. Early reporting indicates that Reinking had a history of apparent mental illness. But Reinking also identified himself as a sovereign citizen, an antigovernment movement associated with more than 100 acts of violence and dozens of deaths over the last decade and a half.

On Monday afternoon, 25-year-old Alek Minassian drove a rented van into dozens of Toronto pedestrians, killing 10 and wounding 13. It soon emerged that he was an adherent of the so-called “incel” movement, short for “involuntarily celibate,” a term co-opted by online adherents of an anti-woman ideology whose primary grievance is that women aren’t having sex with them. Minassian posted on Facebook moments before starting his rampage:

Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161. The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger.

(All signs point to the post being authentic, but the reference to 4chan, the origin point of many online hoaxes, has been a red flag for some analysts.)

The place to start, in distinguishing between these attacks, is by defining terrorism. The word has been politicized like few others, used as a rhetorical tool to demonize society’s villains du jour. Even within academic and policy circles, there is dispute over its precise meaning. Within the U.S. government, terrorism is a word usually, and improperly, reserved for jihadist extremists, due in part to the political proclivities of the moment and the statutory definition of terrorism, which is for the most part restricted to specifically designated foreign-terrorist organizations.

For most who deal with the issue day in and day out, though, terrorism is public violence to advance a political, social, or religious cause or ideology. Some variation remains as far as the details (many people distinguish between military and civilian targets, for instance, or stipulate that the perpetrator be a nonstate actor), but this broad definition has been widely adopted in the almost 17 years since September 11 and the launch of the Global War on … well, you know.

In the Waffle House shooting, no information has so far emerged to suggest that the attack was intended to advance an ideology, even though the perpetrator was apparently an extremist adherent. The investigation, of course, is still in its early days. Sometimes it takes years of investigation to gather enough information to make a correct assessment. But some details of the attack (the attacker’s nudity, the timing, and choice of target) seem to point in a different direction. Reinking’s involvement in sovereign citizenry may have contributed to his violent tendencies, but there is nothing to suggest his attack was meant to be instrumental.

The Toronto attack presents a very different situation. The driver posted a statement moments before the attack began. Although too brief to be considered a manifesto, that statement nevertheless contains all the elements necessary to deem this terrorism. [Continue reading…]

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Sea-level rise caused by climate change will make most atolls uninhabitable by the mid-21st century

The Washington Post reports:

More than a thousand low-lying tropical islands risk becoming “uninhabitable” by the middle of the century — or possibly sooner — because of rising sea levels, upending the populations of some island nations and endangering key U.S. military assets, according to new research published Wednesday.

The threats to the islands are twofold. In the long term, the rising seas threaten to inundate the islands entirely. More immediately, as seas rise, the islands will more frequently deal with large waves that crash farther onto the shore, contaminating their drinkable water supplies with ocean saltwater, according to the research.

The islands face climate-change-driven threats to their water supplies “in the very near future,” according to the study, published in the journal Science Advances.

The study focused on a part of the Marshall Islands in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, said in an interview that Wednesday’s journal article “brings home the seriousness” of the predicament facing her island nation.

“It’s a scary scenario for us,” she said.

The research also has ramifications for the U.S. military, whose massive Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site sits, in part, on the atoll island of Roi-Namur — a part of the Marshall Islands and the focus of the research.

The U.S. military supported the research in part to learn about the vulnerability of its tropical-island installations. The Pentagon base on Roi-Namur and surrounding islands supports about 1,250 American civilians, contractors and military personnel. [Continue reading…]

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Natalie Portman and the crisis of liberal Zionism

Eric Levitz writes:

There have always been tensions between liberal universalism and Jewish nationalism. But the rise of the Trumpist right has heightened such contradictions. To remain true to both AIPAC and progressivism, a liberal Zionist must now lament border walls in Texas but defend them in the West Bank; condemn Republicans who suggest that nonwhite babies pose a threat to American civilization as proto-Nazis and endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against the “demographic threat” that is Palestinian children; decry Donald Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and apologize for Israel’s imprisonment of African ones; abhor the president’s indifference to civilian casualties and ignore that Israel’s defense minister believes every man, woman, and child in the Gaza Strip is an enemy combatant.

And they must do all this while Netanyahu and his allies all but encourage American Jews to draw analogies between Trumpism and (actually existing) Zionism, by publicly aligning themselves against Barack Obama and with Donald Trump.

Even before Israel’s rightward shift accelerated over the past year, younger American Jews were growing more estranged from the Jewish state. Pew data from 2013 found that only a third of Jews under 49 believed that Israel’s government was making a sincere attempt at peace with the Palestinians, while a quarter of those between 18 and 29 felt that the U.S. government was “too supportive of Israel” — among Jews between the ages of 30 and 49, that figure was only 12 percent; among those above 65, it was just 5. In all likelihood, the political developments of the last five years have further dampened enthusiasm for Israel among the rising generation of American Jews.

The prospect that young American Jews would lose interest in Zionism had long been a source of anxiety for Israeli policymakers. And many interpreted the Israeli government’s hysterical response to Portman as a testament to that fear. But the opposite interpretation seems just as plausible — that the Israeli Establishment is no longer afraid of losing the affections of the Natalie Portmans of the world. [Continue reading…]

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Reflective and unreflective atheists

Patrick Freyne writes:

John Gray is a self-described atheist who thinks that prominent advocates of atheism have made non-belief seem intolerant, uninspiring and dull. At the end of the first chapter of his new book, Seven Types of Atheism, he concludes that “the organised atheism of the present century is mostly a media phenomenon and best appreciated as a type of entertainment”.

He laughs when I remind him of this sick burn. “I wrote the book partly as a riposte to that kind of atheism,” he says. “There’s not much new in [new atheism] and what is in it is a tired recycled version of forms of atheism that were presented more interestingly in the 19th century. In the so-called new atheism people are [presented with] a binary option between atheism, as if there was only one kind, and religion, as if there was only one kind of religion. [It’s] historically illiterate.

“They don’t even know when they’re repeating ideas from the 19th or early 20th century . . .They don’t know anything of the history of atheism or religion. They’re also very parochial about religion. They take religion to be, not even monotheism or Christianity [but] contemporary American Protestant fundamentalism . . . It’s a parochial, dull debate. I thought of having a subtitle called Why the God Debate is Dead.”

In Seven Types of Atheism, Gray explores the rich philosophical history of non-belief and enlivens it with entertaining tales of humanists like August Comte who so believed in human co-operation he designed clothes that couldn’t be put on without assistance and “god-haters” like the Marquis de Sade whose life was lived in debased defiance of the divine. [Continue reading…]

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To communicate with apes, we must do it on their terms

Rachel Nuwer writes:

On August 24, 1661, Samuel Pepys, an administrator in England’s navy and famous diarist, took a break from work to go see a “strange creature” that had just arrived on a ship from West Africa. Most likely, it was a chimpanzee—the first Pepys had ever seen. As he wrote in his diary, the “great baboon” was so human-like that he wondered if it were not the offspring of a man and a “she-baboon.”

“I do believe that it already understands much English,” he continued, “and I am of the mind it might be taught to speak or make signs.”

Humans and apes share nearly 99% of the same DNA, but language is one thing that seems to irreconcilably differentiate our species. Is that by necessity of nature, though, or simply a question of nurture?

“It could be that there’s something biologically different in our genome, something that’s changed since we split from apes, and that’s language,” says Catherine Hobaiter, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “But another possibility is that they might have the cognitive capacity for language, but they’re not able to physically express it like we do.” [Continue reading…]

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