Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple
◆ North Korea responds to US criticism at United Nations by launching a test missile. It blows up, their 4th straight failure
The Reuters headline has it exactly right: North Korea test-fires ballistic missile in defiance of world pressure
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March. –Reuters
- If someone is hacking these launches, they are doing a good job.
- China’s reaction here is crucial. If Kim did this after he was warned by Beijing, he will pay for it.
- Trump is playing the China card correctly. His public position is “China and the US are working together on this.” That does more than save face for China. It says, subtly, that if China cannot stop North Korea, it is Pyongyang that is showing up Beijing, and Beijing won’t want to let that happen.
- Sending Tillerson to the UN was important. It says to the world: “This is on our front burner.”
- At some point, the US will have to decide whether to include Chinese entities in any sanctions aimed at North Korea. All North Korean connections to the world, meager as they are, go through China. Any sanction against Chinese entities, even a small move against a small bank, meant as a signal, would risk future collaboration with China on the North Korean issue. So, the US will probably hold off on that for a while.
- What has been missing in the analysis: those missiles aimed at South Korea and Japan could also hit China, and Beijing has to worry about that if North Korea continues its nuclear program.
◆ Despite all the happy talk, the US economy grew very slowly in the first quarter. Under 1%. (New York Times)
The reason: a sharp, unexpected slowdown in consumer spending. The NYT offers a sensible explanation of the political and economic consequences of the 0.7% growth number:
The softness last quarter also provides crucial ammunition for the Trump administration’s arguments that big tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are necessary for the economy to grow the way it did in the 1980s and 1990s.
Tax cuts, regulatory relief, trade renegotiations and an unfettered energy sector are needed “to overcome the dismal economy inherited by the Trump administration,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Business and consumer sentiment is strong, but both must be released from the regulatory and tax shackles constraining economic growth.”
The first-quarter fade is also sure to be noticed by the Federal Reserve as it contemplates whether to proceed with two more interest-rate increases planned for this year. –New York Times
◆ MS-13 Murderous Drug Gang targeted by DOJ. Jeff Sessions tells them: “We are coming after you” The South American drug cartel has spread across the US, branched into other criminal enterprises, and committed a string of murders recently on Long Island. (Fox News)
Comment: They are major profiteers from the opioid epidemic and were among the targets of candidate Trump’s famous “bad hombres” comment.
Politically, the Trump Administration is wise to focus on gangs like this. US citizens are being victimized, and even the staunchest defenders of open borders don’t want to defend the entrance of criminal gangs like MS-13.
◆ Bernie calls Barack’s Wall Street paydays “distasteful” (CNN)
Comment: Sanders made the comment from his office, not one of his three homes.
Elizabeth Warren has made similar comments about Obama’s high-priced speeches to financial executives.
Pres. Obama’s spokesman, Eric Schultz, responded,
Obama will continue to focus most of his post-presidency on writing a book, giving speeches and “training and elevating a new generation of political leaders in America.” –CNN
Comment: Neither Sanders nor Warren will want to go too far here. They want to keep up the heat on Wall Street for their progressive base, but attacking the former President, who is very popular among Democrats, is not a game with much upside for them.
Comment: Democrats certainly need a new generation of political leaders, the ones Obama’s spokesman is promising.
- The most popular Democrat is not even a member of the party. He is a Socialist.
- The current, elected leadership is all drawing Social Security
- Rising D’s in their 40s and 50s were wiped out en mass during the Obama presidency. His record of grooming future leaders is, ahem, not strong.
◆ Marine Le Pen, in the runoff for France’s presidency, faces more stench from her political base, the National Front
After Le Pen advanced to the runoff last Sunday, she resigned her leadership of the National Front. Her successor was Jean-François Jalkh. In on-the-record interviews in 2000, he denied the Nazis used poison gas to kill millions in concentration camps. When those comments were publicized this week, Jalkh denied making them. But they were on tape. So, now, Mr. Jalkh has decided to spend more time with his family and has been replaced by the mayor of a northern industrial town. The search is undoubtedly on to see if he said what he really thinks to anybody who recorded it.
The story is in the Washington Post.
Comment: Le Pen is an underdog in the runoff, but her presence at the top of French politics is a very disturbing sign.