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Big Weapons, Little Nukes
Just as Pyongang may be on its way to dangerous small warheads, the US sends $11 billion worth of weapons to Seoul.

Redistricting Redux
The GOP’s Lone Star power grab, take two, and why people care about mid-cycle redistricting.

Blair vs. the BBC
“Sexed-up” dossiers. “Sensationalized” stories. British politics are heating up.

Big Weapons, Little Nukes
Just weeks after North Korea openly announced its intention to build nuclear weapons, U.S. intelligence officials claim that the communist nation may in fact be developing small nuclear warheads. Small might sound less imposing thanbig, but in fact, small nuclear warheads are lighter and therefore easier to launch. In the worst case scenario, such small warheads could threaten countries outside Korea. The CIA believes that North Korea is developing technology to make warheads to fit atop existing missiles — which are capable of reaching Japan. But who knows how far we should trust the CIA’s estimates, these days? Tensions are high, on the Korean peninsula. US troops are shifting their posts along the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, which the military says is business as usual but which is spooking Koreans on both sides. And in the midst of all this, the US announced it’s giving South Korea $11-billion worth of weaponry. American hi-tech weapons are likely to be seen as a step towards pre-emptive strike by North Korea’s already-jittery Kim Jong Il.

The primary evidence that North Korea may be on its way to new nuclear capabilities comes from intelligence reports of an advanced nuclear testing site in the Youngdoktong region of North Korea, according to the New York Times. North Korea called the announcement a further provocation, and said that the US is bringing the Korean peninsula closer to war. Korean officials see any increased surveillance as evidence that the US may be planning an Iraq-style attack. Pyongyang also threatened that it would have a “strong and merciless” response to any economic blockade — and went as far as to suggest that an economic move like sanctions would be interpreted as a de-facto declaration of war.

Them’s fighting words, from North Korea, but as one US military official in Seoul pointed out, it’s hard to base decisions on anyone as unpredictable as Kim Jong Il:

“They [North Korea] thinks [sic] everything is provocative, when it suits their purpose […] Last winter, we quietly held military-training exercises, which they sought to interpret as a prelude to war. We train every year. But this time they used it as an excuse to call off talks. We can’t make decisions based on what Kim may or may not think.”

Although the US has said that it would prefer a diplomatic resolution to the emerging nuclear crisis, neither the US or North Korea have made it to the negotiating table. US Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) recently returned from a congressional delegation to North Korea. He writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer that North Korea is intent on increasing its nuclear capabilities to deter a US invasion. Weldon describes his ideas for quick US diplomatic action that would remove North Korea’s justification for creating a nuclear arsenal in a 10-point plan for peace. It starts with a of non-aggression pact from the U.S. and “full and unimpeded” inspections of North Korea’s nuclear facilities… Good luck.

Whatever the US does, the experts agree that now is a time to tread carefully. The $11 billion Pentagon plan includes the re-shuffling of American troops in the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), even though many Koreans see those troops as a crucial “tripwire” along their border, according to Tuesday’s Christian Science Monitor . Although the shift of US troops along the demilitarized zone may seem like simple restructuring to the military, some South Koreans see it as a serious mistake. Lt. Col. Carl Baker of the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, explains:

“To take that tripwire away without resolving the conflict between North Korea and the US is, in the minds of South Koreans, an abrogation of responsibility taken by the US in 1953 to terminate the conflict without reunifying the Peninsula.”

Redistricting Redux
In Texas, the fight over redistricting has returned. Unwilling to take “no” for an answer, Republican governor Rick Perry has called state lawmakers back for a special session devoted almost exclusively to ramming through a Tom DeLay-inspired, GOP power grab. Specifically, Republicans are looking to redraw the state’s congressional map through an unprecedented bit of gerrymandering — a move that would hand up to five state House seats to the GOP, and eliminate its slim Democratic majority.

When the GOP first tried this in May, of course, Democratic legislators skipped town to Oklahoma, where they hid out until the bill died. In response, state and national Republicans all but called out the National Guard in their efforts to bring the runaway Democrats back to Austin, efforts that soon evolved into the scandal known as “Texasgate.”

So now the Republicans are trying again, fresh from milquetoast investigations into their abuse of the Department of Homeland Security and the Texas police in the hunt for the missing Democrats. This time, however, the Democrats aren’t running. As the Associated Press observes, if 11 of 12 Senate Democrats vote against it, the bill will die, but the final outcome is anyone’s guess: a few key members say they still haven’t decided how to vote. Nevertheless, Democratic leaders were defiant on Monday, calling Republicans “puppets” for their slavish obedience to Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader and Dallas Republican who is orchestrating the redistricting campaign from Washington.

“‘This week is independence week, and we’re going to find out this week whether the Texas Legislature is still independent from the partisans in Washington, D.C.,’ Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, House Democratic Caucus leader, said just before Monday’s special session started.”

Things got ugly even before the session began, however, as lawmakers held public hearings all across the state last week. Curiously, Democratic legislators who opposed redistricting the last time around were assigned to hearings far away from their home districts — punishment for their walkout, they say. The meetings themselves were often angry affairs, with public sentiment generally opposed to the special session, which will cost Texas taxpayers some $1.7 million during a time of massive budget cuts.

As Rob Richie and Steven Hill opine on Working for Change, Democrats — and the public — are right to feel outraged over the Republican push. Traditionally, redistricting was an ugly, once-a-decade tug-of-war that helped determine each state’s voting districts. Now, they write, thanks largely to Republican efforts in the last decade, the “re-redistricting” contagion is spreading from state to state, an increasingly acceptable tool in the arsenal of rabidly partisan politicians.

“For many Americans the fierce partisan battle over redistricting must seem far out of proportion to its importance, especially when compared to pressing issues like taxes, education and jobs. But policy-making is grounded in the electoral structures that determine representation, and no part of that structure is more important than the legislative district lines that carve up the state and determine local partisan majorities.

It was bad enough when redistricting occurred only at the start of each decade, but now the greedy partisan grab has spurred a new phenomenon — mid-decade ‘re-redistricting.’ Recently Colorado Republicans jammed through a revised plan to shore up their one vulnerable incumbent. Now Texas Republicans have decided that gaining as many as seven additional seats is worth any editorial outcry and partisan fury that their upcoming power grab will inspire.

Does redistricting make a difference? You bet it does. Virginia Democrats in 2001 won their first gubernatorial race since 1989. But Republicans went from barely controlling the statehouse to a two-thirds majority. How? That’s right — Republicans drew the district lines before the election.”

The editors of the Washington Post are disturbed, too. Noting that “serious questions remain unanswered about how the last round was fought,” the Post worries that if DeLay, Perry, and Co. succeed in redrawing the map, it will set a terrible precedent.

“Redistricting normally takes place once a decade, and given how ugly and partisan a business it typically is, its rarity is a good thing. A state’s congressional districts certainly shouldn’t change whenever one party has the raw power to redraw the lines. The Texas plan, if not defeated, risks creating a dangerous new norm by which redistricting wars go on continuously.

The public still deserves an explanation — and mid-cycle redistricting is still a terrible idea.”

Blair vs. The BBC
In Britain, the showdown between the BBC and the Blair administration continues. The Blair Administration’s director of communications Alaister Campbell has publicly attacked British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Andrew Gilligan for what Campbell is calling a sensationalized story. Gilligan, for his part, reported that Campbell “sexed up” a Downing Street intelligence dossier — not to be confused with the “dodgy dossier.”

Gilligan’s story, broadcast in May, quoted an anonymous senior British official saying that the government’s dossier on Iraq’s WMD’s had been “sexed up” at the request of Downing Street officials. The BBC writes:

“The source said he believed a claim in the dossier — that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons which could be deployed 45 minutes after an order to do so — was unreliable.

And Mr Gilligan said his source told him that Tony Blair’s director of communications, Alastair Campbell, was responsible for transforming the way the intelligence services’ information had been presented in the dossier.”

Just as the pressure was building on Blair and his lackey, Campbell tried to discredit Gilligan’s story because it was based on an anonymous tip from a single source. Campbell accuses the BBC of being unable to support its damaging allegations. The Independent’s Andrew Grice quoted Campbell, saying:

“He wrote that he was ‘surprised that your defence now rests on the principle that you can report anything that a source says, regardless of its veracity, provided that you report accurately what the source has told you.'”

But despite government pressure, Gilligan and the BBC are standing by their story. According to The Independent’s Kim Sengupta, after spending this last weekend poring over Campbell’s testimonies at the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the BBC has discovered fresh evidence to prove that Downing Street “sexed up” their dossier. The Independent expects the BBC‘s revelations to be published any minute now:

“According to the sources they have discovered ‘inaccuracies and inconsistencies’ in what the Prime Minister’s communications chief told MPs. Andrew Gilligan, the BBC reporter who has been the focus of government attacks, will produce further information on how the intelligence services were supposedly pressured by Mr Campbell about the ’45-minute threats’ posed by Saddam Hussein, which appeared in the first Downing Street dossier last September.”

The BBC is in the delicate position of biting the hand that feeds it. Because it’s publicly funded, many expected it to roll over and give in to government pressure. According to Reuters the BBC’s “Royal Charter” or public funding of a dollar equivalent of $4.16 billion is coming up for renewal — making the situation even more volatile:

“The BBC is in a tough spot. It is both publicly funded and overseen by a board of governors appointed by the state which has often meant that governments have expected more loyalty from it than from its rivals.”

The government may have expected loyalty, but instead:

“The BBC is demonstrating its independence. With the charter renewal coming up, some may have expected it to roll over in the row with the government but it hasn’t,’ said Jamie Cowling, a research fellow at the Institute of Public Policy Research.”

That independence comes from the strength of a public compact, writes the London Guardian’s Hugo Young, a “protocol which says that while politicians preside over public bodies, they do not rule them.” Blair and Campbell had a pretty clear motive for fudging the dossier, and the protocol-sensitive British public seems less inclined than the American public to let the details slide. Young continues:

“The BBC lives off a textured public understanding of this that took decades to embed in the national culture. No one else has reproduced it. In the US, Murdoch’s Fox News sent wave after wave of bombers live into Baghdad accompanied by the national anthem. Patriotism before truth was the networks’ guiding star, and even the panjandrums of the print were scared to crack it. Not enough Americans wanted to know. An ABC poll last week showed 24% of them easily convinced that Saddam had used his weapons of mass destruction against their boys.”

Blair and Campbell, in other words, should expect the heat to get worse:

“The fact is that Blair-Campbell are no more entitled to be axiomatically believed than a reputable BBC reporter. If anything, less so. They have plenty of form and a heavy motive. As they see the polls going down, they reach for every cleansing detail to purify their motive for going to war. It’s another divide with Uncle Sam. Not only do most Americans want to skirt round uncomfortable truth, they are much less bothered with picayune details about WMD. Blair knows his party has not given up on that and nor have many voters. The Blair-Campbell bullying comes spiked with a high-minded piety about truth that should deceive nobody.

The BBC has so far behaved impeccably. It made clear what it was and was not saying. It was a lot more careful than Campbell about calling its critic a deceiver. It limited itself to the doubts and nuances its audience has every right to expect beyond straight reporting of the grandees’ pronunciamentos.”


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