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Hard National Security Choices (Commentary)

By Rachel Bercovitz(Lawfare)
The United States will pursue a strategy of enhanced regional diplomacy and economic sanctions to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a Joint Statement released yesterday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Reuters reports that Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea this Friday in New York, where he is expected to discuss the implementation of more robust sanctions.

The release of the Joint Statement followed a White House briefing of Senators led by Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats and headlined briefly by President Trump. According to lawmakers, the briefing delivered no new intelligence regarding the U.S.’s strategy toward North Korea. President Trump’s unusual decision to conduct the briefing in the White House rather than on Capitol Hill, which maintains secure facilities that can accommodate disclosure of classified information, puzzled lawmakers and led many to suggest that the decision was primarily one of optics as President Trump approaches his one-hundredth day in office on Saturday.

The Washington Post assesses that North Korea may launch an assault against South Korea or U.S. installations through its Special Operations Force (SOF) that is believed capable of deploying chemical or biological weapons—and not through its ballistic missiles or artillery. A 2015 U.S. Defense Department report to Congress on the North Korean military estimated that the North’s SOF comprised at a minimum 180,000 commandos, equivalent to the current number of U.S. active duty Marines. According to the Report, the SOF is subdivided into specialized units including reconnaissance, airborne and seaborne insertion, and commandos that each emphasize “speed of movement and surprise attack.”

The THAAD missile defense system deployed by the United States to South Korea is nearly operational, the New York Times reports. China has objected to the antimissile system, fearing that it could be deployed against Chinese forces as well. South Korea’s Defense Ministry stated that THAAD will allow Seoul to “cope with North Korea’s provocatons.”

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, accepted full responsibility for the confusion concerning the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson, the Times writes.

Military maneuvers and rhetoric notwithstanding, the Times clarifies that the risk of an imminent military showdown between the U.S. and North Korea remains very low. The United States has likely carried out the recent spate of diplomatic and military moves to dissuade Kim Jong Un from conducting further nuclear or ballistic missile tests, and not to prepare for a preemptive strike.

Documents released by House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings show that the inspector general for the Department of Defense has opened an investigation into whether former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn violated federal law in failing to request permission for accepting payments from the Russian and Turkish governments. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the inspector general’s office confirmed the existence of the investigation. The documents released by Cummings also include a letter from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn previously directed, informing the Committee that the Department has no records of Flynn’s seeking permission for payments.

President Trump has delegated authority over the Force Management Level (FML) system, which sets troop levels in Iraq and Syria, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, BuzzFeed News reports. President Obama’s use of the FML system to set and adjust troop levels drew criticism from military commanders who maintained that the system inhibited swift deployment of troops and accurate reporting of the number of troops deployed. In a memo sent yesterday to the Pentagon, Mattis called for a review of FML’s system of force accounting and releases to the public.

Two U.S. servicemembers were killed during an operation targeting ISIS forces in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, the Times writes. The United States previously deployed the so-called “mother of all bombs” against the Islamic State in the province two weeks ago.

Both Syrian government and rebel forces are blaming Israel for a series of explosions at warehouses near the Damascus airport this morning. Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz appeared to acknowledge Israel’s involvement in a statement that the attack was “completely conforms to Israel’s policy” of preventing Hezbollah from obtaining “advanced weapons,” as Israeli media reported that the warehouses contained weapons set to be shipped to Hezbollah. The Times has more.

U.S. military officials condemned Turkey’s use of airstrikes against U.S. partner forces in Iraq and Syria that led to the deaths of an estimated 20 Kurdish fighters in Syria and five peshmerga fighters in Iraq, the Washington Post reports. U.S. military officials were alerted less than one hour in advance of the strikes and were not informed of the strikes’ precise targets, hampering the ability of officials to reposition U.S. troops or to alert partner Kurdish groups. Turkey defended its conduct in a statement issued by its embassy in Washington, affirming that Russia and the U.S. were “duly informed through both military and diplomatic channels.”

The strikes followed President Trump’s April 18 congratulatory call to President Erdogan on the results of the referendum vote augmenting the powers of the Turkish presidency. Some officials had hoped the call might impel Turkey’s accommodation of U.S. military efforts to bolster the capabilities of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.’s principal Syrian ally in the fight against ISIS. The referendum has faced scrutiny over widespread allegations of voter fraud and most recently, concerns regarding the independence and credibility of judges at the helm of the Turkish electoral commission known as the YSK. President Erdogan appointed the majority of YSK members last September following a purge of the judiciary in the wake of July’s attempted coup.

Turkey detained more than 1,000 members of the Turkish police force on suspicion of their allegiance to the Gulen movement led by Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of orchestrating the foiled coup in July 2016. More than 9,000 police personnel were additionally suspended from their posts.

Yesterday’s early morning raids in Barcelona and its environs led to the arrest of nine men suspected of having been involved in the March 2016 terrorist attacks at a Brussels subway station and airport that resulted in 32 dead and 300 wounded. The arrests followed an eight-month investigation that entailed coordination with Belgian police. Eight of the nine detainees are Moroccan, while one is Spanish.

During telephone calls yesterday evening, President Trump assured Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the U.S. would not soon withdraw from, but rather seek to negotiate the terms of NAFTA, the Times shares. The calls came just hours after administration officials announced that President Trump would soon issue an executive order to set in motion the U.S.’s withdrawal from the trade agreement.

The Latest Ivanka Trump Brand Scandal Reveals the Lie at the Heart of Her “Luxury” Image

Until this week, fashion brand Adrienne Vittadini’s biggest claim to fame might have been being name-dropped in the Lil’ Kim verse on the song “Get Money”: “Now you wanna buy me diamonds and Armani suits/ Adrienne Vittadini and Chanel Nine boots.” Adrienne Vittadini—the clothing brand, which has been around since 1979, shares a name with its founding designer—wasn’t quite the household name that Armani and Chanel were, but a mention among the likes of them was nothing to complain about. Now, a new report has thrust the brand into the spotlight, and instead of the luxe bedfellows Lil’ Kim associated it with, it’s in connection with a more controversial entity: Ivanka Trump and her fashion lines.

Business of Fashion reported Monday that G-III, the company that licenses Ivanka Trump’s clothing, had secretly relabeled some of its stock as Adrienne Vittadini before selling it to Stein Mart, a Florida-based discount chain. This scheme follows a months-long period in which Ivanka Trump’s clothing line has been a lightning rod, with activists calling for boycotts to express disapproval for Donald Trump’s presidency and Ivanka’s role in it, retailers dropping the line due to poor sales, Trump officials breaking ethics rules plugging it, and sales apparently enjoying a sweet publicity bump. Ivanka Trump officially resigned from her day-to-day role in her brand to serve her father and country in the White House, but she can still profit from it. And one could argue that she continues to promote her clothes and “brand” in everything she does.

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According to BoF, G-III and Stein Mart acted without making Ivanka Trump’s brand aware of their nefarious plan to pass off the Ivanka merchandise, and G-III promised in a statement to BoF that it "has already begun to take corrective actions, including facilitating the immediate removal of any mistakenly labelled merchandise from its customer." Though relabeling was once a common practice that outlet stores might use to avoid associating “hot” brands with lowly discounters, BoF wrote, trying to do this and hide it from the brands involved might veer dangerously close to fraud. Adrienne Vittadini did not provide comment on its role in the switch, but it sure sounds like exactly the kind of shady and potentially illegal, not to mention controversy-adjacent, situation that no company in its right mind would willingly be a part of.

Though Ivanka Trump herself and maybe even her brand may ultimately have had nothing to do with this scandal, in a way it still reveals some less-than-savory things about both. BoF obtained photos of the label-switched garments, so the relabeling didn’t go completely without notice. But how distinctive and high-end can your fashion really be when it can be so easily relabeled as another brand’s? The Guardian reviewed Ivanka’s clothes in February and called the line “uninspiring”: “The collection shows a talent for taking the temperature of what was happening in design five years ago, which is par for the course in high street design.” Ivanka’s clothes look like the clothes of dozens of other brands in her category. With all apologies to Adrienne Vittadini, which never asked to be pulled into this, peruse the Adrienne Vittadini Facebook page or the Ivanka Trump collection: It all blends together, the same anodyne looks you would find at any midmarket store for “professional” women. Of course you can’t tell the Ivanka designs from the rest of the stuff on the racks—often, they’re made by the same parent companies, and the only real difference is that Ivanka makes money on the ones that have her name on them. Ivanka has said, “There’s so much value in the Trump name. And there’s such a deep connection to luxury and success.” This is all you’re really getting when you buy her clothes: her name. And why does that name continue to signal luxury when it’s being sold in a discount chain? The mysteries of branding.

In a flattering Vogue profile from last year, Nordstrom president of merchandising Pete Nordstrom said of Ivanka, “She said, ‘I’m serious about this; I’m not just a name, licensing a product without any involvement.’ She wasn’t asking for anything; there was no sense of entitlement.” (This was before Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s brands.) Echoing that sentiment, an executive at G-III told Forbes, she’s “very involved on a weekly basis.” Why does this remind me of Melania Trump bragging that she doesn’t use a nanny or Donald Trump projecting his worst qualities onto others? It’s not totally fair to assume that Ivanka is a liar or scoundrel like others in her family, but, well, it also wouldn’t be totally realistic to give her the full benefit of the doubt.

With regard to how involved Ivanka was in her brand before she stepped down, consider this: She chose G-III as a licensor. As the Washington Post reported, G-III doesn’t provide paid parental leave to employees, an issue Ivanka has claimed is important to her. G-III is also the company responsible for getting involved in messes like the one we’re talking about right now. The clothes are manufactured in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia, with basically no transparency about the conditions they’re made under. (Ivanka has reportedly pushed to move some of the production to the U.S.) The relabeling snafu may not be Ivanka’s fault, but it also doesn’t speak to great judgement or leadership of her company.

So I don’t have any sympathy for Ivanka Trump—she licensed her brand, and she can lie in it. But poor Adrienne Vittadini. If I were that company, I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative. The Trump brand hardly means “a deep connection to luxury and success”—more and more, the only deep connection it boasts is to a wide and ever-expanding orbit of scammers.

By Heather Schwedel

Slate

3 die in California killing spree; shooter shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’

LOS ANGELES, United States — A 39-year-old man went on a shooting spree in the central California town of Fresno on Tuesday, killing three people and injuring another before being arrested, authorities said.
The suspect, an African-American man named Kori Ali Muhammad, is believed to have shot a security guard last week outside a motel in the city. The guard died in hospital.
Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer told reporters that Muhammad shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he was being taken into custody.
Lieutenant Mark Hudson, a police spokesman, told AFP the FBI had been contacted about the killings and it was too early to say whether they were terror-related.
A spokeswoman for the FBI declined comment, referring media inquiries to local police.
Hudson said Muhammad had also indicated as he was being arrested that he hated white people and the government.
He said Tuesday’s shootings, which took place at around 10:45 am at four different locations in the downtown area of the city, were unprovoked and that up to 16 rounds were fired during the brief rampage.
Muhammad faces four counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder, authorities said.
Hudson said the weapon used in the killings had not been recovered. CBB

Trump signs ‘Buy American, Hire American’ order

KENOSHA, United States — President Donald Trump moved Tuesday to make good on his emblematic pledge to “Buy American, Hire American” by tightening skilled-worker visa rules, but his room for maneuver remains limited without wider congressional reform.
Speaking in Kenosha, Wisconsin — one of the states that carried him to his upset victory last November — Trump vowed: “We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure more products are stamped with those wonderful words, ‘Made in the USA.'”
Like many of Trump’s executive orders to date, his newest decree will have little practical impact, but sends a signal for government agencies to come forward with ideas for reforming the country’s H-1B visa system.
Trump is looking to stamp out “abuses” of the time-limited work permits, which are pervasive in the US high-tech sector, as a first step towards reforming the regime.
Intended for scientists, engineers and computer programmers, H-1B visas have become an important gateway for the many Indians drawn to Silicon Valley. The United States issues 85,000 each year.
Trump’s decree namely instructs the Labor, Justice and Homeland Security departments to tackle abuses and draw up reforms aimed at bringing the program back to its original intent: awarding visas to the most skilled and highly paid applicants.
The Trump administration argues that the current system has led to a “flood” of relatively low-wage, low-skill workers in the tech sector — and in doing so has harmed American workers.
“We believe jobs must be offered to American workers first,” Trump said.
The US Chamber of Commerce voiced immediate reservations: While it agreed there was room for improvement of the H-1B program, it warned the Trump administration not to do away with it altogether.
“It would be a mistake to close the door on high-skilled workers from around the world who can contribute to American businesses’ growth and expansion and make the US more competitive around the world,” the business lobby said in a statement.
The White House sees the decree as a way to spur momentum towards a broader congressional reform of the H-1B scheme — whose outline remains unclear.
“This is a transitional step to get towards a more skill-based and merit-based version,” a US official told AFP. “There is a lot we can do administratively, and the rest will be done hopefully legislatively.”
In his maiden speech to Congress, on March 1, Trump had proposed introducing an Australian-style merit-based system to reduce the flow of unskilled workers into the United States.
Seeking momentum
Trump’s new decree also includes a “Buy American” component, calling for stricter implementation of existing laws that are intended to favor US-manufactured goods in public tenders.
Without making specific new announcements, the Republican president once more pointed the finger at the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada and Mexico, dubbing it “a complete and total disaster.”
“It’s been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers and we’re going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA for once and for all,” he warned.
As Trump’s presidency nears the symbolic 100-day mark, the 70-year-old leader is looking to regain momentum on the domestic front after his flagship travel ban was blocked in court, and his vaunted health reform foundered in Congress.
Trump’s promise of an ambitious tax reform — another central campaign pledge that would notably involve slashing corporate taxes — is also struggling to take shape.
“Our tax reform and tax plan is coming along very well,” Trump said in Wisconsin. “It’s going to be out very soon.”
But Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged in the Financial Times earlier Tuesday the reform would likely be delayed, calling the target of getting it through Congress before August “highly aggressive to not realistic at this point.” CBB

Agence France-Presse

Facebook video killing: shooting footage sparks US hunt for suspect

Police in the US are searching for a suspect who they said posted footage on Facebook of himself killing a man. In a separate video he claimed to have killed more than a dozen others.

The Cleveland division of police said on Sunday it was looking for Steve Stephens in connection with the shooting of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr in the city’s Glenville neighbourhood. Police said Stephens was armed and dangerous.

“Suspect did broadcast the killing on Facebook Live and has claimed to have committed multiple other homicides which are yet to be verified,” the police said in a statement, referring to Facebook’s live-streaming video service.

Facebook later clarified that Stephens had posted a video, rather than broadcast live, although he had appeared on Facebook Live at one point in the day.

The video of the attack was on Facebook for about three hours before being removed.

Officers believe Stephens, who worked for a behavioural health agency, might be driving a white or cream-coloured sports utility vehicle.

In January, four people in Chicago were accused of attacking an 18-year-old disabled man and broadcasting the attack on Facebook Live while shouting “fuck Donald Trump” and “fuck white people”.

A month later, the accused pleaded not guilty to assaulting the victim.

-The Guardian
Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

Pence: US era of strategic patience with North Korea over

US Vice-President Mike Pence has said his country's "era of strategic patience" with North Korea is over.
Mr Pence made the remarks at the demilitarised zone (DMZ), the area dividing the two Koreas, during a visit to South Korea to reaffirm ties.
His visit comes amid escalated tensions on the peninsula, with heated rhetoric from both North Korea and the US.
He arrived in Seoul on Sunday hours after North Korea carried out a failed missile launch.
On Monday, the US and South Korea launched a joint air force military exercise to ensure readiness against North Korea, according to South Korean media.
Mr Pence, whose father served in the Korean War, was speaking on Monday at the truce village of Panmunjom, where the war's armistice was signed.
He told reporters: "There was a period of strategic patience, but the era of strategic patience is over."
The US wants to achieve security on the peninsula "through peaceable means, through negotiations", he said, "but all options are on the table".
Mr Pence also reiterated the US commitment to South Korea, saying it was an "iron-clad alliance", and that North Korea "should not mistake the resolve" of the US to stand with its allies.
Earlier in the day he visited Camp Bonifas, a United Nations military compound near the DMZ, and on Sunday he met with US military families stationed in South Korea.
Mike Pence, who is set to meet the acting president of South Korea later, will visit four nations on his 10-day Asia tour.
He has denounced North Korea's ballistic missile test on Sunday as a "provocation".
Also on Sunday, Lt Gen HR McMaster, the US top security adviser, said his country was working on a "range of options" with China, the first confirmation the two countries were co-operating to find a solution to the North Korean issue.
China, historically Pyongyang's sole major ally, has reiterated its call for North Korea to stop all tests, and has also called for a peaceful solution.
US President Donald Trump, who stated last week that the US and its allies may "deal with" Pyongyang if China did not, said on Sunday that Beijing was "working with us on the North Korean problem".
Besides Sunday's launch, North Korea has held a series of large-scale events in the past week including a massive celebration and military parade on Saturday.
It has denounced the US deployment of an aircraft carrier group to the region, saying it would respond by "force of arms" to "reckless moves".
Observers have said North Korea may conduct a sixth nuclear test soon, with activity reported at nuclear facilities, according to the website 38 North.
Meanwhile about 1,000 US airmen and fighter jets are taking part in a combat training exercise in South Korea, reported Yonhap news agency. South Korea has sent about 500 personnel and planes. The Max Thunder exercise will last for two weeks.

BBC News

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