BBC News – North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium

North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests, following talks with the US.

The US State Department said Pyongyang had also agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor its reactor in Yongbyon to verify compliance with the measures.

In return, the US is finalising 240,000 tonnes of food aid for the North.

The move comes two months after Kim Jong-un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

Correspondents say the move could pave the way for the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang, which last broke down in 2009.

Both the DPRK [North Korea] and the US affirmed that it is in mutual interest to… push ahead with the denuclearisation through dialogue and negotiations”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US still had “profound concerns” over North Korea, but welcomed the move as a “first step”.

“On the occasion of Kim Jong-il’s death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations.

“Today’s announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction.”

North Korea confirmed the move in a foreign ministry statement released in Pyongyang.

The statement, carried by the KCNA news agency, said the measures were “aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations” between the two countries, and said talks would continue.

“Both the DPRK [North Korea] and the US affirmed that it is in mutual interest to ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, improve the relations between the DPRK and the US, and push ahead with the denuclearisation through dialogue and negotiations,” it said.

via BBC News – North Korea agrees to nuclear moratorium.

Conservatives: Hmmm… Under Bush, North Korea built weapons. Under President Obama, they stopped. I wonder what the lesson is here?

Instead of being disgusted by poverty, we are disgusted by poor people themselves | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian

She is there whenever I go the shops. Every time I think she can’t get any more skeletal, she manages it. Wild eyes staring in different directions, she must have been pretty once. I try not to look, for she is often aggressive. Sometimes, though, she is in my face and asking me to go into the shop, from which she has been banned, to buy her something. A scratchcard. She feels lucky. “Maybe some food?” I suggest pointlessly, but food is not what she craves. Food is not crack. Or luck. She has already lost every lottery going.

An addict is the author of their own misfortune. Her poverty is self-inflicted. All these hopeless people: where do they all come from? It is, of course, possible never to really see them, as their distress is so distressing. Who needs it? Poverty, we are often told, is not “actual”, because people have TVs. This gradual erosion of empathy is the triumph of an economic climate in which everyone, addicted or not, is personally responsible for their own lack of achievement. Poor people are not simply people like us, but with less money: they are an entirely different species. Their poverty is a personal failing. They have let themselves go. This now applies not just to individuals but to entire countries. Look at the Greeks! What were they thinking with their pensions and minimum wage? That they were like us? Out of the flames, they are now told to rise, phoenix–like, by a rich political elite. Perhaps they can grow money on trees?

Meanwhile, in the US, as this week’s shocking Panorama showed, people are living in tents or underground in drains. These ugly people, with ulcers, hernias and bad teeth, are the flipside of the American dream. Trees twist through abandoned civic buildings and factories, while the Republican candidates, an ID parade of Grecian 2000 suspects, bang on about tax cuts for the 1% who own a fifth of America’s wealth. To see the Grapes of Wrath recast among post-apocalyptic cityscapes is scary. Huge cognitive dissonance is required to cheerlead for the rich while 47 million citizens live in conditions close to those in the developing world.

This contradiction is also one of the few things we in the UK are good at producing. I heard a radio interview recently with a depressed young man with three A-levels (yes, in properly Govian subjects) who had been unemployed for three years. The response of listeners was that he was lazy and should try harder. Samuel Beckett’s “fail better” comes to mind. Understanding what three years of unemployment does to a young person does not produce a job, any more than the scratchcard will change a crackhead’s life. But pure condemnation is divisive. This fear and loathing of those at the bottom is deeply disturbing.

Three years ago I was on a panel with Vince Cable at The Convention of Modern Liberty, when Cable was still reckoned a seer for predicting the recession. He said then that the financial crisis would mean civil liberties would be trampled on. But what stuck in my mind was a sentence he mumbled about the pre-conditions for fascism arising. Scaremongering? The emotional pre-condition is absolutely this punitive attitude to the weak and poor.

Our disgust at the poor is tempered only by our sentimentality about children. They are innocent. We feel charitable. Not enough, perhaps, as a Save the Children report tells us that one in four children in developing countries are too malnourished to grow properly. Still, malnourishment isn’t starvation, just as anyone who has a mobile phone isn’t properly hard-up. Difficult to stomach maybe, but isn’t all this the fault of the countries they live in?

At what point, though, can we no longer avoid the poor, our own and the global poor? Or, indeed, avoid the concept that frightens the left as much as the right: redistribution, of wealth, resources, labour, working hours. Whither the left? Busy pretending that there is a way round this, a lot of the time.

The idea that ultimately the poor must help themselves as social mobility grinds to a halt is illogical; it is based on a faith for which there is scant evidence. Yet it is the one thing that has genuinely “trickled down” from the wealthy, so that many people without much themselves continue to despise those who are on a lower rung.

The answer to poverty, you see, lies with the poor themselves, be they drain-dwellers, Greeks, disabled people, or unemployed youth. We will give them bailouts, maybe charity, and lectures on becoming more entrepreneurial. The economy of empathy has crashed, and this putsch is insidious and individualised. No more cruel to be kind. We must be simply cruel.

The argument that there is enough to go round is now a fairytale, like winning the lottery. Poverty is not a sign of collective failure but individual immorality. The psychic coup of neo-liberal thinking is just this: instead of being disgusted by poverty, we are disgusted by poor people themselves. This disgust is a growth industry. We lay this moral bankruptcy at the feet of the poor as we tell ourselves we are better than that.

via Instead of being disgusted by poverty, we are disgusted by poor people themselves | Suzanne Moore | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Who Is To Blame For The Republican Clown Show? | Addicting Info

While the Presidential election is still 9 months away, it’s already apparent to a lot of Republicans that their party is in such disarray that it is unlikely they will be able to launch a serious challenge to the reelection of Barack Obama. Let the blame-game begin.

In a brilliant column in today’s New York Times entitled, The Possum Republicans, David Brooks decries all the “mainstream” centrist Republicans like Sen. Richard Lugar (R. Indiana) who have surrendered their own principled convictions to please tea-party Republicans on the right whom he calls the ‘wingers.’

The result of all this pandering is that a political party that had traditionally been identified with national security, pro-business policies and keeping government lean and mean, is now seen by many Americans as disorganized circus starring a lot of frightening clowns. Many moderate Republicans like Lugar and Romney, have so capitulated their moderate positions on healthcare and reproductive rights to win the loyalty of the angriest, most insane elements of the Republican base, it is now impossible to identify what the party stands for and who are its leaders.

Brooks is all too aware of the damage done:

All across the nation, there are mainstream Republicans lamenting how the party has grown more and more insular, more and more rigid. This year, they have an excellent chance to defeat President Obama, yet the wingers have trashed the party’s reputation by swinging from one embarrassing and unelectable option to the next: Bachmann, Trump, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum.

Brooks accurately gauges the capacity of the “wingers” to participate in the democratic process:

“They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed. They don’t believe in trimming and coalition building. For them, politics is more about earning respect and making a statement than it is about enacting legislation. It’s grievance politics, identity politics.”

The result? A wishy-washy centrist like Romney who has changed his mind so many times on so many issues that neither independent voters or the “wingers” trust him. Can he really be the Republican standard-bearer? The old-guard knows that Santorum and Gingrich are losing propositions but the base is still hoping for an alternative.

And who would believe that just 5 years after being forced out of the U.S. Senate because of his bombastic brand of social conservatism, many Americans are today pondering the very real possibility of Rick Santorum becoming the Republican nominee? Even if Santorum doesn’t get the nomination, the damage is done: The wingers and the wish-washy centrists have turned the Republican Party into a joke.

via Who Is To Blame For The Republican Clown Show? | Addicting Info.

Images are from the Addicting Info article.

I remind you that Homer Simpson once went to Clown College! Perhaps he should run for the Republican nomination. He couldn’t do more damage than bush even if he caused a nuclear meltdown. Plus he’s had lots of experience!

GOP Primary Results: A Suicidal Cage Match – The Daily Beast

Mitt Romney dodged campaign disaster last night, pulling off a 3-point win over Rick Santorum in his home state of Michigan, while splitting the state’s delegates.

AP Photo (2)

But the real question is why the race was so close—and that says as much about the current state of the GOP as it does about Mitt’s uninspiring campaign.

Keep in mind that Mitt won Michigan by 9 points in 2008, defeating the state’s winner in 2000, John McCain. Romney was then the conservatives’ favorite candidate in the race, inspiring hosannas from church leaders and the talk radio crowd. He won “very conservative” voters overwhelmingly last time around, but he lost those voters last night to Rick Santorum, along with strong supporters of the Tea Party, blue-collar workers and evangelicals—in other words, his party’s populist base.

Questions about Mitt’s commitment to conservative principles are nothing new—he had already done a 180 on virtually every social issue in 2008. What’s changed is the elevation of hyperpartisan polarization within the Republican Party.

Republicans are learning that some of the conservative populist forces they encouraged to angrily shout down President Obama cannot be appeased without absolutism. You reap what you sow. In this extreme ideological cage match, removed from the majority of the American people, the GOP is left bloodied, bruised, and unenthused. The stakes right now feel like less about actually winning the White House than fighting to avoid general-election suicide.

via GOP Primary Results: A Suicidal Cage Match – The Daily Beast.

Will Olympia Snowe Join Third-Party Ticket? – Sounds like she could be a candidate for Americans Elect: Jonathan Chait

What’s Olympia Snowe up to? Her surprise decision to retire from the Senate came with what Jonathan Chait at New York magazine sees as an “unusually specific” statement about her desire to try to fix DC’s partisan ways. “I intend to help give voice to my fellow citizens who believe, as I do, that we must return to an era of civility in government driven by a common purpose to fulfill the promise that is unique to America,” she said.

To Chait, that sounds an awful lot like the stated intent of Americans Elect, a group trying to put together a third-party ticket for the presidency. And, hmmm, former Democratic Sen. David Boren also got behind Americans Elect yesterday. “Snowe and Boren would make for the kind of ticket Americans Elect is looking for,” writes Chait. “Is that the plan?”

via Will Olympia Snowe Join Third-Party Ticket? – Sounds like she could be a candidate for Americans Elect: Jonathan Chait. House Passes Bill That Will Make Protesting Illegal at Secret Service Covered Events

The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.

Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection…

via House Passes Bill That Will Make Protesting Illegal at Secret Service Covered Events.

GOP Senator Olympia Snowe to Retire – Big setback for Republicans in Maine

Republican Olympia Snowe said today she will retire from the Senate rather than seek re-election, reports the Kennebec Journal. The Washington Post sees it as bad news for her party in the very blue state of Maine. Democrats will likely be favored to take the seat the moderate Snowe has held for three six-year terms. She cited the bitter partisanship of DC in her decision:

“Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term,” she said in a statement. “So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate, which is what a fourth term would entail.”

via GOP Senator Olympia Snowe to Retire – Big setback for Republicans in Maine.

Olympia Snowe has been a fine U.S. Senator, and the federal government will be something less without her. We don’t agree on everything, naturally, but she was proved herself a rational and effective Senator.

Breaking the US’s Dominance: Beijing Wants Say in Choice of World Bank Head – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International

The first person to complain was a Brazilian. He saw “no reason” why the future president of the World Bank had to be of a certain nationality, Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said recently, speaking in the Brazilian capital Brasilia. Then came an angry outburst from Manila, where the Philippines’ Finance Minister Cesar Purisima said that it was time to rethink the selection of the head of the World Bank. They were speaking in the aftermath of World Bank President Robert Zoellick’s announcement on Feb. 15 that he would step down when his five-year term comes to an end on June 30.

The Bretton Woods Project, a group of development experts from Africa, Australia, Europe, South America and the United States, had already published an open letter on the Internet, in which it stated that the next president of the World Bank would also have to have the “open support” of the majority of the low and middle-income countries.

But another man left the strongest impression. Zoellick, 58, had barely issued his surprise announcement that he would not seek a second term when a representative of Beijing spoke up at a closed-door meeting of the 25 executive directors who make up the bank’s steering committee.

The Chinese official made clear in no uncertain terms that the days of American control over the filling of the post were over. Washington, he said, must submit to the same “open, transparent and merit-based selection processes” that the World Bank announced it would introduce for the filling of its top job two years ago.

According to the Chinese representative, only one applicant with “clear competency on development issues” could be chosen in April to head the 187-country organization. Beijing’s member of the exclusive group of executive directors received support from his Russian counterpart. The Kremlin representative argued strongly against an overly hasty decision regarding Zoellick’s replacement. He was apparently concerned about the possibility that the faster a decision is reached, the more likely it is that an American candidate will be chosen.

via Breaking the US’s Dominance: Beijing Wants Say in Choice of World Bank Head – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International.