A Quieter Day, With Far Less Bluster, But Lots Of Sober Threats

North Korea Today Details Plan To Launch Missiles Into The Sea Near (Not At) Guam

The government-run Korea Central News Agency said its military is considering launching missiles that would fly across South Korea, Japan, and then continue on, landing in the ocean about 20 miles off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam. That path seems specifically designed to offend South Korea, Japan and the U.S. But in previewing such a launch, North Korea is going out of its way send the message that it’s not planning an attack. Of course, these launches may not happen at all.

But if they do, it would be a little different than previous missile launches, most of which have been almost straight up and straight down, into the sea of Japan. This would demonstrate the capability to hit certain targets if the North wanted to. So it’s covering all its bases.

Trump And Tillerson Continue Their Bad Cop/Good Cop Routine (Although We’re Not Sure The President Is Actually In On It)

After Trump’s “fire and fury” statement, the Secretary of State set down in Guam and said “Americans should sleep well at night and have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the past few days.” He pointed out with China and Russia finally supporting UN sanctions, and North Korea actively dialoguing at a meeting in the Philippines, it’s actually been a pretty good week for diplomacy. And he explained away Trump’s rhetoric, saying the President was just reaffirming America’s capabilities.

The on-camera comments by Tillerson were unusual, because he seldom makes on-camera comments:

Defense Secretary Mattis also chimed in. His contribution: translating Trump’s comments from “madman” into English:

Trump: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” = Mattis: “[North Korea’s] regime’s actions will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”

Our former colleague Mike Chinoy writes the real danger here is that the lack of clarity in what the Trump Administration is trying to achieve “opens the door for miscalculation”.

North Korea’s Rhetorical Response Is Uncharacteristically Subdued

The (former?) champions of igneous invective simply dismissing Trump’s “fire and fury” threat as “a load of nonsense”, and stating “sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason.” WEAK!

It also made fun of Trump’s fancy for golf. We do not know about Kim Jong-un’s affinity for the sport, but his father’s golf skills are the stuff of legend in North Korea. Possibly giving him and the President something to bond over? One of our colleagues mentioned today what we may be witnessing is two bullies beating the living crap out of each other in a schoolyard, and then emerging as best buddies.

As remote as this possibility may realistically be, it does underscore a unique “advantage” Trump has over anybody else who might have held the office of President: he doesn’t seem to care much about human rights, and embraces no obligation to help spread Democratic principles.

How Can You Enforce Sanctions Involving People Who Do Not Officially Exist?

The South China Morning Post has an interesting and harrowing story about groups of North Korean workers sent overseas (mostly to China and Russia border towns) in order to generate hard currency for the ruling regime. The UN considers these workers to be slaves because most of their wages are turned over directly to the government. Still, the 3-year overseas stints are apparently in high demand.

The new UN sanctions ban this, but transactions involving these workers tend to be done without much paperwork, if any, to avoid being tracked.

Pre-Dawn FBI Raid On Trump’s Former Campaign Chief

Even though the raid on Paul Manafort’s home in Virginia happened more than 2 weeks ago, it’s important because as the New York Times points out, raids do not happen unless investigators can prove they have “probable cause” to believe they’ll find evidence a crime has been committed.

The fact that this story did not come out until 2 weeks after it happened is again testament to the relatively leak-free environment Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team maintain, (and shows that controlling leaks are really only a matter of will). But the lack of leaks from Mueller’s team has also left them open to attacks, as others leak all kinds of stuff about them, and they cannot respond.

Coincidentally, the Manafort raid occurred on the same morning Trump Tweeted his “ban” on transgender people in the military (which the President has yet to follow up on in any way.)

Real Bipartisan Progress On Obamacare?

The best health care reporter around, Vox’s Sarah Kliff says yes. She reports that a very mixed group of Liberals and Conservatives have come up with a plan to fix Obamacare they all agree upon. It maintains cost-sharing payments to insurance companies, modifies the individual mandate, and allows states more flexibility in administering their own health care programs. But Kliff says none of that is revolutionary or new; what’s really important is that the coalition of people involved are not centrists, and are very powerful.

Meanwhile, this morning Trump continued to attack Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter, calling again for him to get back to work on killing Obamacare. McConnell’s become the target of Trump’s invective since he suggested the President might’ve had “excessive expectations” for what could be accomplished legislatively in a short period of time.

And There Was A Giant Trump-Like Chicken Near The White House

Things can’t be all that bad yet in this country if a filmmaker applied for and got permits from the National Park Service and the Secret Service to display a giant inflatable chicken in full view of the White House. The chicken, which has made appearances at previous protests, became a huge tourist attraction. The real Trump missed the spectacle. He’s currently roosting (but not resting!) at his golf club in New Jersey.