The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

North Korea Makes Progress on Their Promise

President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands after signing documents during a summit at the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: A surprising, and welcome, sign of progress in North Korea; the White House floats a dumb and vindictive idea; Hollywood finds comfort in denouncing “toxic fans” when films disappoint; and a familiar face fans the flames of the 2020 presidential-campaign discussion.

Could It Be That Very, Very Slowly, the U.S. Policy on North Korea Is . . . Working?

Everyone could be forgiven for expecting the North Koreans to enjoy their global summit and then walk away laughing, confident that they had pulled another fast one on the Americans yet again.

But now there’s a little tangible evidence that maybe — just maybe — North Korea is willing to make a few tangible moves to keep the process moving in the right direction:

North Korea has started dismantling a missile-engine test site, as president Donald Trump said the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, promised he would during their historic summit meeting in Singapore in June, according to an analysis of satellite imagery of the location.

The North Koreans have started taking apart the engine test stand at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, said Joseph S. Bermudez Jr., an expert on North Korea’s weapons programs, in a report published on Monday on the website 38 North. The dismantling work probably began sometime within the last two weeks, he said.

North Korea has also started dismantling a rail-mounted building at the Sohae station where workers used to assemble space launch vehicles before moving them to the launchpad, Mr. Bermudez said.

Mr. Bermudez compared satellite photos of the Sohae facilities taken on Friday and Sunday to conclude that North Korea had begun taking “an important first step toward fulfilling a commitment made by Kim Jong-un.”

On Sunday, there were reports that President Trump was growing frustrated with the lack of visible progress with North Korea. On Saturday, the top U.S. military commander on the Korean peninsula, Vincent Brooks, said that the North Koreans had “gone now 235 days without a provocation.” That’s better than the alternative, obviously.

Maybe the adulation at the summit gave Kim Jong-un something he doesn’t want to lose.

Another Dumb, Vindictive, Half-Baked Idea . . .

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, yesterday: “Not only is the President looking to take away [former CIA director John] Brennan’s security clearance, he’s also looking into the clearances of [former FBI director James] Comey, [Former Director of National Intelligence] Clapper, [former CIA director and NSA director Michael] Hayden, [Former national-security adviser Susan] Rice, and [former deputy FBI director Andrew] McCabe. The President is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they’ve politicized and, in some cases, monetized their public service and security clearances.”

They’ve “politicized their public service”? Every former CIA director has done public interviews and weighed in on current events and U.S. policy. James Woolsey chaired the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, joined the Project for a New American Century, and advised John McCain and Donald Trump — until he quit the transition team after Trump started publicly criticizing the intelligence community.

You want to talk about former intelligence officials who became active in politics? How about Michael Flynn, who became one of Trump’s top advisers and surrogates? He headed the Defense Intelligence Agency until 2014; he joined the Trump campaign in February 2016.

Oh, what’s that? The Trump administration doesn’t like people with security clearances cashing in with book deals? I guess Trump and the administration are really upset about Michael Flynn’s Field of Fight, published in 2016, right? Hey, is there a clearer form of “monetizing” one’s former job and security clearance than secretly working as a lobbyist for the Turkish government — while working on a presidential campaign?

Oh, I see. This administration only has a problem with the security clearances and “monetizing” when the former official is an outspoken Trump critic. Unless they’re leaking classified information, that criticism is protected by the First Amendment.

For what it’s worth, both Comey and McCabe lost their security clearances when their employment with the FBI ended. Michael Hayden says that he no longer goes back for classified briefings. Clapper said yesterday that the president has the authority to revoke clearances, but that it would be “very, very petty.”

Look, if any of the figures that Sarah Huckabee Sanders listed have leaked classified or sensitive information, then the proper move isn’t revoking their security clearance — it’s referring the allegations to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation. Short of that, there’s no good argument for revoking the clearance. The criteria for a security clearance have always been, “Can this person be trusted with sensitive or classified information? Does this person have some vulnerability to blackmail or coercion?” The question has never been, “Does this person say things that the president doesn’t like?”

I realize that everyone is too blinded by partisan rage to look too far down the road, but if the Trump administration goes ahead with this move, then it’s a safe bet that a future Democratic administration will revoke the clearances of John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and the rest of the Trump administration national-security team. And dumb, blind, stupid, vindictive partisanship will claim another victim, weakening our government further.

An All-Female Remake of a Beloved Movie . . . Still Has to Be a Good Movie

Peter Spiliakos has a good article on the new trend of Hollywood’s creative class blaming “toxic fans” for movies that get less-than-sterling receptions, and how the “culture war is becoming the last defense of artistic mediocrity.”

After a while, condemning “toxic” critics can morph into an effort to drown out all critics. If you don’t like the movie (or rather say too loudly that you don’t like the movie), the bad guys win. One could adopt the common saying: If you have the law on your side pound the law. If you have the facts on your side pound the facts. If you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, pound the table.

If you can’t defend the movie on the merits, pound on “toxic fandom.”

The all-female Ghostbusters remake was generally awful, and it’s hard not to suspect that its creators were eager to blame “misogyny” rather than face the movie’s considerable flaws. The guys at RedLetterMedia did a pretty insightful video noting that besides the usual problems of remaking a beloved classic, the four lead actresses have all been funny in other work, and that one of the film’s problems was an inability to keep the balance between four comediennes ad-libbing and keeping the narrative going. (Profanity warning at that link.)

This summer’s Ocean’s Eight was . . . perfectly fine, although a little disappointing considering the level of talent accumulated. I notice that in Ocean’s Eleven, one of the key points is that, to protagonist Danny Ocean, the heist isn’t about the money at all — it’s all about getting the love of his life, Tess, back from the insufferable casino owner, Terry Benedict. The entire movie builds up to the moment where Danny can force Benedict to make a choice and prove to Tess that she’s less important to Benedict than the money. Besides Benedict’s smug arrogance, casinos make great villains. They lure people in, leave them penniless, and are associated in the public’s mind with the mob. As we root for the heroes, we’re certain that the villains have it coming.

In Ocean’s Eight, the all-female crew is robbing . . . Tiffany’s. What did Tiffany’s ever do to anyone?

ADDENDUM: Oh, good, former attorney general Eric Holder is thinking about running for president in 2020. The Democratic field in 2020 might make the Republican field in 2016 look small and cohesive. My guess is that the political parties don’t start thinking about ways to prevent the gadflies, riff-raff, also-rans, and never-weres from launching publicity-seeking, never-that-serious “campaigns” until 2021.

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