From inside North Korea: Sides must ease up on rhetoric

first_imgCategories: Editorial, OpinionPYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea’s capital city is awash in propaganda.Posters depicting missiles, some striking the U.S. Capitol, hang along major streets.In recent days, a million civilians, including high school students, factory workers and older men who long ago completed their military service, have signed up at the government’s request to fight the United States, if needed.“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is on the eve of the breakout of nuclear war,” Choe Kang Il, a senior Foreign Ministry official told me and three New York Times colleagues during a visit last week.Does that mean war is inevitable? “I think it depends on the attitude of the United States,” he replied.There is no sign of any unusual military mobilization in Pyongyang or along the perpetually tense border with South Korea to suggest imminent conflict. U.S., North Korean and South Korean soldiers stand duty as usual at the Demilitarized Zone separating the sides since the 1950-53 Korean War, and tourists, as well as journalists like us, still visit there. I most wanted to learn whether the North Koreans were open to nuclear talks with the United States and what it might take to get a deal.In the 1990s, the two sides reached an agreement that froze the North’s plutonium program for eight years and made progress on missile limits.But these initiatives fell apart in the George W. Bush administration, and today North Korea has at least 20 nuclear weapons and missiles that soon might be able to reach the continental United States, a level of technological prowess that President Donald Trump has said he won’t tolerate.In Choe’s telling, North Korea was driven to become a nuclear power in self-defense against the United State’s “nuclear blackmail,” sanctions, history of confrontation, and affront to the sovereignty and dignity of the state.The North must establish “a balance of power” to hold Washington at bay, finally replace the Korean War armistice with a permanent peace treaty and focus attention on economic development, he said.Therein seemed to be the answer to my question of whether and under what circumstances the North would be open to talks.Only when Washington makes a “bold decision” to end its military exercises with South Korea, halt sanctions and cease moves that diplomatically isolate North Korea can a dialogue between the two countries bear fruit, he added. Our interviews have persuaded me that it is also imperative for Washington to ease up on the rhetoric.Trump’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly last month crossed a line for many North Koreans because it made the fight deeply personal, disparaging Kim as “rocket man” and threatening to “totally destroy North Korea,” a country of 26 million people.The Trump administration insists there can be no talks until the North halts missile and nuclear tests for an unspecified period.Hence, stalemate, and a dangerous one.Allowing the shouting match and muscle-flexing on both sides to gather momentum can come to no good.Carol Giacomo, a member of The New York Times Editorial Board, is a former diplomatic correspondent for Reuters in Washington and covered foreign policy for the international wire service for more than two decades. Yet as Washington and Pyongyang confront each other over the North’s advancing nuclear weapons capability, the warlike rhetoric is escalating and, with it, the risk of conflict.After four days in North Korea, I am not at all sure that this standoff will end well.It was unsettling to hear ordinary North Koreans talk of war with calm acceptance and buy their government’s propaganda happy talk about certain victory over the United States.We also heard some people say that while they hate the U.S. government, they harbor no ill will toward Americans and would prefer to live in peace.One woman was nearly in tears describing her mixed feelings about the United States.I have been writing about North Korea since 1992, when President George H.W. Bush’s administration held the United States’ first meeting with Pyongyang since the Korean War to discuss what was then an incipient nuclear program. I had long wanted to visit.What made it possible now is that North Korea, the world’s least transparent country, has decided to embark on a charm offensive, inviting major U.S. news organizations on separate visits this year to learn more about its economic and political goals.center_img Our trip has not been without some risk, given the way the American student Otto Warmbier, who was detained in Pyongyang after allegedly trying to steal a poster, fell into a coma under circumstances that remain mysterious and died days after being returned to the United States.While I and the other Times journalists were invited by the Foreign Ministry (The Times paid all expenses), the diplomats don’t control the security services, and our attempts to report have been a balance between trying to get the most authentic information we can (a struggle) and not running afoul of security.Two government minders accompanied us except when we were in our rooms.We were allowed to visit a silk factory, the science and technology complex (computers are connected to an internal intranet, not the internet), an elite high school and an anti-American war museum, as well as an amusement park, restaurants and a dolphinarium — evidence of Kim Jong Un’s efforts to allow citizens of Pyongyang, where the elite live, opportunities for fun.Our requests to see the three remaining U.S. detainees were refused.Despite such controls, there have been some moments of spontaneous humanity.After dinner one night, a senior official led me briefly in ballroom dancing on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. More from The Daily Gazette:EDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homesEDITORIAL: Urgent: Today is the last day to complete the censusFoss: Should main downtown branch of the Schenectady County Public Library reopen?EDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidationEDITORIAL: Thruway tax unfair to working motoristslast_img read more

A debt-free alternative to student loans

first_imgCategories: Editorial, OpinionWith Americans owing more than $1.3 trillion in federal student-loan debt, some places are offering students an alternative:Pay us nothing up front, but give us a percentage of your future income.The government should encourage the spread of this innovation — with regulations that limit its risks.Similar to student loans, income-share agreements require students who receive financial aid to make scheduled payments after they leave school.But unlike traditional loan recipients, these former students don’t pay interest and aren’t locked into servicing debt indefinitely.Instead, they have agreed to pay lenders a share of their future earnings over a fixed period, with the exact percentage dependent on their major, profession and starting salary.These agreements also differ from income-based repayment plans, under which payments are capped at 10 percent of a former student’s income. Two bills in Congress with bipartisan backing offer a promising start.They would cap the percentage of income that recipients pay, establish a minimum income threshold for payment and limit the lengths of contracts.The legislation directs federal regulators to draw up model disclosure forms for lenders to provide students.Lawmakers should consider additional rules to deter unscrupulous lenders from discriminating against low-income students and those from families with low credit ratings.It’s unlikely that traditional student loans will be replaced by income-share agreements anytime soon, if ever.But at least Congress can help them become a viable option.More from The Daily Gazette:EDITORIAL: Thruway tax unfair to working motoristsFoss: Should main downtown branch of the Schenectady County Public Library reopen?EDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homesEDITORIAL: Urgent: Today is the last day to complete the censusEDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidation This is an existing program that should be expanded, but it is still a government loan. Income-share agreements do not require public money — and thus do not add to the public debt.A small but growing number of colleges and trade schools have introduced these agreements to help students cover tuition and fees.The upside for students is the protection from being saddled with unaffordable debt, should they end up unemployed or in low-paying careers.Students who enter high-paying professions, on the other hand, may pay back more than the initial subsidy they receive — which is what makes such agreements appealing to investors.The focus on future earnings also gives schools the incentive to teach students useful skills.Most important, as noted, these agreements don’t put taxpayer money at risk — a feature that’s particularly compelling given what the federal government expects to lose on its student-loan portfolio.But Congress and the administration need to establish rules that provide clarity to potential investors and protect students from abuses.last_img read more

Get facts straight on gun control issue

first_imgCategories: Letters to the Editor, OpinionI find it interesting when reading letters in The Gazette where the writers adamantly state their opinions without bothering to research their beliefs. A Feb. 24 letter from Geraldine Krawitz attacked Obama and the Democrats for inaction following the Sandy Hook shooting. She stated that “both the Executive branch and Congress were Democrat controlled” at the time of the tragedy and they “did nothing.”The 113th Congress convening in 2013 was Republican-controlled, as was the 112th during the preceding two years. A Democrat-sponsored bill to reestablish the assault weapons ban was brought to a Senate vote in 2013 but was defeated after strong NRA opposition. (Yes, some Democrats are beholden to the gun lobby). An earlier ban failed to be renewed in 2004 under Republican control. Obama was highly supportive of the legislation and issued 23 executive orders to help curb gun violence after Sandy Hook as per Wikipedia.We frequently hear that gun control legislation will unduly affect “law abiding citizens.” Let me point out that Nickolas Cruz was a “law-biding citizen” until the school shooting. Stephan Paddock was a “law-abiding citizen” prior to the Las Vegas massacre. Omar Mateen, Adam Lanza, James Holmes and the Columbine shooters all used legally purchased weapons to kill innocent victims.Wayne VirklerRexfordMore from The Daily Gazette:EDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidationFoss: Should main downtown branch of the Schenectady County Public Library reopen?Police: Schenectady woman tried to take car in Clifton Park hours after arrest, release in prior the…EDITORIAL: Urgent: Today is the last day to complete the censusEDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homeslast_img read more

Let’s repeal outdated, useless Law of Gravity

first_imgCategories: Letters to the Editor, OpinionThere is something that Get’s repeal outdated, useless Law of Gravity v. Cuomo and the state Legislature can do right now that not only will save money, but might save countless lives and relieve undue suffering. That action is to simply repeal the Law of Gravity. That law has been around since the 1600’s, and its biggest proponent was Sir Isaac Newton. However, this is the 21st century, and that law is now sadly outdated and has outlived its usefulness.The benefits to all New Yorkers are endless — senior citizens would no longer have to worry about slipping and falling, either inside their home or traveling to/from their home. We could eliminate costly school bus programs because kids would only need to get a running start. An added benefit would be the extra exercise that the kids would receive. And it just might help to wean them off of their cell phones. (One can only hope.)Unfortunately, falls from locations such as ski areas, mountains and tall skyscrapers would be unaffected due to the federal version of the law that has built-in mandates that can’t be changed. However, there are so many good things that would occur if only this law was repealed. Now is the time to act. I urge everyone to contact their local legislators to make this a reality.Ken TrumanAlbanyMore from The Daily Gazette:EDITORIAL: Beware of voter intimidationEDITORIAL: Thruway tax unfair to working motoristsFeds: Albany man sentenced for role in romance scamEDITORIAL: Find a way to get family members into nursing homesFoss: Should main downtown branch of the Schenectady County Public Library reopen?last_img read more

Return of the natives

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The PCP stable

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Industrial: Air inferiority

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River Island owner to develop in west

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Merrill Lynch targets Europe with $600m

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Capital gains

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