Experts: Cancellation of US-N. Korea Meeting Suggests Snag in Talks

The abrupt cancellation of high-level talks between the United States and North Korea suggests denuclearization negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have hit a snag, experts said. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was scheduled to meet with Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of the North Korean Central Committee, in New York City last week. However, the meeting was abruptly called off at the last minute. 

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said Thursday that Pyongyang canceled the meeting, in which discussions about the second summit between leaders Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were to take place.

“I do think the talks are going to be rescheduled,” said Haley. “And it doesn’t change the fact that the summit is still scheduled for the president and Kim to meet after the first of the year.” 

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said, “This is a case [where] we are dealing with a purely scheduling issue, and it’s just simple as that.” 

After the cancellation, Trump said, “We’re going to make it at another date.” He continued, “But we’re very happy how it’s going with North Korea. We think it’s going fine. We’re in no rush. We’re in no hurry.” 

Despite these assurances from the Trump administration that the talks will resume, experts remain skeptical. 

It’s ‘stuck’

“I think it is more than a scheduling issue,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a global affairs research group in Washington. “The negotiation process appears stuck.” 

Evans Revere, a former State Department official who negotiated with North Korea, said he thought the cancellation of the talks indicated that negotiations about denuclearization had stalled because of growing differences between Washington and Pyongyang. 

“There is a serious gap between Washington and Pyongyang over the issue of denuclearization,” said Revere. “There is an equally major gap on the issue of sanctions, with [North Korea] pushing for the U.S. to remove sanctions in order to improve relations and build confidence between the two sides, and the United States making clear that sanctions easing will not happen unless and until North Korea verifiably denuclearizes.” 

Breaking the impasse on denuclearization, according to Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association, will be difficult as neither side wants to back down from its position. 

Kimball said, “The cancellation of the meeting between Secretary Pompeo and Vice Chair Kim Yong Chol is disappointing but not surprising, given that neither side appears to be ready to take the necessary action-for-action steps on denuclearization and peace that would move the process along.” 

Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction during the Obama administration, said the meeting was called off because Washington and Pyongyang realized progress is unachievable at this time. 

“I assume the meeting was delayed because both sides realized that significant progress is not possible at this time, due to the major differences between the U.S. and [North Korea] on denuclearization,” said Samore. 

Direct talks with Trump

Michael Fuchs, deputy assistant secretary of state for eastern Asia and Pacific affairs during the Obama administration, said he believed Pyongyang was delaying lower-level negotiations to stave off pressure until it talked directly with Trump. 

“I think that it’s a reinforcement of a notion that the North Koreans are trying to drag out this diplomacy as long as possible and that they want to deal as much as possible directly with President Trump,” said Fuchs.  

After Pompeo went to Pyongyang in October, Steve Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, was expected to meet with North Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui. But that meeting never took place.

The deadlock in the Washington-Pyongyang talks cast doubt on prospects for North Korea’s denuclearization, experts said. 

“At present, I see no imminent prospect for real dismantling of [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons program and facilities,” Manning said. 

According to Revere, Pyongyang believes it can keep nuclear weapons and maintain its relations with Washington at the same time. 

“I continue to believe that Pyongyang does not intend to give up its nuclear weapons capability,” said Revere. “I also continue to believe that [North Korea] believes it is possible to have normal relations with Washington and Seoul and keep its nuclear weapons.” 

Instead of demanding complete denuclearization, Samore said, a realistic prospect is to limit North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. 

“Complete denuclearization was never a realistic prospect,” said Samore. “The only question is whether North Korea will accept meaningful limits on its nuclear program.” 

Critical report

On Nov. 8, Pyongyang rejected a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that expressed concern over North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear program. The agency described this as “deeply regrettable and clear violations of relevant United Nations Security resolutions.”

North Korea’s ambassador to the U.N., Kim Song, said in a letter addressed to the president of the U.N. General Assembly, “The report of the International Atomic Energy Agency neglects the positive developments of the Korean Peninsula this year and is consistent with prejudices and distortion.” 

“This shows that the IAEA has lost its impartiality as an international organization and is being abused for impure political purposes,” the ambassador said. 

More than a dozen undeclared missile bases were identified in new satellite images of North Korea, according to a report released Monday by Center for Strategic and International Studies, a U.S. think tank in Washington. Trump responded by calling the report “fake news”  adding “We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new — and nothing happening out of the normal.” 

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Texas Restores Keller Lesson; Other Curriculum Changes Loom

Bowing to public criticism, the Texas Board of Education voted Tuesday to restore Helen Keller to the state’s history curriculum — but board members were still mulling scrapping lessons on Hillary Clinton while preserving hot-button instruction about how Moses influenced the nation’s Founding Fathers and how the states’ rights issue helped cause the Civil War. 

The move came after its 10 Republicans and five Democrats heard hours of often impassioned testimony from students, teachers, activists and academic experts who in some cases defended — but more often decried — proposed edits meant to streamline academic standards for history.  

A final vote is scheduled Friday and the board can still make changes before then. 

Texas has about 5.4 million public school students, more than any other state but California. Teaching board-approved lessons isn’t always mandatory, but its sanctioned curriculum can affect what’s published in textbooks. Texas is a large enough market that its curriculum sometimes influences what goes into materials used elsewhere around the country — though that’s been less true in recent years as technology allows for tailoring what’s taught to different states and even individual school districts. 

For years, culture war clashes over how to teach history, as well as instruction on topics like evolution and climate change in science courses, have kept Texas’ Board of Education in the national spotlight. In September, it voted to preliminarily cut lessons on Clinton, the former secretary of state and unsuccessful 2016 presidential candidate, as well as Keller, an iconic activist who was deaf and blind. 

One of Tuesday’s most emotional moments came when a hearing and visually impaired student named Gabrielle Caldwell, 17, spoke about how Keller was the only connection many people have to the deaf and blind community. 

“I am hoping you keep Helen Keller being taught in our schools,” Caldwell said. “She’s a hero.”  

Hours later, the board voted to restore Keller to third-grade curriculums. There was little discussion and the lone objection came from David Bradley, a Beaumont Republican, who noted that Keller later in life voiced public support for eugenics.  

Keller aside, historians and college professors have for years criticized the board for putting politics over academics. But Board of Education Chairwoman Donna Bahorich, a Houston Republican, argued in an op-ed that the September moves weren’t partisan, noting that its members also voted to remove “conservative icon” Barry Goldwater, who ran an unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign. 

Lessons that ask students to explore Moses’ influence on political thinkers at the time of the founding of the United States have been in Texas curriculums since 2010. A panel of experts had proposed cutting those, but the board voted in September to preserve them. It also retained language that students learn how the “Arab rejection of the State of Israel has led to ongoing conflict” in the Middle East. 

The board also was mulling approval of language that sectionalism and states’ rights were “contributing factors” to the Civil War, while sanctioning language that slavery was a “central cause” of the conflict. 

Nearly 200 historians and scholars have signed a petition circulated by the Texas Freedom Network, a watchdog group and frequent board critic, which says the standards “resurrect the ’Lost Cause’ myth, a long-discredited version of history first promoted in the late-19th and early 20th centuries to glorify the Confederate past and reinforce white supremacist policies.” 

After hearing pleas from testifiers Tuesday, the board also voted to restore a previously trimmed second-grade lesson about the Women Airforce Service Pilots, civilians who flew during World War II and were the first U.S. women to pilot military aircraft. 

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‘Megafire’ That Torched Town Now Common in California 

Paradise, California had long prepared for wildfires but only in its worst nightmares did it imagine the kind of “megafire” that last week destroyed most of the town and killed at least 42 people.

Born of tinder dry conditions and erratic winds, the “Camp Fire” was the latest California megafire, a huge blaze that burns more intensely and quickly than anything the state has experienced before.

In recent years authorities in California have reported an increase in such large, explosive and swiftly spreading wildfires over a virtually year-round fire season.

Four out of the five largest fires in California history have occurred in the last six years.

No rain for over 200 days

Paradise had not seen significant rain for 211 days, and the town, on a ridge in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, was surrounded by a potential bonfire of dry or dead trees following a five-year drought that ended in 2017.

Less rain and longer droughts are the major cause of the blazes, which consume more than 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares), according to recent research by the U.S. Forest Service and University of Montana.

After a wildfire destroyed 87 homes in Paradise in 2008, the town of 27,000 put evacuation plans in place and fined homeowners if they did not clear brush and prune trees to reduce fire risk.

But all it took was some kind of spark on Camp Creek Road, west of Paradise, and “El Diablo” fall winds gusting up to 50 mph (80 kph), to unleash the most destructive and deadly wildfire in California history.

‘Not getting on top of it’

As the blaze roared west, devouring nearly 6,500 homes, it created its own fire whirlwinds or “firenados,” incinerating an area equivalent to 80 American football fields (100 acres) per minute.

“This event was the worst case scenario. It was the event we have feared for a long time,” local sheriff Kory Honea told reporters.

This has been one of the state’s worst fire years, with nearly twice the acreage burned so far compared with 2017 in areas managed by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire).

Minimizing the impact

Former U.S. Forest Service officials such as Jerry Williams say too much emphasis is put on fighting fires instead of accepting that they are a natural part of the environment and minimizing their impact. Forests that for millennia had fire as part of their ecosystems have become choked with growth and unhealthy, and ultimately tinder for megafires, he said.

“Every year we set a new record, we invest more in suppression, invest less in mitigation and wonder why we’re not getting on top of it,” Williams, a former director of fire and aviation for the U.S. Forest Service, said in an interview.

Fire officials say the trend to larger, more destructive fires is driven by drought-stricken vegetation, erratic winds and triple-digit temperatures that are part of climate change.

President Donald Trump has blamed California’s failure to thin fuel-choked forests.

Many factors

Cal Fire spokeswoman Lia Parker said there were a lot more factors at play than cutting down trees.

“A lot of it is climate related; we’ve seen a significant increase in temperatures; we’ve seen an increase in dry and dead conditions,” Parker said.

As the Camp Fire raged, similar conditions nearly 450 miles to the south were fueling the Woolsey Fire, which killed two people and destroyed 370 homes near Los Angeles.

“It was a fire storm, the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Malibu resident Tony Haynes, 59, who fought the blaze as it threatened his home.

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US VP Pence Seeks ‘Update’ on Trade Talks with Japan

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday that he was looking forward to an “update” on talks about a bilateral trade agreement that President Donald Trump hopes will cut Tokyo’s trade surplus with Washington.

Pence, who is in Tokyo at the start of a broader Asian visit, also said he would discuss with Abe how Tokyo and Washington could work to advance the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and said the United States remained committed to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”

“I look forward to our candid conversation and to an update on the discussions toward a bilateral trade agreement” that Trump and Abe agreed to initiate at a summit in September, Pence said at the start of his talks with Abe.

“I also look forward to discussions on how we can continue to work closely on advancing the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Pence said, adding, “We are grateful Mr. Prime Minister for your strong and steadfast leadership.”

Trump has criticized Japan over trade, asserting Tokyo treats the United States unfairly by shipping millions of cars to North America while blocking imports of U.S. autos and farm products.

Japan says its markets for manufactured goods are open, although it does protect politically sensitive farm products.

Before meeting Abe, Pence met Finance Minister Taro Aso, who had said before that meeting that he did not expect to discuss possible auto tariffs with the vice president.

In September, Abe and Trump agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that appeared, temporarily at least, to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs on their exports, which make up about two-thirds of Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Japan has insisted the new Trade Agreement on Goods would not be a wide-ranging free trade agreement, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he was aiming for a full free trade deal requiring approval by Congress.

The U.S. Commerce Department has submitted draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts on national security grounds, two administration officials said in Washington.

In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at a summit in Singapore, but there has been little headway on specific steps.

A planned meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in New York on Thursday was cancelled.

The State Department gave no reason for the delay.

A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile operating bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for U.S. negotiators to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

Japan has said it will not normalize relations with Pyongyang until it takes irreversible and verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and reveals the fate of all Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents and return any who may still be alive.

After meeting Abe, Pence will head to Singapore for a meeting of regional powers and then to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.

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Fewer Foreign Students Apply to US Universities

The U.S. still attracts record numbers of international students, but the sticker shock of college tuition and negative political rhetoric is slowing down the robust rate of application seen over the past decade.

The U.S. remains the top destination in the world for more than 1 million visiting students — hosting more than double the next country, the United Kingdom. But while 1.5 percent more students studied in the U.S. last year, the rate of new enrollments — specifically, undergraduate students — declined by 6.6 percent, a trend first seen the preceding year, according to the Institute for International Education’s (IIE) annual Open Doors report.

“These relationships are critical in a competitive marketplace,” said Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, bringing $42 billion and 450,000 jobs to the U.S. economy.

But tuition costs — around $20,000 a year for public institutions to more than $70,000 for elite private universities — make the U.S. look less attractive to international students, as global competition increases, educators said.

Sixty-five percent of international students rely on “international funding sources” said IIE spokesperson Catherine Morris, “with well over half of all students (59 percent) funded through their own personal and family funding.”

Among undergraduates, 82 percent rely on personal and family funding. Most are not eligible for financial aid at U.S. schools.

Over the past 30 years, said Rajika Bhandari, research and strategy senior adviser at IIE, costs increased 213 percent at U.S. public institutions and 130 percent at private U.S. institutions.

Foreign countries have taken note and are attracting students with far less expensive tuition and pathways to permanent residency or citizenship.

“There are real competitive countries out there. It used to be Britain and America,” said Allan Goodman, IIE’s president and former executive dean of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “Governments, as part of their international policy, want more students from there and here. The U.S. has real competition.”

“Canada,” said Moninder “Holly” Singh, senior director of Arizona State University’s International Students and Scholars Center, “they’ve done an amazing job at taking the market from us. It doesn’t seem obvious in the U.S. … They are creating pathways that are simpler than us.”

Once an international student graduates in Canada, they can get permanent residency status after working for one year. “Here,” Singh said, “we have people from China and India who might be here 15 years before they can get that.”

Pathways to citizenship are important to international students whose home countries have not reached the same quality of life and excellence in education. Many students — the best and brightest immigrants from their countries — want to work in the U.S. before returning home. Or they want to stay in the U.S., where freedom, excellence and innovation have been hallmarks of the economy.

China and India send nearly half of all international students, 363,341 and 196,271, respectively, to the U.S. A currency correction in India two years ago wiped out funding sources for many students there hoping to head to the U.S. And Chinese students, who dominate the population of international students, report growing discontent with paying full tuition next to subsidized domestic students.

“The current financial model for higher education isn’t sustainable,” offered Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “We can’t raise tuitions and have burgeoning loan debts” for international or domestic students.

The Open Doors report is “really an urgent call for colleges and universities to take a comprehensive look at the way we deliver education,” said AACU’s Pasquerella. “I worry that some institutions are relying on old models and are so tuition-driven, and that we need to look at alternative sources of revenue. It requires us to be innovators.”

In addition to costs, international students and their families tell educators they are daunted by political rhetoric, feeling unwelcome and wondering if the U.S. is a friendly and safe place to study. The Trump administration’s immigration policies have limited student visas and how they are administered.

“We became complacent that we’re a preferred destination,” said Robin Lerner, president and CEO of the Texas International Education Consortium, “and we suffered from an over reliance on a number of countries where governments were funding large numbers of students” like Saudi Arabia and Brazil.  

However, Lerner added, “while there are many factors that enter a student’s decision-making, political rhetoric that makes students feel unwelcome or unsafe does not help.”

Safety issues, too, trouble international applicants, educators said, who ask if their children will be safe in the U.S.

“If you look at the national news, why, goodness, would you send your child to the U.S.?” Pasquerella asked. “Students killed in California and in Florida. Who would encourage people to come here under these circumstances?”

Anti-immigrant comments are “inflammatory,” said University of Southern California’s Timothy Brunold, dean of admissions. He said he travels internationally often, speaking with prospective students and their families.

“I am endlessly questioned about this. ‘Will my son or daughter be welcomed in the United States? Will they get a visa, but will it be taken away? Will there be an opportunity to work in the U.S. Or will there be a limit?’” Brunold said.

“Yes, we are hearing that, too,” said University of Colorado-Boulder’s Natalie Koster Mikulak, associate director of international admissions.

The uncertainty and future of American immigration policy daunts some students, who worry about how and how quickly visa regulations will change. Going home for a family event — like a relative’s illness or a celebration — is sometimes skipped for fear of leaving the country.

While experts said the dip in new enrollments can be attributed to a mixture of factors, the slide in numbers coincides with the so-called travel ban that limited immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries in early 2017. When ordered, President Donald Trump said it was a national security measure.

The orders had a chilling effect on international student enthusiasm for the U.S., experts said. If a student’s visa is rescinded before graduation, they might have to start over in another country.

Educators pushed back. 

“It is vital to our economy and the national interest that we continue to attract the best students, scientists, engineers and scholars,” the Association of American Universities stated in a January 2017. “That is why we have worked closely with previous administrations, especially in the wake of 9/11, to ensure our visa system prevents entry by those who wish to harm us, while maintaining the inflow of talent that has contributed so much to our nation.” 

Nearly two years later, the U.S. limits student and exchange visas only to Syria and North Korea, said Laura Stein, visa policy analyst at the Bureau of Consular Affairs last week. Stein said applicants from those countries may apply for a waiver from the presidential proclamation. As of Oct. 31, 2018, she said, 2,072 waivers have been granted.

National security, educators said, is built on sharing American democracy and standards with international students who will carry that positive relationship with them throughout their lives.

“We see time and time again that non-U.S. students come back,” Lerner said. “They send their kids here. … It pays dividends. We need more diplomats.”

“International students studying alongside Americans are a tremendous asset to the United States,” Royce said. “We need to develop leaders in all fields who can take on our toughest challenges. We need people who can find solutions that keep us secure and make us more prosperous. We want to send a message that international education makes us stronger as a country.”

“We may have been the undisputed leader in the world,” said Brunold. “We might be starting to see some cracks in that.”

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US Acting AG Will Consult With Ethics Officials on Possible Recusals

Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will consult with ethics officials about any matters that could require him to recuse himself, the Justice Department said on Monday, after critics called on him to step aside from overseeing a Special Counsel probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Acting AG Matt Whitaker is fully committed to following all appropriate processes and procedures at the Department of Justice, including consulting with senior ethics officials on his oversight responsibilities and matters that may warrant recusal,” spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement.

Whitaker became the acting attorney general last week after President Donald Trump ordered Jeff Sessions to resign following months of criticizing him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which Trump has repeatedly called a “witch hunt.”

Sessions’ recusal paved the way for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Special Counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017.

The investigation has already led to criminal charges against dozens of people, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

With Whitaker’s appointment, Rosenstein is no longer in charge of the Russia probe. Democrats in Congress have said they fear Whitaker could undermine or even fire Mueller after he expressed negative opinions about the probe before joining the Justice Department as Sessions’ chief of staff in October 2017.

On Sunday, top Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department’s chief ethics officer to ask whether Whitaker had received any guidance on possibly recusing himself from the Russia probe.

“Allowing a vocal opponent of the investigation to oversee it will severely undermine public confidence in the Justice Department’s work on this critically important matter,” the letter said.

Democrats have also raised questions about whether Whitaker’s appointment was legal under the Constitution because Trump ignored a statutory line of succession and deprived senators of their “advice and consent” role.

San Francisco’s city attorney said on Monday his office may take legal action if the Justice Department does not provide a legal justification for Whitaker’s appointment.

The city has four cases proceeding in court that name Sessions as a defendant, including one which led to an injunction blocking a Trump executive order over “sanctuary cities” that the administration claims are protecting illegal immigrants from deportation.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that the Justice Department expects to publish a legal opinion supporting Whitaker’s appointment.

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Forecasters Warn Dry, Windy Conditions Could Fuel California Fires

As deadly wildfires burned at multiple sites in the western U.S. state of California, forecasters warned the dry, windy conditions fueling the fires will be in place through at least Tuesday.

Thousands of fire personnel are trying to contain the Camp Fire burning north of the state capital, Sacramento, which began last week and has killed at least 29 people. Authorities said 228 people are still unaccounted for.

Fire officials say the fire is about 25 percent contained and has destroyed some 6,600 buildings. It is the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history.

Evacuations were ordered for the east side of the neighboring town of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people, as flames from the blaze were being driven by 56 kph winds.

The winds helped the fire nearly quadruple in size between Thursday and Friday, complicating evacuation efforts.

 

The Butte County Sheriff’s office said the victims were mostly found dead inside or near their cars. The sudden evacuation led to highway gridlock, forcing some to flee on foot.

In southern California, a pair of fires erupted last week — the Woolsey Fire and the nearby Hill Fire. Firefighters have been able to bring the Hill Fire to 75 percent containment, while the Woolsey Fire was 15 percent contained on Monday.

Authorities have reported two deaths from those fires.

The Woolsey Fire is threatening about 75,000 homes in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles.

Ventura County is also the location of a mass shooting this week that killed 12 people.

The mayor of the city of Thousand Oaks, where the mass shooting took place, says three-quarters of his city is under fire evacuation orders.

President weighs in

U.S. President Donald Trump, while in France for the centenary remembrance of the end of World War I, continued to blame state forest managers for the devastation, but did not mention years of drought in the most populous U.S. state.

“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get Smart!” Trump said on Twitter.

Earlier, he warned California residents that the “fires are expanding very, very quickly (in some cases 80-100 acres a minute). If people don’t evacuate quickly, they risk being overtaken by the fire. Please listen to evacuation orders from State and local officials!”

He said 4,000 firefighters are battling the Camp and Woolsey fires that had burned nearly 70,000 hectares. “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires, the 52,000 who have evacuated,” and the families of those who have been killed. “The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”

But he contended, “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!

Officials disagree with president

But authorities in California disputed Trump’s assessment.

Brian Rice, president of California Professional Firefighters, said, “… nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management … It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California … At this desperate time, we would encourage the president to offer support in word and deed, instead of recrimination and blame.”

On Sunday, Rice told CNN that Trump’s statement was “stupid” and “callous” and did not take into account California’s seven-year drought.

LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at University of California Merced, told the San Francisco Chronicle Trump’s tweets oversimplified the issue in California.

“To have a president come out and say it’s all because of forest management is ridiculous. It completely ignores the dynamic of what’s going on around us,” he told the Chronicle. He said rising temperatures and longer spells of dry weather were behind an increase in not only the number of wildfires but their ferocity as well.

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Europe’s Calculations Shift on Trump Second Term

Calculations are shifting in European capitals on whether Donald Trump is likely to serve a second term as U.S. president. The consensus in Europe ahead of last week’s midterm elections was that he would most likely serve only one term in the White House, but the expanded Republican majority in the Senate is prompting a re-consideration.

That, in turn, is leading some European officials to argue that they will not be able just to wait out Trump for two years for a return to business as usual with a more traditional and Atlanticist Washington, but need to rethink now about the best approach to adopt towards a U.S. leader who largely sees foreign policy as a zero-sum game and is unsentimental about traditional American allies.

But there is little consensus on what to do.

A broad division is emerging among European policymakers — between those who argue they must take into greater account U.S. interests in a bid to try to improve strained transatlantic relations and those officials and leaders who want to adopt a more aggressive “Europe First” strategy on the grounds European courtship of Trump has already tried and failed.

The current debate is an echo of the one that followed Trump’s first few months in office, when European leaders were unnerved in their dealings with an American president very different from his White House predecessors and who eschews diplomatic norms.

In the run-up to last week’s midterm elections, many European policymakers made little disguise of their hopes that the Republicans would suffer a strong reversal in the polls, banking on the notion that a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives would be able to help them mold U.S. foreign policy more to their liking.

But the durability of Trump’s brand of populism has been partly emphasized by what observers call a “red wave” pushing the Republicans to strengthen their hold on the Senate. Some European policymakers and analysts say Trump could become even more difficult to handle from their perspective in the next two years.

They say he will likely double down on policies that roiled transatlantic relations in his first two White House years, which saw the U.S. leader pull America out of the Iran nuclear deal as well as withdraw from the Paris climate accord, lambast allies like Germany for running trade surpluses, and upbraid NATO allies for not spending more on Western defense.

“The formidable executive powers of the president, notably in foreign policy, remain untouched,” Norbert Röttgen, head of the foreign affairs committee in the German Bundestag, told Deutschlandfunk radio, shortly after last week’s midterms. “We need to prepare for the possibility that Trump’s defeat [in the House] fires him up,” he added.

With Trump now looking to begin his run for re-election in earnest, Röttgen and others say he will be keen to galvanize his base of fervent supporters, and that with the House controlled by the Democrats, he has more room for maneuver to do that with foreign policy than when it comes to domestic issues.

“Transatlantic alliances are fraying,” warns Peter Westmacott, a former British ambassador to the U.S. “The change of majority in the House will do little to alter U.S. policy on issues where America’s allies have differed with Trump, like climate change, Middle East peace, trade policy, Iran, Russia and the importance of international institutions,” he says.

Martin Kettle, a columnist with Britain’s Guardian newspaper says the midterms suggest that the Trump foreign policy revolution will become more entrenched. “He is more likely than ever to win a second term, especially if the Democrats are divided. These midterms therefore tell the rest of the world something very important. They tell us that America First is not going away, that it is on course to be the new normal, that it is not some unfortunate aberration that can be reset to the status quo ante of 2016,” he argues.

Here for the short-term or a longer term, Trump’s “America First” policy remains an awkward challenge for European leaders and is propelling some to advocate for a counterbalancing “Europe First” policy. But European divisions — as well as fears — are hampering any agreement on that.

British and German officials fault French President Emmanuel Macron for impetuosity, arguing his Gaullist pitch last week for a Euro-army and talk of Europe needing to free itself from military dependence on America was reckless at a time of growing transatlantic rift. Both Britain and Germany are deeply skeptical of Macron’s idea for a Euro-army. Skeptics say such a military could never make up for American military might and its importance for European defense.

As Macron was unveiling his Euro-army proposal on the eve of Donald Trump’s arrival last week in France for the centenary commemoration of the end of World War I, Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, was striking a different, more placatory note. While acknowledging the midterm elections are unlikely to ease transatlantic tensions, he tweeted: “The United States remains our most important partner outside of Europe. We need to reassess and align our relations with the United States to maintain this partnership.”

In the immediate wake of the midterm elections, some European leaders are likely to make a greater effort to identify the few policies on which they can agree with the Trump administration. They are also likely to redouble efforts to reach agreement with Washington to solve trade disputes, say analysts.

One outcome might be greater European support for Trump’s China policy. Writing in Britain’s Daily Telegraph, former British foreign minister William Hague praised Trump for calling out Beijing for its “deeply protectionist and nationalistic policy,” unfair trading practices and theft of Western technological know-how, labeling it “one of Trump’s achievements.” He is calling on other Western and Asian nations to wake up to the dangers of the critical threat China poses to the West.

 

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US-bound Migrants Reach Central Mexican City of Irapuato 

Migrants from Central American countries are moving on toward the United States, sometimes with the help of drivers traveling north. 

A caravan arrived Sunday in Irapuato, an agricultural city about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Queretaro, where the group had spent Saturday night. 

Although Mexican law enforcement is not providing transportation for the caravan, police are helping them find vehicles for rides. 

The government of Queretaro said in a tweet that 6,531 migrants had moved through the state between Friday and Saturday and 5,771 of them departed Sunday morning from the shelters they were using. 

Although the caravan is over 2,500 kilometers (1,550 miles) from the U.S. border, the route taken indicates that migrants are eyeing the Mexican city of Tijuana across the border from the U.S. city of San Diego. 

Many of the migrants, who have been on the road for weeks, say they were forced to leave their countries of origin because of poverty, gang violence and political instability. They are primarily from the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. 

The migrants became a campaign issue in U.S. midterm elections, and President Donald Trump has ordered the deployment of over 5,000 military troops to the border to prevent them from entering the United States illegally. 

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US-Backed Syrian Fighters Resume Offensive Against IS

U.S.-backed Syrian fighters resumed their ground offensive Sunday against the Islamic State group in the last territories controlled by the extremists in eastern Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Forces said in a statement that the decision to resume the fighting came after threats from Turkey against the Kurdish-led force dropped due to diplomatic activities.

 

The SDF said in late October it was temporarily suspending its campaign against IS in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, accusing Turkey of jeopardizing its efforts.

 

The group said that the aim of the renewed operation that began two months ago is “to work for the final defeat of Daesh organization,” using an Arab acronym to refer to the group.

 

Turkey considers the SDF a terror threat and an extension of Kurdish rebels waging an insurgency within Turkey. U.S. support for the Kurdish-led forces has resulted in increased tension between Washington and Ankara.

 

Last month, in a spike in tensions, Turkey said its military shelled Kurdish positions across the border in Syria, east of the Euphrates River.

 

Since SDF suspended operations, IS has launched several offensives that have left scores of U.S.-backed fighters dead or wounded.

 

Despite the cessation of ground operations, the U.S.-led coalition continued with its airstrikes against the extremist group.

 

The SDF said its fighters captured a senior IS commander in the northern city of Raqqa which until last year was the de facto capital of the extremists.

 

“This shows that the organization still has roots and sleeper cells in liberated areas,” it said.

 

 

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