November 26th, 2010
Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press
SEOUL, South Korea — Tension mounted on Friday near a South Korean island bombarded this week by North Korea as Pyongyang’s military again fired artillery, this time in what appeared to be a drill on its own territory. The North’s state-run media warned that a planned United States-South Korean military exercise could push the Korean Peninsula closer to “the brink of war.”
Meanwhile, South Korea struggled with the domestic political fallout from Tuesday’s deadly attack, which exposed the weakness of South Korean defenses and brought public criticism of President Lee Myung-bak for failing to retaliate more forcefully. On Friday, he appointed a new defense minister, whose predecessor resigned on Thursday for failing to keep forces at ready in an area that has seen repeated military clashes with North Korea.
North Korea’s state-run news agency lashed out at South Korean and American plans to hold a joint training exercise on Sunday in Yellow Sea waters near the island.
The exercises are to include the American aircraft carrier George Washington. Using its characteristically bellicose language, the Korean Central News Agency said that the North’s army was “getting ready to give a shower of dreadful fire and blow up the bulwark of the enemies.”
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching closer to the brink of war due to the reckless plan of those trigger-happy elements to stage war exercises targeted against” the North, the dispatch warned.
The arrival of the George Washington is intended as a warning to the North and a show of support for its ally, South Korea, following the Tuesday attack, the first by North Korea to strike civilians since the 1950-53 Korean War.
On Friday morning, the United States made another show of solidarity when the commander of American forces in South Korea, Gen. Walter L. Sharp, visited Yeonpyeong Island to survey the damage from the hour-long bombardment, which killed four South Koreans — two civilians and two marines.
But North Korea remained defiant, firing off artillery rounds right after the general’s visit. The rounds did not fall in South Korean territory but rattled nerves on the island nonetheless. A spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, Kwon Ki-hyeon, said the shots appeared to stay within North Korean territory, suggesting they were part of a drill — or perhaps an effort to spook the South Korean garrison on the small island, which sits within sight of the North Korean mainland.
News flashes of the artillery sounds set off a brief wave of alarm in Seoul, where the Tuesday attack has stirred anxiety and outrage because it harmed civilians. Residents gathered in front of television screens or paused in their tracks to check cellphone screens for updates.
The events this week have raised concerns in Seoul that the North may respond violently during Sunday’s naval exercises. Some media reports cited parallels between the K.C.N.A. report Friday and a warning issued by North Korea hours before Tuesday’s artillery barrage, which the North said was in response to a South Korean military maneuver held near the island earlier that day.
While reading the reclusive North’s intentions can be a challenge, experts said the Friday report was more vaguely worded, suggesting that it was intended as a broad warning to the United States and South Korea not to stray too closely to North Korean territory.
“It is a message that North Korea will not yield if it believes the joint military training infringes on its sovereignty,” said Kim Keun-shik, a professor of international relations at Kyungnam University.
To thwart another North Korean attack, the South Korean president, Mr. Lee has ordered reinforcements to the 4,000 troops now on Yeonpyeong and four nearby islands as well as more heavy weapons. But his government has come under intense domestic criticism for what has been depicted as an inadequate retaliation for Tuesday’s attack, which South Korean troops on the island responded to with a smaller artillery counterattack.
Mr. Lee appointed Kim Kwan-jin, a former chairman of South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff as defense minister. Earlier on Friday, South Korean officials had named another appointee for the spot, but then withdrew the name when he apparently failed to pass an internal vetting process.
South Koreans have begun to get their first look at the damage to Yeonpyeong’s small fishing town from reports by South Korean journalists describing a scene of devastation with dozens of homes burned out or flattened by the hour-long attack.
Television footage showed streets in the island’s main fishing port deserted by all but stray dogs after most civilians had evacuated the island. The island’s garrison of marines remained on high alert, with South Korean officials saying they were on the lookout for a reaction from North Korea to Sunday’s military exercise.
While the island bristles with artillery batteries and machine gun nests, South Korean officials said its forces were unable to fully respond to Tuesday’s attack because they have been trained and equipped to thwart a North Korean amphibious assault, not fight off a prolonged artillery bombardment.
While the garrison did shoot back with 155-millimeter cannons, officials in the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, said plans are afoot to reinforce the garrison with other types of heavy weaponry.
In his visit to the island, General Sharp expressed sympathy for those killed and said many lives appeared to be saved by the quick response of local civil defense officials, who herded townspeople into bomb shelters. He also called on North Korean People’s Army to refrain from further attacks and to hold talks on the incident.
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November 25th, 2010
November 25th, 2010
Since the two Koreas exchanged hundreds of artillery rounds Tuesday in an incident that killed two South Korean marines and two civilians, Seoul and Pyongyang have been blaming each other for instigating the attack. South Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young (who resigned Thursday after being criticized for what was called his poor response to the strike) says he suspects that two senior-level North Korean officers allegedly involved in the March sinking of the South’s warship, Cheonan, were behind this week’s attack. The North, on the other hand, claims that the South fired first.
Regardless of where the first shot came from, Pyongyang seems to have been setting the stage for this kind of attack as early as last year. For the past two years, the North Koreans have increasingly claimed that they were threatened by American and South Korean war games. So when the South conducted counter-proliferation drills with the United States last year, the North’s Korean People’s Army (KPA) declared that it will no longer be bound by the Korean Armistice Agreement and added that it “will not guarantee the legal status” of islands in disputed waters, including Yeonpyeong, the island that was shelled Tuesday. Translation: North Korea believes it is at liberty to attack should it feel provoked.
What’s more, a relatively unnoticed North Korean military drill in August suggests that Tuesday’s shelling may have been premeditated. On Aug. 9, the North fired about 100 artillery pieces toward South Korean waters. Later that day, North Korean drones were spotted hovering near Yeonpyeong. South Korean defense officials say they believe the North Koreans are using the drones to spy on the South’s troops and weapons stationed on islands such as Yeonpyeong. That, along with the sequence of the exercise, suggests that the communist North has been gearing up for an attack on the island for some time.
The North Koreans are justifying this week’s shelling as a “decisive self-defensive measure” in response to South Korean military exercises. It’s a logic they’ve been using since the early 1990s; Pyongyang has used U.S. and South Korean war games as a pretext to step up its belligerency, citing the “hostile policies of the U.S. imperialists and the South Korean puppet regime.”
This time, however, things could get worse. In the past, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il used the relatively moderate foreign ministry to keep the military in check so things don’t spiral out of control. But recently, the military appears to be increasingly asserting itself on policy matters. In the past two years, military organs such as the Supreme Command of the KPA and the National Defense Commission have been issuing policy statements directed toward the outside world -- something that was mostly done by the foreign ministry in the past.
More frightening is that there are reasons to believe that the military has become so emboldened and powerful that Kim Jong-il may no longer be the absolute leader who calls the shots in Pyongyang. For one, the Dear Leader’s physical and mental capacity has been declining—he reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008 and has grown frail since then. His third son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-un, lacks military credentials (although he recently and arbitrarily was elevated to the rank of general), and has to prove to the military that he has what it takes to be the next dictator-in-chief. That may explain why the Kims recently toured the base from which the shelling took place, to rubber-stamp the attack.
What’s ironic is that part of the military’s growing hubris could be of Kim Jong-il’s own making. In the late 1990s, he initiated his Songun—or military-first—policy, in which the KPA was elevated to the highest position in the government. Under that policy, Kim Jong-il sprinkled his generals with Mercedes, missiles and nukes. Now, experts say the military has become so powerful that the Dear Leader no longer can rein in his generals. “The military-first policy has essentially reached its logical conclusion—that Kim Jong-il is no longer in a position to make the final policy decisions,” says Kenneth Quinones, a former U.S. negotiator and Korea expert.
Meanwhile, the South Koreans will soon begin naval exercises in the Yellow Sea with the U.S. The exercises will involve the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which the Obama administration dispatched as a way to signal its displeasure about the shelling. In the eyes of North Korea’s generals, that may well constitute another excuse to get trigger-happy, again.
With Jerry Guo in New York
November 25th, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 7:52 AM
BANGKOK -- A new species of crocodile that lived 100 million years ago has been identified from a fossil found in Thailand, researchers said Thursday.
Komsorn Lauprasert, a scientist at Mahasarakham University, said the species had longer legs than modern-day crocodiles and probably fed on fish, based on the characteristics of its teeth.
"They were living on land and could run very fast," said Komsorn, who noticed the skull fossil in a museum in the summer of 2006. The 6-inch-long (15-centimeter-long) fossil was originally retrieved from an excavation site in Nakhon Rathchasima province, also known as Korat, but had not been identified as belonging to a distinct species.
The species has been named "Khoratosuchus jintasakuli," after Korat province, where the fossil was found, and the last name of the director of the Northeastern Research Institute of Petrified Wood and Mineral Resources, Pratueng Jintasakul.
The finding has been published a peer-reviewed publication of The Geological Society of London.
Northeastern Thailand has become an important site for paleontologists in recent decades. Numerous prehistoric fossils have been found in Thailand's so-called dinosaur belt, where fossil-rich Mesozoic-era sedimentary rock has been thrust to the surface.
Thai and French scientists began conducting joint research in the area in 1980 after a geologist seeking uranium found a dinosaur thigh bone in the late 1970s.
November 25th, 2010
By George F. Will
Thursday, November 25, 2010; The Washington Post
Winning California's state lottery with the first ticket he bought put Kevin McCarthy, then 20, on a path to becoming, in January, the third-ranking Republican leader of a House majority pledged to make government less bountiful. With the $5,000 he won in 1985, McCarthy opened a sandwich shop in a nook in a small mall in Bakersfield and hung a sign calling attention to it. When a government vehicle arrived, he thought city hall might have come "to give me the key to the city" as thanks for generating some jobs and sales tax revenue. But Bakersfield's bureaucracy wanted to complain about his sign, which somehow fell short of sign orthodoxy.
Annoyance led, as it often does, to politics. McCarthy served on the staff of the local congressman, then was elected minority leader in his first term in the state Assembly. He came to Congress in 2007, and in the 2009-10 election cycle he was chief recruiter of candidates, such as Rep.-elect Stephen Fincher from - really - Frog Jump, Tenn.
And Sean Duffy, the five-time world champion log climber (if you yawn you are not from northern Wisconsin) who forced Democratic Rep. David Obey, mighty chairman of the Appropriations Committee, not to seek a 22nd term. Duffy did so using ads McCarthy suggested, noting that Obey came to Congress before Woodstock and the moon landing.
McCarthy is one of the three intelligent authors (with Virginia's Eric Cantor, 47, soon to be majority leader, and Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, 40, incoming chairman of the Budget Committee) of a book with the unintelligent title "Young Guns." They should be auditioning for the role of Cicero, not Shane.
McCarthy has never been in a majority, in Sacramento or Washington. His 13-member freshman class elected in the dreadful (for Republicans) year of 2006 was the smallest cohort of new Republicans since the House was expanded to 435 seats in 1913. But he favors running the House in a way that would dilute control by the majority's leaders, of which he is to be one, and would make life sweeter for the minority: He thinks every member should be empowered to offer amendments to spending bills. That expresses his view - which also was the Founders', although they did not put it this way - that "the Senate is the country club, we are the IHOP."
The reason Republicans think winning the presidency in 2012 is essential to fulfilling the promise of 2010 is that Barack Obama, former paladin of change, will veto change. So McCarthy understands that, pending a Republican president, much of Republican governance must occur down in the weeds of government - in the Federal Register, the record of the regulations by which the executive branch exercises its will without much congressional supervision or circumscription.
But looking up from the weeds at the clouds, McCarthy has a dismaying desire to bring a "futurist" to speak to the Republican caucus each week. This betrays an unconservative faith in prophets - pursuing prophecy is a recipe for forfeiting the present - and is a depressing reminder of Speaker Newt Gingrich's swoon about Alvin Toffler's books "Future Shock" and "The Third Wave." Gingrich said of himself, oxymoronically, "I am a conservative futurist." Fascination with clairvoyants is, however, symptomatic of an unconservative hankering to surf supposed "waves" of history and to put government in the service of, and society in harness to, Big Ideas.
McCarthy was born in January 1965, the month when Democrats, their ranks swollen by 38 House members and two senators because of Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide, began the overreaching, a.k.a. the Great Society, that in 1966 produced losses of 47 House and three Senate seats.
The biggest threat to Republicans, who are currently flushed with victory, is, McCarthy thinks, the delusion that "they won the election. They didn't win anything." Rather, Democrats got themselves fired. McCarthy is too polite to say that the Democrats were terminated because they, like the president, misread the 2008 elections as much more than the electorate's pink slip for Republicans who were spendthrifts at home and blunderers abroad.
McCarthy says "this country likes to reelect its presidents." But it did not reelect one of the past two Democratic presidents (Jimmy Carter). And the one it reelected (Bill Clinton) had the advantage, as it turned out, of a bumptious new Republican House majority that made mistakes - e.g., the government shutdown - characteristic of people who, lacking the patience of politics, seek shortcuts to the future.