EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 14, 2013

Nation and world news


The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Behind North Korea’s threats is a complex and curious logic

To the outside world, the talk often appears to border on the lunatic, with the poor, hungry and electricity-starved nation threatening to lay waste to America’s cities in an atomic firestorm, or to overrun South Korea in a lightning attack.

Enemy capitals, North Korea said, will be turned “into a sea of fire.” North Korea’s first strikes will be “a signal flare marking the start of a holy war.” Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal is “mounted on launch pads, aimed at the windpipe of our enemies.”

And it’s not all talk. The profoundly isolated, totalitarian nation has launched two rockets over the past year. A February nuclear test resulted in still more U.N. sanctions. Another missile test may be in the planning stages.

But there is also a logic behind North Korea’s behavior, a logic steeped in internal politics, one family’s fear of losing control and the ways that a weak, poverty-wracked nation can extract concessions from some of the world’s most fearsome military powers.

It’s also steeped in another important fact: It works.

Senate Democrats facing re-election in 2014 under scrutiny in gun debate

President Barack Obama’s push for tougher gun measures and expanded background checks has placed several moderate Senate Democrats facing re-election next year in a bind, forcing them to take sides on a deeply personal issue for rural voters.

The choice: Either they stick with Obama and gun control advocates — and give an opening to campaign challengers and the National Rifle Association to assail them — or they stand with conservative and moderate gun owners back home worried about a possible infringement on their rights.

Five Senate Democrats — Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Max Baucus of Montana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — are seeking another term in states carried by Republican Mitt Romney last fall. For the next few weeks, at least, the spotlight will be on how they maneuver as the Senate debates gun-control legislation pushed by Democrats in response to the deadly Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting.

Two other GOP-leaning states with large numbers of gun owners — West Virginia and South Dakota — will have open seats following Democratic retirements. Republicans have placed many of these states at the top of their priority lists as they try to gain six seats to win back the Senate majority.

Debate begins next week on Senate legislation that would require nearly all gun buyers to submit to background checks, toughen federal laws banning illicit firearms sales and provide more money for school safety measures. The background checks are viewed by gun control advocates as the best step to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from accessing weapons. The NRA has opposed the expansion of background checks, saying it could lead to federal registries of gun owners. It has sought better enforcement of existing laws, which it contends is too easy for criminals to circumvent.

Upper-income seniors would pay more under Obama’s budget

President Barack Obama’s plan to raise Medicare premiums for upper-income seniors would create five new income brackets to squeeze more revenue for the government from the top tiers of retirees, the administration revealed Friday.

First details of the plan emerged after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testified to Congress on the president’s budget. As released two days earlier, the budget included only a vague description of a controversial proposal that has grown more ambitious since Obama last floated it.

“Means testing” has been part of Medicare since the George W. Bush administration, but ramping it up is bound to stir controversy. Republicans are intrigued, but most Democrats don’t like the idea.

The plan itself is complicated. The bottom line is not: more money for the government.

Obama’s new budget calls for raising $50 billion over 10 years by increasing monthly “income-related” premiums for outpatient and prescription drug coverage. The comparable number last year was $28 billion over the decade.

US looks for China to deliver on North Korea, a strategy with uneven record

As North Korea prepares a potential missile test and issues threats almost daily, the Obama administration on Saturday looked again for China to force its unruly neighbor to stand down.

It’s a strategy that has produced uneven results over decades of American diplomacy, during which Pyongyang has developed and tested nuclear weapons and repeatedly imperiled peace on the Korean peninsula.

But with only the counterthreat of overwhelming force to offer the North Koreans, the U.S. has little choice but to rely on Beijing to de-escalate tensions in a peaceful manner.

The question of how Washington can persuade Beijing to exert real pressure on Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s unpredictable regime is front and center as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry conducts a series of meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing.

Kerry told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he looked forward to discussing the situation on the Korean peninsula with him. He was later to meet Premier Li Keqiang and other top members of China’s communist leadership.

Family lawyer: Calif. girl who killed herself was friends with boys who allegedly abused her

The parents of a 15-year-old California girl who took her own life after she was sexually abused and an explicit photo of the assault circulated among her classmates want the three boys who have been arrested in the case prosecuted as adults, a lawyer for the family says.

Authorities arrested the three 16-year-olds on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie Pott, a Saratoga High School sophomore who hanged herself in September. The arrests this week shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000 as new details of the case emerged.

“We’re talking about, other than murdering someone, the highest degree of a crime you could possibly do, which is to violate them in the worst of ways...and then to effectively rub her face in it afterwards,” Robert Allard, the attorney representing the teenager’s mother, father and step-mother, said Friday.

But lawyers for the three boys, whose names have not been released because they are minors, released a statement Friday asking the public to withhold judgment until their clients can give their side of the story, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“Much of what has been reported over the last several days is inaccurate. Most disturbing is the attempt to link (Audrie’s) suicide to the specific actions of these three boys,” the statement from San Jose attorneys Eric Geffon, Alan Lagod and Benjamin Williams reads. “We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent.”

Greinke could be out 8 weeks after getting hurt in brawl

Zack Greinke’s pitch sailed up and into Carlos Quentin’s upper left arm, and it was on.

A little personal history was at play, as were rules that aren’t in any rule book.

Now the Dodgers will be without their $147 million pitcher for at least eight weeks and Quentin was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball, pending an appeal, because of baseball culture and its fuzzy, unspoken guidelines on just when and how it’s OK to bean someone.

After Quentin got hit, the San Diego Padres’ slugger took a few steps onto the grass. When Greinke, Los Angeles’ prize offseason signing, appeared to say something, Quentin tossed his bat aside and rushed the mound. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Greinke dropped his glove and the two players lowered their shoulders. The 6-2, 240-pound Quentin — who starred as an outside linebacker in high school — slammed into the pitcher.

-Associated Press

Pope faces tough decisions as Vatican reforms loom

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has spent much of his first month as pope charming ordinary Catholics with his ordinary yet extraordinary papal ways and making clear he is very much the boss when it comes to decisions as small as the shoes he wears to where he rests his head at night.

In the coming months, he’ll face decisions of far greater import as he responds to demands from cardinals in far-flung dioceses and Vatican officials at home for an overhaul of the Holy See bureaucracy, the dysfunctional family business he inherited one month ago Saturday.

Given Francis’ governing style and track record, it’s likely he’ll make these choices with an eye to efficiency, and very much alone.

Prelates are demanding term limits on Vatican jobs to prevent priests from becoming career bureaucrats. They want consolidated financial reports to remove the cloak of secrecy from the Vatican’s murky finances. And they want regular Cabinet meetings where department heads actually talk to one another to make the Vatican a help to the church’s evangelizing mission, not a hindrance.

“It just doesn’t work either very quickly or very efficiently,” U.S. Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago, said. “Take marriage cases: People shouldn’t have to be asked to wait three, four, five, six years to get a response” for a request for an annulment.

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Package sent to Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio could have injured or killed

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona authorities say a package addressed to Sheriff Joe Arpaio discovered in a northern Arizona mailbox would have exploded if opened, leading to serious injuries or death.

Maricopa County Chief Deputy Jerry Sheridan made the comment Friday at a news conference in Phoenix. He said investigators are trying to locate one person who may have been involved in mailing the package addressed to his boss.

The package intercepted late Thursday was addressed to Arpaio at his downtown Phoenix office. It had been left in a parcel locker that was part of a multiple address mailbox in a rural part of Coconino County, outside Flagstaff city limits.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Keith Moore said a courier called his supervisor after noting it was suspicious, and the package was eventually brought into the main Post Office in Flagstaff. An X-Ray showed what appeared to be bomb-like components, including wires and a container, and authorities used a water cannon to neutralize the package, Sheridan said.

Arpaio, the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America,” said this isn’t the first time he’s been threatened. Arpaio is known nationally for his strict treatment of jail inmates and cracking down on illegal immigration.

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North Korea ready to test a missile? US focuses on limits to the Koreans’ nuclear firepower

WASHINGTON (AP) — On the brink of an expected North Korean missile test, U.S. officials focused on the limits of Pyongyang’s nuclear firepower Friday, trying to shift attention from the disclosure that the North Koreans might be able to launch a nuclear strike. They insisted that while the unpredictable government might have rudimentary nuclear capabilities, it has not proved it has a weapon that could reach the United States.

A senior defense official said the U.S. sees a “strong likelihood” that North Korea will launch a test missile in coming days in defiance of international calls for restraint. The effort is expected to test the North’s ballistic missile technologies, not a nuclear weapon, said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

Unless the missile unexpectedly heads for a U.S. or allied target, the Pentagon does not plan to try to shoot it down, several officials said. As a precaution, the U.S. has arrayed in the Pacific a number of missile defense Navy ships, tracking radars and other elements of its worldwide network for shooting down hostile missiles.

The tensions playing out on the Korean peninsula are the latest in a long-running drama that dates to the 1950-53 Korean War, fed by the North’s conviction that Washington is intent on destroying the government in Pyongyang and Washington’s worry that the North could, out of desperation, reignite the war by invading the South.

The mood in the North Korean capital, meanwhile, was hardly so tense. Many people were in the streets preparing for the birthday April 15 of national founder Kim Il Sung — the biggest holiday of the year. Even so, this year’s big flower show in Kim’s honor features an exhibition of orchids built around mock-ups of red-tipped missiles, slogans hailing the military and reminders of perceived threats to the nation.