High Hopes
June 26, 2019

There has been speculation that a recent series of letters between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — Trump called Kim's "beautiful" while Kim dubbed Trump's "excellent" — might lead to a third summit between the two leaders, after the second summit ended in February with no progress on denuclearization. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that in fact U.S. and North Korean officials are holding "behind-the-scenes talks" to arrange a third summit, in an unspecified time and place. He didn't say if the talks were face-to-face or who participated.

"There's no reason to regard the current situation as a stalemate in the peace process on the peninsula just because the pace has remained slow," Moon wrote in response to questions from seven news organizations, including The Associated Press. "Complete denuclearization and a permanent peace regime on the peninsula are tasks that cannot be achieved overnight." Trump is traveling to Japan for a G20 summit on Friday, before heading to South Korea to meet with Moon, and "he is reportedly considering a visit to the demilitarized zone that divides the two Korea," CNN reports, citing a South Korean government official.

Earlier Wednesday, North Korea's foreign ministry slammed the U.S. for having "viciously slandered" Pyongyang by suggesting its sanctions will "bring us to our knees." The foreign ministry's statement criticized Secretary of State Mike Pompeo but not Trump, even referring to the president "as the 'supreme leader' of the United States," mirroring Kim's title in North Korea, CNN notes.

The foreign ministry is trying to distinguish the Kim-Trump "bromance from the relationship between their two countries," Duyeon Kim, an analyst at the Center for a New American Security, suggested to CNN. "It sounds like they're sending a warning to Washington, almost as if to manage expectations ahead of a third summit, while making an appeal to Trump to basically put a straitjacket on his staff." Peter Weber

May 20, 2019

The Trump administration is going to start unveiling its long-promised Israeli-Palestinian peace plan at a June 25-26 economic "workshop" in Bahrain, the White House announced Sunday. The conference, involving finance ministers and business executives, is being described as Phase 1 of the peace initiative, with the second part, dealing with difficult political solutions that have thwarted earlier peace attempts, being rolled out later this year.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the U.S. delegation with Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law. Kushner and Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt have worked on the plan for two years.

The goal of June's conference is to secure tens of billions of dollars from wealthy Gulf Arab states and donors in Europe and Asia. The reported target of $68 billion would go toward infrastructure, industry, and government reform in the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. "Just as they have done in their sometimes highly leveraged real estate businesses," The New York Times says, Trump and Kushner "hope to use other people's money to achieve their goals. The vast bulk of the funds they hope to generate as part of the plan would come from other nations, not the United States."

Middle East experts cast doubt on the efficacy of putting the economic carrots in front of the political thorns. Israel, whose government has only taken a harder line against Palestinians since the last election, is expected to send its finance minister. The Palestinian Authority, which has ruled out the Trump administration acting as peace brokers due to its pro-Israel leanings and actions, is not expected to send anybody. On Sunday, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the conference "futile," since "any economic plan without political horizons will lead nowhere," and any political plan that doesn't "include a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital" is a nonstarter. Peter Weber

June 13, 2018

California's secretary of state's office said Tuesday that a ballot measure to split the Golden State into three — California, Northern California, and Southern California — had gotten more than enough valid signatures to make it onto the November ballot. The initiative was spearheaded by Silicon Valley venture capitalist and cryptocurrency enthusiast Tim Draper, whose previous efforts to split California into six states failed due to insufficient valid signatures. If successful, the plan would potentially create the first division of a state since West Virginia was hewn off of Virginia in 1863.

Northern California would stretch from just north of Monterey across to Nevada and up to Oregon, encompassing the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, and Napa Valley wine country. New California would be a coastal stretch from Monterey down through Los Angeles, while Southern California would encompass the rest of Southern California, including Death Valley, San Diego, and Orange County.

California, the most populous U.S. state, is no stranger to attempts at geopolitical reinvention — in its 168 years as a state, more than 200 attempts have been made to split it apart, change its boundaries, or withdraw it from the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reports, with the most recent three-state split shot down in the state legislature in 1993.

But even if Draper's plan passes — a poll in April pegged it at 17 percent support, 72 percent opposition — it would face legal challenges, and California's legislature would almost certainly have to approve it, as would Congress. Both approvals are seen as unlikely. The plan would create four new U.S. senators and dilute California's Electoral College power. "Initial analyses suggest that Northern California and California would remain reliably Democratic, while Southern California would be a swing state," The Mercury News reports. Peter Weber

August 12, 2016

Republican insiders are much more pessimistic about Donald Trump's chances than plugged-in Democrats, at least according to the coterie of political activists, strategists, and operatives in 11 swing states that Politico calls The Politico Caucus. Almost half — 49 percent — of GOP insiders tell Politico that Trump's path to the White House is already a dead end, a sentiment shared by only 28 percent of the Democratic insiders. Politico also asked the insiders about Trump's trying to negotiate the terms of the three presidential debates; 47 percent of GOP insiders said Trump is right to threaten a boycott, while 53 percent said he should commit without preconditions right now.

As interesting as the numbers are, the quotes from the insiders, who responded anonymously, are the highlight of Politico's writeup. "While Trump's chances are incredibly slim, it's not over yet," one Colorado Democrat said. "Hillary's negatives are still high, and we have several more WikiLeaks data dumps coming up, and the potential for turbulence around the debates. It's possible the bar for Trump is so low that he can be declared the winner in the debates by simply not saying anything batshit crazy."

An Iowa Republican said that while candidates in the past have come back from greater poll deficits, "it won't happen in 2016.... Trump is underperforming so comprehensively across states and demographics it would take video evidence of a smiling Hillary drowning a litter of puppies while terrorists surrounded her with chants of 'Death to America!' But in 2016, stranger things have happened." You can read more colorful quotes, and the roster of the Politico Caucus participants, at Politico. Peter Weber

June 1, 2015

Joel McHale and Conan O'Brien have more in common than their freakishly tall stature, they discovered on Monday night's Conan. His show, Community, was "canceled by NBC," McHale noted, adding, "I don't know if you have any experience with that." After a round of boos from the audience, Conan deadpanned: "Nothing but smooth sailing with that gang." But both shows got second lives, Conan on TBS and Community on Yahoo.

After a great season on Yahoo, McHale said, he didn't know what the future held for Community. Yahoo said it is interested in more, though "I don't think we are, unless they pay me a lot of money." But fear not Community community. "I think we will do a movie, if Dan [Harmon, Community's creator,] will write the script," McHale added. You can watch the tease below. Peter Weber

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