North Korea's brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY TRENDING

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

The uneasy peace the US, North Korea, and South Korea observed over the course of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics doesn’t look built to last, as military exercises will begin shortly after the games.


Although the US and South Korea postponed joint military exercises during the Olympics, the drills wil continue “as planned” after the games conclude, the US Forces Korea told NK News on Feb. 20, 2018. The officials declined to comment on exactly when the drills would take place, but said they’d provide an update in late March or April 2018.

The US and South Korea usually hold three major military exercises each year, and they all focus on combatting North Korea while serving as a major irritant in the trilateral relations.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
‘2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games’ Medal. (Image via Republic of Korea Flickr)

Also read: Seven soldiers will compete in 2018 Winter Olympics

North Korea has said the military drills “can never be compatible” with talks between the North and South, but the US has made it clear that it wants denuclearization of the Koreas above all, and will achieve the goal diplomatically or militarily.

North Korea has a history of responding with provocations of their own and likely won’t suffer the military drills in silence. While North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs have advanced, they have not reached completion.

North Korea still needs to test a missile fired at range and to demonstrate it can build a warhead that can survive the journeys. Media from Pyongyang has previously suggested it might fire missiles at the US military in Guam or detonate a nuclear missile over the Pacific ocean to prove its missile-building prowess.

Related: North and South Korea grow closer at the Winter Games

But even as the countries return to old tricks and what often looks like a spiral of escalation, there’s reason to think it could be different this time around.

Reports from inside and around North Korea indicate the international sanctions campaign pushed by President Donald Trump seems to be working. With less money coming in and broad global support for isolating Pyongyang, the US may see North Korea continue to reach out to the South.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s the (failed) status of the first private lunar mission

April 11, 2019 Editor’s Note: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine released the following statement on the Beresheet lunar lander: “While NASA regrets the end of the SpaceIL mission without a successful lunar landing of the Beresheet lander, we congratulate SpaceIL, the Israel Aerospace Industries and the state of Israel on the incredible accomplishment of sending the first privately funded mission into lunar orbit. Every attempt to reach new milestones holds opportunities for us to learn, adjust and progress. I have no doubt that Israel and SpaceIL will continue to explore and I look forward to celebrating their future achievements.”

Following a nearly two-month journey, the first private robotic spacecraft to attempt a Moon landing is on track to meet its goal on April 11, 2019, and NASA is a partner in SpaceIL’s Beresheet mission. The landing attempt comes on the heels of the agency’s own charge from the president to accelerate its plans to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024.


“NASA wants to conduct numerous science and technology demonstrations across the surface of the Moon, and we will do so with commercial and international partners,” said Steve Clarke, deputy associate administrator for Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Supporting SpaceIL and the Israel Space Agency (ISA) with this mission is a prime example of how we can do more, together. We’re hoping a successful landing here will set the tone for future lunar landers, including our series of upcoming commercial deliveries to the Moon.”

In addition to providing access to the agency’s Deep Space Network to aid in communication during the mission, NASA launched a navigation device on Beresheet, SpaceIL’s Moon lander, which will provide lunar surface location details that can be used by future landers for navigation. Beresheet is carrying a NASA instrument called a laser retroreflector array. Smaller than a computer mouse, it features eight mirrors made of quartz cube corners set in an aluminum frame. This configuration allows the device to reflect light coming from any direction back to its source.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

(NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter or LRO, will attempt to take scientific measurements of the SpaceIL lander as it lands on the Moon. LRO will try to use its own instrument called a laser altimeter, which measures altitude, to shoot laser pulses at Beresheet’s retroreflector and then measure how long it takes the light to bounce back.

By using this technique, engineers expect to be able to pinpoint Beresheet’s location within 4 inches (10 centimeters).

This simple technology, requiring neither power nor maintenance, may make it easier to navigate to locations on the Moon, asteroids, and other bodies. It could also be dropped from a spacecraft onto the surface of a celestial body where the reflector could help scientists track the object’s spin rate or position in space.

“It’s a fixed marker you may return to it any time,” said David E. Smith, principal investigator of the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, or LOLA, on the LRO.

The ISA and SpaceIL will also share data with NASA from another instrument installed aboard the spacecraft. The data will be made publicly available through NASA’s Planetary Data System.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

A graphic showing Beresheet’s path to the Moon. Dates correspond with Israel Standard Time.

(SpaceIL)


Beresheet launched Feb. 21, 2019, on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft completed a maneuver April 4, 2019, called a lunar capture that placed it in an elliptical orbit around the Moon, setting the stage for its first landing attempt on April 11, 2019. Beresheet is targeting an area known as the Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis in Latin), which is near where NASA’s Apollo 17 astronauts landed in 1972.

The president’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 galvanizes NASA’s return to the Moon and builds on progress on the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, collaborations with U.S industry and international partners, and knowledge gained from current robotic assets at the Moon and Mars.

For more information about NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration plans, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/moontomars

This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Syrian forces cleared out of its bases to avoid a US attack

Syrian forces, and their allies are withdrawing from military bases likely to be targeted in a potential US airstrike.

Pro-Assad militants, and some Syrian government forces, are moving people and equipment out of the way ahead of an impending attack by the United States.


The movements were reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights NGO, and also by The New York Times.

Satellite imagery also showed ten Russian warships and a submarine leaving a port in western Syria.

The clear-out came after President Donald Trump warned his foes to “get ready” for a US missile strike, apparently contradicting his former opinion that telegraphing military action is a big mistake.

On April 8, 2018, the US president warned of a “big price” to pay and agreed with France’s Emmanuel Macron to coordinate a “strong, joint response” to Assad over the attacks.

In a tweet on April 11, 2018, Trump warned Russia that US missiles “will be coming, nice, and new and ‘smart!'”

There are potential advantages to telegraphing your actions — the main one being that it helps avoid accidental escalation in a busy conflict zone where Russia is also active.

On April 12, 2018 Trump also reintroduced some ambiguity, saying that the attack “could be very soon or not so soon at all!”

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s a better way to open North Korea to the world

International diplomacy between nuclear nations, like the US and North Korea, doesn’t rate as an easy task for even the most seasoned statesmen, but for some reason it’s commonly discussed in horse racing terms — carrots and sticks.

In diplomatic negotiations, a nation will offer another nation a carrot, or some kind of benefit, while threatening a stick, some kind of mobilization of leverage.

Carrots can be economic benefits or normalizing relations. Sticks can be military force or economic sanctions. Today’s diplomats still talk about North Korea in these terms, or as you would talk about training a horse.


But Christopher Lawrence of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government told Business Insider that approach could be all wrong, and hidden in the history of failed talks with North Korea could be a better way forward.

North Korea won’t trade missiles for carrots

“If the regime ever agrees to give up nuclear weapons, it will not be for fleeting rewards or written security guarantees, but for a long-term, completely different political relationship with the United States going forward,” Lawrence wrote in his new paper on North Korean diplomacy.

In other words, carrots won’t solve the crisis. Demonstrably, sticks, in the form of sanctions and military threats, haven’t solved it either.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
North Korea’s most carrot-looking missile, the Hwasong-14.
(KCTV)

Instead, Lawrence proposes looking back to 1994, when North Korea’s nuclear program was in its infancy and the US actually significantly rolled back its plutonium capability, which it could use to make weapons, in exchange for building light water reactors, which are used for nuclear power.

No other acts of diplomacy with North Korea ever had the same level of physical results. Instead of the US simply cutting a check and promising not to invade, a US-led consortium began building energy infrastructure, which could function as a physical bond to imply a commitment to peace.

Therefore, US carrots to North Korea “will only be meaningful if they speak credibly about the political future — and physical, real-world manifestations of a changing relationship, such as shared infrastructure investments, often speak more credibly than written words,” writes Lawrence.

Talk is cheap. Infrastructure isn’t.

Kim Jong Un apparently wants the US to guarantee his security, but “written security assurances are less than credible,” Lawrence told Business Insider. “If we get what we want out of North Korea, why would we follow through?”

North Korea seems sensitive to shifting US rhetoric, as its reaction to being compared to Libya and Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal clearly show.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
President Donald Trump
(Photo by Michael Vadon)

Instead, Lawrence said the US and its allies should focus on building real infrastructure in North Korea to improve the country. The US’s carrot here would happen at a synchronized pace to North Korea taking steps to denuclearize.

“I think think the main insight is we should not be thinking in terms of gifts to the regime, but points of US skin in the game,” Lawrence said.

A slow push of US investment and infrastructure in North Korea would allow Kim to control the propaganda narrative, and own the achievements as his own, rather than handouts from Trump, which could help sell the deal.

This could potentially solve the issue of North Korea opening up to the outside world too fast and becoming destabilized when its impoverished, closed-off population gets a taste of outside life.

Also, Kim seems to genuinely want infrastructure help, reportedly telling South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in “I feel embarrassed about the poor transit infrastructure,” in his country.

The continuing US relationship with North Korea and the physical presence of US investment in the country provides a mechanism for keeping the talks on track. If North Korea doesn’t make good on its end, the US “can turn the lights out” on its investments, according to Lawrence.

Far from thinking about who will win or lose the upcoming summit by counting up the carrots and sticks at the end of the horse race, Lawrence offers a vision of what building a lasting peace in Korea could look like.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Trump slaps North Korea with new sanctions over human-rights abuses

The Treasury Department issued fresh sanctions against North Korea Oct. 26, following a new State Department report on human rights abuses by Kim Jong Un’s regime.


The sanctions against seven individuals and three entities, including the North Korean government, freeze any property within US jurisdiction and prohibit any transactions by US citizens with those targeted.

The sanctioned entities include the Workers’ Party of Korea.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Despite the extreme secrecy within the belligerent state, North Korean human rights abuses find their way into the light. Photo from Flickr user Roman Harak.

“North Korea is run by a brutal regime that continues to engage in serious human rights abuses,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent. Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens.”

The action comes about one week before President Trump embarks on his first trip to Asia, where he will visit Japan, South Korea, and China to hold discussions on curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Mr. Mnuchin said the sanctions “target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights.”

“We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations,” he said.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Photo released by the Korean Central News Agency

In September, the Treasury Department leveled sanctions against eight North Korean banks and 26 people linked to the country’s financial networks, seeking to curb Pyongyang’s belligerence.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said the new sanctions are aimed at North Korea’s Military Security Command and two of its top officials, Jo Kyong-Chol and Sin Yong Il, and Ri Thae Chol, the country’s first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Security.

Also sanctioned are Ku Sung Sop, the consul general in Shenyang, China, and Kim Min Chol, an official in the North Korean Embassy in Vietnam.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Watch Spetsnaz operators train by drop-kicking windshields

Russia state-owned media outlet RT tweeted an odd video on Dec. 8, 2018, of Russia’s elite Spetsnaz operators drop-kicking the windshields of cars.

The video starts with Spetsnaz military police operators riding on and jumping off the top of an armored personnel carrier with text on screen reading “ROUTINE TRAINING OF RUSSIA’S SPETSNAZ” before it cuts to one operator doing a martial arts kip up and then kicking another operator in the chest.


It then shows Spetsnaz operators storming a car as another operator jumps over the hood, drop-kicking the windshield.

More acrobatic maneuvers are displayed in the video before another Spetsnaz operator again jumps over the hood of a car and drop-kicks the windshield before firing his side arm into the car.

It’s rather unclear what sort of tactical advantage is achieved by drop kicking a car windshield.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the Marine Corps’ first female F-35B fighter pilot

Twenty-four years after the Marine Corps got its first female aviator, another woman pilot is making history.

Capt. Anneliese Satz is the Marine Corps’ first-ever female F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter jet pilot. The 29-year-old from Boise, Idaho, has spent the past four years training as a naval aviator.

Now, she’s cleared to operate the cutting-edge fifth-generation stealth, supersonic fighter aircraft in combat. She’s the first woman to complete the F-35B Basic Course, designed specifically for the Marine Corps variant of the fighter jet. The F-35B can take off and land vertically from amphibious assault ship flight decks and austere locations with little runway space.


Satz is joining the “Green Knights” with the Japan-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121. VMFA-121 was the first F-35B squadron to complete an operational deployment with a Marine expeditionary unit aboard a Navy ship.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)

Satz recalled the first time she took off in the Joint Strike Fighter in a Marine Corps news release announcing her career milestone.

“The first flight in an F-35 is by yourself,” she said. “… It’s an exhilarating experience.”

Satz was licensed to fly the single-engine Robinson R44 light helicopter before joining the Marine Corps. Since switching to fixed wing, she’s flown the T-6 Texan II tandem-seat, turboprop trainer and the T-45C Goshawk carrier capable jet trainer, which prepares naval aviators for tactical missions.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Capt. Anneliese Satz puts on her flight helmet prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)

She then joined Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501, where she trained to fly the military’s newest fighter jet. Showing up and working hard are what allowed her to succeed, she said in the release.

Satz also credited the instructors, maintainers and other members of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 for helping her complete the F-35B Basic Course.

“This is a phenomenal program made possible by all of their hard work,” she said in a Marine Corps news release. “I am thankful to have had the opportunity to learn from all of them. I am incredibly excited to get to VMFA-121 and look forward to the opportunity to serve in the Fleet Marine Forces.”

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Capt. Anneliese Satz conducts pre-flight checks prior to a training flight aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips)

Earlier this week, another female Marine aviator made history when she became the first woman selected to fly the Corps’ other Joint Strike Fighter variant — the F-35C.

First Lt. Catherine Stark will join the Navy’s fleet replacement squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron 125, where she’ll fly the F-35 variant designed for carrier operations.

Female Marines have been able to fly only since 1993 when the service opened pilot positions to women. Then-2nd Lt. Sarah Deal, a CH-53E heavy-lift helicopter pilot, became the Marine Corps’ first female aviator in 1995. And Capt. Vernice Armour, an AH-1W Cobra pilot, became the service’s first black female pilot in 2001.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Meet the crews who make sure fellow Marines can fight from ship to shore

It is a tough job and not everyone is lining up to work at their pace.

Combat cargo Marines have one of the most demanding jobs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5). This is especially evident during Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).

Combat cargo’s mission is to support the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s (MEU) logistical requirements across the three classes of ships featured in MEU operations.

“We are in charge of anything and everything that comes on and off the Bataan,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Novakoski, combat cargoman with the 26th MEU.


North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Marines with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit move and secure cargo aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan during Composite Training Unit Exercise in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 9, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tanner Seims)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group wait for a Landing Craft, Air Cushion to give the signal it is safe to board to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of North Carolina, Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

US Navy Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class James Thomas, with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group, signals a Landing Craft, Air Cushion while US Marines and sailors wait to retrieve cargo to prepare for training operations during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York off the coast of North Carolina, on Aug. 26, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics

Combat Cargo Marines with the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group finish off-loading a Landing Craft, Air Cushion during an exercise aboard the San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock ship USS New York, off the coast of Virginia, Aug. 23, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Patricia A. Morris)

“Combat cargo is a vital part of daily ship life,” said Novakoski. “If we didn’t have Marines to work the long hours in combat cargo, ship supplies would struggle and missions wouldn’t be completed.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Humor

11 hilarious Marine memes that are freaking spot on

Marine humor is super dark and most people outside of our community will never understand it.


But it’s all good — so long as we’ve got these memes, we know we’re not alone.

Related: 9 military photos that will make you do a double take

1. Maybe this is why Marines are so obsessed with pull-ups (via Marine Corps Memes).

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
And faster than a speeding bullet.

2. They must have been a 0311 Marine. But still saltier than a staff sergeant…

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
And still gets more respect than any POG… ever.

3. When you’re so excited that you forget how to speak proper English.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Yeah, what he said.

4. The main difference between a Marine and an Airman (via Pop Smoke).

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Killers vs. paper pushers.

Don’t Forget About: 11 memes that are way too real for every Corpsman

5. I can no longer see these rhyming pairs without hearing Taylor Swift… (via Military Memes).

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
It’s all fun and games until gunny finds you skating this hard.

6. It’s the one injury prevention tip that isn’t endorsed by the safety NCO (via Military Memes).

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
But hey, as long as that PFC lifts with his legs, he’ll probably be fine.

7. Becoming a Marine means you change forever.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
F*ck yeah, the change is forever! Semper Fi!

8. The Marine Corps Fashion show is very hit or miss.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
But you know you still want to bang one of them.

Also Read: 12 intense photos of the Army’s grueling sniper school

9. Don’t complain, boot.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
It’s better than using your toothbrush.

10. The legend has finally been proven.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
We never doubted it. We swear we didn’t.

11. Sgt. Pennywise was just named recruiter of the year. True story.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Even his nameplate says Pennywise. That’s freakin’ classic!

Articles

VA health care foiled again by sudden money shortage

The Department of Veterans Affairs warned June 14 it was unexpectedly running out of money for a program that offers veterans private-sector health care, forcing it to hold back on some services that lawmakers worry could cause delays in medical treatment.


It is making an urgent request to Congress to allow it to shift money from other programs to fill the sudden budget gap.

VA Secretary David Shulkin made the surprising revelation at a Senate hearing. He cited a shortfall of more than $1 billion in the Choice program due to increased demand from veterans for federally-paid medical care outside the VA. The VA had previously assured Congress that funding for Choice would last until early next year.

“We need your help on the best solution to get more money into the Choice account,” Shulkin told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “If there is no action at all by Congress, then the Choice program will dry up by mid-August.”

The department began instructing VA medical centers late last week to limit the number of veterans it sent to private doctors so it can slow spending in the Choice account. Some veterans were being sent to Defence Department hospitals, VA facilities located farther away, or other alternative locations “when care is not offered in VA,” according to a June 7 internal VA memorandum.

The VA is also scrambling to tap other parts of its budget, including about $620 million in carry-over money that it had set aside for use in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. It was asking field offices to hold off on spending for certain medical equipment to help cover costs, according to a call the department held with several congressional committees June 13.

It did not rule out taking money from VA hospitals.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
David Shulkin (Photo by Robert Turtil, Department of Veterans Affairs)

Shulkin on June 14 insisted that veterans will not see an impact in their health care. He blamed in part the department’s excessive use of an exception in the Choice program that allowed veterans to go to private doctors if they faced an “excessive burden” in traveling to a VA facility. Typically, Choice restricts use of private doctors only when veterans must wait 30 days or more for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Medical centers were now being asked to hew more closely to Choice’s restrictions before sending veterans to private doctors, Shulkin said.

He described the shortfall in the Choice program as mostly logistical, amounting to different checking accounts within the VA that needed to be combined to meet various payments.

Some senators were in disbelief.

They noted that VA had failed to anticipate or fix budget problems many times before. Two years ago, the VA endured sharp criticism from Congress when it was forced to seek emergency help to cover a $2.5 billion budget shortfall due in part to expensive hepatitis C treatments, or face closing some VA hospitals.Congress allowed VA to shift money from its Choice account.

“I am deeply concerned,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D- Wash., explaining that VA should have “seen this coming.” She said veterans in her state were already reporting delays in care and being asked to travel to VA facilities more than 4 hours away.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the panel, expressed impatience.

“For months we’ve been asking about the Choice spend rate and we were never provided those answers to make an informed decision,” he said. “No one wants to delay care for veterans — no one — so we will act appropriately. For that to happen this late in the game is frustrating to me.”

Major veterans’ organizations said they worried the shortfall was the latest sign of poor budget planning.

Carl Blake, an associate executive director at Paralyzed Veterans of America, said the VA has yet to address how it intends to address a growing appeals backlog as well as increased demands for care. “The VA could be staring at a huge hole in its budget for 2018,” he said. “It’s not enough to say we have enough money, that we can move it around. That is simply not true.”

The shortfall surfaced just weeks after lawmakers were still being assured the Choice program was under budget, with $1.1 billion estimated to be left over in the account on Aug. 7, when the program was originally set to expire. That VA estimate prompted Congress to pass legislation last March to extend the program until the Choice money ran out.

Shulkin said he learned about the shortfall June 8.

Currently, more than 30 per cent of VA appointments are made in the private sector, up from fewer than 20 per cent in 2014, as the VA’s 1,700 health facilities struggle to meet growing demands for medical care. During the 2016 campaign, President Donald Trump criticized the VA for long wait times and mismanagement, pledging to give veterans more choice in seeing outside providers.

MIGHTY TRENDING

European court rules in favor of Russian opposition leader

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Russia violated opposition politician Aleksei Navalny’s rights over numerous arrests and jailings, calling them “unlawful and arbitrary” and “politically motivated.”

The human rights court in Strasbourg, France, on Nov. 15, 2018, delivered its ruling, rejecting an appeal filed by Russia over a previous judgment favoring Navalny.

The court upheld its previous decision that found Navalny’s seven arrests and two instances of pretrial detentions by Russian authorities between 2012-14 violated his rights, “lacked a legitimate aim,” and “had not been necessary in a democratic society.”


He immediately hailed the decision, writing on Twitter, “Won. Fully. The government is crushed…Hooray!”

He also told reporters that the ruling was an example of “genuine justice” and was “very important not just for me but for other people all over Russia who are arrested every day.”

As part of the ruling, the court ordered Russia to pay Navalny about 64,000 euros in compensation, costs, and expenses and said its decision was final and binding.

Moscow did not immediately comment on the court’s ruling.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, attended the hearing, along with his brother Oleg, and posted a photograph of the two of them at the ECHR on Instragram.

Russia’s Constitutional Court has previously ruled that officials can ignore judgments by the ECHR if they are found to contravene the Russian Constitution.

Russia has lost a number of high-profile cases in Strasbourg and been ordered to pay out hefty compensation in scores of politically embarrassing cases.

Navalny was originally prevented from boarding a flight out of Moscow on Nov. 13, 2018, to attend the hearing.

The Federal Bailiffs Service (FSSP) said he was barred from leaving due to what it said was debt he owed Kirovles, a state timber company at the center of a politically charged criminal case in which he has now been convicted twice.

The FSSP later said the fine was paid and that restrictions on Navalny’s travel abroad had been lifted.

He said he would sue the FSSP over what he called “illegal activities” and demand compensation for the 29,542 rubles (6) in financial losses he said he and his lawyer sustained due to the FSSP’s decision to bar him from leaving.

The ECHR ruling was on an appeal filed by Russia over a court decision in February 2017 that ruled in favor of Navalny, but Russia filed an appeal to challenge the decision.

Navalny, 42, has organized large street protests on several occasions since 2011 and has published a series of reports alleging corruption in Putin’s circle.

He has repeatedly been jailed for periods ranging from 10 days to a few weeks, usually for alleged infractions of laws governing public demonstrations.

Navalny had spent nearly 200 days in jail since 2011, including 140 days since the start of his attempt to challenge Putin in the March 2018 presidential election, his spokeswoman has said.

Electoral authorities barred Navalny from the ballot, citing convictions in two financial-crimes cases he and his supporters contend were Kremlin-orchestrated efforts to punish him for his opposition activity and for the reports alleging corruption.

Navalny was convicted in 2013 of stealing money from Kirovles and was sentenced to five years in prison. But the sentence was later suspended, sparing him from serving time in prison.

In 2016, the ECHR ruled that the Kirovles trial was unfair and that the two men had been convicted of actions “indistinguishable from regular commercial activity.”

The Russian Supreme Court then threw out the 2013 convictions and ordered a new trial.

In February 2017, the lower court again convicted the two men and handed down the same suspended prison sentence.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

VA is testing new program to reduce veterans’ wait times

Some ailing veterans can now use their federal health care benefits at CVS “MinuteClinics” to treat minor illnesses and injuries, under a pilot program announced April 18 by the Department of Veterans Affairs.


The new program, currently limited to the Phoenix area, comes three years after the VA faced allegations of chronically long wait times at its centers, including its Phoenix facility, which treats about 120,000 veterans.

The Phoenix pilot program is a test-run by VA Secretary David Shulkin who is working on a nationwide plan to reduce veterans’ wait times.

Veterans would not be bound by current restrictions under the VA’s Choice program, which limits outside care to those who have been waiting more than 30 days for an appointment or have to drive more than 40 miles to a facility. Instead, Phoenix VA nurses staffing the medical center’s help line will be able to refer veterans to MinuteClinics for government-paid care when “clinically appropriate.”

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
David Shulkin. (Photo by Robert Turtil | Department of Veterans Affairs)

Shulkin has made clear he’d like a broader collaboration of “integrated care” nationwide between the VA and private sector in which veterans have wider access to private doctors. But, he wants the VA to handle all scheduling and “customer service” — something that veterans groups generally support but government auditors caution could prove unwieldy and expensive.

On April 19, President Donald Trump plans to sign legislation to temporarily extend the $10 billion Choice program until its money runs out, pending the administration’s plan due out by fall. That broader plan would have to be approved by Congress.

“Our number one priority is getting veterans’ access to care when and where they need it,” said Baligh Yehia, the VA’s deputy undersecretary for health for community care. “The launch of this partnership will enable VA to provide more care for veterans in their neighborhoods.”

Sen. John McCain, R- Ariz., a long-time advocate of veterans’ expanded access to private care, lauded the new initiative as an “important step forward.”

“Veterans in need of routine health care services should not have to wait in line for weeks to get an appointment when they can visit community health centers like MinuteClinic to receive timely and convenient care,” he said.

Also read: 9 ways the VA says it’s joining the modern world

The Veterans Health Administration said it opted to go with a CVS partnership in Phoenix after VA officials there specifically pushed for the additional option. They cited the feedback of local veterans and the success of a smaller test run with CVS last year in Palo Alto, Calif.

Shulkin has said he wants to expand private-sector partnerships in part by looking at wait times and the particular medical needs of veterans in different communities. Successful implementation of his broader plan will depend on the support of key members of Congress such as McCain, who chairs the Armed Services Committee.

The VA did not indicate whether it received requests from other VA medical centers or how quickly it might expand the program elsewhere.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
Palo Alto VA hospital. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The current Choice program was developed after the 2014 scandal in Phoenix in which some veterans died, yet the program has often encountered long waits of its own. The bill being signed by Trump seeks to alleviate some of the problems by helping speed up VA payments and promote greater sharing of medical records. Shulkin also has said he wants to eliminate Choice’s 30-day, 40 mile restrictions, allowing the VA instead to determine when outside care is “clinically needed.”

Despite a heavy spotlight on its problems, the Phoenix facility still grapples with delays. Only 61 percent of veterans surveyed said they got an appointment for urgent primary care when they needed it, according to VA data.

Maureen McCarthy, the Phoenix VA’s chief of staff, welcomed the new CVS partnership but acknowledged a potential challenge in providing seamless coordination to avoid gaps in care. She said a veteran’s medical record will be shared electronically, with MinuteClinic providing visit summaries to the veteran’s VA primary care physician so that the VA can provide follow-up services if needed.

The VA previously experimented with a similar program last year in the smaller market of Palo Alto, a $330,000 pilot to provide urgent care at 14 MinuteClinics. CVS says it’s pleased the VA has opted to test out a larger market and says it’s ready to roll the program out nationally if successful.

CVS, the biggest player in pharmacy retail clinics, operates more than 1,100 of them in 33 states and the District of Columbia.

“We believe in the MinuteClinic model of care and are excited to offer our health care services as one potential solution for the Phoenix VA Health Care System and its patients,” said Tobias Barker, chief medical officer of CVS MinuteClinic.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A $440 million warship is stuck in ice in Canada

The USS Little Rock looks like it was designed by a committee of 12-year-old Transformers enthusiasts, that is, like a sports car speedboat battleship with guns that go pew pew pew. It cost the United States about $440 million and is part of a new category of ultra-versatile warship known as the littoral class: “a fast, agile, mission-focused- platform designed for operation in near-shore environments yet capable of open-ocean operation.”


What the Little Rock does not do is fly. This ugly-as-sin future-boat is, ultimately, still just a boat. It was built at a shipyard in Wisconsin and spent the summer of 2017 in trials on Lake Michigan. It was commissioned last month in Buffalo, New York. From there, it’s next stop was to be its home port in Florida. As it turns out, the Little Rock will be a few months late. Because winter.

As reported by the Washington Post, the Little Rock is currently docked in Montreal. It’s stuck. The Saint Lawrence Seaway, the Great Lakes’ outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, is frozen over.

North Korea’s brinkmanship will continue right after the Olympics
USS Little Rock enters Buffalo prior to being commissioned. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While colder-than-average temperatures in the Northeast haven’t helped, this is actually normal. The freshwater Seaway (and the Great Lakes shipping system, generally) normally closes to shipping between December and March because of ice.

In any case, this winter stopover for the USS Little Rock wasn’t planned. Significant weather conditions prevented the ship from departing Montreal earlier this month and icy conditions continue to intensify, offered a statement from the Navy.

The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal, and included near-record low temperatures, which created significant and historical conditions in the late December, early January timeframe.

There are some ships actually designed for this. Ice-ready ships usually aren’t even what we’d normally think of icebreakers. These are just normal boats built for cold climates.

Also Read: The US Navy’s newest warship is stuck in Canada because of ice

Ships with this capability are rated according to “ice class,” a loose classification system corresponding to how much extra strengthening a ship’s hull has. Ice class ships range from Scandinavian ferry boats to Russia’s “polar corvette” take on littoral battleships. Indeed there’s anxiety among military types in the US about an “icebreaker gap” between the US and Russia. That is, we don’t really have fast battleships that can fight in the Arctic, while Russia does.

We’re assured that the 70 person crew is making the most of their time in port, working on training and certifications and other assorted boat stuff. And, as far as places to be stuck in the winter, they’re probably better off in Montreal than, say, Buffalo. There’s nothing like a steaming pile of poutine on a cold-ass day.

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