Friday, January 19, 2018

Olympic Détente Upends US Strategy on North Korea

January 18, 2018 by  
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The White House this week welcomed the announcement but played down its significance, noting that it was not the first time that athletes from the two Koreas had competed together.

“Let’s hope that the experience gives the North Korean athletes a small taste of freedom and that it rubs off,” said Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “North Korean propaganda is in a category all its own,” he added. “It is not surprising that North Korea is sending more cheerleaders and musicians than athletes.”

That emphasis on propaganda, other officials said, was in keeping with North Korea’s longer-term goal of reunification.

In addition to marching together, the two Koreas will field a joint women’s hockey team at the Games, which begin on Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang. It will be the first time the two countries have combined for an Olympics, and the first unified team of any kind since their athletes played together in a table tennis championship and a youth soccer tournament in 1991.

The Olympic agreement could bolster President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who has been pushing for dialogue with the North. “This will be a great opportunity to thaw the frozen relations,” he said during a visit to the training camp for South Korean athletes.

“If we unify our team with the North’s, it won’t necessarily improve our team’s strength very much,” Mr. Moon said. “It will even require extra efforts to build up teamwork with the North Korean players. But if the two Koreas unify their teams and play a great match together, that itself will be long remembered as a historic moment.”

Few expected that the breakthrough in sports diplomacy would lead to a broader relaxation of the decades-old standoff over the North’s nuclear weapon programs. But it provided a welcome reprieve for South Koreans who have grown alarmed and weary over the tensions and relentless talk of war.

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Mr. Trump has threatened the North with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” should it put the security of Americans and their allies at risk, while Mr. Kim has called Mr. Trump a lunatic.

Despite its wariness, the White House has been careful not to dismiss the talks between the North and the South, provided the two sides stick to issues like security at the Olympics. Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that he would be open to talks with Mr. Kim himself, though he questioned the value of such a meeting.

“I’d sit down, but I‘m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Reuters.

He warned that while North Korea was not yet capable of delivering a ballistic missile to the United States, “they’re close — and they get closer every day.” In the interview, Mr. Trump was uncharacteristically critical of Russia, saying it had weakened the global sanctions against North Korea, even as China was doing more.

“What China is helping us with, Russia is denting,” he said. “In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”

Video

Can the Olympics Bring the Koreas Together?

North Korea has agreed to send athletes to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, but the Olympics have long been a window into geopolitics between the two sides.


By ROBIN STEIN and NATALIE RENEAU on Publish Date January 9, 2018.


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Watch in Times Video »

Analysts said the agreement would be enormously popular in South Korea. Strong ethic nationalism compels people in both Koreas to cheer for each other’s athletes when they compete against non-Korean teams, especially Japan.

“We’re at one of these moments where there is this emotional, if not irrational, exuberance at the prospect of North Korean athletes coming south,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a Korea expert at the Brookings Institution, who is visiting Seoul this week.

A previous such moment came in 1991, when a unified and underdog Korean team won the gold medal in the women’s team competition over China in the World Table Tennis Championships in Chiba, Japan. The unified women’s ice hockey team will face Japan on Feb. 14 in Pyeongchang.

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The problem, Mr. Pollack said, is that North Korea “has put down clear markers about what it wants in return. If the expectation is that North Korea is going to get economic goodies by acting nice, they’re not.”

For the United States, the fear has been that North Korea’s gestures will drive a wedge between it and its ally, South Korea. So far, the two allies have stayed in sync, said Daniel R. Russel, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs in the Obama administration.

“But it will be harder and harder to insure that South Korea and the U.S. stay closely aligned,” he said. “You have a fundamental tension between a progressive government in Seoul and a hawkish government in Washington.”

Mr. Moon proposed in June that the two Koreas form a unified team for the Olympics, but the suggestion was not taken seriously until Mr. Kim used his New Year’s Day speech to propose dialogue with the South and to discuss his country’s participation in the Games.

That led to a series of talks in the border village of Panmunjom. In an earlier round of negotiations, the North agreed to send a 140-member orchestra to play during the Olympics. On Wednesday, South Korean officials said the North’s delegation would include at least 550 people. The plan is for the North’s athletes to enter the South over a land border on Feb. 1.

So far, the only North Korean athletes to qualify for the Games are a pairs figure skating team. North Korea missed an Oct. 31 deadline to accept invitations from South Korea and the International Olympic Committee to join the Games. But the international body has said it remains willing to consider wild-card entries for North Korean athletes.

The two Koreas negotiated to share some of the 1988 Seoul Olympics after South Korea won the right to play host to the games. But the talks collapsed, and the North bombed a South Korean passenger jet in 1987 in an attempt to disrupt them.


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Vistaprint apologizes after same-sex couple’s wedding order contained hateful pamphlets

January 18, 2018 by  
Filed under Romance, Lust & Passion

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BUTLER COUNTY, Pa. – A same-sex couple is suing printing company Vistaprint after claiming they opened their wedding programs only to find hate-filled pamphlets instead, CBS Pittsburgh reports. In response, the printing company issued a lengthy statement Thursday saying “how incredibly saddened we are to hear this story” and promising to investigate.

According to a lawsuit, Stephen Heasley, 39, and Andrew Borg, 31, say they ordered 100 wedding programs from Vistaprint.

When they opened the package the night before their Butler County wedding in September, they found flyers with hateful, discriminatory and anti-gay messages equating their relationship to Satan’s temptation. Inside the shipment, were approximately 80 copies of a pamphlet entitled “Understanding Temptation: Fight the good fight of the faith.”


“Satan entices your flesh with evil desires” and sin is the result of your failure to resist the temptation,” the pamphlet read. “It is an act of rebellion against God’s holiness.”

The couple’s lawyer, Michael J. Willemin of the law firm Wigdor LLP., says in the suit, “The pamphlets — plainly sent to threaten and attack Mr. Heasley and Mr. Borg because they are gay — warn that ‘Satan entices your flesh with evil desires.’”

The couple provided a copy of the wedding programs they ordered, which were blue and gold and included the lyrics to their processional song, “Treasure” by Above and Beyond.


Vistaprint’s CEOs Trynka Shineman and Robert Keane posted a statement online in response, saying that the company celebrates diversity and never discriminates against customers based on their sexual orientation. They also said they were disappointed to let a customer down.

“We want to say how incredibly saddened we are to hear this story. To know that any person could be treated in such a way especially during a time that should be filled with joy is extremely disheartening,” the statement read. “Imagine a customer who took the time to create something personal to mark this special day and instead, the day before their wedding, goes to open their wedding programs and finds these judgmental messages. We have never been more disappointed to let a customer down.”

It continued: “We share in this couple’s outrage. Vistaprint in no way condones — and does not tolerate — discrimination against any of our customers based on their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. We have encouraged members of the LGBTQ community to use our services to help celebrate their life events for many years, and have published thousands of wedding invitations, programs and other content for same sex couples.”

Vistaprint also outlined three steps it’s taking to address the incident, including an investigation.

“We have begun a complete investigation to determine how and why the couple received these materials. If we determine that any Vistaprint employee or partner had any role in this situation, we will take strong action,” the statement read.


Stephen Heasley (L), Andrew Borg (R)

Vistaprint said it has reached out to the couple so that a line of communication can be established to “use this incident as an opportunity to shine a light on important LGBTQ issues.”

The couple is suing for unspecified damages.

They chose Butler County, in western Pennsylvania, for their wedding because Heasley is originally from there. The couple now lives in Australia.