PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Tonight, the world will witness a truly extraordinary moment: An Olympics convening in South Korea with the participation of its nuclear rival, North Korea.
And against that backdrop of athletics and pomp, a cascade of political events unfolds even as the region’s uneasiness about potential nuclear war continues unabated.
Two of The Associated Press’ top Koreas journalists — Seoul bureau chief Foster Klug and Pyongyang bureau chief Eric Talmadge — are in Pyeongchang to cover the political maneuverings around the Olympics. On Thursday evening, we asked them to sit at a table across from each other and consider how the Olympics-related political maneuverings are playing in their areas of responsibility.
SOUTH KOREA: WHAT WILL THEY MAKE OF ALL THIS?
Just weeks ago, North Korea was threatening its southern rival with war, something it has done with numbing persistence since they fought, with Chinese and American help, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 20th century.
So imagine the confusion, the wonder, the pervasive sense of the surreal that will greet South Koreans on Saturday when they watch their democratically elected president playing host to North Korean royalty, the granddaughter of the man who ordered the 1950 invasion of the South.
After decades mired in a standoff that has at times, especially over the last year, seemed ready to spiral into another Korean War, there will be North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, sitting down to lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. It might even be in the presidential mansion in the capital Seoul, not far from where commandos sent by the Kim kids’ grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, were slain during a failed assassination attempt on a South Korean dictator.
Though many here either sympathize or hate the North, most South Koreans pride themselves on their indifference to actions by Pyongyang that the rest of the world considers outrageous provocations.
But even the most jaded will struggle to ignore the ruling Kim family dynasty’s introduction to the South and attendance at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the most important moment on the world stage for South Korea in years.
Social media was afire Thursday with comments from the curious, the incensed and the stunned.
Will she meet Ivanka Trump? Shinzo Abe, the leader of North Korean archrival Japan? U.S. Vice President Mike Pence? Don’t forget, one poster said, that she’s the granddaughter of the man responsible for mass South Korean deaths during the war.
The deep divide here between left and right could be seen in two snap editorials.
The liberal Hankyoreh newspaper played up her direct influence on Kim Jong Un, and interpreted the trip as an attempt by North Korea to reset its international relations and improve ties with both Seoul and Washington.
Oh no, said the conservative Munhwa Ilbo: The visit is a cynical attempt to weaken international sanctions over the North’s weapons programs and water down the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
Maybe nothing substantive will come of the talks. Or maybe North Korea will start testing missiles and nukes again immediately after the Games end.
But even if it’s only symbolic, even if it’s only ephemeral, the image of a member of North Korea’s ruling dynasty in South Korean territory will resonate in both parts of the peninsula.
And in the end, what she says and does may be less significant than the simple fact of who, and where, she is: A member of the House of Kim, the family that has been The Enemy for most South Koreans since the day they were born, standing on the soil of the South.
NORTH KOREA: STRAIGHT FROM THE KIM JONG UN PLAYBOOK
When North Korea does something that seems totally out of the blue, look at it from Kim Jong Un’s perspective.
Sometimes, the in-your-face approach — the missile launches and all that — is great. It gets Washington’s attention. It makes your adversaries think twice before pushing back. It makes the divide between bluff and credible, scary threat all the more difficult to discern.
But being aggressive all the time is costly. And, when you’ve got the weaker hand, it’s dangerous. You have to know when to switch things up.
That’s exactly what Kim is doing by sending his younger sister to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. It’s a classic Kim move.
She’s one of his closest confidants. She’s family and can be trusted. By sending her, Kim is assured of making a big splash with both South Korea’s still relatively new administration and with the South Korean public in general. For good reason, both harbor pretty deep distrust of the North. But they also nurse at least some frustration over the hard-line approach toward Pyongyang that U.S. President Donald Trump has pushed over the past year.
The Kim playbook, always, is to exploit such frustrations. The Olympics have presented an opening.
With Kim Yo Jong now expected to not only attend the Olympics opening ceremony but to also attend a luncheon with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Washington’s main guest at the games, Vice President Mike Pence, risks becoming something of an angry uncle figure.
In sharp contrast with the “for-us-by-us-detente” message that Kim Jong Un is pushing — while explicitly telling the U.S. to mind its own business — Pence’s demands for the North to abandon nuclear ambitions before any talks seem all the more harsh.
Pence’s decision to bring along Fred Warmbier, the father of a college student who died shortly after being released from North Korean custody, is also cast in a more severe light by Kim’s maneuvers — no matter how calculated or opportunistic they may turn out to be.
So the message of the past 48 hours from North Korea might be described like this: Hey, America. Your move.
GLENS FALLS — Arrests rose 15 percent and drug arrests skyrocketed nearly 85 percent in the city during 2017, according to the Glens Falls Police Department’s annual report.
The report showed a general increase in most law enforcement categories, with more felonies, misdemeanors and noncriminal charges being filed than the year before.
Drug arrests rose markedly in a trend that the head of the Police Department’s Detective Division attributed to more cooperation between police agencies in the region.
Detective Lt. Peter Casertino said the region’s drug problem does not seem to have worsened, but officers from throughout the region are sharing intelligence and manpower to target it.
“We are working more with other agencies,” he said.
The Detective Division also investigated five fatal suspected drug overdoses in 2017.
Calls for service increased by 10 percent, with the department fielding 16,181 calls during 2017.
For the first time in eight years, driving while intoxicated arrests rose. Overall though, they remain well below the high of 175 set in 2009, and the drop has been credited to the cleanup of South Street, change in the city’s “last call” time to 3 a.m. (from 4 a.m.) and closure of several bars.
The department dealt with a double homicide in 2017, the killing of a mother and child that resulted in a major multi-agency investigation and prosecution. The suspect, Bryan M. Redden, pleaded guilty to two murder counts last month.
Glens Falls Police Chief Tony Lydon said the increase in drug arrests stemmed from a “proactive approach to policing,” although he did not elaborate.
The department did initiate a number of beefed-up foot patrol efforts on weekends during the spring and summer to respond to increases in complaints of possible gang activity in the wake of a brawl and stabbing.
Notable in the report:
* The department dealt with four robbery complaints in 2017, with only the November bank robbery at NBT Bank on Glen Street remaining unsolved.
* The Police Department has upgraded its audio-video equipment for recording interviews and put equipment in additional rooms.
* Glens Falls Police brought in five new officers during 2017. The department has 28 officers, with a recruit in the Zone 5 Law Enforcement Training Academy who will join the force later this year.
* The department’s officers did not use their Taser electronic stun guns at all during the year.
WASHINGTON — The Senate voted early this morning to reopen the government and pass a $400 billion budget deal, handing the measure off to the House for a pre-dawn debate where success is not assured.
The vote was the first big step in a rush to pick up the pieces of a budget and spending plan that had seemed on track hours earlier. But the government stumbled into the shutdown, the second in three weeks, at midnight after a single senator mounted a protest over the budget-busting deal and refused to give in.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul put the brakes on Senate leaders' plan to drive the agreement quickly through the Senate, repeatedly blocking a Thursday vote and provoking colleagues' frustration. The budget agreement is married to a six-week temporary funding bill needed to keep the government operating and to provide time to implement the budget pact. Paul brushed off the pressure.
"I didn't come up here to be part of somebody's club. I didn't come up here to be liked," he said.
Once Paul time was up, the measure, backed by the Senate's top leaders, sailed through the chamber by a 71-28 vote. House leaders signaled that chamber would immediately take it up, though the situation was trickier there after liberal Democrats and tea party conservatives both swung into opposition.
The underlying bill includes huge spending increases sought by Republicans for the Pentagon along with a big boost demanded by Democrats for domestic agencies. Both sides pressed for $89 billion for disaster relief, extending a host of health care provisions, and extending a slew of smaller tax breaks.
It also would increase the government's debt cap, preventing a first-ever default on U.S. obligations that looms in just a few weeks. Such debt limit votes are usually enormous headaches for GOP leaders, but the increase means another vote won't occur before March 2019.
House leaders hustled to move before federal employees were due back at work, hoping to minimize the disruption. A shutdown essentially cuts the federal workforce in half, with those dubbed non-essential not allowed to work. Military and essential workers would remain on the job regardless.
The Trump administration signaled it expected the shutdown to be short, calling it a "lapse."
As the clock hit midnight, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney immediately issued an order to close non-essential government operations.
Mulvaney told federal agencies they should execute their contingency plans and instructed federal employees to report to work Friday to "undertake orderly shutdown activities."
At the White House, there appeared to be little sense of concern. Aides closed shop early Thursday night, with no comment on the display on the Hill. The president did not tweet. Vice President Mike Pence, in South Korea for the Winter Olympics, said the administration was "hopeful" the shutdown would not last long.
But frustrations were clear in both sides of the Capitol, where just hours earlier leaders had been optimistic that the budget deal was a sign they had left behind some of their chronic dysfunction. Senate Democrats sparked a three-day partial government shutdown last month by filibustering a spending bill, seeking relief for "Dreamer" immigrants who've lived in the country illegally since they were children.
House GOP leaders said they were confident they had shored up support among conservatives for the measure, which would shower the Pentagon with money but add hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation's $20 trillion-plus debt.
House Democratic leaders opposed the measure — arguing it should resolve the plight of Dreamers — but not with all their might. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asked Speaker Paul Ryan in a Thursday night letter to promise he would bring an immigration measure sponsored by Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Pete Aguilar, D-Texas, up for a vote.
Ryan didn't immediately respond. He said again Thursday he was determined to bring an immigration bill to the floor this year — albeit only one that has President Donald Trump's blessing.
At a late afternoon meeting of House Democrats, Pelosi made it plain she wasn't pressuring her colleagues to kill the bill, which is packed with money for party priorities like infrastructure, combating opioid abuse and helping college students.
Still, it represented a bitter defeat for Democrats who followed a risky strategy to use the party's leverage on the budget to address immigration and ended up scalded by last month's shutdown. Protection for the Dreamers under former President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, expires next month.
Republicans were sheepish about the bushels of dollars for Democratic priorities and the return next year of $1 trillion-plus deficits. But they pointed to money they have long sought for the Pentagon, which they say needs huge sums for readiness, training and weapons modernization.
"It provides what the Pentagon needs to restore our military's edge for years to come," said Ryan.
Beyond $300 billion worth of increases for the military and domestic programs, the agreement adds $89 billion in overdue disaster aid for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, a politically charged increase in the government's borrowing cap and a grab bag of health and tax provisions. There's also $16 billion to renew a slew of expired tax breaks that Congress seems unable to kill.
FORT EDWARD — Washington County will begin negotiations to prepare meals for seniors in Warren County, supervisors decided Thursday.
After a contentious two weeks, the supervisors decided unanimously to move forward with a proposal that seemed to have been approved months ago.
Late last year, the county sent in a response to a Warren County request for proposals, offering to make meals for seniors. But when Warren County appeared poised to accept the proposal last week, supervisors in Washington County suddenly had a lot of questions.
At a Finance Committee meeting Thursday, Sheriff Jeff Murphy explained the program and its costs.
The cost-per-meal that he proposed to Warren County included the assumption that he would fill two part-time cook positions, he said.
He has made inquiries to hire two of the four part-timers that would be laid off in Warren County if the meals program is moved to Washington County.
“Maybe we could be good neighbors,” he said.
The price also gives him plenty of cushion in case of cost increases in food, utilities or other items. He expects the county would end up well in the black.
Treasurer Al Nolette independently reviewed the plan. He reported to the supervisors that he believed the county would receive $79,000 after expenses. Murphy told supervisors he predicted $77,000, after more cautious budgeting.
“We still think we can make these meals for Warren County, deliver them to Warren County, and at the end of the year still have a $77,000 profit,” Murphy said.
Warren County officials project that they would save $74,000 by outsourcing the preparing of the meals.
The meals would be delivered to the Cedars Senior Living Community in Queensbury. From there, they would be distributed by Warren County.
Washington County workers prepare meals for seniors in the jail kitchen, which was built for about 1,500 meals a day. But the kitchen is only lightly used.
There are only 100 inmates at the jail right now, and the county buys pre-packaged meals for them. They’re a very different quality from the meals for seniors: a set of three meals for an inmate costs less than $2, and include “textured vegetable protein,” county officials said. Only one of those meals is served hot, so the kitchen has to cook about 100 meals a day for the inmates.
That’s left the staff with plenty of time to also make about 300 meals a day for Washington County seniors. Those meals are made fresh.
Warren County needs another 300 meals, which would double the work for the kitchen staff. But they have such a large facility, with plenty of unused space for food prep plus large ovens and stovetops, that they could easily prepare larger amounts of food without it requiring more workers, county officials said.
Supervisors were persuaded after all three department heads involved in the program — jail, Office for the Aging and the treasurer’s office — approved of the plan.
Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman said she was “fully satisfied” by the report. The supervisors unanimously agreed to begin contract negotiations.