North Korean Attack Hard to Ignore
It's going to be rather hard to ignore North Korea now.
Forces of the communist regime opened artillery fire on the island of Yeonpyeong, a disputed flyspeck in rich fishing waters off the countries' west coasts. It's closer to the North, but part of a string of small islands off the coast of Inchon, a key Southern port city (and site of Douglas MacArthur's daring 1950 invasion).
The North and South have skirmished over this island and the ones around it before. There were flare-ups in 1999, 2002 and November 2009. But the engagements were between the two navies and had limited casualties. These confrontations were not unlike the interaction between American and Soviet forces in hot spots during the Cold War -- a little breast beating and turf establishment.
Now, we have an artillery barrage aimed at civilian villages. Casualty reports are so far unreliable, but the most credible local outlets say that some 60 homes are ablaze. Dozens of soldiers from the South may be injured and at least two might be dead.
The South responded with its own artillery and, possibly, a fighter jet strike against the Northern battery.
The incident apparently began with South Korean military exercises off the islands.
It comes at a bad moment.
Still hanging over the relationship between North and South is the sinking of the Cheonan in March. The torpedoed warship took 46 sailors down with it. There has yet to be any resolution of the incident. The U.S. is still calling for an apology and the North has been promising a "physical" response to joint U.S.-South Korean exercises held this summer as a show of strength and solidarity.
Worse, is the report from a U.S. nuclear scientist this week that North Korea is making highly enriched uranium that could be exported to those even rogue-ier than the Johnnie Walker-swilling, Madeline Albright-twirling Kim Jong Il.
We might have little to fear from the balky rockets of North Korea, even those armed with the hand-me down nukes the country got from China. But if the NorKs are selling HEU on the nuclear black market, we have a big, big problem.
This all comes as an ailing Kim is looking to hand the reins over to his 27-year-old son, Kim Jong Un.
Like a misbehaving child on an airplane, North Korea has become a problem that grown- up nations ignore because there isn't any alternative. Just lots of stares and exasperated sighs directed at the toddler's mother, China.
Aside from not wanting to offend China, there are two problems with taking direct action with the NorKs. First, they might actually be able to get a nuke launched at Seoul or Tokyo. Second, regime change means dealing with the humanitarian crisis of what has essentially become a 23-million-prisoner gulag about the size of Mississippi.
Regime change would bring huge costs and huge responsibilities for our ally (trading partner and creditor) South Korea - costs in which we would surely share.
The White House was quick to denounce the "belligerent" behavior of the North in the current case. China, calling for a return to the abandoned six-party talks with North Korea, said: "We hope the relevant parties do more to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula." Quite.
North Korea is claiming that South Korea acted first and was firing in self-defense (natch), with the South calling the cannonading "unprovoked."
Previous bad actions from the North Koreans followed a typical cycle - tantrums begat denunciations, which begat new talks, which begat free stuff - aid, whiskey, an autographed Michael Jordan basketball -- being shipped to Pyongyang. Misbehavior might have kept Kim out of polite company at the U.N., but it has been pretty lucrative.
But with Kim at the end of his reign, nuclear mischief afoot and increasing military confrontations with the South, one gets the sense that it is going to be hard to ignore North Korea much longer.
Thanks to today's Power Play crew: Wes Barrett, April Girouard, Lee Ross, Paige Dukeman, Varuna Bhatia and Jason Donner.
Tuesday's Agenda - Baby, Why Don't We Go Down to Kokomo?
President Obama and Vice President Biden head off today to Kokomo, Ind. - a city of 45,000 about an hour and a half north of Indianapolis and the longtime home of a Chrysler transmission plant.
The hope is to tout both the auto bailouts and the stimulus. The stimulus is mostly considered ineffective by voters, but the bailouts have remained political plutonium for the administration. Voters of all stripes detest bailouts.
Step one of the most recent bailout rehab project came with last week's public stock offering in General Motors. By offering part of its ownership share at a cheap price, the government was able to get investors to overcome their fears that they could again get wiped out by the feds.
Remember, that the only way GM was able to have its IPO was by first getting the federal government to wipe out all of its bondholders' and creditors' claims - tens of billions of dollars forfeited.
The visit from both Obama and Biden is showing a little love for Chrysler, which is now owned by the United Auto Workers, Fiat, the feds and even Canada.
It's no accident that the plant is in Indiana, either. Obama carried the state in 2008 - the first Democrat to do so since 1964 - but his party got creamed there on Nov. 2, losing two House seats and a Senate seat.
It's also home to one of the presidential contenders that the White House is said to be most concerned about: Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer have been telling Obama to put his focus on the middle class, and Kokomo is about as middle class a place as you could go. He's even taking along Biden, his ambassador to blue-collar America.
Visits like this provide a good preview of the next two years when the White House will presumably try to remedy a self-diagnosed lack of PR for its initiatives. But if it's the initiatives themselves that are the problem, Obama and Biden can spend more time in Indiana than John Cougar Mellencamp and still not connect.
The Day in Quotes
"Velma was a good employee. It was just a matter of looking at the bottom line and where could we make the best cuts and survive."
-- Jim King, executive director of AmVets, telling the Washington Post why the group laid off Velma Hart, the Obama supporter who confronted the president at a CNBC town hall two months ago, saying she was "exhausted" with defending him and complained of her sense of economic insecurity,
"I will always be involved in politics. I have a lot of options next cycle. Lots of options."
-- Defeated Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle to the Lahontan Valley (Nev.) News
"For many conservatives, it became the marker that you had crossed to Satan's side -- that you had left God and gone to Satan's side on climate change."
-- Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) to the New York Times blaming his primary loss to Rep.-Elect Trey Gowdy on global warming.
"[We would] sit down to talk, to eat socialist arepas (corn pancakes)"
-- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, as translated by The Daily Caller, in a state television broadcast inviting President Obama to come for a visit after Obama joked to reporters about a drop-by stop in Caracas.
"I truly believe public officials have a higher responsibility than most Americans to obey the rules because we write them. There is no excuse for my acts of omission. All of this has been brought upon me as a result of my own mistakes."
-- Rep. Charlie Rangel D-NY in an e-mail message to his colleagues."One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president."
-- Al Gore, quoted by Reuters, admitting in a speech ten years later that his support of ethanol was based on political need, not policy conviction.
"We're going to have to really push the White House and the Senate. I think the greatest failing in this Congress was that the House ... enabled the White House, and the White House was not always right.
-- Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. to The Hill."He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we're having a debate on bills... If I cry, it's about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics -- no, I don't cry... and if you're professional, then you deal with it professionally."
-- Nancy Pelosi to the New York Times Magazine scoffing at John Boehner's election night tears
"So a journalist, a reporter who is so biased and will, no doubt, spin and gin up whatever it is that I have to say to create controversy, I swear to you, I will not my waste my time with her. Or him."
-- Sarah Palin asked about Katie Couric in an interview with Sean Hannity "I think it's going to be harder to beat Barack Obama than a lot of Republicans are thinking because he is the president, he's going to have a billion dollars starting out in his war chest, there is an extraordinary advantage of an incumbent. And I'll tell you something else people don't think about: a divided government is good for the executive branch."
-- Mike Huckabee on 2012 in an interview with "The View" on Monday
"Keep your hands off my tea bag, Mr. President."
-- Rush Limbaugh on his radio show
"I think it could easily be -- I think it could easily be cut in half. That's what I'm told by the experts."
-- Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) on Fox News talking about a restructured TSA "We're just trying to use the latest intelligence to make sure that we're keeping the traveling public safe but I think it's also safe to say that there has been a reaction that not many people could have predicted including myself."
-- TSA Director John Pistole on "FOX & Friends."
"It's only a small percentage of passengers who get patted down. Nonetheless, I think we all understand the concerns Americans have. ... Most Americans are not used to a real law-enforcement pat-down like that. So, as we move forward, of course we will listen to concerns."
-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at a press conference.
"The threat is very real, but what is frustrating is, America is being presented a false choice: Trade your liberty in the name of security. That is a false choice. What we should be doing is profiling. I am willing to say it. Yes, profile terrorists, absolutely. Do what the Israelis do."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on "Your World with Neil Cavuto" discussing the TSA's new security procedures.
"None of us wants to be on an airplane with somebody who wants to blow it up. We have to find a balance here, but I think the TSA at this point has erred on the wrong side of that balance."
-- Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) at a town hall meeting
"I want to go out and do it all over again with somebody else -- I want to go get a Republican elected. I want to kick Obama's ass the next election and get a Republican elected."-- Meghan McCain at a book fair in Miami"I know this: that government policy, huge tax increases around the corner in January, not knowing what the cost of employing people will be because of Obamacare, financial services re-regulation... all of these things hanging over the heads of potential employers means that there are a lot less employees than there would otherwise be."
-- Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) on "Your World with Neil Cavuto."
"You would have thought they would have immediately said, We're going to cut through the red tape. We're going to get it done. But they seemed so much more worried about perception."
-- Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" criticizing the Obama administration's duplication of mistakes from Hurricane Katrina in the aftermath of the BP oil spill.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"I think this is the final demonstration of the uselessness and the futility of our negotiations with Pyongyang."
-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier" talking about North Korean nuclear enrichment even before today's artillery attacks.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.