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North Korea’s nuclear test threat — and what comes after; the French presidential race gets closer and suddenly descends into chaos; a coming climate showdown in the Trump White House.
Happy Kim Il Sung Day!
- There’s a substantial chance that North Korea is going to test a nuclear missile this weekend. The country has a network of tunnels under a mountain that it uses for the tests — and one area viewed from satellites suggests a major tunnel has been dug out and is being readied for a detonation. [New York Times / William J. Broad, Kenan Davis, Jugal K. Patel]
- The test (which would be the country’s sixth) would come at an auspicious time — another reason why observers think it’s likely. Saturday marks the anniversary of founder of North Korea (and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong Un) Kim Il Sung. [Washington Post / Anna Fifield]
- The holiday is known as the Day of the Sun, and the country has historically used major anniversaries and holidays like this one to display its military power. [Reuters / Sue-Lin Wong]
- North Korea has tested nukes before. But this time is different — this time, the president of the United States who has to figure out how to respond is Donald Trump. Last weekend, the US sent a carrier toward the Korean Peninsula in a warning — and Trump has made vague threats to deal with North Korea “on our own.” [Vox / Sean Illing]
- The US and South Korea have been practicing military tactics to presumably use on North Korea if needed. [Washington Post / Anna Fifield]
- China has spent the past several days trying to deescalate the rhetoric between the US and North Korea. On Wednesday, President Xi Jinping called Trump to urge him to solve the crisis in the Korean Peninsula peacefully. [Washington Post / Simon Denyer]
- (President Trump appears to listen to Xi about Korea; after Xi visited Mar-a-Lago last weekend, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he was surprised to learn “after listening for 10 minutes” that China does not have the “tremendous power” over North Korea that Trump expected.) [Wall Street Journal / Gerard Baker, Carol E. Lee, Michael C. Bender]
- Then today, China gave a sharp warning to the US, South Korea, and North Korea about escalating provocations. “We urge all parties to refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean Peninsula,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. [Washington Post / Anna Fifield]
- In the meantime Air China has suspended all flights to North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, starting Monday — ostensibly because of low demand, but almost certainly because of the “gathering clouds” Wang worried about. [Chun Han Wong]
- The French election is in nine days — and the race looks to be extremely close.
- Right now there are four major contenders who all hovered near 20 percent of the vote in a recent poll: far-right Marine Le Pen, conservative François Fillon, centrist Emmanuel Macron, and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. [Reuters / Sudip Kar-Gupta, Sarah White]
- The vote on April 23 will result in a runoff between the top two candidates. Macron has long been seen as the favorite to win the second vote on May 7 if he can get through the runoff. [Reuters / Sudip Kar-Gupta, Andrew Callus]
- But in the past week, support seemed to suddenly increase for Mélenchon — and now observers are concerned that France’s presidential election may become a choice between two extreme and divisive figures at opposite ends of the political spectrum: Le Pen and Mélenchon. [Guardian / Jon Henley]
- It’s difficult to overstate how radically Mélenchon and Le Pen each hopes to remake France — and Europe, since both have talked about pushing for “Frexit” if they can’t renegotiate some things with the European Union. Le Pen is anti-immigrant and anti-globalization, and has talked about reviving the French franc. Mélenchon is a nationalist who hopes to renegotiate EU treaties and leave NATO — and has advocated for a 32-hour workweek, a salary cap, and retirement at age 60. [Economist / Buttonwood’s notebook]
- Populist Le Pen promises to deny basic state-funded health care to illegal immigrants, restrict free education access to French citizens, cut legal immigration to 10,000 people per year, and dramatically expand the police force and prison system. [Reuters / Ingrid Melander]
- Mélenchon, who hopes to reduce the constitutional role of the president, is running on a platform of raising public spending by €275 billion over five years to create jobs (theoretically cutting the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 6); fighting tax evasion and hiking taxes on the wealthy; and raising the national minimum wage. [Reuters / Brian Love]
- The conservative Fillon, among other proposals, wants to cut public spending by €100 billion over five years, to bring it under 50 percent of GDP, raise the retirement age, and increase the legal workweek to 39 hours — all while lowering the corporate tax rate. [Reuters / Brian Love, Leigh Thomas]
- Macron is largely seen as the establishment option. He’s pitching tax breaks for employers with low-income employees; education initiatives aimed at reducing class size and giving all French 18-year-olds subsidized access to theater, film, and live music; and an investment of €50 billion over five years in public investment, which would range from job training to alternative energy. [Reuters / Brian Love]
- As if the Trump administration needed one more rift driving a wedge between its warring factions — yesterday Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt called for the US to “exit” the Paris agreement, which has been endorsed by nearly 200 countries and is geared toward fighting climate change. [Washington Post / Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis]
- Relative moderates within the administration, like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, are said to support the US remaining in the Paris agreement — and to be displeased with Pruitt’s pronouncement. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is siding with Pruitt, while National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster are expected to side with Tillerson and Kushner. All parties are supposed to meet, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry, next week to come to an agreement. [Politico / Eric Wolff, Andrew Restuccia, Josh Dawsey]
- (Many experts agree that pulling out of the Paris treaty would make it harder for the US to negotiate with countries on other issues — which might be why Tillerson and McMaster are weighing in.) [The Atlantic / Robinson Meyer]
- Pruitt’s statement comes in the wake of harsh criticism from conservatives that he hasn’t been doing enough to dismantle Obama’s legacy on climate change legislation. In particular, they hoped to see him go after the EPA’s endangerment finding immediately. (It creates the legal foundation of the Clean Power Plan, among other policies.) [New York Times / Coral Davenport]
- They might be holding Pruitt to an unfair standard. He’s no climate hawk, and neither is the president he’s serving. President Trump’s major climate change executive orders last month began the official attack on Obama’s climate initiatives — now it’s essentially up to Pruitt to redraft the EPA’s policies in order to successfully strike down the old rules. [Vox / Brad Plumer]
- Pruitt has tried to set a civil tone with the EPA staff he now oversees, but those attempts were met with scorn too. After he quoted John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club, to the staff of the EPA, the club’s executive director said Muir is “rolling over in his grave at the notion of someone as toxic to the environment as Scott Pruitt taking over the EPA.” [Washington Post / Brady Dennis, Chris Mooney]
- It’s worth noting that ahead of major cuts to the EPA, Pruitt reportedly requested to increase in security: a round-the-clock security detail instead of the door-to-door protection that EPA chiefs before him received. [New York Times / Hiroko Tabuchi]
- Some mechanical engineers at Berkeley have solved one of the world's most enduring mysteries: Why do your shoelaces keep coming untied? [NYT / Christopher Mele]
- Stereotypes about millennials picking "useless" majors aren't just silly — they're factually baseless. The share of college students majoring in the humanities has actually shrunk in recent decades, and the share majoring in engineering, computer science, and business has gone up. [Washington Post / Catherine Rampell]
- Andrew Cuomo’s free college plan sounds progressive, and has Bernie Sanders’s stamp of approval. But it also takes resources that could help poor kids with room and board and gives them to rich kids to pay tuition. [Huffington Post / Lydia O’Connor]
- Why it took 35 screenwriters to write the live-action Flintstones movie. [Den of Geek / Simon Brew]
- Women read nonfiction more than men do. So why are so few popular history books written by women? [Chronicle of Higher Education / Johanna Hanink]
- “You wonder if they picked on him because of his age or because he's Asian. Did they think he's a quiet minority who won't resist?” [Tammy Hong to LA Times / Anh Do]
- “The jungle python ‘which cannot be named due to legal reasons’ will be resettled with new owners once the court case against the alleged drug traffickers is over.” [BBC]
- “Watching [Girls] all at once, I kept thinking that its greatest artistic success was responsible for its major critical handicap: the show was so well-written, so carefully directed, and so attuned to a narrow type of rarely-seen-before verisimilitude that some portion of its audience simply lost the ability to distinguish it from real life.” [New Yorker / Jia Tolentino]
- “Shortly after the briefing ended, I realized that my eyebrows were all over the Internet.” [Ashley Parker to Washington Post / Abby Ohlheiser]
- “This is how I learn that my father believes there was a child sex ring being run by John Podesta and Hillary Clinton out of a Washington, D.C., restaurant called Comet Pizza and Ping Pong, where probably they sacrificed and ate babies in a ritual known as Spirit Cooking. I don't know where to start. ‘I worked for John Podesta.’ He's horrified. ‘You did?!’” [Lenny Letter / Jess McIntosh]
Watch this: I was a prominent neo-Nazi. Ignoring white extremists is a mistake.
"We have a domestic terrorism issue that we hardly talk about." [Vox / Matteen Mokalla, Hosu Lee]