Hey, everyone. Hope you had a wonderful Fourth. Holidays tend to be slow news days, and this one was no exception, particularly on the local front. But I do have a few items to get through this morning, including the increasingly messy North Korea situation. So, without further ado, let’s get into it. —Jeffrey C. Billman.


Remember in January, when President Trump pledged that North Korea would never be able to develop a missile capable of reaching the U.S.? As The New York Times notes, “there were two things he still did not fully appreciate: how close Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, was to reaching that goal, and how limited any president’s options were to stop him.”

  • Nut graph: “The ensuing six months have been a brutal education for President Trump. With North Korea’s launch on Tuesday of what the administration confirmed was an intercontinental ballistic missile, the country has new reach. Experts said the North Koreans had crossed a threshold—if just barely—with a missile that could potentially strike Alaska.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Kim is probably a few years off from being able to strap a nuke onto an ICBM that can reach American soil—Hawaii or Alaska, most likely—but it’s pretty clear that he’s getting there. As the Times story points out, the concern isn’t that he’d launch a suicidal first strike against the U.S.; his first priority is survival, and that’s a surefire way to ensure that doesn’t happen. But rather, demonstrating that he has the ability to launch a devastating counterattack limits American options considerably. In short, Kim sees a nuclear arsenal as a means to prevent the U.S. or other powers from toppling him.

WHAT’S NEXT: The North has the ability to devastate Seoul, which means that any preemptive strike would have far-reaching consequences for South Korea. Intimidation and cyberwarfare have clearly proven unsuccessful, at least in terms of stopping Kim’s nuclear program. More sanctions are a possibility, as is more pressure on China to intervene. The South Koreans are angling for negotiation that would seek a nuclear freeze in exchange for a drawdown of American naval forces in the region—which would be a win for the North and China. But previous negotiations with North Korea have tended to fall apart, and the North already has ten to twenty nuclear weapons.

Related:A top American general says “self-restraint” is all that’s keeping us out of war. (Think about who’s in charge and then read that sentence again.)


THE GIST: With the Senate’s health care bill polling about as well as herpes, many Senate Republicans in swing states simply skipped the traditional Fourth of July parades, lest they be heckled or cajoled about their positions on the Better Care Reconciliation Act. The ones who braved the crowds—opponents of the bill—were encouraged to keep bucking their party’s leaders.

  • Nut graph: Republican senators have had to decide whether public appearances would be fruitful or the crowds hostile. Many lawmakers seem to have given up on town hall-style meetings and parades. Others are still braving them, knowing they may get an earful on the health care bills. “Never before, in the 15 times that I’ve marched in this parade, have I had people so focused on a single issue,” Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who rejected the latest version of the bill, said in an interview shortly after walking the parade route in Eastport, Me. “I think it’s because health care is so personal.”

WHAT IT MEANS: While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t get the votes to pass the bill before the recess, he hasn’t given up. There’s still some money that can be set aside for an opioid treatment fund, perhaps Obamacare’s investment tax could be left in place to preserve some Medicaid funding, and maybe the Senate will further deregulate health care to make those first two things palpable to conservatives. But supporters of the Affordable Care Act only need three Republicans: right now, they’ve got Senators Collins and Dean Heller of Nevada pretty solidly in their corner, with a bunch more leaning their way.


THE GIST/SHAMELESS PLUG:Part 2 of the INDY’s Hogwashed series looks at some of the environmental implications of intensive hog farming and whether the state’s system of regulation really holds up. This one’s more science-y than part 1, but it boils down to this: Scientific evidence dating as far back as 1998 suggests that washed-out animal waste lagoons—the kind of thing you’d see after a major storm event—will damage the Neuse River and the Pamlico Sound it feeds. Moreover, lagoons—especially older, unlined ones, but even those lined with compacted clay, an industry best practice (albeit to much, much lesser degree)—all have the potential to leak, according to experts at N.C. State, which means toxins in hog waste have the potential to leak into groundwater. Finally, the state doesn’t keep track of the age of lagoons or what they’re lined with, at least in a central database, and the annual inspection system relies heavily on a farmer’s own records.

WHAT’S NEXT: There are technologies out there that can make hog-waste disposal more environmentally friendly and friendlier to farms’ neighbors. Next week, we’ll explore why they’re not being more widely used.




Primer this week is sponsored by Inner Engineering, which will be hosting courses later this month in Raleigh. Check it out by clicking the image below.