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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Washington (AFP) – The United States called for the “immediate release” of Merrill Newman, an elderly Californian detained in North Korea for alleged “hostile acts” against the reclusive, communist country.

The 85-year-old grandfather with heart problems was plucked off a plane last month as he was leaving Pyongyang following a tourist visit.

“Given Mr. Newman’s advanced age and health conditions, we urge the (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) to release Mr. Newman so he may return home and reunite with his family,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said on Saturday.

In addition to calling for Newman’s “immediate release,” Hayden also urged Pyongyang to free another American, Kenneth Bae.

The 45-year-old tour operator was arrested a year ago and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor on charges of seeking to topple the government.

“We continue to urge the DPRK authorities to grant him amnesty and immediate release,” Hayden said. “We remain deeply concerned about the welfare of the U.S. citizens held in custody in the DPRK.”

The State Department said the Swedish embassy, acting on Washington’s behalf since the United States has no formal ties with North Korea, was given “consular access” to Newman on Saturday.

Earlier, Pyongyang for the first time officially admitted holding the Korean War veteran, saying he was detained for “hostile acts” after entering the country “under the guise of a tourist.”

The official KCNA news agency claimed Newman had committed crimes both as a visitor and during his participation in the Korean War six decades ago, adding he had issued an apology confessing to his alleged crimes.

Authorities also released video and photos showing Newman — dressed in a button-down blue shirt and light, wrinkled trousers — reading the so-called apology, which was dated November 9 and ran to nearly 600 words. Parts of it were in poor English.

The retired financial executive has been accused of infringing upon the “dignity and sovereignty” of the secretive state and “slandering its socialist system, quite contrary to the purpose of the tour,” the KCNA report said.

The American had also masterminded espionage and subversive activities during the 1950-53 Korean War and was involved in the killing of local soldiers and innocent civilians, it added.

“I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the [North Korean] government and the Korean people and I want not punish me,” KCNA quoted Newman as saying.

He had intended to meet surviving soldiers and pray for the souls of the dead, KCNA said, adding he had asked his tour guide for help.

He had also criticized North Korea during his trip, it claimed.

The State Department said it had seen the KCNA report which said Newman apologized for the “misunderstanding” that led to his apprehension.

However, it said it had “no other information regarding the reason for his detention.”

“At this time, the department recommends against all travel by U.S. citizens to North Korea,” it said, while echoing Hayden’s calls for both Newman’s and Bae’s release.

Newman’s wife Lee has said her husband of 56 years was detained on October 26 shortly before takeoff in Pyongyang.

He had just completed a 10-day tour of the country, “a trip he had looked forward to making for a long while,” she added in a recent statement issued by the retirement complex in Palo Alto, near San Francisco, where the two live.

Lee has said her husband takes medication for heart problems and that the family had sent drugs in the hopes it would get to him.

Experts said Pyongyang may have issued the apology to accelerate judicial steps against Newman and resolve his case through dialogue.

“North Korea wants negotiations with the United States on his release,” Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

The autocratic regime has in the past freed detained Americans after visits from high-level emissaries.

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]