By Jack Kim and David Chance SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has executed the powerful uncle of young leader Kim Jong Un, state media said on Friday, the biggest upheaval in years as the ruling dynasty sought to distance itself from responsibility for the isolated states's dire living standards. Jang Song Thaek, considered the second most powerful man in the secretive North, was killed just days ahead of the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il, the father of North Korea's current ruler. The execution coincided with Kim Jong Un - the third Kim to rule North Korea - suddenly being portrayed in state media as the image of his father rather than his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who is still revered as the founder of the nation. Kim Jong Il was blamed by some for the 1990s famine that killed a million people. The North's KCNA news agency released pictures on Friday of a handcuffed Jang being manhandled by guards and said that he had been executed for trying to seize power and for driving the economy "into an uncontrollable catastrophe". Jang was pictured in the ruling party's Rodong Sinmun newspaper without his Kim Il Sung loyalty badge on his lapel when he was led away, which would indicate his disloyalty to North Koreans who all wear lapel badges. "Jang Song Thaek has been purged in a way that suggests Kim Jong Un wanted to make a point," Ruediger Frank, a North Korea expert, wrote in an article on Johns Hopkins University's U.S. Korea Institute website 38 North on Friday. The dictatorial North has been run by the same family since 1948. Its economy, which was once larger than South Korea's, is now a fortieth the size of its prosperous neighbor. Its 24 million people regularly suffer food shortages, according to the United Nations. The younger Kim has been credited in the North's media with presiding over a powerful military state as well as an economic revival. INTERNAL DIVISIONS, COMPETING FACTIONS Jang was married to Kim Jong Un's paternal aunt and is believed to have been 67 years old. He had been purged in 2004 and disappeared from public view until 2006, but became a vice chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission and a member of the ruling Workers' Party politburo. He had visited Beijing, North Korea's only major ally, and was in charge of economic projects as well running a string of illicit money-raising schemes for Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts and defectors. While North Korea has purged many officials in its 65-year history, it is rare that anyone so powerful had been removed in such a public manner - suggesting a recognition of internal divisions and of competing factions surrounding Kim Jong Un. "This is a man who could have competently executed a coup in North Korea," said Mike Madden, an expert on the North's power structure and author of the North Korea Leadership Watch website and blog. The commentary from KCNA said that Jang had been plotting to overthrow Kim Jong Un and had "a fantastic dream to become premier... to grab the supreme power of the party and state". "The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state," KCNA said. "The special military tribunal of the Ministry of State Security of the DPRK ... ruled that he would be sentenced to death according to it. The decision was immediately executed," it said, using the North's title of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korean politics are virtually impenetrable from outside and Jang could also easily have been purged over a falling out with Kim, or even with his wife. There are signs that the North's 1.2-million strong army has sought to assert power and that Jang ran foul of Vice Marshal Choe Ryong Hae, the top political operative for the armed forces. Earlier this week, North Korea said it had stripped Jang of his power and positions, accusing him of criminal acts including mismanagement of the state financial system, womanizing and alcohol abuse. "From long ago, Jang had a dirty political ambition. He dared not raise his head when Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were alive," KCNA said. "He began revealing his true colors, thinking that it was just the time for him to realize his wild ambition," it said. Regional powers have watched the purge of Jang and his associates for implications to regional security. South Korea's presidential office said it had held a ministerial meeting to review the developments, although the government in Seoul said it had not detected any unusual military activity in the North. The young Kim, believed to be about 30, has carried out two long-range missile tests and a nuclear weapons test in defiance of United Nations sanctions since he took office two years ago. At the same time as pursuing his father's nuclear and military ambitions, he has been portrayed as the North's "master builder" for presiding over an attempt to revive its moribund economy. The United States said it was following the developments in North Korea and consulting with allies in the region. "If confirmed, this is another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime," said White House National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell. (Additional reporting by James Pearson in HONG KONG and Warren Strobel and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
- National Review
President Biden will sign a fresh round of executive orders during his first full week in office, including actions loosening restrictions around abortion and immigration. Biden will issue and order to rescind the Mexico City policy, which prohibits U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or promote abortions. The administration also dodged last week on whether Biden plans to scrap the Hyde Amendment, which bars taxpayer funding of elective abortions under Medicaid. On immigration, Biden plans to establish a task force focused on reuniting migrant families who were separated as a result of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, according to a memo outlining the upcoming executive actions obtained by The Hill. Biden will order an immediate review of the public-charge rule, which denies U.S. entry to migrants considered likely to become dependent on the government. The president also plans to roll back Trump administration policies on asylum and take “other actions to remove barriers and restore trust in the legal immigration system, including improving the naturalization process.” At the same time, Biden will take a page from the Trump administration’s playbook and sign an order directing federal agencies to tighten requirements on buying goods and services made in America from American businesses. Trump signed a similar directive during his first months in office. The president will also sign orders related to racial equity, including establishing a commission on police and bringing back Obama-era rules on transferring military-style equipment to local law enforcement. Another order will direct the Justice Department to improve prison conditions and begin the process of eliminating private prisons. Biden may also sign an order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military. On climate change, Biden is expected to sign an order installing regulations to “combat climate change domestically and elevate climate change as a national security priority.”
- Associated Press
California lifted regional stay-at-home orders across the state Monday in response to improving coronavirus conditions, returning the state to a system of county-by-county restrictions, state health officials announced. The order had been in place in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California, covering the majority of the state's counties. The change will allow businesses such as restaurants to resume outdoor operations in many areas, though local officials could choose to continue stricter rules.
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
- The Telegraph
The acrimonious split within Republican ranks widened over the weekend as Donald Trump made his foray back into politics, backing the re-election of a hard-line supporter as chair of the party in Arizona. His wholehearted support for Kelli Ward was seen by allies as the former president firing a warning shot across the bows of any Republican senators considering backing his impeachment. Underlining Mr Trump’s grip on the Republican grassroots, the Arizona party also voted to censure John McCain’s widow, Cindy, former senator Jeff Flake and governor Doug Ducey, who refused to back the former president’s claims of election fraud. Mr Trump’s intervention came amid reports that he is considering setting up a “Patriot Party” which would spearhead primary challenges to his opponents in the 2022 mid-term elections. The former president has already amassed a massive war chest with his Save America political action committee declaring last month that it had raked in $207.5 million in donations.
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
Indonesian authorities said that they seized an Iranian tanker and Panamanian tanker suspected of carrying out the illegal transfer of oil in their country's waters Sunday. The tankers — the Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Frea — were seized in waters off Indonesia's West Kalimantan province, said Wisnu Pramadita, a spokesman for the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), incoming chair of the Senate Budget Committee who caucuses with the Democrats, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Democrats plan to push a coronavirus relief package through the chamber with a simple majority vote. Why it matters: "Budget reconciliation" would allow Democrats to forgo the Senate's 60-vote requirement and could potentially speed-up the next relief package for millions of unemployed Americans. Democrats hold the the 50-50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.What he's saying: "What we cannot do is wait weeks and weeks and months to go forward. We have got to act now," Sanders said. * "We're going to use reconciliation — that's 50 votes in the Senate, plus the vice president — to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now." * When asked if he wants a relief bill passed before former President Trump's impeachment trial begins the week of Feb. 8, he said: "We've got to do everything. This is not — you don't have the time to sit around, weeks on impeachment and not get vaccines into the arms of people."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States. The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.
- The Week
President Biden is enjoying a honeymoon period, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday suggests.Just a few days after assuming office, Biden has received high marks for his response to the coronavirus pandemic and his handling of the presidential transition. More than half of those polled also think he has a chance to unify the country, although only 22 percent have a "great deal" of confidence he'll be able to pull off that feat.Per the poll, Republicans don't seem pleased with some of the executive orders Biden has issued so far, including his reversal of a travel ban on several Muslim-majority nations and the termination of the national emergency declaration at the southern border, but GOP voters are, relatively speaking, somewhat amenable to his coronavirus response. The poll shows 40 percent of Republicans approve of Biden's pandemic leadership. For context, former President Donald Trump's highest approval rating (in regards to his COVID-19 response) among Democrats in the same poll was 30 percent, and that was all the way back in mid-March of 2020.> The more than two-thirds of Americans who approve of Pres. Biden's leadership on the coronavirus includes 40% of Republicans -- a notably high level of support from across the aisle a year into the pandemic. https://t.co/Foyzv1E8Ji> > — Evan McMurry (@evanmcmurry) January 24, 2021The friendly numbers may give Biden some breathing room, ABC News notes, but early tenure bliss generally doesn't last forever.The ABC News/Ipsos poll was conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs' KnowledgePanel between Jan. 22 to 23, 2021 among a random national sample of 504 adults. The margin of error is 5 percentage points. Read more at ABC News.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant
Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly is "strongly considering" a run for Florida governor in 2022 as an independent, a source close to him tells Axios.Why it matters: Jolly, who repped Florida's 13th district as a Republican from 2014 to 2017 and publicly left the GOP in 2018, has built a brand on cable news as a critic of former President Trump and his allies in Congress.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.The state of play: Since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an unusual number of Republicans in the three biggest Tampa Bay-area counties have switched parties, the Tampa Bay Times reports. * Election supervisors say 2,025 Republicans switched parties in the eight days after Jan. 6 — mostly dropping their party affiliation— compared to just 306 Democrats, even though Ds outnumber Rs in those counties. * The number switching is far higher than in the same period following the 2016 presidential election, per the Times.The big picture: Jolly has also been using his influence to attract Republicans who have left the GOP to a new party he's chairing — the Serve America Movement, or SAM. * He calls SAM, born in 2017, a "big tent party" and also hopes to woo defected Democrats and independents. * He tells Axios it's working: "The new party conversation has just increased dramatically since January 6," Jolly said.The lingering question: Are there enough anti-Trump Republicans to make room for a new party, or will most stay put and hope the GOP eases back from the radical fringe? * Jolly's answer: The GOP is "a party of Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan and the QAnon woman from Georgia now," he told us. "The greater that disruption, the greater the chance for a third party to emerge."Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police on Monday arrested a juvenile male in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." Police earlier said that the fatal shootings were discovered by police who had been called about 4 a.m. Sunday to investigate reports of a person shot on the city’s near northeast side and first found a juvenile male with gunshot wounds.
China has found harmless traces of the novel coronavirus in some COVID-19 inoculation sites potentially linked to vaccine liquid, its disease control centre said. Samples taken from tables, walls, doorknobs and hallways of the sites tested positive for the virus but were not infectious, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) said in a statement late on Sunday. The traces had identical genome sequences as the strain found in used vaccine vials but were different from the strains currently spreading, China CDC said.
- The Week
President Biden reeled in a record-breaking $145 million in so-called dark money from anonymous donors during his presidential campaign, topping the $113 million that went to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) before his failed presidential bid in 2012, Bloomberg reports.It's not surprising that Biden set the mark given that the $1.5 billion he hauled in overall was the most ever for a challenger to an incumbent president, but it's notable in large part because Democrats have been at the forefront of a movement to ban dark money in politics since it means that supporters can back a candidate without scrutiny. Plus, Bloomberg notes, anonymous donors "will have the same access to decision makers as those whose names were disclosed, but without public awareness of who they are or what influence they might wield." As Meredith McGehee, the executive director of campaign finance reform advocacy group Issue One, told Bloomberg, "the whole point of dark money is to avoid public disclosure while getting private credit."Still, it seems the Democratic Party was willing to embrace the strategy in the hopes of defeating former President Donald Trump, who only brought in $28.4 million from anonymous donors. Read more at Bloomberg.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant
- Associated Press
A 34-year-old grizzly bear captured in southwestern Wyoming has been confirmed as the oldest on record in the Yellowstone region, Wyoming wildlife officials said. Grizzly bear 168 was captured last summer after it preyed on calves in the Upper Green River Basin area. Biologists learned of the bear’s longevity after euthanizing the bruin, which had preyed on cattle and then finally, calves.