Lies, Love Letters, and Nuclear Missiles
October 2, 2020
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“Betrayal is the only truth that sticks.” ― Arthur Miller
“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” ― William Blake
Lies, Love Letters, and Nuclear Missiles
(Saul Loeb via Getty Images)
Ask President Trump himself, and he’ll tell you that he and North Korean leader Kim Jung Un have a “very very good relationship.” In a secret 2018 letter in which he addressed Trump as “Your Excellency,” the hermetic dictator predicted his upcoming meetings with the US President would be “reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.” When it comes to the issue of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, Trump claims that thanks to their friendship the issue is “largely solved.”
But as the two leaders exchange public pleasantries and promises of denuclearization, new reporting out of North Korea reveals that Kim never truly stopped building his nuclear arsenal. 2018’s US-North Korea summit in Singapore resulted in a unilateral freeze on the testing of Kim’s most advanced weapons systems — but reports from both US and South Korean officials show that the pause in testing has only served as a cover for continued underground weapons production.
“North Korea hasn’t stopped building nuclear weapons or developing missile systems; they’ve just stopped displaying them,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “They stopped doing the things that made bad news cycles for Trump.”
As Kim wrote Trump flattering letters, six North Korean missile bases were shown hauling rocks out of underground construction sites to create a maze of tunnels and bunkers capable of strategically hiding and transporting weapons. Southeast of Pyongyang, more buildings have been constructed to create a uranium processing complex, capable of creating as many as 15 new nuclear bombs. The exact number of new bombs created since the Singapore summit is unknown, but analysts calculate that North Korea’s current nuclear weapons complex is capable of producing enough fissile material to create seven new bombs a year. These updates come to us from a report from the U.N.-appointed Panel of Experts, which compiles intelligence reports from the US and South Korea.
In a draft of the report, the panel concludes that North Korea has continued to manufacture nuclear bombs, noting that “miniature nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles” have become a priority. This comes as quite a stab in the back to Trump, who has boasted to his followers that he and Kim “fell in love” after their first meeting.
Despite this implicit betrayal, experts predict that North Korea will remain relatively silent until the November election — so as not to undermine Trump’s reelection chances.
“In theory, an ‘October surprise’ — some form of provocation — could be in play, but this is not a normal election year,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former senior analyst on North Korea for the CIA. “From Kim Jong Un’s perspective, he still prefers to deal with Trump.”
Asia Goes Under Watch
- In a report released on Thursday, human rights experts sounded off on the Draconian surveillance measures being employed in authoritarian regimes across Asia. They fear the “extreme measures and unchecked powers” brought in to combat the COVID-19 pandemic in countries like China, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Thailand will remain embedded into the civic culture long after the virus is wiped out.
- Analysts at Verisk Maplecroft — a global risk and strategic consulting firm based in the UK — cited fever detection goggles, curfew drones, and tracking apps as government tools that Asian governments are already using to surveil their citizens. On their Right to Privacy Index, which measured 198 countries, Verisk found that Asia was the region at the highest risk for breaches of privacy.
- “Countries like China and Cambodia don’t need a reason to up their surveillance but Covid has accelerated the pace at which these types of technology can be abused,” says Sofia Nazalya, a senior human rights analyst. “When surveillance is introduced to protect health, we need to look at the secondary impact, your right to privacy.”
- Protections to privacy are especially important in countries with authoritarian governments who have a track record of exploiting citizen’s personal data for political ends. Nowhere is this reality more evident than China. Amnesty International raised its concerns on Beijing’s intrusive tactics earlier this year.
- “The Chinese government has spent years developing technologies that facilitate intrusive mass surveillance. We fear the government will use the pandemic as an excuse to normalise and push forward a range of surveillance measures,” said Amnesty this April. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Russia Rebuffs Trump’s Arms-Control Proposal (WSJ)
- Putin him in his place: Russians Were Urged to Return to Normal Life. Except for Putin. (NYT, $)
- Alexei Navalny blames Vladimir Putin for poisoning him (BBC)
- Turkey wants beef: Turkey rebuffs Russia, France and U.S. over Nagono-Karabakh ceasefire moves (Reuters)
- Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: Why Caucasus flare-up risks wider war (BBC)
- Human Rights Watch says Egypt abuses LGBT people (WaPo, $)
- Charting new terrain with Tehran: On Iran, the Next Administration Must Break With the Past (Foreign Affairs)
- China promotes ‘revenge travel’ to boost economy after Covid lockdowns (Guardian)
- EU moves to sue UK over Brexit violations (WaPo, $)
- A government hack job: Assange Case: Government “Hacking” Charges Are Weak (The Intercept)
Facebook Returns To The Floor
(Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)
- Remember Mark Zuckerberg’s cringe-inducing Senate hearing in 2018? Looks like we will be treated to yet another congressional grilling of the CEO, as the Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to subpoena the chief executives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The subpoena aims to bring Facebook’s Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey onto the Senate floor for a hearing regarding the limited liability shield established by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
- The limited liability shield in Section 230 grants platforms greater discretion in regards to content moderation, a protection that Senate conservatives claim has led to an anti-conservative bias on the internet. These accusations come despite widespread reporting that companies like Facebook in fact profit off of promoting and protecting divisive right-wing content.
- “I fear that Section 230’s sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling true diversity of political discourse on the internet,” committee chairman Senator Roger Wicker (R-MI) said during Thursday’s hearing. “On the eve of a momentous and highly charged election, it is imperative that this committee of jurisdiction and the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices.”
- Democrats initially pushed back against the idea of holding such a hearing before the election, fearing it would devolve into a partisan spat. However, after Republicans agreed to include questions pertaining to user privacy and “media domination.” “I welcome the debate about [Section] 230,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA). “I think it should be a long and thoughtful process. Not sure a long and thoughtful process will happen before the election, but I understand my colleagues’ desires here today.” (Vice)
- Democratic leaders say Facebook isn’t prepared for the election misinformation spread (Vox)
Fired From The Skies
- As Congress fails to come to any meaningful consensus on a second round of federal COVID-19 aid, US airlines announced on Thursday that they would begin furloughing tens of thousands of employees. Carriers did not go so far as to permanently fire the mass of unpaid workers, in hopes that a relief package can come to fruition in the next few days.
- But for now, the furloughs are a sign of an industry that has been unable to deal with a crisis that has decimated global demand for air travel. American Airlines were the first to announce the cuts, furloughing 19,000 employees. In a letter, CEO Doug Parker said that he was “extremely sorry we have reached this outcome. It is not what you all deserve.” He also told employees that he had reached out to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about the possibility of an upcoming stimulus deal, but received no guarantee of an impending compromise.
- When the industry was on the brink of collapse in March, Congress swooped in with a $25 billion program to help cover payroll costs on the condition that workers would remain employed until Oct. 1. But this grim date has come and passed, leaving airlines with a grueling dilemma. United Airlines issued a similarly distraught message to employees, telling furloughed workers that they “haven’t given up” and begged elected officials to “reach a compromise, get a deal done now, and save jobs.” (WaPo)
Additional USA News
- Trump’s Chances Are Dwindling. That Could Make Him Dangerous. (FiveThirtyEight). A wounded lion is more dangerous than a hungry one.
- Trump Renews Fears of Voter Intimidation as G.O.P. Poll Watchers Mobilize (NYT, $)
- Debating the debate makers: Trump campaign attacks a new target: The debate commission (Politico)
- The Proud Boys, explained (Vox)
- Food banks are removing the signed letter Trump wanted to include in every food-aid box (WaPo, $)
- Woes for Roe: Amy Coney Barrett signed newspaper ad that called Roe v Wade ‘barbaric’ (Guardian)
- The Kushners’ Freddie Mac Loan Wasn’t Just Massive. It Came With Unusually Good Terms, Too. (ProPublica)
- Bob Murray, Who Fought Against Black Lung Regulations As A Coal Operator, Has Filed For Black Lung Benefits (NPR). You breathe what you sow.
- Did the White House Block EPA Action on PFAS Chemicals? (The Intercept)
Ireland Breaks Bread
- Everyone is familiar with the age-old debate: is a hotdog a sandwich? But a recent ruling from an Irish court takes sandwich discourse to an entirely different level. Can a sandwich from Subway even be considered a sandwich?
- The judgment published on Tuesday found that because the US chain uses so much sugar in its “bread,” it cannot be properly defined as bread. With no bread, how can it be a sandwich? These are the questions that will leave Subway connoisseurs up at night.
- The ruling followed an appeal from the sub giant, who contended that their sandwiches should be exempt from Ireland’s Value-Added Tax — which excludes “staple foods” like bread, tea, coffee, cocoa, and milk. However, the Value-Added Tax Act of 1972 enforces a strict provision that the amount of sugar in bread “shall not exceed 2% of the weight of the flour included in the dough.”
- Subway’s dough contains five times as much sugar. In fact, a 6-inch sub roll contains 5g of sugar, which is the same as two plain biscuits. As the Irish Supreme Court puts it: “In this case, there is no dispute that the bread supplied by Subway in its heated sandwiches has a sugar content 10% of the weight of the flour included in the dough.”
- This is just another chapter in Subway’s long-disputed bread wars. Some of you may remember the controversy that dogged the chain in 2014, when it was found that azodicarbonamide was being used to whiten the flour in their dough. This is an ingredient used to manufacture yoga mats, a headline-worthy factoid that forced Subway to apologize and change their recipe. Guess the saying “eat fresh” isn’t taken to seriously at Subway HQ. (Guardian)
- How to Cope When Everything Feels Bad and Somehow It Keeps Getting Worse (Vice)
- On the Future of (Going to the) Movies (Wired)
- Block out the cops: One Way to Prevent Police From Surveilling Your Phone (The Intercept)
- Buddha birthplace yields clues about mysterious life (NatGeo, $)
- An Ancient Town Submerged—Hasankeyf Underwater (Atlantic, $)
- How a black science pioneer was failed (BBC)
- Ignoring aliens: A NASA Probe May Have Found Signs of Life on Venus 40 Years Ago (Scientific American)
- At the Edge of Time, a Litter of Galactic Puppies (NYT, $). Deep space doggos?
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