8 September 2023

1 killed in road accident in Dykundi province in Afghanistan

KABUL: Amid increased incidents of traffic-related mishaps, one person was killed in a road accident on Tuesday in Dykundi province of Afghanistan, Khaama Press reported citing sources.
The accident was due to a vehicle overturning in the Sharistan district.
The primary cause of the vehicle overturning was brake failure and technical issues, the sources said, according to Khaama Press.
However, the provincial officials have not provided any statement regarding the same.

It is not the first time that road accidents in Dykundi have claimed the lives of the people.
Citing recent statistics, Khaama Press reported that 400 people were killed in road accidents in the country during the previous three months.
The recent spike in traffic accidents in the country is attributable to a variety of factors such as irresponsible driving, crumbling roads, a lack of attention to traffic laws and regulations, high-speed driving, old automobiles, and congested highways and roads.

An orangutan, chirping birds and a waterfall at Indonesian venue contrast to the pollution outside

JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo will welcome fellow Asian and world leaders with a captivating jungle scene of a two-story waterfall, wild orchids and even an orangutan perched up a tree.
The make-believe wilderness set up in elaborate detail in the huge lobby of the Jakarta Convention Center in the capital includes a widescreen video of a yellow beak hornbill gliding across an azure sky, swaying leaves and piped-in bird chirps.
It's a pleasant icebreaker for Widodo and his guests in Jakarta for a week of Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit talks starting Tuesday.
"Indonesia wants to give the best hospitality," Communications Minister Budi Arie Setiadi told The Associated Press about the unique reception for ASEAN leaders and VIPs such as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The convention center's lobby was off-limits to the public and a sign barred videos and pictures until the jungle spectacle is unveiled.
Indonesia also wanted to highlight ASEAN's urgent call for environmental protection and the need to shift to greener energy sources, Setiadi said.
Artificial is the only type of jungle that exists in Jakarta. The nearest jungle, home to endangered orangutans, is more than 1,300 kilometers (more than 800 miles) away on Borneo island.


Riley Bailey

Ukrainian military officers offered notably frank and direct commentary about the prospects of further Ukrainian advances in western Zaporizhia Oblast and indicated that the series of prepared Russian defensive positions immediately ahead and further south of the Ukrainian advance may be less challenging to Ukrainian forces. Ukrainian Tavriisk Group of Forces Commander Brigadier General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi, who commands the Ukrainian grouping in southern Ukraine, discussed Ukraine’s counteroffensive in an interview with The Guardian on September 2.[1] Tarnavskyi stated that Ukrainian forces have decisively breached Russian forces’ “first line of defense” and that he expects faster Ukrainian gains as Ukrainian forces press on a weaker “second line” of defense.[2] Ukrainian forces have advanced up to the next series of prepared Russian defensive positions in certain areas in the Robotyne area in western Zaporizhia Oblast, although many Russian sources assert that these positions are the first, not the second, defensive layer in a multi-echeloned Russian defense in southern Ukraine.[3] Ukrainian officials and Russian milbloggers are using different terminology to describe the same positions. Russian sources characterize the first series of positions that Ukrainian forces have previously breached as a forward line without giving it an ordinal number, and the series Ukrainian forces are currently approaching as the first main line of defenses — while Ukrainian forces characterize these positions as Russia’s second line of defenses.

Tarnavskyi stated that Russian forces devoted 60 percent of their time and resources into building the series of defensive positions that Ukrainian forces have now breached and only 20 percent each to the two subsequent defensive layers further south.[4] This breached series of Russian defensive positions consists of a system of interconnected Russian trenches and dugouts guarded by anti-tank ditches and dense minefields, and Tarnavskyi’s reporting supports ISW’s previous observation that Russian forces may have not extended similarly challenging preparations throughout subsequent series of defensive layers, particularly regarding the density of minefields.[5] Russian defensive positions are not uniform in strength across the frontline in western Zaporizhia Oblast, and Tarnavskyi’s description of weaker Russian defensive positions may refer only to the immediate Robotyne area. Tarnavskyi also commented on the weight of Ukrainian efforts elsewhere in southern Ukraine and suggested that the Ukrainian advance in western Zaporizhia Oblast is an operational priority.[6]

China’s Road to Ruin

Michael Bannon and Francis Fukuyama

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, the largest and most ambitious infrastructure development project in human history. China has lent more than $1 trillion to more than 100 countries through the scheme, dwarfing Western spending in the developing world and stoking anxieties about the spread of Beijing’s power and influence. Many analysts have characterized Chinese lending through the BRI as “debt trap diplomacy” designed to give China leverage over other countries and even seize their infrastructure and resources. After Sri Lanka fell behind on payments for its troubled Hambantota port project

Meta: Pro-Chinese influence operation was the largest in history


Meta said on Tuesday that the company has taken down what officials at the firm describe as the largest ever “cross-platform covert influence operation in the world,” which featured thousands of accounts pushing pro-Chinese messages across Facebook, Instagram and other online platforms.

The operation in question targeted audiences in Taiwan, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan and the global Chinese-speaking population with messages across more than 50 platforms, ranging from the company formerly known as Twitter, to YouTube, TikTok, Medium and Meta-owned platforms.

Like other pro-Chinese information operations exposed in recent years, it failed to generate what Meta called “substantial engagement among authentic communities” targeted. Executives at Meta said the operation built on and shared technical infrastructure with previous pro-Chinese propaganda efforts but could not say definitively that it was operated by Chinese state agencies.

“This operation is large, prolific and persistent,” Ben Nimmo, Meta’s global threat intelligence lead, told reporters during a Monday briefing. “We expect them to keep on trying.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to a request for comment.

Faced With Evolving Threats, U.S. Navy Struggles to Change

Eric Lipton

A symphony of sorts echoed through the sprawling shipyard on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi — banging, hissing, beeping, horns, bells and whistles — as more than 7,000 workers hustled to fill orders fueled by the largest shipbuilding budget in the Navy’s history.

The surge in spending, $32 billion for this year alone, has allowed the Huntington Ingalls shipyard to hire thousands of additional people to assemble guided missile destroyers and amphibious transport ships. “More ships are always better,” said Kari Wilkinson, the president of the shipyard, pointing to the efficiencies that come with a steady flow of contracts and the jobs they create.

But the focus from Washington on producing a stream of new warships is also creating a fleet that some inside the Pentagon think is too wedded to outdated military strategies and that the Navy might not be able to afford to keep running in decades to come.

Half a world away, at a U.S. Navy outpost in Bahrain, a much smaller team was testing out a very different approach to the service’s 21st-century warfighting needs.

Bobbing in a small bay off the Persian Gulf was a collection of tiny unmanned vessels, prototypes for the kind of cheaper, easier-to-build and more mobile force that some officers and analysts of naval warfare said was already helping to contain Iran and could be essential to fighting a war in the Pacific.

Operating on a budget that was less than the cost of fuel for one of the Navy’s big ships, Navy personnel and contractors had pieced together drone boats, unmanned submersible vessels and aerial vehicles capable of monitoring and intercepting threats over hundreds of miles of the Persian Gulf, like Iranian fast boats looking to hijack oil tankers.

Now they are pleading for more money to help build on what they have learned.

“It’s an unbelievable capability — we have already tested it for something like 35,000 hours,” said Michael Brown, who was the director of the Defense Innovation Unit, which helped set up the unmanned drone tests in Bahrain. “So why are we not fielding that as fast as possible?”


The U.S. Navy has been testing an unmanned aquatic drone, made by Ocean Aero, in Bahrain.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

The contrast between the approaches in Pascagoula and Bahrain helps to illustrate one of the biggest challenges facing the Navy.

At no moment since World War II has the service faced a more urgent demand to embrace new technologies and weapons systems, given the rising threat from a now formidable Chinese military.

The Navy’s top brass talks frequently about the need to innovate to address the threat presented by China. The Defense Department’s own war games show that the Navy’s big-ship platforms are increasingly vulnerable to attack.

But the Navy, analysts and current and former officials say, remains lashed to political and economic forces that have produced jobs-driven procurement policies that yield powerful but cumbersome warships that may not be ideally suited for the mission it is facing.

An aversion to risk-taking — and the breaking of traditions — mixed with a bravado and confidence in the power of the traditional fleet has severely hampered the Navy’s progress, several recently departed high-ranking Navy and Pentagon officials told The New York Times.

“The U.S. Navy is arrogant,” said Lorin Selby, who retired this summer as a rear admiral and the chief of naval research after a 36-year career in which he helped run many of the Navy’s major acquisition units. “We have an arrogance about, we’ve got these aircraft carriers, we’ve got these amazing submarines. We don’t know anything else. And that is just wrong.”

Resistance to risk-taking and change for the military can also be found among members of Congress.

Leadership on Pentagon budgets on Capitol Hill is dominated by lawmakers from shipbuilding communities like Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi. The industry directs tens of millions of dollars of campaign contributions to key lawmakers and mounts lobbying campaigns pushing the Navy to build more ships.

In just the past eight years, Congress has added $24 billion in extra money to build ships, more than any other part of the Pentagon budget, even as lawmakers have cut spending on repairs to the fleet, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Congress has also balked at efforts to retire older ships that the Navy says provide only marginal warfighting capacity, leaving the service at risk of not being able to afford basic maintenance and staffing costs.

The result, officials acknowledge, has been to bring into focus how slow the Navy has been to provide the funding and attention to the rapid innovation that many analysts say is necessary — even as money pours into conventional shipbuilding programs.

Capt. Alex Campbell of the Navy, whose job this year has been to find ways to buy cheaper, faster, more innovative technology, said the amount of money that had been allocated to the effort so far was minuscule.

“It’s the dust particle on the pocket lint of the budget,” he said.

No one is arguing that the Navy no longer needs traditional warships; in fact, a large fleet of fast-attack submarines would be particularly vital in any conflict with China.

To many analysts, industry executives and current and former military officials, the open question is how quickly the Navy can embrace the tactical opportunities by also arming itself with a new generation of weapons that are more maneuverable, cheaper to build and less devastating to lose. Even as the big shipyards are booming, companies that make unmanned platforms like those being evaluated in Bahrain are struggling to remain afloat.

“Right now, they are still building a largely 20th-century Navy,” said Bryan Clark, a former Navy budget planner who serves as a consultant to the service.

Adm. Michael M. Gilday, who previously served as the chief of naval operations, conceded that the Navy had been taking baby steps as it tried to revamp its approach to warfighting.Credit...Tom Brenner for The New York Times

The biggest barriers to transforming the Navy include its antiquated procurement system, which takes years to build out detailed specifications for new ships and then years more to get money allocated to build them.

The Navy must also radically revamp the way it organizes its fleet, critics of the current system say, to better allow its large platform ships to operate alongside a diverse fleet of unmanned vessels to better collect information on threats and instantly launch attacks.

Commanders who are comfortable with decades-old tactics and concepts are having a hard time accepting the need for changes, several recently departed Navy officials said.

Navy leaders have said they are committed to shifting to a new operational approach they are calling “distributed maritime operations,” a combination of traditional ships and unmanned drones that will allow them to spread out their forces.

In a statement to The Times, Carlos Del Toro, the secretary of the Navy, said the service had made “profound progress” over the past two years in starting to modernize its fleet. It is preparing to take additional steps soon, he said, including the creation of a unit called the Disruptive Capabilities Office.

“I am doing everything in my power to ensure that we stay at the forefront of building the warfighting capabilities and industries of the future,” said Mr. Del Toro, a former commander of a guided missile destroyer built in Pascagoula. “We are committed to innovation and advancing technological advances to maintain our strategic edge as a nation.”

But Adm. Michael M. Gilday, who until last month served as the chief of naval operations, conceded that the Navy had been taking only cautiously measured steps.

“Revolutionary change is really hard, and we’ve learned sometimes the hard way when we move too fast, we make big mistakes,” Admiral Gilday said in a speech this year. “And so our path really has been more evolutionary. It’s been more deliberate, but it has been focused.”

A Mississippi Empire

More than 7,000 people work at the Huntington Ingalls shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Miss.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Thousands of workers in hard hats pour through the gates at the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula before the pre-dawn horn sounds at the start of a shift, offering a regular reminder of what an enormous operation the shipbuilding effort is here — the largest manufacturing employer in Mississippi.

The most prominent of the four classes of ships the shipyard produces are the Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers, 509-foot vessels that are considered the workhorses of the Navy.

The destroyers can handle a range of missions, including hunting down and destroying enemy submarines, attacking other ships in nearby waters and firing precision missiles to strike far-off targets on land. The Navy already has 73 of them and has deals to build 16 more, at a price tag of about $2 billion apiece.

The ships are built one chunk of steel at a time.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

A welder fuses different sections of steel together.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Four different classes of military ships are built at the shipyard in Pascagoula.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Congress approved a $32 billion burst of spending for the Navy this year.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

The problem is that despite their awesome power, these types of destroyers, like certain other traditional warships, are increasingly vulnerable — especially in a conflict with China over Taiwan, according to repeated war game exercises conducted by the Pentagon, its contractors and outside consultants.

China has built up its own navy and air force, as well as an elaborate network of anti-ship missiles along its southern and eastern coasts and on islands it has constructed in the South China Sea.

The risks to U.S. Navy ships in any conflict in that region are so severe that the United States is left with two undesirable options, according to researchers at RAND Corporation, a think tank that has run a series of war game exercises for the Pentagon.

If the Navy ships choose to approach China, many will be hit by Chinese missiles and damaged if not destroyed, resulting in lost U.S. ships and casualties on a scale unseen since World War II, the war games repeatedly concluded.

“We lose a lot of people, we lose a lot of equipment, we usually fail to achieve our objective,” David A. Ochmanek, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who now works at RAND, said during a public discussion of some of the research, a summary he reiterated in a recent interview.

Alternatively, the ships will stay hundreds or even thousands of miles from the area, making it much harder for Navy aircraft or missiles to reach their targets and leaving the initial engagement largely to Air Force bombers, Navy submarines and some long-distance Navy strikes, the war game exercises concluded.

“What it comes down to is, in many cases, the Navy surface fleet doesn’t play a major role,” said Michael Bohnert, a war games engineer at RAND.

One of the best ways for the Navy to counter this challenge, Mr. Ochmanek said, would be to rapidly deploy a fleet of armed, unmanned vessels and drones that can get close to Chinese targets. But, he added, “I have not been impressed with the speed at which they’re moving on that.”

Instead, the debate in Washington remains largely focused on protecting and expanding traditional platforms.

The Pentagon this year proposed delaying the purchase of one of the ships, known as an amphibious transport dock, that Huntington Ingalls builds at its Pascagoula yard, citing the rising cost.

Again and again, lawmakers pressed Navy officials not to delay, and think tanks and consulting firms funded by the shipbuilders pushed out opinion pieces instead urging the Navy to build more manned ships.

“Congress can spark a renaissance of shipbuilding by offering a demand signal for a major maritime buildup,” said Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi.Credit...Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

Mr. Wicker managed late last year with other lawmakers like Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, also a shipbuilding state, to add $2 billion to the Navy budget to build an extra destroyer.

In a statement to The Times, Mr. Wicker said he had pushed the Navy to embrace unmanned vessels as well as to build traditional ships. “Backing traditional platforms or shifting completely toward advanced technology is a false choice,” he said.

Shipbuilders and other contractors that provide equipment installed on these ships have also flooded lawmakers with campaign contributions, totaling more than $90 million just in the past five years. Some of the largest chunks of that money went to lawmakers who lead the budget and Pentagon oversight committees, including Mr. Wicker.

Carnell Gray has been a welder at the shipyard for almost 10 years.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Huntington Ingalls, which has built more than 70 percent of the Navy’s fleet of warships, has its own small army of lobbyists.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Huntington Ingalls has been building military ships in Mississippi for 85 years.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Alexandra Davison has worked at the shipyard in Pascagoula for three years and is now a sheet metal foreman.Credit...Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Huntington Ingalls, like the other major contractors, also has its own small army of lobbyists. They include two former House leaders (Richard A. Gephardt, Democrat of Missouri, and Robert Livingston, Republican of Louisiana, who was the speaker-designate before resigning) and a former Senate majority leader (Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi), as well as Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman.

When the Senate moved this summer to adopt its bill authorizing Pentagon spending for the 2024 fiscal year, it called for the Navy to move ahead with construction of the additional ship sought by Mr. Wicker, in spite of the Pentagon’s push for a delay.

Soon after that move, the Navy announced a multibillion-dollar commitment through 2027 to build nine more of the destroyers at Pascagoula and a second private shipyard, which will help assure job security for thousands of workers. Even before that, Huntington Ingalls, which recently began to call itself HII, told investors it was carrying a $46.9 billion backlog of orders for ships, the largest in its history.

Experiment in the Persian Gulf

A T-38 Devil Ray, an unmanned vessel that can reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour, in the waters off Bahrain.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

On a bay just off the Persian Gulf, two very unusual Navy vessels moved about: one built for speed, the other endurance, but both unmanned. They were there to help track and intercept threats from Iran, which has been seizing oil tankers and harassing ships passing through a vital choke point of international commerce.

One, the T-38 Devil Ray, which can reach speeds of up to 90 miles per hour — faster than just about any other vessel in the Navy — was awaiting its next assignment. Alongside it was the Ocean Aero Triton, whose solar-power system allows it to operate for three months at a time without any need to refuel.

With more U.S. warfighting assets shifted toward Asia, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet — which covers a 2.5-million-square-mile expanse that encompasses the Persian Gulf and part of the Indian Ocean — has had to figure out how to do more with less.

The experiment behind the Devil Ray and the Triton, nicknamed Task Force 59, has become a fulcrum for the debate over whether the military is moving fast enough to embrace new and more flexible ways of adapting to a changing threat environment.

The experiment in Bahrain started after Admiral Selby, then the chief of the Office of Naval Research, proposed that the Navy try out some of the unmanned vessels as part of an annual Navy exercise off San Diego in early 2021. He said he found enormous enthusiasm for the idea among frontline commanders in the Pacific and the Middle East.

“We are trying to improve Navy power, but we need to do more than that: We need to reimagine Navy power,” he said in an interview this summer, just after retiring from the Navy. “We’re kind of at a pivotal point in history. It is vital that we throw off old conventions.”

The effort in Bahrain took off with the support of Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the commander of Navy forces in the region. But it was a shoestring effort, led by Capt. Michael D. Brasseur, who had worked on a similar project for NATO.

The unmanned vessels have done a great deal to expand the effectiveness of the Navy ships based in Bahrain, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in an interview.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

The control room of Task Force 59, which tests aquatic and aerial drones, in Bahrain.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

The Navy had already contracted with traditional suppliers like Boeing and L3Harris to develop unmanned vessels with names like Orca, Snakehead and Sea Hunter. But several of those projects were already years behind schedule and tremendously over budget — or had such severe problems they were quietly canceled.

The team in Bahrain took a very different approach, turning to smaller, more entrepreneurial companies and sidestepping the bureaucracy that slows and complicates big weapons programs. It found partners in companies like Saildrone, Anduril, Shield AI and Martac, which had never built a major Navy ship.

Task Force 59 also used creative business models to get the innovative vessels in the water quickly. Saildrone, of Alameda, Calif., makes surveillance vessels that operate on their own for up to a year. But rather than buying the vessels, the Navy purchased the data they were collecting, saving on maintenance as well as acquisition costs.

Many of the new breed of vessels and drones do not carry weapons, but their sophisticated cameras, mine-sensing devices and other sensors allow the Navy fleet based in Bahrain to keep watch over a larger chunk of the waters it patrols.

“It is a gigantic increase in awareness of what’s happening and thus increasing your ability to respond,” Admiral Cooper said.

When Iran began to intercept oil tankers this year, the unmanned vessels for the first time were used to lead the patrol, navigating through the Strait of Hormuz ahead of the U.S. military ships.

A Triton Ocean Aero in Bahrain.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

More aquatic drones were on display at the U.S. Navy base in Manama, Bahrain.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

The drones are loaded with various cameras and other sensors, beaming data back to a command center.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

Because the Triton drone can operate underwater, it can collect information on nearby threats without being seen.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

“The cameras on those boats are pretty amazing — you can see people’s expressions, read their name tags, even see their facial hair,” Captain Brasseur said.

Given that war games had demonstrated the need for thousands of unmanned devices for surveillance, interdiction and attack purposes to prepare for any conflict with China, Admiral Selby pushed colleagues at the Pentagon to figure out a way to rapidly buy thousands of similar devices for the Navy to use worldwide.

But again and again, he said, he ran into roadblocks. He proposed that the Navy create a new high-ranking officer who would have the authority and funding to build a so-called hybrid fleet in which the new generation of unmanned vehicles would operate in conjunction with traditional warships.

The response he said he received from the Navy: It did not have an available “billet” — authorization to fill a high-ranking post — to follow up on his plan.

“You now run up against the machine — the people who just want to kind of continue to do what we’ve always done,” Admiral Selby said. “The budgeting process, the congressional process, the industrial lobbying efforts. It is all designed to continue to produce what we’ve already got and make it a little better. But that is not good enough.”

“We have an arrogance about, we’ve got these aircraft carriers, we’ve got these amazing submarines. We don’t know anything else. And that is just wrong,” said Lorin Selby, who retired this summer as a rear admiral after a 36-year career in which he helped run many of the Navy’s major acquisition units.Credit...Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

The city of Manama is home to Naval Support Activity Bahrain, where the Navy bases ships that patrol the Persian Gulf and Red Sea.Credit...Andrea DiCenzo for The New York Times

The Navy has agreed to expand the experiment conducted in Bahrain to at least one other part of the world, around Latin America, mostly for immigration and drug interdiction efforts. But so far it has not adopted detailed new operational strategies that will govern how to integrate these unmanned platforms broadly across the Navy nor allocated large sums of money to start buying them.

The contractors that have built these unmanned drones are still waiting for major orders, even though commanders from various Navy fleets have made clear they are anxious for their own allotment of the new tools.

“There just is not the leadership at the top to say, ‘Get it done,’” said Richard Jenkins, the founder and chief executive officer of Saildrone, whose surveillance vessel Navy officials said had been one of the most valuable tools demonstrated out of Bahrain.

The company could deliver as many as 400 of its vessels a year. But so far, it has Navy contracts for only 16, including the six still being used around Bahrain.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Ken Perry, a former nuclear submarine captain who is now an executive at ThayerMahan, a Connecticut-based company that has invented an unmanned device that tracks enemy submarines at a fraction of the cost of the large vessels the Navy uses.

“They refuse to take money from the legacy programs,” Mr. Perry said. “The Navy, big industry and other key stakeholders are vested in the current shipbuilding enterprise.”

U.N. rapporteur for North Korean human rights arrives in Seoul

Kim Soo-yeon

The U.N. special rapporteur for North Korea's human rights arrived in Seoul on Monday for a nine-day visit to meet with Seoul officials and defectors from the reclusive regime over Pyongyang's dismal human rights situation.

During her stay, Elizabeth Salmon plans to meet with foreign, unification and justice officials, as well as North Korean defectors and rights groups, according to the foreign ministry.

She is also scheduled to hold a press conference in Seoul on Sept. 12.

Elizabeth Salmon, the U.N. special rapporteur for North Korea's human rights, holds a news conference on the outcomes of her visit to South Korea at a hotel in Seoul, in this file photo taken Sept. 2, 2022. (Yonhap)

The rapporteur will submit a report on North Korean human rights issues to the U.N. based on the results of this week's visit.

Later in the day, Salmon met with Son Myung-hwa, representative of the Korean War POW Family Association, a civic group dedicated to resolving the issue of South Korean prisoners of war (POWs).

Russia proposed three-way naval exercise with N. Korea, China

Kang Jae-eun

Russia proposed conducting three-way naval exercises with North Korea and China when Moscow's defense minister held a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in late July, South Korea's intelligence agency was quoted as saying Monday.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made the proposal when he held a one-on-one meeting with the North's leader, National Intelligence Service (NIS) Director Kim Kyou-hyun said during a close-door briefing to the parliamentary intelligence committee, according to Rep. Yoo Sang-bum of the ruling People Power Party.

Shoigu visited the North from July 25-27.

Asked about the agency's analysis of North Korea's recent increase in military provocations, Yoo said they appear to be in response to the South Korea-United States joint Ulchi Freedom Shield military exercise conducted from Aug 21-31.

Kim Kyou-hyun (C, back), chief of the National Intelligence Service, attends a plenary session of the intelligence committee at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 4, 2023. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

The agency reportedly confirmed North Korea's two short-range ballistic missile launches last Wednesday, saying only one succeeded while the other failed. North Korea has claimed both were successfully conducted.

Ukraine President Zelenskyy says defense minister Oleksii Reznikov will be replaced this week

Zelenskyy made the announcement on his official Telegram account, writing that new leadership was needed after Reznikov went through “more than 550 days of full-scale war.”

Later in his nightly address, Zelenskyy said he believes “that the Ministry needs new approaches and different formats of interaction both with the military and with society.”

“The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine is well acquainted with this person, and Umerov does not require additional introductions. I expect support for this candidacy from parliament,” the president told the nation.

Umerov, 41, a politician with the opposition Holos party, has served as head of the State Property Fund of Ukraine since September 2022. He was involved in the exchange of prisoners of war, political prisoners, children and civilians, as well as the evacuation of civilians from occupied territories. Umerov was also part of the Ukrainian delegation in negotiations with Russia over the U.N.-backed grain deal.

Resnikov’s removal comes after a scandal around the Ministry of Defense’s procurement of military jackets. In August, Ukrainian investigative journalists reported that the materials were purchased at a price three times higher than normal and that instead of winter jackets, summer ones were ordered. In the customs documents from the supplier, the jackets were priced at $29 per unit, but the Ministry of Defense paid $86 per unit. Reznikov denied the allegations during a news conference last week.

This Cold War is different

Mark Leonard

US President Joe Biden recently brought the leaders of allies Japan and South Korea to Camp David to discuss how to contain China and counter Russia’s influence. Meanwhile, leaders from the Brics countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – gathered in Johannesburg to criticise the West’s dominance over the international institutions established after World War II. It was enough to give Cold War historians déjà vu.

The West’s main adversary today is China, not the Soviet Union, and the Brics is no Warsaw Pact. But with the world entering a period of uncertainty following the demise of the post-Cold War order, the parallels are sufficient to convince many to turn to pre-1989 conceptual models to gain insight into what might come next. This includes the US and China, though each is betting on a different model.

Between the end of WWII and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two main forces defining the international order were ideological conflict, which split the world into two camps, and the quest for independence, which led to the proliferation of states, from 50 in 1945 to over 150 in 1989-1991. While the two forces interacted, ideological conflict was dominant: struggles for independence often morphed into proxy wars, and countries were forced either to join a bloc or define themselves by their “non-alignment.”

Germany Is Hopelessly Addicted to Cash

Anchal Vohra

In the German city of Weimar, just a few steps from Enlightenment-era literary luminary Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s baroque residence, the Lavazza cafe seems determined to remain in the past. This cafe, like many other establishments all over the country, accepts only cash. That old-fashioned and inconvenient mode of payment is still revered in Germany. According to the latest study by Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, on payment behavior, Germans pay for nearly 60 percent of their purchases—both goods and services—in cash.

More stimulus ‘desperately’ needed as China’s economic recovery slows further

Laura He

China’s economic recovery continued to lose steam in the second quarter of 2023, prompting urgent calls for more stimulus from Beijing.

The world’s second largest economy expanded by 6.3% in the April to June months from a low base a year ago, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Monday. The figure was below the expectations of a group of economists polled by Reuters.

Compared to the first quarter, gross domestic product (GDP) grew just 0.8% from April to June. It slowed significantly from the 2.2% quarter-on-quarter growth registered in the first quarter.

Last year, harsh Covid-19 lockdowns wreaked havoc in the world’s second largest economy, including in the financial hub of Shanghai.

The economy rebounded strongly in the first quarter of this year after the lifting of pandemic restrictions, with GDP growing at 4.5%.

However, a slew of economic figures in recent months suggests that momentum has faded.

Regulators must monitor more than big banks to avoid systemic failure


Federal banking agencies are fiercely waging what some big banks consider a jihad mandating tough new rules. Some of the rules are warranted, some not. Regardless, what’s completely missing and all too essential is action on all the other manifest threats that aren’t big banks.

Indeed, one looming nonbank’s systemic merger poses a clear and present danger: Intercontinental Exchange Inc. (ICE). ICE, an already-systemic global clearing and settlement powerhouse, is now poised to gain still greater control over critical portals across the even more systemic $12 trillion mortgage market through a merger with real estate software company Black Knight.

So much could go so wrong so fast if ICE is allowed to complete its acquisition of Black Knight that, should this occur, the firm as a whole must quickly be designated a systemic financial market utility and regulated as such by the Federal Reserve.

As already stipulated in U.S. law and rule, financial market utilities are entities that control systemic payment, settlement, clearing or exchange functions as determined by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Trillions of dollars silently flow through these entities every day. Financial market utilities are like plumbing: We take them for granted, but miss them — sometimes grievously — the minute something stops flowing, backs up, or worse, floods. When this happens in the trillions of dollars in payment, settlement, clearing or exchange transactions every hour of every business day, risk moves in an instant from the personal to the institutional to the systemic to the macroeconomic.

This Labor Day, the deck is still stacked against unions


Ithaca, New York, where I live, became the first city in the United States to have all of its Starbucks stores unionized, in April 2022. A little more than a year later, however, Starbucks closed all three locations. A company spokesperson attributed the decision to staffing issues, high worker turnover and an overall assessment of its “store portfolio.” A leader of Starbucks Workers United claimed the actions reflected a “scorched earth” anti-union strategy.

To date, Starbucks has not approved a contract with any of its more than 300 unionized locations in the U.S. CEO Laxman Narasimhan has refused to sign a Fair Elections Principles agreement proposed by Starbucks Workers United. In 2022, a federal judge ordered the company to reinstate seven workers in Memphis, Tennessee, finding “reasonable cause” to conclude they had been fired in retaliation for union organizing activities. Starbucks’s appeal of this decision was subsequently denied.

Most unions in the United States continue to deliver substantial benefits to their members. Workers with union contracts receive 10 to 15 percent more in wages than peers with similar educations, occupations and experience. Union workers are far more likely to receive employer-provided health insurance, better sick leave, vacation time and retirement benefits. They are safer on the job, suffering far fewer occupational fatalities. Nonetheless, only about 10 percent of wage and salary workers in the U.S. are unionized, the lowest percentage on record. A mere 6 percent of private sector workers are union members.

We can use the free market to lower energy costs — so why is Glenn Youngkin fighting it?


The U.S. energy market has changed dramatically over the past several years. As today’s high power bills demonstrate, the price of generating electricity with natural gas or coal is no longer a bargain for Virginia utility customers. High overseas demand for U.S. natural gas, along with old, expensive-to-maintain power plants, has caused electricity prices to soar.

Relief will only come from our utilities diversifying their fuel mix with cheaper energy sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear power, which are virtually immune from overseas influence and offer lower and more price stable electricity generation.

Nudging the state’s monopoly utilities in that direction and positioning Virginia ratepayers to benefit from this new energy economy is what the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is all about. RGGI is a market-based program that not only can lower electric bills, it also cuts harmful air pollution and invests in critical infrastructure.

That is why Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s seeming obsession with pulling Virginia out of RGGI is such a head scratcher. It will only drag the state backwards and jeopardize Virginians’ pocketbooks, health and economy.

Americans are paying the price for our oil addiction — in more ways than one


Since 1793, when the Industrial Revolution began in the United States, Americans have paid very steep prices for coal, oil and natural gas. We haven’t been aware of it, though. If we had, carbon-free renewable energy would have outcompeted carbon fuels in the marketplace long ago.

Instead, market forces are distorted in favor of carbon-rich energy. Consumers should pay what fossil fuels really cost.

How much of the cost is hidden? The usual answer is about $20 billion annually in government tax breaks. But a new report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates fossil fuels cost Americans $757 billion annually when we count environmental, health and economic damages. That’s $2,243 for every man, woman and child in the nation.

Ozone air pollution from cars, power plants, industrial boilers and oil refineries causes breathing problems for more Americans than any other single pollutant. According to the American Lung Association, more than one-third of us are at high risk of health problems. Oil and gas production is responsible for $77 billion annually in health costs.

The rising costs of weather disasters are a significant part of what society pays. Climate change makes them stronger and more frequent. A dozen large climate disasters cost nearly $33 billion in the first half of this year, the second-highest amount on record.

How U.N. Peacekeeping Accidentally Fuels Africa’s Coups

Jamie Levin and Nathan Allen

On July 26, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani detained Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, and installed himself as the head of the so-called National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, a military junta. Less than a week later, on July 30, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued the junta an ultimatum: Return the former president to power within one week or face the threat of additional sanctions and military force. The region has experienced a wave of coups in recent years, and ECOWAS is rightly concerned about their spread.

Game of Drones: The dangerous rise of military and surveillance warcraft


From drones that can soar through the stratosphere, to rotor drones that hover a few feet above the ground, and underwater drones that glide 50 feet underwater, drones have transformed our lives and modern warfare. Will they eventually destroy us?

There are basically two main types of military drones: those used to destroy and kill by firing munitions, and those used for surveillance. In the Ukraine war, they are often used together.

Russia utilizes Iranian HESA Shahed 136 drones that are relatively cheap and explode on GSP-set targets. On the battlefield, they use more precise Zala Lancet drones. Both sides use cheap hand-held drones with bombs attached. The Ukrainians have been ingeniously making thousands of inexpensive suicide or Kamikaze drones. Comprised of cheap electronic parts, some made on 3D printers, they only have to last long enough to deliver their deadly cargo.

It has changed the military forever.

Every British and American army platoon will now have a drone operator. The 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning is being trained in using the RQ-28A short-range reconnaissance (SRR) quadcopter drone. “The SRR RQ-28A capability will provide game-changing technology to Army platoons, enhancing both soldier lethality and survivability,” said Carson L. Wakefield of Soldier UAS.

Why is our government taking a back seat on digital identity issues?


Last month, the White House decided to leave digital identity out of its implementation plan for the National Cybersecurity Strategy. While the strategy contained a robust and thoughtful section on digital identity when it was published in March, the July implementation plan skipped over the topic as if it never existed.

The White House has made clear that people should not read much into this omission, stating, “This is an iterative document — just because you’re not seeing an initiative tied to a strategic objective today doesn’t mean it won’t be there for the next go-round.”

However, for the moment, White House efforts seem to be largely focused on a narrower effort to address identity theft in government benefits programs, rather than the more holistic, multi-sector approach outlined in the strategy.

To be clear, it’s not just the White House that has sidestepped this issue. The last three Congresses have considered the Improving Digital Identity Act, which would launch a coordinated effort to address critical deficiencies in digital identity infrastructure and set a high bar for privacy, security and inclusion. Despite key committees of jurisdiction signing off on the bill, others have blocked its passage.

Anonymous Sudan hacks X to put pressure on Elon Musk over Starlink

Joe Tidy

A hacking group called Anonymous Sudan took X, formerly known as Twitter, offline in more than a dozen countries on Tuesday morning in an attempt to pressurise Elon Musk into launching his Starlink service in their country.

X was down for more than two hours, with thousands of users affected.

"Make our message reach to Elon Musk: 'Open Starlink in Sudan'," the hackers posted on Telegram.

X is the latest victim of the gang hacking to "benefit Sudan and Islam".

Over several weeks of private conversations with the group on the chat app Telegram, the BBC spoke to the hackers about their methods and motives.

One member of the group, who calls himself Crush, told the BBC that Tuesday's attack flooded X's servers with huge amounts of traffic to take it offline - the same blunt and relatively unsophisticated hacking techniques for which the gang is known.

The outage-tracking site Downdetector said nearly 20,000 outage reports were logged by users in the US and the UK, with a far higher number of people likely to have been affected.

Another hacking group member - Hofa - said the so-called DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack was aimed at raising awareness about the civil war in Sudan which is "making the internet very bad and it goes down quite often for us".