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Archive for February 27th, 2019

How Civilian Firms Fact-Check North Korea’s Denuclearization Efforts

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Doug Bock Clark writes in the New Yorker:

During eight and a half months of negotiations with North Korea, the White House has maintained that its “goal is to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK as Chairman Kim committed to in Singapore.” The Trump Administration has touted small victories, such as the fact that North Korea has not conducted any new missile or nuclear tests, and that several nuclear-testing facilities have been partially or fully decommissioned. When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited North Korea in October, 2018, North Korea pledged to destroy all of its nuclear-enrichment facilities, according to Stephen Biegun, the United States Special Representative for North Korea. (North Korea never confirmed this.) At the end of January, as preparations for a second summit, to be held on Wednesday and Thursday, ramped up, Trump said, “We’ve made tremendous progress with North Korea.” On Sunday morning, he tweeted, “I will be leaving for Hanoi, Vietnam, early tomorrow for a Summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea, where we both expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore. Denuclearization?”

In the past, North Korea’s isolation might have allowed the Administration to present an unchallenged narrative. But, as commercial satellite photography has become significantly cheaper and more powerful—to the point that it rivals that of intelligence agencies—civilian experts have been able to monitor North Korea’s nuclear program. What they are seeing differs dramatically from what the Administration has been saying.

Jeffrey Lewis, a director at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, leads a team that uses satellite imagery to surveil North Korea’s nuclear program. Lewis became interested in fact-checking government intelligence after the George W. Bush Administration misled the American public and much of the international community about Saddam Hussein’s capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. “Only U.S. intel got to have an opinion on things like how many nukes a foreign country had,” he said. “We were excited to take techniques from them and do the same kind of analyses for the public record.” Businesses typically turn to satellite-imaging companies for activities like counting cars in competitors’ parking lots or mapping demolitions of houses in developing neighborhoods. For Lewis, they have provided daily images of every inch of North Korea at a resolution of about three metres, and less frequent images with a resolution of about a foot.

In July, 2018, when an intelligence source tipped off the Washington Post that North Korea was continuing to manufacture missiles, Joby Warrick, a Postreporter, turned to Lewis for independent confirmation. Lewis’s team identified the factory in question and used historical commercial-satellite imagery to rewind the clock. They discovered images of supply trucks, including bright red trailers that had traditionally been used to transport intercontinental ballistic missiles, travelling in and out of the facility. By matching details from North Korean media photos with those of satellite images, they were also able to confirm that it was one of the missile factories where Kim had, in recent years, personally examined missiles and launch vehicles. As Lewis told Warrick, the facility “is not dead, by any stretch of the imagination.”

In November, 2018, while the Trump Administration was touting recent steps to dismantle a well-known rocket-test stand, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (C.S.I.S.) published satellite images showing that North Korea had been making improvements at sixteen hidden ballistic-missile bases. “Work is continuing,” Victor Cha, the group’s Korea chair, told the New York Times in an article that suggested North Korea was engaged in a “great deception.” “The existence of the ballistic missile bases,” the Times wrote, “contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program.”

In response to the article, the Trump Administration declared that there was no “deception,” as it had long known about the bases, and other commentators pointed out that North Korea had never promised to immediately give up its I.C.B.M.s—the Singapore declaration only included a commitment to “work toward” that goal. Some suggested that Cha, who had been a candidate for Ambassador to South Korea before disagreeing with Trump over how to handle Kim Jong Un, had an axe to grind. According to Cha, people aligned with the Administration accused C.S.I.S. of trying to “submarine” negotiations over the second summit that were taking place around that time. The timing, he explained, had been coincidental. But the goal of such reports, he said, “is to show the general public that there are scores of missile bases harboring I.C.B.M.s, and to influence opinion leaders, journalists, members of Congress, and others to take action about them.” The Administration, he pointed out, had never previously acknowledged the existence of these bases, and instead framed its negotiations around other less-threatening assets. The work of C.S.I.S., Cha said, is “certainly pushing back against the President’s narrative that he has already solved this. There’s other things we should be negotiating over besides one rocket test stand.”

The American intelligence community has also found ways to publicize disagreements with the President. Two weeks after the first summit, NBC reported that classified intelligence assessments had found that North Korea was increasing its production of weapons-grade nuclear fuel. The regime, according to a dozen anonymous officials, was trying to extract concessions from Trump while clinging to its nukes. Other intelligence sources soon leaked evidence that showed senior North Korean officials discussing how to deceive the U.S. by publicly disposing of only a small number of warheads. In January, at the annual worldwide threat assessment before the U.S. Senate, the intelligence chiefs warned that North Korea was not willing to denuclearize. “We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its W.M.D. capabilities,” Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, said, “and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capability because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.” As recently as Saturday, the Washington Post reported that American and North Korean negotiators had yet to agree on the definition of “denuclearization” to be negotiated at the summit, as the term has taken on a number of meanings during two decades of negotiations.

Siegfried Hecker, a senior fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, who personally examined some of North Korea’s nuclear facilities about a decade ago, has a different interpretation of the available data. In a report updated in February, Hecker, who has advised Trump’s Special Representative to North Korea, found that, although North Korea has “continued to operate and, in some cases, expand the nuclear weapons complex infrastructure,” the over-all situation on the peninsula has greatly improved. “I am hopeful about the summit,” he said. Although North Korea has test-launched three long-range missiles that could possibly strike the United States, Hecker suggested that “North Korea has not been able to perform enough tests of long-range missiles or nuclear weapons in order to deliver a warhead to the United States.” Among other things, he explained, North Korea still needs to perfect a vehicle to keep its warheads from disintegrating upon reëntry into the atmosphere. He suggested that if Trump won an agreement to permanently end such testing and then roll back the nuclear program, Kim might never achieve an arsenal capable of reliably threatening the United States. “I don’t know if they will give up nuclear weapons,” Hecker said, “but we’ve got to see if they will take additional positive concrete steps toward denuclearization.”

The day before leaving for Asia, Trump tweeted, “So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea. But thanks anyway!” As the President arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday, Vox reported that the outlines of a tentative deal had been reached by the American and North Korean advance teams: both sides will declare an official end to the Korean War, which has technically been ongoing since 1950, and North Korea will stop production of bomb-making materials at its aging Yongbyon nuclear complex in return for the United States asking the United Nations to ease some sanctions. (Asked for his opinion on the deal, Cha told me, “Terrible.”) Regardless of  . . .

Continue reading.

Donald Trump’s focus is not the US national interest but increasing the value of his own brand.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 1:38 pm

Why Do We Crave Sweets When We’re Stressed?

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Achim Peters  writes in Scientific American:

Although our brain accounts for just 2 percent of our body weight, the organ consumes half of our daily carbohydrate requirements—and glucose is its most important fuel. Under acute stress the brain requires some 12 percent more energy, leading many to reach for sugary snacks.

Carbohydrates provide the body with the quickest source of energy. In fact, in cognitive tests subjects who were stressed performed poorly prior to eating. Their performance, however, went back to normal after consuming food.

When we are hungry, a whole network of brain regions activates. At the center are the ventromedial hypothalamus (VMH) and the lateral hypothalamus. These two regions in the upper brain stem are involved in regulating metabolism, feeding behavior and digestive functions. There is, however, an upstream gatekeeper, the nucleus arcuatus (ARH) in the hypothalamus. If it registers that the brain itself lacks glucose, this gatekeeper blocks information from the rest of the body. That’s why we resort to carbohydrates as soon as the brain indicates a need for energy, even if the rest of the body is well supplied.

To further understand the relationship between the brain and carbohydrates, we examined 40 subjects over two sessions. In one, we asked study participants to give a 10-minute speech in front of strangers. In the other session they were not required to give a speech. At the end of each session, we measured the concentrations of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in participants’ blood. We also provided them with a food buffet for an hour. When the participants gave a speech before the buffet, they were more stressed, and on average consumed an additional 34 grams of carbohydrates, than when they did not give a speech.

So what about that chocolate, then? If a person craves chocolate in the afternoon, I advise him or her to eat chocolate to stay fit and keep his or her spirits up. That’s because at work people are often stressed and the brain has an increased need for energy. If one doesn’t eat anything, it’s possible the brain will use glucose from the body, intended for fat and muscle cell use, and in turn secrete more stress hormones. Not only does this make one miserable, it can also increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke or depression in the long run. Alternatively, the brain can save on other functions, but that reduces concentration and performance.

In order to meet the increased needs of the brain, one can either eat more of everything, as the stressed subjects did in our experiment, or make it easy for the body and just consume sweet foods. Even babies have a pronounced preference for sweets. Because their brain is extremely large compared with their tiny bodies, babies require a lot of energy. They get that energy via breast milk, which contains a lot of sugar. Over time, our preference for sweets decreases but never completely disappears, even as we become adults. The extent to which that preference is preserved varies from person to person and seems to depend, among other things, on living conditions. Studies suggest people who experience a lot of stress in childhood have a stronger preference for sweets later in life.

For some, the brain cannot get its energy from the body’s reserves, even . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 12:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

Cheap, reliable suicide drones that carry 6 pounds of high explosives, courtesy of Kalashnikov

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I imagine that entire container-loads of these will be purchased by small countries and by terrorists. This from a Washington Post report by Liz Sly, which begins:

The Russian company that gave the world the iconic AK-47 assault rifle has unveiled a suicide drone that may similarly revolutionize war by making sophisticated drone warfare technology widely and cheaply available.

The Kalashnikov Group put a model of its miniature exploding drone on display this week at a major defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, where the world’s arms companies gather every two years to show off and market their latest wares.

The tiny item was dwarfed by the tanks, armored vehicles and fighter jets that were also on display. But it has as much potential to change the face of war as its older cousin, the AK-47, widely referred to simply as the Kalashnikov.

With its low price, high efficiency and ease of use, the Kalashnikov rifle became the weapon of choice for revolutionaries and insurgents around the world, empowering disgruntled citizens against their governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It remains a potent tool to this day: The Pentagon purchases secondhand Kalashnikov rifles for its allies in Syria and Afghanistan, rather than give them more expensive American-made guns.

The Kalashnikov drone — officially named the KUB-UAV — will likewise be simple to operate, effective and cheap, its manufacturers claim — and just as revolutionary. It will mark “a step toward a completely new form of combat,” said Sergey Chemezov, chairman of Russia’s state-owned Rostec arms manufacturer, which owns a controlling stake in Kalashnikov, according to Kalashnikov’s news statement on the launch.

The KUB is four feet wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, the news release says. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be guided to explode on a target 40 miles away — the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile,” according to a report by the National Interest website.
Whoever buys one will have the ability to steer a bomb with a high degree of accuracy unparalleled except by some of the U.S. military’s smartest bombs, said Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of the book “Drones and Terrorism.”
“I think of it as democratizing smart bombs,” he said “It means disseminating smart bombs more widely. This would shrink the gap between the most advanced militaries and the smaller ones.”
Suicide drones are not new. The Islamic State pioneered the art of attaching explosives to commercially available drones and detonating them on advancing troops and enemy bases during the battles for the cities of Mosul and Raqqa in Iraq and Syria. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 12:26 pm

Claim Denials Are Huge on Obamacare

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In Canada, healthcare claims are not denied because you don’t have to make claims: if you’re ill, you go to the doctor and the doctor treats you and/or sends you for tests (which in my case were done at the ER). No claims, no forms, no pre-authorization, no pre-existing conditions. Just medical treatment.

Kevin Drum points out that the situation in the US is somewhat different:

Via Andrew Sprung, here is a Kaiser analysis of data from Obamacare claims:

We find that, across issuers with complete data, 19% of in-network claims were denied by issuers in 2017, with denial rates for specific issuers varying significantly around this average, from less than 1% to more than 40%.

This is solely for providers on the federal exchange, but it matches data for California, which has its own exchange. Apparently there’s no data for employer insurance to compare this to, but a best guess suggests that the denial rate on Obamacare claims is at least twice that of private employer insurance.

This is fodder for critics of Obamacare on both the right and the left. It’s certainly one way in which health coverage via Obamacare is worse than private insurance, and it’s especially noteworthy given that so many Obamacare providers use narrow networks. After all, the whole point of narrow networks is that customers are forced to see only pre-screened doctors that the insurance company trusts not to overtreat.

At the same time, Medicare almost certainly has a much lower incidence of claim denial, which is yet another mark in favor of universal health care. It is really amazing the number of problems that could be solved by simply giving up the long twilight struggle that’s produced America’s insane patchwork of health care providers and insurers. Employers pay more than they have to, patients pay more than they have to, millions go without coverage at all, and those of us who do have coverage have to put up with terrible service. What an unholy mess.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 10:32 am

Interesting takes on Michael Cohen’s testimony

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At this point, Cohen has nothing to lose and he seems seriously trying to set the record straight before starting his prison term. David Troy nailed it on Facebook:

Cohen presents like a deprogrammed cult member.

All the R’s on the committee can think to do is question his credibility, which is what you would expect cult members to do to a former cult member. This is revealing; we are dealing with a death cult. Proceed accordingly.

In the comment thread to that, Lisa Magil wrote:

if all your opponent can do is attack your credibility, it implies they know the facts are on your side…..

Another comment from Jen Fischetti:

ironically those Republicans in the committee are doing the exact same thing that Cohen said everyone at the Trump organization was paid to do, which was to protect the Trump.

This “cross examination” wasn’t about truth, as when the Republicans ran the committee, it was all about tamping down inquiry, it is about protecting a criminal organization.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 10:16 am

Video compendium of big fails

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Note especially the warehouse scene that starts at 8:02.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 10:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Video

Breakfast this morning

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I cook my breakfast in a 2-qt All-Clad Stainless sauté pan, which has a lid. Here is this morning’s breakfast, with comments:

2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil (and lately I’ve been using this one)
1 bunch scallions, chopped (including leaves)
6 stalks asparagus, chopped
1 jalapeño, chopped (with core and seeds)
10-12 cherry tomatoes, sliced
greens of some sort—this morning, 2 baby Shanghai bok choy, chopped
1 cup (approx) oyster mushrooms, stems and caps, chopped
pinch of salt and several grindings black pepper

I also add some sort of protein: a slice of ham, chopped; a sole fillet, cut into pieces; some bay scallops; “sea-food medley” (sold frozen: pieces of cuttlefish, octopus, clam, etc.); frozen clam meat; frozen oysters; and so on. This morning: squid-carved.

I just happened to see this in my local supermarket whose clientele includes a good representation of Chinese. That’s also where I get various greens, bitter melon, chicken hearts, etc. In fact, I had stopped to buy chicken hearts for my breakfast, but they were out, and these carved squid looked intriguing. So, continuing the recipe:

several pieces of carved squid

Bring heat to the high edge of medium and cook covered for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. I did add a splash of soy sauce, just for the heck of it.

2 eggs, cracked and added on top of the vegetables and squid.

Cover and cook for two minutes, then scoop into a bowl and enjoy.

I never heard of carved squid. They were quite tasty and tender.

The recipe is 3 WW points from the olive oil. Everything else is 0 points.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2019 at 9:35 am

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