06 February 2023

Daily Newsletter

Chinese Balloon Downing: US Says It Recovers Key Parts

The Facts

  • The US military Monday said it has recovered key electronics, including sensors, from the alleged Chinese spy balloon it shot down off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.

  • Since shooting down the balloon, which China denies was being used for surveillance, the military has shot down three more unidentified objects this month.


The Spin

Anti-China narrative

The US was sending Blinken to China in hopes of improving relations between the two countries. China spoiled this plan by sending this spy balloon into US airspace and leaving Biden with no choice but to shoot it down and keep Blinken stateside. Obviously, there will always be behind-the-scenes competition between the two nations, but China can’t publicly humiliate the US and expect détente.

Pro-China narrative

The US is incompetent in dealing with crises because of the constant fighting between its political parties. The PRC's civilian airship wasn’t a threat, yet Biden shot it down to look tough in the face of Republican criticisms. Now he continues to be attacked by his political foes, but also has put US-China relations at risk with his overreaction. China can’t trust the US as a strategic partner because of its political dysfunction.

Cynical narrative

This whole story is an overreaction by the media. Whether you believe the balloon was a spying tool for China or it was just an off-course weather balloon, it certainly didn’t deserve the attention it received. Either the networks decided they needed to gin up ratings with scare tactics, and/or government representatives on both sides were feeding the frenzy to quash a US-China détente on purpose. But this balloon was nothing to freak out about.

Nerd narrative

There's a 9% chance there will be active warfare between the US and China before 2027, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Turkey-Syria Earthquake: Death Toll Passes 41K; Aid Enters Newly-Opened Border Crossing

The Facts

  • One of the largest earthquakes to hit the region in nearly a century — with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale — has killed thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure, and leveled thousands of buildings after striking a week ago in southern Turkey and northern Syria.

  • A second earthquake aftershock, registering a magnitude of 7.7 on the Richter scale, in the same location near Gaziantep was also reported last Monday afternoon, less than 12 hours after the initial quake. With the numbers in flux and rising, total fatalities have surpassed 41K as of Wednesday evening local time.


The Spin

Narrative A

This is the worst crisis to hit southern Turkey and northern Syria since the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011. Besides the fact that this region is inundated with refugees, the earthquake comes in the middle of winter which is only compounding the suffering of those who were already suffering. The global community must step up quickly to help the people of Turkey and Syria.

Narrative B

Sadly, many impacts of this earthquake could have been lessened if only Turkish authorities had dealt seriously with supervising urban development in quake-prone areas, enforcing the mandatory earthquake-resistant design codes to buildings its legislation approved in 2000. There are two major fault lines along the Anatolian Plate, and earthquake mitigation is vital given the likelihood of catastrophic tremors.

Pro-establishment narrative

The US should not and will not work with a government that has killed hundreds of thousands of its own people with barrel bombs, starvation sieges, and chemical weapons. US sanctions on Syria have a very minor effect on aid delivery, as such areas are excluded from the sanctions which largely target individuals and companies, and any possible hindrances have now been lifted. The US will do everything it can via the NGOs with which it has worked for years to provide Syrians with aid, but it will not assist Bashar al-Assad, Syria's dictator, after he destroyed his own country.

Establishment-critical narrative

Though the US has lifted some sanctions, this is largely a superficial move to avoid criticism of its brutal sanctions regime. If sanctions weren't obstructing aid delivery, why did the US lift some of them? All routes from Turkey into the country's north have been destroyed, making it even more necessary for Western governments to work directly with the Syrian state to help alleviate this crisis. The West must lift all of these cruel sanctions.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that at least 77.1K will die as a result of the most deadly earthquake from 2020 - 2029, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Adani Loses $110B, Sparks Protests Across India

The Facts

  • As Indian conglomerate Adani Group's market losses top $110B, dozens of India's opposition party members on Monday were detained during protests — prompting parliament to be suspended again due to disruptions surrounding the company.

  • The losses, which are up from $65B a week ago, follow a report by US short-seller Hindenburg Research last week, which flagged concerns about Adani firms' alleged mounting debts, stock manipulation, improper use of tax havens, and money laundering.


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Despite these market trends, the Indian market remains stable and reliable. Gautam Adani has said he will refund investor losses, and the government's independent regulators are already evaluating the situation. If India's economy was in the trouble, it wouldn't be projected to grow 7% in the next year — the largest projection among all major economies.

Establishment-critical narrative

Prime Minister Modi has been quiet on this issue because he knows he's complicit. His own regulators should not be investigating this matter, but as the members of parliament have called for, a truly independent probe by the Supreme Court should be conducted. India's stock market isn't falling due to some malicious attack by Hindenburg, but because Adani's corporate-government corruption has finally been exposed.

See sources

Day 348: Kyiv Prepares for Renewed Russian Attacks

The Facts

  • According to Ukrainian Pres. Zelenskyy's nightly address on Sunday, Kyiv is continuing to prepare for an imminent Russian bombardment as the anniversary of the Russian invasion draws nearer.

  • Ukraine's defense minister Oleksii Reznikov has said the nation has the reserves necessary to hold back Moscow's forces. "Despite everything," he stated, "we expect a possible Russian offensive in February." Reportedly, not all of the latest military supplies promised to Kyiv by western countries will have arrived in time to aid defense against the alleged coming attack.


The Spin

Anti-Russia narrative

Russia's deliberate targeting of energy infrastructure — unnecessarily increasing the suffering of civilians — amounts to war crimes. This continuing Russian barbarity must be confronted.

Pro-Russia narrative

Attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure are a direct consequence of the failure of the country's leadership to meaningfully engage in peace talks and the thought that they can defeat Russia on the battlefield. These attacks will stop once a more sober position is reached.

Nerd narrative

There's a 90% chance that 50,000 Russian soldiers will be killed in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict before 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Report: Moscow, Tehran Advance Plans for Drone Facility

The Facts

  • The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Moscow and Tehran are cooperating on plans to construct a factory in Russia to make at least 6K Iranian-designed drones to be used in the Ukraine war.

  • According to officials reportedly from a country aligned with the US, a high-level Iranian delegation flew to Russia in early January to visit the planned site for the factory and decide on details to start the project.


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Iran is no longer seen by the West as a problem to be solved, but instead as an outright enemy that is helping to prolong the conflict in Ukraine. Tehran is on a direct collision course with the US and the West and has made a fatal mistake in choosing to side with Russia and Putin.

Establishment-critical narrative

Western propaganda is spreading lies to try to justify the prolongation of the conflict in Ukraine. Despite having long-established defense cooperation with Moscow, Tehran is not taking part in any joint project to produce drones in Russia.

Nerd narrative

There is a 14% chance that Russia will test nuclear weapons in 2023, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Koch Network to Oppose Trump in 2024

The Facts

  • Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a conservative group that spends billions on campaigns and is backed by billionaire Charles Koch, said Sunday it will support a candidate other than former Pres. Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential primaries.

  • Though many AFP donors were fans of Trump in 2016, Koch and his brothers were not; they stayed out of those primaries. The PAC reportedly donated $80M during the 2022 midterms.


The Spin

Republican narrative

Plenty of Republican candidates and groups have their knives out for Trump. If they’re right, and an alternative candidate is necessary to retake the White House, they better coalesce around one Trump challenger rather than making the mistakes they made in 2016.

Pro-Trump narrative

Trump doesn't win all the time, but that doesn't take away his overall winning track record or his potential for victory in 2024. Just like 2016, liberals and never-Trumpers are handwringing over Trump’s candidacy spelling doom for Republicans. But rank-and-file Republicans still love him, and if he gets enough of their votes, he should be allowed to ride his way to the nomination, and possibly the White House.

Nerd narrative

There’s a 43% chance Trump will be the Republican 2024 presidential nominee, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Trial of Hong Kong Activists to Begin

The Facts

  • The highly-anticipated trial of 16 Hong Kong democracy activists began Monday. The 16 defendants are among 47 who pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to commit subversion under Chinese national security law.

  • The trial comes three years after the defendants were accused of "subversion" for organizing an unofficial primary to elect candidates for the 2020 Legislative Council election, which was later postponed due to the COVID pandemic.


The Spin

Anti-China narrative

This trial shows that Hong Kong is no different from other authoritarian regimes that imprison dissidents and undermine democracy. Beijing’s National Security Law was implemented to suppress any protests against China’s government, and Hong Kong adopted its own law that is closer to China’s than to its self-proclaimed common law system.

Pro-China narrative

The Hong Kong activists plotted a deliberate act of subversion against the city’s government. They sought to unlawfully win a majority in the Legislative Council in order to veto laws and paralyze the current government. This is a clear violation of the law and threat to national security, and a majority of participants have already pleaded guilty.

See sources

Former Pakistan President Musharraf Dies at 79

The Facts

  • Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, died on Sunday in Dubai, according to the Pakistan military. Although no cause of death was announced, Musharraf had been undergoing treatment for amyloidosis, a rare disease.

  • Musharraf was a former special forces commando who ascended to the presidency in 1999 after the last of a string of military coups. He stepped down in 2008 in the face of a potential impeachment.


The Spin

Narrative A

Musharraf may have had his faults, but he stabilized Pakistan’s economy, raised its growth rate, liberalized the media, and passed legislation to protect women. His decision to align with the US brought in billions in aid from abroad, and no leader of Pakistan has ever come as close as he did to making peace with India. Subsequent instability should make Pakistan’s people yearn for his days in office.

Narrative B

Musharraf was an autocrat who oversaw a reign of death, destruction, and usurpation of Pakistan’s constitution. He played both sides when it came to the US and the Taliban. These serious actions should be remembered in the context of his legacy, not the liberal reforms he barely established.

See sources

Dell to Slash Over 6K Jobs

The Facts

  • Dell Technologies Inc. has announced its intention to cut roughly 6,650 employees — about 5% of its overall workforce — amid slumping demand for PCs. The news comes amid a wave of mass layoffs in the tech sector, with companies such as Amazon and Alphabet having announced jobs cuts in recent weeks.

  • The news was made public in a memo released on Monday, which saw Dell's Co-Chief Operating Officer Jeff Clarke state that attempts to cut costs by pausing hiring and limiting travel, among other measures, had been insufficient. Clarke also said that market conditions were continuing to "erode," creating "an uncertain future."


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

This movement towards mass redundancy in tech firms is not indicative of any significant market changes. The layoffs are sparking media attention on an inordinate scale, but the tech sector only accounts for roughly 3% of jobs. In addition, tech workers are relatively well educated, and evidence shows they rapidly find new work in comparison to the rest of the labor market.

Establishment-critical narrative

These layoffs spark cause for concern. The bounce in stock prices following most tech redundancies may make this move more popular among executives, even though not enough emphasis has been put on the potential impact on consumer spending of layoffs. Tech workers are mostly highly paid and the US economy is heavily dependent on the spending of the top fifth of earners. This ongoing strategy in the sector could easily cause the elite to slow spending.

Nerd narrative

There is a 50% chance that the annual US unemployment rate will be at least 6.09% in 2027, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Kamala Harris Unveils $4.2B in Central America Investments

The Facts

  • On Monday, US Vice President Kamala Harris unveiled $950M in new private sector commitments in the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — building on her plan to reduce mass migration to the US by creating economic opportunities in the home countries of many migrants.

  • In March 2021, Pres. Biden tasked Harris with leading efforts to curb migration which surged dramatically after he took office. Harris then focused her attention on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, known as the "Northern Triangle."


The Spin

Democratic narrative

The Vice President's Central America Forward plan has been a great success and is humanely addressing the root cause of migration. The Biden White House is committed to a comprehensive strategy that will create sustainable and ethical solutions to mass migration. In just two years, the administration has made great strides.

Republican narrative

Harris has resorted to political stunts to hide from the fact that she and Biden have utterly failed to address the US border crisis. The US government cannot control what happens in other nations and should focus on efforts at home to secure America’s border and keep its people safe. Long-term plans sound nice, but they do nothing to stop tens of thousands of migrants from flooding into America every day.

See sources

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