15 February 2023

Daily Newsletter

Iranian President Raisi Visits China

The Facts

  • Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday kicked off a three-day trip to China, marking the first state visit by an Iranian leader to China in 20 years. The visit is reportedly a move to boost bilateral political and economic ties.

  • According to Chinese state television, Pres. Xi Jinping pledged to support Iran in protecting its national sovereignty and denounced an alleged policy of "unilateralism" and harassment against Iran amid rising tensions with the US.


The Spin

Pro-China narrative

The fact that the two ancient civilizations of Iran and China are deepening their political and economic ties is good news for the entire region. The fact that both face hegemonic oppression from Washington will in no way diminish their will to cooperate. In fact, it was the overcoming of US interference and sabotage that triggered many recent achievements in Sino-Iranian cooperation. Raisi's trip is a clear sign that a new multipolar order will continue to take shape.

Anti-China narrative

Tehran and Beijing's official statements cannot hide the fact that, in reality, their mutual ties still have issues. Tehran is upset that it has yet to reap the expected economic benefits from its pivot to China. Meanwhile, Beijing recently snubbed Tehran by tilting closer to one of its chief adversaries, Saudi Arabia. China and Iran's growing tensions with Washington are simply insufficient as a basis for putting their economic and political relations on a solid footing.

Nerd narrative

There's a 47% chance that Iran will possess a nuclear weapon before 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

US Suspects Three Unidentified Objects Were 'Benign'

The Facts

  • White House officials said on Tuesday that the three unidentified objects shot down by US fighter jets since Friday may turn out to be balloons connected to "benign" commercial or research efforts.

  • Following the Chinese high-altitude balloon incident earlier this month, three mysterious aerial devices were shot down by US fighter jets over Michigan, Alaska, and northern Canada over the past several days.


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Up until this month, Americans were led to believe that their homeland was safe from any and all threats, both foreign and domestic. Though the only object known to have been for espionage purposes was the first Chinese balloon, the others were necessarily shot down as they were potential flight hazards. The US government must continue to monitor its airspace thoroughly to ensure the safety of its skies.

Establishment-critical narrative

Beginning with vague talk of UFOs in 2017, the US government has been ramping up fear tactics to call for more militarism. Without even providing a clear explanation of what they are, many politicians are already using these incidents to call for sanctions against China and increased military spending. While you can't count on the US government to explain what's floating in the air, you can always count on it to instill fear in the American people to ultimately fund the military-industrial complex.

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. This topic is taking the oxygen from more important stories.

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

Former Judge: Pence ‘Doesn’t Have a Chance’ of Avoiding Grand Jury

The Facts

  • J. Michael Luttig, the conservative former judge who advised former Vice President Mike Pence during his handling of the election certification on Jan. 6, 2021, has written an op-ed in The New York Times. The piece admonishes Pence for his attempt to avoid a grand jury subpoena from Jack Smith, the special counsel investigating former Pres. Trump’s post-election activities.

  • Luttig wrote that Pence “doesn’t have a chance in the world of winning his case” and that the former Vice President's attempt to dodge the grand jury will bring an “embarrassing spectacle” to the nation.


The Spin

Democratic narrative

If Pence challenges the subpoena, he’ll fall flat on his face. According to case law, speech-or-debate protections extend only to legislative acts, and Pence unequivocally stated his Senate role was ministerial and largely ceremonial. He’s just trying to stay in Trump’s good graces by appearing to fight the investigation.

Republican narrative

There's no doubt that Pence is right to take this path to fight the DOJ's subpoena as the vice president indeed constitutionally belongs to the legislative branch. By dismissing Trump's alleged pressure campaign to overturn the election, Pence made it clear that he was an officer of the Senate in his own right, not an executive official subordinated to the president.

Pro-Trump narrative

Smith is a politically-motivated prosecutor who is running an illegitimate investigation and has botched prosecutions in the past — both domestically and overseas. There’s no way anyone, let alone the former vice president, should tell Smith anything.

Nerd narrative

There's a 54% chance that Pence will be a candidate for US president in the 2024 elections, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Day 357: Ukraine Re-enforcing Troop Numbers in Bakhmut, Wagner Head Says

The Facts

  • Ukraine is sending hundreds of new troops to the Donetsk city of Bakhmut every day in what has been the fiercest battle of the war so far, Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Russian mercenary group Wagner, said via Telegram on Tuesday.

  • "Bakhmut will not be taken tomorrow, because there is very strong resistance," Prigozhin said. "In all directions, the enemy is becoming more active and bringing in ever more reserves," he continued, claiming that between 300 and 500 troops were being deployed and artillery fire intensifying "every day."


The Spin

Pro-establishment narrative

Russia's inability to take the Donetsk city of Bakhmut is symbolic of the wider deficiencies that will prevent it from conducting further successful offensives in Ukraine.

Pro-Russia narrative

Russian forces are continuing to make advances in Donetsk. It's only a matter of time before Moscow's forces take the city of Bakhmut and the remainder of the Donetsk region.

Nerd narrative

There is a 2% chance that Ukraine will officially recognize a former Ukrainian territory (Luhansk, Donetsk or Crimea) as independent before 2024, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Scotland's Sturgeon to Resign

The Facts

  • Nicola Sturgeon has announced that she is stepping down as Scotland's First Minister and the Scottish National Party's (SNP) leader after more than eight years, with plans to remain in office until her successor is elected.

  • Sturgeon made her announcement at a press conference in her official residence of Bute House, Edinburgh. She called the role of the first minister the "very best job in the world" yet acknowledged that in her "head" and her "heart," now was the right time to resign for "me and my party and for the country."


The Spin

Narrative A

With a never-ending list of failures, it's no wonder Sturgeon has resigned. Not only did the SNP leader make numerous mistakes concerning gender reforms, independence referendums, and relationships with local councils, but she also left Scotland with a broken healthcare system and economic pain that can no longer be solely blamed on Westminster. To top it off, Scottish police are probing a potential misuse of SNP funding by her husband. New leadership is long overdue.

Narrative B

Sturgeon certainly wasn't without faults, however, she had natural strengths as a leader and was an incredibly human and straightforward social democrat that sought to improve the disadvantaged while standing up against Westminster — qualities she continued to embody through her decision to resign once it became increasingly clear that independence wouldn't happen under her leadership.

Nerd narrative

There's a 5% chance that Scotland will leave the UK before 2025, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Study: Reversible Male Contraceptive Pill Shows Promise in Mice

The Facts

  • A new study has reportedly produced promising results in mice for a male contraceptive drug that temporarily and rapidly reduces fertility. The treatment reportedly works by inactivating soluble adenylyl cyclase (sAC) — an enzyme critical to enabling sperm to propel themselves forward.

  • Researchers tested the treatment in the form of a compound titled TDI-11861 on 52 mice — no pregnancies resulted from subsequent mating with female mice, in contrast to a control group, which saw almost one-third of mates impregnated.


The Spin

Left narrative

This study is a hugely positive step after the overturning of Roe v. Wade has made the prevention of unplanned pregnancies more critical than ever. Men are involved in one hundred percent of unplanned pregnancies yet face the consequences of them far less frequently than women. In a climate increasingly hostile towards abortion — even to female autonomy at all — males must take greater responsibility for the consequences of their sexual activity.

Right narrative

Channeling such time, funding, and effort into research for the development of a male contraceptive pill is a waste. Even if this new study could develop a drug that isn't plagued by the myriad of side effects seen in previous tests, low demand among men and the likelihood of a much higher rate of forgetfulness and poor administration make it unlikely to be very effective. The media needs to stop reporting on research into male contraception as if it would be some kind of pharmacological holy grail.

See sources

Human Rights Watch Condemns UK, US Actions on Chagos Islands

The Facts

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday accused Britain and the US of committing crimes against humanity by forcing the people of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to leave their homes five decades ago to make way for a US Navy base.

  • The condemnation was made in a 106-page report calling for compensation and an apology to the Chagossians.


The Spin

Establishment-critical narrative

The UK and US governments conspired in the 1960s to forcibly remove the islands' inhabitants, in a clear crime against humanity. In addition to the forced displacement, the UK has since prevented Chagossians from returning to their homes. Reparations are the first and minimum step towards righting these wrongs.

Pro-establishment narrative

Diego Garcia is strategically important to the US and UK for regional security. There have been talks over its future between Mauritius, the US, and the UK, and the official lease on the island expires in 2036. Abandoning it earlier would constitute an absolute red line for British and US security interests, as China would fill any vacuum left by a withdrawal.

See sources

Tesla to Open EV Charging Network to Rivals in Federal Program

The Facts

  • As part of its $7.5B program to build 500k electric vehicle (EV) chargers by 2030, the White House announced Wednesday that Tesla agreed to make at least 7.5k chargers available to all EVs by the end of 2024.

  • To qualify for program funding, participating manufacturers must make and assemble the chargers in the US, and all manufacturing processes for any iron or steel charger enclosures or housing must also occur domestically.


The Spin

Republican narrative

After spending so much time attacking Elon Musk and his businesses — particularly regarding the new Twitter CEO setting the Hunter Biden story free — Pres. Biden has now begged his billionaire nemesis to help him fulfill his administration's green energy infrastructure plans. It seems that the man who actually builds things for America is winning the war of words with Mr. Build Back Better.

Democratic narrative

As the Biden admin. and the American people look for ways to go green, their efforts have been hindered for years due to a lack of charging adapters to connect to Tesla's chargers. In order to benefit from federal funding, however, Elon Musk has finally agreed, albeit begrudgingly, to produce universal EV chargers instead of hoarding his technology for Tesla buyers only.

Nerd narrative

There's a 50% chance that at least 1.52M non-Tesla vehicles will be licensed with Tesla software by 2030, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

See sources

Report: Israeli Hacking Team Meddled in 30+ Elections

The Facts

  • An investigation undertaken by a consortium of journalists and released by The Guardian on Wednesday alleged that a team of Israeli contractors claimed to have manipulated more than 30 elections around the globe using hacking, sabotage, and automated disinformation via social media.

  • The report said that the team is led by Tal Hanan, a 50-year-old former Israeli special forces operative who now works privately using the pseudonym “Jorge," and has been operating for more than two decades. Hanan said that he denies "any wrongdoing.”


The Spin

Narrative A

This report is a grave indictment of Israel's extremely concerning cyber espionage industry. Considering that Hanan used an Israeli company connected to Israel's Ministry of Defense in his disinformation operations, there's no doubt that there was some level of collusion between him and elements of the Israeli government. The Israeli government must immediately stop companies from meddling in global politics.

Narrative B

Though there are plenty of critics of companies and groups like Hanan's and NSO, this sort of work has been used to successfully catch countless criminals and terrorists. In light of allegations of misuse, Israel has worked to mitigate this by cutting off access to users who abuse the technology. Tel Aviv has safeguards in place.

See sources

House GOP Launches Probe into COVID Origins

The Facts

  • Republicans on the US House Oversight Committee and Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic, fulfilling a promise they made before taking the majority in the 2022 midterm elections, have begun an investigation into the origins of COVID.

  • Subcommittee chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) said the probe must establish "where and how" COVID emerged so Congress can "predict, prepare or prevent it from happening again." The committees have requested documents and testimony from Biden admin. officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and Health Secretary Xavier Beccera.


The Spin

Republican narrative

Fauci, and others who received requests to testify before the committees, have avoided facing the music long enough. They successfully ignored a Dec. 13, 2022 request, but now that Republicans are in charge it’s time to follow up on previous reports of tax dollars funding the Wuhan lab and the possibility that COVID was either an accidental lab leak or even a PRC bioweapon. If those asked to speak have information to the contrary, they are welcome to and should present it to Congress.

Democratic narrative

Any legitimate investigation into the origins of and response to the COVID pandemic has to start with a committee of astute inquisitors. What the GOP has provided, however, is a committee full of conspiracy theorists and unserious radicals that are unlikely to conduct this probe without politicizing it. If those investigating are the same people pushing dangerous medical disinformation, the committee's findings will end up as just another polarizing kangaroo court for one side of the aisle.

See sources

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