Friday News Roundup — August 12, 2022

What the PACT Act Means to Veterans; Europe Slow to Adapt to Russian Invasion; Power Struggle within Japan’s LDP


Hello, and welcome to the first roundup of August. The Senate and the House have both gone into their August recesses, which has a way of slowing down the pace of life in Washington, D.C. Despite hopes to enjoy the sun and the end of summer, plenty has happened in the two weeks since our last dispatch in July.

The big news of this week was the Monday FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s resort and primary residence Mar-a-Lago. FBI agents executed a warrant to search for certain reportedly sensitive government documents which Trump allegedly took with him at the end of his presidency in 2021. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland later confirmed that he had personally signed off on the raid. Garland moved on August 11 to make the legal authorization public which the search was executed under, while President Trump also voiced his support for making the warrant public. Sources familiar with the investigation speaking to the New York Times said that officials were particularly concerned about Trump’s possession of documents related to classified “special access programs,” while the Washington Post reported that some of the documents pertained to nuclear secrets, which Trump denied, accusing the FBI of “planting” evidence. While this episode has already made waves in American politics, it could turn into an extended battle as Republican political figures across the country have largely rallied to Trump’s defense. Congressional Republicans promised investigations into the DoJ and FBI should they secure control of the House and Senate in November.

Speaking of Congress, the Senate made use of the time since our last roundup. Congress passed the PACT Act on August 2 (discussed below in more detail by our very own Ethan Brown) which the President is expected to sign. The legislation expands VA healthcare coverage to veterans who were impacted by serving in proximity to toxic burn pits. On August 6, Senate Democrats secured the passage of the roughly $740 billion “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” under budget reconciliation rules, which allowed the legislation to pass without any Republican votes. In many ways a pared down version of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bundle of initiatives, the reconciliation bill included measures to combat climate change, tweaks to the tax code, funding to modernize the IRS. It also addresses drug prices. Senate Republicans took aim at tax increases found in the bill, possible stifling of medical innovation as a result of certain drug price caps, and its general efficacy as a tool to reduce inflation.

On the road to November’s midterm elections, Vermont is on track to elect its first ever woman to its congressional delegation. Becca Balint won the August 9 Democratic primary with a sizeable lead over her main opponent Molly Gray, the current Lieutenant Governor of Vermont. Today, Vermont is the only state in the union which has never elected a woman to either house of Congress. Based on public polling, Balint is highly likely to defeat her Republican challenger Liam Madden in the general election in deep-blue Vermont.

This week, Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs director, Joshua C. Huminski, reviewed Angus Robertson’s “The Crossroads of Civilization” about the history of Austria’s capital, Vienna. A love letter of sorts to the city, Robertson shows how the city was shaped by and, in turn, shaped European history, but also explores the rich cultural and diplomatic history, as well.

On August 12, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies Ethan Brown published an investigation with Task and Purpose into the Air Force’s decision to shut down three units tasked with training foreign air forces. Brown discusses the value provided by such units as well as some of the factors responsible for their demise.

In this week’s roundup, Ethan Brown discusses what the passage of the PACT Act means for U.S. veterans, Wesley Culp analyzes the state of European aid to Ukraine and efforts to contain Russia, and Hidetoshi Azuma takes a look at the building power struggle in Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party.

What the passage of the PACT Act Means for Veterans

Ethan Brown

Jon Stewart USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s 35th Annual Awards Dinner (Photo Credit: Jim Greenhill/Flickr)

In a landmark bill efforted over the summer and after years of effort, congress has approved and passed the PACTS Act of 2022, or the “Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics” Act. President Biden signed the bill into law on Wednesday morning, expanding comprehensive healthcare coverage for American servicemembers and veterans of the Global War on Terror who were exposed to burn pits and toxic hazards.

The passage of this bill is notable for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the timing of the act becoming law, almost exactly a year after the chaotic and tumultuous withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war in which more than 400,000 U.S. military personnel saw time in foreign states under this conflict’s banner.

PACT offers significant expansion to the healthcare coverage and eligibility for veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals and other radiation hazards known — not suspected or possible hazards, but well-known and widespread ones — while serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and across the greater Levant. The act adds more than 20 new presumptive conditions for burn pit and toxic exposure symptoms, including the provision for Vietnam veterans who were presumptively exposed to Agent Orange, the jungle-clearing chemicals used to reduce foliage without regard to how it would doom scores of veterans to horrific cancer-related deaths. It also mandates that the Veterans Administration healthcare system provides a toxic exposure screening to every Veteran enrolled in VA healthcare, while greatly expanding funding for research, education, and expanded treatment for toxic exposure.

If you spent time on Twitter in recent weeks, you may have noticed the stark uptick in reels and clips of former comedian Jon Stewart trending. While always good for delivering dead-pan humor on par with late-show hosts of recent years, Stewart was instead garnering views for his outspoken support of the bill and utter damning criticism of lawmakers who voted against its passage. An interesting note, the only congressional delegates to vote against the bill were Republican, citing provisions and financial inclusions not-related to Veterans healthcare which, inevitably, had been snuck into the bill. That congress would hide extra pots of appropriated funds to a bill which is hundreds of pages in length should not shock a single soul.

But partisan bickering aside, the bill managed to survive the chambers of congress and proceeded to the White House to end its long and tumultuous journey, one which began as a bipartisan proposal authored by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Morgan (R-KS). Senator Tester’s comments on the bill from the floor of the Senate on Wednesday the 4th of August:

[This was] a chance to do the right thing by their families and future generations of our all-volunteer military. Let me be clear: this bill isn’t about Democrats versus Republicans. It’s not about political posturing. It’s about Americans standing up for those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of this country and the freedoms we have today. In fact, it’s even more than that. It’s about righting a wrong that has been ignored for too damn long”

Permit me to provide a little more graphic context than a usual op-ed, one which, unfortunately, I am uniquely qualified to speak on in this regard. One of the key points of this bill is the revision of the burden of proof that injuries or disabilities for a given veteran were related to toxic chemical exposure. The VA, notorious for its negligence and criminal mishandling of veteran healthcare, has historically denied 75% of veteran claims of injury and illness related to toxic exposure during GWOT. Despite numerous individual and supporting documentation from multiple sources, my efforts to include this disability in my personnel record were a years-long battle with the VA. And in that case, I had iron-clad evidence to support such a claim, but still had to fight for its inclusion on my service record with the VA. My case is but one of scores of the same incomprehensible reality that many veterans of GWOT and Vietnam faced.

Symptoms and conditions of that exposure include shortness of breath, loss of sense of smell, constant and violent migraines, nausea, nervous system disturbance (trembling, twitching, hypertension), constrictive bronchiolitis (closing of the lungs smallest airways), gastrointestinal disorders, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and countless forms of cancer. These symptoms are the result of chemical pollutants which include volatile organic compounds — that means human waste of the worst kind — polychlorinated dibenzo-dioxins, highly corrosive compounds from batteries and other noxious mediums, and the perpetual smog mingled with the dust and pollens of a harsh landscape.

It’s because in remote outstations, whether it was the scorched-earth sand near Erbil or Bilad in Iraq, or the forbidding and austere mountain passes in eastern Afghanistan, servicemembers would spend months of their lives forced to burn waste, excess material, and other hazardous content in an effort to keep their FOBs and COPs tidy and clear of debris that would otherwise create even more hellacious living conditions and disease repositories. Combine that reality with the fact that — especially in Afghanistan in the harsh wintertime — locals would burn literally anything to keep warm: trash, vehicle tires, anything that would burn, indeed was.

If public accounts aren’t veritable enough, take my word for it. I spent nearly three years of my life in Afghanistan alone over the course of a decade in the military. In the ‘Bagram bowl’ — the big valley which both Bagram and Kabul call home — the sun would rise sometime around 8 in the morning once it cleared the imposing Hindu Kush. Of course, we couldn’t see it until later in the morning because the smoke, smog, and stench would hide its rays. There would be times when one could not see across the Hamid Karzai International Airport runway because the smog was so thick and pervasive after a full night of trash and tires being burnt in thousands of homes. In Bagram, everyone lost their sense of smell within a day of arrival, and it would seldom return to normalcy even after redeployment back to the United States.

Veterans are facing cancer-related deaths as a result of exposure to these kinds of conditions. Many of them have died as a result of being unable to secure the healthcare necessary — and owed to them by a government who sent them to fight in these wars — because they couldn’t prove that their cases were the result of being exposed to inhuman levels of toxicity. The passing of the PACTS act isn’t going to bring those service men and women back from the dead, but future generations of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans at least have a fighting chance of being repaid by the government who sent them into harm’s way when such risks were known and documented.

It’s a small comfort, but for once, it is something positive to be recorded about America’s longest war.

Western Countries are Making Slow Progress Adapting to Russian Invasion

Wesley Culp

Now-German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the 2019 Munich Security Conference (photo credit: Munich Security Conference)

In the days and weeks following Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, it seemed like a significant shift in Europe’s approach to its security was afoot. Members of NATO greenlit major steps on the continent, such as admitting Sweden and Finland into the alliance and promising a general shift away from Russian energy sources, on which many European countries remain heavily dependent. However, significant questions remain on whether some of the most influential powers in Europe are serious about their plans to beef up their security and challenge Russia over its invasion over the long run.

While holistically evaluating Europe’s progress in supporting Ukraine, reorienting its security posture for competition with Russia, and energy diversification away from Russia must bear in mind the tremendous political capital costs for national governments to implement such shifts, it is important to evaluate what progress has been made by the states of central and western Europe. The chart below uses a stoplight to show progress made on the four identifiable tracks of Europe’s response to Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Green represents satisfactory progress being made to the aim in question, yellow indicates a mixed record of success in some fields and insufficient performance in others, and red represents generally insufficient fulfillment of goals in a durable way. That said, this is just a snapshot of where things stand now.

It should be noted that certain elements of Europe’s aid to Ukraine, such as the provision of certain weapons, will operate on longer timelines by nature. Many European arms purchases are still in their early stages, such as with Poland’s purchase of South Korean K2 tanks for itself or Germany’s sale of 100 additional Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers to Ukraine, the production of which will likely take several years. Therefore, if this analysis were to split off arms deliveries into their own track, they would be classified as “too soon to judge.”

On August 3, the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to ratify Finland and Sweden’s membership bids, joining 22 other members of the 30 member alliance who have ratified the two countries’ accession so far. The accession process of Sweden and Finland, who would add substantial military capabilities to the alliance, has already overcome sizable barriers, most notably Turkey’s surprise block on their bids until an agreement was reached regarding Turkey’s accusation that the two were host to affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Meanwhile, a variety of NATO members continue to express optimism that they will be able to reach the defense spending target of 2% of GDP set at the 2014 Wales NATO Summit.

Western and central European promises of defense spending hikes, however, do not appear to be as ambitious as originally touted. Germany is a prime example of this. Despite German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivering what was hailed then as a truly transformational speech on February 27 that the continent had entered a “new era” as a result of Russia’s invasion, it does not appear that Germany’s promise to meet the 2% defense spending target will be met in the near future. As it stands now, Berlin’s defense budget is slated to remain at roughly EUR 50 billion through 2026, far short of the EUR 70 billion needed to reach the 2% target. While the 2022 Defense White Paper published by the Dutch Ministry of Defense to outline current and future priorities of the Ministry highlights that the Netherlands will meet the Wales target in 2024 and 2025, it also candidly admits that spending will immediately fall below that level after 2025, despite Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren’s call for the Netherlands and other European states get “European defense in order” at a July 14 Atlantic Council event.

Germany has also serially overpromised and under-delivered on arms deliveries to Ukraine and Eastern European states who have emptied their own national stockpiles in support of Ukraine, partly as a result of the fact that Germany’s stores of weapon systems and munitions are themselves dangerously depleted. One telling example of this is the sluggish arrival of promised Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzers, where Germany only promised to send fifteen examples of the system in conjunction with the Netherlands, which Germany’s Bundeswehr would only draw from its maintenance pool in order to avoid disruptions. A further sale of 100 Panzerhaubitze 2000s to Ukraine reportedly approved by Berlin on July 27 will need to be built from scratch by Germany’s defense industry, as Germany remains cautious about digging too deeply into its stocks, which Germany has also refused to do with other artillery systems, tanks, and other promised forms of support.

Other states in western and southern Europe are hamstrung in following through with a general reinvestment in continental security by politics. Italy, for example, is currently consumed by the recent collapse of former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government and the run up to snap elections which are scheduled to be held on September 25. A coalition of right-wing parties, some of whom such as Matteo Salvini’s League party, have proven sympathetic to Russia in the past. While Lega’s partner Brothers of Italy party is currently leading in the polls (at the time of writing) and is in best position to lead any post-election government, Salvini’s influence could be sufficient to scramble Italy’s existing support for Ukraine, despite Brothers of Italy party head Giorgia Meloni’s insistence that a government led by her would continue to uphold the West’s commitment to Ukraine.

France, who had directly contributed $2 billion worth of military, economic, and humanitarian aid as well as contributed to the $9 billion worth of aid contributed by the EU to Ukraine as of the beginning August, is entering a similar period of political challenges which could restrict what support Paris can realistically provide over the longer term. In June, elections to France’s National Assembly delivered a heavy blow to President Emmanuel Macron’s La République En Marche party, which threatens to seriously complicate Macron’s legislative agenda over in the medium-term future. While the National Assembly does not have the power to directly block Macron’s foreign policy, it could still confound budget process to allocate funds to aid or other programs, a threat which lurks in the background on any consideration of what France and other European states will do when challenges of reducing dependence on Russian energy become more acute in the upcoming fall and winter.

Despite European claims that the bloc will replace its imports of Russian oil and gas, the wavering of certain governments on the subject raises significant questions about the feasibility of this project to reduce dependence on Russian energy. The EU’s official goal is to reduce gas imports from Russia by two-thirds and replace them with energy from other sources. The EU also agreed in May to suspend Russian oil imports via tanker, and greatly reduce imports via pipelines, which Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Germany are allowed to use to reduce their imports at a slower pace. Russian coal will be the first to fully go, with a full EU ban on Russian coal imports coming into effect this week.

Under the EU oil import deal, Hungary is under no obligation to reduce its imports, a cutout for the government in Budapest which remains eager to maintain Russian energy ties. Nonetheless, this accommodation does not appear to have entirely insulated Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia from oil supply disruptions. On August 4, oil flows to the three central European countries through the Druzhba pipeline stopped, which Russia’s state-owned Transneft pipeline operator blamed on a fee payment dispute with the company’s Ukrainian counterpart. Similar disruptions previously occurred on Russia’s Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, where Russian complaints over the delivery of an under-repair turbine saw gas flows on the pipeline massively throttled in July. Russia’s understanding of its energy supplies as a bludgeon which it can use to strike back at Europe’s support for Ukraine and punishment of Russia over Moscow’s invasion isn’t going anywhere. If anything, it will only deepen, as Russia is well aware that European states are scrambling to account for likely sharp reductions of supply and price hikes for gas by reducing consumption or by developing emergency rationing plans.

In comparison to eastern European and Baltic countries such as Estonia or Poland which have provided proportionally large amounts of military and non-military aid to Ukraine, many continental European states have struggled to follow through with promised aid to Ukraine as well as other measures designed to punish Russia for its invasion. As European governments begin to feel the bite of energy disruptions brought on by Moscow’s weaponization or temporary supply disruptions, they will need to often-chaotic domestic political environments to deliver on aid to Ukraine, whose war with Russia has no end in sight.

Summertime Cabinet Shuffle Masks a Political Purge in Tokyo

Hidetoshi Azuma

(Photo Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office of Japan)

For a country widely renowned for its peace and stability, political purge is virtually an unthinkable proposition in Japan. Indeed, the July 8 assasination of former prime minister Shinzo Abe did not even fundamentally undo Japanese democracy, underscoring the country’s cultural resilience. While accurate, such a superficial perception disregards the growing internal power struggle within Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) which began to accelerate ironically after Abe’s tragic death. Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida’s surprise cabinet reshuffle on August 10 was the culmination of such intra-party dynamics seldom receiving public attention. The emerging trajectory in the LDP’s smoke-filled back room in Nagatacho is decisively tilting the internal balance of power in favor of Kishida and his faction, the Kochikai, at the expense of the beleaguered rival faction left, the Seiwakai. The upshot is the inexorable ascendancy of Kishida and his allies with serious implications for US engagement with Nagatacho (Tokyo’s “Capitol Hill’’).

Abe’s sudden demise last month disrupted the internal balance of power within the LDP. The slain prime minister’s faction, the Seiwakai, had dominated domestic Japanese politics since the 2000s, culminating Abe’s unrivaled political longevity throughout the previous decade. Kishida therefore found himself overshadowed by Abe’s towering influence for the first several months into his tenure and having to constantly check and balance his predecessor’s Seiwakai faction with his own. Abe’s demise followed by the ongoing scandals involving his and his associates was a godsend for the incumbent Japanese prime minister struggling to maintain a delicate balance of power within the LDP. In other words, Kishida and his factional allies have suddenly emerged virtually uncontested in Nagatacho over the last several weeks.

The US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s historic tour to Taiwan concluded with a visit to Tokyo on her way back home, providing Kishida with a much-needed boost for his efforts to reorganize the LDP’s internal dynamics. In fact, Pelosi reportedly asked Kishida to accelerate the process for revising the Japanese constitution in order to expand the scope of Japan’s defense commitments within the US-Japan alliance. Whether or not the US politician made such a demand to the Japanese prime minister is irrelevant. Pelosi’s very summit with Kishida amidst the brewing Taiwan crisis would allow him to implement a radical change in domestic Japanese politics. Indeed, Kishida’s sudden announcement of a snap cabinet reshuffle on August 10 immediately following his summit with Pelosi had the maximum effect of unsettling many in Nagatacho who had expected it not to occur at least until early September.

What followed was a veritable political purge masquerading as a cabinet reshuffle. Significantly, non-Seiwakai elements, such as the Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi and the Chairman of the Executive Council Toshiaki Endo now fill the key party posts in charge of the LDP’s personnel and other operational affairs, effectively controlling the internal factional dynamics. Kishida astutely appointed Abe’s former deputy and former Minister of the Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), Koichi Hagiuda, as the Chairman of the Policy Research Council to shape the LDP’s overall policy in line with the deceased leader’s anti-China agenda. Kishida thus effectively purged Seiwakai elements from the key party functionaries, leaving the LDP’s operational leadership in the hands of his factional allies.

Kishida’s anti-Seiwakai approach to the cabinet reshuffle also influenced key cabinet posts. For example, he retained pro-China Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, the second in line of the Kochikai’s succession, in the same post while appointing former defense minister Yasukazu Hamada, a veteran lawmaker with no factional affiliation, to lead the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) again. Kishida went on to appoint Abe’s former associates, Yasutoshi Nishimura (Seiwakai) and Sanae Takaichi (independent, previously Seiwakai), as the METI minister and the Economic Security Minister, respectively. Takaichi is Japan’s foremost anti-China politician, and her latest appointment indicates Kishida’s growing focus on targeted decoupling from China. Meanwhile, he also retained former defense minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother and Seiwakai’s leading prime minister hopeful, as the Special Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security. Hayashi and his Seiwakai colleagues in key national security posts have divergent, if not irreconcilable, views on China. These appointments on Japan’s foreign policy and national security front reveal Kishida’s emerging strategy of checking China’s aggression while leaving room for dialogue in managing geopolitical crises. In the meantime, Kishida essentially took some of Abe’s top allies hostage in his new cabinet, further chipping away Seiwakai’s declining influence.

Apart from these appointments, the real significance of the August 10 cabinet reshuffle is to be found in those excluded from the new cabinet. Kishida reportedly sought help from the former prime minister Yoshihide Suga in forming a new cabinet and promised the Vice Prime Minister post. Likewise, he also allegedly approached Tatsuo Fukuda, the former Chairman of the LDP’s Executive Council and a prominent member of the Seiwakai, with a possible offer to consider him for the defense minister post. What happened on August 10 was that these two senior LDP leaders found themselves totally excluded in Kishida’s new cabinet. In a society extolling trust and consensus above all else, Kishida’s decision was unthinkable and shocked many in Nagatacho, leading them to a rude awakening to a new political reality suddenly dawning on them.

Kishida was hardly reckless in flagrantly defying Abe’s legacy and the LDP’s lingering internal shibboleths. By contrast, he had grown confident of his place within the LDP by August 10 largely thanks to former prime minister Taro Aso’s backing and the growing support from the Ministry of Finance (MOF). Indeed, Aso, the grandson of former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, is now arguably Japan’s unrivaled kingmaker with his influence spanning from Nagatacho to even the Bank of Japan (BOJ). Aso has been advancing his agenda of forging a “Greater Kochikai” by reintegrating the Kochikai offshoots into the original faction. Kochikai has historically enjoyed support from the MOF and played a crucial role in postwar Japan’s reconstruction and economic miracle by leveraging its alliance with the finance ministry for sweeping fiscal and monetary policy reforms. Aso has successfully enlisted Kishida’s support for his agenda and appears inexorable in his pursuit of the “Greater Kochikai” agenda, especially given his own younger brother, Shunichi Suzuki, retained as the Finance Minister in the new cabinet.

Such an emerging trajectory in Nagatacho merits an overhaul in Washington’s engagement with domestic Japanese politics. After engineering the founding of the LDP in 1955, Washington historically engaged with Japanese politicians seeking constitutional revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution restricting the country’s armed forces. This was largely due to the US desire to leverage Japan’s suppressed military potential for its own regional strategy without reviving militarism. The upshot was the emergence of pro-US, neoconservative politicians, such as Abe and former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, affiliated with the Seiwakai beginning in the late-1990s. By contrast, the Kochikai began to wane during the same time period due to its own internal crisis and remained sidelined for more than two decades. As a result, the Kochikai largely became a faction of national security doves with an affinity for classical liberalism, leading them to become increasingly detached from the emerging geopolitical landscape in the Indo-Pacific and US regional imperatives. Kishida’s sudden ascendancy has already put the Kochikai back in power, and Washington may as well focus on deepening its engagement with the faction and its offshoots especially during the tenure of Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, who has already earned considerable local respect as a highly proactive diplomat in chief in Tokyo.

While a Greater Kochikai is far from a reality at this point, Kishida has thrown down the gauntlet toward ultimately realizing the common agenda shared with his patron. Abe’s assasination was essentially an earthquake revealing the coming tectonic shift in the LDP’s internal power dynamics. Kishida’s latest cabinet reshuffle consolidated the emerging trajectory in Nagatacho. The way in which he handled the cabinet reshuffle in the aftermath of a horrific assasination of a renowned leader was splendid, and foreign observers may hasten to attribute it to the Japanese culture of national resilience honed by its history of surviving frequent earthquakes. Yet under the veneer of sophistication, a simmering power struggle is underway in Tokyo. What happened on the summer night of August 10 in Japan was essentially a political purge with enormous implications for the future of domestic Japanese politics. The Seiwakai now suffers from the triple crisis of leadership void, endless scandals, and the inexorable rise of the Kochikai. Against this backdrop, boosting engagement with the new faces of Nagatacho is now a critical imperative for Washington as China’s aggression looms over the region.

News You May Have Missed

Ceasefire Returns to Israel and Palestinian Territories

On August 7, Israel and the Iranian-backed Gaza militant group Islamic Jihad agreed to a ceasefire after three days of intense fighting and the deaths of more than forty Palestinians. The skirmish began on August 4, when Israel launched airstrikes at Islamic Jihad targets, killing at least ten people. Brokered by Egypt with help from the United States, Qatar, and the UN, the ceasefire is holding as Israel reopens the Kerem Shalom crossing, allowing cross-border commercial activities to resume in Gaza. Hamas, the ruling faction in Gaza, reportedly stayed out of the fighting as its military is still recovering from last year’s conflict. Notably, many Gazans were against the fighting according to Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based analyst. Their opposition was motivated by Israel’s loosening of restrictions on Gazans in the past year, such as issuing work permits and opening trade. This development suggests a growing divide between hardliners and moderates on the issue of Israel’s security and relations with neighbors. This is happening in parallel to the broader Arab effort to work with Israel in order to contain the Iranian threat.

North Korea Declares Victory over COVID-19

In an August 10 meeting on COVID-19 policy, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared victory over COVID-19. This declaration was accompanied by a speech by Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who implied that the North Korean dictator had suffered from a fever when he contracted the illness himself (which was received with tears by assembled group of thousands of officials), and that North Korea’s outbreak had been spread to the country by South Korean leaflets floated across the border. North Korea’s COVID victory is remarkable, since Pyongyang refused to even acknowledge the spread of the disease within the country for much of the pandemic and has produced figures of key indicators on the pandemic’s effect on the country which are highly improbable for a country as impoverished as North Korea.

Indiana Police Under Investigation for Arresting Man to Prevent Him from Running for Town Council

Franklin County, Indiana, prosecutor Chris Huerkamp has called for an Indiana State Police investigation into police in the town of Brookville, following his discovery of misconduct by police chief Terry Mitchum and officer Ryan Geiser. Mitchum and Geiser are being investigated over their arrest of Trevin Thalmeier on drug possession, rape allegations, and other charges. Huerkamp dropped the charges against Thalmeier not only due to lack of evidence — Mitchum pursued the rape charges despite any physical evidence — but also when learning that Mitchum and Geiser made comments about how they did not want Thalmeier running for town council. Mitchum and Geiser had concluded that Thalmeier was an “opponent of law enforcement” as he may have been a potential supporter of a proposed body camera requirement. These small town Indiana cops seem more like the Soviets than Sheriff Hopper.

The views of authors are their own, and not that of CSPC.



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