Friday News Roundup — August 16, 2019

The Global Economy Starts to Sneeze; Fallout from a Russian Nuclear Explosion; The Potential Rebirth of ISIS; The Reformation of the International System; the State of the Democratic Primary; and News You Might Have Missed

Happy Friday from Washington, D.C.! Usually August is a news graveyard, when policy wonks like ourselves would need to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find stories that would stay fresh long enough for us to analyze. Let’s just say that this was not a normal week in August.

We actually wrote that a year ago to introduce one of our very first Friday News Roundups, but it is definitely still the case. We have learned a ton from interacting with our friends and supporters who have taken the time out of their busy schedules to read what we have to say every week and we are extremely grateful for your continued engagement. This started as an idea that Dan and Michael had over beers after work one day and has grown into something that is relevant and (we hope) adds to the conversations that you have in your own networks. We have more new ideas coming for Year 2 of the Friday News Roundup and hope that you will continue to stay involved.

Not all of those changes will necessarily be positive, unfortunately. This week, we must bid farewell to Michael’s weekly presence in the Roundup. He is off on a new adventure, but will remain part of the family here on the Policy Team in a manner to be determined. Dan, Chris, and Joshua will soldier on with some new contributors in the weeks and months to come.

This week, Dan looks at the market turmoil and economic uncertainty complicating the 2020 picture; Joshua has two submissions, explaining what caused a small nuclear explosion in northern Russia and the prospects for the reemergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; Michael delivers his swan song; Chris updates us on the race for the Democratic nomination; and, as always, we end with some news you might have missed.

On Treasury Yields & Tweet Storms

Dan Mahaffee

“In the eye of a hurricane…” — Photo Credit: Dan Smith, Wikimedia Commons

The past weeks have been a rollercoaster for the markets, as trade tensions, unrest in Hong Kong, and mixed economic indicators have weighed on investors. That trade tensions continue to roil the global economy is hardly new news. What weighed heavily on markets this week was both the inversion of the yield curve in 2-year and 10-year U.S. treasuries — a reliable recession warning in the past — and the back-and-forth between Washington and Beijing on further tariff hikes.

The yield curve inversion suggests that a recession is on the horizon — as investors seek safe, long-term bonds, thus pushing the longer-term bond yield below that of the shorter-duration bond — but, generally, the recession comes months after an inversion takes place. Furthermore, with global negative-yielding debt hitting $16 trillion, it is clear that investors’ demand for safety continues, even if it comes at a loss. Geopolitical risks abound from Hong Kong to Hormuz, while political uncertainty in Europe and Latin America clouds those regions’ economic picture.

What is clear, however, is the impact that trade uncertainty has had on markets and the economy. For the Trump administration, winning the trade war is a priority, but winning re-election is an even bigger priority. Needless to say, avoiding recession is a key factor in any president’s re-election chances, but it may be even more important for President Trump. The White House has trumpeted the economic performance of the first term and hopes to paint the eventual Democratic 2020 nominee as a danger to the economy. If the economy is slowing or entering recession heading into 2020, that political strategy is moot.

Where this leads us is what we saw on Tuesday, where the White House announced that a subset of the tariffs — some consumer electronics, toys, and apparel — that were due to be increased on September 1st would be delayed until December 15th, or removed from the tariff list altogether. While the U.S. Trade Representative’s official reasons was that “products are being removed from the tariff list based on health, safety, national security and other factors,” President Trump, later that day, announced that the tariffs were being delayed to help the Christmas economy. Thus, Christmas came early in Beijing, as the White House was now telegraphing just how far it was willing to go in this current round of trade brinksmanship.

Trade wars, it happens, are proving to be bad and not easy to win. Both sides are feeling the pain, but re-election is not a concern for President Xi. Tariffs had been the main tool in the Trump administration’s trade arsenal, but Tuesday’s announcement demonstrates that there are limits to how far they can go. First, while the White House has long said that China, not the U.S. consumer, pays these tariffs, then why is this delay necessary to avoid disrupting Christmas? Is it because consumer electronics, toys, and apparel are all items where consumers would directly see the price increase due to tariffs?

Since President Trump doesn’t want to be labeled the economic Grinch, he has found Fed Chairman Jay Powell to be a useful foil. President Trump has repeatedly blamed the Fed’s interest rate policy for the latest market turmoil, expressing his displeasure with rate increases and dissatisfaction with a 25-basis point cut in July, rather than 50. However, even within the White House, a growing chorus of advisors is blaming trade tensions for economic uncertainty and market turmoil, while President Trump and advisor Peter Navarro, a trade über-hawk, are the holdouts continuing to blame the Fed.

Where do we go from here? In baseball, it is often said that a manager is never as good as they look when their team is winning, and vice versa. The same can be said for presidents and the economy. In 2020, President Trump will have to defend his economic record, and if the claimed benefits of the tax cuts and deregulation are zeroed out, or even surpassed, by the negative impacts of trade actions, then the Democrats’ message to change the hand on the economic tiller may find more fertile political ground.

3.6 Roentgen? Not Great, Not Terrible.

Joshua Huminski

Jeffrey Lewis, @armscontrolwonk, via Twitter

On 8 August an explosion at a naval facility near Severodvinsk in northern Russia yielded a sharp 40-minute increase in radiation, raising alarms at the prospect of contamination and speculation as to what caused the incident.

Not surprisingly, Russian officials initially refrained from commenting in depth on the incident. Initially classifying the incident as a liquid-fueled rocket explosion, Rosatom, the Russian state nuclear agency, later said that “radio-isotope propellant source” caused the radiation spike, but did not elaborate further. A Rosatom official reported that five nuclear engineers died (since updated to seven) in the incident. The village of Nyonoksa, near the incident, received an evacuation order that was later rescinded.

Later, on 14 August, Moscow finally broke its silence. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident.” He added that Russia remained “far ahead” in terms of advanced weapons development.

American intelligence officials and open source analysts speculate that this could have been a failed test of the 9M730 Burevestnik (Petrel, in Russian; NATO-designation, SSC-X-9 Skyfall)–a new nuclear-powered cruise missile President Vladimir Putin announced as part of a slickly edited video during his 2018 “Address to the Federal Assembly” speech.

According to Putin, the Skyfall is powered by “a small-sized superpower nuclear power plant, which is housed in a cruise missile” and offers “a greater range of flight, which is practically unlimited. A low-flying, barely noticeable cruise missile carrying a nuclear warhead with practically unlimited range, unpredictable flight trajectory and the possibility of bypassing interception lines.” Putin added that the first test of the Skyfall took place in late 2017 and it achieved “its design capacity and provided the necessary propulsion”.

In August of last year, CNBC reported that Russia was preparing to launch a mission to recover a missile that failed during a test, ending up in the Barents Sea. Between February and November, CNBC reported, four tests took place, all of which failed. Of those tests, the longest lasted 22 minutes and the shortest just four seconds, traveling five miles. Russia denied the reports.

There are alternative weapons which could, if paired with a warhead, explain the radiation spike including a hypersonic nuclear-capable cruise missile, Zircon, or Poseidon, a long-duration underwater drone, but American officials — according to news reports — believe it was the Skyfall.

What is the point of Skyfall? A Russian state newspaper reported that the Skyfall was a “vengeance weapon” or “weapon of retaliation” (Google Translate) used in a second-strike capacity. In essence, after a nuclear exchange, the Skyfall would deploy to strike deep into aggressor territory and eliminate any “remnant” infrastructure or facilities.

While fascinating in and of itself — the incident and the secrecy surrounding it harken back to Chernobyl, recently made popular by the HBO miniseries of the same name — two other developments are worth keeping in mind. First, Russia’s renewed investment in and modernization of its military and, second, the collapse of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In recent years the Russian government undertook an aggressive modernization program seeking to overcome the weaknesses seen in its armed forces, pursuing a path of upgrading existing and still capable platforms while developing next generation systems. While in 2018, it dropped out of the top five countries in terms of military spending (the first time since 2006), it still spent $61.4 billion according to the independent think tank SIPRI. Lower oil prices, a significant debt repayment, and possible target achievement may have reduced the spending levels.

Yet, as evidenced above by the Federal Assembly speech, President Putin is keen to trumpet next generation weapons advances such as the Zircon, Poseidon, and the Petrel, even if they are “vaporware” that may never materialize.

Moscow clearly needs some good news in terms of kinetic military capabilities, especially if it measures its power relative to Chinese and American defense systems. Russia’s next generation of “fifth generation” weapons systems have not met with much success.

The vaunted Su-57 (PAK-FA) stealth air superiority fighter has yet to be produced in large numbers (some reports suggest as few as 10 prototypes). The T-14 main battle tank, which would be deployed before 2020, have also yet to be fielded in large numbers, with orders for 100 being placed, but not yet filled. Most famously, a T-14 broke down during the 2015 Moscow Victory Day parade. In October of 2018, a drydock capable of servicing Moscow’s only aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, sank. During the sinking, one of the cranes servicing the Kuznetsov struck the flight deck, irreparably damaging the platform.

In any case these weapons remain in development and their full capabilities remain unclear, even if the systems are viable or strategically sensible, or merely an attention seeking exercise. It would also be wrong, however, to merely dismiss them or their failures out of hand. If anything, this incident will likely be a learning exercise and inform the next iteration of tests and development cycles.

Second, the collapse of the INF Treaty could presage renewed and even more aggressive efforts to develop intermediate range missiles. The United States withdrew from the treaty due to Russia’s violations, including the deployment of the SSC-8 (Russian designation (9M729), and the fact that it did not include China. We can expect that Moscow will continue business as usual, if not develop and deploy these systems outright and in full view.

The partial reality is that Russia already possesses disruptive capabilities, while still possessing significant conventional arms. The social media troll farms, active measures campaigns, “gray zone” activities, and intelligence activities are far more viable and possible equally as disruptive. Why use a nuclear weapon when a bot army could sow internal dissent? These weapons are, of course, the far end of the spectrum — weapons of final consequence. They are equally signs of technological prowess (even if aspirational) and national virility, but as practical arms, they offer little.

The Islamic State is Dead, Long Live the Islamic State…

Joshua Huminski

US Forces in Syria — Department of Defense Photo

That may well have been the title of the most recent Inspector General quarterly report to Congress (covering the period ending June 30) on Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the campaign to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Launched in 2014, OIR, run by the Combined Joint Task Force-OIR (CJTF-OIR) focused on training and assisting Iraqi and Syrian forces to degrade ISIS and increase regional stability. The mission included “military operations, as well as support for local security forces, diplomacy, governance, humanitarian assistance, and stabilization programs.”

What makes this quarterly report most striking is its direct and indirect references to the impact President Trump’s decision to partially withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. The President withdrew roughly half of the 2,000 (primarily special operations forces) U.S. servicemembers from Syria in 2018. The decision, readers may recall, was partially responsible for Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ resignation in December 2018.

In the opening message to the report Glenn A. Fine, the Principal Deputy Inspector General (performing the duties of the Inspector General), stated that CJTF-OIR believed “the reduction of U.S. forces has decreased the support available for Syrian partner forces at a time when their forces need more training and equipping to respond to the ISIS resurgence.”

The report is a sharp rebuke to the President who earlier this year claimed that U.S.-backed forces had secured 100% of ISIS territory in Syria. Addressing U.S. troops in Alaska, the President said in March 2019, “We just took over you know you kept hearing it was 90%, 92%, the caliphate in Syria, now it’s 100%, we just took over 100% caliphate, that means the area of the land we’re just have 100% so that’s good.” This was just three months after he tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.”

Despite progress being achieved, there is a notable difference between “degraded” and “defeated”. Prematurely withdrawing forces appears to have undermined the progress made thus far. Indeed, the report notes “Despite losing its territorial ‘caliphate,’ [ISIS] solidified its insurgent capabilities in Iraq and was resurging in Syria this quarter”. ISIS personnel numbers also underscore the group’s resilience: “CJTF-OR reported based on open source data that ISIS likely retains between 14,000 and 18,000 “members” in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreigners.”

This is to say nothing of the broader community of support and influence of ISIS’ ideology. CJTF-OIR estimates that there are at least 45,000 ISIS supporters and family members in the al Hol internally displaced persons camp in northeast Syria. This camp is a breeding and recruiting ground for ISIS, and a convenient space for the spread of its ideology.

The premature withdrawal, based on arbitrary Washington-centered politics, is undermining the central goal of building Iraqi and Syrian security forces. This is neither surprising nor without prescient warning by U.S. military commanders, the Inspector General, and the former Secretary of Defense himself.

According to the IG report, “CJTF-OIR reported that ISIS has been able to regroup and sustain operations in Iraq and Syria in part because the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) remain unable to sustain long-term operations, conduct multiple operations simultaneously, or hold territory that they have cleared of ISIS militants.”

The Task Force also reported that “the drawdown could cause U.S.-backed forces in Syria to look for ‘“alternate partnerships and resources”’ to replace the reduced U.S. support, and that in its assessment such an outcome could be “detrimental to the United States’ mission in Iraq and Syria”’ In practice, this means that the Syrian Defense Forces and the Iraqi Security Forces could well go elsewhere to get the assistance and support that they need to rollback ISIS’ advances.

The President’s arbitrary withdrawal also sent the wrong messages to our friends and allies. First, it does not match events on the ground. The withdrawal was not based on intelligence assessments or battlefield conditions. That disconnect is undoubtedly alarming for America’s allies in the region and likely reinforces their views of an unaware, disconnected from reality administration.

Second, this withdrawal and its impact will adversely affect the willingness of much needed local allies to partner with America in the future. Even America’s traditional allies are questioning the wisdom of the withdrawal and some are rebuffing efforts by Washington to backfill the gap with Coalition resources, according to news reports.

What is clear is that the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria and Iraq has had demonstrable and measurable effects on-the-ground. These effects were not unexpected and entirely predicted by those on-the-ground and in-the-know in Washington.

What does Syria and Iraq look like without U.S. engagement? In the case of the latter, look at the U.S. withdraw and drawdown of forces in 2011. The Iraqi Security Forces and the Iraqi Government itself were not in a position to seize upon the successes enabled by the U.S. military (at great sacrifice), fell into internecine conflict, and allowed ISIS to conduct its own clear, hold, and build initiatives. Iran, already on the ascendency, accelerated its relationship with and dominance of Shiite Iraq, all the while the U.S. was without sufficient levers to affect conditions on-the-ground.

As for Syria, Washington may as well hand over the keys to the future to Moscow as Russia will continue to back the Assad regime, conducting strikes primarily against the anti-Assad forces, and ISIS will have control over eastern Syria and western Iraq. For Assad, ISIS represents a convenient bulwark and threat for anti-regime forces — in essence, Assad may be bad, but ISIS is far worse. Indeed, members of the Syrian Defense Forces have mulled, publicly, going to the Assad regime to get assistance if the U.S. pulls out. While this may be bluster and an attempt to keep America present, it is concerning nonetheless.

The U.S. will be unable to influence events on-the-ground if it is not present on-the-ground. U.S. efforts, before the withdrawal of course, were degrading ISIS, rolling back the Caliphate, and enabling Syrian and Iraqi forces to clear and hold territory. By withdrawing the 1,000 servicemembers, Washington undermined this progress and led to conditions where ISIS is now growing once again and could well require a return of American forces to pre-political numbers.

Regrets, I’ve Had a Few

Michael Stecher

So … … …

This is going to be my final regularly scheduled column in the Friday News Roundup. Starting next month, I will start a new job as the Washington Public Affairs Manager at the Institute of International Education. It will be a new challenge dealing with a different set of issues from the ones we cover here on the Policy Team, but I am excited for it.

Looking back at the pieces I have published in these pages, I am forced to recall the bitter wit of French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr: “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Here are some of the things I have written about in the last year:

  • The Turkish Economy and U.S.-Turkey Relations: Getting worse
  • Climate Change, Dysfunction in the Executive Branch, and Threats to the Independence of the Federal Reserve: Also getting worse!
  • Tensions with Iran: That fuse is still lit
  • And, of course, Brexit: Already deep into the Napoleon III phase

When Clare Malone at FiveThirtyEight describes the current mood of the American body politic as “ennui,” she is talking about domestic politics: people have less trust in their elected officials; are “sad, angry, or fearful” when they think about politics; and are not proud of our political system. At the same time partisanship subordinates the moral questions that unite good people to the political question of who should govern us, while providing perverse incentives to the less-good.

As we have written about at great lengths at CSPC, it is becoming clear that the solutions to the challenges that the next generation of American leaders will face will rest on a basis of reform. Ending extreme partisan division requires structural changes that promote compromise and better communicate the will of the people while defending minority rights. Protecting the ideals of free enterprise and private property that make the American system dynamic means fighting rentierism in all arenas from the onerous compliance requirements that favor legacy firms over new businesses to the various conspiracies to prevent new home constructions that seek to prop up asset values for extant homeowners at the expense of young people and new migrants.

Looking beyond our shores, it is becoming clear that the reform is happening right now and the only question is whether we are going to play a proactive role in it. There are too many “isms” in the study of international politics and none of them play well in the sandbox with each other; I am sympathetic to the critiques of Charles Tilly, who wrote that:

Students of [political processes] have imagined they were dealing with phenomena like ocean tides, whose regularities they could deduce from sufficient knowledge of celestial motion, when they were actually contending with phenomena like great floods, equally coherent occurrences from a causal perspective, but enormously variable in structure, sequence, and consequence as a function of terrain, previous precipitation, built environment, and human response.

It is easy to conceptualize what we are witnessing in international politics in terms of structural changes — America’s share of global power is shrinking and rising powers are trying to carve out better terms for themselves — but this pat explanation fails to contend with the idea that America’s closest partners appear to be developing programs to prepare for a non-American future, and, in doing so, bring it closer to being.

The genius of the “postwar liberal order” was the way it expressly relied on transnational, interpenetrative networks to manage the anarchy that had brought ruin to the world of the European-style nation-state and placed structures resident in the United States at the center of those webs. Institutions that had outlived their express purposes, such as NATO, the United Nations and the Bretton Woods organizations, were reworked because their existence provided helpful forums for discussion and contained repertoires of practice in addressing similar challenges.

While this system of networks has proven quite resilient even as it has transformed over time, it is now at risk of being replaced. Groups of people around the world and of many different political persuasions have decided that there has been a little too much American hegemony for their tastes and are forming new networks to combat and contain it. It is not enough to wistfully recall the way the system once worked because it is not mechanical in nature: removing this or that element that is gumming up the gears will not return it to its prior functioning; to some extent it must be recast.

If the networks within the United States that have constructive roles to play in this renovation are absent, riven by their internal divisions and focused on other theaters, the ad hoc workarounds for a missing United States will become the new avenues of global organization. They might be based in Brussels, New Delhi, or Beijing, but more likely they will be spread incoherently among all of those and others and the competition for advancement and influence that those networks undertake will be more anarchic and dangerous than the ones with which we are familiar.

American power and the systems through which it operates has obviously not been a panacea. We have problems yet to solve and need to make important reforms to invest in the benefits they provide, while minimizing the too-human risks inherent in them. Replacing the meta-system that is our inheritance or letting it wither from lack of light or nutrients would be a terrible shame and I am confident we would find the things that replace it to be far worse.

Another One Bites the Dust? The Democratic Primary Part IV

Chris Condon

Since primary elections are always in flux, we like to take stock of the field every once in a while. Although the Policy Team closely watches the polls and debates as often as possible, most people aren’t gluttons for that sort of punishment; with this in mind, we will again try to package the latest developments for our reader’s consumption.

Using our trusty primary graphic, I would like to go through developments in the field from top to bottom. Joe Biden still sits solidly at the top, although some polls have shown his lead eroded to about 5 points over his nearest competitor. Something must be said for his candidacy’s resilience even in the face of his many gaffes and attacks from his adversaries on the debate stage, but one wonders how much longer he can stave off the challenges from his progressive counterparts and those other moderates that hope to seize his base. Perhaps the biggest change that you might notice in the top tier is the rise of Elizabeth Warren and the decline of Bernie Sanders. Although their poll numbers are largely similar, I have made the executive decision to place Senator Warren higher in the progressive lane than Senator Sanders. While Sanders has been at the top more consistently, there are two factors that prompted my decision: one, Sen. Warren is building momentum, especially through her perceived intellectual mastery as demonstrated in the debates. Second, Sen. Sanders has shown an inability to expand his base of supporters beyond 15–20% of the electorate; while 50 years of socialist advocacy and broadsides against the Democratic Party establishment grants you left-wing credibility, it doesn’t endear you to the lion’s share of Democratic Party voters.

Next, the decline of Kamala Harris. You may sense that I have not been the biggest fan of Senator Harris, but her steady decline after the second debate surprised even me. Although she was thrashed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in said debate, her performance did not seem quite weak enough to shake supporters’ confidence in her. Even so, her poll numbers have declined from 15% to 8% since the beginning of July, which may signal a loss of momentum for her campaign. Pete Buttigieg has not provided a particularly notable performance in the debates so far, but his support has held firm and he maintains his spot in fifth place. His fundraising is also quite remarkable given his poll numbers, which may put him in a position to leverage his resources to pole vault further forward in the field.

Moving on to the middle tier, we first encounter former Democratic wunderkind Beto O’Rourke. Although he has struggled over the young white center-left lane with Pete Buttigieg, Rep. O’Rourke has held firm at about 3% since the beginning of July. This provides him with enough clout to stand on the stage for the third primary debates in September, where he undoubtedly hopes to distinguish himself from his Hoosier counterpart and his other rivals for the moderate lane. Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, and Amy Klobuchar similarly have struggled to improve their poll numbers, but will appear on the debate stage next month; Julián Castro and Tom Steyer have achieved the required number of campaign donors and need only one more qualifying poll above 2% by August 28th to secure a position on the stage. Tulsi Gabbard needs three more qualifying polls, which puts her in a more precarious position.

Now to the bottom of the pack. All of these candidates are currently polling at less than 1%, and none have the required number of donors to be positioned on the September debate stage. Rather than discussing the nuances of each of their candidacies, I think it better to discuss their political futures. John Hickenlooper, the candidate with the lowest polling average on this chart, just yesterday decided to drop out of the race. He now seems to be considering a challenge to Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner, whose seat is especially vulnerable in 2020. Many in the Democratic Party have urged Montana Governor Steve Bullock to do the same to challenge Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) in 2020. Even though Beto O’Rourke is doing reasonably well in the field, some have called for him to challenge Texas Senator John Cornyn. All three will hold no political office if they drop out of the race and mount no challenge.

Everyone’s favorite failed Mayor Bill de Blasio is in an even more precarious position, as his unpopularity and term limits prevent him from seeking reelection. Since he has no Republican to challenge in New York, his only political options are either to remain at the bottom of a historically large field of candidates or drop out into obscurity. John Delaney and Marianne Williamson also similarly seem to have nowhere to go, although Delaney may choose to run for his old seat in the House (an uphill battle, for sure). Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Ryan, and Michael Bennet may all return to their current offices in Congress with relative ease.

As we approach the September debate, the third tier candidates face a tough decision: should they suspend their campaigns or fight on? In such an unforgiving political environment, it may be fatal to miss the stage, as it is one of the only ways candidates can break out. For those that have an office to return to or a different challenge to mount, the decision is not a lose-lose situation, but we may see the political disappearance of others that have no such option. Regardless, two things are clear at this point in the summer: the field is winnowing and the top tier is solidifying. In the coming months, we will see how the landscape shifts.

News You Might Have Missed

There May Be Life on the Moon, but It’s Our Fault

Tardigrades are microscopic animals that are among the most resilient forms of life on earth. Scientists have tested them in conditions of extreme heat, cold, pressure, and radiation, and found that they were able to survive in a state of “suspended animation.” Some genius decided that putting some Tardigrades on the privately funded, Israeli lunar lander mission that launched this spring was a good idea. That probe crashed into the moon’s surface, destroying the payload, but possibly not the Tardigrades, because life finds a way.

Scientists Discover Microplastics in Arctic Ice

While bad news about arctic ice usually involves its increasing rarity, the barren white ice is often seen as one of the purest environments on earth. Not so, according to a team of researchers who discovered that microplastic waste is in arctic ice, adding to the number of marine ecosystems where we have discovered plastic waste’s impact on the ecosystem. Jacob Strock, a researcher with the University of Rhode Island who helped gather samples for the study, said, “When we look at it up close and we see that it’s all very, very visibly contaminated when you look at it with the right tools — it felt a little bit like a punch in the gut.”

U.S. Representatives Barred from Israel

Freshman Democratic Members of Congress Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) and Ilhan Omar (MN-5) had planned a trip to the West Bank to highlight the plight of the Palestinian people. The two would also presumably seek advance the cause of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that supporters of Israel argue seeks to undermine Israel’s right to exist. Although the Israeli government often refuses entry to BDS activists, Ron Dermer, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, said that the two would be allowed in “out of respect for the U.S. Congress, and the great alliance between Israel and America.” Then President Trump intervened, tweeting that admitting the two members of Congress would “show great weakness.” Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has made his close relationship with President Trump (also Vladimir Putin) a cornerstone of his reelection campaign, bowed to this pressure, making him a co-conspirator in the ongoing effort to graft the U.S.-Israel alliance onto American partisan disputes to the detriment of both countries.

Pumpkin Spice Spam Signals Impending Apocalypse

In what is perhaps the most American story of 2019 (or perhaps the most 2019 story of America), Hormel has announced that they will be releasing a pumpkin spice flavor of their mystery meat in September. The company apparently sees it as a possible brunch ingredient, suggesting adding it to muffins, breakfast hash, or on top of waffles. Hormel now joins the ranks of those companies that seize on the massive marketing potential of fall in recent years. Starbucks is already famous for their pumpkin spice lattes and their appeal to affluent teenage girls, but it is unclear if this enthusiasm can translate to a notoriously strange pork(?) product.

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

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CSPC is a 501(c)3, non-partisan organization that seeks to apply lessons of history and leadership to today's challenges