Welcome back to Positive World, I'm Tommy Vietor. I'm Ben Rhodes. Then what are we, three weeks out, three weeks out? How's your anxiety? Uh, I mean, like, I'm at the stage now where I'm anxious because I'm not anxious, which is, I guess, not a bad place to be. Yeah. I'm constantly finding myself mad at myself for not being more wigged out. But then you look at the polls, then I think about twenty sixteen.
I go into a shame spiral. Yeah, yeah. I'm kind of out of it today. But then like you are Fabro or somebody send some text about like a bad result in Arizona and I just spiral all over again. Somebody is always, I mean people, the world those have heard us references texting with everyone, Dan Pfeiffer and the great Cody Keenan. Someone is always dark on any given day. So I think that keeps me grounded. Yeah, it's unnerving.
Anyway, we got some fun light subject for you guys today. We got some updates on our troop presence in Afghanistan, questions, concerns about the United States, unchecked nuclear authorities. I'll say the K pop group is a little trouble. Then there's questions about reporting on terrorism at The New York Times. We'll also talk about refugees, corruption in Angola, news from Facebook, Belarus, marijuana in Mexico, and then some brave bionic turtle eggs. Then nuclear nonproliferation expert Jeff Lewis joins to explain what we should make of the new gigantic missile that North Korea debuted over the weekend.
Spoiler alert. It does not mean that the Trump North Korea policy has succeeded. So stay tuned for that. If you'd like to walk out yet, put the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on, hold their tongues. You see, he did an event yesterday in Florida where he was complaining that he turned on the TV to try to watch coverage of himself getting nominated by some goober like Norway or something for the Nobel Peace Prize, and was angry because he found instead coverage of a gigantic hurricane barreling down in Florida.
That was his his brilliant Florida message. Yes. Once again, campaign ending gaffe for any other politician is just par for the course for Trump. Anyway, before we get the news, quick housekeeping item votes. If America has a new ballot tool, it's live. You can use it in all 50 states. If you go to vote, Save America dotcom ballot, you enter your address where you registered to vote. You can see all the races in your area.
All the ballot measures will be voting on and get information about all of them. So that way, you know, not just who's at the top of the ticket, but you can be confident that you've done the research you need to vote in all the down ballot races because those are so important. Our team did so much research to compile all this information. They made it so easy for you to learn about the things that are on your ballot and to make informed choices and just be prepared when you go into your your voting booth or you fill out your vote by mail.
So check it out. Vote Save America dotcom ballot now to learn more. All right. Let's start talking about Afghanistan for a little bit. So on Sunday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did an interview with NPR that covered a bunch of ground. So he talked about how he was spending time in quarantine after coming in contact with a colleague who had covid. Good news there as it sounds like DOD is taking things a lot more seriously than the White House and the Senate that is currently holding a closed room hearing with a bunch of sick people.
And it's crazy. But the big news out of the interview was General Miller's comments about troop levels in Afghanistan. So last week, Robert O'Brien trumps national security adviser, said that troop levels will be down to twenty five hundred by early next year. That's in Afghanistan. Trump later contradicted O'Brien on Twitter by saying all troops will be home from Afghanistan by Christmas. In this interview, Molly basically says you're both wrong. The US is now at forty five hundred troops in Afghanistan.
In future, drawdowns will be conditions based. Merely also was asked about the conditions themselves. And he admitted that violence hasn't materially decreased in the past four or five months, which suggests to me that the conditions for withdrawal are not met in his mind and thus drawdown won't be completed. He's also sort of unrelated. Asked what the military would do in the event of a disputed election, he said he believes there's no role for the US military. And that kind of chilling that he had to clarify.
He was also asked about domestic extremism in the US military and dismissed it as sort of not really an issue, which I didn't think was that great of an answer, since two of the guys arrested in the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer served in the Marine Corps. But interesting overall interview. Then there was something comforting and familiar to me about a top Pentagon official ignoring a presidential order about troop withdrawal time frame. That's just a joke, listeners.
But any big takeaways for you from this interview? Well, I think, you know, first of all, it reinforces what's been the case throughout the Trump presidency, which is that there are two policies when it comes to the wars there's Trump talking about. Ending the wars and then there's the actual policy, the United States government, which has been to increase troops in Afghanistan and then reduce them to where they were at the end of the Obama years.
And what's so absurd about this is, you know, Trump clearly tweeted that all the troops should be home before Christmas without telling the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff without notifying any of the troops in Afghanistan.
And he did so in the middle of very sensitive negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, in which the U.S. saying that they're going to remove all the troops by Christmas just tells the Taliban, well, you're going to get everything you want. And I think that's probably the main outcome of that tweet was to secure the endorsement of the Taliban, which Donald Trump has secured now a coveted endorsement from from the Taliban. So he managed with a single tweet to piss off his military, to undermine the Afghan government in peace talks and to confuse everybody.
A tweet is not an order. And why did he do it? He obviously did it because he wants an election eve talking point that he's taking the troops out of Afghanistan. But that's so odd to me, Tommy, because I don't think any person is going to vote for Donald Trump because of that tweet.
You know, like it's not like this whole election is swinging on the remaining several thousand troops in Afghanistan and the pace of their departure.
So he put all this at risk for just what like to to have a good tweet that could give him something to say at a rally.
It's it's an insane way to make policy in a war.
Imagine for a second that you're your husband or your wife or your your son or your mother is serving in Afghanistan. And the United States tweets that they will be home by Christmas. You believe that? Yeah. You want that to happen. And it's clearly just was just bullshit posturing. It's just so it's so callous towards the people who are actually doing the real sacrificing here.
Yeah. The troops that we have there, the Afghans who are suffering there are uncertain about the future. And the other takeaways I had, you mentioned the violence. Again, it reinforces what we've talked about, which is this deal that they made with the Taliban got nothing.
I mean, so they gave away all this leverage in making a deal to the Taliban instead of with the Afghan government first and got nothing for it, you know, and and here we are with like nobody knows what the Afghan policy is four years into the administration, you know?
And I, too, looked at the answers on on extremism and white supremacy in the military with some disappointment because he was pretty nonchalant about it. I mean, to be positive, he did indicate that they look for things like tattoos and behavior, did seem like they had protocols to to track this stuff.
So I thought that was a welcome shift.
But I think, you know, it does raise the question of if you have a Biden administration and we're looking comprehensively at the threat of white supremacist violence and terrorism, is there is there any more that needs to be done here, given in part, like you said, the fact that two of these people who were radicalized and engaged in a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan had served in the Marine Corps? It's just something that I'd like to see them.
You know, there are signs they're taking seriously. I don't want to suggest they're not. But that that they they they truly grasp the scale of the problem in our entire society. Right. In our society includes the military. It's not to single them out. It's to say that that everybody's going to have to be mindful of this threat.
We don't just single them out. But like, I'm so fucking sick of everyone dancing around data that suggests that there is active recruiting from white supremacist groups of US military members, in part because they have the training necessary that the militias want. Right. Like we got you and I were part of the White House that got basically browbeaten into having to disavow Department of Homeland Security report that that made this sort of obvious point because the politics of it was seen as somehow attacking US service members when really it was just like hiding their heads in the sand from the problem.
It was a mistake, in my opinion. Yeah.
We have to acknowledge facts here, you know, and yeah, look, the fact patterns where obviously they would want to recruit from the US military, from the veteran community because of people's knowledge of weapons. But then you see things like that insane trial of a of a Navy SEAL, you know, who who's whose own men had reported him for war crimes, you know, for for, you know, killing a young ISIS fighter for, you know, defaming corpses.
If you didn't see warning signs in that whole saga. And Trump, of course, stepped in to pardon that guy. And now that guy's like a surrogate for Trump. If you don't see warning signs and stuff like that, like, then you're not paying attention to to the radicalization that's happening in different corners of American society and under the Trump presence. Speaking of radicalization, we weren't kidding about the Taliban endorsement. A Taliban spokesman told CBS News, quote, We hope he Trump win the election and wind up US military presence in Afghanistan.
That comes about a month after Osama bin Laden's niece hopped on the train and said that only Trump can prevent another 9/11. So Biden better get his shit together and start courting some of these folks before all the good extremist endorsements are gone. On this troop level thing, this is related, but I think important story. So in December of twenty seventeen, the administration decided to stop releasing basic information about troop deployments in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, like basic basic stuff like how many troops are deployed in each country for decades under Republicans, Democrats, both administrations.
This information was released several times a year and what are called quarterly manpower reports since twenty seventeen, the troop level figures in these reports have been redacted. So last week, an organization called Security actually sued the US government for them. Then I guess I didn't realize that DOD had completely stopped providing that information. I assume I know the answer to this, but is there any rationale for classifying or refusing to release those figures? There's absolutely none.
And, you know, these were I remember late in the Obama administration, we would you know, we would make very incremental increases in the number of troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. You know, so we know a couple of hundred or three hundred and we'd report that the Congress was just part of the requirement.
And this is an across the board shift away from transparency to Tommy. They rescinded some executive orders from the Obama administration about the release of civilian casualty numbers. So we certainly don't know the civilian casualties in U.S. counterterrorism operations and drone strikes. There's been a shroud of secrecy placed around all of our military deployments.
And again, it gets back to what I was saying, that Trump likes to talk about ending wars and he's done the opposite. He's increased the number of troops serving in the Middle East by almost 20 thousand. He had an Afghan surge early in his presidency. The counter ISIS campaign continues in part because the operations had to stop because of the threat to our forces after they cost him Sulimani assassination. But those troops are still in Iraq. They're just they're under greater risk from Iranian backed militias.
And the pace of drone strikes, by all accounts, has increased significantly. There are places like Somalia that have seen huge increases in reported US drone strikes, but we just don't know anything about this.
And so it seems to be designed so that the military can do whatever they want without having to be accountable to things like civilian casualties. And Trump can go out and tell everybody that he's ending the wars.
There is a whole thematic day at the Republican convention about how he's he's ending these wars and he's not. But he's he's preventing the American people from even knowing what troops we have, that these are, you know, sons and daughters and brothers and sisters, our tax dollars. And we have no visibility into it. There's no reason for this.
Yeah. I mean, look, that data used to tick through sort of why I get so frustrated at the press when I see them call him more transparent because he like does these press avails where he screams over like a helicopter motor or whatever, like it just lies like that's not transparency, that is engaging with the press and telling them, which allows different issue also related. So, you know, he just went through this covid fight. He he had a very public discussion of his use of a combination of untested and powerful drugs with side effects that include delusion and mania.
And that conversation, that reality has kicked up a long overdue discussion about how and when the US can use nuclear weapons. So David Sanger, Bill Browder, The New York Times had a great piece on this on Sunday.
The frightening context just for listeners to know, is that any president, including Donald Trump, they have the sole authority and power to launch nuclear weapons. No one else in government has to sign off. There's no way for the cabinet or staff to stop you short of resigning or basically like staging an internal insurrection. And so holding the nuclear codes is this grave, grave responsibility that any president has. And Trump has been pretty cavalier about it in the past.
Right. August twenty seventeen. He threatened use fire and fury at North Korea.
That comment was clearly about threatening nuclear war. So there's really two pieces of this current debate. The first is whether Trump should have temporarily given the authority to Mike Pence when he was in the hospital. That's one piece of it. But the bigger issue is whether the US should update our system to include more safeguards in most other countries, including Russia, which requires a sign off from two out of three designated officials to launch a nuclear weapon. They don't put all of that power in one person's hands.
And this piece notes that it's almost the presidential role is unique in our own internal system. Use it every other step before you get to the presidency. There is there's redundancy in extreme vetting built into the.
Process to the point where you need to authorize people in a nuclear silo or sub to take any step to arm and launch a nuke, so then, you know, we talked a lot about nuclear weapons policy in the Obama administration.
Do you remember, like, conversations about the process, about how the president would actually launch a nuclear weapon? And do you guys ever debate adding some, like, safeguards to this final stage so that you couldn't, you know, you could prevent like a madman president from just doing something? I don't know, that incinerates the Earth.
We didn't you know, our debates about nuclear policy, you know, tended to be more about, for instance, should the United States declare that we won't use nuclear weapons first? It's called the so-called no first use policy, that the only scenario in which we would use nuclear weapons is if if we were attacked, which I think was a common sense change to make. But we actually didn't get that change through because there's a lot of resistance from the Pentagon, from the department, from state.
We did move in the direction of saying that the sole purpose of nuclear weapons is to deter an attack. But I'll come back to this.
In the Trump era, since Trump was elected, there's been a lot of movement in Congress to advance legislation that requires some additional signoff in the chain of command so that this isn't just on the the president's desk or the head of the president who may be mentally unfit for office or may be incapacitated with an illness.
And I'm in I'm on the board of an organization called Ploughshares. It's done a lot of work on this. And there's actually a book out now called The Button by former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry that deals with this issue.
I think it makes complete sense. Trump is the the example as to what you don't want, which is a president who may be mentally unfit, mentally unstable and using nuclear weapons and wanting to make sure that there's somebody else in the chain of command that has to sign off on this, if not more and under more extreme circumstances or proposals, some some congressional notification of this. But I think this shouldn't go away with Trump.
I think we've learned a lesson with Trump as president about how dangerous it is for the United States to put all of this power in the hands of one human being.
And that's kind of such a Cold War artifact, because the Cold War, you know, we the nuclear scenarios that we imagined were, you know, the Soviets launch a massive first strike at the US and the president has to authorize a response right away. And and the entire apparatus, the nuclear football was designed for that. That's not the likely scenario of how these decisions might even emerge in a post-Cold War environment in any case. So I think you can you can argue that the circumstances have changed.
I'll tell you, Tommy, I used to ride control your call recall is the name of the vehicle and the president's motorcade. And I rode with the military aide who had that briefcase, who was a nuclear football and was always a very strange feeling to look down and see this suitcase, you know, and would allow one human being in a moment's notice to destroy life on Earth. You know, let's add another layer here.
So when Biden comes in, what they'll do is this what's called the Nuclear Posture Review, when they look at all of the nuclear weapons related policies of the US.
And it's an opportunity, I think, both to get behind some of the legislative proposals that have emerged for taking away some authority from the president, the United States, and also to look at these questions like should we declare that we will not use nuclear weapons in the first strike, which I think we should.
Yeah, I agree with that. OK, let's talk about China for a little bit, because they are once again going after private citizens and corporations in response to basically perceived cultural or historical slights. And this time the target is the Cape Hop Band Beats. And in case you are not expand, they are arguably some of the most famous human beings on the planet. Last year they sold out the fifty two thousand seat Rosebowl in twenty eighteen. They sold out the Staples Center four nights in a row.
Then I was reading this L.A. Times article. They cited a study by a South Korean consulting firm that found Beets alone was worth three point six billion dollars to the South Korean economy and that one in every 13 tourists visiting South Korea in twenty seventeen cited beets as a reason for their trip. So the point here is they have some clout that gets us to this story, which is that there was a recent ceremony commemorating the Korean War and a member of Beets named R.M. talked about it.
And he and he talked about the shared sacrifice between American and South Koreans who died during the war. So an estimated 200000 South Korean soldiers died, along with millions of civilians and roughly thirty seven thousand U.S. soldiers is an absolutely horrible war that we don't talk about enough. But people on Chinese social media platforms got angry that he didn't also mention the sacrifice of Chinese soldiers who fought on the North Korean side.
Now, if you're a little confused by this story and wondering why folks in China would want the the South Koreans who are fighting against the Chinese to recognize all their sacrifice. I'm with you regardless. There was a bunch of blowback instantly, right, so Samsung, Filla, Hundi, they all partnerships with beats. They quickly scrubbed any mentions of beats from their Chinese websites and their social media feeds. By the way, a lot of this background comes from a New York Times report that also speculated that these brands were scrubbing the beats mentioned to avoid a boycott.
China's deputy foreign minister also commented that he had basically, like I saw the comments, he sort of noted the reaction online. A bunch of nationalistic Chinese publications made a big deal of it.
You know, this sounded a lot like the Daryl Morey Houston Rockets situation where this this GM for an NBA team shared a totally banal image about Hong Kong. And, you know, there was this manufactured outrage. I can't tell if this outrage is manufactured or not, but it feels similar. It's also just part of a pattern. Right. So China is trying to curtail free speech about issues like Tibet and Hong Kong and the boundaries of the South China Sea.
And they are seemingly trying to send a message, I think, by going after, like the biggest targets they can find, Disney, the NBA, ESPN beats. Right. And like the scary thing is it seems to work. So did I miss any background here on why China would demand a South Korean pop star acknowledge their sacrifice in the Korean War? And then, like, again, if China can try and silence these huge organizations, like is anyone immune?
Like, is this just how it is now? Do you think?
Yeah, I think there are two pieces that highlighted such an important story, actually, even though it seems less important for not in you know, first of all, the Chinese government moved in the direction of promoting this kind of virulent Chinese nationalism increasingly in the twenty first century when they stopped being so communist.
So so you had to have the answer to the question of why are we governed by a one party Communist Party in a system that isn't really communist anymore? And they've kind of reinvented themselves as a nationalist party. And to stoke that nationalism, they really dialed up the historical grievances. The anti Japanese grievances over were to the grievances against the West for dividing China and history. And so they've created this snowball of Chinese nationalism that you're right, like whether this was government controls and there are a lot of Chinese trolls who get things moving on social media or whether this was the people themselves.
This is a Pandora's box. It was opened by the Chinese government. And I've heard this from a lot of people, like in Hong Kong as well. There's no spend a bunch of time there.
And someone told me that they knew that the that things had really changed with respect to Chinese nationalism.
In the 2008 Olympics, a Hong Kong pop star like one of the biggest pop stars tweeted something or said something in social media about Hong Kong athletes instead of Chinese athletes. And they basically got destroyed on social media in China.
And there was a boycott and their career suffered mightily. Right. And so this has been a tool that they've used.
And the second point I make is that, yes, they're weighing in on something that seems absurd, like beats not commenting on Chinese sacrifices in a work in South Korea, but it's a warning shot to keep the beaches of the world from saying anything more substantive about Chinese policy.
Right. So if you're constantly brushing back the NBA, Disney beats on these seemingly obscure or anodyne controversies, you're sending a bigger message, which is you better not say anything about Tibet or the Tigers or anything of serious concern to us because it's a deterrence. We're going to we're going to whack you in the face just for saying anything that isn't completely in line with our view.
And I think it's it's eroding free expression in our countries because you clearly see companies self censoring, Disney, self censoring and their movies, the NBA self censoring and the comments that players make. Even if the NBA says and they have said the right things about free speech. You know, clearly these players don't want to risk the Chinese market and so they don't say much about it. And and I think there has to be a concerted effort.
And there's there's legislation in Congress that is meant to compel US companies at least to not put any restrictions on the free speech of their employees. I think that's not a bad idea. Like we have to start making it clear that we're not just going to let China control. It's bad enough that they try to control what their own people say and do the idea that they're going to control what what beats or the NBA says and does. It runs totally counter to the idea of an open society.
That's a really interesting idea. I like that the idea from Congress turned to The New York Times itself for a minute because there's been some controversy lately about their coverage of terrorism. So if you've read a story in the Times about ISIS or terrorism, you probably read a piece by a journalist named Rukmini Callimachi. And full disclosure, I'm a fan of her work. I promoted it a million times. I've tried to book her on this show called. Times what was said ignored or blown off by The New York Times PR people and look, in fairness to her, The New York Times has barred its reporters from doing any cricket shows unless they're promoting a book.
So it's probably not her fault. Regardless, like the accuracy of her reporting has been called into question a couple of times. So you may have heard the podcast califate. It was about ISIS. The series was basically entirely based on on the account of one Canadian man who claimed to have been in ISIS and done these truly horrible, like graphic things. Well, it turns out he made it all up last month. He was actually arrested under Canadian law.
That prevents that prove. Previously, she had reported on some ISIS documents that now appear to be fake. In some instances. Her colleagues at the Times had raised ethical concerns about a story she wrote about the four U.S. soldiers who were killed in Niger a couple of years ago because the paper actually purchased video of their deaths from a media organization linked to al-Qaida, which is unethical for a variety of reasons. And then there was a 2014 article that claimed the US government had basically ignored information that could have led to the rescue of American hostages in Syria.
And that piece appears to have been wrong as well. And so there's a couple more incidents like this. I don't raise these things to pick on her. I don't know all the details of what happened. And by no means in my suggesting that it's easy to write about these subjects. But first, like I mentioned, her reporting, enough to feel like, you know, giving you guys this context is important.
But then second, what pisses me off about this incident then is not like the possibility that she might have made mistakes. It's The New York Times is like just so reflexively defensive about it. Right. Like they're going to review the reporting. The one is a caliphate, but more often than not, they just circle the wagons and they defend the fucking reporting like a flak would for a politician. And like, yes, I am bitter about all the like Hillary emails stuff right before the election.
It's all coming back up.
But like, where's the introspection, where is the transparency, where the consequences for making these mistakes? Because, like, the press corps wouldn't accept this response or approach from the government. Right. Like, I don't know, end of speech. But do you remember this story in twenty fourteen then about hostages in Syria? Did that impact policy discussions?
Well, yeah, first of all, I didn't know that crooked rule, by the way. That's interesting. I did a quick plug. I had Austin Ramzy, the Hong Kong bureau chief on missing America. It might not have known as a foreign correspondent in new super interesting. So listen up. So three missing American. But yeah.
So first of all, that that story contributed to the broader narrative that this operation that we did launch to rescue the hostages was slow, could have been done better.
And by the way, you still see Mike Pence in the debate, you know, hitting that that's and it's entirely not true. Barack Obama made the decision to to launch a very complicated special operation into Syria, like within a day, I think, of when he was presented that option.
Mike Pence says it's a month. You know, part of this is, is this narrative that dates all the way back to that story, not just that story, but some other reporting. But I don't want to sound sour grapes, and that's where I'm going to sound more sour grapes is new.
The New York Times, despite being, you know, the preeminent newspaper in the world and despite having tremendous foreign correspondents, has repeatedly succumbed to the kind of hyperbolic, fear driven coverage of terrorism that has sustained the, quote unquote, war on terror.
Now, for 20 years, they hyped the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and never really did sufficient introspection about that.
And I'm not suggesting ISIS wasn't a threat, but a lot of these stories were about scaring people. We're about this is is even worse than it appears to be in these. We're going to tell you these people who were radicalized in this guy who's back in Canada is going to paint a scary picture of the caliphate.
It's not to suggest that none of the reporting is true, but it is to suggest that all of these errors seem to be on the hype, the threat side of the equation, you know, and so to me, there's the question of why The New York Times, which is supposed to be about facts and putting things into context, you know, has consistently kind of privilege prioritized, defended reporting that has turned out in retrospect to hide threats and particularly to hide threats relative to other things like climate change and pandemics.
Maybe that didn't get anywhere near the attention of the page of the Times.
So that that's a bigger issue about just the terrorism reporting in this country and our media.
But The New York Times sets the tone in ways I think it's important for those to understand, because Tommy and I had to sit in the White House communications in New York Times story sets the agenda for everybody else.
The truth is, most of these other big news organizations don't have a lot of reporting capacity anymore.
They closed down foreign bureaus, so what they do, they wake up in Washington and they read The New York Times and and they basically take their cues from the Times, a big New York Times story, particularly in a non Trump era where Trump is orchestrating the news media. A big New York Times story can drive the conversation for weeks, if not months.
Right. And she had written some of those types of stories.
And I'm glad you made the point you did, because, you know, the Times insist on rightly accountability from people in power that we need to be self reflective, that we need to acknowledge error, that we need to be transparent about our mistakes and not just our successes.
And The New York Times does the opposite.
And people should read this Ben Smith story in The Times that deconstructs this, because at every turn there was this kind of circle the wagons, defend her, defend her reporting at all costs approach.
Even after this guy in Canada was arrested for fabricating it, their first instinct was still to defend the podcast and say, well, actually, she said that there might be doubts about his story. She only said that at the end of this multipart podcast series, there was entirely rooted in believing what he had said. You know, so they just have this reflexive defensiveness that to your point, they would never accept that from government flacks.
But their top editors at the paper do it over and over again.
And and people may get a little confused on Twitter wire that all of these New York Times controversies, because this really matters.
It really is kind of the paper of record.
And if they can acknowledge error and they don't learn from their mistakes, they repeat them. And we saw that with Iraq WMD reporting.
We saw that with Hillary's emails and the reporting on that and the obsession on it, that they need to have some capacity to reflect and improve what is already, you know, arguably the best newspaper in the world, but could be better.
Yeah, look, I'm a subscriber. I love The New York Times. I love the Twitters. Personally, I think their their international coverage is critical to my understanding of the world, is critical to the production of this show. But I think I read of their public editor, you know, and that was a really weird step in the wrong direction for a major modern media publication. And then just zooming back from The New York Times to the broader point you made, which I'm so glad you did, which is it's like this like fear porn around terrorism.
Like here's here's here's who's the victim of that narrative in that coverage, refugees. OK, so the Trump administration informed Congress this week that they intend to admit a maximum of fifteen thousand refugees into the U.S. in twenty twenty one. These announcements are always paired with some Mike Pompeo statement that says things like the US is the most generous nation in the world. Fuck you, Mike, get out of here. Like that is below the eighteen thousand person cap that the administration set for twenty twenty, even though they only let in 11000 refugees.
And so the AP report on this noted that this official announcement came right after a vile, racist speech Trump gave in Minnesota, where he targeted Illinois Omar Congresswoman Linamar and claimed that Biden will turn Minnesota into a refugee camp.
And so the White House is also, I think, proposed not admitting refugees from Somalia, Syria or Yemen, countries that we have helped bomb the shit out of over the last couple of decades. Right. And again, like Obama is responsible for a lot of that.
And so the other thing that was weird, Ben, is that the State Department is refusing to provide basic data on refugee resettlement. So, again, I guess cutting off access to basic data is like a theme for today, just for context for people. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees puts the global number of people who have been displaced because they're fleeing violence or political persecution is. Seventy one million to seventy one million people are displaced. I think. Twenty six million of them are officially refugees.
For more context, Obama approved allowing one hundred and ten thousand refugees into the US in 2016. Biden said he would reset the refugee cap at one hundred twenty five thousand if he's elected.
When Trump first started demagoguing this issue again, like ISIS was seen as ascendent refugee flows into Europe, where a huge news story he tried this yet again with like the caravan nonsense in twenty eighteen. It didn't work politically. So I guess you're my question. Historically, immigrants, refugees, they get blamed for all kinds of problems. So I don't want to be naive about this and say it'll be better. But do you have hope that Biden can reframe this debate about refugees and bring it back to a values argument?
Or I mean, are you as worried as I am that, like, Fox News is just going to, like, lead the charge on all the same terrorists fear mongering?
Yeah, well, again, Good Morning America. Plug your episode seven days. And then Jake Sullivan and I talk about a Biden policy for refugees in the last episode, which I'll get to in a second.
I mean, I do want to just make the point. It needs to be repeated like refugees have not committed acts of terrorism in any, you know, in any scale whatsoever, despite all the fear mongering about this. They go through a process of vetting that that goes beyond normal immigration vetting, and there are people that generally have been enormous contributors to American society precisely because they're so grateful to be here, because they've had to leave such horrendous circumstances. If you're a refugee, by definition, legally, you are fleeing an intolerable situation right.
In America as Holocaust survivors, the lost boys of Sudan, the Vietnamese boat people have become incredibly successful populations here in the US like we have been enriched by refugees.
We have a double responsibility here.
A lot of the refugees are tied to the war on terror and the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq. You mentioned Yemen, Somalia. These are places where the United States has been engaged militarily in contributing to the dynamic that has led to the refugee flows.
So we have a moral responsibility here.
And the other piece is it's not just that we go down to 110000 at the end of Obama to almost zero under Trump.
It's a that is just a blinking green light. Carte blanche for other governments are not taking refugees. And you've seen European countries taking less refugees. You've seen conditions worsen in places like Greece along the periphery where refugees are reaching Europe. So there's a knock on effect when we're not doing our part that nobody else does, whereas when we do our part, we can get other nations to take in refugees because we have more credibility on the issue.
Or we can help design processes and fund mechanisms to take care of refugees and to place them in different countries. So the whole system is kind of was creaky to begin with, obviously, before Trump. And it's now kind of unraveling to some extent. Biden has said a lot of the right things about this. He is committed to taking in even more refugees than we did at the end of the Obama administration to go up to one hundred and twenty five thousand and to trying to reenergize the global infrastructure around refugees, as well as obviously sending the Muslim ban on day one and restoring the asylum process right where people can apply for asylum status in the United States.
Trump has done away with that, too.
So actually, this is an issue where Biden has been really good and he's got I mean, I know the people work on this stuff from the right kind of people.
So I think this you will see a significant change now. You'll also see that fear mongering and you'll see it all come back again and you see it around, you know, Illinois, Omar already. And so I think it's you're right to kind of plant a flag like a lot of this stuff is making it worse. I mean, I'll point to nothing, Tommy, like there was an al-Qaida attack, the first successful al-Qaida attack on American soil since 9/11.
Right. The killed American service members when a Saudi pilot and a U.S. government program kill people and it barely registers swept under the rug.
If that happens under Joe Biden, like all hell will break loose on the right. And so we just have to be mindful of that.
But I hope that the Biden people rejected, you know, that they don't succumb as much as we did, frankly, to the fear of being called weak on terrorism in some of their policies, because I think the Trump years proved that that's just bullshit, that they don't really they don't really care about that.
They didn't they didn't care when that terrorist attack happened and they killed U.S. service members because Trump happened to be president. It just shows you how much this industry of fear is is in service of a particular right wing political agenda. And unfortunately, the media goes along with it because fear gets clicks.
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Let's turn to a country we don't talk about a lot on the show, which is Angola. So here's the story. So in 2017, José Eduardo de Santos, who had served as president since nineteen seventy nine, stepped down in João Lorenzo took over. Lorenzo has made combating corruption central to his tenure in office, and his government is focused on prosecuting those who profited during the previous regime, including the former president's children. Isabel de Santos, the former president's daughter, is the richest woman in Africa, then worth approximately one point five billion dollars and has been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from state owned oil company that she was in charge of is in this protracted legal battle with a number of governments.
So now the current president, President Lorenzo, is estimating that the government lost 24 billion dollars from corruption under the Santos rule, double what Angola holds in foreign currency reserves. Man, then I don't know a ton about this back story. I read this interview the current president did with The Wall Street Journal, where he estimated this figure and I announced it for the first time. Anything like more you want to share about Angola generally or this corruption? And then we've talked to a bunch of times about the need for the US to push back on kleptocracy and embezzlement and corruption like this.
In that vein, like what do you think the government, the United States should do here?
Well, I mean, first of all, Angola is an oil rich, fossil fuel rich country.
And so to me, it reinforces how much the connection between autocracy and oil leads to these kinds of circumstances. Right. Because the national wealth is tied up in one industry that can be controlled by a corrupt leader who can siphon off just vast sums. And at some point in that chain of events, oil companies are playing along.
People are playing along with this stuff. You know, like it doesn't just happen because someone's a master crook, you know, it's how the system is kind of wired as long as as the oil is flowing like you pay, you need to pay.
And I think the US can do a lot more on this. I mean, and to plug another book, I just read Topia, I'm reading now, it's it's all about dark money and how it flows to the global economy and the global economy depends a lot on the US financial system.
A lot of this money moves through dollars. Sometimes it's parked in shell companies in the US where people not disclose who owns a company. There are specific policy changes that the US can make to combat this kind of corruption. I mean, first of all, we can introduce transparency requirements for people who are setting up companies in the United States or buying real estate in the United States, another place where people like to hide money so that we can track these flows more.
And then I think we should make anti-corruption like central to our democracy agenda around the world, that the US has a lot of tools to track illicit financial flows and to blow whistle on it and to reveal corruption.
Right. If we see something like this, we should say something, you know, so I'd like to see corruption really be a focal point because, you know, it can completely screw people, an entire country like Angola, never mind how we've seen it, and in other places in Hungary, for instance.
And it leads to the erosion of democracy as well and and, of course, inequality. So if you want to get at autocracy and inequality, you've got to get it.
Corruption and dark financial flows.
Twenty four billion dollars. That is that's prodigious theft right there. A couple more quick ones. So first, an update on Facebook and disinformation. Speaking of someone not like thinking making a billion dollars is enough, right? I mean, that's another thing.
It's like, why do you need twenty four? You know, like a billion should be fine. Like, you know, I don't know. What do you what are you doing with the twenty fourth billion that you've made and this is up Mark Zuckerberg as well, not just our friend in England. Yeah. I don't.
How do you spend twenty four billion dollars. I have no idea. So yeah. So Mark, our friend Mark Zuckerberg, two years after taking the utterly absurd, indefensible position that Facebook shouldn't take down posts featuring Holocaust denial because he claimed you couldn't divine the intent of the poster, Zuckerberg has reversed himself.
On Monday, he posted a blog update where he said his thinking had evolved because there has been an increase in anti-Semitic violence. Zuckerberg also pointed to survey data that you and I talked about a few weeks ago on the show about a disconcerting lack of awareness about the Holocaust, especially young among young people in America.
Facebook also has recently decided to take down posts related to Kuhnen to militia groups. They've announced that they'll have a ban on political ads after Election Day and remove posts that call for poll watchers or other voter intimidation.
So activists were, I guess, relatively happy about most of these announcements and, you know, credit where credit's due. But, you know, they say the key is making sure that Facebook actually implements these policies. So, you know, I guess good for them. For finally getting to a reasonable position, but it's so frustrating to think of all the damage that's been done over the past few years, I mean, again, Facebook pretends to have this sort of like laissez faire hands off, free speech absolutist approach to their content.
But in reality, like, there are strict rules on what your ads can look like and their algorithm decides what you see and your willingness to pay money to boost posts gets it to more people. And so, like, just not the case. So I should note that YouTube still refuses to ban Kuhnen content. Their CEO is quoted talking about this today, which is just outrageous. Don't know what you make of this announcement. A hopeful sign or maybe this is just Facebook suddenly waking up to the fact that Democrats could be in power soon and they're concerned about regulation.
Yeah, bingo. That's my take. I mean, first of all, I'm noting that according to Google and Mark Zuckerberg is worth ninety three billion dollars.
So we laugh at the Angolan. But like we've got, you know, this corrupt guy who's got a platform that is literally tearing apart our country and countries around the world. And he's worth ninety three billion dollars. And he says it's all about the open Internet and the ethos of whatever libertarian ideology that underpins that, when in fact it's about that 93 billion dollars. I think you're right. Like the regulation train is coming, like they see what we all see, which is that it looks like Joe Biden is more likely to win the election.
Democrats control Congress and Democrats are intent on regulating these social media platforms and these.
Yeah, is it positive step that they're taking Holocaust denial? Facebook? Of course it is. But like, that's not structural change.
They need to change their algorithms. They need to change how they disseminate content. They need to change algorithms that that hermetically sealed people in echo chambers of their own ideological stew, even if that stew is like Kuhnen or some other crazy conspiracy theory, and then mainlines the most sensationalist content to people because it'll get more clicks because it their advertising revenue so that Mark Zuckerberg goes something with ninety three dollars billion to 100 billion dollars like that.
Like so like the problem I have with all these things is that they are treated as PR issues by Facebook and not as structural issues with their platform, you know, and and until they address the structural issues with how their platform operates, these one offs can make things incrementally better.
But like, they're fundamentally just PR so that when the Democrats, if knock on wood, hope to God Joe Biden can overcome Facebook disinformation to become elected president United States, that they then have some talking points to say, well, we are we're getting our house in order.
No, no, their house is not in order.
And it's going to take, as it has with every other major industry throughout history, it's going to take a degree of government regulation here to to ensure that public safety is protected.
Quickly to Belarus. So protest in Belarus over the stolen election of President Alexander Lukashenko are now in their second month and there are still hundreds of thousands of citizens continuing to protest in the streets. The protests themselves have been incredibly inspiring. The these people are they're sick of corruption. They're sick of living under a dictatorship. Unfortunately, the response from the government has been brutal and it may get worse. So we've talked before about reports of protesters being detained in mass or beaten or tortured.
Then on Sunday, though, things escalated when the Interior Ministry announced that police will be allowed to use lethal force. The BBC reported that the European Union is prepared to expand sanctions against Belarusian officials to include the president himself. Putin is now saying he's ready to send in Russian police to help out if asked. So that looks like a pretty dramatic escalation to me, like going from beating the shit out of people to announcing that you will just kill protestors.
How do you think the international response needs to change to meet this, you know, pretty psychotic new announcement from the government?
I mean, I think that the sanctions have to evolve to a place where it's essentially like Lukashenko is just not recognized as a legitimate leader of Belarus by Europe in the United States. You know, I mean, this is someone who is a European leader. Like this isn't like a regime change policy in some other part of the world.
This is a guy who tried to steal an election, is now trying to kill protesters in Europe. Right. And and so I think the EU, even though Belarus is obviously not a member, but like can have a much more forceful voice here and they're moving in that direction. That's good. And they should also do things like I saw Merkel meet with the leader of the opposition in Belarus. That's another piece of this is is what are you doing to try to legitimize and speak to engage in dialogue with the opposition here?
And this could be a very unsettled time because let's say Biden wins the election like I'm curious how many creeps around the world are going to make their play in that transition period in November and December? For a normal not that Joe Biden's going to ride in like on horseback and fix all these problems, but he's at least going to care about them. Right. And so I do worry that the timing of some of this stuff could accelerate if our election result goes in the right direction, because that will be perceived to be a window of time to get crackdown's done before you have a new American administration.
Yeah, you, Venmo, Jared Kushner, and you're all good. Yeah. So pro marijuana legalization activists in Mexico have developed a lobbying approach that I think we all need to embrace and get behind some. A great report in the L.A. Times. I'm a subscriber, by the way. Great paper. Yeah, great. Pavlin. So for the past nine months, pro legalization activists in Mexico have set up a cannabis garden right near the Mexican Senate where they are growing weed and allowing people to smoke the smell from the plants.
The smoke is supposed to remind lawmakers that they have until December 15th of this year to pass laws regulating marijuana, which will quickly make Mexico the biggest legal cannabis market in the world. I'm curious if West Hollywood is number two in twenty eighteen. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled that bans on marijuana were unconstitutional, but Congress has to write laws to regulate the recreational use.
So the debate in Mexico is interesting. It's similar to the one in the US who gets to grow it, who gets to sell it, who gets to make a profit. What about foreign companies? How hard or easy should it be for consumers to get? There's also the question of what it will mean for the drug cartels who may be worried about losing revenue. It will also have a huge impact on Mexico's criminal justice system, which, like ours, although they have way fewer people incarcerated.
I think I read two hundred thousand people incarcerated. They still have lots in jail for stupid drug charges that are marijuana related. Then assuming that there are reasonable restrictions put on consumption of marijuana by minors, do you see any downside to these legalization efforts?
Like I'm trying to think if I'm trying to make sure that I'm not hopping on the train here just because it seems obvious to me. But I don't know. What do you make of this?
I mean, it seems obvious to me. I mean, in this country, right. It it it reduces incarceration dramatically. It allows for regulation. It raises tax revenue off of marijuana products and it makes very good marijuana products available.
Then it's basically where I live is like an open air version of that protest in Mexico City.
If you walk outside, I think that the bigger question here is coordinated legalization in the Americas, because a lot of the drug trade flows south to north has huge impacts in Central American countries on Colombia up to the U.S. And you know, under the Obama administration, there was some pressure from some Latin American leaders to to legalize.
I think there are concerns that if it was ad hoc and done in different ways in different countries, that that could put more pressure on the illegal drug trade in other countries, you know, as people, as cartels are looking for markets.
So what I think needs to happen here is as the US moves to decriminalize marijuana and as Mexico does, we need to look at this across the hemisphere, you know, so that there's kind of a coordinated view of how to use legalization to put cartels out of some business.
There's obviously still going to be heroin and other drugs, cocaine that they're selling so that you don't have you know, you don't have a circumstance where this is negatively impacting some countries and not benefiting others. You know, this could be an interesting agenda item if the Bush administration wins and wants to be ambitious for for a hemisphere wide initiative.
That's a very good idea. Last thing, kind of a fun story out of Costa Rica. A team of scientists decided to create 3D printed fake turtle eggs to track a network of illegal poachers who have been stealing turtle eggs, many of them endangered and then selling them for food. Here's the idea. Basically, you create this fake egg, you put a GPS tracker inside of it, you hide it in the turtle nests. So in these creeps come along and they take the real eggs.
They unknowingly collect a tracking device that could help you figure out where they're going, what they're doing with these these endangered turtle eggs and sort of stop the process.
Very cool idea. You fake eggs are called investigators.
Then Jordan, Jordan and Michael wanted me to ask you if you are on Team Bionic Turtle Egg or team mine rat from last week, you have to decide today.
I think I have to go buying turtle egg. I mean, this is because I'm trying to imagine the meeting where somebody came up with this.
I mean, that's a good meeting to be in, you know, good meeting. That's cool meeting. Yeah. And you know what? It might be tied to marijuana legalization.
You know, I mean, somebody might be been sitting around watching the wire, popping an edible and thinking to myself, you know, hey, Jordan claims is based on the wire and Breaking Bad.
I'm wondering, you know, people had heard of GPS before that. I like I like the inspiration. I like the inspiration. I like the inspiration and like the idea of using animals to get revenge on bad human beings, given how poorly human beings are treated animals. So I'm I'm totally on board with the project.
Also, if you have really cool rats and you have really cool turtle eggs, you basically have Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We just sort of we just rewrote the movie.
There is a movie in this or a Netflix series where each episode is like some animal sting, you know.
Yeah. OK, enough about animals. When we come back, we will have my interview with Jeff Lewis. He's a nonproliferation expert and he's going to explain why North Korea paraded a brand new gigantic missile over the weekend, what it means for our safety and what it means for the Trump North Korea policy. So stay tuned for that.
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I am so excited to welcome my guest on today. He is a professor at the Middlebury Institute, a nonproliferation expert, the host of the fantastic podcast The Deal. Dr. Jeff Lewis, how are you? Great to see you.
Hey, it is great to be talking to you. So I'm so grateful that you made time, because my dear friend Kim Jong un, who hasn't got back to my letters in a while, he had a parade and he did invite me, but he rolled out in Pyongyang, I believe, a big new intercontinental ballistic missile during this military parade. I was following your Twitter feed closely. I read about how there were 11 axles and all sorts of interesting specs.
What did you make of this thing? What do we what should we take away from this new big missile? Oh, buckle up.
It's going to be so much fun.
You know, I think we've been we've been in this sort of state of suspended animation while the North Koreans waited for the Trump administration to lift some sanctions on them in order to pay the North Koreans back for all the favors they did for Trump. And that's over now. And the North Koreans, I think, have made it clear that that's over.
And they have a pretty predictable pattern, which is they show us big, scary stuff and then they fly that big, scary stuff. So I think not only do we get to see this missile, we're going to see some fireworks in the not too distant future.
You were able to take these images of this missile that were released by North Korean propaganda, right? State TV. Yep. And and you were able to measure certain parts of it.
What did those measurements tell you about the specs on this thing and why it matters to people who feel like, you know what, I live in Poughkeepsie. I'm nowhere near North Korea. What's the problem?
Yeah, well, you can't you can't get away from North Korea anymore. Yeah, we like we we have, like, a weird thing that we do.
And honestly, a lot of this came out of the Iraq war where, you know, the U.S. intelligence community was able to say these things about Iraq that were false, and yet it's still put the country on a path to war. And so my colleagues and I are all really dedicated to trying to do the same things that the intelligence community does on a classified basis, but openly using all commercial technology. So, you know, when they roll missiles down the street, we take all the photographs, the videos, if we can get satellite images of it and we actually measure things down to the centimeter.
And we're currently fighting over whether the thing is, is is two point four meters or two point six meters in diameter.
Right. So, I mean, I like I say, I got a weird gig.
And what we do is we take all that basically to figure out how far the missile can fly. And, you know, the thing that they operate, it is a big one.
North Korea had already tested a missile that could, I think, deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the United States, including Mar a Lago.
But this thing is really big and it looks like what it's designed to do is to take multiple warheads and deliver them.
So, you know, if it carries three warheads, then every missile that gets through is three nuclear weapons falling on a U.S. city.
Yeah, so that's scary. It's also mobile. Right. Can you explain why mobility matters? Yeah.
And this is a crazy thing the North Koreans have done because these these missiles are filled with these really toxic and explosive liquid propellants.
And so I guess their plan is to like fill these these giant trucks. I mean, they're so big, you know, like the tires are like the size of a person with 11 axles. So, you know, like these things make like a big like a semi truck you see on the highway look tiny.
And, you know, their plan is to, like, fuel one of these big chunky things up and then like drive it out into the road. And a theory is, if they're driving it around, even if it's not driving all that fast, it's going to be really hard for us to find and destroy those missiles before they fire. Because, you know, if you're the North Koreans, you want to know that you can get a couple of missiles through in any conflict in order to make the US back off.
Right. I saw you tweeted that this missile is aimed at overwhelming US missile defense systems in Alaska. Can you talk a little bit about what missile defense systems are in place to protect the continental US and how this bigger version could potentially overwhelm that system or even just make us spend a ton more money?
Yeah, I mean, I don't know what to call the system in Alaska. It's called the ground based midcourse defense, which is not a great name. It's either the disaster in Alaska or the blunder in the tundra. It's this system which really doesn't work very well. You know, missiles that have to come from either Russia or China or North Korea have to come up over the North Pole. So that's why it's sitting in Alaska.
And these are basically missiles that shoot at missiles, but they have a terrible test record like 50 50. And so the plan is for every warhead coming at the U.S., they're going to fire four missiles at it. And the problem with that, and this is just a kind of happy coincidence of back of the envelope calc. Relations. If each one of these missiles carries three or four warheads, that's, you know, kind of an average of of that's going to take an average of about 14 interceptors, right.
To deal with one missile at the end of the Obama administration. The US bought 14 two interceptors. It cost a billion dollars. So the cost of having a like, OK defense against each one of these missiles is like a billion bucks, which, you know, pretty quickly is unaffordable.
So I spent a lot of time in meetings talking about U.S. missile defense systems. There are a lot of, I guess, unintended consequences of having them and deploying them, including pissing off the Russians, if they're located in certain places. Might take away from how you talk about these systems is you think that they're maybe not that good at the job to begin with. Is that a fair interpretation?
Yeah. I mean, it's just it's really hard. I mean, it's easy to kind of make fun of the systems when they don't work, but when you really sit down and look at what they are supposed to do. Right. You know, these things, the incoming missiles are traveling at like seven kilometers a second. And so the idea that you are going to fire your own missile, which is going to like talk to radars and figure out where everything is and and, you know, they don't explode.
Right. They actually hit the warhead. It's kinetic kill. So they can't miss at all, even if they just, like, glance at it won't kill the warhead.
So this is like technologically it's incredible what they're trying to do.
But no, I just think at the end of the day, think of it this way. Even if you get a system that's like 90 percent successful and only 10 percent of the Russian or the North Korean missiles get through, like it's just not good enough, right?
I mean, that's still a really crappy day.
Yeah, that's not a that's not a great margin.
I'm cheery, by the way. I'm also fun at parties. I notice that the South Korean intel agency poured a little bit of cold water on this brand new North Korean missile. They said it was untested and basically paraded for political effect. Do you share that sort of sanguine approach to this thing for now?
I mean, at a base level, it hasn't been tested yet. So they're right.
On the other hand, the US missile defense system, we don't really test all that often either, and it doesn't have a great test record.
So I do think it's probably true that a lot of these North Korean missiles are really unreliable. But I think what you have to decide is like, let's say half of them don't work and the other half do like, is that a good thing or a bad day?
Like, I actually think a really unreliable North Korean missile system is still a serious enough problem that, you know, we should be trying to do something about it, but just not that one thing. The missile defense. Yeah.
So the Israelis have used a bunch of smaller range missile defense systems. David's sling the Iron Dome system pretty well. There's also people have probably heard of the Patriot missile system, which was given a lot of credit for intercepting missiles, Scud missiles in nineteen ninety one in Iraq, although my foggy memory of this is maybe some of that reporting was bogus.
But your foggy memory is pretty good. When we're not talking about an ICBM, we're not talking about something that's literally launched into orbit and coming down. As you said, it's seven kilometers an hour. Does this technology get better?
Yeah, it's easier to intercept the shorter range stuff because it's not moving quite as fast.
And, you know, it's kind of an interesting question where that breakpoint is right. Where it becomes really, really hard. And so the Patriot system is, I think, kind of the inflection point where, yeah, there was initially the reporting that they'd shot everything down and then the more people dug and dug and dug.
It looked like they didn't shoot anything down, I mean, I think at the end of the day, there are a couple in the first Gulf War that they arguably got. And to be fair, it's really hard to know. Like, life's not a video game. You know, the missiles coming in, if it breaks up, did it break up because you hit it or break up because it's you know, it's a crappy Iraqi scud. But I'll tell you, you know, we did a really I think it was a kind of it was a fun experiment.
You know, the Saudis keep saying that they're intercepting these Iranian made missiles that are being fired from Yemen.
So we went ahead and we located both where the missile defenses were and then modeled where the body of the missile fell and where the warhead fell. And what we figured out in the two cases that we could really track closely is in both cases, the Saudi government lied. They said that they had intercepted the thing, but actually the warhead flew over the missile defense and landed near the target. Now, happily, it didn't go in neither case did it kill anyone.
But, you know, like you see this all the time. Governments say they are intercepting things because they want to reassure their public.
And honestly, I think that's why the South Koreans are saying the system's untested because they don't have, like, a great strategy to deal with it. And so you tell people it's fine. Right?
Right. It is. It is just fascinating what you guys are able to to figure out and confirm based on commercially available satellite imagery. And, you know, I don't know, protractors compared to like the CIA and the hundreds of billions of dollars that are spent by the US government on this.
Yeah, well, you know, we steal from them terribly. Like any time a document gets declassified that has, like, some methods in it, like we download it and we copy it. So actually, all this stuff we're doing with missiles came because the British, of all people, insanely declassified a really detailed analysis they did of a Soviet missile in the Cold War. And we took like one look at that thing and we're like we have a much better computers than they had 40 years ago.
We could totally do that. Oh, I love it.
I love it. Back to North Korea for a minute.
So, you know, we've gone through this bizarre love affair, right, with the love letters back and forth from Kim Jong un.
You know how relationships sometimes end, right? Yeah, I know. Well, let's started poorly, right? I mean, in twenty seventeen, Trump was threatening fire and fury, which everyone rightly interpreted as a nuclear threat. There's, I think, been some reporting since and some of the various books maybe as Bob Woodward that like Jim Mattis was like sleeping in his uniform at the office for a while because things were, yeah, that's creepy.
I have to say, that's really scary stuff. And so, you know, things dial down. There was the Singapore summit, there was the follow on summit. There was a weird thing at the DMZ where were Trump and Kim Jong un got together. And at a bare minimum, you didn't hear about North Korea for a while. There weren't like big flashy tests. There was another nuclear test. But the program is ongoing.
Like when you think about what we knew about Kim's nuclear program four years ago compared to today, like, what do you think the major differences are?
Well, it's just a lot further along. You know, I think the way you have to understand what the North Koreans were doing when they were bargaining with Trump is that they weren't offering to give up their nuclear weapons. I mean, I know Trump said they were offering to give up their nuclear weapons. But I think at this point, we've all had enough experience with the things that Trump says and the things that are right.
What the North Koreans really were saying is that they wanted to deal kind of like Israel has, which is if they don't talk about their weapons, if they don't test them, if they don't show them off, then if they pretend they don't exist, we can pretend they don't exist. And the problem goes away. And I think from a North Korean perspective, they thought that would be a big win for Trump's reelection, that he'd be really excited about that because it took all these bad news stories because like nobody like the fire and fury stuff, and we'd replace it with a good news story.
He was supposed to pay them for that. Right. He was supposed to lift sanctions.
So even though things looked great because the North Koreans weren't antagonizing Trump, it didn't mean that they stopped developing new systems. And so, well, it's the weirdest experience in the world because on the one hand, you have this political relationship where the media is covering all this great, like, oh, they're talking to friends. They love each other. But like we're staring at satellite pictures of the facilities and people are still going to work, you know, like stuff is still going into the facilities and going out of the facilities.
And so from our perspective, they never stop.
But it was really hard to convince people that there was this huge disconnect between the kind of the kind of lovey dovey talk on the one hand and then the day to day reality of what the North Koreans were up to.
Yeah, it seems unnerving to me. And good luck to the next president if it is not Donald Trump. So stepping back a little bit, maybe this related anyway. So nonproliferation was something that Obama talked about a lot. He cared about it. He had since college, basically, and we saw some progress. There was the new START treaty with Russia. There was the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump, with some help from his former national security adviser, John Bolton, walked away from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the IMF treaty with Russia, the Open Skies Treaty with Russia. And it seems like they're going to let the new start. Lapse in February, the quick and dirty for for listeners on that is it will mean less restrictions on the nuclear arsenals and less transparency about what each side is doing. He also famously tore up the Iran nuclear deal.
When you step back and you know, you care deeply about nonproliferation and trying to limit the risk from a nuclear holocaust, what's the biggest risk out there in your mind? Like what are the things that keep you up at night?
I'd say there are two things that fundamentally frighten me.
The first is that the U.S. Russia relationship is headed in the wrong direction, like profoundly in the wrong direction.
And I, I keep people keep asking me like, well, are we headed toward an arms race like we are in an arms race? Again, it's not we're not at the numbers that we were in the Cold War. But you are seeing all the same kind of dangerous interactions. You know, I think over the last couple of years, Putin has unveiled this just absurd menagerie of science fiction weapons, the doomsday torpedo, the nuclear powered cruise missile that the giant the giant ICBM that can fly over the South Pole so that the system in Alaska doesn't have a shot at it.
And like this other crazy stuff. And that's all designed to defeat missile defenses.
And so what I think we're seeing is that when the Bush administration pulled out of the treaty, that basically that limited missile defenses in they pulled out in 2000 well, right after September 11th, because it created the political opportunity for them to do that.
What we've seen is the all the structures put in place at the end of the Cold War to stabilize that relationship began collapsing. And so now we're kind of at the end of that process. And when you start goes, there will be no treaties governing our offensive nuclear forces. We're free to build and build and build. And like the Russians seem psyched about doing that.
So that's one thing. The other thing is this risk of proliferation, you know. Building nuclear weapons isn't that hard anymore. Look, this is a you know, like the other thing invented in nineteen forty five was, you know, like the microwave oven, right. You know, like, yeah, like this is not really all that fancy of a technology. And honestly, I when I look at what's happened in North Korea, I kind of see the future of Iran, you know, because people forget we had to deal with the North Koreans in 1994 and it was actually wasn't as good as the deal that that Obama got with Iran.
But it but it was a pretty good deal.
And we heard all the same arguments against the North Korean deal that we hear against the deal with Iran.
You know, people saying like, well, it's not perfect and how can you trust them?
And so, like, we did the experiment, right. Bush pulled out of it, said he'd get a better deal, said all the same things that Trump is saying about how he's going to get a better deal. And you don't get a better deal. You get a series of nuclear tests and, you know, now a giant ICBM that can carry three, three nuclear warheads anywhere in the U.S. So that kind of thing I say and it's it's why we did the podcast.
It's like if you like a nuclear armed North Korea, you are going to love walking away from the jackpot because Iran can do everything North Korea is doing and more. Yeah.
And so, yeah, if we don't if we don't get back in that thing, I think we're in some trouble. Yeah.
I mean, candidly, right. Iran's got a lot more access to capital and probably know how. Yeah.
They're richer, they're better at stuff.
You know I, I, I got in so much trouble when the jackpot came out and people ask me what was my grade, I gave it an A and and you know, I know in D.C. you're supposed to like triangulate a little and I, I should I should have given it like a B minus to like but. Right.
Just when you look at all the stuff Iran is doing and can do it not just on the nuclear front, but also on the missile side of things, that deal was a really.
Special opportunity to avoid what has happened in North Korea and instead we have just decided to literally make the same mistake again, because, you know, I don't know, you know, Bolton well, nothing drives me crazier than people in Washington who think that they need to preempt any praise of diplomacy with a whole bunch of qualifiers about how it's imperfect and it's limited in this or that. But there's no cost seemingly to being in favor of any of a half dozen military actions, some of which were started by my boss that were a total disaster.
Oh, I made like no one holds sabotage, right. Blowing stuff up in Iran to the same strategy that they hold diplomatic agreements. You know, it's like there's something just, you know, appealingly masculine about like doing stupid and counterproductive things. And I don't get it. But it's funny.
So the podcast that we just created, the deal had, which is a documentary History of the Iran Nuclear Deal, has these we had these two really young producers.
And what was incredible is they knew nothing about the subject when they got in and every person they talked to who talked about the deal would do just what you said, that DC thing of like, well, it's not perfect and, you know, it's not very good.
And you could just tell that as like normal human beings coming to this from the outside that like kind of like peacocking, like showing your feathers really struck them as weird because this was a really good agreement. I don't know why people won't say that drives me crazy.
I noticed you didn't say Pakistan. And I always find that interesting because there's something we thought about, stressed about, worried about constantly all the time. Now you have an India that is also nuclear armed, that is increasingly nationalist. You have Kashmir just fully occupied by the Indian government. I wonder. I mean, look, it's impossible to predict, but I'm surprised that there isn't more sort of overt concern expressed about that conflict. Maybe just because we have a president that seems hopped up on various steroids and unhinged his own right.
Yeah, I got I got a long list of nightmares for you. I told you I was fun at parties. Like we could go out. And I I think the reason Pakistan's fallen on people's radar is that by and large, those are pointed at India and not us. And and so like, yeah, there's concern that will they actually keep accurate count of all these things?
Could some of them, you know, leak out?
But, you know, I. Like, that's yeah, that's totally a concern, it's just I mean, that's just 20, 20 for you, right? Like the world's on fire. The republic is crumbling. There's chance of nuclear war with, you know, like Russia, North Korea. I mean, like. I think if Pakistan wants to get up on that list, it's going to have to step up its crazy game. Yeah, lucky, lucky, hopefully, Joe Biden.
So let's last question for you. Let's say Joe Biden is elected president. He serves out two terms. He says to you, I admire all the amazing work you have done with your your unclassified resources. I need you to be my head of nonproliferation for the next eight years. What do you focus on when it comes to just reducing the number of nuclear weapons out there? What are the top priorities for a Biden administration?
Yeah, I think it's it's getting the relationship with Russia back on track, because if we end up in a situation back where we're both at thirty thousand nuclear weapons, again, telling the Iranians and the North Koreans to knock it off, it's not going to happen.
And I think the other thing is getting back in the Iran deal, you know, I think at this point, North Korea is a lost cause. We can try to bring the temperature down, but I don't think we're gonna bring the number of weapons down, but.
Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons yet, right, that is still a solvable problem and happily it's been solved once it got unsolved because somebody is an idiot, but it could be resolved.
So, you know, I am not kidding when I said the jackpot deserves an A.. I think it's it's really one of the finest diplomatic accomplishments of any presidential administration in the modern period. And if the Biden administration can find a way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, we will be so much safer.
That is great advice. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis, thank you so much for joining. If you guys like detailed missile talk and I do check out the deal, the fantastic podcast, you'll learn a lot about the Iran nuclear deal. And hopefully we can just skip past all the, you know, criticisms and just learn about what is it that's that's interesting. That's a fun way to talk about it. What is the substance? So thank you again for joining us.
I really appreciate it.
My pleasure. Thanks again, Jeff Lewis, for joining the show. Ben, thank you. Thanks to all the heroic mice and rats and or fake turtle eggs out there and, you know, 21 days people, both of America, dotcom.
Twenty one days, people.
Let's do it. Let's go. In this thing, Pottsy, the world is a crooked media production.
The executive producer is Michael Martinez. Our associate producer is Jordan. Well, it's mixed and edited by Chris Bazil. Kyle Soglin is our sound engineer. Special thanks to Kevin Lewis for production support and thanks to our digital team, Elijah Cohn, Norma Iconium and Milo Kim, who film and share episodes as videos every week.