The Morning Dispatch: North Korea’s Nuclear Escalation

File footage of a North Korean missile test on September 29, 2022. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images.)

Happy Thursday! We’re grateful a copyright dispute between photographer Lynn Goldsmith and the Andy Warhol Foundation ended up before the Supreme Court, because we learned in oral arguments yesterday that Justice Clarence Thomas was a big Prince fan “in the ‘80s.”

“No longer?” Justice Elena Kagan interjected. 

“Well,” Thomas responded, smiling, “only on Thursday nights.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Officials with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said Wednesday they had detained eight individuals—five Russian, three Ukrainian or Armenian—on suspicion that they were involved in the detonation last weekend that killed four people and partially destroyed the Kerch Strait Bridge connecting mainland Russia to Crimea. Russian officials also accused Ukrainian military intelligence officials, including their chief Kyrylo Budanov, of orchestrating the sabotage. No group or entity has formally claimed responsibility for the explosion, but Ukrainian officials have openly celebrated its success in recent days.
  • Nearing the end of their fourth week, the Iranian protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody have continued to rage despite internet blackouts and vicious crackdowns from security forces, with strikes spreading from the oil industry to shopkeepers in one of the country’s most populous cities. At least 201 people have died in the demonstrations, according to the Oslo-based humanitarian organization Iran Human Rights, including 23 children. The European Union is expected to impose sanctions next week on at least 15 people and entities linked to Amini’s death, and U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Wednesday the Iran nuclear deal is “not our focus right now.” Instead, Price continued, the Biden administration is “shining a spotlight on what [Iranian protesters are] doing and supporting them in the ways we can.”
  • The Biden administration released its long-anticipated National Security Strategy on Wednesday, outlining its vision for the “decisive decade” ahead and the strategic competition that will “shape the future of the international order.” The document—which every administration is required to issue—describes “out-competing China and constraining Russia” as two of the United States’ greatest challenges in the coming years, and highlights the importance of diplomacy to build the strongest possible coalitions to deal not only with those threats, but also with cross-border issues like climate change, food insecurity, communicable diseases, terrorism, energy shortages, and inflation. “The need for a strong and purposeful American role in the world has never been greater,” Biden wrote.
  • The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the Mexican government that, effective immediately, will allow U.S. border officials to expel thousands of Venezuelan migrants entering the United States illegally to Mexico, rather than release them into the U.S. to await their court proceedings. Contingent on Mexico continuing to accept those migrants, the United States will also introduce a limited humanitarian parole program, allowing up to 24,000 qualifying Venezuelans who apply and are accepted for entry to travel to the United States by air directly, relieving pressure at the border.
  • Hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s updated, bivalent COVID-19 boosters for use in children as young as 5 and 6 years old, respectively, the Centers for Disease Control on Wednesday formally recommended the shots for those younger ages. Per the CDC, just 11.5 million Americans—about 4 percent of those eligible—had received an updated COVID-19 booster shot as of last week, despite the Biden administration securing 170 million doses heading into the fall.
  • Citing “people familiar,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday that federal investigators have gathered witness accounts—corroborated by security-camera footage—indicating that former President Donald Trump directed employees to move boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago to his residence on the property after he and his team received a subpoena requiring them to turn over any classified material that remained in their possession. The employee who was working at Mar-a-Lago is reportedly cooperating with the Justice Department and has been interviewed by federal agents multiple times.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday that the producer price index—a measure of what suppliers and wholesalers are charging their customers—increased 0.4 percent in September on a seasonally adjusted basis, after decreasing 0.2 percent in August and increasing 0.4 percent in July. On an annual basis, PPI inflation continued to come down from record highs, but remained hot at 8.5 percent. New consumer price index (CPI) inflation data for September will be released later this morning.
  • The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reported Wednesday the average rate on a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage reached 6.81 percent last week, the highest level since 2006. The MBA’s Unadjusted Purchase Index—which measures the volume of mortgage loan applications—decreased 2 percent week-over-week, and is down 39 percent from the same week one year ago.
  • A Connecticut jury ordered Alex Jones, a right-wing infotainment host, to pay $965 million in compensatory damages to the families of Sandy Hook school shooting victims whom he spent years defaming by claiming the 2012 massacre was staged by crisis actors to create a pretext for confiscating guns. Jones—who vowed to appeal the decision and whose company has already declared bankruptcy—owes a separate set of Sandy Hook parents in Texas about $50 million, and could face additional punitive damages from a judge next month.

North Korea Is Up to Something

Kim Jong-un has had a busy few weeks. In addition to breaking the internet by stepping out in a breathtaking white tunic and daring straw safari hat, North Korean state media reports the Respected Comrade has been personally guiding a series of military drills and missile launches. “Expressing great satisfaction over the result of the test-fire,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) read Wednesday, “the Respected Comrade Kim Jong Un highly appreciated the high reaction capabilities of our nuclear combat forces which proved again their full preparedness for actual war.”

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