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U.S. intelligence believes North Korea making more nuclear bomb fuel despite talks

The latest U.S. intelligence assessment appeared to go counter to sentiments expressed by Donald Trump that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in nuclear talks with the United States, NBC News quoted U.S. officials as saying.

In a report on Friday, the network said what it described as the latest U.S. intelligence assessment appeared to go counter to sentiments expressed by President Donald Trump, who tweeted after an unprecedented June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

NBC quoted five unidentified U.S. officials as saying that in recent months North Korea had stepped up production of enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, even as it engaged in diplomacy with the United States.

The network cited U.S. officials as saying that the intelligence assessment concludes that North Korea has more than one secret nuclear site in addition to its known nuclear fuel production facility at Yongbyon.

“There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.,” NBC quoted one official as saying.

The CIA declined to comment on the NBC report. The State Department said it could not confirm it and did not comment on matters of intelligence. The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The NBC report raises further questions about North Korea’s readiness to enter serious negotiations about giving up a weapons programme that now threatens the United States, in spite of Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the summit outcome.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018.

NBC quoted one senior U.S. intelligence official as saying that North Korea’s decision ahead of the summit to suspend nuclear and missile tests was unexpected and the fact that the two sides were talking was a positive step.

However, he added: “Work is ongoing to deceive us on the number of facilities, the number of weapons, the number of missiles ... We are watching closely.”

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Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at California’s Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said there were two “bombshells” in the NBC report.

He said it had long been understood that North Korea had at least one undeclared facility to enrich nuclear fuel aside from Yongbyon.

“This assessment says there is more than one secret site. That means there are at least three, if not more sites,” he said.Lewis said the report also implied that U.S. intelligence had reporting to suggest North Korea did not intend to disclose one or more of the enrichment sites.

“Together, these two things would imply that North Korea intended to disclose some sites as part of the denuclearisation process, while retaining others,” he said.

North Korea agreed at the summit to “work towards denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula,” but the joint statement signed by Kim and Trump gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might surrender its nuclear weapons.

Ahead of the summit, North Korea rejected unilaterally abandoning an arsenal it has called an essential deterrent against U.S. aggression.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week he would likely go back to North Korea before long to try to flesh out commitments made at the Trump-Kim meeting.

On Thursday, the Financial Times quoted U.S. officials as saying that Pompeo plans to travel to North Korea next week, but the State Department has declined to confirm this.

Bruce Klingner, a former CIA Korea expert now at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said the NBC report showed Trump’s statement that North Korea was no longer a nuclear threat was “absurd” and that detailed work on a verification regime was required.

Trump said last week North Korea was blowing up four of its big test sites and that a process of “total denuclearisation ... has already started,” but officials said there had been no such evidence since the summit.

This week, Washington-based North Korean monitoring project 38 North said recent satellite imagery showed North Korea had made rapid improvements to facilities at Yongbyon since May 6, but it could not say if such work had continued after June 12.

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The War On Women Is Already Here

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Justice Anthony Kennedy was considered a swing vote during his time on the Supreme Court, but this year alone he joined conservatives in three decisions that are hugely damaging to women.

The Supreme Court crushed working women over this past term. Next year, expect worse.

The Supreme Court has been terrible to women all year ― and that’s with Anthony Kennedy, the conservative swing vote, on the bench. Now that he’s retiring, the court’s steady-drip assault on women’s economic and reproductive rights is poised to turn into an all-out war.

The stakes are now life and death. Any judge President Donald Trump appoints will surely be anti-abortion, as Trump has promised. The path to reversing Roe v. Wade seems more certain than ever, raising fears of backroom or even self-induced abortions.  

“This is a really dire moment where we need to keep our eyes on the next step,” said Sunu Chandy, legal director at the National Women’s Law Center, echoing the concerns of myriad progressive groups that are afraid of what’s to come and gearing up to fight.

Still, it’s worth looking at the damage Kennedy and his conservative male peers on the bench have already done to women this year ― delivering hits to their pocketbooks, the Me Too movement and health care rights. It’s a reminder of how perilous this situation already is, and of how much farther there is to go before hitting bottom.

Kennedy joined the court’s conservatives on three 2018 opinions that were particularly harmful to women.

On Wednesday, in Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the court hobbled public unions, ruling that members do not have to pay any dues if they disagree with their union politically. That puts labor groups’ funding in danger.

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ustices Kennedy and Gorsuch

Union membership is a pathway to economic security for many workers, but especially for minorities and women ― women make up 55 percent of public sector union workers, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.

Women in unions who work full time earn 30 percent more than women who are not, according to data compiled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Hispanic women see the biggest gains from belonging to a union; those without union membership earn only $565 a week on average, compared with $829 a week for their union counterparts, according to IWPR. That’s a 47 percent boost in pay.

When women and people of color have unions out there bargaining for their pay, the likelihood of pay discrimination shrinks dramatically, Chandy said. The gender pay gap among union members has long been smaller than for nonunion workers. As has the racial pay gap.

The Janus ruling was just the latest in a decadeslong conservative attack on labor on behalf of the country’s biggest businesses. 

But unions advocate for more than just good pay for workers, according to Chandy. “You have an entity going to bat for you,” she said.

That can mean better health care and retirement packages, safer workplaces, more protections for disabled workers, and more fair or predictable schedules ― an issue of particular significance to working mothers.

IWPR

The day before the Janus ruling, in another 5-4 decision, the conservatives on the court ruled that so-called crisis pregnancy centers, typically run by Christian abortion opponents masquerading as medical professionals, were not obligated to tell women seeking medical information about the availability of actual reproductive health care services.

The ruling is a hint of what’s to come next year, if Trump gets his way and puts an abortion opponent on the bench. 

And last month, in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, the court ripped away many workers’ right to band together with their colleagues and take a company to court for wage violations, discrimination or other workplace grievances. According to the decision, employees who have signed arbitration agreements are bound to secret courtrooms outside the justice system where each employee has to argue her case individually.

Many workers don’t even bother, allowing companies to get away with all kinds of discrimination and abuses, including wage theft. The ruling was a blow to the Me Too movement, making it harder for women who have been harassed to find each other and join together in pursuing justice in the courtroom.

With the Epic ruling, the conservative justices ― led by Neil Gorsuch ― made clear, again, that they’re sitting on the anti-worker, pro-business wing of the bench. And that wing is sure to stay strong with the addition of another conservative justice to replace Kennedy. That’s bad for women, minorities, low-wage workers ― pretty much anyone who’s already at a disadvantage in this economy.

“When you have a pro-business approach, it is going to negatively affect women who already have less power in the economy,” said Kate Bahn, an economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. That goes for anybody who is facing historical sociopolitical imbalances of power, including people of color, Bahn adds.

It’s worth noting that economic equality for women and reproductive access are intertwined. When states pass restrictive abortion laws, for example, it’s poor women who are more likely to lose access. 

For example, even if you’re a low-income woman lucky enough to have Medicaid, your abortion may not be covered by the government insurance if you live in the wrong state.

If you’re lucky enough to be a worker in a union, you’re much more likely to have good health insurance. Seventy-seven percent of women in unions have coverage, compared with a little more than half of nonunionized women, according to IWPR.

Certainly, whomever Trump picks will continue the conservative tradition of screwing workers in favor of corporations, further imperiling the hard-won rights of women.

What could be a more damning indictment of the so-called “right to life” movement than a Supreme Court that rolls back Roe v. Wade, essentially forcing women to have children, and then pulls the rug out from under them when they go to work to support their kids.

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Canada announces billions in retaliatory tariffs, says it will not back down

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Canada struck back at the Trump administration over U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs on Friday, vowing to impose punitive measures on C$16.6 billion ($12.63 billion) worth of American goods until Washington relents.

The announcement by Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland marks a new low in ties between the neighbors and trading partners which have become increasingly strained since U.S. President Donald Trump took power in January 2017.

The Canadian tariffs will come into effect on July 1 and largely target U.S. steel and aluminum products, but also foodstuffs such as coffee, ketchup and whiskies, according to a list by the Department of Finance. https://tinyurl.com/y8w5g895

"We will not escalate and we will not back down," Freeland told reporters at a Stelco Holdings Inc plant in the Ontario steel city of Hamilton.

Officials say the measures are designed in part to pressure Trump by focusing on goods from states where his political allies hold sway.

Canada's Liberal party government said last month it would retaliate after Trump moved against steel and aluminum imports from Canada and other nations, citing security grounds.

"We are acting very much in sorrow, not in anger," said Freeland, stressing the closeness of the overall relationship. Bilateral trade is worth around C$2 billion a day.

Freeland said she had already spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer six times this week and was prepared to meet at any time to tackle the issue.

Ottawa also unveiled an aid package for affected industries and workers worth up to C$2 billion, consisting mainly of up to C$1.7 billion in commercial financing and insurance for firms in the steel and aluminum sectors and related industries.

The Trump administration is studying whether to put tariffs on Canadian autos, which economists say would help plunge the economy into a recession. Freeland called the idea "absolutely absurd."

The U.S. embassy in Ottawa said it had no immediate comment.

While opposition parties have so far largely backed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for standing up to Trump, their support could be tested once the U.S. tariffs start to bite.

Trudeau, who usually attends celebrations in Ottawa on July 1 to mark the Canada Day holiday, will instead spend part of the weekend with families of steel workers in the western province of Saskatchewan, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said on Twitter. Goodale is from Saskatchewan, where Evraz plc has a major plant.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said earlier this month the tariffs were designed in part to stop cheap steel entering the United States via Canada and other countries.

Ottawa would take measures to stop the dumping of steel in the coming weeks once it had finished consulting stakeholders, said Canadian Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, appearing at the same event as Freeland.

In Washington, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said the tariffs would hit $170 million worth of U.S. beef products.

"We believe that cooperation is a better path forward than escalation," said Kent Bacus, the association's director of international trade and market access.

U.S. officials have also linked the tariffs to slow progress in talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump says is a disaster and must be changed.

Freeland said she expected the negotiations would enter an intensive phase after a Mexican presidential election on July 1.

($1=1.3141 Canadian dollars)

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