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Is Kim Jong Un Really in “Grave Danger” After Surgery? Here’s What We Know.

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  • On Monday night, the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un has been absent from major national events after undergoing heart surgery on April 12.
  • Later, both CNN and Bloomberg news cited United States government officials who said that Kim is in “grave danger” and had taken “a turn for the worse,” respectively.
  • South Korean and Chinese officials have been doubtful about such reports, saying that they have not seen anything out of the ordinary from North Korea.
  • Still, U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the White House is following these reports “very closely.”

Kim Reported To Be in Poor Condition

The White House says it’s looking “very closely” into reports that North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un is in critical condition following an alleged heart surgery, but South Korea says it doesn’t believe those reports are true.

“We’re monitoring these reports very closely, and as you know North Korea is a very closed society,” National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Fox and Friends Tuesday morning. “There is not a free press there, they are parsimonious with the information they provide on many things, including the health of Kim Jong Un, so we’re monitoring those developments closely.”

Currently, nothing is truly known about Kim’s condition. The speculation around his status began Monday night when the South Korean newspaper The Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Un underwent heart surgery on April 12th. 

When it was first published, that article said multiple sources from inside North Korea had told the outlet that Kim had received that surgery. The paper’s sources went on to say that Kim has been suffering from inflammation of blood vessels involving the heart since last August and that the surgery was likely due to a number of factors, including obesity, smoking habits, and overwork.

Later, The Daily NK later issued a correction saying that this article was based on a single source, but still, the questions around Kim’s health persisted. 

That’s for a few reasons. First, on April 12, the same day as his reported surgery, North Korean state media reported that Kim had visited an airbase and observed drills by fighter planes. Notably, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for the dictator.

Source: North Korea

On April 14, however, state media did not mention Kim as having attended a weapons test, even though he normally supervises those events. Then, the next day on April 15, North Korea observed its most important national holiday: The Day of the Sun.

That holiday, which is comparable in scale to Christmas in the United States, commemorates the birthday of Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who founded North Korea. 

Again, state media did not mention whether Kim had attended that ceremony. It also didn’t publish any pictures of him there, even though it did publish photos of other top leaders.

Source: North Korea

All of that is extremely odd because Kim has never missed that event before.

More Media Outlets Pick Up the Story

After The Daily NK, more news outlets picked up the story Monday night, including CNN, which reported that the United States was monitoring intelligence that Kim is now in “grave danger” following his surgery. 

Notably, that’s according to a U.S. official “with direct knowledge.”

CNN also said that a second source familiar with the intelligence told them the U.S. has been closely monitoring reports on Kim’s health. According to a third source, concerns about Kim’s health are “credible but the severity is hard to assess.”

In addition to that, Bloomberg News reported that a U.S. official said Kim had taken a turn for the worse after his surgery.

Later in the night, MSNBC anchor Katy Tur tweeted, “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is brain dead, according to two US officials. He recently had cardiac surgery and slipped into a coma, according to one US current and one former US official. 

Source: @KatyTurNBC

If true, Tur had just tweeted massive news that raised multiple questions about the reclusive country’s relationship with other nations, as well as questions about who would succeed Kim.

It turns out, however, that Tur’s claim may not be as confirmed as she originally thought. 

“I’ve deleted that last tweet out of an abundance of caution,” she later tweeted. “Waiting on more info. Apologies.”

South Korea and China Doubtful of Reports of Kim

South Korean officials have also said that they’ve seen nothing that indicated Kim was in poor condition.

“No unusual signs have been identified inside North Korea,” presidential spokesman Kang Min-seok told the Yonhap News Agency. There is nothing we can confirm with regard to Chairman Kim’s alleged health problem.”

Another anonymous government official told Yonhap, “There is nothing unusual going on in North Korea. It’s not true.” 

That official also said that Kim appears to be acting “normally.” 

Reuters has also reported that South Korean and Chinese officials are doubtful of reports that Kim is in critical condition. 

Speaking to BuzzFeed News, North Korea expert Andray Abrahamian from George Mason University in South Korea said, “The Daily NK report that started this is underground, single source reporting from within the most opaque country in the world. That isn’t useless but also faces limitations.”

“Then CNN went with a dramatic headline and anonymous sourcing from the United States that was also very vague but made it seem as if there was more credible information than there probably is,” Abrahamian added. “Then the world’s media is compelled to write something lest they be missing out on a major story.”

If, in fact, something is wrong with Kim and he ultimately ends up dying, it’s very likely that information wouldn’t be known until North Korea decides to tell the world. When his father Kim Jong-il died in 2011, even South Korea didn’t know about it until days later when the North Korean state media announced it.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Reuters) (Fox News)

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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