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Forecast Podcast: With all eyes on Ukraine, North Korea conducts tenth missile launch of year

North Korean leader Kim Jong un stands in front of the framework of a rocket launchpad. Besides him are maps and diagrams. He is holding a long stick as if ready to point at specific items.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Vivian Wang discuss North Korea’s startling number of missile tests, plus more on Major League Baseball Spring Training games, Germany relaxing coronavirus rules, Supreme Court confirmation hearings and NATO leaders meeting to discuss Ukraine.

These stories and more are also available in our weekly Forecast email and you can subscribe for free.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Jeff Landset, David Wyllie, Imana Gunawan and Vivian Wang.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note: hello@factal.com.

Transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

JIMMY LOVAAS, HOST:

Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is March 17th.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Major League Baseball Spring Training games, Germany relaxing most coronavirus rules, the US Senate starting Supreme Court confirmation hearings, President Biden meeting with NATO leaders to discuss Ukraine and an update on North Korea’s missile launches. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter.

MLB Spring Training games begin

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: Baseball players will take the field in Arizona and Florida for the delayed start of Major League Baseball spring training games on Thursday. The start comes one week after the players union and owners ratified a new collective bargaining agreement.

Team owners voted to lock out the players on December 1st, after the expiration of the previous agreement. 

Limited talks over the following two months yielded little progress, with both sides far apart on several key economic issues, while player movement remained at a standstill. 

 By reaching a deal last week, the league salvaged a full 162-game season, with opening day delayed one week to April 7th.

 Now, players ultimately made notable gains in the new five-year agreement, with higher minimum salaries, a new $50 million bonus pool for young players who don’t qualify for arbitration and a $20 million increase in the threshold for the league’s luxury tax, formally known as the competitive balance tax. 

Owners, meanwhile, got their sought-after expanded 12-team playoff field and avoided the implementation of a salary floor.

Germany to relax most coronavirus rules

Information compiled by Jeff Landset

JIMMY: Despite coronavirus figures remaining high, German officials are expected to end most restrictions on Sunday.

Of course, coronavirus hit Germany as hard as any European country, with more than 126,000 deaths in the last two years. 

It also experienced a wave of the omicron variant later than most of its neighbors, due in part to restrictions put in place in December. 

A recent dip in the infection rate, however, along with the relaxation of coronavirus laws in nearby countries has led to Germany lifting its own restrictions.

Now, Saturday’s relaxations will likely end a push to instate a vaccine mandate for all adults. 

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was in favor of such a mandate, but his coalition stalemated on the issue. 

Still, the easing of restrictions could also lead to increased coronavirus numbers. The country’s health minister warned that the pandemic is not over and hundreds of people will continue to die daily.

U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Senate confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court nomination of federal trial court judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin on Monday. 

President Biden nominated Jackson last month to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

There are early signs of a potentially smooth process, with Senate Republicans saying they will keep the hearings “respectful”. Republican Susan Collins of Maine has even praised Biden’s pick but she also said she is delaying her decision to support Jackson’s nomination until after the hearings. 

One recurring issue likely to come up along with Judge Jackson’s previous opinions is her defense of Guantanamo Bay detainees during her time as a public defender. 

Now, with the hearings concluding Thursday, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are hoping for no Democratic defections — and potentially some Republican support. 

This would pave the way for a speedy confirmation vote, possibly approving her nomination to the Supreme Court by the Senate recess scheduled for April 8

If confirmed, Judge Jackson would not only become just the sixth woman to sit on the top court, but also the first Black woman to become a Supreme Court justice in its history.

NATO leaders meeting in Brussels

Information compiled by Imana Gunawan

JIMMY: U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Europe for in-person talks with NATO leaders on Thursday.

Biden is expected to discuss NATO’s ongoing defense efforts in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In the meantime, the US and its allies have imposed broad sanctions against Russia, including on President Vladimir Putin and his associates, as well as coordinated humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. 

The NATO meeting is scheduled for the same day as a planned European Union summit, which Biden will also attend. 

Aside from the two summits, however, further details on Biden’s trip have not been confirmed.

Now, Biden’s meetings with NATO and European leaders come as Russian forces continue their assaults on cities across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv, that have killed scores of civilians and sent thousands fleeing the country.

 Finally, despite Ukraine President Zelenskyy’s repeated calls for a NATO-imposed no-fly-zone over Ukraine, both U.S. and U.K. officials have already ruled out such a measure for fear of being perceived by Russia as a military escalation.

North Korea missile launches

Information compiled by Vivian Wang

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on North Korea’s recent missile launches. For more on that I spoke with Factal Editor Vivian Wang.

JIMMY: Hi Vivian.

VIVIAN: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Vivian, it’s been eight weeks since you were last here talking about North Korea weapons tests and we’ve seen at least five more missile launches since then, including one last night. Can you tell us what’s going on?

VIVIAN: We’re at 10. Ten rounds of North Korean weapons tests so far in 2022. We’re three and a half months in and now there have been more launches than there were in all of 2021. It’s wild. 

JIMMY: What type of missiles are being launched? 

VIVIAN: Well, last time we talked there were mostly just short range ballistic missiles and the purported hypersonic missile, right? Then maybe 10 days after we talked North Korea launched an intermediate range ballistic missile. That’s its first since 2017 and its biggest test a while. But now what everyone’s been paying attention to is North Korea possibly having tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile system in its February 26th and March 4th launches. Pyongyang claimed they were to prepare for a launch of a military spy satellite, but the US claims that’s a cover for testing a new ICBM system

JIMMY: What can you tell us about last night’s launch? 

VIVIAN: We’re having to cobble together details from separate reports from authorities in South Korea, the US and Japan, but from what we can tell North Korea tried and failed to launch some kind of projectile from Pyongyang yesterday, presumably a ballistic missile. There isn’t much official word about what happened exactly yet, but unnamed South Korean military authorities say the projectile exploded in midair shortly after launching. We might get word later, but as of this podcast recording no official word from North Korea on what happened either.

JIMMY: Do we know why North Korea has upped the frequency of these tests?

VIVIAN: So it’s hard to say for sure, but there are a lot of different factors at play here. For one, North Korea has its own internal domestic politics to deal with and these types of military developments play a really important role. Experts say North Korea’s pursuing military modernization based on its priorities announced as early as January 2021. So rather than just as a reaction to whatever’s happening in the world, it could be that this was the timeline all along, leading up to a major anniversary in North Korea this year. April 15th is the birthday of state founder Kim Il-sung and it’s the most important national holiday in the country. He’s Kim Jong-un’s late grandfather and this year would have been his 110th birthday. But of course, there’s probably some international strategy to the timing of the launches. With all eyes on Ukraine right now there’s more room for North Korea to maneuver and gain leverage through these launches in future negotiations. And with South Korea’s new president-elect pledging closer relations to the US and a harder line against North Korea, they’re feeling even more pressure.

JIMMY: What’s the international reaction been to all these launches?

VIVIAN: Well, there’s the usual round of condemnations from South Korea, Japan and the US and the US has recently levied more rounds of sanctions against individuals and entities who are allegedly involved with North Korea’s missile program.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, you know, what do you think folks should be watching for next?

VIVIAN: Well, South Korean military sources are saying the ICBM test is imminent and that restoration work is underway at North Korea’s former nuclear weapons test site, which is supposed to have been at least partially demolished in 2018. And, again, hard to say for sure, but I think we can definitely expect increased activity from North Korea in general ahead of that anniversary on April 15th.

JIMMY: Well, I do thank you for the update, Vivian, and I’m confident you’ll keep us updated as things continue. Appreciate that.

VIVIAN: Yeah. Thanks for having me on, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care

JIMMY: Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Joe Veyera, Jeff Landset, David Wyllie and Imana Gunawan. Our interview featured editor Vivian Wang and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, thanks for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. You can, of course, subscribe for free. And if you have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing hello@factal.com

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2022 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Photo: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground last week. During the visit, he said the country should “rebuild and modernize” its rocket launching facilities in the northwest. (Photo: KCNA)

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