News Brief: North Korea Launches Missile; States Won't Supply Voter Data
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here is North Korea's version of events in the past day. The country says its great leader, Kim Jong Un, sent a handwritten letter ordering the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile which North Korea says was successful.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Speaking Korean).
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
That's the way North Koreans heard the news from an anchor on state TV a few hours ago. It's the latest of many times the country has tested a ballistic missile. This one flew nearly 40 minutes before landing in Japanese waters. And that timing is important because it's one clue suggesting the range of the missile. One big question is whether North Korea has a missile that could strike the U.S. Another big question is whether North Korea can fit a nuclear weapon on board.
INSKEEP: NPR correspondent Elise Hu is covering this story. Hi, Elise.
ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Let's go right at those big questions. What's the evidence say about how far this missile could go?
HU: It's still early. Analysts are still piecing together information. But what we know is North Korea has shot what it calls a Hwasong-14. It flew about 600 miles in distance, but it reached an altitude of about 1,500 miles into space. That means it flew higher than the International Space Station and much higher than several satellites and then turned around and came down, falling into those waters near Japan.
Now, if you flatten that trajectory - assuming that it has this capability - and fly the missile forward instead of up, that would put Alaska at risk. And a previous launch this year had already put the U.S. territory of Guam at risk. But we should mention that U.S. Pacific Command disputes that this test launch has that kind of a reach. And South Korea is still weighing evidence.
INSKEEP: OK. So we have - what would you say? - an advance for North Korea's missile program. We just don't know quite how much of an advance.
HU: That's right. But it's really significant from a technological and political standpoint because North Korea has been working toward this goal of a missile that could potentially reach the United States for long before even Kim Jong Un came to power.
INSKEEP: So President Trump, we're told, has been warning China in different ways that China needs to step up, China of course being North Korea's only friend in the world really. What is the possible response to this?
HU: Well, we're going to see the usual rounds of condemnations and talk of taking, quote, "necessary measures" or strong measures. President Trump has already tweeted an initial reaction saying that, quote, "perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea" but offered no specifics as to what heavy move means. And so for...
INSKEEP: That's kind of a headlock, I think, actually. Like he was shown in that video that he tweeted the other day...
HU: (Laughter) Yeah.
INSKEEP: ...That'd be the heavy move.
HU: Right. Is it a wrestling term? Lots of speculation there. So far, though, China has already joined in sanctions packages and tightened security at its border. Trade continues between China and North Korea, however.
INSKEEP: Do people in Seoul, where you are based, worry about this escalating into a shooting war?
HU: Well, this is already kind of the status quo here, these advancing tests by North Korea. So Seoul isn't specifically worried more than the rest of the, you know, greater international community.
INSKEEP: OK. Elise, thanks very much as always.
HU: You bet.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Elise Hu.
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INSKEEP: OK. We have coast-to-coast political controversy on this Fourth of July. On the East Coast, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a new budget re-opening state beaches, including the beach that he used while it was closed.
KELLY: Over on the West Coast, California's secretary of state is among those critiquing a Trump administration initiative, the Commission on Election Integrity. It's asked every state for detailed information on every voter. Many states say they won't or they can't legally comply. Here's what California's Alex Padilla says about the motive for the commission.
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ALEX PADILLA: Well, what the president has claimed as far as millions of illegal votes cast in California specifically is just a flat-out lie - no proof, no evidence.
KELLY: The president has been sensitive about losing the popular vote by millions and has claimed, without evidence, that voter fraud was to blame.
INSKEEP: So how can states respond to this investigation? We have evidence that NPR Politics editor Domenico Montanaro is on the line. Hi, Domenico.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey, there. How are you?
INSKEEP: So what makes states so resistant to providing this information about millions of voters?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, they're concerned with the kind of information that Trump's commission is asking for. Kris Kobach, who's in charge of this commission, was a former secretary of state from Kansas and has a history of restricting voting rights within his state. He wrote a letter kind of cavalierly asking states for their input, what changes they'd like to make, how the commission can support them (laughter) and then goes on to ask for what evidence they have of voter fraud.
INSKEEP: Just incidentally, by and by...
INSKEEP: ...One more point in the letter.
MONTANARO: And he just - by the way, one more thing - he writes, you know, he'd like all of the publicly available information in the state regarding full and last names, addresses, dates of birth, political party, last four digits of Social Security numbers, voter history and, you know, said, oh, by the way, please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full commission will also be made available to the public (laughter). You could imagine that that made a lot of secretaries of state not want to comply.
INSKEEP: OK. I imagine if you're a Trump supporter, you're asking, what's the big deal? If you're not a Trump supporter, you're deeply suspicious. But can we get to the facts here - how could that information be used if it is in the hands of the government, in one place and, as you said, possibly even just given to the public?
MONTANARO: Well, as you noted, the president of the United States has said that he feels that he lost the popular vote because of illegal voter fraud. Now, there's no evidence of any kind of voter fraud on that kind of a widespread scale. There are people, like Kobach and other conservatives, who believe otherwise. They believe that there are millions of people who vote illegally, and they want to try to get evidence of that.
And that's the fear from some of these Democrats in a lot of these states and even some Republican governors, who say that their states are run just fine, that there isn't widespread evidence. And by the way, the government has already undertaken a study of this. It happened during the Bush administration, and they found hundreds of cases of voter fraud - not even close to millions.
INSKEEP: Hundreds being the operative term there, not enough to swing an election.
KELLY: Domenico, one thing that strikes me about all this is all of this controversy over a commission that has yet to actually meet. They haven't sat down and held a single meeting yet.
INSKEEP: Is that correct, Domenico?
MONTANARO: That is correct.
INSKEEP: They haven't actually formally been...
MONTANARO: Yeah, they haven't met yet. This is the first step in what in what Kobach wants to do.
INSKEEP: OK. That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro on this Independence Day. Domenico, thanks as always.
MONTANARO: All right, Happy Fourth.
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INSKEEP: Now, as Americans celebrate Independence Day, in Rwanda July 4 is known as Liberation Day.
KELLY: That's the day that rebel leader Paul Kagame's forces marched into the capitol and seized control, ending that country's genocide. By the time the killing stopped, 800,000 people were dead. Twenty-three years later, Paul Kagame remains a towering figure in Rwandan politics. And the country is one of the most prosperous and stable in Africa. But some are wondering if he's been in power too long.
INSKEEP: So how do you mark the end of a genocide? Well, NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Rwanda. And Eyder, where are you exactly, and what's happening there?
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UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST: (Singing in foreign language).
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So as you can hear, there's a big celebration going on. I'm in a town called Shyira. And it's in the remote part of Rwanda. And it's kind of like the picture-perfect version of Rwanda you see in the movies with mountains that are just lush and green. And there's people here singing, and there's dancing. And even, like, the military people are getting on stage and, you know, also sort of celebrating this day.
But I think one of the really interesting parts about this day is that it's also really somber. I spoke to this 19-year-old girl - woman named Clemence Umulisa (ph). And she says, yeah, this is a celebration. I'm celebrating the fact that my parents survived genocide. And I'm here today - And maybe I would not have been here today had the president, Paul Kagame, who at the time was a rebel leader, had not stopped the genocide with his troops.
INSKEEP: How does the government talk about the genocide, and how often does the government talk about it, Eyder?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in foreign language).
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in foreign language).
PERALTA: It's a big deal here. I mean, you know, the streets right now - this big event is...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: One, two, one, two, one, two...
PERALTA: ...You know, basically the lead-up to this...
INSKEEP: Go ahead and describe what's happening in front of you there, by the way. Feel free to do that.
PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, you know, we've got - there's probably about a thousand people out here. And, you know, there's - like, Rwanda's biggest superstars have come on stage. And this is remarkable because this is in the middle of nowhere. This is about an hour from the nearest town. This is really the government bringing a big show to a very rural area. And so, you know, it's a big celebration but also very somber.
INSKEEP: So getting back to my - the question about how the government talks about this, this is what's really on my mind. The same government has been in power for more than 20 years since the genocide. Does Paul Kagame in some way use the story of the genocide to cement his place in power to stay in power?
PERALTA: Yeah, I mean, definitely. I think - and you hear that a lot when we talk to people. They say he has brought peace and stability, and that's what this country needs right now. His opposition leaders will tell you that that's not the case - that he is using it to stay in power. And they view that as his biggest failing.
KELLY: And worth noting, that 19-year-old girl you are talking to has never known anybody but Paul Kagame as president of Rwanda. Quite a scene you've got there today.
INSKEEP: Yeah, NPR's Eyder Peralta.
INSKEEP: In Rwanda, NPR's Eyder Peralta. Thanks very much. Really appreciate it.
PERALTA: Thank you, guys
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly refer to Kris Kobach as a former secretary of state from Kansas. He is the current secretary of state of Kansas.]
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Correction July 10, 2017
In this story, we incorrectly refer to Kris Kobach as a former secretary of state from Kansas. He is the current secretary of state of Kansas.