Category Archives: Geopolitics

Schadenfreude alert: Who meddles in elections?


Now that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State is claiming – based on no evidence whatsoever – Democrats have hacked his state’s election, it’s time for a reminder of the identity of the world’s number one election-rigger.

Guess what?

It’s Uncle Sam.

We begin with a video report from The Intercept:

A Short History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections

Program notes:

Meddling in foreign elections is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And almost everyone – bar Donald Trump – seems to believe that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election. So that should be condemned. Here’s the problem, though: U.S. politicians and pundits cannot credibly object to Russian interference in U.S. elections without also acknowledging that the United States doesn’t exactly have clean hands. Or are we expected to believe that Russian hackers were the first people in human history to try and undermine a foreign democracy? In this video, I examine the ways in which the the United States has, in fact, spent the past 70 odd years meddling in elections across the world.

From flagship public broadcaster WNYC in New York comes a glimpse of the depth of Uncle Sam’s ongoing meddling:

For decades, American intelligence agencies have historically used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to U.S. national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a grey area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it across the world to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

A report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds up the numbers:

Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation’s elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used “to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform” not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

More on Levin’s numerical findings on American interference comes from across the pond, via Britain’s Channel 4 News:

According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.

The majority of these – almost 70 per cent – were cases of US interference.

And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.

“60 different independent countries have been the targets of such interventions,” Levin’s writes. “The targets came from a large variety of sizes and populations, ranging from small states such as Iceland and Grenada to major powers such as West Germany, India, and Brazil.”

It’s important to note that these cases vary greatly – some simply involved steps to publicly support one candidate and undermine another.

But almost two thirds of interventions were done in secret, with voters having no idea that foreign powers were actively trying to influence the results.

Forbes reports on some of the methods employed:

The U.S. uses numerous tools to advance its interests. Explained Nina Agrawal of the Los Angeles Times: “These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.”

It’s not clear how much impact Washington’s efforts had: Levin figured the vote increase for U.S.-backed candidates averaged three percent. The consequences often didn’t seem to satisfy Washington; in almost half of the cases America intervened at least a second time in the same country’s electoral affairs.

Ironically, given the outrage directed at Moscow today, in 1996 Washington did what it could to ensure the reelection of Boris Yeltsin over the communist opposition. The U.S. backed a $10.2 billion IMF loan, an ill-disguised bribe were used by the Yeltsin government for social spending before the election. Americans also went over to Russia to help. Time magazine placed Boris Yeltsin on the cover holding an American flag; the article was entitled “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”

The Hill gives a voice to the interventionist hidden hand:

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton. His comments follow a federal indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russian individuals and three Russian groups of attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian embassy to the United Kingdom quoted Woolsey on Saturday, adding the comment: “Says it all.”

Yep.

There’s lot’s more, after the jump. . Continue reading

Charts of the day: Global democracy’s sad decline


The Varieties of Democracy [V-Dem Institute at the University of Gothenburg. Sweden, tracks the status of liberal democracies around the world, charting their progress with the aid of a large poll of international experts, using a system that evaluaties each country on the basis of whether or not their governments are electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative, and egalitarian.
https://pol.gu.se/english/varieties-of-democracy–v-dem-

As their website notes, “V-Dem disaggregates these five principles into dozens of lower-level Components of Democracy such as regular elections, judicial independence, direct democracy, and gender equality.

V-Dem’s latest annual assessment, Democracy for All? V-Dem Annual Democracy Report 2018, contains two charts dramatically illustrate the rapid decline of democracy.

First, a global look at changes across the world:

Number of countries with significant changes on Liberal Democracy Index [right index population-weighted]

And a look closer to home at the rapid decline of American democracy in the Age of Trump:

The United States’ ranking on the V-Dem Liberal Democracy Index fell from seven in 2015 to 31 in 2017. There is clear evidence of autocratization on several indicators. The lower quality of liberal democracy stems primarily from weakening constraints on the executive.

Now get out and vote, dammit!

Maps of the day: Climate change and refugees


Nothing has contributed more to the rise of 21st Century global fascist populism than the surge of refugees from the war zones of Middle East and North Africa [MENA], and Latin America as darker-skinned folks fleeing from crises zones flood the paler-skinned nations of North America and Europe..

And the situation can only get worse and climate change fuels an intensification of the refugee streams, with higher temperatures and lower precipitation strike the same regions already generating the refugee flood,

Consider the following maps from the just-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]:

Projected mean temperature [top] and mean precipitation changes [bottom] at 1.5°C global warming [left] and 2°C global warming [right] compared to pre-industrial time period [1861-1880].

As both Mexico and the MENA region fall victim to a drastic reduction in precipitation and higher temperatures in areas already marked by soaring violence, life will grow harder and the temptation to flee grows ever stronger, tensions in the the developed world can only grow stronger as violent and virulent populism soars.

In all the regions affected, U.S. foreign policy has favored oppressive tyrants, installed with the backing of military forces from the developed North, backed by banksters and corporateers eager to “develop” the resources of the afflicted regions, including oil, agriculture and water.

For those nostalgic for the Obama years, consider the military campaigns that the “liberal” administration sponsored, actions which only stoked the flames.

The Trump administration has only added more fuel to the flames by pulling the U.S. out of the climate accord, setting the stage for more refugees and the accelerated rise of fascist parties in the North.

In the rods of the immortal Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Climate change fuels soaring heat wave deaths


On 1 June 2017, Donald Trump made a momentous and lethal declaration:

I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord — (applause) — thank you, thank you — but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

As President, I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.

Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune.

Trump’s agenda is simple: Anything that gets in the way of the aspirations of billionaires to become the world’s first trillionaires must be abolished, even is millions of deaths ensue.

What else would you expect from a narcissistic real estate developer [and always remember that he is precisely and simply that]. And from our decades on reporting on real estate developers, we have learned that they hate nothing more than environmental regulations.

In pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a document signed by 179 nations thus far, Trump has donned another executive title, Mass Murderer-In-Chief.

Among the many consequences of his anti-environmentalism will be a massive spike in global deaths associated with the heat waves that have set new records and spawned a lethal rash of wildfire across the globe.

This map from a just-published worldwide study of the soaring rates of heat waves associated with climate change reveals some of the extent of the crisis [click on the image to enlarge]:

So how did they arrive at their alarming conclusions, and what did they find? From the study:

  • We developed a model to estimate heatwave–mortality associations in 412 communities within 20 countries/regions from January 1, 1984 to December 31, 2015. The associations were used to project heatwave-related excess mortality, with projected daily mean temperature series from four scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions during 1971–2099.
  • We used three scenarios of population changes (low, moderate, and high variant) and two adaptation scenarios  (no adaptation and hypothetical adaptation).
  • If people cannot adapt to future climate change, heatwave-related excess mortality is expected to increase the most in tropical and subtropical countries/regions, while European countries and the United States will have smaller increases. The more serious the greenhouse gas emissions, the higher the heatwave-related excess mortality in the future.
  •  If people have ability to adapt to future climate change, the heatwave-related excess mortality is  expected to still increase in future under the most serious greenhouse gas emissions and high-variant population scenarios. However, the increase is expected to be much smaller than the no adaptation scenario.

A somber warning from Down Under

More on the study, including it’s impacts on one lesser-impacted nation, there’s this more Australia’s Monash University, via Newswise:

If people cannot adapt to future climate temperatures, deaths caused by severe heatwaves will increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States, a global new Monash–led study shows.

Published today in PLOS Medicine, it is the first global study to predict future heatwave-related deaths and aims to help decision makers in planning adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.

Researchers developed a model to estimate the number of deaths related to heatwaves in 412 communities across 20 countries for the period of 2031 to 2080.

The study projected excess mortality in relation to heatwaves in the future under different scenarios characterised by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies and population density across these regions.

Study lead and Monash Associate Professor Yuming Guo said the recent media reports detailing deadly heatwaves around the world highlight the importance of the heatwave study.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” Associate Professor Guo said.

“If we cannot find a way to mitigate the climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heatwaves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in the poor countries located around the equator.”

A key finding of the study shows that under the extreme scenario, there will be a 471 per cent increase in deaths caused by heatwaves in three Australian cities (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) in comparison with the period 1971-2010.

“If the Australia government cannot put effort into reducing the impacts of heatwaves, more people will die because of heatwaves in the future,” Associate Professor Guo said.

The study comes as many countries around the world have been affected by severe heatwaves, leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands more suffering from heatstroke-related illnesses. The collective death toll across India, Greece, Japan and Canada continues to rise as the regions swelter through record temperatures, humidity, and wildfires.

Associate Professor Antonio Gasparrini, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and study co-author, said since the turn of the century, it’s thought heatwaves have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including regions of Europe and Russia.

“Worryingly, research shows that is it highly likely that there will be an increase in their frequency and severity under a changing climate, however, evidence about the impacts on mortality at a global scale is limited,” Associate Professor Gasparrini said.

“This research, the largest epidemiological study on the projected impacts of heatwaves under global warming, suggests it could dramatically increase heatwave-related mortality, especially in highly-populated tropical and sub-tropical countries. The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under scenarios that comply with the Paris Agreement, then the projected impact will be much reduced.”

Associate Professor Gasparrini said he hoped the study’s projections would support decision makes in planning crucial adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.

In order to prevent mass population death due to increasingly severe heatwaves, the study recommends the following six adaption interventions, particularly significant for developing countries and tropical and subtropical regions:

  • Individual: information provision, adverting
  • Interpersonal: Information sharing; communication; persuasive arguments; counseling; peer education
  • Community: Strengthening community infrastructure; encouraging community engagement; developing vulnerable people group; livelihoods; neighborhood watch
  • Institutional: Institutional policies; quality standards; formal procedures and regulations; partnership working
  • Environmental: Urban planning and management; built environment; planting trees; public available drink water; house quality
  • Public policy: Improvement of health services; poverty reduction; redistribution of resources; education; heatwave-warning system

Generations divide over U.S.foreign policy


America’s youngest adults think it’s high time for the United States to step back from its imperial role on the world stage, while the oldest American’s are beginning to lose their love to the Big Stick.

Perhaps it’s because they grew up, unlike earlier generations, living fully with the blowback from generations of aggressive interventions into the affairs of others, and the mountains of debt this country has incurred from belligerence and bullying.

Perhaps at no previous time in the nation’s history has it become so startlingly apparent that all those bloody adventures have done nothing beyond profiting plutocrats who have no intention of sharing the wealth harvested from oceans of blood.

From Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, writing in The Conversation, an open access journal:

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations.

For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs.

This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.

The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.

There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obama administration as well.

Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.

Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintaining superior military power is a very important goal, much less than the other generations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.

And when asked whether they support the use of force, millennials are generally disinclined, especially so on policies like conducting airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, using troops if North Korea invades South Korea, and conducting airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups.

American ‘exceptionalism’: Millennials also were much less inclined to embrace the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world.” Only half of millennials felt that way, compared to much higher percentages of the other three generations. In a related response, only one-quarter of millenials saw the need for the U.S. to be “the dominant world leader.”

These findings track with the 2014 American National Election Study, which found that while 78 percent of silent, 70 percent of boomer and 60 percent of Gen X respondents consider their American identity as extremely important, only 45 percent of millennials do.

Continue reading

Climate change fuels soaring heat wave deaths


On 1 June 2017, Donald Trump made a momentous and lethal declaration:

I am fighting every day for the great people of this country. Therefore, in order to fulfill my solemn duty to protect America and its citizens, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord — (applause) — thank you, thank you — but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

As President, I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens. The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers — who I love — and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.

Thus, as of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the non-binding Paris Accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country. This includes ending the implementation of the nationally determined contribution and, very importantly, the Green Climate Fund which is costing the United States a vast fortune.

Trump’s agenda is simple: Anything that gets in the way of the aspirations of billionaires to become the world’s first trillionaires must be abolished, even is millions of deaths ensue.

What else would you expect from a narcissistic real estate developer [and always remember that he is precisely and simply that]. And from our decades on reporting on real estate developers, we have learned that they hate nothing more than environmental regulations.

In pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a document signed by 179 nations thus far, Trump has donned another executive title, Mass Murderer-In-Chief.

Among the many consequences of his anti-environmentalism will be a massive spike in global deaths associated with the heat waves that have set new records and spawned a lethal rash of wildfire across the globe.

This map from a just-published worldwide study of the soaring rates of heat waves associated with climate change reveals some of the extent of the crisis [click on the image to enlarge]:

So how did they arrive at their alarming conclusions, and what did they find? From the study:

  • We developed a model to estimate heatwave–mortality associations in 412 communities within 20 countries/regions from January 1, 1984 to December 31, 2015. The associations were used to project heatwave-related excess mortality, with projected daily mean temperature series from four scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions during 1971–2099.
  • We used three scenarios of population changes (low, moderate, and high variant) and two adaptation scenarios  (no adaptation and hypothetical adaptation).
  • If people cannot adapt to future climate change, heatwave-related excess mortality is expected to increase the most in tropical and subtropical countries/regions, while European countries and the United States will have smaller increases. The more serious the greenhouse gas emissions, the higher the heatwave-related excess mortality in the future.
  •  If people have ability to adapt to future climate change, the heatwave-related excess mortality is  expected to still increase in future under the most serious greenhouse gas emissions and high-variant population scenarios. However, the increase is expected to be much smaller than the no adaptation scenario.
A somber warning from Down Under
More on the study, including it’s impacts on one lesser-impacted nation, there’s this more Australia’s Monash University, via Newswise:
If people cannot adapt to future climate temperatures, deaths caused by severe heatwaves will increase dramatically in tropical and subtropical regions, followed closely by Australia, Europe and the United States, a global new Monash–led study shows.

Published today in PLOS Medicine, it is the first global study to predict future heatwave-related deaths and aims to help decision makers in planning adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.

Researchers developed a model to estimate the number of deaths related to heatwaves in 412 communities across 20 countries for the period of 2031 to 2080.

The study projected excess mortality in relation to heatwaves in the future under different scenarios characterised by levels of greenhouse gas emissions, preparedness and adaption strategies and population density across these regions.

Study lead and Monash Associate Professor Yuming Guo said the recent media reports detailing deadly heatwaves around the world highlight the importance of the heatwave study.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” Associate Professor Guo said.

“If we cannot find a way to mitigate the climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heatwaves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in the poor countries located around the equator.”

A key finding of the study shows that under the extreme scenario, there will be a 471 per cent increase in deaths caused by heatwaves in three Australian cities (Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne) in comparison with the period 1971-2010.

“If the Australia government cannot put effort into reducing the impacts of heatwaves, more people will die because of heatwaves in the future,” Associate Professor Guo said.

The study comes as many countries around the world have been affected by severe heatwaves, leaving thousands dead and tens of thousands more suffering from heatstroke-related illnesses. The collective death toll across India, Greece, Japan and Canada continues to rise as the regions swelter through record temperatures, humidity, and wildfires.

Associate Professor Antonio Gasparrini, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and study co-author, said since the turn of the century, it’s thought heatwaves have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, including regions of Europe and Russia.

“Worryingly, research shows that is it highly likely that there will be an increase in their frequency and severity under a changing climate, however, evidence about the impacts on mortality at a global scale is limited,” Associate Professor Gasparrini said.

“This research, the largest epidemiological study on the projected impacts of heatwaves under global warming, suggests it could dramatically increase heatwave-related mortality, especially in highly-populated tropical and sub-tropical countries. The good news is that if we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions under scenarios that comply with the Paris Agreement, then the projected impact will be much reduced.”

Associate Professor Gasparrini said he hoped the study’s projections would support decision makes in planning crucial adaptation and mitigation strategies for climate change.

In order to prevent mass population death due to increasingly severe heatwaves, the study recommends the following six adaption interventions, particularly significant for developing countries and tropical and subtropical regions:

  • Individual: information provision, adverting
  • Interpersonal: Information sharing; communication; persuasive arguments; counseling; peer education
  • Community: Strengthening community infrastructure; encouraging community engagement; developing vulnerable people group; livelihoods; neighborhood watch
  • Institutional: Institutional policies; quality standards; formal procedures and regulations; partnership working
  • Environmental: Urban planning and management; built environment; planting trees; public available drink water; house quality
  • Public policy: Improvement of health services; poverty reduction; redistribution of resources; education; heatwave-warning system

Chart of the Day: Asylum-seekers in Europe 2016


The story, from Eurostat:

In 2016, 1,204,300 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the Member States of the European Union (EU), a number slightly down compared with 2015 (when 1,257,000 first-time applicants were registered) but almost double that of 2014 (562,700).

Syrians (334,800 first-time applicants), Afghans (183,000) and Iraqis (127,000) remained the main citizenship of people seeking international protection in the EU Member States in 2016, accounting for slightly more than half of all first time applicants.

6 in 10 applied for asylum in Germany

With 722 300 first time applicants registered in 2016, Germany recorded 60% of all first-time applicants in the EU Member States. It was followed by Italy (121,200, or 10%), France (76,000, or 6%), Greece (49,900, or 4%), Austria (39,900, or 3%) and the United Kingdom (38,300, or 3%).

Among Member States with more than 5,000 first time asylum seekers in 2016, numbers of first time applicants rose most compared with the previous year in Greece (38,500 more first time asylum seekers in 2016 than in 2015, or +339%), Germany (280.500 more, or +63%) and Italy (37,900 more, or +46%). In contrast, the largest decreases were recorded in the Nordic Member States – Sweden (-86%), Finland (-84%) and Denmark (-71%) – as well as in Hungary (-84%), Belgium (-63%), the Netherlands (-55%) and Austria (-53%).

Highest number of first time applicants relative to the population in Germany, lowest in Slovakia

Compared with the population of each Member State, the highest number of registered first-time applicants in 2016 was recorded in Germany (8.789 first-time applicants per million inhabitants), ahead of Greece (4,625), Austria (4,587), Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). In contrast, the lowest numbers were observed in Slovakia (18 applicants per million inhabitants), Portugal (69), Romania (94), the Czech Republic and Estonia (both 114). In 2016, there were in total 2,360 first time asylum applicants per million inhabitants in the EU as a whole.

Around 30% of first time asylum seekers were Syrians

Syria (28% of the total number of first-time applicants) was again in 2016 the main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States. Of the 334,800 Syrians who applied for the first time for asylum in the EU in 2016, almost 80% were registered in Germany (266,250). In total, Syrians represented the main citizenship of asylum seekers in thirteen EU Member States.

Afghanistan (15% of the total number of first-time applicants) remained the second main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States in 2016. Of the 183,000 Afghans seeking asylum protection for the first time in the EU Member States in 2016, nearly 70% applied in Germany (127,000). Afghans represented the main citizenship of asylum seekers in five EU Member States.

With 127,000 first -time applicants (or 11% of the EU total) in 2016, Iraq was the third country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States. Three-quarters applied in Germany (96,100).

Map of the day: Pentagon’s German base hunger


While the TrumpPutinBromance™ is much in the news, the Pentagon is eyeing a beefed up military presence in Deutschland and has been scouting bases abandoned since the end of Cold War 1.0:

The US Army is scouting two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe. The bases would mark a geographic shift for the US military, which is largely based in the country’s south. From Deusche Welle.

The story, via Deutsche Welle:

The US Army has scouted two sites in northern Germany for potentially basing new American troops in Europe, according to its command in Wiesbaden.

Survey teams recently visited facilities at Bad Fallingbostel and Bergen, two longtime military communities in Lower Saxony that border a large NATO training area. Local news reports placed the number of potential soldiers at 4,000—roughly the size of a combat brigade.

US Army Europe, the command responsible for American soldiers on the continent, released a statement saying the surveys were meant to provide options should the American and German governments approve a force increase in the future.

“At this time no decisions have been made; we are engaged in prudent planning only,” the statement said.

>snip<

Citing concerns over Russia, American commanders have recently pushed to increase the number of permanently stationed forces in Europe. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of all American forces in Europe, told Congress last year that he believed a heavy armor brigade should be stationed on the continent.

U.S. missiles in Korea prompt a Chinese warning


The Game of Zones is heating up, a clash of powers triggered by an American vision of a unipolar world and growing Chinese assertiveness.

Throw in historical legacies and conflicting claims over marine resources and you’ve got reason to take heed.

China takes issue with U.S. missiles in South Korea

with the Korean government signing an agreement with with a Korean conglomerate to swap the company’s golf course for military land to install a U.S.-provided anti-missile.

The ostensible reason for the base is North Korea’s nuclear missile program, but the Chinese see it differently.

From Xinhua, China’s official state news agency:

China on Monday warned against the deployment of an advanced U.S. missile defense system in the Republic of Korea (ROK), saying China’s security interests should not be undermined.

There were media reports that the Lotte Group board of directors met on Monday to approve a land swap deal between the military and Lotte — a move to facilitate the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

The THAAD deployment initiated by the United States and the ROK seriously undermines regional strategic balance and the strategic security interests of regional countries including China, and is not favorable to safeguarding peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a regular news briefing.

“China has stressed time and again that it understands the reasonable security concerns of certain parties, but one country’s security should not come at the expense of another,” Geng said.

China regrets the persistent ignoring of its concerns over security interests, the spokesperson said. “China expresses firm opposition and strong dissatisfaction,” he said.

China will take necessary measures to safeguard its security interests, and the U.S. and the ROK will have to bear all the resulting consequences, the spokesperson said.

Meanwhile in Japan. . .

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been doing some fast spinning after it emerged that a private school owner hailed as an ideological colleague turned out to be an openly racist zealot.

Abe’s regime has been the recipient of major Pentagon largess, boosted by Barack Obama’s Asian Pivot, a policy based o containment of China’s growing military prowess and the ongoing disputes over rights to the islands and resources of the China Seas.

The latest on Abe’s flub from the Japan Times:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday sought to deny allegations that he is linked to an Osaka-based ultranationalist kindergarten as the public outcry over the operator and its alleged efforts to indoctrinate children with xenophobia and pre-war militarism grows.

At the center of the controversy is Tsukamoto Kindergarten, a private school that recently came under fire for distributing letters to parents that accused Korean residents and Chinese of “possessing wicked thoughts.”

It has also emerged that the principal, Yasunori Kagoike, had briefly used Abe’s name in the past to raise funds to build Mizuho no Kuni, an elementary school slated to open April this year.

It was at this elementary school that Abe’s wife, Akie, had assumed the position of honorary principal until Thursday last week, when her name was abruptly removed from the school’s website amid a groundswell of public attention focused on the pair’s dealings with Moritomo Gakuen, which runs both schools.

TV footage has surfaced online over the past few days showing kindergartners participating in a sports festival at Tsukamoto, lined up, standing at attention, and shouting a nationalist chant that said: “Japanese adults should make sure South Korea and China repent over treating Japan as a villain,” and “refrain from teaching lies in history textbooks.”

>snip<

On Feb. 17, Abe had described Kagoike as someone with an “admirable passion for education” and “whose ideology is similar to mine.”

Border wall moves ahead; Mexican resistance stirs


Yep, the border wall is moving ahead.

From the Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

Announcement comes a day after cross-border meeting

The wall wasn’t even mentioned when two cabinet members traveled south of the border the day before the announcement.

From NBC News:

There were promises of cooperation, of closer economic ties, and frequent odes to the enduring partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. But there were no public mentions of that massive border wall or President Donald Trump’s plan to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico as top U.S. officials visited the Mexican capital.

Instead, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played it safe, acknowledging generally that the U.S. and Mexico are in a period of disagreement without putting any specific dispute under the microscope. It fell to their hosts, and especially Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, to thrust those issues into the spotlight.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said Thursday after meeting with Kelly and Tillerson.

The Americans focused instead on putting to rest some of the fears reverberating across Latin America – such as the notion that the U.S. military might be enlisted to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally en masse. Not so, said Kelly. He said there would be “no mass deportations” and no U.S. military role.

Sure, Mexico can trust anything that comes out of an administration headed by a man who can’t even keep his own lies straight, then flies into a rage any time anyone dares point that out.

Trump may do the impossible for Peña

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been polling at all-time lows, earning an abysmal 12 percent approval rate in one recent survey., making Trump’s current 42 percent approval rating look like a rave review.

But Trump may prove a boost for the beleaguered Mexican President is Agent Orange continues with his self-serving racist rants, especially now that Peña’s administration is showing a little resistance.

From teleSUR English:

The U.S. wants to pressure Mexico into keeping migrants and refugees as they await trial, forcing Mexico to deport them instead. Mexico isn’t falling for it.

Mexico will reject the remaining funds of the Merida Plan if they’re used by the U.S. to coerce the country on immigration policy, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Friday.

The US$2.6 billion security assistance package on the drug war has been almost been entirely distributed since 2008, mostly on military equipment like helicopters and training for its security forces.

The plan has been widely criticized for worsening, rather than improving, violence and disappearances in the country and being partly responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-teachers in Ayotzinapa. It already contains a proviso to withhold funds if Mexico doesn’t improve its rule of law or human rights abuses, though the U.S. has never enacted this demand.

Besides now taking into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the aid may be dependent on Mexico hosting undocumented immigrants from third countries as they are awaiting processing of their deportation trials in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” said Osorio Chong on Friday, speaking with Radio Formula after a cool reception of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who visited on Thursday.

Mexico already deports hundreds of thousands of Central Americans apprehended at its southern border, but cities like Mexico City are among the largest receptors of refugees deported from the U.S.

Mexico hints at a trade war

A not-so-veiled threat was issued Thursday at the same time Trump administration officials were meeting with their Mexican counterparts.

From Reuters:

Mexico’s economy minister said on Thursday that applying tariffs on U.S. goods is “plan B” for Mexico in trade talks with the United States if negotiations aimed at achieving a new mutually beneficial agreement fail.

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told local broadcaster Televisa that he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.

And promptly takes the first step

Guajardo’s warming was accompanied by action as well,

From teleSUR English:

Amid trade tensions with the United States, Mexico plans to send a delegation next month to visit Brazilian corn, beef, chicken and soy producers as an alterative to U.S. suppliers, its representative in Brazil said on Friday.

Mexican chargé d’affaires Eleazar Velasco said Brazil is uniquely positioned to expand agricultural commodity sales to Mexico if trade with the United States is disrupted because it is closer than other potential suppliers like Australia.

“The United States unilaterally wants to change the established rules of the game,” Velasco told Reuters. “This will evidently lead us to rebalance our trade relations.”

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada was due to visit Brazil last week but had to postpone his trip until March due to scheduling issues, Velasco said.

Calzada will bring Mexican food industry executives to do deals with Brazilian exporters, the diplomat said. The trip is part of a drive to lessen dependence on U.S. exports as President Donald Trump threatens to upend long-standing free trade between the two countries.

And Mexico acts on the financial front as well

The country has been engaged in a massive buttressing of its currency.

From CNNMoney:

Mexico’s currency, the peso, is one of the best performers in the world in February, up over 5%.

Before the U.S. election, the country’s central bank started implementing what its governor, Agustin Carstens, called a “contingency plan.” Carstens says Trump’s potential policies would hit Mexico’s economy like a “hurricane.”

For ordinary Mexicans, the peso’s momentum doesn’t mean much. Gas prices rose as much as 20% in January while economic growth and wages continue to be sluggish. Life is getting more expensive.

Still, it’s a swift turnaround for a country and currency facing an uncertain future with the U.S.

Since November, Mexico’s central bank has raised interest rates three times and sold U.S. dollars to international investors. Among other efforts, it’s all meant to buoy the peso that’s been weighed down by Trump’s threats.

Things are starting to get interesting. . .

A damning leak ignites another TrumpTantrum™


Two Associated Press stories reveal a classic case of abusive arrogance.

A leak reveals TrumpTeamTalks™ with Russian spooks

You really can’t fault Vladimir Putin if, as seems increasingly likely, he asked his former comrades in Russian foreign intelligence to see if they could find a friendlier ear in Washington.

After all, American presidents have used the CIA to gain friendlier ears in dozens of countries, with bloodshed often involved.

And no Russian politician could be unaware that Washington imposed the Russian political system in the wake of the fall of the U.S.S.R., itself a long-term goal of Washington.

The spark that ignited Trump’s tantrum, via the Associated Press:

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump’s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election, according to three White House officials who confirmed the unusual contact with law enforcement involved in a pending investigation.

The officials said that Priebus’ Feb. 15 request to FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe came as the White House sought to discredit a New York Times report about calls between Russian intelligence officials and people involved with Trump’s presidential run.

As of Friday, the FBI had not commented publicly on the veracity of the report and there was no indication it planned to, despite the White House’s request.

The White House officials would only discuss the matter on the condition of anonymity.

Then came the explosion. . .

And that second Associated Press story:

President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of the news media Friday, taking direct aim this time at the use of anonymous sources. Reporters “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” he declared, just hours after members of his own staff held a press briefing and refused to allow their names to be used.

“A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being, let them say it to my face,” Trump told a large crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Let there be no more sources.”

Members of Trump’s White House team regularly demand anonymity when talking to reporters.

Trump said he wasn’t against all media, just “the fake news media or press.”

“I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name.”

And who decides what’s fake?

The Fake-in-chief, of course!

Headlines of the day: More TrumpLandia™ Turmoil


We begin with the New York Times:

Republican Congress, Stuck at Starting Line, Jogs in Place

  • Republican lawmakers and President Trump have yet to deliver on any of the sweeping legislation they promised.
  • Disagreements, a lack of clarity from the White House and a slow confirmation process have stymied their plans.

Two from the Washington Post, starting with this:

Flynn saga shifts balance of power between president, Congress

  • In the wake of Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser, Republican senators are vowing more aggressive oversight of the new administration, and Democrats are seizing an opportunity to ask pointed questions about President Trump’s ties to Russia.

And then this:

Trump looking at billionaire to lead review of U.S. spy agencies

  • Stephen A. Feinberg has been a major donor to Republican candidates and has served on Trump’s economic advisory council.

Next up, this from the Guardian:

Deutsche Bank examined Donald Trump’s account for Russia links

  • Bank looked for evidence of whether loans to president were underpinned by guarantees from Moscow, Guardian learns

Finally this inevitable TrumpTweetstorm™ subject-to-be from BBC News:

Israel-Palestinian conflict: UN warns Trump over two-state reversal

  • The UN chief has warned Donald Trump against abandoning the idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying there is “no alternative”.
  • It comes after Mr Trump went against decades of US policy, saying he would back whatever formula led to peace.
  • Palestinians reacted with alarm to the possibility that the US could drop support for Palestinian statehood.

Game of Zones: China gives Trump a warning


Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign head of state received by Donald Trump after his election.

And in the days since the Trump administration has sounded a strident note of support for Japan’s interests in the resources of the China Seas, currently contested by competing claims from China, Vietnam, South Korea, and the Philippines.

But it was finally a declaration by Defense Secretary Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis that pushed Being over the line, resulting in a strong declaration from Xinuia, the official state news agency.

The declaration, in other words, is a firm statement of policy from the Chinese government.

From Xinhua:

Three days after U.S. defense chief James Mattis’ remarks on the Diaoyu Islands in Tokyo, China conducted a new round of regular patrol in the territorial waters of the Diaoyu Islands on Monday, showing the world its firm will and determination to safeguard its national sovereignty.

During his first Asia-Pacific debut as defense chief, the former four-star general of the U.S. Marine Corps said Friday that the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty applies to the Diaoyu Islands, which was criticized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “wrong remarks.”

Washington has long used the Diaoyu Islands as a fulcrum for an “off-shore balance,” i.e., maneuvering Japan while pressuring China in East Asia, particularly under the administration of former U.S. President Barack Obama, who zealously promoted a “Pivot to Asia” strategy during the last eight years.

However, the decaying U.S. credibility in East Asia as well as the rising tensions in the region should make it clear to the new president, Donald Trump, that his predecessor’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy is a deal with no winners and meddling in the waters around the uninhabited islands for so-called “offshore balance” will never pay off.

For one thing, interfering in the Diaoyu Islands issue only provokes China, as Beijing has made it crystal clear that there will be no bargaining over its core interests.

The Diaoyu Island and its adjacent islets have been an inherent part of Chinese territory since ancient times, which is an unchangeable historical fact, and the Chinese government has repeatedly warned that territorial issues are within the domain of its core interests.

If the lesson of Obama’s administration in dealing with China offers any guide to Trump, the first and most important point should be ditching a zero-sum mentality, especially on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands.

For another, by meddling in the Diaoyu Islands issue, Washington is actually risking turning the islands into a powder keg, thus making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the region.

Meddling in partners’ core interests definitely hurts intimacy. Trump’s business instinct should actually help him realize the simple fact that rivalry between partners hurts business. He and his cabinet members need to think twice about the issue of the Diaoyu Islands, and distance themselves from Obama’s stance and approach.

Philippine cops, vigilantes paid cash for killings


More than 7,000 people have been murdered since Rodrigo Duterte took the helm as president of the Philippines last 30 June, and the government is paying bounties for each body.

And the killers are cops and vigilantes, eager to capture some of that wealth for themselves.

The slain are alleged drug dealers as well as folks who merely used drugs, but if they were, we’ll never know, since the rewards are paid only for killings, not captures.

Duterte is no stranger to murder. He’s boasted about it, telling this to an audience of business owners last month:

“In Davao [where he served as mayor] I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys [police officers] that if I can do it, why can’t you. And I’d go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around, and I would just patrol the streets, looking for trouble also. I was really looking for a confrontation so I could kill.”

And back in September, when then-President Barack Obama dared to criticize Duterte’s bloody vigilantism, here’s how Duterte responded prior to a meeting with Obama and other regional leaders, via Agence France Presse:

“If you are poor you are killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs,” a devasting new report from Amnesty International, provides a look at both the killers and some of their victims, and it’s truly sobering.

From the organization’s announcement of the report some detail about the bounties and the killers:

Incited by the rhetoric of President Rodrigo Duterte, the police, paid killers on their payroll, and unknown armed individuals have slain more than a thousand people a month under the guise of a national campaign to eradicate drugs. Since President Rodrigo Duterte came to office seven months ago, there have been more than 7,000 drug-related killings, with the police directly killing at least 2,500 alleged drug offenders.

Amnesty International’s investigation, documents in detail 33 cases that involved the killings of 59 people. Researchers interviewed 110 people across the Philippines’ three main geographical divisions, detailing extrajudicial executions in 20 cities across the archipelago. The organisation also examined documents, including police reports.

>snip<

The police killings are driven by pressures from the top, including an order to “neutralize” alleged drug offenders, as well as financial incentives they have created an informal economy of death, the report details.

Speaking to Amnesty International, a police officer with the rank of Senior Police Officer 1, who has served in the force for a decade and conducts operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila, described how the police are paid per “encounter” the term used to falsely present extrajudicial executions as legitimate operations.

“We always get paid by the encounter…The amount ranges from 8,000 pesos (US $161) to 15,000 pesos (US $302)… That amount is per head. So if the operation is against four people, that’s 32,000 pesos (US $644)… We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters…There’s no incentive for arresting. We’re not paid anything.”

The chilling incentive to kill people rather than arrest them was underscored by the Senior Police Officer, who added: “It never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed.”

The experienced frontline police officer told Amnesty International that some police have established a racket with funeral homes, who reward them for each dead body sent their way. Witnesses told Amnesty International that the police also enrich themselves by stealing from the victims’ homes, including objects of sentimental value.

The police are behaving like the criminal underworld that they are supposed to be enforcing the law against, by carrying out extrajudicial executions disguised as unknown killers and “contracting out” killings.

More than 4,100 of the drug-related killings in the Philippines over the past six months have been carried out by unknown armed individuals. “Riding in tandem”, as the phenomenon is known locally, two motorcycle-borne people arrive, shoot their targets dead, and speed away.

Two paid killers told Amnesty International that they take orders from a police officer who pays them 5,000 pesos (US $100) for each drug user killed and 10,000 to 15,000 pesos (US $200-300) for each “drug pusher” killed. Before Duterte took power, the paid killers said, they had two “jobs” a month. Now, they have three or four a week.

The targets often come from unverified lists of people suspected to use or sell drugs drawn up by local government officials. Regardless of how long ago someone may have taken drugs, or how little they used or sold, they can find their names irrevocably added to the lists.

In other cases, their names could be added arbitrarily, because of a vendetta or because there are incentives to kill greater numbers of people deemed drug users and sellers.

Map of the day: Where the world’s Muslims live


From the Pew Research Center:

blog-map

ISIS hails Trump’s travel ban as a major victory


And, of course, they’re absolutely right.

From the Washington Post:

Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that President Trump’s executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists. One posting hailed the U.S. president as “the best caller to Islam,” while others predicted that Trump would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

“[Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a ‘blessed ban,’” said one posting to a pro-Islamic State channel on Telegram, a social-media platform. The writer compared the executive order to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Islamic militant leaders at the time hailed as a “blessed invasion” that ignited anti-Western fervor across the Islamic world.

>snip<

Robert Richer, a 35-year CIA veteran and former chief of the agency’s Near East division, said the ban was a “strategic mistake” that could undermine future efforts to recruit spies and collect vital information about terrorists and their plans. How, he asked, can CIA officers persuade Iraqi and Syrian nationals to risk their lives to help the United States?

“This was a win for jihadists and other anti-U.S. forces,” said Richer, the deputy chief of the agency’s Operations Directorate during the George W. Bush administration. “It fuels the belief out there that Americans are anti-Islam. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing, because the ones we are most concerned about can still get to the United States.”

But given that Trump has already declared he think America has a right to seize the Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance,” could there be a deeper game involved, one in which more warfare leads to outright invasion with the specific intent of seizing oilfields in the Mideast and, say Libya, which has the world’s finest reserves of light, sweet crude oil?

Given that he’s picked the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, as his Secretary of State we’d have to say that ours in a legitimate question and worthy of serious consideration.

Game of Zones: China raises the specter of war


While Barack Obama brought to Sino-American relations to a level of tension not seen sent Nixon went to Beijing, Donald Trump threatens to send them back to darkest days of the Cold War.

And now China is striking back, though only with words — for the moment,

From RT:

Chinese state media has warned that the US would have to launch a “large-scale war” to prevent Beijing from accessing islands it has built in the South China Sea. It comes after secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson said such access should be restricted.

“Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish,” the state-sanctioned Global Times newspaper wrote on its English-language website.

>snip<

The article also said that China has so far “shown restraint” when Trump’s cabinet picks have expressed “radical views,” as the president-elect has not yet been sworn in. However, it stressed that the US “should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.”

“If Trump’s diplomatic team shapes future Sino-US ties as it is doing now, the two sides had better prepare for a military clash,” the article reads, adding that Tillerson’s statements are “far from professional.”

The former ExxonMobil CEO’s comments were made during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, in which he said that China’s activities in the disputed South China Sea were “extremely worrisome.”

More from the Global Times report:

China has enough determination and strength to make sure that his rabble rousing will not succeed. Unless Washington plans to wage a large-scale war in the South China Sea, any other approaches to prevent Chinese access to the islands will be foolish.

The US has no absolute power to dominate the South China Sea. Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories. Probably he just has oil prices and currency rates in his mind as former ExxonMobil CEO.

He also lacks legality. If China is not allowed access to islands it has long controlled, does this also apply to Vietnam and the Philippines? Should the Nansha Islands become a depopulated zone? What does so-called US freedom of navigation around the Nansha Islands mean?

As Trump has yet to be sworn in, China has shown restraint whenever his team members expressed radical views. But the US should not be misled into thinking that Beijing will be fearful of their threats.

Fueled by Trump, the Game of Zones heats up


The Donald’s provocative moves in the delicate multi-power game underway in the China Seas have include incendiary tweets, numerous campaign declarations, and, in particular, two meetings.

The first came in the form of the first post-election visit by a foreign leader, Shinzo Abe’s 18 November visit to the President-elects Trump Tower suite, a meeting also attended by the first-daughter-to-be Ivanka and her real estate mogul/media baron spouse.

The meeting, Trump’s first-ever flesh-presser with a foreign head of state, also came while Ivanka was sealing a business deal with a Japanese company. business negotiations.

Then, on 2 December came another foreign visitor, this time by telephone, when Trump reversed decades of American foreign policy by engaging in direct conversation with the President of Tawan, a government most of the world doesn’t recognize, in part because of its claims to be the only legitimate government of the Chinese mainland.

Besides appealing to the Cold War strains still resonating in the Grand Old Party, Trump’s conversation with Tsai Ing-wen inflamed Beijing — probably intentionally — even though he’s the first Taiwanese leader who hasn’t endorsed claims to rightly rule the mainland.

Oh, and former U.S. Senator-turned-lobbyist Bob Dole spent months setting up the meeting, his firm pocketing more than $140,000 for Dole’s labors.

Abe takes heart from Trump’s glad-handing

Bolstered by his meeting with the anti-Beijing Trump, Japan’s prime minister is beefing up his country’s military agenda in the Game of Zones.

We begin with a map from the Yomiuri Shimbun, a conservative Japanese paper charting the competing powers in the Game of Zones:

blog-zones

From the accompanying story:

The government plans to formulate by this summer an integrated defense strategy, which outlines how the Self-Defense Forces would respond in the event of a contingency involving China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, according to government sources.

The measure is aimed at devising scenarios for a possible clash between Japan and China.

To strengthen the defense of the Nansei Islands through cooperation between the SDF and U.S. forces, the government will also compile a Japan-U.S. joint operation plan at the same time, the sources said.

With these measures, the government intends to become fully prepared and, at the same time, to develop a deterrent effect against China, which has been stepping up its military activities in areas around Japan.

Possible scenarios for a contingency over the Senkakus likely include an accidental clash between a Chinese fisheries patrol boat and a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel, the dispatch by China of patrol vessels en masse, the deployment of Chinese naval vessels, and landing on any of the islands by a Chinese airborne unit.

The strategy is expected to stipulate operations to be conducted in the form of exercising the right to self-defense within Japan’s territories and waters, such as preventing a military vessel from approaching a remote island by using surface-to-ship missiles of the Ground Self-Defense Force, bringing enemy forces under control with ground strafing from an Air Self-Defense Force fighter jet or fire from a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer, and having GSDF personnel land on the island.

So what are Trump’s motives

Here’s what a Chinese government paper came up with when it looked across the Pacific.

From China Daily:

In light of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s hawkish remarks about China, allied to a number of unexpected moves in the wake of his election victory, experts in Sino-US studies around the world have expressed deep concerns about the key relationship.

Many of the experts have warned that the Sino-US relationship may revert to the deep, mutual distrust that characterized relations between the countries during the 1960s.

Ted Carpenter, senior fellow of defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute in Washington, said he is “increasingly worried” about Trump’s policies regarding China.

“At first, I thought that Trump was engaging in the ‘China-bashing’ that is fairly typical of US presidential campaigns. Yet once in office, new presidents have pursued policies very similar to those of their predecessors since the early 1970s,” he said, adding that Trump’s post-election actions suggest that something else may be going on.

“The telephone conversation with Tsai Ing-wen was startling enough, but the Trump transition team’s insistence on referring to her as the ‘President of Taiwan’ indicated sympathy with hard-line Taiwanese separatists,” he said, referring to a phone call between Trump and the Taiwan leader on Dec 2, which broke with decades of diplomatic precedent.

The irony is that China turned to the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank that gave birth to the first draft of Reaganomics.

And China signals possible reprisals to come

More on China/U.S. relations in the Age of Trump from the Financial Times:

Senior Chinese officials have warned the US that Beijing is ready to retaliate if Donald Trump’s incoming administration imposes new tariffs, highlighting the risk of a destructive trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

Penny Pritzker, the outgoing US commerce secretary, said in an interview with the Financial Times that Chinese officials had informed their US counterparts in a meeting after November’s election that they would be forced to respond to trade measures taken by the new administration.

“The Chinese leadership said to me ‘If you guys put an import duty on us we are going to do it on you’,” Ms Pritzker said. “And then they said ‘That will be bad for both of us’.”

She said that the next administration needed to decide “the fine line between being tough and a trade war”, cautioning that such a confrontation would have “enormous consequence” for the US.

The move highlights the concern in China over the risk to relations presented by Mr Trump, who has also offended Beijing by breaking with traditional US policy on Taiwan.

In the words of that venerable China-watcher Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street,  “Come Watson! The game is afoot.”

Obama’s revenge: Russian diplomats expelled


Angered over those alleged Russian hacking attacks on his party, President Barack Obama has ramped up the pressure on Moscow, today expelling a host of Russian diplomats.

Cold War 2.0 is escalating once again, though we suspect the new Oval Office occupant will do what he can to damp it down, perhaps the one silver lining in a very dark cloud.

Form teleSUR English:

The United States expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland in response to an alleged campaign of harassment against American diplomats in Moscow, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

The move against the diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco is part of a series of actions announced on Thursday to punish Russia for a campaign of intimidation of American diplomats in Moscow and interference in the U.S. election.

The Obama administration was also announcing on Thursday a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for allegedly hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information to help President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican candidates, two U.S. officials said.

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has called for better relations with Russia. It was not clear if he will be able to immediately overturn the measures announced on Thursday.

The Russian diplomats would have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds, which are used by Russian officials for intelligence gathering, will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday, the senior U.S. official added.

And on a related note. . .

Lori Harfenistis a Manhattan-based punk artist who did a show cal The Resident for the weekly show for the Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a public access channel, then moved it over to RT America in 2003.

In this brief segment she points out a conflict for the news medium that’s been doing so much on the alleged Russian hacking of the American political system. You might even call it financial hacking.

It’s short and well worth watching:

WaPo refuses to add disclosure about $600M CIA contract

Program notes:

In 2013, Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million. Only 4 months later, he was awarded a $600 million contract with the CIA. So the CIA has a direct connection to the Washington Post, the paper of record in our nation’s capital, but they refuse to add a disclosure to stories they write about the CIA.

Chart of the day: Adding fuel to MENA flames


From Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 2008-2015, a report by the Congressional Research Service, a look at who’s selling arms to nations in the inflamed Middle East/North Africa region [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-mena-arms