Category Archives: Geopolitics

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.