Category Archives: Geopolitics

Quote of the day: Growing opposition to the TTIP


From Serge Halmi, editorial director of Le Monde diplomatique, on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], the latest incarnation of the idea long known in Europe as TAFTA, the Transatlantic Free Trade Area:

The intricacies of trade agreements often discourage protest, as it is very hard to know which stage of the process to scrutinise most closely, or which apparently technical measure may conceal potential social devastation. Yet despite the pro-treaty hype from politicians, bosses and media, hostility to these treaties is spreading. There is strong opposition to TAFTA (the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement) in Germany and Belgium. In the US, all the main presidential candidates have now come out against TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership). Since the end of the second world war, the US empire has been the engine of trade liberalisation, and the consistency of views has been absolute among successive presidents, Democrat or Republican, from John F Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, George W Bush to Barack Obama. But suddenly, the neoliberal engine has stalled.

Few believed Obama’s claim that the “companies who only care about low wages have already moved”: offshoring continues in the United States, and previous trade agreements had promised plentiful jobs and good salaries. So it’s not surprising that candidates as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have achieved an electoral breakthrough by attacking such treaties, forcing Hillary Clinton to disavow her previous support for TPP while she was Obama’s secretary of state. François Hollande also seems to be about to change his mind on TAFTA, which he was in a hurry to sign two years ago.

Workers whose salaries have been hit by the threat of unemployment or relocation are no longer alone in rejecting free trade. Environmentalists, farmers and consumers have joined them. Public sector employees — even firefighters — are getting involved, so much so that a perplexed senior figure at the US Chamber of Commerce said: “None of these workers are in any way negatively affected by competition with imports.” The public sector employees’ union knows it will not be able to defend its 2 million members’ jobs and pay for long if those of other workers continue to crumble. The firefighters know that if taxpaying businesses are replaced by an industrial wasteland, it will mean slashed municipal budgets, and fire station closures. A convergence of struggle has come of age — and already won its first victories.

Map of the day: Comparing populations to GDP


Another pair of those informative cartograms from Views of the World, the blog of Benjamin Hennig, Oxford University Senior Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment.

This time, the maps reflect nations with their borders rescaled to reflect each country’s share of global GDP and population:

BLOG Map

From his post, where you can also find a much larger version and a third map of interest as well

The world is ever changing. This year, we live on a planet of 7.4 billion people who contribute products and services worth approximately US$80 trillion in nominal terms. However, population and wealth as measured in GDP activity are not distributed equally across the world which remains one of the challenges of our time. The following two cartograms illustrate this by highlighting where people are and where in contrast GDP wealth is made – the unequal distributions in our world today are quite obvious:

To balance out these disparities, developing and emerging economies would need to catch up at a much faster rate than the industrialised nations, which China for example has done in the past two decades at an incredible pace (at times peaking at more than 15% annual growth, and in recent years still carrying on at levels of above 5%). Other less wealthy countries, in contrast, are growing much slower, and sometimes do not even keep pace with the wealthy parts of the world.

Cold War revival continues in Europe and Asia


Following up on yesterday’s post about the Obama administration’s preliminary moves to sell arms to Vietnam as the latest example of the White House effort to ensure a bellicose legacy rivaling that of previous Republican administrations, a story from Reuters:

Vietnam hosts a defense symposium this week attended by top American arms manufacturers, ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama and as Washington weighs whether to lift an arms embargo on its former enemy.

Secrecy has surrounded the event staged by the communist country and attended by firms including Boeing (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N). It coincides with the biggest arms buildup in the country since the Vietnam War.

There has been no mention in state-controlled media and defense reporters are not covering the forum. Efforts by Reuters to gain permission to attend have been unsuccessful and Vietnam’s defense ministry could not be reached for comment.

>snip<

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute think-tank, which tracks defense trade over five-year periods, Vietnam’s total arms imports during 2011-2015 represented a 699 percent jump from 2006-2010.

The World Socialist Web Site adds some context:

On Tuesday, in an open military provocation, the Obama administration authorised the US Navy to send a guided-missile destroyer into the 12-nautical-mile territorial zone surrounding Chinese-held Fiery Cross Reef, located in the Spratly Island chain in the South China Sea. The operation was carried out on the fraudulent pretext of “freedom of navigation”—that is, the assertion by US imperialism that it has the right to send its military forces anywhere it chooses, at any time, in Chinese-claimed waters.

Yesterday’s action achieved its real aim of ratcheting up military tensions in the Asia-Pacific. The Chinese military responded by scrambling at least two J-11 fighter jets. Chinese pilots reportedly issued warnings to the American destroyer, the USS William P. Lawrence, to leave Chinese territory or face engagement. The Chinese Navy dispatched three warships, but there have been no reports that the rival vessels came into contact.

These developments represent a sharp escalation. The US Navy carried out a “freedom of navigation” mission last October in Chinese-claimed waters around Subi Reef in the South China Sea and a second operation in January, near Triton Island in the Paracel Island chain. On those occasions, China did not react militarily but issued strongly-worded diplomatic protests. The response to the intrusion near Fiery Cross Reef indicates that, from this point on, US provocations will be engaged by Chinese forces, posing the danger of a military clash.

Fiery Cross Reef is one of the most sensitive of all the disputed territories. It has been held by China since 1988, but is still claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan. Tensions have grown since 2011 as a result of the US “pivot to Asia” and Washington’s development of closer military ties with Vietnam and the Philippines.

And then there’s that other — and primary — Cold War adversary, no longer proclaiming allegiance to the Marxism that China and Vietnam still espouse.

The latest provocation from BBC News:

Russia’s foreign ministry says US activation of a European missile defence shield in Romania, scheduled for Thursday, violates a treaty on nuclear forces.

A ministry statement quoted by Interfax news agency said it was a breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed in 1987.

The US says the Aegis system is a shield to protect Nato from long-range missiles and is no threat to Russia.

Romania is hosting part of the system.

A ceremony will be held at a Nato airfield in Deveselu, southern Romania, on Thursday to mark the start of Aegis operations there.

Meet the Brave New World, same as the old one, with defense contractors the primary beneficiaries of both.

Obama prepares to escalate cold war with China


While China and Vietnam are both nominally communist states, they’re also nations which have been fighting each other off and on since Romans were fighting Gauls.

The last war broke out in 1979, a few years after Vietnam had witnessed the departure of the last U.S. troops, then continued to flare up until 1990.

As China, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam jockey for position in the seas along China’s coast with its newly discovered oil and mineral resources, the United States, already supporting new military force expansions by Japan and the Philippines, may be preparing to provide arms to that country that forced America’s military to stand down four decades ago.

From New Europe:

The US President Barack Obama is considering lifting an arms embargo put on Vietnam three decades ago. This step goes in line with the Obama’s policy towards strengthening relations with Hanoi against a backdrop of China’s increasing military abilities in the region.

The discussion on whether to lift the embargo can be taken before the American President historical visit to Vietnam later this month as two countries continue to seek better ties. In 2014, the US had already partially lifted its ban on the provision of lethal arms to Vietnam linking it to the improved human rights record in the country.

However, even if the embargo were lifted in the short run, a decision, which requires the approval of the Congress, it would not mean that Vietnam is allowed to buy all types of weapons, say the experts. The US could use human rights record, which is poor in Vietnam, and reject specific applications.

Moreover, if the US President opts in favour of removing the ban, such a decision will anger a more assertive China, who postured its military in the South China Sea and is also in conflict with the other US ally the Philippines.

The TTIP pact leaks drop like a digital bombshell


German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TOOIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TPIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The one thing the Internet does extremely well is to provide citizens of the world a first-hand look at documents the powerful try desperately to keep secret, documents we should all known about if we are to make uniformed choices about our lives.

And the latest online bombshell [previously] comes from the Netherlands, it’s subject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — the largest trade agreement in history, negotiated in secret by representatives of corporations, banks, and national and regional governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

From Greenpeace Netherlands:

Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

A report from RT offers some context:

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe is set to create the world’s largest free trade zone, many Europeans worry the agreement would elevate corporate interest above national interest. TTIP opponents say that cheaper goods and services would only hurt the EU and help the US.

Europeans argue that international corporations would be given power at the expensive of small and medium-sized businesses. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also come under fierce criticism.

Just a day before Obama’s visit to Germany, thousands of anti-TTIP protesters hit the streets of Hanover.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think the TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of people now support the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

More from Foreign Policy, including the sense of urgency driving the Obama administration in its mania to gut the European regulatory regime:

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.

>snip<

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

European reservations on the rise

Deutsche Welle’s report on the leak notes Obama’s central role in pushing for the pact:

In April, Obama defended the necessity of the trade deal, which would currently cover roughly one-third of global trade, prior to his arrival in Hanover, where demonstrators called for the negotiations to be suspended.

“There’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to do so seamlessly,” Obama told British broadcaster BBC. “The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth.”

However, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as deputy chancellor, said the trade deal would “fail” if Washington did not offer concessions.

“The Americans want to hold on to their ‘Buy American’ idea. We can’t accept that. They don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies. For me that goes against free trade” Gabriel told German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” recently.” If the Americans stick to this position, we don’t need the free trade treaty. And TTIP will fail.”

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

Obama’s arrogance and bin Laden’s murder


We can’t say we have been disappointed by Barack Obama because we never had any great expectations of him, in part because he was a product of the Chicago Democratic Party political machine, one of the most corrupt institutions we’ve ever investigated.

Chicago’s organized crime syndicate was not, like the more traditional Sicilian crime families, a monolithically ethnic operation. Al Capone was of Neopolitan heritage, not Sicilian, and the Outfit, as syndicate was known, included Jews [the Korshak brothers], a Welshman [Murray Humphreys], a Japanese [Ken Eto], and even a Greek [Gus Alex] — though none of African descent.

To the more traditional La Cosa Nostra families, the Outfit was like a crazy half-brother who had fallen in with some bad, though dangerous, friends..

The Outfit was on life support when Obama was on the rise, and we’ve never heard anything to link him to the enfeebled syndicate. But the political milieu nurtured by the Outfit remains alive and well, and corruption is still endemic, though the beneficiaries are more like to meet in Wall Street boardrooms and country clubs than in suites in mob-run hotels.

So when Obama was elected, we were mostly by the fact that this country had finally elected a person of color, while recognizing that Obama’s color would also useful to Republican strategists as a tool to play on the nation’s never-healed racial divides.

And given his close ties to Rahm Emanuel, a man of violent instincts with a terrorist for a father, and his corporate connections. we figured Obama would offer little change from business as usual on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We were confirmed in our suspicions when he named Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, a violent interventionist by nature and a tool of Wall Street, as demonstrated by her record in the Senate.

Nowhere were Obama’s failures more evident than in his handling of events in the Mideast, southwestern Asia, and North Africa, where he seemed convinced that more violence would somehow lead to peace.

Evidence was already clear that forcing regime change only lead to more violence, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet the Obama/Clinton team pushed for just that in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. While Egyptian violence was quickly contained by another round of regime change restoring the status quo ante of a military dictatorship, the tragedies that are Libya and Syria continue unabated, with the violence extending to the streets of Paris and San Bernardino.

All of which is a very long preamble to a fascinating interview of a journalist who rose to fame for his investigation of another tragedy of another failed American military intervention, the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

A Pulitzer Prize winner and the dean of American investigative journalists, Seymour Hersch is still going strong at 79, and in this interview with Thom Hartmann he describes an act of extrajudicial murder ordered by Obama himself, a killing that epitomizes all that’s wrong with American foreign policy and yet another reminder of what to expect should Hillary Clinton claim the White House.

From The Big Picture:

Great Minds/Seymour Hersh – Bin Laden- A Prisoner of War. It Was a Hit…

Program notes:

Seymour Hersh, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, joins Thom. Seymour Hersh, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, joins Thom. For tonight’s Conversations with Great Minds I’m joined by one of America’s most importatn journalists – legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Mr. Hersh has broken some of the most important stories of the past half century – and his revelations abou the My Lai Massacre and Abu Ghraib prison quite literally changed the course of American and world history. He’s also won numerous awards for his work – including the Pulitzer Prize – and is also the author of a number of books – including his latest “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden” – a deep dive into the real story of the Obama years.

Drones, deaths, and the toxic legacy of Vietnam


The Vietnam war was America’s first and last experiment in allowing journalists unrestricted access to one of this country’s imperial wars.

Because journalists were able to hitch rides on helicopters and air transport planes, they saw death in the raw, and the images and stories they produced led directly to a militant antiwar movement and massive demonstrations, often violently repressed.

Journalists in subsequent wars to consolidate the global reach of the United States were tightly controlled, leading to the concept of embedding, where journalists were assigned to particular units and obligated to remain with them for the duration — the noxious notion of “embedding.”

Why noxious? Because living constantly with the same group for an extended period leads to identification with the group. Rather than cultivating the detachment so prized by journalists during the Vietnam War, reporters in America’s Iraqi invasions ate, drank, slept, partied with and depended on the same small group, invariably leading to an experience of war as us against them.

Couple with the ongoing downsizing of the increasingly consolidated mainstream media, journalism became less about questioning and much more about cheerleading.

Meanwhile, war itself was undergoing a transformation, epitomized in that radical new weapon of American war-making, the pilotless drone, operated from afar with joysticks by technosavvy geeks who grew up on videogames.

But that brave, new warfare exacted a price on both sides of the video screen, and digital warfare became a force for mobilizing its victims, a lesson the military failed to learn from World War II, where mass bombings of German cities failed to destroy civilian morale and even helped in prolonging German resistance.

In this, the latest edition of RT’s Going Underground, host Afshin Rattansi interviews Cian Westmoreland, an Air Force veteran who built the communications infrastructure of the drone program.

What he experienced there led him to become an antiwar activist and a leading opponent of drone warfare:

‘It Feels Like Murder’ – Obama Drone Program Whistleblower

Program notes:

Afshin Rattansi goes underground on drones. Cian Westmoreland, whistleblower and former drone technician for Obama’s top secret drone program talks about the indiscriminate targeting that means that civilians are dying when they are searching for terrorists. Plus how responsible are drones in the radicalisation of civilians?