U.S. tangles with allies over economic warfare


Washington’s wide-ranging economic war which gets little attention except from those directly involved, has raised new issues with the U.S.’ European allies.

Just this week the U.S. announced additional sanctions against second and third countries purchasing Iranian oil, although it gave temporary waivers to eight countries including South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Greece, Japan, China, India and Italy. Many of these countries had already made sharp reductions in purchases of Iranian oil. The U.S. waivers have added tension to relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, as Washington pushes for Riyadh to shed full light on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“The Saudis feel they were completely snookered by Trump”, one informed source said. “They did everything to raise supplies assuming Washington would push for very harsh Iranian sanctions. And they didn’t get any heads up from the U.S. that Iran will get softer sanctions.”

The United States blocked an attempt by Russia to ease the UN sanctions on North Korea in what Moscow claimed was an effort to deliver humanitarian aid to the impoverished nation. But U.S. Amb. to the UN Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor who has built a reputation as a tough-minded diplomat, on Nov. 8 accused Russia of cloaking an attempt to lift sanctions on North Korea’s banking sector as a “humanitarian” gesture and vowed to keep Moscow from succeeding.

All this is part of U.S. economic warfare based on the use of measures [most often “blockade”, or a ban on trade and financial activities], the primary effect of which is to weaken the economy of another state [or other states]. United States sanctions [as of Feb 17, 2016] generally apply to “U.S. Persons,” which includes U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, persons physically in the United States (regardless of citizenship), U.S.- organized entities and their branches, and any foreign entity owned or controlled by a U.S. person.

The U.S. Countries the United States currently has sanctions and embargoes against:

Iran
In 1979, after a group of radical students attacked the U.S. embassy in Tehran, the incident led to the freezing of most of Iran’s assets, with stricter sanctions being imposed in later years. These sanctions have resulted in increased prices of basic goods in Iran and increasingly have made it difficult for it to market its principal export, oil and petroleum products.

North Korea
The invasion of the North Korean forces in South Korea on June 25, 1950 triggered the U.S. government to impose a severe economic ban against North Korea with subsequent years more sanctions due to its involvement in nuclear weapons and threats of bombing the US. The U.S. issued the latest ban in March 2016 following a North Korean cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.

Syria
Relations between the U.S. and Syria were officially suspended in 2012. Since then numerous sanctions and executive orders have been issued against Syrian citizens and companies for engagement in terrorism, public corruption, and involvement in Lebanese and Iraq activities. U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in the Syrian petroleum trade as well as investing in Syria.

Sudan
Relations between Sudan and the U.S. deteriorated after Sudan’s recurrent support for groups officially labeled terrorist including the Palestinian and Libyan terrorists. The sanctions were initially introduced following Sudan’s support for the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, involvement in the Pan-Arab Islamic Conference, and providing sanctuary to international terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden, Carlos the Jackal, and Abu Nidal. But there has been a resumption of U.S.-Sudan military ties and the establishment of a CIA office in Khartoum in 2017, the largest office in the Middle East, because of the country’s critical importance to the intelligence community.

Cuba
Washington first issued sanctions against Cuba in 1960 during the Cold War and Cuba’s alliance with the USSR. The sanctions were triggered by the gradual take-over of the private sector industries, a majority consisting of America-owned businesses. Following secret negotiations between Cuba and President Barack Obama, some of the travel restrictions were eased as well as restrictions for associations with Cuban banks. Cuba was also removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

China and Russia have both publicly called for a relaxation of restrictions as a recognition that North Korea has made concessions to the United States in negotiations aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. But Britain and France have backed the United States, arguing sanctions should stay in place until North Korea actually starts to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program.

Sws-10-16-18

Advertisements

Gaza blowup threatens ‘deal of a century’


The Israel-Arab peace effort is suddenly exploding.

But whether all this movement will usher in the Trump Administration’s promise “of a peace of the century” is another question.

After a year’s discussions led by Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the Administration Special Mideast representative, the president’s design is supposedly ready.

But how to break through this hundred-year-old tangled ethnic, linguistic, living standard, diplomatic knot?

One speculation is that it will be called “a final settlement” rather than the step-by-step U.S.-led negotiations for over almost two decades, run for the most part by former Secretary of State Henry G. Kissinger. [In Singapore, the 95-year old Kissinger turned his attention at an international conference to the troubled China-U.S. relationship  – on which he expressed “optimism”.]

Trump’s December 2017 implementation of Congress’s long-standing demand — and statements by earlier presidents endorsing the move — that the U.S. recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital set the diplomatic ball bouncing.

But as the left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports: “Saudi Arabia has informed U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration that it will not be able to support its peace plan … if it does not state that East Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state.”

Washington’s European allies oppose the deal, too, since they see it as American support for a maximalist, unilateralist agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Netanyahu has a long-standing friendship with Charles Kushner, father of Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared. In recent years, the Kushners, Orthodox Jews, made a fortune in real estate.]

Saeb Erekat Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s chief negotiator, also presented his leadership with a Washington hostile diplomatic landscape. The report supports Abbas in shunning America’s efforts after Trump’s Jerusalem Declaration.

“The relationship with the United States,” Erekat’s noted, “can only be sustained by the cancellation of the decision to consider Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to cancel the decision to consider the PLO as an organization of terror.

“President Trump’s administration will not do either of these two things, so [the PLO] must stick to the suspension of all contacts with President Trump’s administration … refusing to regard it as mediator or sponsor of the peace process in any way.”

The fact is that “the two-state solution” which foresees the creation of a viable Palestinian Arab entity to match the already firmly-established, and now formally, Jewish State of Israel, is turning into three states.

Two Palestinian candidates for opposing Israel are lining up: The Palestinian Authority [PA] and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is firmly established in Ramallah on the so-called West Bank. Israeli military and civilian occupation dominate the area, west of the Jordan River — excluding both West and traditionally Arab East Jerusalem — since The Six-Day War [1967]. But the Israelis have permitted growing self-government. [The regime has won recognition from the huge Third World presence at the UN General Assembly.]

[Abbas has not been in Gaza in more than a decade, and his chances of returning there are poor because of his claim to represent all Palestinians.].

However, over the past few years, a fierce battle has taken place over the number of Palestinians living in the so-called Occupied Territories. The conservative American-Israel Demographic Research Group has tried for years to prove that the Palestinians, with great sophistication, have inflated their true population by 1 million people, and that the real figure currently stands at about 1.5 million people.

Meanwhile, in the so-called Gaza Strip, an area stretching from Israel proper along the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt with two-million Arabs has emerged. After the 1967 victory, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled Israeli military out of Gaza in August, 2005, forcing Jewish “settlers” to “voluntarily” vacate. For Israeli hawks, Hamas [an Arabic acronym for the Islamic Resistance Movement], growing military strength and attacks on the southern Israeli border is “proof” that any future Palestinian state would be a threat to Israel. In fact, Israel continues to maintain direct external air and maritime control, control of six of Gaza’s seven land crossings, a no-go internal buffer zone, and a population registry. Gaza also remains dependent on Israel for water, electricity, telecommunications, and other utilities.

Hamas and Fatah have not been able to implement repeated “reconciliation” agreements. Fatah claims that the agreements are supposed to allow it full Gaza responsibility. Hamas vehemently refuses to relinquish security.

Last week Hamas began paying thousands of its employees after the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar sent a $15 million cash grant, part of $90 million pledged by the Emirate. [The money was brought to Gaza by senior Qatari envoy Mohammed El-Amadi through the Israeli Erez border crossing.] [Earlier, despite its Muslim Brotherhood [ultra-Sunni] origins, Gaza was receiving Iranian [Shia] support – refuting another Mideast cliché on Sunni-Shia relations].

The Qatari grant is part of efforts by Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations to promote a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. In Ramallah, Palestine Authority’s Abbas opposes the truce accord between Israel and Hamas which he sees as possibly paving the way for the establishment of a separate Gaza Palestinian state.

Sws-11-12-18

 

Media mania


The White House has gone full blast in revoking the press credentials of CNN’s White House correspondent Jim Acosta. The action followed an incident in which Acosta tangled with President Donald K. Trump and his spokesman at the post-Midterms Election press conference.

The incident marks a new low in the tortured relations between the mainline media and Trump and his Administration.

Acosta had challenged the Administration’s line – and he used that word – in a question to the spokesman at the White House briefing. But he continued to argue after the initial response of the Trump spokesman. That turned into a fiery argument – it could hardly be called anything else – with the chair and Acosta refusing to surrender the microphone to a young intern for his fellow questioners’ turn on the floor.

Whatever else the incident reveals is the bitterness which most of the media feel toward Trump and his administration, something that often appears to go beyond the limits of traditional political debate.

The “hard pass” that is in question is the official continuing permission which speeds up entry of newsmen and others to the White House. It was suspended for Acosta, CNN’s Chief Washington correspondent, by the Trump administration “until further notice.”

Of course, reporters from many news organizations have expressed support for Acosta. It remains to be seen whether White House reporters will walk out or show solidarity with Acosta and CNN in other ways, as a riposte to White House action.

“This is a test for all of us,” Acosta said. “I do think they are trying to shut us down, to some extent, inside the White House press corps.” Acosta said he thought the suspension was also an attempt to “send a message to our colleagues.”

The argument is also a demonstration of the increasingly difficult problem of technology being used to prove or disprove arguments. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Wednesday night had shared a CNN video of Acosta swiftly chopping down on the arm of an aide as he persistently held onto a microphone while questioning Trump. But in the original video, Acosta’s arm appears to move only as a response to a tussle for the microphone. His statement, “Pardon me, ma’am,” is not included.

Critics said that the video — which sped up the movement of Acosta’s arms in a way that dramatically changed the appearance of the journalist’s response — was deceptively edited. That edited video was first shared by Paul Joseph Watson, known for his conspiracy-theory videos at the website Infowars. Watson said he did not change the video’s speed and that claims he had altered it were a “brazen lie.” He told BuzzFeed he created the video by downloading an animated image from conservative news site Daily Wire — a conversion he says could have made it “look a tiny bit different.”

It’s no secret that – except for Fox – the mainline media are lined up solidly against Trump and his Administration. While it certainly does not set new precedents in the long history of opposition of the press to the contemporary presidential administration, the virulence of the current impasse is on a new order.

As has noted, White House suspensions of  Acosta’s press pass “until further notice” and denying him access to the White House grounds has made him a martyr, suffering a penalty no one recalls seeing before.

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders made it even worse when she accused him of manhandling the intern who tried to take the mic away, and tweeted out a video that seemed to show just that. But the video she shared turned out to be slowed down, zoomed in and misleading. In reality, any contact was glancing, and the charge is ridiculous.

Sws-11-08-18

 

 

The Latin American crisis


After eight years of the Obama Administration’s whining, false modesty and general incompetence, President Donald K. Trump has backed into the U.S.’ logical if not inevitable role as world leader. [Aspirations for United Nations assumption of that responsibility are at best disappointing.]

It is ironic, to say the least, that America’s rediscovered leadership results from an erratic Trump political agenda which he himself labels “nationalist”. But the U.S.’ overwhelming economic and military capability coupled with domestic tranquility generates this world role almost spontaneously.

However managing those functions will not be easy.

Washington’s purview is huge, including a half dozen crises around the world.
To evaluate their significance and their difficulties for policymakers is to compare apples and oranges:

Firstly, the U.S. faces a breakdown in its seven decades of trying to create a united Europe where world conflict has so often originated. Britain’s bumbling EU exit intensifies the always present overwhelming German presence. Yet these are leading nations with rich political cultures which, seemingly, will stumble into some solution if not unification.

In East Asia, with the expansion of a huge population in China [1.4 billion and another critical 40 million Southeast Asian Overseas Chinese], the world’s second largest economy, and political ambitions backed by a growing military, Beijing is the principal concern. There U.S.’ regional allies, including Tokyo despite enormous economic power, are inhibited, again ironically, either by Japan’s unprecedented population collapse or the South and Southeast Asian population explosions.

But it is in the Western Hemisphere where the U.S. has had the longtime option as an amateurish player which now faces new continental crises involving demands on Washington’s overtaxed foreign policy mechanism. The encroaching migrants on the U.S. southern border are only a manifestation of this growing hemisphere wide instability.

Puerto Rico is perhaps the epitome of the U.S. dilemma. In 2016 Congress passed what Puerto Ricans call “La Junta,” basically masking returning colonial rule, acknowledging self-government’s failure. After 2005 Puerto Rico had sunk into negative growth reflecting more than a century of dismal Washington administration. The Island was already $70 billion in debt when in 2017 Hurricane Maria caused 4,500 deaths, sent 200,000 – at least temporarily – for the Mainland, with an estimated $139 billion needed to fully recover.

Meanwhile, across the Caribbean Sea, crisis has overtaken Venezuela’s 32 million, with President Nicolas Maduro accusing Trump of asking neighboring Colombia to assassinate him. Washington has imposed sanctions on Caracas, denouncing Maduro as a dictator who has quashed human rights and triggered an economic meltdown. Despite the largest oil and gas reserves in the world, since 2015 almost two million Venezuelans have fled severe food and medicine shortages, hyperinflation, and violent crime.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, in announcing new sanctions, called the U.S.’ neighboring leftist regimes in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua a “troika of tyranny”.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta (“Dead Cow”) shale-oil reserves are the world’s third-largest. If Argentina could attract foreign capital, the money could start flowing within a decade. But it has been said that the only problem Argentina has – with its incredibly rich soil, vast energy resources, no minorities problem and vast investment possibilities – are the Argentines themselves. [Argentina was the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat in 2006. By 2013 it had dropped to tenth place.] Reform requires Argentines to confront their own unprecedented decline; no other country came so close to joining the rich world, only to slip back. Understanding why is the first step to a better future.

Brazil’s 210 million, a third of all Latin Americans, earlier this year elected Jair Bolsonaro, a fiery populist. Bolsonaro has said he approves of torture, promises to curtail environmental conservation efforts, and has a history of insulting statements about women, sexual assault, and gay people. Trump has warmly reached out to him for bilateral and Hemisphere multilateral collaboration.

There is hope if not ready solutions: Argentina’s short-termism distinguishes it from other Latin American countries that have suffered institutional breakdowns and recovered. Chile’s military dictatorship was a catastrophic fracture until it introduced long-lasting reforms. Mexico’s semi-dictatorial Institutional Revolutionary Party governed steadily for most of the 20th century. Reform from above has to be the hope of the Continent.

Sws-10o5-18

Next week’s election


There is enormous potential importance to next week’s Mid-term elections; perhaps as much as the hype that has been given them by the media. The media — a majority of it seemingly highly anti-Trump, and their polls, given their recent poor performances, are not a lot of help in predicting this outcome.

So we are left with our own, hopefully informed speculation.

There appear to be three possible outcomes of the Midterms, all of which have potentially quite different consequences: 1] That the Republicans will lose their majority in the House of Representatives although perhaps simultaneously gaining three or four seats in the Senate which they now hold so precariously; 2] that the Republicans will regain — if losing some seats — their control of the House of Representatives and gain a firmer hand in the Senate; or 3] that the Republicans will lose control in both Houses.

We are ready to stick our necks out and choose the likelihood of the No. 2 option.

We believe, again because of the outrageous prejudice of most of the mainline media exhibited in both their reporting and editorializing against the President and any part of his following, they are minimizing the effect of The Kavanaugh Scandal and other issues which have sent sympathizers into the Trump/GOP corner. We saw The Kavanaugh Scandal as an outrageous attempt to smear a longtime public servant as did many others, which, in the end, backfired.

Since Donald K. Trump is to continue two more years in office whatever the changes in pubic opinion, we believe either [1 or 3] would lead to a period of confusion and bad government.

It would be different if the Democrats were reaching for office with a program. But having abandoned earlier support for issues on which both parties — and presumably the majority of voters agreed — such as the need to close the southern border with a wall, they have no alternative but opposition to whatever Trump policies he has initiated, or in truth, haphazardly have fallen into place. On the latter, we see the roaring economy which we attribute as much as anything else to noninterference by Administration policy other than its unintended neglect as a case in point.

Contrary to a superficial interpretation, we do not see No. 2 — the Administration holding all the reins — as necessarily any assurance of better government by the Trump Administration. To hold all three branches of the U.S. government under one political control, however tenuous it would be, would not necessarily be a blessing. The American people by repeatedly electing divided government have proved that is also their belief, however inchoate.

Actually, the three branches have been in the hands of one Administration/Party fairly often in our history:

  • Between 2001 and 2007, while President George W. Bush occupied the White House, GOP controlled at certain points all three branches. Control was interrupted when the 2002 midterm elections shifted control of the upper chamber.
  • From 1961-1969, Democrats controlled all three branches during the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • The 83rd Congress (1953-1955), during the presidency of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, saw the deaths of nine senators and the resignation of one. Republicans held the Senate majority during those years with the party holding the White House and Supreme Court.
  • From 1937-1945, Democrats during the administrations of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman controlled all three branches.
  • And from 1927-1933, Republicans controlled all three when Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover occupied the White House.

If we are speculating correctly, then, the Trump Administration is not only likely to go on to a second successful four-year term, but consolidate the hold that conservatives now have on the political scene. That would reverse the long period of slightly left-of-center domination of our national politics since the advent of the Roosevelt Administration in 1933.

Sws-10-31-18

 

The Coming Red … ripple


Climb out on a very shaky limb with us! [Can anything be as foolish as political prediction!]

Not only do we believe that there is no “blue wave” in our future – a reaction that will sweep away all consideration of conservative thinking. But we think just the opposite: a growing body of conservative opinion has a arisen that will dominate public discussion and policy.

It’s true that one can characterize the policies of President Donald K. Trump, the world’s leading political figure, as much idiosyncratic as conservative. But he has cleared a path for the introduction of what had been considered right of center thinking – for example, dismantling regulation and freeing the economy and his creation of a conservative plurality in the Supreme Court and though his vast overhaul of the judiciary generally.

This latter development has been minimized in the Media, most of the leaders of which share a bitter feud with Trump whose triumphs they had not foreseen.
But as of Oct. 11, the Senate had confirmed 84 Article III judges nominated by Trump, including two Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, 29 judges for the Courts of Appeals, 53 judges for the District Courts. There are currently 57 of his nominations to Article III Courts awaiting Senate action. There are also currently 11 vacancies on the U.S. Courts of Appeals, 108 vacancies on the U.S. District Courts, two vacancies on the U.S. Court of International Trade, and 23 vacancies that will occur before the end of Trump’s first term.

All this means the eclipse of the left of center philosophy – or perhaps better characterized as a general tendency toward growth in government and administrative procedure — since the advent of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933. This does not mean, of course, that all future legislative and executive initiatives are to be of a conservative character. But it does mean that “conservativism” – the free market viewpoint which defines economic liberty as the freedom to produce, trade and consume any goods and services acquired without the use of force, fraud or theft — will be the model.

Not, again, that this philosophical concept will not be under constant attack. Politics of the right from the 1920s until our own time, when they strayed, were too often confused with the extreme right. Never mind that “Fascism” was a very specific term, originally reserved to an effort to restore what its advocates thought was a society of domination by wealth and its power uninhibited by government power with which it was allied. But Mussolini, the earliest successful Fascist leader, saw World War I as a revolution that brought massive changes to the nature of war, society, the state and technology. The result was the advent of total war [so admired in Wilhelmine Germany by Vladimir Lenin and his later “Stalinists” following].

They saw a “military citizenship” resulting in the rise of a powerful state capable of mobilizing millions of people to serve on the front lines and providing economic production and logistics, as well unprecedented authority to intervene in their lives. The Fascists believed that liberal democracy obsolete and they regarded the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state necessary to prepare a nation not only for armed conflict but to respond to peacetime economic difficulties.

Such a state should be led by a strong leader — such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the governing fascist party — to forge national unity.

Fundamental to Fascism was the assertion that violence is automatically negative but rather viewed political violence, war and imperialism as a means that could achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists placed less emphasis on a mixed economy, using old levers achieving autarky [national economic self-sufficiency] through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.

Since the end of World War II in 1945, few parties have openly described themselves as fascist. a term now usually used pejoratively by political opponents. Neo-fascist or post-fascist are sometimes applied to describe parties of the extreme right, often with racist overtones. And the characteristics of the proto-fascist society have now returned to several East and Central European states, notably Hungary, and promise to be a threat to democratic regimes.
Sws-10-29-18

China’s Muslim persecution


China has launched an aggressive defense of its policies in the far western territory of Xinjiang, home to about 12 million various Muslim minorities. An estimated 1 million Muslims are being held at “counterextremism centers” and millions more have been forced into “reeducation camps”.

Uyghurs, a Central Asian Turkic race, are the largest indigenous community in Xinjiang, followed by Kazakhs, another central Asian Turkic people. The region is also home to ethnic Kyrgyz, still another Turkic people, and Hui [Chinese Han ethnic Muslims, also known as Dungans].

More than a million Chinese civilians [most members of the Han ethnic majority] aid the military and police are waging an occupation of the region’s Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, introducing indoctrination and surveillance. They also present themselves as older siblings of the men and women they might then decide to consign to concentration camps.

Millions of Uyghurs are being forced to give up their cultural beliefs, abandon their ancestral language and switch to Han Chinese names and diets. With China’s majority group migrating to Xinjiang in large numbers over decades, the region’s capital Urumqi is now a non-Muslim Han-ethnic dominated city.

Meanwhile, Chinese government discrimination against the Hui has developed as part of a new campaign against Christians and other religious groups. The 10 million Hui are racially Han Chinese but ethnic Muslims. They are concentrated in China’s northwest but also are notable for their networks of eatery and other entrepreneurial activities in southwest and throughout China.

Beijing’ attempt to wrest back control of the narrative over Xinjiang meets growing international pressure to explain what is happening to the Uyghur minority there. In early October, for example, members of the U.S. Congress including Sen. Marco Rubio said they would nominate a prominent Uyghur intellectual Ilham Tohti, who has been in prison since 2014, for the Nobel Peace Prize. And in August reports criticizing China’s treatment of Uyghurs came up for discussion before a UN rights panel.

Beijing has reinstated use of the term “humane management and care”, avoiding using “education”. It is a term that harkens back to China’s use of education through labor, a system started in the 1950s and abolished in 2013, after being declared incompatible with China’s commitment to rule by law.

Reports have emanated from Singkiang of Muslim confinement in a growing network of razor-wire-ringed camps that China dubs “transformation through education centers”, “counter-extremism training centers” and, more recently, amid international criticism, “vocational training centers.” After months of denying the existence of these camps, officials appear to be trying “normalize” them as “free vocational training” that are more similar to summer camps than de facto prisons where people can be kept indefinitely without due process.

The tyranny in Northwest China pits groups of Chinese citizens against each other in a process that seeks to dominate every aspect of life. It calls Han “relatives” into coercive relations with their Uighur and Kazakh hosts, producing an epidemic of individualized isolation and loneliness as families, friends, and communities are pulled apart. As new levels of unfreedom are introduced, the project produces new standards of what counts as normal and banal.

Han civilians who resist state policies toward Uighurs put themselves in serious danger. Given the totalitarian politics of the Xinjiang police state, Han civilians in Xinjiang often appear to feel as though they have no choice but to participate in the state-directed oppression of Muslim minorities.

A BBC investigation using satellite images from Google Earth and aerospace company GMV has found evidence of a rapidly expanding web of detention facilities. Extensive construction activities can be traced across Xinjiang that point to the remarkable speed at which officials are building the physical infrastructure to hold Muslims without trial.
Sws10-25-18

The Muslim moment


The disappearance, and probable murder, of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has encapsulated the crisis which has overtaken 1.5 billion Moslems [22 percent of world population], their religion and their civilization.

Muslims are in the ascendancy – not only through the modernization [industrialization] of their ancient societies — but their increasing immigration to a Europe suffering its own native birth decline.

Khashoggi put it succinctly when he wrote “[T]he Arab world has been seeking renaissance for the last 100 years,” but the movement for reform had been blocked by authoritarian leaders and inchoate public rage at corruption.

Islam remains for the most part retrograde, in the Arab lands and among Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East and South and East Asia. So-called reformers such as Saudi Arabia’s Crown Mohammed bin Salman promise to embrace social and economic reform, and to make his country [Saudi Arabia with its 30 million] more open and tolerant. But he and others like him in addressing the things that hold back progress have instituted their own repression.

Bin Salman presides over dozens of imprisoned Saudi intellectuals, clerics, journalists, and social media stars — the majority of whom, at worst, have violated no laws with their mild criticism of government.  Meanwhile, many members of the Saudis’ Council of Senior Scholars (“Ulema”) have extremist ideas: Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan has said that Shiites are not Muslims. Another highly regarded cleric, Sheikh Saleh Al-Lohaidan, has advised Muslim rulers they are not bound to consult others. Their reactionary opinions about democracy, pluralism – as with the celebrated issue of women driving – are protected by royal decree from counter argument.

Khashoggi had argued,”[W]e need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

Always the kind of journalist who annoyed the authorities, Khashoggi thought bin Salman an impulsive hothead who undermined his own, good ideas for reform.

But the isolation, or at least one-way colonial traffic, that once marked the Muslim world and the West has been breached. The huge numbers of Turkish, Arab, and other Moslem immigrants to Europe – who appear less likely than Western Europe’s invaders in the past to assimilate quickly – are putting their imprint on traditional European cultures. Conflicts over the rights of women in the public purview, for example, produce an almost constant stream of incidents, some serious. In France, there are “no go” areas for the police, Algerian and Moroccan neighborhoods rebuilt in a version of their North African antecedents. In Germany, similar enclaves of Turkish immigrants have arisen that also defy the traditional culture.

Furthermore, the Islam which these newcomers are bringing has yet to undergo the revolution that ended religious rule in Europe. Will they, as early Christianity [and Judaism] abandon clerical authority to the civilian leadership? It was after all to Christ himself that the rights of the laity were given paramountcy when he said “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” [Matthew 22:21] and “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and those which exist are established by God. [Romans 13:1]

Sws-10-22-18

The media and the President


Almost from the beginning of the Republic, there has been a vibrant competition for expressing policy and governing strategy between government and the media.

Writing from Paris to Edward Carrington whom he had sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress [1786-88], Thomas Jefferson said had he to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.

Yet no public figure suffered more from attacks by the media than Jefferson. And during his presidency he became critical of what he saw as the partisan nature of the press, airing his grievances in personal letters: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle,” he wrote John Norvell in June 1807.

During Jefferson’s presidential campaign against John Adams, both men used the press to insult each other. Jefferson-allied papers accused Adams of being a hermaphrodite and a hypocrite, while Adams’ camp attacked Jefferson’s racial heritage, accusing him of being “the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father” as well as an atheist and libertine.

By his presidency, anxieties had pushed newspapers to take a critical stance of the author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, in turn, had taken a critical tone with them; often excoriated the press he had not foreseen would become a partisan tool for warring political factions. In the midst of his second term, Jefferson wrote to a Massachusetts congressman: “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” He also urged “state attorney generals in New England to prosecute newspaper editors for sedition”.

That history has been repeated, more or less, by subsequent American presidential administration. In more recent times, a war ensued between Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the owners of the major newspapers, all opponents of much of his New Deal legislation. For example, they celebrated his dramatic defeat of his proposal to expand – “supreme court packing” – the size of the nation’s judicial system to permit a transformation of the traditional conservative politics he had inherited from his Republican Party predecessors.

Today’s bitter antagonism between most of the traditional media and Trump arises from this history. But it is also a product of the significant changes that have taken place in the media and in the executive. The advent of radio and television are of course, the most dramatic.

But also in an earlier period, the conflict was a contest between “the working press” and the editors and owners, much as expressed, if romantically, by former Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in their 1928 play, “The Front Page”. That drama presented the contest between the newspapermen as part of the working class and their editors and publishers as members of moneyed elite.

But as Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan, the sociologist, diplomat, and adviser to presidents, has pointed out, there has been a dramatic if little remarked change in the character of the reporters themselves. From their working class origins of an earlier period, increased salaries and the dramatic media scandals which have drawn recruits, they are now members of the new suburban elite. And their traditional role as participants in the struggle to present the news has given way to a contest to lead as opinion makers.

That contest is the essence of today’s relationship between the media opposing Trump’s idiosyncratic administration – largely only leaving it with the support of a more balanced Fox news – and the President. Thus you find leading the media against Trump The New York Times, still considered “the paper of record” however far it has fallen from that encyclopedic station, and The Washington Post, because of its location a spokesman for various political views.

Sws-10-19-18

Christians under fire


Although Andrew Brunson called on Pres. Trump in Washington after leaving Turkey in a U.S. military plane, worldwide persecution of Christians has reached an all time high.

The former Christian missionary was arrested on bogus charges over alleged links to political groups, including the banned Gulenist movement after the failed coup attempt in 2016 against the Turkish Erdogan regime. Brunson spent two years in Turkish prisons.

But despite Brunson’s celebrated release, for the third year in a row, the persecution of Christians worldwide has hit another record high. Approximately 215 million other Christians experience high, very high, or extreme persecution with North Korea remaining the most dangerous place to be a believer

Islamic extremism is responsible for initiating oppression and conflict in 34 other countries. And there is no equivalent counter movement by church groups in the U.S. and the West to oppose it.

In the West, persecution of Christians is an anti-establishment form but in Asia it is fueled by dramatic religious nationalism and government insecurity. Tottering governments aim to gain support by scapegoating Christians.

Persecution in the top 50 most dangerous countries increased, with the most violent occurred in Pakistan surpassing previous higher levels in northern Nigeria.

In “Open Doors” 2018 World Watch List (WWL), an annual ranking of the 50 countries where approximately 215 million Christians experience high, very high, or extreme levels of persecution, one in two Christians live where Christianity is “illegal, forbidden, or punished”.

Islamic extremism remains responsible for initiating oppression, a part of the Moslem embracing shari‘ah [Islamic religious] law. In Muslim-majority countries shari’ah is used to radicalize society, and in Muslim-minority countries to radicalize the Muslim communities.

The Roman Catholic Church has sought to negotiate tolerance from governments like the Chinese Communists who prosecute the religious, but particularly Christians.  Just how futile such negotiations and agreements may be is that while reports emerged that a long-awaited deal between China and the Holy See was imminent in early September, Beijing was shutting down Zion Church, a large house church in Beijing, and further tightening restrictions on sharing religious material online.

In fact, China is currently engaged in the worst crackdown on Christians in decades.

Asia News, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, reported authorities were “burning crosses on the bell towers, replacing them with the red flags of China; slogans praising the Party and the values of socialism are displayed on religious buildings, erasing sacred images that are considered too Western.”

Persecution of Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners also continues, and in Xinjiang up to a million Uyghur Muslims have been detained in “re-education camps”.

The crackdown in China’s most western areas is severe with Muslims detained without charge, sometimes for activities as simple as praying, wearing Islamic clothing, refusing to eat pork or drink alcohol, or reading the Koran. Families of those sent to re-education camps are not told where their relatives are being held or when they will be released. There is no access to legal counsel or the right of appeal.

Chinese Communists have always restricted religious activity. In the first three decades of communist rule it used violent tactics. But after the death of Mao and over the past 40 years, the policy was one of control rather than outright repression, and there were periods of relaxation in some areas.

However, Xi Jinping has pursued a severe crackdown on all human rights, including religious freedom, since he came to power in 2013. In March this year, it was announced that religious affairs would now be “Sinicized” by placing the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department in charge of them.

Sws-10-14-18

The new NATO


Considered by many historians as the most successful alliance in history, the 89-year-old North American Treaty Organization has a new lease on life.
NATO’s largest war games in more than 16 years, the Trident Juncture exercise in Norway, Oct. 25-Nov. 10, will include more than 45,000 Alliance troops combining land, air and sea elements. It will include about 150 aircraft, more than 60 ships and 10,000 rolling or tracked vehicles. [The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group and its 6,000 service members will participate.] The U.S. had already increased its military presence in Norway in recent years by adding a quasi-permanent force of some 300 Marines with a planned doubling soon.

Although the exercise would take place more than 600 miles from Russia and NATO aircraft won’t be within 300 miles of the former Soviet Union, it’s no secret why the Alliance has again gone into high gear: Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, his continued support for armed dissidents in eastern Ukraine and his propaganda against the three Baltic states the Soviets once ruled, have again raised the spectacle of Russian aggression.

Meanwhile, the current Exercise comes after a contentious NATO summit in the summer when President Donald K. Trump threatened to withdraw American membership unless other members raised their contributions.

“I let them know that I was extremely unhappy with what was happening” about defense spending, he said. “And as a result, they are going to up it to levels like they have never thought it before. What they are doing are spending at a much faster clip,” he said.

NATO was established in 1949 for the purpose of providing collective security against Soviet expansion. Ten European nations signed on to the original agreement along with the United States and Canada. In signing the treaty, the original members agreed that “an armed attack against one or more of them … shall be considered an attack against them all” to which each member would respond by taking “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.”

As of 2014, NATO’s collective agreement instructed member countries to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. According to NATO’s most recent report detailing members’ defense expenditures, only five countries currently satisfy that threshold: the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Latvia.

Trump in the heated closed-door session warned: “I can do whatever I want because this alliance has no legitimacy.” Trump was quoted telling the other delegates that “spending must be raised by January 2019 or the US would go it alone.”

But in subsequent public statements following the tiff, he said “… that the United States had not been treated fairly but now we are. I believe in NATO; NATO is now a fine-tuned machine,” he said.

As of June 2017, in NATO’s most recent estimate, only six nations met the 2 percent target for participants: the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland and Romania. Trump had demanded that members must double their defense spending to 4 per cent of GDP. He now claims “total credit” for other members raising their defense spending by $33bn last year and a big splurge allegedly due to come

Trump also tangled with Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel arguing she was beholden to Moscow over Berlin’s involvement in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project aimed at doubling Russia energy imports. The issue has become even more aggravated with the U.S. now potentially again an energy exporter with the enormous breakthrough in the development of shale oil and gas.
Sws-10-11-18

The Kavanaugh scandal


It will be years before the full implications of the scandal surrounding the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court by President Trump are understood. Ironically, the structure of the scandal which has played out for weeks in political discussions and the media is relatively simple.

For despite accusations by opponents of the appointment, their grounds for opposition were bumptiously political and could not be justified in any measure by arguments about his extensive political and professional credentials. The arguments marshaled behind his principal opponent, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, have found no corroboration, even among her closest colleagues.

And those arguments by his critics were never factual. Sen. Susan Collins made a complete refutation of these charges in her very long and at times somewhat tedious refutation of the attack against Kavanaugh and her defense of his qualifications. Unfortunately, not an awful lot of people, even those interested in the case, are likely to have stayed with her during her hour and a half speech or read the text since.

There was never any question that Kavanaugh with his 28 years in the legal profession was qualified for a role as the 114th U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Rather, although it was rarely stated, his opponents in the Democratic Party and elsewhere opposed his candidacy because of his well known mainline conservative political opinions. They never questioned in any reasonable substance his qualifications. Rather their opposition was based entirely on innuendo and political intrigue.

In fact, the Democrats had denounced the list of his choices of candidates at the time Trump announced them in November last year, itself an unusual and remarkable effort for more transparency in the nominating process.

Some media have made comparisons between the current Kavanaugh scandal and the events surrounding Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy [R.] in the 1950s. It is true, of course, that innocents were named by McCarthy on the floor of the Senate where he could not be indicted, but the fundamental truth of the Wisconsin senator’s accusations of naiveté and infiltration of pro-Soviet and Communist counselors in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt were true. This unsophisticated view which even tough old Winston Churchill as well as FDR displayed at the 1943 Yalta Summit and other later international conferences of Josef Stalin’s motives led to the surrender of much of the Allied army’s gains and the subjugation of much of central and Eastern Europe to the Soviets for several post-World War II generations.

Also to bear in mind, that while his opponents opposed Kavanaugh strictly on ideological grounds, it would not be the first time were he to change his ideological approach through the test of time over the 25-30 years he would likely serve on the Court. [He is only 53. Our children might even see a Kavanaugh Court with the controversial figure as the chief justice!] The most notorious of such cases was Felix Frankfurter, whom FDR appointed to the Court in 1939 [serving to 1962] as a New Deal “activist” but who became a noted advocate of judicial restraint going to great lengths to avoid unpopular decisions, including fighting to delay court decisions against laws prohibiting racial intermarriage.

Sws-10-07-18

Public vs. private morality


At a time when public policy appears to be in deep crisis, it is perhaps the moment again to return for help to the thinking and writing of Reinhold Niebhur, one of the 20th century’s most illustrious intellectuals and theologians.

Niebhur studied and wrote for more than 30 years about the intersection of religion, politics, and public policy. Like so many of his generation, although he started as a minister with working-class sympathies in the 1920s and shared with many of his fellow theologians a commitment to pacifism and socialism, his thinking evolved during the 1930s to neo-orthodoxy. Niebuhr battled with religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of the contradictions of human nature and the optimism of the Social Gospel, what he viewed as their naïve view of scripture and their narrow definition of “true religion”.

In an article over the issue over what is a just war — given the Western/Christian opposition to violence, a central theme in public discussion on the eve of World War II — Niebhur stresses “that in the final analysis, the individual conscience is the arbiter of ‘the just war’.” This pragmatic overall approach has the huge merit of simplicity in the face of changing crises. It accepts that individual criteria for argument are constantly in dispute and, perhaps more important, cannot be stated in the precise language that “legalism” would demand.

A good example is Adam Smith who called himself a “moral philosopher”. The separate field of “economics” didn’t exist in the eighteenth century. And the book he was proudest of wasn’t “The Wealth of Nations”, the work we know him by generally, but his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” — about the ties that bind people together into societies.

Applying his pragmatism, “Progressives” like Niebhur saved capitalism twice from its own excesses by appealing to public morality and common sense. In the early 1900s, when the captains for American industry had monopolized the economy into giant trusts, U.S. politics had sunk into patronage and corruption, and many factory jobs were unsafe — entailing long hours at meager pay and often exploiting children. In response, we enacted antitrust, civil service reforms, and labor protections.

And then again after the stock market collapsed in the 1930s and a large portion of the American workforce was unemployed, we set up regulations for banks and insured private banking deposits, cleaned up the stock market, and provided social insurance to the destitute.

Today when we are disputing the meanings of such words as “moral” and “immoral”, “practical” and “impractical”, “meaningful” and “insignificant”, it may be a time again to take stock of where we are. The project would be much more difficult since we are dealing with intangibles instead of the relatively hard concepts of those earlier successes.

Reforming, or indeed, organizing a vocabulary in any language would be extremely difficult. It is further complicated for some of us — Britishers and Americans — since our language, English, has become the universal instrument for communication between non-native, non-Anglo-American speakers who have often added words from their own native languages. We are thinking of [East] Indian English with its additions of words from the lingua francas in the Subcontinent, Urdu-Hindustani and Tamil, both of which have histories that predate English, the language of their 18th century conquerors.

But it seems to us that it may be time for scholars with the powers-that-be to put together some new authoritative body with semi-state status that will seek to sort out a new vocabulary for English, the international language, both as a vehicle for native English-speakers and the world at large using it as the most common intercommunication denominator.

Sws-09-29-18

The President’s UN speech


While the United Nations remains crippled in so many ways as an effective international organization, it is the main forum for the expression of foreign policy issues among the nations.

And in a detailed and outspoken message, President Trump has used that forum to complete the public presentation of his announced Administration program.
Trump’s line is a new American nationalism, what he calls “America First” [unfortunately with the unhappy recollection of the same words used in the pre-World War II movement which included even pro-Nazi sympathizers].

But Trump emphasized that his promotion of American sovereignty in contrast to multinational aspirations not only was basic to his own program. He told his listeners that they, too, should uphold their own sovereignty. That should they do so with a kind of fairness he recommended for America’s international interests, thereby a balance of international power could be achieved.

President Trump came to the UN from a strong position:

Behind him was a huge American economy, a GDP of approximately $19.39 trillion, due to high average incomes, a population reaching toward 350 million, a new wave capital investment bringing in huge foreign investment, moderate unemployment, high consumer spending, a relatively young population, and the world’s leading technological innovation. Trump returned the U.S. to the UN, with an overwhelming economy — at a time when the rest of the world economy is dawdling — and its growing military with two record annual budgets of $17 and 17.6 billion.

In 1917 the U.S. economy represented a quarter of the global total economic activity [24.3 percent], according to World Bank figures. [China followed, with $11 trillion, or 14.8 percent of the world economy.]

Furthermore, that economy is currently roaring along at more 4 percent annual growth.

Trump reminded his listeners that the U.S. directly will contribute a quarter of the international organization’s budget. But its incidental assistance throughout the world is also an unacknowledged additional factor, perhaps more important than its cash contribution to its budgets.

The Trump speech was highly nuanced, not that different from the speech he has made repeatedly domestically, recently, but presenting an unexpectedly complete and frank a picture of the U.S. relationship to the international organization.

In a sense, the UN speech added the final details to the ambitious Trump foreign policy that has characterized the less than two years of his administration. Gone, except for its historical reference, are the eight years of “leading from behind” of two reluctantly pseudosophisticated international Obama Administrations.

This honest approach to the reality of the American position and its world leadership role can also only be a return to the world as it exists rather than any attempt to return to the modified position of “isolationism” dominant in the pre-World War II United States. It was, indeed, this attitude which encouraged the ravages of Hitler and Mussolini in Europe, Africa and Asia and the Japanese military in China and Southeast Asia, but which ultimately drew the U.S. into the world conflict.

And, without false modesty, Trump emphatically returned the U.S. to its acknowledged world leadership as champions of an alliance of the European democracies, Australasia, Japan, and India which it has occupied since the end of World War II. There was no mincing of this position and implications of the responsibility they lay on the U.S. and its leadership.

The President’s snafu


The snafu around the organization of the president’s office has reached monumental proportions.

It isn’t as though the table of organization isn’t clear. It is rather that the passage of time and use has led to contradictions that are now difficult if not impossible to resolve.

The conflict at the moment is concentrated in the office of the attorney-general.

First of all, the office of the attorney-general was created as the President’s lawyer, to be used by him politically in the way he uses other parts of the Administration. But as more personal counsel to the President has developed, and the activities of the Attorney-general have exploded, it has been seen in some quarters as a source of objective decision-making. It should not have been; it was originally conceived as just another part of the highly political and parochial office of the President.

In fact, the attempt to make the Office of the Attorney-general an independent and objective organization is in effect an attempt to create still a fourth branch of what the Founders laid out, in gross, as the Republic. We already have an independent judiciary in the courts system. And by an accumulation of the power to call legislation by the Congress or the States legislatures “unconstitutional” — something acquired but not written in the formal Constitution — the courts have firmly established what the Founders intended, a carefully balancing if sometimes bitter action among the three branches of government.

It was, indeed, this conception of government at independence and the formation of “the united states” that made this country from its inception unique and a new model for other governments — unsuccessful alas! for the most part — around the world.

Now, we have the “reformers” on “the side of the angels” increasing their drive to make the office of the Attorney General not a crass political function of the Presidency but another imitation of the objectivity of the courts system which already exists at both the federal and the state levels.

It is unlikely that this effort, underway for many decades if not now speeded up, is going to be halted and the office of the Attorney General left to its original concept as the legal adviser to the president. But it does mean that the once tidy little concept of a government of three distinct parts again is being eroded. And it is likely to become an even greater precedent for the independence of various “boards” and “commissions” which have grown so numerous in the federal and even the state governments. However, practical and efficient their activities, these administrative and legislative organizations are increasingly a threat to the founding principle of all government in the new country being directly or at least indirectly authorized by the citizens through their ballots for elected leadership and occasionally mandated law.

This threat is one that should become an increasing concern for those who believe that we are, indeed, constantly “testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure”.

sws-10-25-18

Mission to Moscow


There are haunting echoes in the meeting Presidential National Security Advisor John Bolton has just completed in Moscow.

In another era, now just a hundred years ago, the U.S. and its Western allies made a deal with Moscow to oppose an even more threatening enemy, Nazi Germany and its growing rabble of fascist allies including Italy. That gave the Europeans and the Americans a short period of a phony war. But it was not to last.

Just as then, setting up a meeting between the leaders, this time President Donald Trump and Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin, it was a bitter compromise, swallowed with difficulty. Putin is no Josef Stalin, then Soviet absolute ruler the like of which the world had not seen. But Putin’s combination of political thuggery, he is after all is a graduate of the KGB, the Soviet/Russian secret police — including murder of political opponents — is not the only reminder.

Bolton said in the meeting he discussed “strategic stability in the world, control over nuclear weapons and, in general, a disarmament dossier.” A Russian spokesman said they also discussed the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, North Korea, and the Iran nuclear deal. Neither Bolton nor the Kremlin said whether he and Putin discussed Russia’s fumbling in American elections. Nor did either spokesman broach the subject of sanctions or the diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Russia which brought them to any negotiation at all.

Washington swallowed hard, and despite mumbled protests from its European allies, made a deal to ignore for the moment Russian Putin’s grab of Crimea, his support of armed pro-Moscow dissidents in Eastern Ukraine, and growing threats to its former captured nations in the Baltic.

Nor did anyone point to the leading figure offstage where so much of this was aimed: the Chinese Communists whose growing ambitions in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, pose a threat to both powers. But Beijing was very much a part of the international balance of power that was implied in any deal which may be coming out of a Putin-Trump Summit.

Dealing with Moscow meant Washington had to face the reality of an aggressor regime with an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. And, until recently, Russia held a whip hand over the U.S. NATO allies in Europe by being a monopoly supplier of natural gas.

It’s a change here that may, if anything, offer hope of the U.S. coming to terms with Putin through bis eroding economic weapon.

Its new shale technology has made the U.S. again, for the first time since before World War II, a net exporter of energy. That plus access to Central Asia reserves — no longer the property of a Soviet Union — through new pipelines being built through Turkey and the Balkans – begin to erode the elements of Putin’s domestic claptrap regime.

Unlike his legendary forbear Stalin, he does not rule by terror alone, but through a combination of his own clever manipulation of an imitation of the Soviet bureaucracy and his alliance with oligarchic billionaires who have built their empires on the energy exports. It remains to be seen if the steadily enlarging European markets can accommodate all these providers. If they cannot, Trump’s temporary accommodation against China with Putin could usher in a period of unshaken international stability. But that would require, too, American pressure to reduce its own growing dependence on Chinese imports and markets.

Foolish optimism


There is a good deal of dangerously false thinking about results to be expected from the summit meeting between President Donald K. Trump and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Un.

Kim presides over one of the world’s most cruel and inefficient regimes.

North Korea now lives off the bounty of its mineral resources swapped to China for food and other support. With the American and UN sanctions squeezing Pyongyang toward negotiations with Washington and its allies, 90 percent of its international trade is with China; the rest black market activities with such other fellow pariah states such as Iran.

The oft repeated formula that Kim would be ready to open his regime to economic development funded by the U.S., Japan and South Korea is much too glib. Kim’s North Korea is a police state with tens of thousands of political prisoners and the little freedom even known in its Chinese neighbor.

Political modification of the regime would have to come with a revolution, if a managed one. Managed revolutions are rare.

It is true, of course, that South Korea’s economy, now the fourth largest in Asia and the 11th largest in the world, might offer a model for Pyongyang’s moderation. The South, after all, began its journey toward industrialization and modernization with only a surplus population as its only natural resource.

The North’s trove of mineral resources theoretically offers more opportunities as both the Japanese Occupation [1910-1945] development, and the current trade with China indicate. It is also true that South Korea began South Korea’s modernization under Park Chung-Hee, now seen as a dictator [from 1963 until his assassination in 1979].

But with hindsight we now see Park as a remarkable leader with his apprenticeship as an officer in Japanese Imperial military schools and his close relationship with the Japanese leader and longtime civilian manager, Nobusuke Kishi. Kishi was first the economic tsar for the Japanese military including during its occupation of Korea and then prime minister twice in U.S.-sponsored postwar Tokyo governments.

If there is a historical parallel we can look to — and all historical parallels are innately faulty — it is East Germany. By far the most efficient state in the former Communist bloc [not excluding the Soviet Union itself], it was nevertheless where the Soviet Empire began to unravel. Only with the total collapse of the East German state and the Soviet Bloc’s dependence on it that the end of the Communist Bloc came and the fall of the Soviet regime in Russia itself.

Kim will not be able to have it both ways. Either his personal dictatorship with all its repression inherited from his father and grandfather will have to go, or any attempt to build a modern economy — and not one drained of resources dedicated producing weapons of mass destruction — will fail.

Can that take place without a political explosion and the ouster of Kim himself? It seems unlikely that American, Japanese and South Korean generosity would be enough to absorb such revolutionary developments.

And what will be Beijing’s attitude toward such developments if they should occur, with the overall threat of Korean reunification hanging over the whole project? It is no secret that not only Beijing but Tokyo as well are dubious about a uniting of two powerful Koreas which would introduce a new if traditional player in East Asia. That is an outcome that even the Japanese fear and Seoul sees only as a possibility under its tutelage, now a likely route of when events begin to move.

Therefore all the glib talk about the peaceful emergence of a cooperative — much less democratic — regime in the North are, for the present, so much wishful thinking.

Golden California goes Brown


There always seemed to be the possibility that there could be a really big rumble along the San Andreas Fault and Hollywood, San Francisco’s hills and the wild northern California coast would slide into the Pacific.

The state has had its Brown-outs with two governors, father and son, and their spendthrift administrations, with other similar governments spread along the way of Junior’s present tenure.

Still, with its almost forty million people, the crumbling welfare state carries on with a quarter of the country’s illegal aliens, half of whom are 6% of its total population. They don’t speak English at home nor do these “undocumented” seem to be bothered with U.S. citizenship much less legal residence: two-thirds have lived in the state for at least a decade.

But California’s increasingly shaky finances [a current $190 billion state budget has an estimated $1.6 billion deficit] and what appears to be a switch to a net outflow of population may be redrawing the picture of what has been. Most of the population growth this past year came from local births, which outpaced deaths by 220,000. Although total net migration added 80,000 people, more moved out of California than in from other U.S. states.

In fact this out-migration has increasingly been the state’s middle class, taking with them the longtime admired entrepreneurial history of the state, to the benefit of welcoming Texas among California’s other Western neighbors.

Foreign immigration made up the difference between the outflow and the relatively stable total, bringing it nearer the 40 million mark, larrger by far than Canada or Australia.

That these in-migrants are “illegals”— or “undocumenteds”— may explain more than anything else why California’s Democratic politicians are all for allowing even illegal felons to get a pass not only escape deportation but criminal prosecution as well. The state has enacted a sanctuary law which supposed to protect otherwise illegal aliens in the U.S.

This has led to a free-for-all between federal officials [particularly ICE, Immigration and Custom Enforcement] and some local state and municipal authorities. This, in turn, is leading to a civil war among local and state government jurisdictions who oppose the protection of felons.

The current free for all between the federal authorities of the Trump Administration with Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland [its long term unemployed average of 8.52 percent] went so far as for her to warn local illegals with criminal records — some of them convicted felons —– that the Feds were coming to get them.

California city and state officials as a result of all this are using California’s size —its population bigger by a third than Texas, its nearest rival — to defy federal law. Nothing quite like it judicially has been seen since the 1850s — an argument then which had to be decided in a fearfully bloody struggle, still more casualties than all our other conflicts.

The policy and legal confusion being created is hard to exaggerate. And the Trump Administration is going to be forced to take up the cudgels for federal jurisdiction. The longer the wait, the more likely the confusion will grow.

There was a time, when California was supposed to set the patterns for progressive [the old use, not the new use of the word] development in the rest of the country. [e.g., remember when no one ate their salad first] Let’s hope that is now a bygone American custom.

Don’t look now but…


Don’t look now but Donald K. Trump has won his war with the traditional media, the Hollywood luminaries – and left the Democrats gasping for breath [and a missing program for action].

It will take historians a while to figure out just what happened.

But our colleagues in the leading news media continue to carp at every misstep Trump makes, especially those sometimes uninspired uses of the alternative media. The fact is we have a politician who has learned to use these new communication tools to his advantage even when he sometimes does so awkwardly. That goes for a lesson to Hollywood’s politicians too who finally may be learning that while that whatever their popularity in their make-believe roles, they are rejected by the general population as authorities on government policy.

The naked truth is that neither the leading media titles nor Hollywood’s luminaries have accepted the fact that a rebellious public decided they would not take the instruction in the 2017 elections from what my Mother and a few of her rebellions old lady friends in retirement in Florida used to call “the all-rightnicks”. They turned down both Establishments’ candidates. They voted in the outside choice as president – and even as their somewhat tainted continuing opponents’ opinion polls suggest, may even have increased their support.

And while nothing could be as dangerous as predicting where a free and vocal forgotten majority of the electorate is going to go in November, we are willing to lay a small wager that not only will they not follow the usual history of major losses for the incumbent president’s party, they may even boost the Republicans in the House – that minority who support him enthusiastically and those more lukewarm Trumbites – and nibble at that wavering stand-off in the Senate.

The confusion is rampant, of course. We have a major investigation that was supposed to sort out of the domestic mess under Robert Mueller, a man who seems to have turned leading such investigation as a profession. So far what we have from him and his commission is an expansion to other subject than those they were originally named to find. [There was no Russian-Trump collusion, but growing evidence, to the contrary, that there has been a crossing of the palm with silver by the Russians and Hillary Clinton’s minions.]

There isn’t much of a secret in Trump’s success. As a successful businessman who inherited a small fortune and turned it into a gigantic one, he is a gambler. He proffers something out of the extraordinary – even his original slogan of “making America great again” – then doubling back to compromise with his adversaries,

The fact is he has gone on to successfully pass the greatest tax reduction in American history – the political effects will only be felt after this spring’s reductions are being calculated. He made an unsuccessful pass at the massive problem of the American health system, something that probably shouldn’t be undertaken in one piece of legislation anyway. He is well on his way toward a bombastic attack on the trade disparities the U.S. has given its European, Japanese, and more recently, Chinese partners. He won’t get those massive across the board tariffs he has proposed, but, of course, like his other policy exercises, he never expected to get all of it.

Note that a second term is almost an accepted fact in the general political discussion. That infuriates – and discombobulate his proponents even more – but one the majority of American voters probably now accept.

Sooner or later, the President is going to have to turn his full attention to foreign policy.

They are not problems which turned up only on his watch but have been around for a while and festering. First, of course, is what to do about a rogue regime in North Korea which maybe close to getting a transcontinental nuclear-clad missile. That would be an unbearable threat for U.S. domestic security and our role as leader of the Free World. It’s China’s direct and indirect support to Pyongyang that appears to be the Gordian’s knot which will have to be cut, not a small job. In the Middle East, the festering mess Washington had faced since the beginning of the post-World War II is worse. Tehran’s aggressive revolutionary regime is under domestic pressure and the U.S. will have to find ways to apply non-military pressure, agajn sometimes despite our European allies’ greedy trade ambitions there. Not the least is the third threat – Vladimir Putin’s attempt to pick up the imperial roles of Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. already threatening Ukraine and the Baltic states.

But then no one ever said the presidency of the U,S. was not a demanding job even when challenged by an inventive and original Trump, our first businessman to take on America’s business as business.

Sws-03-05-20

 

 

 

 

 

The Russians are not coming! But . . .


Much too much is being made of the naming of Russian agents operating in the U.S. and their ostensible efforts to thwart our electoral process.

There is a suspicion that part of the hullabaloo is an attempt to draw attention away from more important scandalous matters, including the lagging effort of the U.S. to rearm as the overwhelming force dedicated to peace and stability in the world.

Looking at Washington’s description of these Russian operatives indicates we are a long way from the expertise of the Soviet KGB and its predecessors tracing back to Vladimir Lenin and his theories of dictatorship of the proletariat. It was in effect an increasingly bureaucratic Russian regime that reached its apotheosis with Josef Stalin’s totalitarian dictatorship. For one thing, and the most obvious, Moscow no longer commands the loyalty and services of either ideological cynics or well meaning idealists abroad in national Communist parties forming a vast espionage network run out of the Comintern.

The Russians have a structural problem in any effort to affect American elections: one of the many blessings of our Founding Fathers in their creation of their new federal republic was leaving the concept of suffrage to be an issue decided locally by the states. There has never been nor should there be a serious attempt to have a federal voters’ law, although requirements and restrictions, i.e., to protect the rights of minorities, can and have been written into overriding federal legislation.

Of course, the attempt to avoid a continental criterion for the vote has caused problems. For most of the history of the Republic, race was used to ban a large portion of our fellow citizens from the franchise, a remedy for which has only finally been effected in our lifetime.

But the very variety of electoral laws – whether for local, state or national elections has assured the inability to create a centrally dictated electoral law and thereby the threat of all-yes-or-no plebiscites.

That network of different laws and customs, of course, was what the Russians were facing when they decided to try to affect the American elections.

The realists in Moscow must have understood that all they could accomplish was to cast doubt on the process wherever and however it was conducted. And that perhaps explains why they supposedly both supported and opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy.

They have nevertheless achieved widespread publicity and some success in creating confusion. But it has been done with the help of the U,S. authorities in their highly publicized indictment of the Russian agents describing their activities in detail that the public really didn’t have to know.

But bottom line is that the Russian intelligence organization, again a shadow of its former Soviet ancestor, has spent resources and used personnel it could not afford. Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine must have already taxed those resources along with his attempt to further threaten the U.S. and the West with subversion in the Baltic States which the Russian Empire and the Soviets [both at their zeniths] occupied.

The Russian Federation, with the world’s second largest nuclear inventory of 4,500 strategically operational warheads, remains along with China and Iran — one of the three current principal American concerns for world peace and stability.

Putin’s Russia reversed Moscow’s emergence from communism as an unstable but democratic state with his aggression in southeastern Europe. That has called for deployment since 2017 of four multinational battle groups totaling approximately 4,500 troops to the Baltic nations and Poland as a manifestation of the U.S.-led North American Treaty Alliance [NATO]continuing shield for the Western democracies.

Although President Trump has indicated he is willing to negotiate the West’s differences with Putin, the threat to peace and stability from Moscow has to remain one of the U.S. principal foreign policy concerns and threats.

Sws-02-19-18