U.S. energy champion

The United States has resumed its role as the world energy model.

For the first time in decades, the fracking boom has not only propelled the U.S. into energy self sufficiency but again offered opportunities for export. Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.

In December, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil and refined fuels. That is something that would have seemed unthinkable just a decade ago.

The development is the result of the federal government discovering a massive new reserve of oil and natural gas in Texas and New Mexico that it says has the “largest continuous oil and gas resource potential ever assessed.”

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the new reserve is believed to have enough energy to fuel the U.S. for nearly seven years.

Almost a third of the U.S.’s total crude-oil production comes from the Permian Basin where the reserve was found, making it the biggest shale-oil-producing region in the U.S. and the world. Oil shale is commonly defined as a fine-grained sedimentary rock containing organic matter that yields substantial amounts of oil and combustible gas upon destructive distillation. Deposits of oil shale exist in many parts of the world.

“U.S. strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy,” said Zinke. “Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.”

Zinke suggests that the U.S. has achieved the long-sought goal of “energy independence”. It’s become possible because of the technological breakthrough of developing oil in shale deposits. And as U.S. oil companies and technicians introduce shale mining to other parts of the world, the whole world energy picture is changing rapidly.

Reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports has both enormous economic and political significance. Executives and presidents from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, none of whom anticipated a renaissance in U.S. domestic drilling and production, have had to cope with the U.S. reliance on Middle East and other foreign areas for imports to the U.S. This often has involved contradictory and difficult political decisions about regionally related areas; for example, the U.S. alliance with Israel has been subject to pressure from Arabian Gulf oil producers.

The reduction on dependence on foreign oil, of course, reduces an enormous burden on U.S. receipts from international trade. But at the same time, it makes it possible for Washington to pursue a more independent policy in the tortured Middle East which has been a major preoccupation of U.S. foreign policy decision-making.

Washington will no longer, for example, have to try to placate Saudi Arabia and its volatile despotic leadership, at least in terms of assuring American energy imports.

But the emergence of the U.S.’s again as the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas already weighs on whether to curtail world production in order to maintain a stable price level. In early December the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna were up against such a decision driven in part by surging American oil output which has topped 11 million barrels a day.

The fracking boom has spurred massive increases in drilling from Texas to Appalachia, sharply lessening reliance on foreign energy sources. The Arab oil embargo 45 years ago created painful supply shortages and sent world crude prices and U.S. balance or payments spiraling. Since then the problem of scarcity had defined U.S. thinking and strategy around oil, the world’s economic lifeblood, and even more extensive foreign policy issues.

In all, the new reserve is said to contain 281 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, 46.3 billion barrels of oil, and 20 billion barrels of natural-gas liquids, the Interior Department’s U.S. Geological Survey said.

Almost a third of the U.S.’s total crude-oil production comes from the Permian Basin where the reserve was found, making it the biggest shale-oil-producing region in the U.S.

“American strength flows from American energy, and as it turns out, we have a lot of American energy,” said Zinke.

“Before this assessment came down, I was bullish on oil and gas production in the United States. Now, I know for a fact that American energy dominance is within our grasp as a nation.”



France malade

France has become the traditional “sick man of Europe”.

“I’m prepared to spend Christmas protesting at this roundabout with my children – we won’t back down and we’ve got nothing to lose,” said a 41-year-old, who voted for Macron in last year’s presidential election. “He gave good speeches and I really believed his promises that he would change France. But not any more.”

That seems to be a typical comment of the French voter today.

A grassroots protest, which began as a spontaneous revolt against fuel tax rises, has morphed into an anti-Macron movement and is now the young centrist president’s crisis.

Macron’s critics say he is an arrogant would-be monarch. And contrary to the way he presents himself abroad, that is as a progressive hero who can hold back the tide of nationalism, at home he is a distant figure, pushing people towards an indefinable populism.

The past few weeks have seen the discontent with fringe elements fighting running battles with riot police and setting cars on fire. Paris tourist museums have had to close, and the Macron government has warned that thousands of rioters might come to the capital to “smash” or even “kill”. The rebels have taken on the ominous custom of wearing gilets jaunes [yellow jackets], normally worn by street and other workers in France in positions exposed to traffic.

Polls show Macron’s approval ratings down to 18 percent.

The failures in the French economy are the source of the discontent. France, like other Western countries, has seen a sharp rise in the difference between its richest and poorest citizens. The top 20 percent earns nearly five times as much as the bottom 20 percent. The richest 1 percent represents over 20 percent of the economy’s wealth with the median monthly income about 1,700 euros, meaning half French workers are paid less than $1,930.

All this reverses what the French had experienced since the end of World War II during a 30-year growth stretch known as “Les Trente Glorieuses” when low- and middle-incomes continued growing through the early 1980s, thanks to labor union collective bargaining agreements. But as successive left-leaning French governments sought to improve competitiveness, in part by compressing wage gains, average incomes for low- and middle-income earners stagnated, growing by 1 percent a year or less.

During the 1914-1945 period, the top 10 percent income share fell abruptly from more than 50 percent of total income on the eve of WWI to slightly more than 30 percent of total income in 1945. A rise in inequality appears during the reconstruction period and up until 1967-1968, followed by a large reduction of inequality between 1968 and 1983.

A new increase in inequality starts around 1983, as the newly elected left-wing government puts an end to the very fast rise in wages (substantially faster than output growth, particularly for bottom wages) that had occurred between 1968 and 1983.

Most importantly, the top 1 percent income share (rises significantly between 1983 and 2007, from less than 8 percent of total income to over 12 percent over this period, i.e. by more than 50 percent. This is less massive than in the U.S., but this is still fairly spectacular.

But those dynamics unraveled as successive left-leaning French governments sought to improve competitiveness in part by compressing wage gains, according to the French economist Thomas Piketty. Average incomes for low- and middle-income earners stagnated, growing by around 1 percent a year or less.

This has led to a public opinion dominated by personal disgust with Macron. He is charged with “arrogance”, citing the time he told an unemployed person to just “cross the road” to find a job, or when he wagged a finger at pensioners telling them they shouldn’t complain about rising prices cutting into their income. There is outrage too over the construction of a holiday pool in the presidential summer retreat and a refurnishing of the Paris presidential residence.

The gilets jaunes bears little resemblance to any post-World War II French because unlike Gaullism, for example, it has no single leader or is it backed by another traditional organization like the trade unions.

Its demonstrators out in the streets are a broad mix, some seeming apolitical until now, some on the traditional left opposed to “nationalism”, but also some nationalists who voted for Le Pen and environmentalists. Many have turned around the European Union, arguing it has glorified unrestrictive capitalism.


The Saudis and misapprehension

Not for the first time in its myriad international relationships, the U.S. finds itself caught between the demands of security and high morals.

But the weight which has been assigned to realpolitik – the necessity to uphold international alliances – in this present crisis has been badly distorted.

It is true that Saudi Arabia is an extremely important ally.

As the world’s second largest oil producer – after the U.S. – it raised oil production to an all-time high in November to comply with U.S. President Donald Trump’s pressure. The U.S. wants to maintain high production with low price levels to meet the economic downturn overseas as well as to continue to supply the American domestic market with cheap energy.

That’s possible now that that shale oil has again made the U.S. the world’s No. 1 producer and a potential exporter. But with the U.S. tightening sanctions against Iranian oil exports as a weapon against Tehran’s subversive activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, the markets might react with higher prices were the taps not wide open.

In mid-November Washington did call for the death penalty for seven individuals in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. American action came just hours after Saudi prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty for five people charged in the abduction and murder of the member of a prominent Iranian family, who was a contributor to The Washington Post.

“The Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions.”

That is why Washington has reacted strongly to the brutal killing and barbaric dissection of the body of the Iranian journalist. Details of his murder in the Iranian consulate-general in Istanbul have come to light, piecemeal, through secret intercepts released by the Turkish government. The irony, of course, is that Ankara under the increasingly authoritarian Pres Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is waging a campaign of persecution against officials, teachers and civil servants. A recent poll showed 70 percaent of Turkey’s teachers feared losing their jobs due to the dismissal of 140,000 civil servants, since an unsuccessful coup in July 2016.

True, Washington needs Saudi cooperation in holding the line on oil prices, its huge market for arms, and its huge investment portfolio of petrodollars. [Saudi Arabia is America’s No. 1 weapons buyer; between 2013 and 201718 percent of total U.S. arms sales or about $9 billion and huge new sales presumably in the offing.]

But Saudi, with a native population of less than 30 million, is dependent on American security guarantees despite its central role as Islam’s “guardian of the holy places”, the cities associated with Mohammed’s life, and its traditional role as leader of Islamic religious activity. Despite the fact that only 10% of the world’s 1.2 billion Moslems are Shia, both Saudi’s eastern neighbors, Iraq with its 40 million and Iran with 82 million, are now led by Shia radicals The enmity between the two major Islamic sects derives almost from the religion’s origin in the 7th century, approximately 600 years after the founding of Christianity. The two sects have cohabited peacefully for long periods but over recent decades tensions have risen, and sectarianism is at the root of much of the present-day violence in the Middle East.

The Saudis, therefore, are under threat from a variety of armed and militant Shia regional enclaves – whether in Yemen where a civil war rages, the militant and well-armed Hezbolla minority in Lebanon, a militant Shia-majority Iraq next door, or among the Shia in their own southeast where most of its oilfields are located. Tehran’s influence has even become dominant in Gaza since the Israeli withdrawal [in 2005 after its victory in The Six Days War in 1967], plays a role in the growing conflict between two local Hamas factions.

All this to say that the Saudis need and must pay for an American Middle East shield as if not more than other entities in the region much – including the Israelis – in a world of growing militancy of armed minorities.


U.S.-China relations deteriorating

Although military flash points in the Japan Sea and the South China Seas as well as the Bab el Mandeb Strait [between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea] appear to be calmer, relations between Washington and Beijing are deteriorating.

This is due to a growing trade war between the two giants.

This is in no small part due to Beijing’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative [BRI], the world’s largest infrastructure investment scheme to date.

The BRI is a multi-billion-dollar initiative launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he came to power in 2013 aiming to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a land and sea route to China.

“We encourage China to promote an uphold internationally accepted best practices and infrastructure development and financing and to adopt an open and inclusive approach to its belt and road initiative, especially these overseas infrastructure projects,” Brian Hook, Director of Policy Planning to the Secretary of State, said responding to Beijing.

But his comment came ahead of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement during the first Indo-Pacific Business Forum hosted by U.S. Chambers of Commerce in mid-July, an initiative by the Trump administration meant to advance collaboration between the United States and Indo-Pacific nations.

The two countries declared a trade war in mid-November when they met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea. The scheduled weekend of diplomacy meant to defuse trade tensions, instead set Xi and Pence attacking each other’s positions.

“Know that the U.S. offers a better option,” Pence told APEC. “We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt, we don’t coerce, compromise your independence. We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road.”

“As President Trump said …we have great respect for President Xi… [and] great respect for China,” Pence said. “But, in the President’s words, ‘China has taken advantage of the United States for many, many years.’ And those days are over.”

Pence accused China of intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair trading.

“As the president has added, China has ‘tremendous barriers’; they have ‘tremendous tariffs’; and, as we all know, their country engages in quotas, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies on an unprecedented scale. Such actions have actually contributed to a $375 billion goods trade deficit with the United States last year alone. But as the President said today, ‘that’s all changed now.’”

Xi, who spoke before Pence, said the world is facing a choice between co-operation and confrontation as protectionism and unilateralism grows. He said the rules of global institutions set up after the Second World War, such as the WTO, should not be bent for selfish agendas.

Xi argued China was the advocate for the world’s trading partners, excluding the U.S. He promised that APEC members would benefit from China’s economic opening-up.

After Xi and Pence made their cases to global leaders, both left the summit early, The 21 nations were left in disarray, unable to agree on even a routine joint statement like those that had closed every other APEC summit since 1989.

The exchange reflects a hardening of the conflict between China and the U.S., with each side deploying aggressive, uncompromising rhetoric reminiscent of that heard during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, other relatively new but serious areas of contention between the two countries are emerging. China, a newcomer to providing aid with its its loan-heavy, no-strings attached approach has unsettled Western nations that have been the donors to developing nations, often trying to use it to nudge nations towards basic reforms.

Japan’s big step

Tokyo has about to take its most important social policy decision since World War II when General Douglas MacArthur’s American Occupation [ending in 1952] remolded the Japanese society.

The Japanese, with no seeming alternative if their highly skilled and successful economy is to be maintained, are now going ahead with plans to import foreign workers on a semi-permanent or permanent basis.

Japan’s population is aging faster than any other nation. Current predictions are that Japan’s population will plunge from the current 126 million to about 87 million in 2060.

Japan has never welcomed foreign emigrants and its rigid and unique social structure makes it difficult at best for them to assimilate.

But, increasingly, Japan is being forced to the decision to accept permanent foreign nationals as workers or introduce much more efficient nationalization procedures. As the world’s third-largest economy, the ageing and rapidly shrinking population has major economic repercussions not only for Japan but for the global economy as well.

Now Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he wants to attract hundreds of thousands of foreign workers over the next five years to meet the catastrophic fall in its population producing a significant labor shortage.

Still even after Abe’s statement seeking to end a decade-long debate, six major Diet opposition parties pledged to block his government’s bill. That is coupled with concern after the government’s initial refusal to release estimates of the number of new foreigners that would be allowed into the country continues to prejudice the issue.

So the outcome still remains problematical.

The government still officially bans unskilled foreign workers from employment in the country. The two new proposed working visas that will be issued will require foreign applicants to possess “a certain skill” to work in 14 selected industries, including construction and farming.

As of December 2014 there were 2,121,831 foreigners residing in Japan, 677,019 of whom were long-term residents. [The UK with half the population of Japan has 6.2 million foreign residents to Japan’s slightly over two million.]

Vietnamese made the largest proportion of these new foreign residents, while Nepalese, Filipino, Chinese and Taiwanese are also significant in numbers. However, the majority of these immigrants will only remain in Japan for a maximum of five years, as many of them have entered the country in order to complete trainee programs.

Japan’s population of those 65 years or older roughly doubled in past 24 years, from 7.1 percent of the population in 1970 to 14.1 percent in 1994. [The same increase took 61 years in Italy, 85 years in Sweden, and 115 years in France.]
Therefore, despite the strong opposition, more than 345,000 blue-collar foreign laborers are expected to enter Japan within a five-year period starting from fiscal 2019. However, expectations as to their status and potential role in the labor force differ significantly between those promoting the emigration and the industries they are set to join. Some businesses simply consider them temporary labor, while others see them as having the potential to become more versatile employees and Japanese citizens.

In the restaurant industry, which is projected to take in around 41,000 to 53,000 laborers, major companies have reiterated their willingness to embrace foreign workers. In the nursing-care sector, which would absorb the largest share of laborers, 50,000 to 60,000 new hires expected, it is clear that extra labor is crucially needed

But Hiromi Ogata, a senior supervisor in Setagaya Ward Office in Tokyo, said this will not quickly improve the situation.

“Taking foreign workers will not create a paradise. It will a take long time for such systems to become accepted in Japan,” said Ogata.


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:

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.



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.




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.


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.



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.

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.

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]


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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”.