Category Archives: Ye Olde Crabb sez

Japan: The new military power

Despite a constitution that still calls for Japan to abjure all military force, Tokyo is increasingly in command of one of the most powerful military machines in the world. Its weapons research development is also setting the pace in some areas.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces, established in 1954, ranks as the world’s fourth most-powerful military in conventional capabilities with the eighth-largest military budget. In recent years they engaged in international operations including UN peacekeeping.

Typical of Tokyo’s new military is a new highly trained and equipped amphibious rapid deployment brigade — to have more than 3,000 trained by March — which has just run a joint exercise with U.S. forces.

Rising Cold War tensions in Europe and Asia, coupled with leftist-inspired strikes and demonstrations in Japan, prompted conservative leaders to question the unilateral renunciation of all military capabilities in its surrender treaty with the U.S. and its allies in World War II. When American Occupation troops began to be moved to the Korean War (1950–53) theater, Japan was left virtually defenseless, vulnerable, and very much aware of the need to enter into a mutual defense relationship with the United States.

Encouraged by the American occupation authorities, the Japanese government in July 1950 authorized the establishment of a National Police Reserve, consisting of 75,000 men equipped with light infantry weapons. In 1952, Coastal Safety Force the waterborne counterpart of NPR, was founded. In 2006, the Cabinet of Japan endorsed a bill elevating the Defense Agency under the Cabinet Office to full-fledged cabinet-level Ministry of Defense. This was passed by the National Diet in December 2006, and has been enforced since 2007.

In January 9, 2007, JSDF activities abroad was revised from “miscellaneous regulations” to “basic duties” fundamentally changing the nature of the JSDF because its activities are no longer solely defensive. JMSDF ships can be dispatched worldwide such as in activities against pirates. The JSDF’s first postwar overseas base was established in Djibouti, Somalia in 2010.

Japan and the United States conducted their biggest military exercise in the biennial Keen Sword from 29 October to 2 November 2018 including a total of 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen. Some 47,000 service members were from the JSDF and 10,000 from the U.S. Armed Forces. A naval supply ship and frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy also participated in simulations of air combat, ballistic missile defense and amphibious landings.

In 2004, at the behest of the United States, the Japanese government ordered a deployment of troops to Iraq in order to assist the U.S.-led Reconstruction of Iraq. This controversial deployment marked a significant turning point as the first time since the end of World War II that Japan had sent troops abroad except for a few minor UN peacekeeping deployments. Public opinion was sharply divided

In December 2018, the Japanese government approved an initial budget plan for fiscal 2019 that includes a general account exceeding 100 trillion yen ($900 billion) and spending on tax-hike preparations.

There is no secret about what motivates Japanese policy to turn its back on the postwar professions of neutrality and rejection of any military establishment. It is the growing perceived threat from Communist China.

In addition to conventional weaponry, the defense budget for fiscal year 2018 included funds to purchase mid- to long-range air-launched cruise missiles. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera maintained they would be used exclusively for defense as “stand-off missiles that can be fired beyond the range of enemy threats.” But the budget allocated another 2.2 billion yen ($20 million) for the purchase of Joint Strike Missile for its F-35A stealth fighters and 30 million yen ($270,000) for research on modifying existing Japanese Mitsubishi F-15J fighters to be equipped with Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles and extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

The Ministry of Defense is developing supersonic glide bombs to strengthen the defense of Japan‘s remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands [which lie between Japan and the Korean Peninsular]. The anti-surface strike capability will be used to help the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade’s landing and recapture operations on other more remote islands. Japan’s Defense Ministry has also allocated $57 million for research and development of a hypersonic missile which could travel five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or faster. A scramjet engine prototype, jet fuel technology and heat-resistant materials will be built with testing from 2023 to 2025.


The U.S.-China trade war

Washington and Bejiing are drifting into a trade war, one that has its peculiar aspects as compared with such 19th and 20th century events.

It is being minimized in importance because of the blind spots both countries have for one another. The best explanation is that neither has an adequate appreciation of the other’s quite different environment.

The U.S. and the forces of freedom did win the Cold War, despite an often vast ignorance of Soviet decision-making and its leadership. But Beijing is cavorting in a $360-billion trade surplus with the United States while extorting technology from American companies and seducing high-tech giants like Apple and Google.

It is not only insulting but damaging. Sniveling on China’s behalf when their sales in that country are reduced, the leading G-77 are often Beijing’s sponsors in international disputes. The Chinese have the temerity to make requests for relief from the economically most advanced countries for their pollution of the world environment although China is the world’s greatest polluter.

When Apple Inc. said China’s slowing economy contributed to its late-year sales slump, the news rattled the stocks of other major U.S. companies with big operations in the world’s second-largest economy. Now, as U.S. companies report their quarterly earnings, China’s impact will be revealed. The amount of damage is likely to depend on such factors as who the company’s customers are and how much competition it faces in China. The amount of damage will depend on such factors as who the company’s customers are and how much competition it faces in China.

On the one hand, the Trump administration has been pretty clear about its view of China: A 2017 national security strategy document called China a “revisionist” power, attempting to reorder international politics to suit its interests.

That’s a pretty succinct way of describing Beijing’s military buildup, its attempts to undermine American influence and power, its retaliations against American allies such as Canada, and its economic actions.

The U.S. economy and national security have been threatened by Beijing’s strategy since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012 adopting what translates as “civil-military fusion”. Chinese and foreign “civilian” companies serve as de facto suppliers for the Chinese military’s technological-industrial base.

Residents and visitors are subject to constant surveillance, reflected in credit scores affecting everything from their home purchases to job opportunities.

Ironically, these forms of social control often use technology developed by Western companies.

But even if American exports to China fell by half, it would be the equivalent of less than one-half of 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. There are plenty of countries that can substitute for China-based production, none of them strategic rivals and trade predators. Previous efforts to assert America’s influence against China, such as the discarded Trans-Pacific Partnership, did not push back effectively on Chinese economic aggression. Working with allies to directly address China’s malfeasance would.

All this means putting China at the top of American international economic priorities and keeping it there for years, without overstating or overreacting to trade disputes with our allies. The administration must not be distracted by the next round of Beijing’s false promises.

Protecting innovation from Chinese attack makes the United States stronger. Hindering the Chinese security apparatus makes external aggression and internal repression more costly for Beijing. China is our only major trading partner that is also a strategic rival, and we should treat it differently from friendly countries with whom we have disputes.

If Washington wants the global free market to work, it must intervene to blunt Beijing’s belligerence.


Our southern border

It’s been a long time coming but the crisis on our southern border was one that could have been anticipated – and some did — for decades.

The history of U.S. and Mexico relations is full of scars, easily exploited by demagogues in moments of crisis – whether the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) [hardly noted by “North” Americans but a bitter memory of invasion by Mexicans], the expropriation of Mexican oil [William F. Buckley Jr. of National Review’s family’s ownership, for example]. The powerful, corrupt and inefficient state company that took its place with its troubled relations with U.S. oil companies, and the growing effort by Mexico to use the 40-million Mexican Americans as its lobby, are all part of an intricate and vast network of relationships.

The contrast with our northern neighbor could not be greater – the Anglophone and other traditions we share with English-speaking Canadians and even the domestic Ottawa triangulation that has been a resource for Québec nationalists.
Taking time out from his pursuit of reporting of Asian politics and economics, the veteran newsman Sol W, Sanders’ Mexico : chaos on our doorstep [Imprint: Lanham, MD : Madison Books, c1986. Physical description: xiii, 222 p. ; 24 cm.] tried a quarter of a century ago to present the crisis’ inevitability.

If Sanders’ pessimism about Mexico economic development was overdone, the border problems for Mexico City rulers created even by a more prosperous and industrialized southern trading partner were not exaggerated. In fact, it could be argued that increasingly Mexico’s industrialization, often with its “twin-plant” ties between Mexican and U.S. manufacturers, had only increased and intensified the border issues.

It seems unlikely that the current crisis – putting together a delineation on paper of a critical juncture of the border and enlarging the officialdom needed to police it – will be accomplished quickly. That, curiously enough, is not the result of opposition to the generally preferred solutions with either the White House Republicans, their GOP Party critics, or the Democrats with their control of the House of Representatives.

The problem, in fact, may not exist – or at least be easily defined — in the sense that traffic across the border at any given point is so massive as to self-regulate. Furthermore, with the huge Spanish-speaking U.S. population, and a significant either English-speaking or constituency which otherwise knows the U.S. intimately, the liaisons between interest groups is so great that it defies the kind of narrow regulatory framework that exists between the U.S. and most other countries.

But there is and will be great friction.

The president said in his first formal national address from the Oval Office that a wall was needed to stem a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border”, involving “thousands of illegal immigrants”. He pointed to illegal drug supplies, people trafficking and criminal acts by illegal immigrants into the U.S. that are a product of the “undocumented” portion of the immigration.

There were 12 million immigrants living in the country illegally as of January 2015, according to the most recent estimate from the Department of Homeland Security. Mexicans make up the majority of the undocumented population — 55 percent in 2015, according to DHS — but the number and share of Mexicans among this population has been declining in recent years.

“If we don’t have a barrier… you’re not going to be able to solve this problem,” Trump said, adding that people faced “hard work”, “grueling problems” and “a lot of death” without it.

The President added: “They say a wall is medieval… There are some things that work.”

Trump said he never meant that Mexico would make a one-time payment for the wall.

“When I said Mexico would pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people… obviously I never meant Mexico would write a check,” he said.

The Democrats say the wall is “ineffective” and “unnecessary” and an expensive bill to taxpayers that the president had said Mexico would foot.

Australia: headed for trouble?

They haven’t had a recession in almost 30 years “Down Under” which is one good reason to continue to call it “the lucky county”.

But trouble may be brewing.

The record is almost unblemished.

Australia has profited from unique geographical position; i.e., it was one of very few OECD countries that escaped a recession in the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and has exploited resources to build trade and investment relations in Asia.

Unlike other rich countries Australian workers income has grown strongly, albeit less steadily in recent years. With the world’s 13th-largest economy, it has the world’s tenth-highest per capita income. In 2018, it overtook Switzerland to become the country with the highest average wealth.

With a total of 25 million people, Australia has admitted as many as 190,000 newcomers annually — nearly three times as many, relative to population, as the U.S. Public debt is just 41% of gross national product —one of the lowest in the industrialized world. After an overhaul of the pension system nearly 30 years ago, workers are obliged to save for their retirement through private investment funds. Australia’s health-care system is a public-private hybrid with the government bearing only a relatively small proportion—an arrangement that remains a distant dream in the U.S. and Europe.

Living standards have risen because of export volumes of booming commodities that have strengthened the Australian dollar’s buying power overseas and prompted massive investment in new resource processing capacity, including major deals with Japanese energy companies to build liquid natural gas processing plants. Unemployment is relatively low.

But what has changed in this picture is increasing political instability.

Between 1983 and 2007, just three prime ministers held office (Bob Hawke and Paul Keating of Labor, and John Howard of the Liberals). Since then chief of government has changed hands six times. The last time a prime minister survived in office for a whole three-year term was 2004-07.

And subject to their temporary solution by the revolving governments are a series of growing economic-political problems.

  • The commodity boom appears to have peaked with prices in the key exports of coal and iron ore heading down. As investment falls in the resource-sector, Australia will have to adjust towards other economic activities. A precipitous fall in world commodity prices might prompt a very sharp exchange-rate depreciation, with investors consequently selling off Australian assets.
  • While Australia’s fiscal deficit and public debt compare favorably internationally, the government’s objective of a budget surplus by the early 2020s seems a proper goal.
  • A growing population is going to make further demands on what us now a seemingly adequate health system.
  • High affordability and a risk of macroeconomic impacts if prices fall rapidly in a booming housing market are seen as one threat.Building approvals have fallen to their lowest level in five years. Construction forecasts, particularly for the residential sector, offered an incredibly bleak picture for building activity in early 2019.
  • House prices are down 3.5 per cent from their peak, and in some cities things are even worse. [Perth is down 25 per cent since its peak in 2007, Sydney is down 8 per cent just this year and Melbourne is down 6.6 per cent this year.] Supply will rise even further in 2019, with many large apartment projects set to finish. Even if all the apartments are pre-sold off the plan (they aren’t) and all the pre-sales settle smoothly (they usually don’t), when people move into these new apartments it will create a second round of vacant properties, some of which will be for sale.
  • In spite of several decades of manicured policy a wide socio-economic gap exists between Australia’s indigenous peoples and the rest of the population. [Indigenous Australians, about 3% of the population, have a life expectancy about 10 years lower, and an employment rate more than 25 percentage lower.]
  • Australia fasces climate change problems. Assuring water supply and mitigating risks from drought are increasingly difficult and expensive.
  • Transport infrastructure problems are prominent and ensuring efficient use of existing investments challenging.
  • Education needs to be improved what with Australia’s score in OECD PISA test [comparing performance of 15-year-old pupils internationally] above the average, falls short of top-ranking countries.
  • Australia has a fundamental tax structure problem: spending in Australian states is made up by large transfers from central government revenues (some with conditions attached). This imbalance helps drive national agendas, but implies less local tailored expenditures.


Dealing with China’s megacompany

Rather than relying on joint ventures to secure technology transfers from foreign companies, Ren Zhengfei, a former deputy director of the People’s Liberation Army engineering corporation, founded Huawei in 1987. Ren, seeing foreign companies often reluctant to transfer advanced technologies to Chinese firms, sought to reverse engineer foreign technologies.

Today Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., is a Chinese multinational conglomerate specializing in telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics, artificial intelligence and technology-based services and products, headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong, province, near Hong Kong. [The name Huawei can be translated as “splendid act” or “China is able”.] CNBC reported that Huawei’s revenue in 2018 will exceed 100 billion US dollars for the first time

Huawei has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries, overtaking Swedish Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer in the world, Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones, just behind Samsung Electronics.

It ranks 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Ren’s success has resulted in a company with some 200,000 employees — more than 76,000, unlike most Chinese companies, devoting enormous sums to research. In 1918 the company will dedicate 20-30 percent of R&D funding to basic science research, up from its previous 10 percent, and increase R&D funding to at least US. up from its previous 10 percent.

Huawei’s international success has faced difficulties and cybersecurity concerns selling in some markets (including the United States), over allegations that its equipment may contain “backdoors” affording unauthorized surveillance by the People’s Liberation Army, its founder having previously worked for the Chinese military. Ren argues that its products pose “no greater cybersecurity risk” than those of any other vendors. But Huawei stated in April 2018 that it would largely pull out of the U.S. market, due to the Washington’s scrutiny.

During its first several years the company’s business model consisted of reselling private branch exchange (PBX) switches imported from Hong Kong. Its first major breakthrough came in 1993 when it launched its C&C08 program controlled telephone switch, by far the most powerful switch available in China. By initially deploying in small cities and rural areas and placing emphasis on service and customizability, the company made its way into the mainstream market.

In 2005, Huawei’s foreign contract orders exceeded its domestic sales for the first time when it signed a Global Framework Agreement with Vodafone. Huawei also signed a contract with British Telecom (BT) for the deployment of its multi-service access network (MSAN) and Transmission equipment for BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN), providing BT and the UK telecommunications industry with some infrastructure necessary to support future growth. In May 2008, Huawei and Optus developed a mobile innovation centre in Sydney, Australia, providing facilities to develop new wireless and mobile broadband concepts into “ready for market” products. In 2008, the company embarked on its first large-scale commercial deployment of UMTS/ HSPA in North America providing TELUS‘s new next generation wireless network and Bell Canada with high-speed mobile access.

Huawei classifies itself as a “collective” and not as a private company. But Richard McGregor, author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers”, said that this is “a definitional distinction that has been essential to the company’s receipt of state support at crucial points in its development”.

The issue of Huawei’s classic Chinese company’s relationship with the Chinese government and other state-owned companies has blown up in Canada. Huawei’s Vice-chairperson and CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on December 1, 2018, at the request of the United States, which accuses her of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial, told bankers in 2013 that her company no longer had a stake in Skycom Tech Co., a Hong Kong company that did business with Iran, and that she had quit its board. Lawyers for Ms. Meng, who was arrested Dec. 1 in Canada at the request of the U.S. for alleged violations of Iran sanctions, argued that she and Huawei severed ties to Skycom in 2009 and can’t be held responsible for its activities.

Canada’s soft approach to Huawei has clearly been a source of frustration to its allies.  Critics said it was one thing to allow Canadians the option to purchase Huawei smartphones, but permitting it to build a 5G network in such important telecom infrastructure in Canada was another matter entirely.

Huawei is already barred from the U.S., and both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns about Canada’s network upgrades given how closely the two countries’ networks are integrated. The U.K., Australia, and New Zealand are all moving to keep Huawei out of 5G network development.





The Syrian quagmire

With American troops and military installations spread on all seven continents, the critical importance of only 2,000 troops in Syria would seem Liliputian. But their disposition has received from world media the last few days.

President Donald K. Troop announced last Dec. 19, American forces would be leaving Syria, apparently immediately, after the utter defeat of the local caliphate. An Islamic state under the leadership of a Muslim steward with the title of caliph, considered a religious and political successor to Islam’s founder, Mohammed, had been founded with its its capital at Raqqa, in northern Syria. But with its territory largely lost, Washington’s strategy no longer demanded U.S. forces on the ground. It was suggested that the chaotic civil war within the country and the ability of U.S. troops in northern Iraq – who had been with withdrawn earlier under President Barack Obama and then returned – could handle any situation.

Trump gave American forces 30 days to leave Syria. But the local Kurds who had done most of the fighting with the Americans appealed to the Syrian government for help to secure a key northern city, Manbij, to guard against any Turkish offensive. That was because in the checkerboard of ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East, the Kurds in Turkey – with no history of a state of their own but spread throughout the region –at about 14 million, out of 77.8 million — have supported an armed revolt for more autonomy or independence against Ankara since the 1960s.

Syrian government forces could be seen taking up arms inside northern Syria last week, but, later pulled out “in order to avoid any frictions” with U.S. forces in their alliance with local Kurds. The defeat of ISIS signaled long term weaknesses First, it needed continual conquest to succeed: victory was a clear sign that the group was doing God’s work. But once it occupied its Sunni-dominated heartlands, further expansion was unlikely. If it was easy to sweep aside a border of a shattered state such as Syria, but stronger states such as Turkey, Israel and Jordan were different. There was no way ever Isis, a Sunni Arab Muslim force, was going to fight its way deep into Shia-dominated central and southern Iraq.

Second, its violent intolerance of dissent and brutality was one reason for the rapid expansion Sunni tribal leaders and other power brokers in Iraq and Syria who could see significant advantages in accepting the group’s authority. But in 2015, with a weakened ISIS unable to offer anything other than violence, defections rapidly snowballed. The old legendary collective yearning to restore the military, political and technological superiority over the West enjoyed by Islamic powers a millennium ago – or the conviction that the end of times was near – proved insufficient to convince communities to fight and die for Isis. In the very end, for example, the hospital and stadium in Raqqa were defended by foreign Isis fighters with Syrian militants surrendering days before.

In his earlier withdrawal announcement, Trump declared Isis “defeated”. But in his apparent reversal, he said U.S. troops would now be pulled out “slowly” and that they would be fighting remaining Isis militants. He had been under severe criticism from American military and even Republican Congressional leaders for these earlier withdrawal statements, some arguing Trump refuses to see the continuing threat of radical Islam which they compare to the long fight against Communism.

U.S. ground troops first became involved in Syria in autumn 2015 when then-President Barack Obama sent in a small number of Special Forces to train and advise local Kurdish fighters. The U.S. did this reluctantly after several attempts at arming anti-Isis groups descended chaotically. Over intervening years U.S. troops in Syria increased, and a network of bases and airstrips has been established in an arc across the north-east. These have been part of an international coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS, while also targeting Syrian government bases in retaliation for suspected war crimes involving chemical weapons.

The earlier withdrawal statement had shocked U.S. allies and American defense officials alike, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a top U..S official in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) group, Brett McGurk, resigning soon after.  In riposte, Trump lashed out at retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal with a string of personal attacks after the former leader of U.S. operations in Afghanistan called the president “immoral” and dishonest. He has questioned Trump’s decision to send troops to the southern border and has expressed concern over the president’s repeated criticism of former military leaders, such as retired Adm. William McRaven.



Expect the worst

Unfortunately the election of Muslim representatives to the Congress has taken the kind of turn that can only make the majority — Christians and Jews — even more nervous.

The argument has been, of course, that Muslims are only another brand of the Abrahamic religions and therefore part of the greater secular and non-secular world community.

But the truth is that Islam has never shed its political ambitious, as Christianity and even Jewry [despite Zionism] has had to do. Most of Islam’s disciples and advocates, in both the East where it is a majority or the West, see its claims for political hegemony as religious tenets.

A noteworthy result of the Nov. 6 midterm elections was that the U.S. House of Representatives went from two Muslim members — Indiana’s André Carson and Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, who was elected his state’s attorney general on the same day — to three Muslims. Almost without exception, the mainstream media cheered these candidates’ victories, not for their skills, experience or political views, but because they represented “diversity.”

But the same media were willing to look the other way when it came to some of their unpleasant characteristics. Rashida Tlaib, the soon-to-be-installed member from Michigan, is an outspoken anti-Semite. (Her views also take the form of a fanatical supporter of Arab nationalism; she wrapped herself at her victory party in a Palestinian flag).

Ilhan Omar, future Gentlewoman from Minnesota, has made anti-Semitic statements. She has also committed perjury and married her brother, likely part of an immigration and student-loan scam. Nevertheless, Democrats plan to lift a 181-year-old ban on head coverings in Congress to permit her to wear a hijab [a head covering worn in public by some Muslim and other Middle Eastern women]. And with few other credentials she is already hailed as a “star”, elected to a leadership role in the House progressive caucus.

Ellison, elected in Minnesota despite his chummy relations with the notorious anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan, and some highly plausible accusations of domestic abuse, is, so far, the country’s only Muslim state AG.

The question is whether the U.S. is moving along the same lines as some of its North Atlantic allies.

Canada, for example, has a Somali-born Muslim Minister of Immigration named Ahmed Hussen, last seen pushing a sinister UN migration pact and refusing to answer queries from Rebel Media, Canada’s online alternative news organization. Canada’s mainstream media apparently were too polite to ask Hussen uncomfortable questions about the UN deal.

In Germany, whose Minister of Immigration Aydan Özoğuz is the sister of two Hezbollah enthusiasts named Yavuz and Gürhan Özoğuz, reportedly with “close ties to the Iranian government” and to various Holocaust deniers, runs a “virulently anti-Israeli, anti-American and anti-democratic” website called “Muslim-Markt.” Aydan told an interviewer: “They [Muslim fanatics] are my brothers. I don’t deny my family. I think apart from my brothers on political issues.”

It’s a reminder of Hillary Clinton’s sidekick, Huma Abedin, who got a pass from the media even though her father ran a top Muslim Brotherhood organization and her mother edited a Sharia law journal (for which Huma once worked) and who sat on an Islamic council chaired by the hate preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

In 2015, voters in the traditionally Polish-American city of Hamtramck, Michigan, elected the nation’s first Muslim-majority city council — leading a local Muslim leader to shout at an Election Night victory party: “Today we show the Polish, and everybody else.”

No major U.S. city has a Muslim mayor yet, but it may be only a matter of time. Rotterdam has one: Morocco-born Ahmed Aboutaleb, who’s been in office since 2009 and who identifies as a devout yet Westernized Muslim. A dual citizen of the Netherlands and Morocco, Aboutaleb described his own mayoral work as “jihad in its most perfect form. But a couple of months ago he agreed to a plan that would cut off the flow of asylum seekers from North Africa into Rotterdam, which is already one of the most heavily Muslim — and crime-ridden — cities in Europe.


Taiwan’s growing role

One of the ironies of the current international order is that efforts by both Communist China and the U.S. to minimize the role of Taiwan actually intensify its importance.

For Beijing, of course, Taiwan is a “rogue” province, defying the argument that only an autocratic Chinese-language-speaking political entity can be economically prosperous.

For the U.S., Taiwan not only represents what freewheeling economies can do but the proof it can be done in a “Chinese” environment with democratic government.

Taiwan’s less than 25 million inhabitants make it only the 55th largest “country” in the world – a tiny fragment of an estimated Chinese-languages-speaking Mainland population of 1.4 billion.

But Taiwan’s dynamic capitalism is driven largely by privately owned industrial manufacturing, especially exports of electronics, machinery, and petrochemicals — with origins in the Japanese Occupation 1989-45. It was only in 2006 Mainland China overtook the U.S. to become Taiwan’s second-largest source of imports after Japan, despite their highly publicized political differences.

Since 2009 Taipei has gradually loosened rules governing Mainland investment, securing in return greater market access for its investors in China proper. In August 2012, the Taiwan Central Bank signed a currency agreement with its Chinese counterpart allowing direct settlement of Chinese Mainland renminbi (RMB) which has helped Taiwan develop into a local RMB hub.

The Mainland is not only now the Island’s number one destination for foreign direct investment but in February 2018, Beijing unveiled a package of 31 “incentives” to attract Taiwanese people and businesses to the Mainland, offering tax breaks and subsidies for high-tech companies, research grants for academics. It promised to allow Taiwanese companies to bid for government infrastructure projects, even those involved in China’s “One Belt, One Road” global development plan in southern Asia and the Middle East.

Taiwanese Vice Premier Shih Jun-ji cast it as an effort to undermine the Island’s economy:

“China’s attempt to attract Taiwan’s capital and talent, especially high tech and young students, has clear political intentions,” he told at a news conference unveiling eight counter­measures designed to keep investors home.

Bilateral trade between China (including the Mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao) and Taiwan in 2017 reached $181.76 billion, up from $35 billion in 1999. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 30 percent of the Island’s total trade. Over ninety-three thousand Taiwanese businesses have invested in the Mainland since 1988, though outbound investment to the Mainland declined for its third consecutive year in 2017. Reciprocal Mainland investment in Taiwan is on the rise but at a slower rate. China and Taiwan have also agreed to allow banks, insurers, and other financial service providers to work in both “countries”.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s closer economic links with the Mainland pose challenges with political differences remaining unresolved and also at a time when Beijing’s economic growth is slowing. Commerce with the Mainland takes a higher priority because Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has made little progress on solving domestic economic issues, including concerns about stagnant wages, high housing prices, youth unemployment, job security, and retirement financial security. Tsai has made more progress boosting trade with south Asia, which may help insulate Taiwan’s economy from a fall in Mainland demand should China’s growth slow further in 2018.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, totaling more than $25 billion between 2007 and 2018, have led to U.S.-China friction and increased bellicose rhetoric across the Strait. But Taiwan’s Tsai spoke with U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump by telephone before his inauguration, the first such high-level contact between the two sides since 1979, and an indication Washington continues to place high concern on the relationship despite U.S.  official ties to Beijing.



Migrants versus culture

As native populations decline, in some cases [Japan] catastrophically, they are being replaced in the industrial countries’ workforce by immigrants with totally different cultures.

The long-term question, for which there is presently no answer, is will the carefully cultivated complex European cultures which have given so much to the world, survive this infusion.

Demographic predictions are notoriously subject misinterpretation and short-term movements can be interpreted as the long-term perspective.

Germany could be the most dramatic example of the phenomenon.

But experts estimate that in ten years there will be a shortage of at least three million skilled workers in Germany, otherwise its economic growth will slow if not collapse. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s has a new immigration law designed for workers from outside the European Union to find jobs in Germany. The legislation would simplify the process for recognizing foreign vocational training degrees after eliminating the requirement that employers check whether German nationals are available. It would give temporary residence permits to qualified non-EU German-speakers to live in the country while they search for work.

Germany is already the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States. It has the second highest percentage of immigrants after the United Kingdom. And by UN estimates, [2017] 12,165,083 people living in Germany are immigrants — about 14.8 percent of the total population.

In the aftermath of World War II 12 million ethnic German refugees, so-called “Heimatvertriebene” (“homeland displaced persons”) were forced into the two Germanies because of changing borderlines. Due to the labor shortage during the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) in the 1950s and ’60s, the West German government signed agreements with Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia allowing recruitment of so-called Gastarbeiter [guest workers] with few qualifications. Children born to Gastarbeiter received Aufenthaltsberechtigung (“right of residence”). but were not granted citizenship. Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter ultimately have acquired German citizenship.

Claims and counterclaims of whether immigrants disproportionately commit crime are unresolved in Germany as elsewhere in Europe. But it is true that federal authorities have largely failed to provide sufficient resistance to ethnic organized crime gangs (German: Clankriminalität) for fear of being charged with discrimination against minorities. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal found that foreigners, overall 12.8 percent of the German population, made up 34.7 pecent of criminal suspects.

Profitable activities of Arab clans have been noted as contributing to organized criminal activity with Chechens, Albanians, Kosovars have mimicked these clan-based gangs. In a German society with maximum personal freedom [by European standards] clans serve people who want to live in peace under the protection of the state. On the other hand, clans may not recognize the rule of law.

Latest Federal Statistical Office figures show that almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Female immigrants are indeed contributing significantly to the fact that Germany’s birth rate is rising again. Already today, one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.

Economists and politicians are fond of emphasizing the positive aspects of this development – Germany’s aging society, for example, has been a negative political issue for decades. But there’s also a large segment of society that is less than pleased; people ask what their heimat, or homeland, will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. Some fear that Merkel allows migrants to come to Germany for asylum rather actively seeking to bring in highly skilled workers. It’s a policy that permits even those whose asylum applications are rejected ultimately to stay.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in recent remarks said that Islam doesn’t belong to Germany. The argument is that Islam while a religious concept in the Abrahamic tradition, also proposes to establish a parallel authoritarian or totalitarian state.

That’s why the issue of 4.7 million Muslims who call Germany home increasingly cannot be ignored nor the attempt of many of these Germany-born to integrate into its society. The presence of at least one mosque in almost every large city in Germany attests to the growing influence of some aspects of Islam.

Polls show that large segments of the German population agree with Seehofer. “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany”, a way of expressing discomfort with ways in which the country is changing. Cornelia Koppetsch, a professor of sociology at the Technical University of Darmstadt, argues that politicians who have sought to “create a sense of community within their political camps” ultimately ended up promoting “rampant feelings of rootlessness.”

German culture has always enjoyed such symbolic debates; for example, the constant argument over whether to ban the burqa [Muslim women’s veil], even though very few women in Germany actually wear them. These discussions serve largely to provide supporters with a vehicle to express that tolerance has gone far enough. The CSU has now formally promised that the country will remain one shaped by Judeo-Christian traditions. At the same time, though, it’s also true that membership in Christian churches has been shrinking for years; in 2016 alone, 350,000 people left German churches.

As churches close in many places, Muslims are building new mosques – or even more aggravating, they are taking over buildings that are otherwise empty. For example, in Hamburg’s Horn neighborhood, the Islamic community is in the process of converting a former church into a mosque with the help of funding from Kuwait. The church had been empty for more than 16 years with its members having died, left the church or moved. Nobody is being pushed out. And although it provides the Muslim community with a convenient opportunity some non-Muslim Germans see the conversion as ominously symbolic.


Liar is the name of the game

A person who tells lies has a reputation as a liar — a fabricator, fabulist, fibber, prevaricator, a storyteller.

But Marian Marzynski argues his Polish wartime childhood experiences, teasing out feelings about his country, the Catholic Church, and his and other friends’ identities forged a survival for him which began with the directive “never forget to lie”.

That’s the kind of reasoning Federal Bureau of Investigation agents say makes them think former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn didn’t lie to them, although he was later charged with making false statements. And a Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz argues that the FBI was simply “giving him [former National Security Adviser] Michael Flynn the opportunity to lie before questioning him.”

Lying to authorities is one of the great obstacles the U.S. has always had setting up a national police force, just the kind the British had in the Colonies before the American Revolution abhorred and overthrew them. None other than the former head of the FBI himself, Director James Comey [dismissed by President Donald Trump], put the old complaint succinctly: “I don’t think in America we want to empower the FBI or grand juries or prosecutors to impose morality tests — criminal morality tests — on citizens.”

But FBI agents did confirm in documents released by the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller that they didn’t think Flynn lied to them, although he was later charged with [and admitted] making false statements. Flynn himself has pleaded guilty to lying about whether he had talked to former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016 on limiting Moscow’s response to former President Barack Obama’s then recently imposed sanctions for what is now seen as Russian attempted meddling in the 2016 elections. But now President Donald K. Trump and his supporters are asking that Flynn not have to pay a price for what he has now admitted as lying.

Dershowitz added that Flynn was simply a means to the end for the FBI, and the agency’s goal was to find “low-hanging fruit” in order to squeeze Flynn. He said that Flynn should have never pleaded guilty, but that he had no choice.
“The obvious target here was Donald Trump — not Flynn,” he said.

After testifying before House lawmakers former FBI Director James Comey slammed Trump and top Republicans for purportedly not being truthful.
‘The FBI’s reputation has taken a big hit because the president of the United States, with his acolytes, has lied about it constantly,’ Comey said.

George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley weighed in on the federal judge ordering the Mueller team to surrender documents surrounding the Flynn questioning. Turley called the case against Flynn a “canned hunt” and investigators effectively “put him in a cage and shot him” on charges of lying during an interview brought about under unorthodox means.

“They are dangling out what is called a 5k1.1 letter which is basically a cooperation letter and they come back repeatedly and say, you don’t have that letter. Essentially they are turning that into a canned hunt. The only way he’s out of that cage as if he tells them what they want to hear. But that’s actually concerning to me because here’s a guy who obviously is cooperating fully, they say he is credible,” Turley said.

District Judge Reed O’Connor struck down Obamacare arguing that the part of the law that forces American to buy insurance or pay a penalty is unconstitutional. Because O’Connor ruled that the mandate can’t be separated from the rest of the health care law, he invalidated the whole thing. Few lawyers and legislators have ever doubted that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, because no possible reading of the Commerce Clause could support such a scheme. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia noted during oral arguments before the Supreme Court in 2012, if the government can force you to buy health insurance, it can also force you to buy broccoli, or a car, or pretty much anything. Allowing the individual mandate under the Commerce Clause powers would give Congress unlimited authority to regulate almost every aspect of our lives.


China: Growing spying problem

Beijing’s ability to get at foreign technology and finances through its ultra sophisticated spying network is becoming a major threat to the U.S. and other Western societies.

E.W. Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division told a Senate committee, Chinese spying threatens “not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world.”

Priestap warns that the Chinese Communist regime uses unconventional intelligence assets to pilfer American secrets both from both the government and the private sector. That leads to “a hypercompetitive world” in which China uses economic theft to cement their status as a major international power. Priestap urged lawmakers to brace for “a hypercompetitive world” in which China uses economic theft to cement their status as a major international power.

“[S]o we are right to shore up our defenses against this,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Our efforts must inspire other nations to preserve similar systems. We must persuade them to choose freedom, reciprocity, and the rule of law. What hangs in the balance is not just the future of the United States, but the future of the world.”

If we don’t, he said: “Make no mistake: The Chinese government is proposing itself as an alternative model for the world, one without a democratic system of government, and it is seeking to undermine the free and open rules-based order we helped establish following World War II.”

Priestap warned “[T]he Chinese government understands a core lesson of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union: Economic strength is the foundation of national power,” he said. “The competition between the United States and China will be greatly influenced, if not ultimately decided, on the strength of our economies.”

Another senior CIA official, Michael Collins, the CIA’s deputy assistant director for the East Asia Mission Center,  told the Aspen Security Forum: “What they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war….At the end of the day, the Chinese fundamentally seek to replace the United States as the leading power in the world,”

Although Priestap stipulated that not every Chinese national is a spy, he warned: “Not meaning every person in the society is posing the threat but people from all walks of life — you can’t effectively combat that threat with ad hoc responses,” he said. “We need more people in government, more people in business, more people in academia pulling in the same direction to combat this threat effectively.”

He said the Chinese spy services regard expatriate students and workers in the United States as potential assets. “[The intelligence officials] think of them as — just simply an extension of their power, of their nation. “Based on FBI interaction with some of those individuals, it really is a case-by-case basis. Some I think are not knowledgeable in the least and are completely unwitting of doing anything in furtherance of their government aims. And, others either through direct or other softly applied pressure understand that they have obligations to meet.”

Priestap suggested that the U.S. government mitigate the risk of potential espionage. “However, we must also make certain that, as we address the loopholes and vulnerabilities within our system, we do not simultaneously undermine the open, free, and fair principles that have made it thrive,” he testified.


Freedom of the seas

The Trump Administration in the tradition of the American state from its origins and backed by an even older but allied British modus operandi is pursuing freedom of the seas.

That was why the USS Stockdale (DDG-106) and USNS Pecos (T-AO-197), an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and a Henry Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler, sailed through the Taiwan Strait Wednesday, “Nov. 28 (local time), in accordance with what a U.S. spokesman called “a routine Taiwan Strait Transit on Nov. 28 (local time), in accordance with international law.”
However, the possibility of misunderstandings and accidents appears to continue at a high level due to the counterclaims of the U.S. and China to passageways in this area and others.

For example, the U.S. claims the Taiwan Strait, the channel between the Mainland and Taiwan Island, is an international waterway and therefore subject to transit by its ships at any time without permissions from China [or Taiwan].
Lt. J.G. Rachel McMarr, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson, told USNI News in an email: “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

Beijing, with its unrewarded claims on Taiwan sovereignty as part of China, routinely complains the U.S. military transits arguing sailing through the region infringes on China’s sovereignty. Along with the roughly 110-mile-wide Taiwan Strait, China also claims several reefs and artificial islands in the South China Sea as part of its sovereign territory, claims Washington says are not always supported by international law.

Earlier on Oct. 22, the two non-Chinese ships transited the Taiwan Strait with no incidents, according to Pentagon officials. But shortly after Chinese officials hinted they would defend their territory against expected future U.S. Navy transits of the Taiwan Strait. At the end of September, a Luyang-class destroyer had steamed on a near-collision-course with USS Decatur (DDG-73) as both ships traveled near the Gaven Reef. In this case, Decatur was finishing a Freedom of Navigation Operation in the area past some high-tide elevations.

“We have noticed related reports. China’s position on Taiwan and the South China Sea remains unchanged. The Chinese military’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty and regional peace and stability is rock-solid,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, the director general of the Information Office of Beijing’s Ministry of National Defense, said a month ago according to a state-issued English translation of his monthly press briefing. In this case, Decatur was finishing a Freedom of Navigation Operation in the area past some high-tide elevations.

The dispute about use of the waterways is only part of a continuing U.S.-China standoff on a number of issues. The relationship between the U.S. and China has become not only extensive but intense.

Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd, for example, is a Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics company based in Shenzhen, Guangdong with180,000 (2017) employees and with a net income‎ of ‎CN¥47.455 billion [US$7.276 billion].

Huawei provides networking products and telecommunication solutions to a wide group of customers outside China and including the U.S. and Canada. The Company researches and develops internet access, transmission network, servers, storage, security, and other networking products. It also offers business consulting, network integration, assurance, managed, learning, and global delivery services.

Despite President Trump’s statement that he might intervene in a criminal case against the chief financial officer of Huawei, who was arrested in Canada for deportation to the U.S., such a move would break from longstanding tradition and advisers have warned him that his options are limited, according to people familiar with the matter.

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.