Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Trump Speaks at the United Nations

You can read the entire transcript at this link. I highly encourage you to do so. It’s a remarkable speech that defines a new era in American foreign policy – the Trump Doctrine. Most of Trump’s positions, if not the manner in which he expressed them, would have been perfectly understood and agreed with when the UN was founded. Trump hearkens back to the age of muscular internationalism that American foreign policy rested upon from FDR to Reagan.

I’m a big fan of the Trump Doctrine and think that the president struck the right message and tone in his speech. Welcome back, America.

Cashless in Somaliland

I’ve wondered about the slow adoption of this technology in America. Apparently, we just need to rapidly devalue our currency to encourage people.

No cash is transferred, and there’s not a credit card in sight. But customers haven’t got their daily khat fix for free; they’ve paid using their mobiles, transferring money on the sandy Somali street in seconds with little more than a mobile phone and a few numbers.

There are not many things tiny Somaliland can claim to be a world leader in, but cashless payments might be one.

Cashless Somalia

One US dollar equals 9,000 Somliland shillings – the currency is so devalued, shoppers wander markets with wads of the paper money thrown in their bags (Credit: AFP/Simon Maina)

The self-declared country, which broke away from Somalia in 1991 but remains unrecognised by the international community, has become something of a wild frontier for cashless payments as it charts a trajectory towards creating the world’s first cashless society.

Whether in a shack on the side of a road or a supermarket in the capital of Hargeisa, mobile payments are fast becoming the standard in the country.

There are not many things tiny Somaliland can claim to be a world leader in, but cashless payments might be one

“Most people are paying by mobile now,” Omar says, as he processes a payment on his mobile in one hand. “It’s so much easier.”

While developed and developing countries alike have been moving toward cashless payments with phones or contactless cards, Somaliland’s motivation is unique.

This shift away from cash is in part due to the rapid devaluing of the Somaliland shilling, the breakaway republic’s own currency which now trades at around 1 USD to 9,000 shillings. A few years ago it was just half that.

North Korea Claims to Have Tested Hydrogen Bomb

Whoa

What’s happened: North Korea claims it’s successfully tested a hydrogen bomb for its intercontinental ballistic missile. This is the country’s sixth test of a nuclear weapon and the first since US President Trump came to office.

What do we know about it: Initial data suggests this is the most powerful weapon the country has ever tested. It caused a 6.3-magnitude tremor in the country’s northeast.

What’s the reaction been: US President Donald Trump said North Korea’s actions were “hostile and dangerous.” South Korea said it will seek to “completely isolate” North Korea, while China urged Pyongyang to “stop taking wrong actions.” Russia said the test “deserves the strongest condemnation.”

If true, this is a significant next step on their progression.

Americans Attacked in Cuba

There are casualties from Cuba’s attacks.

(CNN)The State Department announced Friday that incidents of acoustic attacks on US diplomats in Havana, Cuba, which have led to a variety of serious medical symptoms, continued until as recently as last month.

“As we’ve said previously, an investigation into the incidents is ongoing, and we revise our assessments as we receive new information,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “We can confirm another incident which occurred last month and is now part of the investigation.”
“Based on continued assessments of personnel, there are now 19 confirmed U.S. government personnel who have been affected,” she added, updating her previous count of “at least 16 US government employees.”
Last week, Nauert said the incidents, which began in late 2016, appeared to have ceased.

Mark Green Takes New Role

It’s good to see a good guy doing good things.

WASHINGTON – Roughly a decade after his Wisconsin political career came to an unwelcome end, Mark Green said he’s happy to be watching politics from the outside —in the “cheap seats.”

“These are interesting times to be in politics. I am delighted to be in a nonpolitical” role, said Green, who was picked by President Donald Trump to be his top foreign aid official and assumed the job in early August. He is currently making his first foreign trip in that role, traveling to Sudan and Ethiopia.

A former GOP state legislator, Green Bay congressman and losing candidate for governor in 2006, Green is the new administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It’s the latest stop in a second government career that began in 2007 with the ambassadorship to Tanzania and has been devoted largely to diplomacy and global challenges such as disease and poverty.

As Green suggests, his new job is about as far away from partisan politics as it gets in a presidential administration — overseeing U.S. humanitarian aid and development programs.

Show Trials Begin in Venezuela

The purges are coming.

Venezuela’s new constituent assembly has unanimously voted to put opposition leaders on trial for treason.

The assembly said it would pursue those it accuses of supporting US economic sanctions against the country.

Washington approved the measures last week in response to what it called the “dictatorship” of President Nicolás Maduro.

President Maduro has accused the US of trying to cripple Venezuela’s economy amid an ongoing economic crisis.

US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on 25 August to ban trade in Venezuelan debt or the sale of bonds from its state oil company.

His reasons included “serious abuses of human rights” as well as the creation of the “illegitimate” constituent assembly, which the US accuses of usurping the democratically elected parliament.

Sword-Yielding Prius Driver Attacks Police

Yikes.

A man arrested outside Buckingham Palace armed with a 4ft sword repeatedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” as police struggled to subdue him, Scotland Yard has said.

Three unarmed officers were injured – two receiving cuts to their hands – while detaining the man just after 8.30pm on Friday. Police are treating the incident as suspected terrorism.

Scotland Yard said the man drove at a police van just outside Buckingham Palace in a blue Toyota Prius, and stopped in front of it.

Botched Espionage May Be to Blame for Injured American Diplomats

Hmmmm… it is possible that the Cubans may be 1950’s technology.

An outbreak of hearing loss and other health problems affecting at least 16 employees at the US embassy in Havana could have been caused by an electronic surveillance operation that went wrong, former intelligence officials said on Friday.

The state department said it was investigating the outbreak, and that some of the worst affected diplomats had been evacuated to Miami for examination and treatment.

“This is something that we have not experienced in the past,” Heather Nauert, the department’s spokeswoman, said. “We are working very hard to try to take care of our folks who are there on official duty – and trying to provide them all the care and the treatment and the support that they would need.”

Earlier this months, US officials had said the symptoms appeared to have resulted from a covert sonic device. But Nauert said on Thursday no device nor any perpetrator had yet been found and that Cuba was cooperating with the US investigation.

The US asked two Cuban diplomats to leave in May, after American embassy officials were forced to leave Cuba because of serious symptoms. But the Cuban diplomats were not banned from returning, as normally happens in expulsions linked to espionage, and the US has so far not explicitly blamed the Castro government.

Japan Applies Pressure on North Korea

It looks like our allies are following America’s lead in applying pressure to North Korea’s enablers.

Tokyo (AFP) – Japan said Friday it will impose fresh sanctions on North Korea by freezing the assets of Chinese and Namibian firms doing business with the nuclear-armed state.

The move against a half dozen organisations and a couple of individuals comes days after Washington expanded its own punitive measures against Chinese and Russian firms, as well as people linked to Pyongyang.

The US move drew an angry response from Beijing, North Korea’s key ally, while Japanese media said Friday that Namibia has been tightening its links to the North in recent years.

“We will continue to make strong calls (for North Korea) to take actions toward denuclearisation,” Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

“Now is the time to apply pressure,” he added.

The sanctions are aimed at disrupting the flow of cash funding North Korean weapons programmes, which are in violation of United Nations resolutions.

North Korea “Accidentally” Reveals New Missile Systems

They have reverted to more subtle threats.

North Korea appears to have revealed details of two as-yet untested missile systems in its press coverage of a factory inspection by the country’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Photographs released by KCNA state news agency to go with a report on Mr Kim’s visit to a facility at the Academy of Defence Sciences facility show wall charts describing the missiles, called Hwasong-13 and Pukguksong-3.

Hwasong-13 appears to be a three-stage ICBM (Inter Continental Ballistic Missile), while the chart showing Pukguksong-3, although largely obscured by officials, is an Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM).

It’s not the first time that North Korea has “accidentally” left details of important developments in the background of photo-shoots, and this is seen by analysts as a means of showing off its military power or sending messages to its foes.

Warships Hacked?

This appears to be speculation, but it is curious that this has happened twice in such a short time. Could someone be probing?

A top admiral has said that the US Navy will ‘consider’ whether two fatal collisions this summer could have been the result of a cyber attack.

Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said on Monday that there were ‘no indications right now’ that the two ships were hacked, but added investigators ‘will consider all possibilities’.

The shocking possibility emerged as the Navy ordered a broad investigation into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet.

Early Monday, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 American sailors missing and several others injured.

It was the second major collision in the last two months involving the Navy’s 7th Fleet, after seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan on June 17.

Trump Announces Afghanistan Policy

I’d rather get in or get out. I’m glad to be moving away from a static policy.

President Donald Trump has said a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan would leave a vacuum for terrorists to fill.

He said his original instinct was to pull US forces out, but had instead decided to stay and “fight to win” – avoiding the mistakes made in Iraq.

He said he wanted to shift from a time-based approach in Afghanistan to one based on conditions on the ground and said he would not set out deadlines.

However, the US president warned it was not a “blank cheque”.

“America will work with the Afghan government, so long as we see commitment and progress,” he said.

Mr Trump also warned Pakistan that the US would no longer tolerate the country offering “safe havens” to extremists, saying the country had “much to lose” if it did not side with the Americans.

“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars – at the same time they are housing the very terrorists that we are fighting,” he said.

He also said the US would seek a stronger partnership with India.

Venezuelan Tyrant Tightens Fist

Tyrants doing what tyrants do.

On Thursday, the opposition accused the government Thursday of persecution after the supreme court this week sentenced two of its mayors to 15 months in prison for not preventing anti-government protests. Both were also barred from holding public office.

The verdict brought to 23 the number of mayors targeted by legal action, according to the opposition.

“Is this the peace that Maduro is talking about?” said Gerardo Blyde, another mayor who is the target of a legal investigation.

The Constituent Assembly has already sacked the attorney general, a Maduro appointee-turned-critic who opposed its creation as unconstitutional.

The developments fuelled tensions that have been flaring in Venezuela for the past four months. Nearly 130 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces.

The protests have lost steam in the past week as security forces have stepped up repression and demonstrators have grown discouraged by the opposition’s failure to bring about change.

Milk Shortage in Europe

This is a fascinating study of a market correcting after years of government control.

Here’s the basic story:

Overproduction was a problem in the EU’s early days too, until the Commission in 1984 brought in milk quotas — caps — as a way of stabilizing ballooning production. A wave of market-oriented reforms in EU agricultural policy over years committed the bloc to ending them. In 2003, the Commission said it would lift milk quotas in 2015 — in theory leaving farmers ample time to adjust their business models.

But geopolitical events wrecked those best-laid plans. By the end of the quota system in March 2015, the Russian food embargo — retaliation for EU sanctions enacted after the annexation of Crimea — had already been in place for five months.

Russia bought 13 percent of EU milk exports before the ban, according to Commission data. For milk products such as cheese and butter, the EU’s stake in the Russian market was far higher: The country bought 32 percent of EU-produced cheese, and 24 percent of butter, before the ban.

“A huge market … was literally wiped off the grid,” European Council of Young Farmers President Alan Jagoe said. “It turned a problem into a crisis.”

Almost simultaneously, the U.S. shale-gas boom accelerated oil production and triggered a decline in crude-oil prices. In a remarkable example of economic interconnection, this has a major effect on milk yields. Animal feed costs fall with dropping crude oil prices, said David O’Neil, director of dairy commodity trading house Dansko Foods, and low feed costs encourage farmers to add use more feed — which leads to larger milk yields.

“The flip side of this is that the major oil-producing countries have less buying power as their GDP falls, therefore they buy and consume less dairy products,” O’Neil said. “This leads to an oversupply, lower-demand scenario which leads to a lower milk price.”

That story was from last year. Since then, many milk producers have exited the market (by choice or otherwise) and there is a shortage:

The EU would go on to intervene in the market, but many dairy farmers went out of business. Over 1,000 stopped production in the U.K. alone, according to Moreau.

The looming shortage

The next worry is a shortage of butter in Europe.

Butter production slumped 5% in the year to May 2017. Meanwhile, butter stockpiles have plunged 98% in a year, according to the European Commission’s Milk Observatory.

“While supplies remain tight and demand has increased, there has been a shortage of butter in the EU, causing prices to soar as buyers try to lock into contracts to obtain stocks,” said Michael Liberty, dairy market analyst at Mintec.

Peder Tuborgh, CEO of U.K. dairy giant Arla, warned the BBC last month that there might not be enough milk and cream to go around at Christmas.

Unfortunately, these kind of wild swings are normal as a market adjusts from one of central control to more free market. If left alone, it will continue to take more, but increasingly smaller swings until it reaches equilibrium. In the meantime, can Wisconsin export some butter to the EU? There’s a market opportunity there.

North Korea Rattles Its Saber (Again)

Yikes.

North Korea says it is considering missile strikes on the US Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury”.

The North’s official news agency said it was mulling a plan to fire medium-to-long-range rockets at Guam, where US strategic bombers are based.

The statement marks a sharp rise in rhetoric between the two countries.

The UN recently approved further economic sanctions against the country.

President Trump’s comments followed a media report that claimed the North had made a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles.

This development, while not confirmed, was seen as one of the last obstacles to North Korea being a fully nuclear armed state.

Why is it that when the UN does something, the US gets threatened?

China Flexes Muscles

While China has liberalized economically in the past few decades, we can’t forget that it is a totalitarian communist state that is built on repression.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his troops ‘a strong army is needed now more than ever’ during a huge military parade

XI, wearing military clothing, warned the ‘world isn’t safe at this moment’ as he watched the display at Zhurihe Training Base in China’s remote Inner Mongolia region.

Among the terrifying weapons on display was China‘s Chengdu J-20 stealth jet fighter as well as its new DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missile. The rocket is mounted on an all-terrain vehicle to make it harder to track.

The event, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, was at Asia’s largest military training centre which features life-size mock-up targets, including Taiwan’s presidential palace.

It came as a number of the world’s superpowers flexed their muscles in massive parades to showcase their military strength.

Tyranny Wins (as expected) in Venezuela

It doesn’t matter what the turnout in a sham election was.

Electoral officials in Venezuela say turnout in the controversial election for a constituent assembly was 41.5%, a figure disputed by the opposition.

The opposition coalition said 88% of voters abstained and it refused to recognise the election. It also called for more protests on Monday.

Sunday’s election was marred by violence, with widespread protests and at least 10 people killed.

President Nicolás Maduro hailed the poll as a “vote for the revolution”.

Scooter Crime Grips London

Hmmm… this sounds strangely familiar.

Offences involving scooters and mopeds have rocketed in London, but the epidemic is yet to spread to the rest of the UK.

[…]

There are two parts to the crime wave – the theft of the scooters themselves and the offences for which they are used.

The Met says that between July 2016 and June 2017 there were 14,943 thefts of “powered two-wheel vehicles”, the vast majority of which were scooters.

The total represents more than 50% of all vehicles stolen in London and is up almost 30% on the previous year.

[…]

Dr Harding says although some stolen scooters are stripped for parts or shipped abroad (the average value of each machine stolen is estimated to be £3,000) the main attraction for the gangs is the ability to use them to carry out drug deals and commit other crimes – sometimes as many as 10 in the space of an hour.

The number of such offences recorded by police in London has more than trebled in a year.

[…]

An officer embarking on a car chase with criminals on a scooter has to seek authorisation from their control room. A tactical adviser will be on hand and the operation will be overseen by a chief inspector. They will weigh up the risks of the pursuit against the seriousness of the offence of which the rider is suspected.

Police will consider if the suspect might be a danger to the public and if they are on their way to carry out more crimes, as well as conditions on the road – the weather, the time of day and whether there is a lot of other traffic.

So London has a police policy that makes chasing scooters almost impossible, so the crooks have taken to stealing them and using them to commit other crimes. Sounds a lot like Milwaukee, eh? It’s amazing how human behavior stays consistent regardless of which side of the pond we’re on.

Venezuelan Dictator Consolidates Power with Another Sham Vote

Socialism in action.

Caracas, Venezuela (CNN)After weeks of street clashes and tension, Venezuelans started casting ballots Sunday in a poll that could mark a stark turning point for the country.

The vote would allow President Nicolás Maduro to replace the current legislative body, the National Assembly, with an entirely new institution known as the Constituent Assembly.
Experts say the outcome is a foregone conclusion: Maduro will be able to consolidate political power.
Polls opened at 6 a.m. ET Sunday, with nearly 380,000 troops guarding voting stations, and close at 6 p.m., according to a government release.
Maduro’s administration has deemed any protests illegal, threatening anyone who defies the no-protest order with up to 10 years in prison.

Saudis Thwart Missle Attack on Mecca

I assume that’s an American made missile defense system.

Saudi Arabia has accused Yemeni rebels of attempting to throw into disarray the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca after a missile fired by the Iran-backed Houthis was intercepted south of Islam’s holiest city.

The Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after Houthis stormed the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, called the attack “a desperate attempt by Shiite Houthi rebels to disrupt Hajj.” The annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Kabaa, the most revered site in Islam, begins at the end of August.

The ballistic missile was intercepted 43 miles south of Mecca. It is not the first time the rebels have fired in the direction of the city. The AFP reported in October that the Houthis launched a long-range strike firing on Mecca.