Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Getting Personal in the UK

And you thought American politics were raucous.

The leader of the UK Independence Party has broken up with his girlfriend following revelations of her shocking comments about American actress Meghan Markle.

“I don’t defend these comments whatsoever,” UKIP leader Henry Bolton, 54, said on “Good Morning Britain” on Monday.

Bolton said the “romantic side” of his relationship with Jo Marney, a 25-year-old model, ended Sunday night after a “long and upsetting conversation” for both of them.

“At the moment it is obviously quite incompatible to continue the relationship,” he said. But “I’m going to be continuing to support her family because Jo is absolutely distraught by this.”

The split followed an uproar over Facebook messages Marney sent to a friend about Markle, who will marry Prince Harry this spring. Marney described Markle as a “dumb little commoner,” and called black people “ugly.” She also said Markle would “taint” the royal family and pave the way for a “black king.”

When a person responded to the comments by calling them racist, Marney answered: “So what?” the BBC reported.

DC Renames Street in Front of Russian Embassy

That’s some good trolling there.

Washington DC has renamed the street the Russian embassy sits on after a murdered Russian opposition politician.

The city council voted to rename the street outside Russia’s embassy complex after Boris Nemtsov, who was shot outside the Kremlin in 2015.

A statement from the council said the decision to honour the “slain democracy activist” passed unanimously.

Head of Revolutionary Guards Claims Opposition Has Been Crushed

I hope that this is an optimistic statement on his part.

The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has declared the defeat of the “sedition” in the country, referring to a wave of anti-government protests.

Maj Gen Mohammad Ali Jafari made the announcement as tens of thousands of people attended pro-government rallies called to counter the unrest.

It began last Thursday in the city of Mashhad and has seen 21 people killed.

The protests were initially against price rises and corruption, but turned to wider anti-government sentiment.

They have been the largest since the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Trump’s conservative record

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:

The closing of one year and opening of the next offers the opportunity to reflect and re-evaluate one’s preconceptions and biases. As a conservative who opposed President Donald Trump, I must admit that I have been very favorably surprised by his first year in office.

My reasons for opposing candidate Trump were simple, if heart wrenching. He is a man with a history of wretched character who rode a dangerous populist wave to the White House while shouting some empty conservative rhetoric. My worry was, and continues to be, that Trump will govern as a big-government populist and tear apart the conservative movement in the process. That may still come to be, but his accomplishments during his first year in office would be the envy of any would-be conservative president. For that, he deserves praise and thanks.

The most recent accomplishment was the monumental tax reform bill that Trump signed into law a couple of weeks ago. With the help of the Republican Congress, Trump has slashed the corporate tax rate to slightly below the worldwide average, cut and simplified the income tax for individuals, moved the U.S. to a territorial tax system, cut taxes for other businesses, eliminated the alternative minimum tax for businesses and scaled back the alternative minimum tax for individuals. Any one of those would have been a conservative victory.

That’s not all. The tax bill also repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate, which imposed an unconstitutional tax penalty for people who chose to not purchase health insurance. This was a key pillar that underpinned Obamacare and was a flash point in every debate about repealing Obamacare, but it passed in the tax bill with barely a protest.

Also in the tax bill was the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy development. This has been a goal for 30 years and it was finally done with barely a whimper of protest.

The passage of the tax reform law alone, with all of its provisions, would have been considered a massive accomplishment for any conservative president. That was merely the capstone of Trump’s tremendous year.

Trump and the Republican-led Senate set a record for appointing conservative federal judges. The most important was the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but he also appointed 18 other federal judges in his first year. Given how liberals challenge every piece of conservative legislation in federal court, filling the federal judiciary to a constitutionally conservative judges is critical to any long term reform.

In the area of federal regulations, where Trump has far more unilateral authority, he has made incredibly aggressive and sweeping conservative reforms. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency has been sharply pulled back into its constitutional cage, as have the Education Department, Health and Human Services, Federal Communications Commission, and many other regulatory agencies. Thousands of individual regulations have been repealed or reprioritized with the overriding objective of getting the federal government out of people’s lives.

Among those regulatory reforms were the FCC’s repeal of President Obama’s 2015 Net Neutrality regulation, which imposed stringent regulations on internet service providers in favor of Big Media and others. Also, Trump’s administration broke loose the intentional regulatory roadblocks of the Obama administration by approving projects like the Keystone Pipeline.

Trump held firm on his campaign promises to honor our veterans. The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act improved backlogs at VA facilities while other legislation improved overall access to healthcare and expanded educational opportunities for veterans.

In foreign affairs, Trump has reoriented our nation’s policies under the “America First” banner. Far from being the isolationist posture that many feared, Trump’s foreign policy is engaging and muscular. Trump has returned the U.S. to a more realpolitik foreign policy where our nation will act energetically to support our national interests and expects other nations to do the same.

To that end, Trump rightly pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accords and Trans-Pacific Partnership – both of which were designed to benefit other nations at the expense of America. Trump has taken a less appeasing stance toward tyrannical regimes in North Korea and Iran. He is finally fulfilling the rhetorical promises of his predecessors of both parties by moving America’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Trump also decertified the treacherous Iran deal where Obama gave Iran a path to nuclear arms and billions of dollars to get there in exchange for empty promises of peace.

Perhaps most impressive, if woefully downplayed by much of the media, was the defeat of the Islamic State. Under Obama, who called them the “JV team,” IS rose to power conquering a huge territory in Iraq and Syria. IS exported terrorism to the world while murdering Christians, Jews and anyone else in their reach who did not subscribe to their cruel ideology. Trump allowed the military the latitude to act without tactical permission from political agents in Washington and supported our allies in Iraq and elsewhere to act aggressively. The result is that after years of growing and spreading, IS has been largely defeated and pushed completely out of Iraq.

It would be easy to lament what could have been had a traditional conservative won the Republican primary, but debating alternative futures is the realm of fiction authors. Trump’s record of conservative reforms is impressive as it stands. Let us hope that he can maintain pace and direction of reform in 2018.

Iran Erupting

It’s probably too much to hope for, but let’s hope that they people of Iran can cast aside the oppressive yoke of Islamic fundamentalism.

Anti-government protests have continued in Iran for a third day, with reports of demonstrations in many cities despite warnings from authorities.

At Tehran University, protesters called for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and there were clashes with police.

Demonstrators ignored the interior minister’s warning that citizens should avoid “illegal gatherings”.

Meanwhile, thousands of pro-government demonstrators turned out for rallies.

These official rallies were organised in advance of the anti-government protests, to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of major street protests in 2009.

The current protests began in the north-east on Thursday over living standards and by Friday had spread to several major cities.

Audio Dead Hand

Curious.

It is thought to be the headquarters of a radio station, “MDZhB”, that no-one has ever claimed to run. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the last three-and-a-half decades, it’s been broadcasting a dull, monotonous tone. Every few seconds it’s joined by a second sound, like some ghostly ship sounding its foghorn. Then the drone continues.

Once or twice a week, a man or woman will read out some words in Russian, such as “dinghy” or “farming specialist”. And that’s it. Anyone, anywhere in the world can listen in, simply by tuning a radio to the frequency 4625 kHz.

[…]

There’s no shortage of theories to explain what the Buzzer might be for – ranging from keeping in touch with submarines to communing with aliens. One such idea is that it’s acting as a “Dead Hand” signal; in the event Russia is hit by a nuclear attack, the drone will stop and automatically trigger a retaliation. No questions asked, just total nuclear obliteration on both sides.

U.S. to Cut U.N. Funding by 25%

Excellent.

The U.S. government says it has negotiated a significant cut in the United Nations budget.

The U.S. Mission to the United Nations said on Sunday that the U.N.’s 2018-2019 budget would be slashed by over $285 million. The mission said reductions would also be made to the U.N.’s management and support functions.

The announcement didn’t make clear the entire amount of the budget or specify what effect the cut would have on the U.S. contribution.

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said that the “inefficiency and overspending” of the organization is well-known, and she would not let “the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of.”

She also said that while the mission was pleased with the results of budget negotiations, it would continue to “look at ways to increase the U.N.’s efficiency? while protecting our interests.”

The U.N. continues to have some value in coordinating specific international efforts, but the American taxpayers should only be funding it to the extent that it bolsters our national efforts at peace and stability in the world.

A Look at America’s Foreign Aid

This site provides a wonderful engine and dashboard for drilling down into our nation’s foreign aid by country, agency, etc. Check it out.

aid

Separatist Parties Win Strong Majority in Catalonia

Despite what the Spanish government wants, the Catalans want their own country.

(CNN)Voters in the Spanish region of Catalonia have backed pro-independence parties in elections, dealing a major blow to Madrid, which has been desperate to quell the separatist movement.

The Spanish government had called the early vote in the hope of having a more moderate Catalan administration to deal with. The previous one held an illegal referendum to secede from Spain and its MPs then declared unilateral independence, triggering the country’s worst political crisis in decades.
But Madrid’s hopes were clearly dashed. With more than 99% of the vote counted, no single party gained an outright majority but the three separatist parties together took 70 seats. They needed 68 to keep their grip on the 135-seat Parliament.

Christmas Fit for a King

It’s good to be the king.

Henry VIII spent almost an entire year’s tax revenue celebrating Christmas in the first year of his reign, National Archive files reveal.

Expenses for 1509 show the 19-year-old king spent the equivalent of £13.5m on a series of lavish events. Total revenue for the year was £16.5m.

The money went on food, entertainment and gifts – including generous individual presents for staff.

Beneficiaries included choir boys, musicians, actors and servants.

The king paid his blind court poet, Master Bernard André, £5 – the equivalent of £2,400 in today’s money, and another £1, now £483, to a woman who brought a perfumed ball to the palace residences to keep the air fresh.

One goldsmith was also offered £83 for gifts by the monarch, worth £41,000 in the present day economy.

North Korea Behind WannaCry Attack

Not surprising, but outrageous nonetheless.

North Korea was behind the massive “WannaCry” cyberattack in May that spread around the world costing billions of dollars, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert announced in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Monday.

In the article, entitled, “It’s Official: North Korea Is Behind WannaCry,” Bossert wrote that the Hermit Kingdom was the main culprit behind the May 2017 global cyberattack in which computers running Windows were targeted. During the infamous attack, data were encrypted and ransom payment, in the form of bitcoin, was demanded of users if they wanted their data back.

“Cybersecurity isn’t easy, but simple principles still apply. Accountability is one, cooperation another,” Bossert’s op-ed read. “They are the cornerstones of security and resilience in any society. In furtherance of both, and after careful investigation, the U.S. today publicly attributes the massive ‘WannaCry’ cyber attack to North Korea.”

Report: Obama Administration Sabotaged Effort to Stop Hezbollah Drug Smuggling

It is clear that in the Obama Administration, everything took a back seat to Obama’s domestic political concerns.

Barack Obama‘s administration has been accused of sabotaging an operation to stop Hezbollah smuggling drugs into the US so that a nuclear deal with Iran could proceed.

In a stunning exposé by Politico, the former US President’s officials are said to have opened the door for trafficking and money laundering operations.

The Drug Enforcement Administration led a complex venture called Project Cassandra to tackle the criminality of the Lebanese militant group.

But it is claimed Obama’s people threw down a number of roadblocks, effectively paving the way for Hezbollah’s illegal activities.

DEA agents claim the Obama administration stopped them arresting key figures linked to Hezbollah as an agreement on the Iran nuclear deal approached – and scrapped Project Cassandra entirely once the terms were agreed.

Tillerson Ready to Talk to North Korea

This is a change.

Washington (CNN)Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US is ready to talk with North Korea without preconditions.

“We’ve said from the diplomatic side, we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on Tuesday, in what amounted to a direct public invitation for North Korea to put aside an escalating cycle of tests and taunts and engage in diplomacy.
“We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition,” Tillerson said. “Let’s just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards.”

Russia Pulls Out of Syria

Tyranny lives to see another day.

Vladimir Putin has said Russia will withdraw the bulk of its forces from Syria following the “successful intervention” in the conflict there.

The announcement comes after the defence ministry said last week that Russia had “completely liberated” Syria from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), despite reports that the terrorist group still controls some remote territory there.

Speaking to soldiers at Russia’s Khmeimim airbase during his first trip to Syria, where he was welcomed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Mr Putin said he was ordering the defence minister and head of the general staff to begin withdrawing Russian forces to their home bases.

“In two-and-a-half years, Russia’s military along with the Syrian army have defeated the most battle-worthy gang of international terrorists,” Mr Putin said. “In connection with this, I’ve made the decision that a significant part of the Russian military contingent located in the Syrian Arab Republic will return home to Russia.”

The notable thing about Putin’s quote is that he doesn’t even pretend anymore that he isn’t the totalist dictator of Russia.

Terror Attack in New York

These kind of IS-inspired attacks have become the normal.

A man is being held after an attempted terror attack at New York City’s main bus terminal, officials say.

“Terrorists won’t win,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said after a blast at the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan during the morning rush hour on Monday.

The suspect, named as Akayed Ullah, 27, was wounded when a “low-tech explosive device” strapped to his body blew up in an underpass, officials say.

“President Maduro insists the Venezuelan system is entirely trustworthy.”

Uh huh.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, says the country’s main opposition parties are banned from taking part in next year’s presidential election.

He said only parties which took part in Sunday’s mayoral polls would be able to contest the presidency.

Leaders from the Justice First, Popular Will and Democratic Action parties boycotted the vote and said the electoral system is biased.

President Maduro insists the Venezuelan system is entirely trustworthy.

IS Pushed Completely Out of Iraq

Good news!

(CNN)The Iraqi military has “fully liberated” all of Iraq’s territory of “ISIS terrorist gangs” and retaken full control of the Iraqi-Syrian border, it said Saturday in a statement.

“Our heroic armed forces have now secured the entire length of the Iraq-Syria border,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said on his Twitter account. “We defeated Daesh (ISIS) through our unity and sacrifice for the nation. Long live Iraq and its people.”

Trump to Move Israeli Embassy to Capital

In compliance with U.S. law… The whole point of an embassy is to be near the seat of government of the other nation. It wouldn’t make sense for the Israelis to have their embassy in St. Louis.

(CNN)President Donald Trump outlined his intentions to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in a call with President Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday according to Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

The Palestinians said that Abbas warned Trump in the call against the dangers of such a step and added that he would continue reaching out to world leaders to prevent it from happening. Neither the White House nor the Palestinians offered details on the timing of an embassy move, which previous administrations have delayed indefinitely.
Despite strong pushback from US allies and concerns about the safety of US military and diplomatic personnel in the region, Trump is insisting that he fulfill campaign promises about Jerusalem.
Previous US presidents have pledged to move the embassy from Tel Aviv, in accordance with US law, but have used waivers to delay the shift in recognition of the thorny problems such a move would create.

U.S. Withdraws from U.N. Immigration Compact

Good! It’s not about the policies. It’s about who gets to decide the policies. We should not be outsourcing our sovereignty to international bodies that do not have America’s interests at heart.

Continuing his “America First” approach to foreign policy, President Donald Trump has pulled the U.S. out of a United Nations compact seeking global cooperation to protect the safety and rights of refugees and migrants.

Trump’s decision to end America’s “participation in the Global Compact on Migration” was disclosed on Saturday by the U.S. Mission to the U.N. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., explained in a statement that the pact’s “global approach” was “simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.”

“[O]ur decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country,” Haley said.

North Korea Launches Another Missile

The most powerful yet.

North Korea said that the intercontinental ballistic missile it launched earlier today is a new, nuclear-capable weapon that could reach the entire continental U.S.

State television said Wednesday the new ICBM — which it called a Hwasong 15 — was “significantly more” powerful than the previous long-range ICBM the North tested.

The Hwasong 15 reached an altitude of 2,800 miles, making it the highest North Korean missile test to date, two U.S. officials confirmed.

It traveled for an estimated 50 minutes, the longest of the country’s missile flights, an official said.

Nukes? Check.

ICBM? Check.

Nuke small enough to launch? TBD.

Threat to U.S. and allies? Check.