Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Greece Emerges From Bailout Plan

Be careful out there, folks. The Greeks can borrow again.

Greece has successfully completed a three-year eurozone emergency loan programme worth €61.9bn (£55bn; $70.8bn) to tackle its debt crisis.

It was part of the biggest bailout in global financial history, totalling some €289bn, which will take the country decades to repay.

Deeply unpopular cuts to public spending, a condition of the bailout, are set to continue.

But for the first time in eight years, Greece can borrow at market rates.

[…]

The economy has grown slowly in recent years and is still 25% smaller than when the crisis began.

[…]

While Greece’s economy has stabilised, its accumulated debt pile stands at about 180% of GDP.

As an American in a country with a $21 trillion national debt, I should really resist the urge to cast stones. Glass houses and whatnot.

As a side note in relation to the post below about the upcoming school referendum in West Bend, the district currently spends about $70.5 million per year from the general fund and another $26.5 million per year from other funds. Total, that’s about $97 million per year. If we equate the school spending budget (economic output) to GDP, then the current debt load for the district is about 134% of annual budget. If the referendum passes, the total debt load for the district will be about 222% of annual budget. Smart? No.

Imam Preached Jihad to Manchester Suicide Bomber

One might be concerned with this

An imam at the mosque where Manchester Arena bomber Salman Abedi and his family prayed was delivered a sermon calling for jihad.

Mustafa Graf encouraged followers to ‘take action’ at the Didsbury Mosque in Manchester on December 16, 2016.

That was just six months before Salman Abedi detonated a suicide bomb killing 22 at an Ariana Grande concert in the city.

Muslim Woman Wins Judgement for Not Shaking Hands

It really annoys me when stuff like this has to go to a court when common decency and understanding should prevail.

A Muslim woman in Sweden has won compensation after her job interview was ended when she refused a handshake.

Farah Alhajeh was applying for a job as an interpreter when she declined to shake the hand of a male interviewer for religious reasons.

She placed her hand over her heart in greeting instead.

The Swedish labour court ruled the company had discriminated against her and ordered it to pay 40,000 kronor ($4,350; £3,420) in compensation.

Some Muslims avoid physical contact with members of the opposite sex, except for those in their immediate family.

[…]

The interpreting company in the town of Uppsala had argued that its staff were required to treat men and women equally and could not allow a staff member to refuse a handshake based on gender.

But the discrimination ombudsman said she had tried to avoid upsetting anyone by placing her hand over her heart when greeting both men and women.

Sweden’s labour court found the company was justified in demanding equal treatment for both sexes – but not in demanding that it be in the form of a handshake only.

The Muslim tradition of avoiding physical contact with strangers of the opposite sex is well-known and perfectly fine. Some Christian, Jewish, and other religions have the same cultural quirk. And it’s fine… who cares? She woman in the case didn’t make a big deal about it and offered a perfectly reasonable alternative greeting. How many thousands of kronors were wasted to tell everyone in the case to “just don’t be a jerk”?

Strange Russian Satellite

Hmmm

But now the U.S. is voicing concerns and claiming that threat is very real — pointing in particular to a Russian satellite’s “very abnormal behavior.”

The satellite, launched in October 2017, has displayed behavior “inconsistent with anything seen before from” the kind of satellite Russia has said it is, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Yleem D.S. Poblete.

Instead, without saying it outright, Poblete implied that the object could be a weapon, but said the U.S. cannot know for sure.

“We don’t know for certain what it is, and there is no way to verify it,” Poblete said yesterday in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Conference on Disarmament. Poblete was speaking before the international body for negotiating arms control to express the U.S.’s “serious concerns” about Russia’s push to launch weapons in space, especially anti-satellite weapons that can target satellites that the U.S. relies on for business, scientific and military purposes.

New Zealand Bans Foreigners From Buying Most Real Estate

Interesting.

The country’s parliament on Wednesday passed a law banning foreigners from buying into most parts of its residential property market as the government seeks to cool red-hot house prices.

The Overseas Investment Amendment Bill will prevent overseas investors from purchasing existing properties in New Zealand, but they will still be able to buy into new apartment complexes and certain other parts of the housing market.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned on a promise to clamp down on foreign buyers, blaming them for soaring prices that have left many New Zealanders unable to enter the property market.

[…]

Most foreign buyers in New Zealand don’t state where they’re from, official data shows, but the majority of those who do are from China.

New Zealand has also proved to be a popular retreat for the rich and famous. Billionaire investor Peter Thiel and disgraced former NBC host Matt Lauer both own properties in the country.

The Chinese, in particular, are buying property all over the world – especially in America.

Why?

Thanks to their booming economy, there are a lot of Chinese people who have a lot of money. But they still live in a totalitarian regime where their assets can be seized or they can be cast out at any time. There is no real protection for private property in China. So what do you do if you are a wealthy Chinese businessman and you don’t want your assets to evaporate by the whim of a dictator? You buy property in other countries that protect private property. That way, if something happens in China, at least you still have a pot of gold buried somewhere for your family.

Drone Attack on Venezuelan President

Watch for the inevitable crackdown on his opponents.

Venezuelan officials say explosive drones went off as President Nicolás Maduro was giving a live televised speech in Caracas, but he is unharmed.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez said this was an attempt on Mr Maduro’s life, and seven soldiers were injured.

Mr Maduro was seen speaking at an outdoor military event when he and others suddenly looked upwards – startled. The audio then went.

Dozens of soldiers were seen running away before the broadcast was cut off.

Venezuela’s NTN24 TV channel later posted footage which showed the moment Mr Marudo’s speech was cut short and the ensuing chaos.

Russia Appoints Steven Segal

Wait… what?

Washington (CNN)Russia appointed actor Steven Seagal as a “special representative” on US-Russian humanitarian ties, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in statement on its official Facebook page Saturday.

According to the statement, the action star’s role will be to promote US-Russia relations “in the humanitarian sphere,” adding that the role will include collaboration “in the sphere of culture, public and youth exchanges.”

Tariff War Escalates

Make it stop!

China has announced plans to put tariffs of up to 25% on US products worth $60 billion, the latest salvo in an escalating trade war.

The Chinese government said Friday that it would impose duties of 25%, 20%, 10% and 5% on the products if the Trump administration follows through on threats to tax $200 billion of Chinese goods.

Do you know who wins tariff wars? Government. Tariffs are just another outflow of cash from consumers to government. Meanwhile, consumers and our economy suffers.

Russian Spy Uncovered

Yikes.

US counter-intelligence investigators discovered a suspected Russian spy had been working undetected in the heart of the American embassy in Moscow for more than a decade, the Guardian has learned.

The Russian national had been hired by the US Secret Service and is understood to have had access to the agency’s intranet and email systems, which gave her a potential window into highly confidential material including the schedules of the president and vice-president.

The woman had been working for the Secret Service for years before she came under suspicion in 2016 during a routine security sweep conducted by two investigators from the US Department of State’s Regional Security Office (RSO).

The Guardian has been told the RSO sounded the alarm in January 2017, but the Secret Service did not launch a full-scale inquiry of its own. Instead it decided to let her go quietly months later, possibly to contain any potential embarrassment.

An intelligence source told the Guardian the woman was dismissed last summer after the state department revoked her security clearance. The dismissal came shortly before a round of expulsions of US personnel demanded by the Kremlin after Washington imposed more sanctions on the country.

North Korea Works on New ICBMs

Well, I was hopeful that there was progress. Perhaps not. I am, however, skeptical of “unnamed US officials.”

North Korea appears to be building new ballistic missiles despite recent warming ties with the Trump administration and pledges to denuclearise, reports say.

Unnamed US officials told the Washington Post that spy satellites had spotted continuing activity at a site that has produced ballistic missiles.

Reuters quotes an official as saying it is unclear how far the work has gone.

 

India Identifies Illegal Aliens

Meanwhile in India

India has published a list which effectively strips about four million people in the north-eastern state of Assam of their citizenship.

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a list of people who can prove they came to the state by 24 March 1971, a day before neighbouring Bangladesh declared independence.

India says the process is needed to identify illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

[…]

Siddhartha Bhattacharya, Assam’s law minister and a member of the BJP, is in no doubt about the fate of those who have been rejected.

“Everyone will be given a right to prove their citizenship,” he told the BBC. “But if they fail to do so, well, the legal system will take its own course.”

That, Mr Bhattacharya clarified, would mean expulsion from India.

At present, correspondents say, that seems little more than a threat aimed at whipping up Hindu support for the BJP ahead of elections.

No deportation procedures have been put in place, and Bangladesh, already burdened by the Rohingya crisis, has shown no sign of being open to accepting a raft of new refugees.

Taliban Hold Peace Talks with US

According to them.

The Taliban held their first direct contact with a US official in a preliminary discussion about future peace talks on Afghanistan, a senior member of the insurgent group claimed on Saturday.

If correct, it marked one of the most significant developments amid efforts to find a negotiated end to the country’s protracted war.

The Taliban source described as ‘useful’ a meeting with Alice Wells, America’s top diplomat for South Asia, earlier this week.

One can hope.

Trump Swings and Misses

This was not a good day for American foreign policy.

After face-to-face talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said there had been no reason for Russia to meddle in the vote.

Mr Putin reiterated that Russia had never interfered in US affairs.

The two men held nearly two hours of closed-door talks in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.

At a news conference after the summit, President Trump was asked if he believed his own intelligence agencies or the Russian president when it came to the allegations of meddling in the elections.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he replied.

US intelligence agencies concluded in 2016 that Russia was behind an effort to tip the scale of the US election against Hillary Clinton, with a state-authorised campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories planted on social media.

In a strongly-worded statement, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mr Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally”.

Of course, we don’t know what was accomplished in private yet, but the public outcome of Trump’s meeting with Putin left a lot to be desired.

Deaths by Scorpions on Rise

In Brazil.

Specialists in Brazil have warned of the rising danger of deadly scorpions amid a spiraling number of reported deaths and stings by the hardy arachnids which are proliferating in the country’s urban centres.

The number of deaths from scorpion stings reported to the country’s public health system has more than doubled in the past four years, from 70 in 2013 to 184 in 2017, while cases of scorpion stings rose from 37,000 in 2007 to 126,000 last year.

Meanwhile, the death last week of a four-year old girl in São Paulo state has reinforced concerns that many small towns lack anti-venom to treat stings.

Feinstein Not Liberal Enough for Californian Dems

Who thought we would see the day that Feinstein would anchor the right wing of her party.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The California Democratic Party snubbed U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Saturday by handing its official endorsement and a badly needed boost to state Sen. Kevin de Leon, her longshot Democratic challenger.

In backing de Leon, a majority of the party’s 360-member executive board ignored Feinstein’s calls to stay neutral in the race. Her allies had warned an endorsement would create an intraparty squabble that could detract from important down-ballot races.

De Leon has long been courting party activists and appealed to those seeking a fresh face and a more progressive senator to fight against President Donald Trump.

“Today’s vote is a clear-eyed rejection of politics as usual in Washington, D.C.,” de Leon said in a statement after the vote. “We have presented Californians with the first real alternative to the worn-out Washington playbook in a quarter-century.”

US Rejects Bid From EU to Go Soft on Iran

Good.

The US has rebuffed high-level pleas from the European Union to grant exemptions to European companies from its sanctions against Iran.

In a letter to European nations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US rejected the appeal because it wants to exert maximum pressure on Iran.

It said exemptions would only be made if they benefited US national security.

The EU fears that billions of dollars’ worth of trade could be jeopardised as a result of Washington’s new sanctions.

Meeting the Queen

Heh.

(CNN)President Donald Trump will meet Queen Elizabeth for tea Friday. Nothing to worry about there.

The not-always-delicate Trump will likely be closely watched to see if he can navigate the numerous protocols surrounding the royal family without committing a faux pas.
Thinking not specifically about Trump, but as an American… I hate how the media obsesses over royal etiquette. While in another country, our Presidents should be polite and respectful of their traditions, but our Presidents are world leaders in their own right who are not required to scrape and bow according to every nuance of English etiquette. Screw that.

Germany’s Gas

Trump is right.

Donald Trump‘s claim that Germany imports 70 per cent of its gas from Russia at a fiery Nato summit today is correct – and the country will soon receive even more.

The EU’s statistics agency, Eurostat, says that Russia is responsible for up to 75% of Germany’s total gas imports.

And experts say that figure could dramatically increase after a new pipeline between Russia and Germany opens in two years time.

[…]

Donald Trump also questioned the role of the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who is now working for Gazprom.

Schroeder signed the deal for Nord Stream in haste after being ousted by Angela Merkel in a narrow election defeat in 2005.

Just weeks after leaving office, however, he started overseeing the implementation of the project for Gazprom.

Schroeder took up position as head of Nord Stream AG’s shareholder committee and has worked for the gas behemoth ever since.

The former politician is rumoured to have been paid millions by Gazprom and is set to pocket even more with the announcement of the second phase of the Nord Stream project.

Boris Attacks Semi-Brexit

Zing!

Mr Johnson does not pull any punches, telling Theresa May Brexit “should be about opportunity and hope” and a “chance to do things differently”, but “that dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt”.

He claims crucial decisions have been postponed, including preparations for a “no deal” scenario, “with the result that we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit, with large parts of the economy still locked in the EU system, but with no UK control over that system”.

“It now seems that the opening bid of our negotiations involves accepting that we are not actually going to be able to make our own laws,” he says.

“In that respect we are truly headed for the status of colony – and many will struggle to see the economic or political advantages of that particular arrangement.”

He said he had congratulated the PM on Friday on getting the cabinet to sign up to her proposals at their Chequers away day, admitting that there were too few ministers on his side of the argument to get their way.

The government now had a “song to sing” on Brexit, he added: “The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat”.

Sometimes the middle road is not the best road.

Mexico Goes Communist

Communism by any other name

Left-wing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has claimed victory in Mexico’s presidential election, saying “profound change” is coming.

The ex-Mexico City mayor, known by his initials Amlo, is projected to win about 53%. His rivals have conceded in a crushing defeat for the main parties.

Mr López Obrador’s key pledge has been to tackle the “evil” of corruption.

[…]

Late on Sunday, the 64-year-old promised to respect civil liberties and said he was “not looking to construct a dictatorship, either open or hidden”.

Some opponents have expressed fears that his leftist and populist policies could damage the already sluggish economy and turn Mexico into “another Venezuela”, which is suffering a deep economic crisis and rampant inflation.

Hailing a “historic night”, Mr López Obrador called on all Mexicans to reconcile and repeated his campaign pledge to review energy contracts for signs of corruption.

“Corruption is… the result of a decadent political regime. We are absolutely convinced that this evil is the main cause of social and economic inequality, and also that corruption is to blame for the violence in our country,” he said.

He has insisted that no-one involved in corruption will be spared, not even those he calls “brothers-in-arms”.

So what are his other main policies?

On combating Mexico’s record levels of violence, much of it related to drug cartels, Mr López Obrador said he would have daily meetings with his security cabinet, which under him, he said, would be under a “unified command”.

Sunday’s election followed one of Mexico’s deadliest campaigns in decades with more than 130 political candidates and party workers killed.

The good news is that totalitarian regimes usually have a pretty good track record of quashing unauthorized corruption and criminal activity. Mao’s China or Stalin’s USSR were paragons of regimes that quelled crime. Unfortunately, they do so by internalizing the corruption into the regime, centralizing power, and crushing civil liberties. I suspect that we will see the nationalization of some industries (despite claims to the contrary), suppression of civil liberties (despite claims to the contrary), rampant inflation, the general decline of Mexico, and the accompanying exodus of Mexicans seeking a better alternative.

Build the wall.

One final note… these statements are contradictory…

He also said his government would be fiscally disciplined and taxes would not be raised.

On social policies, he said he would double pensions for the elderly upon taking office on 1 December as a first step to reducing Mexico’s disparate income levels.