Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Jordan Changes Rape Law

I guess one could call this an improvement, but not much.

A law which protected rapists from punishment if they married their victims has been scrapped in Jordan.
The Jordanian cabinet revoked Article 308 on Sunday, after years of campaigning by women’s activists, as well as Muslim and Christian scholars and others.

The law had meant rapists could avoid a jail term in return for marrying their victim for at least three years.

Its supporters said the law protected a victim’s honour and reputation.

But last year, it was amended so a rapist could only use the loophole to marry his victim if she was aged between 15 and 18 and the attack was believed to have been consensual.

So if you rape a child and marry her, it’s cool in Jordan.

Saudi Arabia Elected to U.N. Commission on the Status of Women

Because… of course.

Saudi Arabia was elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

The addition of the Gulf nation was first flagged by UN Watch, a nongovernmental body that monitors the United Nations. The Commission on the Status of Women’s main mission is to assess the challenges to reaching gender inequality, according to the U.N. website.

The organization’s executive director slammed the election, which occurred in a secret vote during the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council.

Trump Denies Sanction Waiver to Exxon to Drill in Russia

Well, that’s going to make cabinet meetings awkward.

“The Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said in a statement Friday. Mnuchin said he consulted with President Trump on the decision.

Exxon had applied for a waiver from sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in a bid to resume its lucrative joint venture with Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft.

In a statement, Exxon said “we understand” the decision by the Treasury Department. Exxon explained that its application for a license was aimed at meeting the company’s “contractual obligations” in Russia, where competitors are allowed to drill under European sanctions.

Paris Terrorist Was Released Early

So the cop killing terrorist in Paris was released early from prison where he was serving a sentence for threatening cops. Brilliant.

A policeman was shot dead while two other officers were seriously injured by a Kalashnikov-wielding gunman on the Champs Elysees in central Paris – just three days before the French presidential election.

The alleged ISIS gunman, identified as 39-year-old Karim C – who was jailed for 20 years for trying to kill officers in 2001 – parked his Audi and opened fire after police stopped at a red light on the world famous avenue.

[…]

Karim was born in France and lived in Chelles, a commuter town close to Paris and was jailed for the 2001 attack – but is believed to have been released early in 2016.

Venezuela Seizes GM Plant

Socialists gonna be socialists

GM (GM) described the takeover as an “illegal judicial seizure of its assets.”

The automaker said the seizure showed a “total disregard” of its legal rights. It said that authorities had removed assets including cars from company facilities.

“[GM] strongly rejects the arbitrary measures taken by the authorities and will vigorously take all legal actions, within and outside of Venezuela, to defend its rights,” it said in a statement.

GM’s subsidiary in the country — General Motors Venezolana — has operated in Venezuela for nearly 70 years. It employs nearly 2,700 workers and has 79 dealers in the country. GM said it would make “separation payments” to its workers.

May Calls for Election

Even though she’s ahead in the polls, it’s a gutsy move.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has called a snap general election for 8 June, taking the country by surprise.

The previous election was in 2015, so another was not due until 2020.

Ms May pledged several times after taking office last year not to call an early election, so this is something of a U-turn.


Why the U-turn?

The prime minister wants a strong mandate in parliament going into what are likely to be fraught negotiations with Europe over Britain’s exit from the EU.

Her Conservative party has a relatively slim majority in the House of Commons, won in 2015 under the previous leader David Cameron. But since that election the main opposition Labour party has collapsed in the polls, leaving her in a much stronger position and making an election win significantly more likely.

A victory in June would also hand her a very important personal mandate. Having taken over from Mr Cameron when he resigned mid-term, after losing the Brexit referendum, she has yet to win her own general election.

Dairy farmers feel slap of the Invisible Hand

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. In this age of populism and protectionism, it is bound to be unpopular. Here it is:

Dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers with thousands of cows received a letter a few weeks ago that spoiled their year. Grassland, the company that had been buying their milk, told the farmers that they could no longer buy the farmers’ milk because of a new Canadian policy that has dried up the demand for American milk. The calls for government action throw kindling on the friction between Americans who believe in free trade and those who support protectionist policies.

The price of milk for Canadian dairy processors is set by the Canadian Dairy Commission. The way they set prices was based on a complicated process, but the end result is that the price that Canadian dairy farmers received for milk was substantially higher than in the rest of the world. By comparison, a Canadian dairy farmer received almost 50 percent more for his or her milk than an American farmer.

This artificial pricing sounds great for Canadian dairy farmers, but economies are dynamic and protectionist policies rarely have the desired effect. Canada’s participation in NAFTA and trade agreements with the European Union and other entities give other countries fairly free access to Canadian markets to sell their goods — including milk. While the high price of milk for Canadian dairy farmers sounds good on paper, the actual result is that Canadian dairy processors were buying most of their milk from American dairy farmers because it was cheaper. In other words, Wisconsin dairy farmers were directly benefiting from what was supposed to be a protectionist policy by Canada to prop up prices for their own dairy farmers.

The new pricing policy from the Canadian Dairy Commission would allow Canadian dairy producers to buy milk at whatever the global price is. The new policy is arguably promoting freer trade by dropping an artificial price of milk and allowing it to fluctuate with global supply and demand. Canadian dairy farmers will no longer get the higher prices for their milk, but they will be able to sell more of it. Canadian dairy processors and consumers will benefit from saving the cost of transporting milk from distant places. Wisconsin dairy farmers are being hurt by the policy because the artificial demand for their product that was created by the old Canadian policies has now dried up. While the new policy is arguably freer than the old policy, there is no question that it favors Canadian dairy farmers over foreign ones.

With so many Wisconsin families hurting, one question is what, if anything, should our government do in response? In an increasingly rare bout of bipartisanship, both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators are calling upon the Trump administration to do something about the new Canadian

policy. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has called the policy an “unfair trade scheme” and Sen. Ron Johnson said Wisconsin dairy farmers should not be “victims of a trade dispute they didn’t start.”

What should the American government do? Should the Trump administration demand that Canada reinstate artificially high milk process for their own dairy producers? Should America enact retaliatory protectionist policies on other goods?

The free trade of goods and services in a market economy has proven to be the most efficient and economical way to align supply with demand. The United States has been a perfect example of this. Our large, diverse national land mass means that our nation has a diverse and robust internal economy that allows for specialization. Instead of Wisconsin having to try to provide our own milk, beef, oranges, wheat, iron, copper, etc., the lack of trade barriers with other states allows Wisconsin to focus on developing the natural abundances within our state and buy the natural abundances of other states. As Adam Smith said, “never attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.”

The same is true in a global economy. Free trade is the most efficient, economical and fair way to allocate scarce resources to the greatest benefit of the most people.

But getting to that greatest benefit means that some folks will feel the sting when they are slapped by the invisible hand. Problems arise when we react to that inevitable sting by trying to protect that which the market no longer needs.

Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have benefited for years by an ill-conceived Canadian milk pricing policy and are feeling the sting of that policy being changed.

Our reaction should not be to enact further barriers to trade and further distort the market. Instead, our reaction should be to help our dairy farmers find a new market for their milk, or help them reallocate their resources to produce something for which there is market demand.

Turkey Descends Into Dictatorship

Totalitarianism is advancing as democracy retreats.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push for an executive presidency succeeded with 51.4% voting for it.

The win was met with both celebrations and protests across Turkey.

[…]

What’s in the new constitution?

  • The president will have a five-year tenure, for a maximum of two terms
  • The president will be able to directly appoint top public officials, including ministers and one or several vice-presidents
  • The job of prime minister will be scrapped
  • The president will have power to intervene in the judiciary, which Mr Erdogan has accused of being influenced by Fethullah Gulen, the Pennsylvania-based preacher he blames for the failed coup in July
  • The president will decide whether or not impose a state of emergency
Grey line

Mr Erdogan says the changes are needed to address Turkey’s security challenges after last July’s attempted coup, and to avoid the fragile coalition governments of the past.

The new system, he argues, will resemble those in France and the US and will bring calm in a time of turmoil marked by a Kurdish insurgency, Islamist militancy and conflict in neighbouring Syria, which has led to a huge refugee influx.

Critics of the changes fear the move will make the president’s position too powerful, arguing that it amounts to one-man rule, without the checks and balances of other presidential systems such as those in France and the US.

Trump Indulges in Waffles

Actually, “waffle” isn’t the right word… these are complete flip flops.

US President Donald Trump has said Nato is “no longer obsolete”, reversing a stance that had alarmed allies.

Hosting Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, Mr Trump said the threat of terrorism had underlined the alliance’s importance.

He called on Nato to do more to help Iraqi and Afghan “partners”.

Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned Nato’s purpose, while complaining that the US pays an unfair share of membership.

The Nato U-turn wasn’t Mr Trump’s only change of heart on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said he would not label China a currency manipulator, despite having repeatedly pledged to do so on his first day in office.

He was right the first time on both counts. China is a currency manipulator. And NATO is obsolete in its current form. It was designed to counter a single threat that no longer exists.

Cuban Government Cracks Down on Opponents

But I thought that normalizing relations with Cuba was going to usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity for the Cuban people? Did I get that wrong?

Havana (AFP) – Cuban dissidents planning to run in the communist country’s local elections in November have been arrested, threatened and otherwise harassed by the authorities, one of their leaders said Tuesday.

At least five would-be candidates have been charged with crimes such as robbery, had their property seized, or been threatened with losing their jobs, said Manuel Cuesta Morua, spokesman for the opposition Unity Roundtable for Democratic Action (MUAD).

“They (the authorities) are taking preventive measures so that no independent citizen who doesn’t fit their agenda can run,” he told AFP.

The local elections in November kick off an electoral cycle that will ultimately decide the successor to President Raul Castro.

Drifting toward Damascus, the sequel

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

In 2013, I opened a column called “Drifting Toward Damascus” with this paragraph: “As I sit down to write a column about our current situation in Syria, I fail to discern any coherent foreign policy coming from my president’s administration. If you can, you are probably filling in the gaps with wishful thinking.” As I sit down to write another column about Syria, the same opening would suffice.

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons to murder more than 80 people, including kids, President Trump retaliated with a missile strike on a Syrian air base. The scenario was reminiscent of Assad’s previous use of WMDs during the previous administration. In 2013, Assad used Sarin gas to attack more than 1,000 Syrians. In doing so, he crossed President Obama’s infamous “red line” and the Obama Administration responded with huffy rhetoric.

Now it is 2017 with the same Assad but a different American president. When Assad used chemical weapons this time, Trump responded immediately with a punitive strike and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is signaling a new American goal of toppling the Assad regime. Yet the Trump Administration is promising to keep American forces out of Syria and Trump’s rhetorical “America first” isolationism was a major facet of his recent successful presidential campaign. Although a different president has brought us a different reaction, America still lacks a coherent Syrian policy.

The problem is that there are no good answers left for America in Syria. There was a time when direct American intervention could have yielded positive results, but that time has passed. The Syrian Civil War began with an uprising in the spring of 2011. As part of the socalled Arab Spring, secular pro-democracy protestors rose up to demand Assad’s resignation. When Assad refused to resign, as tyrants are wont to do, and launched a violent crackdown on the protestors, the protestors hardened their opposition and the fight for Syria was on.

The time for American intervention was 2011. If President Obama had used the power of the United States to support the secular pro-democracy opposition at that time, there might be a peaceful, secular, democratic Syria today. But speculation in alternate histories is the luxury of writers. The Syrian Civil War has evolved significantly since 2011 and America must deal with the present realities.

Since 2011, the Syrian Civil War has descended into a sectarian war with no good guys for America to support. In battle with each other are Assad’s tyrannical government, radical Islamist Sunni rebels, Kurdish forces, Hezbollah, and of course, the Islamic State. According to the United Nations commission of inquiry, all of them have been engaging in horrific war crimes including murder, torture, slavery, using civilians as human shields, forced starvation, and the use of WMDs.

The Syrian Civil War has also taken on significant international importance as it pulled regional and world powers into the conflict. The deluge of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas has had a destabilizing effect on several Middle Eastern and European nations, putting pressure on the international community to intervene. As the war has devolved partially into a religious war between different Muslim sects, several Muslim countries have intervened to support their sides. Shia Iran and Lenanon are supporting Assad as Sunni Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and others support rebel factions. Finally, Russia entered the war on the side of Assad as part of Vladimir Putin’s lifelong effort to reclaim Russia’s dominance on the world stage. As America retreated from the Middle East, Russia entered the chasm.

In deciding what America should do about Syria, two questions must be answered. The first question is, should America do anything? That is a broad question the answer of which depends on one’s valuation of the word “should.” There are some who believe that America should be the world’s conscience and act in the name of human rights. There are some who believe that American should only intervene if there is a direct American interest at stake. And there are some who believe that America should never do anything unless directly attacked.

In this case, there are no good guys to support, there are no direct American interests at stake and America has not been attacked. The only good reason for America to intervene in the Syrian Civil War is as a general policy to try to stabilize the region to quell the radicalization of people and the outflow of terror groups.

If one thinks America should intervene, then the second question to be answered is, what can America do? Short of a full scale invasion and occupation of Syria with all of the risks of igniting a global conflict with Russia and Iran, America’s options are very limited. And the American people have no appetite for such an earth-shattering endeavor.

America should stay out of the Syrian Civil War. There is little likelihood that American intervention could yield a positive outcome and the risk of embroiling our nation in another long, bloody, and expensive war is very high. America should do what we can to help the suffering, assist our allies, and protect American interests and American borders. No more. No less.

Russia Slams UK for Canceled Meeting

Ouch.

Russia has criticised Boris Johnson’s decision to scrap a planned trip to Moscow after discussions with the US.

The move showed the UK has no “real influence” over world events, Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Mr Johnson said events in Syria had “changed the situation fundamentally” and he would go to G7 talks instead.

Russia Escalates

Something to watch.

Russia has said it is suspending a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to US air strikes on a Syrian air base.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said following Donald Trump’s decision to fire 59 cruise missiles at a military target in Syria on Thursday, Moscow was suspending a memorandum with the US that prevented incidents and ensured flight safety.

Under the memorandum, signed after Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015, Russia and the US had exchanged information about their flights to avoid incidents in the crowded skies over Syria — where Russia has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air-defence missiles.

70% of Millennials in China Own a Home

Interesting cultural differences.

While young people around the world are struggling to get on the property ladder, an HSBC study found that 70% of Chinese millennials have achieved the milestone.

A sizeable 91% also plan to buy a house in the next five years, according to the survey.

The mortgage lender spoke to around 9,000 people based in nine countries.

While China came out top of the pack, Mexico was next with 46% of millennials owning property, followed by France with 41%.

U.S. Launches Punitive Strike Against Syria

Eh.

The US missiles hit the Shayrat airfield, from where Washington believes the chemical weapons attack was launched, one US official was quoted as saying.

A statement on Syrian state TV said “American aggression” had targeted a Syrian military base with “a number of missiles” but gave no further details.

Earlier on Thursday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad should have no role in a future Syria.

His comments signalled a sudden shift in policy by the Trump administration.

I get the anger at Assad’s use of chemical weapons to murder civilians. It’s absolutely horrific and the latest horrible act by a truly evil man. But I question this attack as a matter of policy. We just blew $100 million or so on firing a bunch of missiles to punish him, but what did we accomplish? What is the goal? Regime change? It’s going to take more than that. Just punish Assad to reestablish America’s role in the world as a moral authority? Support our allies? Who?

We need to determine a coherent policy toward Syria, articulate it, and act on it. Fits of violent reaction don’t accomplish much.

Bloodless Coup in Venezuela

First, take over private industry and property to make things more “fair.” Second, strip away individual rights. Third, starve the people. Fourth, consolidate power. The formula works.

(CNN)In a surprising move the Venezuelan opposition is calling a coup, the Venezuelan Supreme Court has stripped the country’s National Assembly of its powers. The court ruled that all powers vested under the legislative body will be transferred to the Supreme Court, which is stacked with government loyalists.

The ruling effectively means the three branches of the Venezuelan government will be controlled by the ruling United Socialist Party. The opposition has been taken out of the picture.

Iran Sanctions Oshkosh Corporation

I think Oshkosh Corp. will be fine. It’s almost a badge of honor to be sanctioned by Iran.

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran on Sunday sanctioned what it described as 15 American companies, alleging they support terrorism, repression and Israel’s occupation of land Palestinians want for a future state, likely in retaliation for sanctions earlier announced by the U.S.

The wide-ranging list from an American real estate company to a major arms manufacturer and Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Corp. appeared more symbolic than anything else as the firms weren’t immediately known to be doing business anywhere in the Islamic Republic.

Oshkosh Corp. is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of military vehicles, with thousands of its trucks used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq. The company also has produced military trucks for U.S. allies including Saudi Arabia, the United Emirates, Jordan, Oman, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and the United Kingdom.

Putin’s Enemies Dropping Like Flies

He learned from the best.

An outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin was shot dead in broad daylight in Kiev Thursday, just two days after a lawyer for the family of a slain Russian whistleblower was injured in a mysterious fall from his fourth-story apartment near Moscow.

Denis Voronenkov was a former Russian Communist Party member who’d become increasingly critical of Putin’s policies after fleeing to Ukraine in 2016. In light of his murder, which Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called an “act of state terrorism by Russia,” the Washington Post’s Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov compiled a list of nine other Putin critics “who died violently or in suspicious ways.”

As it has after similar incidents, the Kremlin swiftly rejected any suggestion it was involved in Voronenkov’s murder. Still, Filipov argued, the people on his list had more in common than simply disapproving of the president.

Venezuela Asks UN for Help with Healthcare

This headline is a bit more chilling today than it was a few days ago. America faces a long future with socialized medicine. This is where it leads.

(CNN)President Nicolas Maduro said he has asked the United Nations for help in dealing with Venezuela’s medicine shortages, which have grown severe as the country grapples with a crippling economic crisis.

[…]

The country is lacking roughly 80% of the basic medical supplies, according to the Pharmaceutical Federation of Venezuela.
Hundreds of health care workers and other Venezuelans staged protests this month demanding better access to medicine and health treatment. Many of the protesters brought prescriptions for medicines that they said they can’t buy at local pharmacies.
Last year, the opposition-led National Assembly in Venezuela declared a “humanitarian crisis” in the health care system.
CNN visited a hospital in Caracas and found that health care workers believed medicine was being swiped to be sold on the black market. Government rationing of medications has made even basics, such as pain relievers, hard to come by.
For years, Venezuelans have had to hunt for penicillin and other remedies at pharmacies, often without success. Public hospitals are in no better shape, with people dying due to the scarcity of basic medical care.

The Homogenization of Islam’s Holiest City

From the Economist.

Critics call this Islamic Maoism. Out went the city’s heterogeneous mix of Maliki, Shafii and Zaydi rites; in came homogenisation under the Wahhabi creed. Alongside the black and white dress they forced on women and men respectively, the new tribal rulers reshaped the urban environment, stripping away the past. They replaced the four pulpits at the foot of the Kaaba, one for each of Sunni Islam’s schools, with a single one, exclusively for Wahhabi preachers. They cleansed the faith of saint-worship, demolishing shrines venerated by Shia and traditional Sunnis alike. Of the city’s scores of holy sites, only the Kaaba survives.