Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

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.

Women Begin Driving in Saudi

As a child, I lived in Riyadh for 9 years and watched as a driver had to take my mom, and every other expat woman who was perfectly capable of driving, everywhere she needed to go. It’s a new era.

Saudi Arabia has today finally lifted its ban on women drivers. I was up until after midnight scrolling through social media for photos and videos of women hitting the roads in the moments after the ban was lifted.

Day one is a quiet one on the roads – a school summer holiday. Not a bad thing for anxious first-time drivers. Accompanied by my dad, for a few tips and some moral support, I set out for work.

On the way I pass the police, but I’m not scared of being pulled over. I have a licence and I’m driving legally in Saudi Arabia. I stop to get coffee from a drive-through, and I’m the first female driver the barista has ever served.

Rule of Law “Virtually Absent” in Venezuela

Remember that Venezuela was a thriving, capitalist country a couple of decades ago. After turning socialist, here they are. Also note that this is what can happen when only the government is allowed to have guns. Can it happen in America? Of course it can.

Venezuelan security forces have carried out hundreds of arbitrary killings under the guise of fighting crime, the UN says in a new report.

The UN’s human rights body says it has credible accounts of security forces raiding poor neighbourhoods and killing young men, often in their homes.

The rule of law was “virtually absent” in the country, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said.

Venezuela has in the past dismissed human rights allegations as “lies”.

The country is going through a protracted political and economic crisis.

Obama Administration Failed to Counter Russian Intrusion Into American Elections

Another Obama failure.

WASHINGTON — The Obama White House’s chief cyber official testified Wednesday that proposals he was developing to counter Russia’s attack on the U.S. presidential election were put on a “back burner” after he was ordered to “stand down” his efforts in the summer of 2016.

The comments by Michael Daniel, who served as White House “cyber security coordinator” between 2012 and January of last year, provided his first public confirmation of a much-discussed passage in the book, “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” co-written by this reporter and David Corn, that detailed his thwarted efforts to respond to the Russian attack.

They came during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing into how the Obama administration dealt with Russian cyber and information warfare attacks in 2016, an issue that has become one of the more politically sensitive subjects in the panel’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and any links to the Trump campaign.

The view that the Obama administration failed to adequately piece together intelligence about the Russian campaign and develop a forceful response has clearly gained traction with the intelligence committee. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking Democrat on the panel, said in an opening statement that “we were caught flat-footed at the outset and our collective response was inadequate to meet Russia’s escalation.”

That conclusion was reinforced Wednesday by another witness, Victoria Nuland, who served as assistant secretary of state for Europe during the Obama administration. She told the panel that she had been briefed as early as December 2015 about the hacking of the Democratic National Committee — long before senior DNC officials were aware of it — and that the intrusion had all the hallmarks of a Russian operation.

U.S. Withdraws From UN Human Rights Council

Good. It is a joke of an organisation and a waste of time.

The US has pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling it a “cesspool of political bias”.

The “hypocritical and self-serving” body “makes a mockery of human rights”, said US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley.

Ms Haley last year accused the council of “chronic anti-Israel bias” and said the US was reviewing its membership.

[…]

The United States has always had a conflicting relationship with the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush Administration decided to boycott the council when it was created in 2006 for many of the same reasons cited by the Trump administration.

The then UN ambassador was John Bolton – who is currently President Trump’s national security adviser and a strong critic of the UN.

It wasn’t until years later, in 2009, that the United States re-joined under the Obama administration.

Progress in Afghanistan?

Probably not, but interesting things are happening.

Afghanistan has extended its unilateral ceasefire with the Taliban following an initial truce observed by both sides over the Eid festival period.

President Ashraf Ghani appealed to the militants to follow the government’s lead and enter peace talks.

In extraordinary scenes, militants have been embracing security force members and taking selfies with citizens.

However 25 people died in a suicide attack on one gathering of Taliban and government officials in Nangarhar.

Taliban members and local residents were among the victims of the attack, province spokesman Attaullah Khogyani told the BBC, adding that 54 people were wounded.

Progress with North Korea

Trust, but verify

The US hopes to see “major disarmament” by North Korea by the end of 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.

His comments come a day after an unprecedented meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

In a statement North Korea agreed to work towards “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”.

But the document has been criticised for lacking details on when or how Pyongyang would give up its weapons.

Speaking in South Korea, where he discussed the outcome of the summit, Secretary Pompeo said there was still “a great deal of work to do” with North Korea.

But he added: “Major disarmament… We’re hopeful that we can achieve that in the two and half years.”

As I’ve continued to say, I have much hope, but low expectations. We’ve never made it this far down the aisle before, but that doesn’t mean we’re married yet.

Leaders Arrive for North Korean Summit

I have great hope, but low expectations for this summit.

Kim was scheduled to meet with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Sunday evening, a meeting which will be streamed on the prime minister’s Facebook page.

Trump is expected to arrive sometime around 8 p.m. local time. Singapore is 12 hours ahead of the United States’ Eastern time zone.

The president left for Singapore straight from a brief visit to the G-7 summit in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada on Saturday. Air Force One left around noon and make a quick stopover in Greece to refuel Saturday night.

The U.S. administration officials included on the trip are Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton, Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel, National Security Council-Asia Director Matt Pottinger, senior adviser Steven Miller, press secretary Sarah Sanders and NSC communications official Sarah Tinsley.

Taliban Truce

Well, it’s something. Not sure what yet.

The Taliban have announced a three-day ceasefire with Afghan government forces coinciding with Eid later this month.

This is the Taliban’s first ceasefire since they were toppled by the 2001 US-led invasion and comes days after a unilateral truce by government troops.

The group said it would stop all offensive operations during the holiday, except against foreign forces.

The announcement came hours after Taliban fighters killed over 60 Afghan security forces across the country.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the Taliban move was an opportunity for the militants to realise “their violent campaign” was “not winning them hearts and minds but further alienating the Afghan people from their cause”.

The Afghan government’s unconditional truce follows a meeting of clerics, who earlier this week issued a fatwa condemning militant violence as un-Islamic.

The clerics were themselves targeted in a suicide attack claimed by IS, which killed 14 people outside their peace tent in Kabul this week.

The Taliban did not specify why they made the surprise decision to agree to the truce in their statement, but they did say they would consider releasing prisoners of war as long they did not continue fighting against them.

UN Beclowns Itself (again)

SMH

In ordinary times, the work of the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, a UN body that negotiates international arms-control agreements, draws little attention. Then came this week’s news that Syria, a country with a well-known propensity for using chemical weapons against civilians, would assume the organization’s rotating, four-week presidency. The temporary post gives Syria the power to take the lead on issues the Conference is working on—meaning that the already deadlocked body will have an even harder time achieving meaningful results.

The Conference and its predecessors have built the architecture of the global nonproliferation system, which includes the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the global conventions to ban the use of biological and chemical weapons, and the comprehensive test ban treaty. Handing Syria the reins of an organization responsible for the most important global accords on disarmament is a bit like asking the Saudis to lead a commission on women’s rights. During the country’s more than seven-year-long civil war, the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people on multiple occasions—with virtually zero consequences. But its use of conventional weapons has perhaps wrought more suffering. The Syrian conflict has killed more than 500,000 people, flattenedentire cities, and created more than 5 million refugees.

Soros Pushes to Reverse Brexit

Heh.

A campaign to secure a second Brexit referendum within a year and save the UK from “immense damage” is to be launched in days, the philanthropist and financier George Soros has announced.

The billionaire founder of the Open Society Foundation said the prospect of the UK’s prolonged divorce from Brussels could help persuade the British public by a “convincing margin” that EU membership was in their interests.

In a speech on Tuesday ahead of the launch of the Best for Britain campaign – said to have already attracted millions of pounds in donations – Soros suggested to an audience in Paris that changing the minds of Britons would be in keeping with “revolutionary times”.

Ireland Votes to Kill Babies

What a shame.

Ireland’s prime minister has hailed the country’s decision to overturn a ban on abortion as the scale of the Yes campaign’s victory in the referendum became clear on Saturday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who led the Yes campaign, has said the country is united and has voted ‘resoundingly’ in favour of the abortion reform, as official results showed almost two-thirds supporting the change.

He pledged to introduce new legislation by the end of the year and called the repeal campaign’s landslide victory ‘the culmination of a quiet revolution’.

Returning officer Barry Ryan confirmed the Yes campaign’s victory on Saturday evening, with 1,429,981 ballots in favour (66.4 per cent) and 723,632 against (33.6 per cent).

Some day, sadly far in the future, people will look back on the age of abortion with the same moral indignation that we look upon the human sacrifices of the Aztecs.

Whistleblower Taped to Chair by Government Employees

Here’s a little tip: if you are going to commit illegal acts, don’t take pictures of it.

A woman who complained of a racist and misogynistic culture in a Scottish government agency claims she was taped to a chair and gagged by two male colleagues as a warning to keep quiet.

DeeAnn Fitzpatrick said the restraint took place amid years of bullying and harassment at Marine Scotland’s Scrabster office.

The fisheries officer has taken her case to an employment tribunal.

BBC Scotland has obtained a photo of the restraint incident.

It was taken by one of the men allegedly responsible.