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51  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Trump's Iran Strategy on: October 15, 2017, 02:34:03 PM
second post

Trump’s Iran Strategy
A nuclear fudge in the service of a larger containment policy.
President Donald J. Trump departs the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Oct. 13.
President Donald J. Trump departs the Diplomatic Room of the White House, Oct. 13. Photo: JIM LO scalzo/epa-efe/rex/shutterstock/EPA/Shutterstock
By The Editorial Board
Oct. 13, 2017 6:48 p.m. ET

Donald Trump announced Friday that he won’t “certify” his predecessor’s nuclear deal with Iran, but he won’t walk away from it either. This is something of a political fudge to satisfy a campaign promise, but it is also part of a larger and welcome strategic shift from Barack Obama’s illusions about arms control and the Islamic Republic.

Mr. Trump chose not to withdraw from the nuclear deal despite his ferocious criticism during the campaign and again on Friday. The deal itself is a piece of paper that Mr. Obama signed at the United Nations but never submitted to Congress as a treaty. The certification is an obligation of American law, the Iran Nuclear Review Act of 2015, that requires a President to report every 90 days whether Iran is complying with the deal. Mr. Trump said Iran isn’t “living up to the spirit of the deal” and he listed “multiple violations.”

The President can thus say he’s honoring his campaign opposition to the pact, without taking responsibility for blowing it up. This partial punt is a bow to the Europeans and some of his own advisers who fear the consequences if the U.S. withdraws. The worry is that Iran could use that as an excuse to walk away itself, and sprint to build a bomb, while the U.S. would be unable to reimpose the global sanctions that drove Iran to negotiate.

This is unlikely because the deal is so advantageous for Iran. The ruling mullahs need the foreign investment the deal allows, and there are enough holes to let Iran do research and break out once the deal begins phasing out in 2025. Iran will huff and puff about Mr. Trump’s decertification, but it wants the deal intact.

Yet we can understand why Mr. Trump wants to avoid an immediate break with European leaders who like the deal. This gives the U.S. time to persuade Europe of ways to strengthen the accord. French President Emmanuel Macron has talked publicly about dealing with Iran’s ballistic missile threat, and a joint statement by British, German and French leaders Friday left room to address Iranian aggression.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump is asking Congress to rewrite the Nuclear Review Act to set new “red lines” on Iranian behavior. The Administration has been working for months with GOP Senators Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) on legislation they’ll unveil as early as next week. This will include markers such as limits on ballistic missiles and centrifuges and ending the deal’s sunset provisions. If Iran crosses those lines, the pre-deal sanctions would snap back on.

There’s no guarantee this can get 60 Senate votes. But making Iran’s behavior the trigger for snap-back sanctions is what Mr. Obama also said he favored while he was selling the deal in 2015. The difference is that once he signed the deal his Administration had no incentive to enforce it lest he concede a mistake. The Senate legislation would make snap-back sanctions a more realistic discipline. Senators may also want to act to deter Mr. Trump from totally withdrawing sometime in the future—as he threatened Friday if Congress fails.

The most promising part of Mr. Trump’s strategy is its vow to deter Iranian imperialism in the Middle East. The President laid out a long history of Iran’s depredations—such as backing for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and rebels in Yemen, cyber attacks on the U.S., hostility to Israel, and support for terrorism. Notably, Mr. Trump singled out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s military vanguard, for new U.S. financial sanctions.

This is a welcome change from President Obama, who was so preoccupied with getting his nuclear deal that he ignored Iran’s efforts to expand the Shiite Islamic revolution. Mr. Trump is putting the nuclear issue in the proper strategic context as merely one part of the larger Iranian attempt to dominate the region. This will go down well with Israel and the Sunni Arab states that were horrified by Mr. Obama’s tilt toward Tehran.

One question is how this squares with Mr. Trump’s cease-fire deal with Russia in southern Syria. Russia is allied with Iran in Syria, and the cease-fire is serving as protection for Revolutionary Guard attempts to control the border region with Israel, which has had to bomb the area repeatedly. Mr. Trump still hasn’t figured out a strategy for Syria or Russia, and that could undermine his effort to contain Iran.

Barack Obama left his successor a world in turmoil, with authoritarians on the march in China, North Korea, Russia and Iran. Mr. Trump needs a strategy for each, and the steps he took Friday are crucial in containing Iran.
52  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ:The False ObamaCare Sabotage Meme on: October 15, 2017, 02:31:51 PM
The ObamaCare ‘Sabotage’ Meme
The solution for illegal health subsidies is a bipartisan trade.
Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander in Washington, Jan. 18.
Sens. Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander in Washington, Jan. 18. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News
By The Editorial Board
Oct. 13, 2017 7:10 p.m. ET

By our deadline Friday the world had continued to spin without interruption—planes taking off and landing; men and women commuting home after another week at work—and if you’re reading this then you survived the ObamaCare subsidy apocalypse of 2017. We’re referring to the political meltdown over the Trump Administration’s decision to end extralegal payments to insurers.

The White House leaked Thursday night that the government will stop making “cost-sharing” payments, which are ObamaCare subsidies for insurers that defray the cost of deductibles or co-pays for some folks below 250% of the poverty line. President Trump unloaded on Friday in one of his predawn tweets that “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding” and “subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped.” Why he chose to swamp his Thursday health-care executive order with this fresh controversy is a mystery.

In any event, first order of business: The payments are illegal. The Affordable Care Act leaves the subsidies contingent on an annual appropriation, but since 2014 Congress has declined to dedicate the funding. The Obama Administration wrote the checks anyway, and the House of Representatives sued. Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer last year ruled that the Obama Administration had violated the Constitution, and an appeal is pending.

Mr. Trump continued the payments on the hope that Republican health-care reform would repeal ObamaCare and moot the subsidy dispute. That did not happen. Now the Administration has decided to follow the Constitution, and fidelity to the law should trump the policy merits or political risks.

The left is accusing Mr. Trump of—this is a partial list—sabotaging the Affordable Care Act; conspiring to harm the poor; sending a wrecking ball into the American health-care system; killing people. One frequent citation is a Congressional Budget Office report from August that predicted premiums would increase if the subsidies ended, which is true.

Yet CBO also noted that the added expense would be covered by subsidies for individuals that increase with premiums. The market would continue to be stable by CBO’s report, and the change won’t invite the ObamaCare death spiral that Democrats would love to pin on Republicans. More generous individual subsidies mean the insurers now predicting Armageddon will still get paid.

But more uncertainty and turmoil could still drive some users from the exchanges, and the solution is straightforward: Congress can appropriate the money in a legal fashion. Republicans have an incentive to compromise, lest they have to take responsibility for rising premiums. Democrats could in exchange agree to liberalize the insurance markets—e.g., by repealing the individual or employer mandates, or allowing more flexibility on state waivers.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has tried to work a deal with Democratic Senator Patty Murray, but Democrats have refused to allow states any running room to experiment, aside from de minimis paperwork exemptions. Chuck Schumer has said for months that he’d negotiate once repeal was off the table, and now we’ll find out. If Democrats really care about the poor—and fixing a problem they helped create by violating the separation of powers—then they’ll compromise.

Meantime, the insurers will uphold the great American tradition of litigation and try to force the government to fork over the money. Mr. Trump deserves credit for upholding the Constitution, but this messy episode is one more consequence of the GOP’s failure in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act.
53  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Hazony: Inherent divisions in conservative foreign policy on: October 15, 2017, 02:12:13 PM

Link copied…

    Opinion Commentary

Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?
Trump didn’t divide the right. Centuries-old philosophical divisions have re-emerged.
By Yoram Hazony
Updated Oct. 13, 2017 6:38 p.m. ET

American conservatism is having something of an identity crisis. Most conservatives supported Donald Trump last November. But many prominent conservative intellectuals—journalists, academics and think-tank personalities—have entrenched themselves in bitter opposition. Some have left the Republican Party, while others are waging guerrilla warfare against a Republican administration. Longtime friendships have been ended and resignations tendered. Talk of establishing a new political party alternates with declarations that Mr. Trump will be denied the GOP nomination in 2020.

Those in the “Never Trump” camp say the cause of the split is the president—that he’s mentally unstable, morally unspeakable, a leftist populist, a rightist authoritarian, a danger to the republic. One prominent Republican told me he is praying for Mr. Trump to have a brain aneurysm so the nightmare can end.

But the conservative unity that Never Trumpers seek won’t be coming back, even if the president leaves office prematurely. An apparently unbridgeable ideological chasm is opening between two camps that were once closely allied. Mr. Trump’s rise is the effect, not the cause, of this rift.

There are two principal causes: first, the increasingly rigid ideology conservative intellectuals have promoted since the end of the Cold War; second, a series of events—from the failed attempt to bring democracy to Iraq to the implosion of Wall Street—that have made the prevailing conservative ideology seem naive and reckless to the broader conservative public.

A good place to start thinking about this is a 1989 essay in the National Interest by Charles Krauthammer. The Cold War was coming to an end, and Mr. Krauthammer proposed it should be supplanted by what he called “Universal Dominion” (the title of the essay): America was going to create a Western “super-sovereign” that would establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. The cost would be “the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.”

William Kristol and Robert Kagan presented a similar view in their 1996 essay “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which proposed an American “benevolent global hegemony” that would have “preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain.”

Then, as now, conservative commentators insisted that the world should want such an arrangement because the U.S. knows best: The American way of politics, based on individual liberties and free markets, is the right way for human beings to live everywhere. Japan and Germany, after all, were once-hostile authoritarian nations that had flourished after being conquered and acquiescing in American political principles. With the collapse of communism, dozens of countries—from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America—seemed to need, and in differing degrees to be open to, American tutelage of this kind. As the bearer of universal political truth, the U.S. was said to have an obligation to ensure that every nation was coaxed, maybe even coerced, into adopting its principles.

Any foreign policy aimed at establishing American universal dominion faces considerable practical challenges, not least because many nations don’t want to live under U.S. authority. But the conservative intellectuals who have set out to promote this Hegelian world revolution must also contend with a problem of different kind: Their aim cannot be squared with the political tradition for which they are ostensibly the spokesmen.

For centuries, Anglo-American conservatism has favored individual liberty and economic freedom. But as the Oxford historian of conservatism Anthony Quinton emphasized, this tradition is empiricist and regards successful political arrangements as developing through an unceasing process of trial and error. As such, it is deeply skeptical of claims about universal political truths. The most important conservative figures—including John Fortescue, John Selden, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton —believed that different political arrangements would be fitting for different nations, each in keeping with the specific conditions it faces and traditions it inherits. What works in one country can’t easily be transplanted.

On that view, the U.S. Constitution worked so well because it preserved principles the American colonists had brought with them from England. The framework—the balance between the executive and legislative branches, the bicameral legislature, the jury trial and due process, the bill of rights—was already familiar from the English constitution. Attempts to transplant Anglo-American political institutions in places such as Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Iraq have collapsed time and again, because the political traditions needed to maintain them did not exist. Even in France, Germany and Italy, representative government failed repeatedly into the mid-20th century (recall the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958), and has now been shunted aside by a European Union whose notorious “democracy deficit” reflects a continuing inability to adopt Anglo-American constitutional norms.

The “universal dominion” agenda is flatly contradicted by centuries of Anglo-American conservative political thought. This may be one reason that some post-Cold War conservative intellectuals have shifted to calling themselves “classical liberals.” Last year Paul Ryan insisted: “I really call myself a classical liberal more than a conservative.” Mr. Kristol tweeted in August: “Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals. Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.”

What is “classical liberalism,” and how does it differ from conservatism? As Quinton pointed out, the liberal tradition descends from Hobbes and Locke, who were not empiricists but rationalists: Their aim was to deduce universally valid political principles from self-evident axioms, as in mathematics.

In his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689), Locke asserts that universal reason teaches the same political truths to all human beings; that all individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”; and that obligation to political institutions arises only from the consent of the individual. From these assumptions, Locke deduces a political doctrine that he supposes must hold good in all times and places.

The term “classical liberal” came into use in 20th-century America to distinguish the supporters of old-school laissez-faire from the welfare-state liberalism of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Modern classical liberals, inheriting the rationalism of Hobbes and Locke, believe they can speak authoritatively to the political needs of every human society, everywhere. In his seminal work, “Liberalism” (1927), the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises thus advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name,” which will arise if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions.”

Friedrich Hayek, the leading classical-liberal theorist of the 20th century, likewise argued, in a 1939 essay, for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”

Classical liberalism thus offers ground for imposing a single doctrine on all nations for their own good. It provides an ideological basis for an American universal dominion.

By contrast, Anglo-American conservatism historically has had little interest in putatively self-evident political axioms. Conservatives want to learn from experience what actually holds societies together, benefits them and destroys them. That empiricism has persuaded most Anglo-American conservative thinkers of the importance of traditional Protestant institutions such as the independent national state, biblical religion and the family.

As an English Protestant, Locke could have endorsed these institutions as well. But his rationalist theory provides little basis for understanding their role in political life. Even today liberals are plagued by this failing: The rigidly Lockean assumptions of classical-liberal writers such as Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand place the nation, the family and religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government. Students who grow up reading these brilliant writers develop an excellent grasp of how an economy works. But they are often marvelously ignorant about much else, having no clue why a flourishing state requires a cohesive nation, or how such bonds are established through family and religious ties.

The differences between the classical-liberal and conservative traditions have immense consequences for policy. Establishing democracy in Egypt or Iraq looks doable to classical liberals because they assume that human reason is everywhere the same, and that a commitment to individual liberties and free markets will arise rapidly once the benefits have been demonstrated and the impediments removed. Conservatives, on the other hand, see foreign civilizations as powerfully motivated—for bad reasons as well as good ones—to fight the dissolution of their way of life and the imposition of American values.

Integrating millions of immigrants from the Middle East also looks easy to classical liberals, because they believe virtually everyone will quickly see the advantages of American (or European) ways and accept them upon arrival. Conservatives recognize that large-scale assimilation can happen only when both sides are highly motivated to see it through. When that motivation is weak or absent, conservatives see an unassimilated migration, resulting in chronic mutual hatred and violence, as a perfectly plausible outcome.

Since classical liberals assume reason is everywhere the same, they see no great danger in “depreciating” national independence and outsourcing power to foreign bodies. American and British conservatives see such schemes as destroying the unique political foundation upon which their traditional freedoms are built.

Liberalism and conservatism had been opposed political positions since the day liberal theorizing first appeared in England in the 17th century. During the 20th-century battles against totalitarianism, necessity brought their adherents into close alliance. Classical liberals and conservatives fought together, along with communists, against Nazism. After 1945 they remained allies against communism. Over many decades of joint struggle, their differences were relegated to a back burner, creating a “fusionist” movement (as William F. Buckley’s National Review called it) in which one and all saw themselves as “conservatives.”

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, circumstances have changed. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from power in 1990 marked the end of serious resistance in Britain to the coming European “super-sovereign.” Within a few years the classical liberals’ agenda of universal dominion was the only game in town—ascendant not only among American Republicans and British Tories but even among center-left politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Only it didn’t work. China, Russia and large portions of the Muslim world resisted a “new world order” whose express purpose was to bring liberalism to their countries. The attempt to impose a classical-liberal regime in Iraq by force, followed by strong-arm tactics aimed at bringing democracy to Egypt and Libya, led to the meltdown of political order in these states as well as in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the world banking crisis made a mockery of classical liberals’ claim to know how to govern a world-wide market and bring prosperity to all. The shockingly rapid disintegration of the American family once again raised the question of whether classical liberalism has the resources to answer any political question outside the economic sphere.

Brexit and Mr. Trump’s rise are the direct result of a quarter-century of classical-liberal hegemony over the parties of the right. Neither Mr. Trump nor the Brexiteers were necessarily seeking a conservative revival. But in placing a renewed nationalism at the center of their politics, they shattered classical liberalism’s grip, paving the way for a return to empiricist conservatism. Once you start trying to understand politics by learning from experience rather than by deducing your views from 17th-century rationalist dogma, you never know what you may end up discovering.

Mr. Hazony is president of the Jerusalem-based Herzl Institute. His book “The Virtue of Nationalism” will be published next year by Basic.

Appeared in the October 14, 2017, print edition.
54  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gov. Brown signs bill giving jailed felons right to vote IN JAIL on: October 15, 2017, 01:03:27 PM
55  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Gov. Brown signs bill giving jailed felons right to vote IN JAIL on: October 15, 2017, 01:02:59 PM
56  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cyberwar, Cyber Crime, and American Freedom on: October 15, 2017, 12:50:09 PM
Is security even possible?
57  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Coulter gets curious , , , on: October 15, 2017, 02:53:59 AM
58  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: October 15, 2017, 02:49:52 AM
Years ago Stratfor wrote of the Iranians being a very serious military problem , , , and that was then.

Similarly the Norks.

Short of pre-emptive military nuke strike, I'm not seeing a path here , , , and apart from the moral issues, getting the military to launch a nuclear war of choice, etc. there is also the matter of what lessons would be drawn by China, Russia, et al.

 , , ,
59  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Corruption, Sleaze, Skullduggery, and Treason on: October 14, 2017, 10:18:58 PM
Hillary's husband sold a pardon to Marc Rich, pardoning him for doing business with Iran.  (Future AG Eric Holder put the deal together IIRC). 
60  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: October 14, 2017, 10:17:12 PM
John Bolton too.

BTW President Trump spoke to JB the day before his speech.

All of which sounds cool and all, but exactly what do we do when the Iranians say FY, and go for building the bomb, or worse yet uncork one in a test?

How's that working for us with the Norks?
61  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Milo interviews Pamela Geller on: October 14, 2017, 01:27:06 PM
Have not watched this yet, but this promises to be interesting.
62  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Cuba on: October 14, 2017, 01:10:46 PM
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    Cuban President Raul Castro will hand power to a successor, likely Miguel Diaz-Canel, by February 2018. The new president will likely maintain Cuba's current policies toward Venezuela and the United States.
    Cuba's government will attempt to wean itself off Venezuelan energy shipments while trying to diversify its import sources. In the meantime, Cuba will keep importing oil and fuel from Venezuela at current levels for as long as it can.
    To accomplish this goal, the Cuban government will continue to try to keep pro-Cuban Venezuelan officials, such as President Nicolas Maduro, in key positions of power.

In Cuba, austerity is threatening to make an unwanted comeback. The island's government is planning for an immediate future of budget cutbacks with little chance of financial relief. At the root of Cuba's slide into austerity is the Venezuelan economic crisis. Cuba receives around 55,000 barrels per day of mostly crude oil from Venezuela — down from more than 100,000 barrels per day only five years ago — as well as an unknown amount of financial assistance. The decline in Venezuelan energy shipments has forced the Cuban government to seek to diversify its import sources and to cut back on imports of higher-grade gasoline and diesel.

In this sense, Cuba's new austerity is a far cry from the "special period" of the early 1990s, when its primary source of foreign assistance and trade, the Soviet Union, disintegrated and the Cuban government's income declined precipitously. In 1993 alone, Cuba's gross domestic product fell nearly 15 percent. Venezuela's economic crisis will not affect Cuba as dramatically or as rapidly as the Soviet Union's collapse did, but declining oil and fuel shipments from Venezuela will raise the financial burden on Cuba's central government.

Facing a New Necessity

Since 2000, when the two countries signed an energy cooperation agreement, Cuba has enjoyed access to low-cost (and often free) Venezuelan oil, gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, providing medical care and training in return. In addition, Cuban intelligence and internal security services have worked with their Venezuelan counterparts to monitor and thwart any threats from Venezuela's political opposition or armed forces. As a result of the agreement, Havana has not had to budget meaningfully for energy expenses for nearly two decades. This dependence was mutually beneficial as long as both governments were capable of keeping up their ends of the deal. But the steady degradation of Petroleos de Venezuela's oil production and refining capacity since the mid-2000s has loomed over Havana's relationship with Caracas, and once the collapse of global oil prices in 2014 plunged Venezuela into economic crisis, finding a new energy patron became a necessity for the Cuban government.

Cuba has several advantages when it comes to dealing with the domestic effects of Venezuela's economic decline. As an authoritarian state with virtually no private sector, it can quickly dial down energy consumption by refusing to import or distribute some fuel shipments. Subsequent shortages might breed discontent, but not necessarily to a point that would threaten the government. Private vehicle ownership in Cuba isn't as high as it is in other Caribbean or Latin American countries, and the government's reputation in managing dissent would keep most would-be protesters in check. Cuba likely will try to keep the decline in Venezuela's fuel shipments gradual, while Venezuela, for its part, will likely reduce shipments to other Caribbean states before cutting off Cuba's subsidized energy.

A sudden change of government in Caracas or a shift in priorities from the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela could alter these likelihoods. The first scenario would require a coup, and the second would occur only if party factions hostile to Cuban interests were able to decisively influence Caracas' stance toward Havana, if, for example, a political figure such as Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer not closely linked to Cuba's government, pressed for a quicker reduction in Venezuelan assistance to Cuba. To mitigate these risks, Cuba will continue to support the efforts of Venezuelan intelligence services to detect threats from within, to protect pro-Cuba political figures, such as President Nicolas Maduro, and to defend their influence over the National Constituent Assembly and other government institutions.
A Steady Extraction

For Havana, the trick will be managing Cuba's energy consumption amid Venezuela's economic decline and growing political instability. A gradual decline in Venezuelan oil supplies would allow the Cuban government to slowly wean itself off that source and steadily substitute imports from other state and private companies. That effort could become easier if a plan by Mexico's government to substitute Venezuelan energy shipments with its own comes to fruition. On the other hand, the financial burden of a sudden loss of Venezuelan oil and fuel lifeline would be extremely high. At current prices, losing Venezuela's energy shipments would cost an extra $1 billion to cover. That amounts to about 50 percent of the Cuban central government's entire budgeted income.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, a career politician and member of Cuba's Politburo, is in line to succeed the aging Raul Castro as president by February 2018. There is no reason to expect Diaz-Canel to significantly change Cuba's policy toward either Venezuela or the United States. The lifting of the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba is off the table for the foreseeable future, given that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump moved to tighten sanctions on the Cuban government and pulled its diplomats from Havana after a series of suspected sonic attacks against them by an unknown actor. This deterioration in political ties means that Cuba's finances are unlikely to receive a sudden windfall from a further influx of U.S. tourists in coming years. The Cubans will keep supporting the Venezuelan administration because its energy consumption and domestic finances depend on the survival of Maduro's government.

For Cuba, the near future presents major financial obstacles that it will attempt to overcome by trying to steadily extract itself from its relationship with Venezuela. But cementing a new trade relationship with the United States is likely off the table for now. The upcoming leadership transition in Havana is unlikely to change that situation. Instead, Cuba will try to steadily supplant Venezuelan oil and fuel with shipments from other sources while hoping its energy patron doesn't suddenly cut off its energy supply.
63  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Latin American angle on trade with the Norks on: October 14, 2017, 01:08:09 PM
As the United States works to prevent North Korea from attaining a credible nuclear deterrent, it is using all the tools it has. Its campaign to isolate North Korea includes pressing trade partners around the world to stop doing business with the North and suspend diplomatic relations with the government in Pyongyang. In Latin America, the U.S. demands have met with mixed results. Some countries have broken off their relationships with North Korea, but others have shrugged off the pressure.

In September, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to cut off trade with any country that continued to do business with the North Koreans. A few weeks earlier on a trip through Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Panama, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence emphasized that Latin American governments should suspend both trade and diplomacy with Pyongyang in light of its nuclear weapons program. Pence's message was aimed in particular at Chile, which has rejected the idea.

Their trade relationships with China may explain why Chile and other Latin American countries are willing to risk the ire of the United States by continuing diplomatic relations with North Korea. As is the case among many of the region's other economies, China is Chile's top trading partner. Beijing has made it clear that it opposes the U.S. strategy of suspending diplomatic relations with North Korea. As they try to strike a balance between U.S. and Chinese interests, those Latin American countries may impose some trade restrictions on North Korea while keeping diplomatic lines intact.
Mexico and Peru Lean Toward the U.S.

Other Latin American countries have severed diplomatic relations with North Korea. On Sept. 8, just days after Pyongyang's most recent nuclear test explosion, the Mexican government expelled the North Korean ambassador and suspended trade with his country. Mexico and North Korea established diplomatic relations in the 1980s, but their bilateral trade levels have remained low. But Mexico filled an important North Korean need by selling it oil. In 2015, for example, Mexico sent almost $45 million worth of oil to North Korea, which is dependent on petroleum imports. At the same time, Mexico bought less than $14 million worth of North Korean goods, mainly computer parts.

That Mexico was the first Latin American country to suspend diplomatic and trade relations with North Korea under the Trump administration is not surprising. Since more than 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the United States, Mexico clearly has more to lose by alienating its northern neighbor than it has to gain by maintaining relations with North Korea. This is an especially sensitive time for the U.S.-Mexican trade relationship, as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enters a crucial phase. Despite Mexico's desire to cultivate closer trade ties with China to use as leverage in the NAFTA talks, Washington still holds a much greater influence with Mexico. In 2016, Mexico's trade deficit with China reached $60 billion, while at the same time, Mexico had a more than $60 billion trade surplus with the United States. Additionally, Mexico's geographic proximity to the United States increases the strength of U.S. influence relative to China's.

A week after Mexico cut diplomatic and trade ties with North Korea, Peru followed suit. Economics alone may not have been the chief factor guiding Peru's decision, however. In 2015, trade between Peru and North Korea reached just more than $20 million, much of it consisting of Peruvian exports of mineral commodities such as copper to North Korea. And though China is Peru's top trading partner, Lima has historically had close security ties with Washington, developed as they cooperated to combat drug trafficking. It appears that in this case, security took priority over economic ties.

It's also possible that Peru’s decision on North Korea could have involved a favor in exchange, but it remains unclear whether that is the case. Peruvian authorities had asked the United States to extradite Peru's former president, Alejandro Toledo, who is wanted in connection with a corruption scandal involving bribes in government contracts signed with Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht during his term. According to a Sept. 25 report by Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the extradition process has gained recent momentum.
North Korean trade with select Latin American countries
Brazil and Chile Seek to Remain Neutral

In Brazil, the only country in the Americas that has embassies in both North and South Korea, neutrality is an important foreign policy concept. In its relations with other countries, Brazil aims to remain open to dialogue and neutral in conflicts involving third parties. So, while Brazil's foreign ministry immediately issued a statement condemning North Korea's Sept. 3 nuclear test, at the same time it said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula could be solved only through dialogue. Brazil has indicated that it will restrict trade with North Korea, but it has, so far, refused to close the embassy in Pyongyang that it opened in 2009 under former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. The extent of Brazilian trade with North Korea, which topped out at $400 million a decade ago, had always been relatively small. However, its mission in Pyongyang allows Brazil to gather valuable information about the ongoing dispute while allowing it to act as an informal bridge between the West and North Korea.

For those reasons, the Brazilian government hesitates to accede to Washington's demand to cut ties with Pyongyang. During President Michel Temer's visit to the United Nations General Assembly in September, a U.S. delegation reportedly met with Brazilian government officials to discuss North Korea, but in light of Brazil's preference for dialogue, any U.S. entreaties for it to cut diplomatic links with Pyongyang went unheeded. Additionally, China is Brazil’s main trade partner, making the government in Brasilia even more likely to take the same position — that the conflict with Pyongyang should be settled with talks.

Just like Brazil, Chile will try to preserve its diplomatic and trade ties with Pyongyang. The exact amount of total trade between Chile and North Korea is difficult to determine. That's because some South Korean imports that originate in the Kaesong industrial complex, a joint Korean economic zone inside North Korea, could be reported by Chilean officials as coming from North Korea. The same muddy accounting may apply to Chile's exports to North Korea. But economics aside, China's influence also plays a big part in the Chilean policy decision.
Venezuela and Cuba Side With North Korea

Venezuela and Cuba are members of a different club of Latin American countries. Both share ideological and security ties with North Korea, and both currently have strained relations with the United States. There is little desire on their part to sever diplomatic ties with North Korea. Over the past few months, Venezuelan government officials have been hit with larger sanctions by Washington, while relations between the United States and Cuba have grown increasingly frosty.

In terms of economic relations, there are no reliable statistics on the amount of trade between North Korea and Cuba or Venezuela. In Venezuela's case, its relationship with North Korea is driven not only by ideological affinity, but also by the shared perception that its government, like the government in Pyongyang, is being threatened by the United States. The Venezuelan-North Korean relationship is still incipient, but the security partnership between the two countries could strengthen as Caracas turns to increasingly more authoritarian actions in its attempt to put down opposition and dissident groups. These are tactics that Pyongyang has mastered. North Korea could, for example, supply Venezuela with weapons, training and limited security assistance.

Cuba, on the other hand, is North Korea’s main point of entry to Latin America. The North Korean ambassadors expelled from Mexico and Peru may have gone to Cuba, since Havana is their base. The countries' security relationship is well established. Four years ago, a North Korean ship that departed Cuba was seized in Panama and was found to be carrying a cargo of weapons. At the time, Cuba claimed that the shipment was part of an agreement with North Korea to repair its obsolete defensive weapons.

The United States will continue to ramp up the pressure on Latin American countries that maintain diplomatic and trade relations with North Korea. However, there are limits to what that pressure will accomplish. Brazil and Chile are unlikely to follow the decisions made by Mexico and Peru to cut diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. They likely will add trade restrictions with North Korea but will maintain contact as a way to accommodate both U.S. and Chinese pressure. Meanwhile, Venezuela and Cuba may even increase cooperation with North Korea as their relations with the United States deteriorate furthe
64  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Ancient Egypt sunken city discovered on: October 14, 2017, 12:43:26 PM
65  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Baba Wawa: "You're damaging an entire industry!" on: October 14, 2017, 07:54:01 AM
66  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Ministry of Truth Division at Pravda on the Hudson on: October 14, 2017, 07:44:23 AM
67  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / FBI "finds" 30 pages of tarmac documents after JW lawsuit on: October 14, 2017, 07:39:34 AM
68  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump decertifies Iran deal on: October 14, 2017, 07:35:15 AM
The hits keep coming
69  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / In cutting Obamacare funding Trump has law on his side on: October 14, 2017, 07:10:32 AM
70  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Question: What if the deal is ended by US and/or Iran? on: October 13, 2017, 11:36:56 PM
What is our strategy if Iran and/or we walk?
71  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant/Self Intro on: October 13, 2017, 11:11:04 PM
Thank you GM GM (i.e. Grand Master GM) I think we are going to have to upgrade your title in Google Fu to something really high falutin'.
72  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Rules of the Road/Fire Hydrant/Self Intro on: October 13, 2017, 09:05:06 PM
Looking for proper article on court ruling Obama's Dream/DACA EO unconsitutional.
73  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Noah Webster: 1787 on: October 13, 2017, 08:42:24 PM
"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States." —Noah Webster (1787)
74  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / President Trump's EO-- well done on: October 13, 2017, 08:39:04 PM

President Donald Trump signed a new executive order on Thursday that moves health care a step in the right direction.

The executive order instructs the secretaries of treasury, labor, and health and human services to propose regulatory changes that would increase choice and competition in health insurance.

This is the right course of action. In the absence of congressional action to address Obamacare’s damage, Trump is right to seek ways within his power to help those hurt by Obamacare’s skyrocketing premiums and the reduced access to quality plans.

Trump’s executive order addresses three problems that hinder people’s access to the insurance and care they need.

Americans need an alternative to the mainstream media. But this can't be done alone. Find out more >>

First, small business employees and the self-employed are most hurt by Obamacare. The percentage of workers at small firms receiving coverage through their employer has declined from nearly half in 2010 to about one-third in 2017. They face skyrocketing premiums and reduced choice in plans.

One challenge small businesses face is that, under current interpretations of a federal employee benefit law, they are limited in their ability to band together and secure coverage similar to plans offered by larger employers.

Obamacare exacerbated that problem by imposing costly new benefit mandates on small employer plans, but not on large employer plans. Thus, Trump is right to ask the Department of Labor to help by exploring ways to update this interpretation.

A change of this sort could allow small businesses and the self-employed to escape Obamacare’s costly benefit mandates and access new options run by associations that they have a stake in.

It could also help more small employers offer coverage to their workers. Newly enrolled individuals could save money—up to 20 to 50 percent on the cost of their insurance—by taking advantage of the tax break for employer-provided health insurance.

Second, President Barack Obama’s administration sharply reduced access to a low-cost option known as short-term, limited duration insurance.

These plans are often one-third of the cost of the cheapest Obamacare plans, yet typically feature broad provider networks and high coverage limits. That makes it harder than it should be for people between jobs to access a low-cost insurance plan.

As a result, people between jobs face suboptimal choices such as buying Obamacare’s heavily regulated and expensive plans, or going on Medicaid.

To address this, Trump rightly asks the departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to consider reversing Obama’s decision.

Third, the Obama administration issued regulations limiting the ability of businesses to offer their employees coverage through “Health Reimbursement Arrangements,” in order to force such plans to comply with Obamacare’s standardized, one-size-fits-all benefit design.

Yet the whole point of those plans is to give businesses and workers a tool for customizing their health benefits according to their own needs and preferences.

Thus, Trump has rightly asked the departments of the Treasury, Labor, and Health and Human Services to explore ways to revise those regulations so that employers and workers have more flexibility and choices for health benefits.

While Trump’s executive order on health care is a step in the right direction, he needs Congress to get back to work in order to more fully improve our health system. The administration can only do so much, as it has to work within the confines of exiting law, including Obamacare.

For instance, the administration likely has sufficient authority to revise the regulations on health reimbursement arrangements so that employers have new options to give workers tax-free contributions to buy the individual market coverage of their choice.

But the potential benefits of that policy change will remain largely unrealized, so long as the law prevents insurers from offering anything other than Obamacare’s limited menu of standardized, overregulated, overpriced individual market plans.

Thus, Congress needs to do its job, fully undo Obamacare’s damage, and offer broader relief to all Americans struggling with rising premium costs and reduced choice of plans.
75  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: October 13, 2017, 08:35:17 PM
In Stratfor's 2017 Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we said that the current U.S. administration would make its distaste for Iranian military and political activities known, as well as attempt to counter Iran through sanctions. In U.S. President Donald Trump's most recent speech, he outlined his plans to achieve precisely that.

U.S. President Donald Trump stood behind his campaign trail promises when announcing his plans for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal. On Oct. 13, Trump announced that he would not recertify the deal to Congress when it comes up for review in two days. Rather, he announced that he would push Congress to amend current legislation on the deal and outlined a new U.S. policy to contain Iran's regional ambitions.

The United States' new plan is focused on four key objectives: to curtail Iran's ballistic missile program, to counter Iranian activities in the Middle East, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and to limit Iran's ability to finance its regional actions through sanctions. Additionally, Trump said the United States would further sanction the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its affiliates by listing it as a terrorist organization. 

Trump declined to immediately snap back sanctions frozen under the JCPOA, but announced plans to work with Congress and U.S. allies to pressure Iran and amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). Among other changes, the Trump administration wants to amend the INARA so that sanctions on Iran snap back automatically, without a vote from Congress, if the country's nuclear program is found to be in violation of the deal. The administration would also like to include automatic responses for certain Iranian activity, such as ballistic missile testing. Unless Trump can convince Congress to amend the legislation, he says he will terminate the JCPOA. Although the United States can't decide unilaterally to terminate the JCPOA, a U.S. exodus would likely be the beginning of the deal's end.

The biggest risk ahead lies in the details of the amendments. Trump wants the United States to respond with sanctions if Iran takes certain actions, but the question is whether those actions will include activities Iran did not agree to refrain from under the JCPOA. It is also unclear whether Trump's proposed sanctions are different, or different enough, to those the United States promised to lift under the JCPOA. Unless the United States is careful, it could put sanctions in place that put the country in breach of the nuclear deal and push Iran to spitefully restart its nuclear weapons program.

Congress has already carefully constructed one bill of sanctions on Iran that ensured the United States did not violate its international commitments under the JCPOA. In the drafting of further sanctions, Congress could construct the language carefully enough to maintain order and secure enough senate votes to pass it, even if that bill is not in line with Trump's speech. To modify the INARA, the Senate will need to burst through a filibuster. But that means getting at least eight Democrats on boards, which is a tall order.

The Trump administration has a tough hill to climb in not only getting Congress on board, but in convincing its allies as well. Shortly after Trump's announcement, France, Germany and the United Kingdom — the three European countries that signed the JCPOA along with the European Union — issued a joint statement saying that preserving the deal was in their shared national interests.

Trump did not announce a deadline for enacting his plans. Because of this, he can use threats to terminate the deal to push Congress and U.S. allies into closer alignment with his goals. Over the next year, the JCPOA will become increasingly fragile.
76  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / DACA dreamers smuggling more illegals on: October 13, 2017, 08:03:01 PM
77  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PA Secrectary of State resigns; enabled many illegals to vote on: October 13, 2017, 04:30:50 PM
78  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Judicial Watch: What we have here is a failure to investigate on: October 13, 2017, 04:21:59 PM
79  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Scott Grannis answers our question on: October 13, 2017, 12:18:58 PM
Can’t see how this will make much of a difference. Money is fungible. The value of the dollar is determined not by transactional demand for oil, but for by the demand to hold dollars.

On Oct 12, 2017, at 12:59 PM, Marc Denny <> wrote:
80  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy on: October 13, 2017, 11:20:22 AM
GOP eyes big prize for tax bill: Manchin's vote

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is making a bid for the support of Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), a prominent centrist Democrat, on tax reform.

McConnell invited Manchin to his office shortly before the Columbus Day recess to talk about tax legislation, among other issues.

Manchin, who is running for reelection next year in a state that President Trump won in a landslide, is one of GOP’s top targets as they seek bipartisan support for their No. 1 legislative priority.
81  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Wall would block animal migrations on: October 13, 2017, 01:33:10 AM
Actually, I suspect this to be true:
82  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump DOJ says Trump Admin can destroy records on: October 13, 2017, 01:30:13 AM
83  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Iran on: October 13, 2017, 01:17:18 AM
DACA was quite properly punted back to Congress!  After all, Obama's EO was unconstitutional!

As for the Iran decertification, there too it strikes me as a solid course of action:

The deal should have been a treaty, yes?  So how can it be wrong for the little congressional participation that survived per the deal be brought into play? Seems sound to me to force Congress to take a stand as he goes into this.
84  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Puerto Rico will not be 51st State any time soon on: October 12, 2017, 12:53:43 PM
    Popular opinion in the overseas U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has trended toward statehood, with about 97 percent of voters backing that option in a June referendum.

    Admitting Puerto Rico into the Union would alter the composition of the U.S. Congress, and House and Senate members could resist adding extra legislators who could sway close votes.

    Aside from political representation, statehood does not hold many material benefits for Puerto Ricans, because they are already U.S. citizens and have the right to work and to travel freely in the United States.

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico has renewed attention on the island's relationship with the United States. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. overseas territory was a key part of the United States' drive to secure the Caribbean against hostile foreign powers. But as European powers declined while the United States grew to become the globe's dominant force, the Caribbean's immediate importance to U.S. foreign policy waned. Still, the region remains indispensable to U.S. national security, mainly because of its proximity to the mainland. No foreign powers are capable of making meaningful inroads into the Caribbean, although Russian and Chinese influence in such places as Cuba and Venezuela will continue to concern the United States.

Taken From Spain

Dominance over the Caribbean is essential to the United States, but the country's direct political control of Puerto Rico is more a legacy of how the United States set about achieving this foreign policy imperative. The United States wrested control of the island from Spain during the Spanish-American War in 1898. (Compared with fighting in other Spanish possessions such as Cuba and the Philippines, Puerto Rico was a relatively minor part of the conflict.) And while Cuba and the Philippine islands came under U.S. control, only Puerto Rico, which was smaller and lacked the strong pro-independence movements of Cuba and the Philippines, remained directly administered by the United States.
Since the early 20th century, the issue of independence — or a change in the island's relationship with Washington — has arisen periodically. In 1917, Washington laid the groundwork for Puerto Rico's present relationship. It was made into a self-governing, unincorporated territory whose citizens have the rights of those on the mainland United States. However, the island has no political representation in Congress, and its citizens are not able to vote in U.S. presidential elections (although they do vote in presidential primaries). Its governors were appointed by the U.S. president until 1947, when Luis Munoz Marin, the first democratically elected governor, took office.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, an independence movement steadily grew in Puerto Rico, although it was never widespread enough to meaningfully threaten U.S. control. In 1950, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, a pro-independence political movement, fomented a series of revolts that the United States put down by deploying the National Guard. Also that year, Puerto Rican separatists attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman. While separatists later injured five congressmen during an assault on the U.S. Capitol in 1954, the independence movement was seriously crippled after its main leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, was arrested during the 1950 revolts. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the United States continued to break up various cells advocating and carrying out violence in support of independence.

Congress Holds the Key

Because of Puerto Rico's status as a territory, the island's political future rests in the hands of the U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico's political scene is roughly divided between political figures who intend to uphold the status quo relationship with the United States and those who want to shift toward statehood. There is no serious movement toward independence. Since 1968, the island's status has been put to a vote five times in separate, nonbinding referendums. And the statehood option, which would make Puerto Rico the 51st state, has steadily gained ground. During the last referendum, held on June 11, 2017, that alternative won with 97 percent of the ballots — although turnout was less than 25 percent of registered voters.
Still, such referendums do not ensure that the island's status will change. Since Puerto Rico is a territory, any changes in its standing depend on the president and the legislature of the United States to execute them. And any referendums must be perceived as valid by U.S. authorities. But the main sticking point for U.S. authorities is political representation in Congress: Granting Puerto Rico two senators and several House representatives would prove controversial, as those seats could shift vote tallies in the legislative branch and benefit one party in federal elections. And those possibilities would reduce the will of Congress to even entertain a vote on statehood after a Puerto Rican referendum.
Meanwhile, despite recent referendums suggesting a shift toward statehood, there are no major economic or political drivers pushing Puerto Ricans themselves to a prompt resolution. While some parties and political figures have touted the benefits of statehood, Puerto Ricans have long been able to live, travel and work freely in the United States. Statehood would come with few material benefits for the average Puerto Rican, making it harder to drum up popular support to pressure Congress. Moreover, the recovery from Hurricane Maria will probably delay any attempts for a new vote, given that the island's authorities are overwhelmingly focused on rebuilding and need U.S. financial support to do so.
Thus, the storm, while a tragic humanitarian crisis, will have little impact on the future relationship between the United States and its island territory. With no serious push from Washington and no pressing motivations on the island, Puerto Rico is unlikely to seek statehood anytime soon.
85  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Harvest Moon on: October 12, 2017, 12:42:17 PM
86  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / North Korea's Next Test on: October 12, 2017, 12:24:58 PM
North Korea’s Next Test
Oct 12, 2017

By Xander Snyder

Conventional wisdom is that North Korea is developing nuclear weapons to act as a deterrent to a U.S. military strike against it, and this is true. But less discussed is what comes next. Once the North has a deliverable nuclear weapon – one that can both be mounted on a missile and handle the stress of re-entry through the atmosphere to hit a target – the regime will be secure. Then, Pyongyang can move on to its long-term objective: unifying the Korean Peninsula under its leadership, whether under a federation or a union.

This is still very far off. The U.S. remains an obstacle that would have to be removed, whether by causing a diplomatic split between Washington and Seoul, ejecting U.S. forces from the peninsula or both. Along the way, North Korea would gradually increase pressure on South Korea, bullying it bit by bit into accepting greater concessions. Since South Korea is focused on preventing war, it is likely that, if these steps were sufficiently small, it would not try to resist through force. The North hasn’t yet fulfilled its first objective, but it may be close, and we may be seeing its strategy to achieve its second objective slowly taking shape.

Small Steps

Over the weekend, the North reportedly restarted operations at and claimed sole sovereignty over the Kaesong industrial complex. Kaesong was previously jointly managed by South Korea and North Korea, one of the few areas of cooperation between the two countries. It was closed last February, a month after Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test, and South Korea pulled its workers out. Though some experts believe that the North has been managing production at the site for as long as six months, it was only last week that state media announced that North Korea had sole legal authority over the plant’s assets.

A Radio Free Asia report supports the North Korean announcement, noting on Oct. 6 that 19 textile factories had been reopened and are in operation. South Korean businessmen with interests in the Kaesong facility have asked the South Korean government for permission to visit the site to confirm the story, saying this would represent a seizure of South Korean corporate assets.

There are two ways to interpret this development. They aren’t mutually exclusive, but they do have conflicting implications. The first is that North Korea is suffering from the increasingly stringent economic sanctions and needs to use the Kaesong complex to produce textiles for domestic consumption. But while it’s true that sanctions are more extensive today than in the past, the North Korean regime has long faced sanctions and nevertheless survived and pushed forward with its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency on Sept. 16, 2017, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a launching drill of the medium- and long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location. STR/AFP/Getty Images

The second interpretation is that North Korea is gaining confidence in its deterrent capability and is beginning to take these small steps against South Korea. Several events over the past couple of days – while not outrightly confirming this interpretation – do seem to support it. First, at the end of September, shortly after Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test (which, due to its high yield, many believed to be the detonation of a hydrogen bomb), the regime threatened to conduct a nuclear test over the Pacific. Such a test would likely entail using a ballistic missile to carry the nuclear warhead out over the ocean before detonation. Were this to happen, it would almost certainly demonstrate that North Korea had developed a deliverable nuclear weapon. (The only exception would be if the North conducted the test in space, since such a test would not require re-entry capability.)

Calm Before the Storm

Kim Jong Un has stated clearly in the past that the deployment of U.S. and allied forces in and around the Korean Peninsula is a threat to North Korea. After North Korea test-launched a ballistic missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido in mid-September, Kim specifically cited ongoing U.S.-South Korean drills as the reason for the test. He used the success of the test to claim that Guam, which houses a U.S. air base, was also within reach of his missiles. From North Korea’s perspective, the massive U.S. presence on the Korean Peninsula that makes these drills possible is a major threat. If military exercises become commonplace, it is far easier for one apparent drill to quickly morph into a real strike. Habituation breeds complacency, which provides the opportunity for surprise.

In recent days, the U.S., South Korean and Japanese militaries have been busy. Four events in particular stand out. The first was an air-to-ground missile test the night of Oct. 10 involving two U.S. B-1B strategic bombers and a combination of F-15Ks from the Japanese and South Korean air forces. Similar drills have occurred before, but the U.S. Air Force emphasized that this was the first time one had taken place at night. Second, the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and a Japanese destroyer participated in joint naval drills Oct. 11 off the southwest coast of Okinawa. Third, the Los Angeles-class USS Tucson, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, arrived Oct. 11 at the South Korean port of Jinhae. Though this was a scheduled port call, the presence of nuclear submarines in Korea has been a less frequent event than the B-1B drills over the past several months. Finally, more joint naval drills involving the U.S. and South Korea are planned for Oct. 14.

The drills and naval movements are normal; the frequency in such a short span of time is not. It could be that the U.S. is accumulating forces to prepare for a pre-emptive strike or to discourage another nuclear test. The drills are also happening only days after U.S. President Donald Trump made statements on Twitter and at a press conference that seem to indicate that the diplomatic phase is nearing its end. We rarely give credence to public statements by political leaders, but in this case they can be considered in the context of unfolding events. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that U.S. diplomacy with North Korea hadn’t worked and that “only one thing will work” to stop the North’s missile program.

The tweets came after Trump referenced “the calm before the storm” at a press conference Oct. 5. If the U.S. were planning a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, maintaining a sense of calm is a reasonable thing to do in order to confuse the North as to the United States’ true intentions. The U.S. might also do something resembling the military drills of the past several months, which Washington could claim were simply routine, to lull Pyongyang into complacency. On the other hand, the announcement of such a strategy runs counter to its execution.

Nevertheless, Kim is in no position to assume that what his enemies’ forces are doing on and around the peninsula is routine. If he has a deliverable nuclear weapon, and if he believes that an attack by the U.S. is imminent, now would be the time for the test that he threatened in September. Preparations could already be underway. North Korea held a major rally in the capital on Oct. 7, and notably absent were two officials who head the country’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs. Of course, this is North Korea, and we can’t rule out that they were simply purged by the regime, but both programs’ recent successes make this explanation less likely. If Pyongyang goes through with its threatened test over the Pacific, and if the weapon survives re-entry, it would demonstrate to the world that North Korea has an effective nuclear deterrent.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said that the U.S. national interest dictates that North Korea be prevented from acquiring a deliverable nuclear weapon. If the North succeeds in a nuclear test over the ocean, it will have crossed that red line, forcing the U.S. to rethink its strategy not only on the Korean Peninsula but in the entire Western Pacific. We might also someday look back at recent events like the takeover of the Kaesong complex as the first steps toward the North asserting greater control over the South.
87  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: How to defeat Iran on: October 12, 2017, 12:18:03 PM
second post

How to Defeat the Islamic Republic
Iran’s regime resembles the Soviet Union in its dying days. Trump can follow Reagan’s example.
By Reuel Marc Gerecht and
Ray Takeyh
Oct. 11, 2017 5:54 p.m. ET

Iran’s modern history is replete with examples of the citizenry seeking to reclaim power from despots. The Pahlavi dynasty, which ruled between 1925 and 1979, regularly faced popular rebellions, including the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Once the country’s current clerical rulers made clear their disdain for democracy, they too were beset by protest movements. The Islamic Republic’s Western enablers present it as strong and steady, but the theocracy now resembles the Soviet Union in its dying days.

Once in power, Iran’s Islamists faced open rebellion from the revolutionary factions that objected to their republic of virtue. This was a battle waged in the streets as well as in Parliament and the press. The mullahs proved more ruthless than their liberal and Marxist detractors.

The Iran-Iraq war tranquilized Iran’s domestic politics in the 1980s, as national energies were focused on a savage foreign invader. In the 1990s the power struggle resumed. The reform movement, led by disgruntled members of the intellectual and clerical elite, challenged the regime’s orthodoxies and even called for making the office of the supreme leader accountable to the electorate. The reformist interlude ended with the student rebellion of 1999, when government enforcers bloodied the universities.

Then came the Green Movement in June 2009. A rigged election to restore Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency brought millions to the streets. In a matter of days, the slogans went from “Where is my vote?” to “Down with dictatorship!” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei initially seemed flat-footed, the clerical elite unsure if it could trust the security services.

Eventually the theocracy restored order, but it had already lost whatever tattered legitimacy it had left. The regime shed the facade of republicanism, purged itself of unreliable elements, imprisoned its most popular politicians, and abandoned even the pretense of harmonizing faith and freedom. The notion of political reform was dead and all talk of human rights was only that—talk. The Islamic Republic proved it could not reform itself.
Green Movement protesters in Tehran, June 9, 2009.
Green Movement protesters in Tehran, June 9, 2009. Photo: Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Meantime, government reports, the controlled press and even senior Revolutionary Guard commanders reluctantly confess the truth: Islam is growing weaker within Iran. Mosques, thinning out for 30 years, are now mostly empty even on religious holidays. Seminaries have few recruits, and the government of God has trouble supplying mosques with prayer leaders. Secularism is on the rise, particularly among the youth, among whom religious observance has declined precipitously. The regime conducts its ritualistic elections, and apparatchiks like Hassan Rouhani lead a bloated state drowning in corruption. The specter of the Green Movement haunts tightly controlled elections, as chants for the overthrow of the regime often erupt.

The ideologically exhausted theocracy tries to revitalize itself by imperialism and patronage, much as the Soviet Union did in the 1970s. Mr. Khamenei stands today as modern Persia’s most successful imperialist, as he has planted Iran’s flag from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. But imperialism carries costs, as the Shiite militias Iran arms and local allies it subsidizes burden its treasury.

The regime depicts its adventures as quests to save Arab Shiites from Sunni domination and Western machination. Foreign wars have become an advanced guard of the revolution, according to the late Revolutionary Guard general Hossein Hamedani, who squelched the Green Movement in Tehran and then organized the Shiite militias fighting in Syria. “To protect the accomplishments of the Islamic revolution,” Hamedani proudly asserted, “we had to intervene” in Syria and Iraq.

At home, the clerical regime established an array of welfare agencies to dispense benefits to its lower-class constituents. This was not just about fulfilling a religious obligation. The regime sought to tether the working poor to the new order. Large foundations expropriated the wealth of the Pahlavis and tens of thousands of affluent Iranians to provide the poor with housing and health care. But temptations of power proved too much as the mullahs and their praetorian guard indulged their taste for luxury. Corruption overtook charity. Class cleavages today are sharper than under the shah. But this vast revolutionary patronage offers the regime a lifeline from its economic incompetence and tyranny. It is this lifeline that aggressive sanctions must choke off.

There are no inevitabilities in history. Nobody knew when the Soviet Union’s contradictions would overwhelm the system, and there is no time stamp on the Islamic Republic’s demise. Jimmy Carter and the vast majority of the Democratic Party wanted to coexist with the Soviet Union. But Ronald Reagan helped crack the Soviet Communist Party by waging economic warfare, empowering dissidents, and shrinking its imperial frontiers.

President Trump should follow Reagan’s example, not Mr. Carter’s. The U.S. should once more establish contact with and financially assist dissident organizations in Iran. There is no substitute for presidential declaration, and Mr. Trump should embrace Reagan’s model of speaking directly to the Iranian people while castigating their illegitimate regime. Washington should again impose crippling sanctions to deny the mullahs their patronage networks, the key to their power. A formula that led to the collapse of the mighty Soviet empire can surely down Mr. Khamenei’s and the Revolutionary Guard’s kleptocracy.

Mr. Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracy. Mr. Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
88  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Progressive Sabotage of West Point on: October 12, 2017, 12:13:40 PM
89  DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Redondo Beach on: October 12, 2017, 12:05:29 PM
90  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Redondo Beach on: October 12, 2017, 12:04:52 PM
91  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump eases Obamacare rules w EO on: October 12, 2017, 11:26:13 AM
92  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / PPI running over 2% on: October 12, 2017, 11:07:12 AM
The Producer Price Index Rose 0.4% in September To view this article, Click Here
Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 10/12/2017

The Producer Price Index (PPI) rose 0.4% in September, matching consensus expectations. Producer prices are up 2.6% versus a year ago.

Energy prices rose 3.4% in September, while food prices were unchanged. Producer prices excluding food and energy rose 0.4%.

In the past year, prices for goods are up 3.3%, while prices for services are up 2.1%. Private capital equipment prices rose 0.4% in September and are up 2.5% in the past year.

Prices for intermediate processed goods rose 0.5% in September and are up 4.3% versus a year ago. Prices for intermediate unprocessed goods declined 0.4% in September but are up 7.0% versus a year ago.

Implications: The impact of Hurricane's Harvey and Irma can be felt throughout today's report on producer prices. The most significant impact from the storms was on supply chains, where increased demand for machine and equipment parts, paired with a limited supply, pushed up margins to wholesalers. Meanwhile storm-related refinery shutdowns along the Gulf Coast led energy prices 3.4% higher in September, including a 10.9% jump in gasoline prices. Food prices, however, showed little impact, unchanged in September and down at a 0.5% annual rate in the past six months. Looking beyond food and energy, "core" prices rose 0.4% in September. In addition to higher wholesaler margins, most major categories of goods and services also rose in September. In the past year, producer prices have increased 2.6%, the largest twelve month rise since early 2012. This is certainly elevated in September by the hurricanes, but producer prices have been at or above 2% on a year-to-year basis in seven of the last eight months. And a look further down the pipeline shows the trend higher should continue in the months to come. Intermediate processed goods rose 0.5% in September and are up 4.3% from a year ago, while unprocessed goods declined 0.4% in September but remain up 7.0% in the past year. In other words, the "data dependent" Fed has clear evidence that inflation has met or exceeded their 2% target. In employment news this morning, new claims for unemployment benefits declined 15,000 last week to 243,000, while continuing claims fell 32,000 to 1.89 million, the lowest level since 1973. The temporary storm-related dip in employment looks to have passed, and we expect a very strong rebound in payrolls in October.
93  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Money, the Fed, Banking, Monetary Policy, Dollar & other currencies, Gold/Silver on: October 12, 2017, 11:00:31 AM
I just forwarded that to Scott Grannis. Let's see what he says.
94  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / VDH: Divisive American Politics today on: October 12, 2017, 10:58:35 AM
95  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Pakistani Awan Connection on: October 12, 2017, 09:31:09 AM
96  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Caveat Lector on: October 12, 2017, 09:29:22 AM
Pasting here RickN post in another thread:

The security guard at the Mandalay Bay hotel has been arrested as an accomplice to the shooting.  Jesus Compos was not registered as a licensed security guard in NV.  Security camera footage now shows him helping Paddock smuggle in weapons.  FBI now theorizes that this person shot out of one of the windows in the suite and then killed Paddock, shot himself, and invented the story of being through the door by Paddock in an effort to escape.

(CNN) Breaking News – Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Compos has been arrested accused of being an accomplice and second shooter in the Las Vegas massacre that claimed the lives of 59 people and injured more than 500.

Jesus Campos had originally been praised for his apparent heroics on October 1st, as he supposedly rushed to Paddock’s suite, was shot in the upper thigh through the door, and continued to help get people to safety despite his wounds. However, FBI officials involved in the investigation now believe he was an accomplice of Paddock’s, and was involved in the initial shooting as a second gunman from the other broken window in Paddock’s 32nd-floor room.

According to a senior FBI official, authorities became suspicions by the extreme amount of gunpowder residue found on Campos’ hands and inconsistencies in his timeline of events. “We believe he killed Paddock, shot holes through the door and his own arm to produce physical evidence for his cover story, then went and lay next to the elevator,” the FBI official told CNN.

An anonymous source working on the investigation told CNN that authorities are now in possession of security footage showing Campos smuggling the firearms used in the massacre in through a Mandalay Bay loading dock in the days leading up to the event.

With the arrest of Compos Police now hope to get a greater understanding of the motivations behind the attack.

GM reports that this is not being reported elswhere.
97  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Mysterious break in at Paddock home on: October 12, 2017, 09:25:35 AM
98  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: Revelations from thwarted NYC plot on: October 12, 2017, 09:07:26 AM
An undercover FBI agent posing as a jihadist on social media received a message from Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy in April 2016. El Bahnasawy, a Canadian citizen who was then 18 years old, claimed to support the Islamic State, said he wanted to conduct an attack in New York City and solicited the agent's help in planning one. Over the next month, he discussed possible targets and methods with the agent, sending maps of the New York subway system and photos of Times Square. He also introduced the agent to two other men: Talha Haroon, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen living in Pakistan who wanted to participate in the attack, and Russell Salic, a 36-year-old doctor in the Philippines who would help finance it.

El Bahnasawy was arrested on May 21, 2016, after traveling from Canada to Cranford, New Jersey, with the stated intent of joining the undercover agent at a rural cabin to make bombs. Five months later, he pleaded guilty to a seven-count indictment; Haroon and Salic were also arrested and are pending extradition from Pakistan and the Philippines. The U.S. Department of Justice recently unsealed documents related to the case, including criminal complaints against the three conspirators who had planned attacks throughout New York during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in 2016. El Bahnasawy's quick plea and the fact that the government kept the case sealed for so long suggest that he was working with U.S. officials to identify other jihadists with whom he had been in contact. Now that the Justice Department has gotten what it wanted from El Bahnasawy and unsealed the case, we have access to a wealth of information that can help put the jihadist threat in context.

Going by the Book

A look at the documents reveals a classic grassroots plot. Several aspects of the averted attack not only track with current jihadist trends but also recall past terrorist incidents. Even the plan to use a remote cabin to build bombs and practice shooting harkens back to previous attacks. Anders Breivik, for example, rented a remote farm in Norway to build his truck bomb, and the groups behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 2007 Fort Dix armed assault plot traveled to rural Pennsylvania to work on their shooting skills.

The main conspirators behind the plot fit a familiar profile as two young operatives who met over social media and then used the technology to hatch their plan. Social media is an invaluable tool for aspiring jihadists. For one thing, it gives isolated and geographically distant jihadists a sense of community that encourages their radicalization. For another, it puts them in touch with people with the experience, expertise and resources they need to plan and execute an attack. Social media sites are also useful for organizing small cells, which can conduct larger, more ambitious strikes than a single person could. Like the would-be perpetrators behind many other thwarted terrorism cases, El Bahnasawy and Haroon maintained multiple accounts on a variety of social media applications. And like many other foiled jihadists, El Bahnasawy made a critical misstep while looking for assistance to plan his attack and inadvertently reached out to a government informant instead of a like-minded collaborator.

The young plotters in this case may well have failed even without the FBI's intervention. Among the many attacks El Bahnasawy and Haroon discussed with the agent was a spectacular car bombing in Times Square. Whether they had the capabilities to construct the bombs required for such a feat may be another story, though. Triacetone triperoxide (TATP) is a powerful explosive that grassroots jihadists can manufacture quickly from everyday materials. But the substance is notoriously volatile and can be a dangerous choice for first-time bombmakers — especially if they're trying to synthesize large quantities. In fact, three jihadists died in an explosion in August while trying to make a big batch of TATP in a house in Alcanar, Spain. El Bahnasawy and Haroon seem to have realized the car bomb plot might be a lofty goal for their level of experience. The unsealed documents reveal that they eventually settled on a more modest plan for an armed assault using guns and suicide vests.

Beyond the perils of TATP, the recently unsealed case also offers a reminder of the dangers lurking across the United States' northern border. El Bahnasawy, as a Canadian citizen, could easily travel to the United States to conduct an attack — he didn't even need a visa. For all the attention the southern U.S. border receives, the northern border still poses a far more serious threat where terrorism is concerned, as El Bahnasawy's case demonstrates. His use of e-commerce sites to purchase hydrogen peroxide and other bombmaking necessities, moreover, sheds light on the hazards that come along with the convenience of online shopping.

Some Help From Overseas

El Bahnasawy's co-conspirators, likewise, provide valuable insight into the world of grassroots jihadists. Haroon claimed to have ties to the Islamic State's Wilayat Khorasan in Pakistan. He said he had wanted to join the group but that the Khorasan chapter's leaders thought it better for him to travel to the United States to conduct the attack. According to Haroon, the Wilayat Khorasan even blessed the plot he and El Bahnasawy were cooking up, though the group apparently declined to buy him an airline ticket to the United States to carry it out.

That Haroon couldn't get Wilayat Khorasan to arrange his travel is just one of several indications that his claims of contact with the group were overblown, if not altogether false. Pakistani militant groups, after all, have helped Western jihadists conduct past attacks, including the bombings in London on July 7, 2005, and Faisal Shahzad's botched Times Square attack. The cost of a one-way ticket from Pakistan to the United States would be a small price for a terrorist group to pay to help an operative presumably unknown to U.S. law enforcement officials stage an attack in New York. Militant groups in Pakistan also previously have provided hands-on bombmaking training to operatives. Yet Haroon demurred when he was asked to run the bombmaking instructions El Bahnasawy had found online past the explosives expert he purported to know, saying the Islamic State didn't want too many people involved in the plot. He also said the bombmaker had told him they needed detonating cord, which is difficult to procure in the United States. All things considered, Haroon probably was a keyboard jihadist who had not yet made the leap from online radicalism to real-life terrorism.

Salic is another interesting figure. According to the criminal complaint against him, the Filipino doctor and small-time terrorism financier sent hundreds of dollars not only to the undercover FBI agent involved with El Bahnasawy but also to jihadists in Malaysia, Lebanon, Bosnia, Syria, Australia and Palestine. Salic had a prominent social media presence, which is presumably how he came in contact with El Bahnasawy and the other jihadists he backed. Unlike other jihadist sympathizers, such as former Maj. Nidal Hasan, the U.S. military psychiatrist who attacked Fort Hood in 2009, Salic appears to have used social media to contribute small amounts of money to fund grassroots operations, rather than donate large sums to charities that support jihadist causes. Salic's criminal complaint includes allegations that he sent $426.30 on June 24, 2016, to a person in Malaysia named Jasanizam Rosni. Rosni picked up the money June 26, two days before a grenade attack on a bar in Kuala Lumpur, which the Islamic State claimed. In August 2016, Malaysian authorities arrested and charged Rosni in connection with the attack, perhaps thanks to the investigation into the foiled plot in New York.
Setting the Scene

In addition to details on the attackers, the recently unsealed documents reveal useful information about the locations they considered. El Bahnasawy and Haroon, for example, floated the idea of attacking New York's subway system, a perennial target for jihadists (though it has so far escaped the kinds of attacks that have rocked transit lines in cities such as London, Madrid, Brussels and Moscow).

The aspiring jihadists also considered attacking a concert venue. Their discussions took place a full year before the deadly bombing outside an Ariana Grande performance in Manchester — and well before the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. The plotters said the high death toll that assailants achieved at Paris' Bataclan theater in November 2015 had inspired them. Based on their statements, we can expect the more recent attacks on concerts, which also inflicted large numbers of casualties, to draw jihadists and other attackers to concert halls and festivals in the future.

The timing of the prospective attacks is no less notable. In 2016, an unprecedented number of attacks answered the Islamic State's calls for violence during Ramadan, which lasted from June 6 to July 5. El Bahnasawy and Haroon's assault is one of several thwarted attacks that could have added to the mayhem during the holy month. Similarly, attacks spiked during Ramadan this year, and we can expect the trend to continue next year, when Ramadan will take place from May 15 to June 14.

El Bahnasawy and Haroon's plot never came to fruition, considering that it involved an undercover agent from its very inception. Nevertheless, the documents released in the case offer us a rare window into the transnational world of grassroots jihadists organizing and raising support for their attacks — as well as a window into the efforts to stop them.
99  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump to force GOP (and Congressional!) reckoning on Iran on: October 12, 2017, 09:04:23 AM

The Fixers vs. the Walkers:  Good discussion
100  Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Trump nominates Neilson to DHS on: October 12, 2017, 09:01:18 AM
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