Here’s an interesting idea put forth by The Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy. The wild card in this second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jung Un is coal. North Korea’s coal exports to China, in other words. Apparently, UN sanctions have worked because China has complied with America’s demand that they stop buying DPRK coal. And of course, Trump has reportedly just recently extended the deadline for the scheduled tariff increases on a wide range of Chinese imports, thereby apparently delaying a damaging trade war as negotiations with Xi’s regime continue. Here’s what Daily on Energy’s John Siciliano and Josh Siegel write:

North Korea’s economy depends on coal exports, but crippling United Nations sanctions have cut back its shipments to China — its largest buyer — to zero.

That means that Trump has the option of a concession related to coal in reaching a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

If Kim Jung Un renounces his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, he gets his coal trade back with China, and perhaps some exchange of expertise between the U.S. Energy Department and Pyongyang.

Trump could also look to patch up the country’s ailing electricity grid through this exchange, or facilitate discussions with American engineering and electricity firms to help rebuild its grid.

The Energy Department has been promoting U.S. energy expertise abroad as part of Trump’s energy dominance agenda, while also touting natural gas exports to countries throughout Asia.

As well it seems U.S. exports of coal to China have soared since the crippling sanctions kicked in, so China hasn’t had to go without the fuel for one of its main sources of electricity, coal-fired power plants. That means that places like West Virginia seem to have been eating Kim’s lunch. And now Trump has a carrot to dangle before Kim’s power-hungry eyes. You give up nuclear weapons, you get your coal exports to China back and we might even help you with your electricity grid, although one would suspect the South Koreans have wanted that piece of action for a few decades now.

The other interesting part to this speculation is how China would react to such tactics by America because if South Korea has an interest in any rebuilding of North Korea if a peace treaty is ever signed, one can imagine China’s interest is as great in maintaining North Korea as a client state and a junior member of their silk road scheme.

The odds of this working out are not overwhelming unfortunately, precisely because such a plan’s success depends on people like Kim Jong Un and President Xi, one of whom is a crazed communist autocrat, the other a ruthless communist leader. Trump – as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review – was the one whose relentless attacks on China over the past couple of years have actually caused a real China pivot among the foreign policy establishment towards recognizing the dangers of Xi’s regime and its ambitions, even as Trump tries to improvise and keep things on a personal level, often undermining his very own political instincts on the threat China is to America and the West.

Will Trump prove to be the blunt truth-teller on North Korea? Right now, that seems a stretch, because the Kims’ regime has sunk every American and Western ambition of sealing some sort of peace deal or of neutralizing its aggressive and dangerous military projects.

Once again, Trump has the chance to prove his critics and doubters wrong on North Korea. Perhaps a tactic of using coal as a bargaining chip with both China and North Korea could work. There are plenty of reasons why it might not, however. As Democrats turn up the volume on the impeach-Trump show, it would be wise to keep an eye on the meetings in Asia this week.

Venezuela is personal, yet distant, for me. By the time I was in boarding school my old 3rd grade teacher in the American elementary school run by Creole Petroleum Corporation, Miss Ryan, had married a tall, handsome and very bright MIT graduate, Mr. Trinkunas. He apparently was born in the Baltics or his parents were born there and his family like many in war-torn Europe in the late 40’s perhaps saw opportunity in Venezuela.

I was back on holidays in the early-to-mid 70’s and my younger brother had a new, much younger playmate who he happily bossed around on the playground facing our home on Plaza Escuela, a cute chubby kid with blonde curly hair and a beaming smile. His name was Harold and he would wander into our home from time to time to be grabbed by his mother, (Miss Ryan as we would still call her and then say: sorry Mrs. Trinkunas) and brought back home next door. What was it like growing up a gringo in an oil “camp” in the 60’s and 70’s in Venezuela? More like The Wonder Years than you would suspect, crossed with a Venezuelan Soap Opera from the 70’s or 80’s where the maid is yelling at everyone in the kitchen.

But we were a dwindling bunch by then, a few dozen families in a sort of gated community of several hundred homes for upper middle-class Venezuelan engineers, doctors, and managers. Nationalization was a year or two away and had been decided on years earlier after the Perez Jimenez regime fell a few weeks before I was born. Venezuela had taken control of its resources, become a force in OPEC, and overseen an astonishingly smooth transition, unlike the far more abrupt or even violent politics of oil in Mexico and Southern South America.

In a peaceful, sandy playground my younger brother and Harold played and invented and laughed and then our families went their ways, us up to Canada and the Trinkunas remained in the country for some more years apparently.

Moses Naim, an ex-Cabinet Minister from around 1990, has written an article for Foreign Affairs titled Venezuela’s Suicide. In it he compares the country now (a few months ago when he wrote the article in other words) with its status in the early 70’s when it was among the top 20 countries in terms of GDP per capita. Personally, I am a little doubtful of those statistics knowing full well that poverty was very much a problem even in Venezuela’s so-called golden years, but I’ll take Naim’s word for it. Naim places the blame squarely on Chavismo and its insane economic policies, but even he is forced to admit that the problem existed before Hugo Chavez’s presidency and before the two attempted coup d’état’s (or golpes de estado perhaps we should say). He writes:

“The drivers of Venezuela’s failure run deeper. Decades of gradual economic decline opened the way for Chávez, a charismatic demagogue wedded to an outdated ideology, to take power and establish a corrupt autocracy modeled on and beholden to Cuba’s dictatorship. Although the crisis preceded Chávez’s rise to power, his legacy and Cuba’s influence must be at the center of any attempt to explain it.”

But that can be a problem. It is irresistible to place all the blame on Chavez’s socialism and not think more about Venezuela’s history. Especially the country’s history before foreign capital and foreign workers arrived on the scene around WW I and transformed what had been a politically unstable, and economically impoverished nation with more than its share of political violence. The process by which that occurred, of course, has been fodder for both Latin America pan-nationalists and socialists and third-world advocates of all sorts. That’s because there have been 3 key tyrants in the 20th century history of Venezuela:

  • Juan Vicente Gomez who was from Tachira the Andean state near the Southwestern border with Colombia and who allowed in foreign oil companies in the years leading up to WW I, on terms some have criticized as too lenient and who died in 1935.
  • Marcos Perez Jimenez, who climbed to power following an overthrow of the democratically-elected Accion Democratica in 1948 and who held power until early in 1958 and presided over a period of growth and development but with a fairly brutal police and security force.
  • Hugo Chavez – the third tyrant who in a sense was a return to Venezuela’s past, (as now Dr. Trinkunas has pointed out). An elected strongman who led the country into the new century and who followed the electoral and political rules until he was able to create his own and drag Venezuela into Cuba’s orbit, winning admiration and praise from the progressive elites around the world.

The point about Venezuela isn’t that socialist policies are expensive and often lead to far greater corruption than that found under capitalism. We’ve had most of the 20th century to give us countless examples of that. It’s how Venezuela in the decades after nationalization was unable to move beyond a primary producer and was unable to solve the problems of poverty that have always troubled the country and now have reached epidemic proportions. And from whose ragged and impoverished ranks many of Chavez’s supporters came.

And Harold Trinkunas? He followed his father to MIT but apparently politics rather than engineering was his field and he is now a well-known expert in defense and security issues, especially those concerning Latin America and Venezuela, having taught at the Naval Postgraduate School, and having been resident scholar at various institutes. In Foreign Affairs he writes the following:

“The United States was correct to cooperate with the Venezuelan opposition—the Maduro regime has shown itself unwilling to negotiate in good faith with the opposition in recent years, even when external mediators such as the Vatican were involved. But Washington has chosen a risky path. By escalating with Maduro, the Trump administration has raised the possibility of misperception and misunderstanding leading to inadvertent conflict, especially given how little the U.S. and Venezuelan governments understand and respect each other.

Aggressive U.S. action will also run the risk of splitting the international coalition now backing the Venezuelan opposition and could also turn the situation into a U.S.-Venezuelan conflict rather than an effort to restore Venezuelan democracy. The latter would allow Maduro to fall back on the rhetoric of anti-imperialism and would provide an excuse for his allies—particularly Russia but perhaps also China—to continue offering their support. But even if the United States avoids this particular pitfall, Russia and China will undoubtedly see events in Venezuela as part of a new Western strategy to undermine their authoritarian allies and client states. They will develop countermeasures, and these will be unpleasant.”

With all due respect to Dr. Trinkunas, if countermeasures by China and Russia impede America from taking decisive action regarding Venezuela, we might as well hand over foreign policy in Latin America to Beijing and Moscow. Which in some ways, America already has by being unwilling – understandably of course – to escalate to the level of the Cuban Missile Crisis in response to Putin and Chavez and now Putin and Maduro’s growing military ties. Dr. Trinkuna is right that things will get unpleasant, to put it mildly, and Juan Guaidó may very well end up under house arrest, or worse. Much worse. But America had to act and take sides against Maduro, something the rest of Latin America has been loath to do precisely because of fears of being seen as siding with the United States. Maduro is playing the American-intervention card for all it’s worth, but it’s a faded and dirty little trick that even many Latin Americans are a little tired of supporting.

And so, yes, America will soon have to choose how to respond to what will almost surely be violent attacks on Guaidó and the rest of the opposition (assuming that bribes to the opposition fail) by a military narco-kleptocracy. It will not be easy choice, and an invasion would likely be the wrong course of action. But this was an unavoidable choice, albeit filled with risks. America had to face this choice one way or another.

Let us hope and pray that the growing number of Venezuelans killed by their own security forces will be kept to a minimum and that a transition is possible without full-scale civil war.

Because Maduro’s regime does not even rise to the level of hard-left socialists. They are mere criminals. Drug running, kleptocratic thugs the lot of them. But they, like everything nowadays, are also a symbol of Latin American independence. A poisonous, perverted, and corrupted symbol. Everyone in Latin America knows that, but they can’t quite admit it out loud. Maybe, just maybe, however, we’re getting closer to that moment of self-truth.

Let us hope so.

Red State’s Streiff has a fascinating article that points you (or should) towards David Reaboi’s article in securitystudies.org on Jamal Khashoggi’s relationship with Qatar’s intelligence agencies. It seems that both dead and alive, Khashoggi was first an agent and then a martyr-pawn of Qatar and Turkey in their struggle against Saudi influence in the Middle East. With Iran allied, of course, in a sort of axis with Erdogan’s Turkey. And with Putin’s Russia clearly forging links with Turkey and Iran, although Syria will make that a balancing act that the Kremlin will be sorely tested by.

This is a tale of two very different ways of dealing with conflicting spheres of influence in perhaps the world’s most volatile region:

  • one a blundering, medieval act of brutality,
  • the other a ruthless and efficient information campaign reaching into the heart of America’s and therefore the world’s media.

And Jamal Khashoggi is a key player in both tales, needless to say. As Reaboi writes at Security Studies Group’s (SSG) article:

The narrative focusing on the death of Jamal Khashoggi was to be put into the service of both Qatar and Turkey’s main interest, undermining the stability of its rival, Saudi Arabia. When complete, the successful information operation would depict Khashoggi a heroic martyr to independent journalism and freedom, while Saudi Arabia would be the embodiment of evil and callousness. It is clear now that, not only was Khashoggi transmogrified in death into a major front in Qatar’s war on its Gulf neighbors; in life, he was Qatar’s asset in that war, as well.

The effort to transform Khashoggi from the political operative he was into a journalist and martyr for freedom was an information operation waged largely in the United States. It targeted a diverse audience spanning from “echo chamber” commentators and media figures to politicians, who would then be moved to act based on the new attitude and information the campaign had inserted into the discussion. This operational aspect is of primary importance; as information operations always work to advance policy interests, in order to succeed, these perceptions must affect policymakers and cause them to alter policy.

Reaboi goes on to defend his outfit in the face of the attacks by the Obama administration former officials who helped forge the Iran Deal and their many sympathizers in the media. This is understandable, but one should remember that his outfit is also promoting a view of the Middle East where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally and one that can even work with Israel in helping to contain Iranian influence in the region. A view closer to historical ties of America, but a view nonetheless just like Khashoggi’s pieces in the Washington Post.

So it comes down to the following: who is a greater threat to America (and to Israel): Iran and it’s allies who openly advocate for the destruction of the Jewish State in a violent frenzied jihad of a holocaust? Or the Kingdom from where most of the 9/11 attackers came from and which financed (indirectly) their horrifying endeavors?

Qatar is key in this impossible equation in which it would seem that the stability and the deeds of the Saudi’s make them the lesser of evils compared with Iran. Qatar itself is tiny, enormously wealthy and very powerful. The Doha (Qatar’s principal city) round of the WTO trade talks has been going on since 2001. The FIFA World Cup will be ridiculously played there in 2022; likely in November because of the extreme heat of its endless summers. Al-Jazeera is based there and Qatari funds flow into the D.C. beltway as freely as any, according to the rumors at least. It is also at loggerheads with its neighboring Gulf States as well as with Saudi Arabia in part because of conflicting positions during the uprisings of the Arab Spring as well as the war in Yemen. And it is Qatari influence and money that propelled Jamal Khashoggi into a position of power and influence far beyond that of your average Washington Post columnist.

So, we now have American foreign policy dividing along partisan lines that mirror the Iran-Saudi fault lines in the Middle East. Obama’s Iran Deal on this side. Trump’s renewed approach to Saudi Arabia with its clownishly brutal Mohammed Bin Salman on the other side. This is hardly optimal.

These sorts of alliances often end up in large regional conflicts that spin out of control. Imagine World War III starting not in Ukraine’s eastern flank. Nor in the Korean peninsula. But in Syria.

No, that’s not a plea to keep the troops there. It’s exactly the opposite. Here’s David Reaboi wrapping his article:

Led by Sen. Chris Murphy and Elizabeth Warren, voices from the political left seemed to outdo each other in berating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom President Trump and members of his administration have warm relations. They are trying to use outrage over Khashoggi’s death to force a Saudi surrender in the war in Yemen; and end to arms sales, a break in US-Saudi relations, or even to depose Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman from his position in the Kingdom’s order of succession. This, of course, was the Qatari policy aim and the conclusion of a successful information operation.

I would suggest that deposing MSB is not as dangerous a move as Reboi thinks, if an agreement can be worked out with the aging sheiks of the Kingdom. Containing Iran, however, is key. And Syria is not the best place to do that. Riyadh is.

Information warfare in the 21st century is often more successful than bloody violence. Just ask Qatar and the ghost of Jamal Khashoggi.

Meng Wanzhou is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and is also CFO of the company. She would have thought of Vancouver as a second city to her, seeing that it’s population of wealthy, successful Chinese immigrants practically own the city, and have it made it a completely unaffordable city for even many a hard-working professional who doesn’t have a cool 7 figures to drop on a modest 3-bedroom house.

Something changed and on Wednesday she was arrested in Vancouver in order to be extradited to America on charges relating to the company’s reported defying of sanctions on trading with Iran, as well as perhaps concerns about intellectual property theft, something that just about every major Chinese corporation or SOE is likely to have benefited from.

The Canadian prime minister quickly tried to distance himself from his own judiciary and even John Bolton has publicly said that President Trump himself might not have known. Or in fact, had known what was coming. But it’s possible Trump didn’t know about this, and it certainly undercuts his improvised ceasefire with Xi which was quickly put together at the G20 in Buenos Aires.

Is it the right thing to do? Espionage, especially industrial espionage, but also espionage in order to gain a commanding position in technologies that might be used in the next major war or are being used in various low-scale wars or confrontations with hybrid warfare, is something China has almost certainly been guilty of for some time.

Zhengfei himself was a People’s Liberation Army ex-officer when he founded Huawei back in 1987. It would hardly surprise if surveillance and espionage have been goals from the get go for the corporation. And that brings us to other nations that seem to have made the decision to distance themselves from Huawei’s products. Those nations are:

  • The UK: BT (British Telecom) has decided to remove Huawei equipment from key parts of its 3G and 4G networks. The head of MI6 stated that they would have to decide if they were “comfortable” with the use of Huawei equipment and the position of the Chinese tech company in general.
  • Australia and New Zealand: Governments in both countries have decided to block the use of Huawei equipment in their future 5G networks.
  • Canada: Canadian justice and law enforcement collaborated with America to detain and presumably to extradite Meng Wanzhou.

Let’s see, doing the math, that would add up to – including America of course – um, five countries right? Five Eyes you could almost say.

Although this is conspiracy wonking, it is interesting that the intel community across the Five Eyes alliance decided that a few days after Trump’s tentative deal with China would be the right time to arrest a key Chinese tech executive on Canadian soil, the last place Trump or Xi would have expected such an occurrence. This could be a coincidence. Or it could be a deliberate attempt by the intel community along with officials in Trump’s own DOJ (which remains the purview of Rod Rosenstein more than it is that of Acting AG Matthew Whitaker) to force the President’s hand. Frustration with a lack of sanctions that target espionage in particular could be their excuse.

Or they just want to disrupt the administration, and this is a great way to do it.

Unfortunately, aside from political motivations and questions about timing, this may very well turn out to be something that had to be done. Xi’s China has abused its privileges in the world trading system and is actively trying to intimidate and use its trading partners for its own mercantilist benefits. It comes at an awkward time and it smells a little of Trump derangement syndrome, but this will unleash a confrontation that has been building anyway.

I just wonder if President Trump had any idea this was coming.

It’s not your wage anymore that’s the main reason you’re losing your job in places like Macomb or Trumbull counties in Michigan and Ohio as GM lays off thousands and shifts production overseas. Nope, there’s a new reason. One that’s being referred to increasingly whether in relation to specific layoff announcements by corporations like GM, or whether in relation to the folly of rising tariffs in the China-US trade spat.

Global Supply Chains.

Go to supplychaindive.com and read some of the headlines:

What is the business case for autonomous vehicles in the supply chain?

GM closes plants and lays off thousands in move to ‘streamline’

XPO integrates heavy goods last mile tracking with Google

Do you deliver supplies and/or vehicles for GM? You might think about polishing your CV a little. Just saying.

This is a process that is reaching its limits. I don’t mean technological limits. Those are practically endless – even if the rate of technological change seems to be volatile over time. I mean its limits in terms of the value technology adds to society as a whole.

No. I’m not a Luddite. No, I don’t believe more taxes and welters and welters of regulations are the answer. But I do think that a conservative can occasionally do a Buckley and ride athwart at least some small bits of technology crying: “STOP!” Even while using much of said technology.

Here’s Axios on the issue of China and global supply chains:

China has been the world’s biggest exporter for almost two decades and has poured millions into its logistics network so global companies can quickly move goods from factories to cargo ships. China also has one of the best-trained manufacturing workforces in the world.

· U.S. companies can consider moving production from China to Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam or elsewhere — both to dodge tariffs and avoid the threat of intellectual property theft, But elsewhere, they face other disadvantages like dirt roads between factories and ports and inexperienced workers, the New York Times reports.

· And China has levers to make sure it isn’t frozen out of global supply chains, Lewis says. For example, it could threaten to take away a foreign company’s access to its massive market.

China started practically from scratch back in the 80’s and 90’s when they began building the infrastructure as well as the logistical systems necessary to create what is now the world’s second largest economy. And that is an achievement that few could have predicted in terms of the speed and scope of the change China underwent.

But when you combine that infrastructure and logistics with a socialist-run authoritarian regime, you get what could politely be called immoral suasion or more bluntly, threats and blackmail.

Is President Trump guilty of similar threat-making? Yes, but not on the same level.

Trump tweets as tough as any but even as President of America he’s circumscribed by the courts and by Congress and, yes, by the endless rules and regulations that both America’s administrative state and the global administrative state (the WTO, the UN, the WHO, and the EU to name a few of the more obvious examples) wield over both corporations and governments.

China less so.

It is precisely the enormous concentration of power in President Xi’s hands that allows him to be transactional in a way Trump can never be. He will not tweet his threats. He will act on them. And Xi will act in accordance with a longer-term plan. Yes, President Trump can and does act on his promises – or at least on far more of them than anyone expected. But it’s unfortunately, often a circus driven by hostile media buzz.

So what kind of transactions could Trump and Xi reasonably agree on at the G20 in Buenos Aires?

What kind of change in behavior could President Trump reasonably demand from President Xi’s regime that would allow both countries to save face and pull back from the trade skirmishes that have been escalating recently?

Unfortunately, any deal will be about supply chains and jobs and manufacturing plants. Maybe they can reach a deal. But it should be about China’s involvement with things like: the theft of intellectual property; the bending the rules of the WTO; the State-Owned Enterprises and off-the-books debt.

And it should also be about demanding a little civics and civility in China’s inexorable thrust to create its region of hegemony in East, South, and Central Asia, as well as in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

Because with China, you don’t ride athwart technology and cry: STOP!

You stand quietly and bravely in front of a tank.

And hope they don’t kill you.

And even that doesn’t work sometimes. So, Trump has a tough dinner with Xi ahead this Saturday in muggy Buenos Aires. He’ll need a little luck and a lot of skill. Let’s hope he has both.

Did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a few weeks back fly to Saudi Arabia with a plan to help create a plausible deniability around Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman regarding the horrifying execution of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul?

As gruesome as the killing is, the battle of ideologies that are now swirling around this event are as important. That’s not to belittle a death that was apparently cruel and unusual and involved torture of the most savage kind. Technology and media and the way politicians around the globe are using media – from social media to government-controlled media – has meant that the reported details of this killing became widely available through leaks by Erdogan’s regime in Turkey and now through more discrete leaks from the CIA itself in response to President Trump’s equivocation over the issue of MBS’s possible involvement.

But what exactly are the battle lines between competing ideas on America’s foreign policy and its role in the world and competing ideas on what sort of international order should govern the world’s states over the coming decades?

It’s not merely: Trump’s America First Bad; UN and EU good. The options seem to be divided between the already overused term “tribalism” and a liberal global order, but maybe there is another way forward that needs less distractions over what any nation or politician feels about Trump, in order to be seen clearly.

Sumantra Maitra – a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham in the UK – has written a piece in The Federalist that is a plea for conservative nationalism as way past or through the liberal-global-order/tribal-nationalism struggle so prominent today. He traces the history of the European and Ottoman Empires’ collapse after WW I and the attempt after WW II to contain and reduce the nation state within a rules-based system. But empire vs. tribe has come back to haunt us and the problem is that a liberal world order invokes no true feelings of belonging or patriotism and leaves us vulnerable to atomized factions. As Maitra states:

Liberals fail to understand and anticipate the desire of normal people to feel passionately about the flag their forefathers fought for. That leads to a vacuum, which is filled by ethnocentric tribalism. If conservatives don’t reclaim healthy civic nationalism, the choice ahead is almost always either ideological internationalism and rules through institutions and bureaucrats, or atomized ethnic nationalism, tribalism, and racism. The elite abhorrence of anything that relates to flags and land and borders shows how much the window has moved in the last couple of decades.

The only unifying force is a healthy, civic, conservative nationalism, the type that stops distinguishing between tribes, races, and ethnicities and unites in a love for the land beneath one’s feet. In a world where the choice is increasingly between Antifa and Abolish ICE mobs on the one hand, and transnational open border Davos Men on the other, conservative nationalism might be the only centrist option.

My problem with Maitra’s erudite plea is that it was precisely love of land beneath one’s feet that drove the millions of young men to follow their general’s orders in WW I and to leave Europe a scarred shell that was ripe for fascism in it’s central and southern regions and communism in its eastern regions. I will assume, however, when he talks about a healthy, civic, and conservative nationalism, he’s talking about a patriotism that is both local and embodied in an idea.

Unfortunately, Europe has often been the preserve of competing empires from Rome to Charlemagne to Madrid, Paris, and London and then to Berlin and Moscow. And finally, to Brussels and Strasbourg. As he states, European politicians are calling for a European army and the French Finance Minister seems to be suggesting Europe turn to some form of empire to compete with both America and China. Hardly surprising coming from a French bureaucrat but rather less subtle than what one expects from Brussels and Strasbourg.

But maybe a conservative nationalism rooted in tradition but moderated by the caution of reasoned civics is what Europe needs. Europe will have nothing of it one fears, however. Perhaps England is returning to a conservative and reasonably cautious nationalism with Brexit, but the way it is being covered in the media suggests that Cabinet ministers heads are being displayed on pikes outside Westminster. A touch exaggerated and very hostile to any form of reasonable nationalism in other words.

So, did Trump display a reasonable and conservative nationalism with regards to his statement on Saudi Arabia and MBS’s possible involvement in the Khashoggi assassination? He’s being attacked from several sides for not condemning the Saudis and for unashamedly lauding the defense industry jobs that the promised Saudi spending will produce. But how to follow Washington’s warnings on the dangers of foreign entanglements when Saudi Arabia itself is sustained by American military support and training?

There is no optimal or easy solution in the Middle East and values such as those that Macron proclaimed might help domestically but are of little use on the ground in feudal aristocracies like the Saudi Kingdom. Because if America withdraws support and allows the House of Saud to collapse what next? A cautious conservatism would have to take into account that uncertainty even as it laid tough sanctions on the Saudis.

And remember that Iran’s belligerence and involvement in places like Syria and Lebanon has helped create the conditions where hundreds of thousands of civilians have died. Does that mean that Europe – upholding its values – has refused to do business with Iran and has applied tough sanctions?

Uhhhh, non! As the French would say.

What the liberal global order want is a dramatic but symbolic gesture against the Saudis so that a period of hypocritical condemnation can take place and then they can continue doing business throughout the Middle East. They just don’t like Trump’s brazen and crass bluntness. Or his honesty in all it’s equivocating, word-salad, ingenuousness.

Could the Me 262 Have Turned the War in Germany’s Favor?

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The outcome of World War II still has a tremendous impact on the political and economic relationships in effect throughout the world. The events that occurred nearly 80 years ago resonate with a profound relevance that persists even to this day.

In the European Theater of World War II (September 1939-May 1945), the British and American allies mounted an intense aerial bombing campaign against German military and industrial targets beginning in the latter stages of 1942. The scope and intensity of the Allied campaign really picked up steam in 1943, as the Americans and British both ramped up their bomber production into high gear. The British concentrated on a night wide-area “carpet bombing” strategy, while the Americans (aided by their use of the precision Norden bomb sight) conducted a daylight campaign intended to be more exacting and surgical in nature. Churchill was moved to say, “We shall bomb those b*st*rds around the clock! We shall never let them sleep!”

The daylight campaign held the most danger for the attackers of the two strategies by far, since no fighter escort aircraft existed in 1943 with the range necessary to accompany and protect the American B-24 and B-17 bombers from German interceptor aircraft all the way to and from their targets deep inside Germany. Unprotected and in plain daylight view of German fighters, American bombers took a tremendous beating during this time frame. A prime example was the October 14, 1943 raid on the Schweinfurt ball bearings factory, which came to be known as Black Thursday. German fighter planes extracted the astonishing toll of sixty 4-engined B-17’s shot down out of the attacking force of 291 bombers. Each American plane carried a crew of ten, so the loss of life was quite significant. Dozens more American bombers were damaged and never flew again after limping their way home to England.

During this time period, American P-47 Thunderbolt and British Spitfire fighter planes only had the range to escort the bombers partway to target and again on their last leg home. The Germans simply waited for the Allied fighters to turn for home and then they pounced on the unprotected bombers.

But in early 1944, the Americans introduced a new version of their P-51 Mustang fighter with an American-built version of the famous British Merlin engine. The new model (the P-51B or C, depending on where it was built) had incredibly high performance—even better than the famous German Me 109 and FW 190 fighters—and most importantly, it now had the range to accompany and protect the bombers all the way to and from the most distant targets in Germany. So from 1944 onwards, the air war in the skies above Europe were characterized by furious fighter-to-fighter dogfights, as German fighter planes tried to break through American fighter escort cover and get to the American bombers.

The Americans held tremendous numerical and logistical advantages in this contest. First of all, there was a huge and unending supply of well-trained American pilots to fill their ranks. Germany, by contrast, had been at war for two full years longer than America and had a smaller population pool upon which to draw for pilots. Furthermore, Germany itself was under constant attack—unlike the United States—and was also involved in a resources-killing front in the East against the Russians.

This all added up to a European air war of frightening attrition, where losses on both sides were high. It was a situation that spelled eventual, inescapable doom for the Germans, since their supply of experienced, well-trained pilots dwindled precipitously in the face of unending months of costly air combat against the Americans.

Because of the pressure of constant attacks, by 1944 the Germans could hardly afford to interrupt their fighter production lines in order to switch over to new, improved types and they could barely afford the time to adequately train new pilots. Therefore, the older Me 109 fighter (a veteran of the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930’s!) continued to be built in huge numbers (1944 was actually the peak of German fighter production) and soldiered on long after it had passed its peak effectiveness. Meanwhile, new fighters never made it to front-line service in numbers meaningful enough to make an impact.

But…what if a truly superior German fighter had been available in significant quantity in the 1943 and early 1944 timeframe, before German industry was under such stress from Allied bombing and before the ranks of experienced German pilots became decimated by years of unending combat? Would that have altered the course of the air war over Europe? Such a scenario was, in fact, within the Germans’ grasp.

That aircraft was the Messerschmitt Me 262. Widely recognized as the world’s first operational jet fighter, the Me 262 was a twin-engined, single-seat interceptor possessing extremely high performance—over 540 mph. To put its performance into context, in the 1943-44 time period (when the 262 was essentially ready for active deployment), the fastest conventional piston-engined Allied fighters of the day (the British Supermarine Spitfire Mark IX and American P-47B Thunderbolt) had top speeds of barely higher than 400 mph. Even the new Merlin-engined Mustang of 1944 was only a little faster, at around 430 mph. That extreme margin of ascendancy over an adversary is rarely achieved during wartime and would have given the Germans an incredible edge over the Allies.

Interestingly, the 262’s toughest opponent proved to be the rancorous bureaucratic infighting at the highest levels of German command. Incensed at the Allies’ bombing attacks on Germany and furious over the generally negative turn of the war’s direction against Germany, Hitler wanted the 262—designed to be a fast, high-altitude interceptor, optimized for the role of bomber destroyer—to be converted into a fast, low-altitude ground attack aircraft, to strike targets in England. Although theoretically it could have been reasonably successful performing that task, the 262 did not have the load-carrying capacity to be a truly impactful bomber and pressing it into such a role just squandered most of its aerial performance premium.

So intense was the controversy inside Germany over the 262’s mission, that at one point, Hitler absolutely forbade any mention of the 262 as a fighter!

Bomber versions of the 262 were made and pressed into service. Developmental issues with the then-new jet engines affected production, so the absolute number of aircraft completed was limited. Bombing success with the 262 was disappointing and the damage inflicted by their use as a bomber was negligible.

However, the scale and damage of the Allies’ bombing attacks continued to rise and countering these attacks soon became the overriding concern of the German war effort in the West. By the time the decision to allow the 262’s use as an interceptor was made in 1945, Germany was already suffering from severe material and fuel shortages. Franz Stigler, a 262 pilot, recounts in the book A Higher Call by Adam Makos that in 1945, that the metal used in 262 production was so poor (quality raw materials were simply too difficult to obtain by that point in sufficient quantity) that the pilots had to exercise undue care so as not to over-stress the 262’s engines or else they’d self-destruct. Excessive ground maintenance was also required just to keep them flying. If Germany had made final development, mass production and deployment of the Me 262 a priority in late 1943—certainly well within their capabilities—then neither situation would have existed since they would have been manufactured with better materials.

Had large-scale 262 production commenced in late 1943, the front-line German interceptor units would have been equipped with the new jets in time to counter the Americans’ introduction of the P-51B into its long-range escort role.

Once the P-51B was active, the intense fighter-vs. fighter combat that took place between the German Me 109’s and FW 190’s and the American fighters would have been largely avoided by the Germans. The 262’s great speed and new tactics they devised would have enabled the Germans to avoid much fighter vs. fighter combat and their aircraft losses—and most importantly, pilot losses—would have been dramatically lessened. American bomber losses would have been far higher, especially since the bombers’ defensive machine gun turrets had difficulty accurately tracking the 262’s great speed and getting a bead on them for firing.

The resulting lower German losses of both planes and pilots would have had a negative ripple effect for the Allies in all aspects of the war. The destructive impact on German industrial and equipment production by the Allied bombing campaign would not have been as effective as it was. Since the Allies would not have had complete air superiority, the D-Day land invasion of mainland Europe would likely have been postponed well past the actual June 6, 1944 date. If the Me 262 was the main interceptor in the West, then greater quantities of the FW 190—a far better piston-engined fighter than the Me 109—could have been sent to the Eastern front for the fight against Russia. With a higher number of better, more experienced German pilots available on all fronts, the Germans would have put up far tougher resistance and for the Allies, achieving final victory would have been costlier and taken longer.

In the end, America’s far higher industrial production capability and fuel supply, unhindered by enemy bombing attacks, would have prevailed, regardless of the performance of any one aircraft on either side. America would eventually have simply overwhelmed Germany with the with sheer numbers of armaments it delivered to the battlefield. But the Germans’ misdirected production and deployment decisions concerning this one aircraft, the Messerschmitt Me-262, can quite plausibly be said to have profoundly affected both the duration and cost of World War II—the results of which still define the majority of international relationships and boundaries that exist in the world today.

Sources

Famous Fighters of the Second World War, Green, William, Doubleday, 1960

Hitler’s Luftwaffe, Gunston, Bill, Crescent, 1977

A Higher Call, Makos, Adam, Berkley, 2012

The First and the Last, Galland, Adolph, Metheun, 1955

Airwar, Jablonski, Edward, Doubleday, 1971

 

 

There’s some back-channel quiet talks going on between America and the Taliban on allowing the radical Islamic army that has terrorized Afghanistan – both when they were in power in the late 90’s and first years of this century, and when they were out of power and launching attacks around the country, including in the capital Kabul. How should we react to this news?

  • Claim it’s an outrage and that the Taliban is merely looking for ways to undercut Ghani’s forces and topple the US-backed Afghan leader, so they can finally reconstitute their violent theocracy once the last American troops have fled?
  • Decide that 17 years of war with little stability, or God forbid, nation-building to show for it means it’s time to deal with the Taliban as a possible legitimate participant in the tribal labyrinths of Afghan politics? That is, bring them to the negotiating table under clear conditions?

Welcome to the New Age of Realism. If you believe people like William Ruger and Michael Desch, (a Koch Institute vp for research and a Notre Dame political science professor), who writing in The National Interest, state:

In the post–Cold War era, in contrast, many conservatives—flush with victory in the Cold War and besotted with predictions of the end of history—turned this rhetoric into reality and embraced an activist, militarized and highly assertive stance toward the rest of the world. In doing so, these conservatives have embraced a revolutionary mind-set besotted with dreams of socially engineering the world.

That is, the neocons have, since the early 90’s, ripped conservative foreign policy from it’s realist roots and embarked on a radical experiment in nation building. Afghanistan being the longest and bloodiest attempt to forge a stable and moderately democratic state out of a tribal and feudal value system.

So, is this back-channel talk realist? Is it an example of the new realism that is being thrust to the center of the world stage by President Trump’s antics? And was the outrage over Trump’s performance in Helsinki (an outrage I shared) a reaction of the media and the foreign policy community at a sea-change in how we deal with rival powers? Even if Trump is indeed being played by Putin – who was educated and trained by, and became a part of, Soviet intelligence during the latter years of the Cold War?

How would a realist foreign policy perspective deal with the possibility of bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table?

The Daily Beast has a fascinating piece on the process with special attention to two key players: former diplomat Robin Raphel, and former US Army Colonel and Afghan vet Chris Kolenda. Through months of back and forth negotiations, usually in Doha, they managed to help set up a series of moves – brief ceasefires and promises of some flexibility from Taliban leaders – that seems to have support from the Pentagon and at least some members of Trump’s administration. But the devil is truly in the details, and trust is as sparse a commodity in Afghanistan as a monsoon rain in Kabul.

It seems that it would be very easy to end up with a disastrous deal that would essentially return Afghanistan to the summer of 2001. Consider this from the article by Spencer Ackerman:

But while the two statements seemed to represent momentum for peace, they pointed to a diplomatic logjam. The Taliban reject Ghani’s government as a puppet and prefer to deal with its American patron. Ghani, with vocal American backing, positioned himself as the central figure. A bilateral U.S.-Taliban negotiation could undermine a government Washington has spent 17 years backing as the legitimate voice of Afghanistan. “There was a standoff,” Raphel said.

Within the Trump administration, there was also strong skepticism that the Taliban could deliver on the promises they heard via Kolenda and Raphel. For years, U.S. officials have held that the Taliban are a decentralized umbrella group of factions, rather than a united force. The impact of that conventional wisdom is to render diplomacy pointless, since it was unknown if Taliban interlocutors actually spoke for anyone else. A procession of military officers, for the better part of a decade, have preached fracturing the Taliban through “reconciliation” efforts, despite their dismal track record.

In other words, aside from the fact that one can hardly trust the Taliban to want to deliver on their offers to be part of some sort of peace process, the question has always been whether they could even do such a thing. The brief ceasefire about a month ago was apparent proof of a more centralized Taliban leadership. They hope. Until the next truck bomb kills dozens in Kabul. And then there’s the question of what kind of authority would Ghani have absent US support? Would he end up handcuffed in front of a Taliban Flag with a terrorist ready to slice his throat for the cameras? Or is that a savage ISIS tactic which the oh-so moderate Taliban would never indulge in?

What if some sort of peace accord was signed, US troops left over a period of a few months, and the Taliban then resumed control of the country? What if a realist foreign policy response would be to say, so what? Afghanistan wants to be a theocracy, or a feudal, tribal society. We wasted billions of dollars and thousands of lives and tens of thousands of injured men and women. It didn’t work. It never will. Here’s Ruger and Desch again:

That social engineering, whether at home or abroad, is a difficult and fraught undertaking, often derailed by unintended consequences, and so should only be undertaken when markets and voluntary efforts fail or are overwhelmed by natural or man-made disasters. That the more we do for others, the less they will do for themselves. In short, the conservative watch words are humility and prudence.

So perhaps a realist foreign policy in Afghanistan would consider peace talks and a peace process involving the Taliban, the terrorists who sheltered Osama bin Laden. And if that peace process collapsed – after so many other dead ends in that Central Asian graveyard of ambition – then it would say we have reached an endpoint. This great game is over. Let Afghanistan be Afghanistan.

That would be nearly impossible for many in the foreign policy establishment to swallow. It couldn’t be any other way.

When President Trump – and his tariff-hurling, fiery trade advisor Peter Navarro – impose tariffs on allies and adversaries alike, what is their purpose? To dismantle the global trading system and leave America standing strong amidst the rubble? Which drives many in the GOP crazy and desperate to plead in the president’s ear for a change of course. Or is it to secure better bilateral deals in a bare-knuckles sort of bilateralism? Or does Trump give it much thought beyond the reactions he seeks to provoke in others?

In a fascinating article in The National Interest, Milton Ezrati comments on the notion that President Trump is single-handedly taking a sledge hammer to the global trading system. According to Ezrati, a free-trading global system died about 30 years ago.

Fricking French Farmers.

Ok, allow me to elaborate. What Ezrati is talking about is what our global trading system has actually become. Over the last decades, starting in the late 80’s, the world began to move towards Preferential Trade Agreements, or PTA’s. What’s a good example of a PTA?

  • The EU. From the beginning of multilateral trade talks in the late 40’s, Europe, scarred by it’s history and the two World Wars that had ravaged the continent and for which the continent was solely responsible, began to forge an economic community that always had – and still has – political ends. To bind Germany into a framework that will prevent any future Teutonic expansionism and Germanic nationalism that yielded such horrifying results in the mid-twentieth century. In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, attempts at lowering tariffs continually ran into European – lead by the French – obstructionism. European farmers were to be – and still are – protected from competition at practically all costs. So, while the European Union lowered barriers among European nations in a political attempt to bind distinct nations into a forever peaceful community, it did nothing to forward the cause of global free trade, or lower tariffs for those outside the preferential trading area.
  • Ditto for NAFTA, which lowered tariffs among the 3 nations that compromise the geographical, if not the cultural, North America. NAFTA does not lower trade barriers for Chile or China or Japan or Australia.
  • The defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership and it’s orphaned offspring, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership are also preferential trade agreements.

In other words, the latest global order is a competition, unequal and biased and with rules bent and massaged to accommodate particular interests, between trading blocks. This is not a free trading system. It is a curious hybrid between protectionism and freer-if-not-free trade. When combined with economic theories on optimal currency areas – Should the Mercosur, yet another PTA, have its own currency for example? – you have the basic landscape of the current international economic order.

So, the question becomes: is President Trump working within the PTA framework looking not to change the framework but to bully his way to better deals for America? Or is he looking to smash the PTA order and rebuild a free-trading world on top of the rubble?

Safe to say that that question has yet to be answered, least of all in the President’s mind. His approach is transactional, which would seem to suggest he’s fine with re-ordering but not destroying the Preferential Trade Agreement world order. But at times he seems to want to merely lower tariffs everywhere, which suggests more of a return to a global free-trading system that Kennedy and others tried and failed to build.

I’m not sure I’d actually want to show the President Milton Ezrati’s article in The National Interest. I’d fear he’d decide he’s in love with PTA’s as long as the lion’s share of the preference runs America’s way. Let’s hope instead that Trump keeps scaring political leaders into offering lower tariffs. And that his tactics actually work, unlike the evidence so far with regards to China. A high-tariff PTA global trade system would be the worst of both worlds for an economically isolated America.

Of course America has interfered or hacked into foreign states’ affairs. It’s part of any major (and quite a few mid-level) power’s portfolio of strategies and tactics. The problem, Mr. President, is when you assign moral equivalence to the acts of Putin’s Kremlin and it’s use of hybrid warfare: a form of aggression that Russia has developed and now uses as it’s predominant way to achieve Russia’s ends. Which tend to be czar Putin’s ends.

It. Is. Not. The. Same. When America tries to influence events. Never mind what screaming radicals in Europe, the Middle East, or Latin America think. Even a case like Chile. Where possible intelligence activity by America helped topple Salvador Allende’s socialist and increasingly authoritarian regime and ushered in Pinochet’s brutal and lengthy dictatorship. Chile is now arguably the most developed nation in Latin America and has joined the OECD with little problems of organized crime and corruption that haunt Mexico for example.

It seems stubborn in a peevish way to deny any Russian interference in the 2016 elections. And the problem seems to be this. There is a conflation between interference and collusion. And yes, those in the media and the Resistance (whether part of the Democratic Party or progressive activists pushing the Democratic party and its base) who deliberately conflate interference with collusion, in order to weaken Trump’s legitimacy, do it to try and somehow scare up a case for impeachment.

One assumes that Mr. President, you understand this tactic and that it infuriates you. But here’s the real problem. When you cheerfully accept Putin’s smirking, thuggish denials and ridiculous offers in front of the world’s media, you only help those who wish to push the collusion narrative. Your denials and complicity in Putin’s lies only help the Resistance Mr. President.

You do get that don’t you?

This is a game. A great game unfortunately in today’s image-driven, post-modern world where the public square has been co-opted by social media. You have managed to play the game in ways nobody expected would work, Mr. President, but the Achille’s heel in your strategy has always been your inability to balance between dismissing the collusion narrative and accepting the reality of interference.

Some people really want to hurt you. It’s true. Some people just dislike you and who you are – like Senator McCain – but his criticism of your performance in Helsinki makes it worth the fact that McCain is unwilling to graciously step aside as a war hero and long serving public servant and relinquish his Senate seat. Doesn’t matter. His words today make it a gift to America that he clings to that seat.

And some people really want to help you. You should lend them an ear on occasion Mr. President. Like Paul Bonicelli’s piece in The Federalist, a measured and yet forceful plea for what might have happened in Helsinki. I quote:

President Trump went into this meeting with plenty of leverage—and the personality and reputation—to effect this outcome. We are incredibly rich, powerful, and highly regarded by much of the world, and feared by the rest. Further, the president carried with him the leverage that Putin is a clear malefactor in the world who threatens his neighbors; meddles in the Middle East to the point of war crimes; murders foreign citizens in their own countries; and bolsters rogue nations like North Korea. His deeds are wicked and his words are lies, and everyone knows it.

None of this is to say that Trump needed to go into this meeting and verbally attack and abuse Putin. Diplomacy at the highest levels calls for restraint of words and tone. But it doesn’t call for one leader to defer to another’s leader’s views on anything. It definitely doesn’t call for a leader to make his domestic political concerns the issue, especially to the degree that he will not publicly support his own cabinet.

But Mr. President, you were at a loss over what to do, or had clearly decided what to do, and that was not to cede an inch to your opponents back home. This is the true poison of the very Russian electoral meddling that you deny: it so dominates your mind that you cannot take the advice of your own cabinet and present a public show of strength which reflects a clear-eyed view of who Putin actually is. And this is because of the Mueller probe.

Mueller needs to wrap up his probe for the sake of America’s unity. And yes, President Trump has stumbled badly in Helsinki, and he needs to realize that and somehow repair the damage he has wrought. Here’s Bonicelli writing in The Federalist again:

I applaud every action President Trump has taken against Putin and his efforts around the world. But action alone is not sufficient to handle Putin. Prestige in global politics matters; perception matters. Putin thrives on the prestige accorded to bullies; by it rogue regimes are emboldened and we and our allies are diminished and discouraged.

Part of President Trump’s job as president is to publicly put the United States on the right side of the issues, as clearly as possible, whenever he can. He can treat Putin as a real partner in our common interests when Putin understands how he can have a good relationship with us, as a more normal nation. But treating him that way before he’s done anything to reform his actions in the world, when he’s actually lying to Trump, only strengthens Putin.

When the president of the United States defers to a liar and a murderer and a source of global conflict, nothing good for the United States can come from it. If this is the kind of relationship the president seeks, he’s seeking the wrong kind of relationship. If bluntness and toughness is called for with allies and has arguably worked for the president, surely it will work against a weak leader of a poor country who desperately needs the U.S. president not to punch him in the nose.

But as well, Mueller needs to wrap his probe up and reveal any incriminating evidence he may have. If those who despise Trump really did kickstart the Russia probe (before it became the Mueller probe in 2017) in order to weaken and perhaps impeach Trump, they should realize the damage they have done to America and her standing on the world stage, never mind the damage to America’s institutions. Yes, the President shares some of the blame here. But this seems a watershed moment. America needs to start thinking about ways to unite. This is too serious for any other way forward. Lets hope people on both sides of the aisle and across the federal government realize this.

This is strange. And possibly a hoax. But worth a further look.

Remember Seth Rich? The DNC staffer who was murdered in what for now is apparently viewed by DC Police as a botched robbery attempt? Although the details surrounding the shooting death are a little strange. But then again, getting shot a couple of hours after midnight in a somewhat shaky neighborhood of a large city does not necessarily require men in black helicopters or gunmen hiding behind grassy knolls. Some violent criminal or crazy could just decide to shoot you. Because. And yes, ‘Vince Foster rerun by conspiracy-mongers’ could certainly be used as a rhetorical battering ram to squash the credibility of anyone who wonders about the staffer’s murder.

There’s the new angle in a story in The Daily Beast by Kevin Poulsen that goes deep into the history of John Mark Dougan, an ex-policeman who used to work in Palm Beach in Florida, until local law enforcement corruption caused him to quit around 2008/2009 and to begin an online campaign against Sheriff Ric Bradshaw that has lasted years and in which the Sheriff’s Office in Palm Beach has counter-punched with its own dirty tricks and smear campaign. It’s curious and ugly, and The Daily Beast goes into interminable detail on the history of the Palm Beach cyber-confrontations between Dougan and Bradshaw.

But deep into his story Poulsen – in a curiously dismissive way – reveals the real shocker. Mark Dougan claims that he was given the DNC hacks on a thumb drive by someone he later realized was none other than Seth Rich. This supposedly happened around February or March of 2016, when Dougan – after an FBI raid on his home and computer – drove to Washington DC from Florida and back again in a single day so the FBI wouldn’t notice he had left his home. And that day is when Dougan claims that he met Rich (who had contacted him earlier in February) outside a high school basketball court and was given a thumb drive. This was after the informant/whistleblower had contacted Dougan, presumably over Dougan’s own fame as a leaker/hacker/whistleblower.

This is because Dougan, in his war with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, had been releasing confidential property records of Florida government employees, especially cops. A sort of mass outing as revenge on what he saw as a corrupt local police force. Thousands of addresses in fact.

Hence the FBI raid in March. Hence Dougan’s desperate drive to Washington DC.

But it gets stranger. After the FBI raid, Dougan decided that if he was arrested for the leaks, he wouldn’t survive jail. Here’s how Poulsen, writing in the Daily Beast, puts it:

Dougan’s cockiness faded after the FBI search. He could easily see being arrested now, and if he was thrown in Palm Beach County Jail he doubted he’d ever make it to trial. He could imagined how it could unfold, a sheriff’s officer holding a hushed conversation with an inmate: “Hey dude, we’ll drop your charges if you kill this guy.”

He began making arrangements for his escape immediately. In early April he borrowed a car from a friend and a wig from his mother Leaving behind his ex-wife and their two children, he started the long drive north to the Canadian border. He was soon at the Toronto airport, boarding one final flight to Moscow.

Why Moscow? He had a Russian girlfriend by then and had been making regular trips to the city for the past few years before this all happened in 2016. Once there, he apparently hooked up for lunch with Pavel Borodin, someone in Yeltsin’s administration who helped Putin in his rise to power in the mid-late 90’s. But then again, if you’re looking to start over and make connections with the powerful in Moscow in the 2010’s, you’re guaranteed to have to meet someone who is close to Putin.

Dougan is a strange, angry, obsessed and flawed character by all appearances. But that does not mean that he is necessarily lying about his supposed meeting with Seth Rich. If he is telling at least part of the truth, he is an important witness in a possible case of a political assassination. Of course, Dougan is a free man (meaning not in jail or indicted) thanks to Putin. This a hall of mirrors, and one has to be careful about anything anyone says.

And Dougan has a book out. As part of his cyber warfare against the Palm Beach Sheriff’s office, he adopted a fake persona – a supposed Russian hacker called BadVolf – that the FBI even believed existed when it raided his home in March of 2016. So naturally Dougan’s book is called BadVolf. You can laugh at him or wonder who the hell he really is.

But this begs further investigation. Let’s see what a little digging might turn up.This is strange. And possibly a hoax. But worth a further look.

Some North Korean Summit Advice for President Trump

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

The long-anticipated, on-again/off-again/on-again summit with North Korea is fast approaching, this coming Tuesday, June 12th, in Singapore. Here, President Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea will sit down and see if they can actually come to some agreement regarding the nuclear weapons status of the North. Past administrations, from Clinton to Bush to Obama have utterly failed to halt—or even slow—the North’s efforts at developing nuclear weapons. The prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of an unpredictable, unstable regime like Kim Jong-un’s will radically change the balance of power in the Pacific Rim and it has worldwide implications, since cash-strapped North Korea is likely to sell their nuclear technology to rogue nations across the globe.

Past efforts at curbing other nations’ nuclear ambitions have proven vexing indeed. Pakistan and India have them, Iran is very close (mostly because of the amateurish and insincere efforts of the Obama administration) and Israel has them. Saudi Arabia is thought to have the technical wherewithal, should they begin development, as does Japan. Since 1945, keeping global nuclear ambitions under control is indeed like a genie that is frustratingly reluctant to stay in his bottle.

Current-day Democrats have consistently shown little real interest in international or national security issues, except as those issues impact and affect their political fortunes. The Pelosi’s, Waters and Schumers of the world are not really concerned about North Korea’s or Iran’s nuclear ambitions or illegal immigration, unless they can somehow leverage those issues into making Republicans look bad and thus bolster their own electoral fortunes.

So it is now with Kim Jong-un and the Singapore summit. All of a sudden, Senate Democrats—after complete silence on the matter—have issued a “checklist” of requirements and demands for President Trump to accomplish at the summit. It’s such a transparent political ploy: Fabricate arbitrary, difficult-to-achieve, difficult-to-verify “goals,” and then when (in their view, in the immediate aftermath of the summit) their “goals” haven’t been met, issue a very public “Aha! He failed!” statement.

The Democrats issuing a checklist for the North Korean summit is laughable–like the Democrats actually care about national security, N. Korea or anything along those lines at all. With each succeeding Democratic administration since Kennedy in 1960—LBJ, Carter, Clinton, Obama—the Democratic Party has oriented more and more of its policy objectives towards domestic issues, with an ever-increasing emphasis on pure electoral success, abject media manipulation and demonizing their political opposition. Considering the Obama administration’s near-total shunning of international considerations—from abandoning American personnel at Benghazi to declaring the war on terrorism is “over,” to allowing Russia to simply annex part of the Ukraine without penalty to failing to keep Assad accountable for stepping over the ‘red line,’ to undercutting Israel at every turn to gifting $150 billion to Iran while allowing them to keep their nuclear program—modern-day Democrats have summarily rejected national security/foreign policy issues in favor of concentrating on domestic identity politics: Identify a special interest “victim” group (blacks, women, LGBT, Hispanics, environmentalists, etc.), then craft a tax-funded Government policy to solve their problem (in other words, buy their votes), all the while enlisting the liberal mainstream media to do their bidding for them. That is the modus operandi of today’s Democratic Party.

Now, all of a sudden, we’re to believe that Chuck Schumer and his cohorts suddenly have a deep and abiding interest in the national security interests of the United States and its foreign policy strategy? This is so transparent it’s even obvious to the most casual observers: The Democrats simply want to set a political “Gotcha!” trap for President Trump, while keeping themselves perfectly inoculated from any judgment or accountability themselves. So they produce a highly-publicized, serious-sounding letter. Quite clever on their part.

Here’s what President Trump should do: He should take Senator Schumer along with him to the summit. He should very publicly state that he appreciates Schumer’s obvious expertise and deep, thoughtful analysis of the situation and he’d welcome his invaluable assistance in the negotiations.

It’s a win-win for Trump: If Schumer is there and the negotiations fail to achieve any meaningful results, Schumer doesn’t get to criticize from afar, unaccountable, since he was there and part of the process. Part of whatever blame is assigned will be his and the Democrats’.

If the summit is a smashing success, then Trump gets to thank Schumer for his help, he gets to say that America has achieved a great thing for global peace and stability by coming together, Republicans and Democrats, and showing the world what can be accomplished when “We reach across the aisle in pursuit of goals bigger than small-time partisan politics.”

Regardless of the outcome, if Schumer is there, Trump wins.

There would be few things in life more priceless than the expression on Chuck Schumer’s face as he boards the plane for Singapore.

 

 

 

 

This is a test. Do not remain in your bomb shelter. Please come back to your living room or kitchen and consider this little thought experiment. We are not at war with North Korea. Not yet. Likely never. But here’s a suggestion, one you will find ridiculous. Just remember, it’s a thought experiment.

Punggye-ri is by all appearances, North Korea’s nuclear testing site: a series of tunnels deep inside a mountain range in the NorthEast of the DPRK. There was a dramatic but mostly symbolic shutting down of the site just a few days ago, hours before President Trump pulled out of the Singapore Summit with Kim jong-un. In front of a group of foreign journalists (but without any independent observers with expertise in nuclear testing sites), the North Koreans sealed the entrance to several (perhaps not all) tunnels with a dramatic series of explosions.

But while they blew it up real good, the interior of the tunnels, where the important testing facilities would be located, seem to remain intact. As well, the entrances could fairly easily be re-opened with hundreds of malnourished North Koreans working like slaves (actually working as slaves would be a better description because they would, as usual, be providing essentially slave labor) with pick axes and maybe a bulldozer or two.

But is the interior of those tunnels in working condition? Last fall, Chinese geologists reportedly claimed that a nuclear test in September (claimed to have been a hydrogen bomb by the DPRK) resulted in an earthquake which may very well have rendered the facilities inoperable.

Here’s the thought experiment. What if that event had in fact been sabotage by Special Operations Forces? Either South Korean or American? Or both?

No, this was almost certainly not the case. I get that. But consider this quote from the Cipher Brief by retired U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel David Maxwell:

There is great focus on North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, continuing North Korean provocations to gain political and economic concessions, and the potential for a conventional war. But there is little focus on the combined special operations forces of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the U.S., except for occasional rhetoric.

There were a number of ad hoc special operations units led by the U.S. during the Korean War. They went by such names as the UN Partisan Infantry Korea, the 8240th Army Unit, the White Tigers, the Combined Command Reconnaissance Activities Korea, and Joint Advisory Commission Korea. The combined special operations capability today has built on this history and has evolved to a quite capable force, the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force, and it will provide critical support to the Commander of the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command (ROK/US CFC).

There are two important points to keep in mind about special operations forces (SOF) in Korea. First is that all the legislated U.S. SOF activities specified in U.S. Code will be conducted during conflict. Although there is focus on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) since the transfer of the counter-WMD mission from U.S. Strategic Command to U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in 2016, there are many more SOF requirements to support the ROK/US CFC.

In other words, Special Ops will have a major role in any possible conflict on the Korean peninsula and both the command structure and the relationship with South Korean Special Ops have been in place for some time now. So the question is:

Are both US and Korean Special Ops already at work in North Korea?

Given how much focus and importance – on a military, diplomatic, economic, as well as trade, level – is placed on the peninsula, it would be absurd to imagine that America and her allies in the region are not already involved in active special operations. Could they have penetrated North Korea’s military? It seems an impossible task. But we can’t absolutely say they haven’t. Rumors of sabotage of some of North Korea’s missile tests floated around the media last year before falling silent. And that’s understandable. A leak of any details of such an operation would result in the torture and death of those involved (as well as many not involved) within the North Korean military.

Could that also be a goal of special ops forces? Induce even greater than normal levels of paranoia on the part of leading military and political figures in the DPRK? Especially Kim jong-un?

Colonel Maxwell is refreshingly direct in what he believes the goals should be: the end of the DPRK and the unification of the Korean peninsula under a liberal (that is democratic) constitution with an economy that is ‘vibrant’ (i.e. based on South Korean policies) and a state that is non-nuclear. Just the sort of laundry list that Kim jong-un fears. And that President Xi in Beijing also fears.

So perhaps the balancing act is to keep at least some of those goals off the table for now and to focus on how to de-nuclearize North Korea while avoiding a war. Special ops may very well have a role to play in that case as well. They may already be at work, even if it wasn’t them but rather the nuclear test itself, that may have rendered the Punggye-ri facilities inoperable last fall.

Alfie Evans – as far as we know – is still alive. He is the infant boy from the Liverpool area of England who has a rare and seemingly undiagnosed brain disease that has destroyed most of his brain, according to his hospital MRI scan results. The hospital has refused to allow him to be taken – at no cost to British taxpayers – to Italy to be given experimental treatment. These are some of the comments – usually with at least a degree or two of separation from the source in the case of anonymous NHS doctors – from various authorities in England. They are revealingly horrifying.

Michael Mylonas – The Queen’s Counsel or defense lawyer in the U.K. for the hospital – has stated that it is a “tragedy” that Alfie looks normal. Think about that comment. Because much of his brain has been destroyed, Alfie Evans is seen by the Hospital and by the Courts in the UK as a sub-human thing that must be disposed of like an aborted fetus. What a shame that he apparently is still (or was for a number of hours) clinging to life. How dare that medical misfit clutch his parents and breathe and live?

Appeal Judge Lady Justice King proclaimed:

Tragically everything that would allow him to have some appreciation of life, or even the mere touch of his mother, has been destroyed irrevocably.

How exactly would you know Lady Justice King? Can you proclaim with absolute God-like certainty that Alfie is deprived of his humanity and of all his senses? Despite his condition? Can we state that Alfie is somehow not human and not deserving of help when he breathes and lives? This is not Judicial overreach. This is not merely Judicial Imperialism. This is Godless Judicial Theocracy.

This is why America was populated by those seeking religious freedom and freedom in general. Whatever their faith. Europe with the stench of its aristocracy and it’s poisonous class systems was a jail to flee from long before socialism and communism created their own industrial versions of overlords and feudal peasants. While England and the UK may have given us the Magna Carta, there is far less freedom in vital matters of life, liberty and happiness in that clayish sodden little island than in America.

This is not some bug in the British system of governance. This is a feature. The royal we’s will ration. The royal subjects will receive everything from pronunciation (received pronunciation: look it up) to housing to hospital beds. The nation of shopkeepers might have established a common law system that has given the world some of its better countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others) and it’s greatest republic. But it still rations its health care with a dour socialist’s disdain for the commoners.

An anonymous doctor at Alder Hey Children’s hospital apparently has said that it will take a “sea-change” in Alfie’s parents’ attitudes for the hospital to allow Alfie to be taken home by his parents. Why? They might exercise their free will and take an air ambulance to Rome. Repent and kneel before thy sovereign or thou shalt be denied.

You are not God, you anonymous NHS doctor. You are a public employee working at a state hospital. Shut the f##k up and let Alfie’s parents take care of their son as they see fit. Shame on the NHS. Shame on the UK’s courts. Shame on the UK.

They came at night, the Lakota choppers crossing the dry srcubland and setting down in a hostile, violent region where borders dissolved in the desert hills and those wishing to harm America moved quietly and quickly through the darkness.

As U.S. Central Commander General Joseph Votel said:

But again, the hard part I think is in front of us, and that is stabilizing these areas, consolidating our gains, getting people back into their homes, addressing the long-term issues of reconstruction and other things that will have to be done.

Hence the National Guard arriving at night. Like in Iraq.

Oh, right. General Votel wasn’t talking about the Southern Border. He meant Syria. And how silly to expect that the U.S. military would be concerned about securing its homeland’s borders when there is an urgent need to attempt the fool’s errand of building a nation state from the rubble of Syria. Here’s what Matthew Brodsky writes in National Review in the latest iteration of neocon-speak:

Chasing every Sunni jihadist down a desert rabbit hole misses the larger and more threatening trend that the Pentagon already identified in January in its own National Defense Strategy, namely, that “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” In other words, the decade-long U.S. focus on counterterrorism strategies enabled and empowered dangerous adversarial states such as Iran and Russia at the expense of America’s position in the world.

That is why a premature withdrawal from Syria would likely match the disastrous and hasty American exit from Iraq and be far worse than President Obama’s efforts to “lead from behind” in Libya. In fact, it would double down on Obama’s worst mistakes, which set the table for the Islamic State’s rise and enriched and enabled Iran while allowing Russia to transform itself into the region’s chief powerbroker.

The security experts will always find a compelling reason to increase and spread the presence of American troops around the world, like the blossoming of a thousand PhD theses detailing yet another new world order. Be wary of the wonks and cautious about extended stays in the Middle East.

The Middle East dissolved in flames because of the Iraq War. Troops arrived in Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, and then found their mission had expanded to include reconstructing a state that no longer existed and was deeply divided by hostile factions with the fatal fault line of Sunni-Shiite divisions running throughout the territory that was once a unified country. Unified by a bloodthirsty madman. Obama’s early withdrawl, in other words, may not have been as vital to the emergence of ISIS as is thought. But we really have no way of knowing if more boots on the ground for longer would have greatly helped stabilize Iraq. Remember the troops that helped crush ISIS did not go in there to help reconstruct Iraq or Syria. They went in to destroy ISIS.

So moving those metaphors North and slightly West, and ahead in time by basically a decade, we now have Syria as the next must-fix nation in the region. With the bood-thirsty madman called al-Assad still in power. And supported by Russia as well as Iran. That should be a clear warning. To experts like Brodsky, it’s a wonderful new opportunity.

But sending a few hundred National Guardsmen and women to help secure America’s southern border is seen as a foolish impulse on the part of President Trump. A crazed policy put into motion by a restless set of early morning Tweets. To be resisted by progressive governors who seem to care more about defending their cities’ sanctuary status than aiding in trying to keep the border a safe and well-managed frontier.

There is no resource more vital to the United States than it’s men and women of the military. Even, perhaps, more-so than its creativity and its innovating genius. A military that is governed by an elected civilian government and places those men and women in harm’s way reluctantly – or should – only to help the government secure its most pressing objectives. Partisan sneering at a reasonable redeployment of the National Guard, and expert doom-mongering over a reasonable questioning of how long troops should stay in Syria, reduces those men and women to bargaining chips in a policy debate where their lives will be at risk.

Send the Guard and bring back some more of those troops from Syria. They are both reasonable decisions by the President. And while we’re on the topic of Iranian influence in Syria, let’s look at that Joint Plan of Comprehensive Action, which has helped fund Iran’s terrorist and hegemonic activity.

The “Real” Russia Collusion: Oil

© 2018 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Russian collusion is indeed a major issue threatening the well-being of our country. It’s just not the Russia collusion that’s been bandied about in the news for over a year. No, it’s Russia colluding with OPEC to intentionally raise world crude oil pricing. That is a real threat to our economy and living standard, unlike that other, totally imaginary Russia collusion.

In case you haven’t been paying attention, crude oil prices have been on an upward tear for the better part of the last two years. From a low in the high-20’s/barrel range in February of 2016, WTI (West Texas Intermediate) closed at $65.45 on Friday Feb 2nd. Goldman Sachs goes so far as to say that North Sea Brent crude oil (the other benchmark oil besides WTI) will likely top $80 within six months.

WTI generally runs about 5% lower, so look for WTI to be around $76/bbl by the summer of 2018.

Before we look at why this is happening, it’s a good idea for a quick refresher on the four main drivers of crude oil/retail gasoline pricing. Why is oil and gasoline rising? What’s happened?  First, let’s dispense with any simplistic “the oil companies are conspiring to raise prices” nonsense.  That’s not what’s happening. Oil is a commodity, traded on the world market like any other commodity, such as gold, copper, natural gas, diamonds, etc. Oil is subject to market forces like every other commodity is.

There are four main factors that influence the price of crude oil-retail gasoline on the world market:

  1. World supply/demand
  2. Exploration/extraction activity and technology
  3. Refining/delivery capacity
  4. Geopolitical influences (Iran, North Korea, terrorism, etc.)

(There’s also a 5th factor: currency value, or the “exchange rate,” since oil is traded in dollars. However, this is normally a peripheral factor that only shades oil pricing a little bit one way or the other.)

Today’s situation is primarily one of tightening supply coupled with greater demand as the worldwide economy, led by the U.S., continues to improve. See #1 above. When the world was awash with over-abundant oil in 2015-6, with loaded tankers sitting by the dozens offshore, unable to unload their cargo for lack of empty storage facilities, it seemed as if low-priced crude oil and $1.899/gallon gasoline was a permanent fixture on the US economic landscape. Never again would we be beholden to the arbitrary whims and evil manipulations of greedy, anti-American, anti-Semitic Arab oil sheiks.

The over-supply of oil was primarily because of the shale oil boom (fracking) in the U.S. With newly-developed exploration and extraction techniques, America was finally able to tap the previously unreachable mother lode of crude oil trapped in the huge shale rock deposits in the western and southern parts of the continental U.S. With a huge influx of additional oil being delivered to the world market, supply exceeded demand and world pricing plummeted.

At first, OPEC was unsure how to respond. Initially, Saudi Arabia actually increased their oil production in an effort to lower world pricing even more and drive the U.S. shale producers out of business (since shale oil has a far higher cost of production than Saudi oil, which is easy to extract).

That didn’t work. Shale extraction technology got better and better and the Saudis were never able to force pricing down far enough to permanently hurt the American frackers.

So, they resorted to the tried-and-true economic dictum of supply and demand. Led by the Saudis, OPEC instituted strict oil production quotas to limit the amount of oil that they would supply to the market. Restricting supply would re-balance the market and bring world oil demand and supply back into equilibrium, thus raising prices as market forces began to have their normal effect.

However, Saudi Arabia is only one of the top three oil producers in the world. Although the combined oil output of the 14 OPEC member countries is certainly significant (over 40%), the other two top three countries are the U.S. and Russia, each of whose oil output is roughly equal to that of Saudi Arabia (OPEC’s largest member). The Saudis convinced Russia to voluntarily join them in their production quota. With all of OPEC now joined by another top-three producer—Russia—the world’s oil supply has come down considerably, much faster than anticipated. Pricing is on pace to more than triple from its 2016 low and the impact on our economy and spending sentiment will be significant.

Note that the recent rise in pricing has essentially nothing to do with reason #4—terrorism and geo-political tension. As of right now, there are no hostilities with North Kores to rattle the world commodity markets, Israel is not at war with anyone and since the institution of the Iranian nuclear deal a few years ago, Iran is once again supplying oil to the world market without any problem. So the terrorism front is quiet right now.

The rise in price is all pretty much #1—supply and demand, with supply being restricted by the OPEC-Russia agreement. That fact points out the truth that even though total US oil production exceeds 10m bpd, the U.S. alone can’t determine the ultimate price of oil on the world market. We can be an influential factor—larger now, to be sure, than 20 years ago before the shale boom—but the U.S. can’t control oil pricing by itself.

Nor does the potential of future alternative fuels have much influence on today’s pricing. Some industry observers have opined that EVs (electric vehicles) will reduce worldwide oil demand by the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s entire current oil production by 2040. But that, in reality, is just a random individual guess and such statements have no actual impact on today’s pricing.

Applying the rough approximate numerical multiplier of 4x to WTI crude to get U.S retail gasoline pricing, that means that U.S retail gasoline will be above the psychologically-important $3.00 mark (4 x 76 = $3.04) by this summer. People see the price of gasoline on the corner gas station every day as they leave the house. It’s like a daily “scoreboard” telling them whether they’re winning or losing their personal economic game. When Joe/Jane middle-class sees $2.27, they feel like they’re winning, like they can spend a little more somewhere else, like things are going in the right direction.

When they see gasoline rise very quickly, seemingly for no good reason, to $3.04—especially after a prolonged period well under $2.20—it’s a very negative sign. Maybe things are getting worse and I haven’t been paying attention. Maybe I should play things safe for a while, keep things close to the vest. Let’s cut down on dinners out and tell Johnny, sorry, no new sneakers just yet. Yeah, I know my brother Bill finally got a job again after two years, but let’s not get too carried away.

Rising oil pricing impacts everything at retail, in the construction and agriculture sectors and in manufacturing, because everything is delivered from the factory to the seller and from the seller to the end user by a transportation device that uses an oil-derived fuel. Milk, sushi, iPhones, lumber and fertilizer are all made and delivered with the assistance of oil-based products. Rising oil pricing also negatively impacts business and domestic heating and utility pricing. It’s like a tax that takes billions and billions of dollars out of the economy, wrecks the exuberant business outlook and shreds consumer confidence. Rapidly-rising oil pricing is a five-run uprising in the 9th inning of a game you were leading 8-1 after eight innings. Now you’ll just be happy to hang on for the win.

Consumer and business sentiment is central to the spending that drives our economy, the very backbone that supports it. Anything that puts a damper on that sentiment will drag down spending and hence drag down economic growth along with it.

Russian “collusion” is indeed a big threat to our country’s well-being: It’s the collusion between OPEC and Russia to restrict the world’s oil supply and drive up pricing. It’s working and the tangible, undeniable, clear-as-day proof is posted in big numbers on every street corner. Maybe the media should pay some attention to that.

 

Authoritarian International is a term now being used to describe how China – and Russia – use their influence, and economic power in China’s case, to support other authoritarian regimes around the world, from Venezuela to Turkey, from the Philippines to Ethiopia. Many of these regimes may have had some form of communist or socialist government or may currently have some form as in Venezuela’s case, but the glue that holds them together is not really marxist economics and ideology but rather strongman rule. A rule that China abstains from condemning on the international stage and a rule which China along with Russia provide military and economic aide to as well as trade ties. Real Clear Politics has a great read on this by Richard Bernstein.

It’s a repudiation of the optimism of the 90’s where it was thought that economic freedom would lead naturally and inevitably, guided by the invisible hand of enlightened self-interest, towards political openness and eventually full democracy. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out, especially in China’s case where strict one-party rule has accompanied astonishing growth. Yes, at some point the corruption and state-subsidized spending should produce the long-awaited downturn or even crash. But people have been predicting China’s economic collapse for about a decade now.

Which brings us to a rather ugly little episode being followed in the Washington Free Beacon concerning Chinese dissident billionaire Guo Wengui (who has been exposing the very corruption that is undercutting China’s economy) and an interview he gave some time ago to Voice of America’s Chinese language broadcasts. The live interview was cut off in mid stream by senior VOA management and the Chinese VOA journalists (who appear to have been working out of of NYC where Guo is currently living) were suspended and now they have been fired for “insubordination.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett refused to comment on the matter citing “privacy” concerns. Guess who Bennett is married to? Donald E. Graham, chairman of Graham Holdings which runs an educational publishing business which does a fair bit of business in … China. The fired Chinese VOA ex-employees also claim that VOA has hired James McGregor, a former journalist with close ties to Chinese Politburo heavyweight Wang Qishan.

Look. Everyone and his brother, sister, aunt, and cousin have or are falling over each other to suck up to China and try to actually profit from doing business in that authoritarian state’s enormous consumer market. Some have even made money. But frickin’ Voice of America?! Do they have to join Eric Schmidt, Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and all the rest in kneeling before the Grand Dragon?

It appears that the key event at the start of the 90’s was actually not the fall of the Wall in Berlin. Rather it was a few months earlier in June of 1989 with the Tiananmen Square massacre by army units loyal to China’s ruling communist party, the cardboard mock ups of the Statue of Liberty and the candles crushed under the military might of authoritarianism. So China’s population made a deal with their leaders: they got stunning growth in exchange for the shackles on free expression that were firmly maintained, even as those shackles grew in the sophistication of their methodology.

Those shackles now extend to Voice of America. Rex Tillerson, do you have anything to say? Apparently not. When pressed by Senator Rubio to explain a $4.5 million cut to the semi-official Radio Free Asia’s Mandarin language broadcast, Tillerson said:

I can confirm that to my knowledge, it had nothing to do with our relations with China.

New York City is gripped by an evil fear apparently. Their heroic mayor Bill de Blasio is doing his best to ensure that this evil does not overcome their virtuous defenses. But the evil is apparently not an Uzbek immigrant driving a truck into innocent pedestrians on the Lower East Side, while screaming “alluah akhbar” out the window, just in case anyone on the planet could possibly ever be confused as to his motives for the terror attack.

No. The evil apparently is islamophobia, which all New Yorkers must now be vigilant about. They must bond together against anyone demanding tighter immigration policies. They must not just bond together, they must seek out anyone who is saying anything they deem offensive. Nothing like a terrorist attack to bring out the thought police in full force on social media. Oh, by the way, extreme vetting is fine, according to Mayor de Blasio: But as he says:

We support very thorough vetting – not of groups of people just because they belong to a group.

Ok. So that condition would eliminate any process of rigorous vetting from discriminating against anyone based on what country they come from, or what religion they espouse. For example. Or even what terrorist group they belong to: ISIS, al Qaeda, etc. That’s a mighty big exemption that the mayor is demanding, isn’t it?

But this is what happens when identity politics confronts the reality of extremism based on an ideology – or a virulent interpretation of what a specific faith – Islam – means, in this case. The sanctity of diversity must be maintained. Not necessarily the real diversity that has been flowing and pulsing through America’s daily life for many, many generations. No, this is about an official story, a narrative that must be maintained at all costs. With white-oppressor villains and a glorious rainbow of heroes on the other side, of course. Never mind that the gender-bending diversity of that rainbow gets you thrown off buildings in regions where Sayfullo Saipov’s worldview predominates. Never mind that this worldview is a threat to almost every corner of American political, intellectual, and cultural life. The narrative must be maintained at all costs.

And the most vile of those costs is the death of innocent civilians, caught up by the murderous hatred of terrorism. So NYC Mayor de Blasio has to try and get out in front of President Trump’s demands for extreme vetting. We couldn’t possibly have someone denied entry to America because of their fanatical beliefs. That’s unconstitutional right?

Wrong. The First Amendment and the rest of the constitution applies to American citizens and America herself, as universal as they should be. But those freedoms are not universal. Saipov’s Uzbekistan, for example, is an authoritarian state that denies it’s citizens the very freedoms that allowed him to plan and purchase and carry out the attack on American soil. So how to protect America from these kinds of attacks while respecting the constitution? It can be a tricky balance, but one in which careful vetting has a perfectly legitimate role.

And that’s why extreme vetting is so important. Foreign terrorists are by law treated differently than American terrorists. And the first line of defense is making sure someone from abroad with a questionable background from a country with poor record-keeping, perhaps undercut by corruption, is made to jump through a lot of hoops before gaining his or her first crucial right: the right to legally live and work and study in America.

Islamophobia already has a whole array of institutions lined up to guard against it in Western Democracies and especially in America. How about half of that zeal being put into being reasonably prudent about who is being let into the country?

The only way the Fusion GPS story really takes over the mainstream media is if the mainstream media turns on itself. After recycling Fusion GPS’ smear stories, large media organizations and key journalists within those organizations will have to come clean about how the game worked with Glenn Simpson’s dirty tricks squad. About how they could never reveal that their anonymous sources were in fact a paid communications shop that used incredibly sleazy tactics to turn a story in favor of a client. Clients like the Kremlin or corrupt Venezuelan oil industry contractors. Among others who remain, for now, in the shadows.

The Hill has been at the front of some of this latest change in the reporting on Glenn Simpson and GPS. One can’t really say that The Washington Post or CNN have been as equally rigorous in covering this side of the Russia story as they are in obsessively covering how much Russia spent on Facebook ads. But as we segue towards less of a Trump-Russia scandal and towards more of a Russia-on-its-own scandal, most mainstream media are not really coming out and saying that the evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign team and the Kremlin is not really there, regardless of what Adam Schiff likes to imply. And that the real evidence is in fact pointing exactly the other way:

Towards Hillary’s campaign, and the Obama administration’s knowledge of an FBI investigation into bribes, kickbacks, and money laundering by Kremlin associates; all tied to the sale to Russia of a key stake in Canadian-owned uranium mining company, Uranium One.

The story of Uranium One runs through Kazakhstan and involves Canadian billionaire Frank Giustra a Clintons donor who managed to get Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to help out his operation in Kazakhstan which around 2010 was being squeezed by Putin who wanted control. Giustra had leveraged uranium mining rights he had managed to previously extract from Kazakhstan’s leadership into a 3.5 billion mining company with operations in South Africa, Central Asia and North America. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton had benefited from Giustra’s donations so it was natural they’d come to his aid now.

A deal was worked out needless to say, and much of the background sleaze surrounding the deal would have remained under wraps with Obama’s FBI and DOJ dutifully keeping mum about ongoing FBI investigations into Vadim Mikerin’s racket to bring American companies into the now Russian-owned Uranium One’s fold.

But by 2014, with Putin’s Crimea grab and his slow-burn war with Ukraine in its opening phases, Vadim Mikerin was finally arrested but was able to plea bargain down to one single money laundering charge. Read Andrew McCarthy’s piece on this in the National Review, to get a veteran prosecutor’s view on how ridiculous a travesty of justice this was. The story was reported on, but nothing like the Trump Russia story.

Well now the Uranium One story is back, and it may have assumed too much critical mass to be able to be wished away by ex Obama officials, especially those at State. Of course, if things get too uncomfortable, and if the real Russian collusion turns out to have been with Obama and Hillary Democrats and not Trump’s campaign team, perhaps they can fight back the only way left to them.

They can hire Fusion GPS, assuming Glenn Simpson isn’t too busy defending himself in criminal court.

Bedlam – a Seattle coffee shop – does not want you if you are pro-life. In fact, they will aggressively and abusively hurl insults at you as a form of defense apparently. That is certainly what happened last week when a group of pro-life activists decided to grab some java after putting up posters in the area.

The video of Bedlam owner Ben Borgman going postal and explicit on the group is viral by now and it is a little shocking, but not because it reveals anything surprising – gay sex is an issue that divides and divides deeply in the cultural wars in America and Europe and elsewhere. What is just a touch surprising is to see how it is used as an angry weapon to be thrown in the face of those who you disagree with.

But wait a second. The disagreement was over abortion, and specifically the use of graphic images of fetuses in the material the group was posting. This seems to have been their great sin, according to Borgman. And from this Borgman deduced that they were persons of faith who must oppose gay sex as sinful and gay marriage as wrong as well. So he went on a rant that ended up with him suggesting that he’d love to sodomize Jesus Christ. As well as denouncing the pro-lifers as being led by Satan.

Yes, it’s probably a logical deduction to make, that someone who is pro-life is likely not as tolerant of gay sex or gay marriage as someone who supports Planned Parenthood, for example. But all it takes nowadays is one trigger issue to divide you, in the eyes of the person shouting, on almost every other issue, right down to what neighborhood you choose to live in. And the rage that Bedlam owner Borgman displayed is one that is being directed at the very edifice of Western culture. You’re pro-life, therefore you must be an islamophobic, white supremacist who wants to kill immigrants. Because you put up a poster that (explicitly) denounces abortion as murder. And Columbus was a genocidal murderer while the Aztec culture was practically Buddhist. Jesus is hot and Che Guevara is a saint.

The polls of course show that dividing between so-called white patriarchal culture and everyone else gets a little tricky on issues precisely like abortion. Hispanics in America – many first or second generation immigrants – are more likely to be against many forms of abortion than a coffee shop owner in Seattle might be. But this isn’t how the culture wars work. They work by prying apart rather than finding common ground. As I keep saying, this comes from their roots in Marxist liberation theory, where revolution demands constant raw material in the form of customs, social norms and structures, laws and conventions, all as fodder to be hurled into the mouth of the insatiable behemoth of constant revolution.

So as the left and center celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna (known to us all as Che Guevara) the ghost of the revolutionary might take comfort that even if nowadays armed guerillas in Latin America are mostly drug smuggling killers, people can still work themselves into a rage over a poster of a fetus. And even if the fact is that if Che were brought back from his grave he’d be in North Korea or Afghanistan trying to kill Americans, a coffeeshop owner can feel proud that he signaled his vice in such a progressively virtuous manner by insulting people of faith.

Will Ben Borgman be summoned by the Washington State Human Rights Commission, as Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips was? Ah, but this is different. Borgman is a cultural warrior, defending a safe space for abortion-friendly non-homophobic, progressive, tax-raising Seattle denizens. And woe betide you if you dare cross into a self-selected neighborhood that does not hold your views. And yes, that works both ways nowadays.

This was another nasty skirmish in today’s cultural wars. Anyone who has any idea when all this might possibly de-escalate, please let the rest of us know.