Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Anchor babies, birth tourism and China

August 27, 2015

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.
              ==14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Yes, it’s true, as Donald Trump said, that there is such a thing as “anchor babies” or, to use a more polite term, “birth tourism,” and it also is true, as Jeb Bush said, that most come from China and other Asian countries, not Mexico.

anchorbabies-300x201Here’s how it works.  Chinese travel agencies arrange, for a fee, for Chinese couples to legally visit the United States and for the mother to give birth in a U.S. hospital.  Under the 14th Amendment, those children are U.S. citizens.  Under current U.S. law, those children, when they reach the age of 21, may apply for green cards for their parents to immigrate to the United States and eventually become U.S. citizens.

An unauthorized immigrant couple could do the same thing, but I don’t have any information on whether any or how many actually do.  The possibility exists even if they didn’t originally intend to have the “anchor baby”.

These practices may not be a serious practical problem, at least not as yet, but they don’t sit well with me.  They are a distortion of the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment and of U.S. immigration law.

The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted in 1868 so as to guarantee citizenship rights for newly-freed slaves and to reverse the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans had no rights under the Constitution.  The question of children of authorized immigrants did not arise, because the United States had no restrictions on immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Wong Kim Ark, who was born around 1871 to Chinese parents legally in the United States, was a U.S. citizen and could not be barred from re-entering the United States after a trip abroad.

One solution would be to repeal or amend the Fourteenth Amendment.  This would be a difficult thing to do and also potentially dangerous unless the new amendment is worded very carefully.  I wouldn’t want to give the federal government the power to deprive me and those I care about of our citizenship.

It might be possible to pass a law or file a lawsuit to clarify the meaning of “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”  The original Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to Indian tribes or to the children of foreign diplomats because they were not subject to U.S. law.  You could make an argument that unauthorized immigrants are not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. law, either.

This of course would not apply to Chinese and other “birth tourism” for legally authorized visitors to the United States.

Another possible approach would be to change U.S. immigration law as it applies to family reunification.  My understanding is that it was intended to apply to relatives of U.S. citizens who were stranded in refugee camps, not everyday citizens of foreign countries who think they can do better in the USA.   It would be a shame to stop this, but it is a practical way of eliminating “anchor babies” and “birth tourism”.

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The passing scene – August 24, 2015

August 24, 2015

White supremacist gathering underscores Russia’s nationalist trend by Masur Mirovalev for the Los Angeles Times.  Hat tip to Oidin.

Racism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism are on the rise among ethnic Russians, who are 81 percent of the population of the Russian Federation.  The victims are Russia’s ethnic minorities, such as the Tatars, and its immigrants, who are mainly from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Vladimir Putin has cracked down on hate killings while trying to harness Russian nationalism to support his struggle with NATO nations over Ukraine.  He aligns himself with the Russian Orthodox Church, Cossack paramilitaries and the extreme right-wing parties.

Putin Cracks Down on Christians in Crimea by Geraldine Fagan for Newsweek.

Russian authorities in Crimea are building up the Russian Orthodox Church while persecuting Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Eastern Rite Catholics.

A suspiciously “European” solution by Tom Sullivan for Hullabaloo.

The French National Front and Donald Trump by Paul Gottfried for the Unz Review.

Anti-foreign and anti-immigrant sentiment are on the rise throughout Europe as well as the USA.

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A good movie’s window into Iranian life

August 17, 2015

The 2011 Iranian movie “A Separation” is one of the best movies I ever saw.   It is good in itself, and a good window into life in Iran.

There are at least two kinds of separation depicted in the movie.  One is between husbands and wives.  Another is between the educated middle class and the uneducated lower class.

It begins with a conflict between a educated woman, who wants to leave Iran, and a husband, who is unwilling to leave his sick father.  The wife separates from the husband, and he hires an uneducated woman to look after his father while he is away at work.

The husband comes home one day and finds his father alone and unattended.  The woman comes back, he flies into a rage, something happens outside camera range and she falls and has a miscarriage.  It then is revealed that the woman got a job without the knowledge of her strict Muslim husband, who disapproves of women working outside the home.

Iran is a right-to-life country and an unborn life has the same value as anyone else’s.  The educated woman’s husband is charged with murder.   Two mysteries then need to be cleared up – what really happened off-camera to cause the miscarriage, and why the educated woman left her place of work.

One of the bonuses of watching the movie was the glimpse I had into everyday life in a country I never expect to visit.

In one scene, the elderly father falls in the bathtub, and his caregiver fears it would be a sin for her to see the naked body of a man not her husband.   She picks up a phone and calls a hot line for advice.  An expert on Muslim law tells her that her duty is to help the old man.

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Freight train service connects China to Europe

August 17, 2015

trainRoutePROJ-2300

Some weeks ago a train carrying 80 containers, about as much as a medium-sized container ship, arrived in the Netherlands from China, via Russia, Belarus and Poland.

It reportedly took 22 days.  A container ship would have taken a month for a one-way trip.   The Chinese hope to make the freight service one month for a round trip.

What this signifies is the increasing economic integration of China, Russia and central Asia, the region of the world that is least vulnerable to American air and sea power.

This development is a good thing for the Russian and Chinese people.  It promises greater prosperity with a lesser energy footprint.

It may or may not be a good thing for Russia’s and China’s mainly Muslim subject peoples—the Tatars, Chechens and other minorities in Russia, the Uighurs in China and the subjects of the Russian-backed dictatorships in central Asia.   Ethnic minorities will always be second-class citizens, or worse, within the framework of Chinese and Russian chauvinism.

LINK

Train Through Russia Will Connect Europe and Asia by the Fritzmorgen blog translated for the Southfront blog.

Pro-TPP companies, groups bankroll Clinton

August 7, 2015

CLQEBW4XAAAMhhvSource: LittleSis.

Hillary Clinton in her book, Hard Choices, endorsed the Trans Pacific Partnership.  If she makes any statements appearing to back off from that position, I’d read them like a lawyer looking for loopholes.

She’s been paid more than $2.5 million—actually, more than $2.7 million—in speaking fees by companies and organizations that lobby in favor of the TPP.

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, two other Democratic candidates for President, are opposed to the TPP, as are Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump.

Republicans Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Perry support the TPP.

I think the TPP is a terrible idea because, based on information now available, it appears to lock in a corporate wish-list as international law.  International corporations, but no other entities, would have the right to appeal to a special tribunal against laws they deem unfair, and the tribunal would have authority to fine governments for allegedly unfair laws.

At the very least Congress should have time to discuss and debate it fully rather than having it rushed through on fast track.

LINKS

Groups lobbying on trade paid Hillary Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees by Julianna Goldman for CBS News.

TPP Agreement: Where Do 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on the Trans Pacific Partnership? by Howard Koplowitz for International Business Times.

Donald Trump slams Pacific free trade deal by CNN Money.  Trump appears to be right for wrong reasons.  Like some TPP supporters, he talks as if the TPP is mainly about free trade.

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What if Russia breaks up?

August 7, 2015

20150725_wim111

The Economist had an article speculating on the possibility of the breakup of the Russian Federation.  This doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m no expert.

The old Soviet Union was a multi-national empire which was united, in theory, by Communist ideology which, in theory, treated all persons and all cultures equally.

The present-day Russian Federation is united mainly by Russian nationalism, based on the Russian language and Russian Orthodox Church.

This may solidify the loyalty of Russians, who are the federation’s largest ethnic group, but not necessarily Chechens, Tatars and other non-Russian peoples, who are treated as second-class citizens by Russian-speakers.

The Russian government had to fight a bloody war to keep Chechnya from seceding and the potential exists for other conflicts.

Many of the non-Russian nationalities have higher birth rates than the Russians.

What would happen if Russia did break up?  The United States, China and maybe Germany, Turkey, Iran and Japan would probably try to draw the fragments into their sphere of influence—a possible source of conflict and war.

The worst case would be if Russia descended into chaos and anarchy, and some rogue government or movement got control of Russian nuclear missiles.

I don’t think The Economist is seriously predicting this.  But who knows what might happen?

LINK

What if Russia breaks up? The peril beyond Putin by The Economist.

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Why are Americans leaving the work force?

August 3, 2015

150714171144-chart-labor-force-participation-780x439

Another example of American exceptionalism.

A report by CNN Money indicates that, since the year 2000, the American labor force participation rate—the proportion of working-age Americans with jobs or looking for work—has fallen, while the rate has been increasing in other industrial countries.

I don’t think CNN’s theory—that other countries make it easier for women to work—is the whole story.

Hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have been falling in the USA since the late 1970s.  For a long time Americans maintained their material standard of living by working longer hours, sending more families into the work force and borrowing money.

Now this has collapsed.   The good jobs are no longer available.  In many cases it makes more sense to cut back on spending than to get a job where low wages are offset by the costs of transportation, child care and the like.

I think—although I don’t claim to be able to prove—that the other countries on the CNN chart are following the same path as the United States, but are not so far along.

One straw in the wind is the increasing number of Europeans who are working “extreme” working hours—50 hours a week or more.   This is pretty much the trend in the USA during the 1990s.

I think the best explanation for what is going on is the Marxist one.   In all the rich countries, there is an increasing flow of income to holders of financial assets and to people in executive positions and a decreasing flow to the middle class, working people and the poor.

LINKS

Why America’s workforce is shrinking and Europe’s isn’t by CNN Money.

Extreme working hours have radically increased in many western European countries since the start of the 1990s by Anna S. Burger of the London School of Economics.

Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and a possibility but not a certainty

african-v-eurpope-population-growth-economist-aug-28-2009

Also a possibility but not a certainty

It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that birth rates are falling worldwide.  If things continue as they are, world population growth will level off by the end of the century.

But the fact that they are not falling at the same rate in every country changes the world balance of power, as Indians outnumber Chinese and Africans outnumber Europeans.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be peace in the world, nations will have to negotiate limits on their populations as well as limits on their armaments.

I don’t see how that would be feasible without nations also agreeing to totalitarian Chinese-style birth regulations.  The alternative is to wait for the “demographic transition” to click in.  Help people achieve a better life, provide women with reproductive rights and knowledge and wait for population to level off as it is doing in the developed world.

LINK

India set to become world’s most populous nation by 2022 – UN by Emma Batha for Reuters.

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The top chart was published by the BBC; the second chart by The Economist.

 

How NAFTA drove poor Mexicans north

July 22, 2015

If not for NAFTA, the United States probably wouldn’t have the issue it does with unauthorized immigration from Mexico.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1993, was part of a strategy by the Bill Clinton administration, continuing the policy of previous administrations, to increase U.S. exports.

ImageGen.ashxThe government gave up trying to preserve the family-operated farm.  Instead it favored large-scale operations that could produce food for export.  Farmers were told: “Get big or get out.”

NAFTA, although it eliminated government subsidies for many products, preserved U.S. subsidies for corn and dairy products.  The corn subsidy was also in effect a subsidy for meat, since meat animals are fed subsidized corn.

Small Mexican farmers, especially corn farmers, could not compete against the cheap food imports that flooded into Mexico.  Many left the land, and joined the migrant stream into the United States.

U.S. government policy was successful in increasing exports of corn.  The unintended result was increased imports of unauthorized workers.   I think NAFTA should be amended or repealed, but, sadly, this will not change the results of NAFTA.

LINKS

Under Nafta, Mexico Suffered and the United States felt its pain by Laura Carlsen for the New York Times.

Corn Sales to Western Hemisphere Surge by the National Corn Growers Association.

NAFTA and US farmers—20 years later by Karen Hansen-Kuhn for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

Mexican Farmers Affected by Agricultural Subsidies from NAFTA, Other International Agreements by Susana G. Baumann for the Huffington Post.

Corn Subsidies at Root of U.S.-Mexico Immigration Problems by Anthony B. Bradley of the Acton Institute.

How U.S. Policies Fueled Mexico’s Great Migration by David Bacon for The Nation.

Free trade: As U.S. corn flows south, Mexicans stop farming by Tim Johnson for McClatchy Newspapers.

USA should join with Iran against ISIS

July 16, 2015

Israel and Saudi Arabia are not friends and do not even have diplomatic relations, but they work in parallel when it is in their national interest to do so.

Why should not the governments of the United States and Iran work together against our common enemies, the Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) and Al Qaeda?

This would make more sense than trying to fight ISIS and Al Qaeda while making common cause with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates against the main enemies of ISIS and Al Qaeda.

axis.satan

Tom Jansson cartoon for The Cagle Post

Maybe this is what President Obama had in mind.  Maybe this is already U.S. policy.  If so, good!

Americans criticize the Iranian government for giving weapons and other help to armed factions in other countries, but that is no different from what the Saudis, the Gulf emirates, Israel and the United States itself does.  Iran’s current intervention in Iraq and Syria is at the invitation of the governments of those countries.

I think the violent conflicts in the Middle East, including the Sunni-Shiite conflict, would die down if Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, the USA and other countries agreed among themselves to stop giving weapons, supplies and money to the various battling groups.

Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.  But I have to say the such an agreement is more likely than other nations agreeing to be neutral while the US government continues conducting bombing campaigns and arming its own proxies.

Iran and the United States are neither friends nor enemies.  They are countries with their own interests, which sometimes overlap and sometimes conflict.

LINKS

Rethinking Iran by Kevin Schwartz and Arjun Singh Sethi for Counterpunch.

Alan Dershowitz on the Iran deal

July 15, 2015

Harvard Law School professor Alan M. Dershowitz made this argument against the proposed deal with Iran.

Does the proposed deal with Iran actually prevent the Mullahs from ever developing a nuclear weapon?  Or does it merely delay them for a period of years? That is the key question that has not yet been clearly answered.

Alan M. Dershowitz

Alan M. Dershowitz

In his statement on the deal, President Obama seemed to suggest that Iran will never be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon. He said that this “long-term deal with Iran… will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.” … …

But is that what the deal itself does?  Or, as stated by its critics, does it actually assure that Iran will be allowed to develop a nuclear arsenal after a short delay of several years?  That is the key question that the Obama administration has refused to answer directly.  It must do so before Congress can be asked to buy a pig in a poke for the American people.

There is an enormous difference between a deal that merely delays Iran’s development of a nuclear arsenal for a period of years and a deal that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear arsenal.

via Gatestone Institute.

It is perfectly true that the Iran nuclear deal does not present Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons capability.   Every advanced industrial nation has the capacity to develop nuclear weapons if it so chooses.

What the deal does is to prevent Iran from secretly developing nuclear weapons capability.

So long as the terms of the deal are observed, any action to manufacture plutonium or weapons-grade uranium would be transparent and would take a long enough period of time for United States or other countries to act.

It also is the case that continuation of sanctions will not prevent Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons.  In fact, Iran is further along toward developing weapons-grade uranium (although not very far) than it will be under the agreement.

If I were an Iranian leader, and I thought that sanctions would continue no matter what, I would go ahead with the uranium enrichment program.  As the saying goes, you might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb.

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Greece’s debt and the Wiemar Republic analogy

July 14, 2015

Historical analogies don’t necessarily hold, but Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, like Greece today, had a dysfunctional democratic government and was saddled with war debts beyond the nation’s ability to pay.

All well-informed people understood the situation, but the demands of the creditor nations on the Wiemar Republic were uncompromising.  Then Hitler came to power, and the debt was forgiven.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the fascist Golden Dawn party came to power in Greece, and I wouldn’t be completely surprised if the creditor nations relaxed their demands for debt repayment.

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As Greece goes, so go other debtor nations

July 13, 2015

The Greek debt burden is more than the people of Greece can ever repay.

But evidently the creditor nations will not accept this until Greece is bled dry.

Their “austerity” plan is for higher taxes, lower wages and higher prices and the sale of Greek national assets at bargain prices.

Greece is being treated like a nation defeated in war, and, like a defeated nation, it will never prosper until it can free itself from the power of its conquerors.

A trust fund created by Greece’s creditors will sell off 50 billion Euros worth of Greek national assets, with half the money to be used to pay Greece’s debt and half to recapitalize Greek banks.   Greeks will not have a voice in what is sold or at what price.

greece-debt-crisisHeather Stewart of The Guardian recently listed 23 nations that, like Greece, are in an external debt crisis, and 14 at high risk of an external debt crisis.

The 23 nations also in external debt crisis are Armenia, Belize, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, The Gambia, Grenada, Ireland, Jamaica, Lebanon, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Sri Lanka, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Zimbabwe.

The 14 high risk nations are Bhutan, Cape Verde, Dominica, Ethiopia, Ghana, Laos, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Samoa, Sao Tome e Principe, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda.

My guess is that Ukraine is the next country in line to lose its national sovereignty to creditors; this is likely as soon as the government no longer needs financing to crush the rebellion in Donetsk and Lugansk.

We Americans should remember that the United States is a debtor nation like Greece, not a creditor nation like Germany, Japan or China.  What happens to Greece today and to Ukraine tomorrow could happen to the USA someday, too, when our debts are in yuan or some other currency instead of dollars.

LINKS

Beyond Greece, the world is filled with debt crises by Heather Stewart for The Observer.

Global Debt Can’t Be Paid by Briton Ryle for WealthDaily.

Turkey backs Uighur rebels in China

July 12, 2015

The Uighurs are a Muslim people who live in China’s western Xinjiang province—what used to be called Chinese Turkestan, just as what we now call Central Asia used to be called Russian Turkestan.

The Turks in Turkey once inhabited the same region, before they migrated into western Asia and conquered the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and most of the Arab world.

china_urumqiPeter Lee reported on his China Matters web log how the Turkish government is trying to assume the leadership of the Turkish world and, as part of that, has issued Turkish passports for Uighur rebels.   I think this comes under the heading of starting fights you are not prepared to finish.

I sympathize with the Uighur people who, like the Tibetans, are being engulfed by Chinese settlers, and with the people of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia who live under oppressive dictatorships.

In the same way, I sympathized with the brave Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956.  But the United States was not willing to go to war with the Soviet Union on behalf of the Hungarians, and risk the devastation of North America, Russia and Europe, including Hungary.  So it was irresponsible of Radio Free Europe to incite them to rise up, and I think Turkish policy (which I hope the US government is not encouraging) is irresponsible now.

LINKS

Uighurs Edge Closer to Center of Turkish Diplomacy, Politics and Geopolitical Strategy by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Turkey’s “Passports for Uighurs” Scheme Continues Its Messy Unraveling by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Germany got a debt writedown: Why not Greece?

July 9, 2015

After World War One, the Allies were saddled with war debts to the United States that were beyond their ability to pay.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany's debts to foreign creditors in half.

Herman Josef Abs, center, representing Federal Republic of Germany, signs a 1953 agreement cutting Germany’s debts to foreign creditors in half.

They hoped to get the money out of Germany, which was obligated to make reparations payments beyond that nation’s ability to pay.

Eventually Germany defaulted on its obligations to the Allies, and the Allies defaulted on their obligations to the USA and its bankers—but not in time to prevent the onset of the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

After World War Two, the Allies learned their lesson.  They allowed the German government [1] to write off half its debts.

If this hadn’t been done, the postwar German economic miracle might not have taken place, and the recovery of Europe as a whole would have been delayed.

Today Greece has more debt than it can repay.  Eventually there is going to have to be a write-down of this debt.

The question is whether the Greek population will have to be reduced to poverty and Greek national assets sold off at bargain prices before this happens.

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The Central American scene: Links 7/9/2015

July 9, 2015

My expatriate e-mail pen-pal Jack sent me a batch of links to interesting articles concerning two central American countries—Nicaragua, ruled by the formerly anti-U.S. Sandinistas, and Honduras, ruled by a military junta covertly supported by the U.S.

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Daniel Ortega is a Sandinista in name only by Stephen Kinzer for Al Jazeera America.

Daniel Ortega Goes From U.S. Foe to Friend in Drug War Battle by Michael D. McDonald for Bloomberg Business.

Nicaraguan Canal Could Wreck Environment, Scientists Say by Brian Clark Howard for National Geographic.  This is about a deal with a Chinese company to build a canal to supposedly rival the Panama Canal.

Nicaragua canal will wreak havoc on forests and displace people, NGO warns by Mark Anderson for The Guardian.

Nicaragua’s Grand Canal: No Indigenous Consent and Probable Environmental Catastrophe by Rick Kearns for Indian Country.

A Canal Too Far: Nicaraguan Campesinos Tell Ortega to Take His Canal and Shove It by Wilfredo Miranda for The World Post.

Long silence from Nicaragua’s president as first lady keeps press at arm’s length by John Otis of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Nicaragua’s Ortega says US senator, congresswoman on official list of banned foreigners by the Tico Times.

Mitch McConnell: John Kerry visited Nicaragua in 1980s to accuse Reagan of ‘engaging in terrorism’ by Louis Jacobson of the Tampa Bay Times.

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Hillary Clinton sold out Honduras: Lanny Davis, corporate cash and the real story about the death of a Latin American democracy by Matthew Pulver for Salon.

Hillary Clinton Admits Role in Honduran Coup by Mark Weisbrot for Al Jazeera America.

Hillary Clinton Suggested Lanny Davis Back Channel in Honduras by Lee Fang for The Intercept.

Scandal in the Social Security Institute in Honduras: Key Witness Shot by Aqui Abajo

Putin’s energy strategy for isolating Ukraine

July 6, 2015

Hat tip to Vineyard of the Saker.

Gazprom North StreamPresident Putin has made an agreement with Germany, and offered an agreement to Turkey, that will enable Russia to serve its natural gas markets in western Europe while retaining the option to shut off Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states.

The Russian government plans to expand its North Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.   This would enable Russia to cut off natural gas to Ukraine and most of the rest of eastern Europe without interrupting its sales to western Europe.

Germany, which is now the financial hub of western Europe, would become the energy hub as well.

black_sea_turkey_south_streamRussia has an alternate plan, the South Stream, a pipeline to cross the Black Sea to Bulgaria, but this has been canceled.  Instead Russia now hopes to build a Turkish Stream, which would connect directly with European Turkey.  Greece and other European countries would have the option of connecting to that pipeline.

The Turkish government also has the ambition of becoming an energy hub.  It is in a good position to do this because of its position as the crossroads between Europe and the Greater Middle East.  But, for political reasons, Turkey might have to give up plans for other pipelines to connect to Iran, Iraq and Azerbaijan if goes along with Russia’s Turkish Stream.

Not everything that is announced gets built, and in any case construction of these pipelines would take several years.   But Putin’s strategy could put Russia in a powerful position in regard to Ukraine and NATO’s eastern flank, and without firing a shot.

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Greece and the new cold war

July 6, 2015

The big banks in Germany and other countries lent money to the Greek government that they had good reason to believe would never be repaid, with the understanding that they would be bailed out either by squeezing the people of Greece or at the expense of European taxpayers in general.

greece_2457626a

Source: The Hindu newspaper in India

Their confidence was not misplaced.  As the chart shows, they have already been able to offload most of the Greek government debt.

The Greek leaders have spoken to the Russian government about a possible rescue.  The Russian government’s reply is that it won’t help as long as Greece is in the Euro currency zone—which, as Ian Welsh pointed out, is as good as saying it will help if Greece leaves.

Independent journalist John Helmer recalled that Victor Yanukovich, the president of Ukraine, accepted a similar bailout offer from Russia and was quickly removed from power.   Helmer reported that Victoria Nuland, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, who engineered the regime change in Ukraine, is now working for regime change in Greece.

All this raises the question of just whose interests the U.S. government—and Germany’s—serve.

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Nuland’s Nemesis: Will Greece Be Destroyed to Save Her From Russia, Like Ukraine? by John Helmer for Dances With Bears.

Consequences of the Greek Oxi (No) Vote by Ian Welsh.

Greece Rejects the Troika by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

Behind the Greek Crisis by William R. Polk for Consortium News.

There are more TPPs in the pipeline

July 1, 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is just the beginning.

POLITICO reported that four more trade agreements are now being negotiated.

Following Congress’ hard-fought approval of “fast-track” trade authority last week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman vowed not only to complete the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership but an even bigger pact with the European Union and three other major trade deals — all in the 18 months remaining in President Barack Obama’s term.

It could add up to the biggest trade blitz in history, transforming the rules under which the world does business.

sw0625cd_590_356“We’ve got a lot of pots on the stove,” Froman told POLITICO while watching senators cast their final votes to send the legislation to the president. We want to get TPP done and through Congress. We want to get TTIP negotiated. We’re going to finish ITA. I’m hoping to finish EGA and TISA.”

Those would be, in order: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the European Union, an even bigger pact than the TPP in terms of economic size; the World Trade Organization’s Information Technology Agreement, which covers about 97 percent of world IT trade; the Environmental Goods Agreement, accounting for 86 percent international commerce in green goods; and the 24-party Trade in International Services Agreement, which involves three-quarters of the United States’ gross domestic product and two-thirds of the world’s services, such as banking and communications.

via POLITICO.

I’d heard of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), but not the Information Technology Agreement or the Environmental Goods Agreement until now.

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A world of book stores

June 30, 2015

editores lello irmao porto photographs

I spent a good bit of my adult life hanging out in bookstores, but never one as impressive as the Livaria Lello and Irmão in Porto, Portugal, shown above, which I have never visited and never expect to visit, but I’m glad to know exists.

When I was younger, I would always look for bookstores when I was in a strange city.  I thought I got an idea of a city’s nature from its bookstores, and the selection of books on offer.

I no longer do much traveling, and none as a tourist, and I no longer buy books with the idea that I will read them someday in the future.  Instead I’m reading the books I bought in the past with that idea in mind.

But if I were a world traveler, I would be sure to visit places mentioned in the links below.

LINKS

Seven Bookstores Too Beautiful for Words by Jake Rossen for Mental Floss.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Weird and wonderful bookshops worldwide – in pictures by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

10 independent bookstores you should visit worldwide – our readers recommend by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

A novel oasis: Why Argentina is the bookshop capital of the world by Uki Goñi for The Guardian.

The fruits of American foreign policy

June 18, 2015

John Michael Greer, writing on his Archdruid Report blog, described how American foreign policy has led to Russia and China joining to create a Fortress Eurasia that is beyond the reach of U.S. military power.

Just as the great rivalry of the first half of the twentieth century was fought out between Britain and Germany, the great rivalry of the century’s second half was between the United States and Russia.

If nuclear weapons hadn’t been invented, it’s probably a safe bet that at some point the rivalry would have ended in another global war.

As it was, the threat of mutual assured destruction meant that the struggle for global power had to be fought out less directly, in a flurry of proxy wars, sponsored insurgencies, economic warfare, subversion, sabotage, and bare-knuckle diplomacy.

In that war, the United States came out on top, and Soviet Russia went the way of Imperial Germany, plunging into the same sort of political and economic chaos that beset the Weimar Republic in its day.

The supreme strategic imperative of the United States in that war was finding ways to drive as deep a wedge as possible between Russia and China, in order to keep them from taking concerted action against the US.

That wasn’t all that difficult a task, since the two nations have very little in common and many conflicting interests.

gadd600spanNixon’s 1972 trip to China was arguably the defining moment in the Cold War, the point at which China’s separation from the Soviet bloc became total and Chinese integration with the American economic order began.

From that point on, for Russia, it was basically all downhill.

In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat, the same strategic imperative remained, but the conditions of the post-Cold War world made it almost absurdly easy to carry out.

All that would have been needed were American policies that gave Russia and China meaningful, concrete reasons to think that their national interests and aspirations would be easier to achieve in cooperation with a US-led global order than in opposition to it.

Granting Russia and China the same position of regional influence that the US accords to Germany and Japan as a matter of course probably would have been enough.

A little forbearance, a little foreign aid, a little adroit diplomacy, and the United States would have been in the catbird’s seat, with Russia and China glaring suspiciously at each other across their long and problematic mutual border, and bidding against each other for US support in their various disagreements.

But that’s not what happened, of course.

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Chinese vs. American trade agreements

June 18, 2015

china-watch-map_3281019b

U.S. rivalry with China should be mainly economic, not military.   The threat to us Americans is that we shall continue to allow the hollowing out of our manufacturing industry while China grows ever more powerful.

China offers the world the chance to invest in its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which may or may not amount to anything, but potentially could help all its partners achieve their economic goals.

The US government is trying to pressure the world into joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement, which would require them to give up national sovereignty so that multinational corporations could operate with greater freedom.

President Obama has said that it is important that “we” rather than China get to write the rules for the international economy.  I don’t feel included in that “we”.   I think the “we” who will write the rules are the big international banks and other corporations, not us Americans.

There’s an old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Right now the Chinese government is offering honey while the U.S. government is trying to force its allies to swallow vinegar.

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World empires of the Internet

June 16, 2015
Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Source: Information Geographies

Internet companies are an extension of their nations’ soft power.  This map, based on data compiled in 2013, shows the number of Internet users and the most-visited web site in each country.

What stands out for me is the global reach of U.S.-based Internet companies whose dominance, however, ends at the borders of China and Russia.

Google has been squeezed out of China.  It still has a reported 30 percent market share in Russia, based partly on the popularity of its Android hand-held device, but faces anti-trust charges in that country.

I don’t think Russia, any more than China, is willing to tolerate a strong foreign Internet presence.

Another thing that stands out is the huge Internet penetration in the Southeast Asian nations of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, compared not only to Burma, Laos and Cambodia, which barely register as dot on the map, but also compared to Australia and New Zealand.

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At last the AFL-CIO plays hardball on TPP

June 11, 2015

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The AFL-CIO is withholding support from congressional representatives until it sees how they vote on the Trade Promotion Authority and Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The TPP is an anti-labor international agreement, and the TPA, also known as Fast Track, is a procedure for pushing it through with limited time for debate.

Good!  It’s about time that organized labor stop supporting politicians that don’t vote in the interests of working people—even if such politicians are supposedly a lesser evil.

LINKS

Democrats Frustrated by Unions’ Cash Freeze Over Fast Track by Emily Cahn and Emma Dumain for Roll Call.

AFL-CIO Says Labor Has Been Blocked from Trans Pacific Partnership Debate by Marc Daalder for In These Times.

Who said Obama isn’t a strong leader?

June 11, 2015

Anybody who said that Barack Obama is a weak leader must eat their words in the light of the way he is pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement through Congress.

Likewise those who said he is incapable of working with the Republican leaders in Congress.

Barack ObamaI think people mistook his character because they mistook his priorities.  The President is a tough fighter for things that matter to him.

It is just that issues such as closing Guantanamo Bay or defending Social Security were not among his top priorities.  The TPP and the Trade Promotion Authority, aka Fast Track, are.

The TPP is supposedly a trade agreement, but based on what’s been leaked out about it so far, that’s not what it is.

It creates new international law that limits the power of sovereign governments to enact laws and regulations to protect public health, the environment and the well-being of their citizens/

And it sets up a mechanism by which corporations can have governments penalized if a tribunal rules that laws and regulations deny them their just profits.

Corporate executives say they will invest more confidently in countries if they have assurance that they won’t be subject to onerous laws and regulations and if they can have recourse to a special tribunal if national governments impose laws and regulations they think are unfair.  No doubt!

That doesn’t mean that no investment will take place if they don’t get all these special protections.

My idea of a free trade agreement is an agreement among nations to lower tariffs and import quotas so that people within those countries can freely exchange goods and services.  Most such barriers were eliminated years ago.  That’s why almost everything you pick up in an American department store is labeled “Made in Vietnam” or “Made in Korea” or “Made in Bangladesh”.

Eliminating restrictions on currency manipulation, or demanding privatization of public services, is very different.   This is a way of shifting governance from national governments to international corporations.

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