Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Turkish election

The Turks go to the polls


From al-Jazeera

Commonsense on immigration

CrossTalk: Melting Pot Melting Down


All across the western world the so-called melting pot is melting down. Immigration – legal and illegal – is probably the most contentious and divisive issue energizing voters. In Italy, for example, the right and left have united on the issue. In Germany, the government may collapse. And Trump has made this his signature cause. Can the status quo be sustained?

CrossTalking with John Laughland, Ralph Niemeyer, and Roland Benedikter.

Trump flip-flops on North Korea

Trump flips on North Korea, declaring country still an 'extraordinary threat'
President extended the ‘national emergency’ for one year in an executive order, re-authorizing economic restrictions

Trump prolongs sanctions against North Korea for another year
22 June, 2018

Donald Trump has declared that North Korea still poses an “extraordinary threat” to the United States, just days after saying that the country’s nuclear program no longer constituted a danger

In an executive order on Friday, the president extended for one year the so-called “national emergency” with respect to the nuclear-armed nation, re-authorizing economic restrictions against it.

While expected, the declaration comes just nine days after Trump tweeted: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore.

Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

The order appears to undermine the president’s claim.

It states that “the existence and risk of proliferation of weapons-usable fissile material” and the actions and policies of the North Korean government “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States”.

The national emergency has been in place since 2008 and is a sign of the enduring tensions between the US and North Korea that spiked last year as the North moved closed to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach American soil, but ebbed with the 12 June summit where Kim agreed to “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.

The two sides, however, still have to negotiate the terms under which the North would give up its nukes and win relief from sanctions – a goal that has eluded US administrations for a quarter-century.

Trump claimed at a cabinet meeting Thursday that denuclearization had already begun, although his defense secretary, James Mattis, told reporters a day earlier that he wasn’t aware that North Korea had taken any steps yet toward denuclearization, and that detailed negotiations have not yet begun

Despite a recent thaw in relations with Kim Jong-un, President Donald Trump is renewing US sanctions on North Korea for another year, justified by “an unusual and extraordinary” nuclear weapons threat.

The actions and policies of the government of North Korea, including its pursuit of nuclear and missile programs; and other provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies… continue to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States,” read a White House statement on Friday.

Washington ‘indefinitely’ delays 2 more military exercises with Seoul

Washington ‘indefinitely’ delays 2 more military exercises with Seoul

23 June, 2018

The US continues to wind down the scope of its military activity on North Korea’s doorstep, with the Pentagon announcing on Friday it was “indefinitely” suspending two joint training programs with Seoul.

The exercises, which were scheduled to take place within the next three months, have been put on hold with an open-ended date, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White announced on Friday. The drills in question are a part of the marine exchange training program between the US and South Korea.

"To support implementing the outcomes of the Singapore Summit, and in coordination with our Republic of Korea ally, Secretary Mattis has indefinitely suspended select exercises,” White said.

The Pentagon also confirmed that the suspension of Ulchi-Freedom Guardian war games that were set for August would last for an “indefinite” period as well.

This includes suspending FREEDOM GUARDIAN along with two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises scheduled to occur in the next three months," the spokesperson said.

On Tuesday, the South Korean Defense Ministry announced the allies agreed to suspend preparations for the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercise, which saw some 17,500 American troops and 50,0000 South Korean troops participate last year.

The South Korean ministry hinted that the allies were ready to cut back their military operations in the region further, addressing the long-held concerns of Pyongyang “should North Korea follow suit with productive cooperation.”

Earlier, the White House said that Washington would pause the drills for as long as North Korea continues acting in good faith

Washington and Seoul used to flex their military muscles with an array of joint military exercises every year, each time sparking anger in Pyongyang, which views large-scale hostile military activity off its borders as a potential disguise for an invasion. Following the summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, where US President Donald Trump first promised to halt “very expensive” and “provocative” drills with South Korea, he has doubled down on his pledge, saying last week that it was his “request” to stall the preparations. Trump noted that if the US proceeded with the drills while the negotiations were underway, it would have cast a “bad light” on the country.

In the months before the Trump-Kim meeting, the US and South Korea staged a number of joint exercises, including the annual Foal Eagle drill in April that involved some 11,500 US troops and tens of thousands South Korean troops.

The Max Thunder drills in May, featuring US strategic bombers and stealth jets, left the future of the summit hanging in the balance, as Pyongyang called off talks with South Korea and threatened to do the same with regards to the planned Trump-Kim meeting.

Despite what is seen as a budding thaw in relations between the parties, Washington is not in a hurry to ease its unilateral economic sanctions against North Korea. On Friday, Trump renewed them for another year citing “its pursuit of nuclear and missile,” while branding it “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the United States.” Pyongyang is also under several rounds of international sanctions, which were adopted by the UN Security Council, targeting its nuclear and missile programs.

China- US tensions

Trump's goal to keep China from using 'nuclear option' of dumping US debt – Max Keiser

Trump's goal to keep China from using 'nuclear option' of dumping US debt – Max Keiser

23 June, 2018

President Donald Trump is cutting US military spending to be less exposed to the skyrocketing interest rates that would become unavoidable when China opts to dump US Treasury bonds, Max Keiser has told RT.

To understand US trade policies – and in particular Trump’s policies on China – from Trump’s point of view you have to think like Trump,” the host of RT's Keiser Report explained. “When Trump took office, he inherited the biggest debt load that any country had ever accumulated. He also inherited a military budget that eats up 50 percent of America’s annual tax revenues of $1.5 trillion.”

According to Keiser, after taking the helm as president, Donald Trump realized it was vital to reduce defense spending to pare the huge US debt.

He looked at the geo-political chess board and saw that – the low hanging fruit, in terms of saving money – is America’s huge military spending in South Korea,” said Keiser, stressing that after the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jing-un the US would start pulling military presence out of the region.

The US president is currently arranging deals with Saudi Arabia and Israel, in preparation for the US pulling out of the Middle East as well, Keiser added, highlighting that Trump had previously signaled to Germany that the US would to cut its military presence in NATO there too.

That brings us to China, and the ‘nuclear option’ they have of dumping US treasuries to financially attack America. This is their one big play. Trump knows it, and he’s been protecting the US against it,” the financial commentator said.

Downsizing the Pentagon, according to Keiser, will shrink US debt, diminishing the possibility of a Chinese financial attack via the dumping of US bonds.

Dumping US securities moved Russia to 22nd place on list of major foreign holders of US debt 

The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) commonly factors in all kinds of risks when allocating the country's reserves, said the CBR chief, commenting on a major sell-off of US Treasury bonds.

By reducing its debt load, the US becomes a smaller target, and less exposed to the skyrocketing interest rates that would accompany a Chinese multi-trillion Treasury bond dump,” Keiser said. “Additionally, China’s internal debts are harder to cut without causing a more generalized, across-the-board economic wipeout – giving rise to severe, unpredictable social unrest.”

The commentator said that cutting the Pentagon budget in half will cut the stock market in half and cause a short and sharp recession in the US. However, the economy can rapidly recover if Trump “allocates part of the defense-spending-cut dividend to stimulus programs, pushing credit opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises and infrastructure spending.”

Chinese investments totaled $1.8 billion from January through May, that’s the lowest level in 7 years 

China cuts US investments by 92 percent this year amid escalating trade war

According to Keiser, China’s stock market will also be cut in half. However, the country’s government, in the absence of a fully-developed consumer economy, will have to “fall back on its tried and true Mercantilist policies of exporting its way to growth by pegging its currency at below market rates – which means holding, not selling US dollars.”

In the end, Trump wins. China’s growth rate is cut sharply, (but it keeps going without a revolution). Germany is free to partner with Russia in a post-NATO world (long overdue, IMO) and over in the mid-East, the oil is running out – so they’re transitioning to solar,” said Keiser.

Chinese investment in the US drops 90% amid political pressure

People visit a showroom of Ant Financial in Hangzhou, China on June 8, 2018.
AFP | Getty Images

  • Chinese acquisitions and investments in the U.S. fell 92 percent to just $1.8 billion in the first five months of this year, consulting and research firm Rhodium Group says.
  • Counting divestitures, net Chinese deal flow to the U.S. during that time was a negative $7.8 billion, the report says.
  • Beijing is trying to limit capital outflows and excessive leverage, while the Trump administration is increasing scrutiny of Chinese investments in the U.S. amid concerns about intellectual property protection.

Chinese acquisitions and investments in the U.S. fell 92 percent to just $1.8 billion in the first five months of this year, consulting and research firm Rhodium Group said Tuesday.

Counting divestitures, net Chinese deal flow to the U.S. during that time was a negative $7.8 billion, the report said.

The decline follows a sharp drop in the second half of last year as pressure from both Beijing and the Trump administration curbed a recent surge in cross-border investment. Completed Chinese deals in the U.S. hit a record $46 billion in 2016, and dropped to $29 billion in 2017, according to Rhodium.

China Steps Up US Cyberattacks As Trade Tensions Worsen

Despite signing a "digital truce" with the US in 2015 that banned the hacking of private companies, China has been green-lighting plenty of cyberattacks on US defense contractors, along with other targets, lately. And given the rising trade tensions with the US, these types of attacks are only expected to increase, 
according to Wired. To wit, one state-funded group recently infiltrated a Navy contractor and stole hundreds of gigabytes of information about submarines and undersea weapons, that have by now likely been handed over to the Chinese military.


As one source told Wired, China has backed off on intellectual property theft, as it promised to do when it signed the treaty. But it has more than compensated for this by redoubling its efforts to acquire US military intelligence.
"China’s actually backed off quite a bit on intellectual property theft, but when it comes to military trade secrets, military preparedness, military readiness, satellite communications, anything that involves the US’s ability to keep a cyber or military edge, China has been very heavily focused on those targets," says David Kennedy, CEO of the threat tracking firm Binary Defense Systems, who formerly worked at the NSA and with the Marine Corps' signal intelligence unit. "And the US does the same thing, by the way."
Earlier this week, analysts from Symantec published their research tracking a series of attacks carried out by suspected Chinese hackers  between November 2017 and April. The researchers dubbed the group "Thrip" - and what they have discovered is deeply troubling. The group, which the Symantec analysts have monitored since 2013, has learned to "hide in plain site" by using prefab malware to infiltrate networks, and then manipulate administrative controls to press further without tripping any alarms. Using off-the-shelf tools makes the group harder to identify. Still, the Symantec team found evidence of intrusions at some telecoms firms in southeast Asia, a US geospatial imagery company, a couple of private satellite companies including one US firm, and a US defense contractor.

And in what was probably Symantec's most alarming discovery,  the researchers learned that the hackers had managed to obtain operational control of orbiting satellite, giving them the ability to "disrupt data flows" or the satellite's trajectory.
The researchers found evidence of intrusions at some southeast Asian telecom firms, a US geospatial imagery company, a couple of private satellite companies including one from the US, and a US defense contractor. The breaches were all deliberate and targeted, and in the case of the satellite firms the hackers moved all the way through to reach the control systems of actual orbiting satellites, where they could have impacted a satellite's trajectory or disrupted data flow.
"It is scary," says Jon DiMaggio, a senior threat intelligence analyst at Symantec who leads the research into Thrip.
"We looked at which systems they were interested in, where they spent the most time, and on the satellites it was command and control. And then they were also on the operational side for both the geospatial imagery and the telecom attacks."

We should all be concerned about the increase in hacking of defense contractors because, as one of Wired's sources explains, sometimes an escalation of digital attacks can precede an armed conflict.
"Hacking can be used as a sign of force in a lot of cases to say 'hey, we’re not happy and we’re going to make you feel some pain,'" Kennedy notes. "They'll use that as a first step instead of having to send fighter jets or something."
"All of these pieces fit together," Symantec's DiMaggio says of Thrip. "It’s not targets of opportunity; it’s definitely a planned operation."
Of course, China has many options for retaliating against the US as the trade war with President Donald Trump worsens, including the so-called nuclear option: Dumping its US Treasury holdings. China's military still lags the US in terms of firepower, but the government is quickly closing that gap, and its provocations in the South China Sea could cause the already tenuous relationship between the two countries to further deteriorate.