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Politics & Religion / The Economist
« on: February 02, 2023, 01:21:18 PM »
The Economist this week
Highlights from the latest issue

The Economist
Sometimes news charges at you, sometimes it creeps up. Our cover story this week is about news in the creeping category. In the past two years America’s Congress has passed three bills, on infrastructure, semiconductor chips and greenery. They’re complicated and they have misleading names such as the “Inflation Reduction Act”, which isn’t really about inflation (and certainly won’t reduce it). What matters, though, is that these bills will together lead to spending of $2trn on remaking America’s economy.

The idea is that, with government action, America can reindustrialise itself, bolster national security, revive left-behind places, cheer up blue-collar workers and dramatically reduce its carbon emissions all at the same time. It is the country’s most ambitious and dirigiste industrial policy for many dec­ades. In a series of articles beginning this week The Economist will be assessing Joe Biden’s giant bet on transforming America.

The president is taking an epoch-making polit­ical gamble by acting on so many fronts. But the only way to build a majority in Congress was to bolt a Democratic desire to act on climate change on to hawkish worries about the threat from China and the need to deal with left-behind places in the American heartland. On its own, each of these concerns is valid. But the political necessity to bind them together has led America into a second-best world. The goals will sometimes conflict, the protectionism will infuriate allies and the subsidies will create inefficiencies.

A giant plan that has so many disparate objectives does not simply succeed or fail. Its full consequences may not become clear for many years. But, as our coverage will show over the coming months, it is sure to change America profoundly

Politics & Religion / RANE: Mali
« on: February 02, 2023, 11:56:04 AM »
In Mali, Jihadists and Separatists Forge a Pact to Counter the Islamic State
6 MIN READFeb 2, 2023 | 19:15 GMT

In Mali, the al-Qaeda-linked group JNIM's non-aggression pact with other armed groups highlights its political legitimacy and may lay the groundwork for negotiations with Bamako, even as security worsens around the capital. The head of Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin — the jihadist group known as JNIM that holds territory and carries out attacks in the Western Sahel — met with representatives of several armed groups operating in northeastern Mali on Jan. 26, according to a report published by Radio France International (RFI) on Jan. 30.'

 During the meetings, JNIM leader Iyad Ag Ghaly reportedly forged a non-aggression pact with groups including the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (an Islamic rigorist and ethnic Tuareg group with alleged ties to Ansar al-Din, a Tuareg separatist group); the Permanent Strategic Framework for Peace, Security and Development (a coalition of armed groups that in December 2022 abandoned the 2015 Algiers Peace Agreement that ended the 2012 Tuareg rebellion); and the Tuareg Imghad Self-Defense Group and Allies (a pro-government militia). Leaders and emissaries from these groups reportedly agreed not to target JNIM in order to better combat the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

Mali has endured decades of instability since its independence from France in 1960. But the current conflict began in 2012 when the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) — a separatist movement emerging from the Tuareg ethnic group — and a coalition of militant groups rebelled against the central government. Ansar Dine (which is also an Islamic Tuareg militant group) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (an al-Qaeda splinter group) supported the MNLA to establish an independent state called Azawad in northern Mali. By the end of 2012, the groups controlled nearly all of northern Mali and declared independence, but infighting and France's military intervention in 2013 ended the alliance and the Azawad's independence.

JNIM is a coalition of al Qaeda affiliated groups that emerged in 2017 out of an alliance between jihadist militant groups Ansar Dine, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, al-Mourabitoun and Katibat Macina.

ISGS is an Islamic State affiliate that primarily operates in the Western Sahel, including in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The group emerged from a fracture within al-Mourabitoun, formerly part of al Qaeda, in 2015 — although then-Islamic State leader Abubakr al-Baghdadi recognized ISGS's pledge of allegiance in 2016. Since then, ISGS and JNIM have intermittently fought for control of the regional criminal economy and territory.

The meetings come amid a period of intense fighting between JNIM and the Islamic State in Mali's northeastern regions as both groups seek to exploit the security vacuum left by France's 2022 withdrawal. Without the added threat of French counterterrorism operations, ISGS ramped up attacks against JNIM in Menaka in October and November. In response, JNIM increased its outreach to local communities, attempting to position itself as the primary protector against the Islamic State. Since January 2023, JNIM's efforts appear to be showing signs of success. Prior to the Jan. 26 meetings in Kidal, JNIM published photos showing several high-ranking clan members in Menaka pledging allegiance to Iyad Ag Ghaly. According to RFI, the local leaders belonged to the ethnic Daoussahak community near the town of Inekar located close to the border with Niger. Notably, the Daoussahak historically comprise one of the main factions of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad that fought alongside French forces against ISGS. Since France's withdrawal, ISGS has continued to target the ethnic group, which — as suggested by the pledges of allegiance — may be defecting from the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad to join JNIM.

In November, JNIM released a statement ''calling on all Muslims to stand up to these extremists and those who helped them.''
If the reported pact holds, it will likely bolster JNIM's position in northeastern Mali and could elevate the security threat around Bamako.
While all of the aforementioned armed groups have been battling ISGS separately in Menaka, Gao and elsewhere in Mali, the non-aggression pact will enable these groups to focus on fighting ISGS rather than each other. This will increase armed resistance to ISGS, but will also likely bolster JNIM — potentially enabling JNIM to consolidate more territory in northeastern Mali, strengthen its claim as the primary protector against ISGS aggression, and likely increase recruitment from Tuareg and Daoussahak communities living in the areas. In the short term, this will worsen security in northeastern Mali, as clashes will likely become more frequent and ISGS — responding to the increased pressure — will likely conduct more reprisal attacks against local communities perceived as being in support of JNIM and/or the other armed groups. In the medium term, and especially if the nonaggression pact weakens ISGS in Menaka and Gao, JNIM may be able to devote more manpower and resources toward its activities elsewhere in the country, especially near the capital of Bamako. Already, the group has claimed various attacks over the past year that have come increasingly close to Bamako, and is suspected of conducting a November 2022 kidnapping operation in the city itself. If JNIM manages to reduce the ISGS threat in the northeast, it may then escalate attacks near Bamako to gain political leverage.

Conflict among the signatories to the pact could cause the agreement to collapse, as the groups involved and their respective supporters occupy overlapping territories with limited resources (like water and livestock) and hold different political aspirations.

The pact also highlights JNIM's political legitimacy, strengthens its negotiating position with the central government and may lead to broader negotiations with Bamako in the medium term. Ghaly's open communication channels among various armed groups in northern and central Mali indicate JNIM's strong political networks throughout the country. JNIM has previously expressed willingness to negotiate with the junta, conditioned by the now-completed withdrawal of French forces in 2022. If JNIM exerts greater pressure on the junta through territorial gains and terrorist attacks near the capital, government leaders may be more likely to attempt negotiations with JNIM to preserve what little centralized control over the country they have left (even though negotiations would likely be very unpopular among some parts of the transitional legislature). With that said, such negotiations would be very fragile due to the fractures among the various groups involved (including the Malian military, legislature and political establishment; the various armed groups that coalesce under JNIM; and the myriad ethnic, political, social and secessionist groups of northern Mali), which could renew old disputes. For instance, the groups advocating for an autonomous Azawad state in northern Mali may view JNIM's likely encroachment on Bamako, France's retreat and the junta's apparent delay of a promised constitutional referendum as an opportunity to resuscitate the pan-Azawad movement to demand regional autonomy. Hard-line branches of JNIM, meanwhile, could oppose negotiations with the junta altogether, perhaps creating new splinters within the organization. But while there are various possible scenarios, Ghaly and JNIM will continue to command immense political power and remain pivotal to the central government's continued fight to maintain Mali's territorial integrity.

Yes. :lol:

Interesting arguments to be made in both directions.

Politics & Religion / Re: Ukraine
« on: February 02, 2023, 08:05:52 AM »
If Russians take Odesa, Ukraine will lose access to the Black Sea and will be finished as a country.

Transnitia next?

Politics & Religion / Re: Tax Policy
« on: February 01, 2023, 04:06:49 PM »
"Not exercising the power of the 16th Amendment does not require its repeal."
My view, if you don't repeal the income tax amendment, it will come back - in addition to the new consumption taxes that for the moment took its place.

I'm not sure why you see that differently.


My words to not contradict yours.

Politics & Religion / Re: 2024
« on: February 01, 2023, 04:05:08 PM »
"What he is doing now, governing, is better than early campaigning."

Yes.  He shows himself to be a man of applied thought, an effective leader and doer.

Politics & Religion / Re: Big Guy Biden & Son (Hunter) and family
« on: February 01, 2023, 09:32:50 AM »
I suppose one could argue that with the considerable plausibility of Russian conquest that there was reason independent of corrupt skullduggery , , ,

Politics & Religion / Re: 2024
« on: February 01, 2023, 09:29:11 AM »
He should have beat Hillary in a landslide.

Hard to say what really happened in 2020 due to

A) the inherent and purposeful difficulties in proving fraud in the use of mass mail balloting and ballot harvesting; and

B) the incompetence of Team Trump in being ready for the legal fight

C) the bombastic incompetence of the fight, with a goodly dose of grifting.

Politics & Religion / GPF: Pakistan's meltdown
« on: February 01, 2023, 08:59:19 AM »

Working from memory, several years ago you posted here an Indian intel piece suggesting a strategy for dismembering Pakistan.  IIRC it suggested erasing recognition of the Durand Line and acknowledging the Pashtuns as a country of their own.  One of the benefits of this idea it was argued is that the rest of Afghanistan could organize into a coherent whole without fear of being dominated by the Pashtuns.

It also suggested fomenting separatists in Baluchistan, with India peeling off relevant pieces from Pakistan's east

All while seizing the nukes, , ,

Or something like that.

Reading the following reminds me of that piece.

If we were still in Afghanistan we might have been in a position to back the creation of Pashtunistan , , ,


February 1, 2023
Pakistan’s Meltdown
The country is too big to fail, but no one is rushing to its aid.
By: Kamran Bokhari

Decades-old political economic problems in Pakistan are coming to a head. The South Asian nation needs billions of dollars in financial assistance to avoid a default at a time when its usual patrons are disinclined to bail it out. The International Monetary Fund is insisting on tough reforms that the fragile coalition government cannot institute without taking a major political hit in an election year. Even if Islamabad dodges this particular bullet, it will have to massively overhaul the way it has managed the world’s fifth-most populous country. If it cannot, then it will further push Pakistan toward a systemic breakdown, which has major consequences for security in the world’s most densely populated region.

(click to enlarge)

Out of Options

An IMF team is visiting Pakistan from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9 to continue discussions on the release of $1.18 billion in assistance, part of a $6 billion aid program that was agreed on in 2019 (and increased to $7 billion in 2022) but that has since stalled. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have slumped to about $3.68 billion, barely enough to cover three weeks of imports. Inflation was already at 25 percent when the government announced on Jan. 29 a 16 percent hike in gasoline and diesel prices that will likely rise much further. Three days earlier, the Pakistani rupee fell 9.6 percent against the dollar, the biggest one-day drop in over two decades, after the government removed unofficial caps and allowed the currency to move toward a market-based exchange rate.

Earlier in the month, the country’s civil and military leadership traveled to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to secure the funds needed to avert a financial meltdown. Reports surfaced that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would provide several billion dollars. In sharp contrast with their past behavior, they aren’t willing to write a blank check; the Saudi finance minister said Jan. 18 that the kingdom was no longer providing “direct grants and deposits” to debtor nations without seeing reforms. The Saudis, the Emiratis and others who could provide the cash want to first see the Pakistanis accept an IMF program. Besides, the beleaguered South Asian nation’s financial needs far outstrip the global appetite to assist.

Islamabad, however, has been struggling to finalize what would be the country’s 23rd IMF arrangement since it first knocked on the lender’s doors in 1958. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which heads the fragile and increasingly unpopular coalition government, has a lot to lose by agreeing to IMF terms that are bound to exacerbate harsh economic conditions. As it is, the PML-N and its allies are facing an uphill electoral battle against the populist opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Still, Pakistan’s political instability is the result of a much deeper malaise. Since the end of Pakistan’s fourth military dictatorship in 2008, the country nominally has experienced its longest stretch of civilian governance. 2013 marked the first time one democratically elected government transferred power to another. But the army continued to encumber both governments, and in 2018 it engineered the rise to power of Khan’s PTI in hopes that it would finally have a pliant civilian actor. That experiment was a colossal failure. It has weakened the military politically and has thus plunged the country into uncharted territory.

A similar situation has emerged on the economic front. Pakistan has always had financial problems, which over the decades continued to worsen. The country got by only because of a periodic influx of U.S. assistance, made possible by the broader global geopolitics of the time. There have been three such long periods – 1958-69, 1977-88 and 1999-2008 – each under a different military regime and coming at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, and the post-9/11 war on terror, respectively. In today’s changed circumstances, Pakistan is facing an unprecedented financial crisis because it never developed a viable economy and is without external bailout options.

The Nightmare Scenario

Without a major reform process – which is unlikely given the acute state of social and political divisions – Pakistan’s situation is likely to worsen. Its annual population growth rate is 1.9 percent, which is 237 times that of the global rate, and its fertility rate exceeds the global rate by 157 percent. At this pace, in another 10 years the country will have added 50 million people, increasing its population to 275 million. There is already a massive youth population. Sixty percent of Pakistanis are under the age of 23. As many as 44 percent of all Pakistani children between the ages of 5 and 16 do not attend school. Females make up almost half the population, and literacy among them is at 48 percent.

Dealing with the multiplicity of crises plaguing the country requires a political consensus. This is extremely difficult in the current highly polarized political climate, which is unlikely to abate anytime soon. Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has intervened in politics for much of the country’s history, is in an unprecedented dilemma. After the failure of its latest attempt to shape the country’s political economy, which ended with the April 2022 ouster of Khan, the top brass publicly committed to keeping the army out of politics. Rationalizing the economy, however, will take a long time – assuming the country’s tumultuous politics can be brought under control (a big if).

In moments like these, when normal politics produces only more chaos, the pressure (or temptation) for the army to hit pause or reset on the constitutional process is high. However, the general staff has been down that road many times, only to end up exacerbating the problems it aimed to solve. When problems are such that degradation is happening much more quickly than is the realistic efforts to fix them, stalling the political process could be akin to an out of the frying pan and into the fire type situation.

The only other option is to continue the slow path toward recovery, which is fraught with perils. As large swathes of the population suffer under the weight of debilitating economic conditions, intra-elite political struggles intensify. These are precisely the conditions that Islamist militants – both Taliban rebels and Islamic State militants ensconced in the neighboring emirate in Afghanistan – hope to exploit. A resurgent jihadist insurgency will likely force an already weakened Pakistani state into a new major military campaign – one that has serious potential to spill over across the border.

It is this nightmare scenario – a cash-strapped Pakistani state whose security is compromised on its western flank – that will eventually result in Arab Gulf states, China and the United States gaining greater influence in the country. Washington cannot allow Pakistan to descend into chaos, especially with Afghanistan under a Taliban regime. Likewise, China, which has pumped tens of billions of dollars’ worth of Belt and Road funds into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is not going to sit by and watch its investment sink. Pakistan is thus going to become an even bigger arena for the U.S.-Chinese competition. Meanwhile, the Saudis and the Emiratis, who have long played a major role in periodically mediating intra-elite power struggles in Pakistan, will likely have greater influence over Pakistan’s internal workings. In India, which only months ago surpassed the U.K. to become the world’s fifth largest economy, there is immense concern over how a financially collapsing Pakistan could affect New Delhi’s upward trajectory.

While it is too early to speak with any specificity on how external powers will behave, Pakistan can’t continue to chug along as it has. It may not always appear this way, especially in chronically fragile states, but long-term dysfunction adds up. Major fissures have emerged that outstrip Pakistan’s available resources, disrupting the status quo in which it was able to get by for so long.

Science, Culture, & Humanities / Re: Evolutionary biology/psychology
« on: February 01, 2023, 08:01:28 AM »

A 'De-Extinction' Company Wants to Bring Back the Dodo
The de-extinction company known for its plans to resurrect the mammoth and Tasmanian tiger announces it will also bring back the dodo

By Christine Kenneally on January 31, 2023
A 'De-Extinction' Company Wants to Bring Back the Dodo

Colossal Biosciences, the headline-grabbing, venture-capital-funded juggernaut of de-extinction science, announced plans on January 31 to bring back the dodo. Whether “bringing back” a semblance of the extinct flightless bird is feasible is a matter of debate.

Founded in 2021 by tech entrepreneur Ben Lamm and Harvard University geneticist George Church, the company first said it would re-create the mammoth. And a year later it announced such an effort for the thylacine, aka the Tasmanian tiger. Now, with the launch of a new Avian Genomics Group and a reported $150 million of additional investment, the long-gone dodo joins the lineup.

In the world of extinct animals, the dodo carries some heavy symbolic weight. Native to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, it went extinct in the mid- to late 17th century, after humans arrived on the island. The ungainly bird, which stood around one meter tall and weighed about 15 to 20 kilograms, represents a particular kind of evolutionary misfortune: It should have been afraid of humans, but it wasn’t. The birds blithely walked up to sailors, so received history goes, and didn’t flinch as their peers were killed around them. The dodoes, which reproduced by laying a single egg on the ground, were also predated by other species, such as monkeys and rats, which humans brought with them. Now the creature represents extinction itself—you can’t get deader than a dodo.

“This announcement is really just the start of this project,” says Beth Shapiro, lead paleogeneticist and a scientific advisory board member at Colossal Biosciences. Shapiro, also a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has studied the dodo since the science of paleogenetics was in its infancy. In 2002 she published research in Science describing how her team had extracted a tiny piece of the bird’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA)—the DNA inside little organelles called mitochondria that gets passed down from mother to offspring. That snippet of mtDNA showed the dodo’s closest living relative was the Nicobar pigeon. Then, in 2022, Shapiro announced that her team at U.C. Santa Cruz had reconstructed the dodo’s entire genome.

Though the journey from mtDNA to genome took decades, the path from genome to a living, breathing animal is even more formidable, involving an enormous, interacting set of extraordinarily complex problems. Technically, a species could be resurrected by cloning DNA from a remnant cell. In reality, this has been impossible to achieve, mostly because viable DNA cannot be found. Most de-extinction programs aim to re-create a proxy of an extinct animal by genetic engineering, editing the genome of a closely related living species to replicate the target species’ genome. The edited genome would then be implanted into an egg cell of that related species to develop. The process must ensure that development proceeds correctly, that the animal is born successfully, that suitable surrogate parents nurture the creature, that it is administered a nutritious diet and that it is raised in an appropriate environment.

Colossal Biosciences is trying to solve all these problems at once. “Even though we’re nowhere near ready to start implanting embryos into surrogates,” Lamm says, the company currently has a team working on the cloning methodology necessary for that process. It also has multiple teams working in parallel on problems of computational biology, cellular engineering, stem cell reprogramming, embryology, protein engineering and animal husbandry, among other focuses.

One of the biggest challenges in the reconstruction of the dodo is a problem for all avian genomics. With mammals, the process is like that used in the creation of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first animal to be cloned successfully from and adult cells of an adult mammal. But, Shapiro says, “we can’t clone birds.” Cloning requires access to an egg cell that is ready for fertilization but not yet fertilized. “There is no access to a bird egg cell at the same developmental time as there is for a mammal,” he explains. Colossal Biosciences is exploring a process to extract avian primordial germ cells (PGCs) from bird eggs. If the process works, PGCs from pigeons would be manipulated to eventually develop into a dodolike bird. Ultimately, Shapiro says, “the final version of dodo will emerge from a pigeon that has been engineered to be the size of a dodo. So the size of eggs will be consistent.”

Although the first stage of genome editing is harder with birds, the next stage should be easier. With mammals, scientists don’t yet know how the modified embryo of an extinct species will interact with the intrauterine environment of the host species. That stage will be simpler in birds, Shapiro explains, “because everything happens in an egg.”

Once a re-created animal is born, more questions arise. Most animals have a mix of instinctive behavior, which arises from their genetic programming, and social behavior, which are learned from their parents and, in the case of social animals, their pack or group. But there is no way to re-create the unique natural history that shaped the social behavior of the dodo or other extinct animals—or even, in many cases, to know what it was. Mikkel Sinding, a postdoctoral researcher in paleogenomics at the University of Copenhagen, says, “There is nobody around to teach the dodo how to be a dodo.” In this sense, the word de-extinction is a misnomer. It’s not possible to bring back the dodo, even if it becomes possible to build a bird with a dodo genome.

Beyond behavior, the dodo proxy must survive in a world that is significantly different from that of more than 300 years ago, when the dodo went extinct. Yet not much is known about how dodoes functioned in their ecosystem. The birds lived only in forests on Mauritius. They had no large predators. They were slow to reproduce, laying one egg per year. And it’s believed from ancient sailors’ reports that there were once thousands of them. Another challenge for de-extinction is ensuring the well-being of the genetically engineered dodoes.

“A goal here is to create an animal that can be physically and psychologically well in the environment in which it lives,” Shapiro says. “If we are going to bring back something that's functionally equivalent to a dodo, then we will have to find, identify or create habitats in which they’re able to survive.” Shapiro points to environmental restoration on Mauritius and surrounding islands. There is hope that work focused on dodo habitat restoration could have knock-on benefits for other endemic plants and animals and even that the reintroduced bird may directly contribute to restoring its own ecosystem. Giant tortoises introduced to an island near Mauritius to replace an extinct species have helped revive native ebony trees by eating their fruit and distributing their seeds around the landscape.

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Sinding, who has extracted ancient DNA from Pleistocene wolves, woolly rhinoceroses and aurochs, was surprised and excited to hear that Colossal Biosciences planned to re-create the dodo. He thinks the company is more likely to find success sooner with the bird than the mammoth or thylacine. He adds that this will depend on one’s definition of success, however. “You can genome edit the hell out of something and say you have remade a species,” Sinding says. “But is it really the species?”

“The dodo is a good choice because the fetus development happens in a short time span inside an egg and not in a surrogate mother, unlike a mammoth, which would have to be gestated by an elephant for nearly two years,” Sinding says. “It would be slightly easier to work with a chick than with a thylacine cub.” The ethical question with the dodo, he adds, is “whether the money is well spent or if we should spend that money trying to preserve some other living pigeons that are almost extinct.”

Tom Gilbert, director of the Danish National Research Foundation Center for Evolutionary Hologenomics, recently joined the Colossal Biosciences’ scientific advisory board. In 2022, before he was on the board, Gilbert told Technology Networks that he loved “the idea and technology behind rewilding with extinct species.” But he wondered about the influence of human morality on the choice of species. As the article put it, “Why stop at the good things?” Gilbert added, “What about the bad things? The pathogens now eradicated?”

The de-extinction of the dodo is “not a solution to the extinction crisis,” Shapiro says. “Extinction is forever.” But by pursuing the problem of dodo de-extinction, she explains, Colossal Biosciences is also developing critically needed tools for avian genomics, including for the genetic rescue of currently threatened species, such as editing genetic diversity back into a shrunken, threatened bird population. In this way, a 21st-century dodo may assist all avian conservation.

The dodo is only one of many lost birds: 161 avian species have been classified as extinct since 1500, according to a 2022 report from Bird Life International. But Colossal Biosciences is relying on the creature’s significance to inspire scientists and the general public to engage with all the problems of extinction. “We could have picked lots of different birds,” says Shapiro, raising her right arm to reveal a dodo tattoo. “I happen to really love the dodo.”

Politics & Religion / Re: The US Congress; Congressional races
« on: January 31, 2023, 05:25:43 PM »
I was wondering about all that.  Thank you.

Politics & Religion / DeSantis bitch slaps Trump
« on: January 31, 2023, 05:25:00 PM »
Again we see Ron protecting himself at all times  :-D

Politics & Religion / FA: China's Indo-Pacific Folly
« on: January 31, 2023, 12:45:30 PM »

In December 2022, Japan released its first national security strategy in nearly ten years. The document committed Tokyo to strengthening the U.S.-Japanese alliance “in all areas.” And Japan is not alone. Over the last half decade, almost all U.S. allies across the Indo-Pacific have deepened their partnerships with Washington and formed new networks with one another.

At first blush, this might seem puzzling. Chinese President Xi Jinping has voiced his desire for the United States to withdraw from the Indo-Pacific, and his government has upheld China’s long tradition of expressing hostility toward Washington’s alliances, which form the foundation of the U.S. presence in the region. Many analysts, including Rush Doshi and Elizabeth Economy, have argued that Beijing has a disciplined and coherent strategy to drive a wedge between the United States and its Indo-Pacific allies. But far from a well-executed campaign, Beijing’s effort to erode U.S. alliances has been incoherent and undisciplined, strengthening, rather than weakening, U.S. alliances in the region and producing an energized U.S.-led coalition poised to constrain Beijing for years to come.

Beijing’s ambition to isolate Washington from its Asian allies has been derailed in large part by its desire to redress more immediate grievances—namely, to reclaim what it sees as lost territory and punish countries that offend its sensibilities. Instead of staying focused on its long-term strategic objectives, China has grown preoccupied with achieving near-term tactical gains in both its territorial disputes with its neighbors and its quest for deference from other countries. These impulses have resulted in major strategic errors and suggest that Beijing is not nearly as adept at planning and executing long-term strategy as many believe.

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Nowhere has China’s pursuit of territorial advantage more clearly undermined its efforts to weaken U.S. alliances than in the South China Sea. In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte’s election as president of the Philippines gave Beijing a prime opportunity to pick off a long-standing U.S. ally. After months of expressing hostility toward the United States and admiration for China, Duterte declared a “separation” from Washington and an intention to “realign” the country. China moved to capitalize, reducing trade barriers with the Philippines and pledging large amounts of investment in the country. Beijing also initially sought to reduce friction over disputed territories in the South China Sea, the most combustible issue in its relationship with the Philippines. And in early 2020, China seemed on the verge of a major diplomatic win when Duterte announced his intention to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, which facilitates the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines.

But in the lead-up to the agreement’s official termination, China proved unwilling to restrain itself in the South China Sea. Among other provocations, Beijing publicly reasserted its authority to administer the contested areas, and one of its naval vessels threatened a Philippine ship. Such conduct irked Duterte and generated discord at precisely the moment that China should have sought to smooth over these disputes. And Beijing paid a price for its actions. In June 2020, Manila initiated the first of three suspensions of the process for terminating the U.S. agreement, and the following year, Duterte fully restored it. Beijing gained nothing of significance in the South China Sea through its provocations, but it squandered a golden opportunity to dismantle a central element of the U.S.-Philippine alliance.

The same counterproductive tendency to prioritize territorial interests over strategic objectives can be seen in China’s relationship with Japan. Over the last decade, China has established a near-permanent paramilitary presence around the disputed Senkaku Islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands), a collection of uninhabited rocks and islets with nationalistic significance but almost no strategic value. In so doing, Beijing has fed Japan’s suspicions of China and pushed Tokyo closer and closer to Washington. In 2014, Japan reinterpreted its pacifist constitution to expand the conditions under which it could militarily aid the United States in an armed conflict. A year later, Tokyo and Washington adopted new defense guidelines to facilitate closer military coordination. Tokyo now describes the U.S.-Japanese alliance as “stronger than ever,” and Japan’s transformational 2022 National Security Strategy calls for, among other measures, increasing the defense budget, acquiring counterstrike capabilities, and further deepening its alliance with Washington and its security partnerships with U.S. allies.

China’s pursuit of territorial advantage has also helped produce a new type of proto-alliance by pushing nonaligned India into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, a loose coalition that also includes Australia, Japan, and the United States. Beijing’s persistent assertiveness along its disputed border with India led to a major standoff in Doklam in 2017, a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in 2020, and additional confrontations in 2021 and 2022. Such conduct has prompted New Delhi to shed its former ambivalence about the Quad, agreeing to elevate it to the summit level and deepen defense ties with its members.

Another hallmark of Chinese statecraft that has undermined its efforts to drive a wedge between the United States and its Asian allies is its desire to punish states that fail to accommodate Beijing’s preferences. This tendency was most evident in the combative “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy China pursued early in the pandemic, but it predates COVID-19. China’s recent history with South Korea is illustrative. Beginning in 2013, Beijing made a concerted and initially successful effort to cultivate newly elected South Korean President Park Geun-hye. It did so by adopting a cooperative diplomatic posture toward Seoul and working to restrain North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. When Park appeared in 2015 on a dais in Tiananmen Square flanked by Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin to observe a Chinese military parade, some in Washington began to fret that Seoul was leaning too far toward Beijing.

Xi’s charm offensive also helped divide the United States and South Korea over the proposed deployment of a THAAD antimissile system in the South, a deployment supported by Washington and opposed by Beijing as a supposed threat to its nuclear security. For a year and a half after the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea broached the idea in 2014, Park declined to hold formal talks with Washington for fear of upending her newly improved relationship with China and losing its support in dealing with the North.

But true to form, Beijing promptly squandered its influence with Seoul following a North Korean nuclear test in January 2016. The test compelled Park to begin discussions with Washington on deploying the THAAD system, prompting Beijing to begin threatening Seoul and to eventually initiate a sweeping campaign of economic punishment. Although U.S. officials sought to assuage China’s concerns about nuclear security by offering to brief their Chinese counterparts on the system’s technical details, Beijing rejected the offer and continued to penalize Seoul. Not only did this behavior fail to halt the system’s deployment but it dramatically soured the South Korean public’s perception of China: according to one 2021 public opinion survey, South Koreans view China even less favorably than they view Japan, their former imperial master and traditional regional foe. During South Korea’s 2022 presidential election, both major candidates embraced the public’s anti-Chinese sentiment, and Yoon Suk-yeol won on the more pro-American platform. Since taking office, Yoon has moved to deepen missile defense cooperation with the United States and Japan, a development China has long sought to avoid.

China doesn’t pose nearly the threat to U.S. alliances that many in Washington fear.
China’s punitive statecraft has generated even more blowback in Australia. Ten years ago, Canberra was at pains to strike a balance between China, its largest trading partner and an important source of investment, and the United States, its principal security partner. Australia’s economic relationship with China even caused some friction between Washington and Canberra when a Chinese company signed a 99-year lease to operate an Australian port just miles from where U.S. Marines have a rotational presence.

But China’s relationship with Australia began to unravel after journalists broke a series of stories revealing the disturbing extent of Chinese interference in Australian society and politics. One of the most brazen episodes involved a senior Chinese official threatening Australian politicians to accommodate Beijing by supporting an extradition treaty with China. When Canberra passed anti-interference legislation in 2018, Chinese punishments followed. Beijing forbade Chinese firms from buying Australian minerals and held up Australian wine at Chinese ports. As relations with China deteriorated, Canberra moved to strengthen ties with Washington, deepening defense cooperation and working to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific Island countries. Australia also reengaged with the Quad—a notable change, since Canberra had backed away from the grouping in 2007, largely out of concern for China.

In 2021, after Australia advocated for an international investigation into the origins of COVID-19, Beijing responded with an even more aggressive campaign of political and economic punishment. Chinese belligerence drove the two countries’ relationship to its lowest ebb in decades, spurred Canberra to find ways of limiting China’s involvement in the Australian economy, and facilitated a historic deepening in the U.S.-Australian alliance with the formation of the AUKUS partnership. AUKUS will enable the United States and the United Kingdom to share with Australia some of their most sensitive military technologies and will eventually provide Canberra with nuclear submarines. When announcing the partnership in September 2021, then Prime Minister Scott Morrison described AUKUS as a “forever partnership” and “the single greatest” national security initiative since the 1951 Australia, New Zealand, and United States Security Treaty.

Although Beijing may finally be waking up to the enormous damage its diplomacy has done, no one should expect more disciplined statecraft during Xi’s third five-year term. The consequences of Beijing’s grievance-driven behavior on the strength of U.S. alliances have been clear for some time now. If Xi and his comrades were eager to facilitate different outcomes, they would have changed tack long ago. That they didn’t suggests Beijing was genuinely more interested in reclaiming lost lands and thirsting for deference than it was in undermining U.S. alliances.

Perhaps Chinese diplomats will walk back the most abrasive elements of their Wolf Warrior diplomacy, but Beijing is unlikely to subordinate its territorial objectives or quest for dominance to a disciplined strategy for splitting the United States from its Indo-Pacific allies. Just this month, after Japan and South Korea established new pandemic-related travel restrictions for Chinese tourists, Beijing stopped issuing short-term visas to Japanese and South Korean citizens—a retaliation that was widely rebuked in Tokyo and Seoul. China’s apparent need to punish those that cross it is unlikely to disappear, even if this tendency undermines Beijing’s long-term strategic aspirations.

All of this is good news for the United States. Beijing’s diplomatic record suggests that China doesn’t pose nearly the threat to U.S. alliances that many in Washington fear. Instead of pursuing a farsighted strategy to undermine American alliances, it has prioritized other objectives—even when they have backfired. Chinese statecraft is likely to continue to provide opportunities for Washington to deepen its partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, solidifying the United States’ presence there over Beijing’s objections. 

For ease of research down the road, pasting CCP's post here as well:

but we only hear about it now

Biden and China via U of P

then China $ to U of P

and $ to Hunter ..... then Hunter $ to Joe and uncle

interesting Antony Blinks was a director of the center in 2018:

funny he is named Sec of S in 2020.    :wink:

professor emeritus of international corruption (woops ) , I mean International Relations urged Hunters daughter to go to all exp. paid to trip to open doors for her in China .
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Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
« on: January 31, 2023, 10:07:40 AM »
FWIW my starting orientation:

In the absence of coercion, the Free Market is most harmonious with human nature.

Insurance exists for good and proper reasons but has the consequence of separating the consumer and payor; the consumer is not constrained by price.   Once the insurance modality exceeds a certain portion of the market, the dynamics of a healthy free market are subverted.

IMHO Dr. Ben Carson had a serious proposal when he was running for President that I saw as being a very realistic and plausible way of returning the price mechanism to the health care market while still allowing for insurance for the cases that people could not be reasonably be held to be financially capable.

Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
« on: January 31, 2023, 08:02:52 AM »
No, just seeking a good starting point for good diagnosis.

Politics & Religion / George Friedman: On the leaks of a war with China
« on: January 31, 2023, 08:02:05 AM »
Deep respect for GF, but I think he misses completely the idea of a naval blockade such as what was done around Pelosi's visit.  With McCarthy set to go in the near future (will he flinch?) it seems to me that the Chinese are likely to double down on these tactics.


January 31, 2023
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On the Leaks of a War With China
By: George Friedman

Over the past few days, two senior U.S. officials – Gen. Mike Minihan, the head of the U.S. Air Force Mobility Command, and Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee – predicted that a war with China could erupt by 2025. I have been on record as saying China’s economic and political vulnerabilities make such a conflict unlikely, but when a four-star general and one of the few politicians I actually respect go well out of their way to say something like this, I’m compelled to recheck my thinking. That the two are saying the same thing, moreover, suggests to me that someone in Washington has briefed them on the matter. Briefings are not the subject of random gossip.

I remain skeptical; the Pentagon has distanced itself from the general’s remarks, and though McCaul may be a respectable politician, he is still a politician. But in reevaluating the likelihood of a war, some questions must still be answered.

Who will start the war? It’s hard to believe the U.S. would initiate a conflict. Defeating the Chinese navy, though doable, wouldn’t resolve the matter. So long as the Chinese homeland is intact, Beijing can rebuild its armed forces. For China, attacking the U.S. Navy would be a major gamble, and it would have to calculate what a defeat at sea would cost it, particularly domestically.

Why would they wait to start the war? It could be that U.S. intelligence learned that there was an attack planned and spread the news to signal to Beijing that it was wise to its plans. But if those plans were indeed for 2025, the U.S. would have plenty of time to prepare for it. Time and danger are the same in warfare, and the idea that China is planning that far out is hard to buy. No one wants to give the other side an advantage.

What does the aggressor hope to accomplish, and is it worth the risk? China wants to secure its eastern ports and ensure access to trade routes in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. might want to move from a notional threat to a real threat.

Will the war be on land, in the air, at sea, or some combination of the three? The U.S. is not capable of waging a land war in China given its size and population. China can wage an air and naval war, but it would be doing so against a very capable enemy. Beijing’s advantage is that the homeland is secure. The U.S. has the same advantage, of course, but it has the added benefit of being able to draw deep into the Pacific and engage China far from home. In other words, the U.S. can to some degree determine where the war will be fought.

Are their respective economies healthy enough to support a war? Both economies are in precarious positions, but there’s evidence to suggest America’s downturn is a cyclical event, whereas China’s is a structural event. Sustaining air and sea production would be more difficult for China than for the U.S.

Why would either side leak its intentions? The aggressor must have secrecy. The defender should advertise its preparations to deter the aggressor. So if China is the aggressor, leaking the news would be disastrous. But one of the reasons that the war can’t be planned very far out is that the longer the windup, the more likely there will be a leak. If there was a real war being planned, it would be on a very short timeline.

I respect the general and the congressman, and obviously they have access to better intelligence than I do. But I find it hard to believe that China would plan a war so carelessly. Given the leak, a war could still be in the offing, but for China it would likely be short.

Perhaps I am reverting to bad habits. Answering my own questions with my old views is admittedly poor intelligence. Feel free to let me know which questions I didn’t pose and which answers were insufficient. I will happily pout and respond.

Politics & Religion / Re: The Politics of Health Care
« on: January 31, 2023, 07:52:26 AM »
Some of what you describe is the inherent behavior of oligopolistic markets.

There is also the matter of markets dominated by insurance. 

Politics & Religion / Russia-Iran Axis and Biden
« on: January 31, 2023, 04:54:59 AM »

Russian-Iranian Axis: Biden Administration Missing in Action?
by Judith Bergman
January 31, 2023 at 5:00 am

Iran is now selling surface-to-surface missiles to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine -- on the cusp of a reported "major Ukrainian offensive" -- in addition to the drones it has already been delivering, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters.

"In exchange, Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support that is transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership.... This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful... to the international community." — John Kirby, White House National Security Spokesperson, December 9, 2022.

When asked how Iran's sale of drones and missiles impacts the Biden administration's stance on the Iran nuclear deal... John Kirby deflected the question.

At a time when Iranians are desperately risking their lives to free themselves of a vicious theocratic dictatorship, it would be equally impressive if the Biden Administration would stand firmly behind the protestors in their fight for liberty and human rights, values America has always professed to support. President Ronald Reagan did it with great success to aid the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Speaking a rally in California in October, President Joe Biden said, "we stand with the citizens, the brave women of Iran." Such words are cost-free: They will not do much to help the Iranian protesters fighting for freedom and human rights.

Even former President Barack Obama, who ignored Iran's "Green Movement" protesters in 2009, admitted in October that his lack of support then for the Iranian dissidents was a mistake.

Statements of solidarity, however strong, will not produce serious results. What is needed from the US is to help the people of Iran concretely – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons to dominate the Middle East, South America, Europe -- and the United States.

Iran is now planning to station warships in the Panama Canal – which China is aggressively trying to control. The U.S. has not even had an ambassador in Panama since 2018.

All one has to do is look at how terrified the Biden administration has been of "provoking" Russian President Vladimir Putin into using nuclear weapons. What actually provokes dictators? That America exists.

Iran is now selling surface-to-surface missiles to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine, in addition to the drones it has already been delivering, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters. Pictured: Firefighters in Kyiv, Ukraine try to put out a fire in a four-story residential building, in which three people were killed when it was hit by a "kamikaze drone" (many of which are supplied to Russian forces by Iran), on October 17, 2022. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Iran is now selling surface-to-surface missiles to Russia for use in its war on Ukraine -- on the cusp of a reported "major Ukrainian offensive" -- in addition to the drones it has already been delivering, two senior Iranian officials and two Iranian diplomats told Reuters.

According to anonymous US and allied officials quoted by the Washington Post, Iran has secretly agreed to send "what some officials described as the first Iranian-made surface-to-surface missiles intended for use against Ukrainian cities and troop positions."

Russia is reportedly buying Iranian-made missiles capable of hitting targets at distances of 300 and 700 kilometers, respectively.

"The Russians had asked for more drones and those Iranian ballistic missiles with improved accuracy, particularly the Fateh and Zolfaghar missiles family," one of the Iranian diplomats told Reuters.

The news of the missile deal came after it became publicly known in August that Russia had been buying Iranian drones, including the Mohajer-6 and the Shahed-series drones. The first batch, according to the Washington Post, was picked up by Russian cargo flights in late August, with Iranians reported to be training Russian soldiers in using them for Russia's war on Ukraine.

The Shahed-136s kamikaze drones, are designed to explode upon impact with their targets. According to the Washington Post, they are capable of delivering explosive payloads at distances of up to 1,500 miles.

John Kirby, White House National Security Council spokesperson, confirmed in December, that Iranian military support for Russia has become indispensable to Russia's war effort in Ukraine and directly enabling it to kill Ukrainians; that Iran is considering selling ballistic missiles to the country and that the two regimes are developing a military partnership that is mutually beneficial. Kirby said in a December 9 briefing:

"Iran is providing Russia with drones for use on the battlefield in Ukraine... In exchange, Russia is offering Iran an unprecedented level of military and technical support that is transforming their relationship into a full-fledged defense partnership.... This partnership poses a threat, not just to Ukraine, but to Iran's neighbors in the region..."

"Iran has become Russia's top military backer. Since August, Iran has transferred several hundred drones, UAVs, to Russia. Russia has been using these UAVs to attack Ukraine's critical infrastructure, and as I said earlier, to kill innocent Ukrainian people...

"We expect Iranian support for the Russian military to only grow in coming months. We even believe that Iran is considering the sale of hundreds of ballistic missiles from Iran to Russia... We've also seen reports that Moscow and Tehran are considering the establishment of a joint production line for lethal drones in Russia. We urge Iran to reverse course, not to take the steps...

"Russia is seeking to collaborate with Iran on areas like weapons development and training. As part of this collaboration, we are concerned that Russia intends to provide Iran with advanced military components. Moscow may be providing Tehran with equipment such as helicopters and air defense systems. As of this spring, Iranian pilots have reportedly been training in Russia to learn how to fly the Su-35. This indicates that Iran may begin receiving aircraft within the next year. These fighter planes would significantly strengthen Iran's air force relative to its regional neighbors.

"This is a full-scale defense partnership that is harmful, as I said to Ukraine, to Iran's neighbors, and quite frankly to the international community."

Russia's use of Iranian military equipment against Ukraine not only strengthens Russia in Ukraine, but it gives Iran what the Ukrainian Defense Ministry called "test runs' of its drones, to update their systems for future use against the US and its allies, such as Israel.

Kirby spoke on October 20 about the US response to Iran's drone sales to Russia:

"We have imposed new sanctions, including on an air transportation service provider for its involvement in the shipment of Iranian UAVs to Russia... We've also sanctioned... companies and even one individual that was involved in the research, development, production, and procurement of Iranian UAVs and components... including specifically the Shahed family of drones that we know are being used... in Ukraine."

When asked how Iran's sale of drones and missiles impacts the Biden administration's stance on the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Kirby deflected the question:

"Our focus right now, quite frankly... is not on the JCPOA. We are way far apart with the Iranians in terms of a return to the deal, so we're just simply not focused on that right now. They had demands that were well in excess of what the JCPOA was supposed to cover. And again, so we're just — we are not focused on the diplomacy at this point."

At a time when Iranians are desperately risking their lives to free themselves of a vicious theocratic dictatorship, it would be equally impressive if the Biden Administration would stand firmly behind the protestors in their fight for liberty and human rights, values America has always professed to support. President Ronald Reagan did it with great success to aid the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

Iranian security forces have killed at least 500 people since the protests there began in mid-September, including 69 children, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA). According to HRANA, Iranian authorities have recently arrested more than 18,400 people in connection with the protests. In addition, at least 100 protesters are currently at risk of facing "execution, death penalty charges or sentences," according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights NGO. "This is a minimum as most families are under pressure to stay quiet, the real number is believed to be much higher."

Speaking a rally in California in October, President Joe Biden said, "we stand with the citizens, the brave women of Iran."

Such words are cost-free: They will not do much to help the Iranian protesters fighting for freedom and human rights.

Even former President Barack Obama, who ignored Iran's "Green Movement" protesters in 2009, admitted in October that his lack of support then for the Iranian dissidents was a mistake.

"When I think back to 2009, 2010, you guys will recall there was a big debate inside the White House about whether I should publicly affirm what was going on with the Green Movement, because a lot of the activists were being accused of being tools of the West and there was some thought that we were somehow gonna be undermining their street cred in Iran if I supported what they were doing. And in retrospect, I think that was a mistake."

"Every time we see a flash, a glimmer of hope, of people longing for freedom, I think we have to point it out. We have to shine a spotlight on it. We have to express some solidarity about it."

Statements of solidarity, however strong, will not produce serious results. What is needed from the US is to help the people of Iran concretely – to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons to dominate the Middle East, South America, Europe -- and the United States.

Iran is now planning to station warships in the Panama Canal – which China is aggressively trying to control. The U.S. has not even had an ambassador in Panama since 2018.

All one has to do is look at how terrified the Biden administration has been of "provoking" Russian President Vladimir Putin into using nuclear weapons.

What actually provokes dictators? That America exists.

There are a number of ways the Biden administration can "take steps," suggest Eric Adelman Counselor at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations:

"First, the United States should formally declare that it will end negotiations with Iran on a putative return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action... The United States should also make clear that it will not negotiate with an Iranian government that is repressing the Iranian people and destabilizing its neighbors. Such declarations would rob the regime of its ability to generate hope among the population that sanctions might be lifted under its rule.

"Publicly closing the door on negotiations would also free up the Biden administration to fully enforce sanctions already on the books. The United States should target Iranian officials guilty of the most egregious human rights violations, bolstering hope among Iran's people for government accountability. This should be accompanied by full-throated and ongoing U.S. government statements supporting the protesters and drawing attention to the worst instances of repression."

Adelman and Takeyh also argue that the US should increase protesters' ability to communicate by "sending Starlink terminals," which would enable Iran's anti-regime protest movement to "get around the regime's censorship and blocks on social media. Apparently, thanks to Elon Musk, Iran now has "around 100."

"Other software apps, such as Ushahidi, have been used to monitor elections in sub-Saharan Africa by allowing voters to share images of polling places. Such applications could be repurposed to allow Iranians to share images of acts of protest in different parts of the country, enabling coordination among different groups of protesters and, by forcing the government to overstretch its security forces, making it harder for the regime to quash dissent. The United States should also use popular social media channels, such as Telegram, to provide dissidents with accurate information about what is going on throughout the country, including protests, human rights abuses, and executions. The expansion and creative use of such channels of communication could help new protest leaders emerge and drown out regime propaganda.

"In addition, the United States should ramp up broadcasting by the Voice of America's Persian Service and Radio Farda and fund private television broadcasting by Iranian expats, which could provide additional fuel for the fire raging in the streets of Iranian cities. Currently, the United States is projected to spend less than $30 million in the 2023 fiscal year on broadcasting in Iran."

Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

Follow Judith Bergman on Twitter

Politics & Religion / Central Banks of Russia and Iran connect
« on: January 30, 2023, 06:32:32 PM »

Russia and Iran. The central banks of Russia and Iran established a direct communication and transfer channel to encourage trade and financial transactions between the two countries. Russia’s SPFS financial transfer system is now linked to Iran’s SEPAM, which is also connected to 106 other foreign banks, according to the Central Bank of Iran’s governor. Iran was cut off from the SWIFT banking system in 2018, while a number of major Russian banks were also banned from SWIFT last year.

Politics & Religion / RANE: What does Security mean in 2023?
« on: January 30, 2023, 04:43:21 PM »
What Does 'Security' Mean in 2023?
undefined and Director of Analysis at RANE
Sam Lichtenstein
Director of Analysis at RANE, Stratfor
9 MIN READJan 30, 2023 | 19:01 GMT

A man monitors computer screens.
A man monitors computer screens.


''What security issues should we be aware of?'' This well-intentioned client inquiry regarding operations in a foreign country recently gave me pause as I struggled to understand exactly what the client wanted. Was the client looking for an on-the-ground review of major violent risks, like crime and terrorism? If so, did that mean the client was not interested in the more strategic geopolitical risk of interstate war? What about environmental and health concerns — did the client care about infectious diseases, natural disasters and other threats? Or could it be that the client really cared about cybersecurity in terms of protecting IP and other sensitive data?

Of course, we could answer all of those questions, but running through that checklist in my head made me realize a more foundational question: what exactly does ''security'' mean today? As analysts, we must always consider situations from various points of view and, especially when considering client questions, properly scope our responses. But the truth about ''security,'' no matter how straightforward it may seem, is that it may be just as difficult to define as it is to truly achieve complete safety.

A Shifting Paradigm
As students of international relations theory will be quick to highlight, in its traditional sense, ''security'' is a realist concept that refers to a state's ability to protect itself from foreign attack. For realists, the global environment is a dangerous place and, as the most important actors in the international system, states at their most fundamental level must survive. In this conception, security is defined in opposition to external attack and there is no need to consider what happens within states themselves.

While a neatly-organized concept, over time many other theories have chipped away at realism's dominance. For instance, it is obvious that security within states can matter just as much as security between them, as evidenced by the violent toll of civil war, insurgency and other internal conflicts. Even this external versus internal distinction is an incomplete picture amid the rise of a wholly new environment like cyberspace as a zone of not just competition but outright conflict.

Moreover, as recently highlighted by our analysts, it is clear that ''security'' does not affect everyone equally, but rather some groups (such as women) often suffer disproportionately. Similarly, this focus on the individual illustrates that states are far from the only relevant actors: witness the lethal violence conducted by terrorist groups, criminal syndicates and other non-state actors. Even some private companies could find themselves listed here.

Perhaps most structurally: is ''security'' only about safety from physical violence? Following the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, I do not think anyone would deny that ''health security'' needs to be a bigger priority. Meanwhile, in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the concepts of ''economic security'' and, especially, ''energy security'' are back in vogue. And if you ask many companies, you would probably hear that ''data security'' or ''supply chain security'' are at the forefront of their concerns. Amid these different interpretations, what gets labeled as ''security'' (in some cases, now synonymous with ''self-sufficiency'') has thus become much broader over time — a process known (and at times critiqued) as ''securitization''.

What Is Old Is New Again
Despite the expanding concept of ''security,'' realists have always argued that their fundamental contention about a state needing to prevent external attack has stood the test of time. In this respect, Russia's invasion of Ukraine seemed to be tragic vindication and has duly inspired a flurry of headlines arguing various versions of ''realism is back.'' There is no debating that the return of land war to Europe (and growing concerns over Chinese predations on Taiwan) shows that territorial integrity, the basis of the traditional realist idea of ''security,'' cannot be taken for granted in the 21st century. But while realists are right to point out that a state's most basic duty remains to protect itself, there is no reason to think that interpretations of ''security'' will not continue to expand in its environments, key actors and basic conceptions.

First, a future shift in what counts as a security environment is already coming into focus. Outer space — once a merely theoretical area of competition and, in turn, potential conflict — is coming closer to reality every year. This will add to yet another domain to monitor beyond the already contested land, air and sea realms here on Earth, and more recently the rise of cyberspace (which still has a long way to develop before it is as well-defined as those other three).

Meanwhile, for all the powers that states have, it is also clear that they are far from the only key players. The recent past has seen the introduction of new non-state actors with disproportionate impact. In addition to the rise of cybercriminals, there has also been a re-emergence of mercenary groups — a relic some had thought was left behind centuries ago, illustrating the dynamism in what actors matter for security. Looking ahead, new threats can be sure to arise from other actors, such as individual hacktivists (whose capabilities seem to be only growing) and multinational companies (the largest of which have arguably supplanted many states in their power).

Finally, the future broadening of ''security'' beyond just physical violence is also easy to conceive. Once seen as relevant only to poorer countries, ''food security'' is another example of ''security'' as ''self-sufficiency'' that has become more widely resonant over the past year amid the Ukraine-related shocks to global food supplies and prices; and it is a focus that will likely endure long after the fighting in Ukraine ceases as governments seek to mitigate future crises, including those brought on by climate change. Relatedly, ''environmental security'' will also only grow in tandem with the impacts of climate change. And from a corporate perspective, something akin to ''reputational security'' may in fact be the greatest threat many firms face.

All or Nothing
As the concept of ''security'' comes to mean ever more things, it consequently becomes much harder to achieve. After all, in trying to do everything at once, we often risk doing nothing particularly well. This will create obvious challenges for governments that must decide how to prioritize resources, particularly as there will be inevitable tradeoffs. For instance, as seen over the past year, a clear tension is playing out in real time between short-term ''energy security'' and long-term ''environmental security.'' There will also be inevitable debates over whether to invest in defenses against future threats that may not emerge for many years compared with more immediate ones. Indeed, despite the staggering toll of COVID-19, most governments are loath to make major new investments in fundamental ''health security'' now that the most acute period of the crisis is over. Finally, investing in some forms of security, such as that regarding the emerging domain of outer space, will simply be out of reach for many poorer states, which will cede their ability to control events there. Magnifying all of these challenges is that what may be strategically wise could also be politically unpopular or divisive; after all, partisan politics often lurks amid many security threats.

If leaders within states struggle to agree on priorities, global coordination will be even more challenging. For instance, what some states see as a truly existential threat (like climate change) may benefit others; low-lying island nations are seeing their territory erode amid rising sea levels at the same time northern nations like Canada and Russia are seeing theirs expand amid the thawing ice in the Arctic. Similarly, what some states see as a security threat (such as cyberattacks) may also be a deliberate part of other states' strategies that they seek to amplify, not contain. Moreover, even if states desire to work together to prevent conflict, fundamentally differing interests (such as those over outer space) may still inhibit cooperation. And of course, all of these challenges are magnified in an emerging multipolar world in which the mechanisms for global collaboration are quickly fraying, if not already decisively split.

If the challenges for governments loom large, those for businesses may loom even larger. After all, the public sector is expected to deal with weighty security matters every day, whereas such matters are generally (at best) a secondary concern in the private sector compared with the business of business, so to speak. But companies are increasingly being pressured to do far more than their basic business functions, from taking a stand on high-profile political issues to being leaders in reducing carbon emissions and, in some cases, even being the primary defenders against certain security threats (such as those in cyberspace).

Looking ahead, organizations should only expect more of these responsibilities to pile on. As the post-World War II liberal international order continues to erode and the global system becomes more chaotic and uncertain, companies will increasingly be asked to do more as competing states struggle to coordinate. This will raise uncomfortable questions in boardrooms and challenge corporate leaders to rethink the scope of their activities. They may no longer be just an industrial firm or a services provider, but also an ostensible provider of security (whether it be cyber, health, environmental or another form of security). And what happens inside those boardrooms will increasingly have impacts elsewhere — in some cases life or death ones.

Corporate Security Is Everyone's Business

To return to the original client question, then, asking what security considerations companies need to know may require a much more expansive answer than originally intended. Businesses no longer can only consider common threats like crime, but must also remember that every employee is an ambassador for their corporate reputation, the first line of defense for their cyber networks and a potential vector for disease (on top of the many other security-linked responsibilities that are unlikely to be part of their formal job requirements).

This reality will make the jobs of corporate security officers that much harder as they become responsible for preventing an ever-growing list of threats for the sake of not only their companies but, in some cases, their countries. In this new, more complex security environment, merely taking a business trip may have much weigher implications that require we, as analysts, to adjust our focus accordingly to ensure our clients are as prepared as possible.

Politics & Religion / Re: The Surveillance State
« on: January 30, 2023, 02:47:36 PM »
That point about the British making themselves useful as a cut out is well worth noting.   

Isn't that pretty much what they did when having Steele provide the infamous dossier?

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