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Sunday, January 14

The smart way to finance U.S. Mexico Wall

From Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis (A Coupla Things, January 12):
1.  A couple of Border Patrol/ICE people tell me that the US does not effectively charge an entry fee to non-US citizen individuals seeking to enter the US legally across the southern border.  The point made by these border and immigration professionals is that the money would enable the construction and installation of more and better border barrier systems.  They make the point that where border barrier systems have been installed the flow of illegal migrants is much reduced.  Mexico evidently collects such a fee in the San Diego sector.  My question for the lawyers is whether or not such a fee would be legal if put in place under an EO or would this require legislation?
I'll be darned. There's been a smart way to finance the wall, all along.  

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Uganda's Ministry of Health tries to put down a panic

"We are in control. We know everything. ... There is no cause for alarm."


What with the story about a wrong-button pusher in Hawaii this is a very bad week for governments to attempt to assure the public they are in control -- although I must say Dr Atwine's wonderfully emotional declamation should get a prize for Most Convincing Assurance that government is leaving no stone unturned. 

So is this is a new, highly infectious deadly disease, or an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever?  Either way, the incident underscores that officials trying to cover up or downplay an infectious disease outbreak is so last century. In this century of globalized 24/7 news and social media, governments the world over are being forced to the realization that they must somehow thread the camel through the needle: keep the public well informed about a possible infectious disease outbreak but without setting off or adding to a panic.  

The U.K. Star, which has made itself a clearing house for tales of infectious disease outbreaks, has a report on the Uganda situation. (See also their slide show report on recent globalized deadly disease outbreaks): 

Black Death TWO: Girl, 9, drops dead as strange 'eye-bleeding fever' spreads
By Anthony Blair
January 13, 2018

A NEW disease is feared to become even more deadly than the Black Death that killed thousands in 2017 after it killed a nine year-old 
child.

She had contracted the bizarre new disease with similarities to the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

This disease — usually spread by tick bites or contact with infected livestock — can cause muscle pains, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

And panic is spreading after the sudden death of a girl in the Nakaseke District of Uganda.

A rapid response health team was rushed from the local hospital with a body bag to collect her and prevent any possible outbreak.

Health teams disinfected the girl's home after her death on Thursday night local time, but didn't give her grieving family any details about when they could have her body back. [read on]

[...]

Local district Health Officer Dr Badru Ssesimba confirmed that blood samples from the girl's body had been handed over to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, but wouldn't give more details.

Authorities at the hospital — who didn't want to be named — said that the body would be buried by health teams due to the "sensitivity" about a further outbreak.

Four people have now died in Uganda this week from the 'eye-bleeding fever'.

But local officials in the East African country — which has been plagued by similar outbreaks recently — said this could be a completely new disease.

Last week Uganda's Ministry of Health denied claims by local officials in Nakaseke that Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic fever had broken out.

But Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health Dr Diana Atwine confirmed that fluid and blood samples from the dead child are being tested to find out exactly what she died from.

This week MPs in Uganda's Parliament claimed there was a cover-up of a deadly plague outbreak in Uganda by the government.

Recently there were fears that a tribal 'Cleaning of Corpses' ritual in Indonesia could lead to a fresh Black Death outbreak.

And the World Health Organisation warned last week that an extra £3 million was needed by April to stop the return of Black Death.

[END REPORT]

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Friday, January 12

U.S. remains determined to unseat Assad at any cost

"In Washington last month, I was told that a main strut of U.S. Syria policy going forward would be marshalling America’s international and regional allies to isolate the Assad regime economically. America is meant to play a key leadership role in this effort, reinforcing international consensus on an economic blockade of Assad. The idea is to use economic leverage on the regime and its ally Russia, in parallel with diplomatic pressure, to push for a transition and Assad’s removal."

The quote is from Sam Heller's What an unfolding humanitarian disaster in a U.S.-protected enclave in Syria tells us about American strategy in Syria, published November 20 at War on the Rocks. But you'd have to read to the last part of the report to find the quote. At the time the U.S. was making noises about allowing Assad to stay on as head of the Syrian government. By the end of December, however, the U.S. had again showed its true face. From Heller's latest Syria analysis (January 8) for War on the Rocks (America in search of un-Geneva for Syria):
“We are confident that the fulfillment of these [Geneva] talks will produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family,” wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in The New York Times on Dec. 27. As I argued recently for the Century Foundation, this will not work.
In short, nothing has changed about U.S. involvement since 2011 in the attempts to remove Assad from power, and it's demonstrated a willingness to see Syria reduced to ruins in order to accomplish the goal. Yet one never hears about the U.S. attempting to remove the Baathists from power. This is curious given that much of the Syrian opposition is actually against the Baathists, who were in power long before Bashar al-Assad was installed as the figurehead leader of the party. 

So why the ongoing American focus on removing Assad? Because Assad is completely committed to Syria's government remaining secular, as are most Syrians, and Al Saud can't tolerate a genuinely secular society in the Middle East -- one that puts Sunni Islam on par with other religions and Islamic sects. To whatever extent possible the United States serves Saudi interests.
   
Any other American reasons for wanting Assad removed are distant seconds. All things being equal, Assad would still have to go because he stands as a bulwark against sectarian rule of Syria.

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Tuesday, January 2

Mr Trump, Iran is not Selma, Alabama circa 1960s

(For readers who don't know the significance of Selma for the American civil rights movement, here's some background.)  

Dear President Trump -- I don't like being the bearer of bad news, but just because young people in foreign countries are marching in the streets, waving signs, and shouting 'We shall overcome,' this does not not necessarily mean they are protesting for causes dear to American hearts -- liberty, justice for all, civil rights, etc.  The protests can mean quite the opposite. Take, for example, the mass street protests that began December 28 in Iran:
[...]
However, it may actually turn out that the protests are driven by Iran’s hardliners and Islamic conservatives, who are challenging the presidency of Rouhani, who is considered a “moderate”politician in the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian city of Mashhad is one of the places where the protests initially started.  [Ahmed Al-Burai, a lecturer at Aydin University in Istanbul] explained that it is actually a “stronghold of Rouhani’s major competitor” at the last presidential elections, Ebrahim Raisi. 
Raisi is the son-in-law of the Mashhad Friday prayer leader and Grand Imam of Imam Reza shrine, Ahmad Alamolhoda.
The politician also enjoys the support of the Iranian conservative circles. He advocates gender segregation and even sees sanctions imposed against Iran as a sort of opportunity. Notably, fighting corruption and creating jobs were his major election promises during the last presidential campaign.
In the meantime, the US seems to pay no attention to the real situation on the ground. On Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence promised full support to the Iranian protesters by saying, “We must not and we will not let them down.”
The quotes are from RT's Jan 1 report "Trump's support will not be welcomed by Iranian protesters", which begins by pointing out the obvious, which is that many Iranians -- including many of the protesters -- positively hate the United States. In fact, so widespread is the hatred that Rouhani was probably not talking through his turban when he claimed that "foreign provocations" are a factor in the protests -- although he admitted what is also obvious, which is that "domestic problems" are also in play in the protests.  

(Ali Shamkhani, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, went even further by fingering the Usual Suspects -- U.S., U.K, and Al Saud -- as instigators of the Iranian protests, and pointed out:
“Based on our analysis, almost 27 percent of the new [social media] hashtags directed against Iran have been generated by the Saudi government” ...
Now it would be exaggeration to say that American intelligence agencies and think tanks couldn't correctly analyze the doings in so much as a foreign chicken coop. There are some very knowledgeable American and foreigners working for the U.S. government who are skilled analysts of foreign affairs. 

The caveat is that their hard work is often ignored by factions in Congress and the American Administration, which are usually so busy squabbling about each others' agendas that finally no one can untangle what is actually happening in the situations under analysis. 

Upshot: The U.S. wades blindfolded into situations in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, making a mess that it then tries to 'fix,' which makes a bigger mess.

I emphasize that in the Middle East the U.S. generally doesn't wade in alone; it's works in tandem with NATO members, notably U.K. and/or France, and allies in the Arab oil countries, and with Israel sometimes bringing up the rear but more often complaining that nobody is listening to their advice.

The most annoying part for Americans, at least those Americans who have some idea of what is actually going on, is that despite the group effort, it's invariably the United States that is left holding the bag when the messes turn into crises.

Some will argue that U.S. defense policymakers are very clear about what is really going on in Iran but that even if the political hand behind the current protests is Iranian Islamic hardliners, the optics of the protests fit well with American propaganda against Tehran's regime.

I'd reply to such people by asking what century they believe this is.

The weaponization of street protests by foreign powers is so well known in this era -- recently one American analyst sarcastically referred to the tactic as "renta rallies" -- that the smart move for an American administration is to completely distance itself from even a hint of involvement in foreign protest rallies.  

But that would mean getting a handle on factions in Congress which are infamously known as instigators of phony democracy revolutions to install U.S. puppets in power. In the Herculean task I would wish President Trump, and any American president, the very best of luck and a tripled security detail.

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