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On Celebrity, Trade War and Nuclear Peace

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Is there a celebrity brotherhood?  Kim Kardashian, the reality TV star, turned celebrity, visits the White House and promptly there is clemency for a grandmother serving a life sentence for being part of a cocaine distribution ring.  Yet she is right.  Draconian sentences are seldom fair, and judges’ hands are often tied with strict laws, often lobbied for by private prison corporations.  Prohibition leads to violence, gangsterism and innocent victims.  It was so with alcohol in the Al Capone days; it is true now with cocaine and heroin.

A society cannot afford to waste resources on victimless crimes.  Teaching individual responsibility, health warnings as with smoking and alcohol, can be more effective particularly when added to laws regulating sales.  When the war on drugs has been a dismal failure, and the billions in cash involved is a source of corruption and fatal drug wars, it seems time to consider rational alternatives.

The G7 meeting in Canada quickly degenerated into G6+1, the G6 versus Donald Trump.  If the US has treated European nations as a benevolent parent in trade agreements, Mr. Trump is forcing the teens into adulthood, and they don’t like it.

But there are problems.  Forcing American agricultural products will do to European farmers what what it did in Mexico.  Japanese farmers wield a powerful lobby and no Japanese prime minister dare agree.

Mr. Trump has also called for Russia to be readmitted and with good reason.  Negotiation directly across a table is to be preferred to the under-the-table deals for gas the Europeans are busy making.

Industrial trade is a complicated issue when corporations have internationalized operations.  Ford cars can come from Sonora, Mexico and GM engines from Siloa also in Mexico. Assembly operations can be in Canada.  The Volkswagen plant in Puebla, Mexico is the only one producing the New Beetle worldwide.  Honda engines for the US market are made in the US, Japan and Thailand.  Its Marysville, Ohio plant manufactures 680,000 Hondas a year.  Mercedes-Benz produces SUVs and its C-class automobiles in Alabama.

It should be fairly obvious that erecting trade barriers is going to be quite a headache.  But the Donald has surely got the Europeans thinking.  Bravado like President Macron’s tweet about the G6 being a powerful unit in itself to set up unilateral deals is just that — when big-brother’s economy is larger than the six put together, and Japan with its security concerns is an unlikely partner.

The coming meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore is surely on Mr. Trump’s mind.  The eerie quiet before the summit, the differing interpretations of denuclearization and the clear lack of preparation point to a getting-to-know-ya, a walk in the park and little else.

Neither side can extract what it has defined as success; neither side wants failure.  In all likelihood, we will end up with scraps of paper both sides mostly ignore as in the past.  But life is full of surprises — although after what happened to Gaddafi in Libya, it would be a brave man indeed (or a foolish one)  to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for a US guarantee.

Then, who knows what Donald Trump will be willing to give up for a Nobel Peace Prize, heavily tarnished by Obama and others though it may be.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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Delusions of U.S. Hegemony In A Multi-Polar World: Trump Visits Europe

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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To say that US foreign policy is delusional is not an exaggeration.  It seeks political hegemony and a relationship with China and Russia akin to what it has had with Japan and Germany, that is, go ahead and develop in the economic sphere but don’t try to flex political or military muscle.

There are at least two problems with this scenario:  China is now the world’s largest economy on a purchasing power parity basis, and the Russians have the nuclear capacity to make a wasteland out of the US.  Russian weapons systems can also be superior.

Take the S-400 in comparison with the US Patriot missile defense system — the purpose of these surface-to-air systems is to shoot down incoming missiles or aircraft.  The S-400 has a more powerful radar, double the range, is faster (Mach 6 vs Mach 5), takes five minutes to set up against one hour for the Patriot, and is cheaper.  China has just bought 32 launchers and is expected to buy more, thereby challenging Japan, Taiwan (which it claims) and other neighbors for control of the skies, as it is doing over the seas bordering itself.  NATO member Turkey has recently signed a purchase deal, and Iran wants to, as does Qatar after its recent spat with Saudi Arabia.  If Russia supplies Iran, any attack planned by the US or Israel would prove to be very costly and politically infeasible.

In our world of instant and continuous news feeds, one can imagine a bemused Vladimir Putin listening to Trump exhorting NATO members to increase contributions to NATO — an organization designed to counter the Russian threat — specifically castigating Germany’s Angela Merkel for being beholden to Russia with her country’s reliance on Russian natural gas.

Early next week he meets Mr. Putin in Helsinki, fresh from his soft power World Cup triumph as the world beat a path to Russia.  What does Mr. Trump tell the leader of the world’s largest country covering eleven time zones?  US political hegemony is a non-starter.

Europeans clearly want access to China, its labor, its markets, even finance, and with it comes Russia and their numerous initiatives together including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIE) their answer to the US-sponsored World Bank.  That Britain joined AIIB contrary to US wishes is a clear sign of China rising as the US declines comparatively;  Britain, having faced up to the US, was followed by a rush of European countries.

Russia wants sanctions lifted.  What does the US want?  Crimea is a non-starter.  Help with Iran?  For the Russians, it has become an important ally both with regard to Syria and as a Mideast power in its own right.  Mr. Trump’s instincts are right.  But what he achieves is another matter.  Childish petulance accompanied by a different story for different leaders would leave an observer with little optimism.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump manufactures and markets his own reality; this time on his popularity (‘I think they like me a lot in the UK’) despite avoiding roads and traveling by helicopter when possible during his pared down UK visit.  Hordes of demonstrators undeterred have a giant parade balloon several stories high of a bloated child with the trademark blonde hair.  It is one the largest demonstrations ever outside the US against a sitting president.

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This 70-year-old program prepares young women for leadership

MD Staff

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A record number of women are running for public office this year. In the near future, we can expect more female public servants representing the American people — from local chambers to Capitol Hill. In light of this exciting trend, it is important to highlight programs that help develop young women to become the next generation of female leaders. One such program? American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation.

ALA Girls Nation is a weeklong mock experiential learning program, one that positions high-potential teens for a lifetime of public service to our country. This summer, 100 female high school seniors — two from each of our 50 states — will convene in Washington, D.C., for the 72nd Annual ALA Girls Nation. Each teenage girl represents her state as a “senator” — mirroring the structure of government at the federal level. During this transformative weeklong program, these senators form a fictitious nation, become “Nationalists” and “Federalists,” enthusiastically campaign to hold office, and — perhaps most important — accept and celebrate the outcome of these elections and come together to serve for the good of the nation.

ALA is a nonpartisan organization committed to advocating for veterans’ issues, promoting patriotism, mentoring America’s youth and proudly presenting ALA Girls Nation for over 70 years. The ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation are privately-funded and presented by members of the organization. The world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, ALA was chartered in 1919 to support the mission of The American Legion.

More than 6,500 young women have attended ALA Girls Nation since its inception in 1947. Each participant leaves the program informed about the fundamentals of U.S. government — and the rights, privileges and responsibilities of citizens. It lasts for one short week. Yet the seven-day experience — one that champions the legislative process and serious collaboration — has laid the foundation for thousands of bright futures.

Many alumnae have chosen careers in public service, putting their ALA Girls State and ALA Girls Nation experience into action to serve the people. The lessons learned about teamwork, resilience and the democratic principles that guide the republic in which we live are applied in real life by many alums who have gone on to serve at the local, state and national level — including high-ranking members of the judiciary.

Justice Lorie S. Gildea began her tenure as chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in 2010. She participated in the state-level version of ALA Girls Nation, known as ALA Girls State in 1979 — and the program, Gildea said, “empowered her to embark upon a lifetime of service and leadership.”

“At ALA Girls State, we learn that every voice has value and that every woman needs to use her voice,” said Gildea. “We also learn that we need to be courageous and confident enough to take life up on the opportunities that present themselves to us.”

“An informed citizenry is essential to the success of our democracy. ALA Girls State [and ALA Girls Nation] plays a vital role in informing and educating our future leaders,” Gildea said. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn about and see firsthand how the three branches of our government work. I am so grateful to the American Legion Auxiliary for presenting ALA Girls State and teaching me and thousands of Minnesota’s young women about the value of participation and the possibility of leadership.”

Other alumnae have gone on to hold leadership roles in industries spanning government, military, media, education and law. Notable alumnae include Jane Pauley, national media personality; Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, president of Augustana University and former South Dakota U.S. representative; Susan Bysiewicz, former Connecticut Secretary of State; Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy and former Air Force aide to the president; Ann Richards, former governor of Texas; and Susan Porter-Rose, former chief of staff to First Lady Barbara Bush — among countless others.

For some girls, it is their first opportunity to connect with peers with common interests. For others, it is the first time they encounter students whose perspectives differ from their own. For all, it is a moment in time when a select few teenage girls from all over the country come together to discover and celebrate the honor and importance of participating in our democracy. To learn more, visit www.ALAforVeterans.org.

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Colombia-Venezuela: A Conflict with US Participation

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The victory of right-wing candidate Ivan Duque in the Colombian presidential elections is not the best news for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The newly elected president has already refused to recognize Maduro’s victory in the recent elections in Venezuela and announced that he would not send an ambassador to Caracas.

It is believed that Ivan Duque is the successor of the political line of the Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe (in power from 2000 to 2008) who was notorious first of all for fighting the left radical insurgent FARC group and accusing Hugo Chavez who was the Venezuelan President at that time, of harboring the FARC rebels in Venezuelan territory.

Troubled Sister Countries

There is no need to recall that Maduro owes his entire political career to the late Chavez.  Maduro was not only a long-time associate of Chavez but was perceived in society as the heir to Venezuela’s legendary leftist leader. Maduro also inherited from Chavez a course toward friendship with Russia (Russia made large investments in Venezuela), as well as a diplomatic confrontation with the USA and its main ally in northern Latin America – Colombia. At one time Chavez made a point calling Colombia, intertwined with Venezuela by a 1,300 km-long common border, “Latin American Israel, hinting at the military and economic support provided by Washington to the Colombian leadership. In 2010 Chavez broke off any of his country’s relations with Colombia.

Despite the fact that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who succeeded Uribe, signed a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016, the relationship between Caracas and Bogota during Santos’ rule has not improved. In his recent speech President Maduro accused Santos of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs, to which Santos responded with speeches lamenting the lack of freedom in the “leftist” Venezuela.

Hatred against “Chavism”

Optimists expected relations to improve if the left candidate – Bogotá Mayor Gustav Petro would have won the elections in Colombia. In fact now Juan Manuel Santos finishes his second term as a “lame duck” after Duque’s victory, and his dislike for Maduro can no longer have a negative impact on relations. But Petro lost, although he received 42 percent of the vote. And the very course of the presidential campaign showed that this is not about personal antipathies, but about strong ideological differences between the leaders of Venezuela and Colombia. During the election campaign, Duque’s supporters declared the slogan: “Vote for our candidate, so that Colombia does not become another Venezuela.” The former Colombian President Uribe does not conceal his hatred for “Castro-Chavism,” and the victory of his candidate (Uribe created the Democratic Party that supported Duque) does not promise Maduro or any other “chavist” relations improvement.

Russia’s Stance

Russia takes an emphatically distant position in relation to the political standoff of the two neighboring Latin American countries, and this approach seems reasonable in this situation. Russia does not make a secret of the fact that Venezuela is experiencing enormous economic difficulties. The Institute of Latin American Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences acknowledged that there is hyperinflation in the country and that its GDP reduced by 12 % in 2017.

Russian political analysts are aware of the US interest in the “early collapse of the Chavist regime”, but nevertheless, they do not veil the fact that Venezuela’s leadership is primarily to blame for the country’s economic problems. Experts of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) also came to this conclusion, pointing out the inability of the Venezuelan leadership to convert petrodollars of 2000s into diversification of domestic economy. So the Russian approach to both Venezuelan and Colombian issues can be seen as lacking ideology: Russian companies responded to Venezuela’s business proposals, but this response was based on mutually beneficial cooperation, not on a desire to support a left or right ideology.

Violence as Tradition

As for the continuing ideological struggle between the “left” Venezuela and the “right” Colombia, its result is far from a foregone conclusion. The success or failure of  the ruling elites in Venezuela, and especially in Colombia, people estimate not only by economic indicators, but also by the safety of life.  And in Colombia, this is even worse than in Venezuela: the leftist insurgent movement FARC (the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia”) has waged a civil war in Colombia since 1964. And FARC seized the baton of violence from the so-called liberals: the conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC grew out of the war between supporters of the Liberal and Conservative parties of Colombia that continued for a decade (!) in 1948-1958, (it is this violence, which claimed about 200,000 lives, was reflected in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”).

In 2016, the outgoing President Juan Manuel signed a peace agreement with the FARC, but the majority of the country’s population refused to approve the agreement in a referendum. Violence and fear did not stop although the FARC became a formally legal political party and changed the meaning of the abbreviation of its name (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionariadel Comun – The Common Alternative Revolutionary Force).

The fact is that the violence in Colombia in recent decades has come not so much from the left, but from the right side of the political spectrum. Even the traditionally anti-communist British BBC reports that in the political sector Colombia has a radical, sometimes violent, right-wing tradition.

The BBC admits that this tradition in Colombia is linked, among other things, to the murders of leftist politicians and cultural figures. The members of the so-called “The United Self-Defenders of Colombia” (Autodefensas Unidas de Columbia – AUC) especially often resorted to violence. For many years they proclaimed their task to wage armed struggle against the FARC rebels.  But in 1997-2006. under the pretext of  fighting the Colombian “chavistas,” the AUC forces killed thousands of people; in 2006 the AUC was officially declared a terrorist organization and dissolved. Before that, this ultra-right group was reported to be involved in drug trafficking as well as in hostage-taking for ransom – the two types of criminal activity traditionally associated with the FARC. As for the level of violence, the AUC and their successors leave far behind Venezuela’s government forces who have killed several dozen protesters in recent months.

Maduro Accuses

In his propaganda war with President Santos, which is likely to soon turn into a propaganda war with the new Colombian President – Duque, Maduro and his supporters emphasize the ties between the Colombian government and the USA and the US intelligence services. There is nothing unexpected in this accusation: Uribe as well as Santos closely collaborated with the “advisers” from Washington and even invited the American armed forces into the country.

But now, when the chair beneath him staggers, Maduro considers Colombia as a “strike force” of US intervention directed at him. Recently  Maduro directly accused Colombia of trying to provoke an armed conflict with Venezuela and overthrow the “chavist” authority.

This Maduro’s accusation against Bogota is worth listening to. In this situation Russia will have many allies among Latin American countries: after all, even cautious Brazil and Argentina turned against the Colombian President Santos, when in early 2010s Colombia started talking about deploying American bases on its territory. However, later the same countries which are part of the Organization of American States excluded Venezuela from their ranks for the deficit of democracy. Somewhat strange contradiction.  From this one can assume that the countries of the southern continent want democracy, but without American “supervision”.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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