TBR News June 28, 2016

Jun 28 2017

The Voice of the White House

         Washington, D.C., June 28, 2017:”During his campaign for the Presidency, Mr. Trump made many promises to his listeners and many of them resonated. Unfortunately, once he got into the Oval Office, he did many about-faces and abandoned most of his promises. He wanted to bring back manufacturing from China. He had a pleasant visit from the head of the PRC and now nothing more is said about forcing American businessmen to return and bring back American jobs. Most of his orders are so pro-business and pro-military that he is beginning to anger a significant number of his supporters and his bluster and irrational behavior has caused many European countries to view him with suspicion and, in many cases, contempt. His attempts at removing portions of health care is causing havoc with the public and also with Congress who have no desire to antagonize the voters. Trump is a businessman, not a politician, and has not the slightest idea how to work with public opinion or with Congress. Unless he learns the art of communicating instead of dictating, his reign in Washington does not appear to be a long one.”

Table of Contents

  • New computer virus spreads from Ukraine to disrupt world business
  • Vladimir Putin: A Suitor Spurned
  • Memo to Democrats: You Need A Clear Message for Universal Health Care
  • Facing revolt on healthcare bill, U.S. Senate Republicans delay vote
  • Trump moves to withdraw US water protection
  • Tensions Rising in Balkans as Hopes for EU Future Fade
  • The American Military: It is not too small. Rather, its responsibilities are too many.

New computer virus spreads from Ukraine to disrupt world business

June 28, 2017

by Eric Auchard, Jack Stubbs and Alessandra Prentice


FRANKFURT/MOSCOW/KIEV- A cyber attack wreaked havoc around the globe on Wednesday, crippling thousands of computers, disrupting operations at ports from Mumbai to Los Angeles and halting production at a chocolate factory in Australia.

The virus is believed to have first taken hold on Tuesday in Ukraine where it silently infected computers after users downloaded a popular tax accounting package or visited a local news site, national police and international cyber experts said.

The malicious code locked machines and demanded victims post a ransom worth $300 in bitcoins or lose their data entirely, similar to the extortion tactic used in the global WannaCry ransomware attack in May.

More than 30 victims paid up but security experts are questioning whether extortion was the goal, given the relatively small sum demanded, or whether the hackers were driven by destructive motives rather than financial gain.

Hackers asked victims to notify them by email when ransoms had been paid but German email provider Posteo quickly shut down the address, a German government cyber security official said.

Ukraine, the epicenter of the cyber strike, has repeatedly accused Russia of orchestrating attacks on its computer systems and critical power infrastructure since its powerful neighbor annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014.

The Kremlin, which has consistently rejected the accusations, said on Wednesday it had no information about the origin of the global cyber attack, which also struck Russian companies such as oil giant Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and a steelmaker.

“No one can effectively combat cyber threats on their own, and, unfortunately, unfounded blanket accusations will not solve this problem,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

ESET, a Slovakian company that sells products to shield computers from viruses, said 80 percent of the infections detected among its global customer base were in Ukraine, with Italy second hardest hit with about 10 percent.

The aim of the latest attack appeared to be disruption rather than ransom, said Brian Lord, former deputy director of intelligence and cyber operations at Britain’s GCHQ and now managing director at private security firm PGI Cyber.

“My sense is this starts to look like a state operating through a proxy … as a kind of experiment to see what happens,” Lord told Reuters on Wednesday.


While the malware seemed to be a variant of past campaigns, derived from code known as Eternal Blue believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), experts said it was not as virulent as May’s WannaCry attack.

Security researchers said Tuesday’s virus could leap from computer to computer once unleashed within an organization but, unlike WannaCry, it could not randomly trawl the internet for its next victims, limiting its scope to infect.

Bushiness that installed Microsoft’s (MSFT.O) latest security patches from earlier this year and turned off Windows file-sharing features appeared to be largely unaffected.

There was speculation, however, among some experts that once the new virus had infected one computer it could spread to other machines on the same network, even if those devices had received a security update.

After WannaCry, governments, security firms and industrial groups advised businesses and consumers to make sure all their computers were updated with Microsoft (MSFT.O) security patches.

Austria’s government-backed Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) said “a small number” of international firms appeared to be affected, with tens of thousands of computers taken down.

Security firms including Microsoft, Cisco’s (CSCO.O) Talos and Symantec (SYMC.O) said they had confirmed some of the initial infections occurred when malware was transmitted to users of a Ukrainian tax software program called MEDoc.

The supplier of the software, M.E.Doc denied in a post on Facebook that its software was to blame, though Microsoft reiterated its suspicions afterwards.

“Microsoft now has evidence that a few active infections of the ransomware initially started from the legitimate MEDoc updater process,” it said in a technical blog post.

Russian security firm Kaspersky said a Ukrainian news site for the city of Bakhumut was also hacked and used to distribute the ransomware to visitors, encrypting data on their machines.


A number of the international firms hit have operations in Ukraine, and the virus is believed to have spread within global corporate networks after gaining traction within the country.

Shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), which handles one in seven containers shipped worldwide, has a logistics unit in Ukraine.

Other large firms affected, such as French construction materials company Saint Gobain (SGOB.PA) and Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ.O), which owns chocolate brand Cadbury, also have operations in the country.

Maersk was one of the first global firms to be taken down by the cyber attack and its operations at major ports such as Mumbai in India, Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Los Angeles on the U.S. west coast were disrupted.

The company said on Wednesday it was unable to process new orders and its 76 terminals around the world were becoming increasingly congested.

Other companies to succumb included BNP Paribas Real Estate (BNPP.PA), a part of the French bank that provides property and investment management services.

“The international cyber attack hit our non-bank subsidiary, Real Estate. The necessary measures have been taken to rapidly contain the attack,” the bank said on Wednesday.

Production at the Cadbury factory on the Australian island state of Tasmania ground to a halt late on Tuesday after computer systems went down.

Russia’s Rosneft, one of the world’s biggest crude producers by volume, said on Tuesday its systems had suffered “serious consequences” but oil production had not been affected because it switched to backup systems.

(Additional reporting by Helen Reid in London, Teis Jensen in Copenhagen, Maya Nikolaeva in Paris, Shadia Naralla in Vienna, Marcin Goettig in Warsaw, Byron Kaye in Sydney, John O’Donnell in Frankfurt, Ari Rabinovitch in Tel Aviv and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bangalore; Editing by David Clarke)

 Vladimir Putin: A Suitor Spurned

Oliver Stone’s The Putin Interviews reveals a pro-American Putin disdained by Washington

June 28, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump kept repeating a line that stuck in the Establishment’s craw like a cherry pit stuck under a denture: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” Russia and specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin are consistently portrayed in the US media as implacable enemies of the US and the West: it’s simply taken as the given. And yet, the biggest revelation in Oliver Stone’s recent four-part series of extensive interviews with Putin is how consistently and desperately Putin has tried to get along with us. In the second interview, Stone points out that, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin was “one of the first to call [George W. Bush] and offer condolences, and Putin elaborates that more than a phone call was involved:

“Yes, we had planned military exercises of our new strategic forces for the next day. And I canceled those exercises and I wanted the president of the United States to know that. Certainly I understood that heads of state and governments in such a situation need moral support.. And we wanted to demonstrate this to President Bush.”

Contrast this with the behavior of the US government when Russian cities came under attack from Chechen Islamic terrorists in the 2010 bombing of the Moscow Metro system. While there was a pro forma denunciation of the attack, the American propaganda network, “Radio Free Europe,” ran a piece entitled “In Wake of Metro Bombings, Putin’s War On Terror Is Under Fire.”  The gist of the article is that Putin, not the terrorists, was responsible for the attacks. There is even a quote from Boris Nemtsov, the leader of a tiny opposition movement whose death two years ago was naturally blamed on Putin, implying that the whole thing was a “false flag” operation carried out by the authorities:

“’This happened right under the security services’ noses,’ Nemtsov said, noting that the attack at the Lubyanka metro station took place in close proximity to the headquarters of the Federal Security Service….

”Nemtsov adds that many disturbing questions remain about the attacks.

“’Nobody can explain how two female suicide bombers got to the center of Moscow. Nobody can answer how they got the explosives. Nobody can answer what the police and security services were doing to prevent this.’”

Radio Free Europe also referred to the 1999 apartment bombings that took place in Moscow and other major cities as “mysterious,” bolstering the “truther” views of fringe Russian oppositionists – including exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky – that the Russian intelligence services were behind the attacks. According to the Russian “truthers,” it was all a plot to hand total power to Putin.

Yet here is Putin telling Stone that allowing the US military access to Russian bases in Tajikistan in order to fight the Taliban was right and necessary because “We believe that this cooperation is in our national interest.” This says something important about Putin, and his conception of how Russia’s foreign policy should be run: he never allows emotions to get in the way of pursuing what he regards as his country’s interests, objectively defined. And there are plenty of emotional reasons for him to obstruct the US at every turn, for as the interview continues Stone brings up Washington’s “regime-change” operations aimed at the Kremlin, specifically CIA chief Bill Casey’s plan to utilize Islamic radicals against the Russians after the fall of Afghanistan. Putin’s reply is revealing:

“You see, the thing is, these ideas are still alive. And when those problems in the Caucasus and Chechnya emerged, unfortunately the Americans support these processes…. Even though we counted on American support. We assumed that the Cold War was over … but instead we witnessed the American intelligence services support terrorists.  And even when we confirmed that, when we demonstrated that Al Qaeda fighters were fighting in the Caucasus, we still saw the intelligence services of the United States continue to support these fighters.”

Longtime readers of Antiwar.com, and of this column, may recall this piece exposing the US-based support network enjoyed by the Caucasus “rebels” via the “American Committee for Peace in Chechnya,” and the myriad connections of Metro bomber Rezvan Chitigov, a US resident with a green card, to Al Qaeda’s terrorist activities in the region.

US government support to the Chechen terrorists wasn’t just propagandistic: as Putin points out, they provided technical and logistical support, moving them around the battlefield. When Putin met with George W. Bush, he brought this up, and the then President said “I’ll sort this out.”

He never did. Instead, the CIA actually sent a letter to their Russian counterparts in response to Putin’s concerns, which said, in summary: “We support all the political forces, including the opposition forces, and we’re going to continue to do that.” So in public, the Bush administration was bloviating about the centrality of the “war on terrorism,” while they were covertly canoodling with Al Qaeda and allied forces in the Caucasus in a relentless campaign against Russia.

And the same thing is happening in Syria today, with US support to Islamist “rebels” intent on overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “It’s a systemic mistake,” says Putin, “which is repeated always. This is the same thing which happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And right now it’s happening in the Middle East.”

Stone presses the Russian leader for evidence of Western support to Chechen terrorists, and Putin’s reply is that it was no secret, which it certainly was not. The British government granted asylum to Akhmed Zakayev, former “Prime Minister” of the breakaway Islamist “Chechen Republic of Icheria” – whose forces carried out the bloody Beslan attacks on Russian schoolchildren. The National Endowment for Democracy, the European Union, and the Norwegian government funded the “Russia-Chechen Friendship Society,” which published Chechen separatist propaganda. When the Kremlin moved to shut this operation down, the Western media pointed to it as evidence of Putin’s “authoritarianism,” and yet imagine if the Russians started funding, say, a Texas secessionist movement in the US. American lawmakers and officials can’t even meet with the Russian ambassador without being accused of “treason”! Our National Endowment for Democracy has honored the former “Foreign Minister” of the Chechen Isalmic “republic,” Ilyas Akhmadov, with a fellowship, and he regularly participates in NED events. Wanted on terrorism charges in Russia, he was granted asylum by the Bush administration.

Putin’s complaints about US policy are centered on three issues:

  • Washington’s “regime change” campaign against the Kremlin.
  • The US decision to unilaterally abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
  • The eastward expansion of NATO.

These are all interconnected, but it’s worth noting where and when they originated: during the presidency of George W. Bush – when the neoconservatives were in the drivers’ seat. And these policies continued throughout the Obama years, with the Democrats now signing on to the Hate-on-Russia campaign and escalating it beyond anything yet seen. As Putin put it to Stone, “And there’s one curious thing – the presidents of your country change, but the policy doesn’t change – I mean on principled issues.” That’s because the national security bureaucracy – what conservatives these days are referring to as the “Deep State” (without crediting Noam Chomsky!) – and not our elected officials are the ones really in charge.

While there’s some controversy surrounding the alleged promise made to the Russians that NATO would not expand if the Kremlin agreed to allow German reunification, the fact that the agreement was verbal and not enshrined on paper doesn’t obviate its significance. And there is plenty of evidence to show that there was indeed such an agreement. As Joshua Shifrinson pointed out in the Los Angeles Times:

“In early February 1990, U.S. leaders made the Soviets an offer. According to transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9, then-Secretary of State James Baker suggested that in exchange for cooperation on Germany, US could make “iron-clad guarantees” that NATO would not expand ‘one inch eastward.’ Less than a week later, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to reunification talks.”

Yet NATO pushed eastward without interruption during the Bush years, and this process continued under his successors, until today, with Trump in the White House, tiny Montenegro is now hailed as the latest entrant into the club – a country whose borders are ill-defined, and whose combative internal politics are a constant struggle between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces. Against whom, Putin asks, is NATO protecting its members from? Who is the “enemy”? Clearly the answer is Russia, as the alliance expands to the very gates of Moscow and Western forces engage in provocative “exercises,” simulating a NATO invasion of Russian territory.

The ABM Treaty, once the cornerstone of détente, was nullified by the United States – but why? The official explanation – at least, the one given to Putin – was that the US had to build antimissile defenses against the alleged “threat” from Iran. Aside from the credibility of the contention that the Iranians were getting ready to strike Warsaw or Prague, the Iran deal, says Putin, makes this rationalization obsolete. Yet still the antimissile shield is being expanded, and the Russians are obliged to take countermeasures, lest the US gain a first strike capability.

As I pointed out in the first installment of this review, it’s fascinating to see the contrast between Stone, a committed man of the left, and Putin, who’s closer to being a paleoconservative than anything else. In reviewing the history of Russo-American relations since 1917, Stone avers that “The United States and the allies did nothing to help the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union was warning the world about the fascist threat in Spain and throughout Europe.” He goes on to echo Stalin’s complaint that the Western allies weren’t doing enough to help the Soviets, who were taking the brunt of Germany’s assault. Left out of his historical account is the fact that the Soviets were allied with Hitler’s Germany, that the Soviets and the Germans jointly invaded and divided up Poland, and that this was the genesis of the Second World War. Just a minor oversight!

Juxtapose Stone’s uncritical view of Soviet foreign policy with Putin’s perspective: the Russian leader considers the Warsaw Pact a mistake. Citing the Soviet withdrawal from  Austria, a move which he see as creating an “asset,” and the agreement over the neutral status of Finland, Putin contends that Russia – if it had followed this course – would’ve been able to deal with the West “on a civilized basis. We would have been able to cooperate with them. We wouldn’t have had to spend enormous resources to support their inefficient economies.” Yes, Putin realizes what American policymakers don’t see: that empires are a burden, not an asset.

The creation of the Warsaw Pact gave the West an “excuse,” as Putin puts it, “to create NATO and launch a Cold War.” And he makes a very salient point about how and why US foreign policy went off on a dangerous tangent in the post-Soviet era:

“I think that when the United States felt they were at the forefront of the so-called civilized world and when the Soviet Union collapsed, , they were under the illusion that the United States was capable of everything and they could act with impunity. And that’s always a trap, because in this situation, a person and a country begins to commit mistakes. There is no need to analyze the situation. No need to think about the consequences. No need to economize. And the country becomes inefficient and one mistake follows another. And I think that’s the trap the United States has found itself in.”

He takes his argument further, positing that the whole society becomes infected with this unrealistic hubris, and it becomes politically necessary for the leadership to follow this irrational course to the very end.

Stone is excited by this kind of talk: he goes into a riff about how what he’d like to talk about in their next interview “is this pursuit of world domination” by the US. At which point, Putin draws back:

“Well, let’s agree on something. I know how critical you are of the United States’ policies. Please do not try to drag me into anti-Americanism.”

I had to laugh when I heard that. It underscores Putin’s view of the US, and the whole spirit of these interviews: while Putin believes that the present foreign policy of US leaders is misguided, he holds out hope that this is not a permanent condition. While Stone has this one-dimensional view of the US as the Global Villain – as if this is an inherent quality of American society, perhaps due to the nature of American capitalism – Putin sees the consequences of what calls “the logic of imperialism” as an aberration.

It’s a view with which I very much concur: American imperialism is an aberration, a radical deviation from the course set for us by the Founders of this country, and completely out of character for the overwhelming majority of the American people, who just want to live in peace.

In the first installment of this series, I said that there is plenty of real news buried in these interviews, and certainly Putin’s revelation that the Russians rejected Edward Snowden’s first contacts with the Russians, which occurred when he was in China, qualifies. Apparently a request for asylum was made, either by Snowden or his representatives, “but I said we wanted nothing to do with that,” says Putin. The Russians didn’t want to aggravate their already difficult relations with the US government. And this rejection was probably due in part to the fact that “Snowden didn’t want to give us any information, and he has to be credited with that,” Putin continues. “But when it turned out we were not willing to do that yet, not ready, he just disappeared.”

So how did Snowden wind up in Russia? As my readers may recall, he arrived at a Russian airport en route probably to Cuba or Ecuador. However, the US mobilized its European sock-puppets and blocked the route, and so he stayed in the Russian airport for weeks. He was eventually granted temporary asylum because the United States had been consistently refusing to sign an extradition treaty with Russia, despite the initiative undertaken by Moscow at the time. “And according to our law,” says Putin, “Snowden didn’t violate any law – he didn’t commit any crime.” And so with the US pointedly refusing to extradite Russians accused of crimes – such as terrorism – to Russia, “it was absolutely impossible for us to unilaterally extradite Snowden as the US was asking us to do.”

Talk about blowback!

There’s more news: Stone asks about the extent of Russian spying on the US, and Putin’s response is quite revealing, albeit not in the way Stone or anyone else expected:

“Yes, sure, I don’t have anything against their spying on us. But let me tell you something quite interesting. After radical changes – political changes – took place in Russia, we thought that we were surrounded by allies and no one else. And we also thought the United States was our ally. And this former president of the KGB, of the special services of Russia, all of a sudden he transferred to our American partners, our American friends, the old system of eavesdropping devices on the US Embassy in Moscow. And he did it unilaterally. Just all of a sudden, on a whim – as a token of trust symbolizing the transition to a new level.”

There was, however, no reciprocal move from the Americans: “We never witnessed any step from the United States toward us.”

Of course not.

Editorial note: This is the second of a multi-part series reviewing Oliver Stone’s “The Putin Interviews.”


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 49

June 27, 2017


Across the globe, “Adversary ballistic missile systems are becoming more mobile, survivable, reliable, and accurate while also achieving longer ranges.”

So concludes a new report from U.S. Department of Defense intelligence agencies entitled Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threats 2017.

The report provides an updated catalog of unclassified information on current and projected foreign ballistic and cruise missile systems.

The new report was first obtained and reported by Bloomberg News. See “Missile Threats Surging Worldwide, DOD Study Finds” by Tony Capaccio and Larry Liebert, June 26, 2017.

“Over 20 countries have ballistic missile systems, and missiles likely will be a threat in future conflicts involving US forces,” the report stated.

“Ballistic missiles have been used in several conflicts over the last 30 years, including the Iran-Iraq war, the Afghan civil war, the war in Yemen, the 1991 and 2003 Persian Gulf conflicts, the Russian military actions in Chechnya and Georgia, and most recently in the conflicts in Syria and the Ukraine. Russia used cruise missiles for the first time during the conflict in Syria.”


The US and China have successfully carried out a wide range of cooperative science and technology projects in recent years, the State Department told Congress last year in a newly released report.

Joint programs between government agencies on topics ranging from pest control to elephant conservation to clean energy evidently worked to the benefit of both countries.

“Science and technology engagement with the United States continues to be highly valued by the Chinese government,” the report said.

At the same time, “Cooperative activities also accelerated scientific progress in the United States and provided significant direct benefit to a range of U.S. technical agencies.”

The 2016 biennial report to Congress, released last week under the Freedom of Information Act, describes programs that were ongoing in 2014-2015.

See Implementation of Agreement between the United States and China on Science and Technology, report to Congress, US Department of State, April 2016.

Memo to Democrats: You Need A Clear Message for Universal Health Care

June 28 2017

by Mehdi Hasan

The Intercept

In 2009, the noted Republican strategist Frank Luntz wrote a memo to GOP members of Congress, advising them on how to resist the Democrats’ health care reform bill that would go on to become Obamacare. “Stop talking economic theory,” he said, use “words that work,” and offer a viable conservative alternative. “It’s not enough to just say what you’re against,” instructed Luntz. “You have to tell them what you’re for.”

Fast forward eight years. The tables have turned and Democrats have spent the past few weeks trying to resist Trumpcare — in the form of a now-postponed health care bill from Senate Republicans that was supposed to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. The bill was condemned by a wide array of nonpartisan health care groups, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would strip 22 million people of health insurance by 2026.

How did we get to this point? A point where Harvard researchers are warning of 217,000 additional deaths over the next decade from a loss of health coverage? Part of the blame has to lie with the Democrats, who failed to heed Luntz’s advice to the Republicans.

First, in defending Obamacare, they lacked “words that work.” For instance, how many people know, understand or even care what an “individual mandate” is? How about insurance “exchanges”? Or the “public option”? These technical terms and phrases have obscured more than they have clarified. They have also played into the hands of the Republicans, who have worked hard to ensure that the public view health care only through a partisan lens.

Remember: around one in three Americans is unaware of the fact that there is no difference between Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — they are one and the same. Many of these people tell pollsters that they like the ACA but dislike Obamacare. (Isn’t it odd how so many Americans’ view of a health care system changes when you put the foreign-sounding name of a black man in front of it?)

Second, Democrats have turned down opportunity after opportunity to offer a comprehensive health care alternative that guarantees coverage to all Americans (unlike Obamacare, which leaves around 27 million Americans uninsured.) During the Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton said a single-payer “health care for all” system would “never, ever come to pass.” Inspiring, huh?

As for those on the left like Bernie Sanders and — belatedly — Elizabeth Warren, who are keen to offer a progressive alternative to both Trumpcare and Obamacare in the form of guaranteed, government-funded health care for all, they may have a clear and inspiring policy alternative but whether they have a clear and inspiring message for it remains to be seen. For example, according to a February 2016 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, “nearly two thirds (64%) of Americans say they have a positive reaction to the term ‘Medicare-for-all,’ and most (57%) say the same about ‘guaranteed universal health coverage.’ Fewer have a positive reaction to ‘single payer health insurance system’ (44%) or ‘socialized medicine’ (38%).”

The words don’t work and, as a result, ignorance abounds.

“About half (53%) of Democrats say they have a very positive reaction to ‘Medicare-for-all’ compared with 21 percent who say the same for ‘single payer health insurance system,’” according to the Kaiser poll. But to be clear: “Medicare-for-all” and “single payer” refer to… the same exact thing.

So then “Medicare-for-all” must be the way to go, right? Rather than the bureaucratic-sounding and yawn-inducing “single payer”? Perhaps. Invoking Medicare to make the case for a system in which the government covers the cost of all health care claims, however, may not be the silver bullet that some on the left seem to think it is. Not everyone associates Medicare with the government. Remember the anti-Obamacare town halls in the summer of 2009, where attendees carried placards that read “Keep government out of my Medicare”? An August 2009 poll found that 39% of Americans said they wanted government to “stay out of Medicare” — which is, of course, impossible.

Why don’t progressives go with the simpler option of calling their single-payer proposal “universal health care”? Or “health care for all”? In San Francisco, a single payer system called “Healthy San Francisco” was launched a decade ago and has had very high approval ratings. How about Sanders, Warren et al push for a federal version called “Healthy America”?

Names and phrases matter. Why should conservatives have all the best tunes? As a Briton living in the United States, I can’t help but miss the UK’s National Health Service, the NHS, which is more popular with the British public than both the Royal Family and the armed forces.

Why? Not only because “international comparisons show that the NHS outperforms other countries, including the U.S., in terms of quality of care, efficiency, access and equity,” to quote health economist Andrew Street. It has always been clear what the NHS is and what it stands for. There is no need for “individual mandates”; no concept of “pre-existing conditions.” The NHS was founded, the legendary Labour health secretary and proud socialist Aneurin Bevan explained in 1948, on three core principles: that it “meet the needs of everyone,” that it “be free at the point of delivery,” and that it be based on “need, not ability to pay.”

UK governments of both right and left have signed up to these core principles. Almost 70 years after Bevan’s launch of the health service, it was Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron who, referring to the “magic” of the NHS, said: “You don’t have to produce your wallet or your credit card, you get great treatment because it’s a birthright of being British that we have a National Health Service that is free at the point of use and available to all who need it.”

Can you imagine a leading Republican describing free health care as a “birthright” for Americans? Where is the pressure on them to do so? Democrats should take a leaf out of Britain’s book. The NHS is a third rail of British politics because it is based on simple and popular principles. Complexity is the enemy of progress.

Back in February, President Trump was mocked for telling a meeting of governors at the White House that health care reform is “an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

“Nobody knew” is typical Trumpian bluster and ignorance. But, to take a step back: why is health care such an “unbelievable complex subject”? If the rest of the industrialized countries can guarantee health care to all their citizens, why can’t the United States? If the rest of the West treats health care as a right, not a privilege, why doesn’t the United States? If countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada can offer a viable and popular model of free health care for all, why shouldn’t the United States?

These are the very simple and direct questions that Democrats should be asking of their Republican opponents — and of the American people.


And again.

And again.


Facing revolt on healthcare bill, U.S. Senate Republicans delay vote

June 28, 2017

by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan


WASHINGTON-U.S. Senate Republican leaders postponed a vote on a healthcare overhaul on Tuesday after resistance from members of their own party, and President Donald Trump summoned Republican senators to the White House to urge them to break the impasse.

The delay put the future of a longtime top Republican priority in doubt amid concerns about the Senate bill from both moderate and conservative Republicans. With Democrats united in their opposition, Republicans can afford to lose only two votes among their own ranks in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been pushing for a vote ahead of the July 4 recess that starts at the end of the week. The legislation would repeal major elements of Obamacare and shrink the Medicaid government healthcare program for the poor.

“We’re going to press on,” McConnell said after announcing the delay, adding that leaders would keep working to make senators “comfortable” with the bill. “We’re optimistic we’re going to get to a result that is better than the status quo.”

At the White House meeting with most of the 52 Republican senators, Trump said it was vital to reach agreement on the Senate healthcare measure because Obamacare was “melting down.”

“So we’re going to talk and we’re going to see what we can do. We’re getting very close,” Trump told the senators. But he added, “If we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s okay.”

McConnell, whose party has a razor-thin majority in the 100-member Senate, told reporters that Republican leaders would work through the week to win over the 50 senators needed to pass the bill, with a vote planned after the recess. Vice President Mike Pence could provide the crucial vote needed to break a tie.

“I think we can get 50 votes to yes by the end of the week,” Republican Senator Roger Wicker said after the White House meeting.


The House of Representatives last month passed its own version of a healthcare bill, but the Senate bill has been criticized from both the left and the right. Moderate Republicans worried millions of people would lose their insurance. Conservatives said the bill does not do enough to erase Obamacare.

The bill’s prospects were not helped by a Congressional Budget Office analysis on Monday saying it would cause 22 million Americans to lose insurance over the next decade, although it would reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over that period.

The report prompted Senator Susan Collins, a Republican moderate, to say she could not support the bill as it stands. At least four conservative Republican senators said they were still opposed after the CBO analysis.

Three more Republicans, Rob Portman of Ohio, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, said after the delay was announced that they oppose the current draft.

Portman and Capito cited the bill’s Medicaid cutbacks and how that would hurt efforts to combat the opioid epidemic that has taken a heavy toll in their states. The Medicaid program was expanded under former President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

“I think giving time to digest is a good thing,” Republican Senator Bob Corker said after the delay was announced.


U.S. stock prices fell, as the decision to postpone the vote added to investor worries about Trump’s ability to deliver on his promises of tax reform and deregulation, as well as changes to the health sector. Those expected changes have driven a rally in U.S. stocks this year.

The benchmark S&P 500 index closed down 0.8 percent, and the Dow Jones industrial average finished down 0.46 percent.

“The market likes certainty and now there’s uncertainty. What is this going to look like when this gets out of the next iteration?” said Peter Costa, president of trading firm Empire Executions Inc.

Passing the measure would be a win for Trump as he seeks to shift attention after weeks of questions over Russia’s role in last year’s U.S. presidential election.

McConnell has promised since 2010 that Republicans, who view Obamacare as a costly government intrusion, would destroy the law “root and branch” if they controlled Congress and the White House. Republicans worry a failure to deliver will cost them votes in next year’s congressional elections.

If the Senate passes a healthcare bill, it will either have to be approved by the House or the two chambers would reconcile the differences in a conference committee. Otherwise, the House could pass a new version and send it back to the Senate.

Lawmakers are expected to leave town by Friday for their July 4 holiday break, which runs all next week. The Senate returns to work on July 10, the House on July 11. Lawmakers then have three weeks in session before their month-long August recess.

(This story corrects Dow Jones industrial average’s percent loss in 16th paragraph.)

(Additional reporting by Yasmeen Abulateb, Amanda Becker, Eric Walsh, Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Writing by John Whitesides and Frances Kerry; Editing by Leslie Adler)

 Trump moves to withdraw US water protection

US President Donald Trump has taken action to reverse an Obama-era rule that protects water from pollution nationwide. The rule has been a thorn in the side of industry – now, it could be scrapped.

June 28, 2017

by Louise Osborne


The Trump administration has announced plans to rescind the clean water regulation in a move that environmentalists are saying “defies common sense.”

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers have announced first steps to withdrawal Obama’s 2015 Clean Water Rule, which clarified which US water bodies and wetlands are protected under the Clean Water Act

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The move enacts an executive order signed by President Trump in February, which stated that although it was in the national interest to protect waters from pollution, it was also important to “promote economic growth” and “minimize uncertainty.”

The regulation was created the aim of ensuring that drinking water supplies do not become polluted.

Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, federal agencies are responsible for navigable rivers and lakes. But less clear is the status of 2 million miles of headwaters and streams, plus 20 million acres of wetlands. The Obama rule extended protection to those waters under the term “waters of the United States.”

Environmentalists say that by rescinding the rule, the Trump administration will put the drinking water sources of one in three Americans at risk.

“Clean water is vital to our ecology, our health and our quality of life. We are already seeing drinking water contaminated by the algal blooms and toxic chemicals,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney and clean water program director at Environment America.

“The last thing we should do is weaken protections for our water.”

Part of broader rollback

The move is the latest in a string of actions the president has undertaken to roll back environmental legislation put in place by the Obama administration. Trump has already withdrawn from the international Paris climate change agreement, and rescinded the Clean Power Plan, comprised of national regulation aimed at curbing carbon emissions from power plants.

The EPA move has been welcomed by farmers, fossil fuel companies and property-rights groups, which had fiercely criticized the Obama regulation, saying it amounted to federal overreach.

“This rule was never about clean water. It was a federal land grab designed to put a straightjacket on farming and private businesses across this nation,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Following its adoption in 2015, the Clean Water Rule was only shortly in effect. It was later stayed as part of a decision by the US Court of appeals in Cincinnati in response to a lawsuit from opponents. The EPA says that due to the stay, rescinding the rule will have no impact on existing practices.

The agency will make a final decision on whether to rescind the law following a 30-day public comment period. If it rescinds the rule, the agency will then reevaluate the definition of “waters of the United States.”


Tensions Rising in Balkans as Hopes for EU Future Fade

Fourteen years after being told they had a future in the European Union, countries in the Western Balkans are losing hope. Meanwhile, Turkish and Russian influence in the region is on the rise. So too is the nationalist rhetoric of old.

June 27, 2017

by Walter Mayr and Jan Puhl


The man who hopes to become the prime minister of Kosovo has a past, documented under case file IT-04-84 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Forty-eight-year-old Ramush Haradinaj, aka Smajl, was accused of crimes against humanity in 37 cases, including murder and torture.

The allegations are from the 1990s, when he was a field commander for the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) in the war against the Serbs. The court ultimately found Haradinaj not guilty, a product of witnesses declining to testify at the last moment or, in some cases, dying suddenly. The United Nations police force in Kosovo has accused the UÇK veteran of dealing cocaine, while Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, described him in a 2005 analysis as being the head of a group involved in “the entire spectrum of criminal activities.”

Despite his past, though, Haradinaj’s alliance of former fighters managed to emerge victorious in Kosovo parliamentary elections earlier this month. With 34 percent of the voters supporting his alliance, it is now up to him to form a governing coalition.

The news from Kosovo, the mini-republic located northeast of Albania, is consistent with the atmosphere in the Western Balkans these days. Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, all part of former Yugoslavia, have spent years waiting to become members of the European Union, but it seems in the early summer of 2017 as though they have almost been forgotten. And people there are beginning to lose their patience. The result: increasing numbers of people leaving the region, accelerated Islamization and rising nationalism. Violent protests recently in the Macedonian capital of Skopje along with ranting about a Greater Albania in both Tirana and Pristina, the capitals of Albania and Kosovo respectively, have served to demonstrate just how tense the situation has become.

Located at the historical intersection between the Orient and the Occident, the Western Balkans are something of a geopolitical no-man’s-land. Between the territories of EU member states Croatia and Greece, there are six countries in the region whose chances of joining the European bloc any time soon are extremely limited.

Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania: All were promised a future in the European Union at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, a time when optimism was widespread in the Balkans. But their hopes have been dashed: Not long after that summit, the EU switched from expansion to naval gazing, its energies being rerouted to the euro crisis and the dangers presented by populism and, more recently, Brexit.

Way back in 2010, then-Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg blasted the lack of attention paid to the Western Balkans, saying the region threatened to become “nitroglycerine under our behinds.” And now, it has become increasingly apparent that others are taking advantage of the West’s lack of action, including autocratically governed countries with historic ties to the Balkans like Russia and Turkey, in addition to new sponsors and mentors from the Persian Gulf.

The Balkans, a region that has produced numerous crises in Europe, is once again threatening to become a security risk. The attraction of the EU is fading and the nationalist rhetoric of the past is returning. If the EU had a joint foreign and defense policy, this would be its test case: the sustainable pacification of the Balkans.

  1. KOSOVO: The Threatening Scenario of Greater Albania

As a commander during the war, Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi’s codename was Gjarpri, Albanian for “snake,” because he hardly left any tracks. But for years now, criminal prosecutors have been on his tail.

In the 1990s, Thaçi was one of the founders of the paramilitary liberation army UÇK and has been president of Kosovo since 2016. And now, just as he has been handed the privilege of granting his old comrade Haradinaj the task of forming a government, he faces potential prosecution for war crimes by a special tribunal in The Hague.

Seemingly by chance, books about streetfighters-turned-politicians, such as Joschka Fischer and Gerry Adams, lie strewn about on Thaçi’s desk in the capital of Pristina. The president of Kosovo is intent on demonstrating that the Thaçi of today no longer has anything in common with the man who, as a German intelligence report once claimed, controlled “a criminal network active in all of Kosovo.”

Sitting amid the gold-gilded, Rococo chairs and crystal chandeliers in his office, the head of state makes it clear that he is interested in talking about Kosovo’s future, and not about his own past. “The main threat,” he says, “is that the EU will come too late to this region, thus leaving space for others, including radical Islamists.” He says he is also concerned about “rising nationalism in the region and the increase of Russian influence wherever Serbs live.” In April, Thaçi even threatened the unification of all Albanians in the Balkans in a joint state if the EU was to close its doors. Now, though, he says his comments were misunderstood.

Ten years after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, the country – the majority of whose population is comprised of ethnic Albanians — still finds itself among Europe’s step-children. Five EU member states and 75 additional UN countries have declined to recognize Kosovo as an independent nation — and it is the only European country west of Belarus whose residents require a visa to travel into the EU. Its isolation, combined with an official unemployment rate of almost 30 percent, has accelerated the exodus of mostly young Kosovars.

Increasing Islamism

“Every year, the German Embassy alone receives 55,000 visa applications,” says political scientist Naim Rashiti, “but it takes up to half a year to process them. By contrast, citizens of Kosovo can travel to Turkey without a visa. The EU still represents the promise of a better future, but in some parts of society, this certainty is eroding through Turkey’s growing influence in addition to increasing Islamism.”

Per capita, more fighters from Kosovo have joined Islamist militias in the Middle East than from any other country in Europe. One-sixth of the jihadists from Kosovo have fallen in battle, but many of them have since returned home. The government in Pristina does what it can to combat radical imams, but in a recent statement, the German government noted: “Saudi Arabian missionary organizations are also active in Kosovo, spreading the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam by sending preachers.”

For half a millennium, Kosovo was under Ottoman rule and now Turkish economic and cultural influence is again on the rise. Turkish investors have pumped a billion euros into sectors such as transportation and energy, but money has also been made available for private schools, student dormitories and grants for Koran students to study in Turkey.

The West, meanwhile, doesn’t quite know what to do about Kosovo. In 1999, NATO launched air strikes to end Serbian autocrat Slobodan Milosevic’s violent control over the Albanian-majority region and the international community pumped 33 billion euros into Kosovo in the period prior to 2008 alone. Indeed, the extent of that involvement might explain why Washington, Berlin and other Western capitals are unwilling to see Kosovo’s Feb. 17, 2008, declaration of independence for what it is: a violation of international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin is fond of pointing to Kosovo when justifying his own country’s annexation of the Crimea or de facto annexation of Abkhazia.

The U.S. was instrumental in paving the way for Kosovo’s independence and saw Hasim Thaçi as the young republic’s hope for the future – despite Thaçi’s instrumental leadership role in the UÇK, a group the U.S. State Department had listed as a terrorist organization as recently as 1998. In return, the U.S. was able to establish a heavily guarded military base in Kosovo – and 18 years after NATO intervention, the former rebel leaders of the UÇK still control political and economic life in the country. Ahead of the last parliamentary elections, they formed an alliance for the first time.

Ramush Haradinaj, the lead candidate and victor of those elections, promised voters that, were he to become prime minister, he would even annex areas within the republic of Serbia. Initially, though, he would likely face more pressing concerns. The new special tribunal in The Hague will soon be issuing indictments against former members of the UÇK leadership, perhaps including head-of-state Thaçi. Charges could include offenses such as murder, torture, sexual violence and illegal organ trafficking.

A Symbol of Rapprochement

For many, he is a hero, for others, a possible war criminal – what is that like? Kosovo President Thaçi pauses when asked the question in his office. Then, he says: “First of all, I was the supreme political commander, not the military commander. Second, no special tribunal in the world can rewrite history. We have nothing to hide.”

Hashim Thaçi complains that neighboring Serbia is treated as a model pupil. “Serbia is a failed state in the Western Balkans, nothing more,” says the Kosovo president. “It is the root of all evil in this region; Serbia is blocking Bosnia and violating the sovereignty of Kosovo and of Montenegro.” Thaçi says that Kosovo “fulfills 94 criteria for visa-free travel, but then a 95th is invented.”

It’s no wonder, he says, that his people are losing their patience and their trust in Brussels. Fellow Albanians in the neighboring states of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia see things the same way, he says. Thaçi denies dreaming of the establishment of a Greater Albania. Instead, he prefers to say: “Kosovo is Kosovo, we don’t want to redraw the borders. But we Albanians would like to, at some point, live in the same geographic space, without borders.”

Around 5 percent of the Kosovo population is still made up of Serbs. About an hour’s drive north of the capital, one arrives at a structure of steel and concrete stretching across the Ibar River. Rebuilt with the help of more than a million euros from the EU, the bridge connects the Albanian southern part of the city of Mitrovica with the largely Serbian northern part. New wooden benches have been installed on the riverbanks to facilitate encounters between the two ethnicities, but only pedestrians are allowed to cross the bridge.

Initially, the span was intended as a symbol of rapprochement, but it has instead become emblematic of a lasting conflict. Fully 90 percent of the Kosovar Serbs still say that don’t want to live in a state with Albanians North of the river, Serbian flags still fly in the divided city.

Thus far, a resurgence of violence between Serbs and Albanians has been prevented primarily due to funding and pressure from the EU. That money is distributed on both sides of the river and houses and streets are being fixed up across the entire city. Brussels has also pressured Serbia into no longer providing Serbian residents of Kosovo with passports, with which they could enter the EU without a visa.

And in Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has left no doubt that he is willing to sacrifice the Kosovo Serbs on the altar of an EU future.

  1. MACEDONIA: Ethnic Tensions and European Hopes

The further south you drive from Pristina toward the border with Macedonia, the less ubiquitous becomes the blue flag of Kosovo – and the more prevalent the double-headed eagle flag of neighboring Albania. It is the symbol of that which binds across all borders.

In Macedonia, formerly the southernmost republic of Yugoslavia, Albanians represent 25 percent of the population. They tend to be concentrated near Macedonia’s western border and traditionally feel closer to their fellow Albanians in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro than to their Slavic countrymen.

On April 27, Talat Xhaferi became president of Macedonian parliament, the first time ever that an ethnic Albanian had been chosen for that position. A mini-flag with the double-headed Albanian eagle can be found on his desk as well. After he was elected, violence broke out, with followers of long-time nationalist-conservative ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski storming the parliament and assaulting their political adversaries. In the eyes of Slavic-Macedonian ultra-nationalists, Xhaferi’s election represents the first step toward the country’s partition, and they are concerned that a “binational” arrangement could ultimately lead to the establishment of Greater Albania.

This worry is partly the result of a trip taken to Albania in late 2016 by three senior Albanian-Macedonian politicians. In the capital of Tirana, they joined Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in signing a “platform” with a long list of demands. Later, both Rama and Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi hinted that the Albanians, disappointed as they are with the EU, could seek to shift borders in the region.

The rift between political parties and ethnic groups in Macedonia has become deeper in recent years, despite it having long been a model country in the Balkans. It achieved independence in 1991 without the firing of a single shot and quickly applied to join Western political and military alliances.

Macedonia, population 2 million, has had an Association Agreement with the EU for 16 years, has been an accession candidate for 11 years and, fully nine years ago, was at the cusp of becoming a member of NATO. Yet neither membership in EU nor NATO has come to fruition, and Macedonia’s southern neighbor Greece is primarily to blame. Athens has consistently exercised its veto right, complaining that the name Macedonia is historically the provenance of ethnic Greeks. Greece wants Macedonia to change its name.

Prime Minister Gruevski, who stepped down in 2016, was initially considered to be pro-European, only changing course once he realized that the EU and NATO couldn’t even solve the name conflict with Greece. He developed into an autocrat and he now stands accused of electoral fraud, corruption and large-scale surveillance of civilians. He also transformed the center of Skopje into a nationalist-Macedonian Disneyland – with gigantic, totalitarian-esque bronze statues recalling a glorious past.

A pro-European protest movement, known as the Colorful Revolution, developed in the country in response to Gruevski’s rule, with demonstrators throwing paint bombs at monuments to the premier’s government. In spring 2016, Simona Spirovska became the face of the revolution; the red-headed actress still wears a military jacket flecked with paint from back then, when she would frequently join the paint throwers. “The useless buffoon,” as she says, got on her nerves. “Recently, a lot of EU money flowing into Macedonia has been diverted.”

The government, accusing the demonstrators of being Albanian though the movement was in fact diverse, used the protests to enflame ethnic conflict. Ultimately, the EU was able to negotiate a deal with the parties to the conflict which led to new elections. With Albanian support, Social Democrat Zoran Zaev won – a representative of the political old guard who has been under investigation for corruption.

Currently, there is no obvious way out of the dead-end into which Macedonia has maneuvered itself. “The EU is slowly losing its regulative power here and support for united Europe is falling,” a Western political consultant in Skopje warns. And Simona Spirovska, the actress and activist, says: “Our mission isn’t over. It has only just begun.”

  1. BOSNIA and HERZEGOVINA: Faces of Ethnic Partition

Vernes Voloder lived not even 500 meters from the Stari Most, the famous Old Bridge of Mostar, in the Muslim eastern side of the city when the 1991 war began. He survived the siege by Orthodox Serbs and the following skirmishes between the Catholic Croatians and the Muslim Bosniaks, who had initially been allies. But by the time the Croatians blew up the famous Stari Most spanning the turquoise Neretva River in 1993, Voloder had already left his hometown. “This bridge, which connected the Muslim quarter with the Croatian quarter was a fact of life for us,” he says. Mostar, one of the largest multi-ethnic cities of Yugoslavia prior to the outbreak of war, had lost its symbol. Today, a quarter-century later, the bridge is back, its reconstruction financed with millions of euros from the EU.

A slender 40-year-old in jeans and a hipster T-shirt, Voloder has since returned to Mostar and walks almost every day from the Muslim eastern part of the city to the Croatian sector in the west. He works for a non-profit institute as an “ethno-therapist,” seeking to get Croats and Bosniaks talking to one another again.

Even 25 years after the war broke out, Serbs, Croatians and Bosniaks are still feuding with each other within the confines of the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation. The Serbian half of the republic is threatening to secede and to remove all reference to the genocidal slaughter of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica from their school books.

In 1995, after U.S. air strikes put an end to the Serbian massacre of Muslims, Washington leaned on the three warring parties to sign a peace deal in Dayton. It is still in force today. The problem, however, is that the peace agreement solidified ethnic segregation. Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of a Serbian entity – the Republika Srpska – and a federation of Croatian and Bosniak entities. Political offices are dispersed using a complicated formula aimed at parity and several institutions exist in triplicate, such as electricity suppliers, pension funds, water supply facilities and district councils.

In the street where Voloder works, there is a public transportation training facility where young Bosnians take classes until 12:30 p.m., followed by Croatians in the afternoon. There are two school directors and two different teams of teachers. It took Voloder months to get the teachers to sit down at a table together and talk about teaching Croats and Bosniaks together for at least a couple hours a week. He was successful until the moment when a television broadcaster showed up and interviewed a Croatian student who said he couldn’t stand Muslims. That brought a premature end to the dream of joint schooling.

Billions in development aid from the EU has likewise been unable to change the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina remains a poorly functioning entity. Its residents have shown little interest in stepping across the ethnic divide for the good of the commonwealth.

“Our politicians have made things comfortable for their clientele in the bloated public sector,” says Amna Popovac, the Muslim founder of a citizens’ initiative in Mostar. “Regardless of whether they are Croatian or Bosniak, Dayton marked the birth of a political class that has no interest in democratic controls.” She says that city leaders have spent 300 million euros in tax money and EU aid in the last nine years.

To obscure the lack of progress, Bosnia’s politicians continue to resort to the same nationalist language common in the 1990s. Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska, for example, has been demanding for years that the Serbian portion of the country secede, which would be a violation of the Dayton Accords. In the Croatian cantons, meanwhile, Dragan Covi is promoting the establishment of an exclusively Croatian region, with the ultimate goal of becoming part of EU-member Croatia. The EU, protector and sponsor of the cold peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has remained silent on the issue.

Cutting off funding to the country is not an option, says an EU representative in Bosnia who would like to remain anonymous. That would be “welcome to the rabble rousers on all sides,” he says. “We would produce martyrs.”

In the early summer of 2017, there is no war in the Western Balkans, nor are there pockets of civil conflict. There is, however, a growing repudiation of the European project across the entire region. While it may be understandable that the EU is losing its attraction and influence as a symbol of security and prosperity, it is also dangerous. Peace in the Western Balkans is being threatened by the barely concealed Albanian ambition for a common state beyond existing borders just as it is by the megalomania of Serb nationalists.

What is currently taking place in the Balkans, says the EU representative in Mostar, is a total masquerade. Nobody in the EU believes, he says, “that Bosnia will become a member in the foreseeable future.” As such, the country is making little effort to conform to European standards. “The attraction of the European Union has faded. We are no longer a role model.”

In 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I will be celebrated. Three years ago, Angela Merkel launched the so-called Berlin Process, an attempt to build a bridge from Brussels to the Western Balkans. It was originally set to be completed in 2018, but given the current state of affairs, even small steps would be seen as achievements worthy of celebration: visa-free travel to the EU for citizens of Kosovo, for example, or Bosnian access to EU structural funds. Or a solution to Macedonia’s name-conflict with Greece.

And in return: The promise of lasting peace in the Balkans.


The American Military: It is not too small. Rather, its responsibilities are too many.

June 2017

by Doug Bandow


Republicans typically argue that government is too big. But not when it comes to the military.

Many in the GOP seem to believe that the armed services can never be large enough. So they constantly beat the drums for a military build-up. In fact, one of the few issues today which unite President Donald Trump and Sen. John McCain is increasing military spending.

Unfortunately, when Washington debates the military, it usually is in budget terms. But it makes no sense to vote more or less money for the armed services without considering what it is expected to do. In effect, the Pentagon budget is the price of American foreign policy.

U.S. military outlays and foreign policy are out of balance today. Military hawks argue that America devotes too little to the armed services. But they are wrong to believe that Washington must continue doing everything it has been doing around the world — indeed, that it must do more, ever more.

Military hawks argue that America devotes too little to the armed services. But they are wrong to believe that Washington must continue doing everything it has been doing around the world.

America remains the unipower, defending rich industrialized nations, rebuilding failed Third World states, and doing most everything in between. These are largely duties of choice rather than necessity. They are also choices the U.S. no longer can afford.

Coming out of World War II, Washington was forced to act as guardian of the free world, if not quite the universe. Western Europe and Japan had been ravaged by war; the Soviet Union had turned into an aggressive superpower with an Eastern European empire; a radical Communist revolution had transformed China. In response, America established a globe-spanning presence involving alliances, bases, and deployments.

But that world disappeared long ago. Both sides of the equation changed.

America’s allies recovered in both Asia and Europe. Real Communism evaporated: the Soviet Union dissolved along with the Soviet Empire, and the “People’s Republic” of China joined the capitalist world. Today, Europe possesses a larger economy and population than America and vastly larger than Russia. South Korea has about 40 times the GDP and twice the population of North Korea. After China’s rise, Japan still enjoys the third largest economy on Earth.

Rather than permanently treat allied states as helpless dependents, the U.S. should shift responsibility for their defense to them.  This is not burden-sharing, the unproductive argument over whether, for instance, European military outlays are hitting some arbitrary percentage of GDP.  Instead, it is burden-shedding. Populous and prosperous states should take over their own defense. Rolling back defense commitments in Asia and Europe would allow the U.S. to downsize its force structure.

The U.S. also should drop its propensity for nation-building and regime change. Of America’s recent interventions — Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan — only the latter advanced America’s security interests, and only the initial overthrow of the Taliban. Nearly 16 years of nation-building have consumed American lives and wealth for no good purpose. The other wars did far more to spread chaos, weapons, and terrorism than encourage peace and stability. Washington should set a far higher bar for miscellaneous meddling, which would allow reliance on a smaller military more narrowly focused on the few essential tasks which only the U.S. can perform.

Military retrenchment is not popular in the Republican Party. But America’s coming financial infirmity may allow no other course.

An ancillary benefit of military restraint would be making fewer enemies and creating fewer terrorists. The causes of terrorism are complex, but it usually acts as war by other means. The more the U.S. bombs, invades, and occupies other nations, the more it encourages attacks on Americans and the American homeland. Washington must continue to kill or incapacitate those who mean America ill. But the U.S. also should act to create fewer enemies. Doing so would further reduce the need for military force structure and outlays.

Military retrenchment is not popular in the Republican Party. But America’s coming financial infirmity may allow no other course. Absent a new sense of fiscal responsibility on Capitol Hill — don’t laugh, miracles do happen! — annual federal deficits will hit a trillion dollars in just six years. The accumulated deficit over the coming decade will be $9.4 trillion.

And that’s the good news. The red ink becomes a tsunami in the following years. Federal debt as a percentage of GDP currently runs about 77 percent, the highest since the early post- World War II years. But the CBO warns that this percentage will double by 2047, higher than the levels in Greece before the latter’s fiscal crisis.

The U.S. no longer can do it all overseas. It’s time for Washington to shift to a foreign policy of restraint. Doing so would allow America to field a smaller military and spend less on the armed forces.
















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