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TBR News September 22, 2017

Sep 22 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 22, 2017:”If the foreign media had not been covering the lunatic atomic weapons threats of North Korea, I would be of the opinion this was government propaganda put out to justify more, and more serious, military activity. The threats by North Korea of detonating an atmospheric atomic weapon has annoyed their ally, the PRC and the Russians. That Trump would launch an atomic preemptive strike is quite doubtful but if the North Koreans goad him enough, he might.”

Table of Contents

  • A North Korean nuclear test over the Pacific? Logical, terrifying
  • Entire towns in Mexico flattened as scale of earthquake damage emerges
  • China fumes over S&P credit rating downgrade
  • Is that computer security company loyal to you, or collaborating with the government?
  • More Republicans Now Support Free College Than Oppose It, Poll Finds
  • Catalonia independence bid – what you need to know
  • Kurds press historic independence vote despite regional fears
  • Russian sub hits terrorist group with Kalibr missiles after military police attacked
  • China urges North Korea not to go further in a ‘dangerous direction’
  • The Slow Death of Europe’s Social Democrats


 A North Korean nuclear test over the Pacific? Logical, terrifying

September 22, 2017

by Hyonhee Shin, Linda Sieg


SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – Detonating a nuclear-tipped missile over the Pacific Ocean would be a logical final step by North Korea to prove the success of its weapons program but would be extremely provocative and carry huge risks, arms control experts said on Friday.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho suggested leader Kim Jong Un was considering testing “an unprecedented scale hydrogen bomb” over the Pacific in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country.

“It may mean North Korea will fire a warhead-tipped (intermediate range) Hwasong-12 or Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile and blow it up a few hundred kilometers above the Pacific Ocean,” said Yang Uk, a senior researcher at the Korea Defence and Security Forum in Seoul.

“They may be bluffing, but there is a need for them to test their combined missile-bomb capability. They could have already prepared the plan and are now trying to use Trump’s remarks as an excuse to make it happen,” said Yang.

Such an atmospheric test would be the first globally since China detonated a device in 1980, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Tests of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles are rarer still. The United States’ only test of an operational ballistic missile with a live warhead was fired from submarine far out in the Pacific Ocean in 1962.

China was widely condemned for a similar test with a missile that exploded over its Lop Nur test site in the country’s west in 1966.

North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, the most recent earlier this month by far its largest.

“We have to assume they *could* do it, but it is exceedingly provocative,” said Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“To put a live nuclear warhead on a missile that’s only been tested a handful of times, overflying potentially populated centers. If it…doesn’t go exactly as planned….it could be a world changing event.”

North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles over Japan’s north Hokkaido region in the past month as part of a series of tests that experts say have illustrated unexpectedly rapid advances.

“They said Pacific Ocean, which pretty much means firing a missile over Japan,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. “They want to shut us all up for doubting they could build it.”


While a missile would be the most ideal means of delivery, it is also possible to put a bomb on a ship and detonate on the surface of the ocean or in the sea, the experts said.

Either way, the radioactive fallout could be significant, as well as the diplomatic backlash from around the world. North Korea’s recent missile launches over Japan especially drew stern rebukes from Tokyo and the international community.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called Pyongyang’s remarks and behavior “completely unacceptable”.

Narang said a test high enough over the ocean would limit the radioactive fallout but risks included damage from an electro-magnetic pulse, something Pyongyang has hinted it might employ on an attack on the United States or its allies.

“If it doesn’t go exactly as planned and the detonation occurs at a lower altitude we could see some EMP-like effects for anything in the area. A lot of dead fish too.”

Pyongyang has launched dozens of missiles this year as it spurs a program aimed at mastering a nuclear-tipped missile that can strike the United States, in addition to its Sept 3 nuclear test.

If Kim’s threat materializes, it will be a “tipping point” for China, and may prompt many other countries to demand an “end to the regime,” said David Albright, founder of the non-profit Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.

“No one has tested above ground for decades and the radioactive fallout could be terrifying to many,” Albright said.

Other experts said such an atmospheric nuclear test is unlikely for now due to its substantial technical and diplomatic risks.

Joshua Pollack, editor of the Washington-based Nonproliferation Review, said it would be an “end-to-end demo of everything.”

“But I would be surprised if this were their very next move. They have yet to test an ICBM at full range into the Pacific,” said Pollack. “That will probably come first.”

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul, Nobuhiro Kubo and Timothy Kelly in Tokyo, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast


Entire towns in Mexico flattened as scale of earthquake damage emerges 

  • Thousands of left homeless in towns and communities outside Mexico City as official rescue and relief efforts struggle to cope with the widespread destruction
  • Mexico earthquake: rescuers keep searching as death toll climbs to 250 – live

Rescuers work to pull children from collapsed school in Mexico City

September 21, 2017

by Nina Lakhani and David Agren in Mexico City

The GuardianHopes that rescuers will find more survivors trapped beneath collapsed buildings in central Mexico were fading on Thursday, as the scale of the devastation wreaked by the country’s deadliest earthquake for a generation started to become clear.

The death toll from Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude quake rose to 282, including at least 137 in the capital, and was almost certainly set to rise as rescue workers continue to search the precarious ruins amid the threat of aftershocks, collapsing rubble and gas leaks.

Parts of Mexico City – which is built on a drained lakebed – were devastated in the quake which struck 32 years to the day after the country’s deadliest earthquake killed thousands and laid waste to the capital.

But details of the destruction outside the capital are only now starting to emerge, with reports of entire towns flattened and thousands of people left homeless.

Directly south of Mexico City in Morelos state, the death toll stands at 73. The damage was especially acute in the municipality of Jojutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.

“Jojutla is damaged badly, but there are communities that have suffered the same or worse,” said Óscar Cruz, a spokesman with the local Catholic diocese, who added all 89 Catholic parishes in the state suffered damage. “What’s tragic is that the damage is worst in the poorest pueblos.”

The office of president Enrique Peña Nieto said there were also 73 deaths in Morelos state, 43 in Puebla, 13 in the State of Mexico, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

In Puebla state, authorities have declared a state of “extraordinary emergency” in 112 municipalities – equivalent to 51% of the region.

At least 1,700 homes have been declared uninhabitable and should be demolished over coming months, according to the state governor. The number could well rise after experts finish more exhaustive inspections.

In Metepec, a quaint colonial town, almost every house and business has suffered structural damage, raising fears among residents that the rebuild could take years.

Calls for urgent help and supplies in towns and communities outside the capital continue to be posted on social networks as official rescue and relief efforts struggle to cope with the widespread destruction.

Hopes that survivors could still be found were boosted by round-the-clock coverage of the navy-led search for a 12-year-old girl believed to be trapped under a collapsed school in the south of Mexico City.

In the hours after the quake struck, 11 children were rescued from the Enrique Rebsámen school, but 21 children and five adults have been found dead so far. For two days, the country was captivated by the story of the girl, identified as Frida Sofía, as TV networks and authorities repeatedly reported that her rescue was imminent.

But as the hours passed without progress, confusion and anger mounted amid contradictory reports from the scene; critics accused the country’s main broadcasters of peddling false hope and neglecting the rest of the quake’s victims.

On Thursday the navy announced that in fact there was no child under the rubble, but the rescue mission would continue as an adult survivor could still be trapped.

There was also growing anger at alleged attempts by the armed forces, which have taken over many of the rescue operations initially led by volunteers, and had started to raze collapsed buildings less than 72 hours after the earthquake – prompting fears that they could destroy buildings where survivors remained trapped.

In the trendy La Roma neighbourhood, the navy reportedly shut down a rescue operation in an office block on Thursday morning in order to start bulldozing the unstable structure from which 24 survivors had been pulled free.

The sobbing mother of one young woman trapped inside told Televisa “I will not let the navy bulldoze this building when my daughter and other people are still trapped inside and could be alive.”

Reports of clashes between volunteer rescue workers and the armed forces are also surfacing across the capital.

“The army has a history of imposing brutal triage rules for natural disasters which dates back to the 1985 earthquake,” said public policy analyst Rodolfo Soriano Nuñez. “They might get away with this arrogant approach in Oaxaca or Chiapas, but not in Mexico City.”

As cracks started to show in what has been until now lauded as a unified national response, extraordinary tales of survival continue to lift spirits.

Ashley Skoch, 29, was lying in bed watching TV on the sixth floor of a seven-storey apartment block in La Condesa that was toppled by the tremor.

Skoch, from Seattle, arrived in the city a few hours before the earthquake struck to visit a friend who had lived in the building for two years. She jumped up and ducked at the foot of the bed as the walls began to crack and the building “slid down like a layer cake”, she told the Guardian. It almost certainly saved her life.

“When I came to, my head was bleeding, a giant pillar had fallen onto the bed but I wasn’t trapped and could move my body. I was in shock but I put on my pants, grabbed my backpack and laptop and got myself out of the rubble and sat down.”

Nearby construction workers rushed to the scene of the collapsed building and used a crane to lift her to the ground. By this time, Skoch could barely stand, so a man carried her down the road and tried to stop the bleeding until an ambulance arrived and took her to a clinic, from where she was able to contact her friend. Skoch sustained a compound fracture to the spine, but should make a full recovery.

“I feel lucky, but can’t make sense of why I survived when so many others died or are still missing.”


China fumes over S&P credit rating downgrade

China is angry at Standard and Poor’s (S&P) following a downgrade of its creditworthiness by the ratings agency over concerns about the country’s rising debt.

S&P underestimated China’s financial strength, Beijing said.

September 22, 2017


China’s Ministry of Finance said on Friday that S&P’s downgrade of Chinese sovereign debt was a “wrong decision” and based on a “long-standing mode of thinking, and misreading of the Chinese economy.”

On Thursday, the New York based ratings agency cut China’s sovereign credit rating from A+ to AA- , however keeping the country’s outlook on “stable.” The one-notch downgrade came after Moody’s Investors Service made a similar move in May – the first time in almost three decades that the nation’s credit rating was cut.

In a statement, S&P said it decided to make the call after concluding that China’s “de-risking” drive that started early this year was having less of an impact on credit growth than initially expected.

“Despite the fact that the government has shown greater resolve to implement the deleveraging policy, we continue to see overall credit in the corporate sector staying at a 9 percent point,” S&P senior director of sovereign ratings, Kim Eng Tan, said in a conference call. “We’ve now come to the conclusion that deleveraging is likely to be much more gradual than we thought could have been the case early this year.”

Debt-fueled investment in infrastructure and real estate has underpinned China’s growth for years. But Beijing has launched a crackdown amid fears of a potential financial crisis.

Ballooning debt

China’s banks extended a record 12.65 trillion yuan ($1.84 trillion or 1.60 trillion euros) of loans in 2016, roughly the size of Italy’s economy. Total social financing (TSF) – a broad measure of credit and liquidity in the economy – was a record 17.8 trillion yuan.

Tan said broader lending by all financial institutions has started to rise after growing by a relatively steady 12-13 percent in the last few years. “That was the key metric that we look at…and we believe while this growth of aggregate debt financing could come down somewhat over the next few years, it’s not likely to come down very sharply,” he noted.

But the Finance Ministry accused S&P of ignoring the country’s economic fundamentals and development potential as the world’s second-largest economy.

“China is able to maintain the stability of its financial systems through cautious lending, improved government supervision and credit risk controls,” the ministry said in a statement Friday. “[S&P’s] view neglects the characteristics of China’s financial market fundraising structure and the accumulated wealth and material support from Chinese government’s spending.”

As a matter of fact, China’s economic growth has unexpectedly accelerated this year, racing ahead at 6.9 percent in the first half. But much of the impetus has come from record bank lending, a property boom and sharply higher government stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending.

Moreover, analysts say China’s campaign to cut financial risks this year has had mixed success, prompting doubts whether Beijing is moving fast enough to avert the dangers of a debt crisis down the road.

Hong Kong hit by fallout

On Friday, S&P also slashed Hong Kong’s top-notch credit rating, warning of potential spillover risks from the mainland’s ballooning debt pile.

The ratings agency cited Hong Kong’s “very strong institutional and political linkages” with China, saying: “We view a weakening of credit support for China as exerting a negative impact on the ratings on Hong Kong beyond what is implied by the territory’s currently strong credit metrics.”

Despite Hong Kong’s “very strong” credit metrics, S&P said the territory still faced multiple challenges including sky-high property prices and rising interest rates in the United States, to which the city’s monetary policy was tied.


Is that computer security company loyal to you, or collaborating with the government?

September 20, 2017

by Tim Johnson


WASHINGTON  —The Trump administration’s ban on the use of a Russian cybersecurity firm’s software is heightening suspicion worldwide that private internet firms might be in league with their home governments, an industry leader said Wednesday.

The Trump administration last week told U.S. government agencies to remove Kaspersky Lab products from their networks, citing alleged ties between officials at Moscow-based Kaspersky and Russian intelligence. Non-government entities and individuals may still use Kaspersky products.

But whether Russia retaliates or not, mistrust of the cybersecurity field has risen, and U.S. adversaries are likely to avoid U.S.-built software, believing that U.S. intelligence agencies may have special access, Greg Clark, chief executive of Symantec, said Wednesday.

“If you’re China, if you’re Russia, do you want to run American-built stuff? Probably not,” Clark said at a presentation hosted by the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security at The George Washington University.

The Sept. 13 directive from the Homeland Security Department ordered all federal entities to remove Kaspersky security software from their networks, noting its concern about “ties between certain Kaspersky officials and Russian intelligence.” Russian law compels Kaspersky to assist the nation’s intelligence agencies, it added.

Clark defended the DHS directive, saying that U.S. intelligence officials “are very good at what they do. … I think we should listen to what they have to say.”

Russia has not formally issued a retaliatory measure to the Kaspersky ban. But in early September, Russian President Vladimir Putin told state companies that they should avoid running foreign software because it poses a risk to national security.

“In certain areas, the state will inevitably say to you: ‘You know, we cannot buy that, because somewhere a button will be pressed and here everything will go down,’” Reuters reported, citing the Interfax news agency. “So bear that in mind.”

Clark said he “absolutely” worries about the precedent of linking a private cybersecurity company to a state intelligence network, adding that Symantec, a leading global company based in Mountain View, California, with $4 billion in annual revenue, had faced challenges in that regard as well.

U.S. technology companies are already paying a price for the alleged activities of intelligence agencies, said Leo Taddeo, a former FBI cyber specialist who currently is chief information security officer with Cyxtera Technologies, a Coral Gables, Florida, firm that offers internet infrastructure and security solutions

Following the revelations of disgruntled NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, which included reports of U.S. intelligence spying on foreign heads of state, some countries sought to ensure that their data was protected, Taddeo said, specifically requiring data storage centers within their own borders.

“Under the umbrella of protecting privacy, what is happening is that data must reside in Germany, for example, and as a result data centers in Germany get more business,” Taddeo said in an interview.

Taddeo said he didn’t know why the decision on Kaspersky came out this month after years of U.S. concern that the firm was linked to Russian intelligence, a charge the company had previously denied.

He said the timing may have resulted from concern that any formal charge would tip off the Kremlin to how U.S. officials grew suspicious.

“You want to get it right. And you don’t want to tip your hand too soon,” Taddeo said.

Clark of Symantec, which is a direct competitor of Kaspersky, said his company is not concerned about retaliation from Russia.

“We do have some sales in Russia,” he said, noting that its own Norton antivirus software is sold there. But he added: “For our firm, Russia is not a territory of economic significance.”

Moreover, Russian law requires that foreign companies turn over source code for cybersecurity products for review, an action that can allow proprietary technology to be lost.

“We are the firm that said no to the review of our source code. I’m fine with the consequences of not being able to sell it there,” Clark said.

Just as Kaspersky came under suspicion in the United States, U.S. technology companies have also faced misgivings abroad, he said. Suspicion jumped after a hacker group calling itself The Shadow Brokers appeared in mid-2016 and divulged what it claimed were stolen cyber-weapons from the top-secret National Security Agency. The tools revealed a series of vulnerabilities in products of big software and tech companies, including Microsoft.

“Overseas, there were a lot of inquiries from some very large customers of ours saying, why don’t you guys have anything in there?” Clark said.

After explaining to clients how its own software blocked some of the alleged NSA exploits, Clark said Symantec was able to allay suspicions. But concerns remain latent that other U.S. companies may be collaborating with federal agencies.

“There is concern that North American companies may be doing things,” Clark said. “There have been examples of very powerful security firms doing things that are not good for their customers,” he added, without providing names.


More Republicans Now Support Free College Than Oppose It, Poll Finds

September 21, 2017

by Zaid Jilani

The Intercept

Bernie Sanders’s plan to make tuition free at all public colleges and universities is becoming a mainstream position in the Democratic Party.

But the plan has appeal far beyond the Democratic faithful.

A Morning Consult poll conducted in mid-September finds that a plurality of self-identified Republicans now agree with a “proposal to make four-year public colleges and universities tuition-free,” as the question is worded.

Forty-seven percent of Republican respondents say they strongly or somewhat support the proposal, while 45 percent say they strongly or somewhat oppose it. Seven percent say they don’t know or have no opinion.

Among self-identified tea party backers, support is also strong — with 50 percent saying they support the proposal while 49 percent oppose it.

Overall, 63 percent of Americans support the proposal, while 29 percent oppose it.

Congress, meanwhile, has no problem spending the kind of money it would take to make the proposal a reality. Earlier this week, the Senate approved a military policy bill that included an increase in funding for the military so large that it alone could fund free college.

Commenting on the poll, the right-wing website HotAir laments the possibility that our incumbent president may learn how popular social democratic policy is: “A lot of Republicans want their free sh*t too. God forbid Trump figures that out.”

The poll also shows support for a number of cutting-edge social spending proposals. For instance, 43 percent of Americans said they support a universal basic income, versus 39 percent who are opposed.


Catalonia independence bid – what you need to know

Catalonia is set to go to the polls on October 1 to vote in a referendum on independence from Spain. But do Catalans really want independence and are they ready? DW has the lowdown.

September 22, 2017

by Chase Winter


Catalonia’s separatist regional government plans to hold a controversial referendum on independence from Spain on October 1.

If the referendum passes, the administration said it would declare independence within 48 hours.

In recent days, Catalan nationalist protests have erupted in the region’s capital Barcelona and other towns over a government crackdown on the vote.

What led to the independence drive?

Catalonia has been a part of Spain since the 15th century. Catalan nationalists have pressed for greater autonomy for decades, but calls for independence have risen since 2010.

Catalan nationalists argue that they are a nation with a distinct language, culture and history separate from Spain. Independence, they say, will protect the Catalan nation from the encroachment of Spanish language and culture.

Former Spanish dictator Francisco Franco suppressed Catalan autonomy and identity during his 1938-75 rule. But the democratic constitution that emerged from dictatorship granted Catalonia autonomy in 1979.

Nationalist sentiment was sparked after Spanish Supreme Court in 2010 overturned parts of a new 2006 Statute of Autonomy, which had been agreed to by the Catalan parliament and Spanish government with the support of a referendum.

Among the 14 articles in the Statute of Autonomy stuck down by the Supreme Court were those that gave preference to the Catalan language and empowered the region’s control over finances. Its ruling that there was no legal basis to describe the Catalan people as a “nation” enraged nationalists.

Massive Catalan nationalist protests ensued, leading to a non-binding referendum in 2014 despite Madrid calling it illegal. The referendum passed with 80 percent voting in favor, but turnout was less that 40 percent.

The referendum galvanized nationalists, who took control of parliament in 2015 following elections vowing to hold an official independence referendum.

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont called for an independence referendum in June. The Catalan parliament in September then voted to authorize the vote on October 1.

How did the Spanish government react?

The government in Madrid and Supreme Court have declared the referendum illegal.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has vowed to prevent the vote, including through force. Action taken so far includes:

– Police raiding Catalan government offices, arresting officials and confiscating 10 million ballot papers and other voting materials.

– More than two-thirds of the region’s nearly 900 mayors who plan to facilitate the vote being called in for questioning and facing arrest if they move forward with the referendum.

The crackdown has raised questions over whether Catalonia – one of Spain’s wealthiest regions – will be able to organize a credible vote. At the same time, some analysts worry that Madrid’s hardhanded tactics to stop the referendum could boost support for independence.

Do Catalans support independence?

Catalonia’s roughly 5.5 million voters will be asked a “Yes” or “No” question: “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

– A poll conducted by the Catalan government in June found that 41.1 percent of respondents were in favor of independence, while 49.4 percent were against.

– However, of the 67.5 percent of voters who said they would participate in the referendum, 62.4 percent said they would vote “Yes” and 37.6 percent responded “No.”

– The same poll showed that 62 percent of respondents think Catalonia has an “insufficient level of autonomy” compared to 26.4 percent who said there is a “sufficient level of autonomy.”

– Furthermore, 48 percent said they want to hold a referendum, regardless of central government permission, while 23.4 percent were in favor of a vote only if Madrid agreed.

Therefore, the results of the October 1 referendum, just like the one held in 2014, may hinge on voter turnout.

What powers does the Catalonia government have now?

Catalonia, an economic powerhouse that makes up one-fifth of Spain’s GDP, complains that it sends €10 billion ($12 billion) more to Madrid than it receives back. The 2010 Supreme Court decision restricting the region’s control over finances fueled resentment at a time the country was struggling in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Opponents of the financial argument point out that it is only fair that Catalonia helps support less developed regions, considering that the Constitution grants “self-government of the nationalities and regions and solidarity among them all.”

– Catalonia is politically organized under the Generalitat de Catalunya, with a parliament, president and executive council.

– The region is granted considerable autonomy over culture, education, health, parts of the justice system and local government.

– It has its own police force, Mossos d’Esquadra, although Spanish police also have a presence in the region.

– The government is also able to collect taxes on wealth, inheritance, gambling and transport. The central government collects income tax, corporate taxes and value-added taxes.

Impact of the vote

Whether the independence referendum passes or fails, it is likely to set off a legal battle and power struggle between Madrid and Catalonia.

A “Yes” vote threatens to hit Spanish bonds and endanger economic recovery from a multi-year recession, with GDP growth of around 3 percent in 2015 and 2016.

Analysts say Catalonia would struggle to be financial viable and fail on its debt obligations.

The Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations (CEOE) has called for the laws of Spain and the EU to be followed. In a statement, it voiced “deep concern” over the impact the illegal referendum would have on “business and investor confidence in Catalonia and in the rest of Spain.”



Kurds press historic independence vote despite regional fears

September 22, 2017

by Raya Jalabi


ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi Kurds are expected to vote for independence in a referendum on Monday that neighboring countries and Western powers fear could break up the country and stir broader regional ethnic and sectarian conflict.

Kurdish flags – a red, white and green tricolor emblazoned with a golden sun – adorn cars and buildings across the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, and billboards announce: “The time is now – say ‘yes’ to a free Kurdistan!”

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region since 2005, has resisted calls by the Unied Nations, the United States and Britain to delay the referendum. Neighboring Turkey is holding army exercises on the Iraqi border to underline its concerns that the referendum could fuel separatism among its own Kurds.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on live television on Friday the vote posed a threat to Turkey’s national security and that Ankara would “do what is necessary” to protect itself. He did not elaborate.

But Hoshyar Zebari, a senior adviser to Barzani, struck a defiant tone, telling Reuters: “This is the last five meters of the final sprint and we will be standing our gound.”

Many Kurds see the vote, though non-binding, as a historic opportunity to achieve self-determination a century after Britain and France divided the Middle East under the Sykes-Picot agreement. That arrangement left 30 million Kurds scattered over Iran, Turkey, Syria and Iraq.

Zebari said delaying the vote for negotiations with Baghdad without also securing guarantees that it could then be held on a binding basis would amount to ”political suicide for the Kurdish leadership and the Kurdish dream of independence.

The referendum raises most risk of ethnic conflict in the oil city of Kirkuk, which lies outside the recognized boundaries of the Kurdish region and is claimed by Baghdad. Its population includes Arabs and Turkmen but it is dominated by Kurds.

Turkey has long claimed a special responsibility in protecting ethnic Turkmen. Some of Iraq’s Turkmen are Shi‘ite and affiliated to political parties close to Iran.


Russian sub hits terrorist group with Kalibr missiles after military police attacked

September 22, 2017


A Russian submarine has destroyed several targets in Syria with a barrage of Kalibr cruise missiles, the Russian Defense Ministry reported. The missiles hit the assets of jihadists, who attacked a unit of Russian Military Police earlier this week, it said.

The ‘Veliky Novgorod’ attack submarine of the Varshavyanka class (designated “Improved Kilo” by NATO) fired the missiles on Friday from the Mediterranean Sea, the ministry said in a statement. The barrage targeted command points, training camps and military hardware of a terrorist group based in the Idlib governorate, which had earlier attacked Russian troops stationed in the neighboring Hama governorate, it said.

The attack started on Tuesday morning, with incoming fire from territory controlled by various militant groups opposing the government of Syria. Russia said it was conducted by the group previously known as Al-Nusra Front and was aimed at capturing three dozen Russian Military Police troops, who were deployed north-west of the city of Hama to monitor a ceasefire in the area.Russian and Syrian troops managed to break through the militants encircling the position of the unit and rescue the Russian troops as well as fighters of the local militias, who were helping them.Idlib governorate in western Syria is covered by one of four designated de-escalation zones and is controlled by a number of militant groups opposing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. According to media reports, over the past several months hardcore Islamist elements there have been seizing power and territory from the so-called moderates.

The offensive against Syrian and Russian forces this week, the biggest since March, appears to be the result of this consolidation. A group called Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance of jihadists, which includes the hardline core of what used to be Al-Nusra Front, led the attack.

Turkey, Russia’s partner in the de-escalation plan and a nation with influence on some of the militants in Idlib governorate, said it will deploy troops there, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Syrian government forces supported by Russian warplanes have lately gained ground in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province, previously mostly held by the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). The Russian military believe the offensive in Idlib was meant to undermine the operation against IS and have blamed US special forces for triggering the attack, an accusation that Washington denied.


China urges North Korea not to go further in a ‘dangerous direction’

September 21, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – China’s foreign minister on Thursday called on North Korea not to go further in a “dangerous direction” with its nuclear program and said negotiations were the only way out of the crisis over Pyongyang’s weapons development.

Wang Yi also told the annual U.N. General Assembly China was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and there should be no new nuclear weapons north or south of the border, or elsewhere in Northeast Asia.

He urged the United States to honor its “four ‘no’ commitment,” an apparent reference to an Aug. 1 statement by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in which he said Washington did not seek the collapse or change of the North Korean government, accelerated reunification of the peninsula, or to send its military north of the border.

“We urge the DPRK not to go further along a dangerous direction,” Wang said, referring to North Korea by the acronym of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

”And we call upon all parties to play a constructive role in easing tensions. There is still hope for peace and we must not give up. Negotiation is the only way out, which deserves every effort. Parties should meet each other half way, by addressing each other’s legitimate concerns.”

Wang made no mention in his speech of U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of new sanctions on Thursday that open the door wider to blacklisting people and entities doing business with North Korea, including its shipping and trade networks.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has backed successive rounds of United Nations sanctions over North Korean nuclear bomb tests, but has repeatedly said it is opposed to unilateral sanctions and especially “long-arm jurisdiction” over Chinese entities and individuals.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Yara Bayoumy and Arshad Mohammed at the United Nations; Editing by James Dalgleish


The Slow Death of Europe’s Social Democrats

Across Europe, social democratic parties are in crisis and on Sunday, the German SPD could slide to its worst result since World War II. What has happened to the once-glorious center-left parties on the Continent? And how can they recover?

September 22, 2017


On a recent late summer evening, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern pulled into Illmitz, in Austria’s Burgenland, in a tour bus not unlike those used by rock stars. He was greeted with cheers and a brass band before making his way through a throng of selfie-hunters at a local trade union festival to reach the stage, in front of which some 200 people were gathered to hear him speak.His speech focused on the “Austrian Dream,” and he outlined his own journey from a humble background to the very top. He talked about Austria and what people were telling him about their concerns, outlining a plan to turn the country back into a place where everyone “gets the chance to have a successful life.” It was the kind of rhetoric you would normally expect from an American president, not an Austrian Social Democrat.

Yet despite him being a good candidate, despite running a good campaign and despite the country’s solid economy, with unemployment at 5.7 percent and economic growth topping 2 percent, Kern and his party, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ), are failing to gain traction. His country’s economy is even better shape than Germany’s, yet the SPÖ has been polling at 22 to 28 percent for months now — far from enough to win the Oct. 15 general election.

Kern, 51, headed the Austrian national railroad before becoming chancellor last year. He was responsible for making sure that special trains were provided during the 2015 refugee crisis. And he forced the hapless former chancellor, Werner Faymann, out of office. Kern’s team is young and motivated, with hardly anyone on his bus older than their late 30s, and he has multimedia experts to manage his social media presence. But absent a miracle, Kern will have to step down after the election.

One reason, of course, is Sebastian Kurz, Kern’s 31-year-old challenger. Kurz has rebranded his party, the Austrian conservatives, and is betting on his youth and staunch anti-Islam stance. In polls comparing the two on an individual basis, Kern and Kurz are basically neck-and-neck — but next to his young challenger, the incumbent chancellor nevertheless looks like the status quo. Despite everything, Austrian voters associate the current chancellor with old, sclerotic social democracy.

In 2000, social democrats or socialists were part of the government in 10 out of the 15 countries that made up the European Union at the time. These days, though, the picture is a drastically different one. There is a real chance that German Social Democrats will no longer be part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition following Sunday’s vote and the same could happen in Italy after voters there go to the polls next spring. Were that to happen, center-left parties would only be part of six EU governments out of 28 member states, all of them on the European periphery: Malta, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The populist left-wing Syriza alliance heads the government in Greece. Elections are scheduled for October in the Czech Republic, but it seems unlikely that the social democrats will be returned to power.

There is even a new word for the social democratic swoon: Pasokization, as in PASOK, Greece’s long-term governing party, which fell into insignificance in the 2015 election. A similar situation applies in the Netherlands, where the traditional Labor Party captured only 5.7 percent of votes in the last election. French Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon came in fifth in the recent French presidential election, with 6.4 percent of the vote, and his party went on to receive a miserable 9.5 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections a short time later. In Poland, the Social Democrats no longer hold any seats in the parliament.

It is a puzzling development given the desire held by many voters for greater social security. Indeed, that desire could help explain the rapid, yet brief, rise of Social Democratic chancellor candidate Martin Schulz in the polls earlier this year. Indeed, the SPD came within a single percentage point of Merkel’s conservatives — only to plunge again. That dive certainly had something to do with the SPD’s uninspiring campaign, and with Schulz’s own apparent inability to win over voters. But there was also a bigger problem: No one knows what exactly social democracy stands for anymore.

This is astonishing. Weren’t people proclaiming a comeback for strong state governance and the end of financial capitalism after the 2008 financial crisis? Isn’t the gap between rich and poor widening almost everywhere in Europe? Don’t voters have several good reasons to vote social democratic?

Social democrats have shaped Western Europe more than any other political movement. Their ideas are now taken for granted among large segments of the middle class: principles like the social welfare state; the notion that the strong bear some responsibility for weaker members of society; and the idea that everyone should have the same opportunity to participate in society. Those are the philosophical underpinnings of social democracy, yet social democratic parties are no longer benefitting from these ideas.

Splintered Electorate

Martin Schulz has made “social justice” the central issue of his campaign, but the working class, once the key constituency of social democracy, has been fragmented into a well-paid core workforce and a periphery of temporary workers who often do the same work for less money. Others are stuck in dead-end service jobs. Are social democratic parties still the parties of workers? Or is this just a distant memory to which educated, upwardly mobile public servants cling to? That, at least, is what the SPD factions in state parliaments and the Bundestag make it look like.

For decades, social democratic identity centered on the concept of work, out of which it derived its everyday pride and sense of self-worth. But changes in the working world and employment relationships, along with the rise of digitalization and the service economy, have thrown everything into disarray. To make matters worse, the party system as a whole no longer functions the way it used to. These days, those who want to become politically involved now tend to do so through citizen’s initiatives than a party. This disproportionately affects social democratic parties, which have always been dependent on large membership roles organized in local chapters and led by local functionaries.

Nowadays, labor parties are primarily made up of retirees. The intricate network of clubs and organizations they once maintained, and that served to unify a wide range of different interests, is in shreds. Many working-class people now vote for right-wing and left-wing populists.

Take Italy, where the populist Five-Star Movement of former TV comedian Beppe Grillo, 69, is out-polling the Italian Democratic Party, as the social democrats there are called. To be sure, “manic fragmentation,” as the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera describes it, has always been a feature of the Italian left. But the current situation is particularly exasperating because things had been looking so good for the social democrats until recently. But then, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, 42, gambled away his job with a referendum — and now that he has returned as the Democratic Party’s leader, he lacks grassroots support because its more traditional members view him as too progressive, economically liberal and anti-union.

Renzi had actually been a shining hope for European social democracy. He was the first of a new type of politician to come to power in European governments: young men in well-tailored suits, who combine good looks, excellent connections and organizational talent.

And now? It is quite possible that Renzi will not even lead the left in the upcoming 2018 elections, leaving the job to the incumbent prime minister, the relatively low-key Paolo Gentiloni, whose primary attraction is that he likely won’t further exacerbate the antagonisms running through the rival camps on the left. But his prospects of winning the election are uncertain.

Corbyn’s Army

On a Thursday in late August, Jeremy Corbyn is standing somewhat awkwardly next to an empty stage, having slipped into Glasgow’s Drygate brewery through a side entrance, unnoticed by most of the roughly 400 guests. He tugs at his beard, takes a sip of water, scribbles a few words into a small notebook and looks anxiously at the stage, which is bathed in red light. He looks a little surprised when he is called up.

Corbyn is a luminary among the European left and in the brewery, people hang on his every word. They applaud when he condemns the austerity mandate under which his country is suffering. They hoot when he accuses the government of making a club of the rich even richer. And they cheer when he says it makes him feel ashamed. It is Corbyn’s second appearance of the day in Glasgow, the first one being an afternoon speech to 1,500 supporters outside a mosque.

There actually isn’t a campaign underway in the UK. The last election took place three months ago and ended with two surprises: The Tories, under Prime Minister Theresa May, lost their absolute majority, and the Labour Party, which had been written off, exhumed itself. Since then, though, Jeremy Corbyn has simply carried on in campaign mode. He wants to be ready for the next election, which could happen soon if May stumbles.

When May announced new elections in the spring, public opinion survey had predicted a landslide victory for the prime minister and her party. Labour seemed finished, reduced to a disorderly heap of infighting and incompetence. But then something remarkable happened. Despite being up against the superiority of the Conservatives, a large segment of the British media and key forces in his own party, Corbyn unexpectedly captured about 40 percent of the vote nationwide on June 8.

For the first time in many years, people in Great Britain are excited about politics again – or, more precisely, about a politician who had been written off by almost all parties. Young people, those who have been left behind, minorities and union members see Corbyn as the poster boy of post-capitalism. He appeals to all of them when he speaks of the widespread anger about a society that tolerates poverty and inequality even as a small number of people keeps getting richer.

The European left is playing close attention to Labour’s rise. Corbyn wants to nationalize key industries. He is a socialist, not a social democrat.

So how could someone like him become the leader of the Labour Party? It was made possible by the hatred that large portions of the party base have for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, inventor of the “Third Way.” Corbyn is everything Blair is not: He is not glamorous or cynical; he is the antidote to the greed of the neoliberal era. Labour’s retro, socialist reinvention is mostly the result of Blair’s departure.

Many European center-left parties have their own version of Tony Blair — a leader that betrayed what social democracy once represented. Blair joined U.S. President George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq. In Germany, it was Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, passing deep cuts to the country’s social welfare system in the 2000s.

But it isn’t easy to get rid of people like Blair and Schröder. They are the ones who most recently led their parties to victory, which means a lot in parties that have experienced nothing by electoral failure since. They are the protagonists of the grand narratives about social democracy. The departure from the old leftist ideals was the flipside of the great social advancements that were made possible since the 1960s by social democratic education policy. This reorientation could have been a great opportunity.

Unfortunately, not everyone came along: Many have stayed behind.

Changing Bases

The social milieus that supported social democrats in Europe for decades have dissolved. From the German cities of Hamburg and Bremen to France’s coal-mining regions to the industrial regions of northern England, every country has its so-called social democratic heartland. But almost everywhere, those hearts have now stopped beating. It’s not just social democratic ideas that can now be found across the entire party spectrum, but also the people who once belonged to social democratic parties. Some have moved away, to the neighborhoods of the new middle classes. Those who live in poorer neighborhoods are realigning themselves.

No one really knows how to deal with these changes. But the social democrats in Denmark are experimenting with one possible model. In no other country in Europe has the center-left shown such a willingness to cooperate with right-wing populists as in Denmark. The strategy could even bring them back into power. Mette Frederiksen, the 39-year-old who has been chair of the Danish Social Democrats since 2015, is not ruling out the possibility of forming a governing coalition with the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party when Denmark holds its next election in two years.

The Danish People’s Party, formerly a pariah of Danish politics, is successfully positioning itself as the voice of decisive conscientiousness. It combines a rigid policy towards foreigners with a social agenda promoting more humanitarian conditions in the workplace and lower taxes for low-wage earners, and it opposes an increase in the legal retirement age. It has, in other words, adopted several items from the classic social democratic platform.

Frederiksen, of course, knows that many on the left have a soft spot for refugees and are critical of her willingness to work with the People’s Party. This is why she claims to be neither in favor nor against immigrants, instead insisting that she merely supports political realism. “In Denmark, you are entitled to almost all benefits from day one. It’s a difficult system when large numbers of people come into the country,” she says. Danish cohesion is her biggest concern.

Frederiksen’s strategy is exemplified by her statement: “If Social Democrats are unable to appeal to those who are most strongly affected by the challenges of the future and the changes in our society, we are not a true social democratic party.” She believes the same applies to other social democrats in Europe.

But is it true? Does the future of social democracy lie in protecting the people who have been left behind by globalization? Perhaps.

Historically, though, it was the conservatives’ role to slow down the pace of social progress and people’s lives from changing too rapidly. It was the center-right that offered a home to those who felt unsettled by change, while the social democrats were interested in shaping that change and being at the forefront of progress.

That was true in the late 19th century, when the workers’ movement believed it could create a new and better world through education, discipline, solidarity and struggle. It was true in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the massive increases in productivity among industrialized societies began trickling down to workers in the form of higher wages. And it was true the era of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, social democrats spent a few glorious years not just believing that they could effectively guide society and the economy with their policies, but putting their beliefs into practice.

It was even the case in the late 1990s, when Blair, Schröder and their cronies believed that social democrats could not stand aside as a New Economy developed. In hindsight, it would have been smarter for social democrats to have imposed stricter controls on the financial markets at the time, instead of deregulating them even further. But Schröder and Blair wanted to be at the forefront of the developments that were taking place.

Surprisingly, right-wing populists tend to be more of a presence in the richer countries of northern Europe. In Spain and Greece, where the financial and debt crises have led to poverty and economic stagnation in recent years, most populists are on the left, with Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.

Podemos emerged from the 2011 protests, which were directed against austerity mandates as well as against corruption in the major parties. A giant real estate bubble had burst in Spain, threatening to drag down the country’s banking system. The Socialist government prevented this worst-case scenario from becoming reality, but it was pressured by the EU to drastically reduce government spending. Podemos (“We Can”) is opposed to European austerity programs, which makes the party the “new social democrats,” according its 38-year-old leader, Pablo Iglesias, a political scientist at the University of Madrid.

The Socialist Workers’ Party, which built modern Spain, established the social welfare state and fostered social renewal after the Franco dictatorship, are struggling with the new competition from the left. They wanted to bring Podemos into a coalition government last year, but Podemos wasn’t interested because it hoped to overtake the Socialists in the country’s parliamentary election. Now Podemos wants a coalition.

The Greens and the Left Party in Germany are also byproducts of the degradation of the social democratic left. The former emerged after the SPD, under then Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, neglected to bring the peace movement and environmental activists into the party in the 1970s. The Left Party is not just the successor of the former East German Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), but also of Labour and Social Justice – The Electoral Alternative (WASG), a left-wing West German political party founded by disappointed Social Democrats after Schröder announced his cuts to the social welfare system.

Division doesn’t have to be a weakness. The Greens were able to reach groups of voters to which the SPD alone would not have gained access. Together, the two parties were able to form a governing coalition in 1998. But to make that kind of a governing project a success, all participants must know what they want and where they stand.

New Constellation

Political scientist Wolfgang Merkel has developed the theory that the difference between right and left in Western democracies is becoming less important while that between cosmopolitanism and communitarianism. The difference between proponents of an open society and those of a closed one. Between those who have had positive experiences with globalization, profit from it and value the freedom it gives them, welcome the flow of goods and capital and favor immigration. And those who see all of this as a threat.

If taken to its logical conclusion, this could mean that the era of right-wing and left-wing big-tent parties alternately holding power is simply over. Perhaps the future belongs to different constellations of movements for and against an open society.

Until recently, the traditional discrepancy between the left and the right was more pronounced in France than in almost anywhere else. After all, it was invented there. But France’s party system was dramatically reorganized in the last elections and it is no accident that the Socialist Party was the first victim of this shift. Only a feeble remnant of the party has remained, after losing 249 of its 280 seats in parliament.

Social democratic parties have always had to accommodate many different movements, but now they have become too contradictory. The conflict between those who want more openness, more European and more reforms and those opposed to such progressivism has destroyed the French Socialists.

This is why the party’s heirs could hardly be more contradictory. On one side is Emmanuel Macron, the new president, a social liberal who won the election on a message of change and a commitment to European values. On the other is the de-facto leader of the French opposition, former Trotskyite Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He is in favor of a bloated social welfare state and economic protectionism, which he combines with resentment against Germany and Brussels. On economic issues and questions of national identity, Mélenchon is much closer to right-wing populist Marine Le Pen than Macron, who also emerged from the Socialist Party.

One reason Macron scored such a significant victory over Le Pen in the presidential election is that he was able to bring together opponents of nationalism and isolationism. Macron was the candidate of those who wanted to prevent Le Pen from winning the election.

He managed to make the mainstream attractive again by using an optimistic tone about the future that was uncharacteristic for France. Macron represents the faith that an economically failing country can become successful again by simply reforming itself. His recipes are not classically leftist, not unlike Schröder’s welfare and labor market reforms, but rather push back the state and facilitate growth, and aim to reduce unemployment by making it easier to hire and fire people.

This is the gist of Macron’s labor market reform. From the standpoint of the classic left, any rollback of workers’ rights is betrayal. But from the standpoint of a social liberal like Macron, it is more important that companies are successful, and that new jobs can be created despite the transformation of labor.

What is the Story?

By 2030, automation will have replaced about half of all jobs in Western countries, according to a study by the University of Oxford. What does this mean? Will other jobs arise – or not? Where will the profits from this jump in productivity go? Doesn’t social democracy have to come to terms with the idea of an unconditional basic income?

There are many unanswered questions. The labor-market reforms of past years are likely harmless compared to the social upheavals the Western world is facing.

During election season, party strategists love “storytelling,” a term that has migrated into politics from advertising. Success requires a story, an emotional message with which voters can identify, and consistent images and symbols. Martin Schulz is a likeable man whose life, like that of many people, hasn’t always been easy. “Time for More Justice!” is his campaign slogan. No one is likely to contradict him. But is anyone shouting enthusiastically: “Yes!”?

In many European countries, it is becoming clear that social democratic parties have no future as broad melting pots. The ones that are succeeding are positioning themselves on the far left, as opponents of globalization and the EU, like Corbyn and Mélenchon. Then there are those who have bid farewell to the left and, like Macron, are capturing the political center. The German Social Democrats are trying to resist this trend. They want to remain a big-tent party, but they lack the right story.

Social democrats were once the protagonists in one of mankind’s greatest stories. In Germany, they vowed to improve the lot of workers and lead mankind into a new era. They breathed life into German democracy and, by forming a coalition with the Green Party, eventually made their way into the Chancellery. The battles it fought took place in a young, optimistic society.

We no longer live that way. Like other European nations, Germany has become an older, post-heroic country. Most German fears relate to threats from outside: climate change, new wars, crises triggered by unpredictable dictators and refugees flooding into the country unchecked.

Such issues have not thus far been the domain of social democrats. Social democrat want to jointly pursue a better society. But they need to be able to explain what that means. If they manage to find that story, they could still be one of the most powerful stories in politics.

By Walter Mayr, Dietmar Pieper, Tobias Rapp, Mathieu von Rohr, Jörg Schindler and Helene Zuber

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan



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