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Our Top Weekend Reads

Foreign Policy - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 13:00
Stories on the European role in Iraq, Islamophobic pogroms in India, and possible Iranian threats to U.S. interests in Latin America.

Mozambique Is a Failed State. The West Isn’t Helping It.

Foreign Policy - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 12:34
Donor countries and international organizations are propping up a corrupt government rather than criticizing it—leaving millions of Mozambicans mired in poverty.

Why Evangelicals Voted for Donald Trump in 2016

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 12:33

Randall J. Stephens

Politics, Americas

Clearly, Baptists, pentecostals, charismatics, and others were willing to overlook Trump’s myriad sins: the misogyny, the implicit and explicit racism, the religious bigotry, his remarks about never having asked God for forgiveness.

Evangelicals, or born-again Christians, account for approximately 25.4% of the US population – and Donald Trump should thank them for their support. Exit polls show that roughly 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. That percentage is even higher than what George W. Bush received from the faithful in 2000 and 2004.

Clearly, Baptists, pentecostals, charismatics, and others were willing to overlook Trump’s myriad sins: the misogyny, the implicit and explicit racism, the religious bigotry, his remarks about never having asked God for forgiveness. On the whole, they thought, Trump would uphold their values.

He would appoint Supreme Court justices who had strong pro-life credentials. Trump promised to support religious liberty laws, which allow private businesses to deny service to individuals they deem sinful (read: homosexual).

Trump’s running mate Mike Pence fought a hard battle as governor of Indiana to maintain that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which relaxes anti-discrimination restrictions on businesses. The Pew Research Center reports that “evangelicals also overwhelmingly prefer Trump to Clinton when it comes to handling a wide variety of specific issues, from gun policy to the economy, terrorism, immigration and abortion”.

White evangelicals made their decision as the American political landscape darkened noticeably. Sure, mudslinging, character assassination, and downright nastiness have long been part of the dark art of politics in the US since the days when candidates wore knee breeches and powdered wigs. What’s different now is that the nastiness emanates from the candidate himself. In years gone by, largely anonymous party hacks did the dirtiest work; in 2016, Trump did it himself.

And yet, millions of conservative white Christians turned out for him. Why?

Willful ignorance

Their willingness to forgive Trump his sins was no secret. During the firestorm over the Access Hollywood tape in which Trump bragged about his sexual prowess and lewd attitudes towards women, Jerry Falwell, Jr. proclaimed: “We’re all sinners, every one of us. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.”

To further allay fears of those within the fold, Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, assured fellow believers that everyone has sinned, and that God had used many individuals in the Bible who had deep flaws, including King David and Moses. Perhaps they now hope the Trump presidency will turn out to be little short of a true Biblical epic.

Franklin Graham’s bus on tour in Austin, Texas. Robert Cicchetti/Shutterstock.

After the election, Graham’s Facebook page said that the massive Republican victory had divine roots. “Political pundits are stunned,” he wrote triumphantly. “Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor.”

But there was something else at work besides the “God-factor”, something that doesn’t get covered in the press all that much: Trump is as committed a knowledge-denier as many of the evangelicals are.

Another world

For years, evangelical Christians stood firm on the front lines of the culture war, which they regarded as a fight against the agents of secularism, pluralism, political correctness and science. To paraphrase Michael Gove, Britain’s former justice secretary and staunch Brexit campaigner, evangelicals have long been saying: we have had enough of experts.

With the far-right Breitbart News Network in his corner, Trump grounded his campaign in conspiracy-driven politics and bold-faced lies. Before voting in the primaries even began, the University of Pennsylvania’s reported that:

In the 12 years of’s existence, we’ve never seen [Donald Trump’s] match … He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.

Approximately 64% of white evangelicals reject human evolutionary science; like Pence has done, many of them also promote what’s known as “conversion therapy”, pseudoscientific treatments purported to “cure” people of homosexuality; and they lash out at the “liberal media” and the professorial overlords of left-leaning colleges and universities. Evangelicals believe that Trump will protect them from the onslaughts of secularism at a time when traditional Christianity is losing ground in the US.

In 2015, 37% of evangelicals polled said “there is no solid evidence that the earth is getting warmer”. Another 33% believed that global warming is happening, but that it is not caused by human activities. They probably cheered at the sight of a notorious Trump tweet from 2012, which read: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”


Perhaps not wanting to disappoint the devout, Trump has just named arch-climate change denier Myron Ebell to head his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. White evangelicals may also be elated to know that fellow Christian conservative and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, of “drill, baby, drill” fame, is being considered for Secretary of the Interior.

And so here we are, at the end of what the New York Times recently called an “exhausting parade of ugliness”. That’s an apt description – but this particular parade has now been extended by at least four years. We can expect Trump to stay vulgar, cavalier and ill-informed once he’s sworn in as president in January 2017. He will keep up his brazen denials of truth, keep pandering to the bitter angels of the white mob’s nature, and keep piling on the invective.

Evangelicals, like many others who voted Republican on Tuesday, see in Trump a powerful, non-establishment figure, who will shake up Washington and champion their values. In a matter of months, the scales may fall from their eyes.

Randall J. Stephens, Reader in History and American Studies, Northumbria University, Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Why Trump and the Republican Party Should Fear AOC

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 12:16

Peggy Nash


AOC is shaking up politics.

The youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a force to contend with. With clear and forthright language, she speaks the truth of people’s reality – and one that is rooted in her own lived experience.

With a megawatt smile and a wink to her demographic, she also has verve and style. Two days after she debated 10-term incumbent congressman Joe Crowley last June during the primaries, she tweeted her lipstick shade, which promptly sold out on the Stila and Sephora web sites.

Social media powerhouse

AOC, as she is popularly known, has more than three million followers on her Instagram account and four million follow her @AOC Twitter account, a 600 per cent increase from last June and more than 2.6 million gained in the past eight months. How does she do it?

Unlike other politicians, she speaks the language of now, especially to her generation. She is down-to-earth and personable. In some of her video postings, she shares her life both in Congress and at home, as if you are getting caught up with a friend.

As a former member of Parliament in Canada, I can tell you, it would be a mistake to brush AOC off a just the flavour of the month. She is no lightweight. AOC’s social media presence is based on trust and authenticity. Her messages are about taking action. And they are a perfect foil to what U.S. President Donald Trump represents.

The fury of the U.S. public

On Nov. 8, 2016, the U.S. elected a president who bragged about sexual assault and racism. In addition, right-wing parties were on the rise in Europe and inequality in the U.S. had intensified. People were angry.

The Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration has been called the largest one-day demonstration in U.S. history. There followed Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees  and the spectacle of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings and the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford. The proceedings echoed the Clarence Thomas hearings, which discounted the testimony and courage of law professor Anita Hill. The committee even had some of the same members as a generation earlier.

The fury of the American public led to the greatest number of diverse candidates to ever run in the U.S. midterm elections last fall. Many of those candidates lost. But several of them won.

Indigenous, queer, Muslim, Black and women candidates are now represented in greater numbers than ever before. And many of those who lost had a strong showing. This means they have teams in place, voters identified, name recognition and often money in the bank. They just have not won yet.

AOC’s appeal drives Republicans crazy

Enter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She campaigned in a safe Democrat seat but argued that milquetoast Democrats were enabling the growing divide between the one per cent and the 99 per cent. Her campaign video blew up the internet and thrust her into the lives of New Yorkers like a force of nature. That she could beat a congressman as powerful as Crowley shows that she tapped into the reality of her fellow New Yorkers.

Most importantly, Ocasio-Cortez began shaking up the Washington establishment with her bold proposal to reshape America with her Green New Deal, in the spirit of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression. Her stimulus plan aims to phase in renewable energy sources and rebalance the social and economic pie in the United States with a proposed tax hike on the richest Americans.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez@AOC

 · May 11, 2019

Replying to @AOC

US GDP is at an all-time high. As a nation, we are more prosperous than we ever have been.

But that’s simply not the lived truth. Even now, I’m paid similar to a doctor or corporate lawyer - many who‘d think they are “rich,” but it’s nowhere near what we actually mean in policy.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez@AOC

When we say “tax the rich,” we mean nesting-doll yacht rich. For-profit prison rich. Betsy DeVos, student-loan-shark rich.

Trick-the-country-into-war rich. Subsidizing-workforce-w-food-stamps rich.

Because THAT kind of rich is simply not good for society, & it’s like 10 people.


12:54 PM - May 11, 2019

Twitter Ads info and privacy

38.7K people are talking about this

She is also advocating for free tuition, universal single-payer health care, a job guarantee with decent wages and benefits and transitioning the U.S. economy to 100 per cent renewable energy sources. Her vision is far to the left of the cautious and ultimately uninspiring Hillary Clinton, but current Democratic presidential hopefuls are falling over themselves to endorse her plan.

Both her audacious goals and her bold style drive her Republican opponents crazy. They believe that her socialist politics will lose the Democrats the votes of more moderate Americans so they have fixed a negative spotlight on her.

Alternatively, AOC might just be tapping into the anxiety of Americans across party lines as they struggle to make ends meet while harbouring anxieties about climate change.

Women’s rising power in politics

One thing is clear, Ocasio-Cortez is making an imprint on a generation of Americans, especially young women, with a message to get informed, get organized and get involved. Young women in the U.S. are becoming more politically engaged, from the Parkland students to the #MeToo movement.

Here in Canada, we can see a similar pattern in the number and diversity of candidates running for election and applying to programs like Women in HouseDaughters of the Vote and the Institute for Future Legislators at Ryerson University and UBC.

To old-style politicians, AOC supporters say “step up or step aside.” She may not be a vampire slayer or have an army or a quiver of arrows. Nevertheless, she’s as fierce a fighter inspiring young Americans to seek change as any cultural superhero, a combination of Buffy, Okoye and Katniss.

In addition to her bold platform, her real superpower seems to be her fearless confrontation, her spirited style and her ability to inspire others to action.

The test will be if it continues to spread beyond the Bronx.

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, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Community Services, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters.


Christopher HILL, The Future of British Foreign Policy. Security and Diplomacy in a World After Brexit

 Christopher HILL, The Future of British Foreign Policy. Security and Diplomacy in a World After Brexit, Polity Press, Cambridge, 2019Spécialiste de politique étrangère aux nombreux ouvrages de référence (Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century, 2015), et co-éditeur (avec Christian Lequesne) de la European Review of International Studis (ERIS), Christopher Hill nous offre une synthèse éclairée de ce que pourrait être, désormais, la diplomatie britannique, ses priorités, ses marges de manœuvre, après la sortie du Royaume-Uni de l'Union européenne.
Après un récapitulatif analytique de ce que fut la relation des britanniques à l'Europe, l’ouvrage passe en revue la portée possible de l’action extérieure de la Grande-Bretagne, ses cartes possibles, insiste particulièrement sur les deux relations bilatérales privilégiées avec la France et les Etats-Unis. Dans la lignée d’autres travaux (M. Kenny et N. Pearce, Shadows of Empire, 2018 ; D. Owen et D. Ludlow, British foreign policy After Brexit, 2018), mais à sa manière et avec l’expérience qui est la sienne, Christopher Hill porte un regard sceptique sur le « Global Britain » promis par les partisans du Leave, aujourd’hui au pouvoir à Londres.
Quatre cartes, selon lui, s’offrent à présent à la stratégie de Whitehall, toutes difficiles à exploiter : 1- un renouveau de l’activisme britannique aux Nations Unies, 2- explorer davantage le réseau du Commonwealth, 3- se focaliser sur la solidarité de l’ « anglosphère », 4- se concentrer sur la relance de partenariat bilatéraux privilégiés.
Mais les Nations Unies ont montré à plusieurs reprises que Londres n’y ferait plus la pluie et le beau temps, en dépit de son droit de véto. Un échec du Royaume-Uni à se faire élire à la Cour International de Justice en novembre 2017, un soutien de l’Assemblée générale à une motion de l’île Maurice contre le Royaume-Uni sur les îles Chagos la même année, en sont autant de signes. Par ailleurs, la position de Londres en tant que membre permanent, comme celle de Paris, est critiquée, et le couple franco-britannique devra rester soudé pour maintenir son statut, ce qu’il a certes les moyens de faire. Le Commonwealth est un club réel, mais dont les membres sont devenus très hétéroclites, dont on imagine mal qu’ils se plient à la volonté d’une ancienne puissance coloniale qui a vu son influence se réduire en Asie comme en Afrique de l’Est. En outre la sortie de l’UE affaiblira Londres dans ses négociations avec les pays ACP (Afrique Caraïbes Pacifique), qui ont tissé des liens étroits avec l’Europe, notamment depuis les conventions de Lomé/Cotonou. L’anglosphère (principalement Etats-Unis, Royaume-Uni, Canada, Australie, Nouvelle Zélande) fournit des coopérations précieuses (les Five Eyes pour le renseignement, ou le Five Power Defence Agreement de 1971 avec la Malaisie, Singapour, l’Australie et la Nouvelle Zélande), mais que Christopher Hill ne voit pas se transformer en structure plus globale ni plus permanente. Enfin, les partenariats bilatéraux offrent l’embarras du choix, sans pour autant constituer une panacée, à l’heure où les BRICS dérivent vers le nationalisme autoritaire.
On aurait aimé davantage de développements sur cette solitude britannique à l’heure de Donald Trump, qui pose un véritable problème à tous ses alliés. Mais l’auteur cherche à s’extraire du conjoncturel, pour proposer une analyse durable, comme il l’explique de façon convaincante dès l’introduction.
L’exercice est réussi. On comprend, à la lecture de ce travail, ce que fut la complexité de la relation euro-britannique, ce que sera la difficulté du Royaume-Uni à l’avenir, et à quel point il restera indispensable, pour les européens du continent, à commencer par la France, d’imaginer les cadres permettant de maintenir des liens étroits avec ce partenaire indispensable que reste la Grande-Bretagne.

Israel's 'Shield' for U.S. Army Tanks Isn't Working So Well

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 12:07

Charlie Gao


How come? And can it be fixed?

Active protection systems (APS) are rapidly becoming a must-have feature for heavy armored vehicles on the modern battlefield. Experiences from Syria and Ukraine have shown that anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) are lethal threats for even prepared crews. Hard-kill APS are one of the strongest counters to these ATGMs, they are designed to detect and neutralize them with a spray of projectiles.

The U.S. Army has long planned to fit APS onto their Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and Main Battle Tanks (MBTs). However, these projects have been slow going due to expenditure on Iraqi and Afghan operations until the recent push to rearm for conventional wars and the entry of U.S. troops into Syria. APS are also rarely “drop in'' upgrades, requiring positioning of bulky sensors and interception modules with (ideally) 360 degree coverage of the vehicle. This can result in APS systems interfering or blocking the line of sight or fields of fire of auxiliary weapons or sights on the top of a vehicle.

However, the Army’s plan to integrate the Israeli Iron Fist onto the Bradley has proven difficult, and faces major delays in 2020. Many technical programs were revealed during the program being “fast-tracked” in 2019, and the lack of technical maturity has led to the Army delaying the program.

Joseph Trevithick covers one issue with Iron Fist on the Bradley in detail in an article for The Drive, the current versions of the Bradley don’t have enough power to run the Iron Fist’s suite of sensors and interceptors, requiring an add-on auxiliary power unit (APU) to function. This is a rather critical limitation, APUs add complexity, repair difficulty, and fuel consumption. Also, they are typically mounted on the outside of a vehicle, though the details about the add-on APUs on the Bradley are scarce. This can possibly result in hits to the APU knocking out the APS capability of the vehicle, or power to other critical systems in the Bradley.

Iron Fist, as installed on the Bradley, was also found to have issues with internal power management. The Army’s program manager, in an interview with Defense News, emphasized that this was not related to the Bradley’s general inability to power Iron Fist, power failures occurred on a test vehicle which was modified to provide sufficient levels of power to allow Iron Fist to function effectively. Iron Fist was also found to have problems with missing or “dudding”, when the hard-kill interceptors failed to fire or hit their target.

These issues lead the Army to cut funding for the project, preventing simultaneous production and testing in FY2021. But it’s important to note that Iron Fist is only an “interim” APS, with the Army developing more advanced systems which will likely be better integrated for its next-generation IFVs.

The issues with Iron Fist on the Bradley are illustrative of how retrofitting modern technology to older chassis can prove to be far more complicated than it would appear. APS’ need to be fully integrated into the design of a vehicle to function optimally.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.

Image: Reuters.

Greenland Is Rapidly Losing Ice - 3.8 Trillion Tonnes Since 1992 to Be Exact

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:45

Inès Otosaka, Andrew Shepherd

Environment, World

A disaster in the making. 

Greenland has lost 3.8 trillion tonnes of ice since 1992, according to our latest research. It can be hard to imagine a number that big: 3.8 trillion tonnes is 3,800 billion tonnes or even 3.8 million billion kilograms. If you put all that ice into a single cube it would be 16 kilometres along each side and twice the height of Mount Everest.

But what’s really important here is the impact this has globally. All that ice making its way into the ocean has already caused the sea level to rise by more than a centimetre, and future sea level rise will mean lots more coastal flooding.

For example, a rise of 60cm by the year 2100, as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), would put 200 million people at risk of permanent inundation and 360 million people at risk of annual flooding. And 60cm is only the IPCC’s “central estimate” – in that period the sea could rise by as little as 28cm or as much as 98cm.

By far the largest uncertainty in sea-level projections concerns the ice stored in Antarctica and Greenland, both of which have complex interactions with the climate system and are difficult to model. Greenland alone holds enough frozen water to raise the sea by 7.4 metres were it to melt. Therefore, finding out how much ice it has lost so far is hugely important for us scientists who are trying to determine how much it will contribute to sea level rise in future.

The rate of ice loss is increasing

This is why we used satellites to measure Greenland’s ice loss between 1992 and 2018. Our assessment, now published in the journal Nature, is produced by an international team of scientists who combined the results of 26 different surveys as part of a programme known as the ice sheet mass balance inter-comparison exercise (IMBIE). In all, measurements from 11 different satellite missions launched by the European Space Agency and NASA were used to track changes in the ice sheet’s volume, speed and gravity.

We found that the Greenland ice sheet lost around 3,800 billion tons of ice in that 26-year period. This is enough water to cause the sea level to rise by around 10.6mm.

Although Greenland has been losing ice since the early 1990s, the rate has increased dramatically over time and peaked at 335 billion tons per year in 2011 towards the end of a period of intense surface melting. In fact, almost half of the ice loss occurred between 2006 and 2012 and, although cooler atmospheric conditions – associated with a shift of the North Atlantic Oscillation – followed, the rate of ice loss has remained high since then.

Snowfall can’t keep up with melting

How does an ice sheet actually “lose ice”? In Antarctica, almost all the losses come from glaciers being warmed to the point where they slide slightly faster into the ocean and “calve” into icebergs. This happens in Greenland too. But Greenland also has much warmer summers than Antarctica, and this means around half of its ice is also lost through summer melting exceeding winter snowfall.

Periods of extreme melting have become more frequent in Greenland, with record air temperatures being repeatedly broken. In summer 2019, unusually warm air caused widespread melting across the entire ice sheet. Satellites revealed new ponds of surface meltwater and bridges collapsed after the intense runoff swelled proglacial rivers. If glacier speeds remain high, 2019 could be a record year for total ice loss from Greenland.

Sea level rise from Greenland according to this new study (black line) is matching the IPCC’s upper estimate (red). Shepherd et al / Nature, Author provided

In its fifth assessment report, the IPCC included a range of projections for Greenland ice sheet losses. Our study shows that the ice sheet has been tracking the upper range of these projections – the worst case scenarios – which predicts an additional 10cm of global sea level rise by 2100 over and above the central estimate. This would place a further 60 million people at risk of annual coastal flooding and suggests that a reassessment of the impacts of climate warming is urgently needed.

Click here to subscribe to our climate action newsletter. Climate change is inevitable. Our response to it isn’t.

Inès Otosaka, PhD Researcher, Climate Science, University of Leeds and Andrew Shepherd, Professor of Earth Observation, University of Leeds

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Coronavirus vs. the Flu: Which Is Worse?

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:30

Sebastien Roblin


What should you fear the most?

Every morning of late I wake up and hear a series of grim new statistics on the radio—the number of persons infected with COVID-19 (short for “coronavirus disease 2019”) and the number of deaths attributed to it.

The disease’s progression around the globe and its potential to continuously spread inspires a palpable psychic toll of dread and despair.               

Yet homo sapiens have a difficult time evaluating the relative severity of threats to our lives. We are captivated by rare but novel diseases and shocking incidents such as terrorist attacks and airliner crashes while filtering out mundane dangers, even when they represent a threat several orders of magnitude greater. 

Statistically, a swimming pool is over a hundred times more likely to kill you than an extremist with an online manifesto. And for years now, we have endured seasonal flu epidemics averaging higher annual death tolls than U.S. casualties in the entire Korean War.   

By March 6, 2020, COVID-19 has infected over 100,000 persons and claimed the lives of 3,404 persons across the globe. But between October 1 and February 29, the Center of Disease Control estimates a minimum of 19,000 people, and as many as 52,000, died of the seasonal flu in the United States alone.

Certainly, it’s sensible to be concerned about COVID-19 for reasons explained below.  Aggressive, proactive measures to contain its spread are justified despite their disruptive economic effects.

But understanding how we already cope with existing diseases can put our risks in perspective.

Routine but ever-evolving influenza strains kill between 290,000 and 650,000 persons annually across the globe. On average, each infection causes 1.3 other infections—a measure of disease contagiousness called R0. 

In the United States, only 1 percent of those infected with influenza require hospitalization, and the disease proves fatal in .01 percent of cases, or one in every ten thousand persons infected.

While annual flu deaths in the United States tend to hover around 40,000 annually, factors both internal and external to the flu strains, such as weather or the effectiveness of flu vaccines, lead to significant variation in the number of deaths each year.  In 2017/2018, deaths surged to an estimated 61,000, for example, whereas only an estimated 23,000 died from 2015/2016 flu.

So how does COVID-19 compare?

Typical symptoms of COVID-19 include sneezing, coughing, fever, a runny nose and a sore throat. However roughly one out of every five infections escalates into more severe conditions with symptoms including pneumonia, breathlessness and even organ failure.

On the whole, each COVID-19 infection is significantly more likely to be fatal than a flu infection. Some studies place the mortality rate for infected persons between 1 and 2.8 percent. A March 3 briefing by the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed mortality rate as high as 3.4 percent but that figure may be inflated due to the authorities being more aware of only the most serious cases. Countries with broader testing COVID-19 testing regimes tend to report lower fatality rates.

Even a mortality rate of 1 percent, however, implies each coronavirus infection is a hundred times more likely to prove fatal than the seasonal flu. Deaths from the virus are also dramatically more common in those over the age of sixty.

Another worrying factor about COVID19 is its comparatively high transmission rate, with an estimated R0 of 2 or 3.

However, not all authorities appear to agree with that figure. The March 3 briefing by the WHO claims COVID-19  “does not transmit as efficiently as influenza, from the data we have so far. With influenza, people who are infected but not yet sick are major drivers of transmission, which does not appear to be the case for COVID-19.”

This may be because coronavirus is believed to primarily spread though airborne droplets—in other words, an infected person coughing or sneezing fluids which physically contact another person. Surfaces touched by infected fluids may also be contagious, though the virus’s longevity in such circumstances is unknown. Disposable face masks are worn by infected persons, or those living/working near them, can significantly mitigate (though not eliminate) risk of transmission. Healthcare workers tending COVID-19 patients are advised to use more sophisticated N95 masks.

All in all, coronavirus is apparently individually deadlier than the flu—but it hasn’t infected nearly as many people so far. However, the seasonal flu is a relatively known quantity that routinely peters out by the middle of the year, whereas the extent and duration of COVID19’s propagation remain hard to predict. Furthermore, vaccines are not yet available for coronavirus, though they are under development.

COVID-19 may have the potential to cause more deaths than seasonal flu but it has yet to do so. This explains the importance of efforts to curb and contain the disease’s spread before it can have that wider impact. 

As for measures one can take on an individual level to minimize risk of exposure and transmission, the CDC’s recommended preventative measures include repeated washing of hands during the day for at least twenty seconds; avoiding touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands; avoiding close contact with sick individuals; and staying home from work when sick.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: Reuters

Expert Explains Lyme Disease - the Same Disease Justin Bieber's Been Battling

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:22

Hany Elsheikha

Public Health, World

Lyme disease can have a considerable impact on many aspects of the lives of the patient and their families.

Justin Bieber recently announced that for the last couple of years he’s been battling Lyme disease. Lyme disease, which is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, can be transmitted to humans if they’re bitten by an infected tick. In fact, it’s one of the most common tick-borne diseases in the west. An estimated 300,000 people in the US are diagnosed with it every year. The disease causes a range of debilitating symptoms, which can include severe headaches, neck stiffness, arthritis, joint pain and rashes. These symptoms can last for months or even years.

After being bitten, most people develop a red, circular rash, which may slowly expand beyond the bite site. Only around 20-30% of people will develop the characteristic bullseye rash. Without prompt treatment, the bacteria will spread from the bite site to tissues and organs, leading to additional skin lesions and a range of debilitating and persisting symptoms, such as pain, fatigue, memory problems and arthritis.

Perhaps alarmingly, instances of Lyme disease have actually become more common. In England and Wales the number of cases has increased from 1,134 in 2016 to 1,579 cases in 2017. The increase might be explained by a number of factors, including global warming (ticks survive better in warm weather) and increasing wildlife populations. Better diagnostic tools and increased awareness might also explain the surge in Lyme disease diagnoses.

Lyme disease can have a considerable impact on many aspects of the lives of the patient and their families. In severe cases, patients can be bedridden or wheelchair-bound for years without knowing if they will recover. Affected people may also experience anxiety, depression or distress, which can reduce their quality of life and deeply affect their mental wellbeing – potentially even resulting in thoughts about suicide.

In most cases, a person will be diagnosed with Lyme disease based on whether they have the illness’s characteristic skin lesions – especially if they live in an area where ticks carry Lyme disease. Although blood tests can also be used, these tests might only be 30-40% effective at detecting the disease in its early stages. But if the disease has already spread throughout a person’s body, these results can be 100% accurate.

Difficult diagnosis

Giving a clear diagnosis of Lyme disease can be difficult, however. This is because many patients have a range of non-specific clinical symptoms, such as fatigue, malaise, headache, fever, sweats, joint aches and brain fog. Disease test results might also be similarly difficult to interpret, especially in patients that do not have the hallmark skin rash of Lyme disease and lack a recent history of exposure to tick bites. This makes dealing with the lingering infection difficult, especially where tests give inconclusive results.

In fact, people suffering from Lyme disease can also suffer from other tick-borne illnesses, such as babesiosis, which can be transmitted with Borrelia burgdorferi during the tick bite. This makes treatment even more complicated. As well, there is still some controversy about the right length of effective antibiotic therapy to treat patients with persistent, chronic Lyme disease. As a result, patients can, and usually do, feel helpless amid conflicting medical advice in fighting the disease.

Lyme disease is primarily treated with antibiotics. Early skin lesions and symptoms can be treated with the oral antibiotic doxycycline, usually for anywhere between ten to 21 days. Patients with neurological symptoms (including meningitis and encephalitis), heart inflammation or arthritis, are usually treated with a two-week course of intravenous ceftriaxone therapy. In most cases, timely diagnosis and prompt antibiotic treatment can improve symptoms.

But a misdiagnosis or late diagnosis can result in long-term illness, excessive use of antibiotic therapy, and expensive healthcare costs. Ignorance of the complex nature of this illness, especially the associated mental health issues, will further delay recovery. Dealing with these psychosocial problems – regardless of whether they were triggered by Lyme bacteria or not – can complement treatment and promote a quicker recovery.

Continued research and awareness about Lyme disease will be important for improving treatment and diagnosis. Developing more reliable diagnostic tests, identifying which patients are most likely to benefit from which antibiotic treatments, and taking measures to control tick populations will all be important for reducing instances of this disease in the future.

People can cut down on their risk of contracting Lyme disease by covering their skin in tall, grassy, wooded areas where disease-carrying ticks thrive. If you think you’ve been bitten by a tick, contact a doctor or health professional.

Hany Elsheikha, Associate Professor of Parasitology, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

What Does Super Tuesday Mean for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Foreign Policy - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:13
Either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders will face Donald Trump in November. Here's how their views of U.S. power could reshape the world.

Bernard BAJOLET - Le soleil ne se lève plus à l’est

Le soleil ne se lève plus à l’estPublié le 24/07/2019 par Politique EtrangèreCette recension a été publiée dans le numéro d’été de Politique étrangère (n° 2/2019). Frédéric Charillon propose une analyse de l’ouvrage de l’ancien ambassadeur Bernard Bajolet, Le soleil ne se lève plus à l’est. Mémoires d’Orient d’un ambassadeur peu diplomate (Plon, 2018, 464 pages).Ambassadeur en Jordanie (1994-1998), en Bosnie-Herzégovine (1999-2003), en Irak (2004-2006), en Algérie (2006-2008), en Afghanistan (2011-2013), coordonnateur national du renseignement, directeur de la DGSE… : sans avoir occupé les postes dits « consacrés » (Washington, New York, Moscou, Bruxelles…), mais parce qu’il a assumé les plus délicats dans des périodes pour le moins difficiles, Bernard Bajolet compte parmi les grands de la Carrière.Ses mémoires portent la marque d’une passion pour le monde musulman, et l’ouvrage s’ouvre d’ailleurs, d’une façon qui peut surprendre, par un long exposé pédagogique, teinté de souvenirs, de rencontres et de conversations, sur les nuances de l’islam, ses branches, et sur les chrétiens d’Orient. L’auteur s’y confie avec pudeur, mais suffisamment pour brosser son portrait : celui d’un Lorrain fidèle à des convictions, au franc-parler rugueux, quitte à traverser, pour prix de son insolence, quelques déserts. Il en traversera au sens figuré du fait de son caractère entier, puis au sens propre : la France pouvait-elle se passer d’une telle expertise dans l’Orient compliqué ?Les pays traversés font l’objet d’une remise en perspective historique et politique plus qu’utile. Les leaders rencontrés (la famille Al-Assad et son entourage, Ytzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat, le roi Hussein de Jordanie et la reine Nour…) y ont leurs portraits fins. Beaucoup d’hommages, quelques coups de griffe, dans cette fresque claire qui s’étire des années 1970 à la fin des années 2010, et dont, étrangement, le débat public français (ce qui en dit long) a surtout retenu les pages consacrées à l’Algérie et les critiques prémonitoires (juste avant les manifestations algériennes du printemps 2019) à l’encontre du régime FLN. Pourtant, de la Syrie à la Bosnie, des pourparlers israélo-palestiniens jusqu’au drame irakien ou aux affaires d’otages, c’est un cours d’une rare densité que nous offre ce livre. Un cours sur des pays et des sociétés, sur des cultures, sur les relations internationales aussi. Les erreurs de jugement y sont montrées, comme le choix américain de débaasifier l’Irak sans compensations pour une communauté sunnite soumise au nouvel ordre chiite.L’épilogue prodigue quelques conseils prospectifs, brefs mais pertinents. L’écriture est fluide, à la fois précise comme peut l’être un télégramme diplomatique, et empreinte de sensations, de sensibilité, de détails, par amour pour cet Orient qui n’est plus. Cet Orient qui vit naître l’espoir d’un processus de paix aujourd’hui défunt, né pourtant après 1993, à l’époque où Bernard Bajolet allait bientôt prendre ses fonctions comme ambassadeur de France en Jordanie. C’était l’époque où les membres de l’ambassade (et leurs coopérants), sise Mutanabbe Street, se rafraîchissaient à l’ombre des arbres de l’hôtel Hisham tout proche.Les voyeurs, toutefois, seront déçus : nulle révélation indécente pour cet ancien patron des services, qui n’est pas du genre à finir sur des « Un espion parle ». Peu d’évocation de ces fonctions-là, par sens du devoir sans doute. Plutôt un attachement à des êtres, à des moments. Une analyse, un récit (y compris sur le danger qui l’a menacé plusieurs fois), un regard qui se veut à la fois clinique et humain, comme une invite à découvrir le monde, à partir, encore et toujours. Après un tel parcours, ses mémoires étaient attendus, et son expertise reste indispensable.Frédéric Charillon

Why the New Dune Movie Could Be a Disaster

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 11:01

James Jay Carafano


Dune is destined to be another crashing bore, because the actual characters in the story are not very relatable or likable.

True story. Years ago, even before dudes wanted a Dell, a gaggle of Army generals gathered to ponder how to integrate computers into military operations. One prefaced his prognosticating by admitting to being a “Trekkie,” having grown up watching the 1960s TV-series. He went on to talk about the future of warfare as though they would all be Captain Kirks firing photon torpedoes from the command deck.

Science fiction and the future have a messy relationship. Much science fiction either meditates on the present or mines the past. The technology may be mundane (taken from the pages of Popular Mechanics) or magical (casting aside the laws of physics).

Since it’s often not really about the future, using science fiction to plan the land of tomorrow is life imitating bad art. Yet, good science fiction, like all good fiction, can tell us much. We should not ignore the entire genre.

Which brings us to the new film version of Frank Herbert’s classic 1965 sci-fi novel Dune, slated to come out later this year.

This sprawling story first hit the silver screen in 1984. It was a mind-numbingly bad adaptation. Then came two so-so TV mini-series: Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (2003). The latter was largely inaccessible to those who had not already read the books.

Will Hollywood’s latest try be a hit or a flop? Time will tell if it’s the next Star Wars (1977) or just another Jupiter Ascending (2015).

The makers of this Dune start with a serious advantage. The original book sparked decades of writing by the author, his son and a co-author. At last count there are about 18 books on the Dune universe spanning from when humans started to exploit space travel to their scattering to the ends of the universe. The original Dune book sandwiches somewhere in the middle of the story. Thus, the screenwriters start with the advantage of understanding the whole saga, being able to reflect and foreshadow on everything that ever happens. This would have been like George Lucas starting Star Wars knowing who Luke’s father was.

The history of Dune is particularly important. The past turns out to be a vital driving force in Herbert’s version of science fiction. Technology is a bit player. There are no robots, no computers, and a lot of sword play. That is because of a much earlier event called the Butlerian Jihad, when humans destroyed all the “thinking machines.” No Terminators (1984) here.

The lack of advanced weaponry significantly impacts the nature of governance and war in the Dune universe. Great houses compete for power using weapons of intrigue like spying, disinformation, diplomacy, double-dealing, assassination, and troops that look suspiciously like special forces.

Contemporary audiences may relate more to Dune than Cold War audiences identified with the original novel. The interstellar politics of Dune feel a lot like the geopolitics of our age of “great power competition.”

The environment is also a key component of the Dune mythology. That, too, should resonate given our own debates over climate change.

And, like the world of Dune, everyone is fighting over the great substance that controls the universe. In Dune it’s called the “spice melange”—a drug necessary for space travel that is a billion times more powerful than opioids on steroids. In our world, it’s data. The power that can collect, analyze, manipulate, and exploit the most data is on its way to becoming the master of our universe.

Here is the big disconnect between us and Dune. Our future is inextricably intertwined with technology. Unless the screenwriters can figure out how to bridge that divide, Dune will be no more relatable than the dragons in the Game of Thrones.

In the real world, how we handle technology could dramatically impact the course of great power competition. If those challenges are woven into the film, it might well provoke some serious thinking about our future—making the movie truly great science fiction.

Otherwise, we’ll have to hope it has terrific special effects and a music score equal to what John Williams produced for Star Wars. Lacking that, Dune is destined to be another crashing bore, because the actual characters in the story are not very relatable or likable.

A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research into matters of national security and foreign relations.

Image: Creative Commons.

Forget Trump: Why Coronavirus Could Be the Chinese Military's Greatest Foe

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:30

Charlie Gao


As it could impact arms production.

The disruption that COVID-2019 coronavirus has inflicted on China’s industry is well documented. Wuhan, a major industrial center, is still in lockdown as of early March 2020. Many factories have gone to a standstill, with major effects on the supply of goods around the world. However, less talked about is the effect the coronavirus has had on the Chinese military industry. While this is understandable, given how China has restricted information about the coronavirus’s effects and the general opacity of the Chinese military industry, some information has come out.

Evidently the effect on the military industry is waning, as announcements of resumption of production of certain items have come out. On February 21, Shenyang Aircraft Corporation announced that it was resuming production of J-15 fighters after a short pause due to coronavirus fears. This follows announcements earlier that other aviation industry firms had resumed full production. Measures against further coronavirus infections were also included in speeches in which productions were resumed, including regular temperature checks among the workforce. In other sectors, such as shipbuilding, major efforts have taken place to resume full pace production, including the use of reserve manpower to replace those who are sick.

However, there remains the issue of Wuhan, which is still on lockdown. Wuhan houses many firms related to the Chinese defense industry, being part of China’s “Optics Valley” dedicated to electro-optical equipment. Despite not being on the coast, Wuhan also hosts many naval engineering firms and institutes. Statements by Chinese analysts suggest that work is being minimally affected, as none of the staff at military-related institutions at Wuhan are said to be infected. But there is the admission that there could be an impact on productivity as well as security risks as the number of workers working from home with sensitive information increases.

The implications of the minimal impact, if true, are interesting. It suggests that China’s military industry’s supply chain is relatively insulated from that used to supply the factories that produce goods for export. Articles discussing the start of Wuhan’s civilian industry are not optimistic, saying materials may run out as other sectors of the Chinese economy remain disrupted. Chinese authorities appear to be aware of this, and have initiated pushes to restart production from the bottom up in military industries. A quote provided to the South China Morning Post reinforces this: “Other state-owned enterprises like steel plants have also resumed production, and it’s impossible for the aircraft and naval industry to slow up production once the heat treating furnaces are turned on,”

Whether the return to norms in the military industry will boost the rest of China’s economy has yet to be seen. But their relative insulation from the original shocks of coronavirus suggest that while they may be quicker to recover, their recovery will be isolated.

Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues.

Image: Reddit.

The Civil War's Little-Known Turning Point: The Battle of Shiloh

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:22

Roy Morris Jr.

History, Americas

And it led to the rise of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant...

No one expected this—not the fiercest “fire-eater” in South Carolina or the flintiest abolitionist in New England. By the time the guns fell silent at Shiloh on the night of April 7, 1862, soldiers on both sides of the battlefield realized that they had endured something never before seen in American history. Nearly 24,000 men had fallen dead or wounded among the peach orchards and tangled woods in southwestern Tennessee, more than the total loss from all three of America’s previous wars combined. Small wonder that New Orleans writer George Washington Cable, himself a former Confederate, would later write: “The South never smiled again at Shiloh.” 

Neither, for that matter, did the North—at least not for another three long years. Shiloh was the first truly disorienting battle in the national experience, a battle in which large numbers of poorly led troops stumbled into one another, blazed away, fell back, came together again, and stopped butchering each other only after darkness, rain, and exhaustion put an end to the fighting. There would be other battles like Shiloh in 1862, many of them commemorated in this special issue of Civil War Quarterly.

Where America’s Childhood Ended

But there would never be another Shiloh, for that was where America’s childhood ended. After Shiloh, all cocky talk of bloodless victories and cowardly foes gave way to the sickening realization that a war started almost cavalierly one year earlier would not be ending easily—or any time soon. It was no coincidence that the two generals destined to lead the main armies of the opposing regions rose to prominence in 1862. For the North, it was an unprepossessing, rumpled officer from the Midwest, Ulysses S. Grant, a man who had failed at almost everything he touched since graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point two decades earlier. Grant began his improbable march to high command with his stunning victory at Fort Donelson in February 1862 and his hairbreadth survival at Shiloh six weeks later. For the South, the rising star was Robert E. Lee, also a graduate of West Point, but a man from a very different background than Grant. The patrician son of old-line Virginia royalty, Lee would lead the Army of Northern Virginia through some of its bitterest battles in 1862: Second Manassas, the Battle of Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Two of those would be overwhelming Confederate victories, but the third—Antietam—would be a crushing defeat (and the bloodiest single day in American history). Grant and Lee would begin their long march toward each other in 1862, although it would be another two years before they met for the first time on the battlefield.

A Watershed Year for Both Sides

In the meantime, there were other battles to be fought in 1862, including the significant Union victory in the western theater of the war at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March. Sandwiched between them were other Union victories, these on the water, when Admiral David Farragut successfully seized the South’s largest city, New Orleans, and a Federal ironclad, Monitor, fought off the Confederate behemoth Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia, ushering in a new era in naval warfare. For both sides, 1862 would be a watershed year, a time in which the amateur armies raised so hastily the previous spring would learn how to fight, and kill, each other with increasing efficiency. From the men in the ranks to the officers on horseback, the war would progress with a grim inevitability. The only certainty was that there would be even worse days to come. Shiloh had seen to that.

This article by Roy Morris Jr. first appeared at the Warfare History Network in February 2019.

Image: "Plenty of Fighting Today": The 9th Illinois at Shiloh by Keith Rocco. The National Guard.

Why the Senate Might Censure Chuck Schumer Over His Supreme Court Comments

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 10:01

Fred Lucas

Politics, Americas

A big deal?

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer may become only the ninth senator in the body’s history to be censured by his colleagues. 

Lawmakers in the Senate and House introduced resolutions to censure him Thursday, a day after Schumer made inflammatory comments that seemed to some to advocate violence if two Supreme Court justices did not rule his way in an abortion case.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced a measure in the Senate that 14 other Republicans so far have co-sponsored

In the House, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., introduced a similar resolution of censure

During a pro-choice rally Wednesday on the steps of the Supreme Court, Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke directly to Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed to the high court by President Donald Trump.

“I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh,” Schumer said, according to video of his remarks. “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price. You won’t know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions.”

The eight senators previously censured in U.S. history were censured by their Senate colleagues, not by the House. Although no rule prevents the House from censuring a senator, it’s not likely in a Democrat-controlled House.

Hawley’s censure resolution in the Senate states, in part: 

Senator Schumer has acknowledged that threatening statements can increase the dangers of violence against government officials when he stated on June 15, 2017, following the attempted murder of several elected Members of Congress, ‘We would all be wise to reflect on the importance of civility in our [N]ation’s politics’ and that ‘the level of nastiness, vitriol, and hate that has seeped into our politics must be excised.’

Republican senators who signed on to the Hawley resolution include Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Braun of Indiana, Rick Scott of Florida, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, David Perdue of Georgia, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Martha McSally of Arizona. 

Biggs, in introducing a similar resolution in the House, said in a written statement:

Threats towards any elected or appointed member of the three branches of our constitutional government are wrong and cannot be tolerated. 

Minority Leader Schumer is the leader of his [Democratic] conference, and, while he may offer public criticism about decisions with which he disagrees, he should not use rhetoric that is threatening and intimidating towards members of our independent judiciary.

The Arizona Republican added that amid public criticism, including from Chief Justice John Roberts, Schumer didn’t back down.  

“Even after he was called out by many of his own colleagues and the chief justice, Leader Schumer would not apologize for his threats,” Biggs said. “I am introducing this resolution today to send a message that this threatening rhetoric has no place in the U.S. Congress—especially from a leader of one of our parties.”

Roberts, in a formal statement Wednesday, called Schumer’s comments “dangerous.”

Schumer did not apologize Thursday in remarks on the Senate floor, but said he should have used different words.

“I shouldn’t have used the words I did. But in no way was I making a threat,” the Senate’s top Democrat said, adding: “And Republicans who are busy manufacturing outrage over these comments know that too.”

Many of the previous censures of senators involved corruption or ethics cases.

The notable censure of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wis., on Dec. 2, 1954, said he did not cooperate with a 1952 investigation conducted by a Senate subcommittee on privileges and elections and “abused” a Select Committee to Study Censure.

The first member of the Senate to be censured was Sen. Timothy Pickering, a Federalist from Massachusetts, on Jan. 2, 1811. His offense, according to the Senate, was “Reading confidential documents in open Senate session before an injunction of secrecy was removed.”

The most recent Senate censure came on July 25, 1990. Colleagues said Sen. David Durenberger, R-Minn., engaged in unethical conduct by “his structuring of a real estate transaction and receipt of Senate reimbursements in connection with his stays in his Minneapolis condominium, his pattern of prohibited communications respecting the condominium, his repeated acceptance of prohibited gifts of limousine service for personal purposes, and the conversion of a campaign contribution to his personal use.”

Condemnation of Schumer was especially harsh in legal circles.

“This is an outrageous statement that amounts to a threat against sitting Supreme Court justices,” said David Rivkin, who worked at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel’s Office during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. 

“It is designed to intimate them,” Rivkin said in a written statement. “This behavior cannot be countenanced. Indeed, it has to be condemned as an unconstitutional conduct.”

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, a liberal, lashed out on Twitter, calling Schumer’s comments to Gorsuch and Kavanaugh “inexcusable.” 

Even the left-leaning American Bar Association criticized Schumer.

Among rare defenders was Daniel Goldberg, president of the left-wing legal group Alliance for Justice, who criticized Roberts instead.

“It’s unfortunate that Chief Justice Roberts’ attempt to defend the integrity of the Supreme Court instead highlighted his own partisan biases,” Goldberg said, adding: 

Sen. Schumer has been a stalwart champion for health care rights, including defending the right to abortion from constant legal threats. His comments reflected widespread concern that the court is considering overturning a ruling it issued just four years ago, as demonstrated by the massive rally he was speaking to. … Schumer wasn’t wrong that if the Supreme Court violates its own precedent simply to advance the conservatives’ partisan agenda, there will be a significant public backlash. 

Schumer should know better and likely does know better, Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told Fox News

“Sen. Hawley is right that censure would be appropriate,” Slattery said Thursday. “Sen. Schumer took to the Senate floor earlier today. He said he was offering an apology. In my view, he seemed to be saying, ‘Sorry, but I’m not sorry.’” 

“Clearly, enough people didn’t know what Schumer purportedly meant,” Slattery added. “An opinion writer for The Washington Post, the American Bar Association, all sorts of institutions that are not exactly conservative, have come out to condemn what Sen. Schumer has done.”

This article by Fred Lucas originally appeared at The Daily Signal. This article first appeared in 2020.

Image: Reuters

Could Sanctions Really End Iran?

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 09:44

Stratfor Worldview

Economics, Middle East

Doubt it.

Key point: America can still do more to hurt Iran economically. However, more damage does not necessarily mean that Tehran will fall.

The United States, reacting to the shooting down of a U.S. unmanned aerial vehicle last week, launched two sanctions-related salvos against Iran on June 24. It layered sanctions on top of those already targeting commanders in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which are unlikely to have more than a limited effect on the Iranian economy. The second set of sanctions, targeting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his appointees, could bite much deeper than typical sanctions issued by the United States by hampering Iran's engagement with the world and damaging its economy.

An Executive Order Lays the Groundwork

An executive order signed by U.S. President Donald Trump freezes all property subject to U.S. jurisdiction that is held by Iran's supreme leader or the supreme leader's office. In addition, the order allows the U.S. Treasury Department to similarly sanction any person or entity the supreme leader, or his office, appoints, such as a state official or the head of an entity such as a company leader. The order also extends that connection a step further, allowing sanctions to be placed on any appointment made by an appointee of the supreme leader, as well. It also threatens sanctions against anyone who provides support for people or entities sanctioned under those designations.

The Treasury Department has yet to designate anyone under those sanctions, although Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif would be sanctioned later this week. There is no shortage of potential additional targets. After all, Khamenei has made thousands of appointments including key members of the Iranian government and its military and intelligence apparatus. His appointments also cover Iran's so-called bonyads, or religious charities, and other businesses that make up a vast business empire.

The sanctions directly on Khamenei — who does not travel overseas — will probably have a negligible effect, but sanctions on bonyads and companies could further restrict the Iranian economy. But perhaps just as important, the sanctions could hamper any future efforts between Tehran and Washington to make a deal.

Negotiations Become Tangled

Iran's Foreign Ministry said that the new sanctions could lead to a "permanent closure" of diplomacy with the United States. While the statement might be extreme, sanctioning Zarif and Khamenei will make it more difficult to even broach a new set of negotiations — and in the case of Zarif even perhaps inhibit his ability to perform some of his broader diplomatic functions. In April, the White House made another major move potentially affecting Iran's diplomatic abilities when it designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. But along with the sanctions, exceptions allowing diplomatic activities by current and former IRGC members were created. The United States will likely put similar mechanisms in place in sanctions against Zarif. But if it chooses not to, Iranian diplomatic activities would be severely curtailed as long as Zarif is in place.

Moreover, beyond the symbolic value of designating Khamenei for sanctions, it will have a real effect on Iran's ability to engage in further talks with the United States, as its entire political system is based on the concept of velayat-e faqih(governance of the jurist). Those in the White House who advocate taking a hard line against Iran could see the sanctions designations surrounding Khamenei and Zarif, and the complications of possibly removing the IRGC from the terrorist list in the future — as an opportunity to make it more difficult — if not impossible — for diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran to resume, even after the current U.S. administration leaves office.

An Economic Move With Teeth

Bonyads and other entities connected to the supreme leader play a key role in the Iranian economy. While many of them do not hold substantial overseas assets, the entities account for an estimated one-fifth of Iran's non-oil gross domestic product and operate in a wide number of industries that import and export products. This means the second- and third-order effects of hitting these entities — if done in a broad way by the Treasury Department — could further strain the already fragile Iranian economy and its financial system. It is not clear to what extent Washington is willing to place sanctions on Execution of Imam Khomeini's Order, the Mostazafan Foundation, the Astan Quds Razavi, or any of the other bonyads and entities connected with Khamenei — but it is clear that Iran hawks in the United States will advocate that those businesses be included.

Despite the limited reach of the United States to directly affect some areas of the Iranian economy with sanctions, it does have room to add effective secondary sanctions. It could, for instance, widen the net for secondary financial sanctions and threaten to sanction third-country banks that deal in certain transactions covering Iran's imports and exports. For example, the United States reserves some of its strongest moves against third countries to use against those buying Iranian oil. Washington has also looked at sanctioning the domestic Iranian counterpart to the European-backed financial channel facilitating humanitarian trade.

No U.S. option — short of sanctioning Iran's entire diplomatic corps — can deal the same blow to Iran's economy as sanctions hitting its oil sector. But the fragility of Iran's economy makes every channel it can use potentially damaging.

Sanctions on Iran's Supreme Leader Go Beyond Symbolism is republished with the permission of Stratfor Worldview, a geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm. This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

Coronavirus Panic Is A Bigger Threat Than The Virus

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 09:33

Jo Daniels

Security, World

Fear is a normal response to threats, but it must be tempered.

As the novel coronavirus proliferates on a global scale, worry and panic is on the rise. And it is no wonder when we are constantly being told how to best protect ourselves from being infected. But how do you stay safe in this climate and simultaneously make sure that the fear doesn’t take over your life, developing into obsessive compulsive disorder or panic?

Fear is a normal, necessary evolutionary response to threat – ultimately designed to keep us safe. Whether the threat is emotional, social or physical, this response is dependent on a complex interaction between our primitive “animal brain” (the limbic system) and our sophisticated cognitive brain (the neo-cortex). These work busily in concert to assess and respond to threats to survival.

Once a threat has been identified, a “fight or flight” response can be triggered. This is the body’s biological response to fear and involves flooding us with adrenaline in a bid to ensure that we are able to escape or defeat any threat, such as a dangerous animal attacking. The response produces a range of intense physical symptoms – palpitations, perspiration, dizziness and difficulty breathing – which are designed to make us run faster and fight harder.

However, this system can be prone to glitches, sometimes responding disproportionately to threats that aren’t actually that serious or imminent. Worrying about health conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and even COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) can therefore also trigger a fight-or-flight response.

That’s despite the fact that there is no role for a primitive biological response to COVID-19 – no running or fighting is necessary. Instead, it is our high-level, cognitive neocortex that is required here, a rational and measured approach to infectious disease, without the messy complications of panic.

Sadly, this is easier said than done. Once the fear has kicked in, it can be hard to stop it.

Vulnerable groups

It is highly unlikely that a viral outbreak, even at pandemic levels, will trigger mental health problems in people who don’t already have them or are in the process of developing them. Research shows that most mental health problems start between early adolescence and the mid-20s, with complex factors being involved. Around 10% of the global population experience clinical levels of anxiety at any one time, although some estimates are higher.

People who are chronically and physically unwell – the ones who are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus – are at particular risk of spiralling anxiety. This should not be ignored. Their concern is warranted and is vital in motivating them to take up precautionary measures. But it is important that these individuals have the support they need in dealing with their emotions.

People with health anxiety, preoccupied with health-related information or physical symptoms, are also at risk of worsening mental health as the virus spreads. So are individuals who are prone to frequent or increased “checking”, such as constantly making sure that the oven is off or that the front door is locked. Those at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to such behaviour may be displaying signs of obsessive compulsive disorder.

People who have a lot of background anxiety, and are not easily reassured, may also benefit from assessment and support in the shadow of the coronavirus outbreak. This may include people with generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder, which have strong physiological features.

Ways to manage the stress

If you find yourself excessively worrying about the coronavirus, this doens’t necessarily mean that you have a psychological disorder. But high levels of emotional distress, whatever the source, should be appropriately and compassionately attended to, particularly if it is interfering with normal day to day activities.

At times of stress and anxiety, we are often prone to using strategies that are designed to help but prove counter-productive. For example, you may Google symptoms to try to calm yourself down, even though it is unlikely to ever make you feel better. When our strategies for de-stressing instead increase our anxiety, it is time to take a step back and ask if there is anything more helpful we can do.

There are actually ways to dampen down the physical and emotional symptoms associated with anxiety. One is to stop checking. For example, avoid looking for signs of illness. You are likely to find unfamiliar physical sensations that are harmless but make you feel anxious. Normal physical changes and sensations pass in time, so if you feel your chest tighten, shift your focus onto pleasurable activities and adopt “watchful waiting” in the meantime.

In the case of COVID-19, checking may also include constant monitoring of news updates and social media feeds, which significantly increases anxiety – only serving to reassure us momentarily, if at all. So if you are feeling anxious, consider tuning off automatic notifications and updates on COVID-19.

Instead, do less frequent checks of reliable, impartial sources of information updates on COVID-19. This might include national health websites rather than alarmist news or social media feeds that exacerbate worry unnecessarily. Information can be reassuring if it is rooted in facts. It is often the intolerance of uncertainty that perpetuates anxiety rather than fear of illness itself.

At times of stress and anxiety, hyperventilation and shallow breathing is common. Purposeful, regular breathing can therefore work to reset the fight or flight response and prevent the onset of panic and the unpleasant physical symptoms associated with anxiety. This is also true for exercise, which can help reduce the excess adrenaline build-up associated with anxiety. It can also give much needed perspective.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t isolate yourself. Personal relationships are crucial in maintaining perspective, elevating mood and allowing distraction away from concerns that trouble us. Even in imposed isolation, it is important to combat loneliness and keep talking – for example, via video chats.

We are globally united in living with a very real yet uncertain health threat. Vigilance and precautionary measures are essential. But psychological distress and widespread panic does not have to be part of this experience. Continuing normal daily activities, maintaining perspective and reducing unnecessary stress is key to psychological survival. In other words, where possible, keep calm and carry on.

If you continue to feel anxious or distressed despite trying these techniques, do talk to your GP or refer to a psychologist for evidence-based treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

This first appeared in The Conversation. 

A Great Upset: The Coast Guard's Snipers Outclass the Marines' Own Sharpshooters

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 09:11

Task and Purpose

Security, Americas

Huh. Who would have guessed?

Key point: The U.S. Marines are good, but they aren't always the best. In a recent shooting competition, it was actually the Coast Guard that proved their skills. Marine snipers are considered among the most elite hunters of men in the U.S. military with Hollywood movies and countless books dedicated to them, and yet, for the past two years, they have been beaten in competition by the freakin' Coast Guard.

Over the past week, the 2018 International Sniper Competition has played out at Fort Benning, Georgia, with 30 teams going head-to-head from U.S. and international militaries, as well as local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.And for the second year in row, snipers from the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment came out on top, while the Corps' finest got rocked by the service branch most would derisively label "puddle pirates."

Well, who's laughing now?

The best team — 75th Ranger Staff Sgts. Brandon Kelley and Jonathan Roque — was chosen after all competitors went through "a gauntlet of rigorous physical, mental and endurance events that test the range of sniper skills that include, but are not limited to, long range marksmanship, observation, reconnaissance and reporting abilities, and abilities to move with stealth and concealment," according to the competition website.

Second place went to the Colorado Army National Guard, while Sweden's 17th Wing Air Force Rangers came in third.

The Coast Guard team, which is part of the service's Special Missions Training Detachment, came in 9th (They were 3rd place in 2017). The Marine Corps team, which was from the Scout Sniper Instructor School in Quantico, Virginia, came in 10th (the Corps team in 2017 got 7th place).

Still, to be fair, the Marines did beat out other elite units, to include the 1st Special Forces Group and the Navy's Special Warfare Group 1.

Which means that despite the bravado and competitive nature of different military branches, maybe it's time to pare it back a little on crap-talking the Coast Guard.

Because, like Globo Gym, their snipers are better than you. And everyone now knows it.

(This article by Paul Szoldra originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter. This article first appeared in 2018.)

Here are the final standings:

More Articles from Task & Purpose:

- 7 Veteran-Friendly Manufacturers That Are Hiring

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- Here’s How Marines Fared On The New Physical Fitness Test

Image: Reuters

Terminator Rising? Israel's New Spice-250 Glide Bomb Can Choose Its Own Targets

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 09:00

Michael Peck

Technology, Middle East

That's one spicy meatball...

Key point: AI in warfare is increasingly a source of global concern. Yet it looks like Israel went ahead with a bomb that can recognize and pick its targets... doesn't that seem like a bad idea?

An Israeli company has unveiled a smart bomb that is truly smart.

The SPICE-250 glide bomb has the ability to autonomously recognize and select targets. But how safe is a bomb that can pick its own targets?

This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Israeli manufacturer Rafael calls this Automatic Target Recognition, which relies on electro-optic sensors (which process light into sensor data) and Artificial Intelligence. “The newly-unveiled ATR feature is a technological breakthrough, enabling SPICE-250 to effectively learn the specific target characteristics ahead of the strike, using advanced AI and deep-learning technologies,” according to a Rafael announcement. “During flight, the pilot selects the target type to be attacked and allocates a target to each weapon. The weapons are launched towards the vicinity of the targets, using their INS [inertial navigation] for initial navigation. When approaching the target area, the weapons use the ATR mode for detection and recognition of the targets. Each weapon homes-in on the pre-defined target, either autonomously or with a human-in-the-loop, aided by the ATR algorithm.”

The SPICE-250 is a glide bomb with a range of 75 kilometers (47 miles) and armed with a 75-kilogram (165-pound) warhead. A single F-16 can carry sixteen of these weapons.

The SPICE-250 uses terrain data, 3-D models and algorithms to identify targets amid the surrounding clutter of objects and terrain in the kill zone, Rafael deputy marketing manager Gideon Weiss told IT magazine Insight Analytics. A two-way data link and video stream enable a pilot to retarget the weapon until just seconds before impact.

Yet most significant is that if the primary target cannot be hit, the SPICE-250’s AI algorithms can select a secondary target. “This goes into the area of user-defined policies and rules of engagement, and it is up to the users to decide on how to apply the weapon, when and where to use it, and how to define target recognition probabilities and its eventuality,” Weiss said.,

And that’s important, because as Rafael emphasizes, the SPICE-250 was designed to find targets “without depending on GPS navigation in GPS-denied environments.” Given the enormous efforts that Russia, China and other nations are devoting to GPS jamming and spoofing, the world is entering an era where people and weapons can no longer rely on satellite navigation.

Which means the SPICE-250—and similar weapons that are inevitably coming—will be on their own in some situations. The problem is that smart devices aren’t always smart: heat-seeking missiles that home in on the engines of friendly jets, computers that mistake the Moon for a Soviet ICBM strike, and facial recognition sensors that mistake Congressmen for wanted criminals.

Smart bombs have come a long way since the first laser-guided weapons of the Vietnam War, especially with the advent of GPS guidance and AI autonomy. But how well they function autonomously, without a human in the loop to make the judgment calls, will depend on factors such as the quality of sensor data and of the AI algorithms.

These are the same concerns that already spur the “killer robot” wariness about autonomous aircraft and tanks. It is more than plausible to imagine scenarios where a smart bomb, bereft of GPS targeting and human guidance, confuses one hilltop for another and hits the wrong target. Or, mistakes a school bus for a tank.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook. This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

Drill, Baby Drill: Oil Production On Federal Land Topped 1 Billion Barrels

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 08:30

Chris White

Economics, Americas

Foreign oil has never been less important to America.

Oil production on federal lands topped 1 billion barrels in 2019, marking a 29% increase from the Obama administration, Department of the Interior officials announced Tuesday.

Technological advancements over the last decade in hydraulic fracturing helped drive the increase, as did President Donald Trump’s rollback of his Democratic predecessor’s environmental regulations. Production was up 122 million barrels from 2018, The Associated Press reported.

“You have to create an environment where folks want to bid on leases and then go develop them,” Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior Casey Hammond told the AP. “One thing we can do as regulators is give people some assurances we’re going to work through the process in a fair and efficient way.”

The fracking boom, which began around 2009, collapsed the price of natural gas, giving public utilities a low-cost alternative fuel as regulations imposed by former President Barack Obama forced coal plants to install expensive equipment or retire. Fracking and the accompanying rules have provided a one-two punch to coal producers, while lifting the fortunes of gas and oil producers.

Such technological advancements were not the only element involved in the production increase.

“This is another example of the Trump administration undoing four or five decades of thoughtful laws to protect the public lands,” Mike Penfold, a retired state director at the Bureau of Land Management, told the AP. Trump is setting up an environment in which “oligarchs” are benefiting more than taxpayers, Penfold suggested.

The increase does give the U.S. a significant geopolitical advantage over the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to one analyst.

The sheer amount of production coming from federal lands gives the U.S. a big enough stake in the international oil market to prevent OPEC from lording its crude over the world, Sarp Ozkan, director of energy analysis at the industry data firm Enverus, told the AP.

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Image: Reuters.