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Pissing Match

Cartoon by Halit Kurtulmus Aytoslu

The coming Age of Chaos

By Frederick Kuo

Asia Times: After the fall of the Soviet Union, eminent political scientist Francis Fukuyama penned his famous book The End of History proclaiming that liberal democracy represented the final chapter of human history. However, history has kept moving and it increasingly appears that the chapter of Liberal Democracy is ending with no prediction of what lies ahead.

We are living in a period of exponential change. On the stage of global geopolitics, the last five centuries of near-complete Western domination is drawing to a close, quickly being replaced by a multipolar world where Western societies are forced to compete and interact with non-Western societies as peers. This new multipolar reality will cause a massive shift of consciousness that few in the West have prepared for.

The transition from a unipolar order to one where several peer powers jostle for power and influence will lead to a significant escalation of tension and unpredictability in the world order. While the chances of a repeat of the global violence that we witnessed in the 20th century remains low because of the ironically fortunate advent of nuclear weapons and the potential of mutually assured destruction between peer rivals, increasing hostility and rivalry between peer states, particularly between the US-led order and the Sino-Russian sphere, is likely to reach fever pitch.

The rising chaos of external factors such as great-power competition that many societies will face in this less stable world order will be matched by the rising chaos of internal factors driven by technological disruption, political dysfunction and increasing social inequality. As technological progress continues unabated with the unprecedented advancement of artificial intelligence, connectivity and automation, the threat of social displacement and an extrapolated rise in wealth inequality is real.

Combined with frustration over the paralysis of our political systems and social division, the catalyst for chaos and disorder is potent. What this means is that the forces that have already begun gnawing against the foundations of liberal democracy will be significantly reinforced. Unfortunately, aside from marginal voices like Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang, who advocates that Universal Basic Income be instituted to combat rising automation, public discourse has barely even begun to grasp the significance of these issues on the future of the societies we live in.

Today, we live in a period of relentless change where the assumptions that were once unquestioned are radically being challenged. The age-old ballasts of power both within and without national borders are being redrawn faster than our collective consciousness can catch up. In summary, we are entering an age of chaos, and it is guaranteed to be interesting.

Frederick Kuo is a published San Francisco-based writer, UCLA graduate and owner of local real estate brokerage Amber Rock Properties. His writings focus on economics and geopolitics within a social and historical context.

Mushroom Head

Cartoon by Robert Rousso

Inflation runs rampant in Tehran

By Leila Gharagozlou

CNBC: As U.S. sanctions on Iran extend into a second year, Iranian citizens are paying the price with skyrocketing costs and food shortages.

Jafar Ghaffari, a cook in Tehran, is one of the many Iranians struggling to keep up with the rising cost of food. He says prices have increased by 50% to 100% in the last year.

Ghaffari says his weekly shopping trip, which cost him 7 million rials [$50] just three months ago, now costs him 14 million rials ($100) a week, nearly half the average Iranian’s salary.
 

The constant price increases have caused instability for families trying to budget for rent and food. Profiteers pump up prices, and consumers rush to stock up before the next price hike. “Nothing is certain. You’ll see something [priced at] 220,000 rials, and tomorrow [it’s] 300,000 rials,” Ghaffari said.

It has been over a year since President Donald Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear accord designed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, leaving Germany, France and the United Kingdom to attempt to uphold the agreement with Iran.

The Trump administration also imposed a number of sanctions that have focused on targeting Iran’s economy by cutting off its oil revenue and ability to trade with Europe and Asia. Currently, Iran’s oil exports have dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day to about 500,000 barrels a day due to the pressure from sanctions, according to Tanker Trackers data.
Monthly salary of $220

Unable to realize the economic benefits of the nuclear deal, Iran is facing high inflation, a devalued currency and an economy that the International Monetary Fund predicts will shrink by 6% this year. The Iranian government has found its hands tied as prices on foods climb higher, pricing out the population, whose average monthly salary of 32 million rials equals only $220.

In 2018, the rial lost nearly 60% of its value. With less buying power (the exchange rate for the dollar on the free market is 145,000 rials), Iranians are finding they can’t stretch their paychecks anymore.
Premium: Dollar and Iranian rial with greek euro notes
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Younes Ali, a shopkeeper in one of Tehran’s affluent neighborhoods, said he’s raised prices on everything from milk and pasta to canned tuna. Tuna prices have gone from 25,000 rials to 190,000 rials, while the price of pasta has gone from between 18,000 and 25,000 to nearly 60,000 rials.

One reason for the increases: import prices. Tuna cans are assembled abroad, and the material is expensive. Ali said he’s lucky, as he still gets business; others down the street have been forced to shut their shops and leave Tehran.

Over the past year, the government has tried to tackle the problem through subsidies and price regulation. But years of economic mismanagement by the government have left Iranians skeptical of the new tactics >>>

No Asylum

Cartoon by Dario Castillejos

The Trump Administration’s Plan to Effectively End Asylum Is Almost Certainly Illegal

Vox: Tens of thousands of asylum-seekers have set up encampments in cities along the U.S.-Mexico border, where they’ve been forced to wait for weeks before they can formally enter the United States to plead asylum. But now, many of them won’t be able to try at all.

The Trump administration implemented a new rule Tuesday that will effectively end asylum protections for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who pass through another country on their way to the U.S. Migrants will now be required to apply for — and be denied — asylum protections in another country before they can apply for relief in the U.S.
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Administration officials have framed the rule, which has reportedly been in the works for months, as a way of disincentivizing “meritless” asylum claims and alleviating the growing backlog of immigration cases. But experts and immigration advocates say the rule is illegal because it violates the asylum protocols issued by Congress. The American Civil Liberties Union has already threatened to “sue swiftly” to prevent the rule from going into effect.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, migrants can be denied asylum if they were “firmly resettled” in another country before arriving in the U.S. And migrants who pass through a “safe third country” can already be denied asylum in the U.S. if they didn’t apply in the other country first. A “safe third country” is one that has agreed to a treaty with the U.S. to process asylum seekers who arrive there first. Canada is the only country that has agreed to this status.

But the Trump administration’s new rule takes that policy a step further: Migrants will now be denied asylum if they pass through any other country, even ones that haven’t agreed to safe third country status, on their way to the U.S.

“No one could credibly argue that it is safe for asylum-seekers in Mexico or in Guatemala,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress. “Moreover, there is no way in which you could argue that simply transiting through a country would constitute being ‘firmly resettled.’”

In effect, the new rule will forbid almost all migrants who arrive at the southern border from applying for asylum protections, with a few exceptions. Migrants who applied for (and were denied) asylum elsewhere can still apply. So can victims of human trafficking. The “credible fear” interview — the first step in applying for asylum — will only be given to migrants who meet these exceptions.

People who fly to the U.S. and plead for asylum in airports won’t be affected by the new rule — but most foreign citizens need visas to travel to the U.S., which most asylum-seekers wouldn’t qualify for anyway >>>

Shoeshine boys...

High Noon

Cartoon by Fares Garabet

Iran hits back at US demands on ballistic missiles

Aljazeera: Iran has hit back at US President Donald Trump's call for new nuclear negotiations that encompass its ballistic missiles programme, accusing Washington of bringing the Middle East to the brink of "explosion" by selling arms to allies in the Gulf.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, made the comment in a wide-ranging interview that aired on NBC News on Monday.

He said Iran would only sit down with the United States if it lifted punishing economic sanctions it has imposed on Tehran and rejoined the 2015 nuclear deal it abandoned last year.

Trump pulled the US out of the landmark multilateral accord saying he wanted to negotiate a new deal that also addressed Iran's ballistic missiles programme and support for armed groups in the region.

Zarif, who is in New York on a visit to the United Nations, told NBC it was the US and its allies - Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - who were to blame for turmoil in the Middle East.

"If you want to discuss ballistic missiles, then we need to discuss the amount of weapons sold to our region," he said.

"Last year, Iran spent $16bn altogether on its military, we have a 82 million population. UAE, with a million population, spent $22bn. Saudi Arabia - with less than half of [Iran's] population - spent $67bn, most of them are American [arms].

"These are American weaponry that is going into our region, making our region ready to explode. So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons including missiles to our region." >>>

Racist dog

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

Why Trump's racist dog whistle won't work this time

CNN: Donald Trump's grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born in Kallstadt, Germany, and emigrated to the United States as a teenager. (According to one historian, he was thrown out of his country of birth for failing to perform mandatory military service.) Now Friedrich's grandson has become President of the United States, and is trying to fuel a re-election campaign by stoking nativist resentment.

It was so inflammatory that it burnt through the hesitations of cautious editors. CNN plainly, correctly, called it a "racist attack." The President sarcastically suggested that some of his non-white critics are not real Americans. He urged that "Progressive Democrat Congresswomen," the best-known of whom happen to be women of color, should go back to their countries. The "Congresswomen," he wrote, "who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world..." should leave.

He was most likely referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, born in New York; Rashida Tlaib, born in Michigan; Ayanna Presley, born in Massachusetts; and Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born naturalized American. They are all US citizens, like him, like his wife, his in-laws, and his ex-wives. They are Americans.

The America I have known is made up primarily of people who are intrigued and attracted to people of different backgrounds.

And although there has always been a segment that does not trust outsiders -- and bigots who consider non-whites inferior -- most Americans are not racists, not bigots, and not nativists. So why is Trump, the man who possesses a peculiar political instinct, betting his re-election on dividing Americans and turning them against their better instincts?

He thinks it worked the first time. But this is not 2016. In 2016, the entire world was terrified by ISIS terrorists beheading hostages and blowing up nightclubs. The Great Recession was recent enough that people still feared the recovery might unwind, making it easier for many people to believe that immigrants were taking away their jobs. He could frighten people by talking about rapists at the border, promising better health care, and an administration of "only the best people." Back then, we didn't know quite how much Trump lied, and how many of his promises he would be unable to keep.

Sure, his racism, his cruelty against migrants and his family separation policy will still play well with a segment of the electorate. But today, Americans see Trump for what he is. They see his campaign and what he is trying to do. When he tweets about corrupt, inept governments, we think about Donald Trump. When he tells the descendants of immigrants that they should leave, we think perhaps Friedrich Trump's grandson is the one who doesn't belong here.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.

Iran tanker

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

UK may help release Iranian oil tanker if it gets Syria guarantee 

The Guardian: Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said he told his Iranian counterpart on Saturday that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if there were guarantees it would not go to Syria.

Hunt said Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.

He tweeted: “Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib courts.

“Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to [Gibraltar’s chief minister] Fabian Picardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward.”

The exchange comes after confirmation that the UK will step up its military presence in the Gulf by sending a second warship to the region to protect British commercial oil tankers.

HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, will be deployed within days after it completes a course of Nato exercises in the Baltic Sea, with the aim of being in the Gulf region by next week.

The ship will work alongside the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Montrose and US Gulf allies, but will not participate in Washington’s proposed global maritime coalition to protect shipping in the area.

Theresa May said this week that she would begin talks with US authorities on increasing a transatlantic presence in the region, following two sets of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and an attempt by the Iranian navy to push a British-owned oil tanker towards Iranian waters.

Britain’s relations with Iran deteriorated last week when the UK seized Grace 1, suspected to be carrying oil destined for Syria, in breach of EU sanctions. Tehran has denied the ship was heading for Syria and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation if Grace 1 was not released.

The ship’s captain and chief officer were arrested by the Gibraltarian authorities after the vessel was searched for more than a week. On Saturday, the Royal Gibraltar police said the pair and two second officers had been conditionally bailed without charge, while the investigation is continuing and the vessel remains in detention.

Saudi Human Rights

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Saudi prosecutors seek death penalty for Khashoggi suspects 

The Guardian: A Saudi prosecutor has asked for the death penalty for five of 11 suspects held over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, the state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.

The call came during the first court hearing in the Khashoggi case, which has shredded the kingdom’s international reputation and strained its relations with Turkey, the US and many other western governments.

In a trial that is likely to have major international diplomatic consequences, the 11 defendants appeared in court on Thursday in a session closed to the public.

In late October the Saudis said they had detained 18 suspects in relation to the murder, but the names have not been shared with Turkish authorities.

The Saudi general prosecution said the interrogation of a number of the accused would continue, adding that two requests asking for further evidence had been sent to Turkey but had not received any response.

The Saudi prosecution said that following the hearing in the case the defendants asked for a copy from the prosecutors and sought time to make their defence.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has asked for the accused to be extradited to Turkey to stand trial, a request that has been rejected.

Erdoğan has effectively accused the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, of ordering the killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and has run a persistent campaign revealing details of the Turkish police investigation into the murder that has kept Saudi Arabia on the diplomatic back foot.

The CIA has also told US Congress that it believes the crown prince ordered the killing. The episode has already led to a Saudi cabinet reshuffle, involving the partial demotion of the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and a reordering of the Saudi intelligence service seen to be at the heart of Khashoggi murder.

Jubeir was replaced by Ibrahim al-Assaf, an experienced figure who had previously served as finance minister.

In response to Khashoggi’s murder, Britain has asked that the Saudis reassure the world that such an event cannot be repeated, seen as a code that the crown prince will not be able to use the intelligence service as a personal tool to suppress dissent abroad.

The trial will be notable for the degree to which the defendants are able to set out in open court whether they were instructed by the state to carry out the murder, or instead had been instructed to repatriate Khashoggi, but on meeting resistance from the journalist chose to kill him.

Trials in Saudi Arabia are normally held behind closed doors so it is likely no claim that the hit team were acting on orders of the royal court will ever be aired.

The human rights group Reprieve estimates there have been nearly 700 executions in Saudi Arabia since 2014.

Saudi Arabia has provided sharply contrasting accounts of how Khashoggi came to die. On New Year’s Eve, Turkish police released new footage purporting to show bags containing Khashoggi’s body parts being carried into the home of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul. Turkish authorities have carried out numerous body searches in Turkey since the murder, but without success.

The Turkish network A Haber broadcast video showing the entrance to the gated residence of Saudi Arabia’s consul general in Istanbul, not far from the Saudi consulate. The footage shows men, their faces obscured by shadow, carrying several large suitcases or bags into the building. The Saudis have not allowed the garden’s well to be fully searched, or dried. The footage purportedly hows Maj Gen Mahir Abdul Aziz Muhammad Mutrib, an associate of the crown prince, helping with the movement of the bags.

The consul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, has returned to Riyadh, and has not been seen.

Turkey has also released a sound recording inside the consul general’s office in which Khashoggi resists suffocation. Subsequently a member of the Saudi team can be heard telling a superior over the phone to “tell your boss” that the mission had been achieved. That is believed to be a reference to the Saudi crown prince.

Missile Strike

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