Friday, February 28, 2020

Preparing the Masses for a Hot War with China

Updated May 2020

With China taking centre stage in Washington's COVID-19 "blame game", a look back at the recent Munich Security Conference held in Germany provides us with some interesting background on a looming conflict with China.  At the conference, United States Secretary of Defense Mark Esper made a few fascinating but relatively ignored (at least by the mainstream media) comments on China and the American approach to the new leading partner in the global order in his speech to the conference attendees.

Let's start by looking at what Secretary Esper had to say about conflict with China.  Here are three quotes of interest:

"Let me state up front, though, the United States does not seek conflict with China."

"Again, make no mistake, we do not seek conflict with China."

"The United States does not want an adversarial relationship with China."

No less than three times in his short speech, Esper states that the United States is not seeking conflict with China no matter what is said by various players in Washington like Mike Pompeo and the current President.

Now, let's look in more detail at Esper's criticisms of China.  He opens his speed by noting that the Pentagon's top concern is the People's Republic of China.  Washington's roadmap for dealing with China was clearly outlined in the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS) document which serves as the de factor template for America's strategic posture in the Far East until 2022 when the next edition is released.  Here is a quote from the summary of the NDS:

According to Esper's speech, the NDS states that

 "...we are now in an era of Great Power Competition with our principal challengers being China, then Russia, and that we must move away from low intensity conflict and prepare once again for high-intensity warfare." 

Does that mesh with his repeated comments about not seeing conflict with China?

Let's look at his arguments for conflict with China:

1.) Economic

"Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of a decision that fundamentally altered the course of international affairs: China’s admission into the World Trade Organization. 

I was working in the United States Senate at the time, and two competing arguments over China’s membership dominated the public debate. 

The prevailing notion of the day was that, if we allowed the PRC into the WTO and other multilateral institutions, China would continue on its path of economic reform and eventually become a market-oriented trading partner.

More broadly, increased engagement with the liberal world order would also spur political opening and help transform the PRC into a responsible global stakeholder. 

The more skeptical voices argued that, if granted membership, China would use the benefits of free trade and an open international order to grow its economy and access the technology required to build a strong military and security state capable of expanding the reach of their authoritarian rule. 

These were both credible arguments, but we all know which one is winning right now. 

It's not the former."
2.) China's Military Strategy

"Over time, we have watched them seize and militarize islands in the South China Sea, and rapidly modernize their armed forces, while seeking to use emerging technologies to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in their favor ….and often at the expense of others....

By 2035, the PRC intends to complete its military modernization, and, by 2049, it seeks to dominate Asia as the preeminent global military power....

While the PRC develops and deploys long-range fires to intimidate and threaten its neighbors, we are investing in both conventional and advanced missile defense capabilities to protect the homeland, our interests, and our allies. 

And while Communist China is weaponizing the space domain through the development of directed-energy weapons and killer satellites, the Pentagon is standing up its first new military service in over 70 years – the United States Space Force – to ensure freedom of use, commerce and navigation in, to, and through space, for all."   

3.) China's Belt and Road Initiative -

"Through its Belt and Road Initiative, for example, the PRC is leveraging its overseas investments to force other nations into sub-optimal security decisions. 

This has wide-reaching ramifications for the United States and our allies in critical areas like data security, interoperability, and military readiness."

4.) Technological Theft -

"Regrettably, rather than change course, Party leadership continues its rampant technology theft, while resolving to eventually end its reliance on foreign innovation altogether, independently develop its own systems, and then dominate critical sectors and markets.  

Huawei and 5G are today’s poster child for this nefarious activity...

Among these concerns is a dependence on emerging technologies that could inject serious risk into our defense cooperation. 

Reliance on Chinese 5G vendors, for example, could render our partners’ critical systems vulnerable to disruption, manipulation, and espionage. 

It could also jeopardize our communication and intelligence sharing capabilities, and by extension, our alliances.

To counter this, we are encouraging allied and U.S. tech companies to develop alternative 5G solutions, and we are working alongside them to test these technologies at our military bases as we speak. 

In the long run, developing our own secure 5G networks will far outweigh any perceived gains from partnering with heavily subsidized Chinese providers that ultimately answer to Party leadership.  

In short: let’s be smart; let’s learn from the past; and let’s get 5G right so we don’t regret our decisions later.

5.) China's attitude toward the international rules-based order -

"It is essential that we – as an international community – wake up to the challenges presented by China’s manipulation of the long-standing international, rules-based order that has benefited all of us for many decades. 

The Communist Party and its associated organs, including the People’s Liberation Army, are increasingly operating in theaters outside its borders, including Europe, and seeking advantage by any means, and at any cost….

The PRC’s growing economic, military, and diplomatic power often manifests itself in ways that are threatening, coercive, and counter to the rules-based international order...  

…we want China to behave like a normal country that adheres to the international rules and order that generations before us have fought hard to protect and preserve."  

Let's conclude with this final excerpt from Esper's speech:

"China’s rapid ascent has stirred much debate over the primacy of the United States and the West in the 21st century… 

China’s growth over the years has been remarkable, but in many ways it is fueled by theft, coercion, and exploitation of free market economies, private companies, and colleges and universities. 

American and European institutions and corporations face the brunt of these malign activities, and we have seen a multitude of examples where our economies and companies have suffered as a result.  

But Beijing’s bad behavior will only take them so far. 

The world is increasingly aware of its motives – and responding in turn." (my bold)

Just in case you were curious, here is a brief excerpt from China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi's response to Mark Esper:


Let's close with this interesting graphic from the report issued by the Munich Security Conference:

As you can see, the vast majority of Europeans believe that their home nation should remain neutral if a conflict were to break out between China and the United States and that, other than Denmark, Italy and Poland, less than one-fifth of each nation believe that their country should side with the United States.

When you put these excerpts from Secretary Esper's entire speech into context and consider Washington's current COVID-19 China blame game, you can only draw one conclusion.  If China does not "toe America's line in the sand", Washington and, in particular, the Pentagon, is preparing itself for a hot war with China with the ultimate goal of reclaiming its post-World War II global preeminence despite its protestations that it does not seek conflict with the world's most populous nation.  

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Julian Assange and British Extradition Law

Whle the Assange extradition circus continues in the United Kingdom, a key development has made it increasingly likely that Mr. Assange will find himself an unwilling resident of the United States.  This has been made more likely by the wording of the United States/United Kingdom extradition treaty of 2003:

Here is a screen capture showing the pertinent section of the treaty:

Clearly, under Section 4.1 of the Treaty, extradition for political offences are exempt from extradition.

Unfortunately, in her recent commentary, District Judge Vanessa Baraister noted that political extradition was forbidden only in the Treaty, it was not forbidden in the United Kingdom Extradition Act of 2003.  According to the Act, there are the following bars to extradition (section 11):

"If the judge is required to proceed under this section he must decide whether the person’s extradition to the category 1 territory is barred by reason of—
(a) the rule against double jeopardy;
(b) extraneous considerations;
(c) the passage of time;
(d) the person’s age;
(e) hostage-taking considerations;
(f) speciality;
(g) the person’s earlier extradition to the United Kingdom from another category 1 territory;
(h) the person’s earlier extradition to the United Kingdom from a non- category 1 territory."

If a judge decides that any of these questions have a negative answer, the person must be discharged.  Otherwise, the person will be considered to be unlawfully at large after conviction of the extradition offence.  

That said, under section 13 Extraneous Considerations, we find this:

A person may not be extradited to either Class 1 or Class 2 jurisdictions if the request for their extradition is based on political opinions or if they might be prejudiced at trial because of their political opinions.

Here is an excerpt from the Opening Summary of the Defense Case, summarizing Julian Assange's political opinions:

"i. He is a leading proponent of an open society and of freedom of expression.

ii. He is anti-war and anti-imperialism.

iii. He is a world-renowned champion of political transparency and of the public’s right to access information on issues of importance – issues such as political corruption, war crimes, torture and the mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees."

It is this stance that has led Mr. Assange into direct political conflict with Washington.  Here's what one big player in Washington had to say about Assange and WikiLeaks back in 2017:

Here's more of what the same "gentleman" had to say in the same speech given to the Cetner for Strategic and International Studies:

"No, Julian Assange and his kind are not the slightest bit interested in improving civil liberties or enhancing personal freedom. They have pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice. They may have believed that, but they are wrong.

Assange is a narcissist who has created nothing of value. He relies on the dirty work of others to make himself famous. He is a fraud—a coward hiding behind a screen.

And in Kansas, we know something about false Wizards."

It is very, very clear that there is political involvement in the case of Mr. Assange and his extradition.

Other than the exemption based on political opinions, the United Kingdom Extradition Act makes no mention of political offences as a means of exemption from extradition.  We all know that this entire circus is based on American politics and politicians/lawmakers who have already condemned Julian Assange no matter whether he is guilty or not.

Not surprisingly, it certainly appears that the deck is stacked against Julian Assange.  The decision about his fate is sealed; Washington will do whatever necessary to ensure that a member of the public never again exposes their shenanigans to the light of day. It is Washington's hope that fear of government reprisal will shut us all up.

Bernie Sanders' Net Worth

With Bernie Sanders repeatedly talking about taxing "the rich", I thought it was prudent to take a quick look at his net worth as he declared on his annual Senate financial disclosure for 2018.  

Let's start by looking at his non-investment earnings outside of his Senate annual salary of $174,000:

City of Burlington, VT pension - $5,240.52

McMillan - St. Martin's Press book royalties - $391,000

Verso Publications book royalties - $1,810.37

Todd R. Lockwood Works royalties - $109.82

This brings Senator Sanders total non-investment earnings in calendar 2018 to $398,160.71 and when his Senate salary is included, his total non-investment earnings for 2018 were $572,160.71.

Now, let's look at his assets as shown on these screen captures from his financial disclosure:

Since the value of the assets are only declared in ranges, here are the two key numbers:

Minimum Value of Assets - $427,027

Maximum Value of Assets - $1,305,000

It is also important to note that the $250,001 to $500,000 that is currently on deposit at the U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union is being held for tax payments on the proceeds of the sale of Sanders' book.

When it comes to Senator Sanders' liabilities, there is only one:

Finally, here is a complete list of Senator Sanders' reportable agreements, all of which are royalty agreements from his books and "We Shall Overcome" album:

While Bernie Sanders makes far more than a median American household as shown here:

...his net worth (excluding the value of his homes in Vermont and Washington) is really rather modest given that his annual salary has ranged from $125,100 (in 1991 when he was the Representative from Vermont's at-large district) to its current level of $174,000.  Compared to other members of Congress like Rep. Darrell Issa (net worth $283.3 million), Rep. Greg Gianforte (net worth $135.7 million) and fellow Senator Mark Warner (net worth $90.2 million), Bernie Sanders is almost Main Street when it comes to his net worth.  If it weren't for his book writing skills, outside of his Senate salary, he would be pretty much average.

Monday, February 24, 2020

A Divided America - The Intersection of Religion and Politics

While I have posted on this subject in other postings, I have only recently become aware of another analysis by a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that looks at American society at the intersection of research, culture and public policy. In its 2019 American Values Survey, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) provides us with an interesting snapshot into how religion impacts political persuasion and how it impacts Americans' concerns about the direction that the United States is heading.  Here are some highlights from the report.

Let's start by looking at the critical issues and how Republicans and Democrats rate the importance of each issue:

1.) Health Care - 48 percent Republicans 77 percent Democrats

2.) Climate Change - 17 percent Republicans 72 percent Democrats

3.) Foreign Interference in Elections - 26 percent Republicans 72 percent Democrats

4.) Terrorism - 63 percent Republicans 50 percent Democrats

5.) Immigration - 60 percent Republicans 49 percent Democrats

6.) Crime - 50 percent Republicans 46 percent Democrats

As time has passed, the importance of issues to Americans has changed.  Since 2016, the percentage of Americans that believe that terrorism is of concern has fallen from 70 percent to 54 percent, concerns over jobs and unemployment has fallen from 61 percent to 45 percent, concerns about crime has fallen from 54 percent to 45 percent and concerns about the federal deficit has fallen from 49 percent to 40 percent even though the federal deficit has done this:

Over the three year period from 2016, certain issues have become more important to Americans.  Americans' concern for presidential electoral fairness has grown from 41 percent to 48 percent, concerns over immigration have grown from 44 percent to 49 percent and concerns over climate change have grown from 34 percent to 49 percent, a rather significant increase.

Now, let's look at how religious affiliation impacts the top three issues for each group:

It is interesting to note that health care one of the top three issues of concern for Americans of all religious affiliations whereas the fairness of presidential elections is a top three issue of concern only for black Protestants, non-Christians and Americans with no religious affiliation.  Climate change is another key issue that is of concern only for Hispanic Catholics, non-Christians and Americans with no religious affiliation.

Here is a graphic showing Donald Trump's jobs approval and strength of support by party affiliation and religious affiliation:

As you can see, religious affiliation  has a strong impact on support for Donald Trump.  Trump is supported by 82 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning independent white evangelical Protestants who prefer him to be the Republican Party's nominee.  Trump is also supported as nominee by 75 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning white mainline Protestants and 73 percent of white Catholics.  By way of comparison, 60 percent of Catholic Republicans and Republican-leaning independents and 65 percent of religiously unaffiliated voters support Trump's candidacy.  When it comes to Donald Trump's behaviour, 52 percent of white evangelical Protestants wish Trump's speech and behaviour were like previous presidents compared to 68 percent of other Christians, 70 percent of Catholics, 72 percent of white mainline Protestants, 74 percent of Hispanic Protestants, 81 percent of black Protestants, 69 percent of non-Christian religious Americans and 85 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans.

Donald Trump's personal conduct has also had a varying impact on his support levels by both party and religious affiliation as shown here:

Only 36 percent of white evangelical Protestants state that Trump's behaviour makes it less likely that they will support him, the lowest level of all religious groups in the United States.  Trump's behaviour gets the poorest reviews by both unaffiliated Americans and black Protestants with 76 percent and 80 percent respectively stating that his behaviour has made it less likely that they will support him.

American society is becoming increasingly polarized.  This survey by the Public Religion Research Institute shows us that religion plays a very significant role in the societal divisions that have become apparent in the United States since November 2016.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

DEFENDER-Europe 20 and the Cold War Part II

With America's relationship with Russia being at post-Soviet era lows, there is yet another action taking place that is, once again, poking the "bear".  

Here is the press release from the United States Army website:

Effective January 14th, 2020, the United States Forces began drawing 13000 pieces of Army prepositioned stock from four sites in three European countries for DEFENDER-Europe 20.

Here is a fact sheet outlining more details about DEFENDER-Europe 20:

Note that DEFENDER-Europe 20 will be the largest deployment of U.S. forces to Europe in more than 25 years (i.e. going back to the Soviet era).  It is expected that roughly 20,000 soldiers will be deployed from the United States and partner nations in Europe will supply an additional 17,000 soldiers bringing the total to 37,000 participants.  In case you were wondering and to help you put the scale of the exercise into perspective, the U.S. European Command consists of approximately 70,000 military and civilian personnel.  The fact sheet also states the following:

"Exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20 is the deployment of a division-size combat-credible force from the United States to Europe, the drawing of equipment and the movement of personnel and equipment across the theater to various training areas. U.S.-based equipment will leave from ports in four states and arrive in six European countries. This will require the support of tens of thousands of service members and civilians in multiple nations.

U.S. service members will then spread out across the region to establish intermediate staging bases with multinational forces and participate in various annual exercises. These U.S. and European exercises are regularly conducted and not part of DEFENDER-Europe 20, but rather "linked" through a shared exercise scenario, coordinated mission command, mutual sustainment and common communication environment."

The fact sheet also states that it is necessary for the United States military to be "....ready to deploy, fight and win decisively against any near peer adversary...".  In other words, Russia.

Here is an infographic showing the deployment of United States-based Army personnel to Europe:

Here is another infographic showing where United States Army personnel will be deployed to for the exercise:

In case you aren't familiar with Europe's geography, the countries represented on the infographic include (from top to bottom, right to left) Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.  Four of the nations are right on Russia's western doorstep; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania make up the former Baltic bloc as well as Poland.

Here is the latest press release regarding DEFENDER-Europe 20 from the Army website showing that shipping of equipment for the exercise has begun:

It is expected that the joint, multinational training exercise will take place from April to May 2020 with personnel and equipment movements occurring from January through to July 2020.

If you happen to have two hours of free time, here is a video from the United States Army showing a panel discussion regarding DEFENDER-Europe 20:

Let's close with this graphic courtesy of Dr. Randal Olson.  It shows the percentage of each nation's population that died during the Second World War along with the estimated number of deaths:

Can you understand why Russia might just be a bit nervous about the presence of so many fully armed "enemy" soldiers on its western frontier?  When this happened in 1940, it didn't end well for tens of millions of citizens of the Soviet Union.  Perhaps DEFENDER-Europe 20 would be better named if it was called OFFENDER-Europe 20 given the rationale for the exercise.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Statistical Analysis of COVID-19

recently released study of the COVID-19 virus by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides us with a fascinating analysis of the world's latest coronavirus, in particular, a statistical analysis of which groups of people have been impacted the most.

The study entitled "Vital Surveillances: The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) - China, 2020" used data current through February 11, 2020.  The authors of the study looked at a total of 72,314 patient records of which 44,672 (61.8 percent) were confirmed cases, 16,186 (22.4 percent) suspected cases, 10,567 (14.6 percent clinically diagnosed cases in Hubei Province) and 889 (1.2 percent) asymptomatic cases.  Information that would have identified the patients were stripped from records and there was no sampling done to achieve a predetermined study size since all cases were included in the study.

The severity of symptoms was categorized as follows:

1.) Mild - non-pneumonia and mild pneumonia cases

2.) Severe - dyspnea (shortness of breath), respiration frequency greater than 30 per minute, blood oxygen saturation less than 93 percent and/or lung infiltrates greater than 50 percent within 24 to 48 hours.

3.) Critical - respiratory failure, septic shock, multiple organ dysfunction or failure.  

Confirmed cases were based on positive viral nucleic acid tests on throat swabs.  Clinically diagnosed cases were suspected cases with lung imaging features consistent with coronavirus pneumonia.   Asymptomatic cases were diagnosed based on positive viral nucleic acid test results but an absence of COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and dry cough.

Let's open with this series of maps showing how COVID-19 spread throughout China:

Here is what the authors found:

1.) The fatality rate of 2.3 percent was found among confirmed cases (1,023 deaths out of 44,672 confirmed cases).

2.) The fatality rate was highest among patients aged 80 and older at 14.8 percent

3.) The case fatality rate for males was 2.8 percent.

4.) The case fatality rate for females was 1.7 percent.

5.) Patients who reported being retired had the highest fatality rate at 5.1 percent.

6.) The fatality rate in Hubei Province was 2.9 percent compared to only 0.4 percent fatality rate in other provinces.

7.) Patients with no pre-existing or comorbid condition (simultaneous health conditions) had a fatality rate of 0.9 percent.

8.) Patients with a comorbid condition had a mortality rate that was much higher as follows:

a.) cardiovascular disease - 10.5 percent

b.) diabetes - 7.3 percent

c.) chronic respiratory disease - 6.3 percent

d.) hypertension - 6.0 percent

e.) cancer - 5.6 percent

9.) Case fatality rate for cases categorized as critical was 49 percent.

10.) No deaths have occurred among cases classified with mild or severe symptoms.

Here is a table which summarizes the findings of the study:

Let's close with a final quote from the authors:

"In conclusion, the present descriptive, exploratory analysis of the first 72,314 cases of COVID-19 reported through February 11, 2020 offers important new information to the international community on the epidemic in China. In particular, this analysis chronicles the extremely rapid spread of the novel coronavirus despite extreme efforts to contain it. However, important questions remain including identification of the animal reservoir, determination of infectiousness period, identification of transmission routes, and effective treatment and prevention methods including further test development, drug development, and vaccine development. As an international community, we must all be responsible partners in surveillance, communication, response, research, and implementation of evidence-based public health and clinical practice. The massive vigorous actions taken by the Chinese government have slowed down the epidemic in China and curbed spread to the rest of the world. Although the epidemic appears to be in decline in the lead up to February 11, 2020, we may yet face more challenges. Huge numbers of people will soon be returning to work and school after the extended New Year holiday. We need to prepare for a possible rebound of the COVID-19 epidemic in the coming weeks and months."