Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Iraq Continues to Distance Itself from Iran (Daniel 8:6)

The repercussions of Iran's controversial arrest of the Shiite cleric Hussein Shirazi could include a weakening of Iranian influence over Shiites in Iraq. On March 6, Iranian authorities arrested Shirazi, who was beaten and insulted in front of his father, Grand Ayatollah Sayed Sadeq Shirazi, while the Shirazis were on their way home in the city of Qom. Hussein's detention stems from a recent lecture he gave to Qom seminary students on jurisprudence in which he compared the practices of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, to those of oppressive Egyptian pharaohs who couldn't be criticized or held accountable for their actions.
Hussein Shirazi and his father hold dual citizenship in Iran as well as in Iraq, where their influence is especially strong. Their family, whose roots date back 150 years in Iraq, founded the Shirazi political movement, which has followers across the Middle East. The Shirazi movement has traditionally held that a council of Islamic jurists should be in a position of authority in a country, rather than just one supreme leader, such as has been the case with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini or Khamenei.
Iraqi demonstrations against Hussein Shirazi's arrest broke out in front of the Iranian Consulate in
, the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad and near the border with Iran in
. The protesters shouted slogans against the Iranian regime's ongoing repression of their religious leaders in Iran, and demanded Shirazi's
immediate release
. They also called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his government to intervene and pressure Iran to release Shirazi.
In London, members of the Iraqi community protested in front of the Iranian Embassy. Four people were arrested after they climbed onto the porch and lowered the Iranian flag and then raised the Shirazi flag. British police intervened to restore calm.
Protests also took place in Kuwait and other Arab countries. During a demonstration in front of the Iranian Embassy in Kuwait City, Sheikh Yussef Mulla Hadi, a leader in the Shirazi movement in the country, described the Iranian regime as a dictatorship masquerading under the banner of velayet-e faqih (clerical rule) and demanded that Shiites around the world renounce it.
Sadeq Shirazi's older brother, Mohammad, was among the founders of the principle of velayet-e faqih, but the family believes Khamenei and Islamic Republic founder Khomeini have corrupted the concept. Mohammad Shirazi, who died in 2001, had called for establishing a velayet-e faqih, or council of jurists, but Khomeini advocated that ultimate authority be held by an individual.
Differences in interpretations appear to be leading to a Shirazi rejection of the concept of velayet-e faqih altogether. Hussein Shirazi now says velayet-e faqih, as implemented by Iran, enslaves the citizenry and contradicts the principles of freedom, equality and democracy
Mohammad Shirazi, who led the Shirazi movement, established his religious authority in Karbala during the 1960s and 1970s, until moving to Iran and settling in Qom in 1979. In the early 1970s, he founded the Islamic Action Organization, which supported liberation movements in the Islamic world, including that of the Palestinians. There also was a third brother, Hassan Shirazi, who was assassinated in Lebanon in 1980 because of his activities on behalf of the Shirazi movement.
Hussein Shirazi has made scathing comments against Khamenei over the years. In his most recent speech, he also criticized the brutal eight-year war (1980-88) between Iran and Iraq, which he described as a Khomeini political venture to expand Iran's Islamic Revolution. Shirazi has even gone so far as to compare Khomeini and Khamenei to the men who killed the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein, revered by Shiite Muslims as the third imam.
Mohsen Kadivar, a prominent Iranian reformist cleric and visiting professor of religious studies at Duke University, has called velayet-e faqih a religious dictatorship. He believes the unprecedented, open criticism of clerical rule by Shiite clerics could create major problems for the Iranian regime. This is especially the case because such criticism is coming from the Shirazi movement, which is so strongly associated with political Shiite Islam and so deeply tied to the establishment of Iran's velayet-e faqih. Kadivar has called on the Shirazi movement's religious jurists to produce a doctrinal theory rejecting velayet-e faqih.
These developments, among a series of previous Iraqi Shiite reactions to Iran's role in Iraq — such as the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's distancing himself from Iran and Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani's refusal to meet with several Iranian officials — are likely to signal a potential curtailing of Iranian influence among Iraqi Shiites. It appears some Shiites are changing their views after experiencing the repressive practices of religious rule.
Ali Mamouri is Al-Monitor's Iraq Pulse Editor and a researcher and writer who specializes in religion. He is a former teacher in Iranian universities and seminaries in Iran and Iraq. He has published several articles related to religious affairs in the two countries and societal transformations and sectarianism in the Middle East.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Iran Prepares For a Nuclear Confrontation

Iran warns Donald Trump of 'PAINFUL MISTAKE' in stark THREAT over nuclear deal
Sam Sholli| UPDATED: 01:52, Sun, Mar 18, 2018
DONALD Trump would be making a “panful mistake for the Americans” if he decides to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, the foreign minister of Iran has warned.
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s warning follows Donald Trump threatening to unilaterally pull out of the deal
Mohammad Javad Zarif’s warning comes after the US President threatened to unilaterally pull out of the deal, formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if it is not revised.
Trump has before dismissed the deal as “the worst and most one-sided transaction Washington has ever entered into”.
Mr Zarif said: "Considering what has been envisaged in the JCPOA in the field of research and development and the Islamic Republic of Iran's continued measures to develop its peaceful nuclear capability, if the US makes the mistake of exiting the JCPOA, it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans.
“It has been fully foreseen in the JCPOA what measures the Islamic Republic of Iran would carry out if it cannot reap the agreement's economic benefits.”
Mr Zarif’s words have come amid reports Trump’s decision to fire US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with Mike Pompeo could have major implications for the the future of the Iran deal.
As CIA chief Mr Pompeo has steered clear of calls to scrap the landmark 2015 deal with Iran, which puts restrictions on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.
He told the Foundation for Defence of Democracies last year: “We need even more intrusive inspection.
“The deal put us in a marginally better place with respect to inspection.
“But the Iranians have on multiple occasions been capable of presenting a continued threat through covert efforts to develop their nuclear program along multiple dimensions, right?
"The missile dimension, the weaponisation effort, the nuclear component itself."
Daryl Kimball, Executive Director at the Arms Control Association and a regular contributor to the 38 North website, said: “Tillerson was a moderating influence on the administration’s foreign policy and his departure may have significant implications for the administration’s approach on key issues, including the Trump-Kim summit and the future of the Iran deal.
While Pompeo is probably more trusted by Trump than Tillerson was, he has been far more hawkish about blowing up the Iran nuclear deal even though it is working and on the prospect of ‘regime change’ in North Korea.”
Mike Pompeo has been far more hawkish about blowing up the Iran nuclear deal, it has been claimed
Mr Kimball suggested it would be foolhardy to pull the plug on the Iran deal in the same month that he was likely to ask the North Koreans to sign up to a similar arrangement.
He added: “If Trump really wants to secure a deal with Kim Jong-un or use his May summit meeting to launch negotiations on the terms and timelines for North Korean denuclearisation, it would be foolhardy to decide that same month unilaterally discard the Iran nuclear deal, which Iran is complying with and which is effectively blocking Iran’s pathways to the bomb.
“The reality is that the US cannot unilaterally re-impose sanctions on Iran in an attempt to change the original terms of the agreement without violating the deal and opening the door for Iran to walk away what is an effective and vital non-proliferation agreement — and create a major breach without European allies who strongly support the Iran Deal.”

Preparing For The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

Preparing for the Great New York Earthquake
by Mike MullerShare
New York Quakes Fault lines and known temblors in the New York City region between 1677-2004. The nuclear power plant at Indian Point is indicated by a Pe.
Most New Yorkers probably view the idea of a major earthquake hitting New York City as a plot device for a second-rate disaster movie. In a city where people worry about so much — stock market crashes, flooding, a terrorist attack — earthquakes, at least, do not have to be on the agenda.
A recent report by leading seismologists associated with Columbia University, though, may change that. The report concludes a serious quake is likely to hit the area.
The implication of this finding has yet to be examined. Although earthquakes are uncommon in the area relative to other parts of the world like California and Japan, the size and density of New York City puts it at a higher risk of damage. The type of earthquake most likely to occur here would mean that even a fairly small event could have a big impact.
The issue with earthquakes in this region is that they tend to be shallow and close to the surface,” explains Leonardo Seeber, a coauthor of the report. “That means objects at the surface are closer to the source. And that means even small earthquakes can be damaging.”
The past two decades have seen an increase in discussions about how to deal with earthquakes here. The most recent debate has revolved around the Indian Point nuclear power plant, in Buchanan, N.Y., a 30-mile drive north of the Bronx, and whether its nuclear reactors could withstand an earthquake. Closer to home, the city adopted new codes for its buildings even before the Lamont report, and the Port Authority and other agencies have retrofitted some buildings. Is this enough or does more need to be done? On the other hand, is the risk of an earthquake remote enough that public resources would be better spent addressing more immediate — and more likely — concerns?

Assessing the Risk

The report by scientists from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University at summarizes decades of information on earthquakes in the area gleaned from a network of seismic instruments, studies of earthquakes from previous centuries through archival material like newspaper accounts and examination of fault lines.
The city can expect a magnitude 5 quake, which is strong enough to cause damage, once every 100 years, according to the report. (Magnitude is a measure of the energy released at the source of an earthquake.) The scientists also calculate that a magnitude 6, which is 10 times larger, has a 7 percent chance of happening once every 50 years and a magnitude 7 quake, 100 times larger, a 1.5 percent chance. Nobody knows the last time New York experienced quakes as large as a 6 or 7, although if once occurred it must have taken place before 1677, since geologists have reviewed data as far back as that year.
The last magnitude 5 earthquake in New York City hit in 1884, and it occurred off the coast of Rockaway Beach. Similar earthquakes occurred in 1737 and 1783.
By the time of the 1884 quake, New York was already a world class city, according to Kenneth Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City.”In Manhattan,” Jackson said, “New York would have been characterized by very dense development. There was very little grass.”
A number of 8 to 10 story buildings graced the city, and “in world terms, that’s enormous,” according to Jackson. The city already boasted the world’s most extensive transportation network, with trolleys, elevated trains and the Brooklyn Bridge, and the best water system in the country. Thomas Edison had opened the Pearl Street power plant two years earlier.
All of this infrastructure withstood the quake fairly well. A number of chimneys crumbled and windows broke, but not much other damage occurred. Indeed, the New York Times reported that people on the Brooklyn Bridge could not tell the rumble was caused by anything more than the cable car that ran along the span.

Risks at Indian Point

As dense as the city was then though, New York has grown up and out in the 124 years since. Also, today’s metropolis poses some hazards few, if any people imagined in 1884.
In one of their major findings, the Lamont scientists identified a new fault line less than a mile from Indian Point. That is in addition to the already identified Ramapo fault a couple of miles from the plant. This is seen as significant because earthquakes occur at faults and are the most powerful near them.
This does not represent the first time people have raised concerns about earthquakes near Indian Point. A couple of years after the licenses were approved for Indian Point 2 in 1973 and Indian Point 3 in 1975, the state appealed to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Appeal Panel over seismic issues. The appeal was dismissed in 1976, but Michael Farrar, one of three members on the panel, dissented from his colleagues.
He thought the commission had not required the plant to be able to withstand the vibration that could occur during an earthquake. “I believe that an effort should be made to ascertain the maximum effective acceleration in some other, rational, manner,” Farrar wrote in his dissenting opinion. (Acceleration measures how quickly ground shaking speeds up.)
Con Edison, the plants’ operator at the time, agreed to set up seismic monitoring instruments in the area and develop geologic surveys. The Lamont study was able to locate the new fault line as a result of those instruments.
Ironically, though, while scientists can use the data to issue reports — the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission cannot use it to determine whether the plant should have its license renewed. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission only considers the threat of earthquakes or terrorism during initial licensing hearings and does not revisit the issue during relicensing.
Lynn Sykes, lead author of the Lamont report who was also involved in the Indian Point licensing hearings, disputes that policy. The new information, he said, should be considered — “especially when considering a 20 year license renewal.”
The state agrees. Last year, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo began reaching out to other attorneys general to help convince the commission to include these risks during the hearings.
Cuomo and the state Department of Environmental Conservation delivered a 312-page petition to the commission that included reasons why earthquakes posed a risk to the power plants. The petition raised three major concerns regarding Indian Point:
  • The seismic analysis for Indian Point plants 2 and 3 did not consider decommissioned Indian Point 1. The state is worried that something could fall from that plant and damage the others.
  • The plant operators have not updated the facilities to address 20 years of new seismic data in the area.
  • The state contends that Entergy, the plant’s operator, has not been forthcoming. “It is not possible to verify either what improvements have been made to [Indian Point] or even to determine what improvements applicant alleges have been implemented,” the petition stated.
A spokesperson for Entergy told the New York Times that the plants are safe from earthquakes and are designed to withstand a magnitude 6 quake.
Lamont’s Sykes thinks the spokesperson must have been mistaken. “He seems to have confused the magnitude scale with intensity scale,” Sykes suggests. He points out that the plants are designed to withstand an event on the intensity scale of VII, which equals a magnitude of 5 or slightly higher in the region. (Intensity measures the effects on people and structures.) A magnitude 6 quake, in Sykes opinion, would indeed cause damage to the plant.
The two reactors at Indian Point generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity. Since that power is sent out into a grid, it isn’t known how much the plant provides for New York City. Any abrupt closing of the plant — either because of damage or a withdrawal of the operating license — would require an “unprecedented level of cooperation among government leaders and agencies,” to replace its capacity, according to a 2006 report by the National Academies’ National Research Council, a private, nonprofit institution chartered by Congress.Indian Point Nuclear Plant
Entergy’s Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant north of New York City, lies within two miles of the Ramapo Seismic Zone.
Beyond the loss of electricity, activists worry about possible threats to human health and safety from any earthquake at Indian Point. Some local officials have raised concerns that radioactive elements at the plant, such as tritium and strontium, could leak through fractures in bedrock and into the Hudson River. An earthquake could create larger fractures and, so they worry, greater leaks.
In 2007, an earthquake hit the area surrounding Japan’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world’s largest. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined “there was no significant damage to the parts of the plant important to safety,” from the quake. According to the agency, “The four reactors in operation at the time in the seven-unit complex shut down safely and there was a very small radioactive release well below public health and environmental safety limits.” The plant, however, remains closed.

Shaking the Streets

A quake near Indian Point would clearly have repercussions for New York City. But what if an earthquake hit one of the five boroughs?
In 2003, public and private officials, under the banner of the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation, released a study of what would happen if a quake hit the metropolitan area today. Much of the report focused on building damage in Manhattan. It used the location of the 1884 quake, off the coast of Rockaway Beach, as its modern muse.
If a quake so serious that it is expected to occur once every 2,500 years took place off Rockaway, the consortium estimated it would cause $11.5 billion in damage to buildings in Manhattan. About half of that would result from damage to residential buildings. Even a moderate magnitude 5 earthquake would create an estimated 88,000 tons of debris (10,000 truckloads), which is 136 times the garbage cleared in Manhattan on an average day, they found.
The report does not estimate possible death and injury for New York City alone. But it said that, in the tri-state area as a whole, a magnitude 5 quake could result in a couple of dozen deaths, and a magnitude 7 would kill more than 6,500 people.
Ultimately, the consortium decided retrofitting all of the city’s buildings to prepare them for an earthquake would be “impractical and economically unrealistic,” and stressed the importance of identifying the most vulnerable areas of the city.
Unreinforced brick buildings, which are the most common type of building in Manhattan, are the most vulnerable to earthquakes because they do not absorb motion as well as more flexible wood and steel buildings. Structures built on soft soil are more also prone to risk since it amplifies ground shaking and has the potential to liquefy during a quake.
This makes the Upper East Side the most vulnerable area of Manhattan, according to the consortium report. Because of the soil type, the ground there during a magnitude 7 quake would shake at twice the acceleration of that in the Financial District. Chinatown faces considerable greater risk for the same reasons.
The city’s Office of Emergency Management agency does offer safety tips for earthquakes. It advises people to identify safe places in their homes, where they can stay until the shaking stops, The agency recommends hiding under heavy furniture and away from windows and other objects that could fall.
A special unit called New York Task Force 1 is trained to find victims trapped in rubble. The Office of Emergency Management holds annual training events for the unit.
The Buildings Department created its first seismic code in 1995. More recently, the city and state have adopted the International Building Code (which ironically is a national standard) and all its earthquake standards. The “international” code requires that buildings be prepared for the 2,500-year worst-case scenario.

Transportation Disruptions

With the state’s adoption of stricter codes in 2003, the Port Authority went back and assessed its facilities that were built before the adoption of the code, including bridges, bus terminals and the approaches to its tunnels. The authority decided it did not have to replace any of this and that retrofitting it could be done at a reasonable cost.
The authority first focused on the approaches to bridges and tunnels because they are rigid and cannot sway with the earth’s movement. It is upgrading the approaches to the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel so they will be prepared for a worst-case scenario. The approaches to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd Street are being prepared to withstand two thirds of a worst-case scenario.
The terminal itself was retrofitted in 2007. Fifteen 80-foot tall supports were added to the outside of the structure.
A number of the city’s bridges could be easily retrofitted as well “in an economical and practical manner,” according to a study of three bridges by the consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. Those bridges include the 102nd Street Bridge in Queens, and the 145th Street and Macombs Dam bridges, which span the Harlem River. To upgrade the 155th Street Viaduct, the city will strengthen its foundation and strengthen its steel columns and floor beams.
The city plans upgrades for the viaduct and the Madison Avenue bridge in 2010. The 2008 10-year capital strategy for the city includes $596 million for the seismic retrofitting of the four East River bridges, which is planned to begin in 2013. But that commitment has fluctuated over the years. In 2004, it was $833 million.
For its part, New York City Transit generally is not considering retrofitting its above ground or underground structures, according to a report presented at the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2004. New facilities, like the Second Avenue Subway and the Fulton Transit Center will be built to new, tougher standards.
Underground infrastructure, such as subway tunnels, electricity systems and sewers are generally safer from earthquakes than above ground facilities. But secondary effects from quakes, like falling debris and liquefied soil, could damage these structures.
Age and location — as with buildings — also add to vulnerability. “This stuff was laid years ago,” said Rae Zimmerman, professor of planning and public administration at New York University. “A lot of our transit infrastructure and water pipes are not flexible and a lot of the city is on sandy soil.” Most of Lower Manhattan, for example, is made up of such soil.
She also stresses the need for redundancy, where if one pipe or track went down, there would be another way to go. “The subway is beautiful in that respect,” she said. “During 9/11, they were able to avoid broken tracks.”

Setting Priorities

“On the policy side, earthquakes are a low priority,” said Guy Nordenson, a civil engineer who was a major proponent of the city’s original seismic code, “and I think that’s a good thing.” He believes there are more important risks, such as dealing with the effects of climate change.
“There are many hazards, and any of these hazards can be as devastating, if not more so, than earthquakes,” agreed Mohamed Ettouney, who was also involved in writing the 1995 seismic code.
In fact, a recent field called multi-hazard engineering has emerged. It looks at the most efficient and economical way to prepare for hazards rather than preparing for all at once or addressing one hazard after the other. For example, while addressing one danger (say terrorism) identified as a priority, it makes sense to consider other threats that the government could prepare for at the same time (like earthquakes).
Scientists from Lamont-Doherty are also not urging anybody to rush to action in panic. Their report is meant to be a first step in a process that lays out potential hazards from earthquakes so that governments and businesses can make informed decisions about how to reduce risk.
“We now have a 300-year catalog of earthquakes that has been well calibrated” to estimate their size and location, said Sykes. “We also now have a 34-year study of data culled from Lamont’s network of seismic instruments.”
“Earthquake risk is not the highest priority in New York City, nor is dog-poop free sidewalks,”

The Iran Deal Will Soon End

Republican U.S. Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Sunday he expected President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement in May.
Asked if he believed Trump would pull out on May 12, the deadline for the president to issue a new waiver to suspend Iran sanctions as part of the deal, Corker responded, "I do. I do."
Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria's war, according to a confidential document, in a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
The joint paper, seen by Reuters, was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions as they would need the support of all 28 EU member governments.
The proposal is part of an EU strategy to save the accord signed by world powers that curbs Tehran's ability to develop nuclear weapons, namely by showing Trump that there are other ways to counter Iranian power abroad.
Trump delivered an ultimatum to the European signatories on January 12. It said they must agree to "fix the terrible flaws of the Iran nuclear deal" - which was sealed under his predecessor Barack Obama - or he would refuse to extend U.S. sanctions relief on Iran. U.S. sanctions will resume unless Trump issues fresh "waivers" to suspend them on May 12

Why China and Russia Aren't Our Enemies (Daniel 7)

"[Rome] pretends to aspire to peace but unerringly generates war…there was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger…Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors…the whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies." ~ Joseph Schumpeter (1918)
Some readers will barely finish reading the title of this piece before the ad hominem attacks commence. They’ll surely label me a Putin crony or a China apologist before reaching the second paragraph. Such is life in this age of militarism, hyper-partisanship and American hysteria. Sure, Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 elections; and, yes, China is flexing its muscles in the South China Sea and investing heavily across Eurasia and Africa. Maybe its even fair to consider Russia and China as competitors on the world stage. Still, none of that justifies war or the threat of war. The U.S. has seen darker days (like two world wars and a Cold War nuclear showdown) and there’s little cause for panic. Instead, the rhetoric of the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy (NDS), which refers to China and Russia as "revisionist powers," reads like 1950s anti-Soviet-alarmism.
President Trump lacks anything close to a consistent foreign policy doctrine or dogma, which, well, can be both a good and a bad thing. His generals, on the other hand – Mattis, Kelly, and McMaster – are all hyper-interventionists bent on perpetual American exceptionalist hegemony. And, for these true believers, there are only two countries standing in the way of a new Pax Americana: China and Russia. Seriously, read the NDS summary and you’ll see what I mean. Look, I don’t know exactly what occurred between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016 – honestly, no one does. But for me, the Trump team’s hardline defense rhetoric and combative posture towards the twin Eurasian powers of China and Russia, has never jived with the MSNBC-Russia gate-collusion narrative. Of course, I could be wrong.
What’s certain, however, is this: neither Russia or China have the capacity nor the intent for global conquest. These are nuclear-armed regional titans, and, at least in China’s case, have real economic clout. What they’re decidedly not is super villains. All the alarmism surrounding Russia and China (and North Korea and Iran, for that matter) serves none but the military-industrial complex, the arms dealers, and hawkish politicians who bully their way to power through the force of inflated threats. The US military – no how much we thank the troops and pour on the faux adulation – is already overstretched, fighting several small, indecisive wars simultaneously across the Greater Middle East. The soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors can’t possibly forward deploy – indefinitely – to balance against Russian and Chinese invasions that just aren’t coming. That’s just madness…absurdity…the specialty of post-9/11 America.
A Stroll in the Other Guys’ Shoes
Humor me with a quick thought experiment: imagine a foreign power possessing the strongest military in the world set up bases in Canada, Mexico, and on various Caribbean Islands; that its ships cruised the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico with regularity; that it forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Central America; that it built an alliance with every power in North America besides us and conducted regular military exercises along the Rio Grande and in the Puget Sound. How might the United States respond? I’d bet on all out war, but hey, who knows.
The point is, that’s the way the world looks when viewed from Moscow or Beijing. This shouldn’t imply that Putin or Xi Jinping are swell guys without skeletons in their proverbial closets. It’s just the stark reality. Only most Americans are too self-obsessed and blinded by self-righteousness to walk a mile in Russian or Chinese shoes. We’re special, we’re exceptional – it’s the other guy that’s (always) wrong.
The Great White Hype: Inflating the Russian Bear
Russia ain’t no angel. Since 2008, it has fought a war with neighboring Georgia, annexed the Crimea, and not-so-surreptitiously intervened in Ukraine. See, but it isn’t so simple. Foreign affairs unfold in manifold gray areas and Uncle Sam doesn’t have such a clean track record itself!
Context matters! Remember, that all the above actions occurred directly adjacent to Russia’s borders, in its neighborhood. Georgia (backed by NATO and the US) wasn’t so innocent and helped provoke the Russian bear at the outset of war. The people of Crimea wanted to join Russia and only became Ukrainian property due to a deal struck by Premier Khrushchev in the 1950s. In the Ukraine, the US appears to have colluded with the pro-Western opposition to overthrow an elected government long before the Russians intervened. Most significantly, despite promises made by then President George H.W. Bush, the (by definition anti-Russian) NATO military alliance has spread eastward right to Moscow’s borders.
Speaking of borders, Russia has fourteen countries touching its territory on land alone. Russia is encircled by adversaries and feels deeply threatened. And, despite an impressive arsenal of nukes, Russia is weak. Its essentially a petro-state that’s hostage to the fluctuation of oil and gas prices, boasting – at best – an economy about the size of Spain or Italy. Russian men also suffer from a serious alcohol, suicide, and life expectancy crisis. White ethnic Russians are losing demographic ground to a growing Muslim population, which spooks Putin and company. Their Defense spending is about a tenth of the United States and less than half that of a British-German-French combo. Russian tanks and armored vehicles appear daunting next to Latvia, but it still has a GDP just 11% that of the European Union and lacks the air or sea lift capacity to project power globally. Russia has one aircraft carrier. The US has (depending on the source) about 20 of various sizes.
The prognosis: Russia is, at best, playing a losing hand with remarkable skill. Western Europe is not in danger of conquest and the US homeland is quite safe. The Russian military is more likely to get bogged down fighting Islamists in the Caucasus or Mid East than to invade Poland. It may nibble at the edges of its eastern and southern rim but has neither the capacity or intent to assert itself globally. Besides, if forced to do so, a European coalition can and will easily check Russia’s most aggressive moves along its borders.
The Asian Invasion: Inflating the Chinese Dragon
China’s no stranger to controversy either. It claims a slew of sandy islands in the South China Sea and bullies smaller neighbors economically and at sea. It’s constructing infrastructure for a trade route through Central and South Asia that will only increase its economic clout. Still, some perspective is in order. The South China Sea is essentially China’s version of the Caribbean, a sea which the US Navy has dominated for some 200 years, often through Marine Corps interventions and CIA-inspired coups. This is China’s backyard, and they’ve got a population over 1 billion, with the #1 or #2 world economy. Is it so crazy to expect they’d be a major player in East Asia? Over time, the US will either have to accept this and seek mutually beneficial coexistence, or, otherwise, fight a potentially cataclysmic war, which, no one would really win (especially when the global economy collapses and nukes begin-a-flying).
China, too, has fourteen land neighbors (the US has two) – many of them hostile. Russia, historically, is not a natural ally and the two fought serious border clashes during the 1960s. A coalition of maritime neighbors, allied with the US Navy, are actively contesting those islands in the South China Sea. Sure, China could punish them with sanctions, but – since their economies are inextricably linked – would also hurt itself in the process.
China’s military spending is still one-third that of the US, and even smaller if one includes powerful US regional partners like Japan, South Korea, India, and Australia. For all the fear of its navy turning the Western Pacific into a "Chinese lake," it still has a single aircraft carrier. It’s local (US-allied) neighbors have quite a few more; Japan has four; India and Australia two each; and even South Korea matches China’s one! Admittedly, due to Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) missile technology (which China has heavily invested in), aircraft carriers are no longer the be all, end all, of naval power. Still, if a state seeks to project power globally – as we’re told China intends to do – its going to need more than one old, leaky, former Russian carrier.
China, like Russia, also has a future demographic problem, mainly due to its long standing "one child policy" and low birthrate. It also faces a natural US ally with a growing population, economy, and military on its southwest border: India. All those inconveniences are likely to keep China busy for at least a generation or two.
The prognosis: China’s economic and military might are expanding. Still, it has nowhere near the global reach of the United States, and its economy is far too interdependent with America to risk a war of expansion. They’ll eventually become the big boy on the block in their own neighborhood (just like we are in the Gulf of Mexico!) and take their inevitable place among the major powers. None of that requires, or could even be avoided by, a catastrophic war. China isn’t coming for California, except, perhaps, to collect some debts.
Let us review, then: Putin is a nasty guy and probably a killer; XI is centralizing power in his authoritarian single party system. Putin wants to regain some of Russia’s (or the Soviet Union’s) former regional clout XI desires regional preeminence in the South China Sea. This author, at least, is not a particular fan of either strongman. There’s my disclaimer…again.
Yet even if we accept all of the above as a given, it doesn’t add up to Russian or Chinese schemes for world conquest or global hegemony. Nor is Putin or XI (or even Kim Jong Un) irrationally suicidal enough to actually launch a nuke at Los Angeles. Love em or hate em, these are generally rational men seeking national security and limited military gains at the margins of their local regions.
It is the United States, rather – you know, the "beacon of freedom" – that deploys commandoes and military advisers to around 70% of the countries in the world. It is the United States, and only the United States, which rings our "adversaries" with hundreds of military bases and spends more on Defense than most of the rest of the world combined. And, uncomfortable though it may be, it’s the United States that often tops international polls as the greatest threat to global peace.
Maybe the rest of the world is crazy, mistaken, and only us Americans gaze upon this world with objective eyes. Maybe Russia, China, and a slew of other rogue states really are bent on global empire and the US military must police the global commons from now till eternity.
Maybe; but, what if we’re wrong?
Major Danny Sjursen, an Antiwar.com regular, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. He lives with his wife and four sons in Lawrence, Kansas. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet and check out his new podcast “Fortress on a Hill,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris ‘Henri’ Henrikson.
[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.]
Copyright 2018 Danny Sjursen

North Korea Will Not Be a Nuclear Horn

South Korea's foreign minister says North Korea's leader has "given his word" he's committed to denuclearization, a prime condition for a potential summit with President Donald Trump in May.
Trump has agreed to what would be historic talks after South Korean officials relayed that Kim Jong Un was committed to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and was willing to halt nuclear and missile tests.
North Korea hasn't publicly confirmed the summit plans, and a meeting place isn't known.
South Korea's Kang Kyung-wha says Seoul has asked the North "to indicate in clear terms the commitment to denuclearization" and she says Kim's "conveyed that commitment."
She tells CBS' "Face the Nation" that "he's given his word" and it's "the first time that the words came directly" from the North's leader.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

USA’s Fukushima At The Sixth Seal (Revelation 6)

Ernie Garcia, elgarcia@lohud.com
A review of unplanned shutdowns from January 2012 to the present showed this year’s events happened within a short time frame, between May 7 and July 8, in contrast with events from other years that were more spread out, according to data released by Indian Point.
If a nuclear plant has more than three unplanned shutdowns in a nine-month period, its performance indicator could be changed by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which results in additional oversight. That’s what happened with Entergy’s Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station in Plymouth, Mass., after four unplanned shutdowns in 2013.
So far, Entergy said there doesn’t appear to be a pattern to the Indian Point shutdowns.
“You do want to look at these events holistically to see if there is something in common, but you also look individually to see what the causes were,” Nappi said. “A plant shutdown in and of itself is not a safety issue.”
One of the four recent Buchanan shutdowns triggered a special inspection by the NRC and calls to close the nuclear plant by environmental groups and elected officials. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said in the past Indian Point should close, but his office did not respond to a request for comment about whether the recent shutdowns have prompted any state scrutiny.
The NRC is expected to release a quarterly report on Indian Point this month that will address the transformer failure and, by year’s end, is planning an inspection of the transformer and an analysis of transformer issues since 2007.
Besides its transformer-related inquiries, the other three shutdowns have not raised “any immediate safety concerns or crossed any thresholds that would result in additional NRC oversight,” agency spokesman Neil Sheehan wrote in an email.
The unplanned shutdowns at Indian Point and Pilgrim in Massachusetts were mostly preventable, said Paul Blanch, a former Indian Point employee with 45 years of nuclear power experience.
“For this to happen this frequently indicates a deeper problem,” he said. “I believe it’s management oversight in the maintenance of these plants.”
Nappi said the transformer that failed May 9 and caused a fire and oil spill into the Hudson was regularly monitored. Investigators determined the failure was due to faulty insulation.
“The transformer inspection and reviews were in accordance with our standards and industry expectations, yet there was no indication the transformer was going to fail,” Nappi said.
The NRC conducted a separate, but related special inspection into the May 9 incident that focused on a half-inch of water that collected in an electrical switchgear room floor. Inspectors determined a fire suppression system’s valve failed to close properly.
Inspectors noted in their report that Entergy knew about that problem since April 2011 and replaced the valve but didn’t discover the actual cause — a dysfunctional switch — until after the fire.
Indian Point’s Unit 3 was down 19 days May through July, with the transformer failure accounting for 16 days. The shutdowns didn’t cause the public any supply problems because New York’s grid can import electricity from other states and New York has an energy plan to maintain reliability, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The nuclear energy industry judges a power plant on how continuously it produces energy, which is called a capacity factor.
There were 100 nuclear plants in the United States in 2014, a record year in terms of efficiency. In January, the Nuclear Energy Institute announced the U.S. average capacity factor was 91.9 percent.

Indian Point has an above-average efficiency rate. The plant’s Unit 2 and 3 reactors were each online more than 99 percent of the time during their most recent two-year operating cycles. They are currently in the middle of other cycles.

Stepping up to Nuclear War with Iran

https://sundiatapost.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Rex-Tillerson-names-Mike-Pompeo-620x330.jpgTillerson ouster may hasten demise of Iran nuclear deal

MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Iran nuclear deal was in near terminal condition and on life support even before President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson's dismissal this week may hasten its demise.
As CIA chief and Iran hawk Mike Pompeo prepares to run the State Department, the Trump administration is weighing a speedier withdrawal from the agreement than even the president has threatened, according to two U.S. officials and two outside advisers briefed on the matter. They were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
While such a scenario is unlikely, the fact it is being floated as an option may give U.S. officials more leverage in negotiations with European signatories to salvage the accord by toughening it. Two such negotiating sessions have already been held and a third is set for Thursday in Berlin.
Trump, who calls the Obama administration's signature foreign policy achievement the worst deal ever negotiated, has vowed to walk away from the 2015 agreement in mid-May unless Britain, Germany and France join the U.S. in addressing what the president says are its fatal flaws. These include no penalties for Iran's missile work and support for militant groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration and six other countries limits Iran's enrichment and stockpiling of material that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions. Trump's next deadline to extend some of those concessions is May 12, and he has vowed not to do so again unless the Europeans meet his demands.
Any U.S. withdrawal would likely crater the agreement. If the U.S. begins threatening fines and other punishments for sanctions violations, countries around the world are likely to curtail commerce with Iran. That could prompt the Iranians to walk away as well, and perhaps even restart nuclear activities banned under the accord.
An indication of the Trump administration's thinking could come Friday, when the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union and Iran meet for a periodic review at the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna.
State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook, who is running the negotiations with Europe, will lead the U.S. delegation to the larger meeting in Austria's capital. Hook, who Tillerson leaned on heavily for policy advice and direction, could meet separately in Vienna with the Iranian delegation head, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi. For his part, Aragchi sees the writing on the wall. He told a parliamentary committee in Tehran on Wednesday that Tillerson's ouster was proof that Trump would pull out and promised that Iran would withdraw if the U.S. does.
In the U.S., Iran deal supporters braced for what they see as the inevitable. Pompeo "is certain to advise the president to withdraw the United States from our obligations under the nuclear agreement," said Diplomacy Works, a group of mainly former Obama administration officials that lobbies for staying in the deal.
Hook had been tasked by Tillerson with getting the Europeans to agree to as many of Trump's demands as possible, with an eye toward selling the president on extending the sanctions waivers. Doing so would buy U.S. negotiators time to deal with elements of the agreement Trump has disparaged - such as its expiration dates on key nuclear constraints - and missile and terrorism concerns.
With Tillerson gone, the emphasis will likely change.
The ex-oilman had waged an often lonely battle within Trump's Cabinet to save the deal. He succeeded for 13 months. But each time Trump faced another sanctions deadline, Tillerson met increased resistance to keeping the agreement alive.
In firing Tillerson on Tuesday, Trump in particular noted his disagreement over the Iran accord. Trump won't have that problem with Pompeo, who has lambasted the deal on a level similar to Trump, making clear the two men are of the same opinion.
Trump said that he and Pompeo "have a very similar thought process" on the deal.
As a congressman, Pompeo vociferously denounced the accord when it was struck.
"The (deal) can perhaps delay Iran's nuclear weapons program for a few years," he wrote at the time. "Conversely, it has virtually guaranteed that Iran will have the freedom to build an arsenal of nuclear weapons at the end of the commitment."
His stance and position with Trump could give Pompeo leverage with the Europeans that Tillerson never enjoyed.
U.S. officials said American positions have hardened over the past several weeks, notably on Iranian ballistic missile testing and the deal's provisions that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced atomic work. Because Iran and the Europeans refuse to renegotiate the nuclear deal, U.S. officials are seeking to create a supplemental agreement with Europe to address these matters.
At Thursday's meeting in Berlin, U.S. and the European officials are hoping to compare draft written proposals and combine points of agreement into a new document that could form the basis of a side deal.
U.S. and European diplomats say they're closer on long-range ballistic missile launches, inspections and new sanctions on Iranian-backed militant groups. Gaps are larger on medium-range missiles that could hit Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states and on the deal's particulars for when advanced atomic work can restart.
The U.S. focus turned to medium-range missiles after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in Washington earlier this month. Iran maintains that it must have medium-range missiles to defend itself, an argument the Europeans have been sympathetic to.
The differences are even more stark on the sunset provisions, which are codified in the nuclear deal and which the Europeans and Iran regard as inviolable, according to the diplomats. One senior negotiator involved in the talks said last week that Europe is prepared to be "creative" in addressing the provisions but would not budge from opposing any measure that would punish Iran for activity that is otherwise permitted under the 2015 agreement.

The Usual Iranian Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:4)

 AFP , Friday 16 Mar 2018
Speaking to reporters as he returned from a trip to Oman, Afghanistan and Bahrain, Mattis said officials he met with had expressed frequent concerns about Iranian behavior.
"One thing that came through loud and clear is the suspicion of Iran and the evidence of Iranian destabilizing efforts," said Mattis, a longtime Iran hawk.
"I heard it when I was up in Afghanistan. You know what's going on in terms of Iran's support to Assad. Now Iran is following Russia's example (and) mucking around in Iraq's elections," Mattis said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"It was just brought home to me again that they are not changing their behavior, they are continuing to be a destabilizing influence," Mattis added.
The Pentagon chief said he would not speculate as to whether Iran's efforts were having any impact on the Iraqi electorate ahead of the May parliamentary and provincial assembly elections.
"Iran is trying to influence using money the Iraqi elections. That money is being used to sway candidates, to sway votes," he said.
"Iran should leave the Iraqis to determining their own future," said Mattis.
Despite increased rhetoric from Washington about Iran's activities in the region and US President Donald Trump's continual railing against the Iran nuclear deal, Mattis noted that Iranian naval vessels in the Gulf have become less provocative toward US ships.
He said ships from both the regular Iranian navy and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have curtailed the sorts of incidents that had become almost routine over the past few years, and are now staying away from American vessels.
"In the Gulf itself, they are not coming in as close to our ships, the provocative actions in the Gulf seem to have relented somewhat," Mattis said.
"They are not doing as many bellicose confrontations and that sort of thing."
Commander Bill Urban, spokesman for the Navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said there had been no "unsafe or unprofessional" interactions with the Iranians at sea since August 14, 2017 when an Iranian drone with no lights on flew close to US aircraft operating in the Gulf.
Urban told reporters that "a substantial period time" has passed since then, "something that we think is great."
He said there has been "an across-the-board change in behavior."
Last year and in 2016, the US Navy frequently complained about the behavior of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps vessels, which would often shadow and steer toward American ships.
In at least one incident, US sailors had to fire flares and warning shots before the Iranians turned away.
Urban said that since then, the Iranians have stopped approaching so closely.
Mattis said that off the Yemen coast around the Bab-al-Mandab strait, the Islamic Republic is testing a number of offensive capabilities.
"It's where you find (Iran's) radars, their ballistic missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles," Mattis said.
"We've found their mines, their explosive boats all being tested, increased capability being demonstrated down there."
Fifth Fleet and its associated task forces continually patrol the Gulf and inspect some of the ships passing through the region.
In 2016, sailors seized weapons apparently headed from Iran to Yemen, including machine guns and rocket launchers.
Urban said task forces this year have confiscated record amounts of heroin, much of which may have been grown in Afghanistan to fund the Taliban.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is a paramilitary force that answers directly to the Islamic republic's supreme leader.
In January 2016, the Iranians briefly captured the crew of two small US patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters.
The 10 US sailors were released 24 hours later.