Saturday, February 18, 2023

Nord Stream Explosions Hard to Cover-Up, Award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has exposed the Biden administration’s role in sabotaging the pipelines

First posted on Asia Times. The report “How America Took Out the Nord Stream Pipeline” by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Seymour Hersh states beyond any reasonable doubt that US President Joe Biden ordered the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines. Thus if it wasn’t clear before, it is emphatically clear now that the US will impose its proprietary version of “rules-based international order” by any means possible including committing a crime against humanity. The Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines are jointly owned by the Russian energy corporation Gazprom and four European energy companies. Nord Stream 1 had been providing low-cost natural gas from Russia to Germany, which redistributed some of it to other parts of Europe. Nord Stream 2 was in the process of coming on stream and would have doubled the supply to Europe. The explosions that took place on September 26, 2022, stopped the flow of Russian gas, and left hundreds of millions of Europeans facing the prospects of a cold winter. The economic consequences of the Nord Stream sabotage were the quadrupling of energy costs and triggering rampant inflation in Europe the likes of which hadn’t been seen for decades. President Biden wanted to make sure that Germany would strongly support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. Blowing up the pipelines would ensure that Russia could no longer supply cheap energy to Europe and Germany wouldn’t have natural gas from Russia as a source of distraction from its support for Ukraine. Biden had absolutely no justification for destroying property that did not belong to the US. Doing so would be naked aggression, an act of war, devoid of concern that the people and economies of friendly allies would suffer. He wouldn’t care that to achieve his sense of security for the US required committing a war crime. Heretofore, we Americans have been telling the world that the United States of America is the citadel on top of the hill, a shining beacon of integrity and an example of what a freedom-loving democracy should be. Other nations are supposed to admire what we stand for and aspire to be just like us. Shining beacon no more Now, the world sees that Fortress America is corrupt, dishonest and shameless. The US suppresses other countries by force, intimidation or sanctions or a mixture of the above. Other nations comply with our demands not because they admire us but because they fear us. If the US did indeed destroy the pipelines as Hersh reports, some in the inner circle of the Biden administration might try to defend its action by claiming that it was a reprisal for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. In fact, according to Hersh, planning to blow up the pipelines was under way months before the Russian invasion began. He further explained that the government of Norway was enlisted to help with the execution of the sabotage. One of the reasons for recruiting Norway was that it knew the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea better than anyone. “On September 26, 2022, a Norwegian Navy P8 surveillance plane made a seemingly routine flight and dropped a sonar buoy,” Hersh reports. “The signal spread underwater, initially to Nord Stream 2 and then on to Nord Stream 1. A few hours later, the high-powered C4 explosives were triggered and three of the four pipelines were put out of commission.” Norway’s participation is full of irony. The annual winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is selected by a committee appointed by the Norwegian parliament. One year, they rushed to give Peace Prize to incoming American president Barack Obama even before he assumed office. History will credit Obama as the president who first popularized the use of drones as deadly killing machines, cold-blooded and indiscriminate. They were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. In hindsight, these were not exactly the kind of credentials consistent with those of a Peace Prize laureate. In a podcast interview subsequent to his exposé of the Nord Stream explosion, Hersh said that putting the story together was not difficult. Any reasonably competent investigative reporter could have followed the trail of telltale clues leading directly to the White House. For months before the invasion of Ukraine and the explosion of the pipelines, President Biden and his foreign-policy team – national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, and Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for policy – had been vocal and consistent in their hostility to the two pipelines. Biden gave the secret away Biden and Nuland even publicly hinted to the media that the pipelines would “go away.” At the press briefing that followed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’ visit to Washington in February last year, Biden said, “If Russia invades … there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” Undersecretary Nuland also said at a State Department briefing, lightly covered by the media, “I want to be very clear to you today. If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.” The reason the mainstream media did not bother to ask the obvious question as to who blew up the pipelines and why was either being lazy and uninquisitive or because they knew the answer and did not want to embarrass the Biden White House. Even after the publication of Hersh’s report, mainstream media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times did not even bother to contact him and interview him. By deliberately ignoring this story, they are not living up to their obligation as members of the fourth estate and protecting their integrity. In other words, they have betrayed public trust and sold out to the White House. The US has always acted above the laws of other sovereign nations, even ignoring the laws of the United Nations. With compliant and docile media, the Biden team can go wild and run roughshod over anyone without a tinge of concern. The worldwide disrespect for the US will grow. In time, The US will find itself alone and friendless in a unipolar world of its own lonesome.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Much ado about a well-timed balloon. Aside from a propaganda boon for the US, the incident got Antony Blinken off the hook

First posted in Asia Times. A huge white balloon equivalent in size to three buses drifted from China over Alaska and Canada, and then over Montana and across the US continent before reaching the Carolinas coast. At that point, the Pentagon deemed it safe to send a couple of jet fighters supported by a fuel tanker to bring down the errant balloon and let the remnants fall into the Atlantic Ocean. After firing missiles at the target, the mission was completed and deemed a triumphant success. And the brave pilots returned to home base safely. The Biden White House first knew about the balloon on January 28 and shot it down a week later. In between, Washington expressed outrage, fear and anxiety over the “invasion” of a spy balloon from China. Beijing’s official response was that it was a civilian balloon for weather surveillance that went off course and hardly warranted the extreme response of a missile attack. Beijing did not feel it necessary to point out that high-flying balloons cannot gather intelligence as effectively as satellites or aircraft. The Pentagon certainly knows this better than anyone. It has been flying surveillance planes off the coast of China for years – though no balloons that we know of. Needless to say, a highly visible white finish is hardly appropriate for a spy balloon that would logically want to be stealthy. But it is, on the other hand, a well-known fact that thousands of weather balloons are released annually by many countries for the purpose of forecasting weather. Once in a while, a balloon will drift off course because of atmospheric conditions, which is not surprising and should not trigger any outpouring of emotional trauma. Aside from the fact that the wandering balloon gave Washington the opportunity to make a mountain of propaganda against China’s “aggressiveness” molehill, otherwise known as xiaotidazhuo (小题大做), the incident also got Secretary of State Antony Blinken off the hook. For weeks, Blinken has publicly announced his intention to visit Beijing. Then he got specific and set the dates of his visit as February 5 and 6. This presented China’s Foreign Ministry with a thorny problem. Aside from not having extended a formal invitation, the Chinese didn’t know what to talk to Blinken about. China has experienced a litany of the US saying one thing and doing just the opposite. A trust deficit exists that can’t be papered over. At the Group of Twenty Summit in Bali in November, US President Joe Biden promised to abide by the one-China principle, and then promptly enacted a bill to provide $10 billion worth of advanced weapons to Taiwan and celebrated the hijacking of a TSMC fab to Arizona. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen flew to Switzerland to meet with Vice-Premier Liu He, China’s economic czar, to ask for China’s support of American debt and not to divest US Treasury notes and bills that China was holding. Then she flew to Africa to badmouth China and warn Africans of Chinese “debt trap” diplomacy. Since Blinken’s ill-fated first meeting with Chinese leaders in charge of foreign policy, in Anchorage, Alaska, in March 2021, he has not altered his style of diplomacy. It’s “here are my list of demands and expectations in advance and now let’s talk.” China’s style of diplomacy is more nuanced, and telling Blinken to go hell or even to go Tianjin is just not its way. Instead, an innocently wandering balloon gives Blinken a face-saving way to postpone the self-invited visit to China. Note, he didn’t say he is canceling the visit, just postponing the trip. Despite his harsh, blunt approach, he does understand that the US desperately needs China’s willing collaboration. With China, he needs to act like he understands it can’t be all take and no give. A note added after the post: Should a real war break out between the U.S. and China, we can expect an armada of ten thousand weather balloons menacing the American sky.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Fatal flaws with the idea of decoupling

A shorter version of this post first appeared in Asia times. Recent issue of Bloomberg/Businessweek said, “Despite the heated national security rhetoric in Washington and talk of “decoupling” in policy circles, the world’s top two economies remain firmly intertwined.” The article goes on the say that the bilateral trade for year ending 2022 is likely to be the highest ever recorded. The failure to decouple is likely good news for China but even better news for the American public. However, anyone with a dollop of common sense would realize that the talk about decoupling was just so much balderdash. For the sake of introducing clarity to what and how decoupling might actually mean, let us recruit a team of Indians to address the many facets of this “elephant” in the room. Decouple would mean the opposite of economic integration. Each would have nothing to do with the other. This means Americans would have to stop buying manufactured goods from China. But this is contrary to actual bilateral trade data, wherein despite the added import tariff to the retail price, the American public can’t buy enough products Made in China. That’s the reality to date. In order for the US not to buy from China, we would have to make these products in America. Former President Donald Trump struck on the brilliant idea of bringing manufacturing back to America. He ordered, cajoled and dangled sweet deals to entice American companies back to the US. Americans don’t know how anymore The idea basically flopped for a host of reasons. The making of widgets left the U.S. decades ago, first to the four tigers such as Taiwan and Hongkong and then to mainland China. The basic skill sets needed on the production line hasn’t been seen in America for many decades and could not be replaced overnight on demand. Some lament that Washington is at fault for not having the vision to craft an industrial policy that would encourage retention of the manufacturing of run of the mill products, such as toys, television, personal computers or mobile phones. Our political leaders, busy getting elected, did not envisiage that making widgets was a necessary precursor step to making increasingly higher valued goods, as China has done. Actually, most the blame belongs to America’s abiding faith in Capitalism as executed by Wall Street. Not for nothing that Corporate America are known as “multinationals.” Multinationals (MNCs) go to where the production costs are the lowest and sell to where the profit is highest. “National interest” does not figure in their board room discussions. As Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden lacked the courage to remove the tariffs on imports from China, which could have only benefitted the American consumer. Washington along with the compliant mainstream media has so thoroughly demonized China in the minds of American public that Biden dare not risk even an appearance of apparently acting soft on China. However, Biden apparently understands that bringing manufacturing back is not quite as simple as a Trumpian clarion call. For one thing, the American wage scale would raise the cost of production, perhaps by as much as 50% according to Morris Chang, founder of Taiwan Semiconductor, for semiconductors. In the case of highend products, production also needs a complete supply chain of parts and components, which would also need to be transplanted from somewhere. Biden wins at the expense of Europeans So, instead of counting on American MNCs to make America great again, Biden is dangling subsidies to appeal to foreign MNCs, any company except from China, to move their plants to the US. European companies find the prospects tempting. Their economy at home faces shortages and inflation thanks to the Ukrainian war and they find America’s stability and market appealing. Just like their American counterparts, European companies owe their allegiance to their shareholders. But enticing European MNCs to the US means taking jobs away from their home country, which is making the European leaders very unhappy, hardly a way to treat America’s allies. Biden’s another approach is to outright hijack Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) plant from Taiwan and transplant it to Phoenix Arizona. The first group of TSMC staff came willingly and accompanied the equipment disassembled from Taiwan. They were convinced by their own government that invasion from China was imminent and this was the opportunity to get out. Mere weeks later, some troubling signs are developing. The staff from Taiwan are used to working 10-12 hour shifts and they were promised that they do not have to work night shifts. Well, their American colleagues don’t want to work night shifts either and 8 hours per day is their normal stint. The difference between the Taiwan based wage scale and the US based also creates tension and resentment. Presumably, the difference would eventually be harmonized but the manufacturing cost would go up. The question will be whether the TSMC customers, such as Apple et al., would pay for this higher price chips for the sake of national interest or just keep buying from the TSMC plant remaining in Taiwan. Want to hazard a guess? When the Soviet Union sent aloft the first manmade satellite in 1957, America woke up in shock, and promptly rallied national energy and resources to respond. Twelve years later we sent man to the moon. That was America’s first Sputnik moment. When China showed that they have caught up or even surpassed the US in certain critical 21st century technogies, that was another Sputnik moment. Demonize easier than compete But this time, our leaders in Washington must have decided that rather than compete head on, it was cheaper to allocate a few hundreds of million dollars to the media and ask them to continue to mislead the American public and demonize China as a human rights violator incapable of innovation and technological advances. Of course, Pentagon has yet to explain how an undersea mountain “ran” into the nose of our most advanced nuclear submarine off southern China coast in 2021 and forcing the sub to surface and run to safety. That’s a juicy mystery still waiting for the mainstream media to investigate and report. Unconfirmed rumor is that a Chinese drone sub wreaked havoc on the USS Connecticut. When the US has been going around the world promoting armed conflicts in the name of imposing “rule based, international order,” death and destruction inevitably followed. The world witnessed the repeated scenario in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen to name a few hot spots set ablazed by Uncle Sam. Rather than feeling secured under the American military umbrella, the rest of the world fear and distrust American rhetoric and intentions. In the meantime, China makes the rounds offering Belt and Road Initiative to underdeveloped and developing countries. The basics of BRI is that the host country will consult with China and select the infrastructure projects that need China’s assistance and financing. Infrastructure projects, such as port, rail, highway, airport, power and others, upon completion would give the host an economic shot in the arm. Raising the gross domestic product could come from increase in export and participation of global trade, improved yield on the farm based on Chinese technical assistance and creation of new jobs in the cities. BRI becomes a form of incoming tide that raises all boats. Over 150 countries around the world have signed BRI deals with China. Over time, we can expect to see increasing number of countries grow in economical strength. As more countries manage to keep their own people employed at home, the world will see fewer refugees and migrants, an overall benefit you will not hear reported by the western media. China has friends, the US fear and loathing The success of BRI has raised alarm from the western media and American diplomats are going around Africa and Latin America warning them of China’s “debt-trap diplomacy.” China’s BRI financing is normally around half of the going rate, sometimes even at zero interest, and some loans were outright forgiven. These third world countries should be offended that the West believes they are too stupid to tell the difference between centuries of colonial exploitation they suffered in the hands of the western imperial powers and China’s straightforward business propositions. If the much talked about decoupling were to suddenly occur tomorrow, the US would pay a much dearer price than would China. China would continue to be the most important trading partner to every country except for perhaps the US. China has long term, yuan based, energy contracts with Saudi, Iran, Qatar and other Gulf states along with Russia. Furthermore, thanks to the US aggressive actions pushing China and Russia into tighter collaboration, they can roll up their sleeves and concentrate on developing and realizing the vast potential of Siberia. On the other hand, the US is suffering from a deep deficit of trust by allies and rest of the world alike. The world has seen American unilateralism at work as the US confiscated the foreign reserve of the Taliban government in Afghanistan and later the Russian holdings, national and personal. The threat of sanctions and actual sanctions imposed has been the US favorite tool of diplomacy. As many have observed, sanctions have unanticipated consequences and blowback. As one recent article concluded, “Western sanctions led Russia to greatly increase trade with Asia, while devastating Europe’s economy. The US tech war against China is damaging its own industry.” Washington can act arbitrarily, capriciously and unilaterally. That’s why Japan, even as an ally, and China being the two largest foreign holders of US debt are in a rush to divest their holdings as quickly as possible. In the case of China, they face the challenge of trade surplus accumulating faster than they can divest their dollars. Indeed, friend and foe alike, most countries’ reserve now include increasing portion of China’s yuan while lessening the portion in dollars. Russia has even announced the ultimate goal of holding 60% renminbi and 40% gold as their foreign exchange reserve. Ironically, in middle of last month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen flew to Europe just to intercept China’s vice premier Liu He as he was on his way to the Davos summit. Apparently, the gist of their three-hour meeting was for Yellen to pitch the importance of China holding onto the dollars and continuing to buy US debt as vital to supporting the American economy. Most likely decoupling was not part of their conversation.