The US-N. Korea Summit

Most analysts agree that the summit between Pres. Trump and Kim Jong-Un in Singapore was more style than substance. Yet it was undoubtedly a historic occasion.  Previous Presidents of the US have shied away from meeting with the dictators of N. Korea for fear of giving them credibility and legitimacy.  But, Pres. Trump is characteristically both more impetuous and more canny.  He and his advisers realized that the kind of brinkmanship practised by the rulers of N. Korea was designed to gain them media coverage and status on the world stage.  To deal with them means accepting that this is their goal.  Letting them “strut their hour upon the stage.” was a necessary part of getting a deal, as Trump would see it.  They want to be taken seriously as major players and having a one-on-one meeting with the President of the US was their price for any further agreement.

Whether or not Kim Jong-un can be trusted or whether or not Trump can insist on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as realistic verification of missile and nuclear programs remains to be seen, but this summit was the first essential step.  In doing so Trump exceeded the expectations of all previous Presidents who refused to actually deal with the dictators of N. Korea.

Apart from the future prospects for peace and stability in Korea, with the active support of China, the  world has learnt a lesson.  That is that Trump is both unpredictable and can threaten to use the superpower force of the US with evident success, but is always prepared to deal.  The rest of the world is now waiting to see what happens with Iran.  The Iranians are similar to N. Korea in that they are an absolute dictatorship with expansive goals, yet their primary interest is to ensure the continuity of their regime.  If Trump were to likewise threaten them with the power of the US military unless they change their ways,  they will likely cave like N. Korea, and come into the fold and do a deal, this time a real deal that is in US interests.  How backing down and dealing with the US will affect their credibility and the long-term stability of their regime is another issue.

Many people have been concerned by the apparent rift between the G6 and the US as revealed at the G7 summit in Canada.  Some have likened this to the preference by Pres,. Obama to engage with America’s enemies (Iran, Russia, China) rather than cultivate America’s allies.  However, there is fundamental difference between Obama and Trump in this regard.  Obama was trying to act like a European nation, using persuasion and diplomacy, while Trump emphasizes American exceptionalism, using power and threats.  In that respect Trump is more American and eschews the European approach to trying to deal with enemies, rather than treating them as enemies.  Which approach will produce more results for the US remains to be seen, but the Summit with N. Korea seems to point the way to future progress.

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Brinksmanship

The North Korean dictators, the Kim dynasty, are past-masters at brinksmanship.  That is developing threatening weapons (at the expense of their own people’s welfare) and then using them to leverage more power on the international scene.  In doing this they are aggressive risk takers.  But, the key to their actions is that they will only go so far, to the brink, but not further, they will absolutely take no action that could harm the control of their hereditary regime.

It seems that they, specifically Kim Jong-un, has met his match in Pres. Donald Trump.  When Kim Jong-un was testing nuclear bombs and long-range missiles, the surrounding countries, South Korea and Japan were understandably nervous.  He also threatened to target the US.  He wants to be recognized as a powerful actor on the international stage and wants his country to be a player at the highest levels, equivalent to a superpower.  Previous American Presidents have failed to deal effectively with them and they refused to meet with them because they were afraid it would give them too much credibility.  Meanwhile they continued their aggressive military developments.

When he “tested” missiles  recently over Japan and towards Guam (a US protectorate and military base) Pres. Trump threatened him back and flew US AF planes along the North Korean border.  He also threatened him verbally and since Trump is considered to be capable of anything, this brought about a 180 degree turnaround in Kim’s position.  Instead of threatening, he agreed to stop the tests, stop his nuclear program and enter negotiations.  In effect his brinksmanship worked, he got what he wanted, a meeting with the great chief, the President of the USA.  Clearly China played an important role in his decision; after many years of doing nothing about their ally, Trump put economic pressure on China and Pres. Xi  had two unprecedented meetings with Kim, in which he no doubt told him to stop this behavior and cooperate.

A Summit between Trump and Kim was agreed to take place in Singapore in June, and then again, in another example of brinksmanship, Kim and his North Korean puppets started to reverse their tone again, and were unavailable for meetings to organize the summit.  So Trump did what no previous President has done, he peremptorily cancelled the Summit and once again threatened Kim’s regime.  This quick reaction must have affected Kim, because once again he reversed himself and became cooperative.  He met again with the South Korean President after cancelling the scheduled meeting.  And he does desperately want to meet with the Pres. of the USA, but he doesn’t want to pay the price, denuclearization and stopping missile testing.  By contrast, Trump is not going to a meeting unless he knows in advance that Kim is going to give major concessions.  So now the meeting hangs in the balance.

I predict the meeting will take place because both sides need it.  Kim to show his credibility on the world stage, and Trump to show he can make a deal with the devil and win.   However, the twists and turns of this plot have not yet been exhausted, expect more brinksmanship from the North Korean leader.

 

Asian Meetings

An amazing historic meeting just took place in Korea between the North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in.  Such a meeting is unprecedented when the N. Korean leader crossed the demarcation line at Panmunjon and embraced the S. Korean leader.  Kim has made statements that are diametrically opposite to the recent belligerent statements he had been making.  He has promised to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, close the major missile test site in the North and invite S. Korean and US representatives to witness its closing.  Also, this Korean meeting is a prelude to the much-anticipated meeting between Kim and US President Trump.

Why now?  Why has Kim agreed to these meetings and stopped his belligerence towards the US and S. Korea, and even suggested finally signing a peace treaty.  There are two answers to this question, first the answer is Trump!  Trump is the first President to threaten using military force against the North in response to Kim’s deliberate provocations, and furthermore, Kim and many others think that Trump is crazy enough to do it.  In order to win in this kind of face-off, your threat has to be credible and the weaker power has to believe that you mean it.   The second reason is that what Kim and most dictators (including the Iranians) fear most is losing their regime and its control over their country.  So they will take the more certain path to retain control, namely to back down in the face of superior power.

Another factor is that Kim has once again gone to the extreme in brinkmanship, and one reason why he was doing this is to be recognized as a major power on the world stage and also to be taken seriously by the US and to have a face-to-face meeting with the President of the USA.  Now, we know that he may be lying, he has done it before (he promised Pres. Clinton he would denuclearize and yet he continued a secret program), and he may be exaggerating, but the only way to find out is to check and verify.  That is what the Trump Administration will no doubt insist on.  There have been accidents in the N. Korean program and it is believed the major missile test site has partially collapsed, so Kim may have to close it anyway.  But, that’s why he must be put to the test.  The outcome is too important to simply be dismissive.

While this meeting was happening in Korea, the leaders of the two great Asian superpowers, India and China, had a very significant meeting in Wuhan in China.  The meeting was supposedly informal and there was a friendly atmosphere.  Pres. Modi of India and Pres. Xi of China agreed to  resolve difference between them diplomatically.  This is good news since they still have a border dispute that led to a war in the 1960’s and has never been resolved.  The significance of this largely unheralded meeting may turn out to be even greater than the significance of the meeting in Korea.

 

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Putin’s Russia

In a very real sense Russia now belongs to Vladimir Putin, since he has just been elected President of Russia for the fourth time. He is the consummate KGB agent, controlling everything, a man who wants to make Russia great again (hence the Chechnya war, the occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, and the intervention in Syria).  A new Stalin, he stops at nothing to murder and assassinate any possible opponents.  In true Mafia fashion he allows the oligarchs in Russia to flourish only so long as they pay him his cut, and show obedience.  If any one steps out of line and opposes him politically he is ruthless, they die or spend long terms in prison.

The list of dead opponents is very long:  Pavel Litvinenko (murdered in the UK in 2006 with radioactive polonium); Boris Nemtsov (opposition politician gunned down in 2015 in Moscow); Anna Politovskaya (investigative journalist shot in 2006 in Moscow); Sergei Magnitsky (advisor to American businessman Steve Browder, beaten to death in custody in 2009); Natalya Nemirova (human rights activist murdered in Grozny in 2006);  Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova (human rights activists shot dead together in broad daylight in 2009); Paul Klebnikov (a Russian-American journalist, editor of Forbes-Russia, shot dead in Moscow in 2004); Sergei Yushenkov (co-chair of the Liberal Russia movement, shot in Moscow in 2004); Boris Berezovsky (oligarch and former supporter of Putin, found hanged in his home in London in 2013); Sergei Skripov and his daughter Yulia (found poisoned by nerve agent in London, 2018); that is a partial list.

Those sentenced to prison include: Mikhail Khodorkovsky (former oligarch who opposed Putin, stripped of his wealth and spent 10 years in Siberia); Alexei Navalny (lawyer and leader of political opposition to Putin, he and his brother Oleg were sentenced to 3.5 years in prison); Sergei Udaltsov (leader of Left Front sentenced to 4.5 years in prison); Leonid Razvozzhaev (colleague of Udaltsov, fled Russia, abducted and returned, sentenced to 4.5 years in prison); Mikhail Kosenko (political activist sent to psychiatric prison); Greenpeace leaders (30 persons including several Brits were arrested and sentenced to up to 7 years in prison, but were released after 2 months due to international pressure); Pussy Riot (all female punk group were sent to prison for 2 years for demonstrating against Putin); Vladimir Yevtushenkov (an oligarch, arrested and held until he capitulated to Putin’s demands); once again a partial list.

The only law in Russia is Putin’s law and he has just been elected for a (previously illegal) fourth six-year term as President.  He will do anything necessary to stay in power. There is no doubt that he is determined to expand his influence around the world and to restore Russia’s former greatness.  He is definitely anti-American and has undoubtedly interfered in both UK and US elections.  However, the idea that he has supported Pres. Trump is futile, since Trump’s policies of making America Great Again and expanding the US military are directly contrary to Putin’s interests. However, since he is firmly in control of Russia, both Trump in the US and Netanyahu in Israel, due to Russia’s support of Pres. Assad of Syria, must come to terms with Putin.

Genetically Modified Foods

All human foods that come from plants are genetically modified (GM).  What do I mean by this statement?  I mean that all plant foods that are mass-produced throughout the world for food (wheat, corn, barley, rice, vegetables, fruits, etc.) have been selected by humans over time and/or modified by chemical or other procedures.   The simplest form of genetic selection is that a farmer will select seeds from the most productive plants or fields to grow a more productive crop (i.e more tons per acre).

Another way that farmers have used from the beginning of farming is to supply various fertilizers and even more recently to add various bacterial strains that produce greater yields.  The current crops of cereal plants are so removed from their origins that they can be unrecognizable, with much larger edible sections and hundreds of times more nutrients and they are unable to reproduce themselves, with no viable seed dispersal means without human intervention.  Thus, the current development of GM crops using methods of molecular biology is merely a more efficient way of selecting crop seeds for greater yields with superior insect resistance.

This article is based on a talk that Irwin Weintraub, an agronomist, gave at the English Speaking Seniors Discussion Group in Beer Sheva, in which he showed a short video (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqJAeReFr8I) by Nina Fedoroff, a leading geneticist and molecular biologist, who has written a book entitled “Mendel in the Kitchen.”   In this she points out that the prediction by Robert Malthus, a British scholar who wrote a book in 1798 entitled “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” that the exponential increase in population growth would outpace the ability to grow enough food to feed them, has not come to pass.  In fact, as time has gone on, the selection of plants, improved fertilizers, improved irrigation and mechanized agricultural production have produced more food than is needed by the current world’s population.  All over the world supermarkets are packed with a huge variety of foods because of the wonderful advances in production and distribution.  The main current problem is not the lack of production of food but rather that the cost is too high for many people to be able to afford it.

In other words, we need to produce food more efficiently in order that the price does not rise, but goes down, so that more people can afford the food.  This requires not only the most efficient selection of food seeds, but also the use of more efficient means to prevent the decimation of corps by bugs and micro-organisms.  For example, if there had been a means to prevent the potato blight that caused great famine in Ireland in the years 1845-49, then millions of lives would have been saved and the history of Ireland would have been quite different.  Now this can be done with genetic modification.

Similarly, massive famines in the far east, particularly China, were caused by failures in the rice crop.  There are two ways to avoid this, prevent the population from increasing so fast or increase the yield of rice per acre.  The Communist Governments first used the population control method, now they are using the production of improved yield rice.  The Green Revolution that occurred between the 1930’s and the 1960’s resulted from the development of high yield varieties of cereal crops.  Norman Borlaug is credited with pioneering this approach, which saved billions of lives, and he received the Nobel Prize in 1970.  These crops were selected genetic hybrids.

There is a current fad of eating only organically grown (OG) food.  This is a retrogressive step often taken by so-called progressive people in the belief that these foods will be superior to those grown with advanced selected varieties, modern fertilizers, pesticides and even GM.  But, there is no evidence that these OG foods have any advantage as far as nutrition and safety are concerned over regularly grown crops.  Further OG requires old-fashioned manure that is far less efficient than modern fertilizers and with less pest control, much more of the OG crop is wasted.  Given the rapid increase in the world’s population the move to OG products would result in more people dying of famine.

There is no evidence after 30 years of production, testing and use that any GM product is dangerous for human consumption.  In fact, one wouldn’t expect it to be, because the genes that are transferred from one organism to another to produce an improved crop, either for greater yield or pest resistance, have no direct effect on humans.  The changes are so selective and minute that such dangers are highly unlikely.  Furthermore, genes are transferred between organisms all the time.  Portions of the human genome is now known to have originated from viruses and bacteria, and indeed there are such things as “jumping genes” known as transposons discovered by Barbara McClintock who won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her work.  The fear that genes from GM plants will spread to other organisms is misplaced, since genes do transfer between species as a natural process in evolution.  So to conclude, GM is the only way to increase the yield of crops in order to feed the world’s growing population.

Bolshevik Revolution Centenary

Of all the centenaries that occur in 2017, that commemorating the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 is perhaps the most significant historically.  Actually the so-called October Revolution occurred in October according to the Czarist calendar, but was on Nov 7 according to the western calendar.

Many people are not aware that the insurrection that removed the Czar took place initially in February, 1917, and resulted in the formation of a provisional government in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) led by Alexander Kerensky, a moderate socialist.  But, the leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRP) of Russia, namely the Bolsheviks of Vladimir Lenin, were not satisfied with this outcome and sought to overthrow Kerensky’s Government, that they succeeded in doing in the October Revolution.

“Bolshevik” means majority in Russian, and the split between the Bosheviks and the Mensheviks (minority) goes back to the first international congress of the SRP that took  place in 1903 when the Jewish Bund Party that was affiliated with the SRP were persuaded by Lenin to side with his interpretation that the SRP must be a truly revolutionary party, while the minority who voted against (the Mensheviks) were in favor of more constitutional and opportunistic means (such as forming coalitions with other socialist parties).  At the time this seemed like a reasonable difference, but no-one could envisage that it would lead to the death of all those who opposed the Bolsheviks.  This included the Mensheviks  and the Bund who later had separated from the SRP, who were all murdered by Stalin.

Lenin (born Ulyanov) owed a lot to Stalin (born Djugashvilli), who had robbed banks for  the SRP.   He was also one of the few non-Russians in the leadership of the Party, so Lenin promoted him and put him in charge of the nationality policy of the Party.  After the Bolsheviks took power in the coup of October, 1917, they instituted the “terror” that engulfed millions of people.  Stalin was so ruthless in carrying this out that he was once again promoted by Lenin to be editor of the Party newspaper.  But, then in 1922 and 1923 Lenin suffered two strokes that left him paralyzed, and when he died in 1924 Stalin took over control of the Soviet Government as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

The rest, as they say, is history.  It took another 70 years until Communism in Russia was overthrown.  Robert Conquest, a brilliant historian of the USSR, calculated from later census statistics, from the discrepancy between men and women, that Stalin had murdered ca. 80 million (!!) people during his various reigns of terror over 70 years.  Every evening he was given a list of those hundreds to be executed by a bullet to the back of the neck in the cellars of the Lyubyanka prison, and he approved them.  We should not forget how Stalinism devolved into a ruthless murderous dictatorship, like that of  North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, because people gave up their liberty to a Party.

Self-Determination

It seems axiomatic that each clearly distinguishable national group should have the right to self-determination.  But, it may not be as simple as that.  As an Israeli it seems clear to me that both the Catalans and the Kurds deserve the right to self-determination  They both have the basic requirements, they have an existing governmental organization that is both working and somewhat transparent, they have a distinct language and culture and they have the means to defend themselves.  At least the Kurds do, their Pesh Merga forces have been the most effective at fighting IS and they are the main US ally in Iraq.

So I was disconcerted when I read a letter in The Jerusalem Post (from an Arab) saying that if Israel supports self-determination for the Kurds, why not for the Palestinians.  At first sight this might seem a reasonable comparison, but then you see that it clearly breaks down.  The Palestinians do not have a distinct language or culture that is distinguishable from the Arabs living around them (say in Jordan and Syria), they do not have an effective governmental organization, and they do not have the means to defend their territory if they were independent.

But, perhaps more important, they are not really a distinct people, their “independence” was first declared by the PLO (an organization that was founded by the Egyptian secret service) in 1964, just prior to the 1967 Six Day War.  Whereas the Catalans and the Kurds have truly ancient origins.   Catalonia was conquered by the Spanish Castilians in medieval times when Spain was first unified and the Kurds were conquered and divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and in fact are considered the largest minority without a sovereign country of their own.

So just because you can name a group does not mean that they deserve self-determination or in fact could achieve it.  It will not be easy for the Catalans and the Kurds to gain their independence against the opposition of the Spanish State and the Turks and Iraqis, respectively.   Furthermore, there are many minorities whose independence cannot be foreseen, such as the indigenous Americans (Indians), the Welsh, the Bretons, the Chechnians, the Ossetians, the Maoris, the Australian Aborigines, Irian Jaya (the part of New Guinea taken over by Indonesia), Kashmir and the Palestinian Arabs.