From Russia with War
The White House Version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: President Trump had Chuck and Nancy over to dinner last night (that’s Schumer and Pelosi, Democratic Senate and House Minority Leaders, respectively) and may, or may not, have struck a deal on DACA and border security. Dems said they definitely had a deal to quickly extend protections for young undocumented immigrants and to finalize a border security package that does not include a border wall. The White House just called it “a positive step toward the president’s strong commitment to bipartisan solutions.”
|IN A NUTSHELL: MUST READ|
Russia Starts War Games in Eastern Europe: Russia’s biggest war games since 2013–codenamed Zapad, which means “West”–officially start on Thursday in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia, and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. NATO officials say they are watching with “calm and confidence.” But others are concerned about Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West and to amass large numbers of troops on very short notice in the event of a conflict. NATO says the exercises, involving some 100,000 troops, are larger than Moscow had indicated, and might include firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis voiced the fears of many in the region that the drills risk triggering an accidental conflict or would allow Moscow to leave troops in neighboring Belarus. Some Western officials have raised concerns that Russia might use the games as a “Trojan horse” to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics. Another concern for NATO is that Turkey (a longtime member of the alliance), in a clear sign of a pivot toward Russia and away from NATO and the West, announced on Tuesday that it had signed a deal to purchase a Russian surface-to-air missile system. The deal signals Turkey’s recent ‘rapprochement’ with Russia, despite their differences over the war in Syria, and comes as Turkey’s ties with the United States and European Union are increasingly strained.
Dark Chocolate Has A Dark Secret: The next time you’re hungry and grab a candy bar, or you’re stressed and sit for a moment savoring a piece of chocolate, or buy a whole box for Valentine’s Day, think of this alarming fact – the world’s chocolate industry is causing the disappearance of vital rainforests in West Africa. The Ivory Coast is the biggest producer of cocoa beans, supplying nearly 40%, with much of that grown illegally inside protected national parks which have seen their rainforest cover reduced by more than 80% since 1960. Illegally grown beans, called “dirty’ beans, get mixed in with legally grown beans in the supply chain. Large candy companies like Mars, Nestle, Mondelez, and others could all be tainted with illegal deforestation -“dirty”- cocoa. The ballooning global demand for chocolate means that if nothing is done to halt the deforestation, by 2030, there will be no forest left.
|NUTS AND BOLTS: SHOULD READ|
Bribery and Corruption and Sports and Athletes = $$$ & Not A New Thing: We’ve seen this movie before. Clandestine payments made to influence the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to select a certain city to host a future Olympics. Brazilian prosecutors allege bribes were paid to Papa Massata Diack, the son of disgraced former IOC member Lamine Diack, “to buy votes and the support of Lamine Diack, who held particular influence within the IOC”, assuring the awarding of the 2016 and 2020 Olympics to Rio and Tokyo. In 2016 The Guardian reported on a seven-figure payment from the Tokyo Olympic bid team to an account named Black Tidings, linked to Massata Diack, during Japan’s successful race to host the 2020 Games. Fast forward to the IOC’s awarding of the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 games, and learn that those decisions are undergoing additional scrutiny after investigations suggested a ‘central figure’ in the corruption scandal bought expensive watches and jewelry just days after both votes.
Please Keep “Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free”: The Trump administration is considering reducing the number of refugees admitted to the United States over the next year to below 50,000, the lowest number since 1980. In his first days in office, President Trump capped the number admitted at 50,000 as part of his first travel ban. But in recent weeks, as the deadline approaches for Trump to issue the annual determination for refugee admissions required by the Refugee Act of 1980, some White House officials have urged him to lower the number even further. The issue has created an intense debate between Stephen Miller (Trump’s senior adviser for policy) and the Department of Homeland Security on the one hand and officials at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the Department of Defense on the other. No final decision has been made, but as the issue is being debated, the Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the administration to bar almost any refugees from entering the country while it considers challenges to the second travel ban.
|KEEPING OUR EYE ON|
Russian Security Software – An Oxymoron: Kaspersky Lab software is on a whole bunch of federal civilian agencies’ computers, and the Department of Homeland Security has decided it’s a bit of a risk. So it’s given civilian agencies 90 days to remove it, saying in a directive: “The risk that the Russian government, whether acting on its own or in collaboration with Kaspersky, could capitalize on access provided by Kaspersky products to compromise federal information and information systems directly implicates U.S. national security.” It seems the U.S. intelligence community has information that makes them think Kaspersky products are essentially conduits for Russian espionage. After all, the company’s founder, Eugene Kaspersky, graduated from a KGB-supported cryptography school and had worked in Russian military intelligence. The chiefs of six major U.S. spy agencies told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in May they would not use Kaspersky software on their computers. Kaspersky ran a pop-up store where you could purchase exclusive merch but only by giving up personal data. Hmm…sounds like Facebook, Google, and Kaspersky should be paying us for using their products. But please no bitcoins if we agree with Jamie Dimon.
The UK/EU Divorce Will Be Sad for Both Parties, but Can it Be Amicable?: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker spoke in Strasbourg Wednesday for his annual state of the union address to European Parliament and warned that Britain “will regret” leaving the bloc as much as the EU will. British and EU leaders are preparing for a fourth round of Brexit talks this month. Earlier this week, the UK offered to contribute military assets to the EU. Defense is the UK’s most valuable card in Brexit negotiations, and it hopes its contribution in the area will yield favorable trade terms from the EU in return.
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