The Opium War Revenge and Reversal | NATO for Everyone | Eaten to Extinction

APRIL 4, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE



“Embarrassment is a villain to be crushed.”

“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.”

– Robert Cialdini




That’s So NATO: Congress asserted its role as an equal branch of the US government, and a constitutional counterweight to the Trump administration, by inviting the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to address the joint legislative body. On Wednesday NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg became the first leader of an international organization and the first Norwegian to be accorded the rare honor of such an address. There was no mistaking the event’s significance. Members of both chambers greeted Stoltenberg with repeated cheers and standing ovations, and said they viewed his address as a chance to reaffirm America’s commitment to the 70-year-old Western alliance.

Stoltenberg passionately defended NATO, a partnership he called “the most successful alliance in history.” He warned of dangers posed by “a more assertive Russia,” including a massive military buildup, threats to sovereign states, the use of nerve agents and cyberattacks. “NATO has been good for Europe, but NATO has also been good for the United States,” Stoltenberg said. “The strength of a nation is not only measured by the size of its economy or the number of its soldiers, but also by the number of its friends…. We must overcome our differences now because we will need our alliance even more in the future. We face unprecedented challenges [that] no one nation can face alone.”

Since taking office in 2017 President Trump has often derided the organization, repeatedly saying NATO nations need to pay more for their militaries, even suggesting the US would be better off without it, language reminiscent of isolationism. Earlier this year House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of her fellow Democrats to Brussels, where they sought to reassure European allies that differences over Trump’s policies were mere “family squabbles” and that transatlantic ties remained strong. Lawmakers have introduced legislation to express support for NATO, or at least block Trump from withdrawing from the alliance without congressional approval.




Stone First, Ask Questions Later: In 2013 the phenomenally oil and gas-wealthy nation of Brunei became the first country in Southeast Asia to pass legislation making Sharia the law of the land. New criminal laws were set to be enacted in stages, the first in 2014, the final on Wednesday. Henceforth, pursuant to Brunei’s interpretation of Islamic religious law, the punishment for homosexuality and adultery is death by stoning. Thieves will have limbs amputated; lesbians can be imprisoned for up to 10 years. The death penalty also applies for rape and defaming the Prophet Muhammad. In some cases the same punishments are meted out to children. Brunei’s half million population is mostly Muslim, but with sizeable Christian and Buddhist minorities. While the penal laws primarily apply to Muslims, some aspects still apply to non-Muslims. Certain celebrities have called for boycotting luxury hotels across the US, UK and Europe belonging to the Brunei Investment Agency, a government-owned corporation founded by the Sultan. (NPR)

Online Falsehoods Exposed: Singapore’s legislature introduced draft legislation Monday called the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill. The bill, expected to become law in coming weeks, would require websites to run corrections alongside “online falsehoods” and would “cut off profits” of sites that spread misinformation. It also provides punishments, which for some violations could include fines of up to about $44,000 and a prison term of up to six years for individuals, or fines of up to about $738,000 in “any other case.” The Ministry of Law said the bill did not apply to “opinions, criticisms, satire or parody,” only to falsehoods that threatened the public interest. Critics say the bill is overbroad, granting authorities too much discretion to decide what is true or false. The legislation could be weaponized to target the government’s critics, as similar laws have been used by authoritarian governments around Southeast Asia. One Human Rights official said: “You’re basically giving the autocrats another weapon to restrict speech, and speech is pretty restricted in the region already.” (NYT)




The Opium War Revenge and Reversal: Beijing heard what the White House had to say, and has agreed that beginning May 1 all variants of fentanyl will be treated as controlled substances. China was already regulating 25 variants of the synthetic opioid, which has been linked to thousands of drug overdose deaths in the US. But in seeking to evade controls, clever manufacturers in China would introduce slight changes to the molecular structure of their drugs, providing a legal loophole allowing manufacture and export before the government could assess the products for safety and medical use. The new rules sound like a good step in the right direction. Unfortunately, China may not be able to enforce them any better than they do existing laws. Official reports show the country does not have enough inspectors for facilities, and as one drug policy expert points out, law enforcement would have to “take a sample” from a facility and eventually “analyze whether it’s a fentanyl-related structure.” (NPR)




Access Denied at Mar-a-Lago: A Chinese woman gained access to President Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club while he was there last weekend. A criminal complaint became public Tuesday with information about her case. The woman had told a Secret Service agent guarding the property that she was there to visit the pool. Once inside the club the woman told a different Secret Service agent she was there to attend a “United Nations Chinese American Association” event later in the evening. No such event was scheduled, and the woman was detained after the club’s managers failed to find her on any list of authorized persons. Later she told agents a different story, saying a “Chinese friend” had told her to travel to Mar-a-Lago and speak with a member of Trump’s family about US-Chinese economic relations. According to the complaint, the woman had in her possession two Republic of China passports, four cellphones, one laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive that contained “malicious malware.” Authorities said she had no swimsuit. She has been charged with making false statements and illegally entering a restricted area. (NPR)

GOP Vs AOC: The 2018 US midterm elections resulted in a Democratic majority in the House, but the Senate is still controlled by Republicans. A growing public consensus that (a) climate change is caused by human activities, and (b) it’s a serious problem requiring action, emboldened New York Democratic freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass to come up with the “Green New Deal”, a progressive wish-list of climate change combating ideas which admittedly necessitate a massive federal investment and the overhaul of the US energy and infrastructure industries. It was all outlined in a non-binding resolution that calls for a global goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. An ambitious plan full of new ideas, true, but rather than taking anything in the resolution seriously, or holding any hearings, Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell forced a roll-call vote on the proposal Tuesday as part of an ongoing effort to turn the provocative climate change resolution into a wedge issue in the 2020 elections. It’s passage would have required 60 affirmative votes. Only 15 percent of Republicans think battling climate change is an urgent concern. All 53 GOP senators oppose the Green New Deal, and voted against it Tuesday. They were joined by four Democrats representing conservative states. Other Democrats avoided McConnell’s ploy to get them “on the record” by just announcing “present.” (NPR)




Eaten to Extinction: In 2016 an Oxford University professor compiled a list of 301 land mammal species threatened with extinction by human culinary habits. A few of the most threatened based on the professor’s study include the Chinese giant salamander, world’s largest amphibian; its natural population has fallen 80 percent since 1960. It has a Cites appendix I listing (the highest level of protection given by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), yet specimens reportedly bring more than $1,500 on the black market. Pangolins are the world’s most trafficked wild mammal. Since 2000, more than a million are estimated to have been killed for flesh and blood, as well as their scales (used in traditional Chinese medicine). Pangolins received a Cites appendix I listing in 2016, but alarming seizures continue to take place: January, 8.3 tons of scales (amounting to 13,800 pangolins) in Hong Kong; February, 30 tons of live and frozen animals and body parts in Malaysia. Madagascar’s lemurs are the world’s most endangered primate group. The Angelshark has almost disappeared in the wild, and the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, once widespread in Vietnam and China, is down to just four known individuals. (Guardian)




“There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.”

“Since 95 percent of the people are imitators and only 5 percent initiators, people are persuaded more by the actions of others than by any proof we can offer.”

– Robert B. Cialdini,

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