“Philosophy is common sense with big words.” – James Madison
“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” – Ibid.
“The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.” – Ibid.
IN A NUTSHELL: MUST READ
John Bolton Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Arm The Bomb:President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, has long advocated for US military strikes against Iran. Last year at Bolton’s direction the National Security Council asked the Pentagon to provide military options to strike Tehran after militants fired three mortars into an empty lot on the grounds of the US Embassy in Baghdad in September. Then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis provided some general options, but adamantly opposed retaliation since the attack was insignificant. H. R. McMaster, national security adviser at the time, concurred with the presumption that such a strike could cause armed conflict and prompt Iran to order the US to leave the country. However, since the hawkish Bolton succeeded McMaster in April 2018, he has intensified the administration’s policy of isolating and pressuring Iran. And unlike his predecessor, Bolton does not want to hear opposing views and wants to control all information that flows to the president. Such censorship results in little consideration being given to options and furthers the risk of armed escalation, something that worries Pentagon officials most.
Bolton had been successful in persuading the president to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal; recently, however, he has stumbled in some efforts. When Bolton traveled to Turkey to present a list of conditions for US troop withdrawal from Syria, including a pledge by Turks not to attack America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the demand and refused to meet with him. But in a speech last week at the American University in Cairo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo backed up Bolton’s hard line position, saying “countries increasingly understand we must confront the ayatollahs, not coddle them”, and on Sunday, Trump declared via Twitter that the US would “devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds.”
How the US military might be feeling about the Middle East right now:
Iran’s Clear And Present Danger (To The Dutch): In true Tom Clancy fashion, the Dutch government has alleged that Iran is involved in two assassinations in the Netherlands and at least four assassination and bomb plots in Europe since 2015. Investigations by the Dutch domestic intelligence service AVID found one of the Netherlands’ two victims was a 56-year-old electrician who had been shot at point-blank range by two gunmen in December 2015. The man had entered the Netherlands as a refugee in the 1980s and was living a quiet life near Amsterdam with his wife and son. Later, court documents revealed the man was living under an assumed name, and had been sentenced to death in absentia in Iran in connection with organizing a 1981 bombing of the Islamic Republican Party’s headquarters in Tehran. It is also believed Iran was behind a thwarted bomb plot in Paris that had intended to target a huge rally led by an Iranian dissident group. (WaPo)
China’s Ambitious Space Program: The Chinese equivalent of NASA, the China National Space Administration, announced Monday it will launch another mission to the moon by the end of 2019, and a mission to Mars as early as 2020. China’s space agency successfully landed its robotic spacecraft Chang’e-4 on the dark side of the moon January 11. It was a first in the human history of space exploration. (WaPo)
China Flexes on Canada: A 36-year-old Canadian man has been sentenced by a Chinese court to death on drug charges. Robert Schellenberg was first convicted in November of being an accessory to drug smuggling and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He appealed, and in December the court ordered a retrial after prosecutors claimed new evidence showed Schellenberg’s roll in drug trafficking operations was more important than originally thought. This time Schellenberg was sentenced to death. The ruling is expected to escalate diplomatic tensions between China and Canada. (Guardian)
Don’t Let May Down, Don’t Let May Down: British lawmakers began debate on Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal Wednesday January 9 by voting 308-297 in favor of demanding the government come up with an alternate plan within three working days after the final vote January 15. It was an early and humiliating defeat for the PM and her conservative party. On Monday May tried to save face and reinvigorate supporters by warning opponents of her Brexit deal that they risk “letting the British people down”. But Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn said the PM had “completely and utterly failed” and vowed to call for a general election if May’s deal is rejected in Tuesday’s vote. (BBC)
Brining The Planet With Desalination Before We Cook It With Global Warming: Desalination, the process of turning salty sea water into drinkable water, is the fast-growing, energy-intensive technology that benefits many arid regions. There are almost 16,000 desalination plants worldwide pumping out 142 million cubic meters (5 billion cubic feet) of salty brine daily, which amounts to 95 million cubic meters of fresh water. The amount of salty waste water and toxic chemicals being produced every day is 50 percent higher than previous estimates, and according to a UN-backed study released Monday, it’s damaging the environment.
55 percent of the brine is produced in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Most of the hyper-salty water left from the desalination process is pumped back into the sea; over the span of a year it would be enough to cover the state of Florida with a foot of brine. The brine is 5 percent salt and often includes toxins like chlorine and copper. Naturally occurring sea water, by contrast, is 3.5 percent salt. The study’s lead author says waste chemicals “accumulate in the environment and can have toxic effects in fish.” The brine near desalination plants can cut oxygen levels with “profound impacts” on shellfish, crabs and other creatures on the seabed, resulting in “ecological effects observable throughout the food chain”, he added.
NUTS IN AMERICA
Their Receipts Are Worse Than Their Handwriting: In theory, the Trump administration’s directive to hospitals would offer consumers transparency and choice, and force health care providers into price competition. It isn’t turning out that way. On January 1, as ordered, hospitals began posting list prices for all their services, but you’ll need a medical background to decipher them. Case in point: Vanderbilt University Medical Center listed a charge of $42,569 for a cardiology procedure described as “HC PTC CLOS PAT DUCT ART.” How are consumers reacting? “This is gibberish, totally meaningless, a foreign language to me”, said one, after looking at price lists for hospitals in her area. (NYT)
Newsom Prescribes Lower Drug Prices: Gavin Newsom has only been California’s new governor for a week, but within hours of taking office Newsom signed an executive order proposing a plan that would allow his state to directly negotiate with drug manufacturers to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Agencies would be able to directly negotiate not only on behalf of the 13 million beneficiaries of California’s version of Medicaid, but also other state agencies that purchase drugs, including coverage for state workers and prisoners. (NYT)