Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Russia Will Be the Cleanest Team at the Olympics 

(Bloomberg)  Which nation will field the most doping-free team at the Rio Olympics, due to start on Aug. 5?

Russia, the country that narrowly avoided a blanket ban from the games for drug abuse. On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee's executive board decided that Russian athletes will not enjoy a presumption of innocence -- in other words, they will all be considered potential dopers and subject to "a rigorous additional out-of-competition testing program." Following a series of reports from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which documented a state-sponsored system of enhancing athletes' performance with forbidden substances, the IOC barred all Russians who have ever been disqualified for doping. It has also told international federations responsible for specific sports events to examine all Russian athletes' anti-doping records, only taking into account "reliable adequate international tests."
In some events, such as athletics, weightlifting and cycling, adverse findings are common in many countries, but some nations excel in particular sports: 56 Italian cyclists and 22 Indian weightlifters were caught doping in 2014. Italy leads the way; Niccolo Mornati, a five-time World Championship rowing medalist and brother of Carlo Mornati, the national Olympic committee functionary leading the country's Rio delegation, can't compete because of a four-year ban for taking a medicine typically used to treat breast cancer.

 Had U.S. cyclist Bobby Lea been Russian, he couldn't compete in Rio: He tested positive for oxycodone, a banned substance, at the U.S. track cycling championship in August 2015, but got his 16 -month suspension reduced to six months through an arbitration process. U.S. weightlifter Sara Robles, whose two-year ban for an androgenic steroid expired last year, would have been disqualified, too. Both made it to Team U.S.A.

 It may appear unfair that the formerly disqualified Americans are in Rio and Russians, some with less serious past violations, some simply captured by the blanket ban in athletics, are kept out. Yelena Isinbayeva, the champion pole-vaulter who had vowed to win the Olympics with a world record, is certainly mad. "Whoever wins in my absence in Rio will really only win second place," said Isinbayeva, who has never been banned for doping.

Serbia Survey looks into attitudes on EU, NATO, Kosovo, and Crimea

The poll, done in the first half of July, will be presented on Thursday, July 28.

The results indicate that, in the wake of the British EU referendum, Serbian citizens are more supportive of Germany's EU policy than they are of the UK's, Tanjug reported.

Half of those who took part in the poll believe that the economic situation is better in the EU, with as many convinced that respect for human rights and freedoms is on a higher level in the EU. Despite this, 49 percent of respondents said they believe the Russian societal model suits Serbia.

Only 9.8 percent of young people aged 18 to 29 backed Serbia joining NATO, while this figure grew to 13.2 percent among those aged over 60.

80 percent of respondents said Kosovo should never be recognized as independent, "even if that is a condition for EU membership."

That Dastardly Villain

The latest scandal has taken on cartoonish proportions, and so I offered my commentary in The Independent American Reader,

A lot of speculation is flying around as to who hacked the DNC e-mails.  The prime suspect is Russia, as many feel Vladimir Putin has the most to gain from a Trump presidency.  It is highly unlikely that this hack job will turn the election, but it allows the media to sound off on what it sees as an odd relationship that has emerged from this campaign -- the seeming "bromance" between Trump and Putin. 

However, there is little to suggest that Russia has any vested interest in this presidential campaign.  Whether it is Hillary or Drumpf, Putin will continue being Putin and there isn't much we can do about it.   This latest hack job may have come from within Russia, but it is highly doubtful it can be traced to the Kremlin.  Russia still has an old Soviet domain .su that was established in 1990.  It serves as a favorite dark spot for hackers to hide in.  These hackers can come from anywhere in the world not just Russia, and are hard to track once inside this virtual black hole.  A Drumpf hacker could have just as easily used this domain to sabotage the DNC as could a Russian hacker.  Nevertheless, there are those who suspect Putin uses this "red web" to his advantage.

You can read more here.

Monday, July 25, 2016

East Europe’s Most-Vulnerable Nations as Brexit Turmoil Unfolds

(Bloomberg)  Eastern Europe has been singled out as the region with most at stake in the aftermath of the U.K.’s Brexit vote. Some parts are more exposed than others to the turmoil.

“Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Poland are the most exposed if the U.K. leaves,” Aarti Sakhuja, a credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings, said in a note. She cites “their large migrant populations, remittances, trade links, and the importance of EU funds to finance investment.” 
Top credit ratings agency declares European Union "unsustainable"

(City A.M.)  Standard and Poor's (S&P), one of the world's top credit ratings agencies, has branded the current European Union "unsustainable" as it outlined the urgent need for reform.
The report goes on: "There are too many moving parts in the electoral politics of 28 nation states, and too many conceivable random-like events that could push political and economic developments in one direction or another, with impossible-to-predict consequences and timelines."

S&P join the chorus of other leading thinkers and EU politicians, including Jean-Claude Juncker, who call on Europe to either push ahead with integration, to create a more substantial and relevant shared system of sovereignty, or break apart into a "looser form of political and economic federation".

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Turkey’s Erdogan mounts his own political coup

(Washington Post)  TURKISH PRESIDENT Recep Tayyip Erdogan has responded to a failed military coup with what amounts to a political coup of his own. Since last weekend, tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or fired from their jobs: not just military officers involved in the rebellion but also teachers, university professors, judges and thousands of other civil servants. A state of emergency has been declared; hundreds of schools have been closed; dozens of journalists have had their credentials revoked. According to Turks monitoring the purge, those targeted include not just supporters of the exiled Islamic leader Mr. Erdogan blames for the coup, but also anyone suspected of not supporting his government, including members of minority groups and secular liberals.

Mr. Erdogan, who called the failed putsch a “gift from God,” is not just moving to further consolidate what already had become an authoritarian regime. He is also attempting to force the United States, Turkey’s NATO ally, to aid his crackdown — in particular by handing over the alleged mastermind of the coup, Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Obama administration is rightly resisting — and it must continue to do so even if it means a breach in cooperating with Turkey against the Islamic State.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Turkey’s increasingly complicated relationship with NATO

(Washington Post)  The coup complicates this relationship in a number of ways. As a result of the coup attempt, there has been a huge purge of not only the military, but also the police force and the civil service. The removal of these people not only calls into question Turkey's suitability as a NATO partner, but also its continuing capabilities: The Guardian reports that one top official in the fight against the Islamic State is said to have been found dead after meeting with the coup plotters. And as Kerry noted on Monday, NATO states are expected to meet certain requirements regarding rule of law; reprisal attacks may not meet those standards.

To make matters worse, at least some of the plotters appear to have been based at Incirlik Air Base. This not only calls into question the safety of the weapons housed there, but it also raises uncomfortable questions about how and when U.S. soldiers may have discovered the coup plot.

A failed coup only adds to an already heady mix of worries about Turkey's role in NATO. American and European leaders have frequently voiced concern at Erdogan's apparently autocratic tendencies. Turkey appears to have long turned a blind eye to Islamic extremists, only gearing up in the fight against the Islamic State when it may have been too late. In recent years, a conflict with the country's Kurdish minority has reignited — complicating many NATO members' relationships with Kurdish allies in Syria and Iraq.

And yet somehow, things now seem even worse.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The H-Bombs in Turkey

(New Yorker) The Incirlik Airbase, in southeast Turkey, houses NATO’s largest nuclear-weapons storage facility. On Saturday morning, the American Embassy in Ankara issued an “Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens,” warning that power had been cut to Incirlik and that “local authorities are denying movements on to and off of” the base. Incirlik was forced to rely on backup generators; U.S. Air Force planes stationed there were prohibited from taking off or landing; and the security-threat level was raised to FPCON Delta, the highest state of alert, declared when a terrorist attack has occurred or may be imminent. On Sunday, the base commander, General Bekir Ercan Van, and nine other Turkish officers at Incirlik were detained for allegedly supporting the coup. As of this writing, American flights have resumed at the base, but the power is still cut off.

According to Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, underground vaults at Incirlik hold about fifty B-61 hydrogen bombs—more than twenty-five per cent of the nuclear weapons in the NATO stockpile. The nuclear yield of the B-61 can be adjusted to suit a particular mission. The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima had an explosive force equivalent to about fifteen kilotons of TNT. In comparison, the “dial-a-yield” of the B-61 bombs at Incirlik can be adjusted from 0.3 kilotons to as many as a hundred and seventy kilotons.
Security concerns at Incirlik Airbase recently prompted a major upgrade of the perimeter fence that surrounds its nuclear-weapons storage area. Incirlik is about seventy miles from the Syrian border, and since last October American aircraft and drones based there have been attacking ISIS forces. Its proximity to rebel-controlled areas in Syria and the rash of terrorist acts in Turkey led the Pentagon, a few months ago, to issue an “ordered departure” of all the family members of American troops at Incirlik. They were asked to leave immediately. About two thousand U.S. military personnel remain stationed there. Although Incirlik probably has more nuclear weapons than any other NATO base, it does not have any American or Turkish aircraft equipped to deliver them. The bombs simply sit at the base, underground, waiting to be used or misused.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Turkey coup attempt: military claims takeover of government

(Guardian)  The full Turkish military statement reads: “Turkish Armed Forces have completely taken over the administration of the country to reinstate constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law and general security that was damaged. “All international agreements are still valid. We hope that all of our good relationships with all countries will continue.” The Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan is on holiday and outside the country. Reuters has quoted a source within his office as saying that he is safe.

Sadistic Nurse in a Mental Hospital

The selection of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary for the UK will undoubtedly add some color to the bland world of international diplomacy.  He once described Hillary Clinton as "a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital".  Highly undiplomatic, but also acutely perceptive. 

In terms of how this relates to Eastern Europe, we shall see.   Boris is a highly unconventional man, perhaps he will stir up the ashes of the charred relations with Russia and make something positive out of the mess.
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