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Empires Fall. Now It’s America’s Turn, and Russia Will Make It Happen

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It’s important for bullies to always win.  Because once their weakness is exposed they can no longer be bullies.

Empires don’t start out as bullies.  They start out as the reaction to the last Empire which became a bully after embracing hubris over humility.

Empires have to resort to bullying near the end because they are fundamentally weak.  They all over-extend themselves through currency debasement which, in turn, degrades the cultural advantage the society had over the previous Empire.

Donald Trump knows how to bully with the best of them.  I go back and forth about his status as a bully, however.  He is a mercurial figure whose unpredictability is predictable.

I see him more as Loki than the typical bully.  In other words, it’s probably fair to say that to Trump bullying is just another tactic.

So, as the head of the U.S., an Empire in the early stages of collapse, fundamentally weakened by two generations of empire building after the failure of Bretton Woods, Trump will bully his opposition because he knows that an Empire that is not feared is one that will soon be laughed at.

And when that happens, it’s game over.

Trump understands that the U.S. can no longer afford to pay for the post-WWII institutional order.  Europe’s been rebuilt but the EU is in the process of tearing it down for the sake of globalism.

And Germany is the one benefiting on our dime.

So, if you are opposed to the Empire, regardless of your politics, seeing Trump take it to the G-7 and, in particular, Germany should be welcomed.

Where you should be worried however, is how that same bullying is being turned on Russia and Iran.  In my latest article for Strategic Culture Foundation I remind everyone that none other than Mr. Realpolitik, Henry Kissinger, was advising Trump on Ukraine and Crimea in early 2017.

And after looking at the way Trump is prosecuting our relationship with Russia it’s clear to me now Kissinger had a stronger influence on Trump than anyone thought.

As the Kremlin Turns

The Left still screaming about Russia collusion are themselves delusional.  Trump hasn’t been secretly doing nice things for Putin behind everyone’s back.  There’s no coordination of policy between them.

I spent most of 2017 arguing with MAGA folks convinced that Trump and Putin were waging a secret war on the Deep State and the Neocons.  4-D chess arguments abounded.

When the reality was that while Trump and Putin keep in touch to ensure little direct conflict between the U.S. and Russian forces in Syria takes place, that is not evidence that Trump is soft on Russia in any way.

Not provoking a nuclear-armed country is not evidence of collusion, just functional brain cells.  A statement I can’t make about most of Trump’s critics this week.

This is an operating principle which governed this week’s summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as well.  Trump was smart to meet with Kim, who did outmaneuver the U.S. over the past five years, by achieving nuclear-armed status.

It forced the U.S. to the table and Trump, smartly, took the opportunity to save face and choose peace.

The same thing is not on the horizon with Russia today.

The Kremlin has moved on.  It would like a better relationship with Washington but it has no illusions about it happening.  To Putin’s credit he has not ruled out speaking with Trump, but as Alistair Crooke points out today, there’s little good reason for him doing so.

Trump has crossed so many lines with his Kissinger-inspired policy to force Russia to abandon its relationship with China through economic and political aggression that there’s little to be gained by chatting about anything other than the weather.

Beware the Cauldron

To beat a bully you have to let him over-extend himself.  He has to feel confident of your passivity in the face of his aggression.  That means if you slap him in the face, he turns the other cheek.

If you attack his friends, he doesn’t attack you.

For more than a year we’ve seen these things play out around the world vis a vis Russia in Syria and in Europe.  The attacks are both military, Syria and Ukraine, and financial, the Nordstream 2 pipeline.

I’ve detailed all of this at length over the past year.  Putin has taken so many shots to the chin that U.S. / Russian relations bear a great resemblance to the “Rumble in the Jungle” where Mohammed Ali let George Foreman punish him for round after round, expending himself in a futile attempt to knock Ali out.

And once Foreman’s arms felt like lead and his legs like Jello, Ali struck so hard and so fast that he stunned the world.

Russian military strategy is dominated by this type of thinking.  Lure your opponent in. Create a weak spot and allow him to attack it over and over.  Invite the chaos.  Allow him to think he is winning.

So here’s where we are today:

  1. If Trump is successful in getting Germany to cower before his sanctions regime that will, in turn, put Iran under heavy pressure financially and socially.
  2. That may yet lead to a formal withdrawal of IRGC Quds forces from Syria.  Yet another win.
  3. But, it will only happen if the U.S. leaves the border crossing at Al-Tanf.  Small pirce to pay.
  4. Germany’s government is on increasingly shaky grounds as AfD are making her life miserable in the Bundestag and her partner Horst Seehofer of the CSU, as Interior Minister is openly defying her over migrant policy.  
  5. The U.S. negotiates a deal with Turkey to control Manbij, possibly to undermine Russia’s relationship with Erdogan, keeping the Turks in Syria to complicate peace talks.
  6. Military conflict in Ukraine likely in the next few weeks with the UAF attacking the Donbass and an incident in the Sea of Azov.
  7. This supports a failing Poroshenko government in trouble before the election and sucker Putin into direct support which can justify more sanctions and keeping the EU on board because of “Russian Aggression” and “Not supporting the Minsk process.”
  8. Trump is openly tying sanctions and trade normalization with the Nordstream 2 pipeline in brazen mafia-style negotiating tactics further complicating Merkel’s life.
  9. Five more Russian companies were sanctioned this week over ‘cyber attacks.’
  10. He’s openly threatening major multinationals who do business in the U.S. for being a part of Nordstream 2.

I think you get the point.  I could go on for another page or two.

Closing the Trap

The point is that this is classic bullying behavior.  Trump is pot-committed, as poker-players say, to this policy.

Once you start with sanctions and threats, you can’t stop.  It’s go all the way or have your bluff called.  With Europe Trump holds aces.  They are dependent on the U.S. and their weakness will be the U.S.’s gain over the next year or two.  Europe’s sovereign debt crisis will explode and the U.S. will see massive foreign in-flows.

It’ll be a massive win but it won’t be the win.  And in winning over Europe it sets him up for the big loss; the fight for the Middle East and Eurasian integration.

His gambit with Russia and Iran becoming an all-or-nothing proposition.  Trump has just about pushed all-in.  Russia/Iran/China’s passivity has emboldened him. The fecklessness of the Obama administration creating dumpster fires in Ukraine and Syria, however, handed him bad cards and a dwindling stack.

He hasn’t won a hand in the Middle East yet.  Sure he’s made headlines but Putin, Rouhani, Nasrallah and Assad have won all the skirmishes that matter.  Any wins Trump has gotten were easy ones to pick up.  The framework for a deal has always been the same.  And no amount of Kissinger-style complications were going to change them.

Iran no more wants to stay in Syria than Putin wants to intervene in The Donbass. So, getting Iran out of Syria is easy.  All Trump has to do is leave.  Israel won’t like it, but it won’t be their decision.  Putin made that clear to Netanyahu when he visited Moscow.

The Kurds are the ones to make that decision for Trump, now that they are openly negotiating with Damascus after Trump backstabbed them over Manbij.

Without the support of the Kurds, the U.S. cannot stay in Syria at all.

So, when we reach the showdown hand Trump won’t have aces.  And the classic Russian cauldron will collapse in around him.  And losing there will be the end of the U.S. empire abroad.

And the world will rejoice.

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Irish Times poll lays bare pandemic’s impact on political landscape

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Sinn Féin is on top again, with its highest-ever rating in an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll of support for the parties. Our latest such poll shows Sinn Féin on 31 per cent (up three points), ahead of Fine Gael, which has slipped three points to 27 per cent.

Fianna Fáil remains some way adrift of Sinn Féin and Fine Gael, although it has closed the gap considerably in this June poll, jumping six points to 20 per cent. The Green Party (on 6 per cent) and Labour (on 3 per cent) are unchanged. Independents and smaller parties combined attract 13 per cent of the vote (down six points). Within this bloc are People Before Profit/Solidarity (on 2 per cent) and Social Democrats (on 2 per cent).

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Delta variant: Is Denmark heading for another Covid surge as seen in the UK?

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Cases involving the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant are cropping up in Denmark with growing frequency, with at least five pupils testing positive at Grønnevang School in Hillerød near Copenhagen on Monday, and a nearby kindergarten also closed after one of the children’s parents tested positive. 

The Hillerød outbreak comes after a similar school cluster in Risskov near Aarhus, which saw one school class and one kindergarten temporarily sent home after two cases were identified. 

The variant, which was first identified in India, now makes up to 90 percent of cases in the UK, forcing the country to delay the so-called “England’s Freedom Day” on June 21st, keeping restrictions in place for another four weeks? 

So, is there a risk of a UK-style outbreak? 

Tyra Grove Krause, acting academic director at the Statens Serum Institute on Tuesday said it was crucial that Denmark health authorities and local municipalities put as much effort as possible into containing any outbreaks. 

“This is a variant that we are concerned about and that we really want to keep it down for as long as we can,” she said. “This is because, according to English authorities, it is up to 50 percent more contagious and possibly more serious than other variants.” 

In a statement last week, her agency said the delta variant was “worrying”. 

The Danish Patient Safety Authority on Tuesday called for all residents in the areas surrounding the schools and kindergarten in Hillerød to get tested, and said that the authorities were increasing test capacity in the area, and also putting out “test ambassadors” on the streets.  

So how is it going in Denmark right now? 

Pretty well.

Despite the lifting of most restrictions, the number of cases registered daily remains low, even if the 353 reported on Wednesday is above the recent trend of under 200 cases a day, the share of positive tests is also slightly up at 0.37 percent. 

Just 93 people are now being treated in hospital for coronavirus, the lowest since September 23rd last year.

And how’s it going in the UK? 

Not so good, but not terrible either. Overall case numberS remain low, but they are starting to climb again despite the UK’s impressive vaccination rate.

The worry is the Delta variant – first discovered in India – which now makes up 90 percent of new cases in the UK and which experts agree is around 40 percent more transmissible than other variants.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty told a press conference on Monday that cases are rising across the country.

It is concerns over this variant that has lead the British government to delay the latest phase of lockdown easing – initially scheduled for June 21st – for another four weeks.

So will Denmark follow the UK’s trend? 

Probably. Christian Wejse, an epidemiologist at Aarhus University, told The Local that he believes it is inevitable that the Delta variant will eventually become dominant in Denmark too. 

“If it’s true that delta variant is 50 percent or 70 percent more contagious than the B117 (Alpha or UK variant), then I think, in the long run, we’ll see that it takes over because that’s what more contagious viruses do.,” he said. “I think that’s also what the health authorities assume it’s going to happen.” 

How much of a problem would that be? 

Not necessarily too much of a problem, according to Wejse.

For a start, he predicts that the end of the school term and the good summer weather should stop the virus spreading too rapidly for the next two months or so, meaning it will take longer to take over than the British variant did. 

B117 came at a time where the epidemic was rolling in Denmark at a very high level, back in December and January. Now the epidemic is growing much, much slower. That means it’s probably going to take more time,” he said. 

And by the time it does take over, in September perhaps, vaccination levels should be high enough to blunt its impact. 

“I seriously think and hope that, that when we get to the next fall, we’ll be in a different situation. There will be small outbreaks, but not really any big time spread, like we had last fall.” 

“At least with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, there’s data indicating the difference in terms of protection [from the delta variant] is quite small. So, there will be very good protective effects of the vaccines, so I’m certainly confident that it will be much less of a problem when we have a high vaccination coverage, which I assume we will have when we get into September.” 



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Art restoration in Spain: Spain’s latest ‘Ecce Homo’: how a botched restoration made global headlines | Culture

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Several days ago, the Spanish painter Antonio Capel was chatting with the owners of Vivaldi, a florist’s shop in the northern city of Palencia, when they remarked that something was amiss with the façade of a historic building that now houses a branch of the Unicaja bank. Capel was surprised so they suggested he take a look at what was once the delicate face of a shepherdess.

The artist went up to his studio and, using his camera’s zoom, saw that the familiar features were now nothing short of an eyesore. The statue’s eyes were in the wrong place and her nose and mouth had been clumsily crafted. As Capel jokes, whoever was responsible for the restoration was no fine artist – an observation backed by the Spanish Association of Conservators and Restorer’s rapid clarification that it was not a professional job. The botched restoration has already drawn comparisons to the infamous Ecce Homo painting which was disfigured beyond recognition by an amateur artist in Borja in 2012.

The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.
The notorious ‘Ecce Homo’ restoration.

The florists in Palencia, who preferred to remain anonymous, recall that heavy rains several years back caused a fall of debris from the building, which was inaugurated in 1923. They later realized that the face of the shepherdess was missing. “The strange thing is that no one noticed” how badly it had been restored, they say.

Capal, meanwhile, says it is beyond his comprehension that such slapdash workmanship should be allowed on such a beautiful building, which is located in the heart of the city on Mayor street. In his opinion, the workers simply used a tracing technique to fashion the face out of plaster in the hope that it would be too high up for anyone to notice.

Unicaja denies any responsibility for the sloppy result. Spokespeople from the bank insist that they only own the premises of the branch office and the second floor. Years ago, Caja Duero, which later became part of Unicaja, owned the entire building. However, they sold the upper floors during the takeover to private homeowners. The spokespeople maintain that the building’s administrator informed the homeowners in 2017 that pieces from the façade had fallen off, including the face of the shepherdess. Palencia City Council confirms that they called on the owners to repair the damage that could pose a threat to public safety. They explain the building is under “structural, not integral protection,” meaning that any restoration work must protect the structure of the building, but no special consideration needs to be given to its exterior decorations.

Unicaja’s staff laugh when asked about the ham-handed job. Like other botched restorations in Spain, including the cartoonish facelift of a 16th-century sculpture of Saint George in Navarre, the changes went unnoticed until someone with a keen eye spotted them. Even the journalists at the Cadena Ser radio network, which has its newsroom in the building, admit to being oblivious.

But now Spain’s latest Ecce Homo is making international headlines, with even with the British newspaper, The Guardian, flagging up the statue’s perceived resemblance to the incumbent president of the United States, Donald Trump.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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