Bill Weinberg

Trump: drug war general to Homeland Security

President-elect Donald Trump is reported to have named the former chief of the Pentagon's Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, as his choice for secretary of Homeland Security. As SouthCom chief, Kelly oversaw counter-narcotics operations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean from late 2012 until his retirement in January 2016. He was a notorious hardliner, which resulted in policy clashes with President Obama, the Washington Post tells us. As Homeland Security chief, he will oversee the 20,000-strong Border Patrol, with responsibility for drug interceptions along the 2,000-mile frontier with Mexico.

Duterte says Trump approves bloody drug war

The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 3 said that US president-elect Donald Trump has endorsed his bloody anti-drug crackdown—which has claimed an estimated 3,000 lives since he took office in June. A statement release by Duterte's office, the president said: "He understood the way we are handling it and I said that there's nothing wrong in protecting a country." He called the conversation "very encouraging, in the sense that I supposed that what he really wanted to say was that we would be the last to interfere in the affairs of your own country... He wishes me well...in my campaign, and said that...we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way." The statement added that Trump was "quite sensitive...to our worry about drugs."

Duterte threatens to kill human rights activists

Already accused of carrying out 3,000 extrajudicial executions in his anti-drug crackdown since taking office in June, the Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte has now threatened to kill human rights activists who have the temerity to complain about it. In a speech at Manila's Malacañang Palace on Nov. 28, Duterte said those who accuse him of ordering the summary execution of drug users and low-level dealers should be blamed if the country's drug problem worsened—and suffer the same fate. Here's the quote, translated from Filipino: “The human rights [activists] said I ordered the killings. I told them 'OK. Let's stop. We'll let them [drug users] multiply so that when it's harvest time, more people will die. I will include you because you are the reason why their numbers swell."

Aleppo evacuation begins ...to another war zone

The evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo has begun, with a truce in the stricken city said to be holding. More than 3,000 were bussed out on the first day of the evacuation Dec. 15, but the UN says as many as 50,000 remain trapped. And the evacuees are just leaving one war zone for another. Most will be taken to rebel-controlled areas in neighboring Idlib governorate—likely the regime's next target for recapture. While the world's attention has been focused on Aleppo these past weeks, Idlib has been repeatedly hit by regime air-strikes, with dozens of deaths reported. And Idlib is the domain of extremist jihadi factions—in contrast to the more secular militias that liberated eastern Aleppo in summer 2012, ending the regime's reign of terror there. So secularists are likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. The fall of Aleppo signals a double defeat for Syria's secular revolutionaries. (BBC News, CNN, Dec. 16)

South Korea's victory: can it happen in US?

Weeks of relentless and massive street protests in South Korea finally succeeded in bringing about the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye Dec. 9 as the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to charge her with corruption and mishandling of state affairs. The country's Constitutional Court has 180 days to uphold or invalidate the impeachment. Protesters pledge they will continue to press for President Park to step down, which would automatically spark new elections. The protests have been ongoing since October, repeatedly mobilizing hundreds of thousands across the country. On Dec. 4, up to 1.7 million filled the streets of downtown Seoul, within sight of the Blue House presidential residence. There have been scattered street clashes, but the tone of the protests is overwhelmingly peaceful, even joyous. University professors have played a leading role. The protests coincided with rolling strikes by public-sector workers over labor demands, with hospitals and transport heavily affected. The impeachment is a victory for transparency; Park is accused of conniving with a crony for illicit enrichment through abuse of government power. (Korea Policy Institute, Dec. 10; WP, Dec. 8; Korea Policy Institute, Nov. 30; Korea Times, Nov. 27)

Taiwan Strait in the Trump world order

We aren't sure how much method to place in Donald Trump's madness. Right on the heels of the outrage over his diplomatically incorrect telephone conversation with Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen comes word that he's appointed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the next US ambassador to China—news that will apparently be welcome in Beijing. The New York Times says that Branstad describes China's exceptionally authoritarian President Xi Jinping as an "old friend." Reuters tells us Branstad said he's had a "30-year friendship" with Xi, and added: "The president-elect understands my unique relationship to China." A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson reciprocated the warmth, calling Branstad an "old friend" of China.

Trump victory: green light for Aleppo's destruction

Backed by unrelenting Russian air-strikes, Syrian pro-regime forces are now making rapid advances into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The fall of the city's Masaken Hanano district is a harsh symbolic blow, as it was the first area the rebels took in the summer of 2012. There is a mass exodus of residents ahead of the regime forces. Up to 20,000 have been displaced just over the past 72 hours, the Red Cross said Nov. 29. (BBC News, BBC News, AFP) But there is really nowhere to run. "This week I've changed locations three times," a medic in east Aleppo said via social media. "In the shelter, we had dead people who we couldn't take out because the bombardment was so intense." (ReutersOrient Net) Regime forces are apparently continuing to use chemical weapons. The activist Aleppo Media Center tweeted disturbing photos of what it said were victims of a chlorine attack in east Aleppo.

China factor in the Trump world order

This is very telling. While Kremlin mouthpiece RT is now bashing the anti-Trump protesters in the US,  China Daily is gushing with enthusiasm for them. At first, this seems a little counter-intuitive. In some obvious ways, Trump's victory is good news for Beijing. Trump says he will pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal on his first day in the White House. (BBC News) On the campaign trail, he blasted the TPP as "a disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country." (ChinaWorker) Beijing views the TPP as a bid for US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, and a reaction to China's territorial ambitions and superpower aspirations. Just as the US-backed TPP excludes China, Beijing is pushing a rival Pacific Rim trade initiative, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), that excludes the United States. After the US election results, China's Commerce Ministry announced a new push to conclude negotiations on the RCEP. (Reuters)

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