Welcome. Let’s see what’s going on out there this week. Today is Saturday, May 13th, 2023.
It was a big news week in the United States. The leading Republican presidential candidate became a convicted sex abuser, the executive and legislative branches took their first face to face meeting while in a danse macabre toward default, and on Thursday, a Trump-era immigration measure that the Biden administration found handy enough to keep, expired.
That measure was Title 42, under which, with the ostensible aim of stopping the spread of Covid, migrants could be bum’s-rushed back from US land borders.
Afghanistan was not Biden’s foreign policy issue. The border is not his domestic policy issue. He made it through the Afghanistan withdrawal without lasting political damage. How about this border thing?
America’s Afghan involvement was ineffective and the president knew it, so the US just left. Much as he might wish to, President Biden can’t flee the border. The administration can’t fix the border problem because it can’t be fixed.
The only lasting solutions are so long term, involving generation change in Central America, as to be next to pointless for any politician with a fixed term in office to tackle.
Biden knows he’s not going to fix the border and acknowledged as much in his remarks after his budget negotiations on Tuesday. He predicted that “it’s going to be chaotic for a while,” and he’s probably right. (It’s not often the president and Texas Governor Greg Abbott agree. The governor calls the end of Title 42 a “catastrophic disaster.”)
I kind of like the idea that Biden acknowledges the mess, acknowledges he can’t fix it, can’t win on this, and goes to cut loss. It may not be an effective action plan, but it’s realistic.
Biden likes to remind us he’s been doing this for a long time. We can only assume his depth of experience (he has joked about “my career of 280 years here”) tells him next year’s election will be about something besides the border.
Hopelessness it going around in Washington, it appears. Consider the debt ceiling battle:
Asked by @margbrennan (above) about his confidence level regarding bipartisan debt ceiling negotiations, Rep. @PatrickMcHenry, (R-NC), Chairman of the Financial Services Committee, says
"Instead of being at the depths of the ocean, I’m merely drowning.”
Two authoritarians defend their rule in elections in Türkiye and Thailand tomorrow, Sunday, May 14th. Let’s have a look at each:
First, Türkiye: Presidential and parliamentary elections are tomorrow. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at perhaps the most vulnerable point in his twenty year reign, stands against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the resolutely bland candidate of a coalition of parties that seek to unseat the president.
Polls suggest turnout will flirt with a record:
Here are the nuts and bolts:
Presidency: A candidate must obtain more than 50 percent of the nationwide vote. Ballots list names, parties and photographs of the candidates. Voters stamp “yes” (evet in Turkish) for their candidate of choice. Expect numbers Sunday night.
Parliament: Türkiye elects 600 members of its Grand National Assembly representing 87 electoral districts in 81 provinces. Districts are allocated seats in proportion to population. Voters pick one political party and its candidates. Parties must win seven percent of the nationwide vote to hold parliamentary seats, on their own or in alliance with other parties. To obtain a parliamentary majority a party must win over half of the parliament seats – 301. Voters mark “yes” – evet – on ballots containing names and symbols of the parties contesting the elections. If parties are in a pre-poll tie-up, the name of the alliance will be included in the ballot sheet.
Sale of alcohol prohibited election day. No weapons at polling places. Media comment is embargoed until 6 PM local time (Türkiye is seven hours ahead of US ET). Media outlets will be able to publish news and communiques to be released by the election council, between 6 PM local time and 9 PM local time. Voting starts by 8 AM local time and ends by 5 PM local time. After 9 PM local time or earlier, broadcasters will be free to report on the election results. Türkiye's Supreme Election Council will announce official results.
The same provisions will apply for runoffs, if needed, on May 28. There are further details here.
Who wins? I’ve always been inclined to think Erdoğan will manage to ‘win,’ whether he wins or not. Late polls show him trailing though, and you wonder if after twenty years, the strongman has lost his touch.
In 2019 the CHP’s Ekrem İmamoğlu stood for election as Istanbul’s mayor and won by 13,000 votes. This angered Erdoğan (who was also once Istanbul’s mayor), who arranged for the election to be run again. This time, İmamoğlu won by 800,000. I like to think of that as an omen.
The neighbors are watching closely: Azerbaijan’s media is all in for Erdoğan. Not that it might matter, other than to complicate things if Erdoğan should lose. Next door in Armenia meanwhile, it’s more like, could he possibly, really lose!?
In Thailand it’s very different: Voters will choose members of a new 500-seat house of representatives for the next four years on two ballots, one for a local constituency representative and the other for their preferred national party. There are 400 seats for winning constituency candidates and 100 party seats allocated on a proportional representation basis.
Here, from Reuters:
“Parties winning more than 25 seats can nominate their prime ministerial candidate, although it is likely parties will strike deals between them to back certain candidates.
Those candidates will be put to a vote, likely in August, of the bicameral legislature comprised of a newly elected 500-seat lower house and a 250-seat Senate comprised of members appointed by a military junta.
The Prime Minister will need a majority of the combined upper and lower houses of the Thai parliament, so 376 votes from the 750 members.
In practice, this stacks the deck in favor of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha because he may expect solid support from the appointed Senate. Further, he picked May 14th as election day, when university students, inclined to be more lefty than the Prime Minister, are taking exams.
Prayuth Chan-ocha is in third place in polling behind Paetongtarn (‘Ung-Ing’) Shinawatra and the Shinawatra family’s economic-populist Pheu Thai Party, which has been the main opposition, and Harvard educated Pita Limjaroenrat, nicknamed Tim (thank you), under whose charismatic leadership the Move Forward Party, just founded in 2018, is the only one to suggest reform of Thailand's crazy-onerous lèse-majesté law. Move Forward has had a mini-surge in late polling, so that it has moved even with Pheu Thai and even ahead in one poll.
Becoming Prime Minister isn’t as simple as winning the most votes in Thailand. The successful candidate will need the support of the Senate, which is packed with military friends of the current prime minister. With that advantage, says the Economist’s Southeast Asia correspondent Sue-Lin Wong, Prayuth Chan-ocha would need just 126 seats in the lower house to form a government, but either leading opposition party would need three times as many.
As to voting day itself, voting ends at 5 p.m. (1000 GMT) local time tomorrow and we should know unofficial results later tomorrow night. The electoral commission hopes to certify 95% of the votes or 475 of the 500 seats, within 60 days.
There’s plenty of time for horse trading, because the legislature isn’t likely to vote until August. And there is a robust recent history of street violence after elections in Thailand. Since the Prime Minister won’t be selected for some months, keep an eye on the Bangkok street. Here’a a quick look at previous protests.
Ukraine is thought to have twelve brigades, 60,000 troops with some Nato-standard tanks, armor and artillery, trained up and waiting to begin its long promoted spring offensive. One timely arrival: Storm Shadow long range cruise missiles supplied by the UK.
These air launched missiles are reported to have a firing range of some 155 miles, “just short of the 185-mile range capability of the US-made surface-to-surface Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, that Ukraine has long asked for.” A successful future strike against the Kerch Strait bridge that supplies Crimea from Russia would shake up the dynamics of this war, not to mention setting up some interesting diplomacy between Russia and the UK.
(Meanwhile, missiles hit the building housing the de facto Prosecutor-General's Office in Russian occupied Luhansk city yesterday. Luhansk is about 55 miles behind the frontline.)
We’ve talked before about not underestimating the damage being done to the fabric of Ukrainian society. Most of us in the West feel empathy for Ukrainians and hope they can get back to their normal lives soon, but that’s wishing for the impossible. One third of the population are refugees, either internationally or internally displaced. The equivalent in the United States would be 110 million people. The Russians are reported to be kidnapping and indoctrinating Ukrainian children.
Many Ukrainian refugees and children will never return, and many who do will grapple with riven families, PTSD, all manner of postwar trauma. Says The Guardian:
Poverty increased from 5.5% to 24.2% in Ukraine in 2022, pushing 7.1 million more people into poverty with the worst impact out of sight in rural villages, according to a recent report by the World Bank. With unemployment unofficially at 36% and inflation hitting 26.6% at the end of 2022, the institution’s regional country director for eastern Europe, Arup Banerji, had warned that poverty could soar.
Ukraine is going to need help for a long time, and a lot of it. Yet I expect just the prospect of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee will increase calls for lessening US involvement in the war. Trump’s presence will at least give the populist American far right cover to talk about it. And the less well Ukraine does in its summer campaign after all this Western help, the louder the talk will get.
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Pakistan: Is she gonna blow?
“A distinctive aspect of contemporary Pakistan is that hardly a day passes without some kind of public protest, demonstration or rally over one or the other issue in any major city. It seems that every Pakistani is holding up a placard with some sort of complaint and demanding for his right.”
That was written in 2011. With Imran Khan out on bail again at the weekend after another week of tumult, Pakistani journalist Zarrar Khuhro thinks this time it might be different. He points out that:
“the targets this time were those who have historically been off-limits to even the angriest of mobs: the symbols and strongholds of the powerful military establishment.”
There are parliamentary elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this weekend, where Imran Khan expects to do well.
Chancellor Sholz has failed to close ranks with his Vice Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck and others in his cabinet. He is sticking with his decision to sell a stake in that Hamburg container port to China despite its classification as “critical infrastructure.”
They’re trying to get the ball rolling in US/China diplomacy: Ambassador Nick Burns met with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao Thursday and top PRC diplomat Wang Yi and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met in Vienna on Wednesday and Thursday. Meanwhile China is up to some European diplomacy of its own. Foreign Minister Qin Gang is on a three stop tour of Germany, France and Norway.
The EU keeps the pressure on the Russian periphery with a proposed undersea internet cable to Georgia across the Black Sea. Chart from this article in the FT.
The AP says:
Poland has begun building a state-of-the-art electronic barrier at its land border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave to monitor and counteract any illegal activity, the Polish interior minister said Tuesday.
The barrier, which will be equipped with 24-hour monitoring cameras and motion detectors, will run for 210 kilometers (130 miles) and is due to be completed in the fall.
Travel Stuff: I once wrote an article on 3 Quarks Daily about pass control:
The presiding official wears a Millet brand down jacket with a tall, zipped-tight collar. He examines our materials for several minutes. First, there will be no small talk. This is official business, too grave a matter for that. Nor, for that matter, will there be any cordiality.
This is his domain and these are his number of minutes and it is not our privilege to question or expedite things in any way. Look here now: I can slow down anybody I want.
But the road to Gangtok spreads before us. He holds our progress in his hands right now and we will – if we won’t do anything else – we will note it. He pulls a ledger to his blotter and begins recording our passport and visa details both on the ledger and on our permit.
On the subject of border crossing, there is an article this week in James Clark’s Nomadic Notes on Best and worst border crossings in Southeast Asia, in his experience.
Then there was that time I could have killed an entire group of feeble old people in Norway. I mean, grabbed them, walkers and canes and all, and tossed them one by one over the side of the ship. It was on the Norwegian coastal steamer, the Hurtigruten, and all I wanted was a cup of morning coffee.
No big deal. I'll take it in a paper cup. Don't need a stirrer. I don't need a top or one of those insulating grips for the side. Just a single bloody cup of black coffee.
But I was queued behind 39 elderly group tourists who, God bless 'em, had SAVED ALL THEIR LIVES FOR THIS, and who, for some reason, because they weren't in Toledo, or Wichita, or wherever it was they came from, but on their TRIP OF A LIFETIME in A FOREIGN LAND, were way beyond their abilities in a cafeteria line.
They had the same keen grasp of logistics and situational awareness as the guy in front of you in the grocery checkout who doesn't help bag the groceries, so the poor old bent over clerk does that while he stands there and stares out into space all entitled and bored-looking, and then once it's all done and the clerk says it's $73.19, only then does he think to get out his checkbook. Who still pays by check.
At the checkout end of the cafeteria line it was like all these people saw these FOREIGN COINS in their hands for the first time and they WEREN'T NICKELS DIMES AND QUARTERS. And one by one, all 39 froze. What were they possibly to do?
In the event you’ll be in Burundi soon, here’s something to track down (via Lazo Letters)
Thought for the week, from a newsletter by Robert Cottrell, published of The Browser:
“It would be rather fantastic in every sense, would it not, if our intelligent machines took it upon themselves to learn the languages of all animals, and not merely those of homo sapiens? Then the machines would be able to interpret between humans and other animals, allowing for conversations that humans throughout their history have not merely never troubled to attempt, but have actively shunned, on the grounds that animals, being animals, could not possess language as such.”
That’s it for today. Every Tuesday CS&W publishes a travel column. Reading James Clark’s border crossings post (above) puts Southeast Asia back in my head. Just before the pandemic, in 2019, my wife and I spent a month in Saigon. Tuesday we’ll replay that trip here on CS&W.
Thanks for reading CS&W. While you’re here, why not sign up for a subscription?Three posts a week, subscriptions start at the entirely reasonable rate of free and even the free ones come with 50% off the pre-shipping price on every order from Earthphotos.com.
Good weekend, see you Tuesday.
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Good, well thought out information in this post. I would like to focus on Ukraine. What are the end goals for all the parties in this war? If you listen to Ukraine's leadership then the end goal is the destruction of Russia. This is easily believable when you understand the hatred that the Ukrainians have for Russians. If you listen to the NEOCONS then it is to prevent Russia from rising in economic power and destroying their military. If you listen to Russia then their stated end goals are to prevent NATO's encroachment to their border and protect the ethnic Russians living in Ukraine from the Ukrainian government's racist actions and oppression. If the Minsk agreement were allowed to be in force today then the war would end tomorrow. But we know that will never happen. Why? Because 2 of the signatories of the agreement, Germany and France have both publicly stated that the Minsk agreement was signed only to allow Ukraine to build up its military. Couple this with James Baker's words in 1991 when Russia inquired about NATO expansion plans: "NATO will Not expand one inch to the east." So from a Russian prospective they have been lied to for decades by NATO. Now the Russian leadership is of the mindset that they are at war with the West and currently with Ukraine as their proxy.
This war is systematically destroying Ukraine and they have no hope of winning. They have 60,000 troops ready for a counter-offensive but Russia has by some estimates 250,000 troops standing by for their offensive with another 300,000 troops on standby. And in a war of attrition this is not good odds. Neither the Russian offensive or the Ukrainian counter-offensive will begin until the mud has dried up. Most likely sometime in June.
The US has for months supplied the money to pay the Ukrainian government officials salaries. That is what was meant when Janet Yellen said the US is providing "budgetary assistance" to Ukraine. There is a real possibility that Ukraine will not exist as a country in 5 years. Already both Poland and Hungary have stated that in the future they would like to annex parts of western Ukrainian that were historically under the control of Poland and Hungary.
The only hope for Ukraine is direct involvement in the war by the US and NATO. NATO keeps crossing the "red lines" of Russia. And they have actively torpedoed any peace negotiations. So US and NATO's involvement in this war will eventually happen because the NEOCONS won't give up their dream of destroying Russia until the last Ukrainian is dead. And make no mistake about it. The Ukrainians will fight to the last man because of their extreme hatred of Russians. Can you blame them for their hatred of Russians when Russia starved 7 million Ukrainians to death to feed the Russian people during Stalin's rule. Interestingly, Stalin was a Georgian and not an ethnic Russian.