Alarm in Russia as U.S. becomes the unpredictable superpower

Alarm in Russia as US becomes the unpredictable superpower (Source Miami Herald)

Russia may have got what it wished for with the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, but almost a year later Moscow’s foreign policy community shows more signs of alarm than triumph.

Alongside statements of neutrality toward the U.S. vote from officials and others at a Kremlin-sponsored gathering of foreign and domestic Russia-watchers this week, there’s deep concern that the role of unpredictable, militarily adventurous superpower – played by Russia since 2014 – may be passing to the U.S.

Hartford could default on its Debt as soon as next month


The City of Hartford is likely to default on its debt as early as November without additional concessions from the State of Connecticut, bondholders and labor unions, Moody’s Investors Service says in a new report. How and when the concessions are realized will factor into bondholder recovery as well as the city’s financial recovery. “Our analysis projects operating deficits of $60 million to $80 million per year through 2036, the final maturity of its general obligation debt,” says Nicholas Lehman, a Moody’s AVP. “Fixed costs — including pension contributions, benefits and insurance, and debt service — are driving large projected operating deficits of approximately 11% of revenues. “

Hartford will look to bondholders to restructure roughly $604 million in general obligation and lease debt. Options for restructuring include refinancing debt by issuing new refunding bonds with a maximum maturity of 30 years, instead of the previous cap of 20 years. As well, the new bonds would be secured by a statutory lien on property taxes.

In the event of a default, bondholder recovery is extremely sensitive to the amount of concessions received from stakeholders, and how those concessions are allocated. Bondholder recovery analysis supports the Caa3 rating based on Moody’s expectation the state and labor unions will provide significant concessions.

Hartford has lobbied Connecticut for additional short- and long-term aid, which would be an additional revenue source to help resolve the fiscal imbalance. However, the availability of this support is highly unknown in the midst of a state budget impasse, as one of the key contentious elements within the budget is additional aid for Hartford.


Why you might need a passport card to travel domestically in 2018

Why you might need a passport card to travel domestically in 2018(Source Yahoo) Everyone knows that you need a boarding pass and driver’s license to pass airport security. It’s always been this way, but next year, some travelers may also need a passport card. Starting on Jan. 22, 2018, travelers from a handful of states may have to show an alternate ID to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at the airport. This is because the REAL ID Act, which was passed by Congress in 2005, will go into effect. Essentially, this act established minimum security standards for state-issued driver’s licenses (and ID cards), and prohibits the TSA from accepting cards that don’t meet the standards. Several states have requested extensions to become compliant, many of which expired on Oct. 10. New extensions may be granted, but for now, the grace period for states ends on Jan. 22.

Currently, only 26 states are fully compliant, so residents of those areas can continue to use their state-issued driver’s license when passing through airport security. The remaining states, including New York, California, Illinois and Louisiana, are currently under review. This means that they may be granted an extension and given more time to become compliant. Or it could mean that residents of these states will have to use an alternative form of ID when flying in 2018.

North Korea Tells U.S. to Expect ‘Unimaginable’ Strike

North Korea Tells U.S. to Expect ‘Unimaginable’ Strike(Source Newsweek) North Korea has again threatened a nuclear strike against the U.S. in reaction to ongoing joint military drills involving American and South Korean militaries on the peninsula. An article carried by the state-controlled news agency KCNA warned the U.S. would face an “unimaginable” strike in retaliation for carrying out naval drills involving the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and for “creating tension on the eve of war” by conducting civilian evacuation drills in South Korea this weekend. “The U.S. is running amok by introducing under our nose the targets we have set as primary ones. The U.S. should expect that it would face unimaginable strike at an unimaginable time,” KCNA stated Thursday, as reported by the South Korean news agency Yonhap. The wording of the threat mimics previous statements from U.S. military officials such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joe Dunford who said it was “not unimaginable” to have military options on the Korean peninsula. As recently as this week Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said at a forum in Singapore that his job was to “imagine the unimaginable.”

‘Our task was to set Americans against their own government

‘Our task was to set Americans against their own government’: New details emerge about Russia’s trolling operation(Source A person who worked for the Russian “troll farm” Internet Research Agency discussed the organization with the independent Russian news outlet Dozhd. The secretive factory had several components, including a “Russian desk,” a “foreign desk,” a “Facebook desk,” and a “Department of Provocations,” according to the former troll, who went by the name “Maxim.” The Russian desk operated bots and trolls that used fake social-media accounts to flood the internet with pro-Trump messages and made-up news. The foreign desk was more sophisticated, with trolls required to learn the nuances of American politics to best “rock the boat” on divisive issues.

“Our task was to set Americans against their own government,” Maxim said, “to provoke unrest and discontent.” Recently revealed details about how an infamous Russian “troll farm” operated and its role in Russia’s disinformation campaign shed new light on Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential race.

One former troll, who was interviewed by the independent Russian news outlet Dozhd and went by “Maxim,” or Max, spoke of his experience working for the Internet Research Agency, awell-researched Russian company in St. Petersburg whose function is to spread pro-Russian propaganda and sow political discord in nations perceived as hostile to Russia. The secretive firm is bankrolled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, CNN reported, a Russian oligarch who is a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Up to a third of the company’s staff was tasked with interfering in US political conversation during the 2016 election, according to an investigation conducted by the Russian news agency RBC and detailed by another Russian news outlet, Meduza. The Internet Research Agency, Max told Dozhd, consisted of a “Russian desk” and a “foreign desk.” The Russian desk, which was primarily made up of bots and trolls, used fake social-media accounts to flood the internet with pro-Trump agitprop and made-up news throughout the US presidential campaign, especially in the days leading up to the November election.






Making History: China and Russia are Transforming

Making History: China and Russia Are Transforming “Enemies” into “Friends” (source

Russia, China and Iran have in recent years drawn enormous benefit from the declining military and economic power of the United States, further propelled by a general mistrust of Washington’s diplomatic and political abilities, both with Obama and now with Trump. The two previous articles showed that Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, even as they addressed different situations, shared similar interests and came to coordinate their military, economic and diplomatic strategy.

The success of the Euro-Asian triptych is based on the essential principle of transforming enemies into neutral players, neutral players into allies, and further improving relations with allied nations. In order for this project to be realized, economic, military and diplomatic efforts are variously employed, depending on the country and the general regional context. The flexibility shown by Moscow and Beijing in negotiations has delivered historic deals, not only in the energy sector but also in the military sphere and also in education and poverty reduction, as seen in Africa. Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Syria are three countries that, when analysed individually, reveal this precise strategy of Russia, China and Iran. Particular attention is focused on the Middle East for several reasons. It is the region where America’s declining military power, unable to achieve its geopolitical objectives in Syria, meets with the progressive loss of Washington’s economic influence, highlighted by the increasingly precarious position of the petrodollar that is about to be challenged by petroyuan deals between Saudi Arabia and China. Saudi Arabia finds itself with very low monetary reserves as a result of the lowered price of oil and involvement in several wars. To add to this is a military defeat in Syria and an even bigger debacle in Yemen. To cap it all off, the United States, its most valuable ally, is increasingly disinterested in the fate of the Saudi monarchy and the kingdom, thanks to increasing energy independence as a result of fracking. Adding to this, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has split as a result of the economic warfare against Qatar, representing another example of Washington not supporting Riyadh to the full extent the monarchy in Saudi Arabia would have been expecting. The reasoning for Riyadh is as simple as it gets. If Washington is not able to support Saudi Arabia militarily, but Riyadh has to bear the burden economically, then the Kingdom is in enormous trouble and needs alternatives like Russia and China. It is unthinkable for Saudi Arabia to continue supporting petrodollar hegemony while Iran becomes a regional leader in the Middle East. The best way is by negotiating with the main players, and Russia looks like the perfect mediator, as recently announced. China is just waiting for all these disputes to settle down to bring to bear its economic power to definitively relegate to the past the last forty years of chaos in the region stemming from Saudi-Iranian rivalry. The path traced by Moscow, Beijing and Tehran is expected to stabilize the Middle East, thanks to the resolution of the Syrian conflict. Some key elements of this global change we are witnessing are: Chinese economic pressure on the Saudis to accept payment for oil in yuan; the eradication of terrorism in Iraq and neighbouring countries, thereby circumventing sanctions imposed on Iran by the US and its allies; and transforming Turkey into a regional energy-distribution centre. The RPC intervenes economically in a number of regions, particularly in the Middle East, to support Russian military power through money, diplomacy, economic investment (OBOR) and by providing liquidity to allies, as seen with Moscow when it was hit with Western sanctions. For Beijing, the decline in terrorism is a key factor in fostering China’s development of the Silk Road 2.0 infrastructure, allowing Beijing to enter into areas destroyed in the Middle East to offer easy reconstruction plans. At the moment, Syria, Egypt, Libya and Pakistan seem to hold great importance for China’s future strategies. Russia and China lead organizations such as the BRICS, the UEE, the SCO, and the AIIB. The grand strategy is to support the creation of an alternative to the US dollar-based neoliberal world order and to contain the effects of declining US empire. Nations will increasingly have to choose between two systems: whether the multipolar world order, based on friendship and win-win cooperation, or the unipolar one, based on the America’s declining military and economic power.




At least 21 dead as resurgent winds fan California wildfires

At least 21 dead as resurgent winds fan California wildfires (Source Reuters) Firefighters, facing resurgent winds and bone-dry conditions on Wednesday, battled to halt the advance of wildfires that have killed at least 21 people, destroyed 3,500 homes and businesses and blanketed Northern California’s famed wine country in smoke. A rash of 22 blazes spanning nine counties have scorched nearly 170,000 acres (68,797 hectares) since the first flames erupted on Sunday night in what state fire officials say is one of the deadliest wildfire outbreaks in California history. More than 550 people were still reported missing in Sonoma County on Wednesday morning, said Jennifer Laroque, a spokeswoman for the county’s emergency operations center. It was unclear how many might be actual fire victims rather than evacuees who merely failed to check in with authorities after fleeing their homes. Officials urged displaced residents to let their family members know they were safe. The Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, the largest city in the wine country region, was particularly hard hit by one of the fiercest blazes, the so-called Tubbs fire. Block after block of some neighborhoods were virtually obliterated with nothing left but charred debris, broken walls, chimneys and the steel frames of burned-out cars.”It’s like driving through a war zone,” J.J. Murphy, 22, one of thousands of evacuees, said of the area around his home in the Sonoma Valley community of Glen Ellen. Murphy, five relatives, a bird, a dog and two cats piled into their camper van to flee on Monday, he said. “It’s crazy how in just a few hours a place I’ve recognized all my life I can’t recognize,” he said at a roadside food stop in the town of Sonoma. Gusts of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kph) and 10 percent humidity were forecast for Wednesday and Thursday for parts of the Northern California fire zone. Firefighters worked on Wednesday to strengthen fire containment lines as winds picked up again.

“We’re not out of the woods and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a great number of days to come,” Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), said at a news conference.



Yellowstone’s supervolcano could erupt much faster than anyone

Yellowstone’s supervolcano could erupt much faster than anyone thought (Source BGR News) There’s a dangerous giant sitting dormant in the United States, and when it finally wakes up it has the potential to cause utter devastation. I’m talking of course about the supervolcano hiding beneath Yellowstone National Park, and while it’s long been thought that any hint of a possible eruption would be seen thousands and thousands of years in advance, new research throws that safety buffer right out the window, suggesting that the Yellowstone Supervolcano could go from calm to critical in as little as decades. The research, which was presented at the IAVCEI 2017 volcanology conference in Portland, focuses on the most recent eruption of the volcano, which is thought to have occurred some 631,000 years ago. But rather than taking several thousands of years to build up, as previously thought, the newest data suggests that the most recent eruption was prompted by new magma pushing into the Yellowstone system just decades ahead of the big event. This much more rapid timeframe between dormancy and eruption is obviously very troubling, especially when you consider the global impact that the event could have. The most recent eruption of the Yellowstone system spewed an estimated 240 cubic miles of material into the air. 2.1 million years ago an even larger eruption occurred, sending 585 cubic miles of rock and dust skyward. For comparison, that’s approximately 6,000 times the amount of material launched from Mount St. Helens during its 1980 eruption. “It’s shocking how little time is required to take a volcanic system from being quiet and sitting there to the edge of an eruption,” Hannah Shamloo, graduate student at Arizona State University and lead author of the study, said of the discovery. Still, at the moment there’s little reason to be concerned, as the Yellowstone Supervolcano seems to be perfectly content to continue its unusually long quiet spell. When the mighty beast decides to wake back up is anyone’s guess, but now at least we know that we might not have nearly as much warning as we once thought.


US-North Korean War Could Trigger a Russian-American Nuclear Exchange

US-North Korean War Could Trigger a Russian-American Nuclear Exchange (Source Russia Insider)

In the event that North Korea tests another Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) or potentially launches an attack on the United States, the Pentagon could try to intercept those missiles with the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system. However, as many analysts have pointed out, the interceptors that miss their target could reenter the Earth’s atmosphere inside Russian airspace. Such an eventuality could prove to be a serious problem unless steps are taken to address the issue now. “You should also be aware of the concern that those interceptors fired from Alaska that miss or don’t engage an incoming North Korean ICBM(s) will continue on and reenter the Earth’s atmosphere over Russia,” Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association told The National Interest. “This carries a nontrivial risk of unintended escalation.” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told The National Interest that the United States should open a dialogue with Russia on the issue immediately. “Good god, yes,” Lewis said emphatically. Olya Oliker, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed.

“We have time now to consult with Moscow, talk about plans, discuss how notification would work,” Oliker told The National Interest.

“This isn’t the rocket science part of all this.”

Indeed, in a recent op-ed, Lewis argues that an American interceptor launch could accidentally trigger a nuclear exchange if the Russians mistook such a weapon for an incoming ICBM.

“We can’t assume that Russia would realize the launch from Alaska was a missile defense interceptor rather than an ICBM. From Russia, the trajectories might appear quite similar, especially if the radar operator was under a great deal of stress or pressure,” Lewis wrote for The Daily Beast. “It doesn’t matter how Russia’s early warning system ought to work on paper, the reality of the Russian system in practice has been a lot less impressive.”

Joshua H. Pollack, editor of the The Nonproliferation Review and a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said that the danger is real.

“Whether they actually would enter Russian airspace is probably less important than whether they break the line of sight of Russia’s early-warning radars,” Pollack said. “They do appear to plan in terms of launch-on-warning. That’s why I call this scenario ‘Russian Roulette.’”


Iran and North Korea: Why Donald Trump Has Made Nuclear War More Likely

Iran and North Korea: Why Donald Trump Has Made Nuclear War More Likely, According to a Former Defense Secretary (Source Newsweek)

William Perry has spent much of his career professionally worried about the possibility of nuclear war. Before a stint as the 19th U.S. secretary of defense under President Bill Clinton, Perry frequently advised the government on national security during the Cold War. He was on the team that analyzed surveillance photos exposing the Soviet Union’s installation of nuclear armed missiles in Cuba in October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis. When the Cold War ended, says Perry, now 90, he thought the threat of imminent nuclear catastrophe would recede. But he was wrong. It’s now worse than ever, he says, citing the return of tensions between Russia and the U.S., alongside new threats of regional nuclear conflict, such as one between India and Pakistan. He set up his organization, the Perry Project, “to educate and engage the public on nuclear danger.” And now there’s Donald Trump. “I think the probability of war has increased since January, partly because of actions that President Trump has taken or not taken,” Perry tells Newsweek. Perry’s comments, made in an interview on the sidelines of the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe, come as Trump is facing two escalating international situations with a nuclear dimension—the future of America’s nuclear agreement with Iran and the escalating rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea. On Iran, Perry is clear. “If the deal were abandoned, I think it’s quite clear that Iran will resume the nuclear program that they had before the deal was signed,” he says. “There will be no better deal, there will be no other deal. We will have either that deal or no deal at all.”