Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Barker's Newsbites: Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Happy Tuesday!



William R. Barker said...


Illegal immigration from Central America is setting a record pace, with nearly 40,000 families and children traveling alone being caught on the southwest border in just the first three months of the fiscal year, according to new Border Patrol numbers.

In December alone nearly 9,000 family members were caught — a staggering 38% increase compared to November, and by far the highest total ever for the last month of the year.

Border Patrol agents also nabbed another 6,800 children traveling alone, which was a 21% increase over November.

William R. Barker said...

* TWO-PARTER... (Part 1 of 2)


Africa is likely to become one of the biggest stories of 2016, and not because of some horrific new disease or harrowing new war. Instead, an unprecedented new dynamic is about to shape the continent. The U.S. and China, major powers with a minor footprint, are both poised for much deeper and more direct involvement in African affairs.

And rather than finding themselves on a crash course, they're facing a more complex — and, for America, unnerving — situation. Thanks to the much different challenges and priorities facing both powers, African intervention is shaping up as a feast for China and a famine for the U.S.

Look to Djibouti for big clues about why.

News is quietly breaking that China has sealed a deal to build its first military base in that little country, a former French colony strategically located across from Yemen on the Red Sea, squeezed between Eritrea and Somalia. Confirming years of under-the-radar suspicions, AFRICOM commander Gen. David Rodriguez told The Hill that the "logistics hub" and airfield will let China "extend their reach" into Africa over the course of an initial 10-year contract. Currently, The Hill observed, China can't do much more than stage some naval patrols out of Djibouti ports.

In Africa, China has found not just a market for money but for jobs and land — crucial components of sustained economic growth. As December's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation revealed, the Middle Kingdom wants to ensure privileged access to that kind of future. Although it's hard to unravel the details, Beijing used the Forum to pledge $60 billion in loans and export credits.

No, the Chinese aren't about to lap the U.S. in investment anytime soon, but the financials have taken on an extra edge at a moment when Beijing needs all the good news it can get. "China operates in Africa with greater aplomb and with more nuanced and mutually beneficial relationships than America's corporations and its federal [government]," as one private equity analyst noted at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The USG's most visible diplomatic effort in Africa, Power Africa, is sputtering. American businesses haven't sufficiently picked up the slack."

Which brings us to the very different Africa the U.S. confronts.

While China is free to pursue its economic and financial interests with clarity and focus, allowing its military and political agenda to unfold accordingly, Washington finds itself scrambling to keep up with a sour security situation that doesn't play to its strengths. Instead of reaching into Africa's sub-Saharan heartland, where China is racking up lucrative or influential deals, the U.S. will have to stretch itself remarkably thin over the wide and barren expanse of Africa's northern tier.

AFRICOM officials, still headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany...



William R. Barker said...

* CONCLUDING... (Part 2 of 2)

...recently announced a new strategic outlook that underscores the problem. AFRICOM's top three priorities reach from one end of Northern Africa to the other: "neutralizing" the jihadist al-Shabab group in Somalia to the east, while "containing" enemies like ISIS in Libya and Boko Haram, to the west, in Nigeria and the greater Lake Chad region.

These plans have a whiff of desperation about them. Although al-Shabab's influence has been significantly reduced, nearby Ethiopia just booted the U.S. out of a drone base Washington had hoped to expand in the southerly town of Arba Minch.



In other words, as China sets up shop in Djibouti, the U.S. finds itself restricted to that country for its eastern African operations — a precarious toehold in a competitive environment.

In Libya, meanwhile, as ISIS suicide operations spearhead its so-called "liberation" of the country, no plan has emerged for how the U.S. might turn the tide. And in the fight against ISIS affiliate Boko Haram, the U.S. has so far managed to supply Nigeria with two dozen armored vehicles. At a time when the containment approach to ISIS has shown mixed results at best, it is hard to see America's involvement in Africa this year as much more than an under-resourced and reactive improvisation stretched across a vast and hostile landscape.

With the media's eyes fixed on the Mideast, Africa hasn't quite gotten the geostrategic attention it deserves. But this year, it could become a new albatross for the U.S. — and a new lifeline for China.

William R. Barker said...


A suicide bomber thought to have crossed recently from Syria killed at least 10 people, most of them German tourists, in Istanbul's historic heart on Tuesday, in an attack Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed on Islamic State.


All of those killed in Sultanahmet square, near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - major tourist sites in the center of one of the world's most visited cities - were foreigners, Davutoglu said. A senior Turkish official said nine were German, while Peru's foreign ministry said a Peruvian man also died.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was believed to have recently entered Turkey from Syria but was not on Turkey's watch list of suspected militants.



He said earlier that the bomber had been identified from body parts at the scene and was thought to be a Syrian born in 1988.

Davutoglu said he had spoken by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer condolences and vowed Turkey's fight against Islamic State, at home and as part of the U.S.-led coalition, would continue.

"Until we wipe out Daesh, Turkey will continue its fight at home and with coalition forces," he said in comments broadcast live on television, using an Arabic name for Islamic State. He vowed to hunt down and punish those linked to the bomber.

Turkey has become a target for Islamic State, with two bombings last year blamed on the radical Sunni Muslim group, in the town of Suruc near the Syrian border and in the capital Ankara, the latter killing more than 100 people.

William R. Barker said...


Arch Coal filed for Chapter 11 protection on Monday, continuing an industry collapse that includes the bankruptcies of Patriot Coal, Walter Energy and Alpha Natural Resources. The White House must be cheering, because this is one Obama energy policy that seems to be "working."

As President Obama prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday, we wonder if he’ll take pride in the damage his policies have done to the coal industry. According to the National Mining Association, 40,000 coal jobs have been lost in the U.S. since 2008.

The wealth destruction has been equally dramatic. Peabody Energy is a going concern, but its shares have declined by roughly 95% in the last year. Investor Paul Tice recently wrote in these pages that since 2012 “27 coal-mining companies with core operations in Central Appalachia, a region roughly centered in southern West Virginia, have filed for bankruptcy protection.” We told you in November that coal production nationwide has declined by about 15% since 2008. Reasons include slowing global demand and competition from natural gas in electricity generation. But commodity prices are cyclical, while regulation is forever.

It’s hard to keep track of all the new rules billowing out of Washington and overwhelming coal producers and their customers. Market analyst James Lucier at Capital Alpha Partners says the most potent have been the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which have forced the retirement of plants that provide tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity. Then there’s the coal ash regulation. And the new Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.

Even after recent declines in market share, coal-fired plants still provide roughly a third or more of American electricity. So utility customers will notice the coal carnage when they see their monthly bills — or perhaps when the lights don’t go on. But for now the pain is concentrated among those who used to work in the coal fields. They are still waiting for all those new green jobs Mr. Obama has been promising since he arrived in Washington.