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Thursday, November 30, 2017

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Is Turkey Turning Into a Mafia State?

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 06:19 AM PST

Earlier this week, the trial for the Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab began in lower Manhattan. Zarrab, who has close ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, allegedly ran an elaborate gold-for-oil scheme to circumvent international sanctions against Iran, possibly with the assistance of relatives and allies of Turkish government ministers. (U.S. officials had arrested Zarrab in March 2016 when he traveled to Miami, Florida for a holiday.) Soon after the proceedings began, however, the charges were dropped, and on Wednesday, Zarrab took the witness stand instead, making damning claims that he had bribed an economy minister as part of his sanctions-skirting racket. The whole affair, which could implicate Erdogan, has put the Turkish leader on edge, and he has lashed out against the United States, criticizing it for falling prey to an elaborate conspiracy to bring down the Turkish regime. The real culprit driving the probe, he has insisted, is Fethullah Gulen, the spiritual leader of the prominent Hizmet (or “Gulenist”) movement who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and who Erdogan claims orchestrated the July 2016 coup against him.

Zarrab’s high-profile case is only one example, however, of a larger trend in Turkey: the resurgence of organized crime. Over the last ten years, there has been a dramatic expansion in illicit trading and smuggling across the country. Part of the uptick has to do with the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and the worsening state of Iraq’s internal affairs after the rise of the Islamic State (or ISIS) in 2014. The instability prompted an explosion in trafficking activity along Turkey’s southern border. For example, the country’s main counternarcotics arm, the Department of Anti-Smuggling and Organized Crime (known as KOM), executed close to 800 stings related to the illicit oil trade in 2009, but by 2014, the total number of such operations jumped to nearly 5,000. In 2014, more than 8,000 individuals were taken into custody on charges of heroin smuggling, a twofold increase since 2009 and a fivefold increase since 2001.   

The surge in Turkey’s illicit industries is also connected to Erdogan and his administration. They have generally failed to show resolve or urgency in the face of these challenges. Government officials have been overwhelmingly silent about the rise in smuggling. And Ankara has long resisted international calls for sealing the Syrian border despite the large number of foreign fighters crossing over from Turkish territory. It was only after Turkey’s invasion of Syria in August 2016 that the government initiated the construction of a 560-mile border wall along the Syrian frontier. Recent arrests and seizures, including the capture of 100 tons of contraband petroleum in March, came about only because of increased international pressure in the wake of news reports about rampant oil smuggling and other illicit activity between Turkey and ISIS-controlled territory.

In addition to its negligence, the Turkish government appears directly involved in criminal activity. The most damning signs surfaced in December 2013 when Turkish prosecutors arrested Zarrab and the sons of four prominent cabinet ministers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on charges of money laundering and smuggling sanctions and bribing. Erdogan, who was then-prime minister, helped create the party in 2002 and had close ties to the ministers. Although the investigation prompted the resignation of several AKP ministers, Erdogan publicly lashed out against officials in KOM and other bureaus for having abetted what he considered a “judicial coup.” He blamed Gulen, casting the investigation as an act of revenge by Gulen’s many supporters in Turkey after having criticized the movement earlier in the fall. In January 2014, after Erdogan assumed the presidency, he had thousands of officers and other employees within KOM fired or permanently reassigned. A month later, he released Zarrab from prison and the case was effectively closed. In another worrying sign, in April 2015, the Turkish government lifted declaration limits on the amount of currency travelers were allowed to bring into the country, ostensibly to encourage foreign investment. The move has raised concerns among such international watchdogs as the Financial Action Task Force, which has long lobbied Turkey to strengthen its laws against money laundering. What’s more, in March 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a report on the transparency and efficacy of Turkish officers and courts tasked with overseeing the country’s financial sector, going so far as to call Turkey’s anti-money-laundering mechanisms “weak and lacking in many of the necessary tools and expertise to effectively counter [terrorism financing].” Just a month before the State Department issued the report, Italian prosecutors initiated an investigation of Erdogan’s eldest son, Bilal, on suspicion of money laundering. Although the probe was subsequently abandoned and the charges dropped, Bilal Erdogan’s legal difficulties appeared to echo the criminal proceedings that had plagued his father’s associates in 2013.

The public was rightly outraged by these events, but their furor was dampened by the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, and the mass purges and arrests that followed. Erdogan’s immediate and unswerving insistence upon Gulen’s role in the coup has led the bulk of Turkey’s media, as well as much of the public, to view the bribery and corruption allegations of 2013 in far more circumspect terms. The state’s allegations that KOM was complicit in the coup have led the public to presume that other criminal investigations were contrived attempts by Gulenist officers to undermine the Turkish government. It was under these pretenses that in 2014, a Turkish judge overturned prior sentences for the notorious mafia boss Sedat Peker, whose right-wing politics quickly brought him into Erdogan’s orbit. Later, pro-government dailies began circulating pictures of Erdogan embracing Peker at the wedding of a prominent AKP loyalist and pundit. Such images have contributed mightily to public impressions that Turkey was turning into a de facto mafia state. 

Rather than fight actual crime, Turkish officials and their allies in the media have come to paint FETO or the “Fethullahist Terror Organization,” the state’s preferred acronym for the Gulenist conspiracy, as among the chief sources of organized criminal activities in Turkey today. Erdogan has expelled or arrested thousands of employees from KOM and other law enforcement bodies. Officers who remain in state service have been increasingly tasked with hunting Gulenists and their supposed allies. According to KOM’s own statistics for 2016, 78 percent of those arrested on charges of graft or corruption were purported members of FETO. Meanwhile, other statistics from the last year suggest that investigations into more conventional organized crime have dramatically decreased. One possible explanation for this decline could be the rapid reconstitution of Turkish law enforcement after the July 2016 coup attempt. In order to refill the ranks of the security agencies, Ankara has lowered the basic educational standards for police recruitment. New police have been sworn in without adequate training or vetting, casting doubt on the competency and professionalism of officers assigned to KOM and the Turkish National Police. “Turkish law enforcement agencies,” according to one former official, “have been profoundly traumatized and demoralized as a result of the purges. Institutional memory, experience, and many other capacities have been lost.”

The consequences of Turkey’s steady descent into lawlessness assume more ominous tones when one considers the importance of organized crime within the country’s recent past. Turkey’s geographic location has long made it a hub of illicit goods between Europe, Asia, and Africa. The incremental decline of the rule of law in the country will likely further stimulate illegal trafficking into Europe and the United States, leading to a growth in the trade of narcotics, weapons, and illicit funds, as well as migrants. The abysmal state of relations between Brussels and Ankara make it likely that cooperation and coordination on these grave matters of security will suffer. Considering Erdogan’s willingness to threaten Europe with unrestrained flows of refugees across Turkey’s borders, it is possible that European politicians have little leverage to pressure Turkish leaders into taking matters of organized crime more seriously. 

As for its relationship with the United States, Turkey was once a reliable partner in fighting terrorism and organized crime. This may no longer be the case. In light of the profound disagreements over policy choices in Syria, it seems likely that U.S.-Turkish relations are at their lowest point in decades. As Erdogan’s list of allies grows thin, it seems likely that he and the AKP will continue to depict any perceived act of U.S. pressure as unwanted and subversive. There may be nothing that Washington or Brussels can offer Ankara to bridge the growing divide that separates them. Western policymakers would be well served to begin to plan accordingly. Rather than pin their hopes on future cooperation, they may find it best to lay out strategies that insulate and protect the United States and its allies from the potential dangers posed by an increasingly corrupt Turkish state.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

Europe’s Readiness Problem

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 03:34 AM PST

Say Latvia were invaded. Its allies would, naturally, want to respond immediately. First out would most likely be NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, or VJTF, a 5,000-troop rapid-reaction group. Together with NATO air power, the VJTF would quickly deploy to assist the Latvians and the 1,100-troop-strong Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup stationed in the country. After that, however, Latvia’s allies would struggle to quickly dispatch a large follow-up force. Logistics, unavailable troops and equipment, decision-making: all of these factors would slow the allies down.

None of these problems will be solved by the signing of the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation. PESCO’s goal is to develop European defense capabilities for EU military operations through a variety of longer-term programs. Although Europhiles may be rejoicing over the agreement, Europe has a much more pressing need: it has to get its forces ready to fight. According to a recent study published by the RAND Corporation, the British Army would need up to three months to assemble a brigade that could deploy to the Baltics. France would do better, at around one month, but many of its troops are busy with domestic counterterrorism duties. Germany, too, could put together a brigade within a month, but that brigade would need to borrow its equipment from other units.

“You need to have personnel and equipment available, and we don’t,” Vincenzo Camporini, Italy’s former chief of defense, told me this month. “And you need fast decision-making so that troops can move within 24 hours. We don’t have that, either. If we don’t correct this situation, we won’t be able to respond to attacks.” Mihnea Motoc, who was Romania’s defense minister until earlier this year and now serves as deputy director of the European Political Strategy Center, the European Commission’s in-house think tank, similarly noted that “readiness can be a credible deterrent, but it depends on the kind of military mobility we can count on.” And that is a reason to worry.

Among Europe’s long-neglected armed forces, mobility is lagging. According to the European Defense Agency’s most recent figures, the total number of deployable land forces among EU member states dropped by 13 percent between 2013 and 2014, a result of defense cuts and falling readiness. Meanwhile, the number of sustainable land forces-forces that can be quickly deployed to a conflict zone and remain there-dropped by a whopping 28 percent for the same reason. It is expensive to keep forces ready.

As a result, in 2014, 27 European countries had a total of 417,000 deployable land forces and 79,000 sustainable land forces. That’s the lowest count since 2006. Figures may have risen since 2014, but not by much. Readiness can’t be achieved in a rush. Richard Barrons, who until last year was chief of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, estimates that it would take six to 12 months to bring a complete army to an acceptable readiness level, even if a smaller group of troops could deploy within 24 hours and a modest second wave could do so within seven days. 

Here’s the challenge: there is no strict definition of readiness. Instead, readiness is a competition, with a country or alliance being measured against its competitor’s level of readiness. In practice, that means that NATO has to match Russia. And in the past several years, Russia has put enormous effort into increasing the readiness of its forces. According to a 2016 report by FOI, the Swedish defense research agency, “the fighting power of Russia’s Armed Forces has continued to increase…due to additional units and weapons systems, increased readiness and-primarily where the Ground Forces are concerned-a higher proportion of combat-ready units.” Readiness also means having troops positioned close to where they would most likely be needed. For NATO, the dilemma is that by permanently positioning troops in, say, Latvia, it would risk further escalating tensions with Russia.

The task may sound daunting, but Europe’s lack of readiness is an acute problem. Not only are there too few quickly deployable troops, but equipment is an issue as well. In Germany, for example, only 95 of the Bundeswehr’s 224 tanks are currently usable, according to the country’s defense ministry. The others are out for upgrades and repairs-but the necessary parts are not available. And earlier this year, the recently retired executive commander of the Dutch army revealed that half of the army’s vehicles don’t work.

If one of the Baltic states or another member state were invaded, NATO would quickly dispatch its spearhead force, the VJTF. But the VJTF and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups stationed in the Baltic states can only fend off an adversary temporarily-for several days, as they’re only supposed to function as a tripwire-and, in any case, they lack capabilities to protect themselves, such as air defense.

NATO planners estimate that it would take the second wave 60 days to reach the Baltic states, but a recent RAND study found that Russian forces would only need 60 hours to reach the Baltic capitals. In other words, getting NATO support to VJTF some 57 days after the initial invasion would hardly help. “NATO’s credibility is based on the capacity to reinforce the four eFP battalions quickly if the Russians were to test us,” Alexander Vershbow, until last year NATO’s deputy secretary-general, told me this month. “That requires that allies bring their forces up to a sufficient state of readiness so that the VJTF and follow-on forces can move on three to four days’ notice and arrive, fully equipped and trained, at the eastern flank in a matter of days or one to two weeks-not months.”

NATO readiness is, of course, not only about defending the Baltic states-it’s about having troops available to protect all the group’s members, which is a complicated task because a military attack on a NATO member state could come in the shape of several small incursions. “Russia could, for example, breach [NATO’s] Article 5 with small and agile forces,” Barrons pointed out. “That makes NATO readiness very difficult. There’s no point reconstructing Cold War deterrence because today’s conflict is likely less about a general assault on territory than responding to effective but limited incursions and strikes on capitals and critical infrastructure. But the point is that we have too few troops ready to go on short notice.”

Of course, all is not lost if large NATO forces don’t arrive within days. Using air power, NATO could hold off an attacker until its second wave arrives. Still, the forces must arrive faster, because a conflict can’t be won with air power alone. 

The good news is that NATO could speed up quite a bit at almost no cost. In November, the organization announced that it would form a new command in charge of logistics. Meanwhile, NATO officials are hastily collecting details on infrastructure, including railroads, tunnels, and bridgeheads, from every member state, so that commanders will at least know what’s available to their forces. NATO is also trying to insert its requirements into infrastructure projects already planned by the European Union. (Right now, not knowing whether a tunnel can fit a tank convoy rather complicates planning.)

In November, meanwhile, the EU announced that it plans to minimize the red tape that now holds allied troops back for days, even weeks, to cross into another allied country. Motoc recalls how, last year, he managed to slash the time it took NATO troops to cross the Romanian border. “Acting within the boundaries of my ministerial authority,” he told me, “I brought down the time required for clearing the land border entry of allied troops from five to ten days to 24 to 48 hours .” But as he diplomatically explains, “more is required, and it will take a lot of collective will to overcome enduring sensitivities.” From 10 days to 24 hours: that’s a huge difference for troops crossing Europe. “In some cases, good political will and updating entry requirements is all it takes,” Motoc added. Many countries, however, are wary of providing easy entry to visiting troops, albeit friendly ones. Still, if they want allies to help them, they have to be less protective of their border bureaucracy.

Armed forces could also achieve higher speed through large exercises. Although NATO does conduct exercises, they are far smaller than Russia’s flagship Zapad exercise-and occur less frequently than other Russian exercises. Between 2015 and the beginning of this year, Russia conducted 11 exercises involving at least 10,000 troops, whereas NATO conducted six, according to research by the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Russia conducted 95 exercises involving between 1,500 and 5,000 troops; NATO conducted 24. The alliance’s current exercises are also smaller than its Cold War Reforger exercise, which involved around 100,000 troops. Although NATO may not need a new Reforger, regular exercises half that size would quickly put the alliance in good shape. And military practice doesn’t just make perfect: it also signals capabilities. By conducting large exercises, NATO and its allies would show adversaries just how unwise it would be to attack. 

The cheapest potential accelerator, however, is in NATO’s own bureaucracy. After the Cold War, the alliance’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) lost much of his authority to the North Atlantic Council (NAC), a notoriously slow body consisting of the member states’ NATO ambassadors. If SACEUR regained his power to mobilize forces without having to wait for the NAC to authorize the move, the alliance would save crucial time. To make a decision, the NAC’s ambassadors have to first await instructions from their governments.

Few believe that Russia is about to invade a NATO country. But it is still wise to keep armed forces as a deterrent. For that to be effective, armed forces have to be credible, which means they must be ready. As Camporini put it to me, “an alliance that’s not ready will lose its discipline.” Indeed, it will lose its very purpose. It’s a good thing, then, that European countries have some real opportunities when it comes to quickly improving their readiness. They just need to make sure not to be distracted by longer-term dreams about PESCO.

This article was originally published on ForeignAffairs.com.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Prospects and Pitfalls

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:57 AM PST

Chinese President Xi Jinping initially mooted the idea of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) during his visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia in September and October 2013, respectively. Subsequently the two projects together came to be known as the ”One Belt One Road” (OBOR) Initiative.

The concept was re-christened as the ”Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) when opposition surfaced to the idea of one nation dictating the existence of ”one belt, one road” in a globalized world in which ”many belts and many roads” exist. Greater clarity was provided to the idea at the Belt Road Forum (BRF) organized in Beijing in mid-May 2017. According to Chinese authorities, more than 100 countries participated in the forum, many of them at the head of state/government level. India was the only major country that did not attend.

In his address at the BRF on May 14, Xi called the BRI the project of the century to benefit people across the world. He stated that ancient silk routes opened windows of friendly engagement among nations and embodied the spirit of peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit. Xi declared that the BRI will promote friendship, shared development, peace, harmony, and a better future for all countries. The BRI, Xi declared, is a new model of win-win cooperation and would make economic globalization open, inclusive, balanced, and beneficial to all. By constantly hearkening back to the history of East-West exchange, China is striving to propagate a narrative of a globalization in which China had a central and ostensibly benign role. Xi Jinping professes to rekindle that same old “Silk Road spirit.”

Prospects

BRI spans some 65 countries in Asia, Africa, and Europe, covering 70 percent of the world population, three-quarters of its energy resources, a quarter of goods and services, and 28 percent of global GDP— $21 trillion. Beijing’s rationale appears to be clear: these are large, resource-rich nations in close proximity to it with a severe infrastructure deficit, which China has the resources and expertise to redress. By boosting connectivity, China can hope to spur growth in the short term, gain access to valuable natural resources in the mid-term, and create new booming markets for its goods into the extended future.

The problem of under-absorption, that is, China’s inability to fully absorb its supply-side production capacity, has been an inherent feature of China’s economic story. Since the 2008 global economic crisis, China’s investment-intensive export oriented model, relying on massive reciprocal import demand in high-income economies to absorb Chinese production, has widely been acknowledged as unsustainable. The steel sector has become symbolic of this overcapacity. For instance today, China can produce 1.2 billion metric tons of steel, 50 percent more than what is required for domestic and export markets.

Another overriding objective of the BRI is to address China’s deepening regional disparity as the country’s economy modernizes. Beijing hopes its transnational infrastructure building program will spur growth in China’s underdeveloped hinterland and rustbelt.

By investing in infrastructure, Xi also hopes to find a more profitable home for China’s vast foreign-exchange reserves, most of which are in low-interest-bearing American government securities. He also hopes to create new markets for Chinese companies, such as high-speed rail firms, while (as mentioned above) exporting some of his country’s vast excess capacity in cement, steel, and other metals. And by encouraging more Chinese projects around the South China Sea, the initiative could either bolster China’s claims in that area or perhaps even turn a divisive issue into a source of common prosperity.

The key motive for China’s BRI, however, appears to be much bigger and more ambitious. It wants to consolidate its position at the center of global supply and manufacturing networks. This is crucial for the outlook of the global economy over the coming decades. China understands that as its economy matures and income levels rise, the lower-wage industries that have fueled the country’s growth so far will migrate to less-developed nations where labor costs are lower.

At the same time China’s armed forces are being upgraded and reoriented to protect Chinese investments and personnel abroad. According to informed estimates, China’s navy, for instance, plans to build 400 warships and 100 submarines by 2030.

Xi has launched the BRI at a time when Chinese foreign policy has become more assertive, even aggressive. This has meant that the BRI is often interpreted as a geopolitical venture rather than a purely economic one. There is considerable truth in this assessment.

The BRI is one of Xi’s most ambitious foreign and economic policy projects. At the recent 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, the BRI was enshrined in the Party Constitution, signaling the depth of Chinese commitment and giving the concept greater policy heft and added pressure to succeed.

Many foreign policy analysts view this initiative largely through a geopolitical lens, seeing it as Beijing’s attempt to gain political leverage over its neighbors and to rapidly fill the vacuum created by the increasingly isolationist policies being pursued by U.S. President Donald Trump. Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has played into China’s hands. Trump’s dependence on Chinese support to contain North Korea has also given greater leverage to China.

If it materializes, the BRI, which will girdle the globe, will extend China’s economic, diplomatic, and military power well beyond its borders and across the world and place China virtually on par with the United States. China’s ambition is to achieve this by 2049, the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Pitfalls

Making this bold vision into reality will require an extraordinary alignment of financial resources, technical skills, political commitment, and international cooperation. None of these can be taken for granted.

It is estimated that financial resources to the tune of $4.4 trillion ($1.4 trillion for the overland SREB and $3 trillion for the maritime component) would be required to implement the initiative. China has claimed that nearly $900 billion worth of deals are already underway.

Beijing’s plan is for China-led financial institutions to lend money to countries willing to participate in BRI to create the required infrastructure, deploy surplus Chinese manpower to build them and ensure that China’s hitherto idle state-owned enterprises construct them. It is, however, a moot point whether China on its own will be able to marshal the requisite financial resources required for this ambitious venture. Moreover it is debatable if Chinese or regional financial institutions would be willing to extend loans to countries with dubious credit. Thus far a significant amount of Belt Road investment has flowed to countries with relatively weak credit profiles. Of the 68 countries identified under the BRI, 42 are either rated below investment grade or not rated by Moody’s at all.

China will need its neighbors’ cooperation for realization of its objectives. However, its handling of regional antagonism in recent years has further exacerbated tension in the area.

The BRI vision statement claims adherence to the “Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” which include a “mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty.” Contrary to this, China has escalated sovereignty disputes by pressing territorial claims against its neighbors.

A vital reason for India to stay away from the Belt and Road Forum on May 14-15 in Beijing was China’s utter disregard for India’s core concerns on its sovereignty and territorial integrity with respect to the $56 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has been billed as the flagship project of the BRI. In the South China Sea, China has challenged Vietnamese claims by moving a state-owned oil rig into disputed waters and constructed airstrips suitable for military aircraft on disputed features in the Spratly Islands. China has shown total contempt for international law by rejecting the ruling by an international tribunal regarding its claims in the South China Sea. On the Doklam plateau in 2017, China challenged Bhutan’s sovereignty by attempting to extend a road into disputed territory, leading to a military standoff with India.

These actions directly contradict the BRI vision statement and send a signal to China’s neighbors that it will aggressively use its instruments of power to assert claims over disputed territories. China’s approach to CPEC as well as the Bhutanese and South China Sea disputes increases the perception that China is unwilling to harmonize regional stability and security with its nationalist objectives.

A few recent cracks in Beijing’s plans for dominance and influence highlight the complicated road to infrastructure-based leverage.

On November 14, according to a South China Morning Post report, the government of Nepal decided to abandon the $2.5 billion deal to build the Budhigandaki Hydroelectric project dam with the Chinese state company China Gezhouba Group. The deal was scrapped because it was signed without an open tender process, which was required by law. The agreement was originally signed a few weeks after Nepal joined the BRI.

Also in November, Pakistan, China’s all-weather friend, also decided to pull out of the $14 billion Diamer-Bhasha dam with China because it refused to accept the strict deal conditions.

Two major BRI-related projects were canceled within a week, in both cases because the terms were considered by the recipient countries, which are both close to China, to be unfair and inequitable. This inevitably also raises issues about the commercial viability and financial credibility of some other projects. The Belt and Road seems to be faltering in its initial, conceptual financial stage.

Another glaring example is that of Hambantota port which has become the proverbial millstone around Sri Lanka’s neck. A worrying development emerged in July 2017 when Sri Lanka was forced to give control of the deep-water port to China for 99 years in exchange for Chinese debt settlement. Besides the question of debt, huge delays in implementation of high profile, prestigious projects in Singapore, Indonesia, and several other countries have occurred due to serious local obstacles and problems.

Full transparency – through competing public tenders – of the adequacy, suitability, and quality of the Chinese equipment being used could also soon become serious problems. The importation of tens of thousands of Chinese workers to install Chinese equipment, thereby displacing employment for locals, also leads to significant political fallout.

Conclusion

All the above points to an urgent need for China to rethink and reconfigure its developmental financing strategy.

Several analysts have expressed concern that smaller states could become overly dependent on Chinese loans and trapped in debt servitude to Beijing. To make matters worse, China is finding it hard to identify profitable projects in many Belt and Road countries (Chinese businessmen in Central Asia call it “One Road, One Trap”).

When declining China’s invitation to participate in the Belt Road Forum in Beijing in May 2017, India had stated:

We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency, and equality. Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities; balanced ecological and environmental protection and preservation standards; transparent assessment of project costs; and skill and technology transfer to help long term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities. Connectivity projects must be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.

It is essential for China to go back to the drawing board, engage in serious and sincere dialogue with its neighbors and participants in BRI, ensure respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, uphold the internationally accepted norms of transparency and good governance, and observe principles of financial responsibility, skill, and technology transfer etc for the Initiative to have some possibility of success.

Ashok Sajjanhar is a career diplomat who has served as Ambassador of India to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia, as also as Secretary/Principal Executive Officer of the National Foundation for Communal Harmony, an autonomous organization with the Ministry of Home Affairs. He has held several significant positions in Indian embassies in Washington, Moscow, Brussels, Geneva, Bangkok, Tehran and Dhaka.

Cultural differences make holidays challenging

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Dear Amy: My in-laws are first generation immigrants from an Asian country and, while they are very kind people, some of their traditions around the holidays tend to be morbid and difficult to explain to my young son.

They insist on setting places at the dinner table for deceased relatives and sometimes the place settings have framed photos of the dead relatives. Last Thanksgiving, I was weirded out to be sitting across from the photo of my mother-in-law’s dead father at the dinner table.

They also leave out bowls of fruit and candy for dead relatives, buy small gifts for them and decorate the framed photos with ornaments and garland. My husband said this does not bother him and he grew up with them doing all of this.

Last year, when we tried to explain to our 6-year-old who the photos were, he became very worried after learning they were dead people and for weeks asked nonstop questions about who they were and how they died. My son became very scared of the photos themselves and began having nightmares.

I do not want to insult them by asking them to not follow their traditions during the holidays, especially when we are in their house for Thanksgiving and Christmas. My husband said if they are hosting we should not comment on their traditions, and need to deal with it. What can I do?

— Upset

Dear Upset: Your husband is wrong on one account: If his parents are hosting holiday celebrations and they celebrate by honoring their native traditions, your husband (their son) is in the perfect position to comment on these traditions, explain them and make them part of your son’s life.

As parents, you could help your son a great deal by explaining to him that these traditions are really celebrations honoring ancestors.

These are not photos of dead people — they are photos of people who were very much alive when the pictures were taken. (I believe it is possible that your son might believe that these pictures are of dead bodies, which would definitely creep him out, because you keep referring to them as “dead relatives.”) Don’t focus on how they died, but on how they lived, and how remembering them and looking at these pictures helps the family to celebrate.

Maybe you have a picture of an ancestor or two in your home. You might have pictures of pets that have crossed the proverbial “rainbow bridge.” Would your son like to bring along photos of an ancestor to his grandparents’ house? Acculturate him by making this an OK thing to think about.

Your perception that this is “morbid” doesn’t help, but even so, you should say to your son, “This isn’t our tradition, but it is grandmother and grandfather’s, and when we are with them, we need to respect it, OK?”

Dear Amy: My daughter cheated on her fiance. They have a child together, and the cheating episode happened last summer. My daughter takes full responsibility for her actions and knows she will live with this every day.

Now that the father of her child has taken her back, he uses sex as a way to keep her with him.

He says, “Let’s have sex, so I know if I still want to be with you or not!” She says she feels forced to give in.

My daughter gives in against her will because she is afraid he will try and get custody of their child. I told her that is unlikely for a number of reasons, none of which I will get into now.

Even though what my daughter did is wrong and shameful, I am utterly mortified. I feel helpless as a parent and don’t know what to tell her to do with this no-win relationship. I need your thoughts about this issue.

— Helpless

Dear Helpless: If your daughter is being coerced, manipulated or feels forced to have sex (by your description, she is), then this is a form of partner assault, and she should leave the relationship. I understand that you feel helpless, but you should encourage and support her to leave.

Dear Amy: I was gobsmacked by the question from “Wondering Mom” who was actually shocked that she couldn’t find a thong-style bathing suit for her young daughter to wear at the beach! Yikes! Thank you for your wise counsel against this.

— Faithful Reader

Dear Faithful: Many readers were as shocked as I was. Sexy swimwear is not appropriate for children.

(You can contact Amy Dickinson via email: askamy@amydickinson.com. Readers may send postal mail to Amy Dickinson, c/o Tribune Content Agency, 16650 Westgrove Drive, Suite 175, Addison, Texas, 75001. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or “like” her on Facebook.)

OMARR’S DAILY ASTROLOGICAL FORECAST, For release 11/30/17 for 11/30/17

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

BIRTHDAY GUY: Actor Mandy Patinkin was born in Chicago on this day in 1952. This birthday guy’s portrayal of Jeffrey Geiger on “Chicago Hope” earned him a 1995 Emmy award and another nomination in 1999. His role as Saul Berenson on “Homeland” earned him three Emmy nominations and a guest spot on “The Larry Sanders Show” in 1996 was his sixth overall nomination. He also won a 1980 Tony award for his performance in Broadway’s “Evita.”

ARIES (March 21-April 19): Put your past experiences to good use. Don’t rock the boat or you may be overwhelmed with the negative response. It may be time to put a relationship on hold or go your own way for the time being.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20): Don’t shirk your responsibilities. If you have given your word, do everything in your power to keep it. You are relied upon by your friends, loved ones and colleagues so don’t get caught up in letting them down.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Be careful about what you wish for. A dream come true may not seem so wonderful once it has become reality and you deal with consequences. If you are having second thoughts it may be time to pull the plug.

CANCER (June 21-July 22): Friends are there to help, but sometimes their help is merely a distraction. You will reap the greatest benefits by taking your business ideas to the general public. Network with people who can boost your career.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): The bigger the task, the greater the reward. Go the extra mile to make all your work pay off. Your relentless ambition can move mountains and help you overcome obstacles. Don’t depend on others to keep promises.

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Take pride in your home and family. You are motivated to work hard because you are responsible for the wellbeing of loved ones. Think about what is essential to your happiness and act only with the best intentions.

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): What goes up may come down. Someone could change their mind or your feelings could shift. Tensions in relationships could be challenging. Wait until everything settles back into a peaceful routine to sort feelings out.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): You can be the anchor that holds things in place when storms rage. You may feel the need to escape the pressure of holding tight. Pace yourself so you don’t get overwhelmed, but take care not to let anyone down.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Patience is a virtue. You have a strong desire to reach your financial goals but you’re not going to reach them if you are handcuffed to past obligations. Set things right to secure a more contented family and future.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): Harness the power to make dreams come true. Those who support your ideas will begin to come in focus. This is the time to push relentlessly and build a solid base of operations for your career as well as your family.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Everyone must ante up the same amount. Responsibility and duty could override your enjoyment and may have a dampening effect on a partnership. You may fear that someone will take advantage of your kindness.

PISCES (Feb. 19-March 20): Establish the boundaries between work and play. Others may wish to waste their time goofing off but you are not obligated to participate. Beware of impulsive spending habits that could come back to haunt you.

IF NOVEMBER 30 IS YOUR BIRTHDAY: Those with much to give are often called upon to give the most. You could find the next several six to eight weeks fulfilling, because you may have an opportunity to give your ambitions free rein. This is the best time to pursue a new career, start a new job, or make a romantic commitment because you will be passionate about making whatever you begin a success. Your shrewdness about money is enhanced in February, making it a good time to reevaluate your resources and investments. Since you might be drowning in fantasies in March, don’t become engaged in a new romantic fling or voluntarily add to your debt load. June can be an intense time period in which you can achieve your goals if you are prepared to unfailingly fulfill obligations.

*Love Is… – Comic Panel – 20171130cplis-a.tif

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Famous examples of the four types of prayers

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Q: I read with much interest your recent column that includes the four kinds of prayers. I have never been a confident pray-er and enjoy some helpful prayers of others. May I ask if you could give me an example of each one of these types of prayer? Thank you very much. — M, from Harrisburg, Pa.

A: Glad to oblige. Here are some famous examples of Thanks, Gimmie, Oops, and Wow! prayers.

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— A good Thanks prayer:

Every time I eat bread I say this Hebrew Thanks prayer:

“You are blessed O Lord our God, King of the universe who has brought forth bread from the earth.”

I like this prayer for bread because it is a simple Thanks prayer for simple food. It is not a prayer for donuts or pizza or cake or chicken fingers. This is a prayer for the oldest food in the West. In the East the prayer over the most basic food would be a prayer over rice. Gandhi taught, “To a poor man, God is bread.” Thanks prayers take us back to the basics of life and to the life altering truth that everything in life is a gift.

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— A good Gimmie prayer:

There are so many bad Gimmie prayers where we ask God for things we can get for ourselves or for things we really do not need. The best Gimmie prayers are the ones where we ask God to give someone else something he or she really needs right now. The best Gimmie prayer is also the most famous prayer in the world, The Lord’s Prayer. This prayer comes from the New Testament from the 6th chapter of the Book of Matthew verses 9-11. It is from the part where Jesus is teaching people how to pray:

“Our Father, who is in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.(

Your Kingdom comes, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.

Amen.”

——

— A good Oops prayer:

Prayers of repentance and atonement are always good though they are often not sincere. Apologies are not for the time you get caught. Apologies are for the time you truly understand that you betrayed your best self. The greatest Oops Prayer is also the greatest Oops Song. It is a song sung by a man who had atoned for his role in the slave trade and it melts into a Thanks Prayer to God for giving him the grace to change his life:

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found

Was blind but now I see.

It was grace that taught my heart to fear

And grace my fears relieved.

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already overcome.

It was grace that led me safe thus far

And grace will bring me home

When we’ve been there a thousand years

Bright shining as the sun

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.”

——

— A good Wow! prayer:

Thanks and Wow! prayers are almost the same but they are really different. Thanks prayers are between you and God. Wow! prayers are between the world and God. Wow! is bigger than Thanks.

Here is great Wow! prayer that became a great Wow! hymn. It is a Wow! prayer about the harvest and about how wondrous and how wonderful it is that God feeds us through the earth:

“Come Ye thankful people come;

Raise the song of harvest home,

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin.

God, our maker does provide

For our wants to be supplied.

Come to God’s own temple, come,

Raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field,

Fruit unto his praise to yield.

Wheat and tares together sown,

Unto joy or sorrow grown.

First the blade, and then the ear,

Then the full corn shall appear.

Lord of harvest, grant that we

Wholesome grain and pure may be.

Even so, Lord, quickly come

To your final harvest home

Gather all your people in,

Free from sorrow, free from sin.

There, forever purified,

In your garner to abide

Come, with all your angels, come,

Raise the glorious harvest home!”

——

So there you have examples of four good Thanks, Gimmie Oops and Wow! prayers. Let me know your additions. I am still considering adding “Why?” prayers to the list based upon your kind comments. One of you suggested adding “Silent prayers.” I have nothing to say about that.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)

The return of virtue

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Rarely has the idiom “virtue is its own reward” looked better than it does in light of the sex scandals sweeping the nation. The so-called “prudishness,” of a previous generation and the respect most men were once taught to have for women — and which Hugh Hefner and his disciples of “free love” mocked — are looking better with each passing day.

Conservatives have been told they can’t impose their morality on others, so how is its opposite working out for individuals and the culture?

Washington Post columnist Christine Emba writes, “…now could be the time to reintroduce virtues such as prudence, temperance, respect and even love.”

“What’s love got to do with it?” asked Tina Turner? Everything. If you love somebody or something — from institutions, to people — you are bound to treasure them, as opposed to what you dislike, don’t respect and treat like a disposable item that is useful for the moment, but is discarded when it has served your purpose.

Who decided traditional virtues were no longer viable and should not be taught to schoolchildren? Was a study conducted that found young people were being damaged from learning how to live and respect one another? Were they expected to catch these virtues on their own without guidance from elders? If so, why do we teach table manners, not interrupting when someone else is talking, sharing and many other things to counter what our lower nature doesn’t teach us?

The idea behind virtue being its own reward is that people who pursue virtue enjoy a layer of protection from the sins now being exposed in so many, from Washington to Hollywood and in between. People who are faithful to their spouses in marriage, honest in their financial dealings, respected for their character and integrity in public and in private don’t have to worry about being “embarrassed and ashamed,” as Sen. Al Franken said of his behavior toward some women.

Former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett published “The Book of Virtues” in 1993. It is a collection of moral tales designed to instruct us on the benefits of virtue and the consequences of its opposite.

The chapter titles reveal a list of ancient truths that seem increasingly scarce in modern society. They include some of the things Ms. Emba notes we are missing in today’s culture: Self-discipline, Responsibility, Courage, Honesty, Loyalty and Faith. Question: Would anyone argue these virtues have exceeded their “sell-by” date? It turns out that living by one’s own moral code, or none at all, has been a disaster for individuals and for the nation.

In the introduction to his book, Bennett writes of the necessity of reaching “the inner part of the individual, to the moral sense.” Today, he writes, “We speak about values and the importance to ‘have them,’ as if they were beads on a string or marbles in a pouch. But these stories speak of morality and virtues, not as something to be possessed, but as the central part of human nature, not as something to have, but as something to be, the most important thing to be.”

In the train wreck of our present culture, we are witnessing the failure over the last 50 years to instruct and discipline our children in ways that as adults they are more likely to embrace the values that can lead to a virtuous life. Why did we expect any other outcome after mostly abandoning these virtues? If you penalize and discourage virtuous things you will get less virtue; conversely, if you subsidize and encourage virtue, you will get more of it.

The scandals playing out in newspapers and on TV speak to this. The question now is will we “repent,” as the Scriptures advise, and seek a new path which, in fact, is a very old path that leads to a more virtuous life, or continue down the current path which leads to destruction?

(Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.)

*Pluggers – Color Comic Panel – 20171130cpplc-a.tif

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Common element status could depend on condominium declaration or state law

Posted: 30 Nov 2017 12:01 AM PST

Q: I just read your article on ThinkGlink.com relating to limited common elements in a condominium association, and I have some questions.

We own two units on the same floor in a condo and benefit from the hallway space between them. The plan for our association states that when two owners of adjacent units are same, the hall space is treated as a limited common element. It reverts to common element status once owners are different.

The board agrees with that but wants to charge us a license fee and monthly charges for the hallway space. We initially agreed, but after carefully reading the documents we now feel there is no reason to pay for a license (which is several thousand dollars), as one is not necessary, and we should only pay monthly fees.

Please note, the board owners are also holders of roof space appurtenant to their unit, which is also a limited common element in our by-laws. There are other roof decks, which have licenses, but these are not appurtenant. Also, there are two other units the developer of the building sold that were joined together and never received a “license.” The sale was made as one unit. In our case, we purchased the first unit from the developer about 10 years ago and then purchased the other unit recently.

Can you advise us whether you believe the board has authority to grant a license? And, if they have the authority, can they charge for a license and monthly fees when they are not charging others in a similar position?

A: These are interesting questions, and the answers may depend on what your condominium declaration states and what the statute that regulates condominium associations in your state provides.

When you buy in a condominium association, you are buying the interior space within your condominium unit. The exterior walls, ceiling and concrete floor below your flooring are part of the building and are considered to be common elements owned by the association.

If you have a balcony, patio or other private area, that area might be designated a limited common element. That is to say, use of that common element is limited exclusively to you or your unit. In your situation, the hallway outside your unit is a common element that may become a limited common element under certain situations. The key there is what the declaration or state law provides.

If your declaration provides that, you have the right to the hallway automatically upon buying two units and that hallway space becomes a limited common element for the benefit of both units, the next issue is whether the declaration elsewhere provides for a payment or fee for the use of limited common elements. We’d hope that the document would explicitly give you the right to the right to use the hallway area and then would not state that the association has the right to charge you to use that space.

On the other hand, the declaration may allow the association to charge owners a fee for the use of portions of the building that are used by only one unit. Usually the most common limited common elements that may have a fee associated with them are parking spaces. We have seen some associations charge a fee to an owner for the use of a hallway area adjacent to their units. In some instances, that fee was a one-time fee, while in others the association set it up as a monthly usage fee.

Sitting here, we can’t tell you whether the charge is proper or not. You’ll probably have to talk to an attorney that focuses his or her practice on condominium law in your state and figure out what you can and can’t do with the hallway and what the association can and can’t do when it comes to charging you for the hallway area.

(Ilyce Glink is the creator of an 18-part webinar+ebook series called “The Intentional Investor: How to be wildly successful in real estate,” as well as the author of many books on real estate. She also hosts the “Real Estate Minute,” on her YouTube channel. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her website, ThinkGlink.com.)