North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The die is cast on Iran ...

After this post, following a string of posts which has morphed into rather dire commentaries on world conflicts, Teatree is changing direction for the coming year. Stay tuned. But in a fitting end-piece to the past couple of years, we return to the Middle East with its civil, Jihadist, and proxy wars, both current and potential.

In the news this past two weeks is the agreement between Iran and a group of five nations who have permanent seats on the UN Security Council (US, Great Britain, France, China, Russia) plus Germany regarding Iran's nuclear program.

Iran has long maintained it has a right as much as any nation to utilize nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, and maintain sovereign rights to privacy. The West in general and Israel in particular are opposed to Iran gaining such operational and technological expertise given Iran's track record of supporting extremist groups as well as publicly calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust. In the end, it is the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons as an outcome of developing nuclear expertise and facilities that fuels the angst.

Iran, with a population of nearly 80 million - similar to Germany - has large oil reserves, substantial military power, and a history of aggressive actions towards its neighbors that coincides with the ascendency of its theocratic rulers. Graphic from

The ambitions of Iran since 1979 when the Islamists came to power, have always included a construction of a strong theocracy, hostility to the West, death to America, annihilation of Israel, and in general the aggrandizement of the nation as a regional if not global power by whatever means necessary.

The West, led by the US but in general throughout the European Union, has slapped harsh economic sanctions on Iran for defying calls for openness and transparency in regards to inspecting the country's supposedly peaceful nuclear infrastructure. Indeed, there is little disagreement that Iran has moved towards nuclear weapons with various secret programs, facilities, and general research trajectories that strongly point towards developing weapons grade nuclear material in spite of its denials. For an exhausting comprehensive timeline of Iran's nuclear ambitions and world reaction, go to

But here we are, the UN Security Council has endorsed the P5+1 deal with Iran, and sanctions may soon be ending. The agreement limits Iran's capabilities for another decade to build enough highly enriched material that could be used to make nuclear bombs, and allows inspections of facilities if so desired - all this in exchange for a removal of harsh sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy over the past several years. Critics of the agreement call it a disaster that will lead to Iran becoming a nuclear power over time, while proponents of the deal say it avoids the scenario of a future war to prevent Iran becoming another possessor of nuclear weapons ... kind of.

Negotiators lining up for the photo shoot as deal is reached. From left, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. Photo from

Key Agreement Points

Proponents of the deal say that the numbers of centrifuges Iran is allowed (items that can enrich nuclear fuel to a level that allows a nuclear bomb to be assembled) along with inspections slows any plans to create a bomb, giving nations time to slap sanctions back into place ... or take more forceful action. At the same time, the amount of enriched nuclear material Iran already has accumulated is to be greatly reduced, with the majority shipped out of the country.

One key and controversial component of the agreement is the ability of inspectors to enter nuclear sites to test and monitor the acceptable actions under the agreement as well as note any prohibited actions. The actual access procedures are long and complicated, a detailed review can be found here in a CBS news article. Some sites are well known and accessible while Iranian military sites where nuclear enrichment might be conducted are "negotiable."

Here, our old friend, Iranian ex-president and holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, talks with Iranian nuclear technicians in front of nuclear centrifuges which are at the heart of the inspection controversy. Photo from

Four ways to assess the results

Will Arab neighbors, in particular Saudi Arabia and its allies, begin to bulk up their own nuclear research, with the potential of a destabilizing regional arms race.

Will Israel be placated over the next year with new assurances of US support and defense.

Will Iran follow the agreement - inspections as requested/demanded by UN international inspectors. (Teatree remembers the long drawn out cat and mouse game played by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and the hundreds of ways inspections were foiled.) And will the nearly month-long grace period between inspection demands and deadlines for compliance be effective.

Will a near-future removal of economic sanctions against Iran's rulers and businesses quickly turn into a boost for Iran's various proxy militias and dependent regimes (such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Assad's fragile Syrian regime, and for that matter, the Houthis in Yemen).

But the die is cast so to speak, and we will know more clearly by the end of 2015 whether this agreement has ceded power to an aggressive Islamic theocracy, or induced Iran into acting more constructively.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, far from attempting to project a more positive image after the nuclear agreement, declared in a recent Reuters article "U.S. policies in the region were "180 degrees" opposed to Iran's, at a speech in a Tehran mosque punctuated by chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel". In this photo from, Khamenei greets his friend, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya

Future posts - we'll be leaving the world of woes behind for perhaps a year - and introduce ourselves to little outposts around the globe that are near the Arctic circle. Perhaps we can interweave a bit of climate change discussion into the stories.

Photo from

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What do Greece and Puerto Rico have in common

Greece and Puerto Rico have been in the news this past week, both having spent or borrowed more than their ability to repay ... sound familiar?

Greece, of course, has been well covered in the world media. A leftwing politician, Alexis Tsipras, rose to power six months ago by promising Greek citizens that it was the International Monetary Fund, Germany, banks, and a collection of other villains that had conspired to hold Greece down in a particularly annoying form, by demanding that the country repay its debts.

Greece, a country with a population of 11 million and an economy the size of the US state of Connecticut. Graphic from

Teatree agrees that there are a few valid points made by Tsipras, or at least one. The average Greek citizen is the one who is being hurt disproportionately, and pensioners specifically, by debt repayment terms. At the same time, those earlier leaders who made decisions to borrow and spend without addressing revenue and fighting Greece's culture of avoiding taxes, are likely already at their second homes elsewhere in the world.

A pensioner exhausted emotionally and physically, waiting at a bank with many fellow Grecians. Photo from the BBC

The sorry situation in Greece is a problem faced by many countries who elect politicians who borrow heavily and spend frivolously (insert many many countries and leaders here), and leave office so that the next generation of leadership must either dance around the growing problem, or stand and face the consequences.

The Guardian newspaper describes how Greece has come to the mess it is in. Starting in 2008, the worldwide financial pullback accelerated a Greece economy already stressed. "In the 10 years before the financial crash, public sector wages doubled and departmental spending soared. Already high defence costs continued to soar, propelled by years of antagonism with its neighbour Turkey." ... And as for revenues, "A report by the EU in 2014 estimated that Greece lost a third of its VAT revenues in fraud and avoidance (only Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia lost more). With a VAT system that has six bands, tax experts say it was open to manipulation. Shipping, one of the main industries and the source of Aristotle Onassis’s vast fortune, was known as a tax-free zone. Income taxes and corporate taxes, traditionally the subject of huge avoidance, collapsed in the wake of the financial crisis."

Tsipras, the current Greek Prime Minister, is probably not helping his country's cause as he and his cabinet attempt to renegotiate debt payment terms with Greece's creditors. He varies, sometimes on an hourly basis, between bombastic rhetoric and finger-pointing, to offering proposals soon followed by withdrawing them. In just six months, he has alienated most of the country's creditors to the point that they are simply standing by to see whether a referendum Tsipras has called for Sunday, July 5th, backs him up or essentially rejects him. For another concise summary of Tsipras presiding over the Greek implosion, try this article from The Australian, titled, "Greece must face up to reality."

If Greece votes yes to stay in the European Union and accept debt repayment terms (Tsipras urges a NO vote),a new government would likely follow. But the effects of the default which Greece is already in, will continue to escalate, and meanwhile the lines, anguish and turmoil for the middle class Greeks will make for a long miserable hot summer.

Alexis Tsipras, current Greek Prime Minister, whose abrasive and self-righteous style has not only brought little relief to the average Greek citizen, but is likely to make the "misery index" much worse. (In this picture, unfortunately, he is also using the patented Bill Clinton non-finger point to make a point.) Photo from

On to Puerto Rico

The dynamics are the same in Puerto Rico - too much public spending (in comparison to the revenue coming in), and kicking the can to the next set of politicians to deal with (.ie. NOT). But the difference in this case, is that the current leader is attempting to face the consequences without scapegoating the lenders.

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island, a U.S territory, with a population of just over 3.6 million people (all natural born Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens). Graphic from

For a quick summary by, "Puerto Rico is bankrupt according to Governor Alejandro Padilla because it is mathematically impossible to pay its $73 billion debt it owes to creditors. In an interesting turn of events, the Associated Press reported that Padilla met privately with the New York Times before he met with Puerto Rico’s political leaders to discuss the uncontrollable debt problem the island-nation was facing. Padilla was quoted as saying that “the last four administrations have kicked the can down the road,” he continued “At this point; there is no more can to kick. So we’re going to take some very strict measures and some very profound measures. It’s going to hurt, but there’s no way out” the AP reported."

For Americans, it is pretty clear that the U.S federal government is not exactly ready to line up and lend some of its own borrowed money to dig Puerto Rico out of its hole. Plenty of US cities and a few states (think Detroit, Chicago, and Illinois) are in the same trouble (read overspending compared to revenue, along with the game kick-the-can). And once again, it will be the average citizen who suffers, while the erstwhile leaders move on to their next visionary posting.

The Governor of Puerto Rico is Alejandro Padilla. Native born, educated on the Island, and aligned politically as a democrat, nonetheless, Mr Padilla is stating enough is enough. Photo from

To his credit, Padilla is stating, "There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math," Garcia told the New York Times. The island nation, which has a population of 3.6 million, has been in recession for over a decade. Governor Padilla wants to negotiate with creditors, while also looking to defer some debt payments, according to his spokesman, Jesus Manuel Ortiz."

Paseo de Diego, a pedestrian corridor in San Juan, P.R., that once buzzed with shops and shoppers, sits nearly empty, as businesses have closed. Photo by Christopher Gregory for The New York Times

Similar to the story in Greece, the New York Times reports, "“So many people are leaving you can’t even find suitcases,” said Erica Lebrón, 30, as she sat outside a housing project bodega. Before long, Puerto Ricans will face more tax increases — the next one is in October. Next on the list of anticipated measures, these for government workers, are fewer vacations, overtime hours and paid sick days. Others in Puerto Rico may face cuts in health care benefits and even bus routes, all changes that economic advisers say should be made to jump-start the economy.

People ricochet from anger to resignation back to anger again. Along San Juan’s colonial-era streets, in homes and shops, Puerto Ricans blame the government for the economic debacle. Election after election, they say, political leaders took the easy way out, spending more than they had, borrowing to prop up the budget, pointing fingers at one another and failing to own up to reality."

Sigh, key words and phrases: "reality," "promises," "spending more than they had," "the easy way out," "borrowing," ... sound familiar?