Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Cease fires and Russian election cycle

There has been much internet discussion about the timing of cease-fires in Syria especially with the last one turning out to be almost a nonstarter.

Also in the Ukraine Russian backed rebels last week declared a unilateral ceasefire out of nowhere. The spokesman was in a civilian suit where usually he is in combat fatigues. This seems odd given the substantial build up of Russian donated armor over the summer to the rebels.

My speculation is that Putin wanted a ceasefire in Syria that he could blame the Americans on when it failed and he wanted a ceasefire in Ukraine the week leading up to the Duma elections. 

Putin's party won decisively and the day after the elections the Russians declared the Syrian ceasefire dead.

If things heat up in Ukraine, I would suspect that it will be timed in November or late October leading up to the US elections and before the weather turns unfavorable. November has historically been an active combat period in the Ukrainian conflict.  Also one may see Putin stirring up Ukraine in advance of the US election in order to embarrass Hillary.

EXCLUSIVE-Battered by war, Syria's wheat crop halved this year to new low - Thomas Reuters

ABU DHABI/BEIRUT, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Syria's wheat harvest nearly halved to 1.3 million tonnes this year, the lowest in 27 years, as fighting and poor rainfall further degraded the farming sector and the nation's ability to feed itself.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad was forced to tender this summer for an unprecedented 1.35 million tonnes of imported wheat from political ally Russia to ensure supply of the flat loaves that are a staple for the Syrian people.
Before the five-year-old civil war, Syria was a wheat exporter producing four million tonnes in a good year and able to export 1.5 million tonnes...

Two dry spells, one in December and the other between mid-February and mid-March helped to cut the 2016 crop down from the 2.44 million tonnes in 2015, when most areas had ample rainfall.
In areas were there was rain, like the northeast province of Hasaka which accounts for almost half the country's wheat production, only 472,000 hectares were planted out of a planned 706,000 hectares due to the security situation, Yao said.
There has been heavy fighting in Hasaka as an alliance of Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led air strikes pushed Islamic State militants out of some territory this year....

The outlook for wheat is not good. For the coming 2016/2017 planting season the government-run General Organisation for Seeds Multiplication only managed to distribute 30,000 tonnes of wheat seed compared to 450,000 tonnes prior to the war.
Of the country's total wheat production this year, only around 400,000 tonnes were procured by the government, a source at the General Organisation for Cereal Processing and Trade (Hoboob), the state body responsible for wheat, said.
The figure is far short of the one to 1.5 million tonnes needed to provide bread to government-held areas of Syria....

-bth: a couple of take aways besides the general food shortage.  Russia will be able to import wheat into the government controlled sector giving it influence.  Second, the struggle around grain silos will likely intensify.  This has been an observable factor in Iraq and Syria in recent years.  Also one might expect IS to try to abduct farmers' families to be held as hostage for a percentage of the grain yields. This has happened in recent years and I see no reason it will not increase or intensify.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Congress about to cause a series of 3 quarterly funding disasters for American public

... "The military services basically write off any major planning for the first quarter of the fiscal year due to Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills on time, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Sept. 15 hearing.

Richardson’s revelation comes as the military is bracing for the possibility of another long term continuing resolution for 2017. It is almost a certainty that Congress will pass at least a short term resolution to keep the government running when the 2016 fiscal year ends at the end of September.
For all but one of the past eight years, the military services have dealt with the uncertainty of a long-term continuing resolution, Richardson said.

“Behaviors have modified to adapt to the reality of the last eight years. Big programs that require authorities for new starts, those are all prohibited in a continuing resolution environment and so rather than put those programs in the first quarter and put them all at risk, we just live in a three-quarter year and that first quarter is a light touch on just trying to keep things going,” Richardson said.

Other military service chiefs testified that the inability to plan ahead and a truncated fiscal year lead to the services wasting money on contacts...."


"... House Armed Services member Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said a short-term continuing resolution was the best among “a host of bad options” because it avoids a shutdown and gives lawmakers an opportunity to work out appropriations over the post-Nov. 8 election “lame duck” session.   

“It gives us a shot at getting a shot at some regular order, maybe a minibus or two—maybe defense—and CR-ing the rest,” Kinzinger said. “The minibus thing is probably where you’d probably get the most people in agreement and some success.”

Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders are in negotiations to reconcile each chamber’s versions of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, where the biggest sticking point is the House bill’s diversion of $18 billion in wartime overseas contingency operations funding for troops and equipment. 

Thornberry, on Friday, signaled the NDAA negotiations on defense spending authorization could influence negotiations on a defense appropriations bill. 

“We try to stay together with the authorization and appropriations, so I guess, yeah,” Thornberry said.

Thornberry said he favors finalizing the NDAA before the end of September, and quipped the number of sessions to negotiate the bill, “depends on how long they’ll take to agree with me.”  

-bth: So what does this mean?  It means that to avoid a full government shutdown at the end of September the do-nothing Congress is going to pass a short-term continuing resolution into December, just past the elections. Billions of dollars of unnecessary waste will occur because of this which could have been used for healthcare or education or bridges. Instead the entire federal government will twittle its thumbs during this period. Then just after the election we will find out that the administration and congress swept under the carpet a giant funding gap emerging in health insurance.  So after a staged debate in December a continuing resolution or some sort of 9 month funding will allow both defense and health insurance to go forward in some grand compromise.  But then by April we will face a new crisis as the Operational Contingencies fund was only funded for 6 months which means soldiers in the field in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan will suddenly find no funding support which will result in another Ryan orchestrated budget crisis right as folks file their income taxes.