Mattis condemns Russian influence-peddling in Macedonia
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Monday, September 17
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Monday condemned Russia’s efforts to use its money and influence to build opposition to an upcoming vote that could pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO, a move Moscow opposes.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Skopje that there is “no doubt” that Moscow has been funding pro-Russian groups to defeat the referendum on a name change later this month.
“They have transferred money, and they’re also conducting broader influence campaigns,” Mattis said. “We ought to leave the Macedonian people to make up their own minds.”
Macedonians will vote Sept. 30 on whether to approve the name North Macedonia in an effort to placate Greece, which has for years blocked Macedonia’s path to NATO and the European Union. But any progress toward NATO membership by the Balkan nation is strongly opposed by Russia, which doesn’t want the alliance to expand to areas formerly under Moscow’s influence.
Mattis, speaking after a meeting with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, made no mention of Russia but announced that the U.S. plans to expand its cybersecurity cooperation with Macedonia “to thwart malicious cyber activity that threatens our democracies.”
Zaev predicted that Macedonians will vote in favor of the name change and thus the move into NATO.
“There is no other alternative for the Republic of Macedonia than the integration into NATO and the EU,” he said.
Speaking later Monday at another event, Zaev said he had “no evidence for Russia’s influence” in Macedonia. He said Russia has no objections for Macedonia’s integration into the EU, but it’s “openly against our integration in NATO.”
Macedonia’s main conservative opposition VMRO-DPMNE party repeated its position that “the agreement with Greece is the worst deal signed in the Macedonia’s history.”
A pro-Russian small oppositional party, Unique Macedonia, strongly criticized Mattis’ remarks on Moscow’s efforts to use money to influence the opposition to defeat the referendum.
Mattis is the latest in a string of international leaders visiting Macedonia to voice support for the referendum, and he’s the most senior U.S. official to visit. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz have visited and made public endorsements of the name change, saying it’s critical in order for the country to join NATO after years of waiting.
Mattis said he and other NATO allies “say right up front in open press what we think.”
“We’re not passing money to people behind the scenes,” he said. “We’re not putting together parties that we control or try to control.”
Russia has already been called out for trying to influence the vote. In July, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats accused of supplying funds to protest groups opposing the name change deal. Russia denounced the expulsions as unjustified.
Greece, a member of NATO, has for years vetoed attempts by Macedonia to join NATO, complaining about the country’s name since Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s. Greece argues the name implies a territorial claim against the northern Greek region of Macedonia and its ancient heritage.
NATO leaders in July formally invited Macedonia to begin membership talks on the condition it wouldn’t become effective until the name change was implemented.
But there’s widespread concern about Russian impact on the vote.
“There is this influence campaign to try to buy off people and try to support pro-Russian organizations,” said Laura Cooper, the U.S. deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia and the region.
She said she couldn’t give specifics about the payoffs but said the U.S. is aware of financial support Moscow has given to pro-Russian people and groups working to undermine the referendum.
Evelyn Farkas, an expert on the region who is a fellow with the Atlantic Council and a former Defense Department adviser, said Mattis’ visit to the tiny nation could help sow support for the name change.
“I think Mattis could make or break this thing by delivering a strong message to the opposition, which has been grudgingly quiet, that they need to come out in full-throated support, because they’re not going to get another chance later,” Farkas said. “He can tell them this is their last chance.”
According to Cooper, the U.S. has given Macedonia about $5 million in security assistance annually since 1991, and the total U.S. aid since then has been about $750 million.
Mattis also met with Macedonia President Gjorge Ivanov and Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska.
Ivanov, in a statement, said Macedonia’s “strategic interest and the highest goal remains accession” to NATO and the European Union, which he said would contribute to prosperity for the region.
The referendum vote is non-binding, and polls indicate Macedonians will likely back the deal. But even if the turnout is below the required 50 percent, if most of the people vote “yes” it will give parliament and the government a mandate to proceed.
The agreement with Greece was signed in June and requires changes to the Macedonian Constitution. The final step for NATO admission is ratification by Greece’s parliament, which would vote only after Macedonia completes all necessary procedures.
Associated Press writer Konstantin Testorides in Skopje contributed to this report.
EU enlargement chief urges Macedonians to back name deal
Tuesday, September 18
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia will take a big step to joining the European Union if the country supports a name change to “North Macedonia,” the official in charge of the bloc’s enlargement negotiations said Tuesday.
Following talks with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev in the capital Skopje, Johannes Hahn said the Sept. 30 vote is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity for Macedonians to improve their daily lives.
A vote to authorize the name change would be an important step towards resolving a long-standing dispute with neighbor Greece, which has raised objections to Macedonia’s EU accession as well as blocking its NATO membership.
Greece has long sought a name change because it says the current one implies claims on its own northern province of Macedonia, and on its ancient heritage.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also voiced hope that the country will be able to start EU accession talks next June.
But he also called on the Macedonian leadership to continue with reforms that the EU has been requesting for years to bring the country in line with ‘EU criteria.
“More reforms are needed on all topics — rule of law, fighting organized crime and corruption,” Maas said after talks with his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov in Skopje.
Dozens of western officials including German chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have visited Skopje in recent weeks to encourage turnout in the vote — which will only be valid if just over fifty percent of registered voters participate.
Commissioner Hahn said the deal is “appreciated” by the international community, because it would solve a long-running dispute.
“It is a proof for everybody that so-called frozen conflicts can be resolved if (leaders) have a determination to solve the issue,” Hahn said.
“This agreement has an impact (that) goes far beyond the EU.”
If Macedonians vote for the deal in the referendum, the country’s parliament must then amend the constitution to adopt the new name. For the deal to come into effect, Greece’s parliament would then have to ratify it.
Trump should wage a war on waste instead of battling the world over trade
Author: Clyde Eiríkur Hull, Professor of Management, Rochester Institute of Technology
Disclosure statement: Clyde Hull is a Professor of Management at the Saunders College of Business at RIT. He is also an associate faculty member of RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainabilty, which includes the Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery. He is not involved in the Center’s operations.
Partners: Rochester Institute of Technology provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
President Donald Trump is fighting the wrong fight in his ongoing trade war with the rest of the world.
That’s because it’s premised on the old-school notion of the linear economy in which someone in another country, such as China, digs up raw materials and sends them to a factory, where they get turned into the finished product and shipped to the U.S. In exchange, money leaves the U.S. economy and flows to the countries where the product was made – creating the trade deficit Trump despises.
And here’s the important bit. Americans use the product for a while, throw it away, and it ends up in a dump. And then we buy another import.
The long-term effect? Our money goes to a foreign economy, and Americans end up with piles of garbage. Then we pay a foreign economy one more time to take the garbage off our hands. China is one country that used to take a lot of our garbage, but India, Pakistan and Nigeria are also big in this business.
A circular economy, by contrast, starts with the finished product, which can then be recycled domestically and reused, often at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing them new elsewhere. This keeps the money at home, which produces more domestic jobs and wealth.
As a researcher of corporate social responsibility, I’ve been exploring whether consumers are willing to buy more goods that have been remanufactured. My research suggests the answer is yes – if companies can figure how to produce more of them. And that’s where Trump and the federal government could play a big role.
Companies leading the charge
For now, companies and others in the American private sector are trying to lead the way, such as construction and mining equipment maker Caterpillar and automaker General Motors.
Caterpillar, for example, currently remanufactures 85 million tons of material a year, while GM has 142 manufacturing and other facilities that don’t produce any garbage by recycling, reusing or converting all waste to energy. GM also participates in a new online exchange that has about 1,000 partner companies buying and selling their recycled waste as raw material.
The nonprofit sector has also been playing a role, both in terms of research and practical efforts. Since 1991, the Center for Remanufacturing and Resource Recovery at my own Rochester Institute of Technology in upstate New York, for example, has been working with organizations such as the U.S. Marines Corps and Staples to take advantage of circular economy principles.
The center helped the Marines remanufacture defective drive shafts for light armored vehicles, which has saved the military force 78 percent versus the cost of buying them new. It also partnered with Staples to cut the use of non-recycled materials in office furniture by almost 90 percent while reducing the cost to the customer by over 40 percent.
Benefits of circular logic
The benefits can add up quickly.
General Motors, for example boasts revenue and savings of US$1 billion a year from its circular economy initiatives.
That’s just one company. Scaling up could yield over $1 trillion a year in savings globally – and that’s just in terms of mining and processing fewer raw materials. More broadly, were the European Union, for example, to replace all its imports with locally reused or recycled alternatives, it alone could generate $300 billion to $600 billion a year in savings, according to a 2012 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a U.K. charity focused on promoting the transition to a circular economy.
Remanufacturing in the U.S. is already responsible for 180,000 jobs across sectors as diverse as aerospace, consumer products, office furniture and retreaded tires. Given how much the U.S. currently imports from abroad – and that remanufacturing is still less than 2 percent of total manufacturing in the U.S. – there’s room to create hundreds of thousands more jobs.
How Trump could help
While there are many ways the U.S. government could marshal its tremendous resources behind this effort, there are two in particular I think would pay dividends.
Both revolve around a core problem in remanufacturing: Most things we currently make can’t be remanufactured. That’s partly because of social barriers — customers may confuse remanufactured with used, which is a very different thing — and partly because they’re not made to be remanufactured.
Plastics in particular pose a significant problem to moving toward a circular economy. Globally, we only recycle or reuse about 9 percent of the plastic produced each year, with 79 percent going to landfills and 12 percent being burned.
Trump could support two ways to help solve this problem. Basically, with a carrot and a stick. The carrot involves setting a standard of design to ensure all products are made with future use in mind, as well as using his influence to encourage Americans to buy goods remanufactured in the U.S.
The stick is tax policy. Specifically, the government could tax products that can’t be converted into raw materials after they are used, as well as those that are made with less than a certain percentage of reused components – a minimum that would be set to gradually increase. Money raised through this tax could be used to support research into remanufacturing, community efforts to reach higher recycling and reuse targets, or other purposes.
Remanufacturing for the win
Some countries are already reducing their imports by going circular, putting the United States at risk of falling behind.
China, for one, has been systematically expanding its efforts in this area for over 20 years, while the EU is beginning to invest in a circular economy as well with a formal action plan, most recently revised in 2015.
In an entirely circular economy, the U.S. would most likely still import stuff from abroad, such as steel from China. But that steel would wind up being reused in American factories, employing tax-paying American workers to manufacture new goods.
In other words, the more circular Americans make their economy, the fewer products they’ll wind up importing and the more things that could bear the “Made in the USA” label.
Religious decline was the key to economic development in the 20th century
Author: Damian Ruck, Post-Doctoral Researcher, University of Bristol
Disclosure statement: Damian Ruck received funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Welcome Trust
Partners: University of Bristol provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation UK.
We have known for decades that secular countries tend to be richer than religious ones. Finding out why involves unpicking a complex knot of cognitive and social factors – an imposing task. So my small research team thought we’d ask a more straightforward question: was it the secular chicken that came first, or the economic egg?
Our recent paper in Scientific Advances shows that, in the 20th century, secularisation occurred before economic development and not the other way around. Although this doesn’t prove secularisation makes a country wealthier, it does rule out the reverse. The arrow of time points in one direction, so economic performance cannot be expected to influence people’s opinions in the past.
Global Gallup surveys give us a clear view of the relationship between secularisation and economic development – that the world’s poorest countries are also its most religious. But before the days of modern surveys, the steam-powered scholars of the early 20th century had already noticed that industrialised societies tended to be less religious than agrarian ones; though they disagreed on the interpretation.
The early 20th century French sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that economic development came first. He saw religion as meeting society’s practical functions, such as education and welfare. But when prosperous societies started to meet these functions all by themselves, religion was pushed to the margins. On the other hand, a few decades later, the German sociologist Max Weber argued that religious change came first. He wrote that the Protestant Reformation unleashed a stampede of productivity and economic improvement because of the “Protestant work ethic”.
Only one of them can be correct. For decades, economists and political scientists, armed with modern computers and advanced statistics, have tried to find out whether it was Durkheim or Weber. Some studies found that secularisation came first, some found that development comes first, and still others found they occur at the same time.
Diving deeper into history
My colleagues and I think one major shortcoming preventing us from getting to a solution has been a lack of historical depth. To measure a complex concept like “secularisation”, comprehensive surveying is required. But this has only been possible in the majority of the world for just a couple of decades, since 1990. However, for the first time, we have found a way to dive deeper and cover the entire 100 years of the 20th century.
This temporal periscope presents itself when we bring together evidence from anthropology, political science and neuroscience: people’s beliefs and opinions form and harden during the first few decades of their lives.
Therefore, despite a lifetime of ups and downs, a person’s religious belief will always reflect their formative years. They unwittingly carry a fossilised version of how secular the society of their childhood was, right into the modern day. So if you want to know how religious the world was in the 1950s, then just see how religious the people are who came of age during the 1950s.
We did this by collating answers from the European Values Survey and the World Values Survey, which have asked people around the world about their religiosity since 1990. By pooling data for people who came of age at different decades of the 20th century, we were able to create a new secularisation time line.
We compared this with 100 years of economic data. The image below shows that, in Great Britain, Nigeria, Chile and Philippines at least, the red secularisation line leads the blue economic development line. And our statistical analysis shows that this is the case in all of the 109 countries we measured.
Individual rights set countries apart
The message is crystal clear: secularisation occurs before economic development and not after it. This means we can rule out Durkheim’s functionalist model, but we cannot declare victory for Weber. Any human society is a cacophony of tangled causes, effects and dynamic emergent phenomena. To seek a single cause for anything in this arena is a mug’s game. So we checked if something else offers a more convincing explanation.
For example, a respect for the rights of individuals is the moral triumph of the humanitarian revolution and might provide the “leg up” that societies need to reach economic prosperity. A respect for individual rights requires tolerance of homosexuality, abortion and divorce and we showed that secular societies only become prosperous once they have evolved a greater respect for these individual rights.
If we zoom in on different regions of the world, we see some rich countries that are religious and some poor ones that are secular. Countries like the US and the Catholic countries of Europe have become economically prosperous, yet religion remains important. Conversely, the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe are some of the most secular on Earth, but have middling economic performance. It turns out that it’s a respect for individual rights that separates the rich from the poor – despite the law sometimes being slow to catch up with people’s opinions in some countries.
Though we shouldn’t ignore the role of religion. It’s easy to see why individual rights flower once religious influence has withered. That said, there’s no reason why individual rights can’t exist in a religious world. If religious institutions can become less of a conservative force and embrace modern cultural values, then they could provide moral guidance for the economically prosperous societies of the future.
Is that ‘midlife crisis’ really Alzheimer’s disease?
Author: Carmela Tartaglia, Clinician-Scientist, University Health Network and Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Disclosure statement: Carmela Tartaglia receives funding from CIHR, NIH, Biogen, Eli Lilly, Roche, AstraZeneca. She is affiliated with the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto.
Partners: University of Toronto provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation CA.
Imagine you tell your 55 year-old mom you’re going to get married and she’s too disorganized to help you with the wedding preparations. Or you put your kids on the bus to elementary school and the 57 year-old driver forgets the route.
These are real scenarios, drawn from my clinical work with patients who have young-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
This is the other face of dementia — no white hair or wrinkles. And it is relatively common. Approximately five per cent of Alzheimer’s patients are younger than 65.
While the underlying pathology of both young-onset and late-onset Alzheimer’s is the same — the abnormal accumulation of proteins called amyloid and tau in the brain — there are significant differences in how the two diseases are experienced.
Patients who are under 65, for example, often have difficulties with language, visual processing and organizing and planning. They have less of the classic memory complaints.
There is also accumulating evidence that young-onset Alzheimer’s progresses faster.
Dementia confused with depression
The path to a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia is often long, meandering and riddled with misdiagnosis.
A correct diagnosis is essential for every patient but especially important for younger people. They are often still working and at risk of losing their jobs. They may have young children. When they tell people that something isn’t quite right, they are told they are depressed or must be going through a midlife crisis.
Many times, younger patients will notice changes in their cognition at very early stages. They may notice increased difficulty in organization or planning. They may forget how to do complex tasks or forget appointments. Cognitive impairment is more obvious when completing highly demanding tasks at work or co-ordinating family logistics.
When a young person goes to see their doctor and reports such changes in cognition, the “d” word brought up is usually depression and not dementia.
Until the correct diagnosis is made, there can be many misinterpretations of their changes in thinking — resulting in conflicts with family, friends and colleagues.
Divorce before diagnosis
Initially, a change in personality can be misinterpreted by the partner as indifference, as a midlife crisis or as something else.
There can be a changing of roles within a couple and it is not uncommon for separation or divorce to occur before a diagnosis is even made.
If young children are involved, it can be difficult for them to understand the change in their parent’s personality.
Getting services for young-onset Alzheiner’s can be especially challenging. There are very few programs that cater to people with dementia under the age of 65.
Support for caregivers and family members of these patients is also lacking. There is a dire need for specialized programs and long-term care facilities that can accommodate those under 65.
‘Use it or lose it’
Although we have no cure for any patients with Alzheimer’s, there are clinical trials that are targeting the abnormal proteins that build up during the disease.
There is symptomatic medication — such as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors — that can help memory.
We also promote a healthy lifestyle that includes aerobic exercise because evidence shows this can slow neurodegeneration. We want people to remain cognitively active and go on learning to help their brain reserve.
Although patients with young-onset Alzheiner’s are impaired in some activities, there are many other activities that they can participate in. “Use it or lose it” is the motto we should live by when it comes to the brain and preserving its function.
Young-onset Alzheimer’s is not the only dementia that typically affects the young. Frontotemporal dementia also strikes young people. And although there are differences in presentation in these two illnesses, many of the challenges facing patients are the same.
Ongoing research is required to better understand this disease. While we search for a cure, we need to appreciate the special needs of this population. We need to target research and services to better serve patients and their families.