REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA
The former Republic of Macedonia is now officially the Republic of North Macedonia. The country will roll out changes to documents, currency, license plates, etc. over the next few months.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is offering to pay Hungarian women to have more Hungarian children:
The latest example of a remarkable pro-procreation government policy came just this week as the Hungarian government unveiled measures to bolster the country’s fertility rate. The fertility rate sits at 1.45 children per woman, well below the roughly 2.1 needed to maintain a population. The plan offers considerable economic incentives to have babies: For example, any woman who has four children or more would not have to pay income tax.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a conservative firebrand, said the policy stood in contrast to that of other nations that used immigration to combat decline in their populations. Under his plan, Hungarian women would have more babies. “Instead of just numbers, we want Hungarian children,” Orban said at an event Sunday. “Migration for us is surrender.”
Nothing xenophobic here.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on a tour of all the best illiberal democracies of Central Europe. He visited Hungary on Monday. The Trump administration has decided that the best way to compete with China and Russia for influence in Central Europe is to forget about silly things like democracy and human rights, which for some reason comes very naturally to Donald Trump. Outside analysts don’t seem to agree:
“The way you engage is to compete,” Pompeo told reporters at a briefing alongside his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, on Monday. And Pompeo did win some from his competition this week. The United States and Hungary finally agreed on the text of a much-debated defense cooperation agreement. And Slovakia “selected the F-16 as its next generation fighter,” as the State Department proudly proclaimed ahead of the visit.
But regional leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have made a tactic of flirting with both the United States and Russia, and playing their desires off one another.
“Granting Mr. Orbán a meeting with America’s top diplomat — without first addressing the Prime Minister’s efforts to undercut democracy, security, and U.S. interests in the region — sends the wrong message,” Chris Maroshegyi, a senior director at Albright Stonebridge Group, wrote in an email. “It emboldens the Prime Minister and confers a sense of legitimacy that he is a pivotal leader on the international scene.”
It now looks like Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will call an early election after he loses, as expected, a parliamentary vote on his government’s budget on Wednesday. Sánchez has lost the support of the Catalan nationalists who had been supporting him, so his chances of passing legislation have gone down the drain and he’s really got little choice but to hold a new vote. This is a risky move for Sánchez, who could very well lose his tenuous grasp on power in a new election, but probably better than riding out another several months full of of frustration and zero accomplishments.
With protests continuing across Venezuela on Tuesday, self-declared Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó says he will attempt to bring the humanitarian aid he’s collected into Venezuela on February 23, potentially making that a decisive day in Venezuela’s political crisis. Nicolás Maduro’s government is preventing this aid from coming into the country both because Maduro says it’s “demeaning” and because allowing it in would legitimize Guaidó and his political claims. Guaidó says he’s “ordering” the Venezuelan military to allow the aid into the country, but it very much remains to be seen whether anybody in the Venezuelan military will be prepared to obey that order. There’s still no indication that Maduro is losing his grip on power within the Venezuelan government.
Maduro is appealing to Venezuela’s fellow OPEC members for some solidarity around global oil prices. What he’d like is a commitment from OPEC not to increase production to account for any further drop in Venezuelan production, which would push prices up and put some pressure on the Trump administration via higher gasoline prices. Somehow I doubt he’s going to get much help. OPEC members would be happy to see prices go up, but because it would be good for their own economies, not because they really care about what happens to Maduro. And if those members decide at some point that it would be more advantageous to increase production, they’ll do that regardless of what Maduro wants.
Two Colombian oil pipelines–one in Putumayo province, the other in Norte de Santander province–were bombed on Tuesday, with the latter blast causing oil to spill into a nearby ravine. Colombia’s ELN rebels were likely responsible for both attacks.
The Trump administration wants a huge boost to the slush fund that lets the Pentagon get around mandatory budget caps:
Five sources—both U.S. government officials and outside sources close to the discussions—said the Pentagon in its fiscal year 2020 budget request is planning to ask lawmakers to more than double the size of the Overseas Contingency Operations account, as it is formally called, to a level not seen since the height of the Iraq surge in the late 2000s.
The Defense Department’s base budget for fiscal year 2020 is capped by law at $576 billion. The Trump administration is seeking roughly an additional $150 billion (possibly as much as $174 billion, which would bring the overall budget for defense to $750 billion) for the war fund, more commonly known as OCO, the sources tell Foreign Policy. Entire programs, such as the U.S. Army’s accounts for ammunition and training, will be moved to this war account, according to multiple sources.
These numbers could change, as the Pentagon’s budget request goes through many iterations before a final version is sent to Congress. The Pentagon plans to unveil a “skinny” budget request with overall figures on March 11—a delay of about a month due to the partial government shutdown. The full budget books will be released on March 18, a congressional staffer confirmed. The White House Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pentagon of course rejects the idea that its slush fund is a slush fund, but that’s horse shit. The OCO was created in the 1980s as an off budget emergency fund in case the US found itself fighting World War III or something approaching it. Now it’s the Pentagon’s petty cash jar funding everything from our 85 separate air wars (I may be slightly exaggerating here) to weapons acquisition. Doubling it like this would give away the game completely.