11 May 2017

*** Russia Seizes an Opportunity in North Korea


Moscow will continue to expand its economic and financial cooperation with North Korea, which in recent years has included transportation networks, fuel supplies and employment. 
Russia, which sees its growing ties with North Korea as another way to build leverage it can use in negotiations with the West, will not wield that influence just yet. 

While it cannot replace China as North Korea’s primary partner, Russia is developing the capacity to play spoiler to many U.S. plans to increase pressure on North Korea. 

As North Korea's relationship with China grows more difficult, Russia has increased its focus on the Korean Peninsula, ready to forge stronger ties with its isolated neighbor. Beijing is considering increasing pressure on North Korea to dial back its nuclear weapons program, and Russia stands ready to take advantage of the conflict. But though deepening its involvement with North Korea could equip the Kremlin with additional tools to use in its wider confrontation with the West, Russia could not hope to match Chinese influence in North Korea. Yet, Russia could still limit the pressure China is able to exert on North Korea.

*** Hamas Takes a Softer Tone and a Firm Stance


Hamas' new charter will not change the party's stance toward Israel, nor Israel's stance toward it, and the risk of fresh conflict between the two will continue to be high. 
The party's main political rival, Fatah, will keep ratcheting up the pressure to try to coerce Hamas into giving it more control over the Gaza Strip.
Though Hamas will probably compromise over economic issues, it will be loath to relinquish its authority over security functions in its stronghold. 

Hamas is changing its approach, if only slightly. When the Palestinian party unveils its new charter May 1 in a meeting from its political base in Doha, Qatar, the document will largely replicate the content of its current platform, adopted in 1988. The new charter, for example, promises to continue Hamas' Islamist ideology and opposition to Israel, whose sovereignty the group refuses to recognize. But the anticipated changes, though small, are significant. The document is expected to strike a softer tone overall, calling for moderation and unity in the global Islamic community while modifying previous language about Israel in an attempt to broaden the party's appeal and appease its foreign benefactors. And if the final version recognizes the Palestinian borders established in 1967, it will signal a powerful concession for the party, which has steadfastly insisted on the long-since obsolete boundaries that existed before 1948.

*** The Path To Peace in Myanmar Bends Toward China

Myanmar's peace process is lurching forward, though not in the way the government may have hoped. Of the more than 20 ethnic groups fighting in the country, only two of significant size have signed a national cease-fire accord. And signing the accord could be a requirement for participating in an upcoming government conference that is the next step in the thus-far fruitless attempt to end decades of conflict in the country. 

On April 25, the government announced that the long-delayed second round of its "21st Century Panglong Conference" will start May 24. However, only signatories of the 2015 Nationwide Cease-Fire Agreement (NCA) are expected to be allowed to attend. Of the eight groups that have signed it, six are either minor insurgencies or essentially civil-society groups with little to no firepower. Most of the rebel heavyweights have repeatedly rejected the idea of being forced to sign the NCA as a prerequisite for attending the conference, which would be largely meaningless without them.

The center of gravity of the peace process has moved firmly to the Chinese border in northeastern Myanmar, where key insurgent groups hold resource-rich territory, posing new complications for both Naypyidaw and Beijing.

Doval's muscle policy: If it worked in Punjab, it would in Kashmir

Unlike Indian prime ministers of the past, Narendra Modi, appointed a former spy

and not a career diplomat, Ajit Doval, as the head of the country's national security


And the decision has already shown a marked diỌerence. And the diỌerence

comes in the form of the new policy on Pakistan and Kashmir, being result oriented

rather than that of process.

Soldiers and those from the security establishment, by training and temperament,

have a diỌerent approach to solving issues concerned with threats to the country,

both internal and external.

They are taught by experience that wars and battles, of any kind and size,

The Right Way to Nurture India’s Digital Economy


The rapid emergence of business models in India’s digital space promises an unprecedented transition. The country’s earlier wave of liberalization in the mid-1990s expanded employment opportunities as well as enhanced private and foreign participation in the business sector, securing India’s position among the world’s fast-growing economies. But India’s current digital economy, still in its early days, offers new prospects for the country: innovation-driven rather than merely consumption-driven growth, the creation of new kinds of blue-collar jobs, and a genuine possibility of joining the ranks of influential game-changers in global politics.

To make good on these offerings, India needs a regulatory approach that helps innovation thrive and allows competition to play out freely, rather than ill-conceived protectionist measures. As protectionist policies are slowly advanced in an increasingly competitive space, the Indian government and other relevant actors must respond to both the specific threat of capital dumping and broader, often xenophobic, calls for protectionism.

E-commerce, broadly defined as the buying and selling of goods and services, and the transmitting of funds or data over electronic platforms, has been growing rapidly. Global retail e-commerce sales, which stood at $1.9 trillion in 2016, are projected to reach nearly $4.1 trillion— 14.6 percent of total retail spending—by 2020. A recent study predicts that India’s e-commerce revenues will grow from $30 billion in 2016 to $120 billion by 2020.

Bank NPAs: Handing Over This Hot Potato To The RBI Is A Bad, Bad Idea

R Jagannathan

The job now assigned to the RBI should really be statutorily given to the Bank Boards Bureau.

And, bank CEOs must be told their performance will be judged based on how fast they settle bad loans, so that they know they cannot drag their feet on resolving the issue.

An ordinance to give more powers to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to force banks to settle bad loans is now pending with the President for approval. It is likely to become law soon. The proposal, which will involve amending section 35 of the Banking Regulation Act, will enable the central bank to create a timeline for resolution of bad loans (six to nine months, says Mint), and the priority will be to deal with the top 50 big defaulters who account for the bulk of the bad loans.

It’s a bad idea to involve the RBI, which is the regulator and guardian of the banking system, in loan resolution issues. This is nothing but abdication of duty by the true owners of banks – and in the case of 70 per cent of the banking system, it is the government. Whom to extend loans and whose loans to write off is an executive or board decision, not that of the regulator. At best, the regulator can offer forbearance on prudential norms to lend a helping hand. The actual business of running the commercial aspects of a bank cannot be that of the regulator.

Urban Naxalism: Strategy And Modus Operandi – Part 2

Vivek Agnihotri

If the government of the day fails to come up with a counter-strategy to arrest Naxalism immediately, it may, as planned, result in a bloody civil war.

The Naxal movement is engaged in Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). This war is waged by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and civilians. If they have reached this stage, we have no one but our political leaders to blame as they have used Naxals for their political gains and shunned them when not required. Like Gahsiram Kotwal.

The modern-day guru of 4GW, William Lind, aptly observes that, “If nation states are going to survive, people in power must earn and keep the trust of the governed.” Addressing the American Council of Foreign Relations, he said, “the heart of Fourth Generation Warfare is a crisis of legitimacy of the state”. How true to the Indian model when he added that, “the establishment is no longer made up of ‘policy types’ – most of its important functionaries are placemen. Their expertise is in becoming and then remaining members of the establishment. Their reality is covert politics and not the competence or expertise. When the 4GW will visit them, their response would be to ‘close the shutters on the windows of Versailles’.”

‘Sunni Muslim NATO Alliance’ 2017 commanded by former Pak Army Chief reviewed

By Dr Subhash Kapila

The Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) sponsored by Saudi Arabia which is a misnomer as it is essentially a “Sunni Muslim NATO Alliance” has finally emerged in May 2017 commanded by former Pak Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif.

It would be fair to designate IMAFT as “Sunni Muslim NATO Alliance” as its 34 Muslim nations membership when reviewed comprises only Sunni Muslim nations. Shia –majority nations like Iran and Iraq stand excluded from this Alliance.

By its very exclusivity of being a sectarian Islamic Sunni military alliance it carries the portents of emerging as one more additional disruptive factor in the severe turbulence that plagues the Middle East and Greater South West Asia.

The above fact negates the very intent of IMAFT being brought into existence for a concerted effort by Muslim nations to fight terrorism. In effect “Sunni NATO” as better abbreviated, seems to have been the brainchild of Saudi Arabia as a combat instrument to fight Saudi Arabia’s proxy wars with its main Gulf rival and contender for regional power, namely, Iran.

Can ASEAN Save the Mekong River?

By Luke Hunt

Amid mounting concerns surrounding the degradation of the Mekong River, authorities from four of the countries responsible for the longest river in Southeast Asia met last week in Laos, raising hopes that solutions could be found for the 70 million people who rely on the Mekong for food.

It’s a task made all the more difficult since frustrated Western donors effectively abandoned the Mekong River Commission (MRC), forcing a restructure of the group controlled by two one-party states in Vietnam and Laos, a junta in Thailand, and democratic Cambodia.

That’s hardly a prescription for transparent management of such an important waterway, where priorities put first the Laos politicians and companies that stand to benefit from construction of nine dams across the mainstream of the Mekong River, and over 100 others elsewhere.

Nepal’s history, revised

 On April 21, 2006, the then-King Gyanendra of Nepal announced the restoration of the elected parliament he had prorogued earlier. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

Reinterpretation of historical events serves contemporary political objectives and this is what we witness in Nepal today. On April 21, 2006, the then-King Gyanendra of Nepal announced the restoration of the elected parliament he had prorogued earlier. He handed over executive power to a prime minister selected by the political parties themselves. This he did as a popular revolt, or jan andolan, against the autocratic monarchy swept across the Kathmandu Valley and beyond. India’s role was limited to persuading the king to return to the twin principles of constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy — principles he had so brazenly flouted since succeeding to the throne in 2001, in particular, by assuming absolute power in a royalist coup in February 2005.

China’s One Belt, One Road project causing maritime anxiety, says top US admiral

File photo of Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the US Pacific Fleets.(Reuters)

The maritime implications of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project are causing a “sense of anxiety” in the region, said Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet who is in India for consultations with his Indian counterpart and the defence ministry. 

OBOR, the upcoming Malabar naval exercise and the carrier working group were among the topics of discussion. 

Uncertainty over the OBOR initiative is being raised “in every country I visit”, Swift said. Chinese warships are making an “OBOR tour” of the Pacific Ocean now, he noted, and their actions may give some insight into what Beijing plans. 

Can China Lead the World in Fighting Climate Change?

By Li Shuo

In 2011, Beijing experienced a silent spring moment. Choking smog had hung over Northern China for days, and citizens took to social media to vent their frustration. This populist outburst fueled a war on pollution, which has seen emissions inspections, public air quality monitoring, and a three-year drop in coal consumption.

Now, as the Trump administration in the United States appears closer than ever to quitting the Paris Agreement on climate change, another major development is underway in China, but one that seems to originate from policymakers themselves. Discussions in Beijing suggest China is edging into a global climate leadership position. The question now is what the United States is doing to keep up.

The Unprecedented Promises – and Threats – of the Belt and Road Initiative

Shivshankar Menon

It has been evident since its unveiling (initially as One Belt, One Road or OBOR) in 2013 that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious attempt to unify and build a web of connectivity linked to China on a scale that has not been seen before. We have just heard in detail what is envisaged.

By its biggest definition it will directly involve 65 countries, 4.4 billion people and 29% of global GDP ($2.1 trillion). It will be backed by the New Silk Road Fund of $40 billion, the China Development Bank’s $900 billion and the bulk of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank’s (AIIB) $100 billion. The Economist estimates that over $1 trillion of “government money” will be involved in building the BRI.

The economic logic of connectivity on a trans-continental scale envisaged by the BRI is strong, particularly at a time when globalisation appears to be in retreat in the face of rising protectionism and economic nationalism in the US and the West. The slow and patchy recovery of the global economy from the 2008 crisis and its diminished prospects mean that the world needs new impetuses to growth. The BRI could certainly be one. We in India have pointed out for some time that there is an infrastructure gap in Asia that needs to be filled. The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia requires an investment of about $1.7 trillion in infrastructure. The connectivity proposed to be built in BRI is also clearly of benefit to all those exporting countries in Asia who seek better access to markets and supplies. 

The Link Between Islam And Terrorism, Explained

Jaideep A Prabhu

This book is an honest appraisal of the role of Islam, albeit one specific strand, in inspiring the unending brutality and violence. It is a must-read for anyone seeking to be better informed about the crisis of our times.

Maher, Shiraz. Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea. London: C Hurst & Co, 2016. 292 pp.

The most pressing problem occupying world leaders today is the threat of Islamic terrorism and domestic radicalisation. The realm of analyses, however, has become a toxic and vitriolic cacophony of voices that say more about the source than the subject. Amidst the deluge of Islamophobic drivel, politically correct inanities, and unconscionable apologiae for regressive, barbaric acts, Shiraz Maher's Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea comes as a breath of fresh air. Rather than attempting to explain the entire panoply of beliefs and customs under Islam, Maher restricts his analysis to the singular idea that has caused the most disruption in the international community – Salafi-Jihadism.

Forget the Mother of All Bombs — fear the Mother of All Algorithms

Chris Reed

The Mother of All Bombs made news last week after the U.S. military dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb at a site in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province laced with tunnels that suspected Islamic State militants had been using, reportedly killing up to 36 of them instantly without harming any civilians. The 11-ton GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb never actually struck the ground.

Instead, by design, it detonated over the target, lacing the air with fuel, which then atomized in a second explosion, creating immense atmospheric “overpressure” in the area that can kill people underground by turning their bodies “inside out,” in the evocative phrase of former Air Force Special Operations combat controller Edward Priest.

This massive version of what’s known as a fuel-air explosive device may seem a high-tech marvel. But the technology is old news, based on the World War II-era theories of Mario Zippermayr, an eccentric Austrian genius who worked for the Nazis and who later pioneered a method for treating respiratory diseases. Yet there’s plenty of new news on the military weapons front — including developments so striking and ominous that they eventually will require leaders in Washington, Beijing and Moscow to make some of the most profound decisions in human history.

Beware the Limits of Hard Power in 2017

by Kyle R. Brady

In the first four months of 2017, the use and threat of American military force (hard power) has substantially increased, while diplomatic and socioeconomic efforts (soft power) have been notably marginalized, with little concern for the appropriate mix of the two (smart power). Under the Trump Administration, this reliance upon hard power can be seen in his generally aggressive rhetoric; his budget proposal that provides increased funding to the Department of Defense while severely decreasing funding for the Department of State and related efforts; his positioning of top military leaders in non-military, civilian leadership positions; his framing of the evolving situations in North Korea and Iran; his willingness to grant more autonomy to the military in their overseas operations; his interest in using the military to disrupt and prevent terrorism; and recent developments in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Quite simply, President Trump seems to hold the view that most of the problems of the United States can be solved through military power, even when other courses of action may produce improved outcomes.

This is not to say that the military doesn’t have a role in the world affairs of the United States, as power projection is a central tenet of the American reputation. In this modern era, the military continually ensures that the country is safe from attack and invasion, but also has developed serious roles in counterterrorism, disaster relief, humanitarian interventions, and the general safeguarding of domestic interests in the foreign theatre. However, the limits of hard power must be remembered, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

This NASA award-winning drone startup has clients like Indian Army, Tatas queuing up

When a couple of engineers from an anonymous college make crucial equipment for the Indian Army, they have your attention. When they win a NASA competition for drone design, well, you can’t help but sit up and take notice.

Meet Mrinal Pai and Mughilan Thiru Ramasamy, mechanical engineers from RV College of Engineering, Bangalore. What started as a fascination with the concept of unmanned aerial vehicles, courtesy of what Hollywood served us in the 90s and oughties, is now a booming startup with several marquee clients and a versatile line of products.

But their story is nothing like those movies—it’s one of grit, determination and an unflinching faith in the strength of their design.

Skylark Drones Pvt. Ltd traces its roots to a small college project and lots of passion, the secret ingredient that is common to all successful ventures.

Decoding the Joint Indian Armed Forces Doctrine

Dinakar Peri

“Surgical strikes”, probably the most abused term of 2016, are now the new norm. The Joint Doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces 2017, released in April, has formally embedded them as a part of sub-conventional operations — meaning that from now on, they are among a range of options at the military’s disposal to respond to terrorist attacks.

The more interesting aspect in the second such joint doctrine since 2006 is that the scope of “surgical strikes” has been left open. There is no mention of their employment being within the country or beyond its borders — the ambiguity is intended to send a message in the neighbourhood.

Larger message lost

In this context, it is important to note that the surgical strikes in September 2016 on terror camps along the Line of Control, though much maligned due to political chest-thumping draped in the camouflage of nationalism, did achieve some far-reaching strategic objectives. They were never meant to put an end to terrorism but reversed a discourse which began in 1998 that India was out of conventional options in its quiver in the face of continued cross-border terrorism after the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests. Unfortunately, this bigger message was lost in the noise.

The Military Debate We Need

Michael R. Bloomberg 

In a turn of events that should surprise no one, the Pentagon has emerged unscathed in Congress’s budget bill. The only cost of the victory is the credibility of the Defense Department.

The Pentagon received an extra $15 billion in the spending bill that will keep the government open through September. To put it in perspective, that’s 1.5 percent of the pool of about $1 trillion that funds the Pentagon and the rest of the national defense.

Some of the rhetoric from various military leaders and members of Congress, however, seemed to suggest that nothing less than the future of the U.S. military was riding on that 1.5 percent. Top generals and members of the House and Senate armed services committees have been talking about a “readiness crisis” -- warning that after 16 years of fighting, both the troops and the equipment they use are badly unprepared to face potential threats from China or Russia.

The Defense of Gipper’s Twist

by Nathan W. Toronto

Jungle humidity is murder for Army-issued HUDs. Mine stopped working about 24.38 seconds after we touched down at Tocumen Airport, so I switched on my aftermarket specs and connected them by laser cable to the STAC—Systemic Tactical Awareness Controller. My old man gave me the specs as a graduation gift (West Point class of 2048). How he knew my Army-issued gear would stop working so quickly, I can’t say.

I stowed my HUD and shrugged at Staff Sergeant Morris. “Figures. Aftermarket tech works better.”

Morris grunted and motioned for the other human members of the HST (hybrid strike team) to debark. Morris had been distant the whole flight.

“Sergeant Morris,” I said, pulling my ruck onto my shoulder. “I hope this doesn’t feel like a babysitting assignment.”

His eyes narrowed. “It’s not that, Sir. We didn’t even rate a C-17 from Bragg, and we didn’t even get to jump from the plane. Panama’s been quiet for twenty years, and we have ROEs so strict they wired them into the STAC.” He flipped down his HUD and STACked in, nodding towards the rear ramp in frustration. “Besides, a whole HST is overkill for a three-day area defense mission.”

Misdirection: Galbraith on Piketty’s Book on Capital

by Philip Pilkington

I’ve been waiting for this for some time but now Jamie Galbraith has come out and provided an extensive discussion of Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twentieth Century. While I haven’t yet read Piketty’s book its difficult not to have heard about it given how much of a response it is getting among economics types.

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The moment the hype started I thought that something was amiss. In 2012 Galbraith and his team published an extensive empirical investigation of income distribution using new datasets that they constructed. Beyond the interview I did with Galbraith and a few other articles and the like the release of the study didn’t get much play among economist types. The reason should be obvious: whereas Galbraith arrived at heterodox conclusions, Piketty’s are mostly orthodox.

Why It's So Hard to Stop a Cyberattack — and Even Harder to Fight Back

by Christopher S. Chivvis and Cynthia Dion-Schwarz

Imagine that the United States is hit by a cyberattack that takes down much of the U.S. financial infrastructure for several days. Internet sites of major banks are malfunctioning. ATMs are not working. Banks' internal accounting systems are going haywire. Millions of people are affected.

The first question that policymakers might debate is whether such an attack deserves a military response. But several problems immediately arise. First, would the U.S. government—and specifically the National Security Agency—know for certain who had conducted the attack?

Without being able to attribute the attack, or if there were some uncertainty about who was responsible, it would be very hard to strike back. Unlike conventional attacks, cyberattacks can be difficult to attribute with precision to specific actors. In the event of a major cyberattack, pressure to respond would be immediate—and probably intense. But if a country strikes back and the forensics are erroneous, then the retaliation will have unnecessarily and inadvertently started a war.

Most—although not all—analysts agree that cyber will be a key domain in the conflicts of the future.

In a Deluge of New Media, Autocrats Swim and Democracies Sink

By Tyler Roylance

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At the beginning of the century, the spread of the internet, satellite television, and other media technologies was expected to break down old monopolies and political boundaries, making it nearly impossible for those in power to control what people read, watch, and hear.

Digital media have indeed expanded around the world at lightning speed in the years since, reaching populations that previously received news only from state broadcasters.

Nevertheless, press freedom worldwide deteriorated to its lowest point in 13 years in 2016, according to Freedom House’s latest annual report. Just 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are ranked as fully “free.”

What the optimists failed to take into account was that forces interested in maintaining control over news and political discourse would not simply accept the inevitability of their own demise, but would fight back and look for new opportunities to increase their dominance.

Google Warns Users Of Sophisticated Phishing Attack Via Google Docs

But unlike traditional phishing attacks that try to coax personal details out of you with an official-looking imitation page, this cunning scam took you to a genuine Google login window. Since this is how Google usually sends a mail when a folder is shared with someone, so it looks real and thus gets people to click on it. If you are one of the users who did click the link, Mashable suggests doing the following: If you did happen to click on the malicious link and allowed attackers into your account, you can revoke that access relatively easily.

Google has added an anti-phishing security check on its Gmail app for Android, the company announced Wednesday.

It has disabled offending accounts, removed fake pages and updated its Safe Browsing feature, which issues warnings when users visit unsafe sites.

If you click, it takes you to a page to open the “Google Docs” app with your Google account.

It asks you to choose an account and give permissions to an app called “Google Docs”.

While Google notes that not all emails to receive the warning will be risky, users should be “extra careful about clicking on links in messages that you’re not sure about”. The company said in a statement that it has “disabled offending accounts”.

Incoming! The upcoming cyber executive order

by Kenneth Geers,

Washington and Moscow have always been busy corners of cyberspace, but the first 100 days of Trump have produced too many digital controversies to keep up with, from leaks to arrests, witch hunts to untimely deaths. In the White House and Red Square, cyber espionage has given way to cyberattack, but it is far from certain how much is virtual and how much is real.

In this context, everyone is waiting for the Cyber Executive Order. We will soon see Trump’s vision for cyberspace, but his choice for Cyber Czar, former top NSA hacker Robert Joyce, suggests that the order may favor a military approach. That would be the wrong way to go: Offensive technical skills are important, but they will not address all of our current internet security challenges.

Trump is right in saying that “no computer is safe,” and as a businessman, he knows the value of inside information. Therefore, he should pretty much understand computer hacking. For years, the Russians have been arguing that cybersecurity is just one part of something more important, information security, and it turns out they were right. We thought that Russian spies would change the tally of votes in the ballot box, but instead they simply leveraged (and abused) the power of social media. For professional hackers and spies, the sky is now the limit, with national sovereignty and legal jurisdictions flouted every day.

How RAND Is Responding to Truth Decay: Q&A with Michael Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh

by ury Zap

RAND President and CEO Michael Rich has been talking about what he sees as an erosion of respect for facts and evidence in political life—a phenomenon he calls “truth decay.” He asked RAND political scientist Jennifer Kavanagh to help analyze the issue and lay out a research agenda to better understand Truth Decay's causes and consequences. RAND's editorial team interviewed Rich and Kavanagh to learn more about their work. In this edited interview, they talk about the evolution of their thinking on Truth Decay, how they define it, and the ongoing research RAND is conducting to help counter it.

What do you mean by Truth Decay, and when did you start thinking about the subject?

Michael Rich: My thinking on Truth Decay grew out of my work on the dangers of polarization, something I've been speaking on since 2005. More recently, I have been astounded by the erosion of truth in our politics. I'm using the term Truth Decay because I think it captures a phenomenon that goes well beyond the current outbreak of “fake news.”

Truth Decay describes a syndrome of distrust and disagreement. I see it as a process, not an end state. It has multiple causes and manifestations, some new and some that reach far back in history.