11 December 2017   Leave a comment

Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, is on a tour of the US investigating the state of the country’s poor people.  His most recent stop was in Alabama and his reaction to poverty in that state was shock.  As described in Newsweek:

“‘Some might ask why a U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States,’ Alston said. ‘But despite great wealth in the U.S., there also exists great poverty and inequality.’

“Alston also pointed out that the U.S. ‘has been very keen’ on other countries being investigated by the U.N. for civil and human rights issues.

‘Now, it’s the turn to look at what’s going on in the U.S.,’ Alston said. ‘There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country. And that does have significant human rights implications.’”

There are an estimated 41 million in the US, out of a population of about 320 million, who live on an income below the official poverty line.  The US record of poverty is far worse than for the vast majority of highly developed countries.


The island of Corsica is one of France’s 18 administrative regions and it has a long history of strong nationalism.  In an election on Sunday, a coalition of nationalist parties won 56.5 percent of the vote.  The demands of these parties are for greater autonomy from Paris, but not independence.  The vote, however, seems to be consistent with the Brexit vote and the turmoil in Catalonia, as well as sentiments throughout Europe suggesting disillusionment with central control.  France has never looked kindly on separatist movements throughout its history, and the vote in Corsica will likely set up some difficult negotiations.


There was a curious article in the Washington Post about the threat of biological weapons being developed in North Korea.  The article was substantive and there seems to be ample evidence suggesting that North Korea does have a biological weapons program.  And there is no doubt that a biological weapons program is incredibly dangerous and threatening.  What makes the article curious is that all the evidence supporting it is no later than 2015 which means that we have known about it for over two years.  Why, then, is the article being published now with no new information?  I suspect the article was suggested by US government officials who have an interest in accentuating American fears of North Korea.


Posted December 11, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 December 2017   Leave a comment

Stars & StripesThe US Defense Department cannot account for 44,000 soldiers is a newspaper printed for the US military and it is reporting a curious story.  whose locations are listed as “unknown”.  That number is a small percentage of the 1.3 million personnel listed as active military in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.  But, as we saw in Niger, even a small contingent of soldiers can be incredibly important and most members of Congress did not know of the 800 soldiers deployed in that country.  And the numbers of soldiers in Syria has recently been determined to be around 2,000 and not the 500 as previously reported.  If the Defense Department budget is increased in the upcoming year, perhaps the top priority should be to hire some additional accountants.


Prof. Geoffrey Rugege, is the Vice-Chancellor of the African Leadership University in Rwanda, and he has written an essay on “Ethnicity in the age of globalization”.  Rugege acknowledges the toxic politics based on ethnic distinctions in many countries in the world and points out the important role European imperialism had in developing those distinctions.  He goes further, however, and argues that globalization forces the world to rethink those distinctions. He argues that

“African states are the creation of European conquest, which restructured continent, and the end resulted in wars of liberation However, the continent itself, and individual states in particular, realize that there are advantages in belonging to the international system of globalization.

“There are benefits in the context of economic and political development. Tensions and conflicts will not be easily resolved, but diverse groups eventually discover common interests, mainly economic, that make ethnic differences a liability and disadvantage in the process development and nation building.”

These objectives are important, but given the ethnic tensions which seem to be growing stronger in states such as Myanmar and the treatment of the Royingha, it seems as if we are moving farther away from them, not closer.  The global economy, however, seems to be inexorably bringing everyone in the world together and the overwhelming role of North America and Europe in the global economy seems to be waning.  In the production of clothing and footwear, the rest of the world is clearly catching up:

“In 2018, Europe and North America will make up 49.9% of global sales of clothes and footwear, the first time they’ve represented less than half the world total. The majority of sales will instead belong collectively to Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, and the trend is expected to continue in that direction.”

Whether our politics will catch up with our economics is an open question.  Politics is largely based on nationalism; economics now seems to be completely cosmopolitan.

Posted December 10, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 December 2017   4 comments

The news is too depressing for the first snow of the season.  So, instead, here’s the newest photo of my granddaughter.  The photo should bring a smile to everyone’s faces.


Posted December 9, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 December 2017   Leave a comment

The statistics on wealth inequality in the US continue their worsening trend.  Since the 1980s there has been a clear and undeniable concentration of wealth in the upper 1% of the American population.  Edward Wolf has released a paper “Household Wealth Trends in the United States, 1962 to 2016: Has Middle Class Wealth Recovered?” NBER Working Paper No. 24085, November 2017 and his analysis is sobering:

“Over this period [1983-2016], the largest gains in relative terms were made by the wealthiest households. The top 0.1 percent saw their average wealth (in 2016 dollars) rise by over 57 million dollars or by 133 percent, that of the top 0.5 percent by over 24 million or 151 percent, and that of the top one percent by over 15 million dollars or by 150 percent. The remaining part of the top quintile experienced increases from 81 to 159 percent and the fourth quintile by 39 percent, while the middle quintile showed no change and the average wealth of the poorest 40 percent fell by $15,800. By 2016, the average wealth of the bottom 40 percent was -$8,900. “

The “trickle-down” process” is quite clearly a “trickle-up” process, from the poor to the rich.  This dynamic is no doubt part of the process of political disenfranchisement which has been so evident in American politics recently.  Moreover, the concentration of wealth and income restricts, not augments, economic growth.  The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that economic growth in the OECD region lost 4.7% of it possible growth between 1990 and 2010 because of income inequality.


Beijing, like other major cities in the world, has a number of issues that compromise the lives of its citizens.  Recently, authorities in the city have decided that there are neighborhoods that pose unacceptable risks and have taken measures to move large populations out of poor areas.   The move was ostensibly due to fire hazards, but it seems clear to many of the affected residents that the city is simply trying to remove migrant populations in an attempt to make the city more attractive to its wealthier residents.  Gentrification is happening all over the world and it is difficult to oppose, but the Chinese promises to better the lives of the poor ring hollow in these actions.


There were large protests throughout Palestinian areas in the Occupied Territories and two of the protesters were killed by Israeli forces.  The protests are in response to US President Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  There were also large protests in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Somalia, Yemen, Malaysia and Indonesia.  Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian peace negotiator, declared that the peace process is “over” and that US Vice President, who is scheduled to visit Israel next month, will no longer be welcome.   It is unlikely that the protests will change the policies of either the US or Israel, and the peace process was already non-existent.  What happens next really depends on the reaction of the rest of the world, and I doubt that the US will be able to influence that reaction in any way.



Posted December 8, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 December 2017   Leave a comment

Today is the anniversary of the Japanese Empire’s attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  It was a surprise attack although it seemed very clear at the time that an attack was going to occur at some point at some place.  The US had decrypted telegrams between the Japanese Embassy in Washington, DC and Tokyo and knew that an attack was being planned.  But the attack on Pearl Harbor was a complete surprise and destroyed the US Pacific Fleet.  The attack completely changed the opinions of much of the American population about what we now call World War II.  The US responded to the attack by declaring war against the Japanese Empire the next day, and there was little opposition to that declaration at the time.  It was a long time, however, before the US was able to conduct effective naval operations in the Pacific Theater.

The Main Targets at Pearl Harbor were the Battleships                                                   USS Arizona

More than 90 ships were anchored at Pearl Harbor. The primary targets were the eight battleships in Battleship Row.      Here's another picture of the USS Arizona.


Researchers have taken the numerous climate models being used to predict climate change and compared their predictions over time with current observations.  Unfortunately, they have found that the models with the most dire predictions are the ones that track most closely with real data.  The findings need more careful analysis, but the implication is that the models we use may be underestimating the effects of human-induced climate change.


The Pew Research Center has published some interesting results on how Indians perceive their relationship to Pakistan 70 years after the partition.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the views seem to be growing more negative, but I was struck by how central the issue of Kashmir is to those views.  Kashmir has long been a serious issue of disagreement, but its significance has not lessened with time.  The most likely explanation is that the issue is a useful political tool for various politicians.  If true, then there is little hope for possible reconciliation based upon the interests of the people who live in the contested region.

Posted December 7, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 December 2017   Leave a comment

As expected, US President Trump announced that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel and that he intends to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem signalling that shift.  The announcement was couched in terms of recognizing “facts on the ground”: non-recognition of Jerusalem had not facilitated the peace process in the past and that the Israeli government operates from the city.  These characterizations are both true, although it would have been fairer to state that the status of Jerusalem itself had been a major issue of contention holding up the peace process.

Mr. Trump tried to be very clear that the decision would not prejudice future peace negotiations.  Politico described his position in these terms:

“Trump was emphatic in declaring that his decision did not represent a shift in U.S. dedication to the peace process or a change in U.S. position on the region’s contested borders or on the possibility of a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.”

The description is disingenuous.  First, it ignores the original UN decision to create three entities in the British Mandate of Palestine: a Jewish Zone, an Arab Zone, and and an internationalized city of Jerusalem.  According to the UN:

“General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 on partition envisaged a demilitarized Jerusalem as a separate entity under the aegis of the United Nations Trusteeship Council, which would draft a statute for Jerusalem and appoint a Governor. A legislature would be elected by universal adult suffrage. This statute would remain in force for 10 years and would then be duly examined by the Trusteeship Council, with citizens’ participation through a referendum.

“The ensuing hostilities prevented implementation of the resolution. Israel occupied the western sector of the Jerusalem area, and Jordan occupied the eastern sector, including the walled Old City. Thus, there came into existence a de facto division of Jerusalem.

“The General Assembly, however, by resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948, reaffirmed both the principle of internationalization and existing rights. The Arab States, refusing to recognize Israel, did not accept it. Israel also ignored the resolution and moved to extend its jurisdiction to that part of Jerusalem which it had occupied. On 23 January 1950, Israel declared Jerusalem its capital and established government agencies in the western part of the city. Jordan, for its part, moved to formalize its control of the Old City; however, Jordanian legislation indicated that this action did not prejudice the final settlement of the Palestinian issue”

The UN made this decision because it was clear at the time that none of the parties involved could tolerate the idea of unilateral sovereignty over the city.  Despite the promises that the status of the holy sites in Jerusalem would be unchanged by Mr. Trump’s decision, sovereignty allows changes to be made.

Second, President Trump was not clear on that the decision meant in terms of recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the city.  He could have used more precise terms like “West Jerusalem” is the capital of Israel which would have recognized the “facts on the ground” since 1948 and not those of the “facts on the ground” since 1967 when Israel occupied East Jerusalem.  By not qualifying the boundaries of the city, President Trump is implicitly recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.

Third, US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the city does not necessarily mean that other states will do so as well, so in some respects the declaration is meaningless in terms of international law, although the US is regarded by most states as a very important actor in world affairs.  I doubt, however, that most states will follow suit.

I suspect that the US decision is not a function of foreign policy at all.  It will undoubtedly make the peace process more difficult in the future and the role of the US as a mediator is now irrelevant.  No state that supports a Palestinian state now has any reason to accept the US as a good-faith actor.  The US role in the Middle East is now consigned to one role and one role only: a possible counterweight to Iranian influence in the region that is so feared by the Sunni states.  The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is not an important factor in that dynamic except as it fuels popular opposition to the US.  I doubt, however, that the autocrats in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or the United Arab Emirates really care that much about dissent in the streets.

The US decision is best explained by US domestic politics.  President Trump wishes to shore up support among some Christian evangelicals who have long desired Israeli control over the city of Jerusalem (a movement known as Christian Zionism).  Christian Zionists hold that the Second Coming of Christ cannot come until Jews rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  Some regard the Christian Zionists as a major impediment to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  It may be the case that President Trump wishes to repair the damage to his constituencies done by his support for Ray Moore in the Alabama Senate race.

The move is also consistent with a demand made by one of President Trump’s chief donors, Sheldon Adelson.  Adelson contributed more than $43 million to various political campaigns in 2016, primarily to Republican candidates.  Adelson is a very strong supporter of Israel.

Posted December 6, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 December 2017   Leave a comment

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel Prize-winning economist who has written extensively on the process of globalization.  The process has unquestionably generated extraordinary economic growth, but much of that economic growth has been distributed unequally.  In particular, globalization has facilitated the move toward production in the lowest wage areas, a move that has helped workers in poor countries.  But workers in high-wage areas have been negatively affected.  Stiglitz believes that this outcome was deliberate:

“Indeed, it often seems that workers, who have seen their wages fall and jobs disappear, are just collateral damage – innocent but unavoidable victims in the inexorable march of economic progress. But there is another interpretation of what has happened: one of the objectives of globalization was to weaken workers’ bargaining power. What corporations wanted was cheaper labor, however they could get it.”

The political consequence of this unbalanced economic activity is widespread disaffection and the delegitimization of the democratic process as workers believe that their governments have sold them out to the highest bidders.


Turkey has announced that it would sever its ties with Israel if the US recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.  The Turkish declaration is the most extreme of all American allies, but it is difficult to find any US ally that supports the move: European states are unanimously opposed to the move as are all American allies in the Middle East with the exception of Israel.  What is most nettling about the proposed change is that it is very difficult to determine an underlying logic or strategy behind the change.  If the US does recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel then there is little chance of a peace process being revived, the Iranian position in the region will be bolstered, and the Palestinian leadership will be humiliated.  Many Israelis (but not all) will be delighted, but it will make the Israeli occupation more difficult and expensive.


Map of Jerusalem


Posted December 5, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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