18 December 2018   Leave a comment

The yellow vest protests continued in France despite a government plea to suspend the protests, but the number of protesters was smaller than on the previous four Saturdays.  President Macron made a number of concessions to the protesters last Monday:  “Having already scrapped a fuel tax rise, Mr Macron promised an extra €100 (£90; $114) a month for minimum wage earners and tax cuts for pensioners.”  Those concessions seemed to have lessened the intensity of the protests, but have raised questions about the financial stability of the country since they would cost about $11 billion.  Writing in Salon, Andrew O’Hehir argues that the politics in France, Germany, Britain, and the US are all connected:

“No graduate-level comprehension of history or politics is necessary to perceive that these unfolding events in the three most important Western democracies, while unquestionably local or national in character, are not separate or disconnected. Throw in the slow-motion downward trajectory of Germany, with Angela Merkel on her way out and nationalism on the rise, and this process of decay clearly afflicts the four most important Western democracies.

“These disparate political crises are all manifestations of the same deeper phenomenon, which is amorphous and threatening and admittedly difficult to talk about. This could be called the crisis of democratic legitimacy, which has been creeping towards us from the periphery of the Western world for some time and just accelerated abruptly. We see it right now, playing out in the state capitols of Wisconsin and Michigan, in the streets of Paris, and in the pseudo-medieval rituals of the House of Commons.”

O’Hehir intimates that the deepening income inequality in these countries is responsible for this transformation.  I think it is unquestionably the cause of it.

 

 

Simon Tisdall is an editorial writer for the Guardian and I especially like his analyses of world politics.  He has an interesting take on the dispute between the US and China over the arrest of the CFO of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou.  The US has managed to persuade other countries, notably Germany, to be suspicious of Huawei products, specifically its new 5G telephone.  Tisdall considers the extra-territorial reach of US law on this matter to be out of date and inappropriate in today’s world, and China’s challenge to the US claims to be actually a challenge to US hegemony.  More importantly, Tisdall considers both the US and China to be pursuing a fool’s game in this matter:

“There can be little doubt Meng is a highly symbolic victim of this global rivalry. Typically clueless, Trump gave the game away when he explicitly linked the possible dropping of the case against her to resolving the US-China trade war. Trump’s clumsy intervention – rapidly disavowed by his own justice department – left the US looking no better than Beijing. Both sides appear guilty of what amounts, in effect, to hostage-taking – not what the world expects from superpowers.”

Humility, however, has never been a strong point for world powers.

 

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Posted December 18, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

17 December 2018   Leave a comment

A US Senate report has detailed the extent of Russian interference in the 2016 US national election.  There were two studies done: one by New Knowledge and another by the University of Oxford.  Much of the interference was done by a Russian entity called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) which conducted extraordinary misinformation campaigns, much of which targeted African-Americans.  The interference was huge:  “The new research also points to the previously underappreciated prominence of the IRA’s use of Instagram. It notes that IRA posts on the photo-sharing platform received 187 million engagements, which dwarfed the 76.5 million engagements that IRA posts received on Facebook.”  The Russian effort was incredibly sophisticated and showed an uncanny understanding of American culture and politics.   The effort shows that we need to have a more up-to-date understanding of war.

 

 

It appears as if Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban might be overplaying his hand in his attempt to turn Hungary into an “illiberal” democracy (whatever that means).   Large protests have taken place after the Parliament passed a number of controversial laws, particularly one which gave employers the right to demand overtime from employees.  The protests mimic somewhat the yellow vest protests in France in that there is no organized opposition or recognized leaders.   But there does seem to be widespread support for the protests and there are a number of issues that the protesters are raising.

 

Posted December 17, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 December 2018   Leave a comment

The US recently stepped up additional sanctions against individuals in North Korea for human rights abuses.  In response, North Korea indicated that the sanctions have had, and will not have, any beneficial effects on the denuclearization negotiations.  North Korea went further and threatened to return to “exchanges of fire”.  The threat follows a statement by US President Trump that the US is in “no hurry” to pursue denculearization with North Korea.  It appears as if the US is content with the testing pause by North Korea, but, in the absence of some reciprocal action by the US, it is not clear how long North Korea will adhere to the pause.  Meanwhile, the US and South Korea have failed, after ten negotiating sessions, to agree on a cost sharing formula for US defense assistance.  There seems to be little progress on many fronts in the Korean peninsula.

 

 

Apparently the US is working on extraditing Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish dissident who has been living in the US for two decades, back to Turkey where he is wanted for organizing a coup against President Erdogan in 2016.  Erdogan has used the coup attempt to justify a sharp crackdown on dissent in Turkey, but the actual roots of the coup remain somewhat obscure.  The US had earlier said that it was not considering Gulen’s extradition in an attempt to deflect accusations that the extradition was being considered in order to lessen Turkish pressure on Saudi Arabia after the death of Jamal Khashoggi.  The indifference to the lives of both Khashoggi and Gulen reflects the power of realpolitik in contemporary US foreign policy.

 

 

The UN Conference in Poland on climate change has finally ended and it produced a “rulebook” for gauging commitments to the Paris Accords.  Many delegates had already left the conference by the end and there was dissatisfaction with the energy policies of the host government, Poland, for its heavy emphasis on coal for its primary energy source.  The rulebook determines the specific scientific measures that will be used to gauge progress toward reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases.  That result is significant progress since many states had been using different metrics (such as per capita emissions as opposed to absolute totals) that generally overstated the commitment to emission declines.  Now all states will be measured by the same yardsticks.  But the conference did not make any progress on developing carbon credits to spur alternative energies nor did it come up with any stronger goals for enforcing the commitments for 2020.  It is safe to say that the conference fell far short of what was necessary.  Common Dreams quotes one of the scientists criticizing the outcome:

“‘Without immediate action, even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere,’ said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International. ‘People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable and they must now carry with them the outrage of people and come to the UN Secretary General’s summit in 2019 with higher climate action targets.'”

The conference will meet again next year in Chile.

Posted December 16, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

14 December 2018   Leave a comment

Research by economist Utsa Patnaik has calculated how much money flowed from India to Great Britain during the period of British colonial rule from 1765 to 1938.  Patnaik estimates that “Britain drained a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during that period.  Al Jazeera characterizes Patnaik’s conclusions in this way:

“Yet during the entire 200-year history of British rule in India, there was almost no increase in per capita income. In fact, during the last half of the 19th century – the heyday of British intervention – income in India collapsed by half. The average life expectancy of Indians dropped by a fifth from 1870 to 1920. Tens of millions died needlessly of policy-induced famine.

“Britain didn’t develop India. Quite the contrary – as Patnaik’s work makes clear – India developed Britain.”

The common argument that colonialism was beneficial to the colonies is profoundly wrong.  But was there any reason to believe that powerful states would ever engage in altruistic behavior?

 

The British Raj

 

 

Global financial markets slumped today as data from China indicated that the world’s second largest economy was slowing down dramatically.  The slowdown is rippling through many other economies, such as Japan and Germany, and suggests that the efforts by China to stimulate the economy through easier credit was not having much of an effects.  There are many reasons for the slowdown and many analysts believe that the uncertainties associated with the trade disputes between the US and China is having a significant effect on investment decisions.

Posted December 14, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 December 2018   Leave a comment

The US Senate passed a resolution, 56-41, to end US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.  The resolution will not be acted upon by the House of Representatives this year, but will likely be considered by the House when the new Democratic leadership is empowered on 3 January.  The resolution is not veto-proof, but is an important statement repudiating the stance of the Trump Administration on Saudi Arabia.  The Senate also passed a resolution holding Crown Prince Salman as responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  The resolution ending US support for the war in Yemen is the first time the Congress has ever invoked its powers under the War Powers Act of 1973, a law that was passed in order to prevent other undeclared wars such as the Vietnam War.

 

 

British Prime Minister Teresa May survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament, securing 63% of the votes of her Conservative party members.  The vote gives May a year’s breathing space but was secured by her promise to not stand for re-election in the next scheduled election in 2022.  The vote gives May another chance to negotiate with the European Commission about the terms of the British exit from the European Union even though the Commissioners had said that they were not willing to renegotiate.  The vote did not clarify in the slightest degree what possible terms nor renegotiation exist, and suggest that no deal is likely before the scheduled departure date of 29 March 2019.   The absence of a deal will be very unsettling for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

 

 

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary moved Hungary further away from a liberal democracy by getting Parliament to pass a new law creating a parallel judiciary system over which the executive will have the power of appointment.  The new judiciary system will handle matters of corruption, electoral issues, and political protest.  The move effectively neuters the existing judiciary system and prevents it from monitoring the actions of the executive.  Another law was passed which gives employers the right to demand greater overtime hours from employees and was described by the opposition as a “slave law”.  Orban’s Fidesz Party commands a two-thirds majority in the Parliament and can essentially change the constitution whenever it desires.

Posted December 13, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 December 2018   Leave a comment

Russian President Putin regarded the fall of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century.  His ambition has been to restore Russia as a great power and the Pew Research Center has conducted a poll of 25 countries that indicates that he has been successful to a certain degree.  According to the Center:

“The prevailing view in a new 25-country poll by Pew Research Center is that Russia plays a more important role in international affairs than it did a decade ago. But increased stature does not mean being better liked. The same survey finds that views of Putin and the Russian Federation are largely negative.”

It is an interesting result.  Russia is regarded as more powerful but most people find Russia and President Putin to be not trustworthy.

 

Charts showing how publics around the world view Russia and Putin.

 

 

The Pew Research Center also conducted a poll on how citizens of both countries regard each other and the results of that poll are widely divergent.  The poll found that

“At a time of rising tensions between their countries, people in the United States and Germany express increasingly divergent views about the status of their decades-long partnership. They are divided not only on the overall state of the relationship, but also on future levels of cooperation, the importance they ascribe to each other on foreign policy and the efficacy of retaliatory tariffs.”

It is hard to interpret these results except to assume that one or the other citizenry is poorly informed for whatever reason.   My own interpretation is that the US views are historically informed, but uninformed about current disagreements between the two countries.  But it is a troubling result for two countries that genuinely need each other as a strong ally.

 

Americans and Germans diverge sharply in their views of bilateral relations

 

 

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is a highly regarded as a arms control think tank.  It has released its annual report on arms sales in the world which show that arms sales are growing substantially in the world:

“Sales of arms and military services by the world’s largest arms-producing and military services companies—the SIPRI Top 100—totalled $398.2 billion in 2017, according to new international arms industry data released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

“The total for the SIPRI Top 100 in 2017 is 2.5 per cent higher than in 2016 and represents an increase of 44 per cent since 2002 (the first year for which comparable data is available; figures exclude China). This is the third consecutive year of growth in Top 100 arms sales.

US companies dominate arms sales in the world. The chart below is from Statista.

 

Infographic: The World's Biggest Arms Companies | Statista

Posted December 11, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 December 2018   Leave a comment

A heated debate has erupted at the UN conference on climate change (COP24) taking place in Poland.  The delegates were asked to “welcome” the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that was issued two months ago that gave the world about 12 years to limit greenhouse gases if temperatures were to be kept below 2°C.  Four countries–Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the US–have been pushing hard to change the word from “welcome” to “note”.  The change may seem minor, but it would ease the pressure on various governments to take more effective action to limit greenhouse gases–the resolution would fall short of being an endorsement of the IPCC findings.  There are still five days left in the conference, so we shall see if the majority of countries will stand up to these four countries.

 

 

British Prime Minister May has cancelled the vote on Brexit which was scheduled for tomorrow saying that “If we went ahead and held the vote tomorrow, the deal would be defeated by a significant margin.”  There does not appear to be a Plan B and the whole Brexit scheme has been forced into limbo (although a decision has to be technically made by 29 March 2019).  But the agreement forged between May and the European Commission had virtually no support:

“Opposition has hardened against the withdrawal agreement. The hard Brexiteers — those who want a clean break from the EU — see this document as potentially trapping the UK in a dependent relationship with the bloc indefinitely. Those who are pro-Europe, or ultimately want to Remain, view the deal as weakening the UK and leaving it in a much worse position economically and politically.”

There are many issues complicating a deal, but the main one seems to be over whether an agreement can be reached over the border between the Republic of Ireland (which is a member of the European Union) and Northern Ireland (which is part of Great Britain and would be outside the EU if a Brexit occurs).  No one wants to see a “hard” border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland–the recent agreements between the two sides eliminating the border was purchased with a great deal of blood and political capital.  No one has any idea what happens next:  May resigns?  A new referendum?  An abrupt Brexit with no agreement?

 

 

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is incredibly ambitious, conjuring up the economic dynamism that the original Silk Road created in Eurasia.  The original plans were drawn up when China’s economy was in high gear and when infrastructural financing in Eurasia was very small.  The first phase of the Initiative is coming to a close and both China and the recipients of China’s aid are rethinking the whole enterprise.   China’s economy is slowing down and less money is available given the high levels of government debt in China.  And the recipients have soured on some of the terms of China’s aid, some of which was offered regardless of the ability to repay the loans.  It remains to be seen if the Initiative will remain as robust in the future.

The Belt and Road Initiative Projects

Posted December 10, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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