22 February 2019   Leave a comment

Pakistani military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, had some direct words for India as tensions over Kashmir continue to build: “We have no intention to initiate war, but we will respond with full force to full spectrum threat that would surprise you. Don’t mess with Pakistan.” The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the terrorist attack on Indian forces in Pulwama, but only after a seven day delay as Pakistan and China worked furiously to omit the word “terrorist” from the resolution. India is currently working to ban Pakistan from the upcoming cricket World Cup. India is also threatening to divert water from rivers promised to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty. There still seems to be little action designed to defuse the tension.

Venezuelan troops fired on people near the Brazilian border as humanitarian aid continues to pile up there and on the Colombian border. The troops have been ordered to prevent that aid from entering the country and both China and Russia have supported the Maduro government’s efforts to stop the flow of aid. There are competing music concerts at the borders. The Venezuelan government is supporting a concert titled “Hands Off Venezuela”and Richard Branson is holding a “Live Aid” concert for Venezuela. The dueling concerts are being held simultaneously as both sides try to appeal for international support. As humanitarian aid flows into the border areas, there are growing fears that force may be used to allow it in or to prevent it from coming in. The aid near the Colombian border city, Cucuta, is substantial but the Venezuelan military has blocked the bridge connecting Colombia with Venezuela with large containers.

The BBC has been publishing articles on what it calls “Deep Civilisation” raising issues for the future of humanity. The most recent article is on the collapse of civilizations. The article identifies the conditions that have often been associated with the decline of civilizations:

“While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations, including:
“CLIMATIC CHANGE: When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and desertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilisation, the Akkadians, the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts.
“ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.
“INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralisation of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handicaps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems….
“COMPLEXITY: Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy. Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to overcome new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue….
“EXTERNAL SHOCKS: In other words, the “four horsemen”: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues. The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders. Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic. Sometimes disasters combined, as was the case with the Spanish introducing salmonella to the Americas.
“RANDOMNESS/BAD LUCK: Statistical analysis on empiressuggests that collapse is random and independent of age. Evolutionary biologist and data scientist Indre Zliobaite and her colleagues have observed a similar pattern in the evolutionary record of species. A common explanation of this apparent randomness is the “Red Queen Effect”: if species are constantly fighting for survival in a changing environment with numerous competitors, extinction is a consistent possibility.”

All civilizations implode. They generally become too complex to manage given the resources available to them. Now that the world has become incredibly interdependent, it is difficult to imagine any collapse that would not be global in scope.


Posted February 22, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

20 February 2019   Leave a comment

The Trump Administration is planning to create a Presidential Committee on Climate Security in order to determine the national security implications of climate change. It is a 12-person committee and one of the panelists is William Happer, a noted climate change denier. Happer is a physicist who is not trained as a climate scientist; his role in the government is in the realm of laser technologies and missile defense. The Washington Post quotes Happer from a conference in 2016:

“During a December 2016 energy and climate policy summit sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Happer explained that the CO2 Coalition aimed to counter the idea that carbon dioxide is a pollutant because it is the primary driver of recent climate change.

“’I like to call this the CO2 anti-defamation league,’ he said, gesturing to a slide, ‘because there is the CO2 molecule, and it has undergone decade after decade of abuse, for no reason.

“’We’re doing our best to try and counter this myth that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant,’ he said. ‘It’s not a pollutant at all. . . . We should be telling the scientific truth, that more CO2 is actually a benefit to the earth.’”

The right amount of CO2 is a good thing, but most climate scientists agree the the levels of CO2 emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution will raise serious problems for human habitation in many regions of the globe.

The White House memo creating the new committee itself raises doubts about climate change. According to The New York Times:

“The White House memo notes that multiple scientific and defense reports have recently concluded that climate change poses a significant threat to national security, but it casts doubt on those reports, saying, ‘these scientific and national security judgments have not undergone a rigorous independent and adversarial peer review to examine the certainties and uncertainties of climate science, as well as implications for national security.’”

The assessment is hard to square with the facts. Last November, 13 Federal agencies issued a National Climate Assessment, a document required by law, that totaled 1,656 pages that left no doubt about the inevitability of irreversible climate change absent some very dramatic policy changes. At the time, the Trump Administration ignored the report.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his annual address to the nation as his popularity begins to decline as his government intends to make some economic changes, such as raising the age of retirement for a pension, that the Russian people do not favor. He also made clear that Russia views the end of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty as deeply troubling. Putin said that if the US places intermediate-range missiles in Europe, then Russia would respond vigorously. Reuters quotes Putin:

“‘Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision-making are located,’ he said.

“’These weapons, by their tactical and technical specifications, including their flight time to the command centers I’m talking about, will fully correspond to the threats that will be directed against Russia.’”

The reference to command centers is a direct reference to Washington, DC and the threat of faster weapons is manifested in the hypersonic missiles Russia claims to have developed which theoretically can stymie anti-missile defense systems. Reuters explains how Russia views the deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe:

“Any U.S. move to place new missiles in Europe would cut the time it took some U.S. missiles to reach Moscow to 10-12 minutes, Putin said, something he called a serious threat.

“Such a scenario, if left unmatched, would open up the possibility of Russia being hit by a nuclear strike before its own missiles fired in response could reach U.S. territory.

“The Russian land-based missiles that currently target the United States are based on Russian territory and therefore the flight time to major U.S. population centers would be longer than for U.S. missiles deployed in Europe. “

The Kremlin released a video of its Poseidon nuclear-power underwater drone, a device designed to create devastating tsunamis in port cities. It is impossible for me to think about the circumstances in which the use of such a weapon could be seriously considered.

Posted February 20, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

19 February 2019   Leave a comment

Michael Axworthy has written a very informative essay on the Islamic Republic of Iran fpr the New Statesman. It is a good place to begin if one wishes to find out how Iran went from one of the most important allies of the US in the 1970s to a harsh enemy after the revolution of 1979. Axworthy explains the longevity of the Islamic Republic despite the overt hostility of the US for almost 40 years:

“The other – which non-Iranians often miss or misunderstand entirely – is the success of the Islamic Republic in finally achieving national independence and self–determination after decades and centuries of humiliation and subordination by foreigners. Iranians are proud people and for many of them this achievement, which they connect directly to the revolution and the country’s endurance of the long war with Iraq is beyond price. It means many ordinary Iranians remain loyal to the Islamic Republic, at least in some way, when they might otherwise not be; and makes them determined to support it in resisting external pressure – notably, now, the exaggerated hostility of the Trump administration and renewed sanctions. It underpins and validates the determination of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, along with the Revolutionary Guards and other parts of the state apparatus, to defend and maintain the Islamic Republic.”

One should never underestimate the importance of national autonomy in world politics. The ability of regimes such as Iran and Cuba to stand up to the major powers is an important part of the legitimacy of those regimes–their failures notwithstanding–to their citizens. This dynamic may play out once again if the US pushes the Maduro regime in Venezuela too hard.

The US House Oversight and Reform Committee has issued a report that indicates that the Trump Administration has endeavored to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. The effort came despite serious reservations in the National Security Council about the possibility that the technology could be diverted to the production of nuclear weapons. The report identifies
Derek Harvey, the former Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council, as the person most directly involved with the plans. According to Business Insider:

“The whistleblowers went on to say that the career staff for Derek Harvey, the former Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council, warned him that any nuclear technology transferred to Saudi Arabia would need to reach a “123 Agreement,” or a requirement in the US’s Atomic Energy Act that would demand the Saudis agree to nine nuclear nonproliferation clauses.

“Basically, the US could legally transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia if the Saudis agreed to keep the material safe, let inspectors check on it, and never use it to make a nuclear weapon.

“Harvey’s staff reportedly warned him he couldn’t get around this law, but ‘Mr. Harvey reportedly ignored these warnings and insisted that the decision to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia had already been made.’

“‘Both career and political staff inside the White House reportedly agreed that Mr. Harvey’s directive could violate the law. One senior political official stated that the proposal was ‘not a business plan,’ but rather ‘a scheme for these generals to make some money,” the report continued.”

We should keep in mind that the Trump Administration has made the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons a central feature of its Middle East policies. There is probably nothing that would stimulate Iran to build nuclear weapons more assiduously than the specter of Saudi Arabian nuclear capabilities. Additionally, we should remember that Saudi Arabian citizens were behind the terror attacks on the US on 11 September 2001. And that Saudi Arabia is ruled by a Prince that ordered the murder of a journalist in cold blood. Finally, the idea that US solicitude toward Saudi Arabia may be fueled by the personal business interests of members of the Trump Administration.

Posted February 19, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

18 February 2019   Leave a comment

President Trump delivered a speech today at Florida International University in which he made statements directly to the Venezuelan military. Reuters quotes the President as saying: “if the Venezuelan military continues supporting Maduro, ‘you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You’ll lose everything.’” The threat comes as the US continues to send humanitarian aid to points just beyond the Venezuelan border. The apparent hope is that the promise of aid could lead younger members of the Venezuelan military to defect from the military officers who continue to support Maduro. Alex Ward, writing for Vox, describes the horrific economic conditions in the country:

Inflation in the country now hovers above a million percent, and could reach 10 million percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Food and medicine are too expensive for many to purchase. And since 2015, more than 3 million Venezuelans have left the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere, primarily in Colombia. (It’s expected that another 2 million will become refugees in 2019 alone.)”

There does not appear to be a coordinated response among the US and its allies about what the next step should be. It does seem clear that while many states would like to see a more forceful response, many fear that stronger US action will only reinforce Maduro’s position.

Violence continues in Kashmir, as Indian troops try to address the attacks launched by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), a Pakistani militia dedicated to ending Indian control over parts of Kashmir. India is contemplating responses to the attacks, but Kashmiris living in India have been subjected to increased harassment. It seems as if the situation in Kashmir is steadily becoming more volatile and there does not seem to be any strong interest by either Pakistan or India to ease the tensions. The Trump Administration has clearly signaled its support for India in the dispute: “So far, out of all the official outpouring of sympathy from across the globe, the US has been the only major power to directly name Pakistan in multiple official statements.”

Border Disputes in Kashmir

Posted February 18, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

17 February 2019   Leave a comment

US Vice President Pence gave a speech to the Munich Security Conference, an annual conference on global security issues that has been held for many decades in Germany. However, his greeting to the audience–“I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America, Donald Trump.”–was met with complete silence instead of the usual diplomatic applause. The highly unusual rebuff serves as an index to the frayed relations between the US and the rest of the world. Pence was highly critical of European states who have sought to maintain the nuclear agreement with Iran and offered stinging rebukes to China and Russia. One the other hand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech in which she criticized the US in very direct terms and she received an extended standing ovation from the delegates.

Suresh Naidu, Dani Rodrik, and Gabriel Zucman are economists who have studied economic inequality for many years and they have written a fascinating essay for the Boston Review. The essay attacks the current infatuation with neoliberalism and argues for an alternative focus in economics for “inclusive prosperity.”  They define this new perspective in this way:

“While prosperity is the traditional concern of economists, the “inclusive” modifier demands both that we consider the whole distribution of outcomes, not simply the average (the “middle class”), and that we consider human prosperity broadly, including non-pecuniary sources of well-being, from health to climate change to political rights. To improve the quality of public discussion around inclusive prosperity, we have organized a group of economists—the Economics for Inclusive Prosperity (EfIP) network—to make policy recommendations across a wide range of topics, including labor markets, public finance, international trade, and finance. The purpose of this nascent collective effort is not simply to offer a list of prescriptions for different domains of policy, but to provide an overall vision for economic policy that stands as a genuine alternative to the market fundamentalism that is often—and wrongly—identified with economics. “

In rejecting neoliberalism, the authors argue that its embrace has been fundamentally flawed and has damaged the economics profession:

“Many of the dominant policy ideas of the last few decades are supported neither by sound economics nor by good evidence. Neoliberalism—or market fundamentalism, market fetishism, etc.—is not the consistent application of modern economics, but its primitive, simplistic perversion. And contemporary economics is rife with new ideas for creating a more inclusive society. But it is up to us economists to convince our audience about the merits of these claims, which is why we have embarked on this project.” 

The authors then go through research that is being conducted by a number of economists that do not share the same assumptions about the nature of the market economy. By and large, this new research looks carefully at the way market assumptions dictate the final conclusions of any analysis. Challenging these assumptions is a long overdue task for liberal economists.

Posted February 17, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 February 2019   Leave a comment

There has been a bomb attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that has killed many Indian troops and wounded several others. The bombing was conducted by a suicide bomber and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JED), a Pakistani based group claimed responsibility for the blast. Control over Kashmir has been a contentious issue between India and Pakistan since the independence of both states in 1947. At the time of independence, the population of the area was primarily Muslim which would have suggested that it be a part of Pakistan, but, at the time, the territory was controlled by a Hindu ruler who wanted to join India. India has promised retaliation for the attack and has threatened to “isolate” Pakistan. Tensions have been ramping up between India and Pakistan for many years, and both states are currently undergoing difficult economic times. Additionally, India has scheduled national elections in May, and there is little question that tensions with Pakistan are always a mobilizing election issue.

Map of Jammu and Kashmir

Thousands of school children in Great Britain have gone on a day-long strike to protest global inaction on the problem of climate change. There were also strikes in other European states and in Australia. Lottie Tellyn, a participant in the British strike wrote an op-ed piece for The Independent in which she articulated the motives of the strikers:

“Our generation will no longer accept catastrophic changes that are negatively impacting our future. Years of limited action against climate change, years of covered up information on the climate crisis, and now we are finally saying enough is enough.

“However, our anger is not inarticulate and misdirected. It’s organised, coordinated and passionate, and we’re using it to ask for change. We deserve better from the people we’re supposed to place our trust in. We can’t even vote yet, but we will be faced with the consequences of politicians’ inaction for decades, despite the fact that we have no say in parliament….

“We demand the government declares a climate emergency, taking active steps towards climate justice; we demand reform of our education system so it teaches all young people about the extent of the climate emergency; we demand the government warns the public about the peril that we face and the urgency that is required to act; and finally, we demand the government recognises that we have the biggest stake in our future, and so lowers the voting age to sixteen.”

British Prime Minister Teresa May criticized the students for missing classes, but I suspect that the strikers could care less. There are plans for a global school walkout on 15 March.

Posted February 15, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

14 February 2019   Leave a comment

The US is hosting a “Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East” in Poland which is being attended by almost 60 states. The meeting is designed to foster multilateral perspectives on the security questions facing the Middle Eastern states and is specifically structured to encourage dialogue between Israel and Arab states. But it seems clear from the speeches thus far that the meeting is primarily designed to focus on what the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel consider to be the Iranian threat to peace in the Middle East. The question and answer period between the press and US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, highlights how central the Iranian issue is to the US:

QUESTION: Secretary Pompeo, does this summit deals with ways to combat or to fight Iran, like Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday?

“SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, look, you can’t achieve peace and stability in the Middle East without confronting Iran. It’s just not possible. They’re a malign influence in Lebanon, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, the three H’s: the Houthis, Hamas, and Hizballah. These are real threats; there are others as well. But you can’t get peace in the Middle East without pushing back against Iran.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted a inflammatory message about Iran and US Vice President Pence delivered a speech in which he identified Iran as the “greatest” threat to peace in the Middle East. Vice President Pence also attacked the European states which are trying to maintain economic relations with Iran as long as it adheres to the nuclear agreement. The Washington Post characterized Pence’s speech:

“Pence sounded incredulous and angry as he called the European banking workaround a scheme designed to ‘break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.’

“‘It’s an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the E.U. and create still more distance between Europe and America,’ he said. Pence warned that U.S. sanctions against Iran, already characterized as the toughest ever, ‘will get tougher still’ if Iran does not change its behavior and foreign policy in the region.

“The convening of the conference has been a cause of tension from the start, and efforts by the United States to assuage the concerns of European allies did little to improve the situation.

“Major European powers were not consulted before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the conference last month. The agenda was broadened after allies suggested that the Trump administration would end up showcasing division rather than unity over Iran, European and U.S. diplomats said. The United States and Poland also shelved tentative plans to circulate an agreement that conference attendees would all sign, two diplomats said.”

It is very difficult to think that such harsh words about the most important allies of the US would accomplish much. Sovereign states do not usually respond well to such open criticism.

The meeting is a mixed bag of representation. Many European states sent low-level diplomats and the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Turks, the Lebanese, the Chinese, and the Russians are not attending the meeting.

Posted February 14, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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