17 November 2017   2 comments

Zimbabwean President Mugabe appeared in public today and the military said that it was “engaging” with him, leading to fears that efforts to oust him had been unsuccessful.  But senior leaders of Mugabe’s political party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF), indicated that Mugabe no longer had the support of the party.  The move to remove Mugabe from office stems from the abysmal state of the Zimbabwean economy.  According to Reuters: “Unemployment is now running at nearly 90 percent and chronic shortages of hard currency have triggered hyperinflation, with the prices of imports rising as much as 50 percent a month.”  What is next for Zimbabwe is unclear.  His likely successor is his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa (nicknamed, the “Crocodile”) who is reputed to be just as corrupt as Mugabe.

Robert Mugabe

 

The European Union has given Great Britain two weeks to resolve two key issues in order for the talks concerning the British exit from the Union to proceed to the next phase.  The first issue is for the British to pay for its liabilities to the Union for promised commitments that will no longer be honored.  The British have offered £20 billion, but the Union insists that longer term commitments must also be included which exceed that amount.  The second issue is whether the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (which will remain a member of the Union) will remain open despite the British exit from the Union.  Both issues are incredibly complex and two weeks will not be a reasonable deadline unless Great Britain makes significant concessions.

 

The Washington Post informative article on the pro-Russian political parties has an that have recently grown-up in Europe.  Russian interference was certainly not limited to the US election in 2016.  The Russians have made significant progress in undermining the legitimacy of democracy throughout liberal societies.  The Russians have found fertile ground in the dissatisfaction of Western European polities to further their strategic interests.

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Posted November 17, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 November 2017   Leave a comment

The Israeli media, i24News, is reporting that Israel and Saudi Arabia are sharing intelligence on Iranian activities in the Middle East.   Israel Defense Force (IDF) chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot was interviewed in the Saudi newspaper, Elaf, and he indicated that there was a “complete consensus” between Israel and Saudi Arabia on the “Iranian threat”.  The report goes on:

 

“Echoing a refrain often used by Israeli political leaders, he argued that Iran wants to take control of the Middle East by creating a Shi’ite crescent, ‘from Lebanon to Iran and then from the Gulf to the Red Sea.’

“‘We must prevent this from happening,’ he implored. ‘In this matter there is complete agreement between us and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was never one of our enemies or fought each other, and I think there is a complete consensus between us and them regarding the Iranian axis'”.
Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations and the Saudis have historically backed the Palestinian Authority in its negotiations with Israel on possible Palestinian statehood.   An Arab newspaper published in Great Britain, The New Arab, has published what it claims to be a secret document from the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry that Saudi Arabia will pressure the Palestinian Authority to drop its demand for a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 in return for concessions by Israel on Palestinian statehood.   I cannot confirm that the document is authentic, but its broad parameters conform to US policy, a close ally of both Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The sands in the Middle East are certainly shifting.
I find it astonishing that the media is not covering the climate conference currently going on in Bonn, Germany.  The UN currently predicts that global temperatures will increase by 3.2ºC by 2100 given current trends.  Deutsche Welle has published a fascinating article on how four major cities in the world–New Orleans, USA, Paris, France, Cape Town, South Africa, and Dhaka, Bangladesh–will be affected in that prediction comes true.  The probable outcomes are unmanageable and will require significant investments in adaptations if policies do not change.
Hemant Kakkar and Niro Sivanathan have published an interesting paper on why political leaders who pursue a strategy of “dominance” appeal to voters.  Their argument is that economic uncertainty leads voters to prefer authoritarian policies:
“We contend that the preference for a dominant leader increases with uncertainty and competitive threats in one’s environment. When faced with a milieu of uncertainty and the resulting psychological lack of control, individuals favor a dominant/authoritarian leader who, they believe, has the capability to brave unfavorable winds and increase their future chances of success.
“We contend that, when faced with uncertainty, individuals prefer a leader who is self-assured and decisive in achieving her objectives. These are the characteristics that people expect to find in a dominant and authoritarian leader rather than in a leader who, although respected and well admired, is less willing to be forceful in pursuing her goals and is commonly perceived as lacking conviction in making tough calls”.
The hypothesis certainly explains the rise of right-wig policies ever since the Great Recession of 2008-09.  For those who prefer a socio-psychological explanation of contemporary events, the paper is certainly worth reading.

Posted November 16, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 November 2017   Leave a comment

Robert Mugabe has been President of Zimbabwe since its independence 37 years ago.  He is now under house arrest by the Zimbabwean military in what seems to be a coup d’etat although the military denies that it has seized power.   The arrest stems from doubts about the successor to the 93-year old President, whether it was to be his wife, Grace Mugabe or Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.  Last week, President Mugabe fired the Vice-President for disloyalty, clearly indicating that he wished to be succeeded by his wife.   Manangagwa, however, had strong support among the security forces and their intervention in the politics of the country indicates that Manangagwa will likely return to the country as the legitimate successor.

The political infighting is limited to the elites of Zimbabwe.  Both Mugabe and Manangagwa have misruled Zimbabwe and the country–which has the natural resource base to be one of the richest countries in Africa–is in economic ruins.  They have been accomplices in political crimes against the people of Zimbabwe.

 

According to US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) statistics, the number of simple and aggravated assaults in 2016 against Muslims in the US has exceeded the number in 2001.  Hate crimes rose sharply in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center:

“Overall, there were 307 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2016, marking a 19% increase from the previous year. This rise in hate crimes builds on an even sharper increase the year before, when the total number of anti-Muslim incidents rose 67%, from 154 in 2014 to 257 in 2015.

“As in previous years, the largest number of all types of hate crime incidents against religious groups targeted Jews. In 2016, there were 684 anti-Jewish hate crime incidents, marking a slight increase from 664 in 2015. By comparison, in 2016, there were 62 hate crimes against Catholics and 15 against Protestants.”

The increase is a very worrying sign for civil society in the US which has begun to fray beyond recognition.

 

Venezuela came perilously close to defaulting on its international debts but was bailed out at the last minute by Russia and China.  Venezuela is estimated to owe between $120 and $140 billion to foreign lenders, but its foreign reserves are close to zero.   The US has imposed sanctions on many individuals in Venezuela to express its opposition to Venezuelan President Maduro’s dismantling of democratic institutions in the country.  But as the US withdraws, China and Russia move in to prop the regime up.

Posted November 15, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

14 November 2017   Leave a comment

The US Senate is beginning to investigate whether the US President, in its Constitutional role as Commander-in-Chief, has the unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons.  The Constitution grants only the US Congress to declare war, but after the invention of nuclear weapons there grew up an implicit understanding that given the time frame of a nuclear strike–30 minutes after the invention of ballistic missiles–the Congressional requirement was not appropriate for nuclear weapons.  This review is long overdue, not only for the citizens of the US but also for all the people in the planet.  Such a consequential decision should not be made without some degree of institutional oversight.  I doubt that any news laws will be passed, but we need to sustain the debate.

The “nuclear football” follows the President wherever he goes.  On several occasions, the President has been separated from the passcard (known as the “biscuit”) that verifies his identity to initiate the process of launching a US nuclear attack.

 

Fortune magazine has published an article on the distribution of wealth in the world based on information provided by the Swiss bank, Credit Suisse.  According to the article:

“Looking at the bottom of the wealth distribution, 3.5 billion people—corresponding to 70% of all adults in the world—own less than $10,000. Those with low wealth tend to be disproportionately found among the younger age groups, who have had little chance to accumulate assets, but we find that millennials face particularly challenging circumstances compared to other generations”.

Further, from the Credit Suisse report itself:

“But confidence in the future has been eroded, and there is a growing sense that the economic recovery is shallow, and has not reached all layers of society. Evidence from our global wealth database supports this view. Using current US dollar exchange rates, wealth per adult has grown at a slower pace during the last nine years, while median wealth has not risen at all in many parts of the world, reinforcing concerns that we will not return soon to the robust and inclusive growth experienced at the start of the century”

This trend toward greater inequality is both politically and economically unstable.

 

Time for Peace Courtesy of NASA

 

Posted November 14, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 November 2017   Leave a comment

Carbon emissions have increased this year ending hope that the leveling off of emissions over the last three years–“0.7 percent increase was reported in 2014, no increase in 2015, and 0.2 percent in 2016”–was a sign that sufficient progress was being made to avert climate change.  Carbon emissions are projected to increase by 2% in 2017, higher than the trend line of 2006-2015: “human-caused carbon emissions have grown at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent since 2000, but at a slower pace of 1.8 percent between 2006 and 2015”.   The data provides greater urgency to the climate conference scheduled for this week in Bonn, Germany.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Still Rising

 

The Journal Bioscience has published a “letter to humanity” signed by over 13,000 scientists (the Washington Post puts the number at over 15,000 now) warning that

“By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere.”

The letter follows the lead of a similar letter signed by scientists in 1992.  The new letter contains graphs that, with the single exception of progress against ozone depletion, demonstrate significantly worsening trends in virtually every index of the health of the global ecosystem.

 

US President Trump is flying home from his Asian trip and there will undoubtedly be a wide spectrum of interpretations of what was accomplished.  The South China Morning Post fairly comprehensive article on the Chinese view (published in Hong Kong but regarded as a media outlet favorable to the Beijing government) ran a of what actually was accomplished.  The article suggests that President Xi was successful in diverting Mr. Trump from substantive discussions on trade, human rights, and Chinese activities in the South China Sea.  The article notes that the $250 billion in commercial deals touted by Mr. Trump were only memorandum of understanding and not actual contracts.  The Asia Times noted the use of the term “Indo-Pacific” as opposed to “Asia-Pacific” and referred to the rebirth of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which includes the US, India, Australia, and Japan–an alliance once considered as a counter-weight to Chinese power in the region.  The original Quadrilateral Security Dialogue ended when Australia left the group, ostensibly under Chinese pressure.  Its resurrection seems to be an objective spurred largely by Japan under the leadership of Shinzo Abe.

 

 

 

Posted November 13, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 November 2017   Leave a comment

Poland celebrated its Independence Day today and 60,000 Polish nationalists marched to placards reading “Pure Poland, white Poland!”, “Refugees get out!”, and “Pray for Islamic Holocaust”.   Poland received its independence in 1918 after World War I, having been occupied by Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for almost two centuries.  The marchers carried flags with the falanga symbol, a vestige of the far-right movement in the 1930s.  Nationalism is definitely on the rise in many countries in the world, and fewer are afraid to embrace a “blood and soil” definition of nationalism.

Polish Marchers                                                                                                                                  Falanga Symbol

                                                      

 

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, gave a very grim prognosis on the British exit (Brexit) from the European Union.  There have been six rounds of negotiations on Brexit, but the British government seems to be paralyzed on critical issues complicated by disarray within the Cabinet of Prime Minister May.  The deadline for decisions on most issues is in December at the next meeting of the European Union in Brussels.  By then, both sides must agree on how much money Britain would have to pay to honor its previous commitments to the Union even as it leaves the Union.

 

Agence France-Presse has published a short primer on the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  If one knows little about the relationship between the two states, it is a good place to start.  Saudi Arabia has requested an emergency meeting to discuss the issue of Iran in the region.  It might be better for the Arab League to discuss the plight of Yemeni Arabs who are suffering from a cholera outbreak complicated by incessant bombing by Saudi Arabia and a blockade of Yemen that is preventing needed humanitarian supplies from reaching the beleaguered citizens.

Posted November 12, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 November 2017   Leave a comment

Visual Capitalist produced a very informative graph on how people in different countries regard globalization.  The data are compiled by YouGov and cover 19 countries.  One can go to a high resolution graphic which is easier to see by clicking here.  The poll also includes attitudes toward international trade, direct foreign investment, and immigration.  The data confirm that globalization has definitely engendered resentment in the richer countries, but it viewed more favorably by the emerging market states.  The attitudes toward immigration are sharply negative, a result that is deeply troubling.

What People Think of Globalization, by Country

 

Three days after he was inaugurated, President Trump pulled the US out of the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  There were twelve countries involved in the negotiations but, importantly, China was not part of those discussions.  In many respects, the TPP was viewed as a bargaining lever to address the significant economic clout of China.  It turns out that the 11 remaining countries in the negotiations have decided to pursue the trade agreement without the US.  The pact is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and it has dropped 20 of the most contentious issues, including an agreement on agricultural trade which was a real sticking point in the TPP.  The original pact “would’ve boosted trade ties between the US and 11 countries along the Pacific Rim that have a combined GDP of $27.4 trillion.”

 

Today was “Singles Day” in China.  It celebrates an old Chinese holiday, but took on a new life in 1993. According to Business Insider:

“Students at Nanjing University first celebrated Singles Day in 1993 as an appreciation of, you guessed it — being single. They picked November 11 (11/11) as an ode to the loneliness of the number one.”

Since 1993 it has become the most active commercial holiday in the world, larger than Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the US combined.  The Chinese spent $25 billion in 2017.  It is truly remarkable how quickly things have changed in China.

Alibaba SIngles Day

 

Posted November 11, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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