Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

21 September 2017   Leave a comment

The North Korean Press Agency issued Kim Jong-un’s response to US President Trump’s speech to the United Nations.  Here are some excerpts:

“But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

“A frightened dog barks louder…..

“The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to ‘totally destroy’ a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

“His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

“Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history…..

“Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say.

“As a man representing the DPRK and on behalf of the dignity and honor of my state and people and on my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech calling for totally destroying the DPRK…..

“Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.

“I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U. S. dotard with fire.”

It is hard to determine what Mr. Kim intends to do.  The language of the two leaders defies analysis.

 

The US Congressional Budget Office issued a report last year on the distribution of wealth in the US.  Wealth is more difficult to measure than income since it includes assets, such as homes, works of art, and other valuable objects, that are not assessed in monetary terms on an annual basis.  But wealth is probably a more important variable to measure when there are discussions about how “fair” the distribution of economic power might be in a given society.  The report described a highly unequal society:

“In 2013, families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution held 76 percent of all family wealth, families in the 51st to the 90th percentiles held 23 percent, and those in the bottom half of the distribution held 1 percent. Average wealth was about $4 million for families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution, $316,000 for families in the 51st to 90th percentiles, and $36,000 for families in the 26th to 50th percentiles. On average, families at or below the 25th percentile were $13,000 in debt.”

Moreover, the rate of change toward a more unequal society seems to be accelerating:

“The distribution of wealth among the nation’s families was more unequal in 2013 than it had been in 1989. For instance, the difference in wealth held by families at the 90th percentile and the wealth of those in the middle widened from $532,000 to $861,000 over the period (in 2013 dollars). The share of wealth held by families in the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution increased from 67 percent to 76 percent, whereas the share of wealth held by families in the bottom half of the distribution declined from 3 percent to 1 percent.”

It is unlikely that this trend is politically sustainable over the longer term.  In many respects, this data explains a great deal about the anger in the electorate which seems to be growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted September 21, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

20 September 2017   Leave a comment

Since the Great Recession of 2008-09, many governments in the world have increased their total indebtedness.  According to the Pew Research Center, “the total amount of government debt now exceeds $63.1 trillion”.   The growth of debt has been particularly high in the rich countries: “In the world’s seven major advanced economies (known as the Group of Seven), debt as a share of GDP increased by an average of 22.2% between 2008 and 2011”.   Debt is a very imperfect indicator of economic health.  The real index is whether the debt will ultimately contribute to generating economic growth that will make repaying the debt easier.  But debt is an marker for vulnerability to specific, unforeseen events.  From that perspective, we should all hope that we are not surprised by natural or political disasters anytime soon.

 

US President Trump’s speech at the United Nations has received a wide range of responses.   China’s People’s Daily ran an editorial which said:

“Trump’s political chest-thumping is unhelpful, and it will only push the DPRK to pursue even riskier polices, because the survival of the regime is at stake. It is time for the US to realize that irresponsible words and actions are backing the DPRK into a corner with no way out, and it would be a tragedy if Trump’s risky game of chicken with the DPRK crosses the point of no return.

On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave the speech high praise:

“In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech. President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded today to President Trump’s characterization of the nuclear agreement and stated that: “I declare before you that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement; but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”  He went on to say:

“The ignorant, absurd and hateful rhetoric, filled with ridiculously baseless allegations, that was uttered before this august body by the president of America yesterday (Tuesday), was not only unfit to be heard at the United Nations – which was established to promote peace and respect between nations – but indeed contradicted the demands of our nations from this world body to bring governments together to combat war and terror.”

I have yet to read an analysis of the speech that is dispassionate.  The speech clearly targeted  certain constituencies which have responded somewhat predictably.  But the language of the speech, particularly its emphasis on sovereignty and what I believe to be some misunderstandings of sovereignty suggested that the speech was an attempt to be something doctrinal.  I have not yet figured out the specifics of the doctrine.

 

Spanish authorities raided Catalan government offices and arrested several Catalan government officials in an attempt to stop the proposed referendum on Catalan independence scheduled for 1 October.  The Spanish Constitution has no provision for provincial secession and the central government argues that any effort to secede is illegal.  Up to this point, it seemed as if the referendum would not support Catalonian independence, but the raids on the Catalonian governmental offices might provoke a counter-reaction to the central government.  We should watch how this unfolds.

Posted September 20, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

19 September 2017   Leave a comment

US President Trump gave his first speech to the United Nations today.  In keeping with the character of his Presidency, the speech eschewed diplomatic language and was unusually blunt for a UN speech.  The speech was anchored in what was called “principled” realism.  He emphasized the centrality of sovereignty to his worldview, a point of view that is consistent with the language of “America first”.  But he was straightforward in condemning specific states for following policies that they believe are essential to the protection of their sovereignty (and territorial integrity).  For example, his criticism of North Korea’s nuclear program was apocalyptic:

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself and its allies, it will have no choice but to destroy North Korea…Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime”.

The purpose of war is most emphatically not to “destroy” one’s opponent; the purpose of war is to coerce one’s opponent to change a course of action.  “Destroying” another country is rhetoric that is dangerous–if practiced, it is nothing other than genocide.  Moreover, referring to the leader of a country in derogatory terms is a deliberate attempt to goad one’s opponent into a confrontation.  Referring to Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man” in a highly public forum personalizes the conflict.  Such disrespect begs a countermove and President Trump seems to want an excuse to use force against North Korea.  No leader should ever wish to use force.  The use of force is a confession of failure to resolve a dispute without violence.

Similarly, President Trump signaled his clear dissatisfaction with the nuclear agreement with Iran:

“We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program….” calling it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” and “an embarrassment to the United States.  And I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it. Believe me.”

President Trump failed to mention that the agreement was one sanctioned by the very body he was speaking to:  the United Nations.  It was also an an agreement that the US voluntarily signed, fully exercising its sovereignty to agree or disagree with the agreement.  It is also an agreement that all parties involved agree has had Iran’s full compliance.  But the US undoubtedly has the sovereign right to leave the agreement.  What President Trump left unsaid was what would come after the US leaves the agreement and whether the other six signatory countries would continue to adhere to the agreement.  It is not enough to criticize the status quo; the purpose of criticism is to propose something better.  As of yet, we have no idea what that better agreement might be.

There was also a thread to the speech that was inconsistent with the venue.  President Trump emphasized the importance of nationalism in no uncertain terms:

“Are we still patriots? Do we love our nations enough to protect their sovereignty and take ownership of their futures?”

Again, this is rhetoric, but rhetoric that is at odds in an international body whose purpose is to maximize cooperation among nations.  Indeed, these words from the Preamble to the United Nations Charter were expressed to counter the excesses of nationalism that had led to World Wars I and II:

  • to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
  • to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
  • to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
  • to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples

We will have a much better sense of the impact of the speech after more time to reflect on the words.

 

 

Posted September 19, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

18 September 2017   Leave a comment

Russian President Putin personally observed the Russian military exercises with Belarus along the border with the Baltic States.  It apparently is an impressive show of military power with 250 tanks and 70 fighter aircraft involved.   Russia asserts that the exercise is purely defensive, but what one side may regard as defensive is invariably viewed by the other side as offensive.  The US  military and NATO forces are wargaming the exercise as well.  The critical question is whether all Russian forces and military equipment are removed when the exercise ends in two days.  If not, the pre-positioned forces will cause a high degree of concern among the Baltic allies in NATO.

 

The Syrian government has sent its military forces near the town of Deir al-Zor across the Euphrates River into an area controlled by US-backed rebels.  The river has served as an informal dividing line between those forces backing the Syrian government and those opposed to President Assad.  It has also served to keep pro-Russian and pro-US forces apart in the battle against Daesh (the Islamic State).  The area is not densely populated but it is the region where Syrian oil and natural gas reserves are located.   Thus far, the two sides have not openly clashed, but a potential clash is something to worry about.

 

A new paper has been published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that estimates that as much as 10% of world GDP is held in offshore bank accounts and it therefore not taxed.  According to the Bloomberg report on the paper:

“One-tenth of the world’s GDP is held in offshore tax havens, but that share jumps to as much of 15 percent for Europe and as much as 60 percent for Gulf and some Latin American countries, new research shows. When it comes to total offshore wealth as a share of GDP, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Argentina lead the pack, while Germany, the U.K. and France all have above-average holdings. The U.S. is slightly below average.”

The money is increasing being held in Asian tax havens because national efforts to restrict the ability of citizens to hide their money in Swiss bank accounts have been successful to a degree.  TO make sure that everyone pays their fair share for public services, these efforts should be redoubled.

Posted September 18, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

17 September 2017   Leave a comment

Germany will hold its national elections on 24 September and all the polling evidence that Angela Merkel’s party will retain control of the Bundestag.  But some observers are concerned about the apparent strength of the far-right nationalist party, Alternative for Germany (AfD).  Reuters has an excellent run-down of the candidates and parties involved in the upcoming election.  All the Germans parties have indicated that they will refuse to work with AfD, but if the polling is accurate, it could emerge with the third largest number of seats in the Bundestag, giving it considerable power.

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland of the AfD party

Alice Weidel, left, and Alexander Gauland of the AfD party

 

Since there were elections in 2006, the Palestinian people have been ruled by two political factions: Fatah, the more moderate wing of the Palestinian Authority has ruled in the West Bank; and Hamas, the more radical wing which has ruled in the Gaza Strip.  The division has undermined the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority and the welfare of the Palestinian people has suffered tremendously by the lack of leadership.  But Hamas has apparently decided to initiate a reconciliation by permitting elections and inviting the new government to take control of the Gaza.  There have been similar overtures in the past which have not succeeded, but this one, under the aegis of Egypt, seems to have a better chance of working.

 

Polls in Mexico indicate that most Mexicans now view the US very unfavorably.   The shift in attitude was very sharp and is almost totally related to the election of Donald Trump as American President.  Mexicans also have a negative view of their own country.  According to the Pew Research Center:

“Overall, the national mood in Mexico is grim: 85% are dissatisfied with the way things are going in Mexico generally, and perceptions of the national economy are not much better, with seven-in-ten believing the economic situation is bad.

“Today, Mexicans are most concerned with crime, political corruption, cartel-related violence and rising prices, though corrupt police officers and a lack of employment also alarm many. Lower-level but still significant concerns include poor-quality schools and the wealth gap.”

Americans should be very concerned about the disintegration of this relationship, one of the most important for the US and the world.

 

Billboard along Periférico avenue in Mexico City, Mexico, on July 28, 2017

Posted September 17, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 September 2017   Leave a comment

Recent research indicates that the process of climate change is even more dangerous than we have expected.  According to Scientific American:

“Scientists Yangyang Xu and Veerabhadran Ramanathan found in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that there already exists a 1 in 20 chance that the 2.2 trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere could cause an existential warming threat. This “fat tail” scenario would mean the world experiences “existential/unknown” warming by 2100 — defined in the report as more than 5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

A 1 in 20 chance is extraordinarily high.  Particularly when one considers that those odds concerning extinction will be experienced, not by us, but by our grandchildren.

 

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and associated agencies have released their annual report on the state of food insecurity in the world.  The report has a dismal conclusion:

“After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger appears to be on the rise, affecting 11 percent of the global population.

“In addition to an increase in the proportion of the world’s population that suffers from chronic hunger (prevalence of undernourishment), the number of undernourished people on the planet has also increased to 815 million, up from 777 million in 2015.”

To make matters worse, food production will have to increase by about 50% to feed the expected population in 2050.  This shortage exists despite the fact that today “there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet 815 million people go hungry.”

 

2000 Years of Economic History in One Chart

Over 2,000 Years of Economic History in One Chart

Posted September 16, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

15 September 2017   Leave a comment

Many, myself included, are perplexed by the use of violence by Buddhists in Myanmar against the Royingha.  One of the cardinal tenets of Buddhism is ahimsa, meaning “not to injure” and it is difficult to find any endorsement of violence in any Buddhist teachings.  Buddhists, however, are human and there is a history of Buddhists using violence either to defend Buddhism or in the practice of self-violence–usually self-immolation–to protest ill-treatment.  In the Mahavamsa, one of the great works of Sri Lanka, one can learn about King Dutugemunu (164 BCE – 140 BCE) who waged war against Tamils who were regarded as invaders from South India to the island.  There is a tradition of some Buddhists using violence to protect other Buddhists, but it is a dangerous departure when applied to ethnic or religious violence.   The idea is very close to the concept of the Just War in the Christian Tradition.

  Stone Figure Of King Dutugemunu At Anuradhapura

 

Every four years, the Russian military conducts military exercises on a massive scale.  The exercises are called Zapad (“West”) and this year they are being conducted in Belarus.  War games in Europe are loosely regulated by agreements between Russia and the West which allow observers from both sides to witness the maneuvers and limit the size of the contingents involved. This year, however, the Russians and Belarussians seem to be ignoring these conditions, leaving some observers worried that the large cache of armaments involved may remain in Belarus, giving the Russian military a pre-positioned advantage in a future invasion of the Baltic states.

 

The US has called on the Iraqi Kurds to call off the independence referendum scheduled for 25 September.  The US considers the scheduled vote to be “ill-advised” and “ill-timed.”  The White House statement was as follows:

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month. The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas. Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing. We therefore call on the Kurdistan Regional Government to call off the referendum and enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad, which the United States has repeatedly indicated it is prepared to facilitate.”

The referendum, if approved by Iraqi Kurds, does not demand the immediate independence of Kurdistan, and is most likely to be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the Iraqi government.  Nonetheless, Turkey and Iran, both of which have significant Kurdish populations, are also adamantly opposed to the referendum.  The President of the Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, rejected the plea from the US.

Posted September 15, 2017 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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