13 July 2018   Leave a comment

I have tried very hard to avoid any posts that refer to the controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 US elections, largely because it is viewed by many as a “domestic” political matter in the US.  Moreover, the issue is highly politicized and I have long ago despaired over rational dialogue over the matter.  But the indictments issued today by the US Justice Department have, for the first time, produced credible evidence of official Russian government interference in the US political system.  The indictments identify “twelve Russian military officers” as part of the conspiracy.  The specificity of the charges is radically different from the conclusion of the US intelligence community that the Russians interfered with the US election.

One should think about these charges outside of the abstract mental box we have created for high technology.  Instead, one should think about these twelve Russian military officers and the soldiers under their command entering US territory surreptitiously on the command of the central authority of the Russian government, breaking into several US and state office buildings, and stealing thousands of files from metal filing cabinets, including personal information about 500,000 US citizens sufficient to destroy the economic lives of those citizens with the explicit intent of undermining the political process guaranteed by the US Constitution.  By any traditional measure, such an assault upon the sovereignty of a state would constitute an act of war.  My impression of the reaction of the US government and the American people is that that interpretation is not shared by many in the US.

On Monday the head of state of the US, Donald Trump, will meet with the head of state of the attacker in a meeting with no clear or stated agenda and with no other US officials present to record the conversation or to verify the substance of that conversation.  In my many years of studying world politics, I have never come across anything remotely as incomprehensible as the current situation.  At least Neville Chamberlain gave away other countries, not his own.

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Posted July 13, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 July 2018   Leave a comment

Visual Capitalist is a website that does an incredible job of creating graphics that compress tremendous amounts of information in easily comprehensible terms.  It has produced a graphic that shows the relative weight of the largest trade importers in the world.   There is little doubt that the US has a balance of trade deficit, but the real question is why do Americans buy so much stuff from others.  Most other countries have substantially smaller deficits.  Moreover, the US Treasury Department has suffered a serious outflow of staffers in its critically important international affairs office, an outflow similar to the departures of key State Department personnel.  More than 20 professional staffers have left the unit even as the US has increased its activity in international trade.  According to Bloomberg:

“About 20 career staff have quit the U.S. Treasury Department’s international affairs unit in less than a year, draining resources from a key office in the Trump administration’s escalating trade battles with China and Europe.

“The wave of departures began in September, shortly after David Malpass — a champion of President Donald Trump’s protectionist message — took over the division. The unit employed about 200 people at the end of the Barack Obama administration.
“Some of the former officials decided they couldn’t support the administration’s trade policies; others chafed at Malpass himself, whom they’ve described as disdainful of some civil servants and often unprepared, according to six people familiar with the matter.
The Unit includes the Committee for Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) which oversees foreign investments in the US and whether they affect the national security of the country.  The CFIUS is an important tool in President Trump’s policy of limiting Chinese investment in high technology in the US.  Losing key personnel makes the policy highly problematic, but the Chinese have already dropped their investments in the US as a preemptive move against further restrictions.

Visualizing the World's Largest Importers in 2017                                        

 

The US-North Korean relationship defies comprehension.  North Korean leader sent a very nice note to US President Trump, dated 6 July, that said “I firmly believe that the strong will, sincere efforts and unique approach of myself and Your Excellency Mr. president aimed at opening up a new future between the DPRK and the U.S. will surely come to fruition.”  On the other hand, US Secretary of State Pompeo went to North Korea expecting to talk with Kim who did not show up and instead visited a potato farm.  Furthermore, US officials were at the Demilitarized Zone last Thursday to meet with North Korean officials to discuss the returns of American servicemen who died in the Korean War, but the North Koreans never showed up.  It is hard to interpret these actions as anything other than a dismissal of US overtures on the subject of denuclearization.  It is hard not to conclude that the US is getting played by Kim Jong-un–President Trump apparently believes anyone who calls him “Your Excellency”.

 

 

Posted July 12, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 Jjuly2018   Leave a comment

The Trump Administration has announced another round of tariffs that could affect about $200 billion of products imported from China.  The list does not go into effect until late August and consumers and producers can comment on the tariffs before they take effect.  The list includes about 6,000 products (if one wants to peruse the list, it can be accessed here (it’s long!!).  One should expect lobbying against the tariffs to be intense.   But Ivanka Trump’s fashion line has already been exempted. The Chinese response to the announcement was swift and did not mince any words:

“Chinese society is enraged by the US trade hegemony. Some export-oriented companies in China have suffered directly from the trade war and deserve the government’s help to minimize the losses. The Chinese government can adjust economics and trade toward less dependence on the US.

“China is not alone in dealing with the US. The Ministry of Commerce said it will immediately lodge an additional complaint with the WTO over the unilateral acts of the US. Chinese people have become more confident in handling outside challenges. As long as China stays resolute, rational and calm, it will remain invincible against the US.”

Business Insider provided a list of the products most likely to be affected by the tariffs if they go into effect:

scutty chart

 

The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs has published a fascinating essay on how maps are used to make political points .  We tend to think of maps as accurate representations of both geography and political realities, but nothing could be further from the truth.  The manipulation of images and border lines have decisive effects on how we view the world.  The image below speaks volumes about how the British viewed their role in the world and how they regarded those under their control.

The British Empire, 1886

Imperial Federation, 1886

Posted July 11, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 July 2018   Leave a comment

If one has any questions about whether European states are exasperated with US President Trump, one need to go no further than to read the speech by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk:

“Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit here in Brussels, I would like to address President Trump directly, who for a long time now has been criticising Europe almost daily for, in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defence capabilities, and for living off the US. Dear President Trump: America does not have, and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today Europeans spend on defence many times more than Russia, and as much as China. And I think you can have no doubt, Mr President, that this is an investment in common American and European defence and security. Which can’t be said with confidence about Russian or Chinese spending.

“I would therefore have two remarks here. First of all, dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many. And, dear Europe, spend more on your defence, because everyone respects an ally that is well-prepared and equipped.

“Money is important, but genuine solidarity is even more important. Speaking about solidarity, I want to dispel the American President’s argument, which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies, and that the US is almost alone in this struggle. Europe was first to respond on a large scale when the US was attacked, and called for solidarity after 9/11. European soldiers have been fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan. 870 brave European men and women sacrificed their lives, including 40 soldiers from my homeland Poland. Dear Mr President, please remember about this tomorrow, when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all when you meet president Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing: who is your strategic friend? And who is your strategic problem?”

Tusk’s language is unusually blunt and harsh.  But before taking off to the NATO summit in Brussels, there was little evidence that President Trump was affected.  Mr. Trump said:

“THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s going to be an interesting time in the UK, and it’s certainly going to be an interesting time with NATO.  NATO has not treated us fairly, but I think we’ll work something out.  We pay far too much and they pay far too little.  But we will work it out, and all countries will be happy.  With the UK, that’s a situation that’s been going on for a long time.

:So I have NATO, I have the UK, which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin.  Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all.  Who would think?  Who would think?  But the UK certainly has a — they have a lot of things going on.”

When asked whether Russian President Valdimir Putin was a friend or foe, Mr. Trump said:

“THE PRESIDENT:  I really can’t say right now.  As far as I’m concerned, a competitor.  A competitor.  I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, getting along with others is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I’ve said that many times for many years.  So we’ll see.  We’re meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday.  We’ll see how that goes.”

I am certain that the other NATO leaders are deeply troubled by these remarks, particularly the one about the meeting with Putin being “easier” than with the US’s most reliable and loyal allies.  Jonathan Chait has written a very detailed story on the links between Trump and Putin for New York magazine.  The article raises a large number of very troubling questions about Mr. Trump’s vulnerability to Russian influence.

 

Israel has closed the  Kerem Shalom border crossing to the Gaza Strip.  The move comes in response to the tactic of flying kites with flaming, oil-soaked rags that land on farming plots in Israel.  The move aggravates a dire situation in the Gaza Strip.  As Jessica Corbett notes:

“Israel and Egypt have maintained a naval, aerial, and land blockade of the occupied territory for more than a decade, the Kerem Shalom crossing is how most commercial goods and foreign aid reach Gazans. Under the new restrictions, only food, medicine, and “humanitarian equipment” can come through the entry point.

“The rules, Al Jazeera noted, “will also affect Gaza’s exports, further straining an already crippled economy brought to its knees by the 12-year blockade.”

The Gaza Strip only covers 17 square miles and roughly 1.7 million Palestinians live there.  The incendiary kites are unquestionably a hazard to Israelis who live within the range of an unguided kite.  But punishing an entire people with economic destitution is disproportionately harsh. The US has also halted all economic aid to the Palestinian Authority.  There is no end game for either the Palestinians or the Israelis–just more misery for each other.

 

Ethiopia and Eritrea have reached an agreement to end 20 years of hostility.  Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a five point agreement brokered by the African Union and the European Union.  According to africanews:

“At the end of the visit, the two leaders signed a five-point agreement ending twenty-year war and restoring relations between them. The summaries read as follows:

  • State of war has come to an end;
  • The 2 nations will forge close political, economic, social, cultural & security cooperation
  • Trade, economic & diplomatic ties will resume
  • The boundary decision will be implemented
  • Both nations will work on regional peace

“The ‘State of war that existed between the two countries has come to an end,’ Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, wrote on Twitter.”

The agreement is a great step forward but we should be only cautiously optimistic.

Posted July 10, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 July 2018   Leave a comment

The trade war between the US and China will probably not have much of an effect on the overall economies of both.  But certain economic sectors will be significantly affected, and the Chinese retaliation will unquestionably have an effect on US farmers.  Two major crops, soybeans and corn, will be dramatically affected by the Chinese tariffs, and farmers of both of those crops are already facing lower prices. Tom Philpott of Mother Jones presents the relevant data:

“The current slide comes at a precipitous time for US farmers. They have about 179 million acres of the two crops growing in their fields—a combined land mass equal to nearly two Californias, and just 1 percent less than last year’s plantings. To make a profit on these crops, farmers will have to make at least $4 per bushel on corn and $10.05 on soybeans for the 2018 harvest, a University of Illinois analysis found. Currently, the two commodities fetch $3.43 and $8.40, respectively.”

We will see what the political effects of these price declines will be in the November elections in the US.

 

Just as he prepares to leave for a NATO summit, US President Trump issued harsh criticisms of the alliance.  Trump complained about the fact that only a few of the NATO allies meet their promise of spending 2% of their GDP on defense and that European states have trade surpluses with the US.  The US currently spends about 4% of its GDP on the military, but it also maintains nearly 800 military bases all around the world.  According to Bloomberg:

“Total defense expenditure by North Atlantic Treaty Organization members grew to 2.42 percent of their gross domestic product last year from 2.4 percent, the alliance said in an annual report released on Thursday in Brussels. The increase in 2016 was the first since 2009.

“The U.S. led with defense expenditure of 3.57 percent of GDP last year, up from 3.56 percent, while European nations boosted their spending on such outlays to an average 1.46 percent from 1.44 percent, according to the report. Canada, the second North American member of NATO, registered 1.29 percent last year compared with 1.16 percent in 2016.”

The difference in military spending is largely a feature of the global commitments of the US–a choice made by the US which is similar to the choice it has made to spend more than it saves which explains the balance of trade deficit as well.  It is difficult to imagine how Mr. Trump’s words will be received at the Brussels meeting, but he has definitely done a very good job of implementing Russian foreign policy.

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a serious crisis as two members of her Cabinet–David Davis and Boris Johnson–have resigned in protest of her decision in favor of retaining limited ties with the European Union after Britain leaves.  Both Davis and Johnson represent members of her party that favor a “hard” Brexit–a dramatic cessation of ties with the EU.  It is unclear whether May’s government can survive, nor is it clear that Britain’s exit from the EU is assured.  The confusion means that both Great Britain and the Union have to reconsider their options.

Posted July 9, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 July 2018   Leave a comment

The USS Mustin, a guided missile destroyer, and the USS Benfold, an anti-aircraft destroyer, have sailed through the Taiwan Strait in a show of support for what China regards as a renegade province.  But the move was substantially less provocative than many had feared.  China Times offered a nuanced interpretation of the move:

“The Pentagon told the media last month that the country would sail warships through the Taiwan Straits, triggering a round of media speculations.

“It now appears that Washington has chosen a more discreet approach: It opted for sending destroyers instead of aircraft carriers at the weekend, no drills were conducted, and the US military hasn’t officially announced the voyage.

“Since a vast stretch of the Taiwan Straits is considered an international waterway, Beijing cannot raise the issue if Washington’s passage is uneventful.”

The US has taken numerous steps on the issue of Taiwan, including allowing high level officials to visit the island, even though it acknowledged in the Shanghai Communique in 1972 that Taiwan was part of China.  It is not clear why the US continues to make the status of the island an issue, particularly in light of the trade dispute with China and the need for China’s support in the denuclearization of North Korea.

 

The Turkish government has fired more than 18,000 civil servants, including nearly 9,000 police officers, “over suspected links to terror organizations and groups ‘acting against national security.’”  The decision is based upon emergency decrees granted to the Erdogan government and represents further consolidation of his power in Turkey.  Erdogan is scheduled to be sworn in as President on Monday, and he has been in power for over 15 years.  The emergency has been going on for two years in response to a failed coup attempt against Erdogan which he has blamed on supporters of an exiled political figure, Fethullah Gülen, who is currently in the US.  Turkey has most definitely decided not to develop into a liberal democracy.

 

The US has historically taken in more refugees than any other country in the world: “Since 1980, the U.S. has taken in 3 million of the more than 4 million refugees resettled worldwide.”  But the Pew Research Center has determined that the US pattern has now changed dramatically:

“But in 2017, the U.S. resettled 33,000 refugees, the country’s lowest total since the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a steep drop from 2016, when it resettled about 97,000.

“Non-U.S. countries resettled more than twice as many refugees as the U.S. in 2017 – 69,000 – even though refugee resettlement in these nations was down from 92,000 in 2016.

“Previously, the closest the rest of the world had come to surpassing the U.S. on this measure was 2003, when the U.S. resettled about 28,000 refugees and the rest of the world resettled about 27,000.”

Unfortunately, the number of refugees in the world has increased significantly even as the doors are being closed on them.

“The decline in refugee resettlement comes as the global refugee population increased by 2.75 million, and reached a record 19.9 million in 2017, according to UNHCR. This exceeds the high in 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Refugees represent nearly a third (30%) of the world’s displaced population – people forced to leave their homes due to persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations. The number of internally displaced people – those displaced within their home country – reached about 40 million in 2017, bringing the world’s total displaced population to 68.5 million in 2017 (a total that also includes Palestinian refugees and asylum seekers).

We should all think seriously about the way we would probably want to be treated if we were refugees.  The current trend is intolerable.

Number of refugees resettled in the U.S. falls below total from the rest of the world for the first time in 2017

Posted July 8, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 July 2018   Leave a comment

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left North Korea after holding talks that he described as “productive,” conducted “in good faith” and that “a great deal of progress” was made.  He did not, however, meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.  The North Koreans, however, had a different interpretation of the talks.  According to The Voice of America:

“North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were ‘regrettable’ and it accused Washington of attempting to unilaterally force Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

“A statement by an unnamed ministry spokesman was issued a few hours after Pompeo concluded two days of talks with Pyongyang’s senior ruling party official, Kim Yong Chol, and other North Korean officials.

“The statement said the outcome of the talks were ‘very concerning’ because it initiated a ‘dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearization that had been firm.'”

The US has softened its position to a small degree.  According to The New York Times:

“For months, Mr. Pompeo has said that he would insist on achieving nothing less than the North’s ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization’ — or C.V.I.D., as it has become known. But in recent days, Mr. Pompeo and Ms. Nauert [the US State Department;s spokesperson] have stopped using that phrase, leading to speculation that the United States has begun to dial back its demands.”

The lack of progress undermines the optimistic rhetoric of the Truman Administration after the Singapore Summit.

 

A former student made me aware of an interesting change in the Mission Statement of the US Department of Defense.  The blog, Task & Purpose, identifies the change:

“For at least two decades, the Department of Defense has explicitly defined its mission on its website as providing ‘the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.’ But earlier this year, it quietly changed that statement, perhaps suggesting a more ominous approach to national security.

“The Pentagon’s official website now defines its mission this way: ‘The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide a lethal Joint Force to defend the security of our country and sustain American influence abroad.’”

The change was made in January of this year, but it was not highlighted by the Pentagon at the time.  The decision to remove the phrase “to deter war” and to replace it with to “sustain American influence abroad” suggests a more assertive role for the military in world affairs.  An interesting shift for an administration that questions the utility of long-standing alliances such as NATO.

 

Protests broke out in Haiti as the government raised fuel prices as demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  The IMF had demanded that “gasoline prices [be] increased by 38 percent, diesel by 47 percent and kerosene by 51 percent” in order to reduce the Haitian government debt.  These increases were impossible for many Haitians and the protests succeeded in forcing the government to reinstate the subsidies.  It remains to be seen, however, whetherthe protests will die out or whether they will continue.  Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and still has yet to recover from the devastating earthquake in 2010.

Protests in Haiti Over Fuel Price Increases

Tires burn at a barricade placed by demonstrators on the streets of the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petion-Ville on July 7, 2018, to protest against the increase in fuel prices. Haiti's prime minister on Saturday called for patience from residents of the Caribbean nation amid deadly protests over an unpopular fuel price rise. At least one person has died there in the past day. The capital has stood paralyzed since July 6, following the government announcement that gasoline prices would rise by 38 percent, diesel by 47 percent and kerosene by 51 percent starting this weekend.

Posted July 7, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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