12 October 2018   Leave a comment

The US trade deficit with China continues to rise, despite the tariffs the Trump Administration has placed on Chinese imports.  According to CNBC:

“For January-September, China’s trade surplus with the United States was $225.79 billion, compared with about $196.01 billion in the same period last year, Reuters calculations showed.

“Overall, China’s dollar-denominated September exports surged 14.5 percent from a year ago, beating a Reuters analyst poll forecasting 8.9 percent growth in the same period. In August, Chinese exports grew 9.8 percent from a year ago.

“In September, imports into China grew 14.3 percent from a year ago, missing analysts’ predictions of 15 percent growth and slowing from growth of 19.9 percent for the month of August.”

It is far too soon to think that the US moves have “failed” to change Chinese trade behavior, but it does seem to be clear that the fear of a trade war is beginning to affect economic growth globally.  Alex Ward assesses the effects of a trade war on the world:

“On Tuesday, the IMF released a major report that projected the world’s economy will grow by 3.7 percent, which is 0.2 points lower than they had estimated in April. That’s the same rate of growth as 2017, signaling a slight slowdown — and Trump’s trade policies are a major reason why.

“'[T]he forecast for 2019 has been revised down due to recently announced trade measures, including the tariffs imposed on $200 billion of US imports from China,’ the IMF’s “World Economic Outlook” report concluded.”

The areas under the control of the Rus Empire (now known as Russians) were integrated into the Christian faith under the rule of Volodymyr the Great in the 10th century.   Christianity then split into two blocs in the 11th century, establishing Roman Catholicism in western Europe and Eastern Orthodox Christianity in eastern Europe.   Now there is a split within the Eastern Orthodox bloc as Ukraine has demanded its own Patriarch.  According to Reuters:

“A three-day synod presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, seat of the global spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians, endorsed Ukraine’s request for an “autocephalous” (independent) church.

“The synod will ‘proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine,’ a statement said.

“The synod took several decisions to pave the way for Ukraine to set up its church, including rehabilitating a Ukrainian patriarch excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church for leading a breakaway church in the early 1990s.”

The move comes as Ukraine seeks to further the distance between it and Russia after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 but has been developing since the dissolution of the former Soviet Union: “The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, earlier dominated in Ukraine but has been challenged by a rival known as the Kiev Patriarchate formed after the 1991 break-up of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.”  The independence of the Ukrainian Church is a clear indication that many believe that the Moscow Patriarchate is a tool of the Russian state. 


Posted October 12, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 October 2018   Leave a comment

Thomas Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times who often writes about world politics, sometimes insightfully and sometimes from a very parochial point of view.   His op-ed in today’s paper is worth reading.  I think he overestimates the power of the international liberal order since 1945 to contain bad behavior and certainly underestimates the strength of US allies to support that order.  But the op-ed does offer a good way to think about the unwillingness of the current US administration to call out illiberal behavior and what the consequences of not having a strong voice for human rights are for the world as a whole.  The position of the Trump Administration on the disappearance of a Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is illustrative.  When pressed on whether the US should cancel a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia because of suspicions that the Saudi government had killed Khashoggi, the Post reports:

“During an interview Wednesday night on Fox News, Trump said he wanted to find out what happened to Khashoggi but balked when asked if he would support blocking further arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as some senators have suggested.

“‘Well, I think that would be hurting us,’ Trump said. ‘We have jobs. We have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before. Part of that is what we are doing with our defense systems and everybody is wanting them and frankly, I think that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.’”

Tonight, the Washington Post is reporting that the Turkish government has audio recordings of Khashoggi being tortured and killed in the Saudi Embassy, presumably from bugs implanted in Embassy.  If true, clear evidence of the crime would make it impossible for the world to ignore.  Additionally, there is little evidence to suggest that the alleged $110 billion arms deal is really at risk–it is not even clear that such a deal was ever going to happen. 

Respect for human rights is not automatic in world politics–the system is biased in favor of the authority of states.  If one wishes to live in a world where human rights are respected, one needs to stand against the power of the state.

Posted October 11, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 October 2018   1 comment

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was very depressing, giving the world about 12 years to make the changes necessary to avoid a 2C degree increase in global temperatures.  From that perspective, the possibilities for hopeful change seem remote.  But there are possible leverage points that make change more possible.  Even though most of us consume and emit greenhouse gases, very few of us actually produce the fuels that emit these gases.  The number of entities that actually produce oil, coal, and natural gas responsible for greenhouse gases is actually very small.  According to CDP Worldwide (CDP): ” Over half of global industrial emissions since human induced climate change was officially recognized can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producing entities.”  These entities are:

1. China (Coal) 
2. Saudi Aramco
3. Gazprom (Russia)

4. National Iranian Oil 
5. ExxonMobil  (US)
6. Coal India

7. Russia (Coal)
8. Pemex (Mexico)
9. Shell (Britain/The Netherlands)

10. CNPC (China National Petroleum)
11. BP (Great Britain)
12. Chevron (US)

13. PDVSA (Venezuela)

14. ADNOC (Abu Dhabi)
15. Poland Coal 
16. Peabody (US)

17. Sonatrach (Algeria)
18. Kuwait Petroleum
19. Total (France)

20. BHP Billiton (Australia)
21. ConocoPhillips (US)
22. Petrobras (Brazil)

23. Lukoil (Russia)
24. Rio Tinto (Australia)
 25. Nigerian National Petroleum.        

The problem is that these entities are also powerful politically so it will be difficult to get them to change course.  But there is growing investor sentiment to move toward green energy, and that movement is only gaining strength.  The Guardian notes:

“But for many the sums involved and pace of change are nowhere near enough. A research paper published last year by Paul Stevens, an academic at think tank Chatham House, said international oil companies were no longer fit for purpose and warned these multinationals that they faced a “nasty, brutish and short” end within the next 10 years if they did not completely change their business models.”

South And North Korea have apparently made progress in tamping down the hostility between the two states.  Much of this progress is due to South Korean President Moon and his strong desire for reconciliation between the two.  According to Reuters:

“The two Koreas agreed to halt military drills, set up a no-fly zone near the border and gradually remove landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarised Zone, among other steps.

“The deal was sealed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their third summit in Pyongyang on Sept. 18-20.”

Apparently, the US is not pleased by these moves because they do not specifically relate to the issue of denuclearization which Washington defines as the central issue.  In a rare display of disunity, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed US displeasure with these moves. 

Posted October 10, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 October 2018   Leave a comment

Along with the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and the resignation of Interpol President, Meng Hongwei, under mysterious conditions in China, we have the savage rape and murder of Viktoria Marinova, an investigative journalist in Bulgaria, the third murder of an investigative reporter in Europe this year.   According to the Washington Post:

“Transparency International, a global corruption watchdog, has identified Bulgaria as the most corrupt member state in the European Union. Reporters Without Borders ranked it 111th out of 180 countries in its annual world press freedom index, the lowest in the European Union.”

Reporters without Borders identifies 57 journalists killed in 2018, as well as 10 citizen journalists and 4 media assistants.  Investigative reporting is one of the most important elements of a liberal society.  It is clear that those in power have decided that there are no consequences to eliminating a free press, and those who should be most supportive of a free press in the world have decided to be silent in the crimes. 

We need to keep our eyes on the Italian economy.  It is one of the largest economies in the European Union (EU) and is currently led by a coalition government that seems to be contemptuous of EU rules.   The Italian government has announced plans for significant increases in spending, even though the Italian economy remains sclerotic. The European Commission has issued stern warnings against these plans, but the Deputy Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, rejected those warnings.  According to the Australian Economic Review:

Yields on Italy’s 10-year debt spiked to 3.62 per cent after the League strongman and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, vowed to sweep away the existing European -order. He called Jean-Claude Juncker and his Commission aides ‘enemies of Europe barricaded inside their Brussels bunker'”.

The Italian government is comprised of a eurosceptic party, the 5-Star Movement  and a right wing party called the League.  The plans for spending are a direct challenge to the EU which the parties blame for the slow Italian economy.  The plans are quite substantial:

“Italy’s populist coalition is targeting a deficit of 2.4% of GDP next year, tripling the previous government’s target, as it pledges more spending despite a huge debt pile, which at about 130% of GDP is the biggest in the eurozone behind Greece.”

The plans have frightened investors, who demanded higher yield rates on Italian bonds as protection against a government default on those bonds.  The rates are at a 4 year high and unsustainable unless Italian economic growth were to miraculously pick up dramatically.   If the Italian government defaults on those bonds, there would be great panic in European financial markets. 

Posted October 9, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 October 2018   Leave a comment

The European colonization of the Western Hemisphere was a turning point in human history.  The decimation, intentional and unintentional, of the indigenous populations in the Western Hemisphere. and the enforced transfer of African populations to the Western Hemisphere as slaves, were cataclysms that defied any possibility of “normal” recovery from a population collapse.   But there were also extraordinary transformations in agriculture as Europeans gained access to foods that were completely unknown to the very bland diets of the time.   The potato and cane sugar became the primary source of calories for the poor in Europe.  But it would be hard to imagine the modern world without tomatoes, peppers, corn (maize), cassava, tobacco, vanilla, and chocolate.  Imperialism was not necessary for these foods to be transferred to other parts of the world–trade alone had introduced many of the spices of Asia to Europe long before the European conquests in Asia.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its 6th annual report and it sets out an unforgiving timeline if the world hopes to avoid a 2C degree increase in global temperature by the end of this century.   Debra Roberts, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) made this statement as the report was approved by the member governments last Saturday:  “The next few years are probably the most important in our history”.  Most reports suggest that the world has about 10 years to make changes to avoid irreversible changes to the global climate.  There was, however, opposition to parts of the wording of the final report:

“But just when the world needs to go faster, the political headwinds in some nations are growing. Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest, looks increasingly likely to elect the climate sceptic Jair Bolsonaro as president.

The world’s second-largest emitter – the US – immediately distanced itself from the report, issuing a statement that said its approval of the summary “should not be understood as US endorsement of all of the findings and key messages”. It said it still it intended to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

The summary was adopted by all governments at a closed-door meeting between officials and scientists in Incheon, South Korea that finished on Saturday. The US sought and was granted various changes to the text. Sources said the interventions mostly helped to refine the report. But they also tracked key US interests – for example, a mention of nuclear energy was included.

Sources told CHN that Saudi Arabia fought hard to amend a passage that said investment in fossil fuel extraction would need to fall by 60% between 2015 and 2050. The clause does not appear in the final summary.

Despite the urgency of the report, it is unlikely that any substantive policies will be taken by any state at this time.  Indeed, it is hard for me to imagine any state taking any additional steps as long as the US acts as if the issue is a hoax.

Posted October 8, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 October 2018   Leave a comment

Today marks the beginning of the 18th year US troops have been in Afghanistan.  The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 when the government of Afghanistan refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, the architect of the 11 September 2001 attack on the US.  The Afghan government was quickly overthrown, and a viable government has yet to be established.  Indeed, by most accounts, the Taliban control more territory now than it did in October 2001.  The Watson Institute at Brown University calculates that the total economic costs of the various military operations in the “War on Terror” since 11 September 2001 is about $5.6 trillion.   The cost to US soldiers is unbelievably high:

” First, and most important, is the cost borne by the 2,350 U.S. troops who died, the 20,092 who suffered injuries, and their families who have to live with the consequences.

“Improvements in battlefield medicine meant that more than 90 percent of soldiers wounded in Afghanistan survived. That’s better than the Vietnam War’s 86.5 percent track record. Unfortunately, that also means these veterans and their families now must live with the effects of permanent and grave damage. More than 320,000 soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq have traumatic brain injury that causes disorientation and confusion. Of those, 8,237 suffered severe or invasive brain injury. In addition, 1,645 soldiers lost all or part of a limb. More than 138,000 have post-traumatic stress disorder. They experience flashbacks, hypervigilance, and difficulty sleeping.

“On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each day according to a 2016 VA study.​ The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 47 percent of its members knew of someone who had attempted suicide after returning from active duty. The group considers veteran suicide to be its number one issue. 

“The cost of veterans’ medical and disability payments over the next 40 years will be more than $1 trillion. That’s according to Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The cost of caring for war veterans typically peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict,” Bilmes said.

John Dale Grover and Jerrod A. Laber offer this assessment of the US activities in Afghanistan over the last 17 years:

“Afghanistan is particularly pernicious in this regard, because the strategy is open-ended. The Trump administration will not put a timeline on when U.S. forces will come home, but the goals of the intervention are unachievable. In 17 years, we have been unable to build an Afghan government that is capable of providing for its own security. There is no reason to believe that will change.

“So, what we have essentially created is a situation where a war can rage on without end, with no enduring progress, and no one cares enough to stop it. That’s a bad spot for a liberal democracy to be in.”

John Mearsheimer is one of the premier American realists.  I often disagree with his analyses of world politics, but I truly admire his rigor, discipline, and his ability to provide solid evidence for every proposition he advances.  He has written a new book which is excerpted in the most recent issue of The National Interest in which he takes strong issue with the idea that liberal states should advance their values abroad.  [The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities]

“My argument, stated briefly, is that nationalism and realism almost always trump liberalism. Our world has been shaped in good part by those two powerful isms, not by liberalism. Consider that five hundred years ago the political universe was remarkably heterogeneous; it included city­-states, duchies, empires, principalities, and assorted other political forms. That world has given way to a globe populated almost exclusively by nation­ states. Although many factors caused this great transformation, two of the main driving forces behind the modern state system were nationalism and balance-­of-­power politics.”

It is also true that nationalism and balance of power politics brought us World Wars I and II.  There really has to be a better way. 

Turkish officials are claiming that Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.  Turkish officials claim to have evidence, but Embassy grounds are the sovereign territory of the Embassy state, so Turkish officials do not have the right to investigate what happens within the Embassy.  The Atlantic has reported on Khashoggi’s disappearance: “On Saturday, Reuters and others reported that Khashoggi had been murdered inside, and some reports added that his dismembered corpse had been smuggled out in multiple parcels. The Saudis say he left the consulate freely.”  If these allegations are true, the incident will pose a serious problem for the US since Khashoggi was also a journalist for The Washington Post.  The Trump Administration has been a staunch supporter of the Saudi regime, despite evidence that the Saudis have committed war crimes in Yemen

Jamal Khashoggi

Posted October 7, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 October 2018   Leave a comment

There are some weird things going in the world of dissidents.  Prominent investigators of political corruption are going missing.  Jamal Khashoggi is a well-respected Saudi Arabian journalist who is missing after being seen going into the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey.  Khashoggi is not a fierce critic of the current government of Saudi Arabia, but in some of his posts in The Washington Post he has been somewhat critical of the human rights record of the regime.  There are reports that Kashoggi has been killed.   Interpol President Meng Hongwei has also gone missing in China.  Interpol is an international organization that facilitates coordination among policy authorities across international borders, and President Meng has been criticized for helping China track down dissidents in China.   So far, there has been little official outcry about these disappearances from any major government.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing to release its sixth report on the scientific understanding of climate change.  The IPCC was created in 1988 by the United Nations and charged with releasing a report every five years on whether climate change was occurring and the steps necessary to avert it.  Every report has been increasingly confident that climate change is occurring and can be attributed directly to human, and not natural, activities.   The report is expected to be released on Sunday, but leaked copies have been made available to the press.  According to Vox:

“According to the drafts, the report finds that it would take a massive global effort, far more aggressive than any we’ve seen to date, to keep warming in line with 1.5°C — in part because we are already en route to 3°C of warming. And even if we hit the 1.5°C goal, the planet will still face massive, devastating changes. So it’s pretty grim.

There is little evidence that any country has yet to show the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to any substantial degree.

Posted October 6, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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