6 July 2018   Leave a comment

A town in Algeria, Ouargla, recorded what is “probably the highest temperature ever reliably measured both in Algeria and in all of Africa“.  The temperature was 124.3ºF (51.3ºC).  There have been record temperatures all over the planet in the last 10 days, including a reading of 90ºF in northern Siberia on 5 July.

Location of Ouargla, Algeria, indicated by red marker


The US imposed tariffs on China at midnight on Friday and the Chinese immediately responded with an equivalent level of tariffs.  The response by China was unequivocal, as suggested by the Global Times, a newspaper that reliably reports the official Chinese position:

“Lu Kang, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, told a regular press briefing on Friday that ‘if anything, unilateral pressure is futile,’ adding that any person should not have any illusions. ‘When China’s interests are treated unfairly, it has every reason to fight back,’ Lu said.

“China is forced to take necessary retaliatory measures to defend the nation’s core interests and the Chinese people’s interests following the US’ ‘largest-scale trade war in history,’ said a statement on the website of China’s Ministry of Commerce.

“The statement was posted immediately after the US’ scheduled tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese products took effect at 12:01 pm (Beijing Time) Friday.

“‘The duties are typical bullying behavior, which will have a serious impact on the global industrial and value chain and pose obstacles to global economic recovery,’ the ministry said.

“The duties will affect ‘innocent’ transnational companies, ordinary companies as well as global consumers, it added, noting US enterprises and consumers will also be hurt.”

The Trump Administration has indicated that it intends to escalate the trade war.  According to The Guardian:

“Trump has threatened to raise tariffs if China retaliates to roughly the value of total Chinese exports to the US last year of $506bn. He told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday, ‘You have another 16 (billion dollars) in two weeks, and then, as you know, we have $200bn in abeyance and then after the $200bn, we have $300bn in abeyance. Ok? So we have 50 plus 200 plus almost 300.’”

There is no logical end to a trade war.  Such wars only end if one side capitulates and it does not appear as if the US or China is near that point yet.


Posted July 6, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 July 2018   Leave a comment

A new research paper has been published on the the possible rise in sea levels in different global warming scenarios and the economic costs associated with projected sea level increases.  The three scenarios studied are an increase of 1.5ºC, 2ºC, and what is termed the “Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5” (RCP8.5), which is the scenario based upon current projections with absolutely no attempt to limit the release of greenhouse gases.

“We provide global and coastal sea level projections with warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C by 2100. We project global sea flood costs of US$ 10.2 trillion per year (1.8% of GDP) without additional adaptation for sea level projections with warming of 1.5 °C by 2100. Adaptation is a worthwhile investment as costs could decrease to US$ 1.1 trillion per year (0.2% GDP) for the same 1.5 °C scenario in 2100. If warming is not mitigated and follows the RCP8.5 scenario, global mean sea level could rise to 86 cm (median) or even 180 cm (95th percentile) by 2100. This could result in annual sea flood costs of US$ 14 trillion per year and US$ 27 trillion per year respectively if no further adaptation were undertaken and the latter would equate to 2.7% of global GDP.”

The study clearly indicates that active steps to stem the release of greenhouse gases would be far cheaper for the world than the costs of adapting to climate change.  But the further insight of the study is that sea level rises will affect poor countries far more than rich countries, as indicated by the map of sea level rises under the three scenarios.  But a new study, published in PhysOrg, suggests that we may be significantly underestimating the likelihood of extreme climate change:

“A new study based on evidence from past warm periods suggests global warming may be double what is forecast.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-07-global-climate.html#jCp

Sea Change.


Today, Mexico imposed its second round of retaliatory tariffs against the US.  The tariffs are specifically targeted to catch the attention of important political constituencies in the US.  According to Politico:

“Mexico’s decision to impose duties on cheeses, for example, hits House Speaker Paul Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin. Wisconsin produces almost one-third of all U.S. cheese. Mexico’s tariffs also hit steel producers in Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence’s state, and motor boat builders in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio’s state.

“U.S. pork producers are expected to feel the loss even harder, as Mexico increased its tariffs on U.S. pork to 20 percent. Pork producers were already facing 10 percent duties from Mexico’s move to remove NAFTA preferential tariffs for some American products. Mexico bought almost 25 percent of all U.S. pork shipments last year.

“American dairy producers have been vocal critics of Mexico being hit with the tariffs, given that Mexico accounts for about 25 percent of all U.S. dairy exports, and purchased almost $400 million of U.S. cheese last year.”

The move comes as the US, Mexico, and Canada continue to renegotiate the NAFTA Treaty.  It also represents the first contest of will between US President Trump and newly elected Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who takes office on 1 December.


The Trump Administration has demanded that countries stop importing Iranian oil now that it has pulled out of the Iranian nuclear agreement, and has given the world a deadline of 4 November to comply.  It is highly likely that some nations will not comply and the US will probably grant exceptions to countries like China, India, and Turkey.  But Iran has issued its own ultimatum, essentially saying that if Iranian oil cannot be purchased, then no oil from the Middle East should be available to the world.  The threat is to close the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of the world passes in oil tankers.  Such a move would almost certainly result in a military conflict between the US and Iran.

Posted July 5, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 July 2018   1 comment

I will not be posting again until 5 July.  If you are an American, have a great 4th of July!

Posted July 1, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

30 June 2018   Leave a comment

A new study published in Science indicates that a committed minority of about 25% of a given group can fundamentally change the attitudes of the entire group.  The study was conducted the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania and its findings are worth pondering.  According to Scientific American:

“….the paper describes an online experiment in which researchers sought to determine what percentage of total population a minority needs to reach the critical mass necessary to reverse a majority viewpoint. The tipping point, they found, is just 25 percent. At and slightly above that level, contrarians were able to ‘convert’ anywhere from 72 to 100 percent of the population of their respective groups. Prior to the efforts of the minority, the population had been in 100 percent agreement about their original position.”

Further studies are needed to verify the findings, but they raise interesting questions about the dynamics of democracy and governance.  And we need to figure out what determines that high level of cohesion and commitment within the minority.


The UN International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva, has, for the first time since 1951, voted down the US candidate to lead it.  The US had proposed Ken Isaacs, who works for the Christian nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse, but there was evidence that suggested that Isaacs had, in the past, spoken negatively about Muslims, climate change, and refugees.  The member states also took into consideration the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and the Human Rights Council and the generally negative attitude of the current administration toward international organizations.  Isaacs was also opposed by hundreds of non-governmental organizations working with refugees and the issue of migration.


The US ambassador to Estonia, a career diplomat named James D Melville, has resigned over disagreements with President Trump’s policy toward Europe.  He joins US ambassador to Panama John Feeley and Elizabeth Shackelford, who worked in Nairobi for the US mission to Somalia,  There are also dozens of open Ambassadorships for which the Trump Administration has yet to name candidates.  The US State Department remains severely understaffed and underfunded.

Posted June 30, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

29 June 2018   Leave a comment

The news website, Axios, is reporting that US President Trump has been contemplating taking the US out of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  The details in the report are sketchy so it is difficult to determine how credible the report is.  But Axios has good sources within the Trump Administration and a US withdrawal would be consistent with President Trump’s rhetoric on the issue of trade.  Needless to say, a US withdrawal would severely hamper the mission of the WTO and somewhat self-defeating since the WTO has ruled in favor of the US in most of its decisions.  And it would be further evidence of President Trump’s desire to dismantle the international liberal order.

The Liberal World Order


The new Italian government, comprised of the populist 5 Star Movement and the right-wing League, held a very hard line on immigration and refugee policy at an all-night meeting of the European Union.  According to National Public Radio (NPR):

“In the early hours of Friday, the EU states said they agreed on a package of plans, which included key demands from Italy: more support for ‘front-line’ entry countries, stronger efforts to counter human smuggling and the establishment of more centers for holding and processing asylum-seekers.”

The agreement threatens the refugees who embark from Libya who attempt a dangerous sea route to Italy to escape the turmoil of their countries, not just in Libya but throughout western Africa.  The hardline stance of the new Italian government is apparently being well-received by the Italians as the popularity of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has soared in recent weeks.


I am still pondering the wisdom of President Trump’s meeting with Russian President Putin in Helsinki on 16 July.  The more I think about it, the more concerned I become.  Analysts believe that President Putin holds all the cards for the summit and there is little leverage that Mr. Trump can use to change Russian policy in Syria, Ukraine, or toward Europe.  Christopher Cadelago has written a very interesting piece for Politico which demonstrates how Russia has been able to control the narrative and the flow of news about its relations with the US.  Throughout the Trump Presidency, Russia has been able to leak news without the knowledge of US officials, effectively disarming their ability to control how interactions are interpreted.  The phenomenon is a distinctive part of the Russian ability to manipulate US public opinion.

Posted June 29, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

28 June 2018   Leave a comment

The RAND Corporation has published a study on the future of the international world order.  The study extrapolates economic growth into 2050 and correlates economic power with international commitments. One of the most interesting findings in the report is:

“An important finding of the study, in fact, is that the most significant overarching threat to the postwar order comes not from direct challenges by states but from rising grievances against the order’s underlying socioeconomic consensus. Historical cases suggest that orders must rest upon some normative and teleological foundation, a shared vision among the societies and governments of a critical mass of leading powers. If that fades, there is no basis for a multilateral order.”

There is little question that the consensus on liberal principles is under severe pressure in most of the countries in the world.  Yet, as of now, there is no emerging set of principles which seems to be able to take its place.



Presidents Trump and Putin will meet in Helsinki, Finland, on 16 July, right after President Trump attends the NATO meeting.  This will be a first extended one-on-one meeting between the two leaders and we do not know what is on the agenda.  NATO would like President Trump to push President Putin to pull Russian forces out of Crimea, but it seems unlikely that President Trump will do so since he believes that Russia has a legitimate claim to Crimea since “everyone there speaks Russian.”  It is also possible that they may discuss Russian interference in US elections, but President Trump tweeted today that “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”  President Trump continues to take Putin’s word despite the unanimous consensus among US intelligence officials that Russia did in fact interfere with the US elections in 2016.  Most likely, President Trump would like Putin to agree to keep Iran out of southwestern Syria in order to protect Israel.  But Putin will make that decision on the basis of his relationship to Israel–the US has no leverage over Russian decision making in Syria.  In short, it is not at all clear to me why the two leaders are meeting.

Wilson Center Interview on An Israeli Perspective on Russia’s Role in the Middle East


Sunjay Sudhir, Joint Secretary for international cooperation at India’s petroleum ministry, stated that “India does not recognize unilateral sanctions, but only sanctions by the United Nations.”  The statement was in response to the US State Department announcement that it would sanction any buyer of Iranian oil.  India buys a great deal of oil from Iran, about 700,000 barrels a day.  The decision suggests that the US and India may be heading for a confrontation.  The outcome of that dispute will undoubtedly affect how other states respond to the US ultimatum.


Posted June 28, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

27 June 2018   Leave a comment

Global Forest Watch has released a new report based upon satellite data that indicates that forest loss in 2017 was the second highest level recorded.  The losses came from agricultural activities and from forest fires associated with high drought levels in Brazil.  According to the report:

“In total, the tropics experienced 15.8 million hectares (39.0 million acres) of tree cover loss in 2017, an area the size of Bangladesh. That’s the equivalent of losing 40 football fields of trees every minute for an entire year.”

Global Forest Watch has an impressive interactive map which shows the extent of forest loss throughout the world.  There were improvements in Indonesia, but great concern over the rate of deforestation in Brazil, Colombia, and Congo.



Commercial satellite images indicate that North Korea is improving the infrastructure of the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, a facility that processes plutonium.  We cannot glean North Korea’s intent in making these improvements from satellite images, but any improvement of a plutonium processing center seems to be inconsistent with the Trump Administration’s interpretation of the success of the Singapore summit two weeks ago.  38North, one of the most reputable sites on North Korean activities, has published a number of these images and the renovations seem to be quite extensive.

Posted June 27, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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