Author Archive

11 September 2019   Leave a comment

Xenophobia can be found in virtually every nation in the world. One of the more recent outbursts of hatred toward “outsiders” has occurred in South Africa, a country that has witnessed similar outbursts in the past. Last week there were violent protests in Pretoria and Johannesburg against non-South Africans that resulted in 12 deaths and the closure of hundreds of foreign-owned businesses. One state, Nigeria, has been airlifting its citizens out of South Africa in order to give them some protection, and Zimbabwe is considering similar measures. Some of the violence stems from economic fears that immigrants taking jobs away from South Africans, but it also appears as if some politicians in South Africa are stoking the hatred as a way of consolidating greater political power. Thus far, the South African leadership is not proving up to the task of addressing this serious problem.

The British government has been forced to release a study done in August that details the likely consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit. The projections are a worst-case scenario and are suitably grim. According to The Guardian:

“The document, which says it outlines ‘reasonable worst case planning assumptions’ for no deal Brexit, highlights the risk of border delays, given an estimate that up to 85% of lorries crossing the Channel might not be ready for a new French customs regime.

“‘The lack of trader readiness combined with limited space in French ports to hold ‘unready’ HGVs could reduce the flow rate to 40%-60% of current levels within one day as unready HGVs will fill the ports and block flow,’ it warns.

“This situation could last for up to three months, and disruption might last ‘significantly longer’, it adds, with lorries facing waits of between 1.5 days and 2.5 days to cross the border.

“The reliance of medical supplies on cross-Channel routes ‘make them particularly vulnerable to severe extended delays’, the report says, with some medicines having such short shelf lives they cannot be stockpiled.

“A lack of veterinary medicines could increase the risk of disease outbreaks, it adds.

“On food supplies, supplies of ‘certain types of fresh food’ would be reduced, the document warns, as well as other items such as packaging.

“It says: ‘In combination, these two factors will not cause an overall shortage of food in the UK but will reduce availability and choice of products and will increase price, which could impact vulnerable groups.’

Later, it adds: ‘Low income groups will be disproportionately affected by any price rises in food and fuel.’

“On law and order it warns: ‘Protests and counter-protests will take place across the UK and may absorb significant amounts of police resource. There may also be a rise in public disorder and community tensions.’

The Queen has approved legislation passed by Parliament which bans a “no-deal” Brexit, but the Parliament has been suspended until mid-October. Prime Minister Johnson has indicated that he intends to challenge or evade the law. As written, the law would permit an indefinite delay in Brexit. The situation threatens the very foundations of British democracy–it is very difficult to see a way out.

Posted September 11, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 September 2019   Leave a comment

National Security Adviser John Bolton has left the Trump Administration. You can choose to think that he was fired or simply resigned because there are competing stories. Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker wrote a very interesting piece on Bolton last April if you want to read a fairly long backgrounder on his policies. I have no doubt that we will be learning more about the dismissal over the next few days–Bolton is not someone who will go quietly into the night. But his departure is not at all surprising (and I am am absolutely delighted that he is gone). The New York Times describes his legacy:

“Instead, Mr. Bolton decided to break the interagency system that had served as the heart of American foreign policy for over seven decades. Driven by confidence in his own ideas about what government should do and how it should run, he had in mind something closer to Roosevelt’s juggling: The president in a room with the national security adviser and a few aides making decisions about most important issues in the world. To realize that plan, Mr. Bolton included fewer people in meetings, made council sessions far less regular, and raced to always be by Mr. Trump’s side. There was no longer a National Security Council, in effect, just a national security adviser.

“Mr. Bolton broke government and then it broke him. As the national security adviser, he pushed for a hard line on North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Afghanistan. But without a structure behind him, Mr. Bolton was increasingly alone trying sell positions that were a hard sell to Mr. Trump, who is much less an ideologue and much harder to pin down. Eventually, Mr. Trump split with Mr. Bolton and began consulting with outsiders like the Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. When Mr. Bolton fell out with the president, the ad hoc system collapsed right along with him, as reports over the messy decision-making on the proposed Afghanistan peace deal and talks demonstrate.”

President Trump will now have to pick his fourth National Security Adviser in 3 years. US allies no longer know who to talk to or who is in charge, other than President Trump himself. Nor does the US have anyone who’s only job is to coordinate the huge intelligence apparatus of the state.

Israeli Prime Minister made an election promise to annex the Jordan Valley if elected. The election is scheduled for 17 September and the polls indicate that the election is very much up in the air. The annexation would divide the West Bank in ways that would render a two-state solution impossible, however improbable it seems at this point.

“Annexing the Jordan Valley at this particular moment is not a response to an urgent security threat. Rather, it a dagger blow to the idea of a two-state solution, amounting to a declaration that Israel is not interested in creating a Palestinian state but rather simply taking the land that it wants for itself.

“’Annexation — taking land while continuing to subjugate the Palestinians on that land — is apartheid and should face the same consequences,’ says Diana Buttu, a Ramallah-based political analyst and former adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“This unilateral land grab of a huge chunk of the West Bank would shrink the remaining Palestinian territory to such an extent that most observers believe it would render the very idea of a two-state solution impossible.”

The US only responded by saying that its Middle East policy has not changed, which raises a profound ambiguity. Since 1967 the US has supported a two state solution. But since President Trump’s election the US has backed off considerably from that goal. Meanwhile, the plight of the Palestinian people continues to worsen dramatically.

Posted September 10, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 September 2019   Leave a comment

Over the last few months there have been protests in Moscow over elections to the City Council. The election was only symbolically important, since members of parties opposed to the Putin regime were not allowed to run. But the results were quite revealing. Putin’s party, United Russia, lost 13 seats to a potpourri of parties not opposed to Putin, but not supportive of him either. Vox outlines the results:

“The ruling United Russia party, which supports Russian President Vladimir Putin, barely clung to its majority, losing about 13 seats in the city council (from the current 38 down to just 25).

“Opposition parties, on the other hand, did quite well, winning 20 seats. They included the Communist Party (13 seats), the A Just Russia party (3 seats), and the liberal Yabloko party (4 seats).

“There’s a catch, though: These aren’t the ‘real’ opposition parties in Russia.

“With the exception of the Yabloko party members, the opposition candidates who won are part of Russia’s ‘systemic opposition.’ These are parties that are more or less loyal to the Kremlin and are sanctioned by the government to operate as ‘opposition’ parties and stand for elections. In other words, they’re mostly a sham meant to provide a veneer of democracy on an undemocratic system.”

We will have to see how Putin responds to the vote. The Russian economy is not doing very well and Putin’s popularity seems to be deceasing as a result.

CNN is reporting that a US spy at the highest level of Russian decision-making was extracted after the US intelligence community decided that President Trump’s casual treatment of classified intelligence threatened the spy with exposure. The extraction decision came after President Trump revealed classified material to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the then ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, in a meeting in May 2017. That intelligence had come from Israel and the disclosure threatened future intelligence sharing because the Israelis were afraid that their sources were exposed by Trump’s leak. President Trump also released a classified photo of an Iranian missile launch failure that many believed compromised the integrity of future satellite images. It is hard to believe that other states will be willing to share information with the US given their fears that the US President will compromise their sources and methods. It is impossible to determine how significant this loss of intelligence may be, but it is a completely gratuitous loss.

Posted September 9, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 September 2019   Leave a comment

Once again, protesters in Hong Kong demonstrated over the weekend. There were sporadic acts of violence and the riot police used tear gas and water guns. This time, however, protesters massed near the US consulate and handed a petition to US authorities calling on the US to support the protests and to “liberate” Hong Kong–clearly seditious language from the perspective of the authorities in Beijing. The protester also waved American flags and sang the “Star Spangled Banner”. The sentiment of the Beijing government was expressed in rather chilling terms by Global Times a media outlet often expressing the official government position: “As US politicians continue to fan the flames in Hong Kong, Sunday’s mass rally, aimed at pushing the US into passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, showed how protesters broke the bottom line.” The article continues:

“But US politicians have continuously fanned the flames. Both Republican and Democratic members of the US Congress are pushing for the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as soon as possible. Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin are among those sponsoring passage of the bill.

“The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is an amendment to the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 which allows the US government to afford Hong Kong trade and business privileges. 

“One of the most important provisions of the proposed bill is that officials of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government who are found suppressing Hong Kong’s democracy, human rights or citizen freedoms can have their assets in the US frozen and be denied entry to the US. 

“On Twitter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posted ‘If we don’t speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere,’ referring to the introduction of the act and bipartisan consensus around it. 

“Regarding the statement, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said at Friday’s media briefing that China deplores and firmly opposes US senators’ attempted move to push the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

The French Foreign Minister has threatened to block any further extensions to Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, citing a lack of progress in the negotiations. The Guardian highlights the frustrations:

“EU sources have said there is no evidence the British government is even working on ‘concrete proposals’ to strike a Brexit deal, and the latest resignations from the government, recent reports of ‘sham negotiations’ and constant election talk have all contributed to the impression that the government is not serious about finding an agreement.

“The comments appear to confirm the fears of the former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, who resigned on Saturday, citing the lack of effort being put into negotiating a deal.”

The major stumbling block continues to be the status of Northern Ireland in the final deal. A no-deal Brexit looks increasingly like the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. But even now, the Welsh are wondering about whether they should remain part of Great Britain.

Posted September 8, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 September 2019   Leave a comment

Iran has announced that it is using more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, something which was prohibited in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran made the announcement, and the Associated Press assesses the significance of the change:

“Speaking to journalists while flanked by advanced centrifuges, Kamalvandi said Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.

“The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.

“’Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,’ Kamalvandi said. ‘We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that.'”

This decision marks the third deviation from the JCPOA since the US withdrew from the agreement. It had previously announced that it would increase uranium “enrichment up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal, as well as gone beyond its 300-kilogram limit for low-enriched uranium.” The deviations are intended to put pressure on the other signatories to the JCPOA–France, Great Britain, Germany, China, and Russia–to continue to trade with Iran despite the US sanctions on the state. According to The Guardian:

“Analysts said the announcement was carefully calibrated to highlight the urgency on France and others to help relieve Iran’s ailing economy, while avoiding triggering an armed response from the US or forcing Europe to formally abandon the deal.

The Iranian strategy is a high stakes gamble. Iran’s only chance to escape the US sanctions is to persuade the other partners that compliance with US sanctions means the nuclear deal is dead. But the deviations from the agreement provide the US and Israel with an excuse to attack Iran.

We should not, however, lose sight of the fact that if the US had not left the JCPOA, these problems would not exist. The sad truth is that Iran is now closer to developing a nuclear weapon that it was on the day that President Trump was inaugurated.

US President Trump is claiming that he has called off secret negotiations between the US, Taliban leaders, and the government of Afghanistan that were scheduled to take place at Camp David. Mr. Trump said that he cancelled the meeting because of a Taliban car bomb that killed a US soldier in Kabul. The Independent outlined the draft agreement that was supposed to be the basis for the Camp David discussions:

“Mr Trump’s decision to pull out of talks came just days after the US’s top negotiator for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said the two sides were close to a deal to end America’s longest war..

“A draft framework agreement had been drawn up under which US troops would leave five military bases in Afghanistan within 135 days of the signing of the pact.

In return, the Taliban would be expected to guarantee the country will not be used as a launchpad for global terrorist operations.”

I must confess that this story does not ring true to me. The Taliban have been using car bombs ever since the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and it is not clear to me why this attack was considered different, particularly since the agreement said absolutely nothing about a cessation of hostilities. I also find it hard to believe that high ranking leaders of the Taliban would come into the US–I am not sure that any US promise of safe conduct would be believed by any guerrilla fighter. I suspect that the cancellation is more likely the product of bureaucratic infighting among Trump national security advisers. But we shall see as more information becomes available.

Posted September 7, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 September 2019   Leave a comment

Alan Weisman has written a book review for the New York Review of Books on the climate crisis which makes some very important points which are difficult to both accept and deny:

“Just before the 2016 elections, a respected biologist at an environmental NGO told me she actually considered voting for Trump. ‘The way I see it,’ she said, ‘it’s either four more years on life support with Hillary, or letting this maniac tear the house down. Maybe then we can pick up the pieces and finally start rebuilding.’ Like many other scientists Wallace-Wells cites, she has known for decades how bad things are, and seen how little the Clinton-Gore and Obama-Biden administrations did about it—even in consultation with Obama’s prescient science adviser, physicist John Holdren, who first wrote about rising atmospheric CO2 in 1969. For the politicians, it was always, foremost, about the economy.

“Unfortunately, as Wallace-Wells notes:

The entire history of swift economic growth, which began somewhat suddenly in the eighteenth century, is not the result of innovation or trade or the dynamics of free trade, but simply our discovery of fossil fuels and all their raw power.

“This is our daily denial, which now flies in our faces on hurricane winds, or drops as hot ashes from our immolated forests and homes: growth is how we measure economic health, and growth must be literally fueled. Other than nuclear energy, which has its own problems, no form of energy is so concentrated, and none so cheap or portable, as carbon. By exhuming hundreds of millions of years’ worth of buried organic matter and burning it in a couple of centuries, we built our dazzling modern civilization, not noticing that its wastes were amassing overhead. Now we’re finally paying attention, because hell is starting to rain down.”

Weisman goes on to review Bill McKibben’s new book which offers a devastating critique of the role of the fossil fuel industry in fostering doubts about the process of climate change:

“Even McKibben struggles for an adequate vocabulary to describe the duplicity of oil companies: ‘There should be a word for when you commit treason against an entire planet.’ As early as 1977, one of Exxon’s own scientists explained to the company’s executives that their products were causing a greenhouse effect, and that there would be only ‘five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.’ By 1982, McKibben writes, ‘the company’s scientists concluded that heading off global warming would ‘require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion’ or risk ‘potentially catastrophic events.’ Exxon used predictions of ice retreat to lengthen their drilling season in the Arctic, and raised drilling platforms to accommodate sea-level rise. He recounts the deliberate strategy of oil executives and their pet politicians to, as one Exxon official put it, ’emphasize the uncertainty’ of climate science. ‘I’ve lived the last thirty years inside that lie,’ McKibben realizes, ‘engaged in an endless debate over whether global warming was ‘real’—a debate in which both sides knew the answer from the beginning.‘”

I am not sure how the future will judge the greed, duplicity, and pure evil of those who chose to enrich themselves at the cost of a livable planet. The time for polite debate has long passed.

Bruce Gilley and David Kinsella have written a provocative essay for the International Institute for Strategic Studies which argues that international law offers justification for the use of coercive measures (including force) to force states that refuse to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Right now I find that proposition difficult to accept as a practical matter (the UN Security Council, which has absolute authority to take steps to preserve international peace and stability, gives three vetoes to the three largest polluters on the planet). At some point, however, it is not difficult for me to believe that some states will take action if the evidence of a looming catastrophe is clear. In either case–action or inaction–the prognosis is poor.

Posted September 6, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 September 2019   Leave a comment

If you are confused about the state of Brexit, then you are just like the vast majority of people on the planet. It is very difficult to figure out what the next steps may be. Labour and defectors from the Conservative Party (who were kicked out of the party because of their defections) managed to pass a resolution blocking early elections and introduced legislation to prevent a “no-deal” Brexit. They also managed to defeat a proposal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to call early snap elections (although that option is not foreclosed by the vote). Amanda Sloat of the Brookings Institution has written a very nice synopsis of the various alternatives available now to the Leavers and the Remainers. But Brexit is a moving target and the parties making these decisions are not interested in cooperating or pursuing a compromise. And it is not clear that the European Union is willing to cut Great Britain any more slack. But the deadline of 31 October remains fixed (for now) which gives very little time.

Jason Greenblatt, one of the main negotiators fro the Trump Administration’s Middle East peace plan, has quit his post. His departure raises further doubts about the already fragile proposals. Neither Greenblatt, who was a real estate developer before he took on the role of negotiating one of the difficult conflicts in human history, and his colleague, Jared Kushner, were notably ill-qualified to deal with the issue:

“And many experts point to Trump’s decision to appoint uninformed dilettantes like Kushner and Greenblatt to the high-level negotiating roles as one of the core failings of the administration’s efforts.

“’Trump’s Mideast peace team was set up for failure because it lacked experienced diplomats with knowledge about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ Guy Ziv, an Israel expert at American University in Washington, DC, told me.

“’Instead, Trump picked loyalists who knew little about the conflict to help resolve one of the most intractable conflicts in the world,’ Ziv said, adding that the team’s makeup ‘undermined America’s traditional role as an honest broker, losing all credibility with the Palestinians.’

“Although Trump says Greenblatt is merely ‘leaving to pursue work in the private sector,’ Ziv notes that ‘[t]he timing of Greenblatt’s resignation, just weeks before the ‘deal of the century’ was to be unveiled, certainly makes it clear that Greenblatt had no faith that the administration’s peace plan would get anywhere.’”

Greenblatt will be replaced by Avi Berkowitz, who graduated law school in 2016 and who was described by Business Insider in this way: ” Officially a special assistant to the president and assistant to the senior adviser, Berkowitz is Kushner’s right-hand man in the White HouseHope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, told Business Insider that Berkowitz’s role was primarily administrative and involved assisting Kushner with daily logistics like getting coffee or coordinating meetings.” The appointment does not inspire a great deal of confidence. One could easily infer that the Trump Administration is not the least bit interested in Middle East peace.

US Vice-President Pence visited Ireland and it is safe to say that the Irish were not pleased by the event. Mr. Pence stayed at the Trump property in Doonbeg which was about 180 miles from his meeting with Irish officials in Dublin. He also made it very clear that he and the Trump Administration support British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and a no-deal Brexit, a stance that jeopardizes the relationship of the Republic of Ireland to Northern Ireland. Irish Times columnist Miriam Lord had some harsh words for the Vice-President:

“She described the impact of the Pence visit on Ireland as ‘like pulling out all the stops for a much-anticipated visitor to your home and thinking it has been a great success until somebody discovers he shat on the new carpet in the spare room, the one you bought specially for him’.

“’As Pence read from the autocue and Irish eyes definitely stopped smiling,’ she added, ‘it was clear he was channeling His Master’s Voice. Trump is a fan of Brexit and of Boris.’

“’Pence,’ Lord continued, ‘is Irish American and wastes no opportunity to go misty-eyed about his love for the ‘Old Country’ as he lards on his Mother Machree schtick on both sides of the Atlantic.’

Lord wasn’t alone in her criticism. The Cork Examiner’s political editor, Daniel McConnell, wrote: ‘The cheek of him coming here, eating our food, clogging up our roads and then having the nerve to humiliate his hosts.’”

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has demanded information about the decision for Pence to stay at a Trump-owned property that was so far away from the diplomatic venue and insulting to their Irish hosts who had prepared for Pence to stay in Dublin.

Posted September 5, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

%d bloggers like this: