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12 October 2019   Leave a comment

Jared Bernstein has written a fascinating essay on why market capitalism has failed to address the problem of climate change in the world. Prices should reflect scarcity and it does appear as if a benign environment is becoming less available every day. But Bernstein argues that our awareness of the value of a benign environment is profoundly lacking:

“And yet, there’s a key area where prices fail us every day. They fail us every time you fill up your gas tank: Fossil fuels are severely underpriced.

“What do I mean by that? I mean that fossil fuels are imposing costs on our environment, our economy, and our future that are not being captured by their price.

“That underpricing has consequences. Energy costs are so low and so unresponsive to the environmental challenge we face that they send us a signal to literally keep cruising along, ignoring the pressing reality of climate change.

“How is it that a discipline fundamentally based on scarcity has failed to accurately price in the damage we’re doing to our most important, scarce resource: the environment? Naomi Klein writes that the climate crisis is ‘born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless.’

“But I don’t think the economic model fails because it denies scarcity and embraces limitless nature. It fails because of its interaction with two things in particular: 1) our tendency to focus on the present at the expense of the future; and 2) the toxic cycle of profit and influence that distorts policy making and blocks the accurate pricing of carbon.

“This diagnosis matters because we need to either unjam the model and attach a sustainable price on carbon or recognize that politics as currently practiced won’t allow us to do that, in which case we’ll need to figure out other, bolder ways to fight climate change. The Green New Deal may well play a role in that alternative vision.”

This way of looking at climate change divests us of the illusion that there are market-based solutions to the problem of climate change. The solution clearly lies in the political arena, not in the hidden hand of the market. Bernstein is explicit about the real problem which he identifies as the “toxic intersection of capitalism and money in politics.”

President Trump’s decision to pull some US troops out of Syria still remains a puzzle, although we are getting more information about how the decision was made. It seems clear that the President did not consult with his military or diplomatic advisers, but we are learning that the Kurds were not informed either. Newsweek reports:

Newsweek sources say Washington’s crucial allies in the area, the fighters of Syria’s Kurdish ethnic minority, were blindsided as well.

“‘No one in the U.S. government told us’ about the U.S. decision to reposition troops, or possibly even pull out of northern Syria as Trump suggested, a Kurdish intelligence official tells Newsweek.

“‘When we heard the news of American withdrawals, well, it was over Twitter, we had no idea, we were like, ‘What is this shit?'”

Many US troops remain in Syria, but those along the northeast border have pulled back. Nonetheless, Turkish troops have fired mortar rounds at US positions. Several European states are considering an arms embargo against Turkey for its invasion of Syria. It is also likely that the US Congress, as it returns from its recess, will consider sanctions against Turkey, but it is probable that President Trump would veto such measures.

Posted October 12, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 October 2019   Leave a comment

China has expressed support, including military aid, to Pakistan in its dispute with India on the issue of Kashmir. The Chinese statement comes just two days before Chinese President Xi is scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Modi.

“‘Xi Jinping said that China is concerned about the situation in Kashmir, the rights and wrongs are clear,’ according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. ‘China supports the Pakistani side in safeguarding its legitimate rights and interests and hopes that the parties will resolve the dispute through peaceful dialogue.'”

The Times of India, however, reports that Modi does not intend to raise the issue of Kashmir in the meeting. Perhaps Xi will introduce the issue, but it seems unlikely. The Chinese have a strong interest in the matter since the Indian decision on Jammu and Kashmir also affected the Ladakh region which is contested by both India and China.

The recent shooting at a synagogue in Halle, Germany followed a pattern that has been in play in a number of similar incidents. The shooter live-streamed his activities even though he was not able to enter the synagogue because it was well-locked. The shooter published a “manifesto” which other killers had done as well:

“The Norweigian neo-Nazi who killed 77 people in 2011 wrote a 1,518-page document that has since been cited as an inspiration by other far-right terrorists. That document also contained advice on how to prepare for an attack and select targets. The Australian white nationalist who killed 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March published an 87-page screed before his deadly attack titled “The Great Replacement,” which is the same name as a white nationalist conspiracy theory. The Californian who opened fire on a synagogue in Poway, killing one, also published a manifesto online — as did the man who killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August.”

The virulently anti-semitic views of the shooter were documented in Speigel and unfortunately resonates with a striking rise in anti-semitism throughout the world. The world has yet to take effective action to address this scourge, even though it has plenty of historical evidence to know that it is an incredibly dangerous ideology.

Posted October 10, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 October 2019   Leave a comment


Because we all deserve it!

Posted October 9, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 October 2019   Leave a comment

It appears as if US President Trump is going to make the charge that the Democrats favor “socialism” on his campaign for the presidency in 2020. It is not clear that the President has a clear idea of what he means by the term. The Pew Research Center did a poll of American citizens on their feelings about “socialism” and “capitalism”. Interestingly, the Center does not itself define the terms but chooses instead to place both words in quotation marks (air quotes). The results of the poll suggest that the charge of being socialist has lost much of its negative power and that many Americans believe that socialism has some redeeming features. A political campaign is probably the worst situation to have an intelligent discussion about the differences between capitalism and socialism, but it does appear that that discussion needs to take place.

As anticipated, Turkey has launched a military offensive in northeast Syria as US troops have withdrawn from the region. The purpose of the invasion is to dislodge Kurdish forces from the area because Turkey regards the Kurds as a terrorist group intent on supporting an independent Kurdish state. Indeed, the Kurds in the region call the area Rojava (western Kurdistan) and some Kurds that live in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq have national aspirations as well. There are between 25 and 35 million Kurds making the Kurdish nation one of the world’s largest without a state. The Kurds lost about 10,000 troops fighting alongside the US against ISIS, but the US has little leverage vis-a-vis Turkey now–the US troops withdrawal created a power vacuum which the Turks were willing to exploit. Hemin Kobane is the Syrian Democratic Forces liaison with the international coalition against the Islamic State and he has written an op-ed for the Washington Post on the betrayal of Kurdish forces in Syria. It is a worthwhile read.

Possible Limits of a Future Kurdistan

Posted October 9, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 October 2019   Leave a comment

US President Trump announced that Turkish President Erdogan will visit the White House sometime next month. The visit is being scheduled in order to redress a diplomatic injury suffered by Erdogan, who wanted to meet with Trump at the UN last month but was told that there was not time in the schedule for a meeting. According to press reports, Erdogan was angry at the slight and communicated his anger to Trump in a telephone call. Apparently, at the spur of the moment, President Trump decided to pacify Erdogan by withdrawing troops. Many analysts, both Democratic and Republican, attacked Mr. Trump for his abandonment of the Kurds. President Trump justified his action, as described by The Washington Post:

“Trump predictably justified his actions not with a strategic vision for a troubled region, but campaign talking points. He told reporters on Monday afternoon that he was following through on what he ‘got elected on’ — in this instance, disentangling the United States from the Middle East’s intractable conflicts. He said it was the responsibility of other countries, including Turkey, to deal with what’s left behind. For good measure, he threatened Ankara with crippling economic sanctions if the Turks did anything ‘outside of what we think is humane.’

It is difficult to determine what Mr. Trump regards as humane given his reluctance to call out Saudi Arabian Crown Prince bin Salman for the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Or his embrace of North Korean leader Kim despite the well documented atrocities of the North Korean regime. We shall have to see how the Turkish military deals with the Kurds who most likely will seek to make an alliance with Syrian President Assad or Russian President Putin–a profound strategic defeat for the US. We should also keep in mind the rather sordid history of Trump associates such as the first National Security Adviser, Flynn, in their dealings with Turkish President Erdogan.

Trump Towers Istanbul

President Moreno of Ecuador has moved the government out of the capital city as protesters broke through a security cordon surrounding the Parliament building. The protests against the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment program which resulted in a 100% increase in fuel oil prices in the oil-rich country. The protests are led primarily by the indigenous peoples of Ecuador who have pressured the three governments in Ecuador to collapse over the past decades.

Posted October 8, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 October 2019   Leave a comment

David Leonhardt has written an op-ed essay entitled “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You“. The essay has a very revealing graphic which I cannot reproduce here, but I recommend the article. The evidence is quite compelling and it reveals the extraordinary political power of the rich to dictate tax laws that favor their interests. The conclusion is stark: ” For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data.” Leonhardt continues:

“But the second half of the 20th century was mostly a victory for the low-tax side. Companies found ways to take more deductions and dodge taxes. Politicians cut every tax that fell heavily on the wealthy: high-end income taxes, investment taxes, the estate tax and the corporate tax. The justification for doing so was usually that the economy as a whole would benefit.

“The justification turned out to be wrong. The wealthy, and only the wealthy, have done fantastically well over the last several decades. G.D.P. growth has been disappointing, and middle-class income growth even worse.

“The American economy just doesn’t function very well when tax rates on the rich are low and inequality is sky high. It was true in the lead-up to the Great Depression, and it’s been true recently. Which means that raising high-end taxes isn’t about punishing the rich (who, by the way, will still be rich). It’s about creating an economy that works better for the vast majority of Americans.”

This degree of inequality does not serve the long-term interests of the rich. It slows economic growth to stagnant levels and creates political and social tensions–such as suicide, xenophobia, and drug abuse–that are very difficult to manage and expensive to tolerate.

US President Trump has announced his intention to remove US troops from Syria as Turkish President Erdogan announced that he intends to send Turkish troops into northeast Syria, a region currently held by Kurdish troops with backing from the US. The decision is an abject betrayal of a loyal ally who fought the ground war against ISIS militants and was soundly condemned by a number of US military veterans who serves in Iraq and Syria. Newsweek talked about Trump’s decision with an unnamed source on the National Security Council:

“In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump’s own Defense Department ‘completely stunned,’ said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime.

“‘President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something,’ the National Security Council source told Newsweek. ‘The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that’s the bottom line.'”

There is no question that the US military needs to withdraw from Syria and Iraq, but a state as powerful as the US should be able to demand security guarantees from a relatively weaker power such as Turkey to protect the interests of the Kurds. The Washington Post outlines the consequences of Mr. Trump’s capitulation to Erdogan:

” Betrayed by the United States and forced to fight a potentially bloody conflict with Turkey, the Kurdish-led forces could quickly abandon any further effort to control the Islamic State. They might well set free the tens of thousands of former militants and family members held in SDF-controlled camps. The 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria could be forced to withdraw entirely, which would be a major victory for Russia and open the way for Iran to entrench its forces along Israel’s northern border. U.S. allies around the world meanwhile will have reason to question whether they should cooperate with a government that so casually abandons military partners.

US President Trump tweeted the following about his decision:

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families. The U.S. has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”

Mr. Trump’s pomposity is unmatched in the annals of diplomacy.

“To set oneself above intellect is immediately to fall outside it.”
― Plotinus

Posted October 7, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 October 2019   Leave a comment

World politics is waged on many levels and we tend to focus on the most obvious issues. But if you are an iPhone user in China, you will no longer be able to access the emoji for the flag of Taiwan. The change occurred in the most recent Apple update to the iPhone (iOS 13.1.1). China does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country deserving of its own flag. Apparently, Apple agrees.

There have been five days of protests in Iraq, resulting in almost 100 deaths. The political situation in Iraq has never been really stable after the US overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the focus on defeating ISIS in Iraq sidelined many of the issues that have caused the recent unrest. The defeat of the territorial-based caliphate has rendered the security situation somewhat more manageable (many ISIS-adherents are still around). The protesters are exercised by corruption in the government and the decided lack of progress in rebuilding the infrastructure of the state. Additionally, the Iraqi nation is still fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines: 60% of the population are Shia Muslims, 20% Sunni Muslims, and 20% Kurds. All these groups have different aspirations and grievances which have so far defied resolution. Patrick Cockburn is a reporter in Iraq and he describes the recent protests:

“It turned out that the government had managed to turn a small demonstration of 3,000 people in Tahrir Square, who had been protesting for three months against official corruption, a lack of jobs and poor services, into a major incident. The protesters had tried to cross the Jumhuriya Bridge which leads in the direction of the green zone, the site of the parliament, the prime minister’s office and other official buildings. The riot police, who have a bad reputation in Iraq, opened fire with rubber bullets, stun grenades, and, eventually, live rounds. Soon a video was flashing around social media of the protesters, mostly under 20, being attacked by the police and hosed with hot water.

“It was this incident which turned a small scale protest into mass demonstrations which may bring down the government of prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. The riot police inadvertently detonated the explosive resentment felt by almost all Iraqis towards the kleptocratic state which has stolen as much as $450bn since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.”

The unrest in Iraq raises difficult questions for the US, which relies upon Iraq to act somewhat as a counterweight to Iranian power in the Middle East. Iraq is sympathetic to Iran, but most of the citizenry is also nationalistic and does not regard Iran as a reliable ally (one needs to remember that Iraqis are Arabs and Iranians are Persians).

Posted October 6, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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