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9 August 2019   Leave a comment

The US has imposed additional sanctions on the Maduro regime in Venezuela. The sanctions are designed to pressure Maduro to resign and will undoubtedly aggravate the desperate situation for most Venezuelan citizens. It is not clear why the Trump Administration believes that additional sanctions will work since they have not only been ineffective against Venezuela, but also Russia, Cuba, North Korea, and Iran. Like the Iranian sanctions, the US is applying secondary sanctions against companies that trade with Venezuela–in effect, making US law extra-territorial. The US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, made this comment:

“Critically, it also exposes foreign entities doing business with the Maduro government to so-called secondary sanctions in the U.S. — a fact not lost on Maduro’s government as it tries to rally support at home and abroad.

“’The U.S. has to understand once and for all that they aren’t the owners of the world,’ Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said in a statement from Caracas. ‘Every country that has investments in the U.S. should be very worried because this sets a dangerous precedent against private property.'”

I doubt that these sanctions will induce Maduro to leave office, particularly since he seems to have the backing of both Russia and China.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released another report, this one on climate change and food production. It is a very lengthy report and at this point I have only read the first chapters. It is so depressing, however, that I may not finish it. Rolling Stone summarized some of the findings:

“The report confirmed that the world’s land areas are warming about twice as fast as the oceans, a phenomenon that was long predicted (soil heats up faster than water, which is why we cool off in swimming pools). Warming over land is happening so fast that even since the end of the 10-year average used in report (2006 to 2015), global land temperatures have increased by a further 20 percent. New data show that last month, July 2019, was the hottest month ever measured on the planet…..

“That ongoing transition to a world never-before experienced by humans is greatly worrying, because we’re not sure how modern agriculture will respond. Among other things, the report finds food will become less nutritious at higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as plant’s chemistry fundamentally changes. Masson-Delmotte said that the search is already on for crops that are resilient to extreme heat and drought, as well as urgent efforts to conserve and protect forests that help buffer the natural world from the expansion of agriculture.

“The risks to the world’s farms increases rapidly beyond warming of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, to the point where some of the possible solutions to climate change might quickly become impossible.”

Robinson Meyer has written an excellent essay for The Atlantic that poses seven ways of interpreting the IPCC report.

Posted August 9, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 August 2019   Leave a comment

The situation in Kashmir continues to be unsettled. The moves by the Indian government has opened the door to what Kashmiris believe could be a demographic catastrophe. Writing in The Intercept, Murtaza Hussain explains:

“Modi has repeatedly promised to take such a step despite the likely backlash from Kashmiris, most of whom either nurse separatist sentiments or wish to maintain autonomy from the rest of India. A particular clause of that law, known as article 35A, gives the Kashmiri government the ability to determine who is a permanent resident of the state. The revocation of both 370 and 35A opens the door to India’s population of 1.2 billion to begin moving into Kashmir en masse, a development likely to dangerously escalate a conflict that is at its core over territorial control.

“’For Kashmiris, it was the last thing they were holding onto before a complete and utter ethnic cleansing could take place,’ wrote Hafsa Kanjwal, an assistant professor of South Asian history at Lafayette College, in a Facebook post about the revocation of article 35A. ‘But this has changed now. The worst nightmare that Kashmiris could have imagined in their already existing nightmare can take place now. Indians can buy property and land in Kashmir, and drive out the local population.’”

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, describes the move as one of ethnic cleansing.

“Mr Khan said he thought the removal of special status would allow India to change the demographic make-up of the Muslim-majority state.

“‘I am afraid that [India] will now carry out ethnic cleansing in Kashmir,’ he said.

“‘They will try to remove the local people and bring in others and make them a majority, so that the locals become nothing but slaves.'”

Nitish Pahwa provides the background to the hostilities and why it has proven to be so intractable. Kashmir is simply another example of how European imperialism destroyed the integrity of the peoples of South Asia.

“While India was part of the British Empire, Jammu and Kashmir was one of the many princely states that made up the colonial territory, this one presided over by Maharajah Hari Singh. As India’s independence from Britain—and the ensuing partition—was being planned in 1947, Singh, a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority state, initially desired that the Jammu and Kashmir become an independent neutral region between India and the new nation of Pakistan. However, an uprising in the state’s western region, aided by Pakistani raiders and primarily targeting Singh, forced him to cede sovereignty to India in exchange for military aid. This led to India and Pakistan’s first major war—although the two countries had already been locked in bitter conflict since gaining their freedom. While Pakistani forces were successful in taking the western and northern areas of Kashmir, India was able to hold the majority of the princely state, including the areas of the Kashmir Valley, Jammu, and Ladakh. The Pakistani region of Kashmir was then recognized as ‘Pakistan-administered Kashmir,’ while India’s territory retained the name Jammu and Kashmir.”

The Indian decision brings the world back to 1947, except that now both India and Pakistan are nuclear-armed states, which are inching closer to war.

Posted August 7, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

5 August 2019   Leave a comment

China has allowed its currency, the Yuan, to depreciate below the critical level of 7 Yuan per dollar: “onshore trade of the Chinese yuan changed hands at 7.0304 against the dollar, while the offshore yuan traded at 7.0807 against the greenback. The effect of the depreciation is to make Chinese exports less expensive and Chinese imports more expensive. There was no explicit announcement about the move, but most suspect that it is retaliation by China against US President Trump’s decision to impose an additional 10% tariff on Chinese exports to the US. The US stock market fell sharply because of the news as it suggests that the trade war is far from being resolved. The US does not seem to have a plan for resolving these tensions and the Chinese are simply reacting to US moves. The actual data indicates that Chinese exports to the US are falling, but the US trade deficit with other countries is increasing.

US trade policy seems to be identifying the wrong source of the balance of trade deficits.

India has revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, making the territories legally equal to all other parts of India. Jammu and Kashmir have been contested territories ever since the partition of India into India and Pakistan in 1947. The territory has a primarily Muslim population, but was divided by a “Line of Control” between India and Pakistan, and the two states have fought several times–in 1947, 1965, and 1971–over the right to control the territory. Since the Simla Agreement of 1972, there has been sporadic violence between the two states but the government of Narendra Modi in India has encouraged the growth of Hindu nationalism which has aggravated the tension. The revocation decision has led many in Pakistan to fear that the Indian government wishes to foster Hindu nationalism in these volatile territories. Pakistan has angrily responded to the decision:

” Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry responded to the revocation with a statement saying it ‘strongly condemns’ India’s decision and ‘will exercise all possible options to counter the illegal steps.’

“‘The Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir is an internationally recognized disputed territory. No unilateral step by the government of India can change this. Nor will this ever be acceptable to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan,’ the ministry said, citing that its status had been upheld by UN Security Council resolutions.

“‘Pakistan reaffirms its abiding commitment to the Kashmir cause and its political, diplomatic and moral support to the people of occupied Jammu and Kashmir for realization of their inalienable right to self-determination.'”

We will see how this situation unfolds. We will have little direct information from Kashmir because the Indian government has unilaterally seized control in Kashmir. Alex Ward describes what the Indian government has done:

“More broadly, though, India unilaterally pushed to change Kashmir’s status without Pakistan’s buy-in. The worry now is that widespread unrest will spike in the region. Indian forces already heavily patrol Kashmir, but it has sent thousands of extra troops there in anticipation of violence, as well as closed schools, evacuated tourists, cut off internet connectivity, and put some of the area’s political leaders under house arrest. In effect, the area is on lockdown.”

We should all keep an eye on how this situation unfolds.

Posted August 5, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

4 August 2019   5 comments

Posted August 4, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

3 August 2019   Leave a comment

Protests are continuing in Hong Kong and the central government in Beijing appears to be at a loss to address the situation effectively. The immediate cuase of the protests is a extradition bill proposed by the Legislative Council in Hong Kong which would make Hong Kongers subject to the laws of the central government. That possibility violates the spirit of the agreement worked out with great Britain in 1997: “One Country, Two Systems”. The protesters seem to be taking a harder line:

“Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing this week signalled a hardening stance, including with the arrests of dozens of protesters, and the Chinese military saying it was ready to quell the “intolerable” unrest if requested.

“But protesters have remained unyielding, vowing to hold multiple occupations and rallies into next week, sending tensions soaring once more.

“On Saturday they embraced their mantra ‘be water’ – a philosophy of unpredictability espoused by local martial arts legend Bruce Lee – in a bid to keep police guessing.

“Throughout the evening they put up makeshift barricades across multiple roads in Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular shopping and tourist district on the harbourfront, where many luxury malls and hotels shut their doors.

“They also blocked one of the three cross-harbour tunnels connecting to the main island, causing widespread traffic chaos, before disappearing after half an hour.

“’We will fight as guerrillas today and be water,’ a masked and helmeted 19-year-old, who gave her surname Lee, told AFP.”

China blames the US for stoking the protests, but the US has yet to issue strong warnings to the government in Beijing to respect the right of protests, even as it seems as if China may be contemplating a military crackdown on the protests.

The European heat wave has moved north and now temperatures in Greenland are leading to significant glacial ice melt. In the month of July, Greenland lost 197 billion tons of ice, including 11 billion tons in one day. At the same time, wildfires are burning out of control in Siberia. Climate change is clearly not a future event.

Posted August 3, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

2 August 2019   Leave a comment

The US has formally withdrawn from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty. The Treaty was signed by President Reagan of the US and President Gorbachev of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), now Russia in 1987. It was the first treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons, those with missiles that could fly between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The purpose of the treaty was quite explicit: to prevent an outbreak of nuclear war between the US and the USSR on the European continent. Intercontinental ballistics missiles remained, but their number was limited by another treaty, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START, which expires in 2021. The US withdrew for a number of reasons. First, it claimed that Russia had violated the treaty by developing an intermediate-range missile. The Russians have not tested the missile beyond the proscribed distance limits, but the new missile is mobile, so the issue of testing is moot. Second, the US worries about Chinese development of an intermediate-range missile and wants to rewrite the treaty to include China. The Chinese have not indicated any interest whatsoever in signing such a pact.

President Trump has requested funds to develop further a new intermediate-range missile and many analysts fear that the world will enter into a new nuclear arms race. The irony of a new arms race as the US tries to coerce North Korea and Iran not to develop nuclear weapons is profound.

Posted August 2, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 August 2019   Leave a comment

US President Trump announced that the US will impose an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion of imported Chinese goods. The tariffs will start on 1 September and Mr. Trump did not foreclose the possibility of imposing another 25% tariff on Chinese goods. The trade talks with China are obviously not going well and it seems to be a safe bet that the Chinese will now just wait out the rest of President Trump’s term, hoping for a more receptive US President after November 2020. The new tariffs will have a dampening effect on the US economy. President Trump promised that the tariffs imposed earlier on China, Mexico, and Canada would bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, but so far that has not happened:

“Under mounting pressure as tariffs threaten to drive up costs, US manufacturers in China are indeed packing up and heading elsewhere. Companies including Nike, Crocs, Roomba and GoPro are now producing most of their goods outside the country, having set up operations in Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and Mexico. Dell, Sony, Nintendo and HP are reportedly considering such moves.

“But very few are moving back to the US.

“’Trump’s tariffs may have sent the message to ask US companies to consider reshoring, [but] very few will actually follow through,’ said Daniel Ikenson, director of the Centre for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a non-partisan think tank. ‘Making products in America has become too expensive.’”

President Trump seems to be unconcerned about the impact of the tariffs. He said today: ” “If they don’t want to trade with us anymore, that would be fine with me. We’d save a lot of money.”

For the third time in just over a week, North Korea has launched ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan (or, the East Sea as the Koreans call it). There is no question that Leader Kim is demanding an answer to his calls for the US and South Korea to postpone their scheduled military exercises. But President Trump’s public response is strangely unaware of the urgency of Kim’s actions. On the White House lawn, President Trump responded to a reporter’s question:

Q    On North Korea, sir.  On North Korea, they apparently just launched their third missile in about a week.  Is Kim testing you?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s very much under control.  Very much under control.

This response is profoundly inappropriate. It will force Kim to escalate his actions, giving the US little wiggle room to respond. It also ignores the fact that short range missiles pose a serious threat to US allies, South Korea and Japan. President Trump is not exactly talking like a reliable ally to states under the serious threat of a nuclear attack.

Posted August 1, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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