27 November 2019   Leave a comment

Researchers have published a comment in the science journal, Nature, on the cascading effects of climate change. We tends to think about global warming in terms of discrete issues such as sea ice loss or deforestation. The researchers point out that these issues are interrelated and that there is therefore a danger that the process of climate change could accelerate because of positive feedback loops among these “separate” issues. An analysis of the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which have been published every five years since 2001 all indicate that each report has underestimated the extent of climate change (See the chart below). The report identifies 9 “tipping points” that the world might have already crossed. The Guardian quotes one of the researchers:

“Prof Tim Lenton at the University of Exeter, the lead author of the article, said: ‘We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of interrelated tipping points. The simple version is the schoolkids [striking for climate action] are right: we are seeing potentially irreversible changes in the climate system under way, or very close.’

‘As a scientist, I just want to tell it how it is,’ he said. ‘It is not trying to be alarmist, but trying to treat the whole climate change problem as a risk management problem. It is what I consider the common sense way.’

Phil Williamson at the University of East Anglia, who did not contribute to the article, said: ‘The prognosis by Tim Lenton and colleagues is, unfortunately, fully plausible: that we might have already lost control of the Earth’s climate.’”

The idea that the world may have already passed the point of no return is sobering and depressing. But less so than the fact that many of the political leaders in the world today do not seem to care at all about the dangers of such a change.

The Nine Tipping Points

Much to my surprise, US President Trump has signed two bills that give support to the protesters in Hong Kong. CNBC describes the laws:

“The first bill would require the State Department to certify once a year that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to retain its special U.S. trading consideration — a status that helps its economy. Under that designation, the city is not subject to the tariffs that have been levied on China. The bill also sets up the potential for sanctions on people responsible for human rights abuse in Hong Kong.

“The second measure would bar the sale of munitions such as tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong police.”

I admit that I was surprised because I had assumed that Mr. Trump would not want to jeopardize the trade talks that are going on between the US and China. Both bills were passed with almost unanimous support in the Congress (only one negative vote in the House and no negative votes in the Senate) and Mr. Trump may have wished to avoid an override vote in the Congress if he vetoed the bills). But it could also be the case that Mr. Trump may simply decide not to enforce the bills (they require the State Department to monitor human rights in Hong Kong and the State Department has often overlooked human rights abuses in states that are critical to US interests, such as Saudi Arabia). We will have to wait to see how China responds to the legislation.

Posted November 27, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

25 November 2019   Leave a comment

The World Meteorological Organization has released a report that indicates that carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase globally. According to the report:

“The WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin showed that globally averaged concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached 407.8 parts per million in 2018, up from 405.5 parts per million (ppm) in 2017.

“The increase in CO2 from 2017 to 2018 was very close to that observed from 2016 to 2017 and just above the average over the last decade. Global levels of CO2 crossed the symbolic and significant 400 parts per million benchmark in 2015.

“COremains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the oceans for even longer.”

The report goes on to indicate that the rate of growth of carbon dioxide continues to accelerate:

“The increase in COfrom 2017 to 2018 was above the average growth rate over the last decade. The growth rate of CO2 averaged over three consecutive decades (1985–1995, 1995–2005 and 2005–2015) increased from 1.42 ppm/yr to 1.86 ppm/yr and to 2.06 ppm/yr with the highest annual growth rates observed during El Niño events.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index  shows that from 1990 to 2018 radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHGs) increased by 43%, with CO2 accounting for about 80% of this increase.”

It does not appear as if the world is making any progress at all in curbing greenhouse gas emissions despite the overwhelming evidence that the pattern will be very disruptive. The last time the planet had such elevated levels “the temperature was 2-3 [degrees Celsius] warmer, sea level was 10-20 meters higher than now.”

We tend to think about globalization as a recent phenomenon, but, in reality, it is a process that has been going on ever since some of our ancestors left the African continent. Modern globalization just occurs at a much faster rate. But there are some distinctive features of early globalization, which can be highlighted by the words we use to identify the beverage we know in the West as “tea”.

“With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say “tea” in the world. One is like the English term— in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi.

“Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before ‘globalization’ was a term anybody used. The words that sound like ‘cha’ spread across land, along the Silk Road. The ‘tea’-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.”

Posted November 25, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

24 November 2019   Leave a comment

Hong Kong held elections for 452 elected district councilor seats, the local government for the city. Turnout was exceptionally high, with 2.9 million people voting, a turnout of 71% of registered voters. The district council does not have a great deal of power, and candidates who advocated for Hong Kong “self-determination” were not allowed to run. But the vote was symbolic, as described by National Public Radio:

“Hong Kong’s 452 elected councilors normally concern themselves with more mundane tasks, such as overseeing garbage disposal policies and street lighting. They have advisory functions and control over how some of the city’s finances are disbursed locally, but possess no lawmaking abilities.

“‘They do not listen to our opinions actually. They can do whatever they want, and we cannot monitor them,’ said Philip Wong, 40, who was preparing to cast his ballot Sunday morning for first-time candidate Isaac Ho, a founding member of the pan-democratic group Community March.

“But this year, Wong says, his vote mattered more: ‘Whether or not [this election] makes a change, it is a reflection of the Hong Kong people’s voice. We can use the vote to express our discontent and dissatisfaction with the current government and the police brutality.’

“And district councilors are not entirely powerless.About a quarter of them, 117, also sit on the 1,200-member council that elects the city’s chief executive. District councilors also are allocated six seats on the city’s 70-person Legislative Council, which sets policy. Pan-democrats are hoping that by electing a majority in the district councils, they may be able to tip Hong Kong’s historically pro-Beijing lawmaking bodies in their favor.”

The final results of the election are not available right now but the preliminary results show the pro-democracy candidates winning a majority. According to Reuters: “Pro-democracy candidates had secured a clear majority by 8.00 a.m. (midnight GMT Sunday) with 333 of 452 seats, compared with 52 for the pro-establishment camp, according to media estimates.” But the turnout alone shows that the people of Hong Kong have been mobilized by the protests.

Arundhati Roy is no fan of the Modi government in India and she has written a beautifully written essay on why she is opposed to the policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is a full-throated defense of secular government and does a wonderful job of tying the situation in India to the larger crisis of climate change.

” The violence of inclusion and the violence of exclusion are precursors of a convulsion that could alter the foundations of India, and rearrange its meaning and its place in the world. The Constitution calls India a secular, socialist republic. We use the word “secular” in a slightly different sense from the rest of the world—for us, it’s code for a society in which all religions have equal standing in the eyes of the law. In practice, India has been neither secular nor socialist. In effect, it has always functioned as an upper-caste Hindu state. But the conceit of secularism, hypocritical though it may be, is the only shard of coherence that makes India possible. That hypocrisy was the best thing we had. Without it, India will end….

“India is not really a country. It is a continent. More complex and diverse, with more languages—780 at last count, excluding dialects—more nationalities and sub-nationalities, more indigenous tribes and religions than all of Europe. Imagine this vast ocean, this fragile, fractious, social ecosystem, suddenly being commandeered by a Hindu supremacist organisation that believes in a doctrine of One Nation, One Language, One Religion, One Constitution….”

The essay is quite long but it is well worth a careful read. Her analysis applies to many countries in the world that are currently experiencing the power of nationalism.

Posted November 24, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

23 November 2019   Leave a comment

Colombia should be added to the list of states this year that have been rocked by protests. Protesters have taken to the streets of Bogotá demanding the resignation of President Iván Duque. Duque is a right-wing populist who was elected last year and began to revise the terms of the peace treaty the state had signed with guerrillas who had been actively opposed to the government over a long period of time. The BBC outlines the issues raised by the protesters.

“Colombians have taken to the streets over possible changes to the minimum wage, pension and tax reforms, and the privatisation of state companies. The government insists there are no planned pension or labour reforms and that any changes would take place in consultation with labour groups.

“Protesters are also angry about alleged corruption and what some see as the government’s failure to honour a 2016 peace deal with left-wing Farc rebels amid a rise in violence.”

The protests likely have been amplified by the protests in other Latin American countries, Bolivia, Chile, and Brazil. In response to the protests, the government has imposed a curfew in the major cities.

The US Navy has indicated that it may proceed with the expulsion of Edward Gallagher from the SEAL program despite US President Trump’s decision that he should not be expelled. Gallagher was convicted of war crimes during his deployment in Iraq in 2017. According to Reuters:

“On Thursday, Trump lashed out at the proceedings, declaring on Twitter: ‘The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher’s Trident Pin. This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!’

“The Navy responded with a statement saying it would follow ‘lawful orders’ from the president to halt the review but was awaiting further guidance, suggesting his Twitter post was not considered a formal directive.”

The charges against Gallagher were serious:

“Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher was charged with killing a wounded ISIS captive and shooting civilians during his time in Iraq in 2017. At the end of his court-martial, a jury acquitted him of the most serious allegations and convicted him of the offense of posing for photos with the body of the deceased fighter.

“A military jury sentenced Gallagher to four months’ confinement, which he served before trial, and reduced his rank to petty officer 1st class, or E-6.

“On Nov. 15, President Donald Trump restored Gallagher’s rank to E-7, or chief petty officer. The same day, Trump pardoned two Army service members accused of war crimes. His action on Gallagher’s behalf was not a pardon or an exoneration.”

The matter should not be controversial. Gallagher was convicted in a lawful court martial and maintaining discipline within the ranks is of critical importance to the US military. The idea that military discipline should be undermined by political considerations is anathema to the US military, and that standard should be rigorously supported by civilian authorities.

The Chinese have blasted the US at the meeting of the G20 being held in Japan. According to Reuters:

“…Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi did not hold back in his criticism of the United States.

“’The United States is broadly engaged in unilateralism and protectionism, and is damaging multilateralism and the multilateral trading system. It has already become the world’s biggest destabilizing factor,’ China’s Foreign Ministry cited Wang as saying.

“The United States has, for political purposes, used the machine of state to suppress legitimate Chinese businesses and has groundlessly laid charges against them, which is an act of bullying, he added.

“’Certain U.S. politicians have smeared China everywhere in the world, but have not produced any evidence.’

“The United States has also used its domestic law to ‘crudely interfere’ in China’s internal affairs, trying to damage ‘one country, two systems’ and Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, he added.”

The statement reflects growing tensions over the trade war between the US and China, as well as Chinese anger over the US Congress’s passage of a law requiring the US to monitor human rights violations in Hong Kong. The statement reflects Chinese anger over a bizarre statement by US President Trump on Hong Kong as related by the South China Morning Post:

“‘If it weren’t for me, Hong Kong would have been obliterated within 14 minutes,’ Trump boasted in a phone interview on Fox & Friends, his audiovisual Wikipedia of world news. Chinese President Xi Jinping ‘has got a million soldiers standing outside of Hong Kong that aren’t going in only because I asked him, please don’t do that’. “

We will see whether Trump vetoes the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act in order to curry favor with President Xi. The votes in both houses of Congress were overwhelming and large enough to override such a veto.

Posted November 23, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

22 November 2019   Leave a comment

Posted November 22, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

20 November 2019   Leave a comment

The US Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would require the US government to conduct an annual review of the special treatment that Hong Kong receives under US law. That special treatment involves Chinese adherence to the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration. That declaration stipulates that for 50 years (until 2047) “The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.”

The House of Representatives has already passed similar legislation, and the unanimous passage by the Senate of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 is a powerful statement. It is, however, unclear whether President Trump will sign the legislation since he is apparently concerned that the law will jeopardize the trade talks with China. On the other hand, if he vetoes the bill, the US will be ignoring the plight of the Hong Kongers who are demanding that the China-Britain agreement be honored. The Beijing government condemned the bills as an unwarranted intrusion into the internal affairs of China. The Global Times, a media outlet known to be close to the Chinese government, editorialized:

“The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed the ‘Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act,’ a move that seriously tarnished sacred terms like ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy.’ The bill’s real title should be ‘Support Hong Kong Violence Act’ as it has overtly taken sides with rioters who are destroying the rule of law in Hong Kong. And it has targeted the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and Hong Kong police, who are struggling to prevent chaos from turning into anarchy. 

“The core of the new US bill is to oppose HKSAR government’s efforts to stop violence, end chaos as well as to prevent the Chinese central government from saving Hong Kong under any circumstance. The most prominent clause subjects the city to an annual review for its special trade status, which would strip Hong Kong of the status.  

“Some opposition figures in Hong Kong stupidly kowtow to Washington and express their gratitude for US support for the radical protesters’ ‘democracy struggle.’ But if the US imposes economic sanctions on Hong Kong, all Hong Kong people will have to bear the consequences. 

“Once the bill is signed by the US president, subtle changes will take place in Hong Kong’s international business environment, because of the uncertainties caused by the US. American investors in Hong Kong will panic, and the city’s geoeconomic status and function will be reevaluated.”  

We will have to see whether President Trump signs the bill.

Posted November 20, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

19 November 2019   Leave a comment

I am still trying to determine the significance of the US decision to consider Israeli settlements in the West Bank as legal under international law. The statement did not attempt to justify the decision in legal terms–there was no attempt to make the decision compatible with the 1907 Hague Convention or the Geneva Conventions. Thus, the decision should be considered as purely political. The Trump Administration has made several decisions which are consistent with the interests of the Netanyahu government: to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to end support for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Agency which supports Palestinian refugees, and to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. So there is nothing really new about the decision except that it makes US policy even closer to Israeli policy.

It may be the case that Secretary of State Pompeo made the declaration as a way of currying favor with President Trump, who is reportedly upset that so many State Department officials have been critical of his policies toward Ukraine. It may also be the case that the decision was made to blunt the decision of the European Court of Justice that all products sold in Europe that were made in the West Bank be labelled as such instead of being labelled as having been made in Israel. Nonetheless, the UN repudiated the position of the US:

“‘We continue to follow the long-standing position of the U.N. that Israeli settlements are in breach of international law,’ U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

“’A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council,’ he said.

“The International Court of Justice, in an advisory opinion issued in 2004, said that Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, were established in breach of international law.”

It is very difficult to determine the overall US objective in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US is unquestionably siding with Israel, but it is unclear where the US expects the Palestinians to go. It is a serious mistake to assume that the Palestinians will quietly accept Israeli rule over their lives. But there is little question that the decision will resonate strongly with evangelical Christians who comprise a significant part of President Trump’s electoral base.

Posted November 19, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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