19 October 2021   Leave a comment

Globalization has enriched some people to an incredible degree as many products once produced in high wage countries were shifted to low wage countries. The winners in this transition were those who owned the production process and the workers in the newly built factories; the losers were those who once worked in the factories that were outsourced to the low wage areas. The loss of jobs in some countries such as the US was considerable and amplified by the process of automation, as the graph below indicates.

Is Trump keeping his promises on manufacturing?

The winners were the owners of capital and the transition in the US was replicated globally. The effect of the transition was to create extraordinary wealth for the owners but little wealth for those who could only sell their labor. In many respects the process seems to be replicating the distribution of wealth in the period of feudalism.

The COVID pandemic aggravated the disparities as low wage workers were laid off or quit their jobs while those who owned stocks and houses benefited tremendously. Credit Suisse reports:

“Regarding what happened in 2020, the verdict is unanimous. The indices all agree that global wealth inequality rose in 2020 by a substantial amount: the share of the top 10% increased by 0.9 percentage points, the share of the top 1% by 1.1 percentage points, and the Gini by 0.6 points. Furthermore, with a single exception – the share of the top 1% in 2014 – the inequality rise in 2020 was significantly greater than that recorded in any year this century”

It may be the case, however, that workers are asserting their power and demanding more of the profits generated by the owners of capital. There are several labor strikes going on in the US as reported by The Economist:

“THE PANDEMIC has been very good for cornflakes, and very busy for those who make them. With so many people spending so much time at home, cereal consumption has boomed. Kerry Williams, an instrument technician, says this has translated into almost constant overtime shifts at his Kellogg’s plant in Pennsylvania, sometimes as long as 16 hours a day. That would be hard enough. But what makes it that much harder, he says, is seeing Kellogg’s, one of the world’s biggest producers of ready-to-eat cereals, pull in giant profits even as his pay has barely increased. ‘We feel it’s time that this money trickles down to us because without the workers on the floor there would be no Kellogg,’ he says. Mr Williams and about 1,400 colleagues at Kellogg’s factories around the country, from Tennessee to Michigan, have been on strike for two weeks.

“They are far from alone. On October 14th about 10,000 employees of John Deere, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, walked off the job in five states. More than 20,000 nurses and workers in California and Oregon with Kaiser Permanente, a health-care company, have voted to strike. Some 60,000 behind-the-scenes film and television workers were also set to head to picket lines, having voted 99% in favour of a strike, but a last-minute deal on October 16th averted that.”

And many people are simply leaving their jobs in large numbers, a movement that has been dubbed “The Great Resignation“. The Economist continues:

“Even without the strikes, there is no doubt that American workers are getting pickier. Nearly 4.3m quit their jobs in August, the most in the two decades or so that the Labour Department has monitored this data. Celine McNicholas of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think-tank, notes the exodus has been most pronounced in restaurants and retail operations, service sectors with few unions, low wages and little sick pay. ‘Folks are saying, ‘This is not a job worth it to me right now’, she says. ‘They’re being asked to take it or leave it, and they’re leaving it.'”

We will have to see whether workers continue to demand a higher share of the profits they help generate. There is evidence that this labor discontent is spreading globally.

Posted October 19, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

12 October 2021   Leave a comment

Two left-leaning think tanks have published a very important study of the US electorate. We are familiar with the traditional breakdown of voting blocs into urban, suburban, and rural. This study looks at a different way to identify voters: residents in “manufacturing-heavy working-class towns that are not part of huge urban areas, but are not farming-dominated rural counties either. These “factory town” counties can be split into two types — midsized ones with cities more than 35,000 in population that are not attached to the big urban areas, and smaller ones that are just as reliant on manufacturing, but do not have any cities with at least 35,000 people. These counties contain 40% of voters.” The breakdown resonates with the socio-economic make-up of the area in which South Hadley resides–the cities of Chicopee, Holyoke, and Springfield.

The study reveals that residents in these areas voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in the 2016 and 2020 national elections. The report asserts:

“The bottom line is that while the Democratic margin in big cities and big city suburbs grew by a little over a million and a half votes in these ten states since 2012 (about 1,550,000) — more than enough to overcome the 557,000 losses in farm dominated rural counties — our losses in small and midsized manufacturing counties overwhelmed those gains, with combined losses of about 2,635,000 votes.

“The reasons Donald Trump made these kinds of gains in these factory towns are varied and complex, and should no doubt be heavily debated within the Democratic Party for years to come. This report points to the key places we should be looking.”

The report digs down deeper–it was not simply that these areas lost jobs in the process of globalization in the 1990s and early 2000s although that trauma explains much of Trump’s attractiveness to the voters. The report identifies three ancillary factors that suggest policy options other than simply creating more manufacturing jobs:

“The report goes on to examine the ways health declined once the jobs went. Using metrics from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps that track a variety of health outcomes, not just access to affordable care, researchers found that the midsized factory towns saw their health outcomes decline by 5.7% in the last decade, and the larger the decline, the larger the shift to the GOP in the voting booth. Interestingly, they report that health outcomes in the small factory towns actually improved by 0.3%.

“A third section shows the drop-off in unionization in the factory towns, which is part of the explanation for the decline in Democratic voting. Unions have long been the engine of progressive politics in the Midwest, and the region surveyed accounted for 93% of the nationwide decline in union jobs in the past decade.

“The final section of the report examines race, and the results are not pretty. More diverse factory towns were less likely to see a vote shift away from the Democrats than those that were disproportionately white. The racist dog whistles worked.

“The report does not seek to answer the more difficult and troubling question: Did the economic uncertainty make the appeal to racism more likely to succeed, or was the racism there all the time?”

The benefit of this analysis is that it suggests more strategies to address the needs of workers than simply to argue that the US needs to beef up its manufacturing capabilities. The truth is that the US still produces a lot of manufactured products, but that it does so with fewer workers. This chart identifies the discrepancy:

The impact of losing a job is amplified by the loss of health insurance associated with employment. Health insurance not tied to a job would alleviate some of this anxiety. Similarly, unions can prevent the loss of jobs associated with ruthless job cutting to beef up corporate profits. Finally, addressing the reality of race hatred, which spills over into a desire to restrict immigration, can diminish the attractiveness of using race to magnify the trauma of a loss of jobs.

Posted October 12, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

4 October 2021   Leave a comment

Farmers in India have been protesting against changes in agricultural laws for over a year. The changes were passed by the government of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in in September 2021. The changes are described by Lawfare:

“Modi’s government passed the three farming laws in September to dramatically change the decades-old system of selling agricultural goods in India in an effort to resolve India’s long-standing agricultural crisis: Nearly half of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture, but farming makes up only around 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—a portion that is declining steadily. More than half of farming households are in debt, which has contributed to a crisis of suicide among farmers….

“The current agriculture system dates back to the decades after India’s independence. In the 1960s, with food shortages plaguing the country, the Indian government intervened in what is known as the ‘Green Revolution’ by introducing new technologies to increase the production of rice and wheat. At that time, the government also created a new food marketing system. The system is complicated and varies across states, but, essentially, it involves farmers bringing crops to wholesale markets known as mandis and selling the crops to traders in an open auction. The mandis are run by a marketing board established by the state to prevent farmers from being exploited by large retailers. Prices can be informed by minimum support prices (MSPs)—prices set by the government and at which it buys crops in certain states.

“The three new laws each deregulate a different aspect of the agricultural system: the sale, pricing and storage of goods. They allow farmers to sell their goods to private buyers outside the state-run markets and create a system for contract farming. Taken together, the laws reduce the government’s role in agriculture and open up spaces for private investors.

“The government argues that the deregulations increase efficiency, allow farmers greater freedom and let farmers negotiate better prices for their crops. But farmers say these reforms will devastate their earnings. Many worry that by allowing farmers to bypass the state-sanctioned marketplaces and sell directly to private buyers without paying the taxes or fees required by state-run markets, the laws will gradually make the mandi system obsolete. Protesting farmers’ biggest fear is that this dismantling of the mandis will end the MSPs—a safety net that assures farmers that they will be paid a certain price without regard to market conditions. Without MSPs, farmers would be at the mercy of private companies that have no obligation to pay them the guaranteed minimum price. The bills say nothing about the MSPs, and Modi has promised that they will remain. Still, protesters are skeptical and have demanded that the government make its promise in writing.

The protests have continued and have been violent at times. Yesterday, nine people were killed in the protests. The Guardian reports:

“Nine people have been killed in violent clashes during a protest by hundreds of farmers in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in a deadly escalation of year-long demonstrations against contentious agriculture laws.

“The farmers had gathered for a demonstration on Sunday in Lakhimpur Kheri district, where the junior home affairs minister Ajay Mishra and the state’s deputy chief minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya, were due to visit.

“There are conflicting reports of how four farmers, three BJP party workers, a driver and a journalist died as chaotic scenes broke out around vehicles that were part of Mishra’s convoy.

“Farmers at the scene alleged that a car thought to be owned by Mishra’s son ran over four protesters, killing them.”

The farmers will likely step up their protests and there is evidence that there is significant support for the farmers. The popularity of the Modi government has declined in recent months, largely because of the COVID pandemic. Whether these protests signal significant trouble for Modi remains to be seen.

Posted October 4, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

3 October 2021   Leave a comment

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has released a large number of confidential documents on how many public figures have used the offshore banking system to disguise how much money they possess and how that money was spent. The documents, which the ICIJ calls the “Pandora Papers“, build upon a previously released collection of similar papers dubbed the “Panama Papers” and document conclusively how many of the public figures shield their wealth from tax authorities. According to the ICIJ:

“Millions of leaked documents and the biggest journalism partnership in history have uncovered financial secrets of 35 current and former world leaders, more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories, and a global lineup of fugitives, con artists and murderers.

“The secret documents expose offshore dealings of the King of Jordan, the presidents of Ukraine, Kenya and Ecuador, the prime minister of the Czech Republic and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The files also detail  financial activities of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘unofficial minister of propaganda’ and more than 130 billionaires from Russia, the United States, Turkey and other nations.

“The leaked records reveal that many of the power players who could help  bring an end to the offshore system instead benefit from it – stashing assets in covert companies and trusts while their governments do little to slow a global stream of illicit money that enriches criminals and impoverishes nations.”

What is especially disturbing about this system is that the very people who use the offshore banking system to hide money from tax authorities are the same people who write the laws that make such duplicity possible. The Washington Post points out the harms done by the system:

““The offshore financial system is a problem that should concern every law-abiding person around the world,” said Sherine Ebadi, a former FBI officer who served as lead agent on dozens of financial-crimes cases.

“Ebadi pointed to the role that offshore accounts and asset-shielding trusts play in drug trafficking, ransomware attacks, arms trading and other crimes. ‘These systems don’t just allow tax cheats to avoid paying their fair share. They undermine the fabric of a good society,’ said Ebadi, now an associate managing director at Kroll, a corporate investigations and consulting firm.

National Public Radio lists some of the people exploiting the offshore banking system for their personal benefit and it includes Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, Kenyan President Kenyatta, Pakistani Prime Minister Khan, former British Prime Minister Blair, Azerbaijani President Aliyev, the Russian confidante to President Putin, Svetlana Krivonogikh, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. The report also notes that many of these banks are not, for Americans, “offshore” since states such as Nevada and South Dakota have changed their laws providing banking secrecy. The BBC also provides additional details on some of the people identified in the documents.

The fact that these offshore banking sites are legal exposes the corruption sometimes involved in writing tax laws. Few ordinary individuals have assess to these legal loopholes and are thus consigned to pay for the freedom of powerful individuals to avoid paying their fair share. The Guardian explains why it has published some of the papers: “Tax havens are estimated to cost governments anywhere between $400bn and $800bn (£293bn to £586bn) every year in lost tax revenues from corporations and individuals. That may be an unfathomable sum, but it is real money that is not being spent on schools, hospitals or the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Posted October 3, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

1 October 2021   Leave a comment

The recent agreement reached by the US, Great Britain, and Australia (labelled the AUKUS agreement) to provide nuclear powered submarines to Australia signals a continuation of the “pivot” toward Asia begun under the Obama Administration. It was a slap to another European power, France, which had signed an agreement in 2016 with Australia with diesel-powered submarines. The agreement–for $90 billion–with Naval Power, a French company in which the French government holds a majority interest, was for the provision of 12 diesel-powered submarines (named “Shortfin Barracuda) but had been on the rocks for some time. The Guardian reports that “Government figures were becoming increasingly concerned about delays, cost blowouts, and a difficulty in securing firmer pledges for more substantial domestic industry involvement.” The French, however, were completely blindsided by the AUKUS agreement and French President Macron labelled the deal–justifiably–“a stab in the back”.

The damage done to a strong NATO ally was deep, but the AUKUS decision represents a significant strategic decision by the US and Great Britain about the dangers of growing Chinese power in East and Southeast Asia. The French submarines would have been adequate for coastal defense of Australia. Running on electric power, the French submarines would have been quieter than nuclear powered submarines. But the diesel submarines had a shorter range because of fuel requirements and would not have been able to project power in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits, or the waters between China and Japan and South Korea. Nuclear submarines can stay on station for 81 days while diesel powered submarines can only stay on station for 23 days. Thus, the AUKUS deal clearly indicates a decision by the US, Great Britain, and Australia that they are prepared to “contain” China.

The decision is reminiscent of the US decision in 1950 to “contain” the Soviet Union, a decision that required the US to construct a wide array of military alliances, such as NATO and CENTO, that were buttressed by the US nuclear weapons arsenal. The AUKUS agreement does not envision any new emphasis on nuclear weapons–the nuclear submarines will not be outfitted with nuclear weapons although providing Australia with nuclear fuel for the submarines will stretch the limits of the Non-Proliferation Treaty to which all three powers are signatories. There are already several defense and economic treaties to which the US is a partner:

  1. The ANZUS Treaty, signed by the US, Australia, and New Zealand in 1951
  2. The US-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, also signed in 1951.
  3. The US-South Korea Defense Treaty signed in 1953.
  4. The US-Philippines Mutual Defense Agreement signed in 1951
  5. The Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) signed in 1954, dissolved in 1977.
  6. US-Thailand Defense Treaty signed in 2020
  7. the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) began in 2004 includes the US, India, Australia, and Japan.
  8. The Five Eyes (the UK, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) an intelligence sharing agreement created in 1956 but not publicly revealed until 2010
  9. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started in 1967 and now includes Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Viet Nam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia.
  10. The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) created after US President Trump pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It now includes Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China has requested membership in this free trade agreement.

The US has a lot of allies in the region and all these agreements suggest that there are deep institutional and political connections drawing them together. It is not clear, however, that China represents an adversary in the way that the Soviet Union contested American power and the liberal international order. China has made it clear that it does not intend to become a liberal state, but there is little evidence so far to suggest that it wishes to create alliances in opposition to a liberal world order. Indeed, China has benefited tremendously from its participation in the liberal economic order.

Nonetheless, the Chinese are deeply upset by the AUKUS Agreement. The BBC describes the Chinese reaction:

“China has criticised a historic security pact between the US, UK and Australia, describing it as ‘extremely irresponsible’ and ‘narrow-minded’.

“The deal will see the US and UK give Australia the technology to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

“It is being widely viewed as an effort to counter China’s influence in the contested South China Sea.

“The region has been a flashpoint for years and tensions there remain high.

“Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the alliance risked ‘severely damaging regional peace… and intensifying the arms race’.

He criticised what he called ‘the obsolete Cold War… mentality’ and warned the three countries were ‘hurting their own interests’.

One cannot help, however, to note that in comparison to the US network of alliances in the region, the Chinese are pretty much isolated. Many of the countries in the region depend upon the Chinese economy, but most of the countries in the region are suspicious of Chinese intentions. They are quietly pleased that the US might act as a counterweight to Chinese power. All those states would prefer that the US presence be as low-key as possible and submarines certainly fill that bill.

Posted October 1, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

27 September 2021   1 comment

The Washington Post has published an article published in Science magazine which raises a deeply troubling issue of what is terms the “intergenerational inequality” of climate change. Unfortunately, the article resides behind a paywall so I can only comment on the interpretation offered by the Post. But the underlying logic of the argument is persuasive. According to the article:

“If the planet continues to warm on its current trajectory, the average 6-year-old will live through roughly three times as many climate disasters as their grandparents, the study finds. They will see twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960….

“Unless world leaders agree on more ambitious policies when they meet for the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, this fall, the study says, today’s children will be exposed to an average of five times more disasters than if they lived 150 years ago.”

Further, the children who live in tropical and subtropical climates will suffer more and have fewer resources with which to protect themselves. Phys Org notes:

“Behind these global numbers hide important regional variations. Young generations in low-income countries will face by far the strongest increases with a more than fivefold increase in overall lifetime extreme event exposure. While 53 million children born in Europe and Central Asia since 2016 will experience about four times more extreme events under current pledges, 172 million children of the same age in sub-Saharan Africa face an almost sixfold increase in lifetime extreme event exposure, and even 50 times more heatwaves.”

There is an upcoming UN conference on climate change that is scheduled to occur in Scotland in November. The purpose of the conference is to hold states to stricter reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases in line with the 1.5 degree (C) goal of the Paris Agreement. But most analysts believe that efforts to take stronger measures will likely fail:

“Vital United Nations climate talks, billed as one of the last chances to stave off climate breakdown, will not produce the breakthrough needed to fulfil the aspiration of the Paris agreement, key players in the talks have conceded.

“The UN, the UK hosts and other major figures involved in the talks have privately admitted that the original aim of the Cop26 summit will be missed, as the pledges on greenhouse gas emissions cuts from major economies will fall short of the halving of global emissions this decade needed to limit global heating to 1.5C.

“Senior observers of the two-week summit due to take place in Glasgow this November with 30,000 attenders, said campaigners and some countries would be disappointed that the hoped-for outcome will fall short.”

I personally find the issue of intergenerational justice compelling. In a letter to the editor of The Economist, James Dingley of the Francis Hutcheson Institute in Ireland, articulated the premise of liberal thinkers on the balancing of rights and responsibilities:

“The problem lies in our failure to understand properly the original premises of our Enlightenment heritage. The ideals you refer to (“The threat from the illiberal left”, September 4th) are those mostly developed fully by Adam Smith as a moral philosopher (not as an economist). Smith’s mentor and teacher was Francis Hutcheson, whose influence is most clearly seen in Smith’s first book “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”. Here, Smith builds on Hutcheson’s arguments against greed and self-interest. The original reasoning in favour of individual freedom and liberty was to enable people to develop their talents both for their own self-worth and for the good of the community.

“Hutcheson was equally scathing on rights, which could quickly become a cover for greed and selfishness. Hence Hutcheson posited that rights must always be balanced against the virtue of an act, or its effect on others. This is an important moral corrective that is continually ignored in our pursuit of narrow individual or identity-group rights.”

Rights are important to create a good society, not to satisfy personal appetites. A society that does not value the lives of its grandchildren can hardly be described as good or even viable.

Posted September 27, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

23 September 2021   2 comments

I think the video below proves the controversial idea of multiple universes. These people live in one that appears bereft of reason and dignity.

Posted September 23, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

16 September 2021   Leave a comment

This post has nothing to do with world politics. My apologies, but I simply cannot resist.

Posted September 16, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

13 September 2021   Leave a comment

The Chinese media outlet, Global Times, which often reflects the official position of the Chinese Communist Party, has published an editorial entitled “PLA jets will eventually patrol over Taiwan: Global Times editorial“. The editorial comes as part of an escalating war of words and actions between the US and China over the status of Taiwan. Taiwan has historically been considered part of China but after the Chinese Communist Party took control of the mainland in 1949 (on October 1, 1949 which means that an important anniversary is coming up), the Nationalist government of China fled to the island and declared its independence as the Republic of China to differentiate itself from the communist controlled People’s Republic of China. From that time until 1972, the US recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of the people of China and Taiwan held the UN Security Council seat reserved for China.

In 1972, the US and China signed what is known as the Shanghai Communique. The agreement was to put off the question of the status of Taiwan until at some point in the future. The Public Broadcasting System characterized the essential parts of the agreement:

“The U.S. declared its ‘interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves,’ and affirmed a total U.S. military withdrawal from the island as an ‘ultimate objective.’ The U.S. also agreed to ‘progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes,’ thereby giving China a stake in the abatement of the Vietnam War.

“For its part, the PRC firmly rejected any ‘two Chinas’ formulation, declaring unequivocally that ‘the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal government of China’ and ‘Taiwan is a province of China.’ The U.S., in deft phrasing, acknowledged ‘that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China,’ but neatly avoided the question of who should govern this ‘one China”.

In 1978, US President Carter, “severed US relations with the government on Taiwan and established formal diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.” That should have been the end of the matter.

But many in the US believed that Taiwan deserved support in order to show that the US condemned Communist rule in China and also because Taiwan became an important economic partner to the US and the world. Indeed, Taiwan is home to one of the most important semiconducting corporations in the world, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). In addition, Taiwan is one of the most important purchaser of US weaponry, buying $5 billion of arms from the US in 2020.

China’s rhetoric on Taiwan has become increasingly more strident as China has become more powerful. For example, the precipitating event for the Global Times editorial was a seemingly innocuous decision by the US to rename Taiwan’s mission office to the US from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) to the Taiwan Representative Office. The Council on Foreign Relations published a short essay highlighting the significance of the change:

“If the Biden administration allows Taiwan to rebrand TECRO as the Taiwan Representative Office, it would undermine the logic of the unofficial nature of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Removing the reference to economic and cultural ties and adding the word ‘Taiwan’ would implicitly upgrade the status of the office to something more akin to an embassy. Such a decision would also strengthen the hand of those in Taipei who advocate additional moves to make the relationship more official, such as allowing Taiwan’s president to visit Washington, DC.

“Some will argue that renaming the office will not start a war with China, so the United States should go ahead with the move. But that is not a sufficient way to measure whether the United States should undertake a given policy. Instead, the United States should keep in mind whether a policy sends mixed messages to Taiwan regarding the U.S. position on Taiwan independence and emboldens those on Taiwan who advocate for independence. It also should consider whether a proposed policy is intellectually consistent with the U.S. One-China policy and sends the proper signals to its own bureaucracy. The fact that TECRO is such a unique name forces those in the U.S. government who do not routinely work on U.S.-Taiwan relations to ask why it is different and what is unique about U.S.-Taiwan ties. This has a useful disciplining effect on the government.”

Similarly, China condemned the recent decision of Lithuania to open diplomatic ties with Taiwan, leading to an impasse which threatens to embroil the entire European Union.

The willingness of China to break its agreement with Great Britain over the status of human rights in Hong Kong (the “two Systems Agreement” of 1997 which was supposed to be in force until 2047) suggests that China is feeling less constrained by other powers. Its continued military build-up in the South China Sea, which is flatly inconsistent with established international law on maritime matters, is another example of its growing confidence. Finally, after four years of former President Trump’s efforts to put “America First”, there is a clear fraying of US alliance ties and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is interpreted by some as a weakening of US will to defend allies. Clearly, Taiwan is worried about its ties with the US and it has dramatically increased its defense budget.

It is difficult for me to speculate about how this matter will develop. I think that Chinese President Xi would like to resolve the issue in China’s favor before 1 October 2022 and there is little question that Xi has consolidated his position as the Chinese leader to an incredible degree. But I have no idea how US President Biden regards the Chinese position on Taiwan. More than likely, the Afghanistan withdrawal makes it difficult for President Biden to back down if challenged by China.

The US position on Taiwan is tenuous since it has already conceded that Taiwan is part of China–it is politically very difficult for states to support territories that break away from a central government. The US Navy remains a formidable force, but it would be fighting in China’s backyard. The best course of action for the US would be to keep a low profile and to highlight the advantages to China of maintaining open markets for the advanced technology developed in Taiwan. The US should not think seriously about using military force to support an independent Taiwan.

Posted September 13, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 September 2021   Leave a comment

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 11 September attack on the US by al Qaeda. The newspapers are filled with references to the event and several TV channels are airing documentaries. There seem to be several themes common to all this attention: the grief and pain suffered by those who lost loves ones; the need to “never forget”; and the question of whether there was enough done to avert the attack. I have vivid memories of the event, watching the TV with my colleagues in Skinner Hall and realizing that an act of war had occurred. In subsequent days, there were many sessions with colleagues and students assessing the implications of the attack. My dear colleague, Jon Western, articulated the view held by many that the world had changed dramatically.

I am disheartened, however, that there seems to be a distinct lack of attention to the question of the intelligence of the US response to the attack. It was undoubtedly an act of war, but few asked the question of whether going to war was the correct response. The horrific and cold-blooded act stimulated rage, a desire for revenge, and unleashed cruel and unwarranted attacks on Arabs and Islam. None of those motives are consistent with a reasoned decision to go to war and to launch what came to be called the “Global War on Terror”. Clausewitz understood well the need to keep reason at the center of any decision to go to war: “We come now to the region dominated by the powers of intellect.  War is the realm of uncertainty . . . .  War is the realm of chance. . . .  Two qualities are indispensable:  first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.  The first of these qualities is described by the French term, coup d’oeil; the second is determination.”

The US made a fatal mistake in treating the attack as a military attack, and not a political attack. al Qaeda had no army and few armaments. In September 2001 al Qaeda had purchased refuge in Afghanistan from the Taliban and, while it was well-organized, it was a small force of poorly armed adherents. The US response was to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq and overthrow their governments and replacing them with governments which poorly represented the interests of the people in those states. The US abandoned its commitment to defending human rights, resorting to torture in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and detaining prisoners in the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba with no charges and no access to any of the protections of the laws of war. The US also completely militarized its response to political terrorism, spending $21 trillion on measures designed to protect American security according to the National Priorities Project:

  • Over the 20 years since 9/11, the U.S. has spent $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization.
  • Of that total, $16 trillion went to the military — including at least $7.2 trillion for military contracts.
  • Another $3 trillion went to veterans’ programs, $949 billion went to Homeland Security, and $732 billion went to federal law enforcement.
  • For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:
  • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
  • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
  • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
  • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
  • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
  • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.

In addition, the US military response to the attacks killed many civilians, dwarfing the 3,000 who were killed in the US on 11 September 2001:

“20 years after the terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center of Sept 11, 2001, at least 22,000 civilians have been killed in U.S. airstrikes during the war on terror, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The minimum estimate counts around 11,500 civilian airstrike deaths in Iraq, 5,700 in Syria and 4,800 in Afghanistan. Additional deaths occurred in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. The maximum estimate by UK NGO Airwars, which analyzed declared U.S. airstrikes since 2001, is more than twice as high at around 48,000.”

Now, twenty years later, the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, Iraq has a government strongly influenced by Iran, and terrorism continues to be the instrument of choice for many international groups but also for a disturbingly large number of white supremacists in the US. As we remember the grief of 11 September, we should also realize that we allowed that grief to lead us into a series of policies that addressed none of the causes of that sorrow. And more than likely deepened and aggravated those causes.

Posted September 10, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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