Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sun, 18 Aug 2019 04:29:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 America as a Company Town: Royal Dutch Shell Workers in Penna. Coerced to Show up for Trump Sun, 18 Aug 2019 04:01:20 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Anya Litvak at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that a contractor handling the Trump appearance at the Royal Dutch Shell plant instructed the workers not to yell or protest and informed them that they would not to be paid that day unless they came to the Trump event. Their attendance was worth as much as $700 in pay, benefits and overtime. Shell denies having instructed the workers not to protest. This was a White House event and not a campaign rally, on the surface, but we have had all the trappings of campaigning– including Trump bashing his political opponents by name and calling on the union workers in attendance to unseat their union leaders if the latter did not support Trump. The contractor attempted to imply that this rally resembled entertainment events when celebrities visited the plant and workers were given off to hear them.

In fact this campaign rally was a way for Royal Dutch Shell to force its workers to show up for Trump and to put them under his political influence. It is all about climate change, because this is a gas extraction plant, and Trump does not believe in global heating. Indeed, he believes that the climate crisis is a Chinese piece of fake news. If you did believe in climate emergency you would stop the extraction of fossil fuels. That would hurt the bottom line of Royal Dutch Shell. As for the workers, while they no doubt benefit from the jobs provided by this extraction venture there are other jobs to be had in the green energy field and indeed wind and solar are the fastest growing job sector in energy.

The entire episode sheds enormous light on the ways in which the United States is one large company town. The company town was an institution of the early 20th century where, for instance, miners would work in a place where they were given housing and staples, the costs of which were deducted from their salaries. These provisions were a form of loan and the workers never quite got out from under their debt burden. Obviously in a company town there is no room for democracy, and workers are not free to speak their minds about company policy or even about national politics. Royal Dutch Shell has managed to re-create the conditions of the company town at their rally for Trump. In the early 20th century the state of Montana was essentially a company town of Anaconda Mining, and going against the company was a form of suicide. The noir mystery writer Dashiell Hammett maintained that he was offered $5000 to kill a union agitator named Frank little. Indeed, noir as a genre of fiction may well owe its existence to this incident, since Hammett was horrified, quit the Pinkerton Detective Agency, and turned to writing.

Noir mysteries (from the French roman noir or “black novel”) have as their premise that the very structures of polite society that are to be upheld by the law and which ought to ensure justice for victims are those structures that actually oppress the innocent and commit the murders that the hard-boiled detectives have to solve.

You might say that from the day that Donald J. Trump was elected president, the United States entered a timeline where the whole country is living in a dreary noir pulp novel, but the fact is that Trump’s election simply made very clear what has been going on all along.

As for Royal Dutch Shell, it was a major engine of colonial oppression in what is now Indonesia, and there is a sense in which all colonialism is a form of company town writ large. Now, that’s America.

Bonus video:

CBS Pittsburgh: “Protesters At Shell Cracker Plant”

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After Tlaib & Omar are Barred by Netanyahu, why would any Self-Respecting Dem Congressman do the AIPAC Tour Again?? Sat, 17 Aug 2019 03:13:22 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has barred Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel. This is an about-face of enormous proportions, since Israel has been inveigling US politicians to come to Israel for decades, in hopes of propagandizing on the Israeli point of view. The US is thought to have given Israel over $100 billion over the years, and still gives $3 bn a year (much more if you count tariff abatements and forms of technological transfer).

Netanyahu maintains that the two representatives had planned to use their visit to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Both are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, a caucus within the Democratic Party, which takes the stance that a boycott should be launched against Israel to force it to cease usurping Palestinian land and to force it to give Palestinians the right to have citizenship in a state– whether an independent state, or in Tlaib’s case, Israel itself.

Note that this campaign does not target Israel but rather Israeli oppression of 5 million Palestinians, whom it denies basic rights of citizenship.

I wrote on another occasion:

    “Supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel are protesting the continued Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, the illegal Israeli blockade on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the system of land theft and denial of basic human rights imposed by Israel, which has become a form of Apartheid or in American terms, Jim Crow.

    They might also be protesting the formal Israeli government policy of shooting down unarmed protesters with snipers who gather on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border to protest the boycott and blockade that Israel has imposed on them. Israeli snipers have killed hundreds of these protesters in the past two years and wounded thousands, often maiming them for life. The Israeli boycott of Gaza means that the victims of these war crimes cannot get good medical treatment in Gaza; Israel often won’t let them be treated elsewhere, and so they lose limbs that might otherwise have been saved. The US press often mischaracterizes all this as “clashes” at the border, but extensive video and photographic evidence demonstrates that Israeli snipers are shooting down people who pose no danger to anyone, including sometimes medics, journalists, children, and unarmed women and men.

    If any other country behaved this way, Congress itself would impose a boycott on it.

The entire affair has been roiled by a series of contradictions. Netanyahu began by allowing the two representatives into the country, but then Trump tweeted that that would make Israel look weak, so Netanyahu reversed himself. Then another Israeli official intimated that the two could visit the Palestinian West Bank. But that suggestion was shot down as well. Then the Israelis said that Rep. Tlaib could visit Her 90-year-old grandmother in the West Bank. But they put restrictions on her to keep the visit private and not to mention anything about BDS or boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The spectacle of Israel telling sitting US congresswomen what they can say and what positions they can advocate for indicates how low US prestige has fallen in the world.

Tlaib would like to see her family but not at such a cost. She also could not afford to submit to such humiliation and still hold her head up high before her own constituents in Dearborn Heights. So she declined the offer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested that if Israel does not want congressional representatives to visit, it might like to give back some of the billions of dollars in aid for which Congress votes.

Dem leaders Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Steny Hoyer condemned the move, but it is unlikely that they will do more than that.

If the democratic party had any backbone it would stop participating in the humiliating annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) propaganda visits to Israel, as a form of protest.


Bonus video:

CBS: Bernie Sanders

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Trump wrong Again: Offshore Wind a “New Industrial Revolution” Fri, 16 Aug 2019 04:06:26 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Donald Trump is both an ignoramus and a loudmouth, and has used his vast fund of cluelessness to talk down wind power. He says that if you depend on wind power, your t.v. won’t work when the wind abruptly stops blowing. This is not true. He says that wind power is bad for people’s health. This is the opposite of true. That is, it is not only false. It is pernicious. Wind power in replacing dirty, polluting fuels such as coal, is tremendously good for people’s health. Burning coal contributes to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, heart attacks, lead poisoning and even mercury nerve poisoning. Plus it acidifies fresh water lakes. Plus it causes global heating and climate crisis.

Wind power in contrast is clean and healthy.

Ask Denmark. Ordinarily wind produces over half of that country’s electricity. In June and July wind production was up 25 percent year over year, according to David Weston at Wind Power Monthly. Wind supplied 2/3s of the country’s electricity. Denmark also exports to Germany, but since Germany was having a wind boom of its own this summer, Denmark did not ramp up as much as it could have.

Offshore wind technology in particular is allowing that sector to come on like blockbusters. Mary B. Powers, Peter Reina, and Debra K. Rubin at Engineering News-Record quote industry insider Matt Palmer as saying that the new offshore wind installations are a once-in-a generation new technology that will over the next decade and a half fuel a new industrial revolution. European concerns have credible plans to put in 65 gigawatts of new offshore wind by 2025.

Offshore Wind Turbines, Liverpool Bay © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

But ENR notes that the big surprise is the rapidity with which offshore wind has become a major sector in the United States, which has abruptly overtaken Asian countries, with 15.7 gigs of offshore wind and big projects now planned off New Jersey and New York.

Wind power is the future. Jason Deign at Cleantech points out that worldwide there are six offshore wind projects the size of small nuclear power plants in the pipeline, mostly in China and Britain. That is, they are near to or more than 600 megawatts.

The costs of wind, both onshore and offshore, are falling rapidly. As Chrissy Sexton points out at, the cost of wind power has fallen to a tenth of what it was 40 years ago. The United States now has enough wind installations to power 28 million homes, and we get 6.5% of our electricity from this source, says Ben German at Axios. He says new wind installations can generate electricity at 2 cents per kilowatt hour; coal is usually counted as 5 cents a kilowatt hour and so is more than twice as expensive, and plus its “externalities” or health and climate costs make it actually about 89 cents a kilowatt hour. Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma all get over a third of their electricity from wind. Kansas and Oklahoma have governments that are beholden to Big Oil and to a rigid Republican ideology that has ruined their education and social services infrastructure, so those states are not doing this out of ideology. Wind is good business.

The technology is changing with incredible rapidity. Some of the new wind towers have a span the size of a football field. Anmar Frangoul at CNBC reports that one new wind farm project just being started in Texas will power 168,000 homes all on its own. These installations can be built in a little over a year, and this one will be finished by late 2020. Texas has over 28 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, the most of any state in the union.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Scotland’s largest – Beatrice Offshore wind farm officially opened.

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If the US Recognizes Israel’s Usurpation of Palestinian West Bank, what will Int’l Community Do? Fri, 16 Aug 2019 04:06:25 +0000 By Ramona Wadi |

The UN has advanced no further than acknowledging that Israel is seeking to “advance a claim of sovereignty” over settlements in the occupied West Bank. As the Israeli elections approach, the main contenders – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz from the Blue and White alliance – are prioritising settlement expansion and the elimination of all possibilities of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s alliance with US President Donald Trump has reaped an entrenching of violating Palestinian rights, which the international community has refused to consider as a strategy to displace Palestinians physically and politically. In his latest demands to the US, Netanyahu is reportedly asking Trump to support Israeli sovereignty over settlements. While official diplomatic confirmation of such reports is not yet available, such a move would tie in to the annexation comments made in June by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

US-Israeli actions do not leave space for manoeuvre unless this is for further colonial expansion. While the UN was busy churning out its usual statements on violations dissociated from the wider colonial framework, Israel benefited from US decisions which run contrary to the Palestinian political demands the UN purportedly supports.

READ: Need to invest in education in Palestine says UN official

In less than two years, the US recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv, recognised Israel’s control over the Golan Heights and set in motion plans to exacerbate UNRWA’s financial crisis by withholding funds. The US has also announced its intent to redefine the Palestinian refugee identity in order – ostensibly to render UNRWA defunct. However, the underlying motive is to eliminate the Palestinian right of return from political discourse.

School children in an UNRWA institute fly kites carrying the hashtag ‘dignity is priceless’ to highlight the dire situation in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

While the US was divulging its economic plans as part of the “deal of the century”, the UN was looking the other way, preoccupied with saving the two-state hyperbole. Israel’s settlement expansion has also elicited a predictable response by the international community – save the two-state compromise to save international diplomacy regardless of whether it fails Palestinians. The absence of action by the international community has facilitated this alliance between the US and Israel in contempt of international law.

With no political will forthcoming from the rest of the world to halt the colonisation of Palestinian land, Israel generates additional impunity as well as the possibilities for the international community to align itself gradually with US-Israeli interests.

READ: UNRWA schools to open on time despite funding cuts

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is calling for international sanctions over Israel’s recent approval of additional settlement construction, yet “welcomes the principled statements of condemnation by responsible international actors”. This constant downgrading of political expectations reinforces the international community’s reliance on perfunctory statements, which also include the occasional deviation from condemnations to suggesting holding Israel accountable. The latter are disseminated as if constituting a breakthrough in a process dominated by international complicity, thus further harming the Palestinian cause for liberation and political rights.

It is no secret that the Trump administration has set an overt plan in motion to support Israel unequivocally. Meanwhile, the international community has yet to clarify its true stance over the colonisation of Palestine. Its refusal to hold Israel accountable at least for its violations points to a tacit agreement to allow a complete deterioration of Palestinian rights before spelling out its duplicitous diplomacy.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger. Her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor or Informed Comment.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Israel approves 6,000 new Jewish settler homes, 700 for Palestinians”

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Rivers of Dust: The Future of Water and the Middle East Fri, 16 Aug 2019 04:05:55 +0000 Without international diplomacy, the Middle East is going to run out of water — and it won’t be alone.]]> ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) – It is written that “Enannatum, ruler of Lagash,” slew “60 soldiers” from Umma. The battle between the two ancient city states took place 4,500 years ago near where the great Tigris and Euphrates rivers come together in what is today Iraq.

The matter in dispute? Water.

More than four millennia have passed since the two armies clashed over one city state’s attempt to steal water from another. But while the instruments of war have changed, the issue is much the same: whoever controls the rivers controls the land.

And those rivers are drying up, partly because of overuse and wastage, and partly because climate change has pounded the region with punishing multi-year droughts.

Syria and Iraq are at odds with Turkey over the Tigris-Euphrates. Egypt’s relations with Sudan and Ethiopia over the Nile are tense. Jordan and the Palestinians accuse Israel of plundering river water to irrigate the Negev Desert and hogging most of the three aquifers that underlie the occupied West Bank.

According to satellites that monitor climate, the Tigris-Euphrates basin, embracing Turkey, Syria, Iraq and western Iran, is losing water faster than any other area in the world, with the exception of Northern India.

Dammed Up Tensions

The Middle East’s water problems are hardly unique. South Asia — in particular the Indian sub-continent — is also water stressed, and Australia and much of Southern Africa are experiencing severe droughts. Even Europe is struggling with some rivers dropping so low as to hinder shipping.

But the Middle East has been particularly hard hit. According to the Water Stress Index, out of 37 countries in the world facing “extremely high” water distress, 15 are in the Middle East, with Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia heading the list.

For Syria and Iraq, the problem is Turkey and Ankara’s mania for dam building. Since 1975, Turkish dams have reduced the flow of water to Syria by 40 percent — and to Iraq by 80 percent. According to the Iraqi Union of Farming Associations, up to 50 percent of the country’s agricultural land could be deprived of water, removing 124 million acres from production.

Iran and Syria have also built dams that reduce the flow of rivers that feed the Tigris and Euphrates, allowing salt water from the Persian Gulf to infiltrate the Shatt al-Arab waterway where the twin rivers converge. The salt has destroyed rich agricultural land in the south and wiped out much of the huge date farms for which Iraq was famous.

Half a century ago, Israel built the National Water Carrier canal diverting water from the Sea of Galilee, which is fed by the Jordan River. That turned the Jordan downstream of the Galilee into a muddy stream, which Israel prevents the Palestinians from using.

Jordanian and Syrian dams on the river’s tributaries have added to the problem, reducing the flow of the Jordan by 90 percent.

And according to the World Bank, Israel also takes 87 percent of the West Bank aquifers, leaving the Palestinians only 13 percent. The result is that Israeli settlers on the West Bank get access to 300 liters of water a day, leaving the Palestinians only 75 liters a day. The World Health Organization’s standard is 100 liters a day for each individual.

Other conflicts loom in the Nile basin. At 4,184 miles in length, the Nile River is the world’s longest, traversing 10 African countries. It is Egypt’s lifeblood, providing both water and rich soil for the country’s agriculture. But a combination of drought and dams has reduced its flow over the past several decades.

Ethiopia is currently building an enormous dam for power and irrigation on the Blue Nile. The source of the Blue Nile is Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands. The Egyptian Nile is formed where the Blue Nile and the White Nile — sourced from Lake Victoria in Uganda — converge in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia were initially tense over water, but have eased somewhat with the two sides agreeing to talk about how to share it.

But with climate change accelerating, the issue of water — or the lack thereof — is going to get worse, not better, and resolving the problems will take more than bilateral treaties about sharing. And there is hardly any agreement about how to proceed.

Privatization and Its Discontents

One strategy has been privatization.

Through its International Finance Corporation, the World Bank has been pushing privatizing, arguing that private capital will upgrade systems and guarantee delivery. In practice, however, privatization has generally resulted in poorer quality water at higher prices. Huge transnational companies like SUEZ and Veolia have snapped up resources in the Middle East and global south.

Increasingly, water has become a commodity, either by control of natural sources and distribution, or by cornering the market on bottled water.

Lebanon is a case in point. Historically the country has had sufficient water resources, but it’s been added to the list of 33 countries that will face severe water shortages by 2040.

Part of the current crisis is homegrown. Some 60,000 illegal wells siphon off water from the aquifer that underlies the country, and dams have not solved the problem of chronic water shortages, particularly for the 1.6 million people living in the greater Beirut area. Increasingly people have turned to private water sources, especially bottled water.

Multinational corporations, like Nestle, drain water from California and Michigan and sell it in Lebanon. Nestle, though its ownership of Shoat, controls 35 percent of Lebanon’s bottled water. Not only is bottled water expensive, and often inferior in quality to local water sources, the plastic it necessitates adds to a growing pollution problem.

There are solutions out there, but they require a level of cooperation and investment that very few countries currently practice. Many countries simply don’t have the funds to fix or upgrade their water infrastructure. Pipes lose enormous amounts through leakage, and dams reduce river flow, creating salt pollution problems downstream in places like Iraq and Egypt. In any event, dams eventually silt in.

Wells — legal and illegal — are rapidly draining aquifers, forcing farmers and cities to dig deeper and deeper each year. And, many times, those deep wells draw in pollution from the water table that makes the water impossible to drink or use on crops.

Again, there are solutions. California has made headway refilling the vast aquifer that underlies its rich Central Valley by establishing ponds and recharge basins during the rainy season, and letting water percolate back into the ground. Drip agriculture is also an effective way to reduce water usage, but it requires investment beyond the capacity of many countries, let alone small farmers.

Desalinization is also a strategy, but an expensive one that requires burning hydrocarbons, thus pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and accelerating climate change.

We Need a Treaty

As the Middle East grows dryer and populations in the region continue to increase, the situation will get considerably worse in the coming decades.

The Middle East may be drying up, but so is California, much of the American Southwest, southern Africa, parts of Latin America, and virtually all of southern Europe. Since the crisis is global, “beggar thy neighbor” strategies will eventually impoverish all of humanity. The solution lies with the only international organization on the planet, the United Nations.

In 1997, the UN adopted a Convention on International Watercourses that spells out procedures for sharing water and resolving disputes. However, several big countries like China and Turkey opposed it, and several others, like India and Pakistan, have abstained. The convention is also entirely voluntary, with no enforcement mechanisms like binding arbitration.

It is, however, a start. Whether nations will come together to confront the planet wide crisis is an open question. Otherwise, the Middle East will run out of water — and it will hardly be alone. By 2030, according to the UN, four out of 10 people will not have access to water

There is precedent for a solution, one that is at least 4,500 years old. A cuneiform tablet in the Louvre chronicles a water treaty that ended the war between Umma and Lagash. If our distant ancestors could figure it out, it stands to reason we can.

Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan can be read at and

via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

PBS NewsHour: “Arid Middle East faces political battles over water shortfalls”

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Trump’s Trade War is tanking US Economy & Destroying 70 Years of World Order Fri, 16 Aug 2019 04:02:07 +0000 By Shiro Armstrong |-

President Trump’s “America First” agenda is rapidly trashing the global economic system and the rules and norms the US has championed throughout in the post war era.

Mr Trump has been singling out particular countries, including China and Mexico, for punitive tariffs way in excess of those imposed on imports from other countries, a practice that may have some legality in the US but is almost certainly outlawed by the World Trade Organisation.

The latest, announced on Twitter and due start to September 1, is a tariff of 10% on almost all of the $US300 billion worth of Chinese imports not subject to an earlier punitive tariff of 25%.

Among them are clothes, shoes, blankets and bedding, curtains, lighting fixtures, furnishings, toys and electronic goods including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and televisions, but only those from China.

Until now, the average US tariff rate has been 2%. The new tariffs push the average rate on Chinese imports to more than 20%, close to the infamous Smoot-Hawley tariff levels that stifled global economic growth in the 1930s.

China has already responded with tariffs of its own, and by slowing purchases of US agricultural products.

Are Trump’s actions legal?

The World Trade Organisation to which most of the world belongs and to which the US has belonged since its inception and China since 2001, has as its most important principle that “countries cannot normally discriminate between their trading partners”.

It means that if tariffs are low, as they are in the United States, that low rate has to be applied to imports from all member countries, not to all but one. Exceptions are permitted only “under strict conditions”.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade administered by the WTO offers a tiny out relating to national security, on which Trump appears to be relying. Article XXI states that the agreement

shall not prevent any contracting party from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests

Subsections clarify that a member country can invoke this section (i) relating to fissionable nuclear materials; (ii) relating to the traffic in arms, ammunitions, and implements of war; and (iii) in times of war or other emergency in international relations.

It’s not obvious that that there is any such emergency. Trump is threatening tariffs on automobiles and auto parts from Japan, Germany and elsewhere in the name of national security and it’s difficult to see any justification there, as well.

In April this year the WTO dispute settlement panel issued a landmark ruling in a dispute between Russia and the Ukraine asserting that the panel, rather than the country imposing tariffs, had the power to determine whether or not there was an emergency.

Worse still for the US (and for Russia) it found that

political or economic differences between members are not sufficient, of themselves, to constitute an emergency

So the US would be found to have broken the rules?

Breaking the rules and being found to have broken the rules are two different things.

The first step would be for another WTO member to take the United States to the dispute settlement panel and appellate body, incurring the wrath of the US and taking on the small risk of a judgement against it.

The second would be for the appellate body to hear the case.

Normally seven members strong, the WTO appellate body has shrunk to just three people (the minimum permissible) after the US blocked every new appointment after each four-year term expired.

Two more members’ terms expire in December, and the last expires in December 2020.

The body will be able to continue work on existing cases for a year or two because members whose terms have expired are allowed to continue work on cases they have started. But after December the appellate body will be unable to take on new cases.

The rules themselves are under threat

The era of a rules-based trade is ending. The US has gone from underwriting the rules for the past 70 years to becoming their biggest threat.

The European Union and Canada are trying to get around the destruction of the body that enforces the rules by setting up their own multilateral investment court which will use the WTO rules and retired appellate body judges. Other nations might join in.

The United States and China — the world’s two largest economies — are engaged in a trade war that appears to be spiraling out of control, doing immense damage to the economies of each, and to worldwide GDP.

A worst-case outcome is an all-out global trade war that would undoubtedly lead to global recession. That did not seem a plausible scenario two years ago, but it is now.

Australia and Japan should help China fight back

As the world’s largest trader and second-largest economy, China has most to lose from a breakdown in the multilateral trading system, and the most to gain by working with countries such as Japan and Australia to maintain discrimination-free trade.

The most promising opportunity in Asia is with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) — an agreement presently being negotiated by the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

RCEP provides an opportunity to build an Asian coalition in defence of free trade and economic cooperation. The group includes some of the largest and most dynamic economies in the world and is important enough to make a difference globally.

Australia’s Productivity Commission estimates that even if tariffs were raised by 15% globally (as happened in the great depression), RCEP countries could continue their economic expansion if they abolished tariffs as a group.

Australia has long championed multilateral or global rules-based trade. It is time to recognise those rules are being torn down and work with others to protect the what we have.

The Conversation

Shiro Armstrong, Director, East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CNBC from last week: “Expect more strategic responses from China against Trump: Yale’s Roach”

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‘Slowbalization’: Is the Slowing Global Economy a Boon or Bane? Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:04:08 +0000 ( Foreign Policy in Focus) – Some economists worry the world has passed “peak globalization.” But that could be good for the planet.

By , .


South Korea is now a rule-abiding participant in the global economy. If North Korea traded its nuclear weapons program for a peace treaty, security guarantees, and economic development assistance, it might be able to accomplish the same trick. (Photo: yeowatzup / Flickr)

A group of Italians started the Slow Food movement back in the 1980s. Stay away from fast-food restaurants, they urged: eat local, focus on traditional recipes, relax, and enjoy your meal.

The Slow Food movement began as a protest against McDonald’s, which opened a new franchise near the Spanish Steps in Rome. But it grew into much more than that. Slow Food was a finger in the eye of globalization and its relentless transformation of culture into uniform McNuggets of experience from New York and New South Wales to Dakar and Dhaka.

Since that call to culinary arms, the movement has spread to other branches of culture: slow cinema, slow education, slow medicine, slow design, even slow travel. To a world addicted to ever greater connection speeds, ever faster modes of transportation, and ever more caffeinated feats of multitasking, the go-slowers recommend a perverse resistance to the frenzied scherzo of modern life in favor of a more comfortable adagio.

Now it seems that the global economy is finally catching up to this fashion.

Earlier this year, The Economist identified several key indicators of what it calls “slowbalization.” The portion of trade as part of global GDP has fallen. Multinationals have seen a drop in their share of global profits. Foreign direct investment tumbled from 3.5 percent of global GDP in 2007 to 1.3 percent in 2018.

It’s possible that the world has passed “peak globalization.”

The U.S.-China trade war is only part of this story. Although escalating tariffs between the two countries could cost the world nearly half a trillion dollars in lost growth by 2020, a sudden about-turn by the two countries wouldn’t necessarily reverse the current trajectory of the global economy.

The real reasons behind slowbalization are more structural in nature, The Economist reports:

The cost of moving goods has stopped falling. Multinational firms have found that global sprawl burns money and that local rivals often eat them alive. Activity is shifting towards services, which are harder to sell across borders: scissors can be exported in 20ft-containers, hair stylists cannot. And Chinese manufacturing has become more self-reliant, so needs to import fewer parts.

A tariff war is bad. So is a global recession. The apostles of economic globalization fear that growth will slow, poorer countries will be deprived of a chance to catch up to the rest, and interstate conflict will sharpen without the softening effects of trade.

But perhaps slowbalization is exactly what the planet needs right now. How else to reduce the global carbon footprint, shrink economic inequality, and reorient national economies toward local growth?

The world faces a number of urgent crises. Perhaps the ancients were right when they coined the phrase festina lente: more haste, less speed.

The Old Economy

The Howard Street train tunnel in Baltimore, built in 1895 and running underneath the downtown, is a marvel of engineering. It has been a key link in the circulatory system of globalization for more than a century.

But it’s 18 inches too short.

Baltimore is the fourteenth most important port in the United States. Ever since the Panama Canal was expanded in 2016, however, container traffic to the East Coast has increased dramatically.

That’s great for Baltimore’s port, which has been upgraded accordingly. But the main train tunnel at Howard Street is a major bottleneck. It’s just a bit too short to handle a rail car with two stacked containers. So, a lot of the containers go out by truck instead. And some ships are heading to other ports that can handle the increased traffic.

The state of Maryland is therefore looking for money to remodel the tunnel, adding a notch to the arched ceiling and lowering the floor. Such are the local modifications necessary to sustain the greater commerce created by globalization.

Upgrading the Howard Street tunnel might sound like a modernization process. But, increasingly, the modern economy is going in a different direction.

Consider the greater automation of factories. In the age of globalization, multinational corporations have situated their manufacturing according to a number of variables, one of which has been the cost of labor. That’s why so many American manufacturers relocated first to Mexico and then to China, where workers earn considerably less than their U.S. counterparts.

But if workers are replaced by robots, then the need to offshore manufacturing becomes less pressing. Indeed, the new state-of-the-art term is “reshoring,” which brings manufacturing back home along with a shift toward more highly skilled labor and better pay. Reshoring has created over 16,000 jobs in the U.S. manufacturing sector, which has contributed, between 2008 and 2017, to a 20 percent increase in manufacturing output.

Beware the overly rosy view, however, since automation will lead to significant job loss overall. And not just in the manufacturing sector — just think about all those annoying automated voice response systems that pick up when you call any large institution these days. But automation can also be nudged in more sustainable and less disruptive directions even as it eliminates 3D jobs — dirty, dangerous, demeaning — that no human should be doing.

Another longstanding economic development involves supply chains. To avoid natural disasters, wars, and other disruptions in the chain of production, manufacturers are increasingly moving their factories closer to their customers. Also, market preferences can change quite rapidly. According to one estimate, because it takes so long to ship a product by sea in those huge container ships, as much as half of what’s produced goes unsold because customers don’t want those particular products anymore.

Then there’s the environmental impact of these global supply chains. Such logistics, according to the World Economic Forum, account for fully six percent of total human-generated carbon emissions.

Consumer preferences have also evolved, with “local” acquiring greater cache. The “buy local” movement has had perhaps the greatest influence in the agricultural sector. Direct-to-consumer sales of food increased more than threefold between 1992 and 2012. Buying locally produced food, manufactured items, and services employs more people, decreases economic inequality, increases local tax bases, and strengthens communities.

Port traffic is not going to decrease significantly in the near future. Because of the nature of the global economy, Maryland would be wise to fix that old train tunnel in Baltimore. But an entirely different economy that doesn’t rely on huge container vessels of iPhones from China or soybeans from Brazil is emerging within the current system.

And this evolution, in turn, is changing the very definition of globalism.

What It Means to be Global

Economic globalization has been part of the world system since the Silk Road and even earlier. But the modern version dates to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when refrigeration, the railroad, the telegraph, modern factory production, and mass migration converged to create a new worldwide web of connections.

As a result of this global network, trade increased exponentially until 1914. The outbreak of World War I that year stopped globalization in its tracks. World trade wouldn’t recover fully to those levels until the 1960s.

It’s no accident that the birth of an international community coincided with the first wave of modern globalization. The League of Nations emerged after the end of World War I. International NGOs like Save the Children and the American Friends Service Committee began operations at this time. In the 1920s, a new sense of modern cosmopolitanism united American flappers, Japanese moga (modern girls), and Weimar hipsters.

It didn’t last long. The nationalism, intolerance, and xenophobia of the 1930s — typified by the rise of fascism in Europe, Stalin’s anti-internationalist turn in the Soviet Union, and an ugly isolationist movement in the United States — shut down this nascent globalism. Only after World War II did another attempt at rebuilding the international community begin with the creation of the United Nations and a set of international financial institutions.

It’s common these days to invoke the 1930s when trying to understand the appeal of Donald Trump, the resurrection of tariff walls, and the widespread fear of refugees. Globalization and nationalism seem to be involved in a rough-and-tumble tango across history’s dance floor, and it’s now the reactionaries’ turn to lead. That interpretation inspires sources like The Economist to wax pessimistic about slowbalization:

Globalisation made the world a better place for almost everyone. But too little was done to mitigate its costs. The integrated world’s neglected problems have now grown in the eyes of the public to the point where the benefits of the global order are easily forgotten. Yet the solution on offer is not really a fix at all. Slowbalisation will be meaner and less stable than its predecessor. In the end it will only feed the discontent.

The first two sentences of this assessment don’t sit well with each other. If globalization made the world a better place for almost everyone, who exactly shouldered all those costs that too little was done to mitigate? And what about climate change, which has accelerated as a result of all this economic growth and international trade?

Acknowledging the costs and benefits of globalization is not enough. The Economist should pay closer attention to the uneven distribution of those costs and benefits — and how new economic trends can be shaped to help rectify these problems.

If it’s true that the old system of mindless growth and unlimited trade is on its way out, then slowbalization is not a speed bump in the further integration of the global economy. It is an early sign, by markets and technology, that a global assembly line powered by immense cargo ships will soon be as much a part of the “old economy” as coal-fired power plants, typewriters, and cassette tapes.

The challenge now is to preserve the political internationalism necessary to address global problems like climate change and, at the same time, retrofit the global economy so that it meets the needs of people and the planet. This trick of separating the beneficial internationalism from the dregs of economic globalization must also be accomplished as quickly as possible.

Festina lente!

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS News: “MoneyWatch: Stock market falls amid recession concerns”

]]> 0 Bernie Sanders: Criticizing the Israeli Gov’t is not anti-Semitic & Palestinians Deserve Rights Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:03:08 +0000 US Democratic candidate and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has said that criticising Israeli government policy is not anti-Semitic.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in the state of New Hampshire, on the US’ east coast, Sanders told the crowd that “as somebody who is proudly Jewish”, to be critical of a right-wing government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is not to be anti-Semitic”.

Sander’s comment came in response to a question from one audience member who described herself as previously “feeling really let down by politicians who only represent a Jewish voice that is completely uncritical of Israel” and as belonging to “a generation which understands that opposition to the [Israeli] occupation [of Palestinian territories] is a Jewish moral imperative”.

Asking Sanders directly “why does it matter to you to fight to end the occupation,” the Vermont Senator responded:

All that I have ever said about this issue is that US foreign policy should be even-handed. We respect Israel. Israel has every right in the world to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinian people.

Sanders also used the opportunity to double down on his previous promise to use US aid to Israel to pressure the Israeli government to end its now 52-year-old occupation. “The United States gives a whole lot of money to Israel,” Sanders conceded, adding that “I think we can leverage that money to end some of the racism that we have recently seen in Israel”.

In October 2018, the largest-ever US military aid package to Israel – worth $38 billion over a period of ten years – entered into force. The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was initially signed between the US and Israel in 2016 and set funding at $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing, with a further $500 million for “cooperative programmes for missile defence” every year for the next decade.

Under US President Donald Trump this high level of spending has been fiercely protected, despite budget cuts to other sectors such as environmental protection, USAID, housing and health; the 2020 budget proposal sent by the White House to Congress in March included the full $3.3 billion aid outlined in the 2016 MOU.

Sanders’ comments on anti-Semitism will likely be seen as a timely intervention in a raging debate – both within the US and around the world – as to what constitutes anti-Semitism.

Last week the US State Department revised its definition of anti-Semitism to include “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”, adding to the number of examples included in the definition which directly relate to Israel.

Many of these examples mirror those in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, which has been widely adopted by organisations and political parties.

The IHRA definition has since been deemed unfit for purpose on the grounds that it was “never meant to serve as a catch all definition for anti-Semitism”. One of the definition’s creators, US attorney Kenneth S Stern, has criticised the way in which the IHRA definition is now being used to restrict academic freedom and punish free speech, particularly when it comes to pro-Palestine events and any criticism of Israel.

Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs and Public Security, Gilad Erdan, has openly praised the role of the IHRA definition in labelling supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement anti-Semitic, thus limiting the space for anti-occupation activism.

“More and more countries and institutions are adopting the IHRA and State Department definitions of anti-Semitism, which incorporate both classic and new anti-Semitism,” Erdan explained, adding that “the ground-breaking resolution of the Bundestag [German parliament] recognizing the anti-Semitic nature of BDS was the most important step yet”.

Via Middle East Monitor

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Michael Brooks Show: “Shoutout: Bernie Is The Only Candidate Willing To Put Pressure On Israel (TMBS 100)”

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“World-Wide Welcome:” No, Cuccinelli, the Statue of Liberty and Lazarus Poem are not about Whiteness Thu, 15 Aug 2019 04:02:53 +0000 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Chris Cillizza at CNN quotes the interchange between Erin Burnett and Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, over a new policy that might prevent immigrants who accepted public assistance from ever getting a Green Card and beginning the process of becoming citizens.

    “BURNETT: I just played it. The poem reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of the teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-toss to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” Wretched, poor, refuse, that’s what the poem says America supposed to stand for, so what do you think America stands for?

    CUCCINELLI: Well, of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class, and it was written one year after the first federal public charge rule was written.”

Cuccinelli said that in 1882 just before the penning of the “A New Colossus” poem, a law had been recently passed about immigrants being able to support themselves, as though it were a warrant for his new policy. That is a historical distortion, since public assistance as we now have it did not exist, and the law simply required that immigrants be sane and healthy and able to support themselves. In any case, that law, the statue and the poem had nothing to do with one another.

The Statue of Liberty was not intended initially to be about immigration, in any case. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor, was French but from a German Protestant family in Alsace-Lorraine, who tried to Latinize his family name by adding an “i.” Protestants were a small and often disliked minority in France, so Bartholdi was very much interested in individual liberty, being from a minority.

Bartholdi made a trip in his youth to Yemen and Egypt along with some other young artists. He was introduced to the engineer and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was behind the project for a Suez Canal. This project was inspired in part by the Saint-Simonian movement in French political philosophy, which believed that the entire globe could be economically and politically united (and made peaceful) through big infrastructure. The Egyptian high official Rifa’ah al-Tahtawi was influenced by them, and wrote that the world was being brought together by the US transcontinental railroad and he urged a Suez and a Panama canal. This utopian socialist, Saint-Simonian impetus for the canal was of course only part of the equation. Egyptian rulers who favored it hoped it would be a cash cow via tolls.

In Egypt, Bartholdi became interested in monumental sculpture, under the influence of the gigantic statues he saw of Pharaohs and their queens. The queens especially impressed him.

Menkaure and Queen, 2490-2472 BCE. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In French revolutionary thought (and Bartholdi was a progressive), a female figure, Marianne, had become symbolic of liberty.

In the 1860s, with the prospect of the Suez Canal being completed, Bartholdi proposed to the Khedive Ismail (r. 1863-1879) of Egypt and to de Lesseps a monumental statue that would double as a lighthouse for the canal, “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia.” The mock-ups show that he very much modeled the statue on Egyptian peasant women he saw during his travels. Ismail and de Lesseps liked the idea of a lighthouse, but they thought combining it with a statue would be too expensive. Bartholdi’s proposed title was very Saint-Simonian– the Suez Canal was not just an engineering feat useful to shipping but would allow the light of liberty sparked by the Rights of Man and the French Revolution to flow into the Indian Ocean from the Mediterranean.

Bartholdi fought in the Franco-Prussian War and was grief stricken that his birthplace, Alsace-Lorraine, was taken by Germany. He became a big partisan of the French Third Republic that emerged from the ashes of the defeated empire of Napoleon III. The Third Republic had both imperial and universalist aspects, part of what liberty meant to its proponents was certainly the transcendence of narrow ethnic forms of identity through universal rights. In the late 19th century not only were there about a million Italian guest workers, but Poles had started coming to work in the coal mines, and several thousand Algerians arrived (France had declared Algeria “French soil.”) Again, without at all wanting to elide the Orientalism and Aryan racism of French thinkers like Ernest Renan, there was a stream of rights universalism on the French left.

When the centenary of the founding of the United States approached, Bartholdi repurposed his “Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia” as a Statue of Liberty. It was meant to commemorate all liberty-loving peoples, including France and the United States (and I think Bartholdi would have distinctly excluded Bismarck’s Germany). The French government gifted it to the United States.

Initially, the statue was all about liberty– i.e. democracy and human rights and the rule of law. A fund-raising effort to pay for a pedestal for the statue was launched in 1883, and the prominent Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus was prevailed upon to write a poem for the pedestal as a way of whipping up enthusiasm. She produced “The New Colossus” (a reference to the Colossus of Rhodes):

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The Colossus of Rhodes had been a martial statue, erected in commemoration of the military defeat of Cyprus. Lazarus contrasted the male, warlike, triumphalist warning at Rhodes with the female figure in the harbor of New York– female, maternal, welcoming, “the Mother of Exiles.” The exiles are not given any ethnic specificity, but, in keeping with the Declaration of Independence (“all men are created equal”) and the French Rights of Man, are generic human beings.

Contrary to what Cuccinelli said, the poem actually contains the phrase

“world-wide welcome”! CNN: “Burnett challenges Cuccinelli on new immigration rule”

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