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Updated: 11 hours 19 min ago

Impediments to U.S. Voting

18 hours 26 min ago

By The Globalist

A key obstacle to voting is the unnecessary complexity of the U.S. voting process.

1. In the 2016 U.S. federal election for president and Congress, just 55.7% of all voting-age Americans turned out to vote.

2. This makes the United States one of the lowest-scoring countries in the OECD for electoral participation among all voting-age people.

3. Eligible citizens are not automatically (or at least uniformly) enrolled for voting at the local or national level, as is the case in many other developed countries.

4. The process to register to vote varies dramatically by U.S. state (or even by county in some cases).

5. It often involves different forms of identification, few registration locations and personnel or limited time windows to register.

6. Come election time, the actual voting locations also change frequently. That makes it hard for citizens to know where to cast their vote.

7. Early voting, absentee voting, and mail-in voting opportunities are also not consistent by state.

8. In the United States, only the small state of North Dakota allows any resident to vote without any kind of registration.

9. Several U.S. states allow registration on the day of the election, but still require a cumbersome sign-up process.

10. Oregon is the first state to use automatic enrollment (tied to the driver’s license database) with a provision to opt out from registering.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, Pew Research Center, The Nation

©2017 The Globalist

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You can join the conversation about this story on the original post on theglobalist.com.

Trump’s Systematic Strategy to Abuse Power

18 hours 27 min ago

By Frank Vogl

Trump tramples on law enforcement in ways commonly associated only with dictatorships.

Allegations abound that President Donald Trump has sought to obstruct justice. The U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating and may conclude that greater crimes can be prosecuted – crimes explicitly related to the abuse of power.

If Mr. Mueller builds this case, then it will be for the U.S. Congress to launch impeachment proceedings. Congressional committees are pursuing their own investigations now.

With ruthless determination President Trump is systematically undermining the U.S. law enforcement authorities that could check the abuse of power for personal gain by him and his associates in the White House.

Clearing house

Public prosecutors have been fired and not replaced. Increasing numbers of vacancies in offices of U.S. Inspectors-Generals are not being filled and budgets for these offices are being cut.

Top U.S. Justice Department officials have been dismissed. The White House has hired former lobbyists, given them waivers exempting conflict-of-interest rules and fought the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) about revealing the waivers.

The President has publicly derided judges who do not share his views. Taken together these are actions seen only in authoritarian regimes.

One important facet of President Trump’s approach is that he is demanding that top law enforcement officers explicitly demonstrate their allegiance to him. If they respond that on assuming their positions they swore to uphold the U.S. Constitution, then that is not good enough for Trump.

Former FBI Director James Comey says that Trump asked him to both confirm that the President was not under investigation, and that he state his full loyalty to the President. Comey refused, and was fired.

Prosecutors

Acting Attorney-General Sally Yates at the Justice Department was fired directly after challenging the legality of President Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from eight Muslim countries.

President Trump invited U.S. Public Prosecutor Preet Bharara in New York just for a chat at Trump Tower in December and thereafter telephoned him several times just for a general conversation.

Bharara was increasingly uncomfortable about what he felt was an effort to undermine his independence. Before returning yet another call from the president, Bharara informed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he felt it inappropriate to return the call from the President. Bharara was fired the next day.

A considerable number of vacancies in offices of public prosecutors were waiting to be filled by the Trump Administration earlier this year. Then, in early March, the Attorney General fired 46 more public prosecutors, all of whom had been appointed in the course of the eight years that President Obama held office.

A few weeks ago, the White House sent the names of 12 lawyers to the U.S. Senate for confirmation as public prosecutors, noting: “These candidates share the president’s vision for ‘Making America Safe Again.”

Watchdogs

The New York Times recently reported that: “Today nearly one-quarter of inspector general offices have either an acting director or no director at all, including the offices at the C.I.A., the National Security Agency, the Department of Defense and the Social Security Administration.

Acting directors can be reluctant to make extensive changes or take bold action, particularly if they hope to be nominated for a permanent appointment.”

Every U.S. Federal government department has an inspector general authorized to investigate waste, abuse, corruption and other illegality.

These officers play invaluable watchdog roles. Within each government department these are the people who serve as the single most powerful check on abuse of office by all government employees, including those in top positions appointed by the president.

Waivers for Lobbyists

Meanwhile, the President who campaigned to “clean the swamp” of lobbyists and special interest lawyers and consultants in government, has been waging a battle with the OGE.

To guard against conflicts of interest, presidents should not appoint former paid consultants to public offices where they may deal with issues that relate to those private interests that previously hired them to lobby on their behalf.

Exceptions can be made when the President grants a special waiver, which ever since the aftermath of the Watergate scandal 39 years ago have been reported to the OGE.

Over many weeks the OGE and the White House exchanged letters about this issue as the President was granting increasing numbers of waivers.

At one point, Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Trump Administration’s Office of Management and Budget, questioned OGE’s legal authority and requested that it suspend its collection of waiver information.

Finally, at the end of May the White House grandly stated it was making a concession and making waiver information public. It said it had granted ethics waivers to 17 appointees who work for President Trump and Vice President Pence.

The Obama Administration issued exactly the same number of similar waivers over its entire eight-year term of office.

Family Conflicts of Interest

It is far from clear that those official White House appointees, Trump daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, are in full compliance with conflict-of-interest ethics rules as both of them continue to have significant financial interests in their former businesses.

Kushner’s financial dealings are part of the investigation now being pursued by Special Counsel Mueller.

And so, totally in line with the overall effort to undermine law enforcement, friends of President Trump have recently taken to television shows to denigrate Mueller, question his own possible conflicts of interest and float the possibility that he too might be fired by Trump.

In fact, Mueller could only be fired by Deputy Justice Department Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who was appointed to office by Trump only a couple of months ago, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has had to recuse himself from anything to do with Mueller’s investigation as he may be one of its targets.

And so, true to character, Trump issued a Tweet recently suggesting that Rosenstein may have to go.

Trump’s denigration of law enforcement, as well as U.S. intelligence services, is also moving into a higher rhetorical gear as the President has hired several prominent private lawyers as his personal advocates. They are stoking the fires that the President is the victim of a “witch hunt.”

All the actions noted above are not isolated and spontaneous – they are part of a Trump strategy to bend the law to serve his own purposes. Keep watching as the strategy continues to unfold.

©2017 The Globalist

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You can join the conversation about this story on the original post on theglobalist.com.

Saudi’s Crown Prince: A Youthful Gambler

Mon, 2017-06-26 00:01

By James M. Dorsey

Crisis puts future of Saudi reforms and GCC in doubt.

A three-week-old, Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar threatens to complicate newly promoted Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reform plans and undermine the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Middle East’s most successful regional association.

Designed to impose Saudi Arabia and the UAE ‘s will on a recalcitrant Qatar, the boycott suggests that power politics irrespective of cost trump the need for reforms in Prince Mohammed’s world.

The stakes for 31-year old Prince Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family are high. Failure to deliver sustainable economic and social reforms could undermine the prince’s popularity.

His age has allowed him to connect with significant segments of the kingdom’s youth, who account for two-thirds of the population, in ways his predecessors could not.

Complicating Prince Mohammed’s reform plans, laid out in a document entitled Vision 2030, is the kingdom and the UAE’s handling of the crisis as well as a renewed 20% drop in oil prices since January.

The crisis, beyond the balance between power politics and economic necessity, raises questions about key issues needed to inspire confidence in an effort to diversify the kingdom’s economy, streamline its bloated public sector, and strengthen the private sector.

Qatar sanctions

Sanctions imposed on Qatar challenge concepts of equitable rule of law, the principle of freedom of movement, security of private ownership, and a modicum of freedom of expression in a region in which that basic right is already severely restricted.

The sanctions include a ban on travel to Qatar; ordering Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini nationals to leave the Gulf state and expelling Qatari nationals.

They also include shuttering offices of Qatari companies and ejecting Qatari-owned assets, including thousands of Qatari camels and sheep; prompting expelled Qataris to fire sell assets held in the Gulf states opposed to it; and closing airspace for flights to and from Doha.

Restrictions on freedom of expression were taken to new heights with a ban on expressions of sympathy for Qatar that in the UAE could earn someone sporting an FC Barcelona jersey with the logo of Qatar Airway, the sponsor of the Spanish soccer giant, 15 years in prison.

Space for creativity, a prerequisite for building a 21st century knowledge economy, was further cast in doubt by the Gulf states’ unprecedented effort to force closure of more freewheeling Qatari media, including the controversial Al Jazeera television network.

A rising toll

As the crisis drags on, concern is likely to rise among the Gulf’s trading partners, oil and gas customers, and migrant labor suppliers.

Those concerns are reinforced by fears that protagonists on both sides of the Gulf divide are likely to emerge from the crisis bruised and with their reputations tarnished irrespective of how the dispute is resolved.

A survey of young Saudi men conducted by Mark C. Thompson, a Middle East scholar at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals laid out what is at stake for Prince Mohammed.

Mr. Thompson concluded that youth in the kingdom were willing to buy into Vision 2030’s concept of providing economic deliverables in exchange for acceptance of an absolute monarchy that limits basic freedoms.

“There was consensus amongst these young men that reducing unemployment, providing affordable housing and decent healthcare should be the government’s ‘top priorities’ as these issues are considered the most contentious and problematic in wider society: as one young man argues ‘basically if we have these then everything else is satisfactory’,” Mr. Thompson said.

The scholar noted however that initial enthusiasm for Prince Mohammed’s vision “has evaporated amongst some young men, who complain that whilst they were hopeful when the Vision was launched, as the months have passed they see few tangible results.”

Mr. Thompson argued that performance was crucial because Prince Mohammed’s reform plans, the boldest to date, come on the back of earlier promises of change by Saudi leaders that never materialized.

Vision 2030

Further undermining confidence is the fact that Prince Mohammed’s plan involves a unilateral rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract that offered a cradle-to-grave welfare state in exchange for political fealty and acceptance of Sunni ultra-conservatism’s austere moral and social codes.

“The problem is that Vision 2030 has become synonymous with cutting salaries, taxing people and stop-ping benefits,” Mr. Thompson said.

Saudis have, since the introduction of cost-cutting and revenue-raising measures, seen significant rises in utility prices and greater job uncertainty as the government sought to prune its bloated bureaucracy and encourage private sector employment.

Slashes in housing, vacation and sickness benefits reduced salaries in the public sector, the country’s largest employer, by up to a third. Mr. Thompson quoted a medical student as saying:

I was an intern at a SANG (Saudi Arabian National Guard) hospital and most people there were angry about the Vision because their salaries were being cut. The soldiers around here are also angry because they work all the time. It’s unfair to take SAR 1000 ($266.50) from a 5,000 salary. My military father is angry because most of his salary and allowances have been cut. Some people’s incomes have already been reduced by 30% (except if you are a soldier in the south). It seems that the government wants to solve the current economic problems by force. They are doing this by raising taxes but not explaining anything to us. Prices keep rising regardless!

Increasing opposition

Increased grumbling and online protests persuaded the government in April to roll back some of the austerity measures and restore most of the perks enjoyed by government employees.

Mr. Thompson cautioned that to succeed, implementation of Prince Mohammed’s “vision needs to be accountable and transparent, in other words a model of good governance… It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that young Saudis feel they are part of the National Transformation Plan, because if young Saudis believe they can make meaningful contributions to national development, then they will contribute.”

A foiled attempt this month by the Islamic State to attack the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca was likely an effort to undermine Prince Mohammed’s reform plans that involve a loosening of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservativism’s strict and austere social codes and morals.

A siege of the mosque in 1979 prompted the government to give the kingdom’s ultra-conservative religious establishment greater control of public mores.

The kingdom’s religious establishment has criticized Prince Mohammed’s social liberalization effort, including introduction of modern forms entertainment, but largely endorsed his economic plans. Social change has been embraced by a significant swath of Saudi Arabia’s youth.

A 24-year-old speaking to The Guardian, cautioned however that ultra-conservatism maintains a hold on significant numbers of young people.

“You know that the top 11 Twitter handles here are Salafi clerics, right? We are talking more than 20 million people who hang on their every word. They will not accept this sort of change. Never,” the youth said.

©2017 The Globalist

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Lee Kuan Yew’s Two Houses

Sun, 2017-06-25 00:01

By Sun Xi

Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy goes far beyond his house.

Singapore’s 38 Oxley Road was the former residential house of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the Southeast Asian small island nation’s founding father and its first Prime Minister.

In the house, Lee Kuan Yew and his wife Kwa Geok Choo raised three children. Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son who is the current Prime Minister of Singapore, a daughter, Dr. Lee Wei Ling, and the youngest son Lee Hsien Yang.

The house and the three siblings are currently emerging publicly at the center of disputes since the passing of Lee Kuan Yew in 2015.

In a strongly-worded six-page statement titled “What Has Happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s Values? Which was jointly published on 14 June 2017 by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang (joint executors and trustees of Lee Kuan Yew’s old estate), the two siblings reiterated their father’s wish to demolish the house upon his death.

But their elder brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong together with his wife Ho Ching, the CEO of Singapore Government-owned Temasek Holdings, had opposed the wish as “the preservation of the house would enhance his political capital.”

Family feud

More significantly, the two siblings further questioned the “character, conduct, motives and leadership” of Lee Hsien Loong as the national leader, and emphasized that “we have no confidence in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and are worried about Singapore’s future.”

Moreover, the two siblings said that they were considering leaving Singapore, because they felt closely monitored and feared the use of state organs against them by their big brother.

Lee Hsien Loong has denied all allegations, especially the so-called “absurd” claim that he and his wife Ho Ching has political ambitions for their son Li Hongyi. The son subsequently made a public statement that he has “no interest in politics.”

However, both sides have been revealing more private stories and insider evidence to support their respective claims and to attack one another.

The political significance of this family feud for Singapore goes far beyond a “private family matter.”

Although the two siblings’ accusations may not be able to materially challenge Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s grip on power, such severe criticisms from two closest family members will inevitably damage his reputation and popularity.

A political dynasty?

No matter if Prime Minister Lee really had the political intention to “establish a dynasty” as claimed by his sister or not, it will be very difficult for his children to enter Singapore’s politics in future.

Accusing Prime Minister Lee, his siblings also said that “Whilst our father built this nation upon meritocracy, Hsien Loong, whilst purporting to espouse these values, has spoken of a natural aristocracy.”

If without the designed “Lee dynasty” espousing a “natural aristocracy” in the future, it will probably be good news for the Republic of Singapore, nowadays a world-renowned modern and luxurious “house” built up by Lee Kuan Yew from almost nothing in 1965.

Notably, it was in his old home 38 Oxley Road, where Lee Kuan Yew and his comrades gathered secretly to discuss historical events including Singapore’s independence from Britain and subsequent separation from Malaysia.

Now, the hot arguments between the three Lee siblings are still ongoing, especially about how Lee Kuan Yew’s last will was prepared.

Lee Hsien Loong questions why the demolition clause was included in the seventh and final will, when it was not in the fifth and sixth wills, while his two siblings insist the last will is “final and legally binding.”

Prime Minister Lee has apologized to Singaporeans for harm done by the dispute and agreed to address all questioned in the coming Parliament sessions on July 3.

A successful legacy

Lee Kuan Yew’s real will may be debatable, but one thing should be absolutely certain: Lee Kuan Yew must hope the “house of Singapore” he established could continue to survive and thrive.

As his children Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang said “much more important to him was that what he had done should last.”

In only a few decades, Singapore has successfully transformed from a third-world city-state into an international trading and financial hub, housing more than 5 million residents with high living standards.

And, the Government of Singapore has been crowned as one of the least corrupt and most efficient administrations around the world.

Those incredible achievements should be largely credited to Singapore’s good governance institutionalized by Lee Kuan Yew, based on values of meritocracy, honesty, integrity and the rule of law.

Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is far beyond his personal house, and the best way to inherit his authority and credibility is probably to uphold and exercise his core values.

©2017 The Globalist

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Brexit: Full Amputation or Gentle Separation?

Sat, 2017-06-24 00:01

By Stephan Richter and Denis MacShane

The more Theresa May digs in, the less the British people know how much Brexit they really want.

A year ago, 37% of the total number of registered voters in Britain cast their ballot in favor of leaving the European Union.

It was a hard-fought campaign, with accusations and insults hurled freely. The anti-European side sought to present its case as a popular revolt from below, going up against a pro-EU establishment.

Protecting only the right flank

It doesn’t exactly fit this pattern that just five of the richest men in England paid for 61% of the expenditures of the Leave campaign. That’s quite a “popular” revolt.

In the end, the vote wasn’t that much of a surprise. After all, the ground had been nurtured with non-stop negative coverage of Europe in most of Britain’s mass circulation papers for many years.

Despite all the constant droning, the outcome of the referendum vote was still narrow. Mrs. May decided not to care, opting solely to protect her right flank, not the middle ground, after she became prime minister.

Her choice of adopting most of UKIP’s(!) hardline approach meant ignoring the 48% who voted to stay in Europe.

These voters recently took revenge on her, when Mrs. May’s hardline Brexit manifesto was effectively rejected by voters.

UK in a stalemate

Now the UK is in a stalemate. The fact that people are just beginning to realize that Brexit has many layers and is not a singular concept will not advance any sense of clarity.

The available options range from the full-on rupture of access to the Single Market (which was the big enticement for 1,000 Japanese and other foreign firms to set up in the UK) to a more nuanced, intelligent form of Brexit.

The latter approach would return legislative sovereignty to the House of Commons, but that shift – like Norway or Switzerland – would be sensibly negotiated to ensure there are no economic barriers.

A zombie prime minister

The real trouble for May is that there are as many basic options for Brexit as there are party factions inside her Conservative party. And that party is, in effect, more fratricidal now than Labour (in its bad days).

No wonder then that Mrs. May is now openly treated as a zombie prime minister. She has no authority over her party and parliament. Tory MPs now speak of Theresa May openly with a venom they once reserved for the leftist Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

But while the knives are out and constantly being sharpened, there is no agreement on a possible successor. She will limp on for the time being.

Key worries already rectified!

It does not help the Brexiteers’ cause that many of the (legitimate) key worries which they had articulated have already pretty much been rectified in the real world.

Take the issue of European citizens working in the UK. They have stopped coming. Just 26,000 European came to work in the first three months of 2017, compared to 40,000 for the same period last year (and 110,000 a quarter in 2007).

As it turns out, there are many ways of slowing down migration – without any Brexit needed. For example, one can use internal labor market measures. In addition, the EU itself exempts state employment (such as the NHS) from freedom of movement obligations.

Economic lies about more benefits from sovereignty

Britain currently ranks 15th in the EU league table of exports on a per capita basis. Last year, the UK exported $18 billion of goods and services to China. Germany exported $85 billion. Germany manages to achieve its export success from inside the Customs Union and Single Market. Why can’t Britain?

Under those circumstances, the real danger is that yet another hoax will be created. There is little in the economic record to suggest that the UK’s trading fortunes are really shackled by the EU.

Export and economic success is largely a function of a country’s productivity. And that — entirely domestic — issue is indeed a matter of concern in the UK.

The pursuit of more sovereignty (by implementing strict labor market restrictions) can have the opposite effect. And indeed, according to experts, UK productivity is bound to suffer as fewer jobs will be filled with (skilled) staff from other EU nations.

Thus, there is a strong likelihood that the rosier trading fortunes – once the UK can pick its trade partners “freely” – will vanish, just as much as the much-hyped “savings” from exiting the EU that could instead be deployed to strengthen the NHS proved an empty promise as soon as the referendum campaign was over.

Moreover, the key ingredient for a nation wishing flexibility in its international economic relations – control over the exchange rate – is something which the UK has reserved for itself, whether or not it is in the EU.

And on that score, the Brexiteers who so eagerly claim that Brexit is an economic power potion will soon learn that much of that exchange rate “sovereignty” benefit has already been harvested. Not much further economic boost can be expected from this front.

A potential Pandora’s box

Leaving the Customs Union means every good or component or agricultural product entering or leaving the UK, including Northern Ireland, has to be cleared at customs.

Putting back Custom control posts on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is not just an administrative nightmare. It is also a recipe for bringing back to life all the sleeping demons of Northern Ireland enmities.

Now that Article 50 negotiations have started, a sober-minded nation (and its political leadership) would recognize that the time has arrived to move beyond the rhetoric and exaggerated claims of the referendum campaign last year.

Brexit is the biggest challenge and potentially the biggest economic and geopolitical disaster Britain has faced since the 1930s.

©2017 The Globalist

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Qatar: Is Mr. Trump Striking the Match for a Little War?

Fri, 2017-06-23 00:01

By Stephan Richter

America’s much-vaunted checks and balances do not really apply to U.S. foreign policy. That is a big problem.

For months now, advocates of the United States have been claiming that there isn’t much reason to worry about Donald Trump being in the Oval Office. America’s much-vaunted checks and balances, they say, will rein him in properly.

There is just one little problem with this argument: It does not really apply to U.S. foreign policy. The President of the United States is the sole commander-in-chief of a nuclear military. As such, whoever holds this post has near omnipotent powers.

This is especially problematic if the current President is a man who has a unjustified limitless belief in himself and therefore doesn’t really care about anybody’s counsel. It does not help that Trump has less of a sense of the basics of foreign policy than of the intricacies of arranging global beauty contests.

In that context, the fact that Donald Trump now takes personal credit for the Saudi measure to break off relations with Qatar is not just ignorant. It is dangerous.

Not only does the U.S. President not have any idea about the game he is playacting in. That much became clear once he began trashing Qatar in Twitter statements. He was apparently unaware that the country hosts a major U.S. air base that is currently used in U.S. operations around the region.

But it gets potentially worse: What if such a man deludes himself about helping the Saudis and Emiratis to fight terrorism – and does not even realize that, while he ardently believes that, what he is really put up to by the Saudis is whipping up a little regional war?

Who could stop him? Basically nobody. All we can do is to collectively cross our fingers and hope for the best. Or pray.

A man who appears to believe anything that the last person to speak to him claims can very easily be deluded by Saudi assurances that this is just about a little terrorism funding related clean-up action directed against tiny Qatar.

That “Qatar” somehow has the whiff of Sarajevo back in 1914 about it is not something that could even enter Trump’s mind. And yet, anybody who knows anything about the highly combustible powder keg of the Middle East is very concerned right now.

The “imperial” presidency is alive and well

Trump is fully aware that, inside the United States, the “imperial” presidency still reigns supreme.

This is so because, while members of the U.S. Congress always want to appear “muscular” in their responses to foreign crises, they prefer not to shoulder any responsibility for real-world actions.

They thus leave most of the decision-making in this arena to whoever the President is.

Permitting action, not sending U.S. soldiers

To give credit where credit is due, Donald Trump – in contrast to George W. Bush – is not actually starting another war in the Middle East and he isn’t going to use U.S. troops. He is just enabling it.

Trump does so by taking the simple step of adopting a “laissez faire” attitude to the Saudis. Acting like a rhetorical warmonger, he is providing them with ample blessing for their internecine warfare.

Whitewashing the Saudis

No mention whatsoever from Trump that the Saudis are world champions at sponsoring terrorism globally.

And blissful ignorance about the fact that the Saudis are really bad at doing war, as their ill-fated campaign into neighboring Yemen amply demonstrates.

Despite an immense advantage in materiel, and despite lots of bombs – and even covert and overt American support – the Saudis are having a terrible time to get the upper hand years later, even against a rag-tag, starving army of insurgents.

Trump isn’t one to worry. If the Saudis waste a lot of ammunition and bombs, who cares? He will gladly sell them more from the amply stacked U.S. war shelves.

Moneyed and proud as they are, lack of success has never kept the Saudis from trying harder – i.e., committing yet more mistakes.

The Saudis have wanted payback for a long time

Peeved as they understandably were about Bush Jr.’s Iraq War, which went ahead without their support, the Saudis have been seething ever since and wanted to get properly recompensed by the U.S. government. Et voila, as an opening move, Qatar is offered up for slaughter.

In one of the biggest blunders of modern history, George W. Bush effectively ceded much of Iraq to the Iranian regime, even though the latter is the self-described sworn enemy of the United States (and even though U.S. Republicans, in turn, see it the very same way).

As if to make up for Bush’s blunder, leave it to Donald Trump, the clown who is currently performing the role of President of the United States, to let the Saudis get their payback.

©2017 The Globalist

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The Rise of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman

Thu, 2017-06-22 00:01

By James M. Dorsey

Prince Mohammed could well prove to be the figure that provides Saudi Arabia with a path to the future. But it is a very big gamble.

Saudi King Salman’s appointment of his son, Mohammed bin Salman, as crown prince at the expense of his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, could prove to be a mixed blessing for a kingdom in transition that faces significant international challenges of its own making.

Prince Mohammed’s ascendancy was never in doubt. It was a question of when rather than if. Reportedly ill and clearly feeble in his public appearances, King Salman may have wanted to ensure sooner than later that his 31-year old son would be his successor.

In doing so, King Salman appears to be taking a gamble. Prince Mohammed has garnered popularity among Saudi youth, many of who feel that his ascendancy puts in office a member of the ruling Al Saud family who because of his age is more attuned to their aspirations.

Modernizing the kingdom

The prince has introduced, to the chagrin of religious ultraconservatives, entertainment, including music concerts, theatrical productions, film showings and comedy performances, in a country in which culture was largely limited to traditional, religious and tribal expressions.

He has also signalled his support in principle for lifting the ban on women’s driving and other rollbacks of austere public codes.

The prince’s more liberal vision, part of a far broader process of change, comes, however, with a heavy price tag.

Forced to restructure the kingdom’s rentier economy at a time of reduced energy prices and upgrade the country’s autocracy, Prince Mohammed’s measures sparked criticism not only from the kingdom’s Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative religious establishment, a pillar of the rule of the Al Sauds, but also ordinary Saudis who have felt the cost of change in their wallet.

The significant revamp set out in Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan for the future involves a unilateral rewriting of the kingdom’s social contract that offered a cradle-to-grave welfare state in exchange for political fealty and acceptance of Sunni ultra-conservatism’s austere moral and social codes.

Rising prices

Saudis have, since the introduction of cost-cutting and revenue-raising measures, seen significant rises in utility prices and greater job uncertainty as the government sought to prune its bloated bureaucracy and encourage private sector employment.

Slashes in housing, vacation and sickness benefits reduced salaries in the public sector, the country’s largest employer, by up to a third.

Online protests, fuelled in part by Prince Mohammed’s acquisition of a $500 million yacht shortly after he came to office, persuaded the government in April to roll back some of the austerity measures and restore most of the perks enjoyed by government employees.

Reduced public spending and delays in payments have put two of the kingdom’s major companies, Bin Laden and Saudi Oger, in dire straits.

Thousands of employees have been unpaid for months. Bin Laden workers last year burnt a bus in Mecca in protest. Oger reportedly is bankrupt and likely to go into liquidation.

On the foreign policy front, Prince Mohammed, since first coming to office in 2015, has embroiled Saudi Arabia in two major international entanglements without an exit strategy, forcing the kingdom to grope for a face saving way out.

Prince Mohammed also serves as defense minister and is the lead official responsible for the war in Yemen. Three years into the war, Saudi Arabia’s ability to effectively deploy its massive state-of the-art military acquisitions is in question.

Yemen crisis

The war has dragged on producing a humanitarian crisis with large numbers of people on the verge of starvation and risks of epidemics as evident in a recent outbreak of cholera.

The crisis has caused Saudi Arabia reputational damage and promises to produce a generation of Yemenis who will resent the suffering and destruction caused by the ill-fated invasion.

Similarly, the diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, initiated by Prince Mohammed and his UAE counterpart, Mohammed bin Zayed, threatens to backfire.

The ability of Qatar, a tiny state with only 300,000 citizens, to resist the embargo and the inability of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to put forward demands that stand a chance of garnering international support has turned into an embarrassment.

The US State Department took the two Gulf powers to task this week. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in the strongest US language yet, that “now that it has been more than two weeks since the embargo started, we are mystified that the Gulf States have not released to the public, nor to the Qataris, the details about the claims that they are making toward Qatar. The more that time goes by the more doubt is raised about the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Supporting Qatar

Ms. Nauert’s comments followed a series of U.S. steps that appeared to strengthen Qatar in its dispute with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Those steps included a joint US-Qatari naval exercise, a $12 billion fighter jet deal, and a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, a key demand floated by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, was all but impossible.

Prince Mohammed, moreover, has failed to win substantial support in the Muslim world for the Saudi-UAE campaign. Most major Muslim nations, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia are keen to stay on the side lines. Turkey is supplying Qatar with food and has sent troops to the Gulf state.

On a third front, tension with Iran has escalated since Prince Mohammed’s rise. The prince last month poured fuel on the fire by portraying the conflict between the two Middle Eastern rivals in sectarian rather national or ideological terms and promising to take the fight to Iran itself.

At least, regarding Iran, Prince Mohammed enjoys the support of the United States even if, like in the case of Qatar, much of the Muslim world does not want to be sucked into the dispute.

Prince Mohammed has his work cut out for him. To succeed in turning the Saudi economy around, blunting the sharp ends of Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism, and bringing the kingdom’s autocracy into the 21st century, Prince Mohammed will have to demonstrate the kind of deftness and ability to build bridges he has yet to put on display.

While bold in his ambitions and willingness to gamble, he will also need to recognize the need for exit strategies.
Prince Mohammed could well prove to be the figure that pushes through the kind of change that will enable Saudi Arabia to successfully compete in the 21st century. By the same token, he could also tie the kingdom further into knots.

©2017 The Globalist

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Iran and the Saudi Deflection Campaign

Thu, 2017-06-22 00:01

By Stephan Richter

Donald Trump has no idea that the principal source of support, financial and ideological, that Salafist terrorists use has Saudi Arabia written all over it.

The net effect of Donald Trump’s sycophantic support of Riyadh is that it absolves the Saudis of any of their own responsibility for terror.

The Saudi attempt to pin all the blame on Iran, and point to Qatar as its supposed chief subcontractor, flies in the face of what’s really going on in the world.

Iran is anything but blameless, far from it. And Qatar is to blame as well. But if we look at Saudi money paths and Wahhabi indoctrination, it is clear that Saudi-sponsored terrorism is more virulent than ever before.

Simply put, the threat of Iranian-sponsored terrorism is so… 1980s. In contrast, what is very 21st century is Salafist terrorism.

And although Qatar sponsors or assists its share of that in Libya, the Sahara and Syria, the principal source of support, financial and ideological, that Salafist terrorists use has Saudi Arabia written all over it. It is Saudi-inspired and -educated machinations of deviousness that keep hitting Western targets.

Where does it end?

Thus, in the most charitable interpretation, what Trump’s “laissez faire” translates into is that, instead of acknowledging Saudi terror sponsorship — a key step if Trump really wanted to fight global terror — he has given them not just a pass, but his blessing.

That is not just completely idiotic, but dangerous.

Whatever Iran’s faults, and they are plenty, unlike in Saudi Arabia, the Iranian regime’s religious superstructure and hardline military are not representative of its people.

As we know from opinion polling and elections – yes, Iran has those – two-thirds of society, broadly speaking, embraces the universal notions of Western freedoms. If the number were to surpass 10-15% among Saudis, it would be astonishing.

Time to open our eyes

It is high time for the entire West to understand that Saudi Arabia is the – far less favorable – mirror image of Iran. Below the very thin veneer of an extremely cynical, U.S.-friendly royal regime, the Saudi population is deeply hostile and explosively reactionary.

That is so because those same Saudi rulers see to it that, in its mosques, as in as many mosques of the world as possible, the United States (and the rest of the West) is seen as the fountain of all evil.

For that reason, the United States, under Trump, has not just aligned itself one-sidedly, but – if a choice were to be made – also on the wrong side of the equation.

But at least the rest of the Western world should not close its eyes before all that limitless acid the Saudis are ready to spew.

In Trump’s defense?

Perhaps the most stunning fact in all this is that Trump probably hasn’t realized any of this. His mind works on a much planer level.

One part of the explanation is that Trump, forever craving for affirmation, thoroughly enjoys playing America’s meddler-in-chief. That is why he loved playing “big man” during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where his hosts played him like a fiddle. They even pumped up his needy ego with huge banners of his face.

The other part is the U.S. President probably just wanted to do the Saudis, a longtime U.S. ally and excellent customer for U.S. military goods, a favor.

In Trump’s world, that is an entirely rational act: The customer is always right (provided he also pleases Trump).

No wonder then that, after his return and in view of the looming Saudi blockade of Qatar, Trump dutifully took to the tweet waves to sanctify the Saudi action.

Meddler in Chief

What is indisputable is that, with Trump in the Oval Office, a dangerous amateur gets to play games the real meaning of which he does not comprehend.

The sad news is that Donald Trump, the veteran pitchman for whoever will put his name and face on their product or service for a ludicrously high fee, has now effectively made himself the chief Saudi lobbyist not just in the United States, but the world at large.

Amazingly, for that to happen, he did not even have to be hijacked or taken hostage. He volunteered for the job.

Quid pro quo?

One wonders why. Donald Trump doesn’t have a lot of good sense, but he ain’t stupid. It is hard to imagine that he acted out of conviction.

As far as we know, Mr. Trump does not currently receive any compensation from the Saudis for that pivotal role (other than the proceeds from some hotel bookings in Washington, D.C.).

But as he knows full well, that is not what matters. As commercially-minded and transactional as both he and the Saudis are, one can rest assured that there will likely be some big condo deals for the Trump Organization throughout the Gulf as well as other niceties.

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The Gulf Crisis: Southeast Asia Has Seen It All Before

Wed, 2017-06-21 00:01

By James M. Dorsey

Two competing visions of ensuring regime survival are battling it out in the Gulf.

To Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the 2011 Arab popular revolts that toppled autocratic leaders in four countries and sparked the rise of Islamist forces posed a mortal threat.

In response, the two countries launched a counterrevolution that six years later continues to leave a trail of brutal repression at home and spilt blood elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

Virtually alone in adopting a different tack based on former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s principle of “riding the tide of history,” Qatar, a monarchical autocracy like its detractors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, embraced the revolts and wholeheartedly supported the Islamists.

The result is an epic battle for the future of the region that in the short-term has escalated the violence, deepened the region’s fissures, and put the tiny Gulf state at odds with its larger brethren.

Look to Asia

Ironically, an analysis of political transition in Southeast Asia during the last three decades would likely prove instructive for leaders in the Gulf.

At the core of people power and change were militaries or factions of militaries in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar that saw political change as their best guarantee of holding on to significant powers and protecting their vested interests.

In the Philippines and Indonesia, factions of the military partnered with civil society to show the door to the country’s autocrat. In Myanmar, internationally isolated, the military as such opted to ensure its survival as a powerful player by initiating the process of change.

Sheikh Hamad, and his son and successor, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, have adopted the principle set forward by Southeast Asian militaries and their civil society partners with one self-defeating difference.

That difference is a belief that by supporting political change everywhere else they can retain their absolute grip on power at home.

In fact, if there is one fundamental message in the two-week-old Saudi-UAE-led diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar, it is the recognition of the two countries’ ruling elites that they either thwart change at whatever cost or go with the flow. There are no half-measures.

Lessons of history

There is however another lesson of history to be learnt from the Southeast Asian experience: change is inevitable.

Equally inevitable, is the fact that unavoidable economic change and upgrading rather than reform of autocracy like Saudi Arabia is attempting with Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the driver’s seat has a limited shelf life without political change.

Gulf autocrats marvel at China’s ability to achieve phenomenal economic growth while tightening the political reigns.

It is a model that is proving increasingly difficult to sustain as China witnesses an economic downturn, a failure to economically squash popular aspirations, and question marks about massive infrastructure investment across Eurasia that has yet to deliver sustainable results and has sparked debt traps and protest across the region.

The Southeast Asian lesson is that political change does not by definition disempower political elites. In fact, those elites have retained significant power in the Philippines, Indonesia and Myanmar despite radical reform of political systems.

That is true even with the rise for the first time of leaders in Indonesia and the Philippines who do not hail from the ruling class or with the ascendancy to power in Myanmar of Aung San Suu Kyi, a long-persecuted daughter of the ruling elite, who has refrained from challenging the elite since winning an election.

Going with the flow

The bottom line is that ruling elites are more likely to ensure a continued grip on power by going with the flow and embracing political change than by adopting the Saudi-UAE approach of imposing one’s will by hook or by crook or the Qatari model of playing ostrich with its head in the sand.

The Qatari model risks the ruling Al Thani family being taken by surprise when an inevitably reinvigorated wave of change comes knocking on Doha’s door. More ominous are the risks involved in the Saudi-UAE approach.

That approach has already put the two states in a bind as they struggle in the third week of their boycott of Qatar to formulate demands that stand a chance of garnering international support.

Even more dangerous is the risk that the hard line adopted by Saudi Arabia and the UAE will fuel extremism and political violence in an environment starved of any opportunity to voice dissent.

The lessons of Southeast Asia are relevant for many more than only the sheikhdoms that are battling it out in the Gulf.

International support for political transition in Southeast Asia produced a relatively stable region of 600 million people.

This is despite its jihadist elements in the southern Philippines and Indonesia, jihadist appeal to some elsewhere in the region, religious and ethnic tensions in southern Thailand and Myanmar, and deep-seated differences over how to respond to Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

Sustainable change

That support also ensured that the process of change in Southeast Asia proved to be relatively smooth and ultimately sustainable unlike the Middle East where it is tearing countries apart, dislocating millions, and causing wounds that will take generations to heal.

To be sure, Southeast Asia benefitted from the fact that no country in the region has neither the ambition, nor the ruthlessness, of either Saudi Arabia or the UAE.

Southeast Asia also had the benefit of an international community that saw virtue in change rather than in attempting to maintain stability by supporting autocratic regimes whose policies are increasingly difficult to justify and potentially constitute a driver of radicalization irrespective of whether they support extremist groups.

Former US President George W. Bush adopted that lesson in the wake of 9/11 only to squander his opportunity with ill-fated military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, a flawed war on terrorism, and a poorly executed democracy initiative.

The lesson has since been lost with the rise of populism and narrow-minded nationalism and isolationism.

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Qatar et al.: Donald Trump as a Saudi Lobbyist

Tue, 2017-06-20 06:25

By Stephan Richter

Between two bad actors at odds in the Gulf, the U.S. President has volunteered to take sides. Aiding and abetting Saudi Arabia is dangerous.

Donald Trump is stooping to new lows. He evidently has no reservations about making himself, the sitting U.S. President, into the Saudis’ chief global lobbyist.

That Trump bought the Saudi line about the Qataris funding terrorism is very telling.

Both countries, respectively, support Wahhabist or Salafist insurgencies in various places, but that is not what the Saudis find objectionable.

The Saudis try to distract from their own actions

There is no question about the Saudis’ longstanding willingness to fund and arm specific terrorist groups as needed, mainly to advance allied autocracies and send young hotheads abroad, often to the West.

The Qataris pursue a different approach in the terrorism financing business.

They tend to make longer-term investments in other religious or ideological factions. And yes, these do pose an existential threat to Saudi interests.

For that reason, it is fully comprehensible why the Saudis would want to direct attention to Qatar.

What is not comprehensible is that President Trump has fallen for that very transparent act of distraction.

……
Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood
By Bill Humphrey
…..

Trump worries about “regime change” too

At the same time, it is important to recognize that to be horrified by regime change is something that Donald Trump immediately gets – and a fear he instinctively shars with the Saudis. No wonder he regards them as soulmates.

As is the case with the Saudi monarchy itself, Trump’s entire political being is based on the conviction that anybody who dares stand in his way in any fashion is guilty of lèse majesté, if not worse.

That is why he had no qualms about taking sides in the bataille royale.

Europe as collateral damage: So what?

Trump also had no problems with the fact that the fallout of an actual Saudi-Qatar war is bound to go far beyond the Gulf region and the wider Middle East. It would definitely, quite literally, hit European capitals and cities.

As Mr. Trump has made plain in his pompous appearance at NATO headquarters, he is not one to worry much about the U.S.’s NATO allies.

In his disturbed mind, he might even think that the Europeans – who still owe him billions of dollars – basically deserve a hit. So why worry? Any avenue taken to make them come to their senses is welcome.

The fallout from absolving the Saudis

Trump’s sycophantic support notwithstanding, the real damage of his words is not just that Trump absolves the Saudis of any of their own responsibility for terror.

What is widely overlooked in that regard is that Trump’s full-scale blessing has effectively killed the – however hesitant – move toward domestic reform in Saudi Arabia.

Given the deteriorating economic regime, the Saudi royals were getting ready to reform themselves, not least because, under President Obama, they no longer had reflexive U.S. backing.

Now that the Saudis aren’t just back in favor in Washington, but get to run Trump’s table, who in Riyadh is to worry about reforms – other than cosmetic ones?

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Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood

Tue, 2017-06-20 06:23

By Bill Humphrey

Qatar makes longer-term investments in religious or ideological factions.

Qatar’s longer-term investments in religious or ideological factions pose an existential threat to Saudi interests.

Take the Qataris’ financing the Muslim Brotherhood. The organization, traditionally very prominent in Egypt, is not Wahhabist, has very different aims and fell out with the Saudis some time ago.

The Brotherhood’s ultimate goal is not terrorism, but rather regime change in Sunni Muslim societies that are run like feudalist fiefdoms by royals and military strongmen.

Qatar’s support for the organizations it funds is not merely a Saudi-style intermittent arrangement to maintain an insurgency or aid in a coup d’état.

Rather, Qatar provides the long-term funding for the infrastructure investments and the health and human services that keep the political wings of such groups popular across many countries.

(In democracies, it keeps the Brotherhood’s political parties funded for election campaigns).

Although Qatar is itself a brutal feudalist fiefdom, it is a friendly residence for exiles.

It is also small enough in population and wealthy enough in bread and circuses to be insulated domestically from the Brotherhood’s revolutionary vision of liberation for the region’s poor and oppressed.

But for every other local Sunni-majority autocracy, and particularly Saudi Arabia, that vision is a direct threat of regime change.

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The Worst Human Crisis Since World War Two.

Sun, 2017-06-18 00:01

By Frank Vogl

America Turns Its Back on the World's Starving - Will the G20 Come to the Rescue?

More than 20 million people in Africa face death by starvation, but America is turning its back.

In a heated set of exchanges in a U.S. Senate hearing, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended the Trump Administration’s plan to cut U.S. foreign aid by 29% and U.S. support for humanitarian programs at the United Nations.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham demanded to know how the U.S. could demonstrate leadership and yet go ahead with the draconian cuts given many pressing overseas crises, especially the African catastrophe. Tillerson responded at one point by declaring that there are no easy choices. Then he added, “other countries must do more.”

The new face of American global leadership

When pressed further by other senators to explain how the Trump Administration can be a diplomatic power while massively reducing the State Department’s budget, Tillerson declared, without elaboration: “Our budget will never determine our ability to be effective,” he said. “Our people will.”

It comes as David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, says: “We are facing the worst human crisis since World War Two.”

Mr. Beasley adds: “We are looking at 600,000 children dying in the next six months and double that number in the next year.”

José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, puts it simply in noting our challenge “is to save lives.”

These men speak with authority and run two of the largest international human relief agencies. You might think that what they have to say, especially now, would have an impact. But they are, in fact, far off to the sidelines in international power politics today.

Unless their voices can capture the imagination of the world’s leaders at the center of the stage very soon, then Beasley’s desperate warning will be a reality.

World leaders must lead

The Summit of the Group of 20 world leaders takes place in Hamburg on July 7 and 8. Right now the rapidly unfolding crisis in Africa is unlikely to receive more than a paragraph of generalities in a long final communiqué.

President Trump, President Macron, Prime Minister May, President Putin and their other G20 colleagues are all so consumed with their own domestic politics that they are guilty of neglecting millions of desperate people who are the victims of man-made crises.

I have written before about the prospect of 20 million deaths in Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria and South Sudan due to starvation that results from the combination of grand corruption and extreme violence.

The latest analysis from the United Nations suggests that 20 million might be a low figure. 2017 will be terrible; 2018 may be worse.

This is not just a crisis of starvation, it is also a crisis of migration. Millions of Africans are striving to flee from the war-zones and the crush of hunger. As the crises develop, so the number of migrants multiplies.

“There is a direct correlation between conflict and food insecurity – the greater the food insecurity, so the greater the pressure to migrate,” says David Beasley.

Interlinked crises

The strongest and the most daring migrants find their way to North Africa and to Turkey and to boats that they hope can carry them to Europe. The numbers will continue to multiply and as they do, so European leaders will have to find practical responses.

Mr. da Silva says that Africa has enough food, but storage and transportation are crucial problem areas. Food production in about 13 African countries is far from adequate.

Resolving the immediate crisis demands that farmers get sufficient seeds to plant and that they find support to protect their livestock – ensuring that murderous gangs do not steal and kill the animals and that vaccines are available to prevent disease.

About 8 out of 10 people who are now most vulnerable are in rural areas and if they are to have any hope, then they must be able to continue to produce food for themselves. Urgent humanitarian relief is important, but not sufficient.

Both the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization lack sufficient funds to meet the rising urgent demands.

Mr. da Silva acknowledges that corruption and war are the real villains, but he stresses, speaking for the international community’s response: “We dare not come late – yes, we need peace, but we cannot wait for peace to take place. The people need support now.”

So, why is the international response far from adequate right now?

Will the G20 wake up?

Beasley and da Silva head agencies that have outstanding experience and skills – and employees of great courage who are operating in the midst of war zones – and they need cash urgently. So too do many not-for-profit humanitarian relief organizations.

But I do not think this suffices. The G20 can muster the power and the authority to try and intervene – at least in Yemen and in South Sudan – to press for peace. At a minimum they need to call for a break in hostilities sufficient to address the immediate starvation and health crises in these countries.

The urgency of the situation must be better understood – and much more prominently reported in the world’s media. Just consider these facts from a June 5 analysis by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organizations:

• 5.2 million people will face acute severe food insecurity in northeastern Nigeria (Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States) during the next lean season – immediate intervention is required to assist these populations.

• Somalia – Over half of the country’s population – 6.7 million people – are now acutely food insecure, half a million more than in February 2017.

• With an estimated 17 million people in Emergency or Crisis levels of food insecurity, Yemen is currently facing one of the worst hunger crises in the world. After two years of deadly civil war, more than two-thirds of the population are struggling to feed themselves and urgently require life- and livelihood-saving assistance.

• Famine has already been declared in parts of South Sudan, where 90 000 people are affected, and more than 5.5 million people will not have any reliable source of food by July.

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Eradicating Extreme Poverty Soon?

Sun, 2017-06-18 00:01

By The Globalist

Having met an earlier goal of reducing extreme poverty, can the world end it?

1. As recently as 1990, less than three decades ago, 35% of all people on earth were in a state of extreme poverty.

2. In absolute terms, there are now about 1.1 billion fewer people in extreme poverty today.

3. The predecessor to the Sustainable Development Goals set in 2015 were the UN’s Millennium Development Goals set in 2000.

4. The latter aimed to cut in half the share of people living in extreme poverty in 1990 by the year 2015. That goal was more than met.

5. East Asia – especially China – experienced an enormous transition out of extreme poverty during that span.

6. East Asia’s population share living in that condition dropped from about 60% to just 3.5% — by a factor of 17.

7. In a global context, that matters greatly since more than a fifth of the overall world population lives in East Asia.

8. As recently as 1990, half of all people in extreme poverty could still be found in East Asia. Today, just 9.3% of the global poor reside there.

9. South Asia, anchored by populous India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, could be the next region to come close to eliminating extreme poverty, provided it can follow East Asia’s progress on poverty reduction since 1990.

10. About a third of all people in extreme poverty around the world today live in South Asia – a higher percentage than the region’s overall share of the world population (one quarter).

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, World Bank

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By the Numbers: Poverty in Africa

Sun, 2017-06-18 00:01

By The Globalist

Half of all people living in extreme poverty worldwide reside in sub-Saharan Africa.

1. In sub-Saharan Africa, 41% of the population lives in a state of extreme poverty and must try to get by on the local equivalent of just $1.90 or less per person per day.

2. This share is down significantly from about 55% in 1990. It is also down to about the level of where South Asia was in 1990, where extreme poverty now affects just 15.1% of the population.

3. Extreme poverty is most often found in countries with rural and agricultural populations, large numbers of younger people (especially teenagers and children), less educational attainment and larger family sizes.

4. Sub-Saharan Africa features all of these challenges much more intensely than other world regions. It is also not being steered by the performance of a single government with a single market, unlike China or India.

5. Another very big challenge for Africa is the continuing population boom, which is even greater than that experienced by China and India.

6. The populations of China and India grew by 18% and 47%, respectively, from 1990 to 2013.

7. By contrast, sub-Saharan Africa’s population might grow as much as 75% from 2013 to 2036. So the eradication of extreme poverty there could prove difficult.

8. But with the decline in East Asia’s extreme poverty, sub-Saharan Africa now stands as home to the largest population living in such conditions.

9. Half of all people living in extreme poverty worldwide can be found there (50.7%).

10. In contrast, only about one-eighth (13.3%) of the overall world population lives in sub-Saharan Africa currently.

11. The total number of people there contending with extreme poverty is about 388.7 million people — out of the 766.6 people facing that challenge across the world.

12. Any effort to eradicate extreme poverty will have to center on sub-Saharan Africa.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, World Bank

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Extreme Poverty Worldwide Today

Sun, 2017-06-18 00:01

By The Globalist

How many people worldwide are living on less than $1.90 per day?

1. The World Bank defines “extreme poverty” as the condition in which a person is trying to survive on less than $1.90 per day (in locally comparable price terms).

2. Globally, according to World Bank estimates published in 2016, 10.7% of all people in 2013 fell below that threshold.

3. The Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating extreme poverty “for all people everywhere” by 2030, set by United Nations in 2015 is likely in reach.

4. The total number of extremely poor people is about 766.6 million — well more than twice the U.S. population.

5. They live across six regions: East Asia/Pacific, Eastern Europe/Central Asia, Latin America/the Caribbean, Middle East/North Africa, South Asia and finally Sub-Saharan Africa.

6. Eastern Europe/Central Asia (mostly made up of former Communist countries) is the best off among those poorer regions. Just 2.3% of the region’s population, for a total of 10.8 million, lives in extreme poverty.

7. The World Bank has also defined a “median” poverty level as an income of $3.10 per day in locally comparable price terms.

8. At that higher threshold of poverty, 82.8% of the people in the world’s low-income countries are still in poverty.

9. The share of people at or below the median poverty line is eight times more than the share living in extreme poverty at a global level.

10. Even in middle-income countries – countries such as China, India and South Africa — 71.7% of the population is struggling with daily incomes at or below the median poverty level.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, World Bank

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UK: Abdicating a Proud Legacy

Sat, 2017-06-17 00:01

By Holger Schmieding

Britain's political situation and its long-term economic outlook have become more precarious than they have been at any time since the late 1970s.

Britain is a great country. It combines charming quirkiness with flexible markets for labor, services and goods, as well as an admirable openness for skilled migrants.

As a result, Great Britain today has the most dynamic economy of all major European countries as measured by its trend rate of GDP growth. Its superb armed forces, its top-notch intelligence services and its competent bureaucracy allow Britain to punch well above its weight on the global stage.

A self-inflicted wound

Unfortunately, the trend is no longer Britain’s friend. Conservative hardliners are obsessed with the alleged monster of a European “superstate” that, outside of France’s Front National and other equally disreputable forces, nobody else has ever spotted.

Worse, this obsession has unleashed forces inside the UK that threaten to diminish the country’s relative power and wealth over time.

Against the logic of history

Start with politics. For centuries, Britain has abided by one supreme national necessity: It used its influence to prevent the emergence of a continental European hegemon that could threaten its interests.

With the Brexit vote, Britain has now ditched this time-honored approach. By leaving the EU, Britain is forsaking most of its influence on European decisions. However, these decisions will continue to impact the UK. Brexit can’t beat geography.

Brexit strengthens the cohesion of the EU27

Even more importantly, Brexit is achieving the opposite of what many UK observers expected. Rather than strengthen the EU’s centrifugal forces, Brexit is strengthening those on the continent who want to turn the EU and the Eurozone into more coherent and politically relevant entities.

Brexit is not going to destroy the EU27 and the Eurozone. The opposite may be the case: the downfall of David Cameron, the humbling of Theresa May and the glaring contrast between the big savings promised by Boris Johnson and the reality of a Brexit bill have curtailed the electoral appeal of EU-skeptics on the continent.

Economic damage

Now turn to economics. Libertarian Brexiteers have long argued that the UK could thrive outside the EU as a free-market paradise, a “Singapore on Thames.”

That never made much sense. Being a member of the EU has not kept the UK from enjoying among the most open and flexible markets for labor and capital, for services and goods in the developed world.

Moreover, as the June 8 election demonstrated powerfully, the scope for any further deregulation that could be politically feasible even inside a Tory-run UK itself is close to zero.

The Labour party, despite concerns in many quarters about having fallen under the sway of the hard left, has done unexpectedly well. In part, this is due to Jeremy Corbyn opting for a softer Labour stand on Brexit.

Another self-inflicted wound

By making Britain less attractive for skilled migrants and for inward investment, Brexit will likely reduce Britain’s trend rate of growth from 2.1% to a still solid 1.8%.

A hard Brexit (with a loss of preferential access to the EU27 market beyond the inevitable restrictions to be placed on UK-based providers of financial services) could depress UK trend growth to 1.5%. Any significant surge in domestic regulation would compound the damage.

Even 1.5% trend growth would still be a reasonable pace. It is close to the German rate and well above France’s pre-Macron 1.2% trend.

Fiscal house not in order

However, as a lasting legacy of Gordon Brown’s spending spree, Britain’s fiscal position has been very challenging at the recent trend growth rate of 2.1% already.

Any fall in trend growth, let alone a drop from 2.1% to 1.5%, would require major offsetting tax hikes or expenditure cuts in years to come to keep the deficit under control.

And kicking the can down the road, as Britain could do for a quite a while, would only exacerbate the corrective fiscal squeeze that would be required later on.

Hard choices for a weak government

On many counts, the British economy is still in the pole position in Europe. But extrapolating the recent trends, Britain may soon be falling behind a still-dynamic Germany, a mostly reformed Spain and a France that is finally getting its act together.

Of course, it is very early, Britain may still avoid that fate if it goes for a soft Brexit and resists the urge to turn away from the neo-liberal consensus of the post-Thatcher decades. To some extent, last Thursday’s election result can be seen as a return to the common sense that had been missing in the Brexit debate last year.

Nonetheless, the UK is now saddled with an unusually weak and wobbly government that will have to make unusually hard choices before the end of the Brexit deadline in March 2019. And all that with a risk that new elections could bring Corbyn to power at any time.

Time to end British illusions

One clear worry is that there are still a lot of those in the UK debate who believe that the UK will, yet again, get a special deal from the EU. That is a flawed assumption.

The belief that the EU27’s very detailed position is just an opening position that can be changed significantly is misplaced. German chancellor Merkel probably caught the prevailing mood on the continent well when she warned that the UK may still be harboring illusions about the kind of Brexit deal the EU can offer.

Conclusion

Some four years after David Cameron pledged a referendum on EU membership for purely intra-party political reasons in January 2013, Britain’s political situation and its long-term economic outlook have become more precarious than they have been at any time since the late 1970s.

Chances are that common sense will prevail with a soft Brexit and no turn towards Corbyn-type statist economic policies. Unfortunately, the risks to this call loom large.

©2017 The Globalist

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Back to the Global Vertical

Sat, 2017-06-17 00:01

By Andrés Ortega

With the decline of the middle classes, social classes are back on the global agenda. That is politically dangerous.

There are horizontal periods – indeed some people, Thomas Friedman among them, believed some years ago that the world was definitively flat. And then there are periods in which verticality imposes itself again.

In many ways, we are once again moving from the horizontal to the vertical dimension of global affairs.

Friedman was wrong

This “verticality” is making itself especially felt in social terms. Social classes are back on the agenda, although not in the traditional Marxist sense of class struggle.

Rather, we are now coping with the decline of the middle classes and the emergence of a broader “precariat.”

The social escalator is not working as in previous eras, despite renewed growth in many economies following the crisis. Benefits that were taken for granted, such as full-time jobs with social security protections, are disappearing in significant numbers.

The great decoupling

Perhaps we are witnessing what Dennis J. Snower calls the “great decoupling,” which he labels “dangerous,” unlike its predecessor, which was “convenient.”

When economic progress is not mirrored or is not linked to social progress, discontent is generated in those left behind. This decoupling ends up manifesting itself in politics.

This is what may be going on in many countries amid the prospect of recovery, an uneven emergence from the crisis and, before that, globalization, which is now generally acknowledged to have produced winners and losers.

It wasn’t supposed to happen here

The decoupling phenomenon is arising when the advanced economies, both industrial and post-industrial, are recovering from the crisis.

As Marc Fleurbaey of Princeton University argues, we must “prepare people for life and support them in life.”

Central to that is the commitment to education, particularly amid the challenge of technology and its controversial impact on employment and the concept of work.

A smart policy approach in that regard, as Ylva Johansson, the Swedish Employment Minister, points out, is not protecting specific jobs (which may be dying) as protecting workers (which need to be actively equipped and/or a guided toward a new one).

Conclusion

Somehow or other, although no one knows how, remedying the great decoupling will induce the vertical to become more horizontal again. Or so one hopes.

Failing to achieve this will only accentuate more verticality. And vertical moments, as we know, tend to be the more dangerous ones.

Editor’s Note: Adapted from Andres Ortega’s Global Spectator column, which he writes for the Elcano Royal Institute.

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Give Donald Trump Credit: Europe’s United

Fri, 2017-06-16 00:01

By Stephan Richter

No U.S. President in recent memory has done more to strengthen Europe’s willingness to work together than Donald Trump.

George W. Bush was famous for campaigning, back in his first presidential campaign in 2000, with the now (in)famous argument that he was “a uniter, not a divider.” (In retrospect, that may have been the first presidential “fake news” effort).

Bush’s performance

In the real world, Bush’s comforting slogan turned out the exact opposite: The former Governor of Texas pursued an agenda that was very divisive domestically.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Bush managed to top this in the international arena. There, his performance proved explosively divisive. His completely unnecessary Iraq War, in particular, caused long-time allies of the United States to part company with the West’s leading power.

To cover that up, Bush and his team started to refer to his much smaller war-making cabal, which most prominently included the U.S.’s eternal sidekick, the U.K., as an “Coalition of the Willing.”

Trump’s performance

While Donald Trump did not exactly use those same words — “uniter, not a divider” — there are plenty of occasions where Donald, as candidate and U.S. President, mouthed words to the same effect, including during his Inaugural Speech in January 2017.

Trump’s record in office, however, makes an even bigger mockery of the “uniter” claim on the domestic front than was the case for Bush Jr. From his first day in office onward, the new President has poured acid over the slogan.

Trump’s baseline reflex seems to be to ridicule the Democrats and any other political force that does not volunteer to be completely submissive to him.

The difference internationally

As it happens, the same is true on the international front, regarding the U.S. traditional “Western” allies. Where nations parted company from George W. Bush over Iraq, he was always trying to woo them back.

In contrast, Trump heaps onto most foreign nations a near-constant barrage of outright scorn. Europe, and Germany in particular, seem to be just one notch short of Iran on Mr. Trump’s list of rogue nations.

(Apparently, Trump is seeking to balance that out with his sick admiration of Suck-up-Arabia, formerly “Saudi” Arabia, and of buttering up China’s Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago).

Yet, there is good news to be reported – and for this Donald Trump definitely deserves credit. His many distastefully uninformed speeches and actions have had a salutary effect on Europe.

The EU is probably the world’s biggest beneficiary of Trump’s many “Trumpist” (i.e., blatantly ignorant) moves. Individual EU nations are happy as well.

Look back just a year ago – and the entire European edifice was expected to be sacrificed on the altar of populism. Then, the shock of the Trump election happened.

How Trump helped Europe out of a real pickle

Donald Trump acted according to script and gave his a most effective impersonation of Mussolini-style temper tantrums. Europeans, who do remember their history, got a very direct lesson in the absolute downsides of populism.

Trump’s performance was much more effective in building up resistance forces than any amount of speechifying of establishment politicians or of endless reams of lead editorials written in most newspapers could ever have accomplished.

Whither populism

As a net result, the supposed EU “dominoes” – from the Netherlands to France – did not fall. Indeed, the triumph of Macron, aided by incredibly fortuitous timing, was aided by Trump being Trump.

The happiest result was effectively that Marine Le Pen was toast after the orange-haired President seized the world stage. Her Front National party may not even get enough seats in the new French Parliament to reach full party status.

The end of the older brother syndrome

Europeans have long realized, but never really acted upon the need to act more independently on the international stage. Donald Trump’s actions – not just on the Paris Climate Accord – make it impossible now for the EU not to grow up.

The EU has long argued, rather ineffectively to date, that it provides a useful shield for member nations if and when that is necessary. Trade will be one issue where this shield will come into play rather imminently, even for mighty Germany.

It will take a couple of decades for Europe to get where it must be as an international actor. But thanks to Trump, long-forgotten projects, like a de facto European Defense Union (first pursued in the 1950s, but then aborted) are back on the map.

New allies

Most important, Europe does not stand alone. Indeed, it already stands shoulder to shoulder with the enlightened part of the United States, including California.

©2017 The Globalist

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Florida: The Global Picture

Thu, 2017-06-15 01:03

By The Globalist

How many countries, other than the US, have larger economies than Florida?

1. Florida is a globally famous U.S. destination, and it also has the fourth-largest U.S. state economy.

2. Florida’s economy is quite a bit smaller than California’s, just below $1 trillion in 2016 ($947 billion).

3. Partly on the strength of its 21 million people, Florida accounts for 5% of the U.S. economy.

4. Fourteen countries around the world beyond the United States itself have economies that are larger than Florida’s.

5. China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, India, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Korea, Australia, Russia, Spain and Mexico all have larger economies than Florida.

6. Of those countries, Mexico’s economy is the closest in size to Florida’s, at $1.14 trillion with a population of 124 million – over 100 million more people than in Florida.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census Bureau, World Bank

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Texas and New York in a Global Context

Thu, 2017-06-15 00:58

By The Globalist

Which countries have larger economies than the "Lone Star" and "Empire" states?

1. Other than the United States itself, eight countries – China, Japan, Germany, UK, France, India, Italy and Brazil – have larger economies than the U.S. state of Texas at $1.65 trillion.

2. The national economy that, at $1.55 trillion, is closest in nominal GDP size to (but slightly smaller than) Texas is Canada, with its 37 million people.

3. The economy of Texas is 38% – or fully $1 trillion – smaller than California’s economy, which is the largest U.S. state economy.

4. Texas, the second-largest U.S. state economy, is dominated by the oil industry and associated support sectors.

5. Extractive industry (oil, gas, mining), while still smaller than manufacturing or government, accounts for $127 billion (nearly 8%) of the Texas economy.

6. Texas’s economy is 8.8% larger than New York’s economy, which totaled $1.49 trillion in 2016.

7. The largest sectors of New York state’s economy, which overall accounts for 8% of the U.S. economy, are finance/insurance (Wall Street), real estate and government.

8. In addition to the eight countries with larger economies than Texas, Canada makes the ninth national economy larger than New York.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Census Bureau, World Bank

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