Inter Press ServiceNorth America – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 24 Jun 2017 22:26:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Putting the Spotlight on Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 22:25:30 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151040 Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide. But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug. This is why, experts from […]

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Eni Lestari Andayani Adi (Indonesia), Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), addresses the opening segment of the United Nations high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2017 (IPS)

Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide.

But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug.

This is why, experts from UN Women and the United Nations University (UNU) in New York came together this week to discuss and raise awareness about migrant women workers’ rights.

In 2015, female migrant workers, who number 117 million, contributed about half of the world’s total remittance flow.

As labour markets shuffle in the new world order, two distinct patterns have emerged. Women have increasingly moved to hospitality and nursing industries, or the “domestic” economy, as well as areas previously dominated by men, such as agriculture. Demands has continued to rise in developed countries, but women’s contributions have been severely underappreciated.

By contributing to the gaps of the labour economy, women have lifted the working age population, and contributed to technological and human capital. By virtue of their soft skills, they have closed the gaps of a receding tax base, undermined by an aging population, and have come to the assistance of the elderly in the chaos of cutbacks in the health sector.

In the Philippines, for instance, which is the world’s third highest remittance receiving country, women migrant workers have been the sole breadwinners for their family. Typically, women largely migrate to Europe and North America.

Still, with the change in the world order and the growth of newer economies, this flow is likely to change. Experts predict that the flow from the Global North to the Global South will shift, as migrants move into the fast growing economies of Asia, like China and India.

“Migration is going to continue because a single country will not have all the resources in and of itself. Even if technology advances, we are not going to put our children in the hands of a robot,” Dr. Francisco Cos Montiel, a senior research officer at UNU, told IPS.

Inkeri Von Hase, an expert on gender and migration issues, told IPS that “we have to prioritise women’s empowerment so they are able to realise their full potential.” The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was adopted in 2016 with this very aim to protect and empower migrant workers, has largely failed to take into account specific rights for women’s protection.

Still, all this is not to say that all women migrant workers are necessarily victims of sexual assault and discrimination at work. Many have found a renewed sense of agency and purpose, for instance, the women who have fled violence in Guatemala and El Salvador. To ensure they can continue to tread this path, however, it becomes crucial to adopt newer policies today.

It is also significant that many migrants have become de-skilled in the process of migration, and have settled for the first jobs they found, in a bid to earn money to send home.

The new recommendations by experts in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration report could be crucial to ensure the autonomy and independence of women migrant workers across the world.

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“Big Reflection” Needed on Opioid Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:26:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151003 Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency. In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world. In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at […]

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Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency UNODC

Intravenous drug users in Pakistan. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency.

In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world.

In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at least once. Of these, almost 30 million suffered from drug use disorders including dependence. UNODC found that opioids were the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70 percent of negative health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide, and its production is only increasing.

“[Opioid use] is a really dramatic epidemic…they are really, in terms of burden of disease, at the top of the scale,” said UNODC’s Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch Gilberto Gerra to IPS.

The use of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, heighten the risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C through unsafe injecting practices as well as overdoses and death.

Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths related to drugs that were mostly avoidable. A large proportion of those deaths is attributed to the use of opioids.

Though affects many countries in the world, the opioid crisis is particularly prevalent in the United States.

Mostly driven by opioids, approximately one quarter of the estimated drug-related deaths worldwide occur in the U.S.

Overdose deaths in the North American nation more than tripled from almost 17,000 to over 52,000 annually between 1999 and 2015, and increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, reaching the highest level ever recorded.

In fact, more Americans died from the misuse of opioids in 2016 than in the entirety of the Vietnam War, noted Gerra.

In the state of Maryland, opioid-related deaths quadrupled since 2010 and deaths from fentanyl increased 38-fold in the past decade. In response to the crisis, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, stating: “We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency…this is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Though some states have begun the place restrictions on the accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids, including a Florida bill that aims to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a five-day supply, Gerra stressed the importance of focusing on not only supply, but also the demand side of opioids.

“If so many people are consuming this opioid medication including legal opioids from the pharmacy, when you restrict the pharmacy’s opioid medication, they will start to turn to things like heroin,” he told IPS.

In the U.S., heroin use has increased significantly, and the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that it is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

“There needs to be a big reflection on this issue in North America,” Gerra said.

However, the potential changes in healthcare in the U.S. may impact access to treatment.

In particular, the current health care bill proposes cuts to expanded Medicaid, which is used by many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic to boost their response by paying for medication, therapy, and other treatment services.

Health advocates criticised the proposed cuts during President Trump’s first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which is charged with finding solutions for the epidemic.

“If we make it harder for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse,” said North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.

A similar scenario is found around the world as availability of and access to treatment of drug use disorders remain limited. Fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders are provided with treatment each year, UNODC found.

Gerra highlighted the importance of treatment, pointing to the need for personalised interventions and close supervision by doctors or therapists in order to avoid opioid misuse.

He also added that people possessing drugs for personal consumption should not be criminalised as it steers them away from seeking treatment for fear of punishment.

Though approaches to global drug policy have been contentious and diverse, countries in the General Assembly session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) in 2016 unanimously agreed for the first time to a people-centered approach which sees the drug problem as a health disorder rather than a criminal or moral issue.

“We cannot respond to people trapped by drugs with a punitive approach. We have to tell them that we are here, we are aware of your condition and behaviour, you are aware that you are in trouble, please come and we will do what we can to help you and your family to overcome this problem in a very humane and human-rights, science-based way,” Gerra told IPS.

Gerra called for a continuum of care approach to help keep people using drugs like heroin safe through services like needle exchange programs and to provide long-term accessible and affordable treatment once users are ready.

“No one should be left behind in the delivery of prevention and treatment interventions,” UNODC said in its report.

Gerra noted that prevention is by far the most cost-effective intervention in the long run, but approaches must be science-based in order to be effective.

“People don’t understand that there is a science behind prevention—they continue to use initiatives that are well-intentioned but completely not science-based [and] then they say prevention is not working,” he said, pointing to science-based methodologies such as life skills education and drug education to children.

The globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is to leave no one behind, includes a target to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150960 As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting. But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA). […]

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting

Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting.

But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA).

Richards told IPS that a strike would only ever be the last resort. But he accused the United Nations of failing to practice in its own backyard what it preaches to the rest of the world, particularly on labour and human rights.

“Had there been a proper negotiation system in place for staff to have a say in their salaries as the UN preaches to countries, we could have avoided all this.”

“Having said that”, he pointed out, “if there is no avenue for meaningful dialogue, UN staff will have no choice but to escalate their actions.” At the end of the day this isn’t about a budget cut, he noted.

Currently, the UN staff in Geneva number over 5,400 in the professional category of employees.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” early June, blamed the New York-based International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The agencies based in Geneva include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Conference on Disarmament and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others.

The ICSC, which determines UN salary structures, has awarded staff in New York a pay rise of 2.2 percent, which they rightfully deserve, said Richards. “In the end it’s about some pushing to see what they can get away with,” he added.

The CCISUA will be joined by the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) in any collective action.

The Human Rights Council, the primary UN body dealing with human rights, was forced to suspend its sittings last Friday, but the Geneva staff decided not to disrupt a meeting negotiating an end to the long-drawn-out Syrian civil war which has triggered one of the world’s major humanitarian crises.

Rolando Gómez, Public Information Officer of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva confirmed to IPS about the suspension of the Human Rights Council meeting, resulting from the work stoppage.

“It was the first time such a suspension took place at the Council for such a reason,” he added.

Gomez said the Human Rights Council recognises the right of UN staff to demonstrate against the proposed pay cut and did not wish to take any action that would prevent them from doing so.

“The Council also reiterates its immense gratitude to UN staff at Geneva for the first-rate, indispensable assistance they provide in servicing their meetings throughout the year,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in a letter to staff unions in Geneva, Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), said staff representatives have informed the Executive Heads of all Geneva-based common system organizations that they are “planning actions throughout this summer, including work stoppages” with respect to the recent decision of the ICSC on post adjustment levels in Geneva.

This is also refers to an email last week from the UNOG Staff Council with the heading: “Upcoming work stoppage”.

“UN Geneva recognizes and respects the right of staff to freedom of association. Staff are allowed to meet on the UN Geneva premises in a non-disruptive representative manner. UN Geneva also acknowledges the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the ISCS’s determination on post adjustment for Geneva.”

The letter further warned: “Notwithstanding the above, staff are reminded that actions which disrupt or otherwise interfere with any meeting or other official activity of the Organization, may be considered in contravention to the obligations under staff rule 1.2 (g). This includes any and all conduct which is intended, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the ability of staff or delegates to discharge their official functions.”

Based on guidance from UNHQ (in New York), staff are also reminded that action, such as work stoppage or other collective action, may be considered as unauthorized absence in line with staff regulations and rules, the letter added.

He also said that staff should take note that discussions are still ongoing with the ICSC regarding the implementation of the post adjustment changes, “and we should all ensure that we do not to jeopardize the outcome of such discussions.”

“This is also to call on all of us to act professionally and in a manner befitting our status as international civil servants,” the letter added.

Richards told IPS: “We’re disappointed that UN management should have resorted to threatening staff.”

Asked for his comments, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “The guidance we have from our colleagues in Geneva is that they fully acknowledge the right of staff to freedom of association, which is a basic right. Staff were allowed to meet on the UN… on the premises in Geneva in a non disruptive manner.”

“I think our colleagues in Geneva have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the issues having to do with the International Civil Service Commission on post adjustments in Geneva. My understanding is that negotiations are still going on, on the implementation of these issues, but we’re all international civil servants, and we need to respect the rules,” he noted.

Richards also said that staff from organizations across Geneva took part in the work stoppage, with the aim of sending a strong message to New York management and the ICSC, that Geneva staff won’t allow their pay to be cut on the basis of absence of negotiations and numerous questions raised about the data and calculations.

“During the stoppage we held a staff meeting, attended by a large number of staff, including directors and staff from HR and security. We have a video which shows a lot of anger.”

Asked what the next step would be, Richards said: “Next steps are the report from a group of statisticians who visited the ICSC last week to check their data and calculations. The ICSC will revisit the issue in Vienna in July and we hope will change their conclusions.”

“It is important to note, he said, that this isn’t about budget cuts, as New York, where ICSC is based, recently got a 2.2 percent pay rise. However, the un-transparent approach used by the ICSC means that another 85 duty stations could be in line for a cut,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:12:05 +0000 Madeleine Penman and Marselha Goncalves Margerin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150898 Madeleine Penman, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin
MEXICO CITY, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Today in Miami, the governments of US and Mexico are putting aside their well-publicized tensions of recent months and co-hosting a conference on security and governance in Central America´s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from where thousands of people flee extreme violence to seek asylum in the US and Mexico. 

Seeing the United States and Mexico in front of the cameras as happy co-hosts sparks a number of questions.

Many citizens have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
Why is no one speaking about Trump´s great big wall? Who is talking about their much-aired differences in negotiating a new NAFTA trade agreement?

It remains to be seen whether these impasses between the US and Mexico will be the bargaining chips during discussions in Miami that affect the lives of families, children and entire communities whose lives are being destroyed by powerful gangs known as maras that effectively control the lives of thousands of people in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

Many citizens  have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

Yet rather than looking at humanitarian approaches to the crisis in these countries, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will be largely led by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, whose main job is to patrol US borders. He will be inviting attendants to bunker down together at the United States armed forces Southern Command base to discuss solutions for Central America with a host of government, private sector and international development actors.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

At the same time, the obligations of all these governments under international law to protect people who are fleeing for their lives, must not be forgotten.

While leaders meet to discuss ways of addressing the security crisis in Central America, the United States has already started implementing one of the most ambitious border control programmes in its recent history, directly affecting thousands of Central American asylum seekers.

A report launched by Amnesty International today shows how these measures, currently being rolled out in line with President Trump´s Executive Order on Border Security of 25 January 2017, threaten to repeat the very same failed strategies that US presidents have tried since the 1990s. Rather than promote stability in Central America, hardline border patrol has been proven to cause an increase in the people smuggling industry, lining the pockets of powerful criminal networks in the region and affecting lives of thousands of vulnerable people.

Trump’s measures not only call for the construction of a wall, but allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increasing the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end. The discussions taking place in Miami today must not forget the cycle of migration from beginning to end, and not only look at the security crisis in Central America but also criticize the inhumane responses being devised by the USA for arriving Central Americans, measures that violate international law.

There is no hiding the United States´ desire for Mexico to play a key role in stemming the flow of asylum seekers and migrants arriving on its borders from Central America.

A Mexican government eager to register gains in other negotiations open with the USA may be keen to ramp up its existing efforts as the USA´s chief gatekeeper.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

Amnesty International´s research shows how Mexico plays the role of the chief immigration officer for the USA, deporting thousands of Central Americans to situations of murder or other human rights violations, when the very Mexican government bemoans the same treatment of its own citizens.

Yet it must not be forgotten that both governments are bound to principles under international human rights treaties that prohibit the return of people to life threatening situations. Of 113 people from the Northern Triangle that Amnesty International spoke to in recent months, 86% alleged major threats to their life.

Nevertheless, the US and Mexican governments are complicit in violations of international law that send back thousands of people to their death and rather than tackling a problem, only threaten to make it worse.

This crisis is not likely to go away any time soon. The question now is how much blood governments are willing to have on their hands.

Read more

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers (Report, 15 June 2017)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr01/6426/2017/en/

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How Peter Thiel Got His New Zealand Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/#comments Thu, 08 Jun 2017 00:05:06 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150801 In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there. It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand […]

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Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

By Christopher Pala
WELLINGTON, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand to get his papers: the government allowed him to pick up his passport at its consulate in Santa Monica. The outrage was compounded by the government’s release in February of his 145-page naturalization file, which revealed a cascade of broken promises.Purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one.

In his application dated June 2011, he described New Zealand as a utopia that “aligns more with my view of the future” than any other country. Thiel has said the maximum tax rates in the U.S. (now 39.6 percent) should be lowered to 20 percent or less and the shortfall in national income should be recovered by “disentangling some of those middle-class entitlements that people have gotten used to.”

In New Zealand, the top tax rate is 33 percent. It is the only OECD country without a capital gains or inheritance tax; it is run by the world’s most business-friendly bureaucracy and has a vibrant and under-capitalized tech sector.

Though it was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893, and has offered free dental care to schoolchildren since 1921, it swung from one of the most managed economies to one of the least regulated in the 1980s. As a result, 60 percent of its rivers are too polluted to swim in and its fisheries have been found to rest on a foundation of waste and official lies.

In 2015, Thiel bought a 193-hectare estate on Lake Wanaka, in the South Island. He also owns a mansion on Lake Wakatipu, an hour away. These and other purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one. The cost of housing is the hottest issue in elections due this year.

In his citizenship application, Thiel wrote, “It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country and its emerging high-tech industry.” He said he intended “to devote a significant amount of my time and resources to the people and businesses of NZ” and become “an active player in NZ’s venture capital industry.”

He explained that the year before, he had created an investment fund called Valar Ventures “dedicated exclusively to funding and aiding New Zealand technology companies.” Through it, he could “act in an advisory role in a way that (others) cannot because I have encountered and solved many of the problems that will confront entrepreneurs as they build their companies.”

At the government’s suggestion, according to the file, Thiel even donated NZ$1 million (830,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to an earthquake relief fund.

On July 8, 2011, three days after his application was accepted, he was the headline speaker at a conference at the Icehouse, a business development center in Auckland, the economic capital. But Thiel made no mention of his new citizenship, nor did he speak of becoming an active player on the local tech scene. Likewise, he made no mention of New Zealand to a New Yorker writer who interviewed him for a long profile headlined “No Death, no Taxes,” published that November.

“The last thing we want to do is give people the impression that our citizenship is up for sale, and this affair has certainly created that,” said Iain Lees-Galloway, the spokesman on immigration issues of the opposition Labour Party, in an interview. As for Thiel’s promises in his application, Lees-Galloway added, “He couldn’t have been all that proud (of becoming a Kiwi) because he didn’t tell anybody for six years.”

The government of the right-wing National Party glossed over the broken promises. Prime Minister Bill English, who was deputy PM in 2011, told local reporters, “If people come here and invest and get into philanthropy and are supportive of New Zealand, for us as a small country at the end of the world, that’s not a bad thing.” Thiel had been to New Zealand four times, his file showed, starting in 1993.

On February 4 came another disclosure: The Herald reported that nine months after Thiel was granted the citizenship, his Valar Ventures fund had accepted what the paper called a “sweetheart deal” from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, created in 2002 to encourage investments in local tech start-ups.

Valar and the fund would jointly invest in four local companies: Xero, with the largest share, as well as Vend, Booktrack and Pacific Fibre. Two years earlier, Thiel had separately invested three million dollars in Xero, a cloud-based accounting software that was already listed.

At the time, NZVIF’s standard contract had a clause that allowed the outside investor to buy, after five years, the government’s share at its initial cost, plus the yield of a five-year government bond. If the company shares went up, the investor pocketed the profits from the government’s share, too. If the shares fell, both lost equally.

In October 2016, after the shares of Xero soared, Valar Ventures exercised the clause. The exact size of its investment is not known, but the profits have been estimated at 23.5 million dollars for an investment of 6.8 million. Valar still owns 4.8 percent of Xero, down from a peak of 7 percent. Today, of the 13 companies in its portfolio, only two are from New Zealand: Xero and Vend.

Opposition politicians suggested that naïve government officials had made yet another transaction with Thiel that failed to benefit New Zealanders. “Thiel had already invested in Xero, it was hardly a risky venture,” pointed out Lees-Galloway, the Labour MP.

But while politicians denounced the deal as having essentially privatized the profits from a taxpayer-funded investment, the tech world saw things very differently.

Andrew Hamilton, the CEO of the Icehouse business center where Thiel gave his speech, declined to specify what else Thiel had done for startups, saying only: “Peter was and is awesome, and we are always grateful to people who contribute and help!”

Lance Wiggs, the founding director of the Punakaiki Fund, which invests in companies in the development and fast-growth phases, said Valar was “exactly the kind of fund New Zealand wanted to attract.” He said Thiel’s investment in Xero “was absolutely crucial at the time, he really helped them lift their game from being a local player to an international one.” Xero is now worth two billion dollars and has 1,400 employees around the world.

As for the government, Wiggs added, “I can see why they blinked and gave him a passport, though I can’t see why he needed it,” given that Thiel has a residency permit since 2006.

But unlike the permit, citizenship is “irrevocable,” as his lawyer pointed out in the application.

Adam Hunt, a tax administration specialist, offered one possible explanation: “It’s an attractive place for a rich person,” he said. Thiel could renounce his American citizenship and move to New Zealand. “If you’re rich and you move here, you can live off your capital gains,” which are not taxed. “You may have virtually no income here, and pay almost no taxes.”

Forbes estimates Thiel’s net worth at 2.7 billion dollars. He is 49 years old.

As for Thiel himself, who was born German and naturalized American, he declined to publicly defend the officials who did him the favor, or to make any new investments in New Zealand start-ups. His spokesman, Jeremiah Hall of Torch Communications in San Francisco, did not respond to three e-mails seeking comment.

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Mixed Reactions to U.S. Withdrawal from Climate Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/#comments Thu, 01 Jun 2017 07:10:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150694 The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives. Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 1 2017 (IPS)

The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though it is uncertain what the U.S. exit will look like, the decision has already sparked widespread disappointment and outrage.

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Margaret Huang called the expected decision an “assault on a range of human rights.”

“By refusing to join other nations in taking necessary steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, the President is effectively saying: ‘Let them drown, burn, and starve,’” she continued.

Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased significantly in recent years from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016, levels that have not been observed for over 10 million years. This has lead to a rise in global average temperature of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above its 1960 level, and it is only projected to increase further without curbing fossil fuel use and thus emissions.

Climate change is already contributing to extreme environmental events including rapidly melting ice caps, more frequent and devastating storms, and prolonged droughts which have and will continue to impact hundreds of millions of peoples’ human rights around the world, Huang noted.

On previous occasions, President Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” created by China and has vowed to invest in domestic coal and oil, industries that have largely contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Brune noted that the decision is a betrayal of the public and market, stating: “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean energy economy while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the 19th century.”

According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow globally, reflecting the transition of the world’s energy sector into cleaner technologies. China alone aims to increase its renewable energy by 40 percent by 2020.

The majority of Americans also back the Paris agreement. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found 71 percent support of U.S. participation in the deal from both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Prior to the U.S.’ decision, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it was “absolutely essential” that the world implements the Paris agreement but action can still continue if a country doesn’t do so.

“But if any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course,” he said in a speech at the New York University Stern School of Business.

In a similar vein, Seychelles’ Permanent Representative to the UN Ronald Jumeau said countries will move forward with climate action with or without the U.S.

“The absence of the USA does not make the glass half empty or half full. It is still more full than empty,” he said.

“What you have to worry about is look at who is here, who is sitting in the front row, and say now what are we going to do about this? How are we going to step up so that it brings benefits to us all,” Jumeau continued.

Countries in the G7, European Union, and Asia have already stepped up to reaffirm their commitments to the Paris agreement in response to the U.S.’ wavering stance.

An upcoming EU-China Summit in Brussels is expected to result in a detailed action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the climate deal.

“Small Island States cannot afford to be dismayed or feel down about any of this, we have to move on for the sake of our countries [and] for humanity in general and for all countries,” Juneau concluded.

Nearly 150 countries have ratified the Paris climate agreement, representing over 80 percent of global emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are among the only countries that have not signed the agreement.

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Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Genevahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 15:30:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150659 Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel. But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of […]

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UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel.

But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of employees, are already on the warpath because of a proposed 7.5 percent reduction in their take-home pay triggering a strong backlash and public demonstrations—and perhaps leading to a possible work stoppage.

The proposed salary reductions in Geneva aren’t related to the impending US cuts to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets in New York.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” last week, blames the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which presides over salary structures, for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The staff federations include the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA)

The resolution says the ICSC has refused three times to meet with staff and explain the proposed cuts despite ongoing and serious questions about its data-handling and statistical analysis.

Ian Richards, President of CCISUA, told IPS the resolution was unprecedented and “shows how angry staff in Geneva are at the ICSC’s manipulation of its own methodology to cut pay in what unfortunately is one of the world’s most expensive cities where local salaries rose almost six percent in the last five years”.

“We’re under huge pressure from staff to get the work stoppages going,” he warned.

He said the decision to cut pay was taken by ICSC, but given its failure to provide convincing explanations to the heads of human resources of the organizations in Geneva, most organizations will not implement it for now.

“Those same organizations have also sent a team of statisticians to New York to go through the ICSC’s calculations. Unfortunately the UN secretariat has decided to break ranks, meaning staff in Geneva will be paid different salaries for the same work.”

Richards said pay cuts are also poor employment practices and are only taken by employers in crisis and after negotiating with staff unions.

“The fact that the ICSC increased pay in New York and Washington DC shows we aren’t there right now,” he added.

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

Geneva is the first UN duty station to be affected by the new rules, but there are 85 duty stations to follow. This summer, several European Union duty stations such as Paris, Vienna, Rome and Madrid, will be up before the ICSC.

According to the staff unions, New York salaries went up by 2.2 percent in February.

“This isn’t about a choice between a pay cut or preserving jobs in Geneva. Organizations did not factor in the pay cut while setting their budgets. Meanwhile Swiss salaries increased 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, the same period over which the ICSC is trying to cut ours,” says CCISUA.

There is also a widespread belief that Geneva was victimized first because UN member states aren’t happy at having to pay $1 billion on a new building, which they were strong-armed into paying for, and particularly with possible cost overruns.

Meanwhile, since Washington is the largest single contributor both to the UN’s regular and its peacekeeping budgets, a proposed 29 percent in US foreign assistance by the Trump administration is expected to have a heavy impact on the United Nations in New York.

Currently about 22 percent of the UN’s biennium regular budget of $5.4 billion comes from the US. So does 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of about $8 billion.

Asked about the impending cuts proposed in the US budget, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “We’re obviously studying the (US) budget, going through some of the numbers. I think, from where we stand and looking at the budget, as proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world”

He said the budgetary process in the US is what it is. “It is going through a legislative process. So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.”

“I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we’re obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor”.

Dujarric said that even before the proposed US cuts were announced, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has remained engaged in bringing out reforms in the UN system “ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it’s meant to deliver”.

He said Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat– over which he has authority– on limiting the amount of travel to necessary-travel only.

He has also asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to look at how the UN uses its air assets in peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.

“I think the Secretary General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he’s asked his managers to look at that. As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.”

But still, said Dujarric, the UN needs resources to deliver on its mandates laid out by the 193-member General Assembly.

On cuts, Richards said reducing the size of UN staff delegations is probably a good idea. “But at the end of the day, travel is only a small part of the regular, Trump-affected budget. Much travel is paid from extra-budgetary sources, such as projects and events that require travel,” he noted.

Reflecting on the situation in Geneva, Richards pointed that what was noteworthy is that the ICSC decided to remove mitigating measures that would have softened the impact of the cut just before it started working on Geneva.

“The ICSC has agreed to review its decision at its next meeting in July and we hope it will put things right. Many staff have told us they will return from their holidays if need be to take collective action”, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Gateway Portals and the Quest for Sustainable Urbanizationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/gateway-portals-and-the-quest-for-sustainable-urbanization/#respond Wed, 24 May 2017 15:27:58 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150570 On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs. The train station at 125th […]

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125th Station, Broadway. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

By Joan Erakit
NEW YORK, May 24 2017 (IPS)

On a busy Friday afternoon, the number 1 subway train heading north through Manhattan’s Westside comes out of a dark tunnel –and if one takes a minute to release oneself from communication devices—one can catch sight of the approaching 125th street in the distance, the crosswalk buzzing with yellow cabs.

The train station at 125th street and Broadway that sits high above the commotion below on a green arch bridge is the first clue that a passenger has reached Harlem, the gateway portal to the historic New York City neighborhood.

Last week, the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization and UN-Habitat organized a discussion at the United Nations headquarters that brought together stakeholders from the private sector, the UN system, government, academia and civil society to share ideas for creating and sustaining gateway portals — ultimately emphasizing the need to utilize urbanization as a tool for development.

Whilst many in the room were probably used to such discussions taking the route of creating bustling cities that could accommodate the highest number of urbanites in order to support political, economic and cultural agendas, it was refreshing to instead witness a focus on urban planning through gateway portals that put infrastructure center stage.

A gateway portal is an emblem of a city and can be everything from a bridge, plaza, or historic site that often welcomes one into a city or specific neighborhood. California’s Golden Gate Bridge is the most famous, linking Marin County to San Francisco in an architectural piece designed by engineer Joseph Strauss in the 1930s.

As one heads east of California, other gateway portals across the United States start popping up such as the Minneapolis Stone Arch Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, connecting the southern and northern parts of the Midwest City. Arriving in New York, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island join the historic Manhattan Bridge as portals to the urban jungle – each depicting an intentional narrative of its own.

Famed architect Santiago Calatrava, a man known for his extraordinary body of work was invited to the discussion last week where he not only shared various projects, but also highlighted the necessity of portals. In his own words he mentioned that, “bridges are important pieces of infrastructure and gateway portals are to a city what infrastructure is to Sustainable Development.”

If this is true then city planners, architects and government officials are now tasked with the challenging job of thinking critically of where and how they place gateway portals. Instead of just creating entrances that mark an area and alert taxi drivers to charge toll fees, planners now have the opportunity to address issues of sustainability by utilizing smart, inclusive design that goes beyond just a pretty facade.

In 2013, author Charles Montgomery published a book called ‘Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design’, an anthropological text on what it meant to create sustainable spaces that were not only focused on developing a city, but also on underscoring the temperament of its citizens in relation to that development. If people were generally happy and continued to live happy lives within urban bustling communities, then was it possible that their surroundings would eventually be transformed socially, economically and politically?

“Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to live the complex problem of people living close together, and they are more than an embodiment of the creative tensions between competing ideas,” he wrote. “They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people. They apportion the benefits of urban life. They express who has power and who does not. In doing so, they shape the mind and soul of the city,” he concluded.

Citizen Driven Planning

The premise of the conversation last week was straightforward: development cannot succeed without conscious urbanization. This, meaning that urbanization for development needed to include a citizen driven approach to planning and design that accounted for inclusion, health, resiliency and equality.

According UN Habitat, it is estimated that around 54% of people now live in urban areas and as this number steadily grows, the question of how to sustainably house, provide and protect a large population in such dense spaces has become a top priority for both the UN system and government officials.

A timely discussion as Habitat III concluded last year in Quito, Ecuador with the goal of adopting a new urban agenda that would offer a set of action oriented global standards that would guide the way in which we designed and sustained our cities – citizen driven urbanization would need to prioritize these global standards when building or reshaping gateway portals.

Additionally, such plans would also need to uphold the fact that gateway portals established the economic and political power of the city, and to be citizen driven would essentially mean that the portals were of service to the people who used them daily, and not the other way around.

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem.  Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

Frederick Douglas Plaza, Harlem. Credit: Joan Erakit/IPS

What’s In A Narrative?

During the 5th and 6th centuries, grandiose gates and high towering walls that circled a city – sometimes serving as a safety barrier in the chance of attack – illustrated the gateway portal. The narrative of a powerful gate or great wall such as the one in China laid forth the cities ambitions and easily communicated its priorities.

In 2017 with more and more people moving into urban areas, we are forced to ask ourselves what sort of narrative we’d like to have. When one arrives in Harlem, what narrative is being shared once you’ve crossed the threshold of the gateway portal on 125th street and begin your descent into the colorful street below?

New York City Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora spoke during the panel last week about the plans that the De Blasio administration drawn up towards creating sustainable, healthy public spaces with the agenda of changing the narrative of its city.

“We often say that we want to create spaces that work for everyone – diversity is key,” he said, continuing, “We must design to invite, and design to delight.”

This – NYC’s actual design mantra – when applied to redefining gateway portals is to simply put the citizen at the center of the vision. Yes, happiness is key, sustainability is key but city planners must also focus on creating spaces that encourage openness.

In the end, it cannot be disputed: gateway portals emphasize the importance of a city. They provide a first impression and a lasting one if curated with intent. It is with this measure that city planners and government officials must consider portals as the ‘opening line’ of their cities narrative.

Sustainable urbanization can most certainly be an effective tool for development, but must not be approached with naiveté. As the Executive Director of UN Habitat Dr. Clos put during his remarks last week, “when you address one problem, you generate two more.”

Addressing one gateway portal at a time, a city’s quest for sustainable urbanization becomes an actual possibility rather than just a city plan.

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World to Cut Emissions With or Without Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/world-to-cut-emissions-with-or-without-trump/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 22:45:32 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150534 In a last-ditch effort, Germany and China are trying to influence the United States not to walk away from the Paris climate change accord it signed along with 194 nations. In December 2015, nearly every country committed to take action to reduce planet-warming emissions. “We are trying to influence the US through different channels and […]

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Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board.

Officials say future climate action will require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. Credit: Bigstock

By Zofeen Ebrahim
BERLIN, May 22 2017 (IPS)

In a last-ditch effort, Germany and China are trying to influence the United States not to walk away from the Paris climate change accord it signed along with 194 nations.

In December 2015, nearly every country committed to take action to reduce planet-warming emissions."The US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments." --Lutz Weischer

“We are trying to influence the US through different channels and people, at the foreign ministry level to the EPA and even the Chancellor [Angela Merkel] has repeatedly called up President [Donald] Trump to remain in this landmark agreement,” said German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks at the two-day 8th Petersberg Climate Dialogue being held in Berlin.

Terming the Paris Agreement a “hard-won milestone”, the Chinese special envoy Xie Zhenhua said his country was “true to word and resolute in deed”. Like his German counterpart, he too reiterated that all signatories should “stick to it” and “not retreat”. China is resolute in its commitment, he said and added the need for transparency to “build mutual trust and confidence” was also paramount.

At the same time, both countries gave a positive signal of what they were doing to reduce carbon emissions, with Hendricks emphasizing on the need to work on the “ecological technologies of the future” in the sectors of transport, infrastructure development and grids. They talked about the advances made in the renewable energy sector, the dire need for phasing out coal and the baby steps made towards electric cars.

Hendricks said future climate action would require farsightedness, political courage, intelligent regulations and getting corporations on board. “We do not have a blueprint as yet” but countries are ready to ride the wave of enthusiasm although with some reservations but all for “prosperity in the long term”.

She also said it was prudent to mainstream climate action in all economic, fiscal even health policies. “The ball is in the court of national governments,” she said adding: “Actions should speak louder than words.”

But despite so much commitment, the air of uncertainty continues to loom heavy over all climate talks as President Trump mulls over his “big decision”.

Dr Ralph Bodle, a senior fellow and coordinator of Ecologic, a Berlin based think tank on environment, was recently in Bonn helping ministers and diplomats from nearly 200 countries to hammer out a “rule book” to say who should do what, by when, how and with what financial support, thereby putting the Paris Climate Agreement into practice.

He, too, conceded that there was concern over Trump’s decision during the 11-day intersessional climate talks. Bodle believed the Paris Accord “will live or fail with political will”.

It is expected the US president will announce a final decision after his return from Taormina, in Sicily, where he will attend the 43rd G7 Summit and where he will be pressured by other countries to give in.

In March, Trump had threatened to pull out of the accord and roll back the widely- supported climate policies of former president Barack Obama, whose administration set a target of a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025, based in 2005 levels. He had declared an end to the “war on coal”, signed an executive order that removed several restrictions on fossil fuel production and removed barriers to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

Before leaving office, Obama had transferred one billion dollars to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund and pledged billions more to the fund through the Paris deal, which has not been taken well by Trump.

He has said the US was “paying disproportionately” and that they “got taken to the cleaners financially”. It is unclear whether Trump will honour those financial commitments.

In addition, he has gathered around him climate deniers. Take Scott Pruitt, the environment chief, for instance, who has gone on record saying global warming is not caused by emissions from fossil fuels.

Not everyone is sure whether it’s better to have Trump in or out.

“If Trump poses conditions for the US staying in the Paris Agreement, depending on the conditions, they could cause damage to the accord,” said Lutz Weischer from Germanwatch. He suspects the “US may try to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. Other countries have to be very clear that they are defending the integrity of the accord and would not accept reduced US commitments.”

There are others who also say that the withdrawal may have implications for the US-China relationship. President Xi Jinping has publicly hinted at his desire for the US to remain in it despite a tweet by Trump saying climate change was a Chinese conspiracy.

During the campaign, he claimed on Twitter that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

According to Weischer, there are three important gaps that China is looking at — climate diplomacy, emissions and financing.”It knows it cannot fill the void all by itself and without the US on its side.” But if things take a turn for the worse, China will forge alliances with the EU and Canada. As for the financing gap, Weischer said “even that loss can be assuaged if all other countries stick to their commitments, at least for the next four years.”

But even if the US decides to pull out there are other countries who have reaffirmed their commitment which could, in fact be, a “reaction to the US”, said Weischer, who heads international climate policy at Germanwatch. He said it was more important to keep that momentum with actions being taken on the ground.

Even within the US, there are several states and even big corporations who want the US to have the seat at the table. “And even within the White House there are various camps on the issue,” he noted.

The next Conference of Parties to the climate framework (COP23), to be held this November, will be organized by Fiji, but hosted by Bonn.

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Trump’s First 100 Days: a Serious Cause for Concernhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/trumps-first-100-days-a-serious-cause-for-concern/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 10:37:56 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150108 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Apr 24 2017 (IPS)

This week, Donald Trump will mark his first hundred days as US President.  It’s time to assess his impact on the world, especially the developing countries.

It’s too early to form firm conclusions.  But much of what we have seen so far is of serious concern.

Recently there have been many U-turns from Trump. Trump had indicated the US should not be dragged into foreign wars but on 6 April he attacked Syria with missiles, even though there was no clear evidence to back the charge that the Assad regime was responsible for using chemical weapons.

Then his military dropped what is described as the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb in a quite highly-populated district in Afghanistan.

Critics explain that this flexing of military might be aimed at the domestic constituency, as nothing is more guaranteed to boost a President’s popularity and prove his muscular credentials than bombing an enemy.

Perhaps the actions were also meant to create fear in the leaders of North Korea.  But North Korea threatens to counterattack by conventional or nuclear bombs if it is attacked by the US, and it could mean what it says.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Trump himself threatens to bomb North Korea’s nuclear facilities.  With two leaders being so unpredictable, we might unbelievably be on a verge of a nuclear war.

As the Financial Times’ commentator Gideon Rachman remarked, there is the danger that Trump has concluded that military action is the key to the “winning” image he promised his voters.

“There are members of the president’s inner circle who do indeed believe that the Trump administration is seriously contemplating a ‘first strike’ on North Korea.  But if Kim Jong Un has drawn the same conclusion, he may reach for the nuclear trigger first.”

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says the most frightening nightmare is of Trump blundering into a new Korean war.  It could happen when Trump destroys a test missile that North Korea is about to launch, and the country might respond by firing artillery at Seoul (population: 25 million).

He cites Gen. Gary Luck, a former commander of American forces in South Korea, as estimating that a new Korean war could cause one million casualties and $1 trillion in damage.

Let us all hope and pray that this nightmare scenario does not become reality.

This may be the most unfortunate trend of the Trump presidency.  Far from the expectation that he would retreat from being the world policeman and turn inward to work for “America First”, the new President may find that fighting wars or at least unleashing missiles and bombs in third world countries may “make America great again”.

This may be easier than winning domestic battles like replacing former President Obama’s health care policy or banning visitors or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, an order that has been countered by the courts.

But the message that people from certain groups or countries are not welcome in the US is having effect: recent reports indicate a decline in tourism and foreign student applications to the US.

Another flip-flop was on NATO.  Trump condemned it for being obsolete, but recently hailed it for being “no longer obsolete”, to his Western allies’ great relief.

Another note-worthy but welcome about-turn was when the US President conceded that China is after all not a currency manipulator.  On the campaign trail, he had vowed to name China such a manipulator on day 1 of his presidency, to be followed up with imposing a 45% tariff on Chinese products.

Trump continues to be obsessed by the US trade deficit, and to him China is the main culprit, with a $347 billion trade surplus versus the US.

The US-China summit in Florida on 7-8 April cooled relations between the two big powers. “I believe lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away,” Trump said at the summit’s end.

The two countries agreed to a proposal by Chinese President Xi Jinping to have a 100-day plan to increase US exports to China and reduce the US trade deficit.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.  But it is by no means off altogether.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy. He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government. The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Trump has asked his Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to prepare a report within 90 days on the US’ bilateral trade deficits with its trading partners, and whether any of them is caused by dumping, cheating, subsidies, free trade agreements, currency misalignment and even unfair WTO rules.

Once Trump has the analysis, he will be able to take action to correct any anomalies, said Ross.

We can thus expect the Trump administration to have a blueprint on how to deal with each country with a significant trade surplus with the US.

If carried out, this would be an unprecedented exercise by an economic super-power to pressurise and intimidate its trade partners to curb their exports to and expand their imports from the US, or else face action.

During the 100-day period, Trump did not carry out his threats to impose extra tariffs on Mexico and China.  He did fulfil his promise to pull the US out of the TPPA but he has yet to show seriousness about revamping NAFTA.

A threat to the trade system could come from a tax reform bill being prepared by Republican Congress leaders.  The original paper contains a “trade adjustment” system with the effect of taxing US imports by 20% while exempting US exports from corporate tax.

If such a bill is passed, we can expect a torrent of criticism from the rest of the world, many cases against the US at the WTO and retaliatory action by several countries.   Due to opposition from several business sectors in the US, it is possible that this trade-adjustment aspect could eventually be dropped or at least modified considerably.

In any case, as the new US trade policy finds its shape, the first 100 days of Trump has spread a cold protectionist wind around the world.

On another issue, the icy winds have quickly turned into action, and caused international consternation.

Trump has moved to shred Obama’s climate change policy.  He proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% and eliminate climate change research and prevention programmes throughout the federal government.

The EPA, now led by a climate change skeptic, was ordered to revise its standards on tailpipe pollution from vehicles and review the Clean Power Plan, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The plan would have shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, stop new coal plants and replace them with wind and solar farms.

“The policy reversals also signal that Mr Trump has no intention of following through on Mr Obama’s formal pledges under the Paris accord,” said Coral Davenport in the New York Times.

Under the Paris agreement, the US pledged to reduce its greenhouse gases by about 26% from 2005 levels by 2025.  “That can be achieved only if the US not only implements the Clean Power Plan and tailpipe pollution rules but also tightens them or adds more policies in future years,” says Davenport.

She quotes Mario Molina, a Nobel prize-winning scientist from Mexico, as saying:  “The message clearly is, we won’t do what the United States has promised to do…They don’t believe climate change is serious.  It is shocking to see such a degree of ignorance from the US.”

Will the US pull out of the Paris Agreement?  An internal debate is reportedly taking place within the administration.  If the country cannot meet and has no intention of meeting its Paris pledge, then it may find a convenient excuse to leave.

Even if it stays on, the new US delegation can be expected to discourage or stop other countries from moving ahead with new measures and actions.

There is widespread dismay about Trump’s intention to stop honouring the US pledge to contribute $3 billion initially to the Green Climate Fund, which assists developing countries take climate actions.

Obama had transferred the first billion, but there will be no more forthcoming from the Trump administration unless Congress over-rules the President (which is very unlikely).

Another adverse development, especially for developing countries, is Trump’s intention to downgrade the importance of international and development cooperation.

In March Trump announced his proposed budget with a big cut of 28% or $10.9 billion for the UN and other international organisations, the State Department and the US agency for international development, while by contrast the proposed military budget was increased by $54 billion.

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar.  But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

At about the same time, the UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien urgently requested a big injection of donor funds to address the worst global humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, with drought affecting 38 million people in 17 African countries.

The US has for long been a leading contributor to humanitarian programmes such as the World Food program.  In future, other countries will have to provide a greater share of disaster assistance, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

“The US is turning inward at a time when we are facing these unprecedented crises that require increasing US assistance,” according to Bernice Romero of Save the Children, as quoted in the Los Angeles Times.  “In 2016 the US contributed $6.4 billion in humanitarian assistance, the largest in the world.  Cutting its funding at a time of looming famine and the world’s largest displacement crisis since World War II is really unconscionable and could really have devastating consequences.”

Trump also proposed to cut the US contribution to the UN budget by an as yet unknown amount and pay at most 25% of UN peacekeeping costs.  The US has been paying 22% of the UN’s core budget of $5.4 billion and 28.5% of the UN peacekeeping budget of $7.9 billion.  Trump also proposed a cut of $650 million over three years to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks.

The foreign affairs community in the US itself is shocked by the short-sightedness of the Trump measures and 121 retired US generals and admirals urged Congress to fully fund diplomacy and foreign aid as these were critical to preventing conflict.

The proposed Trump budget will likely be challenged at the Congress which has many supporters for both diplomacy and humanitarian concerns.  We will have to wait to see the final outcome.

Nevertheless the intention of the President and his administration is clear and depressing.   And instead of other countries stepping in to make up for the United States’ decrease in aid, some may be tempted to likewise reduce their contributions.

For example, the United Kingdom Prime Minister Teresa May in answer to journalists’ questions refused to confirm that the UK would continue its tradition of providing 0.7% of GNP as foreign aid.

This has led the billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates to warn that a cut in UK aid, which currently is at 12 billion pounds, would mean more lives lost in Africa.

Besides the reduction in funding, the Trump foreign policy approach is also dampening the spirit and substance of international cooperation.

For example, the President’s sceptical attitude towards global cooperation on climate change will adversely affect the overall global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to global warming.

With one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases becoming a disbeliever that climate change is man-made and could devastate the Earth, and no longer committing to take action domestically and helping others to do so, other countries may be tempted or encouraged to do likewise.

The world would be deprived of the cooperation it urgently requires to save itself from catastrophic global warming.

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Bannon Down, Pentagon Up, Neocons In?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/bannon-down-pentagon-up-neocons-in/#comments Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:34:23 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150065 The apparent and surprisingly abrupt demise in Steve Bannon’s influence offers a major potential opening for neoconservatives, many of whom opposed Trump’s election precisely because of his association with Bannon and the “America Firsters,” to return to power after so many years of being relegated to the sidelines. Bannon’s decline suggest that he no longer […]

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Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (by Dominique A. Pineiro via Department of Defense)

Jared Kushner, senior advisor to President Donald J. Trump, speaks with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (by Dominique A. Pineiro via Department of Defense)

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 20 2017 (IPS)

The apparent and surprisingly abrupt demise in Steve Bannon’s influence offers a major potential opening for neoconservatives, many of whom opposed Trump’s election precisely because of his association with Bannon and the “America Firsters,” to return to power after so many years of being relegated to the sidelines. Bannon’s decline suggest that he no longer wields the kind of veto power that prevented the nomination of Elliott Abrams as deputy secretary of state. Moreover, the administration’s ongoing failure to fill key posts at the undersecretary, assistant secretary, and deputy assistant secretary levels across the government’s foreign-policy apparatus provides a veritable cornucopia of opportunities for aspiring neocons who didn’t express their opposition to the Trump campaign too loudly.

Ninety days into the administration, the military brass—whose interests and general worldview are well represented by National Security Advisor Gen. H.R. McMaster and Pentagon chief Gen. James Mattis (ret.), not to mention the various military veterans led by National Security Council (NSC) chief of staff Gen. Kenneth Kellogg (ret.) who are taking positions on the NSC—appears to be very much in the driver’s seat on key foreign policy issues, especially regarding the Greater Middle East. Their influence is evident not only in the attention they’ve paid to mending ties with NATO and northeast Asian allies, but also in the more forceful actions in the Greater Middle East of the past two weeks. These latter demonstrations of force seem designed above all to reassure Washington’s traditional allies in the region, who had worried most loudly about both Obama’s non-interventionism and Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, that the U.S. is not shy about exerting its military muscle.

Nor could it be lost on many observers that Bannon’s expulsion from the NSC took place immediately after Jared Kushner returned from his surprise visit to Iraq hosted by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford—reportedly the culmination of a calculated strategy of seduction by the Pentagon. Kushner has emerged as the chief conduit to Trump (aside, perhaps, from Ivanka). The timing of Bannon’s fall from grace—and Kushner’s reported role in it—was particularly remarkable given that Kushner and Bannon were allied in opposing McMaster’s effort to fire Ezra Cohen-Watnick from the NSC just a week before Kushner flew to Baghdad.)

The Ascendance of the Military

The military’s emergence—at least, for now—has a number of implications, some favorable to neocons, others not so much.

On the favorable side of the ledger, there are clear areas of convergence between both the brass and the neocons (although it’s important to emphasize that neither is monolithic and that there are variations in opinion within both groups). Although both the military and the neocons give lip service to the importance of “soft power” in promoting U.S. interests abroad, they share the belief that, ultimately, hard power is the only coin of the realm that really counts.

The military tends to appreciate the importance of mobilizing multilateral and especially allied support for U.S. policies, especially the use of force. Many neocons, however, don’t accord such support so much importance. Indeed, some are openly contemptuous of multilateralism and international law in general, believing that they unduly constrain Washington’s freedom of action (to do good for the world).
With substantial experience in counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine in Iraq and Afghanistan, both McMaster and Mattis appreciate the importance of politics in military strategy in principle. But they are ultimately military men and hence naturally inclined to look in the first instance to military tools to pound in any loose nails, whether in the form of failing states or failing regional security structures. (That hammer will likely look even more compelling as the Trump administration follows through on its budgetary proposals to deplete U.S. diplomatic and development capabilities.) Like neoconservatives, they also appreciate large military budgets, and although they certainly oppose, in principle, the idea that the U.S. should play globocop for fear of overextension, they have no problem with the notion of U.S. global military primacy and the necessity of maintaining hundreds of military bases around the world to uphold it.

Moreover, the military and neoconservatives share to some extent an enduring hostility toward certain states. The Pentagon is quite comfortable with an adversarial relationship with Russia, if only because it is familiar and ensures European adherence to NATO, which the United States will dominate for the foreseeable future. This applies in particular to McMaster, who spent the last couple of years planning for conflict with Russia. For similar reasons, the military is generally comfortable with a mostly hostile relationship toward Iran. Such a stance ensures close ties with Washington’s traditional allies/autocrats in the Gulf (whose insatiable demand for U.S. weaponry helps sustain the industrial base of the U.S. military as well as the compensation for retired flag officers who serve on the boards of the arms sellers). And, as Mattis has made clear on any number of occasions, he sees Iran as the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the region and welcomes an opportunity to “push back” against what he has claimed are Tehran’s hegemonic ambitions there. All of this is clearly encouraging to neocons whose antipathy toward both the Islamic Republic and Russia is deeply ingrained and of long standing.

On the more negative side, however, the military as an institution naturally harbors a distrust of neoconservatives, a distrust established by the Iraq debacle in which the military still finds itself bogged down with no clear exit. “Regime change” and “nation-building”—much touted by neocons in the post-Cold War era—are dirty words among most of the brass, for whom such phrases have become synonymous with quagmire, over-extension, and, as much as they resist coming to terms with it, failure. Of course, many active-duty and retired senior military officers, of whom McMaster may well be one, consider the 2007-08 “Surge”—a plan heavily promoted by neoconservatives—to have been a great success (despite its manifest failure to achieve the strategic goal of political and sectarian reconciliation) that was undone by Obama’s “premature” withdrawal. But even the most ardent COINistas are aware that, absent a catastrophic attack on the U.S. mainland, the American public will have very limited patience for major new investments of blood and treasure in the Middle East, especially given the general perception that Russia and China pose increasing threats to more important U.S. interests and allies in Europe and East Asia, respectively, compared to five or six years ago.

The prevailing wisdom among the brass remains pretty much as former Defense Secretary Bob Gates enunciated it before his retirement in 2011: “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” The military may indeed escalate its presence and loosen its rules of engagement in Mesopotamia, Afghanistan, and even Yemen in the coming months, but not so much as to attract sustained public attention and concern, despite the wishes of neocons like Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake, Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), or the Kagans. The desirability of a “light footprint” has become conventional wisdom at the Pentagon, while some neocons still believe that the U.S. occupation of post-World War II Germany and Japan should be the model for Iraq.

Besides Iraq’s legacy, the military has other reasons to resist neocon efforts to gain influence in the Trump administration. As successive flag officers, including one of their heroes, Gen. David Petraeus (ret.), have testified, the virtually unconditional U.S. embrace of Israel has long made their efforts to enlist Arab support for U.S. military initiatives in the region more difficult. Of course, like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, neocons argue that circumstances have changed over the last decade, that the reigning regional chaos and the fear of a rising Iran shared by both Israel and the Sunni-led Arab states have created a new strategic convergence that has made the Israeli-Palestinian conflict virtually irrelevant. According to this view, Washington’s perceived acquiescence in, if not support for, expanding Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and its quarantine of Gaza are no longer a big deal for Arab leaders.

But this perception runs up against the reality that the Pentagon and CENTCOM have always faced in the region. Even the most autocratic Arab leaders, including those who have intensified their covert intelligence and military cooperation with Israel in recent years, are worried about their own public opinion, and, that until Israel takes concrete steps toward the creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state pursuant to the solution outlined in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API), their cooperation will remain limited, as well as covert. In the meantime, the ever-present possibility of a new Palestinian uprising or another armed conflict in Gaza threatens both continuing cooperation as well as the U.S. position in the region to the extent that Washington is seen as backing Israel.

There are other differences. Despite the experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, neocons have long believed that states necessarily constitute the greatest threat to U.S. national security, while the military tends to take relatively more seriously threats posed by non-state actors, such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda or, for that matter, al-Shabaab or Boko Haram to which neocons pay almost no attention. Although some neocons are clearly Islamophobic and/or Arabophobic (in major part due to their Likudist worldview), the military, as shown most recently by McMaster’s opposition to the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” sees that attitude as counter-productive. And although neocons and the military share a strong antipathy toward Iran, the latter, unlike the former, appears to recognize that both countries share some common interests. Mattis, in particular, sees the nuclear deal as imperfect but very much worth preserving. Most neocons want to kill it, if not by simply tearing it up, then indirectly, either through new congressional sanctions or other means designed to provoke Iran into renouncing it.

The military tends to appreciate the importance of mobilizing multilateral and especially allied support for U.S. policies, especially the use of force. Many neocons, however, don’t accord such support so much importance. Indeed, some are openly contemptuous of multilateralism and international law in general, believing that they unduly constrain Washington’s freedom of action (to do good for the world). Neocons see themselves above all as moral actors in a world of good and evil; the brass is more grounded in realism, albeit of a pretty hardline nature.

Thus, to the extent that the military’s worldview emerges as dominant under Donald Trump, neoconservatives may have a hard time gaining influence. However, on some issues, such as lobbying for a larger Pentagon budget, taking a more aggressive stance against Moscow, aligning the U.S. more closely with the Sunni-led Gulf states, and promoting a more confrontational stance vis-à-vis Iran in the Middle East, neocons may gain an entrée.

Other Avenues of Influence

Just as the Pentagon deliberately courted Kushner—who appears, like his father-in-law, to be something of an empty vessel on foreign policy issues despite the rapid expansion of his international responsibilities in the first 90 days—so others will. Indeed, Abrams himself appears to have gotten the message. In his interview last week with Politico, he unsurprisingly praises Trump’s cruise-missile strikes against Syria and Kushner’s modesty. (“I don’t view him at all as an empire builder.”) At the end of the article, the author notes,

As for his own future with Trump, Abrams teased that it may still be in front of him, depending on how things shape up with Bannon and Kushner, the latter of whom he kept going out of his way to praise. [ Emphasis added.]

Although the deputy secretary of state position now appears to be taken, Abrams was also careful to laud his erstwhile promoter, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Now reportedly coordinating increasingly with Mattis and McMaster, Tillerson seems to have gained significant ground with Trump himself in recent weeks. Neocons may yet find a home at State, although I think Tillerson’s initial promotion of Abrams as his deputy was due primarily to the latter’s experience and skills as a bureaucratic infighter rather than for his ideological predispositions. Meanwhile, UN Amb. Nikki Haley, who was promoted to the NSC’s Principals Committee on the same day that Bannon was expelled, appears to have become a neocon favorite for her Kirkpatrickesque denunciations of Russia, Syria, and the UN itself. That she initially supported neocon heartthrob Sen. Marco Rubio for president and has been aligned politically with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who stressed Haley’s commitment to Israel when she was nominated as ambassador, also offers hope to neocons looking for avenues of influence and infiltration.

Yet another avenue into the administration—indeed, perhaps the most effective—lies with none other than casino king Sheldon Adelson, the single biggest donor to the Trump campaign and inaugural festivities (as well as to Haley’s political action committee). As we noted in January, Kushner himself, along with Israeli Amb. Ron Dermer, had become a critical, pro-Likud conduit between Trump and Adelson beginning shortly after Trump’s rather controversial appearance before the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) at the beginning of the presidential campaign. Although Adelson has maintained a low profile since the inauguration, he clearly enjoys unusual access to both Kushner and Trump. Indeed, the fact that Sean Spicer reportedly apologized personally to Adelson, of all people, almost immediately after his “Holocaust center” fiasco last week serves as a helpful reminder that, as much as the various factions, institutions, and individuals jockey for power in the new administration, money—especially campaign cash—still talks in Washington. This is a reality that neoconservatives absorbed long ago.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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Responding to US Budget Cuts for United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/responding-to-us-budget-cuts-for-united-nations/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:08:50 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149495 Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF

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Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

It is in UN’s long-term interest to gradually reduce its dependence on US funding and undue influence, as proposed by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme

Kul Chandra Gautam

Kul Chandra Gautam

US President Donald Trump’s first budget proposing a 28 percent cut in foreign aid, including drastic reduction in US funding for the United Nations has caused much alarm and anxiety among UN officials. Many enlightened Americans and other citizens of the world who believe in multilateral cooperation to tackle pressing global problems, such as poverty, population growth, climate change, peaceful resolution of conflicts and humanitarian assistance feel dismayed by Trump’s nativistic ‘America First’ chest thumping.

But instead of lamenting and pleading for restitution of proposed cuts, friends of UN should welcome it as a strong incentive for seriously reducing the UN’s over dependence and vulnerability to blackmail by US and occasionally by some other donors.

Part of the response would be for the UN to take a fresh look at a very creative proposal made by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1985 to significantly change the system of financing the UN that would be more sustainable as well as fair and practical.

Revisit the Olof Palme proposal

A great supporter of the UN and a true multilateralist, Olof Palme had the best interest of the UN at heart when he proposed that no member state should be asked or allowed to pay more than 10 to 12 percent of the UN’s core budget. A 10 per cent cap, he reasoned, would limit the UN’s political dependence on its largest contributors.

Any resulting deficit from decreasing the share of the US could easily be counter-balanced by relatively modest increases among other rich member countries. Today, many middle-income countries and even some lower middle-income countries can afford to pay more towards the UN budget than they do at present.

It is interesting to note that when the Palme proposal was floated in 1985, the US opposed it, fearing that it would lose its leverage over the UN. And other states, particularly the Europeans, balked at the proposal although the increased amounts they would have to pay would have been quite modest. One wonders how the US and other countries would react today, but I believe it is the right time now to explore such alternative.

Ideally, we should also look at some more innovative financing proposals such as the Tobin tax on currency or financial transactions, a carbon tax, taxes on the arms trade, and raising resources from the deep seas and other global commons, which are considered the common heritage of humankind.

But we know that the US and many other states are likely to oppose such schemes as most states want to safeguard their monopoly over taxing powers and will not be keen to give such authority to the UN or anyone else. This must, therefore, remain part of a longer-term agenda.

Today the financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private financing and those by philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and increasingly cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different forms of public-private partnerships. Harnessing such possibilities must also be part of the new UN agenda as recognized in the context of sustainable development goals.

Current funding formula

For the past seven decades, funding for the UN’s core budget and peace-keeping operations has been based on an internationally negotiated and agreed system of assessment of each member state’s “capacity to pay”.

Based on this, the US share currently comes to 22 percent of UN’s regular budget and 28% of its peace keeping budget, or approximately $600 million plus $1.1billion respectively per year, for a total of $1.7 billion in absolute amount (not including voluntary contributions and membership fees for specialized agencies).

According to this formula Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5% and Russia 3.1%. Permanent members of the UN Security Council pay a slightly higher percentage for the separate peace-keeping budget.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001%, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have a cap of 0.01% each. Thus, very small and poor countries like Gambia, Somalia and Vanuatu pay about $27,000; Nepal $162,000; Bangladesh $270,000 and India $20 million per year.

It should be noted that historically the US paid a much larger share of the UN’s regular budget than it does today. At the time of the founding of the UN when there were only 50 member states, and most European countries were bankrupt after the Second World War, the US paid 49 percent of the UN budget.

As Europe recovered, its share was increased and the US share was decreased to 33 per cent in 1952; 30 per cent in 1957; 25 % in 1972 and the current 22%. Combining peace-keeping operations and other voluntary contributions, the US pays an average of 25 % of the UN’s bills.

As the assessed contributions are mutually agreed and equitable treaty obligations, normally they can only be changed through multilateral negotiations. Sudden, arbitrary and unilateral cuts, like those proposed by President Trump are, therefore, tantamount to violation of the spirit of international treaty obligations.

Regrettably, money and military power often talk louder than democratic norms or treaty obligations in the realpolitik of international relations. Continuation of the undemocratic veto power by the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, a legacy of a different era, is the most glaring example of this reality.

Besides the assessed contribution for the UN’s regular budget and peace-keeping operations, the Trump budget proposals pose an even bigger threat to the “voluntary” contributions that the US makes to such UN funds and programs as the UN Population Fund, UNDP, and perhaps even UNICEF.

The threat goes beyond funding to the US backing out of some widely agreed global treaties such as the recent Paris agreement on climate change, the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Threats beyond Trump

Though Trump’s threats and actions are intemperate and extreme, they are not unprecedented. From time to time, members of the US Congress have made threats to cut funding for various UN agencies and programs as their hobby-horse. One of the worst periods in recent memory was during 1995-2001 when Senator Jesse Helms was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, the threat of US funding cuts has been a Damocles’ sword hanging over the UN from the early days of its founding. Occasionally such threat has led to some useful reforms in the UN, including a more stringent review of its budget and operations. But more often it has led to distorting the globally agreed program priorities, and giving undue and unfair advantage to the US in appointment of high-level officials in the UN Secretariat, Specialized agencies and Funds and Programs.

To be fair, it is not only the US but several other major donors too often exert the power of their purse to influence the staffing, election outcomes and policy priorities of the UN. Sometimes even lesser powers like oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia exercise what is known as “cheque-book diplomacy” to buy undue influence in UN reports and decision-making.

Like our national governments and other public as well as private institutions, the UN is not perfect. Those of us who have worked in the UN system would acknowledge that there certainly are many inefficiencies and waste in the UN system that need to be fixed. But big powers unilaterally flaunting their power of the purse to dictate their brand of reform will make the UN weaker, not stronger.

UN budget in perspective

The totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year. In the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, this is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle. The total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Wiser and more enlightened American leaders recognize this. In today’s world, America cannot be a walled, fortified and prosperous island. In a world where epidemic diseases respect no boundaries, and do not need a passport or visa to travel, nor does the impact of global warming and climate change, America’s security is inter-dependent on global human security. America’s own military leaders argue that ruthlessly cutting foreign aid and throwing more money for the military cannot enhance America’s security.

But lacking humility and sagacity, Trump and his associates seem to prefer pumping more money into the military machine. Trillions of dollars that US invested in military ventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have brought little tangible benefits to the US or to world peace and security.

There is no evidence to believe that a whopping increase in the already bloated military budget, homeland security and building border walls will make America safer from terrorism or other threats to its security. Mr. Trump should listen to the wise words of fellow billionaire Bill Gates who says: “The world will not be a safer place if the US stops helping other countries meet their people’s needs”.

The UN certainly has its work cut out to reform itself constructively, and to come up with more durable and reliable funding alternatives to protect itself from the whims of future Trumps elsewhere. The visionary Olof Palme proposal can be one part of the solution along with other innovative measures that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team must be contemplating.

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Trump Marks the End of a Cyclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149052 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

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Beware of the New US Protectionist Plan, the Border Adjustment Tax – Part 1http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/beware-of-the-new-us-protectionist-plan-the-border-adjustment-tax/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:37:51 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148990 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

For the time being the much anticipated US-China trade war is off the radar. But it is by no means off altogether. Credit: Bigstock

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

A new and deadly form of protectionism is being considered by Congress leaders and the President of the United States that could have devastating effect on the exports and investments of American trading partners, especially the developing countries.

The plan, known as a border adjustment tax, would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax.

The aim is to improve the competitiveness of US products, drastically reduce the country’s imports while promoting its exports, and thus reduce the huge US trade deficit.

On the other hand, if adopted, it would significantly reduce the competitiveness or viability of goods and services of countries presently exporting to the US.  The prices of these exports will have to rise due to the tax effect, depressing their demand and in some cases make them unsalable.

And companies from the US or other countries that have invested in developing countries because of cheaper costs and then export their products to the US will be adversely affected because of the new US import tax.

Some firms will relocate to the US.   Potential investors will be discouraged from opening new factories in the developing countries.  In fact this is one of the main aims of the plan – to get companies return to the US.

The plan is a key part of the America First strategy of US President Donald Trump, with his subsidiary policies of “Buy American” and “Hire Americans.”

The border adjustment tax is part of a tax reform blueprint “A Better Way” whose chief advocates are Republican leaders Paul Ryan, speaker of the House of Representatives and Kevin Brady, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

President Trump originally called the plan “too complicated” but is now considering it seriously.  In a recent address to congressional Republicans, Trump said:  “We’re working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the (border) wall.”

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The proposal has however generated a tremendous controversy in the US, with opposition coming from some Congress members (including Republicans), many economists and American companies whose business is import-intensive.

It however has the strong support of Republican Congress leaders and some version of it could be tabled as a bill.

Trump had earlier threatened to impose high tariffs on imports from countries having a trade surplus with the US, especially China and Mexico.

This might be a more simple measure, but is so blatantly protectionist that it would be sure to trigger swift retaliation, and would also almost certainly be found to violate the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The tax adjustment plan may have a similar effect in discouraging imports and moreover would promote exports, but it is more complex and thus difficult to understand.

The advocates hope that because of the complexity and confusion, the measure may not attract such a strong response from US trading partners.  Moreover they claim it is permitted by the WTO are presumably willing to put it to the test.

In the tax reform plan, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from the present 35% to 20%.   The border adjustment aspect of the plan has two main components. Firstly, the expenses of a company on imported goods and services can no longer be deducted from a company’s taxable income.  Wages and domestically produced inputs purchased by the company can be deducted.

The effect is that a 20% tax would be applied to the companies’ imports.

This would especially hit companies that rely on imports such as automobiles, electronic products, clothing, toys and the retail and oil refining sectors.

The Wall Street Journal gives the example of a firm with a revenue of $10,000 and with $5,000 imports, $2 000 wage costs and $3,000 profit.  Under the present system, where the $5,000 imports plus the $2,000 wages can be deducted, and with a 35% tax rate, the company’s taxable total would be $3,000, tax would be $1,050 and after-tax profit would be $1,950.

Under the new plan, the $5,000 imports cannot be deducted and would form part of the new taxable total of $8,000.  With a 20% tax rate, the tax would be $1,600 and the after-tax profit $1,400.

Given this scenario, if the company wants to retain his profit margin, it would have to raise its price and revenue significantly, but this in turn would reduce the volume of demand for the imported goods.

For firms that are more import-dependent, or with lower profit margin, the situation may be even more dire, as some may not be financially viable anymore.

Take the example of a company with $10,000 revenue, $7,000 imports, $2,000 wages and $1,000 profit.   With the new plan, the taxable total is $8,000 and the tax is $1,600, so after tax it has a loss of $600 instead of a profit of $1,000.

The company, to stay alive, would have to raise its prices very significantly, but that might make its imported product much less competitive.  In the worst case, it would close, and the imports would cease.

The economist Larry Summers, a former Treasury Secretary, gives a similar example of a retailer who imports goods for 60 cents, incurs 30 cents in labour and interest costs and then earns a 5 cent margin.  With 20% tax, and no ability to deduct import or interest costs, the taxes will substantially exceed 100% of profits even if there is some offset from a stronger dollar.

On the other hand, the new plan allows a firm to deduct revenue from its exports from its taxable income.  This would allow the firm to increase its after-tax profit.

The Wall Street Journal article gives the example of a firm which presently has export sales of $10,000, cost of inputs $5,000, wages $2,000 and profit $3,000.  With the 35% corporate tax rate, the tax is $1,050 and after-tax profit is $1,950.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement. President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.
Under the new plan, the export sales of $10,000 is exempt from tax, so the company has zero tax.  Its profit after tax is thus $3,000.   The company can cut its export prices, demand for its product increases and the company can expand its sales and export revenues.

At the macro level, with imports reduced and exports increased, the US can cut its trade deficit, which is a major aim of the plan.

On the other hand, the US is a major export market for many developing countries, so the tax plan if implemented will have serious adverse effects on them.

The countries range from China and Mexico, which sell hundreds of billions of dollars of manufactured products to the US; to Brazil and Argentina which are major agricultural exporters; to Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam which sell commodities like palm oil and timber and also manufactured goods such as electronic products and components and textiles, Arab countries that export oil, and African countries that export oil, minerals and other commodities, and countries like India which provide services such as call services and accountancy services to US companies.

American industrial companies are also investors in many developing countries. The tax plan if implemented would reduce the incentives for some of these companies to be located abroad as the low-cost advantage of the foreign countries would be offset by the inability of the parent company to claim tax deductions for the goods imported from their subsidiary companies abroad.

Perhaps the most vulnerable country is Mexico, where many factories were established to take advantage of tariff-free entry to the US market under the North American Free Trade Agreement.  President Trump has warned American as well as German and Japanese auto companies that if they make new investments in Mexico, their products would face high taxes or tariffs on entry, and called on them to invest in the US instead.

After the implications of the border adjustment plan are understood, it is bound to generate concern and outrage from the United States’ trading partners, in both South and North, if implemented.  They can be expected to consider immediate retaliatory measures.

A former undersecretary for international business negotiations of Mexico (2000-2006), Luis de la Calle, said  in a media interview:  “If the US wants to move to this new border tax approach, Mexico and Canada would have to do the same….We have to prepare for that scenario.”

In any case, it can be expected that countries will take up complaints against the US at the WTO.   The proponents claim the tax plan will be designed in a way that is compatible with the WTO rules.

But many international trade law experts believe the tax plan’s measures will violate several of the WTO’s principles and agreements, and that the US will lose if other countries take up cases against it in the WTO dispute settlement system.

This prospect may however not decisively deter Trump from championing the Republicans’ tax blueprint and signing it into law, should Congress decide to adopt it.

The President and some of his trade advisors have criticised the WTO’s rules and have mentioned the option of leaving the organisation if it prevents or impedes the new America First strategy from being implemented.  If the US leaves the WTO, it would of course cause a major crisis for international trade and trade relations.

There are many critics of the plan.  Lawrence Summers, a former US Treasury Secretary, warns that the tax change will worsen inequality, place punitive burdens on import-intensive sectors and companies, and harm the global economy.

The tax plan is expected to cause a 15-20% rise in the US dollar.  “This would do huge damage to dollar debtors all over the world and provoke financial crises in some emerging markets,” according to Summers.

While export-oriented US companies are supporters, other US companies including giants Walmart and Apple are strongly against the border tax plan, and an influential Republican, Steven Forbes, owner of Forbes magazine, has called the plan “insane.”

It is not yet clear what Trump’s final position will be. If he finds it too difficult to use the proposed border tax, because of the effect on some American companies and sectors, he might opt for the simpler use of tariffs.

In any case, whether tariffs or border taxes, policy makers and companies and employees especially in developing countries should pay attention to the trade policies being cooked up in Washington, and to voice their opinions.

Otherwise they may wake up to a world where their products are blocked from the US, the world’s largest market, and where the companies that were once so happy to make money in their countries suddenly pack up and return home.

This article is the first in a two-part series on the border adjustment tax, which would have the effect of taxing imports of goods and services that enter the United States, while also providing a subsidy for US exports which would be exempted from the tax. You can find Part 2 here

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US Threatens to Penalize Allies on UN Votinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-threatens-to-penalize-allies-on-un-voting/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 16:27:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148850 The United States and most Western donors have traditionally exercised their financial clout to threaten developing nations who refuse to fall in line on critical UN voting either in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council. The unwritten rule, exercised off and on, warns: if you don’t play ball with us, […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

The United States and most Western donors have traditionally exercised their financial clout to threaten developing nations who refuse to fall in line on critical UN voting either in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council.

Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The unwritten rule, exercised off and on, warns: if you don’t play ball with us, we will penalize you by reducing or cutting off aid.

When Yemen, a non-permanent member of the Security Council, voted against a US-sponsored resolution to militarily oust Iraq from Kuwait back in 1990, the US blowback will remain forever in the UN’s institutional memory.

No sooner Yemen cast its negative vote, the US ambassador turned to the Yemeni envoy and famously said: “That will be the most expensive ‘no’ vote you will ever cast”.

And Washington, almost overnight, decided to cut off some $70 million in development and military aid to Yemen, then a close American ally.

In her maiden press briefing, the new US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, implicitly threatened member states who defy Washington on US-sponsored resolutions, and probably on anti-Israeli resolutions.

“Our goal with the administration is to show value at the UN, and the way that we’ll show value is to show our strength, show our voice, have the backs of our allies, and make sure that our allies have our back, as well,” she told reporters.

“For those who don’t have our back”, she warned “we’re taking names – we will make points to respond to that accordingly.”

In a February 5 editorial titled “Mr Trump’s Random Insult Diplomacy,” the New York Times described Haley’s comments as “abrasive.”

In diplomatic jargon, “taking names” is an implicit threat to blacklist countries that defy the US, particularly at voting time.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to then President-elect Donald Trump’s appeal to veto a Security Council resolution declaring Israeli settlements illegal in occupied-territories, Trump challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution 2334 was adopted by a vote of 14–nil on December 23, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20” (when he assumed office at the White House)

Perhaps a widely-anticipated Trump twitter message in his characteristic style would read: “The United Nations? One of the world’s most ineffective talking shops. Sad!”

But that message is yet to come.

Addressing the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearings last month, Haley said: “What happened with Resolution 2334, it basically said that being an ally to the United States doesn’t mean anything, and if we are a strong ally, and we always stand with them, more countries will want to be our allies and those that challenge us will think twice before they challenge us.”

Although political arm twisting is mostly behind closed-doors at the UN —or in state capitals — the rules are likely to change under President Trump.

Dr Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, who has written extensively on the politics of the United Nations, told IPS the United States has often thrown its weight around at the United Nations, particularly since the (Ronald) Reagan administration, bullying and threatening both adversaries and allies which did not adhere to U.S. priorities in the world body.

Only under (President Barack ) Obama did the United States practice a less contentious style to its diplomacy, despite often being an outlier on such key issues as arms control, international humanitarian law, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Zunes, a senior policy analyst for the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.

“There is little question, though, that both in terms of ideology and style of engagement, the Trump era will likely be the most contemptuous and undiplomatic of any previous administration in its relations with the United Nations, and possibly of any Security Council member in history.”

Zunes said the only positive side of this is that it may result in a kind of backlash in which some U.S. allies that might have previously deferred to the United States will instead defend their positions more vigorously, encouraging greater pluralism at the United Nations.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS there is nothing new about the United States using the power at its disposal to cajole and coerce friend and foe alike to toe Washington’s line at the United Nations.

An early example, he pointed out, concerns the Philippines, whose UN ambassador in November 1948 gave an impassioned speech against UN General Assembly resolution 181 recommending the partition of Palestine, but then voted for it after the US administration of President Harry S. Truman (1945-53) interceded with his superiors.

“Such tactics have been consistently used to promote American interests in the world body, and often Israeli ones as well,” he noted. Nor is American withdrawal from UN agencies unprecedented.

The administration of President Jimmy Carter (1977-81), for example, withdrew from the International Labour Organization (ILO), and President Ronald Reagan (1981-89) from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

More recently, Washington has passed legislation obliging the government to terminate funding to any UN agency that accepts Palestine as a member, which amounts to a de facto withdrawal, said Rabbani.

The US is thus voluntarily withdrawing from UN agencies relevant to American interests, in order to serve Israeli interests and obstruct Palestinian rights, he noted.

“What is different with the Trump administration’s approach is its sheer vulgarity, exemplified by Nikki Haley’s inaugural public statement that she will be “taking names” of those who don’t do as she says and single them out for retribution”.

“But in fairness to her, (President George W.) Bush’s appointee (UN Ambassador) John Bolton generally behaved like a rodent, and the end of his tenure was widely celebrated,” said Rabbani,

There is also the suspicion that the Trump administration may seriously consider withdrawing from the UN altogether.

“This is doubtless on (Trump’s Chief Strategic Adviser) Steve Bannon’s wish list, but unlikely to materialize. Rather, Washington is likely to more severely punish not only member states but also the UN and its agencies when it or Israel don’t get their way. Having announced their intention to implement major funding cuts to the UN from the very outset, their leverage is likely to be diminished,” Rabbani declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US, EU Food Standards Major Hurdle for Caribbean Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-eu-food-standards-major-hurdle-for-caribbean-exporters/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2017 13:14:27 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148847 As Caricom countries struggle to move away from their traditional reliance on a single industry or major crop in the face of growing economic uncertainty worldwide, they are finding it increasingly difficult to enter markets in the EU and North America with new types of food products. But tariffs are no longer the main barriers […]

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Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Oraine Halstead (left) and Rhys Actie tend tomatoes in a greenhouse at Colesome Farm at Jonas Road, Antigua. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Feb 7 2017 (IPS)

As Caricom countries struggle to move away from their traditional reliance on a single industry or major crop in the face of growing economic uncertainty worldwide, they are finding it increasingly difficult to enter markets in the EU and North America with new types of food products.

But tariffs are no longer the main barriers to accessing important markets, according to a document produced by the ACP-EU Overcoming Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) programme.Latin America and the Caribbean provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry.

The ACP-EU is of the view that “Non-tariffs barriers will become the main challenge of the future multilateral trade system.” Specifically, technical barriers related to compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) in export markets and other standards including those relating to labelling and packaging.

The EU considers these technical, non-tariff, barriers to trade so challenging for its African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) partners that it provided 15 million euros starting in 2013 to help those developing countries upgrade their processes and become compliant, thus giving them a better chance of success on the EU and North America markets.

The Caribbean Agribusiness Association (CABA) is one Caribbean organisation that was able to access funding to help its members move toward HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) certification, which the ACP-EU TBT programme identified as a crucial requirement. Since the early 2000s, the US and EU have stipulated that foods entering their markets must have HACCP certification.

Ten of CABA’s members were present at a regional conference, held at the Radisson Hotel in Port-of-Spain Jan. 29-30, to report on the benefits they received from the HACCP training. They heard some sobering statistics with regard to the EU and US food industry that provided context for the TBT programme.

Dr. Andre Gordon, chief executive officer of TSL Technical Services Limited, told delegates that each year, the UK records approximately one million cases of food-borne illnesses, of which about 20,000 require hospitalisation, and 500 deaths are recorded. The cost to the UK of dealing with food-borne illnesses is 1.4 billion pounds annually.

In the US, approximately 48 million cases of food-borne illnesses are recorded annually, resulting in 128,000 hospitalisations and 3,000 deaths. The cost to the US of dealing with food-borne illnesses is approximately 77.7 billion dollars annually, the delegates heard.

The 2016 report, “Addressing Food Losses due to Non-Compliance with Quality and Safety Requirements in Export Markets: the case of Fruits and Vegetables from the Latin America and the Caribbean Region,” by two Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) experts, underlined how much is at stake for Caribbean agribusiness exporters.

The report reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) provide over 90 per cent of the fruits and nearly 80 per cent of all vegetables imported by the US. Nonetheless, some countries in the region have “very high rejection rates” at US ports of entry, including Jamaica, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, the document states.

The report said, “While many LAC countries have a good rate of acceptance in comparison with other countries exporting to the USA and EU, a few countries within LAC perform very poorly, revealing great disparity in preparedness for export trading within the region.” The report noted that “Multiple handling failures along the chain are likely the cause of the most frustrating complaints by international buyers.”

Dr. Gordon, who oversaw the Jamaica ackee industry’s transformation that made it compliant with US Food and Drug Administration regulations in the early 2000s so that it could gain access to the US market, explained to IPS the obstacles facing Caribbean exporters.

“The problem in general with all agribusiness companies in the Caribbean is typically lack of technical capacity and knowledge of the requirements and lack of the resources to implement the systems as required,” he said.

However, Dr. Gordon said, “The cultural change that is required is probably the biggest single limitation to implementing and sustaining certification systems…If the management and ownership [of agribusinesses] do not have a vision of becoming global players then the effort and resources required are going to seem unattainable and not good value for money. A lot of firms have issues with understanding the value for money proposition of embarking on a certification programme.”

The briefing paper “SPS measures lead to high costs and losses for developing countries”, published not long after the EU mandated HACCP certification for all exporters to the EU, noted that “As the income level of developing countries is far smaller, …the opportunity cost of compliance is relatively far higher than that for developed country exporters.

“The rapid change in SPS measures, regulations and notifications of new regulations is another problem facing developing countries in preparing for compliance. It also imposes extra costs on investors and exporters and creates uncertainty for them.”

However, the paper’s author concluded, “while the cost of compliance is high, the cost of lack of compliance is even higher” because of loss of market share or reduced access to markets.

Dr. Gordon revealed that in 2010, the Caribbean had the second highest level of food rejections of any region at US ports of entry.

A March 2016 FAO report highlighted other issues hindering Caribbean agribusinesses in their efforts to export. The report states: “A number of deep-seated challenges inhibit Caribbean agriculture diversification and competitiveness: the small and fragmented nature of most farm units; the absence of strong farmer grass-roots organizations; the cost of agricultural labor; the ageing demographics of Caribbean farmers; an education system that does not prepare youth to seek employment opportunities in the agricultural sector; and extension systems that have historically focused on managing the traditional export crops.”

The problem of small farm units is being addressed head on, said CABA’s president Vassel Stewart, with the formation of CABEXCO, a new umbrella organisation for SMEs in the Caricom agribusiness sector, which will jointly procure raw materials and services as well as market its members’ products and reach out to new buyers.

The resulting economies of scale will also hopefully make it easier to bear the cost of becoming compliant with US and EU food export regulations.

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US Trade Hawks and the China Bogeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/us-trade-hawks-and-the-china-bogey/#comments Fri, 03 Feb 2017 06:49:54 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148793 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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"Trump's Defensive tariffs propose to effectively deal with China's ‘trade cheats’ "

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 3 2017 (IPS)

New US President Donald Trump has long insisted that its major trading partners having been taking advantage of it. Changing these trade terms and conditions will thus be top priority for his administration, and central to overall Trump economic strategy to ‘Make America Great Again’.

Quit WTO solution
Candidate Trump’s trade policy paper was written by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross. Ross will now be Commerce Secretary while Navarro will head the National Trade Council. They view economic policy as integrated, including tax cuts, reduced regulations as well as policies to lower energy costs and cut the chronic US trade deficit. In just 21 pages, they suggest how US growth will increase during a Trump administration, with millions of new jobs and trillions in additional income and tax revenues.

One view is that President Trump can implement most of the policies advocated without obstruction by either the US Congress or court system. Internationally, no country will take on the US for a “very simple reason: America’s major trading partners are far more dependent on American markets than America is on their markets”.

Navarro and Ross argue that the US has already lost out, mainly due to badly negotiated trade deals and poor enforcement resulting in trade deficits. They claim that because the US does not use a value-added tax (VAT) system, everyone else has an unfair trade advantage, that, they believe, the World Trade Organization (WTO) should have rectified. As the world’s largest economy, consumer and importer, the US has the leverage to correct this by pulling out of the WTO. As the WTO would become irrelevant without the US, the damage would be minor.

According to the plan, reducing the US trade deficit will put more money in the hands of American workers who will then be able to afford higher prices for US made products. As American products become more competitive over time, prices will fall, raising consumer welfare.

China myths

Defensive tariffs are proposed to deal effectively with ‘trade cheats’. With China identified as the “biggest trade cheater” in the world, it gets special attention. In the US public mind, China remains ‘the world’s workshop’, where hundreds of millions of lowly paid workers mass produce consumer goods while its artificially low exchange rate and production subsidies ensure their goods remain competitive internationally. While perhaps true over a decade ago, the situation has changed radically since.

At the height of global trade imbalances over a decade ago, China’s trade surplus was more than ten percent of GDP. However, with the sudden slowing of world trade growth during the 2008-2009 Great Recession, growth of the US trade deficit with China slowed significantly. While the US still has a large trade deficit with China, China is also among its largest export markets.

In 2014, services overtook manufacturing as the biggest component of China’s economy. Net exports were equivalent to 1.7% of growth, tiny compared to domestic consumption and investment. China will want to continue exporting to the US, but the structural transformation of its economy and greater demand for various services now generates more new jobs, not only in China, but also elsewhere, including the US.

Undervalued renminbi?
On the campaign trail, Trump threatened to declare China a currency manipulator and to impose tariffs of up to 45 percent on Chinese imports during his first 100 days in office. Under US law, Trump can easily cite currency manipulation to impose defensive and countervailing tariffs against others as well. Navarro and Ross not only point at China, but also Japan and the euro, with the Germans getting special mention.

Washington has long claimed that China artificially depresses the value of its currency to benefit exporters. While a plausible case could have been made to this effect a dozen years ago, the renminbi has greatly appreciated since then, following tremendous US pressure, much amplified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Most serious economists today doubt the renminbi remains undervalued. While stable for about a decade before 2005, and arguably undervalued for some of that period, the renminbi has risen by 30-40 percent since, prompting the IMF to repeatedly declare that it is no longer undervalued.

Indeed, weakening export demand and strong capital outflows have put tremendous downward pressure on the Chinese currency, forcing its central bank to use its US dollar reserves to artificially support its currency. Thus, recent Chinese currency manipulation has kept the renminbi over-valued rather than undervalued.

All this suggests that the Trump team is proposing remedies that, at best, rely on a long outdated diagnosis. The current situation is very different. Failure to make progress with wrongly prescribed measures may lead to even more aggressive efforts, which risk leading to economic war in which most, even spectators, will become victims.

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The Trump Presidency: The First Weekhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-trump-presidency-the-first-week http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-trump-presidency-the-first-week/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:58:34 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148757 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Attacking the Affordable Care Act; the “global gag rule” against abortion; the federal regulation and hiring freeze; canceling the TPP; restarting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline; limiting entry with the Mexican Wall; the 90-day travel ban on seven countries; more undocumented people prioritized for deportation; no federal funding for cities refusing to cooperate; communications blackout from federal agencies; Guantánamo torture continued–What does it add up to?

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

A very strong white state centered on a president with absolute power and control over life (birth) and death (care) of the citizens. Not regulating police racism. So far, no order on the military.

Fascism? Too early to say; but in that direction. It opens for questions about the inner workings of Donald J. Trump. Who is he?

A Johns Hopkins psychologist sees Trump suffering from “malignant narcissism“. A Norwegian historian, Öystein Morten, in a detailed analysis of Norwegian king crusader Sigurd Jorsalafare (1103-1130)–clearly crazy–has a Norwegian psychiatrist diagnose him as suffering from “bipolar depression”, manic-depressive. Is Trump only manic?

This column early on saw Trump as suffering from “autism”, living in his own bubble, speaking his babble with no sense of reciprocity, the reaction of the other side. The column stands by that.

However, this column drew a line between his words and deeds; denouncing his rhetoric as grossly insulting and prejudicial, but pinning some hope on his deeds. Wrong, and sorry about that. After one week, Trump clearly means every word he says, and enacts them from Day 1; even what he once retracted in a New York Times interview.

Combine the two points just made: autism and immediate enactment. He acts, and from his bubble does not sense how others will react, and increasingly proact. He assumes that others will accept his orders, obey, and that is it. It is not. His orders my even backfire.

As many point out, terrorism in the USA after 9/11 is almost nil. But his actions may change that. Some Mexicans may hit back, not only against the wall but the border itself, drawn by USA grabbing 53% of Mexican territory in 1846-48, then soaking Mexico in debt and violence importing drugs and exporting arms, even unaware of the harm they do.

Take the seven countries targeted by Trump for collective punishment: Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen; the old seven with state central banks targeted by Bush, with Yemen substituted for Lebanon. All mainly Muslim.

Imagine them reacting by cooperating, learning from China to raise the bottom up, starting building a West Asian community with links across the Red Sea, and “Saudi” Arabia soon joining?

If their governments do not do that, imagine the Islamic State doing exactly that? What a gift to the Islamic State/Caliphate!

As a minimum, the 7 might reciprocate and block US citizens’ entry for the same period. How would that affect US military operations? Would it force Trump to use force? In fact, are his demands on other countries so extreme, not only in words but in deeds, that there are no more words and deeds left short of force? Does his extremism limit his range of options, making war as probable as under Hillary Clinton?

And yet what he has done so far, firing and backfiring, is little relative to what other US presidents have done of harm.

Take FDR spending much of his presidencies on beating Japan, scheming to provoke Japan into war, defeat and permanent occupation to eliminate Japan as a threat to US economy and polity. That policy is still being enacted, now as “collective self-defense.”

Take JFK getting USA into the Vietnam War in 1961.

Take Eisenhower eliminating Lumumba, maybe Hammarskjöld.

They caused devastation of Japan, of Vietnam and set back Africa on its way to freedom, autonomy, independence. Trump is retracting, contracting, away from others, but not expanding into them. So far.

The reaction inside the USA has been from judges challenging the legality of the orders and launching court suits. The market has been ambiguous but generally down with heavy protests from Silicon Valley. Trump claims the orders are working. What else will happen?

It is difficult to imagine that there will not be a CIA response, being challenged and provoked by Trump, not only for accusing Russia of intervening to his advantage.

There are probably at this moment countless meetings in Washington on how to get rid of Trump. Yet, he has command over not only his Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, but also over the overwhelming number of states in the union.

US presidents have been assassinated before Trump when the forces against are sufficiently strong. Could somebody from the Travel ban 7 be hired to do the job, making it look as a foreign conspiracy?

Another and more hopeful scenario would be nonviolent resistance. Difficult for border officials. But inside the USA people to be deported may be hidden, protected by their own kind and by others–with care though, Trump also has some good points.

More constructive would be alternative foreign policies by cities, at present not by the federation, nor by most of the states. Reaching out to the seven and above all to Mexico for dialogue; searching for better relations than at present and under Trump.

Preparing the ground for something new, under the Democratic Party or not. Not a third party, impossible in the USA it seems, but as general approach. The relation between New York and Baghdad, Tehran, Damascus, Tripoli, Khartoum, Mogadisciu and Sana’a as an example. Still some space!

There is no greatness in what Trump does, he makes USA smaller. Trying rebirth instead of rust, canceling stupid deals like TPP: OK. But retracting into a self-glorifying strong state is not greatness, it is isolation. Greatness is not in what you are but in how you relate. And Trump relates very badly.

Johan Galtung’s article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS): TMS: The Trump Presidency: The First Week

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International

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People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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Shocks for Developing Countries from President Trump’s First Dayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/shocks-for-developing-countries-from-president-trumps-first-days/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:12:16 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148712 Martin Khor is Executive Director of the South Centre, a think tank for developing countries, based in Geneva.

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General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

General Assembly Holds High-level Dialogue on Building Sustainable Peace for All. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

His first days in office indicate that President Donald Trump intends to implement what he promised, with serious consequences for the future of the United Nations, trade, the environment and international cooperation, and developing countries will be most affected.

Those who hoped Trump would be more statesman-like in style and middle-of-the-road in policy matters after his inauguration had their illusions dashed when the new United States President moved straight into action to fulfil his election pledges.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks.  It will be far from business as usual.  And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most.

Even close friends are not spared.  Trump signed an order fast-starting building a wall at the US border with Mexico. To add insult to injury, he asked Mexico to pay for the wall and threatened to impose a 20% tax on Mexican products to finance it.  He has also discouraged US companies from moving to Mexico.

Mexicans are understandably outraged and the Mexican President cancelled his planned trip to Washington.  Mexico has been one of America’s strongest allies. If it can be treated in this manner, is there hope for others to avoid being targeted?

The Trump order to ban the entry of citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, even those holding a Green card or are working in the US, on the ground that they could pose a security threat, has caused not only anger in the affected countries but also uncertainty among people in other developing countries who fear they may also be targeted in future.

The executive order also suspended the admission of all refugees into the US.  If made permanent, this measure signals the end of a long tradition of the US (in line with many other Western countries) to welcome a limited number of people escaping from troubled countries. In some of these countries, the troubles that prompted them to leave resulted from interventions or interference by the US and its Western allies.

The world and the world order have to prepare for more major shocks. It will be far from business as usual. And while other powerful countries can prepare tit-for-tat counter-moves when President Trump strikes, most developing countries won’t have the means, and may suffer the most
Very troubling are the signs that the US is revamping its approach to international cooperation. Two executive orders are being prepared to reduce the US’ role in in the United Nations and other international organisations, according to a New York Times report.

One of the draft orders calls for at least a 40% cut in US funding toward international organisations and terminating funds for any international body that fit certain criteria.

The other order calls for a review of all current and pending treaties, and recommendations on which negotiations or treaties the US should leave.

The New York Times says that if Trump signs the orders, the cuts could severely curtail the work of UN agencies which rely on billions of dollars in annual US contributions.   “Taken together, the orders suggest that Mr Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the US from international organisations.  He has expressed heavy scepticism of multilateral agreements such as the Paris climate agreement and the UN.”

The US has been the major creator of the post-Second World War system of international relations, with the United Nations at its centre.  The UN has served as a crucial universal forum for international discussion and cooperation, including on peace-keeping and economic and social issues.

It convenes leaders and representatives of almost all countries for meetings and conferences, with resolutions and declarations, on a wide range of current affairs.  Its agencies have supported global and national policy making and actions on economic development, health, food, the environment, human rights, culture and education, natural disasters and refugees.

The UN has been playing a critical positive role in providing a venue for developing countries to voice their opinions and take part in decision-making on global affairs.  The UN agencies have provided resources and support to developing countries to build their national capacities for economic and social development, and in preventing and managing political conflicts.

Of course the UN needs to be improved, including in democratisation of the Security Council and in giving more say to developing countries, especially on global economic and financial issues on which decisions are usually taken by a few powerful countries and outside the UN.

But denigrating the UN’s role and reducing funds for its operations would severely weaken the spirit and substance of international cooperation, to the detriment especially of developing countries.

Another looming problem is that President Trump looks intent on doing a complete turnaround on the present US environmental policies.  This will have a grave effect on the world, both in terms of the physical environment itself and in turning back the clock on global efforts to tackle multiple environmental crises.

Within a day of Trump’s inauguration, pages and references to climate change were removed from the White House website. The Environmental Protection Agency was reportedly told to remove its web section on climate change, though that order was later countered.   Staff at the EPA were forbidden to issue media statements or new scientific studies and research grants were suspended.

Two major projects cancelled during Obama’s presidency on environmental and social grounds, the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota access pipeline, are being revived.   The Clean Power Act, a centrepiece of the Obama effort to address climate change, has been under attack.

And all these even before the assumption of office of Trump’s nominee for the new EPA chief, the Oklahoma attorney-general Scott Pruitt, who is well known for having sued the EPA 14 times.  His selection by Trump was described by the New York Times as signalling Mr Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change – and much of the EPA itself.”

This policy turnaround will negatively affect international efforts to combat the global environmental crisis.  In particular, the many years of collective work to get agreed action on climate change will be seriously impeded since the US is looked up to show an example that developed countries take domestic climate actions seriously and are also committed to provide climate-related financial assistance to developing countries.

At this point it is not certain whether the US will remain in the Paris Agreement or even the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; its withdrawal from either or both would be disastrous.

It can however be expected that under Trump, the US will stop its funding to the Green Climate Fund, to which the Obama administration had pledged $3 billion in its initial period and delivered $1 billion.  If the US withdraws, will other countries increase their funding to make up for the loss of US, or will they also reduce their share, thereby plunging the GCF into an uncertain future?

Another major action was Trump’s move to withdraw the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. He had pledged to do so but when he acted, on his first working day, it still came as a shock.

Initially Australia and New Zealand tried to get the remaining 11 TPP countries to pledge they would continue to get the TPP to enter into force.  But this has not gained traction, with Japan and Canada bluntly stating that the TPP is meaningless and cannot continue without the US.

Thus, the TPP has been killed. Even if in future Trump or his successor has a change of heart, the public mood is such that the US Congress would be unlikely to approve.

More important than Trump’s action itself is what it represents in terms of the new US approach towards trade.   The TPP was loaded to favour US interests in many ways.  On the trade aspect, the US has lower tariffs than the developing country partners with which it did not yet have a trade agreement, and thus stood to gain in terms of trade balance.

On the non-trade aspects of the TPP, which the US under Obama had insisted upon, American companies would have gained in the areas of intellectual property, investment, government procurement and state-owned enterprises.

Yet the TPP was unpopular with the American public, because it perceived that whatever gains the US would have would flow to the corporations and the elites, leaving the working and middle classes to face problems such as possible job losses from cheaper imports and relocation of factories abroad.

With the demise of the TPP, developing countries which are its members regret the loss of their opportunity to gain greater access to the US market.  But they are also spared from having to take on heavy obligations on investment, intellectual property and state-owned enterprises, and other issues.

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

The Trump move on the TPP is a prelude to other trade policies to rolled out soon, in pursuance of his America First strategy, which includes the subsidiary slogans Buy American and Hire Americans.

Policies being considered include higher tariffs or else “border adjusting taxes” on products from countries with which the US has trade deficits, starting with China and Mexico; tax incentives for companies that export; taxes to punish US companies located abroad that export to the US; and requirements that companies that win government infrastructure and other contracts have to make use of American-made goods.

Many developing countries which depend on the US for their exports, and that presently host US companies or hope to attract new US investments, will be adversely affected by these policies, which together spell a new era of US protectionism.  It will end the US-championed policies of liberalisation of trade and investment.

Trump also announced he plans to initiate new one-to-one bilateral trade agreements, in place of regional or plurilateral trade agreements. If his aim is to promote the US companies’ interests even more strongly than in previous FTAs, this may mean a negotiating stance of maximising US exports to while minimising imports from the bilateral partners, and pressurising them to accept provisions on investment, services, intellectual property, procurement, state-owned enterprises and other issues that are even stronger than what the TPP had.

Other developed countries like Japan and the post-Brexit United Kingdom may be interested in starting negotiations with the US with its new template, in an attempt to get mutual benefits.  It remains to be seen whether there would be developing countries willing to be new partners in what for them would likely be very one-sided bilateral agreements.

Another question is whether the rules of the multilateral trading system will act to constrain the new US administration.  Many of the new policies announced by Trump or his team (such as higher taxes and tariffs on Chinese and Mexican goods, or taxes on American companies exporting to the US) are probably against one or another of the agreements under the World Trade Organisation.

Even if the Trump administration fine-tunes its policy measures in an attempt to fit within the WTO’s rules, they will most likely be challenged by other WTO members.   If the WTO panels rule against the US, will it comply with the decisions, or will Trump turn his fire against the WTO and its system instead?

Meanwhile, the WTO members are waiting to see what positions the new US trade team will take in the on-going WTO negotiations in Geneva.

Given that Trump ran on the promise to upend the establishment, and it looks as if he intends to keep to his word, leaders and people around the world, and especially in the developing countries since they are more vulnerable, should prepare themselves to respond to more and bigger shocks ahead.

 

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