• Trade War
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  • The Syrian Crisis
    In 2011, Syrians protested the economic problems and lack of freedom under President Assad's authoritarian rule. His forces responded by killing and imprisoning hundreds of protesters. The growing chaos attracted extremist fighters throughout the region. Eventually, a full Syrian rebellion fought against Assad's regime. Some of these rebel groups started fighting each other as well as Assad's military forces because of sectarian divisions. In 2014, the U.S. started arming and supporting anti-Assad groups who were also waging war against ISIS. After that support turned the tide against Assad, Russia, a longtime Syrian ally, entered the conflict in 2015. With Russian support, the conflict shifted in Assad’s favor. Negotiations have failed, and unrest continues in Syria. According to an April 2016 UN estimate, the death toll among civilians and combatants was over 400,000, though other estimates have placed the number well over 500,000. As of December 2017, approximately 13.1 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, with 6.3 million people displaced internally, and an additional 5.4 million registered Syrian refugees, making the Syrian situation among the largest humanitarian crises worldwide. The U.S. has vowed to keep troops in Syria until Iran withdraws. Russia is urging Germany and France to break ranks with the U.S. and help rebuild Syria so that refugees can go home. On some Middle East issues, like defending the Iran nuclear deal, the European Union has sided with Russia in opposition to U.S. policy under Donald Trump. And Merkel, in particular, has a motive to help Syria recover from its civil war. The admission of some half a million Syrians contributed to the rise of far-right movements that have weakened her hold on power. But neither Merkel nor the rest of Europe has fallen in line with Russia over Syria. For Putin, that increases the risk of getting stuck in a quagmire. His military intervention succeeded in shoring up Assad, but the bill for postwar reconstruction is estimated at $250 billion, and Western powers are rejecting Russian appeals to chip in. EU and U.S. leaders say Assad is mostly to blame for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and stability is impossible under his rule. Assad has recaptured much of the country with the help of Russia and Iran, and he shows little appetite for ceding power. The largest area outside his control, in the oil-rich northeast, is in the hands of Kurdish fighters backed by more than 2,000 U.S. troops. That gives Trump leverage to achieve his goal of pushing Iranian forces out of Syria. Russia’s position is that removing Assad could lead to the country falling apart. Germany regards Russia as having been successful in restoring some order in Syria, and shares the assessment that the whole system would collapse without Assad. But Germany is still not prepared to budge on funding while he is in place. Some reconstruction money could come from non-Western sources. China has indicated it’s ready to get involved, and there are signs of a cooperation between Assad and some of the wealthy Gulf Arab states that backed his opponents in the war. Join us as we discuss the Syrian Crisis. References are below. Syria conflict explained: How did we end up here?https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/04/09/syria-conflict-explained-bashar-assad/498756002/ Russia Presses Europe to Break With Trump and Help Rebuild Syria https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-12/russia-presses-europe-to-break-with-trump-and-help-rebuild-syria Erdogan Pledges to Crush U.S.-Backed Kurdish Militants in Syria https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-12/erdogan-pledges-to-crush-u-s-backed-kurdish-militants-in-syria Let Putin and Russia rebuild Syria. U.S. taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/08/03/syria-not-american-responsibility-let-russia-putin-rebuild-column/873499002/

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  • Mexico's New President
    On July 1, 2018, left-leaning populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) easily won Mexico’s presidential election, a victory portending change and potentially upending of the country’s political order. He’ll take the oath of office December 1, 2018. AMLO, the former mayor of Mexico City, has promised to “uproot corruption,” increase social spending and pursue a different approach to crack down on drug cartels – even floating the idea of amnesty for those involved in the drug business if not accused of serious offenses. He has condemned the two parties that traditionally have held the presidency as “the mafia in power” and promised to “abolish corruption in Mexico” and bring organized crime to heel – with an approach of “hugs not bullets.” And he will address what he considers the root cause of crime and violence: poverty. AMLO capitalized on voters' discontent. Mexico experienced its most murderous year in memory in 2017, perceptions of corruption have climbed and the outgoing administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto included a spate of scandals. AMLO voters expressed fatigue with corruption and the status quo. Also, AMLO benefitted from missteps by his opponents, especially as they attacked each other in order to position themselves as the option of anybody but AMLO. In regards to US-Mexico relations, during his campaign, AMLO said he supported NAFTA and promised to pursue cordial relations with President Donald Trump, who also had campaigned as an outsider, although leaning to the right. However, counter to the Trump's positions, AMLO said he will defend undocumented Mexican migrants living in the United States, and Mexico will not be “doing the dirty work” of the USA in stopping Central Americans who try to reach the United States. After the elections, AMLO sent a letter to Trump which shows how different his take is on what a promising bilateral relationship entails. The seven-page missive lays out his economic development plans for Mexico, in minute detail, and reflects his view that the solutions to bilateral challenges of migration, securit, and commerce depend on Mexico’s economic advancement. Among other disagreements with AMLO's vision, the Trump Administration is not eager to partner on economic development. Join us as we discuss AMLO. References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: Mexico Elects Left-Leaning Populist (USA Today) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/07/01/mexico-votes-president/749379002/ AMLO Won. What Comes Next for Mexico? (Bloomberg) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-03/amlo-s-got-a-mandate-what-comes-next-for-mexico-quicktake New President of Mexico: What Changes Will Follow? (Council on Foreign Relations, 59:33 audio and transcript) https://www.cfr.org/conference-calls/new-president-mexico-what-changes-will-follow AMLO Letter to President Trump https://lopezobrador.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Traduccio%CC%81n-de-cortesi%CC%81a.pdf The Coming U.S.-Mexico Blow-Up (Bloomberg) https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-07-26/trump-and-amlo-are-headed-for-a-u-s-mexico-blow-up López Obrador and the Future of Mexican Democracy (Foreign Affairs) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/2018-07-02/lopez-obrador-and-future-mexican-democracy

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  • Poland
    Poland has the sixth-largest economy in the EU and has long had a reputation as a business-friendly country with largely sound macroeconomic policies. Since 1990, Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalization. During the[masked] economic slowdown, Poland was the only European Union country to avoid a recession, in part because of the government’s loose fiscal policy, combined with a commitment to rein in spending, and Poland is the largest recipient of EU development funds. Despite this prosperity, Poland's ruling party, Law and Justice, feels that Poland is being exploited. Law and Justice (abbreviated PiS) shot to power in 2015 promising to champion Poles left behind by the Western-leaning “elites” who, according to the party’s nationalist and xenophobic narrative, ran the country for their own benefit. The Polish economy performed well during the[masked] period, with the real GDP growth rate generally exceeding 3%, in part because of increases in government social spending that have helped to accelerate consumer-driven growth. However, this success may end soon. Since Pis has been in power, Poland has implemented new business restrictions and taxes on foreign-dominated economic sectors, including banking and insurance, energy, and healthcare, that have increased the government’s ownership of some firms and dampened investor sentiment. PiS has neutered the constitutional tribunal and given lawmakers and ministers more power over the appointment of judges, threatening their independence. Pis' purges of the military and intelligence services have strained relationships in Poland and with its allies in the European Union, as well as with Israel and America. Earlier this year, Poland passed a law that called for prison terms of up to three years for falsely accusing the Polish nation of Holocaust crimes that were committed by Nazi Germany. Pis believes this Holocaust law protects Poland's honor. The U.S. and Israel see it as whitewashing the role some Poles played in the Holocaust. Poland risks becoming like Turkey, a prickly ally important only because of its strategic location, says a Washington insider. The Pis has transformed Poland from a poster-boy of post-communist transition into the EU’s problem child. Pride in Poland’s undoubted virtues—it never collaborated with the Nazis, and was the first country in the Soviet bloc to topple communism— has transformed to xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Join us as we discuss the Polish conundrum: prosperity and prejudice. References are below. All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: Poland Approves Holocaust Bill Condemned by Israel (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/02/01/poland-approves-holocaust-bill-condemned-israel/1085778001/) Poland Reverses Course on Disputed Holocaust Law (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/06/27/poland-reverses-course-disputed-holocaust-law/737305002/) The Ugly Side of Poland’s Booming Economy (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-31/the-ugly-side-of-poland-s-booming-economy) Poland’s Ruling Law and Justice Party is Doing Lasting Damage (https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/04/21/polands-ruling-law-and-justice-party-is-doing-lasting-damage) Poland’s Government Wants to Take Control of Banking (https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/08/11/polands-government-wants-to-take-control-of-banking) Poland, the CIA World Factbook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pl.html)

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  • Venezuela
    Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis marked by severe food and medicine shortages, soaring crime rates, and an increasingly authoritarian executive. Critics of President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, say Venezuela’s economic woes are the fruit of years of economic mismanagement. Maduro’s supporters blame falling oil prices and the country’s “corrupt” business elites. Meanwhile, the Maduro administration retains the support of allies in Bolivia, Ecuador, and several Caribbean nations. China has lent Venezuela more than $60 billion since 2001, and is the South American country’s largest creditor. Venezuela has sought significant ties with Russia in recent years. Before oil prices fell in 2014, Venezuela was set to become the largest importer of Russian military equipment by 2025. Moscow is becoming Caracas’s “lender of last resort” in exchange for increasing amounts of crude oil. In August 2017, the Russian state oil company Rosneft was reselling approximately 225,000 barrels of PDVSA oil per day, or 13 percent of total Venezuelan exports. A bilateral agreement struck in November to restructure more than $3 billion of Venezuela’s debt to Russia reaffirmed Moscow’s support. President Nicolás Maduro says Venezuela’s problems are the result of “economic warfare” waged by the US. He points to Donald Trump’s public mulling of a “military option” in August 2017 as evidence Washington is pushing for regime change, and vehemently opposed the new, stronger US sanctions against the government and the state-owned oil corporation as an overt bid to undermine the government by forcing it to default on debt. But critics and economists say the crisis is both real and self-inflicted, the result of a government using a raft of imports as a shortcut to meet promises of development and food security during the heady years of an oil price boom. Venezuela used to produce more than two-thirds of its food, and import the rest, but those proportions are now reversed, with imports making up around 70% of what the country eats. Some members of the Venezuelan military say the only hope for a return to stability is to replace Maduro by force. Some members of the Venezuelan military say the only hope for a return to stability is to replace Maduro by force. That remains unlikely after a failed coup in May 2018. The president holds sway over all major institutions. He’s never been a military man but has worked hard to win the loyalty of top brass. Recently, the United States, Canada, the European Union and Switzerland have imposed targeted financial sanctions on Venezuelan officers, freezing their assets overseas and prohibiting financial transactions. President Donald Trump has issued three Executive Orders further limiting financial transactions with the Venezuelan government. The effectiveness of these sanctions is questionable and may be counterproductive. Another option to reform Venezuela is to provide a viable exit strategy for the regime, such as a form of power-sharing or amnesty. James Stavridis, the former U.S. Navy Admiral who commanded the region that includes Latin America, believes that working with Latin American partners can get Maduro out of the picture. Join us as we discuss Venezuela. References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: Venezuela in Crisis (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/venezuela-crisis) Inside the Failed Plot to Overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-27/inside-the-failed-plot-to-overthrow-venezuelan-president-nicolas-maduro) The Sanctions Predicament (https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2018/06/18/the-sanctions-predicament/) The U.S. Can Save Venezuela From Anarchy (https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-23/like-hawaii-venezuela-is-about-to-explode)

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  • China's Belt Road Initiative
    In 2013, China's President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a project spanning Asia, Europe, and Africa, encompassing around 65 countries that have signed up for it. The two corridors that form the BRI, the Silk Road Economic Belt (the Belt) and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Road), were perceived as two routes that will link China with Europe. In China’s quest to become a global power that actively shapes the international order, as Xi envisions, the BRI has become China’s main instrument. However, there are doubts about the viability of BRI projects, questions regarding the scale and scope, and some concerns about China's real intentions. The costs and terms of the BRI agreements are unclear. Also, China has signed agreements with authoritarian governments and corrupt countries, including countries in conflict each other. Many projects make little commercial sense, cost a fortune, and will never generate a return. Last year saw some projects stopped due to fears of increasing political dependence on China. Then U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson warned of the dangers of debt servitude to China on his last foreign trip before being replaced. China is facing some BRI backlash from its BRI partners, with elected governments in Sri Lanka and Myanmar repudiating or seeking to renegotiate projects approved by their authoritarian predecessors. China has renegotiated with some of the countries that have defaulted, by forgiving loans in return for control of the completed projects. This ends up projecting China's power beyond its borders, which bolsters its efforts to become a global leader and weakens U.S. influence. Instead of a win-win for China and BRI participants, it's ultimately a win for China, whether or not the loans are repaid. In January 2018, China expert Ely Ratner spoke the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, where he assessed the geostrategic drivers and implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). He recommended situating the U.S. response to BRI within a comprehensive and competitive China policy that reasserts U.S. leadership in economic, military, political, and information domains. To this end, the United States should address security concerns that result from BRI by preventing Chinese control of the South China Sea, rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, shifting overseas security burdens to China, enhancing U.S. broadcasting and information operations, and building capacity in recipient countries to manage and evaluate potential BRI projects. Join us as we discuss China's Belt Road Initiative. References are below: As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: What is China’s belt and road initiative? (https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2017/05/14/what-is-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative) China's trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvXROXiIpvQ) (Video) Redefining the Belt and Road Initiative (https://thediplomat.com/2018/03/redefining-the-belt-and-road-initiative/) After A Brief Silence, Skeptics Of China's Belt And Road Initiative Are Speaking Up Again (https://www.forbes.com/sites/douglasbulloch/2018/04/18/china-belt-road-initiative-obor-silk-road/) Is China making a trillion-dollar mistake? (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/theworldpost/wp/2018/04/09/one-belt-one-road/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.afd68737c82c) Will China’s Belt and Road Initiative outdo the Marshall Plan? (https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2018/03/08/will-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-outdo-the-marshall-plan) Geostrategic and Military Drivers and Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (https://www.cfr.org/report/geostrategic-and-military-drivers-and-implications-belt-and-road-initiative) India Objects to China's Belt and Road Initiative—and It Has a Point (https://www.cfr.org/blog/india-objects-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative-and-it-has-point-1) China: from panda diplomacy to New Silk Road smart power (http://risap.ro/en/china-panda-diplomacy-new-silk-road-smart-power/)

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  • Social Media and Politics
    In February 2018, the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and 3 Russian companies, accusing them of conspiring to interfere with “US political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.” The indicted Russians used social media posts, online ads, and rallies in the US to create propaganda efforts “primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump.” Research on six known Russia-linked Facebook pages found that their posts had been shared 340 million times. Although the Trump Administration claims it did not collude with Russian operatives during the 2016 Presidential Election, there are concerns that social media is influencing politics and elections. Cambridge Analytica, the former political data firm with links to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, used Facebook data to help build tools that it claimed could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. The firm has said that its so-called psychographic modeling techniques underpinned its work for Mr. Trump’s campaign in 2016, setting off a still-unsettled debate about whether the firm’s technology worked. Some claim that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook and fake news networks to manipulate Trump and Brexit supporters. However, a dozen Republican consultants and former Trump campaign aides, along with current and former Cambridge employees, say the company’s ability to exploit personality profiles is exaggerated. Brad Parscale, the Trump campaign's digital director, said the Trump presidential campaign spent most of its digital advertising budget on Facebook, testing more than 50,000 ad variations each day in an attempt to micro-target voters. He also said Facebook provided Trump 2016 with employees who embedded in the campaign’s digital office and helped educate staffers on how to use Facebook ads. Parscale’s comments highlight how actively Facebook has pursued election advertising as a business strategy, even as its platform has come under attack as a fertile ground for Russian-backed political propaganda, conspiracy theories and other forms of disinformation. Join us as we discuss how social media affects politics. References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: Mueller’s indictment of Russians for interfering with US elections (https://www.vox.com/2018/2/16/17020776/russian-indictments-robert-mueller) How Russian trolls weaponized your social media feed ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1Hl9bRzwEs ) ‘You Are the Product’: Targeted by Cambridge Analytica on Facebook (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/08/us/facebook-users-data-harvested-cambridge-analytica.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&smvar=fbfd-article) Data Firm Says ‘Secret Sauce’ Aided Trump; Many Scoff (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/06/us/politics/cambridge-analytica.html) Trump digital director says Facebook helped win the White House (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/08/trump-digital-director-brad-parscale-facebook-advertising) Bremmer: 'The entire business model of Facebook undermines liberal democracy' (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/bremmer-entire-business-model-facebook-undermines-liberal-democracy-193740617.html) What Facebook Did to American Democracy (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2017/10/what-facebook-did/542502/) Extremism pays. That’s why Silicon Valley isn’t shutting it down (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/18/extremism-pays-why-silicon-valley-not-shutting-it-down-youtube?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits) Facebook must make sure foreign powers 'are not hacking' the 2018 election (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/20/facebook-must-ensure-foreign-powers-wont-hacking-election-co-founder.html) Say Goodbye To The Information Age: It’s All About Reputation Now (https://www.fastcompany.com/40565050/say-goodbye-to-the-information-age-its-all-about-reputation-now?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits) The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/largest-study-ever-fake-news-mit-twitter/555104/?utm_source=pocket&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=pockethits)

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  • South Africa
    In February 2018, South African president Jacob Zuma resigned after a tenure marred by scandal, corruption, and economic stagnation. He was replaced by interim president Cyril Ramaphosa, who had previously founded the biggest mineworkers’ union, led talks that ended apartheid, and amassed a fortune during a 14-year stint in business. He will serve the remainder of Zuma's term, with presidential elections scheduled for 2019. Ramaphosa has led many to believe that he’ll be able to revive the struggling economy, attract new investment and address the plight of an army of poor. However, it's a delicate balance. Ramaphosa risks upsetting voters by taking the austere fiscal measures necessary to avoid a downgrade of South Africa’s debt, which would see it kicked out of the major bond indices used by international investors. Another delicate balance is firing the corrupt cabinet members he inherited from his predecessor. If he fires too many, he risks splitting the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). One of the new president's biggest challenges is land redistribution. Whites are 8.4% of the population, but they own 73.3 percent of agricultural land. The ANC has proposed amending the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation to address racial disparities in land ownership that persist more than two decades after apartheid’s demise in 1994. Analysts say the ANC wants to appeal to poorer black voters, the core of the ANC’s support, ahead of elections next year. Ramaphosa publicly supports expropriation without compensation but also stresses that commercial agriculture and the country’s food security must be protected. A businessman and an oligarch, he is also committed to growing the economy to address poverty; that requires the confidence of foreign and domestic investors that their property rights will be respected. Therefore, white-owned farms, which dominate commercial agriculture, will likely be protected in the interest of the economy. Join us as we discuss South Africa. References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: South Africa, the World Factbook (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/sf.html) South Africa’s new president will have to dish out bitter medicine (https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21737294-cyril-ramaphosa-inherits-legacy-slow-growth-big-debts-and-dysfunctional) All eyes on South Africa's new president (https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/opinion/all-eyes-on-south-africas-new-president) Explainer: South Africa aims to expropriate land without compensation (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-land-explainer/explainer-south-africa-aims-to-expropriate-land-without-compensation-idUSKCN1GQ280) Ramaphosa Confronts Land Reform in South Africa (https://www.cfr.org/blog/ramaphosa-confronts-land-reform-south-africa) South Africa is getting land reform wrong (https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21735655-why-70-redistributed-land-now-lies-fallow-south-africa-getting-land-reform) Whites Own 73% of South Africa's Farming Land, City Press Says (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-29/whites-own-73-of-south-africa-s-farming-land-city-press-says)

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  • Myanmar and the Rohingya
    The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority in Myanmar. The government considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many trace their roots in Myanmar back centuries. They differ from Myanmar’s dominant Buddhist groups ethnically, linguistically, and religiously. Before August 2017, most of the estimated one million Rohingya in Myanmar resided in Rakhine State, where they accounted for nearly a third of the population. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are fleeing persecution in Rakhine State, fueling a historic migration crisis. Around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, which is unable to handle this volume of refugees, and living conditions are worsening. The Rohingya are fleeing a campaign of indiscriminate violence by Myanmar’s military, whose tactics are being broadly denounced. In November 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson condemned Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya as “ethnic cleansing.” The military calls the campaign a “clearance” operation against an insurgent terrorist military group. They claim the crackdown is in response to a series of armed attacks on border police by Rohingya militants in August 2017 that left 12 officers dead, the second such type of attacks in the past 12 months. But observers say that though armed Rohingya insurgents exist, their overall numbers are small, and they are poorly equipped. And the crackdown has affected the entire ethnic group. The true scale of the military campaign won’t be known for quite some time. Aid workers cannot enter the region, and journalists have almost no access. In 2016, Myanmar’s first democratically elected government in a generation came to power, but critics say it has been reluctant to advocate for Rohingya and other Muslims for fear of alienating Buddhist nationalists and threatening the power-sharing agreement the civilian government maintains with the military. The world has turned to Aung San Suu Kyi — a dissident turned political leader who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and was often likened to Nelson Mandela — for answers. Now that she has become Myanmar’s de facto top civilian leader, she's been widely criticized for failing to speak out against the violence. She has denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place and dismissed international criticism of her handling of the crisis, accusing critics of fueling resentment between Buddhists and Muslims in the country. March 2018, was stripped of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's prestigious Elie Wiesel Award, the New York Times reports, for "failing to halt or even acknowledge the ethnic cleansing" in her country. World leaders are reluctant to attack too harshly. They are conscious of the fact that the country’s fragile power-sharing agreement means she has no control over Myanmar’s military or security apparatus. Countries like the United States, Canada, Norway, and South Korea, and international donors have upped their humanitarian assistance as the flow of Rohingya to Bangladesh has grown, and in early 2018 a team of UK medics led an emergency response to help stem the spread of disease in camps. Advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, the Arakan Project, and Fortify Rights continue to appeal for international pressure on Myanmar’s government. Despite international condemnation over the treatment of its Rohingya Muslim population, the Rohingya Crisis hasn’t hurt Myanmar’s tourism industry. Myanmar tourist arrivals rose 18 percent last year to 3.44 million visitors. Join us as we discuss the Rohingya Crisis References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: The world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis is taking place in Myanmar. Here’s why. (https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/18/16312054/rohingya-muslims-myanmar-refugees-violence) (Vox) The “ethnic cleansing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, explained (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04axDDRVy_o) (Vox video) The Rohingya Crisis (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/rohingya-crisis) (Council on Foreign Relations) Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of human rights award over silence on Rohingya (https://www.axios.com/world-turns-on-myanmar-leader-f59c7411-229c-4eb1-ba7b-3ecf328edf1a.html) (Axios) The Rohingya Crisis Hasn’t Hurt Myanmar’s Tourism Industry (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-21/myanmar-sees-rise-in-tourist-numbers-despite-rohingya-crisis) (Bloomberg)

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  • The United Nations
    The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945, following the devastation of the Second World War, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. Other goals include protecting human rights, delivering humanitarian aid, promoting sustainable development, and upholding international law. The UN also provides a forum for its members to express their views in the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and other bodies and committees. By enabling dialogue between its members, and by hosting negotiations, the Organization has become a mechanism for governments to find areas of agreement and solve problems together. As a founding member of the United Nations and the host for its headquarters, the United States has been a chief guide and major funder of the organization for more than seventy years. In 2016, the United States remained the largest donor to the United Nations, contributing more than $10 billion, roughly one-fifth of its collective budget. The arrival of the Trump administration, however, has raised questions about how much the United States will continue to contribute. If President Donald J. Trump can follow through on his proposed cuts to foreign aid spending, the United Nations will likely need to undergo significant changes. There are claims that the UN has repeatedly failed in its mission to stop atrocities. In 1994, a UN peacekeeping mission was unable to prevent Rwandan genocide. Today, although Myanmar’s army is chiefly responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority, the UN's 19 agencies in Myanmar failed to stop the catastrophe or warn of its coming. In their defense, UN missions need the consent of the host governments to operate; the UN cannot invade. As such, peacekeepers may become lackeys of autocrats, forming “abusive” relationships with those in power, according to Richard Gowan of Columbia University. This tradeoff undermines the UN’s claim to moral authority. Alternatively, UN successes include the eradication of smallpox, brokering the peace in Iran-Iraq war, authorization for military intervention in Kuwait to oust Iraqi invaders. More recently, in January 2018, George Weah was inaugurated as the new President of Liberia, where the United Nations will formally end its successful peacekeeping mission in March 2018. “The United Nations peacekeeping mission has ensured unbroken peace within our borders for more than a decade,” said President Weah. Join us as we discuss the UN. References are below. As always... All views and political orientations are welcome. We welcome beginners and policy wonks alike. Feel free to join the discussion or just to listen and learn. If you sign up and change your mind, please change your reply so that someone else may attend. Meetup to last 1.5 hours (until 5:30 PM) although, of course, people are welcome to continue beyond that point. References: What the UN Does (http://www.un.org/en/sections/what-we-do/index.html) (UN.org) Funding the United Nations: What Impact Do U.S. Contributions Have on UN Agencies and Programs? (https://www.cfr.org/article/funding-united-nations-what-impact-do-us-contributions-have-un-agencies-and-programs) (Council on Foreign Relations) Remarks by President Trump at Lunch with Members of the United Nations Security Council (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-lunch-members-united-nations-security-council/) (Whitehouse.gov) A Slideshow of 70 UN Achievements and Failures over 70 Years [masked]) (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/21/united-nations-70-years-achievements-visual-guide) (The Guardian) UN at 70: Five Greatest Successes and Failures (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/switzerland/11700969/UN-at-70-Five-greatest-successes-and-failures.html) (The Telegraph) Peacekeepers in Name Only (https://www.economist.com/news/international/21730636-persecution-rohingya-latest-atrocity-un-has-failed)(The Economist) Liberia: UN Welcomes New President’s Inauguration as Key Milestone on Country’s Road to Success (http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=58459#.Wn_ZuVQ-dsM) (UN.org)

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