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Russia & Trump

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Trump “bought” the POTUS by 1) manipulating voters through big data (ie. The block chains and other manipulations of tracked data), and 2) getting help from Russian hackers who hacked into key states’ voting systems.  He needed both elements to be able to win because without them, there is a very good possibility that Hillary would have won. Trump’s history of dishonesty and bankruptcy should have eliminated him from the presidential election but it did not (the American legal system may need some adjustment and honing).  He settled his fraud case out of court right before Election Day 2016. He defrauded students with his fake online university.  He is also notorious for “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, and for his using his fake non-profit organization’s donation to pay his legal bills when he is sued, and for the fines he is ordered to pay by the US court system.

Trump is correct that the US should try to “make nice” with Russia.  Too many Americans (at least the ones who vote and understand and follow politics; mostly older Americans) still have the mindset from the Cold War Era that Russians are “Commies” and dishonest (A daily reading of American news shows Americans are not extremely honest either…..for example, the Panama Papers).  Russia has the largest amount of millionaires in the world, most living in Moscow.  They have had a free market system for 25 years now, and they are just now starting to feel the social impacts of this new system; the stresses that such a system causes over the quest/greed for money.

Of course, there is government corruption in Russia, but there is here in the US too. It is both interesting and ironic that many of the activities the US accused the Soviets and Russians of doing in the past are the exact same acts the US has been and is still doing to its own citizens. Julian Assange, Private Manning, and other whistleblowers have shown the world that this is true. They have suffered for their risks of exposing the truth.

The Russian free market economy was and still is an untapped income source for international businesses. In fact, Trump has many businesses in Russia, and these felt the financial crunch when the sanctions were levied against Russia in 2014 after the Ukraine Conflict.  So, Trump wasn’t making money either from his business investments he had already established on Russian soil before he became POTUS.  This further motivated him to ask the Russians to help him win the POTUS (because greed or money is a very effective motivating factor). The economic sanctions were levied collectively by the US and the European Union, but also unilaterally by the US. Russia also levied import bans that hurt many European and American businesses that were still allowed to do business in Russia under the economic sanctions.

There is a very good possibility that Trump made a deal with the Russians that if they got him into POTUS, he would lift the sanctions against Russia (specifically Putin’s inner circle of extremely wealthy friends who were most affected by the sanctions). The reasons Russia would have made this deal is that 1) Russia’s economy was shrinking because of the sanctions, and 2) Russia’s “bread and butter” is based on oil.  Russian social programs and the government function due to the proceeds of oil sales.  The sanctions against Russia included no sale of replacement parts for the oil drilling rigs, and most of these rigs were purchased from American companies. So, as the parts began to wear out, the Russian oil companies (especially Gazprom) could not easily extract oil, therefore, they could not sell much on the world market (but the Russians asked Chinese engineers to design similar replacement parts,  but this took a lot of time for development).

Unfortunately for the Russian oil market, in September 2016, the 5 years of oil embargo that mandated that Iran could not sell oil on the world market ended.  This flooded the global oil market since Iran started selling oil at a very low price so that they could raise hard currency (US Dollars) to improve their very hurt economy. This further hurt the Russian economy since oil customers could now choose a different supplier (the law of supply and demand).  Oil was selling at its lowest for about USD30/barrel, but on average around USD50/barrel for the last 2 years (and now up to about 70USD as for 25 Mar 2018).  Russia needs at least USD100 per barrel just to break even on its government and social program bills. Russia has drained most of its two big money reserve accounts. The long term drop in oil prices has certainly caused devastating effects on countries that rely on income from selling oil on the world market, including Venezuela, which has its own political problems and corruption.

Also, Russia’s currency devalued to the dollar.  At one time, it was at an amazingly high rate of 95 rubles per 1 US dollar (Each bank may have a different exchange rate. The USD/RUB exchange rate was 1:30 before the Ukraine situation).

Since most goods (and travel) are purchased using US dollars as the international purchase currency, the cost of consumer goods in Russia greatly increased while people bought appliances and electronics in bulk (to sell later; again, the law of supply & demand) and people were losing their jobs or taking pay cuts just to keep their jobs because the economy greatly slowed and shrank. Many Russians lost their jobs during this time, or they had to greatly tighten their financial belts. For some Russian banks, their supply of USD was greatly limited or cut off because these banks refused to give the names of their American clients to the US government, so the US Federal Reserve refused to sell USD to such banks (as a form of “blackmail” or “leverage”). Many small Russian banks actually closed during the worst of this economic situation in Russia.

Trump wasn’t too “street smart”. He allowed his hormones to cloud is otherwise substandard judgment. The Russians videoed him with various beautiful Russian women in his hotel room. This was released to Trump to show him that the Russians had secret videos of Trump, but he did not know what else the Russians had recorded about him and his activities. Since Trump certainly remembers the activities he did, he was probably concerned about which, if not all, of those activities were recorded.  This was done to make him “behave” and to do his part that he promised to do (lift the sanctions). Videoing Trump was the Russians’ insurance that Trump would do his part.  However, he was not able to deliver the promise of lifting sanctions because of the way the US “checks & balances” work (which work relatively well,  but still need to be honed, obviously since Trump’s past allowed him to become president).  Russia did their part but Trump didn’t deliver his part; a “breach of contract”.

This left Russia in a bind to stimulate their economy since the US and the world sanctions against it are still practiced.  What Trump didn’t realize is that Russia had other options, “Plan B or more” by forming economic trade with other countries such as Venezuela (that does not like the US, and they don’t try to hide that fact) and with Asia, especially the Far East. The Russians gained an edge over Trump because of his arrogance and narcissism.

There are similarities between Trump and Hitler.  Hitler outright killed those he did not like, or who opposed him, or who he felt had a low quality of life. Trump is doing this too by taking away healthcare in the US so that people die.  Trump has taken away healthcare for children of indigent families including a lot of immigrant families (a passive form of ethnic cleansing).  He has taken away educational assistance for children with disabilities. He has taken away the subsidies to help the elderly pay for heat, utilities and prescriptions.  Hitler did an “ethnic cleanse + quality of life cleanse” but Trump is doing an “ethnic cleanse + socioeconomic cleanse + quality of life cleanse” by use of his executive orders and other methods to “Make America Great Again”.

Hitler also consolidated his power into a dictatorship shortly after being elected. Trump tried this too as soon as he was sworn in. He signed many executive orders in his first few months as POTUS. He has limited communication from government offices.  He has also cut funding to government offices or organizations that he feels are not important such as climate change.  Now the world is considering replacing the US Dollar as the reserve currency which would cause many problems because international contracts are normally written in US Dollars, and the contracts may span future decades with predicted exchange rates. For example, Boeing and Airbus have contracts that may span decades). The US credit rating has been downgraded for the first time in US history, thanks to the Republicans, for which Trump is. The US may be headed towards yet another credit rating downgrade since Trump just signed the new US budget in March 2018.

My business experience includes a decade of job titles such internal fiscal and compliance auditor for various government and private sector entities, criminal analyst, and academic teacher in a men’s prison. My education achievements includes an MBA (in Leadership & International Business), a Master’s of Science in Psychology, a future Master’s of Education (in International Education; June 2018), a Bachelor’s of Arts in International Relations, and a 140-hour TEFL certificate. Email: Traci.Seltzer[at]gmail.com

Americas

Maximizing Biden’s Plan to Combat Corruption and Promote Good Governance in Central America

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Authors: Lauren Mooney and Eguiar Lizundia*

To tackle enduring political, economic and security challenges in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, the Biden administration is attempting to revitalize its commitment to the region, including through a four-year, $4 billion plan submitted in a bill to Congress.

In its plan, the White House has rightly identified the root causes of migration, including limited economic opportunity, climate change, inequality, and violence. Systemic corruption resulting from the weak rule of law connects and entrenches the root causes of migration, while the increased devastation brought about by climate change exacerbates economic hardship and citizen insecurity. 

The renewed investment holds promise: previous foreign assistance in the Northern Triangle has shown results, including by contributing to a reduction in the expected level of violence. As the Biden Administration finalizes and begins implementing its Central America strategy, it should include three pillars—rooted in lessons learned from within and outside the region—to maximize the probability that the proposed spending in U.S. taxpayer funds has its intended impact. 

First, the Biden administration should deliver on its promise to make the fight against corruption its number one priority in Central America by supporting local anti-graft actors. The sanctions against officials which the United States is considering  are a step in the right direction, but lasting reform is best accomplished through a partnership involving regional or multilateral organizations. Guatemala’s international commission against impunity (CICIG) model was relatively successful until internal pushback and dwindling U.S. advocacy resulted in its dismantlement in 2019. Though Honduras’ equivalent was largely ineffective, and El Salvador’s recently launched version is marred by President Bukele’s campaign against judicial independence, there is room for learning from past mistakes and propose a more robust and mutually beneficial arrangement. The experience of Ukraine shows that while external engagement is no silver bullet in eliminating corruption, the role of foreign actors can lead to tangible improvements in the anti-corruption ecosystem, including more transparent public procurement and increased accountability for corrupt politicians.

In tandem with direct diplomatic pressure and helping stand up CICIG-like structures, the U.S. can harness lessons from prior anticorruption efforts to fund programs that address other aspects of graft in each country. This should involve empowering civil society in each country to monitor government compliance with anti-corruption laws and putting pressure on elected officials to uphold their commitments. While reducing impunity and improving transparency might not automatically persuade Central Americans to stay, better democratic governance will allow the three Northern Triangle nations to pursue policies that will end up expanding economic opportunities for residents. As Vice President Harris recently noted, any progress on addressing violence or food insecurity would be undermined if the environment for enabling corruption remains unchanged.

Second, the United States should support local initiatives to help reverse the deterioration of the social fabric in the region by expanding access to community decision-making. Given the high levels of mistrust of government institutions, any efforts to support reform-minded actors and stamp out corruption at the national level must be paired with efforts to promote social cohesion and revitalize confidence in subnational leaders and opportunities. In the Northern Triangle countries, violence and economic deprivation erode social cohesion and undermine trust in democratic institutions. The U.S. government and practitioners should support civic efforts to build trust among community members and open opportunities for collective action, particularly in marginalized areas. A key component of this is expanding sociopolitical reintegration opportunities for returning migrants. In so doing, it is possible to help improve perceptions of quality of life, sense of belonging, and vision for the future. While evidence should underpin all elements of a U.S. Strategy for Central America, it is particularly important to ensure social cohesion initiatives are locally-owned, respond to the most salient issues, and are systematically evaluated in order to understand their effects on migration.

Lastly, the U.S. should take a human-rights based approach to managing migration and learn from the pitfalls associated with hardline approaches to stem migration. Policies rooted in a securitized vision have a demonstrable bad record. For example, since 2015, the European Union undertook significant measures to prevent irregular migration from Niger, including by criminalizing many previously legitimate businesses associated with migration and enforced the imposition of legal restrictions to dissuade open and legal migration. Not only did this violate freedom of movement and create adverse economic consequences, but it also pushed migration underground, with individuals still making the journey and encountering significant threats to their lives, security and human rights.

A welcome realignment

Acknowledging the role of push factors is key to responding to migration effectively. Most importantly, putting political inclusion and responsive governance at the center is critical for ensuring vulnerable populations feel rooted in their community. A more secure, prosperous, and democratic Central America will pay dividends to the United States not only in terms of border security, but also in the form of improved cooperation to tackle global challenges, from climate change to the rise of China. 

*Eguiar Lizundia is the Deputy Director for Technical Advancement and Governance Advisor at IRI

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Americas

Sinophobia grows in Argentina: The relations still the crucial one

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Since COVID-19 came up in Wuhan, China followed by the growth of anti-sentiment China especially in Argentina. In late November 2020, the crowds happened in the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires that involved the two Chinese entrepreneurs who have a supermarket chain and the customers speak loudly if the owners spread COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent article, the slogan of ‘China out’ is available to speak up against the government.

At the same time, the Representative of the United States expressed similar concerns over the increasingly close relationship between China and Argentina, which come on top of attacks against Chinese immigrants whose country is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic. The US also concerns that ‘the close relationship’ would limit Argentina’s economic autonomy.

Despite the troubles and the response from the US, the Argentine government still has incredible ties with China on several sides such as economic, military, and politics.

Economic side is crucial with Chinese government. Since President Xi introduced the ambitious project, Belt and Road Initiative, he imagined it can lift China’s economy. One of the developing countries and a member of G20, Argentina. During 2005-2019, Argentina received a maximum investment from China $ 30.6 billion, which accounted for 39 per cent of total Chinese investment in South America. Besides, the Chinese corporations also gave the proposal to build 25 industrial pig farms in Argentina, which will significantly increase pork exports to China. The project involving investment of $3.8 billion, is expected to generate annual production of 900,000 tons amounting to $2.5 million in annual exports.

Even captured by COVID-19 that caused an economic and health crisis, the government has several agreements within China. At least, Argentina has 15 infrastructure projects on the list that can be presented to Chinese corporations. The projects that Argentina prioritizes for investment from China are the rehabilitation plan of the San Martín Railway system, improvements to the Roca Railway line, infrastructure works on the Miter and Urquiza railway, and the redefinition of the Belgrano Cargas railway network.

A Marco Press reported Chinese government and Argentine government discussed the possibility of selling to Argentina the Sino-Pakistan’s resultant force, JF-17 fighter jets. In the history of both countries noted it was not the first time to have an arms deal. In 2015, the two countries signed a deal for Argentina’s purchase of several weapons systems. Estimated at US$1 billion, the deal included warships, armoured vehicles and fighter jets. These agreements were signed during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (2008–2015), the left-wing and Peronist leader who built close ties with China. Despite, the retired right-leaning, Mauricio Macri in 2015 having cancelled these projects, the Peronist government in 2019 tried to revive it.

In late May 2021, The Argentinian government have announced an Ascention Technologies SA will have a collaboration with China’s counterpart, Satellite Hard to install a satellite ground station at an industrial park, The Southern city of Rio Gallegos. But before, since 2017, Argentina also hosted a Chinese military-run space station in Neuquen province. The facility signed between the PRC and the prior government of Cristina Fernandez, is largely operated by Chinese military personnel.

The station’s location and known dish characteristics appear consistent with China’s need for facilities in the hemisphere capable of continuously tracking objects in space, in support of its lunar and planetary space program. While the telescope facility does not have an overtly military purpose, the head of the U.S. Southern Command has mentioned it as an item of concern, as it is conceivably capable of intercepting signals from American or other overflying satellites, or supporting other Chinese strategic missions.

The Chinese space radar telescope is not, however, the only instance of China collaboration with Argentina on issues related to space. Great Wall Industrial Corporation has helped to build and launch 13 satellites for the commercial Argentine company Satellogic. Additionally, the state satellite company ARSAT also maintains commercial service contract relations with Chinese-based firms.

The several relations led by the Argentine government depend on China’s potensial. Instead of the protests that have grown up in Argentina, the government needs to upgrade their economic growth. But, for some reasons, the government should set an alarm if China steps up their acceleration. Besides, the government should be careful and must have more consideration to Chinese firms because the West analysts have stated that China’s foreign policy has an unseen reciprocal, the debt-trap. It had been proven that Sri-Lanka’s port, the Hambantota, went to the China side.

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Americas

The Gendered Effects of COVID-19 in Mexico

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Authors: Andi Dahmer, Kerby Gilstrap, Timothy S. Rich*

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many existing problems and inequalities in societies around the world. Informal labor, loosely defined as “productive activities that are not taxed or registered by the government” has suffered more job losses due to the pandemic. These jobs, such as fruit market vendors or hospitality workers among other lower-paying professions, are less likely to have remote working options which increases the exposure of their employees to COVID-19. According to the International Labor Organization, Latin America and the Caribbean region saw the largest reduction in hours worked in the labor market, estimated at a 20.9% loss in hours. In Mexico, women have experienced unemployment at higher rates than men. In March 2020, the unemployment rate was just under 3 percent, but due to shutdowns during the course of the pandemic, the unemployment rate has fluctuated between 4 and 5.5 percent since then. COVID-19 also largely accounts for a GDP decline of 8% in 2020.

Due to the pandemic and the rise of working remotely from home, many workers have found the lines between work and home blurred. According to Pew Research Center, in a survey about how Covid-19 has impacted working Americans, one third of respondents who work from home all or most of the time now work longer hours than before the pandemic. Results are similar for those who rarely or never work from home (23%) and for those whose work cannot be done from home (21%). In total, 24% of respondents said they are working more hours, 59% said about the same or did not know, and 17% said they are working fewer hours than before the pandemic.

This disparity is also true in Latin America, where women have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Already, men were more likely than women to both participate in the labor market and hold jobs in “high-paying sectors”; however, even before the pandemic, women in Latin America and the Caribbean faced high levels of unemployment.

Women who did work often did so in sectors most affected by the pandemic (e.g. tourism, restaurants) and in which one could not work remotely, which exacerbated already high levels of unemployment across the region.

According to the LAC COVID-19 High Frequency Monitoring project, 56 percent of women lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently between May and August 2020, a rate 44 percent higher than that of men. Even as men began returning to the workforce in 2021, the gap in job losses by gender remained. Two of the largest factors to blame for this include: childcare and household responsibilities in combination with gender norms, and reliance on work in industries that require face-to-face interaction and are thus vulnerable to social distancing measures. Many could not transition to work from home, and those who could often did so while balancing traditional caregiving responsibilities for children and family members which ultimately became too burdensome to successfully balance, and contributed to an exit from the workforce.

To assess both views of the government’s response to COVID-19, but more importantly the shifts in work and household responsibilities due to the pandemic, we conducted an original web survey June 22-24 via Qualtrics, using quota sampling. First, we asked respondents to evaluate the statement “I am satisfied with the national government’s response to COVID-19”. Overall, 45.44% agreed with the statement, compared to 42.4% disagreeing. Men were slightly more likely than women to state they were satisfied with the response. Broken down by party, only supporters of the ruling MORENA party had a majority of respondents satisfied, consistent with the broader public opinion literature on the role of partisan lenses.

Next, we randomly assigned respondents to one of two prompts regarding responsibilities since COVID-19.

Version 1: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, would you say that your work responsibilities have decreased, increased, or stayed about the same?

Version 2: Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, would you say that your household responsibilities have decreased, increased, or stayed about the same?

In terms of the work responsibilities version, we see that men were far more likely to say responsibilities had increased rather than decreased (41.52% vs. 16.96%), whereas women were more evenly divided (36.05% vs. 34.01%) However, when asked to evaluate the increase of household responsibilities, we see almost identical responses between men and women, with nearly two thirds of both (64.71% of men, 66.27% of women) stating responses increased.

These findings on their face may seem odd at first glance, when considering that household responsibilities, especially childcare, tend to fall disproportionately on women. However, this may be a case of men overestimating the time spent on housework, as seen elsewhere prior to the pandemic. Likewise, our survey cannot capture the extent to which household responsibilities increased, only that male and female respondents claimed increases. For example, according to a 2015 study, after the birth of their first child, a woman’s total house work (including unpaid labor and childcare) increases 21 hours per week whereas men’s increases to slightly more than 12 hours. It is not unreasonable to assume similar differential increases due to the pandemic, especially in light of gender role expectations in Mexico.

Finally, this analysis does not take into account the single mothers who are barred from re-entering the workforce as they are unable to find sufficient childcare to monitor their children when they work outside of the home. This is especially true of the gig economy and informal labor sectors which cannot be completed virtually. For example, according to the United Nations, women in Mexico before the pandemic performed 39 hours per week of unpaid labor (nearly the same amount as a full-time job) and the number is increasing due to COVID. This does not include increased homeschooling responsibilities as public schools In Mexico closed. Men, by contrast, performed only 13 hours of unpaid labor, and the inequity was especially stark for single mothers. In Mexico City, for example, record numbers of women have been forced to enter the sex trade in order to afford food, rent, and provisions for their families. The Associated Press estimates that nearly 40 % of the women new to sex work are single mothers who lack any other alternative.

How to reintegrate millions of women forced to exit the workforce during the pandemic will be a challenge to Mexico, but one faced by most developing and developed countries alike. The New York Times has labeled this mass exodus of women as a “shecession” and foreshadows long term implications of women’s exit throughout the global economy. There are many possible policy solutions to the inclusion of women in the workforce but none of them are short-term fixes. A simple start would be ensuring that women have access to childcare. If children are home alone, it is impossible for low-wage workers to return to informal labor sectors outside of the home. The second and third are increasing access to higher education for women around the world and closing the gender pay gap so that women’s rates of unemployment and employment in low-wage sectors are not substantially higher than men’s. While, during the 2010’s, Mexico implemented a Federal Daycare Program for working mothers, this program still did not have the capacity to address the rampant need in all parts of the country. Then, in February of 2019, citing austerity measures, President López Obrador permanently ended the program, resulting in more than 1.8 million parents living without access to childcare. Moreover, Mexico has one of the largest gender employment gaps as well as gender pay gaps in the OECD. Though policies are enacted to alleviate these economic stressors, policy rollbacks, like those listed above, have consistently communicated to women and indigienous women that their needs are not prioritized. The pandemic has exacerbated this gap and it is unclear to what extent the government will act to offer solutions.

Andi Dahmer is the Exchange Program Manager at the World Affairs Council of Kentucky. She is a 2019 Honors graduate of Western Kentucky University and a 2018 Truman Scholar.

Kerby Gilstrap is an Honors Undergraduate Researcher at Western Kentucky University. She is majoring in International Affairs, Arabic, and Sustainable Development

Timothy S. Rich is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Public Opinion Lab (IPOL) at Western Kentucky University.

Funding for this survey work was provided by the Mahurin Honors College at Western Kentucky University.

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