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Disasters and U.S. Infrastructure

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Within a week we have suffered floods in France, Toronto, and now a record-breaking monsoon season in Kerala, India which has flooded or endangered 12 of its 14 regional areas.  Almost a quarter of a million people are homeless, forcing them into some 1500 relief camps. Sadly many have lost their lives, the toll in Kerala and the states of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh rising to 900 — the rain water sweeping through villages, bursting irrigation dams and causing mudslides.

Kerala is not the wealthiest state in India; hence, its accomplishments in education and healthcare are all the more remarkable.  For those who wish to lend a helping hand, try keralarescue.in or  donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in/.

This week Kerala, last week France and Toronto, and in July, Western Japan.  Exacerbated by global warming, the disasters keep mounting, yet Donald Trump and other ostriches have steadfastly stuck their heads in the sand.  It’s all a hoax they will continue to repeat as a forest fire begins to singe their rears.  With their luck, a flash flood might quench it.

Such is the state of our world as the window to act on climate change closes a little more each day!

After a violent storm in Genoa, a 200-meter section of the Morandi Bridge, part of the A10 expressway, collapsed including a load-carrying pylon.  Vehicles plunged 50 feet killing at least 38.  People are blaming shoddy materials in often a mafia-controlled Italian construction industry amid concerns over a generally crumbling infrastructure.

If the collapse has drawn the attention of other Europeans to their own bridges and roads, America’s infrastructure is worse.  The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its last report (2017) gave it an overall D+ on the American schools’ grading scale that runs from A to F.  Bridges received a C+, not really reassuring for the trucker driving a 16-wheeler.

Mr. Trump promised us a ‘beautiful’ infrastructure on the campaign trail.  Not much of that beauty yet.  The ASCE estimates an expenditure of $206 billion per year for 10 years to set things right — not really excessive when one considers the three-and-one-half-times that amount ($717 billion) just approved in the latest defense spending bill.

Any analysis of U.S. infrastructure would also reveal a serious void:  no high-speed rail.  It is the only country among major industrial nations, including China, without such a network.  As rail travel is less polluting than airplanes, this void also stresses the environment when CO2 levels are already sky high.

Modern high-speed rail will allow overnight travel between the coasts and day trips between Chicago and New York, attracting the business traveler.  Also the latest maglev trains floating on a literal cushion of air, may reduce the time further by a third or more, all without time-consuming trips to and from airports at both ends.

A project to connect San Francisco with Los Angeles supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is underway even if all the financing is still not in place.  Originally intended to utilize State, Federal and private financing, it is opposed by President Trump and Congressional Republicans, drying up Federal funding.  With $30 billion of the necessary $100+ billion in hand, work continues on the Fresno to San Francisco section in the hope that future elected officials would find it difficult to abandon an unfinished project with partially constructed pylons, viaducts and railbeds littering the landscape.

Rationality is less of a problem than a Republican aversion to new government-funded projects — in marked contrast to the people’s enthusiasm, people who happily passed the original bond vote to initiate funding for the high-speed rail project in California.

Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for Antiwar.com, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.

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The weakness of the West

Giannis Mitsios

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2020 looks set to be a historic year and it’s not over yet. The coronavirus pandemic in combination with the international geopolitical developments put what we have known the West to be up until now, in a phase of apparent weakness and gradual decline.

If 1990 was the year that marked the end of the Cold War, 30 years later we would be talking about the gradual end of Western domination. The United States, the main pillar of the Western world, is shaken by internal political polarization that is getting worse by the day, with unforeseen consequences. The US can no longer inspire people with its ideals internally, let alone externally. The end of the Soviet Union came with the symbolic fall of the statues of communism in the countries of Eastern Europe and in the USSR itself. In the United States and Europe, the statues of a guilty past, colonialism and exploitation are being torn down, constituting a sign of defiance and a new ideology that is gradually being born on the occasion of the movement for the lives of the black people, BLM, which was finally united with the LGBTQ, Antifa etc.

The ideological confusion and internal weakness of the West is also reflected in the increasingly violent reaction of immigrants and especially the Islamic element, which seems to be largely radicalized and unable to fully integrate into open western societies. A look only at the events of the last few weeks, at the dead count and the violent riots, in England, Germany, Sweden, etc., but also in the past, is indicative of the gradual reduction of internal social cohesion.

The economic consequences of Covid19, with unemployment, the economic downturn and the health crisis, will intensify more and more, and as the people say, “where there is poverty there is grief.” For the United States alone, the world’s largest economy, recession is estimated at 17% of the GDP in the first half, with a record unemployment rate of 16% due to the virus. At the same time, the public debt reaches a record high of close to $ 26 trillion, it will exceed 120% of GDP and public debt at the end of 2020!! — while it is not ruled out that the financial crisis will indeed turn into a financial (stock market bubble), even though three trillion dollars have been provided by from the central banks, the FED, the IMF, G’20 etc.

At the geopolitical level, the US is pursuing continued hegemony without respect to the rights of the Allies which will lead further to the relaxation and eventually rupture of transatlantic ties. At the same time, you cannot be an enemy of Russia, China and impose political and electoral policies on your allies in the EU and NATO at a time when you are being unraveled internally.

Developments in Libya, the Middle East (with the forthcoming annexation of occupied Palestinian territories by Israel) but also the US relationship with China (5G, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Asia, equipment, tariffs, etc.) and China with Europe show that the international system is entering a phase of destabilization and a fragmentation of the international order. Simultaneously, a multipolar world is emerging de facto as well as the need to build a new collective security architecture, which the great powers and especially the West will have to accept, in order to avoid international relations entering into anarchy with unforeseen consequences for the whole planet.

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The USMCA Agreement: A New Era in Mexico-US-Canada Relations?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

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Image credit: Official White House Photo

The agreement between the US Mexico and Canada (USMCA) entered into Force last 1st of July 2020 replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although in many aspects the new treaty resembles the old one a lot, unlike the previous Trade Agreement, the USMCA focuses mainly on car exports, aluminum, and steel tariffs. It also increases environmental and work regulations while incentivizing domestic production of cars and lorries. This agreement also imposes a quota for Canadian and Mexican Automotive production. One could say that majority of the amendments that were made to the old NAFTA and that are crystallised in the USMCA benefit mainly the US than Canada and Mexico.

During all the negotiations that preceded the approval, ratification and enforcement of the new agreement, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) showed no interest in visiting any of his counterparts either in Canada or the United States.During his first 2 years as incumbent president, AMLO has not attended any international events so far, and he has focused on touring cities and regions of Mexico. In 2019, during his first year in office, the President declined to participate in at least three relevant international forums: the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), which was held from January 22 to 25 ; the Group of 20 Summit (G-20), held on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan; and the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), which occurred on September 24.As outlandish and questionable that strategy was, it was consistent with the foreign policy approach he embraced ever since he took office: The best foreign policy is the domestic one.

For decades it was a common practice that the newly elected presidents of Mexico and the United States sought to meet each other personally, review the state of the relationship between the two countries, perhaps set an agenda of priorities, and send a signal of cordiality between the newly elected administrations.  Very frequently both presidents preferred to meet at the border to avoid having to decide if they would do it in Washington or in the then Federal District, now Mexico City. Such visits have been held for 107 years. They began in October 1909, the first time that Porfirio Díaz and William Howard Taft crossed the border to meet in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, at the inauguration of the international bridge that connects the two cities. During the presidential terms of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, the first meetings were held in Mexico, just last week and after Trump let out that the Mexican president that had been summoned to meet him, AMLO does not only break with that custom, since now the first meeting will take place in the United States, but is also breaking his presidential campaign promise of focusing on domestic issues rather than international ones.

Donald Trump knows very well that the US is AMLO’s Achilles’ heel in his attempt to sell Mexico as an independent and sovereign country. That is why when Donald Trump threatened to bury the NAFTA, AMLO aligned himself with Trump’s wishes and became the southern wall to stop migration from Central America Trump had so long wished for. AMLO’s foreign policy and concessions to the US have reduced the Mexican diplomacy to the level of servility. The respect, dignity good faith and cooperation that should characterize all diplomatic relations among countries has been lost between Mexico and the US;  not only because of Trump’s incendiary, populist, racist, anti-Mexican speech, but also by AMLO’s submission to Trump’s whims.

Last April during an OPEC+ Summit, Mexico refused to reduce its oil output endangering a global agreement to decrease oil production to tackle the oil price crisis. Donald Trump saw a golden opportunity here and did not miss it: he came to the rescue and he offered to cut American production further to make up for Mexico’s share, he went on to say that Mexico would reimburse the US back at a later date. It was obvious that Trump would not ask Mexico to pay back in one go, and this forced visit to the US might be the first of an unknown series of installments of a debt that Mexico is not even fully aware of.

One can already visualize the scene: both presidents shake hands and pose smiling for the media on the porch of the Oval Office in the White House. They declare having had an extraordinary interview where they share points of view on a variety of topics. Of course, they celebrate the entry into force of the renewed and improved Trade agreement which they describe as the trigger for investment, greater commercial exchanges and of course greater prosperity for the 3 countries that will translate into less poverty, less unemployment and a more equal distribution of resources.

They will not talk about the future of the 11 million Mexicans living in the US, and there will be no talks whatsoever about the about the close to six million Mexicans who are undocumented and that are the target of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, who are constantly persecuted, discriminated against, abused, separated from relative, caged, and deported by the American government. AMLO will not question Trump about such policy and will not try to negotiate some sort of solution to end the violation of their human rights. AMLO will not demand the massive raids and repatriations of Mexicans who have been living in the US for years to be suspended during this health emergency. There will also be no joint statement from both administrations on how to deal with the increasing violence unleashed by drug trafficking in Mexico, and the millions of weapons that are smuggled yearly from the US and that conveniently end up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.

As opposing as they may seem, there are several striking similarities between Donald Trump and AMLO. This will explain the docility that will characterize the Mexican envoy this week. AMLO has been carefully crafting since late 2004, when he first started campaigning for the presidency, the image of a nationalist, left-wing advocate for social justice who is ready to stand up for anyone threatening Mexico’s sovereignty. Trump is a simply a racist and a demagogue. Nonetheless, both share a desire to make of the Executive the most powerful branch of the state; they both dismiss institutions and the rule of law; they both have consistently attacked free press and free speech; they both publicly humiliate those that disagree with their policies; they both have shown contempt for science, experts’ advice, research and academics; they have both pursued utterly shambolic policies that have made the pandemic effects worse in both countries; and they both show a high degree of disaffection, lack of empathy, narcissism and have created a sick cult of personality around their persona.

Just like in 2016, when Donald Trump visited Mexico, the visit of the 8th and 9th of July of AMLO will be used by Trump to harvest huge electoral and political gains. Trump is losing popularity rapidly, and he is in desperate need of a foreign policy boost before the November elections. All previous attempts to make him look good internationally have been a failure: he has not been able to kick-start the Middle East Peace Process; the visit to North Korea’s  leader Kim Jung Un ended up as a media mess that benefited North Korea more than the US; and his attempt to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has not yet materialised. Donald Trump will be looking to make of the USMCA his big highlight of the year. This will also help him divert attention from his disastrous domestic policies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and will allow him to again use Mexico as the centre of his next electoral rallies just like he did in 2016.AMLO’s decision to visit Donald Trump during electoral months in the US will also be perceived as Mexico publicly backing Trump’s reelection campaign over Biden’s. This will he detrimental to the bilateral relation should the Democrats win the presidency back in November.

AMLO, however, could turn this visit into a success if he would be willing to change course. One of his many unfulfilled campaign promises was to make the economy grow at an average of 4% annually. Ever since he took office the economy has remained stagnant and latest projects place Mexico to suffer a 10 to 11% contraction because of the global pandemic, one of the worst slumps in Latin America. AMLO could sell this visit as chance for Mexico to regain foreign investment his 60s inspired economic, hyper-centralised economic policies have scared away and have contributed to increased poverty, inequality, and unemployment. He is in serious need of an economic boost to help him regain his rapidly decreasing popularity just 2 years into his 6-year presidential term.

However, AMLO is not planning to potentially benefit from this meeting on any way. He is flying commercial without any delegation of representatives and he wants this visit to remain as low key as possible. He has given no indication about his willingness to change direction and promote Mexico’s foreign investment. One just must look at the symbolism of Trump’s declaration of the Mexican president to understand that this visit does not bode well for Mexico. Donald Trump boasted last Tuesday during a conference that AMLO, was to soon visit the United States after he travelled to Yuma Arizona to monitor the progress of the border wall. On the whole, this will be a zero-sum game in which Mexico will be the loser.

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Socio-Economic Implications of Canadian Border Closure With U.S.

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After doing a  detailed analysis of situation emerging from the closure of the border between    Canada and  US, it could be assessed that how damaging the decision is for the  Economy of Canada, and how beneficial, it will be for Canada, if it decides to re-open the Border which is closed over the fears of an outbreak of Covid-19 Pandemic.

Since, some people think that given the maximum number of  Covid-19 cases and several deaths worldwide, the decision should stay as there are thousands of cases and deaths over covid-19 in the US. They deem it a good step to keep the border shut over the fears of  Novel Corona Virus with the US and Mexico. 

Though some sections consider the move as a right decision based on the covid0-19 statistics some experts term it very dangerous for  Canadian Economy as it will be affected as major industries such Tourism and Travel, Immigration affected very badly and economic cannot be put on hold for long as the numbers show that  75% to 80% Canadian exports go to the US while 30% to 40% US exports make their way in  Canada.

Thus the economy has been hit very badly due to this prolonged closure and shutdown of Economic activities will ultimately pose a grave threat to falling in Recession and Falling of  Reserves.

The Canadian authorities will have to swallow a hard pill to re-open the b border for essential and non-essential travel since both types of entries in the country contribute to the economy of the country.

At the moment, Canada has limited Covid-19 infections as compared to the US that has a massive number of infections in the world.

According to the Border Management Experts, this could be the only problem that might have prompted  Canadian Prime Minister to extend the closure for another month until some  SOP’s may be developed to ensure on border covid-19 Testing and Scanning so that preventive measures should be taken to keep the infection ratio low in Canada.

 The World economies are affected very badly over the lockdowns announced to prevent Covid-19 outbreak and their economy has been under pressure already and the financial experts predict the worst type recession shortly. 

The people of both countries are of the view that the Prolonged border closure has caused an economic crisis and several Industries such as Hotel Industry, Travel Tours and Immigration, Food and beverages Industry, sports Industry, Education have been affected very badly and both Canada and the US cannot afford to sustain more jolts to their economy as economic activities have dropped to almost  80%  and ring the alarm bells for the leadership to decide immediately what their next plan will for the border.

Whether they will reopen it in phases or provide restrict access to essential travel such health workers, Airline Crew, Food and Goods services, People visiting ailing relatives and other related activities that fall within the purview of  “ essential”.

Although, the global Pandemic has created a situation like recession which is going from bad to worse each Passing day, yet in such scenario “keeping borders Closed” for trade and Business Opportunities and other travel, entertainment industry, will incur an irreparable loss to the Economy of both Canada and US as both countries have signed several Trade Agreements and US has been losing millions of Dollars in terms ” US Entry Waivers” and this is putting pressure on world’s biggest economy. 

Even it is a great blow to the Immigrants who wish to travel to neighbouring countries.

Both Canada and the United States are providing millions of dollars to people as relief package, Health and social security and other procurements such  Covid-19 testing kits and establishing new isolation and Quarantine centres as the infections surge in the US and worldwide.

In such circumstances halting economic activities are suicidal for  Canada and Virus affected the US  by keeping borders close for non-essential or optional purposes despite putting some curbs on essential travels such putting immigrants in 14 days quarantine and other immigration-related curbs. 

The economists fear that what would be the consequences if the covid-19 vaccine was unavailable till the end of the year 2021, will they still keep the border closed, sounds like insensible and disastrous for all types Industries and Sectors including  Immigration and Border services. 

So, it would be prudent on the part of Both Canada and US  to think over the re-opening of their border so that people intending to visit their relatives on both sides of borders may have uninterrupted access and they must be facilities at the border checkpoints for covid-19 so that the fears of  Canadian authorities about getting soaring infections may be dispelled by assuring them safety measures at border crossing points.

Furthermore,  the fears cannot be treated with medicines but they could be soothed with confidence-building measures as the statistics show that  65% Canadian fear to get contracted by Virus while over 60% US people have a similar situation for contracting virus.

Despite all this, nobody knows that when these borders will reopen for general people apart from essential travel as most people are in the grip of fear and prefer staying at home as per WHO guidelines, that may be the issue that both Canadian and US Governments are lingering on the issue and prefer extending closure as both nations enjoy cordial relation and the closure is a mutual decision of both countries.

Recently, though some Tour industry groups recorded their protest and demanded to re-open the border. The decision could not be influenced until the general public presses their respective Governments to review the decision and take some bold steps to save their economies falling to prey to this pandemic.

Both Canada and the US  cannot afford to lose millions of Dollars in border trade and border revenues such as Entry waivers, customs etc to boost their economies.

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