John (“Bomb Iran”) Bolton, the New Warmonger in the White House

From today’s The New Yorker Magazine:

Hawks are closing in on the White House. John Bolton, arguably the most abrasive American diplomat of the twenty-first century, will soon assume the top foreign-policy job at the National Security Council. As is his wont, President Trump announced yet another shakeup of his inner circle in a tweet late on Thursday. He dismissed General H. R. McMaster, who couldn’t survive a testy relationship with the impatient President despite his battle-hardened career and three stars on his epaulets. Trump tapped Bolton to take over. A former U.N. Ambassador currently best known as a Fox News pundit, Bolton has advocated far harder positions than Trump, including bombing campaigns, wars, and regime change. The late-day news flash sent chills across Washington, even among some Republicans.

With Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, due to take over from the ousted Rex Tillerson at the State Department, the team deciding American actions across the globe will now be weighted by hard-liners and war advocates. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired marine general, is the most pragmatic policymaker left. What an irony. (And how long will Mattis stay? He was photographed having dinner with Tillerson on Tuesday.)

Bolton, a Yale-educated lawyer whose trademark is a white walrus mustache, championed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which produced chaos followed by waves of extremist violence in the region. He also advocated international intervention to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. He has repeatedly urged military action in Iran and North Korea, which he has called “two sides of the same coin.”

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, written two months ago, Bolton condemned the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as a “massive strategic blunder”—then went further. American policy, he wrote, “should be ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary,” next February. “Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019 would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for four hundred and forty-four days. The former hostages can cut the ribbon to open the new U.S. Embassy in Tehran.”

Read the complete article here.

Cambridge Analytica CEO Suspended, Involved in Hacking American Elections

From National Public Radio News:

Cambridge Analytica has suspended its CEO, Alexander Nix. The London-based company, which is accused of using data from 50 million Facebook users to influence the 2016 presidential campaign, announced the move Tuesday afternoon — one day after the release of a video that appears to show Nix acknowledging the firm’s engagement in political dirty tricks.

“In the view of the Board, Mr. Nix’s recent comments secretly recorded by Channel 4 and other allegations do not represent the values or operations of the firm,” the company’s board of directors said in a statement, “and his suspension reflects the seriousness with which we view this violation.”

The board said it is replacing Nix with Alexander Tayler in the interim as an independent investigation is conducted.

Also, the British government says it has opened an investigation of its own, seeking a warrant to search databases and servers belonging to the company. U.K. Information Minister Elizabeth Denham had demanded access to Cambridge Analytica’s databases by Monday following reports that the company improperly mined user data from Facebook to target potential voters.

However, after the firm missed the deadline, Denham told Britain’s Channel 4: “I’ll be applying to the court for a warrant.”

Cambridge Analytica says it used legal means to obtain the data and did not violate Facebook’s terms of service. Facebook has promised “a comprehensive internal and external review.”

Denham’s statement follows the latest revelation in the British media about the firm co-founded by former White House adviser Steve Bannon and heavyweight Republican donor Robert Mercer. The company is an offshoot of behavioral research and strategic communications company SCL Group with ties to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

Read the complete article here.

The Economic Value of Treating Workers Humanely

From today’s NYT ‘Taking Note” Blog by Carol Giacomo:

There has been so much regression on democracy and human rights in Myanmar recently that many people, this editorial page included, have suggested the United States must consider reinstating broad sanctions.

On Thursday, however, there was a positive step forward – an agreement between the two countries to work together to strengthen labor rights and improve labor conditions in Myanmar.

The new initiative, which is backed by the International Labor Organization, was announced in Yangon during a visit by Mike Froman, the United States Trade Representative.

It will involve American and Myanmar officials, other interested governments, businesses, workers and labor groups such as the ILO in developing a multi-year strategy on reforming Myanmar’s labor laws. The intent is also to help the country and its people develop the skills and the systems needed to ensure reforms are consistent with international standards and that they are put into effect.

For instance, Myanmar has recently allowed the formation of labor unions and there are now more than 1,000 of them. But given that the country was ruled by a military junta until 2011, there is little understanding of how workers, government officials and employers should interact or even how to set a minimum wage. The new initiative is expected to address that.

The agreement suggests that Myanmar officials, eager to draw foreign investment into their country, and foreign businesses, eager for a new market, see an economic value in treating workers humanely and respectfully.

It seems no coincidence that the initiative was unveiled at the same time as a $480 million solar power project, financed in part by American investors, that is expected to provide Myanmar with up to 12 percent of its power.

In a statement, Gap Inc., one of the American companies taking part in the initiative, said that “as the first American retailer to begin sourcing from Myanmar, we understand that we have a responsibility to ensure that our vendors provide a safe, healthy and fair workplace for workers.”

If Myanmar’s government, still heavily influenced by the military, is serious about this new commitment, it could be an important turning point. But in recent months there has been more backsliding than forward movement in Myanmar’s transition to a democratic society. So skepticism is warranted.

And even if this initiative bears fruit, the country still faces many serious challenges given the human rights abuses against the Rohinga, a Muslim minority group; the efforts to close off elections to opposition candidates; and attacks on press freedoms. Re-imposing sanctions must remain an option.

What Standards of Child Labor Should Apply Overseas?

From today’s NYT “Room for Debate”:

Child labor is condemned as immoral and exploitative, but despite pledges to crack down, international corporations continue to struggle to prevent minors from being hired at their contract manufacturers overseas. Some say such rules prevent poor families from improving their lives.

Should Western child labor standards apply in developing countries?

Read different perspectives on this debate here.

Greece votes to stick with euro zone

After months of political turmoil, a slim majority of Greek citizens voted for the center-right New Democracy Party in a signal that Greece will stick with the euro zone in spite of widespread opposition to financial austerity policies imposed by the EU in the face of uncontrollable debt.

World markets reacted cautiously but favorably to the news, which turned the tables in the wake of last month’s vote in which a sizeable majority of Greeks voted for the left Socialist Party, which promised to roll back austerity policies and press the EU for better repayment terms for loans. Investors appeared cautious about the news, in part, because of the volatility of the Greek situation. A large and vocal portion of the population blames the economic catastrophe on the financial collapse globally and political corruption locally, leading to massive ongoing protests and violent clashes with police in that country.

However, in mixed news Spain announced over the weekend that its borrowing costs have already exceeded its ability to pay back loans, in spite of the widespread and harsh austerity measures imposed there. Along with that country, Italy similarly appears to be on the edge of bankruptcy as its borrowing costs soar and credit rating slides. Although EU officials claim the euro zone will maintain its integrity, increasing doubts about the ability and willingness of countries like Germany and France to extend large lines of credit indefinitely to countries with terrible records for keeping balanced budgets, collecting taxes, and living within their means.

At the G20 meetings this week in Mexico world leaders are expected to encourage EU leaders to act quickly and develop a comprehensive plan for bringing its debt under control and paving the way for a more stable financial framework. Otherwise, mounting debt and the potential bankruptcy of some of the world’s largest economies threatens to not only to frustrate an economic turnaround globally, but may plunge them—and the rest of the world—back into recession.