Author Archives: Karl Reiner

Iran’s recent election

In a 75% turnout, Iran’s voters went to the polls on May 19 and reelected President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani received 57% of the vote. Ebrahim Raisi, who garnered 38% of the vote, was the hardline candidate favored by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rouhani won despite the fact that he failed to deliver on the bulk of his promised human rights improvements during his first term. Iran’s voters are said to have sent a message of moderation to the Supreme Leader, they want Rouhani to keep improving the economy and Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. Given the limited ballot choices, it is clear that they voted for the candidate most likely to support economic and social progress.

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Syria’s devastated hospitals

In the ongoing conflict that began in March 2011, Syrian healthcare facilities are significant military targets. There have been 454 air attacks on hospitals, 91 percent of the raids were carried out by aircraft under the control of the Assad government and Russia. The rate of attacks on hospital facilities is said to be increasing. In April 2017, there were 25 attacks on health installations. Between March 2011 and February 2017, over 800 healthcare workers and hundreds patients have been killed as a result of air strikes. Although the UN Security Council has condemned attacks on medical facilities, the repulsive goal of the Assad government (and its supporting Russian air power) is to stop the delivery of medical services to the inhabitants of areas controlled by the opposition.

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President Trump’s border policy creates uncertainty

For the year 2016, Arizona’s exports to Mexico totaled $8.3 billion, down from the $9.1 billion recorded in 2015. Arizona ranked fifth among the states exporting to Mexico in 2016, behind Texas, California, Michigan, and Illinois. The American economy is forecast to grow 2.3% in 2017. Economists have downgraded Mexico’s projected economic growth rate from approximately 2.5% to 1.5% mainly due to the uncertainty generated by the Trump administration’s anticipated policies. Since Mexico’s economic wellness depends in large part on its relations with the U.S., the country’s economic future looks a bit cloudy at this time.

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A few interesting economic and other titbits

The ramifications of the wealth inequality problem so troubling to Western economists and policy makers is also affecting China. A new research paper by five authors, including Piketty and Saez, reveals that in 1978 the highest earning Chinese 10% took home about 25% of national income before taxes. By 2015, the take of the top 10% had risen to two-fifths of total income. The richest 10% now control about 70% of private wealth in China, up from 40% in 1995. The inequality issue was somewhat mitigated by China’s rapid economic growth. Between 1978 and 2015, the income level of the poorer half of the Chinese population quintupled. During the same time period in the United States, the income level of the bottom half of the population declined by 1%.

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The gloomy conditions in Afghanistan

Democracy is said to be in decline around the world. According to a report by Freedom House, only 45% of the world’s countries are considered to be fully free and the percentage is trending downward. The volatile situation in Afghanistan is proof that a functioning democracy is a tough thing to create. The invasion by U.S. and NATO forces in December 2001 quickly drove the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies from power. After more than 15 years of nation building effort by NATO, the UN reported that almost 3,500 civilians were killed and 7,900 injured in the Afghan conflict during 2016. It was the highest number of civilian casualties since the UN began keeping records in 2009.

The American plan to replace Taliban rule with a democratically elected government ran into many problems. The flood of foreign cash that followed the demise of the Taliban regime in 2001 often undermined the new government or was wasted on uncoordinated projects. Well-meaning foreign aid agencies paid salaries 20 times higher than the Afghan civil service pay rate, many Afghan officials quit and went to work for the external agencies. As fighting the Taliban insurgency continues, NATO forces have dropped from a peak of 132,000 in 2011 to approximately 13,000 today. The U.S. and NATO mission in Afghanistan is estimated to have cost nearly $1 trillion between 2001 and 2014.

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The lingering legacy of 1917

The world changing events brought on by World War I continued to unfold at a rapid pace in 1917. The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the first U.S. troops arrived in France in June. Mutiny became a problem that vexed the struggling French Army. In the Middle East, British forces captured Baghdad. Large battles were fought on the Western Front, including Arras, the Neville offensive, Messines Ridge, the third battle of Ypres. In the south, fighting raged in Northern Italy. The belligerents who found it so easy to glide into war in 1914, found themselves trapped in endless combat with high casualties, growing economic hardship and for some, the waning support of their populations.

In the east, Russia, a vast and backward country, was a participant in the Allied war effort. It was also the first of the belligerents to fracture apart under the terrible strains imposed by the war. In March 1917, the riots and strikes that began in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) toppled the government and resulted in the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II. A Provisional Government headed by Alexander Kerensky replaced the failed Tsarist regime. The Kerensky government decided to keep Russia active in the war, fighting on the side of the Allied powers.

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