The World Today for March 05, 2019

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What’s the Deal?

President Donald Trump recently shelved plans to sharply raise US tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

That punishment was intended for a host of offenses including stealing American intellectual property and unfair trade practices – namely subsidies for state-owned companies that create an advantage for Chinese companies in the global market by allowing them to keep prices low.

Trump’s move came after he made optimistic remarks about ending the trade war between the world’s two largest economies, CNN reported. “We’re going to have another summit, we’re going to have a signing summit, which is even better, so hopefully we can get that completed, but we’re getting very, very close,” Trump said, suggesting he would meet President Xi Jinping in March at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, resort.

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow was also bullish on a cessation of trade hostilities. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reported progress, too.

Chinese officials don’t make many pronouncements in public about the trade war. In a YouTube video of a discussion at the World Economic Forum, Chinese financial regulator Fang Xinghai would only say he and his bosses wanted a “normal” economic relationship with the US – meaning he basically said nothing at all.

But some observers thought Fang and others in Beijing were buckling under pressure. Writing about an article in the Global Times, a Chinese state-owned newspaper, the conservative Washington Examiner argued that Chinese officials are trying to expand their economic reach abroad while facing mounting criticism about their human rights abuses.

“Xi knows his power model requires both authoritarianism at home and seizure of market access abroad, but the two are coming into conflict in the eyes of democratic nations, and Xi finds himself stuck,” the newspaper wrote. (On Tuesday, China lowered its economic growth target for 2019 to 6-6.5 percent from around 6.5 percent earlier and announced a major tax cut, Bloomberg reported).

Those are the rosy scenarios.

Others suggested the US might be softening because the trade war has gone on for too long. “Mr. Trump has grown impatient with the talks, and a consensus is growing in Washington that Mr. Trump will ultimately accept a weak deal,” the New York Times wrote.

Speaking to members of the House Ways and Means Committee recently, American Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer seemed glum about how far a trade deal would go in easing commercial tensions between the two nations.

“I’m not Pollyanna,” said Lighthizer, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t believe this is going to solve all the problems between us and China.”

Economist Michael Ivanovitch was similarly glum, writing in a CNBC commentary that American officials might be too willing to accept trivial concessions from Chinese negotiators so they could announce a deal at a propitious time before the 2020 election.

Sometimes a bad deal is better than no deal at all. And sometimes it is not.



Playing Chicken

Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended his country’s obligations under the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, alleging that the US, not Russia, has been violating the 1987 pact.

The move came as the head of the Russian military’s General Staff and America’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met in Vienna for talks on strategic stability that included the INF treaty, the Associated Press reported.

The US last month served Russia notice that it would exit the treaty in six months if Moscow did not return to compliance, accusing Russia of developing and deploying a cruise missile that violates its provisions. Moscow countered that claim by alleging that Washington breached the pact by deploying missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe that could fire cruise missiles instead of interceptors.

The INF treaty is significant because it bars intermediate-range missiles that take much less time to reach their targets than intercontinental ballistic missiles, potentially leaving no time for decision-makers to weigh the merits of a false launch warning from the other side.


Prime Time

The Zambian broadcasting authority’s decision to suspend a pro-opposition TV channel just days after the ruling party accused it of bias and unprofessionalism has earned the country a rebuke from Amnesty International.

After Prime TV openly condemned the government of President Edgar Lungu, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) “resolved to suspend (the) license with immediate effect for 30 days,” said IBA board secretary Josephine Mapoma, according to South Africa-based Eyewitness News.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s regional director for southern Africa, called the move an “unlawful” ploy to “muzzle independent voices in Zambia and to undermine the right to freedom of expression,” according to the rights watchdog’s web site.

The controversy comes amid mounting accusations that Lungu’s government has grown increasingly authoritarian. On Feb. 20, 10 opposition figures threatened to report Lungu to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for allegedly fomenting political violence against his rivals. Meanwhile, the authorities also suspended a local FM radio station for two months on Monday. It had already ordered the closure of The Post newspaper in 2016.


Calling for Change

Thousands of people again took to the streets of the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica Sunday to protest against corruption and call for the resignations of the president, the prime minister and the supreme state prosecutor.

The protests started after Duško Knežević, a longtime ally of the Montenegrin prime minister, accused president Milo Djukanović and the Democratic Party of Socialists of corruption, according to Emerging Europe.

It was the fourth such protest in as many weeks, and drew as many as 10,000 people, according to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

Djukanovic and his DPS party have ruled Montenegro virtually unchallenged since he led the country to independence from Serbia in 2006, RFE/RL said. He also defied Russia to join NATO in 2017.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Serbia, protests against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) continued for a 13th week, and several hundred Croatian journalists took to the streets of Zagreb to protest lawsuits they say are an attack on freedom of the press, Euronews reported.


A Game of Thrones

Before they were kings, North America’s “tyrant lizards” were pint-size pretenders.

How they ascended the throne as Tyrannosaurus rex, the ferocious and giant king of dinosaurs, is something of a mystery, especially in North America, because of a gap in the fossil record.

T. rex’s North American lineage may become clearer now, however, thanks to a newly found cousin dubbed Moros intrepidus, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Moros intrepidus – Greek for “impending doom” – roamed the area of modern-day Utah about 96 million years ago, according to paleontologist Lindsay Zanno, whose team analyzed the new species.

That date shortens the gap in the fossil record, which previously extended from about 150 million years ago to 80 million years ago, when T. rex first appeared.

Moros intrepidus was about the size of a deer, but was a fierce and fast predator, Zanno said. It couldn’t compete, however, with the allosaurs, larger and better hunters that disappeared roughly 80 million years ago.

Scientists hope M. intrepidus will offer clues about how the T. rex beefed up and usurped the throne from the allosaurs.

“When and where and why and how (tyrannosaurs) ascended to these top predator roles in North America has remained a mystery,” Zanno said. “We just haven’t had the fossils to answer that question. There’s still an enormous gap (in our knowledge) and discoveries that need to be made.”

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