White Corn Glut Hurts U.S. Farmers

The Story:

Corn farmers in much of the United States are taking a hit due to an improvement in the weather conditions in South Africa.

Fungibility:

Corn is not as fungible as it used to be. The more generic (yellow) corn has become so inexpensive in world markets of late that many farmers in the U.S. have taken to specialized markets, including white corn, a variety used for corn chips and tortillas.

South Africa is important both to the demand and to the supply of white corn. The product was selling at a premium in 2015-16 due to droughts in that country that reduced the size of the harvests there, and this in turn induced many American farmers to enter this niche market.

The Thing to Know:

The conditions in South Africa have relented, the white corn harvest there has again become abundant. Thus, prices plummeted in 2017 and may continue on their way down well into 2018.

Macron Cautions About “One-Way” Trade from China

The Story: 

The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, said recently that though Europe should work with China on trade issues, it must also work to ensure that Chinese trade is not “one way.”

Background:

In September 2013 the People’s Republic of China unveiled what has become known as its “Belt and Road Initiative” or as the “new Silk Road.” The word “belt” is meant to refer to land-bound projects such as railways, special economic zones, and oil and gas exploration in the regions between China and Europe. The word “road” in this context has a maritime significance, referring for example to Chinese support of modernization of the Gwadar Port in Pakistan.

The Thing to Know:

Macron was expressing, in diplomatic language, an anxiety felt by many in Europe that the Belt and Road Initiative is more about the extension of China’s power throughout the Eurasian landmass than about the mutual prosperity of participants in the prospective broadened trade.

New Movie Recalls “Pentagon Papers” Controversy

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The Story:

On January 12, 2018, a new movie (The Post) starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks goes into wide release: It tells of the decision of the Washington Post’s owner and editor to publish excerpts of the “Pentagon Papers,” leaked documents about the Vietnam War.

Responses:

Critical responses to the movie often draw parallels between the Nixon administration of its story and the Trump administration of today. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune says 2018, like 1971, features “a craven paranoid President” who loathes an “aggressive free press.”

David Ehrlich of IndieWire writes that The Post “captures the ecstasy of trying to break the chain and bend things toward justice.”

The Thing to Know:

The man responsible for leaking the Vietnam era documents to the press, Daniel Ellsberg, has in recent years expressed support for Wikileaks, Snowden, and Manning. The issue of whether and how workings of government will become transparent to the people governed remains much with us.

Publisher to POTUS: No We Won’t ‘Cease and Desist’

Bannon predicts Trump will win 2020 with 400 electoral votes

The Story:

President Donald Trump recently had his personal attorney, Charles J. Harder, send a “cease and desist” letter to book publisher Henry Holt & Co., demanding that it refrain from releasing or disseminating the book FIRE AND FURY, by Michael Wolff. Holt has ignored the letter and published the book.

The Interviewee:

Much of the controversial material in the book consists of direct quotes from Steve Bannon, who was for a time Trump’s “Chief Strategist.” Bannon has not denied the accuracy of these quotes. Along with the publisher, Bannon and Wolff also each received Harder’s letter.

The Thing to Know: 

If the President did have authority to order that a publisher cease and desist, it would be an example of what lawyers call a “prior restraint” on publication. Many scholars think that prior restraints — as distinct for example from post-publication civil liabilities — are at the core of what the first amendment was designed to prohibit.

Increased Shipping Through the Russian Arctic

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The Story:

The melting of Arctic sea ice makes it possible to navigate vessels further north than has ever been the practice. Accordingly, a route along the northern shore of Siberia has now become commercially feasible.

The Background:

Politicians may argue about climate change, and scientists may still argue about its causes, but the simple fact is that the expanse of Arctic ice at the end of the last summer season (September 2017) was 20% less than the average through the period 1981-2010. The roll back of this ice expanse has drawn the attention of marine transportation.

Sea vessels on the lanes along the northern coast of Siberia can get cargo from the eastern to the western hemisphere while cutting up to 40% of the distance off the Suez canal route. The relevant  still-forbidding coastline includes at least 16 ports.

The Thing to Know:

The development has geopolitical significance. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has proposed allowing only Russian-flagged vessels to carry or store hydrocarbons along the way.

 

The Start of those Protests in Iran

The Story:

End-of-year protests in Iran began December 28 out of anger at prices, unemployment, and back-pay due factory workers. By Friday, December 29, those protests had spread geographically and the list of expressed grievances was growing thematically.

Foreign Policy:

Videos available on social media showed protestors chanting, “Not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran.” Gaza is the territory in southwest Israel self-governed by Palestinians. Lebanon has long been a sandlot where the major power players in the region have backed contending factions and militia. Iran is there the sponsor of Hezbollah. The chant was symptomatic of discontent in Iran, the view that its leadership is more interested in projecting power abroad than in solving the troubles faced by the people at home.

The Thing to Know: 

In those early days of protest, official and semi-official media in Iran portrayed authorities as tolerant, though provoked by trouble-makers, and as (thus far) allowing them to have their say.

 

He Put His Money Where His Climate Model Was

The Story:

With the end of 2017, a British scientist, James Annan, has won a bet he made with two Russian physicists (global warming skeptics) in 2005.

What  the Russians Believed:

The two Russians, Galina Mashnich and Vladimir Bashkirtsev, believed that such atmospheric warming as had been observed was the consequence of solar flares. They held that with the flare activity dying down temperatures on earth were about to fall.

Annan bet them US$10,000 that the years 2012-2017 would be warmer than the years 1998-2003 had been, to be determined by data kept by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center. Although the second of those periods has just now closed, it has been obvious for months now that Annan has won this bet. This New Years Day makes the win official.

The Thing to Know:

Mashnich and Bashkirtsev were always outliers as to their scientific position. The sunspot theory of climate was not mainstream even in 2005, and is less so now.

What was the Top Sports Story of 2017?

The Story:

The Associated Press polled sports writers on the question: what was the outstanding sports story of 2017? Their answer: the continuing take-a-knee movement in the National Football League and President Donald Trump’s reaction.

Other Contenders:

Other contenders for top sports story included: a World Series win for the Houston Astros, that franchise’ first Series win ever, especially heartening since it came on the heels of the great damage done the Houston area by Hurricane Harvey; the resignation of Steve Penny, the president of USA Gymnastics, in the face of reports of widespread sexual abuse in the ranks; and Clemson’s dramatic last-second comeback to defeat Alabama in the college football championship game.

The Thing to Know:

The spectacles of NFL players kneeling silently through the playing of the National Anthem, in protest of racism and police violence, and of a President of the United States demanding that they be fired, easily defeated those other stories in the AP vote.

Christmas Eve Protests in Peru

The Story:

The streets of Lima, Peru’s capital, were filled on December 24 with protestors angered by what they believed was a pay-off on a political deal, President Kuczynski’s pardon of former President Fujimori.

The Pardoned and the Pardoner:

Fujimori, of the Fuerza Popular party, has been a prisoner since his conviction on a corruption charge in 2007.

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is the founder of the new Peruanos Por el Kambio party. He has been the target of an impeachment attempt in the country’s Congress in recent weeks, one that was defeated because nine members of the Fuerza Popular, expected to vote to remove him, abstained.

The Thing to Know:

Kuczynski claimed that the catalyst for the pardon was a medical crisis for the former President, who was rushed to the hospital Saturday, December 23. But the people in the streets Sunday believed that was merely the cover for a quid-pro-quo, for the Faustian deal that had preserved Kuczynski’s presidency.

Ambassador Haley Defies Much of the World

Week in Review: President Trump at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly

The Story:

The U.S. has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, has clarified that her government is unmoved by the international consensus against that decision.

Taking Names:

On Monday, December 18, the Security Council voted on a resolution requesting that U.S. President Trump withdraw his decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The vote went 14 – 1 in favor. The one “no” vote, though, was Ambassador Haley’s veto on behalf of the U.S.

As the General Assembly took up the issue in the following days, Haley wrote her counterparts a letter saying, “The president will be watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us,” the letter said.

The Thing to Know:

The threat, if that is what it was, was ineffective. On Thursday, December 21, the General Assembly voted 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions, demanding that the U.S. rescind its decision on Jerusalem.