It's Willis with your Friday edition of Signal. Today, we'll drive through the intersection of climate change and populism, past the fire Donald Trump just lit in front of Huawei headquarters, stop off in Vienna for a burger, speed through Guatemala, and chart a course toward Australia.
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Note: A few days ago, we lost a friend with the passing of veteran journalist, legendary fisherman, and Signal reader Charles Salter. We send our best wishes to his family and many friends.
In recent years, the accelerating cross-border flow of migrants fleeing violence and poverty has remade the politics of Europe and the United States. A startling new study from Stanford University warns that the conflicts we've seen to date may just be the opening act of a much larger and more dangerous drama.
Here's the study's argument in brief:
- In 2007-2008, a drought wiped out the livelihoods of huge numbers of Syrians living in the countryside, forcing them into already overcrowded cities. This forced internal migration created stresses that combined with existing problems to create social unrest, a harsh government crackdown, and then a civil war.
- The war created an exodus of millions of desperate Syrians toward neighboring countries and then to Europe, where more than one million of them landed in 2015.
- This wave of refugees, joined by migrants from other places, sparked intense fear and hostility among some in Europe, creating opportunities for politicians to win support with vows to stop the flow. That's a major reason why xenophobic populism has become Europe's fastest-growing political phenomenon.
- In 2014–2018, an unusually severe drought hit Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Years of erratic weather, failed harvests, and a chronic lack of jobs decimated entire villages in all three countries and created strong incentives for migrants to try to reach the United States.
- The arrival of these migrants at the US southern border further polarized the politics of a country already divided over immigration, racial tensions, and lost manufacturing jobs.
Now a look to the future.
The report warns that populations are set to explode in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Central America in coming years. The working-age population of sub-Saharan Africa alone is expected to increase by nearly a billion people between 2020 and 2060. Over time, we're likely to see "regional demographic explosions of young people."
In coming decades, overcrowding in these places will exacerbate desertification, water shortages, and urbanization. Mounting ecological stresses will provoke violent political conflict, forcing more people to hit the road in search of a better life.
In other words: The combination of extreme weather patterns and growing populations of young people in poorer countries will combine to create more migration, more political anger, and a greater risk of conflict within and among countries.
But… the study's authors say this bad news is not inevitable. Good government, in both poor and rich countries, can help avoid this risk. If poor countries invest more in education, they can create jobs and other opportunities that persuade many more people that they can build a safe and prosperous future, for themselves and their families, where they are. It's in the interest of rich countries to help. And governments of rich and poor countries can work together much more effectively to slow the advance of climate change. If they do, say the study's authors, both sides will benefit.
President Donald Trump again dramatically escalated the stakes in the US-China rivalry on Wednesday with a move that made headlines in the US while landing like a grenade in Beijing.
The US Commerce Department announced yesterday that Huawei, China's leading tech company and already the source of major controversy, has been added to a list that prevents US tech suppliers from selling to Huawei without a license. That's even more important than the executive order, also published yesterday, that bans US telecom companies from using Huawei equipment.
It's possible this order won't be fully implemented. Maybe it's just one more leverage point that President Trump hopes will help him get a good deal from China to end the trade war between the two countries. Or maybe the order will go forward, but licenses will be granted that allow sales to Huawei to continue.
But placing Huawei on this list is essentially a death threat against a company that Beijing hopes will give China a competitive edge in the global race to develop the 5G communications technology that will enable everything from more advanced smartphones to smart cities. If Huawei can't buy from US hardware and software suppliers, it can't upgrade its own systems or conduct routine maintenance. It's a blow for virtually all of Huawei's products and its global network of customers.
Once again, the world awaits a response from China to the latest broadside from the US president and wonders how big a setback this is for talks to end the US-China trade war.
Voters in Australia head to the polls tomorrow to elect a new government. Though few outsiders closely follow politics in this country, this election tells interesting stories about three of the most important issues in today's world: immigration, climate change, and managing changing relations with China. It's also a country with a steady economy—but lots of political turnover.
- Australian prime ministers enter politics through a revolving door. The country has had six changes of prime minister in the past 12 years, mainly as a result of infighting within both major political parties.
- But that's not because of an economy in the dumps. In fact, Australia hasn't suffered a recession in nearly three decades. Analysts cite openness to immigration and trade, and intelligent government as the secret formula to Australia's economic success.
- Australians have to vote or face a fine. Compulsory voting will bring an expected 97 percent of eligible voters – more than 16 million people – to cast a ballot. Nearly 3 million have already voted in early balloting.
- Australia is a nation of immigrants. In fact, more than a quarter of Australians were born abroad, double the rate in the United States.
- Migration has become a hot political topic. More than half of Australians said in 2018 that immigration rates are too high, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a former immigration minister, is running for re-election on a pledge to cap immigration.
- Relations with China also loom large. Ethnic Chinese make up 1.25 million of the country's 25 million people, and many of them live in competitive districts that are particularly important for the election outcome. China is Australia's number one trade partner, but controversies over alleged Chinese spying and an Australian decision to ban Chinese firm Huawei from its 5G communications network have angered some in the Chinese community.
- The weather is heating up too. Following a steady rise in temperatures and a year of drought, floods, wildfires and cyclones, nearly 60 percent of Australians say "Global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now even if this involved significant costs." Opposition leader Bill Shorten has made climate change a major part of his campaign.
The bottom line: The center-right Liberal-National Coalition or center-left Australian Labor Party: whoever wins will face tough questions on the future of immigration, climate policy, and all-important relations with China.
An American Constitutional Crisis – A "constitutional crisis" arises when a confrontation among branches of government can't be resolved by existing law. The US Constitution gives Congress the responsibility of oversight of the president and his administration, and it grants the president certain privileges, as well. Some Democrats now argue that the Trump administration's refusal to provide congressional committees with access to requested witnesses and documents, including the unredacted Mueller Report and President Trump's tax returns, has created such a crisis. But the Constitution provides for three branches of government. Congress is already taking Trump to court on multiple issues. If the president or Congress refuses to comply with coming court rulings, then the US will face a true constitutional crisis. We're not there yet, but the danger is growing.
Austrian McDonald's – On Tuesday, we told you about Burger King's new plan to deliver fast food to motorists stranded in traffic jams in Mexico City. Here's some good fast-food news for US citizens travelling in Austria who have lost their passports and are craving a milkshake. The US Embassy in Vienna announced this week that McDonald's restaurants across Austria will serve as mini embassies for American tourists, who can receive limited consular services there.
What We're Ignoring: Guatemala's Dirty Politics and a Tidal Wave of Euro-Kitsch
Guatemala's Presidential Field – Guatemala's Constitutional Court has ruled that Zury Ríos cannot compete in the country's June 16 presidential election because she's the daughter of former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, the world's first former head of state to be charged with genocide in his own country. Guatemalan voters can still choose between former first lady Sandra Torres, who faces charges of embezzlement, perjury and tax fraud, and former attorney general Thelma Aldana, who is under investigation for campaign finance irregularities.
Eurovision – We're ignoring Europe's famed song contest because it takes place in non-European Israel, non-European Australia is among the favorites to win, some of the performances give kitsch a bad name, and because the Russians don't consider the voting important enough to hack. And as we've seen, Russians will hack anything.
3.79 million: About 3.79 million babies were born in the US in 2018, taking the annual birth rate to its lowest point in three decades. Births in the US have fallen in 10 of the past 11 years.
40: North Korea is now coping with its worst drought in nearly 40 years, according to state media. Drought creates food shortages and the potential for unrest, which might help explain why Kim Jong-un has returned to missile launches to win new economic concessions.
2 billion: In nominal terms, trade between the United States and Soviet Union in the late 1980s totaled $2 billion a year. Current trade between the United States and China is $2 billion a day.
0.26: When Theresa May is forced to resign as UK prime minister in coming weeks, the 120,000 members of the Conservative Party will choose a new party leader, and that person will automatically become Britain's prime minister. In this way, just 0.26 percent of the UK electorate will choose their country's next head of government.
Words of Wisdom
"Banned by the dictator but not forgotten."
– Basketball player Enes Kanter tweets his response to an announcement that the playoff games in which he competes in the United States will not be televised in his native Turkey following his outspoken criticism of President Recep Erdogan.