TWTW: The World This Week / Episode #53
Beginning on the Aegean island of Chios…America’s problems beyond Trump…Confronting China….Elections from Argentina to Zimbabwe…Olympics convulse Paris…cartoonist Gargalo outlines Lady Liberty.
19 ΑΥΓ 2023
This weekly feature for Andelman Unleashed, continues on its mission to explore how the media of other nations are reporting and commenting on the United States, and how they are viewing the rest of the world. Reporting this week from the Greek island of Chios.
The view from Chios
Our travel across the southeastern periphery of Europe has taken Unleashed to our final stop—the Aegean island of Chios. It is an enchanted land of tiny villages and narrow streets all diving eventually into a coastline of elegantly pebbled beaches, the impossibly blue waters of the eastern Mediterranean, and a (sadly cloudless) cerulean sky that blends in with the waters at the horizon. You can even see Turkey from its shores.
And then there are the mastic trees that are everywhere—at least wherever there are not fig trees producing impossibly lush fruit that hang over the roadways, demanding their picking and instant consumption. But mastic is the gold of this island paradise—squat trees that spring up on plantations or just wild by the roadsides. Known as the “tears of Chios,” this natural resin is excreted by the “glands” of their eponymous trees when they begin to reach maturity around seven years old, and may continue to produce into their late maturity at 70. The droplets dry into brittle translucence pieces, releasing a refreshing flavor not unlike pine or cedar. It keeps the economy of this tiny corner of Greece prosperous and vital—while the island itself manages a blissful isolation from much of the world beyond.
So, this edition of TWTW comes to you from the Greek island of Chios, just across a narrow strait from the mainland of Turkey, fellow NATO member and implacable foe of Athens.
How others see America
Suddenly it’s not just Trump
The world has awakened to a bit of a frightening reality—the real danger from America may not be a potential second term for Donald Trump or some acolyte, but from a still fragile American economy and its bulwark dollar. As the French daily Le Monde put it, “with interest rates at their highest since 2007, the fear of a financial accident. As New York correspondent Arnaud Parmentier continued, “the health of the banking system appears fragile and the housing market collapses in speculative areas. The level of interest rates is on the way to breaking records on the markets. Thus, the yield on ten-year US Treasury bonds hit its highest level since 2007 at 4.329%.”
“This trend is hitting American households hard, since the rate of thirty-year mortgage loans reached 7.09%, according to figures published by the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. This level, the highest since 2002, has more than doubled in eighteen months.”
London’s Financial Times, meanwhile, zeros in on bitcoins—remember them? As correspondent Mark Vandevelde put it: “Bitcoin fell by nearly 8 per cent during an hour of frenzied trading on Thursday afternoon in the US, extending a day of losses that have reversed most of the cryptocurrency’s gains since June. The whipsaw price action left the digital asset changing hands for 15% less than the $31,814 high registered in July, echoing recent declines in stocks, bonds, and other financial assets.
“The sell-off coincided with a report in The Wall Street Journal stating that Elon Musk’s privately held SpaceX venture had written down the value of its bitcoin holdings by $373mn in the past two years and had sold the cryptocurrency. Digital asset traders have kept close tabs on Musk since 2021, when his electric-car company Tesla briefly flirted with accepting payment in the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin jumped 15 per cent in a single day when Musk announced the plans in February that year. Thursday’s gyrating bitcoin price follows on the heels of a torrid few months for digital currency enthusiasts, as US regulators crack down on a sector that Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler has said is “rife with fraud, scams and abuse.”
Speaking of which….
Trump got indicted—again, which caused just some scattered ripples abroad—hardly surprising since as one European editor observed to Unleashed, “how many times can you report what is effectively the same old story.”
Still Le Monde did have an interesting take in a small box on its front page: “Trump indicted under an anti-Mafia law.”
How others see the World
Across the aisle and abroad….
One commentator described the trilateral summit President Biden convened at Camp David with the leaders of Japan and South Korea as his administration’s “biggest diplomatic success to date.” But the question might equally have been asked, what alternative did any of the three countries have—faced with a surging and increasingly hostile China determined to carve its own place in the world?
Bhagyashree Garekar, formerly foreign editor, now US Bureau Chief of The Straits Times of Singapore, which just might itself feel a trifle, how shall we put it, ‘left out,’ reported: “The huddle in Camp David, the tranquil presidential retreat where key American diplomatic accords have been forged, produced an unprecedented pledge that the three nations would consult and coordinate on security policy. The purpose of the trilateral cooperation, described in a 15-paragraph-long statement flamboyantly named the Camp David Principles, was stated as promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. The agreement was enabled as much by the recent thaw in relations between Japan and South Korea as it was by their growing concerns over China’s assertiveness in its neighbourhood and North Korea’s defiant missile launches.”
Not to mention China continuing to push the envelope, as Jack Lau reported in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “China appears to be building a runway on an island also claimed by Vietnam, according to satellite images, in Beijing’s latest move to build military facilities in contested South China Sea territory. A new airstrip started to appear in mid-July on Triton Island, the southernmost and westernmost of the Paracel Islands, known in Chinese as the Xisha Islands and in Vietnamese as the Hoang Sa islands.
“Vietnam also claims the islands, as does Taipei, whose South China Sea claims mostly overlap with those of Beijing.”
All somewhat ironic, since the same day’s South China Morning Post published a report from Laura Zhou that “Beijing’s top diplomat made a direct appeal to Vietnam’s shared ideology with China as he urged Hanoi to prepare for a summit and prevent ‘interference’ by external forces. As neighbours with similar ideologies, ‘the two sides should prepare for the next stage of high-level exchanges,’ Wang Yi told Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang.”
Vietnam, of course, was not a party to Biden’s Camp David summit and resulting pact. Nor was any other ASEAN member country or any nation from South Asia for that matter—all at one time or another victims of China’s own priorities.
Closer to conflict?
Africa’s tense Sahel region edged closer to armed conflict as the only possible resolution of a crisis touched off by the military coup that closed Niger’s democratic experiment and ushered in rule by a military junta a month ago.
“The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to activate a standby force as a last resort if diplomatic efforts fail, a senior official said without disclosing when that is,” Al Jazeera reported.
“’We are ready to go any time the order is given,’ ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah said during the closing ceremony of a two-day meeting of West African army chiefs in Ghana’s capital, Accra. ‘The D-day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention,’ he said, emphasising that ECOWAS was still seeking to engage peacefully with Niger’s military leaders.”
Indeed, by week’s end, the West African nations not ruled by military juntas, were also back pedaling on this pledge in the face of Niger’s threats to fight to the end—and more. “Niger’s military junta has said it will prosecute the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, for ‘high treason’ and undermining state security, as concerns were raised about the detention conditions and health of Bazoum and his family,” Peter Beaumont reported in London’s Guardian newspaper.
“The statement on Bazoum’s prosecution came hours after the junta indicated to religious mediators that they were open to a diplomatic resolution to the crisis that followed July’s coup. Bazoum could face the death penalty if convicted. People close to the president as well as those in his ruling party say the family’s electricity and water have been cut off and they are running out of food.”
Saturday afternoon, the U.S. State Department announced, “Ambassador Kathleen FitzGibbon has traveled to Niamey to lead our diplomatic mission in Niger and bolster efforts to help resolve the political crisis at this critical time….Due to the current political crisis in Niger, Ambassador FitzGibbon will not formally present credentials. Her arrival does not reflect any change in our policy position….Her diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves constitutional order in Niger and for the immediate release of President Bazoum, his family, and all those unlawfully detained.”
Continuing our pledge to track every national election everywhere in the world, now is the turn of Argentina and Zimbabwe.
Remember Brazil’s rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro, France’s Marine Le Pen, or Donald Trump for that matter? Now Argentina is flirting with its own homegrown version of right-wing extremism.
As Al Jazeera’s Natalie Alcoba reported: “Javier Milei, a far-right libertarian candidate who has taken the country by storm, drew in the most support—30%—far more than any poll predicted, raising questions around his appeal and what his rise means for the country. Acting as a litmus test in the run-up to general elections, the vote in Argentina’s open presidential primary clearly showed just how much Argentinians want change. [Milei] has drawn support from both ends of the political spectrum and held a strong appeal among young voters, especially young men. “This voter is looking for a hope for the future, and they have found that in Milei,” Fara said.
Who is this Argentine political neophyte who seems to be capturing his nation by storm? “An economist and legislator, Milei burst into Argentinian national politics two years ago when he founded his Libertad Avanza (Liberty Advances) party to support his first campaign for Congress,” Fara continued. “Before that, he was a media pundit known for his eccentric look—with a mop of hair that earned the nickname ‘the wig’—and tirades against socialism, which he said has ‘infected’ society and government.”
Indeed, Bolsonaro himself even recorded a campaign video for his candidate that began, “Hello dear, Javier Milei.”
As Vanessa Buschschlüter reported on the BBC, :”Argentine media have described the result as a “political earthquake”. His anti-establishment views have endeared him to Argentine voters angry at the current and previous governments for failing to solve Argentina’s economic crisis. Year-on-year inflation is above 115%, one in four Argentines is living in poverty and the local currency, the peso, has plummeted to such an extent that football fans from rival nations have torn up peso bills to taunt Argentine fans….He would abolish Argentina’s central bank, replace the peso with the US dollar and privatize state-run firms which are making a loss.” Oh and even loosen gun controls. “Mr Milei has launched bitter attacks on his rivals from established political parties,” the BBC continued. The candidates who came in second and third, Patricia Bullrich and Sergio Massa, will now try to gain ground ahead of the first round of the presidential election.
Stand by for the first round on October 22, with a runoff on November 19 if candidate reaches a 45% threshold.
In Zimbabwe, the ghost of Robert Mugabe, who ruled for three decades with what has been characterized as a “Marxist obedience,” still hangs over the nation even on the second national election since his 2017 ouster by the military amid sanctions, deprivation and isolation that remain as his legacy. The nation continues to drift.
As Shingai Nyoka reported for the BBC from Harare, the balloting among 11 candidates for president (down from the 23 who ran in 2018) is set for August 23 with a runoff October 2 if there is no outright winner. The “backdrop is one of the world’s highest rates of inflation and accusations of an intensifying crackdown on the opposition. But the contest is likely to be between two men:
Incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the governing Zanu-PF party, and opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, from the Citizen’s Coalition for Change.
Mr Mnangagwa, 80, has led Zimbabwe since the military forced Robert Mugabe to resign in 2017, and then won a disputed election a year later. He was a long-time ally of Mugabe before the pair fell out.”
Results and consequences, as ever, from Andelman Unleashed.
Finally, there’s the Olympics….yes, already
And Parisians, at least the few left in town in the midst of the traditional August shutdown—not to mention virtually every tourist—have already begun paying the price for the 2024 Summer Olympics. As Christie Henry reported in Le Parisien, “A life-size rehearsal for the authorities and a taste of the disruptions that Parisians will experience in the summer of 2024. Traffic will be severely disrupted in Paris from this Wednesday until Sunday due to the ‘Test Event’ of triathlon (swimming, cycling, and running) and para-triathlon.”
What that meant on the ground is that for anyone—resident or tourist—“traffic will be prohibited from August 16 to 20.” So when, Saturday morning the Unleashed family, arriving from Chios by taxi from Charles de Gaulle Airport to their home just south of the Seine, found themselves on foot, bag and baggage, for blocks.
“This ‘Test Event’ is the first of this magnitude, the open water swimming competition in the Seine originally scheduled for August 5 and 6 having been canceled,” Le Parisien continued. “The International Swimming Federation took this decision in coordination with the French Swimming Federation due to the poor bacteriological quality of the water.” Recall what I wrote in my CNN column:
Finally, there’s Gargalo….
The Portuguese cartoonist Gargalo imagines the Statue of Liberty—even the American democracy that it has long so eloquently represented—trapped within walls so grimly outlined by a profile of Donald Trump with his signature hair front and back, surrounded by a wasteland dotted with prickly cacti.
Vasco Gargalo, who draws simply under his last name, is a Portuguese cartoonist. He is proud of the fact that he became a father for the first time in 2011. He draws regularly for such newspapers and magazines as Sábado Magazine, Newspaper I, Courrier International, and the Netherland’s Groene Amsterdammer Magazine. The winner of more than a dozen international competitions, he is a member of the inestimable Cartooning for Peace collective.
Here’s how Gargalo imagines himself: