Archive for June, 2015

Jobs, productivity and inequality

June 30, 2015

destroying.jobs_.chart1x910_0.

destroying.jobs_.chart2x910

David Rotman, writing in MIT Technology Review, made the case that advances in technology and growth in productivity have not paid off for working Americans.

He considered whether there is something in the nature of technology that rewards highly-trained employees and eliminates the jobs of unskilled employees.

I think the problem is the priorities of the people in charge, not the nature of technology.

It is not technological progress that leads to public libraries having shorter hours, or public utilities have deferred maintenance, or customer service centers keeping people on “hold” for endless minutes.  Rather it is the priorities of the people in charge.

To the extent technology is the cause, I think the reason is that the impetus has been to develop technologies that eliminate jobs rather than technologies that provide better services and improve the quality of life for the majority of Americans.

§§§

How Technology Is Destroying Jobs by David Rotman for MIT Technology Review.

Puerto Rico also has a debt crisis

June 30, 2015

Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday called for the commonwealth to be allowed to restructure its debts under U.S. bankruptcy code, while a newly appointed adviser to the U.S. territory said it is “insolvent” and will soon run out of cash.

Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, in a televised address, said sacrifice must be shared by bondholders, as he called for Washington to allow a bankruptcy debt restructuring.

via Reuters.

I think Gov. Garcia Padilla is right.  If a debtor is unable to pay, this is the result of bad judgment or bad luck on the part of both the borrower and the lender.  They should share the consequences.

There may come a time when this argument has to be made on behalf of the United States as a whole.

(more…)

A world of book stores

June 30, 2015

editores lello irmao porto photographs

I spent a good bit of my adult life hanging out in bookstores, but never one as impressive as the Livaria Lello and Irmão in Porto, Portugal, shown above, which I have never visited and never expect to visit, but I’m glad to know exists.

When I was younger, I would always look for bookstores when I was in a strange city.  I thought I got an idea of a city’s nature from its bookstores, and the selection of books on offer.

I no longer do much traveling, and none as a tourist, and I no longer buy books with the idea that I will read them someday in the future.  Instead I’m reading the books I bought in the past with that idea in mind.

But if I were a world traveler, I would be sure to visit places mentioned in the links below.

LINKS

Seven Bookstores Too Beautiful for Words by Jake Rossen for Mental Floss.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Weird and wonderful bookshops worldwide – in pictures by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

10 independent bookstores you should visit worldwide – our readers recommend by Marta Bausells for The Guardian.

A novel oasis: Why Argentina is the bookshop capital of the world by Uki Goñi for The Guardian.

A word of advice to protesters

June 29, 2015
Micah White

Micah White

Thinking strategically, I believe it is very important never to protest directly against the police.

Because the police are actually made to absorb protest—the objective of the police is to dissipate your energy in protesting them so you’ll let alone the most sensitive parts of the repressive regime in which we live: politicians and big corporations.

We must protest more deeply.

via Micah White, PhD | Occupy Wall Street Cocreator.

Technology primarily benefits those who own it

June 29, 2015

jobs.5x650I can remember 50 and 60 years ago when people worried about what Americans would do with all the affluence and leisure time that would result from automation.   Today that seems like a cruel joke.

Technology primarily benefits those who own it.  Applied science primarily benefits those who fund it, or at least reflects what the funders are interested in.  There can be spillover effects that benefit everyone, but these don’t necessarily happen of their own accord.

I came across a good article on this topic in Technology Review.  The lesson I draw from it is (1) technology is not a substitute for social and economic reform and (2) there is a need for scientific and technological research outside the domains of for-profit corporations and the military.

LINK

Who Will Own the Robots? in Technology Review.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism}

Evidently marijuana is less harmful than believed

June 29, 2015

imrs

I have never in my life used marijuana.  There was a time in my life when I would have partaken if offered, but it never was and I never asked.

I was the type of person that people would have suspected of being an undercover narcotics agent.  I also was the type of person who wouldn’t have been able to spot an undercover narcotics agent myself.

During the same period of my life I drank a lot more beer than was wise.  I thought that being able to drink and hold my liquor was a manly thing.  The fallacy was that I didn’t hold my liquor all that well.  My drinking nowadays is confined to a glass of wine a couple of times a month.

I never did smoke cigarettes, so there’s that.

LINK

Marijuana may be even safer than previously thought, researchers say by Christopher Ingraham for the Washington Post.  (Hat tip to my e-mail pen pal Jack)

(more…)

Bernie Sanders’ record in Congress

June 27, 2015

If you’re going to judge what a politician stands for, you’d do better to look at their advisers and supporters than their campaign rhetoric, and you’d do even better still to look at their record.

The presidential candidate Bernie Sanders served in the House of Representatives from Vermont’s at-large district from 1991 to 2007 and in the U.S. Senate from 2007 to the present, so he has a long record to go by.

Sanders has been a political independent, not a Democrat, for most of his political life, and is the only member of Congress to call himself a socialist.  The 2016 Presidential campaign is the first campaign in which he has run as a Democrat to organize Congress.

BernieSanders1_1280His congressional record seems to me to be like a 1930s New Deal Democrat.  He is a staunch defender of the New Deal programs such as Social Security, a champion of labor unions and an opponent of Wall Street.

While his voting record is favorable to abortion rights, gay rights, affirmative action and civil rights for African-Americans, he does not have a high profile on these issues as he does on bread-and-butter economic issues.

Liberals might have trouble with the fact that he was first elected to Congress as an opponent of gun control and still has reservations about gun control.

∞∞∞

Here are some highlights of his legislative and voting record:

He founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and chaired it for eight years.

In 1999, he defied U.S. law on drug imports by organizing a trip to Canada with constituents to buy cancer medications at 10 percent of the U.S. cost

In 2005, he joined with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, to repeal the section of the USA Patriot Act requiring librarians to give the government information on patrons’ book-borrowing.   It passed the House, but did not become law.

In 2010, he gave an eight-and-a-half hour speech against the Tax Relief, Unemployment and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended the Bush era tax cuts.  The speech drew nationwide attention and was later published as a book.

In 2011, he successfully introduced legislation calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve System’s bank bailouts, which revealed that the Fed had granted $16 trillion dollars in assistance to troubled banks, some of their foreign banks.

(more…)

The USA can’t expect to always get its way

June 26, 2015

Everybody has met self-centered people who behave as if they are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out their wishes.

If they are sufficiently rich and powerful, they can get away with this for a certain amount of time.  But in the end, they wind up isolated and friendless.

Unfortunately the United States conducts its foreign policy as if we Americans are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out Washington’s wishes.

This is bound to end badly.

Peter Van Buren, who was kicked out of the State Department for writing about the fouled-up U.S. occupation of Iraq, pointed out in an article for TomDispatch how this is playing out in current U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Islamic State (ISIS)

The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims.

is_control_over_time_624_1805The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq.

The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions.

Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria.

The Kurds want an independent homeland.

When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals.

(more…)

Bernie Sanders, the socialist mayor of Burlington

June 26, 2015

As Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, from 1981 to 1989, Bernie Sanders showed that radical democracy is  feasible, even in a small American city.

His accomplishments in Burlington would make him a significant figure in the history of American political reform even if he never held any other elected office.

Bernie Sanders in 1981

Bernie Sanders in 1981

As mayor, he fostered public ownership and local businesses, including worker-owned businesses.  He fought big corporate development projects and privatization of public services, and proved a small city could thrive without providing big tax abatements to attract outside industry and chain stores.

Sanders was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn, on Sept. 8, 1941, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland.  He attended public schools and Brooklyn College and graduated from the University of Chicago in 1964 with a degree in political science.  He spent some time on an Israeli kibbutz, and moved to Vermont in 1968.

During the first 20 years of his adult life, he led a marginal existence as a left-wing activist.  He ran twice for Senator and twice for Governor of Vermont in the 1970s, never getting more than 6 percent of the vote.  He was barely able to earn a living, working as a carpenter, freelance writer and creator of slide shows and documentaries for college classes.

He was elected mayor of Burlington, a city then of just under 38,000 population, defeating the incumbent by a margin of just 10 votes.   He won re-election three times by substantial majorities, and stepped down voluntarily after his fourth term.  None of his successors have tried to dismantle his accomplishments.

Sanders went on to become one of Vermont’s most popular politicians.   He won more than 70 percent of the statewide vote in the last two elections.

(more…)

Bernie Sanders in his own words

June 25, 2015

Agenda for America: 12 Steps Forward.

  1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
  2. Reversing Climate Change
  3. Creating Worker Co-ops
  4. Growing the Trade Union Movement
  5. Raising the Minimum Wage
  6. Pay Equity for Women Workers
  7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
  8. Making College Affordable for All
  9. Taking on Wall Street
  10. Health Care as a Right for All
  11. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
  12. Real Tax Reform

(more…)

What law says the TPP text is a secret?

June 24, 2015

It seems like a case of mass hypnosis. People claiming they can’t say what’s in the TPP trade agreement. And mainstream media accept this premise.

“That’s right. Congress must stay silent.”

Pop quiz: who says the text of the TPP must remain secret?

Under what authority?

Tom the Dancing BugMembers of Congress are scuttling around like weasels, claiming they can’t disclose what’s in this far-reaching, 12-nation trade treaty.

They can go into a sealed room and read a draft, but they can’t copy pages, and they can’t tell the public what they just read.

Why not?

If there is a US law forbidding disclosure, name the law.

Can you recall anything in the Constitution that establishes secret treaties?

Is there a prior treaty that states the text of all treaties can be hidden from the people?

I see no authority anywhere that justifies withholding the text of the TPP.

Government legislators in the other 11 nations: why can’t you reveal what’s in the TPP?

Mass silence around the world. “Sorry, we can’t say what’s in the treaty. We’ll vote on it, but you the people have no input. You have to take what we do on faith.”

Who says so? By what authority?

If a US Senator held a press conference today and explained everything he read in that sealed room about the TPP, what exactly would happen to him? Would he be arrested?

Would he be charged with a federal crime?

What crime?

via Jon Rappoport’s Blog.

Washington’s revolving doors

June 24, 2015
venn diagram.jpg_large

Click to enlarge.

Wall Street as the co-government of the U.S.

June 23, 2015

I’ve written many posts about the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington, and how the U.S. government puts the interests of the financial oligarchy above the interests of the American public.

I’ve just finished reading a book that shows how far back in American history this goes.

 ALL THE PRESIDENT’S BANKERS: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power by Nomi Prins (2014) is a narrative history showing the interdependence of the Presidents and the Wall Street banking and financial community from the early 20th century to the present day.

Nomi Prins showed how American Presidents from 1910 to 1970 had to take the interests of Wall Street banks into account in implementing their policies, and then how, from 1980 on, the banks freed themselves from governmental restrictions to engage in ever-bigger speculations, from which they had to be bailed out.

Her story begins with the Panic of 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt standing by helplessly while J. Pierpont Morgan summons bankers to his mansion and arranges a bailout to prevent financial collapse.

The Federal Reserve System was created in 1913 in order to prevent such a situation from recurring.

This was a major turning point in American history.  It gave the United States a financial stability and financial resources without which it could not have been a world power.  It made possible U.S. participation in the world wars, the projection of American global power and the great expansion of federal government activity—none of which could have been paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis or with foreign loans.

At the same time, it formalized the position of the great American banks as a kind of fourth branch of government.

(more…)

The persistence of American racism

June 22, 2015

Some thoughts inspired by the Charleston, S.C., church massacre.

∞∞∞

As a college-educated white person whose friends are mostly other college-educated white people, I think of overt racism as a thing of the past.  Racial prejudice, yes, but not the ideology of white supremacy.

What the premeditated murder of the nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shows is that white supremacist racism has not disappeared, but just gone underground.

confederate_flagI can remember the bombings and burnings of black churches in the Deep South during the Civil Rights era, in particular the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.

White racists claim to fear the black underclass.  But what they hate the most are the God-fearing respectable members of the black middle class, because the existence of such people undermines their feeling of superiority.

∞∞∞

The murder victims’ loved ones said they forgive the murderer, just as Jesus taught and the Rev. Martin Luther King preached.  I ask my secular humanist friends whether they could be capable of such forgiveness.  I know I wouldn’t.

∞∞∞

Racial discrimination is not a thing of the past.  Just because we liberal white people don’t come in contact with it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still exist.

One of the members of the Sunday morning discussion group at First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., is a white woman with an adopted black son.   I’ve met him, and he is a fine young man—intelligent, courteous and much more self-controlled than I ever felt the need to be at his age.

He once was traveling with white friends, stopped at a motel and was told there were no vacancies.  He went back to the car, and one of the white friends went in.  Unsurprisingly there was a vacancy after all.

He likes to visit Canada, but whenever he is driving the car with white friends, he says the car is inevitably stopped and searched.  When a white friend is driving, the car is always waved through.  When he is driving alone, he sometimes is refused entry to Canada—no explanation given.

He once was ticketed for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and spent the night in jail.  I’ve never heard of anybody else here ever being jailed for a traffic offense.

(more…)

The Cowboy Hávamál

June 21, 2015

Illustration: Shutterstock

Jackson Crawford, a professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of California at Berkeley, translated the first 79 verses of the Havamal, a Viking poem, from Old Norse into American cowboy dialect.

The Cowboy Havamal is full of practical wisdom that is just as relevant to the present day as the age in which it was written.

If it weren’t copyrighted, I would copy the whole thing onto my web log.  As it is, I just reblog his translation.  Go below the fold to get to the translated verses.

I found the link on The Tinfoil Hat Society web log.

Tattúínárdǿla saga

“The Cowboy Havamal,” from The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes, translated by Jackson Crawford, Copyright © 2015, Hackett Publishing Co. Reproduced by permission.

The text called Hávamál (literally “Words of the One-Eyed,” or “Words of the High One,” either way a reference to Odin) might be considered a Norse equivalent of the Book of Proverbs, containing as it does a series of disconnected stanzas encouraging wisdom and moderation in living one’s life.

“The Cowboy Hávamál” is a condensation of the wisdom of the first, most down-to-earth part of Hávamál (often called the Gestatháttr, it includes stanzas 1-79, give or take a few) into mostly five-line stanzas of a Western American English dialect. I have not endeavored to render this dialect phonetically in a thoroughly consistent way, but only to present an “eye dialect” of sorts, to suggest the dry tones of the accent behind the…

View original post 2,526 more words

The U.S. Senate votes against torture

June 20, 2015

Torture is the ultimate crime against humanity.  It aims at the destruction not just of human life or the human body, but of the human spirit.

So it’s a good thing that the U.S. Senate last Tuesday voted, 78-21, to ban torture by the U.S. government, codifying into law an executive order by President Obama.  As The Guardian explained:

Should the McCain-Feinstein amendment be made law … it will be harder for future administrations to repeat the actions of the Bush administration, which used controversial legal opinions to justify torturing detainees.

Sadly, that’s the most that can be hoped.  A law against torture will not guarantee that the government will not use torture, but it will make it harder to do so.  If law were enough, the Constitution of the United States and international treaties would have been enough to prevent the George W. Bush administration from engaging in torture in the first place.

tortureimageAll 21 Senators who voted in favor of retaining the power to torture were Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Whip John Comyn of Texas and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, one of the Republican presidential candidates.

However, the bill was co-sponsored by Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, along with Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.  To their credit, two other Republican presidential candidates, Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and (to my surprise) Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted in favor.

On the campaign trail, ex-Gov. Jeb Bush said “enhanced interrogation techniques” were necessary during his brother’s administration, but are no longer needed now—leaving open the possibility that torture may be needed in the future.

The very worst statement about the bill was made by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a Republican presidential candidate, who said he’d have voted against the bill if he hadn’t been campaigning.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re not safe.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument ordinary Americans are in serious danger from the likes of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State—which we’re not.  Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that that the Bush torture program made us safer—which it didn’t.

That still wouldn’t make it right to torture prisoners and suspects.   George Washington and Abraham Lincoln led the United States when it was in real danger, and they didn’t stoop to authorizing torture.

The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we’re too fearful to care about fundamental human rights and human decency.

LINKS

Senate passes torture ban despite Republican opposition by Paul Lewis for The Guardian.

Marco Rubio’s Fear-Mongering Slogan by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

The Bolshevik analogy with ISIS

June 20, 2015

I am astonished by how the murderous Islamic State has arisen seemingly out of nowhere and now controls as much territory and people as many countries now represented in the United Nations.

Everybody seems to be against ISIS and they wage war against everyone except those willing to submit to their idea of Sunni Islam.  Yet they seem to go from strength to strength.

I am reminded of the Bolsheviks, who also seemingly came out of nowhere, represented a minority of the population of the old Russian Empire and yet through unrelenting force and propaganda came to rule a great nation.

ApproxPositionsWWI-1919The Bolsheviks did not come to power all by themselves.  Lenin was sent into Russia as a German covert action to undermine the Russian war effort.

They were a faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, a Marxist party with its main strength among factory workers in the big cities.   The October Revolution was a military coup against a government led by the Mensheviks, the other Marxist faction.

They were opposed by the Social Revolutionary Party, a non-Marxist radical agrarian party with strength among the Russian peasant majority.  They also were opposed by Russian liberals who favored a capitalist democracy, by supporters of the former Tsarist regime, by separatists in Ukraine and central Asia, and by the armies of the Western allies and Japan.

The anti-Bolshevik forces disliked each other almost as much as they did the new Bolshevik government, and they never could unite.  Trotsky’s Red Army defeated them one-by-one.

The western Allies could not have defeated the Bolsheviks without the same all-out effort as their fight against Germany and the war-weary people of the Allied nations were not willing to support such an effort.  The effect of the Allied intervention was to make Russians think of the Bolsheviks as patriotic defenders of their country.

Finally years of lawless violence made people willing to support any government that would provide a minimum of law and order.

I do not say the Bolsheviks were exactly like the Islamic State.  For one thing, they had a positive program—”land and peace”, although they later reneged on the “land” part.  Nor do I say the Islamic State is destined to triumph as Lenin’s Bolsheviks did.

But I see parallels between the Bolsheviks then and ISIS now.

(more…)

An American Imam fights ISIS propaganda

June 20, 2015

ThinkProgress had a good article about how a sensible American Imam explained to Muslim teenagers that the Islamic State’s propaganda is contrary to the authoritative teachings and the historic practice of Islam.

When people are ignorant of their own religion, they are vulnerable to those who try to sell them a twisted version of it.   The best cure for ignorance is accurate knowledge.

The disturbing thing to me about the article is that Imam Mohamid Magid’s effort is necessary in the first place.  It is disturbing that ISIS has such a big presence on American social media.  The New York Times reported that ISIS sends out an estimated 500 million messages a day via 46,000 Twitter accounts.

It also is disturbing that ISIS propaganda has an impact.  I can understand radical Muslim movements with grievances against the United States, Israel and other Western countries.  I do not volunteer to become a victim of such movements, nor advocate that others do so, but they are understandable in a way that ISIS is not.

The primary targets of ISIS are other Muslims and harmless religious minorities who have been living in peace in majority-Muslim countries, and the images that ISIS broadcasts of be-headings and burnings are manifestations of sadistic cruelty.  This is very hard to understand.

U.S. government officials estimate that 150 young Americans have gone or tried to go to Syria to join ISIS, the New York Times reported.  Imam Magid said some of them were no doubt mentally ill, and I’m sure that is true.

Eric Hoffer pointed out years ago in his book, The True Believer, that people who join extremist mass movements are not those who are rooted in a traditional religion, but people who are uprooted from their culture and desperately need something to give them sense of meaning and belonging.

LINKS

How This Imam Has Kept Americans From Joining the Islamic State by Igor Volsky and Victoria Fleischer for ThinkProgress.

U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine by Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times.

Bernie Sanders might not get on the NY ballot

June 19, 2015

Update 6/23/2015.  This post turned out to be much ado about nothng.  The State Board of Elections ruled that Bernie Sanders’ party status will be no barrier to him appearing on the 2016 Democratic Presidential Election Ballot.

Bernie Sanders might not get on the ballot for the 2016 New York Democratic presidential primary.

berniesocialistThat’s because he’s not a Democrat.   He is a socialist who was elected Senator from Vermont as an independent.

Under New York law, you have to be a member of a political party in order to be a candidate in that party’s primary election, unless the governing committee of that party makes an exception.

The chair of the New York Democratic Party is former Gov. David Paterson and the executive committee chair is Sheila Comar.  The committee headquarters is in mid-town Manhattan, and the committee can be contacted by through its web site.

Sanders has said that he will support the nominee of the Democratic Party.  So unless the New York Democratic Committee opens the state primary, New Yorkers won’t get a chance to vote for him at all—unless he wins the nomination, of course.

(more…)

When Bernie met Hillary: 1993

June 19, 2015

At the start of 1993, the newly-elected President Bill Clinton appointed his wife, Hillary, as head of his Task Force on Health Care Reform.

Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the lone socialist in Congress, advocated a single-payer health insurance system—basically, Medicare for everyone, as in Canada.

Hillary Clinton in 1993

Hillary Clinton in 1993

In February, Sanders requested a meeting with Hillary, “to bring in two Harvard Medical School physicians who have written on the Canadian system,” according to the records of the administration’s task force.  Those physicians were Stephanie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein, leading advocates for single-payer health care.

They got their meeting at the White House that month, and the two doctors laid out the case for single-payer to the first lady.

“She said, ‘You make a convincing case, but is there any force on the face of the earth that could counter the hundreds of millions of the dollars the insurance industry would spend fighting that?’” recalled Himmelstein.

“And I said, “How about the president of the United States actually leading the American people?’ and she said, ‘Tell me something real.’

via POLITICO.

Political reporter Ben Schreckinger said Sanders got the brush-off, the Clinton administration introduced a complicated plan limited to altering the existing health insurance system, the health insurance industry fought it anyhow, and the plan went down to defeat.

LINK

When Bernie Sanders met Hillary Clinton by Ben Schreckinger for Politico.

Problem solved!

June 19, 2015

problem-solvedSource: Blue Sky GIS

The end of the road

June 19, 2015

-1Hat tip to Blue Sky GIS

I can’t explain why this strikes me as funny, but it does.

The real U.S. strategic rivalry with China

June 18, 2015

Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.
==Sachel Paige

 The big issue that we Americans have with China is not who controls the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

It is the shifting of U.S. manufacturing jobs to China and the U.S. trade deficit with China.

The United States probably does have legitimate economic grievances against China.  Some American economists, for example, think the Chinese government keeps the exchange rate for its currency artificially low in order to make its exports cheaper in world markets.

But the main problems we Americans have with China are due to things we have done to ourselves.

The Chinese never forced U.S.-based companies to give up domestic manufacturing capability. It never forced us Americans to neglect our physical infrastructure—our Internet service, our roads and bridges, our dams and levees. It never forced us to neglect our human resources—our higher education, our industrial research. It never forced our financial elite to invest in debt rather than invest in production.

Trying to substitute a military rivalry for an economic rivalry may or may not hurt China. It will not do us Americans any benefit because our problems do not originate in China.  They originate at home.

China has its own problems—labor unrest, ethnic conflict, corruption, air pollution, suppression of dissent.  Whether any of these problems are potentially fatal, I do not know.   What I do know is that it would be foolish for us Americans to count on China self-destructing.

(more…)

The fruits of American foreign policy

June 18, 2015

John Michael Greer, writing on his Archdruid Report blog, described how American foreign policy has led to Russia and China joining to create a Fortress Eurasia that is beyond the reach of U.S. military power.

Just as the great rivalry of the first half of the twentieth century was fought out between Britain and Germany, the great rivalry of the century’s second half was between the United States and Russia.

If nuclear weapons hadn’t been invented, it’s probably a safe bet that at some point the rivalry would have ended in another global war.

As it was, the threat of mutual assured destruction meant that the struggle for global power had to be fought out less directly, in a flurry of proxy wars, sponsored insurgencies, economic warfare, subversion, sabotage, and bare-knuckle diplomacy.

In that war, the United States came out on top, and Soviet Russia went the way of Imperial Germany, plunging into the same sort of political and economic chaos that beset the Weimar Republic in its day.

The supreme strategic imperative of the United States in that war was finding ways to drive as deep a wedge as possible between Russia and China, in order to keep them from taking concerted action against the US.

That wasn’t all that difficult a task, since the two nations have very little in common and many conflicting interests.

gadd600spanNixon’s 1972 trip to China was arguably the defining moment in the Cold War, the point at which China’s separation from the Soviet bloc became total and Chinese integration with the American economic order began.

From that point on, for Russia, it was basically all downhill.

In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat, the same strategic imperative remained, but the conditions of the post-Cold War world made it almost absurdly easy to carry out.

All that would have been needed were American policies that gave Russia and China meaningful, concrete reasons to think that their national interests and aspirations would be easier to achieve in cooperation with a US-led global order than in opposition to it.

Granting Russia and China the same position of regional influence that the US accords to Germany and Japan as a matter of course probably would have been enough.

A little forbearance, a little foreign aid, a little adroit diplomacy, and the United States would have been in the catbird’s seat, with Russia and China glaring suspiciously at each other across their long and problematic mutual border, and bidding against each other for US support in their various disagreements.

But that’s not what happened, of course.

(more…)

Chinese vs. American trade agreements

June 18, 2015

china-watch-map_3281019b

U.S. rivalry with China should be mainly economic, not military.   The threat to us Americans is that we shall continue to allow the hollowing out of our manufacturing industry while China grows ever more powerful.

China offers the world the chance to invest in its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which may or may not amount to anything, but potentially could help all its partners achieve their economic goals.

The US government is trying to pressure the world into joining the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement, which would require them to give up national sovereignty so that multinational corporations could operate with greater freedom.

President Obama has said that it is important that “we” rather than China get to write the rules for the international economy.  I don’t feel included in that “we”.   I think the “we” who will write the rules are the big international banks and other corporations, not us Americans.

There’s an old saying that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  Right now the Chinese government is offering honey while the U.S. government is trying to force its allies to swallow vinegar.

(more…)