Archive for the ‘International’ Category

The American failure at nation-building.

November 19, 2015

If you attempt the impossible, you will fail.
        ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
        ==One of Rumsfeld’s Rules

mason.strategiclessons.PUB1269Why was the United States so successful in building up Germany, Japan and South Korea as independent nations after World War Two, and such a failure in building up South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan?

Chris Mason, in his book Strategic Lessons, wrote that the reason is that while it is possible to help an existing nation build up a stable government, it is not possible for outsiders to create a national consciousness among a people who lack it.

That is the reason for the failures in South Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—not any lack of valor or professionalism among American troops, but the fact that they were given a mission equivalent to trying to make water flow uphill.

He said the U.S. military is well-suited for carrying out two kinds of missions:

  1. Defending allies from invasion by use of “intense lethality” against the aggressor.
  2. Intervening in a foreign country to protect American lives or interests by striking hard at a military target, and then leaving—preferably within 90 days.

If the American government is considering intervening in a country for an extended length of time, it should summon the best academic experts to assess whether the people of that country have a sense of nationhood.  If not, the only unity those people will have is in resisting the invader.

Actually there were people inside the government who understood what would happen in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and said so, but they were ignored, Mason said.   Instead decisions were made by people who knew nothing about those countries, but knew what to do and say in order to advance their careers.

Those are harsh words.  The fact that the Army War College has published his book shows that there are some people in the military who value intelligent dissent.


Click on The Strategic Lessons Unlearned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan: Why the Afghan National Security Forces Will Not Hold and the Implications for the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for the text of Chris Mason’s book in PDF form.  I thank Craig Hanyan for suggesting it.

Click on America’s Future in Afghanistan for interviews by ARRA News Service giving the opposing viewpoints of Chris Mason and General John R. Allen, USMC-Ret.  [added 11/20/2015]


Comrade capitalism: Putin and the oligarchs

November 14, 2015

A new hereditary oligarchy of wealth is emerging in Russia.  But it does not consist of the sons and daughters of millionaires and billionaires.  Rather it consists of the sons and daughters of influential officials in the government security apparatus, starting with President Vladimir Putin’s daughter.

2014-03-07-PUTINThey are much like the so-called nomenklatura, the privileged sons and daughters of high-ranking Communist Party officials in the old Soviet Union.

Many of Russia’s millionaires and billionaires got rich by buying up government-owned factories and resources cheap right after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Reportedly when Putin took power, he called in Russia’s richest business people and told them he would not inquire into how they got their wealth—provided they did not oppose his policies.

He meant what he said.  Those who did oppose him have been crushed.  But even those who keep their heads down and their mouths shut do not feel secure.  Many wealthy Russians are investing outside Russia because they don’t think their assets are safe at home.

This is what people in Third World dictatorships do.  It doesn’t speak well for Russia’s future.


Comrade Capitalism: Putin’s daughter, a young billionaire and the president’s friends by Stephen Grey, Audrey Kuzmin and Elizabeth Piper for Reuters.  (Hat tip to O).

Remote Control: Can an exiled oligarch persuade Russia that Putin must go? by Julia Ioffe for The New Yorker.  Profile of Mikhail Khodorovsky.

Alexandra Tolstoy interview: “Sergei must have planned his escape.  He didn’t tell me so I didn’t have to lie about it” by Kim Wilsher for The Guardian.  (Hat tip to O).

Half of Russia’s Richest People Are Planning to Cash Out by Alexander Sazanov for Bloomberg News.


China abandons one-child policy

November 11, 2015


One of the most momentous events in modern history was China’s adoption of the “one-child” policy in 1980.

figure1Now the Chinese government has done something almost equally momentous.  It has adopted a “two-child” policy.  Henceforth all Chinese couples will be allowed to have two children.

The one-child policy limited China’s population growth and, arguably, eliminated the threat of famine and made possible China’s current relative prosperity.

But the Chinese paid a price for this, and not just in brutal violations of human dignity, including forced abortions.

chinapopulationpyramid70China has a population imbalance, because Chinese couples traditionally prefer boys to girls.  This means there are millions of eligible Chinese men who will never find a spouse.

China faces an age imbalance, with an increasing elderly population and a shrinking working-age population.

And China faces a geo-political imbalance.  The population of India, China’s chief rival in Asia, will exceed China’s if present trends continue.  This affects the balance of power.  Bertrand Russell wrote somewhere that if there ever is to be peace among nations, they will have to agree on limitations of population as well as limits on arms.

demographic_transition_detailedMy hope for the Chinese, and for other peoples, is that they go through a demographic transition without government dictating to couples how many children they mahy have.

A demographic transition requires (1) a material standard of living sufficient that couples don’t think they have to have as many children as possible to be assured of survival in old age, and (2) women assured the freedom and knowledge they need to decide how many children they are to have.


Switzerland, the other gun culture

October 29, 2015

Swiss citizens, as members of a well-regulated militia, have the right to keep and bear arms.

And, unlike us Americans, they manage not to kill each other in large numbers.

The passing scene: Links & comments 10/24/2015

October 24, 2015

Anxious Hours in Pivotland: Where’s My Sailthrough? by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Neither South Korea nor Australia support the U.S.-Japanese opposition to Chinese efforts to claim islands in the South China Sea.  The Chinese Navy meanwhile made a point about freedom of the seas by sailing through Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Or at least greatly strengthened her bid for the Democratic nomination.  The Benghazi hearings made Republicans look like fools and showed Clinton as someone who is a match for them.

Are Canadian progressives showing Americans the way? by Miles Corak for Economics for public policy (via Economist’s View)

America’s Civilian Killings Are No Accident by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

The bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, had many precedents.

What Is life? by Matthew Francis for Mosaic.  (via Barry Ritholtz)

If humans encountered extraterrestrial life, would we know it when we saw it?


Why U.S. business kowtows to China

October 21, 2015

In the USA, government serves the needs of business.  In China, business serves the strategic aims of government.

No foreign corporation is allowed to operate in China without conceding something of long-term benefit to China.  That can be manufacturing operations in China, transfer of technological knowledge or a Chinese stake in the company’s ownership.  It goes without saying that the CEOs do not criticize Chinese foreign policy.

Cartoon by Xu Jun for EEO

Cartoon by Xu Jun for Economic Observer

Barry C. Lynn, writing in the November issue of Harper’s, said that some American corporate executives have even submitted to Communist-style self-criticism sessions, in which they volunteer confessions of misdeeds without being accused.

As China becomes more powerful, and the United States becomes more dependent on the Chinese for finance and for critical manufactured items, the leverage of Beijing over the United States becomes greater.  Lynn explained the reasons:

First is the fact that so many U.S. companies now depend on China for the products they sell.  For Walmart, it’s barbecue grills and shoes.  For Apple, it’s assembly work.  For Pfizer, it’s chemicals.

And while foreign companies have talked a lot about reducing their reliance on China, they nevertheless keep upping the ante, year after year.  Just last April, General Motors announced plans to pour another $16 billion into China.   In September, Dell pledged a whopping $125 billion over the next five years, with an ominous promise to “closely integrate Dell China strategies with [Chinese] national policies.”

A second reason corporations are so willing to accede to Chinese diktats is the allure of Chinese markets.  For General Motors, China already accounts for roughly a third of the cars it sells.  For Qualcomm, China accounts for roughly half its business.  For Rio Tinto, China accounts for considerably more than half its output of iron ore.

Chinese sales of Apple’s iPhones topped U.S. sales in 2015 — and when global markets were tanking in late August, Tim Cook helped arrest a rout in the company’s stock by publicly assuring investors that the Cupertino giant had “continued to experience strong growth for our business in China through July and August.”

Source: Harper’s Magazine.

Chinese investors own the AMC Theater chain of movie theaters in the United States, and also are major investors in American-made movies.  China also is the world’s largest market for Hollywood movies.

The result: Chinese are never the foreign villains in American movies—Russians, Arabs, Colombians, North Koreans, anybody but Chinese.


Why is the TPP still a secret?

October 19, 2015

Tom the Dancing BugWhy is the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement still a secret, even though the negotiations are complete?

Why do we the people still depend on WikiLeaks for information on what’s in the agreement?

If opponents of TPP have the wrong idea about what’s in the agreement, why don’t President Obama and the heads of the other 11 governments that negotiated the TPP reveal what’s in it?

The logical answer is that they want to give the public as brief a window of opportunity as possible to examine and discuss the agreement in order to ram it through without adequate public discussion.

President Obama has said that the TPP enables the United States to write the rules of international trade rather than some other country such as China.  What it does is allow international corporations based in the United sttes to write the rules, which is something else.

The American people do not benefit from an agreement that enables American corporations to invest in setting up manufacturing operations in foreign countries, and then importing the products back into the USA.

The Chinese people benefit from being left out of the agreement, because that leaves their government free to pursue the Chinese national interest.


The Predators Behind the TPP by Karel van Wolferen for The Unz Review.   A good analysis by a distinguished Dutch scholar and journalist.

On the TPP: “We Are Writing the Rules,” says Obama.  Who’s “We?” by Jim Hightower for Buzzflash.

The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

China overtakes US as world’s biggest economy

October 9, 2015

panda eagleThe World Bank has noted that China has quietly overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy.

Washington is responding to this in exactly the wrong way—by trying to checkmate China’s power rather than rebuilding the sources of American power.

China already led the United States in a number of important respects.  According to the CIA World Factbook, it exceeds the United States in industrial output, in agricultural output and in electricity production.

While China had a $260 billion trade surplus in 2013, the USA has a $698 billion trade deficit.

It is true that while the Chinese nation is rich, the Chinese people are still poor compared to Americans—not just in the amount of stuff they own, but in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy and access to public water and sewerage systems.

Inequality and concentration of wealth are just as great in China as they are in the United States.  China is the world’s largest polluter overall, although the USA is the largest on a per-capita basis.  Interestingly China has a lower birth rate and population growth rate than the USA.

But life has been getting better on average for the average Chinese person, while the earning power of the average American has been slipping behind.

The United States has the world’s largest and most expensive military, but the Chinese may be a match for the USA in their own backyard—the South China Sea.

Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist for the World Bank and former chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, argued in a recent article that the USA still has great residual strength, but American leaders are letting it slip away by concentrating on military dominance and corporate profits at the expense of everything else.

In a full-fledged Cold War between the USA and China, China is in an economic position to do the USA great damage.  China could stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, for example.

It’s not in the interest of China to wage economic war against the United States.  Both sides would suffer.  American leaders should not push China into a corner and put its leaders in a position in which they think they have no choice.   Instead American leaders should concentrate in reducing US economic vulnerability.

China does have big problems—inequality, pollution, corruption, unrest among workers and among minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet and elsewhere.

Maybe these problems will be fatal, although I doubt it.  But these are not issues the United States can affect one way or the other, or should try to affect.

And if China should start to collapse, history has many examples of declining empires that try to restore internal unity by going to war.  This is not something we Americans should hope for.  Our problems originate at home, not in China.


China Has Overtaken the United States as the World’s Largest Economy by Joseph Stiglitz for Vanity Fair.

China vs. United States from the CIA World Factbook.

G-Zero: US-China Relations in the Age of Xi by Peter Lee for China Matters.


What’s new (at least to me) about the TPP

October 8, 2015

Click to enlarge.

The Obama administration has moved very shrewdly to deflect some of the main criticisms of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

  1.  Fast Track is not as fast as I previously thought It is true that once the TPP is submitted to Congress, there will be only 90 days to debate and decide.  But there will be a longer preliminary phase in which to study and discuss the proposed agreement.  I don’t know whether this was true all along and I (along with many others) didn’t realize it, or whether this is something new.  But in any case, the TPP is not necessarily going to be rushed through Congress as quickly as I had previously thought.
  2.   Evidently there will be amendments to address some of the main criticismsFor example, tobacco companies will not be able to use the Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism to protest restrictions on cigarette advertising.

But here is the Cato Institute’s timetable for making the agreement public.

Even with the deal “concluded,” the president cannot sign the agreement until 90 days after he officially announces his intention to do so. During that period, there will be intensive consultations between the administration and Congress over the details; the legal text of the agreement will be made available to the public on the internet; the USTR advisory committees will submit their assessments of the deal to Congress; and there will be ample opportunity for informed, robust domestic debate about the deal’s pros and cons.

After the 90-day consultation period, the president can return to the TPP partners with input from Congress, which may or may not warrant modifications to the deal to improve its chances of ratification.

Once the deal is signed, the administration then has a maximum of 60 days to prepare a list of all U.S. laws that will need to be changed on account of TPP; the U.S. International Trade Commission will have a maximum of 105 days to do an analysis of the likely impact of the TPP on the U.S. economy; the congressional trade committees will perform mock markups of the implementing legislation; and, then, the final TPP implementing legislation will be introduced in both chambers.

After the legislation is introduced, the House will have 60 days and the Senate will have 30 days to hold votes. These requirements stem from the Trade Promotion Authority legislation enacted over the summer. If the TPP is going to be ratified by this Congress under this president, the timelines suggest that there isn’t much room for delay.

Source: Cato @ Liberty

Without Fast Track, there would be no deadline at all for voting the TPP up or down, there would be no restriction on amendments, and 60 votes instead of a 51-vote majority would be required for the TPP to clear the Senate.


Bad news: 12 nations’ negotiators agree on TPP

October 5, 2015

TPP_map-31Negotiators for 12 Pacific Rim nations—the USA, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Peru and Chile—have finalized a Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

Now it remains to be seen if the legislative bodies of these nations will ratify the agreement.  President Obama has persuaded Congress to adopt a fast-track procedure for the decision-making process, which means that it will have three months from the time the lengthy and  complicated text is submitted to vote it up or down.

My understanding is that if only two nations ratify the agreement—say, the USA and Vietnam—it will be binding on those two.  Even if legislative bodies of major nations such as Japan, Canada or Australia reject the TPP, it won’t matter to Americans if the U.S. Congress approves it.

I don’t know the specifics of what’s been agreed to, but the leaked preliminary versions of the agreement show that it is a corporate wish list to be given the force of international law.  The TPP undermines national sovereignty and overrides democracy.


TPP Finalized by David Nakamura for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack)

Trans-Pacific trade deal faces test in US Congress by Agence France Presse.

Sanders Condemns ‘Disastrous’ TPP as Ministers Seal Deal for Corporate Elite by Lauren McCauley for Common Dreams.

Can Donald Trump Sink the TPP? by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Here’s Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Is Just Plain Wrong by Robert Reich.

ISDS: the worst part of the TPP

October 2, 2015

TPP-investor-state-dispute-settlement-what-now-524-Sm-color-72-dpi-Source: What Now Cartoons.

Negotiations for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are essentially negotiations concerning business interests.  They reportedly are running into trouble on disagreements about dairy and auto parts imports and drug patents.

But from the standpoint of ordinary citizens, the most odious part of the TPP — and its sister proposals, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement (aka TAFTA) and the Trade in Services Agreement — are the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions that allow an un-elected tribunal to penalize governments for enacting laws to protect the health and welfare of their citizens, if such laws unfairly deprive foreign corporations of expected profits.

Not compensation for actual losses, but compensation for hypothetical losses.

A letter signed by more than 100 legal scholars and former judges sums up the problem.

ISDS grants foreign corporations a special legal privilege, the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly cause a loss of profit for the corporation. 

Essentially, corporations use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments.  These challenges are not heard in a normal court but instead before a tribunal of private lawyers.


More glimpses of Asia – September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

Links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty

Japan’s Yakuza: Inside the syndicate

Malaysia arrests eight in connection with Bangkok shrine bombing

Sumatran rhinos likely to become extinct, conservationists warn

Secret Missionaries and Smuggled Bibles: China’s Religious Boom

25 Of The Most Dangerous And Unusual Journeys To School In The World  [24 in Asia -M]

We’re All Mispronouncing Mount Everest’s Name  [Interesting trivia! Of course those of us who have lived/visited Nepal or Tibet, call it Sagarmatha or Chomolungma -M]


Glimpses of Asia – September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

These are links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.



The Palaces of Memory by Stuart Freedman, review of a coffee table book of photographs of worker-owned coffee houses in India, by Peter Nitsch for The Cutting Edge of Creativity.


daily_picdump_1919_640_07 (more…)

An ‘economic hit man’ tells his story

September 22, 2015

I read CONFESSIONS OF AN ECONOMIC HIT MAN by John Perkins on the recommendation of a fellow blogger known as Holden.

Perkins wrote this memoir in 2004 about his work as an international economics consultant in the 1970s.  He said his job was to intentionally make bogus projections of economic growth for Third World countries such as Indonesia, Ecuador and Iran.

The idea was to encourage developing countries to borrow heavily to finance economic development projects using U.S.-based contractors.  The countries’ leaders were promised that these projects would bring about rapid economic growth, and make their countries prosperous and modern.

14273_johnperkins_nWhen the countries became unable to finance their debt, this created opportunities for American and international companies to buy up their national assets at bargain prices.

And even when the economic development plans worked, they only benefited tiny elites while leaving the majority of the people just as badly off or even worse off.

To stay in power, the elite accepted U.S. military aid in return for supporting U.S. foreign policy or hosting U.S. military bases or both.

Perkins said he was in on U.S. negotiations with Saudi Arabia following the 1973 oil embargo, which led to the U.S.-Saudi alliance which endures to this day.

The Saudi royal family agreed to manipulate oil production in order to protect the U.S. economy from big fluctuations in world oil prices.  The Saudis further agreed to invest their revenues in U.S. Treasury bonds

In return, the U.S. Treasury Department invested the income from those bonds in infrastructure projects, all carried out by U.S. contractors, to give Saudi Arabia the appearance of being a modern country.  The U.S. Defense Department provided a military shield for this weak, thinly-populated country against enemies such as Iraq and Iran.

The problem, as I see it, is that it has made the United States hostage to Saudi ambitions to dominate the Middle East.


Why the United States needs Saudi Arabia

September 8, 2015


This chart, which I found on Ukraine’s Euromaiden Press web site, indicates how much Russia is suffering from the world decline in oil prices.

But why are oil prices falling?  It is because Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is committed to pumping oil in large volume instead of shutting back in order to prop up the price.

What gives the Saudis so much leverage is that their production costs are low, and they can make a profit at a lower price than can Russians, Venezuelans or others.

That’s why the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, and why President Obama recently reassured King Salman that the U.S. will continue its cold war against Iran despite the agreement with Iran over sanctions and nuclear facilities inspections.

My question is whether it is in the U.S. interest to wage cold war against either Iran or Russia.  There is no moral issue here.  The Iranian and Russian regimes are bad enough, but everything bad you can truthfully say about them goes double or triple or maybe 10 times for Saudi Arabia.

Will Russia intervene militarily in the Mideast?

September 3, 2015

I read a couple of interesting posts during the past couple of days about Russia increasing its political and maybe its military presence in the Middle East.

I don’t know what to make of them, and I have no way of knowing what is on President Vladimir Putin’s mind.


Syria’s al Assad and wife in Moscow

I do know that, if I were in Putin’s place, with the USA and its NATO allies stirring up trouble in nations bordering mine, I would look for ways to stir up trouble for the USA and NATO.

If I were Putin, I would see ISIS as a threat, and look join forces with Syria, Iran and other anti-ISIS forces.

A pro-Russian, pro-Putin blogger who calls himself the Saker says that Putin has neither the desire nor the power to project Russian power any great distance from what the Russians call their “near abroad.”

The Saker pointed to the Russian Federation’s military oath, which is to defend the Fatherland.  It says nothing about invading foreign countries.

But the American military oath is to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.  It also says nothing about invading foreign countries, and this hasn’t proved a limitation.  As the Saker remarked, U.S. foreign policy resembles the old Soviet “international duty” to intervene globally wherever necessary to defend supporters and defeat enemies.


Anchor babies, birth tourism and China

August 27, 2015

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the States wherein they reside.
              ==14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Yes, it’s true, as Donald Trump said, that there is such a thing as “anchor babies” or, to use a more polite term, “birth tourism,” and it also is true, as Jeb Bush said, that most come from China and other Asian countries, not Mexico.

anchorbabies-300x201Here’s how it works.  Chinese travel agencies arrange, for a fee, for Chinese couples to legally visit the United States and for the mother to give birth in a U.S. hospital.  Under the 14th Amendment, those children are U.S. citizens.  Under current U.S. law, those children, when they reach the age of 21, may apply for green cards for their parents to immigrate to the United States and eventually become U.S. citizens.

An unauthorized immigrant couple could do the same thing, but I don’t have any information on whether any or how many actually do.  The possibility exists even if they didn’t originally intend to have the “anchor baby”.

These practices may not be a serious practical problem, at least not as yet, but they don’t sit well with me.  They are a distortion of the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment and of U.S. immigration law.

The Fourteenth Amendment was enacted in 1868 so as to guarantee citizenship rights for newly-freed slaves and to reverse the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which held that African-Americans had no rights under the Constitution.  The question of children of authorized immigrants did not arise, because the United States had no restrictions on immigration until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Wong Kim Ark, who was born around 1871 to Chinese parents legally in the United States, was a U.S. citizen and could not be barred from re-entering the United States after a trip abroad.

One solution would be to repeal or amend the Fourteenth Amendment.  This would be a difficult thing to do and also potentially dangerous unless the new amendment is worded very carefully.  I wouldn’t want to give the federal government the power to deprive me and those I care about of our citizenship.

It might be possible to pass a law or file a lawsuit to clarify the meaning of “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.”  The original Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to Indian tribes or to the children of foreign diplomats because they were not subject to U.S. law.  You could make an argument that unauthorized immigrants are not subject to the jurisdiction of U.S. law, either.

This of course would not apply to Chinese and other “birth tourism” for legally authorized visitors to the United States.

Another possible approach would be to change U.S. immigration law as it applies to family reunification.  My understanding is that it was intended to apply to relatives of U.S. citizens who were stranded in refugee camps, not everyday citizens of foreign countries who think they can do better in the USA.   It would be a shame to stop this, but it is a practical way of eliminating “anchor babies” and “birth tourism”.


The passing scene – August 24, 2015

August 24, 2015

White supremacist gathering underscores Russia’s nationalist trend by Masur Mirovalev for the Los Angeles Times.  Hat tip to Oidin.

Racism, xenophobia and extreme nationalism are on the rise among ethnic Russians, who are 81 percent of the population of the Russian Federation.  The victims are Russia’s ethnic minorities, such as the Tatars, and its immigrants, who are mainly from the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Vladimir Putin has cracked down on hate killings while trying to harness Russian nationalism to support his struggle with NATO nations over Ukraine.  He aligns himself with the Russian Orthodox Church, Cossack paramilitaries and the extreme right-wing parties.

Putin Cracks Down on Christians in Crimea by Geraldine Fagan for Newsweek.

Russian authorities in Crimea are building up the Russian Orthodox Church while persecuting Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Eastern Rite Catholics.

A suspiciously “European” solution by Tom Sullivan for Hullabaloo.

The French National Front and Donald Trump by Paul Gottfried for the Unz Review.

Anti-foreign and anti-immigrant sentiment are on the rise throughout Europe as well as the USA.


A good movie’s window into Iranian life

August 17, 2015

The 2011 Iranian movie “A Separation” is one of the best movies I ever saw.   It is good in itself, and a good window into life in Iran.

There are at least two kinds of separation depicted in the movie.  One is between husbands and wives.  Another is between the educated middle class and the uneducated lower class.

It begins with a conflict between a educated woman, who wants to leave Iran, and a husband, who is unwilling to leave his sick father.  The wife separates from the husband, and he hires an uneducated woman to look after his father while he is away at work.

The husband comes home one day and finds his father alone and unattended.  The woman comes back, he flies into a rage, something happens outside camera range and she falls and has a miscarriage.  It then is revealed that the woman got a job without the knowledge of her strict Muslim husband, who disapproves of women working outside the home.

Iran is a right-to-life country and an unborn life has the same value as anyone else’s.  The educated woman’s husband is charged with murder.   Two mysteries then need to be cleared up – what really happened off-camera to cause the miscarriage, and why the educated woman left her place of work.

One of the bonuses of watching the movie was the glimpse I had into everyday life in a country I never expect to visit.

In one scene, the elderly father falls in the bathtub, and his caregiver fears it would be a sin for her to see the naked body of a man not her husband.   She picks up a phone and calls a hot line for advice.  An expert on Muslim law tells her that her duty is to help the old man.


Freight train service connects China to Europe

August 17, 2015


Some weeks ago a train carrying 80 containers, about as much as a medium-sized container ship, arrived in the Netherlands from China, via Russia, Belarus and Poland.

It reportedly took 22 days.  A container ship would have taken a month for a one-way trip.   The Chinese hope to make the freight service one month for a round trip.

What this signifies is the increasing economic integration of China, Russia and central Asia, the region of the world that is least vulnerable to American air and sea power.

This development is a good thing for the Russian and Chinese people.  It promises greater prosperity with a lesser energy footprint.

It may or may not be a good thing for Russia’s and China’s mainly Muslim subject peoples—the Tatars, Chechens and other minorities in Russia, the Uighurs in China and the subjects of the Russian-backed dictatorships in central Asia.   Ethnic minorities will always be second-class citizens, or worse, within the framework of Chinese and Russian chauvinism.


Train Through Russia Will Connect Europe and Asia by the Fritzmorgen blog translated for the Southfront blog.

Pro-TPP companies, groups bankroll Clinton

August 7, 2015

CLQEBW4XAAAMhhvSource: LittleSis.

Hillary Clinton in her book, Hard Choices, endorsed the Trans Pacific Partnership.  If she makes any statements appearing to back off from that position, I’d read them like a lawyer looking for loopholes.

She’s been paid more than $2.5 million—actually, more than $2.7 million—in speaking fees by companies and organizations that lobby in favor of the TPP.

Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, two other Democratic candidates for President, are opposed to the TPP, as are Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump.

Republicans Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Perry support the TPP.

I think the TPP is a terrible idea because, based on information now available, it appears to lock in a corporate wish-list as international law.  International corporations, but no other entities, would have the right to appeal to a special tribunal against laws they deem unfair, and the tribunal would have authority to fine governments for allegedly unfair laws.

At the very least Congress should have time to discuss and debate it fully rather than having it rushed through on fast track.


Groups lobbying on trade paid Hillary Clinton $2.5 million in speaking fees by Julianna Goldman for CBS News.

TPP Agreement: Where Do 2016 Presidential Candidates Stand on the Trans Pacific Partnership? by Howard Koplowitz for International Business Times.

Donald Trump slams Pacific free trade deal by CNN Money.  Trump appears to be right for wrong reasons.  Like some TPP supporters, he talks as if the TPP is mainly about free trade.


What if Russia breaks up?

August 7, 2015


The Economist had an article speculating on the possibility of the breakup of the Russian Federation.  This doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m no expert.

The old Soviet Union was a multi-national empire which was united, in theory, by Communist ideology which, in theory, treated all persons and all cultures equally.

The present-day Russian Federation is united mainly by Russian nationalism, based on the Russian language and Russian Orthodox Church.

This may solidify the loyalty of Russians, who are the federation’s largest ethnic group, but not necessarily Chechens, Tatars and other non-Russian peoples, who are treated as second-class citizens by Russian-speakers.

The Russian government had to fight a bloody war to keep Chechnya from seceding and the potential exists for other conflicts.

Many of the non-Russian nationalities have higher birth rates than the Russians.

What would happen if Russia did break up?  The United States, China and maybe Germany, Turkey, Iran and Japan would probably try to draw the fragments into their sphere of influence—a possible source of conflict and war.

The worst case would be if Russia descended into chaos and anarchy, and some rogue government or movement got control of Russian nuclear missiles.

I don’t think The Economist is seriously predicting this.  But who knows what might happen?


What if Russia breaks up? The peril beyond Putin by The Economist.


Why are Americans leaving the work force?

August 3, 2015


Another example of American exceptionalism.

A report by CNN Money indicates that, since the year 2000, the American labor force participation rate—the proportion of working-age Americans with jobs or looking for work—has fallen, while the rate has been increasing in other industrial countries.

I don’t think CNN’s theory—that other countries make it easier for women to work—is the whole story.

Hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, have been falling in the USA since the late 1970s.  For a long time Americans maintained their material standard of living by working longer hours, sending more families into the work force and borrowing money.

Now this has collapsed.   The good jobs are no longer available.  In many cases it makes more sense to cut back on spending than to get a job where low wages are offset by the costs of transportation, child care and the like.

I think—although I don’t claim to be able to prove—that the other countries on the CNN chart are following the same path as the United States, but are not so far along.

One straw in the wind is the increasing number of Europeans who are working “extreme” working hours—50 hours a week or more.   This is pretty much the trend in the USA during the 1990s.

I think the best explanation for what is going on is the Marxist one.   In all the rich countries, there is an increasing flow of income to holders of financial assets and to people in executive positions and a decreasing flow to the middle class, working people and the poor.


Why America’s workforce is shrinking and Europe’s isn’t by CNN Money.

Extreme working hours have radically increased in many western European countries since the start of the 1990s by Anna S. Burger of the London School of Economics.

Birth rates and the global balance of power

July 31, 2015
A forecast and not a fact

A forecast and a possibility but not a certainty


Also a possibility but not a certainty

It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that birth rates are falling worldwide.  If things continue as they are, world population growth will level off by the end of the century.

But the fact that they are not falling at the same rate in every country changes the world balance of power, as Indians outnumber Chinese and Africans outnumber Europeans.

Bertrand Russell once wrote that if there is to be peace in the world, nations will have to negotiate limits on their populations as well as limits on their armaments.

I don’t see how that would be feasible without nations also agreeing to totalitarian Chinese-style birth regulations.  The alternative is to wait for the “demographic transition” to click in.  Help people achieve a better life, provide women with reproductive rights and knowledge and wait for population to level off as it is doing in the developed world.


India set to become world’s most populous nation by 2022 – UN by Emma Batha for Reuters.


The top chart was published by the BBC; the second chart by The Economist.



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