Archive for the ‘International’ Category

Ukraine war collateral damage and food prices

April 28, 2022

I’m stocking up on nonperishable food and other supplies in order to be prepared for scarcity this fall.

Both the fighting war and the sanctions war over Ukraine are disrupting world food supplies, and I think it can only get worse. Ukraine and Russia are important exporters of food, and also of diesel fuel, which is important in making fertilizer.

Food prices are already going up. Reasons for this include drought and floods in food-producing regions, disruption of supply chains due to the coronavirus pandemic and the power of monopoly agribusiness.

What this means is that there is no buffer to escape the disruption caused by war.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have little to lose by being prepared. It is better to do too much than to learn the hard way I’ve done too little.

I also expect the war’s collateral damage to affect food prices, but there’s little I can do personally about that.

Russians will be affected by rising food and fuel prices, but both the USA and Russia have enough reserves and resources to avoid actual starvation.  The worst impact will be on poor small nations that depend in food imports. 

The price of wheat on world markets

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Russia soon will be able to cut off Europe’s gas

April 14, 2022

Why is President Biden widening the economic war against Russia to include China? Why is he threatening to impose economic sanctions on countries who refuse to sanction Russia? Why is he raising the. stakes?

It may be because the United States is in a struggle for world power against not only Russia, but China, and that time is not on the side of the USA.

China’s Belt and Roads Initiative, also known as the New Silk Roads, is intended to bind together Russia, Iran and other nations in the interior of Eurasia by means of roads, railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

The result, if the Chinese can bring it off, would be a new entity that would be invulnerable to U.S. sea and power and that would be detached from the dollar-based world economy.

But that entity does not exist yet.  Specifically, there is a lack of sufficient gas pipelines to enable Russia to switch over the gas it is now selling to Europe and sell it to China instead.

Source: Seeking Alpha. (2020)

Source: S&P Global Commodity Insights (2019) Click to enlarge.

Source: Wood Mackenzie (2019) Click to enlarge.

Russia is rushing to build new pipelines that will connect its western and eastern Siberian gas fields and free it from the need to sell to European markets.   They’re scheduled to be completed in a few years, and then Russia will be in a position to cut off gas supplies to Europe.  

Pepe Escobar noted:

An absolutely key issue for Russia is how to make the transition to China as its key gas customer. It’s all about the Power of Siberia 2, a new 2600-km pipeline originating in the Russian Bovanenkovo and Kharasavey gas fields in Yamal, in northwest Siberia – which will reach full capacity only in 2024. And, first, the interconnector through Mongolia must be built – “we need 3 years to build this pipeline” – so everything will be in place only around 2025.

On the Yamal pipeline, “most of the gas goes to Asia. If the Europeans don’t buy anymore we can redirect.” And then there’s the Arctic LNG 2 project – which is even larger than Yamal: “the first phase should be finished soon, it’s 80 percent ready.” An extra problem may be posed by the Russian “Unfriendlies” in Asia: Japan and South Korea. LNG infrastructure produced in Russia still depends on foreign technologies.

It makes no economic sense for European nations, including Ukraine, to cut themselves off from Russian gas.  The U.S. plan is to substitute liquified natural gas (LNG) from the USA.  Ultimately the best solution would be to substitute renewable energy for gas heating.  But the physical infrastructure to do these things is not in place.

In fact, the ongoing mutually destructive economic warfare makes no sense for anyone, especially for the USA.  We the American people get no benefit from economic warfare against other nations.  We need to be rebuilding our own economy and preparing for the coming bad years.

LINKS

Sit back and watch Europe commit suicide by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle.

Gazprom Is Setting Up for Eurasian Gas Market Dominance by Zoltan Ban for Seeking Alpha (2020).

Russia is building a massive 50 billion cubic meter gas pipeline to China by Ameya Paleja for Interesting Engineering.

Russia said it’s pushing ahead with building a massive natural-gas pipeline to China by Grace Dean for Business Insider.

Russia, China agree on 30-year gas deal via new pipeline, to settle in euros, by Chen Aixhu for Reuters.

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The Jerusalema dance challenge

January 30, 2022

Watching this cheered me up.

Jerusalema is a gospel-influenced song in the Zulu language produced by South African producer master KG and performed by the vocalist Nomcebo in 2019.

In February, 2020, Frndómenos do Semla, a dance group in Angola, recorded themselves dancing to the song while eating and not dropping their plates.

Since then the Jerusalema dance has gone viral.  People all over the world are doing it.  (But I only learned of it day before yesterday.)

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More about upheaval in Kazakhstan

January 9, 2022

I don’t claim to understand what’s going on in Kazakhstan, but I think the rebellion there is going to be important for the world, not just for the unfortunate people who live there.

I have a feeling it is a turning point, like the 2014 crisis in Ukraine.

First, Kazakhstan is important to Russia. About 3.5 million Kazakhstan’s nearly 19 million population are ethnic Russians and a large fraction are Russian citizens. If Kazakhstan collapses, Russia would be flooded with refugees—not all of them Russian.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is the heart of Russia’s space program. It is Russia’s main source of uranium. Russia conducts its anti-ballistic missile testing in Kazakhstan. Russia depends on Kazakhstan for uranium for its nuclear weapons and nuclear energy programs.

Kazakhstan is important to China, too.  As the largest Central Asian nation in area, it is a important crossing point for roads, railroads and oil and gas pipelines in China’s Belt and Roads (aka New Silk Roads) initiative.

I don’t know what’s behind the revolt. There are many understandable and justifiable reasons why the Kazakh people might rebel. But Russian military and political leaders perceive it as an act of what they call hybrid warfare.

In their eyes, the script is this.  Ordinary citizens are encouraged to gather to protest real injustices, often with the advice and funding of the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.  Then some violent clash takes place, or mysterious snipers start shooting. The protests become an armed uprising, supported by the U.S. and other foreign governments.

I don’t know whether these suspicions are justified.  Certainly there are many reasons why Kazakh people would want to revolt against their corrupt oligarchy.  I do say Russian suspicions are understandable.

President Vladimir Putin has already said he will not tolerate Ukraine becoming a base for NATO troops, from which they could attack Russia. Presumably that also goes for Kazakhstan.

I am not saying that Putin, backed into a corner, would start a nuclear war, or even risk one.  I do say that Russia is the only nation with a large enough nuclear arsenal to wipe out the USA, and I do not want to put Putin’s restraint to a test.

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Upheaval in Kazakhstan: Links 1/6/2022

January 6, 2022

Updated 1/8/2022.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Oriental Review.

People in Kazakhstan are in revolt against their authoritarian government and the rich oligarchy it supports.

The revolt was sparked by an increase in fuel prices—surprising, since Kazakhstan is a major producer of natural gas. The CSTO alliance, the Russian-backed equivalent to NATO, has intervened.

The Russian and Kazakhstan governments claim the revolt was instigated by outsiders, and there are reports by U.S. think tanks advocating just such a strategy to hurt Russia.

Which is it?  A revolt against a tyrant, or an example of U.S. meddling?  Maybe both.  You have to read writers of differing views to get a complete picture, and you may not have it even then.

LINKS

Russian troops arrive in crisis-hit Kazakhstan by David Child, Anealia Safdar and Merisha Gadzo for Al Jazeera.

Kazakhstan: Dozens killed as government unleashes military crackdown by the staff of Eurasianet.

Steppe on fire: Kazakhstan’s color revolution by Pepe Escobar for the Strategic Culture Foundation.

Kazakhstan explainer: Who’s in, who’s out as Tokayev tries to take back control by Joanna Lillis for Eurasianet.

CSTO agrees to intervene in Kazakhstan unrest by Joshua Kucera for Eurasianet

The U.S.-Directed Rebellion in Kazakhstan May Strengthen Russia by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

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Globalist Germany and nationalist France?

December 20, 2021

German Chancellor Olaf Scoltz and French President Emmanuel Macron

Diana Johnstone, a long-time independent reporter of European politics, wrote an interesting article about the differences between Germany and France in economic, environmental and military police.

Germany is confident and expansive.  France is defensive and fearful of national decline.  Or so she says.

Germany is committed to green energy, feminism, globalization and an anti-Russian “rules-based international order.”  France is committed to nuclear energy and a nationalistic industrial policy, and is reluctant to join in a new Cold War against Russia.

Franco-German unity has been the key to European unity since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner of the European Union, in 1952.   If they can’t stay unified, the EU may not have much of a future.

Germany’s new government is, as she puts it, a “traffic light” coalition.  Red represents the Social Democrats, yellow (or gold) represents the pro-business Free Democrats and green represents the Green Party.

A new Ministry of Economic and Climate will be in charge of reducing CO2 emissions.  Every governmental measure will have to pass a climate check.  

Germany today is heavily dependent on coal as a result of phasing out nuclear energy, and it has delayed certification of the new gas pipeline from Russia.  Itt has a goal of generating 80 percent of Germany’s electricity from renewable energy, mainly wind farms, by 2030, sooner than before.

One of the new government’s priorities is to develop an electric car industry for the export market, both inside and outside the EU.  Germany’s expectation is that all EU countries will be open to importing the new electric cars without favoring their own industry.   The European Commission is considering rules that would require all cars sold in Europe after 2035 to be carbon neutral.

France’s Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is being pulled to the right, Johnstone wrote.  There is a fear that France is losing its national character and also its position in the world.  France is not going to shut down its network of nuclear-powered electric power plants any time soon.

The French government wants to build up French manufacturing industry.  This might bring it into conflict with EU rules and regulations, which bans government policies to favor domestic industry, except in the military sphere.

There has a strong right-wing, anti-immigrant movement in France, led by Marine Le Pen.  But now there’s an even more extreme movement, led by a journalist named Eric Zemmour.  His party is called the Reconquest Party; the idea is to reconquer France for the French.

The new German government wants strong ties with the United States, which, according to Johnstone, means dropping objections to storing nuclear weapons on German soil.  France hasn’t openly opposed NATO, but is less enthusiastic about the alliance than Germany is.

Macron has floated the idea of an independent European military force, independent of the United States, but hasn’t gotten anywhere with the Germans and other NATO allies.  Johnstone said he wouldn’t like Ukraine in NATO, because it would expand German influence and its farm exports would compete with French farmers.

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The real Great Game

September 27, 2021

THE GREAT GAME: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia, by Peter Hopkirk (1990)

The Great Game was the 19th century cold war between the British Empire and Russian Empire for control of Central Asia.  To generals and statesmen in London and St. Petersburg, it must have seemed like a global game of chess.

Peter Hopkirk, in his book, The Great Game, told the story mainly from the point of view of the chess pieces —agents of empire, British and Russian, venturing alone, sometimes undercover, into territory where their governments could not protect them.

I read this book as a follow-up to reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, which was about a young boy being groomed to be a player in the Great Game.  Hopkirk referred to Kim in his book; he said the Mahbub Ali, Hurree Babu and Colonel Creighton characters were based on specific individuals.

Hopkirk gave a clear explanation of the geopolitical background, but his book also can be enjoyed as a series of real-life action-adventure stories.  The careers of some of the British political officers read like fiction.

While still in their twenties, they mastered local languages and customs well enough to disguise themselves as natives and penetrate unknown territory.  They were explorers, map-makers, spies, diplomats and sometimes commanders of troops in the field.

They command admiration—regardless of whether you think the game of empire was worth playing.

Their field of operation was mainly in what later became the Soviet Central Asian republics, but also included the Caucacus, Tibet and Xinjiang.  The Central Asian region historically has been a center of civilization, but in the 19th century, it had been overrun by warlords, bandits and slave traders. Dealing with them was no job for the timid or the trusting.

One political officer, Eldred Pottinger (not an action-hero name!), at the age of 26, was operating undercover in Herat in 1835. A Persian army with Russian advisers attacked and beseiged the city, and Pottinger offered his services to the local ruler.

He soon established himself as an effective and tireless leader. At one point, the besiegers broke through and the Herat commanders panicked, but Pottinger rallied them and drove back the attackers. In negotiations that followed, one of the Persian-Russian demands was that the Herat send Pottinger home.

This was only one of his exploits.  He died at age 32 of a fever.

Hopkirk focused mainly on British agents.  He did justice to Russian agents.  He barely mentioned the “pundits,” native Indian agents, because permanent records were not kept on them.

The pundits were regarded as more expendable than the white agents, but many of them, like Kipling’s fictional Mahbub Ali and Hurree Babu, faithfully served an empire treated them unequally.

In general, there was a high level of competence and realism on both sides. The one big exception was the occupation of Afghanistan in 1839, which replaced its ruler, Dost Mohammed, with a more compliant ruler. General Elphinstone, the commander, allowed his troops to outrage local sensibilities by drinking alcohol and seducing local women, but refused to take reasonable measures for security. The upshot was an evacuation and retreat, in which literally all but one of the 16,000 retreating troops were massacred.

What followed was 20 years of back and forth struggle for control of Afghanistan, which ended with the British inviting Dost Mohammed back.

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Woke-ness as a U.S. soft power weapon

September 24, 2021

Enemies of the woke?

The economist Tyler Cowen says the U.S. government should use the “woke” movement as an instrument of U.S. soft power.

Although Cowen himself deplores the excesses of woke-ism, he pointed out that it is a genuinely popular movement, which has taken hold in large corporations, private universities and the mainstream press, and is spreading around the world.

Why not take advantage of this? he asked.  Almost every country has some group of people who are oppressed, or feel oppressed.  Point this out, identify with this group of people and you have a movement that looks to the USA for inspiration and help.

I think he underrates the degree to which this is already being done, and the degree to which the world is already polarized around woke-ism.

This wouldn’t be new.  In the old Cold War days, it is said that the Central Intelligence Agency promoted logical positivism and abstract art in order to discredit the Soviets’ historical materialism and socialist realist.

Look at the campaign against Hungary for being anti-immigration and suppressing pro-gay educational materials in its school system.  Look at how foreign aid is used to pressure African governments to be less anti-gay, just as the G.W. Bush administration used aid funds as a lever to suppress birth control and abortion.)

Then look at the nations that attended the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  One thing Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have in common is that they are anti-woke.

China, for example, has cracked down on portrayals of effeminate men in the entertainment media.  RT News ridicules American social liberalism.  The governments of Iran, Pakistan and India are committed to religious nationalism—different religions, but united in being anti-woke.

Putting the merits of these issues to one side, I think anti-woke patriotism is a source of national unity and woke identity politics is a source of disunity.  A completely cynical government would export identity politics to its rivals and enemies while emphasizing national unity at home.

Conflicts over wealth and power can be compromised, but not questions of religion and ideology.  But that’s the point.  It is easier to get people to fight in your interest if you can convince them they’re fighting for their religion and their ideals.

LINKS

Woke entry in Wikipedia.  I myself define woke-ness as a civil rights movement in support of ethnic identity and the sexual revolution.

Woke Movement Is Global, and America Should Be (Mostly) Proud by Tyler Cowen for Bloomberg Opinion.

Eurasia takes shape: How the SCO just flipped the world order by Pepe Escobar for The Cradle. 

Boycott Israel? divest from Israel? sanction Israel?

April 8, 2021

In 2005, some 170 Palestinian civil society organizations—labor unions, professional associations, women’s organizations, resistance committees and others—called upon the world to boycott Israel, divest from Israel and sanction Israel.

Their movement has given rise to a huge backlash.  The British government, some 32 U.S. states and the German cities of Bonn, Frankfurt and Munich refuse to do business with anyone who supports BDS.

The BDS movement has been condemned by the parliaments of Canada, Germany, Austria, Spain, and the Czech Republic, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives.  President Biden opposes BDS, although he says there is a First Amendment right to support it.

The United States is committed to giving Israel $38 billion in military aid over 10 years, starting Oct. 1, 2018.  For decades, the U.S. has given more military aid to Israel than any other country.  In the past few years, it has been second only to Afghanistan. 

What does BDS call for?  And why is it considered so dangerous?  The BDS movement, in its own words, calls for:

1.  Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall.  

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.  

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.  

Until Israel accepts these demands, the BDS movement favors boycotts, divestment and sanctions:

BOYCOTTS involve withdrawing support from Israel’s apartheid regime, complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.

DIVESTMENT campaigns urge banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.

SANCTIONS campaigns pressure governments to fulfill their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist its maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA (internatiional footfall)

The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, does not support the BDS movement.  It instead favors boycotts of businesses that actually operate on the West Bank.  Its leaders hope for a two-state solution, in which Israel continues to exist, but Palestinians have genuine sovereignty in their own land.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, does not officially recognize Israel’s right to exist.

∞∞

Israel’s barrier wall as of 2011. Click to enlarge.

Let me look into this in more detail

‘Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”

When Britain in 1948 decided to end its rule of Palestine, the United Nations proposed a partition plan between Jewish and Arab areas. 

The Arab League refused to accept the plan, and troops from Egypt, Jordan (then called Transjordan), Syria and Iraq invaded. 

When fighting ended, Israel controlled all the areas awarded by the UN and much of the Arab areas.  Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.  About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were driven out of Israel into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where most of them and their descendants have remained ever since.

In 1967, after several more wars, Israel wound up in control of these territories. There was talk of a “two-state” solution – that the Palestinians would give up fighting against Israel in return for a greater or lesser degree of self-government on the West Bank and Gaza.

“dismantling the Wall”

The Wall refers to some 300-plus miles of security fence through the West Bank, cutting off Palestinians from some of their land near the border and from access to other land occupied by Jewish settlers.  The International Court of Justice has ruled the fence illegal.

Over the years, some 400,000 Jewish settlers have moved into the West Bank.  They are mostly ultra-Orthodox Jews who believe God has granted them the right to the land.

The settlers have taken possession of scarce water resources.  Even though a UN commission has determined that their settlements are illegal, they have received protection from Israeli forces.

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Seeing the USA as others see us

March 9, 2021

Hat tip to Steve Hsu.

I just got finished watching this video of a panel discussion on the American future hosted by Dr. Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English Literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. 

It is an uncomfortable reminder that the rest of the world is watching us Americans, and they don’t see us as we’d like to see ourselves.

It is more than two hours long, which I realize is a long time to watch something on a small screen.  But I want to take note of a couple of the observations by Max Blumenthal, a foreign correspondent and editor-in-chief of The Greyzone.

Blumenthal said most Americans have no idea what “domestic terrorism” really is.  He recalled being in Nicaragua during the runup to an election when rebels were regularly murdering government officials and Sandinista politicians, and attacking police stations.

He said that when reporting from Syria, he sometimes saw poor people scavenging through garbage outside U.S. military installations.  In January, he saw the same kind of scene in Washington, D.C.

We Americans need to recognize that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily look to us for leadership, or regard our form of liberal democracy as a role model.  And that our nation is being bled dry by our leaders’ efforts to dominate the world through financial and military power.

The rise and fall of a love affair with China

July 10, 2020

Winston Sterzel is a British South African who settled in China 14-odd years ago.  My fellow blogger “Nikolai Vladivostok” recommends his YouTube channel, SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!, which is about life in China.   I got around to watching his videos just this week, only to find that Sterzel has decided to leave China.

He gave his reasons for being fascinated with China in the video above.  He gave his reasons for leaving in the video below.

It is hard to find a non-propaganda view of China.  Sterzel is an intelligent person of good will whose views are not based on promoting a vested interest or ideological agenda.  His videos are well worth watching.  They might not be the last word, but I trust him more than most.

Sterzel went to China when the nation was booming under the leadership of Deng Xiaopeng.  Dang was in no sense a believer in democracy or human rights as these words are understood in the USA.  But he allowed enough slack in the Chinese system to allow a creativity and enterprise to blossom.  He also set up an orderly succession system, so there would not be a struggle for power like that following the death of Mao Zedong.

China’s new ruler, Xi Jinping, is tightening up the system.  He is restoring Maoist thought control, using advanced surveillance technology to monitor and modify all aspects of human behavior.  He also has declared himself ruler for life.  Whether this is compatible with China’s continued growth in wealth and power remains to be seen.

I read the work of Pepe Escobar, who believes that China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, will bring about the economic integration of Eurasia—China, Central Asia, Russia, Iran and lands beyond.  This potentially could be as important a development in human history as the European Age of Discovery initiated by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

Escobar presents the geopolitical and historical overview.  Winston Sterzel presents the ground-level view.  He makes me wonder whether Xi’s great dreams are all they’re cracked up to be.

LINKS

SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!.  A gallery of intriguing videos.

Pepe Escobar: A Roving Eye on Globalistan.

Muslims in India scapegoated for the pandemic

June 21, 2020

Muslims in India are being accused of deliberately spreading the coronavirus.  By stirring up prejudice against India’s largest religious minority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi solidifies his own political power and escapes blame for the spread of the disease.

The treatment of Muslims in India is a major human rights crisis.  Modi advocates an Indian nationalism based on the Hindu religion.  He says Muslims cannot be patriotic because their holy places are located outside India.

Nationalism based on religion is dangerous because it tells people that they should regard themselves, collectively, as sacred.  They are asked to, in effect, worship themselves.  They are asked to give the nation the kind of unconditional loyalty that would be due to a superhumanly wise and good infinite being, and to exclude those not part of the nation from human sympathy.

Modi’s government has drawn up a new refugee law that admits fast-tracks admission Christians, Buddhists and other types of believes, but excludes Muslims. It has suspended self-government in Kashmir, the only majority-Muslim state under Indian rule.

It also is drawing up a new citizenship list, and asking Indians to provide proof of citizenship—a big hardship for poor people.  Muslims fear it may be aimed at them.  There have been a number of lynchings of Muslims, mainly on suspicion of having eaten beef.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 during a three-day anti-Muslim riot.  By some estimates, as many as 2,000 were killed.  Mobs engaged in vandalism, looting and rape, 230 mosques and 274 Muslim shrines were destroyed and thousands were made homeless.

Modi was barred from entering the United States in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act, which denies visas to officials guilty of “severe violations of religious freedom.”  He is reportedly the only foreigner barred under this law.

Since being elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, he was welcomed by both President Obama and President Trump.

The U.S. government is trying to form an anti-Chinese alliance, with India, Japan and Australia the key members.

Because of this, we Americans are likely to hear a lot about the persecuted Muslim Uighurs in China’s far west Xinjiang province and very little about Muslims in India.

The Uighurs, like the Tibetans, are being forcibly assimilated into the Chinese culture by brutal means.  But in Modi’s India, the Muslims will never be assimilated.  They will be forever outcasts and targets of persecution, like Jews in Tsarist Russia, African-Americans in the USA during the Jim Crow era or Central Asian migrants in the Russia of today.

LINKS

The Rise of Narendra Modi by Zahir Mohammad for Boston Review (2013)

Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burned alive by Hannah Ellis-Petersen for The Guardian.

How Indian Muslims are being scapegoated for the coronavirus by Namrata Kolachalam for Slate.

India’s treatment of Muslims and migrants puts lives at risk during COVID-19 by Jay Ramasubramanyan for The Conversation.

Racism and immigration in today’s Russia

June 8, 2020

Sweeping attacks on migrant workers in Russia amid COVID-19 pandemic by Andrea Peters for the World Socialist Web Site.

The misleading ‘elephant curve’ graph

June 6, 2020

Click to enlarge.

This widely-circulated graph supposedly shows that the great growth in income of the world’s richest 1 percent is justified because the world’s poorest people also are making great gains under the present system.

The problems of poor and middle-class people in rich countries are supposedly a necessary sacrifice to make this happen.

What makes this chart misleading is that it deals with percentages rather than amounts (dollars, euros, etc.)  So a tiny gain in income for a poor person in, say, Bangladesh or Sudan is a large percentage, even though it is a small amount.

Annotations by the famous French economist Thomas Piketty, in his book, Capital and Ideology, show the true picture.  The poorest 50 percent of the world’s population got only a one-eighth share of the growth in world income over a 38-year period.

The next 49 percent, even though their proportionate gain was less, enjoyed more than sixth-tenths of the amount of the gain.  The world’s richest 1 percent got more than a quarter of the gain.  The richest 0.01 percent got the biggest proportionate gain of all.

The graph does show that the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population made some gains.  A lot of that consists of progress in just one country, China.  A lot of it may consist of people moving from a barter economy to a money economy, and from the “informal” off-the-books economy to the visible economy.

Many of the world’s poorest people may be slightly better off than they were 40 years ago. It’s possible. Even if this is so, there should be a better way to improve their lot than the trickle-down system illustrated by this chart.

LINKS

World Poverty Is NOT Decreasing by Ian Welsh.

No, the World Isn’t Getting Better for Everyone by Ian Welsh.

Worldwide inequality report shows gap between rich and poor by Sam Meredith for CNBC

Dr. Tedros, the WHO, Africa and Chinese power

May 8, 2020

Nikolai Vladivostok is the blog handle of an Australian expatriate who has worked extensively in the Horn of  Africa.  He made four posts that contain good information about China, and its influence on the World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, which I haven’t come across elsewhere.

Here are links to the four posts—all well worth reading.

Dr. Tedros

Trust WHO?

Who the hell is Tedros?

How did China wrest control of the WHO?

How does Tedros manipulate the WHO?

N.V. described how the Chinese have extended their economic influence into Africa and used their leverage on African governments to influence United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, and how that paid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been skeptical of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to blame China for the spread of the virus.  I see it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from U.S. failures and to weaken China politically.

But propaganda—systemic attempts to influence public opinion—is not necessarily false.  There is circumstantial evidence that the virus could have originated in a Chinese research lab (not a bio-warfare lab) and escaped into the world through negligence.  I don’t claim to know the whole story, but there certainly is something to investigate.

The Chinese government has used the coronavirus pandemic to increase its geo-political influence.  It presents itself to the world as a kindly helper—the opposite of the U.S. government, whose diplomacy is based on threats and naked self-interest.

As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  But if you are a fly, it doesn’t matter how you are caught.

Can Russia cope with the coronavirus?

April 7, 2020

Russia’s growing coronavirus outbreak and its challenge to Putin by Alex Ward for Vox.

China bids for world leadership

February 19, 2020

China has the world’s largest or second largest economy, depending on how it is measured.  It is world’s leading manufacturer and exporter.  It has nuclear weapons and the world’s largest standing army.

Its leader, Xi Jinping, has a plan to connect the interior of Eurasia an integrated whole, through construction of railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

This Belt and Roads Initiative, together with China’s informal military alliance with Russia, would make the interior of Eurasia an economic zone dominated by China and largely invulnerable to U.S. sea and air power.

It would mean world leadership for a nation whose leaders explicitly reject such ideas as universal values, intrinsic human rights, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary—ideas that we Americans consider foundations of Western civilization.

How likely is it that China’s leaders can realize these ambitions?  A scholar named Elizabeth C. Economy took a calm and skeptical look at China in a 2018 book entitled THE THIRD REVOLUTION: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State.

The first revolution, in her view, was Mao Zedong’s victory over Chiang Kaishek in 1949.

Mao made China a unified nation free of foreign influence, and started China on the road to industrialization.  But his utopian dreams and totalitarian government brought China to the brink of collapse.

Hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of Chinese were killed in purges.  Millions and maybe tens of millions starved to death because nobody dared tell the truth about his failed agricultural policies.  Mao’s Cultural Revolution, intended to break up a new emerging social hierarchy, reduced the whole country to chaos.

The second revolution, in her view, was the emergence of Deng Xiaoping.  He accomplished what few leaders in history have been able to do—reform an authoritarian government.   Typically reformers fail to change the system, like Khrushchev, or undermine the stability of what they are trying to reform, like Gorbachev.

Deng loosened the authority of the Communist Party and relaxed economic controls just enough to allow for individual initiative, while keeping control.   He set up a system of collective leadership with an orderly succession.

Unlike Mao, he kept in the background and exercised power from behind the scenes,  On the world scene, his policy was to quietly make China stronger without alarming the existing great powers.

His policies, and not Mao’s, produced a great leap forward in economic development.  China’s rise from the wreckage of the Cultural Revolution was as great an economic miracle as the rise of Germany and Japan from the ashes of World War Two.  Deng was one of the great statesmen of the 20th century.

Many Western observers thought that as China became integrated into the world economy, it would adopt liberal and democratic values.  Xi Jinping’s third revolution is intended to prevent this from happening.

Xi has eliminated tern limits.  He evidently intends to serve for life, which could mean a succession struggle like the one that followed the death of Mao.  He has reaffirmed Communist Party control of the economy, and insists on ideological orthodoxy.

But what is the meaning of Communist ideology in a country with a stock exchange, giant profit-seeking corporations and 485 billionaires?  Under Xi, Communism is reduced to Chinese nationalism and obedience to authority.

One reason for the downfall of the Soviet Union was that people stopped believing in Marxism-Leninism as an ideal.   How long can the Chinese believe in a “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that is indistinguishable from capitalism?

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The new Chinese surveillance state

January 29, 2020

Shoshana Zuboff warned us of the perils of American surveillance capitalism, and Edward Snowden of the American surveillance state.  But China’s ruler, Xi Jinping, is creating a surveillance system that leaves anything else far behind.

I recently read WE HAVE BEEN HARMONIZED: Life in China’s Surveillance State, by a German journalist named Kai Strittmatter, about how the components of the new system are now being put into place in different parts of China.

The components are:

A unified Internet service that combines the functions of a smart phone and a credit card, and allows for tracking of all electronic communication and all financial transactions.

A video surveillance system using facial recognition software that allows for tracking of all public behavior.

An artificial intelligence system capable of integrating all this information.

Algorithms that give people a “credit score” based on the government’s approval or disapproval of their behavior.

This is something like the two-way television sets in George Orwell’s 1984 and something like the East German Stasi’s real-life eavesdropping and surveillance system.

Both the fictional and the real system were limited by the human inability to keep track of everything all of the time.  The Chinese government’s hope is that advanced computer technology can overcome these limits.

At the same time, China is still an old-fashioned Soviet-style police state.  Dissidents are treated the same as in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.  The new controls do not replace the old.  Instead they are layered on top of them.

China, according to Strittmatter, is a virtually cashless society.  Payments are made through the WeChat app on the TenCent smartphone service or the Alipay app on the Alibaba service.  All transactions and all calls are monitored.

Certain words and phrases are forbidden in electronic communication. including “I do not agree,” “my emperor,” “Animal Farm” and “Winnie the Pooh”—the latter a nickname for the tall, stout, benign-looking  General Secretary Xi.

A law imposes three years in prison for anyone who posts a harmful rumor on the Internet, if it is shared 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.  There was a wave of arrests in 2013 for spreading false rumors.

Strittmatter saw a video surveillance system at an intersection that showed the faces of jaywalks on a huge screen, together with their names, home addresses and ID numbers.  These systems do not exist everywhere in China, but they are examples of what might be.

He saw a video surveillance system in a collage classroom that monitored whether students were paying attention.  It also recorded their facial expressions, which were fed into a system that supposedly could evaluate their feelings and emotions.

Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, a leading Chinese search engine company, told Strittmatter that his goal was to insert artificial intelligence into every aspect of human life.

The Chinese government plans to use this data to set up a “social credit” system which will give each Chinese person a score for “social truthworthiness.”  Strittmatter saw such a system being tested in the small city of Rongcheng.

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The whole GRU phishing story seems fishy

January 16, 2020

Area 1 Security, a California-based cybersecurity firm, claimed that Russian military intelligence successfully hacked Burisma Holdings for dirt on Joe Biden’s son.

The GRU allegedly used what’s known as phishing—tricking people into revealing passwords and other information needed to penetrate a secure computer system.

Area 1 Security claims to have the capability of a little junior National Security Agency.  Here’s what the New York Times reported.

“The attacks were successful,” said Oren Falkowitz, a co-founder of Area 1, who previously served at the National Security Agency.  Mr. Falkowitz’s firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.

Source: The New York Times.

But the company’s services are limited to giving really, really good protection against phishing attacks.  I would not think a company with such superpowers would limit itself like this.

Interestingly, in the original announcement and press release, Area 1 did not claim to know that Burisma Holdings security had been breached—only that the GRU was attempting to penetrate its security through phishing.

That is probably true.  The GRU is no doubt trying to penetrate all the major corporations and government agencies in Ukraine.  But why wouldn’t Area 1 put the stronger claim in its press release?  It makes the claim that the GRU was successful seem like an afterthought..

I think the purpose of the announcement is to make Burisma Holdings, the corrupt former employer of Joe Biden’s son Hunter, off limits for discussion in the coming election campaign.  Anybody who raises this issue will be called a Russian asset.

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Happy Holidays 2019

December 21, 2019

Can you guess in what city the pictures above and below were taken?

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China comes to the rescue of Iran

September 9, 2019

The Chinese and Iranian governments have announced that China will invest $400 billion to develop the Iranian oil and gas industry, a petroleum industry newsletter has reported.

The Iranian government has embraced the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, an ambitious plan to build infrastructure to unify the economy of the interior of Eurasia under Chinese leadership.

It will include $120 billion for new oil and gas pipeline, including a pipeline through Turkey in violation of U.S. sanctions.  All the equipment for the new projects will be provided by Chinese contractors.

China has the right to buy Iranian oil at a discount and pay for it in soft currencies it has accumulated in dealings with countries in Africa and Asia.  This amounts to an overall 30 percent discount from the world price.

China will employ 5,000 “security personnel” to guard its properties.  This means that any attack on Iran would involve risk of killing Chinese and inviting Chinese retaliation.

Presumably the Iranians, like the Russians, would prefer to sell to Europe, their natural market, for full price, but the U.S. government has blocked them from doing business in Europe in dollars.

The goal of U.S. foreign policy for 70 years has been to control the oil of the Middle East.  Now the oil of Iran is within the Chinese sphere of influence.

There is little intrinsic common ground between China, Iran and Russia.  The U.S. government has driven them together by waging economic warfare against all three.  In the process, it is antagonizing its allies in Europe by forcing them to act against their economic interests.

China’s foreign policy makes it economically stronger.  United States foreign policy is a drain on U.S. strength.  China is making friends.  The U.S. is making enemies.  This will end better for China than it will for the United States.

LINKS

China Defies Trump Big Time With $400 Billion Belt and Road Investment, 5,000 Security Personnel by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.  Hat tip to peteybee.

China and Iran flesh out strategic partnership by Simon Watkins for Petroleum Economist.

How Tehran Fits into Russia-China Strategy by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

The rising human tide in Africa

September 7, 2019

“If the biggest global news story of the past 40 years has been China’s economic growth,” wrote demographer Paul Morland, “the biggest news story of the next 40 years will be Africa’s population growth.”

In his book, The Human Tide, Morland traced what’s called the demographic transition in society after society, from Britain and Germany to China and India.  The pattern is that societies experience surges in population when the death rate falls and life expectancy increases, but then the fertility rate levels off and then decreases.

In many parts of the world, including North America, Europe, Russia, China and Japan, the fertility rate is below 2.1 children per woman, which is the replacement rate.

In general, each successive society that underwent this transition had a bigger and more rapid surge in population than the ones that went before, but also a more sudden drop.  The latest region of the world to begin the demographic transition is sub-Saharan Africa, and that part of the world is still in the early stages of its population surge.

United Nations statistics quoted by Morland show that:

  • Of the 48 states and territories with fertility rates of 4 and above, all but seven are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nine out of 10 countries with the highest fertility rates are in Africa.
  • Every one of the 30 countries with the lowest life expectancy are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • All but two of the 30 countries with highest infant mortality rates and the lowest median age are in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of sub-Saharan Africa is growing more than twice as fast as the world as a whole.

Fertility rates in Africa are falling, just as in the rest of the world, and Morland is confident they will continue to fall.  But they are falling from such a high level that there will be a population surge regardless.  Population growth depends not only on how many children the average woman has, but how many women there are of child-bearing age.

My knowledge of Africa is superficial, but it is obvious that conditions in sub-Saharan Africa are bad.  Much of Africa is at risk of famine.  Africa is torn by war and ravaged by drought—which can only get worse, as global temperatures rise.  Corruption is prevalent.  Although there are bright spots and encouraging signs, most African governments still are on a spectrum from corrupt semi-democracies to dictatorships for life.

I have to say that I have a good impression of African immigrants in the USA—not only highly educated professionals from Nigeria and Kenya, but also poor refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Somalia, whom I got to know as a volunteer driver years ago for a Catholic refugee resettlement charity here in Rochester, N.Y..

Most of the refugees struck me as having great resilience, great personal dignity and a strong desire to repay the least little kindness.  Somali refugees were moved into a section of a public housing project, and the smell of Somali home cooking replaced the smell of marijuana in the hallways.  The managers were glad to have tenants who didn’t drink alcohol or take dope, play loud music late at night or get into fights in which the police had to be called.  From what I’m told, they’ve all thrived since.

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Who’s to blame for Venezuela’s economic crisis?

June 8, 2019

There are two explanations for Venezuela’s economic crisis.  One is that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro mismanaged the economy.  The other is that the United States economic warfare ruined the economy.

Greg Wilbert of The Real News Network said it’s true that Chavez failed to adequately prepare for falling oil prices and Maduro failed to adequately cope when oil prices did collapse.

He said Venezuela’s economic crisis was not caused by the United States, but U.S. sanctions, which began under President Obama, made matters worse and prevented corrective action.

 I don’t think a new U.S.-imposed government would do better.

[Revised 6/9/2019]

Global warming requires global action

March 28, 2019

Click to enlarge.  Source: The Conversation

We Americans have actually done quite a bit to cut back on greenhouse gas emission, as the chart above shows.

But while we and the other North Atlantic nations have been cutting back, China and other nations have been pumping out more.

The average Chinese doesn’t add all that much to global warming, compared to the average American.  But there are so many more Chinese than Americans that China as a nation does more heat up the world more than the USA does.

Click to enlarge. Source: The Conversation.

The problem is that, for now, the economic growth of China, India and the Global South in general requires more use of coal, oil and natural gas.  If I were Chinese or Indian, I would be unwilling to give up my hope of a better material standard of living while Americans and Europeans have so much more than I do and individually leave so larger a carbon footprint than I do.

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Populism, immigration and white majorities

February 20, 2019

2.1 children per woman is the replacement rate.  Click to enlarge.

I recently read WHITESHIFT: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities by Eric Kaufmann (2018, 2019)

It’s about the response of white people in North America, western Europe and Australasia to the fact that their birth rates are below the replacement rate, and that the likely sources of immigration are all from non-white countries with higher birth rates.

Kaufmann, a professor of political science at the University of London, said white fears of immigration are the driving force behind the election of Donald Trump, the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Community and the rise of right-wing populist parties throughout western Europe.

He sees four white responses to population shifts:

  • Fight.  Reduce or eliminate immigration from non-white countries.
  • Repress.  Avoid thinking about the issue and suppress discussion in the name of anti-racism.
  • Flee.  Retreat to white enclaves and avoid diverse neighborhoods, schools and social networks.
  • Join.   Assimilate and inter-marry with non-whites to form a new beige majority.

I wrote about the fourth possibility in a 2012 blog post.  I noted how, in the USA, the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority evolved into a white majority that includes Catholics and Jews.  I speculated on the possibility of a further evolution into a new “non-black” majority including white Hispanics, mixed-race people who identify as white and possibly Asian-Americans.

The great danger, as I saw it,  is that the new majority would be as much, or maybe even more, prejudiced against black people as the old majority..

Kaufmann, who grew up in Vancouver, hopes for a more benign evolution—a inclusive majority based not on ancestry, color or facial features, but on loyalty to the nations’ original European cultural roots, but also tolerant of minorities who reject that culture.

He’s an example of what he advocates.  He is by ancestry one-fourth Latino and one-fourth Chinese, but identifies as white.  (The fact that he “identifies” rather than “passes” as white shows progress that has occurred in my lifetime.)

I have long believed that American patriotism should be based not on race, religion or national origin, but on loyalty to the Constitution and the ideals of equal rights contained in the Declaration of Independence.

Kaufmann thinks such civic ideals are too thin to command strong loyalty.  A nation can and should have principles of good citizenship, but real national identity requires a sense of being part of a community with a shared history, whether defined by language, religion, ancestry or culture and customs.

∞∞∞

The politics of the USA, the UK and many other countries are defined by a revolt of an anti-immigration Populist Right  against what Kaufmann calls a Left-Modernist cultural and political elite, which defines opposition to immigration as racist.

Exceptions include the English-speaking parts of Canada, where no Populist Right has emerged, and nationalistic countries of Eastern Europe, where Left Modernism has never gained a foothold.  In Quebec and Scotland also, the cultural elite is on the side of French Canadian and Scottish ethnic nationalism.

Left-Modernism, as Kaufmann sees it, originated among bohemian intellectuals of a century or so ago, who rejected the conventions of the conformist middle-class majority.  In the USA, this was a revolt against the Puritan heritage and an embrace of everything anti-Puritan, from sexual freedom to  jazz music.

Over time these values came to dominate academia, the news and entertainment media and the political elite.  Along the way, though, the Left Modernists ceased to value radical individualism and self-expression and developed a kind of reverse Puritanism, based on conformity and guilt.  Nowadays it is the Populist Right that is transgressive and provocative.

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