Posts Tagged ‘China’

The passing scene – July 29, 2015

July 29, 2015

Is This the End of Christianity in the Middle East? by Eliza Griswold for The New York Times.

26mag-26christians-t_CA2-blog427Christian communities in the Middle East, which have existed since the time of St. Paul and which survived under the rule of Iraq’s Saddam and Syria’s Assad, are threatened by ISIS and other extremist Islamist movements.

I think this is the fruit of U.S. interventions, which created the anarchy in which groups such as ISIS can flourish, and U.S. support of extremist groups to overthrow the governments of Libya and Iraq.

The Balance of Power in the Middle East Just Changed by Peter Van Buren for TomDispatch.

The real reason Israel, Saudi Arabia and neo-cons hate the Iran deal: They fear that Tehran will join the community of nations by Fred Kaplan for Salon.

The sanctions against Iran were never about fear that Iran would develop nuclear weapons.  They were about the fear that the balance of power in the Middle East would change in favor of Iran and against Saudi Arabia and Israel.  But Iran is a more reliable partner against ISIS and Al Qaeda than either of those two countries.

Jewish Americans support the Iran nuclear deal by Fred Kaplan for The Washington Post.

Interestingly, polls show that Jewish people in the United States are more supportive of the Iran deal than the general public.

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The longest bridge in the world

July 18, 2015

1.Worlds-Longest-BridgeSource: The Top Tenz

The Danyang-Kushan Grand Bridge, completed in China in 2010 and opened to traffic in 2011, is 102.4 miles long.  It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest bridge in the world.

It crosses rice paddies, canals, rivers and lakes in southeastern coastal China, and provides a link in the Shanghai-Beijing High-Speed Railway.

1280px-Danyang–Kunshan_Grand_BridgeSource: Wikipedia.

The world’s second longest bridge, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the Tianjin Grand Bridge, also a link in the Shanghai-Beijing High-Speed Railway.  It is 70.6 miles long.

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Turkey backs Uighur rebels in China

July 12, 2015

The Uighurs are a Muslim people who live in China’s western Xinjiang province—what used to be called Chinese Turkestan, just as what we now call Central Asia used to be called Russian Turkestan.

The Turks in Turkey once inhabited the same region, before they migrated into western Asia and conquered the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and most of the Arab world.

china_urumqiPeter Lee reported on his China Matters web log how the Turkish government is trying to assume the leadership of the Turkish world and, as part of that, has issued Turkish passports for Uighur rebels.   I think this comes under the heading of starting fights you are not prepared to finish.

I sympathize with the Uighur people who, like the Tibetans, are being engulfed by Chinese settlers, and with the people of the former Soviet republics of Central Asia who live under oppressive dictatorships.

In the same way, I sympathized with the brave Hungarian freedom fighters in 1956.  But the United States was not willing to go to war with the Soviet Union on behalf of the Hungarians, and risk the devastation of North America, Russia and Europe, including Hungary.  So it was irresponsible of Radio Free Europe to incite them to rise up, and I think Turkish policy (which I hope the US government is not encouraging) is irresponsible now.

LINKS

Uighurs Edge Closer to Center of Turkish Diplomacy, Politics and Geopolitical Strategy by Peter Lee for China Matters.

Turkey’s “Passports for Uighurs” Scheme Continues Its Messy Unraveling by Peter Lee for China Matters.

The USA can’t expect to always get its way

June 26, 2015

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

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

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

This is bound to end badly.

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

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

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

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

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

The Kurds want an independent homeland.

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

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The real U.S. strategic rivalry with China

June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The fruits of American foreign policy

June 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s not what happened, of course.

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Chinese vs. American trade agreements

June 18, 2015

china-watch-map_3281019b

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

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

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

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

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

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Is the U.S. instigating an arms race with China?

June 17, 2015
Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

There’s a school of thought that says the Reagan administration brought down the Soviet Union by conducting an arms race that the USSR couldn’t sustain.

A smart writer named Mike Whitney thinks Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter plans to use the same strategy against China.

China is on track to become the world’s largest economy in less than 10 years.  But the thinking is that this could change if China is forced to devote significant resources to defending its position in the South China Sea.

This is a perverse idea—that a peaceful China is a greater threat to American global supremacy than a militaristic China would be.   It shows the wrongheadedness of world military supremacy as a goal.

And there’s a question as to whether it would even work.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that the USA’s military budget for 2014 was $581 billion, while China’s was $129 billion.

American military spending was estimated at 3.3 percent of the total US economy (gross domestic product) while China’s was 1.2 percent.  Russia’s military spending was an estimated 3.7 percent of GDP.

The Chinese might well be capable of quadrupling their military spending while sustaining economic growth.

They have other options.  They could embargo vital electronic components that we Americans no longer produce.  They could stop buying U.S. Treasury bonds, which would add to cost of financing the U.S. budget deficit.

And while the burden of the Cold War may have brought the Soviet Union to the brink of collapse, it was an endurance contest that also sapped the strength of the United States.

We Americans would do well to follow the example of the Chinese and build up our own nation rather than dissipating our strength in undermining others.

LINK

Seven Days in May? Carter Takes Over by Mike Whitney on the Unz Review.

World empires of the Internet

June 16, 2015
Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Source: Information Geographies

Internet companies are an extension of their nations’ soft power.  This map, based on data compiled in 2013, shows the number of Internet users and the most-visited web site in each country.

What stands out for me is the global reach of U.S.-based Internet companies whose dominance, however, ends at the borders of China and Russia.

Google has been squeezed out of China.  It still has a reported 30 percent market share in Russia, based partly on the popularity of its Android hand-held device, but faces anti-trust charges in that country.

I don’t think Russia, any more than China, is willing to tolerate a strong foreign Internet presence.

Another thing that stands out is the huge Internet penetration in the Southeast Asian nations of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, compared not only to Burma, Laos and Cambodia, which barely register as dot on the map, but also compared to Australia and New Zealand.

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The amazing colors of China’s Buddhist temples

June 13, 2015
Monks in Kandze monastery in Ganzi, China

Monks in Kandze monastery in Ganzi, China

chengduWhen a photographer named Colin Miller visited Chengdu, China, he was struck by the colorful beauty of the nearby Buddhist temples and monasteries.  He spent two and a half weeks traveling through small towns in Sichuan province, taking pictures.

My expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack, who called my attention to these photographs, said many of these temples are Tibetan, or at least are dedicated to the school of Buddhism found in Tibet.

The lavish beauty shown in these photos is a contrast to the austere beauty of Zen temples and gardens in Japan.   Any religion that can inspire such beauty must have something good about it.

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China and the heartland of Eurasia

June 8, 2015
China's Ancient Silk Road

China’s Ancient Silk Road

China's New Silk Road

China’s New Silk Road

A century ago, the world was dominated by the great naval powers—Great Britain, above all, plus other western European countries, the USA and Japan.

But in 1904 a geographer named Sir Halford Mackinder warned that this was going to change.   He said the advent of the railroad made it possible to unify the interior of Eurasia—what he called the Heartland—and create a base of power that the British, American or other navies could not reach.

mackinder_natural_large“Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island [that is, Europe and Asia],” he said.  “Who rules the World Island commands the world.”

Today the leaders of China are making that vision come true.  As the second map above shows, they are extending their access to the resources and markets of Central Asia, Russia and Europe.

Unlike the USA, the Chinese leaders don’t seek military dominance except in their geographical.  Overseas military colonization and conquest is not the historic Chinese way.  The historic Chinese expectation is that the rest of the world will come to them, and pay tribute.

The Chinese strategy has a military component, but it is based mainly on investing in infrastructure.  Step-by-step, this invesment adds to their power.   American projection of military force drains our power.

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Amartya Sen on democracy and famine

June 2, 2015

I was taught as a boy that famines in countries such as India and China were caused by overpopulation.  But there are more than twice as many people in both countries now than there were then, and yet they are better fed—perhaps I should say less malnourished.

I learned from Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel memorial prize in economics, that the true cause of famine in modern times is poverty and autocracy.

No rich person in India or China ever starved to death, nor did any governmental official.  People went hungry because they lacked the means to buy food, and they lacked a political voice to make government respond to their distress.

Here’s how Amartya Sen put it in a 2011 interview.

… Famines have actually not occurred in functioning democracies and … … there was a good reason for it. My first book on the subject, Poverty and Famines, came out in 1981, and by then I understood something about how famines operate and how easy it is to prevent them. You can’’t prevent undernourishment so easily, but famines you can stop with half an effort.  Then the question was why don’t the governments stop them?

The first answer is that the government servants and the leaders are upper class.  They never starve.  They never suffer from famine, and therefore they don’’t have a personal incentive to stop it. 

Second, if the government is vulnerable to public opinion, then famines are a dreadfully bad thing to have.  You can’’t win many elections after a famine, and you don’t like being criticized by newspapers, opposition parties in parliament, and so on.  Democracy gives the government an immediate political incentive to act.

Famines occur under a colonial administration, like the British Raj in India or for that matter in Ireland, or under military dictators in one country after another, like Somalia and Ethiopia, or in one-party states like the Soviet Union and China.

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The risk of war in the South China Sea

May 22, 2015

chinasea-1x-1The Chinese People’s Republic seeks to control the South China Sea.  It is building artificial islands which it will claim as Chinese territory.

Its claims are in conflict with the claims of smaller nations of Southeast Asia, which, so far as I can tell, are equally valid in international law.

The Obama administration is preparing to confront China militarily over these claims.  This is a big mistake.

map_disputed-reefsThe sea routes in the South China Sea are vital to China and not vital to any other nation.   The South China Sea route is the cheapest and most convenient sea route for Japan, Korea and the nations of Southeast Asia.  But if worst comes to worst, they could take a longer route.  The Pacific Ocean is a big body of water.

The United States government is currently confronting Russia and China, the only two nations in the world that are beyond the reach of American naval and air power, over matters that the Russian and Chinese governments see as vital to national survival, and which are not vital to the United States.

artificialislandIn the case of Russia, it is the goal of bringing Ukraine into an anti-Russian military alliance and making Crimea a possible base for NATO forces.  In the case of China, it is the goal of U.S. domination of the sea routes to eastern Asia.

I am not an admirer of the Russian or Chinese governments.  They both abuse human rights.  They both believe in their own versions of exceptionalism, believing they have the right to dominate their smaller and weaker neighbors.   An increase in Russian or Chinese power is a bad thing, not a good thing.

But I don’t think trying to roll back the existing Russian or Chinese spheres of influence is worth risking war over, any more than Russia or China would think it worthwhile to risk war over U.S. domination of the Caribbean and Central America.

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How Apple undermined the US economy

May 8, 2015

I’ve always bought Ford and General Motors cars, partly because I wanted to support jobs for my fellow Americans.

As Abraham Lincoln reportedly put it, “When I buy a shirt from England, I get a shirt and England gets a dollar.  But when I buy a shirt from America, I get a shirt and America gets a dollar.”

At the same time, I’ve always bought Apple computer products, and, in so doing, I may have done more to undermine the U.S. economy than I did when I bought a Ford Escort or a GM Saturn.

9554-1329-applecash-140611-lI read an article yesterday on a blog called Moneyball Economics about how Apple offshored the American smartphone industry to South Korea, Taiwan and mainland China.

This is a big thing.  The writer, Andrew Zatlin, pointed out that the United States imported nearly $100 billion worth of smartphones each year, half of them Apple iPphones.  Smartphones are the third largest U.S. import, behind oil and automobiles.

He said it is like a Marshall Plan for these three countries.  The iPhone industry creates a million jobs in eastern Asia and provides valuable technological knowledge that makes those countries more competitive in the world.   They aren’t all Apple smartphones, but Apple has half the market and sets the pace.

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The world invests in China’s new bank

April 16, 2015

aiib-graphic

Fifty-seven governments, including all the major powers except the USA, Canada and Japan, have signed up to participate in China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The AIIB may or may not be an important force in building infrastructure in Asia.  But the eagerness of the world’s governments to participate shows a willingness to follow the leadership of China even against the advice of the USA.

The red countries on the map are governments that participate in the Asian Development Bank, which is supported by Japan and headquartered in Manila, who also participate in the Asian Infrastructure Investment banks.  The blue countries on the map are other countries who have joined the AIIB.

The yellow countries are Asian Development Bank participants who held back from joining the AIIB.

I know, from reading of history, that China is following a pattern of drawing other countries in to itself rather than engage in overseas conquest.

During the Age of Discovery, for example, Europeans had a trade deficit with China and also India.  All the exploits of Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus were intended to find a route by which the European nations could trade directly for the porcelain, silk and spices of Asia rather than through Muslim middlemen.  All the gold and silver that Cortez and Pizarro found in the New World and brought back to Spain eventually went to China and India.

China went into temporary eclipse during the 19th and early 20th century, but the current Chinese government has restored China to its historic position—the nation that the rest of the world comes to, and tries to connect with.

I do not claim to know whether how much Asian infrastructure will in fact be built through the AIIB, nor what the future holds for China.  As stockbrokers say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But for now, the Chinese policy of offering things to people is more successful than the U.S. policy of forcing things on people.

LINKS

57 nations approved as founding members of China-led AIIB by Gary Huang for the South China Morning Post.

The infrastructure gap: Development finance helps China win friends and influence American allies by The Economist.

The power of the new Chinese investment bank by Richard Javed Heydarian for Al Jazeera.

 

China’s new bank is a great attractor

April 13, 2015

AIIB-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank-Countries

The world is rushing to join the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is China’s alternative to the U.S.-influenced World Bank.

The Shanghai-based bank would raise $50 billion to invest in Asian infrastructure projects, such as dams, airports and electric power plants.

Only founding members are entitled to a vote.  Reuters reported that voting will be weighted so that Asian members have 75 percent.  China will announce the names of the founding members on Wednesday (April 15).   The Economist explained:

The AIIB is but one of a number of new institutions launched by China, apparently in frustration at the failure of the existing international order to accommodate its astonishing rise.

Efforts to reform the International Monetary Fund are stalled in the American Congress.  America retains its traditional grip on the management of the World Bank.  The Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) is always directed by a Japanese official.  [snip]

China, flush with the world’s biggest foreign-exchange reserves and anxious to convert them into “soft power”, is building an alternative architecture. 

It has proposed not just the AIIB, but a New Development Bank with its “BRICS” partners—Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa—and a Silk Road development fund to boost “connectivity” with its Central Asian neighbors.

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The warmongering record of Hillary Clinton

March 4, 2015

The frustrating thing about the right-wing Republican critics of Hillary Clinton is they criticize her for all the wrong things.   I think I’m as strongly opposed to Clinton as they are, and they put me in the position of defending her.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

In the U.S. intervention in Libya, she is criticized for failing to arrange protection for the U.S. ambassador from the terrorist attack on Benghazi, a legitimate issue, and for mis-characterizing the attack as a spontaneous reaction instead of a planned terrorist attack, an insignificant issue.

But neither of these things matter as much as the total disaster she brought down on the people of Libya.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in Counterpunch that sums up what’s wrong with Clinton very well.

First Libya:

The results of “Operation Unified Protector” … … include the persecution of black Africans and Tuaregs, the collapse of any semblance of central government, the division of the country between hundreds of warring militias, the destabilization of neighboring Mali producing French imperialist intervention, the emergence of Benghazi as an al-Qaeda stronghold, and the proliferation of looted arms among rebel groups.

Now the whole Clinton record:

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The passing scene: Links & comments 2/21/2015

February 21, 2015

China pivots everywhere by Pepe Escobar for RT News.

EU Reeling Between US and Russia by Pepe Escobar for Sputnik News.

A couple of years ago, President Putin proposed an economic partnership between Russia and the European Union, which would have been to Europe’s benefit.

Now, with Germany caught up in the U.S.-lead conflict with Russia over Ukraine, this has been wiped off the blackboard.  Now Russia looks to China as its economic partner.  If there is any winner in the Ukraine conflict, it is China.

I have misgivings about linking to RT News and Sputnik News.  They are as much organs of the Russian government as the Voice of America is an organ of the U.S. government.

But I’ll make an exception in Pepe Escobar’s case, just as I did some years back with Julian Assange’s short-lived interview show. I think Escobar is both intellectually acute and independent.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

A New Policy to Rescue Ukraine by George Soros for the New York Review of Books.

One of the sidelights of the Ukraine situation is the pivotal role of the wealthy speculator George Soros.  A major contributor to the Democratic Party, he has urged a $50 billion loan to Ukraine in order to fight Russia.

Michael Hudson reported that Soros’s funds are drawing up lists of assets they’d like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the Kiev government when the International Monetary Fund demands they be sold by pay down Ukaine’s debts..

A Whistleblower’s Horror Story by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

It’s not just the federal government that shields wrongdoers while doing after employees that expose them.  Wall Street buys its way out of prosecution while blacklisting employees who reveal its misdeeds.  A case in point: Countrywide / Voice of America whistleblower Michael Winston.

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward shy guys wind up hating feminism by Arthur Chu for Salon.

‘I’m Brianna Wu And I’m Risking My Life Standing Up to Gamergate’ by Brianna Wu for Bustle.

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire by Michelle Goldberg for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Man Biologist)

Harassment of women on the Internet is no joke, as is shown by this woman’s story of doxing (tracking down and publishing home addresses and other personal information), swatting (sending false emergency calls in her name) and death threats.

Glimpses of Asia: January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015

I got the following links from my expatriate friend Jack, who got them from his friend Marty.

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In Pictures: China’s Frozen City by Richard Angwin for Aljazeera.

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Harbin international ice and snow festival – in pictures in The Guardian.

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DKJT87 Verbotsschild, Singapur

The price of life in Singapore, city of rules: ‘It’s a Faustian deal’ by Oliver Millman for The Guardian.

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The passing scene: January 6, 2015

January 6, 2015

2015: Grounds for Optimism by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Dimtry Orlov is hopeful that the world, including the USA and the rest of the English-speaking world, is starting to reject Washington’s propaganda version of reality.

Beijing chums up to Washington by Francesco Sisci for Asia Times.

Wang Yang, vice president of China, made a speech saying that the United States is the guide of the world and China is willing to join its system.  I don’t know what to make of this or how seriously to take it. [1]

Social protest rising in Ukraine as gov’t approves harsh austerity budget by Roger Annis for The New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond [Hat tip to Bill Harvey].

Ukraine is being forced to raise taxes, cut services, raise prices and, most important, sell off its national assets at bargain prices in order to pay its debts.  Acquisition of those assets is what the struggle over Ukraine is all about.

Chain restaurants are killing us: Billionaire bankers, minimum wage toilers and the nasty truth about fast-food nation by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Thomas Frank wrote about how the fast-food industry is automating the process of processing and serving food, how the franchise system holds down wages, and how fast-food franchises are another plaything of Wall Street speculators.

Methane plume over western US illustrates climate cost of gas leaks by Joby Warrick for the Washington Post [via The Guardian]

Police union pushes for cop killings to be included in hate crimes law by Liz Goodwin for Yahoo News, with a comment on Psychopolitik.

Michael Brown case grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor, asking to speak out on case by Joel Currier and Michael Patrick for the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

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The passing scene: January 3, 2015

January 3, 2015

Social Programs That Work by Ron Haskins in The New York Times.

Many social welfare programs fail.  The Obama administration has identified some that succeed.   While this does not change my unfavorable opinion of the President’s policies overall, I think he is entitled to credit for having this research done.

This City Eliminated Poverty and Nearly Everybody Forgot About It by Zi-Ann Lum for Huffington Post.

Between 1974 and 1979, the small city of Dauphin, Manitoba, guaranteed all residents a basic income—employed or not, able to work or not.  What was the ultimate outcome of this radical experiment?  Nobody ever bothered to check and find out.

What’s Wrong With Georgia? by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin and Minnesota is the proof by Jimmy Anderson for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Georgia and Wisconsin are the latest American states to discover that a Third World economic strategy—low wages, low taxes, low services and low regulation—is not a successful formula for creating jobs and promoting economic growth.

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Ground broken for rival to the Panama Canal

December 23, 2014

nicaragua_canal_624

Ground was broken officially yesterday for a Chinese-financed canal across Nicaragua which, if completed, would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal.

The $50 billion project is to be financed by a Hong Kong company, the Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Group, which is controlled by a Chinese billionaire named Wang Jing.

The groundbreaking was mainly symbolic.  Engineering designs are scheduled to be submitted early next year and excavation to begin late next year.  Completion is scheduled for 2019 or 2020.

Whether the project actually will be built is uncertain.  There’s doubt as to whether Wang Jing, who is said to have made his fortune in telecommunications, is capable of financing and completing the project, and whether the Chinese government secretly stands behind him.

Many grass-roots Nicaraguans oppose the project, because it threatens Lake Nicaragua, the nation’s chief source of fresh water, and because it means taking the property of small farmers by eminent domain.

But if it is built, it would give China an important strategic foothold in the Western Hemisphere.

The United States spent more than $800 billion invading Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there and ties to Al Qaeda that didn’t exist.  China’s financing of construction projects is a much more cost-effective way of projecting its power.

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A Chinese Man, a $50 Billion Plan and a Canal to Reshape Nicaragua by Carrie Kahn for National Public Radio.

Nicaragua’s Rival to Panama Canal Set to Start Dec. 22 by Michael McDonald for Bloomberg News.

Nicaragua launches construction of inter-ocean canal by BBC News.

Nicaragua breaks ground on canal project by Al Jazeera.

China economic strategy outmatches US military

December 22, 2014

Silk-Road-Map1

China represents an economic challenge to American world power.  The USA is trying to meet that challenge with a military response.  It won’t work.

The United States builds military bases and deploys troops all over the world, while allowing public infrastructure and public services to decline.  China is investing in its manufacturing industry, building infrastructure and expanding its trade to all corners of the world.

trainRoutePROJ-2300Pepe Escobar reported that China now has trains that deliver containerized freight from its Pacific Coast to Madrid.  China plans a network of highways, railroad and oil and gas pipelines that will give it access to all of the interior of Asia and bring to the threshold of Europe and the Middle East.

American spending for military and covert operations drains our national strength.  Chinese spending for construction builds up its national strength.

China has displaced the United States as the world’s largest economy.  It has replaced the United States as the largest trading partner of Australia, India, many countries of Africa and Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. America.

The U.S. government tries to enforce its will on other countries by means of our military and economic clout.  The Chinese government tries to win the friendship of other countries by means of construction projects, increased trade and befriending nations alienated from the USA.

The U.S. government is unequaled in history in its power to spread death and destruction.  The Chinese government cannot and does not compete on that level.  Instead it leverages its power to build—a power we Americans could duplicate if we so desired.

(more…)

War and peace: Links & comments 11/24/14

November 24, 2014

Washington Plays Russian Roulette by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The great threat of nuclear war is not that some crazy Islamic terrorist will someday obtain a nuclear weapon.  The threat is that decision-makers in Russia, the only nation with enough nuclear weapons to wipe out the United States, will think the USA is attacking or about to attack their nation, and their only choice is to retaliate or strike first.

I don’t think that the decision-makes in Washington, wicked and foolish as some of them seem to be, really plan to attack Russia.  But they sure are doing things that give Russians reason to fear.

First, by expanding NATO to Russia’s borders.  Second, by bringing an anti-missile defense system to Russia’s doorstep, which, if it worked (it probably won’t), would negate Russia’s ability to retaliate or defend itself.  Third, by a reckless policy in Ukraine, which Pepe Escobar described pungently in this article.

During the Cold War with the Soviet Union, there were a number of times when American and Soviet defenders received false indications that their countries were under attack, and the decision-makers held back on retaliating.   To count on this happening every time in the future is truly the same as playing Russian Roulette.

Dumbing It Away by “Spengler” for Asia Times.

The Chinese don’t believe in Heinlein’s Rule.  They think U.S. government reduced the Middle East to chaos on purpose, in order to disrupt the world’s oil supply and strengthen the U.S. position as an energy producer.  As evidence, they point out that the Islamic State (ISIS) is led by Sunni Arab officers armed and paid by General David Petreaus during the “surge” in 2007-2008.

David P. Goldman, writing as “Spengler,” would like to send the Chinese leaders copies of Why We Lost: a General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars by Daniel P. Bolger.   General Bolger showed that U.S. policy was actually the result of a sincere effort to reach impossible goals by means of an unworkable strategy.

Malarkey on the Potomac by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch

Andrew Bacevich, a political scientist and retired military officer, said U.S. policy in the Middle East is based on five false assumptions:  (1) U.S. forces in the Islamic world help stabilize the region and enhance U.S. power, (2) the Persian Gulf is vital to U.S. security, (3) Egypt and Saudia Arabia are valuable U.S. allies, (4) U.S. and Israel’s interests coincide and (5) terrorism is an existential threat.  Bacevich explained clearly and briefly why none of these beliefs is true.

 

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/17/14

November 17, 2014

What really happened in Beijing: Putin, Obama, Xi—and the back story the media won’t tell you by Patrick Smith for Salon.

Patrick Smith explained why the real winner in the new U.S.-Russian cold war is China.

Saudi Arabia is driving down the world price of oil, now about $80 a barrel, by putting oil on the market.  The main point, Smith wrote, is that the Saudis can make a profit so long as oil is priced at more than $30 a barrel, but the Russians, whose oil is harder to get, need a price of $104 a barrel.

The Saudis oppose Russia for supporting Syria and Iran, which are obstacles to Saudi influence in the Middle East.  Other oil-producing nations suffer collateral damage.  Venezuela is currently going through a political and economic crisis due to the fall in the price of oil.

Russia had helped the United States in its negotiations with Iran, by agreeing to reprocess uranium for the Iranians, which would remove the possibility that the reprocessing might be used to make Iranian nuclear weapons.  U.S.-Iranian negotiations also are collateral damage.

All this benefits China, which gets to buy Russian oil and gas at a bargain price.  China is expanding its influence in Asia offering attractive trade deals to nations that don’t want to be drawn into U.S. conflicts.

Ronald Reagan’s secret tragedy: How 70s and 80s cynicism poisoned Democrats and America, an interview of Rick Perlstein by Thomas Frank for Salon.

Rick Perlstein, author of the newly-published The Invisible Bridge: the Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, said the roots of present-day politics go back to the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon governed based on short-term political gain, and candidate Ronald Reagan encouraged Americans to believe in the myths we tell ourselves.

Democrats meanwhile turned away from working people and New Deal liberalism and embraced an illusory non-partisanship.  This created a politics in which big-business conservatives can pose as  populists and the true representatives of working people.

Act of Faith: the Catholic priest who puts his life on the line to save Muslims in the Central African Republic by Sam Jones for The Guardian.

Father Bernard Kinvi is a true hero who lives up to the best teaching of his church.  His story is well worth knowing.


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