Posts Tagged ‘United States’

Liquidity in the USA

April 19, 2017

Randall Munroe made this graphic on his XKCD site showing the relative amounts of liquids consumed by Americans.  Note that the circles in the top graphic are the tiny circles in the upper left corner of the bottom graphic.

I’m not trying to make any particular political point with this graphic.  I just thought it was interesting.  As a former reporter for Gannett newspapers, I’m a great believer in presenting quantitative information in graphic form

The US is already in a trade war with China

June 9, 2016

chinesesteelmillU165P5029T2D556619F24DT20130201141929

President Obama has a habit of undercutting Republicans by stealing their issues.  He is doing that to Donald Trump on trade.

Trump has threatened a trade war with China, but the Obama administration has already launched a trade war.

Trump proposes to hit China with protective tariffs of up to 45 percent on goods shipped to the United States.   But the Obama administration has authorized U.S. Steel Corp. to ask the International Trade Commission for permission for total ban on Chinese steel exports to the United States.

U.S. Steel executives ask for the ban in retaliation for theft of their trade and manufacturing secrets by Chinese hackers.

Earlier this year the Obama administration has imposed a tariff of 522 percent on cold-rolled flat steel from China and 72 percent of this type of steel from Japan.  Cold-rolled flat steel is used in auto manufacturing, shipping containers and construction.

The justification for the tariff is that Chinese companies are dumping steel on the world market below their cost of production.  They produced more steel than they can profitably sell, and so are trying to cut their losses by selling their product for whatever they can get.

Based on a quick reading of on-line news articles, I think there is a basis for the charges against the Chinese.  European countries also charge China with dumping.

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The growing danger of war with Russia

May 25, 2016

There is only one nation in the world with the power to destroy the USA, and that is Russia, with its stockpile of 1,800 operational nuclear weapons.  Russia would be destroyed in the process, so its leaders would be insane to attempt this unless Russia’s own survival were at risk.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have brought this danger closer by extending NATO forces to the borders of Russia, conducting military exercises close to Russia and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.

I can understand why some people in the Baltic states, Poland and other countries formerly under Soviet domination might want U.S. protection and even a U.S. attack on Russia (just as some people in the Caribbean and Central American countries might want the reverse.)

The problem is that NATO forces probably could not defeat the Russia army in a war close to Russia’s borders, just as Russia could not successfully defend a Caribbean or Central American country.

It’s generally admitted that NATO in Cold War times could not stopped a Red Army invasion of western Europe.  That is why the U.S. government has never pledged “no first use” of nuclear weapons.  The US depended on nuclear weapons as an ultimate deterrent, and still does.

Another danger is that, if Russia’s leaders felt threatened, they might strike first.  Or war might be triggered accidentally, as has almost happened many times in the past.

Terrorist movements such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are criminal and loathsome, but they do not threaten the existence of the United States.  Nuclear war does.

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama took office saying they intended to improve relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  The fact that this didn’t happen makes me wonder about the power of the un-elected Deep State that Mike Lofgren and others have written about.

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Does China’s currency manipulation hurt the US?

March 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and other American politicians accuse the Chinese government of currency manipulation—that is, of keeping the exchange rate for its currency artificially low.

yuanperdollarchinareservesscreen-shot-2013-02-04-at-12-03-15-pm

As the charts indicate, this does not seem to be supported by the facts.  Notice that although the lines in the two charts are going in opposition direction, they both indicate that, over time, it takes fewer yuan to buy a dollar.  In other words, the value of the yuan over time is rising, not falling.

chinausdollar

Even if China was manipulating its currency in a nefarious way, I think it is futile for the U.S. government to demand that foreign countries act against their own perceived self-interest.

It is within Washington’s power to devalue the dollar, and there are reasons why this is not done.

Much of the world’s business is done in dollars.  This includes world oil sales.  Most of these dollars pass through American banks.

This is a source of Wall Street’s power and also Washington’s power.  It is why economic sanctions are so powerful a weapon of American foreign policy.  It is hard for foreign countries to avoid dealing with the United States and American banks.  As a debtor nation, the United States would not have nearly so much economic power otherwise.

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US uses WTO to block India’s solar power plan

March 2, 2016

CROP-solar-power-india-800x400India has been told that it cannot go ahead as planned with its ambitious plan for a huge expansion of its renewable energy sector, because it seeks to provide work for Indian people.  The case against India was brought by the US. 

The ruling, by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), says India’s National Solar Mission − which would create local jobs, while bringing electricity to millions of people − must be changed because it includes a domestic content clause requiring part of the solar cells to be produced nationally.

Source: Climate News Network (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The World Trade Organization rules that governments can’t subsidize infant industries because subsidies are trade barriers.   The theory is that they are equivalent to tariffs because they give the home team an advantage.

WTO rules have been used to penalize solar and renewable power industries in the United States, Canada, China and other countries.

The problem with this is that once a particular nation or business monopoly has established dominance, it is very difficult for a newcomer to break in.  That is why almost all industrial nations that came after Britain developed behind tariff walls, and why leaders of Britain, the first industrial nation, advocated free trade.

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A world on the move

October 18, 2015
peoplemovin382553

Double click to enlarge.

Source: peoplemovin – A visualization of migration flows.

If you click on the link (above), you can find the number of migrants into and out of every country, and also a breakdown of the destinations of emigrants from every country and the sources of immigration into every country.   I think this is interesting, and maybe you will, too.

These figures reflect total numbers of peoples living in a country other than the one in which they were born, as of the year 2010.  They do not reflect recent events, such as the Ukrainian civil war or the Syrian refugee crisis.

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My country, right and wrong

July 4, 2015

Rod Dreher, a Louisianan who writes for The American Conservative, objects to fellow white Southerners who deny the reality of the South’s history of slavery, lynching and white supremacy.

He objects even more to self-righteous white Northerners who condemn everything about the South as if the North had nothing to answer for.

Taking the good and the bad together, he is part of the South and the South is part of him.

I completely understand what he is saying because that is the same as my attitude toward the United States as a whole.

AmericanflagWhenever the Star-Spangled Banner is played, I stand at attention and put my hand over my heart, even when I am the only person who does so.

At the same time I can understand why, for many people, the Stars and Stripes is as much a symbol of oppression as the Confederate Stars and Bars.

I think of people in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and other Latin American countries that have been ruled by U.S.-backed dictatorships.  I think of how U.S. intervention has spread death and destruction spread through the Greater Middle East during the past 15 years.

      I remember the U.S. Constitution was ratified based on a compromise with slavery, and the USA acquired its present territory through ethnic cleansing of the native people and a war of aggression against Mexico.

That’s not the whole story, of course.   American history is also the story of black and white Americans who fought slavery and Jim Crow.  It is the story of the first important modern nation to be founded on democratic ideals, which we have sometimes lived up to and never completely forgotten.

It is the story of a nation to which the whole world looked as a land of opportunity, and which was the first important modern nation to achieve mass prosperity for ordinary people.

The French writer Ernst Renan said a nation is a group of people who have agreed to remember certain things and to forget certain things.  I don’t accept this.  I believe it is possible to be patriotic without historical amnesia.

I identify with the comment of another French writer, Albert Camus, at the time when the French army was fighting Algerian rebels by means of torture and atrocity.  He said he wanted to be able to love his country and also love justice.

That should be less of a dilemma for Americans.  The United States is a nation whose patriotism is based not on loyalty to an ethnic group, but on the willingness to uphold, protect and defend a Constitution.

We Americans can love our country without having to love our government.

But my love of country is not based these arguments or any other arguments, any more than my love of family is based on arguments.   I love America because I am part of it and it is part of me.

∞∞∞

Loving the South by Ross Douthat for The American Conservative.

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 Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Why can’t the United States win wars any more?

June 4, 2015

If you are attempting the impossible you will fail.
         ==One of the Ten Truths of Management

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

The United States of America has the world’s largest military and spends many times more on our military than any other nation.  Yet our military interventions mostly fail.  As the old expression goes, we can’t win for losing.  Why is that?

The industrial might of the United States provided the superior firepower that brought victory in the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Indians wars, the Spanish-American War, World War One and World War Two.

I don’t question the valor of American troops, but fighters on the other sides were brave, too.  It was firepower that provided the margin of victory.

militarytechnologyAmerican firepower and industrial might enabled the United States to defend the independence of South Korea as well.   I remember that Americans in that era were angry that the Korean Conflict did not end more decisively than it did.  But if we had succeeded in preserving South Vietnam as an independent country as we did South Korea, we would have counted it as victory.

Air power and firepower give U.S. forces the power to reduce any nation to anarchy and rubble, as was done most recently to Libya.

But I don’t think destruction was not the goal.   The goal was to install a government that would serve U.S. interests.  What the United States is doing today is like British and French trying to preserve their empires in the 1950s and 1960s.   The U.S. government is equally unsuccessful and for the same reasons.

The editor of a blog called Sic Semper Tyrannis argued, in an article to which I link below, pointed out that no army will fight well for a foreign puppet, and this is precisely what Washington expects the Iraqi army to do.   It is possible to tip the balance in a civil conflict by aiding one side, but if that side is truly independent, it will not necessarily do what Washington wants.

Meanwhile the United States is gradually losing the industrial and technological edge which is the basis of U.S. power to project military strength.  This will not end well.

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What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

Wealth, hope, poverty and reality

April 27, 2015

Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.

==John Dickinson in the musical 1776

I’ve often heard this said.  Is it really true?

It’s common in the United States to hope for a better life, including a higher income, than your parents had, and to hope that your children will have a better life, including a higher income, than you had.

It’s common in the United States to hope for success in your chosen endeavor, which, if you’re an entrepreneur, involves getting rich, but not merely getting rich.

All or almost all entrepreneurs I’ve ever met hoped to accomplish something worthwhile and to be rewarded for it, which is different from the desire to acquire money by any means necessary.

I’ve also met people motivated by mere greed, but none of them that I know of ever accomplished anything worthy of respect.   Sadly, it seems to me that there are many such people in positions of power.

Our American culture emphasizes the responsibility of every person to earn their keep and pay their own way.  Those of us who’ve struggled hard to gain just a little are fearful of having that little taken away for the benefit of those who haven’t struggled.  Sometimes that’s a realistic fear, sometimes not, but that’s a topic for another post.

A short quiz on United States geography

March 28, 2015

What is:

1.  The northernmost American state?

2.  The easternmost American state?

3.  The westernmost American state?

4.  The southernmost American state?

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Could the Cold War have been averted?

February 2, 2015

The Cold War was a real war.  I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.

The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.

It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.

This is not how it appeared to me at the time.   I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.

The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.   By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.

Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were.  While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.

But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom.  George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother.  These things seemed all too plausible.

Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide.  Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.

A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing.  A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.

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What’s the matter with us Americans?

January 14, 2015

Europeans think Americans have gone crazy.  Ann Jones, who has lived in Europe for decades, said her European friends once respected the United States, but no longer.  Here are questions she gets from her European friends.

  • Why would anybody oppose national health care?
  • How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba and why can’t you shut it down?
  • How can  you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty?
  • Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?
  • cia-loves-u-760208Why can’t you understand science?
  • How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?
  • How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?
  • How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?
  • How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?
  • Why do you Americans like guns so much? Why do you kill each other at such a rate?
  • Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up trouble for the rest of us?

She added:

authoritarianism9fd18cThat last question is particularly pressing because countries historically friendly to the United States, from Australia to Finland, are struggling to keep up with an influx of refugees from America’s wars and interventions.

Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies.

Only last month, such a party almost toppled the sitting social democratic government of Sweden, a generous country that has absorbed more than its fair share of asylum seekers fleeing the shock waves of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

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How America shaped the early 20th century

January 12, 2015

Adam Tooze in THE DELUGE: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931, which I just got finished reading, traced the impact of the emergence of the United States as the world’s dominant superpower and arbiter of world affairs.

He described in great detail the struggles in Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan for security and economic stability, and how they all hinged on the action and inaction of the USA.

Leaders of the USA today call our country the “indispensable nation”, and assert the right and the power to be the arbiter of the world.  Tooze’s book shows how this self-appointed role began.

24926_large_The_DelugeThe early 20th century USA was a new kind of world power, Tooze wrote.  It had a greater area and greater population than any European country except Russia.  It was uniquely invulnerable to invasion.  It was the world’s leading manufacturing nation, agricultural producer and oil exporter and, as a result of the war, the world’s leading creditor nation.  No other country could even come close to matching American power.

Tooze began his history in 1916 because that was when Britain, France and their allies came to realize how much they depended on the United States, not just for supplies, but even more for financing of the war.

Woodrow Wilson’s policy was to use this leverage to dictate a “peace without victory,” a compromise peace based on liberal democracy, international law and—most importantly—a worldwide open door for U.S. commerce.

The United States was not interested in new territorial acquisitions because it didn’t need them.  All it wanted was access to other nations’ territories by American business.

Wilson’s neutrality became politically unsustainable because of German attacks on U.S. shipping, and the Zimmerman telegram to Mexico urging reconquest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, but he still tried to maintain U.S. position as an arbiter above the fray.

His Fourteen Points encouraged liberal democrats around the world.  According to Tooze, with better decisions and better luck, there might have been a compromise peace between the pro-democratic Provisional Government of Russia, which came to power in March 1917, and a German government forced to yield to pressure from liberals and socialists in the Reichstag.

But the USA and the other allies pressured Russia’s Provisional Government to go on fighting, and the German army successfully counterattacked.  The Russians ceased to hope for peace and the Germans ceased to see a need for peace.   Wilsonian liberal movements in China and Japan also received no support, partly because of Wilson’s racism.

Tooze pointed out that the Fourteen Points were all highly consistent with American national interests.   The first three points were (1) no secret treaties, (2) freedom of the seas and (3) removal of barriers to equality of trade, all policies that advanced U.S. economic interests.

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In 2015, expect civil unrest, disaffected police

January 1, 2015

The astute John Michael Greer, whose Archdruid Report is one of my favorite blogs, predicted that the most important trends in 2015 will be the disaffection of America’s police combined with continuing civil unrest.

He said the morale of American police is at the same state as that of the American forces in Vietnam in the 1970s.  Police feel they’ve been sent into a war they can’t win, and abandoned by the civilian authority that’s nominally their superior.

I think there’s truth to that, although it’s exaggerated.  Rank-and-file police officers did not invent the “broken windows” theory of policing, which is that the way to ensure civil order is to punish every violation, no matter how minor.  Nor are they the ones who decided that the way to finance municipal government in places such as Ferguson, Missouri, is to collect traffic fines from poor people.

civil-unrest-2016Revolutions generally occur when the police and the military cease to be willing to defend existing authority against rebels.

I think there is zero chance that the military or police would go over to the side of rioting black people or even peacefully protesting black people.  Armed resistance is not a feasible option for African-Americans in the present-day USA.

Effective resistance to civil authority, as I see it, would come from armed and organized militias, such as the group that formed around rancher Cliven Bundy in his fight with the federal government over grazing fees.   They defied federal and local police with loaded weapons, and were not met with deadly force.

I believe there is a real possibility that, as the U.S. economic plight worsens, resistance to government could grow and, as military and police morale decline, resistance to government would be tolerated until it became a real threat.

If things continue as they are in the United States, I believe there is bound to be an explosion.  And, given the history of violent revolution, I do not expect anything good to come from such an explosion.

∞∞∞

Here is John Michael Greer in his own words:

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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.

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Russia’s economic crisis and the danger of war

December 17, 2014

Russia is in an economic crisis—the result of U.S.-led sanctions, the Saudi attack on oil prices and the underlying weakness of the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the Russian ruble, Vladimir Putin has been backed into a corner with few options—all of them bad.

World-Nuke-Graph-with-Info-082814

Click to enlarge.

My question is:  Is it a good idea to deliberately bring about a crisis in a nation with 8,000 nuclear weapons?

Only a small fraction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be needed to reduce American cities to rubble.   Yet the U.S. government treats Russia with less caution than it does North Korea.

I do not think that Vladimir Putin would intentionally launch a nuclear war, any more than Barack Obama would.  But I think their policies bring about a situation in which an unintentional nuclear war is highly possible.

I think President Obama is more to blame for this than President Putin.  For the United States, the stakes are geopolitical advantage.  For the Russian Federation, the stakes are the independence of the nation.

The United States command and control systems are much more lax than they were in the era of Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.  I don’t know about the Russian Federation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things were just as bad or even worse over there.

Nuclear war was narrowly averted several times during the Cold War through good luck and cool heads both on the US and Soviet sides.  The world can’t count on being lucky forever.

And even if the worst is averted—this time—the world will never be safe until the world’s nuclear powers disarm, starting with Russia and the USA.   The current crisis has eliminated the possibility of disarmament for at least a generation.

President Putin is a tough and ruthless statesman, but a sane one.  If he is driven from power as a result of the crisis, his replacement may not be so sane.

I do not think that President Putin would throw his nation on the mercy of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout.  The history of IMF bailouts shows that they involve a loss of national independence, and public sacrifice in order to pay off international creditors.

I think it far more likely that he would throw Russia on the mercy of China.  This would throw open Russia as well as Central Asia to be hinterlands of natural resources to support China’s growing industrial power.

President Putin some years back, which he was seeking recognition of Russia as a respected great power, proposed an integrated European market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.   That’s no longer on the table.   Now the most likely prospect is a Chinese-dominated integrated Eurasian market stretching from Beijing to Berlin.

∞∞∞

Russia Tries Emergency Steps for Second Day to Stem Ruble Plunge by Ksenia Galouchko, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Olga Tamas for Boomberg News.

It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy: It’s Putin by James Miller for The Interpreter.

The bleakest winter by Ed Conway for Medium.  The six downward steps in a typical currency crisis.  Russia is at step four.

Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (via the Unz Review)

How scared should we be of Vladimir Putin?

December 2, 2014

Vladimir Putin is the authoritarian leader of a nation dominated by a corrupt oligarchy.  He is influenced by an ideology opposed to the ideals of freedom and democracy.  He appeals to Russian nationalism in a successful attempt to distract attention from his country’s unsolved problems.  I do not like Putin or what he stands for.

Putin_Valdaiclub.jpegAt the same time I think it is a big mistake for the United States to wage a proxy war with the Russian Federation in Ukraine or, worse, to risk nuclear war.

I have a good friend who has lived in Russia, understands and speaks Russian and watches Russian-language television.  She thinks Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a threat to the nations formerly under Soviet domination, to Europe as a whole and ultimately to the United States.  She tells me I am naive and misguided.

I don’t agree, but neither can I simply dismiss her arguments.  In this post I’ll put what I think are the strongest arguments for an anti-Putin foreign policy in bold face and my answers in italic.

Vladimir Putin justified Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of anti-Ukrainian rebels in Donetsk and Lugansk on the grounds that he is coming to the aid of fellow Russians.  This was the justification given by Hitler for occupying the Rhineland in 1936 and annexing the Sudetenland, the German-speaking border area of Czechoslovakia, in 1938. 

This is just the start of Putin’s territorial demands, just as it was for Hitler.  The time to stop him is now, rather than later.

Adolf Hitler laid out his plans in Mein Kampf.  He stated that he intended to wage war against France to reverse the outcome of the 1914-1918 war, then to conquer Poland, Russia and other Slavic lands to create living space for the German people.  There’s no such master plan in the writings or public statements of Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir-Putin_4Putin’s actions regarding Ukraine can be understood as a response to an anti-Russian government coming to power, and the potential threat this represents to Russian security.  The United States during the past 10 years invaded Iraq and threatens an attack on Iran based on the possibility them acquiring weapons of mass destruction and becoming a potential threat. 

From the Russian point of view, an American alliance with Ukraine would be much more of a potential threat than that.  The USA already has weapons of mass destruction, and, if Ukraine were to join NATO, they would be within striking distance of Moscow and other Russian cities. 

When Nikita Khrushchev attempted to introduce Soviet nuclear weapons into Cuba, the United States risked war to prevent this threat from becoming real.  If I were Putin, I would regard the possibility of U.S. nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers off Crimea in the same way.

Ukraine is a sovereign nation, and has the right to make what alliances it chooses.  History gives the Ukrainians good reason to fear the Russians. 

The same is true of the Poles, the people of the Baltic states and all the other former subjects of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union.  They all fear Russian aggression, and with good reason.

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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.

The passing scene: November 15, 2014

November 15, 2014

The Myth of Chinese Super-Schools by Diane Ravich for the New York Review of Books.

Diane Ravich, a foremost defender and analyst of the U.S. public school system, reviewed Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World by Yong Zhao.

Zhao, who was educated in China and now teaches at the University of Oregon, said the Chinese educational system is the best in the world for promoting rote learning, high test scores and hard-working, obedient employees.  It is the worst in the world for encouraging creativity, enterprise and self-reliance.

The United States is making a big mistake by moving to a high stakes testing system that measures rote learning.

Who won the Civil War?  These students at Texas Tech have no idea, a video from the History News Network (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

 A video interview of Texas Tech students revealed that hardly any of them knew that the North won the Civil War or that the United States won its independence from Great Britain.

After watching this video, I thought that maybe a certain amount of rote learning might not be amiss.  But my question is: Were these students never taught basic facts about the War of Independence and the Civil War?  Or were they taught them, but never made to understand why these facts were worth remembering?

Can Climate Change Cure Capitalism? by Elizabeth Kolbert of the New York Review of Books.

Elizabeth Kolbert, a foremost writer on climate change, reviewed This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.  She wrote that Klein makes the issue too simple by blaming climate change on fossil fuel companies, and ignoring the drastic changes in everyday life that will be needed to keep the planet from overheating.

Is the U.S. China Climate Pact as Big a Deal as It Seems? by James Fallows for The Atlantic.

Without the USA and China, the world’s two biggest economic powers and two biggest polluters, nothing can be done to stop catastrophic climate change.  The current pledge by Presidents Obama and Xi may not come to anything, but it is a necessary first step.

Sunken Soviet Submarines Threaten Nuclear Catastrophe in Russia’s Arctic by Matthew Bodner for The Moscow Times (hat tip to Naked Capitalism)

David Graeber on the space race

September 23, 2014

It’s often said the Apollo moon landing was the greatest historical achievement of Soviet communism.  Surely, the United States would never have contemplated such a feat had it not been for the cosmic ambitions of the Soviet Politburo.  [snip]

The American victory in the space race meant that, after 1968, U.S. planners no longer took the competition seriously.  As a result, the mythology of the final frontier was maintained, even as the direction of research and development shifted away from anything that might lead to the creation of Mars bases and robot factories.

The standard line is that all this was a result of the triumph of the market.  The Apollo program was a Big Government project, Soviet-inspired in the sense that it required a national effort coordinated by government bureaucracies. 

As soon as the Soviet threat drew safely out of the picture, though, capitalism [supposedly] was free to revert to lines of technological development more in accord with its normal, decentralized, free-market imperatives—such as privately funded research into marketable products like personal computers.  [snip]

In fact, the United States never did abandon gigantic, government-controlled schemes of technological development.  Mainly, they just shifted to military research—and not just to Soviet-scale schemes like Star Wars, but to weapons projects, research in communications and surveillance technologies, and similar security-related concerns.

To some degree this had always been true: the billions poured into missile research had always dwarfed the sums allocated to the space program.  Yet by the seventies, even basic research came to be conducted following military priorities.

One reason we don’t have robot factories is because roughly 95 percent of robotics research funding has been channeled through the Pentagon, which is more interested in developing unmanned drones than in automating paper mills.

via Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit – The Baffler.

What I learned from being wrong

September 17, 2014

obama.foreignpolicy

A blogger named Lance Mannion issued this challenge to all those critics who think they’re smarter than President Obama.

Arguments [of many Internet doves] seem to me to be based on the assumption that we should get ourselves out of the Middle East no matter what because there’s basically nothing we can do to make things better and just by being in there we make them worse by stirring up suspicions and hatreds.  Those are the smart ones.  But I would think that since I’m inclined to agree.

I’m inclined to agree.  That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree.

There are others, though, who’ve based their case on the bumper sticker-profound idea that War is Never the Answer and plenty of others whose arguments are based on a vague and circular logic: “This reminds me of what George Bush did in some way I can’t put my finger on but it must be wrong because of that or else I wouldn’t be reminded of George Bush.”

17-40f10I’m not bothering with any arguments that are based on the assumption that whatever we do is wrong because we’re the ones doing it.

So I’m asking for help.

Should we do nothing?  Why or why not?  What should we do and how would that work?  And what I want to know, more than that you were right about Iraq in 2002, is if you think Bill Clinton failed morally and geo-politically when he did nothing about Rwanda.

Also what are your thoughts on Kuwait, the Kurds, Kosovo, Tora Bora, killing bin Laden, and Libya?

via Smarter than the President?  Not me.  I’m too smart not to know how dumb I am.

 I’ve been wrong more often than I’ve been right on all the issues Mannion mentions.  My claim is that, while it has taken longer than it should have done, I have learned something from my mistakes.

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