The only reason people like Michael Moore or Tom Harkin can get away with singing praises of Cuban socialism is because most Americans can't go visit and see for themselves. By keeping Cuba off-limits, we are doing the communists' work for them by allowing them to provide cherry-picked videos and stories through useful idiots that have zero bearing on the true life of the average person in Cuba.
Archive for the ‘International Affairs’ Category.
The media tends to talk about the growth of the Chinese economy as if it is something new and different. In fact, there probably have been only about 200 years in the history of civilization when China was not the largest economy on Earth. China still held this title into the early 18th century, and will get it back early in this century.
This map from the Economist (via Mark Perry) illustrates the point.
Of course there is a problem with this map. It is easy to do a center of gravity for a country, but for the whole Earth? The center in this case (unless one rightly puts it somewhere in the depths of the planet itself) depends on arbitrary decisions about where one puts the edges of the map. I presume this is from a map with North America on the far left side and Japan on the far right. If one redid the map, say, with North America in the center, Asia on the left and Europe on the right, the center of gravity would roam around North America through history.
The American Studies Association has voted to initiate an academic boycott of Israel ostensibly to protest its denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories. Forgetting for a moment Israel's unique security concerns (what would the US do if Mexico routinely lobbed rockets and artillery shells into US border towns), the implication is that the Palestinians in Israels have it worse than any other group in the world, since this is the first and only such boycott the ASA has ever entered into. Is it really worse to be a Palestinian in Israel than, say, a woman anywhere in the Arab world** or about anyone in North Korea? Do academics in Cuba have more ability to write honestly than they do in Israel? I doubt it.
The only statement the ASA makes on the subject that I can find is in their FAQ on the boycott
7) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world.
The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid - and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state - and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, it is urgent to act now.
A couple of thoughts. First, I am not sure why US material aid is relevant to choosing a boycott target. I suppose the implication is that this boycott is aimed more at the US than at Israel itself. But the question still stands as to why countries like Saudi Arabia, which receives a lot of US material aid as well, get a pass. Second, the fact that Palestinian academics can seek international help tends to disprove that their situation is really the worst in the world. I don't think the fact that the ASA is not hearing cries for help from liberal-minded academics in North Korea means that there is less of a problem in North Korea. It means there is more of a problem.
I am not a student of anti-semitism, so I can't comment on how much it may explain this decision. However, I think it is perfectly possible to explain the ASA's actions without resorting to anti-semitism as an explanation. As background, remember that it is important for their social standing and prestige for liberal academics to take public positions to help the downtrodden in other countries. This is fine -- not a bad incentive system to feel social pressure to speak out against injustice. But the problem is that most sources of injustice are all either a) Leftish regimes the Left hesitates to criticize for ideological reasons or b) Islamic countries that the left hesitates to criticize because they have invested so much in calling conservatives Islamophobic.
So these leftish academics have a need to criticize, but feel constrained to only strongly criticizing center-right or right regimes. The problem is that most of these are gone. Allende, the Shah, Franco, South Africa -- all gone or changed. All that's left is Israel (which is odd because it is actually fairly socialist but for some reason never treated as such by the Left). So if we consider the universe of appropriate targets -- countries with civil rights and minority rights issues that are not leftish or socialist governments and not Islamic, then the ASA has been perfectly consistent, targeting every single country in that universe.
** To this day I am amazed how little heat the gender apartheid in the Arab world generates in the West in comparison to race apartheid in South Africa. I am not an expert on either, but from what I have read I believe it is a true statement to say that blacks in apartheid South Africa had more freedom than women have today in Saudi Arabia. Thoughts?
Update: I twice emailed the ASA for a list of other countries or groups they have boycotted and twice got a blurb justifying why Israel was selected but with no direct answer to my question. I guess I will take that as confirmation this is the first and only country they have ever targeted. They did want to emphasize that the reason Israel was selected (I presume vs. other countries but they did not word it thus) had a lot to do with he fact that Israel was the number one recipient of US aid money (mostly military) and that it was this American connection given they represent American studies professors that made the difference. Why Pakistan or Afghanistan, who treat their women far worse than Israel treats Palestinians, and which receive a lot of US aid, were not selected or considered or mentioned is not explained. Basically, I would explain it thus: "all the cool kids are doing it, and we determined that to remain among the cool kids we needed to do it too". This is a prestige and signalling exercise, and it makes a lot more sense in that context, because then one can ask about the preferences of those to whom they are signalling, rather than try to figure out why Israel is somehow the worst human rights offender in the world.
By the way, by the ASA logic, it should be perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for European academic institutions to boycott US academic institutions because the US government gives aid to such a bad country like Israel. This seems like it would be unfair to US academics who may even disagree with US policy, but no more unfair than to Israeli academics who are being punished for their government's policies. I wonder how US academics would feel about being boycotted from European events and scholarship over US government policy?
I am not sure the exact date it started, but our embargo on Cuba is over fifty years old. At what point do we declare failure?
Sure, the communists and Castro and Che Guevara all suck. But how much longer are we going to punish Cuba's leaders by making their citizens miserable? History has shown that communist countries become less communist by interacting with the (quasi) capitalist democracies. The most stable dictatorships (think North Korea) are those who are the most obsessive in masking alternatives from their citizens. How much longer are we going to continue doing the Castros' work for them?
Open up our relations with Cuba, not because they have somehow gotten better or deserve our respect but because this is the only way they are going to get better.
The U.S. is big enough and strong enough to act on behalf of the innocent victims, including children, who were killed in Syria by the chemical weapons. But those who are against it say this is not our fight. That we shouldn’t go it alone. That the chemical attack wasn’t against Americans. That we can’t be sure what we’d be getting ourselves into. And that there is no clear objective, other than acting in response to an atrocity.
I understand the reasoning.
Given all that, however, I wonder why was so many Americans were furious with former Penn State assistant football coach Mike McQueary.
He was the guy who saw the now imprisoned former coach Jerry Sandusky raping a boy in a Penn State shower.
McQueary was vilified for not acting to stop the attack.
This is an absurd comparison for any number of reasons. The most obvious is that no one would have been put in danger, and the financial costs were nil, for the Penn State coaches to stop Sandusky's abuse. Further, Penn State officials had a clear legal obligation for the safety of folks on their property. Finally, Penn State had the ability to easily stop and prevent the illegal activity.
None of these statements are true for Syria. The costs in lives and property, both to ourselves and to the citizens of Syria, are potential enormous. It's not clear it is the US's job to police the area, and in fact history has proven that unilaterally adopting the policeman role, even with the best of intentions, can hurt our country's reputation and relations in the long-term. Finally, its not at all clear that we could stop Assad from doing whatever he wishes, short of sending in troops to remove him from power, and even then his replacement may likely be just as bad. Oddly for a liberal in the foregin policy sphere, Montini seems to be making a form of the "might makes right" argument, that the US is obligated just because it is big and strong.
Tellingly, I don't see Montini advocating for use military force to help citizens in any other of the scores of countries where they are being mistreated. It is more likely that what Montini is really concerned about is the loss of the prestige and credibility of Barack Obama. A lot of blood has been spilled for thousands of years for the prestige of state leaders. I for one am happy if this country is finally wising up to this game.
I grew up in the 1970's, a time when a lot of Americans post-Vietnam were questioning the value, even the sanity, of war. Opinions were certainly split on the subject, but one thing I remember is that the concept of "punitive bombing" was widely mocked and disdained. Which is why I find it amazing to see bipartisan, multi-country support for exactly this tired old idea as applied to Syria. Has bombing ever done anything but radicalize the bombed civilian population against the bombers? The reaction to the London Blitz was not to have the English suddenly decide that they had been wrong in supporting Poland. Nor did Germans or Japanese generally reprimand their leaders for the past policies as as result of our firebombing Tokyo or Dresden. Or look at drone strikes in Afghanistan -- do you get the sense anyone there is saying, "Boy, have we ever been taught a lesson."
In the comments, readers are welcome to contribute examples of countries who "learned their lesson" from punitive air strikes and changed their behavior.
PS- Apparently the reason we "must" have at least air strikes is that we have established a policy that we will "do something" if countries use chemical weapons. And if we don't have air strikes, the world will think we are weak, right? But the problem is that this logic never ends. If the country then ignores our air strikes and behaves as before, or perhaps performs an FU of their own by using chemical weapons openly, then what? Aren't we obligated to do something more drastic, else the world will think we are weak?
Well, the silver lining of this story is that the press, who until now have generally yawned at libertarian concerns about warrantless searches and national security letters, particularly since that power has been held by a Democrat rather than a Republican, will now likely go nuts.
You have probably seen it by now, but here is the basic story
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
The AP believes this is an investigation into sources of a story on May 7, 2012 about a foiled terror attack. This bit was interesting to me for two reasons:
The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.
The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."
The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.
First, it seems to fit in with the White House cover-up over Benghazi, in the sense that it is another example of the Administration trying to downplay, in fact hide, acts of organized terrorism. I have criticized the Administration for throwing free speech under the bus in its Benghazi response, but I must say their reasons for doing so were never that clear to me. This story seems to create a pattern of almost irrational White House sensitivity to any admission of terrorist threats to the US.
Second, note from the last sentence that the White House is bending over backwards to investigate the AP basically for stealing its thunder before a press conference. Wow. Well if that were suddenly illegal, just about everyone in DC would be in jail.
Update: Some thoughts from Glenn Greenwald
how media reactions to civil liberties assaults are shaped almost entirely by who the victims are. For years, the Obama administration has been engaged in pervasive spying on American Muslim communities and dissident groups. It demanded a reform-free renewal of the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendments Act of 2008, both of which codify immense powers of warrantless eavesdropping, including ones that can be used against journalists. It has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers under espionage statutes as all previous administrations combined, threatened to criminalize WikiLeaks, and abused Bradley Manning to the point that a formal UN investigation denounced his treatment as "cruel and inhuman".
But, with a few noble exceptions, most major media outlets said little about any of this, except in those cases when they supported it. It took a direct and blatant attack on them for them to really get worked up, denounce these assaults, and acknowledge this administration's true character. That is redolent of how the general public reacted with rage over privacy invasions only when new TSA airport searches targeted not just Muslims but themselves: what they perceive as "regular Americans". Or how former Democratic Rep. Jane Harman -- once the most vocal defender of Bush's vast warrantless eavesdropping programs -- suddenly began sounding like a shrill and outraged privacy advocate once it was revealed that her own conversations with Aipac representatives were recorded by the government.
... was not the crisis management but Obama's throwing free speech under the bus.
I can live with poor crisis management. I have been a part of enough to understand that things are different in real time than they look when monday-morning quarterbacking the events. In particular, it can be very hard to get reliable data. Sure, the correct data is all likely there, and when folks look back on events, that data will be very visible and folks will argue that better choices should have been made.
A great example of this is when historians sort through data to say that FDR missed (or purposely ignored, if you are of that revisionist school) clear evidence of the Japaneses surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Sure, the correct clues stand out like flashing lights to the historian, but to the contemporary they were buried in 10,000 ostensibly promising false leads.
In real time, good data is mixed in with a lot of bad data, and it takes some time -- or a unique individual -- to cut through the fog. Clearly neither Obama nor Clinton were this individual, but we should not be surprised as our selection process for politicians is not really configured to find such a person, except by accident.
No, the problem I have with Benghazi is that when push came to political shove, the President threw free expression under the bus to protect himself. I am a sort of city on the hill isolationist, who prefers as much as possible for the US to have influence overseas by setting a positive example spread through open communications and free trade. In this model, there is nothing more important for a US President to do than to support and explain the values of individual liberty, such as free expression, to the world.
Instead, it is increasingly clear he blamed some Youtube video, an exercise in free expression, for the tragedy. And not just in the first confused days, but five days later when he put Susan Rice on TV to parrot this narrative. And when the Feds sent a team to arrest and imprison the video maker. And days after the Rice interviews when Hillary parroted the same message at the funeral, and days after that when Obama spoke to the UN, mentioning the video 6 or 7 times. Obama took to his bully pulpit and railed against free speech in front of a group of authoritarians who love to hear that message, and whose efforts to stifle speech have historically only been slowed by America's example and pressure.
Dan Mitchell describes three possible government responses to an impending bank failure:
- In a free market, it’s easy to understand what happens when a financial institution becomes insolvent. It goes into bankruptcy, wiping out shareholders. The institution is then liquidated and the recovered money is used to partially pay of depositors, bondholders, and other creditors based on the underlying contracts and laws.
- In a system with government-imposed deposit insurance, taxpayers are on the hook to compensate depositors when the liquidation occurs. This is what is called the “FDIC resolution” approach in the United States.
- And in a system of cronyism, the government gives taxpayer money directly to the banks, which protects depositors but also bails out the shareholders and bondholders and allows the institutions to continue operating.
I would argue that in fact Cyprus has gone off the board and chosen a fourth option: In addition to bailing out shareholder and bondholders with taxpayer money, it will protect them by giving depositors a haircut as well.
The Cyprus solution is so disturbing because, hearkening back to Obama's auto bailout, it completely upends seniority and distribution of risk on a company balance sheet. Whereas depositors should be the most senior creditors and equity holders the least (so that equity holders take the first loss and depositors take the last), Cyprus has completely reversed this.
One reason that should never be discounted for such behavior is cronyism. In the US auto industry, for example, Steven Rattner and President Obama engineered a screwing of secured creditors in favor of the UAW, which directly supported Obama's election. In Cyprus, I have no doubt that the large banks have deep tendrils into the ruling government.
But it is doubtful that the Cyprus banks have strong influence over, say, Germany, and that is where the bailout and its terms originate. So why is Germany bailing out Cyprus bank owners? Well, there are two reasons, at least.
First, they are worried about a chain reaction that might hurt Germany's banks, which most definitely do have influence over German and EU policy. There is cronyism here, but perhaps once removed.
But even if you were to entirely remove cronyism, Germany and the EU have a second problem: They absolutely rely on the banks to consume their new government debt and continue to finance their deficit spending. Far more than in the US, the EU countries rely on their major banks continuing to leverage up their balance sheets to buy more government debt. The implicit deal here is: You banks expand your balance sheets and buy our debt, and we will shelter you and prevent external shocks from toppling you in your increasingly precarious, over-leveraged position.
Update: Apparently, there is very little equity and bondholder debt on the balance sheets -- its depositor money or nothing. My thoughts: First, the equity and bondholders better be wiped out. If not, this is a travesty. Two, the bank management should be gone -- it is as bad or worse to bail out to protect salaried manager jobs as to protect equity holders. And three, if depositor losses have to be taken, its insane to take insured depositor money ahead of or even in parallel with uninsured deposits.
Scott Lemieux, via Kevin Drum, argues that people are getting way too worked up about the targeted killing memo. Everything's fine"
Much of the coverage of the memo, including Isikoff's story, focuses on the justifications offered by the Obama administration for killing American citizens, including Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan (two alleged Al Qaeda operatives killed by a 2011 airstrike in Yemen.) In some respects, this focus is misplaced. If military action is truly justified, then it can be exercised against American citizens (an American fighting for the Nazis on the battlefield would not have been entitled to due process.) Conversely, if military action is not justified, extrajudicial killings of non-Americans should hardly be less disturbing than the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen. The crucial question is whether the safeguards that determine when military action is justified are adequate
As I wrote in his comments section to this:
There is an immense chasm of difference between killing an American on the battlefield dressed in a Luftwaffe uniform in the Battle of the Bulge and authorizing assassination of American civilians without any sort of due process (Please don't tell me that presidential conferences and an excel spreadsheet constitute due process). The donning of an enemy uniform is a sort of admission of guilt, to which there is no parallel here. A better comparison would be: Would it have been right for FDR to have, say, Charles Lindberg killed for supporting the nazis and nazi-style eugenics? How about having a Congressman killed who refused to fund the war on terror - after all, there are plenty of people who would argue that person is abetting terrorism and appeasing Al Qaeda by not voting for the funds.
Before the election, when asked to post possible reasons to vote for Romney, the best one I could think of was that at least under a President Romney, the natural opponents on the Left of targeted killing and drone strikes and warrant-less wiretapping and prosecuting whistle-blowers under treason laws would find their voice, rather than remaining on the sidelines in fear of hurting "their guy" in the White House.
By the way, I know this puts me out of the mainstream, but Presidential targeted killing and drone strikes on civilian targets bothers me whether or not Americans are targeted. I don't accept the implicit notion that "foreigners" have fewer due process rights than Americans vis a vis our government. I believe the flaw goes all the way back to the AUMF that was directed against a multinational civilian organization rather against a country and its uniformed military. I don't believe this is even a valid definition of war, but even if it were, there is no way the traditional rules of war can apply to such a conflict. But here we are, still trying to apply the old rules of war, and it is amazing to me to see denizens of the Left leading us down this slippery slope.
Update: As usual, Glenn Greenwald seems to have the definitive editorial on the targeted killing memo. It is outstanding, top to bottom. Read it, particularly if you are on the fence about this.
Obama Secretary of State John Kerry, in his famous Winter Solider remarks to Congress about the Vietnam War:
... it seems the Government of this country is more concerned with the legality of where men sleep than it is with the legality of where they drop bombs.
these [drone] strikes are legal, they are ethical, and they are wise
Remember, Jay Carney is talking about the President's claimed right to bomb US citizens, as well as anyone else he thinks (but can't necessarily prove in a court) might kind of sort of have something to do with a terrorist group. And civilian casualties, so much a part of Kerry's concerns back in the 1970's? They are just asking for it.
Anyway, I have not had a chance to digest the Administration's white paper on targeted killing (I can't even believe I am writing that phrase -- our Constitution specifically banned bills of attainder but now the executive claims the ability to kill at whim). Jacob Sullum has some thoughts at the link. I will write more if and when I have a chance to read it, but I am sure I will find it horrifying.
"What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," [retired General Stanley McChrystal] said in an interview. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."
Oddly, Obama Democrats used to feel the same way, at least until their guy was pushing the button (in fact, pushing the button far more frequently than Bush did). We are overusing this tool.
I can't call myself a defender of Israel per se because they have done a number of illiberal things in their country that tick me off. However, I can say that for all the problems they may have, their response to a neighboring country dropping rockets on its citizens is FAR more restrained than would be the response of, say, the US. If Mexico were dropping rockets into El Paso, Mexico would be a smoking hole in the ground. We still maintain a stricter economic embargo on Cuba, which has never done a thing to us, than Israel does on Gaza.
I pay attention to the Amherst College community since my son enrolled there. I thought this was a pretty powerful article by an Amherst student who has taken a leave of absence to join the IDF. Given my understanding of how Eastern liberal arts faculty think about Israel and Palestine, one should think of this as a voice in the wilderness.
I continue to be dumbfounded by the Obama Administration's escalating drone war in Pakistan and other nations. On the one hand, we have a President who argued persuasively that our war on terror, by its ham-handedness, was actually creating more terrorists than it eliminated by giving people more reasons to hate America. On the other hand, we have the exact same administration escalating Bush's drone war by a factor of six. The same children of the sixties that likely marched against the bombings in Cambodia are now bringing random, robotic death from the sky to countries we have not actually declared war on.
a Washington Postinvestigative report published last week raises questions about whether bureaucratic "mission creep" has cut the program loose from its original justification. "Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing," the Post's Greg Miller writes, "transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war." He reports "broad consensus" among Obama terror-warriors that "such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade."
I could be convinced to use drones to knock off a few top managers with irreplaceable impact on the war, sort of like taking out Patton or Rommel in WWII. But now we are taking out corporals, or the terrorist equivalent. And ever time we kill one (with a few innocents thrown in the mix, which Obama has relabeled as combatants by definition) we are probably creating two new terrorists.
This targetted killing is an expansive and scary new power. The Administration owes us a reckoning, a justification which demonstrates that these drone strikes are really having some sort of positive effect. Right now, it is hard to see, with Libya, Mali, Egypt, Syria blowing up and Afghanistan no closer to peace than it was four years ago. What are we getting in exchange for president taking on this dangerous new authority?
PS- the report linked notes that the death toll from drone attacks is approaching 3,000. What happened to the press, which was so diligent about reporting all these grim milestones under Bush. It is just amazing how far the press and the Left have gone in the tank, against their stated ideals, for Obama.
Update: Killing of 16-year-old American in drone strike blamed on his ... having a bad father. It was his fault!
ADAMSON: You said it is important for the president to do what needs to be done in terms of members of al Qaeda and people who pose a threat. Do you think that the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s son who is an American citizen is justifiable?
GIBBS: I’m not going to get into Anwar al-Awlaki’s son. I know that Anwar al-Awlaki renounced his citizenship…
ADAMSON:…His son was still an American citizen…
GIBBS:…Did great harm to people in this country and was a regional al Qaeda commander hoping to inflict harm and destruction on people that share his religion and others in this country. And…
ADAMSON:…It’s an American citizen that is being targeted without due process, without trial. And, he’s underage. He’s a minor.
GIBBS: I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children. I don’t think becoming an al Qaeda jihadist terrorist is the best way to go about doing your business. [emphasis added]
And this practically qualifies as Nixonian:
ROBERT GIBBS, Obama advisor: This president has taken the fight to Al Qaeda.
LUKE RUDKOWSKI, We Are Change: Does that justify a kill list?
GIBBS: When there are people who are trying to harm us and have pledged to bring terror to our shores, we have taken that fight to them.
RUDKOWSKI: Without due process of law?
GIBBS: We have taken that fight to them.
Update 2: here is an interesting quote
Counterterrorism experts said the reliance on targeted killing is self-perpetuating, yielding undeniable short-term results that may obscure long-term costs. 'The problem with the drone is it’s like your lawn mower,' said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and Obama counterterrorism adviser. 'You’ve got to mow the lawn all the time. The minute you stop mowing, the grass is going to grow back.'"
Greek Olympic venues. I am sure that baseball field gets a lot of use. And that state-of-the-art man-made kayaking course and associated stadium sure seem to be contributing a lot to GDP.
The whole world patted Greece on the back for completing this boondoggle when in fact we were just enabling an alcoholic, congratulating Greece for, in effect, driving home safely after drinking a fifth of tequila.
Veronique de Rugy is doing an awesome job debunking the myth that European countries have cut spending in any meaningful way, and that the "austerity" that Krugman et. al. keeping going on about mostly consists of raising taxes. Perhaps because they so desperately want to raise taxes in the US, Krugman and company seem willfully blind in recognizing the tax increases in Europe and their negative consequences.
I don't know how one would even think to graph these two variables, but it is an interesting picture of the life cycle of development, where infrastructure improvements are initially an important part of the development equation, and then fall off, percentage wise, as wealth is enhanced with softer goods.
Anyone off the chart on the high side are going to be what I would call the triumphalists, who do what Thomas Friedman seems to want and pour a disproportionate share of money into high-visibility monuments (e.g. tall buildings, dams, bridges, high speed rail, etc). I don't see Dubai on here but if they were they might be off the top of the chart.
Zero Hedge links this chart to make a point they have made for a while about a massive bubble bursting coming soon to China, a position with which I agree (though the timing is always a question in such things -- the state has the ability to delay the reckoning at the cost of a worse crash when it eventually comes).
Disclosure: I am short Chinese real estate and stock funds.
Apparently, the fall of the Soviet Union is far enough in the rear view mirror that its time for another object lesson in the real effects of communism. It's incredible to me that any country would want to actually emulate Greece, but France seems hell-bent to do so. So all I can say is "way to go, France! Better you guys than us."
Apparently Obama is already cozying up with Francois Hollande. These two may be the socialist-corporatist answer to Reagan and Thatcher. It is interesting that Europe seems to produce an analog to the American President in each generation (or vice versa). Reagan-Thatcher, Clinton-Blair, now Obama-Hollande.
The Left continues to push the myth that government "austerity" (defined as still running a massive deficit but running a slightly smaller massive deficit) is somehow pushing Europe into a depression. Well, this myth-making worked with Hoover, who is generally thought to have worsened the Depression through austerity despite the reality that he substantially increased government spending.
It is almost impossible to spot this mythical austerity beast in action in these European countries. Sure, they talk about austerity, and deficit reduction, and spending increases, but if such talk were reality we would have a balanced budget in this country. If one looks at actual government spending in European nations, its impossible to find a substantial decline. Perhaps they are talking about tax increases, which I would oppose and have been occurring, but I doubt the Left is complaining about tax increases.
Seriously, I would post the chart showing the spending declines but I can't because I keep following links and have yet to find one. I keep seeing quotes about "commitment" to austerity, but no actual evidence of such.
Let's take Britain. Paul Krugman specifically lashed out at "austerity" programs there are undermining the British and European economy. So, from this source, here is actual and budgeted British government spending by year, in billions of pounds:
Seriously, I will believe the so-called austerity when someone shows it to me. And this is not even to mention the irresponsibility of demanding more deficit spending without even acknowledging the fact that whole countries already have so much debt they are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Here is the European problem -- they are pouring hundreds of billions of Euro into bailing out failed banks and governments. They are effectively taking massive amounts of available resources out of productive hands and pouring it into failed institutions. Had they (or we) let these institutions crash four years ago, Europe would be seeing a recovery today. The hundreds of billions of Euros used to keep banks on life support could have instead been used to mitigate the short term effects of bigger financial crash.
I will fight when my liberty is truly threatened. But I have absolutely no trust in politicians to determine when this is the case.
Which is why my reaction to this is, Oh Crap!
I am sure it is a total coincidence that, after 35 years of butting heads with Iran, this is occurring during a sputtering economy and within months of a Presidential election.
PS- I watched Wag the Dog the other night. Every time Dustin Hoffman said "he f*cked a Firefly girl" all I could think of was Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, Jewel Staite, and Summer Glau. Well worth losing the Presidency for.
Whilst it is exceedingly difficult to summon up much sympathy for either Russia’s state-owned natural gas monopoly Gazprom or Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, the dynamic rise of natural gas produced by hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,” has raised alarm bells in the highest reaches of the Kremlin.
Because Gazprom’s European customers, tired of being ripped off by Gazprom, are avidly exploring the possibilities of undertaking fracking to develop their own sources of the “blue gold,” and nowhere is interest higher than in the Russian Federation’s neighbors Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and China.
Since I am on the subject today of topics my thinking has changed on over the last 30 years, I will link this post from Kevin Drum arguing that we need to make war hard again. I have not read Rachel Maddow's book and am unlikely to, if for no other reason than style issues, but I must say that I have come around to the point Drum derives from it
If you can get past that, though, there's a deadly serious argument here that deserves way more attention than it gets. The book is, basically, a series of potted histories that explain how we drifted away from our post-Vietnam promise to make sure we never again went to war without the full backing and buy-in of the American public. Maddow's premise is that, just as the founders intended, our aim was to make war hard. Presidents would need Congress on their side. The Abrams Doctrine ensured that reserves would have to be called up. Wars would no longer unfold almost accidentally, as Vietnam did.
And for a while that was the case. ...
Maddow's argument is that we need to start rolling back these changes of the past two decades. When we go to war, we should raise taxes to pay for it. We should get rid of the secret military. The reserves should go back to being reserves. We should cut way back on the contractors and let troops peel their own potatoes. And above all, Congress should start throwing its weight around again. It's fine to criticize presidents for accreting ever more power to themselves, but what do you expect when Congress just sits back and allows it happen? Our real problem is congressional cowardice: they don't want the responsibility of declaring war, but they also don't want the responsibility of stopping it. So they punt, and war becomes ever more a purely executive function.
I am mostly in agreement with this (though I am not sure why soldiers rather than contractors should peel potatoes). War has become way too easy -- though I would argue that Drum needs to look in a mirror a bit here. He has been a huge supporter of Obama using executive powers to end-around Congressional opposition on things like the budget. It's hard for him to credibly turn around and say that this same executive end-around Congress is bad in war-making. I will be consistent and say it's bad for both.
I have not read the book, so perhaps this is covered, but I would argue that there are external factors driving this change in addition to internal factors.
The current Presidential ability to fight small wars without much Congressional backing is not entirely unprecedented. Teddy Roosevelt did much the same thing with his gunboat diplomacy. There were two external conditions that allowed TR to get away with this that are similar to conditions that obtain today. One, we had a decisive economic and technological advantage over the countries we were pushing around (e.g. Columbia). And two, there was no superpower willing to challenge us when we meddled in small countries, particularly in Latin America where the major European powers were willing to let us do whatever we wanted.
I would argue that these conditions again obtain since the fall of the Soviet Union, and allow the US to lob around cruise missiles (the gunboat diplomacy of the 21st century) with relative impunity.
In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.
Update: Maybe he will be reincarnated in Avignon:
At 72, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since 1959, is beginning to plan his succession, saying that he refuses to be reborn in Tibet so long as it’s under Chinese control. Assuming he’s able to master the feat of controlling his rebirth, as Dalai Lamas supposedly have for the last 600 years, the situation is shaping up in which there could be two Dalai Lamas: one picked by the Chinese government, the other by Buddhist monks.
As I predicted, the various highly touted European debt and currency interventions last month did squat. This is no surprise. The basic plan currently is to have the ECB give essentially 0% loans to banks with the implied provision that they use the money to buy sovereign debt. Eventually there are provisions for austerity, but I wrote that I don't think it's possible these will be effective. It's a bit unclear where this magic money of the ECB is coming from - either they are printing money (which they refuse to own up to because the Germans fear money printing even more than Soviet tanks in the Fulda Gap) or there is some kind of leverage circle-jerk game going where the ECB is effectively leveraging deposits and a few scraps of funding to the moon.
At this point, short of some fiscal austerity which simply is not going to happen, I can't see how the answer is anything but printing and devaluation. Either the ECB prints, spreading the cost of inflation to all counties on the Euro, or Greece/Spain/Italy exit the Euro and then print for themselves.
The exercise last month, as well as the months before that, are essentially mass hypnosis spectacles, engineered to try to get the markets to forget the underlying fundamentals. And the amazing part is it sort of works, from two days to two weeks. It reminds me of nothing so much as the final chapters of Atlas Shrugged where officials do crazy stuff to put off the reckoning even one more day.
Disclosure: I have never, ever been successful at market timing investments or playing individual stocks, so I generally don't. But the last few months I have had fun shorting European banks and financial assets on the happy-hypnosis news days and covering once everyone wakes up. About the only time in my life I have made actual trading profits.
Thought problem: I wish I understood the incentives facing European banks. It seems like right now to be almost a reverse cartel, where the cartel holds tightly because there is a large punishment for cheating. Specifically, any large bank that jumps off the merry-go-round described above likely starts the whole thing collapsing and does in its own balance sheet (along with everyone else's). The problem is that every day they hang on, the stakes get higher and their balance sheets get stuffed with more of this crap. Ironically, everyone would have been better getting off a year ago and taking the reckoning then, and certainly everyone would be better taking the hit now rather than later, but no one is willing to jump off. One added element that makes the game interesting is that the first bank to jump off likely earns the ire of the central bankers, perhaps making that bank the one bank that is not bailed out when everything crashes. It's a little like the bidding game where the highest bidder wins but the two highest bidders have to pay. Anyone want to equate this with a defined economics game please do so in the comments.