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Posts Tagged ‘China’
September 3rd, 2010 at 1:02 pm
Somebody Call Joe Klein’s Pharmacist
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Regular readers may know that Time Magazine’s Joe Klein has become something of a white whale to your humble blogger. He is to me what Tom Friedman is to Jonah Goldberg.

When Klein isn’t busy singing in the Obama gospel choir (along with Jon Meacham, Ezra Klein, Eugene Robinson, and everyone else who thinks Obama is failing because Americans are too base to grasp his transcendence), he’s usually nursing exceptionally dumb ideas for political reform. You know, the type that would grind a sophomore political science seminar to a halt?

At the moment, Klein’s problem du jour is that the American system of government doesn’t work effectively — by which he means it doesn’t provide the outcomes he likes. What does Klein propose as a tonic? A system that blends the worst aspects of populism and progressivism and then marinates with a throwback to the ancient Greeks. Behold:

But what if there were a machine, a magical contraption that could take the process of making tough decisions in a democracy, shake it up, dramatize it and make it both credible and conclusive? As it happens, the ancient Athenians had one. It was called the kleroterion, and it worked something like a bingo-ball selector. Each citizen — free males only, of course — had an identity token; several hundred were picked randomly every day and delegated to make major decisions for the polis. But that couldn’t happen now, could it? Most of our decisions are too complicated and technical for mere civilians to make, aren’t they?
Well, with tough questions like that Klein certainly couldn’t have a response. Or could he???
Actually, the Chinese coastal district of Zeguo (pop. 120,000) has its very own kleroterion, which makes all its budget decisions. The technology has been updated: the kleroterion is a team led by Stanford professor James Fishkin. Each year, 175 people are scientifically selected to reflect the general population. They are polled once on the major decisions they’ll be facing. Then they are given a briefing on those issues, prepared by experts with conflicting views. Then they meet in small groups and come up with questions for the experts — issues they want further clarified. Then they meet together in plenary session to listen to the experts’ response and have a more general discussion. The process of small meetings and plenary is repeated once more. A final poll is taken, and the budget priorities of the assembly are made known and adopted by the local government. It takes three days to do this. The process has grown over five years, from a deliberation over public works (new sewage-treatment plants were favored over road-building) to the whole budget shebang. By most accounts it has succeeded brilliantly, even though the participants are not very sophisticated: 60% are farmers. The Chinese government is moving toward expanding it into other districts.
So, to review:
  • The U.S. should be taking lessons on democracy from the People’s Republic of China.
  • The system obviously works because the Chinese chose to expand sewage treatment over roads — in a country that just had an 11-day, 74-mile traffic jam.
  • All farmers are apparently idiots.
  • We ought to replicate the particulars of the Greek system that executed Socrates and routinely put losing military commanders to death.
  • The Federalist Papers’ explicit recognition of the supremacy of a republican form of government over a democracy was only meant to hold until things got really hard.
  • Joe Klein thinks the ideal form of organizing a free people is modeled off of a game of Bingo — which one imagines is perhaps how he got his column.
May 20th, 2010 at 3:24 pm
If Gangsters Get the Death Penalty for Drive-By Shootings, Why Can’t Rogue Governments Who Target Warships?

If a carload of Crip gang members shot up a Los Angeles Police Department bus killing 46 officers, every gang member involved would be convicted of murder and given the death penalty.  They wouldn’t be fined and given a stern warning.

So, why can’t that law enforcement approach be applied to rogue governments like North Korea who was identified as sinking a South Korean warship, an act that killed 46 South Korean sailors?  After all, “cop killers” are singled out for particularly harsh penalties precisely because they target the guardians of law, order, peace, and safety.  How can the mass murder of 46 military personnel aboard a sovereign nation’s vessel be any less of an attack on a nation’s security?

Sadly, that isn’t the tenor coming from South Korean officials and their allies.  They sound like they’re more interested in meaningless United Nations resolutions and economic sanctions.

The South’s president is vowing to “take strong resolute countermeasures against North Korea and make it admit its wrongdoing through strong international cooperation.”  Such cooperation includes calling the North’s attack “inexcusable” (Japan) and an “act of aggression” (USA), which are only slightly bolder than China’s declaration that the event is “unfortunate.”

The truly unfortunate reality is that we live in a world where terrorist groups and governments slaughter innocents under the guise of fictitious provocations, while so-called civilized societies let those who volunteer to defend their safety suffer the consequences of enlightened restraint.

May 4th, 2010 at 7:51 pm
Does China’s Currency Manipulation Matter?
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That was the topic taken up by two of the nation’s finest economic journalists over the weekend.

Newsweek’s Robert Samuelson, one of the few legitimate talents left on that particular sinking ship, says yes:

… What’s missing [to promote a global economic rebalancing] is a sizable revaluation of China’s currency, the renminbi. Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute thinks the renminbi may be 40 percent undervalued against the dollar. This gives China’s exports a huge advantage and underpins its trade surpluses. Other Asian countries fear altering their currencies if China doesn’t change first. “They’ll lose ground to China,” notes Hensley. The European Union, Brazil and India all feel threatened by the renminbi. President Obama wants U.S. exports to double in five years. That’s probably unrealistic, but it’s impossible if the renminbi isn’t revalued.

Samuelson is rarely deserving of a public refutation, but gets one (though it’s not targeted at him) from a recent column by the always-insightful Steve Forbes, who lays the China hysteria to rest:

… A decade and a half ago China fixed the yuan to the dollar. If there had been any mistake in the exchange rate it would have been flushed out in trade patterns fairly quickly. Again, to simplify: If you sell a bottle of wine for four loaves of bread but suddenly notice you’re getting only two loaves, you’ll adjust your price pretty quickly to ensure you’ll get those four loaves again.

 By fixing the yuan to the dollar Beijing outsourced its monetary policy to the Federal Reserve. And for this “manipulation” Washington politicians and policymakers are in a lather of outrage. This fixing of a measure of value has enormously facilitated commerce–and thus prosperity. During the last 15 years U.S. exports to China have increased 650%, China’s exports to the U.S. almost 670%.

As I noted in my criticism of Obama’s exports fetish in this year’s State of the Union, a focus on so-called “trade deficits” is meaningless. Forbes gives an excellent explanation:

The notion that a trade deficit or surplus indicates anything about an economy’s health is also mistaken. The U.S. has had a trade deficit with the rest of the world for some 350 years out of the 400-plus since Jamestown was settled in 1607. Focusing on deficits and surpluses ignores equally important flows of capital, as well as the phenomenon of supply chains and the intracompany trade that crosses borders.

Americans will survive Beijing’s economic policies intact. Whether we can say the same about Washington’s is another question altogether.

February 4th, 2010 at 2:28 pm
Is the NSA-Google Partnership an Intelligence-Industrial Complex?

Privacy advocates should be excused if for the last few days they’ve been trudging about in sackcloth and ashes mourning the integration of tech and state. After all, Phil did see his shadow. On the heels of a report that there is a growing movement towards creating a national network for police at all levels to electronically request and receive information from internet service providers, today it is announced that Google is negotiating with the National Security Agency (NSA). The deal would somehow allow the NSA to analyze and advise Google on how to avoid high level hacking while shielding Gmail and other users from Big Brother’s watchful eye.

Good luck. While I would hope NSA employs some of the best and brightest cyber security minds available, I’d be surprised if Google couldn’t hire them away. Moreover, why does Google see the need to “partner” with governments in areas where the probability of losing its independence is extremely high? First, it was gulping back China’s human rights record and censorship practices. Now, the most influential tech company in the world is asking Uncle Sam to set up shop in its control room.

Be on the lookout for that national police network. With partners in the permanent government, it may not be long until Google gets asked to help usher in a British-style CCTV (closed circuit television) monitoring program. All for the good of the country, of course.

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January 25th, 2010 at 6:43 pm
So Funny It’s Not

It’s gallows humor, but there is something darkly funny about witnessing a Democratic president and his advisors get thoroughly mugged by reality and respond with denial. Domestically, President Barack Obama and his courtiers can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that good ole’ reliable Massachusetts just slapped them across the face in front of the whole country, knowing full well the sting would last until November.

Now, it looks like the engine powering the axis of evil is taking shots and looking for weaknesses. Apparently, after years of encouraging its citizens to hack into American mainframes, China is alleging cyber warfare from Uncle Sam. Of course, it just so happens that Google is leaving the country over concerns its system is under constant attack from inside China with government approval. For good measure, Chinese officials damned the United States for actively encouraging Iran’s pro-democracy movement. (In case you forgot, Obama’s official policy towards the protesters is to offer rhetorical support while they are shot and imprisoned.)

And all this comes after almost a month after Iran missed Obama’s “deadline” for halting its nuclear enrichment operation. When looking at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, is there anyone with Oval Office privileges that realizes foes think the president is weak and friends think him tone deaf? More importantly, does anybody in the room care?

December 24th, 2009 at 11:37 am
Negotiating to Lose on Climate Change

One of the fundamental rules of negotiating is being able and willing to walk away without a deal. Apparently, during the make-or-break round of the Copenhagen climate conference only China remembered the rule. Of course, the “deal” it secured with Western countries was far less than Obama, Brown, Merkel, etc. wanted – but that was the point.

To be sure, Western leaders desperately wanted a deal, and kept larding on concessions. Take out previously agreed to emissions targets? Okay. Remove specific reduction deadlines? Fine. How about eliminating independent verification of compliance? Yes. Like a “moderate” Democratic Senator holding out for the sweetest deal possible, China played the world for stooges, and won.

China not only didn’t need a deal – it didn’t want one. But if the “international community” was going to insist on “something” to show for the two-week confab, China was happy to give next to nothing and make it look like the West failed to be serious. For eco-philes the dismal end to “Hopenhagen” shouldn’t be that surprising considering China’s position, though for some it is:

Why did China, in the words of a UK-based analyst who also spent hours in heads of state meetings, “not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets?” The analyst, who has attended climate conferences for more than 15 years, concludes that China wants to weaken the climate regulation regime now “in order to avoid the risk that it might be called on to be more ambitious in a few years’ time”.

When considered in the context of China’s overall approach to foreign policy, the country’s obstructionism is not novel. Whether it’s protecting Iran from sanctions, propping up North Korea, or bankrolling Sudan, China is not a nation promising the kind of multi-lateral hope and change global government types are waiting for. For America haters everywhere, China’s rise to power does not portend a kinder, gentler world.

November 9th, 2009 at 10:39 am
The World Loves Obama? Maybe Not in China
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Although lost amidst news of last week’s elections, the Ft. Hood shooting and Nancy Pelosi’s healthcare abomination, President Obama pays a visit to China next week.  What awaits him might not be the fawning foreign crowds to which he is accustomed in his overseas travels.

As noted by The Wall Street Journal, Obama’s behavior in office has already created friction in a nation where President George W. Bush was actually quite popular.  Whereas Bush expanded and improved trade and diplomatic relations, Obama has engaged in destructive trade protectionism over such things as low-cost tires.  Considering China’s importance as a trade partner, economic force and strategic antagonist, it is critical that Obama deal with them intelligently.  Unfortunately, so far, he appears less adept at achieving successful relations with China than he does in wooing anti-American audiences in the Middle East and socialist portions of Europe.

But hey – at least the denizens of Parisian salons love him.

September 23rd, 2009 at 10:20 am
Time to Speak Up on Obama Trade War
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Hello.  Good morning.  We need to use this opportunity for an urgent message to American business, large and small (and even tiny), to American agricultural interests, large and small, regardless of crop, if you are or are trying to sell overseas or buy overseas.

Your president is in the process of starting a trade war with the Chinese over imported tires.  He is doing this on behalf of a union, no big news on that.  It is, as most protectionist acts in the global village, silly and ill-advised.  In this case, the potential upside is infinitesimal and the downside, in an unusually fragile economy, similar unto the scariest Halloween movie in which victims are picked randomly and abruptly for slaughter.

You may not be paying attention now, but you better.  Trade wars cannot be contained.  Trade wars cannot be limited to the original countries involved.  Trade wars cannot be limited to specific products or commodities. You wanna talk political triangulation?  Trade wars involve hyperdextrangulation squared. 

The problem with trade wars you ignore is that one day you wake up to learn you have become collateral damage, through no fault of your own, never did one thing wrong in or to any country involved.  Doesn’t matter.  That’s what collateral damage is.  You don’t want to become collateral damage.  You don’t want to explain to your employees and farm workers and families and children that you are collateral damage.

You have three choices.  The first is to call the president and tell him to stop this nonsense before it gets out of hand.  The second is to write the president and tell him to stop this nonsense before it gets out of hand.  The third is to do nothing and play foreign trade roulette.  You do not want to take the third option.

Trust us.  We know.  We once, shall we say, had some proximity to advising on targets for collateral damage in other countries.

September 18th, 2009 at 12:46 am
Obama’s Foreign Policy Meltdown
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Today’s revelation that the Obama Administration is pulling missile defense out of Poland and the Czech Republic reflects a complete ignorance of (or apathy towards) the point that I made in yesterday’s post — that the Western commitment to collective security in Eastern Europe has made the continent (and the world) a safer and freer place.

It also reflects a total strategic miscalculation. The oldest con in international diplomacy is to get an adversary to give up something tangible today for an abstract promise tomorrow (see “Land for Peace”). The notion that Russia will be of more assistance in sanctioning the Iranians (and the broader idea that sanctions will have any serious effect) ignores a question that the self-proclaimed realists in the Obama Administration have somehow overlooked. Why is it in Russia’s interest to play ball when they’re currently getting major concessions from the U.S. at no cost?

Though it’s been overshadowed by the healthcare debate, the last month or so of the Obama Administration has been its absolute worst for foreign policy. We’ve agreed to one-on-one talks with North Korea (with the laughable goal of getting back to the six party talks — you know, the ones we had before we agreed to one-on-one talks?), decided to pursue prosecutions of CIA interrogators, announced that Iran likely already has the ability to build nuclear weapons, seen the White House put political pressure on General McChrystal to keep from requesting more troops in Afghanistan, and imposed a foolish tire tariff that’s threatening a trade war with China.

The President can get away with Jimmy Carteresque policies for a lot longer than Jimmy Carter ever could because Obama has considerably more political gifts. But in the end, politics (particularly the presidency) is always about performance. This will not end well for Obama or the country.