Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Wane of the Axis of Evil

Bush's controversial foreign policy may yield a curious victory when (or soon after) he leaves: the end of the Axis of Evil, both its official members and its often-called "junior" members.

The official list, if you have forgotten: Iran, Iraq, North Korea
The "Juniors": Libya, Syria

Iraq: Thanks to the so-far 5+ year war, regime change has certainly taken Iraq off the list, although it remains a different sort of problem.

North Korea: Thanks to effective carrot/stick diplomacy in six-party talks, North Korea has finally taken the first steps to denuclearizing, and may even return kidnapped Japanese to their homes. Kim Jong Il is still rather evil, but has come far enough from the 1987 terror attacks on Korean Air Flight 858 that "axis" no longer applies. Kim may have been convinced that cooperation is the best way for his country to move foward. Now that the US is taking it off the terror support list and lifting economic sanctions, it falls off the Axis.

Iran: Not off yet, but working on it. The Iranians and Americans are working on setting up diplomatic posts in each others' countires (a step down from Embassies, but not far). They have been talking quite a bit before this, but this move shows that the US is willing to hold out carrots to Iran as well as wave sticks over its nuclear program and operations within Iraq. The New Yorker is accusing the Bush administration of "preparing the battlefield" for war with Iran, but such accusations have come for years, and only diplomatic action has resulted. Iran is certainly not off the list, but is farther from the brink than before. Diplomatic pressure has worked, and Stratfor predicts they will cut a deal on their nuclear program with the next president, refusing to give Bush diplomatic credit (like between Carter and Raegan in the Embassy hostage crisis).

The little guys:

Libya: Libya has become a model of the deterrence strategy. The US showed that it meant business about dealing with WMD fears using regime change as a strategy, and the Libyan government responded by opening its operations to inspectors, and revealing a great deal of information about the Iranian, Pakistani, and North Korean programs. Libya and North Korea have been shown that past actions will be forgiven, as long as rogue nations are willing to start playing by Great Power rules.

Syria: Not yet absolved, but on its way. The US is using its presence in Turkey and Israel to influence negotiations between Israel and Syria quietly--Syria could not politically afford to admit the US is getting involved. But if Syria makes a peace deal with Israel--which will likely include a distancing from Iran and an undercutting of support for Hezbollah--it will surrender almost all issues with which the West contends. Israel is offering the Golan Heights--an important Syrian cultural site captured for strategic reasons when most of the Arab world simultaneously invaded Israel--as well as trade, and encouragement of Western powers to drop trade sanctions, in return.

Each of these five states has shown progress away from rogue behavior--Iran least. Bush has shown that his tough-guy diplomacy may fulfill many of its goals, though it has had high diplomatic, monetary, and human costs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cranking Up the Heat on Iran

No, this isn't deja vu. We just keep doing it. I'll keep this short:

Israel launched well over 100 fighters over the Mediterranean in what it openly publicized as a dress rehearsal for a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran claimed that it was just psychological warfare, and probably is (as Stratfor notes, one does not publicize surprise attacks just before performing them), but this nonetheless means that Israel is happy to show a militarily aggressive posture towards Iran. Further, the Israelis noted that a nuclear "threshold" in Iran is likely to be crossed in late 2008 rather than 2009, as earlier predicted. We're not sure exactly what that threshold is, but the Israelis seem to have an idea that Iran is tumbling towards a nuclear weapons capability of some sort by the end of the year.

This all comes amid evidence found on a Swiss computer that the former A.Q. Khan weapons ring (that brought the Bomb to Pakistan and missiles to other countries) dealt with advanced missile-mounted nuclear technology (the blueprints appeared on the Swiss computer, though it's not clear how).

In addition, the EU has approved new sanctions against Iran, freezing bank accounts. France and Germany in particular have hardened their rhetoric against Iran.

And again, the US has called Iran out for shipping weapons to Iraq and training Shiite insurgent groups. The US is even publicizing a case of two of its own; two men that allegedly helped the Iranians acquire weapons.

It seems that a grand coalition of Western powers is in a quiet, unofficial agreement that Iran is a meance and must be dealt with. Bust most of the leaders of these countries have at least been aware of it for years. A clear media campaign is being waged by most of them--from military exercises to news stories to high-level meetings (and a strangely warm reception of Israel by a usually-cool EU). The UN is not a military option for the West--the Russians would clearly veto any military action in Iran. But the West seems to be preparing for something... and it is possible that they are not preparing for anything, but only trying to make it so clear that they are preparing for something that the Iranian government would crack. In the last parliamentary elections in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's party lost seats not only to the few moderate candidates that were able to run, but also to the more religiously conservative party (that aligns with the Supreme Council). Clearly, much of Iran worries over the brinksmanship being played by Ahmadinejad's executive... including the Supreme Council. If the West can emphasize this and try to worry the Council over imminent action, then it's possible a wedge might be successfully lodged into the Iranian government that Ahmadinejad's power to act will be dramatically reduced.

That, or the West is really sitting down and deciding that an airstrike needs to be launched against Iran. This seems so unwise that it is unlikely, but Iran's continued support of Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Sadr, and its defiance of UN nuclear restrictions and sanctions shows a country that is risk-accepting, dangerous, and revisionist, with plans for domination of the region (through Iraq, Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon). Most schools of International Relations (particularly the realist varieties) would agree that defiant states exhibiting such behavior, especially as they grow in size and strength, are the most dangerous.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Irish Vote, European Hedging, and Continued American Hegemony

The Irish "No" vote on the Lisbon Treaty has led to serious resignation among the power leadership of Europe--in particular, the French, who are slated to take over the presidency next, show little excitement or hurry for trying to recussitate the treaty, or any other pseudo-constitution.

At it happens, many countries have had very large "no" minorities in their approval votes, and the odds that one of these would not turn into a small majority (the "no" vote in Ireland was 54%) was pretty low. Many countries, particularly smaller ones, do not want to give up such a large chunk of their sovereignty--they like the free trade pact, but not being bossed around by France, Germany, and the UK. Europe must find a new path.

But the behavior of the power players in Europe shows that they have been aware of the possibility of this result for some time, and have been hedging their bets. A pseudo-state EU would create an entity as economically strong as the Untied States, though probably not yet as militarily or politically so. Either way, Europe would be able to stand up to America's ability to unilaterally act. But even as hopes for the EU peaked, Germany, France, and the UK drifted towards the United States. Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown have all maintained and emphasized friendly ties with the US despite disagreements over the War on Terror and War in Iraq. Such behavior shows that they have been making clear attempts to avoid alienating the United States--a mere irritation if the EU became a single foreign policy bloc with the power to pressure the US, but a disaster if it failed. Given that failure, pro-US hedging on the part of these great powers has paid off.

But that hedging leaves momentum, and a direction. The collapse of the Lisbon Treaty might otherwise leave the foreign policies of many European countries adrift, and their geopolitical positions unsure. But now these countries are turning back to the institutions left behind after the cold war--US bases in Germany, the UK-US "Special Relationship," and NATO--all provide a US-led network to fall back on in a potential crisis of decision. The French are triumphantly returning to full NATO membership, the first time since 1967, and upgrading their military; further, Sarkozy has essentially mirrored Bush's foreign policy since Sarkozy entered office. The British are hanging tough in Iraq despite domestic pressure to withdraw, and Bush and Brown are making clear that they have no disagreements over future Iraq policy. Merkel and Bush have collaborated in drafting UN resolutions against Iran on its nuclear program, and Merkel has made moves to improve ties with Israel, perhaps the US' closest ally.

Without a strong EU, the looming spectre of Russia will further push Europe towards America's umbrella. The Russians are starting to exhibit a disturbing pattern of natural gas extortion, threatening its dependents (one at a time) to cut off supplies should they swing too far out of the Russian line. The Germand and French both admitted that they vetoed Ukraine's entrance into NATO, fearing such an occurence, and would accept Ukraine later when they had established greater energy independence. Eastern European states, save the Ukraine and Belarus, continue to cling to the NATO alliance as a protection from Russia, and more small Russian neighbors, like Georgia, hope to join.

This reliance on the United States for foreign policy leadership is largely unchanged since the early 1990's. The EU looked like it was going to be the force that brought Europe out of the US umbrella once and for all, but EU hopes for a strong foreign policy seem to have been dashed. Without another grand idea or direction, and a Russia that is not only growing quickly economically and militarily, but also asserting itself with increasing aggression, European heavy hitters are likely to stay in line behind the United States for a long time to come.

China's rise and East Asia's willingness to accomodate it is likely to mean an eventual end to US dominance of East and Central Asia. India remains friendly to the US, but fiercely independent. The Middle East mostly continues to tolerate the US, but is looking forward to its exit from the region. Africa is almost certain to never become a sphere of US influence, given the West's constant neglect, and China's neocolonial opportunism. South America remains closer to the US than any other region, but most states in South America have a rather poor opinion of the US, save Columbia; further, Brazil's potential economic explosion with oil finds off its coast may give most Latin American countries a new direction to look. Mexico and Canada will certainly always respect the US' hegemony over North America, but there is little that can be done with that power, and even less that the US cares about.

Ultimately, and perhaps surprisingly, Europe may become the last bastion of US hegemony. Should it ever unionize, build its military, and assert itself in foreign policy, the US would be reduced to an oversized regional power in the next century.

The Critical and Fundamental Nature of Economic Freedom

It is an increasingly flimsy secret that I am a strong Free-Market Liberal, and a civil liberties nut. I have tried to keep my opinions on these topics out of Foggofwar--I had hoped Foggofwar would tie me down to a topic I was less feverishly passionate about, such that I would not be destroyed by the apathy of my audience--but the threads on that anchoring are beginning to unravel. So I will share this thought with you today.

I was walking back from work, listening to The Protomen as I do (quite literally) every day--they have a truly epic rock opera on the individual's stand against tyranny for the sake of safety. And I realised--the greatest losses of liberty occur when the government exploits a tragedy or fear, and whittles away at one's liberties for his own safety. I then realised that, in the realm of economics, the exact same process occurs. The US government has terrified its citizens of foreign countries (Japan in the 1980's and then China more recently), of robber barons, of outsourcing, of multinational corporations, of investment banks, of oil, of pharmaceuticals. Besides the fact that most of the true pain caused by any of these alleged ills comes when each exploits poor government regulation, the government's use of such ills to remove your civil liberties is an evil equal in scope and magnitude to tis use of the ills of terror to strip you of rights to privacy, speech, and justice within the courts.

Today, I will not touch on the pragmatic superiority of economic freedom to regulation (as this argument can stand alone without it, and also, that it is a more complicated subject that I understand less, and leaves a fair number of exceptions, like Tragedies of the Common, Freerider problems, imposed externalities, etc). I intend to argue only the following:

1) Economic Freedom (freedom of property) is a fundamental freedom, like speech, privacy, justice, etc. I intend to derive this from common law and moral intuition.

2) Economic Freedom is critical to the preservation of other freedoms, those which some might call more fundamental. I intend to derive this from a "tyrant government" hypothesis, and support it with examples from real life.


Economic Freedom is a fundamental freedom
. Some would argue differently. There are some freedoms as granted to us by the constitution that we may not consider fundamental rights of the individual simply for being an individual. For example, the right to bear arms (the 2nd amendment) may well not be a fundamental right, but is a means to an end of giving the American population a threat of force in the case that the federal government stops obeying the will of the people. We might say in this sense that the right to arms is not fundamental. So we must ask: is the freedom of your property a fundamental right, or a means to an end (that end almost certainly being a functional economy--something that Deng Xiaoping realized, despite a Communist-style denial of individual liberal civil liberties)?

In some ways, it seems we treat it as a means to an end. We certainly regulate the economy, hoping to achieve a universal outcome. But I am here, of course, to argue that such an approach is a violation of a fundamental human right.

So, the moral intuition. Let us agree for a moment that your right to not be punched on the street is a fundamental one, something we can all agree on. How does the government treat someone who punches you on the street? The government jails them. This is because the government uses force to enforce that others respect your fundamental rights. Now, let's say your jaw was broken. Will the government automatically cough up money to fix it? No; you would have to sue your assailant separately.

Now let us think of theft. I don't mean armed robbery, I mean a minimally offensive form of burglary--let us say that you leave your purse on a chair, and you get up for a moment to wave down a friend. If someone comes by and steals that purse, what does the government do to punish him? It jails him, just as if he had punched you in the face. Now, of course, the police would then re-deliver your purse to you. But if he lost it in a river? The government would not pay for your purse, you would have to sue your thief in court. Just like the punch to the face, treated exactly the same way. You do not simply sue a man for stealing from you and leave it at that, you throw him in jail, because he has violated a fundamental right to freedom of property.

I believe this comparison is a (rather simple) argument that it is morally intuitive that your property is yours on the same fundamental that your privacy, your expressions, and your body are yours--and those who violate the integrity of these things you possess are thrown in jail. Therefore, I believe that your property is an order-of-magnitude equally fundamental right to speech, property, and body integrity (if I had to rank the most fundamental rights, I believe others would certainly come before property).

I believe, equally importantly, that this is outlined rather clearly in the government's founding documents. The Declaration of Independence, of course, names "Live, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness" as the three basic rights of the individual, derived from "Life, Liberty, and Property" (from the First Continental Congress of 1774). In the Constitution, the government has the ability to levy taxes (but a very limited number of measures on how it can spend them, which it conveniently ignores for many expenditures), and regulate interstate commerce--but the Federalist Papers make it clear that this line is not designed to allow the government to force anyone to do what said government wants with their money--I am thus not arguing that most regulation is blatantly unconstitutional, but that it violates the spirit of the founding documents of this country.

Why is regulation a violation of this right? It does not take your money (like taxes, do, but let us call them a necessary evil), it simply restricts what you can do with it. But let us apply this to other realms: "You have freedom to speak your mind, except for criticizing the central government, talking about Falun Gong, talking about the Tiananmen Square Incident, or talking about Tibetan Independence." Sound familiar? Well, it's how the Chinese deal with their right to free speech. Just a few restrictions with what you can do with it, really. Mostly, you can talk about what you want. I think this example (I could make others) should make it clear that serious "restrictions" on your freedoms--especially those designed to protect you from your own bad decisions, or keep you from undermining the state, as most economic regulations are--mostly gut out the entire point of the freedom. If one does not consider the Chinese to have freedom of speech due to these few restrictions, then I do not think one can consider Americans to have freedom of property, due to serious limitations of how one can use his own property.

I thus believe that economic freedoms are fundamental, and that the United States undermines said freedoms.

Economic Freedom is critical to the preservation of other freedoms, those which some might call more fundamental
. Ironically, it is economic liberals (I believe FDR started this craze) that argue that freedoms mean nothing without the means to exercise them. What does this mean to me? Freedoms mean nothing without property. And property means nothing when the government can take it away on a whim--that is, if the government can simply snatch your property from you, then you have no freedoms. Why? Let us consider the case in which you criticize the wrong member of government. That member can use current regulatory laws to strip you of property--perhaps not as harsh a punishment as jailing, but certainly a tool to keep you in line, to keep you from mustering the courage to criticize. Hypothetically, the federal government could easily use its rather broad interpretation of eminent domain to force you to sell that house you like so much for sub-market if you forget to give a donation to your senator's campaign fund this year. Decent argument, you say, but where are the examples?

In 2002, a Mr. Cory Booker ran against Sharpe James for the position of Mayor of Newark (an excellent film, Street Fight, outlines the corruption of Mr. James in the battle). He was doing surprisingly well in the polls against a man who held the position for 16 years. But Mr. Booker started seeing a pattern--most companies that supported him openly were getting visits from the City Health Inspector, and being shut down. You see, it turns out that in Newark, as well as most cities, Health Codes are so thorough and superfluous that approximately every single company in the city is violating them in some way. Most of the time, inspectors say "you violated this, fix it," or ignore the trivial stuff. But when it is cast into the lawbooks, inspectors have the power to crush companies they do not like. In this 2002 election, that is exactly what happened. Mayor Sharpe James sent the City Health Inspector, over and over, to companies that held rallies for Booker, or even put his campaign poster in their window. Mr. James used the power of regulation to deny these companies their very right to speech, their right to dissent--but he did it in a completely legal way. In 2007, he was convicted of corruption, but it was for spending public funds on property for his mistress--nothing of his use of health inspections to take down those that dissented came up in the courts, because what he did was completely legal.

Other examples flourish. Richard Nixon, who started the EPA, reportedly used his very hard-line appointee for the position to coerce companies to give money to his campaign--campaign managers would mention that "Tricky Dick is putting a tough guy in charge of the EPA--you're going to want a friend in the Oval Office." Such extortion used the threat of economic punishment to violate the freedom of speech of the owners and operators of these companies--but despite Nixon's resignation for Watergate, such extortion was never brought upon him, because it was completely legal.

These are just a few examples of how the government can use--and uses--regulation to corrupt other freedoms of American citizens. Such behavior is unacceptable, and can only truly be stopped if the power of regulation is removed from the hands of these politicians. Thus, economic freedom is critical to the preservation of (arguably) more fundamental freedoms, like freedom of speech and dissent.

I thus ultimately argue that the excessive regulations imposed on the market of the United States not only violate a fundamental freedom of property for the American people, but also give the government, local and federal, the power to use economic pressure to tyrannize their opposition and coerce neutral parties into support, undermining not only free speech but the entire political process. Restrictions of economic freedom (which we gently call "regulation") create violations both in the freedom of property and in other freedoms more explicitly granted by the constitution.

Most of you reading this probably do not believe that, in general, security is more important than liberty. You do not believe in wiretapping to keep us safe from the terrorists, you do not believe in torture to learn more about terror operations, and you do not believe in a suspension of Habeas Corpus to "more rapidly" deal with terrorist threats. And these restrictions of your freedom address a much more serious threat than economic woes--terror threatens your life. Even if you do not agree with me that the free market is a pragmatically more optimal economic solution, it is inconsistent to believe that the government should not restrict your freedoms to protect your life from terrorists, and yet that the government has a mandate to restrict your freedoms to protect your job security from robber barons, multinational corporations, oil companies, and pharmaceutical companies. Such a stance (typically liberal) is at least as inconsistent as the opposite conservative one (I know you guys are out there, too). Even if you argue that the working class is in danger from the free hand of companies, it is not an excuse to restrict the freedom of Americans to use their property as they wish, just as threats from terror are not an excuse to restrict the freedom of Americans to use their speech as they wish.

And therefore, I believe it is intuitive and logical that economic freedom is a critical and fundamental freedom to the American people--fundamental in that it is something that should not be violated for its own sake, critical in that its violation leads to greater powers that the government can use to restrict your other freedoms.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Chinese "Get It Done" Society

Continuing my ad-hoc series on Chiense economy and society, I would like to share with you two things today:

The first is an article by Mr. PJ O'Rourke bout the US Trade Deficit with China, and why we are worrying about nothing. I should say that I disagree with him, only slightly, in two parts:

1) I think the IOU phenomenon he speaks of tends to translate into foreign ownership of US assets (right now the US assets foreigners own minus foreign assets that Americans own is about $2.4 trillion). So essentially, we are selling assets for goods, which makes our capital investment more dependent on rich foreigners... not that such a thing is necessarily significantly worse than making it dependent on domestic rich guys. That said, his argument about the Japanese export-asset purchase-bubble burst story is rather convincing.

2) If the US drops trade barriers (even slowly, as would be intelligent) without reforming its economic regulation, it will find that there's not much it can do, and that's bad. We cannot compete on the international market freely if our own internal economic operations are not relatively free--we would just be too inefficient. He doesn't address this problem well.

Otherwise, great article, including my favorite quote: "America is wrong about economic principles so basic that even a doddering old Commie with a high school education like Deng Xiaoping understood them."

The second thing I'd like to share with you is a few observations about the current state of Beijing. I have already mentioned that it's in a "frenzy" of building and motion, but I am starting to realize just how epic this is--and what it means for the Chinese economy.

Over the weekend, I walked home on south Sanlitun road, and saw some guys with shovels digging up loose shrubs along the entire street. Okay, I thought. I walked to work Monday, and the entire road had new, prettier, orderly trees and shrubs planted, and it has been cleaned. Just like that. But that's nothing.

While walking to work today, I saw the power go out along that road. Within minutes, literally minutes, police and construction workers were on the scene, directing traffic and climbing poles to assess and fix the problem. Soon later, great spools of wire came. It was not quite fixed by the time I got to work, but I would be shocked if it wasn't fixed by the time I go home--as if nothing happened.

Last night, while touring around, we saw a police building torn down. "...this was here yesterday, people were working here yesterday." But the next day, sans red-tape, bureaucracy, and waste, it was torn down to be replaced.

Cranes operate on nights and weekends (in part because labor is so cheap, it's cheaper to pay overtime than let the cranes sit idle). I'm watching buildings rise before me, in timespans of months (not years). It's like every job is a rush job.

One of my friends harkened Beijing to Snowcrash, or Firefly. Big, mean, and changing with incredible speed at all times. One truly does not know what to expect when he walks out of his building the next day. Something new will be there, or something old will be gone. The city is changing quickly, growing, staying with the times. It is progressing at break-neck speed. If only all of China could do that.

Mr. O'Rourke mentioned some of the serious hinders to progress that the Chinese government has in place--certainly, this government is very far from perfect. But my impression is that the Chinese government is less concerned about scrutinizing every private project on private property for its social/spiritual impact as much as Americans are--they are less happy with towns passing ordinances to arbitrarily block a private project on private ground because local citizens "just don't like it," or because some local PTA lobbying group doesn't want a Starbucks in their town. Their workers are not allowed to wallow in wasteful time, and slowly roll to a construction site when it is convenient. When something needs getting done, they are called to arms, and they come, and they work, because that is the only way to make money. Many Americans consider labor union workers to be somewhat lazy. My Chinese friends were shocked that this could be true.

Ultimately, China's current economy is one that just Gets It Done. Are there costs to this? Certainly. Sometimes, something Not Good gets built, sometimes people get irritated, sometimes there are environmental impacts. There may be a middle road to be reached. But I cannot criticize the Chinese for the speed at which they are allowing their city to change--besides some historical artifacts, there is no sense that something should be preserved over something newer and better just because it was there first. If someone wants to buy it, smash it, and build anew, well, that is their initiative. The US tendency to scrutinize every plan to build, every plan to spend, of its citizens, and tell them what they can and cannot do with their private property for reasons as wild as view obstruction, asthetics, etc, has created a society so terrified of doing something wrong that it cannot find the courage to do anything at all.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Busy Week Abroad

With the US major party noiminations intact, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain have been presented a number of opportunities in the last week in which to differentiate themselves:

The Irish rejection of the EU's complicated Lisbon Treaty suddenly means that the European Union is likely to be significantly weaker and more confused than either party could have predicted it would be in the next few years. This gives either president a much freeher hand to pick-and-choose among which EU leadership it wants to embrace. Though the very cozy relationships between Bush and Merkel, Sarkozy, and Brown mean that both Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain are likely to get along with all of Europe's power players unless they try something radical.

Karzai is threatening to send troops across the Pakistani border into the Northwest Frontier Territory, where the Taliban and allied insurgents are operating largely unmolested--far too sparse for the Pakistani Army to take head-on, and too large for government-allied Militias to decisively defeat. The Pakistani government is likely to view this with great hostility, particularly given their distrust of the Bush-Musharraf alliance, as well as anger over the accidental US bombing of 11 government-allied Militia soldiers. Pakistan is likely quite border-sensitive, and a tough-talking Afghanistan unconcerned with Pakistan's territorial sovereignty, along with a US that is bumbling diplomatically as well as militarily in its war against the Taliban, may eject Pakistan from the US informal anti-terror alliance, even if the ruling DPP hopes to eradicate the Taliban. McCain's passion for the War on Terror is likely to cause him to put on a diplomatic blitz with the DPP in Pakistan, in hopes of creating some sort of military cooperation in the northwest--Pakistan's army has been all but useless in the region. Mr. Obama is likely to take a less direct approach, hoping to create a sense of brotherhood and goodwill, hoping that military cooperations will come in time out of a friendship. Either way, both will have to choose their way of holding on to Pakistan.

In Iraq, the Iraqi Army seems to be confronting its last great security challenge: Shiite Militias, mostly Al-Sadr. In its 4th such operation in the year (the first three in Basrah, Sadr City, and Mosul), the Iraqi Army is moving troops into Amara to gain security control, though locals say the militants have already fled. While ethno-sectarian civil war is all but history, and as Al-Qaeda in Iraq continues to be ground down by American troops and government-loyal Sunni militias, Shiite militias battling for supremacy in Iraq, as well as their resistance to continued US presence in Iraq, stand as the last great pillar of unrest in the country. Petraeus' optimistic timeline for transferring the other 9 provinces of Iraq by the beginning of 2009 looks like it will be delayed by at least a few months due to violence, though Qadisiyah will be handed over in July, on schedule. Obama and McCain look to stand firm on Iraq; Obama continues to plan to pull one brigade per month until (almost) all US troops are out of the country, where Mr. McCain hopes to establish a long-term US presence in Iraq, like its presence in South Korea, Germany, and Japan. Negotiations for US bases in Iraq are faltering, though, and Bush may drop the ball completely, giving McCain few options but scrambling in this goal. The executive branch of the Iraqi government continues to support some US presence in Iraq, and worries about relapses in security in a quick American pull-out scenario.

With Chinese talks with Taiwan going extremely smoothly, a Taiwan Straits crisis is unlikely to emerge in the next presidency. In fact, the ruling Taiwanese GMD is unlikely to purchase much in the way of arms from the US, in hopes of relaxing military tensions with the Chinese. Furthermore, an earlier visit from Hu Jintao to Japan, as well as a deal on an oil dispute in waters between China and Japan, have led to greatly reduced tensions between China and the long-time American ally. With China increasingly getting along with US allies in East Asia (including South Korea, where protests to ban US beef imports are turning violent), the US is going to have few bones to pick with China besides economics.

Mr. Obama has mentioned regulation to try to stem outsourcing and the trade gap, which may hurt the Chinese market and create irritations that Mr. Obama will have to massage quite a bit. Mr. McCain's more free-trade policy is likely to keep hot economics between the US and China, but he will face increasing pressure over the trade gap, and is likely to take a tough stance against China for human rights issues, as well as spying (especially information attacks against the DoD). Both are likely to irritate China some, but China's "strategic partner" view of the United States leaves room for minor irritants if the long-term prospects look good. Hopefully, both are open to engaging a China that is likely to surpass Germany and Japan as the second-largest economy in the world by the time their first term is through.

I will write a full article on the differences in the two Senator's foreign policies, and what that means, later (when I get more time). For now, some statistics from on support for each candidate nationally and in swing states:

Obama: 47.4%
McCain: 46.2%

Obama: 43.6%
McCain: 43.4%

Obama: 45.9%
McCain: 41.3%

McCain: 46.5%
Obama: 43.1%

Obama: 44.9%
McCain: 39.9%

New Hampshire:
McCain: 45.1%
Obama: 43.3%

McCain: 47.4%
Obama: 40.1%

Obama: ~50%
McCain: ~38%

McCain: 42.5%
Obama: 42.0%

McCain: 44.5%
Obama: 44%

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Anonymous Comment on "What the World Should Learn..." By Me

I am playing some complicated games with my proxy servers; while I can access Blogger's publishing stuff without a proxy, I cannot access my own website's comments section without a proxy. Because I'm proxied, I can't successfully log into (or stay logged into) my own darn commenting, so I posted as Anonymous. In the future, if I have to comment Anonymously, I will simply sign my name. I will make posts if any impostors try to do this.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What the World Should (and Won't) Learn From China About Capitalism

China's embrace of free international trade and mostly un-hindered capitalism since 1978 has led to the greatest economic boom seen since we began recording such things. China has averaged a titanic 9% GDP growth over the past 30 years--last year, it hauled 10.1%. The Chinese love it, and all that I have talked have no shame about embracing capitalism (even though they do not care about the individualistic moral arguments, only the gritty practical ones). They often wonder why more countries haven't adopted a similar thing.

I spoke to a lot of folks--coworkers, random street-goers, laborers and white-collars alike, talking about the doubts of other countries against Chinese adoration of the free market. These are their responses and my research:

Trade Gap: Countries like the US worry about a large trade gap between China and the US, and therefore shy away from free trade with countries like China, whose economy is hot. Trade restrictions can slow a trade gap by forcing, with law, a country's citizens to not be allowed to acquire certain goods or services, but this is clearly not a great way to do things--the government forces denial, forces scarcity. The Chinese bring up 2 points in response to this problem for the US: 1) If the US did not regulate its economy so much, more business would emerge, and would be able to lower operating costs, therefore lowering the prices of exported goods, making them more competitive on the open market. US Regulation, not a failure of the market, is to blame for the US' lackluster exports. 2) Even if the US is too afraid to let its economy fly free, great restrictions on exports to China have existed since the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen--not just weapons, but manufacturing equipment, precision machinery, computing technology--China wants to buy from us, certainly, but we are denying ourselves the ability to sell our most competitive products. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for the deficit, and trade restrictions will not fix the problem, only change our problems from one of trade deficit to one of scarcity. The US government must make its economy more friendly to business if it wishes to compete--it cannot both crush its own businesses with excessive regulation and expect Americans or foreigners to buy from said businesses. Westerners believe some myth that one must protect its own industries--but China has neither been crushed from above by Japan or the US, nor had its industry stolen from below by Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines. Some Chinese industries are certainly moving to Southeast Asia, but that is good for China, as it would be for the US--these industries run more efficiently elsewhere, and Chinese consumers and businesses can access these goods at cheaper prices, where China's open capitalist market means that the job market can respond extremely quickly to a factory closing or outsourcing, and create new jobs. China has managed to create this growth and lower its unemployment by opening as it did--why most Americans think the opposite would happen here baffles me.

China is still impoverished. Sure, it's got a long way to go. But in the last 30 years, the number of people under the UN's poverty line has gone up from 1.2 billion to 1.3 billion. The number of people under that line in China has reduced by 500 million. China is the only country in the past 30 years to reduce poverty by nearly that extent--and the only other countries reducing it at all are other Asian countries that are jumping on China's free trade bandwagon. We westerners believe a myth that free trade causes poverty, hurts the poor the most, but all of our noble efforts of foreign aid, of the IMF, the World Bank, they have done nothing to reduce poverty elsewhere, where China's cold capitalism has spread money, extremely quickly, to its most impoverished areas. Xinjiang and Tibet, China's two most impoverished regions, have seen a 26-fold increase in their local GDPs in the last 30 years. China is solving its poverty problem in a rather obvious way; Deng Xiaoping realized in 1978 that one cannot solve poverty by redistributing wealth that barely exists... the best way was to create new wealth, and that all would have a share.

China has a large income gap. It's imperfect, sure. But both the poor and the rich are getting richer, quicker than anywhere else. Trying to stop the gap from growing could only slow the whole economy down. Of course investors and managers are going to benefit more than laborers during a growth boom. But could you look a poorer man in the eye and say "we're going to make you less wealthy than you could be, so that we can make the rich even less wealthy than they could be, because we elites don't like this thing called an 'income gap?'" Nobody's saying capitalism is going to, on its own, solve the world's problems. The Chinese claim only that it is significantly better than the alternative, and a bunch of wealthy people with a large income gap is certainly better than poor with a small one.

China is hurting the environment. Yup. But it can clean it up with the wealth it is creating. Environmentalists have come up with a new scheme called the "Green GDP," which subtracts the economic cost of the environmental impact of a country's growth. China's "Green GDP" is still over 7%/year over the past 30 years, giving it the by-far highest Green GDP growth of any country on earth. So economically, it still makes sense to go full tilt, and pay for the mess. The environment is certainly an important issue, don't get me wrong. But environmental concerns and human concerns conflict, and I believe China has its priorities right--first, establish wealth in the country, bring the poor out of poverty, give the Chinese a standard of living that is acceptable to them, then allow the economy to be slowed down by economic growth. Pristine lands mean nothing if your people are too hungry and diseased to enjoy them--they are not a good in and of themselves, only a good in so far as humans can use them and appreciate them.

China is Neocolonialist
. Sortof, but this is also a good thing. It's starting to move much of its own very dirty industry overseas, in part because its workers' salaries are getting too high for such industry to be efficient in China (one of the lessons we westerners most persistently refuse to learn), and because China does not want to deal with the environmental impact. Is China just moving the problem elsewhere? Sure. But two points: 1) When we create technology that means we don't have to go through the messy process of mining, casting, smelting, etc, then we can avoid it. Until then, these are necessary industries, and the cost must be paid elsewhere. 2) More importantly, China's trade agreements with SE Asia and especially East Africa have led to investments that these countries would not have otherwise had, because Western countries are too righteous to allow their own people and companies to open sweatshops or dirty factories in these countries. But in a country where people are starving and dying of diseases like malaria and aids, they are desperate for a beachhead of industry, and western states condemn them to die of malnutrition or disease by feeling too morally superior to be the ones to establish that beachhead. China has, out of purely selfish desires, been the frontier force in many of these countries, and has given them a hope they have never had--jobs, industry, infrastructure. It's not something that aid can create, it's something that investment can. When a company drops a sweatshop, it has an interest in the sweatshop's success. It will pay for roads, for electricity, for ports--as long as the profits are good enough. If we make it too hard for those first dirty, heartless, inhuman industries to get a foothold in countries like Africa because we reduce profit margins (with tariffs, overseas working restrictions, etc), then industry will still stagnate. China's neocolonialism is improving the lives of the people in these countries, and because of that, China's conscience can ignore the shrill screams of Westerners that tell them to leave these people to die unmolested.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Taboo Tibet

Well, I finally found a topic my colleages at work were unwilling to discuss much: Tibet. We were talking about Scottish history (they think I look Scottish), and we mentioned the Articles of Union, etc, and someone (not even me) made a reference to Tibet. I thought: "perfect opportunity," and pitched my Scotland Model.

I was barely starting, and I got interrupted. "No, won't work. Can't work."
"England is a very different place, for one. It's democratic."
"But you have Hong Kong, and they have a local democratic government."
"Well, Hong Kong is different from Tibet."
"Certainly, but what parts of Tibet make it impossible to have a working local government?"
"Well, China is not a democracy."

It was a very frustrating conversation. I kept asking "what can be done? It's clearly broken."
I kept getting answers like "The Tibetans have to..." nothing that China could do to make it a better place. There seems, at least among these coworkers, to be no care to making it better, as long as China's territorial integrity remains unchallenged.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

An Inkling of Democratic Thought?

Talked to a few coworkers at lunch today, and they asked me, among other things, about American views of the Iraq War, the structure of American Government, and American Elections (they were more surprised than I'd think they would be that Americans are "angry" about Iraq). In case anyone's curious, I didn't say most of this in Chinese, it was a bit beyond me.


When I got to talking about elections, they got pretty excited. These three, at least, follow the US elections pretty closely, and are rooting for the Democratic party because they think the Democrats will be "nicer to China." I am not quite sure how true that would be, given the Democrats' postition on imports/tariffs/"jobs," etc, but it's up in the air which party would try to beat on China harder.


The interesting part of this all, of course, was we started talking about Chinese village-level elections, and how my three unnamed friends secretly hoped that someday, democracy would come to China. They said "there's nothing we can do," and predicted that it would take decades--probably after they died.

I provided a devil's advocacy of the position, mentioning the village-level, city, and experimental provincial-governor-level elections. If these do become widespread (and the trend is upward, and the Party supports it), there may be some unintended consequences for the Party. While every candidate must be approved by the Party, there is a potential for divergence. If every provincial-and-lower election has two candidates, they are likely to polarize to some degree (by Duverger's Law). For example: in a Shanghai election, there may be a candidate supported by Labor, and one by Business... this may happen in Chengdu, Beijing... and if this becomes persistent, if there emerges a common thread that divides two candidates in each city, province, village, then they may begin to try to support each other. A Pro-Business Mayor may support a Pro-Business village-head, etc. Then you've got organization, and then you've got quasi-Parties. And as long as they keep pretending to be the Communist Party, there's not much that can be done (in the sortof passive-aggressive tradition of Chinese politics).

Then, China would be one bold stroke, one schism, one terrible argument away from a two-party system. Then, like Taiwan, like Korea, the whole dictatorial system would come crashing down.

But that's the optimistic perspective... there are others. And even this would take decades. But the trend is good, and there is hope. As long as people keep secretly wanting democracy, as long as they quietly and cleverly express their desires and their criticisms, as long as the proxies past the Great Firewall keep working, as long as the Sino-US travel keeps increasing, ideas will flow, and spread. The CCP can stop people from talking, but they can't stop people from thinking, even if it is just an inkling of Democratic thought.

Checking In With My Loyal Readers

Don't worry, I can read the comments--they get emailed to me. Keep the comments coming.

The PLA hasn't picked me up yet, so don't worry. If they do, well--there will be a conspicuous silence around here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Very Quiet June 4th.

I knew it would be this way. Everybody told me it would be this way. It still hurts to see it this way.

I woke up today and almost forgot it was June 4th, the 19th anniversary of the crackdown of the students protests in Tiananmen Square. I haven't been to the square, and I don't want to go--I very much don't want to go. Not because of fear. There's nothing to be afraid of. I don't want to go specifically for that reason--there is nothing to be afraid of, because there is not a pebble of thought in the minds of the Beijing people of dissent. I have not turned on the television, hoping to see hundreds of troops in the square. I know they're not there. They don't need to be. On my walk to work today, I saw fewer PLA soldiers than I'm used to. There's no tension. I think there are probably a lot of people here that don't even realize what today means.

In Hong Kong and Taiwan, they're holding a candlelight vigil. But here, in Beijing, the citizens of China are resolutely standing behind their government. The thought of opposition is untenable. The Chinese government has prevailed. The propaganda machine is ubiquitous, and it is perfect. Compliance with mass campaigns is automatic. State slogans are repeated daily. But all passively. People do not do this out of fear, they do it out of adoration. They want to support the Chinese government, they want to enhance its ability to control and affect, so that their lives can improve.

Today, because of the Olympics, dissenters had the last best hope to hold the Government's reputation hostage and protest. This opportunity is gone, not because of government repression, not because of failed action, but because of failed will. The Chinese Communist Party is here to stay for a very long time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Iraq is Very Quiet

You know what hasn't been in the news in the past many weeks? Iraq. I'm sure you can guess exactly why:

That's right, because there's nothing bad to report. Finally, today, BBC published an article (which hasn't made the front page), noting that coalition troop deaths in May were their lowest since the war began in 2003. Civilian deaths have dropped by half from the months of March and April--much of this is due to a truce signed with Al-Sadr and other Shiite Militias. I'm not sure it will hold, but every day of calm gives the Iraqi government more time to solidify its daily civil functions--power, water, trash collection, etc.

Elections in the fall will be critical--whether they lead to better power-sharing in the government (the Sunnis have been underrepresented due to their own boycott) or to voilence as Shiites try to resist losing power is unsure.

I don't have too much analysis about these figures that I haven't already given you before. But in this particular post, I just wanted to report the news as I've seen it, because CNN sure as hell won't.

As a post-script, icasualities is a pretty reliable source for death trends in Iraq, should you want it: