Mar 10

China’s growing pains – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Despite officials’ seeming desire to reduce income inequality, China’s government is aggravating it, by – among other things – subsidising producers, favouring capital-intensive industries, and maintaining a highly inefficient financial sector.

via China’s growing pains – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

It’s hard not to admire the Communist Party of China as they steer the great ship of the Chinese state with seeming aplomb. And by any measure they’ve been wildly successful since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms began to be implemented at the end of the 1970s. But there’s a tendency in the West, and especially America, to view the Party as semi-omniscient, which, from the Chinese perspective, is laughable. This article describes some of the challenges facing China, and they are immense. That gross inequality among urbanites and between coastal and interior China threatens to tear the entire – precarious – system apart is well known. Less obvious are the inner-Party struggles, and the environmental degradation that is causing mounting protest. China will doubtlessly overtake the US economy in GDP terms in the next several years, but the Communist Party, or indeed, any successor to it, will also doubtlessly be consumed with domestic tasks for the foreseeable future. 

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Mar 09

U.S. Economy Gains Another 227,000 Jobs – NYTimes.com

U.S. Economy Gains Another 227,000 Jobs - NYTimes.com

U.S. Economy Gains Another 227,000 Jobs – NYTimes.com.

Are these numbers good news? Meh. If it weren’t for how terrible we have been doing, I’d say these numbers suck.

227,000 new jobs? That’s about 100,000-130,000 above the minimum needed just to keep up with population growth, and there are 24 million unemployed or underemployed people. So at this rate, it will take ten years to cut that number in half.

Ten fucking years. The government could unleash a massive infrastructure stimulus, God knows we need it, and boost employment hugely. It could provide financial aid to the states, so that laid off teachers and firefighters could be rehired. It could simplify regulations and taxes to make hiring easier. Will it do any of those things? No. Of course not. Are you joking?

The Obama administration lacks both the vision and will to make any real strides. The Republicans? Jesus, let’s not even talk about them. The political-financial elite have completely recovered their losses, and they haven’t the time, energy, or desire to see the rest of the country improve. In fact, they rather like it this way.

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Mar 08

Has multiculturalism failed in Europe? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

  Has multiculturalism failed in Europe? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

Multiculturalism, particularly in Europe, is a weird story. Multiculturalism, in a general sense, was the rule, rather than exception, for Europe (and indeed the world) until really the nineteenth century. Empire is, almost by definition, a multicultural enterprise. But the advent of the religious wars that split Catholic Europe, and then, more importantly, the rise of nationalism in the 1800s, rewrote the book concerning the relationship between state and society. Cultural unity was encouraged to a greater level than ever before, with primary education and a common civil sphere acting as (relatively) benign agents for cohesion, and forced assimilation (such as German and Russian policies aimed at destroying Polish cultural identity) and ethnic cleansing (especially prevalent at the end of the Second World War) residing on the more violent end of the policy spectrum. The unfortunate effects of stringent nationalism – that is to say: war – convinced many people that a greater tolerance, or indeed, promotion, of cultural variance was in order. When Europe began to experience, for the first time in modern history, net immigration (as opposed to emigration), the calls for tolerance found an odd ally in the (rather natural) suspicion of foreigners evinced from relatively homogeneous societies. So instead of attempting to integrate the newcomers, “multiculturalism” was implemented to varying degrees, but always with the same basic premise: the immigrants can do what they like, as long as they remain apart.

Theoretically multiculturalism offers a liberal panacea for problems concerning cultural identity. As long as everyone adheres to some basic tenants, people can do what they like, and everyone can sample the delights of other cultures. As it happens, the basic tenants are poorly defined and ignored, while the sampling of other cultures typically entails no more than patronizing the latest ethnic eatery. It turns out cultural identity presents some intractable problems, and that a poor Muslim family from Algeria is unlikely to see the virtues of French laïcité. Germany ignores its Turks, Italy scapegoats its Roma, and even Great Britain, which prided itself on its levels of assimilation, has seen its Prime Minister declare that multiculturalism has “failed.” But although that does appear to be the broad consensus across Europe, there’s been no alternative voiced, save the rather implausible idea of stopping immigration (or even sending immigrants back where they came from). In point of fact, those who claim that multiculturalism is a loss have for the most part simply urged that it be attempted again, just this time, with greater emphasis on shared values. That does appear reasonable, but Europe will undoubtedly find it easier said than done, and will sooner or later be forced to confront the fact that with birth rates so low, the composition of their societies will be changing ever more, rather than less, quickly.

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Mar 07

BBC News – Analysis: How would Iran respond to an Israeli attack?

BBC News – Analysis: How would Iran respond to an Israeli attack?.

Here is my definitive “consequences of a military strike on Iran” commentary. Believe it or not, military action against Iran has become a distinct possibility – understanding why is at least arguably important, even if most (all) geopolitical events take place outside our sphere of action. Nevertheless, you might as well know that now is a good time to buy oil futures. I’ve briefly outlined the kinds of things that might take place if Israel, or less likely, the United States, engaged in a military strike on Iran. This article explores the immediate potential for blowback and considers a few of the longer-term implications of a strike. I don’t feel much need to summarize the article in-depth, it’s worth reading if you’re interested. Suffice to say that Iran’s options would be limited: they lack a military capable of hitting back, and would therefore rely on proxies such as Hezbollah or possibly Hamas to make their displeasure known (that might spiral into a regional war – it is, as it so often is, hard to say). They would also undoubtedly step up their covert operations against Israeli and American targets. But the more long-term, consequential, and damning results of an attack (assuming there isn’t a regional war) would fall into three categories: oil, nukes, and more nukes.

Oil would greatly increase in price after an attack on Iran. This would happen regardless of what the Iranians did immediately after the fact, simply because the uncertainty would cause a massive influx of speculation for oil futures. If the Iranians made no significant moves, the oil price would go down, but would remain high due to the increased geopolitical tension. If the Iranians chose to shut off their oil from the world market (a double-edged sword to be sure), lobbed rockets at Saudi oil fields, and/or -most destructively – attempted (with presumable short-term success) to block off the Strait of Hormuz, thus bottling up oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, the price would skyrocket, and almost assuredly send the world into a recession. If either of the latter two options were pursued, the United States would be forced to retaliate against Iran, which would create more instability.

As for the nukes and more nukes, it’s really quite simple. This entire dispute is centered on Iran’s nuclear energy program, which Israel and the West suspect of having a military component. In point of fact, if you ask the current Israeli government, they’ll tell you that they don’t even care if Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, because simply by pursuing uranium enrichment they are opening the door to the possibility of nuclear weapons. As of now, no one but the Iranians know if the nuclear program has a definite military component. Probably the Iranians aren’t actively pursing nukes, but are simply hedging their bets. A military strike would change that. The Iranians would then definitely attempt to acquire nuclear weapons. And nothing short of full-scale invasion would be able to stop them. That’s the nukes part. The more nukes part is that once the Iranians start a mad dash for weapons of mass destruction, there’s every likelihood that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey would want their own nukes. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would be in shambles. Russia and China would feel compelled to assert their own interests more forcefully. The world would get a whole lot colder.

So what should the United States do about this? What will it do? The best course of action is probably containment, drawing a red-line on military applications of Iranian nuclear technology that America may or may not be serious about upholding, and offering a nuclear shield to all countries in the region, while quietly trying to implement a nuclear weapons free-zone in the Middle East – which would require the Israelis to give up theirs, an unlikely prospect. The likely course of action? Um. It’s a little – you guessed it – hard to say. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems serious about wanting a military strike, and it’s rather unfeasible for Obama not to tacitly back him, or even implement the strike himself, now that he’s essentially promised that his policy is not containment. The Israelis are worried about Iran’s program entering a “zone of immunity” in which a strike would be incapable of meaningfully setting back the program. So there’s a brief window of time for diplomacy to work before the bombs start falling. Unfortunately, not many people expect this latest round of talks to work. Obama may wiggle out of performing the strike, and Netanyahu’s government could fall apart or back down, in which case the “best course of action” would probably be pursued, but assuming that that doesn’t happen, and that there is a strike? One has to hope that the Iranians don’t lose their heads, with the threat of American retaliation keeping them from attacking oil fields or blocking the Strait. Ultimately containment would have to be the order of the day, because there’s little chance that Obama is willing to invade Iran, and I have trouble imagining that a President Romney would invade either.

A military strike would only delay the inevitable, and would have had a hand in the inevitable part of the equation. It’s a rather sorry state of affairs. But you know what? I don’t think anybody on “our” side really wants war (with the possible exception of some of Netanyahu’s coalition partners). I don’t think Khamenei is stupid. And hey! Maybe Russia and/or China will decide that global stability is worth twisting the Ayatollah’s arm. You never know.

Sigh. At least there’s the new iPad.

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Mar 07

The Word – Due or Die – The Colbert Report – 2012-06-03 – Video Clip | Comedy Central

The Word – Due or Die – The Colbert Report – 2012-06-03 – Video Clip | Comedy Central.

I’ve already posted about this, but Colbert does a nice job dramatizing the situation.

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Mar 06

Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex | The Economist

Having trapped themselves in a death struggle with Palestinians that they cannot acknowledge or untangle, Israelis have psychologically displaced the source of their anxiety onto a more distant target: Iran. An Iranian nuclear bomb would not be a happy development for Israel. Neither was Pakistan’s, nor indeed North Korea’s. The notion that it represents a new Holocaust is overstated, and the belief that the source of Israel’s existential woes can be eliminated with an airstrike is mistaken. But Iran makes an appealing enemy for Israelis because, unlike the Palestinians, it can be fitted into a familiar ideological trope from the Jewish national playbook: the eliminationist anti-Semite.

via Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex | The Economist.

I’m ending my recent spree of Israel-related articles with this blog post from the Economist, which does the best job I’ve seen thus far of quickly summing up the position Israel has put itself and the United States in, and why it has done so. The piece is short, the tone acerbic – as it should be. Israel has stumbled into its existential crisis with all the stupor and gravitas of a Greek tragedy, or, indeed, a Hebrew one. That it still has a chance, a small chance, of extracting itself from the gaping maw of oblivion makes it all the harder to watch, given that tragic irony is knowing what the character doesn’t. That there’s every chance of Israel dragging the United States, or indeed, the world, down with it doesn’t help. Were I to add anything to this sad synopsis it would be to point out that it is not simply the demographic challenge of the Palestinians that dooms Israel (now that Israel has made it all but impossible for the two-state solution to work), there is also the change in the very character of Israel’s Jewish populace, as the ultra-Orthodox increase in number, displacing Israel’s historically secular society. All things being equal, I would be happy to see Israel remain a Jewish state, but that is not worth the confinement and subjugation of four million people, and an Israeli sense of security is not worth regional war, worldwide recession, and a nuclear arms race.

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Mar 06

Israel: Dodging the issue | The Economist

Israel: Dodging the issue | The Economist.

Yeah, I frankly can’t understand how it took this long for the ultra-Orthodox opt-out to be overturned. Given that Israel is essentially a garrison society, it’s pretty crazy that there is a significant and growing minority of ultra-Orthodox Jews who not only contribute nothing to the economy and stand in the way of the peace process, but ALSO don’t have to serve in the military. It would of course be a godsend if Netanyahu’s coalition fell apart, since a center-left coalition would presumably tow Washington’s line on Iran, and not make a unilateral attack that most Israelis are against (The Vast Majority of Israelis Are Against A Unilateral Strike Against Iran).

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Mar 05

When the US Government Can Kill You, Explained | Mother Jones

If the standards for when the government can send a deadly flying robot to vaporize you sound a bit subjective, that’s because they are. Holder made clear that decisions about which citizens the government can kill are the exclusive province of the executive branch, because only the executive branch possess the “expertise and immediate access to information” to make these life-and-death judgments.

via When the US Government Can Kill You, Explained | Mother Jones.

So, just in case you weren’t aware, the US executive branch reserves the right to kill you without judicial sanction. Seriously. This is Barack Obama’s policy. So is warrantless surveillance. You liberals and libertarians keep that in mind.

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Mar 05

Netanyahu, Iran and the fundamentals of policy – Opinion – Al Jazeera English

Right now, Netanyahu, trapped as he is in a backward-looking perspective, sees only that strategic trends are not moving in his direction, which makes a blind throw of the dice seem enticing. He could not be more wrong.

via Netanyahu, Iran and the fundamentals of policy – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

The AIPAC conference is always difficult to watch, never more so than this year, as Obama bows and scrapes in front of an audience of right-wing hawks who would love an attack on Iran if only to sink Obama’s reelection chances. Nevertheless, political juitsu is something every President of the US must know how to play at, and it’s not as though Obama holds no cards. The trouble is that he doesn’t hold very many, and none of them are particularly good. To borrow a phrase from the current President – let me be clear: war is on the horizon. No shit. Netanyahu takes Iran’s threats seriously (despite the questionable logic of doing so). Israel is tired of waiting for sanctions to work (and they won’t), and so it appears to be set on a path toward militarily targeting Iran’s nuclear sites. This is a preposterously terrible idea that will ensure Iran’s active, rather than passive, animosity toward the United States and Israel. Oil prices will skyrocket, sending the West into recession again. Terrorist activity will increase. Iran will put pressure on Hezbollah to strike at Israel, and there’s plenty of reason to expect a third Intifada. Egypt will probably abrogate its peace treaty with Israel. The Arab Spring will end. And worst of all, every state in the region capable of pursuing nuclear weapons will do so as fast as possible. There is no good option regarding Iran. Striking it militarily is the worst. By Far.

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Mar 05

Is an India-China arms race brewing? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English


Is an India-China arms race brewing? – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

China feels hemmed in by containment alliances among its neighbors backed up with American might, while India feels surrounded by growing Chinese diplomatic clout within its own periphery. Large continuous increases in military spending on the part of the Chinese, primarily aimed as it is at the United States, must have a destabilizing effect on the China-India rivalry. A rivalry that continues at a slow burn over Arunachal Pradesh and Indian support of the Tibetan government-in-exile, plus the general jockeying of great powers.

India simply cannot compete with the Chinese military budget without sacrificing domestic development, and the Indians will therefore seek to find balance through asymmetrical warfare models (much as China seeks to do with the United States), and closer ties with useful allies, namely, the United States. This is a dangerous game, and one that America must play very carefully if it wishes to play at all. Without a real ideological basis for conflict as the US had with the USSR, US-China competition will more closely resemble 19th century European great power contests, but a more interconnected world and the threat of nuclear weapons make cooperation that much more appealing. The India-China-US axis will most likely define international security in the 21st century – here’s hoping it’s a century of engagement, and warm relations rather than hot or cold.

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