Published: Saturday 29 December 2012
“For optimists, what matters is believing in and nurturing the instinct of cooperation in the hope, and expectation, that decent human values will ultimately prevail.”

If we were hoping for peace in our time, 2012 did not deliver it. Conflict grew ever bloodier in Syria, continued to grind on in Afghanistan, and flared up periodically in West, Central, and East Africa. There were multiple episodes of ethnic, sectarian, and politically motivated violence in Myanmar (Burma), South Asia, and around the Middle East. Tensions between China and its neighbors have escalated in the South China Sea, and between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Concerns about North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs remain unresolved.

And yet, many feared eruptions within and between states did not occur. Strong international pressure helped to contain the Second Gaza War quickly. A long-sought peace agreement was secured for the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Major strides were taken toward sustainable peace and reconciliation in Myanmar. There was no major new genocidal catastrophe. And, despite the United Nations Security Council’s paralysis over Syria, UN General Assembly member states made clear their continuing overwhelming acceptance of the responsibility to protect those at risk of mass-atrocity crimes.

 

The bigger story has been concealed, as ever, by the media’s daily ...

Published: Sunday 23 December 2012
If you think Internet shopping is a hassle-free environment overseen by invariably polite computers, you probably haven't done much of it.

They don’t like the crowds, the traffic, the parking chaos. They dislike the sameness — the same mall chain stores piping in the same holiday music and selling the same made-in-China sweaters, whether in Spokane, Indianapolis or Raleigh. They stress out when waiting for someone to take their payment. Small wonder that 45 percent of consumers are doing at least some holiday shopping this year via the Internet, according to the Deloitte consulting firm.

But if you think Internet shopping is a hassle-free environment overseen by invariably polite computers, you probably haven't done much of it. No one escapes. Online merchants have mastered the science of getting in your face

Case in point, I looked at a shoulder bag on Amazon. Checking the dimensions and color, that's all. Now when I do a Google search, up comes an ad for the bag. I look for amusing quotes by Theodore Roosevelt, and there's the bag. I check out some items on eBay, and the bag's there. Two questions: When do they give up, and how can you make them go away? The answer to the first is, "I don't know." The answer to the second is, "You can't."

Google, Facebook and the rest shadow your wanderings online, gathering information to sell tailored ads beamed back at you. Very scientific and a bit creepy to those who haven't totally surrendered yet on matters ...

Published: Tuesday 11 December 2012
“Even if many of the social and economic forecasts contained in the new report do come to pass it is doubtful that the transition towards a new multipolar system would be as stable as the old hegemonic system.”

A major new long-range report by the U.S. intelligence community suggests that the U.S. economy, currently the world’s largest, could be eclipsed by China’s by 2030.

While the study, the result of four years of analysis by the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC), forecasts that the United States will remain a central player, NIC analysts foresee a newly multipolar world marked by a diffusion of power.

“Asia will have surpassed North America and Europe combined in terms of global power,” the “Global Trends” report states. “China alone will probably have the largest economy, surpassing that of the United States a few years before 2030. In a tectonic shift, the health of the global economy increasingly will be linked to how well the developing world does – more so than the traditional West.”

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Published: Thursday 6 December 2012
“With an Obama 2.0 administration soon to be in place, the time to solve the immensely complex Iranian nuclear drama is now.”

In Election 2012’s theatre-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top U.S. national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea.”)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: Can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current U.S. policy (we don't want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don't want a bomb -- the Supreme Leader said so -- and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)? Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was ...

Published: Tuesday 4 December 2012
In order to continue working at JPL, even scientists who had been with NASA for decades were told they would need a high-level security badge just to enter the premises.

 

Up on the planet Mars, there is a complex new rover named Curiosity that is driving around looking for evidence of possible life. Its every little finding is readily broadcast around the world, as was done today at a televised conference in California, to be analyzed by scientists in the US, in Europe, in China, and even in Iran.

The scientists and engineers who are managing that remarkable vehicle, as well as the fantastically successful Cassini probe orbiting Saturn, the Kepler satellite that is discovering all those planets orbiting distant stars, and all the other various satellites and space probes launched by NASA, however, are not as free as the space probes they are running.

Thanks to the zealous wackos at the Department of Homeland Security, back in 2007 during the latter part of the Bush administration an order went out that all workers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena--an organization that is run under contract to NASA by the California Institute of Technology, had to be vetted for high security clearance in order to continue doing their jobs. Never mind that not one of them was or is engaged in secret activities (NASA is a rigorously non-military, scientific agency which not only publishes all its findings, but which invites the active participation of scientists from around the world). In order to continue working at JPL, even scientists who ...

Published: Saturday 1 December 2012
“If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.”

 

Polls show that many members of the public believe that scientists substantially disagree about human-caused global warming. The gold standard of science is the peer-reviewed literature. If there is disagreement among scientists, based not on opinion but on hard evidence, it will be found in the peer-reviewed literature.

I searched the Web of Science for peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that have the keyword phrases "global warming" or "global climate change." The search produced 13,950 articles. See methodology.

I read whatever combination of titles, abstracts, and entire articles was necessary to identify articles that "reject" human-caused global warming. To be classified as rejecting, an article had to clearly and explicitly state that the theory of global warming is false or, as happened in a few cases, that some other process better explains the observed warming. Articles that merely claimed to have found some discrepancy, some minor flaw, some reason for doubt, I did not classify as rejecting global warming. Articles about methods, paleoclimatology, mitigation, adaptation, and effects at least implicitly accept human-caused global warming and were usually obvious from the title alone. John Cook and Dana Nuccitelli also reviewed and assigned some of these articles; John provided invaluable technical expertise.

This work follows that of Oreskes (Science, 2005) who searched for articles published between 1993 and 2003 with the keyword phrase “global climate change.” She found 928, read the abstracts of each and classified them. ...

Published: Friday 30 November 2012
“We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.”

 

So the bidding has begun.

According to the Wall Street Journal (which got the information from GOP leaders), the President’s opening bid to Republicans is:

— $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenues over the next decade, from limiting tax deductions on the wealthy and raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000 (although those rates don’t have to rise as high as the top marginal rates under Bill Clinton)

— $50 billion in added economic stimulus next year

— A one-year postponement of pending spending cuts in defense and domestic programs

— $400 billion in savings over the decade from Medicare and other entitlement programs  (the same number contained in the President’s 2013 budget proposal, submitted before the election).

— Authority to raise the debt limit without congressional approval.

The $50 billion in added stimulus is welcome. We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.

But by signaling its willingness not to raise top rates as high as they were under Clinton and to cut some $400 billion from projected increases in Medicare and other entitlement spending, the White House has ceded important ground.

Republicans obviously want much, much more.

The administration has taken a “step backward, moving away from consensus and significantly closer to the cliff, delaying again the real, balanced solution that this crisis requires,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in a written statement. “No substantive progress has been made” added House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

No ...

Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
“Since the Obama administration came to power in January of 2009, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has become a quiet priority for the U.S.”

In 2008, the United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced the U.S. entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks as “a pathway to broader Asia-Pacific regional economic integration.” Originating in 2005 as a “Strategic Economic Partnership” between a few select Pacific countries, the TPP has, as of October 2012, expanded to include 11 nations in total: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, with the possibility of several more joining in the future.

What makes the TPP unique is not simply the fact that it may be the largest “free trade agreement” ever negotiated, nor even the fact that only two of its roughly 26 articles actually deal with “trade,” but that it is also the most secretive trade negotiations in history, with no public oversight, input, or consultations.

Since the Obama administration came to power in January of 2009, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has become a quiet priority for the U.S., which overtook the leadership role in the “trade agreement” talks. In 2010, when Malaysia joined the TPP, the Wall Street Journal suggested that the “free-trade pact” could “serve as a counterweight to China’s economic influence,” with Japan and the Philippines both expressing interest in joining the talks.

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Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
Despite China’s greater weight in world affairs, Xi faces internal strains that make China more fragile than is generally understood.

 Xi Jinping, China’s newly anointed president, made his first visit to the United States in May 1980. He was a 27-year-old junior officer accompanying Geng Biao, then a vice premier and China’s leading military official. Geng had been my host the previous January, when I was the first US defense secretary to visit China, acting as an interlocutor for President Jimmy Carter’s administration.
 

Americans had little reason to notice Xi back then, but his superiors clearly saw his potential. In the ensuing 32 years, Xi’s stature rose, along with China’s economic and military strength. His cohort’s ascent to the summit of power marks the retirement of the last generation of leaders designated by Deng Xiaoping (though they retain influence).

Despite China’s greater weight in world affairs, Xi faces internal strains that make China more fragile than is generally understood. China’s export-led economic model has reached its limits, and the transition to domestic-led growth is intensifying internal frictions. Managing unrest through repression is more difficult than in the past, as rapid urbanization, economic reform, and social change roils a country of 1.3 billion people. Ethnic conflicts in outlying regions will also test Xi’s political control.

“Follow Project Syndicate on  READ FULL POST 1 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 20 November 2012
The crises are fostering a class war that will dwarf anything imagined by Karl Marx.

 

Gaza is a window on our coming dystopia. The growing divide between the world’s elite and its miserable masses of humanity is maintained through spiraling violence. Many impoverished regions of the world, which have fallen off the economic cliff, are beginning to resemble Gaza, where 1.6 million Palestinians live in the planet’s largest internment camp. These sacrifice zones, filled with seas of pitifully poor people trapped in squalid slums or mud-walled villages, are increasingly hemmed in by electronic fences, monitored by surveillance cameras and drones and surrounded by border guards or military units that shoot to kill. These nightmarish dystopias extend from sub-Saharan Africa to Pakistan to China. They are places where targeted assassinations are carried out, where brutal military assaults are pressed against peoples left defenseless, without an army, navy or air force. All attempts at resistance, however ineffective, are met with the indiscriminate slaughter that characterizes modern industrial warfare.

In the new global landscape, as in Israel’s occupied territories and the United States’ own imperial projects in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, massacres of thousands of defenseless innocents are labeled wars. Resistance is called a provocation, terrorism or a crime against humanity. The rule of law, as well as respect for the most basic civil liberties and the right of self-determination, is a public relations fiction used to placate the consciences of those who live in the zones of privilege. Prisoners are routinely tortured and “disappeared.” The severance of food and medical supplies is an accepted tactic of control. Lies permeate the airwaves. Religious, racial ...

Published: Wednesday 14 November 2012
“Education is now recognized as a national priority.”

Official delegations from the world’s nine most populous developing countries just met in New Delhi to discuss a subject vital for their countries’ futures: education. The meeting of ministers and others from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria and Pakistan, known as the E-9, is the latest in a series of encounters held every two years to fulfill the pledge of “education for all” by 2015.

The E-9 account for 54% of the world’s population, 42.3% of children not in school, 58% of young illiterates (aged 15-24), and 67% of adult illiterates (two-thirds of whom are women). So the challenges are enormous: children, from families too poor to think about education, beyond the reach of schooling and too malnourished to study; and too few schools, classrooms, teaching resources, and adequately trained teachers. Rampant illiteracy underpins other problems, including exploding populations, gender imbalances, and widespread poverty.

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Published: Friday 9 November 2012
“Subsidies total 27 billion dollars a year, with nearly two-thirds coming from China, Taiwan and Korea along with Europe, Japan and the United States, according to a University of British Columbia study.”

Calls are mounting for the world’s big fishing powers to stop subsidizing international fleets that use destructive methods like bottom trawling in foreign coastal waters, drastically reducing the catch of local artisanal fishers who use nets and fishing lines.

Such subsidies total 27 billion dollars a year, with nearly two-thirds coming from China, Taiwan and Korea along with Europe, Japan and the United States, according to a University of British Columbia study.

Most go to building the ever-more-efficient ships that are required to catch ever-dwindling populations of fish around the world, with yet more subsidies going to offset their growing consumption of fuel as they venture ever farther and deeper to fill their holds.

The result, says Dr. Rashid Sumaila, lead author of the UBC study, is that taxpayers are funding the depletion of the world’s fish populations and the impoverishment of coastal communities abroad.

“A lot of the fish eaten in Europe, the United States and Japan comes from other countries, mostly poor ones,” because the developed countries long ago overexploited their own waters, he told IPS in a telephone interview.

“The more their fleets fish out an area, the harder it gets to keep fishing there and the more they ask for subsidies,” he added. “It’s crazy.”

A senior United Nations official agrees, charging last week that developed countries, which eat three times as much fish per capita as poor ones, are are depleting the oceans and depriving coastal fishermen in developing countries of their livelihood and coastal populations of food.

“Without rapid action” to stop destructive practices, “fisheries will no longer be able to play a critical role in securing the right to food of millions,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to ...

Published: Sunday 4 November 2012
“Was it really only two years ago that the tea party seized the national imagination and ran so far right they fell off the edge of their flat earth?”

Here’s what I was wondering, watching the debates, as Romney betrayed every position and promise he made to the GOP base in the most blatant, insincere attempt at political whitewashing in modern electoral history:

 

Was it really only two years ago that the tea party seized the national imagination and ran so far right they fell off the edge of their flat earth?

 

Romney sounded almost, dare I say it?  Like a liberal.  He out-doved Obama in foreign policy, he vowed to up the take-home pay of regular, working Americans, he method-acted as the guardian of such classic liberal programs as Medicare and Social Security.  He damn near got on his knees, standing up for the little guy.

 

At first, Obama seemed befuddled by the whole thing.  As if he’d been running against the Romney the Right Wing Avenger all these months, and now he’s supposed to debate Romney the Blow-up Pleasure Doll.

 

This was the same fellow who spent his summer firing up tea party rants, where you just know that somewhere in the crowd, off camera, a drooling fat dude was holding up a noose.

 

The fact that Romney had to run fast and furious to the center, even the left, to con the people into electing him is encouraging, is it not?

 

If America were the fundamentally conservative place the conservatives make it out to be, that wouldn’t work, would it?  If Romney tacked any harder left, he’d capsize.  But so far, it seems, he’s getting away with it.

 

Something about Obama rubs a lot of people wrong.  It’s like they voted for him in 2008 out of white guilt, and now they can’t wait to take it back.

 

There is no other way to explain how one, off-key debate appearance—against a guy who held his own by disowning every position he’d ever held—turned a blowout win ...

Published: Friday 2 November 2012
This campaign season teaches us how little has changed since the early Cold War days when Republican stalwarts screamed, “Who lost China?”

 


Who lost Libya? Indeed, who lost the entire Middle East? Those are the questions lurking behind the endless stream of headlines about “Benghazi-gate.” Here’s the question we should really ask, though: How did a tragic but isolated incident at a U.S. consulate, in a place few Americans had ever heard of, get blown up into a pivotal issue in a too-close-to-call presidential contest?

My short answer: the enduring power of a foreign policy myth that will not die, the decades-old idea that America has an inalienable right to “own” the world and control every place in it. I mean, you can’t lose what you never had.

This campaign season teaches us how little has changed since the early Cold War days when Republican stalwarts screamed, “Who lost China?” More than six decades later, it’s still surprisingly easy to fill the political air with anxiety by charging that we’ve “lost” a country or, worse yet, a whole region that we were somehow supposed to “have.”

The “Who lost...?” formula is something like a magic trick.  There’s no way to grasp how it works until you take your eyes away from those who are shouting alarms and look at what’s going on behind the scenes.

Who’s in Charge Here?

The curious case of the incident in Benghazi was full of surprises from the beginning. It was the rare pundit who didn’t assure us that voters wouldn’t care a whit about foreign affairs this year. It was all going to be “the economy, stupid,” ...

Published: Friday 2 November 2012
Ranieri called Romney’s conclusion “a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats.”  Romney neither responded not retracted the  comment.

 

When the presidential candidates are calling each other liars or something close to that, that’s hardly new – but a major American corporation all but calling a presidential candidate a liar, when did that happen before?  Never mind happen twice.  In one week. 

 

Widespread coverage of the story of the Chrysler Corporation’s flat contradiction of Mitt Romney’s campaign assertions, followed by General Motors doing the same, suggests that such sharp corporate responses are unprecedented.  Certainly the relationship of these corporations to the Republican Party are far removed from the time when one of President Eisenhower’s cabinet members said that “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa” (although the urban legend version has him saying “what’s good for General Motors is good for America”). 

 

The catalyst for these sharp corporate reactions came on October 25, in Defiance, Ohio, when Mitt

Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
On Thursday, the hosts of Fox & Friends argued that Americans affected by the hurricane could turn to private insurers for help and suggested that hurricane relief could be left to the states.

While governors across the country have praised the federal government’s rapid response to Hurricane Sandy, Fox News sought to remind viewers of the evils of Washington, criticizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for “printing money” and relying on China to fund relief for victims of the storm.

On Thursday, the hosts of Fox & Friends argued that Americans affected by the hurricane could turn to private insurers for help and suggested that hurricane relief could be left to the states:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (HOST): There is an argument about federal versus state. I mean, some people have said the states should be in charge of some of this relief money, so you don’t have to go and request to the federal. I mean, I understand why you have to go before Congress, because otherwise you could have a situation where you’re giving out money willy nilly.

PETER JOHNSON (GUEST HOST): In essence, FEMA has an ability to print money. And as we were talking about before, Steve, who in the end will be paying for our flood damage in the short-term? Who will be putting up the dollars? Will China? Will we be becoming more indebted to China as a result of our floods on our coast?

STEVE DOOCY (HOST): That’s right. It’s never free money. You know, Congress can say okay, we’re going to come up with the dough and here is the thing, FEMA has this gigantic program with over a trillion dollars worth of property insured, but they only got $3 billion in the bank. That’s crazy. But because we’ve got such a gigantic deficit right now, Peter, you’re exactly right. If the Congress says okay, let’s put more money in the ’till for FEMA, that money is probably going to be borrowed from China.

Watch it:

Published: Thursday 1 November 2012
President Barack Obama takes a small lead late in the Presidential race.

 

With less than a week left in the 2012 election campaign and much of the Northeast recovering from Hurricane Sandy, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former governor Mitt Romney, are running neck and neck in the national popular vote, according to the most recent surveys.

Online bettors and seasoned political analysts, however, appear to agree that by virtue of his edge in about nine key battleground, or “swing” states, the president will most likely emerge victorious after the final ballots are cast on November 6.

Instead of a direct popular vote, the presidency is determined by the electoral college, through which each state is allocated a certain number of votes based on their representation in Congress. Almost all states use a winner-take-all formula, so that the candidate that wins a majority receives all of a state’s electoral votes. With most states either solidly “red” (Republican) or “blue” (Democratic), “purple” swing states are critical.

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Published: Tuesday 30 October 2012
Published: Monday 29 October 2012
The Pentagon veto of the nuclear scientists’ delegation eliminated the Khatami government’s most promising initiative to promote a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations by weakening a key U.S. argument for viewing Iran as a threat.

 

 

In 1998, the Defense Department vetoed a delegation of prominent U.S. nuclear specialists to go to Iran to investigate its nuclear program at the invitation of the government of newly-elected Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, according to the nuclear scientist who was organizing the mission.

The Pentagon objected to the delegation’s mission even though it was offered the option of including one or more scientists of its own choosing on the delegation, according to Dr. Behrad Nakhai, the nuclear scientist who was organizing it.

The Pentagon veto of the nuclear scientists’ delegation eliminated the Khatami government’s most promising initiative to promote a thaw in U.S.-Iran relations by weakening a key U.S. argument for viewing Iran as a threat.

The Bill Clinton administration had been accusing Iran of wanting nuclear weapons, based not on intelligence on the nuclear program but on the assumption that Iran would use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons rather than for civilian power.

In a series of interviews with IPS, Nakhai, an Iranian who had come to the United States after high school, got a PhD in nuclear engineering from the University of Tennessee in 1979 and was a research scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, provided a detailed account of the episode.

Iran’s mission to the U.N. informed Nakhai in late February 1998 that President Khatami and the new head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, wanted him to put together a group of nuclear scientists to visit Iran to study the Iranian nuclear program, Nakhai recalled.

The Iranian invitation came in the wake of President Khatami’s January 1998 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour calling for a “crack in the wall of distrust” between the United States and Iran and his ...

Published: Saturday 27 October 2012
“The rhetoric of this campaign, in addition to recent developments in the economic and military spheres, may herald a tumultuous future for Sino-American relations.”

 

Though Mitt Romney and President Obama painstakingly attempted to illuminate their differences throughout the third presidential debate, their respective commentaries on the rise of China revealed the similarities between the two candidates. Both candidates lamented the American jobs shipped to China and both lambasted the Chinese for supposedly defying the rules of the global economy.

While much of the chest-thumping rhetoric can be attributed to the nature of modern American presidential campaigns, the use of China as a scapegoat for our anemic recovery and the accusations of "cheating" and "rule-breaking" are dangerous developments. The rhetoric of this campaign, in addition to recent developments in the economic and military spheres, may herald a tumultuous future for Sino-American relations.

The Obama administration has already sought to increase the U.S. presence in Asia through military, diplomatic, and economic strategies. Unfortunately, many of these measures have been conducted in a decidedly antagonistic nature. The Obama administration’s “Pacific Pivot” has increased tensions in the South China Sea and has placed many smaller countries in Asia in the uncomfortable position of having to choose between allying themselves with Beijing or Washington.

To be fair, the renewed military engagement in Asia has been accompanied by a surge in diplomatic efforts; however, many of these efforts have been focused on developing regional allies as counterweights to China. Throughout

Published: Friday 26 October 2012
“The U.S. had been by far the richest country in the world even before the Second World War, although it wasn’t—was not yet the major global actor.”

In the week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author and MIT Professor, Noam Chomsky. In a recent speech, Chomsky examined topics largely ignored or glossed over during the campaign: China, the Arab Spring, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the military threat posed by Israel and the U.S. versus Iran. He reflects on the Cuban missile crisis, which took place 50 years ago this week, and is still referred to as "the most dangerous moment in human history." He delivered this talk last month at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, at an event sponsored by the Center for Popular Economics. Chomsky's talk was entitled, "Who Owns the World?"

 

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Portland, Oregon. We are here as part of our 100-city Silenced Majority tour. On this week when President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney debated issues of foreign policy and the economy, we turn to world-renowned political dissident, linguist, author, 

Published: Friday 26 October 2012
Romney’s defensive statement came in response to a remark by Obama noting that the Republican nominee is “familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas.”

 

"I'm a son of Detroit. I was born in Detroit. My dad was head of a car company. I like American cars," said Mitt Romney on Monday night when he met with President Obama to discuss foreign policy. "And I would do nothing to hurt the U.S. auto industry."

That might be considered true — unless moving the most important American auto parts manufacturer to China counts as hurting the U.S. auto industry. But those words now stand as one of Romney's most glaring falsehoods in the final debate.

Romney's defensive statement came in response to a remark by Obama noting that the Republican nominee is "familiar with jobs being shipped overseas because you invested in companies that were shipping jobs overseas." Moments later, he added: "If we had taken your advice, Governor Romney, about our auto industry, we'd be buying cars from China instead of selling cars to China."

Most viewers had little idea what Obama was talking about or why Romney felt the need to rebut him so specifically. But their coded exchange almost certainly referred to an investigative report that broke wide on the Internet, without much attention from the mainstream media so far — Greg Palast's article in The Nation magazine, exposing Romney's huge profits from Delphi, a crucial auto parts company, that moved nearly all of its jobs to China after taking billions in auto bailout moneyfrom the Treasury.

As Palast reported, the Romneys ...

Published: Friday 26 October 2012
America is supposedly the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” as our unsingable national anthem puts it at its most unsingable point, but to tell the truth, it is no longer either of those things.

 

A new study by researchers at the University of Illinois in Urbana, showing that young children who are fearful in childhood are likely to be conservative when they grow up got me to thinking.

It’s not just that a whole generation of kids who get regularly belted by their parents, who are warned that if they behave in a certain manner they’ll go to hell, or that their faces will freeze in some horrible contorted way, or that they will be thrown out of the house, are becoming Republicans. It’s that virtually the whole country is populated by adults who have been raised in a climate of fear by a media and a government that are hell-bent on scaring the shit out of everyone.

The result is that a nation that once, for better or worse, was full of people who could strike out for unknown regions to stake a claim on land when they didn’t even know how to farm (land admittedly belonging to native Americans who could understandably be expected to react with aggressive hostility to being expropriated), who could weather brutal winters with nothing to get them through but a musket and a store of root vegetables in the cellar, who could stand up to the mightiest military of its day and throw off a colonial yoke and boldly create a new country, now cowers in fear at the imagined threats of a landlocked group of uneducated and incredibly poor people living in a country that is a throwback to the 16th century.

America is supposedly the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave,” as our unsingable national anthem puts it at its most unsingable point, but to tell the truth, it is no longer either of those things. Don't believe me? Just try telling a cop who stops you for standing off the side of the road with your thumb out and says you are breaking the ...

Published: Wednesday 24 October 2012
“Imagine if Walmart workers across a wide swath of states refused to come to work on the company’s busiest day, forcing a shutdown of several branches of the retailer’s stores?”

 

One would think it would be easy to get a “no” from anyone who you asked would be willing to wake-up at 3 a.m. on a cold November day to fight through hectic traffic and elbow people for $2 toasters instead of stay home and sleep off their turkey coma on the day after Thanksgiving. But despite that fact, Walmart makes a killing, literally, off of “Black Friday” discounts that have led to the deaths of both workers and shoppers in their encouragement of a mad consumerist dash for cheap deals on cheap products.

Imagine if Walmart workers across a wide swath of states refused to come to work on the company’s busiest day, forcing a shutdown of several branches of the retailer’s stores? It would be a huge win for workers over corporate greed and savage consumerism.

If you hate corporate greed, Walmart is a great adversary. They have aggressive policies in place to stop workers from hitting the overtime pay mark (34 hours), paying many of their workers just above the bare minimum wage while the Walton family rakes in countless profits. In fact, the average yearly income of one of Walmart’s minimum-wage workers, $15,080, is the same amount the six Waltons who own the chain make in just 3 minutes of dividends. Those 6 people who own the retail chain have actually amassed more wealth than the bottom 41.5% of ...

Published: Tuesday 23 October 2012
While you’re watching the debate on television, remember the country we used to live in.

 

In tonight’s foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney will say that the way to get jobs back from China is with more free trade and lower taxes. But China‘s Communist. It already has tougher trade restrictions and higher taxes than we do. How, exactly, will more tax cuts help us compete?

He'll also push for an even more extreme version of “free trade” - one without workers' rights requirements or any other guiding principles. But unrestrained free trade is a recipe for global slavery. It gives the world's corporations the motive and the opportunity to locate their jobs wherever they can most easily exploit and abuse the workforce.

How can the loss of workers' rights in China or anywhere else create good jobs in the United States? Short answer: It can't. Throw in some even more exorbitant military spending, and you're headed for ... the RomneyZone.

The Definition of Insanity

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Published: Sunday 21 October 2012
Praising our military while ignoring the wars we send them to be perhaps the biggest shame of American political discourse today (and that is indeed saying a lot).

Here's something I'd like to see this campaign season: our two major party candidates debating our wars rather. Both President Obama and Governor Romney prefer to praise the troops rather than to address the tragic consequences of continuing military action in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The latter, when they're addressed at all, are reduced to sound bites and homilies about the need to "stay the course" and "support our troops." 


Praising our military while ignoring the wars we send them to be perhaps the biggest shame of American political discourse today (and that is indeed saying a lot). Think about it. The eleventh anniversary of our war in Afghanistan recently passed with barely a murmur in the media. This is three times as long as the U.S. military fought in World War II. Presidential conventions and debates occur with no sustained discussion of Afghanistan (Iraq having been already consigned to political oblivion). The most vital, essential, and sacred decision we can make as a nation -- when to send our troops into harm's way and under what conditions we grant them the authority in our nation's name to take the lives of others -- this is neither critiqued nor discussed in our political discourse.


Even as we build more military bases and deploy more troops overseas, even as we elevate defense spending to new heights, our political elites work to isolate war from their politics and our society. But war is inseparable from politics, as the Prussian theorist of war, Carl von Clausewitz, reminded us two centuries ago. At the same time, ...

Published: Saturday 20 October 2012
Last week, three protesters were arrested for blocking the path of trucks leaving the plant in an effort to stop the removal of equipment from their workplace.

We turn now to Freeport, Illinois, where more people have been arrested protesting plans by Mitt Romney's former company, Bain Capital, to shut the Sensata Technologies plant and move operations to China — a loss of 170 American jobs. On Wednesday, six people were arrested in the lobby of the plant during a sit-in demanding full severance pay for those who will lose their jobs. Last month, Senata workers set up an encampment called "Bainport" across the street from the facility to protest the company's plan to close the plant. Last week, three protesters were arrested for blocking the path of trucks leaving the plant in an effort to stop the removal of equipment from their workplace. To find out more about the "Bainport" protest, we speak to Tom Gaulrapp, who has worked at the Sensata Technologies plant for 33 years. His last day of work at Sensata is November 5, one day before the election. The protesters have invited Romney to visit "Bainport" to address their situation.

 

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to Freeport, Illinois, where six more people have been arrested protesting plans by Mitt Romney’s former company, Bain Capital, to shut the Sensata Technologies plant and move operations to China. A hundred seventy jobs will be ...

Published: Saturday 20 October 2012
In the second presidential debate, Romney accused China of “cheating,” mainly by holding down the value of its currency.

 

Nine years ago, the Ohio Art Co. closed its Etch A Sketch operation in Bryan, Ohio, and moved the jobs to Shenzhen, China. The 100 laid-off American workers weren't surprised. They'd been training their Chinese replacements.

Months ago, a Mitt Romney aide famously declared an "Etch A Sketch" campaign — whereby the candidate would erase what he'd done before (like shaking an Etch A Sketch toy) and draw a more appealing portrait for a general electorate. That image is apt, in an unwelcome way, for a Romney now bashing China for taking American jobs. Romney's private equity company, Bain Capital, did its bit to help China win the work, and with enthusiasm.

In the second presidential debate, Romney accused China of "cheating," mainly by holding down the value of its currency. But that doesn't shake clean the Bain prospectus promoting China's "strong fundamentals" — among them, wages 85 percent lower than Americans.' "Accordingly," the prospectus reads, "Bain Capital expects to see an increasing array of high-growth companies available for investment."

Does that sound like anyone wanting to see the Chinese currency rise in value? The stronger the Chinese currency, the harder it is for Bain's (or anyone else's) Chinese factories to sell their wares on world markets.

Offering another viewpoint, workers from Freeport, Ill., demonstrated this week at the Massachusetts headquarters of Sensata Technologies, a Bain Capital creation that has moved thousands of Americans jobs offshore. Sensata made the Illinois workers train the Chinese who will take their jobs as a condition of receiving their meager severance pay. Sound familiar?

Part of Romney's rap against China is the stealing of U.S. technology. But Microsoft had accused Bain's Chinese retailer, Gome Electrical Appliances, of pirating its software.

And Global-Tech, ...

Published: Friday 12 October 2012
“This week, Wal-Mart workers launched the first strike against the giant retailer in its 50-year history, with protests and picket lines at 28 stores across 12 states.”

 

The great recession of 2008, this global economic meltdown, has wiped out the life savings of so many people and created a looming threat of chronic unemployment for millions. This is happening while corporate coffers are brimming with historically high levels of cash on hand, in both the “too big to fail” banks and in non-financial corporations. Despite unemployment levels that remain high, and the anxiety caused by people living paycheck to paycheck, many workers in the United States are taking matters into their own hands, demanding better working conditions and better pay. These are the workers who are left unmentioned in the presidential debates, who remain uninvited into the corporate news networks’ gilded studios. These are the workers at Wal-Mart, the largest private employer in the United States. These are the tomato pickers from Florida. With scant resources, armed with their courage and the knowledge that they deserve better, they are organizing and getting results.

This week, Wal-Mart workers launched the first strike against the giant retailer in its 50-year history, with protests and picket lines at 28 stores across 12 states. Many of these nonunion workers are facing retaliation from their employer, despite the protections that exist on paper through the National Labor Relations Board. The strikers are operating under the banner of OUR Walmart: Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart, started with support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. OUR Walmart members protested outside Wal-Mart’s “Meeting for the Investment Community 2012” in Bentonville, Ark. Demanding a stop to the company’s retaliations, the group promised a vigorous national presence at Wal-Mart stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the largest retail shopping day of the year. The workers have an impressive array of allies ready to join them, including the National ...

Published: Thursday 11 October 2012
If a company as massive as Walmart is forced to change its labor practices, the ripples will be felt far and wide.

 

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone talking about Walmart’s low, low prices with the dollar signs almost visibly flashing in their otherwise vacant eyes. But what are we really talking about here? Do you ever get something for nothing? Walmart executives will say that since the company is so big it enjoys an economy of scale and can pass low prices on to consumers. But those low prices also depend on the company’s willingness to squash competition, neglect reasonable labor practices, destroy communities, purchase political favors and entrap people desperate for a job into pay insufficient for any real quality of life.

That’s why striking workers will pay a visit to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas today to put the corporate behemoth on notice. Unless demands are met for better working conditions — including an end to illegal retribution against organizers — Walmarts around the country should be prepared for bold actions and work disruptions on Black Friday, the biggest sales day of the year. Yesterday, Walmart workers walked off the job at 28 stores in 12 states, making it already much more widespread than the only other strike in the company’s history, in 2006. As someone helping to support the campaigns through community organizing and online tools, I’ve found their boldness and tenacity nothing short of inspirational.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the world, the largest retailer in the world and the largest single employer in the United States. Although it has a “buy American” campaign, ...

Published: Monday 8 October 2012
Published: Tuesday 2 October 2012
Romney’s ads claim that he will declare China to be a currency manipulator and take retaliatory measures.

 

One of the themes that Governor Romney has been hitting at aggressively in his campaign ads is that he will get tough on China. The ads complain that China is a cheater, most importantly by “manipulating” the value of its currency. This means that China has been deliberately keeping down the value of its currency against the dollar.

A lower value for the yuan, which means a higher valued dollar, makes Chinese goods cheaper for people in the United States. It is the same thing as if China were to subsidize its exports to the United States. On the other side, the over-valuation of the dollar makes our goods more expensive to people in China, meaning that they will buy less of them. It is comparable to putting a tariff on U.S. exports to China.

Romney promises to be the tough guy who will reverse this situation. His ads claim that he will declare China to be a currency manipulator and take retaliatory measures.

President Obama has responded to Romney’s charges by pointing out that Romney personally has profited from dealings with China. His ads point out that Bain Capital, Romney’s former company, was a pioneer in outsourcing jobs to China.

While people will have to decide for themselves what they think of Romney’s business dealings in China, the Obama ad helps to clarify the issues in U.S. negotiations with China. The reality is that there are many U.S. businesses that are profiting enormously ...

Published: Monday 1 October 2012
“August’s household survey showed the overall rate of unemployment to be 8.1 percent in August – not bad, relative to previous rates – but that was mainly because so many Americans had stopped looking for work.”

 

The biggest election news this week won’t be who wins the presidential debate Wednesday night. It will be how many new jobs were created in September, announced Friday morning by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rarely in the history has the monthly employment carried so much political significance. If the payroll survey is significantly more than 96,000 –- the number of new jobs created in August — President Obama can credibly claim the job situation is improving. If significantly fewer than 96,000, Mitt Romney has the more credible claim that the economy isn’t improving.

August’s household survey showed the overall rate of unemployment to be 8.1 percent in August – not bad, relative to previous rates – but that was mainly because so many Americans had stopped looking for work. (You’re deemed “unemployed” only if you don’t have a full-time job and you’re looking for work; if you’ve given up looking, you’re not counted.)

What happened to jobs in August or September – and what will happen in October (announced November 2, just days before Election Day) – have very little to do with what Obama did or didn’t do. Presidents have little to do with month-to-month changes in employment.

What’s more, the rest of the world isn’t cooperating: Much of Europe is in recession because it’s swallowed the “austerity” cool-aide. Japan is still a basket case. And China is slowing considerably.

In addition, Obama has had to grapple with a recalcitrant Republican congress, whose “number one goal,” according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, hasn’t been to create more jobs but to make sure Obama doesn’t get a second term.

Still, evidence is accumulating that the U.S. economy has stalled. ...

Published: Sunday 30 September 2012
Published: Thursday 27 September 2012
You may never have heard of Sensata Technologies, but in this election season, you’ve probably heard the name of its owner, Bain Capital, the company co-founded and formerly run by Mitt Romney.

 

Freeport, Ill., is the site of one of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. On Aug. 27, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated there in their campaign for Illinois’ seat in the U.S. Senate. Lincoln lost that race, but the Freeport debate set the stage for his eventual defeat of Douglas in the presidential election of 1860, and thus the Civil War. Today, as the African-American president of the United States prepares to debate the candidate from the party of Lincoln, workers in Freeport are staging a protest, hoping to put their plight into the center of the national debate this election season.

A group of workers from Sensata Technologies have set up their tents in a protest encampment across the road from the plant where many of them have spent their adult lives working. Sensata makes high-tech sensors for automobiles, including the sensors that help automatic transmissions run safely. Sensata Technologies recently bought the plant from Honeywell, and promptly told the more than 170 workers there that their jobs and all the plant’s equipment would be shipped to China.

You may never have heard of Sensata Technologies, but in this election season, you’ve probably heard the name of its owner, Bain Capital, the company co-founded and formerly run by Mitt Romney. When they learned this, close to a dozen Sensata employees decided to put up a fight, to challenge Romney to put into practice his very campaign slogans to save American jobs. They traveled to Tampa, Fla., joining in a poor people’s campaign at a temporary camp called Romneyville (after the Hoovervilles of the Great ...

Published: Tuesday 25 September 2012
A review essay on human origins and contemporary crises.

We label as “crazy” those members of the human species whose behavior we find hard to understand, but the cascading crises in contemporary political, economic, and cultural life make a bigger question increasingly hard to ignore: Is the species itself crazy? Has the process of evolution in the hominid line produced a species that is both very clever and very crazy?

Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall ends his recent book about the Masters of the Planet with such reflection:

[A]part from death, the only ironclad rule of human experience has been the Law of Unintended Consequences. Our brains are extraordinary mechanisms, and they have allowed us to accomplish truly amazing things; but we are still only good at anticipating -- or at least of paying attention to -- highly immediate consequences. We are notably bad at assessing risk, especially long-term risk. We believe crazy things, such as that human sacrifice will propitiate the gods, or that people are kidnapped by space aliens, or that endless economic expansion is possible in a finite world, or that if we just ignore climate change we won’t have to face its consequences. Or at the very least, we act as if we do (p. 227).

 

We humans routinely believe crazy things, but are we a crazy species? Does the big brain that allowed us to master the planet have a basic design flaw? Given the depth of the social and ecological crises we face -- or, in some cases, refuse to face -- should we be worried about whether we can slip out of the traps we have created?

Reading Tattersall along with recent books by two thoughtful analysts on resource depletion and ecological degradation, those answers seem quite obvious: yes, on all counts. We’re in more trouble than we want to believe, and we are not as well equipped to deal with our troubles as we imagine. But I find some consolation in thinking about our current troubles in ...

Published: Wednesday 19 September 2012
“For one thing, factories that moved to Asia for low-wage workers may return to the United States.”

Robots don't take bathroom breaks, and that's one reason why, all else being equal, they may make better factory workers than the human version. But all else is getting less equal. New generations of super "smart" robots are doing more and more complex tasks, their needle arms going into tiny spaces the most delicate human hand can't reach. And just as the machines leap forward in sophistication, their price is coming down.

Another industrial revolution bangs at the doors, and as other industrial revolutions have done, this one will change everything. For one thing, factories that moved to Asia for low-wage workers may return to the United States. After all, if machines can do the labor-intensive jobs, it may not matter whether the factory is in Cleveland, Hartford, Nashville or Guangzhou.

In truth, while factory jobs have left the United States, factories never quite did. America still makes lots of stuff that can be produced with a handful of people running computerized equipment. What's different now is that the machines are getting more clever.

There were always some advantages to manufacturing locally, and they remain. For example, the Flextronics solar-panel plant in Milpitas, Calif., can ship a solar panel to Phoenix more quickly and cheaply than a factory in Jiangsu province can. Courtesy of robots, it can now also compete with the Chinese solar-panel giants on manufacturing costs. Furthermore, the company's creative secrets are safer at home than in China, where protections for intellectual property are notoriously lax.

This trend helps workers in other high-wage countries. In Drachten, Netherlands, a Philips Electronics factory now employs one-tenth as many people as its sister plant in Zhuhai, China, according to a report in The New York Times.

Companies operating here won't care as much whether their ...

Published: Saturday 15 September 2012
“Mitt Romney can can use this to show us if he wants to be president of the whole United States, or just president of, by and for the outsourcing 1 percenters.”

 

Workers facing outsourcing by Bain Capital are camping outside the Sensata factory in Freeport, Ill. They are asking Mitt Romney to show up and help save their jobs. They say they will stay camped there until Romney shows up and stands with them – or with Bain.

Mitt Romney can can use this to show us if he wants to be president of the whole United States, or just president of, by and for the outsourcing 1 percenters.

Sensata

The private equity firm Bain Capital put together Sensata Technologies in 2006 to make and sell sensors and controls to car makers and other manufacturers. The company is closing the Freeport, Ill. plant and outsourcing the 165 jobs to China. The workers have to train their Chinese replacements before they are laid off.

Sensata is making plenty of money. According to the company's website:

  • Second quarter 2012 net revenue was a record $504.6 million, an increase of 10.9% from the second quarter 2011 net revenue of $455.0 million.
  • Second quarter 2012 net income was $26.1 million, or $0.14 per diluted share, versus second quarter 2011 net (loss) of $(34.6) million, or $(0.20) per diluted share.
  • Second quarter 2012 Adjusted net income1 was a record $97.5 million, or $0.54 per diluted share, versus second quarter 2011 Adjusted net income1 of $92.2 million, or $0.51 per diluted share.

Sensata explains that Chinese workers cost less.

Mitt Romney started Bain Capital in 1984. He left the company in 1999, or 2000, or 2001, or 2002, or later, or earlier, depending on which year is best. In 2012 he is clearly no longer with Bain, while receiving only approximately $440,000 a weekfrom the company.

Efforts To Get Sensata To Reconsider

The Freeport, Ill., City Council unanimously passed a resolution on July 16 asking Romney to come and help save the workers' jobs.

Two ...

Published: Thursday 30 August 2012
“In their case, the company laying them off and sending their jobs overseas is Bain Capital, co-founded by the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.”

 

Four hardy souls from rural Illinois joined tens of thousands of people undeterred by threats of Hurricane Isaac during this week’s Republican National Convention. They weren’t among the almost 2,400 delegates to the convention, though, nor were they from the press corps, said to number 15,000. They weren’t part of the massive police force assembled here, more than 3,000 strong, all paid for with $50 million of U.S. taxpayer money. These four were about to join a much larger group: the more than 2.4 million people in the past decade whose U.S. jobs have been shipped to China. In their case, the company laying them off and sending their jobs overseas is Bain Capital, co-founded by the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

We met the group at Romneyville, a tent city on the outskirts of downtown Tampa, established by the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign in the spirit of the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. A couple hundred people gathered before the makeshift stage to hear speakers and musicians, under intermittent downpours and the noise of three police helicopters drowning out the voices of the anti-poverty activists. Scores of police on bicycles occupied the surrounding streets.

Cheryl Randecker was one of those four we met at Romneyville whose Bain jobs are among the 170 slated to be off-shored. They build transmission sensors for many cars and trucks made in the United States.  Cheryl was sent to China to train workers there, not knowing that the company was about to be sold and the jobs she was training people for included her own.  I asked her how it ...

Published: Wednesday 29 August 2012
“One hundred and seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois -- of which Bain is the majority owner -- are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China.”

After repeatedly touting his business experience as an asset towards reviving the U.S. economy, Mitt Romney has been put on the defensive by Bain Capital workers who are fighting back against the outsourcing of their jobs. One hundred and seventy workers at a Sensata Technologies plant in Freeport, Illinois -- of which Bain is the majority owner -- are calling on Romney to help save their jobs from being shipped to China. The factory manufactures sensors and controls that are used in aircraft and automobiles, but has been dismantling and shipping the plant to China piece-by-piece -- even as it requires the workers to train personally their Chinese replacements, who have been flown in by management. We're joined by two workers from the Sensata plant in Freeport, Illinois: Tom Gaulrapp and Cheryl Randecker. Both worked at Sensata for 33 years and were told their jobs would be terminated by the year's end.

 

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, "Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency," as we cover the Republican National Convention here in Tampa, inside and out, as we will do in Charlotte next week, as well, covering the Democrats.

Well, as the Republican National ...

Published: Tuesday 28 August 2012
The hologram becomes the perfect metaphor for the insubstantial nature of the American economy. None of it is real. It is a mirage.

 

Dave Eggers’ gem of a book, “A Hologram for the King,” is a parable about the decadence, fragility and heartlessness of late, decayed corporate capitalism. It is about the small, largely colorless men and women who serve as managers in our suicidal outsourcing of manufacturing jobs and the methodical breaking of labor unions. It is about the lie of globalization, a lie that impoverishes us all to increase corporate profits. 

“A Hologram for the King” tells the story of Alan, a lackluster 54-year-old consultant who is desperately trying to snag one final big contract in Saudi Arabia for Reliant, a corporation that is “the largest I.T. supplier in the world,” to save himself from financial ruin. Alan has come to realize that managers like him who made outsourcing possible will be discarded as human refuse now that the process is complete, left to wander like ghosts—or holograms—among the ruins. And Eggers’ novel is a subtle, deft and poignant look at the horrendous toll this corporate process takes on self-esteem, on family, on health, on community and finally on the nation itself. It does so, like parables from Greek tragedy or George Orwell, by finding the perfect story to make a point that is universal. 

Eggers, who showcased his talent as a writer of nonfiction in “Zeitoun” about Hurricane Katrina, combines fiction and reporting to create a small masterpiece. The book works because of its authenticity, its close attention to detail and Eggers’ respect for fact. I spent many months as a correspondent in Saudi Arabia where the novel is set. Eggers captures in tight, bullet-like prose the utter decadence, hypocrisy and corruption of the kingdom, as well as its bleak landscape, suffocating heat and soulless glass and concrete office buildings. He is keenly aware that the outward religiosity and piety mask a moral and physical rot that fits seamlessly ...

Published: Sunday 26 August 2012
“From 2000 to 2010, the U.S. share of college graduates fell to 21% of the world’s total from 24%, while China’s share climbed to 11% from 9%. India’s rose more than half a percentage point to 7%.”

The United States’ share of global college graduates fell substantially in the first decade of the 21st century and stands to drop even more by 2020 as developing economies in China and India have graduated more college students, presenting challenges for American workers’ ability to remain competitive in a global economy in the future. The U.S. share of college graduates fell from nearly one-in-four to just more than one-in-five from 2000 to 2010, according to “The Competition That Really Matters,” a report from the Center for American Progress and The Center for the Next Generation:

From 2000 to 2010, the U.S. share of college graduates fell to 21% of the world’s total from 24%, while China’s share climbed to 11% from 9%. India’s rose more than half a percentage point to 7%. Based on current demographic and college enrollment trends, we can project where each country will be by 2020: the U.S. share of the world’s college graduates will fall below 18% while China’s and India’s will rise to more than 13% and nearly 8% respectively.

India and China aren’t just closing the gap in overall graduates, they’re also making huge strides in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). According to the report, the annual number of U.S. STEM graduates from four-year colleges and universities increased by 24 percent from 2000 to 2008. In China, the annual increase was 218 percent, and in India, the number of STEM degrees awarded each year tripled from 1999 to ...

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2012
“Clearly the reason we have seen the US starting so many wars is that the US is and has not for a very long time been anything approaching a democracy.”

We’ve all heard it said by our teachers when we were in school, we’ve all heard it said by politicians, including presidents: “Democracies don’t start wars.”

And yet we have had the decades-long American war on Vietnam, the Reagan invasion of Grenada, the LBJ invasion of the Dominican Republic, the George H.W. Bush invasion of Panama, the G.W. Bush back-to-back invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and now we have President Obama talking about launching an unprovoked war on Iran.

Is the much touted axiom wrong?

I don’t think so. I believe that in a democracy, where the will of the people is paramount, it would be very unlikely to have a country start a war. People generally don’t like war. They need to feel truly threatened or even under attack before they will accept the idea of their or anyone’s fathers, husbands, brothers and sons (and now mothers, wives, daughters and sisters) being marched off to face the horrors of war.

Clearly the reason we have seen the US starting so many wars is that the US is and has not for a very long time been anything approaching a democracy.

Democracy in the US is a purely formalistic thing. People get to vote once every two and four years to chose from a narrow list of pre-selected candidates approved by the real rulers of the country, who are the wealthy owners of the large business interests, many of which prosper when there’s a war on, and many more of which are happy to have periodic wars, or the threat of wars, to keep people in line and willing to tolerate the kind of abuse that is typically heaped on the average working person: financially starved school districts, starvation-level welfare grants, no public health system, rusting bridges, pot-holed roads, almost no public transit, and falling real wages, etc.

I think it’s largely true that real democracies do not ...

Published: Thursday 9 August 2012
“Economists at Citigroup, for example, boldly concluded that circumstances had never been this conducive to broad, sustained growth around the world, and projected rapidly rising global output until 2050, led by developing countries in Asia and Africa.”

 A year ago, economic analysts were giddy with optimism about the prospects for economic growth in the developing world. In contrast to the United States and Europe, where the growth outlook looked weak at best, emerging markets were expected to sustain their strong performance from the decade preceding the global financial crisis, and thus become the engine of the global economy.

Economists at Citigroup, for example, boldly concluded that circumstances had never been this conducive to broad, sustained growth around the world, and projected rapidly rising global output until 2050, led by developing countries in Asia and Africa. The accounting and consulting firm PwC predicted that per capita GDP growth in China, India, and Nigeria would exceed 4.5% well into the middle of the century. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company christened Africa, long synonymous with economic failure, the land of “lions on the move.”

Today, such talk has been displaced by concern about what  READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Tuesday 7 August 2012
Heat, Drought, Rising Food Costs, and Global Unrest

The Great Drought of 2012 has yet to come to an end, but we already know that its consequences will be severe. With more than one-half of America’s countiesdesignated as drought disaster areas, the 2012 harvest of corn, soybeans, and other food staples is guaranteed to fall far short of predictions. This, in turn, willboost food prices domestically and abroad, causing increased misery for farmers and low-income Americans and far greater hardship for poor people in countries that rely on imported U.S. grains.

 

This, however, is just the beginning of the likely consequences: if history is any guide, rising food prices of this sort will also lead to widespread social unrest and violent conflict.

Food -- affordable food -- is essential to human survival and well-being. Take that away, and people become anxious, desperate, and angry. In the United States, food represents only about 13% of the average household budget, a relatively small share, so a boost in food prices in 2013 will probably not prove overly taxing for most middle- and upper-income families.  It could, however, produce considerable hardship for poor and unemployed Americans with limited resources. “You are talking about a real bite out of family budgets,” 

Published: Friday 3 August 2012
“The situation is critical: without fast action to limit their growth, HFCs could annually contribute up to 20 percent as much to global warming as carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a recent press release by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.”

 

The Montreal Protocol, a climate treaty that gathers all U.N. member countries behind the goal of protecting the ozone layer, may not be the “most successful international agreement” anymore, as former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan used to put it.

The treaty has achieved a great deal in the more than two decades it has been in force, with a 97-percent reduction in the consumption of ozone-depleting substances.  However, it is now being widely criticized for worsening climate change by replacing those harmful chemicals with climate-threatening substitutes.

The total phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were widely used as refrigerants and had a high ozone depletion potential, has led to a climate protection bonus equivalent to 11 billion tons of CO2 reductions each year, according to the U.N. Environment Program.

To put it in simpler terms, the Protocol had the annual environmental impact of one billion homes being completely off the electrical grid.

But this remarkable achievement is now being undermined by the chemicals that were used to replace CFCs: hydro fluorocarbons, known as HFCs, a group of “super” greenhouse gases.  HFCs, which can be found in many products such as refrigerators and aerosols, are the fastest growing class of greenhouse gas and have extremely high global warming potential, scientists say.

The situation is critical: without fast action to limit their growth, HFCs could annually contribute up to 20 percent as much to global warming as carbon dioxide by 2050, according to a recent press release by the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development

The U.S., Mexico, Canada, and Micronesia have taken a firm stance, proposing an amendment to the Montreal Protocol during the last meeting of state parties in Bangkok last month, which addresses HFCs.

“Phasing down HFCs is essential to… limit the adverse environmental ...

Published: Friday 3 August 2012
This year’s Aug. 6 memorials have special significance. They take place shortly before the 50th anniversary of “the most dangerous moment in human history,” in the words of the historian and John F. Kennedy adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., referring to the Cuban missile crisis.

 

Aug. 6, the anniversary of Hiroshima, should be a day of somber reflection, not only on the terrible events of that day in 1945, but also on what they revealed: that humans, in their dedicated quest to extend their capacities for destruction, had finally found a way to approach the ultimate limit.

This year’s Aug. 6 memorials have special significance. They take place shortly before the 50th anniversary of “the most dangerous moment in human history,” in the words of the historian and John F. Kennedy adviser Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., referring to the Cuban missile crisis.

Graham Allison writes in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that Kennedy “ordered actions that he knew would increase the risk not only of conventional war but also nuclear war,” with a likelihood of perhaps 50 percent, he believed, an estimate that Allison regards as realistic.

Kennedy declared a high-level nuclear alert that authorized “NATO aircraft with Turkish pilots ... (or others) ... to take off, fly to Moscow, and drop a bomb.”

None were more shocked by the discovery of missiles in Cuba than the men in charge of the similar missiles that the U.S. had secretly deployed in Okinawa six months earlier, surely aimed at China, at a moment of elevated regional tensions.

Kennedy took Chairman Nikita Khrushchev “right to the brink of nuclear war and he looked over the edge and had no stomach for it,” according to Gen. David Burchinal, then a high-ranking official in the Pentagon planning staff. One can hardly count on such sanity forever.

Khrushchev accepted a formula that Kennedy devised, ending the crisis just short of war. The formula’s boldest element, Allison writes, was “a secret sweetener that promised the withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was ...

Published: Sunday 29 July 2012
“If produce is certified USDA-organic, it’s non-GMO (or supposed to be!)”

Genetically modified foods have been shown to cause harm to humans, animals, and the environmental, and despite growing opposition, more and more foods continue to be genetically altered. It’s important to note that steering clear from these foods completely may be difficult, and you should merely try finding other sources than your big chain grocer. If produce is certified USDA-organic, its non-GMO (or supposed to be!) Also, seek out local farmers and booths at farmer’s markets where you can be assured the crops aren’t GMO. Even better, if you are so inclined: Start organic gardening and grow them yourself. Until then, here are the top 10 worst GMO foods for your “do not eat” GMO foods list.

Top 10 Worst GMO Foods for Your GMO Foods List

1. Corn: This is a no-brainer. If you’ve watched any food documentary, you know corn is highly modified. “As many as half of all U.S. farms growing corn for Monsanto are using genetically modified corn,” and much of it is intended for human consumption. Monsanto’s GMO corn has been tied to numerous health issues, including weight gain and organ disruption.

2. Soy: Found in tofu, vegetarian products, soybean oil, soy flour, and numerous other products, soy is also modified to resist herbicides. As of now, biotech giant Monsanto still has a tight grasp on the soybean market, with approximately 90 percent of soy being genetically engineered to resist Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. In one single year, 2006, 96.7 million pounds of glyphosate was sprayed on soybeans alone

3. Sugar: According to NaturalNews, ...

Published: Friday 27 July 2012
This has been the big story in the lead-up to the games, as top lawmakers from both parties are pretending to be upset that Team USA’s clothing was manufactured far away from home. The operative word, though, is “pretending.”

Fake outrage is a little like pornography — hard to narrowly define, but you know it when you see it. It is the television pundit railing on the supposed "War on Christmas" or the radio host calling a woman a "slut" for the alleged crime of discussing contraception. It is the Democratic partisan pretending to be offended by John McCain's expensive shoes, or the Republican partisan taking umbrage at President Obama for daring to repeat the truism that "if you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help." And when it comes to the 2012 Olympics, it is the typical congressional leader criticizing American athletes' uniforms for being made in China.

This has been the big story in the lead-up to the games, as top lawmakers from both parties are pretending to be upset that Team USA's clothing was manufactured far away from home. The operative word, though, is "pretending."

A look at the record shows that many of these lawmakers supported (and continue to support) the tariff-free trade policies that eviscerated the domestic textile industry — aka the industry that should be making the uniforms. And yet, these same lawmakers preen before the cameras, clad in suits made in factories their votes helped offshore. Gold medalists in fake outrage, they breast beat about jobs and American pride, correctly betting that few reporters will highlight their phony indignation's inherent deceit.

Of course, while Washington's purported outrage over the uniforms is entirely fake, the underlying questions about offshoring and domestically sourced products are very real — and very troubling.

Since the mid-1990s, when multinational corporations began convincing both parties to vaporize the trade and tariff policies that built this nation's economy, the United States has lost almost 1,300 textile mills, according to the ...

Published: Friday 20 July 2012
“At stake is could be as much as 600 billion dollars in Pentagon funding – much of which would presumably be spent on lucrative procurement contracts for new weapons systems – over the next 10 years, as well as what the hawks see as the further erosion of U.S. global military dominance.”

 

While Iran, Russia, and China are all pretty scary, the ominous word “sequestration” is what is keeping right-wing hawks and their friends in the defense industry up at night.

While they have been rallying their forces for most of the past year, their campaign to avoid the “specter of sequestration”, as they often refer to it, shifted into high gear on Capitol Hill this week, as top industry executives were summoned to testify to the urgency of the threat.

At stake is could be as much as 600 billion dollars in Pentagon funding – much of which would presumably be spent on lucrative procurement contracts for new weapons systems – over the next 10 years, as well as what the hawks see as the further erosion of U.S. global military dominance.

“It is clear that if the process of sequestration is fully implemented,” warned three of the right’s most hawkish think tanks – the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) – in a joint statement entitled “Defending Defense” last week, “the U.S. military will lack adequate resources to defend the United States and its global interests.”

“The specter of sequestration threatens the U.S. defense industrial base at a time when China, Russia, and other military competitors are ramping up their defense industries,” according to the statement, which helped raise the curtain on this week’s mantra from the military-industrial complex: hundreds of thousands of workers could lose their jobs as early as October – one month before the election – unless the sequestration nightmare goes away.

The sequestration specter arises from ...

Published: Thursday 19 July 2012
“Without a government that’s focused on more and better jobs, we’re left with global corporations that don’t give a damn.”

 

President Obama is slamming Mitt Romney for heading companies that were “pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs,” while Romney is accusing Obama of being “the real outsourcer-in-chief.”

These are the dog days of summer and the silly season of presidential campaigns. But can we get real, please?

The American economy has moved way beyond outsourcing abroad or even “in-sourcing.” Most big companies headquartered in America don’t send jobs overseas and don’t bring jobs here from abroad.

That’s because most are no longer really “American” companies. They’ve become global networks that design, make, buy, and sell things wherever around the world it’s most profitable for them to do so.

As an Apple executive told ...

Published: Wednesday 18 July 2012
“The ruling class of any and every time uses the same strategy to stay on top.  The words change, but the song remains the same.”

A weariness besets the world. America drifts, Europe crumbles, China slows, markets everywhere are tired and broken. A sort of nervous exhaustion stalks societies, our problems feel bigger than our solutions.

This stagnation is a symptom, the disease is the lack of hope. The cause is intellectual fatigue; the world is dying for the want of a new idea. But this inertia won't last forever. Sooner or later the human spirit will rise and change will come.

Most of human history is drudgery, things are the way they are because they've always been the way they are. The slave, the peasant, the serf, the toiler, the tenant farmer and disposable cubicle drone all submitted to their miserable fate quietly, generation after generation.

We look at the past and wonder how they put up with it. The answer is that they didn't see the possibility of a better way. And their betters made sure they never would.

The ruling class of any and every time uses the same strategy to stay on top. The words change, but the song remains the same: "There is nothing you can do. It's God's will.   It's the market's will. Politics and government are useless, they only make things worse."

Fatalism is a philosophy, but more than that, it's a strategy, it's a weapon. Nothing will keep the people quieter, more passive, more bovine, than carefully nurtured cynicism. Discredit the idea of political change and you can rule behind the walls of your castle or your gated community for a thousand years.

Politics is possibility. Politics is ideas, and ideas are dangerous. The survival of any existing power structure is dependent upon the elimination of possibility. In troubled times the ruling classes strive to kill that possibility before it can be born. Their position depends on it.

We live in such a time.

Published: Tuesday 17 July 2012
“Some of the methods Sheldon Adelson used in Macau to save his company and help build a personal fortune estimated at $25 billion have come under expanding scrutiny by federal and Nevada investigators.”

This story was co-published with PBS' "Frontline."

A decade ago gambling magnate and leading Republican donor Sheldon Adelson looked at a desolate spit of land in Macau and imagined a glittering strip of casinos, hotels and malls.

Where competitors saw obstacles, including Macau's hostility to outsiders and historic links to Chinese organized crime, Adelson envisaged a chance to make billions.

Adelson pushed his chips to the center of the table, keeping his nerve even as his company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in late 2008.

The Macau bet paid off, propelling Adelson into the ranks of the mega-rich and underwriting his role as the largest Republican donor in the 2012 campaign, providing tens of millions of dollars to Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and other GOP causes.

Published: Monday 16 July 2012
Published: Sunday 15 July 2012
“We have millions of jobs that need doing and we could employ many millions if we would just get started on doing them.”

We have a jobs emergency that is hollowing out the middle class. Some say automation is the cause of our high unemployment and that it will get worse. Others say there are other structural problems and that our high unemployment is a "new normal." Perhaps these are contributing to the problems. But let's do the things that we know we can do and need to do today, and then we can talk about how to restructure our economy to help us deal with these changes.

The Discussion

In the New York Times, Thomas B Edsall writes about some who make a case that automation is a major cause of the "hollowing out" of our economy, killing off jobs and pushing income to the top. Dean Baker responds at CEPR that there are plenty of other factors that are pushing income upward, and they involve policies we can do something about right now.

But First

Before any discussion of longer-term or structural effects of automation on employment and income and what to do about them, this has to be said: We have millions of jobs that need doing and we could employ many millions if we would just get started on doing them. Here are a few:

Infrastructure needs: We have been putting off maintenance and modernization of our infrastructure for decades. This is work that has to be done, and doing it will employ millions. We can finance this at the lowest cost in history, and the payoff will be an improved, efficient and competitive economy. The only reason we are not putting people to work fixing our infrastructure is that Republicans are intentionally sabotaging employment to give themselves an edge in the coming election. ...

Published: Sunday 15 July 2012
“Things like this could be the trigger-point that brings this issue to the surface of public discussion.”

The U.S. Olympic team's uniforms were made in China? This might be a WTF moment for the country, over the practice of sending our jobs, factories, industries and economy to China for the super-enrichment of a few. What next, a President made in China?

Made In China

ABC News discovered that the US Olympic Committee is "partnered with" American designer Ralph Lauren for the uniforms. But ABC looked at the labels and found that every single item was made in China or elsewhere, not in the United States.

This is symbolic of something very important. Americans are universally tired of looking for American-made goods in stores and finding only goods made in China. People are increasingly coming to understand that the practice of closing factories here and moving the manufacturing and jobs to China, to take advantage of the lack of democracy that results in low wages and poor environmental standards, is the cause of the job fear here that is hollowing out the middle class, while greatly enriching a few at the top.

So people are fed up, and it is crystallizing. Things like this could be the trigger-point that brings this issue to the surface of public discussion. Heck, maybe it could even be enough to get Mitt Romney to put his actions where his campaign speech is, and tell Republicans in Congress to allow a vote on the currency bill!

Burn Them And Start ...

Published: Thursday 12 July 2012
“Energy shocks contributed to a lethal combination of stagnant economic growth and inflation, and every US president since Nixon likewise has proclaimed energy independence as a goal. But few people took those promises seriously.”

When President Richard Nixon proclaimed in the early 1970’s that he wanted to secure national energy independence, the United States imported a quarter of its oil. By the decade’s end, after an Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, domestic production was in decline, Americans were importing half their petroleum needs at 15 times the price, and it was widely believed that the country was running out of natural gas.

Energy shocks contributed to a lethal combination of stagnant economic growth and inflation, and every US president since Nixon likewise has proclaimed energy independence as a goal. But few people took those promises seriously.

Today, energy experts no longer scoff. By the end of this decade, according to the US Energy Information Administration, nearly half of the crude oil that America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from the US side of the Atlantic. Philip Verleger, a respected energy analyst, argues that, by 2023, the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s “Project Independence,” the US will be energy independent in the sense that it will export more energy than it imports.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. ...

Published: Wednesday 11 July 2012
Last week, the word “Shifang” (which the government did not block online) was the most widely searched term on China’s micro-blogs.

Tens of thousands of residents in a Chinese city took to the streets last week to protest, forcing the government to scrap plans to build a copper plant. The incident is the latest in a rising number of localized protests as expression of public anger aimed at over-ambitious or corrupt officials in China over-boils.

Thousands of anti-riot police were deployed to Shifang city, located in China’s Western Sichuan province last week during the protests which turned violent as residents smashed police cars and stormed the government headquarters. Two protestors have since been reported to have died, according to NGO Chinese Human Rights Defenders.

In a highly unusual compromise, the local government announced that plans for the metals plant, which locals said would result in heavily polluting factory emissions, would be stopped. Twenty-one of 27 people detained during the protests have been released.

A number of high-profile protests have erupted in the last few years. In December 2011, the village Wukan made international headlines after villagers rose against corrupt local officials they claimed were stealing their land. Following a stand-off, senior government officials intervened. Local officials were sacked and – in a surprising twist – Wukan residents were given the right to vote for their own village chief and officials.

In August 2011, around 12,000 residents protested against a chemicals plant in the northeastern city Dalian, leading to the plant’s closure. In September of the same year, villagers in Haining, located in Zhejiang province, protested for three days against a solar panel factory which had dumped toxic waste into a local river killing fish. The factory has since been closed.

“Official reports do chart a rising number of protests over the past five years or so,” Michael DeGolyer, professor in the Department of Government and ...

Published: Friday 6 July 2012
“This case is a clear example of how the illegal export of sensitive technology reduces the advantages our military currently possesses.”

 

The Canadian arm of the aircraft engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney closed a six-year U.S. government probe last week by admitting that the lure of up to $2 billion in helicopter sales to China had caused it to export computer software illegally that helped China create its first modern attack helicopter.

“This case is a clear example of how the illegal export of sensitive technology reduces the advantages our military currently possesses,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a statement released on June 28. That’s when the government disclosed that Pratt & Whitney and two related companies agreed to pay a total of $75 million in fines for multiple violations of export rules policed by the State Department.

The software probe and the heavy financial sanction appear to have had no punishing impact on Pratt & Whitney’s extensive and continuing contract work for the Defense Department, however. That’s the same department that in an ironic twist announced this spring that it was reorienting its forces to deal with what its officials regard as a rising Chinese military threat against U.S. allies in the region.

The events are once again raising questions about the circumstances under which major defense contractors might be barred from government work. Independent watchdogs have long complained that few such firms have been barred or suspended, even for egregious lawbreaking, such as supplying armaments or related equipment to a potential adversary. Nothing in the settlement agreement directly threatens Pratt's existing or future government contracting.

Since July 2006, when United Technologies — the parent company of Pratt and another firm, Hamilton Sundstrand, which also admitted wrongdoing — filed statements about the software exports with the government that it now ...

Published: Sunday 1 July 2012
Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“What the American people are angry about is they understand that they did not cause this recession.”

Madam President, the American people are angry.  

They are angry because they are living through the worst recession since the great depression. 

Unemployment is not 8.2%, real unemployment is closer to 15%. 

Young people who are graduating high school and graduating college, they're going out into the world, they want to become independent, they want to work, and there are no jobs. 

There are workers out there 50, 55 years old who intended to work the remainder of their working lives, suddenly they got a pink slip, their self-esteem is destroyed, they're never going to have another job again and now they're worried about their retirement security. 

READ FULL POST 32 COMMENTS

Published: Thursday 28 June 2012
“In an era of globalization, there are no innocent bystanders.”

In September 1998, during the depths of the Asian financial crisis, Alan Greenspan, the United States Federal Reserve’s chairman at the time, had a simple message: the US is not an oasis of prosperity in an otherwise struggling world. Greenspan’s point is even closer to the mark today than it was back then.

Yes, the US economy has been on a weak recovery trajectory over the past three years. But at least it’s a recovery, claim many – and therefore a source of ongoing resilience in an otherwise struggling developed world. Unlike the Great Recession of 2008-2009, today there is widespread hope that America has the capacity to stay the course and provide a backstop for the rest of the world in the midst of the euro crisis.

Think again. Since the first quarter of 2009, when the US economy was bottoming out after its worst postwar recession, exports have accounted for fully 41% of the subsequent rebound. That’s right: with the American consumer on ice in the aftermath of the biggest consumption binge in history, the US economy has drawn its sustenance disproportionately from foreign markets. With those markets now in trouble, the US could be quick to follow.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Stephen S. Roach

Published: Wednesday 27 June 2012
“Foreclosures, lost jobs, wage declines and other reductions (combined with rising costs of everything from gasoline to child care) have become the norm, even shoving many proud middle-classers onto food stamp rolls.”

To report on how our economy is doing, media outlets keep a constant eye on the Dow Jones Average. But they're like cats watching the wrong mouse hole, for the great majority of Americans have between zero and next-to-nothing in the stock market.

The economic measure that matters most to most folks is the Doug Jones Average. The Doug is concerned about such key indicators as the pump price on a gallon of regular, the subprime value of today's seven-and-a-quarter minimum wage and the impact of global inflationary pressures on the cost of a six-pack.

So, how're Doug and Dottie Jones doing? Not well, report the number-crunchers at the Federal Reserve. In the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, Fed economists found that from 2007 through 2010, all but the wealthiest 10 percent of American households have been downwardly mobile, with the median net worth of U.S. households tumbling by a startling 39 percent, falling to the lowest level in 20 years.

In short, Americans are not merely feeling poorer — they are. Foreclosures, lost jobs, wage declines and other reductions (combined with rising costs of everything from gasoline to child care) have become the norm, even shoving many proud middle-classers onto food stamp rolls. Yet Washington remains fixated on propping up Wall Street's moneyed elites.

Congressional Republicans are actually clamoring for more financial deregulation and tax giveaways to coddle Wall Streeters (the same disastrous approach that caused the mess we're in) while also voting to slash funding for the food stamp program that more and more people need.

To keep a mighty tree, alive you must nourish the grassroots, not just spritz the few leaves at the top. But Washington has become a town of leaf-spritzers, ignoring the massive housing crunch, ongoing joblessness and mounting consumer debt. Indeed, three-fourths of Americans today have ...

Published: Tuesday 26 June 2012
Published: Sunday 24 June 2012
Every generation endures end-of-the world scenarios, and we still dread last century’s, nuclear holocaust.

Is the sky falling on this Beacon on the Hill, ending a century of Yankee dominance, crushing the greatest, most brashly exceptional nation known to mankind? Is this worldwide wonder of freedom and democracy, the intersection of divine history and human destiny, kaput, on its last legs, about to implode? Not quite, not yet, and that's no endorsement of the status quo: powers-that-be hold high trump cards.

  

Every generation endures end-of-the world scenarios, and we still dread last century's, nuclear holocaust. Drama -- let alone anxiety -- commands our attention and heartstrings. Pandemics, portable nukes, fiery asteroids, religious mania, starvation, rightwing nuts, and looming climate change, all threaten millions. But anxiety, even nightmare projections, do not mean Armageddon is upon us, nor that pundits suddenly discover reliable crystal balls. Discretion is the better part of this valor.

     

Global warming looms, likely to cut world population and food production, but that's neither extinction nor end of times – nor reformation destructive capitalism. Want good news? Harvard professor Steven Pinker argues our belligerent species has cut wartime-violence killing sprees. Are we not exiting Iraq, sort of? Life expectancies, even for the impoverished, grow annually, if you count enough people. Only 43 Americans suffered capital punishment in 2011 (half the 2000 totals), mostly in W's Texas. Okay, we live in grim times but take heart: we don't guillotine yet. And most of life's simple pleasures haven't been banned, yet.  

 

Centers hold on

 

No doubt, systemic cracks abound, thanks to myopic leadership blunders, not just across state and national politics but corporate's best and brightest, sports top dogs, and ...

Published: Friday 15 June 2012
“Farther to the west, US economic performance is weakening, with first-quarter growth a miserly 1.9% – well below potential.”

 

Dark, lowering financial and economic clouds are, it seems, rolling in from every direction: the Eurozone, the United States, China, and elsewhere. Indeed, the global economy in 2013 could be a very difficult environment in which to find shelter.

For starters, the Eurozone crisis is worsening, as the euro remains too strong, front-loaded fiscal austerity deepens recession in many member countries, and a credit crunch in the periphery and high oil prices undermine prospects of recovery. The Eurozone banking system is becoming balkanized, as cross-border and interbank credit lines are cut off, and capital flight could turn into a full run on periphery banks if, as is likely, Greece stages a disorderly euro exit in the next few months.

Moreover, fiscal and sovereign-debt strains are becoming worse as interest-rate spreads for Spain and Italy have returned to their unsustainable peak levels. Indeed, the Eurozone may require not just an international bailout of banks (as recently in Spain), but also a full sovereign bailout at a time when Eurozone and international firewalls are insufficient to the task of backstopping both Spain and Italy. As a result, disorderly breakup of the Eurozone remains possible.

Farther to the west, US economic performance is weakening, with first-quarter growth a miserly 1.9% – well below potential. And job creation faltered in April and May, so the US may reach stall speed by year end. Worse, the risk of a double-dip recession next year is rising: even if what looks like a looming US fiscal cliff turns out to be only a smaller source of drag, the likely increase in some taxes and reduction of some transfer payments will reduce growth in disposable income and consumption.

Moreover, political gridlock over fiscal adjustment is likely to persist, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins November’s ...

Published: Thursday 14 June 2012
“Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.”

Late this summer, August 27-30, the world will once again be treated to the spectacle of a Republic National Convention.  It's only fitting that this one will be held in Tampa, Florida, the state that made it possible for George W. Bush to steal the election in 2000.  The convention is a sure bet to be a theater of the absurd, but this year the candidate it anoints and the speeches that sing his praises will highlight the hypocrisy of the new Grand Old Party like never before.

Of all the hypocritical hype resonating through the rhetoric of these Republicans, none is more damaging than the myth of free market and the jive about private-sector job creators.  A vibrant economy operating without state intervention or regulation is one of the most pernicious, pervasive, and persistent myths in contemporary American politics.

Today even in the aftermath of the wild-assed, credit-crazed, derivative-driven, deliriously leveraged bubble economy that finally triggered the financial meltdown in 2008 – even after the near-collapse of the global economy and the Great Recession that followed (and still lingers), few Republican leaders dare to say a kind word about the need for state regulation or tax reform, and Democrats too often concede in practice what they dare not renounce in principle.  In fact, there is not a country in the world, never has been and never will be, where the economy operates in a political-administrative or legal vacuum.  Which is to say, there is no such thing as a free market or a pure market economy.

Nothing even close.  And while it's true that the state plays a smaller role in some economies than in others, the United States is in no sense exemplary except by one measure:  hypocrisy.

For proof, we can turn to no less an authority than Niall Ferguson, a self-confessed true believer in Adam Smith's "invisible hand".  Earlier this ...

Published: Wednesday 13 June 2012
“A what if scenario if the problems in Europe go from bad to worse.”

Consider the following scenario. After a victory by the left-wing Syriza party, Greece’s new government announces that it wants to renegotiate the terms of its agreement with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. German Chancellor Angela Merkel sticks to her guns and says that Greece must abide by the existing conditions.

Fearing that a financial collapse is imminent, Greek depositors rush for the exit. This time, the European Central Bank refuses to come to the rescue and Greek banks are starved of cash. The Greek government institutes capital controls and is ultimately forced to issue drachmas in order to supply domestic liquidity.

With Greece out of the eurozone, all eyes turn to Spain. Germany and others are at first adamant that they will do whatever it takes to prevent a similar bank run there. The Spanish government announces additional fiscal cuts and structural reforms. Bolstered by funds from the European Stability Mechanism, Spain remains financially afloat for several months.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Dani Rodrikclick here."

But the Spanish economy continues to deteriorate and unemployment heads towards 30%.  Violent protests against Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s austerity measures lead him to call for a referendum. His government fails to get the necessary support from voters and resigns, throwing the country into full-blown political chaos. Merkel cuts off further support for Spain, saying that hard-working ...

Published: Sunday 10 June 2012
“In the months to come, the jobs markets in the US will continue at best to stagnate; apart from seasonality factors, the housing market will continue to ‘bump along the bottom’ as it has for four years now.”

 

Friday, June 1, is a date that marks a shift in the public consciousness of the state of the US and global economy.  What was touted for months over the past winter as a rebound taking hold in the US economy and the assertions that the US economy was ‘exceptional’ and would not suffer the slowdowns underway in Europe, China and the rest of the world - were all swept away on June 1 by the May US jobs report, a downward revised U.S. GDP numbers for the first quarter 2012, as well as by the rapidly deteriorating banking and general economic situation in the Eurozone.

 

Why Economists’ Jobs Forecasts Consistently Miss Their Mark

 

On the jobs front, Friday’s labor department data showed a growth of only 69,000 jobs, while the preceding month’s jobs numbers were revised downward for April from 115,000 to only 77,000. Both months were originally officially forecast by mainstream economists to show jobs growth of 150,000 and 180,000 respectively. A day earlier, the first quarter GDP numbers were also adjusted downward from 2.2% growth to only 1.9%, a decline that was totally unexpected by most economists, who had been forecasting that the current quarter, April-June, GDP would come in around the 2.5% to 3% range. But now will almost certainly end up in the 1.5% or even lower range, given a likely more rapid slowing in June.

 

One cannot miss jobs and GDP forecasts that badly without something being fundamentally wrong with forecast methodologies employed by most mainstream economists today, a point this writer has been making publicly repeatedly since last December.

 

The main excuse being offered today by economists for missing their recent jobs and GDP forecasts so badly is ‘the weather’.  The exceptionally good weather this past winter, it is argued, moved normal spring production and jobs up by several months into the winter ...

Published: Saturday 9 June 2012
The idea of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) was adopted unanimously at the UN’s World Summit in 2005, but subsequent events showed that not all member states interpreted the resolution the same way.

 

When should states intervene militarily to stop atrocities in other countries? The question is an old and well-traveled one. Indeed, it is now visiting Syria.In 1904, US President Theodore Roosevelt argued that, “there are occasional crimes committed on so vast a scale and of such peculiar horror” that we should intervene by force of arms. A century earlier, in 1821, as Europeans and Americans debated whether to intervene in Greece’s struggle for independence, President John Quincy Adams warned his fellow Americans about “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

 

More recently, after a genocide that cost nearly 800,000 lives in Rwanda in 1994, and the slaughter of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, many people vowed that such atrocities should never again be allowed to occur. When Slobodan Milošević engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing the humanitarian catastrophe, but could not agree on a second resolution to intervene, given the threat of a Russian veto. Instead, NATO countries bombed Serbia in an effort that many observers regarded as legitimate but not legal.

 

In the aftermath, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created an international commission to recommend ways that humanitarian intervention could be reconciled with Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, which upholds member states’ domestic jurisdiction. The commission concluded that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens, and should be helped to do so by peaceful means, but that if a state disregarded that responsibility by attacking its own citizens, the international community could consider armed intervention.

The idea of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P) was adopted unanimously at the UN’s World Summit in ...

Published: Thursday 31 May 2012
“Even the New York Times article acknowledges that Pakistan and Yemen are less stable and more hostile to the United States since Mr. Obama became president, that drones have become a provocative symbol of American power running roughshod over national sovereignty and killing innocents.”

On May 29, The New York Times published an extraordinarily in-depth look at the intimate role President Obama has played in authorizing US drone attacks overseas, particularly in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is chilling to read the cold, macabre ease with which the President and his staff decide who will live or die. The fate of people living thousands of miles away is decided by a group of Americans, elected and unelected, who don’t speak their language, don’t know their culture, don’t understand their motives or values. While purporting to represent the world’s greatest democracy, US leaders are putting people on a hit list who are as young as 17, people who are given no chance to surrender, and certainly no chance to be tried in a court of law.

Who is furnishing the President and his aides with this list of terrorist suspects to choose from, like baseball cards? The kind of intelligence used to put people on drone hit lists is the same kind of intelligence that put people in Guantanamo. Remember how the American public was assured that the prisoners locked up in Guantanamo were the “worst of the worst,” only to find out that hundreds were innocent people who had been sold to the US military by bounty hunters?

Why should the public believe what the Obama administration says about the people being assassinated by drones? Especially since, as we learn in the New York Times, the administration came up with a semantic solution to keep the civilian death toll to a minimum: simply count all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants. The rationale, reminiscent of George Zimmerman’s justification for shooting Trayvon Martin, is that “people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.” Talk about profiling! At least when George Bush threw suspected militants into Guantanamo their ...

Published: Monday 28 May 2012
“Asian Development Bank estimates that European banks fund about 9% of total domestic credit in developing Asia – three times the share of financing provided by banks based in the United States.”

 

Asian authorities were understandably smug in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Growth in the region slowed sharply, as might be expected of export-led economies confronted with the sharpest collapse in global trade since the 1930’s. But, with the notable exception of Japan, which suffered its deepest recession of the modern era, Asia came through an extraordinarily tough period in excellent shape.

That was then. For the second time in less than four years, Asia is being hit with a major external demand shock. This time it is from Europe, where a raging sovereign-debt crisis threatens to turn a mild recession into something far worse: a possible Greek exit from the euro, which could trigger contagion across the Eurozone. This is a big deal for Asia.

 

Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Stephen S. Roach, click here.

Financial and trade linkages make Asia highly vulnerable to Europe’s malaise. Owing to the former, the risks to Asia from a European banking crisis cannot be taken lightly. Lacking well-developed capital markets as an alternative source of credit, bank-funding channels are especially vital in Asia.

Indeed, the Asian Development Bank estimates that European banks fund about 9% of total domestic credit in developing Asia – three times the share of financing provided by banks based in the United States. The role of European banks is especially significant in Singapore and Hong Kong – the region’s two major financial centers. That means that Asia is far more exposed to an offshore banking crisis today than it was in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008, which ...

Published: Sunday 27 May 2012
“While a temperature increase of 3.5 degrees Celsius may seem small, it would create conditions not seen on the planet for 30 to 60 million years.”

Climate-heating carbon emissions set a record high in 2011, in a 3.2 percent increase over the previous year, the International Energy Agency reported this week. The main reason for this dangerous increase is that governments are failing to implement policies to prevent catastrophic increases of global temperatures.


A new report released on the last days of international climate talks in Bonn, Germany this week reveals that the planet is heading to a temperature rise of at least 3.5 degrees Celsius, and likely more, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), despite an international agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. 



Not only are pledges inadequate, but countries are unable to fulfill even those pledges, a new CAT analysis shows. CAT is a joint project of Dutch energy consulting organization Ecofys, Germany's Climate Analytics, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. 
 

"When we compared the emission reduction pledges of countries like Brazil, Mexico and the U.S., we found they did not have the policies in place to meet those pledges," said Niklas Höhne, director of energy and climate policy at Ecofys. 
 

Höhne told IPS that they looked only at the policies of a few countries, but no country's policies were enough to meet their targets. 
 

While Mexico introduced a solid new framework climate legislation, it has yet to implement actual policies and measures to reach its pledge, the report found. At the moment, Mexico is set to achieve only 12 percent of its pledged 30 percent reduction from business-as-usual by 2020. 
 

Brazil has an ambitious target but a proposed new forest code, if adopted, could reverse this trend. "Scientific analysis shows that the code could ...

Published: Friday 25 May 2012
“Chief Executive Officers are being paid at the highest-ever rate since the AP started tracking the figure in 2006, according to a new report from the news organization.”

 

The average CEO made $9.6 million in 2011, even as workers’ wages remained stagnant and unemployment hovered nationally around 8 percent. Chief Executive Officers are being paid at the highest-ever rate since the AP started tracking the figure in 2006, according to a new report from the news organization.

But while CEOs may be reaping the rewards of higher profits and a growing stock market, very little of that achievement spreads as far as the average worker — or even the company’s stockholders:

Profit at companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index ...

Published: Thursday 24 May 2012
Fearful that the U.S. and the other members of the so-called P5+1 will strike an interim accord with Tehran under which it would agree to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent, neo-conservatives and other hawks argued that Iran should instead be forced to comply with a 2006 U.N. Security resolution calling for it to stop enriching altogether.

As at least two days of talks on the future of Iran's nuclear program got underway in Baghdad Wednesday, neo-conservatives and other hawks escalated their campaign against any compromise agreement, particularly one that would permit Tehran to continue enriching uranium on its territory.

Fearful that the U.S. and the other members of the so-called P5+1 (Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany) will strike an interim accord with Tehran under which it would agree to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent, they argued that Iran should instead be forced to comply with a 2006 U.N. Security resolution calling for it to stop enriching altogether – a position that most Iran experts here believe is certain to kill any prospect for progress. 

"Given the Iranian regime's long-standing pattern of deceptive and illicit conduct, we believe that it cannot be trusted to maintain enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future – at least until the international community has been fully convinced that Iran has decided to abandon any nuclear- weapons ambitions," wrote three prominent pro-Israel senators in the Wall Street Journal Thursday. 

"We are very far from that point," according to Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham and independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman, the so-called "Three Amigos", who often travel overseas together and have long argued that U.S. military action will likely be the only way to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. 

At the same time, two fellows at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) published an op-ed in the Washington Post warning against any agreement by the P5+1 that would permit Iran to enrich uranium up to five percent on its own territory rather than suspend all enrichment indefinitely. 

Such a deal, according to FDD's executive director Mark Dubowitz and former ...

Published: Sunday 13 May 2012
“In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean’s increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned.”

Without major reductions in the use of fossil fuels, sunlight is to kill an unknown number of ocean phytoplankton, the planet's most important organism, a new study reports this week.


Not only are phytoplanktons, also known as marine algae, a vital component in the ocean's food chain, they generate at least half of the oxygen we breathe. 


In the not so distant future, sunlight, the very source of life for phytoplankton, will likely begin to kill them because of the ocean's increasing acidity, researchers from China and Germany have learned. 


"There's a synergistic effect between increased ocean acidity and natural light," says Ulf Riebesell of the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany. 


Riebesell added that it was also possible "phytoplankton could adapt". 


Researchers were surprised to discover that diatoms, one of the most important and abundant types of phytoplankton, fared very badly during shipboard experiments conducted by co-author Kunshan Gao, from the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University, Xiamen China. 


Previous experiments in labs like Riebesell's found that diatoms actually did better in high-acid seawater, unlike most other shell- forming plankton. Burning fossil fuels has made the oceans about 30 percent more acidic researchers discovered less than 10 years ago. Oceans absorb one third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted from using fossil fuels. 


The good news is this has slowed the rate of global warming. The bad news is oceans are now more acidic and it will get worse as more CO2 is emitted. This is basic, well-understood ocean chemistry. 


Gao and his team made several trips into the South China Sea taking samples from surface waters where phytoplankton are found. While still on the research vessel, those samples were made as ...

Published: Wednesday 9 May 2012
“Is capitalism, as we know it doomed? Is the market no longer able to generate prosperity? Is China’s brand of state capitalism an alternative and potentially victorious paradigm?”

The triumph of democracy and market-based economics – the “End of History,” as the American political philosopher Francis Fukuyama famously called it – which was proclaimed to be inevitable with the fall of the Berlin Wall, soon proved to be little more than a mirage. However, following China’s intellectual pirouette to maintain one-party rule while embracing the capitalist credo, history’s interpreters shifted their focus to the economy: not everybody would be free and elect their government, but capitalist prosperity would hold sway worldwide. 

Now, however, the economic tumult shaking Europe, the erosion of the middle class in the West, and the growing social inequalities worldwide are undermining capitalism’s claim to universal triumph. Hard questions are being asked: Is capitalism, as we know it doomed? Is the market no longer able to generate prosperity? Is China’s brand of state capitalism an alternative and potentially victorious paradigm?

The pervasive soul-searching prompted by such questions has nurtured a growing recognition that capitalism’s success depends not only on macroeconomic policy or economic indicators. It rests on a bedrock of good governance and the rule of law – in other words, a well-performing state. The West overlooked the fundamental importance of this while it was fighting communism.

The standard bearers of the Cold War were not just the United States and the Soviet Union, but, in ideological terms, the individual and the collectivity. When competing in newly independent or developing countries, this ideological opposition became Manichean, fostering a fierce suspicion, if not outright rejection, of rival principles. As a result, strengthening state institutions was too often seen in the West as communist subterfuge, while the Soviet bloc viewed the slightest notion of individual freedom and responsibility as a stalking horse for capitalist ...

Published: Monday 7 May 2012
“In the United States, almost all the gains from productivity growth have been going to the top 1 percent.”

Francois Hollande’s victory doesn’t and shouldn’t mean a movement toward socialism in Europe or elsewhere. Socialism isn’t the answer to the basic problem haunting all rich nations.

The answer is to reform capitalism. The world’s productivity revolution is outpacing the political will of rich societies to fairly distribute its benefits. The result is widening inequality coupled with slow growth and stubbornly high unemployment.

In the United States, almost all the gains from productivity growth have been going to the top 1 percent, and the percent of the working-age population with jobs is now lower than it’s been in more than thirty years (before the vast majority of women moved into paid work).

Inequality is also growing in Europe, along with chronic joblessness. Europe is finding it can no longer afford generous safety nets to catch everyone who has fallen out of the working economy.

Consumers in China are gaining ground but consumption continues to shrink as a share of China’s increasingly productive economy, while inequality in China is soaring. China’s wealthy elites are emulating the most conspicuous consumption of the rich in the West.

At the heart of the productivity revolution are the computers, software, and the Internet that have found their way into the production of almost everything a modern economy creates. Factory workers are being replaced by computerized machine tools and robotics; office workers, by software applications; professionals, by ever more specialized apps; communications and transportation workers, by the Internet.

Some work continues to be outsourced abroad to very low-wage workers in developing nations but this is not the major cause of the present trend. This work now comprises such a tiny fraction of the costs of production that it’s becoming cheaper for companies to do more of it at home with computers and software, and even bring back ...

Published: Friday 4 May 2012
From the Opium Wars to the contemplation of using nuclear weapons to bomb China back to the Stone Age because of our differences with it over Korea and Vietnam, the response of the West has been one of brute intimidation.

 

Let’s stop jacking the Chinese around. We do not care a whit now—nor have we ever cared—about their human rights or any other aspect of their lives as long as they satiate our unbridled appetites. To pretend otherwise is to deny centuries of exploitative history in which the West drugged the Middle Kingdom and plundered it for its resources and cheap labor while obliterating any sign of popular resistance to our imperial sway.

From the Opium Wars to the contemplation of using nuclear weapons to bomb China back to the Stone Age because of our differences with it over Korea and Vietnam, the response of the West has been one of brute intimidation. Never have we been willing to acknowledge that China, for all of its immense contradictions, upheavals, sufferings and errant ways, represents the most complex and impressive example of national history.

Instead we intrude upon China in fitful moments of pique or treat it as a plaything. Who owns China? That was the question that marked the first period of U.S. involvement, when we joined other Western imperialists in carving up China into economic zones. And then came the bitter argument in the U.S. in the late 1940s and the ’50s about “Who lost China?” Now Americans find themselves preoccupied with how best to exploit China’s amazing economic prowess while feigning interest in the well being of its people.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton performed the expected diplomatic dance around the latest flare-up of pretend concern, involving a blind lawyer suddenly made world-famous when he escaped from house arrest in rural China. The fact that Chen Guangcheng was targeted by Chinese authorities because of his opposition to his nation’s oppressive population control policies added the United States’ “pro-life” lobby to the army of morally subjective China watchers. Now if we can get the pro-lifers to care about the human ...

Published: Friday 27 April 2012
“The year after Vioxx was pulled from the market, The New York Times and other media outlets noted that American death rates had undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.”

Are American lives cheaper than those of the Chinese? It's a question raised by Ron Unz, publisher of The American Conservative, who has just published a compelling comparison between the way the Chinese dealt with one of their drug scandals — melamine in baby formula — and how the U.S. handled the Vioxx disaster.

 

In September 2004, Merck, one of America's largest pharmaceutical companies, issued a sudden recall of Vioxx, its anti-pain medication widely used to treat arthritis-related ailments.

 

There was a fair amount of news coverage after the recall, but it was pretty slim considering the alleged 55,000 death toll. A big class-action lawsuit dragged its way through the courts for years, eventually being settled for $4.85 billion in 2007.

 

Senior FDA officials apologized for their lack of effective oversight and promised to do better in the future. The Vioxx scandal began to sink into the vast marsh of semi-forgotten international pharmaceutical scandals.

 

The year after Vioxx was pulled from the market, The New York Times and other media outlets ran minor news items, usually down column, noting that American death rates had undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.

 

Typical was the headline on a short article that ran in the April 19, 2006, edition of USA Today: "USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years." During that one year, American deaths fell by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation's population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly "surprised" and "scratching (their) heads" over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.

 

For his melamine/Vioxx comparison, Unz went back to those 2005 stories. Quick scrutiny of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data ...

Published: Thursday 26 April 2012
“Neoliberal Dragons, Eurasian Wet Dreams, and Robocop Fantasies.”

Goldman Sachs -- via economist Jim O’Neill -- invented the concept of a rising new bloc on the planet: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). Some cynics couldn’t help calling it the “Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept.”

Not really. Goldman now expects the BRICS countries to account for almost 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, and to include four of the world’s top five economies.

Soon, in fact, that acronym may have to expand to include Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and, yes, nuclear Iran: BRIIICTSS? Despite its well-known problems as a nation under economic siege, Iran is also motoring along as part of the N-11, yet another distilled concept. (It stands for the next 11 emerging economies.)

The multitrillion-dollar global question remains: Is the emergence of BRICS a signal that we have truly entered a new multipolar world?

Yale’s canny historian Paul Kennedy (of “imperial overstretch” fame) is convinced that we either are about to cross or have already crossed a “historical watershed” taking us far beyond the post-Cold War unipolar world of “the sole superpower.” There are, argues Kennedy, four main reasons for that: the slow erosion of the U.S. dollar (formerly 85% of global reserves, now less than 60%), the “paralysis of the European project,” Asia rising (the end of 500 years of Western hegemony), and the decrepitude of the United Nations.

The

Published: Monday 23 April 2012

China. If we close our eyes, we all can envision the ancient culture, the beautiful hills, the monumental Great Wall, cordial people and their delicate features, the exotic music and the lovely tea.  Isn't it true?

China has become one of the strongest financial countries in the world, and we keep pouring our money into that regime. The Chinese society differs completely from ours. The Chinese government determines what its citizens are allowed to do, how many children a couple can have,  what you are to study, what you can read, the music you are allowed to hear and even the future of a newborn child, things that are unimaginable in our culture.


 

And their food, everyone loves their food with those wonderful noodles, delicate flavors, perfect balance of vegetables and for those that enjoy a succulent shrimp, a perfectly cooked piece of beef or pork they have wonderful dishes as well. And the fortune cookies, that all of us want regardless that they are never eaten and that all we care about is the fortune that hides inside, even when it makes no sense and we know it’s fake, they are fun and we want them. Of course, their culinary art is very different outside China; it’s altered to fit our less “refined” taste buds. For starters, it is true that rats are part of their menu, and what is even worse than rats, they eat dogs and cats. It breaks my heart to see the barbaric way in which they kill these poor animals, animals that for most of the civilized world are considered to be our companions and our best friends. Being the good businessmen they are, they save the skin of these poor creatures and sell them to clothing factories where they will use it on the collars and ...

Published: Sunday 22 April 2012
A cramped little office, in a hastily developed area of Beijing that still feels half-rural, is home to one of China’s first self-described “patriotic computer hackers.”

China’s in a rush to catch up with and surpass the United States, and evidence suggests that hacking into and stealing data from the computers of strategic U.S. companies, research labs and government departments is one of its favored tools.

Hackers in China are now considered among the world’s best, and certainly most prolific, and Washington is amping up its efforts to limit the threat.

A cramped little office, in a hastily developed area of Beijing that still feels half-rural, is home to one of China’s first self-described “patriotic computer hackers.” He talks about how it all began, in college, a couple of decades ago.

“When I took a computer class, and I found an interesting thing called a ‘computer virus.’ A computer virus is a small-size program. If I can learn how to make a computer virus, I can get a special skill,” said Wan Tao.

Wan’s now edging up to middle age, and is, these days, a cyber-security consultant to a large western company. Back then, he was a student at Beijing’s Jiaotong University, known for its computer studies programs. And for turning out some of China’s better cyber-hackers. Wan Tao found his stride as a patriotic hacker in 2001, incensed that a Chinese pilot was killed while trying to thwart a U.S. spy plane.

“Ten years ago, I was an angry young man. I thought ‘Chinese nation is a great nation and we are powerful and we need to be powerful and not so weak,’” Wan said.

So Wan assembled a group of more than 100 hackers, calling themselves the China Eagle Union. It defaced about a thousand U.S. websites, and directed denial-of-service attacks at a couple of American government websites. That was kid stuff, compared to what other Chinese hackers have been up to since.

Alan Paller, the director of research at the SANS Institute in Washington D.C., which does cyber-security training, first became ...

Published: Saturday 14 April 2012
Published: Sunday 8 April 2012
“According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s economy is currently about 80 percent of the size of the U.S. economy. It is projected to pass the United States by 2016.”

Politicians in the United States must ritualistically assert that the United States is and always will be the worlds leading economic, military and political power. This chant may help win elections in a country where respectable people deny global warming and evolution, but it has nothing to do with the real world.

Those familiar with the data know that China is rapidly gaining on the United States as the world’s leading economic power. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China’s economy is currently about 80 percent of the size of the U.S. economy. It is projected to pass the United States by 2016.

However, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty about these numbers. It is difficult to accurately compare the output of countries with very different economies. By many measures China is already well ahead of the United States.

It passed the U.S. as the world’s biggest car market in 2009. In most categories of industrial production it is far ahead of the United States and it is a far bigger exporter of goods and services. The number of people graduating college each year with degrees in science and engineering far exceeds the number in the United States. And China has nearly twice as many cell phone and Internet users as the United States.

China still has close to half of its population living in the countryside. The living standard of the 650 million people living in rural areas is much lower than in urban areas and also much more difficult to measure. The main reason that living standards are difficult to gauge is that prices are much lower in rural areas.

new ...

Published: Saturday 7 April 2012
Under an informal "gentlemen’s agreement" between the U.S. and Europe, a U.S. national has always held the top Bank position, while a European has run the IMF.

In an open letter sent to the Bank's executive board Wednesday, 39 former senior Bank staff endorsed Okonjo-Iweala's candidacy, citing her "deep experience in international and national issues of economic management", which includes four years as the Bank's managing director. 

 


"She would hit the ground running and get things done from the start," the former officials, who included senior vice presidents, vice presidents, and directors, wrote. "In a word, she would be the outstanding World Bank President the times call for." 


In another letter released Thursday, more than 100 economists endorsed Ocampo, arguing that his experience leading the ministries of finance, agriculture and planning, as well as stints as the head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the U.N. Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and as U.N. under-secretary general for economic and social affairs, made him "the most suitable candidate for World Bank President". 


The signers included internationally recognized figures, primarily from North America, Latin America, Europe, China, and India, including former Bank officials, ministers of finance and development, and central bank governors, as well as academics. 


The endorsements are coming as the Bank's executive board prepares to interview all three candidates early next week and reach a final decision the following week, by the opening of the annual Spring meetings of the Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 


The current race is the first since the Bank was created at the Bretton Woods conference in ...

Published: Monday 2 April 2012
It is now very obvious to the world community: something is very wrong and very bad in Tibet to make these peaceful monks and nuns set themselves on fire.

It is now very obvious to the world community: something is very wrong and very bad in Tibet to make these peaceful monks and nuns set themselves on fire. The whole world is watching in sadness and shock, and every time another Tibetan dies from these acts, the collective heartbreaks, but the world's eyes are also opened. Why, why, why? What is happening?

The Tibetan hunger strikers (who just ended their 30 day fast outside the United Nations) pointed out that "undeclared martial law" is in effect. Obviously the immense concern is a reality: Chinese officials conducted a formal closure to all foreigners (and journalists) to the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) from February 20 to March 31, and have many monasteries locked down.

It is during this time period that the majority of protesting Tibetan monks and nuns has been setting themselves on fire. Thirty Tibetans are confirmed to have self-immolated since the first on February 27, 2009. But alarmingly - and most important - it is over the past two weeks (since March 16) that most of these self-immolations have taken place. These suicides are occurring in the blackout period happening right now, during the crackdown by Chinese authorities on all monasteries of Tibet. Many monasteries are in lockdown, and all communication to the outside world has been shut down.

These fire suicides include 25 men and 5 women. Out of the 30 Tibetans, 22 are known to have died following their protest with fire. Six of the monks (of the 30 total) were from the Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, and eight were former monks at the same monastery. The two nuns who self-immolated were from Mame Dechen Chokorling nunnery in Ngaba.

Tibetan Youth Sets Himself on Fire to Protest Chinese President's Arrival at Economic Summit in India

Just two days ago, one more Tibetan-in-exile youth, Jampa Yeshi, set himself on fire and ran through the streets outside the BRICS 5-Nation Economic ...

Published: Monday 26 March 2012
Published: Sunday 11 March 2012
“This decision led the wholly owned subsidiary of its Chinese parent, China's largest State-owned construction company, to becoming one of the most competitive construction companies in the U.S. market.”

Yuan Ning is leading the charge on a host of infrastructure projects

 

When Yuan Ning came to the United States to lead the local operation of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation in 2001, he made a big decision on how the company should navigate the U.S. market.

 

"We should stay on the general contracting side and be practical about our operations in the U.S. market," said Yuan, 47, ...

Published: Saturday 10 March 2012
“If the American economy continues to produce jobs at the good rate it’s maintained over the last three months, averaging 245,000 per month, the backlog won’t be whittled down for another five years.”

February’s  227,000 net new jobs – the third month in a row of job gains well in excess of 200,000 – is good news for President Obama and bad news for Mitt Romney.

Jobs are coming back fast enough to blunt Republican attacks against Obama on the economy and to rob Romney of the issue he’d prefer to be talking about in his primary battle against social conservatives in the GOP.

But jobs aren’t coming back fast enough to significantly reduce the nation’s backlog of 10 million jobs. That backlog consists of 5.3 million lost during the recession and another 4.7 million that needed to have been added just to keep up with the growth of the working-age population since the recession began.

READ FULL POST 15 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 4 March 2012
“Is it ‘trade’ to close a factory here and move it to a country where people don't have a say?”

Recent stories about the conditions of Apple's contractors in China have opened many people's eyes about where our jobs, factories, industries and economy have been going, and why. The stories exposed that workers live 6-to-12-to-a-room in dormitories, get rousted at midnight to work surprise 12-hour shifts, get paid very little, use toxic chemicals, suffer extreme pollution of the environment, etc. Is this "trade?" Or is it something else?

Is This ...

Published: Sunday 26 February 2012
“It is only a matter of time before the volume of intellectual output from China to the U.S. exceeds the flow in the opposite direction.”

As Apple’s stock continues to hit record highs and its sales and profit reports exceed all expectations, Steve Jobs’ reputation as an entrepreneurial genius grows ever larger. He succeeded in developing products that people around the world very much want to buy. In this sense, Jobs stands out from the mediocrities that run most corporations and collect huge pay checks in the process.

It may be some time before another innovator comes along who can match Steve Jobs record, but we constantly see companies developing new products, even if few will have the same impact as the iPod or iPad. The United States continues to be at the forefront in innovation, but this will likely not always be the case.  It is worth asking whether we should care. This requires a clear-eyed assessment of the benefits to the country provided by innovators like Jobs.

As the New York Times recently documented, Jobs deserves credit for developing products that people value, but it is less clear that he deserves much credit for creating jobs in the United States. Apple has long outsourced to China and other countries virtually all of its manufacturing operations. Apple has absolutely not been a boon for U.S. manufacturing workers.

Apple directly and indirectly employed tens of ...

Published: Saturday 25 February 2012
“For too long, the Bank’s leadership has imposed US concepts that are often utterly inappropriate for the poorest countries and their poorest people.”

The world is at a crossroads. Either the global community will join together to fight poverty, resource depletion, and climate change, or it will face a generation of resource wars, political instability, and environmental ruin.

The World Bank, if properly led, can play a key role in averting these threats and the risks that they imply. The global stakes are thus very high this spring as the Bank’s 187 member countries choose a new president to succeed Robert Zoellick, whose term ends in July.

The World Bank was established in 1944 to promote economic development, and virtually every country is now a member. Its central mission is to reduce global poverty and ensure that global development is environmentally sound and socially inclusive. Achieving these goals would not only improve the lives of billions of people, but would also forestall violent conflicts that are stoked by poverty, famine, and struggles over scarce resources.

READ FULL POST 9 COMMENTS

Published: Friday 24 February 2012
Late last year, Washington had reportedly been close to a deal to provide food to North Korea in exchange for suspension of its uranium enrichment program.

Negotiators from the U.S. and North Korea met Thursday in Beijing to begin talks about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, the first such diplomatic face-off since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's death in December.

The bilateral talks, led by Pyongyang's longtime nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, and the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Glyn Davies, could signal whether new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is ready to dismantle his nation's nuclear arsenal.

North Korea, suffering through yet another harsh winter without enough staples to feed its population, stands to gain food aid and economic help in return for concessions on its nuclear program.

"Today is, as we say, 'game day.' We will have an opportunity to meet with First Vice Foreign Minister Kim and his team," Davies said before talks started at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing, according to the Associated Press.

Late last year, Washington had reportedly been close to a deal to provide food to North Korea in exchange for suspension of its uranium enrichment program. But the deal was sidelined by Kim Jong Il's death on Dec. 17.

READ FULL POST 2 COMMENTS

Published: Saturday 18 February 2012
“The fundamental problem isn’t the decline of American manufacturing, and reviving manufacturing won’t solve it.”

Suddenly, manufacturing is back – at least on the election trail. But don’t be fooled. The real issue isn’t how to get manufacturing back. It’s how to get good jobs and good wages back. They aren’t at all the same thing.

Republicans have become born-again champions of American manufacturing. This may have something to do with crucial primaries occurring next week in Michigan and the following week in Ohio, both of them former arsenals of American manufacturing.

Mitt Romney says he’ll “work to bring manufacturing back” to America by being tough on China, ...

Published: Friday 17 February 2012
“In reality the multinational corporations prefer China’s state-sponsored model of capitalism, which assures them an endless supply of docile workers unprotected by those pesky unions and restrictive government regulations.”

Four decades ago Richard Nixon, a once famously hawkish Republican president, cut a deal with the Communist overlords of China to reshape the world. The result was a transformation of the global economy in ways that we are only now, with the sharp critiques of Apple’s China operation, beginning to fully comprehend.

At the heart of the deal was a rejection of the basic moral claim of both egalitarian socialism and free market capitalism, the rival ideologies of the Cold War, to empower the individual as the center of decision-making. Instead, the fate of the citizen would come to be determined by an alliance between huge multinational corporations and government elites with scant reference to the needs of ordinary working folk.

It was understood by both parties to this grand concord that monopoly capitalism could be constructed in China to be consistent with the continuance in power of a Communist hierarchy, just as in the West capitalism was consistent with the enrichment of an ostensibly democratic ruling class. Sharp income inequality, the bane of genuine reform movements bearing the names populist, socialist and democratic, came to be the defining mark of the new international order.

The current controversy over Apple’s treatment of its 700,000 foreign workers, mostly in China, is a manifestation of that cross-ideological betrayal. The ironies are ...

Published: Friday 17 February 2012
“Speaker Boehner refuses to let it come to the floor for a vote, and even though the bill has 61 Republican co-sponsors no Republicans have signed the ‘discharge petition’ to force a vote.”

As China's Vice President Xi Jinping visits the US Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney blasts President Obama for not being tough enough on China. Meanwhile Romney says nothing about House Republicans keeping the China Currency Bill from being brought to the floor for a vote. That includes 61 Republicans who co-sponsored the bill. So if Romney is serious, there is something he can do without waiting for the election: tell House Republicans to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Reuters: Romney, Obama campaign spar over US-China policy READ FULL POST DISCUSS

Published: Tuesday 14 February 2012
“American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster.”

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated -- Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example.  Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead.  Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops. 

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s 

Published: Sunday 12 February 2012
An analysis of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) from Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) Media Director Steven Capozzola...

I've talked with many domestic U.S. manufacturers over the past decade or so-- mostly small and mid-sized manufacturers (the backbone of America's industrial base). 

One particular manufacturer whom I knew well was the president of a family-owned company that produced printed circuit boards.  His firm had been around since the dawn of the computer age, manufacturing circuit boards for both commercial and military applications.

He used to tell me all the time that his workers and his factory were incredibly efficient and productive.  He would say, "I can compete with anybody in the world...But what's killing me is China's currency peg."

What he meant was that, because China deliberately undervalues its currency (in violation of world trade law), its manufacturers can export goods at an artificially reduced price.  Essentially, my friend's firm was competing against the full resources of the ...

Published: Saturday 11 February 2012
“In virtually every one of these resolutions, the United States cast the sole negative vote in the otherwise-unanimous 15-member Security Council.”

Official Washington has been rife with condemnation at the decision by the governments of Russia and China to veto an otherwise unanimous UN Security Council resolution condemning the ongoing repression in Syria and calling for a halt to violence on all sides; unfettered access for Arab League monitors; and "a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs."

Human rights activists were outraged, as they should be. What is striking, however, is the response from US officials and pundits so roundly condemning the use of the veto by these two permanent members of the Security Council to protect the Syrian regime from accountability for its savage repression against its own citizens.

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Published: Friday 10 February 2012
“In political terms, once a service like Twitter becomes subject to oversight from every government in the world, it is a crippled one.”

Last month, Internet users and companies rallied together to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, two proposed U.S. bills that sought to give media corporations the tools to combat illegal file-sharing but would have potentially had chilling effects on free speech. It was an innovative protest waged almost exclusively online, and American Internet users rightfully celebrated the despised bills’ demises. However, two of the very same companies which pushed hard to maintain a free and open Internet in the U.S. gave indications that they would not do the same for users in the rest of the world.

On January 26, Twitter noted on its blog that, as it expanded overseas into regions with more restrictive Internet policies than our own, it would be willing to censor tweets on a country-by-country basis when requested by legal authorities. This unfortunately timed announcement, coming on the heels of the anniversary of the start of the Arab Spring protests in Egypt, for which Twitter received much credit for at the time and after, was widely panned. Twitter itself once proudly asserted, “Our position on freedom of expression carries with it a mandate to protect our users’ right to speak freely.”

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Published: Thursday 9 February 2012
“The campaign against whistleblowers in Washington.”

 

On January 23rd, the Obama administration charged former CIA officer John Kiriakou under the Espionage Act for disclosing classified information to journalists about the waterboarding of al-Qaeda suspects. His is just the latest prosecution in an unprecedented assault on government whistleblowers and leakers of every sort.

Kiriakou’s plight will clearly be but one more battle in a broader war to ensure that government actions and sunshine policies don’t go together. By now, there can be little doubt that government retaliation against whistleblowers is not an isolated event, nor even an agency-by-agency practice. The number of cases in play suggests an organized strategy to deprive Americans of knowledge of the more disreputable things that their government does. How it plays out in court and elsewhere will significantly affect our democracy.

 

Punish the Whistleblowers

The Obama administration has already charged more people -- six -- under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies ...

Published: Wednesday 8 February 2012
“They can make iPhones and anything else right here in America — but they care more about their bottom lines than their country or their workers, and it’s time to call them on it.”

Early last year, during an intimate chat and chew dinner with some Silicon Valley high-tech barons, President Barack Obama posed a question to Steve Jobs, baron of the Apple empire: "What would it take to make iPhones in the United States?"

Good question! To rebuild our middle class, we need to put more people to work building more stuff in America, rather than shipping all that manufacturing off to China. Instead of answering, however, Jobs dodged the question with a blunt retort: "Those jobs aren't coming back."

Well, why not? Why shouldn't American corporations go all-out to help meet the obvious economic needs of the nation that nurtures them? The high-techers don't mention the obvious reasons for their jobs dodge: raw corporate selfishness. Top executives and investors pocket more for themselves by hiring a cheap, easily exploitable offshore workforce. Rather than looking inward, however, they blame America.

First, they wail that American schools are failing to produce the high-skilled workers they need, so they must go abroad. Aside from that being nonsense, these very executives constantly demand that local governments exempt them from paying the taxes necessary to improve schools.

Second, they say that the U.S. lacks an integrated supply chain, which would locate makers of assorted computer parts right next door to assembly plants. But, wait — that's their fault. Apple, Dell and the like have the market clout to entice suppliers to relocate anywhere in America. Indeed, U.S. suppliers say that the reason they've relocated their production units to China is because that's where Apple et al. went.

Finally, industry leaders blame us, their customers! They assert that we insist on getting a new, cheap iGadget every year, no matter where it's made or how workers are treated, so we've forced them to abandon America.

Hogwash. Obama asked the right questions, but why ...

Published: Sunday 29 January 2012
“To demand that religious concepts be taught on equal footing with science – as creationists have done in their fight against Darwinian evolutionists – is to leave young minds poorly prepared for a productive adult life in a technology driven world.”

In his State of the Union, President Obama stressed the importance of keeping manufacturing in America. The reasoning is that in order to continue to innovate and develop the next generation must-have products, the US needs manufacturing that uses leading edge technology. Nothing wrong with the reasoning, but it may be too late.

A lengthy analysis on why jobs are flowing to China based on the Apple iPhone experience appeared in the New York Times. One of the most important findings of the NYT piece was that America simply no longer has the skill sets to meet Apple’s demands for a high quality, technology product. America has lost the edge to make things.

Advanced manufacturing depends on staffing the factory floor from the production line to the line supervisors with people possessing technical skills. The training programs Obama talked about might serve as temporary Band-Aids that might keep certain production from leaving in the short term. But to maintain a world leadership position, the US will need far more technicians, engineers and scientists than the country is producing.

For many years even before the 2008 financial meltdown, the smartest and brightest of American graduates were pursuing careers on Wall Street rather than careers in science and engineering. Making financial products was easier and more lucrative than ...

Published: Sunday 29 January 2012
“Which symbolizes success, and which disintegration? It may not be what you think.”

Around the world, two opposing forces are contending to define our future. On one side are those working for a new economy—one that is more equitable, decentralized, and attuned to the needs of people and nature. On the other are the forces behind corporate globalization and its consolidation of political and economic power. While thousands of people have braved the winter cold and pepper spray to alert the world to the plight of the 99%, our governments are still forging ahead with destructive deregulatory treaties. The latest of these comes in the form of a new Trans Pacific Partnership, which will further line the pockets of the 1 percent, while increasing redundant trade and CO2 emissions.

After three decades of studying the impacts of globalization on cultures around the world, I am convinced that focusing on the re-regulation of trade and finance is the path towards creating a more just and sustainable economy. Because it runs counter to the interests of the powerful corporations and banks, this can sound more daunting than it really is. Once people recognize that economic deregulation lies behind not only global warming and toxic pollution, but also poverty, unemployment, and ...

Published: Friday 27 January 2012
Found in everything from baby bottles to paper receipts, BPA has raised public concern.

Despite growing fears over the health effects of a chemical found in many baby bottles and a host of other products, federal regulators have done little to protect the public, according to a new report from a nonprofit research group.

The agencies’ plodding action on Bisphenol-A, known as BPA, despite a stream of research pointing to serious risks, doesn’t bode well for attempts to address related chemicals that may pose similar dangers but haven’t been studied as much, the report’s lead author said.

“The sluggishness of the agencies means that there’s continued exposure in the meantime and a kind of flying-blind mentality,” said Noah Sachs, a law professor at the University of Richmond and an author of the report for the Center for Progressive Reform, which focuses on public health regulations.

Recent studies point to BPA’s ability to interfere with the body’s hormone system, potentially leading to a variety of health problems, including damage to the reproductive system and the brain, particularly in children. Eleven states have banned the chemical’s use in certain products, typically baby bottles and other children’s goods; Canada, China and the European Union have similar restrictions.

Published: Tuesday 24 January 2012
“Without bold government action on behalf of our workforce, good American jobs will continue to disappear.”

Who should have the primary strategic responsibility for making American workers globally competitive – the private sector or government? This will be a defining issue in the 2012 campaign.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama will make the case that government has a vital role. His Republican rivals disagree. Mitt Romney charges the President is putting “free enterprise on trial,” while Newt Gingrich merely fulminates about “liberal elites.”

American business won’t and can’t lead the way to more and better jobs in the United States. First, the private sector is increasingly global, with less and less stake in America. Second, it’s driven by the necessity of creating profits, not better jobs.

The National Science Foundation has just released its biennial report on global investment in science, engineering and technology. The NSF warns that the United States is quickly losing ground to Asia, especially to China. America’s share of global R&D spending is tumbling. In the decade to 2009, it dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, while Asia’s share rose from 24 to 35 percent.

One big reason: According to the NSF, American firms nearly doubled their R&D investment in Asia over these years, to over $7.5 billion.

GE recently announced a $500 million expansion of its R&D facilities in China. The firm has already invested $2 billion.

GE’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt chairs Obama’s council on work and competitiveness. I’d wager that as an American citizen, Immelt is concerned about working Americans. But as CEO of GE, Immelt’s job is to be concerned about GE’s shareholders. They aren’t the same.

GE has also been creating more jobs outside the United States than in it. A decade ago, fewer than half of GE’s employees were non-American; today, 54 percent are.

This is all good for GE and ...

Published: Sunday 15 January 2012
“Contrary to what one might think, democracy is more resilient than the alternatives in the long run.”

Is democratic time too slow to respond to crises, and too short to plan for the long term?

At a time of deepening economic and social crisis in many of the world’s rich democracies, that question is highly relevant. In Italy, for example, Prime Minister Mario Monti has the necessary and legitimate ambition to carry out comprehensive reform. He is both competent and honest, but faces a quasi-structural impediment: whereas leaders once had three years to convince voters of their policies’ benefits, they now have three hours to convince global financial markets to back their approach.

Caught between Italian legislators who, deep down, do not understand that change and markets in quest of near-immediate certainties, can Monti transcend his natural prudence and act with sufficient clarity and decisiveness?

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Published: Friday 13 January 2012
“We must also do away with the hundreds of billions in corporate loopholes that currently exist, which enable many large and profitable corporations to pay little or nothing in federal taxes.”

It's no secret that the people of our country are angry and frustrated with Washington and their government.  They correctly perceive that we face enormous problems: a collapsing middle class, increased poverty and a growing gap between the very rich and everyone else; sky-high unemployment; 50 million Americans without health insurance; a deteriorating infrastructure;  the continued loss of our manufacturing capabilities; the ongoing mortgage and student loan crises, and the planetary challenge of global warming.  And on top of all of that, we have a $15 trillion dollar national debt. The American people want action.  They want their government to start representing the 99 percent, not just the top 1 percent.  With that goal in mind, let me say a few words about some of the issues that I will be working on when Congress reconvenes in January.

With more than 23.7 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, 15 percent of our workforce, we must be aggressive about creating the millions of new jobs we desperately need.  It is simply not acceptable that high school or college graduates are not able to find work as they try to begin their ...

Published: Thursday 12 January 2012
“A school bus pedaled by kids, the world’s largest bike-share, and other innovations that are changing how we cycle.”

Dutch School Bus is a Bicycle Built for Ten

Some lucky Dutch schoolchildren can now put their seemingly endless energy to good use, by powering their own school bus. Dutch company De Café Racer produced an eco-friendly bicycle-bus that is steered by an adult and ­pedaled by up to 10 children.

The bright yellow bus is designed for riders aged 4 to 12, and its stability and high visibility provide a safe, early introduction to cycle commuting in a country where bicycling is a way of life and 95 percent of teenagers bike to school at least some of the time.

The bus has a base speed of 10 miles per hour, and a motor for backup if the students are too tired to pedal or need help with hills. Other features include a music player and a canvas cover for shelter on rainy days. There’s even a bench seat where two additional children can sit back and enjoy the ride. —Kate Malongowski

Pittsburgh Rides It Forward

It’s an organization that says it all in the name: Free Ride. The Pittsburgh bike ­collective lets riders earn a refurbished pair of wheels by volunteering their time and labor at the Free Ride warehouse.

Clients start by bringing in an old, broken bike. They learn bike repair skills as Free Ride staff guide them through the process of refurbishing a bike for their own use. Once their own bike is fixed, they can repay the cost of supplies and training by teaching their new skills to others. Free Ride also repairs and sells bikes, and offers bike repair classes to youth.

Free Ride’s website describes this pay-it-forward structure as “get a bike, fix a bike, give a bike,” and stresses that the organization is even more about education than bike repair. The idea is that learning bike maintenance can keep people on two wheels for a lifetime.  —Kate Malongowski

In China, Bike-Sharing on a Big ...

Published: Wednesday 11 January 2012
“The Three Top Hot Spots of Potential Conflict in the Geo-Energy Era”

Welcome to an edgy world where a single incident at an energy “chokepoint” could set a region aflame, provoking bloody encounters, boosting oil prices, and putting the global economy at risk.  With energy demand on the rise and sources of supply dwindling, we are, in fact, entering a new epoch -- the Geo-Energy Era -- in which disputes over vital resources will dominate world affairs.  In 2012 and beyond, energy and conflict will be bound ever more tightly together, lending increasing importance to the key geographical flashpoints in our resource-constrained world.

Take the Strait of Hormuz, already making headlines and shaking energy markets as 2012 begins.  Connecting the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, it lacks imposing geographical features like the Rock of Gibraltar or the Golden Gate Bridge.  In an energy-conscious world, however, it may possess greater strategic significance than any passageway on the planet.  Every day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, tankers carrying some 17 million barrels of oil -- representing 20% of the world’s daily supply -- pass through this vital artery. 

So last month, when a senior Iranian official threatened to block the strait in response to Washington’s tough new economic sanctions, oil prices instantly soared. While the U.S. military has vowed to keep the strait open, doubts about the safety of future oil shipments and worries about a potentially unending, nerve-jangling crisis involving ...

Published: Sunday 1 January 2012
The World Bank estimated the economic cost of Tohoku to be 235 billion dollars, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history.

Hideo Sato, 47, and his family escaped to this snowy city 200 km from the radiation emitting Fuksuhima power plant that was struck by a massive earthquake-driven tsunami on Mar. 11

"We were forced to move from our house in Okuma-machi barely eight kilometers from the damaged nuclear plant. We wanted to protect our children from radiation, but now we are at the mercy of the government," he said.

Nine months after the disaster, Sato, a former employee at a car sales company, lives on a 1,500-dollar monthly unemployment dole. His wife is occupied with looking after their three children and cannot take up a job.

Sato’s plight is shared by tens of thousands of people from the tsunami-battered coastline of northeastern Tohoku, that was home to factories producing automobile components and semiconductors for export.

The World Bank estimated the economic cost of Tohoku to be 235 billion dollars, making it the most expensive natural disaster in history.

"The nuclear disaster has added to Japan’s financial woes. The Tohoku disaster, the high Yen, and the global economic crisis spell a bleak forecast for the new year," Kenji Obayashi, an economist at the Asia Pacific research center at Waseda University, told IPS.

Japan, the world’s third largest economy after the United States and China, is now facing difficult economic decisions as the country gropes its way to recovery.

Apart from the crippling natural and nuclear disasters, the Japanese economy is reeling from a Yen that has strengthened almost 30 percent against the dollar, hurting export competitiveness. In turn, this has increased unemployment and depressed domestic demand.

To top it all is the scare of a loss of energy supplies for the resource poor country.

Prof. Tsutomu Toichi, advisor to the Institute of Energy Economics, warns in this month’s ‘Nippon’, a leading news magazine, that the non-operation ...

Published: Friday 30 December 2011
“This is happening because certain powerful interests are benefiting tremendously and using their wealth and power to keep things from changing.”

In November President Obama said, "enough is enough" to China's currency manipulations. Today the Treasury Department said it hasn't seen enough to call China a currency manipulator. This is happening because certain powerful interests are benefiting tremendously and using their wealth and power to keep things from changing.

China's Currency Manipulation

China manipulates its currency to keep it "undervalued." This means that things made there cost less in world markets than things made in other countries. The result is that manufacturing moves there, bringing them entire industries, supply chains, and the "industrial commons" of expertise, suppliers and culture that brings with it new businesses and industries. Many economists say that China's currency is undervalued by 25 to 40% meaning products made there have a 25-40% pricing advantage before any other advantages, subsidies, manipulations, etc. are considered. The currency does not rise to market levels because China takes steps like preventing open trading and buying other currencies -- most of us would call this manipulation -- to keep this from happening.

Instead of competing fairly China uses this manipulation and others, throwing world trade completely out of balance. Countries "make their living" by producing things and selling them to the rest of the world. This imbalance is costing our country jobs, factories, industries and trillions of dollars but we can't seem to get our government to do anything about it.

"Enough Is Enough"

In a November 14 press conference at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Hawaii,

Published: Friday 30 December 2011
“There is no safety net as we make the transition to a potentially new life, new identity, new community.”

Poised on the threshold of a new year, I’m again drawn to a metaphor for the challenges and opportunities we face in this urgent time of ours: the crossroads.

Two roads intersect, and now we confront an unavoidable choice. Do we carry on as we always have—or do we, with courage and imagination and verve, make a dramatic course correction?

While it may be too early to definitively rank 2011 as the year of the Great Nonviolent Turning (even greater things may be coming in the new year or in the years that will follow it; or, on the contrary, the passage of time may reframe this period entirely), the events of the past twelve months—from Tunisia to Egypt, from Greece to Spain, from Chile to Jeju Island, from China and Russia to a more or less Occupied America—have signaled a growing determination for a qualitative shift.

Here the symbol of the crossroads is especially apt. Traditionally it signifies, not an arbitrary or simplistic decision (Coke or Pepsi?), but a momentous choice: a turning point, a decisive situation, or a set of life-altering options. The worldwide movement for nonviolent change that has been gathering momentum this year seems to be placing before us such immense choices: Radical economic disparity or sustainable equality? Oligarchy or democracy? Militarized culture or a more nonviolent civil society?

These are not minor alternatives. Real change of this magnitude will require profound structural metamorphosis. This will not appear out of the blue. Nor will it happen merely because we wish it so. Instead, it will depend on movements that derive their power from a deep transformation of personal and social consciousness and identities; a willingness to let go of certain reliable (if debilitating) assumptions about how the world is ordered; and a commitment to face the consequences for taking these still as yet unclear steps for change.

The crossroads in its deepest sense may also be useful ...

Published: Thursday 29 December 2011
“Global opinion surveys over the last three years consistently indicate that many are turning their backs on the West and see China as moving to center stage.”

For a European these days, thinking about the future is disturbing. America is militarily overstretched, politically polarized, and financially indebted. The European Union seems on the brink of collapse, and many non-Europeans view the old continent as a retired power that can still impress the world with its good manners, but not with nerve or ambition.

Global opinion surveys over the last three years consistently indicate that many are turning their backs on the West and – with hope, fear, or both – see China as moving to center stage. As the old joke goes, optimists are learning to speak Chinese; pessimists are learning to use a Kalashnikov.

While a small army of experts argues that China’s rise to power should not be assumed, and that its economic, political, and demographic foundations are fragile, the conventional wisdom is that China’s power is growing. Many wonder what a global Pax Sinica might look like: How would China’s global influence manifest itself? How would Chinese hegemony differ from the American variety?

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Ivan Krastev, click here."

Generally, questions of ideology, economics, history, and military power dominate today’s China debate. But, when comparing today’s American world with a possible Chinese world of tomorrow, the most striking contrast consists in how Americans and Chinese experience the world beyond their borders.

America is a nation of immigrants, but it is also a nation of people who never emigrate.

Notably, Americans living outside the United States are not called emigrants, but “expats.” America gave the world the notion ...

Published: Sunday 25 December 2011
To some extent, the slowdown in external demand for Chinese goods has also been prompted by the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), which calls for an increased emphasis on Chinese consumers.

Purchasing demand for Chinese goods has slowed a tad in the United States as higher manufacturing and shipping costs are prompting US retailers to turn to cheaper destinations in a bid to crank up profit margins.

Though most of the new orders are believed to be flowing into emerging economies, many retail industry experts still say that China still has the best brand equity in the US.

"Retail executives have told me that some low end orders are being routed to countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and Bangladesh," says Erik Autor, the International Trade Counsel for the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world's largest retail trade association. "There might be some empirical data on it but I am yet to see it," he says.

The US Commerce Department, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Trade Representative and the Toy Industry Association, some of the agencies that provide data on the retail trade in the US, also did not have any figures to support the claim that manufacturing is being routed to newer locations.

The latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey shows that the average American plans to spend $751 (570 euros) on gifts this year, ...

Published: Tuesday 20 December 2011
The focus on currencies as a cause of the West’s economic woes, while not entirely misplaced, has been excessive.

If one looks at the trade patterns of the global economy’s two biggest players, two facts leap out. One is that, while the United States runs a trade deficit with almost everyone, including Canada, Mexico, China, Germany, France, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, not to mention the oil-exporting countries, the largest deficit is with China. If trade data were re-calculated to reflect the country of origin of various components of value-added, the general picture would not change, but the relative magnitudes would: higher US deficits with Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, and a dramatically lower deficit with China.

The second fact is that Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan – all relatively high-income economies – have a large trade surplus with China. Germany has relatively balanced trade with China, even recording a modest bilateral surplus in the post-crisis period.

The US has a persistent overall trade deficit that fluctuates in the range of 3-6% of GDP. But, while the total reflects bilateral deficits with just about everyone, the US Congress is obsessed with China, and appears convinced that the primary cause of the problem lies in Chinese manipulation of the renminbi’s exchange rate.

One problem with this view is that it cannot account for the stark differences between the US and Japan, Germany, and South Korea. Moreover, the real (inflation-adjusted) value of the renminbi is now rising quickly, owing to inflation differentials and Chinese wage growth, particularly in the country’s export sectors. That will shift the Chinese economy’s structure and trade patterns quite dramatically over time. The final-assembly links of global-value added chains will leave China for countries at earlier stages of economic development, such as Bangladesh, where incomes are lower (though without producing much change in the balance with the US).

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Published: Friday 16 December 2011
The outlook for the global economy in 2012 is clear, but it isn’t pretty.

The outlook for the global economy in 2012 is clear, but it isn’t pretty: recession in Europe, anemic growth at best in the United States, and a sharp slowdown in China and in most emerging-market economies. Asian economies are exposed to China. Latin America is exposed to lower commodity prices (as both China and the advanced economies slow). Central and Eastern Europe are exposed to the eurozone. And turmoil in the Middle East is causing serious economic risks – both there and elsewhere – as geopolitical risk remains high and thus high oil prices will constrain global growth.

At this point, a eurozone recession is certain. While its depth and length cannot be predicted, a continued credit crunch, sovereign-debt problems, lack of competitiveness, and fiscal austerity imply a serious downturn.

The US – growing at a snail’s pace since 2010 – faces considerable downside risks from the eurozone crisis. It must also contend with significant fiscal drag, ongoing deleveraging in the household sector (amid weak job creation, stagnant incomes, and persistent downward pressure on real estate and financial wealth), rising inequality, and political gridlock.

"Follow Project Syndicate on Facebook or Twitter. For more from Nouriel Roubini, click here."

Elsewhere among the major advanced economies, the United Kingdom is double dipping, as front-loaded fiscal consolidation and eurozone exposure undermine growth. In Japan, the post-earthquake recovery will fizzle out as weak governments fail to implement structural reforms.

Meanwhile, flaws in China’s growth model are becoming obvious. Falling property prices are starting a chain reaction that will have a negative effect on ...

Published: Tuesday 13 December 2011
The way in which China keeps its currency down against the dollar (or keeps the dollar up against its currency) is by buying huge amounts of U.S. government bonds.

The Commerce Department’s release of trade figures last week showed another large deficit with China for October, albeit slightly lower than the record hit the previous month. This figure will renew the calls for stronger action against China.

Unfortunately the debate over China is often buried in confusion, leading to a situation that is not conducive to effective action. A major reason for this confusion is that there is not a common U.S. interest against China. The interests of the 99 percent differ greatly from the interests of the 1 percent. Until this fact is recognized more generally, there is no possibility that our economic relations with China will change in a way that benefits the vast majority of working people in the United States.

The central issue with China is the fact that the dollar is over-valued against the Chinese currency. This over-valuation is the result of the explicit Chinese policy of pegging its currency against the dollar.

The peg is often referred to as “manipulation,” but it doesn’t really fit the bill for two reasons. First, it is an official policy. China targets the value of its currency quite openly; it is not doing it in the middle of the night when no one is looking.

The second reason is that China’s mechanism for targeting the value of its currency is something that on alternate days our Treasury actually requests. They buy up U.S. government debt.

If this seems absurd, it should because it is. The way in which China keeps its currency down against the dollar (or keeps the dollar up against its currency) is by buying huge amounts of U.S. government bonds.

The media often tells us that we need China to buy our debt. This is not true. There are plenty of other potential investors, including the Federal Reserve Board. However we cannot both want China to buy U.S. government debt and then complain about China’s currency manipulation. This is how they ...

Published: Wednesday 7 December 2011
Obama’s November trip to Asia was an effort to align US foreign-policy priorities with the region’s long-term importance.

Asia’s return to the center of world affairs is the great power shift of the twenty-first century. In 1750, Asia had roughly three-fifths of the world’s population and accounted for three-fifths of global output. By 1900, after the Industrial Revolution in Europe and America, Asia’s share of global output had shrunk to one-fifth. By 2050, Asia will be well on its way back to where it was 300 years earlier.

But, rather than keeping an eye on that ball, the United States wasted the first decade of this century mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in a recent speech, American foreign policy will “pivot” toward East Asia.

President Barack Obama’s decision to rotate 2,500 US Marines through a base in northern Australia is an early sign of that pivot. In addition, the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, held in Obama’s home state of Hawaii, promoted a new set of trade talks called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both events reinforce Obama’s message to the Asia-Pacific region that the US intends to remain an engaged power.

The pivot toward Asia does not mean that other parts of the world are no longer important; on the contrary, Europe, for example, has a much larger and richer economy than China’s. But, as Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, recently explained, US foreign policy over the past few years has been buffeted by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, concerns about terrorism, nuclear-proliferation threats in Iran and North Korea, and the recent Arab uprisings. Obama’s November trip to Asia was an effort to align US foreign-policy priorities with the region’s long-term importance.

In Donilon’s words, “by elevating this dynamic region to one of our top strategic priorities, Obama is showing his determination not to let our ship of state be pushed off course by prevailing ...

Published: Tuesday 6 December 2011
“Instead of focusing on the Greater Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the United States will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific.”

When it comes to China policy, is the Obama administration leaping from the frying pan directly into the fire?  In an attempt to turn the page on two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East, it may have just launched a new Cold War in Asia -- once again, viewing oil as the key to global supremacy.

The new policy was signaled by President Obama himself on November 17th in an address to the Australian Parliament in which he laid out an audacious -- and extremely dangerous -- geopolitical vision.  Instead of focusing on the Greater Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the United States will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific.  “My guidance is clear,” he declared in Canberra.  “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.”  While administration officials insist that this new policy is not aimed specifically at China, the implication is clear enough: from now on, the primary focus of American military strategy will not be counterterrorism, but the containment of that economically booming land -- at whatever risk or cost.

The Planet’s New Center of Gravity

The new emphasis on Asia and the containment of China is necessary, top officials insist, because the Asia-Pacific region now constitutes the “center of gravity” of world economic activity.  While the United States was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the argument goes, China had the leeway to expand its influence in the region.  For the first time since the end of World War II, Washington is no longer the dominant economic actor there.  If the United States is to retain ...

Published: Sunday 4 December 2011
“To me, there’s an obvious difference between criticizing any official, even a head of state, and advocating a revolution.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for any kind of Occupy Beijing movement to set up camp. Visitors to Tiananmen Square must pass through airport-style security checkpoints, and nobody is likely to try smuggling in a protest sign, much less a tent. The vast, wind-whipped plaza is a quiet place. China’s leaders intend to keep it that way.

Walk away from the square in any direction, however, and soon you find yourself amid a raucous riot of commerce. Whatever you’ve read about the speed and scale of development here, you have no idea until you see it with your own eyes. The contrast between China’s uninhibited economic life and its repressed political life could not be more stark.

The iconic portrait of Chairman Mao that looks out over Tiananmen seems anachronistic. At least in the urban centers, today’s China has abandoned communism in favor of a kind of hyper-capitalism. Even officials acknowledge Mao’s mistakes, especially the ruinous Cultural Revolution.

Yet Mao’s portrait remains. The government has essentially rebranded him as a nationalist who put a definitive end to centuries of imperial decadence and foreign domination, elevating a sovereign China to its rightful status as a great power.

“We have been very candid,” said Hong Lei, the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. “We admit that he made serious problems for the country. But we never give a 100 percent disavowal of Chairman Mao’s accomplishments.”

And in any event, Hong said, the way to look at China’s evolution is that the country has moved into a new phase of the transformation Mao’s revolution began. Never mind that China is speeding down a road Mao never would have taken.

It makes sense that a government seeking to maintain the monopoly of power that Mao established would want to keep the chairman’s legacy alive. But many of the sightseers at Tiananmen on Thursday afternoon ...

Published: Thursday 17 November 2011
President Barack Obama intended to use the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting last weekend in Hawai’i to signal a shift in U.S. foreign policy away from the Middle East and toward the Asia-Pacific region.

This was not simply a geographic shift. With a presidential election approaching in 2012, the president is emphasizing jobs, not war. When it comes to economic opportunity, Asia is where the action is. 

"No region will do more to shape our long-term economic future than the Asia Pacific region," the president announced at his press conference on Monday. APEC links the United States with 20 other countries, including Japan, Russia, South Korea, Mexico, and Canada, and accounts for nearly half of the world's trade. 

But the president did not have an easy time in Hawai'i steering U.S. foreign policy in a different direction. The Middle East overshadowed the APEC discussions, with the first question for the president at his press conference focusing on Iran and U.S. sanctions.

In fact, aside from the hot-button issue of economic competition with China, none of the journalists seemed very much interested in Asian matters. The chief focus of news coverage of the event was the president's decision to break with the APEC tradition of forcing heads of state to wear native garb for a photo op. 

The Obama administration has long wanted to reorient, literally, U.S. foreign policy. During their years of political exile under the George W. Bush administration, key foreign policy figures like Kurt Campbell complained of how Washington was ignoring Pacific affairs at its peril.

Although Campbell is now in charge of Asian affairs at the State Department and his current boss Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has worked hard to achieve this reorientation by visiting the region and attending regional confabs, the Obama administration has largely continued the Bush-era focus on fighting in Afghanistan and conducting counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and around the Horn of Africa. 

Even though Obama has largely fulfilled his promise to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, the Arab Spring has presented ...

Published: Wednesday 9 November 2011
Published: Monday 7 November 2011
“The $7-billion reconstruction of the Bay Bridge between San Francisco and Oakland is in the hands of a state-subsidized Chinese company.”

Listening at last to his inner FDR, President Barack Obama is going straight at the Know-Nothing/Do-Nothing Republicans in Congress.

At a rally in September on a bridge connecting Rep. John Boehner's state of Ohio to Sen. Mitch McConnell's state of Kentucky, Obama challenged the two GOP leaders to back his plan for repairing and improving our country's deteriorating infrastructure. "Help us rebuild this bridge," he shouted out to Boehner and McConnell. "Help us rebuild America. Help us put this country back to work."

 

Yes, let's do it!

However, in addition to the usual recalcitrance of reactionary Republican leaders, another impediment stands in the way of success: many of the infrastructure jobs that would be created could end up in China.

Holy Uncle Sam! How is this possible?

It's due to a trap door that was built into the Buy American Act. This 1933 law gives preference to U.S. companies bidding on major infrastructure projects. However, it allows the general contractor to opt out of this requirement if the difference in U.S. and foreign bids is significant. This is no theoretical concern, ...

Published: Monday 31 October 2011
“[I]t is likely that world population will peak at nine billion in the 2050’s, a half-century sooner than generally anticipated, followed by a sharp decline.”

According to the United Nations’ Population Division, the world’s human population hit seven billion on October 31. As always happens whenever we approach such a milestone, this one has produced a spike in conferences, seminars, and learned articles, including the usual dire Malthusian predictions. After all, the UN forecasts that world population will rise to 9.3 billion in 2050 and surpass 10 billion by the end of this century.

Such forecasts, however, misrepresent underlying demographic dynamics. The future we face is not one of too much population growth, but too little.

Most countries conducted their national population census last year, and the data suggest that fertility rates are plunging in most of them. Birth rates have been low in developed countries for some time, but now they are falling rapidly in the majority of developing countries. Chinese, Russians, and Brazilians are no longer replacing themselves, while Indians are having far fewer children. Indeed, global fertility will fall to the replacement rate in a little more than a decade. Population may keep growing until mid-century, owing to rising longevity, but, reproductively speaking, our species should no longer be expanding.

What demographers call the Total Fertility Rate is the average number of live births per woman over her lifetime. In the long run, a population is said to be stable if the TFR is at the replacement rate, which is a little above 2.3 for the world as ...

Published: Saturday 29 October 2011
“The ultimate test of any nation’s character is to look inside itself at moments of great challenge. Swept up in the blame game, the US is doing the opposite.”

The United States has a classic multilateral trade imbalance. While it runs a large trade deficit with China, it also runs deficits with 87 other countries. A multilateral deficit cannot be fixed by putting pressure on one of its bilateral components. But try telling that to America’s growing chorus of China bashers.

America’s massive trade deficit is a direct consequence of an unprecedented shortfall of domestic saving. The broadest and most meaningful measure of a country’s saving capacity is what economists call the “net national saving rate” – the combined saving of individuals, businesses, and the government. It is measured in “net” terms to strip out the depreciation associated with aging or obsolescent capacity. It provides a measure of the saving that is available to fund expansion of a country’s capital stock, and thus to sustain its economic growth.

In the US, there simply is no net saving any more. Since the fourth quarter of 2008, America’s net national saving rate has been negative – in sharp contrast ...

Published: Saturday 29 October 2011
“Population growth has rocketed. It took just 13 years for 1 billion more people to live on the planet, yet only at the dawn of the 19th century did a billion people first inhabit the Earth.”

The world's population is expected to reach 7 billion on Monday, four years later than once predicted largely thanks to China's family planning policy, according to the country's top population experts.

Population growth has rocketed. It took just 13 years for 1 billion more people to live on the planet, yet only at the dawn of the 19th century did a billion people first inhabit the Earth, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund.

Baby No 7 Billion will probably be born in the Asia-Pacific region, where the population growth rate is the highest in the world.

China's family planning policy, which limits most mainland couples to one child, has prevented 400 million births since 1979, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

The rising population presents challenges to humanity, Safiye Cagar, director of information and external relations for the fund, said on Tuesday.

"If we do not voluntarily stabilize population, we risk a much less humane end to growth as the ongoing destruction of the earth's natural systems catches up with us," the UN report said.

"How do we ensure that each of us has a decent standard of living while sustaining Earth's resources?" Cagar said

Such a huge population will put a lot of pressure on Earth, said Yuan Xin, a professor at Tianjin-based Nankai University's population and development institute. For example, the population increase plus the pursuit of a better quality of life will require more resources and therefore put the environment in danger.

"The prevented births of China are also significant for natural resource and environment preservation across the world," Yuan said Tuesday. "But that merit might be offset if the Chinese consume relentlessly like the Westerners did, given China's sheer population size."

Official data released by China and the United ...

Published: Tuesday 18 October 2011
“One of the demands voiced by protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement is for a ‘public option’ in banking.”

 

Publicly-owned banks were instrumental in funding Germany’s “economic miracle” after the devastation of World War II. Although the German public banks have been targeted in the last decade for takedown by their private competitors, the model remains a viable alternative to the private profiteering being protested on Wall Street today.

One of the demands voiced by protesters in the Occupy Wall Street movement is for a “public option” in banking. What that means was explained by Dr. Michael Hudson, Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, in an interview by Paul Jay of the Real News Network on October 6:

[T]he demand isn’t simply to make a public bank but is to treat the banks generally as a public utility, just as you treat electric companies as a public utility. . . . Just as there was pressure for a public option in health care, there should be a public option in banking. There should be a government bank that offers credit card rates without punitive 30% interest rates, without penalties, without raising the rate if you don’t pay your electric bill. This is how America got strong in the 19th and early 20th century, by essentially having public infrastructure, just like you’d have roads and bridges. . . ...

Published: Friday 7 October 2011
Today Jeju Island is once again threatened by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization and violence: the construction of a naval base on what many consider to be Jeju’s most beautiful coastline.

Jeju Island, 50 miles southeast of South Korea’s mainland, has been called the most idyllic place on the planet. The pristine, 706-square-mile volcanic island comprises three UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites.

Jeju’s history, however, is far from idyllic. In 1948, two years before the outbreak of the Korean War, the islanders staged an uprising to protest, among other issues, the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South. The mainland government, then under U.S. military occupation, cracked down on the Jeju insurgents.

South Korean police and military forces massacred islanders and destroyed villages. Korea historian John Merrill estimates that the death toll may have exceeded 30,000, about 15 percent of the island’s population.

Decades later, a government commission investigated the Jeju uprising. In 2005, Roh Moo-hyun, then South Korea’s president, apologized for the atrocities and designated Jeju as an “Island of World Peace.”

Today Jeju Island is once again threatened by joint U.S.-South Korean militarization and violence: the construction of a naval base on what many consider to be Jeju’s most beautiful coastline.

For more than four years, island residents and peace activists have engaged in determined resistance to the base, risking their lives and freedom.

The stakes are high for the world as well. Recently the Korean JoongAng Daily, in Seoul, described the island as “the spearhead of the country’s defense line” – a line recklessly located 300 miles from China.

In these troubled waters, the Jeju base would host up to 20 American and South Korean warships, including submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers, several of which would be fitted with the Aegis ballistic-missile defense system.

For the United States, the base’s purpose is to project force toward China – and to ...

Published: Tuesday 4 October 2011
Can Washington Move from Pacific Power to Pacific Partner?

The United States has long styled itself a Pacific power. It established the model of counterinsurgency in the Philippines in 1899 and defeated the Japanese in World War II. It faced down the Chinese and the North Koreans to keep the Korean peninsula divided in 1950, and it armed the Taiwanese to the teeth. Today, America maintains the most powerful military in the Pacific region, supported by a constellation of military bases, bilateral alliances, and about 100,000 service personnel.

It has, however, reached the high-water mark of its Pacific presence and influence. The geopolitical map is about to be redrawn. Northeast Asia, the area of the world with the greatest concentration of economic and military power, is on the verge of a regional transformation. And the United States, still preoccupied with the Middle East and hobbled by a stalled and stagnating economy, will be the odd man out.

Elections will be part of the change. Next year, South Koreans, Russians, and Taiwanese will all go to the polls. In 2012, the Chinese Communist Party will also ratify its choice of a new leader to take over from President Hu Jintao.  He will be the man expected to preside over the country’s rise from the number two spot to the pinnacle of the global economy.

READ FULL POST 1 COMMENTS

Published: Sunday 2 October 2011
Our trade deficit worsens, more jobs are lost, more factories close, more imbalances threaten the world's economy. It is time to act.

The fight to get China to stop their currency manipulation is heating up. China keeps its currency very low, giving their goods a huge price advantage even before all their other trade manipulations come into play. This costs us jobs, factories, companies and entire industries. Now the Congress is taking steps to force them to stop. This has been going on a long time (see my own list of posts below). Our trade deficit worsens, more jobs are lost, more factories close, more imbalances threaten the world's economy. It is time to act.

Background

China has decided that it is to their advantage to capture as many jobs, factories, companies and industries as possible. Like many countries they have national industrial/economic strategies for key target industries, and we do not. In pursuit of their strategies they use every trick we let them get away with -- and we let them get away with a lot. They directly subsidize companies and industries, require companies from other countries to share intellectual property if they want to do business in China, subsidize electricity to factories, provide free land, "indigenous innovation" (Buy China) policies, and numerous other methods to gain advantage. Some of these are very smart self-interested policies (that we do not match) like the basic, normal government function of spending to provide top-notch infrastructure and education so their companies will flourish. Others are illegal trade practices that we do not challenge.

In effect, by not having our own national strategies and willingness to invest public funds, we send American companies out alone, to compete with national systems like China's. Even our largest companies do not have the resources to take this on.

Over 2 Million Jobs

The Alliance for American Manufacturing says that

Published: Sunday 4 September 2011
As opposed to multinational corporations, which care only about maximizing shareholder profit, our public-policy arena is supposed to be focused on building America

Many economic Nostradamuses have long predicted that the epitaph on America's tombstone will ultimately read, "Made In China." But casual observers probably didn't think the funeral procession would happen this fast. In the last year, though, most have wised up. Thanks to a spate of mind-blowing headlines, we are learning that the Chinese invasion isn't just a distant possibility — it's happening right now.

First, in February, ABC News reported that almost every Americana-themed trinket sold in the Smithsonian Institute is made in China. Then news hit that San Francisco is importing its new bay bridge from China. Then came the  READ FULL POST 12 COMMENTS

Published: Friday 19 August 2011
Tea Party Brings Environmental Meltdown to America

For Tea Party zealots it is impossible to utter, hear, read or write the words “freedom” and “liberty” too many times.  And of course to them the antithesis of freedom and liberty is the federal government, which they swear they will “take back.”  For them, taking back the government means restoring the freedom to not be able to afford health care, restoring the freedom to be unemployed without any unemployment insurance,  restoring the freedom to lose your home to mortgage fraud and your pension to criminal wall street bankers.  That doesn’t sound much like a “Party” to me, that sounds more like a nightmare.

Even though many of their devotees don’t realize it themselves, what the Tea Party Nightmare is actually selling is not freedom for you, but more freedom for corporate America to deny your freedom.   And this year no freedom is more important to the Tea Party Nightmare than the freedom for corporations to make you sick by polluting our air and water.  Every Republican presidential candidate and virtually every Republican Congressperson has joined the Tea Party Nightmare chorus in ranting against the EPA, and not just the EPA regulating greenhouse gases, but against everything the EPA does.  Michelle Bachmann, the Tea Party Nightmare’s charmingly oblivious and truly frightening presidential pin up girl, proudly wants to abolish the EPA.  Not to be out done, pistol packin’ Rick Perry sounds like he wants to torture everyone who works there and shoot it with his gun before he abolishes it. 

The 1979 movie China Syndrome brought to life the danger of a nuclear reactor melt down.  Within weeks the first of real life melt downs occurred at Three Mile Island, then Chernobyl, then Fukushima.   China is now in total environmental “melt down”, a new version of the China Syndrome if you will.  ...

Published: Thursday 11 August 2011
"Today's economy relies on a globalized supply chain—where a single broken link can lead to widespread financial catastrophe."

A few months ago, a friend in the entertainment industry told me of a new business model in Hollywood: hoarding videotapes. Apparently, the earthquake in Japan knocked offline a Sony factory that makes certain types of tape. That factory was also in the tsunami zone, so now there’s a serious tape shortage threatening the television industry. The NBA scrambled to get enough tape to broadcast the NBA finals; one executive told the Hollywood Reporter, “It’s like a bank run.”

In the last few years, economists have spent a lot of time and energy thinking about bank runs. A bank run happens when depositors think a bank is weak and scramble to get their money out before it collapses. “Tight coupling” of financial institutions, like when banks are overly dependent on each other, can create a cascading series of problems for the system itself. We saw this with Lehman Brothers when it went bankrupt. Its AAA-rated debt instruments lost value unexpectedly; that caused money market funds that held those presumably safe bonds to suddenly lose value. A shadow bank run was the result, as investors rushed to withdraw from the money market funds.

Worryingly, there’s been very little consideration of how systemic collapses can happen in another, perhaps more dangerous realm—the industrial supply system that keeps us in everything from medicine to food to cars to, yes, videotape. In 2004, for instance, England closed 

Published: Sunday 7 August 2011
China: "mounting debts and ridiculous political wrestling in Washington have damaged America's image abroad."

China, the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, issued a scathing condemnation of American economic practices on Saturday, saying that "mounting debts and ridiculous political wrestling in Washington have damaged America's image abroad."

Following the decision by the Standard & Poor's rating agency to downgrade the United States' credit rating a notch from AAA on Friday evening, the editorial in China's official Xinhua newswire warned that Beijing "has every right now to demand the United States to address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China's dollar assets."

China currently has no other obvious options for the $1.1 trillion-plus that it holds in U.S. Treasuries, a fact that links Chinese interests to the stability of the dollar and makes the prospect of drastic action by Beijing highly unlikely.

The strong wording of the Xinhua piece, however, suggested a fraying patience.

The editorial began with the line "The days when the debt-ridden Uncle Sam could leisurely squander unlimited overseas borrowing appeared to be numbered." It ended at: "All Americans, both beltway politicians and those on Main Street, have to do some serious soul-searching to bring their country back from a potential financial abyss."

In Washington, the White House issued a statement from the press secretary, JayCarney. It said: "The president believes it is important that our elected leaders come together to strengthen our economy and put our nation on a stronger fiscal footing.

"The bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction was an important step in the right direction. Yet, the path to getting there took too long and was at times too divisive. We must do better to make clear our nation's will, capacity and commitment to work together to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges....Over the coming weeks the president will strongly encourage the ...

Published: Wednesday 27 July 2011
"Any threat by China to stop buying government debt is no threat at all. It would boost growth and generate jobs."

As the tensions began to increase over raising the U.S. debt ceiling, the Chinese government made it clear that it was unhappy about the possibility that the United States could default on its debt. While there may be little serious risk that the U.S. government will actually default, it should be clear that China’s concerns are not a major factor in U.S. politics.

The United States has always been an incredibly insular country. The vast majority of the public has very little interest or concern for what is going elsewhere in the world except insofar as it directly affects the United States. There is also a remarkable degree of ignorance about the rest of the world, not just in the public at large, but also among our political leaders.

As result, when other countries raise concerns about U.S. domestic policies they are likely to be at best ignored, if not actually resented. The response to China’s expression of concern over the U.S. debt fell somewhere between these two positions.

The budget debate in the United States is clouded by an enormous degree of deliberate exaggeration and obfuscation. While politicians of both parties like to complain about an out-of-control deficit threatening the country with bankruptcy, the reality is that the deficit was reasonably well contained (even if arguably too high) prior to the collapse of the economy in 2008.

The large deficits that the country has experienced in recent years are countercyclical. They are the result of efforts to prop up the economy in the wake of collapsed private sector demand. The idea that they are due to out-of-control spending or excessive tax cutting is nonsense on its face.

Furthermore, the dire longer term picture is almost entirely a result of the broken U.S. health care system. The United States pays more than twice as much per person for its health care as other wealthy countries. This disparity is projected to grow in coming decades. If it does, it ...

Published: Friday 22 July 2011
"The list of known bogeymen working to compromise American national security is long, and getting longer by the day."

According to the U.S. government, the list of known bogeymen working to compromise American national security is long, and getting longer by the day. By my back-of-the-envelope count, we have shoe bombers, underwear bombers, dirty bombers and car bombers. Now, we are being told to fear "implant bombers" who will surgically attach explosives to their innards.

All of these threats are, indeed, scary. But the fear of individual attacks has diverted attention from a more systemic threat of terrorists or foreign governments exploiting our economy's penchant for job-offshoring. How? By using our corresponding reliance on imports to stitch security-compromising technology into our society's central IT nervous system.

Sounds farfetched, right? That's what I thought, until I read a recent article in Fast Company. Covering a little-noticed congressional hearing, the magazine reported that a top Department of Homeland Security official "admitted on the record that electronics sold in the U.S. are being preloaded with spyware, malware, and security-compromising components."

The process through which this happens is straightforward — and its connection to our current trade policies is obvious. First, an American company or governmental agency orders computer hardware or software from a

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