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It’s been awhile since I’ve done a Top 5. I hope you enjoy these articles as much as I did.

1. ‘America’s ‘Oh Sh*t!‘ Moment’, Niall Ferguson, The Daily Beast

Niall Ferguson’s diagonsis of what ails America and how it can be repaired and our nation reinvigorated.

In my view, civilizations don’t rise, fall, and then gently decline, as inevitably and predictably as the four seasons or the seven ages of man. History isn’t one smooth, parabolic curve after another. Its shape is more like an exponentially steepening slope that quite suddenly drops off like a cliff.

2. ‘The Wonk Who Slays Washington‘, Peter J. Boyer, The Daily Beast

A thoughtful review of Peter Schweizer’s book Throw Them All Out which brings to light all the greed and crony capitalism of our nation’s capitol.

Washington does seem to live by its own laws of economics. The D.C. metro area has displaced Silicon Valley as home of the highest median income, at $84,523 last year (compared with the national average of $50,046). Earlier this month, a Roll Call study of congressional financial disclosures revealed that the net worth of members of Congress had grown by 25 percent since 2008, during a period in which the average American household has lost as much as 20 percent of its net worth.

3. ‘What You Don’t Often Hear About Those ‘Greedy‘ One Percenters’, John Tamney, Forbes

Darn those 1% and all their hard work, ingenuity, smarts, generosity, and job creating filth!

Readers of the above doubtless sense a rhyme to Rockefeller’s early history with that of the late Apple CEO, Steve Jobs. As Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson recounts in his book about the man, Jobs arrived at Atari’s offices early in his career and told those willing to see him that he would not leave the premises without a job offer. Having written a major bestseller that was more recently turned into a blockbuster film, Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, is firmly ensconced now inside the top 1 percent. What’s perhaps less well known is how many years it took Stockett to write her book, not to mention the 60+ rejection letters she received from agents before finding one willing to take her vision to publishers.

1 percenters generally have the nerve, drive and self-assurance that the rest of us could only dream of. We see where they are or were, but what the envious among us never consider is what they did to get there.

4. ‘The India-China Rivalry‘, Robert D. Kaplan, Stratfor

Kaplan is almost always worth reading and this succinct analysis of the current state of Indian-Chinese affairs is no different:

This is a rivalry born completely of high-tech geopolitics, creating a core dichotomy between two powers whose own geographical expansion patterns throughout history have rarely overlapped or interacted with each other. Despite the limited war fought between the two countries on their Himalayan border 50 years ago, this competition has relatively little long-standing historical or ethnic animosity behind it.

5. ‘On Tyranny and Liberty: Would the Founders approve of the nation we’ve made?‘, Myron Magnet, City Journal

I’ll end with this powerful recap American ideals and how they are being challenged like never before today.

When we ask how our current political state of affairs measures up to the Founders’ standard, we usually find ourselves discussing whether a given law or program is constitutional, and soon enough get tangled in precedents and lawyerly rigmarole. But let’s frame the question a little differently: How far does present-day America meet the Founders’ ideal of free government, protecting individual liberty while avoiding what they considered tyranny?…

One of the greatest dramas of President Washington’s first term was the showdown between House of Representatives leader James Madison and Treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton over how to interpret the Constitution of which Madison was the moving spirit, and which he and Hamilton had defended and explicated together in The Federalist. Hamilton wanted the government to charter a national bank; Madison argued that doing so would be unconstitutional because chartering a bank was not one of the limited and enumerated powers given to the federal government. It was no good, he said, for Hamilton to claim that the Constitution’s clause empowering Congress to make any law “necessary and proper” for carrying out its enumerated powers would permit it to charter the bank, since a bank wasn’t “necessary” but merely “convenient.” Once you start saying that the Constitution’s “necessary and proper” clause, or commerce clause, or clause to provide for the general welfare gives Congress implied powers, you are setting off on a course that will in the end “pervert the limited government of the Union, into a government of unlimited discretion, contrary to the will and subversive of the authority of the people.”

Any recommendations of your own?

29
Apr

US-India: Going Steady

   Posted by: Pat   in China   Print Print

Like after a good first date, expectations can get a little out of hand when it comes burgeoning alliances between states. In the late 90′s relations between the US and India began to thaw (agreed to date), through the 2000s, as the two sides’ interests began to mold so did their relationship (going steady), and finally in 2008, the nuclear partnership deal seemed to cement the emerging alliance (marriage). Though this partnership is still in its early stages, there are some smart folks wondering if the alliance might be in trouble or actually overrated from the beginning.

For those who thought India-US was going to be another Special Relationship this may be accurate. India and US have much in common and the geopolitics of the 21st century appears to be putting them on the side of the key international shift of our time, China’s rise. However, this does not make the US and India best friends. They each have diverging interests (Iran, Pakistan), unique cultures, and domestic politics that will likely keep the two from ever crossing the threshold. That being said, I disagree with those seeing a serious drift in the young alliance. After all, look how far the two sides have come in 20 years. Daniel Twining provides some much needed historical context:

Recall the context in which U.S. and Indian officials, nearly 15 years ago, sought to forge a new relationship. For half a century, the American and Indian governments were alienated by India’s refusal to sign on as one of Washington’s Cold War allies; by the U.S. military alliance with Indian rival Pakistan, forged in 1954; and later by America’s tacit alliance with Indian rival China, countered by India’s tacit alliance with Moscow. Following wars with both Pakistan and China, India launched a covert nuclear weapons program, leading the United States to muster its allies to impose sweeping sanctions on technology trade with India — further stifling its development after state socialism had already undercut India’s growth potential. Even after the Cold War, Washington and New Delhi spent the 1990s feuding over proliferation, culminating in the imposition of even more U.S. sanctions following India’s 1998 nuclear weapons test.

Those who know their Cold War history know that India was no friend to the US. From India’s perspective, the US for decades had put their support toward their greatest rival Pakistan. The positive steps taken by the US and India in the past decade or so need to be given space to breath. China is not going anywhere and neither are the strong democratic elements that bring New Delhi and Washington together. I’m confident that this alliance is still on the upswing, it just needs patience and consistent efforts from both sides to embolden the ties and interests that bind them. The US and India are in the early stages of going steady, and that’s not a bad place right now. As the not so distant past shows, it has been a lot worse.

2
Apr

Afghanistan War Support and The Commander In Chief

   Posted by: Pat   in war   Print Print

You may have heard that things are going poorly in Afghanistan. Is it true, maybe, maybe not. In either case, what you likely have not heard is any of this from President Obama. The President has spoken very little of the war in Afghanistan to the American public. From positive reports of progress to horrific incidents, the President speaks very little of the war. In the mean time, approval of the America’s participation in the war has dropped dramatically in recent months. According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, Americans are more than dispirited about the war effort, they want out:

The survey found that more than two-thirds of those polled — 69 percent — thought that the United States should not be at war in Afghanistan. Just four months ago, 53 percent said that Americans should no longer be fighting in the conflict, more than a decade old.

What can you expect of a public that only hears news stories of America and NATO’s troubles in Afghanistan. If it bleeds it leads, that’s the way things are. What is missing is any leadership from the Oval Office. Americans are now only hearing the costs of being in Afghanistan. The ‘Why’ we are still there is not being answered. That job belongs to whoever is Commander in Chief of the war. Walter Russell Mead strongly made this point:

If the commander in chief doesn’t defend the war and make a case for his chosen strategy, the American public has little else to go on but the most garish of headlines. Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” that this administration wasn’t going to neglect as — it charged — the Bush administration had done. Yet today, the only thing coming from the Obama administration on the subject is radio silence.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the president has a duty to talk about the war — to explain to the American people why we are fighting, what we hope to accomplish, and why there is reason to believe that we can succeed. If the chosen strategy has run into obstacles, that is what war is about. Presidents are not infallible and war fighting involves flexibility and realism as well as courage and commitment. But the President seems to be conducting his administration as if the war weren’t happening. It is something to be swept under the rug, ignored, deprecated — and, on the current course, lost.

If President Obama thinks it best for the US to get out of Afghanistan then he needs to say so and do so. If, as his current strategy exists, he believes that having American forces fighting extremists, Al Qaeda, factions of the Taliban, and keeping the peace in Afghanistan is worth the costs, he needs to explain this to the American people. War is a serious business, and we need a serious leader. President Bush let the Iraq War dominate his presidency, in many ways to the detriment of the country and his political standing. But one thing is for certain, you knew where he stood. We understand that President Obama is more focused and naturally inclined to focus on domestic matters. But he is not a governor. He is the commander in chief and needs to act like one.

One does not have to look hard to find publications or experts pronouncing or describing an America in decline. They have now become ubiquitous and in many circles pass for the conventional wisdom of the day. In a similar vein, it is not that hard to find arguments that other countries, particularly China, have a more efficient, productive economy and government. Living in California, I’ve heard many unfavorable comparisons to our attempt at building a high speed train to China’s already extensive train network. While, I understand the United States faces deep fiscal issues; and our current political class appears incapable or unwilling (both?) to tackle them, I am still an optimist about my country. After all, the US is not alone in facing headwinds to a prosperous future. We cannot judge ourselves accurately without looking more closely at our peers, with China being the most obvious target. Analyst Ian Bremmer makes a strong attempt at this and finds that China’s very system has plenty of warts:

China has indeed grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. That’s a huge credit to a country that has modernized and industrialized on a previously unseen scale. And because of its 1.3 billion citizens, China has quite a bit of growth (read: catching up) still to come. China’s style of governance leaves the country light on regulation. However, it’s also light on rule of law, transparency, freedom of speech and several other key features that make the U.S. economy go ’round. Just because the Chinese government can move a village and build a road without holding a single hearing doesn’t mean the free market has taken hold. Indeed, it shows the opposite: China’s economy is largely state-planned, state-owned and state-run. The government uses capitalism only as a tool to reach its ends, not as a true expression of a free market.

Bremmer is right. China can indeed get many things done, but all of these accomplishments come from a centrally planned government, not a dynamic society or economy. The human race has yet to create an omnipotent, all-wise group of men and women that can lead a society to ever growing levels of prosperity. Economic growth cannot just be planned, as the market contains too many forces coming from too many different directions. The Chinese have opened up portions of their economy to the ‘animal spirits’ of capitalism, but as Bremmer points out, this is not really as it seems. There is no such thing a free market in modern China:

where the Chinese government compromises the free market, it does so to fulfill its own desires of effective control over the entire country. It’s capitalism of the state, by the state and for the state, where the state is the principal economic actor. That’s in marked contrast to where the U.S. compromises on “pure” capitalism, adding things like the social safety net, worker safety, product safety, health insurance and retirement planning.

One of the major problems China has had with its economic model is that at nearly any time, the majority owner of most of its economy — the state — can jump into an enterprise and distort it for its own purposes. It can cook the books, it can pull out profits, it can hide losses, it can launder money and it can even shut down a company altogether.

The United States has its challenges. At times, I have strong feelings of doubt that we can get ourselves back on track. Back to being a nation built on rugged individualism that produces dynamic outcomes. It is impossible for me to imagine an Apple being created in Beijing, but I would not be surprised to see a similar story (Pomegranate?) arise in the US. American culture isn’t without flaws and embarrassments, but no other on earth has proven to be so productive and resolute. It just keeps on ticking and with it American power and influence.

13
Mar

Robert Kagan: The World America Made Video

   Posted by: Pat   in Book Review, China   Print Print

Foreign policy scholar Robert Kagan has a new book, The World America Made, and surprise, surprise he’s out on the speech circuit promoting it. Below is a video of Mr. Kagan being interviewed by David Gregory of Meet the Press and semi-debated by New York Times columnist David Brooks:

Kagan, like another historian/foreign policy scholar Walter Russell Mead who I admire, is an optimist when it comes to the United States hanging on to its position as the leader of liberal, free market world order. Though Kagan does come at his optimism from a sober, realist vantage point. For instance, he argues, that sure the US faces a partisan political environment that seems incapable of finding solutions to difficult problems, but to Kagan this is ‘what’s new!’ And he has a strong point as American history is full of partisan bickering over what now seem like slam dunk policy decisions and strategic visions. I’ve read all of Kagan’s previous major works, with Dangerous Nation and Of Paradise and Power truly masterful works, and I look forward to reading and reviewing his latest.

I saw these two reports within a few minutes of each other and the contrast wasn’t exactly hard to see. The first piece detailed China’s rapidly increasing military spending:

China’s defense budget will double by 2015, making it more than the rest of the Asia Pacific region’s combined, according to a report from IHS Jane’s, a global think tank specializing in security issues.

Beijing’s military spending will reach $238.2 billion in 2015, compared with $232.5 billion for rest of the region, according to the report. That would also be almost four times the expected defense budget of Japan, the next biggest in the region, in 2015, the report said.

And then after just a wee bit more web surfing, I came across this report from the US Military Times:

The Pentagon’s base budget will fall for the first time in more than a decade, slipping less than 1 percent to $525.4 billion from last year’s $530.6 billion. When adjusted for inflation, 2013 would mark the third consecutive year the budget has fallen, officials said…New hardware is taking the biggest hit in the new budget proposal, including proposed delays in the purchase of new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and new Navy ships and ending the Air Force’s unmanned Global Hawk program…

I understand that even with a large expansion by the Chinese military and a slight decline in American defense spending the discrepancy between the two is still substantial. But one can’t help but notice a significant transition occurring in these, more and more uncommon, headlines. The United States is now cutting defense spending while Beijing is most definitely increasing theirs. The Military Times article tries to put the decrease in American spending in historical perspective:

[Pentagon’s comptroller Robert] Hale compared the current plans to other post-war periods including the years following the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the aftermath of the Cold War in the 1990s. “They are not that different than past postwar drawdowns,” Hale said.

It is true that much of the decrease in spending comes from the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns, but Comptroller Hale does not know the near future and what challenges our military will have to meet. We keep hearing about how are military is not really getting smaller, but just moving to a new, more important location, East Asia. But at the same time it seems like we are closer than we have been since President Obama was elected to being engaged in a hot war against Iran. And then there is Syria, where there are reports that the US is planning an aerial blockade. The Iraq war has ended, at least for the US, and the Obama administration has sent strong signals that the US led NATO alliance in Afghanistan will be gone by 2014 (maybe even sooner), but future conflicts, which of course would demand billions of federal dollars, can be seen without much imagination.

These two reports show that hard bottom lines still remain: The coming US deficit crisis demands major changes to its spending/taxing policies, with defense spending so far taking the biggest hit, and the Chinese, though with some rough financial waters likely headed their way, will continue to build up their military capabilities. And if you think things are getting serious right now….

The proposal does not take into consideration the law that may result in an additional $500 billion in cuts that would begin next year if lawmakers fail to reach a broader agreement to reduce federal spending and the national deficit. Hale said those cuts, known as budget sequestration, would amount to a “meat ax” approach.

21
Jan

Pipe Nightmares

   Posted by: Pat   in Budget/Economy, Uncategorized   Print Print

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A President has to make many tough decisions. To send troops in. To get them out. To put his political capital and efforts toward tax reform or health care or energy policy or immigration, etc, etc. But sometimes some decisions should be pretty straightforward. A slam dunk to use a sports metaphor. I believe President Obama shot a serious airball on his Keystone XL Pipeline decision. He was given a 75 mph slowball right down the middle plate and swung and missed. Like fumbling the ball on the one yard li….Ok, that’s enough. The pipeline had by far more positives (jobs, good paying ones!, cheaper oil, aka lower energy and gas bills, less dependence on foreign energy) than negatives (environment degradation, possible spills, eyesore) for the United States and its citizens. The American working class is struggling like we haven’t seen in decades. Working class males have been hit harder than almost all other demographics and Keystone would provide a positive future to thousands of these folks and their families.

The respected Robert Samuelson agrees and speaks with unusual candor:

President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico is an act of national insanity. It isn’t often that a president makes a decision that has no redeeming virtues and — beyond the symbolism — won’t even advance the goals of the groups that demanded it. All it tells us is that Obama is so obsessed with his re-election that, through some sort of political calculus, he believes that placating his environmental supporters will improve his chances.

The admittedly more partisan Fred Barnes from The Weekly Standard lays out 12 choices the President made in making this decision:

Here are a dozen of the choices represented by the president’s decision to turn down a permit for the pipeline.

1) The Middle East over Canada.
2) Unfriendly countries over a close ally.
3) Troubled ties with Canada over good relations.
4) A vulnerable oil supply over a secure one.
5) Higher oil prices over lower prices.
6) Spill-prone tankers over a safer pipeline.
7) China (who will likely get the oil) over the U.S.
8)Unavailable green fuel over a plentiful fossil fuel.
9) Ideology over prudence.
10) The political left over the center and right.
11) Partisanship over bipartisanship.
12) Liberal, anti-pipeline public unions over private unions seeking jobs.

The President is wrong and our country is poorer for it.

31
Dec

US Cold War Satellites: Keep the Peace?

   Posted by: Pat   in Russia, war   Print Print

Thanks to Real Clear History, I found this fascinating story about how the United States used spy satellites to map Soviet Russia’s territory during the Cold War. It is from The Atlantic magazine and features an informative video that explains the 1950′s program in a very straightforward way for us political, not hard, science nerds. I highly recommend going to read the article, but here’s the 10 minute video right here:

I have for years thought that a study should be done on how spy satellites have impacted international relations. It seems to me that if one country can keep a close eye on an other’s strategic capabilities and movement and that side knows it is being watched, it would curtail warfare. Like the idea that if you put cameras in a 7-11 it will stop or at least deter robberies. That being said, I’m pretty sure 7-11′s still get robbed once in a while. Anyways, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal highlights this idea in of his 5 things that stick out about this particular spy satellite program:

2. Some historians, at least, believe that spy satellites helped keep the Cold War cool. By providing planners with some information about what was going on behind the iron curtain, they kept the fever dreams of our decisionmakers in check. “At the height of the Cold War, our ability to receive this kind of technical intelligence was incredible,” space historian Dwayne Day told the AP. “We needed to know what they were doing and where they were doing it, and in particular if they were preparing to invade Western Europe. Hexagon created a tremendous amount of stability because it meant American decision makers were not operating in the dark.”

Well, what did you think of the video? The spy satellite program itself? Or the theory that a watched enemy is a quite one?

18
Dec

Hitchens

   Posted by: Pat   in Uncategorized   Print Print

When I was a young, liberal college student, I held great respect for Christopher Hitchens. Presently, I am older (surprise, surprise) and rather conservative, but what has not changed is my respect for Christopher Hitchens. It is hard not to respect a person who so defends the principles they believe in with such non-violent gusto. Though I disagreed with many of Hitchens’ beliefs, he was always worth listening to and his arguments were always worthy of thoughtful analysis. He also earned a special place in my heart by refusing to suffer fools. Here’s a short video of Hitchens discussing Islamist violence and ideology:

A better friend to the liberal world order, you will not find. Rest in Peace.

If you are one of the few to hold a high place in the Chinese Communist Party life has to be good. You are running one of the world’s greatest powers and you don’t have to worry about elections next Fall, or the next Fall, or the…However, there is one major hangup to being part of the leadership of a Communist country: living a publicly austere and modest life. And not just you, but also your family and heirs. This last part is bubbling up some problems according to Jeremy Page recent piece on China’s ‘Princelings’:

One evening early this year, a red Ferrari pulled up at the U.S.
ambassador’s residence in Beijing, and the son of one of China’s top
leaders stepped out, dressed in a tuxedo. Bo Guagua, 23, was expected.
He had a dinner appointment with a daughter of the then-ambassador,
Jon Huntsman.

The car, though, was a surprise. The driver’s father, Bo Xilai, was in
the midst of a controversial campaign to revive the spirit of Mao
Zedong through mass renditions of old revolutionary anthems, known as
“red singing.” He had ordered students and officials to work stints on
farms to reconnect with the countryside. His son, meanwhile, was
driving a car worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and as red as the
Chinese flag, in a country where the average household income last
year was about $3,300.

The episode, related by several people familiar with it, is
symptomatic of a challenge facing the Chinese Communist Party as it
tries to maintain its legitimacy in an increasingly diverse,
well-informed and demanding society. The offspring of party leaders,
often called “princelings,” are becoming more conspicuous, through
both their expanding business interests and their evident appetite for
luxury, at a time when public anger is rising over reports of official
corruption and abuse of power.

These are high stakes for CCP. The CCP has largely traded their governing legitimacy from creating an egalitarian, communal society to one of promoting growth, growth, growth, but this does not mean that they have completely abandon the former. Having silver spoon fed young adults running around flaunting their connections and the financial and societal benefits it has brought them can create a backlash. The fact that the incoming CCP leadership will have only tangential ties to Mao’s revolutionaries of the recent past puts even more spotlight on these new leaders. Page details how the current CCP leaders are aware of the dangers these Princelings’ behavior may bring:

State-controlled media portray China’s leaders as living by the
austere Communist values they publicly espouse. But as scions of the
political aristocracy carve out lucrative roles in business and
embrace the trappings of wealth, their increasingly high profile is
raising uncomfortable questions for a party that justifies its
monopoly on power by pointing to its origins as a movement of workers
and peasants.

Definitely a story worth following…

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