Feb 162015
 

I just got to thinking, “How are the folks in the capital city of Ufa doing today, and…” How’s that? You mean you don’t know where in the world Ufa is? Either did I, until a few minutes ago while I was reading an article about China’s increasing economic and diplomatic forays westward from its borders into Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

Those countries along with China form the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or SCO. Their next scheduled meeting is in June 2015 in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan. No little thing. This is a meeting that includes the heavy hitters Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and the heads of the other member countries

But first let’s quickly orient ourselves as to where Ufa, the region of Bashkortostan, and where on the planet this all is.

Ufa map1  Ufa is a city of just over 1 million with a link to the Tran Siberian Railroad. Note that the railroad terminus is Vladivostok, located on this map just above the letter “J” in the word “Japan”. During WWII, Stalin moved much of Russia’s industries eastward to Ufa to keep it out of reach of the invading Germans. Now there is a new invasion.

June 2015 is the next meeting of SCO (see above). With the Russian currency falling, the former Soviet central Asian countries are being hit hard. Meanwhile, China is flexing its economic muscles. China’s aim is to access the mineral and gas resources of the region and also gain a land bridge to the Russian and European markets.

This is all in keeping with Xi Jinping’s “New Silk Road” policy, backed up by a $40 billion commitment. Thus China is encouraging the Asian nations to cooperate in developing road and particularly rail. And there’s more. China is very much concerned with the rising Islamic terrorist threat. China is strengthening its ties to central Asian governments and expanding contacts with Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially as it sees a vacuum being created by American military draw down. Keep in mind also that China has fourteen bordering countries plus not all together happy neighbors in the South China Sea.

Here is a map of the member countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, shown in green, and observer countries in blue and purple. It is a lot of land mass, a lot of resources, and a lot of people.

Ufa map 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ufa may be a little dot on a big world map, but the consequences of the agreements to be made there may affect us all.

Charles Dusenbury

Below is a very interesting link to an article on the subject from a Kazakhstan website:

http://www.silkroadreporters.com/2015/02/16/sino-russian-division-labor-keeping-central-asia-stable/

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Dec 042012
 

  The swift hand of Chinese justice has accused, tried, and convicted for murder the wife of a man who had had the summit of China’s leadership within his grasp. Soon we shall hear more about the whistle blower in the Gu Kailai murder case, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun.  It would appear that Mr. Wang, as so many before him, will go into what one might call the Chinese version of the witness protection program.

In the United States, an insider of extraordinary value in the prosecution of a major criminal case may be given personal protection by the government. In Wang Lijun’s case, he is expected to be tried for treason for the “unauthorized” visit to the American consulate. Thus Mr. Wang will be silenced and the state will have protection from a witness who might otherwise reveal further embarrassing details regarding possible crimes and misdemeanors in high places.

The Chinese leadership proudly points to the historic arrival of China’s economic miracle. The Chinese citizenship awaits the long-overdue arrival of the miracle of true human rights.

Charles Dusenbury

 

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Dec 042012
 

    Okay, let’s play a little game of “Pin the tail on the donkey.” Here are a small handful of pins. They represent your nation’s limited military and economic resources. No blind folds here. Bring all your knowledge and information about the world to bear. Now where the map will you allocate our finite strengths? One, two, maybe several Middle Eastern countries? Iran? Yemen?

How about Africa with so many challenges such as Nigeria, Sudan, or Somalia? Maybe even some Latin American countries such as Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, Manuel Ortega’s Sandinista suppressed Nicaragua or even America’s trouble border with ITS NAFTA neighbor, Mexico. Are you concerned about the Russian bear that is sniffing around more again?

Now who would have imagined that one’s national security might well depend on the successful outcome of just such a game? It does of course, and in a very real way. For those men and women tasked with securing our nation’s future, losing is definitely not an option.

Probably you would find that most people and most maps have unrecognized cultural orientations and assumptions in them. Take that big wall map of the world for instance. There is a good chance it is centered on America, or even more likely, the Prime Meridian, running smack dab through the center of Her Majesty’s Royal Naval College. Most likely the extra pins were in your left hand, and you reached with your right hand…to the right…to the east, the Orient by any other name. Indeed, do we not refer to the Middle, Near, and Far East? The Anglo-European mind is, so to speak, oriented to view the world that way. And therein lays an interesting phenomenon.

Had you noticed the irony? While our attention tends to be drawn geographically and geopolitically towards the east, the East itself is actually less noticed behind us there in the west.

If given just one pin to stick in a map to indicate one of the most likely places for serious future conflict to arise, where would this author place it? Having spent some considerable time and research and discussions with military planners, that pin would pass right over the seas that lap onto the shores of China and right into the heart of Southeast Asia:

The South China Sea.

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Dec 042012
 

As has been alluded to in earlier postings, there is an understandable tendency for us in America to have our attention drawn eastward over the Atlantic, towards our founding cultures and beyond to the trouble spots of the Middle East and Africa. But as we are looking east, The East is coming up on us from the west, from across what was once the wide, exotically isolating expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

The Chinese have a salutation, actually a curse of sorts: “May you live in interesting times.” It might be hard to agree on just one term to describe the global socioeconomic times in which we live, but certainly “interesting times” would have to be at the top the list. And nowhere would “interesting times” apply more than in China itself.

2012 is the year of the once-in-ten-years handing over of power at the very top ruling positions in China. Ten years ago it all went smoothly and secretly. This year the process has all the subtlety of a Chinese New Year’s festival. One blind man has opened the eyes of the world to China’s appalling state of human rights violations. Disturbing, but not necessarily a surprisingly new revelation. More telling and much more revealing has been the recent episode of the public fall from grace of the prominent (now former) governor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai.

It is not this brief essay’s intent to cause your eyes to glaze over with all “Those faraway places, with the strange soundin’ names.”[1] But stick with this for a moment. By tracing the threads associated with just this one name, Bo Xilai, the endemic corruption of the entire Chinese ruling and economic system will become apparent and why you and your friends should be aware and concerned.

Bo Xilai is a prince among princelings: those born of the original members of Mao’s inner circle. With such nobility, much was given by way of elite education and financial advantage, and much was expected in the realm of leadership and of the keeping close the reins of power. This year he was due to be lifted up to that holy of holies, the living pantheon of the ruling Permanent Committee of Nine. But Aeschylus could not have written a better Greek tragedy.

You can imagine the American council’s surprise when, in early February, a Mr. Wang, of late a close associate of Mr. Bo, sought asylum. It turns out Mr. Wang was in charge of the police force in Bo Xilai’s megacity of Chongqing and was implicating Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, in the death of the British Neil Heywood. She, a “princeling” (a derogatory term used by ordinary Chinese citizens) in her own right, along with her sisters and Harvard-student son have economic, political, and military connections (they’re all the same, by the way), but let’s just stick to Bo Xilai for now.

Mr. Bo’s claim to fame was his attack on corruption (thousands were arrested among the 30 million residents of Chongqing) and encouraging (actually demanding) the singing of the good old classics from those happy days of Mao’s farm collectivization, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, which claimed little more than 30 to 50 million lives. Bo’s “Chongqing Way” drew many accolades and admiring visitors from the top Nine ruling committee, not the least were the head of Internal Security,  along with the presumptive new president, Xi Jinping. Thus in a corrupt system, power and influence is respected, and feared. So when Bo Xilai was able to muscle his way into Chongqing’s famously corrupt environment and replace it with his own system of corrupt cronies, his star was clearly on the ascendency…until that mysterious British citizen’s death (Neil Heywood had ties to Bo and his wife and son).

The house of chop sticks quickly began to crumble with the unsuccessful asylum attempt of the Bo’s second in command, Mr. Wang. This turned on the high beams of interest by the American and British governments and the world’s press. In Beijing, the Politburo and its secretive Committee of Nine, unaccustomed to bright lights in their cloistered lives, quickly slammed the door on Mr. Bo. But it didn’t stop there. Attention was drawn to Bo’s older brother, Bo Xiyong who resigned from the company called China Everbright International in Hong Kong. It took this humble blogger less than 30 seconds to determine that China Everbright International is located at the Hong Kong address of 88 Queensway. It is an address well known to American intelligence agencies and the “U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission”[2] as a hotbed for the Chinese Army and intelligence agencies. Operating from front companies, the People’s Liberation Army and the Chinese government and wealthy Chinese citizens (again, pretty much all the same people) are investing in and controlling assets and governments around the world. It is also through these dummy corporations that Chinese Intelligence operatives deal in illegal arms trades and money laundering through the likes of billionaires Lev Leviev (Israel), Pierre Falcone (France), Helder Battaglia (Portugal), and Arcadi Gaydamak (Russia-Israel). They and others have been variously charged with international arms smuggling into the Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea, Zambia, Nigeria, and most particularly, Angola. It is also through the 88 Queensway Group that China has gained considerable control of oil, again particularly in Angola. China has had no qualms dealing with civil rights abusers around the world so long as China can secure oil and mineral rights.

[UPDATE , May 17, 2012;   Here is a perfect example of how fluid and fast moving events are now on the Chinese political power scene. Within 24 hours of this blog posting, a whole bunch more about the Bo Xilai intrigues have come out. (see WSJ link below). It is reported that the Politburo became very concerned (read “threatened”) by Bo’s increasing links to the military, in particular the regiment which had been headed up by Bo’s late father under Mao Zedong. Recall that after the brutal put-down of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, The military secured the various Chinese provinces by roadblocks and restricting trade and communications. This gave the PLA (the army) economic and political control which has only been dialed back in the last ten or twelve years. So the Central Permanent Committee, which was already in the midst of dicey negotiations over the transition of power, feels particularly vulnerable and defensive about such palace intrigues. Note also that the military is again increasing its own economic base through real estate and manufacturing.]

At first glance, and maybe even after the second and third, China’s economy and governance may appear to be too complicated, too foreign, too, as we often used to say about the Chinese, too inscrutable. Not so.

Corruption. That’s the key. Once it is understood that China is a one-party monopoly, with all its conniving, back-biting, power-clinging ruthlessness and wealth hoarding, it all become like watching a rerun of “The Godfather”. The trouble is, this is no movie; and there are no outside enforcers of the law to contend with. So why have we as Americans allowed ourselves to be drawn into this den of iniquity? Our nation’s morals and sense of fair play have been severely compromised…perhaps irretrievably. Case in point: the very recent ruling by the federal banking system to allow at least two of the only four major Chinese banks to buy into banks here in America. Are our people in government oblivious to the fact that the banks are majority owned and totally controlled by the Chinese Central Government? Are they not aware that the only reason these Chinese banks look so good on paper is that some years ago four parallel “bad” banks were formed into which the massive amounts of nonperforming previously government-mandated loans were offloaded and that now these four banks have been ordered…mind you “ordered”… to make a whole bunch of new “stimulus” loans into an already inflated building and infrastructure construction environment? Are our folks in Washington unaware of the over 18000 people who have fled China while absconding with millions upon millions of dollars from the banking and industrial sectors of China?

Of late this writer has been researching the topic of modern China’s socioeconomic environment. An unpleasant situation has arisen quite often: In the midst of reading about governmental manipulation of the banking sectors and its choosing of industrial winners and losers, it is many times impossible to distinguish between what has gone on in China and is now going on in America. To see where the United States is heading, one has only to read where China is now. It all looks flashy on the surface, but as the bloggers in Beijing allude to, the “one safe place” in China is the American Embassy. So consider, do you really feel safe about what’s going on in Washington?

Yes, we now all “live in interesting times”. The sooner we take a real interest in that seemingly “far away country” and get used to “those strange soundin’ names”, the sooner we will be able to respond appropriately to the challenges of a corrupt Middle Kingdom in this 2012 Chinese Year of the Dragon.

 

[Here are a couple of very useful and very readable books on the subject of modern rule and economics in China. Modesty insists that the last suggested one is this blogger’s]

“The Party”  Richard McGregor

http://www.amazon.com/The-Party-Secret-Chinas-Communist/dp/0061708771/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337120470&sr=1-1

“Red Capitalism”  Carl E. Waters and Fraser J.T. Howe

http://www.amazon.com/Red-Capitalism-Financial-Foundation-Extraordinary/dp/0470825863/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337120803&sr=1-3

“Eastworld”  Dr. Charles Dusenbury

http://www.amazon.com/EASTWORLD-Collapsing-Economic-Miracle-ebook/dp/B005R82HKQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1337121124&sr=1-1

Also, “The Economist Magazine” has man articles on China, as does the “Wall Street Journal”. Just type in “China” in the search box and the screen will light up with fascinating and well written articles.

Here is the WSJ link regards Bo Xilai and the army:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304203604577398034072800836.html?KEYWORDS=bo+xilai

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Dec 042012
 

 The Senkaku Islands, three basically uninhabitable clusters of rocky ridges just north of Taiwan, are again making headlines in Asia. They should be making more headlines in America, too. Not much bigger than icebergs, the Senkaku Islands are just the tip of the growing animosities between China, its Asian neighbors, and particularly Japan.

Whether or not one agrees that this is the Century of China, most would agree that China’s burgeoning wealth has fueled an increasingly capable air force and navy. In December, 2008, China sent elements of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA-N) Navy’s Southern Fleet through the South China Sea, past Singapore and out of the Malacca Strait to the piratical waters off the African coast of Somalia. In so doing, China announced that for the first time in 500 years, its modern fleet of destroyers is a global naval force to be reckoned with.

In recent years there have been an increasing number of headlines about maritime conflicts involving China and its neighbors over disputed authority to potentially oil-reach sea beds and abundant fisheries, primarily in the South China Sea. China (and Taiwan), along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam  have a myriad of overlapping claims to the semi-submerged islands of the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, west of the Philippines, and the Paracels off the Vietnamese coast. Maps made public by China in recent years show a dotted line that basically encircles most of the South China Sea and designating it as a region of core national interest, putting these strategically important waters on a par with Tibet or Taiwan. At the 2010 ASEAN regional meeting in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that this same region remains an important national interest to the United States

But that line of Chinese special concern doesn’t stop within the South China Sea, and that’s where the Senkaku Islands comes in. The line’s extension is called by China its “First Island Chain of Defense.” It extends northward  just inward of the Philippines and encompassing Taiwan, along the western shores of the Japanese chain of islands that include Okinawa and looping up just inside of Japan to the Korean Peninsula. The Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu to the Chinese) lie within this Chinese “Chain of Defense.” And it is to this chain of islands that America could become linked to a military conflict in Asian waters.

The 2010 Chinese National Defense white paper, released in 2011, stated that “Asia-Pacific security is becoming more intricate and volatile.” China repeatedly emphasizes an “unswerving” resolve to defend its territorial claims, making it clear that its military had the physical and cyberspace capability to go on the offensive should the need arise. The 2012 Defense of Japan white paper repeatedly points to China as a major source of potential military conflict, placing Senkaku (Diaoyu) squarely on their own maps of maritime concerns and force projection. Okinawa is stated to be the very core of Japanese efforts in Asia Pacific. Particularly telling is the Japanese defense report’s emphasis on its strengthening ties with American forces. Some months ago, President Obama announced an increasing deployment of marines to the region, especially to Australia. More recently, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there will evolve a shift of naval forces from 50-50 Atlantic/Pacific to a 60-40 weighting towards the Pacific.

Want to get away to a peaceful deserted island? Perhaps it would be best to scratch the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands off your list. In the exotic South China Sea and its broader Asian Pacific surround, unoccupied islands and their offshore waters have a not so funny way of being cluttered with a whole host national flags.

Charles Dusenbury

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Dec 042012
 

     “Things are real there,” quotes the Wall Street Journal* of a Chinese millionaire, referring to America. “Here you don’t know what to believe.” Well, there is one thing one can believe: some 30 years on, expansive globalization is reconsolidating. What has been proffered as a burgeoning “economic interdependence” has been in fact a dependence on draining off the creative and monetary energy from freer and more democratic nations. Now it would seem that tide is beginning to change. The successful within China see the approach of the limits of a closed and corrupt. They, including many of the princelings, the heirs of the old guard, have sent their children on ahead to be educated in the west.

America had been at the forefront of this modern episode of globalization, particularly beginning with the 1970’s. So it at there that this brief examination of the motivating ideas behind globalization and it current manifestations begins.

The 1970s does indeed mark the beginning of the modern concept of globalization, particularly as it relates to the most influential economic and military power of its time, the United States of America. That said it is important then to briefly review some of the major events that shaped America’s attitude towards itself and towards its relationships to the family of nations.

It would seem that a discussion about globalization is at its core a discussion about societal values. Certainly for America, the 70’s were a time of reexamining what it was and what it stood for. For instance, it can well be argued that the “Age of Globalization”, certainly in the United States, really derived from the 1970’s mantra “It is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” To the beat of tambourines and bells on dancing feet, our culture was assured that a “New Age” was dawning, “when peace shall guide the planets and love will steer the stars.”

For America, the decade of the 70s was a time when its self-confidence was shaken to its core. Actually, the 70’s was in many ways simply an extension of what is often referred to as the 60’s, a time when the “counter-culture” and its “back-to-the earth” narrative held sway in our society. It was a time when the focus was on seeking the “exceptions” in “American Exceptionalism”; and in those times, they were not all that hard to find.

The war in Vietnam, with its bloody images and body counts brought into our living rooms on the nightly TV news, kept hammering our nation’s morale farther and farther into the ground. The free-speech movement introduced shocking words once only written on bathroom walls. Images of beaten civil rights workers introduced many to a cruel and shocking reality. The assassination of yet another Kennedy, the shooting of Martin Luther King, and the burning and looting in many cities of the United States left the nation numb and shaken as it greeted the new decade of the 1970’s. But there was much more ahead to try a nation’s soul.

The American decade of the 70’s had bookends of major tragic events. That first spring, four students died at Kent State University, as inexperienced National Guardsmen attempted to control an anti-Vietnam war demonstration. In the autumn of 1979, Iranian militant students seized 66 Americans at the United States embassy in Tehran, keeping a nation hostage and its president impotent.

And somehow, in just those ten short years, America managed to squeeze in a whole lot more societal-altering events: The First Earth Day often called the launching of the environmental movement. Daniel Ellsberg broke his pledge of secrecy and revealing pentagon secrets at a time of massive antiwar demonstrations. Arab terrorists killed nineteen Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The Arab oil embargo probably shook the American society its core more than any other single event since Pearl Harbor. A vice president resigns. A year later, the president of the United States resigns, leaving behind a legacy of governmental mistrust and an increased influence of the press that lingers to this day. Then there was the Three Mile Island release of radioactivity into the atmosphere and the revelations of dumped pollution percolating up through the ground in the community of Love Canal. Given all these events and many others, where was a disoriented society to turn? A craving for a “Peace in Our Times” gave an opening to those organizations and individuals who held a more utopian vision for America, and for the globe.

“Globalization” for some might almost be viewed as a “share the wealth” of America’s perceived unfair advantages. It was promoted as having the theoretical advantages of allowing the “efficiencies” of each nation and culture to contribute to the rise in the globe’s total economic wealth. Well, in many ways it did, but now viewed from the advantage of hindsight, this global engine of prosperity needed a driving energy force. And that force? The American consumer’s prosperity and demand. To some observers, there exists the irony of promoting globalization through such things as lowering trade barriers; often as a “temporary” one to aid so-called “disadvantaged” nations and NAFTA, certainly raised the wealth and power of other nations, with China of course being a prime example. Those advantages, with its initially lower labor costs and the artificial restraint on the value of its currency are clearly evident today. What is also evident is the dimming of the economic fire in recent years that fueled much of the apparent Chinese and Global wealth: the American consumer.

“Americanization” became a catchall term that encompassed all the perceived wrongs that were wrought by man and machine on human kind. America had, in the eyes of some increasingly vocal citizens, used a disproportionate amount of the world’s natural and energy resources and had grown economically and militarily too far out ahead of the other nations on this globe

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While globalization is more often a term used to describe an economic model, it is at its core an expression of a collective set of values.

And “collective” may indeed be THE term that best summarizes those values.

Implied in “collective” is the sense of the sacrifice by its individuals for the benefit of the whole. Thus it is incumbent on the “haves” to “share” with the have-nots. The idea here is that through such a mechanism the cumulative average would be raised and then, all together, the whole would then prosper and increase. It would be rather like taking the varying ingredients for pizza dough, compressing and combining them into a homogenous mass, then having the baker spin them in the air to expand outward yet interconnected.

NAFTA was one of those “homogenizing” mechanisms. By freely allowing the flow of capital and technical resources, the cost of the final product from one area, Mexico for example, would make for a lower priced product that would benefit the end user American consumer. And it worked…for a while.

But always what was required was an external supply of economic energy. In this case, an “excess” of monetary “energy” that could buy those cheaper imported products while still producing and selling a product for profit within America’s own borders. Yet, just like the dream of perpetual motion, economic laws behave very much like the laws of physics and gravity. To keep this economic wheel, spinning, and external impetus of cash wealth had to be constantly applied. And as in in market, after the initial lowering of price, the ingredients into the manufacturing process rise. Labor cost, and the cost of the commodities rise. Host governments see a source of income by attaching more taxes, and manufactures also begin to see the potential profit by beginning restrict the very supply of the product that is being consumed. Also all along the supply chain, each step sees profit potential by easing upward their fees and profits.

It’s unsustainable. Ironic since one of the driving core values implicit in globalization is sustainability.

So “sharing” with the less economically endowed and “raising up” of those populations is part and parcel of Globalization.

Implied in Globalization is the “breakdown of empire”. So if you want to look at who the proponents are and what is their intent, look at the anti-empire rhetoric used. The whole antithesis to empire and the model held up is that of the British Empire. Well the sun has certainly set on it and examples abound of many of its previous colonial holdings are prospering.

Like so many things inherited form Great Britain, America now has inherited the ire of many globalists by referring to the “American Empire”, and by extension the supposed benefits that will be released to the underdeveloped world, the “Third World” countries with its demise.

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Unintended Consequences:

There was a Coca Cola advertisement during those early years of Globalization: “And the world will be a better place.” “And see the world in perfect harmony”

The concept was that if the world were more economically dependent on each other (interdependent). Each country would have an economic stake in the continuing and expanding world trade. Thus, it was predicted, disputes between regions would be handled by negotiations, not military threats or actions

The unintended consequences have been the very use of a perceived economic edge being used as a tool, a negotiating weapon if you will, to forward a nation’s political goals. An example of this would be when Vladimir Putin’s government had Russia cut off the supply of natural gas to the Ukraine during the winter of 2006 in a price and payment dispute. The consequences reached far beyond the region because that same gas line helped supply a dozen other countries, sending a price increase jolt around the world.

The threat of a considerable increase in pollution of the land, water and atmosphere was not generally foreseen. China’s industrial expansion has increased enormously in recent decades in order to meet global demand for its products. With it has come a huge increase in its consumption of energy, supplied primarily by the burning of coal. There has been considerable soil and water pollution because of a lack of farsighted preventive regulation or out and out corrupt bypassing of existing laws.

Even less foreseen and unintended was the recent trend of thousands of wealthy Chinese who are packing their bags for the west. At first blush this comes as a surprise to many westerners. They were under the impression that the Chinese hold an ancient sense of cultural superiority. It would seem the ambitious within China see that democracy and freedom is indeed a superior environment within which to succeed.

America’s founding fathers intended it that way.

 

*http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181461401318988.html?mod=world_newsreel

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Dec 042012
 

  Reading Joseph Sternberg’s “China, the World’s Greater Fool?” (Opinion, WSJ, 8/16/2012), the image of Walt Disney’s cartoon robot, WALL-E, came to mind. As the article pointed out, China is paying top dollar for technologies such as electric car battery maker A123 and troubled oil and gas producer NEXEN. Call in the mindless robot to stack these among the others in the bulging warehouse of Beijing’s previous Five-Year-Plan mandates.

WALL-E could vacation in one of the several ultra-modern Chinese cities recently built and filled with every modern convenience yet devoid of human habitation. Or perhaps he could take an uninterrupted stroll down Zhuhai Sanzao International Airport’s 13,000 feet long seldom used runway while looking longingly overhead at the abundant air traffic vectored to the surrounding airports of Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou. Certainly the little metallic robot would feel attracted to Shanghai’s multibillion dollar Maglev magnetically levitated train. Reaching speeds up to 268 miles per hour, it covers its entire track length of 18 miles from Pudong International in less than eight minutes. However, WALL-E would need to transfer to more pedestrian conveyances at Longyang Road, far short of the epicenter of Shanghai’s 23 million residents on the other side of the Huangpu River.

Cities with no people, airports confined by military airspace restrictions, subway exits to vacant fields, are all part of a “Build it and they will come,” central planning mindset that is running out of cash to stoke into the engine of the Chinese version of hope and change. When over 1.3 billion Chinese loose hope in the largely artificially stimulated changes around them, it is going to take more than a little WALL-E to handle the mess.

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Dec 042012
 

Where is it written that the natural result of democracy is freedom? Not so very long ago, seems like just a year or so, there was a general assumption, a belief really, that the global reach of the internet would be a democratizing tool that would lead to the rise of universal freedom. By reaching a wide audience with a focus of ideas and a plan for mass participation, fundamental changes could be affected. Cell phones and social media sites would leap over balky land lines and government intrusion, to energize and coalesce whole populations into action. The so-called Arab Spring best exemplified by Cairo’s Tahrir Square is a case in point. And always through these mass demonstrations the commentary from journalists and high American officials alike was the idea that we were witness to a transformative event. Democracy was taking root in the politically barren deserts of despotism. And surely peace and freedom shall follow them all of their days.

Oh really?

Democracy necessarily equates to freedom? Certainly America’s founding fathers didn’t think so. Just look at the pledge of allegiance, “And to the Republic, for which it stands…” These sons of the Age of Enlightenment went to great pains to establish a representative republic, not a democracy. The representatives themselves were to be democratically elected, but the important deliberations of the day were to be made by these representatives in quiet deliberations, remote from the whims of a fickle populace. But now that dynamic is changing and under considerable stress.

By the 1990’s, the binary genie had escaped the labs of academia and granted the wish of instant global communication to an internetted world. In the twinkling of a computer’s cursor, information, be it accurate or fabricated, commentary of all political and religious strips, and personal or organizational communications are instantly disseminated. Democracy may be viewed as the unbridled participation of the populace and the exercise of the will of the majority. One cannot but wonder if, in this age of flash-mob democracy, if freedom per se is really being served.

Permit me to doubt.

Permit the former participants at Tahrir Square to doubt; and the Tunisians, the Libyans, the Syrians, and yes, the Iranians too see no freedom from the results of this internet democracy. The Chinese are fearful and continue to take aggressive steps to limit this internet democracy, but not necessarily for all the reasons one might imagine. Freedom as such is, in their long history, another word for social unrest and rioting. They have seen how loss of a central governing control has led to regionalism and power struggles among a divided populace

And America? Has the legislative process as a spectator sport lead to a greater sense of freedom? In this age of mass media reporting of a legislator’s every move, and mass digital petitioning of them by every special interest group in the phone book really allowing room for calm deliberation among the representatives’ peers? All this mass internet participation in the democratic process is ironically actually eroding the freedom of the individual. Rather than gathering “in order to form a better union”, computer programs are segmenting “we the people” back into more and more disparate groups of race, creed, religion, scale of politically held beliefs, and wealth and class envy; a type of attitudinal regionalism if you will. The term “polarization” is now bandied about and generally accepted as if such a psychotic characterization of a free people’s was normal. Like some horror sci-fi movie, we as individuals are in danger of becoming mere digitized packets, sorted and recombined into a society unrecognizable to the founding fathers, or even our own.

And so, in the spirit of those sci-fi movies of yore:

                      DEMOCRACY, the INTERNET, and the Death of FREEDOM                     

                                                                       The END

……or is this just the BEGINNING?

 

 

 

 

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Dec 042012
 

Rising star of Chinese leadership falls to earth. Can the leaders in Beijing repair the hole in the Great Wall of administrative secrecy in time for the once every 10 year transition of rulers?

News of Drama in China Consulate Reached Obama” The Feb. 6 encounter directly drew the Obama administration into internal Chinese politics, as Mr. Wang told American officials of his suspicions concerning the November death of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, according to top British officials. The wife of a senior Communist Party official, Bo Xilai, is a suspect in the death.
Just that headline alone brings up the topics of:
-The once every 10 years change in China’s top rulers.
-The rampant corruption of business, banking, and wealth by the “Princelings” who are the offspring of the original generals with Mao Zedong.
-The deep internal struggles between the “Conservatives” who, ironically are actually called the “New Left” return-to Maoism folks,  and the more “Liberal” who, again in the Alice in Wonderland topsy turvy Middle Kingdom definition, are actually the smaller central government, more individual entrepreneurial, free market advocates.
-And the military, which has strong influence, especially in this Year of the Dragon power struggle. They are flexing more muscle especially in the South Chine Sea, which of course brings up all the conflicting multinational commercial, fishing, and undersea oil rights claims.
Like the son of Icarus, Bo Xilai, a son of the Maoist-era founders, has flown to close to the high heat of the inner workings of Chinese rule. Bo, the head of the Communist party in Chongqing was much admired by 6 of the 9 members of the Permanent Ruling Committee. Now they too may be sucked into the vortex of Bo’s rapid plummeting.
This game of Chinese Checkers is going to be for all the marbles.

 

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Dec 042012
 

As a general public reader of the WSJ, I seldom wander into depths of the Corporate News section. Thankfully this day I did. It brought to the surface a concern that really ought to be making the headlines: “Ship Accidents Sever Data Cables Off East Africa” (WSJ, Feb 28, 2012).

As reported in the article, a ship off the coast of Kenya dragged its anchor and severed a crucial fiber optic data transmission line between Djibouti and Zimbabwe. In itself this is an internet inconvenience. However it warrants more attention when this happens on the heels of the simultaneous severing at a depth of 650 feet of three even more important lines coming out of Djibouti that connects the middle east to much of the world.  It has been almost three years to the day that two of the world’s largest capacity cables, FLAG EUROPE ASIA and SEA-ME-WE-4[1] were severed near Alexandria, Egypt.[2]

The term “cloud computing” may instill the comfort of a “Beam me up, Scotty” satellite technology. The reality is that essentially the entire information highway consists of the “anchors aweigh” technology of over 500,000 miles of undersea fiber optic cables[3]. Its strategic vulnerability exhibited by this, as a spokesman for the affected lines said, “…very unusual situation,” is not lost on our military. Djibouti is a main transmission link for the global choke point of the massive undersea cables running right through the tough neighborhood of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. Those serving with the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa[4] there in Djibouti are well aware that the threat of terrorism and piracy exists not only upon the seas, but under it as well.

While globally we have our high-tech computing heads in the clouds, the down-to-earth concerns of a low-tech threat to the very cable web that links our world is very real.



[1] Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe

[3] The demand is growing very fast for long distance communication.

Over 800,000 km (500,000 miles) of fibre optic cable have already been laid on the seabed, and this number is increasing rapidly. International Cable Protection Committee, 2009

http://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/ICPC-Fishing-Booklet-090223.pdf

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