Tuesday, May 31

US-Korea-China: Pundita attempts to teach Global Village Math to the mules in Washington

On June 10 South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will meet with President George W. Bush in Washington for a one-day 'working' visit. This will be to discuss ways to bring North Korea back to the Six-Party Talks and strengthen the Seoul-Washington alliance. The alliance, if not in tatters, is at a low point; this is despite the help Seoul has given Washington in the war on terror, which includes providing the second-largest contingent of Coalition troops in Iraq.

The meeting can't come soon enough for Pundita because it's past time for the Congress, the Bush administration and the State Department to confront the fact that South Korea, not China, is the real power broker in negotiations with North Korea. To see this one must look past the trade figures--China is North Korea's biggest trading partner--and focus on the offshoring situation.

South Korea is the only country that does legal offshoring in North Korea (versus offshoring factories that make or process contraband). That's the real story behind the Sunshine Policy or rather how the policy works out in practice.

South Koreans are copying the strategy that Westerners use, whereby you turn a poor nation into an industrial plantation and work the Natives for a pittance, then export and sell for domestic consumption the manufactured products at a good profit under your company name.

The South Korean government has invested USD multimillions in building up North Korea's Kaesong Industrial Park, where three South Korean companies have begun operation during the past six months. Twelve other companies are scheduled to start up by the end of the year. South Korea, which is North Korea's second-largest trading partner, is also pressing ahead with agreements for new road and rail links to help boost trade over the heavily fortified border.(1)

South Korea likes the North for a plantation for the same reasons American businesses like China for a plantation. It represents a slave worker population that has no choice but to work for starvation wages and doesn't demand OSHA standards, vacation time, sick days or rest periods.

As a South Korean shoe manufacturer put it, "We have lots of reasons for wanting to do business in North Korea; the labor costs are lower than in South Korea or China and a North Korean worker pretty much does what he is told...stronger relations with North Korea is also good for South Korea's future. The last thing we want is for them to be our enemies."(1)

However, Washington is basing their assessment on North Korea's trade with China. Trade between the two countries nearly doubled between 2002 and 2004 to $1.39 billion. This makes China North Korea's largest trading partner, which is a major reason Washington wants to pressure China into taking a more proactive role in the Six Party Talks.

In an interview with Larry King aired on CNN on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney said that China could have a big impact on reviving the multilateral talks with North Korea because it shares North Korea's longest border and is its chief trading partner.

Cheney also said that "The Chinese need to understand that it's incumbent upon them to be major players [in resolving the US standoff with North Korea over nuclear weapons]."

Yet he admits that this argument has to this date failed to budge the Chinese, who do not want to impose sanctions or other economic pressure on North Korea. The Chinese say want they want to resolve the dispute through "continuing dialogue."

"To date, you know, those talks have not produced much," Cheney said, in what is the understatement of the year.

His analysis ignores that South Korean trade with the North increased by 58% in the first three months of this year to $170 million, compared to the same period last year, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry. North Korea's trade with Russia grew faster over the same period, from $80.7 million to $218.4 million. (1)

These trade numbers will leapfrog with more offshoring production in the North in the coming year. So the China trade figure is deceptive when used as a measure of the power that China has over North Korea. Right now, South Korea is holding the high cards, although Kim Jong-il has seen the advantage of playing Seoul against Beijing.

Beijing's great interest at this time is in limiting Japan's power. Seoul has sided with Beijing and Pyongyang in opposing Japan's bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. The alliance against Japan is much broader than the UN issue. Both Koreas and China have serious issues with Japan, which have deep historical roots and which have come to the fore in recent years. Beijing is heavily promoting anti-Japan sentiment in China in advance of a possible military showdown over Taiwan. (Japan is a strong ally of Taiwan.) And Seoul's relations with Tokyo are the worst since relations started up again in the 1960s.

As for Seoul's relations with the USA, you don't have read the English-language press in South Korea for many days to realize that Seoul has encouraged anti-US sentiment at home while promoting pro-North Korea sentiment. A recent poll taken in Korea found that 39% of Koreans consider the United States the greatest enemy of the ROK, with North Korea coming in at 33%.(1)

I interject that is why John Bolton recommended going around the Seoul government and taking the US case against North Korea directly to the South Korean people--a sound recommendation that has been ignored and overshadowed by complaints regarding his strong language about Pyongyang.

So the way it stacks up, South Korea wants to do big business with North Korea. If China plays along, China receives support from Seoul for their case against Japan and the United States. Thus, Beijing would be foolish to apply pressure to Pyongyang because that would anger Seoul.

For their part, Seoul would be foolish to push for North Korea to open up to the outside because that would give businesses in other countries the opportunity to set up plantation factories in NK. That would take away a trading edge from South Korea.

Kim Jong-il is fine with keeping the country closed because if it opens up it's only a matter of time before large numbers of North Koreans learn what he's been up to for decades. North Korea is not China; it's only got about 22 million people and it's roughly the size of Mississippi. It's a little bitty country, which means it wouldn't take many hopping mad citizens to bring down the government.

The rationale for the Six-Party Talks is that the countries that have the most to lose from North Korea developing nuke weapons should be involved in negotiations about the North's weapons program. Pundita fails to understand the reasoning. Pyongyang obtained much of their nuclear weapons technology and materials from China and Russia, didn't they? So obviously, China and Russia are not all that concerned about a nuke threat from North Korea.

As for Japan, they already have China's nukes trained on them. I'm sure they don't want to see North Korea with nuke armed missiles, but their biggest problem is China. In any case, the argument that China is worried enough about North Korean nukes to lean on Kim Jong-il doesn't hold water.

As for South Korea, no matter what they tell the US government, all their actions during recent years with regard to North Korea parallel the actions of US citizens with regard to China. I seem to recall we fought a civil war that was mounted in part to outlaw slave labor. But when it comes getting cheap goods made by a bunch of Chinese thousands of miles away, hey, slave labor is okay. If the slavemaster is selling nuke technology to any regime that comes down the pike, if it's offshoring heroin and meth factories in every despotic country it can find, that's not our problem either.

That's also how the South Koreans feel about their neighbors to the north. They take their lead from the world's superpower nation. If we do it, it must be okay. So maybe Bolton could warm up for his talks to the South Koreans by first talking to the American business community and consumer.

None of the above speaks to the Crime, Inc. aspect of North Korea's business, which has an offshoring component. But all that for another day, except to note that Seoul swears they have stopped North Korean contraband from passing through their largest port. Pundita already believes in the Tooth Fairy, Tinkerbell, leprechauns and the Gold Dinar Fairy. That's enough irrational hope for any one adult to entertain.

Despite U.S. Attempts, N. Korea Anything but Isolated by Anthony Faiola,
Washington Post Foreign Service, Thursday, May 12, 2005; Washington Post, Page A18.


Sunday, May 29

How to avoid a US military strike on North Korea

1. Appoint a US ambassador to South Korea who is fluent in Korean and with extensive experience in East Asia. Mark Minton, who is holding things down at the embassy in Seoul, is a career foreign service officer with extensive experience in East Asia; he seems to speak Japanese and passable Korean so he might be the Man for the Job. In any case, put someone in the post who is very knowledgeable about that part of the part of the world and Korea in particular.

2. Remove Christopher R. Hill from his assignment as head of the US delegation to the Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. Mr. Hill does not speak Korean, Japanese, or any Chinese dialect. He speaks Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, and Albanian. Not speaking the lingo is not automatic disqualification for such a sensitive job but Mr. Hill is also an idiot. He's also an advocate of the Nanny School of foreign policy. This is where you lecture countries to try to get along, after you've put them together in an untenable position.

3. Also remove Hill from his new post as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, for the reasons cited above.

4. President Bush should personally ask Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to read the riot act to Yakuza bosses who are overseeing drug trade in North Korea.

5. President Bush should personally ask Vladimir Putin to read the riot act to Russian mob bosses who are overseeing drug trade in North Korea. If Putin says to contact the Israeli government for that kind of help, whatever; just get the riot act read.

6. President Bush should personally explain to President Roh Moo-hyun that it would be very unwise for South Korean lobbies in the US to attempt to block John Bolton's appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations.

7. Remove Condoleezza Rice from her post as Secretary of State.

8. Ask Donald Trump if he could spare George for a year then make George the Interim Secretary of State. This would be until President Bush can find an appointee who is more interested in doing a job than winning a popularity contest with the most powerful Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

9. The US should cut off all negotiations and back channel discussions with the North Korean government until Kim Jong-il and his crew decamp. They will leave very quickly if they lose the help of the most powerful international crime syndicates.


Saturday, May 28

US-Korea: All our Tomorrows, continued

On August 10, 1945...two young officers, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, were given the task to come up with a plan on how to divide the Korean peninsula. The time allocated for this undertaking was half an hour, the officers had little knowledge of the area and used a National Geographic map to divide the peninsula along the 38th parallel, thus splitting it exactly in half.
So begins a Wikipedia article on the dividing of Korea. Placed above the article is a red Wiki stop sign with the ominous words, "The neutrality of this article is disputed. Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page."

After reading through every comment on the talk page, Pundita finds no serious reason for the stop sign. Clearly, the author is not jumping for joy about the mess that the United States made with Korea but he provides a reasonably accurate account of how Korea was divided and how this played out. That throws much light on how the United States got from the Korean War to the Six Party Talks. The US can't hope to come up with good policy toward Korea unless we look squarely at how we got to this point.

"This point" to include the dustup between Seoul and Tokyo. This happened when a Japanese envoy told his South Korean counterpart to his face that Tokyo couldn't share US intelligence on North Korea's nuclear weapons program because the US government doesn't trust the South Korean government. You can imagine how that went over in Seoul, particularly after the envoy refused to retract the statement.

So Pundita asks that before you continue with this essay you read the Division of North Korea article. What I find striking about Korea is that this is one situation we can't blame on the French, the British, the Soviets or the Red Chinese, or the Japanese. Korea is one of the 'Tomorrows' we piled up while fighting the Cold War. Tomorrow has now come. We broke Korea; it's up to the United States to put it back together again--and hopefully in better shape than we found it in 1945.

That is one of two reasons why President Bush should order the US Department of State to immediately end the Six Party Talks, which are worse than counterproductive. Here's why:

With the exception of the United States, not one of the parties to the talks can provide a meaningful guarantee to Kim Jong-il if he agrees to order his military to dismantle the nuclear weapons program. In other words, by agreeing to negotiate with Kim's regime, the United States is boxed into accepting the regime if they comply with the US central demand. Tacking on a demand about addressing human rights violations has turned the talks into a free-for-all between Tokyo, Pyongang, and Beijing, with Seoul getting caught in the middle.

Kim has complained that the Japanese party to the talks brought to the table the issue of kidnappings of Japanese citizens--a human rights issue. This dredged up more discussion of Japan's human rights violations while they ran Korea and gave Beijing an opening to heap on complaints about what the Japanese did to the Chinese.

So this is the other reason for ending the talks: by bringing in the humans right issue, the US stuffed four dragons in a paper bag, shook it, then said, "Now all of yiz get along and negotiate for your best interests."

Then Washington wondered why Moscow heard their phone ringing every time Washington asked, "Can't you do more at those Six Party Talks?"

The third issue the State Department wanted negotiated by Russia, China, Japan, Seoul and Pyongyang is the opening up of North Korea to the outside world. But when large numbers of North Koreans learn that their government's method of population control is systemically starving the number down to manageable size, they will overthrow the government and kill the ruling class in Pyongyang.

There is no way that Kim's regime can open up the country; he would be forced to pull an Idi Amin, and his military and the ruling class would be left to face the wrath of about 19 million people. So that is a third reason for suspending the Six Party Talks: they have no basis in reality.

None of this means that the US should restart bilateral talks at this time. Before talk must come thinking. The question is how to organize thinking about Korea. I've chosen to start with separating two issues that got tangled together: the issue of nuclear weapons proliferation, and the issue of Pyongyang's role in the war against the United States.

Bush named three countries--Iraq, Iran, and North Korea--as making asymmetrical war against the United States via the use of terrorist armies. He didn't put it quite that way in his Axis of Evil speech, but that's what he meant.

I don't know whether there is intelligence to indicate that Pyongyang has cooperated directly with al Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and so on. But the US military has collected enough intelligence to make it indisputable that Pyongyang is and has been participating in the attempts by several governments to build the Arab Bomb. That ties in directly with the US war on terror.

So the nuclear proliferation issue is superseded by the US war on terror. Pundita ventures that the US Department of State and Seoul need to get very clear on that point. This is because there is now a distinct and fast-gathering possibility that the US military will conduct a strike against North Korea. Is there a way to avoid the strike? We'll discuss that question tomorrow.


Friday, May 27

WTO Patent Regime: Pundita channels Pericles to deliver sound advice

"Pundita, dear, I enjoyed Dave Schuler's charming coin story but I had to visit Wikipedia's article on the WTO, which you thoughtfully link on your sidebar, to find the answer to the questions you posed in your aptly titled Dim Sum Squad essay. You asked whether international patent law now supersedes domestic patent law and if so, "whose bright idea was that?"

The answer to the first question is yes if one amends "law" to read "de facto international law." No country has to be a member of the WTO but exclusion from the WTO constitutes a de facto embargo by the Big Three [US, EU nations, and Japan] against any or all of a nonmember's exports.

A nation can't be a member of WTO without accepting the TRIP rules. These are the rules that pertain to patent and copyright protections. Any nation breaking the rules is open to sanctions. This would include the United States.

Aspects of patent laws vary from nation to nation, and nations have latitude in how they enforce compliance with regard to TRIPs; however, if a nation wants to avoid the threat of sanctions, they must comply with TRIPs. The rules in part, as listed in Wikipedia, are as follows:
Copyright terms must extend to 50 years after the death of the author (although films and photographs are only required to have fixed 50 and 25 year terms, respectively).

Copyright must be granted automatically, and not based upon any "formality", such as registrations or systems of renewal.

Computer programs must be regarded as "literary works" under copyright law and receive the same terms of protection.

National exceptions to copyright (such as "fair use" in the United States) must be tightly constrained.

Patents must be granted in all "fields of technology" (regardless of whether it is in the public interest to do so).

Exceptions to patent law must be limited almost as strictly as those to copyright law.

In each state, intellectual property laws may not offer any benefits to local citizens which are not available to citizens of other TRIPs signatories (this is called "national treatment").
The penalty for breaking the rules is potentially very stiff:
...unlike other international agreements on intellectual property, TRIPs has a powerful enforcement mechanism. States which do not adopt TRIPs-compliant intellectual property systems can be disciplined through the WTO's dispute settlement mechanism, which is capable of authorising trade sanctions against non-compliant states.
Now to answer your second question. Bringing nations under a de facto international law on patents and copyrights was chiefly the US government's bright idea or to be more specific, it was Pfizer's bright idea, which they sold to the US government.
...the United States strategy of linking trade policy to intellectual property standards can be traced back to the entrepreneurship of senior management at Pfizer in the early 1980s, who mobilised US corporations and made maximising intellectual property privileges the number one priority of US trade policy.
Of course this was before AIDS became epidemic in Third World countries but there you have it: One the one hand, the US and other developed nations will end up spending billions to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa, India and China with medications that are hideously expensive because of TRIPs rules. Is this what you mean by the loop de loop?
Boris in Jackson Heights"

Dear Boris:
I think you might be the most cynical of all my readers. But yes, that's an example of the Loop de Loop. However, don't discount Dave Schuler's contribution because he focused on untangling the rationale for the Monsanto chapati patent and similar patents. For that, one needs to learn about the aspect of TRIPs that deals specifically with biotechnology. That's what Dave ferreted out and focused on--Article 27.3(b). To really understand why the G-20 nations are upset about TRIPs, you need to know about that particular rule--and to know about the G-20 (or G-21; the number of members, as with the Coffee Club, waxes and wanes).

The G-20, as distinct from the G-77 (the world's poorest nations), represent the world's middling developing nations. Don't let the 'middling' fool you. China, Brazil and India are members, as are major oil exporting nations such as Mexico, Argentina, and Nigeria. So taken as a bloc, the G-20 represent 65% of the world's population.

But that's not the key statistic when it comes to understanding the outrage directed at TRIPs and specifically Article 27.3. Here are the statistics to keep uppermost in mind:

The G-20 represent 72% of the world's farmers while representing only 22% of the world's agricultural output.

Taken together, the statistics suggest that no small part of that 65% of the world's population has to import food. If basic foodstuffs such as rice and wheat are patented, that ups the price for the imports.

The 22% figure is also important because the G-20--and indeed, the entire anti-globalization movement--is bent out of shape because of the WTO double standard. The most powerful nations in the WTO retain trade protections and subsidies for their farmers and the farm output. At the same time, the nations demand that the little guy nations drop their protections.

To keep the charge about a double standard in perspective, the G-20 should remember that without the G-7, there would be no international trade to speak of. So they can hop and down outside the G-7 annual meeting all they want; it won't change the fact that they depend greatly on the big fish for their survival and progress.

However comma it's crossing the line that separates Darwinian Survival from Greedy Fool when one starts patenting the staff of life. This is because anyone can play the patents game. So with 65% of the world's population as the brain pool, it's only a matter of time before inventions that are critical to the G-7 peoples emanate from G-20 nations. For all we know, tomorrow could see an invention from a genius in a Peruvian village that makes petroleum obsolete or puts Microsoft out of business. Then the patent shoe will be on the other foot.

What's the tiebreaker? As with solving many problems, common sense and common decency go a long way. If you ask Americans what an inventor is, they think of brain-busting labor. They don't think of a technician who takes a bit of wheat, puts it in a gizmo connected to a computer, then watches the computer print out the genetic code of the wheat and then patents the printout. That's not invention. That's use of modern and very expensive technology.

That kind of behavior, when codified and protected by a powerful international trade organization, is definitely on the Greedy Fool side of the line. The ghost of Pericles could tell you where that side leads; it leads inexorably to little guys ganging up and launching war that can last a generation and bring down a mighty civilization.

I will close with a passage from The Glittering Eye essay:
Once again narrowing the focus to the intellectual property law of biotechnology, Article 27.3(b) of the agreement micro-organisms, non-biological, and microbiological processes must be eligible for patents. Governments may elect to exclude plants, animals, and “essentially biological processes” from patent protection but plant varieties must either have patent protection or some sui generis system created especially for the purpose (or both)...
The paragraph indicates that governments can elect to practice common sense, and common decency, when it comes to interpreting how patent laws are applied to critical export products. Good foreign policy should be directed at encouraging all exporting nations to take that path.

The quotes in Boris's letter are from the Wikipedia article on TRIPs . You might want to review the Wikipedia article on the WTO (see Pundita sidebar link "What is the WTO?") before starting on TRIPs.

Well, I intended this post to be about North Korea, which means I did not meet my goal to publish three essays today. The other two will have to wait until the weekend, which bumps forward to next week other essays in the works.


Thursday, May 26

...The Brothers Karamazov, The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, Doctor Zhivago, the charges against Khodorkovsky...

Note to the Reader: Also see the most recent Pundita essays on the Khodorkovsky verdict and sentencing: ...The Brothers Karamazov, The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, Doctor Zhivago, the charges against Khodorkovsky... (May 26) and Mikhail Khodorkovsky bemoans Russian Justice, Anne Williamson tries to map Hell (June 1).

Breaking News! The judges are almost halfway through reading the charges against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev! Monday the judges managed to zip through 150 pages of the charges. There is a rumor that the youngest judge has taken to wearing pancake makeup and sprinkling in sentences from The Idiot when it's her turn to read the charges.

Lebedev continues to work on his crossword puzzles, Khodorkovsky continues to scribble notes and complain about the travesty to justice. Aw pipe down, bubba; K you ain't.

Meanwhile, the Tory backbench has breathed a collective sigh of relief. The Western press hailed the opening of the Caspian oil pipeline as a great triumph and another blow against Russia. The Reuters story was typical of the spin given to the news:
Oil started to flow into a U.S.-backed pipeline on Wednesday which will carry Caspian oil to the West and loosen Russia's stranglehold on exports from the region. The pipeline, built by a multi-national consortium led by British-oil giant BP, will eventually pump more than 1 million barrels a day from Azerbaijan along a circuitous route through Georgia to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey.

The venture is helping to redraw the geopolitical map of the turbulent Caucasus, reducing the region's economic reliance on Moscow, and will also give emerging oil giant Kazakhstan an outlet to Western markets that bypasses Russia.
"Circuitous" and "turbulent" are considerable understatements. So what does it all mean? It means that the United States of America, not the United Kingdom, will be left holding the bag, when military intervention is needed in the countries through which the pipelines run. It means that the United States of America, not the United Kingdom, will bear the lion's share of the financial burden for bringing those countries out of the Middle Ages. It means that the United States Department of State needs to be shut down until an army of forensic accountants can get in there and piece together what in the hell the State Department has been up to since the Yeltsin era in Russia.

Meanwhile, the electricity failed in large parts of Moscow yesterday, exposing for all the world to see what everyone in Russia has long known, which is that the oligarchs pillaged Russia to such an extent that Russia's infrastructures are held together with duct tape and paper clips.

Meanwhile, Peter Lavelle at Untimely Thoughts reviews Vladimir Putin's smart plan to trim OPEC's sails. If Lavelle is right, it might be back to the drawing board.
Part of the Kremlin's damage control campaign as it assaulted Khodorkovsky and Yukos was to present foreign investors with an enticing investment alternative to Yukos. Yugansk was to be merged with the last remaining state-own oil company Rosneft and later that new entity would be added to the portfolio of natural gas giant Gazprom. Collectively, these three companies would be poised to not only to become the largest energy conglomerate in the world, but also able to compete with petroleum cartel OPEC. This new energy giant and Russia's new national champion would be open foreign investors. At present, foreign investment in Gazprom is limited and regulated by the state.

This was to be the happy end to an ugly story. The above scenario is unlikely to play-out anytime soon as the architects of the "Oligarch War" against Khodorkovsky and Yukos are fighting over the spoils and demanding their right to record victory in history.
I'm not sure the picture is quite that bleak. One would think that common sense would prevail but of course this is Russians we're talking about. And happy endings are un-Russian.

On the plus side--for those who would like to see the OPEC cartel broken up--there's no dearth of smarts in Russia. If the Kremlin plays it smart they have a clear shot at taking down OPEC. Surely the possibility is not lost on the House of Saud, so we can assume they are lobbying hard in London and Washington.

The formula is falling into place: the smarter the Kremlin's moves on the petroleum chessboard, the more we'll hear from the Get Putin Gang in the US and the more machinations we'll see from US and British-backed "democracy movements" in Russia. The machinations will give Moscow little choice but to move closer to Beijing.

It would be tacky to ask why the American portion of those machinations wouldn't be better channeled into a sound energy policy for the US. Study the Investech chart that Mover Mike publishes in his Oil Price in USDs and Employment essay to back up his contention that oil is cheaper in Europe than the US.

Is there a way to stop the madness? Yes. But not without first shutting down the US Department of State until an army of forensic accountants can get in there and piece together what the hell the State Department has been up to since the Yeltsin era in Russia.

There is a clear choice forming for the Republicans: get control of the State Department or Eliot Spitzer will be President of the United States and maybe as soon as 2008. The American people won't really looking for a president by that time if things continue on; they'll be looking for a prosecuting attorney who knows how to deal with mobsters and white collar criminals.

However, there are strict limits on how much blame can be shifted to State--or the British government or any oil consortium or the Saudis--or any American transnational corporation, for that matter. The bottom line is that you cannot expect a policy of rational self-interest for a country as a whole, if you place what is essentially a transnational corporate lobbying mechanism into a foreign office--then keep the whole shebang closed to congressional scrutiny. So the ball bounces into the court of the American voter.

For those readers who are having a hard time following, I refer you to two essays I published about the Office for Commercial and Business Affairs (CBA) at State: The America Desk and More on the America Desk . I advise that you read those essays as if your life depended on it.

Please don't write to tell me that surely, since 9/11, it's no longer official that business concerns drive US foreign policy because that would be suicidal. The CBA needs to be entirely removed from the State Department, and State's intelligence agency needs to be shut down or rather transferred to the CIA.

Do not expect the White House or even the Congress to make such recommendations without the American voter setting up a howl. Without that howl, State can and will destroy the career of any elected official--up to and including the US president--any Pentagon general, and any whisteblower who tries to take on The Forbidden City.

Go ask Bill Clinton, if you don't believe me--or ask the US general who was ordered not to provide adequate protection to the U.S.S. Cole at port in Yemen so as not to offend the Yemen government. Or ask John P. O'Neill--oh wait I forgot; you can't ask him, he's dead--murdered on 9/11 along with thousands of other Americans.


Wednesday, May 25

Dave Schuler wins a coveted Pundita Prize!

Dave at The Glittering Eye has come through with a plain English explanation of how it came to be that Western companies are taking out patents on stuff such as chapati wheat and getting the Developing World riled at the USA in the process. Click on the link to bring up his report titled The sound of coins. The coin story alone makes the essay worth the read.

As promised, for his efforts Dave will receive the recipe for Pundita's Very Own Brand Demon Repellent, for use only while visiting Trotskyite websites (or, if the emergency need arises, for use as an improvised Molotov cocktail). OR Dave may elect to have lunch with Pundita at Taco Bell the next time he visits the Greater Washington, DC region.


Tuesday, May 24

US-Immigration: Brother, can you spare a half-million dollar house?

"Dear Pundita, what do you think of the proposed Kennedy-McCain immigration bill?
Claudia in Taos"

Dear Claudia:
The bill reflects very specific immediate actions with regard to a visa program--but very hazy long-range proposals with regard to security:
Title I: Border Security

Requires the development of various plans and reports [that evaluate] information sharing, international and federal/ state/ local coordination, technology, anti-smuggling, and other border security initiatives.

Establishes a Border Security Advisory Committee made up of various stakeholders in the border region to provide recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security regarding border enforcement.

Encourages the development of multilateral partnerships to establish a North American security perimeter and improve border security south of Mexico.
In effect, the Kennedy-McCain bill asks for studies of the security situation. That is working blind and putting the cart before the horse.

First do the studies, set up the committee, and allow the DHS to review the recommendations. Then, based on the recommendations made by the DHS (and the Pentagon), draft immigration legislation that is specifically designed to take the security angle into account.

Other very important studies should also be commissioned and completed before leaping in with legislation. The United States is seeing a resurgence of infectious diseases that were wiped out in this country. The US is now on the verge of a leprosy epidemic. Not only leprosy but also tuberculosis, polio, and several other serious diseases are threatening the American population and with attendant costs to industry and families, not to mention "the taxpayer."

The path for reintroducing 'extinct' diseases to the US is via foreign visitors of all kinds--tourists, students, immigrants both legal and illegal, and so on. The question is how to set up health screening for the legal visitors, including temporary guest workers. This task should not be left to the US companies employing temporary workers. Nor should it be left to the companies that have come to depend on illegal workers. We need the screening program in place first, before making any legislation with regard to updating visa programs.

We also need to study the "immigrant" practice of buying single-family dwellings for use by multiple immigrant families. To my knowledge the only study done on this situation was by Gary Painter and Zhou Yu of the University of Southern California's Lusk Center for Real Estate; they based their study on analysis of 1990 and 2000 US census data. I have not read the study, which was mentioned almost in passing in a Realty Times column by Al Heavens on immigrant buyers:
[The study authors] also found that immigrants pool resources to buy one home for multiple families, which California new-home developers have been reporting for at least 10 years.
I doubt the study went deeply into the phenomenon and of course the latest census was conducted prior to the effects of very low interest rates on home buying patterns by immigrants. In any case, many immigrant homebuyers in the US are not actually immigrants--they are temporary workers, but they sell the house to other such workers when they return home.

In other words, American homebuyers who conceive of a house as a place to put down roots and raise a family are now in competition for housing with foreigners who snap up houses for use as dormitories.

One can sympathize with the practice--after all, guest workers have to live somewhere, and the east and west coast housing market is now such that an average one-family dwelling is around $500,000. But the housing squeeze in California is now such that companies in the state that desperately need employees can't attract American workers from other parts of the country because housing prices are prohibitive for all but the rich--or for those willing to live with other families in dorm fashion.

To my knowledge the phenomenon hasn't been formally studied on the east coast but from anecdotal accounts many eastern companies surely face the same problem as the California counterparts.

So there is a vicious cycle in motion: The companies need workers, but the housing isn't available for the workers. That forces companies to seek employees who don't mind bunking several families to a house. That's not the American Dream for born Americans or true immigrants--those who want America to be their permanent home.

The dream might have to undergo considerable revision if the housing squeeze on the coasts is not simply a bubble. But that's why we need a study on the immigrant-housing situation before we can work out good legislation pertaining to temporary foreign workers.

Also, more Americans need to understand that the US realty profession is salivating over the huge profits that can be made if more illegals become homeowners in the USA. See: Reaching Out To Undocumented Immigrants by Al Heavens at the Realty Times site.

The studies I mentioned--on security, disease, and home buying patterns--need to be coordinated by one commission. And conducted before trying to cobble together proposed legislation that represents a compromise with the many interest groups pushing hard for immigrant legislation reform "right away."

And before plunging in with more hasty and poorly-researched legislation, it might also be a help if senators McCain and Feingold explained how they were taken for a ride by George Soros with regard to "big grassroots support" for the campaign finance reform bill. I suppose the senators can blame their aides for not looking more deeply into the polls and the "grass roots" organizations. However, this kind of situation tracks back to Yossef Bodansky's complaint about congressionals who are in over their heads when it comes to studying intelligence reports on critical defense issues.

Congressionals are now asked to make recommendations and legislation on numerous highly complex and diverse issues that have huge international ramifications--and without adequately trained staff to help them. The upshot is that congressionals tend to rely on policy institutes and lobbyists to help fill in the data/analysis blanks. This process doesn't necessarily produce bad conclusions, but in the case of the bill you mentioned--and all proposed legislation with regard to immigration--another disaster is in the making.

For details on the Kennedy-McCain bill, see Daily Kos for an overview (and study the comment section for some informative and bitter remarks).

For an eye-opening look at the bicoastal housing squeeze and some jaw-dropping statistics, visit the PBS website for a transcript of the Real Estate Boom segment by the PBS NewsHour with Jim Leherer on May 17. Note that renters are also being squeezed out in California cities.

For earlier Pundita essays on Mexico-US relations and the immigration situation, visit The Mexico Desk


Monday, May 23

Part 6, Stuck at the intersection of government and the mass age

The following is from the first part of my discussion with Michael Wright, which I omitted from Part 5 of the Stuck at the Intersection of Government and the Mass Age series in the effort to chop down a very long post. If you are a new reader, the URL for the first five parts of the series is shown at the end of this post.

White Noise

P: I’ve noted four trends and how they interact to create a kind of white noise. Taken together they screen out situations that are vitally important for the American public to understand.

One trend is the industrialization of academia; that, combined with the US federal government’s expansion and reliance on academic opinion, eclipsed the generalist and created a tyranny of specialization in government policy and planning. That blocks Americans without relevant academic credentials but with relevant experience from advising the government about problems the post WW2 administrations have been tasked to deal with.

Running alongside this trend, and fed by it, is a journalism profession that by the 1970s had ossified into a collegial sphere, which excluded “experience-based” reporters in favor of credentialed journalism majors.

By experience-based I mean people whose knowledge of a situation or field comes from direct experience rather than research. The trend toward “soft” news that began in the 1980s brought some of those people back into media, but “hard news” editorial policy became dominated by journalism professionals. This created the weird situation of an empirical endeavor—reporting—dominated by theoretical views.

Running alongside those trends, and fed by the Cold War, is a foreign office—the US Department of State—that by 2000 had gathered more power than all three branches of US government. This is an opaque power, remarkably evocative of the Mandarins’ power under Chinese dynastic rule.

The fourth trend is the industrialization of the American two-party political system. An army of professionals from sales, marketing, legal, statistical, accounting, public relations, fundraising, and various academic fields raised up to sell product to the political party machines and their candidates.

The industry depends on framing every issue under the sun in political terms, which puts the cart before the horse. That’s why large numbers of Americans know nothing about an issue but know exactly where they stand on it. The industry that serves the two-party system is not focused on informing, it’s focused on winning a war.

M: You’re saying that not any one of these trends but how they interact screens out a lot of what’s happening from the general public and makes simple solutions hard to see.

P: There are contributing factors, and trends spinning off from the four I outlined but yes; put those four trends together and there’s no mystery why citizens of the most advanced, powerful society in history were totally unprepared for the 21st Century.

M: I’d push that observation back to the late 20th Century. The hi-tech and dotcom bubbles bursting, the Enron scandal, the 9/11 attack and what the Bush administration considered to be the betrayal by the French and German governments over Iraq—all those collapses reflected situations that had been building for years before the turn of the century. But they came as a surprise to the public, as did massive offshoring of US hi-tech and clerical jobs.


P: What I’ve seen for a long time is that many offshore situations fall back hard on America but there’s a looping situation. Bad trade, economic, development, and strategic policies originating in the most powerful Western countries have a negative impact on less developed countries that for one reason or another have a card to play against the Western countries. When the negative impact loops back to the USA, this brings forth more US policies that treat only the symptoms, which loops back on the other countries, which loops back to the USA.

M: I’m thinking of China, of US policy toward China during the Cold War and since.

P: China is a perfect example. However, the loop-de-loop is an old story in civilization. What’s new is that given today’s human population number, it doesn’t even take some guys with a major case of road rage or a government’s sneaky covert war to wreak wide-scale havoc. Bad policy ripples fast among large populations, and the ripples are virtually impossible to stop or control.

The flip side of the loop-de-loop is that the mountain of policy mistakes during the past 40 years represents a trove of data, which if mined properly can provide solutions that short-circuit the loop. And the flip side of the problems generated by large populations is that there are unprecedented numbers of people who have experience solving just about any problem you can think of.

M: That way of looking at things helps explain your optimism, which I don’t share. You’re saying the problem has generated its own solution, if we could find a way to utilize it.

Stop, Look and Listen

P: It could be argued that to view a situation in problematical terms is to initiate the first stage of a solution but yes, this is an incredibly hopeful time in history to be living through. I suppose I see things that way because I speak with so many people—

M: [laughing] Pundita walkabout routine. Keeping in touch with the realm.

P: Don’t be mean or I’ll clam up. I prefer to think of it as my Miss Marple routine—

M: Washington, DC as the village of St. Mary Mead.

P: People from all over the world and from all over the country, and from every walk of life, head for Washington, DC and Northern Virginia during the spring and summer; they do so for different reasons, not just for tourism. So what better way to learn what visitors to my village are thinking about the USA and the world than to strike up conversations with them?

M: I see you more as Holmes, disappearing from Baker Street for days on end, putting on a disguise and chatting up—

P: Well, no. It’s learning to adopt the village mentality at least temporarily: everybody minding everybody else’s business. Village life is stifling because of that attitude. On the other hand, the behavior of a couple kids walking around in full-length black overcoats in summer weather doesn’t go unnoticed and unremarked.

M: The Colombine murderers.

P: Yes. A neighbor of one of the boys said after the massacre, “If only we’d noticed things in our neighborhood, we might have alerted his parents that he was acting strangely, but we just never had the time to notice what with commuting and work.”

M: A street full of neighbors living as complete strangers; that’s modern life in many places. So you try to get around that and what the national media presents about America—

P: Regular conversations with Americans from all around the country prevent my thinking from being too much Inside the Beltway and remind me that there’s much intelligence and experience in this country; the amount is staggering, if you stop to think about it. We really benefit from our immigrant heritage.

M: Okay but all that intelligence and experience isn’t reflecting at the political and government levels.

P: At the macro level, often not, although one shouldn’t underestimate the intelligence of Bush’s democracy doctrine. He’s not getting his ideas out of thin air; he’s sketching conclusions that have been rolling around the development/foreign policy establishments for years.

Many people have figured out that there’s a cause-and-effect connection between a free society and unleashed creativity, of the kind needed to fuel market-driven economies and avert aggression against other countries. Bush’s contribution has been to emphasize the need for genuine democracy instead of a stage show.

The problem is translating that observation into sound policy regarding government aid, development loans and private sector investment in developing countries. It’s at that level where you see idiocy. But if you dig deep enough, you can usually find someone in government who knew it was idiocy and argued against it, and got shot down.

M: So he—

P: Or she—

M: So he or she is up against a system that favors compromises, or a prevailing view, or a bureaucratic culture or whatever, instead of the best solution.

P: They are not “up against” the system; they are part of the system. Government isn’t set up to be a problem-solver; it’s set up to govern, which translates to a containment approach to problems. The bright ones figure that out soon after they go to work for government or they become very cynical or live on anti-depressants. In a democratic government, the best you can do is put forward a good idea, fight for it as hard as you dare, and hope that the prevailing political winds catch it and blow it forward.

M: But now, since 9/11, there’s a lot of pressure on governments here and around the world to actually solve problems that have taken decades and even centuries to build.

P: The pressure is increasing, all around the world. The Internet and satellite TV is bringing problems to light that were long hidden.

Stuck at the Intersection series
(In order of publication)

Sunday, May 22

The man who saw through people

"Dear Pundita, If many governments are as you say crooks, how is it possible for the US to make policy with crooks?
Takako in Honolulu"

Dear Takako:
That is a fair question. The answer is that you don't make policy for crooks or law-abiding governments; you make policy for the era and consistently apply the policy.

The age of globalization came and intersected with megapopulations and the scramble by poor governments to make oil payments and build up their arsenals. And nobody--no major government--was ready for the upshot, which was crime on a scale we haven't seen since the days of Genghis Khan's youth.

The Khan hadn't imagined how many crooks there were in the world but as his conquests proceeded he found out. The same key factors were in play at that time as now. There was a boom in global trade--the globe at that time. The boom was fed by the demands of the walled cities, which fed a population boom. The upshot was that a caravan couldn't travel two miles without being set upon by brigands or marauding tribes, which meant payoffs, which bumped all the way up to highest government levels.

This was accompanied by price gouging, usury, and every type of dirty business and corruption you can think of. All that led to cities living under constant threat of attack.

All that was accompanied and fed by a level of hypocrisy that would be right at home in today's world. The Khan saw it all. He saw the Chinese mandarins and the emperor worship they promoted. He saw the Calculator Christians, who totted up conversion rates while stepping over starving Christians. The Turks lectured him about Islam. He looked at their showy mosques and how they treated women and the poor. He told them to their faces they were phonies.

In short, it was chaos. All the gains civilization had made during the preceding few centuries were in danger of being wiped out. With the help of a brilliant Chinese bureaucrat, the Khan saved the day. He did this in many ways, some of them horribly ruthless. Yet the single greatest reason for his success at ruling over so many peoples was a fair code of laws that he enforced with consistency; consistency meaning no exceptions, not even for the Yakka Mongols--his own tribe.

The upshot was that, "A naked virgin carrying a sack of gold could walk unmolested from one end of Genghis Khan's empire to the other."

The key concepts are fairness and consistency of application. There is not a single factor to explain the rise and scope of globalized crime, just as there is not a single factor to explain criminality. There can be different reasons why governments come to rely on crime. However, there is only one reason governments in the modern era consistently get away with crime: that's if other governments employ a double standard in their relations with criminal governments--a standard that shifts with the expediency of the moment.

People can adjust to a double standard if it's consistently applied; what they can't adjust to is a high level of uncertainty. If you have the means to force people to live according to your shifting political whims, you breed the sense among them that nothing can be relied on, that integrity is a penalty, that truth has no meaning. So then you should not wonder why, when criminal behavior becomes rampant.

Policy begins not with your expectations of others but with how you conduct yourself. It begins with the rules you lay down for your company or government's conduct. If the rules are inconsistently applied, "foreign" policy is a joke. As with any joke, it won't be taken seriously.

One General Temujin--Genghis Khan--was quite enough for world history. We now have much experience to guide us, so humanity should be able to avoid the need for another supercop of the magnitude represented by the Khan. The ball, however, is in our court.

Saturday, May 21

Don't watch the prancing rabbits and half-naked ladies. Watch the magician.

"Pundita, I strongly disagree with your statement [in May 19 post] that US foreign policy shouldn't take radical Islam into account. The Saudis, the Iranians, and other Islamic governments have exported extremist Muslim views, which strongly color their policy toward America. US policy has to take that into account."
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:

So where do you think the State Department should stand on Ahl-i Hadith or the argument about whether Shias are kadir? And what do you mean by "extremist" Islam?

The Saudi government did not export extremism; they exported their claim to be the rightful guardians of Mecca and Medina. The claim is hotly contested from many quarters in Islam. That is why the Saudi government poured many billions of petrodollars into defending their claim that Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab's teachings represent normative or "true" Islam. That Wahibism is denounced as false by many Muslims, and seen as an extreme form of Islam by many non-Muslims, are entirely separate issues.

All three issues, and the thousands of issues arising from the three, are quicksand for any nation's foreign policy. You cannot do foreign policy around religious issues, any more than you do it around tribal or clan issues. Foreign policy in the modern era is N2N: Nation to nation (national government).

Western academics who supported their families by opining on the Soviet Threat saw funds dry up for their university departments and think tanks once the union was dissolved. So some looked at al Qaeda's attack on the US as manna falling on the desert. However, to frame foreign policy in terms of an Islamic Threat depends on viewing Islam as a 'world' then saying effect, "We have to do foreign relations with this world."

There is no world or nation of Islam--any more than there's a nation of Christianity or Judaism and so on. Those who claim that religious sensibilities have anything to do with the way the world works need to get their head out of the clouds.

I once warned that it's important to keep in mind that George W. Bush is a member of the ruling class. Perhaps I could have put it more clearly if I'd written that he also thinks like a member of that class. In any case you didn't take my warning to heart. So allow Pundita to pull aside the curtain and reveal at one glance what I've been saying in bits and pieces over many essays.

When President Bush said that he'd looked into Vladimir Putin's eyes and seen a person he could deal with, he was speaking to the Saudi government. Here is Pundita's translation of what he said:

You have a choice: You can kill or capture every member of al Qaeda you can find. Or you can helplessly watch as the American government teams with the Kremlin to bring down OPEC. Have a nice day.

This is not to denigrate the efforts of CENTCOM and the Coalition militaries and intelligence agencies that have turned themselves inside out to fight al Qaeda and similar terror organizations. Many hands make light work. But you can trace a line between Bush's slowly hardening rhetoric during the past year toward the Kremlin and Abdullah's decision to stop clowning around with excuses--a decision that needed to be demonstrated by more than token actions, I might add, before Bush would start to believe.

Bush has said there are to be no more US "deals," of the kind characterized by US policy during the Cold War. I like to think he's telling the truth but he has also brought US foreign policy back to where it should be, which is behind defense policy. Part of that means breaking the hammerlock of Cold War deals that are still with us, and which work against US defense.

There was no deal made with the Kremlin--unless you want to read Bush giving Putin a ride in his pickup as a deal. Yet every Gulf government knows that Bush is not bluffing. At any moment, he could reverse direction again. If that happens, we'll see the end of OPEC. I hope Vicente Fox is taking notes.

If the Saudis are worried that an Iraq with the Shia majority in charge will lead to yet more challenges from within Islam to their authority, they should think of it this way: President Bush is helping them prioritize their worries.

That's foreign policy. That's how it's done. All the rest is confusion. I hope the US Department of State is taking notes.

Readers who are new to Pundita's blog might wish to look at The plot thickens: Putin takes on OPEC.

Friday, May 20

Last Man Standing

December 2004

I, in America, listening to John Batchelor in Jerusalem talk with Robert Alter in Wales. They are discussing Alter's work to translate the five books of Moses. With millions sitting by the radio and hanging on every word, Alter is discussing -- a word. "Seed" to be exact.

How to get at the essence of what Hebrew scholars were trying to convey thousands of years ago? How to intuit what Alter terms "a little puffy cloud of abstraction," the significance the scholars attached to the word "seed" in writing about The Flood?

I scribble notes and ponder. For those of us awake to the scale of this war and the nature of the enemy it has become a duty to think hard on what is worth fighting to defend.

I remember overhearing my father ask my mother, "How could a country that produced Bach and Beethoven produce Hitler?" Of course it was a rhetorical question but small children don't understand the meaning of rhetoric.

It took me a few decades to work it out, but the answer to my father's question is that civilization is not self-perpetuating. It takes a conscious decision on the part of many people, a constant effort to be guided by conscience, a determination to struggle against barbarity.

Adolf Hitler was explicitly aware of that point although I didn't know it until I read an essay by Aisha Siddiqa Qureshi. Qureshi observes:
In his writings, Hitler clearly said that he is a barbarian who wants to express his primal instincts and Judaism says he can't. For him... the concept of conscience [is] "a Jewish invention; it is a blemish, like circumcision... I am freeing man from... the dirty and degrading self-mortifications of a false vision known as conscience and morality."
I don't know how much stock to put in Quershi's thesis that "people are and have always been willing to hate the Jews [because] they gave the world the concept of objective right and wrong."

And I think most who are prejudiced against Jews are not well-informed enough about Jewish theology to think about them at the level Hitler did. But Hitler and his circle certainly understood that to take control of ideas of right and wrong they had to suppress attention to conscience. Can that really be done on a widescale basis?

Patrick K. O'Donnell, who was embedded with the Marines during the Battle of Fallujah, reported to John Batchelor last week that the Marines found many used syringes in the rubble. They also found vials of adrenaline and caches of cocaine.

That explains how the enemy is able to wire his own wounded with explosives, wire himself with explosives, and remain in a fighting posture even when surrender is clearly not dishonor. The jihadi warrior in Iraq is a druggie. He arrives at the gates of his imagined paradise stoned out of his skull.

So yes, it's possible to condition or drug a person into not referencing the dictates of conscience. The catch is that it's not possible to forge a civilization with such people. That's because the bedrock of human society is the ability to put oneself in the place of another. That ability is conscience.

If not for conscience there could be no civilization -- not even primitive tribal societies. For society to exist people must be able to ask themselves, "How would I feel, if this were done to me?" when they contemplate murder.

So Hitler spoke nonsense in saying he could both create an Aryan civilization and destroy conscience. One can't have it both ways. But of course the Nazis knew this. That is why they had to keep conquering, in the way a junkie has to steal more and more to support his addiction. It was the only way to keep the illusion going that it's possible to do anything you damn well please to others and suffer no great consequence.

It is the same for the present enemy and his talk of an Islamic civilization. At their core the Nazis and Islamic terrorists are a murder-suicide cult. Last man standing shoots himself.

Thursday, May 19

Elephant in the world's living room

Dear Pundita, Your blog is supposed to be about US foreign policy but I notice you write very little about the Middle East and China and I don't think you've written at all about the situation with North Korea, even though those regions are of particular importance to US policy at this time. I know you're examining what you consider to be fundamental issues, however, you also do a lot of writing about Russia and Mexico. Do you have a special interest in those two countries, or do you think they are of particular importance to US policy?
[Signed] Justin in Toronto"

Dear Justin:
The tendency in Washington has been to line up foreign policy behind issues that relate to the war on terror; e.g., violent radical Islam. This is despite the fact that Bush made it very clear in his Axis of Evil speech that the enemies we're fighting are states, not individual terror organizations.

Of course, from the military standpoint--from the standpoint of war--one has to study and deal with radical Islam and issues relating to terrorism tactics. But this is a job for the military and intelligence agencies--counterintelligence, psyops, counter-propaganda, and so on. To build foreign policy on all that diverts attention and funds from situations that gave rise to the terror-sponsoring regimes in Saddam's Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and so on.

What's striking about all these regimes is that their political or religious ideology is not their chief characteristic. The chief characteristic is that they're crooks. Yet it's as if the cattle rustlers took over Dodge City and instead of looking at the situation that way, the Feds ponder the rustlers' religion, their views on totalitarian government, and agonize over whether they've smuggled a cannon into the town. That's hot pursuit of red herring.

Pundita doesn't like chasing red herring. So I asked, "How did so many governments in so many diverse cultures, and with such diverse histories, end up plain crooks during this era?"

I don't think you can begin to make effective foreign policy until that question is answered.

Thus, my special interest in Russia and Mexico. I like those two countries for contrast because they are so very different in culture and history and they're separated by vast distances. Yet their problems are strikingly similar.

What's also striking is that Mexico is the United States' next-door neighbor--yet the country might as well have been situated behind the Iron Curtain, for all the understanding that American foreign policy has shown toward Mexico. So I think it overlooks factors, if we simply blame the Cold War for bad US policy toward Russia today.

However, US Cold War policy got so entrenched in Washington that it's now hard for Washington to frame discussions about democracy outside the anti-totalitarian and anti-Communist arguments. Yet you can go down the list and find country after country where it's clear the regimes don't give a hoot about governing and economic philosophy; they'll float any rap but their only philosophy is about how to raise mega cash through crime.

The problem is that there is not one neat answer to the question I posed. There are a variety of factors that converged, then took on great force and momentum when globalized trade got off the ground. The upshot can be considered a 'system.' There is a powerful system in force, and it's this system that is the greatest enemy of civilization.

However, once a problem becomes systemic, it's very tricky to dismantle the system without crashing larger orders of systems. A case in point is the system of development bank loans. If you shut down all the development banks or even fiddle too much with the development loan model, you risk putting a lot of contractors out of business. That sets off a chain reaction, which can crash the society in a small country.

Another example is dismantling state-run major industries. It's a bad system but once it's a system, it has to be broken up very carefully.

Because more than one factor created the system of crook regimes, the question is how to prioritize the factors and whether repairs should be stepwise or coordinated across several factors.

One factor is that there's too much cash and specifically US dollars sloshing around the world. I suspect that diversifying from the dollar to a basket of currencies for oil and gold purchases would only be kicking the can down the road.

However, I leave that mess to what I call the Lords of the Craps Table--the central banks, BIS, OPEC, IMF, and treasury chiefs of the major developed countries. They're supposed to figure out how to sop up the oceans of dollars flooding The Casino--the international monetary system.

I've focused on a factor that is so obvious it's hidden in plain sight. The last person you'd call for advice on how to set up and maintain a workable government is a crook. Yet here we have gun runners, dope dealers, money launderers, counterfeiters, crooked accountants, and so on trying to master the intricacies of modern government. It doesn't work.

Saddam Hussein said many times that he had to be ruthless because it was the only way to maintain order in Iraq. Actually there are other ways, but they entail a detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of modern government, which Hussein and his technocrats didn't have.

When the governed population is small, you can wing it on the details. But once the numbers climb, and when a sizable portion are nomadic, you have to get the governing mechanics down pat; e.g, make sure the tax base is adequate. If that doesn't happen, the alternatives to maintaining social order are very ugly: brute force, or cutting down the population via mass murder (e.g., "ethnic cleansing") or driving large numbers away from the country.

Developing countries inherited or copied government administration from the Colonial imperialist model or mid-twentieth socialism. To the extent those types of central government administration worked, they were not designed to deal with the convergence of large populations and the complexities of the modern era of trade. Right there is the elephant in the world's living room. Getting the elephant to decamp is the foundation for sound foreign policy in today's world and the best way to carry forward the democracy doctrine.

Wednesday, May 18

Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, the Khordokovsky guilty verdict...

The Russian judges seem about a twelfth of the way through the hundreds of pages detailing the counts against Khordokovsky and Lebedev and the verdict on each. Today they resume taking turns reading the pages aloud.

They do things differently in Russia. First of all, they don't have a trial unless it's about 99% certain the defendant is guilty. Then there is the tradition of reading out the details of the verdict. Khordokovsky's lawyers, knowing that most Americans don't have a clue about the way things work in Russia, are spinning the tradition to US journalists as yet another sign that their client is persecuted.

The details the judges are reading out, if you can stay awake through them, are illuminating history: a window on the breakup of the Soviet Union, which to this day is not accurately reported by the mainstream Western media.

Tuesday, May 17

Catching up and wising up

Steve Cohen reported last night on John Batchelor's show that he's looking for a verdict today in the Khordokovsky trial; if the verdict comes, it will coincide with the showdown in the Senate between George Galloway and the Senate committee investigating the Oil for Food graft. Both events will have far-reaching global consequences.

If you missed Monday's Winds of War Briefing (compiled by Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail and evariste at Discarded Lies ), Pundita advises you visit their most recent weekly roundup on war-related stories from around the world. Many events are converging in June, so you might want bone up now on war news before you find yourself trying to play catch-up.

Tip: Take special note during the coming weeks of official US statements/publicized intelligence reports about China.

Also, Bill Roggio is following and linking to data about the unfolding Newsweek debacle. See his essays on the topic and links to other good essays (e.g., Belmont Club blogs) on the same.

And if you have time, the RUSNET encylopedia biographies of Alexander Voloshin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Hat Tip: John Batchelor's website ) will help you sort through the complexities of deeply entrenched corruption in Russia's government and the US Senate's investigation of the Oil for Food Program.

To help put Voloshin's career and vast power in context, realize that the billions of USD looted from the Oil for Food Program are a drop in the bucket, compared with the billions looted from Russia during the decade following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet Voloshin was hailed as a "liberal democrat" by Washington officials and congressionals and seen as a martyr when Putin fired him. It's to be hoped that the revelations coming out of the Oil For Food investigation will finally wise up Washington and the American public.


Monday, May 16

We're NOT crooks doowop doowop We're not CROOKS yabba dabba We got you goin in circles doowop

Vladimir "Lips" Zhirinovsky, "Gorgeous" George Galloway, David B. "Bunny" Chalmers, and Charles "Poofdaddy" Pasqua practicing for their American Idol audition.

Simon to Paula: Who told them there was a Four Tops-barber shop quartet-Frank Sinatra soundalike category?

Paula to Simon: Probably the ABC Primetime crew.

Randy: (Wrapping his head in a towel) Okay dogs, you got 15 seconds.

"Doowop Doowop doop doop diddy/
Talk about the boys from Ripoff City/
Talk to our bankers we ain't signed nothin/
Talk to our lawyers we ain't seen nothin/
O we're the same old song/
Just a diff'rent meaning with the billions gone/
So here is our love song, not fancy or fine/
We got you goin in circles/
And we did it ouuuuur waaaaaaaaaaay/

If you can stand it, here's today's news on the Oil for Food Shakedown investigation. Tomorrow, Gorgeous George faces off against Norm Coleman at the US Senate. Standing Room Only.


Is it un-American to develop reality-based foreign relations?

Historian Mark Safranski, whose evil twin dabbles in the attempt to develop a rational set of rules for assessing threats to the US, shows a street fighting side in his bare-knuckle attack on Washington's Get Putin gang:
...Dick Morris, a former adviser to a Senate majority leader, a President and lately,Viktor Yushchenko, the new president of Ukraine, writes in the influential Capitol Hill paper Roll Call of a "Czar Putin" under whom "... the old Soviet Union will be back on the road to regional domination and the old ambitions of global power will return."

The otherwise sensible National Center For Public Policy Research with solidly Reaganite credentials, maintains a satellite operation called Center for the Future of Russia that is little more than a comical propaganda sheet for the Oligarchs (which makes one wonder if any unusually large checks have floated the National Center's way of late)...

Putin is not the enemy of the United States and he is a determined reformer who is by all reports, honest. Can that be said of Khordokovsky, Berezovsky, Gusinsky and the other Oligarchs who have looted Russia of hundreds of billions of dollars with the help of...crime lords and ex-Communist fixers? These characters do not have clean enough hands for any respectable American conservative to imagine they represent the free market or for any American liberal to pretend that these looters are democrats. In Chicago, we have a term for " businessmen" like the Oligarchs: " Mobbed Up"

These are ruthless men with very, very, large bank accounts and sinister motives who are trying hard to get the ear of official Washington because they would like to see the Bush administration begin to undermine Putin...
Whoever said foreign policy is dry stuff? I have only two quibbles. First, the oligarchs have long since gotten the ear of official Washington; the oligarchs are as much a creation of official Washington (during Clinton's era) as of Boris Yeltsin's clan. Putin was Washington's pet as long as he did what the oligarchs wanted, which was allow them to conduct business as usual.

My other quibble is Mark's statement that Putin is, "...censoring the [Russian] press through pressure, confiscation, intimidation and legal harassment."

The issue of press censorship in Russia is as complex as the influence of the oligarchs and their various foreign (non-Russian) backers on Russian media and the concept of "paid-for press" in Russia. The issue is further complicated for Americans because of the vastly different perceptions that Russians and Americans hold about the concept of censorship. In his analysis Perestroika 20 years later Peter Lavelle writes:
Unfortunately, under Yeltsin, most [of] the country's electronic media turned into a ghastly means for a paid-for-press to strike political enemies. Yeltsin was returned to office for a second term in 1996 because the free media he helped to create had lost much of its relevance.

For Putin, glasnost ("openness" or transparency) serves the purposes of the state--this comes nothing near supporting a Western concept of freedom of speech. It does not mean complete censorship. The almost shrill claims of the Western press about the end of freedom of speech in Russia are premature and exaggerated. Even with the Kremlin's desire to tame and intimidate the media into self-censorship, it is not hard to find print media and Internet content completely out of sync with the new Kremlin line."
But to get a handle on the debate, one needs to understand the Russian perception of censorship. In Lost in Translation: Russia's Political Lexicon Lavelle lists political terms dear to the hearts of Americans and shows how differently Russians interpret the very same terms. Under Censorship he explains:
This is the right and responsibility of the authorities to determine the quality and condition of the public sphere. Censorship has a large following [in Russia], hoping to see the end of paid-for political articles in the media, ending the transmission of pornographic images during primetime television broadcasts, and protecting what are believed to be national values.
Lavelle ends by noting:
"...if the West desires to win the hearts and minds of Russians concerning its own changing political lexicon to create a liberal democracy in its own vision in Russia, it should consider how the its lexicon gives every reason for Russians to resist and reinterpret the same lexicon.
I think it might come as a surprise to many to learn that we have a huge problem right here in the USA with "paid-for political articles in the media." It's just that the problem is not noticeable because the pay is one step removed from the actual media outlets.

Oligarchs (or anyone else, for that matter) with the big bucks to buy in as major donors to respected policy institutes or universities, or to start policy institutes, or hire big-name public relations firms with access to major media, have a direct line to the American public and with attendant influence.

Indeed, that's a big reason why the American public was unaware of the gathering threat from Arab terrorism. Rich Arabs who supported al Qaeda, and with the money to lavish on policy institutes ("think tanks") and public relations campaigns, used their access to the American press to tamp down questions about the rising tide of terrorist acts and divert attention from violent Muslim extremism.

One would think the American press learned their lesson after 9/11, but the same pattern is playing out with the Get Putin movement. I don't think it's McCarthyism for an American reporter to ask a source for a list of their donors and to mention it in the report if the source has financial ties to an Oligarch (particularly those with known ties to organized crime).

And it's time for members of the Get Putin movement to realize that in Russia, much censorship comes not from the government but from mobsters settling scores. For Russians to wrest control of their society from the mobsters and the oligarchs will take more than urging more freedom of speech on them.

The above quibbles aside, I am glad that Mark Safranski has found time away from the esoterics of Rule Set theory to deploy his knowledge of Russia. This is helping his fellow Americans (and one hopes this includes Americans in Washington) make sense out of modern Russia.

The question is how many in Washington are interested in making sense out of Russia, or any other foreign country. American policy has struck out on such a new direction and on so many fronts that Pundita suspects cognitive weariness is setting in. Since 9/11 official Washington has been on a steep learning curve about many subjects. ("What the hell is the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni?" "Are Kurds Arabs?") I suspect weariness is causing some to set up cognitive base camp around the simple, easy-to-grasp notion that all workable foreign policy comes from the barrel of a gun.

Actually, all workable foreign policy is backed up by the barrel of a gun, but the "workable" part requires that policy not get lost in translation. For that, policymakers need to acquire understanding of subtext--what the other side means when they say something. Avoidance of that necessary step brings negative consequences--as Safranksi notes when he reminds the Get Putin gang of what's waiting in the wings, if "Putin's replacement proves to be a hapless stooge and Russia goes off the rails in the direction of a failed state armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons..."

In the face of confusion it's tempting to fall back on what one knows best. But it would be a very bad idea for Washington to attempt to resolve cognitive dissonance by re-starting the familiar groove of the Cold War.


Sunday, May 15

US-Mexico-Immigration: Lettuce not quibble

"Pundita, re your last two posts about illegals and the war on terror. Do you want to see lettuce go to five bucks a head? Then keep it up. The Yuma lettuce grower's association just told the border patrol in western Arizona to back away from some of the checkpoints because the growers don't have enough illegals to harvest the lettuce.

I think you're one of those people who are cursed with foresight. You would never have gotten on the Titanic. You would have counted the lifeboats and said, "No way." I'd bet $100 you never stepped foot in the World Trade Center. I bet you said, "Too high."

To use your favorite expression, that's not how things work down here on earth. First we crash into the iceberg, then we go back to the drawing board."
[Signed] Caesar in San Francisco

Dear Caesar:
What you mean "we" kemosabe? A popular thesis is that the dinosaurs were wiped out by atmospheric conditions brought on by a meteor or asteroid hit. But then how come the possum survived the same conditions? I always listen carefully to Charlotte--the possum member of my team--because her clan memory goes back over 70 million years. That clan of critters survived virtually unchanged all those years. And they survived living with the dinosaurs.

Popov once tried to lure Charlotte into a taxi by opening a box of lemon Krispy Kremes and eating one donut after another in front of her. Incidentally, this is my enemies: utter ruthlessness. She stood there and watched him eat all the donuts in the box. When I asked why she put herself through that, she replied, "I needed the box."

After he threw the box out of the taxi and took off, she collected the box. As a bonus she got pieces of Krispy Kremes left in the box. She reported that toward the end he wasn't able to finish each donut.

Wildlife have a good grasp of the concept of boundaries, even though the highly abstract concept of "nation" tends to elude them. So when I asked the possum for her fix on the illegals situation, she reminded me of a couple reports I'd mentioned to her a few years back:

Many villages in Mexico are now virtual ghost towns because Mexicans have left to work in the USA. There's not enough Mexicans left to farm and harvest crops in these villages. And the people left in the villages don't want to do the hard farm work because they can collect more from remittances sent by relatives working in the US.

I've spoken with Americans from Pennsylvania and Ohio who tell me there's no work to be had in their regions because all the plants were shipped offshore. These people were losing their mortgages because they couldn't make the payments. They were living on the dole; their unemployment checks had run out a long time before.

Charlotte asked why the jobless Americans don't take up residence in the deserted Mexican villages and support themselves by doing farming.

When you stop and think it through, she has a point. Gringos are welcome in Mexico up to a certain line, which has to do with spending dollars and making jobs for Mexicans. But I doubt the Mexican government is big on the homesteader concept.

Yet that would be a solution, wouldn't it? If hundreds of thousands of broke Americans in the Rust Belt are willing to homestead in Mexico--where's the beef? If Mexicans and US employers don't feel they're really committing a crime by working here illegally, this view should be a two-way street.

Actually, the pay in Mexico that many Mexicans are snubbing for pay here in the USA works out to more money than many Americans are subsisting on right now.

And what about all the broke and starving Africans, Haitians, and so on, who are coming here to work? Many of these people have a serious hard luck story. So, if there's plenty of land and jobs going unfilled in Mexico because so many Mexicans want to live and work here--why can't the Mexican government liberalize their immigration policy? Show a little more compassion toward the truly downtrodden of the world? And actually, Mexico is paradise to people who are fleeing, say, North Korea and Burma.

To put this another way, the Mexican government is full of hot air, and so are the Americans who make a living off advocating for Mexican illegals. They all know that their arguments don't hold up to logic or the American standard of compassion.

If an industry is built on breaking important laws and exploiting the very poorest, that's not business, is it? It's organized crime. For that reason I don't eat lettuce, unless it's locally grown--in Maryland or Viginina--and I know the farmers. And no, they don't charge five bucks for a head of lettuce.

You would win the bet but it wasn't the height of the twin towers that troubled me. It's that the higher you go, the more precautions you should take and this wasn't done. They cut up those towers for offices in the same way they cut up much lower buildings. It seemed to me they needed a lot more exits for such tall structures.

However, that's not why I never entered the towers. It's because I considered them unlucky. When I was a little kid I visited San Xavier del Bac, in Arizona. My mother told me to notice that one of the towers wasn't finished. She told me that the Indians who built the church for a Catholic priest refused to add the final touch.

She said they told the priest that humans can get on the wrong side of the gods when they build something very grand that reaches to the heavens. They explained you should always leave something unfinished, to show the sky gods that you're not trying to take their place.

Pundita doesn't know whether that's the real story behind the unfinished tower but it made a deep impression.

For links to other Pundita essays on Mexico, US-Mexico relations, immigration from Mexico and the Mexico-US border situation/war on terror, see Mexico Desk.


Saturday, May 14

Mexico-US-War on Terror: Disaster planning for what we know and imagine

Liz and Pundita continue the dialogue started in The bridge ahead and the bridge here now....

"Pundita, you ask what would happen to the Mexicans who depend on work in the US, and their employers, if the unthinkable--a catastrophic terror attack against the US--happened. That's taking the view, "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later."

I agree with your view, wholeheartedly.

Plans don't have to be perfect, or even constructed for a particular disaster scenario, to apply with success--provided the plans are "worked at" and don't sit on the shelf. Basic plans for how to respond to a disaster can be quickly adapted.

For example, Merrill Lynch got their people out of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attack and maintained operations because they had a disaster plan for a hurricane sweeping up the East Coast and pounding Manhattan.

The Wall Street Journal was able to put out a paper the day after the 9/11 attack because they had vowed to never be subject to a failure of a single location; this came about as a result of an electricity crisis in New York years before.

And the United States Secret Service had a plan for backing up data and proper archival after the Oklahoma City bombing. However, the plan was never funded by the Congress, so during the 9/11 attack their Manhattan office lost precious, probably irreplaceable, evidence for ongoing investigations.

The moral is that disaster plans must be conceived and acted upon, even if imperfectly.

If a disaster from a terrorist attack occurs, there are two possible means I can see to lock down the US-Mexico border; neither is politically acceptable now--though, depending on the nature of the disaster and how clear a trail there is pointing at Mexico, either could become so.

First, we could use military force to create a lethal barrier until a physical one can be emplaced. The military can come from activating the remaining reserves and (especially, even appropriately) federalizing the National Guard. However, this detracts from our ongoing obligations elsewhere in the world, and in the interests of the war, we must not do that. Of course, our enemies probably play a little chess too, from time to time, and may have considered that. This adds to the rationale for finding another option.

The second possibility is to adapt the recent Minutemen project in conjunction with the time-honored Western tradition of citizens at arms protecting what the local government is too thinly spread to do: the local sheriff deputizing an appropriate number of townsfolk, and so forth.

Of course, the federal government has the Constitutional responsibility for foreign policy, and border control is a matter of foreign policy. Therefore, it would seem to me that the federal government would have to charter these forces.

To minimize the inconsistency of enforcement by these new folks, organization and at least some training, establishing a set of Rules of Engagement (ROE), clear means of identification of the real border enforcers, and at least some vetting of volunteers (MS13 need not apply) must all be established. Unfortunately, they would probably need to be established on the fly.

For all those reasons, and the logical consequences of them, I agree with your arguments. Getting Washington to listen is not high in my expectations while Senators are more concerned with stopping an appointment of a second- or third-tier Executive in the EPA to force the outcome of an administrative dispute in a Senator's favor. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan demonstrated that mobilizing the people tends to mobilize the Congress, albeit with varying degrees of alacrity.

Oddly enough, another possible means of changing things in Washington would be to end the gerrymander. While this would probably take too long for our current problems, two items stand out for me:

Some states have established independent commissions to draw district boundaries, and those states do have some moderate turnover in the Congress (more in the House, of course).

And the House, as a whole, has a lower turnover than the British House of Lords. If the legislative branch had its tenure threatened, it might be a tad more responsive to the vox populi.

The second observation represents a longer-term solution, but the American public can move surprisingly quickly when something gets our attention, so I don't rule this out as a possibility, no doubt to be taken in conjunction with other tactics.

Regarding your suggestion that the US exert greater pressure on Mexico to make needed reforms--of course, there will be those who would resent our role in accelerating the reforms, but they are not likely to be our citizens. The resenters would probably be those losing privilege/having to pay taxes for a change, i.e, the wealthy and well-connected of the Mexican establishment. So their resentment should not be a governing factor in US policy toward Mexico.

I think the reforms, and the changes they bring to Mexico, will come sooner or later, because the Mexicans will not stand by forever when they can see other possibilities. If we are proactive in adapting to the changes, we protect ourselves and we may earn goodwill from Mexicans who realize that we nudged the reform process along.
[Signed] Liz in USA

PS: You might be interested in the post-9/11 book, Planning for Survivable Networks. It needs updating, and it deals specifically with keeping cyber networks safe from security disasters and planning for a dependable recovery strategy. However, its premise, which is planning for the unthinkable by planning for what we know and can imagine, is applicable to the points you raised and which I've addressed in this letter."

Dear Liz:
Thank you for an instructive and comprehensive reply. There is a third possibility other than the two you discussed or as adjunct. The San Diego-Union Tribune reports that a little known 1996 law authorizes state and local governments to enforce immigration status. (Hat tip: Bruce Kesler) A California assemblyman, Ray Haynes, has introduced a constitutional amendment in the Legislature that makes use of the law. He's drafted a companion measure, which he intends to offer as a ballot initiative. Both proposals seek the same end: creation of a California Border Police agency to enforce immigration law at the border and in the state's interior:
The goal is to block illegal immigration at its source and crack down on employers who hire undocumented migrants.

"The total mission is the comprehensive, statewide uniform application of federal immigration laws," Haynes says. "That's the only job they have. I want to keep it real simple, real focused, real straightforward."

Haynes concedes that it is not entirely clear how much the state can do without the federal government's permission. The law he cites permits state and federal partnerships under federal control. A pilot project under way in Florida operates under strict rules of engagement.

"Basically, you enter into an agreement with immigration and customs about where you can enforce and what you can enforce," he said. "A lot of that is subject to negotiation."

Haynes...envisions a new agency modeled after the Highway Patrol, with mobile agents patrolling near the border, conducting sweeps of employment centers and investigating employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers. Illegal immigrants picked up by state agents would be held until the federal government took them into custody for deportation.

Haynes holds out little hope that his proposal will be approved in the Legislature, where it would take a two-thirds vote in each house to place it on the ballot. But he has enlisted the help of Rescue California, the political committee behind the 2003 recall of former Gov. Gray Davis, to help him gather signatures....
What's particularly interesting about the proposal is that Haynes has attached it to reality. He points out the obvious, which is that the Mexicans who are being fed into the illegal system of work are horribly exploited while the US and Mexican governments look the other way.
"They are exploited by the traffickers who bring them across the border...They work in substandard conditions for substandard pay. They can't report crimes. They live in constant fear. How can you say that's good for them? Through all of this, the government just averts its eyes and says we don't see this happening."
But if you want to be shocked, read the Union-Tribune's editorial in protest of the Haynes proposal. After a critique that wrongly compares the proposal to Proposition 187, the editorialist writes:
...Until U.S. employers stop hiring illegal immigrants and until all Americans begin to treat those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants with the same contempt that they do other lawbreakers, the United States is going to have a problem with illegal immigrants trampling our borders. And it's going to continue happening at a rate that neither the federal government nor state governments can keep up with. When it comes to illegal immigration, Americans have met the enemy–and, guess what: We're it.
Has this writer never heard of the war on terror? Living on the edge of an active volcano with the ground shaking, the writer's solution to the crowds at the border waits for Americans enmasse to realize we're the enemy.

Earth calling the Union-Tribune: It doesn't even take a terrorist attack on the US to set in motion a disaster for Americans who depend on daily labor by legal and illegal Mexican commuters, and for those Mexicans who depend on the paychecks.

All it takes is a US Code Red security alert extended over many weeks or months and directed at the southern border. There would be no warning of the alert. No time to plan, no time for two-paycheck families that depend on cheap daycare from Mexican workers to find an alternative solution. No time for small businesses to line up other employees.

Yet we're entering a phase with regard to the war and in particular two enemies--Iran and North Korea--where a Code Red could be issued at any moment. In that event the commuter traffic at the southern border could be slowed to a snail's pace for a long time. Here, "snail's pace" would not be a predictable crawl, where you could factor in an approximate delay time. The delay in getting through the checkpoints for all but the most critical traffic would be highly unpredictable--and deliberately so.

I went through something like that right after 9/11. Not that I'm complaining because I understood the reason for the action but it was a commuter's worst nightmare; I had to abandon that vehicular route, as did many others. At least I could find an alternate route. What I went through would be small chips next to the same scenario applied to the US southern border region.

So everything you've noted has great resonance with me. I just don't understand why many who would be most negatively affected by a border lockdown or slowdown have their heads in 1989, when they study the daily crowds at the border.

If only there was some way to get across to the Mexican government, and the American oil company executives who don't want to rile the Mexican government, that Ayman al-Zawahiri is not Pancho Villa.

For links to other Pundita essays on Mexico, US-Mexico relations, immigration from Mexico and the Mexico-US border situation/war on terror, see Mexico Desk.