American Elephants


Obama Engineers America’s Global Retreat by The Elephant's Child

For Obama, the world’s major events might as well be happening on the planet Pluto. Russia is re-establishing itself in its “near abroad,” and working with Iran to project a neo-Soviet agenda from Southwest Asia to the Mediterranean. China is inexorably asserting sovereignty over the Western Pacific. As Islam’s Sunni and Shia factions tear at each other’s vitals, they seem to agree only on contempt for America.
Angelo Codevilla, Professor emeritus of international Relations, Boston U.

Historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the Wall Street Journal about “America’s Global Retreat.” It is the U.S. geopolitical taper that is stirring world anxiety. To see the geopolitical taper at work consider President Obama’s comment Wednesday on the horrific killings of protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

Obama watched passively when the Iranian people rose up against their theocratic rulers in 2009. He was caught off-balance by the illusion of an “Arab Spring.” When crowds swarmed in Tahrir Square in 2011, calling for the ouster of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak, he backed the government led by Mohammed Morsi, after the Muslim Brotherhood won the 2012 elections. Then he backed the military coup against Morsi.

Syria has been one of the great blunders of post World War II American foreign policy. When he might have intervened effectively, he hesitated, When he did intervene, it was ineffectual. His non-threat to launch airstrikes if Congress agreed handed the initiative to Russia. Assad isn’t handing over his chemical weapons.

The result of this U.S. inaction is a disaster. At a minimum, 130,000 Syrian civilians have been killed and nine million driven from their homes by forces loyal to the tyrant. At least 11,000 people have been tortured to death. Hundreds of thousands are besieged, their supplies of food and medicine cut off, as bombs and shells rain down.

He sent Joe Biden to negotiate a “Status of Forces” agreement with Iraq, which failed, and the troops were pulled out anyway, leaving Iraq to fall apart and Al Qaeda in Iraq to take over Fallujah. If you recall, Obama claimed to truly understand the world because he lived in Indonesia until he was 10. Other than that he proclaimed Iraq to be a “dumb war” and wanted to close down Gitmo at once. Whatever it was – was Bush’s fault. The reason to be in Afghanistan was to get bin Laden. Obama has announced our withdrawal, so the Taliban can plan the timing for their takeover.

We’ve had reset buttons, and a “pivot” from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific is the closest we have come to a strategy. Ambassadors are chosen for the amount that was donated to Obama’s election and re-election, and have never visited the countries to which they are assigned.

Peter Wehner says that Obama is Consciously Engineering America’s Decline. “[H]e views the weakening of American power as a downright positive thing, as a contributor to peace and stability, and a means through which America will be more respected and loved in the world.”

Henry Kissinger once observed: ” Those ages which in retrospect seem most peaceful were least in search of peace. Those whose quest for it seems unending appear least able to achieve tranquility. Whenever peace—conceived as the avoidance of war—has been the primary objective … the international system has been at the mercy of [its] most ruthless member.”

Keith Koffler, veteran White House reporter asked plaintively “Does Obama Have Any Foreign Policy Successes?” The answer seems to be a resounding NO. Try to find a country with whom our relations have improved.

Winston Churchill, May 2, 1935, in the House of Commons:

It is possible that the dangers into which we are steadily advancing would never have arisen …[but] when the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which might have affected a cure.

There is nothing new to the story. It is as old as [Rome]. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-reservation strikes its jarring gong — these are features which constitute the endless repetition of history.



Obama’s Foreign Policy Failures And Why They Matter. by The Elephant's Child

obama-angry-8-560x350
Mackubin “Mac” Owens is an American military historian. He has been a Dean at the Naval War College, a senior fellow at the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and is the editor of its journal Orbis. He had an important column on Obama’s Foreign Policy at Real Clear World this week, one that everyone should read, to understand the shambles of American Foreign Policy, what we’re doing, and why it matters.

U.S. foreign policy is in shambles, characterized by drift and incoherence. It is at best a-strategic at worst anti-strategic, lacking any concept of how to apply limited resources to obtain our foreign policy goals because this administration has articulated no clear goals or objectives to be achieved. The foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration are legion: the Russian “reset” that has enabled Vladimir Putin to strut about as a latter-day czar; the betrayal of allies, especially in Central Europe, not to mention Israel; snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq by failing to achieve a status of forces agreement (SOFA) that would help to keep Iraq out of the Iranian orbit; the muddled approach to Afghanistan; our feckless policy-or lack of policy-regarding Iranian nuclear weapons, not to mention Libya and Benghazi, as well as Syria. President Obama has said that he was elected to end wars, not to start them, as if wars are fought for their own purpose. Ending wars is no virtue if the chance for success has been thrown away, as it was in Iraq.

Observers disagree about the causes of the Obama failures in foreign policy. Some attribute them to indifference, others to incompetence-although the two are not unrelated. Still others contend that the results we are seeing represent the desired outcomes of more insidious motivations. But no matter the cause of Obama’s dysfunctional foreign policy, the result is the same: weakness that opens the way for those who wish America ill. Winston Churchill’s 1936 characterization of the Stanley Baldwin government as Hitler gained strength on the Continent echoes ominously today: it was, said Churchill, “decided only to be undecided, resolved to irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

To the extent that it has any intellectual foundation, the Obama foreign policy represents a species of “liberal internationalism,” which holds that the actors in the international political system (IPS) tend towards cooperation rather than competition. Liberal internationalists contend that the goals of actors within the IPS transcend power and security; they also see an important role for actors in the IPS other than states, including international institutions such as the United Nations.

Here is the rest of the story:

 



China’s Renewables Industry Is Collapsing. by The Elephant's Child

mauritania

China has gone in for “renewable energy” in a big way.  Their solar panel industry has gone from nothing to becoming the world’s largest producer in only five years. But the industry has now crashed with with negative profit margins, idle factories and soaring levels of debt.

Suntech, a solar panel manufacturer, has been a national champion which became the world’s largest, filed for bankruptcy in March after it defaulted on payment of $541 million of bonds. The Chinese government is scrambling to clean up the mess by offering tax breaks to all solar companies who acquire or merge with their competitors.

LDK Solar, another leading Chinese producer, was forced to turn to provincial and local government for protection from its creditors. LDK was the brainchild of the local Communist Party Secretary, and received millions of dollars in state subsidies, cheap financing, land and electricity in 2005. The local government is pumping in money to keep it from sinking, but the company has already shed 20,000 of its 30,000 employees and its shares are 98% below their peak.

China’s solar panel sector remains massively overbuilt. Demand for solar panels has been shrinking as governments in the West learn that it was the subsidies that made solar energy attractive.

Wind power is little different. Sinovel — one of the world’s largest wind turbine manufactures — was earning hundreds of millions of dollars in profits in 2010, to millions of dollars of losses that grow by the day. Revenues are a fifth of what they were in 2010. In 2012, 17% of all windmills lay idle, the power they produce too expensive to connect to the grid. In some regions, 50% of all windmills remain unconnected to the grid.

China’s green sector crash is a textbook example of a command and control economy, where “experts” substitute their ideas for the complex supply and demand decisions of a free market. The Chinese state gave Chinese manufacturers near-monopoly powers and almost free money. The Bank of China, one of the largest state-owned commercial banks, says that 21% of its solar loans are in or near default. The average debt ratio is 75.8%.

To save face, China’s central planners have switched from subsidizing suppliers to subsidizing demand by demanding that power producers meet green targets in the domestic market. China can, of course force consumers to buy solar energy, but that doesn’t really solve anything. Chinese power customers would just pay the price in more expensive and less reliable power.



The National Security Scandal by The Elephant's Child

ChineseNavy

I indulged in a little schadenfreude in the piece below, but Chinese computer-based attacks are a serious matter. Over the past year, the Defense Department and private cyber-security experts have stepped up accusations that the Chinese government is directly involved in cyber espionage against the U.S.

In February, a U.S. based cyber-security firm issued a report accusing a secret Chinese military unit in Shanghai of years of cyber-attacks against more than 140 companies, most of them American. They are using their cyber capabilities to collect intelligence against U.S. diplomatic, economic and defense programs, and the report warned that the skills needed for such espionage are similar to those needed to conduct cyber-warfare.

The report said China is modernizing its short-range ballistic missile force and acquiring greater numbers of medium-range missiles to increase the range at which it can conduct precision strikes against land targets and naval ships, including aircraft carriers directly from China’s shores. More plainly they are stealing classified data about our most sensitive weapons systems. The systems designs and technologies compromised by cyber-exploitation — the B-22 Osprey helicopter, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, The Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile System, the Global Hawk drone, the Littoral Combat Ship, and the list goes on — and on.

Our response has been finger-wagging and mutual verbal warnings from Obama’s national security team that China had better stop this or we might do something.  We have, in the meantime invited the Chinese to join our 2014 Rim of the Pacific naval exercises, so they can get a closer look at our capabilities, I guess. A formal disinvitation should have been the immediate response to the Defense Science Board’s hacking report, as well as some firm talk.

The Obama administration doesn’t seem to have any strategy on how to deal with China, geo-politically, economically or militarily. Obama’s Pacific Pivot seems to be more of a smoke screen for drawing down our forces and abandoning our commitments in the Middle East. Obama wants the funds involved available to spend at home.



Awkward Conversations: Please Stop Stealing Our Secrets! by The Elephant's Child

There are some quotations that come quickly to mind, when observing politics: This one is from Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion  about the battle of Flodden Field in Northumberland in 1513 — border wars with Scotland. I heard a lot of Marmion at the dinner table when I was young. I think my father had to memorize vast quantities in prep school.

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”

Just when President Obama was going to have an important meeting with President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China, and perhaps have a little conversation about, um, cyber-hacking, and then it turned out to be right in the middle of the revelations of Obama’s cyber-hacking of Americans with the Prism program and cyber-hacking the nation’s telephone calls through Verizon.  Makes it a little awkward.

AP White House correspondent Julie Pace:

Thank you, Mr. President. How damaging has Chinese cyber-hacking been to the U.S.? And did you warn your counterpart about any specific consequences if those actions continue? And also, while there are obviously differences between China’s alleged actions and your government’s surveillance programs, do you think that the new NSA revelations undermine your position on these issues at all during these talks?

And President Xi, did you acknowledge in your talks with President Obama that China has been launching cyber attacks against the U.S.? Do you also believe that the U.S. is launching similar attacks against China? And if so, can you tell us what any of the targets may have been?

President Obama:

What both President Xi and I recognize is that because of these incredible advances in technology, that the issue of cybersecurity and the need for rules and common approaches to cybersecurity are going to be increasingly important as part of bilateral relationships and multilateral relationships. …

But I think it’s important, Julie, to get to the second part of your question, to distinguish between the deep concerns we have as a government around theft of intellectual property or hacking into systems that might disrupt those systems — whether it’s our financial systems, our critical infrastructure and so forth — versus some of the issues that have been raised around NSA programs.

Oh, schadenfreude of course. I just find it  — amusing.



Our Irresponsible Media, Irresponsible Again. by The Elephant's Child

Do you remember Polifact’s  “Big Lie of the Year?” Well, of course the fact-checking record of the fact checkers is not exactly pristine. It remains highly tinged with partisan bias, and a distinct lack of self-awareness. This was a big one, though.

It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign — that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep’s parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.

And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

The public, of course, did not express collective outrage. That was Polifact pretending more attention that existed. And they did not accurately represent what Mitt Romney said in the ad:

[Mitt Romney] Says Barack Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China” at the cost of American jobs.

Here’s what Reuters reported on Thursday:” Fiat and its U.S. unit Chrysler expect to roll out at least 100,000 Jeeps in China when production starts in   2014 as they seek to catch up with rivals…”

Mitt Romney was also scoffed at for mentioning dangers in Mali.

 



Is Bigger Better? Bigger Bureaucracy? Bigger Debt? by The Elephant's Child

President Obama announced today plans to borrow some more millions from China to create — another new federal bureaucracy.  It’s hard to get a handle on the number of bureaucracies created. The infamous ObamaCare flow chart showed over 100 new bureaucracies just in health care, but many other departments have ballooned.

The new one this time is the International Trade Enforcement Center (ITEC). (They apparently get their acronym at birth). It is scheduled to have as many as 60 employees, a budget of $26 million — about $433,000 per employee — which Heritage points out may be bloated even by government standards.  The current US. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) currently spends about $207,000 per employee.

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) the chairman of the Trade Sub-Committee of the House Committee on Ways and Means issued the following statement when he learned of Obama’s request for vast new powers from Congress so that he may restructure the federal government, beginning with a merger of certain trade-related agencies. Brady says USTR has a long-standing reputation as one of the smallest yet most productive agencies in the federal government.

I’m all for streamlining agencies, but simply burying the nation’s key trade negotiators within a mountain of new bureaucracy will only damage their effectiveness and delay efforts to open new markets for American businesses and agriculture. Whatever the true agenda is, I will vigorously oppose any effort by the White House to diminish the role and resources of the U.S. Trade Representative’s office.

USTR is nimble, aggressive and operates on a tiny budget – yet participates in round-the-clock negotiations with trading partners throughout the world while producing job creating trade agreements to spur the American economy. Heaping who knows how many more layers of Washington bureaucracy upon them will neither save money nor help our struggling economy.

The federal government excels at duplication and redundancy, and consequently already has several other agencies devoted to foreign trade practices, including USTR and the Dept. of Commerce’s Market Access and Compliance and Import Administration divisions. The new staff is likely to be drawn from these agencies, the very people Obama thinks haven’t been doing enough. President Obama told the UAW :

I’m creating a trade enforcement unit that will bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to investigate and counter unfair trade practices around the world, including by countries like China.

Has China changed its trade practice? Are they getting stuffy about lending money? Why do we suddenly need to change the successful work of an effective agency? What has changed in 2012?  Oh, Mitt Romney has spoken out forcefully and negatively on China’s trade practice. Google lists 189,000 results on a search for Romney speech on China trade practice.  Some are undoubtedly repeats, but that could have something to do with it. Do you suppose that Obama held one of his very rare press conferences this morning just because it was Super Tuesday?



The Mysterious Case of the Empty Cities of China by The Elephant's Child


Britain’s Daily Mail has satellite pictures of 14 major new cities in China that are essentially— empty. No cars, no people, empty buildings, empty housing. They are ghost towns. Some have been  abandoned years after their construction. “Some estimates put the number of empty homes at as many as 64 million, with up to 20 new cities being built every year in the country’s vast swathes of free land.”They have pictures of 35 empty cities.

A Chinese government think tank speaks of a real estate bubble with property prices overvalued by as much as 70 percent.  The article warns of real estate bubbles and increasing prices, but why do prices increase if there are no buyers? I have seen elsewhere a tour of a new Chinese city with no population, fine stores — empty, a whole city, just empty. The suggestion is of housing too expensive for people. In a normal capitalist market, you would just lower the prices to start inhabiting the city, but this is not a normal capitalist country.

Obama has celebrated China’s new high-speed train, yet ordinary people cannot afford to ride it, and it has become a financial catastrophe for the nation.  Are these empty cities just a vast infrastructure project providing construction jobs for the unemployed?

The Daily Mail article doesn’t really explain anything. I saw pictures a while back of what was called the world’s largest traffic jam that went on for miles and lasted for days, so there are cars in China in significant numbers.

If anyone can explain this mystery, please comment. It is a puzzlement.



Discovering History That I Never Knew by The Elephant's Child
February 13, 2012, 6:57 am
Filed under: China, Europe, History, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Russia | Tags: , ,

I have mentioned that I never seem to read anything when it first comes out— partly because I usually have a stack of books that I have not yet read, but partly also because you have to be in the right frame of mind for some books.  A good friend recommended Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World to me years ago.  It was published in 2004, but I never got around to it until now.  When I get excited about something I have read, I’m inclined to insist that everyone else read it right now.  So consider yourselves warned.

I knew nothing about Genghis Khan except  the”Mongol hordes,” Ulaanbaatar, the steppes, and the first stanza of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Xanadu” which I recalled word for word from Survey of English Literature quite a few years ago. Not promising. So I read the Introduction.

In 1937, the soul of Genghis Khan disappeared from the Buddhist monastery in central Mongolia along the River of the Moon below the black Shankh Mountains where the faithful lamas  had protected and venerated it for centuries.

Well, who could resist that? Born in 1162, and his soul disappeared in 1937.

Year by year, he gradually defeated everyone more powerful that he was, until he had conquered every tribe on the Mongolian steppe. At the age of fifty, when most great conquerors had already put their fighting days behind them, Genghis Khan’s Spirit Banner beckoned him out of his remote homeland to confront the armies of the civilized people who had harassed and enslaved the nomadic tribes for centuries. …

In conquest after conquest, the Mongol army transformed warfare into an intercontinental affair fought on multiple fronts stretching across thousands of miles.  Genghis Khan’s innovative fighting techniques made the heavily armored knights of medieval Europe obsolete, replacing them with disciplined cavalry moving in coordinated units. Rather than relying on defensive fortifications, he made brilliant use of speed and surprise on the battlefield, as well as perfecting siege warfare to such a degree that he ended the era of walled cities. Genghis Khan taught his people not only to fight across incredible distances but to sustain their campaign over years, decades, and, eventually, more than three generations of constant fighting.

Jack Weatherford  is the Dewitt Wallace Professor of anthropology at Macalester College in Minnesota.  He earned his PhD at the University of California, San Diego, and an honorary Doctorate  of Humanities from Chinggis Khaan College in Mongolia. He certainly knows how to draw in  a reader.

In American terms, the accomplishment of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States, instead of being created by a group of educated merchants or wealthy planters, had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves, who, by the sheer force of personality, charisma and determination, liberated America from foreign rule, united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare, marched an army from Canada to Brazil, and opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across the continents.  On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan’s accomplishments challenge the limits  of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation.

That’s all the sampling I shall give you. Here’s the book at Amazon, though every bookstore should have copies.  And here is a young Mongolian musician, Battulga, who plays “Jonon Kharin Yavdal” on a horse headed fiddle which has a skin covered box and horsehair strings (even the bow-string) as in an ancient traditional fiddle. Enjoy.



Outsourcing and Insourcing: Where Should Stuff Be Manufactured? by The Elephant's Child

What about manufacturing, aren’t all the jobs going overseas where people work for extremely low wages?  How can we compete with that? It’s true that fewer people are employed in manufacturing plants, but we’re still manufacturing lots of stuff. We’re just doing it with fewer people.

The production line has been changing ever since Henry Ford invented it after visiting a meat-packing plant that was already using the concept.  For simplification sake, at one time someone stood at a particular spot along the assembly line and separated the stream of parts into two different streams, but they developed gates or electric eyes that would do that without a constant attendant, eliminating the need for a worker. But that step was a long time ago. These two videos explain how the world has changed.

Here is a BMW USA manufacturing plant, in 2009. Body shop: spot welding by robots. Mounting of side sills on body structure. Hot-stamping: Heating, compression molding, quenching. Wedding: Drive unit engine, transmission, axle, exhaust system is bolted to the body. Final assembly: BMW 5 Series Sedan rolls out of factory.

There are lots of decisions built into every manufacturing plant, and every product. Skilled workers or cheap workers who can be trained to be skilled. Energy costs. Some manufacturing processes need to be located next to water. Some need rail transportation. Some big things need to be moved, and freeway overpasses are a problem. Is shipping a major expense or minor — depends on the size, fragility and weight of the product. Raw materials: where do they come from, what kind of transportation is needed — some manufacturing plants need to be close to the source of their raw materials. Some need to be close to their market. Where is speed a factor?  Regulations play a part.  Unions v. right-to-work.The decisions are complex, and involve far more than greedy businessmen looking for cheaper labor.

The New York Times recently explained why Steve Jobs bragged when Apple began building the Macintosh in 1983 that it was “a machine that is made in America.” Today, the iPhone is made in China, and the Times article explains the details:

Mr. Jobs angrily held up his iPhone, angling it so everyone could see the dozens of tiny scratches marring its plastic screen, according to someone who attended the meeting. He then pulled his keys from his jeans.

People will carry this phone in their pocket, he said. People also carry their keys in their pocket. “I won’t sell a product that gets scratched,” he said tensely. The only solution was using unscratchable glass instead. “I want a glass screen, and I want it perfect in six weeks.”

After one executive left that meeting, he booked a flight to Shenzhen, China. If Mr. Jobs wanted perfect, there was nowhere else to go.

The facility in Foxconn City, where the iPhone is assembled, has 230,000 employees, many work six days a week, often spending up to 12 hours a day at the plant. Over a quarter of the workforce lives in company barracks, and many workers earn less than $17 a day, a good salary in China. When the first truckloads of cut glass arrived at Foxconn City, in the middle of the night, thousands of workers were aroused and lined up to assemble iPhones by hand. Since then they have assembled more than 200 million iPhones.

China could also supply engineers at a scale the US could not match. Apple executives had estimated that about 8,700 industrial engineers were needed to oversee and guide the 200,000 assembly line workers.  Do read the whole article. It offers a valuable insight into manufacturing and trade that really helps to explain a very complex problem. Not all of it, certainly, but it’s a help in telling when the politicians are knowledgeable or just pandering.



100 Pictures Taken From Airplane Windows —Beautiful! by The Elephant's Child
December 9, 2011, 7:14 am
Filed under: Africa, Australia, China, Developing Nations, Europe, Middle East, United Kingdom

 11. New York, New York

Here is a collection of pictures taken out of airline windows. Sounds like looking at a bunch of clouds, but they are quite amazing, as  you tour the world.  Enjoy.



A Parade of Chinese Women in the Military. by The Elephant's Child
December 4, 2011, 9:19 pm
Filed under: China, Europe, Military, Statism | Tags: , ,

Why is it that — what shall we call them — more authoritarian forms of government seem to go for goosestep marching? This is clearly perfection of the form, but try it — it’s really hard to do. Give me ordinary American natural  marching every time.

The Chinese women are very impressive, but why? Here is the last big American victory parade in New York City at the end of World War II, which I find very moving.

Here are the Germans, circa WWII.  I never understood the reason for the goosestep. Looks odd, and must be hard.




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