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10:58AM

WAPO WonkBlog: "What will we smuggle in the future? Drones, coal, and honeybees."

Psst, got any HCFC-22?Everybody’s making predictions for 2013 right now, but why not aim farther? Recently, the consultancy group Wikistrat ran a large crowd-sourced simulation to try to figure out what sorts of items would be smuggled in 2050.

That’s right, smuggled. The idea is that you can tell a lot about a society by what’s available on its black markets. And over the next four decades the combination of new technologies, environmental pressures and shifting consumer preferences is likely to lead to a whole slew of products and behaviors being banned or restricted.

So here’s what Wikistrat expects will thrive on the black market by 2050. Note that the group mainly focused on identifying new types of contraband — no doubt old crowd favorites like drugs and guns will still be trafficked for decades to come:

Read the entire post at WAPO's WonkBlog.

The pic and caption are apt.  I got the idea for designing the sim from reading a newspaper account of how freon is now a smuggle-able item. Of course, we used it for decades in air conditioning units, but then, about 20 years ago, it was ordered phased out by an international treaty.  So voila!  Two decades later it's perfectly illegal - in some parts of the world, thus the smugglers' market.

Well, that got me thinking:  If we project ahead to 2050, which of today's legal items would become illegal? (And no, I disagree with the blog author noting that we "omitted" foreign arable land sales and leasing as "unconventional" smuggling, because that's an abuse of the term when the item in question cannot be moved across sovereign borders.  Although the concept makes me laugh to remember Woody Allen's "Love and Death" where his Russian father carries around a chunk of sod, pulling it out for friends and declaring, "Someday, I hope to build on it!")

Several dozen analysts cranked a few dozen ideas.  I then grouped them and wrote up the report.  It was a pretty good sim, and it generated (as I suspected it might) the right kind of material that a MSM outlet might like to publicize.

Access the full Wikistrat report (PDF) here and the executive summary too.

4:45PM

Time's Battleland: National Security - Just How Intelligent is the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030?

GETTY IMAGES

Every half-decade, the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends” series produces a roughly 20-year predictive analysis of the world’s evolution – an analysis considered to be the best long-range geopolitical forecasting conducted by the U.S. government. These multi-year efforts involve consultations with hundreds of experts from around the world (the last two drills have featured interviews and presentations from yours truly.) The NIC also conducts global “road shows” to collect feedback for great powers like RussiaChina and various European states.

Simply stated, the biggest problem with this year’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the lack of internally consistent logic throughout each of the worlds presented.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

1:25PM

12/21/12 Battleland post footnote #1: My case for Sino-American partnership

*First footnote to Battleland blog post "A Critique of the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:

  • See also Blueprint for Action:  A Future Worth Creating, see Chapter 3: "Growing the Core By Securing The East," in the subsections "Locking In China At Today's Prices" and "In The Future, America's Most Important Allies Will Be New Core States."

1:22PM

12/21/12 Battleland post footnote #2: My criticism of past NIC Global Trends reports from "Blueprint for Action"

*First footnote to Battleland blog post "A Critique of the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:


** from Blueprint for Action: A Future World Creating, 2005, Chapter 1:  "What the World Needs Now," subsection "Barnett's A-to-Z Rule Set on Processing Politically Bankrupt States."

The National Intelligence Council is sort of the “Supreme Court” of the intelligence community, which is spread across fifteen individual agencies, including the well-known CIA. The Council, or NIC, as most people in the business call it, is made up of a collection of National Intelligence Officers (or NIOs), each of whom is the government’s top expert on some particular subject, such as “economics and global issues” or “East Asia.” Collectively, this organization issues significant reports known as National Intelligence Estimates, which guide senior decision makers throughout the national security establishment in matters of war and peace. But to the public (and especially the Web community), the NIC is probably best known for its “global futures” reports that regularly project the future of the planet ahead a good fifteen years or more. These reports are by far the best examples of futurology to be found within the national security community, in large part because the authors eschew the usual doom-and-gloom of the Pentagon’s futurism, which always portrays the world going to hell in a handbasket. Why? Because that’s just good for business.

Over the course of my career I have participated on several occasions in the NIC’s long process of consulting with “outside experts” as they build these “mapping the global future” reports, and National Intelligence Officers came to virtually every workshop I ever put on at the Naval War College. I came to respect the NIC’s institutional process of looking ahead, because of its willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints, meaning those that posited hopeful or at least benign developments lying ahead and not just the negatives. Soon after The Pentagon’s New Map came out, I was asked by the Intelligence Council to participate in one of these gatherings, a workshop focused on the future of war. I was given the question “Does the United States face a never-ending future of subnational and transnational violence?” I answered yes, and that this was a good thing compared with the Cold War’s far higher levels of interstate warfare and the threat of global nuclear clashes between superpowers.

But I didn’t stop there. I said that future was benign enough only if the United States took it upon itself to try and fashion new rules and new international organizations designed to focus on these particular problem sets. Absent this effort, our tacit acceptance of heightened worldwide levels of such civil strife and terrorism certainly would be bad, in large part because if we didn’t deal with these problems, inevitably some other great powers would feel compelled to do so on their own, possibly triggering intra-Core arms races or—worse—the return of great-power rivalries inside the Gap (i.e., wars by proxy).

Well, the resulting NIC report, Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project, lived up to the Council’s usual fine standards. It lacked the typical hyping of the threat and presented future scenarios in highly imaginative ways. Naturally, when it came out in early 2005, a lot of my Weblog readers pressed me for comments, knowing I had been involved in the process. The blogosphere, the universe of bloggers, was discussing the report at length when it came out, and the judgment of this crowd, full of both amateurs and professionals, was rather uniform: “a very sobering and disturbing view of the future.”

My take was a little different. All the NIC really said in its projection of the world in 2020 was the following: the United States wouldn’t dominate global affairs as it does today; China and India would be far more powerful players; Russia and the Central Asian republics might take several steps backwards politically; the Middle East could experience some serious democratic reform—or not; terrorism would still exist but would be expressed in different, probably more challenging forms, especially as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continued; and the UN would probably be far more marginalized as new political realities emerged in the global security order as a result of all this change. That’s it. That’s the “very sobering and disturbing” future the blogosphere was gobbling up and digesting as a source for pessimism about the world in 2020.

In my view the report was basically a careful, realistic, straightforward projection of today’s trends over the next decade and a half—absent any sort of imaginative response from the global community as a whole. It was like a warning from a physician to his middle-aged male patient: “If you don’t change your lifestyle whatsoever, this is what you’re going to look like in fifteen years: older, flabbier, and generally less healthy.” Surprise, surprise.

By its very nature, the intelligence community feels that it must never engage in advocacy of any particular policy, meaning it defines its job as “just projecting the trends, ma’am,” as it avoids telling the US Government what it should or should not do in response to such projections. That’s their code: Analysts don’t have opinions, just analysis. So what happens when the NIC projects a global future is that the authors feel compelled to describe what every other country in the world will do in response to this unfolding series of events while essentially keeping the United States itself static, meaning the whole world’s experiences change while the United States does not—at least not in any proactive way. Sure, we’re allowed to “age” like everyone else in the scenarios, but the maturation process of other states is dynamic, whereas ours is not.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that in its zeal to avoid policy advocacy, the NIC comes up with future global scenarios that essentially ignore the ability of the play’s leading protagonist to develop further as a character across the unfolding plotline. This is not only ahistoric—meaning it doesn’t jibe well with America’s long-standing role as a generator and purveyor of new rules for the global system—it also sends all the wrong signals to unsophisticated readers about what’s truly possible. By its very character, the NIC can describe only the future “floor,” not the “ceiling.” It can only give us a sense of the natural decay of international order, not its potential for positive regeneration. In short, reports such as these can only describe how bad it would get if America basically did nothing, not how good it could get if we chose to do something about it.

The problem is that most people read these reports and take them as the gospel truth (“After all, these guys know all the secret stuff, right?”), but instead of motivating them toward action, these scenarios drive readers toward fatalism and passivity. Most futurology has this effect: after you put the book down and contemplate its depressing description of what lies ahead, you either want to get the frightening image immediately out of your head or—as so often is the case now—go online and Chicken Little it to death. Frankly, that’s why my blog readers tend to be so loyal: I am a shining beacon of counterintuitive analysis, which in this environment means I am a cockeyed optimist.

Why is that? Aren’t we all working off the same trends? Sure we are. We just choose to view those trends differently. Whereas most national security analysts define their professional environment as “futures to be avoided,” I focus on a future worth creating. They see trends that are inescapable, and so their goals tend to involve finding ways that America can shield itself from dangerous outcomes. I see trends that determine reasonably identifiable incentives among major players, incentives that can be structured in ways that turn potential flash points into opportunities for new rules, new relationships, and safer outcomes. In sum, your average security analyst doesn’t want to engage the future but escape its inevitable grasp (“America will be less powerful!”). What I want to do is embrace that future and shape it from within. So my advice is always, When you see fear, start running toward it.

I can’t write a global future with the lead protagonist stuck forever in some Hamlet-like pose of “To shape the security environment or not to shape, that is the question.” My America has always shaped the future, typically arriving there years before anyone else. As history goes, we’re not the kid in the backseat asking incessantly, “Are we there yet?” Hell, we’re the teenager at the wheel going way over the speed limit, assuming we’ll live forever because we’ll be forever young. And you know what? That spirit is what I like best about this country, and deep down, it’s what the rest of the world likes best about America. We are an insanely optimistic people, and because we are, our brand of leadership tends to scare more than soothe. Because every time the world thinks it’s got the current rule set down in its head, those “damn Americans” try to come up with a new one, always describing it as some “revolution” or something. It’s the “sexual revolution,” or “women’s liberation,” or the “information revolution,” or the “cyberrevolution.” Whatever the rule set, it’s always cast as some damnably unstable impact on global order—and, of course, that’s what it usually is.

 

12:02AM

Chart of the day: globalization vastly improves death

NYT story.  Simply fascinating.

There's no arguing this:  over the last 20 years, or the apogee of globalization's rapid expansion, more babies live into childhood, more children live into adulthood, and adults live longer.

So much for globalization impoverishing everyone and making their lives more miserable.

Check it out:  communicable yields to lifestyle diseases.

The tough work for any global progressive effort is already done.  Now it's all about living that much longer - primarily - because we'll eat that much healthier.  Obesity feeds all the major lifestyle diseases.

Overall, striking evidence that globalization has improved lives the world over:

The shift reflects improvements in sanitation, medical services and access to food throughout the developing world, as well as the success of broad public health efforts like vaccine programs. The results are striking:infant mortality declined by more than half from 1990 to 2010, and malnutrition, the No. 1 risk factor for death and years of life lost in 1990, has fallen to No. 8.

At the same time, chronic diseases like cancer now account for about two out of every three deaths worldwide, up from just over half in 1990. Eight million people died of cancer in 2010, 38 percent more than in 1990. Diabetes claimed 1.3 million lives in 2010, double the number in 1990.

“The growth of these rich-country diseases, like heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, is in a strange way good news,” said Ezekiel Emanuel, chairman of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “It shows that many parts of the globe have largely overcome infectious and communicable diseases as a pervasive threat, and that people on average are living longer.”

The truth is good.

 

9:02AM

Shale gas revolution triggers FDI boom for US

FT front-page story on shale gas boom in US already identifiably responsible for additional $90b foreign direct investment flow into US.

Subtitles are telling:

  • Investments drive US industrial renaissance
  • European companies fear growing divide

Industries that benefit from cheap feedstocks are being targeted, and European counterparts fear they will be at systematic disadvantage in any industry that is fuel-intensive.

Yes, some of these same industries in US argue now for no LNG exports, lest the advantage slip away.  But most energy experts say we can export at will and probably raise the MMBTU price by maybe only one dollar.  We are now about 8-10$ cheaper than LNG prices in Europe and about $15 less than what Asians (mostly the Japanese) are paying.

So yeah, we can have our cake and eat it too.

Forever? 

No, but arguably for a solid generation's time.

So much for "peak oil" determining all.

10:10AM

The growing Sino-America co-dependency on food

FT story on a subject I've been harping on since my last book (and in it):  the stunning co-dependency that arrives with America increasingly feeding China, making our ag output as important to Beijing as the PG's energy exports.

Some data points on China's total imports (so not all NorthAm or US):

  • Cereal imports into China up almost 13,000 percent since 2008 to current 5.2m MT
  • Wheat up 6,000% to 3m MT
  • Rice up 264% to 1.6m MT
  • Overall rise from low-point of 2008 is from 2m MT to 12m MT.
  • China is now the 7th biggest importer in world, after Japan, Egypt (remember that when you imagine Egypt going rogue under the MB), Mexico, EU-27, Saudi Arabia, and SoKo.  Japan is #1 at just under 25m MT.

Note that US is biggest world exporter of wheat, corn and soybeans.

Yes, China is planting like crazy, so its own ag output is up.  It's just that demand is rising much faster.

The key line of the piece: 

China still has an official policy that mandates 95 percent self-sufficiency - a policy known as the "red line" - but recent comments suggest that the insistence on self-sufficiency is waning.

The US is waking up to China as THE ag export market.  Nebraska's top ag official:

China represents a huge export market . . . [and] a growing export destination.  

Nebraska's corn exports to China have doubled in the last half-decade.

China is already the world's biggest soybean importer (and - again - the US is the biggest exporter), and "is adding corn, wheat, barley and rice to its shopping list" (and - again - the US is the biggest exporter of corn and wheat).

11:00AM

Why I'm still in this business

FT story on preacher who "unites opponents of Assad."

Great quote from the man himself, Moaz al-Khatib:

  The international community has been in a slumber, silent and late as it saw the blood of the people bleeding and its children being killed for the last 20 months . . . When the international community intervenes at the right time and when it moves to defend people at the right time it makes societies stable.  The wrong international policies have led to extremism. (italics mine)

Yes, I was glad to see Obama recognize the rebels.

Like he said last night about the elementary school shooting, we have to change the way we do things.

All progressivism begins with this question.

9:55AM

Time's Battleland: Korea - Missile Launch Doesn’t Make NoKo’s Kim Jong-un a Dud

KCNA VIA KNS / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

There’s a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jack David saying latest North Korean missile launch proves Kim Jong-un won’t be a reformer and that — basically — anyone who still believes that is a dupe.

That’s specious logic in the worst, narrow-minded national security way.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

 

12:31PM

Civilization = bad connectivity principle, but dream = good

Trio of stories (2 FT and 1 NYT) on evolving ideologies of Russia (old leader), Egypt (new leader) and China (new leader).

Putin is floating a unique Russian civilization idea - likely as his legacy signature concept in governance.  The purpose is setting the long-term course of how Moscow handles the federation's many nationalities.  For now, a trial balloon, but already the blowback is sensed and it's building.  These nationalities naturally feel like they're being told to assimilate or find themselves a bit lost in Russia's future - as defined by Putin et al.

Morsi in Egypt is now revealing a similar bias on his effort with the constitution.  He wants to make it so Islamist that Egypt's many minorities are reacting badly, seeing no good space for themselves in Egypt's future on this basis.

My point in raising both issues:  when you argue civilization and, on that basis, identity (typically tied to religion), then you're saying, "This is how we're going to run this place and this is how we're going organize our connectivity with the outside world - by requiring this sort of homogeniety at home."

Problem is, the self-limiting nature.  If you want connectivity, you want to promote diversity.   That attracts the bodies and minds and the money.  This is an old concept, as in back to Amsterdam and the Dutch when they built up their global nets.  England picks up this vibe and does similarly.  The US gets the DNA via New Amsterdam-cum-New-York.

When you don't care about identity/religion on this level, you take on all comers, meaning you're open for business with everyone.  That's how you succeed.

Third cite:  Xi Jinping in China resurrecting "Chinese dream" notion as part of his reform/progressive agenda.

That "dream" apes the US version, which is centered on success and the pursuit of happiness.  

Why good?  It says your identity is more about success than comformity and homogeniety.  You'll work with anybody, because the dream trumps the exclusionary identity.

So, my point:  if you go the civilization/religious identity route, you scare off connectivity and globalization (or certainly retard it), but if you go the "dream" route, you choose pragmatism over such identity.  Your identity is simply your culture of success.

I think both Russia and Egypt will learn the limits of this approach, and it will be a painful process. But these are natural growth patterns.

China, I think, risks the other pathway:  the cult of success makes it harder to promote morality.

So it's the old choice:  preserve the identity and the attached morality, or risk both by opening up and prioritizing success.

Why I always advocate the latter:  It simply works better on raising income, and when you raise income, it's a virtuous cycle, as the people become even more tolerant and open, seeing the value in this path.

Meanwhile, if you choose identity over success, you makes less money and achieve less, and you tend to trigger a vicious cycle, as the outside world becomes more evil in your eyes ("Why won't they do business with us on our terms?")

But this is why China succeeds where Russia (and I fear Egypt) will not.

12:03AM

I join the advisory board of an Indian "sysadmin" commercial firm

The company:

Negara Infracon Private Limited is a company, incorporated under company's act 1956, with the main objects of carrying on business of Irrigation, Solar Power production, Infrastructure and Light Rail projects. The registered office is situated at Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh; the corporate office is situated at Bengaluru, Karnataka.

The website:  http://www.negara.in

The vision:

It is our vision and hope to be an infrastructure company of the country that provides environmentally friendly power on most cost effective basis along with providing the most effective infrastructure such are Mono Rail, Metro Rail, Four or Six lane expressways and bridges.

We forecast to grow in the field of Irrigation by taking up projects to provide water to the farmers in India which is the life of Indian economy.

The endless source of energy from the sun is a great task to achieve and requirement of solar power is huge. We visualise our growth at a steady pace. The company is ensuring growth with ethics and prosperity for its stakeholders through inheriting trust, establishing bonds and fostering relationships. We envision a bright further where we stand a globally acclaimed company, synonymous with commitment.

INFRASTRUCTURE

  • Provide effective and modernized Mono/ Metro Rail for major cities in India. This will reduce traffic congestion.
  • Build Express roadways with international standards, safety measures and cope up the need in India.
  • Retain leadership positions amongst organizations in Infrastructure, while working with innovation and dedication in every project undertaken.

IRRIGATION

  • Provide efficient and modernized systems in transporting water to fertile lands of India.
  • To constantly work and ensure cost effective productivity and improvement in transporting water, the most essential element for human race.
  • Retain leadership position amongst organizations in irrigation, while working with innovation and dedication in every project undertaken.

POWER PERFECTION

  • Ensure efficiency of the most common available source of power for sustaining and putting India's growth and development on top gear.
  • Provide clean and green power for the future of Indians. Retain leadership position amongst organizations in solar power generation, while working with innovation and dedication in every project undertaken.
  • To continually innovate ways to ensure cost-effectiveness, enhance productivity, improve financial health of the organization and continual fulfilment of stakeholders' aspirations.

GENERAL BUT SPECIAL

  • To be a transparent organization and technology-driven, that ensures dignity and respect for its team members.
  • To inculcate value system all across the organization for nurturing relationships between its constituents, associates and stakeholders those are based on mutual trust and respect.
  • To continuously upgrade and update both the knowledge as well as the skills of the human resource.
  • Be socially responsible through community development by leveraging our core competencies, resources and knowledge base.
  • To ensure excellence in every activity that is undertaken.

I am found on the Advisory Board page with others:

ADVISORY BOARD

Manish Uprety

MR. MANISH UPRETY (F.R.A.S.)

International

Mr. Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an alumnus of the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, India and the University of London, United Kingdom. The field of Management has been his research area where he explored the co-evolution of strategy and environment. He joins Negara to add to the strategic perspective of the company.

A prolific speaker on international development issues, Mr. Manish Uprety has addressed various established platforms such as Banque de France, Paris; Mexican Parliament, Mexico City; TERI, New Delhi; EABA, Brussels; and ULPGC, Spain, among others. He was invested as a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (F.R.A.S.) of Great Britain and Ireland in October 2010. Mr. Manish Uprety was also conferred with "2006 Global Human Rights Protection Award" by the Indian Institute of Human Rights at the 8th World Human Rights Congress held in New Delhi, India on the World Human Rights Day on the 10th of December 2006. Mr. Uprety looked after the Technological and Institutional Development of CISRI-ISP / IIMSAM which is an inter governmental observer to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations . He is also associated with Kohima Komets Football Club (KKFC) which is a premiership club in the Nagaland Premier League (NPL), Nagaland, India.

 

Manish Uprety

DR. THOMAS P.M. BARNETT

International

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett earned a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1984 (Russian Literature & American Foreign Policy), and then an A.M. from Harvard University's Russian Research Center. After earning a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard, Barnett spent a decade and a half working in U.S. national security, first for a defense think tank (Center for Naval Analyses) and then as a Professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Following a two-year stint in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Barnett entered the private sector as Senior Managing Director of a software firm (Enterra Solutions) focused on global supply-chain management. Dr. Barnett currently serves as Chief Analyst for the massively multiplayer online consultancy Wikistrat. A New York Times-bestselling author of five books, Dr. Barnett gives speeches all over the world to various private and public-sector organizations, and his own consultancy (Barnett Consulting) has advised global corporations and governments since 1998. He blogs on international affairs at his own site (www.thomaspmbarnett.com) and is a Contributing Editor at Esquire magazine.

 

MR. PRAGYANESHWER SHUKLA

Finance

Mr. P. Shukla is a well known figure in the Indian Financal sector who has a Post Graduate degree in Science from the Lucknow University which he secured in the year 1974.  After securing his degree, Mr. Shukla ventured into the Indian Banking sector where he held important managerial positions in a nationalized bank for twenty seven years. Mr. Shukla's vast experience in the field of finance, accounting and foreign trade is his wealth of knowledge from which he contributes as a member of Negara's Advisory Board.

He is also a renowned freelance consultant for financial services like – financial investigations, investigative audit, project reports and more. Mr. Shukla also has an immense interest in learning foreign languages and holds diplomas in French and German.

Obviously, my role in the company is to help source infrastructure deals.

2:16PM

Turning point on US obesity epidemic?

From NYT:

After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.

The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

Crucial to get kids less fat, because fat kids are almost totally doomed to be fat adults, burdened by all manner of lifetime medical ailments.  Our obesity epidemic began with kids and it will end with kids.

Especially tough since so many kids eat majority of their weekday food at school (breakfasts + lunch + snacks). Health advocates have to fight food and beverages industry on this.  Good example:  big push to get sodas out of schools and Coca-Cola and others fire back with "energy drinks" that are just as sugary.  Sugary drinks are believed to account for half of the obesity epidemic.  

Then there are those cheap-skate Republicans in Congress who insist on labeling pizza a "vegetable," while insisting on more tests and thus less phys ed.  I can tell you that Indiana is nuts on that score (testing):  my kids are forced to prep and take these mindless (and useless) tests ALL YEAR LONG.  What a way to prep kids for the 21st century!

But I digress ...

Researchers are trying to figure out what's working.  All they know is this: "declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years."

Looking ahead:

Though obesity is now part of the national conversation, with aggressive advertising campaigns in major cities and a push by Michelle Obama, many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work.

Exercising is required, but it never does it alone (and never will).  Key is reducing all those empty calories and portion sizes ("Want some fries with your pizza and Gatorade?").

What we eat in America is what is most profitable for US food companies and ag corps to sell - plain and simple. We subsidize grains big time and do virtually nothing for fruits and vegetables.

We've got a nanny state alright, and she's telling us that fat is good.

I admire Michelle Obama for working this issue.  Exactly the right focus for her right now.  Because when we solve the tripling of obesity that's unfolded over the past three decades (stunning, really), we solve a good deal of our healthcare crisis.

1:23PM

WSJ: "Terror Fight Shifts to Africa" (I told you so . . . in 2005)

Front-page story on the 7th of December, with subtitle "U.S. Considers Seeking Permission for Military Operations Against Extremists."

This is what I wrote in the early part of 2005, published in October of that year in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating:

CENTCOM’s AOR encompasses the Persian Gulf area extending from Israel all the way to Pakistan, the Central Asian republics formerly associated with the Soviet Union, and the horn of Africa (from Egypt down to Somalia). This is clearly the center of the universe as far as the global war on terrorism is concerned, and yet viewing that war solely in the context of that region alone is a big mistake, one that could easily foul up America’s larger grand strategic goals of defeating terrorism worldwide and making globalization truly global. Here’s why: CENTCOM’s area of responsibility features three key seams, or boundaries, between that collection of regions and the world outside. Each seam speaks to both opportunities and dangers that lie ahead, as well as to how crucial it is that Central Command’s version of the war on terrorism stays in sync with the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The first seam lies to the south, or sub-Saharan Africa. This is the tactical seam, meaning that in day-to-day terms, there’s an awful lot of connectivity between that region and CENTCOM’s AOR. That connectivity comes in the form of transnational terrorist networks that extend from the Middle East increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa, making that region sort of the strategic retreat of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. As Central Command progressively squeezes those networks within its area of responsibility, the Middle East’s terrorists increasingly establish interior lines of communication between themselves and other cells in Africa, as Africa becomes the place where supplies, funds (especially in terms of gold), and people are stashed for future use. Africa risks becoming Cambodia to the Middle East’s Vietnam, a place where the enemy finds respite when it gets too hot inside the main theater of combat. Central Asia presents the same basic possibility, but that’s something that CENTCOM can access more readily because it lies within its area of responsibility, while sub-Saharan Africa does not. Instead, distant European Command owns that territory in our Unified Command Plan, a system constructed in another era for another enemy. Those vertical, north-south slices of geographic commands were lines to be held in an East-West struggle, but today our enemies tend to roam horizontally across the global map, turning the original logic of that command plan on its head.

Central Command’s challenge, then, is to figure out how to connect these two regions in such a way as to avoid having Africa become the off-grid hideout for al Qaeda and others committed to destabilizing the Middle East. By definition, such a goal is beyond CENTCOM’s pay grade, or rank, because it’s a high-level political decision to engage sub-Saharan Africa on this issue—in effect, widening the war. And yet solving this boundary condition is essential to winning the struggle in the Middle East. What the Core-Gap model provides Central Command is a way of describing the problem by noting that transnational terrorism’s resistance to globalization’s creeping embrace of the Middle East won’t simply end with our successful transformation of the region. No, that struggle will inevitably retreat deeper inside the Gap, or to sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this observation important? It’s important because it alerts the military to the reality that success in this war won’t be defined by less terrorism but by a shifting of its operational center of gravity southward, from the Middle East to Africa. That’s the key measure of effectiveness. Achieving this geographic shift will mark our success in the Middle East, but it will also buy us the follow-on effort in Africa. You want America to care more about security in Africa? Then push for a stronger counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East, because that’s the shortest route between those two points.

Ultimately, you’re faced with the larger, inescapable requirement of having to connect Africa to the Core to run this problem to ground, otherwise today’s problem for CENTCOM simply becomes tomorrow’s distant problem for EUCOM. When you make that leap of logic, the next decision gets a whole lot easier: America needs to stand up an African Command. Now, I know that sounds like a huge expansion of our strategic “requirements,” but when you consider the boundary conditions in this way, the discussion shifts from if to when.

The WSJ says the Obama Administration is thinking about asking Congress for expanded hunting authority to likely include Mali, Nigeria, Libia and others.  The focus is naturally al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) expanded geographic reach.

AFRICOM was authorized a little over a year after my book came out. I'm not drawing a line of causality- just pointing out I got it right.

What I got wrong about Africa back then was the speed: I saw this fight shifting over a much longer time and I saw globalization's successful embrace of Africa taking much longer.  In short, my combined optimism/pessimism was simply too slow.

12:02AM

Xi summoning his inner T.R.?

Xi will be walking the tightrope for a solid decade.  He needs to reform - but he's a princeling.  He needs to keep the country growing - but he needs to tame its many excesses (especially industry's rampant abuse of the environment).  And all the while he needs to assert China as a true global power - without taking on any unnecessary or risky fights.

If Xi Jinping isn't China's Teddy Roosevelt, that nation is going to end up wishing he was.

[And if you think I mischaracterize TR in any way, you need to read up on your Edmund Morris, for TR started no wars and actually was the first sitting POTUS to win a Nobel Peace Prize.]

Good sign (first cite below) is his early edict that Chinese officials need to cut down on all the pagentry and red carpets and flower arrangements and "empty talk" and spend more time touring the less fortunate parts of their mini-kingdoms.  You know, see how the other half lives now and then.

Very TR.

Bad sign (second cite) is China cutting exploration cable of Vietnam's national oil company as it tries to explore what it considers to be its chunk of the South China Sea bed.

A bit bully, to coin a phrase, but also a bit TR, who was famous for not taking crap off the powers-that-have-been.

We will want to see only the good stuff, and will cringe at the assertiveness, but the two must go hand in hand. Only Nixon could go to China, as they say.  You want Xi to fix things at home?  Well, then he'll need to prove things abroad.  There is a yin-yang balance to national shame and national pride.  Both work to drive a population and its leaders toward "positive" change.

China won't go meekly into its necessary future - nobody does.

The man has his work cut out for him - as towering as task as TR regrading the economic landscape of this country and centering our politics on the middle class.  Third cite notes that "China's murky shadow banking system could amount to nearly 50 percent of GDP and debate is raging about the effectiveness of how it is regulated."

Let's hope Xi is a suitable "traitor to his class."

After all, we lucked out and got two Roo-se-velts [thank you Netherlands!].

And became the greatest power the world has ever known.

The more China replicates that journey, the better off this world is.

And that's the God's honest truth.

Speaking this morning at Walt Disney World at a political post-election gathering of sorts.  I am preaching the progressive gospel to all who will listen.  Hallelujah brother!  Give me a high-four Mickey!

12:01AM

WSJ front-pager on "global gas push" mirrors Wikistrat sim scenario

Per the recent Wikistrat simulation, "North America's Energy Export Boom," we had a scenario called "Fit of Peaks" in which the US "got it right" (fracking revolution) but much of the rest of the world had a hard time cashing in similarly.

The WSJ front-pager, entitled "Global Gas Push Stalls: Firms Hit Hurdles Trying to Replicate U.S. Success Abroad" fits that model nicely.

Key finding:

Among the reasons for the glacial pace are government ownership of mineral rights, environmental concerns and a lack of infrastructure to drill and transport gas and oil. In addition, much less is known about the geology in most foreign countries than in the U.S., where drilling activity has been going on for more than a century.

The upshot:  the U.S. and Canada could remain the main countries to reap the economic advantages of shale development for some time.

The serious advantage: the gas and ethane glut lures petrochem and fertilizer companies to NorthAm to take advantage of the cost differential - "a huge change after years of shifting production abroad."

Bottom line:  about a decade head-start for NorthAm.

I speak this morning in Houston at a board meeting of a national offshore industries association member company.  This emerging strategic reality is coming to dominate my career right now.

12:23PM

Just starting Wikistrat simulation: Iraq 2023

From the preview page:

Introduction

The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2020, Iraq will roughly double its current oil production of 3 million barrels a day. Already, Baghdad exhibits the air of a raucously corrupt boom town, so it’s fair to say that the economic forces driving Iraq today will grow magnificently more profound over the next decade, as the country migrates from an Iran-sized oil industry to one eventually approaching that of Saudi Arabia.
 
With the current Persian Gulf security situation fixated on the Arab Spring, Iran’s reach for the Bomb and Turkey’s neo-Ottoman ambitions, it’s all too easy to ignore Iraq’s rapid rise as a world oil power (e.g., today’s Iraq accounts for more of the world’s rise in oil production than any other state), which begs the question: What kind of Iraq is possible 20 years post-Saddam?

Should be an interesting scenario drill.  As always, if you want to join Wikistrat's global community of strategic thinkers, the door is open.  Simply contact me and I will put you into the process of application.

12:27PM

Nice post (full of data) about India in Africa

Find it here.

Posted by old friend (or is it demon?) Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge.

Best bit:

Parallels are often drawn between India and China’s African “safaris.” Indeed, their trade with Africa has grown at similar rates; India’s at a compounded annual growth rate of 24.8% and China’s at 26.3%. More importantly, access to natural resources and especially oil is the main driver of both Asian giants’ engagement of the continent.

There are important differences though.  For one, India’s footprint in Africa is small compared with that of China. Take their role in Africa’s trade for instance. In 2011, India accounted for 5.2% of Africa’s global trade compared with China’s 16.9%. Besides, unlike China’s investment in Africa, which is led by state-owned companies, Indian investment is mainly driven by the private sector. In another contrast with Chinese companies, India hires local laborers while many Chinese companies bring Chinese laborers to their projects in Africa.

Indian officials admit that China’s aid-for-oil strategy, which involves extension of soft loans for massive infrastructure projects in return for African oil, used to impress them as it helped Beijing secure deals in its favor, according to the MEA official. This prompted India to follow the Chinese strategy in some countries where it was seeking oil deals.  However, India was unable to match the aid the Chinese offered. It underscored the need for an approach that built on India’s strengths, which ultimately resulted in India focusing on capacity building in Africa.

Worth reading.  

Obtained from Craig Nordin.  He got it from Sudha Ramachandran at The Diplomat.

12:30PM

Big GM investment in China

 

GM reached out to China's auto firm SAIC in the late 1990s, and the fruits of that JV continue to pile up, according to the WSJ last Thursday:

General Motors C. and Chinese joint-venture partners agreed to build a third commercial vehicle factory in southwest China to meet growing demand and protect GM's status as the largest auto maker by volume in the country.

$1b plant looking to crank 400k vehicles by 2015, giving GM and its partners a total capacity of 2m vehicles. China's light vehicles market will top 20m next year, while the US remains around 15m.  600 or so new dealerships planned across China, bringing the volume to 3500 total.

Nothing marks you more fully as globalization's demand center than to have the car market.  That was America in the 20th century, and it's China in the 21st.

 

 

12:01AM

Getting Arctic hydrocarbons will be a lot harder than anticipated

FT special report on Canadian energy that highlights the difficulties of accessing Arctic oil and gas and bringing it economically to market.

First is the sheer remoteness.  Then there's the extremely hostile environment.  Even with the ice-clearing in the summer, the genuine window for exploitation is still measured in weeks.  Everything you use must be special built, platforms with extreme reliability.

And the fields in question need to be big - really big - to cover the high costs.  

In short, only the majors and supermajors should apply, because only they will have the "financial firepower."

This is all before governments issue ever stringent safety requirements to protect the environment, a bar that rises with each Deepwater Horizon.

Finally, there's how you get it to market, with the big choice being between fixed pipelines and ice-class shuttle tankers.  Neither is cheap.

Just a bit of cold water thrown on the anticipated "bonanza."

I note it with interest as I write the final report (while traveling most of the week) for Wikistrat's recent "How the Arctic Was Won" simulation.

12:01AM

Fracking confronts the reality of limited water resources

WSJ piece noting that all this hydralic fracturing (fracking) is coming up against local water limits.  Already, US fracking uses water on par with the city of Chicago or Houston.

So the industry jumps into figuring out how to reuse the water multiple times by cleaning it up (not enough for drinking but enough to reuse).  Already in PA the percentage use of recycled water is up to 17% this year, jumping from 13% last year.

This is a huge issue, because we're looking at 1 million more fracking wells globally by 2035, according to Schlumberger (oilfield services co.).  The issue is expressed both in unwanted externalities (enviro risks/damage) and cost within the industry (acquiring and disposing).

Something to keep an eye on, as the industry competes with Mother Nature (climate change), agriculture and urbanization globally.

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