Entries in US (261)
(RESILIENT BLOG) Political Resilience Is Being Confident To Face Ugly Truths, Knowing Your System Will Survive The Encounter
(RESILIENT BLOG) A World In Which China’s Economic Resilience Seems As Important To The World As America’s
(RESILIENT BLOG) Rating US Healthcare Systems On Infectious Diseases: Which US States Are Most Resilient?
IN THE ADVANCED WEST, WE'VE LONG AGO SHIFTED OUR THINKING ON HEALTHCARE FROM INFECTIOUS DISEASES TO CHRONIC OR "LIFESTYLE" DISEASES. Why? Vaccines, antibiotics, and better sanitation in general put most infectious diseases (and subset communicable diseases) in the West's rearview mirror, compared to the East and South. Plus, they've been our biggest killers for a long time, thanks to modernization. Moreover, the big medical gains that we've seen with globalization's spread include a strong shift from infectious to chronic diseases in the "rising" East and a similarly unfolding shift across the South. Now, of the top-ten killers in the world, according to the WHO, seven are considered chronic problems That's the good news ...
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YESTERDAY THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND (IMF) ANNOUNCED that China's renminbi would become its fifth designated reserve currency, joining the US dollar, EU euro, British pound, and Japanese yen. The move comes in response to a several-year campaign by Beijing to have its currency thus credentialized. For now, central banks around the world hold only about 1% of their reserves in RMB, but Beijing has created an outsized latent reserve currency presence (another 5%) by concluding numerous significant currency swap deals with major trading partners. The latter scheme was apparently enough for the IMF to finally move on China's strong desire.
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Story in NYT explores the obvious dynamics of the Dem Party that I hear from everyone in that camp: it's Hillary and nobody else even close for 2016 election - at this time.
When I spoke at a GOP post-election gathering late last year, I heard the same about them: it's Jeb Bush and nobody else even close for the 2016 election - at this time.
That'll make it 9 elections out of 10 that we've had either a Bush or Clinton or both running - since 1980.
Remember that when America complains about other countries not being able to come up with anybody but legacy types.
- 1980: George H.W. Bush runs for president and is on GOP national ticket as Veep.
- 1984: Bush repeats as Veep
- 1988: Bush wins as President
- 1992: Bush loses to Bill Clinton
- 1996: Clinton repeats as President
- 2000: George W. Bush wins as President (sort of)
- 2004: Bush repeats as President
- 2008: Hillary Clinton runs for President and almost wins Dem nomination
- 2012: the weird election of no Bushes and no Clintons (I believe there was massive solar eclipse)
- 2016: Jeb Bush runs for the GOP and Hillary runs for the Dems
An age of political dynasties.
A pair of ostensibly unrelated New York Times‘ stories recently jumped out at me.
Understand, the paper itself made no attempt to link the two.
What struck me was just how calmly the Times reported 3,000 (!) targeted assassinations by the Obama Administration since 2009, after rather breathlessly noting - just days before – China’s “hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.”
Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.
The easiest call of the last half-century: push Japan around enough and you'll get an end to its constitutionally-mandated pacifism.
Unlike Germany, which self-flagelated to the point of altering its social persona, Japan did no such thing. It simply buried the past, which it can now dig up with enough incentives from Beijing, which seems to have counted on the notion that it could push Tokyo around indefinitely.
No, this doesn't change my attitude on the "pivot" or AirSea Battle. In both cases, it proves how unnecessary they are as over-the-top reactions (yes, I understand the "show of force" part; I just worry that such things tend to be forgotten fairly quickly inside the Pentagon and thus today's feint equals tomorrow's "unshakeable national security interest").
The US enabled Asia's peaceful rise by playing Leviathan and thus obviating anyone's need to "arms race" with anyone else inside the region. The result being, for the first time in history, India, China, Korea and Japan all "risen" without any wars.
Beijing seems to have seen some historic advantage in this situation, which now disappears - inevitably. Thus, now is NOT the time for the US to "pour it on" but to play the honest-broker all the more.
Interesting USA Today story on how "Millennials are demanding capitalism with a conscience, and some of America's biggest brands are delivering."
I give a lot of speeches to middle-aged audiences (now borderline Boomers/Gen X like myself) and they express the usual concerns over the Millennials as the next to pick up the torch - so to speak.
So I talk about my oldest two and say most of the things stated in this article, so it was good to come across it and realize I wasn't unduly extrapolating from my kids:
This trend-setting, if not free-spending groupd of 95 million Americans, born from 1982 to 2004, live and breathe social media and are broadly convinced that doing the right thing isn't just vogue, but mandatory. With nearly a third of the population driving this trend, kindness is becoming the nation's newest currency.
It always amazes me how America raises the next generation that it needs.
Comes right on the heels of recent talks with US to consider starting similar negotiations.
This is the West not waiting on the WTO, which is good.
It's also the West recognizing collective strengths, which is also good.
That's the funny thing about trade pacts - they tend to come when times are bad.
Because, when times are good, everyone's too picky and demanding. But when times are bad, and everyone assumes trade protectionism will rule, wiser heads prevail.
This is old-school globalization (1945-1980), and it's good to see that it's still capable of moving the ball forward.
One of the ways in which China starts getting blamed for all things globalization is the direct impact its consumers can have on global markets - sending them soaring and crashing in a historical heartbeat.
I've talked about China's incredible hunger for various nuts in the past, and how that demand has fundamentally reshaped ag markets in the US.
This NYT story discusses how fishermen off the coast of Mexico are ignoring governmental attempts to preserve an overfished area for sea cucumbers. Out-of-area guys are slipping into zones being vigilantly guarded by locals and pulling out hauls right under their noses. This creates a "wild west" atmosphere were towns square off against towns over their precious slices of the pie and every stranger is treated like a would-be criminal.
Until China emerged in its middle-class glory, they wasn't much of a demand, as sea cucumbers aren't really eaten by Mexicans. But now the demand is such that one guy poaching can claim $700 a day in profit.
So this section of Mexico's coastline is in uproar . . . because Chinese like their sea cucumbers.
There will come a time - soon enough, when virtually everyone in the world who isn't Chinese will be living some version of this story.
A while back, America played that role, and while everyone wanted to please that American consumer, the dynamic created a lot of antipathy too.
And that is what's coming toward China at high speed.
Cartoon found here (in an FT op-ed that fits this post nicely - if orthogonally).
Read through a variety of the tenth-year anniversary reviews, and I thought Thomas Friedman's was the best - despite the weird title (Democrats, Dragons or Drones?).
His basic notion that it takes the next generation to create and shape the subsequent reality is correct. Friedman pegs it at "9 months and 21 years to develop."
Fair enough. But the question (as he also notes) hinges on that generation's journey. Done well, it works. Done badly enough and a vicious spiral ensues. In truth, the jury remains out on that score.
We won the war - no doubt, and then took a pass on the postwar. If we hadn't, then questions of "why?" fade away. In the post-9/11 mood, America possessed the desire to reshape the region and Saddam was the obvious target. Direct causality was not the issue, although Dick Cheney tried to sell that. Nor was direct threat, referring to the late and frantic oversell of the WMD to Congress. The purpose - all along - was structural retribution: as in, you reshaped our world, now we reshape yours. Americans are just deeply uncomfortable admitting that, so we needed a clear and present storyline to drive our revenge-flick dynamics.
The resulting strategic "pre-emption" was oddly symmetrical in ambition but certainly not in cost (and why should it be so between a superpower and a non-state actor?).
So when we take that pass on the aftermath of the war, and basically pretend that what comes next doesn't really matter, we abort the entire regional restructuring ambition (which, if you remember, was on a nice roll for 2-3 years there) and we allow ourselves to be swallowed up (in terms of strategic effort and attention) by an insurgency that was completely foreseeable and completely manageable - if we had bothered to embrace that inevitability.
But instead of embracing it, we did what we always do and called the postwar another war. And wars yield a singular answer in US military history - called, more firepower. And then we found that made things worse (go figure).
And then the White House, chastened finally by the 2006 midterms, relabeled the conflict and rebranded the mission - and then we succeeded again.
But by then the public narrative had already been cast (Bush lied, too many deaths, too much cost).
So ultimately the Bush administration pays the legacy cost for its mistakes, which mostly had to do with stubbornness. They had their narrative of a successful war and stuck to it - until it hurt so bad that they had to change.
So what are we left with?
In structural terms, I like what the Middle East has become. The inevitabilities are being processed and Iran is more isolated than ever. And thanks to larger structural changes in the global economy, the area is coming under new superpower management - inexorably. None of it is nice, but it was never going to be anything but painful and violent. The Arab world has an enormous amount of catching up to do WRT globalization, and it will be awful in execution (and with Africa leaping ahead on many fronts, the Middle East and North Africa - or large portions of it - risk becoming globalization's long-term basket case).
If the US had handed off the region still encased in its many dictatorships, China would have a much easier time over the next two decades. Now, it faces challenges that are likely to alter its own political structure significantly - just like it did to the US. Some naturally see the "defeat of American empire" in the region, but since empire was never America's goal, that judgment is meaningless.
All that matters is the relative evolutions of the three superpowers of the 21st century: China, India and America.
America did, per my original Esquire piece, take strategic ownership of the Middle East in a big way. That ambition was both debilitating and liberating: we took our shot (badly) and now we're done "owning" things there (besides Iran's nukes). In that way, Iraq processed our inevitable post-9/11 over-reaching response (we are a democracy) and hurried us along the exhaustion-collapse-rock bottom-recovery-resurrection dynamic that was always slated for us in the post-Cold War world (our inability to handle the success of the "end of history" - aka, the globalization of our economic connectivity model). We had gotten used to running things, and we weren't going to stop until something made us stop - an unpleasant journey but a necesssary one.
Now, in grand structural terms, the race among my C-I-A trio is well underway. The Obama administration, needing a switch-over target, sells its Asian pivot. This is not a good answer, as I have noted frequently - but rather a red herring. The real struggle in Asia doesn't involve us except in an off-shore balancing role.
Instead, the real struggles of the future involve the very same frontier integration I've been talking about for a decade now. On that score, we are looking fine enough in our ongoing restructuring of our portfolio, while China's grows frighteningly larger relative to its ability to deliver and manage regions distant from its shores. India is just begining to recognize what responsibilities lie ahead.
You'll say that China will do it differently, but the structure of the system will force the same responses: China cannot afford to lose its growing overseas dependencies (much greater than any borne by the US), and so the responses will be mounted. And when they don't go well (whoever gets it right - right off the bat?), change will double back upon China - to its general benefit (along with the world's).
Iraq was always a means to an end (when in history has great power war ever been anything else?). During the real-time execution, it seems like everything - as does every war throughout history. But half a century later? It looks very different. It's a stepping stone for superpowers: some step up and some step down, some step away and some step in. None of it is exactly what it appears to be in the light of present-day reporting. Per Zhou Enlai's take on the French Revolution, we will be witnessing the downstream consequences across the century.
To me, this is the ideological conflict of the 21st century: money = access to bio revolution = longer lives, so access to tech is self-licking ice-cream cone (I live longer and therefore vote more and - BTW - have more money to spend on politics, which increases my access to tech, which makes me live longer, which ...).
Check it out from WAPO:
ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — This prosperous community is the picture of the good and ever longer life — just what policymakers have in mind when they say that raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare is a fair way to rein in the nation’s troublesome debt.
The county’s plentiful and well-tended golf courses teem with youthful-looking retirees. The same is true on the county’s 41 miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches, abundant tennis courts and extensive network of biking and hiking trails.
The healthy lifestyles pay off. Women here can expect to live to be nearly 83, four years longer than they did just two decades earlier, according to research at the University of Washington. Male life expectancy is more than 78 years, six years longer than two decades ago.
But in neighboring Putnam County, life is neither as idyllic nor as long.
Incomes and housing values are about half what they are in St. Johns. And life expectancy in Putnam has barely budged since 1989, rising less than a year for women to just over 78. Meanwhile, it has crept up by a year and a half for men, who can expect to live to be just over 71, seven years less than the men living a few miles away in St. Johns.
The widening gap in life expectancy between these two adjacent Florida counties reflects perhaps the starkest outcome of the nation’s growing economic inequality: Even as the nation’s life expectancy has marched steadily upward, reaching 78.5 years in 2009, a growing body of research shows that those gains are going mostly to those at the upper end of the income ladder.
The tightening economic connection to longevity has profound implications for the simmering debate about trimming the nation’s entitlement programs. Citing rising life expectancy, influential voices including the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission, the Business Roundtable and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have argued that it makes sense to raise the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare.
But raising the eligibility ages — currently 65 for Medicare and moving toward 67 for full Social Security benefits — would mean fewer benefits for lower-income workers, who typically die younger than those who make more.
“People who are shorter-lived tend to make less, which means that if you raise the retirement age, low-income populations would be subsidizing the lives of higher-income people,” said Maya Rockeymoore, president and chief executive of Global Policy Solutions, a public policy consultancy. “Whenever I hear a policymaker say people are living longer as a justification for raising the retirement age, I immediately think they don’t understand the research or, worse, they are willfully ignoring what the data say.”
So counter-intuitive: raising the age = even more disproportional burden on less weathy.
The segregation is already well underway between the long- and short-lived.
The two counties in FLA:
It won't be the "clash of civilizations" in the 21st century, but the clash of generations.
NYT front-pager yesterday on "Obama's Bid for Trade Pact with Europe Stirs Hope."
Impossible! I know.
If trade deals are hard in good times, then they must be harder in tough times, right? I mean, aren't we told by stern-faced national security experts about how the Great Recession is fostering trade wars and currency wars, so this move - amidst all such rising trade protectionism - is IMPOSSIBLE, correct?
Except trade deals like this get down EXACTLY during slow times. Remember when we got NAFTA, because this one will end up being just as big or bigger. NAFTA was Clinton's signature foreign policy achievement. I know, I got the grand tour of his library from the director when I gave a speech there years back, and NAFTA was front and center.
If successful (and this will be), then this will be Obama's big achievement - the one history will remember. Compared to this, the wars and the targetted assassinations will be miniscule, because they just deal with the friction caused by globalization's historic expansion, whereas this will fuel another wave.
Missed yesterday on 20-hour workday that featured 4 flights - sweet! Just to go to fricking Norfolk from Indy. Such is the cost of being able to sleep in your own bed both nights (I have had all the hotels in this world that I care to). Unbelievable logistics that left my head aching from all the up-and-down. I am going to build a future that has minimal flying and maximum time on the waves. Count on it.
MS and Huawei do a GM-SAIC (my fave example of getting yourself some Chinese to capture the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid).
Microsoft, taking aim at the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market, said on Monday that it would team up with Huawei of China to sell a low-cost Windows smartphone in Africa.
The phone, called the Huawei 4Afrika Windows Phone, will cost $150 and initially be sold in seven countries.
Slick connection, yes?
Africa is the world’s fastest-growing region for smartphones, with an average sales growth of 43 percent a year since 2000, according to the GSM Association, an industry trade group based in London.
In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 10 percent of the 445 million cellphone users have smartphones, but that is expected to increase rapidly as operators expand high-speed networks.
By 2017, most consumers in South Africa will be using smartphones, up from 20 percent last year, according to the GSM Association. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, the outlook for sustained growth is even greater, with smartphone penetration projected to reach just 30 percent by 2017.
The World Bank says that roughly a quarter of the one billion people on the continent are middle-class wage earners, the target group that Microsoft will try to reach with the Huawei phone, Mr. de Sousa said.
“Africans are generally quite conscious of brand, quality and image,” he said.
Some serious bottom-of-the-pyramid stuff.
Think about it: MS and Wal-Mart making these big moves in Africa.
Biggest analytic mistake I've ever made was overestimating how slowly (yes, my original post had me mis-stating this) Africa would embrace globalization and succeed with it. Totally blew it.
And that mistake taught me: the bias of the national security type toward pessimism is a huge analytic weakness WRT globalization. It really means Washington, by and large, doesn't have a clue - PNT worst of all.
And that's a weird realization, when you remember that this era of globalization is a US-led creation, but now, here we are, and the progenitor and long-time bodyguard has lost its analytic ability to understand its own creation.
For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.
Read the entire article at World Politics Review.
Nice op-ed in NYT on Tuesday.
A familiar charge: "Islamist terrorists want a lawless stronghold in West Africa."
US, we are told, has spent $500m over past decade to keep violent Islamic extremists at bay in West Africa, but it's still too busy elsewhere to mount any serious Mali effort. Thus the onus is on interested local powers like Algeria and interested outside powers like France. Otherwise we get more Benghazi-style attacks. This is a natural external cost of the Arab Spring - new garbage to be taken out.
Usual lead-from-behind pitch: US supports with logistics and intell and we need OCT (other countries' troops).
This is the reality of the Obama administration's decision to "pivot" to East Asia and disavow a troop-based approach to frontier settling in Africa. It's tough love to say the least.
It's just so odd that we're always so intent on simultaneously containing China AND carrying its water (so to speak) elsewhere in the world, except now we're endeavoring mightily to make it somebody else's blood for Chinese resources. It's just weird that we essentially refuse to cooperate when our strategic interests overlap JUST because of the tensions in East Asia. Back in the day (read, Nixon & Kissinger), we had more of a linkages perspective. But with Obama, continuing the Bush thing, it's our way or the highway; you either cooperate across the board or we oppose you across the board.
We need another Nixon to rationalize our relationship with China, because it is beyond Obama's strategic capacity.
I have been preaching for well over a decade now that America needs to realize that it's most productive allies going forward, when it comes to security affairs, are going to be different from those upon whom it relied in the past.
It's a simple logic that fits global trends: Europe was incentivized big-time before, it's far less so now. America feels a different responsibility on a global scale. China and India rise, their global interests expand, and they display more and more interest and capacity to defend those interests.
So not a hard leap: you work with those most similarly incentivized in the era that you're in right now. You don't hold to nostalgia. You want allies with big (and growing) militaries), growing interests, and a clear willingness to go place and kill people to protect those interests. Crudely put, but there it is.
We are currently in an age of transition from a familiarity and comfort-zone with Europe to one in which we are inevitably drawn into cooperation with India and China to manage this world from a security perspective.
And yet, there is a part of me that says, what matters most going forward is who gets to the shared future in the best shape. And that means, who processes (as I've said in the brief for a while now) the widespread populist anger and pursues a sufficiently progressive agenda to clean things up and get their countries in shape for the economic competitions still to come. By that last part, I mean, we see a global middle class rise now, and we face an era of extreme technological change as a result. Why? The compelling global need to disconnect standard of living from consumption - plain and simple.
For now, I like the path America is going to have to go down regarding painful reforms and improvements better than I like those of India or China (also a staple of my brief). We've engaged in such progressive eras before and we're well suited to that task. We simply lack the political leadership now.
And here's the rub that creates the doubt.
If we run off too seriously in our strategic "pivot," I fear we engage in the usual escapism ("Look Ma! I'm fixing the future!") instead of looking within and making the necessary changes happen.
Europe faces many of the same advanced challenges. We unconsciously model ourselves on them, and they on us, far more than either cares to admit. Read the Economist if you don't believe me.
So my concern is this: are we missing the great opportunity for co-evolutionary dynamics if America turns too swiftly and deterministically on this pivot?
Obama is an arrogant man and an even more arrogant president. Not as bad as Bush, but still.
I fear this strategic "pivot" is one of the most poorly considered shifts the US has ever made. I usually cite the foolishness of picking fights with one's banker, and there are many more, but this time I think we're losing our center of gravity some inside globalization.
I also fear we're missing a chance to reform ourselves as needed. We'll find no answers in China and India on this score. And - again - the sense of geo-political escapism is palpable regarding the Arab Spring, Africa's churn, our need to integrate more with LATAM.
Don't get me wrong: I don't see scarier worlds out there that need more US military operations. I see a world of small threats, small wars and small - networked - efforts.
And then I see a president with this grand notion of boxing China in - no matter what fine words he's using - and I see a narrow vision arrogantly pursued.
NYT story on widespread protests in New Dehli over the apparent gang rape and (eventual) murder of a young female student (23) on a bus. The woman died from her wounds, which included penetration by a metal rod.
Gruesome stuff, to say the least.
The nature of the violence isn't what catches my sense of historical timing. Men in packs will do the most atricious things.
What's interesting here (and it corresponds to a scenario proposed by a Wikistrat analyst at a recent sim we ran) are sociologists linking this growing pack violence against Indian women to a growing disparity in gender numbers - i.e., excess males after years and years of discarding female fetuses. The result is an age cohort where there are too many guys, too few females to court, and a budding social anger among the males that translates into violence against women and implicit attacks on their rights and standing. In short, too few women relative to men = social devaluation of females, making them "fair game" in the minds of angry young men.
I will tell you, I buy excess males turning against governments when jobs are not there, and I buy this too. I've never bought, in the modern context, the bit about having to place excess males in the military and then going to war. That's applying old logic to modern situations.
But the "war" does come, is the point. It's just a war against women.
The upside? It forces women to fight harder and more pervasively for their rights in society, and here the historical timing reminds me of the US in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of seismic and permanent change for women in American society. I was born (1962) into one world regarding the role of women, but by the time I was a young male courting (1982, when I met my wife and started dating her), it was a very different universe. My wife was the only daughter of a woman who divorced her husband and left to pursue her PhD - I mean, really radical stuff in the early 1970s. That experience made my spouse a very different person, and thus forced a different relationship (trivial but telling example: my second middle initial comes from my taking my wife's maiden name of Meussling, thus rendering, in the eyes of the USG, my original name (Thomas Patrick Barnett) as my "maiden name" for all time).
It's a tiny example of how much change happened in the US on womens' issues across the short timespan of my first 25 years of life. I can't possibly guess at the rate of change that older civilizations like India and China will enjoy/suffer. I can just speculate that this awakening is coming, and that it's going to be huge.