Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Search the Site
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace
12:23PM

The four stages of Putinism

 Wikistrat is currently running a simulation on "When Putin Falls."  It's not a prediction, per se, but an exploration of a pathway in which Putin does not finish out his current six-year term.

With that in mind, check out "The four stages of Putinism," by Andrei Piontkovsky at the Hudson Institute.

They are:

 

  1. Creating the legitimizing myth
  2. Period of storms and stresses
  3. Heroic triumph
  4. Ideological exhaustion and death

 

In  my mind, Putinism was an inevitable rightist-surge following the opening-up under Yelstin (too chaotic).  It set the ship of state on a steadier course but it has not knowledge of how to rule - only how to build and consolidate rule (the siloviki).

What is hopefully next is the permanent normalization of politics post-Putin.  He can facilitate that in a graceful way, but one is tempted to say that's unlikely.

Anyway, already any number of interesting scenarios posted on the sim's wiki.

If you are interested in joining Wikistrat's Analytic Community (now about 600 analysts worldwide), contact me at thomaspmbarnett@wikistrat.com.

12:26PM

LockMart scores desalination breakthrough?

 

Fascinating to me, and to have a defense contractor to boot!

HT to Jim Henkenius.

Reuters story here.

Gist of short notice:

A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

Why this matters so much:  check out the NYT story on India's growing water woes.

That people in one of the rainiest places on the planet struggle to get potable water is emblematic of the profound water challenges that India faces. Every year, about 600,000 Indian children die because of diarrhea orpneumonia, often caused by toxic water and poor hygiene, according to Unicef.

Half of the water supply in rural areas, where 70 percent of India’s population lives, is routinely contaminated with toxic bacteria. Employment in manufacturing in India has declined in recent years, and a prime reason may be the difficulty companies face getting water.

And India’s water problems are likely to worsen. A report that McKinsey & Company helped to write predicted that India would need to double its water-generation capacity by the year 2030 to meet the demands of its surging population.

separate analysis concluded that groundwater supplies in many of India’s cities — including Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai — are declining at such a rapid rate that they may run dry within a few years.

The water situation in Gurgaon, the new mega-city south of Delhi, became so acute last year that a judge ordered a halt to new construction until projects could prove they were using recycled water instead of groundwater.

It's an old story:  nobody really prioritizes the innovation until the national security tag gets slapped on - amidst a general defense budget slowdown.  Then voila!  Big player comes through.

9:34AM

The SysAdmin was meant to be "light"

Nice piece in Foreign Policy about what it takes to do nation-building on a light footprint.  Title is, "Wanted: Ph.D.s Who Can Win a Bar Fight."  Reminds me of my "Pistol Packing Peace Corps" line from Blueprint.

The start:

Looming budget cuts, ground forces worn down by years of repeated deployments, and a range of ever evolving security challenges from Mali to Libya and Yemen are quickly making "light footprint" military interventions a central part of American strategy. Instead of "nation building" with large, traditional military formations, civilian policymakers are increasingly opting for a discrete combination of air power, special operators, intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups, and contractors, often leveraging relationships with allies and enabling partner militaries to take more active roles.

Despite the relative appeal of these less costly forms of military intervention, the light footprint is no panacea. Like any policy option, the strategy has risks, costs and benefits that make it ideally suited for certain security challenges and disastrous for others. Moreover, recent media coverage of drone strikes and SEAL raids may also distort public perceptions, creating a bin Laden effect -- the notion of military action as sterile, instantaneous, and pinprick accurate. Yet nighttime raids are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg: the most visible part of a deeper, longer-term strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis, and relies heavily on human intelligence networks, the training of local security forces, and close collaboration with diplomats and development workers.  For these smaller-scale interventions to be an effective instrument of national policy, civilian and military leaders at all levels should make a concerted effort to understand not only their strategic uses and limitations, but also the ways the current defense bureaucracy can undermine their success.

The most critical resource requirement in smaller interventions is human capital: talented, adaptable professionals who are not only fluent in language, culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships, but also willing to deploy for long periods and operate with little guidance. Smaller-scale missions mean less redundancy, less room for error, and more responsibility for every person in the field.

Worth reading.  Guy relates his own experiences in field.

Then the depressing ending:

The looming defense budget cuts only complicate matters, as they are likely to greatly intensify the Pentagon's natural institutional tendency to protect large, high-tech, expensive programs, while "squishy," esoteric programs such as language lessons, culture immersion, broadening experiences, advanced education, advisory units, and other human capital investments -- all invaluable to smaller missions -- have little hope of being prioritized. Without a concerted, sustained effort by military and civilian leaders at all levels, the state of affairs within the defense establishment may come to resemble the parable of the blind men and the elephant, with doctrine writers, strategists, operators, and budget analysts all drawing different lessons from the past decade of war and telling a different story about how the institution should change to remain relevant. Unless speeches and policy documents are backed up by culture, processes, doctrine, and strategic clarity, the light footprint will likely remain a niche capability confined to a few fringe military units, not an effective instrument of national policy.  

Sad but true.  We prefer our toys.

10:08AM

The elder entitlement conundrum: raising retirement age doesn't get you what you want

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:

Now globally:

It won't be the "clash of civilizations" in the 21st century, but the clash of generations.

9:39AM

Censorship of tweets/microblog posts in China

WAPO article on Rice U. study (richly detailed and seemingly very robust in data capture and analysis on how the Chinese gov deletes micro-blog posts).

First point article makes is that China's flow of tweets is several times that of Twitter, so we're talking massive amount.  It seems gov cuts about 12% of them.

Here are the envisioned procedures:

  • Explicit filtering: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which stops the message from posting and warns the user he has violated policy.
  • Implicit filtering: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which delays the message until a censor can see it and tells the user there’s a server error in the meantime.
  • Camouflaged posts: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which keeps the message from displaying publicly but shows the user it has posted.
  • Backwards repost search: either a human censor or an automated system discovers a problematic posts and deletes all versions of it (re-posts, etc.) across the network.
  • Backwards keyword search: a censor notices a problematic keyword and deletes a number of its instances across the network.
  • User monitoring: certain users who are censored frequently are flagged for closer scrutiny.
  • Account closures: censors shut down problematic accounts entirely. The study counted 300 such closures of 3,500 accounts in a one-month period.
  • Search filtering: a regularly updated list of terms cannot be searched.
  • Public timeline filtering: sensitive topics are edited out of the general Weibo “fire hose.”
  • While we may celebrate the technical achievement (most posts killed in less than 10 minutes), we must remember the tremendous effort required and the larger reality that banned conversations occur all the time.  All the government succeeds in doing is clamping down on public transmission.

    The topics show how defensive the government is - from the geostrategic to the completely mundane:

    Okay, so Syria trends one day and then gov corruption comes next, but then look at the rainstorms cluster, because that's just people bitching about how poorly the gov responded to the frickin' rain!  I mean, that is sad.

    What's sad about this effort is that the gov does seek to respond on some level to these issues, so it listens.  It just can't allow that listening or response process to be acknowledged - much less the initial bitching.

    You may spot strength in that, or some BS about the "Chinese way of governance" and so forth, but all that fades away as the Chinese people modernize their society and exhibit more and more competence in running their own daily lives, businesses, and the larger society itself.  

    By engaging in all this clamping down of speech, all the government does is signal that it's not to be held responsible for its failures, and that determination blocks the naturally positive expansion of nationalism in the direction of societal self-improvement, meaning the gov is making itself less stable and thus more brittle over time by refusing to respect its own people and their righteous complaints.

    In historical terms, this is spitting in the wind and wondering why there always seems to be saliva in one's eyes. The government is simply refusing to converse with a public that is becoming more self-deterministic - through economic success - with each passing day.

    Again, there is no singular Chinese/Asian path in this regard.  The same breakdown of the collective mindset that happened in the West happens in the East.  Modernization/industrialization is simply that powerful.

    9:32AM

    Chavismo in charts (WAPO)

    Great article that seeks to explain successes and failures of Huge Chavez in charts.

    Here they are the four that attracted my attention, as they represent judgment by peers (and not the US):

     

    So he was clearly slipping inside the country, although his strong-arm populism still captured about half the population.

    Colombia is where Chavez did his most meddling: supporting insurgents and setting up his regime as a trans-shipper of narcotics into North America.  Clearly no love-loss there.

    The countries where the middle class is growing (and Bolivia - considered in the Chavismo camp).  Even in Bolivia, 60% don't have any real confidence in the man.  The continent's real players, Brazil and Chile, clearly wanted nothing to do with the man - whatever false praise was heaped on him by Brasilia.

    The economic record indicates a moment of Putinesque "brilliance" afforded by high energy prices mid-decade, and then run-of-the-mill performance during which antipathy grows within the country regarding his heavy-handedness - only natural.  The big failure was on inflation, the long-time scourge of the region.  Stunning failure there that represented his tendency to "eat the seed corn."  That's the truly painful legacy:  Chavez ran down the oil industry and it'll take a while to get it back to its true potential.

    So a good show, but no more lasting impact that any previous populist demagogue and strong-man.

     

    11:40AM

    Time's Battleland: MILITARY Pentagon Malady: “Next-War-Itis”

     

    I was approached by Foreign Policy magazine back in January to pen one of their “Think Again” columns, this one focusing on the future of war.

    Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.  


    8:17AM

    The future of social work (youth services)

    Fascinating NYT story on how police precincts in NYC are moving "left of boom" (as the military says) to intervene with vulnerable youth BEFORE they even get involved with the gangs, etc.

    The strategy:

    The New York City Police Departmenthas embarked on a novel approach to deter juvenile robbers, essentially staging interventions and force-feeding outreach in an effort to stem a tide of robberies by dissuading those most likely to commit them.

    Officers not only make repeated drop-ins at homes and schools, but they also drive up to the teenagers in the streets, shouting out friendly hellos, in front of their friends. The force’s Intelligence Division also deciphers each teenager’s street name and gang affiliation. Detectives compile a binder on each teenager that includes photos from Facebook and arrest photos of the teenager’s associates, not unlike the flow charts generated by law enforcement officials to track organized crime.

    The idea, in part, is to isolate these teenagers from the peers with whom they commit crimes — to make them radioactive.

    This is a form of "big data" intervention:  based on trajectories, the cops know who's highly likely to be sucked into certain activities.  Their names start appearing on police blotters - often on "both sides" (victim and perpetrator).  The cops also know where and when the activity is likely to occur.

    So they just start showing up, making it clear they know you and where you're headed.

    Tell me that's not just aggressive social work.  The signs are all there.  The initial indicators are piling up.  You know who, what, where, when and why.  Question is, do you just wait with this information or do you act pre-emptively?

    The whole linking-the-dots thing about 9/11 has many parallels in other security domains, with obvious overlaps in medical, environmental, etc.

    This is where "big data" will take governance.  

    This is where we will locate the looming Progressive Era.

    Same things holds on bad actors internationally.

    Yes, we can resort to old labels and call it many names.  Or we can grow up and understand that we can and will do better.

    Writing off vulnerable populations isn't noble.  It's merely shirking your civic/global duty.

    12:01AM

    Foreign Policy: Think Again: The Pentagon (The military's Chicken Littles want you to think the sky is falling. Don't believe them: America has never been safer.)

    MARCH/APRIL ISSUE 

    BY THOMAS P.M. BARNETT

    "The Pentagon Is Always Fighting the Last War."

    Just the opposite. The Pentagon, as former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates derisively pointed out, has a bad case of "next-war-itis." With Iraq now ancient history and Afghanistan winding down, all four of the major U.S. military services today prefer to imagine distant, future, high-tech shoot-'em-ups against China (er, well-equipped adversaries) over dealing with the world as we find it, which is still full of those nasty little wars. As Marine Corps general and outgoing Central Command boss James Mattis once told me, "I find it intellectually embarrassing that people want to hug the Chinese [and exclaim], 'Oh, thank God we have another peer competitor at last! Now we can go back to building the weapons that we always wanted to build.'"

    Read the entire article at Foreign Policy.

    12:33AM

    Mr. Ignatius, I called it the "Department for Everything Else"

    Nice piece by David Ignatius at WAPO about the "power gap" in the US foreign policy establishment.  He describes it as basically the missing link for all the complex security situations out there where the traditional "big war" US force isn't appropriate:

    Here lies one of the biggest unresolved problem for U.S. national-security planners today: How can America shape events in an unstable world without putting “boots on the ground” or drones in the air? Does this stabilizing mission belong to the experts at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)? Or to the State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, which was created in 2011 to deal with such problems? Or to the facilitators and analysts at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which was created in 1984 to help resolve conflicts peacefully? Or maybe to the covert-action planners at the CIA, who work secretly to advance U.S. interests in key countries?

    The answer is that all of the above would have some role in shaping the U.S. response to a potential crisis. But in practice, the overlapping roles mean that none of them would have ultimate responsibility. Thus, in our imaginary NSC meeting, no one takes charge.

    Actually, I called it the System Administrator force at first, and I said it would ultimately be more civilian than uniform, more USG than DoD, and more private-sector funded than fueled by foreign aid.  

    That was in The Pentagon's New Map, which Ignatius praised so much in a December 2004 WAPO column that he got me fired from the Naval War College a few days later (so yes, I have known what it was like to have your government career axed by a flattering MSM piece).  

    I haven't had a full-time job since - and never will again (by choice).  As the old Roman proverb goes, A slave with many masters is a free man.

    Then, in Blueprint for Action, I argued that my Sys Admin force needed a bureaucratic center of gravity in the USG for all the reasons Ignatius cites in this recent column, and I called the Department of Everything Else.  And yeah, it was all about the "power gap" he describes there: 

    I’ve talked recently with officials from all these agencies, and what I hear is discouraging. They’re each heading in their own direction, working on their own particular piece of the puzzle. The pieces get assembled in well-managed U.S. embassies overseas, where the ambassador makes the country team work together. But similar coordination happens too rarely in Washington.

    The U.S. Institute of Peace, headed by Jim Marshall, prides itself on being a small, nimble organization with a cadre of specialists who can travel to crisis zones and meet with different sects, tribes and parties. But the organization likes its independence and doesn’t want to be an arm of the State Department or any other bureaucracy. It’s a boutique, but that means its efforts are hard to multiply. And its presence can create confusion about who’s doing what.

    State’s new Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations has the right mission statement. But it’s only 165 people and shrinking, and it doesn’t even have the heft to lead the State Department’s activities, let alone the full government’s. The bureau’s chief, Rick Barton, wants State to designate a “center of gravity” for each budding crisis, so that there’s at least an address for mobilizing resources. It’s a good idea but just a start.

    USAID has been America’s lead development agency for decades. But it’s also a perennial area of bureaucratic dispute, and many analysts argue that the nation gets less bang for its development buck than it should. It’s hard to imagine USAID being the strategic answer. The same goes for the CIA, which under John Brennan wants to refocus on its core intelligence-collection mission, rather than covert action.

    It’s a cliche these days to talk about how America needs more emphasis on “soft power” and its better-educated cousin, “smart power.” Meanwhile, for all the talk, the problems fester and the power gap grows.

    What I was told by many government types back then was that I was right, but that it could not happen until an entirely new way of thinking emerged on the subject - USG-wide.  

    Well, I spent the next decade trying to spread that thought both here in the US and in about four dozen other countries.  I gave that talk about a thousand times (literally) to about half a million people - live and in person.

    And I still try to spread that vision.

    What I've said to people all along is that we simply need to suffer enough failure to finally realize that the old packages don't work.  We can go in and blow everything up (Powell Doctrine, Bush in practice), or we can pretend a mafia-style decapitation/assassination campaign will work (Israel for decades, US under Obama).  

    But the real solution still hangs out there, waiting for us to get serious about finally addressing it - instead of chasing this "pivot" fantasy against the Chinese.

    So no, the problem isn't going anywhere, and neither is the solution - sad to say.

    But eventually it happens, because eventually we'll fear the change less than the repeated failures.

    Hat tip to Jeffrey Itell for alerting me on the Ignatius column.

    9:07AM

    The Boomers' Pontius Pilate moment

    How symbolic that legislators all skip DC early for the weekend as the sequestration mechanism kicks in.

    A new low point for the worst generation of political leadership that America has seen in well over a century.

    And yet, it's the leadership we deserve.  The larger public's unwillingness to deal with fiscal issues is the underlying core of stalemate.  A close-but-evenly divided electorate gets us a do-nothing Congress.

    The upside for me?  The soured gov and biz climate in US makes US companies that much more eager for brokered business opportunities abroad.  Takes a bit of the usual arrogance off the top.

    11:02AM

    Kerry not a fan of Asian "pivot"? I smell a plot!

    WAPO story:  China is happy with John Kerry because it thinks he'll drop the 'pivot to Asia'

    Obviously, you can be a strategic thinker and disagree with the transparency of the Obama administration's containment strategy on China.  You can also believe there's just as much - or more - work to be done right now in the Middle East (Spring, Iran's nukes, Palestine, Syria).

    But this is a weird piece, because I don't think the Chinese are dumb enough to believe that Kerry can "drop" the pivot if he so chooses.

    But the positive Chinese press pours in, apparently.

    From the piece:

    Kerry himself sort of predicted this when he said of the pivot during his confirmation hearings, “You know, the Chinese take a look at that and say, what’s the United States doing? They trying to circle us? What’s going on?”

    The author Max Fisher's judgment is a bit simplistic:  if Kerry is just trying to make nice with China, then fine, but if he's serious and actually focuses on the Middle East, then China benefits!

    Sounds to me like WAPO is trying to "out" Kerry on China in this sophomoric piece.  People on that paper have too much time on their hands and too little non-inside-the-Beltway stuff to cover.  WAPO is truly a small-town newspaper.  Always has been, always will.

    9:18AM

    Let a million muckrakers bloom!

    Nice NYT story on Chinese blogger who "thrives as muckracker."  Odd choice of wording there.  Self-professed citizen journalist in early 40s is being tolerated for now, as his "freelance campaign against graft has earned him pop-star acclaim and send a chill through Chinese officialdom."

    Sounds like a fine line.  I mean, once you start going on the BBC with your stories, you take your life into your hands.

    One of his latest tricks is posting sex videos of high bureaucrats having at it with young prostitutes.  He also says things like, "I'm fighting a war.  Even if they beat me to death, I won't give up my sources or the videos."

    A local Beijing journalism academic says, "Here on Chinese soil, it's almost impossible for citizen journalists like him to survive long term."

    But if you want the self-regenerative progressivism to take hold, you have to tolerate these types.  Otherwise bad stuff continues to be swept under rugs.  Problem is, of course, showing the crimes of the single party leads to that single party's legitimacy being further diminished.

    The CCP in China has typically operated along the lines of, it's okay to unmask mid-level officials but not truly high ones (like the NYT did recently, triggering the Chinese hacking attacks).  But people know that, if mid-level types are routinely engaging in mischief, it's because the higher-ups tolerate it as lesser versions of their own evil.

    So the fine line continues.  The blogger recently got a flattering Xinhua treatment, and yet gov censors constantly remove his micro-blog pieces almost the minute they appear.

    Again, ultimately Beijing needs to allow this sort of positive self-renewal. It's a sign of the maturation of Chinese society in response to all the positive socio-economic churn.

    You either trust the people or you don't, and the CCP's problem is that, it most definitely does not trust its own people.

    No question where things are headed.  Anyone who thinks the future is less transparency and less public accountability is kidding themselves.

    9:21AM

    South Korea follows Japan's path to soft-power exports

    WAPO story on how South Korean directors are experiencing a sort of explosion in Hollywood.  I've long been a big fan of SouKo's horror films, but now it appears that we're getting a broader flow - post-Gangnam Style:

    South Korea’s film directors, like its pop stars, have been trying for years to break out of their country’s competitive but small market and into the West. Just as Korean music finally broke through last year with Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” this might be the year that Korean directors take over Hollywood.

    Three of South Korea’s top directors are this year releasing, and in one case already have released, their first English-language films, often featuring top-name American actors (or Anglophones who pose as Americans), the New York Times noted in a story this weekend. The directors have long had “fan bases” in Hollywood eager to pull them into the U.S. market, the Times says, explaining that American producers appreciate that Korean directors’ “style and restraint go hand in hand with a taste for visceral, often bloody stories in popular categories like horror and crime.”

    South Korea seems poised to follow the path of Japan.  It had its democratization moment back in the 1990s, and its big firms have gone from knock-offs to high-end offerings.  Now, it's time to start exporting the culture.

    It's a journey worth watching.  China invariably follows this path, and the Chinese spend a lot of time watching South Korea and how it navigates from middle-income to higher realms.  South Korea is, last time I checked, just about the biggest regional investor in China and you see Koreans all over the place in major cities - especially in universities.  It seems like a positive "lead goose" effect, wherein the Chinese are more ready to follow the South Korean example than admit to doing the same with Japan.

    Then again, it's natural to focus more on the country making the journey is closest historical proximity to your own.  Japan modeled itself significantly on the US, South Korea watched and copied Japan's example.  China will eventually copy South Korea in many ways, and Seoul is an excellent example of how you do it.

     

    3:28PM

    More on the China middle-income trap

    Great piece in Forbes that my wife found.

    Part that caught my eye references a second analysis:

    In their final installment on the Chinese economy, titled “Beyond the Miracle”,Barclays Capital analysts in Hong Kong led by Yiping Huang wrote that China will avoid the middle-income trap as a whole. However, they did not underestimate the risks facing China’s economy in the coming years.  It’s one thing to be middle income. It’s another thing to move out of that middle income and into the coveted high income category of Western Europe, the United Statesa and Japan.

    The experience of countries that failed to make the jump to high-income status suggest that their inability to innovate and upgrade can be attributed to three broad factors: (1) macroeconomic, political and social instability; (2) persistent inefficient allocation of resources; and (3) insufficient support to physical infrastructure and human capital development.

    The persistently inefficient allocation of resources is the government having too much of a role in investment and picking winners and losers (mostly shielding the latter while the elite corruptly hoards the benefits of the former).  I realize that contradicts the "wisdom of the state" notion behind the Beijing Consensus, but history says the state displays little smarts, and there is a ton of evidence of badly spent public investment in China.  

    The instability arises from a lot of things:  enviro damage, repression of political rights and free speech, corruption of officials, and the S-curve slowdown in general.

    China does decently-to-well on the sufficient support to infrastructure development - both hard and soft.  But that can backfire too if the growth fails to materialize or the slowdown is profound enough.

    Answer for all these things is simple:  turn the people loose on creativity and freedom of spending choices. Problem is, of course, the single-party dictatorship finds all that uncomfortable, so they shortchange it whenever and wherever they can.  Why?  If people get to decide too much of their economic reality on their own, their ambition naturally turns to politics over time.  People simply stop being willing to be treated like children on the latter score; it offends their intelligence and obvious sense of accomplishment - especially when they know full well that talented Chinese abroad succeed and get to politically participate in democracies.

    And that's what eventually stops the show, forcing political change.

    6:14PM

    Time's Battleland: National Security Putting China’s “Hacking Army” into Perspective

    Great New York Times front-pager on Tuesday finally provides a substantive overview of the comprehensive hacking activities of the Chinese military against all manner of U.S. industries (with an obvious focus on defense).

    Actually, the title was a bit of soft sell (China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S.). This unit’s activities have been much discussed within the U.S. national-security community for several years now, so we are far past the “tied to” allegation. It’s clear that Beijing has the People’s Liberation Army conduct widespread cyber- theft all over the world, targeting the U.S. in particular.


    Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

    I blame Dave Emery for making me write something on the subject.

    9:41AM

    Why the next pope should be a Latino

    First, there is just the global distribution argument.

    Then there's the dynamism/adaptation argument: a recent NYT story talk about how parts of the Brazilian church are "countering evangelicalism and secularism with livelier worship."

    Why?

    Market shift:

    So both the center of global gravity in the church and its most likely form of marketing salvation.

    Brazil is experiencing a huge expansion of its middle class.  People undergoing such tremendous socio-economic churn want moral handholds.  But they also want it in a form that they find conducive to their daily lives, and the traditional Catholic church has simply changed too slowly in response to the competition.

    I saw a version of this in Ethiopia two years ago.  Place is booming and all sorts of change happening.  The classic Ethiopian Christian faith - very Catholic in form - just wasn't getting it done.  But you'd see these evangelical churches (mostly Pentacostal) everywhere and they'd be packed (I mean, with crowds extending out into the street!) - and jumping.

    My fear with Benedict is that he retires so he can - in his typical control-freak fashion - determine his successor.  Let's hope it's something more than personal ego at work here.

    8:39AM

    Wasting lives over food "purity"

    Bjorn Lomborg writing that 8m kids worldwide have died over the past 12 years because Western and local activists prevented the arrival of rice that is genetically modified to possess an abundance of Vitamin A:

    Finally, after a 12-year delay caused by opponents of genetically modified foods, so-called “golden rice” with vitamin A will be grown in the Philippines. Over those 12 years, about 8 million children worldwide died from vitamin A deficiency. Are anti-GM advocates not partly responsible?

    Golden rice is the most prominent example in the global controversy over GM foods, which pits a technology with some risks but incredible potential against the resistance of feel-good campaigning. Three billion people depend on rice as their staple food, with 10 percent at risk for vitamin A deficiency, which, according to the World Health Organization, causes 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind each year. Of these, half die within a year. A study from the British medical journal the Lancet estimates that, in total, vitamin A deficiency kills 668,000 children under the age of 5 each year.

    Yet, despite the cost in human lives, anti-GM campaigners—from Greenpeace to Naomi Klein—have derided efforts to use golden rice to avoid vitamin A deficiency. 

    Great piece by a brilliant guy.

    These fights are like every other one in a developing environment:  West wants South to avoid its own past 
    "mistakes" and demands they develop in "pure" fashion.  Result is stunted development and wasted lives.  Truth of history is this: if you want people to care about the environment, get them richer first and then they'll care. Until then, expect a local rise in pollutions and other things because there really aren't any magical short-cuts on development.  Plus, quite frankly, the damage done while still poor vastly outranks the cumulative damage inflicted by the income/industrial rise.  But basic point:  don't be a hypocrit and expect the poor to atone for your past excesses.

    On the GMO, the West's enviro case is far weaker.  There is no evidence of substantial risk and plenty of evidence of substantial gain.  This is simply rich people who can afford organic pretending they're doing good by telling the poor to hold out for it - or else.   

    Expect a lot more fights as climate change exacerbates droughts in food-vulnerable regions and well-meaning Northerners do their best to prevent the application of genuine solutions.

    9:57AM

    Vali Nasr blasts Obama foreign policy (and team) in new book

    Cohen talks about it in a recent NYT column.  Pretty brutal depiction.

    Nasr, as you may know, is respected expert on Iran and he spent two years working for State.

    “IT is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

    This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

    I have little doubt in the verdict, but frankly, this is what the American people voted for in both 2008 and 2012: focus on the economy and temporize on foreign affairs.

    Cohen agrees:

    Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion that the principal aim of Obama’s policies “is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.”

    In this sense the first-term Obama foreign policy was successful: He was re-elected. Americans wanted extrication from the big wars and a smaller global footprint: Obama, with some back and forth, delivered. But the price was high and opportunities lost.

    Lots of material on how Nasr's boss Holbrooke was dissed and marginalized - material sure to elicit a yawn.

    Real point is not the realignment.  Again, the public wanted that and Obama delivered.

    Real point is total lack of care regarding how it went down.  Doesn't really cost anything to make a decent effort but it was not made, to the point of marginalizing Clinton as SECSTATE whenever possible.

    You get the feeling that Obama is big on control and having himself recognized constantly as the guy in charge and the smartest guy by far, so if foreign policy doesn't matter (after all, he got a Nobel for just being sworn in the first time), then he prefers non-action to any action that isn't attributed solely to his genius.

    Cohen uses the word "petty" a lot, which is a sad commentary on Obama.

    But the larger truth remains:  as long as people feel bad or weak on the economy (and most still do), there's no thought given to foreign policy and Obama knows that.

    12:01AM

    Nice side-by-side capture of globalization dynamics (guest post)

    From Thomas Frazel of Tulane:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323478004578303733925078030.html

    Heinz Sold as Deals Take Off

    "We've been prospecting in the emerging world for a long time, and now they're prospecting here,"Heinz's Mr. Johnson said in an interview. "You're seeing a shrinking world and an equilibrium of wealth creation, and this kind of activity is only going to accelerate over the next five to 10 years."

    In the interview, Mr. Johnson said he was surprised that firms from emerging markets would be capable of taking over America's most established companies.  "I didn't see this happening eight weeks ago, let alone five years ago," he said.

     

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324162304578304512387875482.html

    First Bud, Now Heinz, Tycoon Grabs Brands

    Though Mr. Lemann is a Brazilian business icon, he moved his family to Switzerland more than a decade ago following a kidnapping attempt in Brazil, a stark reminder of persistent problems of crime in the South American nation. Mr. Lemann's family is of Swiss descent. He declined an interview request through an associate, and has denied past requests as well.

    Frazel's comment:

    It was too perfect to see these things side-by-side — money in the Gap, instability in the Gap.

    The more sophisticated read of PENTAGON'S NEW MAP was that the Gap would experience more instability as globalization rapidly improved things.  Change destabilizes.  It's as simple as that.  

    The security challenge that results more resembles small-wars than large - thus the call for the SysAdmin force. It's about seeing the world as it is - what really matters in terms of structural change, and staying true to America's several-decade effort to replicate its core dynamics on a global scale.

    What did we get for our effort?  Our blood and treasure?

    The best and most radically improving period in world history.

    Many other powers had their versions of globalization before ours came along.  And they were all far less fair and far more bloody. Ours is hardly perfect, but much like a democratic republic, ours is the best worst version yet.

    Our challenge:  China and India will be the shapers of this system in the future - more than us. That is why understanding those two powers and joining with them in co-managing this world is America's number 1 long-term foreign policy objective.

    And this is why I find Obama's Asian pivot so idiotically misguided. Scratch that - too harsh. He is ideologically misguided.  He mistrusts US power and does not acknowledge the decades of effort that I cite - nor its success.

    THAT America did far more good than harm, but he does see that America.

    And so he does trust the future that that America made possible.