Behind the objections to the Iran framework is a new alliance of power politics.
. . . → Read More: Going Rogue: The Boehner-Netanyahu Subterfuge
In the mighty vigilance of the national news media to cover the important stories that shape our world, the events of war and peace, from battles to meetings, big diplomatic stories taking place in the open are sometimes missed.
For example, where in the world is House Speaker John Boehner? How is he spending the Congressional recess? Boehner organized a junket for himself and a few loyal House members on key foreign affairs, military, and defense committees. They hopped a plane and flew off to the Middle East.
But not before, on March 26th, the man third in line for the Presidency continued his international lyceum series by inviting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to speak to a joint session of Congress on April 29th. Boehner’s office released this statement:
The third in line is acting like a co-President for foreign policy. Boehner, ever the patriot, is fuzzy on the looming details of another important Abe speech later this year, Abe’s remarks in August about Japan’s role in World War II and the use by Japan of Asian women as sex slaves, as “comfort women” for its troop force. Abe has at times signaled he might revise an earlier apology by a former official. US veterans groups, including those concerned with prisoners of war, are demanding Abe clarify his views and his controversial earlier statements about Japan’s war role before he speaks to Congress.
For Abe, Boehner’s invitation has intensified Japan’s domestic debate over the impending speech. Politicians and others want to revise Japan’s role in the world and reject the constitution put in place as a part of the peace.
Some Japanese conservatives now claim “charges” of Japan’s forcible use of Asian women as sex slaves in wartime military brothels are “fabricated in South Korea.” Others say the Japanese constitution implemented after World War II deprives Japan of its sovereignty and military. Their view of World War II is that Japan fought a war of self-defense.
In his effort to tighten the stakes of the brinkmanship of embarrassment with President Obama, Speaker Boehner has raised added tensions for Prime Minister Abe in Asia, created protests by US veterans groups, increased the scrutiny Abe’s speech to Congress and his August remarks will be given by China, South Korea and other Asian countries, and stirred up domestic dissent by Japan’s conservatives who want former Japanese cabinet secretary Koon’s remarks of apology revised and will watch closely for how Abe positions Japan in relation to the US. Boehner’s invitation resonated in and outside of Japan and has the potential to reawaken historic animosities.
After extending another invitation to a foreign leader that has the potential to disturb the balance of power and diplomacy in Asia and within Japan’s domestic affairs and cause Japan’s external relations to suffer, Boehner exited the country for the Middle East.
Why is John Boehner traveling to the Middle East with a large Congressional delegation to meet with the Saudi foreign minister in Riyadh? Who cooked up this foreign visit in the middle of the legislative term while House Republicans are splintering into dysfunctional special interests, with chasms so wide that ordinary bills descend into dark holes from where they cannot be retrieved? Has Boehner become King? The Imperial Speaker? The white Dauphin? The white shadow President? Continue reading The Boehner Invitation to Japan and His Current Visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel
Hillary Clinton’s search for an economic policy seems to forget the phrase used to caution investors: “Past results are not indicators of future success.” The world of her husband’s administration is long gone. The great goods of all economies are now commodities; volume produces wealth and flatlines jobs and wages. Apple, Monsanto (80% of world corn seed), American Water Supply (the largest water utility), Pepsico and Google are diverse examples of commodity enterprises operating in global markets that increase capital wealth with little increase in jobs; yet they are vital to economic growth.
Clinton’s advisers don’t seem to get this paradox: the modern economy is built on essential commodities that transfer wealth without the traditional means of adding value through labor and large workforces. In fact, work itself is becoming a commodity, priced by industry and region, in the same way as good and services.
Clinton economic panels ignore this reality. Yet the US economy is deeply entwined with monopolies by companies and by regions (China’s Pearl River zone, Foxconn; Vietnam, Indonesia, clothing; Brazil, agriculture; the big banks, cell, music and cable services; et al.). Working around the economic margins through taxes and fees will not restructure a system designed to vacuum up cash and maintain rock-bottom wages while the private sector shifts social costs to government.
But more importantly, her panels of economists overlook global best practices and opportunities! They agree and disagree about the wrong things! Models in several countries have successfully produced rapid growth and gains for the middle class in the last two decades (interrupted by the global recession) and continue to do so!
To cite four: China, Brazil, Botswana (per capita income, $17.1k, one of Africa’s highest!), and Mexico. Each country has structural issues, several confront major corruption and crime, but their political economies have increased wages and the size of the middle class by taking advantage of training, government partnerships, economic planning and global growth.
All four share two essential features: modifying social capital to invest heavily in health and education incentives, and protecting wages and investments for families by safety nets and identifying markets through planning with high-paying, sustainable jobs.
US politicians look at polls and avoid plans. The US creates international agreements, but lacks domestic strategy. The private sector and conservatives applaud the open market, but ignore its chaos and corruption, and see government as an adversary rather than a partner, a view contrary to the emerging global vision of government’s role in expanding national economies.
On taxes, Congress closes doors and opens loopholes. The controlling party of Congress wants to tell the sick they are unaffordable, the illiterate they are flawed, and to describe the jobs in which workers are stuck for decades as entry-level. Their proclamation of progress has no plan or specific details. We are deluding ourselves. Especially if we think only the market can pick winners and losers.
Successful models don’t debate ideas, abandon common sense, or solve blame. They don’t tilt policy to accelerate the flow of wealth to the rich while blaming others for the lack of virtues that supposedly cause income inequality and static wages. Successful models promote growth. They engage stakeholders and establish activities—real organizations and businesses supported by advanced knowledge and research, highlighted and included in state and regional plans, aided by federal policies that will innovate as markets expand.
This approach would give rebirth to America’s economy. Developing global models are driving micro (for families) and macro (for companies) growth and job expansion around the world (except Haiti, close to home). Here in the US, partisan calculations blot out the rich benefits of using the models’ far-reaching economic calculations.
Three Global Opportunities: Rails, Smartphone Operating Systems, Hydro and Solar Energy
Though it expands year over year, the US has abdicated the global rail market to China and Europe. It is a huge missed opportunity. Rail’s five main market segments (high-speed, mainline, freight, light rail, metro) include 150 or more sub-industries, among them electronics, safety, signaling, communications, maintenance, interiors, metallurgy, construction, power engines and assembly, and will have steady long-term growth, powered by the need to transport grain, coal, chemicals, automotive, intermodal freight and urban ridership.
But rail’s sustained, high-wage jobs are ceded to Canada (Bombardier), Germany (Siemens), and France (Alstom), among others. In a global market approaching a trillion dollars annually, two-thirds of rail revenues remain directly accessible to the US—orders are open and awarded to the best bids from competing global suppliers! Yet, as an example missing the present and future, the US share of the rail car market is only 5% and is not using its superior financing, technical and research knowledge, experience with large-scale projects and skilled workforces to compete for dominant share.
China holds two of the top three positions as manufacturers and suppliers of rolling stock equipment, positioned to take advantage of new sales: in the next ten years, Europe will replace 10,300 locomotives, and Africa’s demand for rolling stock will double.
Consider these recent global rail projects:
US companies received none of these bids or subcontracts, missing out on 80,000 to 250,000 new jobs. Nor do they recognize a key value of rail is its stable long-term growth through flexible and sustained mobility.
With rails, entrepreneurial opportunities exist in adhesives, sealants and fixings; cables, hoses and connectors; paint and protective coatings; electrification, power supply, lighting, electromechanical systems and drives; fire safety, detection and suppression; computer hardware and software, controls and monitoring systems, door systems, gangway systems, public address and alarm systems; track engineering and construction, track maintenance and repair; fare collection and ticketing; noise, shock and vibration control; heating and cooling systems and compressors; and wash plants—leaving aside the importance of locomotive, rail and passenger car design.
Research for innovation include sensors, computers and digital communications to collect, process and disseminate information to improve the rail safety, security and operations. Research also includes alternative fuels and energy sources, reducing life-cycle costs while increasing reliability of equipment and infrastructure assets, and maintenance.
In fact, the US is absent from rail and many economic niches.
Apple dominates the high end of the smartphone market, but opportunities exist and are expanding for inexpensive models, a market in which India and China lead with no US competition. The Indian smartphone market for phones under $200 grew 186 per cent in the first six months of 2014. Other developing countries hold the same market potential.
Recently, Google announced Android One, a standard operating system intended to become the first choice for millions of new customers globally. Continue reading Hillary Clinton: Will Her Economic Policies Follow Best Global Practices?
You’re no doubt delighted that your hardworking Congressional representatives have begun their desperately needed two-week break to recharge their batteries, get a little spring sun on their overwhelmingly white and male faces, and mull over “new” legislative ideas that haven’t a prayer of becoming law (which of course is, mostly, a good thing). On the brighter side, Virginia Democrat Jim Moran’s notion of adding a new housing stipend to Congressional remuneration appears to be a non-starter, so at least they’ll be lollygagging at their existing undeserved rate of pay.
Meanwhile, 2.4 million unemployed Americans will spend the same two weeks tearing their hair out over unpaid bills, wondering how they’re going to feed their kids, and continuing not to matter worth a damn to Republicans.
John Boehner kicked off his spring break today with a surprise visit to Afghanistan, accompanied by seven senior House Republicans. He’s expected to hug anyone in uniform he sees, lurch aimlessly around the streets of Kabul in search of happy hour, and top off the junket with a tear-stained tribute to whatever the hell it is American troops are supposed to be accomplishing there.
Following the Bureau of Land Management’s weekend return of 400 confiscated head of cattle back to deadbeat Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the ludicrous confrontation between the government and Bundy’s creepy nitwit militia buddies appears to be over, at least until the BLM attempts to pursue other remedies against the scofflaw and the nitwits get all riled up again. Stay tuned.
Today and tomorrow in New York, China and the United States will hold talks on dealing with North Korea, followed by a third session in Washington on Thursday. While I have no expertise in international relations, it seems to me the two nations could do worse than shipping 400 head of cattle Kim Jong-un’s way for starters. It might at least buy a little time. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 4/14/14
Vladimir Putin is an authentic throwback. No country, not China or North Korea—or the US—has made the bold move he accomplished in under a month. As the head of state of Russia’s government, he ordered and executed the grab of another state’s sovereignty by passive force of arms, using a series of sham excuses and a phony plebiscite to install Russian hegemony over a territory that a week ago belonged to Ukraine.
That basket of facts alone is worthy of sharper focus and penetrating discussions, but US politicians, Russian specialists, and media keep talking around it. The story wanders away to ask what Putin will do next. (Will he invade Ukraine—ignoring that he already has!) Those who see news as prophecy ask how will Europe and the US respond—all without any real sense of the gravity of what Putin has already done. His announcement that Crimea is now under Russian political and military control, and his signing an agreement to annex a territory that a week ago had only local officials without sovereign power to enter into an agreement to turn its territory and governance over to another country, is monumental.
Except Native Americans, no nation has achieved a land grab from another country without a protracted armed struggle in more than a century.
Even five years ago, when Russia recognized the independence of the small territory of South Ossetia from Georgia, it did not annex it.
What makes Putin’s announcement so precedent-setting is that it began without threats or troops, as part of the debate about Ukraine’s internal affairs, in the name of a Ukrainian president who was deposed by the shadow of his own fears. Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, had been under siege from Ukraine’s population, who wanted a closer alignment with the West, especially in trade, finance and travel.
Instead, Yanukovych turned toward Russia. Especially after Putin offered him a $15 billion loan agreement, to finance his government and his wildly out-of-line corruption. Citizens took to the streets. Unprepared, inept, Yanukovych caved and left the country voluntarily, landing in Russia where he held press conference near Ukraine’s border, asserting he still held the presidency and his overthrow was illegal. He held his press conference on February 28th, promising to fight for Ukraine.
In the meantime, Ukrainians were busy touring his off-the-books house and private zoo. He hasn’t been heard from again. He played no role in the present Russian action, except to provide a reason for Russia to ignore the interim government and claim it threatened Crimea and was anti-Russian, putting Crimean citizens of Russian heritage at risk.
Yanukovych’s ouster, however, saved Russia $15 billion and gained them Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula—in less than three weeks. (Of course, he loses his house.)
Here are five reasons to focus not only on the next moves for all sides, but where the state of affairs is now: Continue reading Russia’s Cold War Makes Crimea a Hot Spot
Even before yesterday’s secession “referendum” in Crimea, Washington and the European Union had declared that the process didn’t pass the smell test. Sure as dammit, there was an off-putting spoor to exit polls suggesting 93% support for breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia. European foreign ministers gather today in Brussels to discuss freezing Russian assets, with a Thursday conclave of EU leaders also scheduled.
Stateside, John Kerry has been spending a lot of time on the phone with Russian foreign minister Lavrov, much as Secretary Kerry’s boss has been chatting a lot with Lavrov’s. In Congress, bipartisan pressure continues to build for sanctions against Russia; the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared a sanctions bill last week that also guarantees $1 billion in loans to Ukraine. Just back from a meaningless but self-aggrandizing Ukraine junket, and ever the bilge – er, bridge over troubled water, John McCain yesterday unhelpfully described Russia as “a gas station masquerading as a country.” Hmm. What with “that one” in the White House for a second term, poor Senator McCain is running out of wars. Shill, baby, shill.
Fred Phelps, former capo of the Westboro Baptist church, reportedly begins the week “close to death.” Which would be a shame, except that he’s Fred Phelps.
Cyberspace could be in for a rude shock this week if Republicans make good on their excited bleating about deploying some spanking new “.gop” websites. Wow! Talk about seismic shifts: same stale, dim, destructive ideas, totally new domain!
The search continues for Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370, amid new suspicions that the plane’s disappearance was linked to a 9/11-style plot to attack India. Michael McCaul, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Peter King, one of his fellow Republican doofuses thereon, continue to insist that a terrorism connection is unlikely, which leads me to suspect that it’s very likely. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/17/14
With immigration reform, gun control, jobs, the economy and a host of other priorities ignored, mishandled or otherwise botched by the worst Congress of the modern era (and maybe ever), it’s time for Congressional Republicans to make an utter mess of government itself. This week the fools on the Hill try to beat the clock on a continuing resolution on spending, and may God help the United States of America.
Will the government still be fully operational at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday? Not if House Republicans and their fellow travelers in the Senate get their way. With the House GOP determined to make a continuing resolution contingent on the demise or delay of Obamacare, and the Senate’s Democratic majority determined to resist the effort, the eleventh-hour negotiations look suspiciously similar to the negotiations gone before, which you might remember have led precisely nowhere.
Even if, by some unanticipated miracle, a continuing resolution amenable to both chambers can be cobbled together, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew reckons that the nation will bash its head on the debt ceiling no later than October 17, another unnecessary fiscal crisis tailor-made for Republican foot-stomping intransigence and pre-adolescent brinkmanship. The President summed all this up the other day, neatly:
Also on Tuesday, the health insurance exchanges, a central component of Obamacare, are scheduled to open, and according to remarks by the President last Friday, they will: “Those marketplaces will be open for business on Tuesday, no matter what, even if there’s a government shutdown. That’s a done deal.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 9/30/13
Via The Hill, I recently discovered political scientist Eric Ostermeier’s fascinating curio cabinet of a blog, Smart Politics, published by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Among other topics, Dr. Ostermeier has recently scrutinized websites for House campaigns (nine incumbent House members did not have an active campaign website as of August 18), traced the historical arc of African-Americans elected to Congress (25 states have yet to elect their first black Representative, and nearly half of the African-Americans ever elected to the House were from a mere five states), tallied living former Senators (167, a whopping eight of them from Minnesota), and surveyed Spanish language content on official House websites (the sites of 36 Congressfolks, 31 of them Democrats, feature some).
Dr. Ostermeier is now three installments into a series focusing on “unusual deaths that have befallen members of Congress.” Given current Congressional approval ratings, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that “Unusual Exits” is among the year’s most popular political writing; if it isn’t, it should be. The newest installment looks at drowning, which has claimed 13 members of the Senate and House since 1808, although only two were in office at the time of their deaths. This follows on part 1, which looked at Congressional deaths “on or by railroads” (death toll 23), and part 2, which examined deaths by “accidental gunshots” (body count 6).
It’s lucky for House Republicans that blatant, bare-assed hypocrisy isn’t fatal. Take Colorado’s Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton, who were quick to add their signatures to an emergency funding request by their state delegation following Colorado’s calamitous flooding. Back in July, the quartet endorsed a similar petition for a federal major disaster declaration after a rash of wildfires. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all, except that the same four Representatives voted against disaster relief money for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. For added context, ThinkProgress helpfully notes that they’re all climate change denialists.
TWO: Squeaker of the House
John Boehner, crime boss of these and other Republicans in the People’s House, just vomited up some hypocrisy of his own with a web commercial that asks the musical question: “Why is the Obama Administration willing to negotiate with Putin on Syria… but not with Congress to address Washington’s spending problem?”
Since you asked, Mr. Speaker, I have a few guesses. Maybe it’s because the civil war in Syria has ominous regional implications, and the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime violates an accord ratified by 189 nations, and soon by Syria. Or it could be because Congressional Republicans haven’t negotiated anything in good faith with the Executive Branch since Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Or perhaps it’s because the only spending problem in Washington (other than the perpetually ludicrous defense budget) is your party’s refusal to strengthen the recovery with further stimulus, adequate SNAP and unemployment benefits, and a federal minimum wage at least tenuously connected to reality. You know what? Let’s make it all of the above.
THREE: China Syndrome
You might recall a story from late August about a million cockroaches escaping from a farm in Dafeng, China. As loathsome as roaches are, I can’t begrudge them their instincts here, since they were being bred as an ingredient for traditional medicines. Besides, the escape wasn’t even their idea; the greenhouse where they were housed was compromised by a person or persons unknown, and the roaches did what came naturally, and scattered.
I didn’t really give the item a second thought until I read a National Journal story about a terrifying encounter in the basement of the White House press offices with a roach described by political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar as “the size of a small drone.”
Wait. Could the Dafeng “escape” have been faked? Could the White House incident be a beachhead for some sort of Red Dawn-style insectile assault? Could the press office cockroach have actually been a drone? Well, no, of course not, but the need for vigilance has never been greater. Mere days after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States approved Shuanghui International’s $4.7 billion purchase of US pork producer Smithfield Foods, Chinese authorities seized roughly 45,000 pounds of fake beef from a factory in Xi-an:
Hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns 5.7 percent of Smithfield, had been working on an alternative buyout offer since early summer, but has abandoned the effort and will back the Chinese deal at a shareholder vote on Tuesday, knocking down one of the last remaining hurdles to completion of the transaction. Nobody brings home the bacon like Shuanghui International, even if they have to disguise it as flank steak. Continue reading Take Five (Jerks in Progress edition)
Tuesday, more IRS crap hits the fan with the release of a watchdog’s report that fingers the agency for, among other things, spending $49 million on employee conferences over the past three years. Some of the expenses have already been described by Acting Commissioner Danny Werfel as “inappropriate” (like $60,000 for two training videos, one of which was a Star Trek parody featuring a large, taxpayer-funded mock-up of the bridge of the Enterprise, and the other showing IRS employees learning how to do the Cupid Shuffle).
House of Representatives Thug-in-Residence Darrell Issa has announced a Thursday hearing on the watchdog report. This will follow two more IRS-related House hearings this week, an Appropriations Committee hearing Monday, at which Werfel will testify, and a Ways and Means Committee hearing on Tuesday, where Teabaggers will complain publicly about how dreadfully unfair it was for the IRS to scrutinize them simply because they loudly hate the government, hate paying taxes, and hate democracy.
After a Wednesday stop in Charlotte on his continuing “Middle-Class Jobs & Opportunity Tour,” the President will attend some California fundraising events for Congressional Democrats before meeting Friday with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping for a brief summit at Sunnylands, the Rancho Mirage home of the late Walter Annenberg. This comes mere days after the State Department called on China to end persecution of Tiananmen Square dissidents and “fully account for those killed, detained or missing,” an exhortation that prompted China’s foreign ministry to accuse the United States of “interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
No information has been released about summit menus, but after a few hours discussing trade, human rights and North Korea, let’s hope the hungry leaders avoid tucking into a ham or other pork product from Smithfield; the company’s food safety record is so dreadful that Smithfield was just bought up by the even more dreadful Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International. Hold the clenbuterol.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, a decision that could have a significant impact on the future of affirmative action. Elena Kagan has recused herself, increasing the odds that the Supreme Court’s conservative faction will find against the school’s minority admissions policy. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/3/13