201605

May 31, 2016 4:15PM

China Military Build‐​Up Threatens U.S. Dominance, Not Its Security

The U.S. dominates the globe militarily. Washington possesses the most powerful armed forces, accounts for roughly 40 percent of the globe’s military outlays, and is allied with every major industrialized state save China and Russia.

Yet the bipartisan hawks who dominate U.S. foreign policy see threats at every turn. For some, replacing the Soviet Union as chief adversary is the People’s Republic of China. They view another military build-up as the only answer.

The PRC’s rise is reshaping the globe. Of greatest concern in Washington is China’s military build-up. The Department of Defense publishes an annual review of China’s military. The latest report warns that the PRC “continued to improve key capabilities,” including ballistic and cruise missiles, aircraft and air defense, information capabilities, submarines, amphibious and airborne assault units, and more.

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May 31, 2016 10:02AM

Misunderstandings on Brexit and the WTO

One of my pet peeves is how some people seem to think the WTO and other trade agreements are used to impose high tariffs. In fact, these trade agreements involve promises to lower tariff rates. For example, if the U.S. and Canada both charge a 20% tariff on car imports, a trade agreement between them might involve a promise that neither will charge more than a 10% tariff. This would mean the existing 20% tariff would have to be lowered to 10% or less. It's not a perfect solution to the problem of tariffs, but it does move us in the right direction.

I bring this up because of something I read by Tim Worstall about the Brexit debate. He quotes the Director General of the WTO, Robert Azevedo, but appears to misunderstand Azevedo's point. Here's how Worstall puts it:

In the barrage of bloodcurdling tales we’re having thrown at us about the costs of Britain leaving the European Union this one really does have to take the biscuit. The head of the World Trade Organisation, Roberto Azevedo, is stating that British consumers will have to carry a heavy burden of up to £9 billion of import tariffs on the goods that they purchase. This is an entirely nonsensical assertion, a ludicrous one. Azevedo then goes on to state that it would be illegal for Britain not to charge such tariffs. This is seriously absurd. Because his claim is that it would be the rules of his organisation which make it so: but his point is that Britain would not be, on Brexit, a member of his organisation. I would prefer to believe that there’s been some mistake in translation, possibly reporting, than to believe that a major world organisation might be in the hands of someone so confused. A sovereign state is only bound by the rules of those international organisations which it belongs to, not those which it doesn’t.

The allegation:

World Trade Organization chief Roberto Azevedo warned about the potential economic cost of a Brexit, stating that leaving the EU would cost UK consumers £9 billion in annual additional import tariffs.

Azevedo told The Financial Times that a Brexit would require the UK to negotiate its membership of the WTO, as it is currently represented by the EU – this is on top of having to strike new trade deals with countries around the world.

That’s claim one: that it is the EU which is part of the WTO, thus if Britain leaves then it would be necessary to negotiate entry into the WTO. OK, fair enough. But then there’s claim two:

Mr Azevedo said: “The consumer in the UK will have to pay those duties. The UK is not in a position to decide ‘I’m not charging duties here’. That is impossible. That is illegal.” 

But under whose rules must Britain charge such duties? The WTO ones, the organisation Azevedo has just insisted that Britain is not a part of and therefore whose rules do not apply.

Thus, as Mr. Worstall sees all this, WTO rules would prevent the UK from eliminating tariff duties. But as noted, that's completely wrong, and I've heard this kind of thing enough that I wanted to correct the record. An independent UK is certainly free to eliminate all of its tariffs, and would be applauded at the WTO if it did so.

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May 31, 2016 9:56AM

When Washington Should Say Nothing

North Korea appears headed for a fifth nuclear test. The U.S. joined South Korea and Japan in warning Pyongyang against violating its international obligations. Just as the three governments have done for the last quarter century.

Alas, they cannot stop the North from moving forward with its nuclear program, at least at reasonable cost. Washington should learn the value of saying nothing

The U.S. stands apart from the rest of the world. American officials circle the globe lecturing other nations. Yet other governments rarely heed Washington. It doesn’t matter whether they are friends or foes. Other states act in their, not America’s, interest.

Perhaps the most famous recent “red line” set by Washington was against Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war. However, the president’s off-hand comment promising action never made sense, since America would have gained nothing by going to war.

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May 31, 2016 8:30AM

The Royal House of Kim

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post found Kim Jong Un's aunt and uncle and profiled them at length. Ko Yong Suk was the sister of Ko Yong Hui, who was one of Kim Jong Il’s wives and the mother of Kim Jong Un, the third-generation leader of North Korea. She and her husband were close to the Kim family, living in the same compound in Pyongyang, raising their sons together, and taking care of the future leader when he was at school in Switzerland. But when Ko Yong Hui got cancer, her sister and brother-in-law worried about what might happen to them if she died. So they managed to get out of North Korea and eventually made it to the United States, where they now run a dry cleaning store somewhere in the eastern part of the country.

But read Fifield's story, and see if it isn't a familiar story of royal intrigue and excess while peasants starve:

The Kim family has ruled North Korea for 70 years, through a repressive system built on patronage and fear. The royal family and top cadres in the Workers’ Party benefit from this system — and have the most to lose if it collapses or if they run afoul of the regime.

So the couple decided to flee — not to South Korea, as many North Koreans do, but to the United States....

Traveling on a diplomatic passport, Ri went back and forth between North Korea and Switzerland, sometimes ferrying their youngest daughter and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister back and forth.

The family spoke Korean at home and ate Korean food but also enjoyed the benefits of an expatriate family in an exotic locale. Ko took the Kim children to Euro Disney, now Disneyland Paris. Kim Jong Un had been to Tokyo Disneyland with his mother some years before — and her photo albums are full of pictures of them skiing in the Swiss Alps, swimming on the French Riviera, eating at al fresco restaurants in Italy....

The world did not know that Kim had been anointed his father’s successor until October 2010, when his status was made official at a Workers’ Party conference in Pyongyang. But Kim had known since 1992 that he would one day inherit North Korea.

The signal was sent at his eighth birthday party, attended by North Korea’s top brass, the couple said. Kim was given a general’s uniform decorated with stars, and real generals with real stars bowed to him and paid their respects to him from that moment on.

“It was impossible for him to grow up as a normal person when the people around him were treating him like that,” Ko said....

“We lived the good life,” Ko said. Over a sushi lunch in New York, she reminisced about drinking cognac with sparkling water and eating caviar in Pyongyang, about riding with Kim Jong Il in his Mercedes-Benz....

Stories about the couple in the South Korean news media have suggested that they sought asylum in the United States because they were concerned about what could happen to them after either of Kim Jong Un’s parents died. This was their link to the royal family, and without that link, what would happen to them?

Walking through Central Park on a bright Sunday morning, Ko seemed to imply that this was a concern.

“In history, you often see people close to a powerful leader getting into unintended trouble because of other people,” she said. “I thought it would be better if we stayed out of that kind of trouble.”

They had reason to be scared, given Ko’s sister’s position, said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch website.

“Ko Yong Hui was an ambitious woman — she wanted her sons to be promoted, and she made enemies in the process,” Madden said. “If you were her sister or her brother-in-law, you would feel threatened. Someone could easily make you disappear.”

The courts of Richard III, Henry VIII, and Caligula had nothing on the House of Kim. And indeed the House of Kim can live better than those earlier monarchs, because now royals can enjoy cognac, caviar, Mercedes-Benz, movie theaters, and travel to the Swiss Alps, Euro Disney, the French Riviera, and Italian cafes.

May 29, 2016 6:18PM

Academic Intolerance: A Progressive Speaks Out

The academic year now closing has seen more than its normal share of student, professorial, and administrative moral posturing, so much so that we’re seeing signs of a healthy backlash. Two recent invitations came to me to speak on the subject, for example, one on academic freedom, the other more broadly on tolerance. And very recently we’ve seen that the campus protests over naming the George Mason University Law School after the late Justice Antonin Scalia were just settled after Virginia’s State Council of Higher Education declined to block the name change. 

But don’t think the battle against leftist academic intolerance has been won. Witness Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in today’s New York Times, “The Liberal Blind Spot.” In a column a few weeks ago, Kristof offered “a confession of liberal intolerance” in which he criticized his fellow progressives for their hypocrisy in promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses—except ideological. The reader reaction? 

It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

“You don’t diversify with idiots,” asserted the reader comment on The Times’s website that was most recommended by readers (1,099 of them). Another: Conservatives “are narrow-minded and are sure they have the right answers.”

NYT readers aside, how skewed are the numbers in academia? Well at Princeton during the 2012 presidential election, 157 faculty and staff donated to Barack Obama’s campaign, 2 to Mitt Romney’s—a visiting engineering professor and a janitor. From 2011 to 2014 at Cornell, 96 percent of the funds the faculty donated to political candidates or parties went to Democratic campaigns; only 15 of 323 donors gave to conservative causes— perhaps a product of Cornell’s agricultural school. And that same ratio, 96 percent, describes the contributions of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to Democratic candidates during that same period. For a broad picture of the ideological complexion of American law schools, see the splendid article by Northwestern University Law School’s Jim Lindgren in the 2016 Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, published by the law school’s Federalist Society chapter. 

Numbers that skewed don’t come about by accident. As Kristof notes, “When a survey finds that more than half of academics in some fields would discriminate against a job seeker who they learned was an evangelical, that feels to me like bigotry.” Fortunately, a noted progressive has had the courage to call this for what it is. Kristof’s piece is worth reading.

May 27, 2016 1:50PM

Big Bureaucracies Beget Bad Behavior

One of the problems with big government is that it stimulates the worst sort of behavior from people and attracts legions of cheaters on the inside and outside.

On the outside, the more than 2,300 federal subsidy programs are under constant assault by dishonest individuals, businesses, and criminal gangs. The improper payment rates for the earned income tax credit and school breakfast programs, for example, are more than 20 percent. Medicare and Medicaid are ripped off by tens of billions of dollars a year. It’s a sad reality that when the government dangles free money, millions of people will falsify application forms to try and get some of it.

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May 27, 2016 11:18AM

You Ought to Have a Look: Smoke, Clouds and Snowfall

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger.  While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic.  Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

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In this week’s YOTHAL edition, we’ll focus on some recent climate science findings that deserve further mention and are worthy of a deeper dive. If and when you have the time and/or inclination, you ought to have a look.

First up is a collection of papers that describe the results of a several experiments looking into cloud formation—or rather, into the availability and development of the aerosol particles that aid in cloud formation. The tiny aerosols are called cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) and without them, it is very difficult for clouds to form. 

It’s well known that sulfate particles, formed as a by-product of fossil fuel burning (primarily coal and oil), make for a good source of CCN. In fact, the change in cloud characteristics resulting from this form of air pollution are thought to have asserted a cooling pressure on the earth’s surface temperature—a cooling that has acted to offset a certain portion of the warming caused by the co-incidental emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

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