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Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:09:06 -0400


U.S. Steel Manufacturers Eager for Trump to Impose Long-Promised Tariffs

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:40:00 -0400

American steel manufacturers are eager for President Donald Trump to follow through on his campaign trail bluster and slap high protective tariffs on steel imports. Bloomberg recently interviewed John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, an American steel company, who said after speaking with administration officials, he felt reassured that the tariffs are coming. "Last week someone in the administration told me they meet with the president every day, and at least two to three times a week Trump asks, 'Where are my tariffs? What are we doing?,'" Ferriola said. The steel company CEO remains confident that President Trump will deliver the goods, Bloomberg reported. The administration has, so far, been all talk and no action. The White House missed a self-imposed deadline in June to release a Department of Commerce investigation on the impact of imported steel on national security. The report, which could be used to support slapping protectionist levies on imported steel, hasn't materialized. On the campaign trail, Trump's free-wheeling speeches would typically include shots at China and promises to stop the flow of cheaper steel from across the Pacific. His promise to "put American steel and aluminum back into the backbone of our country," as Trump put it at one rally in western Pennsylvania during the campaign, seemed to resonate with voters in the Rust Belt and helped push him to an electoral victory. In office, Trump has continued his blunt statements about protecting the American steel manufacturing industry. "Steel is a big problem," Trump told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One in July. "We're like a dumping ground, OK? [Other countries are] dumping steel and destroying our steel industry. They've been doing it for decades and I'm stopping it. There are two ways, quotas and tariffs. Maybe I'll do both." Trump's tariffs, however, are a solution to a problem that might not exist. Cheap Chinese steel isn't threatening the American domestic economy, according to Scott Lincicome, a trade attorney and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. The last thing this country needs is more tariffs. "It's a myth that we don't have steel tariffs already in place," Lincicome tells Reason. "Most of the steel we import is not from supposedly nefarious places like China or Russia; it instead comes from close allies like Canada." According to Lincicome, between the years of 1990 to 2013, America was one of the most protectionist countries in the world. Of the 373 different trade barriers in place in late 2016, 191 of them were trade restrictions placed on foreign steel. Steel consuming industries, which outnumber steel manufacturing industries 50-to-1, pay the price. Whatever American jobs are saved in the very concentrated manufacturing sector will come at the cost of jobs involving steel imports. Ultimately, people who work in construction will suffer because higher steel costs will mean fewer construction projects, according to research from Daniel R. Pearson, Lincicome's colleague at Cato. With the urging of the president, Republicans in Congress spent months unsuccessfully attempting to repeal Obamacare. Now with tax reform on the horizon, the administration's intent to impose tariffs seems to have been put on the backburner. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is adamant the administration will deal with the question of steel tariffs after dealing with tax reform. Ross, a billionaire, made a fortune in 2002 buying bankrupt steel companies on the same day the Bush administration imposed tariffs on foreign steel imports. He, like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, is one of several strong supporters of tariffs in the Trump administration. "My best guess is that Trump will impose some sort of steel import restriction at some point. He likes the idea too much to abandon it." Pearson tells Reason. "Both Ross and Lighthizer are quite committed protectionists and are unlikely to try to talk him out of it."[...]

Stossel: 100 Years of Communist Disaster

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 10:30:00 -0400

When communism was first implemented 100 years ago, people were excited. Western academics and media figures at places like the New York Times praised the ideology even as millions starved. The praise continued even as communist leaders murdered political opponents.

Today, some Antifa activists carry communist flags. Some say communism failed in the Soviet Union because it wasn't "done right."

But communism has been tried again and again–in dozens of countries. It always fails. Stossel talks with Lily Tang Williams, who grew up in China, where tens of millions starved to death after government abolished private farms. Lily's father taught her to trap rats for food, but then even the rats ran out.

Somehow she survived, and now she says she never wants to be without freedom again.

She's so passionate about freedom that she ran for US Senate in 2016 as a libertarian.

She says her mission in life is to tell people that life without freedom is awful.

Produced by Maxim Lott. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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China and Russia Warn U.S. About Regime Change in North Korea

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 13:34:00 -0400

(image) As the United Nations passes new sanctions against North Korea, watered down at the behest of Russia and China, the two countries warned the United States against pursuing regime change in North Korea.

The Russian representative at the U.N. expressed concern the U.S. wasn't reaffirming "the four nos"—no regime change, no regime collapse, no accelerated reunification, and no military deployment north of the 38th parallel dividing the Korean peninsula.

"The Chinese side will never allow conflict or war on the peninsula," a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry said today.

That's all well and good, but if Russia and China are really concerned about what the U.S. might do on the Korean peninsula they should step in and offer solutions rather than admonishments.

Instead, the two major powers have largely remained on the sideline as North Korea inches closer to nuclear weapons capability, leaving the responsibility of reacting to the developments to the U.S., which Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley stressed, is ready to act alone to stop the North Korean regime if necessary.

It should not be surprising that regime change—a flawed tool fraught with negative consequences—is still on the table. It is a tool America's foreign policy makers are familiar with and return to with regularity despite its history of failure.

Over the last seventy years, the U.S. has taken on the role of world policeman. Donald Trump, who campaigned in part on questioning the wisdom of that role, has largely embraced it as president, revealing how this foreign policy status quo is ingrained and difficult to change.

The administration hopes sanctions against North Korea might at the least bring the regime back to the negotiating table. It bases this idea on the sanctions that pressured Iran into negotiating a nuclear deal. It remains unclear, however, how much those long-term sanctions influenced Iran's decision to negotiate, given the country's internal politics. Sanctions might have delayed diplomatic efforts by offering domestic hard-liners a talking point against negotiating.

Russia and China's efforts to temper the U.N sanctions further muddles the issue. They are two of five countries with veto power in the Security Council. If they are not convinced of the efficacy of sanctions they ought to kill them.

They have not killed the sanctions, because they offer the perception something is being done about the North Korea crisis. Without sanctions the U.S. could rightly ask Russia and China what, exactly, is their contribution to a solution.

The U.S. is right to ask the question anyway. Both countries have a greater interest than the U.S. in reining in North Korea, but have opted not to expose their leadership to criticism over any diplomatic failure.

The critiques will be much harsher if North Korea spirals out of control. The U.S. is comitted to defending its allies in the region, Japan and South Korea. North Korea knows it. Russia and China do, too. The Trump administration has signaled clearly ("fire and fury") the U.S. is willing to use overwhelming force to respond to any North Korean aggression.

If China and Russia fear regime change in the neighboring Korean peninsula, and they should, they can help prevent it by assuming more responsibility for North Korea—by engaging in public diplomatic efforts that would allow, and maybe even encourage, the U.S. to responsibly pull back.

Five Cities That Got F*cked by Hosting the Olympics

Mon, 21 Aug 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Every four years with the Olympics, municipalities compete to host the winter and summer games and virtually always plunge their cities and sometimes even their home countries into massive debt and insolvency. Why? Because host cities inevitably spend double or more over initial estimates, fewer people show up than expected, and the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, takes bigger and bigger cuts of TV and other revenue streams. Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist says that a typical Summer Olympics generates up to $6 billion in revenue, at least half of which goes to the IOC. Winter Games generate even less money despite often being more expensive to host than Summer Games. Cities routinely claim that whatever money they spend on new facilities will stimulate the local economy for decades to come. With the recent announcement that Paris will host the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles will host the 2028 Summer Games, here are five cities that got fucked by hosting the Olympics. Athens, Greece, 2004. Athens is the birthplace of the ancient games that inspired today's modern municipal money pits. Its 2004, Games cost $16 billion, or 10 times the original estimate. By 2010, more than half the venues built for the event were underused, completely empty, or literally falling apart. Sochi, Russia, 2014. At $50 billion, the Sochi Winter Games cost more than all previous Winter Olympics combined, paid for by a dwindling supply of Russian petro dollars and gold bullion. Boris Nemtsov documented that $21 billion went to "embezzlement and kickbacks" for businessmen friends of Vladimir Putin. Nemtsov was later assassinated. Rio de Janiero, Brazil, 2016. Plagued by low ticket sales partly due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, the Rio games ended up costing $20 billion rather than the $13 billion backers claimed. The Olympics were hosted on the heels of the 2014 World Cup, which also cost a ton of loot, and the showplace Maracana stadium, which got a $500 million makeover, was "largely abandoned" soon after the games and had thousands of seats ripped out by vandals. Beijing, China, 2008. The Beijing Games cost $42 billion, a record at the time, even though Amnesty International charged that the Chinese government used forced labor to build many of the venues. The IOC didn't mind the stratospheric costs or crackdowns on dissent, though: It awarded Beijing the 2022 Winter Games. Montreal, Canada, 1976. The mayor of Montreal declared that the Olympics "can no more have a deficit than a man can have a baby." Unfortunately, it took Montreal 30 years to pay off its debt just for the main stadium built for the 1976 Summer Games. If there's good news here, it's that cities seem to be wising up: Paris and Los Angeles were the only two cities to bid on the 2024 Olympic Games and IOC was so anxious that there wouldn't be enough applications for 2028, that it pre-emptively awarded it to LA. But just like with professional sports teams that extort tax dollars and subsidies for stadiums that never pay back their inflated costs, it's likely the Olympics will keep finding new suckers for one of the oldest scams in sports. Produced by Todd Krainin. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie, and based on an article by Ed Krayewski. Camera by Jim Epstein. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]

The Manchurian Crooner

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:21:00 -0400

(image) It was the Korean War—I mean the war they fought in the '50s, not the nuclear holocaust that various idiots are proposing now—that brought the word "brainwashing" into the common lexicon. Introduced in Edward Hunter's 1951 book Brain-Washing in Red China, whose cover declared that "an entire nation" was under "hypnotic control," the word's popularity exploded when the public learned that the American POWs who had recorded propaganda messages for North Korea had been subjected to intense indoctrination sessions. The idea took hold that the Communists had actually reprogrammed their captives' brains, perhaps permanently.

As science, this turned out to be false—the mind is not so malleable. As fuel for pop culture, on the other hand, it has given us everything from The Manchurian Candidate to the record I've embedded below. Eddie Hill's "I Changed My Mind," released in 1954, may well be the only country song ever written about brainwashing. In this particular spin on the subject, the cure for mind control turns out to be prayer; that isn't quite as exciting as the end of The Manchurian Candidate, but I suppose it was better suited for radio airplay.

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Trivia: Joan Javits, co-composer of the song, made more of a mark when she co-wrote "Santa Baby." She was also the niece of Sen. Jacob Javits, which I guess makes this record the lost bridge between Nashville and the Rockefeller Republicans.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)

Individualism Increasing Across the World

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 14:45:00 -0400

(image) Good news fellow libertarians: We are winning!

Individualism is rising across the world, according to a forthcoming study in Psychological Science by a team of Canadian and American psychologists who evaluated 51 years of data on individualistic practices and values across 77 countries.

There is, however, one big exception to this salutary trend: China.

Researchers focused on shifts in measures like the cross-cultural Individualism-Collectivism scale in the countries they evaluated. Individualism promotes a view of self-direction and autonomy, whereas collectivism fosters conformity and adherence to social obligations. Individualistic cultures prioritize independence and uniqueness whereas collectivist cultures emphasize family and fitting in.

To get at how cultures have moved along the individualism-collectivism spectrum the researchers used data focusing on changes in individualistic cultural practices and also World Values Survey responses that track shifts in cultural values.

The relevant cultural practices included changes in household size, percentage of people living alone, older adults living alone, and divorce rates. The researchers also analyzed how values changed with regard to the importance of friends versus family; teaching children independence or obedience; and preferences for self-expression such as arguing that free speech should be protected in their countries.

They also sought to identify what might be causing any changes along the individualism-collectivism spectrum. Consequently, they examined how socio-ecological changes such as socioeconomic development, disaster frequency, pathogen prevalence and climate affected trends in individualism.

Not too surprisingly, socioeconomic development had by far the strongest effect, accounting for between 35 and 58 percent of the change in individualism.

"Thirty-four (out of 41) countries showed a substantial rise in individualist practices," note the authors. "Thirty-seven (out of 52) countries showed a similar rise on a subset of markers assessing individualist values."

The shift toward greater individualism is not confined just to developed countries. Overall, they find a 12 percent global shift on the axis toward increased individualism. The richer people become, the more likely they are to throw off the shackles of collectivism.

Researchers find China is an outlier. This is a surprise, since socioeconomic development is driving the rise in individualism. After all, China's per capita GDP has increased nearly ten-fold over the past quarter century.

As a possible explanation, researchers cite a 2014 study that identified profound cultural differences between southern and northern Chinese. Specifically, the folks in rice-growing southern China are more interdependent and holistic-thinking than those who live in the more individualistic wheat-growing north. Of course, it doesn't help that the Communist government under President Xi Jinping is forcefully suppressing dissent.

The findings would suggest despite Xi's oppression, this dynamic of individualism will inevitably take hold in China.

Brickbat: Blacklisted

Wed, 07 Jun 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Ron Janicki planned a music festival featuring politically outspoken artists this summer at Los Angeles State Historic Park near Chinatown. But California State Parks says he has to get buy-in from the Chinatown Business Improvement District, among other organizations, before it will permit the festival. And George Yu, president of the CBID doesn't seem to be buying in. He says Janicki's efforts to draw attention to the Chinese government's censorship and harvesting of organs is "anti-China."

South Korea's New President Gives Trump Opportunity to Keep Campaign Promises

Wed, 10 May 2017 10:36:00 -0400

Moon Jae In, the Democratic Party candidate who supports rapprochement with North Korea, declared victory in yesterday's presidential election in South Korea, which he won by a large margin. The dovish Moon, who has been skeptical of U.S. power in the region, presents an opportunity for President Trump to follow through on his campaign-era promise of re-evaluating U.S. defense commitments in places like the Korean penninsula. Moon will be the first Democratic president since Roh Moo-hyun left office in 2008—and the center-left Democrats have been more supportive of normalizing relations with North Korea (known as "sunshine policy"), with the hopes of eventual reunification, than their center-right counterpart. He had long been the frontrunner of the 2017 campaign, even before Park Guen-hye's impeachment pushed the election date up by seven months. Moon previously ran against Park in 2012, losing by three and a half percent. The South Korean president-elect also repeatedly expressed concern over a missile defense system (THAAD) deployment agreed to between President Barack Obama and Park last year. Deployment began earlier this year and was completed overnight late last month amid protests, leading some in South Korea to believe the U.S. was trying to make it "difficult, if not impossible" to reverse the deployment, as The Washington Post reported. "I don't believe the U.S. has the intention [to influence our election], but I do have some reservations," Moon told The Washington Post. "It is not desirable for the [interim] South Korean government to deploy THAAD hastily at this politically sensitive time, with the presidential election approaching, and without going through the democratic process, an environmental assessment or a public hearing," Moon said before the election.- "Would it happen this way in the United States? Could the administration make a unilateral decision without following democratic procedures, without ratification or agreement by Congress?" The agreement over THAAD between Obama and Park was not ratified by Congress, while the U.S.'s accelerated deployment of the missile defense system runs counter to some of President Trump's rhetoric (something American and international observers will probably have to get used to). Trump floated the idea that South Korea should pay the U.S. $1 billion for the THAAD deployment, consistent with his campaign trail pronouncements about South Korea, and other U.S. allies, free-riding on U.S. defense. A couple of days later national security adviser H.R. McMaster assured his South Korean counterpart that the U.S. would pay for the system. Namhee Lee, the co-director of the Center for Korean Studies at UCLA, warns against reading too much into U.S. politics as a factor in the South Korean election. "This election was about the citizens in South Korea who were upset about the previous government's corruption, misuse of power, the collusion between the state and the conglomerates, and growing inequalities in society," she explained to Reason. "Obviously South Koreans are concerned about North Korea's nuclear build-up and Trump's erratic behavior/statements," Lee said, "but apparently only one out of four in the Korean electorate thinks that North Korea and THAAD is the most important issue facing the incoming administration." "But it is true the election of Moon would help to defuse tensions in the region," she continued, as he would resume the sunshine policy of his Democratic predecessors, which would build trust and create the conditions "for gradual change in the North's political and economic systems, which would then lead to coexistence and eventually to peaceful unification of two Koreas. Moon has been against the deployment of THAAD and, as Gye Woon Jeon, president of Students for Liberty in South Korea told Reason, has also demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Korea. "[...]

No, North Korea Isn’t "Super-Mighty"

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:01:00 -0400

North Korea is feeling threatened, so it has threatened back. "In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched," the isolated regime's state-run media warned Thursday, it will hit the "U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes." The phrasing is classic Pyongyang, the bizarre mix of childish bluster and lethal armament that throws normal foreign policy strategy out the window. This same announcement from any other nuclear power would mean the start of World War III, but from North Korea, it's mostly business as usual. What isn't business as usual is the international response to this latest round of provocation. U.S. surveillance planes are reportedly on alert for another North Korean nuclear test, as are Chinese bombers. Vice President Pence told Pyongyang the American "sword is ready," and, after some miscommunication, Japan's Self-Defense Force began joint exercises Monday with the USS Carl Vinson in waters off the Korean peninsula. And though defense officials have denied a recent report of imminent U.S. invasion, there's no denying the feeling that U.S.-North Korea tensions are escalating. As ever with North Korea's unique circumstances, the prudent course for the United States may be debatable, but de-escalation of those tensions is not. An American strike on North Korea would be, in a word, disastrous. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday, war "would be bad for the Korean Peninsula. It would be bad for China. It would be bad for Japan, be bad for South Korea. It would be the end of North Korea." Even in the best-case scenario—a tidy overthrow of the Kim Jong Un regime that doesn't take South Korea down with it and liberates a grateful population—the entire region would be thrown into long-term chaos. A new Korean war would easily cost America $1 trillion and produce one million casualties, Gen. Gary Luck, formerly a commander of U.S. troops in South Korea, estimated. A best-case scenario isn't even close to probable. If the U.S. takes up the North Korean offer of war, we risk war with China and North Korean nuclear, chemical, and biological strikes on U.S. troops stationed in and civilians living in South Korea. Post-regime change and an easy acceptance of American occupation by a desperate and ruthlessly brainwashed population is highly unlikely. South Korea may not prove a willing or able partner in the nation-building efforts that would follow. Realistic assessments of a strike on North Korea are in short supply in Washington. Graham followed his grim account with a hearty recommendation for war, recklessly advising President Trump to prepare for a preemptive invasion. That is foolish and dangerous advice, but hardly unexpected from a senator who never saw a war he didn't like. Though tensions may be rising, no North Korean strike on the United States is imminent. North Korea is not capable of executing any attack on the American mainland, let alone instantaneously reducing our country "to ashes." Pyongyang has yet to produce an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of carrying a nuclear warhead across the Pacific Ocean, let alone a warhead that could survive the trip. (The military parade organized to honor North Korea's founding president this month included what appeared to be ICBMs, but there is no evidence those are functional—or even real. This is, after all, a nation prone to expanding its navy via Photoshop.) The medium-range missile test shot into the Sea of Japan back in February, for example, traveled about 300 miles. To hit California, a North Korean missile would have to go more than 18 times that distance. In addition to this technological inadequacy, the showboating that is a consistent feature of North Korean military development means a surprise strike is extremely unlikely. Pyongyang will publicly test its missiles as it makes them. As t[...]

Tillerson: U.S. Has ‘No Further Comment’ on North Korea Missile Tests. Good.

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 19:02:00 -0400

As the North Koreans continue to lob missiles into nearby seas and White House staff issues tough-talking but anonymous threats, we might to do well to take the advice of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile," Tillerson said in a terse statement. "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment." This is probably the best way to deal with the latest temper tantrum from a country that has menaced the region and exploited regional tensions with missiles for a quarter century. Ignore it. The North Korean regime feeds on attention and tries to use its missiles and nuclear brinksmanship as a bargaining chip to ensure their survival and feed their people, starving thanks to their totalitarian ways. Often, North Korea's missile tests appear scheduled around events in foreign countries—South Koreans go to the polls May 9 to replace the impeached Park Geun-hye. The frontrunner Moon Jae-in has promised more engagement with North Korea. He's also said he'd review the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system that began this year after being agreed to several years ago. That deployment has irked China, which nevertheless is careful to keep that issue separate from negotiations over North Korea, despite the two being obviously intertwined. President Trump and China President Xi Jinping are also set to meet in Mar-a-Lago later this month. An anonymous senior U.S. official said the "clock has now run out" on North Korea's nuclear program "and all options are on the table." The best option for the U.S., however, is to do nothing. Ultimately, it's in the best interests of the countries in the region—particularly South Korea, Japan, and China—to work together to guarantee regional security. Active U.S. involvement disincentivizes such cooperation and encourages polarization instead. China feels threatened by missile defense deployments because it believes those missiles are pointed at them. North Korea has repeatedly told South Korea, Japan and the U.S., its missiles have been and will be pointed at them. North Korea is a client state of China's, although often an uncooperative one thanks in part to its ability to exploit regional tensions. The problem for years has been the lack of a coherent U.S. policy regarding China. George W. Bush left office a popular figure in China, credited with promoting free trade policies and spurning anti-Beijing rhetoric. Since then, President Obama announced an "Asia pivot" a post-Iraq and Afghanistan wars policy sending more money, military assets, and other aid to U.S. allies surrounding China. The "pivot" rattled China and drove a more aggressive foreign policy. As late as 2015 the Obama administration was still confused as to why China had become more aggressive. During his campaign Trump made China a top enemy. In advance of his his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Foreign Policy warned the Trump administration "has no idea what it's doing on China." President Trump has an opportunity to reshape the U.S. role in Asia, to stop being the region's policeman, something Trump the candidate often promised. The administration could benefit from more no comments and fewer ultimatums.[...]

Concern Over Tillerson Skipping NATO Meeting Misplaced

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 18:25:00 -0400

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will miss a summit of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on April 5 and 6 in order to be present at the meeting between President Trump and China President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago on April 6 and 7. Reuters yesterday initially reported based on anonymous sources that the State Department had declined offers to try to reschedule the NATO meeting, but today, Reuters reports, Tillerson offered alternative dates he could attend. "We are certainly appreciative of the effort to accommodate Secretary Tillerson," a spokesperson for the department said at a press conference. Rep. Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.) called Tillerson skipping the meeting, in favor of a meeting between the presidents of two of the most powerful countries of the world, "a grave error that will shake the confidence of America's most important alliance and feed the concern that this administration is simply too cozy with Vladimir Putin." Tillerson has a planned visit to Russia later this month. Hysteria over Russia's purported role in Hillary Clinton's presidential defeat always risked poisoning already complex and deteriorated relations between the U.S. and Russia. Spinning scheduling conflicts and routine foreign trips for a secretary of state as part of some imagined Trump-Putin connection is particularly irresponsible for anyone who says they support international engagement over unnecessary conflict. Neither should European politicians and bureaucrats seek to do so. One anonymous senior European diplomat told Reuters that Tillerson meeting the meeting was "unfortunate symbolism," as Reuters reported after the State Department signaled it was interested in a rescheduling of the NATO meeting. In its earlier article, Reuters reported that "Trump has already worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as 'obsolete' and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense." Yet for American and European politicians, bureaucrats, and policymakers interested in maintaining the NATO alliance, neither of these points should be a cause for concern. The Trump administration has insisted campaign period comments about NATO were not indicative of a U.S. withdrawal but interest in change. Asking other member states to meet a commitment they made, irrespective of how arbitrary it may be, is even less of a reason for concern. Other than the U.S., only three NATO countries spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense spending—Greece, Poland, and Estonia. The latter two border Russia and have extensive histories that sustain the political will for military spending, while the former borders fellow NATO ally but historical rival Turkey, which has also in recent weeks compared a number of other European NATO allies to Nazis, and most recently accused the Netherlands of being responsible for the Srebrenica massacre. Erdogan's outburst come after the European countries declined to permit rallies in favor of a constitutional referendum that would significantly expand the power of Turkey's president, the authoritarian Recep Erdogan, who has been in power for 14 years. Former Secretary of State John Kerry was criticized last year for leaving a NATO summit in Warsaw early to return to the U.S. to attend a friend's wedding in Nantucket and then to go see Hamilton in New York City, his second time attending the musical.[...]

Tillerson Suggests Pre-Emptive Military Action Against North Korea a Possibility

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 14:50:00 -0400

In light of North Korea's recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that all talks with Pyongyang are closed until the country denuclearizes, reports the Associated Press. Tillerson recently spoke at a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, as part of a three-nation trip that also included Japan and China. It has been described as a listening tour by the State Department in order to devise a better policy for dealing with North Korea, the AP story explained. "It's important that the leadership of North Korea realize that their current pathway of nuclear weapons and escalating threats will not lead to their objective of security and economic development," Tillerson said. "That pathway can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction, and only then will we be prepared to engage with them in talks." The secretary of state also announced that it may be necessary for the U.S. to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea if the country's weapons program reaches a critical threat level. "All of the options are on the table," he said. North Korea became the eighth nation to have nuclear capabilities after successfully testing its first nuclear weapon in October 2006, CNN notes. Since then, the country has engaged in numerous nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Just last week, CNN reported that North Korea launched four missiles, with three of the missiles landing just 200 nautical miles offshore of Japan. The act prompted Japan to hold its first civilian missile evacuation drill in the coastal city of Oga, per the AP. As North Korea's weapon program advances, Siegfried S. Hecker, emeritus director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, told The New York Times that "Pyongyang will likely develop the capability to reach the continental United States with a nuclear tipped missile in a decade or so." With this news, Tillerson declared that the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" is over. "Twenty years of talks with North Korea have brought us to where we are today," he said. President Donald Trump has also weighed in on the situation in his typically outlandish fashion. "North Korea is behaving very badly," he tweeted this morning. "They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help!" As Reason Associate Editor Ed Krayewski noted last week, China is urging a diplomatic solution: China, which has taken it upon itself to act as a mediator on the North Korea nuclear issue, proposed that North Korea suspend its nuclear and missile programs while the U.S. and South Korea suspend joint military exercises. However, the U.S. posture on the Korean peninsula has not escalated, and North Korea's erratic decision-making process on missile tests doesn't track neatly with specific U.S. or South Korean actions. [...]

U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Fall 3 Percent

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 10:00:00 -0400

(image) The International Energy Agency is reporting data showing that economic growth is being increasingly decoupled from carbon dioxide emissions. Basically, human beings are using less carbon dioxide intensive fuels to produce more goods and services. The IEA attributes the relatively steep drop in U.S. emissions largely to the ongoing switch by electric generating companies from coal to cheap natural gas produced using fracking from shale deposits. Renewals also contributed a bit to the decline. From the IEA:

Global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were flat for a third straight year in 2016 even as the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency, signaling a continuing decoupling of emissions and economic activity. This was the result of growing renewable power generation, switches from coal to natural gas, improvements in energy efficiency, as well as structural changes in the global economy.

Global emissions from the energy sector stood at 32.1 gigatonnes last year, the same as the previous two years, while the global economy grew 3.1%, according to estimates from the IEA. Carbon dioxide emissions declined in the United States and China, the world's two-largest energy users and emitters, and were stable in Europe, offsetting increases in most of the rest of the world.

The biggest drop came from the United States, where carbon dioxide emissions fell 3%, or 160 million tonnes, while the economy grew by 1.6%. The decline was driven by a surge in shale gas supplies and more attractive renewable power that displaced coal. Emissions in the United States last year were at their lowest level since 1992, a period during which the economy grew by 80%.

"These three years of flat emissions in a growing global economy signal an emerging trend and that is certainly a cause for optimism, even if it is too soon to say that global emissions have definitely peaked," said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director. "They are also a sign that market dynamics and technological improvements matter. This is especially true in the United States, where abundant shale gas supplies have become a cheap power source."

In 2016, renewables supplied more than half the global electricity demand growth, with hydro accounting for half of that share. The overall increase in the world's nuclear net capacity last year was the highest since 1993, with new reactors coming online in China, the United States, South Korea, India, Russia and Pakistan. Coal demand fell worldwide but the drop was particularly sharp in the United States, where demand was down 11% in 2016. For the first time, electricity generation from natural gas was higher than from coal last year in the United States.


In addition, China's emissions fell by one percent, suggesting that its use of coal to generate electricity may be close to peaking. This is good news for those who think that man-made global warming could become a signifcant problem later in this century. In any case, whatever else the Trump administration may say, domestic coal use ain't never coming back.

Chinese Premier Says China Doesn’t Want a Trade War—But That U.S. Firms Would Bear the Brunt

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 15:30:00 -0400

At his annual press conference, China Premier Li Keqiang warned that in a trade war between the U.S. and China, "it would be the foreign-invested companies in China, particularly US firms that would bear the brunt of it," citing an unnamed international think tank. "We don't want to see a trade war," Li continued. "A trade war won't make our trade fairer. It will only hurt both sides. I understand the whole world is paying close attention to China-US relations. China hopes that no matter what bumps this relationship may run into, it will continue to move forward in a positive direction." The press conference, at the fifth session of the 12th annual National People's Congress, featured pre-selected questions and well-rehearsed answers, as the Los Angeles Times reported. Li and President Xi Jinping have been trying to position China as a champion of trade and globalization in the Trump era, and Li answered his first question, from CNN about U.S.-China relations in the Trump era, saying he was hopeful. He referred to comments he made in October, when the presidential election was "white-hot," as he described it, that "in spite of twists and turns," U.S.-China relations have been "going forward" over the last decades. Li welcomed Trump's reaffirmation of the One China policy, which Li argued "forms the political foundation" of relations between the two countries, and said given that, "China-U.S. cooperation enjoys bright prospects." "We feel optimistic about the future of China-US relations on the strength of the extensive common interests that have bound the two countries together in the course of several decades of our diplomatic relations," Li said. "It is true that there are some differences between the two countries over issues like jobs, exchange rate and security. What's important for both countries is to stay focused on the overall interests, and enhance dialogue and communication to deepen mutual understanding." "Both our peoples are great people," Li said, channeling his inner Trump, "and we believe that we have the wisdom to properly manage differences." Li noted that focus on the trade surplus was misguided, saying he spoke with someone from a foreign trade company that told him "90 percent" of his company's profit "goes to U.S. firms." "Statistics show that last year, trade and mutual investment between the two countries created up to one million jobs in the United States," Li claimed. "We may have different statistical methods, but I believe whatever differences we may have, we can always sit down and talk about them, and work together to find solutions." Li suggested that by continuing to work on common interests, "the differences will account for a lesser and lesser proportion in overall China-US relations." Presidents Xi and Trump are set to meet next month at Mar-a-Lago. Globalization and free trade have benefited the entire world—trade has increased 30 fold since 1950, while the population has only tripled. Research has shown globalization has helped speed economic growth, increase life spans, and even reduce child labor. The Trump administration may represent the first time since the end of World War II that the American president has not been some kind of champion of free trade and globalization, despite particular ideological or other political flaws. The world is also a lot more prosperous than it's ever been, and from Latin America to Asia, a wide array of governments have come to understand the benefit of liberalization and free trade policies for their countries, even if the rhetoric doesn't always match. President Trump's hostility to free trade need not be a mortal blow to the trend toward free trade and the freeing of markets the last half centur[...]

Could Impeachment of South Korean President Improve Relations with North Korea and China?

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 09:32:00 -0400

(image) The impeachment of South Korea President Park Geun-hye could lead to a reset of South Korean relations with North Korea and China, as The Washington Post notes. That depends on the results of the election due in 60 days.

Park succeeded Lee Myung-Bak, and both were members of conservative parties who supporter a harder line against North Korea. The rogue's state's latest missile tests coincide with the run-up to Park's impeachment. North Korean state media responded quickly to her legal removal, saying she would be "investigated as a common criminal". Park is indeed already a criminal suspect. But if her corruption makes her a common criminal, the sociopaths in charge in Pyeongyang are uncommon criminals. It's unclear who the intended audience of their gloating over Park's removal is. The domestic audience may wonder whether their criminal leaders, too, could be removed.

The election, scheduled for May, was, prior to Park's removal, set for December. There are as of yet no declared candidates, but at least four parties will hold primary elections over the coming weeks to select their candidates. The center-left Democratic Party has substantial leads in polling so far, and their early frontrunner is Moon Jae-in, who ran against Park in 2012. Moon, a former special forces soldier, served as chief of staff to President Roh Moo-hyun, who while he committed suicide in 2009 over graft allegations remains the most popular of former Korean presidents, considered far less corrupt than others.

Last year, Moon said he would visit Pyeongyang if he were elected president, and has sent mixed signals about the missile defense deployment South Korea and the U.S. agreed to last year, saying there were "both gains and losses" according to the South China Morning Post, and previously called for Park to leave the decision on the U.S. missile defense system to the government scheduled to be elected this year. Moon has backed more dialogue over sanctions against North Korea, saying the hardline stance had been a "complete failure" since it has not deterred North Korea's weapons programs. The North Korean military conducted a series of missile tests in recent weeks, amid the political turmoil in South Korea, the start of the deployment of the missile defense system, and the transition of power in the U.S.