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Published: Wed, 21 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Wed, 21 Mar 2018 05:06:39 -0400


Stossel: China's Freedom-Crushing 'Social Credit Score'

Tue, 20 Mar 2018 10:00:00 -0400

In America, tech giants know a lot about us. John Stossel says that's fine with him. He knows what information he's handing over and he does it voluntarily. But he says we should worry about becoming like China, where the government is starting to use online data to create 1984 in the real world.

China's government has announced that they'll assign a mandatory government "social credit score" to everyone in the country by 2020. It will be based largely on what you do online. Say something that gets censored, you lose points. Same if you watch porn, or are late in returning a rented bike, or buy lots of alcohol.

China's government boasts that the social credit system will "allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step."

"It is a big deal," says Li Schoolland, a Chinese-American libertarian activist who works with Chinese supporters of freedom.

The social credit system, she says, will expand to the whole country what China already does to some government critics. Some of them are jailed. Some are never heard from again.

The government will expand the use of lesser punishments under the new program.

Schoolland explained to Stossel what will happen to people with low scores: "First [you lose] your job, or you never get promoted...and your children cannot get into good schools."

The American government doesn't do anything like that, yet, but Stossel wonders about the future. Police in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and other cities already practice "predictive policing." The tech company Palantir analyzes social media and phone location records, tracks people's ties to gang members, and predicts the likelihood that someone will commit a crime.

Still, Stossel says, he's glad to be in America, where he can criticize the government on Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook.

He's never been punished for that.

So far.

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Brickbat: Oh, Bother

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Chinese Internet censors have attempted to squelch any criticism of the Communist Party Council's decision to eliminate term limits so Xi Jiinping can serve more than two terms as president. They've banned references to Animal Farm, Brave New World, 1984, and... Winnie the Pooh. Chinese social media have long noted the resemblance between Pooh Bear and Xi and have used images of the character to mock the president. But now, censors are scurrying to remove any references to Winnie.

Trump's Steel Tariffs Will Help, Not Hurt, China

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 15:15:00 -0500

President Donald Trump apparently believes that "trade wars are good, and easy to win." They are neither. And, in fact, Trump's plan to slap a 25 percent tariff on all steel imports—something the president is considering as a way to help American steel manufacturers by protecting them from international competition—might indirectly boost China's steel industry while punishing some of America's top allies and trading partners, along with the very American workers the president supposedly wants to help. If the tariffs trigger a trade war, something analysts say could happen, then China probably stands to gain further. Trump loves to talk about how China has been "killing" U.S. manufacturing, and to blame China for dumping cheap steel into the American market. In reality, the U.S. imported $976 million worth of steel from China in 2017 (up from $906 million the year before), which means China accounted for barely more than 3 percent of all steel imports. The United States imported far more steel from places like Japan ($1.65 billion), Brazil ($2.44 billion), and South Korea ($2.78 billion) last year. The largest exporter of steel to the United States is Canada, which sent more than 5.6 million metric tons of the stuff worth more than $5.1 billion across the border during 2017. The new tariffs will be applied to all steel imports, which means close allies like Japan, Korea, and Canada will be hurt by the tariffs more than Trump's favored enemy of China. "Hitting China and Canada with the same tariff doesn't penalize China relative to anyone else," says Dan Ikenson, director of the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. "That doesn't, and shouldn't, sit well with exporters from countries that have done nothing wrong." Think about it like this. Trump's tariff will build a protectionist wall around American steel manufacturers, but it won't entirely stop the flow of foreign steel into the country. Because the wall will be the same height for all imports, the cheaper Chinese steel that Trump likes to vilify will still have an advantage over all other sources. Meanwhile, American businesses that rely on steel imports will have to pay higher prices, which will be passed along to consumers. All steel-made products will be more expensive if the tariffs are imposed—and the same is true for aluminum products if Trump follows through with his threat to impose a 10 percent tariff on them. That's part of the reason why the stock market dropped 420 points immediately after Trump's surprise announcement of the tariff proposal last week. As Matt Welch explained on Friday, Barack Obama's tariffs on Chinese tires cost American consumers an estimated $1.1 billion in return for preserving 1,200 jobs in the domestic tire industry, while George W. Bush's duties on foreign steel destroyed some 200,000 jobs in other sectors, exceeding the total employment of the American steel industry. Michael Froman, former United States trade representative during the Obama administration, tells Vox that there's little doubt China is engaged in some unfair trading when it comes to steel and aluminum. The problem, though, is that Trump's tariff proposal "does very little, if anything, to affect China." "Instead, we're hitting our closest allies and partners with a set of tariffs under the justification of national security," he says. Those same concerns are causing some Republicans in Congress to challenge the president's proposal. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said "China wins" if tariffs increase prices for American consumers or create conflict between the United States and its major trading partners. "You're punishing the American consumer and our allies. You're making a huge mistake," Graham said on CBS' Face The Nation. "Go after China—not the rest of the world." That's really just the start. China could respond to the Trump tariffs by imposing their own import taxes on American-made products like soy beans, airplanes, or computer technology. If[...]

Bob Poole on Trump’s Gas Tax, Rep. Beto O’Rourke on Challenging Ted Cruz

Tue, 27 Feb 2018 08:15:00 -0500

(image) Who loves gas-tax increases? According to preliminary reports, fans of jacking up the federal government's share of consumer gasoline spending include but are not limited to President Donald Trump, House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among other parties not normally associated with the T-word. It's all part of Trump's politically wobbly infrastructure plan, whose main sticking point (though there are many) is over just how many hundreds of billions of dollars will be spent by Washington. Hence the thirst for revenue.

I will be asking about the propriety of the idea, and the long history of the gas tax, with arguably the most knowledgeable transportation policy expert in the country, the Reason Foundation's own Robert Poole, tomorrow when I again guest-host Stand UP! with Pete Dominick on SiriusXM Insight (channel 121) from 9-12 a.m. ET. Poole has written about the subject a time or three over the years, including the recent piece, "It Is Time to Rethink the U.S. Highway Model: Our highway funding system based on per-gallon fuel taxes is breaking down for several reasons."

Competing for Poole's thunder will be Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), who, in addition to being that rare Democrat who successfully primaried an incumbent in part over the issue of legalizing marijuana, is now the Great Democrat Hope for unseating Sen. Ted Cruz and helping turn Texas from red to blue. (See O'Rourke's 2013 interview with Mike Riggs, and his 2015 interview with me.) We will definitely hit up the latest in congressional immigration negotiations.

Other guests are scheduled to include Matt Kibbe, to talk about his recent Reason piece "The Tea Party Is Officially Dead. It Was Killed by Partisan Politics.," and Gordon Chang, to talk about Xi Jinping's power grab.

Please call in at any time, at 1-877-974-7487.

When Governments Suspend Their Own Rules

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 06:00:00 -0500

The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones: Concentrating Economic Development, by Lotta Moberg, Routledge, 192 pages, $140 All over the world, in carefully delimited areas, governments have carved out exceptions to their own rules. These special economic zones, better known as SEZs, come in many sizes and types, ranging from simple duty-free warehouses to jurisdictions the size and complexity of entire cities. Host governments typically roll back taxes, customs, and similar barriers to trade in their zones, but sometimes offer special labor, environmental, or financial regulations, too. You probably live within a short drive of an SEZ: The United States has more than 400 of them, in the form of Foreign Trade Zones. Today most countries—about 75 percent—host SEZs of some sort. Worldwide, they number well over 4,000, and if you count micro-zones, some of them no bigger than parts of buildings, over 10,000. Though the core idea runs back to ancient times (including the colonial proto-SEZs that gave rise to the United States), modern special economic zones started to emerge in 1948, when Operation Bootstrap made Puerto Rico a special trade and processing zone. A more popular model emerged in 1959, when the international airport in Shannon, Ireland, opened a special zone to accommodate transshipping and value-added processing. More recently, as with the zones that already fill China and that are planned in Saudi Arabia and Honduras, SEZs have grown to cover whole cities and areas of law. The Political Economy of Special Economic Zones casts a coolly objective eye on this latest institutional mutation to issue from the roiling competition of global trade. Its author, Lotta Moberg, a recent graduate of George Mason University's economics doctoral program and now an analyst at the investment bank William Blair & Co., finds both opportunities and challenges in their rise. As Moberg explains, politicians often have self-interested reasons to promote special economic zones. Sometimes they're merely seeking a new venue for graft. More honorably, they often hope the zones will attract investment, create jobs, and increase exports—and that voters will reward them for it. Can SEZs work such wonders? Moberg voices doubt. Her book lays out the reasons, deeply informed by public choice reasoning, why SEZs too often distort economies rather than help them grow. Politicians lack the information and incentives required to plan and run the zones well. Many become burdens to their hosts, and they can distract policy makers from broader and more essential reforms. Yet Moberg also reveals an underappreciated benefit of SEZs: Under proper conditions, they can help free an economy from pervasive rent-seeking and transition it to a more open system of market exchange. Her book concludes with insightful suggestions for how reformers can ensure zones fulfill this, their greatest potential. Among them: Make SEZs big, make them diversified, and let private parties rather than government agents choose the sites and run them. Intellectuals have been theorizing about how to run governments for almost as long as governments have been running. But SEZs offer a unique opportunity for empirical study, an opportunity that Moberg seizes. Special economic zones allow a single country to test different policies within its own borders. The popularity of America's Foreign Trade Zones, for instance, has scattered small, custom-free areas all across the country. SEZs also allow different countries to test the same policies across borders, as when Dubai imported the common law of England and Wales to its International Financial Centre. Social scientists could hardly ask for a better experimental framework for testing the real-world impact of varying rules. Moberg's book draws on the author's field work, primarily in the Dominican Republic, and on other SEZ research, much of it conducted by the World Bank. From this rich collection of data, she prod[...]

The 5 Best Arguments Against Immigration—and Why They're Wrong

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:15:00 -0500

No issue is more hotly contested today than immigration, with restrictionists calling for the deportation of illegals and a 50 percent cut in legal immigration. Here are the five strongest arguments against immigrants and immigration—and why they're wrong. They take our jobs and lower wages. President Donald Trump has said that illegals, who are mostly low-skilled, "compete directly against vulnerable American workers" and that reducing legal immigration would "boost wages and ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first." But as the president himself likes to point out, unemployment across virtually all categories of workers is at or near historic lows, so displacing native-born workers isn't much of an issue. Virtually all economists, regardless of ideology, agree that immigrants, both legal and illegal, have little to no effect on overall wages. The most-vulnerable workers in America are high-school dropouts and economists say that low-skill immigrants from Mexico reduce that group's wages by less than 5 percent—or that they increase drop out wages by almost 1 percent. But it's also true low-skilled immigrants make things cheaper for all Americans by doing jobs such as picking fruit or cleanup on construction sites. And consider this: In the developed world, "There is no correlation between unemployment and immigration rates." Immigrants go to hot economies and they leave when the jobs dry up. More important, immigrants grow the population, which stimulates economic growth, the only way over the long term to improve standards of living. They're using massive amounts of welfare. Since the late 1990s, most legal immigrants and all illegals are barred from receiving means-tested welfare. The only real taxpayer-funded services most immigrants use are emergency medical treatments that account for less than 2 percent of all health-care spending and K-12 education services for their children, who often times are U.S. citizens. For those immigrants who do qualify for programs such as Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), or supplemental Social Security income (SSI), they use all these programs at lower rates that native-born Americans or naturalized citizens. It's also worth noting that immigrants come here to work, not collect WIC. Legal immigrant men have a labor-force participation rate of about 80 percent, which is 10 points higher than that of natives. Illegal immigrant men have a participation rate of 94 percent, precisely because they can't access welfare. They don't pay their fair share. Whether legal or illegal, all immigrants pay sales taxes and property taxes (the latter are factored into the cost of rental units for people who don't own homes). And all legal immigrants pay all the payroll and income taxes that native-born Americans do. Amazingly, most illegals also cough up income and payroll taxes too. That's because most of them use fake Social Security cards and other documents to get hired. Somewhere between 50 percent and two-thirds pay federal income and FICA taxes. In 2010, for instance, administrators of Social Security said that "unauthorized immigrants" contributed $12 billion to Social Security trust funds that they will never be able to get back. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, about half of illegals paid state and local taxes worth over $10 billion. They broke the law to get here and they're bringing all their relatives. Critics of illegal immigration often say that unauthorized entrants refuse to stand in line and wait for their turn. That's true but misleading. For many immigrants, especially low-skilled immigrants from countries such as Mexico, there is really no line. In 2010, for instance, just 65,000 visas were given to Mexicans, with the overwhelming majority going to close family members such as spouses and minor children. The wait list had 1.4 million people on it, effectively meaning there is no chance of ever getting in t[...]

Mass Surveillance Is One Chinese Export We Should Ban

Thu, 08 Feb 2018 15:20:00 -0500

What does a total surveillance environment look like? The people of Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China, have been finding out. Here's how The New York Times describes measures being implemented there: Imagine that this is your daily life: While on your way to work or on an errand, every 100 meters you pass a police blockhouse. Video cameras on street corners and lamp posts recognize your face and track your movements. At multiple checkpoints, police officers scan your ID card, your irises and the contents of your phone. At the supermarket or the bank, you are scanned again, your bags are X-rayed and an officer runs a wand over your body.... [Your] personal information, along with your biometric data, resides in a database tied to your ID number. The system crunches all of this into a composite score that ranks you as "safe," "normal" or "unsafe." The reason for all this snooping? The region is home to a significant population of Uighurs, a religious minority that the Chinese regime tends to see as subversive. The Uighurs, consequently, are subjected to an even greater degree of monitoring and harassment: Uighurs' DNA is collected during state-run medical checkups. Local authorities now install a GPS tracking system in all vehicles. Government spy apps must be loaded on mobile phones. All communication software is banned except WeChat, which grants the police access to users' calls, texts and other shared content. When Uighurs buy a kitchen knife, their ID data is etched on the blade as a QR code. China's treatment of the Uighurs is appalling in its own right, but the story should alarm Americans for another reason as well: It shows how much can be done with mass surveillance tech that already exists and is commercially available to government entities. Most if not all of the technologies being deployed in Xinjiang are already in use, to some extent, in the United States. Many major cities have installed comprehensive CCTV systems that can be easily retrofitted with facial recognition software. Biometric data, including fingerprints and retinal patterns, are routinely collected en masse by law enforcement agencies—and by private employers and consumer electronics companies that under current law can be compelled to hand their data over to the government. Sometimes that only takes a subpoena issued by law enforcement without any judicial review. While the Fourth Amendment does provide something of a shield against large-scale techno-snooping on everyone's everyday movements, the main reason there aren't yet huge government databases that keep comprehensive records on most people's movements and activities is just official forbearance. If, say, the NYPD really wanted to implement a tracking system like the one in Xinjiang—one that used fixed and mobile video cameras, long-distance retina scanners, and biometric databases to keep tabs on every New Yorker—it probably could. Because a great deal of mass surveillance is conducted at the local level (CCTV networks, license plate readers, cell-site simulators, etc.), state laws preempting or restricting the use of these technologies can actually be an effective way to ensure that privacy is protected. The 13 states that have outlawed automatic speed traps (a more directly intrusive forms of mass surveillance, since it hits ordinary people directly in the wallet) demonstrate this. But such restrictions on other forms of surveillance so far seem to have little political support. For example, a study conducted by the Georgetown University Law Center on Privacy and Technology found that very few jurisdictions have policies significantly restricting the use of facial recognition technologies—and in those that do, the restrictions are often self-imposed by executive agencies rather than mandated by state law. It shouldn't be the case that the only thing stopping Xinjiang-style mass surveillance in America i[...]

Vatican Official Says China, Which Persecutes Christians and Murders Dissidents, Is the Country 'Best Implementing the Social Doctrine of the Church'

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 17:25:00 -0500

In his five years as head of the global Catholic Church, Pope Francis has made a number of statements that go well beyond the magisterial purview to teach on faith and morals. Frequently, he steps into the realm of "prudential judgments" on difficult political questions—judgments that involve choosing the best means to a shared end, and judgments about which good and faithful Catholics need not always agree with the pope. It seems one of his underlings has decided he can do one better, decreeing not just his own policy prescriptions but also his own facts. According to the Catholic Herald, the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, has told Vatican Insider that China is the nation currently "best implementing the social doctrine of the Church." Taken a face value, the statement is astounding in its obliviousness. We are speaking of a country where forced abortion and even infanticide are the norm—a country that executes more humans a year than any other on Earth; that harasses, detains, tortures, and disappears its critics on a regular basis; that just last year passed a law to "strangle online freedom and anonymity, and further clamped down on media outlets for reporting that departs from the party line," according to Human Rights Watch; that believes religious activities should be controlled by the state; that broke off relations with the Vatican half a century ago to that end; and that has been appointing its own Catholic bishops without consulting the pope ever since. This is the country Sorondo, recently returned from a visit, calls "extraordinary"? "What people don't realise is that the central value in China is work, work, work," he said. On climate change, he added, the Communist government is "assuming a moral leadership" in the world. Personally, I'd have preferred that the Vatican assume a bit more "moral leadership" in Communist China. That the statement comes at a delicate moment makes it all the more frustrating. The Church and the Chinese government have been exploring a possibility of rapprochement, with a Vatican spokesman saying that a new agreement could be inked any day. The move would be a controversial one, which many conservative Catholics around the world strongly oppose. Catholics in China have for the last five decades been split, with some attending unauthorized "underground" churches, led by priests loyal to the pope, and others attending state-sanctioned churches where the clergy is selected (or at least approved) by the government. In an effort to bridge the gap with Beijing, the Vatican is apparently replacing some of its own bishops with men chosen by the Chinese. At The Washington Post, one writer called the pending deal—which presumably would involve more such replacements and arguably would legitimize the Communist regime—"a capitulation of spiritual authority [that] would damage the Catholic Church in China for years to come." But there are arguments on both sides. The Church has long wished to mend ties with China, and doing so has been a special goal of Pope Francis over the last few years. As Crux's John L. Allen wrote, the world's largest country offers an opportunity to win souls on an incomparable scale, while better relations could improve the situations of the roughly 10 million Catholics already there. And there are many reasons to support greater openness between countries in general, including that human rights abuses are easier to carry out in places that are closed off from the view of the world. During the Cold War, Pope John Paul II famously charted a middle way between isolation of and capitulation to the USSR. He is remembered for helping to bring down Communism through his dogged support of Poland's Solidarity trade union. Trade with China has already nudged the country into economic liberalization of various sorts over t[...]

Brickbat: Our Father, Who Art in Beijing

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Chinese Communist Party officials in the Yugan county of Jiangxi province have been visiting poor Christians in their homes, urging them to take down crosses and paintings of Jesus and replace them with photos of President Xi Jinping. Some Christians say party officials told them they would not be eligible for government help unless they removed Christian symbols. Party officials deny the claim.

Trump Launches Solar Panel Trade War with China

Tue, 23 Jan 2018 17:25:00 -0500

The Trump administration is imposing a 30 percent tariff on solar panels and modules imported from China. The first 2.5 gigawatts of imported solar cells will be exempted from the tariff. The tariff will drop 5 percent per year falling to 25, 20, and 15 percent in the second, third, and fourth years respectively. Largely due to the import surge of lower-priced solar panels, 25 U.S. solar panel manufacturers have gone out of business since 2012. Last year, solar panel manufacturers Suniva and SolarWorld filed Section 201 the Trade Act of 1974 petitions at the International Trade Commission (ITC) arguing that Chinese imports constituted a "substantial cause of serious injury" to their businesses. Interestingly, a Section 201 finding does not require a finding of an unfair trade practice, as do the antidumping and countervailing duty laws; merely losing to competition is enough. The ITC subsequently determined that the increased imports of Chinese solar panels were indeed a substantial cause of serious injury to domestic producers. Under Section 201, factors supporting a finding of serious injury include idle or shuttered production facilities, layoffs and other termination of employment, and a decrease in the financial performance of domestic producers. The Trade Act also requires that any action taken by the U.S. government must facilitate a positive adjustment to import competition and provide greater economic and social benefits than costs. It is worth noting that the ITC issued a report last year that found that removing current significant import restraints, e.g., tariffs and quotas, would increase annual U.S. welfare by $3.3 billion per year by 2020. Will solar tariffs save or create American jobs? The Utility Dive industry newsletter reports: [The Solar Energy Industries Association] estimates the job losses will number 23,000 for this year, and result in "billions lost in investment." SEIA President Abigail Hopper condemned Trump's decision in a statement. "While tariffs in this case will not create adequate cell or module manufacturing to meet U.S. demand, or keep foreign-owned Suniva and SolarWorld afloat, they will create a crisis in a part of our economy that has been thriving, which will ultimately cost tens of thousands of hard-working, blue-collar Americans their jobs," she said. The majority of the current 260,000 solar jobs are in installation, with only 38,000 (or 14%) in manufacturing. Moreover, the case threatened two-thirds of future utility-scale solar installations set to come online in the next five years, which is the biggest and most vulnerable solar market. It is true that the Chinese solar panel manufacturers have received lots of subsidies, so too has the U.S. industry. Overall the U.S. solar power industry has benefited from tens of billions of dollars in subsidies, loan guarantees, tax credits, and state renewable portfolio standards that require utilities to sell a specified percentage or amount of renewable electricity to its customers. Note again that the ITC did not find that the Chinese solar panel companies are "dumping," that is, selling their products below their manufacturing costs. Analysts like Information Technology and Innovation Foundation's Stephen Ezell warn that the Chinese government is pursuing a policy of "innovation mercantilism" that aims to make China "competitive across virtually all advanced-technology industries and that the techniques it is using to become so pose a direct, even existential threat to America's high-tech industries along with foreign counterparts." Ezell further asserts that "China fundamentally rejects the notion of comparative advantage and instead seeks absolute advantage." If that's true, should we be worried? Not really. Basically, the idea of comparative advantage is that each country should speciali[...]

Ai Weiwei Wants You to Think About the Refugee Crisis

Mon, 01 Jan 2018 12:00:00 -0500

(image) Ai Weiwei may be the best-known artist alive today. Years of beatings, detention, and house arrest by the Chinese government only fueled his fame in the West. Now living in exile in Germany, he has shifted focus from repression in his homeland to the global refugee crisis. He's out with a new documentary on the subject, Human Flow, and has a major art show in New York called "Good Fences Make Good Neighbors." In October, he sat down with Reason's Meredith Bragg to discuss both projects.

Q: Your film weaves together the personal struggles of the individual with the enormous scale of the refugee situation.

A: You need a visual image which can cope with the totalness of the scale, which of course is almost not possible. Even the drone images we are using only can cope with one camp, and we only visited about 40 camps. In Germany alone there are 100 camps. If you talk about the Myanmar situation, that camp contains 420,000 people.

At the same time, they have all the individual stories—their faces, the little details of women cooking, or children running, or old men lighting up a cigarette. Those appearances really embrace humanity on a personal level. You can immediately sense what kind of people they are, and apprehend in their hearts what they have been through.

Q: I couldn't help but think about your own personal struggles with getting your passport back from the Chinese government. How do you view that document? Is it liberating, or is it state-sponsored restriction on movement?

A: It's crazy. My passport was in the possession of the Chinese government for years. By refusing to let me have the passport, they limited my freedom to travel. As an artist I would have shows in worldwide institutions I could not attend. They were trying to reduce my voice or my possibility for creativity. A passport should be part of an individual identity. The government only has the right to provide you that identity—that's the basic dignity a nation should give to any citizen. But many, many nations, especially totalitarian societies, use passports as a way to limit personal freedom. Many people cannot have passports in China. Some races, like the Tibetans, can never get a passport.

Q: The film will come out around the same time you're unveiling your new exhibit in New York. Is that just a coincidence?

A: It is a coincidence, because in film production you never have a clear timeline for when something will come out. But that can generate a lot of discussion, because my show is about territory, it's about borders, it's about immigration and how New York or the U.S. as a nation was made. And of course it has something to do with current [efforts] to limit people traveling here and to build a new border [wall] to limit immigration.

Q: Is this film pessimistic or optimistic?

A: This film provides a possibility for people to think about our own position in today's world. It can be both, because if you think all these tragedies are created by individuals, by humans, then we can stop it. But if we pretend this has nothing to do with us, this is very tragic—not only tragic to the refugees, but tragic to humanity, to our understanding about who we are and about what kind of future this society is going to get.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, visit

GW Students Organize to Fight Oppression By Oppressing Reading Choices

Wed, 20 Dec 2017 13:15:00 -0500

The Internationalist Students' Front, a new organization at George Washington University, seeks to "oppose nationalism across the world and contest popular narratives about U.S. foreign policy." To achieve these lofty goals, the group also wants to ban books. The Students' Front is calling for the banning of two books from the school's Gelman Library. One of them is "The Alleged 'Nanking Massacre': Japan's Rebuttal to China's Forged Claims," an obviously propagandistic book written by members of Japan's far-right. The student group intends to circulate a petition on campus to have it removed or labeled propaganda. Members of the organization did not respond to requests for comment on the group, its goals, or its choice of books. They have not yet disclosed the title or the author of the second book they want removed from Gelman. Given that 86 percent of the Amazon reviews of the book are one-star ratings, it seems the vast majority of Americans already see the book for what it is: a wholly unsubstantiated, and overall quite ludicrous account of a historical event, akin to Holocaust denial in the West. The Nanking Massacre has been widely documented. Japanese forces captured the Chinese city of Nanjing (or Nanking) and, in six weeks beginning in December of 1937, killed anywhere between 40,000 to 300,000 people in a rampage of rape and pillage. Estimates are still contested. Some have accused the Chinese government of inflating the numbers. Others deny the massacre happened. It's unlikely George Washington students accept the book as factual or allow such obvious propaganda to distort their understanding of the Nanking Massacre. The fact that the massacre has been denied is an interesting and important aspect of study for those interested in the history of relations between China and Japan. As George Washington Law faculty member and legal commentator Jonathan Turley writes, " an academic institution, our faculty and students research such views as part of their studies and discussion. Sometimes we buy books to gain perspective of fringe or discredited views. The denial itself is a legitimate matter of study for some academics." Even requiring the book to be labeled as propaganda is a bad idea—the floodgates of what constitutes "propaganda" versus what constitutes a reliable interpretation of the truth could easily be opened. The Students' Front seems like your traditional left-wing, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist student organization. The club's Facebook page laments the anniversary of Fidel Castro's death, saying, "as internationalists, we must commemorate his fight against oppression in Cuba, and his contributions to anti-imperialism and international struggles against oppression." Fighting oppression around the globe is certainly a worthy cause. In attempting to ban certain books from the library, is the group really overthrowing oppression, or attempting to advance only their preferred ideologies and causes? GW's student newspaper, The Hatchet, reports that "the organization will host teach-ins about the consequences of fascism and advocate internationalism, a political ideology similar to socialism that believes all people should unite to advance common interests." There's an obvious flaw in their logic. Calling for book-banning is ridiculous. When students concerned with ending global oppression fail to see how censorship can contribute to the very oppression they're fighting against, it's a sorry state of affairs. There's a certain irony when students crack down on the free exchange of ideas in the process of attempting to promulgate particularly radical ones—ones that could also be in danger of being suppressed one day. Free speech is valuable for many reasons, but especially because there's no guarantee t[...]

A Rising China Bets Big on Infrastructure Spending Overseas, As U.S. Wavers

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 10:28:00 -0500

When President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January, he left a power vacuum in the Pacific region that China is seeking to fill. The Regional Comprehensive Global Partnership, a proposed trade deal that encompasses 16 countries, already promises to bring China closer to its Asian neighbors. China is currently spending $150 billion a year on infrastructure a year in 68 countries. It has proposed building roads, bridges and railroads to link the 54 African nations. And China has pledged to spend $250 billion over the next 10 years in South America, including building a high-speed rail line in Brazil. The wisdom of those investments can be questioned, but there's no doubt that China is positioning itself to challenge American dominance. Concern over growing Chinese influence is not without warrant. Despite market reforms, China's government remains a Communist regime with a horrendous record on human rights. It seems to be challenging Milton Friedman's notion that with economic freedom comes political freedom. Still, China's recent moves to be a world leader could be beneficial, particularly when it comes to investment in the developing world. Take the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which China launched in 2016 and which now counts Germany, Great Britain and a few other Western countries among its 50-plus shareholders (although China retains the most power). The AIIB provides financing for infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region. There's a big hole to fill: estimates are that meeting all the needs for regional roads, sewers, power stations and the like would take about $8 trillion. "We like to talk about barriers to trade being tariffs, red tape or customs...Well, a lack of infrastructure is also a barrier to trade," said Colin Grabow, a trade policy analyst at the Cato institute, at a briefing last week. "If you can't get your product from point A to point B, you can have all the best rules in the world and it's not going to matter." Grabow acknowledges China's violations of intellectual property rights and aggression in the South China Sea. The simplest thing the United States could do to counter Chinese influence is to start competing again, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. Currently the AIIB is either building or planning to build telecommunications, energy and road improvement work in the Philippines, Azerbaijan, India and Sri Lanka, among others. While China may have founded the bank to increase its power in the region, the fact that leading European nations now have a seat at the AIIB table reduces the likelihood that China will be able to use the bank as a foreign policy tool. China's One Belt, One Road initiative to build roads, bridges and tunnels for companies to transport their products across the Asian continent also promises to cement its relationship with central Asian countries. "We need to worry more about what we are not doing rather than what China is doing," Grabow said at a Cato event. "We can't disengage and then snipe from the sidelines or serve as some kind of international peanut gallery. We need to focus more on competing with China instead of trying to contain China. What we know is that the region needs more infrastructure. If China is providing it, let's see what happens. It isn't our money on the line." This post was updated to correct the attribution to a quote from Colin Grabow.[...]

First Whole Body Transplant Is 'Imminent'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:45:00 -0500

(image) The first operation in which the head of a person will be transplanted onto another body is "imminent," according to Italian neuro-surgeon Sergio Canavero. At a press conference in China, Canavero detailed a recent operation in which a team of surgeons practiced by attaching the head of cadaver to the body of another cadaver. The goal was to develop a suite of techniques that enable surgeons to connect blood vessels, nerves, the esophagus and so forth between the head and the body.

In fact, some researchers in China have just published a study in which they detail how they successfully grafted the head of one rat onto the body and head of another rat.

Naturally, some folks are opposed to the procedure. For example, Dr. Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons told The Independent, "I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."

Some bioethicists are also worried about Canavero conducting this surgery in China. In USA Today, Assya Pascalev, a bioethicist at Howard University in Washington, D.C. observed, "There are also regulatory concerns. China does not have the same medical standards and requirements that the United States and Europe have." In fact, it is precisely because the medical communities in the United States and Europe would not permit the controversial procedure that Canavero has chosen China as the country in which he will attempt the first human head transplant. "The Americans did not understand," Sergio Canavero told a news conference in Vienna. He added, "Western bioethicists needed to stop patronizing the world."

If successful, surgery would raise fascinating questions about how a different body would affect a person's consciousness along with the possible future reproductive issues.

Although most medical experts believe that the head transplant surgery will fail, there is nothing wrong with trying to do it so long as all parties fully consent to the procedure.

Trump Trip to Asia Mostly a Welcome Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy

Thu, 16 Nov 2017 14:34:00 -0500

President Donald Trump doesn't think he's getting enough credit for his 12-day, five-country trip to Asia. He has a point. Trump's diplomatic efforts in Asia are a repudiation of Barack Obama's "Asia pivot," which sought to contain China's rise by expanding American influence in the region. The Obama approach prompted China to take a more confrontational stance vis a vis the United States—an effect that apparently caught the Obama administration by surprise even though it shouldn't have. Trump's reset can reduce tensions in the region while giving U.S. allies an incentive to take more responsibility for their own stability and security. Japan and South Korea, for example, have both recently committed to increasing their own military expenditures. And while China insists its decision to send a high-level envoy to North Korea (the first such trip this year) was "common practice" and "unrelated" to the American president's visit, Trump has pushed regional stakeholders to take a more active role in defusing tensions with North Korea. China may not have the total control over North Korea's foreign policy that Trump imagined before he assumed the presidency, but it did have more room to cooperate with the West. And while several Asian countries announced a trade deal without the U.S., which withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership three days into Trump's presidency, that's not necessarily bad news either. Trump's anti-trade rhetoric is indisputably harmful, and the lack of any news about any kind of bilateral deals at the end of his long trip is not a good sign for the future of such pacts. But a continental trade deal that doesn't include the U.S. could be a stronger arrangement than one that did. After all, the original Trans-Pacific Partnership also excluded China. Given that China is the second largest economy in the world, its exclusion never made sense from a trade perspective. But it made sense if the TPP was another tool to contain China. In the trade deal's current form, it is far better positioned to eventually include the U.S. and China, as it will be better able to avoid geopolitically motivated pressure from the U.S. The foreign minister of Japan insists the new deal will "serve as a foundation for building a broader free-trade area" across Asia; a deal perceived (rightfully) as a tool of U.S. foreign policy would not have such a bright future. Trump did not spend his Asia trip lecturing other countries about the importance of liberal democracy and human rights, to the chagrin of some observers. Yet such lectures are usually meant more for the domestic U.S. audience than audiences overseas. Just as Americans don't appreciate even the perception of being lectured by foreign countries like Russia, so it goes in other countries. (That said, it would be nice if Trump would refrain from actively praising a nation's human rights abuses.) The U.S. can promote human rights and liberal democracy much more effectively through leading by example and through fostering self-reliance rather than dependence among its allies. Liberal values are their own best spokesperson—witness China's eagerness to advocate for free trade and globalization where Trump won't. If Trump's perceived disinterest in international governance leads other countries to decide they too should take ownership of the world order rather than relying on the U.S., we will all be better for it.[...]