April 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


China's Once and Future Democracy : Despite Xi Jinping's crackdown and Donald Trump's silence on human rights, China has a vibrant democratic legacy that may yet reassert itself (ORVILLE SCHELL, March 31, 2017, WSJ)

On the eve of Mr. Xi's first meeting with Mr. Trump, who has shown little interest in the cause of democracy in China (or elsewhere), it is fair to ask whether it is not time, finally, to stop expecting that China will liberalize any time soon.

There are certainly plenty of reasons for pessimism. Beijing has placed ever tighter restrictions on the press, packed its jails with human-rights activists and suppressed even Hong Kong's limited experiment with "one country, two systems." In contrast to previous eras of reaction, recently won social and cultural freedoms remain intact for ordinary Chinese, but a far-reaching turn to democracy has become increasingly hard to imagine.

Still, some historical perspective is in order--not because Mr. Xi shows any signs of relenting in his oppressive agenda but because it would be a mistake to confuse the present reality with permanence. Democratic ideals have deep roots in modern Chinese history and have surfaced again and again over the past century. This legacy should serve to remind us that not all Chinese, even in the worst of times, have been resigned to a politics of one-party rule.

The idea that China would develop into a constitutional republic was first and most forcefully proposed at the beginning of the previous century by Sun Yat-sen, the so-called father of modern China. Sun had studied in Hawaii, converted to Christianity and become a medical doctor before starting his campaign against dynastic rule. When his republican government replaced the collapsed Qing Dynasty in 1912, he called for "three phases of national reconstruction," starting with a period of martial law, followed by an interlude of "political tutelage" and culminating in constitutionalism. "Without such a process," he insisted, "disorder will be unavoidable."

Sun's concerns about the difficulty of even starting to implant liberal democracy in China were quickly confirmed. His presidency lasted just 41 days as the country slid into the control of regional warlords. But Sun persisted, going on to establish the Nationalist Party, whose role in promoting democratic ideals in China proved to be long and tortuous.

But even amid the strife of the warlord era, the dream remained of a very different China. During the May Fourth Movement of 1919, thousands of students, intellectuals and workers took to the streets to protest Japan's grab of German concessions in China at the conclusion of World War I and to rally for "science and democracy." Hu Shih, a prominent intellectual of the movement who later became Chinese ambassador in Washington, wryly summed up the spirit of the era: "The only way to have democracy is to have democracy. Government is an art, and as such, it needs practice." His generation intended to overturn China's conservative and absolutist traditional culture so that, in the words of another activist, the Chinese people could rid themselves of the "4,000-year-old garbage can on our backs."

Throughout his own trying decades as president of the new Republic of China in the 1930s and '40s, Chiang Kai-shek, who succeeded Sun Yat-sen as the leader of the Nationalist Party, was no model of democratic practice, often suppressing opposition and basic civil liberties. In theory, however, he never wavered in his devotion to Sun's road map to constitutionalism, insisting that, after the necessary period of "tutelage," the Nationalist Party would "carry out its original purpose and return sovereign power to the people."

Such hopes were dashed in 1949, when Chiang and the Nationalists were driven to Taiwan by Mao after the Communist Party's triumph in the Chinese civil war. But Taiwan has been a vindication of the Nationalists' hopes. A process of liberalization began there in earnest in the mid-1980s with the lifting of martial law and a new tolerance for protests and opposition parties. Today, in the face of a newly autocratic and aggressive China, Taiwan remains a sturdy democracy.

I've been listening to Ian Morris's Why the West Rules -- For Now on the dog walk and one is struck by a threshold problem with his thesis.  He contends that the "development" of East and West has gone back and forth over the course of history, but can only arrive at that conclusion by defining development in a peculiar way : http://longnow.org/seminars/02011/apr/13/why-west-rules-now/

Morris has devised a quantitative "social development index" based on evaluating a civilization's energy capture, organization (size of largest cities), information management, and war-making capability.

Essentially, he's looking at nations, rather than people, and viewing them through an exclusively Darwinian lens.  But to consider only biology is nearly the opposite of considering civilization.

And, because of the Darwinism, he makes the mistake of thinking as the geographical/biological East as still Eastern.  

If, on the other hand, we use a civilizational, rather than biological, measure of development (like the Social Progress Indexhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Social_Progress_Index), we find that -- even if we pretend that the PRC remains "Eastern", despite its adoption of quintessentially Western capitalism -- it is radically undeveloped, most revealingly in comparison to the even more westernized nations of the geographical East : Japan; S. Korea; Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines; etc. (even ignoring the fact that New Zealand and Australia are geographically Eastern).

Even more amusing, if you consider only GDP per capita, China is behind Iraq.

The reality is that China remains backwards to exactly the extent it has not fully Westernized -- adding democracy and protestantism to capitalism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


1 in 3 voters give President Trump a grade F (ANITA KUMAR, 3/31/17, McClatchy)

After more than two months in office, America's new president, Republican Donald Trump, got a grade of F from 1 in 3 voters, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.

By contrast, the same number graded predecessor Democrat Barack Obama's performance a B as he approached his 100th day in office.

"Every time he speaks . . . it is so negative," said Whitni Milton, 31, a professional singer from Atlanta who participated in the poll.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Still no sign of leader for White House faith partnership office (Adelle M. Banks, 3/31/17, Religion News Service)

No one has been named to direct the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which since 2001 has linked government with a broad range of religious groups.

A link to the office's webpage reads "Thank you for your interest in this subject. Stay tuned as we continue to update WhiteHouse.gov."

"I don't know what the Trump administration's plans are in this area," said Melissa Rogers, who directed the office under the Obama administration from 2013 until Inauguration Day 2017.

The office has enjoyed the support not only of conservatives, but also many religious progressives like Rogers who believe faith-based charities are well-positioned to help the needy, and some get government contracts to do so with taxpayer funds.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Here's what we know so far about Team Trump's ties to Russian interests (Bonnie Berkowitz and Denise Lu, March 31, 2017, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


President's Growing Trade Gap: A Gulf Between Talk and Action (Benyamin Applebaum, 3/31/17, NY Times)

Mr. Trump blasted the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a "potential disaster" and made a great show of removing the United States from the ratification process. On Friday, one of Mr. Trump's top advisers on trade said the Trump administration planned to use the scorned agreement as a "starting point" for its own deals.

Mr. Trump described the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada as history's worst trade deal, and vowed to overhaul or replace it. The White House is now planning to seek relatively modest changes in the agreement, according to a draft document provided to key members of Congress.

Mr. Trump also chided China on Twitter ahead of President Xi Jinping's visit to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next week, declaring that the United States "can no longer have massive trade deficits." But the Trump administration has not articulated specific plans to shrink that deficit; the Treasury Department has not moved to keep Mr. Trump's promise of declaring China a currency manipulator.

The gap reflects the difficulty of keeping some of Mr. Trump's specific promises. There is, for example, no evidence that China is manipulating its currency. The Trump administration also is under considerable pressure from congressional Republicans and industry groups to avoid costly economic disruptions.

But the gap also exposes a basic divide on trade policy within the Trump administration.

One group, largely campaign veterans like the economist Peter Navarro, still favors the kind of dramatic measures Mr. Trump promised on the campaign trail. This view resonates deeply with the president, who noted on Friday that tough talk about trade is "probably one of the main reasons I'm here."

Another group, which includes many of the economic advisers Mr. Trump has added since the election, like Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, are convinced that measured actions on trade will produce better results.

And so far, that second group appears to be winning most of the internal skirmishes.

Hating colored people isn't a workable economic theory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Iraq: Airstrikes kill dozens of IS fighters near Syria border (AP April 1, 2017)

Iraqi fighter jets have carried out airstrikes against the Islamic State group outside Mosul, killing more than 100 jihadists, a government statement said Saturday.

Strikes by our Shi'a allies have a multiplier effect because of the Salafi ideology.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Republicans still have work to do to fix Obamacare (Michael R. Strain March 28, 2017, Washington Post)

Instead of accepting the ACA status quo, the GOP should dust itself off from last week's debacle and begin a renewed effort on ACA repeal-and-replace by stating clearly and unambiguously that its goal is universal health insurance coverage. Former president Barack Obama's lasting legacy is winning the argument over whether universal coverage is the appropriate social goal. In a very practical sense, that question is settled, and the GOP needs to get on board. Beyond practicality, it is the morally correct goal, as well.

It is the job of conservatives to offer a path to that goal that is compatible with our principles and dispositions. Clearly, market discipline is what is most needed in the U.S. health-care system -- again, to lower costs, expand choice and increase productivity over the long term. But more than market discipline is needed. All the broader problems I mentioned above need to be addressed, and more. Fortunately, there are many ideas and plans put forward by conservatives to replace the ACA, and to move health policy in a conservative direction.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Throw Away the New Playbook (Jonah Goldberg, 4/01/17, National Review)

If you don't think politics matters, keep in mind that the incentives for GOP congressmen to cooperate with Trump drops in tandem with his approval ratings. Similarly, the people who dismiss the "mainstream media" as illegitimate tend to miss the point that lots of voters don't share their view. By all means argue that those people are wrong. But at least acknowledge that those people vote too. And that matters. Everyone who cheers Sean Hannity's limitless defenses of everything Trump does seem not to care that they are not a majority. 

The people who think that the way to help conservatism is to support everything Trump says and does simply have it wrong. If he tweets "2+2=5," you don't help him (or the cause or the country) by saying "He's right!" or "This is a brilliant ploy to deconstruct the 'alt-left' mathematical establishment!" The best thing you can do is say "Trump is wrong and he should spend his time doing what he was elected to do." 

Trump might not listen -- no really, it's possible -- but criticism (reasonable criticism, of the sort we do at National Review) at least holds out the possibility that he'll stop tweeting indefensible things and focus on what he needs to do to have a successful presidency. But if pundits race to a TV studio to say "Trump is right! He's always right!" (particularly when they don't actually believe it, which is often the case), he will be encouraged to keep doing what he's doing -- because, like Obama, he tends to listen most closely to his biggest cheerleaders. Trump's one truly great success so far was the nomination of Neil Gorsuch. Why was that a success? Because he outsourced the task to Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Mitch McConnell -- two guys who relied on a tried-and-true playbook.

The other problem with the defenses of Donald is that they concede the case against but argue with some marginal piece of the whole.  Thus, while Donald concedes that the feds were surveilling Trump Tower and his aides show the lead investigator why the surveillance was necessary, the Right attacks a former Obama staffer who told her former colleagues to preserve the evidence so the suspects couldn't destroy it. where do those defenses actually get you? Other than giving talking points to your parrots?

And if you are only willing to propose anti-factual policies then what alternatives do you have but to pick at trivia?  Your main points are, after all, indefensible.