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The Princelings Take The Stage

18 Nov

There was another election among the great powers recently. Unlike the American one, I’m not getting any hope about change from the appointment of Xi Jinping to the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

Chinese politics employs both spectacle and concealment: the demonstration of power – via the grandeur of the newly concluded party congress and the crush of journalists vying for shots on Thursday – yet the obfuscation of its workings.

“They actually operate in a way to deify the power … if you get to see how they talk and discuss things, it reduces the mystery of power,” said Wang Zhengxu, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Nottingham. “But they also want to communicate to the public that the central committee and its politburo are making decisions according to rules for the benefit of the public.”

No one can be sure what Xi stands for, still less what he will achieve as the first among equals. The scarcity of hard facts have also led to analysts noting, albeit mostly with tongues in cheeks, the relative size of chairs at the congress and the decision of one new leader to wear a blue rather than red tie.

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Black Interdependence

13 Nov

Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard at Witness to Transformation cautiously chuckle about the spectacle of North Korea and Syria signing an agreement, “to increase cooperation on trading and the exchange of technologies”. What “technologies” are is uncertain, but arms or even missiles are possibilities. One worrying illustration of how this agreement could play out is a September, 2012 Reuters article about a Syrian-bound North Korean plane suspected of transporting arms that was intercepted by Iraq. Noland and Haggard tie the agreement to speculation, that Pyongyang will reimpose price controls, to tackle inflation.

It could get worse, on both ends of this joke. Andrew Natsios warns, that, with winter approaching, famine is poised to tighten its already-firm hold on the North Korean people.

While U.S. media and policymakers are focused on the chaotic situation in Libya, the civil war in Syria, and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, another rogue state—North Korea—has been relegated to the back burner of public attention. But not for long, because the U.N.’s annual crop assessment for North Korea will shortly be published. These annual assessments have been published since the Great North Korean Famine of the mid-1990s killed as many as 2.5 million people, and they are supposed to warn the international humanitarian system of an impending famine. This assessment will show that drought early this summer seriously damaged the crop so that the harvest will drive the country, always on the edge of starvation, ever deeper into nutritional disaster.

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Obama Reneging on TPP Campaign Promises

22 Jun

Stop TPP Michelle Chen argues that the Obama administration has every reason to be secretive about just what the Trans-Pacific Partnership really is.

Thanks to some intrepid activists with Public Citizen and the Citizens Trade Campaign, the public can glimpse at the closed-door negotiations through a batch of leaked documents. So far, what’s trickled out suggests that Washington is determined to scale up the controversial framework of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), creating a new trade regime that exploits inequality between workers and employers within countries, and global inequalities between the “developed” and “developing” worlds.

The TPP, if current proposals are enacted, would grant extreme powers for corporations to act as quasi-legal entities, and to take states to court in order to dismantle environmental, consumer safety, or labor protections that they feel “unfairly” pinch their profit margins. Building on previous trade agreements like NAFTA that have given foreign investors sweeping powers to circumvent domestic regulations, the proposed framework would establish a litigation system designed to protect the “rights” of investors above citizens.

Such trade deals have often been marketed to American workers as a boon for jobs and domestic industries, but they’ve generally been condemned by unions and activists as a lose-lose for workers at home and abroad, encouraging companies to capitalize on poorer economies where sweatshops can flourish unfettered by regulatory protections. Historically, trade deals like NAFTA and its Central American counterpart, CAFTA, are associated with economic displacement and instability, the erosion of labor and human rights standards, and the subordination of national sovereignty to foreign investors.

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