Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Is Peace Possible?

IS global peace possible? A UCLA student emailed me with this question yesterday morning: "Sir, do you think the US, Russia, and China could work things out and peace is possible?" Of course, peace is possible. Life is not perfect. This is not John Lennon's "Imagine." There is no absolute peace though since humanity is anchored on perpetual change/s but there will always be attempts to arrive to a certain degree of peace. It has been tried. And it can be pursued on mutual grounds or negotiated intents. 

          The recent G20 Summit in Germany where 19 members, including China but excluding the US and Russia, signed a Climate Change accord is a positive indication. Some 195 countries also signed the Paris Agreement also this year. China has committed billions of dollars to spearhead alternative energy projects in Europe. East shaking hands with West or Europe also manifested as Japan, globe's 3rd biggest economy, and European Union inked new trade partnership. 
          Meantime, the US gained some odd anti Climate Change buddies in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Indonesia--all oil producing nations. A bit of no brainer since oil diggings are always been blamed for the unabated increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels (hence climate change). Russia is #1 producer of crude oil; Saudi Arabia, second; and US, third. 
          But then these recent intramurals surrounding Trump and Vladimir Putin about Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 US Presidential election at least went eyeball level in Hamburg. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters: "I was delighted that it was on the margins of G20 that the first meeting between Trump and Putin took place. It’s always better to talk one to the other, not one about the other." Let's see. 

          In regard nuclear arms in North Korea, the US has called on China's help to mediate or do something. Pyongyang and Moscow used to be friends. But Russia supported United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 condemning North Korea's nuclear test in 2006 and last year. Uh huh. Kim Jong-Un continues to defy the international community in relation to its nuclear and rocket programme but maybe China could work things out. But Washington (or Trump) needs to mellow down the bully stance and negotiate. Well, I think the Chinese are good at that. Beijing isn't willing to "punish" Pyongyang, which they've been helping a lot since NK's relations with Moscow soured. There must be a way. I'd like to discuss nukes longer but later. 
          The US and Russia, despite historical animosity that reared its ugly head during the Cold War, gained some peace in the past. The relationship was generally warm under Russia's President Boris Yeltsin (1991–1999) until the NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the spring of 1999, and has since deteriorated significantly under Vladimir Putin. In 2014, relations greatly strained due to the crisis in Ukraine, Russia's annexation of Crimea, and, in 2015, by sharp differences regarding Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. Mutual sanctions imposed in 2014 remain in place.
          But then Trump and Putin talked so let's see. A 2017 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed 41 percent of Russians had a positive view of the US, only one of two countries surveyed where positive perception for the US increased, 52 percent however expressed a negative view. The same study also showed 53 percent of Russians had confidence in the current American leader, President Donald Trump compared to just 11 percent for former President Barack Obama. But Obama people, please don't get worked up. I am just stating facts. That is not a barometer who is better Donald or Barack. 

         However, Americans just don't like Russia. A recent survey of 7,150 American adults asked "Do you consider Russia a friend or enemy of the United States?" A majority wavered between enemy and unfriendly, with 55 percent saying so. Within the five options given, 33 percent said Russia was unfriendly to the United States and 22% said Russia was our enemy. Some 25 percent said they were unsure and only 19 percent said Russia was a friend.
         About US and China, need I say more? Relations between the two countries have generally been stable with some periods of open conflict, most notably during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Currently, China and the United States have mutual political, economic, and security interests, including, but not limited to, the prevention of terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, although there are unresolved concerns relating to the role of democracy in government in China and human rights in both respective countries. China is the second largest foreign creditor of the United States behind Japan. The two countries remain in dispute though over territorial issues in the South China Sea. That can be resolved if Asean, notably the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan sit and compromise and agree. Again, I reiterate that Washington has to modify its protectionist foreign policy, via military bombast, in the region to usher peace pipes. 

          Meanwhile, in recent history, there have been peaceful strides. Like the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in 1979 signed by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, and witnessed and hosted by United States president Jimmy Carter. Alas, it cost Sadat's life and Carter, despite his peacekeeping efforts, was considered one of the weakest US presidents. He served only one term. ISIS blowback do shake peace efforts I know but the Arab Spring also gave us hints why the anger in the Muslim world? Maybe they don't really need the oil diggings that much than we do. More than 95 percent of workers in Saudi Arabian oil fields are foreigners, not locals. They don't care. They just don't want that kind of job.
          The US, Russia and China's relations do matter a lot in pursuit of global peace since they apparently command allegiance or support from smaller nations. They have their own share of abiding allies. They dictate global trade and military clout, two gargantuan tools of power. But a people that is divided won't do it even if governments make initiatives. The people and governments must work hand in hand. These days, it's the 1 Percent that "works" governments, capitalizing on a divided world, but then there are signs of agreements for mutual benefits. I remain hopeful.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Pasckie Notebook

          For so many occasions, before and after the Nov elections, Donald Trump and some people kept on pointing at China or Saudi Arabia as major culprits in America “losing” its greatness. We chide Saudi Arabia, currently #2 exporter of oil to the US, for earning billions of moolah with “unfair” pricing of crude/petroleum. And China, oh well. China. When the US was the boss of the allied world, I don't remember many leaders complaining about steady stream of oil and oil products and “stateside” stuff and things to their shores. In fact, those baubles in a way were status symbols. Colonial mentality, we call it back home. Caltex was the major source of gasoline. Hershey's was like sweets of the gods. It's okay. No whining. I don't think it is the fault of China or Saudi Arabia or Mexico or whatever country why America's balance of trade sucks at this point. We choose to import than to export; our 1 Percent opted to ferret those plants to Guangzhou and elsewhere overseas than here. These countries or their governments didn't invade or colonize America and forced us to abide.

          When activists were massing at WTO to block globalization's “regulation” of free market trades, not enough people were lobbying. But people love Occupy's party than significant moves like the Battle of Seattle. America's bipartisan Congress let China and Russia in at WTO, and now non-OPEC countries like Russia want in the US/allies market. Is it their fault? Was it the fault of Japan and Germany why there were competition to Ford and Chrysler for car manufacturing (and imports to US) years ago? Look at these—trinkets on retail stores, gasoline at Exxon, or heating in your house. The American mass gobble them up. Where do all these come from because we don't want factories to ruin our environment, had to be spot clean? China. Saudi Arabia. Canada. Mexico. Venezuela. Even coca and cocaine come from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia; poppy seeds from Afghanistan and Myanmar. Need I go on? Nope. I gotta vacuum the bathroom floor for now...

WHAT has happened to those who vowed to leave America in case Donald Trump won?
They say America is doomed so they thought of moving to countries where people are happier. Or countries with better delivery of basic services. Like Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands and Sweden. They have better health insurance, food subsidies, free education, affordable housing etc etcetera. True. But those amenities don't come easy. Those countries also impose the highest taxes globally, around 50 to 55 percent. Sweden has the second highest income tax rate in the world, and the highest in Europe, with a 56.6 percent deducted from annual income. Though Swedes may be taxed heavily, sales on residential properties are exempted from taxation there. That is, if you still got enough money left to purchase a house. In Norwegian jail, it's like taking a vacation in a resort--cells are equipped with TV sets, there are awesome sports facilities and gym, and a prison inmate bakes you birthday cake as well. The high tax rate is justified for increased social program accessibility. It's like mom gets your salary and pays all your basic necessity bills and whatever's left is handed to you. Maybe no more money for iPhone 7, sweet smoky herbs, and beers--unless mom says so based on her accounting of your money. Want that? No? So maybe you wanna try North Korea instead? Food and housing are extensively subsidized by the state out there. Education and healthcare are free, and the payment of taxes was officially abolished in 1974. Wanna go? Are you already there?


          Doug Stamper (played by Michael Kelly), Frank Underwood's unwaveringly loyal chief of staff and confidant in “House of Cards” TV series reminds me of George Stephanopoulos. Before Mr Stephanopoulos joined ABC News, he was a top Democratic Party political advisor or Communications Director for the 1992 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, subsequently becoming White House Communications Director, then Senior Advisor for Policy and Strategy. He was just in his 30s that time. He was actually the one running Press Relations matters on Clinton's first term although Dee Dee Myers was officially the White House Press Secretary.
          The World Trade Organization (WTO), an intergovernmental organization which regulates international trade, officially commenced in 1995. The US acted as a dominant power in international economy and strongly supported an open system—with great interest in China because it was one of the fastest growing markets for US goods and services. Yet tables turned--export to import. US imports from China almost doubled within five years from $51.5 billion in 1996 to $102 billion in 2001. China was admitted to WTO that year, 2001, thus celebrating globalization as a slick way to regulate free market in favor of the Greater Powers. The US imposed additional conditions on China and so there were, from a Chinese perspective, both positive and negative aspects linked with admission. George Stephanopoulos left Clinton's administration in December 1996—as Chinese imports start to pile up in US retails. (BTW Russia got in WTO in 2012.)

          In politics, there is always an unwaveringly loyal and brilliant shadow who helps brainstorm and execute significant policies for their boss. A Doug Stamper. A George Stephanopoulos. Should they stay or should they go? One is fiction, the other is not. The non-fiction chose to go.

          We are not on the same page although we seem to be enjoying all possible modes of communication. Tactical alliance. Tactical alliance between (non)like-minded groups but aligned against a common foe won revolutions and/or real changes in society (in the absence of a revolution). One basic flaw of activism in America these days, I observe, is the absence of such an "alliance." Take the case of the Occupy movement in its nerve center in Manhattan. Very basic flaw. Groundwork--groundworking for a very basic and simple need. Bathroom access. Each Occupy/er could've easily been thrown to a paddywagon and Zuccotti Park shut down on Week 1--for health/sanitation reason. No significant support from residents and local business to let activists in. And who let them in 24/7? McDonald's across the street. The 1 Percent--the same "foe" that the Occupy Movement targeted. That is a very basic flaw.

          Cliques. Sub-groups. There are so many little cliques. Equality won't happen if it doesn't translate in wages, housing, social security benefits, single parenthood subsidies etc etcetera. Meantime other groups fight for local growers against the big guys. Others fight for immigration rights. For LGBT rights. Environmental issues. Until activists come gather as one and devise a way how to maximize advocacy, lobbying, and grassroots empowerment, we will all be howling on our respective corners in a small plaza called Freedom of Speech. Until we all get tired or snow come falling down again. Next season of "Game of Thrones" and "The Walking Dead" up next.
          Who wins with all these distractions? Of course we know. You know. Bills remain. But Canada's borders aren't as accessible as it's hot prime minister's smile is. We only have to google it. That is, if we still got internet access.

THE DUDE Western Media Love to Hate: Vladimir Putin.
          A UPI news or analysis sort of explains, “Why Russian President Vladimir Putin will fail.” Really? Currently, Putin enjoys an 85.9 percent approval rating among his people. Fueled by the 2000s commodities boom including record high oil prices, under the Putin administration from 2001 to 2007, the economy made real gains. In 2007, Russia's GDP exceeded that of Russian SFSR in 1990, having recovered from the 1998 financial crisis and the preceding recession in the 1990s. During Putin's first eight years in office, industry grew substantially, as did production, construction, real incomes, credit, and the middle class. To illustrate that economic gain, a WNBA player who earns a max salary of $125k in the US takes home $5 million when playing in the Russian league. Russia entered WTO in 2012 as it overtakes Saudi Arabia as the world's #1 producer of crude oil. Oil. Russia isn't going anywhere down. Putin may retire but the Russians have arrived—stronger than before. Why can't these so-called economic pundits focus on how superpowers could benefit from each other for their people than continue to fuel quarrels and “Cold War” level intrigue? And I'm not even talking about China.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


MAKE America Great Again!” was an effective campaign slogan amidst an economic tempest that hasn't really subsided. Will it work though after the fact? Election is over and the copy already served its purpose. Done. Globalization, the process by which businesses or other organizations develop international influence or start operating on an international scale. Seems cool especially at a time when “share the wealth” or “harmony in diversity” were working its way into the gamut and grace of the West's romance with political correctness. Then World Trade Organization (WTO) was born, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), an intergovernmental organization which regulates international trade. That was 1995, six years after Tiananmen Square Revolt where the Chinese working class got impatient with the (economic) mobility of Deng Xiaoping's Open Door Policy.

          There are 164 WTO member-countries. Seemed cool to start the globalization blueprint to work. But they didn't know (or maybe the bigger powers knew?) that China's once-sleeping dragon is no dumbass. As the organization finetunes, China applied for membership and with Washington's clout all over the mahogany table, Beijing got in. That was 2001, Bill Clinton's term. The PR went this way: “The admission of China to the WTO was preceded by a lengthy process of negotiations and required significant changes to the Chinese economy. It signified China's deeper integration into the world economy.” The US of course supported an open system. Let `em in! “Huanying! Huanying!” An enormous multilateral achievement! Uh huh. The Clinton administration reasoned that China was one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods and services. The 1 Percent concurred. U.S. imports from China almost doubled within five years from $51.5 billion in 1996 to $102 billion in 2001.
          Quite naturally, China negotiated back. What about us? Are we just going to buy your Nikes and Twizzlers? The huge Chinese humanity needed jobs—that is why there was a revolt in Tiananmen anyways. Sure! So WTO imposed conditions, actually harsher than those handed to other developing countries. China's service sector had to be liberalized and foreign investment allowed; restrictions on retail, wholesale and distribution had to end. Banking, financial services, insurance and telecommunications were also opened up to foreign investment. Cool!

           Then Beijing went to work. Tax was lowered, workforce was cheap (yet still within the realm of the traditional Chinese lifestyle). Etc etcetera. How could America's 1 percent turn its back on that investment/partnership jackpot? So as environmentalists lobbied to padlock plants and factories in the heartland, these giant corporations made a massive exodus to the Great Wall of Better Profit. Simultaneously, the National People's Congress and State Council spread out subsidies to entrepreneurs and “little moguls” in the provinces so they could match up with those gargantuan job orders from America (and other WTO countries). Old and young, including children, were making stuff and things for Walmart, AC Moore, Target et al. Boom! Like a dragon's fire—the flamethrow was unstoppable to date. America's once vaunted trade surplus went south and trade deficit sucked. Exports gone, imports galore! Jobs? Oh well.
          Globalization, yes. Probably good in some degree for smaller countries—yet really bad for America. All in all, it is a win-win for the 1 Percent. A regulated free market. Regulated for the 1 Percent profit monster. How do we bring back the jobs, Mr Trump? Convince China and its American/Western partners to ship factories back to the US? Well, partly. China has been buying huge corporations here before these companies—well, all go to China or Mexico or somewhere else, right? And the factories? As China's environmental index plummets due to those factories, they moved some out or created new factories and businesses in smaller countries where it's “friendly.” Easy environmental laws, lower wages, obedient workforce, sweet tax rates. These workers of the world can compete with Chinese workers anyhow. Equation: $8 dollars an hour in Wyoming is equivalent to two weeks in Nicaragua or Morocco. Explains why my own (Philippines-based) siblings' business partners are young Chinese. And do you know that New York City's tourism income relies heavily on Chinese spending? These people can spend!

          Meantime, I'd like to watch or observe how Trump's economic czars work things out. Remember, Russia also got in WTO in 2012. The D cut taxes on the rich or huge corporations to entice them to re-invest or expand here and so they could generate jobs. Right? Of course. But these MIBs will still have to do the math. Low tax rates against such a hard to refuse conditions somewhere? Take note as well, South American giants Brazil and Argentina owe China lotsa moolah. Many people need jobs out there. So that's what it is. The picture doesn't change though irrelevant Obama is still here or Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders won instead. That fact stays.
          Make America great again? Maybe that line is in itself flawed. It's self-righteous and egoistic. Why not say let's make America be part of a “globalized” community and let's us all treat each other as equals? No great or greatest. Just equal humans with feet planted on reality ground and hands waving on the same air.