Let's Fix This Country
the future

What China Wants: Today, the South China Sea. Tomorrow, Everything Under Heaven

As America divines China's future intentions, we are hearing about tianxia. In his speeches and comments, China's president Xi Jinping has made luminous statements such as "the world is united and all under heaven are one family" much as other politicians do, suggesting the global family of man, and has expressed justifiable pride in the "rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” as his government engages in China's

massive Belt and Road Initiative, linking nations economically by land and sea.

But China scholars hear overtones of something more worrisome in his "Chinese Dream" or in his "One World, One Dream” theme of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. These motifs are suggestive of tianxia, an ancient Chinese concept of a world order with the emperor at its center — a hierarchical structure wherein other states were obliged to recognize China's supremacy. The literal translation of tianxia is "under heaven"; Chinese emperors claimed the Mandate of Heaven, that they held dominion over “All Under Heaven.”

Gordon Chang, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says Mr. Xi has had his foreign minister explain in the media the president's "thought" — which for the Chinese is more like a doctrine — thought that has "transcended the traditional Western theories of international relations for the past 300 years”. That is an explosive statement. Mr.Chang believes it almost certainly refers to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, which put an end to protracted wars by establishing the sovereignty of states that continues to be the established international order today. Chang says President Xi has for more than a decade "been dropping audacious hints that China is the world’s only sovereign state". Xi last year had China's constitution stripped of its two-term limit, putting him in the position of potentially ruling…


Students Crushed by $1.56 Trillion Debt with No Help from Betsy DeVos

Over two years into the Trump administration, no steps have been taken to stem the constantly rising tide of student loan debt, which now stands at $1.56 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion just four years ago. The question is, how big a threat does the default rate on that debt pose for the national debt, already at $22 trillion, and American taxpayers who would ultimately foot the bill?

The Department of Education issues a report each year showing the default rate three years after a “cohort” enters the repayment stream. Its most recent report,
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

for the class of 2014, says that by 2017, 10.8% were in default. A serious number in dollars, but tolerable, one might reason.

But the department’s method of reporting raises a host of questions. First, only those who haven’t paid in 360 days are in that default percentage — an entire year before they are counted as a problem! That means an untold further percentage have begun not paying but haven’t yet hit the 360-day mark — a nascent problem kept hidden.

Additionally, about 20% of the 44.7 million Americans with student loan debt are in suspense. Temporarily out of work, or hit with an unexpected medical expense, or beset with an unaffordable monthly repayment relative to income, they have…

war plans

If Hostilities Break Out, Iran Controls the Geography »

The many provocations in recent weeks, capped by the downing of a costly drone, are sure to provoke a military response from the U.S. should Iran continue. We're full of bluster with Trump talking of "obliteration" and "end of Iran", but, having
Where the drone was brought down in the Gulf of Oman with the Straits of Hormuz to its west.

pulled back after the drone's loss, there will be pressure to respond militarily if an incident causes any loss of American life.

Trump wants to avoid war, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to use threats of military force only to drive Iran to new negotiations, we're told. But then there's National Security Adviser John Bolton, the sort who never wore a…

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foreign policy

Iran: Edging Nearer the Brink of War

Trump should learn from the deal he tossed aside that replacing it will not be easy

It was one of his campaign promises — to get rid of “one of the worst negotiated deals of any kind that I have ever seen” — not that his base had ever asked for it. Itching to end the deal that put Iran's nuclear development on hold, after acquiescing to its continuance in two mandated quarterly reviews, President Trump in October 2017 decertified the inspection reports, setting in motion the abrogation of an agreement that had taken almost two years to negotiate.

His national security team had strongly recommended that he keep the U.S. in the accord. In a statement that September, over 80 disarmament experts urged him to honor the U.S. pledge, calling the agreement a “net plus for international nuclear nonproliferation”. That the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which conducts non-proliferation nuclear inspections on site in Iran, had all along reported that Iran was in compliance with the terms of the pact was

of no moment to the president. Neither had he concern for the five nations — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China — who were allies with the U.S. in the deal and wanted, then and now, to preserve it. U.N. ambassador at the time Nikki Haley said at the United Nations, “This is about U.S. national security. This is not about European security. This is not about anyone else”, which left the five nations that alongside us laboriously worked out the Iran accord stunned.

Shortly after backing out of the deal, Trump reimposed the sanctions that had been dropped as part of the moratorium, and adopted a program of "maximum pressure". The European allies, already cutting business deals with and selling goods to Iran, had no appetite to jettison the new opportunity that the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had afforded them. As a riposte to Trump, Germany, France, and the U.K. scrambled to keep the accord alive, setting up a framework named Instex to skirt the sanctions with a barter trading scheme that does not use the dollar nor need the international funds transfer system. It just began operations in June with Russia showing interest. All the while, to encourage the Europeans, Iran stayed in compliance, as verified by the IAEA.

In May, Trump withdrew waivers that had allowed those and other nations… Read More »


We’re Getting Buried in Trash but Americans Are Oblivious

Devoted recycler? Sorry. It's just getting burned or buried

On the first day of 2018, China announced that it would no longer accept "loathsome foreign garbage". The world’s largest importer of trash had decided to deal instead with its own "towering mountains of waste”. Beginning in the 1990s, as it grew into an industrial behemoth, China would ultimately take in 40% of America’s plastic, glass, metals and waste paper to feed its insatiable demand for raw materials. It was cheap to ship in otherwise empty container
Trash-pickers in Turkey. An industry elsewhere, we don't want
that here, but waste is going out of control.

ships, returning to China after unloading the products into which the trash had been converted, and low-cost labor made it economical to sort the imperfectly separated shiploads coming from the U.S. into clean stocks. The U.S. and other countries shipped 106 million tons of plastic to China over the past 25 years. But what we were sending to China was so contaminated with so much trash and food that it had become an environmental matter, said the Chinese.

No easy answers

Americans barely knew that China was taking in our trash. Picked up at the curb, its disappearance from daily lives was and is taken for granted. That most now stays behind in the United States serves to make this country face up to a responsibility which global markets have allowed us to pass off to others. For as long as it is left to market forces, the problems will become formidable.

We think that the aluminum cans we toss in the proper bin after… Read More »

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