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December 21, 2006

The top ten underreported news stories of 2006
Posted by Teresa at 02:28 PM * 74 comments

Via Kottke.org: the Foreign Policy list of the ten most important news stories you hardly heard about in 2006. This is stuff the national media could have been covering all those times they respectfully rehashed Rove’s latest round of disinformation. Note: I’m going to be condensing these without proper ellipsis-markers.

10. Hackable Passports: In October, the U.S. State Department began issuing biometric “ePassports” that contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag under the back cover. The tiny chip holds the usual passport data, including a digital photo. A hacker with a laptop and a chip reader he bought for $200 found he was able to steal data from an encrypted RFID tag, potentially allowing him to clone an ePassport. A group of German hackers now recommends that people microwave the new passports to destroy their chips.
Bruce Schneier and Cory Doctorow have been all over this one.
9. What’s Worse Than Bird Flu? The Cure: There were no confirmed deaths in developed countries from bird flu; but the alarm, fueled by Western media reports, did real damage. A rash of abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and even deaths was attributed to Tamiflu, the medicine marketed as a key drug capable of fighting the disease. Ten Canadians taking the drug died suspiciously. The FDA received more than 100 reports of injury and delirium among Tamiflu takers, nearly as many cases as were logged over the drug’s five-year trial period.
But Cylert got taken off the market. Do I sound bitter? I’m bitter.
8. Petro Powers Drop the Dollar: Noticed how the dollar keeps slipping? The latest Bank for International Settlements quarterly report, which tracks the investment trends of oil-producing countries, indicates that Russia and OPEC countries are moving their holdings out of dollars and into euros and yen. OPEC cut its holdings in the dollar by more than $5 billion during the first and second quarter of 2006. Russia now keeps most of its new deposits in euros instead of dollars. This doesn’t just raise our gas prices. It may weaken our currency and drive up inflation.
This development is the hurt that goes on hurting. The next time you hear some balsa-for-brains right-winger shooting his mouth off about how we don’t have to care what other countries think of us, check the international currency exchange rates.
7. The Gender Gap Gets Smaller: A report released in February by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau found that the gender gap in secondary education is closing or has closed in most developing countries. Particularly in Latin America and Asia, girls are attending school at the same rate, or higher, than boys.

6. Iran and Israel Hold Secret Talks: While Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spent the better part of 2006 denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy Israel, his country was sitting down with Israeli representatives to settle old debts. The clandestine talks, first reported by Israeli daily Haaretz this month, concern hundreds of millions of dollars allegedly owed to Iran for oil it supplied to Israel before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

5. United States Funds the Taliban: Some of the money the United States is spending to combat the resurgence of the Taliban is winding up in the hands of the Taliban. As recently as November, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting revealed that villagers in Afghanistan’s war-torn south were handing over U.S. cash meant for reconstruction projects to Taliban fighters, who then use the money to purchase weapons, cell phones, and explosives.

4. Russia Fuels Latin American Arms Race: Latin America has begun a new arms race. There’s been a sudden uptick in major arms deals in the region, largely between Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and their newest patron, Russia. The deals have left the region flush with shiny new tanks, fighter jets, and custom-built presidential helicopters.

3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab:: Overlooked in the $532 billion federal defense spending bill Bushed signed in October was a revision of a nearly 200-year-old law which restricts the president’s power during major crises. In December, Congressional Quarterly examined the changes, saying that the new law “takes the cuffs off” federal restraint during emergencies. Rather than limiting the circumstances under which a president may deploy troops to “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy,” the 2006 revision expands them to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” In other words, it’s now easier for the federal government to send in troops without a governor’s invitation.

Ostensibly, the move aims to streamline bureaucratic inefficiencies that left thousands of New Orleanians stranded last summer. Yet the Insurrection Act that existed when Katrina struck didn’t actually hinder the president’s ability to send federal troops. He simply chose not to.

Critics have called the changes an opening for martial law. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, one of the few to raise the issue in congress, says that “Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.”

We’ve all noticed how often these changes, supposedly intended to fight terrorism, are neither needed nor used for that purpose, and how almost all of them reduce our liberty and our protection under the law. This particular instance is like taking the brakes off an emergency vehicle so it’ll go faster, when the real problem is that nobody’s taking calls for assistance.
2. China Runs up African Debt: The debt-relief deal struck at last year’s Group of Eight (G8) summit, where rich countries promised to forgive about $40 billion in debts owed by poor countries, was supposed to be a turning point in Africa’s development, a chance to wipe its economic slate clean. Then came China. The rapidly industrializing country has emerged as a top lender to poor African countries. The World Bank estimates that Chinese loans for African infrastructure already total more than $12.5 billion. In November, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to provide another $5 billion in loans to Africa by 2009.
Foreign Policy frets that these are commercial loans, not the long-term low-interest loans made by multilateral development banks, and that Africa may wind up even further in the red. Maybe. But the other big difference is that China’s loans aren’t backed up by the IMF, the First World’s debt collector. This is going to be interesting.

There’s a limit to how much we can say about this: China’s holding a lot of our debt, too.

1. White House Looks the Other Way while India Helps Iran Build the Bomb: The U.S. government usually takes a hard line against countries that assist Iran with its nuclear program. In 2006 alone, Washington sanctioned firms in Cuba, North Korea, and Russia for making it a little easier for Iran to develop weapons of mass destruction. Not so with India, a close American ally. Just after the U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to support a plan to provide India with nuclear technology, the Bush administration quietly imposed sanctions on two Indian firms for supplying Tehran with missile parts. Nor was the White House forthcoming with Congress about India’s other instances of nuclear proliferation: In the past two years, two other Indian companies have been penalized for allegedly passing chemical weapons information to Iran, and two Indian scientists who ran the state-run nuclear utility were barred from doing business with the U.S. government after they allegedly passed heavy-water nuclear technology to Tehran.
My favorite wild-assed conspiracy theory about Iran is that Bush wants there to be as much evidence as possible that they’re building a nuclear bomb, because (1.) he wants a war with Iran; (2.) U.S. conventional forces are already stretched way too thin by Iraq and Afghanistan; and (3.) we have all those old nuclear weapons we’ve never used. An even loopier version says that the real reason he wants a war with Iran is that he’s privately concluded that he’s not going to win in Iraq, so he’s casting around for another war he can win before his term is up.

That theory’s too loopy even for me. I don’t believe it. I’m just amused by it. Sort of.

Anyway, there’s FA’s list. Other news-watchers might come up with a different list, or rank these ten items in a different order, but they’re all stories we needed to hear about. Maybe one of those news services or lagging newspapers out there will rechristen itself “News for Grownups” and go after my business.

Comments on The top ten underreported news stories of 2006:
#1 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 04:48 PM:

I score seven out of ten. And to be fair, the hackable e-passports was on the news a fair bit, especially after that one group did the demo where they "walk" a dummy with an e-passport past a garbage can -- which then promptly blows up. I think that one even made the 6 o'clock news.

#2 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 04:49 PM:

times 1.5.03 gb speech malreported accomplished rectify

times 17.5.05 minipeace malquoted iraqi troops trained rectify

times 1.11.03 gb speech malreported rumsfeld rectify

times 19.1.07 reporting gb dayorder doubleplusungood refs uncountry rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling

We have always been at war with Iran. They attacked us unprovoked. We exhausted all paths of diplomacy. Iran is the front line in the war on terror.

#3 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 04:50 PM:

There was also something about a payment in the Canadian Softwood Importation Agreement. Only heard it through some static on a radio frequency from Canada. Something about accounting for $500 million dollars that might go to the RNC.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Steve (3), I found it:

http://thetyee.ca/Views/2006/08/29/SlushFund/

I don't know how valid it is, but it's certainly interesting. Here's an excerpt:

Gift of $450 million to the president

That, honorable members, is a colossal sum of money. It certainly got the U.S. government, as well as the coalition getting the other $500 million, committed to the deal. It is astonishing how little, nothing really, the Canadian Government got in exchange for it. And let's understand this money -- the $500 million -- not the coalition's money, about which you heard some on July 31, but the rest.

Some perspective. At the height of the Watergate scandal, focus was on an illegal slush fund available to the Committee to Re-Elect the President, that was thought to be tipping the balance of American politics. The fund never exceeded $20 million. One of the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon was that he received foreign campaign donations, perhaps as much as $50,000. Both by statute and by the United States Constitution, gifts of money to the United States must go to the treasury and be appropriated by Congress. The lone, aberrant and still controversial exception has been money donated in the immediate aftermath of the emergency created by Hurricane Katrina, and the sums involved were very small.

So, here we have the government of Canada requiring that Canadian private parties sign over $450 million to an escrow fund slated to be conveyed to the White House. The agreement does not mention Congress, and the Bush administration says that Congress will not be involved in any way with this agreement. The government of Canada thus is making a gift of $450 million to be spent by the president. That was more than a belt buckle, even more than a stetson, on July 6th. There is only one date certain in the deal: that the planned expenditure of the $450 million must be determined by September 1.

Political blowback?

Curious, that date, which traditionally is the kick-off for campaigns in the United States in election years. Yes, it's an election year, and the Republican control of Congress is considered in trouble. The entire Republican campaign war chest is less than $300 million. Canada will add to it by 150 per cent in funds to be expended for "meritorious initiatives." It does not require much imagination to foresee the strategic places where this money will be spent.

This peace on softwood lumber will probably not improve Canada's relations with the United States, because this colossal sum of money is going to the White House, not the U.S. Treasury. When the Democratic party learns of it and understands it, it's not likely to be pleased, and it's possible that, despite the infusion of such money, the Democrats nevertheless will win in November. Canada may then have much improved relations with the Republican party but not with the United States.

I've found a couple more stories about it on correntewire.com, which by me doesn't qualify as confirmation of anything, though again they're certainly interesting:

http://www.correntewire.com/bush_im_a_lumberjack
http://www.correntewire.com/450_million_slush_fund_for_bush_from_canadian_lumber_deal_just_in_time_for_the_mid_terms

And a story from a mainstream source, CTV, which suggests to me that the public debate over the bill was largely BS:

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060831/softwood_liberals_060831/20060831?hub=Politics

If anyone knows more, speak up.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 05:18 PM:

Hmmm. The Christian Science Monitor -- usually a very solid paper -- thinks the agreement stinks on ice, though they have a different analysis of it:

http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1018/p07s02-woam.html

#6 ::: Nenya ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 05:37 PM:

An even loopier version says that the real reason he wants a war with Iran is that he’s privately concluded that he’s not going to win in Iraq, so he’s casting around for another war he can win before his term is up.

Colour me loopy, then, since I've been pretty sure that's what he was up to pretty much ever since they started making noises about invading Iran. And I can't be the only one.

#7 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 05:59 PM:

I feel like #4 should surprise me, but somehow it doesn't. I remember the last time Peru decided that invading Ecuador would be a great way to distract people from failings of Peruvian dictator--excuse me, "president"--and no one in North America apparently gave a damn until they found out that Peru was attacking Ecuadorian military outposts with helicopters given to Peru to fight the local drug trade.

(I'm still a little bitter; some of my high school friends had to leave the country to avoid getting drafted into an unwinnable war that, until the United States felt like stepping in, was going very badly for Ecuador.)

Ecuador's never been terribly stable, and I still can't hold it against them if they're running off to get shiny new weapons from Russia. It's not like anyone else is going to bother to step in and save them if a neighbor feels like stomping in to claim territory. I imagine the rest of the countries in the area feel much the same way.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Selling shiny new technology to one country makes all their neighbors justifiably nervous. It's one way to create a bunch of new markets.

#9 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 06:22 PM:

I like #2, for sheer movies-with-popcorn vicarious guilty thrills, sorta thing. I can see it all now. There's no possibility on God's earth that most of these African regimes can pay back commercial loans on this scale, because they're not, Heaven knows, going to spend it on the infrastructure they would actually need to do that. And the Chinese certainly know that.

So, when payday rolls around, the Chinese probably think that they are going to play Tony Soprano: "Can't make the vigorish, man? Bad. Very bad. But I'm a reasonable man, and this is just business. So let's work out a way, hey?" Only to find that they haven't got the muscle.

They're dealing with regimes that really don't give a fart in a hurricane about what anybody thinks about them, including their own populations, on account of the only thing that has any reality to them at all is their daily ability to pay off the thugs on whom they actually rely; and this is what the Chinese have offered them. Sure, it's only short-term, but, hey, so is life. In those places, anyway.

When this fact sinks in, one wonders what the Chinese will do. Whatever, it'll be entertaining. And I mean that in a bad way.

#10 ::: MWT ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 06:39 PM:

I know I'm easily confused here, especially since this blog seems to have become one of my primary sources of news ... but ...

3. Bush’s Post-Katrina Power Grab - We’ve all noticed how often these changes, supposedly intended to fight terrorism, are neither needed nor used for that purpose, and how almost all of them reduce our liberty and our protection under the law.

From the comments to "Never counting the cost" a few entries down:

Gary Townsend said: As commentators Eric Alterman and Mark Green have reported, Bush's 'advisors have admitted that the staff usually limits him to three or four thirty- to forty-five minute "policy time" sessions per week, about what Bill Clinton engaged in per day. Then, more often than not, the president sloughs off responsibility with the admonishment, "You guys decide it."

If this is true - the president is not, in fact, actually doing the job that we're paying him to do - then who is really responsible for all the power grabbing?

(I also realize that someone might've addressed this somewhere already; I haven't had time to read the other thread in detail yet (been a bit absorbed with Miss Snark lately ;) ). Sorry if I'm going over stuff that's already been gone over.)

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 06:59 PM:

Dave Luckett #9: The Chinese do have the muscle. You might want to follow a substantially under-reported story: the growth of Chinese direct investment in Africa, and the increasing number of Chinese technicians and experts on the ground there.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 07:00 PM:

If W believes that war with Iran is winnable in some way that the mess in Iraq is not, then the Twenty-Fifth Amendment ought to be invoked.

#13 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 07:31 PM:

I read about all of those except 4. in the WashPost. 4. may have been there and I didn't read it.

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 08:19 PM:

Dave (9), while the phrase "naive and impractical Chinese moneylenders" does use correct syntax and real words, I find it difficult to wrap my brain around it.

#15 ::: Giacomo ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 09:07 PM:

I disagree on #8, the dollar getting dropped as de-facto standard reserve currency is probably going to be the most important factor in the next decade, it should be top of the list. I've been in the US a few weeks ago and (almost) everything was so amazingly cheap, I was astonished; it reminded me of Morocco, I kid you not. If the dollar doesn't bounce back in the next 6 months, well... This is good for hungry european consumers, and small US-based companies, but it's a tough situation for everybody else, including pretty much all the main US manufacturers (whose factories are all in Asia nowadays). Also european companies will need to find new markets much faster than they used to, since the US will absorbe less of their production.

The greedy and myopic people currently in charge in the US have "shot themselves in the foot", getting directly involved in hopeless wars and such legitimizing a view of Europe as the most stable economic block in the world. It's something that the Clinton/Gore administration had worked very hard to avoid, and it can still be avoided, but I can't see it happening with the current US administration.

#16 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 09:32 PM:

#4 and #5, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, thanks. I only caught part of the story on the radio, and then I forgot about it until I read this post.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 09:37 PM:

Fragano (12), does nuking a country that can't retaliate in kind constitute winning?

#18 ::: mds ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 10:02 PM:

Fragano (12), does nuking a country that can't retaliate in kind constitute winning?

Yes.

Be careful protesting about it. See #3 on the list. The details I've seen elsewhere allow the President to invoke the power in the event of "conspiracy." But don't worry, they'd never abuse loose, vaguely-worded regulations. Not this administration.

#19 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 10:10 PM:

Fragano #12, "Muscle", in this context, means serious numbers of men with guns who are willing to point and fire them as ordered. Nothing else means anything much to these guys.

Teresa #13, I would normally agree. I have no idea how the Chinese think they're going to get paid, though. They surely don't think it's going to be in actual cash money, or real valuta. In gratitude? Influence? Votes at the UN? Oh, puh-leeze!

#20 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 10:47 PM:

Dave Luckett @19 (and others): there's some evidence that they expect to be repaid in oil. Here's a NYT Magazine article from last month on the subject.

In November 2003, Angola’s finance minister traveled to China to discuss a financial package. One year later, China announced that it had extended to Angola a $2 billion oil-backed loan, an Angolan specialty in which credit is secured by future oil production. . . . China immediately began to increase its purchase of Angolan oil; by early this year, Angola had replaced Saudi Arabia as its single-largest source of oil.

#21 ::: Tucker ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 10:51 PM:

. . . an article that got Sidelighted about a month ago, incidentally. *sheepish* Should have figured I'd seen that around here. My apologies for bringing it up as though it were something new.

#22 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2006, 11:14 PM:

Teresa writes: "...does nuking a country that can't retaliate in kind constitute winning?"

In a game where the victory condition is achieved by not quitting...

#23 ::: AzureLunatic ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 01:24 AM:

On #1, how long, and at what power?

#24 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 06:53 AM:

TNH #17: Only if by 'winning' one means ensuring that there will be a couple of generations worth of vengeance directed against the US.

#25 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 06:55 AM:

Dave Luckett #19: Men with guns, the Chinese have. The ability to crush small economies, they also have.

#26 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 07:58 AM:

Fragano #25. This is what I meant when I said that it would be entertaining, but not in a good way.

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:30 AM:

AzureLunatic (23), can you unpack that a bit?

#28 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:33 AM:

Teresa, I think AzureLunatic meant for how long and at what power should passports be microwaved. I was wondering the same thing myself.

#29 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:34 AM:

Teresa(27), My reading was "How long to microwave the passport, and at what power setting?"

#30 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:35 AM:

Aconite: Jinx!

#31 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:40 AM:

Beth: Depending on what part of the country we're from, we now owe each other either quarters or Cokes.

#32 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:47 AM:

I was idly wondering the other day if, since I get paid in US$ and the US$ is worth 25% less than I'm used to, I could ask for rather more of them to make up this discrepancy or else to be paid in CDN$ where I'd at least know what I was getting.

I know I can't really -- but if I am thinking like this, businesses who deal with the US have to be thinking like this.

#33 ::: CaptainBooshi ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:51 AM:

Could someone please tell me or give me a reference to something fully explaining the consequences of #8? Why will inflation go up, and what do Giacoma's (15) comments mean?

#34 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 09:09 AM:

I'm with Jo on #32; since 2002, my US book advances have gone up by an amount that only just exceeds the devaluation in the dollars that I'm paid in. In 2000, I was getting $1.50 to the pound sterling; today it nearly went below $2.00, and it's not been above $1.90 for months.

This is good news if I want to visit the USA and go on a shopping spree, less good news if I want to pay my mortgage and buy groceries in Scotland.

Coming next, if we're not lucky: the US gets the same happy fun fiscal experiences that the UK went through over the past 60 years, all compressed into a shorter period. (And us non-US small businesses selling into the US market get shafted.)

#35 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 09:20 AM:

CaptainBooshi, #33: a weak dollar means it takes more dollars to buy a given volume of imports. So imported goods cost more.

Think this doesn't matter? Thanks to decades of globalization and outsourcing, everything you rely on has a hefty imported component. Boeing airliners aren't made out of aluminium smelted in Seattle, any more than Airbuses are exclusively made in France and Germany (51% of the components of the A380 super-jumbo are sourced in the US, believe it or not -- a deliberate gambit in the ongoing Airbus/Boeing trade dispute, to block Boeing from using the US government to whack Airbus with trade sanctions). There are currently no US manufacturers of TV sets, and probably no US manufacturers of RAM and microprocessors (the most modern fab lines are all in places like Taiwan and the PRC). Even your cars depend on foreign components (like, say, said microelectronics).

So. It takes more dollars to buy Stuff containing foreign produce, we're all intertwingled so thoroughly that you can't do without said foreign-infiltrated stuff, therefore a weak dollar leads inexorably to inflation.

Worse: you've got this huge trade deficit (thank you, George W., for running up the federal deficit like there's no tomorrow). You can't just work your way out of the hole by ramping up the factories that manufacture shitloads of American Stuff and exporting it -- you've got to turn around the deficit spending, reduce the levels of indebtedness, and start exporting more, much more, than you had to do when the dollar remained high because it was the de facto reserve currency.

Worser still: the housing bubble is bursting. Trying to raise interest rates to throw the brakes on the inflation is going to cripple the housing market, throw lots of people and businesses into bankruptcy, and screw those businesses that are trying to expand (borrowing money to build factories to export the goods you need to sell to work your way out of debt ...).

Basically, you're in for a bumpy ride, like unto the British post-war era (which may be the best analogy for what happens when a modern mercantile superpower hits the buffers, the empire disintegrates, and the currency loses its privileged status).

#36 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 09:37 AM:

CaptainBooshi (#33): If the American dollar falls against other currencies, it buys less per dollar. That means that goods increase in price. A very large percentage of the manufactured goods sold in the US are bought from other countries, so the effect will be worst on the people who spend more of their income on goods (the poor) and less on services (the very wealthy).

#37 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 09:43 AM:

Under the Patricians the city has become the mercantile and political capital of the Discworld, so much so that the Sto Plains operates under a new Pax Morporkia, which operates not on the principle of "If you fight, we will kill you," but on the principle of "If you fight, we will call in your mortgages."

...Let others boast of martial dash
For we have boldly fought with cash
We own all your helmets, we own all your shoes
We own all your generals - touch us and you'll lose

Having had parents who were a) violently, destructive irrational towards each other, us, and the physical infrastructure of the household, and frequently neglectful/irresponsible even while stone-sober, c) utterly respected as Model Citizens and looked up to as Types of good Christian parenting by outsiders who considered us fortunate to have them, I don't think I've ever been surprised at the things the supposed-grownups in charge get up to and away with, even before reading about how Nixon wanted to use nukes in 'Nam or Operation Northwoods or getting hold of the Tower Commission reports. I never considered that upbringing a plus before - "ex malo eliciti" I suppose.

#38 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 10:15 AM:

The "greedy and myopic" kleptocrats/plutocrats have investments in Dubai's mercantile system, in Asia, Europe, etc. They're interested in their own coterie's "wealth management" and continued prosperity, and have less interest in the general public's well-being than Louis XIV cared for posterity after his death.

All that wealth brings mobility, too.

I remember when SF authors with Soviet royalties, had to go to the USSR and spend their royalties there on the Soviet economy in special tourist establishments, to collect on any payment.

Back when Poland was coming out from the Iron Curtain, some US company did a deal that got it paid in Polish hams...

The steel from Boston's departed elevated central artery, got shipped to East Asia for reprocessing into other steel objects.

A few years ago my cousin sold his big truck (which he replaced with a smaller one) to a buyer in South America.

There's art being sold that was either created here in the USA, or sometime in the past made its way to the USA, and which is being purchased by/for people in other parts of the world now.

For that matter, there was the Rowena art or close copies, that wound up in Saddam's Love Nest...

#39 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 10:33 AM:

Almost didn't get into this because the link to this was jumping around on the page. Not sure if it's a bug, a virus, or this new IE browser.

#40 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 10:48 AM:

Charlie Stross wrote,

I'm with Jo on #32; since 2002, my US book advances have gone up by an amount that only just exceeds the devaluation in the dollars that I'm paid in. In 2000, I was getting $1.50 to the pound sterling; today it nearly went below $2.00, and it's not been above $1.90 for months.

See, that's a plot to force you to come visit here and spend your US income here (lots of us here like to have you come visit... and with the Republicraps about to officially become the minority party in at least half the US Congress now, maybe some of the more noxious inhumane policies will change....)

There are currently no US manufacturers of TV sets, and probably no US manufacturers of RAM and microprocessors (the most modern fab lines are all in places like Taiwan and the PRC). Even your cars depend on foreign components (like, say, said microelectronics).

GE bought RCA, GE then had the plurality, maybe even majority, of TV production for the US market, and then swapped all its consumer video and audio and radio products with Thomson of France, for Thomson''s medical imaging business... that was GE under "Neutron Jack" Welch, who now, I regret to say, resides somewhere in eastern Massachusetts, after retirement from GE and a nasty divorce (hmm, Sumner Redstone's official residence was in Massachusetts until his nasty divorce), he dismembered the entire unwritten contract that GE had had with its line employees, shut down profitable consumer products plants that weren't meeting certain profit -growth- levels (creative accounting applied in a lot of cases for those that did...), and then sold off the small appliances business (after offshoring e.g. production of irons to Asia despite the US plant having been profitable) to Black & Decker, eliminating the consumer video and electronics as above, keeping the "white goods" business of refrigerators and washing machines--still made in the USA I think, somewhere in or near Ohio....

I don't know if any of the TV manufacturing plants that were in Indiana still are there, or if it all has been moved to Mexico with maybe some offshored or outsourced to Asia.

What some US companies had expected, was that they would be manufacturing flat panel TVs... the LCD display, color LCD display, plasma display, OLED display, and various other flat panel technologies were invented in the USA and development done here... but what torpedoed -that-for production, was what happened with Planar Technologies and color LCD panels:

Planar was a spinoff of Tektronix, where the LCD and color LCD got invented. Planar wanted to build a plant to produce flat panel display, for computers. The stinking US greedy slimeball we-want-IMMEDIATE-ROI investment community said, "we will loan you money for a plant when you have orders from computer companies." The computer companies said, "We will give you orders When You Have a Plant On-Line."

Stalemate. Instead, Japan Inc. and Korea Inc funded plants of Japense and Korean manufacturers in Japan and Korea, ahead of orders, anticipating a big lucrative future market, which brings us to where the situation is today.

There are, however, chip plants, bigs ones, in the USA, in Vermont (IBM), in Hudson, Masschusetts (originally Digital's, then sold to Intel), in California, in Oregon, in Austin Texas, and in other parts of the USA. AMD and TI and IBM all have large production facilities here, and there are a number of smaller "custom" houses. Oh, and Freescale, that was spun out of Motorola, and how could I forget Fairchild/National Semiconductor (NSC bought the Fairchild corpse, and eventually spun out a new company names Fairchild) with facilities up in is it Bangor, Maine?

#41 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 11:00 AM:

White House Looks the Other Way while India Helps Iran Build the Bomb

Not to forget our good democratic ally Pakistan (whose leader W famously couldn't name during his first campaign...)

#42 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 11:04 AM:

Paula --

No meaningful RAM production, though. Not unless you count the iron-on-sapphire stuff for satellites.

Also, substantially less production than demand in every category.

It's the US banking sector that's much of the problem; it's gone wealth-concentrating (rather than wealth-generating) perhaps more thoroughly than anything else except Dick Cheney's brain, and it's going to be a very substantial job to create a replacement that will allow general prosperity.

#43 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 11:25 AM:

Re: #1

Nobody has EVER given me a definitive proof that Bush is not a loyal agent of the Iranian Government. Nearly EVERY action he has taken over the past 6 years has been directly in the interests of the current Iranian regime.

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 11:34 AM:

Dave Luckett #26: The high likelihood is that, as Western creditors forgive the most highly indebted African countries, those same countries will end up owing their shirt to the Chinese. And the Chinese have no reason to feel guilt with regard to Africa -- they didn't colonise Afria.

#45 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 11:38 AM:

The RAM production moved over because it became full commodity product and there the less expensive labor made a difference. Another factor is that the boards and power supplies has moved offshore mostly for high volume products. And the blasted US Congress stuck its oar in, declaring higher import tariffs on naked board and chips, that on -assembled- boards... "made in the USA" could consist of packing a pre-assembled system board "stuffed" with all or almost all the RAM etc. installed

(back in the days of RAM soldered on directly instead of SIMM (Single Inline something Modules or something like that) and DIMM (Double Inline Memory Modules) small boards with edge connectors that even end users can changeout to increase (or decrease) the amount of memory--it's good for "the channel" because anyone in the chain of distribution can add or remove memory, depending on pricing and demand both for memory sold in bulk and in small unit quantity, and for computers depending on customer willingness to spend more or less.)

and all the other parts or almost all putting a case (made anywhere) around the board and labelling it at a minumum, "assembled in USA," and if enough "domestic content had gone in, label it "Made in the USA."

(I left out Texas Instruments as another company with plants in the USA for chips).

RAM -could- be made here, the issue is the differential labor cost, which goes mostly to the skewed exchange rates. The US dollar -should- be a lot lower with respect to currencies of a lot of Asian countries; $2 in China is a livable daily wage, and buys goods on the Chinese econony that someone earning $25,000 a year in the USA might not be able to afford....

"Fab labs" have incredibly short equipment cycles and lifetimes for start of the art production equipment--Intel spends an impressive percentage of its income on capital expenditures, for example.... there is no depreciation on much of the equipment, it doesn't stay around even a year in many cases before replacement or rebuilding!

The US chipmakers who make chips here -could- if they wanted make RAM, but the profit margins per item are a LOT higher on other types of semiconductor chips, so they don't.

#46 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 12:12 PM:

If you don't want the oil powers to hold the rest of the world economy hostage, then develop fusion power and other alternative energy sources.

#47 ::: Painini ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 04:21 PM:

More China-Africa:

From this AP-cited story (but on ChinaDaily, and i can't cross-check through the AP paywall), it looks like the African states came calling. China pitches it as a move for 'global peace and development' - so yes, some of the payback expected is influence.

I don't want to take historical essentialism too far, but China has a lot of practice with economic diplomacy; if it's looking to succeed the U.S. as The Superpower, it has quite an example to follow/NOT follow. Check out the pitch from FM spokesman Liu: 'Our principle when handling our relations with other countries is to never try to impose our social system, development mode, values and ideology upon other countries.' More simply: 'We're not the World Bank!'

#48 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 07:03 PM:

Fragano #44: Indeed yes. I still am not clear on how the Chinese expect to enforce collection, though. The countries in question do have exportable valuta, of course, but their regimes would renege on any contract the moment it became expedient. Not that the regimes are actually in control of this matter, most of these economies, such as they are, being unofficial, falsified and unrecorded if not actually criminal. Not to mention that the regimes themselves are, shall we say, of problematic duration, and could only be replaced by others even more pragmatic than themselves.

A fascinating insight: the Chinese, not guilty of the horrid crime of colonisation, are free to deal remorselessly with African dictators who don't pay up. Quite so, which makes one wonder which will be the worse for the people, in the end. But, that aside, by what means do the Chinese propose to enforce their contracts?

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 07:52 PM:

Dave Luckett #48: I have the feeling that in 10-20 years, people who renege on debts to the Chinese will find that they have no markets, no income, no access to their own resources, and domestic opponents who are suspiciously well-armed with cheap AK-47s (or whatever the equivalent will be by then).

#50 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 08:56 PM:

Dave:

The Chinese are playing a long-term game. They have been giving major aid in smaller South Pacific countries for over 20 years; Africa is just an expansion. As to why...

First, don't entirely discount the "votes in the UN" bit. The US is just discovering that being the biggest military power may mean that you can do what you like and tell the rest of the world to go pound sand - but it doesn't necessarily mean you can succeed at what you wanted to do, without their help. Those votes may be putting China in the position to be ready and able to spoil things for any other would-be superpower. India, for instance.

Second, a lot of diplomacy has to do with votes in the regional associations of countries. If two-thirds of the African Union is voting the way China tells them 10 years from now, that may constitutes a major brake on whatever the US wants to get up there. It also gives the Chinese access to "independent" proxy armies in the region, for wars it doesn't want to get up to itself.

Third, for right now the Chinese want the natural resources. The dictators can't exploit them successfully, so why should they stand in the way of the "sucker" Chinese? If the Chinese are planning to build and control their own infrastructure in those countries, that will give them control over the resources. (They're no stranger to big engineering projects.) If somebody wants to nationalize it and resell it to a new bidder - guess where all the parts and maintenance staff will need to come from, at suddenly increased markups.

On this last - one thing most people don't understand until they've lived in the Third World at least briefly is how much of a scam foreign aid looks like to the recipients. The basic story runs, "We'll give you X million dollars foreign aid to buy a ferryboat, but you have to buy it from our national shipbuilder. Oh, and you'll have to buy all the spare parts from them, of course. And you have to hire our trainers to teach the sailors or operators. And you're going to have to keep hiring some of our engineers to maintain it..." At the end of the day, the lucky recipients of the aid may have some kind of physical asset they needed - often not the kind that would have worked best for them - but most or all of the hard cash is right back in the country that generously "donated" it, frequently followed by more of the recipients' hard-earned foreign exchange.

In this case, the Chinese will be the donors of the largesse, the politically best-connected Chinese firms will be the recipients, the Chinese will be the prime market for minerals and other resources, and at the end of the aid period the African countries will be dependent on Chinese engineers and manufacturers to run their roads, their railways, their mines, and their plantations. That will be true whoever sits in the capital.

#51 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2006, 09:05 PM:

Clifton Royston #50: Very nicely put.

#52 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 03:15 AM:

Well, maybe. Some observations: in the real world, only small-scale middleweight nations give a cuss for what happens in either the UN or the regional fora. I suppose that's worth something to the Chinese. Not a lot, though.

Naturally, small-time dictators and kleptocrats sell their votes and their voices to the highest bidder. However, it has to be remembered that this untroubled world-view applies to all transactions affecting them.

The moment these guys see an opportunity for greater profit, any and all commercial arrangements will fall over. That moment will come when there is a market for the products of the infrastructure the Chinese money has built. A renegotiation will then become necessary. In this process, the debt and the question of who built or legally owns the facility will be simply ignored for the irrelevance it actually is. As for their money, it's gone.

They can shut down their projects if they like, and hike the prices on parts and service. If there's a market, the dictators will find a buyer. The bottom line is they're not going to pay the money back. They can't anyway. Even if the infrastructure provided the means to pay, they still wouldn't, because they profit more by stealing the infrastructure, selling it and/or its products on, and keeping the money.

Arm other Africans? Sure. Controlling them and ensuring their loyalty how? Here's the problem: after replacing one regime or regimes with their natural opponents - spending a lot of money to do it, and re-trashing the entire place - here we are back at square one.

Well, I think it'll be entertaining, anyway. For some values of the word.

#53 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 07:20 AM:

@Dave Luckett: smart and knowledgable analysis overall. But I think the Chinese have gotten smarter.

One thing that surprised me when I went back to Mauritania this year is how much they had worked at entangling themselves in the local markets. They used to own big businesses, but had very little say/input/interest for the local side of things. Now they own loads of local convenience stores and textile buisenesses. They've taken interest in local fishing markets that up till now had always been the de-facto monopole of certain families.
In short, they're learning to use the local networks of extended families and nepotism to their advantage.

The time when a moor shipowner could borrow enough money from them for a boat, delay payment for years, make as much money as possible in that interval, and then officialy go back live in the desert where no one would find him seems to be becoming the stuff of local legends (if indeed it ever was true, though I don't doubt it... what matters is that it is becoming perceived as the stuff of legends).

A thing I found really quite telling (and depressing), is the rise of local comments on how them Chinese are stealing the land and money from the country. They weren't there ten years ago, when China was presented as a good alternative to France, and they're becoming far too close to middle-class racism rants I generally hear back in Paris for me to feel comfortable.

Dave Luckett: I like #2, for sheer movies-with-popcorn vicarious guilty thrills, sorta thing. I can see it all now. There's no possibility on God's earth that most of these African regimes can pay back commercial loans on this scale, because they're not, Heaven knows, going to spend it on the infrastructure they would actually need to do that. And the Chinese certainly know that.

The sad thing is you're more than probably right in most cases. My uncle, who works for the UNICEF was telling me that the Chinese are offering infrastucure deals to the political regimes in countries they want to work with: they're proposing to build either a stadium or proper modern administrative buildings. The stadium is mostly the favored choice.

----------

Got eight news out of ten.

I guess I'm spending way too much time on the internet.

#54 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 07:21 AM:

Dave, #52: "only small-scale middleweight nations give a cuss for what happens in either the UN or the regional fora."

That would be "small-scale middleweight" nations like France, the UK, Russia, China, Japan ... basically anyone who isn't the USA, even if they're among the top 10 economies and militaries on the planet.

The USA's long historic tradition of isolationism gives you a very skewed idea of the insignificance of regional alliances and realpolitik. And it means that when your hegemonic period ends, your diplomatic punch is going to fall a very long way, very fast.

(Remember what happened to Russia's influence on the world, 1988-92? Something like that, squared. And all because of fuckwits like John Bolton who think the UN is good for nothing but jaw-jaw.)

"The moment these guys see an opportunity for greater profit, any and all commercial arrangements will fall over."

Again, only someone who lives in a hegemonic great power would think that it's possible to walk away from international debts like that. The reality, for everyone else, is very different.

The local kleptocrats won't be able to tell the Chinese to piss off, because the Chinese will have them by the balls in one very important respect -- their reputations. If you ("you" being any nation other than a hegemonic power) renege on a trade deal with Country A, the diplomats and bankers of Countries B, C, and D will all look at you very skeptically when you go to them cap-in-hand; you repudiated one debt, so why would you honour another? Consequently, any alternative offers to the Chinese will be hedged against the risk of the defector defecting again. Which means they'll be more expensive.

Furthermore, the Chinese will have indirect leverage. If they invest in all the countries in a region, then if one of them tries to defect, they can lean on all their other trade partners to take out sanctions against the defector. If you're a landlocked banana republic and your main export is bananas, you're going to be in deep shit if all your neighbours refuse to trans-ship your produce. These countries all make most of their foreign exchange by exporting raw produce, not finished goods or IP. Which means shipping or railroads, which require cooperative neighbours. You piss off the regional trade body at your peril ...

Put it another way. If they were going to repudiate their debts they would already have done so.

"The bottom line is they're not going to pay the money back."

I don't think the Chinese expect them to pay the money back.

This strategy is not about money. (They'd probably tell you it's a typically American failing to think of everything in fiscal terms, if you asked them.) It's about establishing a platform for China to become the planetary hegemonic power in the late 21st/early 22nd century. It's how, to a large extent, the British Empire worked (especially in its incarnation as Version 2.0, the Commonwealth). And while some of those nations might be able to weasel out of the net in the next decade, by the 2030s it's going to be very hard indeed to escape the Chinese co-prosperity sphere, even if there isn't a single Chinese infantryman on the continent.

Anyway. Here's a final parting thought:

We thoroughly fucked up Africa. Let's hope for their (the locals') sake that the Chinese do a better job, eh?

#55 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 09:04 AM:

Charlie Stross #54: I am not an American. By middleweight I mean nations like my own, Australia - 14th largest national economy, but smaller than at least a dozen individual states of the US.

You're not seriously going to tell me that "France, the UK, Russia, China, Japan" etc (to which you could add the EC, generally) would comply with any UN policy, directive, request, whatever, that they didn't perceive to be in their direct national interest, are you? Sorry, but I don't think so.

I think the only reason these African regimes haven't officially repudiated their debts is that they don't have to bother. They're certainly not going to pay, having learned the One Great Truth - that if you owe a bad guy a hundred bucks and can't pay, you've got a problem, but if you owe a bank five billion bucks and can't pay, the bank has a problem. What the Chinese are buying is a problem. They obviously think they have the means to solve it. I hear you, but I'm not convinced.

What happened to Russia's influence on the world? Well, the main thing was it that it became Russia's influence only, not the Soviet Union's, which is a bit of a step down. But the main reason was because their influence went south when the Red Army, etc, did. "Diplomatic punch" is an expression of hegemony, but both depend on the implied threat of force. When the threat goes away, so does the hegemony and the diplomatic punch both, in perfect lockstep, and this is the same no matter how nicely-behaved the former hegemonic power was. The United States is no more and no less subject to that rule than anyone else. So not squared. The same.

The British Empire worked because in the nineteenth century the Royal Navy could transport the British army anywhere there was navigable water, and the British army could usually blow away any number of non-Europeans (with some regrettable reversals). In another sense, it worked because the British economy needed raw materials, (it was the first really industrialised one, and so got the jump on the others) and benefited if they were obtained efficiently. This, in turn, was a motive for developing the infrastructure of the colonies. But it was all backed by force, or the threat of it.

I look at the Chinese attempt at colonisation - which is what it is - and reflect that it's all charmer and no snake. I wonder how they're going to prove me wrong.

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 12:35 PM:

We tend to think international loans always fck up because we've got the IMF playing enforcer for us, so we make stupid loans. China's pouring money into Africa. It might help.

Ever wondered what financed the development of the American frontier? Bank failure had an underacknowledged role in it. Somebody'd start a bank in a promising area, generally by registering with the state and depositing a stash of bonds as security against irresponsible behavior. Then they'd issue their own banknotes, do banking in a more or less normal fashion, and quite possibly attract deposits from richer and more settled areas. Sometimes they'd survive and stay respectable. In the long run, most of them failed. But until they failed, they'd be making loans, paying on deposits, acting as a secure banker, and (v. important) getting actual cash money into circulation in their area.

We could stand to be a little less self-righteous and a lot more practical about third-world finance.

I'm truly sorry to see the world go off the dollar and take up with the euro. Like Giacomo (15), I think it's a more important story than its ranking would indicate. Having the dollar be the standard reserve currency has been an ace in the hole for us. I don't know that we'll ever get it back. If we don't, it effectively means that everything we buy from overseas will be more expensive for us for the rest of our lives.

Bush & Co.'s biggest competencies are bullying and pillage. They don't know how to run a country or conduct a war. I was startled -- I think this was during the period between the Supreme Court sellout and the Inauguration -- when the spanking-new Bush administration said, sort of casually, that they expected the stock market to decline in the coming months. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy. You don't say that unless you want the market to take a header.

Do they have any idea what it means for the dollar to not be the standard reserve currency? I doubt it. I'm not sure they'd care if they did. This is one of the things about bust-outs and kickback schemes that most people don't really understand on a gut level: the guys running the scam don't care if seventy or eighty or ninety-five percent of the existing value is lost, as long as some satisfactory amount of money is finding its way into their pocket. The value being lost was never going to belong to them, so they have no regrets about destroying it as long as they personally make something off the deal.

#57 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 04:02 PM:

TNH: the guys running the scam don't care if seventy or eighty or ninety-five percent of the existing value is lost, as long as some satisfactory amount of money is finding its way into their pocket. The value being lost was never going to belong to them, so they have no regrets about destroying it as long as they personally make something off the deal.

That's long been my analysis of Republican public policy. Their decision tree apparently runs like this:

#1 Does this line my pockets?

If not, then
#2 Does this line the pockets of somebody like me?

If not, then
#3 Does it at the very least hurt somebody?

If a given policy doesn't fulfill one of these standards, then it's not a Republican policy initiative. (Estate-tax repeal, capital-gains-tax repeal, wars of aggression, same-sex marriage.) Those three justifications explain all Republican public policy.

#58 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 04:12 PM:

There are certain resonances from Florence going from the di' Medici to Savonarola and the USA going from Bill Clinton in office to the Schnuck

Savonarola, however, doesn't seem to have been a hypocrite who failed to practice what he preached, and -read- rather than had other people read and watch -for- him and use them as filters to abstract himself from direct input....

http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/savonarola.html

The Italian religious and political reformer, Girolamo Savonarola, was born of a noble family at Ferrara and in 1474, entered the Dominican order at Bologna. ...

Under Lorenzo the Magnificent art and literature had felt the humanist revival of the 15th century, whose spirit was utterly at variance with Savonarola's conception of spirituality and Christian morality. To the adherents of the Medici therefore, Savonarola early became an object of suspicion ....

...his preaching began to point plainly to a political revolution as the divinely-ordained means for the regeneration of religion and morality,... a republic was established, of which Savonarola became the guiding spirit, his party ("the Weepers") being completely in the ascendant.

The republic of Florence was to be a Christian commonwealth, of which God was the sole sovereign, and His Gospel the law: the most stringent enactments were made for the repression of vice and frivolity. ...Savonarola's followers made huge "bonfires of the vanities."

....A second "bonfire of the vanities" in 1498 led to riots; and at the new elections the Medici party came into power.

#59 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2006, 08:10 PM:

Teresa, I believe you about Bush and Co. I have made it a firm policy never to comment about US domestic policy (firm policies are like firm ground: they give just a little, under pressure) because it is not my place. But while I concede everything you say, is it not the case that if "Bush & Co.'s biggest competencies are bullying and pillage", this would apply in spades to the average African dictator? Isn't it true that they, too, "don't care if seventy or eighty or ninety-five percent of the existing value is lost, as long as some satisfactory amount of money is finding its way into their pocket." To this, I would add, or a hundred percent or over a hundred percent if they get to win a chest-thumping contest with China.

#60 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2006, 11:09 AM:

There's another aspect of foreign debt that's important to understand--it's often a way to privatize profits and nationalize losses. If the dictator pays his bills, I win. If the dictator doesn't, the Chinese government spends resources to punish him and maybe get some of my money back.

A *lot* of foreign aid, trade deals, international loans to shady third-world hellholes, etc., are about internal transfers of wealth within the country. The taxpayers send $50 million to Cameroon to build a widget factory, and the deal is set up so that my company gets an extra $10 million of business. The citizens of Camaroon may or may not benefit, but my company does, at the expense of US taxpayers.

It's quite plausible that this is going on with many of these Chinese investments. As Teresa commented, when you're running a scam, you don't *care* if the whole business is a loss, just whether *you* get some money. If China loses money, but the investors gain, they're probably just fine with them.

This isn't inconsistent with a broad policy of China trying to establish stable oil supplies (what sane person wants to depend for their economy's health on the stability of the Middle East?). There's a long tradition worldwide of finding a way to profit on grand plans of the government--look at how profitable war can be for some companies.

#61 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2006, 01:27 PM:

DaveL@55: Australia - 14th largest national economy, but smaller than at least a dozen individual states of the US.

Do you have numbers for that? IIRC, California was ranked #9 globally before the latest slide in the dollar, and it's ~10% of the U.S. economy all by itself. Wikipedia's estimates put the U.S. #5 state at barely half Australia's population; headcount doesn't correlate exactly with GDP but is a good start for a guess.

I'm not certain, but I think you underestimate the Chinese understanding of the many means of influencing results. They might have to topple an entire leading edge of thugs and whackos, one by one, but if they don't care about temporary chaos they could place themselves very well in the long term.

#62 ::: retterson ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2006, 11:14 PM:

The Tamiflu article deserved to be underreported.

It was a reactionary bit of yellow journalism propagated by people who have no f-ing clue how the process of evaluation the safety and efficacy of drugs works.

http://www.badscience.net/?p=216

Cylert was removed because it was causing liver failure (as in liver transplanted required stat) at a rate 5-17 times higher than the background population. In other words, good science was behind that move.

#63 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 04:37 AM:

In #58 Paula Lieberman reminded us of Savonarola, reminding me in turn that my favourite literary treatment of the man is copiously available on line. Thank you, Max Beerbohm. Now to read A Christmas Garland again ...

#64 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 09:07 AM:

retterson@62: You may want to do a bit of searching on this blog to find out why your arrogant and oversimplistic dismissal of the Cylert incident is about to get your ass kicked from here to Thursday by people who know a hell of a lot more than you do.

For thoroughness, be sure to include "astroturf" in your search parameters as well.

#65 ::: sb_gypsy ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 03:52 PM:

I agree with the last, but have an even loopier version:

Bush has been jonesin' to nuke someone, since it's the only thing left that he could do that his Dad didn't. He's the leader of the free world, after all! (heavy sarcasm) He does what he wants (Cartman voice) and he doesn't listen to polls. The bastard!

#66 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 05:16 PM:

Removing Cylert was bad science and bad public policy all the way around.

Far more on that here:

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/007140.html

There had been no reports of liver failure from Cylert after the black box warning was put on it. All reports of liver failure had been among children, and children aren't symptomatic for narcolepsy (median age for diagnosis of narcoplepsy is 25). The total number of reports of liver failure from Cylert were low in the first place.

And there's no other drug that is as effective for narcolepsy.

Other, less effective, drugs carry increased risks of heart failure.

Bad science, bad policy, like I said. The reasons Cylert were banned were twofold: 1) it was out of patent and rarely prescribed, so no one was making a lot of money, and 2) Public Citizen needed to get a drug banned in order to prove that They Were Doing Something So People Should Keep On Sending Them Money.

#67 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 06:01 PM:

One alternative might have been to let adults decide which risks they'll take on their own. Though this wasn't a popular position on this blog when the original Cylert stuff happened. By telling the FDA to make a global decision, you live with the imperfections of a corruptable bureaucratic/political process. By leaving it to patients, you live with the imperfections of those consumers making dumb decisions influenced by marketing or misinformation. There's no perfect solution available.

Didn't a pretty similar issue come up with the COX-2 inhibitors? There was a pretty clear pattern of higher heart attack risk, but some patients felt like their lives were so much better with the drug that it was worthwhile to accept the risk.

#68 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 07:05 PM:

albatross, when my doctor told me my only chance was a medication used experimentally, I signed papers saying I wouldn't sue and I understood the possible problems, etc., etc. I don't see why that couldn't be done with regular meds.

#69 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: December 26, 2006, 10:01 PM:

albatross: One alternative might have been to let adults decide which risks they'll take on their own. Though this wasn't a popular position on this blog when the original Cylert stuff happened.

I have a different memory of that discussion. Far from being "not a popular position on this blog," that was the prevailing opinion: that adults should have the option to make the informed choices they decide are best for their circumstances.

#70 ::: Nathanael Nerode ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2006, 07:37 PM:

"An even loopier version says that the real reason he wants a war with Iran is that he’s privately concluded that he’s not going to win in Iraq, so he’s casting around for another war he can win before his term is up."

You know, this fits his character and his level of deludedness. I've predicted stuff pretty well based on that so far -- I think this is going to turn out to be right.

Incidentally, regarding the COX-2 inhibitors, the statistical evidence was that
(a) they shouldn't be used by people with preexisting heart conditions
(b) they were pretty much just fine for people who were not otherwise at risk for heart problems
(c) they were only an improvement over other drugs for those people who had to take large quantities of NSAIDs and couldn't tolerate the severe gastrointestinal problems which the alternatives cause. Like, for instance, my fiance.

Pulling them off the market was basically an unreasonable overreaction -- it was saved from being a complete disaster only because they kept Celebrex on the market, which is in fact better than the other two for the majority of patients.

Forcing them to stop *advertising on TV*, on the other hand, would have been an entirely reasonable reaction: the COX-2 inhibitors had been grossly overprescribed because of the ad campaigns. TV ads for prescription drugs should be banned.

#71 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 27, 2006, 09:11 PM:

(c) they were only an improvement over other drugs for those people who had to take large quantities of NSAIDs and couldn't tolerate the severe gastrointestinal problems which the alternatives cause. Like, for instance, my fiance.

I took less than the box said of ibuprofen and it killed my kidneys. In fact, the FDA says that taking any NSAID at the amount on the box can cause kidney injury.

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2006, 11:54 AM:

While a bird-flu pandemic hasn't arrived -- yet -- there were more human deaths from H5N1 in 2006 than in the previous three years combined. Still a low number, but as far a pandemic flu goes, the question isn't if, it's when.

Please, folks, put together a home flu kit. And please note that Tamiflu isn't on the list.

#73 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2006, 06:10 PM:

Re: Avian Flu -- unless I was dreaming (ghods I hope so) there was a news report yesterday saying they've got the first human-to-human transmission of H5N1 in Egypt.

#74 ::: Lee sees spam probe ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2012, 03:18 AM:

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