21 November 2006

The Draft, Iraq and Class Warfare Rhetoric

Incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY) has renewed his proposal to reinstate a military draft for the United States. He claims that if a draft were enacted, that the war in Iraq would not continue.

He claims that the war effort is not equally shared across the socioeconomic spectrum. Jesse Jackson has said that rising college costs and a loss of US manufacturing jobs has reduced opportunities for poor and has led many to seek opportunities within the military.

To her credit, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has opposed Rangel's effort, although she commended him for calling for a "shared sacrifice" of military service throughout all socioeconomic strata. Rangel's publicity ploy is nothing more than a renewed attempt at creating a larger rift between Americans by reviving tired class-warfare rhetoric.

I served in the US Army. I volunteered. I went to college, graduated with a degree in Journalism from a top university, and felt a patriotic obligation to serve. In my situation, I had many employment options. I was not overly disadvantaged, but I still willingly choose to put my life on the line in the military. In my Officer Candidate School class (501-04,) I had a classmate who had graduated from Harvard Law School, near the top of his class. He volunteered for the Infantry. Another of my platoon had a degree in finance and left a job with Smith-Barney to serve as an Armor officer.

Jesse Jackson and other civil-rights movement rejects routinely claim that the war is primarily being fought by blacks and Hispanics in a number disproportionate to their representation in the general US population. This is not only inaccurate, it is a flat-out lie. The Infantry is primarily white and a large majority come from the South. There are thousands of soldiers that fight because they believe in their country, not because they have no other options. The idea, reinforced by John Kerry's recent campaign gaff, that the military is a repository for societal misfits and the uneducated is propaganda designed to rally the proletariat to support the Democrats.

The Democrats have a long history of oppressing minorities. According to the Congressional Quarterly (26 June, 1964,) 69% of Senate Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 compared to 82% of Republicans. Former Democrat Senate Leader Robert Bryd admitted to not only being a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but also recruiting for the organization. This was a man who was leading Democrats in the United States Senate? If a Republican had ever even mentioned the KKK, they would be immediately tarred and feathered by the media and Democrats. For any Democrat today to claim that the war is racist or that a draft is needed to balance out the sacrifice is hypocrisy in its most glaring form. The Democrats don't care about the poor. They only care about the poor's vote.

To borrow a phrase from President Bush, the Democrats practice the "soft bigotry of low expectations." For Jesse Jackson to suggest that college is too expensive and a decline of manufacturing leaves poor people with no other options than to join the military, is a calculated and wrong statement. The federal student loan program, along with the Pell Grant and numerous state programs puts college within the reach of any American who desires an escape from their economic status. Rather than bemoan the loss of low-skilled jobs, perhaps the Democrats and Mr. Jackson should welcome the opportunity for poor people to upgrade their skills to become the workforce behind America's future, rather than being slaves to the past.

For further reading:

Experts seek roots of US military makeup (USA Today)

Key Democrats oppose return to draft (Reuters)

Old article about Charles Rangel's 2003 draft bill (CNN)

Article about Democrat opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (National Leadership Network of Conservative African-Americans)

A Senator's Shame: Democrat Robert Bryd and the KKK (Washington Post)

14 November 2006

Vietnam trade bill defeated in US House

In a striking blow to free(er) trade principles, a bill in the US House of Representatives died after failing to receive the two-thirds majority required under special House rules. The bill would have normalized trade relations with Vietnam, thus paving the way for a Vietnamese entry into the World Trade Organization.

President Bush is due to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Hanoi next week. He had hoped to trumpet the passing of the bill as a milestone in opening up trade with the communist country. The Bush administration still has hopes for normalizing trade relations with Vietnam, although with the current political climate, it seems that the Republicans and Bush have a difficult path ahead.

This defeat is a setback for the global economy, especially with Asia trade relations. As demonstrated in the Chinese model, trade is a proven way to open closed societies and to further the influence of freedom and democratic principles. Normalized trade relations with Vietnam could have been the crack through which democracy could slowly infiltrate Vietnamese society.

For further reading:

A setback for Vietnam trade bill (IHT)

Vietnam trade bill fails in U.S. before Bush visit (Reuters)

House set to approve trade bill for Vietnam: lawmakers (Reuters)

10 November 2006

Two groups that make a difference: ONE and DATA

Charities have always been cause for suspect. While there's something noble about altruism, most charities or activist groups tend to rub me the wrong way. Usually it's due to self-righteous pontificating from the leaders of a particular group that turn me off to supporting various causes.


There is a cause in which I strongly believe. The DATA group is an organization dedicated to improving the situation on the African continent through economic, rather than "charitable" means. Essentially, this group favors eliminating poverty through global trade. Rather than throwing money into a black hole under the guise of "helping," DATA prefers to influence policy to promote a free-market escape from the chains of AIDS, poverty and oppression. I would encourage everyone to read more about DATA and sign on to support their efforts.

The ONE campaign is a sister organization that is not about donating money, but about donating a voice. This non-partisan group is dedicated to ending poverty by working with governments and influencing rather than simply screaming to the masses as many advocacy groups unsuccessfully do.

What is ONE?

ONE is a new effort by Americans to rally Americans – ONE by ONE – to fight the emergency of global AIDS and extreme poverty. ONE is students and ministers, punk rockers and NASCAR moms, Americans of all beliefs and every walk of life, united as ONE to help make poverty history. ONE believes that allocating an additional ONE percent of the U.S. budget toward providing basic needs like health, education, clean water and food would transform the futures and hopes of an entire generation in the world's poorest countries. ONE also calls for debt cancellation, trade reform and anti–corruption measures in a comprehensive package to help Africa and the poorest nations beat AIDS and extreme poverty.

Here's a video:

Now go do something. Add your name to the ONE declaration.

08 November 2006

My vision of globalization

The concept of globalization as I mean it, is not necessarily the homogenization of cultures, but more the homogenization of economic systems to facilitate the unencumbered exchange of products and ideas. Globalization is the economic equivalent of freedom of speech. Of course, we all know that freedom of speech is not, nor should it be absolute, just as free trade should not absolute. However, the concept of freedom of speech as well as globalization is overall a good idea. Obviously, with trade and speech, there should be certain limits in order to not squash the rights of others. For example, US, EU farm subsidies are an example of where limits should be enacted. Those subsidies effectively limit the economic freedoms of developing countries (such as in Africa.) Those subsidies are not just unfair, they distort the market. Just as the media can distort elections via biased coverage.

My globalization ideal would involve graduated elimination of all tariffs, but of course that would require the graduated elimination of domestic subsidies. Over time, the markets will create a more efficient and productive environment. This is the stated aim of the World Trade Organization, however domestic political agendas often preclude trade fairness. Much as Colorado can trade products and services with Illinois with minimal regulatory interference, I would hope that America and Zambia, or France and Uzbekistan could enjoy similar trade efficiency.

Economic balkanization is a poison. It is one of the root causes of poverty. If Africa can't sell tulips to Europe because the Dutch oppose tariff elimination, then Africa effectively will have a smaller or reduced market for their products, thus perpetuating poverty in that region. Bono is more of an expert in that area than me, go visit the One Campaign website for more about African trade and poverty.

I am not in favor of cultural imperialism from any country. I am in favor of eliminating barriers to trade as it will benefit all economies, from developed countries like the US all the way down to small Bangladeshi basket weavers.

Much as the civil rights movement in the United States reduced barriers between races, I want to reduce barriers between economies. Racial segregation seemed like a good idea to some people throughout history just as economic segregation seems like a good idea to some now. Realizing that segregation hurts a country took many years, but looking back it seems obvious (to most of us) that segregation was wrong, both morally and economically.

A rising tide will raise all boats -- we just need to ensure all boats are ready for the rising tide.

Read a speech from the WTO Director General Mike Moore about Globalization. In the speech he explains that "globalization works."

For an alternative view check out the Free Trade section of GlobalIssues.org. Much as I slant strongly in favor of globalization, this site provides links and commentary slanting against free trade policies.

Dangerous changes in store for Southeast Asia

Newly installed Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont announced a proposal to inroduce Shariah law in the Muslim southern provinces of Thailand. This presents a dangerous turn of events for Southeast Asia.

The danger of allowing religious law in traditionally benign Thailand could set a precedent that may result in other countries of the region being pressured by Muslim radicals to accept Islamic law. The problems of Shariah are well documented. The Taliban is one of the prime examples of when Shariah goes wrong. Women's rights, religious freedom and other personal liberties will be threatened by Islamic governance.

The military installed government of Thailand seems to be attempting to placate Muslims in the southern part of the country, but as the old saying goes, "If you give a mouse a cookie..."

Read the International Herald Tribune story.

02 November 2006

The Rice Solution

The recent failure of free trade agreement talks between the United States and Korea is frustrating. The "sensitive" issues of rice (for the Koreans) and textiles (for the Americans) are harming consumers on both sides of the ocean.

Korea is concerned that by opening up its rice market to imports, that it will effectively make their domestic industry obsolete. The Korean rice industry is practically obsolete and as such requires extensive subsidies to stay afloat along with highly punitive tariffs on imports. The United States feels similarly about its textile industry, although obsolecence isn't the problem in the US, it's the union monopoly on the labor supply that has resulted in anti-competitive wages for textile workers.

The solution is simple. Let the market solve the problem. Let consumers vote with their dollars (or Won.) Allow unrestricted rice imports from the US, but label that rice in the stores as "US Rice" in big bold letters. Label the domestic rice as "Korean Rice." The US rice will of course be dramatically cheaper, but if consumers don't want to lower prices, they would be free to buy the expensive domestic product. The same model could work for textiles. If the citizens of a particular country are truely interested in protecting inefficient industries, then let them pay for it themselves.

I am tired of overpaying for rice. I'm tired of overpaying for everything. Let the markets set the prices and the consumers set the demand.

01 November 2006

Increasing Iraqi sovereignty

The pundits that often claim that the US "conquered" Iraq and are subjugating its people are losing credibility with each passing day. Although US forces are the primary operators in the Iraqi theater, the control of the country lies with the democratically elected government of Iraq.

Last night in Baghdad, Iraq Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki called for the removal of coalition checkpoints within the city. This order, although unexpected by US commanders, was immediately executed. The checkpoints are unmanned and US soldiers have been assigned to other areas.

This move by Maliki seems to be an attempt to satisfy Shite concerns within the city, although the larger importance is that Iraq's fledgling government is becoming more confident in exerting its independence. This current move should save US lives and hopefully bolster the credibility of the Iraqi government with Shite groups.

The downside is that Shite militia groups within the city might have an easier time navigating within Baghdad and this could pose a significant threat to the city's stability. Time will tell.

For further reading:

U.S. troops quit Baghdad positions on Iraqi's order

31 October 2006

China quietly pressuring North Korea

China exported no crude oil to North Korea in December, according to Chinese customs administration reports. China delivered the entirety of its September oil exports to the United States as opposed to the typical 50,000 metric tons per month shipped to North Korea. China exported about 125,000 tons of crude oil, valued at $62 million to the United States.

North Korea relies on China for 90 percent of its crude oil supply, the remainder coming from Iran. There is no official explanation for the cuts. Beijing has not announced any plan to eliminate oil exports to North Korea and officials at the China National Petroleum Corp. declined to comment.

Although the September export cut could be an anomaly, it's more likely that the cut was in response to North Korea's July ballistic missile test. The Oct. 9 nuclear test could further strengthen China's willingness to withhold oil from Kim Jong-Il's regime. China surprised many observers with their endorsement of the UN sanctions in response to the nuclear test.

The growing threat of North Korean instability to Beijing along with pressure from the United States seems a likely prompt for China's cooperation with the sanctions. If China becomes an ally in the North Korean crisis, the tables might finally shift, resulting in an imminent collapse of the Pyongyang regime. Or war. Either way, the status quo has begun a dramatic shift.

Read more:

China cut off exports of oil to North Korea - International Herald Tribune

Chinese pressure forces North Korea to apologise -- The Guardian (UK)

26 October 2006

North Korea threatens war if Seoul enforces sanctions

Pyongyang has threatened war if South Korea joins the UN mandated sanctions in response to the October nuclear test. On the surface, this seems provacative and suggestive that hostilities would resume if the South participates in the sanctions. However, North Korea has a long and predictable history of posturing in response to potential economic damage.

The so-called "Sunshine Policy" of former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung called for an opening of communication and economic partnerships with their Stalinist friends to the North. Current South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun has continued Kim's engagement strategy which has manifested itself most evidently in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The Kaesong project is a joint manufacturing facility located on the northern side of the DMZ. President Kim's Sunshine ambitions could be foiled if the South participates in the UN sanctions. The Sunshine Policy has been a failure if success is measured by the North's willingness to dismantle its nuclear program.

Former US President Bill Clinton attempted a diplomatic end to the North's nuclear ambition in 1994 with the Agreed Framework. The Framework provided for light-water nuclear reactors for civilian power generation in exchange for the decommissioning of heavy-water (weapons capable) reactors. The attempted engagement by the United States resulted in a decline of regional security because, quite simply, the North failed to deliver on their side of the agreement, while the US still provided the light-water technology.

The current Pyongyang threat mimics the ongoing strategy of North Korea to use fear as a means to get what it wants. Seoul is faced with a critical decision, the results of which will determine the future of the North Korean regime. If Seoul caves (as they usually have) to the North's threat, then Kim Jong-Il would have effectively proven that threats and posturing will work in influencing Seoul. On the other hand, if the South decides to adhere to the UN mandate, then Kim-Jong-Il will have two choices: return to the six-party talks and disarm its nuclear program or launch an attack on the South.

Although possible war is a horrible extention of foreign policy, the alternative is that North Korea will have effectivly bypassed the UN sanctions and will still be able to continue developing nuclear weapons technology. It would be best for Seoul to press Pyongyang now, while the North's nuclear program is in its infancy, rather than wait until later when the threat of nuclear strikes increases to a dangerous level.

Sun Tzu said in his Art of War, attack when your enemy is at its weakest. The North Korean regime could be at a breaking point. The important straw for this East Asian camel will be if Seoul decides to call the North's bluff and agree to the enforcement of UN sanctions. If Seoul does not have the courage to fight now, the result will be a strong and nuclear armed North with an eye towards Tokyo, Seoul and even Beijing.

24 October 2006

Kidnapping journalists never helps

Palestinian officials have confirmed that an armed Palestinian militant group has kidnapped a Spanish Associated Press photographer in Gaza.

It's very hard to feel sympathy towards a cause when members of said cause resort to kidnapping journalists. Journalists, despite our fleas, are critical to society and democratic ideals. The Palestinians do not help their situation by targeting journalists any more than the US helped their cause in Iraq when Marines shot Reuters journalist Terry Lloyd in the opening days of the Iraq war. Journalists should be held to the highest standards, however kidnapping is never an appropriate means to enforce those high standards.

For more information on international press freedom visit Reporters Without Borders.

A letter to Kevin Brady on the Korea-US FTA

The following is the text of a letter I sent to Congressman Kevin Brady of the 8th District of Texas. Brady is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and serves on the Joint Economic Committee. In the midst of negotiations with Korea regarding a proposed Free Trade Agreement, the US is in a unique position to open markets and facilitate lower costs for consumers.

Dear Mr. Brady:

As an American living in Seoul, Korea, I have a unique vantage point with which to observe the situation regarding the potential for an US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. I would like to provide you with a few key points from my observations in order to facilitate your position on specific areas.

First, the Korean agricultural market needs to be more friendly to US imports. This especially concerns imports of beef and rice. Historically, a punitive quota and tariff system has prevented US beef producers and rice farmers access to the Korean market. Many Koreans consider domestic beef to be a special product, unique from imported beef. As a result, there has been strong resistance to opening beef markets to US producers. Additionally, the highly inefficient and non-competitive Korean rice industry has also been a "sacred cow" to Korean policy makers. This has led to dramatically higher rice prices for consumers. I pay more for rice in Seoul that I would in other countries because of the government protection of farms that lack modernization and the stiff quota and tariff system.

Secondly, the Korean and US automotive market needs liberalization. A removal of tariff on both sides of the ocean would improve the quality of both Korean and American automotive products through enhanced competition as well as providing US auto producers with a larger potential market in which they can compete. Small-scale partnerships such as the GM-Daewoo joint venture are mildly successful, but the Free Trade Agreement should go further, allowing for the full access for US producers to the Korean market as well as lowering import taxes on Korean autos in the US. This will force automakers on both sides to improve quality and lower costs, thus benefiting consumers and ultimately both auto industries.

The current strategic situation with North Korea presents a unique opportunity in trade negotiations that has been previously unexploited. I recommend a strong coupling of US strategic protection initiatives with the approval of the Free Trade Agreement. The Korean side demands better access to the US textile market. The US side wants improved agricultural and industrial access to Korean markets. Both sides should get what they want in terms of market access, but the US should exploit its trump card: assured nuclear umbrella protection in exchange for opening markets.

Without a Free-Trade Agreement, US farmers, ranchers and automakers are spending their tax dollars to protect a Korea that will not allow free access to their markets. Why should the US invest defense capital in protecting markets hostile to their products? In the event of an FTA failure, I would recommend careful study of increased investment in the countries of Central Asia. Their strategic value is equally important and their populations represent a large potential market for American products. The US should take advantage of the defense situation to facilitate open markets. It's through the free market that peace is preserved.

Kindest Regards,

Brian Dear
Seoul, Korea
Registered voter in the 8th Congressional District, Texas
Texas A&M Class of 2002

China and Bloggers

A recent Reuters article has described a Chinese government effort to require bloggers to register under their real names. Although China's economy is on its way to achieving some form of free-market system, freedom of expression seems to be lagging. The increased government involvement with Internet communications is perhaps a response to the threat posed by the Internet to the Communist regime.

"A real name system will be an unavoidable choice if China wants to standardize and develop its blog industry," the official Xinhua news agency quoted the Internet Society's secretary general, Huang Chengqing, as saying.

The increased surveillance and regulation of Chinese Internet activity seems to be an attempt at preventing grassroots opposition to the government. The fact that the Internet is warranting such measures is perhaps prophetic to the eventual democratisation of China and the current regime's concern of their eventual decline.

Read the Reuters article.

23 October 2006

Rice: Korean trade policy is harming consumers

The economic development of the Republic of Korea is a modern success story of how an agrarian society can transform itself into a technological and industrial powerhouse in one generation. Korea is the 12th largest economy in the world and companies such as Samsung are leading the world in technological innovation, especially in consumer electronics.

One interesting relic of Korea's agrarian past is the excessive taxes and quota system on imported rice. Methods of Korean rice farmers have changed little, despite worldwide advances in genetics and farming mechanisation. Across rural Korea, farmers still do most rice farming with primitive tools and by hand. The rice industry has lagged behind the rest of the country in innovation and modernization.

In a free market, inefficiencies are weeded out through competition. The Pittsburgh steel industry suffered as a result of cheaper imported steel from countries (especially Korea and Russia) with more efficient manufacturing processes. The outdated methods of the huge steel plants were too expensive to compete with leaner and more modern manufacturing facilities in Korea and in other areas of the US. The result, while bad for steelworkers, led to lower steel prices which led to lower costs on finished goods. Competition led to increased efficiencies which ultimately boosted both the US economy and Korea's.

The rice industry in Korea has been a "sacred cow." Protectionist trade practices had saved domestic farmers from the influx of cheaper, imported rice. This led to dramatically higher prices for rice at the consumer level. Korean households were, in effect, subsidizing outdated and non-sustainable farming practices.

Much like Korean steel put old-guard US firms in the red, (forcing modernization) it's time that Korean rice farmers be subject to competition. Ultimately, it will benefit the economy of Korea as it will lower food costs for consumers and force modernization of an inefficient and environmentally unsound industry.

22 October 2006

Companion Site Launch

I just launched a companion site to Global Security, Economics and Politics. The Down Link.

The site feautes videos from across the globe that enlighten or entertain along with commentary. The site also features (along with this one) live news and TV feeds from Reuters, including Entertainment and "Oddly-Enough." As with this site, comments are invited!

Outsourcing the Drive-thru

Ever have trouble with the drive-thru? Joe Pesci in Lethal Weapon has a theory about drive-thrus, you may remember. The wisdom of Pesci lives on..

We can outsource and offshore just about every product or service, unfortunately, the drive-thru will probably always remain a bastion of inefficiency, regardless of improving staffing solutions.

21 October 2006

Fair and Balanced

In the interest of presenting a fair hearing for all sides of globalization issues, I invite you to look at Euro Yank's blog concerning the "New World Order" and his thoughts on outsourcing, unemployment and globalization.


I disagree with his analysis on unemployment data, however the site offers some interesting videos and contrasting viewpoints that may enrich the debate.

It's an entertaining read.

Outsourcing and Economic Gains

Groups opposed to offshoring and outsourcing often riddle their rhetoric with economic untruths and propaganda designed to capitalize on the limited economic literacy of many Americans. Lee Conrad, national coordinator of Alliance@IBM, an affliliate of the Communications Workers of America union has suggested that offshoring efforts by IBM will result in inferior service to customers and harm U.S. workers.

"IBM has admitted that thousands of jobs are being sent offshore to India, China, Brazil and other countries, with plans to increase this outsourcing," Conrad said in a statement during a 2004 protest against IBM.

"This raises serious concerns about the long-term job prospects for workers in the US, and also about the need to ensure that customers have the quality service they expect to receive from IBM."

While it is important to consider the motivation of the union's attitude, the fundamental facts are much different. The "serious concerns" cited by Conrad suggest that the long-term job prospects for US workers will be reduced as a result of offshoring. This limited view fails to consider the economic gains that result from corporate cost reductions.

In a simplified, hypothetical example, if IBM can reduce costs by 40% that should reduce the costs of IBM products by a similar percentage. If an IBM ThinkPad computer cost $2000 before the savings, then the price will necessarily fall to roughly $1200 for the same product. If a consumer's budget for a new computer was $1500, then two benefits will arise from the savings. First, the consumer can now afford the computer, secondly, the remaining $300 allowed in the consumer's budget can then be used to purchase software or accesories for the new machine. So while previously, the consumer could not have purchased the computer, now the consumer will buy the computer and spend the savings on other products. This additional purchasing power will drive the economy, creating new demand for products and with it, new jobs. If a small business were purchasing fifty of these computers, the money saved could allow for capital expansion of the business which would include more jobs. Conversely, the money saved in the hypothetical computer purchase could be returned to shareholders who could then use the return to invest in new industries.

Conrad's argument about the long-term job prospects of US workers is innacurate. The long-term prospects of US workers will improve due to increased demand resulting from cost savings. In the short-term, it is likely that there might be a loss of US jobs, however the long-term will result in a net gain.

The other aspect that pundits neglect is the increase of worldwide purchasing power when industries outsource and offshore. The IT workers in India for example driving worldwide economic growth because they now have higher wages with which they can purchase products that they would not have been able to afford previously. This has created an increase of product demand in India and has resulted in an expansion of the Indian economy and resultingly, the economies of India's trading partners. The same situation has resulted in China. With the increase of foreign manufacturing in China, comes an increase of product demand within China. Outsourcing and Offshoring is creating a new middle-class where none had existed before.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Simon Smith Kuznets' research has established that increases in real gross domestic product are almost always good for the poor. Kuznets' law states that increases in income inequality that occur in the early stages of industrialization are followed by increases in income equality. This law effectively explains the benefits of globalization. There will be inequalities, however as world economies approach equilibrium, income disparities will diminish.

The US and the Western world have gone through several stages of industrial and economic evolution. Globalization, and with it outsourcing and offshoring, represents a new frontier of economics. As with all revolutions, there will be some growing pains and no system will ever be perfect, however the reality of globalization is that the economies of all participating countries will improve in the long-run.

It is important to remember that economic policy should not be shortsighted. Don't let propaganda from specific groups influence policies in ways that will untimately harm the economy and the pocketbooks of everyone.

19 October 2006

Why Islamic Law is Bad.

If you need another argument of why the US should be in the Middle East, here it is:


The nutshell is that an 18 year old was aquitted of murder due to self-defense circumstances (he was being sexually assaulted.) The "legal" court found him not-guilty, the Federal Sharia Court, who administers Islamic law overturned the innocence verdict and sentenced him to hang.

Islamic fundamentalists' chief desire is to institute the "Sharia" (Islamic law) as the system of government throughout the world. This is a great example as to the danger of such implementation.

The U.S. is no angel, but I can think of no instance where a court overturned an innocence verdict on religious grounds.

UPDATE (22OCT2006): Islamic kidnappers in Afghanistan kidnapped Italian photojournalist Gabriele Torsello and are offering her release in exchange for the return of a Christian convert who had successfuly sought asylum in Italy. According to Islamic law (as interpreted by fundamentalists) the penalty for a Muslim's conversion to another religion is death. Read the BBC story for details on this example of religious extremism and it's threat to security and freedom.

North Korean defectors, America and WMD

If anyone doubts America being the land of opportunity, one should simply ask a North Korean defector. Living in Korea, I routinely field questions about U.S. policy and hegemony. Many people, especially other Westerners are quick to defend North Korea and their nuclear ambitions. One common argument is that if America has nuclear weapons, then it's hypocrisy to object to North Korea having said weapons. This argument is full of holes.

The first counter to that suggestion is that the U.S. has a statute preventing nuclear usage in a first-strike scenario. North Korea has publicly stated a willingness to use nuclear ballistic missiles against the U.S. North Korea and Iran are among the only nuclear-potential or nuclear-capable nations that have declared a willingness for first-strike nuclear usage. This critical policy difference is the fundamental factor in the logic to deny weapons technology to those countries. Even in Iraq, where tactical nuclear weapons could be effectively employed, the U.S. has not used WMD. Without delving into the potentially classified areas of our military strategy, it's obvious that the U.S. has no plans for nuclear usage in a first-strike scenario, even in a difficult war such as in Iraq.

North Korea, by its own admission has readied plans for WMD attacks on Seoul, Japan and the United States. These plans are only countered by two things: a lack of delivery technology and the U.S. deterrent.

Korea - U.S. Free Trade Agreement

The head strategist for the Republic of Korea's ruling party has suggested that Seoul push for a free trade agreement (FTA) with the United States. He argued that a FTA would be a key contributor to the national security and economic interests of South Korea.

"The signing of a Korea-U.S. free trade agreement is the best policy for Korea, which will secure the continued protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella," Rep. Kang Bongkyun of the Uri party said at a recent meeting.

This is sound logic. FTAs have historically provided countries with not only economic benefits by expanding potential markets, but security benefits. From a security standpoint, an FTA provides incentive for the U.S. to continue its strategic presence on the Korean peninsula. If there is a strong trade relationship, the U.S. would be acting in its best interests to ensure the security of South Korea.

Economically, an FTA would serve as a major boost to South Korea's economy. With the assurance of U.S. protection in the event of hostilities, foreign countries would face less risk in investing in South Korean companies and in increasing economic involvement with the country. Without the U.S. deterrent, South Korea would have never been able to emerge as the economic powerhouse it has become.

Free trade agreements are not just good economic policies, they are integral to maintaining security in potentially volatile climates.

18 October 2006

Reuters, India and the Newspaper Guild

Reuters operates a large office in Bangalore where reporters and financial analysts work to produce market-moving stories about small and mid-cap corporations in the United States. On the surface, this appears to be yet another move by a major corporation to "outsource" or more accurately, "offshore" jobs to less expensive locations to improve their respective bottom lines. When analyzed thoroughly, this move is more about increasing capabilities rather than replace the jobs of New York and London-based financial journalists.

The sheer volume of financial information produced each day is staggering. Thousands of companies release earnings and other important data continually each day. This onslaught of data is analogous to the National Security Agency's cell-phone intercept data. The massive volume of information coupled with the lack of skilled analysts with which to process the data makes the data useless for decision makers, be it national security policy formulators or financial professionals or even the average wage-earning investor looking to optimize personal retirement funds. The establishment of the Reuters operation in Bangalore has allowed coverage of companies that, in the past, would have been ignored by the media.

The Bangalore center has added value to Reuters' coverage. Initially, Bloomberg Financial (Reuters' chief competition in financial news) scoffed at the idea of covering Wall Street from Bangalore. Interestingly, Bloomberg now has an office in Mumbai (Bombay) operating under the same logic as the pioneering Reuters effort.

The Newspaper Guild of New York has protested the expansion of the Reuters Bangalore operation. The most common complaint and party-line being that offshoring of financial reporting will degrade the standards of financial journalism at the expense of New York jobs. This criticism is unfounded and even racist. Journalists in India, especially with the Reuters operation are just as highly trained as their stateside and European colleagues. In the number-intense world of financial journalism, Indian journalists might even be more qualified, given stronger educational emphasis on finance and markets than often found in US journalism programs. Additionally, Indian journalists are perhaps further removed from bias in their interpretation of the numbers. After all, few Indian journalists have US-managed 401(K)s or pension funds.

Reuters still has boots-on-the-ground in every corner of the news world. An interview with a CEO at a US corporate headquarters still requires journalists. However now, the Wall Street Reuters (and now Bloomberg) reporters will have more opportunity for in-depth reporting because their time is not completely consumed by the routine work of distilling financial data on smaller companies into stories. The Reuters Bangalore office is allowing the New York and London reporters to find better stories and dig deeper into companies.

The Newspaper Guild of New York is spouting the same AFL-CIO arguments used for ages against outsourcing and offshoring. The results of the Reuters offshoring experiment are beginning to disprove the Newspaper Guild's propaganda. Perhaps the Newspaper Guild members should be investigating and reporting more and picketing less. If one of these "highly-experienced and skilled" Guild members had been doing their job, perhaps the financial gerrymandering of Worldcomm and Enron might have been detected earlier.

15 October 2006

Oliver Stone and World Trade Center

What's past is prologue, what to come, in yours and my discharge. -- Shakespeare

The Oliver Stone film World Trade Center created a flurry of powerful emotions that can't easily be captured by words. I pride myself on being able to depict complex emotional landscapes with my writing, but after seeing this film on its opening weekend in Korea, I am almost unable to talk or write about the incredible wellspring of emotions. I couldn't speak for about ten minutes after the film. As I decended the stairs from the the cinema, I had to actively concentrate on the mundane to keep from breaking out into tears.

Oliver Stone ripped my soul from my very person and forced me to confront demons that have haunted me for too long. The depiction of the struggle of two Port Authority policemen to survive being buried alive within the rubble of the towers' collapse and the associated struggle of their families was almost too much for me to handle. I've been in some rough places and trying times -- for a movie to push me to the brink is spectacular. I kept thinking about my life thus far and the joy of families and how alone I sometimes feel. I kept thinking about my friends from the military and how I might have been a better soldier. I kept thinking about things like honor, courage and commitment. I kept thinking about the things I could do better, the contributions I haven't made, the stories I haven't told.

I felt like a coward. I feel like a coward. I feel like I have something to prove to myself. I feel like I owe my country and those around me more than I've given. I feel like I've failed as a person. I have failed.

Now, quite simply I have a renewed obligation. To do something. Perhaps it will be through writing -- perhaps it's time to create a visceral gut punch of my own.
A good movie is a mirror. Sometimes you don't like what is revealed, but the truth is true and the reflections of oneself represent the reality of one's failings and successes, without predudice.

Now go. Do something. Stop sitting there.

War Crimes, Journalists and Marines

When I entered the military in 2002, I had previously worked as a contract photojournalist for Reuters News in Texas. The military maintains a love-hate relationship with journalists and even after I was commissioned a Lieutenant, I endured occassional snide remarks from fellow soldiers about my former employment. The comments were rarely directed at me personally, however the bulk of the remarks concerned shooting journalists (usually in a joking manner) or keeping them off the battlefield.

War journalism has a long and important history in modern democracies. The famous image of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima served as an important motivator for the war effort at home. The photos and film from the Nazi camps served to galvanize the public against the threat of future atrocities. Images from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia created an outcry of such significance as to affect US foreign policy. War correspondents serve an important function in free societies as they allow the citizens to see the results of their votes and the policies of their governments.

I don't agree with the angles presented by many journalists, especially regarding the Arab-Israeli crisis and the Iraq war, however a free press allows for counter-reports that allow educated people to make informed choices concerning their leadership.

A British inquest ruled today that US Marines intentionally targeted and shot British journalist Terry Lloyd during the opening days of the Iraq invasion. Based on my own investigation and a careful analysis of the different reports, I must conclude that some rogue Marines probably did intend to kill the journalist. I have served with members from each of the US Armed Forces and I know the "party-line" and I also know the attitudes involved. For me, a former Army officer to suggest that the US Marines are guilty of a war crime in this instance is difficult. I served with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that exhibited extremely high standards in their professional and personal lives. However, I also served with troops that were essentially ignorant, Bud Light-drinking rednecks or crack dealer ghetto thugs.

The responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of the US military to prosecute the Marines in question and strip them of their right to call themselves Marines. If one wants to wear the uniform, they must adhere to the highest standard. In Officer Candidate School, our motto was, "Standards, No Compromise." It's time that we stop compromising and start demanding honor from anyone who would wear the uniform.

14 October 2006

Globalization, Economics and Education

outsourcing -- the buying of parts of a product to be assembled elsewhere, as in purchasing cheap foreign parts rather than manufacturing them at home.

offshoring -- the practice of moving business processes or services to another country, esp. overseas, to reduce costs.

The hysteria raised by US and British groups over the migration of skilled "white collar" jobs to places such as India and Thailand is nothing new. It is in the best interest of companies (and ultimately everyone) to find the most efficient and low-cost methods of conducting business. On the surface, it seems that outsourcing and offshoring jobs will lead to increased unemployment in the countries from which those jobs migrated, however reality and history paint a different picture.

Industries such as IT and even financial journalism have established a thriving presence in cities such as Bangalore and Bangkok. While true, Western workers once performed many of these job functions, the offshoring process will ultimately benefit those economies from which those jobs came.

Throughout the history of Industrialism, modernization and outsourcing have altered job functions. When Henry Ford developed the assembly line for automobiles, scores of blacksmiths decried the development as a threat to their horseshoe business. In fact, workers that would have entered the economy as blacksmiths now had new industries to pursue such as tire production, oil exploration/ refinining, steel manufacturing and road construction. There was a net increase of jobs and economic strenghth from the mass production of autos. The blacksmiths were correct: horses would be replaced and their specific job function would become obsolete, however they were incorrect in suggesting that the auto would cause increased unemployement.
The fundamental rule of economics is to look at a policy effect on the whole rather than on a constituent parts. The blacksmiths were (rightly so) looking after their own self-interest; they can't be faulted for trying to preserve their industry. However, the critical element is that the government did not attempt to prevent the auto industry from expanding.

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neil once said, "All politics is local." As a result, politicians will attempt to fashion policies tailored toward their constiuencies. The result is that the rest of the economic picture falls victim to special interest dynamics. The US people as a whole benefited far more than the losses suffered by blacksmiths. As a result, the standard of living and employment increased overall. The auto industry also expanded the economy by creating new business where none existed before.

With outsourcing and offshoring, some jobs are leaving the US. However, there is a net gain of jobs and economic strenghth because of several reasons. First, businesses are becoming more efficient which leads to either lower costs or increased value to shareholders. This lower cost will allow more people to afford products they might not have afforded before. Even higher corporate profits benefit the economy and the individual. If shareholders are making more money, they will invest more capital in creating new business and thus new jobs. The Internet is a great example of this phenomenon. The web-development and e-commerce industry did not exist a generation ago. Yet, the expansion of the web (by mostly commercial interests) has led to jobs that did not even exist in concept years ago. So while Michael Moore loves to harp upon the decline of the auto industry in Michigan in the 1980s, the reality is that the closing of plants led to increased profits which allowed shareholder/ investors to create new companies in other industries, such as IT. The unemployeed auto-workers initially suffered from the transition, but a new category of employee emerged from the ashes of the plant shutdowns. The average American benefited from auto industry realignment, in the form of higher quality products at a lower cost and increased capital available to finance entirely new industries.

The hysteria of outsourcing and offshoring is unfounded. With increased globalization comes increased opportunity for everyone. With the migration of tech jobs to India, comes an increase of Indian purchasing power which will lead to an increase in overall product and service demand. China is another example. Workers are often paid extremely low wages in developing countries, however this low wage is more than they were receiving prior to increased globalization. This is now allowing the average Chinese to purchase goods that they could not purchase (or didn't exist) before. The number of cell phones in China now versus ten years ago is an example.

For the US and Western Europe to remain competitive, they must extract themselves from the politically expedient attitude of the blacksmiths. They must invest more capital in research, development and education. If the average US high school student cannot even find Nebraska on a map, how can the US expect to compete within the global economy? Rather than decrying globalization, the US should instead be condemming the educational system that sets up American students to fail on the world stage.

There are a few recommendations that would pay huge dividends for the US economy. First, comprehensive economic education should be integrated into junior and high school curriculums. Adults rarely use high-school chemistry in their life, but economic theory pervades almost every aspect of my life. An understanding of both is important. Topics such as supply and demand, foreign currency and taxes are essential learning for students to ensure that when they reach voting age, they understand the effects of economic policy on their future employment prospects. Traditional classes such as algebra should be redesigned to integrate practical applications such as banking, calculating loan interest and even fuel efficiency of a car. The entire math curriculum needs to become relevant. This will provide two benefits: students will learn the topics more thouroghly and students will be able to use the skill towards furthering their own career, regardless of field.

Secondly, their should be an emphasis placed on foreign cultures in the modern world. While history is essential, Americans are at a critical disadvantage when it comes to understanding cultural differences across the world and how they affect US market access. Cultural understanding is not about "tolerance," but about competitive advantage. Even topics suchs as the American civil rights movement can be integrated into an economic curriculum. There was a profound negative effect of slavery on the economic strenghth of the South, which most would argue led to the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The economic superiority and victory of the North had much to do with increased labor efficiency and industrial accumen. Robert E. Lee was a better General than Grant, but the South was hampered by inefficiencies caused by an antiquated labor system. Women's rights had a similarly important economic effect. The increase of women's rights led to an enourmous increase of US productivity through the addition of more women to the workplace. In Korea, students study Western culture primarily to increase their effectiveness as multi-national managers and for when they are negotiatiating with Western companies.

Finally, within the cultural education curriculum there should be dramatically increased foreign language education, especially in languages such as Korean, Russian, Thai and Chinese. Spanish and French are tired and dead for the most part on the global stage and serve very little in advancing the US economic health. The school systems should revamp their goals towards successful navigation of a world economy, not simply survival in a US-centric environment.

There is no excuse for failure, except perhaps apathy. Apathy is a far greater threat to American success than outsourcing or offshoring.

For futher reading:
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt.
The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman

The North Korean Nuclear Test

The US is preparing a list of additional sanctions in response to North Korea's preparation for a nuclear test. A provision in the sanctions provides for search and seizure of North Korean sea shipments which escalates the intensity of the present situation to a new level.

North Korea has never tested its proported nuclear capabilities and until recently, plans for such tests have never been revealed by the Pyongyang government. The latest announcement of a planned test should concern the world community as it increases the stakes of the East Asian situation. North Korea has a history of ratcheting up their posturing when faced with diplomatic challenges.

Shinzo Abe, the new Japanese prime minister has throughout his career favored a stronger stance against North Korean hostilities. His recent installation in Japan's top job might be a significant impetus that could prompt North Korea to expand their blackmailing strategy.
A nuclear test would be a significant development in the East Asian situation.

Proposed US countermeasures, including the maritime provisions could push North Korea away from posturing and closer to actual hostilities. The critical element in this standoff will be Russia and China. If Russia and China side with the US and the United Nations, then North Korea might be economically influenced enough to either eliminate their nuclear program or perhaps respark the Korean War.