Weekend reading about geopolitics (good stuff you might have missed)

All of these describe deep and fundamental changes at work in our world.  Brief excepts are provided, although I recommend clicking through to read these in full. 

  1. China declares highest level of emergency for worst drought in 50 years“, Xinhua, 6 February 2009
  2. Wildcat oil strikes: Europeans are finally waking up to the demise of democracy“, Janet Daley, op-ed in The Daily Telegraph, 2 February 2009 — “Angry people across the EU are discovering the fine print in all the treaties signed by their leaders.”
  3. Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy“, Robert N. Proctor, Dimensions (a journal of Holocaust studies), Vol 10 #2 (1996) — “It is poor scholarship and perhaps even dangerous to caricature the Nazis as irrational or anti-science.”
  4. Violent unrest rocks China as crisis hits“, The Times, 1 February 2009 — “The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability.”

Three great articles about Afghanistan (no excerpts provided):

  1. “Afghanistan, Graveyard of Empires”, Milton Bearden, Foreign Affairs, November/December 2001 — Bearden served as CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989.  Foreign Affairs site (subscription only); grey version.
  2. An Old Afghanistan Hand Offers Lessons of the Past“, New York Times, 20 October 2008 — Advice from one of the KGB’s top experts.
  3. Whistling Past the Afghan Graveyard“, Tom Engelhardt, posted at TomDispatch, 5 February 2009 — “Where Empires Go to Die”

Excerpts

(1)  China declares highest level of emergency for worst drought in 50 years“, Xinhua, 6 February 2009 — Excerpt:

China raised the drought emergency class Thursday from level two to level one, the highest alert, in response to the worst drought to hit northern China in half a century, according to a State Council meeting. Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have ordered all-out efforts to combat the severe drought in the country’s vast wheat-growing area to ensure a good summer harvest, according to a State Council meeting held Thursday.

Rainfall in most parts of north and central China was 50% to 80% less than normal. That has affected 155 million mu (10.33 million hectares) of crops by Feb 5, data released by the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said on Thursday. The rare drought which began in November, has threatened 143 million mu of winter wheat, with 46.35 million mu seriously affected. Some 4.29 million people and 2.07 million livestock lack proper drinking water, according to the data by the headquarter office.

Follow-up:  “Meteorologist: More rain expected in drought-hit north China“, Xinhua, 7 February 2009

(2)  Wildcat oil strikes: Europeans are finally waking up to the demise of democracy“, Janet Daley, op-ed in The Daily Telegraph, 2 February 2009 — “Angry people across the EU are discovering the fine print in all the treaties signed by their leaders.”  Excerpt:

The peoples of Europe have finally discovered what they signed up to. I do mean “peoples” (plural) because however much political elites may deceive themselves, the populations of the member states of the EU are culturally, historically and economically separate and distinct. And a significant proportion of them are getting very, very angry.

What the strikers at the Lindsey oil refinery (and their brother supporters in Nottinghamshire and Kent) have discovered is the real meaning of the fine print in those treaties, and the significance of those European court judgments whose interpretation they left to EU obsessives: it is now illegal – illegal – for the government of an EU country to put the needs and concerns of its own population first. It would, for example, be against European law to do what Frank Field has sensibly suggested and reintroduce a system of “work permits” for EU nationals who wished to apply for jobs here.

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Paris and the recalcitrant electorate in Germany are waking up to the consequences of what two generations of European ideologues have thrust upon them: the burden not just of their own economic problems but also the obligation to accept the consequences of their neighbours’ debts and failures. Each country is true to its own history in the way it expresses its rage: in France, they take to the streets and throw things at the police, in Germany they threaten the stability of the coalition government, and here, we revive the tradition of wildcat strikes.

But the response from the EU political class is the same to all of these varied manifestations of resistance. Those who protest are being smeared with accusations of foolhardy protectionism or racist nationalism when they are not (not yet, anyway) guilty of either.

It is not purblind nationalism, let alone racism, to resent the importation of cheap labour en masse when its conditions of employment (transport and accommodation provided, as seems to be the case at Lindsey) allow it to compete unfairly with indigenous workers. The drafting in of low-wage work gangs has always been seen as unjust: exploitative of the foreign workers, and destructive of the social cohesion of existing communities which, incidentally, is something about which the Tories say they are much exercised. So can the protesters expect their support?

… Free trade in goods, as opposed to unlimited open borders for transient labour, is absolutely essential to the recovery of the global economy (and for that matter, to the relief of poverty in the developing world). … But what the British strikers are demanding is not the same at all, and if their complaints are caricatured or defamed, the price in social disorder could be hideous. It is not an exaggeration to say that this could be the moment of justifiable anger that neo-fascist agitators have been waiting to exploit.

(3)  Nazi Medicine and Public Health Policy“, Robert N. Proctor, Dimensions (a journal of Holocaust studies), Vol 10 #2 (1996) — Excerpt:

It is poor scholarship and perhaps even dangerous to caricature the Nazis as irrational or anti-science. What we have to look at more carefully is the relationship between science and ideology at this time.

We often hear that the Nazis destroyed science and abandoned ethics. Telford Taylor, in his opening statement at the Nuremberg “Doctors’ Trial” of 1946-7, claimed that Nazi doctors had turned Germany “into an infernal combination of a lunatic asylum and a charnel house.” “Neither science, nor industry, nor the arts could flourish in such a foul medium,” Taylor asserted about the Third Reich. Taylor was not the first to suggest that Nazism and the scientific spirit were fundamentally incompatible.

Franz Neumann, in his 1942 book Behemoth, had already posited “a most profound conflict” between what he called the “magic character” of Nazi propaganda and the “rational” processes of German industry, a conflict he believed would culminate in an uprising on the part of engineers to combat Hitler’s irrationalist regime. Such an uprising, needless to say, never materialized.

The problem with the “science vs. fascism” thesis is that it fails to take into account the eagerness with which many scientists and physicians embraced the Reich, and the many scientific disciplines which actually flourished under the Nazis. Anyone who has ever examined a V-2 engine will have few doubts about this, and there are numerous other examples. During the Nazi era, German scientists and engineers either developed or greatly improved television, jet-propelled aircraft (including the ejection seat), guided missiles, electronic computers, the electron microscope, atomic fission, data-processing technologies, pesticides, and, of course, the world’s first industrial murder complexes. The first magnetic tape recording was of a speech by Hitler, and the nerve gases Sarin and Tabun were Nazi inventions.

The story of science under German fascism is not, as conventional wisdom would have it, only a narrative of suppression and survival; a truthful account will explain how and why Nazi ideology promoted certain areas of inquiry, and how projects and policies were championed or disappeared because of political considerations.

In this article, I want to explore some of the obstacles that have hindered our efforts to understand Nazi science and medicine. I will concentrate on two myths: the myth of flawed science and the myth of abandoned ethics. The Nazis, I shall suggest, supported many kinds of science, left politics (as we often think of it) out of most, and did not abandon ethics. There was an ethics of Nazi medical practice — sometimes explicit, sometimes not; often cruel, but sometimes not. This is important to understand if we are not to perceive the German physicians who endorsed Nazism as absolutely alien and otherworldly. The question of questions, after all, is how did these men and women, who were convinced they were doing good, come to commit crimes that we today regard as the embodiment of evil?

Understanding the power of these myths — of science destroyed and ethics abandoned — is important not just for setting the historical record straight, but also for understanding why it has taken so long to come to grips with Nazi medical crimes. And comprehending the Nazis’ support for science and medicine can also help us understand the appeal of Nazism within German intellectual culture; this, in turn, might help us better discern how fascism came to triumph in the first place.

The author then discusses the following:

  • Nazi Ideology and Anti-Tobacco Research
  • The Moral Failure of German Medicine
  • The Fallacy of Abandoned Ethics

(4)  Violent unrest rocks China as crisis hits“, The Times, 1 February 2009 — “The collapse of the export trade has left millions without work and set off a wave of social instability.”  Excerpt:

Bankruptcies, unemployment and social unrest are spreading more widely in China than officially reported, according to independent research that paints an ominous picture for the world economy. The research was conducted for The Sunday Times over the last two months in three provinces vital to Chinese trade – Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. It found that the global economic crisis has scythed through exports and set off dozens of protests that are never mentioned by the state media.

… However, a growing number of economists say the unrest proves that it is not the exchange rate but years of sweatshop wages and income inequality in China that have distorted global competition and stifled domestic demand. The influential Far Eastern Economic Review headlined its latest issue “The coming crack-up of the China Model”.

  1. Yasheng Huang, a professor at MIT, said corruption and a deeply flawed model of economic reform had led to a collapse in personal income growth and a wealth gap that could leave China looking like a Latin American economy.
  2. Richard Duncan, a partner at Blackhorse Asset Management in Singapore, has argued that the only way to create consumers is to raise wages to a legal minimum of $5 (£3.50) a day across Asia – a “trickle up” theory.
  3. The American economist Nouriel Roubini said growth figures of 6.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008 masked the reality that China was already in recession – a view privately shared by many Chinese financial analysts who dare not say so in public.

The instability may peak when millions of migrant workers flood back from celebrating the Chinese new year to find they no longer have jobs. That spells political trouble and there are already signs that the government’s $585 billion stimulus package will not be enough to achieve its goal of 8% growth this year.

The Communist party is so concerned to buy off trouble that in one case, confirmed by a local government official in Foshan, armed police forced a factory owner to withdraw cash from the bank to pay his workers. “Hundreds of workers protested outside the city government so we ordered the boss to settle the back pay and sent police armed with machine-guns to take him to the bank and deliver the money to his workforce that very night,” the official said.

  1. In the southern province of Guangdong, three jobless men detonated a bomb in a business travellers’ hotel in the commercial city of Foshan to extort money from the management.
  2. On January 15 there were pitched battles at a textile factory in the nearby city of Dongguan between striking workers and security guards.
  3. On January 16, about 100 auxiliary security officers, known in Chinese as Bao An, staged a street protest after they were sacked by a state-owned firm in Shenzhen, a boom town adjoining Hong Kong.
  4. About 1,000 teachers confronted police on the streets of Yangjiang on January 5, demanding their wages from the local authorities.
  5. In one sample week in late December, 2,000 workers at a Singapore-owned firm in Shanghai held a wage protest and thousands of farmers staged 12 days of mass demonstrations over economic problems outside the city.
  6. All along the coast, angry workers besieged labour offices and government buildings after dozens of factories closed their doors without paying wages and their owners went back to Hong Kong, Taiwan or South Korea.
  7. In southern China, hundreds of workers blocked a highway to protest against pay cuts imposed by managers. At several factories, there were scenes of chaos as police were called to stop creditors breaking in to seize equipment in lieu of debts.
  8. In northern China, television journalists were punished after they prepared a story on the occupation of a textile mill by 6,000 workers. Furious local leaders in the city of Linfen said the news item would “destroy social stability” and banned it.
  9. Even security guards and teachers have staged protests as disorder sweeps through the industrial zones that were built on cheap manufacturing for multinational companies. Worker dormitory suburbs already resemble ghost towns.

At textile companies in Suzhou, historic centre of the silk trade, sales managers told of a collapse in export orders. “This time last year our monthly output to Britain and other markets was 60,000 metres of cloth. This month it’s 3,000 metres,” said one. She said companies dared not accept orders in pounds or euros for fear of wild currency fluctuations. Trade finance has all but ceased. Some 40% of the workforce had been laid off, she added.

… Even in the city regarded as the most entrepreneurial in China, Wenzhou, the business community is reeling. “We estimate that foreign companies have defaulted on payments for 20 billion yuan (£20 billion) owed to Wenzhou firms,” said Zhou Dewen, chairman of the city’s association for small and medium-sized businesses.

… A legal advocate for migrant workers, Xiao Qingshan, told a tale of violent intimidation by the state in collusion with unscrupulous businessmen. On January 9, Xiao said, 14 security officers from the local labour bureau broke into his office, confiscated 600 legal case files, 160 law books, his computer, his photocopier, his television set and 100,000 yuan in cash.

“That evening I was ambushed near the office by five strangers who forced a black bag over my head and then threw me into a shallow polluted canal,” he said. His landlord has since given him notice to quit his rented home. Xiao said he was defying bribery and threats to speak to the foreign media because he wants international businesses to know what is really happening in “the workshop of the world”.

Afterword

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3 thoughts on “Weekend reading about geopolitics (good stuff you might have missed)

  1. Hey, how about Ahmed Rashid’s essay, “The Graveyard of Analogies.” This is the man who was writing entire books, begging the West to wake up to the danger of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the 1990s and 2000, and he specifically attacks the assumption that the U.S. mission there is just like the Russians, or the British in the 1980s.

    Or we could go with Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, who is certainly much more involved with events there than a tired old picture of the place from the mid-80s.

  2. “Wildcat oil strikes: Europeans are finally waking up to the demise of democracy“

    The freedom to live and work across the EU is one of the fundamentals of the EU, what the Daily Telegraph have consistently called for is to ceding of Britian from the EU, and what they wish for is the destruction of the EU itself. I would be extremely wary of the spin that the Daily Telegraphputs on anything that is remotely related to the EU.

    “What the strikers at the Lindsey oil refinery (and their brother supporters in Nottinghamshire and Kent) have discovered is the real meaning of the fine print in those treaties, and the significance of those European court judgments whose interpretation they left to EU obsessives: it is now illegal – illegal – for the government of an EU country to put the needs and concerns of its own population first. It would, for example, be against European law to do what Frank Field has sensibly suggested and reintroduce a system of “work permits” for EU nationals who wished to apply for jobs here.”

    This is demagoguery, pure and simple.
    .
    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: Those are reasons to watch, not ignore. The Telegraph is an implacable foe of the EU, and this is demagoguery. Tese attitudes are a fault line in the structure of the EU. The recession will increase the stress on this fault, and hence it warrants attention.

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