China and its Discontents

Archive for the ‘James Fallows’ tag

Immediate Thoughts on China’s ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone)

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First, it is already US policy to ignore the ADIZs of other countries if a plane does not intend to enter territorial airspace, and vice versa (for example, a plane flying parallel to a country’s territorial airspace):

“The United States does not recognize the right of a coastal nation to apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter national airspace nor does the United States apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. airspace. Accordingly, U.S. military aircraft not intending to enter national airspace should not identify themselves or otherwise comply with ADIZ procedures established by other nations, unless the United States has specifically agreed to do so.”

But while the establishment of a Chinese ADIZ may not deter the US from any actions, it might affect smaller players like Japan, South Korea, or others (if China decides to establish a South China Sea ADIZ).

Second, China has not been clear how the ADIZ will be enforced. Initial statements emphasized ‘scrambling PLAAF fighters’ to any and all undeclared planes in the ADIZ, but recent comments from a PLAN admiral suggests otherwise (that it operates similar to the US interpretation).

There have been relatively hyperbolic responses to this event, and more reasonable ones (from Jim Fallows and Rory Medcalf). The central problem is not the ADIZ itself (after all, many countries, including the US, have one), but the conditions under which it was established. China’s establishment of an ADIZ that includes the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and one that requires identification from all planes, even those flying parallel to Chinese territory, is profoundly destabilizing and escalatory. China’s actions are ridiculous and it will probably get more than it bargained for. The US needs to make its existing policy crystal clear.

If on the other hand our PLAN admiral (above) is correct and China has simply set up an ADIZ that complies with international norms, then US and allied undeclared overflights should not bother China.

Written by Will

November 27th, 2013 at 8:54 pm

“Who’s The Rich Guy? Obama, Romney Duel Over Status”

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I spurted out my coffee when I read that headline in this morning’s Playbook. As James Fallows notes, this is yet another example of false equivalence in the media. Yes, President Obama is by far better off than the vast majority of Americans. But who is wealthier? Mitt wins this no contest.

Written by Will

April 11th, 2012 at 10:06 pm

What’s Wrong with the Israel-Iran Nukes Story?

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The United States news media’s coverage of the possibility of Israel or the U.S. targeting Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program is not really about Iran; it is about us. Just as Herbert Gans noted that Vietnam was primarily a domestic news story in the 60’s and 70’s, the Iranian nuclear threat is also. (Gans, 37) Most recent news coverage has devolved into a few dominant narratives, representing different political factions. Different media outlets either report on or explicitly represent the factions, and they generally make arguments that have very little to do with the substantive evidence for or against the existence of Iran’s nuclear capability; rather, the news follows election year trends, the possibility of war as it relates to the Jewish population in the United States, and criticism of the political actors involved.

The first narrative, representing the contingent of neoconservatives who pushed for war with Iraq in 2003, also supports not only a limited tactical strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but even a large-scale war. This perspective mainly shows up as representing the policy positions of the GOP presidential candidates or as the author’s view in opinion pieces. And then there is the narrative told by the traditional news sources such as the New York Times and the Washington Post. Most major news organizations were embarrassed by the general failure to “get it right” on Iraq a decade ago, when they almost uncritically accepted the administration’s arguments that Saddam Hussein possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). This time around, mainstream news is slightly more cautious in tone, but it still rarely publishes explicitly foreign-centric stories or stories with a serious consideration of the evidence on both sides, for and against Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. The mainstream media much prefers to focus on the domestic political situation. Finally, there is the more liberal coverage, which often focuses on politics or criticisms of the neoconservatives for being so blithe about war.

Before one can even approach these narratives, one thing is glaringly clear: the news does not focus on the fact that the U.S. Intelligence Community still stands by its 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, and that Iran continues to only enrich nuclear fuel, which could be used for a variety of peaceful purposes. This was reported on once in February by The New York Times, and scarcely appears in any of the related articles that I surveyed, either at the New York Times or at any other news organization. Much more common is the domestic political news story: “U.S. Backers of Israel Pressure Obama Over Policy on Iran.” This story is far more newsworthy. Why write about the intelligence community when you can report on Eric Cantor at the meeting of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC): “We must stop following mirages in the Middle East and start following through on this reality: our mission in the Middle East is to drive our stake in the sand with our values—to proclaim our values rather than apologize for them.” If the news chose to highlight Senate testimony by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper saying that Iran is not building the bomb, the media would kill the most profitable and long-lasting angle by which to view a possible war with Iran. Political squabbles can extend on forever. The story will never end—according to Paul Begala (writing in The Daily Beast), war with Iran is one of the GOP’s biggest strengths going into this election year.

One factor complicating Israel’s and the United States’ decision to strike is the two countries’ on-and-off-again relationship. And it has become “a complication” in this otherwise calculating story of whether to strike Iran precisely because the media has made it so. President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have notoriously not gotten along—it is mentioned in almost every newspaper article where the two are discussed in tandem. And they are supposed to disagree: President Obama comes from the center-left party in the United States while Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party is partnered in a coalition government with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist and ultra-conservative Yisrael Beiteinu Party. But instead of focusing on the conflict between two governments based on legitimate policy differences, the media casts this as an acrimonious personal dispute between the two men. Why cast this as a story of, “If Mr. Obama trusted Mr. Netanyahu more, he might issue a more muscular statement of military threat to Iran…And if Mr. Netanyahu trusted Mr. Obama more, he would be less jumpy over every statement of caution emerging from Washington,” as so many stories do? Surely the entire diplomatic decision-making process does not rely solely on a pop-psychology assessment of the two.

And when the media cannot play up “Bibi” and Obama’s disagreements, they focus on how the President and every other mainstream politician must remain unswervingly loyal to the state of Israel. One might think that these are two contradictory narratives. But this oath of support to Israel is apparently the sole metric by which Jewish Americans decide who to vote for. Obama, even after clashing with Netanyahu over military action against Iran and even after denouncing the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, cannot completely rebuke Israel (when push came to shove, he did not even follow-through with support of a UN resolution officially rebuking Israel for the “illegal” settlements). For the Republican Party, “fealty” to Israel is a solemn vow. For the Democratic Party, “fealty” to Israel is (mostly) a solemn vow. At this past week’s AIPAC meeting, President Obama assured the attendees that he is behind Israel every step of the way: “So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.” In a blog post by Colum Lynch on ForeignPolicy.com, President Obama’s Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice is quoted as putting it in even more emotionally charged terms, relating her memories “as a 14 year-old tourist where she floated in the Dead Sea,” of a visit with then Senator Barack Obama where she touched the “charred long remnants of the rockets that Hamas continues to fire at the brave unyielding citizens of Sderot,” and of her favorite psalm, “’Hinei ma’tov u’ma-nayim, shevet ach-im gam ya-chad’ — or ‘how good it is and how pleasant when we sit together in brotherhood.’” Rice went even so far as to say: “Last October, when the Syrian regime’s ambassador, speaking in the Security Council, had the temerity — the chutzpah — to accuse the United States and Israel of being parties to genocide, I led our delegation in walking out.” (Ital added) How is this any different than when Obama delivers a sermon in a Black church speaking Ebonics? What is surprising about this whole episode is not just that Susan Rice quoted psalms in Hebrew that have an almost comically transparent political effect and chose to sprinkle in some Yiddish to play up the schtick—it is that the blogger, Lynch, not only thought to make a whole post revolve around that schtick but also to entitle it, “Has Susan Rice found her cojones moment?” And this happens in the media all the time. Do politicians say these things because they think the AIPAC attendees and the American Jewish population will simply accept it uncritically, that it won’t sound like pandering? And do journalists dutifully report these speeches because they don’t know any better? Or do they not want to make a fuss over a common political trope, so they pass it along with a nudge and a wink? Or did Lynch write that post because he actually supports these theatrics, and didn’t stop to think that his title might be misogynistic? It is hard to accept the last conclusion, but it is probably the most correct (perhaps a combination of the latter two).

But some in the media have commented on the absurdity of AIPAC and the reversal of Israel’s “client state” dynamic with the United States. Israel, after all, receives nearly three billion dollars annually in foreign aid from the United States. Why does the U.S. President, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, and politicians of all political stripes have to speak in emotional terms of their undying loyalty to the state of Israel, when it is in fact Israel that needs us more than we need them? In his blog at The Atlantic’s website, James Fallows noted (speaking of the President’s AIPAC speech), “I can’t think of another situation where an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil, would find it necessary or dignified to plead his bona fides in a similar way.”

And in the latest issue of Washington Monthly, Paul Pillar makes the same meta-argument that this paper is making—that the rhetoric surrounding a possible war with Iran is not aligned with the evidence: “Strip away the bellicosity and political rhetoric, and what one finds is not rigorous analysis but a mixture of fear, fanciful speculation, and crude stereotyping…we find ourselves on the precipice of yet another such war—almost purely because the acceptable range of opinion on Iran has narrowed and ossified around the ‘sensible’ idea that all options must be pursued to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

The media is an intentional accomplice to political actors who want to sensationalize impending war with Iran. The media is interested in GOP conflict with the President over Israel and Iran because it is a better story, a more relatable story to the American public. The media cares about and politicians pander to the Jewish-American population because they are a substantial portion of their readership and electorate, respectively. But the media also forgets the essential truth behind any future war with Iran, as articulated by the President in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg: “[I]f people want to say about me that I have a profound preference for peace over war, that every time I order young men and women into a combat theater and then see the consequences on some of them, if they’re lucky enough to come back, that this weighs on me — I make no apologies for that. Because anybody who is sitting in my chair who isn’t mindful of the costs of war shouldn’t be here, because it’s serious business. These aren’t video games that we’re playing here.”

The Challenge for All of Us, Not Just Presidents

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A president needs empathy and emotional intelligence, so that he can prevail in political dealings with his own party and the opposition in Washington, and in face-to-face negotiations with foreign leaders, who otherwise will go away saying that this president is “weak” and that the country’s leadership role is suspect. He needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present; visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant, and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 a.m.—yet also able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.

Ideally he would be self-aware enough that, in the center of a system that treats him as emperor-god, he could still recognize his own defects and try to offset them.

From James Fallow’s latest cover story on Obama in The Atlantic.

Written by Will

February 10th, 2012 at 8:16 am

What is News?

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I’m taking a class on journalism that requires us to blog (not a journalism class, but a class on journalism). So I thought I would put those posts here too. Readings from the class will be referenced (but don’t worry, the references are quoted and explained).

In asking, “What is news?” I was reminded of a question recently posed in the form of a blog post by Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times Ombudsman: “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” Should newspapers point out that X politician made Y and Z false statements? The obvious answer is yes (Jim Fallows at The Atlantic generally summed up my views). Fallows’ critique of the media is common today, and has been common for a long time: that many journalists engage in superficial “horse race reporting” (where facts are presented without context and meaning) and “false equivalence” (where two opposing truth claims are treated as equally plausible). This critique is even mentioned in one of the readings, “If you call to mind the topics which form the principal indictment by reformers against the press, you find they are subjects in which the newspaper occupies the position of the umpire in the unscored baseball game.” (Lippmann, 50)

Some of our readings make the opposite case. According to Halberstam, news is not about providing context or explanation: “News reports, on the other hand, need not be explanatory and those explanations which do appear in news account are often adscititious intrusions.” (Halberstam, 13) Halberstam’s definition of the news would seem to rule out a lot of important news. Financial reporting on the recession, for example, would be useless without context and explanation of the causes and actors involved in the crash. Similarly, Halberstam’s emphasis on events as news would rule out most news stories concerning global warming, or other long-term patterns that impact us in dramatic ways.

I know that personally, I would like to believe that journalists exist as the fourth estate, uncovering malfeasance and inserting themselves into the political process in a way that makes everyone else more informed and better citizens. This sort of reporting would require context and explanation of events and long-term patterns. Lippmann argues strenuously against this idealistic vision: “If the newspapers, then, are to be charged with the duty of translating the whole public life of mankind, so that every adult can arrive at an opinion on every moot topic, they fail, they are bound to fail, in any future one can conceive they will continue to fail.” (Lippmann, 117-118) That might be a straw-man argument. I don’t think that the media, by fulfilling its public purpose, will hand down the truth from on high to the masses. Every person makes autonomous judgments. Rather, news media should seek to make people better-informed citizens, regardless of the political conclusions those people make. After all, Morson’s example of the degraded conditions at the Ridge Home nursing center could lead someone to conclude the government should improve the center, or that the government should abolish the center.

Written by Will

January 24th, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Reason #481 Why I Love James Fallows

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It is thrilling to follow Andrew Sullivan’s chronicle of the tension, release, drama, and aftermath this evening. Also, Nicholas Jackson‘stech and political insights (source of the “Rainbow Empire State Building” photo at right).

Ten years from now, it will seem as hard to believe that couples of the same sex could not get married as it was, by the late 1970s, to believe that couples of different races could not get married in a number of states barely a decade before. This barrier will fall much more quickly than that one did.

long and happy marriage has been the main positive event in my life. I am glad that more people will have the opportunity.

Please just read him already!

Written by Will

June 25th, 2011 at 12:07 am

No, the Chinese aren’t this Sinister

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James Fallows calls this ad “the first spot from this campaign season you can imagine people actually remembering a decade from now.” Besides its glaring economic inaccuracies, the Chinese in 2030 come off looking rather evil. They’re really, really, really not!

Written by Will

October 22nd, 2010 at 3:14 am

Posted in China,Politics

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“There Is Only So Much I Will Do for the Atlantic”

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“I watched the O’Donnell-Coons Delaware “debate” last night. I started watching the Harry Reid – Sharron Angle Nevada version tonight. After the opening statements, I realize: I am not that brave. Where is my beer? Someone tell me how this turns out.” – James Fallows

From China, all of this seems so small. Seconding: where’s my Tsingtao? James Fallows is great.

Posted via email from williamyale’s posterous

Written by Will

October 14th, 2010 at 7:13 pm

“The Poverty of Experience”

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Published in the Trinity Tripod.

Martin Peretz, of Harvard University and editor of the magazine The New Republic, recently wrote, “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims.” He added, “I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”

A month ago protests sparked over the construction of a Muslim community center, the Cordoba House, several blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center. For two years, a vocal minority of Americans have posted on internet forums and passed on viral emails written loudly in all caps: “BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA IS A MUSLIM!”

Each of these controversies stem from a stereotypical representation of Islam and its adherents – stereotypes that are bigoted because they aren’t true. From my travels in Xinjiang, China and living amongst Uyghur and Kazakh Muslims, I’ve found that bigoted beliefs can only arise out of a profound “poverty of experience.”

Last week I stayed for a few days in Hemu, a tiny village on the Kazakh, Russian, and Mongol borders. The natural scenery was beautiful, but more important to me were opportunities to speak with local Tuvans (a Mongolian tribe), Uyghurs, and Kazakhs. After spending an afternoon at a school cultural exchange, I learned that Kazakh teenagers are surprisingly good basketball players and admire Kobe Bryant. It’s probably because the basketball courts are the only fun thing in town.

After dinner with the family of the head schoolteacher, they taught us how to dance to the ethno-pop of Shahrizoda (three Uyghur girls who are all the rage in Xinjiang – their music is incessant). The dance was a traditional Kazakh line dance, and very similar to line dances in Texas. We were also served horse milk wine – think sake with a tinge of milk flavor.

The next night, we got to practice our newly-learned line-dancing skills at a dance party. In Hemu. Population: less than 2000.

After all that, how can I ever stereotype a population of one billion people – it’s futile!

I am an avid reader of James Fallows, correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, who in response to Mr. Peretz wrote, “The real secret of American inclusion through the generations is that when you grow up with, work with, live next to, intermarry with, and in all other ways get to know people from different categories, you have less patience for generalizations about ‘the blacks’ or ‘the Irish’ or ‘the Jews’ or ‘the gays’ or ‘trailer trash’ etc.”

When you come into contact with those unlike yourself and expose yourself to the alien, “poverty of experience” is erased; you cannot be bigoted, because what was once alien you now recognize as familiar.

Not everyone can make the trek to one of the most remote places on earth to learn this lesson – but Americans need not to. My “wealth of experience” includes not just getting to know Kazakh teenagers in Xinjiang, but also growing up and going to school in a racially and socio-economically diverse community. I am sure the Tuvans, Kazakhs, and Uyghurs I’ve met are well-represented by others in the states (not to mention Muslim and Arab cultural groups on this campus). If you have the opportunity to study abroad, it is the best choice you can make, but it is certainly not the only path out of bigotry in this country.

‘The Great Stagnation’ & ‘Grand American Projects’

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One of Ezra Klein’s blog posts today reminded me to write a little note clarifying an earlier post – “Rebuilding America”. That post was more of a broad overview on the inability of the federal government to enact any further fiscal or monetary stimulus. I argued that President Obama needs to make an unequivocal case for ‘rebuilding America’ with the type of “Grand American projects” associated with the strategic visions proposed by Steve Clemons and James Fallows.

What I was unclear about was what the term “Grand American projects” meant. My working definition now is long-term fiscal policy designed to quantitatively improve the working class’ quality of life and productivity, and to reduce the income gap. In short order, to revitalize the social mobility that was characterized by the 90’s. This is a broad definition – it includes investments in renewable energy, transportation networks, urban renewal and planning, other infrastructure, and education (this list is by no means exhaustive). These policies need to be passed now and take effect over the next several decades, rather than serve as a reactionary measure a la the 2009 stimulus.

What about what has already been signed into law? I view financial reform as a necessity, but not a Grand American project; it’s mainly a reactive measure. Part of health-care reform would qualify – R & D, IT investment. The rest of the bill is absolutely vital in improving quality of life and productivity, but is not intended to radically improve social mobility. Finally, tax-code reform (this calculator from CEPR is useful – I would add more income levels in the tax code and tax the top marginal rate higher) is necessary to fund these investments and reduce our debt obligations.

The US has been wracked for the past decade with what Ed Luce calls “the Great Stagnation”. Real income has decreased, and we’ve let our regulatory system grow dysfunctional from disuse and our infrastructure system decrepit from under-investment. We’re also competing with foreign industries to accomplish the same goals. I don’t believe foreign growth is bad – on the contrary, Chinese growth opens up Chinese markets to our goods and services. But I do think that US stagnation is bad. We vitally need a positive vision of a more equitable America. I don’t use the word ‘vision’ lightly. It can’t be anything less than a ‘vision’. Anything less would be disastrous.