Category Archives: USA

If the 20th Century was America’s Century the 21st looks like being China’s….

China-Century

The 21st century belongs to China: Why the new Silk Road threatens to end America’s economic dominance – Beijing is building a trans-Siberian railway system that rivals the Marshall Plan in its ambition and global reach

PEPE ESCOBAR, TOMDISPATCH.COM TUESDAY, FEB 24, 2015 10:15 AM +0000

BEIJING — Seen from the Chinese capital as the Year of the Sheep starts, the malaise affecting the West seems like a mirage in a galaxy far, far away. On the other hand, the China that surrounds you looks all too solid and nothing like the embattled nation you hear about in the Western media, with its falling industrial figures, its real estate bubble, and its looming environmental disasters. Prophecies of doom notwithstanding, as the dogs of austerity and war bark madly in the distance, the Chinese caravan passes by in what President Xi Jinping calls “new normal” mode.

“Slower” economic activity still means a staggeringly impressive annual growth rate of 7% in what is now the globe’s leading economy. Internally, an immensely complex economic restructuring is underway as consumption overtakes investment as the main driver of economic development. At 46.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), the service economy has pulled ahead of manufacturing, which stands at 44%.

Geopolitically, Russia, India, and China have just sent a powerful message westward: they are busy fine-tuning a complex trilateral strategy for setting up a network of economic corridors the Chinese call “new silk roads” across Eurasia. Beijing is also organizing a maritime version of the same, modeled on the feats of Admiral Zheng He who, in the Ming dynasty, sailed the “western seas” seven times, commanding fleets of more than 200 vessels.

Meanwhile, Moscow and Beijing are at work planning a new high-speed rail remix of the fabled Trans-Siberian Railroad. And Beijing is committed to translating its growing strategic partnership with Russia into crucial financial and economic help, if a sanctions-besieged Moscow, facing a disastrous oil price war, asks for it.

To China’s south, Afghanistan, despite the 13-year American war still being fought there, is fast moving into its economic orbit, while a planned China-Myanmar oil pipeline is seen as a game-changing reconfiguration of the flow of Eurasian energy across what I’ve long called Pipelineistan.

And this is just part of the frenetic action shaping what the Beijing leadership defines as the New Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road of the twenty-first century. We’re talking about a vision of creating a potentially mind-boggling infrastructure, much of it from scratch, that will connect China to Central Asia, the Middle East, and Western Europe. Such a development will include projects that range from upgrading the ancient silk road via Central Asia to developing a Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor; a China-Pakistan corridor through Kashmir; and a new maritime silk road that will extend from southern China all the way, in reverse Marco Polo fashion, to Venice.

Don’t think of this as the twenty-first-century Chinese equivalent of America’s post-World War II Marshall Plan for Europe, but as something far more ambitious and potentially with a far vaster reach.

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Continue reading If the 20th Century was America’s Century the 21st looks like being China’s….

The Great Eviction (Long Read)

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The Great Eviction – The Landscape of Wall Street’s Creative Destruction by Laura Gottesdiener August 2, 2013

We cautiously ascend the staircase, the pitch black of the boarded-up house pierced only by my companion’s tiny circle of light. At the top of the landing, the flashlight beam dances in a corner as Quafin, who offered only her first name, points out the furnace. She is giddy; this house — unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block — isn’t completely uninhabitable.

It had been vacated, sealed and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America. It warned: “entry by unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.” But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house and its requirement to provide the “maintenance and security” that would ensure the property could soon be reoccupied. The basement door is ajar, the plumbing has been torn out of the walls and the carpet is stained with water. The last family to live here bought the home for $175,000 in 2002; eight years later, the bank claimed an improbable $286,100 in past-due balances and repossessed it.

It’s May 2012 and we’re in Woodlawn, a largely African-American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The crew Quafin is a part of dubbed themselves the HIT Squad, short for Housing Identification and Target. Their goal is to map blighted, bank-owned homes with overdue property taxes and neighbors angry enough about the destruction of their neighborhood to consider supporting a plan to repossess on the repossessors.

“Anything I can do,” one woman tells the group after being briefed on its plan to rehab bank-owned homes and move in families without houses. She points across the street to a sagging, boarded-up place adorned with a worn banner — “Grandma’s House Child Care: Register Now!” — and a disconnected number. There are 20 bank-owned homes like it in a five-block radius. Records showed that at least five of them were years past due on their property taxes.

Where exterior walls once were, some houses sport charred holes from fires lit by people trying to stay warm. In 2011, two Chicago firefighters died trying to extinguish such a fire at a vacant foreclosed building. Now, houses across the South Side are pockmarked with red Xs, indicating places the fire department believes to be structurally unsound. In other states – Wisconsin, Minnesota and New York, to name recent examples — foreclosed houses have taken to exploding after bank contractors forgot to turn off the gas.

Most of the occupied homes in the neighborhood we’re visiting display small signs: “Don’t shoot,” they read in lettering superimposed on a child’s face, “I want to grow up.” On the bank-owned houses, such signs have been replaced by heavy-duty steel window guards. (“We work with all types of servicers, receivers, property management and bank asset managers, enabling you to quickly and easily secure your building so you can move on,” boasts Door and Window Guard Systems, a leading company in the burgeoning “building security industry.”)

The dangerous houses are the ones left unsecured, littered with trash and empty Cobra vodka bottles. We approach one that reeks of rancid tuna fish and attempt to push open the basement door, held closed only by a flimsy wire. The next-door neighbor, returning home, asks: “Did you know they killed someone in that backyard just this morning?”

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The Equivalent of the Population of Michigan Foreclosed

Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis has displaced at least 10 million people from more than four million homes across the country. Families have been evicted from colonials and bungalows, A-frames and two-family brownstones, trailers and ranches, apartment buildings and the prefabricated cookie-cutters that sprang up after World War II. The displaced are young and old, rich and poor, and of every race, ethnicity and religion. They add up to approximately the entire population of Michigan.

Continue reading The Great Eviction (Long Read)

Insane US School Principal Wants Students to Throw Canned Food at Intruders

downloadby C.A. Pinkham 18/01/2015

Picture yourself as the parent of a US middle schooler. Now picture you get a letter from a school administrator asking you to have your child bring in an 8 oz canned food item. “Great!” you think. “Canned food drives are helpful to the homeless and destitute!” Then you read the rest of the letter and find out that the food isn’t going to be used to feed the needy, but will instead be weaponized for use against school intruders.

That’s actually a thing that is happening right now. God, I love this country sometimes.

Priscella Holley, Principal of W.F. Burns Middle School in Valley, Alabama* is, like most school administrators, justifiably concerned about the possible presence of intruders on school grounds. Where Principal Holley differs from most administrators, however, is in the fact that her solution to the potential problem is less “call the police” or “have evacuation/lockdown procedures in place” and more “pelt the criminals with baked beans.” The aforementioned letter was sent out just over a week ago, and reads, in part:

“We realize at first this may seem odd; however, it is a practice that would catch an intruder off guard,” she wrote in the letter, published by TV station WHNT in Huntsville.

“The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive,” Holley wrote. “The canned food item will give the students a sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom.”

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Sadly, it would appear no one has thought to ask the obvious questions of Principal Holley, such as “why not just give the kids nunchucks,” “what is the air speed of a laden can of creamed corn,” and “are you fucking high?” Holley does insist that the projectile pea assault would be a “last resort” and that if they weren’t used by the end of the year, all the collected cans would be donated to a local food pantry.

While I obviously don’t want to see any kids put in danger, I can’t even pretend that I’m not desperately hoping for a follow-up story where a deranged criminal is put down by the combined efforts of Goya Black Beans and 13-year-old Sarah Pennington’s golden throwing arm.

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* Alabamans are frequently noted for their creativity in place names, evident in such notable locales as Forest, Alabama, Swamp, Alabama, and Thin-Little-Strip-of-Land-Between-Two-Watery-Things-What-Do-Y’all-Call-Those-Again, Alabama.

Original Article

Is the U.S. Crazy?

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Inquiring minds from around the world want to know By Ann Jones TomDispatch January 11, 2015

Americans who live abroad — more than six million of us worldwide (not counting those who work for the U.S. government) — often face hard questions about our country from people we live among. Europeans, Asians, and Africans ask us to explain everything that baffles them about the increasingly odd and troubling conduct of the United States. Polite people, normally reluctant to risk offending a guest, complain that America’s trigger-happiness, cutthroat free-marketeering, and “exceptionality” have gone on for too long to be considered just an adolescent phase. Which means that we Americans abroad are regularly asked to account for the behavior of our rebranded “homeland,” now conspicuously in decline and increasingly out of step with the rest of the world.

In my long nomadic life, I’ve had the good fortune to live, work, or travel in all but a handful of countries on this planet. I’ve been to both poles and a great many places in between, and nosy as I am, I’ve talked with people all along the way. I still remember a time when to be an American was to be envied. The country where I grew up after World War II seemed to be respected and admired around the world for way too many reasons to go into here.

That’s changed, of course. Even after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I still met people — in the Middle East, no less — willing to withhold judgment on the U.S. Many thought that the Supreme Court’s installation of George W. Bush as president was a blunder American voters would correct in the election of 2004. His return to office truly spelled the end of America as the world had known it. Bush had started a war, opposed by the entire world, because he wanted to and he could. A majority of Americans supported him. And that was when all the uncomfortable questions really began.

In the early fall of 2014, I traveled from my home in Oslo, Norway, through much of Eastern and Central Europe. Everywhere I went in those two months, moments after locals realized I was an American the questions started and, polite as they usually were, most of them had a single underlying theme: Have Americans gone over the edge? Are you crazy? Please explain.

Then recently, I traveled back to the “homeland.” It struck me there that most Americans have no idea just how strange we now seem to much of the world. In my experience, foreign observers are far better informed about us than the average American is about them. This is partly because the “news” in the American media is so parochial and so limited in its views both of how we act and how other countries think — even countries with which we were recently, are currently, or threaten soon to be at war. America’s belligerence alone, not to mention its financial acrobatics, compels the rest of the world to keep close track of us. Who knows, after all, what conflict the Americans may drag you into next, as target or reluctant ally?

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Two-year-old boy shoots mother (The Nuclear Scientist) dead in Idaho store

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Police have identified a young woman who was shot dead by her toddler son in a supermarket, after he reached into her purse and fired a concealed handgun.

Officials said Veronica Rutledge, 29, was shopping in the Walmart store in Hayden, Idaho, with the two-year-old and her three daughters when she was shot and killed shortly after 10am.

The toddler had been placed in a shopping trolley’s child-seat and was able to put his hand into Mrs Rutledge’s purse. She died before the emergency services could reach her, police said. Officers used the store’s CCTV footage and witness testimonies to conclude the shooting was an accident.

They said the Mrs Rutledge had a licence to carry a concealed weapon but it was unclear why the gun went off so easily when squeezed by a toddler, and whether a safety catch was engaged.

The victim’s father-in-law, Terry Rutledge, told the Associated Press that the mother-of-four “was a beautiful, young, loving mother”.

“She was not the least bit irresponsible,” he said. “She was taken much too soon.”

Kootenai County sheriff’s spokesman Stu Miller told reporters the incident in the store about 40 miles north-east of Spokane, Washington, was an accident. Mrs Rutledge’s husband was not in the store when the shooting happened at about 10.20am, but he arrived shortly afterwards. All the children were taken to a relative’s house.

Mrs Rutledge, from Blackfoot, Idaho, about 380 miles from Hayden, was visiting for the holiday season. Police said she was browsing the store’s electronics section when the incident occurred, according to broadcaster KREM 2.

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Putin’s Burst Economic Bubble Is the Essence of Crony Capitalism

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This is what you get when all the oligarchs take the money overseas. By Janet Allon December 19, 2014

Vladimir Putin’s macho act has been admired by the likes of Pat Buchanan and Rudy Giuliani. “That is what you call a leader,” Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, said after Putin invaded the Ukraine, unilaterally and without any public debate.

Alas, “swaggering strongman” Putin is hitting a bit of a snag, writes Paul Krugman in his column today. “Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger,” Krugman says. “Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.”

The ruble started sliding in August when Putin sent troops to Ukraine and has started downright plunging in recent weeks, Krugman points out. “And all indications are that the Russian economy is heading for a nasty recession.”

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The global plunge in oil prices has not helped, but it does not explain the bottom dropping out of the ruble. So what’s going on?

Krugman:

Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.

In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.

Except for one thing. Usually, the way a country ends up with a lot of foreign debt is by running trade deficits, using borrowed funds to pay for imports. But Russia hasn’t run trade deficits. On the contrary, it has consistently run large trade surpluses, thanks to high oil prices.

Continue reading Putin’s Burst Economic Bubble Is the Essence of Crony Capitalism