Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Observations from A Brood

Just got back from a vacation trip to China and Japan. Not looking to make a travel blog, but it was interesting. And being away, particularly in cultures different from our own, encourages a different perspective.

Things that occurred to me since I've been back:

Iraq War has been going on how long now? Over 4 years? In WWII, we entered the war in December of 1941, and finished it up in Sep 1945, or just under 4 years. And that was "total victory" over 3 countries, all world powers. And we're asked to "give it more time"???

Money Talks. The US courts keep tossing out election reforms, such as campaign spending limits, directly equating the spending of money to "free speech." Money = Free Speech I think this formula is the underlooked political science equivalent of Einstein's E=mc2. Although to avoid the inherent irony in the words, perhaps we can just use "Money Talks." Those with money get a larger influence in our system, a larger say. The amount of money then attracts those whose interest is money (and power) rather than representation. Or it's probably more correct to say that money buys proportionally larger representation. Those in power maintain the status quo (as always through history), and it will likely take some major upheaval to change things.

Capitalism vs. Socialism(?). I had some very interesting talks with some of the Chinese regarding their "two systems" economy. And the airline ride over there caused me some pause over the simplistic view of market economics. (The airlines are deregulated and in full and hard competition. According to capitalism, this competition should result in the best service for the best price. Instead, it results in terrible service for the best price. There's obviously something missing in simplistic economic theories.)

The Chinese have a large portion of US Debt, the majority of the world's manufacturing capability, and the majority of the world's human resources. In Beijing, the pace of construction, change, and economic growth is phenomenal - it's everywhere you look. Time to stop spending our money on the expenses of bullets and bombs and start investing it in something that will allow us to stay competitive on the world scene.

I love visiting Japan - the people there are incredibly polite, the streets are clean and safe (except around US Military bases - how mortifying), the public transportation is cheap, simple and ubiquitious. I don't think I'd like to live there - conformity is still highly valued, and the reason crime is low is that if you do anything wrong they lock you up and throw away the key - even before they have to prove you actually did anything wrong. But if you'd like to see a flavor of where the US is heading, go to Japan. Aging population, strong consumerism, social security system approaching a breaking point, laws that tilt heavily toward the state over the individual, nationalism on the rise...a fascinating extrapolation of current US trends. Just watch their TV - this is a society that needs some pretty wacky ways to blow off steam from the pressure cooker.

China surprised me in how much it reminded me of the US. I thought it would be the most foreign place of all, but it really felt much more familiar than Japan. Think United States in the 60's. Pollution on the rise and just being recognized as a big problem, a younger generation getting educated and adopting a wealthier lifestyle and consumerism in a big way, with large cultural gaps arising between them and their parents, huge GDP growth and anything is possible attitudes...I'm going to recommend to my kids that they learn Mandarin. China may be the past today, but it's gonna be the future soon.

One other thing we have in common with China is an executive branch with authoritarian tendencies. I tried to find "executive privilege" in the constitution or in law, but had a hard time. About the only thing I could find was that Supreme Court, in U.S. v Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), recognized that there exists a need for some secrecy in the executive branch, but that the secrecy cannot be absolute. If I understand Bush's claims, he personally can withhold any and all information from Congress, even if Congress passes laws making that illegal (such as the Presidential Records Act). Not only that, but apparently he can extend this privilege to anyone who works for the executive branch, or who has ever worked for the executive branch but doesn't anymore.

Furthermore, if Congress requests that the Justice Dept enforce the laws, Bush can just direct the Justice Dept to ignore Congress. And even if the Judiciary finds for Congress and directs the President to comply with the law, neither Congress nor the Judicial branch can enforce such a finding - enforcement is an Executive Branch function. So Bush's position is basically "Go away, I'm busy being Dictator-in-Chief, and there's nothing you can do about it."

No wonder he and Putin get along so well.

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At Thursday, August 02, 2007, Blogger Chinese Study Adviser said...

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At Saturday, August 04, 2007, Blogger Rick Fisk said...

You're right, Bush can keep flaunting the congress and judicial branches. But he can't avoid impeachment and if the Congress had any backbone, they'd just impeach him. They can do that and in this case they'd have good reason. They can technically impeach because he got a hummer, but in this case the case seems much stronger. The pressure put on Ashcroft is in and of itself a pretty good indication that Bush/Cheney are sociopaths.


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