All posts filed under: World Affairs

Why Violence and Looting Have Exploded Across South Africa

The explosion of looting and destruction which has overtaken South Africa has left the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa shaken and dazed, its credibility and legitimacy undermined. Ramaphosa’s broadcasts to the nation, appealing for calm, full of cliches and generalities, have met with derision. Nobody doubts that South Africa has reached another Rubicon, one which the ANC (African National Congress) government may be unable to cross. The explosion of violence followed the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma on a charge of contempt for refusing to appear before the Commission of enquiry into the wholesale looting of the state which took place under his presidency. Nobody seriously doubts that Zuma stole millions, probably billions of Rands and he still faces a long list of charges for racketeering, money-laundering and sundry other crimes. But Zuma still has a large following among his Zulu followers and effectively threatened to make the country ungovernable if the government dared to jail him. Undoubtedly the rioting began as his followers sought to make good on this threat. Zandile Gumede, the …

The Language of Totalitarian Dehumanization

A week before the massive protests erupted in Cuba, I was celebrating Fourth of July at a friend’s house in Oakland, California, and listening to her tell me stories about her adventures there. She is a Jewish red diaper baby and today seems to identify as some sort of “libertarian socialist.” I found myself squirming as she enthused about the Left radicals she knows, and lamented the persecution of communists in the US. During the years of McCarthyite paranoia, American communists did indeed have their reputations, careers, and occasionally their lives ruined. A few were sent to prison, and in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of spying for Stalin and executed. I wanted to point out that the persecution of communists by communists during the Cold War was far worse, and that the Rosenbergs were in fact guilty, unlike the millions of people murdered or worked to death in Gulags by Stalin for allegedly operating as Trotskyist or Western agents or spies. Still, I was a guest in my friend’s home, so I …

The ‘Lab Leak’ Inquiry at the State Department

The following essay was originally posted at the author’s Medium blog here. In both journalism and policymaking—if not always in politics, or in the sordid world of score-settling by unemployed, second-rate apparatchiks—facts matter, and intellectual integrity matters. In light of the remarkable quantity of errant nonsense that has been written in the last couple of weeks about squabbles inside the US State Department about how to look into the origins of SARS-CoV-2 in the closing weeks of the Trump Administration, I hope this essay will help set the record straight for those who still care about things such as facts. I write this because, to put it bluntly, I’m tired of being the butt of stupid and paranoid conspiracy theories being promulgated by those who know better. I recognize that some of these conspiracy narratives are, for any thoughtful person, self-refuting even on their face. (As someone who has been warning the policy community since at least 2007 about threats to the United States and the democratic world from the Chinese Communist Party’s geopolitical ambitions—including …

Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world economy in ways that will be debated by pundits and future historians for decades to come. Yet, as hard as it is to predict a disrupted future accurately, the pandemic (not to mention its probable successors) looks likely to produce clear economic winners and losers. The top digital companies—Amazon, Apple, Tencent, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Ant, Netflix, and Hulu—have thrived during quarantines and the ongoing dispersion of work. These are the most obvious winners in what leftist author Naomi Klein has called a “Screen New Deal” that seeks to create a “permanent and profitable no-touch future.” Since 2019, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have added over two-and-a-half trillion dollars to their combined valuation, and all enjoyed record breaking profits in 2020. But it’s not just the tech oligarchs who have benefited from the pandemic disruption. Companies that keep the basic economy functioning—firms dealing in logistics, for example, or critical metals or food processing—have become, if anything, even more important. With the shipping supply chain disrupted due to the …

How Strong Was Taiwan’s COVID Response?

In September 2020, I arrived in Taiwan on a flight from New York. I had read much about the border protocols that had prevented COVID from entering the country, but many aspects of the arrival process appeared incongruent with the country’s supposedly impermeable defenses. Staff in the airport interacted directly with me and other passengers with no distancing protocols. I asked if they were required to quarantine themselves. “No,” came the reply. Taking a taxi to my quarantine hotel, I saw no barriers in the vehicle. I asked the driver a similar question. Was he required to isolate himself? “No,” he said, adding, “they disinfect the vehicle every day.” While checking into my quarantine room at the hotel, staff interacted with me at close distance, and would immediately interact with other guests before returning home to their families. Witnessing these potential breaches at the gates of Taiwan’s COVID fortress was disconcerting. In the months prior to my arrival, many headlines on former COVID success stories asked: “What Went Wrong?” I was afraid that such headlines …

The Geography of COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is reshaping the geography of our planet, helping some areas and hurting others. In the West, the clear winners have been the sprawling suburbs and exurbs, while dense cores have been dealt a powerful blow. The pandemic also has accelerated class differences and inequality, with poor and working class people around the world paying the dearest price. These conclusions are based on data we have repeatedly updated. Despite some variations, our earlier conclusions hold up: the virus wreaked the most havoc in areas of high urban density. This first became evident in the alarming pre-lockdown fatalities that occurred in New York City and the suburban commuting shed from which many of the employees in the huge Manhattan business district are drawn. Similar patterns have been seen in Europe and Asia as well. The problem is not density per se but rather the severe overcrowding associated with poverty in high density areas. Overcrowded physical proximity often includes insufficiently ventilated spaces such as crowded public transit, elevators, and employment locations, especially high-rise buildings, which often …

Stopped Cold: Remembering Russia’s Catastrophic 1939 Campaign Against Finland

While the Germans had been flexible on the fine print of their August 23rd, 1939 non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin had been meticulous with his own territorial claims. By insisting on Soviet predominance in Finland and the Baltic states, Stalin could not only recover Russia’s old Tsarist borders in the north-west but also acquire naval bases to project Soviet power further into the Baltic Sea, whence came numerous stores vital to the Nazi war effort, from Swedish iron ore and timber to Finnish nickel. Compounding the economic leverage Stalin enjoyed over his partner in Berlin—owing to Hitler’s need for Soviet oil, manganese, cotton, and grain, as well as rubber transshipments from Asia—Soviet domination of the Baltic, Stalin believed, would turn Nazi Germany into a virtual economic vassal of the USSR. The one thing Stalin had not reckoned on was that any of these neighbors might object. Certainly he did not expect resistance from the Baltic states. As early as September 24th, 1939, three days before Warsaw surrendered to Germany, Soviet Foreign Minister …

Europe, China, and the New Global Hierarchy

Seen from Beijing, Europe is an Asian peninsula. ~Angela Merkel For more than 20 years the Chinese Communist Party engaged the world wearing the mask of smiling diplomacy, and for more than 20 years the world was fooled. We believed in such unlikely concepts as “Chimerica” and “Chindia,” and we trusted the sickly-sweet promise of “win-win co-operation.” There were always isolated voices warning us of Beijing’s intentions throughout those years—Cassandras who knew what lay ahead—but we chose to ignore them, for the most part. This began to change in 2017 with the Trump administration, which refused to accept Beijing at face value. And 2020 was the year the Party’s mask finally slipped. It became impossible to ignore the volumes—the libraries—of evidence pointing to genocide in the concentration camps of Xinjiang. Meanwhile 30 years’ worth of promises about Hong Kong’s political and civil liberties proved to be emptier than a Xinjiang mosque, as that once-free city was abruptly swallowed into the totalitarian motherland. By the end of 2020, China’s relationships with the US and Australia had …

Anti-Colonialism’s Bad History

Prevailing academic theories of race relations hold that wealth and power differences between groups of people arose from social, economic, and legal systems created to benefit one group of people over another. One of those systems, we are told, was colonialism. Hence the renewed interest in European imperialism and calls to “decolonize” everything from education and beauty to music and health. “Renewed” because this is, of course, not the first time that colonialism has been blamed for the vast wealth and power differences readily observable in the world today. The story starts with Karl Marx. Marx admired capitalism, which he credited with destroying feudalism and the “idiocy” of rural life. The fly in the capitalist ointment, as Marx saw it, was competition, which he thought would drive down profits. To remain profitable, he averred, capitalists would be compelled to squeeze laborers’ wages, thus “immiserating” the working class. The more rational economic system Marx envisaged would do away with competition and replace it with central planning. That was a big mistake, but not the only one. Between …

Fulton and the Case Against Normalcy

Whether they know it or not, Americans are in trouble. The world order from which they have drawn immense benefits—an order they once led the way in creating and for which they have borne the greatest burdens over three-quarters of a century—is at risk. Since Americans generally misunderstand their role in the world, the United States has developed an unfortunate habit of performing that role fitfully and poorly. A more mature understanding of their unique position and exceptional role in world affairs is required for Americans to better protect their interests and avert disaster in a dangerous world. A long-ago speech by a foreign dignitary may hold the key to recovering some lost wisdom about how America came into this role in the first place. Seventy-five years ago this month, Winston Churchill traveled to the American Midwest to deliver what he believed to be the most important speech of his career. At an obscure college in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill set himself two stark objectives: one general and the other specific. The general aim of “The …