Friday, November 18, 2016

How Donald Trump Can Make America Great Again

This first appeared on Asia Times.
President-elect Donald Trump promised to make America great again. Now that he won the election, the question is how?
On different occasions during his campaign, he has indicated that he would find ways to get along with other nations and transform America’s infrastructure into the best in the world.
If we give these two positions serious consideration, we could easily conclude that they do represent real cornerstones toward making America great again.
There isn’t much question that America’s infrastructure, once the best in the world when these investments were made in the ‘50s and ‘60s, are in need of repair and replacement.
Lest there are any doubts, the lead-tainted drinking water of Flint Michigan and the Minneapolis bridge collapse would serve as stark reminders that infrastructure improvement is a real and urgent issue.
According to the EPA, the US will need US$384 billion investments for the drinking water treatment and distribution to remedy the situation in places like Flint and to prevent future tragedies in other economically blighted areas of America.
There are 700 bridges in the US in the same category as the Minneapolis bridge that collapsed, and are potential candidates for retrofit or replacement in order to prevent another rush hour collapse.
The bridge in Minneapolis cost well over US$200 million to replace. Thus the total potential tab to assure the safety of all the bridges would be in the US$100 billion plus level depending on the number that are actually in the dilapidated state and in need of remediation.
Roughly one-fifth of the roads are in poor condition and in need of repair according to the Federal Highway Administration. No estimated tab is available but the Council of Foreign Affairs said, “Cost estimates for modernizing run as high as [US]$2.3 trillion or more over the next decade for transportation, energy and water infrastructure.”
Trump did say as part of his acceptance speech, “We are going to fix our inner cities, and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none. And we will put millions of our people to work as rebuild it.”
He hasn’t said exactly how he will accomplish this goal. One scheme being bandied about by some of his alleged economic advisors is to propose a private sector solution, meaning that private investors would undertake the infrastructure rebuild in exchange of tax credits and revenue stream.
This seeming something-for-nothing scheme is misleading, as critics have pointed out. Private investors won’t be suckered into putting money into say a highway unless they can expect to be rewarded by the toll revenue. The user pays the toll and the user is none other than the Mr. or Mrs. Taxpayer.
However, there is a real solution that does not require the need to flim-flam the public.
Again referring to his acceptance speech, he said, “At the same time we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us. We will have great relationships. …We will deal fairly with everyone. All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground not hostility, partnership not conflict.”
Taken at face value, Trump’s position would represent a sharp and refreshing departure from the disastrous foreign policy of his two predecessors.
When George W. Bush became president, he bought into the neoconservative idea that time had come for Uncle Sam to take over the world. He invaded Iraq with the view of bringing about regime change as a step toward world domination.
Bush got his regime change but ended up with an unmitigated disaster: regional instability, out-of-control worldwide insecurity and atrocious acts of inhumanity. His inability to close the military campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq had already cost the US trillions of dollars by the time Obama succeeded him.
Indeed in the televised debates as he criticized the US military engagement, Trump had said we’re better off spending US$4 trillion “to fix our roads, our bridges and all of the other problems, we would’ve been a lot better off.”
Tragically, Obama, instead of making the course correction as mandated by his election, continued the mission to bring about regime changes.
Secretary Clinton has been given full credit, and deservedly so, for the regime change in Libya and the rise of ISIS because of the American attempt for regime change in Syria. She and Obama should bear full responsibility for the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean spreading into Europe.
Unfortunately for Trump, he can’t ignore the conflagration of the Middle East. But he can avoid creating more conflicts and new regional tensions elsewhere if he sticks to the idea of getting along with everybody.
He apparently has figured out how to get along with Vladimir Putin and Russia. He needs to do the same with China. To do otherwise, i.e., to continue efforts designed to contain and confront China will cost money, lots of money.
Money not spent on military build-up to face China would be funds available for the infrastructure improvements.
His only beef with China seems to be “losing jobs to China.” This issue has been a cheap shot from sleazy politicians and should be out of fashion by now.
Low paying jobs in textiles and sport shoes left the US decades ago for such places as Taiwan and South Korea. Now these industries are leaving China for Bangladesh, Vietnam and elsewhere, where the cost is lower.
China has not been wasting their energy accusing Vietnam and Bangladesh of stealing their jobs. Instead China has been concentrating on automation, indigenous design and innovation in order to make products and provide services with values higher on the economic food chain.
Chinese companies in seeking to make higher value products have become active investors in the US seeking synergy via collaboration with American firms. Foreign direct investments from China in America will create jobs and be good for the local economy.
The new Trump Administration will want to work with China and encourage this trend instead of responding with xenophobia.
Elsewhere in the world, China has been creating quite a stir with their one belt, one road Silk Road initiative. OBOR is short hand for infrastructure projects that China is interested in investing and collaborating with host countries near and far. Collaborating nations understand that these are not handouts with hidden restrictions but risk sharing, mutually beneficial projects.
Since the financial crisis of 2008, China has invested heavily in infrastructure projects inside China. Those projects kept China’s economy strong and facilitated growth in the ensuing years.
A side benefit is that they have gotten really good at managing and executing highway and high-speed rail projects. This is another reason countries along the silk roads are confident of the outcome and keen to work with China.
If invited to participate in America, Chinese companies would be in the position to help conclude the infrastructure projects within budget and on schedule.
It’s time to throw the neocon rascals out and shut them out of the mainstream. They have wreaked nothing but death and destruction on the world while spending out of control.
Donald Trump owes no fealty to the doctrine that America’s path to greatness lies in bringing about regime changes around the world.

If the new Trump Administration can stop having to pretend to be friends and find ways to work with China, he would be taking a major step to making America great again.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A personal look at New Zealand today

It’s easy to see why New Zealand would be regarded as the backpackers’ paradise. In one thin chapter of the Lonely Planet devoted to “Extreme New Zealand,” the description of activities include: bungy jumping, spelunking, hang gliding, mountain biking, rock climbing, skydiving, jet boating, parasailing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, sea kayaking and white water rafting—a partial list of activities designed for those seeking an adrenalin rush or two.       

My wife and I were part of a group of 12 that just toured New Zealand. Other than my youngest sister and her husband, the rest of us were family and friends well into their 70s. The one “youngster” that joined our group who we did not know beforehand was in her late ‘50s taking a break from work.

Although one out of three of this group did do the bungy jump, (while the rest of us enjoyed the spectacle) we didn’t do much that would qualify as “extreme” but found New Zealand enjoyable for a host of other reasons.       

We got around both North and South islands by flying on the regional jets of Air New Zealand. In exchange for missing some of the gorgeous scenery we would have seen along the highways, we covered more in the two weeks of New Zealand. 

Consisted of two main islands, North and South, the country is nearly 30% longer than California, but much skinnier in the east-west direction as California has nearly 60% more area than New Zealand—California also has 8 times more people.

The South Island broke away from Gondwanan, the ancient supercontinent, before the arrival of mammals and the gradual formation of the North Island through geological times was the result of deposits from volcanic eruption over the eons. Thus the flora and fauna were allowed to evolve into unique forms greatly different from the rest of the world.

Flightless birds, such as the moa and the kiwi were residents unique to New Zealand. Unfortunately with the arrival of man and their pets, the moa was soon driven to extinction. We had to settle for taking a photo of some of us standing next to the life-size statue by the harbor of Queenstown.

Kiwi birds, now a protected species, are nocturnal. To see them we paid to enter darkened aviary and squint at the brown round objects walking on the floor of a simulated forest. The bird is the national mascot and New Zealanders often refer themselves as Kiwi, the bird and not the fruit that originated from China.

For a tour guide, we got lucky. Overseas Adventure Travel, the tour operator, assigned Devlin Tikitiki to our group. Devlin was a Kiwi but also a Maori who studied and now taught Maori history, culture and language. Throughout the tour, Devlin would entertain us with Maori lore and legend and sang Maori songs and chants.

It also helped to begin our tour in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and a visit to Te Papa, the national museum where a trove of Maori artifacts were on display and Maori customs explained.

From Devlin we learned that the Polynesians were great navigators who sailed across the vast Pacific on their double-hulled seagoing canoes (wakas). The ancestors may have originated from the island of Taiwan and migrated eastward and reached as far north as Hawaii, as far east as the Easter Island and finally settled in New Zealand around 8-900 years ago. The Polynesians that settled on New Zealand became known as the Maoris.  There are now strong genetic and linguistic evidence to support this conclusion.

The Polynesians/Maoris followed the ocean currents and winds and observed the positions of the sun, moon and stars. They also watched for and followed the flights of sea birds. Since they did not have a written language, they passed on their knowledge by oral tradition from one generation to the next, a feat I found especially impressive. I wasn’t the only one. Generations in the West looked into alternative explanations and evidence before accepting the seafaring prowess of the Polynesians.

Legendary English explorer, Captain James Cook, was probably the first to observe the linguistic similarity of the Hawaiian and the Maori and come to appreciate the Polynesian knowledge of the Pacific Ocean. He invited one to sail with him as he explored and charted New Zealand and the many islands in the Pacific.

In the late 18th century, Cook reported to Great Britain and Europe of what he found in New Zealand. Thus the migration of Europeans began. By 1840 the British Crown entered the Treaty of Waitangi with as many of the many Maori tribes scattered throughout New Zealand as possible in order to “protect” the Maori under the wings of British imperialism and give encroachment of Maori lands by the new settlers some legal cover.

When Europeans first begin to arrive in New Zealand, there were around 100,000 Maoris already living there. There are now about 600,000 living in New Zealand that claims some sort of Maori lineage. My research did not tell me how many of the original numbers of Maoris survived from the disease and warfare, nor the numbers today that could be considered “pure” Maori, i.e., an ancestry free of mixed marriages.

We do know that the white New Zealanders were not as brutal as the North Americans that systematically wiped out the native Indian populations. There are a number of reasons for the difference in behavior. First, the Europeans that migrated from their original homeland wanted to get away from the culture of class distinction and oppression. They came to New Zealand with an egalitarian mindset. Second, there was plenty of land to go around and third, the Maori farmers provided important sources of food that would feed the new arrivals as well.

The decade beginning 1980 has been a transformative one for New Zealand as the country undertook social and economic reform. By vigorously declaring itself as an anti-nuclear state, the U.S. was forced to downgrade its relationship with the Kiwis from being an ally to being just friends. The New Zealanders also reviewed their relations with the Maori and came to recognize the Maori language and culture as something special and a worthy national treasure.

Renaissance of a culture that relies on oral tradition could be difficult after generations of rust and lack of practice. Fortunately, in the case of the Maoris, the missionaries that came at the turn of the 20th century invented a phonetic alphabet to replicate the Maori language in order to introduce the Bible to the Maori population. The Maori Bible provided the means to put all the oral traditions into a written form and thus facilitated the passing down of the Maori language and stories.

The revival of Maori customs and traditions comes in handy in today’s New Zealand. Tourists are invariably curious about the culture of the country they are visiting. In Kiwi land, without the Maori culture to talk about and the sacred marae meeting house to show, the tour guide would only have the sets of trolls and Golem in Wellington, created by moviemaker Sir Peter Jackson for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to show as local culture.

The All Black national rugby team has been dominating the international rugby world and is very much an integral part of the New Zealand culture. On days they play, just about every TV is tuned to the game. On the day we were leaving Auckland to return to the U.S., the national rugby team was playing and overwhelming the visiting Australian team to make history by winning 18 in a row.

The New Zealand team is known for the haka, a Maori war dance, which the team performs in front of their opponent before commencing the match. The dance consists of loud chants and shouts, vigorous body movements and stamping feet, and distorted face with bulging eyes and the tongue hanging out, all of which is designed to intimidate the other side before the first whistle. Even if you don’t understand rugby, seeing the haka by the burly rugby players would be worth the price of admission.

New Zealand also had a gold rush not long after the gold rush in California and Australia. The rush attracted Chinese gold miners and they encountered discrimination in ways similar to what they encountered in the U.S. One of the gold rush sites was Arrow River near Queenstown. As the exhibit by the river in today’s Arrowtown told the story, by 1865 the easy picking of alluvial gold were largely taken and the European miners began to move on to other places that promised easier picking.

The local authorities concerned that the settlement would become a ghost town invited the Chinese miners to come and rework the tailings.  They were surprised when the Chinese miners were able to extract more gold from the river where previous miners thought were exhausted.

Soon the Chinese presence aroused resentment and feelings of racial prejudice. To discourage further migration, in 1881 New Zealand imposed a poll tax on every entering Chinese, about the time the US imposed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1883.

The Chinese in New Zealand, according to the exhibit, felt the verbal sting of racial bias but never experienced physical violence and loss of lives, as was the case in the U.S. (There were 5000 Chinese and about 1% of the NZ population at the time.)

In 2002, the prime minister, Helen Clark, formally apologized to the Chinese community for past discriminatory practices against their forefathers. Two years later, the government in a gesture of reconciliation gave a lump sum of 5 million NZ dollars to the community, which the Chinese community put into “Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust.”

The trustees were all descendants of the early Chinese settlers. So far funds from the trust have gone to support projects that preserve the memory of the early Chinese immigrants and to preserve the history, language and culture associated with the early settlers.

Through a mutual friend living in San Francisco, I was introduced to Kai Luey and his wife, Rose, living in Auckland. Kai is a trustee of the poll tax heritage trust, an international business executive and a recognized civic leader of the Chinese community in Auckland.

According to the 2013 census, there are 171,411 Chinese living in New Zealand representing 4.3% of the total population. Only 30 some thousands of the census were descended from the early settlers. The rest immigrated to NZ after 1960. Kai told me that today Chinese in New Zealand enjoy a level playing field. He has been among the group of Chinese that made donations to city park of Auckland and to support the NZ Olympic team in Beijing 2008.

Energetic Kai has been the organizer of a series of annual “going bananas” conferences for the Chinese in New Zealand. In the U.S., banana is a derisive term used to accuse someone that looks like an Asian on the outside but is a westerner inside.

In New Zealand, banana celebrates the successful integration of the Chinese into the mainstream. This is reflective of a progressive country that welcomes diversity, consistent with a tradition that goes back to 1893 when women gained the right to vote, the first nation to do so anywhere in the world.