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daily link  Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Shifts from bin Laden hunt: "In 2002, troops from the 5th Special Forces Group who specialize in the Middle East were pulled out of the hunt for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan to prepare for their next assignment: Iraq. Their replacements were troops with expertise in Spanish cultures.  The CIA, meanwhile, was stretched badly in its capacity to collect, translate and analyze information coming from Afghanistan. When the White House raised a new priority, it took specialists away from the Afghanistan effort to ensure Iraq was covered. ..

Bob Andrews, former head of a Pentagon office that oversaw special operations, says that removing Saddam Hussein was a good idea but "a distraction." The war in Iraq, Andrews notes, entailed the largest deployment of special operations forces — about 10,000 —since the Vietnam War. That's about 25% of all U.S. commandos.  It also siphoned spy aircraft and light infantry soldiers. Iraq proved such a drain, one former Pentagon official notes, that there were no AWACS radar jets to track drug-trafficking aircraft in South America. Saddam was not an immediate threat. "This has been a real diversion from the longer struggle against jihadists," especially in the intelligence field, he says."

Further confirmation of the 5th Special Forces role: "Abu Ghraib is a town in Baghdad's sprawling suburbs, just north of the international airport.  .. US Special Forces worked secretly with Iraqi townspeople on the outskirts of Baghdad for months before the war with Iraq got under way. Soldiers from the U-S Fifth Special Forces Group worked for over eight months with the people of Abu Gharib. It is unclear whether Special Forces remained in Abu Gharib throughout the months leading to the start of the war. However, Pentagon officials have in the past indicated some Special Forces units moved in and out of Iraq before the war, without maintaining a permanent presence. "

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daily link  Tuesday, March 30, 2004


GrassFire.org: Right-wing answer to MoveOn.org, complete with Kerry-Kennedy comparison ads...  10:47:28 PM  permalink  

Richard Clarke and cybersecurity:  Refers to a speech he gave in 2002: "At the Black Hat Briefings in Las Vegas in the summer of 2002, Clarke gave a keynote address in which he outlined several bold ideas to secure the Internet. Clarke drew a round of applause from the gathered security professionals when he said the software industry "has an obligation to provide software that works." He further called upon software makers to ship products with unused processes turned off by default. And he suggested that broadband suppliers supply their customers with firewalls and antivirus protection--a recommendation I still think should be implemented. [Clarke believes not doing so is "like selling cars without seatbelts."]

More daring, however, was Clarke's suggestion that the U.S. government could lead a security revolution by procuring only computer products certified by the National Intergovernmental Audit Forum (NIAF) testing program. While this satisfied the current administration's desire to let the marketplace decide which products it wants to use, NIAF testing apparently sounded like too much government regulation to the creators of the NSSC." His recommendations were watered down, with no enforcement, no NIAF testing, and no broadband firewall requirement. 

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Arrests foil terror blast, Manila says: "A terrorist bombing was averted with the arrests of four members of Abu Sayyaf, an Islamic terrorist group, and the confiscation of 36 kilograms of TNT, the Philippine president said Tuesday. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who faces a tough re-election vote on May 10, said the explosives were to have been used to bomb trains and shopping malls in Manila.  "We have prevented a Madrid-level attack in the metropolis," she said.. She said one of the men arrested claimed responsibility for a Feb. 27 explosion and fire aboard a passenger ferry that killed more than 100 people. Officials have not concluded what caused the disaster. Arroyo said she was ordering a fresh probe into the claim, despite earlier having played down the terrorist factor in the ferry fire...

The Abu Sayyaf is known for kidnapping and beheading hostages and is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. The government considers the group a spent force, down from about 1,000 guerrillas four years ago to about 300 after the United States sent troops and instructors to help Filipino troops dislodge the rebels from their stronghold on Basilan Island. "

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UK Anti-Terror Raids: "Police seized a large amount of explosive material and arrested eight men across London and southeast England Tuesday in Britain's largest anti-terror operation for years. Peter Clarke, head of Britain's anti-terror branch, told a news conference more than half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer was discovered in a 6-foot-high plastic bag in west London. An anti-terror source said the fertilizer was similar to explosive materials used in the 2002 Bali bombings, although there was no evidence that a bombing was planned or any possible target. However the source said there was enough material to launch an attack on the same scale as the huge 1996 bombing near Canary Wharf in London's financial district. "  8:40:06 AM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, March 29, 2004


Secret Worlds: The Universe Within: Nice "powers of ten" tour of the universe.  2:18:58 PM  permalink  

Into week 2: "The White House at first questioned an assertion by Clarke that President Bush asked him immediately after Sept. 11 to investigate whether Saddam was involved but on Sunday it confirmed that the conversation had taken place. ..

"The Bush administration and its allies have certainly not helped the story go away," said Howard Opinsky, a Republican operative who ran media relations for Arizona Sen. John McCain during his 2000 presidential bid.  "Instead, they adopted the risky strategy of trying to refute his charges, which makes it appear that they have something to hide," he said. ..

When Republicans said they would seek to declassify testimony Clarke gave to Congress in July 2002 to demonstrate differences to what he is saying now, Clarke told them to go ahead. If that occurs, the issue will remain in the headlines even longer. "

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daily link  Sunday, March 28, 2004


MSNBC Poll on Bush and the 9/11 Charges:  Amazing disconnect between 21000 self-selected web respondents and the Newsweek poll 1000 randomized respondents.  75% of web respondents say Bush has not taken terrorism seriously enough; 61% of the public think they have.  60% on the web thought Clinton took it seriously, 65% of the public think not seriously enough.   Many possible explanations; an interesting one is that the more informed you are about the story, the less you believe the administration.  3:25:01 PM  permalink  

Terrorists Don't Need States: "The Bush team did not see Al Qaeda as an urgent threat. .. One example from the panel's report: the senior Pentagon official responsible for counterterrorism is the assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Even by September 11, 2001, no one had been appointed to that post. ..

[It's] a new phenomenon in global politics: terrorism that is not state-sponsored but society-sponsored. Few in the American government fully grasped that a group of people without a state's support could pose a mortal threat.. An American official closely involved with counterterrorism [was asked] about state sponsorship. He replied, "Well, all that's left is Iran and to a lesser extent Syria, and it's mostly directed against Israel. States have been getting out of the terror business since the late 1980s. We have kept many governments on the list of state sponsors for political reasons. The reality is that the terror we face is mostly unconnected to states." Today's terrorists are harbored in countries like Spain and Germany—entirely unintentionally. They draw on support not from states but private individuals—Saudi millionaires, Egyptian radicals, Yemenite preachers." This makes the "war of ideas" more important, and by Clarke's analysis, makes the war on Iraq more damaging.

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daily link  Saturday, March 27, 2004


Clarke Book Reignites Debate Over Iraq Invasion: More experts on the Iraq distraction:  "Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst and Middle East specialist who left Bush's National Security Council staff a year ago, also agrees.  "Clarke's critique of administration decision-making and how it did not balance the imperative of finishing the job against al Qaeda versus what they wanted to do in Iraq is absolutely on the money," Leverett said.

He said that Arabic-speaking Special Forces officers and CIA officers who were doing a good job tracking Osama bin Laden, Ayman Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders were pulled out of Afghanistan in March 2002 to begin preparing for the war against Iraq. "We took the people out who could have caught them," he said. "But even if we get bin Laden or Zawahiri now, it is two years too late. Al Qaeda is a very different organization now. It has had time to adapt. The administration should have finished this job."

Jessica Stern, Harvard University lecturer and author of "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill," also agrees with Clarke. "It was a distraction on the war on terrorism and made it more difficult to prosecute because the al Qaeda movement used the war in Iraq to mobilize new recruits and energize the movement," she said. "And we apparently sent Special Forces from Afghanistan, where they should have been fighting al Qaeda, to Iraq."

Pat Lang, who was head Middle East and South Asia intelligence in the Defense Intelligence Agency for seven years, said: "When you commit as much time and attention and resources as we did to Iraq, which I do not believe is connected to the worldwide war against the jihadis, then you subtract what you could commit to the war on terrorism. You see that especially in the Special Forces commitment, as we have only so many of them." "

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'Wartime President' MIA: Spot on.  "What would a "wartime president" have done this week, as a bipartisan commission's public hearings on the Sept. 11 tragedy were being engulfed by political bickering?  
 
I like to think that this hypothetical leader would have found a way to rise above the fray and unite the country: He would have embraced the commission's work, forthrightly admitted his own mistakes, sent his national security adviser to testify publicly -- and insisted that the security of the United States was too important to be buried in election-year squabbles.

President Bush and his White House handlers did pretty much the opposite. They fanned the flames of partisan debate; .. they stonewalled; rather than testify before the cameras, Rice spent part of her Wednesday afternoon dishing dirt to reporters .. 

Bush flunked the test, in other words."

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Daalder and Lindsay on Clarke and Bush:  The "broader, more troubling point that Mr. Clarke's accusations raise is that Mr. Bush does not understand the threat we confront. For Mr. Bush and his advisers it is not al-Qaeda that is the real danger so much as the states that supposedly support it. Thus, a Defence Department spokesman, responding to Mr. Clarke's claim that Mr. Wolfowitz did not take the al-Qaeda terrorist threat seriously, said Mr. Wolfowitz did see al-Qaeda "as a major threat to U.S. security, the more so because of the state support it received from the Taliban and because of its possible links to Iraq."

The assumption driving Mr. Bush's war on terrorism is that the United States can win by targeting rogue states and the tyrants who rule them. The war in Afghanistan was about ousting the Taliban and denying al-Qaeda a sanctuary; the Iraq war was about ousting Saddam.  That view of the terrorist threat is deeply flawed, quite apart from the dubious claims about ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Al-Qaeda is a transnational network of terrorists, less like a state than like a non-governmental organization or multinational corporation with multiple independent franchises. It thrives on an Islamist ideology, and extends its presence to the far reaches of the globe -- not just in rogue and failed states, but within the West as well. Its terrorists can strike -- whether in Bali, Casablanca, Riyadh, Istanbul, Madrid or New York and Washington -- without the direct support of states. That is what makes it so frightening.

Mr. Clarke's charges have stung the Bush administration not just because of the stature of the accuser, but because at their core, they say that more than two years after the worst terrorist attack in history, the President and his advisers still don't get what happened.   That is the true, and alarming, message of this week's debate."

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daily link  Friday, March 26, 2004


Clarke testimony video on C-SPAN: High political theater.  Must sees:  the opening statement, and an interchange on Iraq at 1h 21min.  Other testimonies, by Tenet et al, also worth watching on http://www.c-span.org/.    12:55:21 AM  permalink  

Clarke's Take On Terror:  The 60 Minutes article and links to videos ""Frankly," he said, "I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know." Clarke went on to say, "I think he's done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.""  Partial transcript here.   Also, NewsHour interview online video and text.  12:55:12 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Key stats on development:  ' "Madness is running over our planet"  [said] World Bank President James Wolfensohn addressing students at Stanford University.. World development help is running at about $56 billion a year, he said, while military expenditures are almost 20 times higher at more than $900 billion. Subsidies and tariff protections for world agriculture, including large commercial interests, reach about $350 billion a year. "This is a huge frustration. We have to find a way to focus on poverty and development ... but the big issue is indifference. People don't care. Money is not flowing to where it is needed," Wolfensohn told the students. '  4:58:04 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, March 22, 2004


Bush 'ignored al-Qaida alert': "Clarke also reveals that Philip Zelikow, a Bush transition official who is now the executive director of the [9/11] commission, was present at the meetings where the new team was briefed [on terrorism].  This news brought an outraged response from relatives of those killed in the attacks, who have long been uncomfortable about Zelikow's role, given his close ties to Bush national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"I can't put into words how outraged I am," Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband, Ron, was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center. "This calls into question the integrity of the whole inquiry and the leadership of the commission." The families have called for Zelikow's resignation, and for him to be questioned under oath about his role in the transition when he reported to Rice.

"It is now apparent," the relatives wrote Sunday to Commission Chairman and former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, "why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself."  Zelikow has previously acknowledged his role in the transition, but this is the first time it has become clear how close was his involvement in the transition's counter-terror strategy."

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daily link  Sunday, March 21, 2004


Disruptive technology: Nice idea on health care from C. Christensen:  It's "an industry in desperate need of disruption. In its current state, a gross amount of overhead costs prepare hospitals and doctors to treat the most complex illnesses known to mankind.  In reality, most people need a quick look and a prescription.

Christensen talked about a new business model coming out of Minnesota as the perfect disruptor for medicine.  Because Minnesota allows nurses to write prescriptions, the idea would be to create medical drop-in sites that treat 14 primary illnesses. Everything from strep throat to "burn your warts off."   The flat rate for a checkup and 'scrip is $29. If it takes more than 15 minutes, it's free.

This is what you and I want, right? No long wait on the phone. No huge bills for a simple checkup. Quick and easy, in and out.  This would provide an alternate product to consumers and make going to a big ol' HMO with a sore throat an unacceptable hassle for most consumers. "

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daily link  Friday, March 19, 2004


Do terrorists play election politics?: " In recent tapes and on websites, Al Qaeda operatives have targeted a number of countries for helping the US.  By one US government official's count, Al Qaeda has now hit 20 of 23 countries that either Zawahiri or bin Laden said they would after the invasion of Afghanistan. "Japan, Norway, and Nigeria are the only ones that haven't been attacked," he says."  3:07:01 AM  permalink  

A progress report on Iraq: An interesting collection of stats and polls.  2:58:59 AM  permalink  

EPIC FOIA Gallery 2004: The Electronic Privacy Information Center uses the Freedom of Info Act to get government documents on various topics.  It has collected highlights from each of the last several years -- facinating reading, esp on uses of the Patriot Act.  12:56:20 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, March 18, 2004


FBI adds to wiretap wish list: "Legal experts said the 85-page filing includes language that could be interpreted as forcing companies to build back doors into everything from instant messaging and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs to Microsoft's Xbox Live game service. The introduction of new services that did not support a back door for police would be outlawed, and companies would be given 15 months to make sure that existing services comply. "  It's now before the FCC.  1:17:21 AM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Hans Blix -- March 2004: Delay was feasible without ruling out regime change.  "I don't think the Europeans actually were saying we would never exclude use of armed force. They did not. They rather said they would like to have longer period of inspections. And we broke them off at three and a half months, which was a very short time. There was nothing in the resolution from 2003 that suggested that it should be so short. So if the Iraqis would have practiced cat and mouse in the spring of 2003 on inspectors, then I think the Europeans would have come along. There would have been an authorization of the Security Council and there would have been legitimacy for the action..

I think it proved that international inspections, if independent of individual countries, and which is run professionally, came to conclusions which were closer to reality than intelligence agencies which were linked to political governments that had preconceived ideas.

And I think that's a lesson for the future because the world will need inspections in the future in Iran, in Libya and in North Korea. And in my view, the best would be to have these inspectors coming in, demanding the cooperation of the countries and also have the leverage of the political and military support. I have no doubt that we would not have been admitted into Iraq if it had not been for the U.S. military buildup in the summer of 2002, so both are needed. But in both cases, I think critical thinking is essential. "

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The new Pentagon papers: A high-ranking military officer and analyst tells the colorful story of the neocons in Pentagon and the buildup for Iraq:  "War is generally crafted and pursued for political reasons, but the reasons given to the Congress and to the American people for this one were inaccurate and so misleading as to be false. Moreover, they were false by design. Certainly, the neoconservatives never bothered to sell the rest of the country on the real reasons for occupation of Iraq -- more bases from which to flex U.S. muscle with Syria and Iran, and better positioning for the inevitable fall of the regional ruling sheikdoms. Maintaining OPEC on a dollar track and not a euro and fulfilling a half-baked imperial vision also played a role. These more accurate reasons for invading and occupying could have been argued on their merits -- an angry and aggressive U.S. population might indeed have supported the war and occupation for those reasons. But Americans didn't get the chance for an honest debate. "  3:37:30 PM  permalink  

Sy Hersh update on Pakistan, Iran, nukes and Osama:  Wide ranging review of current info.  "A former senior intelligence official said to me, .. “It’s a quid pro quo: we’re going to get our troops inside Pakistan in return for not forcing Musharraf to deal with Khan.” Some of the most highly skilled Special Forces units, such as Task Force 121, will be shifted from Iraq to Pakistan [in February and March]. ..

The centrifuge materials that the inspectors found in Libya had not been assembled—in most cases, in fact, the goods were still in their shipping cases. “I am not impressed by what I’ve seen,” a senior nonproliferation official told me. “It was not a well-developed program—not a serious research-and-development approach to make use of what they bought. It was useless. But I was absolutely struck by what the Libyans were able to buy. What’s on the market is absolutely horrendous. It’s a Mafia-type business, with corruption and secrecy.”

I.A.E.A. inspectors, to their dismay, even found in Libya precise blueprints for the design and construction of a half-ton nuclear weapon. “It’s a sweet little bomb, put together by engineers who know how to assemble a weapon,” an official in Vienna told me. “No question it’ll work. Just dig a hole and test it. It’s too big and too heavy for a Scud, but it’ll go into a family car. It’s a terrorist’s dream.” ..

[An] operative said, it was “the Libyans who blew up the Pakistanis,” and who made the role of Khan’s black market known. The Americans, he said, asked “questions about those orders and Libya said it had them.” It was, in essence, a sting, and was perceived that way by Musharraf. He was enraged by what he called, in a nationally televised speech last month—delivered in Urdu, and not officially translated by the Pakistani government—the betrayal of Pakistan by his “Muslim brothers” in both Libya and Iran... The intelligence operative went on, “Qaddafi is very pragmatic and studied the timing. It was the right time. The United States wanted to have a success story, and he banked on that.” ..

Another nonproliferation official depicted the challenge facing the I.A.E.A. inspection regime as “a seismic shift—the globalization of the nuclear world.” The official said, “We have to move from inspecting declared sites to ‘Where does this shit come from?’ If we stay focussed on the declared, we miss the nuclear supply matrix.” At this point, the international official asked me, in all seriousness, “Why hasn’t A. Q. Khan been taken out by Israel or the United States?”"

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Michael Ignatieff on Iraq: Excellent article from a liberal interventionist, with a few comments from me.  2:55:35 PM  permalink  

Iraqi exiles gave false information to media: It would be quite a competition to find the biggest fool and scoundrel, among the INC, the Congress, and the many ideologes in the administration:  "A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.  Knight Ridder, which obtained a copy of the INC letter, reviewed all of the articles in what the document called a ``summary of ICP product cited in major English language news outlets worldwide (October 2001-May 2002).'  The articles made numerous assertions that so far haven't been substantiated 11 months after Baghdad fell..

Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden. .. U.S. intelligence officials have determined that virtually all of the defectors' information was marginal or useless, and that some of the defectors were fabricators or embellished the threat from Hussein.

The Information Collection Program (ICP) was financed out of the more than $18 million that Congress approved for the Iraqi National Congress, led by Chalabi, now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, between 1999 and 2003. The group remains on the Pentagon's payroll.  The INC letter said that it voluntarily fed ICP information to Arab and Western news media and to two officials in the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the leading invasion advocates.

The information bypassed U.S. intelligence channels and reached the recipients even after CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and FBI officers questioned the accuracy of the materials or the motives of those who supplied them.  .. The CIA and the State Department had long viewed the INC as unreliable."

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Sobering numbers: "This year, Bush says the federal government, outside of Social Security, will spend $1,939 billion but raise only $1,264 billion in revenues, for a deficit of $675 billion. More than a third of regular budget outlays will be financed with borrowed money.

Bush's assertion that he'll cut the deficit in half by 2009 includes the following explicit assumptions: Spending on defense and homeland security will fall by 14% as a share of the economy by 2009. Total domestic appropriations will plummet by 24%, with huge cuts in science (-19%), pollution control (-27%), transportation (-18%), disaster relief (-49%), education (-22%), housing assistance (-33%), and law enforcement (-20%). The alternative minimum tax will be fixed, but at no cost -- rather than the $65 billion that even a modest correction would cost in 2009 alone, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Even with all these ridiculous assumptions, Bush's projected regular budget deficit for 2009 remains at $501 billion. He offsets that against the $263 billion he projects as Social Security's surplus that year. Voila! A "unified deficit" of a mere $237 billion. "

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Rumsfeld and Friedman: Classic -- Rumsfeld caught in the act, trying to claim that he didn't call Saddam an immediate threat, Friedman nails him.  What a weasel.  A must-watch.  9:18:38 AM  permalink  


daily link  Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Globalization:  I just posted a collection of thoughts on the subject.  11:06:53 PM  permalink  


daily link  Saturday, March 06, 2004


IMF marginal for emerging markets: "In just 10 years, from 1991 to 2001, capital flows to emerging markets from the official sector, governments and bodies like the Fund halved to $36.5 billion, while private sector flows rose to $160 billion from $62 billion.  The IMF itself in fiscal year 2003 lent 29.4 billion special drawing rights, its currency unit which is composed of a basket of other currencies, worth around $20 billion.

"The IMF is in search of a new role, who leads it is probably irrelevant," said Paul Luke, an emerging market veteran who now runs a specialist emerging markets investment house Convivo Capital Management.  "The IMF share of world credit has collapsed, it is a fractional player, in large part because the developing world has sorted itself out and is now a net lender to the developed world," Luke said. "  8:57:51 AM  permalink  


daily link  Thursday, March 04, 2004


The Arlington Institute: A futurist link-fest on their site has monthly listings of interesting articles.  5:17:42 PM  permalink  


daily link  Wednesday, March 03, 2004


Biotech voted down in Calif. county: "Legislation restricting biotechnology has been passed elsewhere, but nothing as sweeping as the proposal in Mendocino County, a place with a frontier spirit where the biggest cash crop is marijuana. The local ban will not prevent processed food made with genetically modified ingredients from being sold in stores. There are no known genetically modified crops raised in Mendocino County, but farmers said they would use the law as a marketing tool, especially in Europe, where opposition to genetically engineered foods is fierce"  7:51:07 PM  permalink  


daily link  Monday, March 01, 2004


Like Japan in the 1980s, China Poses Big Economic Challenge:  Key statistics: "China has 10 times the population of Japan, with more unemployed adults in rural areas than the entire American work force. Raising the wages of so many people to the levels found in industrial nations will take a long time. 

Through the 1970's and 80's, Japanese wages rose 70 percent faster than American wages, according to data from the International Labor Organization. That, together with rapid appreciation in the value of the yen, helped push up Japanese factory wages from one-third of American levels to rough parity. 

Chinese wages, though, were no more than 4 percent of American and Japanese wages in 2002, the most recent year available. While official Chinese statistics show that wages doubled from 1996 to 2002, some factory owners say pay has been flat — or even declined slightly — in recent years, as rural migrants continue to pour into the cities.

In the meantime, China's productivity gap is being closed by a rapid investment in infrastructure, as China puts a third of the world's steel production and half its cement into extending modern roads, power grids and telecommunications links across the country."

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