China

Chris Hayes had a great column in The Nation last week about the totemic status of our debt to China: But if domestic Chinese concerns about the country's monetary codependence with the United States explain some of the statements of the country's leaders, they don't explain why the US media and commentators seem so intent on giving the story maximum play. The answer to that, I think, is politics. It's increasingly clear that China has replaced the bond market as the nebulous specter that fiscal hawks will use to justify domestic austerity.

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If there was one thing that seemed certain about the Obama administration, it was their commitment to Keynesian deficit spending to boost the economy out of its slump. But Keynes beware: With unemployment at a whopping 10.2 percent, and probably rising, the White House has begun trumpeting its commitment to Hoover-style deficit busting. On November 13, the White House warned cabinet departments of a spending freeze. The next week, while in China, Barack Obama told an interviewer the United States could suffer from a “double-dip recession” if it didn’t restrain public debt.

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At least, that's what many of our old and deeply democratic friends seem to feel. Now, it's hard to accept that the president of the United States would actually make that choice. He probably feels--but how do I really know? I actually don't--that the hooligans and especially the hooligans who produce our oil and the hooligans who buy our products are the folk we need court more than our historic allies. After all, what else can they do but stick with us? Tough darts! Obama's initiatives up to now--with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, China--have been failures.

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A number of unresolved issues—China, Kashmir, etc.—will be swirling around Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s first state visit this Monday, but on none are the two hesitant allies more at odds than the conditions for a global climate treaty. Much of the news in the lead up to Copenhagen has centered on the possibility of some sort of deal between the two largest emitters, the U.S. and China. India, however, could very well be a more important (and elusive) partner in those talks.

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Conservatives have been quick to blame the administration for the slow delivery of H1N1 vaccine. Not long after Obama declared the swine flu pandemic a national emergency last month--a measure that cleared the way for hospitals to make special preparations for infected patients--Missouri Representative Roy Blunt pounced on the administration’s “onerous regulatory and legal environment” as a cause for the vaccine delays. In the Weekly Standard last week, Bill Kristol held up the swine flu response as an example of the coming “big government health care” boondoggle.

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Interesting point about the China trip from expert Minxin Pie, via Mike Allen: What was accomplished: There may be a silver lining. Because the press coverage of his trip is quite bad, it may have caused some heartburn in Beijing. At the end of the day, Chinese leaders know that a good relationship with Obama (and a weakened Obama cannot manage U.S.-China ties effectively) will be in China's interest. So there is a chance that China will do something after the trip is over to show that Obama's visit is not fruitless after all. Sounds plausible.

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The Washington Post writes today about the limits of Obama's biography in foreign policy. The paper's story notes that Obama talked extensively about his biography and personal experiences in Asia, then asks: But is his biography-as-diplomacy approach beginning to show its limits? Obama does not fly home with any big breakthroughs or any evidence that he has forged stronger personal ties with regional leaders.

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I used to be the foreign editor of In These Times in Chicago. I didn’t particularly enjoy the job, because I have never been fascinated with the world outside of the United States. I am not sure whether I could find Honduras or Liberia on a map, and I have never mastered the current spelling of Chinese names.

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Washington Diarist: Obama Has No ‘Magic’ Overseas by Leon Wieseltier Why We Need a Federal Agency That Actually Protects Consumers by Martha Coakley and Elizabeth Warren Five Ways the Recession Has Turned Immigration Upside-Down (#1: Mexicans Are Sending Money to Relatives in the U.S.) by Jill Wilson and Audrey Singer The Virtue of Shutting up About Sarah Palin by Damon Linker How Republicans Have Changed the Senate (and How Democrats Have Let Them) by E. J. Dionne Jr. Freaking out About Breasts.

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The absence of Barack Obama from Berlin on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall may be explained in many ways, and one of the explanations may be his view of the world. He is kein Berliner. No, he is not soft on communism, not least because there is no longer any communism, at least of the classical kind, to be soft on. In the video message that was broadcast to the commemoration--it allowed him once again to have the stage to himself, and to describe his own election as a climactic event in “human destiny”--Obama spoke all the right words for all the right sentiments.

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