“Free Trade” with China – Big Negative for USA | Mar 2016

30 Years of ‘Free Trade’ Brings 400% Trade Deficit with China

– Breitbart

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“There is much debate over the negative effects of massive trade deficits, and what the best strategy for correcting them might be, but it’s hard to deny the U.S. trade deficit with China is staggering in scale … and it got that way after just a few decades of old-school “free trade” orthodoxy.

Raul Amoros of HowMuch.net puts the issue in perspective:

The start couldn’t be more balanced: in 1985, the U.S. exported $3.9 billion to China, and imported goods and services for the exact same amount. But by 2015, there was a staggering imbalance, to China’s advantage, of $365.7 billion – an all-time record, not just for U.S.-China trade, but for any bilateral trade, ever.

It’s not that U.S. exports to China haven’t increased. They have, and by a lot.America exported an impressive $116.2 billion into China last year, 30 times more than in 1985. That makes China the U.S.’s third-biggest export market, nearly twice as important as Japan ($62.5 billion), in fourth place. But that’s still a lot less than U.S. exports to Canada ($280.3 billion) or Mexico ($236.4 billion). Meanwhile, Chinese exports to the U.S. have exploded. In 2015, China exported $481.9 billion to the U.S. – an amazing 123 times more than in 1985.

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Amoros illustrated this with an animated GIF that shows billion-dollar blocks building into towers of trade for the U.S. and China. The American side of the graph rolls in and out like the tide a few times, while the Chinese tower climbs relentlessly upward to four times the American size.

As Amoros puts it, U.S. trade grows in “fits and starts,” while Chinese trade shows a “strong and consistent rise.” The best news he can give America is that at least the Chinese trade deficit is no longer growing exponentially larger.

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Actually, he’s got a little more good news later in his analysis, but it leaves a somewhat bitter aftertaste.  In Amoros’ judgment, one of the major reasons for the huge trade deficit is that “China’s economy may be huge, but on a per-capita basis, the Chinese themselves are still relatively poor.”

That means few Chinese workers can “afford all those nice expensive things made in America, by workers who make a lot more than they do.”  That situation could change as China grows richer, and its per capital income increases… precisely because it’s beating the pants off the U.S. in trade, due to the far lower cost of Chinese labor.

Meanwhile, Americans are encouraged to enjoy the benefits of cheap consumer goods produced by that inexpensive foreign labor – the nearly universal response to criticism of trade deficits, accompanied by the warning that any sort of tariff or “trade war” would “ultimately end up hurting U.S. workers and consumers,” as Amoros puts it.

Economic issues are always a matter of scale, so the general proposition that trade deficits benefit the American consumer might become a bit harder to defend in the shadow of a $365 billion imbalance.

Economic discussions must also factor in the element of time, and it’s not entirely heartening to think our immense deficit will level itself out years or decades in the future… at which point we lose all those cheap consumer goods, and we’ve permanently lost a huge number of jobs to foreign competitors.  If the shot-callers of 1985 had seen what the next 30 years would bring, would they have considered the trade-offs a good deal, and made the same policy choices?

We may also wonder if hitching so much of our economy to potentially unstable foreign systems, whose labor policies would be considered illegally abusive in the United States, is either wise or moral.”

…Continue reading the excellent article by John Hayward @ Breitbart

 

This GIF Shows How China Trumps the U.S. on Trade

– Howmuch.net

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…Continue reading @ HowMuch.net

 

State auditor blasts University of California over tuition policy | Mar 2016

Unfair advantage for Less qualified Foreign students when applying to UCLA and Berkeley over California Citizens

– OC Register

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo, University of California President Janet Napolitano listens to student speakers during a meeting of the university Board of Regents in San Francisco. California's auditor said Tuesday, March 29, 2016, the University of California has undermined residents by admitting a growing number of nonresident students, some of whom were not as qualified as in-state students. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
FILE – In this Nov. 19, 2014 file photo, University of California President Janet Napolitano listens to student speakers during a meeting of the university Board of Regents in San Francisco. California’s auditor said Tuesday, March 29, 2016, the University of California has undermined residents by admitting a growing number of nonresident students, some of whom were not as qualified as in-state students. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

“The University of California has undermined residents by admitting a growing number of nonresident students, some of whom were less qualified than in-state students, California’s auditor said in a scathing report released Tuesday.

Out-of-state students pay significantly more than in-state students, providing much-needed money to the financially beleaguered University of California. But state Auditor Elaine Howle said those admissions come at the expense of California students who are meant to benefit from a public university system considered tops in the country.

“As a public institution, the university should serve primarily those who provide for its financial and civic support — California residents,” Howle wrote. “However, over the past several years, the university has failed to put the needs of residents first.”

University of California President Janet Napolitano immediately blasted the audit as seriously deficient, not helpful and unfair. She argued nonresident admissions have helped keep doors open for resident students at a time when state assistance has dropped considerably.

The audit undermines the work of faculty and staff who have kept standards high “during a period when state funding was cut by about one third,” Napolitano wrote in response.

The University of California enrolls about 250,000 students across its 10 campuses. It is required to offer an undergraduate spot to the top one-eighth of California’s high school graduates, but those students don’t always get admitted to the campus of their choice.

The state audit found the university’s drive to admit nonresidents has resulted in an 82 percent increase in the nonresident student population from the academic years 2010-11 through 2014-15, translating into 18,000 students.

Over the same period, the audit found a drop in resident enrollment of 1 percent, or 2,200 students.

The audit also found the university relaxed its academic standards for nonresidents, admitting 16,000 students whose scores fell below the median for admitted resident students.

The audit recommended capping the number of nonresidents at what it was before last decade’s recession: 5 percent of new undergraduate enrollment versus 17 percent in 2014-15. It also recommended the university look at other ways to curb costs, including executive pay.

In fiscal year 2014-15, nonresident undergraduates paid about $37,000 in tuition and fees compared with $12,240 for students who met state residency requirements.”

…Continue reading @ OC Register

 

More here from the SacBee on UC tuition policy:

 

State auditor blasts UC over tuition policy

– SacBee

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“The University of California has disadvantaged resident students with its recent emphasis on recruiting applicants from out of state and overseas, leading to a drop in the number of Californians enrolled at UC.

That was the highly critical conclusion of a state audit released Tuesday – and a direct rebuke of the university’s long-standing assertion that it has used extra fees paid by nonresident students to make up for recession-era budget cuts and underwrite thousands of slots for Californians that the state no longer supports.

The broad and blistering report also found that academic standards were lowered for thousands of nonresident admissions and that UC has not developed an actual cost of instruction to guide decisions about tuition.

It slammed the university for not seeking further budget savings before pursuing the new enrollment strategy, and questioned some spending choices, including high executive compensation and a low-interest home loan program for faculty and senior administrators.

“It’s a matter of priorities,” State Auditor Elaine Howle said in an interview. “It’s a matter of the university making a commitment to California high schoolers who want to be admitted.”

…Continue reading @ SacBee

Here is the State of California’s Auditor Report on UC Tuition Policy in PDF format:

State Auditor’s Report

 

 

Ted Cruz’ Non-denial of Cheating | Mar 2016

Carly Fiorina leaps in to intercept DailyMail.com’s request for a blanket statement of marital fidelity and Cruz ultimately punted on the question

– Daily Mail UK

“Ted Cruz declined to answer a question on Monday about whether he has ever been unfaithful to his wife Heidi.

‘Senator Cruz,’ DailyMail.com asked him, ‘can you please swat down more definitively this National Enquirer piece by telling us on the record that you’ve never been unfaithful to your wife?’

The National Enquirer published a story last Wednesday that speculated about five women with whom the Republican presidential candidate was rumored to have had extramarital affairs.

Cruz has batted down the specifics of the story on numerous occasions since it appeared in supermarket checkout lanes.

But instead of making a blanket declaration that he has been faithful during the entirety of his 14-year marriage – a move that would effectively end the vicious news cycle – Cruz stood silently as campaign surrogate Carly Fiorina leapt in to intercept the question and change the subject.”

…Continue reading @ Daily Mail UK

At the Gatewaypundit the comments section is on fire:

SURREAL=> Carly Fiorina Jumps in to Defend Ted Cruz After He Won’t Tell Reporters if He Cheated on Wife Heidi (VIDEO)

 

The Blind US War Machine Grinds On | Mar 2016

In Syria, militias armed by Obama’s Pentagon fight those armed by Obama’s CIA

– LA Times

With Islamic State ousted from Palmyra, the world will learn what's left of its treasures

“Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war.

The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.

In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.

“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq, said in an interview.

Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and on March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.

The attacks by one U.S.-backed group against another come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time.

“It is an enormous challenge,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as “a fairly new phenomenon.”

“It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield,” he said.

The area in northern Syria around Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city, features not only a war between the Assad government and its opponents, but also periodic battles against Islamic State militants, who control much of eastern Syria and also some territory to the northwest of the city, and long-standing tensions among the ethnic groups that inhabit the area, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.

“This is a complicated, multi-sided war where our options are severely limited,” said a U.S. official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We know we need a partner on the ground. We can’t defeat ISIL without that part of the equation, so we keep trying to forge those relationships.” ISIL is an acronym for Islamic State.

President Obama this month authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian rebel fighters, relaunching a program that was suspended in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks which included recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued ammunition and trucks to an Al Qaeda affiliate.

Amid the setbacks, the Pentagon late last year deployed about 50 special operations forces to Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria to better coordinate with local militias and help ensure U.S.-backed rebel groups aren’t fighting one another. But such skirmishes have become routine.

Last year, the Pentagon helped create a new military coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal was to arm the group and prepare it to take territory away from the Islamic State in eastern Syria and to provide information for U.S. airstrikes.

Gen. Joseph Votel, now commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and the incoming head of Central Command, said this month that about 80% of the fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were Kurdish. The U.S. backing for a heavily Kurdish armed force has been a point of tension with the Turkish government, which has a long history of crushing Kurdish rebellions and doesn’t want to see Kurdish units control more of its southern border.

The CIA, meanwhile, has its own operations center inside Turkey from which it has been directing aid to rebel groups in Syria, providing them with TOW antitank missiles from Saudi Arabian weapons stockpiles.

While the Pentagon’s actions are part of an overt effort by the U.S. and its allies against Islamic State, the CIA’s backing of militias is part of a separate covert U.S. effort aimed at keeping pressure on the Assad government in hopes of prodding the Syrian leader to the negotiating table.

“Fighting over territory in Aleppo demonstrates how difficult it is for the U.S. to manage these really localized and in some cases entrenched conflicts,” said Nicholas A. Heras, an expert on the Syrian civil war at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “Preventing clashes is one of the constant topics in the joint operations room with Turkey.”

Over the course of the Syrian civil war, the town of Marea has been on the front line of Islamic State’s attempts to advance across Aleppo province toward the rest of northern Syria.

On Feb. 18, the Syrian Democratic Forces attacked the town. A fighter with the Suqour Al-Jabal brigade, a group with links to the CIA, said intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State know their group has clashed with the Pentagon-trained militias.

“The MOM knows we fight them,” he said, referring to the joint operations center in southern Turkey, using an abbreviation for its name in Turkish, Musterek Operasyon Merkezi. “We’ll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people.” The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity.

Marea is home to many of the original Islamist fighters who took up arms against Assad during the Arab Spring in 2011. It has long been a crucial way station for supplies and fighters coming from Turkey into Aleppo.

“Attempts by Syrian Democratic Forces to take Marea was a great betrayal and was viewed as a further example of a Kurdish conspiracy to force them from Arab and Turkmen lands,” Heras said.

The clashes brought the U.S. and Turkish officials to “loggerheads,” he added. After diplomatic pressure from the U.S., the militia withdrew to the outskirts of the town as a sign of good faith, he said.

But continued fighting among different U.S.-backed groups may be inevitable, experts on the region said.”

…Continue reading @ LA Times

 

 

No Nuke Clean up at San Onofre Until 2049 |  Mar 2016

Tensions rise over the storage of spent San Onofre nuclear fuel

– OC Register

FILE - In this June 30, 2011, file photo, beach-goers walk on the sand near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif. The plant was shut down in 2012. Closed nuclear reactors are dipping into funds set aside for their eventual dismantling to build waste storage on-site, raising questions about whether there will be enough money when the time comes. (AP Photo, Lenny Ignelzi, File)
FILE – In this June 30, 2011, file photo, beach-goers walk on the sand near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in San Clemente, Calif. The plant was shut down in 2012. Closed nuclear reactors are dipping into funds set aside for their eventual dismantling to build waste storage on-site, raising questions about whether there will be enough money when the time comes. (AP Photo, Lenny Ignelzi, File)

“Tempers flared at an Oceanside public meeting as speakers demanded that Southern California Edison remove tons of nuclear waste from a beachside bluff at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station – even though the utility essentially is blocked from doing so by federal regulations.

“This nuclear waste, at this site, is as vulnerable a target as you could possibly have for terrorists,” said Michael Aguirre, a San Diego consumer attorney who’s suing the state over the issue. “Edison should take responsibility for the nuclear waste that it produced from which it derived billions of dollars of income.”

Many audience members at Thursday’s meeting on the plant’s decommissioning echoed those sentiments, bemoaning the California Coastal Commission’s approval of a “concrete monolith” to house spent fuel in temporary, dry-cask storage at the site. The contained radioactive material is expected to remain in place until 2049.

Edison – and the nation’s other nuclear power plant operators – contracted with the U.S. Department of Energy in the early 1980s for the removal and permanent disposal of nuclear waste. The federal government agreed to start accepting waste from commercial reactors by 1998 at the latest, in exchange for about $750 million a year in payments from ratepayers who used electricity from nuclear plants.

But after collecting more than $41 billion in the Nuclear Waste Fund, no radioactive waste had been removed under the program. A judge ordered the Department of Energy to stop collecting the fee in 2014.

David Victor, who chairs the San Onofre Community Engagement Panel, which held Thursday’s meeting, said critics of the current plan to store waste at the plant south of San Clemente should direct their demands at officials who can make a difference.

“It’s crucial to get support in Congress,” Victor said. “And in addition to talking to members of Congress, support from local agencies is crucial. The official resolutions from cities like San Clemente and Oceanside, asking the federal government to act, are very, very important.”

The Department of Energy can begin planning for new, temporary storage sites, he said. But Congress ultimately will have to take action to ensure the facilities are completed and can accept radioactive waste, because private companies are concerned about liability, he said.

Two bills in Congress address temporary storage: SB854 and HR3643. Interested individuals should make sure their representatives are focusing on the issue, Victor said.”

…Continue reading @ Orange County Register

Nukes & Terrorism | Mar 2016

Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable

– NY Times

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“BRUSSELS — As a dragnet aimed at Islamic State operatives spiraled across Brussels and into at least five European countries on Friday, the authorities were also focusing on a narrower but increasingly alarming threat: the vulnerability of Belgium’s nuclear installations.

The investigation into this week’s deadly attacks in Brussels has prompted worries that the Islamic State is seeking to attack, infiltrate or sabotage nuclear installations or obtain nuclear or radioactive material. This is especially worrying in a country with a history of security lapses at its nuclear facilities, a weak intelligence apparatus and a deeply rooted terrorist network.

On Friday, the authorities stripped security badges from several workers at one of two plants where all nonessential employees were sent home hours after the attacks at the Brussels airport and one of the city’s busiest subway stations three days earlier. Surveillance footage of a top official at another Belgian nuclear facility was discovered last year in the apartment of a suspected militant linked to the extremists who unleashed the horror in Paris in November.

Asked on Thursday at a London think tank whether there was a danger of the Islamic State’s obtaining a nuclear weapon, the British defense secretary, Michael Fallon, said that “was a new and emerging threat.”

While the prospect that terrorists can obtain enough highly enriched uranium and then turn it into a nuclear fission bomb seems far-fetched to many experts, they say the fabrication of some kind of dirty bomb from radioactive waste or byproducts is more conceivable. There are a variety of other risks involving Belgium’s facilities, including that terrorists somehow shut down the privately operated plants, which provide nearly half of Belgium’s power.

The fears at the nuclear power plants are of “an accident in which someone explodes a bomb inside the plant,” said Sébastien Berg, the spokesman for Belgium’s federal agency for nuclear control. “The other danger is that they fly something into the plant from outside.” That could stop the cooling process of the used fuel, Mr. Berg explained, and in turn shut down the plant.

The revelation of the surveillance footage was the first evidence that the Islamic State has a focused interest in nuclear material. But Belgium’s nuclear facilities have long had a worrying track record of breaches, prompting warnings from Washington and other foreign capitals.

Some of these are relatively minor: The Belgian nuclear agency’s computer system was hacked this year and shut down briefly. In 2013, two individuals managed to scale the fence at Belgium’s research reactor in the city of Mol, break into a laboratory and steal equipment.

Others are far more disconcerting. In 2012, two employees at the nuclear plant in Doel quit to join jihadists in Syria, and eventually transferred their allegiances to the Islamic State. Both men fought in a brigade that included dozens of Belgians, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the on-the-ground leader of the Paris attacks.

One of these men is believed to have died fighting in Syria, but the other was convicted of terror-related offenses in Belgium in 2014, and released from prison last year, according to Pieter Van Oestaeyen, a researcher who tracks Belgium’s jihadist networks. It is not known whether they communicated information about their former workplace to their Islamic State comrades.

At the same plant where these jihadists once worked, an individual who has yet to be identified walked into the reactor No. 4 in 2014, turned a valve and drained 65,000 liters of oil used to lubricate the turbines. The ensuing friction nearly overheated the machinery, forcing it to be shut down. The damage was so severe that the reactor was out of commission for five months.

Investigators are now looking into possible links between that case and terrorist groups, although they caution that it could also have been the work of an insider with a workplace grudge. What is clear is that the act was meant to sow dangerous havoc — and that the plant’s security systems can be breached.

“This was a deliberate act to take down the nuclear reactor, and a very good way to do it,” Mr. Berg, the nuclear agency spokesman, said of the episode in a recent interview.

These incidents are now all being seen in a new light, as information is mounting from investigators that the terrorist network that hit Paris and Brussels may have been in the planning stages of some kind of operation at a Belgian nuclear facility.”

…Continuing reading @ NY Times

Digital Security | Mar 2016

Gmail will now warn you if you’re being targeted by the government

– Digital Trends

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Apple isn’t the only company fighting against government-backed cyber attacks.

While Apple and the FBI bicker over user security, Google is bringing security into the public eye in a different way – by simply telling you what’s going on. The company will be increasing the visibility of Gmail security warnings to try and help people better protect themselves when sending and receiving emails.One of the changes is the expansion of the “safe browsing” notifications, which basically tell you when you’re about to open a suspicious link from an email. These warnings will show up when a link is clicked, but before the link actually opens, presenting users with one final option to retreat instead of visiting the page.

Google is also continuing the fight against state-sponsored attacks, showing a full-page warning when it thinks you’re being targeted by a government-backed hacker. Google does mention in a blog post that less than 0.1 percent of Gmail users will be receiving this warning, however, it highlights the importance of the warnings because of the fact that the people getting them are often journalists, policy-makers, and activists.”

…Continue reading @ Digital Trends