How Xi Jinping lost Australia

“While Australia was pivoting to China, Beijing was orchestrating its own pivot: Xi had delivered a very different address to his countrymen before his speech to the Australian parliament.

In January 2013, shortly after becoming the chairman of the Communist Party and just months before becoming Chinese president, Xi laid out plans to make China a global superpower through economic and technological might.”

“That meant going after the Western alliance —with Australia as the weakest link. So while publicly promising sincerity and trust, Xi secretly sought to squeeze the island nation.

First came the cyberattacks, with Chinese state-linked hackers going after the Australian parliament, the country’s Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian National University and numerous others.

Then came attacks on Australia’s Chinese-language media, with reports of coercion, bullying and intimidation at any outlet daring to depart from the Communist Party line.

Reports emerged that China had reached deep into the Australian political establishment, seeking to steer policy in China’s favor. Investigations found Beijing-linked businesses were the largest sources of donations with foreign ties, and the money went to both sides of the political spectrum.

The financial intrusions rattled Australian politics. In 2017, Australian Labor Party Senator Sam Dastyari was forced to resign over his ties to Chinese Communist Party-linked donors.”

“Later in 2017, China’s security chief warned Labor leadership the party would risk losing support among Australia’s Chinese diaspora community if it didn’t back an extradition treaty Beijing wanted.

And over the past 18 months, China hit Australia with a series of trade restrictions and tariffs in response to Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which emerged from the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Meanwhile, China was also building its military might in the region, making sweeping claims to the South China Sea and squeezing Hong Kong and Taiwan — moving southward toward Australia.”

“Australia, having once extended Beijing a hand of friendship, is now back in the arms of its old associates.

Earlier in September, Canberra announced a wide-ranging security partnership with the U.S. and U.K. The pact, dubbed AUKUS, comes amid a broader Australian attempt to pivot its economy away from China.

“The level of Chinese economic coercion and cyber espionage against Australia was once unimaginable, so our security agencies have learned to consider worst-case possibilities,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the National Security College at the Australian National University and author of “Indo-Pacific Empire.”

AUKUS, he said, “is an alignment made in Beijing.”

Under the new Anglo-American alliance, the U.S., U.K. and Australia have agreed to share advanced technologies with one another, including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, quantum computing, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities. Australia also abandoned a submarine deal with France worth more than €50 billion to acquire American nuclear-powered submarines instead.

“It’s a remarkable collapse in Australia-China relations and a massive deterioration in Australia’s security outlook that’s led to this outcome,” said Michael Shoebridge, a director at the influential Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) think tank, which receives funding from the Australian and other governments.”

Solar trade woes cast a pall over Biden’s climate goals

“Even the mere prospect of new trade restrictions has prompted solar installers, who are already facing supply issues and higher labor costs, to pull back on some projects. At the same time, Biden wants to avoid being seen to be weak on China — another centerpiece of his campaign pitch and early policy agenda.

The conflict pits parts of the solar industry against each other. American solar panel manufacturers are petitioning to expand existing tariffs on Chinese products to those coming from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Backers of the tariffs and trade restrictions say they would allow panel makers in the U.S. to expand production. Added duties would also accomplish another of Biden’s goals: punishing China over the use of forced labor.

But the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents developers that install panels and build solar projects, says imposing tariffs on those three nations would hit more than three-fourths of imports and about half of the total solar panel supply in the U.S. “That would have a pretty devastating impact on the solar industry,” said Abby Hopper, CEO of the trade group.”

“Other trade issues before the administration could also hamper solar build-out. Commerce is weighing whether to extend separate Trump-era tariffs on Chinese solar for another four years, and the Department of Homeland Security is considering whether to increase trade restrictions on Chinese panel components, like it did this summer.

In June, the Biden administration blocked the import of products containing silicon materials from a key Chinese supplier, Hoshine, over concerns it uses forced labor in its manufacturing. The company operates in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party has interned hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims.

The policy has resulted in Customs and Border Protection detaining some shipments of solar panels coming in from China.”

Democrats have a high-risk, high-reward plan to save Roe v. Wade

“Under the modern understanding of the Constitution, a federal law regulating abortion — like other federal regulation of health providers — is unambiguously constitutional.

Congress’s power to regulate is broad but not unlimited. The Constitution lays out a list of powers that Congress is allowed to exercise, such as the power to raise armies or the power to establish post offices.

One of these powers is the ability to enact legislation enforcing rights protected by the 14th Amendment. Both Roe and Casey rooted the right to an abortion in this amendment’s guarantee that no one may be denied “liberty” without due process of law. So, as long as Roe and Casey remain good law, Congress may enact laws protecting abortion rights.

But, of course, the whole reason Democrats want to pass the WHPA is because Roe and Casey are under threat. So Congress cannot realistically rely on its power to enforce the 14th Amendment if it wants to sustain legislation protecting abortion. The Supreme Court is likely to change its understanding of which rights are protected by the 14th Amendment very soon.

Alternatively, the WHPA could also be sustained under Congress’s broad power to regulate the national economy. This power derives from two provisions of the Constitution, which permit Congress to “regulate commerce … among the several states,” and to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” this power to regulate commerce.

As the Supreme Court explained in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), Congress may use its power over national commerce to regulate any “economic ‘class of activities’ that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.” The Court’s decisions permit federal laws regulating landlords, family farmers, and other businesses and professionals that primarily serve local consumers. They permit federal regulation of abortion.

Abortion is a medical procedure that is provided by professionals, who typically charge a fee. Some of these doctors travel across state lines to provide this service. They are trained at medical schools all over the country, perform their services in clinics funded by donors from other states, use medical equipment manufactured in other states — you get the idea.

Abortion, in other words, is an economic activity that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. So, under Raich, Congress could pass a law protecting abortion rights.

But this modern understanding of the Constitution isn’t exactly beloved by conservatives. And if Democrats pass a law like the WHPA, a Supreme Court dominated by Republican appointees might overrule Raich — or, at least, limit it, potentially doing considerable violence to Congress’s ability to provide other legal protections in the process.”

Medicare’s benefits are full of holes — and patients keep falling through

“Medicare is one of America’s flagship government programs, immensely popular with the public, a critical safety net for people over 65 — and it is full of holes.

The program’s benefits are not as comprehensive as most other kinds of health insurance Americans carry. Unlike with commercial health insurance or with Medicaid, which covers people in or near poverty, there may not be a limit on what a person on Medicare may have to pay out of pocket for their medical care.

Medicare also doesn’t cover dental or vision services, which are essential to the health of the over-65 population that it serves. The benefits for long-term care are meager, placing an enormous financial burden on patients and their families.

Two things can be true at once: Medicare has been a tremendous success in eliminating poverty from medical expenses among the elderly, compared to the pre-1965 status quo, and it is, as currently constructed, woefully inadequate to the realities of modern health care.

Democrats in Congress appear to recognize this problem. They plan to include some expansion of Medicare — by adding new benefits and perhaps making more people eligible — in the major budget reconciliation bill they hope to pass in the coming months.

For now, they appear to be focused on adding new dental, vision, and hearing benefits. They are working with finite resources; money spent on new benefits is money that can’t be spent on adding more people to the rolls or lowering patients’ out-of-pocket costs for other medical services.”

The US was a world leader in vaccination. What went wrong?

“The United States started its vaccination drive with a structural advantage. It had the most generous supply of Covid vaccines, along with Israel, thanks to investments made to procure doses before the vaccines were approved for emergency use by the US Food and Drug Administration.”

“Demographics may also be holding the US back to a degree. America has more young people than most Western European countries: About 16 percent of Germany’s population is under 18 versus about 22 percent of the US’s, to give one example. Children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines in the US (or anywhere else), which may be partly depressing its vaccination share.
But there is more to the story than supply quirks or demographic trends.

Compared to a country like Portugal, now a world leader in Covid vaccinations, the United States’ vaccination rates for its eligible population are not particularly strong, either. In Portugal, 99 percent of people over age 65 are fully vaccinated; in the US, the share is closer to 80 percent. Those disparities persist in the younger age cohorts: 85 percent of Portuguese people ages 25 to 49 are fully vaccinated versus less than 70 percent of the Americans in the same age range.

Another big difference that explains that divergence is one of culture and politics. Covid vaccinations have become, like so much of America’s pandemic response, polarized along political lines. As of July, 86 percent of Democrats said they were vaccinated, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, while only 54 percent of Republicans said the same. One in five Republicans said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine.

“This political divide over vaccines has contributed to the US falling behind European countries when it comes to coverage levels,” Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told me.

There are pockets of vaccine hesitancy in Europe, especially in Germany and France, but nothing on the scale of what we have seen in the United States. In Portugal, as reflected in its exemplary vaccination rate, skeptics have a very low public profile.

“We don’t need to convince people to get vaccinated,” Gonçalo Figueiredo Augusto, who studies public health at NOVA University Lisbon, told me over Zoom. “People want to.””

20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

“between direct ground troop assaults (up to and including the assassination of Osama bin Laden), targeted drone strikes, and a greatly expanded system of intelligence sharing both among US intelligence agencies (like the CIA and FBI, which famously failed to share intelligence before 9/11) and with foreign intelligence agencies, al-Qaeda’s operational capabilities have been badly degraded, especially when it comes to attacking the US.

This is not merely because of successes in the US-led war on terror. ISIS, a group that emerged as a direct result of the war, became a more effective recruiter of young aspiring militants than al-Qaeda, especially in 2014 and 2015. But it seems fair to credit at least a good share of the group’s weakening to US actions.”

“Let’s suppose for the sake of argument, though, that al-Qaeda was capable of more attacks on the scale of 9/11, and that absent the war on terror, the US would have lost 3,000 people (the approximate death toll on 9/11) annually due to al-Qaeda strikes. That amounts to some 60,000 lives saved to date. Whoa, if true.

But even with that degraded capability, global deaths from al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Taliban attacks have not fallen since 9/11. While al-Qaeda’s ability to attack America has been badly degraded, its operations in countries like Yemen, Syria, and Libya are still significant and deadly. ISIS’s attacks, and those of the pre-conquest Taliban in Afghanistan, were even deadlier.”

“The Costs of War Project estimates that between 897,000 and 929,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other post-9/11 war zones. These are conservative figures; they exclude, for instance, civilian deaths in countries like the Philippines and Kenya that have seen drone or special ops engagements but for which reliable civilian death figures are not available. It uses only confirmed deaths that are directly due to the wars, rather than estimated deaths using mortality surveys”

“Crawford and Lutz estimate that 15,262 American military members, Defense Department civilians, and contractors have died in these conflicts — a much lower toll.”

“The most comprehensive attempt I’ve seen of a cost-benefit analysis of counterterrorism policies is in the book Terror, Security, and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits, and Costs of Homeland Security, a 2011 book by political scientist John Mueller and engineering professor Mark G. Stewart.

They estimate the cost of a 9/11-scale attack at roughly $200 billion, both in economic costs in rebuilding, health care for survivors, and reduced business activity in the wake of the attack, and, more important, in the lives of those lost. To calculate the latter, they use a measure known as the value of a statistical life. The idea is to use, for instance, the extra wages that workers in especially dangerous jobs demand to be paid to estimate how much the typical person is willing to pay to extend their life.

In Mueller and Stewart’s book, they put the value of a statistical life in the US at $6.5 million (that’s actually lower than the $7 million a recent review of studies found). Using that, the gross cost of the war on terror falls to “only” about $13.9 trillion.

That implies that for the war on terror to have been worth it, it had to have prevented more than 69 9/11-scale attacks over the past two decades, or about 3.5 attacks every single year.

More plausibly, the war on terror could be justified through, say, the far greater number of lives saved through aid to the Afghan health system.

Here, too, though, the necessary number of lives saved needs to be enormous to justify the costs. At a total cost of $13.9 trillion and a value of $6.5 million per life saved, the entire effort would have had to save at least 2.1 million lives to have been worthwhile.

There’s simply no evidence suggesting that the war on terror, or the public health programs launched as part of it, saved that many lives on net. The only estimate I’ve seen in that territory is the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon telling his colleague Jonathan Rauch that he “guesstimates that U.S. activities [in Afghanistan] saved a million or more lives.””

“It is also important to think of the opportunity cost of the war. Coincident with the war’s launch was the initiation of PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. That program, then and now, buys and distributes massive quantities of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV and AIDS in developing countries, and promotes condom distribution and other prevention measures.

One influential study of PEPFAR’s impact found that in its first four years, in 12 specific focus countries, the program reduced the death rate from HIV by 10.5 percent, resulting in 1.2 million lives saved, at a cost of $2,450 per death averted. It is truly one of George W. Bush’s great achievements.

That implies that the US, by expanding funding for HIV treatment and in other cost-effective areas like malaria prevention, could save 2 million lives at a cost of more like $5 billion, or less than one-thousandth the cost of the war on terror.

When you step back and think about the cost of the war on terror and all the possible benefits that could have come from it, you would be hard-pressed to arrive at a place where the benefits outstrip the costs. Indeed, the former never comes remotely close to the latter. The war on terror was as wasteful, and morally horrific, on the balance sheet as it was in the collective memory.”

California is ending a rule that helped cause its housing crisis

“With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Gavin Newsom has officially ended the over 100-year scourge of single-family-only zoning in California.

Single-family-only zoning laws make it illegal to build anything but a single-family home on a particular lot of land. Now (with small exceptions like for fire-prone areas) it is also legal to build duplexes.”

“While overhauling single-family-only zoning might sound revolutionary, the bills are gentle attempts at increasing density: legalizing duplexes and quadplexes and making it easier to build small apartment buildings that provide up to 10 homes. This doesn’t mean single-family homes are outlawed or can no longer be built, but it provides homeowners the option to convert their homes into duplexes or sell their homes to people who want to do so. Before now, it was illegal for someone to convert their home to a duplex on a lot zoned for single-family zoning. Not anymore.

This isn’t a panacea for housing production. UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that SB 9 (the bill that legalizes duplexes) will “modestly accelerate the addition of new units relative to the status quo.” Other laws that restrict the building of new and more affordable homes are still in effect — in particular, local laws around minimum lot sizes will continue to make it illegal to turn single-family homes into duplexes if the existing lot is too small to subdivide while still adhering to the size regulations.

However, the Terner Center finds that “approximately 700,000 new, market-feasible homes would be enabled under SB 9.” That’s a lot! But because many people won’t want to sell their homes or subdivide them themselves, “only a share of that potential is likely to be developed, particularly in the near term. … As such, while important, the new units unlocked by SB 9 would represent a fraction of the overall supply needed to fully address the state’s housing shortage.””

Apple shut down a voting app in Russia. That should worry everyone.

“Apple and Google shut down a voting app meant to help opposition parties organize against the Kremlin in a parliamentary election in Russia that’s taking place over the weekend. The companies removed the app from their app stores on Friday after the Russian government accused them of interfering in the country’s internal affairs, a clear attempt by President Vladimir Putin to obstruct free elections and stay in power.

The Smart Voting app was designed to identify candidates most likely to beat members of the government-backed party, United Russia, as part of a broader strategy organized by supporters of the imprisoned Russian activist Alexei Navalny to bring together voters who oppose Putin. In a bid to clamp down on the opposition effort, the Russian government told Google and Apple that the app was illegal, and reportedly threatened to arrest employees of both companies in the country.

The move also comes amid a broader crackdown on Big Tech in Russia. Earlier this week, a Russian court fined Facebook and Twitter for not removing “illegal” content, and the country is reportedly blocking peoples’ access to Google Docs, which Navalny supporters had been using to share lists of preferred candidates.”

The Texas GOP sees Haitian migrants in crisis as a political opportunity

“This is not the first time Abbott has sought to falsely portray a group of migrants at the border as a public safety threat in order to rile up anti-immigrant attitudes among his base.

Just in the last few months, he issued an executive order allowing public safety officers to stop and reroute vehicles suspected of transporting migrants with Covid-19, though the measure has been blocked in federal court for now.

He has told Texas child care regulators to revoke the licenses of facilities that house migrant children and state troopers to jail migrants for state crimes, such as trespassing on private property when they cross the border.

And he is trying to finish the wall along the Texas border, pledging a $250 million “down payment” drawn from state disaster relief funds — money that could have gone to the aid of those still recovering from last winter’s storms or struggling under the burden of the pandemic. And he’s crowdfunded almost another $500,000 as of June 23. (Though that’s still a drop in the bucket of what he might need to finish the project, which the federal government estimated could cost as much as $46 million per mile in some sectors of the border.)

He has also played no small part in creating the false perception that migrants crossing the border are the source of his state’s coronavirus surge, which is spreading largely among the unvaccinated and leaving hospitals without enough ICU beds.”

“Despite promises to institute a more humane immigration policy, the Biden administration has clung to pandemic-related border restrictions, known as the Title 42 policy, implemented by the Trump administration last year. Since March 2020, that policy has been used to rapidly expel more than a million migrants, without hearings before an immigration judge. (A federal judge partially blocked the policy, effective September 30, and the Biden administration has appealed that decision.)

Biden is also restarting Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy, under which tens of thousands of migrants were forced to wait in Mexico for their court hearings in the US, and he has resumed rapidly deporting families at the US-Mexico border. All the while, his message to migrants has been “don’t come,” even though many of them are fleeing unlivable conditions, not unlike those Afghan refugees are running from — problems ranging from gang violence to climate-related devastation.

Toward Haitians specifically, Biden’s policies have appeared inconsistent. He has allowed more than 100,000 Haitians already living in the US to apply for Temporary Protected Status. But at the same time, he has continued to prevent Haitians waiting on the other side of the US-Mexico border from entering under Title 42 and, to the shock of immigrant advocates, resumed deportation flights to Haiti on Wednesday despite the country’s continuing turmoil.

Mexico has recently started refusing to take Haitians expelled under Title 42. That’s why Haitians stranded in Del Rio are slowly being processed by US immigration authorities and allowed to enter the US, where most will likely be released with instructions to appear for an immigration court hearing at a later date.

But if Biden had it his way, they wouldn’t be allowed to cross at all.”

Nuclear subs and a diplomatic blowup: The US-France clash, explained

“lays the groundwork for Australia to acquire at least eight nuclear submarines with support from the US and the UK. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it also marks the “first major initiative” of a tripartite new security agreement among the countries under the acronym AUKUS (pronounced AWK-us, according to the AP).

“This initiative is about making sure that each of us has a modern capability — the most modern capabilities we need — to maneuver and defend against rapidly evolving threats,” President Joe Biden said in Wednesday’s joint announcement with Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The AUKUS submarine deal replaces a previous agreement between France and Australia for France to deliver 12 non-nuclear submarines.”

“In public remarks..French officials, including Le Drian, have not held back their shock at Australia’s decision to turn to the US and the UK. “We had established a trusting relationship with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” Le Drian said on Thursday, according to Politico.”

“French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to withdraw his country’s ambassadors to the US and Australia in response to the pact marks a surprising breakdown in France’s historically close relationship with the US — but Australia’s decision to look to the US for its submarine fleet is less surprising.

Specifically, China’s military buildup, and its quest for dominance in the South China Sea — a major trade route for Australia — made the French submarines obsolete before they were even delivered. Because the US-made submarines rely on nuclear power, they have a far greater range than conventional submarines, don’t require refueling, and have better stealth capabilities — meaning they can stay underwater for months at a time without being detected, Australian National University researcher AJ Mitchell explained in the Conversation this week.”

“In addition to the advantages of nuclear submarines, Australia’s previous deal with France — a $66 billion submarine contract, finalized in 2016, that would have provided Australia with 12 conventional, diesel-powered Barracuda submarines — has been rife with difficulties.”

“On top of cost overruns and delays, there were other issues as well. Shortly after Australia and France reached the agreement in 2016, the French shipbuilder, then called DCNS, revealed it had been hacked and documents related to a separate Indian submarine project exposed. And while France’s submarine technology — conventional, diesel-powered attack vessels that could be switched to nuclear power — may have made sense when Australia’s relationship with China was less contentious, that relationship has soured recently due to China’s aggressive foreign policy in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

“Australia and the US reportedly conspired to keep the developing deal from France, even as officials from both countries met with their French counterparts. Biden discussed the future of their alliance with Macron in June, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made no mention of the pact when he met with Le Drian that same month in Paris.

Australia also hid its plans from France when Morrison and Macron met in June, although Morrison says he did raise concerns about the viability of diesel-powered vessels, according to the Hill. Australia’s defense and foreign ministers even met with their French counterparts late last month and issued a joint statement about furthering their defense cooperation, specifically citing the submarine program.”