The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review A Page of Books column
Feb 10, 2013 (The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
It's a good bet that the powers that be in Beijing aren't eager for April 23 to arrive.
That's the release date for a book by Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman and former CEO, and Jared Cohen, a Council on Foreign Relations adjunct senior fellow who directs the Google Ideas think tank and sits on a National Counterterrorism Center advisory board. Called "The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business" (Knopf), its harsh assessment of China is already generating buzz.
A Feb. 1 post on The Wall Street Journal's Corporate Intelligence blog by Tom Gara offers a sneak peek at the book, based on "preliminary galleys." He says it picks up where "The Digital Disruption," a long November 2010 essay by Schmidt and Cohen that foresaw camera-equipped smartphones' role in Arab Spring uprisings, left off.
According to Gara, Schmidt and Cohen's book labels China as "'the world's most active and enthusiastic filterer of information' as well as 'the most sophisticated and prolific' hacker of foreign companies." And China's willingness "to use cyber crime gives the country an economic and political edge, they say."
Gara writes that the Google duo foresees a growing divide "between states that support freedom online and those that suppress it," which could lead to a fractured Internet, with states of each type controlling different parts. Companies doing business with suppressive states could be shunned, and Western tech vendors could draw closer to their own governments to avert what Schmidt and Cohen call "the abuse of their products by an authoritarian state."
It's an indictment of China as hostile to U.S. and Western interests that carries additional weight because of who's making it. Yet ironies abound.
One is that Beijing might have known Gara's blog post was coming. The Journal is among U.S. media outlets that in recent weeks have said publicly that Chinese hackers -- apparently targeting unfavorable coverage of China -- have attacked their computer systems.
Then there's the likely effectiveness of the book's criticism of China. On a January visit to Chinese client state North Korea with former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson, Schmidt urged Pyongyang to make the Internet available to North Koreans and stop restricting information -- to no effect. It seems unlikely that this book will be any more effective at persuading China to dismantle its Internet-restricting "Great Firewall."
Still, Schmidt and Cohen deserve kudos for so boldly and uncompromisingly calling out China over its repressive and aggressive cyber policies -- especially because the book likely will further strain Google's relations with Beijing. Hopefully, their criticism won't be watered down before the book is published.
In the meantime, here are three titles worthy of attention:
"What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster" by Jonathan V. Last (Encounter Books) -- The author, a Weekly Standard senior writer, asserts that middle-class America is voluntarily implementing something much like China's infamous "one-child" policy. He says factors including high college tuition, feminism, the global economy and government regulations are making having children harder, and unless the U.S. birth rate rises, our population could actually decrease, posing a host of problems.
"The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty" by Ken Cuccinelli (Crown Forum, available Tuesday) -- Though it undoubtedly functions, at least in part, as a campaign book -- its Republican author, Virginia's attorney general, is running for governor there this year -- it's sure to interest readers elsewhere. Cuccinelli, the first state attorney general to argue against ObamaCare in federal court, recounts that and other legal battles he has fought in defense of the Constitution.
"At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge " by John R. Lott Jr. (Regnery, available Feb. 18) -- The economist author of "Freedomnomics" and "More Guns, Less Crime" surveys the harm done by President Obama's first term, how his second term is likely to be even worse and the kind of change needed to prevent permanent damage. A recurring theme is how the effects of Obama's policies are the opposite of what he promises -- for health care, the economy, liberty and safety.
Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@ tribweb.com).
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