Friday, May 28, 2004

Manhattan as Stonehenge 

Today is a "Gotham Equinox," (as metafilter calls it)and for those of us here in NYC, it should be an amazing sunset as the street grid will be aligned precisely with the setting sun. Happens twice a year.

Except right now it's raining. I hope the weather clears up in time for this.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Bad Album Covers 

Oh, man. Look here and here.

Incompetence in Execution or Incompetence in Conception? 

Daniel Drezner has a new piece up at The New Republic, and it's worth your time to read. The basic contention of the article is that the Neocon vision of a democratized Iraq was neither crazy nor unachievable. Instead, Drezner argues, it has been the Bush administration's poor planning and policy implementation that has led to the current fiasco and unfairly discredited the best available Mideast policy option:
If this is how events play out, the Bush administration will have left an ignoble mark on the history of U.S. foreign policy. Say what you will about the neoconservatives' skills at manners or management; their big idea cannot be dismissed lightly. There is a compelling logic to the argument that the primary source of frustration among Arabs in the Middle East is a sense of powerlessness. Trapped in a region littered with authoritarian and corrupt regimes, they are encouraged by these regimes and their Islamic critics to blame their situation on Israel and the United States. This is an ideal environment for fomenting terrorism. Creating an open society in Iraq would put the lie to this kind of hate-mongering.

To be sure, democracy promotion is far from easy. Indeed, regime change in the Middle East looks like a lousy, rotten policy option for addressing the root causes of terrorism, until one considers the alternatives--appeasement or muddling through. The latter option was essentially the pre-9/11 position of the United States and its allies, and has been found wanting. Appeasement or isolation has the same benefits and costs that the strategy had in the 1930s: It buys short-term solace but raises the long-term costs of facing a stronger and potentially undeterrable adversary.

For all their criticism of Bush's grand strategy, Europeans and left-wingers have offered very little in the way of alternatives to his vision. Some say that American soft power could bring about change in the Middle East. But decades of alternately coddling, cajoling, and ostracizing Arab despots has not led to liberalization or democratization. We have showered Egypt with aid, but have succeeded only in propping up an authoritarian monster in Hosni Mubarak. We have tried to isolate Syria, but have only strengthened that country's anti-American credentials. Maybe U.S. soft power is part of the solution to the Middle East's woes, but soft power alone cannot accomplish our desired ends.
I don't think Drezner is basically wrong: I completely agree that the most significant cause of our current woes in Iraq has been poor planning and policymaking. I am also unwilling to write off the notion that a democratic Iraq would have fundamentally altered the dynamics of Mideast politics and served as a counterweight to the appeal of radical Islamism. I even believe that there might have been a tiny chance that this end could have been achieved through force.

But it's utterly disingenuous for Drezner to claim that "Europeans and left-wingers" offered nothing but appeasement as alternatives to invasion. Look: I was living abroad during the run-up to the war, and I can't tell you how many stupid, knee-jerk anti-American, conspiracy-theory-based objections to the invasion I heard. I was ready to dismiss most of these claims as the result of Europeanness (or Kiwiness) and left-wingerhood. But the one policy alternative that I heard set forth over and over again, and that was at least as plausible as the options put forward by the neocons, was that the US could solve (or at least heavily mitigate) its Islamism problem by imposing some kind of solution on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

I'm not going to go into the arguments for and against this policy option, but it's amazing to me that Drezner totally disregarded it when drafting his piece. Drezner cites the truism that "the craft of foreign policy is choosing wisely from a set of imperfect options." Assuming that the administration's objective was to reduce the long-term threat to US national security stemming from violent Islamist movements, or to sow the seeds for a "democratic peace" including Mideast countries, or even merely to dispel the notion that America was the source of individual Muslims' problems, it's hard to understand why more resources weren't put into even symbolic efforts to resolve the Israel/Palestine problem. Chalk it up to incompetence: I'll let you decide whether it was incompetent policymaking or incompetent strategic thinking.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum weighs in. And Von agrees with my basic point.

UPDATE 2: Chris at Explananda has more.

Blind Muslim Clerics 

Everybody's reporting that radical British Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been indicted in the US and faces an extradition hearing in the UK for aiding Al Qaeda and plotting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

Many press reports note that Hamza has only one eye (and no hands). Which leads me to my honest question: why are so many Islamic leaders who make the news partially or completely blind? Is this a coincidence? Besides Hamza, I'm aware of:

Sheik Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas whom Israel assassinated earlier this year;

Sheik Omar abd al Rahman, the Brooklyn-based radical Islamist who is now in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing;

Mullah Omar, Taliban leader;

Abdurrahman Wahid
, former president of Indonesia (moderate and anti-Islamist, by the way).

Perhaps there are more.

Hamza and Mullah Omar, at least, are thought to have lost their sight in battle in Afghanistan. Participation in the anti-Soviet campaign there obviously lends some leadership status within certain communities. Still, though, I'm curious; is this coincidence or is there a reason for such prominence for blind religious leaders (some sort of moral standing offered by such a physical loss, maybe?)

Please don't post comments or send me e-mails with knee-jerk anti-Muslim reactions or cheap cracks. I'll be sure to delete and ban any posters who violate this rule.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Arms Races on the Periphery 

Here's some unpleasant news from the Financial Times:
Venezuela has embarked on a weapons procurement programme to gain the advantage in its military balance with neighbouring Colombia, edging the two countries towards an arms race...

Four European companies [sic]- Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and the UK - are competing in a tender for 200 armoured and tactical vehicles, in a deal estimated to be worth about $80m.

A delivery of missiles, of unspecified type, is due to be flown into Venezuela from Israel next week, according to documentation seen by the Financial Times.

Venezuela's procurement plan is taking place amid a sharp increase in tensions with Colombia over the capture earlier this month of more than 100 supposedly Colombian paramilitary fighters.

Mr Chávez, who is resisting an opposition drive to secure a recall vote on his rule, claims that the "mercenaries" were part of an "invasion" force hired by domestic opponents with links to Colombia and the US.

Opponents have dismissed the incident as a government pretext to round up dissident military officers, several of whom have been arrested in recent days.

Either way, Mr Chávez's procurement plans are likely further to unsettle relations between Venezuela's Cuban-backed government and the US-supported administration of Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe.

"Fears of a Colombian 'invasion' are unfounded and have more to do with the paranoia of the Venezuelan government," said Carlos Malamud, senior Latin America analyst at the Royal Elcano Institute in Madrid. "But to brandish the ghost of an invasion is an excellent excuse to justify a procurement process."
I can't claim to have any insight into Chávez's thought processes on this, nor do I have any handle on the Colombia/FARC conflict. The "paranoia" and "internal politics" explanations both sound quite plausible to me (and are hardly mutually exclusive).

But I do know that even more instability in Venezuela, one of the top four sources of imported US oil, is not something to be happy about. I'm concerned that the Bush administration's behavior has convinced such a large chunk of the world audience (including Mr. Chávez) that a self-interested, glutton-for-oil America is completely untrustworthy when it comes to foreign policy with oil exporting states. And I wonder whether a US attempt to defuse the tensions would have been more viable if we had not invaded Iraq and seemingly blown all credibility out of "benevolent hegemon" beliefs outside DC.

Sudan Link 

There's a new blog, which looks worthwhile, focused solely on Sudan/Darfur. Despite the kind of stupid name, it appears to be a top-notch resource.

[Via Crooked Timber]

Close House Races 

It's probably true: redistricting has minimized the number of truly competitive electoral districts in the House of Representatives. All the same, the hot-off-the-presses latest version of the Cook Report, which all politics junkies should probably read, lists 13 truly "toss-up" races. For those of you hoping to maximize the effectiveness of your campaign contributions, the list is worth a look.

Let's not kid ourselves: 13 races out of 435 is hardly a large number. The overall makeup of the House is unlikely to change drastically. On the other hand, unlike in the Senate, party control of the House and the identity of the Speaker are HUGELY important. The difference between a 1-vote Democratic majority and a 1-vote Republican majority is absolutely colossal in terms of what legislation is given floor consideration and the structure of things like amendment consideration and the make-up of conference committees. In short, these 13 races really MATTER.

I keep wondering whether it's possible or desirable for the Democratic Party to "nationalize" these elections. I recall the 1994 Republican landslide election very well: I had just started working on the Hill myself a few months earlier, and suddenly a large fraction of my new friends lost their jobs. My own job security was also thrown into doubt, as the Representative I was working for had to face a recount with a high potential of turning a win into a loss. It was an extremely attention-focusing experience, so my memory is seared with the conventional wisdom at the time: the Republicans' success was due mostly to the clever, nationalized campaign orchestrated by Newt Gingrich.

It might be possible to debate the long-term legislative effectiveness of the 104th Congress, but the electoral legacy of 1994 is hardly in question. Republicans have maintained control of the House for the entire period since that election, and have had a majority in the Senate for most of the interval. If it truly was Gingrich's strategy that led to the "tsunami," then his M.O. is well worth studying.

I bring all of this up because I recall well that the other contributing factor focused on by contemporary commentators was the "angry white man" phenomenon. Supposedly, there were a lot of latent Republican voters out there getting more and more steamed about Democratic excesses. For some reason, these legions of the pissed-off were unable to get themselves to polling stations in adequate numbers until the magic year of 1994. This is where Gingrich's "Contract with America" enters the story; ostensibly, it was Gingrich's positive program that mobilized voters across the country regardless of their particular district's local politics. Somehow, a "throw the bums out" narrative woke up this part of the electorate, whose members had felt too disenfranchised to bother voting before.

There seems to be a belief that there is a similar "angry at the incumbents" feeling out there today, 10 years after Gingrich's so-called "revolution." I wonder whether Gingrich's strategy (or what elements of it) might be brought to bear to Democrats' advantage. What should House Democrats be doing? Are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?

Here's a quick analysis: first, Gingrich's strategy benefited from the lack of a third party challenge. Ralph Nader is claiming that he'll bring out a large lefty vote which will also support Democratic congressional candidates. I think it's more likely that the sort of naive, non-strategic voters who come out to support Nader will vote for some oddball third-party candidate. I don't think Nader's argument on this issue is any more persuasive than his ego-driven Presidential bid. House Democrats probably can't convince him to step down, but they should go out of their way to avoid associating with him.

Second, Gingrich's "Contract with America" wasn't really all that radical. It focused heavily on internal reforms:
* FIRST, require all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply equally to the Congress;
* SECOND, select a major, independent auditing firm to conduct a comprehensive audit of Congress for waste, fraud or abuse;
* THIRD, cut the number of House committees, and cut committee staff by one-third;
* FOURTH, limit the terms of all committee chairs;
* FIFTH, ban the casting of proxy votes in committee;
* SIXTH, require committee meetings to be open to the public;
* SEVENTH, require a three-fifths majority vote to pass a tax increase;
* EIGHTH, guarantee an honest accounting of our Federal Budget by implementing zero base-line budgeting
. Obviously the vast majority of Americans were not exercised about proxy voting rules. But this list of reforms suggests that Congressional Democrats were somehow cheating, or had arrogated too much power to themselves. Today's Congressional Democrats should take note: the specifics of reform programs are far less important than creating an impression that reform is sorely needed and that the current leadership won't bring it about.

The Contract with America's legislative program had some radical elements, both populist (term limits) and conservative (then-radical welfare reform, capital gains tax cuts, tort reform). As I recall, however, the point of this program was less the legislative particulars and more the sense imparted that something would change. Clearly that "something" in today's context should be the management of our presence in Iraq. I wonder if an incredibly vague "program" for Iraq couldn't serve a similar function for today's Democrats. Perhaps a much more specific economic program could be presented as well, to provide a decoy for Republicans to attack.

I've run out of time here: I have to get back to my dissertation. I'll post more on this topic later.

UPDATE: Off the Kuff has more.

More Odd Trade Policy from the Bush Administration 

Oh, those radical free-traders in the Bush administration, with their steel tariffs and such. What will they do next?

Apparently, they won't stop the ITC from imposing anti-dumping duties on Chinese color TVs, at the very least. While I doubt this decision comes straight from the top, anti-dumping is a very, very politicized policy instrument.

What I can't figure out is which US producers are being hurt by allegedly-dumped Chinese TVs. Some domestic manufacturer must have been able to effectively claim losses for these duties to have been assessed, but this mystery producer's identity eludes me.

There's some discussion of this very question at Brad DeLong's site, but it's not terribly illuminating. Maybe I'll poke around myself a bit...


Chew on this: after 12 years, it's now legal to buy, sell and chew gum in Singapore again. Of course, you still need a license...

Thursday, May 20, 2004

New Feed 

Hi. If you read this site with an RSS reader or news aggregator or whatever it is you want to call it, this message is for you.

As of Monday, I will be turning off my old feed. Please direct your reader to my new feed.

Old feed address: http://geffen.blogspot.com/atom.xml
New feed address: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Bonassus

If you don't know what I'm talking about, please ignore this post.

That is all.

Google Me 

The latest, greatest odd Google search bringing a visitor to this site (according to EXTReMe Tracking): "restaurants workers or owners social self, value and thinks "

I actually don't have a lot to say on this topic. Sorry.

UPDATE: "thomas finneran stupidity" may actually be better. I don't have much to say on this topic, either, but I'll bet a lot of my readers do.

Another Sudan Update 

For those of you who are following the situation in Sudan (which I've covered before here and here), please be assured that despite a series of hopeful signs, things are NOT getting better in Darfur.

From the Financial Times [Link via Crooked Timber]:
"There are no more villages to burn," a United Nations relief officer said when describing the situation in western Sudan last week. Forced displacement of people had stopped to an extent, he added, and after more than a year of war, an unsettling calm had fallen across much of the region of Darfur.

But just because Darfur's villages have been razed to the ground, that does not mean the horror is over for the brutalised civilians of the area. The "Janjaweed" government-backed Arab militia continues its campaign of mass murder and rape against black African tribes in Darfur. The government of Sudan not only aids the Janjaweed with money and guns but also supports the fighters tactically with aerial bombardment of villages immediately before militia raids.

The Janjaweed have corralled civilians into camps - what some rightly call "concentration camps" - where many are dying slowly from disease and malnutrition. This year's planting season has been missed, grain reserves have been deliberately targeted and destroyed and the government continues to block humanitarian aid from reaching most displaced Darfurians. Those who were not slaughtered outright are clearly being left to starve. Since early last year, this vicious campaign has claimed an estimated 30,000 civilian lives; international aid agencies say that over 1.2m people have been displaced within Sudan and at least 120,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad, making Khartoum's conduct a grave threat to regional as well as internal stability. USAID estimates that another 350,000 could die due to the desperate situation in Darfur.

In short, the government of Sudan is conducting a scorched-earth, near-genocidal war against its own citizens.

You can read more about this awful story in the LA Times.

Daniel Drezner points out this Chicago Tribune story (with an unfortunate headline):
Sudan embargo shows crack

The Bush administration moved one step closer Tuesday to lifting an arms embargo against Sudan, even as it decried the government's role in blocking relief efforts for a huge humanitarian crisis sparked by continuing Sudanese military attacks against civilians.

Secretary of State Colin Powell removed Sudan from a list of countries that cannot receive U.S. arms because they have failed to cooperate with the U.S. on international terrorism. He formally notified Congress of that decision with the publication Tuesday morning of a notice in the Federal Register.

Sudan's removal from the so-called non-cooperative list moves it closer to having the arms embargo lifted, though that cannot happen until its name also is taken off a separate list of state sponsors of terrorism. The U.S. government maintains the two lists to pressure nations that either maintain formal ties with terrorist groups or do not do enough to help the U.S. go after them.

Later Tuesday, Powell did not mention his action on Sudan as he promised a group of development and relief workers that the administration "will not normalize relations" with the Sudanese military dictatorship until it addresses the humanitarian crisis unfolding in a region of western Sudan known as Darfur...

But Jemera Rone, a Human Rights Watch official who has worked on the Darfur situation, said it was "just appalling" for the U.S. government "to make any gesture toward Sudan like this." She also predicted the Sudanese government would hold it out to critics as "some sort of U.S. stamp of approval" for its actions.

So what's going on? Why is the US lifting sanctions on a country which is allowing or encouraging this kind of terror campaign? Part of the reason is that Sudan actually has two civil wars going on at the same time. Besides the Darfur catastrophe (where Arab Muslims are attacking Black Muslims), there has been an ongoing conflict between the Arab Muslim government in Khartoum and non-Muslims in the South (primarily the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or SPLA). This latter conflict appears to be ending: the government and the SPLA are wrapping up peace negotiations. But as this war ends, the other heats up:
There are strong suspicions that the government has been stringing out the talks with the SPLA simply to provide time to redirect military resources to the Darfur front. In any case, Khartoum almost certainly calculated - correctly - that the international community would be unwilling to speak out about the turmoil in Darfur as long as a deal between the government and the SPLA was so tantalisingly close.
It's tough to tell how much of the US decision to ease pressure on Khartoum is the result of independent, uncoordinated bureaucratic processes, how much is the result of a balancing act between various agendas (anti-terror, anti-genocide, pro-SPLA/Khartoum accords) within the State Department, and how much is just plain tone-deafness or stupidity. One important factor is that a 2002 US law set today as the deadline for a determination of whether progress toward a SPLA/Sudan peace accord was still being made. MostlyAfrica has good coverage of all the bureaucratic ins and outs.

[Note to conspiracy theorists: Sudan has oil! It must be about the oil, right?]

Any way you slice it, though, no one, not the EU, not the US, not the UN, not ECOWAS or the OAU, nobody: no one is stopping this ongoing horror story.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Hey, Man, It's All About the Oil, Man 

The scenario: a rich, English-speaking country leads a coalition of like-minded nations on a military mission to secure the independence of an oil-rich country and liberate it from an oppressive regime...

OK, OK. Actually, the parallel I'm trying to draw is weak at best. I'm invoking the case of Australia and East Timor. In case you missed this one, here's the scoop: Indonesia invaded the former Portuguese colony in 1975. The East Timorese generally objected, and some resistance groups began fighting back. A series of horrifying repressions, complete with famine, mass killings and rape, ensued. In 1998, after the Suharto government fell, the new Indonesian leader shocked his army by bowing to international pressure and allowing an East Timorese referendum on independence.

The referendum passed, but pro-Indonesian militias (and the Indonesian military) immediately embarked upon some good old-fashioned horrifying repression, which the Indonesian government refused to stop. Finally, President Clinton used the tool-of-the-running-dog-imperialists IMF as a lever to coerce the Indonesians into allowing a UN force, led by Australia, to enter East Timor and stabilize the security environment.

Hooray for multilateral institutions! Hooray for aggressive pursuit of human rights! Right? Er, maybe not, as reported by the BBC today:
East Timor is at risk of becoming a failed state, just two years after winning independence, Oxfam has warned.

It claims Australia is hampering East Timor's finances by laying claim to the lion's share of Timor Sea oil fields.

While Australia has been a "generous donor" it has actually reaped 10 times more in revenues from East Timor than it has given since 1999, Oxfam added.

Australia makes £1m ($1.7m) a day from a temporary deal granting access to two thirds of the oil fields, Oxfam said.

But, the charity argued, if a maritime boundary were set up between the two countries according to international law it would deliver "most, if not all" of these resources to East Timor...

James Ensor, Oxfam Community Aid Abroad's director of public policy said: "The vast oil and gas reserves of the Timor Sea provide East Timor with a window of opportunity for providing for its people and future generations.

"However, Australia is not displaying good faith in its current negotiations with our neighbour."
[Incidentally, Oxfam's James Ensor is not the 20th-Century painter James Ensor, at least not as far as I know...]

It's not just conspiracy theorists obsessed with oil who can find a good way to put this story to bad use. Osama bin Laden has described Australia's efforts to help end the mass murder in East Timor as "despicable" and has explicitly threatened retaliation against Australia.

I'm bothering telling you all of this because it points to the importance of following through on selling foreign policy initiatives to a world audience, even when the UN has granted such a policy an aura of legitimacy. More on this topic soon.

Side Benefits of Free Trade 

Apparently, not only can removing border controls and trade restrictions make economies more efficient and lower prices, these policies can also lower air pollution and stop prostitution. I wonder why they never mention this in economics textbooks?

Democratic Discourse? 

It's been a rough couple of days for Europe's leaders. First, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder got slapped in the face yesterday. No one seems to know what the slapper's motive was.

Then, today, Tony Blair had a "harmless purple powder" thrown at him by members of "Fathers 4 Justice", a fathers'-rights group apparently named by Prince.

Is there a connection between these two attacks? I'll leave it to you to decide, but I should point out that Schroeder and Blair are scheduled to meet tomorrow. Hopefully they'll discuss how tough it is to find good security staff these days.

A More Perfect Unit 

Arizona's Randy Johnson pitched the 17th perfect game in the modern era of Major League Baseball yesterday. Let me put this in perspective: By my calculations (admittedly very half-assed), there have been about 322,500 chances for a starting pitcher to throw a perfect game since 1900. Only 17 times has someone risen to the occasion. That means that attending a baseball game completely at random, you'd have about a 1 in 9,500 chance of seeing a no-hit/no-walk/no-error game.

By the way, the whole "no error" aspect of the definition of a perfect game points out how defense-dependent this entire concept is. People tend to complain that since errors have nothing to do with the pitcher's performance (unless they're errors made by the pitcher, of course), the concept of the perfect game is flawed. On the other hand, though, unless the pitcher comes up with 27 strikeouts, his performance is not the sole determinant of the hit count.

There are two close-but-not-quite-perfect games worth bringing up here, mostly because both bids were ruined by the failure of the pitcher's teammates. In 1995, Pedro Martinez (then pitching for the Expos) pitched 9 perfect innings, but gave up a double in the 10th. Had his teammates managed to score one measly run during the first 9 innings, this would have been a perfect game instead of an asterisk. Even more heartbreakingly, in 1959 Harvey Haddix pitched twelve perfect innings. His bid for the record books was ended in the 13th when his 3rd Baseman committed an error. Things went downhill from there, and Haddix ended up losing the game.

In any case, Johnson's achievement is very impressive. I just hope he remembers to thank his teammates.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


OK, I haven't posted anything today, I know. Tomorrow I'll be posting a good, long, hopefully interesting article on the latest battle between the US and its largest trading partner. That's right, Canada is on the warpath again. And this time, it's not about frozen rocks: it's about frozen pizza. Stay tuned...

In the meantime, if you're hoping to save some time, the folks at this site have already determined (among other things) how many ketchup packets it takes to fill up a bottle, and how long the noodles in a single pack of Ramen would be, cooked and laid end to end (170 feet, if you're in a hurry).

[Link via throwingthings]

Monday, May 17, 2004

More on Islands 

For those of you eagerly anticipating an update on the "I Like the Island Life" series of stories, I have some good news.

First, The Head Heeb has an analysis of the Spratly Island stories discussed on the Bonassus here and here. THH explains the international legal implications:
In using tourism to shore up its title, the Vietnamese government is no doubt thinking of the recent ICJ ruling awarding the nearby islands of Ligitan and Sipadan to Malaysia. Both Malaysia and Indonesia claimed the islands and neither could prove clear title, so the court analyzed which government had made greater use of them and shown greater intent to assume sovereignty. Indonesia argued that the Indonesian Navy was "active in the area" and that the islands had been used by Indonesian fishermen, while Malaysia pointed to its maintenance of lighthouses, licensing of commercial activity and sponsored tourism:
Malaysia observes that the tourist trade, generated by this sport [of scuba diving], emerged from the time when it became popular, and that it had itself accepted the responsibilities of sovereignty to ensure the protection of the island's environment as well as to meet the basic needs of the visitors.
When the court compared the activities of the two countries in exploiting Ligitan and Sipadan, it found Malaysia's more consistent with an assumption of sovereignty. The Vietnamese are no doubt hoping that an airport and tourist trade - which also features scuba diving - will trump the other claimants' token presence.

The ICJ's ruling, however, also carried a warning for Vietnam - that exploitation of disputed territory for the specific purpose of enhancing a legal claim doesn't count as much as continuation of previous activities. Vietnam's conduct may also be in breach of a 2002 agreement in which the claimants agreed to "exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes," which isn't likely to make a court sympathetic toward its claim. Still, international law precedents hold that title can be established "with very little in the way of the actual exercise of sovereign rights provided that the other State could not make out a superior claim," and the airport might carry the day in the event ASEAN mediation fails and the dispute goes to court.
THH goes on to note that the Spratlys are hardly indivisible, and suggests that territorial partition in conjunction with an oil revenue sharing plan might be a feasible resolution.

As a card-carrying political scientist, I'm inclined to believe that international law and legal institutions are unlikely to determine the Spratlys' fate on their own, particularly because a very large and powerful country (China) has interests at stake. If we do see a solution emerge from a multilateral institution, I'd guess it would be some kind of ad hoc panel put together to more closely reflect China's interests (and relative power) than the ICJ. On the other hand, THH is without question correct about the motivations for Vietnam's recent actions.

Still want more Island Life news? Stay tuned for (a lot) more on artificial islands and international relations here on the Bonassus. In the meantime, check out this article from THH on a radical budget-balancing measure suggested to the island nation of Nauru: selling itself.

My Long-Lost Cousin 

This just in: apparently, way back when in the 1930s, a family living in an isolated farmhouse on the Isle of Man was entertained, thrilled, and ultimately annoyed by a rarely-glimpsed but often-heard talking mongoose who called himself Gef.

I hereby claim kinship with Gef on behalf of the Geffen family, all of us having been called "Gef" or "Geffy" at some point in our lives.

I am proud to be associated with this, possibly the stupidest and least-scary "paranormal phenomenon" of all time. And now I return to the terrifying tale of the Haunted Dissertation, in which I unfortunately play a major role.

Friday, May 14, 2004

The Gambling Vote 

According to the Washington Times:
Casino Fortune, the world's oldest Internet casino, has launched an online presidential poll among America's gamblers. After 47,016 votes, John Kerry leads George W. Bush by a narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent.
No word yet on how many times Bill Bennett has voted.

More Spratly Tourism Opportunities 

As I mentioned before, Vietnam is pushing the Spratly Islands, a tiny, seemingly charmless and politically contested bunch of tiny outcroppings as a tourist destination. Why? Call it strategic tourism (read: they're trying to cement their claim to the oil fields thought to lie under the islands).

If you're interested in going, the Vietnamese now offer access by air as well as day cruises. Let me know if you take any good snaps

Thursday, May 13, 2004


I can hardly wait to see the conspiracy theories built on this foundation. I'm sure you're aware of the horrifying and savage story of American businessman Nicholas Berg, who was captured and decapitated (apparently by al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) in Iraq. There has already been some bush-league conspiracy theorizing centering on Berg's orange jumpsuit which I haven't bothered to pay any attention to. But now there's a weirder story:
CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports on what is turning into a bizarre mystery with a connection to 9/11.

U.S. officials say the FBI questioned Berg in 2002 after a computer password Berg used in college turned up in the possession of Zaccarias Moussaoui, the al Qaeda operative arrested shortly before 9/11 for his suspicious activity at a flight school in Minnesota.

The bureau had already dismissed the connection between Berg and Moussaoui as nothing more than a college student who had been careless about protecting his password.

But in the wake of Berg's gruesome murder, it becomes a stranger than fiction coincidence -- an American who inadvertently gave away his computer password to one notorious al Qaeda operative is later murdered by another notorious al Qaeda operative.
I can't figure out what could possibly be going on here. But I'll bet that by tomorrow evening there are at least 50 theories of various levels of implausibility being bandied about on the internet.

Must-Read for Nerds 

This post from Crooked Timber is the best misuse of social science methodology I can remember seeing. And it's funny, too.

Ladies & Gentlemen, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) 

Much of the blogosphere is busy condemning Sen. Inhofe for his nasty remarks yesterday. If you missed this the first time, here's what's gotten people so worked up (from Reuters):
As others condemned the reported abuse of Iraqi prisoners, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe on Tuesday expressed outrage at the worldwide outrage over the treatment by American soldiers of those he called "terrorists" and "murderers."
"I'm probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment," the Oklahoma Republican said at a U.S. Senate hearing probing the scandal.

"These prisoners, you know they're not there for traffic violations," Inhofe said. "If they're in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

Coalition military intelligence officers estimated that about 70 percent to 90 percent of the thousands of prisoners detained in Iraq had been "arrested by mistake," according to a report by Red Cross given to the Bush administration last year and leaked this week.

The report also said the mistreatment of prisoners apparently tolerated by U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq involved widespread abuse that was "in some cases tantamount to torture."

In heated remarks at odds with others on the Senate committee who took aim at the U.S. military's handling of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, Inhofe said that American sympathies should lie with U.S. troops.

"I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations, while our troops, our heroes are fighting and dying," he said.

Here are some other choice facts about the junior Senator from my home state:

* After the 1995 Murrah Center Bombing, when asked on "Crossfire" how many federal workers had died, he said the answer was unclear because "we don't know how many were playing hooky." (The New Republic 1/20/03)

* He sued his own brother.(CQ)

* He lied (on official forms, I believe) about his college graduation date, claiming to have finished school 14 years earlier than he actually did. (CQ)

* His Senate staffers downloaded so much porn on their office computers in June 1999 that his office network crashed (Boston Globe 6/24/1999)

I'll be adding more to this list soon. In the meantime, Atrios is promoting an anti-Inhofe petition. If this sort of thing makes you feel good, by all means go sign it. But it won't have nearly the effect that contributing a little money to a strategically-important House or Senate campaign will.

UPDATE: Some Oklahoma bloggers are sounding the drumbeat...

UPDATE: Welcome, new visitors! If you enjoyed this partisan red meat, you can find more here, here, here and here. Enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Nader and the Reform Party 

The LA Times and the Reform Party USA website are reporting that:
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader won the Reform Party endorsement early today, a development that enables him to claim political kinship with 1990s insurgent Ross Perot and get on the ballot in toss-up states Florida and Michigan.

Whether Nader will actually appear as the Reform candidate next fall in those states and five others where the party has ballot lines is still an open question. But the endorsement, which under party rules is equivalent to a nomination, gives him the option to do so...

Nader contends that his candidacy is drawing voters from the right and the left who oppose Bush. As proof of what he says is his centrist appeal, he touted the endorsement of the party that Perot founded in 1995 to support his presidential bid. Perot, who also ran in 1992, billed himself as a fiscal conservative and good government advocate who would clean house in Washington. He drew millions of votes in both of his runs.

Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan was the Reform nominee in 2000.

"This endorsement shows that our independent campaign is receiving support from across the political spectrum from people upset with President Bush and looking to shift the power back to the people, so a solution revolution can take hold and solve many of the nagging problems and injustices in our society," Nader said in a statement.
I'd like to make a few points about all of this.

First, the LA Times is correct in reporting that Buchanan won the party's nomination in 2000, and that Perot founded the party. On the other hand, what this story misses is that the Reform Party and Perot had an acrimonious divorce, after which Buchanan and the Natural Law Party's John Hagelin fought to take over the party apparatus (and its claims on matching funds and ballot access). While Buchanan won the fight, the party split into three offshoots, the American Reform Party (the original anti-Perot wing of the party), the Reform Party USA (which has now endorsed Nader, just as it did in 2000), and the Buchananite America First Party.

So what? So, Nader's claim (echoed by the Times) that right-wingers support him is more or less specious. The right-wing element which once was so prominent in the Reform Party has left the building and formed a separate party. When those guys (the America First Party) endorse Nader, THEN we'll have some news.

Second, Ralph Nader is a complete asshole.

Third, if you vote for him in November, I won't think much of you, either.

UPDATE: Political Wire, Captain's Quarters and Wizbang have more. So do Memeorandum and others.

UPDATE: I've toned the post down after further consideration.

UPDATE: The AP has missed this, too.

You Call This Progress? 

Gotta love that US Senate. Faced with an unfavorable WTO ruling holding that current US tax law illegally subsidizes exporters, "the world's greatest deliberative body" has come up with this response:
The US Senate has passed a package of tax breaks worth $170bn (£97bn), which it hopes will help patch up a long-running trade dispute with Europe. At the heart of the package is a lower tax rate for manufacturers, which have struggled to compete in global markets. The bill also aims to balance out tax breaks by closing a mass of loopholes, in particular for US multinationals. Crucially, it repeals $5bn in export tax breaks which Brussels insists are a disguised subsidy for US firms. European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy confirmed that final passage of the bill will spell an end to the EU sanctions currently in place on some imports from the US.
Sounds good, right? Free-traders can applaud acceptance of a WTO ruling and removal of some distortionary subsidies. Populists and liberals worried about America's declining industrial base can cheer as someone finally helps out US manufacturing. And the exporters I referred to in this earlier post can breathe a sigh of relief now that Europe will be removing (instead of increasing) punitive tariffs on their products.

But a closer look reveals an uglier picture. The NY Times explains:
The original goal of the bill had been to replace a tax break for exporters that the World Trade Organization had declared illegal. But the measure that passed was a 900-page behemoth that offered something for almost every business interest...

The immediate corporate beneficiaries would include any company that still produces goods in the United States. The bill would also define "manufacturers" to include software companies like Microsoft, mining companies and Hollywood studios.
Taxpayers for Common Sense (a slightly oddball, pro-environment and fiscally conservative watchdog group) reports that the bill as passed by the Senate contains more deals for special interests than a small army of stick-shakers could shake sticks at. Some notable examples include exempting "educational" archery equipment from existing excise taxes and new tax breaks for dog racing tracks and Oldsmobile dealerships. Less amusingly (and more worryingly for environmentalists, anti-corporate-welfare progressives, and would-be budget balancers), the bill cuts taxes on large energy corporations to the tune of $14 billion.

But the strangest and most potentially-discomfiting thing about the bill is the tax break for "manufacturing" firms. In order to get in line with the WTO's "national treatment" and anti-export subsidy rules while still maintaining assistance to domestic firms, the Senate has chosen to throw a bone to all companies that make stuff here in the US. Shockingly, some very conservative Republicans have made good points on this matter. In their minority view in the bill's committee report, Senators Nickles and Kyl note that:
[t]he manufacturing deduction is not neutral because it could cause companies with a variety of business operations to shift more resources to their manufacturing operations to take advantage of the lower rates, even if that is not the most productive use of their resources. We believe that the reported bill will lead us down the slippery slope of industries pressuring Congress to expand the definition of 'manufacturing' in the future to allow them to qualify for the deduction, regardless of whether the industry can properly be defined as a manufacturing industry. We see this already in the reported bill, which allows films to qualify for the manufacturing deduction. We know that special-interest tax provisions for favored industries lead to unproductive, tax-driven economic activity; we should not add yet another such provision to our tax code.
And that was before the orgy of amendments was added (and before the inevitable addition of even more junk in the House-Senate conference on the bill).

Kyl and Nickles point out very good reasons to oppose this bill regardless of one's political leanings.

Populists/Liberals: Even if you cling to the idea (against the consensus among economists) that an American manufacturing base is a really important thing to maintain, this bill isn't going to get you there. Instead, the bill creates an incentive structure whereby any firm or group of firms who will gain more from a 3% tax break than they expect to lose in lobbying costs (discounted over time, of course) will find a way to get defined as "manufacturers." I can promise you right now that in the long run US manufacturing jobs will still be lost, even with the 3% tax cut, and that plenty of ununionized, poorly-paying industries will somehow successfully package themselves as manufacturers. The best one can hope for is that the bill will slow down inevitable plant closings, giving employees more time to equip themselves to meet new economic realities; there are far better, politically feasible ways to help displaced workers though, as I've argued before.

Technocrats/Free-Traders: This is not what the WTO is supposed to accomplish. Ask your typical technocrat why he supports the WTO, and he'll tell you all about reciprocity norms, reaching higher equilibria, overcoming collective action problems and the like. But underlying all this jargon is the idea that the WTO helps countries lower their trade barriers in order to achieve more efficient allocation of resources within their economies and across national borders. The bill being considered does a lot of shifting redistributionary policy around without clearly reducing distortions in the economy. And the idea of new special treatment for manufacturing, however defined, should bring back unpleasant memories of the bad old days, even if national treatment laws are being technically adhered to.

Unless you're a Member of Congress looking to pick up a little electoral or campaign-finance support, or a lobbyist, it's tough to see why you'd be happy about this bill. There's some chance the House won't get its act together and pass similar legislation, and an even smaller chance that the bill will get hung up some other way between now and the end of the legislative session. But don't count on it.

UPDATE: Click here for an over-the-top rant about manufacturing jobs as a very bad thing. [Link via Drezner]

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Update on Sopranos Theory 

Steve Silver (a real journalist who does journalistic things like talking to actual human beings about stories) went to a Sopranos panel discussion and asked some important questions:
Some fascinating insights were shared about the writing and storyboarding process, such as the way the entire arc of each character is mapped out at the beginning of the season. I also asked Green to confirm Daniel Geffen’s theory about Little Carmine being a George W. Bush stand-in. She said that while the theory made sense she hadn’t heard it before, although Green stressed that that particular episode was penned by another writer.

Interestingly, the Gay Vito thing did not come up in conversation, although an HBO publicist (while trying to fend off a pushy reporter asking about Dominic Chianese’s alleged ties to political extremist Lenora Fulani) said that Vito’s story is not one that will resurface in any major way this year.

And finally, Green confirmed that the writing of the sixth and final season will begin in January of 2005, with the new episodes debuting in (yikes) January of 2006. So enjoy the last three episodes of this year; you won’t be getting any more new ‘Sopranos’ for awhile.
Intriguing stuff. As I posted yesterday in an update, I'm more certain than ever about my pet theory, even without confirmation from the writers. I still haven't decided how I feel about the whole "we just drop interesting storylines altogether if we feel like it" policy, and I'm mildly disappointed we won't see how the Finn/Vito interaction plays itself out anytime soon.

Also, Dominic Chianese is being accused of ties to Fulani? Can you imagine seeing Junior Soprano up on a dais behind a political candidate?

UPDATE: For those of you who don't read the comments, Adam Bonin documents the Chianese-Fulani axis, including a link to the picture I imagined in my original post. Read the comment. And leave one yourself, you lurker, you.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Scandal at the New York Times 

I read this in the New York Times and my jaw dropped:
The voice of Bill Murray as the world's laziest cartoon cat. It's about time Jim Davis's comic strip became a feature film.
It's shocking enough that Bill Murray would stoop this low. But how could anyone, anywhere even THINK that Garfield should be made into a movie? What has become of the Times?

By the way, I would like to see a "Family Circus" movie.

Better Than Ignoring Threats, But Still... 

Can this possibly be true? US News & World Report has the following, well, report:
It was the lead item on the government's daily threat matrix one day last April. Don Emilio Fulci, described by an FBI tipster as a reclusive but evil millionaire, had formed a terrorist group that was planning chemical attacks against London and Washington, D.C. That day even FBI director Robert Mueller was briefed on the Fulci matter. But as the day went on without incident, a White House staffer had a brainstorm: He Googled Fulci. His findings: Fulci is the crime boss in the popular video game Headhunter. "Stand down," came the order from embarrassed national security types.
I mean, "Don Emilio Fulci?" An "evil millionaire?" Man, oh, man, I hope this story is just B.S.

[Link via Atrios]

Should He Stay or Should He Go? 

President Bush has issued another statement of confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today:
Bush praised Rumsfeld saying, "You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."
But not all non-Presidents agree. The developing scandal over the horrifying behavior of US troops at the Abu Ghraib prison has generated calls for Rumsfeld's resignation from Democratic leaders including Sen. Joe Biden, the editorial pages of the Economist and, surprisingly, the Army Times. This last editorial, by the way, is well worth your time to read.

It's probably too soon to tell whether Rumsfeld will hold on to his office or not (although if you want to bet on it, online bookies have your action covered). But would a Rumsfeld resignation be a good thing, either on the merits or in terms of politics? What would be accomplished if our President actually had the guts to fire him?

Pro-war pundit Andrew Sullivan has pointed out exactly why the Abu Ghraib fiasco is serious enough to merit considering showing Rumsfeld the door:
The narrative of liberation was critical to the success of the mission - politically and militarily. This was never going to be easy, but it was worth trying. It was vital to reverse the Islamist narrative that pitted American values against Muslim dignity. The reason Abu Ghraib is such a catastrophe is that it has destroyed this narrative. It has turned the image of this war into the war that the America-hating left always said it was: a brutal, imperialist, racist occupation, designed to humiliate another culture. Abu Ghraib is Noam Chomsky's narrative turned into images more stunning, more damaging, more powerful than a million polemics from Ted Rall or Susan Sontag. It is Osama's dream propaganda coup. It is Chirac's fantasy of vindication. It is Tony Blair's nightmare. And, whether they are directly responsible or not, the people who ran this war are answerable to America, to America's allies, to Iraq, for the astonishing setback we have now encountered on their watch.

The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong... The job is immense; and many of us have rallied to the administration's defense in difficult times, aware of the immense difficulties involved. But to have allowed the situation to slide into where we now are, to have a military so poorly managed and under-staffed that what we have seen out of Abu Ghraib was either the result of a) chaos, b) policy or c) some awful combination of the two, is inexcusable. It is a betrayal of all those soldiers who have done amazing work, who are genuine heroes, of all those Iraqis who have risked their lives for our and their future, of ordinary Americans who trusted their president and defense secretary to get this right. To have humiliated the United States by presenting false and misleading intelligence and then to have allowed something like Abu Ghraib to happen - after a year of other, compounded errors - is unforgivable. By refusing to hold anyone accountable, the president has also shown he is not really in control. We are at war; and our war leaders have given the enemy their biggest propaganda coup imaginable, while refusing to acknowledge their own palpable errors and misjudgments. They have, alas, scant credibility left and must be called to account. Shock has now led - and should lead - to anger. And those of us who support the war should, in many ways, be angrier than those who opposed it.
It's tough to argue with Sullivan here, but I don't think he has made a case for Rumsfeld's resignation so much as Bush's. At this point, what purpose would be served by getting Rumsfeld's head? Would it balance out some moral scales? Would it regain any lost legitimacy for this country or this administration? Would it change the mind of any foreign citizen whose revulsion at Abu Ghraib hasn't yet hardened into anti-American sentiment? Would it alter the electoral landscape in the US?

Jeff Altworth at The American Street has this to say:
Strategically, I question the value of firing a Defense Secretary six months before an election. Things are critical in Iraq now, and the distraction and vacuum created by his departure won't improve things in the short term. In fact, it's a lot easier to see how the absentee oversight of the past year will only worsen if Rummy gets the ax. There's a certain calculation here--I wouldn't make this argument if I thought Bush was going to win re-election.

Also, I don't think it helps Democrats to score a political victory. Their target isn't Rumsfeld per se, but the policies of the Bush administration. Trying to get Rummy fired is an effort to win a symbolic victory at the expense of the ideological war. Rummy is a footsoldier in the neocon rationale for invading Iraq; while getting him fired would be a rebuke of that rationale, it would remain symbolic. It's far more potent politically to have the shamed Rumsfeld in the administration where he is an ongoing symbol of Bush's Iraq failure. Remove him and the Bushies can move on. Keep him, and you have a constant reminder that this administration let torture happen (or worse--encouraged it).

The one mitigating argument, and it's a very good one, is that the world needs to see Rummy's head on a plate. I agree that the biggest consequence of this debacle is our damaged standing in the world--and therefore our increased vulnerability to terrorists. But firing Rummy won't actually change the policies that have enraged the world. The key neocons--Cheney, Condi, Wolfowitz--are still guiding policy. Rummy was actually an old cold warrior--more a Kissinger type than a neocon. Firing him may please the world, but it could have grave consequences in removing heat on the abysmal policy rationales that got us here in the first place.

Rummy's ultimately responsible for the torture. But firing him won't prevent similar abuses in the future. Perversely, keeping him on the job may.
On the one hand, I'm inclined to agree with Alworth: taking the long view, a resignation (or better yet a firing) may not accomplish much. On the other hand, there are a couple of facts worth addressing which militate in the other direction.

First, somebody is going to get fired for this. At this point, we know that some of the actual perpetrators are being court-martialed: if no one higher up the chain of the command is held accountable, though, the troop morale implications alone are tough to swallow. The logical stopping point here is Rumsfeld. William Safire and others disagree, saying that the only reasons to remove Rumsfeld would be if he ordered the actions or tried to cover them up, but I think it's clear that monitoring of one's underlings is also in the job description. Furthermore, there's a strong case to be made that Rumsfeld set the tone that led, more or less inexorably, to Abu Ghraib, as the Washington Post's editorial page has convincingly argued here and here.

Second, while it's tough to see how policy would be different over the next few months with or without Rumsfeld as Secretary, the spectacle of his being ushered out of office peacefully may serve to reassure somebody somewhere that democratic norms are still respected in this country. I can't believe it's come to a point where that's a worthwhile argument, but sadly, here we are.

Third, to the extent that this becomes an ongoing story, and to the extent that it creates uncertainty at the Pentagon over whether Rumsfeld will continue to be the boss or not, US defense policy clearly suffers. I don't know how to turn this point into a valuable insight except to say that the case for Rumsfeld's departure grows stronger every day that people outside the fringe keep discussing it, if only because of the distraction/uncertainty factor.

Finally, there is nothing like a dramatic gesture to indicate that there is, indeed, something afoot. While it might seem like firing Rumsfeld would allow Bush to make a clean break with the scandal, as Bush (or somebody at the White House) has evidently concluded, there's a downside as well from a media/politics perspective. The presence of the events of Abu Ghraib in media accounts of American politics is likely to be lengthened if Rumsfeld resigns, if only because of the spate of stories about the new guy and how he got his job.

UPDATE: Billmon has more on the political side of the question.

Blogger Fixed? 

It appears as though Blogger, the web-based service I use to generate this site, has made some significant improvements as of today.

Most notably, there is now a way to save drafts of posts, which hopefully will result in no more lost work for me (and therefore less frustration, and hence more posts and ergo more for you to read). Keep your fingers crossed.

Movement on Agricultural Protection? 

Bleeding-heart hippies and soulless capitalists agree: rich countries are screwing poor people in poor countries by keeping their products out of the marketplace. To put it a bit less pointedly, one of the biggest factors in the continuing failure of so many poor economies is the high level of agricultural subsidies and tariffs in the rich world. How big are these subsidies? As the William & Flora Hewitt Foundation has explained, they're VERY BIG:
According to a recent study released by the International Food Policy Research Institute, protectionism and subsidies in rich countries cost developing nations about $24 billion annually in lost agricultural and agro-industrial incomes.

Agriculture continues to be one of the most protected sectors in the industrialized world. With generous domestic farm support policies and what amount to export subsidies, high-cost farmers in the United States, European Union, and Japan can undercut farmers in poor countries, pricing them out of world markets. (Furthermore, most agricultural subsidies and farm support payments in the United States go to large farmers and agri-business interests, often encouraging environmentally damaging farming practices.) The latest farm bill, signed into law last year, only exacerbated the situation by doling out approximately $180 billion in farm support payments and subsidies. Total support to agriculture in OECD countries amounted to $311 billion in 2001, or about $850 million per day:

* OECD support to domestic sugar producers is approximately $6.4 billion per year—roughly equal to the total value of developing country sugar exports. Moving to free trade in sugar markets could generate as much as $4.7 billion in welfare gains, with a large portion going to the benefit of poor producers in developing countries.

* A recent op-ed in the New York Times, signed by the presidents of Mali and Burkina Faso, noted that the $3 billion plus in subsidy payments to 25,000 U.S. cotton farmers was greater than “the entire economic output of Burkina Faso, where two million people depend on cotton.” In fact, U.S. cotton subsidies in the 2001-02 season were three times U.S. foreign aid to Africa over the same period of time. The World Bank estimates that for Benin alone, a one percentage point increase in the world price of cotton raises per capita income by 0.5 percentage points, and reduces poverty incidence by 1.5 percentage points. Overall, cotton subsidies depress world cotton prices by approximately 10 percent.
Of course, removing such barriers is no easy matter politically, no matter how much it might help individuals in poor countries find a way out of poverty, and regardless of the fact that it would lower food prices for people in the developed world. There are two stories here: the first is simply that agricultural interests are well-organized and very politically active in the rich world. From Japan's rice farmers to cotton producers in the US to European sugar growers, there's a long and widespread history of unusually influential lobbying by the OECD's agricultural industries. The other factor, often ignored in political economy theorizing, is that rich country voters who have never set foot on a farm often hold a very romanticized view of the value of protectionism. For many people, the narrative of "traditional ways of life under attack by impersonal global forces" that we see in the speeches of Jose Bove and his counterparts around the world is very powerful and affecting.

So what's the news? There's been a lot of cause for complaint of late. The most recent WTO summit, which was supposed to address these very issues, collapsed when a coalition of developing countries, led by Brazil, joined together to present a coherent set of demands to the EU, US and other big players. The rich countries rejected these claims, and while there has been a lot of finger-pointing, the basic fact is that no matter who one blames, no progress was made. More recently, other bloggers have commented on some prospective divide-and-conquer strategies being adopted by the EU to break this impasse without jeopardizing their protected growers.

Recent headlines, however, suggest that the current unfortunate situation may not be sustainable. First, and most importantly, the WTO seems to have ruled that the US's current cotton subsidy policy is in violation of its treaty obligations. It's still too early to tell how this will play out: the Bush administration, despite its free trade rhetoric, has cravenly chosen to appeal the case. But it actually looks as if some progress will finally be made. The WTO is also hearing a similar case against the EU's sugar-beet subsidies right now. As I've noted before, a WTO ruling doesn't directly change anything. But the prospect of costly countervailing duties and the loss of the moral high ground represented by losing a WTO case may change the cost/benefit calculus for rich country governments enough to make significant concessions possible.

A second, tougher-to-take-seriously development was reported today by the BBC:
The European Union has offered to stop subsidising farm exports in a move aimed at reigniting world trade talks.

European trade commissioner Pascal Lamy has written to members of the World Trade Organisation outlining the plan.

An agreement will depend on other WTO countries such as the US, Canada and Australia being willing to follow suit.
This sounds good, but it's tough to tell whether this is just so much cheap talk or an actual negotiating stance. A cynic might guess that Mr. Lamy is banking on the US balking, or note that actually getting EU member states to play along just got much tougher with the expansion of that body to 25 states. An even more damning critique of Lamy's stance can be found here:
Diplomats from EU trade partners welcomed the EU's offer but said it would have only a limited impact because it was simply a public announcement of something the bloc had long ago been signaling in private.

"Of course it is good news but I do not see it making an awful lot of difference," said one Geneva diplomat from a leading developing country.

The bloc insists it has already made massive strides in reducing the worst of its trade-distorting farm support -- market price guarantees and export subsidies -- in two reforms in 1992 and 1999 and also in major changes agreed last June.

On market access, Lamy said the EU was sticking to its guns for a "blended" formula, which would allow the 25-nation bloc and countries like Japan with expensive domestic farm industries to keep high tariffs on some politically sensitive goods.

But the G20 group of developing countries, led by Brazil, India and China, has rejected this as it says it would asks too much of developing nations and too little of richer states.
Finally, how seriously can we take Lamy's offer? Let's ask the French:
France distanced itself from an offer by the EU executive commission to eliminate EU agricultural export subsidies, saying the initiative exceeded the commission's negotiating mandate.

"This seems to exceed the negotiating mandate and also seems to be tactically very dangerous," French Agriculture Mimister Herve Gaymard said Monday at a meeting of European Union farm ministers.

He was speaking following an announcement by European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler that the EU was prepared to abolish its agricultural export subsidies if other members of the World Trade Organization did the same.

Fischler, appearing at a press conference here, said the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, had sent a letter to its members on Friday informing them of the proposal.

The letter was signed by European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy.

Gaymard criticized the initiative, which he said "signalled a degree of flexibility" even though none of the EU's parters in the WTO had made a similar gesture.

"For all these reasons we are very much against the contents of this letter," Gaymard said, adding that he did not believe that all EU member states "are on the same page as the commission."
I can only imagine what the "free traders" in the White House have to say about the proposal.

NOTE: I'm actually surprised to note this, but the coverage of Lamy's proposal from UK sources tends to be very impressed by his openness, while the US coverage is far more skeptical. Maybe, MAYBE this is because the reporters are influenced by some kind of nationalist feeling. I'm guessing that if the story gets covered further in the days to come, this trend will disappear.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Pointless Snarkiness and Eye-Rolling 

OK, there's really no story here, but Blogger (AGAIN!) just ate a long post of mine and I want to put something up. So bear with me.

The NY Times reports today that
At least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, made a tape recording that day describing the events, but the tape was destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it, the Transportation Department said today.
I don't for a second believe that there is any conspiracy-theory value to this story. Nor do I believe, after reading the rest of the article, that any vitally important information was lost. Still, there are other parts of this tale worth sharing:
The taping began before noon on Sept. 11 at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, but it was later destroyed by an F.A.A. quality-assurance manager, who crushed the cassette in his hand, cut the tape into little pieces and dropped them in different trash cans around the building, according to a report made public today by the inspector general of the Transportation Department.
This is truly bizarre behavior, don't you think? Apparently the quality-assurance manager does quality work no matter what he's doing. I can only imagine what the memos he writes look like.

Of course, they can't be any worse than the memos written by the manager who made the taping in the first place. Why were the tapes made?
The center's manager...asked the controllers to make the tape because "he wanted a contemporaneous recordation of controller accounts to be immediately available for law enforcement," according to the report...
Ok, enough. The paper of recordation has had its sayinghood. Consider this postation finished.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Patting Myself on the Back 

The Bonassus has been chosen as Notes on the Atrocities's "Daily Link" today. Thank you, Jeff "Emma Goldman" Alworth!

Readers: take a look at his site. It's worth your time.

Iraqi Protest Posters 

The bottommost sign in this picture has to be the subtlest, most understated and most persuasive protest poster ever made:

[Photo from Today's LA Times]

UPDATE: Since a reader-who-shall-remain-nameless complained that the sign was too small to read, here's what it says: "YOU GAVE A BAD IMPRESSION ABOUT AMERICA AND CRISTIANS"

Democrats and the Senate 

Do Democrats have a shot at taking back the Senate this November?

Conservative commentator Fred Barnes says it's not such a long shot. Considering the current 51-49 split, with a Kerry win the Democrats would only need to pick up two seats to regain the majority they lost after the 2002 elections. As Barnes notes:
To pull it off--and assuming a two-seat gain is required--Democrats must achieve three goals. First, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle must be re-elected in South Dakota. Second, Democrats have to limit their loss of Senate seats in the South to two. Third, they need to capture all four of the vulnerable Republican seats. Capturing the Senate won't be easy, but Democratic chances have dramatically improved as the four Republican seats turned soft.
Political Wire points out that if Kerry wins, Republican governor Mitt Romney currently holds the power to appoint Kerry's successor in the Senate, which would actually make the Democrats' magic number 3. But as this Boston Globe article from last month points out, Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature have introduced legislation
to strip Governor Mitt Romney of his power to fill the Senate seat that Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry would vacate if he wins in November.

The bill, sponsored by the House and Senate cochairmen of the Joint Committee on Elections Laws, would mandate a special election within 105 to 130 days after a vacancy in the Senate is declared. The seat would not be filled temporarily.

One top Massachusetts Democratic leader said he is confident that the bill will whisk through with enough votes to override an expected Romney veto. House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran said yesterday that the Legislature would take a serious look at the proposal.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Too Good to Be True, Acushla? 

So, I was reading a Sherlock Holmes book last night (The Valley of Fear) and I came across the following passage:
"For God's sake, Ettie, let it stand at that!" he cried. "Will you ruin your life and my own for the sake of this promise? Follow your heart, acushla!*"
Following the asterisk, I found this helpful footnote:
* Conan Doyle's mangled attempt to recreate an Irish endearment; what this word actually means is "O diarrhea"
I went online to see if I could find other uses of this word, and was surprised to see that actually, acushla defined as diarrhea seems to be limited to Sherlock Holmes scholarship, whereas there are thousands of cases of the word being used as an endearment. Is "O diarrhea" a good endearment? Did the scholars make a mistake? Who can solve this mystery (besides Sherlock Holmes)?

If anyone has a good answer, let me know, and I'll print it upside-down at the end of the blog.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Why Ted Rall is So Bad 

I think Henry Farrell from Crooked Timber put it best in this post:
He’s the Ann Coulter of the left - a shameless self-publicist trying to build a career out of moral superiority, cheap shots and relentless, vicious stereotyping. To be avoided at all costs, in other words.

Those Wacky Critical Theorists 

After a startlingly inauspicious debut, New Republic television critic Lee Siegel goes some way toward redeeming himself (herself? so hard to tell) with this line from an article on the finale of Friends:
The critics for whom popular culture is just social propaganda should feast, and maybe choke, on Oregon's new policy of providing its prison population with flat-screen televisions that most unincarcerated people can't afford.
Discipline and Punish, indeed.

Why Bush (and Everyone Else) Needs Kerry To Win 

In this opinion piece in last Sunday's Washington Post, Robert Kagan offers a challenge to critics of the "democratizing Iraq" project:
All but the most blindly devoted Bush supporters can see that Bush administration officials have no clue about what to do in Iraq tomorrow, much less a month from now. Consider Fallujah: One week they're setting deadlines and threatening offensives; the next week they're pulling back. The latest plan, naming one of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard generals to lead the pacification of the city, is the kind of bizarre idea that only desperate people can conjure. The Bush administration is evidently in a panic, and this panic is being conveyed to the American people...

It is the sense that Bush officials don't know what they are doing that has fed all the new talk about "lowering our sights." No one will say, "Let's cut and run." Instead, people talk about installing a moderate but not democratic government. They talk about letting Iraq break up into three parts: Kurd, Shiite and Sunni. But at the core, this is happy talk, designed to help us avert our eyes from withdrawal's real consequences. The choice in Iraq is not between democracy and stability. It is between democratic stability, on the one hand, and civil conflict, chaos or brutal, totalitarian dictatorship and terrorism, on the other.

The next time someone suggests that the goal of democracy is too ambitious, let him explain in detail what alternative he has in mind. Even if we wanted to establish a non-democratic government in Iraq, how would we do it? Is there a benevolent dictator out there who could enjoy sufficient legitimacy or wield sufficient power to maintain stability in Iraq without continued U.S. military support? Even a reconstituted, Sunni-dominated Iraqi army -- if such a thing were even desirable or possible -- could not impose order without employing all of the Hussein regime's brutal tactics, including the inevitable massacre of probably thousands of rebellious Shiites. Is that what advocates of "lowering our sights" have in mind?

Nor would partition be any easier to engineer. Yes, there could be an independent Kurdistan (and an ensuing war with Turkey) in the north. But the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq are neither geographically nor culturally separate. They are intermingled. So, does partition mean transfers of population? And who would carry out those transfers, and how? Again, people who call for partition as an alternative to Iraqi democracy should explain exactly what their plan would look like and how it would produce a more stable result.
I couldn't agree more with Kagan when he argues that sniping from the sidelines is not terribly useful unless there's a credible alternative underlying the criticism. And his points about the difficulties inherent in partitioning Iraq are well taken (as I've discussed here, here, here and most extensively here.

But it's not clear to me that "democratic stability" for Iraq is possible in anything approaching the short term. So how do we bridge the years (and it will take years) between now and the establishment of an occupation-free, democratic and stable Iraq?

There's one obvious and desperately-needed first step: elect Kerry. The US and the "international community" need a convenient scapegoat for the mess in Iraq, and need a narrative that justifies a massive, long-term UN or NATO military presence in that country. We aren't going to solve problems like Fallujah nor dissuade those, like Moktada al-Sadr, with ambitions for rejectionist leadership without a huge, internationally-sanctioned military presence to stabilize Iraq. We also aren't going to get other countries to devote large portions of their military to this problem: in all likelihood such a stabilization force would have to include more US soldiers than are currently deployed in Iraq, not fewer. Clearly there's a tension here. It's tough to imagine Congress or the American public accepting an enormous long-term US military presence without clear US command and control over American troops. And it's also tough to figure out how to sell what amounts to an expansion of the current US-run occupation to Security Council countries that opposed the war in the first place. The solution is a scapegoat: The problem is that the natural (and well-deserved) candidate for scapegoathood is also currently the President of the United States. So there's no clear policy tool that the Executive Branch can use to put in place the optimal strategy.

Why do I see such beauty in blaming a single person for all our troubles? Because it's a simple story which will actually make a lot of things suddently seem possible. Once the troublemaker has been removed from the picture, we can all convince ourselves that we're in an entirely new situation. The Gordian Knot will be cut once the Iraq situation can be presented at the UN and in other multilateral forums as Bush's mistake instead of America's. I am quite certain that the election of a non-Bush president will be received around the world as evidence that Americans aren't such terrible people after all, and will open up a thousand possibilities for restructuring international relations. This kind of political narrative has worked again and again in the past: think of the reception afforded to President Fox of Mexico once he broke the PRI's hold on that country's politics, or the worldwide embrace of President Clinton during the 1990s.

The one competing narrative that worries me is a Spanish-style scenario where Bush loses an election after a terrorist attack. Conceivably the "Americans were forced to dump Bush because they're cowards" story could dominate the "Americans chose to dump Bush because he didn't represent them" story that we need to resolve the situation in Iraq.

So I make this appeal to President Bush: you will be judged by history on the success or failure of your attempt to create a stable, democratic Iraq. That is the single element of your presidency that will be discussed in the years to come. Please consider your place in history, and put all your efforts into stopping terrorist plots against the US and throwing the election to your competitor. Your grateful nation will not forget this noble sacrifice.

NOTE: Other notable analysis of the Kagan piece can be found here and here.

UPDATE:Lots of commentary on Kagan's piece around the blogosphere.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Is Little Carmine George Bush? 

Ok, Blogger ate my post about "Ranking the Rich", so I'll try to resurrect it later this week when I have more time.
In the meantime, I noticed this exchange on last night's (brilliant) episode of the Sopranos:
Little Carmine Lupertazzi: The point I'm trying to illustrate is that of course no one wants all-out conflict, but, historically, historical changes have come out of war.

Carmine's Advisor: As far as I'm concerned it's a new day. All old treaties and ways of doing things are null and void.

Little Carmine: Exactly.

Angelo Garepe: And the Joe Peeps thing: where does that leave us?

Carmine's Advisor: When you've had a quadruple bypass like I did, it gives you a lot of time to think. The only thing Johnny understands is force.

Angelo G: But the fact is, we've pissed on a bee's nest.

Unknown Character: So what's the other option: roll over?

Angelo G: We could've had a sit-down...the other captains maybe.

Little Carmine: This isn't the UN, Angelo. I won't let what happened to my father happen to me.

Carmine's Advisor: God forgive me, but you may be a stronger man than your dad was.

Little Carmine: The fundamental question is, will I be as effective as a boss like my dad was, and I will be. Even moreso. But until I am, it's gonna be hard to verify that I think I'll be more effective.
The tortured syntax. The stupidity. The belief that the father's successes were in fact failures. The eminence grise with heart trouble and a belief that multilateral institutions are for the weak. I'm telling you, man, it's George Bush, man.

UPDATE: Steve Silver takes the ball and runs with it.

UPDATE: I am so right it hurts. Check it out:
"The fundamental question is, 'Will I be a successful president when it comes to foreign policy?' I will be, but until I'm the president, it's going to be hard for me to verify that I think I'll be more effective." — In Wayne, Mich., as quoted by Katharine Q. Seelye in the New York Times, June 28, 2000

Foreign Policy: A Magazine Review 

I'll be posting a long and serious article later today on the "Ranking the Rich" project run by Foreign Policy magazine. "Ranking the Rich" is an important and valuable contribution to the debate on international affairs. FP regularly comes out with worthwhile centerpiece articles like this, and often features short, informative pieces from top academics and policymakers. At the very least, it offers entertaining petty intra-academic fights like the one continued in this month's issue by Kenneth Rogoff's swipe at Joseph Stiglitz (hiss! snarl!).

But the rest of the magazine seems to go out of its way to court controversy, in sometimes surprisingly stupid ways. There has been a lot of attention paid by other bloggers to last month's "the latinos are coming to get us" Samuel Huntington article in FP, but this month's crop of articles has some even more ridiculous examples. Representing the silly-to-loony left, we have a piece by Ted Rall ('nuff said).

Representing the market-maniac center-right, we have an article [requires free registration] by Allen L. Hammond & C.K. Prahalad which veers sharply into self-parody. The piece, which is presented as a daring and innovative approach to ending poverty around the globe, advocates saving the world's poor by marketing products to them more effectively:
In reality, low-income households collectively possess most of the buying power in many developing countries, including such emerging economies as China and India. If businesses ignore the bottom of the economic pyramid, they miss most of the market. Another myth is that the poor resist new products and services, when in truth poor consumers are rarely offered products designed for their lifestyles and circumstances, leaving them unable to interact with the global economy. Perhaps the greatest misperception of all is that selling to the poor is not profitable or, worse yet, exploitative. Selling to the world's poorest people can be very lucrative and a key source of growth for global companies, even while this interaction benefits and empowers poor consumers.
I'm perfectly willing to believe that consumers everywhere and across all social strata can benefit from things like lower prices and greater choice. And I definitely agree that providing individuals with opportunities to improve their economic fortunes is generally a good thing.

But the strategies propounded in the piece (using Amway-style person-to-person sales techniques, offering layaway plans) don't really seem all that likely to improve lives in meaningful ways. Furthermore, the pictures accompanying the text (not available online) would make anyone with the slightest concern about the environmental and cultural ramifications of globalization very nervous: one shows an Avon lady selling deodorant to Brazilian Tembe indians living in a thatched hut; another is an image of women in New Delhi using single-serving detergents to wash clothes in a river. The piece also includes this weirdly pollyannaish statement:
Beyond such benefits as higher standards of living and greater purchasing power, poor consumers find real value in dignity and choice. In part, lack of choice is what being poor is all about. In India, a young woman working as a sweeper outdoors in the hot sun recently expressed pride in being able to use a fashion product—Fair and Lovely cream, which is part sunscreen, part moisturizer, and part skin-lightener—because, she says, her hard labor will take less of a toll on her skin than it did on her parents'. She has a choice and feels empowered because of an affordable consumer product formulated for her needs.
Look: I'm all for increasing the opportunities of poor people around the world to better their lives. I also think that private corporations can be a force for positive change on this front, and that half of the "trade is good for the poor" story is about consumers, not just producers (i.e. not just about poor people selling agricultural commodities to rich world consumers, but about poor people getting lower prices on traded goods that they buy). But is this the best way to sell this idea? Who on earth would read this article and say, "Yes! That's absolutely right! And the policy implications are clear."

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The Atlantic's Proper-Name Index 

The last page of the newest Atlantic Monthly is dedicated to what's either a new feature or a wonderful parody: a proper-name index for the issue.

Here are a few of the selections:
Albright, Madeleine, undignified metaphorical posture assumed by, 64

Brown, James, as "Godfather of Soul," 41; as demanding landlord, 41

Cheney, Dick, cardiac prospects of 40-41; very survival of as "testament to medical science," 40

Davis, Miles, as Great Satan of jazz fusion, 132

Jackson, Janet, polarizing nipple of, 46

Jefferson, Thomas, as godless anti-marriage Francophile, 76

Richardson, Elliot, as cabinet all-star, 114; as "better than you," 114
Anyway, you get the idea. If this is what a magazine's index looks like, I hope the practice spreads.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com Referrers: