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Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Travel Days/Site News 

I'll be on the road today and tomorrow, so chances of posting are slim to none.

Starting either tomorrow PM or Friday AM, I'll also be posting occasionally at The Head Heeb while Jonathan is in Australia.

To tide you over in my brief absence, I offer the following advice:, don't eat election ballots in Canada. If you're a man, don't bite a dog. Learn more about Icthyosaurs. And for pete's sake, people, review how to use the telephone.

That is all.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

And Then There Were Nine (or on Earth, Two)... 

It appears that one of the ten political parties to have a presidential candidate on at least one 2000 ballot has decided to take its ball and go home:
The Natural Law Party — the political party founded in 1992 by followers of purported cult leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi — has been dissolved. Party co-founder and nuclear physicist John Hagelin was the NLP Presidential nominee in 1992, 1996 and 2000 — peaking in support in 1996 with ballot status in an impressive 44 states (110,000 votes - 0.1%). The NLP also regularly ran a large number of candidates for Congress and other down-ballot offices. The NLP made failed attempts in 2000 to grab control of the Green Party, and later the Reform Party. Last year, the NLP officially endorsed Dennis Kucinich for President and seemingly held out the possibility of giving him their 2004 nomination. In an odd twist, a notice posted on the NLP website within the past week states that the NLP leadership voted two months ago to shut down the NLP as a national party. The notice also says that individual state NLP affiliates are each free to continue operating and fielding candidates on their own. It appears that at least a few state NLP groups are still functioning in 2004 — but not many. The NLP seems to have entirely abandoned using electoral politics to advance their New Age agenda and, instead, are now advocating something they call the US Peace Government. They’ve closed the NLP National Headquarters and have subsequently opened Peace Palaces for their make-believe government — with Hagelin as the new “US Peace President” and the Maharishi as the “Founder of the Global Country of World Peace.”
[Link via OTB]

Interested in following other third parties in their quixotic struggles with our "first-past-the-post" political system? Check out the links from this older Bonassus post or Ballot Access News.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Who Gets to Boss Whom Around? 

Jacques Chirac is pissed that President Bush appears to be "meddling" in intra-EU politics:
French President Jacques Chirac has taken U.S. President George W. Bush to task over his call for Turkey's admission to the European Union.

"If President Bush really said that in the way that I read, then not only did he go too far, but he went into territory that isn't his," Chirac said of a remark Bush made over the weekend.

"It is is not his purpose and his goal to give any advice to the EU, and in this area it was a bit as if I were to tell Americans how they should handle their relationship with Mexico."
So, should the EU allow Turkey to join? Henry Farrell says so, and I think he's right. But since he made all the good points, I'm going to make a dumb one.

This isn't the first time that Europeans have invoked the image of a frenchman telling an American president what to do with Mexico. It's a favored image, in fact:
[EU Trade Commissioner Pascal] Lamy told reporters, "It's a classic of U.S. diplomacy to want to put Turkey in Europe. The further the boundaries of Europe extend, the better U.S. interests are served. "Can you imagine the reaction if we told them they had to enlarge into Mexico?" Lamy asked. [International Herald Tribune 12/13/2002]
How 'bout here:
Suppose that a European head of state or government of the stature of British Prime Minister Tony Blair or French President Jacques Chirac travels to the United States and offers advice in public there: that he advocates an end to the Cuba boycott, for example, or that human rights should be respected (death penalty), or that the border with Mexico should become easier to pass through. The other way round, this is happening in an obtrusive manner: the United States does not get tired of urging the EU to finally accept Turkey as a member.[Die Presse 11/17/99]
Other examples pop up on Lexis-Nexis. Try searching, it's fun!

So we get the message: the EU knows that it's rude to tell other countries how to interact with their neighbors. Right? Wrong. Looking a little closer, what's being said is that the big boys (colonial powers?) can't be told what to do. For the little folks on the periphery, it's more than OK to offer advice:
President Jacques Chirac of France said yesterday on the eve of a tour of Latin America that the region's economic future lay not in ties with with the US but with Europe.

"Latin America understands perfectly that it is not in its interest to lock itself into exclusive regional integration," Mr Chirac told Radio France Internationale in an interview.

"Its vocation is not to be a piece of Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement]. Its vocation is to be . . . open to the world, and its essential economic interest, trade, investment, aid, is not with the United States but towards Europe," Mr Chirac said.[Financial Times 3/10/97]

Conflict, Sure. War...Maybe? 

Kevin Drum gets it right on how the Iraq War was and was not about oil:
The Iraq war wasn't "about oil" in the sense that we simply wanted unfettered control over Iraq's oil production. It wasn't even about making sure that Anglo-American oil companies were the ones who won the contracts to produce and export Iraqi crude, although that was a nice bonus.

But it was about oil in the broader sense that the only reason we care about Middle East stability in the first place is that it supplies the oil the modern economy depends on.
The case is maybe a little overstated (terrorism, domestic politics/Israel are surely other reasons we care about Middle East stability), but basically correct, I think.

But then his post, following the logic introduced in this Washington Post article, veers a bit into ill-considered speculation:
My guess is that 50 years from now Gulf War I and Gulf War II will be considered merely the opening salvos in a single, longrunning conflict: the first of the large, modern wars fought primarily to protect the oil supplies of the West.
I agree with Kevin and the Post: oil is likely to cause a lot of friction [couldn't help myself] over the foreseeable future. But should we expect to see Kevin's "large, modern wars" or the Post's "new kind of war?"

Maybe, but oil in and of itself isn't the reason why. There are a lot of theories out in International Relations land which purport to explain why war breaks out when there are other means for resolving disputes. Neorealists suggest that "large, modern war" breaks out when there are shifts in the underlying polarity of the international system. In this narrative, "revisionist" powers like a rising China or EU might try to knock the US off its perch as the sole existing hegemon. Oil plays a role (as a material resource underlying the military power of the relevant nations), sure, but it's hardly along the lines Kevin suggests. Finding some replacement energy source might change the theater of war, but war itself would remain equally likely as long as the changes in the relevant states' relative power wasn't affected.

Proponents of the dominant "rationalist explanation" school say war breaks out because of miscalculation, either because one or both sides can't accurately determine the other's resolve to fight (this is probably what happened in Iraq, as Saddam apparently didn't believe the US would actually invade) or because there's no way for one or both states to credibly commit to a negotiated solution.

It's not clear in either of these cases that we'll see war break out over oil. If anything, the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq should increase other states' knowledge about US resolve on this issue, making war less likely in coming years. And there's no particular reason to think that most of the states mentioned in the Post piece (China, Japan, Russia, the EU and the US) won't make use of the monitoring and enforcement mechanisms they've designed for issues like trade and control of Antarctica to resolve problems arising over oil. In short, without an argument for why oil is a special case, there's no reason to point to oil and declare "here lie the seeds of war."

As I've mentioned before, there's another argument for why war breaks out: some issues are indivisible, such as (perhaps) control of Jerusalem. In cases like these, there's no negotiated solution possible, just outcomes which suit one side or the other. It's really hard to make the case that this applies to oil, since we've repeatedly seen deals in civil wars (such as the one in 1997 in Congo) where disputants share oil revenues. One could quite plausibly make the case that the current global oil-economy status quo is also a sort of negotiated settlement which keeps war from breaking out.

What's my point? There's no doubt that oil will continue to drive world politics for the foreseeable future. Wars, even "large, modern wars" may break out, too. But there has to be more to the story to connect the dots, and the mere fact of oil's importance doesn't do the trick.

UPDATE: A Fistful of Euros wonders about the implications for Europe (and Europe's security stance) of the same trends in the global oil economy.

Convince Me, Please! 

As much of the blogosphere is thrilled to report, there's news today on the Niger-Yellowcake story. Here's a Financial Times story with new claims about the source of the documents. Here's Josh Marshall saying that the FT story is a calculated cover-up designed to blunt the impact of his upcoming bombshell report. And here's Unfogged getting fogged up about the smackdown-to-be.

Maybe I'm alone here, but even as a heavily-credentialed international politics news nerd, I cannot for the life of me get excited about this. Marshall promises "tectonic shifts", and I hope, how I hope that he will produce something worth my attention.

But I'm afraid that the best-case scenario here is something like Whitewater (remember how well that turned out for the opposition party?). The public isn't going to remember the controversy, let alone care about who fooled whom. Even most lefty bloggers aren't going to care for more than a minute or two. And the more interesting (and more likely to produce newsworthy indictments) related story, that of Valerie Plame's unmasking, hasn't exactly shaken DC to its very core yet.

But I want to believe. Convince me, Josh Marshall. Better yet, convince me, intrepid Bonassus readers.

The Institutions of Autocracy 

Anyone who reads this blog regularly must have some interest in the question of what happens when democracies monkey with their political institutions.

Guess what: there's more institutional analysis out there to love. Non-democracies, too, have political institutions much more complex than what their "dictator says, you do" reputation would suggest. For the most part, the rules, norms and power struggles limiting the direct rule of autocrats, revolutionary committees, or juntas are tough for outsiders to see. It's often even hard to know where to look.

But sometimes autocracies have more familiar political institutions which somewhat resemble those found in democracies. The temptation is to dismiss these as so much window dressing, but as Jonathan Edelstein reminds us, sometimes such prejudgments are foolish (as Matthew Yglesias tends to forget). You could make a strong case that despite the fact that adopting a multiparty structure doesn't magically transform a state into a democracy, the choice has real consequences for a dictatorship. You could furthermore make the case that alterations in the structure of an autocratic state's parliament or party system are worth analyzing. Take a look at this fascinating post on political reform in Syria:
The Syrian political system can best be compared to the sham popular front governments that ruled most of Communist-era Eastern Europe. The Bulgarian Fatherland Front, the National Front governments of East Germany and Czechoslovakia, the Democratic Bloc of Poland and the Communist-led ruling bloc in Hungary were all technically multi-party coalitions... In practical terms, of course, none of this mattered; the Communists' coalition partners had no real political influence and were little more than channels for patronage.

Syria uses a slightly modified form of the eastern European system. Of the 250 seats in the Syrian parliament, 83 are allocated to independents - some of whom are more independent than others - and 167 to the National Progressive Front. The Ba'ath party holds 135 of the NPF's seats, with its coalition partners - including, somewhat ironically, the Syrian Communist Party - making up the other 32. There is a limited amount of electoral competition, and the Ba'ath has at times fallen short of a majority, but that has historically mattered about as much as the East German Communist Party's lack of a majority in the Volkskammer...

The proposals that will go before the NPF committee later this year, however, will loosen the restrictions on political activity and allow party newspapers. In the short term, this isn't likely to change much, but as the example of Poland shows, the long-term ramifications might be profound...

I can't quite see the minor Syrian parties [having Poland-style success] anytime soon - they're too weak, none of them have the natural constituencies that the Polish satellite parties had, and the Ba'ath doesn't appear ready to give up its grip on political life. It's more likely that any opening that results from Syrian constitutional reform will resemble Malaysia or Egypt - in other words, it will transform Syria from a totalitarian state to a garden-variety authoritarian one and leave limited space for public debate. But even that could make a real difference. The Egyptian opposition parties, for instance, don't amount to much in parliament, but their newspapers and elected officials are capable of asking embarrassing questions, mobilizing public opinion against the government and occasionally forcing it to back down. If that is combined with the slow growth of an independent judiciary, then the opaque Syrian political process might become considerably less so.
As Edelstein indicates , political institutions matter even in autocracies, although clearly far less than they do in democracies. A deeper question is whether it's really the institutions per se that matter, or whether institutional changes take place to reflect underlying shifts in power across societal actors. Even within advanced democracies, it's pretty tough to see where the cause lies: the recent redistricting of Texas, for example, clearly reflected changes in partisan control of federal institutions, even though it was a state institution designing and enacting the rule changes. Or think about New Zealand's adoption of proportional representation: it's tough to make the case that there was any underlying power shift which made adoption of PR inevitable or even likely.

In Syria's case it's probably true that the likely reforms are possible because of a loss of control at the top. But Edelstein makes a pretty good case for thinking that a specific further decentralization of power would be less likely ceteris parabus, without the institutional shifts he mentions.

Ralph Nader and My Blood Pressure 

Someday soon I will drop my unseemly fixation on Ralph Nader and his foolishness. Perhaps it will be because he falls off into complete electoral insignificance. Perhaps it will be because my head explodes. But it will happen, I promise.

In the meantime, here's the latest on Nader:

Ralph Rejected by Greens In a surprising and happy development, the Green Party has refused to endorse Ralph Nader this year. Oddly, it appears that the Nader/Camejo ticket could possibly have eked out a victory at the Greens' convention had Nader showed up, or had either Nader or Camejo simply indicated in writing that they actually wanted the party's nomination. This is what happens when stubbornness per se is mistaken for a virtue.

Check out Nader as gracious loser (from the Washington Post):
A day after not getting the Green Party's endorsement for president, Ralph Nader brushed off the rejection as an inconvenience, described the party as "strange," called the party's national nominating convention "a cabal" and predicted who the big loser in its decision not to endorse him would be.

"The benefit was really for the Green Party," Nader said yesterday of what an endorsement of him would have meant. "I don't want to exaggerate it, so I'll just say massively more."
Update on Oregon Notes on the Atrocities has the latest on Nader's Oregon struggles. Apparently there's some doubt Nader will make the ballot in Oregon, despite the GOP's best efforts:
He had a big turnout--well over the thousand he needed--but about a 100 were Dems who didn't sign the petition. The GOP's effort to pack the house didn't appear to be enormously successful. As of this morning, it's too close to call. Elections officials received fewer than 1000 forms, but some had multiple names. Now they go off to their respective counties for verification. It will be weeks before we learn the results.

(Oregon law stipulates that if a candidate can get 1000 people to show up at an event and sign a petition, the candidate qualifies for the presidential ballot. Otherwise 10,000 signatures are needed. A couple months ago, Ralph launched his national campaign with a rally in Portland ... and only 750 people showed up.)
DailyKos has more.

Nader Reverses Course on "Purple States" I linked earlier to a news story appearing to show a more strategic, more realistic Ralph Nader. That Nader appears to have disappeared again [again from the Washington Post]:
Nader, who received almost 3 percent of the votes in the 2000 election, has been criticized by some Democrats as having cost Al Gore the election; Cobb's strategy suggests the Green Party does not want to be cast again as a spoiler.

Nader, however, said he will avoid no state, and his campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese said he expects Nader's name to be on ballots in nearly all of the states.

"If you're trying to build a political movement, you don't turn your backs on people who happen to live in so-called close states," Nader said. "Our plan is to get as many votes nationally as possible.

"We're campaigning all-out."

Friday, June 25, 2004

GOP Convention Security Rules 

[WARNING: OF INTEREST TO NEW YORKERS AND POTENTIAL VISITORS ONLY]

I'm going to be in Chicago during all of this, but I really feel sorry for non-conventioneer, non-protester New Yorkers during the GOP convention at the end of August. You know it's going to be bad when the Mayor's office releases the plans late on a Friday afternoon [From the NY Times]:
"The disruption will be a little bit annoying, but minimal," Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show.

The transportation plan calls for one lane of avenues directly outside Madison Square Garden to remain open to motorists, except during the approximately 13 hours the convention will be in session. It also imposes parking restrictions and reroutes bus service. Streets bordering the convention to the north and south would be closed for several blocks.

A restricted area around the arena will be controlled by checkpoints, where police will demand identification from anyone seeking entry. Cars entering the area, including those carrying delegates and dignitaries, will be screened for explosives and other contraband by devices that provide real-time video images of their undercarriages.

...

Officials have said that Penn Station, located directly below the arena, will remain open during the convention.

They also plan to create a "pedestrian mall" leading to a main entrance of the station by closing 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.

The transportation hub serves Amtrak, the Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and the subway system. Riders could face delays, but no shutdowns, officials said.
Look, I'm really glad they're taking security seriously. I don't understand what function the party conventions serve at this point, nor why any city would actually agree to host one, let alone compete for such an "honor." But since the convention will be here, I'm happy to see such strong measures in place.

That being said, it's going to SUCK getting around town. I hereby predict that slowed-down traffic at the Hudson River tunnels combined with the closing of Eighth Avenue will bring traffic on the West Side of Manhattan to a complete halt. Commuters coming into Penn Station will have to tote their luggage for blocks to get to taxis, and so will opt for subway service instead, overloading the 1/2/3/9 and A/C/E trains. I strongly urge all fellow Manhattanites to leave town during the convention. As long as I'm at it, I also urge all potential conventioneers and protesters to take a well-earned vacation elsewhere over the weekend in question.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Has Nader Come to His Senses? Probably Not 

From NPR:
Nader says he is running for the office as a way to steer the Democratic Party toward an agenda he advocates. The longtime consumer advocate wants would-be supporters to attend his rallies, but he says he wants them to feel free to cast their votes for Sen. John Kerry once they enter the voting booth -- especially in swing states where their vote might help defeat President Bush.
OK, great, Ralph, but why are you trying to get on the ballot in swing states, then? It can't be because you're trying to build up the Green Party, as you claimed four years ago, since you aren't affiliating yourself directly with them. It doesn't seem to be because you're actively trying to build your own party, since as far as I can tell you haven't made any serious moves in this direction.

Are you actually behaving responsibly and strategically? Will you agree to drop out of the race if Kerry makes some particular set of promises? What gives?

Firsthand Impressions of Sudan/Darfur: A Secondhand Report 

I just got back from a breakfast hosted by CARE International, where NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, CARE Secretary General Denis Caillaux and Peter Dut (one of the "lost boys" of Sudan) spoke on the crisis in Darfur.

It was an emotionally wrenching event. Dut's description of his flight from the civil war in southern Sudan as an orphaned 5-year-old was particularly affecting to this new father. But beyond the effective plea for support, the speakers also provided some counter-intuitive points that are worth considering. I hope I'm not breaking any rules by offering these notes, so here they are:

Media Inattention
First, Kristof addressed the question of why Darfur has gotten so little play in Western media. I've heard other perspectives before: Writing in The New Republic, Robert Laine Greene has speculated that the inattention comes from popular willingness to give non-whites a free pass when it comes to atrocities:
It's true that the deaths of tens of thousands of blacks in inaccessible regions of the world create far less urgency than one missing white girl in England or America. But a different kind of race-based relativism is also at work in the near-silence over Darfur. Dark-skinned victims count for less than whites, yes, but they count for less still if they are the victims of other dark-skinned people. It is often said that the reason we bombed Serbia but not Rwanda was because the victims in the Balkans were white, while the victims in Rwanda were black. But it is important to remember that the main perpetrators in the Balkans were also white (and, unlike their victims, Christian) and that the perpetrators in Rwanda were also black. You can be sure that if the Belgians or the Australians, or certainly the Americans or Israelis, were murdering, mutilating, and mass-raping tens of thousands of Africans, you wouldn't have the non-response we hear now over Darfur. Call it the "soft bigotry of low expectations."

When you compare the attention showered on various human rights problems today, it becomes clear that the world is once again judging the severity of abuses in large part by the ethnicity of their perpetrators. Not only has there been no call to arms over Sudan, there has barely been a call to anything--just 44 mentions of Darfur appeared in The New York Times' archive in the past year. It can't be simply because the victims are dark-skinned and poor, because the Times has featured 860 mentions of Abu Ghraib, where one or perhaps two people were killed and a number lightly tortured, beaten, and humiliated by Americans.

Abu Ghraib is a perfect storm for the media: Powerful Western soldiers abused and humiliated poor non-Westerners after invading their country for supposedly high-minded reasons. But when both the victims and the perpetrators are black or brown, you get the opposite: perfect calm. Thirty-four peasant farmers were massacred by left-wing guerrillas in Colombia last week. (In the distance, a cricket chirps.) And the quiet is never more deafening than when the violence is in Africa. Our low expectations of African perpetrators permits the world's worst horrors--a genocide in Rwanda (800,000 dead); a decade-long war in Congo (3 million dead); and genocide in Darfur (many thousands dead and the death toll climbing fast). Yet New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is practically the only prominent media voice to write repeatedly about Darfur. Where are the conservatives who should say that the rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are God-given and universal? Where are the liberals who should decry the racism that allows blacks to be killed with impunity?
This is a reasonable case, and appealing from a kind of self-flagellating Western point of view. But Kristof offered a couple of other compelling explanations. First, and tougher to accept, it's really, really, really hard to get to Darfur to report on the situation. The Sudanese have effectively blocked entry into the area and are denying visas to journalists and humanitarian organizations. Kristof's visit to the region involved flying to Chad and taking what sounded like a very long trip in a UN plane to the general area, and then finding a four-wheel-drive car to take him over roadless desert to the border of Sudan, where there is no food, water or electricity. It's not much of an excuse (journalists made it into remote areas of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, after all), but it does have some explanatory power.

Second, Kristof asserted that since most of the deaths are expected to come from famine and disease, Darfur just isn't as immediately compelling as, say, Bosnia or Rwanda. His words were something like "when people are being killed with machetes, that gets attention more than when it's hunger or diarrhea." Once again, it's hardly an excuse, but this factor probably does have something to do with the media's lack of attention to the crisis.

US Involvement
Next, Kristof and Caillaux both suggested that the Bush administration has actually been pretty good about the Sudan crisis overall. The White House has apparently been quite effective at pressing for resolution of the other Sudanese (North-South) civil war, and is, in Kristof's words, "ahead of the population as a whole on this issue."

The interesting point was why. It's not oil, and it's not part of a general approach to foreign policy. Instead, it's because US Christians have put a ton of pressure on our government to end the killing and enslavement of southern Sudanese Christians. In Kristof's view, the White House was desperate to resolve the North-South war in order to declare victory to this important constituency. So much so, in fact, that the outbreak of conflict in Darfur was seen as a dangerous distraction from the ongoing peace negotiations, leading the Bush team to be willing to overlook the Janjaweed atrocities for a time. The administration has, however, put a lot more effort into the Darfur situation of late.

It's worth noting that Senator Kerry hasn't exactly been leading the charge on Sudan, and that presumably Christian organizations wouldn't have quite the claim on a Kerry administration's attention as they do on the current regime. This is not, however, a reason to vote for them in November.

Kristof also suggested that Kofi Annan is secretly pleased by demonstrations against UN inaction on Darfur, such as the one that greeted him at Harvard recently. Supposedly he is eager for more public pressure to use as leverage in getting states to work on the crisis. I don't know how to evaluate this claim.

The Nature of the Crisis
Kristof said that by his rough estimate, about 75% of the refugees in the camps in Chad were women. Whether this is because the men have all been slaughtered or not is up for debate, but I kept on thinking about how hard it's going to be for these women, many of whom have been raped and/or mutilated by Janjaweed, to be reintegrated into whatever society is cobbled together after the crisis is resolved. It's hard to imagine the disruption this will cause.

Caillaux suggested that as the North-South conflict ends (as it hopefully is about to), North-North and South-South conflicts will break out, and that the Darfur crisis is a bellwether for things to come across the immensity of Sudan. Caillaux laid much of the blame for the crisis not on Khartoum's opportunism, but instead on drought forcing Arab nomads (who make up the Janjaweed) into conflict over land held by black Darfurian farmers. He anticipates similar ecological and resource-based conflict in the south.

What We Can Do
The event was organized by CARE, so unsurprisingly one of the options offered for action on Darfur was giving to CARE. I don't know about the relative efficiency of CARE's operations compared to other aid organizations, so I can't really say whether this is the best place to donate. But it sure can't hurt.

A more compelling point was made by Kristof: the marginal utility of your charity dollar in Darfur is off the charts in comparison to donations to most other causes. Hundreds of thousands of people, at a minimum, are going to die in the next few months for lack of access to clean water and sewage systems, and helping them is simply far less expensive than helping people in Iraq or in the US. It's more than worth taking this point to heart.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Rocky Mountain High(ly-Technical Analysis), Colorado 

Last time, on the Bonassus:
The Denver Post reports that
The wealthy president of a Brazilian university is bankrolling an initiative to end Colorado's winner-take-all presidential electoral system.

J. Jorge Klor de Alva is the major donor to The People's Choice for President - a nonprofit group seeking voters' permission to award Colorado's Electoral College votes proportionally as a percentage of the statewide popular vote.

For example, a candidate who wins 60 percent at the polls could snag five of the state's nine electoral votes, leaving the remaining four to a candidate who wins 40 percent on Election Day.

The group has begun to collect signatures; it needs 67,799 to get the measure on the ballot.

If approved Nov. 2, the constitutional amendment would affect this year's choice for president by immediately permitting the division of Colorado electoral votes.
I discussed the "why Colorado" question in the earlier post, and set forth an argument for why Colorado's citizens would probably benefit from adopting the proposal in the long run.

But the question remains, how much would Democrats and/or third parties benefit if the proposal passes? Your faithful correspondent has taken a look under the hood of the Colorado proposal, and can tell you that:

SHORT ANSWER: Third parties would have a strong incentive to focus on Colorado, since they would only need just over 11% of the vote to win an elector. And, as expected, Democrats are likely to do better than they would under the current system.

BUT (and it's a surpringly big but), due to some oddities in the way the proposal is crafted and due to the probable heavy focus by Greens on the state, Democrats won't do nearly as well as they should. I'm not sure if the proposal's drafters didn't do their homework, but they could have easily drafted a system which would have had greater expected benefits for Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 and into the future.

LONG, BORING EXPLANATION: The problem is rooted in the very obscure question of what mathematical algorithm is used to transform votes into electors. It would seem like a problem with an obvious answer: just divide the electors proportional to the vote. But this isn't as easy as it sounds. Take this hypothetical, not wholly implausible turnout:

TOTAL VOTER TURNOUT: 2 Million

GOP Votes978,51348.93%4.40/9
Dem Votes751,55737.58%3.38/9
Green Votes186,7979.34%0.84/9
Libertarian Votes83,1324.16%0.37/9

Is there an obvious, obviously fair way to divide Colorado's 9 electors when faced with these voting results? The question is left as an exercise for the reader, but let me assure you that 200 years of analysis says the answer is "no, dammit!" [By the way, I could generate a gajillion more examples of tough-to-distribute voting outcomes, if you think I cherry-picked this one (which I did).]

So what? So in our hypothetical case, the formula which would be put in place by the Colorado initiative would award 6 electors to the GOP, 3 to the Dems, and none to the other party. In other words, despite getting less than half the vote (and only about 11% more of the vote than the Democratic candidate), the Republican candidate would get 2/3 of the state's electors.

Weird, huh? And what's weirder is that it didn't have to be like this. Every country using proportional representation has to have some kind of rule for turning votes into seats, any of which would be perfectly usable here. And, as it turns out, the 4 most commonly used algorithms all award more electors to Democrats and fewer to Republicans in the hypothetical example above.

Furthermore, if you look at all possible vote distributions with two large parties and a few very small parties, and compare the various rules in use elsewhere with the proposed Colorado rule, a statistical analysis (available on request) shows that the Colorado rule heavily favors the larger of the two parties in almost every case, relative to the other rules.

In other words, if the drafters of the Colorado initiative were trying to help out Democrats (and we assume that Republicans are likely to outvote Democrats in the next few presidential elections) our drafters didn't do as good a job as they could have.

The only possible objection to using one of the commonly-used, comparatively-friendly-to-Democrats rules that I can think of is that they're complicated. But actually, two of the rules are significantly LESS complicated than the proposed Colorado rule.

I don't know what happened here. I'll tell you what, though: I wish that rich Brazilian guy had called me before things got to this point.

Making the Most of Things 

Republicans have had some recent successes in making the most of what our political system allows. After a few false starts, Tom DeLay and company managed to redraw district boundaries in Texas to ensure that that state's Congressional delegation would be as Republican as possible. An attempt at a similar move in Colorado appears to have been shut down, but stay tuned...

Meanwhile, Democrats have also been doing what they can to improve their chances at winning the Presidency and taking control of Congress. As I've mentioned before (and will analyze thoroughly in my next post), it looks like there will be a measure on this November's Colorado ballot which, should it pass, would split that state's electoral college delegation along proportional (rather than winner-take-all) lines, a change which would likely move an elector or two from George Bush's tally to John Kerry's.

Furthermore, let me update you on a story I've covered before: it appears as though Democrats in Massachusetts have solved a problem related to John Kerry's bid for the Presidency, as the Boston Globe reports here and here. Under the current rules, if Kerry wins in November, the Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, would appoint his (presumably Republican) successor to the Senate. Massachusetts's Democratic-controlled Senate just passed a law today replacing that process with a special election (which is likely to be won by a Democrat) to fill Kerry's seat sometime between 120 and 145 days after he resigns to take the Presidency. The bill still has to pass the Massachusetts House (and survive a threatened Romney veto), but it looks more than likely that that will indeed happen. Interestingly, Common Cause and some Democrats have opposed the bill, on the good-government grounds that 145 days isn't enough to provide a real Senatorial campaign. Personally, I think this argument is hogwash (yes, hogwash!) since both voters and potential candidates are hardly prevented from thinking about this topic until November 2.

Finally, it's worth noting that not all electoral-rule tweaking benefits only one party. California's Democrats and Republicans have teamed up to maximize the number of safe seats for both parties, and are attempting to head off an "open primary" initiative which might conceivably benefit third parties. And there's some possibility that Washington DC will finally receive (presumably Democratic) House representation in exchange for an additional (presumably Republican) seat for Utah, if this bipartisan bill is actually passed. House Democrats oppose the bill as drafted, since it opens up the possibility of harmful-to-Democrats redistricting in Utah...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A Choppier Atlantic? 

At Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that there's at least one good reason to think that the current choppy transatlantic relationship will worsen in the near future:
If you believe the conventional wisdom in transatlantic policy circles, a Kerry administration won’t make much difference to EU-US relations. Kerry would differ from Bush more on style than on substance: Europe and the US would still be divided on the important security and economic issues. Whether this argument is true or not (personally, I’m dubious), the transatlantic relationship is likely to enter a period of turmoil regardless of who occupies the White House. The reason: the increasing interest and involvement of the European Parliament in international affairs.

...

[T]he new European Parliament is looking around for ways to ingratiate itself with the voters back home (the Parliament is notoriously lacking in popular legitimacy). It’s a safe bet that one of the ways it will do this is by whipping up opposition to deals between the EU and US on security issues, and on politically sensitive economic/trade issues such as genetically modified organisms. This is a relatively cheap and easy way for it to get political kudos, especially given America’s unpopularity with European voters.

The Parliament has some foreign policy powers and is going to be trying to carve out more by pushing its competences as far as they will go. Officially, it has a right to give or withhold its assent to international treaties - it’s starting to try and expand that right into a veto over everyday relations and quasi-agreements between the EU and US in security and economic policy. If the draft constitution somehow passes referendums in Britain and elsewhere, expect the Parliament to try to make the new Foreign Minister more accountable to it, as it has rather successfully done with the Commission’s President. If not, expect the Parliament to use the powers that it has to agitate on issues of concern, just as it’s currently doing in the Passenger Name Record controversy, where it’s taking the Commission and Council to court for exceeding their competences, and (in its view) selling European citizens’ privacy down the river.
This is a good point: a more foreign-policy-oriented EP could conceivably act as an additional veto player on the world stage, reducing the set of reachable solutions to EU/US problems. It's hard to tell (or at least for me to tell) whether we're more likely to see knee-jerk, populist vetoes or simply a different strategic bargaining dynamic in this new institutional context.

A point Henry doesn't consider, but which is equally likely, is that NGOs with global agendas might find an increasingly activist EP a willing and powerful ally and dedicate more of their time and energy to lobbying the European Parliament than the Commission or the US Congress. We might also see ethnic interests investing heavily in cultivating EP sponsors if the likely returns increase. I don't really know which groups these might be, but anti-Israel or anti-Turkey populism seems just as likely to animate the EP's electorate as anti-US grandstanding.

What seems most likely is that the EP, with a similar institutional context and set of powers, will generate foreign policy (and related hand-waving) that resemble that made by the US Congress. Whether this is a good or bad thing, for the transatlantic relationship or otherwise, is tougher to say. It's probably safe to say that most of the US foreign policy initiatives that mainstream consensus thinking tags as irresponsible come out of the US Congress (with one glaring exception at the current time). Helms-Burton, Iran-Syria, you name it: if you're hoping for extraterritorial, questionably legal policies, Congress is your first and best place to shop. On the other hand, many of the most high-minded humanitarian policies also start in the Congress.

Finally, in a perhaps less-likely scenario, a particularly canny foreign power (say the US) might also choose to focus its powers of persuasion on the EP to force the hand of a particularly recalcitrant EU President or Foreign Minister. I'll post more thoughts on this last possibility soon.

UPDATE: Catallarchy is also considering the matter.

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Man of Integrity 

More non-gratuitous Nader-bashing: Daily Kos reports that not only has Nader's campaign in Arizona apparently failed to get enough signatures to put his name on the ballot, but
The petition collectors were working for a GOP outfit, and were collecting signatures for two high-profile ballot initiatives. One is the "Protect Arizona Now" initiative, which is an anti-immigrant effort. The other is an attempt to repeal Arizona's landmark Clean Elections Bill which provides for public financing of political campaigns.

The actual Nader petition did its best to fudge its purpose. The petitioners only said they were collecting signatures for an "independent candidate". The words "RALPH NADER" were buried in the petition page in 9pt font.

So to make this perfectly clear -- Nader's petition effort piggybacked on both a xenophobic anti-immigrant effort, and an effort to roll back the state's public financing of elections. This is how low Nader has sunk. Is it any wonder his negatives are in the 70s and 80s?
Kos also points out that about 90% of the signatures were from registered Republicans.

Dear Nader voter: please apply your ultra-purist, "follow the money", pseudo-sophisticated brand of political analysis to this bit of news. If you still give Nader a free pass, please tell me why.

Not Very Reassuring Sudan News 

The New York Times reports that the Sudanese government says it will crack down on the Janjaweed in Darfur. As Chris Young notes, however, the Times for some reason neglects to mention that Khartoum has basically zero credibility on this issue. More on this story later today. In the meantime, I'd just like to add that basically this "article" appears to be a press release rather than journalism, and that the headline, "Sudan to Disarm Militias," just reinforces this impression.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Sudan Media Update 

I'm under the gun, workwise, so I haven't posted much on Sudan. J forwarded me a notice that Bill Moyers will be devoting his NOW program to the Darfur situation tonight at 9PM Eastern. I'll be at a Mets game, so I'm going to miss it, but you can check your local listings here. If any readers watch the show, please post your impressions in the comments section.

If you're looking for more info, the Head Heeb has an update here noting the spread of the conflict beyond the borders of Sudan into Chad. Bad stuff. And the New York Times editorial page called today for US-led diplomatic action here:
Washington can act on its own and with more enlightened partners, like the European Union. So far the administration has talked about imposing travel bans on Janjaweed leaders and freezing their assets. That is meaningless because none of those leaders are expected to try to travel to the United States, and none have assets anywhere Washington can seize them. It would be a more useful start to impose these and other penalties on Sudanese government officials until they move against the Janjaweed. Hundreds of thousands of lives may depend on quick, firm action.
I think targeted sanctions are probably a good idea. I think putting a UN monitoring force on the ground may also be a good idea.

Finally, I'm going to a talk with Nicholas Kristof of the Times next week. He'll have just returned from the region. There should also be a lot of NGO/development agency people at the talk. If readers of this site (i.e. you) think of questions for me to ask at the event, post 'em in the comments or e-mail me if you're shy.

Nader as Spoiler - Again 

Charles Cook, the publisher of the Cook Political Report and widely-accepted guru on election analysis, says in today's L.A. Times that Nader won't get as many votes this year as in 2000. Why? Because a large portion of the (ahem) idealists who couldn't detect a difference between Bush and Gore have had their faces rubbed in their mistake for four years and won't be fooled again.

I'm fairly certain he's correct.

I'm also fairly certain that the other part of his analysis, where he suggests that Nader could still lose the election for Kerry even with a tiny fraction of his 2000 votes, is also correct:
[L]ook at the Florida election results from 2000. Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida; the margin between Bush and Al Gore was 537 votes. The Voter News Service national exit poll showed that had Nader not run, 47% of his voters would have cast their ballots for Gore, while only 21% said they would have voted for Bush. (Thirty percent said they would not have voted.) If Nader had received only 2% of the votes he got in Florida and we assume that the remainder of votes broke according to the VNS model, he still would have tipped the election from Gore to Bush.

Although Florida was the only state where Nader's candidacy demonstrably made the difference, his presence came reasonably close to making a difference in 10 more. In New Hampshire, for instance, Bush carried the state by 7,211 votes, and Nader received 22,198 votes. Had Nader not been in the race — and had his voters broken 47% for Gore and 21% for Bush as the Voter News Service polls suggest — Bush's margin of victory would have been only slightly more than 1,000 votes.

In six states, Nader almost cost Gore their electoral votes. Gore's narrowest numerical margin was in New Mexico, which he carried by just 366 votes. Nader got 21,251. A few more Nader voters would have spelled defeat for Gore.

...

In this election year, in which everything points to a close race, every little thing could be decisive, and Ralph Nader stands near the top of the list of things that may matter.
I realize that it's about as likely that Nader will look at facts militating against his arguments as it is that Dick Cheney will stop claiming that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were best friends, but I hope enough of his supporters will come to their senses to stave off another succesful spoiler run for this monomaniacal jerk.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Who is Thomas Frank? 

I'm still too busy to read his damn book, but before I do I want to know: is Thomas Frank really Ann Coulter or is he really David Brooks?

And do all ideologically-identifiable writers (especially those who base arguments on anecdotal evidence) have evil twins on the opposite side of the political divide?

Finally, if these matter/antimatter couples show up on the same stupid talk show, will they mutually annihilate?

I want to know!

UPDATE: According to the June 7 New York Sun (archives not online, possibly due to editorial computer illiteracy), Thomas Franks is neither Ann Coulter nor David Brooks, but rather "Michael Moore with manners." Eager for more from the Sun? Read this post.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Africa and the Resource Curse 

There's a fine article by Peter Beinart up at The New Republic (I think you need a subscription) documenting the Bush administration's newfound appreciation for US-African relations, and bemoaning its cause (oil, duh):
Over the past several years, Bush and his foreign policy team have done something almost no one expected when they took office--they have made Africa a priority. It would be an uplifting story, the fulfillment of countless bleeding-heart dreams, except for one thing. Africa is a Bush priority for one reason: oil.

For critics who consider President Bush's talk of global democracy a sham, and suspect it conceals a hidden agenda to control the world's supply of oil, Africa is a kind of Rosetta stone. The continent's west coast--from Nigeria in the north to Angola in the south--is America's fastest-growing source of oil and gas. Over the next decade, according to the National Intelligence Council, Africa's share of the U.S. petroleum market will rise from 15 to 25 percent. As Kansteiner has put it, "African oil has become of national strategic interest to us."

For an administration worried about the stability of longtime oil cow Saudi Arabia, West Africa is a godsend. Its oil is high-quality, easy to refine, and largely offshore, which means political unrest is less likely to disrupt production. It's half the distance from the Persian Gulf. And, because most West African oil producers don't belong to OPEC, they can pump out as much crude as they want, potentially lowering prices.

That's the good news. The bad news is that many of the regimes that control this new oil make Saudi Arabia look like Sweden. In the Middle East, the president is supposedly renouncing the decades-long bargain in which America blesses Arab dictatorships in return for their hydrocarbons. But, in West Africa, his administration is building another, equally ugly arrangement to replace it.
One counterargument which might be offered is that while the relevant African states might not be paragons of liberal values and respect for human rights, the US has improved its development assistance technology to take these factors into account. Indeed, it's worth noting that at least a portion of this new relationship involves bilateral foreign aid explicitly designed to improve things like democratic accountability and respect for the rule of law. Unfortunately, as I argued in a prior post, the discovery of oil actually makes this sort of conditional aid much less likely to succeed in doing anything but lining the pockets of entrenched elites.

Electoral College Reform? 

The Denver Post reports that
The wealthy president of a Brazilian university is bankrolling an initiative to end Colorado's winner-take-all presidential electoral system.

J. Jorge Klor de Alva is the major donor to The People's Choice for President - a nonprofit group seeking voters' permission to award Colorado's Electoral College votes proportionally as a percentage of the statewide popular vote.

For example, a candidate who wins 60 percent at the polls could snag five of the state's nine electoral votes, leaving the remaining four to a candidate who wins 40 percent on Election Day.

The group has begun to collect signatures; it needs 67,799 to get the measure on the ballot.

If approved Nov. 2, the constitutional amendment would affect this year's choice for president by immediately permitting the division of Colorado electoral votes. And it would mark the most ambitious Electoral College reform yet in the nation.
Ostensibly, this reform would be more ambitious than similar (and successfully adopted) efforts in Maine and Nebraska in that no electors would be awarded based on statewide success [Maine and Nebraska each set aside two electors for the statewide winner, with the rest determined proportionally to the vote distribution].

I have no idea whether this proposal will actually make it onto the ballot, nor whether it will pass. But it is worth asking two questions: why Colorado? And what will the likely effects be?

Why Colorado?
The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the power to choose the method of selecting presidential electors...Klor de Alva's group picked Colorado to launch a proportional system because state case law broadly defines the state legislature to include citizens participating in a ballot referendum - thereby, in the proponents' view, fulfilling the U.S. Constitution's requirement. It helps, backers say, that it's far easier to float ballot issues here.
I have no idea whether this will pass legal muster, but it's an interesting fact, nonetheless.

Now to the more interesting questions: what can we expect if the ballot measure passes? First, as Colorado GOP leaders have already pointed out, since Colorado is likely to be won by George W. Bush, successful passage of the initiative will probably deprive the incumbent of at least one or two electors he would have won under the current system.

But looking beyond the immediate term, it's tougher to guess what the effects will be. Colorado has leaned Republican in recent elections, but I am unaware of what long-term trends are operating in the state. To the extent that the parties are now or will in the future be well-balanced, moving to a more proportional electoral college rule will clearly hurt the state in terms of attention received from candidates for national office. If Colorado becimes strongly but not completely dominated by one party (say the Republicans), the proposed reforms are likely to modestly increase benefits flowing to Colorado from DC.

Why? Under current rules, winning a plurality of the state's votes nets a candidate a big prize: the sum total of Colorado's electors. If Colorado is a swing state, both candidates will pay a lot of attention in such a situation. The incumbent is likely to use his office to send government dollars to the state. The challenger is likely to do what he can to woo voters as well (although this might take the form of unenforceable campaign promises rather than sweet cold cash). But remember that both candidates have limited budgets of time, money and political influence. In this situation, it becomes clear that if Colorado moves away from a system which disproportionally rewards a tiny plurality of votes (where one extra vote can mean the difference between 9 electors and zero) to a proportional system (where the value of an extra vote is limited to an increase of one elector, if that), suddenly Colorado looks like a much less attractive investment.

On the other hand, if the state is dominated by one party, but the nation as a whole is more or less evenly divided, a candidate from the disadvantaged party has no incentive to pay any attention to Colorado under current rules (think of Democrats in Oklahoma or Republicans in Massachusetts). Under the proposed rules, however, the prospect of the disadvantaged candidate winning one elector might attract attention from both parties.

All this is merely to point out that electoral college reform, which is usually thought of in terms of fairness, decency, and democratic norms, has implications for pork, campaign spending, and the future tilt of political attention as well. It's best not to forget.

[Link via Political Wire]

UPDATE: Jane Galt has a similar (though less complete) analysis here.

World Attention Focusing on Sudan/Darfur? 

The Christian Science Monitor has a good update on the increased pressure being brought to bear on Khartoum to end the conflict in Darfur, and the likelihood that current efforts will succeed:
After more than a year of virtually ignoring the biggest humanitarian crisis on the planet, the world's most powerful nations are suddenly paying attention to the conflict in western Sudan.
The central question now is: Will their statements and threats be enough to prevent more ethnic killings and help more than 1 million displaced people avoid illness and starvation in refugee camps during the oncoming rainy season? Already, these countries have upped the ante.

...

It all represents a sea change in how the world views Darfur, says John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group in Washington. "It's a whole lot more than we had two weeks ago," he adds. And it stems from many things, including increased media coverage and President Bush directing his staff to work on the issue. Yet despite the attention, Mr. Prendergast says, "It's not even close to being enough to deal with this crisis."
I'm glad to see that US and EU leaders are coming together on this, and I hope they will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Sudan's government.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Book Reviews Reviewed 

Over at Explananda, Chris reviews fellow blogger Josh Chafetz's review of non-blogger Thomas Frank's new publication, which may be a book and may be a screed. Read 'em both, then read the book, then you tell me who's right. I don't have the time.

One Nation, Under God, At Least for the Foreseeable Future 

Growing up Jewish in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I found myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations involving the word "Jesus." Beyond the regular conversations with my peers about why I didn't believe in Jesus (or once, memorably, about why I had killed him), various authority figures were constantly trying to make me pray to the guy.

Once, at Boy Scout camp (yeah, yeah, make fun all you like), I was berated by an adult leader from some rural troop for not attending a chapel service. I had been excused from attendance by my own troop's leaders, but was somehow forced not only to attend the next day's service but to lead a prayer. After deciding not to give a solo rendition of the Sh'ma (boy do I wish I'd tried that!), I settled on a hastily mumbled plea for general blessings and good weather as the best possible option. I blurted out my ad-libbed prayerlet, and sat down. The aforementioned hayseed leader jumped up, pulled me out of my seat, and admonished me "we pray in Jesus's name!"

Unsurprisingly, the subject of Jesus and praying to him came up at public school as well. In 4th Grade, I blurted something like "God, that's stupid!" to one of my friends during art class. I was overheard by the teacher, Mrs. Looney, who directed me to ask Jesus for forgiveness for taking the Lord's name in vain. I don't remember how I responded (I remember my little revenge fantasy, but not what I actually did), but I do remember being completely mortified and the humiliation I felt in trying to explain why I wouldn't ask Jesus for anything to a visibly unimpressed Mrs. Looney.

I was less traumatized (but at least as self-righteously pissed-off) in high school when track and cross-country events in my public high-school league were preceded by prayers (with the occasional effort made to enforce head-bowing) or when one of the coaches decided that converting one of the "chosen people" to Christianity would really get him in good with God.

Why am I reciting all these Jesus-related slights and annoyances? I'm not asking for sympathy: I'm just trying to establish my bona fides when it comes to understanding what's at stake when authority figures at publicly-funded institutions force kids to participate in religious activities that violate their families' beliefs. I know what it feels like.

That being said, I'm actually completely unconcerned, or maybe even relieved, about today's Supreme Court action voiding a prior decision regarding the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. In case you've missed the news, the court actually decided to reject the case on a legal technicality (the plaintiff didn't have standing because of a pending child-custody dispute) rather than to address the underlying constitutionality of the complaint.

And I say "Thank Jesus."

Not because I think this is a good decision, legally: I am more or less a complete ignoramus on the legal implications. Not because I think this is a good decision, philosophically: In the best of all possible worlds, no one would have added "under God" to the pledge in the first place, and I completely understand not only why an atheist would object to the phrase, but how being forced to take part in uttering this line could make a vigorously non-believing kid feel.

The reason I'm happy about the Supreme Court's ruling is simply because of short- to medium-term political considerations. If the court had upheld the ruling, we would have witnessed a fund-raising shitstorm for right-wing causes and candidates, and in all likelihood, some poorly-drafted constitutional amendment getting floor consideration in Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (about whom I had this to say) explained his recipe for GOP success in the 1994 elections as "God, gays and guns." Two of the elements of this unholy trinity have already been invoked this election year, with the assault weapons ban and gay marriage making headlines. Frankly, these are simply vastly more important issues than the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ultimately, I wasn't deeply scarred by my childhood exposure to the enforcement arm of the Christian faith. I don't look forward to seeing my own daughter fight these battles, and I deeply hope that someday America's citizens will recognize what is gained for the nation by a strict application of the Establishment Clause. But ya gotta pick your battles. And on this one the cost/benefit ratio isn't too appealing.

There are all sorts of manufactured kulturkampf battles in contemporary US political discourse. The right has managed to elevate "partial birth abortion" and Ten Commandments plaques into issues upon which every candidate for office must take a position. God bless you, ACLU, but on the Pledge of Allegiance, God bless legal technicalities.

UPDATE: Read more blogospheric commentary here, here, here, here, here, here, here here, here, and here.

Friday, June 11, 2004

An Indivisible Issue No More? 

For a lot of political scientists, avoiding conflict is all about finding ways to split the difference. In most cases, somehow or another, a negotiated settlement can be found for any disagreement.

But what happens when you can't split the difference? When there is a desideratum that is for some reason unsplittable (in the case of a divorce, for example, a child fits the bill), negotiating a compromise becomes suddenly much more difficult, perhaps impossible.

Jerusalem has famously been one of these "indivisible issues." Another such indivisible issues in the realm of world politics is Kashmir; in fact, if you scratch an ongoing international conflict, you're likely to find something that could be construed as an "indivisible issue."

On the other hand, indivisibility may not be quite the insurmountable obstacle to peace that it appears to be. My friend Stacie Goddard has written a dissertation arguing that indivisibility is not a fundamental property of these conflicts; rather, she argues, indivisibility is constructed as part of the bargaining process, as the two sides try to legitimate their claims. Indivisibility arises when the legitimation narratives employed by leaders resonate within their societies and end up locking them into positions from which retreat can only be viewed as capitulation.

To the extent that Stacie is correct, then, this tidbit from The Head Heeb should be regarded as very good news indeed:
Correspondent Guy Berger informs me that Ehud Olmert has stated that at least six Arab neighborhoods within the Jerusalem city limits will be ceded to Palestine as part of a peace settlement. This, even more than Sunday's cabinet vote, is a sign of how much the debate within Israel has shifted. In 1996, when I was a stringer for the Jewish Week, I met Olmert at a synagogue event in Long Island. At the time, Olmert was Mayor of Jerusalem and was strongly backing Netanyahu in the general election that would bring him to power. One thing he was adamant about, almost to the point of obsession, was that Jerusalem was a united city and that Israel would never give it up.

Dividing Jerusalem was a truly radical notion then; it had been broached in the Beilin-Abu Mazen document but was not yet a serious subject even within Avoda. Now, even the moderate wing of Likud - for which Olmert has often walked point in the past - is starting to talk about putting Arab East Jerusalem on the table. An ultimate peace settlement may still require a generation of walls, but the debate over its terms - at least from the Israeli standpoint - has changed irreversibly.
What Jonathan is claiming here is that the notion of dividing Jerusalem has been broached by a prominent center-right Israeli, indicating that we've moved out of a win-or-lose-only environment into one in which splitting the difference may be possible. I certainly hope he's correct.

I should point out that it takes only one side to make an issue indivisible: I simply don't know whether there is a Palestinian leadership that's in any position to make compromises, nor whether such a group, if it exists, would be willing to split the difference on Jerusalem. Still, it definitely bodes well for peace when a hard-liner like Olmert believes that compromise is a possibility. I hope The Head Heeb's source isn't just leading us on.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Stop Me Before I Nader-Bash Again 

I am almost willing to admit that Ralph Nader isn't the worst person in America. Almost, but not quite. And an article in Salon today provides some more grist for my mill:
Nader insists his Republican backers are real. To find out more, I spent a good chunk of time over the last few weeks talking to Nader supporters in New England. I attended Nader meetups, Nader volunteer meetings, Nader campaign events and Nader press conferences. I spoke with Nader supporters who are still in high school, and Nader supporters with gray hair. I talked to people who have admired Nader since the 1960s, and others who first heard of him last year. I found Nader supporters who have voted for him multiple times, Nader supporters who have never voted, and Nader supporters who voted for Al Gore in 2000.

What I did not find, however, was a single supporter of Ralph Nader who voted for George W. Bush in 2000, or who had been planning to support Bush this year before Nader entered the race. After a while, I felt like a stymied naturalist stalking a rare species. Sure, Naderus Republicanus must exist somewhere, but it is an unusual creature, capable of eluding human observation for long stretches of time.
Okay, this sort of journalistic methodology (you know, talking to actual people) wouldn't make the grade at the American Political Science Review, and I don't actually think that people should go around taking journalists' word for the existence (or non-existence) of trends. But this is just one more piece of evidence militating against Nader's claim to support from the political right. Clearly, Nader isn't interested in evidence: he makes decisions based on faith and self-righteousness, just like George W. Bush. Nader supporters should realize how much they have in common with the Bush voters they despise.

Now THAT'S What I Call a Protest Vote 

Although you probably missed it, the Green Party has been holding its own presidential primary in advance of its national convention in Milwaukee (yes, Milwaukee) later this month.

But it hasn't been all tree-hugging and country-ruining for the Greens. Recently, the party of Republican dupes faced a terrible quandary, a case of tremendous national importance which had to be sent to the courts to decide:
On June 4, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ordered the Board of Elections to count the write-ins cast in the Green Party's presidential primary earlier this year. Best v DC Board of Elections, no. 04-AA-45. The District had refused to count write-ins for president in the Green Party's presidential primary. The results had been: David Cobb 142, write-ins 123, Sheila Bilyeu 71, no candidate 50.
Presumably, the reason for the challenge was that the Greens don't have a winner-of-the-state-takes-all system for nominating delegates. Clearly, if a single candidate (say, Ralph Nader) had gotten most or all of the write-in votes, the DC Court's decision would have a significant effect on the composition of the DC delegation to the Green Party convention. But I'd like to point out and make fun of the tiny number of participants in this fringe exercise in democracy.

I'd also like to register just how impressed I am at the 50 people in DC who bothered to register with the Green Party, bothered to show up to vote in the primary, and then did not select a candidate to vote for.

Now THAT'S a protest vote.

Brief Update on Sudan/Darfur 

Despite the good news of a ceasefire in the other major conflict in Sudan, the situation in Darfur continues to be bad. Terribly bad.

What are the governments of the West doing about it?

Bonassus reader and fellow blogger J sent along a number of articles on the topic this morning, all of which portray UK Secretary of State for International Development Hillary Benn as leading efforts to get somebody to do something. The Independent reports that:
BRITAIN IS pressing for the UN Security Council to take action to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, despite resistance from other council members, the Secretary of State for International Development said yesterday.

Hilary Benn said Britain was working on a draft resolution for a peace-
keeping mission to enforce the deal ending Khartoum's long war with rebels in
southern Sudan. "It seems inconceivable that the council should pass a
resolution relating to Sudan that doesn't deal with the crisis in Darfur," Mr
Benn said in London after returning from western Sudan. "This is the most
serious humanitarian emergency in the world today...

Although the US agrees with the British position, it appears that there is resistance among some council members to be seen to be "Arab-bashing" so soon after the Iraq war."
Arab-bashing, my ass.

Even if the UN isn't able to address the issue (meaningfully or hot-air-wise), other multilateral institutions appear to be waking up. The BBC reports that the G8 leaders have issued a joint statement calling on the UN to take action and asking the leaders of Sudan to disarm the Janjaweed militia. And the EU is financially backing an African Union-led monitoring team.

What can you do? The BBC has a helpful list of relief organizations operating in the region to whom you can donate some money. I'll be attending a briefing put on by one of these organizations on June 24, and I'll have a more substantive update for you after that.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Climate vs. Weather 

Climate change due to human behavior is scary and bad.

And it's happening.

But that doesn't mean that any given unusual weather event can be chalked up to global climate change. In fact, even dramatic weather stories like floods, droughts and frog-laden rainstorms can't be definitively, responsibly said to have been caused by "global warming" with current knowledge and technology.

This article
from the February 2003 issue of Nature explains the current state of the art and the prospects for a future where suing greenhouse gas emitters for the flood that ruined your basement (or your island nation) will be possible, in terms of scientific evidence if not legal standing. It's worth a look.

Greatest Hits of the Eighties 

Since I'm brain dead, here's a "things from a previous decade are once again in my consciousness" post. Maybe Entertainment Weekly can use it.

Ronald Reagan is the day's top newsmaker.

Japan's economy is outperforming America's.

Ellis Burks is playing for the Red Sox.

Horribly, Wilson Phillips played The Tonight Show last night (and worse, covered an Eagles song. They looked like a bad wedding band. Why did I watch?).

Readers with nothing better to do can suggest more.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Only Thing I Have to Say About Reagan's Funeral 

You may have missed this tidbit in all the coverage about Ronald Reagan:
Deep in the bowels of the Capitol, a long flight of stone steps leads to a tiny barred cell. Inside rests a platform that has been called on 25 times to play its part in national mourning: the catafalque hastily built to bear Abraham Lincoln's coffin.

This week, it will be the platform on which Reagan will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

The catafalque and the tiny room in which it has been stored for 139 years are physical links to two of the nation's presidential icons: Lincoln and George Washington.

Since Lincoln's time, the catafalque has been housed in the tiny cell designed to be Washington's final resting place.

The 7-foot-long, 2-foot-high catafalque, or bier, was built of pine boards in the days immediately after Lincoln's death on April 15, 1865. Covered in black velvet cloth with ornate gatherings at each corner, it has undergone several minor renovations but remains largely as it was in Lincoln's time, according to the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.
After they're finished using the catafalque, I assume they'll put it back in the tiny room, which was actually going to be the tomb for George & Martha Washington. When I used to work on the Hill, anybody could visit the room, but I'll bet there are tighter security measures in place these days. If it's a slow day, you could probably get an aide from your Representative or Senator's office to take you to see it.

UPDATE: Since I seem to be getting a lot of traffic from Google from people looking for information on the Lincoln Catafalque, I thought I'd post this link, which is probably more in line with what such searchers are looking for.

More on Herseth's Win 

Over at the Gadflyer, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (the Kos of DailyKos) has an article up explaining why Stephanie Herseth's win in the South Dakota House race is important news.

I think he overstates the case somewhat, but it makes for cheering reading.

Also, you may have noticed that this post and the previous two or three are somewhat half-assed and not terribly timely. Sorry. I'm on a deadline. Things should be back to normal tomorrow or even tonight.

UPDATE: At the Decembrist, there's a great post on how Democrats finally seem to be laying the groundwork for retaking the House, at least at the candidate-fielding level:
Years and years ago -- the last year of the Reagan presidency, if I recall correctly -- I published an opinion article in Roll Call that I thought was a pretty powerful attack on Newt Gingrich. Gingrich, then just beginning his rise to leadership, had complained of corruption among congressional Democrats and cited, if I remember correctly, six congressional Democrats as examples. I pointed out that the Republicans had failed to produce credible opponents for five of the six, and that until they gave voters in those districts an alternative, they had no business complaining.

I hope my guest op-ed didn't influence Gingrich, but the fact is that between then and 1994, he switched from whining to recruiting. GOPAC and other (tax-exempt, by the way) candidate-recruitment projects linked to Gingrich hit their stride at this time, training Republicans to run for offices from school board to the Senate on a common message and tested language. A lot of factors went into the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, but one of them was that, when the ideological tide shifted, Republicans were there. In just about every seat, a good candidate was available -- Republicans who had run before, or held an office that covered a large portion of the district already, had a known name in the district, or were gifted with natural political skills. The mediocre ones were at least well trained. Not only did several of the Democrats Gingrich had complained about earlier lose their seats, but many others did as well, in part fueled by the phony "House bank scandal," or the backlash against Clinton's tax and health plans.

Over the last few cycles, it has been Democrats who have failed to contest some key seats. But this year, that seems to be changing. Every popular left-of-center blog is framed by pillars of ads from candidates promising the best effort to defeat Tom DeLay or House GOP whip Roy Blunt or some other ugly cog in the machine. Most of them won't win; many of them don't have a chance. But if the incumbent is suddenly hit by a car (or, more likely, hits someone else!), or a scandal breaks, or the backlash against BushDeLayism is as massive as it could well be, they will be there. And, if nothing else, they will have laid the groundwork for a run in 2006.

I'm Being Plagiarized, Am I? 

According to this post at Low Culture, Entertainment Weekly is plagiarizing The Bonassus.

I guess I'm flattered, kind of. I'll be more excited when Us steals my stuff.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Scary Scary Texans 

OK, so party platforms are essentially meaningless in the United States. We have, by way of the rules of our political game and 200 years of established norms, more or less rejected the notion of "party discipline" at every level of our government.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It's hard to make a normative judgment, most of the time. These are just the rules we've come up with. On the other hand, as Kevin Drum points out, it's a lot easier to applaud the lack of party discipline when you read the text of the Texas Republican Party's platform (which all candidates for office running on the GOP ticket are required to endorse (or at least pay lip service to)).

The rabid anti-gay and theocratic stuff is actually less surprising (albeit more awful) than the demand to return to the gold standard and the demand for ending judicial review. Maybe this is the year they add the "anti-Daylight Savings Time) plank...

Friday, June 04, 2004

Is a Military a Necessity for All States? 

Over at Tilting at Windmills, Kevin Brennan wonders why Canada has a military:
No, seriously. Why do we bother?

I mean, we've heard a lot of debate over our military funding levels, and there have been a number of dire pronouncements asserting that our military is on the verge of collapse. But I have to ask, why should we care?

The conventional purpose for a military is to defend a nation from attack by its neighbours. But let's face reality. There's only one nation capable of threatening Canada, and if that threat were somehow to become a reality (unlikely as that is), there wouldn't be anything we could do about it anyway. It's not a question of the Americans being asked to defend us, because what, exactly, are we being defended from?
I'm going to resist the temptation to go all Kenneth Waltz here and just note that in the immediate term, this question actually makes sense.

Brennan lists some credible alternatives and considers their implications for force structure and the like, including having a seat at the international table and participating in peacekeeping missions. This second rationale brings up the classic collective action question: why should Canada not just free ride off other states' peacekeeping activities?

There's a whole political science literature on what small states can/should/do do in a unipolar world (if you're interested in citations, e-mail me), and I'd add to Brennan's list at least one idea (drawn from constructivism): Canada has a military because states have militaries. It's not entirely because there are rational ends/means justifications.

More on this soon.

Great Rabbinical Names 

On our wedding day, my wife and I got a call from the Rabbi who was supposed to marry us. He told us that his brother had had a heart attack, and that he was rushing to Chicago to be with his ailing sibling. In his place he was sending a replacement officiant.

When my father and I arrived at the train station to pick up the new guy, we learned that he was a Cantor, not a Rabbi, and that his name was Pharrel Weiner. My dad refers to him as "Wild Dick," and I'm proud to have his name on my Ketubah.

It's a pretty good name, but not as good as that of Rabbi Falik Schtroks, who has proven that one's name is one's destiny by becoming a mohel (one of only two mohels in British Columbia, actually).

And Rabbi Capers Funnye is definitely in contention.

Let me know if you have other good clerical names to share: this is an ecumenical offer, by the way, so leaders of all faiths can be nominated.

Nader Pitches to Conservatives 

The American Conservative features an interview of Ralph Nader by Patrick Buchanan.

Well, at least Nader's making some token effort to back up his ludicrous claim (or deluded belief) that he'll draw conservative voters away from Bush. It's hard to take the man seriously as a strategic thinker, but I am grudgingly impressed that he actually took the time to make his case in this forum.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

More on Australia and East Timor 

I've posted before about the curious relationship between Australia and East Timor. Australia led a widely and deservedly praised UN military presence which ended years of oppressive rule of East Timor by Indonesia, but has since come under fire for doing well after doing good (yep: oil).

Bonassus reader and fellow blogger J brought this article from the Independent to my attention:
Lack of funds for health services is common in developing countries but tiny East Timor is a special case. Off its shores lie vast oil and gas reserves that could transform the economic fortunes of the world's youngest nation. Using revenue from the energy deposits, it could develop industries, repair crumbling infrastructure, invest in health and education, and alleviate poverty.

There is one hitch: East Timor's large and affluent neighbour, Australia, claims ownership of two-thirds of the lucrative resources. The riches lie beneath the Timor Sea, the 400-mile stretch of water that divides the two countries, and negotiations on a new maritime boundary have just started.

The outcome, said President Xanana Gusmao, literally spells "life or death" for his homeland. With access to the fuel royalties, East Timor - which recently celebrated its second anniversary of independence - could become self-sufficient. Without them, it will remain trapped in a cycle of poverty, massively reliant on foreign aid. And children like Julmira will keep on dying...

As the diplomatic language sharpens, ordinary East Timorese - who welcomed the Australians as liberating heroes in 1999 - are angry and disappointed. Demonstrations including a hunger strike were staged outside the Australian embassy last month, and graffiti has been scrawled on walls around the potholed capital, accusing Canberra of stealing Dili's oil. Protesters say that, having escaped the yoke of Indonesian occupation, they now face "economic occupation" by Australia.
Interestingly, Australia's behavior on this matter seems to be an active violation of international norms, and has even been tied to some unusual exiting of multilateral institutions by that country:
This is the context in which Australia, the wealthiest nation in the region, is demanding the lion's share of resources in the Timor Sea. It has refused to submit to third-party arbitration; it was no coincidence, many critics believe, that it withdrew from the International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea just before East Timor's independence.
Okay, the ICJ withdrawal clearly had nothing to do with Timorese oil (aren't there any newspaper editors in the UK?), but the Law of the Sea case is more plausible on its face. The big objection among US opponents of the Law of the Sea treaty is precisely the question of undersea oil rights. [On a side note, this abrogation of the treaty would appear to be a boon for utopian dreamers hoping to build a floating island paradise, as I've explained here.]

So what's the Australian side of the story?
Australia claims it is being exceedingly generous because it gave East Timor 90 per cent of a so-called "joint petroleum development area" in 2002. But it fails to mention that Greater Sunrise - of which it currently controls 82 per cent - is worth triple that area. Dili is furious that Canberra is already issuing exploration licences close to Greater Sunrise, which remains disputed. The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has accused the Dili leadership of using emotional blackmail.

"They've made a very big mistake, thinking that the best way to handle this negotiation is trying to shame Australia, is mounting abuse on our country, accusing us of being bullying and rich and so on, when you consider all we've done for East Timor," he said recently.

"The tactics that are being used by East Timor, a country which we helped to bring to independence and to which we have been enormously generous and supportive over recent years ... are to try to create public controversy in Australia by a lot of emotive criticism."

Questioned about the moral dimensions of the issue, Mr Downer said: "It's a curious principle that if one country is richer than another and the two countries are adjacent, the richer country should cede territory to the poorer country ... on that principle, I suppose the United States should cede Texas to Mexico." No one denies Australia has been supportive of East Timor. It is giving Aus$40m (£15m) in aid this year, and its soldiers have formed the backbone of the UN force that has guaranteed the nation's security. But the money it has spent on financial and military assistance is dwarfed by the revenue it has already received from the Timor Sea.

A Democratic Contract with America? 

Roll Call has reported that Congressional Democrats are exploring putting together their own version of the GOP's 1994 "Contract with America." As I mused here, this may not be a bad idea.

Then again, Nick Confessore seems to think it's a waste of time. He may well be right. But the evidence he cites isn't terribly convincing:
Put simply, the Contract with America was not remotely important in helping the GOP win back Congress in 1994. As Christopher Caldwell reveals in this fascinating -- and, I think, still prescient in many ways -- Atlantic article from 1998, the Contract was a:
[L]ist of ten propositions -- tax cuts, social-service cuts, and such government reforms as term limits -- announced as a manifesto six weeks before the 104th Congress was voted into office. There were two problems with the contract. First, two thirds of Americans didn't know it existed. Second, Republican polling, done by Frank Luntz, had been fraudulently presented to the public as showing that the contract commanded 60 percent support in all its particulars. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, in fact, found that people disagreed, by 45 to 35 percent, "with most of what the GOP House is proposing to do."
In practice, the Contract served more as an organizing agenda for the new House majority.
Yes, the Contract did primarily serve as an agenda for the new House majority. And yes, 2/3 of the American public didn't know it existed. That's evidence that the Contract did not represent a mandate. That's what the Atlantic article is suggesting, and that was the basis of Democratic political rhetoric at the time.

But this says NOTHING about whether or not the Contract was an effective campaign tool. The relevant question is whether the Contract motivated core GOP voters to come out and vote in November 1994, not what proportion of the greater electorate was aware of the ploy. Unfortunately, I am unaware of careful survey analysis exploring whether the Contract had a measurable effect on voter turnout; I'll see if I can dig up any relevant scholarship if I have some free time.

UPDATE: Well, I didn't really have any free time, but I took a quick look around anyway and found an article from 1995 in the journal Political Research Quarterly that has something to say on the matter. The author, Alan Abramowitz, analyzes data from the 1994 National Election Survey (and, actually, previous NES's as well) and comes to the conclusion that the Contract (or ideological, issues-based campaigns, anyway) had a major impact on the outcome of contests between incumbent Democrats and GOP challengers in 1994. While it's not a slam dunk, it's worth a look if you're interested in the question (and have access to JSTOR).

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