Saturday, November 2, 2002
READ IT AND WEEP: Both
READ IT AND WEEP: Both of these stories are in today's Chicago Tribune:
The latter story is worth reading for two reasons -- to capture the willful denial of the American protestors in Iraq, and the Tribune reporter's obvious resentment that the protestors have greater access to the Iraqi regime than the Western media.
THAT FASCIST-COMMUNIST COMPARISON AGAIN: A
THAT FASCIST-COMMUNIST COMPARISON AGAIN: A while back I raised the question of why communism continues to have more intellectual respectability than fascism. I raise it again after reading David Corn's informative LA Weekly story on the chief organizers of the anti-war rally in Washington:
"...the demonstration was essentially organized by the Workers World Party, a small political sect that years ago split from the Socialist Workers Party to support the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. The party advocates socialist revolution and abolishing private property. It is a fan of Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba, and it hails North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il for preserving his country’s 'socialist system,' which, according to the party’s newspaper, has kept North Korea 'from falling under the sway of the transnational banks and corporations that dictate to most of the world.' The WWP has campaigned against the war-crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. A recent Workers World editorial declared, 'Iraq has done absolutely nothing wrong.'"
Now, I guarantee you that if a conservative politician were ever to attend a march or rally organized by the Nazi party, that would (and should) be the end of their mainstream political careers. Trent Lott and George W. Bush have had to defend themselves after attending functions sponsored by organizations (i.e., Bob Jones University) that have, shall we say, less than enlightened views on race. That's fine, they should have to defend themselves. (To be clear: I'm not saying fascism deserves more intellectual respectability, but that communism deserves less). But what is the likelihood that Jesse Jackson or Susan Sarandon will be asked to explain their willingness to work shoulder-to-shoulder with unreconstructed Stalinists?
Friday, November 1, 2002
My 2002 election special
Jacob Levy and I agreed to predict the congressional elections. Jacob's prediction is here, Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball page is our expert to beat, and an extra-special treat if we can beat the Iowa Electronic Market.
I'm doing this with some trepidation, for three reasons:
1) I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the American politics fraternity. In other words, American electoral politics are not my area of specialty.
2) Off-year elections rarely reflect aggregate trends, and it's rare that all of the local idiosyncratic factors (Toricelli for Lautenberg, Mondale for Wellstone) perfectly cancel each other out.
3) Predictive models of election outcomes in political science stink. I mean, they suck eggs. Every political science model worth its salt predicted Gore clearing 55% in the popular vote in 2000. The one thing everyone could agree on after the 2000 election was that these models were patently, obviously, wrong.
So, with those caveats, here's what I'm thinking:
A) The news on the economy is decidedly mixed. Unemployment just ticked up a tenth of a point, but productivity growth is high and overall economic growth remains positive. Politically, none of this matters as much as the fact that consumer confidence took a nosedive in October. That may have been due to jitters over a war with Iraq, but it's still the dominant number. In the end, the president's party takes a hit when the economy is perceived to go south, so that cuts in favor of the Dems.
B) It's an off-year election, which traditionally favors the party out of the presidency. 1998 was an aberration, largely because the Republicans foolishly caved to Clinton on substance and made the election a referendum on impeachment
C) Last election, the polls seemed to have a rightward bias of 1-2 percentage points. This was likely due to elevated African-American turnout. Post-Florida, I suspect that turnout for this constituency will remain high.
D) Redistricting from the 2000 census favors Republicans. Of course, this only affects the House races.
House: GOP +1, which will leave Dick Gephardt way, way out in the cold.
Because Jacob is also predicting individual Senate races, here are my picks:
NH: D (Shaheen)
One final prediction: because all media outlets have predicted Florida-style legal challenges in multiple races across the country, I come to the inescapable conclusion that no Congressional election will be close enough to prompt a legal challenge. This will leave David Boies way, way out in the cold.
UPDATE: You might notice that there was no mention of Iraq anywhere in that passage. None. The reason is Bush's decision to work through the U.N. Security Council, which deflates the issue like a balloon. Even the New York Times editorial page acknowledges that the Bush administration has made a serious effort to negotiate, to the point where France is looking like the obstructionist. This will reduce any anti-war turnout that would obviously trend Democratic. However, the haggling at the U.N. makes Iraq seem more like "normal politics" and less like the imminent outbreak of hostilities, which also blunts any rally-round-the-flag effect for Bush.
THE RUSHDIE ARGUMENT: Salman Rushdie's
THE RUSHDIE ARGUMENT: Salman Rushdie's op-ed in today's Washington Post picks up my point about the strong liberal arguments in favor of regime change in Iraq. Rushdie is hardly an apologist for the Bush administration. It's quite clear that he has concerns about the process leading up to an invasion (unilateralism vs. multilateralism) as well as process concerns post-invasion (how much will the administration follow through on creating democratic institutions in Iraq). His key graf raises another point that's sort of obvious but has been left unsaid; the last vestiges of Iraqi liberalism want an invasion:
"This is the hard part for antiwar liberals to ignore. All the Iraqi democratic voices that still exist, all the leaders and potential leaders who still survive, are asking, even pleading for the proposed regime change. Will the American and European left make the mistake of being so eager to oppose Bush that they end up seeming to back Saddam Hussein, just as many of them seemed to prefer the continuation of the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan to the American intervention there?"
Thursday, October 31, 2002
The downside of rising global affluence
I use to wonder why there was such opposition to globalization policies that enriched poor countries. Now I know -- it increases their access to cigars, booze, and MacDonald's.
The World Health Organization just released its annual report on global health. It found that the leading causes of death shifted dramatically once countries achieved middle-income status. The "killer" graf:
At least rock & roll wasn't on the list.
The WHO report is filled with the earnest bureaucratese that only well-meaning people with post-graduate degrees can write, but has that unrealistic feel so common to UN documents. Their press release lists various possible "interventions" to address different regional health problems. The recommendations to promote safe sex sound eminently sensible in an advanced industrialized state, but ignore the myriad cultural roadblocks that exist in the countries hardest hit by AIDS.
As for the ills of affluence:
After 20 years of the U.S. trying to carry out this advice, the results aren't encouraging.
I don't mean to belittle the health risks posed by high cholesterol; it's merely that diseases of affluence are largely a product of individual choice, whereas the diseases of poverty by and large take place regardless of individual choice. I'd rather the WHO's focus be directed at the lattter.
SLOW BLOGGING TODAY: I've discovered
SLOW BLOGGING TODAY: I've discovered that four hours straight of departmental committee meetings leads to an extended period of blogathy. For those politics junkies out there, check out Jacob T. Levy, who's been on fire the last few days on the importance of the median voter theorem and the Judis/Texeira thesis (Hey, Jacob, what about Patio Man?). Coming attractions: Jacob and I will be making duelling predictions about the House/Senate election results!!
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
JAPANESE BANKING REFORM -- R.I.P.:
JAPANESE BANKING REFORM -- R.I.P.: Last week I talked about how the Japanese are incapable of radical reform of their financial sector, but I said we needed to wait a week. A week later, the radical reform proposals are officially dead.
This is bad news for pretty much everyone. Until those reforms take place, Japan is in no position to return to any level of healthy growth. This represents an unfortunate theme -- America's allies seem politically incapable of microeconomic reform and demographically are fated to lose even their middle-power status within the next 50 years.
Tuesday, October 29, 2002
About that Russian raid
OxBlog is commenting on my multiple Jimmy Carter posts, so it only seems fair to weigh in on their debate about the propriety of the Russian raid on Chechen terrorists over the weekend (Click here, here, and here for the latest news updates; here's the best summary of the Blogosphere's take.)
My view on this is pretty simple. Did the Russians act justly in their actions and methods? Yes and mostly yes. The decision to attack seems justifiable. It was the Chechens that violated jus in bello when they initiated the terrorist operation in the first place. Regardless of whether the Chechens are linked with Al Qaeda, their actions in Moscow were specifically designed to put the lives of non-combatants in mortal jeopardy.
Their methods (the use of some kind of opiate gas) to knock out the terrorists was hardly unjust, and seems to have been designed to minimize the loss of life that a smash-and-grab rescue attempt might have precipitated. Now, there's no question that the logistics were botched -- the failure to inform hospitals, emergency workers, or even their own commandos, for example. However, that's a policy failure, not a moral one. The method of attack seems eminently just.
What gives me serious pause was the decision to execute on the spot terrorists with explosives strapped to them that were already unconscious. Surely, this was an excessive and vindictive act, as clear a violation of jus in bello as you can get. Even the National Review suggests this part of the raid was problematic (see below however).
"The liberal Union of Right Forces party called on Monday for a parliamentary inquiry to determine how Chechen rebels managed to stockpile such quantities of arms and explosives in Moscow and why medical experts had been so poorly prepared to treat the freed hostages after special forces stormed the theater, the party's leader, Boris Nemtsov, said on national television.
Nemtsov said the inquiry should also focus on the extreme secrecy and security measures applied to hospitalized victims, many of whom still have not been allowed to see relatives."
In other words, the Russian media and political classes are acting in a manner consistent with genuine democrats -- questioning whether better planning might have substantially reduced the loss of life. Good for them.
UPDATE: Several e-mails arguing that the Russian commandos had no choice. Parapundit writes in, "Some of them had bombs strapped to them. Imagine what would have happened if one had regained partial consciousness and blown themselves up." Mike P. writes in, "They're knocked out, but you don't how hard they're knocked out or if they're merely faking, and if only one wakes up enough to push his detonator it's all over. They're possibly boobytrapped (and you probably don't know where the trigger is which amounts to the same thing), so you can't disarm the explosives or remove the terrorists without a high risk of disaster."
These are valid points, but wouldn't the appropriate course of action be to ensure they stay unconscious rather than kill them?
Tom H. raises an interesting comparison: "International law permits summary execution of pirates caught in the act. The same principles apply to terrorists caught in the act." For those lawyers out there -- is this true?
AGE AND IDEOLOGY: The Daily
AGE AND IDEOLOGY: The Daily Telegraph makes a point I had been ruminating about... that after the 2002 election, there will be a gerontological shift in the Senate from Republicans to Democrats. In plain English -- the Republican old white guys like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms are beginning to retire, while the Democratic old white guys are staying around and in some cases re-emerging onto the political landscape. Robert Byrd is 85; Fritz Hollinngs is 79, and both Hawaiian Democratic Senators are 78. Frank Lautenberg, if elected, is also 78; Walter Mondale looks like a spring chicken at 74. The oldest Republican left in the Senate is Ted Stevens at 79.
Two questions: will this trend persist, and does it mean anything?
1) The trend will persist. There are four reasons for this. First, as Michael Lewis noted so adroitly this Sunday, one effect of 9/11 and the accounting scandals is a instinctual desire to turn to "established" brands. In politics, that means old white guys. Second, if I was a Democrat, I'd do anything possible to court senior citizens, since they tend to vote at a higher rate. Putting up older candidates is one way to cater to this constituency. Third, if you believe Robert Putnam, the current generation of senior citizens has more social capital than younger generations. This reduces the supply of attractive candidates, making it possible for more seasoned politicians to stay in the fray, as it were. Fourth, the Strom Thurmond story has highlighted the fact that the Senate might be the best retirement home ever invented.
2) It means a few things. For one thing, it's possible that gentility will return to the Senate. Older politicians will feel less of a need to earn their ideological stripes. For another, it could lead to an "age gap" between the parties, with Democrats picking up more older voters out of a brand identification with older white guys. There are others; e-mail them into me and I'll post the good ones.
Monday, October 28, 2002
Crush monopoly power
Whenever I lecture about multinational corporations in world politics, I ask my students to name the most powerful global corporation. I get the standard responses -- GM, GE, Exxon, Microsoft. Nope. In my book, it's DeBeers. GM, GE, and Exxon aren't monopolies and therefore must obey market dictates despite their considerable size. Microsoft approaches monopoly status, but they exist in a market with constant technological innovations that threaten to upset their profitability. DeBeers, in contrast, has global monopoly power over a sector that's not changing anytime soon. Moreover, they invented the concept of a diamond engagement ring. Any entity that can convince adults that it is proper to sacrifice roughly one-sixth of their annual income to purchase a sparkly bauble has forms of "soft power" that nations can only dream of [But they didn't sucker you, right?--ed. Er.... well.... oh look, a typo eight entries below this one!].
Will it work? No chance, for reasons that Thorstein Veblen has written about at length. But I applaud Tobias' valiant effort at redressing the balance of power between a heartless global monopoly and lovestruck couples everywhere.
UPDATE: Bill Sjostrom cites an even better explanation for the persistence of the diamond engagement ring. Law journals and song lyrics are involved.
Sunday, October 27, 2002
IN THE MATTER OF JIMMY
IN THE MATTER OF JIMMY CARTER: I said I would take the weekend off, but any day when the New York Times editorial page endorses a Republican for governor of New York and sides with the Bush administration over the United Nations is clearly one of those harmonic convergences that requires more blogging.
Which brings me to Jimmy Carter's vacuous op-ed about North Korea in today's Times. I've defended Carter against the right half of the Blogosphere concerning his Nobel Peace Prize, but after reading what he wrote in the Times, I feel compelled to attempt something I admit to some uneasiness about -- a fisking!
Most of Carter's essay is harmless blather. Then we get to the final two grafs:
"What is needed on the Korean peninsula is an end to more than a half-century of 'armistice' and the consummation of a comprehensive and permanent peace agreement."
It’s a good thing Carter is around, because this might not have occurred to the Koreans themselves.
"The success of strong diplomacy is still a possibility, with it being crucial that the United States play a constructive role."
What exactly is “strong diplomacy”? Negotiators switch from decaf to caf? Would Carter actually encourage U.S. negotiators to raise their voices? No, that would be too belligerent and unilateralist for Carter’s tastes.
"The framework for an agreement still exists and includes some elements that must be confirmed by mutual actions combined with unimpeded international inspections."
Yes, the framework for an agreement still exists, in the sense that after eight years, nothing has fundamentally changed. North Korea is still has an active nuclear weapons program and still has 1,000,000 troops within 100 miles of Seoul.
"First, North Korea should forgo any nuclear weapons program and the two Koreas should proceed with good-faith talks. The United States may then move toward normal relations with North Korea."
Wait a minute, he’s right!! All North Korea has to do is forgo its nuclear weapons program!! Why didn’t anyone think of this before? And good-faith talks are an excellent suggestion – oh, wait, that’s exactly what the two Koreas have been doing under Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy,” except that the North Koreans have been acting in bad faith.
"The basic premises of the agreed framework of 1994 must be honored, with North Korea, Japan, South Korea, the United States and China cooperating."
Why, yes, that’s a swell idea – oh, wait, the North Koreans said they thought the 1994 agreement was “nullified.” Oh, and Carter forgot Russia – how flagrantly anti-multilateralist of him.
"Finally, international tensions should be reduced through step-by-step demilitarization on the border between the two Koreas."
And after that, a free pony for every Korean boy and girl!!
"There is, of course, still the option of war instead of peace talks. It would be devastating and probably unnecessary."
Carter’s unwillingness to recognize that the prospect of force is often a necessary adjunct to successful negotiations remains his tragic flaw. It helps to explain why, even though Carter has his Nobel, Reagan will be the president history remembers from the late 20th century. I hope a war will be unnecessary, but to dismiss the use of force as an option is both unnecessary and dangerously naïve.
I'm beginning to wonder if the Nobel Peace Prize has the same effect on policymakers that being on the cover of Sports Illustrated has on athletes. The dreaded SI cover jinx is well known to sports fans -- the moment an athlete appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated, their on-field performance goes downhill. Now consider the recent class of Nobelists. The North Korea imbroglio not only embarrassses Carter, but fellow Nobelist Kim Dae Jung. The Nobels awarded for the Oslo accords in the Middle East and the Good Friday agreements in Northern Ireland aren't holding up well either. Maybe those criticizing the Nobel committee for awarding this year's prize to Carter should be grateful that it was not awarded to Bush or Blair.