I really do believe that the UN could be a power for good and that the US should be trying to strengthen it, not weaken it... That being said, it's actions like this which make the idea of scrapping it and starting over with a coalition based on some semblance of principles attractive.
Foreign Policy blog features Another moronic move by the U.N. Human Rights Council:
For decades, the old U.N. Human Rights Commission was the laughing stock of the international community for packing its membership with notorious human-rights abusers. When the U.N. reorganized the body as the Human Rights Council in 2006, things were supposed to change. Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared, "The Council's work must mark a clean break from the past."
But that's hardly been the case. First, the Council granted seats to such human-rights abusers as Azerbaijan, China, Cuba, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Then it passed eight resolutions condemning Israel and spoke out against the "defamation of religion" (read: cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed unfavorably), while dropping inquiries into the worsening human-rights conditions in places such as Iran and Uzbekistan.
Now comes news that the Human Rights Council has appointed Princeton University Professor Richard Falk to a six-year term as the special investigator into Israel's actions in the Palestinian Territories. I've got nothing against appointing an investigator to keep tabs on this issue per se. But Falk? This is a guy who defended disgraced University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill as "having made major contributions" to academia after Churchill called the innocent victims of the Twin Towers "little Eichemanns," arguing that they had deserved to die on 9/11.
And how, by any reasonable standard, can Falk be considered an impartial observer on Israel-Palestine? This was Falk writing in an article entitled "Slouching Toward a Palestinian Holocaust" last June: Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not." Read more!
Thursday, March 27, 2008
I really do believe that the UN could be a power for good and that the US should be trying to strengthen it, not weaken it... That being said, it's actions like this which make the idea of scrapping it and starting over with a coalition based on some semblance of principles attractive.
Tyler Cowen (yeesh, two posts in a row) occasionally highlights a country/state and it's contributions to greater society. Overall, Cowen finds "the list is spotty in parts but the peaks are very high." Curious about Arizona? Click here.
Here is an excerpt:
1. Jazz: Charles Mingus's Ah Um is one of the ten jazz albums that everyone should own.
2. Country and Western: Marty Robbins is good but otherwise I draw a blank.
3. Movie director: Steven Spielberg. In case you don't already know them, Duel and Sugarland Express are two of his best movies. I'm also an advocate of Artificial Intelligence, a brilliant movie about the moral superficiality of human beings. E.T. was his nadir.
4. Real business cycle theorist: Ed Prescott teaches at Arizona State (which by the way was just rated as having the hottest students of any school). If you think through his oeuvre, Prescott has at least three major contributions: time consistency (1977 with Kydland), real business cycle theory, and his work on the equity premium with Mehra. That's impressive.Read more!
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Tyler Cowen, over at Marginal Revolution, is reading Jeffrey Sachs' new book, and is providing some thoughtful commentary on Sachs' less-than-impressively-thoughtful text.
You can jump over to his blog post to read all of his thoughts, and I'll just include an excerpt of Cowen's thoughts on what should be done as water becomes increasingly scarce.
I might add that national governments are the ones that subsidize the price of water to ridiculously low levels, most of all for agriculture. My first step is to remove all these water subsidies, allow water prices to rise, institute more water trading, and then see which innovations the private sector decides to finance (hmm...those are my first four steps). One role for government would be to ensure that patent law does not hinder international transfer of worthwhile innovations, a point which Sachs makes in other contexts. That sounds less glamorous than a big international plan, but I think it has a better chance of succeeding. Read more!
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey recently gave his thoughts on how the world will change in the near future.What would be animating the actions of an Obama presidency? Here's a peak at what might become the Obama Doctrine.
What's typically neglected in these [exporting-democracy] arguments is the simple insight that democracy does not fill stomachs, alleviate malaria, or protect neighborhoods from marauding bands of militiamen. Democracy, in other words, is valuable to people insofar as it allows them first to meet their basic needs. It is much harder to provide that sense of dignity than to hold an election in Baghdad or Gaza and declare oneself shocked when illiberal forces triumph. "Look at why the baddies win these elections," Power says. "It's because [populations are] living in climates of fear." U.S. policy, she continues, should be "about meeting people where they're at. Their fears of going hungry, or of the thug on the street. That's the swamp that needs draining. If we're to compete with extremism, we have to be able to provide these things that we're not [providing]."
This is why, Obama's advisers argue, national security depends in large part on dignity promotion. Without it, the U.S. will never be able to destroy al-Qaeda. Extremists will forever be able to demagogue conditions of misery, making continued U.S. involvement in asymmetric warfare an increasingly counterproductive exercise -- because killing one terrorist creates five more in his place. "It's about attacking pools of potential terrorism around the globe," Gration says. "Look at Africa, with 900 million people, half of whom are under 18. I'm concerned that unless you start creating jobs and livelihoods we will have real big problems on our hands in ten to fifteen years."Read more!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Megan McArdle tells you why the economy is NOT in shambles. Below are the headlines, click through the link to hear why...
Item One: The Iraq War did not cause this problem
Item Two: The Bush tax cuts also did not cause this
Item Three: Being on the gold standard would also not have prevented this mess
Item Four: Among the many other things that did not cause the current crisis was the repeal of Glass-Steagall
Item Five: The collapse of Bretton Woods--also not a cause of the current crisis!
Item Six: The long twilight of American economic might is not yet upon us Read more!
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The sub-prime loan disaster and the requisite blame that gets tossed around brings to the foreground complex poverty problems. A lot of poor people bought houses thanks to loans that they couldn't afford in the long run. Some were certainly "tricked" into loans with sneakily high interest rates, but bottom line, people were buying houses when they shouldn't have.
Home ownership has long been part of the "American dream" and for good reason, it provides a degree of security not equaled by a rental. Individuals, especially families, were much less mobile in the 20th century, and the promise of a pension from the local industrial giant and a home in your name seemed to guarantee your well-being.
The job market, however, has changed from safe and stagnant to volatile, but more lucrative. Old industry opportunities disappear in Detroit, reappear in Birmingham, while some old jobs disappear altogether from the US and are replaced by new jobs.
Home ownership is thereby linked to employer-based health care, unions, protectionism, etc. 20th century means of providing security that are now no longer efficient in a time when mobility and flexibility are prized like never before.
The challenge is to provide security to the masses while not destroying the economic framework that provides the prosperity the masses are trying to secure. Portable, market-friendly security should be the end game -- whether it's wage insurance, portable health insurance/401Ks, etc.
As Karl Smith explained his interest in wage insurance:
In part my reasons are political economy. I am looking for a mechanism that will prompt all Americans to buy into to globalization and technological change. I understand that globalization per se is overly blamed for job losses but I think that's the term the populace uses for "things beyond our control."
I want to assuage their fears and let them know that the things beyond their control are evolving in a way that on average will benefit them more than it will hurt them. Read more!
Monday, March 17, 2008
Richard Florida has written a promising new treatise entitled "Who's your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life," wherein he argues that different cities have personalities and characters that not only shape the lifestyle enjoyed therein, but also the long-term economic growth and prosperity of the city.
I've yet to pick up the book, but I have been reading Florida's "The Rise of the Creative Class," where he documents the rise of this new "no-collar" class that mixes the bohemian and bourgeoisie ethos while powering economic growth -- the overlap in the two books is clear.
Soon I'll post some snippets and thoughts on Florida's creative class, as it is useful in examining the societal friction underlying many of the current policy debates.
For the moment, here is a map that seems to confirm (nearly) all biases.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
I've written a bit about what excites/scares me about Obama, and recently came across an article that gives a similar treatment for McCain.
It is no exaggeration to say that, during this crucial period [of the Bush administration], McCain was the most effective advocate of the Democratic agenda in Washington. In health care, McCain co-sponsored, with John Edwards and Ted Kennedy, a patients' bill of rights. He joined Chuck Schumer to sponsor one bill allowing the re-importation of prescription drugs and another permitting wider sale of generic alternatives.
All these measures were fiercely contested by the health care industry and, consequently, by Bush and the GOP leadership. On the environment, he sponsored with John Kerry a bill raising automobile fuel-efficiency standards and another bill with Joe Lieberman imposing a cap-and-trade regime on carbon emissions. He was also one of six Republicans to vote against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
McCain teamed with Carl Levin on bills closing down tax shelters, forbidding accounting firms from selling products to the firms they audited, and requiring businesses that gave out stock options as compensation to reveal the cost to their stockholders. These measures were bitterly opposed by big business and faced opposition not only from virtually the whole of the GOP but even from many Democrats as well.
McCain voted against the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts. He co-sponsored bills to close the gun-show loophole, expand AmeriCorps, and federalize airport security. All these things set him against nearly the entire Republican Party
[And like Obama...]
Determining how McCain would act as president has thus become a highly sophisticated exercise in figuring out whom he's misleading and why. Nearly everyone can find something to like in McCain. Read more!
Playwright David Mamet describes his evolution from "Brain-Dead Liberal" to what appears to be a libertarian -- certainly more conservative.
As a child of the '60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart.
And, I wondered, how could I have spent decades thinking that I thought everything was always wrong at the same time that I thought I thought that people were basically good at heart? Which was it? I began to question what I actually thought and found that I do not think that people are basically good at heart; indeed, that view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine, and that this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.
For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.
I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.
Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.
But if the government is not to intervene, how will we, mere human beings, work it all out?
I wondered and read, and it occurred to me that I knew the answer, and here it is: We just seem to. How do I know? From experience. I referred to my own—take away the director from the staged play and what do you get? Usually a diminution of strife, a shorter rehearsal period, and a better production.
The director, generally, does not cause strife, but his or her presence impels the actors to direct (and manufacture) claims designed to appeal to Authority—that is, to set aside the original goal (staging a play for the audience) and indulge in politics, the purpose of which may be to gain status and influence outside the ostensible goal of the endeavor.
Strand unacquainted bus travelers in the middle of the night, and what do you get? A lot of bad drama, and a shake-and-bake Mayflower Compact. Each, instantly, adds what he or she can to the solution. Why? Each wants, and in fact needs, to contribute—to throw into the pot what gifts each has in order to achieve the overall goal, as well as status in the new-formed community. And so they work it out.
See also that most magnificent of schools, the jury system, where, again, each brings nothing into the room save his or her own prejudices, and, through the course of deliberation, comes not to a perfect solution, but a solution acceptable to the community—a solution the community can live with.Rare to read a popular politico admit that he was wrong (in his mind, at least) in the past, and certainly interesting the thoughts of Friedman and Tocqueville articulated by a NY playwright. It's hard to tell exactly where Mamet know sits in the political spectrum, but I can definitely emphasize with his internal debate. Read more!
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
The last few years have seen a dramatic loss of momentum for coalition forces, as efforts to lessen opium production have failed to progress. The question has always been, what can rural farmers be sold on farming besides poppies? Well, it appears that cannabis has become popular as well -- not exactly what we had in mind.
Meanwhile, "rising food prices in Afghanistan are creating a crisis that is so far silent but that could manifest itself in urban riots, increased recruitment to the insurgency, and increased planting of both opium poppy and cannabis to earn cash incomes to buy food at the higher prices."
What's particularly painful about the current food shortage is that it represents possibly the biggest missed opportunity in Afghanistan. "Many factors are contributing to the rise [in agricultural prices], but the biggest is runaway demand. In recent years, the world’s developing countries have been growing about 7 percent a year, an unusually rapid rate by historical standards."
This demand increases the incentive for Afghan farmers to grow wheat instead of poppies, but alas, to no avail.
The Afghan government, which lacks economic expertise and administrative capacity in rural areas (to say the least) has proposed some kind of support for wheat farming to compensate for the food shortages and take advantage of the rising prices, which appear to be a long-term trend. Currently Afghan farmers are poorly positioned to take advantage of the wheat price rises, as traders monopolize most of the profit, as they do with poppy and cannabis. The World Bank vetoed such a program for the usual reasons (distorting markets, etc.) many of which are valid -- in addition to the fact that the Afghan government could not administer a complex and wasteful program like US agricultural price supports, especially since Afghan cultivators have no political influence.
Nonetheless, the rise in price in wheat and other commodities (what is happening to horticultural commodities, flowers, essential oils, and so on?) presents an opportunity for investing in other cash crops and their marketing in Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about how the drug economy is supporting insurgency and terrorism, where is the program to seize this market opportunity? And for all the talk of the importance of Afghanistan to global security, where is the program to assure Afghans of an affordable supply of basic food? This would do at least as much good as more NATO troops, and with less risk of collateral damage (market distortion versus killing civilians).
The No. 1 takeaway from our experience in Iraq is that we must engage not only militarily, but economically and politically. The lack of a sufficient economic program is certainly not helping.
Monday, March 10, 2008
James Surowiecki has an excellent article on "What Microloans Miss" in the New Yorker that not only sheds light on the limits of microloans in aiding impoverished nations, but also targets the primary catalyst for job growth, "small-to-medium-sized enterprises, the kind that are bigger than a fruit stand but smaller than a Fortune 1000 corporation."
In high-income countries, these companies create more than sixty per cent of all jobs, but in the developing world they’re relatively rare, thanks to a lack of institutions able to provide them with the capital they need."
It’s easy for really big companies in poor countries to tap the markets for funding, and now, because of microfinance, it’s possible for really small enterprises to get money, too. But the companies in between find it hard. It’s a phenomenon that has been dubbed the “missing middle.”
The problem is a dearth not just of lenders but also of people willing to buy an ownership stake in companies, like the angel investors and venture capitalists that American entrepreneurs often rely on.
Supplying the missing middle will require backers who want to invest in companies rather than just lend to them.
Surowieki isn't critical of microfinance and it's ability to do a great deal of economic and social good on the microlevel, "but the overselling of their promise has made us neglect the enterprises that could be real engines of macromagic."
Nobel Prize winner and father of microfinance Muhammad Yunus once stated, “All people are entrepreneurs.”
But thinking that everyone is, and should be, an entrepreneur leads us to underrate the virtues of larger businesses and of the income that a steady job can provide. To be sure, for some people the best route out of poverty will be a bank loan. But for most it’s going to be something much simpler: a regular paycheck.
Development on the macrolevel will demand more than microloans, it will demand actual investment in small and middle-sized business. A lesson for job creation both abroad and at home. Read more!
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Via The Indian Economy blog, an article in Forbes details the success of an Indian entrepreneur named Sridhar Vembu, the founder and CEO of AdventNet, a software company that is one of the few thriving firms in India producing products (rather than providing services).
What the Chinese have done in manufacturing, he is showing that the Indians can do in software: undercut U.S. and European software makers dramatically.
What's significant is how Vembu has done it.
“We hire young professionals whom others disregard,” Vembu says. “We don’t look at colleges, degrees or grades. Not everyone in India comes from a socio-economic background to get the opportunity to go to a top-ranking engineering school, but many are really smart regardless.
“We even go to poor high schools, and hire those kids who are bright but are not going to college due to pressure to start making money right away,” Vembu continues. “They need to support their families. We train them, and in nine months, they produce at the level of college grads. Their resumes are not as marketable, but I tell you, these kids can code just as well as the rest. Often, better.”
As the United States tries to enhance its competitiveness in the global marketplace, maximizing human capital is key. Vembu has built a $40-million software empire by paying to educate and train the equivalent of high school graduates. Currently, American firms might pay for the graduate training of a promising employee. The Indian experience suggests that American firms should reexamine the utility of the 17-year old. Considering the massive cost of college (and questionable value for job preparation) , many firms might be better off targeting high schoolers directly.
If training and hiring high schoolers is as profitable in the US as it is in India, there could be significant economic and social dividends, enhancing competitiveness by reducing labor costs, while helping restore the promise of economic advancement to a population that has few reasons to keep faith.
Perhaps then Silicon Valley will be losing business to Detroit, and not New Delhi.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
According to a recent Economist article, "A Turkish-based movement, which sounds more reasonable than most of its rivals, is vying to be recognised as the world's leading Muslim network."
Besides being a future vacation destination for one, Publius Publicola, Istanbul has long been
a nexus of the Western, Eastern, and Middle Eastern worlds, and continues that role today as the birthplace of a global Muslim network (referred to as Gulenists, after their leader, Fethullah Gulen) directed by a firm belief in "science, inter-faith dialogue and multi-party democracy."
It's interesting that the Muslim movement has played the role of counterweight to Turko nationalism locally, while serving as an extension of Turkish influence abroad, from Central Asia to Iraq.
This pragmatic counter-reformation has the potential to play a positive role in some of the most fragile nation-states in the world. "As a global force, the Gulenists are especially active in education. They claim to have founded more than 500 places of learning in 90 countries."
“If you meet a polite Central Asian lad who speaks good English and Turkish, you know he went to a Gulen school,” says a Turkish observer.
Compared with all these [other Muslim] groups, the Gulen movement offers a message to young Muslims that sounds more positive: it tells them to embrace the Western world's opportunities, while still insisting on Islam's fundamentals
Good news. Read more!
Friday, March 7, 2008
Bluesy-rock duo Black Keys produces upcoming album under watchful eye of indie darling, hip-hop producer Danger Mouse. Less raw, more produced (as one would expect), but even more retro rock feel. It's nice.
You can hear a sampling here. Read more!
One of the reasons why I like Bloomberg's education reforms in New York is that it allows for a much greater degree of experimentation, which is good, because I think most would agree that we haven't figured out how to run a school most effectively and efficiently.
A recent New York Times Article, At Charter School, Higher Teacher Pay, detailed plans for a NYC charter school in Washington Heights, which hopes to attract high-quality teachers with a salary of $125,000 and bonus contingent on school performance -- that would double the average NYC public school salary.
The question is "Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools."
The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
I know you count on Publius to deliver that fresh perspective on world events. Those little goodies that you'll talk about around the water cooler the next day and promise to pass on to your enlightened buddies.
Well, thanks to War and Health:
On February 27th, UNOSAT released a satellite-derived estimation of the number of civilians leaving the Chadian capital of N’Djamena towards the Cameroonian border. The satellite photos are simply stunning. This is the first set of images I have seen capturing the epic scale of refugee flows. Each point on the photo is an individual and each yellow box a vehicle. The UN estimates that one photo contains 10,200 pedestrians and 80 vehicles.
Monday, March 3, 2008
According to "Barnstorming Obama plans to pick Republicans for cabinet..."
Obama is hoping to appoint cross-party figures to his cabinet such as Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator for Nebraska and an opponent of the Iraq war, and Richard Lugar, leader of the Republicans on the Senate foreign relations committee.
This is a great general election tactic in Obama's attempt to peal away moderate support of McCain, especially since someone like Hagel could be a VP choice for McCain.
Optimistically, it's a trial balloon. It would go along with Obama's play to be a modern-day Lincoln, reaching across the aisle to build a broad alliance.
We shall see.
Read Part I here. Read Part II here.
This final installment deals with the makeup of the United States’ Armed Forces, which echoes the days of large-scale conventional warfare. Hammes spends the majority of his time discussing the US Army, but I'll begin this summary with a few brief notes on those other guys...
In the sea, while our enemies are focused on developing anti-access weapons (e.g., mines, submarines), the Navy is largely ignoring these developments. In addition, the recent war game in the Persian Gulf shows the potential for huge losses were a US fleet attacked by a swarm of small speedboats.
Meanwhile, the Air Force has too many air superiority fighters, and too few transports, tankers, intel aircrafts, bombers, and other special mission tasks. In both cases, the onus has been on delivering a heavy punch, when it should be on flexible response.
For the US Army, six heavy reserve divisions (out of ten divisions total) are too many. Hammes argues that the Army needs less heavy forces, and more “flexible, multi-mission capable, medium-weight forces … for forward presence, quick response, nation building, and peacekeeping or peace enforcement missions.” There is a critical shortage of this type of unit in the Middle East.
Hammes’ ideal unit is able to operate in any terrain (so no large flock of tanks), is prepositioned for rapid deployment to likely conflict areas, and has a staff educated in conducting joint and interagency operations.
Large Infantry and Military Police units are needed for post-battle security, along with good human intelligence and a significant number of Civil Affairs, Engineers and logistic elements saturating the streets. MPs will need to be capable of both community policing and combat operations. Civil Affairs will need to provide basic civil functions, network with agencies and organizations, and help the locals establish governance. Infantry will need to operate as small units to patrol, live with, and advise the local population. Everyone needs to take a lesson from Special Forces.
Intel also needs an overhaul. Operationally, intel needs to worry less about tracking big conventional forces, and more about “recognizing, analyzing, and understanding networks.” The impetus must be on locating the nodes in these networks to either exploit or destroy. Given the sophistication of the enemy, human intel (old-school intelligence gathering) is essential for locating the node. In addition, because the enemy does not need to communicate before attacking, human intel is far more important signal intel (which intercepts electronic communication). To summarize, intel must mirror the enemy, create a similar network of small forces, saturate the population, and track the enemy as police track gang activity.
The Army National Guard is changing many heavy Infantry units to more appropriate Military Police units. For Hammes, the transformation has not been enough. For instance, with the National Guard’s dual roles in conflict abroad and disaster at home, the Guard is particularly well-suited for consequence management. Therefore, the Guard should expand its Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Explosive (CBRNE) units to provide downrange assistance to hazmat squads in case of disaster at home, and civil support in foreign theaters.
There are major changes being made to the US Army. I haven't found a good summary article on this transformation, but here's a wiki entry on the Transformation of the United States Army and a brief article on the "Biggest Change Since 1939." Read more!