first, let me say that i've been pleasantly surprised at the aggressiveness of mccain's campaigning. i thought he'd be dole II, but he's clearly got more energy in his campaign team. they're more aggressive and hard-hitting at least in above the line type promos.
that said, i think this choice is weak and will probably drive me to vote for obama. the problems around the economy and around our foreign policy are to me the key issues. mccain may be alright in foreign policy, but biden neutralizes that. palin doesn't help mccain at all on the economy, probably hurts him.
i maintain my prediction, which i've had for several months, that obama will take this in a landslide.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Update: Joe Lieberman's former campaign advisor has the same idea: "In picking an unknown, untested, half-a-term woman governor from Alaska to be his running mate, John McCain is following in a long line of reckless men who have rolled the dice for a beauty queen."
Later update: Didn't she only place second in that beauty contest? I believe in "Monopoly" placing second in a beauty contest gets you $10. A good estimate for what Palin will do for McCain.
Monday, August 25, 2008
The Dems need to keep in mind the elementary lesson of brand-management, which is you can only have a couple key themes, and then you must repeat them endlessly. Here's one of the key ones.
In an ideal world, politicians would be judged by their actions, not by their wealth or lack thereof. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born to wealth, but that didn't stop him from doing more for working Americans than any president before or since. Conversely, Joseph Biden's hardscrabble life story, though inspiring, didn't stop him from supporting the odious 2005 bankruptcy bill.
But in the world we actually live in, pro-corporate, inequality-increasing Republicans argue that you should vote for them because they're regular guys you'd like to have a beer with, while Democrats who want to raise taxes on top earners, expand health care and raise the minimum wage are snooty elitists.
And in that world, stripping away the regular-guy facade — pointing out that everything Rush Limbaugh said about Mr. Kerry applies equally to Mr. McCain, that Mr. McCain lives in a material world few Americans can imagine — is only fair. Yes, Mr. Obama vacations in Hawaii — and Cindy McCain says that "In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane."
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Compared to the legal economy, the illicit economy has grown at twice the rate. What factors explain this fast growth?
Smuggling, trafficking, and transnational criminal organizations have always existed. But with the exception of narcotics—which for reasons of plant biology and economics has long been the world's most globalized industry—many of these illicit economies were local or regional in scope until quite recently. Since the 1990s, however, there has been a rapid integration of markets, for both political reasons (structural adjustment programs, the end of Soviet socialism, the Washington Consensus) and technical reasons (the Internet, mobile telephony, improved transportation infrastructure). Just as these changes have helped many legal businesses to go global, they have also enabled former street corner thugs to become global gangsters.
The withdrawal of states from their commanding role in many economies and the declining capacity and authority of many states (including states in the so-called developed world) have opened up operational spaces for what I call "deviant globalization"—human trafficking, drug dealing, gun running, cross-border waste disposal, organ trading, sex tourism, money laundering, transnational gangs, piracy (both intellectual and physical), and so on.
The structure of the current global economy is not designed for equitable, plodding growth; it's designed to reward opportunistic, risk-seeking innovators. It follows logically that illicit industries (which will naturally be led by opportunistic, risk-seeking entrepreneurs) form a particularly high-growth sector. Were one to construct an investment portfolio of illicit businesses, it would no doubt outperform Wall Street.
Globalization tears down traditional national structures and opens doors to illicit actors who fill the void. What can be done to stop this process?
The first step is for governments to realize that the growth of the illicit economy is neither a minor irritant, nor something that can be eliminated. Rather, it is a permanent feature of the contemporary global order, which needs to be actively managed. There are two main ways that governments and nonprofits typically go wrong in dealing with deviant globalization. The first is by more or less ignoring it, or downplaying its significance. The second is by thinking that the deviant manifestations of globalization can somehow be eliminated or separated from the legal manifestations. (This latter fallacy is what leads, for example to the fruitless, demoralizing campaigns like the war on drugs. The street price of narcotics has steadily fallen on the streets of almost every country for the last three decades, which tells you that supply has been growing even faster than demand—a telling indicator of the effectiveness of the war on drugs.)
As long as we continue to combine massive disparities of wealth and power, with a desire to control or stop the flows of certain goods and services, there will continue to be a nearly endless supply of people willing to move goods, people, and services at a premium price. The challenges of deviant globalization are best dealt with in a regulatory framework, not via law enforcement. Of course, such an approach flies in the face of moralizing about these issues.
Is this trend worldwide or more prone to affect certain countries or regions?
This is a global trend, but one affects different regions in different ways. Countries prone to deviant globalization tend to share certain family resemblances: a weak or fragmented central state; long, poorly guarded borders; and a large supply of or demand for goods with dubious moral properties—drugs, antiquities, valuable minerals, exotic wildlife, human organs, sex, oil, highly enriched uranium, and so on. The traditional world leaders in deviant globalization have been probably Russia, Nigeria, Brazil, China and the United States—though today the most deviantly globalized place on earth may be Iraq.
But it would be a mistake to think of the geography of deviant globalization primarily in terms of states, for deviant globalization has a complex microgeography that largely ignores state boundaries: it spans the archipelago of slums that runs from the inner cities of the United States, to the favelas of Rio de Janiero, to the banlieus of France, to the almost continuous urban slum that girds the Gulf of Guinea from Abidjan to Lagos; it extends across the cocaine supply chain that links the mountains of Colombia, to the slums of São Paolo, to the waterways of West Africa, to the noses of tourists in the Netherlands; it traverses the mountains of toxic garbage that move from the dustbins of rich countries to the landfills of poor ones; and on and on. You will find manifestations of it in every city and in every household that has any connection to the global economy. It is inseparable from the global economy.
You consider the illicit actors a political force. In what way?
The underlying political process associated with deviant globalization is the disaggregation of the "sovereignty bundle" of powers associated with the high modernist liberal state. In many places the state is no longer (if, indeed it ever was) the de facto governing authority, in the sense that it does not control the delivery of fundamental political goods, such as security, infrastructure, education, and health care. Different pieces of that bundle are being parceled out to (or, more commonly, grabbed by) a variety of actors: tribal leaders, gangsters, NGOs, religious leaders, transnational and local corporations, mercenaries, ethnic militias, and so on. The particular combinations vary from place to place, and there is a great deal of path dependency. In many places, the same actors who control the resource flows associated with deviant globalization are also de facto providers of "state-like services" such as security or infrastructure. And naturally enough, the common people who rely on these providers tend to align their political loyalties accordingly.
What's new in this situation is that in many cases these "political actors" have no interest in actually becoming a state or taking over an existing state. They’re happy to wield state-like authority and power, while enriching themselves via dubious business operations. I’m thinking here of groups as various as the Mahdi Army in Iraq, the PCC in Brazil, the 'Ndrangheta in Italy, or Laurent Nkunda's crew in Congo. None of these organizations plan to declare sovereign independence and file for membership of the United Nations. What they want, simply, is to carve out a space where they can do their business and not have the state mess with them. This means that, unless a state confronts them, they're disinclined to challenge states directly—directly challenging the state is expensive, and generally bad for business. As this new class of post-state political actors takes over functions formerly monopolized by states, they and their constituents lose interest in the state. From a political perspective, therefore, deviant globalization leads to (and also is facilitated by) the proliferation of jurisdictionally ambiguous spaces where sovereignty as it has traditionally been conceived simply no longer exists. It’s a self-reinforcing dynamic.
Western pundits and politicians like to describe these sorts of spaces with highly misleading terms such as "failing states" or "undergoverned zones." The implication of such terminology is that the people living there want to be just like us, but that somehow they're unable to get there. But such a belief is, if I may be blunt, a narcissistic delusion masquerading as political science. Contrary to what the bien-pensants claim, most so-called failing states don't want to get fixed. In many of these zones, the local powers that be are quite content with these novel, informal political arrangements. It allows them to make fabulous amounts of money running globe-spanning commercial empires, while being recognized as the "big men" within the communities that they care about. They have no desire to attain the West's ideal of an inclusive, welfare-providing modern state. These guys are "postmodern" in the sense that they realize that the West's form of modernity will never include them, and they're charting an entirely different path. It's very different from the classic revolutionary movements of the twentieth century.
Apparently the 'Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mob, earned 44 billion Euros last year and is bigger than the better known Mafia. What happens with all this money and how does it affect the future of – in this case – Italy?
The case of the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria—and perhaps even more, the Camorra around Naples—is illustrative of how the licit and illicit global economies are increasingly inseparable. The crucial point about these loose organizations is that they control not just the drug and flesh trades in their regions, but that they also own or control enormous portions of the licit economy—sweat shops, garbage disposal, ports, factories, construction, and so on. There’s virtually no business that has any presence in Italy that they don't have their hands on. The legal businesses get capital from the illicit business, and also serve to launder the illicit gains. Sometimes people talk about economic development as the "solution" to corruption in the Italian South; but the truth of the matter is that corruption IS development in the South of Italy.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
There are many ways of describing the fiasco of suburbia, but these days I refer to it as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.
I say this because American suburbia requires an infinite supply of cheap energy in order to function and we have now entered a permanent global energy crisis that will change the whole equation of daily life. Having poured a half-century of our national wealth into a living arrangement with no future — and linked our very identity with it — we have provoked a powerful psychology of previous investment that will make it difficult for us to let go, change our behavior, and make other arrangements....
The Happy Motoring era is over. No combination of "alt" fuels — solar, wind, nuclear, tar sands, oil-shale, offshore drilling, used French-fry oil — will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Marts, and Walt Disney World.
The automobile will be a diminishing presence in our lives, whether we like it or not. Further proof of our obdurate cluelessness in these matters is the absence of any public discussion about restoring the passenger railroad system — even as the airline industry is also visibly dying. The campaign to sustain suburbia and all its entitlements will result in a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources and capital.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Josh Marshall sums it up what that means for McCain:
Scheunemann's 'policy' was to get the Georgians ginned up on the idea that we were their close military allies and that we'd come to their rescue if their brinksmanship with the Russians went bad. Well, that didn't work out very well. Any situation where you start the shooting and then find yourself begging for a ceasefire within 48 hours is a major blunder. He's not an 'expert' on Georgia; he's the lead guy on the policy that got us into this situation. And the fact that John McCain would make him his chief policy advisor after he's been the conductor on so many trainwrecks should tell us all we need to know about Sen. McCain's foreign policy judgment.
First, the analogy implies that those advocate a tempered line with respect to some current crisis lack "moral clarity." It suggests that they fail to appreciate that it is simply unacceptable that a nefarious Great Power be allowed to bully a small, innocent country that is clamoring for others to help her. Second, it suggests that a given dovish line is not only knavish, but also foolish, for it fails to realize the truly nasty nature of the opponent in question.
Before I unpack why this historical metaphor is more complex than it seems, let me begin by stating the obvious, namely that there is no question that Chamberlain was a fool. He was a fool because he thought that Hitler was someone one could credibly "do business" with, and he was a fool for proclaiming that the agreement he had made with Hitler would bring "peace in our time." What he was not a fool for, however, was in thinking that the fate of Czechoslovakia was of no real importance to Britain, not worth going to war over. Some context here, is of course crucial: Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler was less than two decades removed from the Great War, a war that largely destroyed European civilization because the Great Powers decided to fight each other to the death over the fate of some pissant country. No one wanted to make that mistake again, which was why many congratulated Chamberlain for steering clear of war.
But the third assumption embedded in the 1938 analogy, which is not just the least visible but also the most important and above all the most questionable, is an implicit counterfactual, namely that if only Chamberlain had taken a harder line with Hitler, then either Hitler would have backed down and the eventual war could have been avoided, or else Hitler would have been forced to fight then, when he was less prepared. But of course, because it's a counterfactual, we don't actually know if that's true -- it's unknowable, despite the assumptions of those who invoke the metaphor. As Bruce Kuklick has pointed out, "To identify appropriate structural features of an event as evidence of bullying [implies] that standing up to the bully would bring success. But we do not know what would have happened at Munich had Chamberlain been forceful.... Had the English faced down Hitler in 1938, he might have bided his time and become far stronger when he went to war later" (Blind Oracles, p. 122). Had Hitler bided his time to build his military strength, he might have defeated the Russians in his initial push, in which case he might well have won the war.
This is the key thing that the invokers of "the lessons of the 1930s" fail to recognize: that different, more aggressive choices by the Western powers might not have led to a better outcome. They assume it would have, but they don't know that. They can't know that.
Contrary to the hyperventilation of policy analysts on American news shows, the West has no vital interests in Georgia. It would be convenient from Washington's vantage point for oil to flow from the Caspian Sea via Georgia to the Black Sea, to be sure, but nothing that occurs in Georgia will have a measurable impact on American energy security. It is humiliating for the US to watch the Russians thrash a prospective ally, but not harmful, for Georgia never should have been an ally in the first place.Exactly so.
He also gets to the heart of why NATO's 1999 intervention in Kosovo was imbecility masquerading as moralistic strategy:
If it had not been for America's insistence on installing a gang of trigger-happy pimps and drug-pushers in Kosovo, Russia might have responded less ferociously to the flea bites on its southern border. Make no mistake: the American-sponsored Kosovo regime is the dirtiest anywhere in postwar history. Writing in the Spiegel magazine website last April 24 , Walter Mayr described Kosovo as "a country ruled by corruption and organized crime".... America's wag-the-dog war against Serbia in 1999 over alleged ethnic cleansing of Muslim Albanians in Kosovo won the undeserved support of Republicans as well as Democrats, to the extent that too many people on all sides of Washington politics risked their reputation to admit that the whole business was a stupid mistake. Washington has simply dug itself in deeper, joined at the hip to a government less savory than any banana republic dictatorship that enjoyed American favor at the depths of the Cold War.He doesn't even bother to mention the other horrible precedent that the Kosovo intervention set, namely legitimating the idea of gunpoint "humanitarian interventions." Part of the way the Bush regime railroaded the country into Iraq was by claiming, not without justification, that anyone who had supported the moral case for intervening in Kosovo could only be a hypocrite if they failed to appreciate the moral case for intervention in Iraq.
But here's the key point, which Spengler gets, while most of the Western commentariat does not: just because one recognizes that a some horrible human situation endangers no vital interests and therefore intervention is a bad idea is not to somehow approve of or even turn away from the moral horrors. What the Russians are doing in Georgia is bad, perhaps even evil; so too is what Khartoum is doing in Darfur; or Uganda is doing in Eastern Congo. Likewise, the regimes in Zimbabwe, Burma, and many other places are doing awful things to their own peoples. But these are places where we have nothing at stake. These situations are horrible, but they are not our problem, and we do not have the resources to manage these problems.
In a similar vein, I recommend my friend Greg's post today on the inanities of the outrage corner of the commentariat.
Monday, August 11, 2008
"I looked the man in the eye," Mr. Bush said of Putin after their meeting in Slovenia in June, adding, "I was able to get a sense of his soul."To which Putin responded:
I found [Mr. Bush] a rather sincere person, pleasant to talk to.... I don't know if I should say this, but he also appeared to me to be a little bit sentimental.
We shall not trouble you with specious pretences - either of how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of wrong that you have done us - and make a long speech which would not be believed. In return we hope that you, instead of thinking to influence us by saying that you... have done us no wrong, will aim at what is feasible, holding in view the real sentiments of us both. You know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power. The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.Anyone who thinks that the weak are going to stop being abused and dominated by the strong has no sense of either history or biology.
Let me also quote a little more from Larison, who puts in the proper perspective the absurdity of American claims that the Russians have no basis for their current actions:
Imagine the hysterical reaction [in Washington] if someone close to one of the major officials in the Chinese government said, "Does China want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Colombia and Haiti?" The absurdity of the question would be apparent to all. What if one of Medvedev's advisors said, "Does Russia want to live in a world in which the United States holds sway over Panama?" I suspect he would be laughed out of the room, or the question would be dismissed as irrelevant.Exactly so. And yet the neocons and their arrant liberal fellow travellers are making exactly equivalent claims when they suggest that the United States somehow can't live with Russian aggression in a region that the Russians have dominated for centuries.
What is most likely to hurt the United States -- that is, our real interests, not our tender feelings -- are not Russian actions in their Near Abroad, but rather us making ridiculous claims which we patently cannot back up. Because such claims makes it apparent that we no sense of the real scope of our authority, power, or influence. (Or worse yet, we try to back them up -- sparking the 1914 scenario.)
You'd think that nearly seven years into the Iraq/Afghanistan debacle, we'd d have thrown overboard the policy intellectuals who can't wrap their heads about this kind of basic diplomatic, political, and military point. (Maybe we have from an actual policy perspective: even Cheney seems content to say merely that Russian actions in Georgia could "sour our relations" with Moscow.) Unfortunately, noisy idiots continue to clog the airwaves and the op-ed pages of "legitimate" opinion outlets such as the Washington Post, demanding that the U.S. "take action to stop Russia" on something which is, to be frank, of no importance whatsoever to anything but our personal moral sensibilities. As I say, these fools think it's always 1938. They ought to learn a little more history.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Unsurprisingly, they're having some success in finding sponsors among the very same policy intellectuals in Washington who should long ago have been run out of town on a rail for the utter bankrupting of their ideas in Iraq. Invoking 1938, of course, is like waving a red flag in front of the neocons, for whom every international crisis is "like 1938," where the choice is between virtuous bellicosity and knavish appeasement.
Unfortunately, that's the wrong historical analogy. A much more apposite analogy for what a decision by the West/NATO to stand up to Putin over Georgia would be, is 1914, not 1938 -- the needless escalation of a small regional conflict into a potentially massive military conflagration between Great Powers. I hope that someone smart in State or at the CIA is spending this weekend writing a memo comparing these two historical analogies. Because taking up the wrong historical analogy or antecedent could have truly catastrophic consequences at a conjuncture like this one.
The neocons will of course wring their hands and waggle their fingers about the immorality of hanging the Georgians out to dry, but from my point of view, Daniel Larison seems to me to get the essential point exactly right:
Obviously, I understand why Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians and Georgians are not interested in having Russia hold sway over their countries. They want to preserve their national independence, and they view Russia as the historic oppressor or occupier that must never be allowed to regain control. I get it. I can even understand why they, or at least some of them, would actively seek the protection of other great powers to prevent that happening, but what has never been clear to me is why Americans should be willing to harm our relations with the Russians for the sake of countries in which we have no particularly important interests and which Russians consider part of their sphere of influence, if not, in fact, historically theirs.As James Baker rightly put it about the breakup of Yugoslavia, we got no dog in that fight. (And please, spare me the nonsense about potential oil pipelines.) In fact, if we'd listened to Baker about the Balkans, then very possibly Georgia might not be getting subjected to its current fate.
Update: The Politico has a nice summary of Obama and McCain's reactions to the Georgia crisis. Nickle version: whereas Obama is measured and calm and reacts like every other sane world leader, McCain has what we might call a "neoconniption"--which may have something to with the fact that McCain's top foreign policy advisor, Randy Scheunemann, has recently been working as a lobbyist for the Georgian government.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Well, here's a modest entry:
There once was a candidate named McCain
Who raised money right and left to campaign
Then some dubious moolah
Came from Abdullah
Though just how, John still can't explain
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Monday, August 04, 2008
Over the course of my politically-aware life... it seems like republican political practices are, by quite some way, both less law-abiding (think of all the reagan officials indicted, ghwb's involvement in iran-contra not to speak of the current administration) and much more racist (reagan's campaign kickoff in philadelphia, mississippi etc) than the democrats. Which raises the following questions:Several things to note. First, if you're only thinking of Presidents and Presidential administrations, then there is a sampling problem on the Dem side, since we've only had one Democratic administration in the last 28 years, and only two since the Civil Rights act was passed in 1965. Second, in terms of moral reprehensibility, I'll note without further comment that a lot of people, not just Republicans, definitely considered Clinton a rather morally compromised character. Whether you consider sexual peccadilloes on par with political or racial ones is, I suppose, a matter of taste. The old joke among reporters in Washington used to be that with the Dems in power, you report on sexual and substance abuse failings, whereas with Republicans you report on corruption. Beyond this, I have several observations:
1. Is this sense right? And if it is, is there any similarly morally-reprehensible behaviour on the side of the dems?
2. And if there isn't, what is it that drives republicans to this kind of behaviour? Is it ideologically based or is it institutionally based? Or is it just a love of power?
3. How come the country (or at least some democratic politician) hasn't risen up to declare republican behaviours evil (or at least on the road to perdition)?
- No question, the Republicans are, by far, the more racist political party, if by racism you mean a dislike for black people and/or race-mixing. Along with evangelicals and small business owners, racists are a central part of the Republican political base. Since out-and-out racists (that is, people who won't vote for a black guy, say, or who are disturbed by miscegenation) make up a pretty big chunk of America, it would be surprising if they didn't have political representation. What's peculiar to our current political period is that only one party competes for that voting bloc. Prior to the 1960s, both parties tried to compete for the "racist values" voters. Prior to the 1960s, in other words, institutionalized racism was a bipartisan affair. Between them, Johnson and Nixon ended that bipartisanship, and committed racists became a pillar of the GOP.
- Corruption, on the other hand, seems to me less an ideological matter than a function of entrenched political power. To prevent corruption, you need to throw the bums out on a regular basis. The Republicans may have a slightly greater propensity to corruption, just because the interests groups they represent tend to have more money than Dem interest groups (and may themselves be more more corrupt than Demo interest groups), creating somewhat greater opportunities for corruption. But this strikes me as marginal. For the most part, after all, America legalizes and institutionalizes corruption via lobbying. Personal corruption a la Ted Stevens is the exception not the rule, and you've got that on both sides of the aisle. Cf. Dan Rostenkowki, William Jefferson, etc.
- When it comes to crimes d'etat (e.g. Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby, etc) I think there may be a greater propensity among Republicans for such things, if only because in the post-Watergate era the Republicans have tended to be more committed to unfettered executive power, which is the part of government where such activities take place. The Cheney-Addington-Yoo wing of party clearly feels that Watergate led to an unpardonable diminution of executive power. However, it's important to note that they and their many tacit supporters don't look at things like Iran-Contra or NSA wiretaps or extraordinary rendition or torturing terrorists as sins. Quite the contrary, they think these are morally righteous activities that only pansy-ass liberals try to restrain with absurd references to quaint laws passed during the Cold War in conjunction with representatives of the international communist movement. I don't think that's a caricature of their position.
- Taken collectively, I think these reasons explain why "the people" haven't "risen up." With that said, the fact that we seem on the verge of electing to the presidency a black man with the middle name Hussein could certainly be seen as a kind of uprising. Certainly, in any other year, without massive popular disgust with what the GOP has produced for this country, Obama would have no chance.
- Finally, it should be noted that the greatest sins of the Republican Party are in fact not the ones we've discussed so far, great as those are. Rather, the greatest sin of the GOP is that they have run the empire incompetently on its own terms. Bush and his enablers have brought our country to defeat and ruin, and done so in a fashion that has benefited only a tiny upper crust that may have managed to amass so much money that they will be able to personally insulate themselves from the onrushing deluge ("deluge," as in "Apres moi, le deluge"). Screwing black people is the oldest of American political traditions. Screwing the whole country, on the other hand, is the specialty of today's GOP.