Monday, May 28, 2007

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Edwards on Iraq War Funding

From CNN:
BLITZER: I know you're very upset that the Democrats in Congress blinked on this issue of a troop withdrawal, but they simply don't have the votes to override a presidential veto.

What are they supposed to do if they want to keep funding the troops but at the same time make their point?

EDWARDS: What they should do is continue to submit funding bills supporting the troops to the president with a timetable for withdrawal. And if the president of the United States, George Bush, continues to veto those bills, it's the president who's deciding he's not going to fund the troops. And ultimately that would actually require George Bush to start withdrawing troops from Iraq.

And my basic view about this, Wolf, is not complicated. I think that the American people want a different course in Iraq. They made that clear in the last election. and what I am asking is for the Congress to stand its ground, to do what it needs to do for America. This is not about politics. It's about life and death.


BLITZER: So the sitting members, like Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, Congressman Kucinich, what do you expect they're going to do?

EDWARDS: What I expect them to do is stand their ground, to continue to support bills that have a timetable for withdrawal and to use whatever tools are available to them to prevent a bill going to the president that does not have a timetable for withdrawal.

It's not complicated. That's what the American people want and I think that's what they should do.

BLITZER: Some of the Democratic leaders say they're going to find other opportunities in the next few months to attach that kind of troop withdrawal deadline to other legislation that the president wants. So while they're not -- we're not going to get everything they want right now, they're still going to have that opportunity down the road.

EDWARDS: This president is not going to negotiate about this, Wolf.

How clear could anything be?

He will not negotiate. He will not compromise. He does not think he's capable of doing anything wrong. He has to be stopped.

And the power that the Congress has is its constitutional power to fund. And they need to use that power to force this president down a different course. It's that simple.
Edwards is right. It really is that simple.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tea Leaf Coalitions

One unexpected result of climate change may to drive the formation of interesting new (or rather, old) political coalitions, specifically, green-black(shirt) coalitions that combine nativism with environmentalism. If the Germans used to call the green Party a "Watermelon Party" (i.e. green on the outside but red on the inside), we might call these new coalitions "tea leaf" coalitions. To see what I'm talking about, check out the British National Party's statement on the environment. Similar things are at work with Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party in Australia, and Pia Kjaersgaard's People's Party in Denmark. All this is to say that we shouldn't expect that the politics of climate change abatement will necessarily be "liberal" or "progressive."

(There is a strong historical precedent for such unpleasant political assemblages. Not only is there the case of German national socialism--Hitler was a famously ardent nature-lover, and the concept of Lebensraum has a certain conservationist ring to it--but let's not forget our own Madison Grant, who was both cofounder of the Save-the-Redwoods League and the author of "The Passing of the Great Race," which Stephan J. Gould described as "the most influential tract of American scientific racism," and was the academic work that did most to justify the passage of the famously racist Immigration Act of 1924, which largely shut off immigration to the U.S. for the next four decades.)

There are a couple things going on here. Part of it is about these far-right parties looking for a way to clean up their image, to go beyond the single issue of immigration and national-cultural integrity, to broaden their electoral appeal among voters already inclined to cast protest votes (i.e. green voters). But it's also important to note (and here is where the history lesson above gets valuable) that the connection between racism and nativism, on the one hand, and environmentalism, on the other, is not without a certain abiding logic.

Take the case of climate change and carbon emissions. We know that on average an American has a carbon footprint that is 7X that of, say, a Mexican. Every Mexican who comes to the United States will, very quickly, come to consume at a much higher level. Keeping foreigners out (and down) does, therefore, keep down environmental damage. Or rather, it allows the current main polluters to continue to monopolize their front-row seats at the pollution table. What underpins both environmentalism and nativism, and links the two together, is a common "zero-sum game" mentality.

What do I mean by a zero-sum game mentality? Let's break down the regional carbon emissions problem into a numerical schematic. Imagine the world consists of, on the one hand, 1000 people in the third world, each of whom produces 10 "carbon emissions units" (CEUs), and, on the other hand, 100 people in the first world, each of whom produces 100 CEUs. In this simplified model, the world as a whole is producing 20,000 CEUs. Now let's say that the world decides that we need to reduce our carbon footprint to 15,000 CEUs. Assuming there's no migration, we might work out some arrangement whereby the wealthy world magnanimously agrees to take on 80% of the CEU reduction. That would mean the third world now gets to produce 9000 CEUs, or 9 CEUs per capita, and the first world gets to produce 6000 CEUs, or 60 CEUs per capita.

But look what happens if we allow migration. (We'll assume no natural population growth, to simplify the thought experiment.) Let's say we allow just 50 people to move from the third to the first world, so that the population in the third world is now 950 and the population in the first world is 150. Assuming we agree to that same carbon reduction agreement, the per capita consumption of CEUs for current residents of the first world will have to drop not just by 40%, but by 60%! Even assuming that we agree to split the necessary carbon reduction evenly between the first and third world (e.g. to 7500 CEUs per world sector) if we've allowed those 50 immigrants to move, then first world per capita CEU consumption will have to go from 100 to 50 -- a 50% drop. In the meanwhile, the per capita drop will be only 21% in the third world. In fact, even if we make the third world take on 80% of the CEU reduction, the immigration effect will mean that per capita reduction will still have to be 47% in the first world versus only 37% in the third world.

I'm not saying that fascist policy-makers have actually done math of this sort, but you can see the logic: if there's only a certain amount of total polluting that is going to be allowed, then conserving those pollution rights for you and yours is not a politically illogical way of thinking.

A Virtual Country (Only)

Some amusing news today about how the Indian Ocean country of the Maldives has opened the first "virtual embassy" on Second Life, beating out Sweden for the honor.

Somewhat less amusing is the fact that the Maldives, eighty percent of which lies under one meter sea level and which is home to 360,000 people, is likely to disappear as a real country in the next hundred years.

One billion climate refugees?

Christian Aid, a UK charity, has issued a report that claims that climate change may displace as many as a billion people by the middle of the century. That would more than quintuple the current number of refugees worldwide. The report emphasizes the important point that most of those climate refugees will not be transnational migrants, but will be displaced within their own countries (IDPs, in the U.N. jargon). Most of the victims will be in South Asia, the Middle East, and the Sahel in Africa. Full report here.

A billion refugees strikes me as unlikely, but it's not beyond the realm of conception. What is unthinkable, on the other hand, are the humanitarian and political implications of such a crisis.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

To the shores of Tripoli

Lebanese tanks pound a Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli that is the headquarters of a group with suspected links to al Qaeda. Ominously, the rebels got the best of the initial exchange, killing 22 soldiers and losing only 17 of their own warriors. Check it:

Monday, May 21, 2007

African dessication

The Economist has an interesting article on the implications of global warming for Africa (sub. req.). Particularly interesting is this image:

The next step is to map which of the countries that are in the shaded region have the most other stressed systems (political, economic, military, agricultural, etc.) and you begin to get a good sense of where things are going to get really bad.

And here's the key point: the ecological/climate crisis is going to appear in the headlines as a crisis of political economy in these regions. Thus the climate crisis in Darfur may appear as a "genocide." Thus the climate crisis in Nigeria may appear as an uprising of a new breed of global guerrillas. Thus the climate crisis in Zimbabwe may appear as the sociopathic derangement of a superannuated leader.

Media and the new face of war

It wasn't until half a decade after the end of American involvement in Vietnam that fully aestheticized moving images of the Vietnam War began to appear, with movies like The Deer Hunter (1978) and Apocalypse Now (1979). With the advent of cheap personal video recording and editing equipment and free video-sharing services, such representations are appearing out of Iraq and Afghanistan in a "reality-based" or "gonzo" format in near-real time. Here's an example.

Hat tip: MR.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Friday, May 04, 2007

Tag cloud for the Republican debate

I confess I'm already so bored with the '08 campaign that I haven't watched either the Dem or the GOP debate, and have instead just been reading about the results. Luckily, someone had the smart idea to put all the GOP candidate comments in a "tag cloud" format, with somewhat interesting results. In addition to what these clouds reveal about the diverging concerns of the candidates, I also suspect that the standing of each candidate is probably strongly correlated with the number of words each candidate managed to get into the debate. To wit:
  • Romney: 2371 words
  • McCain: 2060 words
  • Giuliani: 1623 words
  • Gilmore: 1475 words
  • Brownback: 1420 words
  • Tancredo: 1149 words
  • Huckabee: 1002 words
  • Paul: 995 words
  • Hunter: 945 words
  • Thompson: 924 words
The insight here is that Rudy is going down, the Thompson surge is about to crash, and Romney is, at the end of the day, looking like the guy to beat. At least, that's what that one variable suggests...

Bill Buckley all but calls Cheney a liar

Virtually everyone at the National Review is a GOP hack, but apparently the old man himself isn't. Buckley today bluntly calls out Cheney for making "false allegations" and Bush for taking "ill-considered actions."

This statement is simply a matter of recognizing reality, of course, but still, it's encouraging that Buckley is modeling this, because recognizing reality is a lost art on the right these days.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Favorite novels

Kevin Drum has an amusing post on the silliness of the perennial question that Presidential candidates get posed about their preferred books. He suggests that a smart candidate ought to modulate his answer depending on the interlocutor, with the following categories, along with my own modest answers:
  1. Moderately intellectual choice, suitable for being interviewed by George Will: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
  2. Funny choice, suitable for being interviewed on MTV: Joseph Heller, Catch-22
  3. Multicultural choice, suitable for being interviewed by New York Times: Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
  4. Populist choice, suitable for being interviewed by Parade: J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
  5. Safely patriotic choice, suitable for being interviewed by Rush Limbaugh: Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
  6. Thoughtful choice, suitable for being interviewed on PBS: Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  7. Anti-terrorism choice, suitable for being interviewed by Andrew Sullivan: Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

How Racism Works

The New York Times has an extremely important article today about racism, summarizing the findings of a recent study on officiating in the NBA. It turns out that white refs call fouls at a higher rate on black players than on white players, and that black refs call fouls on white players at a higher rate as well, though with less bias. It's also worth noting that while blacks notch 5/6ths of all minutes played, 2/3rds of the refs are white. Here's the gloss on the findings, by Ian Ayres of Yale Law School, the author of “Pervasive Prejudice?” and an expert in testing for how subtle racial bias, also known as implicit association, appears in interactions ranging from the setting of bail amounts to the tipping of taxi drivers:
“There’s a growing consensus that a large proportion of racialized decisions is not driven by any conscious race discrimination, but that it is often just driven by unconscious, or subconscious, attitudes. When you force people to make snap decisions, they often can’t keep themselves from subconsciously treating blacks different than whites, men different from women.”
At this point in the tortured hisory of race and racism in the United States, racism is not so much about conscious haters, but rather about subtle biases that manifest themselves in the smallest but most significant ways that people choose who to befriend, where to play, and who to collaborate with. This represents massive progress from the 1950s. but still indicates how far we have to go before overcoming the sorry history of slavery.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The right place to discuss the Armenian genocide

I posted earlier this year on the effort by the US Congress to declare the mass murder of Armenians by Turks in the 1910s a "genocide," an effort I condemned as, essentially, none of our business. I also suggested that, just as the appropriateness of a particular abortion technique ought to be for doctors not politicians to decide, so the question of whether or not these slaughters constitute a "genocide" was not something for politicians to decide, but rather for historians versed in the evidence to debate. If you want to know more about what the historians think, you can start here (sub. req.).