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This why the UN has no credibility

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.”

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Filed under: Misc

Cowen’s Favorite Things Arizona

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.

Filed under: Misc

Prescient big picture stuff: H20 Edition

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.

Filed under: Misc

What does the future hold for the US?

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.”

Filed under: Misc

Why is the economy in shambles?

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

Filed under: Misc

Economic security in the 21st century

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.

Filed under: Misc

Where do you want to live?

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.

Filed under: Misc

Who is John McCain?

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.

The prevalent view of McCain is that he is a generally conservative figure with a few maverick stances and an unwavering authenticity. … Actually, this assessment gets McCain almost totally backward. He has diverged wildly and repeatedly from conservative orthodoxy, but he has also reinvented himself so completely that it has become nearly impossible to figure out what he really believes.

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.

Filed under: Misc

One New Yorker’s journey away from liberalism

Playwright David Mamet describes his evolution from “Brain-Dead Liberal” to what appears to be a libertarian — certainly more conservative.

Some highlights:

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.

(On Government)
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.

Filed under: Misc

Getting it Wrong in Afghanistan


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.

Why?

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.

Filed under: Misc