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Saturday, May 10, 2003  

Biodiversity

Natasha posted a little while ago on the subject of biodiversity here. Then Mary did here. The theme of these posts was symbiosis, or the mutual dependence of all things. Natasha's posting reminded me a little of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, the lyrical story of the planet whose entire surface is a living ocean that communicates tele-empathetically with the human occupants of a research station. In that spirit, Mary's posting segued in very well.

One of my favorite authors is William James, whose most famous work is The Varieties of Religious Experience. I love this book because he almost--but not quite--characterized the scope of religious and sensual experience in terms of biodiversity. It's a very rich, nuanced view of human character. James didn't have religious views of his own, and the fact that he made religious experience the topic of apsychological study is a broad hint of where he was leading.

In the psychologies and in the philosophies of religion, we find the authors attempting to specify just what entity it is. One man allies it to the feeling of dependence; one makes it a derivative from fear; others connect it with the sexual life; others still identify it with the feeling of the infinite; and so on. ...The moment we are willing to treat the term 'religious sentiment' as a collective name for the many sentiments which religious objects may arouse in alternation, we see that it probably contains nothing whatever of a psychologically specific nature. There is religious fear, religious love, religious awe, religious joy, and so forth. But religious love is only man's natural emotion of love directed to a religious object; religious fear is only the ...common quaking of the human breast, in so far as the notion of divine retribution may arouse it; religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge; only this time it comes over us at the thought of our supernatural relations; and similarly of all the various sentiments which may be called into play in the lives of religious persons.

[...]

Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. Since the relation may be either moral, physical, or ritual, it is evident that out of religion..., theologies, philosophies, and ecclesiastical organizations may secondarily grow.


In other words, religion is a feeling, and the structure of opinions follows from it.

The sense of biodiversity in human experience has always been rare: especially in climates where "feeling is running high," and great evil is attributed to rival sentiments. The ability to break free of this slavery of anger and judgement is enabled by something W. James had, which I covet: an "anthropological eye." The anthropological eye sees human experience and human action (including throught) as part of a greater system binding humans and the natural world.

Think for a moment of the stereotypical missionary in Tahiti, in the time of Gaugin. According to the stereotype, the missionary arrives in Tahiti and fails to see a community that is admirably suited to its unique constraints and delights. Rather, he sees anomy and torpor and he wants to replace it. The stereotypical missionary behavior is more typical than one might suppose. While the anthropolical eye is not blind to judgement, it is always compassionate. In other words, we can probably agree that the missionary is a destructive. But while we would, if we could, restrain the missionary, it helps to understand him. If we don't, we run the risk of becoming him ourselves. The native Tahitian civilization is a product of the islands; but the missionary--who is now dead, as are his proximate victims--is a product too.

Belief in free will doesn't preclude the existence of coercion; people fall under fascist rule and become slaves to terror; people have similar experiences in abusive relationships. But then, we're also spirits in bodies, and bodies crave food, sleep...sex. Our free will is bounded by our knowledge of the salient facts: paranoid people don't really understand that they are, in fact, paranoid. Having said all this, we might say humans have free will... except when it is being taken from them, a thing which has always--thank God--proven to be harder than it looks.

This is relevent because of course when people turn to evil, we are understandably angry at them, and wish that something would make them bitterly regret ever having done so. And it's understandable to recoil at philosphies which reject human responsibility because they strike at the principle of everyone's dignity. But the anthropological eye, which in my case is all-too-often blackened, does not exclupate what it sees. Rather, it places evil conduct in context; human action is partly guided by fear, partly by self-interest, often by ideologies of public spiritedness, and sometimes by misplaced altruism. Does it matter? Well yes, because it allows one to see when one is doing the same thing.

For example, I've often noticed people on my own side of the ideological divide supposing that people in the 3rd world have no agency. People in developing nations often have brutal, innate conflicts between (for example) rival Marxist movements representing rival class interests, such as in Peru or Nepal (Stalinists in the city, Maoists in the countryside), and they are quite capable of doing horrible things to each other without any intervention of the US Department of State. Such a point of view might have arisen from a heightened sense of civic responsibility, but it tends to lead to the same outlook as the missionary, a view where peoples of (say) the 3rd world simply become the furniture in a modern morality play. Think of the way women are viewed by the promise keepers and you'll get my point.

But the other point I wanted to make in this essay is the value of "biodiversity" in the spiritual realm. When we speak of the physical world, we eventually get used to the concept that it is complicated. Every statement about the economy, for example, is a gross oversimplification, and no exposition can be so rich that it includes everything. As one philsopher pointed out, the only perfectly complete explantion of a cat is...another cat. Yet we seem to expect the spiritual world to be simple.

My conjecture is that the world of the spirit is true, and that there are as many countervailing forces in that part of the universe as there are in the tangible realm. That which is real absorbs contradictions. The poison of human relations is the conviction that there is one explanation that captures human experience, and the one thing I'm dogmatic about is that there isn't.

posted by James R MacLean at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK |
 

The One True Cod

One codpiece to rule them all.
One codpiece to find them.
One codpiece to bring them all, and in the Darkness bind them.

Go over to Digby's place (links bloggered, will update when fixed) and read the Saturday, May 10th post. (snicker)

posted by Natasha at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Around the Web

I could truly spend all day, every day, finding information that's worthy of notice and good blog entries that deserve more eyeballs. And even if I did that, I'd still miss some things that definitely deserve a mention. So, here goes for today's effort to clear my desktop of extra windows that I left open to remind myself to post a link to...

Courtesy of posters at this Daily Kos thread: Pat K brings us an article about how Bush crossed the boundaries of the other f word. Alan brings our attention to the Smirking Chimp's TV ad, which he is willing to provide the copy for free of charge to any Democrat that has the guts to run it. I think he'd have better luck sending the transcript over to Arianna Huffington.

Brooke Biggs told us so, regarding the IDF's current campaign to target human rights campaigners for arrest. (Also from Pat K, foreigners now have to sign liability waivers against being shot by the IDF when entering Gaza.) She then points us to this Alternet interview with her boss, Anita Roddick, wherein the lady gets radical.

Wampum continues to bring us time capsule snapshots of Bush Sr.'s time in office, which headlines seem eerily plausible to have read in this morning's paper.

Lean Left notes that Democrats have stymied attempts to make the Patriot act permanent. Would that they hadn't helped pass it in the first place, but better late than never, I guess.

Brad DeLong comments on an Economist article about behavioral economics. Also known as the radical (to economists) idea that human decisions are made in ways that may seem irrational on their face and that, just maybe, I have no idea how much I'm willing to pay for a cube of butter.

Courtesy of Yahoo News, we learn that the Carlyle group is preparing to expand in Europe. Oh, happy day.

posted by Natasha at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK |
 

How Long Have You Known The Gook?

About eight years ago (was 1995 really that long ago?) my friend Al came to visit me by Amtrak. I guess it had seemed like a good idea at the time. On the way over, he'd struck up an acquaintance with an anglo teen wearing the pseudo-combat garb popular among urban grunge rock fans. She no doubt knew that Al was getting picked up by friends, people he'd bothered to cross three states on a train to visit. Having come off to stretch her legs on the platform and see him off, she stood around to chat as the guys turned to get the baggage.

And the next words out of her mouth to me after a brief introduction were, "So, how long have you known the Gook?"

She acted rather surprised by the look of blank shock that settled on my face. I stammered something to the effect that I didn't think that was a nice thing to say about someone. She appeared to think that another generically european derived person near her age would find this to be a perfectly acceptable way to talk about even a close friend. Her response was to wave it off by trying to imply that she knew him well enough to be sure that he wouldn't be offended. (Pardon?)

It never occurred to her once, it seemed, that I might be offended.

That incident has not lost its power to stun me. My friend, one of the few saving graces of the hellish year that followed my leaving home, had been insulted to my face by someone who'd known him less than two days. Someone who seemed to think of herself as 'being friendly.' Fortunately, I don't think Al heard her say it, and I sure wasn't going to tell him.

Nothing To See Here

But, of course, he was Asian. And everybody knows that there is no discrimination against Asians in American society. Of course, this is because everyone knows that if your kids are generally assumed to be able to get into college, that no discrimination can be said to exist against you.

And that's another part of the problem. Because everybody also knows a lot of other things about Asians. That they're all smart, rich, and have everything easy. Tell it to the Cambodian refugee kid that sat next to me in high school. Oh yeah, and Asian girls are all like cute little geishas from out of a play, or worse. I won't go into the worse.

Everyone knows these things because living in a culture exposes you to the dominant stereotypes, the shorthand notation for people that aren't like you. And whether we like it or not, these caricatures live ineradicably in our heads. But here's where the ethics come in: What do you do about it?

No one gets all the way to adulthood without having some downright nasty things wind up in their minds. To rattle around uninvited, unwanted, unbidden, till death do you part. We can't do Jack about having been fed a bunch of racist slurs as impressionable young people. Though we can do plenty about whether or not we perpetuate them when we reach adulthood.

American Policy And Racism

And because everybody knows that there is not, and never has been, discrimination against Asians in American culture, we can forget all about a great many uncomfortable incidents. Like the Japanese internment, the disgusting treatment of early Chinese immigrants, the US involvement in the Philippines, the murder of well over a million Vietnamese on false pretenses, the carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia, the sanction of the Cheju massacre in South Korea, and the poisoning of the South Asian genome through Agent Orange contamination. Nor is this an exhaustive list.

Many people are willing to consider the possibility that the cultural tendency to demonize people from the Middle East may have something to do with the ongoing proclivity to stir up trouble in their countries. To at least mull the idea that people with browner skin that happen to live on the other American continent, or in Africa, or even the ones that lived here originally, are lower down the US' list of priorities. A little less important in American moral calculus than lighter skinned people living on the continent of Europe.

But our history in Asia is as bad as any of these, and there is no shortage of issues that might be addressed there. No shortage of unpopular government policies that would have been forced to change years ago without external support from the west.

Yet these people, and their problems, remain largely invisible. They remain so because Americans have a tendency to substitute the stereotype of the successful Asian businessman or perfect catalog bride for the real circumstances of over a third of the world's population.

And it isn't funny. Not even a little bit.

Update: From comments, Jenny points us to a Big Bad Chinese Mama's take on the geisha/mail order bride complex which so fascinates perverts everywhere.

posted by Natasha at 3:04 AM | PERMALINK |


Friday, May 09, 2003  

Notable Posts

Looks like Natasha, James and I have all been roaming the web today and finding some great stuff to share.

TomPaine.com has an interview with George Lakoff! (Via Ruminate This.) His model for framing messages so they can be heard by people was such an amazing revelation to me. If we apply his lessons well, we should be able to create messages that are much more powerful than those on the right. It still boggles my mind that in order for them to sell their policies, they have to lie. Healthy Forests for opening old growth forest to the timber companies. No Child Left Behind before defunding schools. We just have to make sure we can expose their lies and express our vision (without having to lie). Lakoff has given us some powerful tools to use.

Another area I've been concerned about is that the Democrats haven't made a strong case that refutes Bush’s gunslinger foreign policy. It is clear to me that a multilateral cooperative foreign policy is the way for us to find security for ourselves and for the world. Demosthenes has one of the most cogent defenses of this policy that I've found. I think if the Democrats can speak as clearly on this policy, then we will have a strong national security argument to take to Americans.

Liberal Oasis thinks we might be seeing the tipping point on the public attitude toward Bush and his war. He notes that both WaPo's Cohen and the NY Times' Kristof are questioning the lies used to take us into war and that their perspectives will start to color the mainstream' perceptions.

ToTheBarricades asks Do We Need A Boston Tea Party. A bit of heavy leafleting and pamphleting would be good. Let’s make sure we throw the bums out. BTW: When you drop by Stephen's new digs, make sure you admire the new French artwork.

My blogging partner, James R MacLean inspired The American Sentimentalist to ruminate more on fascism. Read what he has to say here and here.

Update: In dKos's OpenThread, Pat K recommends an article which sees fascism reflected in Bush's million dollar campaign stunt.

posted by Mary at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Support the Troops
Virtual March Reminder

On this Daily Kos comments thread, DrFrankLives posted the following:

In March 2001, George W. Bush told the Boys & Girls Clubs that he supported them.

The NEXT DAY, he slashed their budget.

In September 2001, George W. Bush told NY Firefighting heroes that he would make sure to pay them back for their sacrifice.

By December, he had cut funding to New York's firefighters and policemen.

In May 2003, George W. Bush stopped an aircraft carrier to use the sailors in a photo op.

He didn't tell them he had slashed veterans benefits and cut funding to their kids schools while they were away.

Now, George W. Bush is telling you he wants you to elect him President.

Watch your wallet.

Vote Democrat in 2004.


In that vein, we would like to urge you once again to get out the word about the virtual march in support of Veterans Affairs funding, funding for the schooling of military dependents, and full retirement benefits to veterans of former wars, as promised by their recruiters. Send the government a wake up call on Thursday, May 22nd. It's time they stopped praising the military when they're off fighting, and treating them like dirt when they come back home.

Stephen Charest of To The Barricades has kindly offered to be a press liaision for this event, and has composed a press release (rtf file) for the occasion. Spread the word.

"Money is truthful. When a man speaks of honor, make him pay cash." - Robert A. Heinlein

PS: For a reminder of what President Bush was doing when his country asked him to serve, visit AWOL Bush and read up. He truly has no right to call upon current and former members of the armed services to make further sacrifices in the quality of their lives.

posted by Natasha at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Around the Web

Pandagon points out that Republicans may lose the supply siders, right after the gay haters, because $350 billion just isn't enough for some people. Earlier, we are directed to this Charles Murtaugh post, where Bush's fly-boy persona is likened pretty reasonably to Zaphod Beeblebrox. Yes, there must be a special place in heaven for Douglas Adams.

T.C. Mitts links aren't working so click here and scroll down until you find the Friday, May 25th entry, hot off the police blotter. Heh. Also, he points us to Bush's resume, which I hadn't gotten around to reading yet. If you haven't, you should.

Daily Howler talks about the Hardball slurpfest over the stunt of record, and directs us to the transcript. I didn't get very far before I found these two little gems, 'questions' Chris Matthews asks of a Republican Senator, and had to take a breather:

Matthews: ...What’s the importance of the president’s amazing display of leadership tonight?...

(shortly after)...And that’s the president looking very much like a jet, you know, a high-flying jet star. A guy who is a jet pilot. Has been in the past when he was younger, obviously.

What does that image mean to the American people, a guy who can actually get into a super sonic plane, and actually fly in an unpressurized cabin, like an actual jet pilot?...


That guy has actually got an actual hidden Prozac drip, Bob's your uncle. Farther down, we get this unbelievable quote that reminds Democrats everywhere that Bush Sr. at least had a modicum of class, and an unintentional reminder of what a pretender the current president is:

BOB DORNAN (R-CA), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Cross my heart, I begged his father to do this in July of 1992 in the White House, in the Oval Office alone. I said Mr. President, go fly that B-1. Go fly one of your Navy Tomcats. Go out to a carrier. Do something to remind this country that you have 58 combat missions. You won in 1988 with that amazing little camera shot. That old .8-millimeter film being plucked out of the ocean onto a submarine. Let the nation know. These are my exact words. Swear to god. Don’t let this draft dodger sit in this Oval Office, and he winced....


And then there's this, which just defies description:

MATTHEWS: That was Hillary Clinton on Monday night. We’re back with Ann Coulter and Pat Caddell. Ann’s publicity agent has a clever marketing campaign. They sent us an e-mail with Hillary’s new book and Ann’s new book side by side, with the following text: “Yes, both Hillary and Ann have announced their books are coming out in June. But the more important question is”-I love this-”which blonde would Bill Clinton rather spend the night with? We ask you the question. You decide.”


Avedon Carol finds the layout of Joe Lieberman's bait-and-switch.

Billmon talks about our enduring and passionate commitment to free speech in Iraq, as expressed by seizing a TV station that had the temerity to rebroadcast Al Jazeera. Also, that Norwegians are trying once again to murder irony in cold blood by nominating Bush and Blair for a joint Nobel Peace Prize. For the war in Iraq.

SK Bubba talks about life after the US military coup, and a diplomat quoted in the article says one of the few rational things that's come out of this government (albeit anonymously) in recent times:

A midlevel official complained that intemperate remarks by administration hawks have damaged American interests. "Goodwill is an element of national security - and perhaps one of the most profound elements of national security," he said.


Alas, I almost forgot: Ampersand explains (with pictures, even) why libertarians stick with the Republicans.

posted by Natasha at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Quickie Post

From Richard at Tristero comes this really nifty, concise description of the core beliefs of the neocons; and here's a another. These really capture the essense of the neocons. BTW, Richard is the composer of an oratorio based on the last days of Jeanne d'Arc (not the blogger at Body and Soul; a different Jeanne d'Arc) which happens to be among my favorite works of music. CalPundit pointed us to this PDF report on the benefits of a proposed tax cut on capital gains, which would obviously benefit the wealthiest 20% of households by about $11K and the bottom 80% of households by...oh, about $29. (No, not $29K!).

Capital gains taxes are double taxation? Oh please! I get paid a salary. My employer pays 12.5% of my salary to the feds and something smaller to the state of California; then I pay income tax on what I get. Then I pay 8.25% of what is left on sales tax, except for the rent on my flat, which is indirectly taxed through property taxes on the building owners. And what are the things I want from my state? I want of course education, partly because I'm a selfish little gitch who knows most of the benefits from education are spillover benefits and therefore I benefit directly if little Zachary and Wahid and Zoe and Nina are well educated. For some reason, that is a frivolous preoccupation of mine, which the government intermittently indulges. I do indeed pay capital gains taxes, since I'm rothifying my IRA this year (and yes I must disclose that I really would benefit if the stock market tanks out this year. But if it does it's not my fault.) So don't give me some weepy song about capital gains being taxed twice, or you'll wish you'd done something comparatively prudent, like sticking your head in a cement mixer.

Oh yes, and another thing: my friend Govind, who was country representative for Amnesty International in Afghanistan for part of 2002, has posted his photos from his tour of duty there. Govind also has a blog where he annouces the return of Salam Pax. Excuse me while I do an unseemly little dance: Salam's back! Salam's back! And he's posted for the entire 6 weeks he's been MIA. In the unlikely event you do not know who Salam Pax is, let me start at the beginning: there is the country called Iraq, see? And it had a fascist dictator known as Saddam Hussein, okay? And our government decided that it would be very cool in all sorts of ways to invade Iraq and depose the dictator. Natasha, Mary and I were all totally against the idea but Bush wasn't returning our calls and the war came and they pulled down Saddam's stature and about three whole dozen Iraqis were dancing in the streets (oops but the heritage of Iraq was looted and a bunch of kids had their arms blown off but dude stuff happens) and Salam was there the entire time writing about it in English (my command of Arabic is horrible) but between March 24 and 7 May he couldn't post anything. And now the brave, sardonic Salam, whom I would give my last dollar if he needed it, is thirsty because hey, market forces dude.

SATIRE STASH: The best satire site I've seen is www.whitehouse.org, which is like mentioning that there is an Eiffel Tower in Paris; however, I just noticed the Temple of George W. Bush courtesy of Tristero. Additional suggestons are greatly appreciated. I presume everyone has heard of The Onion. Oh, and let us not forget the exquisitely appointed Museum of Depressionist Art.

posted by James R MacLean at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Real Economists Remember Mothers' Day

Economists are usually a pretty reactionary lot, much infatuated with drawing indifference curves to "prove" that public education is a public folly; but exceptions abound, and this morning I want to draw your attention to the good people of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). One of the few things that economists can be proud of is that they have been consistant and persistant advocates for women. Sometimes this was because they were women, of course (like Joan Robinson and Anna Schwartz), but in the case of John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and Amartya Sen, not necessarily. Perhaps the reason is that economics is based on a rather hardnosed analysis of human behavior; whereas defenders of patriarchal relationships, especially in the Victorian era were prone to outbursts of the most mawkish sentimentality.

The big issue is of course the huge spillover benefits that women supply to the rest of the human race. A spillover is something you do for which you cannot capture all the benefits. For example, the owner of a drill press can capture pretty much 100% of the value of the drill press, especially if she's the solitary type. But there is not, and never will be, any market allocation system to reward women for the "labor" of bearing children and doing most--if not all--of the nurture. This report--"Who Cares?" outlines the pitfalls of the haphazard system of child care and how it can be made better.

The conclusions are about as surprising as a factual error on AM talk radio, and I post this reference not as a revelation, so much as a very clear, non-technical yet reliably researched outline of an extremely important topic.

Slightly less than one-third of mothers put their young children under age six in formal care. While formal care is generally of higher quality and is one of the most reliable forms of care, it is also the most expensive. Moderate and lower income families generally cannot afford it without assistance. Mothers who cannot rely on family support or afford formal care, must rely on informal child care arrangements (family daycare or nanny/sitters). These child care arrangements are of questionable quality and are the least reliable, often forcing mothers to miss work. More than 20 percent of mothers used such informal care settings in 1999...

...Nearly a third of mother’s rely on relatives to provide care for their children. The high use of relatives to provide child care among poorer households ...may be in part a result of welfare reform, which pushed low-income mothers into paid employment... However, relative care may not be a stable child care arrangement over time. Relatives often have to find regular employment themselves. It cannot be assumed that relative care will meet the child care needs of middle- and lower-income households.


I was about to say something about how liberals really should own "family values" as an issue, but doing so might take away from the fact that this is really something so important it transcends political bickering. It's something that we really need to cultivate as a basis of ethics. Demanding that women shoulder whatever burden of childrearing that their companions don't voluntarily assume is a disgrace. It's not just rotten politics, it's a horrid reflection on ourselves.

posted by James R MacLean at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Blog fascination

Tonight I found the following post on DKos's Open Thread from last night:

As a result of the MN peace movement I've discovered this whole new world to me of news and views on the web. I love all the links. I have become a real bore at family gatherings with all my new found knowledge. How long have blogs like this been around? Are the hits and postings growing at a noticable rate? Maybe getting more people like me informed and involved could be enough to make a difference in the next election. Like a ripple effect.(Go Wild! 3-2)

Posted by blogfan at May 8, 2003 09:34 PM

My thoughts about this post:

Careful!!, this medium is really addictive!

What is the history? Well, here is a great essay I found about the history of this medium: weblogs: a history and perspective

Is it growing? Absolutely. It is so hard to keep up with all the bloggers and blog readers these days, and I know that there are some wonderful bloggers out there I'll never get to know because I'll never have time to find them.

Can blogs make a difference in the next election? Well, I certainly hope so! Here is one excellent column on what might be possible if blogs fill their potential. If blogs were to matter, what would they look like?

So, why do I find them so addictive? I think it is because of the sheer interactivity of them. Unlike any other mass media, this one invites us in and allows us to participate. Can you name any other mass media that provides us a way to comment on what you see or hear or reflect upon so easily? And the comment box is an invitation to comments without any of the fuss and muss of a formal email.

posted by Mary at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK |


Thursday, May 08, 2003  

More on Falangism

(Part of a series; Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 here)

Falangist regimes die in squalid, farcical ways. Though born under grievous horror and brutality, they promise victory over foreign enemies, internal subversion, inflation, recession and oral sex. They wind up failing on all fronts. Argentina's junta had no external enemies until it invaded the Falkland Islands. It arrested and put to death 30,000 persons, including many who were never charged with any crime, never booked, never publicly acknowledged to even having been in state custody; but afterwards, Argentina was swamped with a new generation of youth criminality. The new military managers of the country faced inflation of 50-100% and left Argentina with 1200% inflation. The country's economy was ravaged and the members of the junta had a penchant for raping prisoners.

President Galtieri stepped down soon after his operation in the Falklands had crashed and burned. The military had staged two coups, in,'55 and '76, to oust sitting Peronist presidents. It had staged two more, in '63 and '67, to prevent Peronist cabinets from being appointed by Radical Party presidents. In 1983 it made a secret agreement with the Peronists: immunity for democracy. Then, in '83, the Radical Party won the election and the deal was off. Pinochet made a similar deal with the Chilean government, which did not depend on any particular party winning the elections. The falangists might have sought to continue repression longer, but capitulated without a convincing struggle. They failed to make a transition to fascism. We are grateful for this; the scope of human experience being as vast as it is, even the monstrosities of Gen. Videla are eclipsed by a bona fide fascist state.

One blogger in Venezuela, normally very critical of President Chavez, reacted rather strongly when Chavez was called a "fascist":

As Arendt explains in her masterpiece, The Origins of Totalitarianism, this form of political organization is fundamentally different from traditional forms of tyranny. Dictatorial violence is politically motivated, politically-rational violence. It's violence that "makes sense" if your main goal is to hang on to power.

But the Stalinist purges could not be explained in those terms. Stalin was willing to put Soviet society through immense dislocation, not just in human but in economic and military terms, even though as Arendt puts it, "none of these immense sacrifices in human life was motivated by a raison d'état in the old sense of the term. None of the liquidated social strata was hostile to the regime or likely to become hostile to the regime. Active organized opposition had ceased to exist by 1930."

"In the Soviet Union," she explains, "dictatorial terror (which is distinguished from totalitarian terror insofar as it threatens only authentic opponents, not harmless citizens without political views,) had been grim enough to suffocate all political life, open or clandestine, even before Lenin's death."

But totalitarianism is not content with that. Going beyond the bounds of the political sphere as traditionally understood, Stalin's totalitarian violence was about gaining total power over everything anyone in Russia did or thought. In a masterful, chilling passage, Arendt explains what this means:

"If totalitarianism takes its own claim seriously, it must finish once and for all with 'the neutrality of chess,' that is, with the autonomous existence of any activity whatsoever. The lovers of 'chess for the sake of chess,' are not absolutely atomized elements in a mass society whose completely heterogenous uniformity is one of the primary conditions for totalitarianism. From the point of view of totalitarian rulers, a society devoted to chess for the sake of chess is only in degree different and less dangerous than a class of farmers for the sake of farming.


Francisco's posting is exceptionally well-written; he is, as I say, a vehement critic of Pres. Chavez, but not one of the compulsive liars who demands his immediate ouster. He seems to be very intent on resisting hyperbole; he seems as angered by the aforementioned liars and their eagerness to lie without regard for the future consquences, as by anything he blames Chavez for doing:

Calling the Chávez government totalitarian lays bare, to my mind, a worrying contempt for history, a kind of idiotized indiference towards the past. The comparison is so shrill, so obviously detached from any kind of serious analysis, that it suggests to me a deeply worrying contempt for the meaning of the words used in the public sphere.

To my mind, if Venezuela was a serious country with a serious opposition, anyone calling the Chávez regime totalitarian would thereby place himself well beyond the pale. Even suggesting the comparison in public ought to be the equivalent of saying that black people are too stupid to vote: a statement so outrageously and blatantly unacceptable that anyone making it ought to be automatically ostracized, kept well away from any position of political power and authority in opposition circles. Calling this tinpot autocracy "totalitarian" ought to mark you out as a kook.

Yet the charge is so commonplace it's become almost a cliché, a bromide constantly hurled through the media by opposition leaders who've clearly never stopped to think about the fact that if they lived in anything even approaching a totalitarian regime just making such a statement in public would certainly cost them, and most of their associates, their lives.


I have to confess in frequent moments of private fury that I often characterized Ashcroft, Rumsfeld, Cheney, or Scalia as "fascists." Certainly I wish hourly for a groundswell of public outrage that would send the scoundrels running in disgrace. But I feel a twinge of remorse after reading Francisco's posting. After all, I became involved in this activity of blogging as a result of postings discussing whether or not the Bush administration has fascistic proclivities. I began urging other readers to use the term "falangist" to describe a form of repressive dictatorial rule with centrifugal tendencies; when writers began likening Bush to Pinochet and Ephraim Rios Montt, I thought the comparison whould be technically more accurate. Perhaps I ought to be far more circumspect about introducing words like "totalitarian" or "falangist" into public discourse.

But then, I also look at the ways in which this administration has exploited every advanced technology to serve an agenda of lies; and while I respect Francisco's diligence for saying no more than we know, it is fair to say that we are with an unprecedented agglomeration of power by an extraordinarily unscrupulous group of men. We know a lot about the authoritarian tendencies of this adminstration (and of others which preceded it); and we know that things can get a lot worse. Anyone who has read about the experiences of Americans during the period 1916 to 1923 knows that even our society has a cohort of leaders who yearn for absolute power.

LINK FAILURE: I am very sorry to note that the permalinks to Francisco's blog aren't working. His blog, Caracas Chronicles is on Randy Paul's blogroll. Stop by and read the whole article. He's an excellent, sensitive writer.

posted by James R MacLean at 1:36 AM | PERMALINK |


Wednesday, May 07, 2003  

Bush's Magic Invisibility Cloak

George W. Bush's military record was never something I looked into much but it seems to me that with his acting like he is a big military hero and his strutting around in a flight suit there is more than enough reason to check out the record again.

Today Andrew Sullivan decided that he had had enough of the anti-Bush people making a big deal about the "missing" year so he posted portions of a NY Times article (archive) written in November 2000 to his site:

Two Democratic senators today called on Gov. George W. Bush to release his full military record to resolve doubts raised by a newspaper about whether he reported for required drills when he was in the Air National Guard in 1972 and 1973.

But a review of records by The New York Times indicated that some of those concerns may be unfounded. Documents reviewed by The Times showed that Mr. Bush served in at least 9 of the 17 months in question....

On Sept. 5, 1972, Mr. Bush asked his Texas Air National Guard superiors for assignment to the 187th Tactical Recon Group in Montgomery "for the months of September, October and November."

Capt. Kenneth K. Lott, chief of the personnel branch of the 187th Tactical Recon Group, told the Texas commanders that training in September had already occurred but that more training was scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8 and Nov. 4 and 5.

But Mr. Bartlett said Mr. Bush did not serve on those dates because he was involved in the Senate campaign, but he made up those dates later. Colonel Turnipseed, who retired as a general, said in an interview that regulations allowed Guard members to miss duty as long as it was made up within the same quarter. Mr. Bartlett pointed to a document in Mr. Bush's military records that showed credit for four days of duty ending Nov. 29 and for eight days ending Dec. 14, 1972, and, after he moved back to Houston, on dates in January, April and May. The May dates correlated with orders sent to Mr. Bush at his Houston apartment on April 23, 1973, in which Sgt. Billy B. Lamar told Mr. Bush to report for active duty on May 1-3 and May 8-10. Another document showed that Mr. Bush served at various times from May 29, 1973, through July 30, 1973, a period of time questioned by The Globe.

But notice that she implies that Colonel Turnipseed backed up Bush's story as Bob Somerby noted in his column today.

And in June 2000, Bartlett told the press Bush did serve with Turnipseed:

Spokesman Bartlett said Bush remembers meeting Turnipseed and performing drills in Montgomery sporadically during the campaign and more frequently after the election in November and December.

"Governor Bush specifically remembers pulling duty in Alabama at the end of the campaign," Bartlett said.

The Associated Press reviewed nearly 200 pages of Bush's military records released by the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va. They contained no evidence that Bush reported for duty in Alabama. [Ed: emphasis added]

However in a followup interview with Colonel Turnipseed he continues to state that he did not remember Bush showing up for service in Alabama.

In its October 16, 2000, issue, The New Republic reported: "In interviews last week, Turnipseed and his administrative officer at the time, Kenneth K. Lott, said they had no memory of Bush ever reporting. 'Had he reported in, I would have had some recall, and I do not,' Turnipseed said. 'I had been in Texas, done my flight training there. If we had had a first lieutenant from Texas, I would have remembered.'

"Turnipseed also [reported] that the then-squadron operations officer of the Alabama Guard also has no recollection of having seen Bush.

"Furthermore, a spokesman for the Alabama National Guard estimates there were 600 to 700 members in the unit Bush was supposed to have served with in 1972. But none of these men has ever come forward to say he remembers Bush, and Bush has not named a single one of them."

This becomes curiouser and curiouser. Why didn't anyone come forward? And why didn't Bush release his records? Especially since he says that he did serve with Turnipseed?

So I did some more Googling. And this is what I found. There are a number of questions about why George W. Bush didn't fly anymore after April 1972, but one thing is true, he could dispel all of the questions by voluntarily releasing his service record.

A voluntary disclosure of this kind is not without precedent. During the South Carolina Republican primary this campaign year, rumors were spread by fellow Senators about Senator John McCain's mental health as a result of his imprisonment as a POW. McCain immediately quashed those rumors by voluntarily releasing his entire military record, which confirmed no indications of adverse physical or mental conditions.

Thus, Bush could easily put to rest the questions surrounding "his failure to accomplish annual medical examination" - and his subsequent suspension - if he would simply release his complete military service record, which cannot be released by the Air Force without Bush's explicit consent.

Marty Heldt went to the trouble to request Bush's record through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) and has provided the closest thing to the formal records that Bush has failed to released.

So here is a quick summary: he stops flying for some undisclosed reason in April 1972, and then is formally grounded in August 1972 and then he asks to transfer to Alabama where he never shows up according to Turnipseed and somehow everyone of the other 600-700 people he would have served with have completely forgotten that he was there.

I think that he must have a magic invisibility cloak, just like Frodo Baggins. Otherwise, someone would have remembered seeing him there.

More for the record: Finally the Truth about Bush's Military Service Record and an Index of articles by Marty Heldt.

Updated for the record: Both Uggabugga and Atrios have more links.

posted by Mary at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Around the Web

Stonerwitch has an excellent post up about the Christian mythology of Iraq. Both its prominence in biblical stories, and its expected central role in the End Times. As she says:

...What is disturbing about all this is not so much that millions of Evangelical Christians actually believe it, although that is plenty disturbing in its own right. What should scare anyone with two brain cells to rub together is that President Bush is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian who, in all likelihood, also believes it....


Along those lines, learn why the Christian right is happy about worsening environment. In short, the worse things get, the closer the Rapture is. They get to be taken up to heaven, the rest of us will go through mass cataclysms that eventually destroy all human life, they get to come back and have the run of the place. Like a pack of buzzards waiting for us to die so they can take our stuff. So, recycle, dammit.

South Knox Bubba lays out the Florida election irregularities. Get mad, get furious, get worn out. He also tells us what became of a Syrian plan to clear ME of WMD.

From the Arab News: Female education minister may be appointed. Saudi Arabia gets its first independent human rights group.

Someone has clearly spent way too much time dwelling on the perfidy of the Bush family for their own good. But hey, great links.

From BuzzFlash: Just how big is Halliburton's contract, anyway? Scott Ritter still speaking out on the administration's lies about Iraq. US troops encouraged looting, Belgium may bring war crimes charges against Tommy Franks. Latin America furious over US purchase of private information on citizens, via the company that brought us the Florida voter roll scrub. Bushies now leaning on Iran. Neocons believe peace is abnormal, say "it's always better to err on the side of strength."

White House leaning on Nebraska Democrat. First pressure, now a prized offer of aid for the state in return for supporting the full tax cut proposal.

posted by Natasha at 9:34 AM | PERMALINK |
 

Yellowstone National Park Under Bush's Protection

A whistle-blower reported of a problem where hunting guides were luring elk from Yellowstone National Park to outside the park using salt licks and now has lost his job.

Jackson, 55, was ordered by NPS in 2001 not to speak to the press after he accused hunting guides of illegally luring elk from the park by placing salt licks just outside Yellowstone boundaries.

Elk hunting, which is illegal in Yellowstone, is permitted in bordering national forests, but the use of salt to bait game is not.

Park officials told Jackson in 2001 to return home to Promise City, Iowa, weeks ahead of schedule and said he wouldn't have a job in 2002. But PEER filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, and NPS was ordered to rehire Jackson and remove the gag order.

Jackson, the park's longest-serving seasonal ranger, said he feels that history is coming back to haunt him this year.

"I wasn't surprised," he said. "I figured from what had happened before that they would try to get rid of me."

Senator Charles Grassley is looking into it:

"The Park Service and Ranger Jackson's supervisors at Yellowstone have exhibited a clear pattern of retaliation and hostility toward Ranger Jackson," Grassley wrote. "He's blown the whistle about serious problems at Yellowstone and now it looks like the Park Service would rather lose out on Ranger Jackson's enforcement skills than suffer the scrutiny and face the real problems at the park."

Under Bush, there has been a steady erosion of protection of the national parks and Yellowstone has been the center of controvesy ever since the administration reversed Clinton's rules that banned snowmobiles in the park. In every case under Bush where there is a trade-off between science and Bush's constituents, science loses. Bush's environmental policy is a nightmare for the planet.

posted by Mary at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK |


Tuesday, May 06, 2003  

The Docile Dollar

In my previous postings I've tried to explain recent trends in the US dollar with respect to other currencies around the world. As you can see, the topic has endless twists and twirls.

The other nations of the OECD have industrial policies, which are used to coordinate development. Industries that consume large amounts of energy or non-renewable resources per value created (like charcoal briquettes) tend to be phased out in other OECD nations. The managers of the economy devise programs to retrain the employees of these firms, and substantial state investment goes toward the development of new industries. Yet mistakes abound, and they are often expensive. And of course, industrial policies compel governments to pick winners... and losers.

The first thing to explain about industrial policy is that it is very contentious: they are so contentious that, for example, the Labour Party of the UK has on at least two occasions been derailed because of unpopular pit closings. The famous strikes that shut down Paris every summer are not merely a fixture of the Gallic character; they also reflect the stupendous role of the French state in a huge range of economic activities. While this role seems to be quite popular among French voters, it does lead to battles, and occasionally total paralysis.

The other issue of industrial policy is that it reduces long term output. This is because it simulates conditions of monopoly. Industrial policies are created to attract investment to strategic industries. Nearly every country in Europe and, of course, Japan, began by ensuring economic profits to investors. Over time these industries became flagships of national pride. Even when countries had multiple participants in an industry (Japan, for example, had five participants in nearly every industry after the 1950's), they were coordinated to not "duplicate efforts." Cartels and cross holdings are popular methods of managing industry even in that bastion of libertarianism, Hong Kong. The result is that, for any level of available labor and capital in the economy, the main producers will produce much less and charge more than if they were in competition with each other. During the early days this is not an issue because no one wants to enter the market. But after the industry is robust and profitable, it will consistently underproduce.

For this reason, countries with industrial policies become obsessed with increasing the savings of their own people. One of the reasons why America's economy has always been so exceptionally robust (for a developed nation) is that we have done everything anyone's ever thought of to ensure households could borrow. Americans have had an easy time finding ways to spend every penny we make. That's not necessarily good, but it has held off economic stagnation which western European economies are heir to. In contrast, nations with industrial policies become dependent upon exports for growth.

Mature economies with industrial policies require constant infusions of fixed capital, which tends to increase the marginal productivity of labor but paradoxically leads to chronic underemployment. Official unemployment rates don't show real levels of unemployment, since people may accept jobs which are either (a) created arbitrarily to "make" work, or (b) take jobs for which they spectacularly overqualified. And the real level of unemployment, or underemployment,in the American economy is certainly not known.

Which brings me back to our situation. America's economy has been through phases of rapid, bubble expansion, consolidation of firms, and a reduction (as a direct result of this) of the marginal revenue product of labor. Wages are invariably pushed lower, but Americans accumulate debt to maintain a gradually rising standard of living to which we are accustomed. At a certain point--most famously--our credit contracts catastrophically, bringing on something like the Great Depression, but also the severe recession of 1981-83.

Could this be touched off by a collapse in confidence in the dollar? Perhaps, but it's not, I think, the most likely cause. Such matters will be the subject of another post.

MARGINAL REVENUE PRODUCT OF LABOR: Suppose for a second that we have a perfectly competitive industry that produces, oh, shower curtains. For each firm, the price is set by the behavior of a zillion other firms so no one firm can affect the price of shower curtains. So therefore the marginal revenue of another shower curtain produced is equal to the price of the curtain. Your company's marginal cost is probably rising with each curtain produced, and so you will manufacture so many curtains that your marginal cost (of the very last curtain produced) will be equal to the price. That way you get the maximum profit.

But when your firm has a monopoly (to keep this simple), each curtain produced in a week will slightly reduce the price, and therefore reduce the marginal revenue. This is why monopolies, who can influence the price, will always produce less. And when your employer goes from being a competitive industry to a monopoly, suddenly the marginal revenue product--the additional money that the firm makes by retaining your 40 hours worth of labor--drops, even if you are as productive, and your machines work as well, as before.

posted by James R MacLean at 11:52 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Support Public Radio

Last night I spent time answering phones at Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) for their spring radio drive. I’m so hooked on listening to public radio that I find myself suffering, yet still listening through the entire drive. My way to make pledge week less painful is to go down to the station and hang out with a bunch of other people who are also fans. OPB is a really good public radio station, on the level of KQED in San Francisco. It is also a very successful public radio station, with over a quarter million of listeners every week.

The problem is that as with all other public services in Oregon, it is affected by the terrible economic times and the rotten budget. Monday morning the Oregonian ran a story that says the state is considering not providing any funds at all to OPB. If this happens, it will be the only public broadcasting station in the country with no state funding.

Industry leaders say the station is viewed as one of the best public broadcasters in the nation, but Oregon's budget crisis has led Governor Kulongoski and legislative budget writers to propose doing away with O.P.B.'s three-point-five million dollars in state funding.

OPB is one of the oldest public radio stations in the country. It was started under a state charter in 1922 in Corvallis broadcasting out of the agricultural school there. OPB is unique in public broadcasting stations in the country as it has had the goal of reaching most of the state and you can listen to OPB in Lakeview or Pendleton as well as Portland. In 1993, OPB separated from the state and because an independent radio station and a law was passed in Salem that guaranteed the state would continue to support OPB for its part in delivering educational programming and as a part of the emergency alert system. That law was rescinded a few years ago.

In 1994, OPB got 22% of its funding from the state, but by this year it had dropped to 2%. Fortunately, they've attracted enough listeners that they have been able to not only keep going, but to actually improve its services.

My plea to you is, if you listen to OPB, please consider giving a donation to help them make up that extra $3.5M (over two years) so we can continue to have the top rated radio station in the state. (With a quarter million listeners, this means more listeners hear ATC than Rush in Oregon. Let’s keep that happy state up!)

posted by Mary at 10:00 PM | PERMALINK |
 

MORE SARS: The adminstration of the 10-campus University of California system has chosen to exclude 500 returning students from SARS-affected regions (Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Singapore). Health officials met over the weekend and decided they were unequipped to deal with an outbreak of a disease that is still dangerous and poorly understood. Clearly, however, this will be a severe blow for Asian students who had planned on completeing their degrees...before their programs are cancelled by a budget strapped UC system.

MORE SECURITY TALKS IMPLODING: Yesterday we mentioned the botched rescue effort in Antioquia Province, Colombia, in which ten hostages died; at whose hand, of course, we don't know. Today the struggling peace process in the Philippines also crashed and burned with an assault--here, by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front which killed 22 soldiers and civilians. Pending negotiations in that country's civil war have hence been scuttled. At this time about 1300 US soldiers are deployed in the southern islands of the Philippines, where the insurgency is concentrated. According to Pres. Arroyo, the US soldiers are not engaged in combat operations; on the other hand, the Constitution of the Philippines says they're not allowed to be. (Those soldiers arrived in February amid intense controversy in the Philippines; this, despite the fact that the counterinsurgency effort has high levels of public support in the urban population there).

posted by James R MacLean at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK |
 

THERE GOES THE CEA: Brad DeLong, whom this sleep-deprived grad student reads no matter what his personal schedule, has this report on the relocation of the Council for Economic Advisors (CEA)... off the grounds of the White House. DeLong's prologue is funny and right-on point about the significance of distance from the President's office in the..scheme of things. Also, Mitch Daniels has resigned as budget director and while Brad isn't exactly doing backflips, he doesn't hold Mr. Daniels in high regard:

You may argue that Mitch Daniels faced a uniquely bad situation when he became OMB Director: a president too lazy to grasp the issues, a senior White House staff that did not understand that, like, bad, like, economic policy could, like, create bad economic news when, like, it comes time to try to reelect the president. And you can argue that this uniquely bad situation means that some points should be added to his score as a handicap when evaluating his tenure.

But if an OMB Director does find himself losing every single battle for budget rationality, he or she has a duty to sound the alarm: send up a flare gun: give an interview with an Atlantic Monthly reporter saying that "nobody understands these numbers: resign on principal. But Mitch Daniels did none of these things.


This does remind me quite a bit of Mary's posting on GOP stewardship of the environment; there does seem to a common thread here in which terrible policy decisions, once proven to be such, "solved" by spinning them or hiding the evidence. Don't grownups usually respond to bad news by trying to fix the bad thing the news is about? Or if they see a big fire in the juniper hedge, is it normal for grownups to draw the curtains?

posted by James R MacLean at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Your Money, Too

In my previous post I wrote about the mystery of our balance of payments deficit, which has persisted for over half a century. Why doesn't our dollar shrink until this balance is corrected? Why, after all these decades do non-Americans eagerly acquire US dollars?

There are two answers to this question: one (not terribly significant one) is that there are a lot on unrecorded transactions. This doesn't help much since a big chunk of unrecorded transactions include the $400 billion annual world trade in illegal drugs (estimated); America's share probably consists of a big trade deficit with countries like Bolivia and Colombia. The other, rather tautological answer is that dollar-denominated reserves held by non-US nations have increased by an awful lot. None of which should give credence to a silly rumor circulated on a lot of blogs that the US Invasion of Iraq was motivated by a fear that OPEC would start demanding euros for its oil instead of dollars. Believe me, if OPEC thought it could absorb other currencies and roll them over as efficiently as dollars, it would have made the switch before 1973. If OPEC did start demanding euros instead of dollars, it would have to face permanently reduced revenue from both investments and direct sales of oil--by a lot.

During the period following WW2 the US exported huge amounts of capital to Europe and Japan--amounts far exceeding Marshall Plan aid. Much of this was involuntary, i.e., several efforts were made during the 1960's to stem the flood of finance capital abroad. After the 1980's the USA became a big capital importing nation. Efforts to stop that have also been big goals of Congress since the second term of Reagan. (Remember when a Japanese firm bought the Rockefeller Center? Pebble Beach? Some Hollywood studios? It really brought out the best in folks like Pat Buchanan.).

There's little doubt that the increase in holdings of US currency for use other than in commerce with Americans has made our persistant balance of payments deficit less of a problem. It's a bit ironic, but the desire and ability of centrally planned economies abroad to stop this in their own economies has meant that their currency did not accumulate steadily, reducing it's appeal as a reserve currency. I mean, look at poor Kiichi Miyazama, lately finance minister for Japan: what on earth led him to believe that the yen could ever be a reserve currency? You can either run gigantic trade surpluses with your neighbors, or you can have your neighbors hold large reserves of it, steadily augmented by your negative balance of payments. But don't try doing both. It's impossible. Where are non-Japanese (especially other East Asians) going to find yen to use as reserve currencies? I have no idea.

The United States and Canada are different from the rest of the industrialized world insofar as we do not have any apparatus for central management of the economy. We have some organizations that can manage an extremely large chunk of the economy, along with big chunks of other people's economy, but those are merely for-profit firms which are indifferent to the results. The Federal Reserve is credited with immense power over the economy, but tweaking the federal funds rate is not what I'm talking about. No institution in the US is capable of reaching a conclusion--e.g., "dependence on imported oil is bad"--and then taking any significant steps to reduce the volume of oil imports. If Alan Greenspan were replaced by another genius who happened to be on fire for solar energy, the most he could do is tell it on the mountain--or here. You might scoff at my naivity: I used an idealistic example. There might be some executive who wants a cellular phone standard used in the US market inflicted on Iraq, and sometimes people like that win. But at the end of the day all they have done is ensure that they have a billion dollars and we consumers or we taxpayers have a few hundred less.

Compare this to the other nations of the OECD. Japan is an extreme case: hardly a leftist or Marxist society, it had an extremely efficient economy which was more centrally managed than the USSR's. The Republic of Korea's political culture has always been intensely anti-Communist, and yet it was developed using five-year plans; the centralized management of the chaebols--coordinated by a curious blend of falangist junta, family loyalty and technocratic professionalism-- accompanied the fastest prolonged economic growth in recorded history. France's tradition of dirigisme began under Jean-Baptist Colbert, in the 1650's. In 1848, Louis Napoleon was elected president of the 2nd Republic, promising to open France up to free trade. He demonstrated his commitment to the idea by demolishing most of Paris and rebuilding it.

After WW2, the battlefields of Europe and Northeast Asia launched centrally managed reconstruction projects. This was not a snub of libertarian American advisors, either: there weren't any. One of the most conservative American politicians in 1952 was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, whom Sen. Robert "Proto-Rush" Taft recruited to head off that commie, Eisenhower. Many of you will remember MacArthur as head of the occupation government in Japan, author of the Japanese Constitution... and its centrally managed post-war economy. Libertarians usually emerge from the woodwork long after the urgent decisions have been made. The fact was that intense management was required just to make sure the new currencies of Europe didn't melt down. Over the years the nations of Europe struggled and refined their systems of management and planning, nesting them so power flowed in a consistant pattern, and securitizing them so they could be audited. The Japanese seem to have continuously added to and deepened their organization so it would continue to function as the keiretsu grew out of the nest. By 1987--a mere 25 years after WW2--it seemed obvious to all that the EU (then, the EC) and Japan would outstrip the US in economic influence.

In my next post I'll address this, and explain its impact on the currency...and on your future.

COLOMBIAN TRAGEDY: Our hearts go out to the ten hostages killed in the failed rescue attempt in Colombia. Colombian soldiers attempted to free about 70 hostages held by FARC near Medellin. The assault on the enclave was a disaster for all involved; FARC says that the ten hostages who died were killed in the crossfire. Headlines are mentioning that Echevarria, on of the victims, was a defense minister: yes, back in the time of Pres. Enesto Samper; he had been held by FARC for a year after he and a cohort of peace activists marched in Antioquia calling for an end to the violence. The FARC still has several hundred ordinary Colombians held as hostage in the bush. Ernesto Samper was elected in 1994 and was dogged by the US State Department because he was elected with drug money.

My views on this will be intensely controversial, but I suspect the State Department is well aware that a gigantic number of political officials in our hemisphere have been elected or assisted by large quantities of drug money, and I think they were more distressed by a break in ranks on strategy for dealing with leftist insurgents in the corderilla central on the part of Samper. FARC loudly proclaimed that Samper was a fascist, and evil; this should be seen in the context of the Hezbollah in Iran demonizing Pres. Carter and rejecting the possibility that Carter would be a much better interlocutor than Reagan. Clearly, Colombian society is in a bad way; clearly the civil war, having gone on over 56 years, has long since pushed the state of Colombia into a permanently arrested falangist revolution; but FARC's leadership is a prisoner of its own rhetoric. For it to condemn Samper, for example, for having ties to drug money is as hypocritical for them as for it was for the US State Department.

posted by James R MacLean at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK |


Monday, May 05, 2003  

Your Money

This posting was inspired by Brad DeLong's site. Some of you, especially those who travel a great deal, might be wondering what is happening to the US dollar. Well, of course it is sliding against currencies like the euro; in 2001 the dollar was worth 1.17 euros, and now it's something like 0.87. The dollar has also slid against the pound, and a little less against the yen. Weighted for trade (that is to say, measuring the exchange rate of the US dollar relative to those with which we conduct the most international trade), the US dollar has actually stayed fairly steady.

The latter point is not terribly reassuring to those who normally watch currency movements. It's something a "calm-down" writer can nearly always pull out of his sleeve: the US conducts a huge share of trade with third world countries whose currencies are always sliding against themselves--currencies like the real (Brazil) or the peso (of practically anywhere). This is not meant to be snide--there are much more important priorities for economic managers in the third world than fighting inflation--and it's not really meant as a gratuitous slam of our own trading patterns, either. It's just that the US dollar looks like it's sliding unless you measure it against the currencies of countries that normally have rather high inflation--or, in short, the US dollar is sliding.

In fact, the US dollar has had a couple of severe downward jolts, one of which began with severe stock market contractions in the summer of 2002 (think of United Airlines, plus all those NASDAQ shares) and another which hit in the winter of 2002/03. If this were a college paper instead of posting at a blog, I would try to explain the timing of the big shifts, currency by currency (so there, for those of you who thought I lazily posted college papers as part of a devious scam on the trusting and credulous Natasha!). I would run a regression analysis linking the movements of the bond market, the S&P500, and the movements of major currencies. But I am not going to go into that much detail--I've done it, and there is something fractal-like about the analysis of currencies and capital flows. It boils down to something like this:

There is something called a current account balance, which is the sum of our trade surplus (that's right, insert a negative number here), net revenue from investments abroad (insert a small positive number here), and net foreign aid (a small negative number here). For the USA, this figure is overwhelmingly dominated by that huge negative number, our merchandise trade balance. It's been negative since the mid-1970's, but until 1981 it was more than offset by our positive balance in services. Now, we have something else called the "capital account balance." This is a huge positive number for the US, and represents net purchases of US securities and bonds. It tends to rise in fall in mirror symmetry to our current account balance; it can be bigger, it can be smaller than the current account balance, but it always moves in the opposite direction by about the same amount. Add the two balances for almost any year since the Korean War, and you will get a negative number. That is the balance of payments.

These are the "fundamentals," or most of them. A surge in the stock market reflects, most likely, an upward movement in the US capital account balance. A surge in oil prices means a short-term jump in the nation's current account balance. Notice the two can move independently: oil prices could jump, causing investors to sell shares in oil-guzzing America to oil-frugal Japan; both would increase the size of our balance-of-payments deficit. The big mystery to a lot of people is: why doesn't the US dollar shrink and shrink to nothing if the overall balance of payments has been in deficit since, oh, Eisenhower was president?

Tomorrow, I will explain why. In the meantime I believe I've inspired enough flames for today.

ADDENDUM: Part two of this essay is, as you should expect, being drafted; normally I wouldn't mention it, but the Guardian has a story in this morning's paper about a conspiracy theory that has some direct relevence to this post. Well, at least you understand: the dollar is on the minds of a lot of journalists right now.

THE NEWS: To my great dismay Amram Mitzna has resigned as Labor Party chief in Israel. The Ha'aretz Daily reports that Mitzna, an unusually concilliatory figue in contemporary Israeli politics, was the target of backstabbing and antagonism at the highest ranks, and that the party could now be doomed. In case you were wondering, the Iraqi Invasion rendered that country the world's most dangerous for journalists for 2003. Afghanistan was in fourth place.

posted by James R MacLean at 12:43 AM | PERMALINK |


Sunday, May 04, 2003  

Oregon's premier anti-tax activist's troubles

Yesterday's post by Orcinus about Bill Sizemore's troubles gave me my latest topic for Oregon's Political State Report.

Bill Sizemore was the most prominent anti-tax activitist in Oregon throughout the 90’s. Sizemore has contributed greatly to the budget problems facing Oregon resulting from his use of the initiative process. He largely shaped the political arguments of the 90’s and created an atmosphere where the majority of progressive efforts in Oregon have gone to defeating the numerous initiatives he placed on the ballot. In 1998 he ran for governor against John Kitzhaber and lost. This week, a Multnomah County judge declared that his Oregon Taxpayers United Education Foundation was a sham and must dissolve. Full Post

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One thing that is hard about doing these stories for the Political State Report is trying to do a straight news report without inserting my personal opinion. I have lots of opinions about Bill Sizemore, but one thing that I also found out is that Oregonians are just plain stubborn and about as reflexively anti-tax as one can find. According to this report:

Oregon voters haven't passed a tax increase since 1930. According to Wentz, "Mistrust of the government has been going on for a long time and there is a strong anti-tax movement in this state which has been very strategic about beating their anti-tax drum. For some voters, the legislature's decision to propose a tax increase is like Non [sic] going to their stockholders and saying give us money we'll get it right this time."

It gives me pause to consider that perhaps Grover Norquist's wish to see a state go bankrupt might just happen here in Oregon. There seem to be so many forces aligned against reforming our tax system because it relies on citizens being well-informed about the issues and proposals before going to vote.

posted by Mary at 9:39 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Beautiful Horizons has two posts in succession on ChoicePoint's* sale of personal data on Latin American citizens to the US government. The translated articles he recounts probably won't appear too extensively in the US press.

* ChoicePoint is the charming parent company of the company that scrubbed Florida's voter rolls before the 2000 elections, wrongfully depriving tens of thousands of mostly minority citizens of their right to vote.

posted by Natasha at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK |
 

Venezuela Update:

Were the Belgian and Dutch navies involved in the 2002 coup?

Former Venezuelan coup plotters receiving asylum abroad.

US accuses Venezuela of being soft on terror, is unhappy over their rejection of a US approved referendum, sends a democracy expert to Venezuela's opposition, shuts off the tap at the Export-Import bank.

May 1st saw the largest street demonstrations since February, with both friends and foes of the Chavez government coming out in droves. A member of the opposition shot dead during the marches.

Australian Greens explain why leftists have been supporting the government over the unions in the ongoing political clashes in Venezuela. The unions themselves are undergoing major changes.

Brazil and Venezuela ratify a far-reaching mutual development pact for their oil and gas industries.

They may quibble over border security, but Venezuela and Columbia have come to an agreement on a natural gas pipeline.

Venezuela importing Cuban revolution. In farming. Fortunately, Venezuela's constitution (see below) forbids the death penalty, so with any luck it will end with urban gardening.

A look at Venezuela's current constitution. It's long, but even a cursory skim through the human or social and family rights sections is very interesting.

Venezuela Archives

posted by Natasha at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK |