Friday, May 23, 2003

As a delegate to the 1999 WTO conference in Seattle, Stephen Byers looked sadly on as misguided protesters demonstrated against the trade liberalization which was, he thought, the best chance for improving the lives of the poor.

A few years on now, he now thinks they were more or less right to say that unmanaged trade liberalization works against the interests of the poor. In support of which, he argues:

The evidence shows that the benefits that would flow from increased international trade will not materialise if markets are simply left alone. When this happens, liberalisation is used by the rich and powerful international players to make quick gains from short-term investments.

He also cites a few other inconvenient facts which free trade advocates tend to overlook -- most notably, that supposed "free trade success stories" like Taiwan, South Korea, and more recently China, Vietnam and others actually managed their trade quite carefully, and full-scale trade liberalization without long preparatory work has often been disastrous, as in Zambia and Ghana. And he has a few words to say about Western governments that refuse to abandon subsidies that have ruinous effects on third world farmers.

But there's one bit of true weirdness toward the end of his piece, in policy recommendations:

The role of the IMF and World Bank is also of concern. The conditions placed on their loans often force countries into rapid liberalisation, with scant regard to the impact on the poor.

The way forward is through a regime of managed trade in which markets are slowly opened up and trade policy levers like subsidies and tariffs are used to help achieve development goals.

The IMF and World Bank should recognise that questions of trade liberalisation are the responsibility of the WTO where they can be considered in the overall context of achieving poverty reduction and that it is therefore inappropriate to include trade liberalisation as part of a loan agreement.

The World Bank and IMF were set up with the explicit mandate to foster development, while the major declared purpose of the WTO is purely to increase trade. So, this boils down to the complaint that the World Bank and IMF are just doing their jobs so badly that they should just let someone else take the lead.

(And even if you buy that, should it really be the WTO? Their processes -- as seen in, say, the intellectual property arena, favoring strong protection for genetically engineered crops and the like, also quite arguably favor the interests of the rich...)

A little while ago, I observed that critics of the Iraq war, while right to worry about postwar conditions, were wrong in at least one respect:

the conflict [in Iraq] was not doomed to turn the cities into meat-grinder urban battlefields, à la Stalingrad. The post-mortems on that will be interesting reads.

The post-mortems are becoming available:

A fascinating piece in the May 19 Defense News quotes Gen. Tommy Franks, chief of U.S. Central Command, confirming what had until now been mere rumors picked up by dubious Arab media outlets -- that, before Gulf War II began, U.S. special forces had gone in and bribed Iraqi generals not to fight.

"I had letters from Iraqi generals saying, 'I now work for you,' " Franks told Defense News reporter Vago Muradian in a May 10 interview.

Which, once again, is more or less the same way we beat the Taliban... and leaves us still wondering what Rumsfeld and Co. have to offer that might work as well against an opponent that declines to be bought.

More news from Boston: the olde town woke up this morning to the news that the Dresden Dolls had won the 25th WBCN Rock and Roll Rumble. Even the band's most dedicated fans must admit there's at least a small injustice in this for the other contestants. The Dolls aren't exactly a rock and roll band -- if Coin-Operated Boy and Half-Jack are rock songs, then the Ode to Joy is a military march.

The band will now have to deal with the Curse of the Rumble, which supposedly dooms winners to a career of Monday-night sets in local bars. Then again, they dealt with it moderately well in last night's finals, when the Curse broke up their set with a rare stage appearance, scoffing at a bible and crucifix before finally being banished with a poster of former Rumble winners 'Til Tuesday.

The wild card finalist, Apollo Sunshine, also put in a very strong set. Baby Strange, on the other hand, wouldn't have been my pick to win their round of the semifinals. Where the heck were The Downbeat 5?

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Well, people like me who painted Ahmed Chalabi as an American puppet in waiting may have to eat their words. Chalabi, you'll recall, is the Iraqi exile "leader" and convicted embezzler who spent almost all his time over the past decade lobbying Western governments as head of the soi-disant Iraqi National Congress -- and was flown into Iraq by the American military. But it seems even he is getting a little fed up with the Americans:

"Do you realize that what you are giving the Iraqi interim authority in 2003 is far less than you gave the Iraqi government when you occupied Iraq in 1920?" he said, adding, "You have done this before."

Mr. Chalabi asserted that when the Ottoman Empire fell after World War I, Britain formed a new Iraqi government and signed a treaty that effectively extended British dominion in the country, while establishing autonomy for the Iraqis who lived in the loose federation of Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.

Of course, Chalabi does have some idea which Iraqis the US should put in charge:

"We are your best friends here," Mr. Chalabi said. "We want to work with you" and want allied forces to "stay a long time" until the country can stand on its own feet economically and militarily.

These quotes come from the end of a long article on the protests led by other Iraqi leaders -- the ones with actual Iraqi followers -- against the American occupation, and the way it is bungling the business of government. And which, strangely, makes absolutely no mention, not even in passing, of Chalabi's ties to the American neocons who kicked off the war in the first place.

(Via Jeanne D'arc. It's one of several pieces she cites to point out that we're blowing it in Iraq, while wondering out loud what kind of country it is where a distinguished journalist, Chris Hedges is nearly shouted down at a college commencement for daring to say the obvious -- that we're blowing it. In connection with that, see also The Slacktivist, on the cosmic significance which all too many Americans see in this squalid little war -- and three posts on Instapundit supporting the louts. And for what's really motivating Dubya's crew, see Jim Henley, who points out how Iraq's oil industry is being run to serve American, not Iraqi interests -- we're even refusing to order replacement parts from the original manufacturers of their drilling equipment because they're located in the wrong countries, like China, Russia, or worst of all, France).

Well, it seems that the folks who run the web site are getting sued -- the company that broadcasts Michael Savage's talk show nationwide thinks people might believe that something called "Savage Stupidity" is actually the show's official web site. Or so they say in their court papers.

Well, yeah. That's the point.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

So now it's official:

Iraqi citizens will be required to turn over automatic weapons and heavy weapons under a proclamation that allied authorities plan to issue this week, allied officials said today. ...

Iraqis who refuse to comply with the edict will be subject to arrest. Only Iraqis authorized to use military-type weapons because of their police or military duties will be exempt.

So, I wonder how long it's going to take the gun activists to trot out their favorite quote from Adolf Hitler, which they gleefully trot out against proposals at home for even gun registration, with no restrictions on ownership (which is a prelude to confiscation, dontch'a know):

The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.

Over to you, Instapundit...

For what it's worth, Hitler goes on to say that unlike the American occupation forces, he doesn't want any armed native police force either. But that's not good enough for the gun activists, who insist on an armed civilian population as the sole guarantor of civil rights, which is precisely what the American occupation forces in Iraq are trying to stamp out...

Update:Well, so far as I can tell, he's posted nothing yet...

Update:Well, it took him three days. It seems he favor's Hitler's policy for dealing with conquered nations -- an unfair shot to be sure, but no more so than his parting shot at gun-control advocates.

A few comments on The Matrix Reloaded:

I went mostly for the visuals, which were a bit of a disappointment. If they'd cut every shot in the much-touted "Burly Brawl" sequence where a computer-generated Agent Smith appeared to have the skin tones of a Ken doll, they'd have had a better-paced movie and a cheaper one; likewise for the rubbery cars and trucks in the highway chase.

As to the plot, I've suspended judgment -- "Matrix Reloaded" makes a whole bunch of promises which are left to "Revolutions" to keep, particularly with Neo's new tricks from the last few minutes. What sticks with me, though, is an oddity from earlier on -- for computer programs, Persephone and the Merovingian seem to have remarkably human basic drives. What's up with that?

Monday, May 19, 2003

The latest "it's not the Onion" news from Dubya's crew: they want you to know that they are not, repeat not abandoning the "strong dollar" policy. They're just adopting a broader view of what it means for the dollar to be strong:

Since 1995, the "strong-dollar policy" has been interpreted to refer to the strength of the dollar in relation to foreign currencies. According to Snow, the policy should refer to the value of the dollar in relation to the confidence it inspires in the public, and its resistance to counterfeiting.

So, they're giving you $20 dollar bills which buy fewer foreign goods, but on the other hand, they have more pretty colors. That's a nice trade, isn't it?

It's conceivable that there's some justification for the policy change -- but it's not Snow's line, which doesn't pass the laugh test.

If you aren't already reading Billmon's Whiskey Bar, which is not yet on the blogroll because I'm doing a shameful job of maintaining it, you could do worse than to start with this piece. It starts with the Dubya's crew crying crocodile tears over the dead in Iraqi mass graves, and then reminds us how little these same ex-Reaganauts cared about the people now in those graves at the time they were actually dying.

But that's about what we should expect, given the views of their intellectual guiding light, Leo Strauss:

Shadia Drury, author of 1999's 'Leo Strauss and the American Right', says ... ''Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat. Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them.''

And if you're worried that conflicts like "the war on terrorism" are by nature unwinnable, because there's always one more thug somewhere, relax. That's not a bug; it's a feature:

''Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat,'' Drury wrote in her book. ''Following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured. Had he lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, he would have been deeply troubled because the collapse of the 'evil empire' poses a threat to America's inner stability.''

''In Strauss' view, you have to fight all the time (to survive),'' said Drury. ''In that respect, it's very Spartan. Peace leads to decadence. Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in.''

Mind you, we didn't have to see this conflict as a "war" in the first place -- we could, instead, have adopted the metaphor of law enforcement. But that would provoke unwanted comparisons. Someone might remember that Americans deny government some crime-fighting tools because we don't want the kind of state which would have arbitrary power to fight crime. And not only that, but resentment at overarching government power can actually breed criminal activity, as at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City.

So, instead of international policing agreements and strategies, and the "goodness gracious isn't that terrible henny penny" rhetoric about police powers that would come out of that, we have a war. War without end.

Which isn't exactly what anyone voted for. But while Lincoln's still right that you can't fool all of the people all of the time, it may yet be possible to fool enough of the people that the rest make no difference.

Strauss link via Tristero. And for a chaser from the Whiskey Bar, try this personal memento of the human rights record of the United States and its client governments under Reagan...

More news from Boston:

During months where the weather is decent, the MIT ham radio club holds a swap meet in one of the campus parking lots, on the third Sunday of the month. Though there are radios in abundance (as well as test equipment, antiques, vacuum tubes and parts, antique test equipment ...), the focus these days seems more on computers and parts. Plus the occasional bit of just plain cultural flotsam. (This month's prize: a mint condition "Trump: The Game", with the Donald's face peering out quizzically from behind the original shrinkwrap).

Some of the vendors' trucks also raise an eyebrow. One in particular was completely covered with bumper stickers, leaning by and large toward the left. There was a bumper sticker that read: "The most violent element in society is ignorance". More prominently placed on the same truck was another bumper sticker, that read: "My kid beat up your honor student."