Friday, May 03, 2002

Amos Elon writes about the other group of religiously motivated fanatics living on the West Bank:

The political power of the settlers has long been a major factor in the continuing crisis. The settlers now make up Israel's most vociferous political lobby. Military deployments on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip are nowadays largely determined by their interests and personal wishes. For years they have vehemently opposed every peace initiative and blocked every possible compromise. When Yitzhak Rabin became the only prime minister to seriously stand up to them, they launched a vicious personal campaign against him and he was subsequently murdered by one of their ardent supporters. The militant groups that sympathized with the murder are now vociferously demanding the prosecution for treason of the "Oslo criminals"?i.e., the two academics who negotiated the Oslo agreements and former justice minister Yossi Beilin, who sponsored their mission.

Despite the assassination, there is still no moral equivalence between any of that and the raving bloodlust of the radical Palestinian elements (desperate to kill themselves if they can only take a few Jews with them). But you don't have to argue for that equivalence to say that actions on behalf of the settlers are an obstacle to peace:

Since Sharon came to power, thirty-four new settlements have been established. More land has been expropriated to build roads that bypassed Palestinian towns and villages and were closed to Palestinian traffic, thus enabling the settlers to commute back and forth to Israel without setting eyes on a single Palestinian.

If this stuff actually formed part of some effective strategy against the suicide bombers, you could certainly justify it on those grounds alone. But the expropriation of West Bank land, and the bulldozing of Arab houses, have done nothing to restrain them, and just fueled their rage. Maybe it does feel good to hit back --- but that is the logic of the suicide bombers as well.

Geez, and I thought Boston sports fans were negative. Kansas City Royals manager Tony Muser just got fired. Fan Rob Neyer sees him off with a column that goes back to 1899 trying to find a major league manager with a worse record than Muser... and fails.
More news from Boston: Fr. Paul Shanley has been arrested in San Diego on multiple charges of child rape. Shanley is one of the most notorious priests in the sexual abuse scandal, having been personally shielded, and even commended, by more than one Cardinal, being involved in numerous civil suits in addition to the criminal charges.

Shanley, you may recall, is the priest who openly advocated sex with kids, and yet at one point threatened the Church with revelations of goings-on at the archdiocesan seminary "far more shocking than my poor offerings."

My, my, my. The rape charges against Shanley depend on "recovered memory" evidence, which is certainly open to challenge. But if Shanley wants to even think about a substantial plea bargain in his cases, given their notoriety, he's going to need one hell of a proffer. Then again, he may be able to provide one.

Thursday, May 02, 2002

I've seen folks wondering from time to time who is behind this blog. Thanks to, the truth is now revealed:

You are an Andrew Sullivan.
You are not afraid to share your political views with everyone in candid and clear ways.
You may also be making some money... one day.

Take the What Blogging Archetype Are You test at

Admit it, folks. You never would have guessed.

Brink Lindsey touts fast-track trading authority as if... well, as if it had something to do with lowering trade barriers. Unfortunately, we are dealing here with an administration whose own trade representative seems to have never met a tariff he doesn't like, even the textile tariffs which we promised a military ally to eliminate. So, when they talk about reducing trade barriers, it's worth asking what they really mean.

Here's a hint from trade rep Zoellick's New York Times op-ed from last month:

Each agreement without us may set new rules for intellectual property, emerging high-tech sectors, agriculture standards, customs procedures or countless other areas of the modern, integrated global economy -- rules that will be made without taking account of American interests.

So, in Zoellick's view, trade negotiations are about setting standards and rules for intellectual property, biotechnology, and other technologies, at least as much (perhaps more) as, well, lowering barriers to trade --- something in which the trade representative seems not to have much of an interest, day to day, given his support for tariffs, the purest form of trade barrier there is.

What's the significance of that for the rest of us? Well, recall that the United States' existing trade treaties are currently being used as an excuse for weakening American environmental laws in ways which would be very hard to arrange for sans treaty.

To be sure, there's a pattern here that extends well beyond trade, and well across party lines. The odious "anti-circumvention" provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, for instance, were technically the enabling legislation for the WIPO intellectual property treaties. Similarly for the "cybercrime treaty" largely written by the Clinton administration, containing some rather heavy-handed law enforcement provisions which they didn't think they'd get through Congress without being tarted up in diplomatic costume.

But there's a difference between those treaties and trade treaties negotiated with the "fast track" authority sought by the Bush administration. The Senate, at least, gets a chance to amend most treaties; with "fast track", they give up that right with regard to trade. Which is enough of a concern for trade per se; more so if the trade negotiations are being used largely as a medium through which to do deals on other matters entirely.

So what's their real agenda? Here's another hint: they're pushing the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which will hit environmental regulations harder than NAFTA. And the House fast track vote was much closer than it had to be because the Republicans, guided by the administration, refused to compromise with Democrats on environmental issues, or even child labor.

If the Bush crowd wants to take strong measures to secure the future of free global trade, they don't need another round of negotiations, or any special authority. They can just rescind their own lousy tariffs.

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Helen Epstein has an interesting piece on Mozambique in the New York Review. The ostensible subject is AIDS. (It turns out that a lot of the preconceptions of social workers turned out to be just wrong; women in the villages who aren't promiscuous --- or rather, as it turns out, don't report it --- actually have a higher rate of infection than the prostitutes). But other details about that part of the world filter in, particularly the economic state of the country; "although people in Southern Mozambique are facing a terrible plague, what they wanted to talk about instead was money".

Mozambique is often cited as a development success story, and according to the World Bank, its economy is growing strongly. However, most of this growth is confined to Maputo, the capital city. Rural incomes have been rising far more slowly, if at all. Agriculture, which supports most Mozambicans, grew by only 1 percent in 2000. The construction industry and a single aluminum smelting plant in the southern region account for most of the nation's recent growth. Money earned illegally may also be contributing to Mozambique's ostensibly remarkable economic growth. For example, Joseph Hanlon, a writer and expert on southern Africa, estimates that a ton each of cocaine and heroin pass through the ports of Mozambique every month on their way to the US and Europe.

Some of this, to be sure, is the fault of local politics; Mozambique used to have much more productive industry, but it was hurt badly by the departure of Portugese managers who left after decolonialization, and ruined by the subsequent civil war. But the World Bank and IMF also bear some responsibility:

Mozambique's banks also became notorious for illegal foreign exchange deals, money laundering, and other criminal activities. Since 1997, two executives and one journalist investigating the banking system in Mozambique have been murdered, and several others have been shot at, but not killed. While government officials were ultimately responsible for Mozambique's banking crisis, the World Bank and IMF may also bear some responsibility, because they put pressure on the government to privatize the banks quickly, before regulatory and accounting systems that might have reduced the risks of fraud could be put in place.

As I've pointed out in the past, this seems to fit a pattern; critics of the IMF and World Bank have long faulted them for rushing to privatization without the putting in place regulatory structures needed to actually have a functioning market. (See, for instance, this extensive critique of privatization in Russia, written by Joseph Stigltiz while still at the IMF).

In the meantime, local economic opportunity goes unserved, due in part to the lack of available credit, which is to say, local banks which are actually doing their job:

Mr. Uamusse wanted me to go back to America and find people to invest in southern Mozambique. "Now see here," he said, "we have been driving for nearly two hours, and we have not passed a single town. Why don't they put a town here?" I said I thought that was a good question. "Why don't they put up a factory in this area? We have mangoes, cashews, coconut.... We could make jam, we could make oils? oils for cooking, oils for beauty.... We could use the clay to make bricks...."

Sunday, April 28, 2002

More news from Boston: in case you were wondering, it's not an accident that the Catholic church is alienating its most committed laity. It's explicit policy:

Cardinal Bernard F. Law is cracking down on efforts by lay Catholics to organize in Greater Boston, ordering priests not to cooperate with an evolving coalition of parish leaders.

In a move that has stunned the most loyal core of church activists, parish council members who are generally more traditional and deferential than members of reform groups, Law instructed his top aide to tell priests that a proposed association of parish councils is ''superfluous and potentially divisive'' and that laypeople must live out their desire for equality ''within the hierarchical structure of the church.''

Priests who were involved with the effort have been reprimanded. This apparently isn't just local boneheadedness; the Vatican communique on the crisis this week, which gave no role to the laity, ordered pastors "publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent."

I'm not a Catholic, but as a resident of a city dominated for generations by Catholics and their institutions, I've got a ringside seat. So here's what's left of the Cardinal's moral authority. On talk radio this week, Mike Barnicle (a former Boston Globe columnist, fired for making up stories to put in his columns and for plagiarism), together with Will McDonough (who has filled his Globe columns with remarkable stories about the management of the local sports teams, many of which have turned out to be true) expressed their deep appreciation to a grandstanding lawyer (who represents some of the child victims) for bringing a moral clarity to the situation which the Cardinal is desperate to avoid.

Meanwhile, the laity and parish priests (most of whom, it must be said, have no part of the scandal and are doing good work), are confronted instead by a hierarchy which keeps on behaving as if its primary responsibility is not to serve the laity, but rather to protect the institution of the priesthood. Maureen Dowd today nicely blasts them for conceding nothing to any human frailty save their own:

We have relatives whose lives were choked because they could not get annulments --- and thus remarry in the church --- after their spouses betrayed and abandoned them. ...

Rome has resisted modernity, clinging to black and white.

But --- astonishingly, disgustingly --- on the matter of molestation, which any sane person does see in black and white, the cardinals divine shades of gray.

And yet the Lords of the Church seem to believe that if they just try hard enough to put a lid on the public furor, the problem will just go away. Which it may. They are the problem.

Yet more news from Boston: Yesterday, a local soft-rock station held its annual Earth Day concert on the Esplanade (in the same bandshell that the Boston Pops use on July 4th). Just as Midnight Oil was starting their set, a plane flew overhead trailing a banner for a downtown strip club called Centerfolds. (Perhaps they'd tried and failed to get more official sponsorship?)

This is one of the joints that tries to sell itself as a "gentleman's club", that is, as a nudie bar with class. But as far as class goes, they've shown before that they aren't totally clear on the concept.