Sunday, June 15, 2003

Article: Proposed European Constitution

The Convention on the Future of Europe has just released its proposed Constitutional Treaty for the 25 current members of the EU. The official (proposed) text may be found here (part 1) and here (parts 2, 3, and 4) (it's rather long). A "reader-friendly" version can be found here . Here is a good article summarizing the text and the European Convention.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

Discussion: Weapons of Mass Confusion

I don't know whether there are or were weapons of mass destruction at the time Bush decided to invade Iraq. But that's beside the issue. The public should not determine whether the invasion of a sovereign nation, in direct contravention of our obligations under the United Nations Charter, can be justified only after the fact. Instead, we should examine the evidence Colin Powell presented to the United Nations and any intelligence reports that are made public. We are not afforded hindsight when making important decisions of foreign policy. On June 6, Rumsfeld said he was sure some evidence would be found. That is neither here nor there. We must remain focused to the more important question: Was there justification for the use of force at the time we invaded? And before we can answer this question, there is still much that must be revealed to the public.

An interesting update: Bloomberg reports excerpts from a September 2002 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency (oxymoron) that concluded there "is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons, or whether Iraq has -- or will -- establish its chemical warfare agent production facilities." The Bloomberg story may be found here. Apparently, Rumsfeld agrees the full report should be released, because these statements were taken out of context.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Discussion: Weapons of Mass Distraction

Barry - by saying there is a lot more to be uncovered, are you referring to scandal or evidence of weapons of mass destruction? Whether or not inspectors do end up finding evidence of WMD in Iraq, it is quite clear that WMD was not a valid justification for the war in Iraq. In fact, it doesn't even seem to have been a true concern of the administration. While I hope this is not the case, current evidence seems to suggest it is. Of course the jury is still out...
Discussion: Weapons of Mass Destruction

The Guardian has not only removed the article, but it has printed a correction. See's blog entry here, and this story.

All the same, I maintain that there is a lot more to be uncovered.
Discussion: Weapons of Mass Distraction

The issues and controversy regarding Bush and Blair's claims that Iraq possessed WMD and was willing to use them are really heating up. So far there has been no evidence of WMD in Iraq (even from US inspectors). Rather, evidence is mounting in both the US and UK that this was none other than a ruse to justify an invasion. If the Democrats can't seize on this, then they are truly pathetic. See the latest breaking story about a leaked pentagon report regarding US Intelligence about Iraq on the BBC News. Also take note of some rather incriminating comments voiced by Paul Wolfowitz. The Guardian originally reported this story, along with Die Welt and Der Tagesspiegel. The Guardian has since removed the story...

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Discussion: The Revolutionary Threshold

A few points...

Barry, I think we are focusing on different elements of the statement I quoted from the article (which I can only assume is an accurate assessment of Montequieu's position). You noted that it is expectation that drives revolution. I noted that "the people" need to be prodded along by reforms originating, presumably, from somewhere other than "the people". The latter statement is very much in keeping with Orwell's themes.

On the points you both posted regarding hierarchy of needs and individual empowerment, I would tend to favor Ryan's position. Unless I'm mistaken, most of the peasantry was dirt poor in both the Russian and French revolutions. The role of reform, I think, in inspiring revolution was not so much that it lifted the peasants to a more secure lifestyle, but that it gave them courage question and oppose their governments.

Regarding wealth and materialism, I would definitely favor Frank's position. In countries of great wealth (think Japan and the US), materialism is enshrined rather than reduced. In fact, this is something I wish that Putnam might have studied as a factor in community involvement. I can think of a lot of annecdotal evidence that wealth is tied to a greater focus on personal attainment, where poverty creates more focus on community support. I don't, however, have any great evidence to back that up. It also tends to run contrary to my general feeling that Orwell's assessments are correct.

Also, and this could almost be separate (but related) topic, I was doing some reading in the "Market For Civil War" article in the same FP Magazine which looks at the financial causes of civil war. I was not impressed. First, they bounce back and forth between issues of absolute wealth and relative wealth without distinguishing between the two at all. Also much of their evidence was rather specious.

They pointed out that once a nation reaches a high per capita, the "risk of revolution is negligible". Of course, all the countries they seem to be referring to in that category are liberal democracies. Might that have a something to do with it? The Soviet Union faced economic hardship, but it was still relatively well off when it suffered a massive (albeit bloodless) revolution.

Similarly they supposed that wealth distribution was not a major factor, presenting as evidence that while Columbia suffered for that cause, Brazil "got away" with it. I'd say if 50% of countries with a high inequality of wealth suffer civil wars, that would make it a pretty major factor. Further that, as I mentioned recently to Barry, the other South American countries, including Brazil, that haven't seen recent revolutions are not out of the woods yet. They are facing severe problems with their democratic governments as progressive leadership is elected by the masses and has to go head to head with a small, but incredibly powerful upper class that has heretofore dominated the political system. Argentina has been hovering on the brink of total collapse for some time now, Venzuela just recently stepped back from the edge of civil war, and Brazil is now facing their first such challenge by a progressive government to the entrenched power of the wealthy. The verdict is certainly not in as to whether these democracies will survive their disparities of wealth.

For this very reason, however, I do support the authors' contention that democracy holds no promise of political stability for developing nations. I have serious doubts as to how well democracy can survive in this nation as the disparity of wealth grows. In most developing nations the situation is much worse. I continue to believe that having a large and healthy middle class is a crucial element to a strong democracy. Additionally, it has long been my contention that there needs to be a high level of social and cultural buy-in for democracy to succeed. Democracy is a fragile form of government which offers opportunities for corruption and subversion at every turn. Most developing nations are just not there yet. And this is a major difference of opinion between myself and these authors who completely dismiss the role of culture and historical background in civil war.

But I also have some agreement with the conclusions of the article. One of the elements they stress is the role of international peacekeepers. This I could not agree with more. I think that more than anything we need to buy time for these nations and provide them with the stability they need to grow the cultural, economic and educational infrastructure they need to create a stable government. And to otherwise get out of their way and let them do it. Some lessons can only be learned by experience...

I keep coming back to Iran. I just wish we could have seen what would have happened to them had the whole axis of evil thing never occurred. They had just the incremental reforms and high expectations we've been talking about. They've completely rejected foreign influence for 20 years and at the same time toppled the old aristocracy, and have come around to democracy on their own terms. They have a strong sense of national identity, unity, and pride. And even the newly entrenched powers were recognizing the need to change and liberalise. These are precisely the conditions that I would view ideal for the creation of a healthy and stable democracy. I couldn't write a better script. Unfortunately, by continuously rattling our sabre at Iran and praising the reformers we are tainting them with the perception of being American agents. This in a country that topped out Foreign Policy's chart (same issue) of popular nationalism and that is rabidly anti-colonialist.

And what a powerful example they could have been to the developing world. To demonstrate that nationalism and indepence from the colonial powers, the liberal democracies, is not, in fact, incompatible with the development of one's own liberal democracy. The neo-cons have been hoping that in Iraq they could create a shining example democracy for the middle east. That could have been, should have been, Iran. How much more powerful a demonstration would it have been to show them that they could get where they need to go without having to capitulate to the hated imperialists...

Monday, June 02, 2003

Discussion: The Revolutionary Threshold

Barry, I dare say you and Joe know as much (if not more) about psychological theories than I, so I won't make any attempt to correct you. I will only say that Maslow wasn't the only one to recognize the priority of personal security for the individual. Indeed, Sullivan, a psychiatrist contemporary to Maslow's time, believed that the maintainance of personal security is what drives our behavior and becomes maladaptive in psychiatric illness. But I digress...

I think there is a point we need to be clear on. We seem to agree that Montesquieu's position is that conditions for revolution are ripe when there is an expectation of change. Barry then goes on to comment on observation and perception of disparity, but I think this already begins to stray from Montesquieu's point (at least as I interpreted it). The majority can perceive or observe all the disparity it wants, but unless it expects that disparity to change (e.g. perestroika, solidarity), it will do nothing to attempt to alter current conditions. This, I think, is the biggest difference between the plebes vs. the middle/upper class. By definition, the middle/upper class will have had more success socially, economically, or both. Success emboldens individuals, and they learn that change is possible. They learn that they are empowered. I doubt that their sense of security or knowledge of conditions differs markedly from the plebes. Rather, the middle/upper class is more conscious of the situation because it thinks it can change it.

Back to Joe's original question: Can the plebes truly be made politically enlightened? I struggle with this question. I think they can be, but it is a great challenge that requires specific conditions. First, a large disparity (or perceived disparity) has to exist for the majority. Second, someone has to empower them by demonstrating that change is possible, even if there is resistance at the top.
Op-Ed: On FCC Rule and Order Regarding Concentration

Here is what one consumers' rights organization has to say about today's decision by the FCC. The FCC summarizes its position briefly, in this public notice, and in a little more detail here.

Reuters describes the likely legal challenges that will follow the FCC's decision in this article.