Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Hard Power, Soft Power

Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Joseph Nye, discusses the concept of soft power in the Washington Post today. It's an idea that doesn't get nearly the circulation that it should. We're still trying to fight a non-conventional war with conventional means. It's a losing proposition and a very costly one.

For Your Netflix Queue

I recently came across a movie I want to give my highest recommendation. The film, made last year by British director Michael Winterbottom, is called "In This World". We watched it last night, and I had to watch it again today. You can find a trailer here, the Rotten Tomatoes review page (95% positive), and an NPR interview with Michael Winterbottom about the film. The story is of two Afghan refugees attempting to emigrate, illegally, overland, to London. It is a docu-drama that blurs the lines between reality and fiction. The plot events that happen to the main characters are fiction, but taken from the accounts of real refugees. There are almost no professional actors in the movie, most people you see are playing themselves. The dialogue is mostly unscripted. The lead actors are actual refugees from the Peshawar refugee camp, one of whom smuggled his way back into England after the film and claimed asylum. All of the scenes are shot on location, guerrilla style, usually with a film crew of just three people. It reminded me a lot of Baraka. In this case there are characters and dialogue and a (mostly) coherent plot. But the dialogue is sparse, and like Baraka most of the story is told through pictures and music. Also like Baraka the photography and the score are absolutely brilliant and provide a window into a world that most Westerners never experience. And like Baraka, the film has a powerful humanist theme. I'd kill for the soundtrack, but it doesn't appear it was ever released as a CD. Put it at the top of your queue. And don't miss the behind the scenes feature on the disc.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Aznar's Take on the Attacks on Spain

The Wall Street Journal has published this editorial on the March 11 terrorist attacks. He defends the government's conduct following the attacks and claims that the public was not mislead, and he also argues it would be a mistake to pull out of Iraq--"It would allow our attackers to believe that they have won."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Grow A Pair

TomPaine.com is featuring some words of advice to John Kerry from Walter Cronkite. Cronkite instructs Kerry to stop dodging the title of liberal and to instead embrace it and defend his values.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Building On Quicksand

Business Week, a magazine I'm becoming more and more impressed with recently, has a column by London Business School Dean Laura D'Andrea Tyson questioning the staying power of the current recovery. She cites the Bush tax cuts as having infused a significant amount of money into the economy which has temporarily inflated economic growth numbers without producing the sort of employment and compensation gains that should be typical at this stage of a recovery and which are critical to building a strong economic cycle. She also mentions the increasing dependency of the US economy on foreign investors to suck up the massive debt load, and questions how long this can be sustained in the face of increasing US fiscal weakness.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Foiled By the Internet

There has been a rush of politicians and pundits trying put their own stamp on the recent Spanish elections. Most of them find themselves unable to resist one last opportunity to use their tired (and ridiculous) analogy of Saddam Hussein as Hitler and "old Europe" (and now Spain) as Neville Chamberlain. But like most conservative sloganeering, these claims were catchy and spread quickly. However, in my online discussions, while I found these "appeasment" claims widespread initially, they rapidly collapsed under the unstoppable destructive power of actual Spanish people, who, it seems, also use the internet. Imagine, manufactured spin having, for once, to compete with actual reality. It was really quite enjoyable to see. So I thought, for fun, I would have a side-by-side comparison of some of the things said by American politicians and pundits versus comments made by a number of actual Spanish people on a couple of forums I visit.

"There is no neutral ground -- no neutral ground -- in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.

"No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands."

--Pres. George W. Bush

"Thanks, but the fact that we had a tragedy hasn't clouded my judgement, thanks anyway. What I think about Aznar I've been thinking it for the last 6 years. This has done nothing but re-afirm me in my beliefs."
--Actual Spanish Person

"[Spaniards] chose to change their government and to, in a sense, appease terrorists."
--Rep. Dennis Haster, Speaker of the House of Representatives

"The votes against them were mainly because they lied about who made the bombings, it appears that they knew a few hours after the bombings that it hadn't been done by ETA and they hide that fact for political reasons only."
--Actual Spanish Person

"As you look back through history, and you look at situations that required people to stand up for principle, to stand up and lead and be counted against various threats, appeasement just hasn't worked.."
--Gen. Richard Myers

"The Elections' results would vary a lot depending on the terrorists involved. Many people in Spain was against going to war with Iraq; joining the alliance with USA and UK was a government's decission, it wasn't shared by most of the democratic parties. On the other hand, if ETA is behind this, spanish would vote Aznar's succesor."
--Actual Spanish Person (before the election)

"People are not always strong. Sometimes they indulge false hopes that by lying low, truckling, appeasing, they can avoid danger and strife ... And this is what seems to have happened in Spain."
--David Frum

"We have been fighting against terrorism for more than 20 years, inside the national and international laws. US for 2 years. We have lost more than 250 in "your" war against islamic terrorism. The american citizens lost against against ETA is zero. We have jailed a lot of islamic terrorist, while none of the groups that support ETA in some states like Iowa is in jail... . Maybe you have to read more about history to understand it. For other side, the french has helped us invaluable last 10 years against ETA"
--Actual Spanish Person

"I call on Prime Minister Zapatero to reconsider his decision and to send a message that terrorists cannot win by their acts of terror,"
--Sen. John Kerry

"If we started to talk about USA not helping us, [it] is because some guys started to call us cowards because we retire from IRAK, but all you must have in mind that 80% of Spanish ppl didn't want the war as we don't see the ties betwen IRAK and muslims terrorist and we saw that war more like an economy fact and the attempt to control the petrol production. Also all the lies about massive attack weapons don't help a lot to believe on Bush, Blair or Aznar (and i have [voted for] Aznar twice, but not last time)."
--Actual Spanish Person

"This is beyond appeasement. This is decadence: Terror rages and we tend our garden."
--Charles Krauthammer

"I understand the upset in some of you, fellows, but the main reasons of these elections are internals, and not by the fear of the bombs (we were receiving attacks of the terrorist long before you thought it was a problem)."
--Actual Spanish Person

"In other words, will Madrid be remembered as Pearl Harbor or as Munich? For now the response of too many Spanish voters looks more like Munich."
--Sen. Joe Lieberman

"We have been fighting against terrorism since 1978. We have used the force, we have negociated. We tried to solve the problem without surrending, even when the rest of the world called them 'freedom fighters'. The US has only help us when they saw the problem at home."
--Actual Spanish Person

"The voices of appeasement are being heard in Europe."
--Rep. Henry Hyde

"The main reason. The [disinformation]. In Spain the public tv channels (and radio) are very important, and their actuation has been horrible. The popular members forced all the situation (media, institutional speeches, embassadors) to blame ETA, even the proofs that point AlQuaida. When the people knows it (internet and cellulars), there was a lot of Anger. We felt like the government was cheating us. And doing this the day before the elections is not a very smart move, when more than 25% of people haven't decide to vote until these day. Personally. I had decided to vote PP, but the way they tried to cheat me, I voted in blank. I change my vote not the thursday, but the sunday morning."
--Actual Spanish Person

"Nonetheless, it was still the cowardly alternative. And today Spain has chosen it -- having suffered not Europe's 20 million dead of World War I but 200 dead in the Madrid bombings."
--Charles Krauthammer

"Trust me, guys, it's not Al Qaeda who's made the Socialist Party win the elections, but Aznar's own arrogance, stupidity and Franco-like usage of public television."
--Actual Spanish Person

"the trend in Europe is now either appeasement of terror or active alliance with it."
--Andrew Sullivan

"As far as I am concerned...of course I'd like to see legal actions being taken against [Al-Qaeda]. But I don't think that us being [in Iraq] does any damage to [Al-Qaeda], and for once -which hasn't happened for the last 8 years- I'd like to see the government do what the entire population demanded from them, same population that put them up there."
--Actual Spanish Person

And the final word:

Today, in a local newspaper, there was an article where the author said: "To those that are coming: Remember, without our votes, you?re nobody".

This is what Aznar and his party forgot. This is why they lost the elections.

--Actual Spanish Person

For the Record

Henry Waxman, congressman from California, has had congress's Special Investigations Division compile a report studying and cataloguing each false or misleading statement about Iraq made by the President, Vice-President, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, or Security Advisor Rice. The report is 36 pages long and covers 237 statements made by these officials.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Problems With Media Diversity

This Christian Science Monitor column by Dante Chinni reads like a page out of Sunstein's Republic.com. I have to say, I'm not real excited about the idea of Air America. Perhaps it's necessary to have a bunch of rabid, misinformed liberals running around to counter all of the rabid, misinformed conservatives... but it's a far from ideal solution.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Obi-Wan Kenobi Maneuver

" If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."
--Obi-Wan Kenobi

Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, elected by a tide of anti-American sentiment after the death of two Korean girls hit by a US military vehicle, has been impeached and removed from office for a minor election violation. A Christian Science Monitor editorial contends that this will make Roh and his movement more powerful in the long run. CSM expects the public reaction to the unfair impeachment to carry them to victory in South Korea's April 15th elections (not dissimilar to the impact of Clinton's impeachment on the '98 mid-term elections). They contend that the empowerment of Roh's populist agenda will drive this quasi-democratic nation towards a true and healthy democracy. In a region filled with semi-democratic governments this would be welcome progress.

The EU, Still A Powerful Promise

There is a story on CSM about steps being taken on Cypress to resolve the long-standing conflict between the Greek and Turkish residents. The promise of the economic and political benefits of integration into the EU has been the key for both sides. With all of the internal conflicts and complications it is easy to lose sight of the immense benefits that the EU has brought to Europe. Hopefully this can be a reminder.

BBC: Spain to re-join 'Old Europe'

Spanish voters apparently decided to hold Jose Maria Aznar responsible for flouting overwhelming poll numbers (over 90% against the war with Iraq if I recall correctly) now that their involvement has apparently entagled them in the broader conflict with Al-Qaeda. With Aznar to be replaced Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the BBC says Spain will realign itself with France and Germany and attempt to extricate itself from the conflict in Iraq.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Money Still Fleeing US

It's been what, a month or two since I last posted a record trade deficit story? Well, it's still getting worse. Even the plumetting dollar has done little to curb the trade imbalance...

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The Cozy Relationship of Money and Power

The Christian Science Monitor has a story about a study done by "researchers from four universities" (no other details are provided) on the stock market performance of investments by US Senators. Would it be shocking to find out that they did well? Because they did, beating the pants off market indexes and even corporate insiders. The article comes short of accusing senators of out-and-out insider trading, but it contained a number of quotes to that effect ("Senators may be just smarter, but it seems really unrealistic"). Money and power, power and money...

Beware Passing Hawks

Somehow I found this story funny. Also notice that the scientific name for the American Robin is Turdus Migratorius. I wonder which part of that means American?

Sunday, March 07, 2004

That Old Double-Standard Thing

Human Rights Watch has released a 59-page report detailing human rights abuses carried out by US troops in Afghanistan. The BBC is covering the story. They charge that prisoners are held without any legal basis or process, and that torture techniques have been commonly used in interrogations. I'm inclined to give the military some latitude as they're dealing with para-military sorts of organizations where prisoners are somewhere between criminals and prisoners of war. But the constant and steady stream of human rights criticism of US actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay clearly undermine the strong moral and ideological overtones of the administration's policy positions, if not with US audiences, certainly to the rest of the world.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Checking Out Creative Commons

I've noticed a number of times that Larry Lessig is always pimping for Creative Commons on his blog, and have always thought 'hmm, that must be a good thing.' Only recently did I have the brilliant idea to actually check it out and see what was there. So I poked around a bit and found one of their content aggregators, Magnatune. Magnatune (slogan: We Are Not Evil) has music from a good number groups/individuals which can be streamed in mp3 form for free and can be purchased for download at a cost of $5-$18 (your choice). So far I've managed to get completely hooked on music by a guy named Wade Williamson. Cool stuff.

Re: First Gay Marriage, Then Polygamy

There is another Reason.com article that discusses some of the thorny technical issues raised by the state allowing polygamous relationships.

"It would be financially ruinous to make a boss insure the seven husbands of one of his employees. The Internet is already brimming with offers of Asian brides in search of green-card husbands; how many sham marriages would the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service have to sift through once an American man could marry thirty Filipinas? What tax benefits will apply to a plural marriage? How can the authorities turn informants among a criminal gang whose members are all married to each other and thus have immunity from testifying in court?"

I think there are enough different issues here to show definite differences between two-person marriages and polygamous marriages where the law is concerned.

Ninjas: The Real Ultimate Power

I had seen this before, but I happened across it again recently.. Behold The Official Ninja Webpage. It's a classic. The picture at the bottom of the page is the best.

First Gay Marriage, Then Polygamy--A Slippery Slope?

Reason Online has this article, which articulates many of the same points Ceci raises about why polygamy might be going too far.

Patrick Fitzgerald on the Prowl

Newsday reports here that Patrick Fitzgerald, the Chicago US Attorney who was appointed as special counsel to investigate the Valerie Plume affair, has issued a subpoena to the Bush administration seeking phone records from Air Force One for the week preceding the leak (Valerie Plume is former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife. Joseph Wilson, you may recall, challenged Bush's assertion in the State of the Union that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. Robert Novak revealed that Valerie Plume was an undercover CIA operative sometime after Wilson spoke out against the administration).

Kay Urges Bush to Come Clean

The Christian Science Monitor has this story.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Nader Comes Out of the Gates Strong

I have to say I'm a bit surprised by AP's most recent poll. Despite having done no significant campaigning, and after the beating he's taken in the press, Nader is polling at 6%, twice the percentage of votes he drew in 2000. A single poll this early in the process means approximately nothing, but it was a surprising number and bears watching.

Spitzer's back up to his old tricks...

and I love it. He is high quality. We definitely need more independent thinkers like him running things.

Crain's New York Business has this coverage.

And if you're interested in reading Eliot Spitzer's well-reasoned opinion--the one where he says New York statute does not permit gays to marry in the state, but gays can marry elsewhere and New York must recognize the marriage--here it is (it takes the form of responding to two attorneys from small cities (towns) in New York who requested that the AG clearly state its position on the topic).

I particularly like the way he deals with the Equal Protection issue--by punting:

"The Attorney General's Office traditionally does not issue opinions on the constitutionality of state laws, and we do not today opine on whether the federal or state constitutions require the State to permit same-sex marriage. New York courts have not yet ruled on this issue, and they are the proper forum for resolution of this matter. However, because these constitutional concerns are integral to the questions you raise, we outline them here to assist you in advising the local officials you represent. However, because these constitutional concerns are integral to the questions you raise, we outline them here to assist you in advising the local officials you represent."

I hear Spitzer saying: 'somebody please, please please sue us! And if you wanna sue us, here's how to do it.' I don't know how he would weigh in on the Equal Protection argument if somebody did sue, but I think it's a safe to bet that he would share the same position as those people who believe that equality is something worth protecting.

Howard Kurtz's State of the Union

This just about sums it up.

Haliburton Must Love This..

The BBC has a story covering a number of recent violent incidents in Iraq. The most interesting part of the story is a line that appears only in a caption of one of the pictures: "Overall damage to infrastructure in the war is put at $55bn". I'm not sure where that came from or how accurate it is, but if true, that's a staggering number. So far we've spent a total of $20-30bn on the rebuilding project, and I believe much of that has been spent trying to reconstitute Iraq's security forces. Apparently we've got a long ways to go (and I'm sure many more special funding bills as well). Awfully convenient that this spending is all kept off the official budget books.

The Real Beverly Hillbillies

I don't know what to say about this story. Kinda sad, kinda funny, definitely a sign of the times...

Monday, March 01, 2004

Political joke of the day

The GOP National Committee announced today that it is changing the Republican emblem from an elephant to a condom because it more clearly reflects the party's political stance: A condom stands up to inflation, halts production, destroys the next generation, protects a bunch of pricks and gives one a sense of security while screwing others.

Country Rankings on Educational Policy

This site purports to summarize data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on a variety of topics, including education.

The stats I found most interesting were that US does not rank in top ten for reading literacy or scientific and mathematic literacy, but we have the greatest percentage of the population that has attained a secondary education (over 86%!). Most importantly, the US spends 5.2% of its GDP on educational institutions--12th overall.