Posts tagged ‘North Korea’

Emulating North Korea

I have little tolerance for enforced patriotism of any sort.  In fact, having loyalty oaths and singing songs and genuflecting to flags all seem more consistent with totalitarianism than the values of liberty that patriots are nominally trying to promote.  If I were rotting in a crappy Phoenix jail for being caught with marijuana or busted for driving while Mexican, I would be even less patriotic

Dozens of Arizona inmates will eat nothing but bread and water for at least seven days in the latest punishment by one of America's toughest sheriffs.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio handed down the sentence after inmates defaced American flags hung in each jail cell. He says the men tore the flags, wrote or stepped on them and threw them in the toilet.

The flags are part of a push for patriotism in county jail cells. Arpaio has ordered thatGod Bless America and the national anthem be played daily in every jail facility.

This isn't Arpaio's first controversial move. He made headlines for keeping thousands of inmates outdoors in repurposed military tents in weather that was hotter than 117 degrees. He also made male inmates wear pink underwear.

He banned smoking, coffee and movies in all jails. And he's even put his stamp on mealtime. Inmates are fed only twice a day, and he stopped serving salt and pepper – all to save taxpayers money, he says.

Is Israel Really The Worst Country On Earth?

The American Studies Association has voted to initiate an academic boycott of Israel ostensibly to protest its denial of civil rights to Palestinians in the occupied territories.   Forgetting for a moment Israel's unique security concerns (what would the US do if Mexico routinely lobbed rockets and artillery shells into US border towns), the implication is that the Palestinians in Israels have it worse than any other group in the world, since this is the first and only such boycott the ASA has ever entered into.  Is it really worse to be a Palestinian in Israel than, say, a woman anywhere in the Arab world** or about anyone in North Korea?  Do academics in Cuba have more ability to write honestly than they do in Israel?  I doubt it.

The only statement the ASA makes on the subject that I can find is in their FAQ on the boycott

7) Does the boycott resolution unfairly single out Israel? After all there are many unjust states in the world.

The boycott resolution responds to a request from the Palestinian people, including Palestinian academics and students, to act in solidarity. Because the U.S. contributes materially to the Israeli occupation, through significant financial and military aid - and, as such, is an important ally of the Israeli state - and because the occupation daily confiscates Palestinian land and devastates Palestinian lives, it is urgent to act now.

A couple of thoughts.  First, I am not sure why US material aid is relevant to choosing a boycott target.  I suppose the implication is that this boycott is aimed more at the US than at Israel itself.  But the question still stands as to why countries like Saudi Arabia, which receives a lot of US material aid as well, get a pass.  Second, the fact that Palestinian academics can seek international help tends to disprove that their situation is really the worst in the world.  I don't think the fact that the ASA is not hearing cries for help from liberal-minded academics in North Korea means that there is less of a problem in North Korea.  It means there is more of a problem.

I am not a student of anti-semitism, so I can't comment on how much it may explain this decision.  However, I think it is perfectly possible to explain the ASA's actions without resorting to anti-semitism as an explanation.  As background, remember that it is important for their social standing and prestige for liberal academics to take public positions to help the downtrodden in other countries.  This is fine -- not a bad incentive system to feel social pressure to speak out against injustice.  But the problem is that most sources of injustice are all either a) Leftish regimes the Left hesitates to criticize for ideological reasons or b) Islamic countries that the left hesitates to criticize because they have invested so much in calling conservatives Islamophobic.

So these leftish academics have a need to criticize, but feel constrained to only strongly criticizing center-right or right regimes.  The problem is that most of these are gone.  Allende, the Shah, Franco, South Africa -- all gone or changed.  All that's left is Israel (which is odd because it is actually fairly socialist but for some reason never treated as such by the Left).  So if we consider the universe of appropriate targets -- countries with civil rights and minority rights issues that are not leftish or socialist governments and not Islamic, then the ASA has been perfectly consistent, targeting every single country in that universe.

** To this day I am amazed how little heat the gender apartheid in the Arab world generates in the West in comparison to race apartheid in South Africa.  I am not an expert on either, but from what I have read I believe it is a true statement to say that blacks in apartheid South Africa had more freedom than women have today in Saudi Arabia.  Thoughts?

Update:  I twice emailed the ASA for a list of other countries or groups they have boycotted and twice got a blurb justifying why Israel was selected but with no direct answer to my question.  I guess I will take that as confirmation this is the first and only country they have ever targeted.  They did want to emphasize that the reason Israel was selected (I presume vs. other countries but they did not word it thus) had a lot to do with he fact that Israel was the number one recipient of US aid money (mostly military) and that it was this American connection given they represent American studies professors that made the difference.  Why Pakistan or Afghanistan, who treat their women far worse than Israel treats Palestinians, and which receive a lot of US aid, were not selected or considered or mentioned is not explained.  Basically, I would explain it thus:  "all the cool kids are doing it, and we determined that to remain among the cool kids we needed to do it too".  This is a prestige and signalling exercise, and it makes a lot more sense in that context, because then one can ask about the preferences of those to whom they are signalling, rather than try to figure out why Israel is somehow the worst human rights offender in the world.

By the way, by the ASA logic, it should be perfectly reasonable, even necessary, for European academic institutions to boycott US academic institutions because the US government gives aid to such a bad country like Israel.  This seems like it would be unfair to US academics who may even disagree with US policy, but no more unfair than to Israeli academics who are being punished for their government's policies.   I wonder how US academics would feel about being boycotted from European events and scholarship over US government policy?

We Should Do A Lot More Than A Handshake

I am not sure the exact date it started, but our embargo on Cuba is over fifty years old.  At what point do we declare failure?

Sure, the communists and Castro and Che Guevara all suck.  But how much longer are we going to punish Cuba's leaders by making their citizens miserable?  History has shown that communist countries become less communist by interacting with the (quasi) capitalist democracies.  The most stable dictatorships (think North Korea) are those who are the most obsessive in masking alternatives from their citizens.  How much longer are we going to continue doing the Castros' work for them?

Open up our relations with Cuba, not because they have somehow gotten better or deserve our respect but because this is the only way they are going to get better.

I Guess This Needs to be Said

I had thought that post-9/11 and with the very visible object lesson of TSA security theater that this would have already been understood, but I will repeat it:  There are no security steps that we are willing to tolerate as a free society that would make it impossible, or even substantially more difficult, for a motivated deranged person to shoot up an elementary school.

Promises by politicians up to and including the President to take "steps" to improve safety are illusory.  What we will get, if anything, will be incremental steps that will hassle law-abiding citizens (think: taking your shoes off at the airport and not using your iPad during takeoffs) without doing anything to deter actual criminals.  In particular, any honest and knowledgeable security person will tell you that there is no realistic way, short perhaps of turning ourselves into North Korea, of stopping a killer who is determined to die as part of his crime.

I Simply Cannot Believe This Is Our Chief Law Enforcement Officer

And he keeps getting re-elected by wide margins.  Unbelievable.  

In a performance worthy of a Mafia don, Sheriff Joe Arpaio dissembled under oath today in a disciplinary hearing for disgraced former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and Thomas' ex-underlings, former deputy county attorneys Rachel Alexander and Lisa Aubuchon.

During more than two hours of questioning, mostly by counsel for the State Bar of Arizona, Arpaio's favorite response was, "I don't recall," which he repeated numerous times.

He asserted that he had delegated all authority concerning the investigations of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, county judges, and various other county officials to former Chief Deputy David Hendershott, Arpaio's hand-picked fall guy.

For those who don't live here, I can assure you that at the time, Arpaio took personal credit for everything the department did, using his simply astronomical PR budget.

Here, for example, is one of the key cases Arpaio is being asked to discuss.  He and former county attorney Andrew Thomas waged a war for years against their bosses, the County Supervisors, who frequently had the temerity to try to circumscribe Thomas's and Arpaio's power.  Among other craziness, Thomas, backed by Arpaio, filed a RICO suit against the supervisors.  When a Judge hearing the case, Judge Donahoe, issued some unfavorable rulings in that case, Thomas and Arpaio filed a bribery case against Donahoe, their wacky theory being that since the Supervisors had authorized a new County Court building, this was a bribe to Judge Donahoe, whose court would now be in the new building.  Arpaio claims he had nothing to do with any of this.  Here is his uninvolvement, via the AZ Republic.

 

Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas on Wednesday filed criminal charges against Gary Donahoe, presiding criminal judge of Superior Court, accusing him of hindering prosecution, obstructing a criminal investigation and bribery.

The three felony charges relate to Donahoe's handling of criminal investigations into county officials, particularly a controversial court tower under construction in downtown Phoenix.

Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who stood side by side during a news conference Wednesday, have repeatedly questioned the $340 million joint project of the Superior Court and Maricopa County government.

By the way, it is a nice touch, right out of some place like North Korea, for a prosecutor to bring a judge up on charges for "hindering prosecution" merely for issuing a ruling form the bench which wasn't exactly what the prosecutor wanted.  Its more scary when you consider just how many judges truly are in the tank for local prosecutors.

Doublethink

As typical type-A parents, we were pushing our son to seek out some sort of internship this summer - we have friends in the medical field that were offering some type of job.

To his credit, my son pushed back.  He said he was not interested in medicine, and was not really interested in math and science, though he does well in them.  He wanted to pursue something involving writing and perhaps history and literature, which are definitely his strongest activities.

So we talked things through.   One interest he has had since 5th or 6th grade has been dystopic fiction.  In 6th grade he found a list of top dystopic novels and started hammering down the reading list (1984, Brave New World, etc).  In his writing assignments he typically writes some sort of dystopic or alternate history fiction.  And in current events, he has a particular interest in some of the worst states, particularly North Korea.

So with some discussion from his teachers, he is going to try to pursue a writing project this summer, though I specified that he had to have some goal / forcing device, such as a submission for a student or youth fiction contest.

To help start to to gather background and refine his thoughts for the project, he has created a new blog --  Doublethink:  Totalitarianism in Literature, History, and Current Events.  He is pretty early in finding his voice (and on hold for a few days as he finishes finals) but I encourage you to check it out sometimes.  In particular, if you see something interesting along those lines, hit his email in the header of that site.

In A Recession, Obama Presses Chinese to Raise Prices to the Poor and Middle Class

Consider this story in the context of my previous post on the poor having a lower inflation rate due  in part of the effects of Wal-Mart and Chinese -made goods:

President Obama increased pressure on China to immediately revalue its currency on Thursday, devoting most of a two-hour meeting with China's prime minister to the issue and sending the message, according to one of his top aides, that if "the Chinese don't take actions, we have other means of protecting U.S. interests."...

The unusual focus on this single issue at such a high level was clearly an effort by the White House to make the case that Mr. Obama was putting American jobs and competitiveness at the top of the agenda in a relationship that has endured strains in recent weeks on everything from territorial disputes to sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

Democrats in Congress are threatening to pass legislation before the midterm elections that would slap huge tariffs on Chinese goods to undermine the advantages Beijing has enjoyed from a currency, the renminbi, that experts say is artificially weakened by 20 to 25 percent.

Somehow this was written with words like "competitiveness" and "artificially weakened" to hide the fact that what we are talking about is raising prices to American consumers (by as much as 20-25%, one infers from the last paragraph).  Not only would this make Chinese goods more expensive, but it would reduce the downward price pressure on goods made elsewhere.

Which of course is the whole point, because this is a narrow special interest issue putting a few vocal industries interests over those of the broader group of American consumers.  How many of us are consumers?  How many of us work for service and manufacturing and retail businesses that buy Chinese goods?   Now, how many of us work for a product business that competes directly with Chinese manufacturers?  The first two groups dwarf the second, but Obama is just as beholden to these interests as was Bush.

My Speculation on North Korea

Of all the foreign policy analysts in the world, I am probably in the bottom quartile.  Or decile.  So take this for what its worth.

We have heard rumors for months, even years, that the internal situation in North Korea is desperate, or more accurately even more FUBAR'd than usual.  There have even been hints of open popular opposition to the government, definitely an unusual occurrence.  I look at the attack on the South Korean ship in the context of domestic problems.  This was Kim's "wag the dog" response.  The classic totalitarian response to domestic problems is to seek out distracting foreign adventures.  I think what we may be learning is that the domestic situation is even worse than has been supposed.

Discuss.

Open Up Trade with Cuba

Cuba, Castro, Che Guevara, etc all suck.  It is ridiculous to even have to keep making this point against folks who are trying to sanctify them.

That being said, it is way past time to open up Cuba to US trade.  When will we learn that we are doing the Castros work for them?

  • If the US did not go out of its way to limit contact with Cuba, the Castros would have to try to do it.  We are just playing into their hands.  Totalitarian governments have a very dicey time in this era of free communications.  China interacts with the west, and is improving.  North Korea blocks all contact and is not.
  • The economic boycott gives the Castros a fig leaf to hide behind as their entire population wallows in poverty.  Yes, they are poor, and they are poor because of communism, but the Castros are able to blame the failure of their country on the US embargo.

But they have free health care!  They get all the leeches they want.

Does Anyone Really Believe This?

James Pethokoukis argues that we might have spent a lot of the $1.3 trillion cost of the Iraq war on containment of Iraq had we fought the war.

I will admit I have not seen the studies, but I declare right now that there is NO WAY.  If we really would have spent $150 billion a year containing Iraq in absence of a war, we should be spending similar magnitudes today on other similar regimes on which we have chosen not to declare war, like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc.  But demonstrably we are not.  One might argue that oil prices would be lower, I guess, but one could also argue that the post-9/11 recession would not have been as deep without a war.  I am sure there is a broken window fallacy in here somewhere.  This reminds me nothing so much as the tortured economic studies that purport to show a gullible populace that it makes sense to build a billion dollar stadium for the hapless Arizona Cardinals because the city will make it all back in future revenues.  Sure.

I am not going to argue the justifications for the Iraq war here.  What I will say is that folks who have enthusiastically supported the war should understand that the war is going to have the following consequences:

  1. In 2009 we will have a Democratic Congress and President for the first time since 1994.
  2. The next President will use the deficits from the $1.3 trillion in Iraq war spending to justify a lot of new taxes
  3. These new taxes, once the war spending is over, will not be used for deficit reduction but for new programs that, once established, will be nearly impossible to eliminate
  4. No matter what the next president promises to the electorate, they are not going to reverse precedents for presidential power and secrecy that GWB has established.  Politicians never give up power voluntarily.  [if the next president is Hillary, she is likely to push the envelope even further].  Republicans are not going to like these things as much when someone of the other party is using them.

I Honestly Don't Understand Where We Are on Foreign Policy

I don't even pretend to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy so I seldom write about it.  But the dialog around Turkey honestly has me confused.  Nancy Pelosi argues that we need to call out Turkey right now in order "to restore America's moral authority around the world."  So I get the moral dimension of calling out bad people for bad actions.  But it was my understanding that this was what Democrats found facile in Bush's foreign policy, that Bush called out countries like North Korea and pre-invasion Iraq for being part of an axis of evil.  Is it then Pelosi's position that morality in foreign policy consists of pointing out evil actions committed by our allies eighty years ago, but avoiding calling out current evil actions by our enemies?

Entertaining Libertarian Voice

One of the problems with us libertarians is that we all sound like a bunch of academic dweebs when we talk.  Well, thanks to YouTube and Human Advancement, I saw Mike Lee, who I found unpolished but curiously entertaining as a defender of individual rights (though he's bit hawkish internationally for my tastes).  Anyone who can, in about 2 minutes, shift from Duke Lacrosse to North Korea to jury nullifaction has got to be interesting to listen to.

By the way, it is increasingly clear that Google and YouTube don't really want to be a free speech outlet, as they seem to be banning stuff as fast as it can be posted.  They are private concerns, and so can do whatever they like, and I can understand from their perspective why they want to avoid controversy  (though if they ban everything the RIAA wants banned and political groups of every stripe want banned and end up with just home videos of pet tricks, I am not sure it will remain as popular).  This in turn got me thinking about Neal Stephenson  (and I accused Mike Lee of rambling?)

In Cryptonomicon, one of the plot lines is a group of guys trying to create an offshore data haven free from threats by government censors, tax inspectors, and, I presume, copyright enforcers from the RIAA and the NFL.  While such a comprehensive haven may be out of reach, I do think there could be a great role for an offshore blogging/podcasting/video haven that would protect identities and be immune or out of reach from third party censorship.  The problem is that as an officer of such an endeavor, you would likely be subject to immediate arrest in many countries once you landed there.  Oh, that would never happen in a free country like the US would it?  Yeah, right.

So Why Not Cuba?

This week, the US took a step to normalize relations with Libya:

The United States restored
full diplomatic ties with Libya on Monday, rewarding the
longtime pariah nation for scrapping its weapons of mass
destruction programs and signaling incentives for Iran and
North Korea if they do the same

The logic was that Libya still is a sucky dictatorship, but it has taken some important steps forward into the light which we want to reward.  Perhaps more importantly, the administration acknowledges that increasing intercourse with the western democracies tends to have liberalizing effects in countries in this world of open communications (see: China).  Its a difficult trade-off, but I am fine with this.  Certainly we are no virgin in terms of having diplomatic relations with bad governments.

My question is:  Why doesn't this same logic apply to Cuba?  I think it is pretty clear that embargo and shunning over the past 40+ years have had as much effect as they are going to have.  Why not try engagement?  I think this particularly makes sense well before the chaos that may ensue after Castro's death.  If anything, just by reading the behavior of Cuban expats, Cubans remind be of the Chinese in terms of their entrepreneurship, and I certainly think engagement has worked better than shunning in China. 

Of course I already know the answer to my question:  Because Cuban expats make up a large voting block in the most critical presidential election swing state and no candidate wants to be soft on Castro.  But this seems to make it even more of an opportunity for a second-term president who doesn't have to contest Florida again.

Update:  Yes, I did indeed spell it "Lybia" at first.  Seems vaguely Feudian.  Excuse 1:  Blogging is a real time function.  Excuse 2:  Its just a hobby.  Excuse 3:  I was a mechanical engineer in school