Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Moderately International!

Sadly, the Badger Consensus project did kind of die. However, if you like what you're reading here and what more, Tom writes a new blog at ModeratelyInternational.blogspot.com!

Moderately International is the 'successor blog' to the Badger Consensus, so check it out!

You can even follow Moderately International on Twitter @Moderatelyinter

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kim Lands Clinton, Clinton Lands Imprisoned Journalists

Earlier this week, Bill Clinton made a well documented trip to North Korea, returning with two journalists who had been jailed for illegally entering North Korea. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il pardoned the American journalists after Clinton apologized for their actions.

However, while this is a feel good story, this move has no positive impact on North Korean – US relations. They will remain as cold and stagnant as ever.

The US, by sending Clinton, has given Kim a propaganda coup at home. The US came to beg and grovel for the release of these journalists, and the glorious leader let them go, wise leader that he is.

Kim brought Clinton to North Korea; Kim showed mercy to the ‘ignorant’ journalists; Kim can negotiate successfully with the US. This will be how the North Korean government portrays the events to its people.

The US, on the other hand, will do its best to project a cautiously optimistic sense of future relations with North Korea. Perhaps peaceful North Korean nuclear disarmament is possible.

However, there are winners from this situation. Obviously, the imprisoned journalists score the victory of their lives, now free from North Korean captivity. Bill Clinton gets tons of good publicity, having brought the journalists home. Lastly, dear leader Kim Jong Il gets the previously discussed propaganda victory.

Despite these wins, a few important losers have come out of this situation. The most important loser is the US government. Any time Kim can improve his image with the North Korean people is a blow to US efforts. While this isn’t a game changer, it certainly doesn’t help either.

Furthermore, the US is hurt because this may have potentially hurt the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The six-party talks are important as they include the interests of regional powers, most of whom have an interest in keeping North Korea nuke free. North Korea doesn’t particularly like the six-party talks, partially because any agreement would have to please everyone, whereas when negotiating straight with the US, they would only have to please the US.

If North Korean leadership looks at this as an ‘in’ to be able to negotiate bi-laterally with the US one-on-one, the potential for success of the six party talks is damaged. On top of that, it can only serve to further annoy US officials, who have made it clear they do not want to participate in bi-lateral discussions. The US prefers the six-party talks because that mode is more likely to create long term stability in the region.

Was it all worth the release of the journalists? The political scientist in me says ‘no’, but the US citizen in me is comforted by the US efforts to release its people from foreign custody.

On a side-note, during the campaign we all wondered what Bill’s role would be in a Hillary White House, or with her as secretary of state. It would appear as if we’ve found a potential answer…

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Inside Flap: Cold War Warriors and Where They are Now

The Inside Flap asks the questions that really (don’t) matter to help/hinder your understanding of history/politics by looking at the lighter side of world affairs.

All of the men below would have been in the running to be the Most Interesting Man in the World during their time, whereas today’s Most Interesting Man in the World sadly is some old, wrinkly, corporate shill.


George F Kennan (Architect of US containment policy) – still considering his next move in that interesting version of chess he has set up. Hopefully those aren’t bishops.

Stalin (Ruled USSR 1922-1953) – Fist fighting Hitler in dictator heaven, not unlike Tanto and the Lone Ranger.

Mao (Revolutionary/Chairman of Chinese Communist Party) – Frozen in carbonite, ready to be delivered to Jabba the Hutt, not unlike Hans Solo.

Eisenhower (President/badass) – Currently Ike just likes to relax … apparently

Joe McCarthy (Fear-mongering Senator, WI)– now has his own radio show. Isn’t America great?

John F Kennedy (Attractive family man) – Still in US senate after a brain tumor last year… or at least that’s what Edward Kennedy wants you to think.

Khrushchev (Russian douche for Cuban Missile Crisis) – duh, Nike endorsement, with their new line of business shoes (look closely, if you must). For business men who simply must make a huge scene at international sales pitches.

Ho Chi Mihn (Revolutionary, Vietnam) – Last unlockable character in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, requiring that you defeat all other communist characters before you can use him. Pictured here in the 2nd row, 1st on the left. He is essentially impossible to beat, even with Sub-Zero or napalm.

Gerald Ford (US President) – well, yeah. We all know what happened. Tom Brokaw: tell us how it is!

Nixon (US President) – Did you not watch the clip for Ford? At 3:21 you see what’s up with good ole Nixy.

Henry Kissinger – Still alive and kicking with his awesome accent. I got bored with that clip :43 in.


Carter (US President) – Surely a 108 year old Georgian peanut farmer can solve the Middle East Crisis (AKA Political Science’s 9 sided rubrics cube) by undermining State Dept. positions on the matter.

Gorbachev – became relevant again once it was discovered that stem cells can turn liver spots into liver transplant organs.

Ronald Reagan (US President) – currently works as a tour guide for ‘White Heaven’

Thursday, July 9, 2009

John F Kennedy: The Worst Post-Depression President

Ask many Americans and they will tell you that JFK, in his tragically short presidency, was one of the great presidents of US history. People point to his handling of the Cuban Missile Crises, his ‘moon’ speech and inspirational aura as signs of his greatness, and that his assassination robbed America of one of its great leaders. As perfect as this narrative seems for the ‘patriotic’ remembrance of American history, it cannot be further from the truth. Following Kennedy’s presidential trajectory, had he served a full two terms, Kennedy would have been remembered as the worst president in modern history.

One of the very first things Kennedy did after his close victory over Nixon in the 1960 election was to order an operation in which Cuban exiles would invade the island, overthrow Castro and establish some sort of Caribbean utopia. This became known as the Bay of Pigs disaster and proved to be an epic failure, as the Cubans in power (Fidel Castro) crushed the attempted invasion. The US couldn’t cleanse itself of what was supposed to be a relatively covert operation and pushed Fidel Castro into anti-American paranoia that would haunt the US in the coming years.

Kennedy’s problems didn’t end there with Cuba. The very next year the Cuban Missile Crisis rocked the US. Castro, fearing a future US attack, asked that the Soviet Union install nuclear weapons on the island. Naturally, the US found out and the ensuing diplomatic exchange brought the US and Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear annihilation. The USSR did in fact back down, but for two weeks, the US was as close to nuclear holocaust as it would ever come. While Kennedy handled the diplomatic situation admirably, the entire fiasco was a direct result of Kennedy’s failed attempt to overthrow Castro a year earlier.

Kennedy was heavily involved in getting the US involved in Vietnam to the point of large-scale troop deployment. Kennedy put over 14,000 US ‘advisers’ into Vietnam during his short presidency. While his successor, Lyndon Johnson, was more enthusiastic about the conflict and would end up taking the historical blame for starting the war, Kennedy clearly would have fully committed the US into Vietnam. When Johnson took office following the assassination, he kept all of Kennedy’s advisors and same policy for the region. Kennedy started the initial US push into the Vietnam War, and had he not been assassinated, the full weight of this would have been place squarely on his shoulders.

While its clear that Kennedy’s foreign policy was often subject to failure, his domestic policy was not significantly better. The Democratic party of the early 60’s consisted of a contrast of elite North Eastern liberals (like Kennedy), and southern conservatives. To keep party unity for the sake of his election, Kennedy said shockingly little on the Civil Rights movement that was already underway. However, Kennedy needed party unity not only to get elected, but to keep his delicate coalition in Congress together as well. Only when the Civil Rights movement was ripping at the seams of American society did Kennedy begin to address the issue, and he would not do so with the same vigor as Johnson would later do, as Johnson’s credentials as a Southerner gave him more sway with the Southern conservatives.

Finally, whatever positive legacy JFK would have been able to leave with would have been ruined by Judith Exner. Exner was Kennedy’s mistress until 1962, when the FBI told the president that they knew of the affair. Kennedy also had allegedly an affair with Marilyn Monroe, and had relations with Inga Arvad, who had accompanied Hitler to the 1936 Olympic Games. We all saw how the Republicans tried to burn down Clinton when news of his presidential affair came out, but imagine the firestorm in the early 60’s, when America still supposedly had its morals. Kennedy would have been demonized in every media outlet that existed. As it happened, those who knew of Kennedy’s affairs waited before spilling the details of the President’s sex life, saving him from scandal in his lifetime. However, if news of his affairs had come out during his time in office, say, the mid 60’s, assuming he won reelection in 1964, it would have damned his image as family man. And if these allegations would have come out after his presidency (as what really happened), his legacy would have been further marred.

Kennedy’s foreign policy alienated Cuba and brought the US terribly close to nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union. Kennedy’s policy for Vietnam trapped the United States in a conflict that would claim over 58,000 American lives. Kennedy’s neglect of Civil Rights until the 11th hour could well have hurt his presidential legacy and popularity in office, though the effects of this are undeterminable. He was assassinated before any of it came to fruition. And finally, had reports of Kennedy’s extramarital sex life been made public life while in office, he would have been disgraced personally. Had Kennedy served two full terms, he would not have been remembered as the great leader stolen from us by the fatalistic Kennedy curse, but as the single worst president in the modern era, bar none.

Monday, July 6, 2009

An Introduction to the WTO

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is responsible for half of globalization. However, just defining FDI neglects the work that the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its former incarnation, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), have done. GATT and the WTO are responsible for thousands and thousands of tariff reductions over the last sixty years. Although the WTO has helped push along growth and trade, it is also responsible for hindering development and trade because of its structure.

These tariff reductions have resulted in a significant increase in international trade with respect to total economic output. Foreign companies routinely sell their goods for equal or lower prices than their domestic-made substitutes. This is why you can buy Korean cars, Japanese electronics or German beer in the US for equal or lesser prices than their American counterparts.

The WTO was created in 1995 as the successor organization to GATT, which was formed in 1947. GATT started out as a mechanism to regulate international trade. The first set (or round) of negotiations was between 23 countries and only dealt with tariff reductions. GATT went through eight rounds of negotiations, culminating with the Uruguay Round in 1994 that created the WTO. There are now 153 countries in the WTO. The trade volume in the WTO is astronomical.

Two important changes occurred with the change from GATT to the WTO. First, in order to join the WTO, each country must accept all of the WTO rules. Previously, in GATT, a country could just sign on to the various agreements that would benefit it. Second, for the WTO to come to a consensus, every country must agree. These two changes have given smaller and less powerful countries a much larger voice within the WTO.

The scope of the WTO also increased after the Uruguay Round. GATT negotiations agreements mostly dealt with tariffs. The WTO expanded upon GATT’s tariff agreements on intellectual property rights, services, investment and market access. However, the success of these agreements has been asymmetrical as the North (the richer countries of the Northern Hemisphere) can derive more benefits from them. The North has more intellectual property to protect, has a much bigger service economy than the South and has more money to invest than does the South (the poorer countries of the Southern Hemisphere). The South only really benefits from the increased market access.

The agreements on intellectual property rights and investment are the most restricting for Southern countries. The intellectual property rights agreement extends patent rights internationally, limiting the innovative capacity of those in Southern countries. The investment agreement curbs domestic policies that protect domestic firms from foreign competition, thereby putting domestic and foreign firms on an even playing field. Domestic firms in Southern countries are at a disadvantage to powerful Northern countries; it is exceedingly unlikely that a domestic firm will be able to compete with a foreign firm that has the capital to invest in another country.

The WTO is currently in the midst of another round of negotiations, the Doha Round. They have been ongoing for almost eight years now, in part because the Southern countries have realized their power to negotiate. How this round plays out is yet to be seen, as little progress has been made.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Electing Mousavi Would Not Have Been Enough

There has been quite an uproar about the recent disputed presidential election in Iran. Millions of protesters have taken the streets in Iran protesting the results, as there were accusations of irregularities in the election process. The election, which took place on June 12 of this year, saw incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadenijad defeat Mir-Hossein Mousavi with an astonishing 63% of the vote.

The election of Mousavi in the disputed Iranian presidential election, however, would not have produced the change that Iran needs. Mousavi would have represented a step in the direction of reform and would have changed the face and tone of Iranian politics. Mousavi, however, would not have changed the content of Iranian politics. Furthermore, the structure of the Iranian political system would not have allowed him the leeway to make changes. It’s the system that’s broken.

The election of Mousavi would have ushered in many changes in the Iranian political landscape. Mousavi is a supporter of personal freedom, women’s rights and was open to more diplomatic relations with the United States. However, Mousavi, like Ahmadenijad, is a staunch supporter of Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Mousavi would have differed in his approach to enrichment; he would have asked for an international consortium for oversight.

Even with all of the aforementioned changes, Mousavi would not have significantly changed the politics of Iran, as the Iranian president does not hold a significant amount of power in the Iranian political system. The Supreme Leader of Iran (Ali Khamenei) is the most powerful office in Iranian politics. The Supreme Leader is responsible for the direction of Iranian policy and the country as a whole. The president of Iran is responsible for the execution of policy and law rather than the formulation of policy and law.

Mousavi would have remained second fiddle to Khamenei were he elected, as he would have had to play the game that Khamenei wanted. He would need much more freedom to make policy than the office of the presidency of Iran would have afforded him.

This is all an afterthought, however. It is exceedingly likely that Ahmadenijad will remain in power, meaning the world will continue to see the same type of abrasive politics that it is used to from Iran. There will be no change after all.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran's Possible Outcomes

With the recent turmoil in Iran, we’ve begun to wonder what the possible endgames for the situation look like. By my count, there are four possible outcomes from the Iranian election situation, which I’ve ordered here from least likely to most likely.

  1. Current Islamic Republic overthrown – Yes, the number of protesters for some events has been estimated to be over 3 million. However, it is highly unlikely that what is transpiring in Iran will lead to an overthrow of the entire government. The protesters are largely protesting an election result, not the existence of the current government (much as people here protested the 2000 election result). However, if the mood of the movement were altered such that the people wanted to overthrow the government, their ability to do so is doubtful. Without the support of any military/security forces, overthrowing the government is essentially impossible. The likelihood that significant security forces go to the protesters’ side looks minimal. Furthermore, unless the protesters get support from the Revolutionary Guard (which I’m nearly willing to guarantee won’t happen) or some other significant body (slightly more likely than getting support from the Revolutionary Guard), the current government will remain in place. No, there won’t be a V for Vendetta type revolution where government forces refuse to open fire on the people. The Iranian government has already shown a willingness to use brute force to keep itself in power.
  2. Government ‘recounts’ votes that leads to a run-off – While the Guardian Council hinted at a ‘partial recount’ (I highly doubt they actually counted any votes whatsoever, but that’s neither here nor there), the government now holds the position that the amount of votes they’re willing to recount wouldn’t impact the outcome of the election. If the government had ‘recounts’ in such a way that leads to a run off, it would have to admit that over 12% of the vote was somehow fraudulent and admit they were wrong and tried to fix the election. Like the complete overthrow, this won’t happen.
  3. Government ‘ recounts’ votes that keep the result – As discussed above, the government of Iran has already dismissed recounting as the votes they’re willing to recount aren’t large enough to actually impact the election one way or another.
  4. Government violently puts down protests – This seems to be the most likely outcome, especially in the light of recent events. Unless the protesters seek out external help, it seems unlikely they can fight back in a more-than-symbolic way.

The US is absolutely not going to invade Iran over this issue, not that a sustained invasion of Iran is even possible for the US to execute at this time. The US also won’t covertly assist the protesters with military equipment unless they show a willingness to go into full scale revolt. If the US does offer this type of support, it will damage relations with the Chinese (who trade and cooperate with Iran), and cause further tension with Russia. Also, if outside help is given to a revolutionary segment of the protesters, this could cause less determined protesters and supporters of the existing government to find unity, fighting back against ‘American Imperialism.’ Consequently, the US will probably not overtly or covertly assist a revolutionary movement unless they can somehow guarantee its success. Obama, seeing that outcome #4 seems to be playing out thus far, is not condemning the government in any significant way, as he believes that it will have to negotiate with this current power structure in the future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why We Want to Be in the REDD

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) is a UN program that uses market incentives to reduce the release of greenhouse gases from rainforest destruction. Companies work with international conservation groups and tropical countries to create investment funds to conserve large tracts of land. REDD has become recently popular as companies, nations and intergovernmental organizations seek to reduce or offset their own emissions. For example, Merrill Lynch ($432 million), Norway (more than $2.5 billion), and the World Bank ($165 billion) have created programs in Indonesia to save large expanses of rainforest. REDD programs are not limited to Indonesia; programs are being created throughout the tropics.

REDD is an important conservation and economic strategy. A recent study performed in Indonesia by Australian scientists found that REDD programs, if priced properly, make tropical rainforests more profitable standing than cut down. Carbon credits, which represent the cost of carbon stored in the environment, must be priced at or above half the expected profits to be had from cutting down the forest and converting into a plantation.

The ramifications of this study are immense. REDD will become (and this may have started already) particularly attractive to both those looking to balance their emissions and those looking for economic growth.

The study, however, did not include an important factor in their calculations: ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people derive from environmental processes such as pollination of crops, production of oxygen and the detoxification of water. These services are essential. As such, they are can be considered as environmental infrastructure. Without environmental services, the world would be in terrible trouble.

Ecosystem services make REDD programs vital. REDD programs prevent the destruction of rainforests and the important services they provide. Not only can they reduce emissions and create economic growth, but also they are an important investment in environmental infrastructure.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Foreign Direct Investment: The Most Important Phrase You Don’t Know

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is the reason you can (or use to) be able to buy a shirt at Steve and Barry’s for $4.99. FDI makes electronics (iPods, TVs, computers, ect.) affordable for more people. FDI is responsible for half of modern globalization (the other half is the vast improvements seen in communications technology). FDI started the Chinese economy in the 1970’s, oil exportation from Venezuela (as well as the Middle East early on), and Subaru factories in America.

FDI is the fancy abbreviation describing how corporations build production facilities outside their home countries. Exxon building an oil pump in Saudi Arabia, Nike building a shoe factory in China, and Old Navy building a shirt factory overseas so people can dress like this here in America. Local people work at the facility which generates revenue for both the workers (through wages), the government (through taxing said revenue) and local stores (workers spending their money at local places of business). Meanwhile the company who invested in said facility reaps the profit produced, taking it back to their home country.

Unfortunately the results of FDI are not always so rosy.

We all know the story. Ford shuts down a factory in the US to build a new factory in Mexico. Ford is called greedy for abandoning the American worker, and leftists complain the Mexican workforce is being mistreated and underpaid. FDI of this variety is referred to as “outsourcing,” or sending jobs overseas. Outsourcing is by far the most controversial type of FDI for the home country. There has been a loud outcry over outsourcing in the US, especially in the current state of the economy.

The second type of FDI is much less controversial for the image of a corporation. It occurs when a company builds a production facility overseas that cannot be built in its home country. For example, most Americans don’t cry foul when Exxon builds a new oil pump in Saudi Arabia. The pump belongs to Exxon; the oil pumped from the ground belongs to Exxon, Exxon pays the workers (mostly locals), and gives the Saudi government an agreed figure.

Of course there are ‘problems’ with the second type of FDI as well. One issue is that it infuriates locals who feel like their government sold out to a foreign company. The second potential problem is nationalization, which is the fancy word for government taking control of an industry (with or without fair compensation). The final potential problem with this type of FDI is investing in areas with poor political stability. Investor companies tend not to invest heavily in such areas as the local government has a tough time guaranteeing the security of the asset.

Ok. Hopefully you found this bit as helpful as this sign, and as easy to understand as this situation. So, best of luck to you going forward in you quest to understand the current state of world economic affairs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Price of Espionage

For those who are not aware, an Israeli spy was convicted in the United States this week. The spy had passed between 50-100 classified documents containing information about nuclear weapons, a modified version of an F-15 fighter jet and the U.S. Patriot missile air defense system. This spy was charged with four counts of conspiracy, including giving classified documents to Israel. The spy plead guilty. He was sentenced to pay a fine of $50,000.

A man found guilty of spying was ordered to pay a fine of $50,000.

Sure, former spy Ben-ami Kadish is now 85 years old. True, the act of espionage occurred some 20 years ago. But a fine of $50,000 is next to nothing when looking at the magnitude of the crime.

I wondered if perhaps the US government was giving an Israeli spy a break. After all, Russian spy Robert Hanssen was sentenced to a life of solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Upon further research, I stumbled upon John Pollard . Pollard was a spy who divulged tons of information to Israel, the nature of which has yet to be released by the US government. The Pollard case concluded in 1987, and Pollard received a life sentence, not dissimilar to Hanssen’s. We see, therefore, that being an Israeli spy isn’t the reason for the break.

A key difference I haven’t touched upon (aside from the age issue) is that while Pollard and Hassen got paid rather handsomely, Kadish accepted no cash in return, only small gifts and occasional dinners for him and his family. However, as thousands of impoverished convicts that reside in our prisons will tell you, money is not a requirement to go to jail. And, as former Enron execs could tell you, money can even help you get out of jail.

Sadly, a common theme between the two cases seems to be a sense of arrogance on the part of Israeli supporters. Kadish said he thought he was helping Israel without hurting the US. Surely if the US thought that the information Kadish passed wouldn’t harm the US in some way, Israel would have been given that information by the US, not a military engineer. Meanwhile, Pollard’s supporters say that what Pollard did was not treason, as Israel and the US are allies. However, from 1942-1945, the US and Soviet Union were allies, and had Soviet spies been caught in that era, I’m sure they would’ve been treated just as if not more ‘harshly’ than Pollard.

No, I’m not saying that 1940’s USSR and 1980’s Israel are completely similar, but there is something amiss. Even if the US and Israel were best of friends, a government employee does not have the authority to decide what information goes to Israel and what information does not. Espionage is espionage, and while I don’t think the death penalty is warranted in many cases, I’m going to go ahead a guarantee that both Hanssen and Pollard will still be in prison when they’re 85, assuming they live that long. Whether you commit the act for money, ideology, or a dinner and satisfaction you helped country X, the crime is the same: betraying the US. And maybe Kadish didn’t deserve a life sentence (as short as that would be), but at $50,000, even I can afford to commit espionage.