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.