September 17, 2003

Things are going to be changing soon 

As some of you may now, I'm not exactly enthusiastic with Blogger. The outages are certainly annoying, but it's just not too powerful. I've talked about going to TypePad in the past.

Well, the move is in progress. It's not quite ready for prime time - but sometime before the week is over, Crazy Thinking will have a new home, a new name, and an improved look and feel overall. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: It's still a little rough (the import didn't work 100% perfectly), but it's done. Crazy Thinking is now CrazyPundit. This will be the last post on Blogger; all other posts will now be on TypePad.

See you at the new host!

September 16, 2003

Shameful behavior 

Instapundit put out this very interesting story about the performance of the media during the war on Iraq - specifically, the correspondents covering the story from Baghdad.

All I can say is that it is disgraceful. My experience with organized journalism is limited to high school, but even I know that what these reporters did was absolutely wrong. No doubt about it.

That's rich 

When silly things happen, I usually invoke what I call the Inverse Law of Logic: Whatever is the sane, logical, correct thing to do will most likely not be done. Lately, the Palestinians have been causing me to invoke it a lot lately.

The latest piece of genius? The Palestinians have offered Israel a ceasefire - if they halt their attacks and their closures. The Israelis, quite rightly so, have rejected the offer, calling it a "honeytrap."

Memo to the Palestinians: Maybe, just maybe, if you stopped bombing buses and restaurants, then the IDF might stop bombing your sorry little patches of land. Got it?

The WTO disaster and the security threat within 

Every now and then, the World Trade Organization holds meetings to help further free trade in the world. That means that things like the removal of tariffs and subsidies are talked about by the world's trade ministers.

This year, the meeting was held in the Mexican resort city of Cancun. The contentious topic this time around was agricultural subsidies - both Europe and the United States subsidize their agricultural sectors with massive amounts of money - for example, in 2002, the US passed a bill that added to agricultural subsidies by $190 billion. Europe is even worse.

The results was as bad as could be - Third World countries walked out of the meeting, causing its collapse. Various groups, opposed to free trade are naturally overjoyed. So are the trade officials of Third World countries. Malaysia's minister for international trade and investment, Rafidah Aziz, said as much:

"The developing countries have come into their own. This has made it clear that developing countries cannot be dictated to by anybody."
On the other side, free traders are extremely upset with the result. Alan Oxley, former Australian ambassador to the WTO's predecessor, called the developing countries' behavior as "crazy" and called their actions " the most stupid international trade action since the US imposed the Smoot Hawley tariffs in 1929". Reason Online called it "a case of cutting your nose off to spite your face." The British paper The Daily Telegraph went so far as to call the celebrations of some African delegations as "pathetic."

I fully agree with the above comments. What has not been recognized yet, though, is that this has serious security implications. More on that later. First, though, let's look at why the talks failed, and who deserves blame.

The complaint of the developing word was fundamentally correct. Subsidies are fundamentally protectionist; it was highly unreasonable for Europe and the US to demand the removal of the developing countries' own restrictions without removing their own means of protecting their industries, as indirect as it may be. (There's plenty of hypocrisy to go around, though: the Third World was not willing to lift their own restrictions, either.)

Still, a walkout was only justified if no progress was being made in the talks. Was any progress being made?

By all indications, progress was being made. It's not easy to know for certain, given that the negotiations were not open to the public. As Reason Online described it:

By the end of the talks, the poor countries had in fact extracted significant concessions from the European Union and the United States to lower their domestic agricultural subsidies and to reduce their export subsidies. In return, rich countries were asking that the poor countries lower their tariff barriers on agricultural imports in return.
Richard Tren, the director of Africa Fighting Malaria, also wrote:
The failure of the talks is doubly frustrating because an agreement on agriculture was in sight. Both Pascal Lamy and the EU agriculture commissioner Frans Fischler were adamant that they would have reached agreement if they had ever been able to negotiate. It's easy to say that after negotiations have ended, but either way it is highly likely that progress would have been made.
So, if the parties were still talking, why did the talks fail?

The European Union had tried to add certain WTO rules that were, at best, secondary to the WTO's focus of trade. Things like cleaner government procurement, anti-trust laws, and easier customs clearances. All worthy goals, but it's not the WTO's job to promote it. Yet the EU insisted on it.

To make matters worse, the Third World irrationally decided to make some sort of final stand on this issue. They refused to even consider the matter. (It may be more rational than you think: given that transparency in government procurements was one of thouse EU proposals, at least some, if not many, of the officials negotiating stood to lose out personally.) Soon after, the meeting collapsed.

There's plenty of blame to go around. Let's start with the Europeans.

Government transparency, anti-trust laws, and ease in customs have never been primary goals of the WTO - if they were ever goals at all. Are they trade issues? Perhaps, but only in the way that trade - and, more broadly, business - is affected, and affects everything. They're all noble goals - but the market has a way of fixing all that. Businessmen are more likely to invest in a country with less government corruption rather than more; with easier importation rules than harder ones; with countries with better business climates than worse ones. The money goes where it will not be looted, simply put.

This is, of course, in addition to the blatant stupidity of the EU's agricultural subsidies at all. It's a waste of tax money, causes immense harm to EU consumers, and is a big stinking rock of hypocrisy. There's no good reason for them to stay in place. Yet, as was said, progress was being made on this front.

Yet the Third World is not completely clear of blame either.

As I see it, the Third World forgot what their basic goal was. They had two goals: convince Europe and the US to reduce their agricultural tariffs, while keeping their own measures in place.

Anything outside of that was not too important. Even if it was something they did disagree about, it wasn't crucial. They could compromise on that with no ill effects. It wasn't why they had come to Cancun in the first place - so why play hardball with it?

Clearly, this was a failure of negotiating tactics. The Third World came to Cancun with a strong position, both morally and legally. Yet, over something that should not even have been an issue, they lost it all. It has to be as disastrous a result of any negotiation for all parties concerned.

Now, wait a minute, you'll say. If the failure of the talks was a disaster for everyone, how come the Third World ministers were celebrating, even jubilant?

The reason appears to be sheer publicity. The way things turned out, they gained the appearance of standing up to the West. The mere fact of such made them lose sight of their ultimate goals. When any side in a negotiation loses track of their original goals, disaster is inevitable.

It's not just a disaster in that the trade talks have now been delayed. It's also a disaster for the Third World countries themselves.

First of all, the failure means the agricultural subsidies will not be going away any time soon. That in itself is an abject failure for them. That means they will not be able to compete with subsidized American, French, or German farmers. If they can't compete, then their economies will collapse.

What's even worse is that the protectionism itself harms the countries themselves. Take my own country, the Philippines. Rice is the main staple here, like most of Asia. Here, the importation of rice is strictly regulated. What is the effect? Rice prices here are higher than world market prices. The effect on the economy? Not good. It artificially raises prices, causing added inflationary pressure. That makes more people poorer.

I could go on and on, but it would be merely repeating what any economist worth his salt will tell you: protectionism as an economic policy does not work. Period. By perpetuating the protectionist regimes of both the West and themselves, the Third World countries have done a great disservice to their people.

I said at the start, though, that there are serious security implications as well. How could trade have serious security complications?

Most of the Third World countries involved in this WTO mess are in Africa. Sure, the ringleaders - Brazil, India, Malaysia - are elsewhere. However, it is Africa that has the most to lose. Right now, they don't trade much, and that's as much a factor of their generally rotten economies as much as anything else. Still, they have so little that trade is their only way out. There's not much time for them.

If you look at most of Africa, though, the region is in an increasing state of lawlessness. From Sierra Leone, to Liberia, to the former Zaire, to Somalia, many of these countries are becoming increasingly anarchic. Bad economies, bad leadership, and generally bad luck have all contributed to the sorry state of affairs.

If things stay the way they are, we have a big problem on our hands. The ideological heart of al-Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism may be the Mideast, but they thrive in regions of instability. Without trade, the risk dramatically increases of the entire continent turning into a lawless region that will make Iraq and Afghanistan look absolutely peaceful.

That raises a big problem. Lawlessness allows al-Qaeda to grow roots. No, in a lawless region, it doesn't just grow roots. It flourishes. That must not happen. Islamic extremism does not have a natural home in Africa the way it does in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or the Palestinian regions; yet if conditions in Africa remain the same, it will grow there.

Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Mideast remain the heart of the terrorist threat. However, the war can be made much easier if the conditions that allow al-Qaeda to grow in regions where it does not have a natural home. Africa is such a place.

The sad part about this whole disaster is that almost no one benefits. The Third World does not; the West does not (at least, most of their citizens). Certainly, helping Africa become a productive member of the global community is good for all. I am astounded, astounded that something so beneficial fell victim to petty, irrational, complaining. Everyone involved should be embarassed - no, ashamed - at their involvement. No one comes out smelling good.

September 15, 2003

Passengers taking control 

Evidently, on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles, a 36-year old man got a little unruly. So what happened? Some passengers took control and handcuffed him. When that didn't work, they bound him with duct tape.

I've always believed that people taking care of their own security is a good thing. This is such a good thing. I think for that alone, air travel is a whole lot safer than it used to be.

We're getting out of there! 

"We", in this case, are the various private organizations that dedicate themselves to charity work. "We" also includes various international organizations like the European Union, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. "There" is Iraq. Martin Peretz raises, and answers, an interesting question: Why are they leaving Iraq and companies are staying?

I don't fully agree with what he's saying, but it is a real question. Is Iraq more dangerous than Africa? I don't think so, yet how come they choose to operate in Africa and not in Baghdad? An interesting read, in any case.

That ain't reality! 

How frequently have we seen those pictures of unruly demonstrators hurling rocks at something - usually police? Or, for that matter, any sort of demonstration - usually against organizations like the World Trade Organization? Well, this picture tells us all the real story:

Now, look closely. We have this one guy throwing rocks while wearing a Che Guevarra shirt. Now, what's that there - that's right, mediamen! Probably around a dozen of them!

This is, of course, nothing new. Here, it's not too unusual to have a handful of loony leftists protesting outside the US Embassy - with the covering mediamen easily outnumbering them! I have never fully understood why the media thinks a bunch of loons shouting decades-old slogans is news-worthy. And when they do get covered, the coverage is almost always favorable. Well, from the looks of the picture, they (these protesters) are doing it for the media effect as much as anything else.

September 14, 2003

Germany has gone to the crazies 

Newsweek has an interesting story out in their September 22 issue (online copy) about Germany. Specifically, it says that conspiracy theories about 9/11 are becoming popular in German bookstories. The highlights of the story:

Two years after September 11, German bookstores are flooded with such works as "The CIA and September 11," in which a former government minister of Research and Technology, Andreas von Bulow, insinuates that the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services blew up the World Trade Center from the inside. The two Boeings, he claims, were flown in by remote control as a cover-up. The whole thing was a cynical plot by America's neoconservatives to take over the world.
Oh, so what were those phone calls from the victims, then? Mossad creations? Try telling the families that, you piece of sh*t.

Published last month by the otherwise reputable Piper Verlag, the minister's book has already jumped to number three on the nonfiction best-seller list. The only books more popular are two works by Michael Moore, an American left-wing documentarian who has, over the past year, become celebrated for his eloquent rants against the Bush administration, accusing it of using 9/11 as an excuse to curtail civil liberties while pursuing its own corporate interests. Recently, more crackpot 9/11 theorists have gotten a kind of official blessing. In June, German government-run WDR television broadcast a "documentary" claiming that no airplane ever crashed in Pennsylvania.
Oh, so you think Michael Moore is a source of facts? Get a grip. And the German government is now sponsoring this crap? Wonderful!

Here's what I think: Germany is no longer a friend of the US. Those bases in Germany? Pull them out. The Germans aren't doing the Americans any favors, so why even help them one bit? It's all shameful, shameful behavior.

Why didn't I mention this before? 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has opened a petition against the recent spate of RIAA lawsuits. If you're a US citizen, I suggest you go and sign it.

So that's what "highly informed" means in the Middle East 

LGF came up with this little piece of genius from the Gulf News.

I'll just give you the first four paragraphs, which are the important parts anyway:

Palestinians have thrown a tight security cordon around President Yasser Arafat fearing his assassination by unconventional means that could be construed as "a natural death", highly informed sources told Gulf News yesterday.

The new security steps include searching and clo-se monitoring of all Arafat's visitors. The sources said that one speculated method of assassination could be the direction of poisonous rays towards Arafat's brain.

These rays can cause palpitations in the heart leading to a failure of brain resulting in gradual stop in breathing and ultimate death.

"It is only curable by a specific antidote as in the bungled assassination of Khaled Mashal the head of Hamas political bureau in Jordan several years ago," the sources said.
Uhm, right.