WTF Friday, 6/8/2012

Apparently operating on the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, the spokesman of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, Ilias Kasidiaris, assaulted two female politicians on live television yesterday.

Kasidiaris then broke out of a locked room in the television studio and is currently on the run from the police. His party, whose 7% vote share in last month’s elections brought it to Parliament for the first time ever, has declared an embargo on all media contact.

Meanwhile, the most exciting news U.S. politics could manage this week was Bill Clinton wandering off-message on tax policy. Do better, America.

WTF Friday, 2/24/2012

No there is one strategy and it is called “freedom.”

“Church officials promote what they call ‘natural’ family planning: women are advised to track their cycle and abstain from sex on all but their least fertile days.” I gotta get in on the ground floor of some fertility mood rings.

“…photographing mosques, eavesdropping on conversations inside shops, and keeping files on Muslims who Americanized their names — amounted to looking around, ‘just to kind of get familiar with what’s going on. We don’t target individuals based on race and religion,’ [Bloomberg] said.” Yea, I mean Muslims going to mosques and Americanizing their names, that’s just stuff that’s “going on” in New York. So I just hope they have a huge file on Jeremy Lin cuz that’s what’s really going on in New York.

WTF Friday, 2/18/2012

Biggest merger since peanut butter and jelly? I think we all saw both these coming.

I’ve thought about this a lot so I’m glad someone decided to write about it.

I’ll leave you all with a (rare) happy ending this week. We got a tip from Kim Yi Dionne earlier today about Ralph Kasambara, a political prisoner in Malawi who was being held in what are terrifyingly called “condemned cells.” Deets are here. But, in the time from when we got the tip to now, “a Judge has issued a High Court Order for the immediate release of Ralph.” Now, let’s not forget to knock on wood, but this actually sounds like good news. Don’t get used to it…

Shockingly, We’re Finding It Hard to Get Behind Paul Collier’s "Just Stage a Coup, Man!" Plan for Côte D’Ivoire

Chris Blattman links Paul Collier’s new Guardian column on Côte d’Ivoire this morning and asks for comment.

Collier suggests that the best way out of the Ivorian election mess may be for “regional authorities” to “request” that the national army “remove Gbagbo in an orderly fashion.” We’re pretty sure there’s a word for what happens when a country’s army removes the chief executive, regardless of how orderly the process is.

We’re a little surprised that Paul Collier is full-on advocating a coup. We’d also be a little surprised if “regional authorities” went for this plan, considering what said regional authorities have to lose personally if open international support for military coups becomes standard procedure.

We couldn’t quite figure out how best to pithily frame our objection, though. Here are some contenders:
  1. “Ivorian Population Has Clearly Gotten on the Wrong Side of Paul Collier.”
  2. “Collier to Ivorians/West Africa: ‘Democracy Shmeshmocracy.’”
  3. “Paul Collier Cleverly Advocates Coup in an Attempt to Drum up Clients for His Coup-Insurance Scheme.”
  4. “Rich Countries Get Constitutions, Poor Countries Get Paul Collier.”
  5. “No, Seriously, the Conditions Under Which a National Army Can Remove a Leader Is a Constitutional Matter.”
  6. “For Reals, Though, According to the Ivorian Constitution, the Whole Thing Hinges on Whether the Constitutional Council Acted Legitimately in Overturning the Election Results, and Under No Condition Is There a Role for the Army in Contesting That Determination.”

Please indicate your preference in the comments, or offer alternatives.

What if Political Scientists Wrote the News?

In response to this article in the Columbia Journalism Review, Slate’s Christopher Beam imagines what it would be like if academics were in charge of the news cycle:

A powerful thunderstorm forced President Obama to cancel his Memorial Day speech near Chicago on Monday—an arbitrary event that had no affect on the trajectory of American politics.

Obama now faces some of the most difficult challenges of his young presidency: the ongoing oil spill, the Gaza flotilla disaster, and revelations about possibly inappropriate conversations between the White House and candidates for federal office. But while these narratives may affect fleeting public perceptions, Americans will ultimately judge Obama on the crude economic fundamentals of jobs numbers and GDP.

Chief among the criticisms of Obama was his response to the spill. Pundits argued that he needed to show more emotion. Their analysis, however, should be viewed in light of the economic pressures on the journalism industry combined with a 24-hour news environment and a lack of new information about the spill itself.

Republicans, meanwhile, complained that the administration has not been sufficiently involved in the day-to-day cleanup. Their analysis, of course, is colored by their minority status in America’s two-party system, which creates a strong structural incentive to criticize the party in power, whatever the merits.

More over at Slate. It stays funny through the end:

The GOP—a stupid acronym we use only so we don’t have to keep repeating the word Republican—will have to decide between a moderate “establishment” pick and a more conservative Tea Party favorite. In reality, both candidates would embrace similar policies in the general election.

That candidate will then face off against Obama, whose charisma, compelling personal story, and professional political operation will prove formidable. Actually, Obama will probably win because he’s the incumbent. And because voters always go with the guy who’s taller.

Are We Ignoring Africa’s Present, or Our Own Past?

Chris Blattman has an excellent new post up about the role that access to justice should play in development and state-building:

“[...]Some people are struck by the similarity of African states to early states in Europe and Asia: weak centers struggling to exert control over wider territories; patrimonial politics; authoritarian control; coups, counter-coups, and revolutions.

I’m more struck by the dissimilarity. The core function of the state is law and order. European and Asian states provided police, military control, and access to justice (of a sort) long before they provided schools, clinics and electricity.

In Liberia, if you need a policeman you must pay him to come to you, since he has no transport. There may only be one or two policeman for an entire district. They get paid at roughly the poverty line, and may not have been trained. Most people don’t have access to a judge other than a local elder, who is not empowered by the state to make binding decisions. Courts are distant, if they exist at all in your district. If you do reach one, court can cost many days wages simply to process the forms and get a hearing, ignoring the side payments that can get your case heard quickly, or turn the verdict in your favor. The one time I looked into a murder case, in Lofa county, I wisely stopped within a few hours after discovering the perpetrator was probably the town’s chief of police.”

This is a topic that I think about fairly obsessively, (though my thoughts are not limited to Africa). Most of the humanitarian-immigration work I’ve done has been for people fleeing from the threat of criminal gangs and other non-state violent groups, so the lack of police protection in their countries of origin is generally a centerpiece of their cases.
Some of those thoughts, in no particular order:

  • We focus too much on institutions, and not enough on who gets access to them. In my experience, in many countries the police are just one more violent group that serves the interests of the elite. Aid workers and researchers who are expats from developed countries may have difficulty seeing the extent of this, because they are elites too. It can be easy to miss how much of a luxury it is to get what you’re entitled to.
  • It is a mistake to assume that the history of the justice sector in developed countries was different. It wasn’t, but the people who suffered as a result were not the ones who wrote the history books, so the issue didn’t come up that often. (Access to state protection was such a serious issue here in the United States, for instance, that we had to go and pass a whole big Civil Rights Act about it. Which had approximately no effect for a really freakin’ long time.)
  • Access to justice, particularly police reform and criminal defense work, is hindered by people’s general lack of excitement about efforts perceived as helping criminals. “More rights for thieves and murderers” is a tough sell.
  • Never underestimate how much people enjoy mob justice. And again, that was totally a thing here too, quite recently.
  • Also, human rights organizations aren’t that interested in helping cops. I think that’s largely because police are so often perpetrators of human rights abuses, so NGOs are squeamish about working on their behalf. But there’s a chicken and egg problem there: policemen themselves usually come from relatively poor and low-status sectors of society, so if no one is willing to protect them, the police are in no position to change themselves into something other than an armed group that serves the whims of the elite.

I think my own ““View I toy with but do not (yet?) hold,” when it comes to law and order, is that we can’t be quite sure if stable, impartial justice institutions are a cause or an effect of the rule of law. (They could be both, of course, but this is a conversation about where to start when we have neither.)

The thing that we like to call the “rule of law” is basically just “a system that solves problems by means other than violence.” To make that work, you need two things: (1) a system, and (2) a means to get people to buy into it.

Institutions like police forces and courts can be a good way to get people to buy into a non-violent system, but you still need a system to buy into. There has to be a there there. If there isn’t, those institutions will reinforce the thing that takes its place.

The line between “friendly neighborhood watch group” and “friendly neighborhood death squad” is a surprisingly thin one.

Really? A "Coalition Government" for Honduras? Really?

We’ve written before about the ridiculousness of demanding that a legally elected government form a “coalition” with the opponents who are trying to take/keep power by force. Usually, this silliness is limited to the Land of Rape and Lions, but apparently the Obama Administration’s open-mindedness is now bringing it to our Central American friends as well:

“The United States and Europe stepped up pressure on Honduras’ de facto government on Tuesday as deposed President Manuel Zelaya and his supporters called on Washington to pave the way for his return. [...]

The U.S. government threw its weight behind Arias’ proposal that Zelaya, who was toppled in a June 28 coup, be reinstated to set up a coalition government.”

Yeah, that’ll teach them a lesson.

(The lesson in question being: “Kids, don’t feel sad if you can’t get into power through legitimate means. Just threaten to destabilize your country, and the international community will give you some for free!”)

I Feel So UnGagged

Today President Obama will sign an executive order lifting the global gag rule.

For those readers who are just tuning in, or who have never tried to get funding from the U.S. government for family planning-related aid projects overseas, a little background may be in order. The global gag rule, (also known as the “Mexico City Policy,” after the location of the conference where the first President Bush initially announced the rule), prohibits U.S. funds from going to any organization that promotes or performs abortions overseas. The ban applies even in cases where the U.S. funds are designated for completely separate activities. So if, for instance, you run a free clinic in a rural area, and the French government has funded a program through which you offer advice to women about how to obtain safe, surgical abortions, then you cannot obtain U.S. funding for any of your programming.

President Clinton rescinded the rule when he took office, and then Second Bush reinstated it. During the campaign, Obama promised to lift the gag rule when he became president. I guess he meant it -the Friday morning after the Tuesday inauguration ain’t a bad turnaround.

(Of course, he could have done it yesterday, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. He probably just forgot, right? What with all the hullaballoo about closing Guantanamo, and everything.)


Sure, She May Be Inexperienced, But She’s Also Unqualified!

So, when John McCain first picked Sarah Palin, I got it.

She reminded me of the mothers of the girls I grew up with in Illinois, with their smooth hair and neat bangs, their big white teeth, the jokey toughness. Those women always seemed impressive to me, and I could tell that they seemed that way to everyone else, too. They were the heads of PTAs, the ones who spearheaded ballot initiatives to improve school funding, who formed committees to Keep Our Creek Clean, or Save The Old Downtown, or Build Our New Community Center. Their houses were always a little bit cleaner, their children’s extracurriculars a little more exotic (not soccer, but figure skating; not camp, but Outward Bound). In short, they were effective.

Don’t get me wrong: Palin’s policies are so anathema to me that I could never vote for her. (She lost me at “Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … he’s worried that someone won’t read them their rights?”) But over the last few weeks, I have found myself defending the idea of Sarah Palin. I insisted that someone who was “just” a mayor, and “just” a one-year governor could be qualified to run for Vice President. I thought of all of those women that I grew up with, and how incompetence was never one of their faults, and I thought that Palin’s candidacy was plausible. There is a difference, I reminded people, between “inexperienced” and “unqualified.”

And then I saw Palin’s interview with ABC, and holy crap is she ever BOTH.

Here is the thing about running for vice president: you are supposed to give a damn.

You you don’t need a PhD, you don’t have to be a two-term senator, you don’t even need to know trivia terms like “Bush Doctrine.” But you do need to be interested enough in the major issues to read the occasional newspaper article. If the country goes to war, and you publicly support that war, then you need to know why we are fighting it. That is to say, you may not need to know what the Bush Doctrine is called, but you do need to know what the Bush Doctrine is. You need to know that we did not get into this war because Saddam was behind the Sept. 11th attacks, or because of an “imminent” threat against the U.S.

And that information wasn’t a secret! If Palin had read a handful of news stories during the run-up to the Iraq war, they would have given her enough information to sail through Gibson’s interview. But instead she had to resort to blather and obfuscation.

And not just about the war. Global warming may not be man-made, but “we gotta do something about it” anyway? Do what, exactly, if you don’t believe that greenhouse gases contribute to the problem? Are we supposed to dress the planet in a gigantic sunbonnet? Install an airconditioner on the moon?

There is no upside here. If Palin isn’t interested enough to educate herself on the issues, then she will be at the mercy of the people who advise her. And they’re not elected. We have no idea who they are. We have no idea what they will tell her, and we can be that they will not take responsibility for it when things go awry

In short: I don’t care if Sarah believes in dinosaurs. (Though she should, because dinosaurs are awesome). But I do care if she believes whatever else her handlers tell her, without any basis for deciding if it is reasonable or not.

Sarah Palin: not just inexperienced. Unqualified.

"If there is any hope for reform it is by casting the Republicans out of power and into the wilderness where they may relearn virtue."

Alex Tabarrok on why libertarians should vote for Barack Obama.

The comments are good, too. (My current favorite, despite the typos: “I guess it depends on which type of libertarian you are. Are you an “All Republicans are facists!” Libertrian? Or are you an “All Democrats are Socialists!” Libertarian? All Libertarians believe a little of both, but are more scared by one.”)

I am not (quite) either one, but surely a review of the last 16 years or so could put anyone in the first category?*

*Disclaimer: Blah blah “all,” blah blah “not very nuanced,” blah blah “humor blog, people!”