October 30, 2006

Wiesel, Havel Join the Fight To Free Korea (EDWARD HARRIS, October 30, 2006, Associated Press)

Elie Wiesel, who survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz and later won a Nobel peace prize, commissioned a 123-page report detailing North Korean atrocities. He did so with the dissident playwright and Czech president between 1989 and 2003, Václav Havel, and a former prime minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik.

In the report, the three said the dispute over the country’s nuclear program should not eclipse deadly political repression there; rather, the council should open another path to influence North Korea by taking on Kim Jong Il’s regime over its treatment of the country’s 23 million people. […]

“Nowhere else in the world today is there such an abuse of rights, as institutionalized as it is in North Korea,” Mr. Bondevik told the Associated Press. “The leaders are committing crimes against humanity.”

The report argues that Security Council action is warranted under a resolution unanimously approved in April by the 15-nation council that endorsed a 2005 agreement aimed at preventing tragedies like the 1994 Rwanda genocide.



October 30, 2006

Historic Vote in Congo Is Peaceful: Turnout Appears Massive as Presidential Hopefuls Vie in Runoff (Stephanie McCrummen, 10/30/06, Washington Post)

Voting was largely peaceful, despite analysts’ predictions that it would not be, as the largest U.N. peacekeeping force in the world patrolled dirt roads and swarms of international and local observers looked on. […]

The two presidential contenders are men accustomed to leading by force.

President Joseph Kabila’s father, Laurent Kabila, toppled the longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in a 1997 coup; Jean-Pierre Bemba is a businessman-turned-rebel leader-turned-vice president in Kabila’s transitional government. Fighting among their supporters killed at least 14 in the wake of the July balloting, and small skirmishes have erupted here and there across the country in recent days.

But on Friday, under pressure from the United Nations and border countries such as Rwanda and Uganda that have at various points backed both men, Kabila and Bemba pledged to accept the election results.

Meanwhile, holed up in a mansion in the rolling green mountains near Goma, Laurent Nkunda, a rebel leader charged with war crimes, also appears to be vying for legitimacy. He had ordered his soldiers not to interfere in the voting and, in recent months, had created his own political party, the National Congress for the People’s Defense. With his power waning, observers say it remains unclear whether he will be arrested or given a position in government.


October 29, 2006

Top Democrat casts doubt on regulatory co-operation (Jeremy Grant and Holly Yeager, October 29 2006, Financial Times)

Financial regulators on both sides of the Atlantic may not be able to resolve policy disputes through co-operation and the creation of a global regulator should be considered, according to Barney Frank, the senior Democratic congressman.

The views of the man widely expected take over the chair of the House financial services committee if the Democrats retake the chamber stand in stark contrast to those of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the financial regulator that the committee oversees.

In many ways, George Bush’s most enjoyable two years as president could be his last two, if these guys are running Congress and he gets to just stomp them.


October 24, 2006

Will the Union see its 300th birthday? (Alan Cochrane, 25/10/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Is the United Kingdom heading for fragmentation with the secession of Scotland from the Union, even as it prepares to celebrate its 300th anniversary next year? And if it is, should those who make up the vast bulk of its population – the English – give a damn?

The questions arise following a series of astonishing events, beginning 10 days ago when nearly 1,200 delegates packed the new Concert Hall in Perth – the biggest gathering at a political conference that Scotland has seen in recent memory – to hear Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, deliver his keynote address to his annual conference. His strident call for the break-up of the United Kingdom was cheered to the echo by his adoring audience.

Nothing new there, but what was surprising was what happened next. Two days later, Sir Tom Farmer, the founder of the Kwik Fit chain of exhaust and tyre depots, told the world that Scottish independence was “inevitable”.

His words followed hard on the heels of the announcement by this self-same self-made man that he was donating £100,000 to the SNP’s coffers to help it fight next year’s elections to the Edinburgh parliament. He is not alone. Thanks to big donations from emigré Scots, the most famous of all being Sir Sean Connery, the nationalists reckon that they will have at least as much to spend next May as Labour.

On the same day as Sir Tom’s prediction came another extraordinary intervention, not from a captain of industry, but a prince of the church – Cardinal Keith O’Brien, spiritual leader of Scotland’s 800,000 Roman Catholics. The Ulster-born cardinal said that he would have no problem with an independent Scotland, if that was the will of its people and, significantly at least in the eyes of this observer, he pointed out that other small nations – such as Ireland – had done exceptionally well since gaining their independence.

Although they insist that it is not entering the political arena, the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Scotland enjoys a decidedly rocky relationship with Scottish Labour, lambasting the devolved administration for what it sees as the Scottish Executive’s “anti-family” policies, such as those on same-sex “marriages”, gay adoption and contraceptive advice to under-age schoolgirls. Neither Sir Tom nor Cardinal O’Brien has endorsed the SNP, but their espousal of independence has confirmed the growing trend towards separatism.

The interesting thing is not the truism that separation is inevitable, but that this is the exact opposite of the sort of European Union that intellectual elites thought was inevitable.

October 24, 2006

Brothers Judd review of Jed Rubenfeld’s


October 23, 2006

Former Syrian VP: ‘Assad regime is on brink of collapse’ (Associated Press, THE JERUSALEM POST, 10/22/06)

Abdul-Halim Khaddam, who is wanted in Syria on treason charges, said in an address to the Syrian people that Assad’s “oppressive” regime will soon be replaced with a democratic civil government, but he did not elaborate.

His address was on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic feast marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and was broadcast on Lebanon’s Future TV, an anti-Syrian station owned by the family of slain former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“Ask yourselves, my brothers, after six years of his taking over the administration of the country, what has Bashar Assad done except spread corruption, increase suffering and (take) wrong decisions that have led to weakening national unity and subjecting Syria to Arab and international isolation,” Khaddam said.

“I assure you that the corrupt and tyrannical regime is on the brink of collapse and in the near future, the ruler will see the opportunists and hypocrites that rallied around him fleeing. He and his corrupt family and entourage will find themselves in the hands of justice,” he added.

Khaddam’s address was aired several days after Arab newspapers reported that the former vice president met with Saudi officials, including King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan.

An Arab diplomat said the meetings took place in Saudi Arabia last week and were significant because they send a message to Syria that the kingdom is upset at Syria’s policies and may be exploring other options to deal with the Damascus regime.


October 22, 2006

Master of the Island: Which country is the best colonizer? (Joel Waldfogel, Oct. 19, 2006, Slate)

One of the deep questions in economics is why some countries are rich and others are poor. It is widely believed that institutions such as clear and enforceable property rights are important to economic growth. Still, debates rage: Do culture, history, government, education, temperature, natural resources, cosmic rays make the difference? The reason it’s hard to resolve this question is that we have no controlled experiments comparing otherwise similar places with different sets of legal and economic institutions. In new research, James Feyrer and Bruce Sacerdote, both of Dartmouth College, consider the effect of a particular aspect of history—the length of European colonization—on the current standard of living of a group of 80 tiny, isolated islands that have not previously been used in cross-country comparisons. Their question: Are the islands that experienced European colonization for a longer period of time richer today? […]

Feyrer and Sacedote’s key findings are that the longer one of the islands spent as a colony, the higher its present-day living standards and the lower its infant mortality rate. Each additional century of European colonization is associated with a 40 percent boost in income today and a reduction in infant mortality of 2.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

By itself, the relationship between longer colonization and higher living standards could arise either because European contact raised living standards or because European explorers colonized the most promising islands first. The authors cleverly reject the latter possibility by noting that the sailing of the day relied on wind, which meant that islands located where wind is weak were “less likely to be discovered, revisited, and colonized by Europeans.” Thus, wind conditions, rather than island promise, determined which islands were colonized first, and so which islands remained as colonies longer. The relationship between colonial duration and wealth reflects the effect of colonization on material living standards, rather than the other way around.

So, what did the Europeans do right? The authors conclude that there’s no simple answer. The most plausible mechanisms include trade, education, and democratic government. When the study directly measures these factors, some of them help to explain income differences among islands—for example, the places that traded only basic agricultural products in colonial times now have lower living standards. But even after accounting for these concrete determinants, longer European colonization has some extra pro-growth effect. Exposure to European colonizers, it appears, benefits living standards for reasons apart from the direct effects of government, education, and markets. […]

The authors also compare the experiences of separate Pacific islands with eight different colonizers: the United States, Britain, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Japan, Germany, and France. Their verdict is that the islands that are best off, in terms of income growth, are the ones that were colonized by the United States—as in Guam and Puerto Rico. Next best is time spent as a Dutch, British, or French colony. At the bottom are the countries colonized by the Spanish and especially the Portuguese.

Cool work by Friends Feyrer and Sacerdote, not least because so politically incorrect…

Two questions arise:

Doesn’t some of the work of Alberto Alesina, and I think Mr. Sacerdote with him, suggest that islands often have significant advantages in economic development anyway — all that Size of Nations stuff — so how badly do you have to screw yourselves over to be a backwards island nation?

And isn’t the divider between the more and less successful colonies generally which were colonized by Protestant nations and which by Catholic?


October 19, 2006

Crowding Out The U.N. (JOSEPH STERNBERG, October 19, 2006, NY Sun)

Private equity firms are moving into the developing world and that’s a good thing, despite what the United Nations says. A report just released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development finds that “collective investment funds” — meaning private equity firms and their sisters, hedge funds — are fast-growing players in the world of development economics. […]

Only a Turtle Bay bureaucracy could be puzzled about the “strategic motivations” of private equity and hedge fund investors. The investors themselves are certainly unabashed about their motives. It’s profits, pure and simple. “One of the greatest roles [of such funds in developing countries] is following the profits,” one hedge fund manager who invests in developing countries, Marshall Stocker, says.

That’s precisely why the new breed of development investor is such a breath of fresh air. For 60 years and more, development economists have lurched from one fad to another in their attempt to allocate billions upon billions of dollars of development aid. The result has been little noticeable development. Mr. Easterly’s first book, “The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics,” is at heart a catalog of decades of such failures — a steady supply of African “bridges to nowhere.”

In contrast, the private sector can “efficiently allocate resources whereas governments don’t,” Mr. Stocker says. Private equity firms and hedge funds have the expertise, not to mention the incentives, to identify genuine opportunities for productive investment. Doing so is what has transformed private equity into a multibillion-dollar industry in the first place. Nor do they make their profits in isolation — they do so largely by increasing the productivity of the firms in which they invest, which has the knock-on effect of improving life for the workers, for example.

Private equity investors and hedge funds also have the potential to do what the World Bank and other institutions have failed to do for six decades: force politicians in the developing world to implement sound economic policies, again by chasing profits. Mr. Stocker’s fund is idealistically named World Freedom Select, but not even he makes any bones about his management philosophy.

“When countries liberalize economies, you see above-average investment returns,” he says. Thus, the private capital market tends to favor freer countries. And, thanks to the “short-termism” about which the U.N. report matters, capital flows offer “almost instantaneous feedback” to policy makers, Mr. Stocker adds.

That might be one reason the United Nations sounds a little nervous about this trend.

Just another reason Islamicism is no threat.


October 18, 2006

Muslim scholars write the pope – and everyone else (Dan Murphy, 10/19/06, The Christian Science Monitor)

“What you see in the media are people like [Osama] bin Laden, or Zarqawi, the sorts of people who don’t represent Islam or the religion at large,” says Nakhooda, the Jordan-based editor in chief of Islamica Magazine, which has been helping to publicize the “unprecedented” open letter by Muslim scholars.

“These individuals are a law unto themselves and, sadly, they get the most publicity…. The intent [of the letter] is to start a dialogue rolling so the public would see there’s a positive initiative, an alternative to anger.”

…the most important dialogue must take place as such scholars explain to the Islamic world that its theology conforms to our standards.


October 18, 2006

Behold Indonesia’s democratic beacon (Shawn W Crispin, 10/19/06, Asia Times)

Eight years after launching a highly ambitious political reform program, Indonesia has surprised many analysts and academics by how quickly and smoothly the world’s fourth-largest country has consolidated meaningful democratic gains. Indonesia has since 1998 overhauled every fundamental aspect of its former authoritarian state, including an amended constitution, a more powerful parliament and a reformed election system.

The country’s first-ever direct presidential elections in 2004, in which former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was elected on a strong reform ticket, represented a democratic high-water mark. What’s gone less noticed over that same period have been 250 or so different local-level elections, which are now contested down to the grassroots regent level.

Breaking with former strongman Suharto’s top-down New Order regime, Indonesia’s peripheral populations are now less captive to the interests and abuses of local political heavies, who under Suharto often inserted themselves as gatekeepers to financial and natural resources through central government authority. While many attempted to co-opt new democratic institutions to perpetuate their power, nearly 40% of local level incumbents have in recent years been booted from office at the ballot box.

In certain conflict-plagued regions, local democracy is even having a healing effect. According to a recent report in the Jakarta-based Van Zorge Report, head and vice head candidates, often representing respectively localities’ Muslim majority and Christian minority populations, have frequently teamed up to beat competing candidates who ran on a one-religion ticket. That is, local-level democracy is rewarding politicians who form religiously inclusive, not exclusive, coalitions. […]

[I]ndonesia’s extraordinary democratic progress has put the lie to academic debates about whether Islam and democracy can peacefully co-exist. Predictions that dismantling Suharto’s highly secular state institutions would lead to a coincident rise in Islamic fundamentalism have notably not panned out. Political parties that have campaigned on strict Islamic platforms fared poorly against more secular candidates at the 2004 parliamentary polls.

Fundamentalists elected on anti-corruption tickets that have since attempted to push Islamic-tinged legislation in parliament, including a controversial anti-pornography bill, have seen their popularity fall dramatically in public opinion polls.

It’s actually not in their best long term interest to keep a country of that size and diversity in one piece, but it is to devolve it slowly.