Quotulatiousness

August 20, 2015

QotD: Defining “social justice”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Still, though, what is social justice? That’s harder to figure out. Indeed, one of the fascinating aspects of “social justice” is that it sounds so pleasing and innocuous, a term any politician can use in a speech or signing statement. But each time someone tries to define it, the idea becomes more radical. The Green party is one of the few organizations that get into specifics, and its platform goes on for pages and pages delineating what “social justice” means — everything from “a commitment to ending poverty” through “welfare” to “open dialogue among all residents of Hawai’i on the sovereignty option of full independence.”

Meanwhile, a major report from the United Nations insists that “social justice is not possible without strong and coherent redistributive policies conceived and implemented by public agencies.” Typical U.N. statism? Perhaps, but it’s downright Jeffersonian compared with the more concentrated and pernicious asininity to follow. The U.N. warns: “Present-day believers in an absolute truth identified with virtue and justice are neither willing nor desirable companions for the defenders of social justice.” Translation: If you actually believe in the antiquated notion that rights exist outside the schemes of governments and social planners, then you are not part of the global effort to promote goodness.

I don’t have space here to detail the intellectual history of the term, but the sad irony of its birth is worth noting. In 1840, the theologian Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio came up with the concept as a way to defend civil society from the ever-increasing intrusions of the state. Social justice, according to Taparelli, was the legitimate realm of justice beyond formal legal justice. Since then, the term has become completely inverted: “Social justice” has become an abracadabra phrase granting the state access to every nook and cranny of life.

The reason Hayek refers to the “mirage of social justice” is quite simple: There’s no such thing. “Only situations that have been created by human will can be called just or unjust. . . . Social justice,” Hayek concludes, “does not belong to the category of effort but that of nonsense, like the term ‘a moral stone.'” The assertion that high unemployment is “unjust” is dangerously misleading nonsense. Justice creates a claim on others. So who is being unjust? The employers who cannot afford more workers? The consumers who refuse to create enough demand to justify more workers? The government, for not raising taxes to pay for labor that isn’t needed? Social justice is based on rights — social rights, economic rights, etc. — that cannot be enforced in a free society. It’s like saying “Let the market decide” in North Korea.

The only way for social justice to make sense is if you operate from the assumption that the invisible hand of the market should be amputated and replaced with the very visible hand of the state. In other words, each explicit demand for social justice carries with it the implicit but necessary requirement that the state do the fixing. And a society dedicated to the pursuit of perfect social justice must gradually move more and more decisions under the command of the state, until it is the sole moral agent.

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

April 15, 2015

QotD: The secret weapon of the bureaucracy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… boredom is the deadly secret weapon of the bien-pensant technocrats of the EU and the UN. “They wear outsiders down with the tedium of their arguments and the smallness of their fine print, so that by the time anyone else notices what they’re up to the damage has been done and it’s too late to do anything about it.”

James Delingpole, “Green Global Governance: How Environmentalists Have Taken Over the World”, Breitbart.com, 2014-06-25.

February 16, 2015

QotD: The impotence of the League of Nations

Filed under: Britain, History, Japan, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Within a couple of months of the Invergordon mutiny, Japan intervened in Manchuria, deaf to all the entreaties of the League of Nations. While, today, we are used to the fact that a ringing denunciation from the United Nations is probably the single most ineffective tool in international relations, the revelation of its predecessor’s impotence came as a disagreeable surprise. So many statesmen had placed their faith in collective security that the naked aggression of the Japanese left them floundering for a response. In 1931 the British people had more pressing concerns than remote Asian wars, but the lesson was not lost on Germany’s rising political star Hitler, nor the posturing Mussolini in Italy whose Fascist Party dreamed of a new Roman Empire.

Max Arthur, The True Glory: The Royal Navy 1914-1939, 1996.

February 10, 2015

The cautionary tale of the Kosovo intervention

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Brendan Dougherty looks back at the UN’s intervention in Kosovo and the situation in Kosovo after more than a decade and a half:

It’s been almost 16 years since a NATO coalition banded together to defeat Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in Kosovo. Ever since, it has been exhibit A in the case for “humanitarian intervention.” A swift short war, a thug removed from power, a series of oppressions redressed. After the hostilities ceased, Kosovo’s government was overseen by the United Nations, and declared full independence from Serbia in 2008.

In the meantime, the U.N. bungled possibly the easiest show-trial in world history, letting Milošević score a lot of points from the stand as the trial dragged on longer than it took F.D.R. to declare war on Germany, mobilize a few million men, and beat Hitler. Milošević died of a heart attack in prison before his trial finished. NATO troops are in Kosovo, a decade and a half after the “short” 78-day campaign.

What’s the political scene like in liberated Kosovo? Well, here’s a story. Last week Aleksandar Jablanovic, an ethnic Serb who served in the cabinet as minister of communities, was sacked by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, in order to appease ethnic Albanians who were planning riotous protests against him. Kosovars threw rocks at government buildings. About 170 people were injured in the clash between protesters and police.

What did Jablanovic do to cause the unrest? He had described a group of Albanians as “savages” in January. Why? Because they had blocked (with the threat of violence) the route of Serbian Christians making a traditional pilgrimage to a monastery in Western Kosovo.

Sounds unpleasant, right? It gets worse. Unemployment in Kosovo is around 45 percent. (That’s not a typo.) The electricity is very unreliable, and Kosovars often don’t pay their electricity bills to the state. The government is considering canceling all debts that citizens owe to the government, to rebuild trust (and popularity) and start putting services on a firmer footing. About a third of Kosovars live on less than $2 a day.

[…]

But there’s also no doubt that Kosovo should serve as a permanent warning against the idea that humanitarian interventions are easy. The bombing was a perfect example of the moral hazard involved in “Responsibility to Protect” interventions. The roar of NATO jets so raised the stakes for Serbian forces and for Milošević, that Serbians killed five times as many people after the intervention became a fait accompli than they had before that time, under the theory that rubble makes less trouble.

July 25, 2014

The eternal refugee problem

Filed under: History, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:19

Mark Steyn quotes himself extensively about the Palestinian refugees:

I’m often asked why I don’t write more about the Palestinian situation, and the reason I don’t is because the central fact of the dispute — the Palestinians’ Jew hatred — never changes. So I said what I had to say about it many years ago, and there’s very little to add. For example, in The National Post on April 18th 2002 I quoted an old Colonial Office hand:

    “All British officials tend to become pro-Arab, or, perhaps, more accurately anti-Jew,” wrote Sir John Hope-Simpson in the 1920s wrapping up a stint in the British Mandate of Palestine. “Personally, I can quite well understand this trait. The helplessness of the fellah appeals to the British official. The offensive assertion of the Jewish immigrant is, on the other hand, repellent.” Progressive humanitarianism, as much as old-school colonialism, prefers its clientele “helpless,” and, despite Iranian weaponry and Iraqi money and the human sacrifice of its schoolchildren, the Palestinians have been masters at selling their “helplessness” to the West.

In Europe, colonialism may be over, but colonialist condescension endures as progressive activism, and the Palestinians are the perfect cause. Everywhere else, from Nigeria to Nauru, at some point the natives say to the paternalist Europeans, “Thanks very much, but we’ll take it from here.” But the Palestinians? Can you think of any other “people” who’d be content to live as UN “refugees” for four generations? They’re the only “people” with their own dedicated UN agency, and its regime has lasted almost three times as long as Britain’s Palestine mandate did. To quote again from that 2002 Post column:

    This is only the most extreme example of how the less sense the Arabs make the more the debate is framed in their terms. For all the tedious bleating of the Euroninnies, what Israel is doing is perfectly legal. Even if you sincerely believe that “Chairman” Arafat is entirely blameless when it comes to the suicide bombers, when a neighbouring jurisdiction is the base for hostile incursions, a sovereign state has the right of hot pursuit. Britain has certainly availed herself of this internationally recognized principle: In the 19th century, when the Fenians launched raids on Canada from upstate New York, the British thought nothing of infringing American sovereignty to hit back — and Washington accepted they were entitled to do so. But the rights every other sovereign state takes for granted are denied to Israel. “The Jews are a peculiar people: things permitted to other nations are forbidden to the Jews,” wrote America’s great longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer after the 1967 war. “Other nations drive out thousands, even millions of people and there is no refugee problem … But everyone insists that Israel must take back every single Arab … Other nations when victorious on the battlefield dictate peace terms. But when Israel is victorious it must sue for peace. Everyone expects the Jews to be the only real Christians in this world.”

    Thus, the massive population displacements in Europe at the end of the Second World War are forever, but those in Palestine a mere three years later must be corrected and reversed. On the Continent, losing wars comes with a territorial price: The Germans aren’t going to be back in Danzig any time soon. But, in the Middle East, no matter how often the Arabs attack Israel and lose, their claims to their lost territory manage to be both inviolable but endlessly transferable.

And so land won in battle from Jordan and Egypt somehow has to be ceded to Fatah and Hamas.

As I said, this is all the stuff that never changes, and the likelihood that it will change lessens with every passing half-decade. I wrote the above column at the time Jenin and the other Palestinian “refugee camps” were celebrating their Golden Jubilee. That’s to say, the “UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees” is older than most African, Caribbean or Pacific states. What sort of human capital do you wind up with after four generations have been born as “refugees”? If you’ve ever met a charming, urbane Palestinian doctor or lawyer in London or Paris, you’ll know that anyone who isn’t a total idiot — ie, the kind of people you need to build a nation — got out long ago. The nominal control of the land has passed from Jordan and Egypt to Israel to Arafat to Abbas to Hamas, but the UNRWA is forever, runnning its Mister Magoo ground operation and, during the periodic flare-ups, issuing its usual befuddled statements professing complete shock at discovering that Hamas is operating rocket launchers from the local kindergarten.

July 18, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is difficult to solve, but not complex

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:

    This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

[…]

I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:

    A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.

[…]

Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

May 5, 2014

Fukushima, radiation, and FUD

Filed under: Environment, Japan, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:54

James Conca on a recent UN report that isn’t getting attention:

It’s always amazing when a United Nations report that has global ramifications comes out with little fanfare. The latest one states that no one will get cancer or die from radiation released from Fukushima, but the fear and overreaction is harming people (UNIS; UNSCEAR Fukushima; UNSCEAR A-68-46 [PDF]). This is what we’ve been saying for almost three years but it’s nice to see it officially acknowledged.

According to the report, drafted last year but only recently finalized by the U.N., “The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants. The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation. Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”

In addition, the report states, “Increased rates of detection of [thyroid] nodules, cysts and cancers have been observed during the first round of screening; however, these are to be expected in view of the high detection efficiency [using modern high-efficiency ultrasonography]. Data from similar screening protocols in areas not affected by the accident imply that the apparent increased rates of detection among children in Fukushima Prefecture are unrelated to radiation exposure.”

So the Japanese people can start eating their own food again, and moving back into areas contaminated with radiation levels similar to many areas of the world like Colorado and Brazil, which includes most of the exclusion zone. Only a few places shouldn’t be repopulated.

But if you want to continue feeling afraid, and want to make sure others keep being afraid, by all means ignore this report on Fukushima. But then you really can’t keep quoting previous UNSCEAR policy and application of LNT (the Linear No-Threshold dose hypothesis) to support more fear.

Note – LNT is a leftover Cold War ideology that states all radiation is bad, even the background radiation we are bathed in every day, even the 3,200 pCi of radiation in a bag of potato chips (yes, potato chips have the most radioactivity of any food, but they taste sooo good!).

Of course, if you’ve been actually following the events from three years back, this report will contain few surprises.

April 30, 2014

Norway’s human rights record criticized by … Saudi Arabia

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:09

The Saudi government and the Russian government both called for Norway to correct its appalling record in (certain) human rights areas:

Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed.

The gulf state called for all criticism of religion and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country.

The Scandinavian nation came under scrutiny during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review, in which 14 States are scheduled to have their human rights records examined.

Russia meanwhile called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status.

An amusing co-incidence: while I was adding tags to this post, I typed “sau” to get the auto-fill “SaudiArabia” tag. The other tag that fit that pattern? “Dinosaurs”. H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

March 28, 2014

Putting the WHO global pollution death figures into perspective

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Health — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:56

James Delingpole agrees that the most recent WHO report on deaths due to pollution is shocking, but points out where the press release does a sleight-of-hand move:

Even if you take the WHO’s estimates with a huge pinch of salt — and you probably should — that doesn’t mean the pollution problem in some parts of the world isn’t deadly serious. During the 20th century, around 260 million are reckoned to have died from indoor pollution in the developing world: that’s roughly twice as many as were killed in all the century’s wars.

Here, though, is the point where the WHO loses all credibility on the issue.

    “Excessive air pollution is often a by-product of unsustainable policies in sectors such as transport, energy, waste management and industry. In most cases, healthier strategies will also be more economical in the long term due to health-care cost savings as well as climate gains,” Carlos Dora, WHO Coordinator for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health said.

    “WHO and health sectors have a unique role in translating scientific evidence on air pollution into policies that can deliver impact and improvements that will save lives,” Dr. Dora added.

See what Dora just did there? He used the shock value of the WHO’s pollution death figures to slip three Big Lies under the impressionable reader’s radar.

First, he’s trying to make out that outdoor pollution is as big a problem as indoor pollution. It isn’t: nowhere near. Many of the deaths the WHO links to the former are very likely the result of the latter (cooking and heating in poorly ventilated rooms using dung, wood, and coal) which, by nature, is much more intense.

Secondly, he’s implying that economic development is to blame. In fact, it’s economic development we have to thank for the fact that there are so many fewer pollution deaths than there used to be. As Bjorn Lomborg has noted, over the 20th century as poverty receded and clean fuels got cheaper, the risk of dying of pollution decreased eight-fold. In 1900, air pollution cost 23 per cent of global GDP; today it is 6 per cent, and by 2050 it will be 4 per cent.

But the third and by far the biggest of the lies is the implication that the UN’s policies on climate change are helping to alleviate the problem.

October 21, 2013

The nudge notion rebranded as a “human-centred” approach

Filed under: Government, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:26

In sp!ked, James Heartfield discusses a new book by David Chandler:

In his new book, Freedom vs Necessity in International Relations, David Chandler, professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, offers a masterful summation of the latest trends in policy internationally and domestically. The book lays bare the claims of governments to put people and their decision-making at the centre of policy. What Chandler shows to great effect is that the latest claims of policymakers and theorists to a human-centred approach result in something like its opposite. In a wide range of cases — from the United Nations’ Human Development Report to the Cabinet Office’s prioritisation of the ‘choice environment’ — Chandler explains how ‘human-centred’ policy is, in fact, very far from human-centred. The real aim is for people to align their behaviour and choices to the outcomes chosen by those in power, rather than deciding such outcomes for themselves. ‘Human-centred’ policy turns out to have as much to do with people deciding for themselves as the Ministry of Peace had to do with Peace, or the Ministry of Plenty to do with Plenty in Orwell’s novel.

Chandler draws attention to the irony of a worldview that imagines a much greater role for human action ending up making the case for greater restraints on freedom. As he explains, one of the marked prejudices of our times is that people have a far greater impact on the external world — for example, with the question of pollution — where mankind’s industrial output is held to threaten the very existence of life on the planet. Similarly, he observes, we have an exaggerated view of the way that our own health is shaped by the choices that we make. Political loyalties, too, are now widely seen as a great destructive force, limiting more positive outcomes.

[…]

But as Chandler explains, Sen’s own approach, enshrined in the UN Development Report, is less respectful of people’s own choices than you might expect. According to Sen ‘the outcome one wants is a reasoned assessment’ but ‘the underlying question’ is ‘whether the person has had an adequate opportunity to reason about what she really wants’. Building capacity turns out to mean building capacity to make the right choices — in other words, the choices that development economists think are the right choices. ‘Reducing risk-taking among youth requires that they have the information and the capacity to make and act on decisions’, explains the World Bank’s Development Report.

You’ll be free to make choices, as long as you’re careful to only make the approved choices. A very restrictive kind of “freedom” indeed.

Update: Also in sp!ked, Sean Collins talks about the introduction of so-called “libertarian paternalism” aka the nudge:

When Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness was published in 2008, it seemed like it might be a fad bestseller, like Freakonomics or one of those Malcolm Gladwell books.

Nudge authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, both American academics, proposed that government and employers should more consciously direct people to make ‘better’ choices in health, personal finance and other areas, in order to improve their lives. They gave the example of a cafeteria that lays out food in a way that encourages people to select carrot sticks over French fries or dessert. The authors label their approach ‘libertarian paternalism’: ‘paternalism’ because they want to steer people in a certain direction, and ‘libertarian’ because they would still offer people an array of choices (if you really want the chocolate mousse, you can reach under the counter at the back).

Although a new idea at the time, nudge was hardly a Big Idea. And yet governments around the world picked it up and ran with it, giving the concept more substance and longevity than might have been expected. As Sunstein has noted, the findings from his and others’ behavioural research have informed US regulations concerning ‘retirement savings, fuel economy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, healthcare, and obesity’. Sunstein himself implemented many of these measures in his role of Regulatory Czar in the Obama administration (described in his recently published book, Simpler: The Future of Government). In the UK, prime minister David Cameron set up a Behavioural Insights Team, also known as the ‘nudge unit’, in 2010. This has led to a variety of new policies and schemes directed at anything from obesity and teenage pregnancy to organ donations and the environment.

August 25, 2013

Another (pointless) round of Mideast peace talks

Filed under: Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:53

Strategy Page on the upcoming “negotiations” over the Israeli-Palestinian situation:

Why are the Palestinians participating in yet another round of American- sponsored peace talks with Israel? It’s mostly about money. This round was forced on the Israelis and Palestinians by the U.S., which threatened to withhold aid (1.3 billion a year to Israel about half as much to the Palestinians) if the two did not at least go through the motions. Many knowledgeable observers see another round of talks as pointless. Arabs and Palestinians have not changed their “kill all Jews” attitudes towards Israel and the Israelis have still not agreed to just disappear. Because of the continued Arab intransigence over Israel, opinion polls show that most Israelis are opposed to any peace deal with the Palestinians that involves withdrawing Jews from the West Bank or Jerusalem and believe the peace talks will fail.

The Americans want the talks for domestic political reasons. The Israelis don’t mind having another opportunity to force the Palestinians to admit all their hypocrisy and anti-Semitism. The Palestinians don’t care about that because they are in big trouble. The current Fatah leadership (Hamas, which runs Gaza, is not participating) is in a desperate situation. Fatah is committed to pushing for “statehood” in the UN, but has been told by the U.S. that such a move will mean withdrawal of $600 million a year in American aid. Israel said it will withhold $100 million a year in customs taxes it collects for Fatah. Backing away from the UN statehood effort would be very embarrassing. The “peace talks” provide a credible excuse to back off.

Given the heat Fatah has been taking from Palestinians over more than a decade of increasing corruption and poverty, losing $700 million a year in aid would put Fatah out of power and probably out of business. So Fatah will go through the motions to calm down the Americans and Israelis while a new strategy is developed and sold to Palestinians. The current one got going in 2000, when Fatah turned down the best peace deal it was probably ever going to get (and would probably accept today) because the Palestinian radicals threatened civil war if Fatah took the Israeli offer. In retrospect that was a hollow threat, but at the time it seemed a good idea to turn down the peace offer and start a terrorist campaign against Israel. That failed, and was largely defeated by 2005. But it all made the Palestinian radicals stronger and too many Palestinians unemployed, broke and angry. It also allowed Islamic radical group Hamas to take control of Gaza, where 40 percent of Palestinians lived. To make matters worse the great Palestinian patron Saddam Hussein lost power, and his life, cutting off another source of cash. Palestinian children are still taught to honor and praise Saddam, which has become something of a media liability. Other Arab allies have become less supportive and more insistent that the Palestinians make peace with Israel and stop being professional victims and career beggars.

August 5, 2013

Blundering into a “fragile country” can make things much worse

Filed under: Government, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Ted Galen Carpenter on a big blind spot in US policy:

U.S. officials too often succumb to the temptation to try to impose order and justice in unstable or misgoverned societies around the world. The temptation is understandable. It is hard to learn about — much less watch on the nightly news — brutality, bloodshed, and gross injustice and not want to do something about it. Some foreign policy intellectuals, including the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, have become strident lobbyists for the notion of a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations.

But it is a temptation that wise policy makers should avoid. U.S. meddling has frequently caused already bad situations to deteriorate further — especially when Washington has based its humanitarian interventions on the false premise that the subject of our attentions is, or at least ought to be, a coherent nation state. As I point out in an article over at The National Interest, U.S. administrations have made that blunder in Bosnia, Iraq, Libya, and other places.

In many parts of the world, the Western concept of a nation state is quite weak, and the concepts of democracy and individual rights are even less developed. The primary loyalty of an inhabitant is likely to be to a clan, tribe, ethnic group or religion. U.S. officials appear to have difficulty grasping that point, and as a result, the United States barges into fragile societies, disrupting what modest order may exist. Washington’s military interventions flail about, shattering delicate political and social connections and disrupting domestic balances of power.

March 27, 2013

North Korea breaks off remaining communication channels

Filed under: Asia, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:23

The North Korean government continues to escalate the tension level:

Reclusive North Korea is to cut the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at “any moment”, it said on Wednesday, days after warning the United States and South Korea of nuclear attack.

The move is the latest in a series of bellicose threats from North Korea in response to new U.N. sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test in February and to “hostile” military drills under way joining the United States and South Korea.

The North has already stopped responding to calls on the hotline to the U.S. military that supervises the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Red Cross line that has been used by the governments of both sides.

“Under the situation where a war may break out at any moment, there is no need to keep north-south military communications which were laid between the militaries of both sides,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying.

March 24, 2013

Maclean’s agrees that Canada doesn’t need the UN’s flattery

Filed under: Cancon, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:44

Canada recently dropped out of the top ten in a UN beauty contest that we once “won” seven years in a row. At the time, Canadian politicians used that accolade as a regular talking point. Now, a bit to my surprise, the media hasn’t been using the “loss” as a stick to incessantly beat the government with. How unexpectedly mature of them:

Canadians with a penchant for lists will recall that in 1994 we began a record stint of seven straight years atop the United Nations Human Development Index. Meant to provide an international comparison of living standards, our dominance on this global leader board was seen as tangible proof Canada was the best country in the world. The annual report regularly garnered substantial media attention and sparked plenty of national braggadocio. Prime minister Jean Chrétien, in particular, made it a frequent talking point.

No longer. We haven’t topped the rankings since 2000. Current leader Norway now boasts more first-place finishes than we do. (Although our Nordic friends haven’t yet won seven in a row.) In fact this year marks the first time Canada has failed to place in the top 10. The most recent edition, released last week, has us at a humbling 11th — a whisker above South Korea. Ireland beat us.

[. . .]

In 1992 the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency stripped Canada’s federal foreign debt of its coveted AAA rating, thanks to an endless stream of government deficits. In January 1995 the Wall Street Journal measured Canada for a barrel suit, declaring us to be “an honorary member of the Third World” in its now-legendary “Bankrupt Canada” editorial. Our debt-to-GDP ratio hit a peak of 68 per cent that year. The loonie was worth about US$0.72, and would bottom out at US$0.62 before it was done falling.

Since then, of course, Canada’s financial turnaround has become a totem for countries around the world struggling with the after-effects of the Great Recession. Government finances are in better shape than most and our dollar at par. Canada’s reliance on natural resources, once considered a retrograde habit, has played a large role in allowing our economy to weather the storm. Our banking system is an international paragon of virtue; we’re even exporting central bankers. Plus Canada has adopted a more self-confident stance on foreign policy, replacing our old reputation as a meek and mild peacekeeper with a more authoritative voice.

March 8, 2013

Kim Jong-un tells North Korean troops to be ready “to annihilate the enemy”

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:25

North Korea continues to rattle the sabre:

North Korea has dissolved the agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953, as it simultaneously ramps up its military presence along the border with South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appeared before military troops positioned near the border and told them to that they should be ready “to annihilate the enemy,” reports The Telegraph.

This latest rallying cry comes after Kim threatened missile attacks on Washington the previous day, saying the American capital city would become a “sea of fire.”

The move towards brinkmanship is in response to a decision by the United Nations Security Council to impose further sanctions on North Korea after it conducted a third nuclear test in February. The UN resolution was unanimously approved by all 15 member countries siting on the council. The sanctions are financial and will also increase efforts to prevent North Korea from shipping banned goods into the country.

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