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Friday, July 31, 2009

Transparent banking

In The Nation July 13, economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that greater banking transparency could help fight corruption in the developing world.
Developing nations are often criticized for corruption, but secret bank accounts wherever they may be facilitate corruption, providing safe haven for stolen funds. Developing countries want this money returned and want access to information that will allow them to detect secret accounts.
Stiglitz is critical of recent congressional legislation for failing to go far enough to solve this problem.

Paul Collier makes a similar argument in The Bottom Billion and calls explicitly for new international norms -- such as budget transparency -- to make this kind of corruption far more difficult.

Collier also calls for transparency initiatives in natural resources.

The U.S. spent much of the 1990s arguing for a "strategy of openness" -- seeking open markets, especially. However, as Andrew Bacevich outlined, the Clinton administration sweepingly sought to remove "barriers to the movement of goods, capital, people, and ideas."

Perhaps the Obama administration can devote some attention to a slightly different form of openness. The President certainly seems to understand the critique offered by Stiglitz and Collier.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Duck

Today, at the Duck of Minerva group IR blog, I posted "Is America cool again?" The piece looks at results from the latest Pew Global Attitudes Project, which finds some big improvements in the U.S. image around the world -- apparently attributable to the Obama administration.

On Monday, July 6, I posted "RIP: Robert McNamara." I saw the former Secretary of Defense speak a couple of times and dined with him once.

On Friday, July 3, I blogged "Oops" about an unfortunate mistake concerning a book ad (since corrected) at the Barnes and Noble website.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

High noon high

Watching "Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" wasn't as difficult as trying to sit through Gus Van Sant's "Elephant" (which I failed to do), but the former certainly reminded me of the latter. Guess which film this reviewer is describing?
[The] film is a highly stylized, dreamlike tone poem that defies linear conventions and is almost surreal in its approach. Using flashbacks and recurring images from different points of view, the film captures the mood and tone of its adolescent world: its perceptions, its self-absorption, and ultimately its darkest instincts.

The camera is a detached observer, and the strength of the film lies in its acute power of observation and detail....[The director] shows us all the surface rituals
In the end, both feature a troubling school massacre.

That review describes scenes of cheerleading rather than quidditch, but the meaning for the larger story is similar.

There is an important difference between these films. In the more recent one, the protagonist vows revenge -- foreshadowed by both prior books and films and the fact that Harry Potter has tasted a bit of evil in this film (the inevitable ring -- and of the course the subtitle character's potion book).

Perhaps the final episode will be "Harry Potter at High Noon."

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Monday, July 20, 2009

No future

Clearly, I have no future as a foreign policy wonk. I've violated many of Stephen Walt's "Ten Commandments for Ambitious Policy Wonks." The list describes “taboo” subjects in contemporary foreign policy discourse. Interestingly, his list doesn't include this taboo.

While I've often implied arguments against many of the commandments, on this blog I've fairly directly challenged #3. Thou Shalt Not Question the Need for a Nuclear Deterrent.

and #5: Thou Shalt Not Call For an Accommodation with Cuba (or North Korea, or Iran, or….).

And #9: Thou Shalt Not Question the Right of the United States to Intervene in Other Countries.

Read the entire list.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Threatdown: The Heat is on China

China recently passed the US and became the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. According to US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Chinese emissions are poised to explode.
If China’s emissions of global warming gases keep growing at the pace of the last 30 years, the country will emit more such gases in the next three decades than the United States has in its entire history, said Mr. Chu, a Nobel laureate in physics.
Chu was speaking at Tsinghua University, apparently viewed as China’s top science university.

On US soil, US officials seem even more worried about China's long-term role, implying that the world may view China as a threat to ecological security:
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce that China shared a special responsibility with the United States to address global warming. China passed the United States two years ago as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and the two countries together account for 42 percent of humanity’s emissions of these gases.

“Fifty years from now, we do not want the world to lay the blame for environmental catastrophe at the feet of China,” Mr. Locke said.
In 2007, by the way, European officials annoyed American diplomats by reminding the world that US emissions had increased 60% over 1990 Kyoto baseline levels. As recently as 2005, China claimed that it was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Obama on Climate at G-8

Last week, President Obama told the other G-8 leaders that the U.S. plans to make some rather remarkable changes in terms of climate change policy. After dismissing all doubts about the science and calling for developing countries to make reductions in future emissions, the President said:
We also agree that developed countries -- like my own -- have a historic responsibility to take the lead. We have the much larger carbon footprint per capita, and I know that in the past, the United States has sometimes fallen short of meeting our responsibilities. So, let me be clear: Those days are over. One of my highest priorities as President is to drive a clean energy transformation of our economy, and over the past six months, the United States has taken steps towards this goal.

We've made historic investments in the billions of dollars in developing clean energy technologies...

We've also for the first time created a national policy raising our fuel-efficiency standards that will result in savings of 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles sold in the next five years alone. And we just passed in our House of Representatives the first climate change legislation that would cut carbon pollution by more than 80 percent by 2050.

These are very significant steps in the United States.
It is far too early to rejoice, but these are important initiatives.

Indeed, it is relatively easy for politicians to make big promises about policy changes due over the course of four decades. Needless to say, they won't be around to assure followup. By contrast, it is far tougher to make costly investments in the short-term that have measurable benefits.

Rhetorically, it is also interesting that Obama used the same sort of unifying language globally that he employed in his 2008 political campaign:
It is no small task for 17 leaders to bridge their differences on an issue like climate change. We each have our national priorities and politics to contend with...

It's even more difficult in the context of a global recession, which I think adds to the fears that somehow addressing this issue will contradict the possibilities of robust global economic growth.

But ultimately, we have a choice. We can either shape our future, or we can let events shape it for us. We can fall back on the stale debates and old divisions, or we can decide to move forward and meet this challenge together. I think it's clear from our progress today which path is preferable and which path we have chosen. We know that the problems we face are made by human beings. That means it's within our capacity to solve them. The question is whether we will have the will to do so, whether we'll summon the courage and exercise the leadership to chart a new course. That's the responsibility of our generation, that must be our legacy for generations to come, and I am looking forward to being a strong partner in this effort.
At this July 2009 G-8 meeting, it sounded as if the U.S. under new management was trying to reclaim leadership on an important global issue and heal the so-called "transatlantic rift" that marked the Bush years (especially during his first term).

Especially given that the alleged U.S.-European divide never came close to full separation, it will be a lot easier for Obama to accomplish this political task than to take the kind of policy action necessary to stave off global climate chage.

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Friday, July 03, 2009

Newsweek's 50 Books for Our Times

Newsweek recently posted a list of "Fifty Books for Our Times." It is laden with contemporary works of non-fiction, in stark contrast to the novel-heavy "meta-list" of the "Top 100 Books" compiled from other top booklists: "Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John's College reading list, Oprah's, and more." This is their justification for wanting a new list to supplement the classics:
which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.
Fair enough.

In scanning through the 50 books, I discovered that I haven't read very many of them. In the first 20, I've read only Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Many others look interesting (some were already on my "to-read" wishlist) and I plan to read them eventually.

As for the remainder of the list, I've read some Mark Twain (three books are compiled as "The Mississippi Books"), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Underworld by Don DeLillo. That's it, five of fifty. Nearly all are novels.

I do much better on the classic list of 100: 1984 by George Orwell, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Shelley's Frankenstein, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, Orwell's Animal Farm, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon, and Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" (actually 3 books).

That's 20 of 100, though I confess that many were read in high school or college English classes.

Plus, I've read memorable portions of many others on the list: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Capital, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Thucydides's Peloponnesian Wars, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (I likely read this entire book to my daughters), John Milton's Paradise Lost, various works of Shakespeare, and The Holy Bible.

That's 8 to 10 more, depending upon how many works of Shakespeare I can recall reading (as opposed to simply viewing)

Some more from the top 100 compiled list are on my shelf, just waiting to be read one of these days. Top-listed works by Evelyn Waugh, Ralph Ellison, Conrad, Anthony Burgess, and Robert Penn Warren are literally stacked or shelved nearby in a "to read" collection.

Maybe I should set them aside in favor of books from the contemporary list?

Take a look at that Newsweek list and make a recommendation if something is familiar -- and good.

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