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28 November, 2010

A Question for the Conservative

Consider the following:
  1.  Social norms are customary rules of behavior that coordinate our interactions with others.
    1.A Culture is ultimately a social phenomena; the phrase “cultural norms” should be regarded as synonymous with “social norms.”
  2.  Social norms influence all interpersonal decisions an individual may make.
    2.A. By extension, social norms are the basis of the moral, ethical, or cultural order(s) that govern the behavior of any grouping of individuals.
  3. Being social, the influence social norms have over an individual’s decision making process is dependent on the strength of the social ties these norms apply to.
    3.A. By extension, the moral, ethical, or cultural order(s) that govern the behavior of any grouping of individuals is dependent on the strength of the social ties that bind the group together.

The Question: When elements (or even the entirety) of a moral, ethical, or cultural order falls into disuse and disrepute, is it ideas that have lost their influence, or people?



27 November, 2010

Crony Capitalism and Stagnation, Connecting the Dots



Ashwin Parameswaran has an excellent piece up over at Macroeconomic Resilience on the intersection of  economic innovation and technological progress, crony capitalism, complex system dynamics, and unemployment. To quote from the post's conclusion:

Ashwin Parameswaran. Macroeconomic Resilience. 24 November 2010.
Due to insufficient exploratory innovation, a crony capitalist economy is not diverse enough. But this does not imply that the system is fragile either at firm/micro level or at the level of the macroeconomy. In the absence of any risk of being displaced by new entrants, incumbent firms can simply maintain significant financial slack. If incumbents do maintain significant financial slack, sustainable full employment is impossible almost by definition. However, full employment can be achieved temporarily in two ways: Either incumbent corporates can gradually give up their financial slack and lever up as the period of stability extends as Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis (FIH) would predict, or the household or government sector can lever up to compensate for the slack held by the corporate sector.

Whatever the chosen solution, full employment is unsustainable in the long run unless the core problem of cronyism is tackled. The current over-leveraged state of the consumer in the developed world can be papered over by increased government spending but in the face of increased cronyism, it only kicks the can further down the road. Restoring corporate animal spirits depends upon corporate slack being utilised in exploratory investment, which as discussed above is inconsistent with a cronyist economy....

At the appropriate mix of exploration and exploitation, individual incumbent and new entrant firms are both incredibly vulnerable. Most exploratory investments are destined to fail as are most firms, sooner or later. Yet due to the diversity of firm-level strategies, the macroeconomy of vulnerable firms is incredibly resilient. At the same time, the transfer of wealth from incumbent corporates to the household sector via reduced corporate slack and increased investment means that sustainable full employment can be achieved without undue leverage. The only question is whether we can break out of the Olsonian special interest trap without having to suffer a systemic collapse in the process.

Mr. Parameswaran's post is on the denser side, but time taken to understand his argument is time well spent. I recommend that all those concerned with the danger posed by an entrenched and exploitative elite or those generally interested in economics and system dynamics read his post in full

26 November, 2010

Straight Talk on the TSA, Paragon of the Creeping Security State

Over the course of the last week the Transportation Security Administration's new airport security measures have generated a great deal of public outcry and controversy. This bout of public dissatisfaction provides a rare opportunity that should not be wasted. For the first time in nine years Americans are seriously questioning at least one part of the vast security state that has been built up around them. Within the public's new found skepticism of TSA methods lies the seeds of the entire regime's destruction. The faults lies not with TSA workers, or even TSA bureaucrats back in Washington: the sins of the TSA are sins of the system. Official explanations and excuses for this system wear thin - Americans finally seem ready to hear some straight talk about the nature of our national security theater.

A good place to begin is with the security procedures that started all the ruckus, the backscatter x-rays (also called "full body scanners" or "nude picture machines") and enhanced pat downs. Ranging from the ethical to the medical, objections to these procedures are legion. For the moment we shall discount all of this censure and focus on the most utilitarian objection to the new procedures: they do not work. The Independent neatly summarizes the limitations of the new full-body scanners:
If a material is low density, such as powder, liquid or thin plastic – as well as the passenger's clothing – the millimetre waves pass through and the object is not shown on screen. High- density material such as metal knives, guns and dense plastic such as C4 explosive reflect the millimetre waves and leave an image of the object.
Powder, liquids, and thin plastic - surely those are not the exact materials used by the "underwear bomber" to make his explosive charge? Invasive as they may be, these scanners stand no more chance of capturing future underwear bombers than the metal detectors had of catching the last one. Widely panned by security experts and (foreign) government officials as useless, the full body scanners are undependable to an extreme, having missed bomb components, razor wire, or anything  obscured by a belt or something else made of leather. The backscatters installed at Hamburg have proven themselves so unreliable (mistaking creases and pleats for knifes) that officials have stopped using them entirely, forcing all passengers to go through pat downs before being allowed to board their planes.

One hopes that American airports are not about to follow suit. Given the controversy surrounding the new 'enhanced' pat downs it is doubtful they will. Yet even if enhanced pat downs became a mandatory procedure security would be painfully deficient: neither the scanners or the pat downs are capable of searching cavities. Earlier this year a terrorist in Saudi Arabia detonated a bomb that had been inserted into his rectum in an attempted assassination of a Saudi prince; there is no reason bombs of the same sort could not be detonated on an American airplane. Between the mouth, vagina, and anus there is an awful large amount of space to sneak a weapon past TSA security and there is nothing - short of mandatory cavity checks - that the TSA can do about it.

[UPDATE: A reader forwards this letter by security expert Fred Cate, questioning the pat down procedure's ability to detect powder PETN or distinguish medical devices from bomb components.]

Ordinary Gentleman Jason Kuznicki captures the absurdity of our current situation well with a clever bit of satire:

“What are all these people complaining about? It’s like getting an X-ray. I would do absolutely anything if it makes air travel safer.”

“Okay, great. Just one more security measure, then. Would you kiss this picture of Janet Napolitano on your way in?”

“But that won’t make us any safer!”

Neither will full-body porno scans.”

“Oh.” (Kisses picture.) “Thanks, TSA, I feel better already!”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Now what are all these people complaining about? It’s just kissing a silly little picture.”

And that about sums it up. Eight years and $40,000,000,000 since its creation, the most the TSA can say for itself is that it makes airline passengers feel safer.

·

While clearly wrong headed, the TSA's new procedures are not the proper resting place for the animus of the American public. Pat downs and full body scanners are but symptoms of a much larger sickness: a bipartisan commitment to a public security strategy that inevitably leads to serious infringements of privacy and liberty in return for what can only be marginal gains in safety. Security technologist Bruce Schneier  explained the problem in an excellent essay written shortly after the underwear bomber's attack:
The best defenses against terrorism are largely invisible: investigation, intelligence, and emergency response. But even these are less effective at keeping us safe than our social and political policies, both at home and abroad. However, our elected leaders don't think this way: They are far more likely to implement security theater against movie-plot threats.
A "movie-plot threat" is an overly specific attack scenario. Whether it's terrorists with crop dusters, terrorists contaminating the milk supply, or terrorists attacking the Olympics, specific stories affect our emotions more intensely than mere data does. 

...

To be sure, reasonable arguments can be made that some terrorist targets are more attractive than others: airplanes because a small bomb can result in the death of everyone aboard, monuments because of their national significance, national events because of television coverage, and transportation because of the numbers of people who commute daily.

But there are literally millions of potential targets in any large country -- there are 5 million commercial buildings alone in the United States -- and hundreds of potential terrorist tactics. It's impossible to defend every place against everything, and it's impossible to predict which tactic and target terrorists will try next.

Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders.

When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

Often, this "something" is directly related to the details of a recent event. We confiscate liquids, screen shoes, and ban box cutters on airplanes. We tell people they can't use an airplane restroom in the last 90 minutes of an international flight. But it's not the target and tactics of the last attack that are important, but the next attack. These measures are only effective if we happen to guess what the next terrorists are planning.

If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we've wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we've wasted our money. Terrorists don't care what they blow up and it shouldn't be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

Our current response to terrorism is a form of "magical thinking." It relies on the idea that we can somehow make ourselves safer by protecting against what the terrorists happened to do last time.

Adds Mr. Schneier in a second essay:

The problem with all these measures is that they're only effective if we guess the plot correctly. Defending against a particular tactic or target makes sense if tactics and targets are few. But there are hundreds of tactics and millions of targets, so all these measures will do is force the terrorists to make a minor modification to their plot.

It's magical thinking: If we defend against what the terrorists did last time, we'll somehow defend against what they do one time. Of course this doesn't work. We take away guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We take away box cutters and corkscrews, and the terrorists hide explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, they use liquids. We limit liquids, they sew PETN into their underwear. We implement full-body scanners, and they're going to do something else. This is a stupid game; we should stop playing it.

But we can't help it. As a species we're hardwired to fear specific stories -- terrorists with PETN underwear, terrorists on subways, terrorists with crop dusters -- and we want to feel secure against those stories. So we implement security theater against the stories, while ignoring the broad threats.

Terrorist act, the public reacts, and then politicians scramble to show the electorate that they take the safety of the citizenry seriously. It is a pattern that permanently cedes the initiative to terrorist outfits while ensuring that a steady stream of programs and schemes designed to give the appearance of security (while providing nothing of the sort) will be thrust upon the American public. This strategy serves poll-conscience politicians well, but comes at a heavy cost to the body politic. Writing in last week's American Thinker, Wesley Clark detailed the many rights and liberties that needed to be curtailed for this strategy to become reality:
The Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution states:

The right of the people to be secure...against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Under the Patriot Act, our private communications may be eavesdropped on, and personal transactions can be secretly scrutinized with self-written warrants (National Security Letters written by a federal agent) that prohibit your banker, librarian, or others served from notifying you of the search (you can't even legally contest the warrant if you find out about it yourself, because if you complain to your lawyer or a court about it, you commit a felony by divulging that it exists). This act was originally justified by the War on Terror, but it has since been employed hundreds of thousands of times, often against innocent citizens swept up by innocent associations with alleged intelligence targets. The Obama administration is seeking to broaden the act still more.

TSA searches are now gutting the few remaining Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure. Essentially, our government, supported by the courts, has defined a "Constitution-Free Zone" incorporating all airports and the area of the United States within one hundred miles of a border or the coast (termed the "functional equivalent of the border, or extended border"), in which constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment are deemed not applicable, and are routinely flouted by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security has the authority to stop, search, and detain anyone and anything (including the contents of your computer), for any reason, within a "Constitution-Free Zone," resident or traveler, without a warrant and without even having probable cause -- only a reasonable suspicion, which by DHS rules and case law can include even ethnic indicators. Two-thirds of Americans live within this Constitution-Free Zone, especially the "liberal" residents of coastal cities in the "blue states."

Ostensibly, your decision to travel by airline implies your choice to abandon your rights to privacy in order to serve the cause of collective security. If you don't like it, just travel by car or bus instead -- but don't venture within one hundred miles of the border or the coast, or you may be subject to warrantless search without probable cause by other TSA agents with the Border Patrol or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement divisions.

However, our public security strategy does not just endanger American liberties - it endangers American lives. One only needs to see a single line of travelers trying to get through TSA security screening to realize how easily a terrorist intent on attacking the American air system and killing dozens of American could reach his aims.

Terrorist target

The quest to assure Americans that their elected leaders will stand for their safety has made Americans less safe. The systems and procedures authorized to assuage fears do not protect against the threats for which they are designed to meet, inherently infringe upon the liberties of those subject to them, and place those men and women they are meant safeguard into what is ultimately a more dangerous situation. By all objective measures they - and the strategy that produced them - have been a dismal failure.

And none of this alone will be enough to end it.

·



Jonathan Rauch's "Demosclerosis" is one of the most important essays written in the last twenty years. In it he discusses the "calcification" of the federal government of the United States, a calcification driven by the simple and unavoidable fact that every department, program, and initiative created by the federal government also creates a group of people with a vested interest in keeping the new department, program, or initiative active and well funded. Eager to win big policy battle sure to make the evening news, congressmen are unwilling to invest the political capital needed to fight individual interest groups and eliminate useless programs. Congress after congress allows the detritus of decades past to build up until the  the government is so bogged down its own muck that it is impossible to reform any major features of the system.

The TSA provides an instructive example of this dynamic at work.

Since its creation in 2001, the TSA has hired a little less than 50,000 employees (DHS as a whole has a bit more than 200,000). These employees live in every state in the Union and every congressional district with an airport. Their jobs are counted when national employment statistics are gathered; their votes are counted when election season rolls around. 

As with all bureaucracies, the reputation and future career prospects of TSA bureaucrats depends on the continuing existence of the bureaucracy in which  they work. This holds true not only when these bureaucrats rise to the top of their own organization, but also if they wish to use existing bureaucratic contacts when they leave government employ for lucrative private contracting jobs.

As it turns out, infringing upon the rights of American citizens is a great way to make money. Each new full body scanner costs some $170,000; the number of airports in the United States and the number of scanners to be installed in each ensures that the dollars add up quickly. Two security companies, L-3 Communications and Rapiscan Systems, have each secured $160 contracts to build the TSA scanners. Unsurprisingly, these two companies doled out a great deal of cash this election season and have a significant presence on the K-street track

Add in the politicians desperate to show the citizenry their public security credentials and the set is complete. Any movement to rid the United States of our failed security strategy must come head to head with these vested interests. Sadly, as with so much else, it is unlikely that those with the power to change this strategy will find the concerns of enraged citizens more important than the concerns of these interests.

Consider who pays the costs placed upon us by the TSA. The most important members of the federal government fly federal air or get to skip through TSA security checks when they must take commercial flights. Private jet passengers (including the many congressmen whom corporations are eager to court) are exempt from TSA oversight, despite the threat posed by a terrorist hijacking of private aircraft. TSA screenings serve as a class marker, separating those with the power to preserve their dignity and liberty from those who (in the words of Glenn Greenwald) must accept "in the name of Fear that [they] must suffer indignities, humiliations and always-increasing loss of liberties at the hands of unchallengeable functionaries of the state."


This is why, hopeless as it may be, we must resist and oppose the TSA's new procedures - indeed, the entire farce of security theater that the TSA's new procedures represent. Every additional rule and requirement is another imposition on the liberties of American citizens for the sake of a failed strategy whose sole beneficiaries are cowardly politicians and monied interests.  Standing up against the backscatter machines and the pat downs is about more  than a disgust with nude pictures or groping - it is about standing up against the arbitrary extension of government power over our lives for the sake of rich men in Washington. It is  showing the plutocrats that the American people are not the sheep they think we are.


 

21 November, 2010

How to Take Over A Mexican Border Town

Last week I brought to the attention of my readers the alarming tale of Ciudad Mier, the border town whose entire populace fled their homes as refugees. Narco refugees being one of the most disturbing developments in Mexico's war against the cartels, I thought it best to investigate the events leading up to Ciudad Mier's evacuation more thoroughly. The story is not pretty:

Jared Taylor. The Monitor. 21 November 2010.
Feb. 22, 2010, was the day everything changed for the people of Mier.

An eight-page internal report written by a Mier city official on Nov. 7 — two days after Tony Tormenta’s death — chronicles the town’s demise, which began that late winter night.

Widespread firefights were heard about 8 p.m. that day. And before dawn the next day, suspected drug cartel members traveling in some 40 trucks overtook Mier’s City Hall, kidnapped the city’s police force and took their weapons.

More kidnappings were reported in the city and about 10 houses were burned, the report states.

Without police control, local government ceased to conduct its daily activities. A shootout between Mexican army soldiers and cartel gunmen ensued in front of a school on the city’s south side, "provoking chaos" and leaving casualties on both sides.

Since Feb. 22, the report states, school classes have been suspended in the city. Widespread and erratic shootouts pushed scared parents to keep their children home.

"Educational authorities took the decision to not have students in class until further notice," the report states.

More than 50 percent of the town’s 6,500 residents fled after the cartel violence ensued. In recent weeks, the number of people displaced has climbed. Those who have fled estimate only a few hundred people remain in Mier.


Adds the Wall Street Journal:

Nicolas Casey and Jose de Cordoba.  The Wall Street Journal. 20 November 2010.

Ciudad Mier began to collapse. After an attack on the water-treatment facility this year, the town had no drinkable water as workers were too frightened to begin repairs, residents say. For a week this fall, parts of the city had no water at all. Electrical outages became frequent after attacks on transformers. Finding gas became impossible when the city's one gas station was shot up. Residents say they headed to neighboring Miguel Alemán to fill up their cars.
While schools remained in session, parents often refused to send their children, deeming it unsafe. "Every child I taught was thinking: 'I'm next to be killed,'" says a town teacher, who recalled that a theater class he taught suddenly sank from 20 students to just four.
Medical services were scant. "The pharmacies were closing down or weren't open," recalls an 87-year-old man who fled the town last week. Manuel Alejandro Peña, a general practitioner who heads a branch of the state's health office in the village, recalled that he was unable to get penicillin for two months this summer when drivers couldn't safely make the journey from the city of Nuevo Laredo, fearing they'd be attacked on the highway.
"We watched our medicine reserves begin to vanish," Dr. Peña recalled.
By last week, the city was ravaged again. Emboldened by the death of Mr. Cárdenas Guillén, the Gulf Cartel leader known as Tony Tormenta, Zetas staged a counterattack, townspeople say. Signs leading into the town were pocked with hundreds of bullet holes, along with nearly every major building in town.
Except for a few holdouts, nearly all the former residents have fled. Some moved in with family members elsewhere in Mexico or the U.S. About 300 refugees now bunk on cots at a local Lion's Club in nearby Miguel Alemán, a larger city down the road which is thought to be less violent. On a recent day, an older deaf woman sat in a wheelchair by herself as a dozen children watched morning cartoons.


The Wall Street Journal piece is really a solid bit of reporting and should be read in whole. The entire state of Tamaulipas is being torn apart by the cartel wars, and the article captures this well. As the WSJ notes, the Mexican army has now garrisoned Ciudad Mier in an effort to root out the cartels. This is bitter comfort to Ciudad Mier's refugees; the army ignored their pleas for help for months, only moving into Ciudad Muir and neighboring Nuevo Laredo once the city's refugee migration became an international news story. How many other Ciudad Muirs, isolated, terrorized, and ignored by the broader world, can be found on the border? We - along with the Mexican army - ignore these budding ghost towns at our own peril.


11 November, 2010

Foreigners Grade Obama's India Trip

A few links:

1. The foreign affairs bloggers of the Takshashila Institution (formerly "the Indian National Interest") decided  "grade" President Obama's recent trip to India. This was the result:



2. This seems to reflect the general opinion of the broader Indian public. I infer this from the shifting statements of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India's main opposition party. Shortly after President Obama delivered his speech at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, Rajav Pratap Rudy, the spokesman of the BJP, roundly criticized Mr. Obama for failing to mention Lashkar-e-Toiba (the terrorist group that perpetuated the 26/11 attack) or Pakistan in the address. This judgment was widely shared in Indian policy circles. However, the less ambiguous language used by the President during the final days of the President's trip (including the U.S.-India joint statement signed by Prime Minister Singh and President Obama and the latter's stellar speech to a joint session of the Indian parliament) seems to have satisfied most of these critics and public opinion was quick to rally on the side of the President. By Monday the BJP was apologizing for its past statements

3. Siddarth Vadarajan, deputy editor and columnist for The Hindu, is one of the sharpest minds covering India's foreign policy. He took a less sanguine view of the trip than did the folks at Takshashila. His critique of the blossoming U.S.-Indian relationship should be taken seriously by all who envision India as the keystone of the United State's Asia strategy. 

Siddarth Varadarjan. The Hindu. 10 November 2010.
Siddarth Varadarjan. The Hindu. 6 November 2010.



4. Earlier this month I had some fun comparing the headlines of various Asian newspapers to spotlight the manner in which national narratives change the way the same event is perceived by different groups of people. Keeping that line of thought in mind, readers may find this Xinhua piece worth reading:

Mu Xuequn. Xinhua English News. 9 November 2010.

10 November, 2010

So Begins the Narco Refugees

Via security analyst Sylvia Longmire's excellent blog Mexico's Drug War: Border Violence Analysis comes one of the most unsettling news stories of 2010:

The Monitor. 9 November 2010. 
CIUDAD MIER, Tamps. — Hundreds of families have fled this Pueblo Magico amid reported death threats from drug cartel thugs.

About 300 people are seeking shelter in nearby Miguel Alemán, the nearest city to this town across the border from western Starr County.
Sources said after Cárdenas’ slaying Friday, members of Los Zetas, the drug cartel controlling Mier, were yelling in the streets that they were going to kill  everybody who remained in the town, sparking the exodus from town.
“Initially it was 30 people, but then went up to 60, 100 and now we have 300 that came here,” Miguel Alemán Mayor Servando Lopez Moreno said in Spanish.

....

“There is not a house that doesn’t have broken windows,” said a native of Ciudad Mier living in Reynosa.

“The authorities do not go there. There are no soldiers there. There is nobody,” the former Mier resident said. “The mayor is not there anymore, there is no police, no traffic authority — nobody. It’s a ghost town. All the businesses are closed. If you want an aspirin, you have to travel to Miguel Alemán, and by bus, because if you drive they take away your car.”

“They have strangulated my town.”

Earlier this year I highlighted the story of Ascencion, the border town whose citizens, unwilling to be terrorized by cartels while waiting for government protection, took matters into their own hands by forming a mob to kill suspected cartel members. I suggested that if Mexico's narco-insurgency continues unabated the story of Ascencion would be repeated in many an isolated and terrorized town across the U.S.-Mexican border. 

I am now far less willing to stand by this prediction. It is not Ascencion that will be the model, but Ciudad Mier.  

Mexican arms restrictions are much more strict than those in the United States. These restrictions have done little to stem the flow of guns into the hands of Mexico's narco-cartels, but they do ensure that Mexican communities will be outgunned in the event of a direct conflict with the cartels. In such an event it makes little sense to fight; better to run and live another day.  

To my knowledge the evacuation of Ciudad Mier is the first case of mass migration prompted by cartel strong-arming. I will be surprised if it is the last. While media coverage of these events is near non-existent, they should be a matter of grave concern for every citizen of the Republic. The day border communities cannot support the number of refugees created by the cartels' insurgency is the day narco refugees begin streaming north of the border. 

Jai Hind

"Jai Hind!"

So said the President of the United States this week in an address to a joint session of the Rajya Sahba and Lok Sahba.

It is about time.

I have criticized the Obama Administration in the past for episodes of diplomatic ineptitude and cultural insensitivity.  President Obama's stay in India does not qualify for either dishonor. To the contrary, the President's trip has (so far) been the most successful of his Presidency. Not a moment was amiss; from the provident decision to stay at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel to Mr. Obama's rousing "Jai Hind!", the entire trip was masterfully designed to reinforce the President's message: The United States of America and the Republic of India stand together. 

Admittedly, the trip was more symbol than substance. The hundreds of businessmen who accompanied the President's entourage did not need his permission to make deals with their Indian associates. A hostile congress may pick a fight over promised export quotas and tariff reductions. American well-wishes are not enough to land India a spot in the Nuclear Suppliers Group or a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. And of course, the United States government is still funneling millions of dollars into the hands of India's greatest enemy.

The mismatch between the U.S.-Indian alliance found in the oratory of the visiting President and the actual state of their strategic relationship is a matter of concern for  several Indian commentators. I am also troubled by this mismatch. If the ties between the United States and India are to strengthen and grow, the issues of contention must be openly addressed by the Americans. I do not envy the statesmen who will receive that call.  These trouble spots, however, belong to the future. No matter their seriousness they do not diminish what was accomplished by the President on this trip. Mr. Obama's stay was laden with symbol after symbol, one piece of overblown oratory after another  - but this was one of the rare moments in global affairs where symbols become substance. 


The context in which the President made his trip to India should be remembered. For the last few months a serious debate over the administration's Asia policy has divided the White House's foreign affairs team. From the time Mr. Obama ascended to office to the late summer of this year his administration has consistently taken an accommodating stance where U.S. and Chinese interests diverge. "Responsible Stakeholder" was the buzz term behind the policy, for it was hoped that easing China into the current international regime without conflict or dispute would give Chinese statesmen a stake in the stability of the current world order. Recent provocations on the part of the Chinese have cast a shadow on this policy's worth. The President's trip should be seen as the end result of the many debates that made the Obama Administration's new Asia policy. 


The President spent more time in India than he has any country since becoming President. In contrast to his trip to China last year, Mr. Obama was accompanied by his wife (who by all accounts has absolutely charmed the Indians) and an entourage of hundreds of businessmen. If the President wished to make clear that India is the new cornerstone of the United States' Asia policy, there were few better ways to do so. 
This is the significance of President Obama's stay in India. America's commitment to India has no deep historical or cultural roots; much of our policy is anemic to Indian interests. Many Indians doubt the strength of the U.S.-Indian relationship. It is my hope they will do so no more. America has finally chosen.

Jai Hind!  

SUPPLEMENTARY READING

Michelle and Barrack Obama. Delivered at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. 7 November 2010. (Printed 8 Nov 2010 in The Hindu.

Barrack Obama. Delivered at the Parliament House, New Delhi. 8 November 2010. 
(Printed 8 Nov 2010 in The Hindu.)

The Times of India. 8 November 2010.

White House: Office of the Press Secretary. 8 November 2010.

01 November, 2010

Notes From All Over 2/11/2010

A collection of articles, essays, and blog post of merit - abridged addition this time around.


DEMOGRAPHICS

Razib Khan. Gene Expression. 10 October 2010.

An extremely important survey of global demographic trends over the next forty years.The post focuses on the difference between the birth rates of religious and secular sections of the world's population at several different levels (e.g. regions within countries, countries themselves, and regions that supersede individual states). While the post will be of interest to anybody following the "shall the religious inherit the Earth" debate, Mr Khan's summary has more practical uses. For example, many demographic projections place countries like Israel and Russia in a state of perpetual and permanent demographic decline for the next half century. These models ignore societal variation, however - if the pious parts of the population continue to have more children than their secular counterparts, eventually a tipping point will be reached and the religious will be having enough children to reverse existing population trends!  

For more insights of this kind, please read the whole piece.


POLITICAL & ECONOMIC THEORY

Ashwin Parameswaran. Macroeconomic Resilience. 18 October 2010.

Mr. Parameswaran's blog has been a great favorite of mine for several months now, and it is because of posts like this. This post concerns a feature inherent to many complex systems: interventions that promote system stability reduce system resilience. Mr. Parameswaran describes the macroeconomic implications of this brilliantly.

Offstumped. 9 October 2010.

Prompted by a hung legislature in Karnataka, the Offstumped commentators suggest how India could reform its often-defective legislative system. As the Indian government closely follows British forms, the points raised in this discussion can be applied to much more than India. For those (like myself) that reserve a particular animus for the Westminister system, this Offstumped post is a fascinating bit of political theory.


STRATEGY

"Joseph Fouche". The Committee of Public Safety. 23 October 2010.

Citizen Fouche offers a compelling synthesis of the strategic thought of Admiral Wylie, von Clausewitz, and Mr. Alexander Hamilton, among others. Much recommended.

Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). 23 October 2010.

Nick Nielson ("Geopoliticratus"). Grand Strategy: The View From Oregon. 26 October 2010.

Geopoliticratus takes issue with the strategic thought of John Boyd and 4GW theory.

Timothy Thomas. Special Warfare. April 2003.

Chinese 5GW?

HISTORY

"Maddy." Historic Alleys. 09 October 2010.

Using a blog template suspiciously similar to my own, Indian history blogger "Maddy" asks an interesting question: why did Britain come to control India? Why not some other colonial power - say, France?

Tip of the Hat to Varnam.

Jason Pappas. American Creation. 19 October 2010.

Debates rage about the intentions of America's founding fathers. Did they wish to build a Christian nation? Perhaps, says Mr. Pappas, but not near so bad as they desired a Roman one.