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Archive for August, 2006

Russian Conscription

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

Last year, sixteen Russian conscripts were killed during hazing. Another 276 committed suicide, and while not all of those can be attributed to hazing (young people commit suicide at a high rate, especially when they have access to guns, and Russia has a high suicide rate anyway), it may have played a significant role in many cases.

While I’m not surprised that Russian military life in the post-Soviet era is harsh and brutal, I am curious as to why Russia has retained conscription as its primary mode of recruitment. The Russian mandatory service system performs poorly, anyway, with roughly 90% of the male population escaping its service obligation. Given that most Western countries have moved away from conscription (Germany is an exception), I’m not sure why Russia has decided to retain it. The Western military organizations have generally (although not uniformally) decided that all-volunteer forces are both cheaper than and more effective than conscript forces. Given the disaster that Russia experienced using conscripts in the first Chechen War, I would think the latter argument in particular would be compelling.

Answers to the puzzle that I can think of are a) that the Russian military lacks the money to provide sufficient incentive for recruits, and thus that manpower levels would fall to an unsatisfactory level if conscription was abolished, or b) that high ranking Russian officers remain committed to Soviet era operational doctrines, requiring a mass army (this would be connected to a perception of a), or c) the Russian Army wishes to hold onto at least some conscription for domestic political reasons, particularly to retain influence over society at large.

Thoughts? Any experts on Russian military policy out there?

this old post at Free Republic gives more info about Russian conscription, and the comments supply some reasons for the maintenance of the system:

There are powerful economic motives among Russian officials to keep the draft going in Russia. The corrupt officers also make plenty of money by hiring their conscripts out to work on building sites and road crews. Occasionally, they have allowed their conscripts to be kidnapped for a bribe, so they can be used as slaves. The NCOs also extort money from the junior conscripts, in return for not beating them.

Book Review: The End of Poverty

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

This is the third of an eight part review series of the Patterson Summer Reading List.

1. Colossus, Niall Ferguson
2. Illicit, Moises Naim
3. The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs

The End of Poverty made a big splash when published last year, as Sachs argued in provocative fashion that extreme poverty (essentially, deep rural poverty in Africa, some parts of Asia, and parts of Latin America) could be ended with a relatively small investment of capital by the developed world. Sachs argued that the ending deep poverty was not only a moral necessity for the developed world, but that, in the end, it would work to their positive good. Sachs central point, I think, is that poverty has specific causes (bad infrastructure, bad geography, bad health conditions, poor education) that can be solved with specific types of aid programs. Such aid programs can eliminate the worst of extreme poverty in the world, and would be relatively inexpensive for the developed world.

Sachs points out that the vast gulf between rich and poor regions is a relatively new phenomenon for the world. Until two centuries ago, most people everywhere in the world lived more or less in the same fashion, as subsistence farmers. Regional differences existed to be sure, but they did not approach the kind of inequality that we began to see with the industrial revolution. Putting this in perspective is important, because Sachs is calling not so much for redistribution of global wealth (the rich countries won’t become poorer) but rather for creating the conditions under which those regions that have not yet benefitted from the vast increase in wealth spurred by the industrial revolution (and its successors) can begin to take advantage of the possibilities of exponential economic growth. The creation of wealth, he points out, is not a zero-sum game.

Sachs also gives a good account of the many of the factors that keep countries poor. Governance is not the only problem, and indeed is rarely the central problem for economic development. Bolivia, for example, suffers from a number of critical handicaps on the international economic stage. Because of the transportation difficulties, exports from Bolivia must demand a very high price per unit of weight. Historically, the most successful Bolivian exports have been silver (which is now largely gone), tin (for which the market has collapsed), and cocaine. Bolivia will never be able to build development on the export of basic agricultural products, or even on the low level manufactures that developing countries often use as stepping stones. Sachs also attributes much poverty in Africa and continental Asia to geographic difficulties. Like any argument, this one is limited; it would seem to me that the answer for Bolivia would be to attempt to develop an economy based on the export of services, but that in itself requires a certain economic foundation.

The biggest problem with Sachs’ argument is his lack of focus on problems on governance. This decision is not surprising, as he is arguing against those who would assert that the primary problems of development stem from poor governance in the developing world. He does a good job of demonstrating how limited that perspective is, and how damaging policy based around that idea can be. Even an exceptionally well governed country, in the face of severe infrastructure, resource, health, and geographic drawbacks, will be unable to produce signficant, reliable economic growth. Nevertheless, in reading his prescriptions I couldn’t help but to wonder what kind of organizations could execute the kind of aid programs he was setting forth. The prescriptions, he points out, need to be tailored to specific countries, based on the needs of those states, and executed in cooperation with local governments. In a well-governed, more or less democratic, not overly corrupt society this seems like it could make a bit of sense, but precisely how many countries in the developing world does that describe? Largely because so many of the countries are so poor, and often because of Western interference, the states lack capacity and interest in executing and assisting the necessary programs. NGOs can help to an extent, but without the coercive power of a state are unable to make certain that the aid will get where it needs to go and do the things that it needs to do.

Sachs is quite correct to argue that unspecific aid programs without clear goals will tend to fail, which is why so much Western assistance has not produced the necessary effects. He’s also right to say that this failure does not mean that Western aid MUST fail. But the more specific the aid program, the greater the capacity needed for execution, and thus the greater need for robust and competent governance. In the absence of such governance, it’s unclear how to make the aid programs that he wants have the effects that he intends.

Nevertheless, an interesting and useful book. And he has a foreword by Bono. Which I didn’t read.

Wal*Mart vs. Jesus Cage Match

[ 0 ] August 12, 2006 |

When big business meets the evangelical community, who do you think wins?

While much of America put Prohibition to rest 73 years ago, large parts of the South have remained strictly off-limits to alcohol sales.

But local and national business interests that stand to profit from the sale of alcohol, including real estate developers, grocery chains, restaurant groups and Wal-Mart, are combining their political and financial muscle to try to persuade hundreds of dry towns and counties to go wet. In the process, they are changing the face of the once staunchly prohibitionist Bible Belt.

[...]

Across the South, some business groups seem to agree with her, backing efforts to nudge dry towns and counties to go wet.

“It’s going to be much harder to attract restaurants and grocery stores to your town if they can’t sell alcohol,” said Mr. Hatch, the political strategist who has been hired to help get the measure passed in Angelina County.

Mr. Hatch and other proponents say their campaigns have been financed by a diverse group that includes grocery chains like Albertson’s, Kroger and Safeway; and restaurant groups like Brinker International, which owns Chili’s Grill and Bar, and Darden Restaurants, owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

And, of course, Wal-Mart. “I think Sam Walton, being the family-oriented man he was, would be rolling over in his grave about this,” Mr. Frankens, the pastor of Homer Pentecostal Church, said in a telephone interview, referring to the Wal-Mart founder. “I’m really disappointed in Wal-Mart as a company.”

What? International capital doesn’t respect local difference in its search for profit? Welcome to the world, pastor. Given Sam’s long history of deep respect for local capital and culture, I’m sure that he’s sleeping soundly…

Given that I like to drink, I’m more or less politically sympathetic to the giant international conglomerates on this one. I can appreciate the desire of locals to maintain restrictions, but given that the patchwork of alcohol regulation almost always means that beer and booze are functionally available everywhere (typically, rows and rows of liquor and beer stores spring up just across the country line), they seem to me pointless regulations. I wish that the story had given some more information on how local and state Republican elected officials have been dealing with such campaigns. Given the willingness of the Republicans to sell out their base on gambling, I can only assume that they’re quietly working to make the liquor flow.

Everybody Loses, Except Those Who Don’t.

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

So that means it’s fair, right? A quick cut, assuming that things fall together like the Times suggests…

Given the situation on the ground right now, the deal seems to be about as good as Israel could have hoped for. Hizbollah was neither going to be destroyed nor disarmed, and the Israelis get their UN /Lebanese force, which seems to have some teeth, if probably not enough to fully disuade Hizbollah from launching attacks. Had the Israelis (and their allies on the American Right) not made such extravagant claims at the beginning of the conflict, the outcome might even look kind of like a draw. The blood and treasure cost of this operation for Israel may be eventually be dwarfed by the increased political (if not military) strength of Hizbollah and its expanding influence on the Lebanese political scene.

Iran, as usual, wins. Its client survives, if not quite with the same amount of teeth, and Israel spends a lot of time and effort making Hizbollah really popular everywhere in the Islamic world.

France wins. It gets to be the “honest broker” and can pretend to be a great power again for a while. That is, at least, until its soldiers start getting killed in southern Lebanon.

The US just looks inept. Our client, in spite of vast military superiority, is unable to destroy Iran’s client, and the latter goes from being an unpopular terrorist organization to a very popular terrorist organization. We have to rely on France to bail us out. Not good.

All that, and a lot of Israelis and Lebanese die.

Also see Billmon, Greenwald, and for the enraged wingnut reaction, Powerline.

Attack a Pak?

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

In fairness to Thomas Joscelyn, he doesn’t actually suggest that the US should attack Pakistan. Rather, he asks cowardly rhetorical questions like “Pakistani terror networks were behind the 7/7 bombings and the London airline plot. What will we do about it?”

Also it should be noted that, as Pakistan cooperated closely with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, is controlled by a military dictator, is known to sponsor violent terrorism against India, has illicit (and proliferate) nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and is strongly suspected to be harboring Osama Bin Laden, it is one of the many, many countries that it would have made more sense to confront than Iraq.

Today In Fake Libertarianism

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

Joe Lieberman’s favorite op-ed page, approvingly quoted by principled, non-partisan libertarian Glenn Reynolds:

Let’s emphasize that again: The plot was foiled because a large number of people were under surveillance concerning their spending, travel and communications. Which leads us to wonder if Scotland Yard would have succeeded if the ACLU or the New York Times had first learned the details of such surveillance programs.

So did the success in Britain prove that legal constraints on executive power are incompatible with fighting terrorism, meaning that we must abandon the Bill of Rights and allow George Bush to have his unsupervised way? Happily, no:

Today’s fascinating Washington Post account of how a British-led team of investigators prevented the attack confirms his suspicion. However, it’s worth pointing out one key difference between the British way and the new American way of surveillance: Barring some unforeseen and massively scandalous revelation, British investigators, in all cases, have to obtain and comply with court-issued warrants for any surveillance. [ed note: according to Glenn Greenwald, these warrants are actually issued by the British Home Secretary.] This week’s counter-terrorism success should demonstrate how possible it is, and remains, for open-society to combat jihadism while preserving the rule of law.

In fact, let’s take that a step further. According to a U.S. intelligence official cited by the Post, some of the British terrorists placed phone calls to individuals within the United States. Whoever they called should very obviously be placed under surveillance. The FISA court would undoubtedly agree, despite Bush’s protests that successful counter-terrorism surveillance has to occur outside the restrictions of FISA. In short: counter-terrorism success, vigilance, the rule of law, and you–perfect together.

Not that this will stop conservertarians from happily going along with using terror as a pretext for pre-existing conservative desires to expand executive power, but…

…given how common it is, it’s worth identifying the obvious sophistry here. The strawman being propped up by the WSJ and Reynolds opposes various forms of “surveillance” as a general principle. But, of course, virtually nobody objects to such forms of surveillance given individualized suspicion and proper legal procedures being followed. Criticism of the administration is based on the latter issues, not because the administration believes (like everybody does) that one should engage in surveillance of suspected terrorists. More on this from Mona and Glenn Greenwald.

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |


Friday Cat Blogging… Nelson and Starbuck

Operation Meth Merchant, Arbitrary Enforcement, and Abortion Law

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

“I regard it as a salutary doctrine that cities, states and the Federal Government must exercise their powers so as not to discriminate between their inhabitants except upon some reasonable differentiation fairly related to the object of regulation. This equality is not merely abstract justice. The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected. Courts can take no better measure to assure that laws will be just than to require that laws be equal in operation.”

Robert Jackson, Railway Express v. New York

I wrote a while back about Operation Meth Merchant, a case in Georgia in which stores owned by South Asians were 100 times more likely than white-owned stores to be targeted for investigation. Dismayingly–but not surprisingly–the equal protection argument has been rejected in District Court.

Which brings us back to my recent series of posts–soon to continue–about Roe v. Wade. Several commenters noted that arguments about over- and under- inclusiveness and as-applied violations of equal protection were unlikely to be successful. As the case of Operation Meth Merchant case reflects, these criticisms, as far as they go, are right–the exercise is literally academic. I understand that Yick Wo and Shapiro v. Thompson are largely observed in the breach, and successfully making these types of arguments under existing precedents is immensely difficult. A real-life litigator would unquestionably be unwise to rely on such arguments rather than simply asserting that a woman’s fundamental right to reproductive freedom should trump the compelling state interests reflected in legislation, although I personally find these arguments much less compelling.

Still, I think it’s worth thinking about these arguments. First of all, I don’t believe that the current jurisprudence on the subject is correct. While evidently there are going to be significant enforcement inequities in any non-utopian legal system, and legislation is often not going to meet strict formal standards of logical consistency, I’m not willing to take the Rehnquist route and simply throw up my hands and give up on trying to address even the most egregious cases of arbitrary application. It will not always be easy to draw distinctions between the inequities that are inevitable even in honest attempts to write and apply laws fairly and egregious arbitrariness, but it is judge’s job to make these judgments. And it’s particularly important not to abandon the field entirely in cases like the drug war and abortion law, where grossly inequitable enforcement is absolutely critical to the maintenance of legislation in the first place.

Secondly, I think it’s worth discussing the patently irrational construction and arbitrary enforcement of abortion statutes for other reasons. First of all, these practices are important policy considerations even if they do not rise to the level of being constitutional violations in themselves. If a rule isn’t important enough to apply with even a modicum of fairness, this strongly suggests that the ends are not compelling enough to justify state coercion, and also suggests that the laws are unlikely to be effective enough to justify the negative externalities. (This is particularly important with respect to drug laws, where a fairly applied statute would not abridge fundamental constitutional rights.) Secondly, I think that this analysis should inform other types of constitutional reasoning. If we are left with the difficult problem of balancing a fundamental right against a potentially compelling state interest–and as long as Griswold and Eisenstadt remain good law, this is the situation with abortion laws–it would ordinarily be appropriate to accord a significant measure of deference to legislatures. However, in making the prudential judgments involved in such balancing, it is surely worth considering the fact that abortion laws in many respects bear little rational relationship to the asserted state interests, and are virtually unenforceable against people with any social status. Legislatures in such circumstances should sure be accorded less than the usual deference, even if one doesn’t believe that the arbitrary construction and application of the laws rises to the level of a constitutional violation.

Publius Speak

[ 0 ] August 11, 2006 |

You listen. Two crucial points: first, that randomly invading countries in the vain hope that a pro-American liberal democracy will emerge from the ashes is an exceptionally ineffective strategy for fighting terrorism. Second, Democrats need to stop spending so much time whining about the inevitable Republican politicization of terror attacks and more time making this case effectively.

That’s a Mixed Blessing…

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

At Slate’s Fraywatch, Adam Christian summarizes a number of devastating critiques of Weisberg’s “The Hippies Are Out to Get Us” piece from yesterday. Unsurprisingly, the critiques are cogent, well thought-out, well researched, and well argued. In recognition of just how badly his boss has been taken to the woodshed, Christian mounts this defense:

The Big Idea Fray is an embarrassment of riches at the moment, generating more intelligent debate than can be summarized in this column. For all of Weisberg’s detractors here, it’s worth noting that his interpretation of Lieberman’s defeat is echoed by Jonah Goldberg’s Los Angeles Times op-ed and Thomas B. Edsall’s article in The New Republic.

The invocation of Edsall is fair enough, although his position is unsurprising given the common journalistic pedigree of Weisberg and Edsall and the editorial position of Edsall’s boss. But when the best you can do for your boss is to note that he shares an opinion with Jonah Goldberg, you know you’ve got some serious problems.

A Retrospective Vindication of Connecticut Primary Voters

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

Needless to say, incoherent demagoguery is not just limited to blogospheric hacks:

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman seized on the terror arrests in Britain today to attack his Democratic rival, Ned Lamont, saying that Mr. Lamont’s goals for ending the war in Iraq would constitute a “victory” for extremists, including those accused of plotting to blow up airliners traveling between Britain and the United States.

Yeah, if Ned Lamont said it once, he said it a million times: “I am against using intellgence and law enforcement to thwart terrorist attacks.” Fortunately, the disastrous war that Holy Joe strongly supports stopped these terrorists from plotting, because…look, a brown dog!

And it goes without saying that by equating “opposition to the infinite continuation of the Iraq War” to “indifference ot terrorist attacks,” he’s doing Karl Rove’s dirty work. But when isn’t he? We can’t be rid of this disgraceful blowhard soon enough…

Bobo’s Fantasy World

[ 0 ] August 10, 2006 |

David Weigel gets it exactly right with respect to Bobo’s fantasies about a centrist third party built around two politicians who don’t have anything resembling centrist views on the most pressing issue of the day:

Moreover, as Yglesias points out, Brooks’ heroes McCain and Lieberman don’t represent the mainstream on the most pressing issue of our time. Both men are diehard Iraq war hawks. The mainstream of American opinion – Iraq’s a mistake, let’s start getting out, let’s not bomb Iran – if it’s represented by anyone, is represented by Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE.). Why don’t pundits like Brooks assign Americans membership of the Hegel party (maybe the Hagel-Cantwell party?). Because they like McCain and Lieberman. They don’t care that they’ve been rejected by their party’s presidential primary voters. The pundits who keep flogging these two senators and demanding that voters embrace them are like nerds raging against the popular kids winning homecoming court, and voting for the Star Trek fan club president and treasurer in protest.

Right. Pundits like Brooks have projected their adolescent crushes on hawkish pols like Lieberman onto the general public, and no matter how much evidence stares them in the face are convinced that their increasingly discredited foreign policy ideas must be overwhelmingly popular.

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