Saturday, December 29, 2007

Is Bhutto’s Death Boon or Blow to the U.S.?

Does the fear and chaos created by Bhutto’s death benefit Bush-Cheney by protracting their “war on terrorism”?

Or does it mean the assured failure of the Bush administration’s policy in Pakistan and the Middle East?

Analysts agree that the assassination of the strongly loved and hated Benazir Bhutto will cause more instability in the nuclear-armed nation. However, there seem to be more disparate opinions on the consequences this uncertainty in Pakistan bears for the U.S. and the wider world.

Many equate the resulting violent unrest in Pakistan, and the possible further derailment of its already-crippled democratic process as wreaking havoc on hopes for a stable and peaceful Pakistan. As the only Muslim nuclear nation, Pakistan is strategic for several reasons including the fact that it neighbors Afghanistan, India, Iran and China, and serves as the base for at least some of the Al Qaeda and Taliban activities. Instability in Pakistan means instability in the Middle East and across the world.

While some think the U.S. administration will worry about this spreading instability, others think it is just what it ordered – so it can not only continue its presence in South Asia and the Middle East, but increase it. The uncertain situation created by Bhutto’s death allows the U.S. administration to strengthen its political control over Pakistan, and paves the way for an expansion and deepening of the war on terror. The argument goes that Bhutto’s death benefits Bush because it yields him and his cronies greater, continuing war dividends.

I think Bhutto’s death may create more trouble than benefits for the Bush administration. The U.S. has come under harsh criticism for its unconditional support of the autocratic President Musharraf, and has been trying to phase him out of power slowly. Considered the ‘Darling of the West’ because she appeared to be closely allied with the U.S. on fighting religious extremism, U.S. officials had pushed Bhutto hard to reach a power-sharing deal with Musharraf.

With Bhutto dead, U.S. options for viable, democratic leaders to support instead of Musharraf are extremely limited.

It is bad news for the U.S. that it is stuck with Musharraf as the only suitable front-man in Pakistan to fight its war against terror. Recent reports indicate that the dictator may have wasted most of the $5 billion in aid given to Pakistan since 9/11. His track record on fighting Al Qaeda and sympathetic terrorists in Pakistan thus far is lacking at best. By cracking down on Pakistan’s judiciary and civil society, Musharraf’s power-seeking authoritarian measures threaten the already-slim prospects for democracy in the country.

Will the U.S. continue to back the autocrat? Or will it find a way to side with the people of Pakistan rather than throwing its support behind a single leader?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Al Qaeda Blamed for Bhutto’s Death

In a press conference held on Friday, the Pakistani government laid the blame for the combined shooting and suicide bomb attack that killed Bhutto on al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Shocker of all shocks, just a day after the fatal rally, Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz said investigators had resolved the "whole mystery" behind the opposition leader's killing.

The government claims it intercepted a conversation in which al Qaeda-linked militant leader Baitullah Mehsud allegedly congratulated his people for carrying out the attack.

An Interior Minister spokesperson, Javed Cheema said Mehsud was also behind the Karachi bomb blast which targeted Bhutto and killed 140 people in October.

Here is a translation of the purported conversation involving Baitullah Mehsud released by the Pakistan government.

I am shocked that the Pakistani Interior Ministry claims to have resolved the “whole mystery” of the Bhutto assassination just a day later. I am shocked that they have the gall to claim they have “irrefutable evidence” so soon in this case when they had not moved forward at all on the Karachi bomb blast investigation in over two months!

Sources can’t seem to agree about whether Bhutto died from a gun shot, shrapnel or a lever in her car’s sunroof. A surgeon who treated Bhutto says she died from shrapnel that hit her on the right side of her skull. The Interior Minister claims that neither bullet nor shrapnel hit her, and that the lever of her sunroof pierced her skull.

There is still confusion about exactly how many people were involved in the attack; whether the shooter was the suicide bomber also, or another person followed up the marksman’s three gun shots by detonating the bomb. There has also been talk of a person, presumably an attacker, suddenly approaching Bhutto’s armored car on a motorcycle moments before the bomb went off.

Amid all these conflicting reports of how the attack transpired, I’m shocked by the arrogance with which the Pakistani government is pushing its agenda to blame al Qaeda. I’m not questioning the possibility that Mehsud really was behind the attack, I simply don’t trust that the Musharraf regime is invested in bringing the real culprits to justice. I am greatly saddened by how it took the government no time to help realize my greatest fear…that it would be unwilling to conduct a serious, independent investigation into the death of a great leader.

P.S. How many of you believe the transcript of Mehsud’s conversation is real?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassination: Who Stands to Benefit?

The assassination of Pakistan’s twice-elected Prime Minister raises many a question of grave concern.

Ask yourself who benefits most from the removal of Benazir Bhutto from the Pakistani political landscape.

As he does with mostly everything these days, President Musharraf was quick to tie the assassination back to the fight against terrorism. When President Musharraf addressed the Pakistani nation shortly after Bhutto died from her injuries in a Rawalpindi hospital, he said she was assassinated by the same terrorists against whom the country has been fighting.

But the Islamic militants are not the only ones who disliked Bhutto...

Is it possible that Musharraf is just scapegoating “religious extremism” in Pakistan for Bhutto’s murder the same way he used it to justify imposing emergency rule?

After all, Musharraf stands to reap the most benefits from the vacuum in political leadership left by Bhutto’s death.

It is plausible that the religious extremists in Pakistan played a role in her assassination. Bhutto had repeatedly avowed to crush the rising extremism and militancy in Pakistan after she came into power. Bhutto also received letters threatening suicide attacks from “friends of Al Qaeda” on October 23.

While the religious extremists had their reasons to hate Bhutto, they did not have much to gain from ensuring her removal from the Pakistani political arena. The Islamic parties in Pakistan are floundering for minimal support, even in their stronghold of NWFP where they won control of the provincial assembly in 2002. As I wrote in an earlier post, only 4% of Pakistanis intend to vote for the religious parties in the upcoming elections. The reasons for this disfavor are myriad and such that wouldn’t be solved by the removal of Bhutto alone.

Maybe former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had a motive because his party, PML-N, was the main opposition to Benazir Bhutto’s PPP in the January 2008 elections. Sharif, however, has been permanently barred from contesting the elections. The Election Commission of Pakistan bases the rejection of his nomination papers on his conviction in 2000 on terrorism and hijacking charges while Sharif’s party claims that the rejection is politically motivated and that Musharraf is behind it. Sharif’s supporters point out that his nomination papers were rejected on December 3, 2007 on the grounds of his 2000 conviction despite the fact that they were accepted for the 2002 elections when he was in Saudi Arabia.

With Bhutto killed and Sharif barred from contesting the election, Musharraf’s party, PML-Q, no longer has to face Pakistan’s two biggest political parties in January’s parliamentary elections. Interestingly enough, two days prior to her return to Pakistan and the twin suicide blasts that took the lives of about 140 people, Bhutto sent a letter to Musharraf in which she named four persons she believed posed a threat to her life. One of the four she named was Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Chief Minister of Punjab and parliamentary leader of PML-Q. Elahi is now widely tipped to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.

The assassination of Bhutto leaves the U.S. without a viable West-aligned, moderate and democratic leader committed to continuing America’s war against terror in Pakistan. The U.S. administration again finds itself in a situation where seemingly it has no option but to rely on Musharraf.

Bhutto’s untimely and tragic demise has left Musharraf in an unparalleled, strengthened position. His party faces effectively little competition in the upcoming elections. He has once again become the only suitable front-man in Pakistan to fight America’s war against terror.

Will the U.S. administration be able to find another viable, democratic leader to support in Pakistan? How will U.S. foreign policy shape up following this tragedy?

And, perhaps most importantly, what will Musharraf do?

Monday, December 24, 2007

What You Didn’t Know about Foreign Aid

As the U.S. rethinks its promise of $750 million in civilian aid to Pakistan’s tribal regions, and Australia, Britain and France promise new aid packages to Afghanistan, I was reminded of a highly insightful research paper that analyzes the determinants of foreign aid.

The authors, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith, both professors of politics at New York University, approach foreign aid as resources traded for policy concessions. This means they view official giving abroad as aid-for-deals rather than as motivated by humanitarian concern.

According to the authors, donor country governments are willing to purchase policy concessions that are favorable to their country but costly to recipient countries. Such policies are always harmful to the recipient country or they would not have to be paid to pursue them.

Mesquita and Smith analyzed bilateral OECD aid data for all countries during the years 1960-2001 and found some very interesting results. I summarize the thought-provoking ones as follows:

  • Autocracies are more likely to receive aid than democracies.

That autocratic regimes attract more foreign aid from OECD countries reflects the fact that it is cheaper to buy off a dictator who only needs to pacify his small group of loyal cronies. Since it is hard for a democratic government to implement a policy that hurts the country, it is more expensive for a donor government to buy that policy concession. Because democratic leaders require high levels of aid before being willing to provide policy concessions, they are less likely to receive any aid.

  • When democracies receive aid, however, they get larger aid packages than autocracies receive.

Since the aid-recipient democratic government is answerable to its entire electorate rather than a small group of loyal followers, it incurs a higher cost in implementing a policy concession unfavorable to its populace. The size of the aid packages offered to democratic countries reflects this higher cost.

  • Needy countries are not very likely to receive aid.

The authors use the crude death rate, measured as number of deaths per thousand people, as the indicator of a country’s need. “A high death rate is associated with poor health care, poor sanitation and drinking water, too few physicians, immunizations, inadequate education, and so forth.”

Altruistic donors should predictably give more aid to needier countries with worse death rates. The empirical analysis shows that having trade and security interests with a certain country increases the chances that it receives aid from OECD countries while being needy does not.

  • Conditioning on receiving aid, needy countries are likely to receive small aid packages.

Non-U.S. OECD countries are not only less likely to give aid to needy countries but when they give, they are also giving them relatively less.

This supports the aid-for-deals theory. The neediest are not receiving the most aid; rather, those whose policy compliance can be purchased at an affordable price apparently are offered aid and agree to take it.

  • Contrary to popular belief, U.S. does not have a more cynical aid policy than the rest of the OECD.

It is well-known that relative to many European, especially Scandinavian, countries, U.S. gives very little aid as a proportion of its GDP.

The data shows, however, that while non-US OECD members gave less to those with the greatest need, the U.S. was needs blind in the amount of aid it gave. Furthermore, while other OECD countries are less likely to give at all to needy countries, the U.S. is more likely to give to countries with a significantly elevated mortality rate.

These results suggest that the argument that non-U.S. OECD members are more motivated by humanitarian concerns may need some reconsideration.

The on-going discussion about the efficacy of foreign aid as a poverty alleviation tool would be significantly improved if it acknowledged that the reduction of poverty is not aid's primary function either for donors or recipients.

Which of the study's findings stood out to you as surprising, awful, or obvious?

Pakistan’s Tyranny Continues

The New York Times published this must-read op-ed by Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan yesterday.

A former minister of the interior and of law and justice, Aitzaz Ahsan is the president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.

He successfully represented now-deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry’s case in the Supreme Court which reinstated the Chief Justice and declared his March 2007 suspension by President Pervez Musharraf “illegal”.

Aitzaz Ahsan and Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry have been under house arrest since Musharraf’s declaration of the state of emergency on November 3rd.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Why Pakistan’s Islamic Parties are Struggling for Support

This report in the Washington Post should put to rest any fears that a Taliban-style cleric may emerge as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan following its January 8 elections.

A recent survey shows that only 4 percent of Pakistanis intend to support the religious parties in the upcoming elections.

The results of the last Pakistani parliamentary election in 2002, the high-water mark for the Islamic parties of Pakistan, took many political analysts by surprise. The MMA (Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal), a then newly-formed, broad coalition of religious parties captured not only 12 percent of the national vote but also won control of the provincial government of NWFP (North-West Frontier Province is one of Pakistan’s four provinces).

A number of factors explain the short-lived political success of Pakistan’s democratically-aligned mullahs.

The Incumbency Factor

In 2002, the Pakistani public had hoped for real change when they voted for MMA. They were fed up with both the military which refuses to stay within its barracks and the corrupt, secular parties. The religious parties lacked such a condemning record because they had never really been tested in political office before. After having served for the past five years, the MMA’s record proved to be no different from that of the opponent parties they had criticized. For the most part, they failed to deliver on their vow of ‘clean government and improved citizen services’.

Rising Islamic Militancy

The religious parties have been hurt by the fact that they have either acted indifferent towards the growing insurgency threat in NWFP or quietly supported it. Common Pakistanis caught between the cross-fire of radical Islamic hardliners – such as Maulana Fazlullah of Swat – and the Pakistani troops fighting them are highly resentful of both the spreading Talibanization and the sharply deteriorating law and order situation.

Increased Competition

In the upcoming election, MMA faces stiff competition from Pakistan’s two main, freshly-invigorated opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and Pakistan Peoples Party. Both parties’ leaders, former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, were exiled in 2002 but are riding a surge of popularity following their respective successful returns to Pakistan this past year.

The MMA Splits

The religious parties simply failed to agree on a unified campaign strategy for the January 8 elections. While MMA President Qazi Hussain Ahmed called for a boycott of the upcoming elections, which most think will be rigged, one of the major religious parties, Jamait-ul-Ulama-Islam (JUI) decided to contest them anyway. The five-year old testy coalition between the religious parties unraveled and took much of the support for the Islamic parties down with it.

The Musharraf Stigma

Following their parliamentary success in 2002, the religious parties formed an alliance government with President Musharraf’s PML-Q party. The MMA committed the blunder of continuing to support the dictator even as his popularity took serious and repeated hits this past year. JUI’s tacit support to Musharraf to get him re-elected President for yet another term in October 2007 may very well have been the last nail in their coffin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Top 10 Reasons Not to Grow up in Iraq as a Child

Imagine growing up in Iraq which has been dubbed the world’s best-known conflict and its least well-known humanitarian crisis.

  1. The continuing violence in Iraq displaces 25,000 children every month as their families are forced to seek shelter in other parts of Iraq or outside its borders.
  1. Approximately 75,000 children were living in camps or temporary shelters by the end of this year.
  1. This year alone, 1350 children were detained by military and police authorities for alleged security violations.
  1. Iraq has anywhere from 3 to 4 million orphans, according to its Ministry for Planning and Development Corporation.

Since about 90% of those who die violent deaths are men, the number of unsupported widows and orphans in the country keeps rising. Out of the millions of orphans in Iraq, only 470 are supported by the government according to Nadira Habib, a member of the Committee on Family and Childhood Affairs in the Iraqi parliament.

  1. It is estimated that 122,000 Iraqi children died in 2005 before reaching their 5th birthday.

The under-five mortality rate (U5MR) is considered a critical indicator of the well-being of children. Expressed as a rate per 1000 live births, it is the probability of dying between birth and exactly five years of age. Iraq’s under-five mortality rate in 2005 was 125 compared to the United States’ U5MR of 7.

  1. One out of three children in Iraq is malnourished and underweight.

Acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 years of age had been steadily declining for two years until the U.S. decided to invade Iraq. Twenty months after the invasion, the rate of acute malnutrition had almost doubled as it shot back up from 4% to 7.7% in late 2004.

  1. In May 2007, UNICEF reported that 25 percent of Iraqi children between the ages of six months and five years suffer from acute or chronic malnutrition.

Did you know that the nutrition issue facing Iraqi children a generation ago was obesity? Malnutrition only appeared as a problem in the 1990s with U.S.-championed U.N. trade sanctions against Iraq.

  1. An estimated 760,000 Iraqi children were out of primary school in 2006.

UNICEF reports say an additional 220,000 children of primary-school age may have had their education disrupted in the year 2007 alone.

  1. Only 28 percent of Iraq’s 17-year olds sat their final exams this past summer.

Furthermore, only 40 percent of those that did sit their final exams in South and Central Iraq achieved a passing grade.

  1. The figures quoted above can only attempt to capture the slightest part of the ordeal that Iraqi children face every day.

Any amount of words or numbers will fail to do justice to their suffering…to the parents, relatives, shelter, health, laughter, and peace that Iraqi children have lost as a result of this war.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Earmarks: Bad Policy yet Good Politics

President Bush’s press conference yesterday sparked a fierce debate about pork barrel spending which has been skyrocketing over the past decade. Many regard earmarks as corruptive and wasteful, arguing that they stymie progress, thwart innovation, and generally muck up the spending process. Others point out that earmark money is at least spent in the U.S., boosts the American economy, and employs American workers.

A lot of the discourse surrounding earmarks consists of bitter, partisan blame game. President Bush chastised Democratic leaders yesterday for failing to live up to their campaign promise to curb pork barrel spending. Democrats are calling the Bush administration's attempts at eleventh hour "fiscal conservatism" hypocritical given the trillions of dollars it has drained in the Iraq war.

Amidst all this finger-pointing, there is also the never-ending debate of whether earmarks are down 25 percent according to Taxpayers for Common Sense, 43 percent as the Democratic leadership claims, or 13 percent according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Rather than get entangled in the exact magnitude of pork barrel appropriations, we would all be better served by examining what is fueling these undeniably egregious Congressional pet projects.

We need to step back from the partisan bickering and acknowledge that pork barrel spending persists today regardless of the party in power because it simply is an “excellent reelection tool”. Tom Evslin does a great job here of explaining why “earmarks are a big reason why most Americans have a low regard for congress as a whole BUT continue to reelect incumbents at an overwhelming rate.”

Earmarks are a crucial way that lawmakers channel money back home and boost their chances of reelection. Some people defend these pork barrel appropriations as allowing states to micro-manage. However, the sheer number of these projects and questionable allocations – such as bike trails and Alaska’s now-infamous “bridge to nowhere” – has amply highlighted its downright wastefulness.

Before jumping on the bandwagon to criticize the other party for not doing enough to curb this wasteful spending, we must understand that earmark projects – and the bad policies they enact – are widespread because they are good politics. As long as our lawmakers have the opportunity to score themselves some reelection credits by inserting their pet projects into massive appropriations bills, pork barrel spending will not fall… regardless of our representatives’ benign intentions.

President Bush has the wonderfully convenient opportunity to get rid of many of the earmarks tacked onto the $516 billion omnibus spending bill because he doesn’t have to worry about reelection. If we are to see any lasting reform on pork barrel spending, however, the structural incentives that encourage, even necessitate earmarks must somehow be eliminated.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Clinton and the Battle of the Sexes

Does Senator Hillary Clinton’s fight for the White House reflect a nationwide Battle of the Sexes?

This article in the Washington Post today claims just that.

The author’s argument is two-fold.

Firstly, Lois Romano points to the unmistakable gender gap in voting preferences.

The New York Daily News national poll shows that in a head-to-head match-up with Hillary Clinton, she would have the support of 45 percent of women voters, compared to 30 percent for Giuliani. Given that more women head to the polls than men (In the 2004 presidential election, 67.3 million women voted compared with 58.5 million men) this voting gender gap may help Clinton outpace her rivals.

In Iowa, Clinton's support among male Democratic caucus-goers lags behind Barack Obama, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. While support for Clinton and Obama is fairly evenly split among women voters (36 and 32 percent respectively), a much larger gender gap emerges when considering men. Obama successfully claims the support of 33 percent of Iowan men surveyed compared to the measly 21 percent commanded by Clinton.

The gender gap in voting is perhaps most evident when considering which of the presidential candidates people want to prevent from becoming President. Senator Clinton was the overwhelmingly popular “anti-pick” with as many as 40 percent of American voters saying they would vote to keep her out of the White House. Clinton had a clear lead in this poll! The total for rival candidate Rudy Guiliani who came in at second place was only 17 percent, less than half of Clinton’s score.

The new Fox 5-The Washington Times-Rasmussen Reports survey shows that while Clinton performed poorly in many demographics, younger male voters dislike her the most. A whopping 53 percent of male voters younger than 40 said they would use their vote to keep Clinton from winning the presidency. The figure drops to just 39 percent amongst young women voters, indicating a stark gender gap.

Lois Romano’s claim in the Washington Post goes beyond this gendered difference in voting preferences though. He argues that men tend to dislike Hillary more and “the stated reasons for their aversion to Clinton seem more complicated and …far more visceral than substantive”.

They just don't like her, some say. They don't know what she stands for. They believe her word is no good, that she doesn't believe that she can be held accountable. They see her as intellectual snob who lets you know she's smarter. They say she sounds like everybody's ex-wife. They can't tell if she's the loyal, traditional wife who stayed with her husband for love after his humiliating extramarital affair -- or a canny politician who stayed because it was politically expedient.

The second argument Romano makes is that male skepticism about Clinton based on such flimsy attributes can plausibly be attributed to sexism.

It may very well be true that American men aren’t ready for a female president but I don’t think there is any evidence about that just yet. After all, the New York Daily News national poll of women revealed that forty percent of respondents said they think Clinton stayed with her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, after his affair with Monica Lewinsky for political advantage.

The most recent Iowa poll shows that Obama’s comparative advantage against Clinton lies in his “honesty and trustworthiness” on which score he leads the New York Senator 34-18 percent.

The results of these two polls indicate that men and women share the so-called ‘visceral’ reasons for disliking Clinton. While the gender gap of voting preferences is hard, cold fact, it can’t automatically and convincingly be attributed to the sexism of American men.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Estonia: The Baltic Tiger

Dubbed as the Baltic Tiger, the small former Soviet Republic of Estonia has successfully rid itself of its communist-era shackles and has rapidly become the epitome of economic freedom. Merely fifteen years after Estonia first emerged from Communist oppression in 1992, ranks Estonia as the 12th freest economy in the world.

Estonia owes its transformation from an isolated, impoverished part of the Soviet Union to one of the most dynamic and modern economies of today to former Prime Minister, Mart Laar. The 2006 recipient of the Cato Institute’s Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty, Laar was responsible for implementing many of the late Nobel Prize-winning economist’s ideas in Estonia. Laar instituted many radical reforms; he unilaterally eliminated tariffs, allowed foreign investment, privatized government functions and drastically cut taxes on businesses and individuals.

One of the newest members of the European Union, Estonia has a simple flat income tax of 23 percent, which the government intends to reduce to 20 percent by 2009. It has no corporate income tax and charges only a flat tax rate on shareholder dividends.

In 1992, Estonia was wreaked by 1000 percent inflation and unemployment as high as 30 percent. With the extensive market reforms, however, Estonia’s GDP has grown at an average of 7 percent over the last five years, and inflation has been moderate and controlled at about 3 percent.

The Estonian government places no restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate which has fueled a property investment boom among overseas buyers. It is ranked higher than the U.S. in terms of the openness of its financial sector. The insurance sector is dominated by foreign firms, and the two largest banks which are foreign account for 60 percent of all financial sector assets.

The World Bank ranks Estonia 17th among 175 economies in ease of doing business, and sixth in ease of trading across borders. Starting a business in Estonia takes an average of 35 days, compared to the world average of 48 days.

The remarkable economic performance of Estonia seems set to continue into the future too. A hi-tech, knowledge-based economy, this small Baltic state is also referred to as E-stonia. As much as 95 percent of its banking operations are conducted electronically. The government also launched a virtual embassy which will be used to market Estonia across the Internet. In March 2007, it became the first country to hold a general election that allowed e-voting over the Web.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Kyoto Protocol: Why the U.S. must ratify the climate change pact

As the U.S. continues to drag its feet on the Kyoto treaty, a fierce debate continues worldwide about the efficacy, fairness and even the very need of the climate change pact. As is the norm with any hotly contested issue, a lot of misinformation is being thrown around with regards to the Kyoto plan for tackling global warming.

An article in the American Thinker reports:

If we look at carbon dioxide emissions data and compare 2004 (latest year for which data is available) to 1997 (last year before the Kyoto treaty was signed), we find the following:

  • Emissions worldwide increased 18 percent.
  • Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 21 percent.
  • Emissions from non-signers increased 10 percent.
  • Emissions from the U.S. increased 6.6 percent.

By providing statistics showing that countries that signed the Kyoto treaty went on to be worse emissions offenders than countries that didn’t, the author is trying to argue that countries that signed the Kyoto treaty aren’t putting their money where their mouth is.

But a more careful look at the same table (#1317) that American Thinker derived its startling statistics from suggests something else.

American Thinker was content with simply comparing country emissions levels in two randomly plucked years, 1997 and 2004. When I examined emissions levels for a group of years before 1997 with those for a few years after 1997, I got very different results.

Comparing the pre-Kyoto period of 1991-1997 to the post-Kyoto period of 1997-2004, I find that:

  • Emissions worldwide increased 11.76 percent.
  • Emissions from countries that signed the treaty increased 11.65 percent.
  • Emissions from non-signers increased 12.01 percent.
  • Emissions from the U.S. increased 9.55 percent.

From these figures, it becomes obvious that American Thinker’s sensational results were being driven merely by data from two randomly chosen, unrepresentative and idiosyncratic years.

Their report also overlooked the fact that 27 of the thirty-odd countries that have not ratified the Kyoto treaty are responsible for less than 0.1% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions as measured in 1980 (same table). When measured as a percentage of today’s higher emissions levels, these countries’ contribution drops even further! When the non-signers group has this many countries which produce such little emissions, of course the rate of increase is going to be very low.

All countries that are serious polluters and therefore need to cut back on emissions have committed to doing so, except for the U.S. Some dissenters may point out that even using the figures above, the performance of signers versus non-signers isn’t anything to write home about.

It is true that there is no significant difference between the emissions growth in the countries that signed the Kyoto treaty and those that didn’t sign it. But that’s because while the emissions data is only available up until 2004, Kyoto went into force in most of the countries only in the year 2005 or later.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Obama and the Audacity of Naiveté

Political analysts and rival U.S. presidential candidates are fast realizing that bashing Obama's lack of experience may be the most viable line of attack against the Illinois Senator. Rumors that Obama is secretly Muslim have not done much and will likely take a backseat after his appearance at Church last Sunday. Furthermore, Hilary Clinton's recent slide in the polls painfully highlighted the inefficacy of slandering his kindergarten essays and candidly admitted teenage experiments.

Former President Bill Clinton tried yesterday to return the American public's focus to the fact of Obama's naiveté. He wondered out loud whether voters are "prepared to roll the dice" on the forty-six year old who joined the Senate in 2005, and started running a mere year after that.

Today, Paul Krugman also chimed in on his New York Times op-ed, criticizing what he calls the Senator's inexperienced "Big Table Fantasies".

Krugman criticizes Obama for wanting to engage with the insurance and drug lobbies in the health care reform process that he, like most of the other Democratic candidates, is promising.

"We want to reduce the power of drug companies and insurance companies and so forth, but the notion that they will have no say-so at all in anything is just not realistic," Obama said in the Democratic Debate at Des Moines, Iowa last week.

Krugman argues that Obama is being unrealistic because the drug and insurance companies - the cause of many of our health care problems - are unlikely to have a constructive role in health reform. He describes it as a simplistic, rational incentives story. The drug and insurance companies see their profits reduced by any serious health reform plan, and therefore will grind their teeth against any and all such proposed changes.

While Krugman is right about these companies being opposed to reforms, he misses the point that simply ignoring these companies doesn't make them go away. Stiff resistance from these industries is guaranteed. Given this implacable position, however, what is the best that any contender hoping to bring about serious health care reform can do? Working with the industries and including them in the process, no matter how highly contested it may be (and it definitely will be!) seems more practical.

Obama has said, "'s time to let the drug and insurance industries know that while they'll get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair." But how can we be sure the drug and insurance industries will be content with not buying every chair?

It seems that they were in at least one particular instance in Illinois in 2004.

Obama was instrumental in the successful legislation of the Health Care Justice Act which was narrowly passed by the Illinois Senate in May, 2004. One of his three amendments to the bill made changes favorable to the insurance industry, but in doing so brought them on board with a policy that they had vigorously been trying to sink from day one.

That industries oppose any policy that hurts their profits is obvious. Once substantial bipartisan support develops in the legislature for the policy, making it increasingly likely to become law, however, it is rational for the same industries to want to have an input in the policy-making process. Their strategy then shifts from one of 'dragging their feet' with regards to the proposed measure to trying to work with the disliked but inevitable policy measure in order to minimize their damages.

All relevant parties affected by a certain measure can and need to have a constructive role in its development. Given the undeniable power of lobbies in U.S. politics, I think Obama's strategy of giving the industries a seat on the big table is far from fantasy. It is a step toward acknowledging their influence on the policy-making framework, and therefore, molding it too.