.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, April 28

Making Bush democracy doctrine work and a visit to the Russia House

"Dear Pundita, I grew up hating the Soviet Union but I'm beginning to see what you're saying about Russia. The [US] government is practicing a double standard in their dealings with Russia and Saudi Arabia. This is hurting the democracy doctrine."
[Signed] Ernest in Miami"

Dear Ernest:

To be a government is to practice a double standard when it comes to strategically important foreign relations. However, even double standards have a code. If you break the code--make it so fuzzy and full of exceptions that nobody can predict what you'll do, you're in trouble. This is why the State Department is very unhappy with Bush's war on terror and his democracy doctrine; they are messing up the code.

State has their own democracy doctrine, which served them very well, thank you, in peeling former Soviet republics away from Moscow's influence.

On paper, both doctrines are the same. In practice, State's version leaves nothing to chance; i.e., the idea that the democratic process will produce a staunch US ally. In short, the State version of democratic government is a carefully managed stage show. Bush's version, as he has spelled it out in speeches, clearly interprets genuine democracy as the best friend of the USA.

A quarter century ago, one could argue that Bush's view is idealistic but impractical when applied to real-world situations, of that kind the Soviet Union represented. Today, Bush's view is not only practical but also the best informed. But George W. Bush is standing at a bend in the road that the rest of Washington and the academic/policy establishments have not yet reached.

This is partly because the dominant American philosophy schools are stuck at the place called post-modernism, which means an endless recycling of ideas that came before. This applies as well to foreign policy philosophy.

That is why the completely uninformative term "neoconservative" gained coin, why "progressive" thinking is a rehash of old discredited socialist ideas, why "realist" schools can only root around in the history of American presidents for different ways to say the same old things, and in general why clear thinking has ground to a halt in Washington.

The other part is that Bush's clarity of thought about democracy is matched only by his difficulty at explaining his thought processes. Thus, State has an excuse for their muddle: they're not mind readers.

The key to understanding the Bush democracy doctrine is to realize it didn't evolve from a love of democracy--even though Bush, as with most Americans, does love the concept. The doctrine emerged from his reading of how to stop terrorism.

How Bush got from point A to point B in his thinking is a story for another day. For now--State can dredge up examples to shore the argument that left to their own devices people can vote in governments that are very unfriendly to the USA. The US foreign office is charged with looking out for America's best interests, so their version of the democracy doctrine has history on its side. But it's in the practice of the historical US double standard that State's present view is muddled and counterproductive.

For example, Saudi Arabia only supplies roughly a quarter of America's petroleum needs, if memory serves. But Saudi Arabia, as the largest oil producer, dominates OPEC. So State's reasoning behind applying a double standard to Saudi Arabia's lack of democracy is that an unfriendly leader at OPEC translates into very serious problems for the USA.

Ergo, don't push the Saudis too hard and too fast to adopt democracy. But it's okay to read the riot act to Putin because he suspended rigged elections for governors and shut down media outlets owned by tax-evading oligarchs perched beyond the reach of Russian law.

What's wrong with that picture? What's wrong is that it's no longer OPEC that dominates the petroleum business and thus, world trade. It's demand for oil that dominates it. OPEC can only hang on for the ride.

The cartel is now under constant and steadily increasing threat of disintegration. The threat comes from deals cut by oil producing countries with governments that are trying to keep up with their skyrocketing demands for petroleum.

Going back decades, the Saudis have warned a succession of US administrations that this day was coming. Well, now it's here and nobody's ready for it. That's a good way to summarize foreign policy thinking, as well. The playbooks treat situations that no longer exist.

So how do we get from here to that place on the road where Bush is standing and pointing at a dot on the horizon? The way is to organize into a school of policy certain observations that have been floating around for years in various quarters, including the IMF, USAID, and Putin's government. Bits and pieces are also found in Hernando de Soto's observations about the black-market economy and in writings by other informed observers (including some of de Soto's critics).

The observations derive from analyzing mistakes that governments and development banks have made while trying to promote democratic reforms in developing countries and FSU countries, including Russia.

What stands up and shouts about the mistakes is that they come from the attempt to institute democracy as a finished product rather than an evolutionary kernel. In this, the democratic reforms fly in the face of the way mature democracy came about in Western countries.

So instead of talking about "democracy" as a monolithic phenomenon, it helps to divide it into two categories: Evolutionary Democracy and Imposed Democracy. I'm sure someone could think up better names for the categories (and maybe already has) but for the purposes of this discussion, they're in the ballpark.

America and West Europe (including the UK) represent evolutionary democracy. They had centuries to perfect their systems of government. The end product is offered by the West to peoples who don't have that evolutionary history with democracy.

But democracy isn't a gizmo that you plug in and get great reception. So if you want to bring in democracy as a finished product--leapfrog the evolutionary process--then you have to identify and break down the evolution into steps. Then ask how to apply the steps of evolutionary democracy to procedures for making imposed democracy work.

That question is the path out of the post-modernist corner into which US policy thinkers have painted themselves. And it's the way to catch up to the place on the road where President Bush is viewing the need for genuine democracy.

Genuine democracy is the best insurance against state-sponsored terrorism and conditions that birth terrorist fervor. However, there has to be a systematized way of compensating for decades and even centuries of evolutionary development. Just getting people to the voting booth and throwing them into the water of democratic government doesn't hack it in most cases.

The upshot is disillusionment with democracy and/or a 'rescue' for the democracy that amounts to a stage show: Bring in Western experts, impose reforms from the outside (e.g., via IMF edicts), and 'manage' the outcome of an election to insure that the winner will follow the outside experts' instruction.

So, behind the stage trappings is the rule by a small elite. That guarantees the majority of people under rule don't get enough experience with real democracy. So if they throw out the administration and advisors, their idea of government is right back where they started from, which can be somewhere around 1450 or much earlier.

This is just the situation Putin and his band of young technocrats are trying to avoid. Whether or not they've formalized the ideas I've sketched above, they are attempting to abstract the elements that make democracy successful, and build from there.

As to how successful they've been--considering where they started from, they've made progress in fits and starts. It's a shame Putin or someone in his administration hasn't written a book about the efforts so far. The document would be very valuable to people all over the world who are trying to formulate development and aid policy for the modern era.

But the problems that the Russian government faces are huge. Mark Safranski, an American Russia expert, is helping to educate Pundita to the scope of the problems. It was time for another lesson when he used the Russian word 'muzhik' in his ZenPundit essay about Putin's Monday address to the Russian nation.
These Russians, muzhik-descended, second-generation urbanites, older for the most part and living in outlier cities and towns are Putin's equivalent of Nixon's " Silent Majority" and Putin plays to them in a similar way.
That brought forth my request to know what a muzhik is. Mark's reply, which I publish here with his permission:
A muzhik was a peasant, particularly the unlettered, poor, kind that lived in the old village communes in Tsarist days. Prime Minister Petr Stolypin managed to free the peasantry, at least some of them anyway, from this particularly stupid form of post-serfdom by breaking up the village collectives, at least in terms of law.

(To understand the collective landholding, think medieval serfs being allotted several noncontiguous plots of land each several miles from the other. [Then you] understand why Tsarist Russia had famines despite the black earth region.)

Uneducated, superstitious and ignorant, the muzhiks were also sometimes called "the dark people" and feared for their occasional incredibly savage, mass rebellions...which would kill tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

The peasantry who escaped the tyranny of the village and became prosperous private farmers later became known to history as "kulaks" ( the fist --"the greedy hand"). Being the most productive, efficient and successful, the kulaks were of course killed by Stalin during collectivization.

The poor and middle peasants were then shoved by the Soviet state onto Sovkhovs (State farms) and worst of all, Kolkhozs (Collectives) and given internal passports, which prohibited them from leaving and relocating to towns or cities. And so of course, Russia again had famines.

Stalin let them starve, Brezhnev bought imported grain. Ninety percent of the Russian people are of recent peasant descent. They don't live particularly well or expect to--Moscow is a showcase of the elite by the way. Most urban Russians live in towns that would make Detroit look like Disneyland.
That last sentence instantly conveys many things to an American about today's Russia. To get more understanding of what Putin is grappling with, I recommend plowing through his entire Monday address to the Federal Assembly, then reading two excellent analyses of the address--one by Mark and the other by Peter Lavelle, the UPI senior analyst for Russia affairs.

All that reading will stand you in good stead, for the problems that Russia faces are shared, to one degree or another, by the world's most underdeveloped nations. Before rushing in with more aid and development loans, Americans need a better picture of the terrain.

Vladimir Putin's speech
ZenPundit's Russia House
Peter Lavelle's Putin's Catechism

Why John Bolton is the Man for the Job

Pundita's support for John Bolton as the US ambassador to the UN is pragmatic to the point of cynical. I think the United Nations is a relic of a time in history that is gone and won't return--a time when a handful of nations could control all the rest. But because the US government is bound and determined to send an ambassador to the UN, I support sending John Bolton.

He is someone who knows the UN joint inside out, and to the extent anyone can get things done there, he is that person. So he represents an honor accorded to the original idea behind the organization: before washing our hands of the United Nations, at least give it the best try we can to make parts of the United Nations functional.

From that viewpoint, I present some weighty endorsements of Bolton's capability for the job, which frankly is ambassadorial in name only. He's being sent to break up logjams and ram through reforms that halt the UN's worst offenses.

I consider the endorsements weighty because they are well-reasoned and focus on Bolton's accomplishments and his proven skill at representing US interests. The first endorsement is my selection of quotes from a piece that was published in the Washington Post:
...Bolton, who has been writing about the United Nations for decades, is one of the few people in public life willing to draw the distinction between what the United Nations actually is and what everybody would like it to be.

The United Nations is not a popularly elected world government; it isn't even a collection of well-meaning people who just want peace. It is a group of different agencies with different agendas, some of which are relatively effective and some of which are ineffective or even dangerous...

But if the United Nations isn't good in and of itself, neither is it evil. It is only as good or bad as its employees, all political appointees whose activities are, by ordinary government or business standards, subjected to shockingly little oversight. Unlike, say, the U.S. civil service, or the Japanese bureaucracy, the U.N. bureaucracy is not beholden to a democratic government or even a sovereign government.

There is no electorate that can toss the Libyans out of the human rights commissioner's chair, no judicial system that can try corrupt officials. As I understand Bolton's critique of the United Nations and other international institutions (when he isn't being Rumsfeldesque in his turn of phrase) it is precisely this that concerns him:

Indeed, he has spoken and written for many years on the threats to America's sovereignty -- and everyone else's sovereignty -- from international institutions that owe nobody any allegiance, are subject to no independent review and have no democratic legitimacy of their own.

The trouble with many U.N. defenders is that they refuse to see this fundamental problem, and demand a constantly expanding role for the United Nations without explaining how its lack of democratic accountability is to be addressed.

The trouble with many U.N. detractors, in Congress and elsewhere, is that they see the corruption and nothing else. But there is a role for U.N. institutions -- in Afghanistan, or in international health -- as long as that role is limited in time and cost. And there is a desperate need for U.N. reform. In defense of John Bolton: He may, if he can get confirmed, be one of the few U.N. ambassadors who has thought a good deal about how to set such limits and make such reforms.

-- From Defending Bolton
By Anne Applebaum
Washington Post, March 9, 2005; Page A21
The next endorsement represents passages from a Senate Floor statement by Senator Gordon Smith on April 21, 2005. Kindly note the mention of Bolton's pro bono work for the UN:
As an Assistant Secretary for International Organizations from 1989 to 1993 in the first Bush administration, Under Secretary Bolton worked for Secretary James Baker on UN reform matters and on the repayment of arrearages and assessments.

While serving as the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations, he detailed his concept of a unitary UN that sought to ensure management and budget reforms that impacted the entire UN system, not only the UN Secretariat...This is the type of creativity and resourcefulness we need in order to address the enormous problems within the United Nations.

In 1991, Under Secretary Bolton was the principal architect behind the initiatives that finally led the United Nations General Assembly to repeal the resolution that equated Zionism and racism, one of the more notorious and heinous resolutions ever passed by the United Nations...

During his time out of government, Mr. Bolton served the United Nations on a pro bono basis between 1997 and 2000 [emphasis mine], as an assistant to former Secretary of State Baker in his capacity as the Secretary General's personal envoy for Western Sahara, working to resolve the dispute over that territory--quite an effort from someone who does not believe in the power of multilateralism and international organizations, which is alleged against him but is not true...

He also shaped the administration's approaches to countering the threat of WMD proliferation and, most importantly, the proliferation security initiative, a program that led directly to the discovery of Libya's nuclear program and its subsequent disarmament.
And finally, a letter of endorsement signed by 53 distinguished former ambassadors:
April 12, 2005

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar
Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee...

Dear Senator Lugar,

Your Committee will soon be reasoning together on the nomination of John R. Bolton as our country's next Ambassador to the United Nations. We urge you to give special weight at this time to the explosions of freedom now taking place in Ukraine, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, to name just a few. We believe that these early stirrings of courageous groups within countries that for too long have held on to rigid authoritarian or in some cases totalitarian rule reflect in large measure the policies and optimistic realism of President George W. Bush.

No one in the world of diplomacy and geo-political policy has a better grounding of proven experience than John Bolton. He was on hand as an active participant during the period of the break-up of the Soviet Union and made important contributions to policy-making at a time of total ambiguity when the world of two superpowers was morphing into what we have today.

We believe it is in the best interest of the community of nations as represented by the United Nations, for the maintenance of world peace and security, that the views of America's President be clearly and directly presented in both the General Assembly and the Security Council of the UN.

It is for this reason more than any other that we urge you to quickly and clearly approve John's nomination.

Sincerely,

Bruce S. Gelb, former Director of USIA; former Ambassador to Belgium

Anne L. Armstrong, former Ambassador to the United Kingdom

William S. Farish, former Ambassador to the United Kingdom

Walter J.P. Curley, former Ambassador to France and Ireland

Richard R. Burt, former Ambassador to Germany

Peter Secchia, former Ambassador to Italy

Edward N. Ney, former Ambassador to Canada

Chic Hecht, former Ambassador to The Bahamas; former US Senator

Alfred H. Kingon, former Ambassador to the European Union; former Assistant Secretary of Commerce

Thomas Patrick Melady, former Ambassador to The Vatican, Uganda and Burundi

Frank Shakespeare, former Ambassador to Portugal and The Vatican

Michael Sotirhos, former Ambassador to Greece and Jamaica

Robert D. Stuart, Jr., former Ambassador to Norway

Weston Adams, former Ambassador to Malawi

Everett E. Bierman, former Ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu

Stephen F. Brauer, former Ambassador to Belgium

Nancy G. Brinker, former Ambassador to Hungary

Keith L. Brown, former Ambassador to Denmark and Lesotho

Richard W. Carlson, former Director of VOA; former Ambassador to Seychelles

Gerald P. Carmen, former Ambassador to the United Nations

Sue McCourt Cobb, former Ambassador to Jamaica

Charles E. Cobb, Jr., former Ambassador to Iceland

Peter H. Dailey, former Ambassador to Ireland and Special Envoy to NATO

Diana Lady Dougan, former Ambassador - US Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy

Richard J. Egan, former Ambassador to Ireland

William H.G. Fitzgerald, former Ambassador to Ireland

Joseph Ghougassian, former Ambassador to Qatar and Senior member in Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq

Joseph B. Gildenhorn, former Ambassador to Switzerland

Glen A. Holden, former Ambassador to Jamaica

Richard L. Holwill, former Ambassador to Ecuador

Charles W. Hostler, former Ambassador to Bahrain

Roy M. Huffington, former Ambassador to Austria

G. Philip Hughes, former Ambassador to Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Lester B. Korn, former Ambassador to the United Nations Economic and Social
Council

Paul C. Lambert, former Ambassador to Ecuador

L.W. Lane, Jr., former Ambassador to Australia and Nauru

Ronald S. Lauder, former Ambassador to Austria

John Langeloth Loeb, Jr., former Ambassador to Denmark

Gregory J. Newell, former Ambassador to Sweden; former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations

Julian M. Niemczyk, former Ambassador to Czechoslovakia

Sally Z. Novetzke, former Ambassador to Malta

Penne Korth Peacock, former Ambassador to Mauritius

Joseph Carlton Petrone, former Ambassador to the United Nations European Office (Geneva)

Charles J. Pilliod, Jr., former Ambassador to Mexico

James W. Rawlings, former Ambassador to Zimbabwe

Frank Ruddy, former Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea

Paul A. Russo, former Ambassador to Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica

Ronald J. Sorini, former Ambassador and Chief Textile Negotiator

Timothy L. Towell, former Ambassador to Paraguay

Helene van Damm, former Ambassador to Austria

Leon J. Weil, former Ambassador to Nepal

Faith Whittlesey, former Ambassador to Switzerland

Joseph Zappala, former Ambassador to Spain

Wednesday, April 27

How to pack a reviewing stand with fawning foreign dignitaries during your nation's Victory Day celebration

Well. Pundita wrote just a few days ago that this would be a week during which much is decided and little is announced unless Putin dropped a bombshell in his annual address to the nation. He dropped the bomb. No wonder he was philosophical about Secretary Rice's unpleasant remarks. He knew what he was going to say on Monday:
"Capital gathered by Russian citizens should work for the country. To achieve that target, we must ensure that a 13 percent income tax is paid on that money, and that the money is kept in Russian banks."
Of course he didn't add, 'This also means that at any second, Gazprom can choose to bank all their oil revenue in Russia.' But he didn't need to spell it out, to get across his message to banking executives outside Russia and their buddies in the State Department, the British foreign office and Brussels.

Pundita did warn, but Foggy Bottom turned a deaf ear. Now just see where this has led. To review:
December 30, 2004 Pundita post
A timely reminder about the IMF-Ukraine Central Bank scandal
The IMF-Ukraine affair is a sobering reminder of the connection between the FSU oligarchs and the West European banks. The Ukraine Central Bank's scheme to embezzle the IMF depended on laundering funds through European banks. That's a tactic the oligarchs perfected while carving up the Soviet Union's government-controlled industries. The tactic underscores that the oligarchs' mind-boggling wealth can't be separated from banks outside the USSR regions.

When the electronic transfers get into the billions, the deposits the banks hold onto, if even only for a few hours or days, help them underwrite lots of business loans and make big investments in the financial markets, which oils the wheels of commerce.

So there is a house-of-cards situation looming for West Europe, if the Russian government continues to wrest back control of the major industries that the oligarchs took off the Soviet government's hands. This would be provided Moscow uses control of the profits to build up Russia's bank reserves.

January 5, 2005 Pundita post
Watch out for spattering plot goo
...Pundita sticks with her thesis that any plan to hem in Russia originated on the other side of the Pond. However, this is a high stakes poker game. What would happen to the banking systems in West Europe, if the oligarchs pulled out their rainy day money and put it in local banks?

Of course not all the banks the oligarchs use are European owned; come to think of it, many of them are branches of American banks. Oh but that's right I forgot--the really big number crunching computers are owned by OPEC, BIS, and NASA. So maybe the State Department and their European counterparts overlooked a few details when they sat down to play poker with the Kremlin.

As to how long it would take for heads of state to speed-dial Putin after the first wave of electronic transfers got underway--about 12 mintues. 11-1/2 minutes to pray and the other half to lower their voices below the pitch of castrato.

Moscow holds so many high cards in this situation that this is why Pundita suspects our State Department didn't have a clear idea about what they were meddling with. The EU3 did know the score; they knew that any plan to isolate Russia was a bluff. The bluff was so dangerous that it would take the threat of force of arms to even come to the poker table. That's why the EU3 and their satellites needed the USA involved in the game.

Earth calling State Department: countries on the other side of the Atlantic have been machinating against each other for thousands of years. Their lack of perspective about each other is matched only by their knack for cooking up plots that explode or collapse from sheer complexity.
Pundita is tuckered out from pacing the rug and hopping from one foot to the other in her impatience to hear of the verdict on Khordokovsky, so I will end here with the promise to have more about the Putin speech--either late this evening or tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 26

Stuck at the Intersection, Part 4: "This mystical blend of analytic and qualitative thinking about the problems of government"

"Hi Pundita,
So you're looking for a field of large-scale system design and hoping that the insights of such a discipline will avert shortsighted government decisions that don't account for the larger context (whatever that context may be). I've been looking for the same thing, just from the other direction. I don't claim to have an answer, but I can claim some professional experience in the area.

To unpack the jargon, system engineering is the discipline of engineering entire systems, as opposed to engineering a stand-alone widget or a stand-alone computer. A related discipline is decision analysis, which is the field I work in.

If systems engineering is the discipline that tackles your first desire (a discipline of large-scale system design), decision analysis is the discipline that deals with your second desire (avert government decisions that don't view a problem in the context of everything else--to borrow Thomas Barnett's favorite phrase). It seeks to improve decision-making by bringing analytic approaches to bear. To be clear, the goal is not to replace the human decision-maker; it is rather to challenge, refine and improve human intuition.

I spend my days worrying about how to distill the tradeoffs a sponsor faces, so that they can better understand the consequences of this or that choice. I build mathematical models, use optimization tools, and try to get inside the head of the decision maker. (That last task is by far the hardest.)

The cutting edge of system engineering is in fields like complex system design, engineering large systems--basically pushing the upper threshold of the discipline. The question driving these fields is: How can we understand and manage huge and complicated systems?

While we recognize that there are theoretical limits to analytic methods (game theory, decision analysis, RAND's 1950s dream of a "science of strategy") in problem-solving, we are nowhere close to implementing even the most elementary of these approaches.

Most of the successes I've seen, when it comes to applying this stuff, comes from using the most elementary of analytic approaches. The scale of complexity that we can handle is expanding and there are great methods for improving decision-making just waiting to be used. And we need it all so badly.

Despite all this work, I still feel that we are winging it when it comes to joining the technical study of systems with the practical job of changing how the government deals with the world.

Plenty of decision analysts aren't at all concerned with the problems the government faces. Similarly, plenty of public policy/ political science/ international relations wonks aren't at all concerned with trying to truly understand the governing dynamics of the systems of the world.

(Had there been more of that sort of thinking in the fields I might have stuck with political science or international relations instead of ending up a math major.)

A year or two ago I thought that such a field existed--this mystical blend of analytic and qualitative thinking about the problems of government. I've come to realize there isn't any discipline that neatly encompasses it. But there are tantalizing pieces floating about.
[Signed] Manila in USA"

For a historian's take on the Stuck at the intersection... essays, see Mark Safranski's To think strategically you must think systematically.

For a look at an organized attempt to apply systems thinking to a range of activities, including public policy/planning, visit the Systems Dynamics Society for links to papers by Jay W. Forrester, who developed a methodology for studying and managing complex feedback systems.

Monday, April 25

Beaver Policy for John Bolton

We interrupt this blog to reply to letters that boil down to, "Please tell if there's any way we can save John Bolton's nomination."

Pundita is not a fairy godmother. And we're unaware the nomination is in jeopardy. But if you want to make matters worse, go ahead and spam the senators on that committee. Now we turn to the Adults Only page:

On her first day at her new post, Condoleezza Rice was met at the gate by State employees wearing a long pigtail and with their hands tucked into billowing silk sleeves.

They told her, "Sadly, our reading of the entrails reveals that we will not be seeing you much. Happily, this is because you will go down in history as the Traveling Secretary of State. If this is not clear, we can make it so by pounding you to dust then atomizing your molecules."

This is the same group at State who nearly brought down the Bush presidency, just as a warning to the Bush administration not to continue wandering off the NATO reservation.

This is also the Mandarins' concern about John Bolton. Now that he has seen the width of the gossamer thread dangling the sword above his head, he has a few days to ponder certain realities and send signals back.

Bolton thinks with great precision, which equates to clarity, which is why he has few real friends among the Necons, not to mention their archrivals. Here are but two examples of precise thinking Bolton has demonstrated:

Discerning the difference between international law and the International Criminal Court. (This one stumps Senator Biden, every time.)

Understanding that you must first have an American policy before you can think of meshing the policy with those representing international alliances; e.g., NATO, United Nations, European Community. (This one is the Rorschach test for Wilsonians and Natoists.)

Thus, I believe John Bolton is capable of discerning when it's wise to take a page from the beaver member of Pundita's foreign policy team. The beaver's #1 rule for how to negotiate logging rights with bears, owls and wolves who think they own the riverbank is, "Very carefully."

It is by many small steps over many decades that we got to this messy point in American history. So one does extricate oneself from mess in a single bound. If Bolton can assure the Mandarins that he knows where the line is, they will work the phones in reverse.

And he needs to give the same assurance to Secretary Rice. She needs to feel she can pick up the phone and say, "Halt until further notice" and he'll do it.

As to whether he can count on any more than limp-wristed support from Rice, put yourself in her place. He is going to upstage her, even if he works on a very short leash at the UN.

But Bolton would upstage anyone in that position at State because the UN is very ripe for change. The key players there (such as Kofi Annan) know that. And they know that Bolton has the contacts, and knowledge of the complexities, to help bring about needed changes.

In other words, he's going to have the wind at his back so he'll make it look easy; there will be some spectacular successes early on. This cannot be the case for Rice in her job. Maybe Pundita is unduly pessimistic but nothing I have seen about State has convinced me that the agency can be reformed from the inside.

What Bolton can do at the UN for Rice is take pressure off her to act the Bad Cop role.


Guys who do lunch and a guy who does good: More on Bolton

For readers who are biting their nails to the quick about John Bolton's nomination--if Kofi Annan has anything to say about it (and he does) Bolton will get the post. There's been so much garbage said and written about Bolton that I know this news will come as a shock to many, but Annan respects Bolton and with good reason.

Here's something about him you might not know (Thanks, LM):
At the moment when progressives are condemning John Bolton's nomination to the post of US ambassador to the United Nations, it's useful to recall several extraordinary efforts he's made for the benefit of small nations struggling toward liberty.

Preeminent among these is probably the case of the Western Sahara, which has been under brutal Moroccan occupation since 1975 while the majority of its citizens wait in refugee camps in Algeria for a UN-promised referendum...

...it was Bolton working with James Baker who crafted the Baker Plan to help get the Saharawi referendum back on track and...bring about a peaceful, democratic solution to one of the UN's longest-running conflicts. Morocco has nonetheless been intractable; Baker eventually issued a statement saying he'd spent seven years on the problem, made insufficient headway, and was resigning.

Not John Bolton; at the combative [nomination] hearings...in Washington, where he was under considerable attack, Bolton managed to refer three times to the patience and suffering of Saharawis...That may seem like small potatoes to persons who've never heard of the conflict, but it was electrifying to those of us who've been agitating for decades, and certainly was a source of joy to the many thousands of old and young people stuck in time in refugee camps in Algeria.

If United Nations programs are riddled with inefficiency, at best, and with entrenched corruption, at worst, then maybe a complex, pushy maverick with a proven record in at least one liberation movement could shake up those guys in the $3,000 suits who do lunch more than they do good.

Sunday, April 24

Russia: A stitch in time, and Foul Weather Friends grace Pundita with a visit

"Pundita! PLEASE answer this letter! I've said it before I'll say it again Putin needs a publicity agent although I think I'm beginning to think he needs a psychologist or maybe one of those motivational self-esteem courses. He lets Condi get away with talking all kinds of trash about him and Russia then he gets sarcastic behind her back. I know from sales work I'd have no customers if I didn't get out there and defend my product. What's wrong with him?
PS: I sent you a chocolate cake to cheer you up since your team's deserted you. The post office better not blow up that package or I'll write the inspector general or someone but I think they have my name on a list now.
[Signed] Reasonably Rested in St. Louis"

Dear RRISL:
Pundita does not have a crystal ball and I've never been to Russia but I would hazard the guess that Putin's problem, as you perceive it, is not psychological but cultural. From my conversations with Russians, my impression is that the males in particular tend to see explanation and 'selling' one's points, of the amount and kind we take for granted in this country, as a sign of weakness or begging--and maybe even a hustle.

Realize that Russians don't have a marketplace, sales-oriented tradition--or even a strong entrepreneurial tradition. Well, let's stop beating around the bush; they don't have much of a tradition as a 'business' culture.

I remember that Putin's idea of selling himself as a leader during his election campaign was to demonstrate judo throws. Granted, John Kerry killed a goose for no other reason than to sell himself as a Regular Guy. But he did a lot of other things as well to sell himself. We in this country understand the profound connection between sales and politics--or maybe Americans created the connection. Anyhow, selling is our way.

Now one could say that Russia has their own way and leave them to it. But here is where the Russians, including Putin, are getting tripped up. The Oligarchs who are trying to take back the Russian government have hired American marketing firms and publicity agents--of the kind who make the salesman in The Music Man look like a hayseed. They've put millions of US dollars into the effort.

If Pundita recalls, it was you who suggested several months ago that Putin hire one of those slick marketing firms, or maybe it was my suggestion, to improve his image with Americans. At the time I thought of the suggestion as a joke but it's beginning to look as if Russia-US relations are depending on Putin's ability to get out his message better. And maybe we need to do some cross-marketing because many Russians are bristling about all the bad press they're getting in America.

In short, there's a communication breakdown and the Oligarchs and their marketing experts have made hay with it. So let's look at what's behind the communications problem:

I think Russians tend to view Americans as shallow in their political views, anti-intellectual. I'd say that's a fair complaint in many cases but it overlooks the two major reasons for the shallowness.

First, Americans are the busiest people in the world. We work longer hours and more days of the year than people any other culture--and if I recall that includes the Japanese.

Second, this is a process-oriented, problem-solving culture: Define the problem in three sentences or less and your ideas for fixing it. We're a highly inventive, 'tinkering' culture and we worship the Do-it-yourself approach.

I think many educated Russians tend to look down on that approach as peasantry. I think that was the case for many in West Europe, as well, even during the post WW2 era. But they became more process-oriented during the past few decades. I think the Russians, by-and-large, are still catching up in that area because they were greatly isolated from the rest of the world while the Iron Curtain was up.

Put these two factors together, and they add up to the need to do hard selling to get the full attention of working Americans. That is if you want us to stop everything and chew over highly intellectual concepts. But once Americans decide to scare up some time to study a situation, we're as capable as any other people of understanding history and highly abstract concepts. Even so, there is still a cultural gap.

Russians will go on and on and on about a situation...then when you ask, "Okay, what do you want to do to solve that problem?" they say, "I've been telling you for the last five hours there is no solution. It's been this way for a thousand years and will remain so."

In America, you tell that to your boss and get fired. In Russia, you're offered a post at a university.

To wrap things up, I put your question to the team, who found time in their busy schedule to call a policy meeting. This was during a wild thunderstorm and heavy rains that blanketed the region yesterday. They enjoyed the cake, by the way, which the postman thoughtfully placed in the garage while I was out shopping. The crumbs I saw on my return looked delicious.

The possum had an interesting fix on the situation, after I showed her a picture of Putin. She asked why his tribal markings were exactly the same as American if he wasn't American.

Maybe it would help everyone remember that we are still a long way from being one clan if officials wore a national costume during formal meetings with officials from other nations. It might help both sides keep in mind that there are still vast differences in the interpretation of many things, even if virtually everyone wears Western-style business suits as their normal attire.

Now here is our Russia lesson for the day. Pundita discovered last week that ZenPundit is a Russia expert. This discovery came after I informed Mark that he was the recipient of a Pundita Prize for his pithy essay,Weimar Russia and the Abyss, which lays it on the line about Russia. Pundita especially liked the bulleted points.

Mark's follow-up, Debating Russia's Discorporation,
written in response to a reader's comments, is also helpful--particularly on the eve of Putin's address to the Russian nation and in the wake of Secretary Rice's visit.

Saturday, April 23

The Dim Sum Squad: Pundita deputizes two of her readers

NOON UPDATE: It just occurred to me that more than two can join the Dim Sum Squad. So the Pundita Prize is open to any reader who wishes to take up the challenge.

Dear Pundita: Re your 4/21 post [Protectionism and the WTO patent regime ] I note that the Indian legislature has rejected software patents .

I have to admit to being something of an intellectual property crank. I'm opposed on principle to patents on organisms, computer software, and business processes.

I'm also opposed to copyrights (of all sorts) since I believe they're based on a flawed model of creativity. Copyrights demonstrably do not encourage creativity, they subsidize distribution. With the Internet and other forms of modern communication we don't need to subsidize distribution. I think that copyrights should be abolished (but I'd settle for limiting their terms to the natural life of the authors).

How the intellectual property business model can possibly function for the United States troubles me deeply. Most of the world has no tradition of intellectual property and no intent to enforce U. S. intellectual property rights. This means that the Chinese and Indians expropriate American-created intellectual property freely while Americans must support companies whose monopolies are based on intellectual property. This doesn't appear to be
a formula for American prosperity to me.
[Signed] Dave Schuler [ The Glittering Eye] in Chicago"

Dear Dave:

It so happens that the reader (John in Lexington) whose letter formed the basis of my April 21 post speaks with authority on issues relating to patents. Pundita learned this only after receiving his response to the post you mentioned. I suppose this is another reason to reconsider my ban on a Comment section. But I am making your website known to him, so that the two of you can duke it out (or agree) on the issue as the case may be. From John's second letter, he thinks India is being held back by their habit of patent-breaking.

An informed discussion about copyright law (and patents) is outside Pundita's purview but I originally brought up the topic because I was shocked to learn that yet another of what was supposed to be America's foreign policy instruments had gotten away from our control. I am speaking here of the World Trade Organization.

But while it's bad enough that policy instruments get away from us it will be an outrage when America is left holding the bag. Mark my words that's exactly where things are headed with this bio-piracy business. Now that Greenpeace, India, China and the entire Developing World have set up a howl about the theft of generations of native sweat and ingenuity, you may trust that Brussels will point the finger of shame at America and say, "They made us do it."

And how is it that America got included in the Old Boy Colonialists' club in this matter? And how is that an American company had to apply to the European Commission for their chapati patent? (See the link to the UK Guardian report in my first post on the subject Better pirating through Chemistry: Monsanto patents the chapati).

This is the part that escapes Pundita: Are there now two bodies of law covering patents--domestic and "international" (i.e., Brussels)? And does the international law now supersede the domestic one? Or has it been this way since the inception of the WTO? If so, whose bright idea was that?

Pundita is just one person and we can't very well charge a squirrel and a couple of squabbling crows with the task of researching the WTO rules, the rest of our team having deserted us for Spring chores. And as with most Americans, my eyes tend to glaze while reading the WTO rules and regulations. Which, I suppose, is how the WTO got out of hand--and clearly it is out of hand, if the Developing World is now saying the US owes them USD billions for pirating the fruit of their intellectual labor.

I doubt you see at this point how serious the matter has become. Realize that China is behind it because all this Chinese food we've been consuming since the Gold Rush era is actually medicine in China. That's right; except for the Chop Suey and a few other Made in America concoctions, all those noodles, broth, sauces, steamed chicken feet, diced octopus and the dim sum are not only food; they are also used as medicine. So do you have any idea of the kind of bill Beijing can hit us with, if this bio-piracy patent business isn't stopped cold in its tracks?

So if you are game, Pundita will deputize John and you to figure out what the WTO is up to with regard to patent law, and explain it for Pundita's readers (or yours, and we can link to your post) in PLAIN ENGLISH. If you can accomplish the feat you will be awarded a Pundita Prize, which you can split between you.

As to what kind of prize, let me see...you will receive the recipe for Pundita's Very Own Brand Demon Repellent, for use while visiting Trotskyite websites to gather news that our glorious American media doesn't bother to report to us, such as news about bio-piracy. I warn you there is a patent pending on my recipe.

Crown Prince Abdullah to Crawford, Putin to Israel, Arab League-South America summit snubs USA

This will be a week during which much is decided and little is announced, unless Vladimir Putin springs a surprise in his annual address to the Russian nation on Monday. President Putin heads for a visit to the Middle East, which includes a visit to the Palestine Territory and a very historic visit to Israel. Prince Abdullah heads for President Bush's ranch.

All this as President Bush's June deadline approaches for EU3 negotiations with Tehran about nukes, and with Iran's June national election looming.

The prince arrives in Texas on a wave of good publicity (in the Middle East, at least) about his accelerating reforms in Saudi Arabia. These are reforms by princely and Arab standards, so the acceleration is glacial, but put yourself in Abdullah's place. How would you like to be 81 years old and still summoned every evening to the king's bedside, where you hear the same question you've been hearing for decades:

"Was there peace and quiet in the kingdom everywhere you looked today?"

Bush buzzword watchers take note: "tyrants" and "axis of evil" are OUT. "Reform" is IN. Every morning Bush summons his advisors to his office and asks, "How are reforms going in [a long list of countries] today?"

So Prince Abdullah is IN right now because he's working on reforms. Pundita's favorite:
In an unusually open and systematic way by the kingdom's standards, Prince Abdullah also initiated reforms within the Saudi ruling family to ensure greater accountability and separated the royal family's finances from that of the government.
Not to be rude ahead of a state visit, but Pundita is still stewing that the US will have to pick up a considerable portion of the tab for solving The Arab Problem. When Bush asked Abdullah on an earlier visit where in the blankety blank did all the oil revenue go from the past half century, there wasn't a terribly clear answer.

Well, we now know that at least $75 billion of the revenue went to spreading Wahabist doctrine around the world--a figure that mocks Secretary Rumsfeld's statement a few years back that the enemy is spending thousands against our millions in the war on terror. The actual terrorist operations are cheap by military standards but the support network, which includes mosques and madrasahs, ain't hay.

Let us hope that with a tighter rein on the royal purse strings, more Saudi oil revenue can be directed toward life's little details: feeding starving Arab children, bringing medicine and hospitals to Arabs with AIDS, cleaning up Arab slums, improving water supply for severe drought areas of Arab Africa, subsidizing broke farmers in Arab lands, educating illiterate Arab children, diversifying Arab oil states away from money laundering and oil, and creating laws that don't treat grown Arab women as if they're brain-damaged parakeets.

But let us not snap at company; we put on our most gracious welcoming smile and make room on this blogspot to highlight Prince Abdullah's additional reforms--which, by Arab standards, are encouraging.

Although much won't be said about the meeting between Bush and Abdullah, you may trust that Tehran will be hanging on every word that is announced. This is because the Tehran regime knows they've worn out their welcome in the Middle East. The thinly disguised nuke weapon programs is viewed with as much alarm by Arab states in the region as by Israel.

And the attempt by Tehran to form a pan-Shiite movement ahead of the End of the World is falling flat, thanks in part to Iraqi reality TV, which trots out captured Iranians confessing how much meddling and mischief they've done.

The other part is that kings and princes always view talk about the end of the world with alarm; Armageddon spells mess, which translates to no peace and quiet.

However, the end of days is coming real soon for the mullacrats; if they needed a hint about this, Putin's visit to Israel later this week and Abdullah's visit with Bush on Monday are big ones. Pundita Tip to Tehran Mullacrats: Jew baiting in the Middle East is now OUT.

Now we turn to the snub delivered to the United States by the hosts of the Arab League-South American summit. We understand the reasoning for the exclusion; we aren't Arabs or South Americans. But couldn't we wangle an invitation as observers, on account of the plans afoot at the summit?

Perhaps Prince Abdullah can put in a good word for us, if Bush gives him a ride in his pickup.

Friday, April 22

Stuck at the Intersection, Part 3: foreign policy and large scale systems

Pundita knew she was biting off more than she could chew with the Stuck at the Intersection of Government and the Mass Age essays. But how much I'd taken on wasn't evident until I received a letter in response to the second essay, and which began with a discussion of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Well, if you start something, you must tend to it. So I caution in the strongest terms that Guru David's First Law of large-scale systems design should not be analogized to the Second Law of Thermodynamics because entropy is not the same as heavy use of a system causing the system to crash (versus "wind down").

If the new reader is bewildered ("I thought this was a blog about foreign policy"), the connection between this discussion and US foreign policy (and foreign policy in other developed nations) is profound. Yet the connection has received virtually no attention in the world's press and thus, the general public is unaware of the issues involved. This is having tragic and horrific consequences, worldwide and right here in the USA.

So while I am not involved in government planning and not credentialed in any field connected with large-scale systems design, I'm trying develop a language and context for discussion that the general reader can understand.

Here is the specific connection between large-scale systems engineering and foreign policy: The world's superpower nation (the USA) is expected by other nations to lead the way in solving huge problems that involve large numbers of people and highly complex social/economic systems. Eradicating extreme poverty in Africa is one example among many.

However, the people who are the decision makers--the ones in the Congress and federal government who are charged with releasing funds, determining priorities, and overseeing projects--are not qualified to determine whether a project is a good one. There are virtually no exceptions to this rule.

The reason for this is twofold. First, the people who do have the qualifications (e.g., city planners with engineering degrees) are not in the decision making role.

Second, even those with the engineering credentials in a specific field are generally not qualified to analyze the problems that can arise from successful application of a solution to a large population. Why is that? Because the formal, organized discipline for that kind of analysis is still being born.

Right now the discipline is loosely organized via many disciplines. But the concept is not new. Say that you want to build a soccer field in your town. Somebody on your planning board says, "We should hire a consultant to help us project what could happen if the field is so popular that it generates gridlock on the roads leading to it."

But once you get into doing these kind of projections, you're talking serious money. What about the drain on your town's water supply and trash pickup facility?

So at some point, somebody mentions that if you keep doing all these studies, you won't have the money to build the soccer field. From that point on, the time honored guess-and-by-golly method of problem solving takes over:

Build the blasted field. If it's not that successful, well, that means you didn't need all those high-priced studies. If it is so successful that it creates traffic jams and a strain on municipal facilities--well, cross that bridge when you come to it, which hopefully is years after everyone on the planning board is retired.

In the grand scheme, that time-honored approach is okay. Because if there is catastrophic failure of municipal systems due to the success of the soccer field, this only effects a tiny region of the country--and the failure is too small to be part of the global domino effect.

The same cannot be said for catastrophic failures that are imposed on wide regions and large populations. So we're in a phase now where the guess-and-by-golly method doesn't cut it. Not if you're a superpower nation charged with devising solutions to mega-problems involving mega-populations. And charged with handling foreign policy nightmares that arise from catastrophic failures of your solutions and solutions imposed by foreign governments.

The twist is that many failures arise not from bad planning but from the failure to plan for success if the plan works. What we have seen in the past century is unmanaged specialization. The specialist who is called in by a government to solve a problem is naturally focused on a solution that works--one that's successful. But the more successful the solution, the faster the system it generates will break down.

Once you know that--and it wasn't until the latter part of the past century that this truism became formal knowledge--then you must factor in this knowledge. In other words, given our population number, it's no longer enough to come up with bright solutions. You have to ask, "What happens if the bright solution works so well that it crashes the system?"

For many reasons, governments are not there yet. Neither are the development banks. This is why there's a crying need for widescale citizen action to make up the shortfall, until governments mosey into the 21st Century.

All right; I hope that's enough of an introduction for the newcomers. Now I'll return to chewing the mouthful I bit off in the earlier essay before I get more letters talking about the Second Law of Thermodynamics. To repeat: Guru David's First Law of large-scale systems design should not be analogized to the Second Law of Thermodynamics because entropy is not the same as heavy use of a system causing the system to crash (versus "wind down.")

Systems designed to serve large numbers of people set up conditions for catastrophic (and sudden) failure if the systems are well designed and therefore found to be very useful. The extent to which people find the system to be useful can govern the speed with which the system will break down.

This law is readily grasped by considering the server crashes that accompany a large influx of visitors to a particular website. The site is set up to handle only a certain number of visitors but a site's sudden popularity ('success') quickly brings about catastrophic failure; i.e., the site crashes.

I realize that today's essay wandered from this concept with the second example I provided (roads through the Amazon). In that example, the success of the road system did not (to my knowledge) cause the system to crash; e.g., heavy use of the highway system by migrating farmers in Brazil did not create gridlock or cause roads to buckle.

However, heavy use of the roads--their very success--had a catastrophic consequence. This is because the planners did not factor in that a road can be used for purposes other than transporting produce from rural areas to markets in town hubs. A road can also be used by many people for swift migration.

It was this oversight--the failure to realize how the success of the roads through the Amazon would play out--that touched off a system crash, if one thinks of the Amazon jungle as an ecosystem.

The very density of the jungle and lack of roads made human migration a hard and slow process. This kept the rate and scope of fires in the Amazon low after the residents turned to farming practices which utilized the slash-and-burn method of clearing land. The Amazon ecosystem, which had taken eons to develop, was able to absorb the burn rate in the same way the system absorbed fires from lightning strikes.

But the introduction of road systems, which allowed for large and swift migration of farmers using the slash-and-burn method of clearing land, sent vast portions of the Amazon up in flames. That, in combination with the 'natural' burn rate, overloaded the Amazon ecosystem.

One can't blame the entire chain of events on a few Brazilian government planners. But I used the example because it's a very dramatic illustration of what can happen, when planners don't think of how success can lead to catastrophic failure of a system. In that particular case, the planners didn't stop to consider that if a road system through the jungle was actually successful (used by many migrating farmers), this could touch off other system crashes.

During the era in which all this happened, the discipline of large-scale systems design was just being born and it's still in its infancy. So perhaps I was a little too hard on the Brazilian planners but that wouldn't negate my point.

Your village called. They're missing an idiot. Stuck at the intersection of government and the Mass Age, Part II

Note to new readers: Kindly turn to the first essay in this series before proceeding.

John Loftus told a story at this year's National Intelligence Conference that illustrates the lengths to which smart, dedicated government workers have been driven since there's been government. I won't recount the details but the gist is that a dizzy congressional led a movement that resulted in an agency being instructed to purge vital data from their files. The agency workers complied with the exact letter of the instruction. They removed the papers from each file and stapled them to the outside of the file.

Traditionally, a healthy society can sustain many idiots in government and I think Americans can say with pride that this has been the case for our society. Yet there is a vast difference between stupidity and ignorance, and it's on the difference that the fate of civilizations seems to hang. A new set or combination of factors creates situations that find no referent in the traditional storehouse of wisdom. Intelligence then is measured in the ability to recognize ignorance--the limits of knowledge--and the need to learn and experiment.

Here society is at great disadvantage because government has the power to resist experimentation and learning. And because government is oriented to managing and containing problems rather than finding solutions, they tend to respond to the limits of knowledge in predictable fashion: with propaganda designed to reassure the populace that a challenge does not represent a new phenomenon. In short, government has the ability to play ostrich and convince the society to do the same.

Under the rule of monarchs and dictatorships, society doesn't have much choice but to go along with playing ostrich, until the challenge from the new phenomenon is so readily apparent that only a threat of revolt induces experimentation. But in a democracy there is always the chance to respond to a new phenomenon before 11th Hour actions are the only option left.

The question is whether we are really facing a new phenomenon in this era or a combination of old phenomena gussied up in a new dress. After all, overpopulation is not new and neither are desertification, violent climate changes, topsoil erosion, plague, doomsday weapons (the catapult was a doomsday weapon of its era), highly mobile armies, trade wars, and so on.

I think what's new is the will combined with the ability to play God on a global scale; i.e., the supporters of the nurture side of the Nurture vs. Nature argument have pretty much won. We now expect government agencies and international organizations to solve problems ranging from drought to forest fires, from desertification to starvation to pandemic. Not to mention dealing with impertinent asteroids wandering too near Earth.

Now here anyone with sense would ask, "Are humans insane?" If humanity only consisted of females the answer would be yes. But there is only one way to efficiently manage males, and that is to keep them sufficiently occupied. Pundita realized this the night she heard a male talk seriously about exploring the earth's core by tunneling there via setting off nuclear explosions deep within the earth.

Pundita blurted, "We need a program to colonize Mars--yesterday!"

Men have to keep going, you understand. Now that the globe has been mapped and shown to be a very small place, by the reckoning of the solar system, we need to get males started on exploring and colonizing the galaxy. That will keep them happily occupied for a few more million years.

From this angle, all the fiddling we're doing with Nature has a rational, beneficial purpose, provided we don't blow up earth in the process. We're getting ready to journey offworld and for that, we'll need a great deal of knowledge for creating climates and whatnot that will support human life offworld.

But here we come to a snag. The storehouse of bitter wisdom that the World Bank has built is proof that you can't fix anything without breaking something, somewhere down the line.

So the real task is not so much to solve the problems that plague humanity (and individual societies) but to solve them in ways that don't flagrantly ignore Guru David's First Law of large-scale systems design. To review: If your solution is truly effective, its success carries the seeds of failure.

Tragic illustrations of this law in action abound. The all-out effort to save many forests in the US was successful--so successful that it set up conditions for forest fires on an unprecedented scale. The decision by the Brazilian government to cut extensive roads through the Amazon jungle to help farmers truck their produce to market was successful. It was so successful that it allowed many farmers to use the roads to quickly migrate to more fertile regions of the Amazon. Because they used the slash-and-burn method to clear land for crops, vast tracts of the Amazon went up in flames. That greatly impacted the earth's climate.

With hindsight, the decisions--taken without modeling how they would play out if successful--were idiotic. The knowledge about how to project scenarios was out there; it simply wasn't used. That's the kind of idiocy in government we can, and must, learn to avert. That is the greatest challenge for this era.

To be continued.

Thursday, April 21

Tony Blair's Koan

Things are heating up Across the Pond.

Times of India(Reuters report), April 19. LONDON: Prime Minister Tony Blair indicated on Monday for the first time that Britain might shelve plans to hold a referendum on the European Union Constitution if France rejects the treaty next month. Blair's Labour government, fighting for re-election on May 5, has until now been adamant it will call a vote on the charter in 2006 regardless of plebiscite results elsewhere in the EU.

As fears of a French 'no' vote grow, polls show Blair would be very hard-pressed to convince traditionally euro-sceptic Britons to back the treaty.

Most commentators say a 'no' vote in Britain could end the pro-European Blair's career as premier.

Asked on Monday whether he would call a referendum even if France had voted against the charter, Blair said: "You can't have a vote on nothing."
Well. Pundita has no comment except to note that Mr Blair's waffling about holding a referendum has given the Tories an opening if they care to take it.

Speaking of waffling, yesterday Mr Blair denied that he made a deal with Gordon Brown and categorically stated during an appearance on the telly that he will serve out his term. When pressed by the interviewer about whether the denial meant that Mr Brown had imagined the deal, the Prime Minister replied, "As far as I'm aware, as I think he was saying this morning, as we sat on the sofa together, you know, we were there together to serve as prime minister and chancellor."

If you tell me that's not exactly a reply, I agree. It's a Blair Koan.

Protectionism and the WTO patent regime

"Pundita, Before getting too outraged over the Monsanto [chapati] patent...consider that India has been breaking US patents on drugs and medicines in India for a long time, and then manufacturing equivalents of such medicines by God knows what techniques for domestic sale and usage. My tears shed for the Indians in this Monsanto matter: zero.
John in Lexington"

Dear John:
Pundita agrees with the spirit of your points, as my 2/2/2005 blog amply illustrates. Yet the patents issue regarding agriculture and pharmaceutical products shows two very different reckonings, as a Third World Network report indicates:
When the US introduced IPRs [International Property Rights] in the Uruguay Round as a new issue, it accused the Third World of 'piracy'. The estimates provided for royalties lost in agricultural chemicals are US$202 million and US$2,545 million for pharmaceuticals.

However, as the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), in Canada has shown, if the contribution of Third World peasants and tribals is taken into account, the roles are dramatically reversed: the US owes US$302 million in royalties for agriculture and $5,097 million for pharmaceuticals to Third World countries, according to these latter estimates.

In other words, in these two biological industry sectors alone, the US owes $2.7 billion to the Third World. This debt will not be paid by the US unless we have our biodiversity legislation in place.
The heart of the issue deals with the legal issues relating to 'prior art:'
Patents are supposed to satisfy three criteria: Novelty, Non-obviousness, and Utility:

Novelty implies that the innovation must be new. It cannot be part of 'prior art' or existing knowledge. Non-obviousness implies that someone familiar in the art should not be able to achieve the same step. Most patents based on indigenous knowledge appropriation violate the criteria of novelty combined with non-obviousness because they range from direct piracy to minor tinkering involving steps obvious to anyone trained in the techniques and disciplines involved.
In the case of the chapati patent, the company didn't even bother to make a minor adjustment to the product. They simply listed the genetic make-up of certain strains of wheat--developed through generations of openly shared knowledge among Indian farmers--and termed that list an "invention." So it's not called biopiracy for nothing.

Biopiracy--the practice of slapping a patent on indigenous products that evolved through open sharing of knowledge--represents pseudo-science and bad business practice. The larger issue is the controversy about the so-called "WTO patent regime" and how the regime fuels biopiracy. There is some weight to the charge that EU and US companies have greatly abused the spirit and intention of the WTO and the legal system by slapping patents on indigenous products in less developed countries. Basmati rice and chapati wheat are but two in a long list of outrageous patents, which includes the infamous patent on turmeric.

Few Americans are aware of the biopiracy issue, but this is a huge issue in China and India and throughout the developing world. At the heart of the issue is the charge by LDC governments that US and the West European governments have used the WTO as an extension of the plantation policies that supported the European colonial empires.

This is a big and hideously complex subject and there are abuses on both sides. Also, there are divisions within the ranks, as this World Socialist Web Site story indicates. Trotskyites are battling with India's Stalinist Communist Party over the issue of patents.

I note that Trotskyites have a bad habit of injecting doctrinal rhetoric even into the weather report, so first you have to scale socialist verbiage before you can grapple with the really confusing part of the story about Indian patent legislation, TRIPS, and the WTO patent regime.

But not to discourage the reader from giving it a try. Even if you emerge confused, as Pundita did, you'll have an idea of how big this issue is, and why US trade policy should take it under serious consideration.

The WTO patent regime falls under the growing list of protectionist issues. See Mover Mike's pithy essays What is Senate Bill 295? and Can't Someone Rid us of Meddling Governments? for warnings about the rising tide of protectionism and its destructiveness.

Tuesday, April 19

Operation Muslim World Outreach: US government takes on mind-boggling task of helping to modernize Islam

When the Establishment media are good, they are very, very good. Hats off to US News & World Report for their investigative report on the US government's epoch-making decision to stop futzing around and make a coordinated effort to help Muslim reformers bring Islam into the 21st Century.

The report outlines the chaos, confusion, and waffling that have gone on Inside the Beltway since 9/11, as officials agonized over whether the US government should dive into the vast waters of religious ideology.

From the details of the report, common sense finally prevailed and is now US policy and procedure known as Muslim World Outreach. The road ahead for MWO is still not clear but the journey of a thousand miles has officially begun, and there is no turning back now.
[Karen] Hughes's predecessor at State, acting Assistant Secretary Patricia Harrison, told U.S. News that she felt at times like Sisyphus, the Greek king banished to forever push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll down again. The lesson Washington needs to learn, Harrison says, goes back to the Cold War--that the world matters and America needs to stay engaged.

"You never declare victory," she warns. "You do not declare that it's the end of history and go home."
The report is chock full of hard data and revelations that will surprise the general public (e.g., it was conservatives, not liberals, who insisted on gutting the USIA, leaving the "management of America's image abroad to Hollywood producers and rap musicians.")

Pundita advises that you break out a beer or aspirin before embarking on the report. You'll find yourself nodding and muttering, "This is what I've been saying for years they should do" so many times that you'll risk a crick in the neck. And there are anecdotes to send up the blood pressure.
During a mission to Cairo by a State Department panel on public diplomacy, visitors were repeatedly told how grateful Egyptians were to the Japanese for building their opera house. Yet they seemed wholly unaware that Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid--nearly $2 billion a year--and that Americans have funded Cairo's systems for clean water, sewage, and electricity.
For the other side of the battle for hearts and minds, read the fourth rail's short and (to my mind) grimly funny report on Zarqawi's efforts to set up his own website.

I now turn over the podium to US News & World Report. This link directs the reader to the April 25 issue's table of contents because there are three important companion pieces to the main report titled, In an unseen front on the war on terror, America is spending millions to counter the hate of radical Islamists.

Why, one wonders, didn't U.S. News make an earth-shaking report, and one that took much effort and expense to create, the cover story? Pundita has no answer but urges her readers to take a moment, after receiving so much good free data, to write a thank-you note to the editor. The email response form ("Respond to this article") is handily at the bottom of each page of the report.

Is there a traffic engineer in the house? Stuck at the intersection of government and the Mass Age

"Pundita, I know you want to move on to discuss other topics, but I think your Mexico posts brought up issues that go beyond the illegal immigrant problem. I'm getting the feeling the American and Mexican governments and maybe all governments today are stuck at the intersection of mental gridlock.

I thought you and your readers would be interested to know about a voluntary program developed by the Mexican federal and state governments that's scheduled to start at the end of April.

The program puts deported Mexicans to work in Piedras Negras (Coahuila State), just across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, TX. The Mexicans will be paid $180 to go through a month's training then put to work in for-export assembly factories.

This Mexican program is a completely different approach than the US voluntary repatriation pilot program you mentioned, whereby deported Mexicans are transported at US expense back to their point of origin, which is usually deep inside Mexico.

After reading your posts on Mexico, I seriously question whether either program is anything more than a bandage. The Mexican program is only set up to provide about 700 jobs to Mexicans willing to stay on the Mexican side of the border, but about 50,000 Mexicans are deported just through Eagle Pass every year.

It's the same with the US repatriation program. It is only set up to handle a few thousand [deportees]. If they were willing to travel all that way to get into America, there's no guarantee they won't make the journey again as soon as they're "repatriated."

Neither approach breaks down the problem, as you did, into different categories of border crossings--migrants, commuters [work in US, live in Mexico], and temporary ['guest'] workers who [live and work in the US and] plan to return to Mexico as soon as they've earned a target amount of money. Their approach ignores the distinctions, so they're like a doctor treating symptoms instead of the illness.
[Signed] Tony in Dallas"

Dear Tony:

You need to realize that governments are not really set up to solve problems but to manage them. The conflict is that the Age of the Masses--the mega-populations--has created situations for civilized societies that demand engineering solutions. The obstacle is that the engineering problem-solvers who work in government are usually at the bottom of a chain of command.

It's virtually impossible to break the chain from within, in a democratic government. So that's an added obstacle to problem solving, which came to the fore in America in the wake of 9/11. I recall published interviews with generals and intel analysts who said flatly that desperately needed solutions to certain US defense problems could only come after the second catastrophic attack.

They were implying that problem-solving of a certain order runs counter to the negotiations and compromise that support democratic government. A second catastrophic attack, which likely would temporarily institute martial law, would allow for greater latitude in solving problems outside the matrix of compromise and the muck of red tape.

So what we have here is a dilemma for modern civilization. Our numbers have created problems that can't effectively be managed or contained. They have to be solved. But implementing the solution can offend any number of factions within a democratic government.

This brings forth the Half-a-Bridge model of problem-solving. You arrive at a solution that will please diplomats and heads of state, a certain number of constituents and their elected representatives and lobbyists. If the solution is not the right one--well, it's a right solution based on the society's priorities.

Yet to return to the other side of the dilemma, these days a half a bridge doesn't cut it in many circumstances.

The time-honored way around the dilemma rests on the happy fact that humans aren't born idiots. If the problem gets so bad that it's clearly obvious a real solution is necessary, most people are willing to bite the bullet, at least temporarily. They will find someone who actually knows how to solve the problem, and allow him to cut through as much red tape and political bickering as necessary to get the job done right.

Here we come to a snag. If you don't have expert knowledge, it's unlikely you can recognize when a problem is at the Red Flag stage. This is the snag that's tripping up governments at this time in history. In many cases they don't recognize a system failure until it's too late for problem-solving; it's just enough time for triage if they're lucky.

The good news is that there's a very loosely organized discipline that's sprung up to preempt this snag--and just in the nick of time for the human race, I might add. The discipline is large scale systems design. I learned about this field of endeavor from Guru David, who made his first appearance in Pundita's essays as The Guru--the computer scientist who was the go-to guy for computer systems engineers who were stumped.

They were stumped a lot because they had the job of computerizing, from the ground up, one of the largest utilities in the world. It's hard for young people to imagine but there was a time when phone, electric, water processing facilities, etc. were not computerized. The computer systems engineers who made it happen wrote a new chapter in human history.

But just because they were out there at the edge of No More Knowledge--with no referents, no guideposts for how to proceed--they had to cast around for problem-solving ideas that were from outside the field of computers.

That's why I never saw Guru David carrying a book on computing; he was always reading stuff like biology, astrophysics, history, city planning, and bridge and tunnel design. So one day I asked him: Just exactly what do you do at your work?

That is how I learned that you can look at many things as a large scale system and from there, draw analogies between phenomena that are as diverse as the solar system, living organisms, a bridge, a city, and human societies.

Systems engineering greatly predates computing; the military and logistical engineers who moved armies from Point A to Point B during ancient times were systems thinkers. But by the 20th Century, systems engineers from many different fields were beginning to talk with each other about the similarity of certain kinds of problems they repeatedly encountered in their work.

Thus, the highly abstract concept of systems engineering, as a discipline in itself, began to form. This was given a boost by the computer revolution and the kind of problem-solving that formed Guru David's daily work grind.

The field is still in its infancy, but it holds the key to good governing in the Age of the Masses. This is because of the First Law of large scale systems design, which I pried out of Guru David by asking the clever question, "Is there a first law of large scale systems design?"

"Yes. The first law is that the more successful the system you create, the quicker it will break down."

This is the way of gurus. They mean to always prod you to another question.

How can you call a system successful if it's bound to break down?

"Think it through," The Guru replied patiently. If you build a bridge that efficiently carries traffic to a hub, then more and more people will use the bridge. The more use the bridge receives, the more strain on the bridge's structure, which means it will break down faster than a bridge that is not as successful at moving people to the hub."

Success begets failure. A paradox, to be sure.

"Not really, if you know that success begets failure. Because then you can build monitors and fail-safes into the system that take the First Law into account. For example, you inspect the successful bridge more often than the other one, make repairs much sooner than you would for a bridge that carries less traffic, and build alternate routes that put less strain on the successful bridge."

"Is the solution to the paradox the secret of the universe?" I asked in wonder.

"I don't know," replied The Guru. "But it sure as hell is the secret to preventing switching procedures from crashing."

To be continued.

Monday, April 18

Better Pirating through Chemistry: Monsanto patents the chapati

Pundita begins the week not in the best of moods. Saturday we spent an hour wrestling a thimbleful of Old Bushmill's into a hysterical squirrel. I put this question to a certain segment of my European readers: If you want to travel to Washington, DC to protest at the IMF-World Bank Spring meetings, what part of this ritual necessitates hopping up and down and screeching in a manner to scare the dead?

Things went from bad to worse when Pundita received a letter from Boris in Jackson Heights:

"Pundita, dear, the next time you stop off in Kargil for rice, beans and chapatis, you might have to pay a surcharge for the chapati patent. See the attached.[ Guardian Unlimited report Monsanto's chapati patent raises Indian ire]"
Monsanto, the world's largest genetically modified seed company, has been awarded patents on the wheat used for making chapati - the flat bread staple of northern India. The patents give the US multinational exclusive ownership over Nap Hal, a strain of wheat whose gene sequence makes it particularly suited to producing crisp breads.

Another patent, filed in Europe, gives Monsanto rights over the use of Nap Hal wheat to make chapatis, which consist of flour, water and salt.

Environmentalists say Nap Hal's qualities are the result of generations of farmers in India who spent years crossbreeding crops and collective, not corporate, efforts should be recognised.

...Monsanto inherited a patent application when it bought the cereals division of the Anglo-Dutch food giant Unilever in 1998, and the patent has been granted to the new owner.

Unilever acquired Nap Hal seeds from a publicly funded British plant gene bank. Its scientists identified the wheat's combination of genes and patented them as an "invention."

Greenpeace is attempting to block Monsanto's patent, accusing the company of "bio-piracy". "It is theft of the results of the work in cultivation made by Indian farmers," said Dr Christoph Then, Greenpeace's patent expert after a meeting with the European Commission in Delhi.

"We want the European Patent Office to reverse its decision. Under European law patents cannot be issued on plants that are normally cultivated, but there are loopholes in the legislation."

A spokesperson for Monsanto in India denied that the company had any plan to exploit the patent, saying that it was in fact pulling out of cereals in some markets.

"This patent was Unilever's. We got it when we bought the company. Really this is all academic as we are exiting from the cereal business in the UK and Europe," said Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto's public affairs director in India....
The UK Guardian report is inaccurate in that the chapati is not the staple in north India, it's the staple Indian bread, period.

Note that the spokesperson did not say Monsanto is exiting from the cereal business in India--and bread not being a cereal, the spokesperson actually dodged the entire issue.

If you think this is a tempest in a teapot, a Texas company managed to patent basmati rice, which has only been around for zillions of years. What's particularly upsetting is that Monsanto's two-faced stand plays into China's excuses for not adhering to international patent laws.

Yet India--in this case clearly the victim of patent law gone berserk--is now making an honest attempt to play by the rules. In March, the upper house in India's parliament approved a patents bill that is very controversial and carries high political risk. For an overview of the issues, see the Reuters report on the bill passing the lower house.

The patents issue is enormously serious; much is at stake with regard to US trade relations, not to mention trillions of dollars over time. So let us hope that someone at ranking level in the American government has a heart-to-heart talk with the Monsanto CEO. Else your special homemade bread recipe could be next.

For more on the shocking chapati affair as reported by the Guardian Unlimited, click here . The story, datelined January 31, 2004, is old news to activists--of just the kind who gather to protest at IMF-Bank meetings. But the details are enough to cause even a very reasonable person to consider hopping up and down and screeching.

Which is why Pundita begins the week on a grim note. It was, after all, the European Union that granted the patent. So one would think there's quite enough to protest in Europe.

Saturday, April 16

Fight Club! Thrills! Chills! Press Kits! Democracy Stage Show slugfest on in Russia!

Pundita's favorite Russia analyst, Peter Lavelle, referees the boxing match in Spinning the Color Orange and declares the Russian people the loser.
Speculation surrounding the possibility of a "people's revolution" in Russia following recent events in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan has both the Kremlin and political opposition spinning alternative futures. Unfortunately, these scenarios have little to do with democracy and everything to do with power...since the opposition can't win at the polls, it hopes to gain power through encouraging the population to take to the streets.
If you haven't kept up with the State Department's spin, don't miss the clanking of chains from the Washington Post Get Putin Gang. And let's not leave unconsidered the view from the aptly named Eurasia Net, funded by George Soros's Open Society. But I'll give Lavelle the last word. From his April Fool's Day send-up of the Democracy Stage Show crowd:
Anti-Putin youth groups – “Hey, where is the dough?”

"The students who attained 15 minutes of fame after claiming to be anti-Putin are up in arms. The commentariat’s limited attention span appears to have let them down. “We made the right moves and said the right things – then everything happens in Kyrgyzstan!” an irate anti-Putin youth supporter screamed. “We aren’t receiving the respect, attention, and big bucks we deserve” he went on to say. “Kyrgyzstan! What is Kyrgyzstan? Who cares about Kyrgyzstan!? We are the mother lode – don’t you guys get it ?!” were some of the commentary to be heard. “What are we doing wrong? What do you want us to do?” were the closing remarks.
It's a relief to find a Russia analyst with a sense of humor yet the situation is no joking matter for democracy advocates. During the Cold War the US government got in the habit of playing Sorcerer's Apprentice then turning around a decade later and gasping, "Oh Lordy, monsters are on the loose!"

Yes, once you make them, it's not easy to control them, as Mickey Mouse learned the hard way.

In this case the marching broom is not a person, such as Saddam Hussein, but a system--a set of methods for putting on a whopping good imitation of a democratic movement. Of course necessity drove the inventions but this era compresses reaction time; the monsters, and the events they set in motion, can move much faster than a diplomatic corps and armies.

America is now out there on the cutting edge, advocating democracy as a cure for the world's most deeply entrenched social ills. So the Democracy Stage Show Kit should be deployed with great caution and only when all other avenues have been exhausted. Whatever we gain at the moment from slapdash use of the kit is lost when disillusionment with faux democracy sets in.

It's late in the day for such warnings but better late than never. That's why Pundita continues to harp on the situation, which is not even an issue here in the USA, thanks to our glorious mainstream media's tendency to fawn over their sources at the State Department and the thunderous silence from most of the blogosphere.

For more on Peter's thoughts on Russia's youth movement, read Moving to Nowhere. Note his remark, "Actually, the Kremlin candidates have lost a number of recent local and regional elections – usually to the far right."

And for readers who missed it, here is the Democracy Stage Show Kit and the unfortunately named (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) Not Clockwork Orange Century. The latter was written in November, which I now look back on as my era of fast-dwindling innocence about State's interpretation of the Bush Democracy Doctrine.

Oh and while you're visiting Peter's site, check out his report on the Kremlin's zeal at playing tax collector. Pity Vicente Fox doesn't ring up Vladimir Putin for advice on how to stay in power while nudging the ruling class to cough up unpaid taxes.

Friday, April 15

Duck security at DEFCON1, Russia still in doghouse, and gentle reminder to Gold Bugs

WASHINGTON, April 14 (Reuters) - U.S. officials bolstered security on Thursday for a duck nursing eggs near the White House to protect her from demonstrators at a global economic summit beginning on Friday... workers on Thursday afternoon erected a second line of metal crowd-control barriers about 10 feet (three metres) outside stanchions already in place...

Officials are concerned protesters could disturb the mallard hen, who is incubating what officials say are nine eggs at the foot of a tree on the sidewalk in front of the Treasury Department and next door to the presidential residence.

"We are widening the perimeter around the duck as a precautionary measure," Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols said...

The bird spends her days nibbling mulch around her, dozing in the spring sunshine, or feathering her nest. Every evening at dusk, she covers her eggs and leaves for about 15 minutes to feed, a Treasury official said.

Decision-making about the duck's safety was closely guarded.

"We don't comment on security matters," Nichols said.
Pundita doesn't need to look at the calendar to know when the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings are approaching. The squirrel, who was traumatized during his childhood by mobs of protestors hopping up and down and shrieking outside IMF headquarters, bunkers in my garage with the words, "They're coming they're coming they're coming."

I suppose he sees the street barricades going up. Yes, this is the time of year in Washington that streets are clogged with bedraggled youth wearing T-shirts that read SAVE THE WORLD KILL WORLD BANK, asking passersby, "Please you know where is cheap hotel?" and littering Northwest Washington with granola bar wrappers printed in French and German.

It shouldn't be too bad this year; the troops are saving their euros to travel to Scotland for the July G7 summit. Notice I typed G7, not G8. In addition to the IMF and World Bank meetings this weekend, there will be two meetings in Washington of the "G7" finance ministers, Reuters reports. This suggests Russia wasn't invited. And now a cautionary tale for Gold Bugs:
...On the table [at the Washington G7 meetings] are proposals that range from increasing grant aid, the establishments of an international finance facility that would double aid for the poor countries, and the sale of IMF gold to finance a portion of the debt relief.

The United States, the largest single shareholder of both the IMF and World Bank, has rejected the British proposal for the finance facility and gold sales.

The U.S. has argued that its own plan would permanently wipe off the debts with increased grant handouts -- versus decades of loans -- through the World Bank's International Development Association, the lender's lowest-cost lending arm.

But critics say the U.S. plan of outright grants would give the bank less money to lend to poor countries.

IMF Managing Director Rodrigo Rato said if shareholders decide to use some of the IMF gold stocks, it would be better to sell bullion rather than revalue it on its balance sheet.

But he said great care should be taken not to disrupt bullion markets and suggested the IMF join the voluntary central bank agreement, under which they say in advance how much gold they will sell and over what period of time.

"If the board would take that decision, it should be taken technically by selling gold in the market, not by reviewing the value of the gold in our balance sheet," he told a news conference before the meetings.

"Secondly, to do that without disrupting the market -- that is, to do that being part, formally or informally, of the central banks' agreement for selling gold," he said.

European central banks agreed last March to limit total gold sales to 2,500 tonnes over five years from 2004 to avoid distorting the market, under an agreement known as the Central Bank Gold Agreement.

But Rato stressed that the decision to sell gold belonged to the IMF's board of member governments. Selling the gold would require an 85 percent majority backing on the board.

"At the end of the day all of the proposals have their trade-offs ... but some of their aspects are feasible," Rato said. "The question is for governments to make a decision."

The IMF is the world's third largest holder of gold, behind the United States and Germany.
As to what talk of selling IMF gold might portend for gold investors--probably not much. As to what it could mean for individual gold traders--always the same old story, which has earmarks of The Pit and the Pendulum. Playing against the Lords of the Craps Table is not for the fainthearted.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?