Tuesday, November 1

The long goodbye

September 12
...with fortunately a lower death toll [from Hurricane Katrina], then the issuance of blame will be less important. Now I think it will be mostly about how and what to rebuild. May I ask -- Who are you? Why do you do this? I like reading this site. I check in most every day.
Benjamin in Framingham"

Dear Benjamin:
Thank you for the praise and comments and the questions. I knock myself out with the blog because it's a tall order if Bush wants this to be Liberty's Century. During the Cold War the US backed democracy movements in other countries but the movements were generally a stage show -- a phony democracy ruled by an 'elected' elite.

Bush is talking about genuine democracy, the real deal. Okay, but then the United States needs to retool how it goes about promoting democracy in other lands. For that, US citizens need to become more sophisticated about deep issues related to foreign policy, and which generally fly under the radar of public awareness. This is so we can do a better job of monitoring how our Congress, White House and State Department are managing the task of promoting genuine democracy.

Translation: We need to keep breathing down their neck, so the promotion of genuine democracy doesn't slip back into orchestrating stage shows. ...

With regard to the Katrina Affair: I am not particularly interested in fixing blame. I am trying to learn whether a crime was committed. If that sounds like hairsplitting: not to peoples who live under governments where it's been routine history to get shoved off land by the most ruthless and even genocidal means. It's always been the routine in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

In short, Americans are looking at what happened in Louisiana from an American point of view. I'm looking from the viewpoint of foreigners who would automatically leap to the conclusion that the "ineptness" of Blanco et al. masked a land grab.

The Katrina disaster has received unprecedented coverage in the world's poorest countries, including those with despotic regimes. Every village with a satellite dish has been glued to the communal TV set, watching the drama unfold in New Orleans.

So by trying to figure out whether a crime has been committed, I am making an effort to warn that we should head things off at the pass: Let the question of criminality be raised by Americans and settled by Americans, because this is how things are done in a real democracy.

October 23
I hope you and the team are doing well. I liked your Film Noir character in Chinese Puzzle, although she's a departure from your Miss Marple character. But why Film Noir to introduce the essays on China pig disease?

It reminded me of our discussion about The Untouchables several months ago and what you wrote about the corruption and crime in Chicago during the 1930s. Do you see a connection between that era in America and today's China?"
My friends from New Orleans are okay. They went to stay with relatives in Ohio.
PPS: Not to be nosy but I noticed you removed mention of the team from your sidebar. Is that a sign you getting ready to leave us? I mean, you also took down the quote from Caesar. It's kind of like seeing someone in the office taking home their personal belongings. One day you come in and see the African violet is gone, then you know. Anyhow, I hope everything is okay with you.
[Sleepless in St. Louis]"

Dear Sleepless:
I've answered your question about China in an essay I'm publishing tomorrow. Pundita is happy to hear your friends are safe ...

The team is fine, although Charlotte lost a close relative a couple months ago; possums can't quickly get out of the way of moving vehicles, you understand.

You're very perceptive. I removed the text about the team and Caesar's generous compliment because I told myself I wanted to tuck them somewhere else on the sidebar. As you see they're still not returned; I don't know why, just as I don't know why I've kept the blog going this long.

I've never been any good at good-byes. I've toyed with the idea of publishing only one essay a week -- I have to end here because I'm still trying to sort things out. Will keep you posted.

October 24
Mike -
A few weeks back there was a "super championship" match on Jeopardy, pitting the three greatest players in history against each other in a series of rounds. These guys knew between them just about every question, or at the very least had a guess. The one question all three drew a complete blank on: Who was the former Lebanese prime minister assassinated not long back?

Can you believe that? But tune into the major media to see why the vast majority of the American public [are] ignorant of the most important stories in the war and [their] implications.

I dunno; increasingly I feel as if I'm butting my head against a stone wall. I've told you that I'm closing the blog so many times that it's a running joke. But tomorrow is the last post, at least for a while. Need to get away from pressure to write, at least for a time. Need to clear my head. I'd love to take a trip somewhere....

October 25
"Hi Pundita, I thought you might be interested in this article at Tech Central Station:

Does Growth Lead to Liberalization?
by Gregory Scoblete


An interesting read -- referred to from The Adventures of Chester.
Liz in Texas"

Yeah. Very interested. I dunno; every time I get just a little hope that the good guys are gaining a centimeter of ground against the fiends dug in at the State Dept., I see something like the article you sent me. I'll try to post on it when I calm down enough.

"Mike --
Our enemies, ourselves
I was a fool to allow myself a few moments of joy and hope about win against Galloway and other Mordor denizens. A tip from a reader brought me back to reality. Zoellick 9/21 speech on China getting attention from a milblog and TCS. Link to speech below also link to TCS comments with selected portions.

Note the facile lie from TCS writer that economic growth caused South Koreans and Iranians to demand more freedom.

I don't know what upset me more -- Zoellick's speech or fence-straddling argument from TCS. Until and unless Zoellick is effectively answered, those who seek to beat the terror masters are always playing against a stacked deck.

I don't think one can argue that Zoellick is simply trying to defend State's long-standing policy on China or that he's attempting to undercut DoD's increasingly hard line on China. Stripped down, Zoellick is really implying the same thing Chirac's multilateralism school implies: that genuine democracy is a danger to global trade. But effectively demonstrating that's actually what Zoellick is saying -- aye, there's the rub. I've been butting my head against his argument since I started blogging. All to no avail.

October 27
(From an ongoing exchange of emails about the blogosphere with Dan Riehl)

"Pundita -
...I do not believe we need a new media on the Right that's as bad as some of the MSM is on the Left. All that the heated rhetoric does is stir up the worst of people; I truly believe that in the end, it is divisive.

America needs reasoned voices that can talk to more than the lunatic fringe. Now more than ever, America needs an inclusive politics and it is not always very easy to find.

I have hope that web logging will allow the average person to rise above such tactics and help to steer a right course for the nation based upon education and true understanding. We'll see, I suppose.
Dan at Riehl World View"

I agree with your comments except that I have a big question about the "average person" you mention. I wonder if the average person has the time to read blogs, much less write them.

Of course there are 'average' people who write blogs. They have 3.2 readers outside their circle of coworkers, friends and/or relatives. If they blog on a topic that requires highly specialized knowledge (an 'expert' blogger) -- depending on the subject, they can find themselves with 15 minutes of fame if their specialization suddenly becomes of passing interest to the Blogosphere Heavies.

But I'd say that on the whole, the blogosphere has already become too useful to the Establishment media ("MSM") to see it as a place where the Little Guy can find a public platform. Not unless the Little Guy gets sophisticated and plays the blogosphere game; e.g., hooking up with networks of like-minded bloggers, doing a lot of reciprocal links, featuring other bloggers' comments on his blog, "marketing" essays to other blogs so the essays can get linked, etc.

Heck, it's better than trying to get out one's opinion via publishing little newspapers and handing them out at bus stops, or cranking out fax blasts. But the old saying "The big fish eat the little fish" applies to the blogosphere.

The truth is that the blogosphere is saving the MSM billions in research, hiring more and better analysts, and setting up bigger and better overseas bureaus. The MSM has come to depend on bloggers to troll the Internet and do the research for them -- all with no charge to the MSM corporations.

So my dark view is that the blogosphere is actually helping to prop up everything that's bad about MSM. It's allowing the MSM to continue without modernizing, without upgrading, without hiring more good reporters, without setting up more overseas bureaus, and without cleaning up their act.

In my view, the MSM cherry picks the data and opinion they lift from bloggers. That means the American public is still very poorly informed about how the world works outside America's shores. And very poorly informed about vital issues in US states outside their own.

The really bad news is that the MSM is not called 'mainstream' for nothing. Most Americans still get most of their news from the MSM. So do not ask why Americans in the post-9/11 era still have a news establishment that is fit only for a banana republic.

Maybe I'm too pessimistic. But I think the best way to bring Americans genuinely good reporting on a consistent basis is if some American multibillionaire wakes up one morning and says, "I am tired of being treated as if I live in Pongo-Pongo. I'm gonna start a cable news channel that has such a high standard of reporting, and is so creative, that it will force the MSM to raise the bar or go under."

So you see underneath my cynical exterior I believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa.

October 28
"Have you seen this article, "Why is the World Bank still lending?" in today's Wall Street Journal? [2] An interesting way of describing the recent history of the World Bank!
Liz in Texas"

A reader sent me this WSJ article on the World Bank. Read it and tell me what you see. Does the writer understand, I wonder, that he's bringing some news about the end of an Age, not just about the end of an era in the World Bank? Do the WSJ readers understand? Does the general public understand?

Key aspects of colonialism didn't die when the colonial powers relinquished their holdings in Asia and Africa. But now there are vast changes taking place in the world, and those changes are finally, finally putting the Colonial Age behind us. Is the American public ready for the changes?

Meanwhile, there is still the old Age to contend with. The big fish in the UN Oil for Food Program will never be called to task, much less indicted. Hell, Annan's right hand man shredded three years' worth of documents as soon as Volcker's "independent" commission was formed.

The kind of massive cover-up Kofi Annan presided over, the kind of US and British deals with Nazis that were papered over -- such have always been business as usual. Yet that kind of business is suicidal in today's world.

I had hoped that in the wake of 9/11 the American public would demand news media that kept them better informed, would learn more about the underlying issues that led to massive corruption in today's governments.

Four years out, my hope has faded. How many Americans listen to John Batchelor's show on a regular basis -- and really listen and take notes? If it's 5% of the adult population, it would be lucky. And he's just one person with one radio show. Not enough.

Even if 5% of voters are well informed, that's not enough.

As far as getting news via the Internet -- how many have the tenacity to wend their way through the intricacies; e.g., the story of the breakup of the Soviet Union, the UN OFF theft? The rest want the problems narrowed to something easy to think about, such as Cindy Sheehan, Harriet Miers, etc. When I heard that Sheehan was coming back to Washington, for a moment I considered going to meet her to say:

"Are you aware that the US Department of State looks at the President and the Congress as the hired help? So if you want to see changes in Washington -- the kind of changes that will head off a century of war -- have you considered lying down in protest outside Foggy Bottom?"

I'm blithering, aren't I?

A few weeks ago I got a letter from a loyal Pundita reader. He asked, "Who are you?" and wanted to know why I blogged. I don't think the questions were mere curiosity; if I read someone regularly I'd like to know just a little about the person behind the ideas. So I tried to give an answer. Realized the other day the answer wasn't an answer, just a presentation of ideas.
Who am I, Mike?

"Hey kiddo, what books are you reading nowadays?

"Mike -
Reading a book? This barbarian has forgotten how. I read ... summaries, synopses, reviews, and listen to John Batchelor's discussions with authors. Else I would be wearing animal skins and grunting.

How about this? You give me a reading list. Then I shall run away to sea. I will board a tramp steamer bound for the Indian Ocean then spend my days reading and contemplating the vast horizon.

1) Excerpts from TCS essay [1]
"In a September 21 speech to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick advanced the well rehearsed theory that as China's economy grows, its newly enriched citizens will begin to demand political freedom commensurate with their economic gains. "Closed politics," Zoellick said, "cannot be a permanent feature of Chinese society. It is simply not sustainable -- as economic growth continues, better-off Chinese will want a greater say in their future and pressure builds for political reform." ...

"...the mere existence of a market autocracy rarely poses a fundamental or existential challenge to the U.S.-led world order. The Chinese example, as Zoellick noted, is illustrative:

China, he said "does not seek to spread radical, anti-American ideologies. While not yet democratic, it does not see itself in a twilight conflict against democracy around the globe. While at times mercantilist, it does not see itself in a death struggle with capitalism. And most importantly, China does not believe that its future depends on overturning the fundamental order of the international system. In fact, quite the reverse: Chinese leaders have decided that their success depends on being networked with the modern world."

China may indeed be a threat to the U.S., but the parameters of the challenge are (as of today) localized and territorial, not global and ideological like radical Islam.

As an abstract statement of political trajectory, Zoellick's optimism will likely be vindicated. Over time, "internal contradictions" have undermined political frameworks, as the Soviet Union discovered to its chagrin in 1991. South Korea's emergence from military dictatorship to democratic government is a more specific reminder that a growing economy coupled with an educated-yet-disenfranchised middle class is a potent danger to autocratic regimes. Such a danger is brewing in Iran currently. [...]"

2) Why is the World Bank Still Lending?
Wall Street Journal Online
October 28, 2005; Page A13

World Bank money is building schools in China's impoverished western provinces but the bill for interest charges is being mailed to the United Kingdom, attention Chancellor of Exchequer Gordon Brown. Mexico, Chile and Brazil will soon be lining up for the same deal.

This is but the latest scheme designed to preserve the World Bank's lending role at a time when the need and demand for its services are falling. Major middle-income countries, the cream of the Bank's lending portfolio and where more than 80% of Latin Americans live, are curbing their borrowing and paying down their balances, setting off alarms at the Bank. Net loan flows have shifted from a positive $10 billion in 1999-2001 to a negative $15 billion in 2002-2004.

The cause is clear: The interest subsidy embedded in Bank loans, a compelling 12% per annum in 1999, has now shrunk to less than 2% on average as emerging nations have gained increasingly greater access to private capital. The difference is no longer enough to persuade finance ministers to realign their economic priorities with the social agendas of the Bank's rich members.

The cost of doing business with the Bank is not just about money or about the burdens of the bureaucratic "hassle factor." There is also the "technical assistance," which the Bank has always insisted be tightly bundled with subsidized loans. Translated, this Bankspeak is really about imposing a First World vision upon an emerging world. The environment must be safeguarded, workers must be protected, women must play an equal role, indigenous peoples must be empowered and the overriding focus must be on the poor.

When it all adds up, the Bank's "technical assistance" has a negative value to its traditional client states. A new generation of government officials, with Ph.D.s from MIT and Chicago, have done the arithmetic. Borrowing patterns reveal that they rate the cost of Bank "advice" at 3%-4% per annum. Over time, that amounts to 25%-35% of loan expense. When the interest subsidy falls below the cost of World Bank compliance, the real subsidy vanishes and so do the borrowers.

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