Saturday, September 9

Golden Oldie: The 900 Lazy Bastards and global government

Pundita is on vacation until September 16. The following post was originally published in December 2005.

"Dear Pundita:
We were listening to a news show with Moises Naim and Tom Friedman talking about globalization and the need for a global government. I said to Sam, "Those are two of the 900 Lazy Bastards Pundita's always talking about."

Sam said, "The world is too complex for them so they want to make it simple by ruling over it."

I said, "Don't you see? The world is not too complex for them. They're selling a vacuum cleaner they know doesn't work." [...]
Not Born Yesterday in New York"

Dear NBY:
[...] What Pundita hears, when she presses her ear to the ground and listens very closely to Mr. Naím's talk, is Brussels dialing for dollars to help them build up a military that would be as powerful as the US one. What Pundita hears from Mr. Friedman is an attempt to help the Democrat party define something approximating a foreign policy platform.

However, there's more to their talk than that, so we'll take some time with this one. With regard to your comments about Naím and Friedman -- no matter what you think of their views, you need to perk up your ears and listen with great attention and care to what they are saying. That's because you're going to be hearing a lot more, from many quarters, about the views and recommendations presented in the discussion you mentioned.

The views have been around for years, but now they're getting a big push because of mounting concern that once Bush leaves office US foreign policy will fall into a complete muddle.

No matter what foreign governments think of President Bush's foreign policy, his approach was crystal clear by 2003. When things are clear, you can plan around them. It was also clear by then that the State Department was not going along with Bush's policy and instead trying to stick with the Clinton approach, which was strongly oriented to the EU view. But with Bush's reelection, foreign observers could at least predict the tensions and maneuvers between State and the White House. Again, it was something they could plan around.

Yet the past year has given vivid indications that there is considerable dissension in the upper echelons of the Republican party with regard to foreign policy matters. So the growing perception in foreign circles is that Bush's doctrine will be ditched by the GOP, or at least watered down to such extent that it's no longer recognizable, if a Republican wins election in 2008.

When they turn to study the Democrats, foreign observers see a party that has built a foreign policy around opposition to the US invasion of Iraq and what the largest US trade unions think of trade pacts.

None of that is clear indication of what is going to happen to US foreign policy once Bush leaves office. To an American such a question is jumping the gun; we'll face the question in 2008. But foreign governments can't afford to be that shortsighted. They are looking for clear indicators and not finding them. The same for Americans who advise on foreign policy matters.

So the race is on to take control of the situation by trying to define an overarching agenda that is a sophisticated variation on multilateralism. You need to keep the race in mind while considering what Naím and Friedman said. Now I'll let the other readers in on the discussion you mentioned. From A World Without Borders - December 15 PBS NewsHour panel moderated by Ray Suarez:

"A lot of the failed states that you see around the world, the moment that the government fails it is replaced by these [transnational criminal] networks that immediately hone in and develop and exploit an export. Perhaps the only good thing that the country, that the rest of the world has is either logging or is either diamonds or is it drugs and opium or is it people?

And the point is that all of these countries at the end of the day are globalized. And in fact, in many, and the point of [my] book "Illicit" is that is this illicit trade that is reshaping much of the world. There is more going on under the radar than what is going on [at the WTO meeting] in Hong Kong. Illicit traders are reshaping the world in far more important ways than the ministers now meeting in Hong Kong.

...globalization has empowered individuals and weakened governments...the natural habitat of government is inside the country, inside the borders. And what globalization is creating is a world where borders are easier to trespass. And whereas governments are inside, there are all sorts of activities going on across borders that they have a hard time containing. And they are weaker.

I think it's very important to bring government back and to start thinking in which ways can we empower governments and make governments more amenable to deal with these challenges."

-- Moisés Naím

"Moisés is really laying out is there are a whole lot of issues today...that require global governance. We need some kind of global governance regime to deal with global warming, to deal with trade. But there is no global government, and so we're kind of caught between that right now. We suddenly live in a world, a flatter world where we are caught up in these transnational forces that really require someone to provide some rules."
-- Thomas L. Friedman

The links are to a biography, which I hope readers will study if they're under the impression that Friedman is simply a reporter and Naím is simply the editor of Foreign Policy Magazine. These are intelligent people who understand the modern era, and their thinking is highly connective, for want of a better term. "Connective" in this context means that when you take in the day's international news, you first view the news against what governments and the biggest globalized government-backed organizations are doing about the situation. (1) It's a kind of thinking that all Americans of voting age need to get better at doing.

Naím's most recent book (Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy.) spells out the grim truth: failing states are now an easy mark for criminal gangs that think and act globally. In the manner of vultures circling dying prey they use hard currencies to buy up the tanking bank system of a struggling country and from there, move to take over the government. They now have it down to a craft, in the manner that corporate raiders have perfected strategies to take over a company.

I haven't had time to read Illicit but from what I've heard about it, I recommend it to anyone who is trying to understand Paul Wolfowitz's statement that corruption is the greatest threat to democracy since communism. Paul is only giving a gentle introduction to a situation that Pundita's blog has pounded away at, and which Naím's book starkly illustrates with examples that amplify on the 2000 International Crime Threat Assessment Report.

Corruption -- bureaucrats and politicians taking bribes -- now has two very different aspects. There is the traditional one associated with getting things done quickly in government and to assure that legislation goes a certain way. Tracking alongside this traditional model is the use of bribes to buy up a government.

This second model is why I took a sudden keen interest in Louisiana. A report connected with the Katrina hurricane turned up that a French Canadian organization started by Maurice Strong reviewed all Louisiana's business contracts with foreign governments.

Strong's connections raise the possibility that North Korea's government had moved in on Louisiana's dock business. Unless you wanted to walk the cat back one step further and say that China's military had moved in.

In that event it would not be simply government-backed organized crime making more inroads, given Strong's hatred of the United States and his stated desire to find means to destroy the power of the USA.

Strong's influence on Louisiana's government has to be examined in light of George Soros' plan for taking the US power down several pegs: balkanize the might of the American nation out of existence; i.e., break up the US union of states into smaller countries.

Do struggling US leftist publications and policy institutes that accept grants from a Soros organization know about the Soros plan, which he's not bothered much to hide underneath his talk about open society? Do Louisiana's legislature and Kathleen Blanco understand what Maurice Strong is connected with, beyond a nice Cajun cultural organization?

The best answer is that when your company or state government is desperate for cash it's hard not to take the attitude of Scarlett O'Hara: I promise to think about such questions tomorrow.

That is what governments are up against today. As the potentially ominous situation with Louisiana suggests, it's not only national governments that are targeted by sophisticated crooks looking to buy up a government. The target is any weak government: central, state, city. So Americans need to understand the stuff Naím talks about because it is not limited to a struggling countries on the other side of the world.

However comma one should remember that Mr Naím labors for Foreign Policy magazine, which is put out by The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. When last I checked, that policy institute had Mikhail Khordokovsky on the board. That's not saying much; he sat on more than one influential policy board during his salad days. Yet wherever there is Mikhail Khordokovsky, by following twists and turns one bumps into card-carrying mobsters, of just the kind Mr Naím warns about.

To put this another way, and without casting aspersions on Carnegie Endowment or Mr Naím's character, you need to make a clear distinction between the information people give you and what they'd like you to do with it.

Carnegie Endowment, as with all influential policy institutes, has a certain point of view, which they push at every opportunity to any editor looking for background on a story of particular interest to the institute.

From his biography, I assume Naím's recommendations for how to deal with globalized crime track closely with plans under consideration at the World Bank-IMF.

Thomas Friedman seems to have a somewhat different orientation, although I have not read any of his books and only a few of his articles for The New York Times. But obviously his latest book (The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century) is his clearest argument for a one-world governing institution.

From what I have read and from his biography, I suspect Friedman's outlook is steeped in the civil service view: Yes, the vacuum cleaner doesn't live up to its warrantee, but the homeowner can't afford a deluxe model and the clinker is an improvement over broom and dustpan.

I have sympathy with the civil service view. Just as someone's got to shovel manure and haul trash, there have to be people who are tasked with picking up the shortfall in the public's attention to complex governing matters. That unnecessary and unproductive tax burdens and much counterproductive legislation evolves from this work -- what's the alternative? In an era when people are so busy they can only eat breakfast and find time to pay bills while stuck in their daily commute traffic jam?

So I suspect Friedman is taking a pragmatic approach to dealing with serious threats to democracy brought about by globalized problems. I'd guess he's saying, Let's stop clowning around and set up a global central government to sort through the problems before they overwhelm even the mature democracies.

If I am right, it suggests Friedman is task-oriented. He's looking at the number of tasks involved in solving complex cross-border problems and saying that a governing organization has to take charge of prioritizing them. And from what I read of Friedman's early promotion of the US invasion of Iraq, I think his focus is on protecting democracy.

Naím seems altogether more complex in his orientation. I have known a great many people who sound like Naím when they talk. The halls of international institutions are crowded with them. They look at the power of the USA as a fact of the world's existence. Their concern is how to use the American power to maintain order in the world while at the same time de-Americanizing agendas regarding global affairs.

This seemingly contradictory view is not so much anti-American as pro-order. Opposition from many quarters to American agendas makes for disorderly and stalemated official meetings.

So if Friedman represents the rank-and-file civil servant view, Naím represents the view of officials who must negotiate compromises and try to come out with something constructive.

From his biography, Friedman is much too busy to qualify as a 900 Lazy Bastard and besides he has no position in officialdom. But busy pragmatists who look for simple solutions unwittingly clear the path for The 900 Lazy Bastards, who as Charlotte (the possum member of Pundita's team) has assured me, sit around under rocks waiting for humanity to get on a roll.

"Then they come out from under their rocks," explained Charlotte, wrinkling her snout in distaste, "And promise to fix everything you don't like if they can sit on your back."

Yet Friedman's call for a one-world government finds him contradicting the thesis of his book; this is plainly seen from studying the transcript of the discussion. Friedman notes that because of the convergence of technology and the globalized era, individuals and small collections of individuals have gained the power to stand up to officialdom.

How, then, does it follow that a global government will manage to ride herd on the unruly masses in the globalized era?

Naím's thesis runs into the same problem. If transnational crime syndicates run circles around governments, how does a meta-government prevent gangs from running meta circles around it?

As for the great success of the crime syndicates, they've simply been running ahead of communications ability. Yet whether it's in a remote village in the Third World or a crowded neighborhood in Chicago, as soon as people have the means to effectively communicate with each other about matters that alarm them, momentum quickly builds for action.

So a larger truth than the one Naím describes is that police departments around the world have been swamped with tips about crime since cell phones became ubiquitous. And as soon as talk radio comes to a village, the chief's demand for a bribe to do his job gets blabbed all over the region.

It's just that the crooks have been ahead of the implementation of technologies. The 311 system I wrote about is still in its infancy with regard to use and implementation. (See Governing in the Age of Megapopulations.) But it's on the way, all over this country and the world.

And it's getting harder for corruption to be buried. Recently all of India watched in outrage as video of an Indian member of parliament taking a bribe was beamed to their TV sets. The 21st Century's version of Candid Camera.

Many Westerners have never been in an Old World village so they're not entirely clear on they mean when they speak of the global "village." Believe you me, nobody gets away with much in a village. The old people sit around the centrally located well all day and watch everything that happens. In regions where there are monkeys, the monkeys sit around on the village roofs and watch everything that happens. When monkeys don't like a human, they nip him or make a ruckus or get oddly still. So then you start watching the person the monkey doesn't like, to see what's wrong with the person.

Everybody knows everybody else's business in a village. Village life is stifling because of this, but it's also much safer than a city. Very few murders and other big crimes. So we don't need a radio tag injected under our skin at birth or a one-world government to manage the world shrunk by effective communications. We just need human nature and ICT to take their course.

Most humans don't like crooks and graft; most of us just want to get along in the world without doing undue harm to others. And for every crook, there is a human with a hunter's nature who enjoys nothing more than tracking down a crook.

This said, we are in a very difficult transition period and down the road we face the specter of massive dislocations of human populations because of water shortages. That will lead to more water wars.

One of the greatest worries I have with regard to the Middle East concerns what success in Iraq will do to the region's water supplies. As soon as Iraq's moribund economy gets off the ground and industry builds up -- what are they going to do for water? Many more Iranians and Syrians will migrate to Iraq to find work. The trickle will become a flood of migrants if democracy stays in Iraq.

The biggest nightmare scenario is reverse diaspora if the Bush Doctrine is successful. Imagine a democratic Middle East drawing back millions who fled poverty and oppressive government. And imagine millions of African workers migrating there to serve the industries that rise up once the Middle East economies take off. What are they going to do for water? What are the new industries going to do for water?

Problems of such magnitude leer at our current technologies, so at some point down the road is a very rough patch for humanity. Yet if modern history is the guide, the problems will be best addressed by private industry coming up with engineering solutions and local central governments working in close cooperation.

This does not mean the G8 governments and major international organizations cannot be a help. But right now the G8 are trying to implement solutions through international organizations that are rife with graft, inefficiency, and undue politicking (of the kind contributing to the ongoing plight of refugees in Darfur).

Pundita wants to see an independent audit of the IMF and the World Bank's finances before I will agree to study their recommendations for dealing with globalized corruption and crime. And I want the audit results published on the Internet for all the world's taxpayers to see.

And I want to see every recommendation made by John Bolton for accounting reform at the UN implemented, before I would study their recommendations on dealing with corruption and organized crime.

1) In the spring I gave an example of this kind of thinking when a reader asked me about my opinion of a Time magazine cover story on Jeffrey Sachs' call for an all-out globalized war on Africa's worst poverty.

The second I saw the Time story I thought, "I see Gordon and Kofi are marshaling the troops."

Then I went on to read Sachs' ideas within the context of calls for the developed countries to cancel the debt of African nations, which Gordon Brown wanted at the top of the agenda at the G-8 meeting in the summer. And I pointed Pundita readers to Gordon Brown's speech some months earlier at a big US policy institute, which was a preview of things to come at the Gleneagles summer meeting.

Another example, which I can't recall whether I published, was my first reaction to a National Geographic story on H5N1, which featured on the cover a dramatic close-up photograph of an Asian who had obviously just died in hospital.

I thought, "Uh oh. WHO is dialing for dollars again."

I then slammed on the brake. Since 2004 I'd bemoaned how little attention the media had given to the situation, so I was relieved when the media began pushing the story. The question was how governments were preparing to deal with H2H of mutated H5N1 and how international funds were being spent on such projects.

"I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on pharmaceuticals," I told a friend after I studied WHO proposals and those by major governments for warding off pandemic. "And not enough emphasis on quarantine measures such as human temperature detectors installed at airports."

"That's because it's not possible to cut a temperature detector with water and sell it as flu vaccine on the streets of Bombay and Mexico City" he replied.

I thought of his remark when US customs announced they'd caught a shipment of counterfeit Tamiflu.

Before the days of the globalized Internet and user-friendly search engines such as Google and references such as Wikipedia, it was not easy to learn to make such connections. Not unless you had specialized knowledge of a certain sector or took great pains to keep yourself informed about major international situations.

Today, any American with Internet access can type "Jeffrey Sachs Africa" into a search engine and follow the Yellow Brick Road until coming to G8. After a time making such connections gets faster because you find the same names and situations popping up in connection to certain organizations with global reach.

And as I've advised before you can always stumble into the ballpark by asking yourself, "You're telling me because?"

Poverty across much of Africa has been with us all our lifetime, but if a media uproar suddenly arises that is unconnected with any specific happening in a country, that's the time to pay attention to the known players and look at the calendar.

If thinking in connective fashion sounds a daunting task, it's like anything else; with practice it becomes habitual.

Is there a big trade meeting coming soon? Are we nearing the Spring IMF-World Bank meeting? Who is chairing the G8 meeting this year and what is his pet project? What is the State Department trying to tell us about this country? What's big on the table at Brussels these days? And so on.

Welcome to the world that has been bubbling along for a half century outside the narrow focus of the US major news media. They plop out reports at the time of the meetings, but don't make connections between earlier stories and the meetings. Result: the public does not have a coherent view of foreign affairs.

None of this means issues such as H5N1 and African poverty don't deserve your attention. It means that in the globalized world of today, you need to learn to look for signs about what a powerful faction wants you to do about a situation that has global implications.

This so you don't find yourself three years down the road asking, "How did my tax dollars get involved in this mess?"

What the factions want you to do depends on how they stack the data about a situation. The stack is rarely all good or all bad. Sachs' book about poverty in Africa is informative on range of issues, and the National Geographic cover story about the threat of an Avian Flu pandemic is a decent introduction to the subject. However, canceling Africa's debt across the board, and the UN's idea of how to ward off a pandemic, are not necessarily the best solutions.

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