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Thursday, February 24, 2011

WikiLeaks effect: The truth makes Arabs free

It has not gotten much mainstream play...they like to focus on cute sociological explanations like the 'youth bulge' to explain the revolutions of 2011. But it is notable to recall what Wikileaks revealed about Tunisia and Libya. It was said that the ruling family of Tunisia was a pure kleptocracy. And mention was made of some noticeable Bulgarian nurse constantly at Kaddafi's side.

Machiavelli's rule number 2 is for a successful ruler never to be seen as contemptible. No doubt the Wikileaks revelations about these rulers were known to many if not most citizens. Yet to know that the rest of the world now knew about it too must have made the idea of continuing to obey such personages overly humiliating.

If so, this Wikileaks effect confirms Machiavelli's rule number 1: Lie without anyone knowing it is a lie.          

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spontaneity is the new Real

Musing now as to whether we are entering a phase in politics in which that which is not spontaneous is not strongly believed. What shocks or surprises is more substantial than what follows old or predictable rules. The latter are open to doubt. That the President cobbled together a coalition, which included back room haggling no doubt, in order to produce health care law is dismissed or questioned or challenged in court (but however else could such big legislation have happened than without old fashioned deal-making?)

On the other hand, union demonstrations in WI shock (did not U.S. unions die long ago?) and Arab revolutions (in places long said to lack civil society) garner strong consideration and interest as real events with major future impacts. 

The role of the media is crucial however. If these recent spontaneous, big, political acts had not occurred the media can range the globe for the shocking to bring to our screens everyday. It is not the scale of the political act then that matters but the rapid media attention. Expect more and more media sensationalism...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cocoa, Ivory Coast, and the Kenyafication of governments

Cocoa reached a record high today. It was already trending upward due to commodity speculators and  because those who pluck the fruits associate the activity with the old colonial planter society, i.e. not a job the next generation looks forward to.  The trees are aging too. And global warming may be having an effect (just as on tea).

Cote d'Ivorie produces over 30% of coca but the ongoing presidential standoff raises doubts about the ability to produce and deliver the crop.

The country needs to take a page from the Kenya playbook: make both candidates the winner by giving both the offices and potential for patronage. Kenya actually created new offices and ministries for the new winners to control. For example, there had never been a prime minister position before the disputed election.

Expect more Kenyafication worldwide. It is classic political compromise: expands patronage to new groups and players while reducing societal and ethnic tensions...

Live experiment underway: Illinois versus Texas

Two powerful states, IL and TX, with different strategies for a balanced budget are squaring off in 2011, with fruitful potential for political learning. One state, IL, is raising taxes about 66%. The other state TX, not as deep in the hole to be sure, is currently planning deep cuts. For political observers this sets up a scenario to test ideologies and see which one works. If in 3 to 5 years IL steps ahead economically and in PQLI terms then a strategy that emphasizes raising taxes will be proven successful. If Texas flies high again in 3-5 years then cutting the budget drastically becomes a validated strategy. No ideology involved here, just a live experiment. Of course, these states and others should do both but that may be too intelligent for the pundits. And yes TX and IL are not the same and they do not have quite the same future potential either but as a rough comparison it is a face-off worth watching...

Middle East revolutions: Everything good Now!

Typically political theories of modern revolution emphasize the aim of freedom (even the communists claimed someday that the state would whither away leaving utopia behind). 

The new revolutions we are seeing today in Tunisia, Egypt, and hopefully Bahrain leapfrog beyond that narrow modernist aim straight into postmodernism

They want a bit of everything but not too much of any one thing (which is why the current rise in islamophobia among Western elites is unwarranted). The new revolutionaries want some liberty but not too much (otherwise you wind up like Iraq), some equality but not too much (otherwise you get Britney, Lindsey, and Paris), some religion but not too much (otherwise you get Iran), etc. etc.

They don't just want, as some from Washington DC say, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly (as if they must wait for their leaders to give that to them). Besides no one can eat freedom of the press for dinner. You can't pay rent with freedom of assembly.     

Is the Wisconsin governor a misogynist?

Regarding the protests in Madison over a law to cut collective bargaining rights...

Politics is always about helping some and hurting others, not sound budgets nor even liberty. In this case, the Wisconsin governor wants to hurt teachers (mostly women) but not police workers (mostly men). The proposed bill exempts the police unions. If the Wisconsin Governor were serious about a balanced budget he would make EVERYONE in WI share in the pain. He would also raise income taxes on the wealthy. But that kind of unifying leadership is sorely lacking these days...