Monday, May 29, 2017

 

What Exactly is 'Openness'?


A friend of mine posted a riposte of Angela Merkel to Trump which went like this: “It is not isolation and the building of walls that make us successful, but open societies.” I think we need to step back for a minute and ask what exactly is this "openness"? Surely open-mindedness is something that is emulated in liberal societies and we all probably agree that to have an open mind is desirable. Close-minded individuals, on the other hand, are to be avoided along with the attribute. That said, I think something is hidden here. "Openness" is sometimes uttered by politicians in the same breath as "free trade" (open trade or globalization), but they aren't the same thing. If they were synonymous, why does free trade or "globalization" also produce losers? Open-mindedness seems to us unequivocally positive while globalization obviously isn't (or at least not under certain circumstances). Someone, as we say in Spanish, might be trying to sell us "gato por liebre". As economists, we teach the so-called "virtues" of free trade (globalization), but with a very important caveat that is so easily forgotten. In my graduate international economics class, I teach the virtues of free trade, quantifying out of a very simple model what are called the "gains to trade". The principle "virtue", I tell my students, is precisely the enlargement of the "economic pie" resulting from specialization according to the comparative advantage of nations. It all seems simple, logical and quite reasonable when I demonstrate the concept on the board with numbers. However, I am also obliged to explain the caveat, which is that *free trade* produces both losers and winners. So while on the one hand, the economic pie is made greater by free trade, the latter must be followed by a redistribution of the pie in order to compensate the losers for their dire predicament which resulted directly from te implementation of said *free trade*. This is then depicted as a "win-win" for everybody because people are thereby able to partake in said enlarged pie. All good and well, right? Well, it so happens that things sometimes don't seem to turn out that way in the real world. President Bill Clinton explained the virtues of this free-trade induced *pie enlargement* when he sold NAFTA to the US public. The problem was that the losers were never compensated or compensated inadequately! We know that the Republicans do not believe in re-distributive policies, and Democrats seem as of late to lean more and more toward Republican policies, so there doesn't seem to be much prospect for re-distribution among the main political choices in America. Hence the losers were left to fester. The garment workers whose jobs "departed" for Mexico and China were not only never compensated, but the much heralded "retraining" of laid off workers from such "sunset" industries to enable adaption and subsequent employment in the "sunrise" industries which were to replace them was inadequate. ...And the politicians of both parties went their merry ways and forgot all about the "losers". The latter, to make a long story short, became bitter and elected Trump! So my point with this little ditty is that Trump is as much the fault of Liberals as it is the fault of those "Tea Partiers" who Hillary so disparagingly called "deplorables". Food for thought which I am uniquely capable of providing instruction on since it is my profession. Further reading on the subject is provided in the following PDF.

Originally published at LinkedIn.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

 

Nobel Lecture by Harold Pinter


The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor Harold Pinter nearly twelve years ago. Although Pinter had been stricken with a serious infection at the time of the award (he died a few years later), he videotaped his Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth and Politics", and projected it at the Swedish Academy on the evening of 7 December 2005. It should be viewed by everyone (particularly Americans) who has the opportunity to do so:



Wikipedia:
Pinter's career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His second play, The Birthday Party, closed after eight performances, but was enthusiastically reviewed by critic Harold Hobson. His early works were described by critics as "comedy of menace". Later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as "memory plays". He appeared as an actor in productions of his own work on radio and film. He also undertook a number of roles in works by other writers. He directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theatre and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes, and other honours, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d'honneur in 2007.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

 

This is How Empires Fall


The headline (above) is obviously an oversimplification. Nevertheless, given the premium placed on knowledge in today's advanced economies, THIS is a telling piece, and it must be read from beginning to end.

I share this fear:
I fear we are moving beyond a natural skepticism regarding expert claims to the death of the ideal of expertise itself: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laypeople, teachers and students, knowers and wonderers—in other words, between those with achievement in an area and those with none. By the death of expertise, I do not mean the death of actual expert abilities, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors and lawyers and engineers and other specialists. And most sane people go straight to them if they break a bone or get arrested or need to build a bridge. But that represents a kind of reliance on experts as technicians, the use of established knowledge as an off-the-shelf convenience as desired.
(...)
The larger discussions, from what constitutes a nutritious diet to what actions will best further U.S. interests, require conversations between ordinary citizens and experts. But increasingly, citizens don’t want to have those conversations. Rather, they want to weigh in and have their opinions treated with deep respect and their preferences honored not on the strength of their arguments or on the evidence they present but based on their feelings, emotions, and whatever stray information they may have picked up here or there along the way.

This is a very bad thing. A modern society cannot function without a social division of labor. No one is an expert on everything. We prosper because we specialize, developing formal and informal mechanisms and practices that allow us to trust one another in those specializations and gain the collective benefit of our individual expertise.

Friday, January 13, 2017

 

Qiyan Music & Abdel Karim Ensemble


I am choosing to start off the New Year with some sublime music.



The Qiyan, (above):
From the 8th to the 13th centuries, female slaves trained in musical composition and performance, the recitation and composition of poetry, the art of embellishing their conversation with entertaining literary and historical anecdotes, the crafts of calligraphy and shadow-puppetry, as well as other art forms, were one of the most elegant and refined expressions of Islamic culture in Spain. These women (Ar. qiyān) were major contributors to, and conduits for, the transmission of the arts during the golden age of Islamic Spain (Ar. al-Andalus).


Also, not to be missed:



Abdel Karim Ensemble, (above):
Formed by professional musicians from several countries (Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Spain) and under the direction of Abdel Karim, this ensemble has the purpose of studying and popularizing Arabic classical music. Its repertory includes music from throughout the Middle East, from Turkey to Egypt, ranging from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Abdel Karim Ensemble also performs Andalusian Arabic music, a genre that originated in Al-Andalus, Islamic medieval Spain, where it was cultivated as a poetic-musical form known as Muwashaha.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

 

Syria Update


Elijah J Magnier, from whose blog I am quoting, below, has a pretty good track record in reporting on the Middle East. In his personal blog, he describes himself as a "Senior Political Risk Analyst with over 32 years’ experience covering Europe & the Middle East. Acquiring in-depth experience, robust contacts and political knowledge in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Sudan and Syria."

His analysis in this particular POST includes a very cogent synopsis of what a Clinton administration policy might look like regarding Syria. As we should all know by now, there was recently a serious but perhaps futile attempt by the US and Russia to eke out a "seven days cease-fire during which humanitarian convoys would be allowed into besieged areas (in Aleppo, I assume) by both the belligerents." If anything, it was an attempt by the two principle suppliers of war machinery to this conflict to seek an alternative to the continued obliteration of the country by the belligerent parties. While we can engage in endless discussion of whether or not this was indeed a fool's errand, at least it was an attempt to begin seeking a different solution to the problem. Who knows what could have developed afterwards if it had succeeded? As we all now know, the "plan" was stillborn. There are some important indicators as to whom may have ultimately been responsible for the failure of the plan, but that isn't the most important "message" of the piece.

Elijah J M's analysis of the situation in Syria as stands is both thoughtful and well-informed, and merits being read in its entirety (everyone will undoubtedly arrive at their own conclusion as to who ultimately caused the plan to fail, but the whole truth may likely never be known, lost as often is the case in these situations amidst the "fog of war"). Nevertheless, there is one party whose actions are unequivocal, and Elijah J M makes this patently clear:
But what happened and why did the agreement failed?(sic)...
Al-Qaeda, excluded from the ceasefire deal, has no interest in seeing it working. Its forces, along with US vetted group of Ahrar al-Sham and Beit al-Maqdes attacked the Syrian forces south of Syria, at al Hader, supported by the Israeli Air Force. Twenty-one artillery positions were destroyed by the Israel Air Force hours before the attack along the Golan border.

Elijah J M's most significant attempt at a "prediction", however, is encapsulated in the title of the piece: The mistrust between Washington and Moscow portends a long war. In particular, he states:
"Hillary Clinton, if she becomes president, understands that the Kremlin is determined to protect its interests in the Levant; and that the war in Syria concerns Russia directly because it demonstrates success or failure in the Middle East. The US will do its best to see Russia and Iran drown in Syria and will not accept that the US administration has failed to reach its goal."

Considering the photos/reports of the tragic situation in Syria which the western (and particularly the US) mainstream media have chosen to highlight for some time already (as opposed, say, to those depicting the equally dire situation in other places like Yemen) we can only say (if we accept Elijah J M's eminently plausible "prediction") that such reporting is once more a reflection of the utter hypocrisy of western governments that have no intention whatsoever of seeing an end to this tragic conflict. The reports and photos of casualties in the western press are mere props in a politically motivated propaganda campaign of one-upmanship. The Syrian people be damned as long as the west can bleed the Russians dry in an ongoing proxy war which nobody can know the ultimate duration of.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

 

A Thinly Veiled Threat to the Freedom of Speech in the U.S.A.


While I have been following these disturbing developments over recent years, the renown American investigative journalist best known for his role in covering the Iran-Contra affair (among other important issues) Robert Parry, has summed them up in a timely and hard-hitting piece that even shocked me to my core. While doing an excellent job of summarising and providing links on the subject of the United States propaganda onslaught against Russia, which revolves primarily but not exclusively around happenings in Ukraine, it is his observations in the latter part of his ARTICLE which shook me and should trouble the American public in general. He quotes a piece in the Washington Post:

“U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions. … “The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation. … A Russian influence operation in the United States ‘is something we’re looking very closely at,’ said one senior intelligence official,” while admitting that there is no “definitive proof” of such a Russian scheme.


Parry correctly points out:

The danger of this investigation – and what a normal news media would focus on – is the U.S. government taking an unfocused look at how Russia supposedly influences the U.S. public debate, a probe that could easily cross the line into questioning the loyalty of Americans who simply dispute what the U.S. government is claiming about current events.


The following sent chills down my spine because in my own interactions with people on the social media, I have already been accused of this on several occasions:

In other words, any reporting or commenting on significant foreign policy issues could open a journalist or a citizen to a U.S. government investigation into whether you are part of some nefarious Russian propaganda/disinformation scheme. This McCarthyistic investigative style has already begun to have a chilling effect on public debate in the United States where dissident views on Russia, Syria or other hot topics are quickly disparaged as enemy propaganda. Almost anyone who questions whether a new, costly and dangerous Cold War is necessary is immediately tagged as a “Russian agent of influence,” a “Putin apologist,” or a “Moscow stooge.”


I want to take this chance to reiterate what I have been and will continue arguing every chance I get over the social media about this supposed new "Cold War" developing between Washington and Moscow, owing largely to the instigation of the former, but I will do it via a quote from someone far more eloquent than I:

"Western diplomats, politicians, and media are highly selective about tyranny. Boris Yeltsin’s state was not much superior to Vladimir Putin’s. Yeltsin used tanks to shell his own parliament. He waged a barbaric war in Chechnya. He blatantly rigged his own re-election with the aid of foreign cash. He practically sold the entire country. Russians, accustomed to corruption as a way of life, gasped at its extent under Yeltsin’s rule. Yet he was counted a friend of the West, and went largely uncriticized. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who locks up many more journalists than does Mr. Putin, who kills his own people when they demonstrate against him, and who has described democracy as a tram which you ride as far as you can get on it before getting off, has for many years enjoyed the warm endorsement of the West. His country’s illegal occupation of northern Cyprus, which has many parallels to Russia’s occupation of Crimea, goes unpunished. Turkey remains a member of NATO, wooed by the E.U. As for Saudi Arabia and China, countries much fawned upon by the Western nations, the failure to criticize these for their internal despotism is so enormous that the mind simply refuses to take it in. But I need not go on. The current attitude toward the Putin state is selective and cynical, not based upon any real principle."


I can't really add much more perspective to that very congent observation. However, I want to end this post with the following, which was brought to my attention by a dear friend and former teacher. Please see it all the way through:

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Sunday, September 04, 2016

 

You have not lived...


Until you've witnessed this. I'm doing you a favor.



You're welcome!

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