January 12, 2010

“The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts”

“The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts”12/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in Education PolicyPoliticsUniversities
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A post on the impact of the proposed cuts in university spending from Left Foot Forward written by the president of the Oxford University Student Union.

Left Foot Forward; The impact on students of the proposed £2.5bn university spending cuts:

Following today’s front-page articlein the Guardian, which warned that universities could be “brought to their knees” by £2.5 billion of Government spending cuts, Left Foot Forward takes a detailed look at the impact of the proposed cuts, on universities, students and fees.

In the last year, the Government has proposed cuts in higher education spending to the tune of £915m: £180m in “efficiency savings” in the 2009 budget, £600m in the most recent pre-budget report, and a further £135m announced by Lord Mandelson just before Christmas.

Students-in-lecture-theatreThis reduces the annual budget of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) annual budget from £7.291bn in 2010-11 to £6.376bn in 2012-13 – 12.5 per cent cutin funding over three years.If the Institute for Fiscal Studies is right in claiming that further higher education cuts of £1.6bn are required for the Government to achieve its target of halving the deficit by 2013, then total cuts will amount to £2.5bn. This is a massive reduction in the amount of money the UK spends in the sector.

As a whole, the UK currently spendsbetween 1.3% and 1.4% of GDP on higher education, less than the OECD average, and well below that spent by the United States at 2.9% of GDP.

To cut funding now will worsen that position as other countries continue to invest in higher education, as Wendy Piatt and Michael Arthur, Director General and Chair of the Russell Group respectively, have today pointed out. This has implications for both the competitiveness of our higher education sector and our economy.

The impact on students will inevitably be huge. Much of the cuts are coming from teaching budgets, which disproportionately hit undergraduate and taught graduate students. Capital funding is also being cut, which means buildings and infrastructure used by students will deteriorate.

Universities are highly unlikely to be able to maintain the current student experience, let alone improve it, if the amount of money they have to spend is so significantly reduced. They just can’t absorb a 12.5% cut in government funding without it badly affecting how students are taught.

Staff-student ratios will worsen, library and teaching resources will be reduced, and there will be increased pressure on the budgets devoted to widening participation in higher education, which will impact on the social mix of the student population at our universities.

Almost as bad will be the impact the cuts will have on the debate about how we fund higher education. In the context of the Browne Review, some universities, like those in the Russell Groupthat have made the news today, may well use the governments’ announcements to press their case for a lift in the cap on tuition fees. Government and many universities are hoping that students will pick up the tab by paying more and more in fees – this will result in students paying more to receive less.

A lift in the cap will burden students with debt; if the government introduces real interest rates on student loans in order to facilitate greater loans for higher fees – which will be necessitated by the national fiscal position – those who borrow the most will pay the most back.

At fees of £7,000, the student who funds their degree through tuition and maintenance loans would leave university with debts of £35,000 and would need to earn £30,000 a year – more than median income – just to pay off the interest on their loans, before they even start paying back the money they borrowed (Broke and Broken,NUS Report, p.7).

That is why Oxford University Student Union and the National Union of Students, among many others including Malcolm Grant, Provost at UCL, are callingfor a change in the way we fund higher education.

We think the government should abolish fees and introduce a graduate tax. Graduates should pay, according to their earnings after university, into a ring fenced national trust for higher education for a period of two decades.

Our guest writer is Stefan Baskerville, President of Oxford University Student Union

January 11, 2010

Government Action To Reduce Externalities

Government Action To Reduce Externalities11/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in Economic PolicyEconomicsEfficiency,ExternalitiesPolicyPollutionPublic GoodsSocial Justice
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We all know the feeling: You’re on your way to an important business meeting (even a job interview) and then you end up stuck in a traffic jam. An hour later, you’re already late and you find out that the disruption was caused by some company digging up the roads. Then you think to yourself “Deja vu! I could have sworn traffic was held up by another road-digging crew yesterday, and the day before.” (NB: I don’t know the feeling, I don’t drive and I live on campus at university and secondly, WHY ARE YOU DRIVING IN LONDON? Tube, bus, maybe bike- but then I forget that you can’t be seen on the modes of transport of the masses even if it means sitting for such a length of time that you get a clot the size of your heart… IN YOUR LEG[Sorry for complaining, I understand perfectly]).

This is an example of a negative externality. Negative externalities occur when the market does not lead to the socially optimum price level and output level. Negative externalities arise when the private costs of a good are lower than the social costs (private costs+external costs) leading to a lower price level (as only private costs are recognised by the market) and thus to overproduction of a “bad” which leads to inefficiency and reduction in public welfare (does harm to society or reduces the overall good to society of having cars).

In this case the social costs would include the business deals or jobs that would be lost if everyone that was held up was late to work, their job interview or their meeting and can be estimated quite easily (I won’t) in monetary terms; this is the opportunity cost (to society) of sitting in a car for four hours instead of working. Other social costs include the pollution (smog, CO2 and other gases) from thousands of idly-running cars everyday; affecting the health of those in the area (passengers, drivers, pedestrians, road-diggers, those who live nearby) as well as contributing to climate change; and noise pollution. Even though these costs are quite difficult to estimate monetarily, it doesn’t mean they don’t matter, we shouldn’t try to,  or that it is impossible to. For instance, costs of pollution can be estimated from the costs to treat or cure people who get respiratory problems mainly explained by constant exposure to gases emitted from vehicles.

One way to reduce social costs is for regulators (usually government) to do their job and regulate. Issuing directives on the amount of CO2 and other gases that cars can emitforcing manufacturers to produce less emitting cars and more efficient ones; banning the use of leaded-petrolwhich emits lead (lead poisoning) into the atmosphere; even possibly, requiring manufacturers to make sure their cars are not louder than X decibels.

Another way of reducing externalities (which I think is more efficient as it works through the market) would be for government to raise the private costs of the good to meet the social costs so that the new market equilibrium is at the point where social costs equals social benefits (socially optimum point). This can be done by the government taxing goods with externalities; the new car tax bands are an example- car taxation based on CO2 emittedby the car aiming to make people buy less emitting cars.

I first heard the term social engineering used to describe this type of government intervention some days ago in this Robert Frank NYT article(he writes about global warming, but the theme is transferable) which is unsympathetic to that view and tries to show that it is not a crime against individual liberty to tax harmful goods that some people gain satisfaction from consuming (h/t Mark Thoma):

…Although both proposals pass muster within the Coase framework, conservatives remain almost unanimously opposed to the cap-and-trade proposal approved last year in the House… Much of this opposition is rooted in a passionate distaste for “social engineering”…

But social engineering is just another term for collective action to change individual incentives. And unconditional rejection of such action is flatly inconsistent with the Coase framework that conservatives have justifiably celebrated. …

In the case of global warming, markets fail because we don’t take into account the costs that our carbon dioxide emissions impose on others. The least intrusive way to have us weigh those costs is by taxing emissions, or by requiring tradable emissions permits. Either step would move us closer to the conservative/libertarian gold standard — namely, theoutcome we’d see if there were perfect information and no obstacles to free exchange.

Finally, back to the issue I started with. There was an article in the Guardianabout plans for the government to price and coordinate the road-digging/traffic disruption timetable in London (SHOCK, HORROR- GOVERNMENT) so as to reduce disruption and Londoner’s frustration. “Oh, I thought the government caused the disruption with too much regulation just like it causes everything?” No the private utilities did because they could. No regulation and no costs meant they could dig up the roads whenever they felt like it.

Summary of “History of Now: The Story of the Noughties”

Summary of “History of Now: The Story of the Noughties”06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in Uncategorized
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I really enjoyed watching thisyesterday on the BBC and the Demos blog has a very good summary of the programme.

According to Julia Margo, Director of Research at Demos, “Age is to the C21st what social class was to the C20th. It’s one of the major fault lines in our society”. She appeared on the BBC’s History of Now: The Story of the Noughtieson Tuesday night, delivering a bleak picture of the gap between where young people in their teens and early twenties thought they would be, and where they found themselves at thirty.

With the recession hitting young graduates hardest, this disparity will probably amplify. It’s a bitter pill for the children of the good-time ‘baby boomers’ who enjoyed an expansion in university education – bolstered by grants – adding to the growing of the middle class. Their degrees counted for something and they entered jobs and finished them with final salary pensions. They rode the wave of the property boom and are now enjoying living their retirement to the full, spending their cash on foreign travels and grown-up gadgets with a grown-up price tag.

The programme was critical of the baby boomers and their quest to be the Peter Pan generation, refusing to let go of youth culture by adopting gadgets like the micro scooter and clinging on their teenage rock heros with paying through the nose to see them at the O2 arena. On the other hand, Generation Y are struggling to get jobs and loaded down with student debt. They will be in their thirties before they are even able to get on the property ladder, let alone think about having children.

The Guardian’s Economics Editor Larry Elliott commented “If you think about what’s happened to young people … it is somewhat surprising I think that young people aren’t angrier than they are about this.”

And here the contradiction lies: society is critical of older generations for being ‘middle youths’ but critical of the recession-hit younger generations for not wanting, or not being able, to follow in their footsteps. It’s a mark of maturity that younger generations aren’t having a tantrum over their lost ‘entitlements’. So perhaps as well as the age divide, a History of Now has shown an attitude divide – between generations that never want to grow up, and generations that are forced to do so.

Labour Leadership Challenge

Labour Leadership Challenge06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in ElectionElection 2010Gordon BrownLabour PartyPoliticsUnited Kingdom
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One thing I’ve always wondered/ worried about is the way the media report politics. It makes it seem like a trivial game instead of determining the fates of millions. Talk of “political positioning” and “support for the PM” bring to mind “political football.” I think the only reason they do this is to make politics “easier” to understand/ explain/ report.

Anyway, there is a new challenge to Gordon Brown’s leadershipAndrew Wells of UK Polling Reportlooks at polling to determine whether electoral prospects for Labour will improve with a new leader. Conclusion: can’t really say;

The moral is, don’t look at hypothetical polls of how people think they might vote with X in charge. People are rubbish at predicting how they will react, especially how they would react to a politician most of them know little about, becoming PM and doing things none of the respondents can predict. We don’t really know how the public would react in practiceto Alan Johnson, or David Miliband as leader, but we do know what they think of Gordon Brown.

Sunder Katwala at Next Leftbelieves the

… moment of maximum danger for Gordon Brown’s leadership of the Labour Party into the General Election was the evening of Thursday June 4th 2009 when James Purnell resigned from the Cabinet, as the polls closed in the local and European elections, and other Cabinet members declined to follow him.

and that the decision of other Cabinet members to support Brown saved Brown’s premiership.

He also believes that this challenge will fail:

Firstly, it is much easier to present as a "Blairite" intervention, in contrast to (say) a Hewitt-Cruddas or Mullin-Hewitt intervention, which would have been much more impactful were it possible. So that would imply that non-Blairite support has failed to respond to calls to lead a revolt. Rumours of a right-left pact, involving Compass, would seem to have been much exaggerated (and, indeed, denied by Compass).

Secondly, and probably crucially, it suggests that they have failed to get any Cabinet minister to be part of the, following unfounded rumours last night about Tessa Jowell, who has dismissed the possibility of a resignation, as the New Statesman reported first.

Thirdly, the timing of the interevention hasn’t helped it, though it is very unlikely this could be thought decisive, except in demonstrating the lack of ruthless assassin like abilities which have been a consistent feature of these sporadic attempts.

I think the timing here refers to proximity to the election (16 weeks), Gordon Brown doing well in today’s PMQs, and Labour having some success in early January campaigning. A leadership challenge just seems odd and capable only of hampering Labour’s chances as they begin to “navel-gaze” instead of fighting the Tories and dealing with the country’s problems. It also leads to a public perception of an uncontrolled and ill-disciplined party which doesn’t help electoral prospects.

Contradictions In Selective Immigration Policy

Contradictions In Selective Immigration Policy06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in ImmigrationPolicyPolitics
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Chris Dillow (Stumbling and Mumbling) has a good post on the dilemma between immigration which doesn’t depress domestic job prospects and immigration which maintains social cohesion.

Chris Dillow: What Sort of Immigrants?

Lord Carey’s remarkson immigrationraise an issue for those who favour immigration controls: is there a trade-off between the immigrants you want on economic grounds, and the immigrants that would promote social cohesion?

Here’s what I mean. From the point of view of the labour market, we want immigrants who are as unlike us as possible. We want people with different skills and tastes from us, who’ll do jobs that we can’t or won’t do. These sort of people don’t compete with us in the labour market and so don’t threaten “our” jobs and wages.

However, from the point of view of social cohesion, we want people just like us, those who share our values. 
Isn’t there a contradiction here?

You might think not. It’s quite possible that people can differ from us in labour market aspects and yet share our values in other respects.

Possible, but not certain. Indeed, some research has found that, among Muslims, labour market success is associated with stronger religious views. In this respect, immigrants who are good for the economy are bad for social cohesion: Kafeel Ahmed, who died trying to blow up Glasgow airport, was the sort of highly-qualified man who appeared to be an ideal economic migrant.

You might think the solution to this dilemma is simple: we should simply stop trying to pick and choose who enters the country.

True. But I fear instead that it has another implication. It implies that opposition to immigration will always be with us. If immigrants were just like us, Carey and his like would moan about how they are depressing the job prospects of indigenous workers. And if immigrants were so different as to not jeopardise indigenous wages or employment, they’d moan about them being different, not sharing our values, or creating uncertainty amongst native people.

Hostility to foreigners will always exist. All that changes is the shabby nature of the justification for it.

Foreign Policy In a Vacuum

Foreign Policy In a Vacuum06/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in BrazilCross postedForeign PolicyInternational Relations TheoryPower (IR)RealismState SovereigntySuperpowersUnited StatesWorld Politics
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The other two are still lost on the infinite plane of uniform density.


International and Domestic Constraints On Foreign Policy

Even though a head of state/ government may have an overarching philosophy or theme they want to guide foreign policy; neo-/ realism, liberalism, democracy promotion, multilateralism among others, their available actions/moves are constrained by domestic politics and the actions (and possible actions) of other statess. This blog-post from the London Review Blog looks at the restraints on the Obama administration’s foreign policy towards Brazil.

London Review Blog- Greg Grandin: Obstacles to Progress;

The honeymoon between Barack Obama and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva didn’t last long. When Obama was elected, the US press imagined a natural alliance between the two men, expecting them to sideline the ideologues and set the Western Hemisphere back in greased grooves. ‘This is my man, right here,’ Obama said at the G20 summit in London in April, grinning and shaking Lula’s hand. ‘I love this guy.’

Always be wary of the “natural alliance” or “special relationship”. There is no such thing in the international system.

Actually why would there be a natural alliance? They are both centre-left governments, both democracies and presumably interested in democracy promotion in South America. The Obama administration aspires to multilateralism and engagement with allies and foe which should dovetail neatly, if not seamlessly, with Brazil’s aims to become a major international actor; the US should reach out to Brazil so that Brazil can flex its muscles (no matter how controlled the flexing would be).

The first bump in the road was the coup in Hondurasin June, which sparked a clash of wills between the US and Brazil over how best to settle it. ‘Our concern,’ said Lula’s foreign-policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, is that Washington’s push to legitimise the Honduran elections ‘will introduce the “theory of the preventive coup”’ – an extension of Bush’s doctrine of preventive war – ‘in Latin America’.

Then the Obama administration let it be known it was going forward with plans to lease seven military bases in Colombia.

Next came Washington’s decision to pick a fight with Brazil over a visit by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Obama sending a letter to Lula reminding him of his international obligations. The tone of the letter must have annoyed someone high up in Lula’s foreign-policy team, who leaked it to the press. This further irritated the US.

You cannot expect others to act in the same way you want them to (even though they might seem to be natural allies) or even accept your judgements (oh sovereign one) and policies without some retaliatory action (neo-/realism preaches insecurity and action begets reaction). Also do not interfere in other states’ affairs (especially in an arrogant manner, it might insult them and even states can get petty).

As in all politics “anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the” international arena. It might be “preventive war” to save your citizens today, tomorrow it’s “preventive coup.” Today it’s converting the heathen and civilising the barbarians, tomorrow it could be foreign intervention in sovereign affairs.

Finally there was Copenhagen. Lula showed up at the climate conference with an ambitious pledge to reduce Brazil’s carbon output by 40 per cent before 2020 and to slow deforestation of the Amazon by 80 per cent. After the conference ended with a tepid statement and no fixed plan to move forward, Brazil strongly criticised Obama’s leadership. ‘Do something, Obama,’ said Carlos Minc, Lula’s environmental minister, ‘or return the Nobel Prize.’

In a unipolar world, without the “hegemon” being willingand ableto police the world and whip other states into shape, nothing will be done. If there is a hegemon, and it is unable or unwilling to show an example, leading to failure in achieving collective world action, that hegemon will be blamed, whether it is at fault or not.

Insiders report that top officials in the State Department are furious with what they see as Brazil’s third-world grandstanding. They would do better to focus their ire at domestic targets, for the real obstacles to progress in US-Latin American relations are not to be found in Caracas, Managua or Brasilia, but much closer to home.

Obama could have used the Honduran crisis to showcase his ‘new multilateralism’, working with Brazil to restore democracy. But the legislative Republican right, led by two first-term senators, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint and Florida’s George LeMieux, pushed the other way. The White House caved.

The president could have scaled back plans for US military expansion in Colombia. But that would have meant rethinking a failed, decades’ long, multi-billion dollar, bipartisan War on Drugs – from which the Pentagon, influential US private security firms like DynCorp and blue-state based defence contractors like Connecticut’s United Technologies all profit – and Obama has other wars to extricate himself from.

He could have made some concessions to Brazil’s agricultural sector, promising to reduce tariffs and subsidies. But another senator, Charles Grassley, representing the corn state of Iowa – and the interests of Monsanto – put a hold on Thomas Shannon’s confirmation as ambassador to Brazil until the White House pledged not to.

The White House could move quicker to normalise relations with Cuba, as Brazil, along with the rest of Latin America, has long demanded. But that would mean taking on the Cuba lobby. After Grassley dropped his hold, LeMieux froze Shannon’s nomination until he was sure there would be no Cuba opening. The ability of unimpressive politicians to paralyse US foreign relations is summarised in the fitful progress of Shannon’s nomination: in between Grassley and LeMieux, DeMint stopped the confirmation until Obama turned on Honduras.

Obama could also try to come up with a new vision for a hemisphere-wide post-crisis political economy, one that abandons failed neoliberal prescriptions and tries to balance Latin American calls for sustainability, equity and development with the demands of corporate balance sheets. But the Democratic Party is the Wall Street party. Obama has long since abandoned his pledge to renegotiate Nafta, and there are indications that he will soon endorse the stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia – objectionable not only because of the country’s high body count but because the treaty would grant foreign corporations the right to overturn national environmental laws and would require the liberalisation of Colombia’s financial sector, including the deregulation of disruptive ‘hot money’ speculation.

Lula, no less than Obama, operates within constraints. Brazil has powerful agricultural, financial, and industrial sectors and a large, interest-aware military. But like most of the rest of South America, it also has a vibrant, influential left that holds politicians accountable. In the presidential elections later this year, Lula’s Worker’s Party is being challenged from the left by Lula’s former environment minister, Marina Silva – one reason for his strong stance in Copenhagen.

“Unimpressive” legislators looking after number 1 (their image to the kingmakers –the electorate) while holding up a major (ambassador to the closest power) executive appointment, which shows one of the drawbacks of the much needed separation of power for protection against tyranny (of the majority but not in these cases of minority tyranny- “paralyse US foreign affairs”). It also shows the serious implications of protection against majority tyranny by providing a veto to the minority on legislation that affects the minority’s interests.

Special interests, such as the military-industrial complex, Wall Street (financial markets), political parties and the agricultural sector, can all influence foreign policy even when a government has been given a mandate for its foreign policy (as the phrase is used here in the UK). They can assert influence by donating (or not) to individual campaigns or whole parties (aka BRIBERY ANDCORRUPTIONwhen practiced in the developing world), threatening to move their precious operations overseas (as if they would) and in the case of political parties, factions abstaining or voting against a “whip” on other essential bills (at least threatening to), leadership challenges and votes-of-confidence, as in the British parliamentary system.

All these force policy makers into pursuing certain policies they do not want, even when they know or believe them to be the wrong policies.

The US, in contrast, is still very much in thrall to a vibrant, powerful right. And that leaves Obama little more to offer Latin America than military bases, coups and the empty rhetoric of free trade.

(End of quasi-academic reasoning- ha)

Why do we even have a political right? They have nothing to offer other than these (above), free, open economy and freedom from government except in the case of abortion, same-sex marriage and all the rest that should be banned or supported (marriage). Salute Uganda. Come to think of it, politics is the only thing I want to be on the left of. Oh well, so much for my right-favoured asymmetrically planned life.

How Do You Profile the Soul?

How Do You Profile the Soul?03/01/2010

Posted by opemipo3655 in  Human RightsNigeriaTerrorism,United States
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Copiedfrom NigeriansTalk

Apparently the profiling has started. CNN talks to Rafi Ron, frm. security chief at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and frm FBI agent Mike German about calls to ditch all the silly political correctness and to agree that if it looks, walks, and quacks like one, it should be profiled a duck: CNN Video

The gist of what Newt Gingrich saidabout profiling:

We know how to identify these enemies but our elites have refused to do so. In the Obama Administration, protecting the rights of terrorists has been more important than protecting the lives of Americans. That must now change decisively. It is time to know more about would-be terrorists, to profile for terrorists and to actively discriminate based on suspicious terrorist information.

Oh, and here is Ann Coulteron profiling. She thinks the word “Nigerian” is a “warning sign”:

Since Muslims took down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, every attack on a commercial airliner has been committed by foreign-born Muslim men with the same hair color, eye color and skin color. Half of them have been named Mohammed. An alien from the planet “Not Politically Correct” would have surveyed the situation after 9/11 and said: “You are at war with an enemy without uniforms, without morals, without a country and without a leader — but the one advantage you have is they all look alike. … What? … What did I say?”

The only advantage we have in a war with stateless terrorists was ruled out of order ab initio by political correctness. And so, despite 5 trillion Americans opening laptops, surrendering lip gloss and drinking breast milk in airports day after day for the past eight years, the government still couldn’t stop a Nigerian Muslim from nearly blowing up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day. The “warning signs” exhibited by this particular passenger included the following: His name was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He’s Nigerian. He’s a Muslim. His name was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. He boarded a plane in Lagos, Nigeria. He paid nearly $3,000 in cash for his ticket. He had no luggage. His name was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

All valid arguments. Those “Others” who strap on bombs to blow the rest of us up are disproportionately Muslim and are doing so to defend Islam. Hence the source of this overwhelming assurance that the so called “rest of us” have a magic bullet cocked and democracy need not be this hard or inconvenient. In other words, trim the fat or “political correctness” off our freedoms by authorizing more powers to whoever needs it and legislating the means to profile those who fit said “pattern.” Sucker alert! It’s also a pattern a terrorist doesn’t necessarily have to, or need to, fit.

Like Mike German makes clear, fundamentally, there is no terrorist profile — “beards,” “i heart sharia” tee shirts, “Arabic names,” “a burka-rer of women,” “extremist behavior,” “country where passport was issued” and so on are all helpful in shrinking the recruiting pool. But when terror is now a service you can outsource and push comes to shove, all those tell tale signs generate “false-positives” or intangibles; can’t someone who is determined to blow himself up also be as determined not to exhibit any of the stereotypes? In case you don’t deal drugs, it’s called a “change-up.” Furthermore, if you chase after intangibles–or things that don’t necessarily need to have a fixed address–to keep up you end up going after everybody – everybody includes Americans too.

Yep, the terror suspect is a Nigerian with bad taste in underwear, but the silver lining to all this might be a failed father with the good sense to snitch on his son. He admitted his failure, he screwed the code of family and religious honor and he went to the authorities, physically, to snitch the boy out. In doing so, he might have put the first crack in the freakin’ dam of Islamic distrust. Every other mother and father of a radical, if they choose to follow Umaru Mutallab’s steps, now know what to do. And there it lies in a nutshell. There is no way to defeat Islamic extremism without the help of moderate and peace loving Muslims worldwide. By all means, profile them.

Execution of Akmal Shaikh– IR Theory

Execution of Akmal Shaikh- IR Theory31/12/2009

Posted by opemipo3655 in Capital PunishmentChinaForeign PolicyHuman RightsIR in the NewsInternational LawInternational Relations TheoryLiberal IR TheoryPoliticsPower (IR)RealismState SovereigntyUnited Kingdom,World Politics
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Akmal Shaikh, 53, from North London was executed in China for drug smuggling on the 30th of December, 2009. The UK government and Reprieve, a legal charity had remonstrated with the Chinese government against an execution due to the mental illness suffered by Mr Shaikh, a personality disorder, which made him amenable to criminals who convinced him to transport 4.030g of heroine into the country.

Now, while there are legitimate questions to be asked about the use of capital punishment and about the its use on someone who is “not himself” (I know this is pejorative, but I think it best captures the illogic of executing someone who by virtue of his being ill can be duped into doing something that anyone in their right mind wouldn’t), I do not want to focus on this now; I will instead look at what it says about international relations (IR) especially from his cousins’ comments on the response of the UK government.

In their letter, Amina and Ridwan Shaikh:

• Accuse most of the media of ignoring Akmal’s case until it was too late. "We were shocked that apart from Sky News, his case received only sporadic media attention during his two years in prison. Only when news was released of his imminent execution did it get the coverage it deserved. Wouldn’t more media attention at an earlier stage have applied more pressure to the Chinese authorities? Wasn’t this lack of coverage an injustice in itself?"

This doesn’t have much to do with IR, however, it shows how the short-term focus of the media can, does, and in this case did lead to a loss of focus on longer term issues in favour of what sells in the short term. Example; before Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009, there wasn’t (and this is anecdotal from my perspective of the news) as much focus on Climate Change until an explosion after emails of climate scientists were hacked and released into the public domain. Afterwards, there were complaints about it’s weakness and then all sign of it disappeared. You also rarely hear about the EU until there is a “scary EU or wasteful EU” story or whenever elections come around. The public then doesn’t get the information about these issues that it needs to understand them fully and have to rely on provocative sound-bites (which are ubiquitous when the issue is current).

• Say that while they are "indebted to Reprieve and others for efforts they made on our cousin’s behalf … we were not comfortable with the strategy pursued". They say: "We didn’t say anything as we respected the wishes of those concerned. We understand the strategy was based on expert advice that, as the Chinese regime is a brutal one, the best approach is to not criticise it as this may make things worse." They cite the high-profile campaign by Moazzam Begg’s family to secure his release from Guantánamo Bay.

I think this can be best understood using Liberal IR Theory and especially theDemocratic Peace Theorywhich points out that no two democracies (and definitions of differ thus weakening the theory) have gone to war with each other and posits that relations between and among liberal democracies will always be peaceful. There may be disagreements, but since in domestic politics, statesmen are used to disagreement, discussion and compromise in decision making, it is assumed or expected that they will use these skills in the international arena and thus forestall war. Other things which constrain democratic war include public opinion- seen as always or generally peaceful except when war is undertaken in self defence- which is needed for politicians to remain in power, and the effects of checks and balances created by separation of powers which (should) make it virtually impossible for a government to go to war at the whim of any specific group. Also it claims that when dealing with other democracies, states know of these constraints and the likely actions that will result thus giving them the peace of mind to bargain instead of looking for the zero-sum win.

Arguments against the theory include problems with defining a democracy; was Germany under Hitler a democracy since the Nazi party won elections. “For example, one study (Oren 1995) reports that Germany was considered a democratic state by Western opinion leaders at the end of the 19th century; yet in the years preceding World War I, when its relations with the United States, France and Britain started deteriorating, Germany was gradually reinterpreted as an autocratic state, in absence of any actual regime change.” There have also been post-hoc reclassification of states as non-democracies or conflicts as non-wars (no true Scotsman fallacy) to “fix” the history of democratic peace. Other arguments include the effects of political similarity(there has also been an autocratic peace with no wars between autocrats), effects of economic interdependence as liberal democracies also tend to have liberal economies which are involved in free international trade; as two states trade together, they become linked and begin to share cultures, understand each other and just generally get along. Also, for economic growth to be sustained and in line with its long run average, the absence of shocks to production that wars bring is necessary.

With this we can explain the quote by saying in dealings with the US, the Begg family was able to run a vocal campaign because they knew that, even though Guantanamo Bay was illegal, a democratic US state would/ could be brought to see reason and to release the man while an autocratic (“brutal”) China would not be brought to discussion (according to the experts) as there are routine human rights violations and this one would just be the next.

• Accuse the government of hypocrisy in its dealings with China. "One of the justifications we are told for invading countries like Afghanistan is ‘human rights violations’. If it is accepted by all that there are gross violations taking place in China, why aren’t they too invaded? This is purely to do with the fact that China is a powerful country economically. Britain’s economic dependence far outweighs these ‘individual cases’."

Ah, the bane of liberal/ humanitarian intervention. Why thereand not there. The answer is simple, “It’s POWER stupid!” You do not intervene, liberally or illiberally, in an area or state where you will get beaten and leave yourself open to attack. Power is the most important concept in Realist and Neorealist IR theory is defined as the summation of all the capabilities of a state; size of army, state of military technology, tactical acumen and advantages, size and strength of the economy (to support build up of arms and troops), effectiveness of diplomatic service, possession of vetoes at international organisations especially the UN Security Council, population and demographic trends (ageing=bad because of increased dependence on the labour force) among others.

Comparing Afghanistan and China on these criteria; troops: 240,000 to 7 millionnominal GDP per capita: $400 to $3000; it’s ridiculous (and impossible, for me anyway) to compare the state of military technology and the list goes on. The figures place China at the level of the UK (except GDP per capita, but then they do have a population of 1.3 billion) and suggest that while we were falsely gung-ho about going into Afghanistan and liberating them “quick as a flash” that expectation was a realistic one at the time given the weak capabilities of the Afghanistan state, the Taliban and al-Qaeda compared to the combined force of the western nations and our inability to see the future (shame).

It would be foolish to go to war against China, they have the largest army,nuclear weapons, a strong economy (rebounding quicker than anyone else from the recession), state of technology not too far from the rest of the world if not close to the front, 20% of the world’s population and most importantly a seat at the UN Security Council with a veto meaning that no resolution can be passed calling for military against China (why would it agree to be liberally intervened in when it can just say no).

Also as the article notes, the UK strategic interest is in keeping relations “sweet”, so that UK businesses can still operate in China and wealthy Chinese tourists continue to flock into our overpriced shops and their students continue to study here benefitting our economy.

• Condemn the government’s approach to the Chinese. "Did the British government pull out its diplomats in protest? Did it have a hard-hitting strategy to persuade the Chinese authorities to change their decision?"

The British government has made clear there will be no formal diplomatic retaliation beyond criticism. The cousins say in the letter: "This is an example of Britain’s powerlessness in the world. Their strategy of being shoulder to shoulder with the US in the ‘war on terror’ has not given them the status they so desperately desire.

Since the end of the WW1, the UK’s status has been falling, from being the only superpower and a super-empire in the 19th Century, to a middling power, along with the other European old powers, in a hegemonic world (US) with rapidly rising powers (BRICs). With this in mind, it is difficult to see what the UK could do that would make the Chinese take note and change their stance. Right now, it seems that UK needs China more than they need us.

Realism and Neorealism; Who you know counts for nothing in the international system. The international system is a self-help arena. If you do not improve on your capabilities there will be no international “Good Samaritan” state or world government to help further your interests. If the UK government thought (and I doubt they did) that joining the ‘war on terror’ would bolster their status in the world then they would be mistaken (they might be thanked for going along but nothing more). There is no such thing as a Special Relationship. It is only a special relationship if special means friends-when-it-is-in-my-interest-to-be-friends, though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite well, but I’m sure it will catch on.

"We are not mourning simply for our cousin as a lot of other people, including Muslims in China, have experienced and will continue to experience the same fate, without any real justification; our hearts pour out to them too."

The Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis has said that as well as official representations, ministers made 27 separate appeals on Shaikh’s behalf in the two years after his arrest. Brown, Lewis and David Miliband, the foreign secretary, all delivered critical statements yesterday. Brown said he condemned the execution "in the strongest terms" and was "appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted".

The realist “catch-phrase” comes to mind: The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. As long as China remains a strong nation, and no one can see this changing, there will be no outside intervention to bring about respect for human rights or democracy in China, no matter how much western citizens and their governments claim to want it (Realpolitikrules). Everything will continue to be said “in the strongest terms” and people will continue to be “appalled and disappointed” but it will all come to nothing unless Chinese citizens themselves rise up.

Lewis said: "Engagement with China is non-negotiable and any alternative strategy is simply not credible. But by being so clear in our public criticism of China’s handling of this case we are demonstrating that it is not business as usual."

Engagement is compulsory, but I believe it is futile in the area of human rights. I think the only other mechanism through which public criticism can have an effect is in the Chinese leadership’s reaction to Global opinion and I think they have really thick skins. I mean to become a leader in the Chinese Communist Party, you must be hard as nails (I’m guessing, I’m not a member). Also theirreportedbehaviour at the Copenhagen Summit suggests they take no heed to the rest of the world and focus only on what will keep their citizens content.

The issue also shows the failure of international law to regulate the international system as long as long as states can act with impunity because courts act in an advisory capacity and do not have the power to coerce states into acting in accordance with international law.

It also brings up the issue of state sovereignty. Should the UK be interfering in the affairs of another sovereign state’s judicial system? (linkand link). I think in this case they were well within their rights to remonstrate on behalf of their citizen in a foreign country as long as they were not asking for a pardon (he did commit a crime).

Google’s Monopoly Power And A Rant

Google’s Monopoly Power And A Rant30/12/2009

Posted by opemipo3655 in Attempts at HumourBusinessCompetition Policy,EconomicsGoogleMarket ContestablityMarket StructuresMarkets,MonopolyMurdochNews CorporationNewspapersNewspapers vs Internet
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Mark Thoma:

It is not illegal to have monopoly power, but there are limits on how that power can be used. Has Google crossed over the line?:

Search, but You May Not Find. by Adam Raff, Commentary, NY Times: …Today, search engines like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s new Bing have become the Internet’s gatekeepers, and the crucial role they play in directing users to Web sites means they are now as essential a component of its infrastructure as the physical network itself. The F.C.C. needs to look [at]… “search neutrality”: the principle that search engines should have no editorial policies other than that their results be comprehensive, impartial and based solely on relevance.

The need for search neutrality is particularly pressing because so much market power lies in the hands of one company: Google. With 71 percent of the United States search market (and 90 percent in Britain), Google’s dominance of both search and search advertising gives it overwhelming control. …

One way that Google exploits this control is by imposing covert “penalties” that can strike legitimate and useful Web sites, removing them entirely from its search results or placing them so far down the rankings that they will in all likelihood never be found. For three years, my company’s vertical search and price-comparison site, Foundem, was effectively “disappeared” from the Internet in this way.

Another way that Google exploits its control is through preferential placement. With the introduction in 2007 of what it calls “universal search,” Google began promoting its own services at or near the top of its search results… Google now favors its own price-comparison results…, its own map results…, its own news results…, and its own YouTube results for video queries. And Google’s stated plans for universal search make it clear that this is only the beginning.

Because of its domination of the global search market and ability to penalize competitors while placing its own services at the top of its search results, Google has a virtually unassailable competitive advantage. And Google can deploy this advantage well beyond the confines of search to any service it chooses. Wherever it does so, incumbents are toppled, new entrants are suppressed and innovation is imperiled. …

The preferential placement of Google Maps helped it unseat MapQuest from its position as America’s leading online mapping service virtually overnight. … Without search neutrality rules to constrain Google’s competitive advantage, we may be heading toward a bleakly uniform world of Google Everything — Google Travel, Google Finance, Google Insurance, Google Real Estate, Google Telecoms and, of course, Google Books.

Some will argue that Google is itself so innovative that we needn’t worry. But the company isn’t as innovative as it is regularly given credit for. Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Android and many other Google products are all based on technology that Google has acquired rather than invented. Even AdWords and AdSense … are essentially borrowed inventions…

Google … now faces a difficult choice. Will it embrace search neutrality…? Or will it try to argue that discriminatory market power is somehow … harmless in the hands of an overwhelmingly dominant search engine? …

Thoughts (just on the search engine market):

Why did Google then acquiesce to Murdoch’s demands for charging when linking to his sites (five free links then you are directed to the payment page)?Probably because the internet search engine market isto a large extentacontestable market; even though there is a dominant firm (Google), other firms are in market (Bing which also powers Yahoo! Search is the major one)who can gain market share from Google by making a deal with Murdoch to become the sole search engine for News Corporation whose size cannot be sniffed at. [Wall Street Journal(US), Fox (US & Australia), The Times(UK), The Sun(UK), Sky (UK) among many others. It is important to remember that News Corp is not made up of only newspapers, it is a complete media conglomerate (world’s 3rd largest in entertainmentand 2nd largest media conglomerate)].

It is not a contestable market due to the high entry costs (servers, staffing, massive computers etc); they will also need massive advertising campaign(s) to even register in public consciousness which is difficult on its own but also adds to entry costs. This means that there can be no credible threat of entry into the market except if an already large (preferably IT) company decides to set up a search engine (though costs could still deter them).

I’m not completely sure which would suffer most if Murdoch decided to make Bing the only search engine that can “find” News Corp material. I think, however, that Google is big enough and so much ingrained in the public’s mind, that any “war” with News Corp would not affect it. People are satisfied with Google, with it achieving a score of 86 out of 100 in a study and its closest rival Yahoo! on 77. Also I read somewhere (I can’t find it now), that the majority of readers don’t stick with one newspaper website but tend to go with whoever has a story (nowadays everyone has the same story, if you restrict it in any way, people will get it from somewhere else). That is, they might hear about a story, type it into a search engine and go to any of the sites that has the story. This suggests that if for instance, readers don’t see The Washington Postor The Sunor The Timesin a Google search (which has 71% and 90% of the market in the US and UK respectively), or they have to pay for it, then they will read it from somewhere else; The New York Times, BBC, and the Guardianwhich are all free (I haven’t seen any indication that they want to begin charging). I imagine that if these were the sort of readers that compose the majority of  News Corp publication’s readers then this will affect News Corp’s advertising potential and revenues and finally its profits (ceteris paribus). This may change in the future if Bing becomes the major search engine, but in the short to medium term at least News Corp would lose.

My view on newspaper charging (for now) is that it will not work without cooperation among the media moguls (and their egos) and some very harsh laws on copying from web articles and news networking. If there is no cooperation it will fail for anyone that moves unilaterally to a pay-for-news model. Even if there was cooperation among the ‘old-world’ print news media, they would have to contend with internet-only operations which don’t seem to have the same vision of the future of journalism such as Politicoand The Huffington Post,which has a rather good Dumbest Quotes of the 2000s.Why is it that you only get these sorts of sites in the US and not here in the UK? (Are we more in awe of the gentleman journalist?). Without cooperation people will change allegiance to the free papers. In less than a year I changed from reading to The Daily Mail (sorry), to The Timesand finally The Guardian all before my 18th birthday and I was paying for the papers.

They would also have to find and kill a lot of bloggers to stop them stealing what their journalists have wrongly reported. It could become the next witch-hunt after middle-easterners. Jack Bauer torturingusing “enhanced coercive interrogative techniques” on bloggers; 




If people get a cheaper deal (free) when they change their allegiance (if they have one) then the pricing scheme will fail woefully as it will lead to lower site traffic and lower advertising revenue

So, my advice to Google, as a Business Consultant par excellence/ first-year student is “Screw Murdoch, what’s he gonna do? Bite you?” To which I will get laughed out of the building, rolling in a trash can.

* I did do a Google Search for these names and nothing came back. If your publication is any of them, my sincere apologies for the unintentional coincidence... seriously.

"The Fairness of Financial Rescue

“The Fairness of Financial Rescue”30/12/2009

Posted by opemipo3655 in Economic PolicyEconomicsFinancial Rescue,Great RecessionRecessionSocial Justice
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Brad DeLong (HT Mark Thoma- Economist’s View)

The Fairness of Financial Rescue, by J. Bradford DeLong, Commentary, Project Syndicate: Perhaps the best way to view a financial crisis is to look at it as a collapse in the risk tolerance of investors in private financial markets. … [W]hen the risk tolerance of the market crashes, so do prices of risky financial assets. … This crash in prices of risky financial assets would not overly concern the rest of us were it not for the havoc that it has wrought on the price system… The price system is saying: shut down risky production activities and don’t undertake any new activities that might be risky.

But there aren’t enough safe, secure, and sound enterprises to absorb all the workers laid off from risky enterprises. … Ever since 1825, central banks’ standard response in such situations – except during the Great Depression of the 1930’s – has been the same: raise and support the prices of risky financial assets, and prevent financial markets from sending a signal to the real economy to shut down risky enterprises and eschew risky investments.

This response is understandably controversial, because it rewards those who … bear some responsibility for causing the crisis. But an effective rescue cannot be done any other way. A policy that leaves owners of risky financial assets impoverished is a policy that shuts down dynamism in the real economy.

The political problem can be finessed: as Don Kohn, a vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently observed, teaching a few thousand feckless financiers not to over-speculate is much less important than securing the jobs of millions of Americans and tens of millions around the globe. Financial rescue operations that benefit even the unworthy can be accepted if they are seen as benefiting all – even if the unworthy gain more than their share of the benefits.

What cannot be accepted are financial rescue operations that benefit the unworthy and cause losses to other important groups – like taxpayers and wage earners. And that, unfortunately, is the perception held by many nowadays, particularly in the United States.

It is easy to see why.

When Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp attacked … the Clinton administration’s decision to bail out Mexico … during the 1994-1995 financial crisis, Gore responded that America made $1.5 billion on the deal.

Similarly, Clinton’s treasury secretary, Robert Rubin, and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus were attacked for committing public money to bail out New York banks that had loaned to feckless East Asians in 1997-1998. They responded that they had not rescued the truly bad speculative actor, Russia; that they had “bailed in,” not bailed out, the New York banks, by requiring them to cough up additional money to support South Korea’s economy; and that everyone had benefited massively, because a global recession was avoided.

Now, however, the US government can say none of these things. Officials cannot say that a global recession has been avoided; that they “bailed in” the banks; that – with the exception of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns – they forced the bad speculative actors into bankruptcy; or that the government made money on the deal.

It is still true that the banking-sector policies that were undertaken were good – or at least better than doing nothing. But the certainty that matters would have been much worse under a hands-off approach to the financial sector, à la Republican Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in 1930-1931, is not concrete enough to alter public perceptions. What is concrete enough are soaring bankers’ bonuses and a real economy that continues to shed jobs.

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