Saturday, August 17, 2002

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WEBLOG GENERAL SHOOTING BLANKS

One of the things I've inadvertently collected on this site are examples of the right acting like the left, or rather, the right exhibiting behaviour they claim to abhor in the left, whether it be that old saw of having no sense of humour or being intolerant of particular behaviours. To the list we can add Stanley Gungeon's wet-lettuce attack on yours truly where he seems to be suggesting that if Washington was bombed it would serve me right to be killed or injured because I oppose an immediate war on Iraq.

All I can think of as an explanation for this outburst of sadism is (a) he doesn't like people disagreeing with him and over-reacted (b) he is actually a vindictive psychopath (c) in the absence of any actual arguments--as opposed to rationalistions--he resorted to name-calling and foot-stamping or (d) he was joking, which is often the last-refuge excuse of the intellectually ill-equipped.

Perhaps after people have read his comments they can make up their own minds as to which descriptions best fits.

Stanley also makes the error of basing his bad-tempered puerility upon a false premise. He seems to conclude that because I am less than impressed with weblog generals marching us all off to war that I am, by definition, a tree-hugging member of the pacifist branch of leftism. Such a presumption turns me into a convenient straw-man target for his primary school onslaught (I haven't been called 'tin dunny' since second grade - ah, the memories) but alas it has little relationship to the truth.

Such presumptions, therefore, leave Stanley barking up the wrong tree. The funny thing is, the "arguments" he does mount are so poor, the facts he musters are so obviously wrong, that even the strawman he is attacking beats him senseless. It must almost be a first, surely, for someone to create a strawman with which to argue and then lose? Sort of like the dummy gaining control of the ventriloquist.

So Stanley writes:

What are you going to do when Saddam deploys a little more of that anthrax he has stockpiled, perhaps scattering it in the Washington subway system?

Um, 'more' anthrax, Stanley? That last lot came from America, not Iraq. We
don't know if Iraq has anthrax (see Scott Ritter), but we do know America has. Just as we
don't know Iraq has womd (again, see Ritter and also Mosad, or even this quote from today's paper: "Republicans concerned about what they see as Mr. Bush's precipitous course toward war with Iraq, like Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, say that the Central Intelligence Agency has no evidence that Iraq possesses or will soon possess nuclear weapons.). If this is your logic for going after Saddam, then the good folk of Alexandria better look out too.

Or, if you can't think that far ahead, what do you imagine he plans to do with those other nasty toxins he has in such plentiful supply?

Round two to the strawman, I'm afraid. Exactly what secret evidence, hitherto unavailable to everyone
else in the world, have you seen that Saddam plans an attack on
anywhere? We know that al Qaeda does such things, of course, so why
aren't they the target any more? Or are you still running with the "Iraq has ties with al Qaeda" line? Not even George W. is trying that one anymore. There is evidence of al Qaeda links in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Kashmir, and Egypt, and not one skerrick that there's any with
Iraq, whose B'aath Party al Qaeda detest as much as Uncle Sam does. Again we are in the realm of "what if" speculation that some of us (like Colin Powell, Dick Armey, General Norman Schwarzkopf, Brent Scowcroft etc etc etc) don't think is sufficient reason for launching a war. (And Stanley, read the objection carefully, don't go setting up more straw men.)

If not in your adopted home town, should the poor citizens of New York face the prospect of another catastrophe, one far worse than the WTC outrage?

Now Stanley, is this just ignorance or are you actually lying to try and trick us all and make me look bad with bad-faith equivocation? We're talking about Iraq, right? So "another" attack on New York? Wasn't it al Qaeda that produced the last catastrophe? Aren't
they the ones who promised more? What does Iraq have to do with any of
this? I suppose a retaliatory strike is vaguely possible if we unleash
our womd on them, of course . But whoops, that's your plan, isn't it?

Or will you be happy if Saddam simply unloads a further dose of biological agents on Iraq's Kurds?

Now we're really getting down into the gutter, aren't we? Well, I guess the "argument" wasn't working, so why not, eh? Apart from being a sad and desperate ploy from someone who obviously fancies his intellectual skills, it sorta of contradicts your tactic of framing me as a tree-hugging peacenik. You are now fighting straw men on two fronts and since the first one was already kicking your arse, this might turn out to be a lethal over-stretch of your rapidly depleting debating resources. You see, you can't set me up as a peacenik AND as someone who would take pleasure in the biological bombing of Kurds. The idea in arguing a case is to find contradictions in your opponent's argument, not to deploy your own against your opponent. Plus, Stanley, it's a bit sick, isn't it? Was I really asking for that?

Whoops, sorry, silly questions. You’ll doubtless dash off another 20,000 words on the evils of dairy deregulation.

Oh Dear. Now we have reached the bottom of the debating barrel. Though I think 'eye-rollingly stupid questions' is the phrase you're
reaching for.

And then you’ll die -- mourned chiefly by that indolent wretch Margo, who will no longer have a guaranteed supply of free words to fill her dreadful Diary.

No, I was wrong. This is the bottom of the barrel. At this stage I'm opting for option (b) from the choices above.

Friday, August 16, 2002

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SPORTS BLOGGING and TITANS CLASHING

Scott Wickstein has started up a new blog that covers sports, mainly Australian and English stuff. He's looking for contributors so if you've got something sporty to say, drop him a line. And BTW, don't believe the self-deprecating blurb on the blog where he says his comments are inane - Scott knows his stuff.

Speaking of which, a true clash of the giants is brewing between Professor John Quiggin and Tim Blair over global warming. Quiggin, with the benefit of study and research, is one of those behind a petition of economists urging the Australian government to sign the Kyoto Protocol. Tim, with benefit of populism and one liners, is urging the government not to. The arguments, in part, have gone like this:

Quiggin: First, is the question of cost-benefit ratios. There are a lot of measures (e.g. withdrawing subsidies from the aluminium industry) that would both reduce emissions and reduce national income. A full implementation of Kyoto based on tradeable emissions quotas would cost less than 0.5 per cent of GDP ($3 billion per year) on most estimates.

Blair: ALLEGED ECONOMISTS are circulating a petition calling for Australia to "ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay". The hell with that.

So round one to Blair.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

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MINORITY REPORT

First it was the Jose Padilla/Al Muhajir thought-crime and now we have jail time for the murder of a hypothetical baby. At least the authorities seems to be well-read in dystopic literature and science fiction.
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CRIKEY.COM.AU

I just got my latest Crikey newsletter and was trying to sort out what I think about them.

My feelings are really mixed. I actually offered to write for them at one stage, covering stuff in America, but that was before I realised that I couldn't provide what they wanted. I did a demo story, but it was more your basic opinion piece (slagging off Miranda Devine, imagine) than the sort of "insider" stuff they actually prefer. It was my stupid mistake.

But I get their (approx) daily update, and I must say that after I read it, I always feel really depressed. It's not just that it they tend to deal in the seamy side of everything; there's just something about how they cover issues that is...I don't know...off-putting.

For a start there's all the nicknames they use for well known figures. Some of them are funny, but even the funny ones wear thin with use day after day. Some of them I simply can't match to whomever it is they are describing. The net effect is that it gives the pieces a sort of boysey, insider, smug, world-weary, uninspiring sort of a feel.

Take this piece by star (anonymous) columnist, Hillary Bray. It opens:

JEFF'S COMEBACK AND THE PROXY WAR

The fun and games continue for the Victorian Liberal Party in the wake
of Jeff's comeback (not). The current leadership stoush that lead to
the sacking of Health spokesman Robert Doyle yesterday is more complex
than meets the eye - but then that's always the case with the Victorians.


Why does this bug me, especially as I have used such techniques myself? For a start, as someone away from Australia (that is, an outsider) I don't really know what the story with Kennett's comeback is and so when I see that headline and that opening sentence I'm being misled until I get to register that bracketed "not". It's not a big thing but it bugs me and is a small example of "insiderism" - though I happily concede it is written for an Australian audience who would know the story. Still, even on those terms, the approach doesn't seem to add much and the factual-statement-ending-with-a-"not" is a bit passe, isn't it?

Then there's that post-hyphen clause "but then that's always the case with the Victorians." What does that even mean? I register that it is some sort of mild dig and Victorians, but it is so lame as to be, well, lame. And it ups the "smug" factor considerably.

Two other points which irk, however slightly: First that opener "The fun and games continue", which, although far from heinous, just adds a slight smear of smarm to the piece that it could live without. And next, calling Kennett by his first name, which is your ultimate boysey in-the-know put-down-cum-showoff technique known to journalism. Thus, people (not just Crikey) will call Australian Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja by her first name (or worse) but I don't think I've ever seen the Prime Minister referred to as John. The fact that call they him the Rodent doesn't alter the point. Of course, Kennett invites the use of his first name to some extent, and in fact, maybe it was the Jeff.com ploy that finally did him in, but I can't see that it adds any value or humour to this piece. Just fake street-cred.

Next paragraph goes like this:

The "expensive polling" on bringing Jeff back leaked to the Sunday
Herald Sun appears to have been the brain-child of none other than those
two Crikey favourites, John Elliott and Alister Drysdale, and a vain
attempt to relive the golden days of yore - and can be safely ignored.


So more "insider" phraseology -- "Jeff", "two Crikey favourites" -- followed by some info that the writer herself declares irrelevant.

At the same time, however, the fragrant Louise Asher knows that she can
not win a party room battle for leadership, so is doing Jeff's bidding
through proxies. Her closest allies in the party room have been her
proxy in attempting to encourage Doyle into a leadership battle by
pledging support from a fictional group of "non factional" players.
Meanwhile, Kennett has been personally advising Napthine, pushing him
into a corner where he was forced to go to war with Doyle. In fact,
Hillary understands that while Napthine called yesterday's meeting with
Doyle at Kennett's suggestion, it only became a major media event after
the news was leaked by an old Kennett staffer.


Well, apart from the gratuitous, boysey, insider, cliched adjectival designation of Louise Asher as "fragrant" --someone please explain why this is funny--at least in this paragraph we start to get to an interesting story, perhaps one of substance. As journalism, it could do with a bit more info to support the allegation that Asher is "doing Jeff's bidding through proxies" and "Kennett has been personally advising Napthine" (though maybe this is common knowledge?), but maybe that is to come?

So, if Kennett is advising Napthine on how to deal with Doyle but his
close ally Louise Asher is actually encouraging Doyle to run for leader,
where does that leave poor Dynamic Den? Essentially he has been had -
forced to start a war by the people who are creating it. Louise Asher -
strategically placed in North Queensland with a g-string bikini - will
come back to Melbourne and tap Dennis on the shoulder after others have
done her dirty work.


There's a bit of pronoun/referent confusion in the first sentence that would not be apparent to anyone who knew the relationships within the Victorian Liberal Party, but I had to read it twice. Nonetheless, what do we get of substance here? Some intriguing "ifs" and a reasonable speculation, but not much more as it turns out. The piece degenerates into gossipy speculation. In the previous para it said Kennett was advising Napthine, but this is backtracked into an if he is advising Napthine. Not terribly satisfactory. And what does that "essentially" mean at the start of the second sentence? Has he been had or not? If he has, it sounds like a reasonably important point, especially on the grounds stated. So why qualify it? As to the g-string bikini, I guess this refers to some other news item of which I'm unaware, but I still wonder what relevance it has.

And at this stage I really don't know what the point of the piece is. The last sentence says, "Steve Bracks and his Government can look forward to more fun yet to come," so I guess the point is that the Liberal Party still remains in turmoil, but couldn't this have been said--even within the "facts" of this story--a lot more clearly?

I'm completely willing to admit that the opaqueness I find in this story could be entirely down to my own ignorance. Basically, for me, the "story" presumes too much knowledge and thus is unclear to the uninitiated. Though I guess Crikey is all about writing for the initiated? Fair enough, but it's a big reason they don't get a subscription cheque from me.

On the other hand, the next story on the list, HOWARD'S SHAMEFUL TASSIE RORT, although it uses a lot of same tired crikey-cliches (nicknames, mock horror) it actually raises an interesting, relevant story. Even though most of it is lifted directly from the ABC (and acknowledged) there is good added-value in what the writer has to say and the extra analysis offered. There is minimal "technique" and just good, to-the-point commentary that might also resonate back in the real world.

Other things I don't like are the habit of personifying "Crikey" and referring to it in the third person, as in "If there's one thing Crikey can't stand...." Again, it's sort of okay for a while, and has a long tradition in column journalism, but it has become as old and unfunny as Phillip Adam's "joke" where he refers to his "listener" instead of "listeners" whom he then calls Glady. Funny once, not night after night (okay righties, serves me right for listening night after night).

All these little things are cumulative, like someone putting arsenic in your coffee, a little bit each morning.

Anyway, I'm far from not a Crikey fan and all this is meant to be constructive criticism, not a slag off. I just think they should stick to the main game and leave all that cliche-ridden verbiage to us bloggers. Maybe Crikey are just at a transition stage between cheeky upstart and serious contributor, but I wonder if it isn't time for a stylistic rethink to enable the transition? They don't have to lose their irreverence or sense of humour, but they do have to try and stop dressing up mere gossip in faded journalistic slapstick routines and start to only publish stuff of substance. History suggests they are capable of it.

In fact, in a lot of ways, the Crikey writers are crusaders, though it tends to be of the consumer-stockholder-citizen type rather than your participatory democracy type, but that's fine - we need both. What they haven't achieved, I don't think, is the balance between aloof dragon-slayer and committed activist. They are still trying too hard to be cool. In fact, tackling large scale social issues is ultimately a very uncool thing to do - it's hard to achieve the necessary level of unconcerned detachment necessary to be considered cool while you are wearing your heart on your sleeve trying to fight the wrongs of society. Eventually they might have to choose which it's going to be.

I'm sure some people read Crikey for exactly the points I am finding fault with, so I don't pretend to be speaking for anyone but myself. But I'd sure like to hear some other opinions.
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RIGHT UP A BLOGGER'S ALLEY??

Thought I'd run this item here, in case blog world missed it, especially those back home. Sounds like a good invitation from those shameless democrats over at TomPaine.

Give Us Your Best 300 Words
TP.c Wants YOUR Essay About 9/11 And The Aftermath

John Moyers is the editor and publisher of TomPaine.com.


"Agenda Interrupted" and "Toward A More Perfect Union" are the themes for TomPaine.com's coverage of the upcoming 9/11 anniversary, and we want to know what comes to mind when YOU reflect on these themes.

We're rounding up noted writers and thinkers to contribute -- here's your chance to join them. If we like what you say and how you say it, we will include your essay in the package of pieces we post that week. If we REALLY like it, we might quote your essay and name your name in either our Sept. 4 or Sept. 11 opinion advertisements ('op ads') on the op-ed page of The New York Times.

Here's how it works:

Imagine you're writing one of TomPaine.com's 300-word op ads (click here to get a feel for them). Your essay should be pointed and pithy, infused with a sense of "the public interest," and written in an active voice. Cite credible sources, not Internet rumors. Be at least as willing to raise questions as you are to provide answers -- in other words, don't try to be the first and last word on the subject, just strive to make our readers think.

Remember: It's harder to say something in 300 words than it is in 1,000. Make every word count. Essays can be shorter than 300 words, but not longer. We welcome poetry and songs, too.

Essays MUST address one of our two themes:


"Agenda Interrupted" -- What happened to the issues that were in the news in the days leading up to 9/11? Have they come back? Will they ever come back? Do they matter now or will they ever again? While the nation's attention was understandably distracted, how did those issues change, if at all?
"Toward A More Perfect Union: Lessons Learned - Or Not - Since 9/11" - If 9/11 was a wake up call, then what did we see when we opened our eyes? What have we learned, if anything, about democracy, our standing in the world, or the conduct of foreign policy? Can we salvage anything good from the wreckage and pain of such a reprehensible act?
Completed essays should be sent in the body of an email to SUBMISSIONS@TomPaine.com. DO NOT send submissions as attachments. The subject line MUST be either "Agenda Interrupted" or "Toward A More Perfect Union," depending on which theme you address. We will only accept ONE SUBMISSION PER WRITER PER THEME.

Deadlines: To have a piece considered for the September 4 "Agenda Interrupted" feature, all submissions must be in by FRIDAY, AUGUST 23. Submissions for the September 11 "Toward A More Perfect Union" feature must be in by FRIDAY, AUGUST 30.

All submissions MUST include your full name, home address, e-mail address and DAYTIME PHONE NUMBER -- if we can't get you on the phone, we will NOT consider your submission for publication.

Please include a one-sentence byline that tells us something about you, for example: "John Jones is a nuclear engineer and lives with his family and nine cats in Colorado Springs."

Good luck, and thanks in advance for your participation.



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MORE BRAZIL

A Cato Institute update announces some problems down in Brazil/IMF territory:

BRAZILIAN MARKETS TUMBLE OVER ECONOMIC FEARS
Less than a week after Brazilian markets received a much-needed shot of
confidence from a $30 billion International Monetary Fund loan package to
the country, fears over Brazil's economic prospects dragged down stock and
bond prices and the beleaguered real, The New York Times reported.

The currency closed at 3.16, to the United States dollar, down 0.5 percent
from Monday's level - and off 8.6 percent since Thursday - as word spread
that Moody's Investors Service, the ratings agency, had downgraded
Brazil's foreign-currency bonds and notes from B1 to B2, five levels below
investment grade. The benchmark C-Bond closed at 51.46, wiping out the 13
percent gains made last week on the coattails of the phased IMF package,
announced on Wednesday.


Of course, Cato doesn't believe in bailouts at all and offers these links to their own thoughts on the subject, using Mexico and Argentina as examples.

As was clear from the Stiglitz article (blogged below), a lot of the success of the bailout will depend how "the markets" (they're actually people, you know) react:

If the markets understand the state of affairs in Brazil, interest rates and exchange rates should adjust to reflect that understanding and, with these adjustments, Brazil should have no difficulty meeting its commitments. That being the case, it would be in the interests of all, no matter what their politics, to see the country's debt commitments fulfilled.

Why might "the markets" be panicky? Robert Samuelson runs through possible reasons in today's Washington Post and it is completely fascinating to try and follow the arguments from a logical if not an economic point of view.

The main reasons he offers are to do with, obviously, foreign debt, though Samuelson says it is not the debt per se that is the problem but the fact that it continues to grow:

The trouble is that Brazil's debt has expanded rapidly. In 1994 it was 30 percent of GDP. Runaway spending is no longer the main culprit. In 2000, Brazil's Congress passed a law effectively limiting spending by the national, state and local governments. Taxes have also increased. As a result, Brazil now has what economists call a primary budget surplus. This includes all spending except payments on the debt. The primary surplus is now 3.75 percent of GDP. Unfortunately, interest payments on the debt have exploded to more than 9 percent of GDP, says the Institute of International Finance. The result is an overall budget deficit exceeding 5 percent of GDP.

Okay, we can all follow that. But what brought this situation about? Samuelson puts it down to interest rates which have to be high (currently around 18%) to attract investors. Additionally, "about a third of the domestic debt is indexed to changes in the exchange rate. This protects investors against currency loss. If Brazil's real depreciates against the dollar, the government's debt payments automatically rise. Since early 2000, the real has lost about 40 percent of its value. More than half of that has occurred since February. This has been devastating."

So this is what the IMF bailout was designed to do - provide the funds so that Brazil can prop up its currency and perhaps break the cycle. But this is where Stiglitz's speculation (above) comes back into the equation and we get into the joys of "market psychology". This brings into play economist Robin Hahnel's "panic rules":

Rule # 1 is the rule all participants want all other participants to follow: DON'T PANIC! If everyone follows Rule # 1 the likelihood of the credit system crashing is lessened. Rule #2 is the rule each participant must be careful to follow herself: PANIC FIRST! If something goes wrong, the first to collect her loan from a troubled debtor, the first to withdraw her deposits from a troubled bank, the first to sell her option or derivative in a market when a bubble bursts, the first to dump a currency when it is "under pressure" will lose the least, while those who are slow to panic will take the biggest baths. Once stated, the contradictory nature of the two logical rules for behavior in credit systems make clear the inherent danger in this powerful economic arrangement.
Indeed it does. And although we can see the inherent logic of this system on its own terms, we have to sometimes wish that "the markets" wouldn't see things on their terms and consider other possibilities. Both Samuelson and Stiglitz also seem to be hoping for some out of character behaviour.

Most interestingly, Samuelson also identifies another reason for "panic":

The latest cause is nervousness about the October election. The government's candidate, Jose Serra, has lagged badly in polls. Two leftist presidential candidates -- Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva and Ciro Gomes -- have raised fears among investors that either's election would mean a debt default. The result: currency flight. Local and foreign investors are cashing out, selling their Brazilian currency and buying dollars.

Ah, yes. Can't have lefties in there because they mightn't play by the rules, so the panic has begun. Again, on it's own terms, you can see the logic - why invest if you think the country will default? But Samuelson--and I suspect other "neo-liberals"--pull a bit of a swifty here: "Despite endorsing a primary budget surplus, the leftist candidates criticize the policies that have produced it." The implication being that this is inconsistent, bordering on hypocrisy. Well, it only is if you think the current prescriptions are the only ones that can produce the desired surplus. The fact is, there are other ways to create a surplus, though they mightn't be as favoured by "the market" as what is in place now. That's why I think the veiled accusation is a bit of furphy: it seems to be merely endorsing the goodness of a surplus per se when in fact it is also endorsing the manner in which the surplus is created and is implicitly fearful of any "leftist" approach.

Thus the spectre of "market discipline" is brought to bear on any country considering anything outside the "Washington consensus." And the entire rationale of the IMF loan--and any success it is likely to have--is in the hands of "the market". With so much of their credibility riding on the outcome of this bailout, you might think that even the IMF is hoping that "market forces" are suspended for a little bit longer.

And BTW: isn't there a case here for similar sorts of capital controls that Malaysia used with a deal of success during the Asian crisis?

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

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FOR ALL YOU CAESARIANS

Here's a little quote I swiped from News Trolls. They don't build self-confidence like this anymore.

"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind. And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar."
- - Julius Caesar
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UNANIMITY ON ANONYMITY?

Hate to come in late on this--do anonymous bloggers forfeit some credibility?--though the question doesn't seem to have done the rounds on the Australian blogs. Jane Galt puts it neatly:

But I think that anyone who blogs anonymously has to accept that to a certain degree, they have a higher burden of proof than those of us who are stuck with the names our parents gave us.

This seems so obvious that I wonder that anyone would argue with it, though plenty have.

A similar debate arose on Margo Kingston's website at The Sydney Morning Herald a few years back (Margo is an Oz journalist who runs a blog-type site where readers opinions are published, sometime at great length as I can well testify.) Anyway, I argued there that anonymity was gutlessness. I sort of came over all macho and self-righteous, basically because I got sick of arguing with people who wouldn't look you in the eye, so to speak. Doesn't the accused have the right to know his accuser, I pompously asked. Anyway, I understood the usual arguments about "I have a job to protect" (yeah, who doesn't) but there's still something a little sinister (maybe not that strong) about having an argument with someone who knows who you are while you don't know them.

As it was, I got no sympathy and really now, I don't think it's that big a deal. I would just invoke the reasonably mild Jane Galt credibility disclaimer. (BTW, am happy to be adding said Galt to the links list.)
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THE STIGLITZ/IMF RHUMBA

I continue to be fascinated by the head-butting happening between Joseph Stiglitz and the IMF. Today in the NYTimes, the stoush continues, though in a slightly more cat- and-mouse way. After my last piece on the topic, Lisa, over at the inestimable Ruminate This, asked about the new IMF loan package to Brazil and Stiglitz provides some insights.

He only gets to the package a third of the way into the article and his first mention of the IMF is a glancing blow across the cheek: "Critics of the new I.M.F. lending can point to the remarkable record of I.M.F. failures in recent years: Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Russia, Brazil (1998) and Argentina."

Okay, so he couldn't resist. Soon after though he allows that this intervention might be more successful, in part because of more favourable conditions in Brazil itself and in part because of changes in how the IMF has handled the bail-out, though even this concession has a slight sting in the tail:

..unlike in most other I.M.F. packages — which insisted on contractive monetary and fiscal policies that weakened the economy — in this instance the I.M.F. insisted only on the continuation of existing policies, aiming at a primary budget surplus of 3.75 percent. It would have been even better if they had set a cyclically adjusted target, which would be more flexible and therefore have enhanced stability and confidence.

In fact, throughout, he remains sceptical of the efficacy of the IMF; he also makes clear the influence the US has on IMF policy and how this association taints the credibility of the IMF itself:

Already there is disillusionment throughout the region with the I.M.F. and the so-called market-oriented reforms of the 80's. The question is repeatedly put: if the top students like Argentina and Brazil can fail, what awaits us? Anxieties are reinforced by the data. The growth of the early 90's appears to have been but a brief interlude between the lost decade of the 80's and the lost half decade of the late 90's, in which per capita incomes have declined. Growth for the decade of the 90's as a whole is only slightly greater than half that of the pre-reform period of the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Even when and where there has been growth, the fruits have disproportionately gone to the rich, with many at the bottom actually worse off. Throughout the region, there is a new sense of insecurity.

There is also a heightened sense of resentment at American hypocrisy: free-trade rhetoric combined with increased trade barriers. This question is related to that of I.M.F. policy, which is formed in large part by the United States. It is difficult to deal with a great power that is both schoolmaster and truant. At the very least, it encourages cynicism.


All this the likes of Stiglitz can say with relative immunity, though the same views expressed by someone associated with the left would be instantly labelled as anti-globalisation or anti-free trade or anti-Americanism: Stiglitz will just be called a class-traitor. He also invokes that other leftist plea that the US apply the same standards to others that it applies to itself:

The Bush administration invoked emergency provisions within World Trade Organization rules to allow for temporary protection of some American steel from competitors abroad. Couldn't there be something similar for countries whose economies run into sudden trouble? If larger markets could open themselves temporarily, along the lines of an emergency bilateral free trade agreement, to a country experiencing great difficulties, the cost could be less than that of a traditional bailout and the impact possibly greater.

The open adoption of such an approach would be an even more convincing signal that the IMF really was reforming itself - even if they did want to say that they thought of the idea themselves and that they were going to do it anyway.

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HEALTHY SCEPTICISM

I blogged at some length a while back about some of the problems with privatising health services. Max Sawicky today points at this article by Robert Hebdon, a management professor at McGill University in Montreal. In it he looks at the proposal to privatise certain health services in Nassau county. He makes the sort of sensible points that need, apparently, to be made over and over again in regard to this matter: that no matter what you think of privatisation in general, that health services are ones that at the very least need to treated quite differently. In so doing he casts doubt on open slather privatisation in general:

Nassau is using its financial crisis to sell the idea, but experiences elsewhere tell us that privatization often isn't an instant panacea. In fact, my study has identified human services as the area most likely to come back into the public sector after failing to show improvements. The rate of failure in contracting out human and health services was greater than 50 percent. This was the highest rate of failure of any of the public services in the survey - including public works, transportation, public safety, parks and recreation, and office support.

The author of the article is also the author of a study on privatisation that you can find here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

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A BLOG MYSTERY

When I used to work in a record shop many moons ago, we knew, as does any retailer, that stock sells stock. So if the rack that held 25 copies of the number one seller got down to its last copy, that single copy would sit there indefinitely. Fill the rack up and almost immediately the item would start selling again.

ON this blog I notice something similar. If I do a lot of posts in a day, the hits keep coming, so to speak. That is, I get more hits if I'm doing more posts. If I slow down, the hits slow too. Given that someone can't know how often I'm posting without hitting the site, and given that the hits I'm talking about are unique individuals, not repeat visitors, then I don't quite know why this happens.

Does anyone else have this experience?

(At least by posting about posting on this slow-post day I'm adding to my posts and therefore my hits. Well, we'll see.)
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WILL WHEELS TURN or have they FALLEN OFF?

The Navigators is a new film by English director Ken Loach and I haven't seen it. I'm blogging this because of a review done by John Quiggin, available at the ever-improving site called Australian Policy Online. According to Quiggin's review, the movie deals with the privatisation of British Rail by the Tory government in 1995. That privatisation has turned out to be a major disaster, not that you'll hear many neo-libs admit it or change their mantra of public-bad-private-good in light of such failures.

What interested me about Quiggin's review was this paragraph:

The Navigators ends on a despairing note. The workers are defeated and morally compromised by the need to earn a living in the new system. But nothing is forever. Even a year ago, hard-driving CEOs like the one in Loach’s film were cultural heroes, particularly in the United States. Now it has become clear that the kind of CEO who admits no moral obligations to his (it is almost always “his” and not “her”) workers is unlikely to have any qualms about defrauding his shareholders. The wheel is turning, and the men and women who actually keep the wheels turning will have their day in the sun once again.

I just don't know about that last sentence. Seems to me that the damage caused by the neo-liberal ascendancy that is spoken of throughout the review has so damaged the conditions and institutions of social cooperation (for things other than profit) that I doubt that the wheel will turn anytime soon. But maybe I'm wrong and am in a despairing mood just thinking about another bleak-but-honest Ken Loach film.

Monday, August 12, 2002

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ONE CLICK and THEY'RE GONE

At Letter From Gotham, Diane E. is tired of arguing with people who dress left and concludes:

Arguing with an ideologue is like entering a roach motel. You check in, you don't check out.

Is she saying that those on the right, therefore, are dead cockroaches?

KEN DOES LABOR HARD

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Ken Davidson gives what to me seems like a realistic assessment of the recent Hawke/Wran blueprint for rebuilding the Labor Party.

Though, there is still a considerable--what?--paradox? irony? in needing to "rebuild" a party that currently holds power in every Australian state. Amazing what lack of federal power does to perceptions of a party's viability.

Remember those books on the demise of the Liberal Party pre-1996? For instance, Chris Puplick's Is the Party Over? And remember when The Bulletin ran that cover story on Howard: Mr 18% - Why does this man bother? Oh, gosh. He who laughs last and all that.

Still, somehow, rumours of Labor's demise seem less greatly exaggerated.
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NEW-TO-ME BLOG and a SENSIBLE APPROACH

I've added Junius to the links section and consider it a really good find. Despite sometimes myself descending into tit-for-tat exchanges and mindless baiting, it is not my preferred method of blogging - the devil makes me do it. Anyway, Junius makes some good points in this post and I'd basically concur (reproduced in full and without permission but please go and visit the site):

Following the publication of Brian Linse's useful Lefty Directory, linking policy seems to be a growing topic for debate in the leftward end of the blogosphere. Max Sawicky, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Jeanne D'Arc and others have all had something to say about this so I might as well add my thruppence-halfpenny worth (hopefully avoiding what I described below as "pompous declarations on a blog of one's linking policy"). I guess my problems with promiscuous linking on the left are fourfold. First, I'm interested in conversation with people who have something to say and are willing to concede (at least sometimes) that their opponents have a point. These are not virtues that are characteristic of any one part of the political spectrum. I'm happy to learn from smart conservatives (or even Conservatives) and libertarians and I like reading stuff that challenges rather than confirms my existing preconceptions. Second, as everyone knows, there's a problem with the "left" as a political category. There always has been, as anyone who reads Orwell, or Trotsky, or Michael Walzer (continue the list as you like ...) knows. Some parts of the left have always been unacceptably statist, anti-democratic, and authoritarian. Third, there's the pressure to division of current events and recent history. Bosnia (and later Kosovo) split the left. I found more in common with Conservatives like Noel Malcolm than with whole sections of the "left" who either backed the "socialist" Milosevic or who chanted the "plague on both your houses"/"ancient ethnic divisions" mantra. Fourth, there's a divide on the "left" between those who are fundamentally egalitarian in their attitudes and who prize community, fraternity and solidarity on the one hand, and those moved by a technocratic elitism (the great and the good dispensing liberal wisdom for the benefit of the unwashed). I'd rather chat to most libertarians than to the latter-day incarnations of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.



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NEW JOB for ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.?

Have written before about the joys of placing health care in the realm of "market forces". The latest bit of force being applied by the market is a sort of product placement where celebrities are paid to casually drop the name of particular drugs into conversations, especially when being interviewed by the media. Having spent some of my time as a copy-writer, I know how much the industry craves the 'ad that doesn't look like an ad' (read guru David Ogilvy's book On Advertising) and so getting Lauren Bacall to mention Visudyne on the Today show is a good get.

The bonus bit is that the controversy gets the drugs mentioned all over again in the papers, and now even on the blogs.

Note to Novaris and the other drug company scouts reading this blog - the paypal donation button is in the top right hand corner.

PS: Betaseron