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Monday, March 22, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes to Obama's "Base"
James S. Henry

ObamaHealthCare It was altogether fitting and proper that yesterday's historic House vote on health care reform took place on the first day of Spring 2010. All across the country, progressive activists -- including many of us who worked hard for President Obama's election not only in November 2008 but in endless primaries before that --  have been  in a deep funk about the Administration's "failure to launch" on a wide range of issues, from health care and immigration reform to climate change and financial regulation, to Guantanamo and Middle East peace talks.

For months it seemed as if our two-party system had been surrendered to  a one-party veto,  that  Hill Democrats had become feckless and supine,  and that  "Si Se Puede" had somehow been translated into "Beltway" as "No Way, Jose."

Now the clouds have lifted, at least temporarily, and the first rocket soars skyward. Of course this is only the beginning. But it sure feels good for a change to be staring up at the sky, watching that baby split the clouds.


 Some purists on the Left are already denouncing the House bill as a handout to insurance companies that falls far short of the "single payer" or "Mao200132public option" alternatives of their dreams. Of course the bill also does not extend public subsidies to cover abortions -- although that was already the case under existing Federal law.  

 Despite these shortcomings, most progressive observers -- including Krugman, Kucinich, and Michael Moore -- see this as a critical step forward.

They realize that the only alternative to passing the House bill was a Republican victory that would not only have jeopardized the rest of the Democratic agenda for the rest of this year, but would have also led to a catastrophic defeat at the polls in November.

Short of organizing yet another doomed Third Party quest, they  also realize that there is simply no alternative to pushing for further reforms within the Democratic Party.


Meanwhile, on the Right, as usual, there is Sturm, Drang, und Zorn, all of which add up to a strong primaTeabaggers3 facie case for providing free anger management coverage to qualified Republicans  in the final Senate health care bill.  

Vulture capitalist Mitt Romney, author of a not-wildly-dissimilar Massachusetts health plan, has already promised to seek to "repeal" the bill, while a group of mainly Red State attorney generals is threatening  to challenge the bill's constitutionality.

Meanwhile, the rag-tag "Tea Bag" army has completely lost control, exposing its frothing bigotry and astounding ignorance for everyone to see.

Angryright Far from being intimidated by these reactionaries, Democrats should be delighted. Not only is all the adolescent right-wing rage unappealing, but it is a sure sign that our policies are finally shaking things up.


Net net, the impact of this bill's passage on Obama's  "base" is one of its most important consequences -- in addition to  the series of health care reforms that are now much more likely to follow.

Eventually these  reforms really will help the millions of Americans who struggle each and every day with our high-cost,  minimally-efficient health care system. 

Meanwhile, this victory has an immediate short-term payoff. It reminds Obama's  "base"  that, as President Obama said last night, "Big changes are still possible in America." 

It also  reminds us of how good it feels to actually win.

Far beyond health care,  as the American Right clearly fears more than anything else, this  could provide a huge lift for many other progressive reforms.

Houston, we have lift off!


March 22, 2010 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 04, 2008


September 4, 2008 at 09:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

John McCain: "No We Can't"
Reviving The "Daisy" Strategy in 2008
James S. Henry

Mccain_bomb_4 My friends:  we have spent far too much time and treasure on the prolonged, intense, but ultimately intra-familial and largely issues-free beauty contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.   

Now that that contest is finally drawing to a close, it is time for us to focus like a gamma-ray laser on the real enemy in the fast-approaching November 2008 Presidential election -- Senator John McCain, the bellicose 5'7" septuagenarian fly-boy from Arizona.  

What is it about Air Force-trained Republican Senators from Arizona, anyway? 

Mccain_bushhug767929_3 In many respects this year's race recalls 1964, when Senator Barry Goldwater, another war-mongering, outspoken, short-tempered Air Force veteran and Republican Presidential candidate from Arizona,  scared the B'Jesus out of the entire country with his threats to use nuclear weapons preemptively ("Let's lob a nuclear bomb into the men's room at the Kremlin").

Usually such pro-war designs are kept well hidden until after the election, as the Bush Administration did in 2000 --  and, indeed, as President Lyndon Johnson did in the 1964 election, when he made Goldwater out to be a mad-man (the "Daisy" strategy," after the notorious political ad by that name: Download Johnson conveniently failed to tell the public during the election campaign that he was also a mad-man, already planning to park more than 500,000 US troops in Vietnam within a year.   

In any case, not since 1964 have the Democrats faced a Republican candidate who is as openly pro-war as John McCain is. This should provide them with  a remarkable opportunity for party unity,  a clear brand, and victory in November.     

Gopteam_071664r1 However, it is very important to reunite the Party and get moving. McCain is already attracting fuzzy-minded support from  moderate Democrats and independents who are beguiled by his tough-guy "maverick" image -- especially lower middle-class white males who are (a) bearing the brunt of this year's  economic downturn, and (b) not entirely comfortable with voting for either  Barack  ("the black guy"_ or ("that woman") Hillary. Oddly enough, many of these folks also claim to be anti-war.

Partly because the Democrats have been so distracted by their own interminable (..19 debates??!...six months of primaries?) nominating process, the most  telling criticisms of John McCain have so far been provided by his enemies among the Very Far Right Ranters (VFRRs), including leading professional ranters  like Anne Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and James C. Dodson. This crew complains that McCain doesn't quite pass muster on pet right issues like undocumented immigration, gay marriage, and tax cuts. Ironically, Barry Goldwater himself would have also failed these same litmus tests. Indeed, if the 1964 Presidential election had been fought on social issues and the economy rather than on war and peace, the former Air Force Major General from Arizona would most likely have carried many more states than the 6 that he did carry. Defeating Goldwater in 1964 may not have absolutely required the war-mongering issue, but it certainly helped.  

Some conservatives have also criticized McCain's preference for voluptuous office assistants and fly-boy-style socializing.  From their angle, he also lacks appropriate Christian zeal, was once involved in the shady "Keating Five" savings-and-loan scandal,  and has an intermittent work ethic.

Indeed, in the last five Congresses he missed an incredible 21 percent of all Senate votes, including 56 percent in the current 110th Congress. This high rate of absenteeism is also no doubt partly due to the Presidential race, McCain's long-standing battle with cancer, and the fact that at age 71.5,  he is already the oldest living leading Presidential candidate ever, having already lived longer than over half of all US Presidents.

Images_2 The real problem for Democrats and independents, however, should not be McCain's lack of religious fervor, moldy old rumors about the Keating Five or extra-marital relationships, his age, or even his absenteeism, unless that is due to health problems.

And after this year's endless bouts of the smooth-talking ignoramus the Rt. Reverend Huckabee, the lack of religious zeal and ideological purity in a leading Republican candidate is really rather refreshing.

No -- our core problems with John McCain are twofold. First,  whenever he actually manages to show up in the Senate and legislate, the  results are usually far to the right of what most Democrats, independents, and sensible people in general stand for  -- and what both Barack and Hillary, in particular,  stand for.

For example,  while Barack and Hillary have both earned lifetime voting scores from the American Conservative Union (ACU) of just 8 percent, McCain's  lifetime score is 82. While this may be insufficient for VFRRs like Limbaugh and Coulter, it is well above the tail end of the Republican Senate distribution.

McCain may have mellowed slightly in recent years -- in 2006, for example, his ACU score was just 65.  However, this is still higher than any Senate Democrat, and it is more than three times the 17 rating scored by McCain's turncoat friend Joe Lieberman.  Indeed, on a wide range of key issues that progressives and independents should really care about --  from Supreme Court nominations and extending Bush's tax cuts for the rich to the State Children's Health Insurance program, setting a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and  bankruptcy reform, and even on his own trademark issues like campaign finance, immigration, the definition of torture, and the Bush tax cuts, the senior Senator from the Grand Canyon state is usually a big disappointment.   

20071113_mccain Second, and even more important, on the most crucial issue of our time, the conduct of present and future wars,  McCain appears to have quite frankly gone completely off the rails.

Misguided Democratic Party strategists like John Podesta, Mark Penn, and Bob Schrum notwithstanding,  this issue of the war, and not just "the economy" or "health care," should be at center stage for this election. 

This is precisely because, on the one hand,  military affairs are supposed to be McCain's core competence, and because, on the other hand, he has gotten this central issue completely wrong.      

As discussed below, while millions of Iraqis continue to vote with their feet and either flee abroad or stay there, McCain just keeps repeating the big lie that "the surge is working."

In fact the main reasons that US military casualties,  and, to a lesser extent, Iraqi civilian casualties have dropped is not because of "the surge," but because (a) Baghdad has been ethnically cleansed, and is now a sharply divided, Shiite-dominated enclave;  (b) Sunni insurgents, fed up with al-Qaeda, have decided temporarily to ally with the "occupiers" and assert control over the "foreign terrorists;" and (c) Iran has temporarily decided to cut down on its support for attacks on US troops, in the interests of undermining the "neocon" coalition in the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel that is plumping for a McCain-style bombing. (See the video below).

None of this implies that the surge has achieved anything more than a kind of stop-gap temporary stabilization of this very ill patient's condition -- a Bush Adminstration effort that just happens to coincide with a Presidential election year. Since it is unlikely that the surge is sustainable, in terms of troops and dollars, and since its benefits are likely to be temporary, McCain should be compelled to explain on every possible occasion whether the slim increased chance that a Republican president will get elected is really worth the price.

466284925_964c617f1f_oBut McCain is at least consistent. Apparently he also still believes that the Vietnam War could have been won with just a little more persistence and less interference from Washington.

For all his putative military experience, therefore,  in the grand tradition of Major General/ Senator Goldwater and Air Force General Curtis {"Bombs Away") LeMay,  in his 20 hours of flight time over North Vietnam, and his five years of captivity, apparently John McCain never 250pxcurtis_lemay_usaf managed to learn the fundamental lesson that millions of ground troops have learned the hard way -- that guerrilla wars, and, indeed, wars on terror,  are ultimately won or lost by political and economic development, not by military tactics. And, furthermore,  that the blind over-application of military force to a hostile civilian population by an occupying army and Air Force can actually increase enemy resistance much faster than it can be controlled.

Far from repeating the 2004 Kerry campaign's central mistake and focusing this campaign only on the US economy, therefore, it will be vital for us to keep McCain's extraordinary appetite for war in plain view.

The more general question of why so many Air Force professionals -- including, for example, the Israeli General who was widely blamed for mismanaging last year's conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon -- tend to systematically overestimate the efficacy of military power, will be left for another time. Plainly this is not just an Arizona malady.

 For the interested reader, the following is a smattering of sundry provocative materials with respect to Senator McCain. Not all of it is worth taking seriously --- some of it even resembles the scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's war record in 2004,  when McCain, it should be recalled, came to Kerry's defense.  We've presented it here in the interests of of airing it out and redirecting our attention to the clear and present danger of a Republican Party that, even in its death throes,  may still be able to unite around this "great white hawk" from Arizona. 


The "Surge" Is Working?"
"100 More Years in Iraq?"

""MIA Cover-Up Artist?""

""War Hero?""


From VietnamVeteransAgainstJohnMcCain:

FACT SHEET:  Military record of John Sidney McCain

"Both McCain III’s father and grandfather were Admirals in the United States Navy.  His father Admiral  John S. ”Junior” McCain was commander of U.S. forces in Europe - later commander of American forces in Vietnam while McCain III was being held prisoner of war. His grandfather John S. McCain, Sr. commanded naval aviation at the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. McCain III, like his father and grandfather, also attended the United States Naval Academy.  McCain III finished near the bottom of his graduating class in 1958.

McCain III lost five U.S. Navy aircraft: Images_2

1 - Student pilot McCain III lost jet number one in 1958 when he plunged into Corpus Christi Bay while practicing landings.

2 - Pilot McCain III lost another plane two years later while he was deployed in the Mediterranean. ”Flying too low over the Iberian Peninsula, he took out some power lines  which led to a spate of newspaper stories in which he was predictably identified as the son of an admiral.

3 - Pilot McCain III lost number three in 1965 when he was returning from flying a Navy trainer solo to Philadelphia for an Army-Navy football game.  McCain III radioed, ”I’ve got a flameout” and ejected at one thousand feet. The plane crashed to the ground and McCain III floated to a deserted beach.

4 - Combat pilot McCain III lost his fourth on July 29, 1967, soon after he was assigned to the USS Forrestal as an A-4 Skyhawk combat pilot. While waiting his turn for takeoff, an accidently fired rocket slammed into McCain Jr’s. plane. He escaped from the burning aircraft, but the explosions that followed killed 134 sailors, destroyed at least 20 aircraft, and threatened to sink the ship.

5 - Combat pilot McCain III lost a fifth plane three months later (Oct. 26, 1967) during his 23rd mission over North Vietnam when he failed to avoid a surface-to-air missile. McCain III ejected from the plane breaking both arms and a leg in the process and subsequently parachuted into Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi. After being pulled from the lake by the North Vietnamese, McCain III was bayoneted in his left foot and shoulder and struck by a rifle butt. He was then transported to the Hoa Lo Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton.

Mccain1 The 1973 New York Daily News labeled POW McCain III a “PW Songbird” On McCain III’s fourth day of being denied medical treatment, slapped, and threatened with death by the communist (they were demanding military information in exchange for medical treatment), McCain III broke and told his interrogator, ”O.K., I’ll give you military information if you will take me to the hospital.” U.S. News and World Report, May 14, 1973 article written by former POW John McCain.

It was then that the communist learned that McCain III’s father was Admiral John S. McCain, the soon-to-be commander of all U.S. Forces in the Pacific. The Vietnamese rushed McCain III to Gai Lam military hospital (U.S. government documents), a medical facility normally unavailable for U.S. POWs. By Nov. 9, 1967 (U.S. government documents) Hanoi press was quoting McCain III describing his mission including the number of aircraft in his flight, information about rescue ships, and the order of which U.S. attacks would take place. 

While in still in North Vietnam’s military hospital, McCain III gave an interview to prominent French television reporter Francois Chalais for a series titled Life in Hanoi. Chalais’ interview with McCain III was aired in Europe. Vietnamese doctors operated on McCain’s Leg in early December, 1967. Six weeks after he was shot down, McCain was taken from the hospital and delivered to a U.S. POW camp, In May of 1968,  McCain III allowed himself to be interviewed by two North Vietnamese generals at separate times.”  May 14, 1973 article written by former POW John McCain In August 1968, other POWs learned for the first time that John McCain III had been taken prisoner. Mccain_bush_hug

On June 5, 1969,  the New York Daily News  reported  in  a article headlined  Reds Say PW Songbird Is Pilot Son of Admiral,   “ . . . Hanoi has aired a broadcast in which the pilot son of  United States Commander in the Pacific, Adm. John McCain, purportedly admits to having  bombed civilian targets in North Vietnam and praises medical treatment he has received since being taken prisoner . . .” 

The Washington Post explained McCain III’s broadcast: “The English- Language broadcast beamed at South Vietnam was one of a series using American prisoners. It was in response to a plea by Defense Secretary Melvin S. Laird, May 19, that North Vietnam treat prisoners according to the humanitarian standards set forth by the Geneva Convention.”

Mcaincu1 In 1970, McCain III agreed to an interview with Dr. Fernando Barral, a Spanish psychiatrist who was living in Cuba at the time. The meeting between Barral and McCain III (which was photographed by the Vietnamese) took place away from the prison at the office of the Committee for Foreign Cultural Relations in Hanoi (declassified government document). During the meeting, POW McCain sipped coffee and ate oranges and cakes with the Cuban. While talking with Barral, McCain III further seriously violated the military Code of Conduct by failing to evade answering questions ”to the utmost of his ability” when he, according government documents, helped Barral by answering questions in Spanish, a language McCain had learned in school. The interview was published  in January 1970.

McCain III was released from North Vietnam March 15, 1973 In 1993, during one of his many trips back to Hanoi, McCain asked the Vietnamese not to make public any records they hold pertaining to returned U.S.  POWs.  McCain III claims, that while a POW, he tried to kill himself.

McCain III was awarded “medals for valor” equal to nearly a medal-and-a-half for each hour he spent in combat For 23 combat missions (an estimated 20 hours over enemy territory), the U.S. Navy awarded McCain III, the son of famous admirals, a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit Mcain_bu2 for Valor, a Distinguished Flying Cross, three Bronze Stars, two Commendation medals plus two Purple Hearts and a dozen service medals.

McCain had roughly 20 hours in combat,” explains Bill Bell, a veteran of Vietnam and former chief of the U.S. Office for POW/MIA Affairs -- the first official U.S. representative in Vietnam since the 1973 fall of Saigon. “Since McCain got 28 medals,” Bell continued, “that equals to about a medal-and-a-half for each hour he spent in combat.  There were infantry guys -- grunts on the ground -- who had more than 7,000 hours in combat and I can tell you that there were times and situations where I’m sure a prison cell would have looked pretty good to them by comparison. The question really is how many guys got that number of medals for not being shot down.”

For years, McCain has been an unchecked master at manipulating an overly friendly and biased news media. The former POW turned Congressman, turned U.S. Senator, has managed to gloss over his failures as a pilot and his collaborations with the enemy to become America’s POW-hero presidential candidate."

Another Bellicose Wack-a-Doodle?

"Legendary Temper Could Undermine McCain" Friday, May 25, 2007  By RALPH VARTABEDIAN and MICHAEL FINNEGAN


0_12_300_227_mccain_lieberman" An angry, profane exchange between Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and another Republican senator last week prompted a new round of questions about whether McCain's legendary temper is becoming a liability in his campaign for the presidency. In a private meeting just off the Senate floor, McCain got into a shouting match with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, over details of a compromise on immigration legislation. Cornyn accused McCain of being too busy with his campaign to take part in the negotiations, prompting McCain to utter, "F... you." McCain spokesman Danny Diaz acknowledged that a "spirited exchange" took place but said media reports over the weekend had exaggerated its intensity. McCain's political handlers have plenty of experience in explaining McCain's salty language and strident attacks. His temper has ranged far and wide, directed at other members of the Senate, congressional staffers, heads of government agencies, corporate chieftains, high-ranking military officers and teenage campaign volunteers.

McCain has shouted at people for any number of reasons, including errors of judgment, disagreements on public policy and even how to set up a podium. "In McCain's world, there aren't legitimate differences of opinions," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which differs with McCain on some conservative issues. "There is his way and there is evil. That is how he approaches issues. That is one of the reasons for conservative nervousness about him." His temper has been an issue for years. In the 2000 presidential primaries, McCain was dubbed "Senator Hothead" by Newsweek.

That year, he won endorsement from only a few Senate colleagues, not so much because of his conservative credentials but because of his frequent attacks and volatile personality. "McCain notes," which offer apologies after heated words, are held by many members of Congress. McCain has written about what he describes as his impatience in three books. "Although I try to refrain from being intentionally discourteous, I am demonstrative in showing my displeasure. I am often impatient and can speak and act abruptly," he wrote in "Why Courage Matters" in 2004. In a 1999 interview with the Los Angeles Times, McCain admitted, "I do everything I can to keep my anger under control. I wake up daily and tell myself, 'You must do everything possible to stay cool, calm and collected today.' "

One bureaucrat who felt McCain's wrath was former NASA administrator Daniel Goldin, who was called in by McCain in 1999, not long after a $125 million probe crashed on Mars because of confusion over the use of metric units. McCain's Senate Commerce Committee had oversight over NASA. "McCain went ballistic the moment Goldin walked into McCain's office," said a participant in the meeting. "He was shouting and using profanity, saying he was sick of NASA's screw-ups. It went on for a few minutes and then he kicked Goldin out of the office." Goldin started walking down the hallway but was summoned back to the senator's office by a McCain aide. "When he came back in, McCain started yelling at Goldin all over again. And then McCain kicked Goldin out a second time, before he ever said a word," the source said.

Julian Zelizer, a history and politics professor at Boston University, said the spectacle of a senator getting into "yelling matches with his colleague" undermines his leadership image. "It is an issue he needs to be cautious with," Zelizer said. Until the latest flap, McCain had managed lately to quell the image that he is easily angered. His campaign leadership took sharp exception to the entire matter, characterizing it as political theater. "If something is written every time members of Congress and leading politicians, behind closed doors, try to get the other's attention, and tempers flare, you'd run out of ink," said John Weaver, McCain's chief campaign strategist. Nonetheless, the issue was used effectively in the 2000 primaries by opponents who planted rumors that he was unstable because of his years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Although some ex-POWs did have psychological problems, McCain came through the experience in good psychological shape, said Navy doctors.

As for his temper, "John McCain is John McCain," said Dr. Bob Hain, director of the Navy's Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies. Meanwhile, Democrats said McCain was in deep trouble on the matter. "Apparently, John McCain's do-anything-to-win campaign strategy doesn't include anger management classes," said Damien LaVera, Democratic National Committee spokesman. "We have had eight years of cowboy diplomacy and McCain is even more of a cowboy than the current president," said Roger Salazar, a Democratic political consultant who worked for John Edwards in 2004. "The public wants somebody who is strong but can sit across from allies and adversaries without lunging at them."

(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008

February 12, 2008 at 03:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Federal Judge Orders Southampton Village to Allow Free Speech On July 4th!!
James S. Henry

(Note: The following is a brief account of this year's conflict between the First Amendment and the Village of Southampton, New York, by Tony Ernst, a reporter for WPKN/ WKPM, 89.5 in Bridgeport, Connecticut.)


Images_4In Southampton Village, Long Island, a dispute over whether advocacy groups for the Bill  Rights and against the Iraq war can march in the July 4 Independence Day parade was resolved Monday morning by a Federal Judge.

The First Amendment rights of the groups were affirmed by Judge Joanna Seybert of the District Court in Islip.

Judge Seybert issued an order directing that the plaintiffs will be able to  march and freely engage in political speech at the July 4 parade in Southampton Village, without interference from Village authorities. Thumb_opxfidisa4

Last month, members of the Peconic Quakers, the South Fork  Unitarian-Universalists,the East End Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and the East End Vets were told by organizers of the parade, the Village of Southampton's "Commission on Veterans Patriotic Events,"  that they could not march with signs of protest as they had done in previous years.

James S. Henry,  the attorney for the plaintiffs, remarked on the irony of having  to go to court to exercise his constitutional rights on July 4th.

A law suit filed by the plaintiffs is still pending.

Those wanting to join the marchers should meet at 9:30am on Tuesday July 4
at the parking lot of Our Lady of Poland Church on Maple Street south of the Southampton Railroad station.


(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2006

July 4, 2006 at 09:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Receives Rousing Welcome In Argentina...
Fox News Analysis

160_ap_bush_051104President Bush received an incredibly warm welcome at the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Mar de la Plata, as thousands of ordinary people from all over the Continent turned out to hail his presence.
The effervescent US President was clearly buoyed by polls that showed that he still commands the support of an incredible 80 percent of Republicans -- otherwise known as his "base."

True, "non-base" support is reportedly a little less certain. Overall, in this week's latest polls, 59 percent expressed "disapproval," while 42 percent expressed "strong" disapproval." A quarter of the US population surveyed reported "violent morning sickness...."

However, knowledgeable insiders have called this a "temporary setback" that will be easily corrected if and when Presidential advisor Karl Rove, recently distracted by the Pflame investigation, starts covering the bases again.

The President, speaking through an interpreter, voiced optimism that "Free trade and liberal investment policies, plus a few billion dollars on defense, corn subsidiies, and our brand new military base in Paraguay" would completely change the lifestyles of the estimated 100 million Latin Americans who remain below the $1 per day world poverty line.

Said Bush, "These policies have only been tried for a decade or two. They need to be given a chance. Right here in Argentina, you've seen how well they've worked, right?"
Bush's sentiments were echoed by Vincente Fox, Mexico's amazingly popular lame-duck President, and Paul Martin, the astonishing Canadian PM, whose own popularity ratings have recently been taken to record levels by the Gomery Report, which documented the disappearance of $250 million of government funds, mainly by way of Mr. Martin's own party.
Said Martin: "We are quite pleased to have become a wholly-owned subsidiary of US multinationals. We didn't think we'd like the sensation, but it has become an experience that we really look forward to every night. You will also learn to enjoy it. Now if only the US would pay us that $3.5 billion...."

Said Fox: "Yes, it is true, millions of Mexican small farmers have been wiped out by free trade. But this criticism is baseless. Just look at all the remittances they are sending back home from the US !"

Meanwhile, the US President had an especially warm greeting from Diego Maradona, the famous Argentine soccer star, now in recovery. Maradona used a colloquial Argentine expression to describe just how delighted he is to finally have this particular American President visit his country.
Elsewhere, Cuba's Fidel Castro, who was not permitted to attend the summit, was reported to have decided to remove all restrictions on US trade and investment with Cuba, after having listened to President Bush's persuasive arguments.

Said the aging inveterate leftist leader, "I knew we were doing something wrong. Now I finally know what it was. We were way off base!"

After a prolonged negotiating session on Saturday, in which Summit delegates basically agreed to continue to debate the merits of free trade for a long time to come, Bush departed for a Sunday meeting in Brasiia with yet another embattled President, Luis Ignacio da Silva ("Lula.")

Brasilia is a pretty lonely, desolate, and distinctly un-Brazilian place on a Saturday night, because all the whores and politicians have flown back to Rio or Sao Paulo for the weekend, and one is just left with all these 1950s-vintage monuments to Brazil's cement industry. But perhaps President Bush will find a little solace taking a moonlit walk on the empty esplanades, wandering through the otherwise flat, lifeless landscape that Robert Campos once called "the revenge of a Communist architect against capitalist society."

(c)SubmergingMarkets, 2005

November 5, 2005 at 11:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Maximizing Gross National Happiness
Rethinking the Economics of Growth and Inequality
James S. Henry

Each year, by the terms of Jeremy Bentham's 1832 will, his mummified corpse is wheeled out to sit with faculty and students at the University of London.  Apart from this peculiar celebration, however, few people today remember the 18th-century economist and social critic whose life's work consisted of trying to make the British legal system serve "the greatest happiness of the greatest number."

Indeed, most modern economists, under the influence of the Chicago School's homespun version of behaviorism and positivism, have long since abandoned the direct study of "human happiness."

In the economic development arena, this has led many economists to focus on technical policies that are supposed to increase overall efficiency, output, and measured growth, without regard to their distributional consequences.

Happiness3_1In this "neoliberal" view, one person's subjective pleasure is another's pain, and utility functions are unobservable, so interpersonal comparisons of utility are impossible. Distributional questions are therefore purely matters of "personal preference," to which "positivist economics" has nothing to add.

Perhaps not surprisingly, several studies of ethical behavior  among graduate students have even found that those who study economics are more prone to "free-riding" and less ethical than others.

One suspects that this narrow-minded, intrinsically conservative approach causes poor old Jeremy Benthem -- who dedicated his life to identifying social polices that would increase human happiness -- to turn somersaults  in his Auto-Icon.

Fortunately, modern psychologists, anthropologists, and public opinion pollsters have recently stepped in where most neoliberal economists have feared to tread. 


Using a combination of survey research techniques, "objective" indicators of economic and social status, and biometrics,  these social scientists have begun to study the determinants of subjective happiness levels directly -- both within and among countries. 

Among their most important findings:

  • Beyond a certain level of per capita measured income -- about $15,000 per year -- reported happiness levels don't improve very much across countries. There is also a great deal of variation in reported subjective happiness levels poorer countries at similar income levels. In other words, making "measured growth" the sine qua non of economic policy makes little sense.
  • 5cHigh-income groups report somewhat higher "very happy" levels within countries at any given point in time. But among First World countries,  increases in average real per capita income have not led to increased happiness levels over time.
  • Indeed, since the late 1940s, increased real income levels among First World countries have been accompanied by rising levels of alcoholism and drug addiction, depression, and crime  -- an indication of a growing gap between trends in income and happiness.
  • Changes in real income may lead to short-time increases in subjective happiness at the individual level.  But people become "habituated" to new levels of material income quickly -- in less than a year. Since they also tend to underestimate such "habituation" effects, they probably also spend too much time on the job, and too little time with their families.
  • Measured income has much less impact on subjective happiness than many other determinants of happiness --  especially employment, job security, family status,  and health. The country of Bhutan has reportedly already recognized this fact by declaring that its national goal is to maximize "Gross National Happiness" rather than GDP per capita.
  • Happiness54Relative incomes and "rivalry" are other important determinants of subjective happiness. This depends on one's reference group. For example, reported happiness levels among residents of East Germany plummeted after 1990, when they went from having the highest incomes among Soviet-type economies to the lowest incomes in Germany.
  • While genetic factors may help to explain differences among individuals in subjective happiness within any country, differences among neighboring countries -- say, within Europe -- are far too substantial and persistent to account for on the basis of such factors.


From the standpoint of Bentham's original goal of designing social institutions to maximize human happiness, the implications are many.

They include new justifications for: 

(1) Progressive income and wealth taxation;

(2) Polices that help to provide job security, social security, and health insurance;

(3) Using non-material incentives to reward people for doing a good job;

(4) Encouraging people to spend more time with their families; and

(5) Paying more attention to "non-material" development goals like democracy, family values, work force participation, and human rights
-- in striking contrast to the materialist path that now seems to unite both China and the World Bank/IMF on the goal of blindly maximizing measured GDP per capita.

In other words, all this adds up to a pretty interesting justification for -- in effect -- Europe's "high tax/social insurance/long vacation" welfare state version of capitalism. 

From a competitive standpoint, however, the US, China, and other ruthless global competitors are unlikely to adopt such a model any time soon. Indeed, they have been moving in precisely the opposite direction. So the real question is whether any of these Neo-Benthamite policy implications stand a snowball's chance in hell. They may, but only if those of us who are located in the neoliberal vanguard countries are able to push social policies in a more progressive -- and happier! -- direction.

(For a concise summary of the literature, see the following three lectures by LSE's Professor Richard Layard:) 


© James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets™, 2005


June 1, 2005 at 06:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

More Lipstick on the Pig?
James S. Henry


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On Sunday January 30, according to the official results finally  released on February 13, 8.46 million Iraqis, or 58 percent of Iraq’s 14.6 million registered voters, seized the opportunity to participate in a “free election” of sorts. They voted for candidates and parties that most of them had never heard of,  marked ballots that a majority of them could not read, walked for miles to secret polling booths under the watchful eyes of a foreign occupation army that had “collaterally” killed, injured or brutalized tens of thousands of their fellow citizens, and defied threats from thousands of other blood-thirsty, anti-democratic insurgents.

About 265,148 of those who voted were located outside the country -- just 13 percent of all the relatively affluent Iraqis who live abroad. Indeed, on Election Day, a large fraction of the Iraqi elite, and many officials in the interim government, were not to be found in the country -- like many members of the Iraqi elites, they had decamped for Jordan, Dubai, or London, anticipating that the insurgents would strike hard.

These non-resident voters did include some 56,568 Iraqis who voted from Iran, 15,062 who voted from Syria, and 11,409 who voted from the UAE -- places that are not otherwise known for holding free elections.  That might indeed be viewed as one small victory for "democracy" in the Middle East.

But most ordinary Iraqis had little choice but to stay in Iraq, and a majority of them braved all the difficulties -- including 260 attacks and more than 50 fatalities -- to vote.

_40578263_allawi_203apClearly the Iraqi people deserve much credit for this electoin-day bravery – especially those who tried to vote in more heavily Sunni Arab  districts where the insurgents have been most active.

Indeed, for once, this display of bravery was something about Iraq that most international leaders could agree on.

In President Bush’s words,The Iraqi people themselves made this election a resounding success.” The UN’s Kofi Annan described the Iraqi people as “courageous.” Britain’s Tony Blair reported that he was “humbled”  – no mean accomplishment in itself. Even Iran’s Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, perhaps anticipating a Shiite victory, and hoping that this will accelerate a US withdrawal, pronounced the elections a "success" and a "sign of nobility of the Iraqi people.”

1_521938_1_34 It is clear as well that the long-suffering Iraqi people also deserve our respect  for simply having survived more than three decades of costly wars, occupations, international embargoes, and a brutal dictatorship – aided, armed, and abetted by several of the very same foreign powers that are now boasting so loudly about being the midwives of Iraq democracy.

1_523058_1_34Despite all the collateral damage, the security forces -- mainly unknown young Iraqi, American, and British soldiers -- who protected these voters also deserve credit.  Without this protection, even with all the Iraqi bravery, there would have been no election. These efforts go a long way toward repaying the moral debt that is owed to the Iraqi people   for the Great Powers’ decades of complicity with authoritarian regimes in Iraq, their failure to reckon with Saddam much earlier, and the fact that the Bush Administration and its friends have otherwise botched this latest intervention so thoroughly.

10_23_012905_iraq2Does anyone else deserve credit for this achievement? Precisely what has been accomplished,  at what cost? And when will the Coalition be able to withdraw its troops?  Our answers may surprise you.


Bush_tieIn addition to the courageous Iraqi people and those who protected them, who else genuinely deserves praise for Sunday’s election?

As usual, success has generated paternity suits.


According to France’s Jacque Chirac, who spearheaded opposition to the war at the UN and has been of little assistance since then, the election was somehow “a success for the international community.” Chirac did not explain how this was consistent with the fact that the US alone has so far provided more than 90% of the funding, non-Iraqi Coalition forces, and Coalition casualties.

We could have held better elections much earlier, with much less bloodshed.

On the other hand, if you listen to President Bush and his supporters,, as illustrated by the President's State of the Union speech, the election is nothing less than another “mission accomplished,” a complete vindication for the Administration’s entire Iraqi strategy.

There is also no shortage of hyperbole and self-congratulation from journalists and pundits, especially those who supported the invasion from the get-go – marching up one rationale and down another.

~ For example, The New York Times Magazine’s Michael Ignatieff declared that Sunday’s election in Iraq was “without precedent,” a bold experiment in democracy that everyone ought to “embrace.”

~ Similarly, The Guardian’s David Aaronovitch, another long-time supporter of the invasion, wrote that, however we may feel about how we arrived in Iraq and what it cost to get there, the only issue now is, “Are you for or against democracy?”Geraldo_rivera

~ FOX’s flak-jacketed Jerry Rivers (Geraldo Rivera), surrounded by four heavily-armed US Army riflemen, and this time apparently reporting from where he said he was without giving away any troop positions, called the Iraqi election “right up there with “1776 (sic), voting in Selma in 1960 or whatever (sic), and the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Indeed, this newfound enthusiasm for democracy on the American center-right is so thick that some observers have been reminded of The New York Times’ upbeat assessment of South Vietnam’s Presidential elections in September 1967. The headline read , US Encouraged by Vietnam vote: Officials Cite 83% Turnout Despite Vietcong Terror."

So we are all Wilsonian democrats now – except perhaps when elections produce outcomes that we don’t like.

In the local elections in the West Bank and Gaza in December 2004, for example, an unprecedented 81 percent of registered Palestinians voted, and more than a third of them voted for Hamas.

Was this comparatively free election, held under Israeli guns in the occupied territories, not a “resounding success?” Were the Palestinians who braved rival factions and the Israeli Army and came out to vote not “courageous?” Are we really, after all, “for or against democracy?” 


It is not surprising that so many have stepped forward to take credit for the courage demonstrated this weekend by ordinary voters, soldiers, and police in Iraq. After two years of terrorist dentistry, we were starved for good news from Iraq.

Expectations have been incredibly low. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson’s remark about the singing dog, we were not surprised that the Iraqi election had imperfections; we were surprised there was any election at all.

The war’s supporters are also down to their very last official justification for preemptively invading a country that never attacked us. Having given up on justifying preemption by finding WMDs, and having made Iraq more of a terrorist base camp than it ever was before, those who “embraced” the original invasion are leaping at the opportunity to say – hey, look, maybe there will be at least some return on this incredibly costly experiment. Maybe the West really can plant democratic seeds in Middle Eastern deserts!

26pix020The investment certainly has been huge. It includes more than 1,606 Multilateral Force fatalities, 10,371 US wounded, 1,200 other MLF forces wounded, at least 1,362 fatalities among pro-Coalition Iraqi security forces, and anywhere from 15,563 to 100,000 or more Iraqi civilian and insurgent fatalities, depending on who is counting.

The direct dollar cost of the war and its aftermath is fast approaching $220 billion for the US alone, plus whatever costs the other Coalition members  and the Iraqi interim government have paid out of their own pockets – and another $9 billion of Iraqi money that apparently simply vanished under Paul Bremer's administration.

All told, this amounts to nearly$30,000 per Iraqi voter, 15 times the country’s per capita income.

Nor was all this spending only a financial cost, because there were opportunity costs – a fancy way of saying that the money could have been spent elsewhere and saved thousands of lives. After all, it amounts to eight times the annual level of all foreign aid provided by all First World countries,and100 times the amountrequested this year by the World Health Organization to fight the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.

In practice, of course, if President Bush had not been able to launch his pet project in Iraq, he might well have just pursued another tax cut.

But for that much money, maybe we could at least have persuaded Saddam and his loyalists to leave the country and set up shop in Panama or Cuernavaca, following in the Shah’s footsteps. Like the Shah, Saddam has now contracted cancer, and may just have a couple years to live.If only we had waited…..?


Under a microscope, most of the ex-post back-patting turns out to be simplistic, self-serving nonsense. Before we take off the flak jackets and break out the champagne, let's recall some sobering realities:

1. Most Iraqis Want Us Gone

Whether or not most First Worlders and the Bush Administration “embrace” Iraqi democracy,most Iraqis have clearly not “embraced” occupation.

Recent opinion polls show that the vast majority – not only the insurgents, but also those who voted in this election – would like nothing more than for the foreign occupation to end.

Indeed, if they had had the chance to vote directly on this subject, one suspects that Sunday's turnout would have increased to 90 percent, and that more than 80 percent would have voted to send all US and British troops packing, to replace them with a few thousand peacekeepers from neutral countries, and to immediately cease construction of the Pentagon's 14 permanent military bases in Iraq.

2. We Could Have Held Better Elections, Much Earlier

In recent months, as the insurgency gathered steam, some observers began to suggest that it should be postponed. But Sunday’s election came nearly two years after the US-led invasion. The real issue is, what did we really gain from waiting so long?

In fact, largely because of the deteriorating security situation, this election was almost certainly much less effective, efficient, and democratic than the election that we could have held within a few months of the invasion – using the same simple ration card- and finger-printing based system for voter registration that we ended up using anyway.

PaulbremerWay back then, we probably could have achieved even higher turnout at much lower cost, with a much weaker insurgency -- as the Ayatollah Al-Sistani, Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, advised Paul Bremer some 20 months ago.

Indeed, in other transitional situations, like South Africa’s transition from apartheid in 1994 and East Timor’s election in 2001, snap elections were held with only a few months of preparation, with great success – more than 90 percent turnout in both cases.

Instead, the Bush Administration decided to postpone the election for almost two years, in a failed effort to manage Iraqi’s political destiny, assert control over Iraq’s domestic policies, head off Shiite and Kurdish regionalism, and install a government that would be more sympathetic to US "neocon" ambitions.

As a result, the Bush team really deserves responsibility for stoking an insurgency -- now estimated by some observers at having at least 10,000 to 20,000 fighters. This armed resistance, in which foreign fighters actually play only a minor supporting role,  has derived much of its fire from the continued occupation and the perpetuation of the unelected “interim” government.

This insurgency, in turn, came very close this month to squelching this election entirely -- to the point where Prime Minister reportedly called President Bush in mid-January to propose delaying it again.

In the end, only an all-out mobilization of Coalition forces, including shipping another 12,000 US troops to Iraq on top of the 140,000 already there, prevented a disaster.

While this transition was never going to be easy, the US control-oriented strategy also antagonized many other Iraqis, making it harder to work with local allies and train Iraqi forces. It exacerbated  divisions within Iraqi society, as groups like the Kurds grew more and more independent, radical Shiites took up arms, and more and more Sunni Arab areas became no-go war zones.

Far from serving democracy’s cause, therefore, the Bush Administration’s high-risk strategy actually amounted to a dangerous game of “chicken.” After two years of this, we arrived at a situation where people were amazed that the election could even take place. It is bizarre for us to celebrate this close escape as a triumph for the President  -- we really have only the Iraqi people and our troops on the ground to thank for narrowly avoiding disaster.  As usual, the fortuitous G. W. has just skated by. 

3. The Real Meaning of “High” Turnout

“Higher than expected” turnout in this election has been the main cause for celebration so far. But in fact many other developing countries have also held first-time elections and achieved even higher turnouts, even under occupation.

We already mentioned the case of Palestine’s recent elections. UN-supervised elections in Indonesian-occupied East Timor in August 2001 saw a 93 percent turnout. Kosovo’s 2001 legislative election, also supervised by UN peacekeepers, recorded a 65 percent turnout. In Afghanistan’s October 2004 Presidential election, the turnout was 70 percent.

Of course in non-occupied developing democracies like South Africa, Indonesia the Philippines, India, and Brazil, 80-85 percent or higher turnouts are the order of the day.

Only in the US, where voter turnout struggles to exceed fifty percent, does he Iraqi turnout look like a big number. 

The overall turnout also masks some important potential problems in Iraq, because turnout rates varied sharply along religious, ethnic, and regional lines. 

For example, among the Shiites, who constitute 60 percent of Iraq’s population and live mainly in better-defended parts of Baghdad and the south, turnout reportedly averaged more than 80 percent. Among the 15 percent of the population that lives in Iraq’s three Sunni/Kurdish provinces in the better-defended north, turnout was even higher.

Iraq’s population statistics are subject to huge uncertainties – there has been no census since 1997, and in the case of the Kurdish areas, since 1987. But if we assume that these conventional population share estimates are roughly right, they already add up to more than 8 million votes in Sunday’s election -- even if turnout in Iraqi’s Sunni Arab-dominated provinces was zero.

In other words, the final voter turnout would have to have been substantially greater than 8 million for there to be any room left over for Sunni Arab participation. This is consistent with many reports that this participation was very low.


4. Signs of Disunity?

Since the overall turnout rate was partly a product of these growing divisions, it may not be a sign of health. 

Sunday’s election employed a nation-wide list proportional representation system to select the 275-member National Assembly that will choose interim leaders and draft a new Iraqi constitution.

In other contexts, such a voting system is arguably much more democractic than many others. For example, if it had been employed to elect representatives to the US Congress, rather the current "single member district/first one past the post" system, the Democratic Party would control both the House and the Senate.

However, in Iraq's case, this system asked a great deal of many people who had never before voted, did not know the candidates, and, indeed, often could not even read.  Almost half of them are under the age of 18; the median age of voters is under 25. Adult literacy is just 39 percent. These voters were expected to choose among more than 111 different national parties and 200 separate candidate lists, which, in turn, contained 7,000 candidates for the Assembly and 12,000 for regional offices.

Most of these parties and candidates were virtually unknown. The ballots were so complex that even the Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, needed special instructions on how to fill them out. Because of the security situation, there were severe constraints on how much campaigning could be done beforehand by all but the best-funded parties – for example, interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi List party, which was somehow rich enough to afford massive TV advertising and $100 bills for embedded journalists. Most individual candidates chose not to be publicly identified – the leading United Iraqi Alliance party only identified 37 of its 225 candidates, “to keep them alive.”

This peek-a-boo national list system may have been the only one that was feasible, given the late date of the election and the precarious security situation. But as we have just argued, that was not inevitable. It almost certainly increased the leverage of a handful of political gatekeepers like Allawi. It also reinforced the incentives for block voting, and the potential for regionalism and fratricide. 

5. Another “Mission Accomplished?"

While Sunday’s election was an essential battle for democracy to win, it is premature to declare victory. Even apart from the insurgency, which is likely to continue as long as there are any US or UK troops in the country, Iraq remains a semi-artificial colonial construction that is subject to strong centrifugal forces. This election may have only succeeded in increasing these forces, by reinforcing group and regional polarities.

For example, to maximize their influence on the constitutional debate, and press their not-so-secret ambition to have an independent Kurdish state, the two leading Kurdish political parties established a united front, the Kurdish Alliance List, for Sunday’s election. They also sponsored a referendum on "Kurdistan’s" independence, side-by-side with the election.

One country’s liberation is another’s nightmare. Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan recently expressed grave concern over the Kurds’ designs on oil-rich Kirkuk, their continued interest in an independent state, and the refuge they have provided to some 5000 fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters – “terrorists” in some vernaculars -- in northern Iraq. Two pro-PKK parties also participated in the Iraqi elections, despite Turkey’s denunciation of them as “terrorists.” There were also complaints from Kirkuk’s Turkomen community that 72,000 Iraqi Kurds had migrated there and registered to vote, to shift the balance of power.

SisMeanwhile, Iraq’s Shiites are also struggling to organize their political power. One reason why Shiite turnout was so high is that 75-year old Iran-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, issued an edict declaring it a religious duty for them to vote, and also permitted women to vote. Al-Sistani could not vote in the elections himself because he is not  even an Iraqi citizen. But together with fellow cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, and accused Iran spy/ bank fraudster Ahmad Chalabi, al-Sistani helped to organize the United Iraqi Alliance, which has reportedly captured at least 45 percent of the vote.

_40758367_hakim_203apThe UIA is a diverse lot, and it is by no means clear who will lead it or what policies it will support. But what is clear is that some of its leaders would make very strange bedfellows for the United States of America, and that perhaps, at a minimum, we should not count on them to serve as the vanguard of our efforts to export democracy to the Middle East.

For example, Al-Hakim is the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of two leading Shiite parties in Iraq, has been openly opposed the “US occupation.” The second element of the Alliance’s program demands: “…A timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq.”

In May 2003, two months after the US invasion, Al-Hakim returned from exile in Iran and set up shop in Najaf. SCIRI, which has been called the “Hezbollah of Iraq,” also maintains the Badr Corps, an Iranian-trained militia that Al-Hakim helped to found in the early 1980s, is based in Teheran, and numbers anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000.

_40553465_chalabiThere is more. In the run-up to the war, SCIRI was one of six Iraqi exile organizations that shared at least $92 million in US military aid. (Another was Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.)

However, in April 2003 it earned Donald Rumsfeld’s wrath. He sternly warned Iran about using Badr Corp, which had also developed strong relations with the Kurd’s military wing, to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs. The SCIRI is also staunchly opposed to the recognition of Israel until the “occupation of Palestine” has ended.

In October 2004, Iraq’s national intelligence chief Mohammed al-Shahwan accused the Badr militia of assassinating 10 of his agents, and accused Chalabi, Al-Hakim’s ally, of being a spy for Iran. Indeed, according to the US 9/11 Commission, SCIRI, Hezbollah, and Hamas are all basically sister organizations that are heavily supported by Iran.

Of course this is the Middle East, so one has to take all such scuttlebutt with a grain of saffron. Maybe just the experience of participating in elections will cause religious radicals to become moderates! True,  that hasn't exactly happened yet on the US religious right, much less among Iranian, Arab, or Israeli true believers. But hope springs eternal -- after all, US foreign policy is a faith-based initiative!   

So perhaps now we understand another reason why Iran’s Foreign Minister was just as enthusiastic about the elections in Iraq as President Bush. Hamas’ recent victory in Palestine may not have been his only cause for celebration. Or perhaps everyone is reading Woodrow Wilson these days!

But you ‘re still either for democracy or against it, right? 

6. Seedbed for Democracy?

Whatever the longer-term consequences of this election for Iraq, can we at least be assured that it has had a salutary effect on the rest of the Middle East? Here again the waters are murky.

689c0fe9738901Not surprisingly, Hamid Kharzai, “the mayor of Kabul,” was enthusiastic about the election. Jordan's King Abdullah, a dapper, English-speaking Arab Sunni monarch and a leading US aid recipient whose own country doesn’t quite yet hold Iraq-style elections for some reason, worried that the Sunni Arab turnout was "a lot lower than any of us hoped.” But he also added that "This is a thing that will set a good tone for the Middle East, and I am optimistic."

Other US allies in the Muslim world have found Iraq’s example much less contagious.

MusharrafPakistan’s President Musharraf has made no public comment on the elections. But in December 2004 he called the Iraq War a “mistake” that “made the world a more dangerous place.” That same month he also broke his solemn promise to give up absolute power, extending his term as Army Chief and President several more years. The US currently gives Musharraf's nuclear-armed military dictatorship more than $300 million a year in military aid and $306 million in economic aid, and has also recently helped it reschedule billions of foreign debt.

Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak ventured the hope that the Iraqi election “would open the way for the restoration of calm and stability.” But just last week, Mubarak, who gets $2 billion a year of US economic and military aid, said he may run for a fifth 6-year term – unless his son runs. Just this weekend, as Iraq starting to hold elections, his government detained Egypt’s main opposition leader.

Mubarak_1You are either for democracy or you are against it, right?


So now that we’re here, where are we? How do we make sense of this bizarre, contradictory outcome, where the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want us to leave their country forthwith, but could not retain their electoral freedoms for one New York minute without us?

Was trying to force-feed democracy-to-go in this complex environment really ever a good idea? Once there, couldn't we have done a vastly better job of it than we have?  Will the astronomical price that we and the Iraqi people have paid, in terms of blood, distraction, international law, and treasure, ever be worth it? How long will it be until we will know for sure?

But history is not made by critics, historians, and other second-guessers. For better or worse, it is often made by simplistic, decisive little men (and women) who are able, one way or another, to grab hold of the reigns of power and say -- "Follow me - I'm sure the trail is this way." Our continuing propensity to respond to such appeals, in the face of mounds of evidence about the likely results, is astounding and disturbing.

In any case, whatever else the Iraqi experiment has accomplished, at least the Iraqi people have now held their first election since…..Well, come to think of it, up to now, there never has been a truly free election in “Iraq,” the pseudo-nation that Britain and the World War I Allies cobbled together out of three Ottoman Empire administrative eyalets (provinces), Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in 1921, and deemed “independent” in 1932.

For that matter, the Great Powers of that day probably could have mandated an election way back then that was no less free, secure, or fair than  last Sunday’s and avoided the whole bloody sequel.


(Note to readers: SubmergingMarkets™ enjoys the dubious satisfaction of having been roughly right about developments in Iraq for the past year and a half. For example, see Reference 1 and Reference 2.) 

© James S. Henry, Submerging Markets™, February 05

February 1, 2005 at 08:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Letters from the New World #7:
“Post Office Manners”
Denis Beckett (JBG)

DenisbeckettFive or six customers were waiting in the Post Office line. Everybody was in the second half of life’s span. Everybody had had the vote since before ’94. Nobody was joyous.

I had tried to be slightly joyous. I offered a greeting when I arrived, but people mmmphed in that embarrassed bourgeois manner, scandalized at unlicensed breaching of queue silence. So I like everyone was a stalagmite, separate to the other stalagmites, waiting in our separate spaces while the counters proceeded with lo-o-o-ong transactions.

Then a girl came in, a black girl in a school uniform. She looked around in the manner of someone in an unfamiliar place.

“Excuse me”, she said to the tannie  (Afrikaans for 'Aunty') at the back of the queue, “Where do I go to send a parcel?”

If she’d whispered it  the tannie might have whispered back. As it was, she said it out loud, unconcerned about putting the tannie on the spot in front of the other members of the queue.

So the tannie had an attack of Middle Class Frost, and couldn’t say anything. She gestured the girl in behind her. “Thank you”, said the girl, without irony.

And we stood. The big batch customers up front were taking time. After a while, the girl said, to no one in particular, “Excuse me, has something gone wrong or do we just keep on waiting?

Everyone laughed a bit, including the clerks behind the counter. Several people mumbled something reassuring. One of the clients at the front turned and apologized for the hold-up. Ostensibly he was apologizing to the girl, but in fact he was apologizing to us all.

We felt better that he did apologize. We had been working up a resentment. Had it not been for the girl, he would never have made the apology. He would have walked out of there with all our glares daggering into his back. But now the glares were defused.

We resumed waiting, but it was different. The stalagmites were thawing. The tannie at the front of the queue called to the girl: “Don’t you have to be back at school by quarter past?” The girl said “Yes, but if I don’t send it now my granny won’t get it in time.” The tannie at the front said: “You’d better come up here, then. I’m sure these nice people won’t mind.” And she beamed a beam at the rest of us in the queue, and people nodded and murmured assent and beamed reciprocal beams.

The girl moved up the queue, politely thanking each person as she passed them. As she got to the front, the apology guy finished and went off with waves and goodbyes. The girl took his place and started explaining her needs in Sotho, calling the clerk “ntate” (Mr.) in every sentence. Apparently it was fairly lousy Sotho, because the clerk switched to English – he was explaining express services – and she was clearly relieved.

Meantime, the tannie at the front explained that she had recently retired from the school. The guy behind her said yes, he thought he recognized her; she had taught his child. Conversation spread. It’s not that everyone was vocal, but that the stalagmites had melted into a brand of community. The feel had been isolation; it became connection.

When the girl finished she did a curtsy to the ntate at the counter, a curtsy to the queue, thanked everyone, and hurried off. The rest of us stood differently now, relating better to each other, better even to the clerks.

Funny, I felt, how in 1994 and for a while beyond, we in the pale gang thought that the big change was an act of generosity; that we were leaning down, holding out the hand of friendship to pull them up.

These days, I find it humbling and thrilling to see ever more evidence of the two way street, the ways that white lives are enhanced by living in Africa.


© Denis Beckett, Submerging Markets™, January 05

January 6, 2005 at 04:27 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Social Pathologies of Our Grandest "Holiday"
James S. Henry**

"Christmas has us all by the throats..." -- Noel Coward

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Xmas_1 When I was a kid in Minnesota, my family had a huge Scandinavian feast every Christmas Eve, complete with more than two dozen relatives, three feet of snow, a mountainous evergreen that was trimmed to the top with popcorn balls, candy canes, tinsel, and hundreds of precious once-a-year decorations, a six-course dinner with lutefisk, ham, turkey and eight or ten pies, long-winded after-dinner stories about baseball, the space race, and World War II, and, of course, lots of brightly-wrapped presents.

It has taken more than three decades of rigorous training in economics and law and life on the East Coast for me to shake off the nostalgia of those warm, festive occasions.  But I am now willing to say out loud what I expect many Americans are muttering all across the country at this time of year: Christmas is a real net loser as a socio-economic institution.

Although for decades the observance of Christmas has been justified on the grounds that it is “merry,” rigorous quantitative analysis proves that precisely the opposite is the case. Despite numerous claims by its proponents that this holiday promotes a desirable “spirit,” and makes people “jolly,” the hard data clearly demonstrate that the yuletide period is marked by environmental degradation, a sharp increase in unfortunate encounters with hazardous products, massive congestion,  tedious, time-consuming travel,  and the abuse and inefficient use of vast numbers of animals, birds, trees, and many other valuable resources.

Moreover, the number of people who are rendered truly “joyous” by Christmas is almost certainly exceeded by the number who are made to feel rather blue. Nor does Christmas truly fulfill its purported distributional objective: the transfer of gifts to those who really need them.


Finally, it turns out that this so-called “holiday” may make a significant contribution to America’s dwindling savings rate, unsustainable trade deficit,  declining competitiveness, and the motivation for a great many property crimes.

In short, although Christmas may be an important source of religious inspiration for some, and a genuine source of wintertime fun for others -- mainly children, who would probably be having fun anyway -- it fails the test of social cost effectiveness.  It is high time for those of us who are serious adults to take a good long holiday from this overblown annual ritual.



Christmas consumes vast resources in the dubious, really quite uncharitable pursuit of “forced giving.”

To begin with, let us recall the countless hours that we have wasted on Christmas – all that precious time spent searching for “just the right gifts” for people we barely know; writing and mailing cards or emails to “friends” that one ignores the entire rest of the year; hanging ornate decorations on so-called “evergreen” trees that will become un-decorated, un-green fire hazards in less than a month;  attending all those semi-compulsory, over-produced parties that are saturated with cholesterol-rich food, drink, and false cheer; and the tedious task of returning all those mismatched presents after the New Year, just as their retail values plummet.

Assuming conservatively that each American adult spends an average of two days a year on such activities, this represents a wasted investment of 1.2 million person-years per season. At a  per capita “shadow wage” of $38,000,  that works out to a “deadweight Christmas loss” of $45 billion per year -- even apart from any extra spending associated with these dubious activities.   

Just as important is the amount that Americans spend on gratuitous gifts each year - at least $50 to $60 billion per season, by my careful estimates. All this extra consumer spending is sometimes considered beneficial because it stimulates the economy.  But a closer look reveals that this massive yuletide spike actually creates many harmful side-effects.

Gratuitous Gifts

Misfit gifts are one key example. According to New York department stores, at least 15-20 percent of all retail purchases at Christmas are returned after the holidays. Allowing for the inability of young children to return undesired gifts, and the fact that many other misfit gifts are retained involuntarily because recipients feel obliged to disguise their true feelings, perhaps as much as a third of all Christmas season purchases may be unwelcome.

This means that Christmas is really a throwback to a barter economy, where people have to try and match each other’s wants to their own offerings. The whole institution of money was invented precisely to solve this inefficiency – the so-called “double coincidence of wants” problem. In the case of Christmas, one simple solution might be to require people to give each other cash. But that would expose the absurdity of the whole institution.


All this “forced giving” artificially pumps up consumption and reduces savings, since it is unlikely that all the silly, expensive presents given at Christmas would be given at other times of the year. One particularly noxious aspect of surplus consumption is “conspicuous giving” -- luxury gifts like Tiffany eggs, gold toothpicks, crystal paperweights, $30,000 sable stoles, and $15,000 watches. Such gifts are designed precisely for those who are least in need (e.g., “for the person who has everything”).  And most of these high-priced gifts are given at Christmas. According to a sample of New York department stores, the fourth quarter of the year provides more than half of the year’s diamond,  watch, and fur sale, and an even higher share of their annual profits.


No doubt all this gratuitous spending delights these retailers, and many other “dealers” in the Christmas racket. To the neo-Marxists in the crowd, this suggests that the holiday is explained by economic determinism -- what we have here is not just a coherent, self-sustaining religious ideology, but a powerful set of underlying economic interests, with a huge stake in perpetuating this season’s fatuous gift-giving mythology.

Lower Savings, Higher Debt 


Meanwhile, for the nation as a whole, the fact is that Christmas just reduces our already-flagging personal savings rate -- now just a paltry 1 to 2  percent of personal income.  It also adds to the burden of consumer debt. Almost a quarter of Christmas season sales are financed by credit cards or charge accounts, and  January has become the peak month for credit card delinquencies. It turns out, in other words, that Christmas is quite literally a festival that we can no longer afford.   

Toy Fetishism

For parents, another exasperating aspect of Christmas binge spending is toy fetishism. The holiday season accounts for more than  60 percent of the US’ annual $31 billion expenditure on toys and video games. Much of this new toy capital depreciates rapidly, if it works at all. The surfeit of hyper-stimulating toys is no doubt a major contributor to the ADD scourge among young Americans, and to our pitifully low youth savings rates. It is also educationally unproductive. According to the National Toy Industry Association, the US now spends nearly three times as much each year on mindless video games ($10 billion), action figures ($1.2 billion) like the Hulk, Harry Potter, and Anne Coulter, and dolls ($2.8 billion),  as on all retail book sales for children ($1.5 billion). Toys in the “learning and exploration” category account for a mere half billion dollars. 


Over time, all this free-wheeling spending on unproductive child toys also encourages heavy spending on unproductive “adult toy capital,” like Porsches, J-120 sail boats, and synthetic Vice Presidential candidate action figures with Southern accents and really thick hair.   

Since a large share of the leading Christmas toys in the US market are now made by Chinese companies,  the toy binge is also making the US dangerously dependent on foreign toy imports. This opens the door to insidious, all-too-poorly-understood cultural influences that may take decades to reverse.   

Many Christmas toys are also hazardous -- snowboards, skates, sleds, hockey sticks, Roller Blades,  bicycles, baseball bats, boxing gloves, even iPods when put in the wrong hands. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that last year there were 17 deaths and 203,000 emergency room admissions in the US due to hazardous toys. There were also more than 11 million toy recalls. If we allocate these deaths, injuries, and recalls in proportion to seasonal sales, Christmas is clearly the dominant problem. (The comparable figures for deaths caused by books and book recalls were zero and zero, respectively.)



Finally, one only has to visit any Toys ‘R’ Us or Walmart at this time of year to see the holiday’s negative impact on parent-child relations. The store floors are replete with distraught mothers and fathers dragging their tiny, toy-addled munchkins kicking and screaming away from the latest high-priced, must-have offerings. All this unproductive consumption would be much better spent on mathematical drill books, computer learning,  alarm clocks, pencil sharpeners and green eyeshades.

Christmas creates massive congestion at the worst possible time of year.

At least in large urban areas, Christmas is by far the most unpleasant time of year to shop, travel, dine out, or visit a bathroom in a mall. Just when stores are the most crowded, shopping becomes mandatory; just when everyone else in the nation is making their de rigueur, mid-winter, cross-country trek to “be with” friends and family, we also are drafted into this forced march. 


December 21 and 22 are the year’s peak dates for air travel, according to the Air Transport Association of America, with more 2.1 million Americans per day jamming the nations airports, (twice the annual daily average.) Nearly forty million people will travel during the period from  December 17 to January 3, just when the weather is the worst,  airlines, buses, and trains are charging the highest prices, and security threats from the growing ranks of our non-Christian enemies around the globe are peaking.


According to the US Postal Service, the volume of mail traffic triples at Christmas time, to more than 288 million letters and 8.6 million parcels per day during the week before Christmas. This batters a delivery system that is barely profitable to begin with, and has already been weakened in the previous two months by tens of millions of extra direct-mail catalogs and advertisements.

Telephone calls can reach more than 200 million per day during  the month from Thanksgiving to New Years’ Eve, and there is also a seasonal surge in Internet traffic. At many businesses, stores and offices, costly second- and third shifts have to be added to handle the excess demand. All this “peak loading” means that airlines, Internet services, mail delivery, stores, banks, warehouses, telephone systems, roads, and parking lots must carry more excess capacity than if these activities were distributed more evenly throughout the year. This is peak load capacity that we consumers ultimately have to pay for – it  is a waste of our nation’s precious capital.

Christmas destroys the environment, plus untold numbers of innocent animals,  birds, and other wildlife.

These have perhaps not been mainstream concerns for hardnosed economists like myself.  But if  one takes account of all the Christmas trees, letters, packages, increased newspaper advertising, wrapping paper, catalogs and cards, as well as the millions of animals slaughtered for feast and fur at the holidays,  it becomes clear even to an economist that this holiday is nothing less than a catastrophe for the entire ecosystem.

According to the US Forest Service, 23.4 million natural Christmas trees are now consumed in the US alone. This number has recently been growing fast, driven by resurgence in hard-shell Christianity and the trend toward more than one tree per household – related, in turn, by our rapidly expanding average home sizes. Americans also now use 18 million artificial Christmas trees each year, half of which are purchased brand new. 

Helift Xmus_tree

All this produces nothing less than an environmental calamity. Since natural Christmas trees have to be grown from scratch each year, millions of forest acres are now subject to an artificially-short rotation period.  Recent evidence from countries like Denmark, now the world’s second largest producer of Christmas trees, suggests that the resulting “industrialization” of non-organic Christmas tree production creates massive problems with groundwater pollution. And the piles of needles these natural trees produce shorten the lives of untold numbers of vacuum cleaners and household pets.

Given the growing role of foreign tree producers like China and Denmark in the global Christmas tree trade – the emerging “tree cartel” – the resulting “Christmas tree gap,” on top of the “foreign toy gap,” also adds to our burgeoning trade deficit.   

Sanctimonious Slaughter

As for the impact on our feathered and furry friends, Christmas has become nothing less than a giant abattoir. This year, according to the Animal Protection Institute, 5.3 million foxes, 36 million minks, 100,000 polecats, 70,000 chinchillas, 330,000 nutrias,  352,000 seals, 4 million Persian lambs, and hundreds of thousands of sable, plus millions of leather-producing cows,  will be butchered around the world just to satisfy the seemingly-insatiable human lust for real fur coats, stoles, hats, and leather coats and shoes. While many of these animals meet their fates for the sake of other occasions than Christmas, a disproportionate share are feeling Herod’s sword.


Furthermore, to stock our holiday tables Americans will also slaughter more than 20.6 million turkeys, 9.4 million pigs, 2-3 million head of cattle, 2.2 million ducks, and 718 million chickens.



To anyone who has ever visited a turkey, pig, or chicken farm, Christmas and Thanksgiving take on a whole new meaning. Every single day during the run-up to these festivals, thousands of bewildered, de-beaked, growth-hormone-saturated, inorganic birds are hung upside down on assembly-line racks and given electric shocks. Then their throats are slit and they are dropped into pots of boiling water.


After they are cooked and on the table,  a few poor dead animals do have an opportunity to take revenge on their human persecutors.  According to one health expert, day-old turkey contains more than 2100 separate strains of bacteria. Even washing a turkey before cooking it just helps to spread all these bugs around the kitchen.   


Christmas introduces seasonal fluctuations into the demand for money, and may also lead to a seasonal slump in labor productivity.

Christmas is the peak season for carrying big bills around in the wallet, and cash is also a very popular Christmas gift. The volume of currency in circulation peaks each year in December, then declines by 4 to 5 percent. As noted below, this probably helps to stimulate robberies at this time of year. It also forces the US Federal Reserve and the banking system to work hard to supply all this currency, and to cushion the resulting cycles in money demand.


As for work force productivity, many American companies completely shut down for the two-week period from Christmas to New Year’s. Even those that remain open often find that on-the-job performance suffers because of seasonal high jinks and absenteeism. Armies of illegal aliens from Mexico and Central America also sneak back across the border to their homelands just to visit their families at Christmas time – a costly subterranean migration that may be touching, but deprives us of cheap labor.


Meanwhile, our Asian competitors – except for the Philippines and South Korea, which have large Christian populations --  are insulated from these Christmas-induced distortions. They continue beavering away while we party. 

Far from being “the season to be jolly,” Christmas is really the season of sadness and despair.

The season’s compulsory merriment, hyper-commercialism, heavy drinking, and undue media emphasis on the idealized, two-child, two-parent, orthodox Christian family makes those who don’t happen to share such lifestyles or religious sentiments feel left out, lonely, and even somewhat un-American.

Even in so-called normal families, media hype about the season’s merriments raises expectations beyond reasonable levels, and sets up many of us for disappointment. According to a leading East Coast psychiatrist, many women exhaust themselves trying to meet both the demands of full-time jobs and more traditional expectations about what holidays are supposed to be like -  in many cases, established by their (non-working) mothers.

There is also a great deal of emotional stress associated with overspending and involuntary displays of affection. While it is apparently a popular myth that US suicide rates are higher during the holiday season, police, psychiatrists, and hospitals do report that there is a dramatic rise in alcoholic “slips,” drug overdoses, domestic quarrels, hotline calls, and emergency medical calls at this time of year. “Any redolent setting can be very sad for people who don’t have a dancing partner,” says the psychiatrist. “Christmas is one of those times.”



Christmas is one of the most hazardous times of the year for humans and our pets. 

The combination of trees, lights, blazing hearths, yuletide passion, and other indoor festivities results in more household fires at this time of year than any other. The fire department in Washington, D.C., reports that fire calls in December are 40 percent above its monthly average; New York City had 2,600 residential fires last December, as compared with a 2,300-per-month average.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, December is the peak month for drunk driving and “DWI” arrests, which totaled 1.5 million last year. It is also the peak month for accidents-because of drunkenness, congestion, and bad weather - with more than 585,000 last year, compared with a monthly average of only 527,000. 


In the three days around Christmas last year, 513 people died on the nations highways. The only consolation is that last year’s Thanksgiving was even worse, with 560 deaths.  Of course bad weather is a compounding factor. For those of us in colder climes, life would be much easier if we could at least agree to observe Christmas in the summer, when the lutefisk is ripe.


December is also the peak month of the year for robberies, and  a pretty good month for auto theft and burglary, too.  Police suspect that much of this property crime is because many criminals are also motivated by the need to fill their families’ stockings. December also has a disproportionate number of murders -- almost 1500 last year – and aggravated assaults, many of which are committed by friends and families against each other in the course of holiday revels.  “Christmas is a crazy season,” says one former police chief. “It’s a potpourri of emotional extremes -- either extremely quiet, or all hell breaks loose. There are more assaults, bar-room brawls, and family altercations.”


Holiday Binging


Excessive eating and drinking are used to compensate for all these Christmas tribulations. According to the Distilled Spirits Counsel and the Department of Agriculture, in the six short weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, last year we consumed more than $20 billion of alcohol - including 109 million gallons of hard liquor - plus more than 2 billion pounds of turkey, and a huge quantity of ham, cookies, pies, eggnog, stuffing, plum pudding, and other trimmings.


All this indulgence does little for the nation’s waistline: the Christmas season is the single most important contributor to obesity. The average American consumes at least 3,500-5000 calories at Christmas Day dinner alone, a three-days supply of calories.   

Naturally, January is the peak month for diet plans, many of which end up in failure and despair. This helps to account for the recent trend toward obesity in America – at last count, 65 percent of all American adults and 16 percent of all children were overweight.

Other Hazards to Adults

There are also many products associated with Christmas that are especially hazardous. For example, among those that are potentially very harmful to pets and small children are angel hair (spun glass), artificial snow (poisonous),  plants like holly, ivy, mistletoe and poinsettia, the Christmas Rose, the Christmas Cactus, dieffenbachia, Lily, the Star of Bethlehem, Yew, Jerusalem Cherry, Hibiscus, and Jequirity Bean;  tree decorations like tinsel, metal hooks, ornaments, and glass balls,  candles, ribbons, aluminum foil, pine cones, and other packaging, electronic lights, turkey bones, and chocolate. 

Furthermore, a high fraction of candles still have lead wires in their wicks, and many aromatherapy candles produce carcinogenic soot.

There is also a sharp increase in the number of household accidents at Christmas time, from scalded fingers and sliced thumbs to scissor stabs, bike spills, and ladder accidents. All this produces a sharp increase in Christmas-related hospital admissions each year. Among the vintage Christmas accidents reported recently:

1.    Turkeys exploding in microwave ovens;

2.    Children and pets swallowing Christmas tree bulbs whole;

3.    Painful glass cuts resulting from attempts to Xerox one’s lower extremities at the annual office party;

4.    Children who ran into the street and were hit by cars while their parents were distracted by Christmas shopping;

5.    The fellow who drowned after he tried to walk on the “ice” – actually, open water -- after a few holiday party drinks. 

6.    The fellow who tied a rope to the family car and around his waist, then climbed up on the roof and started down the chimney with presents. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell his wife, who got in the car and drove off. 

7.    The unfortunate would-be Chinese immigrant whose body was recently discovered in a shipping container filled with artificial Christmas trees.      

8.    The fellow whose sweater caught on fire when he fell into a tree with lit candles.

9.    The 5800 other Americans who suffered injuries last year while decorating their Christmas trees – all of which were serious enough to require visits to the emergency room;


From a distributional standpoint, Christmas aggravates social and economic inequality. 

This is because almost all gift-giving at Christmas time takes place within the family, or at least within the same social class, and doesn’t reach the folks who really need our help.


In fact, Salvation Army drum-beating aside, Christmas almost certainly reduces our capacity for charity, by draining us of wealth that might otherwise be given to the truly needy, and by exhausting our charitable impulses in costly bouts of spending, getting, and giving to “we happy few.”  Having just spent thousands on gifts and dinners for Muffy, Ben, Mom, and the kids,  we are not eager to make sizeable contributions to perfect strangers, no matter how deserving.   


Presumably this is not the outcome that the Person for whom this holiday was named would prefer. 


Overall, the message is clear: Christmas is hazardous to our health and safety, imposes a huge efficiency tax on the economy,  and does little to further social justice.

Furthermore,  these harms may well be growing.  An analysis of long-term changes in the seasonality of the US economy suggests that the Christmas buying season has been getting longer, more costly, and more intense.


Of course, Christmas commercialism really is a rather modern innovation. The ancient Christians did not even observe the holiday until the fifth century. Medieval Christians observed it much more modestly, and the Puritans quite sensibly refused to celebrate it at all. Only in the last fifty years, with the perfection of mass-market advertising, department store merchandising, and the commercialization and expansion of pop-Christianity, has Christmas become such a command performance.

In short, from a purely economic and social standpoint, Christmas is an experiment that has been tried and found wanting. In a sense, it has become the  flipside of the positive contribution that the “Protestant Ethic” once made to capitalism:  Christianity’s second highest holiday now almost certainly makes most of us worse off.

What is to be done? We have a modest proposal:  a 3- to 5-year moratorium on the whole affair, to let us pay our bills and recover some of the fellow feeling that we’ve lost. After this interval, we can evaluate the “lessons learned” and the economic impacts again, and devise a new celebration strategy.


This may sound like tough medicine, especially to youngsters. It will also probably offend the many interest groups that have acquired a large commercial stake in this ritual, from bulb manufacturers  and tree floggers to ambulance drivers, bar tenders, Park Avenue door men, professional Santas, tinsel makers, and booze peddlers.   

But the truth is that the rest of us can no longer afford it. If we celebrate this holiday at all this year, we should do so mainly because it is over for one more year.


**This is an update and revision of an article by the author that first appeared as a cover story for The New Republic on December 31, 1990. Research assistance by Andrew Hellman. © Submerging Markets™, 2004.

December 24, 2004 at 04:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

(Some) Justice Finally Comes to Chile -
Is More on the Way?
James S. Henry

                             Download PDF VersionKisspino_1 

After decades of inaction, Chile's own judicial system is finally beginning to hold leading members of the Pinochet dictatorship directly responsible for the brutal reign of terror that it inflicted on Chile  from September 11, 1973 to March 11, 1990.

The latest  piece of good news was this week's indictment of 89-year old former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte on charges stemming from the disappearance and murder of several individual activists.

715934 In July 2002, another serious human rights case against General Pinochet had been dismissed in Chile on grounds that he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. That case echoed the controversial March 2000 decision by UK authorities to permit him to return home rather than extradite him to Spain, France, Switzerland, or Belgium, after he’d spent more than 17 months under house arrest in London.

As noted below, this week's indictment is just the latest in a series of recent efforts by Chile's judicial system to provide justice for more than 3,200  civilians who were murdered by the regime, more than 28,000 others who recently stepped forward to bare witness about being illegally jailed and tortured, and tens of thousands more who had similar experiences, but have so far kept silent. 

Pinpic_1 Several other cases that have been brought against Pinochet in Chile have recently been allowed to proceed, especially after Pinochet gave a lucid, self-serving interview to Channel 22, a Spanish language TV station in Miami,  in November 2003. This incredible act of hubris may have finally brought Pinochet to ground.

Streetfighter_3mbisonvirgin While this latest ruling will no doubt be appealed to Chile’s Supreme Court, it is at least another step in the right direction.

In addition to providing justice, such efforts also provide a measure of vindication for those who have long maintained that the Pinochet dictatorship was an unwarranted, illegal, and counterproductive intrusion on Chile's long-standing traditions of democracy and respect for human rights.

43_1However, the real disgrace now is that while Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina, and Chile itself have already brought serious criminal charges against Pinochet or his key associates, the US Government has never done so. Charles_horman_and_joyce_1971

This is despite the fact that several US citizens were also murdered by the regime, not only in Chile but also in the US itself.   

Fig_88_henry_kissingerFurthermore, as examined below,  many of the Chilean junta's most important confederates and accomplices -- including leading bankers, economists, lawyers, media magnates, convicted professional terrorists, and several senior government officials -- continue to enjoy sanctuary abroad -- especially in the US, the supposed champion of the “post-September 11th” global anti-terrorist campaign.

Many Americans may not recall that there was another September 11th, one that was even more bloody and terror-stricken than their own. Indeed, this “other September 11th was one that their own government helped to create.

Fig_74_milton_friedman_2 To do so, the US worked closely with an incredible bevy of transnational terrorists, butchers, and tin-horn "generals," like Pinochet (Chile), and later, Videla (Argentina), Banzer (Bolivia), Stroessner (Paraguay), and Rios Montt (Guatemala). These valorous "generals" specialized in the use of terror against defenseless civilians.

It is time for Americans who really care about human rights to demand that their own government follow the courageous lead that Chile has taken, and  help bring these uniformed savages and their foreign and domestic collaborators to justice.  


As noted above, there have been several other important recent steps toward justice in Chile with respect to the Pinochet regime. Among the most important are the following:

Jaraè On December 10, 2004, Colonel Mario Manriquez, a retired Chilean colonel, was arrested and charged with ordering the September 1973 execution of Victor Jara, an internationally-reknowned Chilean folksinger and playwright. Jara, 38 at the time, was detained and tortured to death at Santiago’s infamous National Stadium, where thousands were detained after the coup.  (For an example of Jara's songs, Download vctor_jara_ni_chicha_ni_limona_.mp3.)

è In addition to the decision by Judge Juan Guzman noted above, on December 4, 2004, Chile’s Court of Appeals also lifted Pinochet's immunity from prosecution with respect to his possible involvement in the  1974 murder of his precedecessor as Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army, General Carlos Prats Gonzales. _1124506_judge

_39306527_030721gcarprats150_1 General Prats, a highly-regarded "constitutionalist" who stalwartly opposed the Army's intervention in political affairs, had fled Chile in September 1973 after the coup against Allende’s duly-elected government. 

In one of that decade’s clearest cases of international terrorism, General Prats and his wife Sofia Cuthbert were killed by a car bomb in Buenos Aires in September 1974.

In 2000, Eduardo Arancibia Clavel, a member of Chile's DINA, its secret service, was convicted by an Argentine court of helping to organize the killing, and was sentenced to life in prison. Argentina also requested the extradition of six other DINA agents to stand trial in the case, plus Pinochet, who was indicted for first-degree murder as the "intellectual author" of the crime. Chile's Supreme Court denied the extradition request in 2003, but the case was picked up by a Chilean prosecutor.  The recent ruling means that the case can proceed. Pinochet has appealed the decision to Chile's Supreme Court.

è On November 29,Mascaras1_small  2004, the Chilean Government released the Valech report, a year-long investigation of human rights crimes committed by the Pinochet regime. The report, requested by Ricardo Lagos, Chile's current Socialist President, documented the fact, long-denied by Pinochet and his loyalists, that systematic, widespread  torture had indeed been state policy during his reign -- including more than 3400 instances of sexual abuse.  Even Pinochet’s eldest daughter was shocked by the report, which was based on nearly 28,000 interviews with victims of the junta’s repression – the first opportunity they had ever had to tell their stories. The victims who had managed to survive to tell their stories were offered modest pensions by the Chilean government in compensation. 52

In anticipation of the report, on November 5, General Juan Emilio Cheyre, the head of the Chilean Army, reversed the Army’s previous refusal to accept responsibility for these abuses, declaring:   

"The (Chilean) Army has made the difficult but irreversible decision to acknowledge the responsibilities that it has as an institution in all the punishable and morally unacceptable acts of the past… Human rights violations never, and for no one, have an ethical justification."2101712_1

è In October 2004,  Chile’s IRS filed tax evasion charges against the former dictator and his long-time financial advisor, Oscar Aitken. For these charges alone, Pinochet may face fines up to three times any taxes that he evaded, plus a jail term of up to five years. In late November, on the eve of the General’s 89th birthday, a Chilean judge did manage to freeze more than $4 million of Pinochet’s Chilean assets, pending the outcome of investigations for tax fraud and money laundering.

è In May 2004, Pinochet’s immunity was lifted by Chilean judges investigating the Condor case,  a 1970s conspiracy among several “Southern cone” dictatorships at the time (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Chile) with US support and coordination, to disappear political opponents. The decision was upheld in August.  Pinochet has denied all responsibility for the disappearances. 


Allbrittonsm Riggs_logo So far, the main US contribution to these developments took place in July 2004, when the US Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a report on General Pinochet’s offshore banking -- especially his ownership of up to $15 millions of "funny money" in more than a dozen Pinochet-owned bank accounts at

Riggs National Bank (DC, Miami, London), Citibank (Miami), and Bank of America.


The reported, which had been conducted at the behest of Senator Carl Levin, the Subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, revealed that ten key Pinochet-related accounts were handled by Washington DC’s Riggs National Bank. These accounts, plus numerous Riggs-managed offshore trusts and companies, were reportedly established for General Pinochet in the mid-1980s and 1990s  with the knowledge and active involvement of Rigg’s owner and CEO, Joseph L. Allbritton (Baylor Law ’49).

Allbritton, a prominent Houston-based banking and media magnate who is now in his seventies, is a close friend of the Bush family, and a trustee of the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation, the George Bush Presidential Foundation, the Reagan Presidential Foundation, the Kennedy Center, the Houston Symphony, and the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. He has also served on the board of the National Geographic Society and Washington DC’s Federal City Council.

A former owner of the now-defunct Washington Star, Allbritton started acquiring Riggs in the early 1980s, eventually buying at least 40.1 percent of the $6.3 billion asset bank. He served  as Rigg’s Chairman and CEO until 2001, when his only son, Robert L. Allbritton, took over.

The Allbrittons also owns several other businesses, including Allbritton Communications Co., which controlled WJLA, Washington D.C.'s main Disney/ABC affiliate, plus TV stations in Little Rock, Tulsa, Lynchburg, Charleston, Harrisburg, and Tuscaloosa.

But Riggs National Bank was the crown jewel in the empire. Founded in 1815, it was Washington D.C.'s oldest and largest bank, touted as "the most important bank in the most important city in the world,” where “at least 21 First Families banked.”

It acquired a commanding share of the city’s “Embassy banking” business, handling  prominent diplomatic customers for key foreign embassys, like Saudi Arabia’s Embassy. (The US Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs continues to investigate Rigg’s relationships to the Saudis.

Prince_bandar2 These reportedly included more than 150 private accounts, one of which was apparently used, perhaps unintentionally, by Princess Haifa al-Faisal, the wife of Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the US, to relay funds to two September 11th 2001 hijackers. In September 2004, several families of September 11th victims filed a class action lawsuit against Riggs with respect to this matter.)

Valenti Under the Allbrittons, Riggs was not shy about recruiting political allies. Fellow Texan Jack Valenti (U of Houston, Harvard), the influential motion picture industry representative, is a long-time Riggs board member.

In 1997, Riggs acquired J. Bush & Co., an asset management firm owned by Jonathan J. Bush, George H.W.’s brother, George W.'s uncle and a former Chairman of the New York State Republican Finance Committee. In May 2000, Jonathan Bush briefly became CEO of the Riggs Investment Management Company, but now he concentrates on managing the private assets of wealthy clients at J. Bush & Co. In 2003, “JJ’s” Yale classmate, William H. Donaldson, was nominated by President Bush to head the SEC.

Ironically enough, in 1999, the US Treasury had even selected Riggs to redesign and manage its “CA$HLINK” cash management system, reportedly the world's largest deposit/cash reporting system. 

_38168938_obiang300_ It is not yet clear whether “JJ” was involved in managing any assets for the bank’s wealthy private clients like General Pinochet, the Saudi Princess, or Equatorial Guinea's dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the bank's largest single private banking customer.

But other senior Riggs managers were involved in handling the relationship with General Pinochet, including the bank’s former President, Timothy C. Coughlin (Brown U., NYU MBA, US Marines, Federal City Council), who resigned in May 2004; Robert C. Roane, (UVA, George Washington MBA), the bank’s chief operating officer, and the former head of Riggs - London, who resigned on November 26, 2004Carol Thompson, Riggs' former SVP for Latin America, who also resigned in 2004; and Raymond M. Lund, the former EVP of the International Banking Group, who left the bank in March 2004.   

Stevenbpfeiffer_1 Also implicated in the Pinochet affair was Steven B. Pfeiffer (Wesleyan ‘69 – Chairman Emeritus;  Oxford - Rhodes Scholar; Yale Law School, US Naval Commander; Council on Foreign Relations), a Riggs board member since 1989, a former chairman of the bank’s International Committee, a former Vice Chairman of Riggs Bank Europe Ltd., and the bank’s Chairman in 2001. Pfeiffer remains a senior partner at Fulbright & Jaworski, the leading DC law firm, where he  has served as head of the firm’s International Practice, and, from 1998 to 2002, its Partner-in-Charge. According to the Senate report, Pfeiffer and his law firm provided key legal advice to Riggs with respect to its handling of the Pinochet accounts. 


Riggs' banking relationship with Pinochet may have dated back to the 1970s, when it was reportedly involved in helping to finance several Chilean arms deals. But it really heated up in the mid-1990s, when Pinochet came under investigation for more than 66 international criminal complaints involving human rights violations, drug trafficking, torture, assassination, illegal arms sales, and corruption, not only by Judge Garzon in Spain, but also by Argentina, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the UK. The General was trying desperately to conceal his family’s assets around the world. 

According to the Senate report, Riggs National Bank participated in a long-term conspiracy to launder Pinochet's offshore holdings and conceal their ownership from US federal bank regulators, including the Comptroller of the Currency. Quite coincidently, the bank also reportedly hired  R. Ashley Lee, an OCC bank examiner who happened to be in charge of auditing Riggs from 1998 to 2002.  

That helped Riggs conceal the Pinochet matter for a couple years. But in May 2004, Riggs  was fined $25 million in civil penalties for "willful, systemic" violations of anti-money-laundering laws" with respect to its dealings with two other dubious clients, Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea.

In light of all these embarrassments, the Allbrittons decided to sell the bank. In July 2004, it agreed in principle on a $779 million sale to PNC Financial Services Group Inc. However, this  merger is now reportedly on hold until at least April 2005,  and it may never be consummated, given all the many lawsuits and investigations that have arisen out of Rigs involvement in money laundering. If permitted, the PNC transaction would effectively permit the Allbrittons and their close associates to "launder" their profits from more than twenty years of scandalous, morally-unconscionable behavior, undertaken at the behest of some of the world's worst dictatorships.

Meanwhile, Riggs is fighting a number of other legal actions pertaining to this scandal. In April 2004, three law firms that specialize in shareholder derivative suits teamed up to sue Riggs’ directors for “intentionally or recklessly” ignoring the risks of failing to update the bank’s money laundering controls and dealing with dubious clients like the Saudis and Pinochet. 

In September 2004, several former Riggs senior managers and board members were named in a legal action filed by the courageous Spanish judge, Balthazar Garzon, who has been investigating human rights violations committed against Spanish citizens by the Pinochet regime. Judge Garzon has asked that US authorities seize the assets of their personal assets, prosecute them for money laundering,  and also freeze more than $10.3 million in alleged Pinochet assets.


So far, the US Department of Justice has basically ignored Judge Garzon’s request.

(c) James S. Henry, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004.

December 15, 2004 at 09:05 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, September 27, 2004

Democracy in America and Elsewhere:
Part IIIB. Campaigns, Voting, and Representation


James S. Henry and Caleb Kleppner**
Download PDF Version
As we began to explore in Part IIIA of this election-season series, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the United States of America actually has a great deal to learn from other countries – especially several young democracies -- about designing and operating electoral institutions that are truly democratic. This part of the series continues our comparison with one of those countries, Brazil.

There was perhaps a time when much of the rest of the world viewed the United States of America not just as a militaristic crusader, but as a role model for advocates of liberal democracy everywhere.

These days, however, as former President Carter’s recent caustic comments about the likelihood of continued rigged voting in Florida this year have underscored, the American beacon of liberty is flickering in the wind.
Increasingly the US is viewed by the rest of the world -- and by some of its most astute internal critics -- as an arrogant, hypocritical, sclerotic plutocracy, whose own electoral institutions, as former President Carter correctly observes, are at risk of no longer meeting even minimal international standards for democratic elections.

Meanwhile, the US has the temerity to lecture other countries (as it did, for example, just this week with respect to Hong Kong) about the meaning of “democracy,” and to selectively intervene in the affairs of other countries in the name of democracy, whenever it suits perceived US interests.

As shown in Table A, this concern with democratizing the world may be a preoccupation of US policy elites, or it may just be pure rhetoric.

A recent poll by the Chicago Center on Foreign Relations shows that for the American public at large, the goal of bringing democracy to other nations ranks last on a list of fourteen major US foreign policy goals, with only 14 percent believing it to be “very important.” This made it less than one fifth as as important as securing energy supplies, protecting US jobs, or fighting terrorism. Even among policy elites, “democratization” ranked 12th on the list.


Once again, our aim here is to help Americans understand why their own electoral system has become so anachronistic and dysfunctional. We also hope to encourage them to take more interest in the rest of the world, be a little more modest, and understand that they too live in a “developing country” – one whose own particular version of “democracy” is in dire need of rejuvenation.


Gld_boxCampaign Duration/ Candidate Selection

Brazil. Like the UK and many other democracies, Brazil’s process for selecting Presidential candidates and the political campaigns that follow are relatively abbreviated, with most candidates selected by national parties caucuses, and campaign advertising and other electioneering activities limited to 60 days before the general election. (This is far from the shortest period. Indonesia just held a Presidential election, with 150 million registered voters, about 10 million more than in the US. It limits public campaigning to just 3 days in order to curb political violence, a long-standing Indonesian problem.)
The US. The US primary process for selecting Presidential candidates is a costly and tedious. It begins up to two-and-a-half years before the general election, wends its way through more than 37 state primaries and party caucuses by mid-March of the election year, and concludes with the main candidates already selected at least 6 months before their party conventions, and 8 months before election day.

The US primary process also gives extraordinary influence to a tiny fraction of voters who turn out for caucuses or primaries in “white bread,” states like Iowa (total primary turnout = just 9 percent of VAP) and New Hampshire (total primary turnout= 29 percent of VAP) that happen to have early primaries.
Several of these states also follow primary procedures that are only remotely democratic. In Iowa’s bizarre “house party” caucuses, for example, there is no secret ballot, so that one’s corporate bosses or fellow union members can easily observe whether one follows instructions.

The primary process also has a dramatic impact on campaign costs. With so many primaries bunched together, candidates are compelled to run national campaigns in multiple states. On the other hand, since the order of primaries has nothing to do with each primary’s weight in national totals, the country as a whole is compelled to sit through 9-sided “debates” between pseudo-candidates, over and over again.

All this probably reduces the supply of first-rate candidates who are willing to endure this grueling march. By the time the November election finally rolls around, most Americans are also probably sick and tired of the whole affair. On the other hand, campaign advisors, advertisers, and the news media like the current system -- it generates a prolonged “horse race” and recurrent employment.

Gld_boxCampaign Finance

While most leading democracies, like Germany, France, and Japan, have experienced serious campaign finance abuses, finance has much more leverage in systems like Brazil and the US, where Presidents are selected through expensive direct elections, not parliamentary polls. So far, despite numerous efforts, neither Brazil nor the US has been able to contain the excessive influence of campaign finance directly, but Brazil has made progress indirectly, by providing media access and some public financing.
In Brazil’s case, the campaign finance issue was highlighted by a recent series of scandals, including the 1992 impeachment and removal of President Fernando Collor, the 1994 “Budgetgate” scandal, the 1997 “Precartorios” scandal in Sao Paulo, the 2002 scandals involving illicit funds raised by Roseanna Sarney and Jose Serra, and the 2004 scandals involving senior Workers Party official Diniz and the “Blood Mafia.”

In the US, this year’s Presidential election will be by far the most expensive in history, nearly twice as expensive as the 2000 election, despite new legislation like the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold), which tried to limit the use of “soft money.”

“Supply-Side” Limits. Both the US and Brazil have repeatedly tried to legislate against the corrosive influence of money on elections by establishing such “supply-side” limits. In the US these efforts date back more than a century. Since the 1980s there have been a string of “reforms of reforms” in both countries to require disclosure of contributions by individual and corporate donors (Brazil), disclose receipts by candidates and parties (Brazil, US), limit the size of individual, union, and corporate contributions (Brazil, US), ban anonymous donations (Brazil, US) limit campaign expenditures (Brazil), and limit the amount that parties can raise (Brazil).
In the US, virtually all elections at all levels of government are privately funded, with no spending limits unless candidates opt for matched public funding. In federal races, contributions limits are now quite high -- $4,000 per election cycle. And these may be increased if opponents spend their own money. Corporations and unions are prohibited from making campaign contributions, but they have found ways to make huge indirect contributions, by way of Political Action Committees (PACs), state and national political parties, unregulated “in-kind” contributions (like Cisco’s $5 million of free networking services to each party convention) and most recently, virtually-unregulated “527” committees and 501-C4s.

So far, these “supply side” efforts to limit campaign contributions have proved unsuccessful in both countries. Donors and recipients are simply too creative, laundering contributions through “independent” fronts, providing in-kind contributions, spreading contributions across multiple family members, and so forth. Ultimately the reality is that in advanced capitalist societies that have very powerful private interest groups, highly unequal income distributions, sophisticated lawyers, and important government policies up for grabs, the most one can hope for from supply-side regulation is window-dressing – and that the insiders occasionally cancel each other out.

Demand-Side Limits. A much more effective approach is to limit the demand for private campaign funds with a combination of free media, direct controls on campaign spending, and public funding.

In the US, efforts to limit campaign expenditures directly have been throttled by the 1976 Supreme Court decision in Buckley vs. Valeo, which determined that “money is speech” – e.g., that any direct limits on campaign spending by candidates or parties violate the First Amendment.
US law does allow limits to be imposed on candidates who accept matched public funds, which have been available since 1974. But public funding has been limited, and is getting scarcer – the US matched public funding system is now on the brink of insolvency, partly because voluntary taxpayer contributions on tax returns have plummeted. (Among other reasons, the $3 check-off limits has not recently been increased.)

So while lesser candidates like Ralph Nader and Al Sharpton relied heavily on public funding for their campaigns, well-funded candidates like Bill Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, and John Kerry in 2004 have either refused public funding completely, or have limited their use of it to the final few months of the campaign. A few states – Maine, Minnesota, and Arizona, for example – have experimented with providing public funds for state candidates, with positive results, including a sharp reduction in the amount of time politicians devote to fund-raising. But these programs are not expanding, partly because of state budget crises.

As noted, no US-like constitutional limits on campaign spending controls exist in Brazil, or for that matter, in most other democracies, like the UK or Canada, for example. Brazil has adopted some spending limits for political parties and individual candidates, which seem to have been somewhat effective. Brazil has also provided some public funds for all registered political parties to defray campaign and administrative costs.

Gld_boxFree Media

Brazil. By far the most effective measure that Brazil has introduced to level the campaign finance playing field, however, has been the provision of free access to TV and radio for political candidates. TV advertising, in particular, is otherwise by far the most important ingredient in campaign costs. Furthermore, at least in principle, the airwaves are owned by the public. So it is not surprising that Brazil and more than 70 other democracies around the world have adopted such provisions, including most Western European countries, South Africa, India, Russia, and Israel. (Among First World countries that provide free political airtime: the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Japan.)

In Brazil’s case, ironically, the early adoption of this provision is partly due to the fact that the ownership of radio and TV broadcasting networks in Brazil are even more concentrated than they are in the US, dominated by the Marinho family’s Globo empire and 2-3 other private owners. On the other hand, a majority of Brazilians are poor and semi-literate, and depend heavily on TV and radio for all their news.


Under Brazil’s free media law, the only forms of paid political advertising permitted are newspaper advertising, direct mail, and outdoor events. Sixty days before an election, 1.5 hours of programming per day - the “horário eleitoral gratuito” - are requisitioned from broadcasters and divided up among political parties in proportion to their seats in the Camara, with a minimum allocation for parties that have no seats. Newscasters and debate broadcasters are required to give equal time to all candidates during this period, punishable by fines. Brazil’s political parties are also entitled to free public transportation, the free use of schools for meetings, and special tax status.

Some broadcasters have complained that these provisions are very costly (to them), that they may reduce news coverage for controversial subjects, and that the viewing public will simply tune out. However, it appears that most Brazilians continue to tune in as usual, and that they actually welcome the concentrated dose of campaigning, as compared with prolonged agony of the US approach.

The US. The US is one of a minority of leading democracies that still provides no free radio or TV access for political candidates. (In addition to Brazil, others that do include the UK, France, Italy, Israel, Hungary, India, Germany, Spain, and Sweden.)


This is especially important, because in many ways, TV advertising is the key factor underlying the whole campaign finance issue. From 1970 to 2000, US campaign spending on TV ads increased more than 10-fold, faster than any other campaign cost element. This year, the political ad revenues of US broadcasters will exceed $1.4 billion. This makes political advertising second only to automotive advertising as a revenue generator for TV networks. This year, most of this revenue will flow to broadcasting conglomerates like ClearChannel, Cox, and Viacom that are especially well-positioned in the battleground states.


In theory, since 1971 the Federal Communications Commission – now chaired by Michael Powell, son of the Secretary of State Powell -- has required US broadcasters to sell airtime to political candidates at the “lowest unit rates” available, but in practice this requirement has not been very effective. The 2002 BCRA also tried to limit corporate and labor funding for broadcast advertising to the last 30 days before primaries, but it did nothing about so-called “Section 527” or 501-C4 advertising by issue-oriented groups that are theoretically independent of campaigns.

Among its many other impacts, this policy compels incumbent US politicians to spend a huge portion of their time – at least 28 percent, in one recent study -- raising campaign funds. It also invites incumbents to be unduly empathetic to the media conglomerates that now dominate the US cable, satellite, broadcasting, and publishing markets.

Its key beneficiaries include:

3dbulletClearChannel(1200 radio stations, 37 local TV stations, 103 mm listeners);

3dbullet Cox Enterprises(43 newspapers in Florida, Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Colorado; 9 TV stations; 75 radio stations;

3dbulletDisney (ABC, E!, A&E, History Channel, Lifetime, Tivo (partial), Miramax, ESPN, 10 local TV stations, 66 radio stations);

GE(NBC, PAX TV Network, MSNBC, CNBC, Universal Pictures, Telemundo, Bravo, Sci-Fi, Vivendi Entertainment, 28 local TV stations);

3dbulletNews Corp/Rupert Murdoch (Fox Network, 20th Century Fox, National Geographic, HarperCollins, The NY Post, Sunday Times (UK), The Times(UK), multiple other Australian and UK newspapers, Avon Books, TV Guide (part), The Weekly Standard, BSkyB, 34 local TV stations);

3dbulletTribune Company(27 TV stations, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, LA Times, 11 other newspapers, 1 radio station, etc.)

3dbulletTime Warner(CNN, HBO, Warner Bros., Court TV, TNT, New Line Cinema, AOL, Netscape, Time Inc. (People, Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Bus 2.0, Life, Popular Science, etc.) Mapquest, Little,Brown);

3dbullet Viacom(CBS, BET, MTV, Comedy Central, 13 other cable channels, Paramount, Simon & Schuster, Free Press, Scribners, Infinity Radio (185 radio stations), 39 TV stations, 5 other radio stations).


Not surprisingly, under the influence of this tidy little interest group, federal regulation has become more and more lax on a wide range of broadcast- and cable-related issues in the last twenty years, including acquisitions, “lowest unit rate” regulations, “equal time,” digital spectrum, and pricing guidelines for cable network franchise agreements.


Meanwhile, the detente established between incumbent politicians and this “Sun Valley” alliance has stymied proposals for free political media in the US – and helped to perpetuate the role of money in American politics.

Gld_boxVote Fraud/ Absentee Ballot Abuse/ Missing Ballots

Brazil. Outright vote fraud and vote buying are long-standing problems in Brazil, as in many other developing countries. One recent survey indicated that up to 3 percent of voters – almost 2 million people - may have sold their votes in Brazil’s 2002 election. A new law was adopted in 1999 to increase penalties for buying votes, but evidently there is still much work to do.

On the other hand, one beneficial side-effect of Brazil’s particular approach to electronic voting – which only provides printed copies for a sub-sample of voters – is that most voters aren’t able to prove that they have voted as instructed.

Absentee ballots are also not a problem in Brazil or other countries with centralized voter registration, because they don’t exist – people can vote anywhere, once. Those who happen to be outside the country on Election Day are permitted to cast ballots at Brazilian consulates.
The US. Outright vote buying is also an ancient American tradition – at least since George Washington bought a quart of booze for every voter in his district when he first ran for the Virginia legislature in 1757. Vote buying still occasionally turns up in the US today, and the Internet has added a new dimension to traditional vote buying, with the appearance in 2000 of sites like and that permitted voters to swap or even sell their votes in online auctions.

As one of these site’s authors rationalized it, this approach is much more efficient and direct than the standard practice, in which political middlemen like campaign consultants and advertising gurus routinely take 10-15 percent off the top of a campaign’s media spending in exchange for delivering votes.

However, the main areas that are ripe for massive abuse in the US now are probably absentee ballots and “missing/ faulty votes.”

Absentee Ballot Problems. The liberalization of absentee ballot laws since the late 1970s, combined with increasingly lax voter registration laws, and the absence of a national identity system or central voter registration list, have made this a growing problem in the US.

This year, absentee ballots may account for as much as 20 percent of the total US vote, up from 14 percent in 2000. This enables a panoply of specific malpractices, including (1) fraudulent registration and voting in the names of phantom, relocated, or deceased voters; (2) voting by the same individuals in multiple states; (3) gross violations of voter secrecy, including pressuring senior citizens to fill out their absentee ballots in a specific way; and (4) fraudulent voting by Americans civilians or military personnel who are located offshore – that also played a key role in the 2000 Presidential election.

It is not clear which major party has benefited the most from such practices. Bogus registration may have had its finest hour in the notorious 1960 “Chicago miracle,” when thousands of dead people allegedly voted for President Kennedy. This year, however, with the Republican Party in control of all three branches of the US federal government, 28 out of 50 state governorships (including 5 BG states), and 17 state legislatures (including 9 BG states), the Republicans may bear the most watching.

Missing/ Faulty Ballots. Of course the recent US track record with respect to mechanical vote processing is also not encouraging. During the 2000 US Presidential election, the whole country was forced to agonize for months over Florida’s mechanical voting machines, until a highly-politicized US Supreme Court awarded the election to President Bush by a 5-4 vote. CNN and other mainstream media organizations later hired the National Opinion Research Center to conduct a six-month audit of the 2000 Florida vote. Amazingly, when it was concluded, they declared that it showed that “Bush would have won anyway.” In fact a careful reading of the report shows that precisely the opposite was the case.

Furthermore, subsequent analysis of the 2000 Florida outcome shows that the balloting problems that figured in the Supreme Court decision were just the tip of the iceberg – compared with other glaring problems, like the bogus exclusion of thousands of black “pseudo-felons” from Florida’s voter rolls, and the intentional spoiling of thousands of black ballots.

According to the nonpartisan election monitoring group Votewatch, in the 2000 election Florida’s “hanging chad” problem was dwarfed by other counting problems. An estimated 4 to 6 million voters simply had their votes wasted because of faulty equipment and confusing ballots (1.5- 2 million), registration mix-ups (1.5 – 3 million), and screw-ups at polling places (up to 1 million).
This year, the US State Department has responded to concerns about a repetition of such behavior by inviting international observers from Vienna’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the US Presidential election – for the first time ever.

Gld_boxOther Measures

To prevent public officials in the Executive Branch from abusing their powers to manipulate voters, Brazil’s Constitution also requires them to resign six months before elections if they or their immediate family members intend to run. The US has no such disqualification period for political candidates who have worked in the executive branch.


Gld_boxNational Administration of Elections

Brazil. Like many other emerging democracies, Brazil has an entire separate judicial branch, the Justicia Eleitoral, that is responsible for implementing all campaign finance and voting procedures all levels of government. (1988 Constitution, Articles 118-121).

This system is by no means perfect, but it is far more objective and “party-neutral” than the US system, which is heavily influenced by state and local politics. Brazil’s approach has also contributed to the rapid nation-wide adoption of reforms, like electronic voting.

The US. Since 1974, campaign finance for US federal elections has been administered by an independent regulatory body, the Federal Election Commission. But US voting procedures remain under the control of state and local authorities, even in the case of federal elections. While the National Institute of Standards and Technology makes recommendations concerning voting machines and registration procedures, these are voluntary.

The result is a hodge podge of inconsistent, incompatible and often out-dated paper ballot, machine, and electronic recording procedures that vary enormously among states, and often even within the same states.

Gld_boxDirect Elections/Run-Offs/”Electoral College”

Brazil. In the case of Brazil’s Presidential elections, there is no “electoral college” that stands in the way of the popular will. Article 77 of Brazil’s 1988 Constitution explicitly provides that Brazil’s President is that political party candidate who obtains an absolute majority of bona fide votes. If no candidate emerges from the first round of voting with an absolute majority, a run-off election is to be held within 20 days – as it was in October 2002. Elections for Brazil’s 26 state governors and the mayors of its large cities are also subject to similar runoffs.

The US. Presidential elections are decided by the notorious “electoral college.” As discussed below, this is really just a throwback to the protection of Southern slavery. Currently it serves mainly to protect the influence of “strategic minorities” in a handful of smaller so-called battleground states. (See the discussion in Part I of this series. ) In today’s highly partisan environment, it also (temporarily) gives minority candidates like Nader tremendous destructive power – without, however, affording them any representation at all between elections.

Indeed, the US’ “winner-take-all” system systematically discourages third party power and minority representation. In a more democratic system with proportional representation, preference voting, or even Presidential run offs (see below), voters could freely vote for candidates like Nader without fear of electing their “third choice.” It is no accident that parties like the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Reform Party are in deep crisis, even as Nader’s stubborn crusade continues. Would that more of his spite were directed at “winner take all” and the electoral college, which has helped to institutionalize a political duopoly.

Technically, under the US Constitution (Article II), Americans don’t even have the right to vote for their President or Vice President. This right is delegated to Presidential electors, who may be selected by state legislatures any way they see fit. Indeed, popular vote totals for President and Vice President were not even recorded until 1824, and most state legislatures chose the electors directly. Since then, most states have chosen them according to the plurality of the popular vote in each state. But South Carolina – always a hotbed of reaction, with the highest ratio of slaves to whites -- continued to ignore the popular vote until the end of the Civil War.
Nor is the number of Presidential electors per state even determined by the relative population or voters per state. It is fixed at the number of Senators and Congressmen per state, with a minimum of 3 for each state and the District of Columbia. This guarantees that small rural states are over-represented. Because of the winner-take-all system, it also effectively disenfranchises everyone in a state who votes for candidates who lose that state, and partly disenfranchises all those in large states. At least four times in US history – 1804, 1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000 – this anti-democratic system produced Presidents who failed to win a plurality of the popular vote.

In the context of other democracies around the world, the electoral college is a very peculiar institution indeed. Kenya’s former dictator, Daniel Arap Moi, adopted something similar to control the influence of the country’s dominant tribe, the Kikuyu. The Vatican’s College of Cardinals has something similar.

There have been many calls for the electoral college’s abolition, most recently by the New York Times in August 2004. But this would require a Constitutional amendment that would have to be ratified by three-fourths of the states – at least a quarter of whom have disproportionate power under the existing system.

It is course possible for a state to provide that its own electors are awarded to Presidential candidates in proportion to the popular vote within a state -- as Colorado is considering this year. However, unless all battleground states go along with this, which is unlikely, it is unlikely to gain national momentum.

Gld_boxElectronic Voting/ Registration

Brazil. To the surprise of many, Brazil has recently become the world pioneer in electronic voting and registration. When it held national elections in October 2002, 91 million out of its 115 million registered voters turned out – more than 70 percent of those of voting age, and 3 million more than voted in the US elections that same fall. In terms of global electoral history, the number of votes received by the winner, Luis Ignacio de Silva (“Lula”), was second only to Ronald Reagan’s total in 1980.

To handle this heavy turnout, Brazil relied heavily on electronic voting. The Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) had been experimenting with electronic voting systems since the early 1990s, becoming a real pioneer in the use of “DREs” (“direct recording electronic”) voting machines. Brazil first used DREs on a large scale in its 1996 elections, with 354,000 in place by 2002. For that election, it deployed another 52,000 “Urnas Eletronica 2002,” a state-of-the-art DRE that had been designed by Brazilian technicians with the help of three private companies – Unisys and National Semiconductor, two US companies, and ProComp, a Brazilian assembler that has since been acquired by Diebold Systems, the controversial American leader in electronic voting systems.

Because Brazil has been willing to commit to such a large-scale deployment, each Urna costs just $420, less than 15 percent of the cost of the $3000 touch-screen systems that Diebold features in the US. The Brazilian system lacks a touch screen; voters punch in specific numbers for each candidate, calling up his name and image, and then confirm their selections. The numerical system was intended to overcome the problem of illiteracy, which is still a problem in parts of the country. To handle operations in remote areas like the Amazon, the machine runs on batteries up to 12 hours. Initially there were no printed records, but the Electoral Commission decided to retrofit 3 percent with printers, to provide auditable records.

Like any new technology, Brazil’s approach to electronic voting is by no means perfect. Indeed, significant concerns have been voiced about the system’s verifiability and privacy – especially about the TSE’s recent move to eliminate the printers, supposedly because they slowed voting.

Among the most important proposed improvements are a requirement that all voting machines produce both electronic and paper records, in order to leave an audit trail and increase voter confidence in the system; that system software be based on “open” standards and available for audit; and that the system for identifying eligible voters be separated from voting, to insure privacy.

Despite these concerns, most observers agree that Brazil’s system performed very well in 2002. In Brazil’s case, within a couple days, winners were announced almost entirely without dispute, not only for the Presidential race, but also for the 54 Senate races, 513 Congressional races, 27 state governorships, 5500 mayors, 57,316 councilmen, and many other local contests – all told, races involving more than 315,000 candidates.

Given this success story, many other countries that have traditionally had serious problems with paper ballot fraud are also considering its use, including Mexico, Argentina, the Dominican Republic, India, the Ukraine, and Paraguay.

The US. This country, where the choice of voting technology is localized and highly political, still relies very heavily on paper ballot-based and mechanical voting system – while 42 states will have new voting machines in 2004, only about 29 percent of US voters (at most) will cast electronic ballots this year. And with each state free to adopt its own local variant on the technology, it is not surprising that implementation has been problematic -- recent experiments with electronic voting in New Mexico, California and Florida have all been riddled with problems.
In 2002, the US Congress passed the “Help America Vote Act” (HAVA), which authorized $3.9 billion to be spent by 2006 to help state and local governments upgrade their election equipment. Given the fragmented nature of US election administration, however, this has produced a competitive scramble for government contracts among 3-4 leading US electronic voting firms, including Diebold Election Systems, ES&S, and Smartmatic, the Florida-based company whose 20,000 electronic voting machines successfully handled Venezuela’s Presidential Recall referendum this summer.

But with no mandatory national standards and the numerous operating problems that we’ve already seen at state and local levels, it is not surprising that there is widespread, perhaps exaggerated, concern about the potential for hacking and manipulation. In this highly-politicized context, with no adequate checks and balances over the procedures, some observers have argued that computerizing US voter registration and electronic voting will actually make things worse.

Relative to more basic problems like absentee ballots, phony registration, malapportionment, and misrepresentation, we believe that these concerns are exaggerated. However, like many other elements of our “pseudo-democratic” political system, it is very hard to argue that the US track record with respect to electronic voting is an achievement.


Gld_boxProportional Representation

Brazil. Brazil’s 81 Senators are elected by simple plurality for eight-year terms. But Article 45 of Brazil’s Constitution provides that the 513 members of Brazil’s House of Deputies are elected for four year terms according to a voting system called “proportional representation” (PR). Brazil also uses PR to elect city councils and state legislatures.

Unlike the “plurality/single member district/ “first past the post” system that is used in most US federal and state elections, this approach insures that the overall mix of elected representatives more accurately reflects voter preferences. It also represents a wider range of opinions, since party candidates compete with each other. Indeed, various forms of PR are now used for the election of “lower houses” by all other countries in Latin America, almost all European countries, all the world’s largest democracies, the new democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, indeed, the vast majority of democracies in the world today -- except for the US, Canada, the UK, and former British Caribbean colonies like Jamaica and the Bahamas.

Indeed, many of the world’s leading corporations have also turned to proportional representation, cumulative voting, or other forms of preference voting for purposes of electing their corporate boards.

Brazil uses what’s known as the "open list d’Hondt” version of PR. Here, political parties or coalitions register proposed lists of congressional candidates with the Electoral Court. There are no single-member congressional districts – rival candidate lists are drawn up by each party for each of Brazil’s 26 federal states, with the number of representatives per state determined by population, subject to minimums and maximums. Voters can opt for a party’s entire list, or select among individual candidates – unlike a “closed list” PR system, where candidates don’t compete with each other.

Of course Brazil’s proportional representation system is by no means perfect. Some have argued, for example, that using its 26 states as electoral districts has made Brazil’s legislators too remote from voters, and that smaller districts, or even a “mixed” PR system like that used in Mexico, Germany, or Venezuela may be preferable. Some voters may also find it too difficult to choose among so many different candidates, leading them to opt for party slates.

However, when it comes to buying shampoo or automobiles, most consumers believe that increased variety is a good thing – why should politics be any different? And it is hard to imagine an elected official who is more remote from minority voters than one who is elected – as more than 95 percent of US Congressmen now are – in a district that predictably goes either Democrat or Republican, year after year. This system, in turn, encourages the country to divide into polarized sectarian camps, where even majority voters feel less well-represented because incumbents can take them for granted.

Some have argued that the Brazil’s open list version of the PR system has contributed to a weaker party system, and to competition among a party’s own candidates. For example, any political party in Brazil can put forth candidates without having to obtain a minimum of the national vote. Party weakness may also be encouraged by the fact that incumbents can change parties without losing their spots on the ballot, one of several measures that favors candidates over parties. This may indeed have encouraged a proliferation of political parties – in Brazil’s 2004 Camara dos Deputados and Senado Federal, for example, 16 different ones are represented. Even with stable coalitions among the top 3-4 parties, the concern is that all this can substantially increase the negotiation costs of legislation, block Presidential initiatives, and lead to deadlock.

On the other hand, such negotiations may also produce outcomes that are more reflective of the popular will. And recent studies of the actual operation of Brazil’s Congress suggest that the concerns about fragmentation and policy deadlock have been overstated. Furthermore, the fact that delegate turnover in Brazilian elections since democracy has averaged more than 50 percent may be viewed as a good thing – especially compared with the “dynastic legislature” that the US has acquired.

The US. There is actually a long history of preference voting and proportional representation in the US at the state and local level. For example, a majority of the original 13 colonies’ legislatures were elected using multi-member candidate slates, and more than 60 percent of city councils in the US are still elected with at-large slates. There have also been numerous proposals to expand their use at the federal level, especially for the US House, which could be done without a Constitutional amendment.

However, currently, delegates to the House and Senate and almost all state legislatures are chosen in single-member-district “first one past the post” contests, where voters each district choose just one candidate for each office. Those voters whose candidate wins a plurality of counted votes (e.g., less than or equal to 50.1%) are awarded 100 percent of a district’s seats; all other voters get zero representation. This implies two kinds of inefficiency – “over-represented votes,” those that a winning candidate didn’t need in order to prevail, and “under-represented votes,” those cast for losing candidates.

Compared with a PR system like Brazil’s, the US is monumentally inefficient – in two-way races, 49.9 % of all votes in “winner take all” races are always wasted, in the sense that they are either more than winners need to prevail, or are votes for the loser that receive no representation.

There is a huge literature on the merits and demerits of proportional representation, which contrast its increased representation for minority interests with its alleged tendency to produce unstable coalition governments (the classic cases being Italy and Israel.) At the end of the day, there are undoubtedly some empirical trade-offs to be made. But the fact is that the vast majority of the world’s democracies, as well as many of the world’s leading private companies, have opted for various forms of PR systems for representation – with the exceptions of the US, Canada, and the UK. And among those that have opted for PR systems are all of the world’s newest democracies, including Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, East Timor -- and even our own favorite new Middle Eastern democracies, Afghanistan and Iraq. Is there no content in this signal?

Gld_boxApportionment/Gerrymandering/ “Safe Seats”

Like other countries with federal systems, Brazil and the US have struggled to (1) provide representation that is proportional to the actual number of voter-aged residents in all regions of the country, while at the same time (2) providing at least a minimum degree of representation for all regions, no matter how heavily populated.

In Brazil’s case, significant “malapportionment” – departures from representation that is strictly proportional to population -- continues exist, mainly in the form of overrepresentation for rural states in the National Camara and Senate. This is because Brazil’s Constitution guarantees each of its 26 states, plus the Federal District, at least 3 Senators regardless of population, and because representation in Brazil’s Camara is a truncated function of population, with each state guaranteed a minimum of 8 representatives and a maximum of 70, regardless of population.

However, as shown in Table 6,the overall degree of “mal-apportionment” -- defined as the median ratio of a state’s share of representatives to its share of VAP – is only slightly higher for Brazil’s Camara than in the US House, while the degree of mal-apportionment for Brazil’s Senate is much lower.

Furthermore, unlike the US, Brazil permits its federal district – Brasilia – to elect both Senators and Congressmen. In contrast, the US has stubbornly refused to permit the 563,000 residents of the District of Columbia to have any voting representation in either the House or Senate.

Finally, the total number of elected national representatives in Brazil – 513 deputies for the Camara and 81 Senators – is more than twice as high per voting age resident in Brazil than the US. Since the US has been slow to adjust the total number of House and Senate members in response to increases in population, it now has one of the lowest ratios of members to voters among leading democracies – more than six times the ratios in the UK, Canada, and South Africa.

Compared with countries like Brazil that elect their Congressmen from multi-candidate lists for fixed states, the US political system’s focus on “single-member districts” is also far more open to partisan gerrymandering. There is a long history of dominant parties drawing district lines to favor their own candidates or create safe seats. Traditionally, every ten years, state legislatures in the US redraw their district boundaries to the fit the latest Census data.

Several other factors have also exacerbated this trend toward the creation of careerist legislators in the US. As one recent analysis concluded,

…(T)he incidence and extremism of partisan redistricting have escalated. Voting patterns have become more consistently partisan, enabling political mapmakers to better predict how voters will vote. And advances in computer technology and political databases allow cartographers to fine- tune district boundaries to maximize partisan advantage.

In addition, in its recent decisions, the US Supreme Court has relaxed its constraints on gerrymandering. So state legislatures that are dominated by single parties have recently become much more aggressive. In the last decade, for example, Republican-dominated legislatures in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Texas decided not to wait for a new Census, but to exert their muscles during the middle of the decade. The results were extraordinary power grabs, especially in Texas, where 5 new Congressional seats were created by the Republican-dominated legislature. And this aggressive redistricting, it now turns out, was also fueled by campaign finance abuses –- completing the circle.

More generally, districting isn’t an issue that necessarily favors either main party. But one consequence of it is a clear trend toward more safe seats for incumbents of both parties, fewer competitive races, and a growing geographic polarization into “red” and “blue” districts – the so-called “Retro-Metro” divide.

In this fall’s US Congressional races, for example, out of 435 US House races, only about 30 will be decided by margins of less than 10 percent, and just 5-6 percent, or 20-25, that will be “effectively contested,” with a serious possibility that seats may change party hands. Many of these involve seats where incumbents are voluntarily retiring. For the US Senate, where redistricting is not an issue, the incumbency advantage is only slightly lower -- only 4-5, or 10-12 percent, of this year’s 34 Senate races will be effectively contested.

So regardless of who wins the Presidency this year, the reality is that the US House and Senate are both likely to remain under Republican control.

This is consistent with a trend toward increased advantages for incumbents in US elections. In 2002, for example, just 4 out of 383 US House incumbents lost their seats to non-incumbent challengers. This was the highest rate of incumbent reelection since 1954. Of 435 races in 2002-04 (including special elections), 81 percent were won by incumbents with margins of more than 20 percent. Of the 379 incumbents who were reelected in 2002, the median margin of victory was 39 percent. (See Table 7.)

Among the 56 non-incumbents who were elected, 11 won in newly created “safe” districts, by a median margin of 19 percent. Thirty-two were elected from the same parties that had represented their districts before, by a median margin of 15 percent. Just 13 were new non-incumbents who managed to oust the prevailing party in their districts, mostly by defeating other new non-incumbents. In fact, in 2002, more US Congressmen were elected in uncontested races, with 100 percent of the vote (n=31), than in “close” races where the winning margin was 10 percent or less.

Given these trends, it is not surprising that the average lifespan of Congressmen has been increasing -- apart from voluntary resignations. As of 2004, the median Congressman had served 8 years, and 20 percent had served at least 16 years or more. The main source of turnover in this increasingly entrenched, carefully-districted, careerist “people’s house” is now retirement, death, or incarceration, not voter decisions.
Similar trends are evident for the US Senate and the Presidency, although the advantages of incumbency are less than for House races. In the case of 2002 Senate races, 16 of 33 races (48%) were won by more than 20 percent, and 67 percent were won by more than 10 percent. Incumbents were reelected in 23 (88 percent) out of 26 races where they decided to run. As in the House, the main source of turnover was retirement or death. As of 2004, the median Senator had been in office 10 years, and the top 20 percent had median tenures of 28 years.

As for the Presidency, out of 42 Presidents through Clinton, 25 ran for reelection, and 16 (64 percent) were reelected. Whether or not President Bush can take comfort in these odds is less clear, however – among the ten post-War Presidents that preceded him, just four (Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton) were reelected.

At least at the Congressional level, there appear to be strong interdependencies between incumbent advantage and the existing systems for financing campaigns, conducting elections, representing voters, and defining districts. Finance not only strengthens incumbent advantage; it also follows from it, in the sense that incumbency makes it much easier to raise money.

Having once established this interdependent system of interests, it is very hard to unravel. Is it any wonder that more and more Americans have simply decided that they have better things to do with their time than vote – even though the issues at stake have never been more important, not only for Americans, but for the world at our mercy?

As we’ve argued here and in Part IIIA, compared with the Unite States, Brazil’s new developing democracy has a much fairer, more efficient, more trustworthy system for administering elections, qualifying voters, conducting campaigns, curbing the influence of private money on campaign outcomes, making sure votes count, providing representation in proportion to voter sentiments at both the Presidential and legislative levels, and defining geographical boundaries for election districts. 811a

All this adds up to an electoral system that is, on the whole, much more democratic than that in the United States.


Nor is Brazil alone in providing a potential role model for those in the US who are serious about revitalizing democracy at home:


3dbulletIn April 2004, South Africa held its third national election, with 15.9 million South Africans, or 76.7 percent of registered voters, turning out. While the ANC won a commanding 69.7 percent of the vote, 20 other parties also participated, and 11 of them won seats in Parliament. Compared with 1994, when South Africa held its first post-apartheid election, public confidence in the political system and the future have both risen substantially.

This 2004 turnout, while impressive, was below the record level set in 1994, when more than 19 million South Africans voted in the country’s first democratic elections ever. However, the difference may be explained by the fact that in that first election, no formal registration was required -- South Africa wisely considered it far more important to hold national elections as soon as possible, rather than worry too much about registration niceties. In subsequent elections, as it implemented formal registration, voter turnout has declined somewhat. (The new US-backed regime in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have devoted an inordinate amount of time to preparing for national elections and registering voters, might well have learned from this example.)

To reinforce confidence in its electoral processes, South Africa has adopted special procedures to insure that independent international observers are present at its elections; in 1999 its elections were attended by more than 11,000 observers, including representatives from the OAU and the Commonwealth.

3dbulletIndia, the world’s largest constitutional democracy, also held a successful parliamentary election in April-May 2004. More than 387 million people, or 56 percent of registered voters, voted, choosing among 220 parties and 5400 candidates, using more than 1 million electronic voting machines to register their preferences.

3dbulletIndonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, and its second largest democracy, held its first-ever Presidential election, as well as parliamentary and local elections, in May-September 2004. More than 155 million people, or 75 percent of registered voters,turned out to choose among six different Presidential candidates, for the most part by driving nails through the pictures of their favorite candidates on paper ballots. With few exceptions, the voting proceeded peacefully, and although there was substantial vote-buying on all sides, about 9 percent invalid votes, and some intimidation, independent monitors like the Carter Center and the LP3ES-NDI found the election generally fair.

3dbulletVenezuela’s President Chavez is undoubtedly a very divisive leader – not unlike some recent US Presidents that we have known. But at least his opponents have been able to make use of a right that no Americans have – the constitutional right to initiate a recall petition half-way through a President’s term, and if 20 percent of registered voters agree, to demand a recall referendum. Fig_35_hugo_chavez_frias

After a prolonged efforts by the opposition to gather the necessary signatures, in May 2004 Venezuela’s Supreme Court – albeit, like the US Supreme Court, populated with supporters of the President -- certified that there were indeed enough signatures to require a referendum on whether Chavez could serve out his current term until 2007.

In August 2004, in a national referendum that was conducted with electronic voting machines, Chavez won by an overwhelming 59-41 percent margin. While diehard opposition leaders, as well as the Wall Street Journal and the US Government -- which had supported a 2002 coup attempt against Chavez -- expressed doubts about the margin, the referendum was validated by independent observers like President Carter, the OAS, and a team of Johns Hopkins/Princeton political scientists.

This means that Chavez has now held five free elections and referenda in seven years, more than any other Venezuelan President. He won them all by commanding margins.

We recall the fact that in 2000, the hapless Al Gore captured a plurality of the US popular vote (48.4 percent), despite all the games played with ex-felons, absentee vote abuses, and lost ballots discussed above, and even with third- party candidates taking another 3.7 percent of the vote.

Since it is hard to believe that President Bush’s absolute popularity has increased very much since then, one wonders what the results might have been if only the US were as democratic as Venezuela – e.g., if only Americans had been able to initiate such a Presidential recall referendum, and like our good Latin neighbor to the south, determine the outcome by popular vote of the nation as a whole, under the watchful eyes of international observers.

Instead, as we've argued here, the US is still captive to age-old anti-democratic contraptions, superstitions, and subterfuges, and its particular version of "democracy" still labors in the long dark shadows cast by venerable institutions like states rights, felon disenfranchisement, and white supremacy. Eagle_in_war_paint_1

We can try to impose our self-image on to the world if we like, but we should not be surprised if the world asks us to hold up a mirror.

(Next: Democracy in American and Elsewhere, Part IV: Four Years Later, Four More Years?)


Credos to Inter-Brasil's Lourival Baptista Pereira Jr. for the inspiration for this piece.

©James S. Henry and Caleb Kleppner, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004

September 27, 2004 at 12:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Democracy in America and Elsewhere:
Part II: Recent Global Trends Toward Democracy

James S. Henry and Caleb Kleppner
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Iraq_postcard_front_medium W4
Most Americans are probably used to thinking about their own political system as a shining example of “representative democracy” – not only one of modern democracy’s original pioneers, but also a contemporary role model for other emerging democracies around the globe.

Of course we are also very proud of our free markets, our relative affluence, and our occasional ambitions -- at the moment perhaps a bit muted -- to provide equal opportunities for all our citizens.

However, when we try to market our country’s best features to the rest of the world, or teach our children to be proud of their country, it is not the economy that we brag about.

Even self-styled “conservatives” usually lead, not with glowing descriptions of perfect markets and opportunities for unlimited private gain, but with our supposedly distinctive commitment to defending and expanding political democracy and human rights at home and abroad.


Indeed, one of the most important official justifications for recent US forays into the Middle East, as well as our many other foreign interventions, has been to help bring “democracy” to supposedly backward, undemocratic societies like Iraq and Afghanistan (…and before that, Haiti, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Guyana, Guatemala, Iran, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. etc. etc.)

Even though, time and again, this noble commitment has turned out to be pure rhetoric, it provides such an elastic cover story for all our many transgressions that it keeps on being recycled, over and over and over again.


Whatever the truth about US motives for such interventions, it may come as a surprise to learn that in the last two decades, the United States itself has actually fallen behind the rest of the democratic world in terms of “best democratic practices” and the overall representativeness of our own domestic political institutions.

Meanwhile, many developing countries have recently been making very strong progress toward representative democracy, without much help from us.

Indeed, in some cases, like South Africa, this progress was made in the face of opposition from many of the very same neoimperialists who have lately voiced so much concern about transplanting democracy to the Middle East.

While we have been resting on our democratic laurels, or even slipping backwards, the fact is that emerging democracies like Brazil, India, and South Africa, as well as many of our First World peers, have been adopting procedures for electing governments that are much more democratic at almost every stage of the electoral process than those found in the US.

The institutions they have been developing include such bedrock elements of electoral democracy as the rules for:

  • (1) Apportioning geographic boundaries for congressional districts;

  • (2) Selecting candidates and conducting campaigns;

  • (3) Qualifying and registering voters;

  • (4) Establishing effective controls over campaign finance;

  • (5) Providing equitable access to the public airwaves for campaign advertising;

  • (6) Encouraging voter turnout;

  • (7) Preventing outright vote fraud;

  • (8) Insuring that votes are accurately and quickly counted – and, if necessary, recounted;

  • (9) Insuring that voter preferences are fairly and proportionately represented in the legislative and executive branches of government; and

  • (10) Enforcing other helpful provisions, like run-off and recall provisions.

Of course effective democracy has many other crucial elements beside electoral processes alone. These include (1) the relative influence of legislative, executive, and judicial branches; (2) the concrete opportunities that ordinary citizens have -- as compared with highly-organized special interests and professional lobbyists -- to influence government decisions between elections; (3) the respective influence of private interests, religious groups, and the state; (4) the degree to which the rule of law prevails over corruption and "insider" interests; and (5) the overall degree of political consciousness and know-how.

However, fair and open electoral processes are clearly a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for effective democracy -- all these other elements simply cannot make up for their absence.

We hope that increasing the recognition of this “electoral democracy gap” between the US and the rest of the democratic world will be helpful in several ways:

  • It may make Americans more modest about our own accomplishments, and less patronizing toward other countries;
  • It may spur us to consider that we may actually have something to learn about democracy from other countries.
  • It may provide an antidote for the recent revival of anti-democratic doctrines in the US, some of have acquired a disturbing level of influence among our political elites.
  • It may help to show how our own idiosyncratic version of democracy is exerting a profound influence on this year’s profoundly dissatisfying Presidential race.

One useful place to start is with an assessment of best practices among the growing number of democracies around the globe.

This used to be much easier than it is now. As of the early 1970s, there were only about 40 countries that qualified as “representative democracies,” and most were First World countries.


Since then, however, there has been a real flowering of democratic institutions in the developing world. This was partly due to the collapse of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. But many more people were in fact “liberated” by the Third World debt crisis, which undermined corrupt, dictatorial regimes all over the globe, from Argentina, Brazil, and Chile to Indonesia, the Philippines, South Africa, and Zaire.
StoryphilippineselectionsVoting in the Philippines, 2004

Assessments of the degree of “freedom” of individual regimes by organizations like Freedom House or the UN Development Program’s Human Development Indicators, are notoriously subjective. However, while there is plenty of room for disagreement about specific countries, there is little disagreement on the overall trend. (See Table 3.)

By 2004, about 60 percent, or 119, of the nearly 200 countries on the planet could be described as “electoral democracies,” compared with less than one-third in the early 1970s. Another 25-30 percent have made significant progress toward political freedom.
Voting in South Africa, 1994

Indeed, notwithstanding our present challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan, from the standpoint of global democracy, this has been a banner year. As of September 2004, 32 countries had already held nationwide elections or referenda, with 886 million people voting. (See Table 4.) By the end of 2004, another 33 countries will join the US in doing so – nearly three times as many national elections as were held each year, on average, in the 1970s.

All told, this year, more than 1.7 billion adults – 42 percent of the world’s voter-age population -- will be eligible to vote in national elections, and more than 1.1 billion will probably vote. That that will make American voters less than 10 percent of the global electorate.

Of course, some of these elections will be held in countries where democratic institutions and civil liberties are still highly imperfect. And some developing countries like Russia and Venezuela have recently been struggling to find a balance between democracy and national leadership, partly to undo the effects of neoliberal policies in the 1990s, or in response to terrorist threats.

But the good news is that democracy is clearly not a “luxury good.” The demand for it is very strong even in low-income countries like Bolivia, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Guatemala, and Botswana. And while self-anointed dictators, military rulers, and one-party elites or theocracies are still clinging to power in 50-60 countries that have more than 2.4 billion residents, such regimes are more and more anachronistic. (See Table 5.)

Interestingly, Asian dictatorships, especially China and Vietnam, now account for more than three-fifths of the portion of the world’s population that still lives under authoritarian rule. While several Islamic countries appear on the list of authoritarian countries, they account for just one fifth of the total. Furthermore, by far the most important ones happen to be close US “allies” like Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the simple-minded neoconservative “clash of cultures” model, which pits supposedly democratic, pluralist societies against an imaginary Islamic bloc, doesn’t have much explanatory power.

Furthermore, the US also clearly faces some very tough choices, if it is really serious about promoting non-discriminatory, secular democratic states that honor the separation between church and state among its Islamic allies, as well as in Palestine, and, for that matter, Israel.
Coseasttimor Voting in East Timor. 2001

A more encouraging point is that many developing countries are already providing useful lessons in democratization. Indeed, as we will see in Part III of this series, there is much to learn from the experiences of new democracies like Brazil and South Africa.

These countries are undertaking bold experiments with measures like free air time for candidates, “registration-free” voting, direct Presidential elections, electronic voting, proportional representation, and the public finance of campaigns. While not all these experiments have worked out perfectly, the fact these countries have already demonstrated a capacity to innovate in “democratic design” is very encouraging.

Of course there is a long-standing tension between the US dedication to Third World democracy and its tolerance for the independence that democratic nationalism often brings. By renewing and deepening our own commitment to democracy at home, we will also protect it abroad -- even though (as in Venezuela, Russia, Iran, and perhaps eventually also Iraq) it does not always produce governments that we agree with.

(Next: Part III: "Brazil Vs. the US -- And the Winner Is....")


©James S. Henry and Caleb Kleppner, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004

September 16, 2004 at 09:08 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Monday, April 26, 2004

426."Letters from the New World" (South Africa)
Denis Beckett
#3: "Hair Cut."

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About Denis Beckett



(Note: The following is the third in a series of "Letters from the New World" from Denis Beckett, one of South Africa's best-known journalists, and our newest Contributing Editor. His latest book is the highly-acclaimed Redeeming Features. (London: Penguin Books, 2004.))


Scared? No, not scared, not really. You can’t be scared of a barber. Can you? True, this (South African) Shavathon was invented by sadists. True, going in wasn’t easy, past streams of bald guys coming out, clutching their heads in shell-shocked daze.

But that’s not “scared”, surely, so much as rational. A lifetime of long hair gives a ou identity, right? It instills a persona, a self-image, which has never been short hair, let alone no hair. Now you’re about to make the brushcut guys look like hippies. For sure you aren’t overjoyed.

But not “scared”, please. “Lunatic”, maybe. When they start to cut, red-alert clangs. This is the only mirrorless barber seat you ever met. Your head gets cold, in a way you never knew. Clumps of you slide down your shoulders, clumps not of plain untidy excess, but of what has been part of you since you were in nappies....

Your friends who did the easy option, the one-day green dye, are hosing themselves, pointing at you and high-fiving and slapping their sides like at Barry Hilton on the cuzzin routine.

There comes an instant that you can not believe this thing that you are doing. You feel central processing unit contacting your leg muscles with the instruction to bolt. But before the message downloads, the volunteer barber is shaking out the towel. They’re speedy here, whipping off the entire woolsack in 10% of the time that a real barber with mirrors takes to do a trim.

Rub the head, feel strange, be relieved by the touch of a film of stubble. It’s short, but it’s hair. Then the sadists guide you to the blades.

The blades. So far has been only Army-short. Kojak is yet to come. The blades are gonna abolish every wisp, everything but eyebrows.

You can choose to duck this, but a mad instinct says go the whole hog. Partly, there’s testosterone and rank order. The Kojaks are main manne, army-cuts come second and green-dyes are but honorary members of the human race. The other part is duty. Companies pay money to the Cancer Association for every bald head. Plus the world record, 55 000 heads in a day, is up for challenge, and it’s held by… Australia.

And hey, anyway, it’s just this once.

So the shaver lady sprays the lather. This time, it does take time. A head is a bigger thing than you think. A head-shave covers the acreage of six or ten face-shaves, and is a bumpier ride.

The end is shock. A hand ascends to explore, and recoils in instant horror. This is no longer foreign hair on a familiar pate. This is horror-story, feeling not like a head at all, any head, let alone the personal private head you’ve known since youth. It’s a lumpy sticky thing, foreign to the touch, as if a mother dinosaur plonked a reject misshapen egg on top of your neck.

You can choose to duck this, but a mad instinct says go the whole hog. Partly, there’s testosterone and rank order....The other part is duty. Companies pay money to the Cancer Association for every bald head. Plus the world record, 55 000 heads in a day, is up for challenge, and it’s held by… Australia.

A ou gets a skrik, but not as much as when the lady says: “there you are then. It nearly always grows back, even at your age. Just scrub the skin or it can grow inward.”

Nearly always? Can grow inward? This night was poor in sleep; strong in images of traumatised dead hair refusing to re-start, of trapped stalactite strands clutching downward and strangling the brain.
Furthermore, resting a newly bald head on a pillow is like rolling a brick on a croquet lawn. Hair is a lubricant; one of its less known virtues. Shining and slithery as the naked noggin appears, it glues to the
pillow. Each toss and each turn is a sticky, jerky, jolt.

But nightmares end. The second day the dogs stopped barking. By the third I could enter my bathroom without startling at the ugly bald stranger. By the fourth I ceased to instinctively reach for the hairbrush after the morning shower. Now my family are saying “quite nice, really”, and I’m relishing seeing the world from a short-hair vantage-point.

Sixty thousand bristly heads are walking around town feeling interconnected and a tiny bit smug. We were arm-twisted into it, yes, but whatever the motives, our haircuts brought packets into cancer support and brought us a flash of solidarity with a deeply real cause.

We give each other friendly recognising nods to say “we shared that scared moment, which we won’t admit to.” And the Aussies have come second at something.


© Denis Beckett, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004. All rights reserved. No reproduction without express consent of the author.

April 26, 2004 at 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, April 24, 2004

424."Letters from the New World" (South Africa)
Denis Beckett
#2: "Walk Tall."

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About Denis Beckett



(Note from the Editor: The following is the second in a series of "Letters from the New World" from Denis Beckett, one of South Africa's best-known journalists, and our newest Contributing Editor. His latest book is the highly-acclaimed Redeeming Features. (London: Penguin Books, 2004.))


In 1973 no-one was as non-apartheid as we all now like to think we were. Hiring the Smuts farm at Irene for a black staff picnic was a mission. Blacks? Little old United Party people in Moth badges wrung hands for weeks. They talked about “the natives”, and “raising expectations”.

But people were moving forward, groping, in that way they do. Permission was finally granted, subject to a stack of promises and guarantees nine yards high.

And everything went fine. Until lunchtime in the meat queue, when Walk Tall got aggrieved. In his view he’d been given an undersize portion, by a little old UP lady.

As the name suggests, Walk Tall was a toughie, a towering strong guy with attitude. He was also afloat in ingested substances. He drew a knife as long as a thigh, and informed the lady that he would cut off her ears to make up his protein.

At this point, you can imagine, picnic day came a little unstuck. Monday morning Walk Tall was contrite as well as hung over. I was sorry to sack him; normally he was a dynamo, and full of personality. But he had to go.

Fast forward 15 years. I’m in Anderson street, back end of town. On foot. It’s winter, it’s dusk, the air is thick with smoke. I’m alone, very alone. I’m vulnerable.

Suddenly there’s a gang around me. Instantly, I know this is farewell to my possessions. Perhaps it’s farewell to blood and breath too. Then I see that one of them is Walk Tall. My heart clangs on the tar. Day of vengeance! I telepath goodbyes to my loved ones.

Walk Tall stares, holding his pals back. Then he roars out my name. To my astonishment he’s not roaring in fury, but in tones you’d use for a long-lost brother. He grabs me – I get a close-up of a wicked blade, sideways on – and smothers me with a huge hug.

I’m introduced to the pals. Knives vanish and all four walk me to the Carlton Hotel. “You can’t walk alone!” says Walk Tall. “There are bad people here!”

On route he says he hasn’t had a job since I fired him. Once in the Carlton’s light I risk the question: doesn’t he perhaps bear ever so slight a bit of, uh, anger?

Walk Tall cracks up like I’ve made a great joke. “What! Angry! At you! No, you had to fire me! And you shook my hand!” The gang returns to the night, waving.

Having latched on to the high ground,Walk Tall has made it his life. You can practically see the halo. But this old world is full of rabbit punches. A year ago he got a job. A month ago he was told to take certain steps in re a collectable debt. In his old incarnation these steps were well in the day’s work. But this is the new moral Walk Tall. He says “I don’t do assault”, and he quits. And who gets the rap? Yeah, right. Me. “You’re the one who told me to stop doing crime, and I listened to you so now I have nothing to eat.”

Fast forward again, 12 years to 2000. Walk Tall re-appears. He has adventure stories that make Sinbad look stay-at-home. He also has a shining moral high point of his career, viz, having not killed me. His reasons have become complex enough to baffle Freud, wild flights into love and hate and black pride and conquering demons. But the outcome is clear. He has come to see Not Killing Beckett as a Nobel-deserving achievement, or at minimum worthy of eternal thanks.

I mention the mundane fact that six billion other people have also, to date, not killed me, but he is unfazed. He says 5 999 999 999 never had to do anything to not kill me; he alone stayed the knife. It is a bit different, I grant, but no way am I in lifelong debt because he aborted a crime he should never have started. He shakes his head, saddened that such callous ingratitude exists.

That subject remains an impasse, though we’ve tried several times to work it out. Once was on radio where he spoke grippingly about crime and white victims, the mugger’s eye view. People couldn’t stop listening. One guy missed a plane.

Having latched on to the high ground, Walk Tall has made it his life. You can practically see the halo. But this old world is full of rabbit punches. A year ago he got a job. A month ago he was told to take certain steps in re a collectable debt. In his old incarnation these steps were well in the day’s work. But this is the new moral Walk Tall. He says “I don’t do assault”, and he quits.

And who gets the rap? Yeah, right. Me. “You’re the one who told me to stop doing crime, and I listened to you so now I have nothing to eat.”

He hopes I’ll cough up in return for my unpunctured ribcage. I’ve told him to forget that, but another factor grows: all those parables about mercy and lost sheep and returned prodigals. Isn’t that how we’re supposed to live, giving a chance to a guy who reforms? Why do all the reformed sheep I see seem to be staring at slammed doors? Somewhere there’s an employer-type person who believes in reformed characters or in happy endings or in both, and who might communicate with (the name on the ID), at (Joburg address.)


© Denis Beckett, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004. All rights reserved. No reproduction without express consent of the author.

April 24, 2004 at 09:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Thursday, April 22, 2004

422."Letters from the New World" (South Africa)
Denis Beckett
#1: "Return."

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About Denis Beckett



(Note from the Editor: The following is the first in a series of "Letters from the New World" from Denis Beckett, one of South Africa's best-known journalists. At a time when a great many countries are struggling just to make ends meet and keep hopes for democratic development alive, South Africa has just held its third democratic election in a row. True, it has more than its share of serious challenges, from crime and corruption to inequality, HIV/AIDs, unemployment, and lingering racism. But as Denis' extraordinary eye for individual stories makes clear, it is also a place where a huge number of people of all races are excited to get up in the morning, meet and greet each other, and pitch in together to build a new and better country. That's a spirit that many of us in the so-called "developed world" may well look to with some degree of jealousy. Denis' latest book is the highly-acclaimed Redeeming Features. (London: Penguin Books, 2004.))


When she left for Australia, Joy cited all the regular reasons, crime and decline and Africa’s uncertainties. She got a nice job in Sydney, and lots of peace and security, and nobody stole the paper from public toilets, never mind the seats.

But Joy’s six siblings in Jo’burg made much reason for many visits. From time to time she’d get a sense that in South Africa she felt the sun on her face in a warmer way.

She kept it quiet, of course. Men in white coats would come. Aus was for The Chosen..

One day Joy and her laaitie, Luke, were at the jungle-gym at the Zoo Lake. This is a very individual jungle gym. It didn’t come out of a box, with plastic fittings. It came out of a forest, big solid logs. It’s the gorilla of jungle gyms, a cousin of the army’s combat training courses, high on opportunity for kids to break arms and bash heads.

Luke was nervous. This was a fearsome thing, after the park at home in Sydney. That park was lawsuit proof, waxed and pasteurised and shrinkwrapped, certified safety precautions at every hinge.
But as he got into it Joy noticed a strange thing: he was having more fun. In fact, she was having more fun too.

She was enjoying this pre-waxed Africa-type park, and enjoying Luke enjoying it. Also, people greeted Luke, and greeted her, and talked to her, sommer, as in “a stranger’s a friend you do not know”. In the waxed world, thought Joy, that was stuff you heard in church. To walk up in a spirit of “hullo, friend I do not know” … you’d get a harassment charge.

On a train in Cape Town an old man befriended Luke, like a grandad, sharing sweets and games, as if Joy wasn’t there. And the conductor ad libbed. Each time he called the route he gave her a wink and a last line like “and enjoy the ride.” It struck Joy that if his Aussie counterpart broke the rules like that, there’d be disciplinary hearings.

A touring black school group and their teacher include Luke as an honorary member. Joy asks the teacher why. She’s implying: “he pays you no fees and no bonus, why should you bother?” She’s also implying, deeper down: “and what is more he’s not even your, um, race”. The teacher replies: “children are our future”. Full stop.

Joy returns to Aus. After a year there, she tallies how many strangers interacted with Luke. Answer = two. In South Africa, she reckons, it’d be hundreds, mainly of course blacks, the pastmasters, but some of the pale lot as well. That was a thing about SA’s new freedoms; the whites were picking up the good habits of Africa, by osmosis.

Joy mumbles about a return to SA. Everybody says What! You crazy? Not only the Aussies say that, so do Seffricans. She feels very alone. Is she crazy? Someone points her to, and she’s astounded. Lots of South Africans are going home. That fortifies her, but people say: “To indulge yourself you’re inflicting crime and decline and dead-end-for-whites on your innocent son.” She says: “No, that’s exactly wrong, it’s for my son, so he can grow up enriched by the human connectivity of Africa.” The chorus: What! You crazy?

Joy knows she’s right, in her bones, but damn, she’s scared. The chorus says: “at least put him in private school”. She can’t afford it. Everyone insists a SA government school will doom Luke to placards on street corners. She nearly chickens out. Then her Jo’burg teacher friend Dale phones to say “you’re hearing junk, you want to be here, block your ears and get here.” She did.

Last week Luke’s government school asked Joy if she could do transport, for an outing. She burst into tears. They were surprised. She explained. She’d love to help with transport. She wasn’t allowed, before. Only designated buses and certified drivers carry Aus school outings. No cowboy stuff like Mom’s Taxi.
“I realised”, says Joy, “that I like the cowboy stuff. I like a world with loose ends. I like a world that isn’t all comfort zone. And I like being required to give. It’s not ideal that so many are in need, but for me it’s better to have to give than to never give. You think bigger.”

You do, hey. You think frinstance that we may never be the world’s richest country or continent, or the calmest, or even the kings of the pitch. But heck, we can be the nicest.


© Denis Beckett, SubmergingMarkets™, 2004. All rights reserved. No reproduction without express consent of the author.

April 22, 2004 at 09:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack