Saturday, August 31, 2013

Saturday Links -- August 31

The larger danger of the United States being drawn into yet another war in the Middle East is that it consumes any possibility of seriously advancing an affirmative foreign policy agenda for the President’s second term. Right now the basic foreign policy accomplishments of this administration are three: ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; killing Bin Laden; and rebalancing to Asia. The first two are major accomplishments but they essentially involved navigating through inherited challenges. Rebalancing to Asia is really the only affirmative foreign policy accomplishment that is likely to resonate beyond the daily headlines into the history books. 
In the blink of an eye the first year of the second term will be over. Three years is not a lot of time to create new affirmative opportunities in foreign policy, reorient U.S. tools of statecraft in a meaningful way, and lock-in lasting accomplishments. Therefore any decision to use force in the Middle East needs to be considered as possibly obviating any chance to make substantial further forward progress in rebalancing to Asia.

As pressing as the challenge in Syria seems to be, it is not the long game. The story of the first fifty years of the 21st century will be the rise of China and India as major global players—superpowers even—affecting the very fiber of the international system in substantial ways simply by their rates of growth coupled with newly outward-looking foreign policies and national security interests. Closely intertwined with this fifty-year story will be whether or not President Obama and his successors husbanded and nurtured U.S. sources of economic, diplomatic, and military power in ways that helped secure American security and prosperity in a very competitive international environment.  [More at the link.]

C Fred Bergsten at the Peterson Institute is orgasmic about Sweden's deregulation drift.
Sweden’s economic growth has been much higher than that of the rest of Western Europe, or the United States, since 2006. Data from the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show that Sweden has one of the lowest inflation rates in Europe; it runs a budget surplus every year; its corporate tax rates are considerably lower than U.S. rates; and it spends more on research and development, as a share of its economy, than we do. Its firms are highly competitive in the world economy, and it runs sizable current-account surpluses. 
After its crisis, Sweden reduced public expenditures by 20 percent of its gross domestic product, slashing social transfers such as unemployment benefits and sick-leave compensation. It cut its public debt in half (its debt, as a proportion of the economy, is now about half that of the United States). It cut marginal tax rates and simplified its tax code so much that nearly two-thirds of Swedes simply confirm by phone that the declaration automatically prepared for them by the tax authorities is correct. The banking system was thoroughly reformed and emerged unscathed from the global financial crises. 
Structural reforms were also adopted. Successive governments deregulated one market after another and privatized as market conditions permitted. All children receive vouchers so their parents can choose private or public schools at public expense. Swedish social security became a true insurance system, rather than a pay-as-you-go one with huge unfunded liabilities as in the United States.
Sweden remains a social welfare society, and government spending still accounts for half of its economy; it finances all education and health care, as is common throughout Europe. Sweden did not dismantle the social system but, in addition to drastically reducing its costs, adopted macroeconomic and structural reforms to make it sustainable and greatly enhanced its efficiency by privatizing the delivery of many educational and medical services. The country’s guiding principle is that a successful social welfare society must be fiscally conservative and administratively efficient. This is the central Swedish lesson for the crisis countries of the euro zone and elsewhere. 
These policies, based on competition and openness, have been implemented and endorsed by most Swedish political parties. They also enjoy an intellectual consensus. The Social Democrats continued the reforms initiated by the center-right and even added a few. The metalworkers’ union accepted major wage cuts at the height of the global crisis to protect its long-run prosperity, and its leader became chairman of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party. In 2010, the government was handily reelected while most European governments were falling because of the crisis. Sweden’s Anders Borg was named Europe’s top finance minister for 2011 by the Financial Times. 
Sweden now combines a social welfare society with a free-market economy and a high degree of government efficiency. The other Scandinavian countries pursue similar policies and have enjoyed similar success (if not quite as spectacular). This subregion of stability demonstrates that, with the right policies, European countries can prosper inside the euro zone (Finland, de facto Denmark) or outside it (Sweden and Norway). Obama should highlight their progress and convey this message of successful reform to his G-20 counterparts in St. Petersburg.
Amid all the excitement it is easy to overlook that "government spending still accounts for half of its economy" and the Scandinavian countries have been welfare states for several generations. And all that petroleum in the North Sea also doesn't hurt. It's no accident that Norway may be the only country in the world with a budget surplus.

Guerre chimique à Damas by lemondefr

I don't want to hear any excuses. Shit like this makes me sick:
...after 29 years on the bench of the 13th District Court in Montana, Judge G. Todd Baugh has brought the national spotlight to Yellowstone County and is hearing calls from across the country for his ouster after he imposed a 30-day sentence in a rape case, and said the 14-year-old victim was “as much in control of the situation” as the high school teacher who ultimately pleaded guilty. The judge also described the teenager as “being older than her chronological age,” even though the age of consent in Montana is 16. 
Perhaps the judge should have just used the words that too many rape victims have heard: “She was asking for it.” 
In this case, though, the victim could not hear those words. She killed herself in February 2010.
Plenty of others have heard those words. Tens of thousands of people have put their names on online petitions calling for Baugh to step down. Protesters crowded the lawn of the courthouse Thursday, vowing to campaign against him if he seeks reelection in 2014. 
The judge, for his part, has apologized for his comments but not for the sentence he imposed.

(Interesting. See Jenan Moussa's message above. Looks like something important is about to happen.)

Prohibition of alcohol, of course, was tried in the United States
and was a disastrous failure. It didn't stop alcohol use,
but it did empower a whole new criminal class. Protection rackets,
organised crime and gangland murders were more common
during Prohibition than when alcohol could be bought legally.

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