Regime Change

Are economic sanctions counterproductive?

Jacob Weisberg’s analysis of why sanctions don’t work prompted this response from Derek Tonkin, former British ambassador to Thailand (1983-86), essentially affirming Weisberg’s view of the situation in Burma:

Sanctions have only made the situation worse, entrenched the military regime in power, and delayed the deliverance of the Burmese people from their misfortunes. Yet you have Senator Mitch McConnell assuring the Senate on 26 July 2006 when supporting the renewal for another three years of the sanctions contained in the “Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act 2003” that: “The Burmese people want these sanctions because they want democracy, justice and freedom, and we stand with them.” Although it is true that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I met in December 1999, has for her own reasons supported sanctions, I have met no-one during my visits to Burma who thought that sanctions were helping them achieve freedom, and I can only marvel at the Senator’s assertion which is not supported by any empirical or anecdotal evidence, naturally in the absence of any opinion polls.

Artlessdodger assesses the effectiveness of the Cuban model:

The first problem with using Cuba as a model for the failure of sanctions is that for most of the period we’ve had sanctions against Castro’s regime, they’ve had an outside benefactors to take our place, first the Soviet Union for almost 30 years, then Chavez whose support in recent years has allowed Castro to move away from market reforms tentatively put in place in the 90s. North Korea is also dependent on outside help from China. Zimbabwe lacks substantial outside aid, and Mugabe’s regime is clearly the more vulnerable than Cuba, or North Korea. Though aside from his delusions, Mugabe actually doesn’t have foreign enemies deadset on seeing him overthrown either.

I suspect the real reason for Castro’s success, aside from his genuinely impressive healthcare system, is geography, that so many would be dissidents simply leave the island. IT really is difficult to foment a coup when access to the island is so limited. Besides, since the 60s Cuba has been seen as more of an annoyance than a threat, so the goal of overthrowing Cuba hasn’t been a high priority since then. The sanctions have been fairly effective in discouraging the Cuban model. They’ve contributed to the impoverishment of the island. The sanctions show other governments, and other people in Latin America, the heavy cost of choosing an adverserial with the United States. That’s part of why communism never really caught on in the Western hemisphere.

the_slasher14 notes that, in terms of its social makeup, Iran lacks the “racial divide” that made South Africa so internally resistant to reform. Furthermore, “once it becomes obvious that the mullahs are presiding over a system where the standard of living is going to drop sharply as long as they’re around, it is unlikely Iranians will spend a generation dithering over what to do.” legas is more skeptical, given Iran’s possession of “a highly fungable resource” in the midst of a world energy crisis.

For certainly, there is stability in hypocrisy, with ineffective boycotts benefiting both sides politically in favor of the status quo:

The result of our imposition of sanctions is usually a very stable state: our government has pleased the general population by expressing its disapproval of the dictator, and the dictator has earned an external enemy that he can rally his own people against.

The people of both countries respond with nationalistic support of our side in this peaceful conflict, and with no actual military activity, and no economic interaction to destabilize either side, this can go on forever, at least in political terms. Thus we propped up the Ayatollah, andSaddam and Castro, and now we can add Chavez to the list.

Of course, all of this posturing is very hypocritical. Our multinationals create foreign subsidiaries that do business with those disfavored regimes (Halliburton, while Cheney was CEO, had a subsidiary that did oilfield development work in Iran). And smart people in our government are well aware that our imposition of sanctions strengthens the internal political position of the dictator. But it does tend to freeze any expansion and limit any major offenses by the dictators (notable exceptions: Cubans in Angola and Saddam in Kuwait). And the US politicians look like they are doing “something”, and that something is very low risk.

So we have supported Castro in Cuba for 45-odd years, and we so overplayed our hand in Iraq that Saddam actually thought we’d let him take Kuwait. And North Korea, and Iran seem like they will go on forever.

But the Cubans in Miami are happy. That’s what really matters.

Contribute your insights in The Big Idea. Don’t forget to check out the latest posts on Gibsongate in Fighting Words and Hollywood. AC 8:06pm PDT

Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

In her latest column, Dahlia Lithwick evaluates the validity of privacy claims made by Robert Steinbuch, counsel to Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, after Steinbuch’s affair with a D.C. office intern was widely publicized on the Internet, causing him “humiliation and anguish.” 

The piece was inflammatory enough to prompt Steinbuch’s lawyer Jonathan Rosen, writing under JSRosen, to contest alleged inaccuracies in Slate’s reporting.

yggy systematically tears down the plaintiff’s case on the following grounds:

First, what Cutler wrote and said is substantively true. Second, Steinbuch is himself a borderline public figure. His actions do reflect on Sen. Mike DeWine and are therefore privy to the public. Third, Cutler did not identify Steinbuch by name. She could have perhaps been slyer than “RS,” and if she had been there would be no case today, but any number of people inside the Beltway could share those initials.

Rejecting “Lithwick’s half-hearted effort to prop up a straw woman of ‘political interest,’ ” rundeep disagrees with yggy’s viewpoint: “the fact that salacious information has a high readership is hardly indicative of its value to political or public discourse.”

While showing little sympathy for Steinbuch, MomboMan-3 outlines a possible recourse for the plaintiff: “go after the money she is making from books, HBO and Playboy. After all, her story is a story because she had a relationship with him, therefore his is entitled to a portion of the gains from that relationship. Without her sex partners, she has no story, and no monetary value.”

On the question of privacy and personal experience, Merritt30 makes a liberal free speech argument:

To my non-legal mind, at least, it seems like there is a crucial difference between Cutler describing something she may have heard about Steinbuch and something that she personally experienced with Steinbuch. She was not merely repeating gossip that she heard from a third party or describing something she had seen through a hidden camera; she was talking about her own experience.

It seems to me that one should be free to talk about one’s own personal experiences pretty much without legal restriction (except perhaps if the event were specifically intended as a set-up to embarrass someone, e.g. a candid-camera type situation). Otherwise, say, it would be possible for an abuser to sue his victim if she were to publish an account of his “private” behavior. One’s right to publish a memoir or autobiography of any sort would be in question.

HLS2003, in a free-wheeling reflection on sex, blogs, and self-control, invokes the Fourth Amendment to reason that “if a person can have his deepest secrets recorded, turned over to the government, and used to convict him of a crime because he chose his confidants unwisely, then it only seems reasonable that some dumbass who decided to arrange booty calls with a girl he barely knew should have to take the risk that she’s the type to screw-and-tell.”

CaLawyer worries more broadly about creating a tort of gossip:

Everyone believes in ‘the right of privacy’, but everyone has a different concept of it. Everyone has secrets, and we view it as a violation of our own personal autonomy when these secrets are revealed to people we’d rather not have know about them, or revealed indiscriminately…Yes, there is such thing as a tort of “Public Disclosure of Private Facts”. It is ill-defined, largely because we’re not sure what constitutes “Private facts”, and we’re not sure at what point a prohibition against the disclosure of private facts intrudes on my right to speak…if you read Supreme Court cases, they talk about political speech receiving the highest level of protection, but I think that idea has not been thought through fully. Most people’s lives are not consumed with talk of politics. Most people’s everyday conversations revolve around themselves, their friends, their family, and what’s going on in their lives. In other words, gossip. If I had to worry about being sued every time I let something slip that a friend of mine told me but which they considered “private”, I would be reluctant to talk at all, except about politics. And I don’t want to live in a country where the only way I can avoid being sued is to sound like a C-SPAN groupie.

Contribute your thoughts in Jurisprudence. AC6:30pm PDT

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Using one school’s attempt to ban chocolate as a case study in the futility of “market suppression,” Tim Harford’s article opened up a classic conservative/liberal divide, with questions of personal choice vs. government intervention dominating The Undercover Economist Fray.

FBH echoes many readers in calling for more parental involvement. Father of two daughters, Ripley bemoans the bad nutritional choices induced by government-subsized lunch programs. Also a frustrated parent, Dayenu laments how “schools peddle this junk and then demand that we control our children if we don’t want them to eat it… Meanwhile, they’re suggesting that young kids, whose impulse-control skills when it comes to eating should hardly be expected to rival those of adults, should walk past junk food… How about paying a bit more, charging a bit more, and serving good, healthful hot lunches?”

Wary of yet more regulation headed her way, katbsd promises “during the next school year to take even more time away from teaching math to check lunches, snacks, and lockers for contraband candy!”

Of banning chocolate, AshleyMiller says “if the school systems are smart, they will focus more on nutritional education rather than ban sweets…just because candy is available does not mean that a person has to eat it.”

As a matter of precision, RPC points out that there is a difference “between ‘banning’ something and not selling something. Should schools ban chocolate? I don’t think so. If parents choose to send their kids in with chocolate, so be it. Should schools sell chocolate? No. But that is not a ‘ban.’ “

For his part, run75441 questions the implicit equivalence between the commodities Snickers = Chuckles = Heroin??? discussed in Harford’s article.

texasman1 takes a more libertarian approach and moreover admires the entrepreneurial spirit of the young boy selling banned candies to his classmates. What could be more American than that? AC5:38pm PDT

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ross Douthat’s appraisal of M. Night Shyamalan’s directing career to date stirred up passions both for and against in Culturebox.

Sledgeh101 thinks Douthat, “in trying to defend M. Night’s post-6th Sense movies, is trying a little too hard to see the silver lining in the blackening clouds.” Read additional commentary here.

For amble, Shymalan’s self-directed American Express commercial is demonstrative enough of his overly inflated ego:

Shymalan’s self-mythologizing, and achingly pretentious American Express commercial was, quite literally, queeze-inducing, and is reason alone to dislike him.
As a counterpoint, it was such a relief–and a hilarious one–to see that Wes Anderson chose the exact opposite route and made a commercial making fun of pretentious directors. Just to re-iterate for those who didn’t see it: in Shymalan’s commercial he can’t even eat at a super-fancy restaurant without being recognized and bothered–ha ha ha–by the staff, who all looooove his movies. And meanwhile, he is fanatasing about ideas essentailly ripped off from Rod Sterling because, as we mortals should know, his mind works differently than ours does.

Whatever we might think of his movies, Jaque notes how successfully the director has cultivated his own name as a brand:

Whether we like M. Night Shyamalan or not, he his already a phenom. Just look at all the posts on Slate. Just about everyone is able to not only recall all the movies made my him, but is also able to critique them in great depth! How many modern Directors have this effect?

Look at the this Summer’s biggest block buster - Pirates. How do most people indentify this movie? Johny Depp. Or may be Disney.

Now contrast this with North By North West. Most people will identify this as a Hitcock movie inspite of the big name presence of Cary Grant!

The same is true for Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Both with big name presence of Bruce Willis. But by and large we don’t lable it as “Bruce Willis movie.” That is what M. Night has achieved. A mark on the movie industry.

Cinematic history will be kind to Shyamalan, predictsS_MargaretPrima:

I believe that as much as Shyamalan is getting a critical flogging now, he’s due to be re-evaluated in a decade or two. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t uniformly admire all of his movies and I can see why critical opinion has turned on him. He may have stretched the collective credulity by flogging the ‘twist ending’ too much, all the while allowing the marketing of his movies to turn him into a one-gimmick director. But at least for Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and yes, even Signs (I have not seen the Village nor Lady in the Water) I have never seen better character development or a more masterful setting of tone. His films are somber, suspenseful and yet profoundly sad, eliciting performances from his actors that you wouldn’t expect.

Memo from hcd to Shyamalan, cc: studio executives:

The criticism M. Night is garnering is because he wants to be feted as a real live Homer, but there obviously isn’t a conspiracy to deprive him of the money necessary to make his mostly enjoyable, always overreaching, possibly overly well regarded films. He’s gotten a phenomenal amount of support already. If anything, his apparent inability to take the gentlest of hints is what will prevent him from closing that gap between his ambition and execution. But it seems foolish to fault the film industry in all this, as though they’re preventing his dream movie that can only be done with just a little more fawning and a few more millions.

Off to see Lady in the Water myself. AC 7:40pm PDT

Monday, July 17, 2006

Richard Ford’s piece on gay marriage got an intense drubbing in the Jurisprudence Fray, with much scrutiny directed at his central claim that “a hunger for distinctive sex roles is just not the same thing as anti-gay bigotry.”

In a lengthy diatribe, Rrhain explains how anxiety over gender roles is at the root—or at the very least, a displaced symptom—of homophobia:

Despite protestations to the contrary, “a hunger for distinctive sex roles” is precisely anti-gay bigotry and the reason why is that gays inherently cross those roles …And this connects directly to marriage due to the fundamental purpose of marriage: Legitimization of a sexual relationship. Marriage has changed quite a bit over the years, but the one thing that remains constant throughout its history is the sexual relationship that is created between the participants. To this day, one of the reasons you can get a marriage annuled is that the two have never had sex…And this is why we see the homophobes drawing the line at marriage even though they don’t have nearly as much of a problem with employment, housing, education, military service, etc.: Marriage forces them to consider sexual activity between people of the same sex. Working at a job, paying the rent, going to school, serving in the military, none of those things are sexual in nature. But marriage? That’s got sex written all over it. What is the symbol by which we show the world that the marriage has been solemnized and made legitimate? That’s right, by an act of physical intimacy: The couple kisses. And then we send the couple off on a honeymoon so that they can have lots and lots of sex.

A self-identified straight woman who eschews conventional gender roles in her own marriage, Janessa lectures Ford on “Womens Studies 101“:

Underlying homophobic attitudes is fear of divergent gender identities. It is impossible to consider sexual orientation without considering gender presentation and identity. This is like, Womens Studies 101 (but maybe Ford skipped that class in college since it was only for ladies).

Gay men and women have been discriminated against and subject to medical, behavior, and disciplinary intervention so that their gender presentation more explicitly matched their biological gender…Compulsory heterosexuality, exemplified by “one man one woman” marriage, is one of the stalwart elements of gender discipline…

It is completely befuddling why Ford thinks that some straight people’s clinging to violently, legally policed gender roles is somehow more okay than hating gay people for some mysterious “other” way of hating gays. In fact, his description of straight anti-gay marriage activists’ attitudes sounds like my definition of homophobia straight up – the belief that women should get f—– by men, and men should f— women, and anything else is icky and scary.

More to the point, badtequila asks why sexism is somehow more palatable or excusable than homophobia tout court.

For Catorce, Ford fails to appreciate the difference between government marriage and religious marriage:

Religious marriage is caught up in all manner of dogma and tradition detailing very specific gender roles for a husband and wife. When you accept religious marriage, you are supposedly also accepting the religion’s version of the roles that come along with it. But Government marriage is only a distribution of the same exact benefits to two people. Your own sex is irrelevant. Your partner’s sex is irrelevant. No government benefit of marriage is gender related. And you accept no gender “role” when you have the government sanction your marriage.”

In a sentiment perhaps typical of fair-minded social moderates, OldGrouch expresses his slight revulsion at the idea of gay marriage but in practice argues for social tolerance.

kd1084 points to marriage as a historically malleable concept and institution. mallardsballard carefully outlines the historical origins of marriage and concludes that “if one rests purely on conservative tradition, the answer [for opposing gay marriage] is, because it has never been done that way before.”

For those despondent over recent developments on the gay-marriage front, Peter Beinart of The New Republic offers a more uplifting take here. AC… 6:59pm PDT

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ezra Klein’s diagnosis on “the medical malpractice myth” and positive evaluation of a reform proposal by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama brought medical professionals, public policy analysts, and consumer advocates all out of the woodwork. 

courtgrunt, a civil-court clerk, scrolls through his county’s database of pending cases and finds four medical malpractice suits (out of a random sample of 500), leading him to conclude “there aren’t even close to as many medical malpractice lawsuits filed as the media (or extreme right wingers) would like us to believe.”

By contrast, claiming that Slate “slants the whole issue as if malpractice were as mythological as unicorns,” MomboMan-3 lists a series of points underscoring the very real problem facing doctors today.

Luchese laments that patients are now numbers:

In over two decades of Obstetrics I found that communication with the patient not only humane and professional but allayed questions and concerns about treatment and outcome. Most physicians do not communicate with their patients and hence suffer lawsuits because of feelings of abandonment or subterfuge on the part of the patient. The profession is now driven by technology, money and productivity. Patients are no longer people but numbers. Furthermore the burden to healthcare now and will be those illnesses and diseases caused by lifestyle; obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and those resulting from society; stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia. All the technology, training and malpractice insurance cannot change this.

But antsi, an obstetrician “for almost ten years,” attests to having “seen the pernicious effects of malpractice litigation first hand. Reading this article, I feel like a swimmer being told by someone standing on dry land that the water isn’t wet.” Read his objections here.

An indignant ShanCan blasts the lack of transparency in the medical profession:

Why is it that any Taco Bell has to be regularly inspected, get a letter grade, and have it posted for all the world to see but it is virtually impossible for me to find out the safety record of the cardiac surgeon who is going to slice me open and literally hold my heart in his hands? Why is it that I can lose my driver’s license after a series of violations in which no one is harmed, but a physician can keep his medical license regardless of how many deaths s/he contributes to simply by paying a higher insurance premium, so long as the errors are deemed to be accidental and not negligent? Why is it legal for a doctor or hospital to cover up their lethal mistakes with a pile of money and a confidentiality clause? It is not a secret to anyone who actually reads the literature that the problem is not a rash of frivolous lawsuits but a rash of dangerous doctors and hospitals with no real accountability beyond their own consciences. Kudos to Clinton and anyone else who proposes an idea that may solve a legitimate problem in a way that benefits the public rather than a small interest group like - but good luck getting something so practical and potentially effective through the legislative process.

rcf broadens the debate on medical malpractice costs to include all the players: “Realize doctors are not the only medical providers who make errors. Nurses do, clerks do, aides do, lab techs do, PA’s do. Such an error no matter who makes it can lead to a cascade of subsequent errors.” Read his reform proposal here.

For Dayenu, the point of medical malpractice cases is “to make patients (or their survivors) whole again. They are not designed to improve health care. In fact, in some ways they fail to do just that, by convincing policymakers that a lawsuit solves the problem for the next patient, when it doesn’t. In the first place, the problem isn’t just paying claims, it’s the cost of medical malpractice insurance. In the second place, is there any proof that malpractice cases do anything to improve health care to individual patients or even stop individual bad doctors from practicing medicine?”

michaeltwatson, author of America’s Tunnel Vision—How Insurance Companies’ Propaganda Is Corrupting Medicine and Law, writes in to make a plug for his book and deplore the prevalence of medical error.

You can add your two cents in Medical Examiner. AC7:30pm PDT