Redrawing the map

I caught up on a lot of podcasts today, notable ones include Planet Money’s final Iceland report and the intriguing birther/Trump vs Obama political wrangling on both KCRW’s Left, Right and Center as well as the New Yorker’s Political Scene. Of course I was consumed, as much of the world was, by the news that Osama bin Laden was killed outside Islamabad early this morning.

What I find most interesting though is the stalemate that has developed in Libya. Last week’s Economist had an article about the siege of Misrata and the necessity for US drone and A-10 support for any real success to emerge for the rebels. It’s become clear though that Qaddafi is not likely to simply be overthrown by emboldened supporters turned against him (either the unwashed masses or those closest to him) nor by that rag-tag coalition loosely headquartered around Benghazi. As such, NATO stepped up its selected “strategic targeting” of military compounds that all just happen to be places where the Qaddafi family hangs out (but this is definitely not an assassination attempt). It seems we’re hoping that cutting off the head of the snake will dissolve the defenders of the status quo. This move succeeded in Iraq – after Saddam’s death no one remained to defend his government really – but it was a frying pan/fire situation at best.

Which is why I found an Economist online poll (http://www.economist.com/node/21256109) interesting. Is simply partitioning the country appropriate?

A simple look at the map of Africa reveals far too many straight lines, a sign of arbitrary colonial cartographers rather than national and ethnic association. Many of the current problems come from this awkward hodge-podge of countries, with Muslim sections fighting Christian regions (Sudan, Ivory Coast, Nigeria) or historical autonomous regions smarting from distant rule (Morocco). Letting these countries redraw the map wouldn’t promote the western liberal multicultural ideal (that few western countries practice despite their preaching, France being only the most recent example). But with each nationality firmly in control of their state, disagreements could be compromised in a meeting of equal heads of state, rather than in contentious, rigged elections for winner-take-all. As the AU gains power, a loose set of guidelines could become prevalent, deferring to an authority that normally would be rejected for internal matters.

Of course, nations wage devastating war and in this instance such a partition would only change the name of Libya’s war, and the end game would still be a unified Libya sans Qaddafi. But such a change might gain some breathing room for the rebels to learn how to govern and save some face for Qaddafi to promote a bloodless (relatively) transition from power.

Media type: Online poll
From: The Economist
Title: Would the partition of Libya be a bad thing?
Ponder at: http://www.economist.com/node/21256109

Back in my day, we knew how to party

With Washington’s Warnings wandering within my wits whilst working (so close!), I stumbled upon the latest Intelligence Squared podcast: “Is the Two-Party System Making U.S. Ungovernable?”  The Oxford-style debate featured the media-darling Arianna Huffington and NY Times columnist David Brooks arguing the motion against the charming PJ O’Rourke and the Zev Chafets who by far had the more quotable lines.

Having grown up in America the words “Oxford” and “debate” immediately give my mind free-license to roam; but these podcasts are almost always entertaining if not informative and this one in particular delivered the goods on both accounts.

Over the past four or so years, my opinions on US politics have matured and developed but my interest in longer-term trends have come to the forefront.  I’ve noticed that there is never a shortage of people claiming we live in an extraordinary time, or that in this age things are really different.  Yet no matter what revolutionary new tool or system is set up there is invariably something in our past to compare it to.  For instance, the tech and finance bubbles are hardly new as railroad speculation and savings & loans brought about similar market enthusiasm in “new business models” that saw a subsequent crash.  And for anyone who really thinks Obama’s victory was groundbreaking and unique I beg you to read Ted White’s The Making of the President 1960, which is built off his notes following around the candidates of that election.  The young, minority senator struggled to make connections to the middle class and blue-collar workers, while his more experienced opponent abandoned the center to appeal to his ‘core supporters.’

In my opinion, and well articulated by the ‘nays’, it is a similar story with our current “deadlock.”  We seem to forget that barely ten years ago, government effectively stopped to delve into the insignificance of marital fidelity in the White House.  A few years prior government literally shut down over partisan politics.  For those who think though, that our current situation is far worse we have only to look back to that inconvenient period of history called the Civil War, when political battles traded rhetoric for bullets.

This debate initially seemed in the hands of Huffington and Woods, who effectively argue that America has lost some of its luster: social mobility has diminished, real wages have dropped, and the wealth gap has continued to expand.  But somewhere around the midpoint of the debate O’Rourke manages to make the fatal point that it is asinine to blame these things solely on a two-party system and that the ‘yeas’ have no alternative to offer.  A brief mention of one-party rule by Arianna sent a noticeable chill on the forum.  And while Huffington argues that government only finds “sub-optimal solutions,” all pundits find any compromise “sub-optimal,” a compromise by definition is not getting all that you wanted!

The idea of instantaneous runoff was floated by the audience (whereby if your first choice candidate is not in the top two, your vote goes to your second preference), which in general I think is a good idea.  The city of Oakland recently elected its mayor in this fashion, and interestingly the winner was a good 10+% behind based off just first-choice ballots.

But really, do we need more parties?  As I reflected yesterday, Washington had a clairvoyant’s gift on predicting the discord sewn with parties.  By fracturing the vote into ever more tribes who hold the primacy of different ideas, we risk becoming a populous disconnected from other’s ideas.  As a fiscal conservative, I am forced to confront my political allies’ views on social and global governing.  Were we in a system where I could vote only on the issues I cared most about, I would wash my hands of all others. I may vote for my candidate on my issue and let him decide how all other issues should play out.  Instead in the two party system I’m forced to weigh all the issues.  Of course, in Washington’s utopia I would still have this luxury/responsibility, but the mashup of political agendas would change every election and be more varied.

Media type: Podcast
From: Intelligence Squared
Title: “The two-party system is making America ungovernable”
Hear it at: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/america-divided-us-politics/