Tuesday, November 29, 2011

how to understand Pakistan

What a mess! Our putative ally, recipient in billions of dollars in aid in recent years, lies to us, gives aid and comfort to groups attacking us and our other allies, has nuclear weapons, and lacks an effective civilian government. The Pakistani people hate the United States and believe incredible and untrue things about us. We are classic co-dependents who can't stand each other but desperately need each other for certain things. The best analysis I've seen recently is this piece in the Atlantic by Jeffery Goldberg and Marc Ambinder. It's more sobering than reassuring.

politics with a historical dimension

I usually like books with a point of view. They are much more interesting to read than "one hand/other hand" works, or ones where the reader is never really sure what the author is trying to say. Here's a fascinating book that traces U.S. political segmentation back to early colonial settlements and later migration patterns -- Colin Woodard's "American Nations."

Woodard describes eleven regional "nations" of North America and argues that they each have strong unifying cultures that keep them separate even today, despite some recurring broad regional alliances.His case is probably overstated -- so I'd like to see a rebuttal by another historian -- but he argues it persuasively and with ample documentation to quite respected historical studies. His work also falls short in predictive value, but it does explain in more nuanced detail than I've seen before the differences, for example, between the "Deep South" and "Greater Appalachia," and between "Yankeedom" and the "Midlands." As a Colorado native, I've always felt that politics in my state were quite different from either New England liberalism or southern or midwestern conservative. Woodard gives a plausible explanation based on their motives for migration and their discomfort at being dependent on eastern bankers and railroad owners as well as on the Federal Government.

congressional dysfunction

I've been otherwise engaged lately, confining my comments to my class.  One recent discovery deserves broader attention -- the article by propublica exploring the reasons for congressional dysfunction and including many links to excellent articles by Norm Ornstein and others. The explanations are not surprising  -- party polarization, preoccupation with the money chase, hyper-vigilant and hyper-active media, and a belief that minor disputes merit battles to the death -- but they are well argued and well documented. Regrettably, nobody has a silver bullet answer. I have long shared Norm Ornstein's view that greater socialization would help, and that that could be promoted by forcing members to spend more time in Washington, ideally with their families in town. I also wish that something could be adopted to limit the money chase. But both of those changes seem unlikely in the short run. A key point in this article that usually doesn't get mentioned enough is that most of the changes date from the mid-1990s and especially the Gingrich revolution that drastically changed politics in the House of Representatives. The years before were different, and better. I wish they could be recaptured.