Peter Beinart – “Reclaiming US’s liberal soul”

August 20, 2007

I enjoyed an interview with Peter Beinart, the editor of the New Republic, on Lateline last Friday and read an edited extract from his book The Good Fight: Why Liberals and Only Liberals Can Win the War on Terror in this weekend’s The Australian with interest.

The extract crystallised my concerns with U.S. exceptionalism – I recommend it as a good read for people holding any political viewpoint.

The US trade deficit and currency revaluations

February 20, 2007

From this weeks Economist:

America’s trade deficit in goods reached $836 billion in 2006. Congressional Democrats seized on the figures to lambast the Bush administration and called for “actions to stand up for America” by ending the “unfair trade practices” of the countries and regions that account for most of the deficit: China ($233 billion), the European Union ($117 billion) and Japan ($88 billion).

I wonder if these “unfair trade practices” include more efficiently produced and/or more attractive goods from China, the EU and Japan, as well as the current valuations of the respective currencies (witness the recent pressure from the US for China to revalue its currency, and the repegging of the yuan to appreciate against the US dollar) ?

Now I don’t know if the currencies are “reasonably” valued (however this may be assessed), but it does seem odd (although understandable in terms of US domestic politics) for the US to appear to attempt to protect its industries by increasing the costs of imports through revalued currencies. But maybe there are unfair trade practices. I don’t know.

Maybe any currency revaluations will constitute a form of protectionism. If the US dollar continues its general downwards trend, it may discourage US consumers buying imports and reduce the trade deficit, which seems  a strategy of some US politicians. It’ll be interesting to watch US trade politics given that there is a stronger current of protectionism in Congress and the weakened President’s trade negotiating authority runs out in July this year.

Obama on Howard’s criticism

February 12, 2007

I heard the following story on the ABC radio this morning:

“I think it’s flattering that one of George Bush’s allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced [my candidacy],” Senator Obama said.

“I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400.

“So if he is…to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq, otherwise it’s just a bunch of empty rhetoric.”

Ah yes, we well know that John Howard often offers empty rhetoric. As Kevin Rudd mentioned (referred to in the same story), Howard has potentially undermined the Australian-US alliance (especially if Obama is elected US President). He should distinguish between the underlying Australian-US alliance and the current relationships between the individuals in the US and Australian governments.

Senior politicians who are scientists – evidence driven public policy

February 11, 2007

The current (January) on-stand issue of Seed magazine in Australia features an article on Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany who is also a theoretical chemist.

As a mathematician interested in public policy and politics, I am interested in evidence-based public policy as opposed to ideologically-based or slogan-based public policy.

I am pleased when scientists become involved in politics and public policy, as the scientific approach of considered keen inquiry and analysis based on data is a good way to develop public policy. The outcomes of well-considered policy development are in general better than if policy development is not well-considered.

Of course, the fact that a particular politician is a scientist does not in and of itself mean that they are a better politician than politicians who are non-scientists, but it does mean that they are probably more likely to have a very analytical mindset, which can greatly help.

North Korea’s testing of a nuclear device

October 11, 2006

So North Korea has a nuclear device of some sort (See here for a page on the seismic data.) Apart from the uncertainty in the behaviour of North Korea’s leaders, it’s a problem that any new country may gain nuclear weapons in the near future, especially one that thinks that it may be able to threaten its neighbourhood with either the nuclear weapons themselves, or with the possibility of selling them to other countries/non-government actors/individuals.

A cogent question is what can be done to stop North Korea obtaining a nuclear device…

I was talking with someone last night about this, and they introduced the standard questions (which seems to be more directed against the US than anything) about why North Korea is less able to be trusted with nuclear weapons than other countries. Firstly, the fact that any further countries gain nuclear weaponary is something to try to prevent, but I’d like to see someone properly compare the potential stewardship of nuclear weapons by North Korea with the (what is known of the) stewardship of these weapons by the countries that have them. 

Links to: PolemicaCatallaxy and LP