Monday, April 20, 2009

Northern Cyprus elections favor hardliners

Elections in Northern Cyprus have given the "hardline" National Unity Party (UBP) of former prime minister Derviş Eroğlu 44 percent of the vote, making it appear that Eroğlu will form the next government (see BBC for a summary). The Republican Turkish Party (CTP) of president Mehmet Ali Talat took only 29 percent; this figures to make peace talks somewhat more difficult as the UBP favors a loose confederation-type system of two essentially independent states, while the CTP was supportive of the Annan Plan which was more federal in nature.

In comparing Cyprus to another nearby conflict in Israel/Palestine it might seem incongruous that Cyprus' "hardliners" are in favor of a two-state solution while in I/P it's the other way around, but when you view it as a continuum from "one state for two peoples" to "two states for two peoples" to "one state for one people, who cares about the rest" what becomes clear is that the Cypriot situation simply hasn't become as hardline as that in I/P. This makes sense when you consider that the situation on the ground is much more balanced (in part since neither side gets billions of dollars from the US, and in part due to geopolitical factors) and there are some refugees but no occupation. Nobody can realistically hope of expelling the other or somehow denying them political rights, nobody will be able to impose their perfect solution, and the separation means there aren't the everyday frictions that are the cause of so much of the frustration in the Palestinian territories.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Afghanistan: Domestic call to ban human rights violators from presidential candidacy

Reuters reports that Afghanistan's state human rights body has said that warlord candidates (those with past human rights records) should be barred from the presidential election, as provided by the Afghan constitution. Massouda Jalal, the only female Afghan presidential candidate in 2004, said much the same when she was in Washington, so I infer that there's at least some support in Afghanistan for the idea (she'd say there's a lot).

Of course, there's the question of who, exactly, falls under this category--apparently, nobody's ever drawn up rules to implement the law. Even if this is worked out somehow, the parliament is still full of warlords, and the SNTV electoral system doesn't help matters by allowing anyone with a decent number of localized followers to get into parliament and discouraging strong political parties.

In a more general sense, this is just another example of Afghanistan's weak state and lack of capacity to enforce its own laws, but the question is whether or not the state is better strengthened by ignoring the issue and trying to achieve warlord buy-in (as has been done) or by actually taking the warlords out of the equation. Note that the Taliban was popular, for a while, because it actually accomplished the latter, and it does seem that no government including the warlords will be a well-functioning democracy. The dilemma for ISAF is, of course, that everyone going after warlords isn't going after Taliban. Two questions, then: (1) Is it worth taking the risk of going after these figures, if it means a better final chance of defeating the Taliban, but also, perhaps, a greater risk of losing? (2) Is it worth defeating the Taliban--and how much is it worth--if it upholds a corrupt Afghan pseudo-democratic government?

Honduras: All aboard with party unity (*except Mel)

Honduras's ruling Liberals (Partido Liberal) held their convention this weekend, sans President Mel Zelaya, who was at the ALBA summit and the Summit of the Americas. Zelaya accused Liberal presidential candidate Elvin Santos of planning the convention so he wouldn't be there, to which Santos, according to La Prensa, "lamented that the president could not be present, but noted that it had not crossed anyone's mind but his own that the convention was planned for those dates for that purpose of avoiding his presence." Santos proposed that the president record his message on DVD instead. Meanwhile it was also reported that one of the reasons the convention was shortened--other than the impact on Elvin's pocketbook--was to avoid the president's appearance to discuss his unpopular proposal for a constituent assembly.

However, the rest of the Liberals seem to have united successfully, at least according to El Heraldo. Despite some boos, Santos saw to it that Roberto Micheletti, the speaker of the legislature and his opponent in the Liberal primaries, was elected head of the party's Central Executive Committee; Elvin knows that he'll need everyone on board in order to defeat National Party candidate Pepe Lobo in November.

Argentina: Menem is back in the game

Clarín reports that Argentine ex-president Carlos Menem will again run for the presidency in 2011. Menem, who served in office from 1989 to 1999 and finished first in the first round in 2003, is also known for his involvement in scandals involving the sale of arms to foreign countries and possibly questionable privatization deals during his time in office.

However, in that 2003 election, Menem took 24.5% in the first round, and withdrew from the second round against Néstor Kirchner, realizing that victory was unlikely. There's really no reason to think that he'll be any more attractive an option for anyone this time around, but if he's able to reach a second round against a Kirchnerista candidate, given the unpopularity of the current administration, that could present an interesting situation.

Summit of the Americas: One big happy family

This weekend's Summit of the Americas, on the theme of "Securing Our Citizens' Future by Promoting Human Prosperity, Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability," was (unsurprisingly) unable to agree on a declaration. As Moisés Naím notes in El País, the Summit is like organizing "a convention of dogs and cats," given the disagreements between hemispheric leaders--so much so that Trinidad and Tobago had to be talked into hosting the event.

That said, President Obama was able to come across as reasonable and conciliatory toward the "left bloc" of Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia (plus the wannabe Honduras), with Hugo Chávez even saying he's ready to send an ambassador back to the U.S. The New York Times says that Bolivian president Evo Morales accused Obama of being behind a reported assassination attempt last week--three men were killed in Santa Cruz in a confrontation with police, and the entire escapade remains rather murky--though the Bolivian press (see La Prensa and La Razón) are reporting that what Morales actually said was that if Obama didn't condemn the attempt, he'd construe it as meaning that Obama might have been behind it. At any rate, Obama chose the correct path on this one, saying that "I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments," without addressing the specific situation in Bolivia.

The Summit also marked another step out for Salvadoran president-elect Mauricio Funes, who attended along with current president Tony Saca (La Prensa Gráfica has the obligatory picture) and was part of a group of Central American leaders (those from SICA) that discussed the all-important Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for immigrants. Meanwhile, Costa Rica and Colombia apparently want to host the next Summit--maybe things are looking up...

Back to blogging...

All right... I'm back after a long absence and heading back to blogging. I'm expecting to deal with subject matter that might be a bit different than before--especially a bit more of an emphasis on current events in Latin America--but will still be commenting on elections around the world, domestic policy, and (occasionally) baseball, particularly on the business end of it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NCLB - It ain't over 'til it's over

NYT reports on Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's quest to have NCLB enshrined as Bush's education legacy.

At a school she visited, "Doug Alpiger, the Fourth Street principal, said tests beget more tests, because school districts want proof their students are on track."

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sound Transit's new future plan is up

Proposition 1, rejected last fall by Puget Sound voters, would have approved a large package of mass-transit improvements as well as highway improvements. Interestingly, after its failure at the polls, surveys indicated that a large bloc of voters (environmentalists who did not vote for passage) would have been swayed towards the proposal had it had less highways, not more.

A survey conducted by Sound Transit (PDF) seems to bear that out. According to Sound Transit's telephone survey, there is good news--voters think that expanding mass transit is very important. ST didn't explicitly ask voters to prioritize funding for mass transit over other areas, but since mass transit will have its own referendum, that's not as much of an issues. Furthermore, 52 percent of respondents to an open question identified "transportation" or "congestion" as the most important problem facing the PS region. Voters had very favorable opinions of Sound Transit and King County Metro. In general, voters approved of almost every option put on the table, and seemed to give greater favor to options which were completed more quickly and were more extensive in scope.

Out of the individual projects, those that found the most favor were increasing Tacoma-Seattle commuter rail, using the Eastside freight rail tracks for commuter rail, and extending the light rail across I-90 to Bellevue.

My principal concern about the survey is that it seems to have grossly underweighted younger voters. Only 20 percent of survey respondents were 39 or younger. I am curious if this was deliberate, to represent the distribution of voters, or whether it was a result of polling methods (younger people being more mobile, younger people not having land phones, etc.) I have no idea if it would make a difference in the results.

So, then, what is the proposal? ST comes out with two--the "0.4" and the "0.5" proposals--based on the sales tax hike that each one would require. Essentially, 0.5 is 0.4, plus more stuff. Key points:
  • Expansion of light rail to Northgate, to Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, and to south 200th in Burien. The 0.5 plan extends it further, to Overlake TC in Redmond, and to Highline CC in Des Moines. Additionally, there would be studies done (and in some cases ROW purchased) for the eventual extension of the light rail to Everett, Tacoma and Redmond Town Center.
  • BRT on the new 520 bridge (not sure what, exactly, this BRT will look like, or how it would be different from current ST regional service. Guess it depends on the bridge outcome).
  • Improved Sounder on the southern end (through Kent and Auburn to Tacoma)--more service, station improvements, etc.
  • Construction of the First Hill connector that will link that area with light rail (how much gets done depends on which plan).
  • Study of transit possibilities on the freight line from Woodinville to Renton.
  • Of course, there are lots of little improvements all around.
The options cost $6.8bn or $7.8bn, in 2007 dollars. Overall, they're necessary just to deal with the growth the Seattle region will undoubtedly continue to see. Luckily, the survey suggests most people are eager to vote on the issue again this fall, and hopefully approve a package that will get started soon.

Charter schools

Matthew Yglesias has a post up about Excel Academy in Boston, a charter school which--like KIPP--takes the brightest students from inner-city schools and requires family commitment contracts. Not surprisingly, it gets good results. Yglesias concludes that poor kids need more and better instruction without confronting the fact that the schools "cherry-pick" students.

He's right--more and better instruction is important. Yglesias's commenters point out that the problem isn't as much with academically capable kids from the inner city, but with those with families that don't know or don't care about a good education. Also true. (Note Finland's secrets to success).

Where I taught elementary, one of my colleagues who taught Vanguard (the gifted-talented kids) was perpetually frustrated by KIPP, which tried to recruit her brightest kids. Her feeling was that she'd rather have the kids in public magnet schools than KIPP, which she thought was needed for the kids who might not have been as naturally bright, but were still academically oriented. I tend to agree. Meanwhile, there's still the issue of behavior problems disrupting everyone left behind.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Griffey hits 600

Ken Griffey Jr. has made it to 600. At ESPN, Tim Kurkjian reflects on Griffey in his prime--a prime that we in Seattle had the privilege of watching. Seeing an ESPN clip of Griffey ("the Kid") homering in the Kingdome brought me back to my baseball childhood. I thought I was 13 again! (If you don't feel it, you need to look at this).

It's sad to reflect that Griffey, out of the Mariners' great three (he along with Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez), was the only one to really be honest about his intentions--he signed with the Reds, his hometown team, for below market value--and he's been the one to be the most screwed by the situation. While A-Rod got $250m and eventually made his way to New York, and Randy got his rings too (and some Cy Youngs), Griffey just ran into injury and disappointment. He was 30 his first season in Cincinnati (2000) and the best part of his career was over.

The Reds have just one winning season during his time--that first season, 2000--and no playoff appearances. That's certainly partially due to Griffey's injuries. He's reached 500 at-bats only twice in eight full seasons so far. Strangely, he was never seriously injured in Seattle, bar his freak wrist injury on his center-field catch in 1995. Meanwhile, Griffey's seven best seasons in park-adjusted OPS all occurred in Seattle. His best season in Cincinnati (by OPS+ standards), and the eighth-best in his career, was 2003, when he had only 166 at-bats; his best "full" season was 2005, as he managed 491 at-bats, hitting .301/.369/.576 for a 144 OPS+.

That's all there is to this reflection... congratulations to Junior, and may there be many more left.