Palestine should declare independence.

Palestine There are rumors that Mahmoud Abbas will resign from his post as president of the Palestinian Territories. Ostensibly, this is to protest the pace of negotiations and the back-tracking on the part of the Obama administration. For the Obama administration, and much of the world, the Palestinian cause has a lower priority than combating a deep recession. The PLO needs to recognize this, and take control of their own destiny. It seems to me that the only morally just position is for the Palestinian leadership to declare an independent state in the West Bank & Gaza. The Palestinians have to take their fate into their own hands, looking for help and assistance from the outside is largely futile. Once the Palestinian state has some measure of sovereignty, its representatives can begin to negotiate with the Israelis.

The PLO will likely lose US aid for some time, and no doubt many Palestinians working in Israel will be deeply inconvenienced. In time, this pain will prove to be short-lived, the Palestinians really need to focus on developing a legitimate economy of their own, rather than one aid-based. Israeli action against elected Palestinian officials or police will be hard for any government to support if the declaration is peaceful. Once a Palestinian state has been created, representatives of Israel and Palestine can negotiate as equals, till that happens no one is going to take their representatives seriously. Of course, the maximum political impact will occur if the entire process is peaceful and Palestinians peacefully demand that Israeli forces “Quit Palestine”.  Negotiating about settlements and Jerusalem can occur once the Palestinians have control over their own destiny.

Academia responds to this year’s “econ nobel”

So it seems numerous Economists are scratching their heads about one of the winners of the “econ nobel”.  Some grad students are doing much worse (anonymously of course).  The Freakonomics blog sort of suggested this would happen, and there are a couple of good posts on Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, at Marginal Revolution, Austrian Economists, Charter Cities and Vernon Smith.  The Economist has a good overview, Glaeser wrote a good blog post in the NYT, and the WSJ has good coverage as well.

The work Ostrom and Williamson have done is really interesting, and far more so than simplistic attempts to apply math to small data-sets from markets (here’s a non-naive one).  My own take on the “Why Now” debate is that the selection committee chose to highlight work they thought would be relevant during the Copenhagen round of negotiations for a new climate change treaty.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that most of the mainstream economics establishment is in the dog-house after two or three market bubbles have burst.

KBR/Halliburton employees can sue in court for sexual assaults

This story has been raising eyebrows for a while, but it took a new turn this week. It seems KBR/Halliburton (of Dick Cheney fame) may have tried to cover up repeated incidents of sexual assault amongst employees serving in Iraq (perhaps because it affected recruiting adversely). Many employees had unknowingly signed binding arbitration agreements that the company claims covers assault and criminal cases as well. One of the women who says she was assaulted sued KBR and the Fifth circuit heard her case. Her story ispretty harrowing, especially the bit where KBR investigators locked her up for 24 hours after she reported the assault. Apparently this wasn’t an isolated case and the non-disclosure and binding arbitration agreements had been used to keep the other cases out of the news. No doubt many of the women working for KBR would have reconsidered tours in Iraq if they’d known of the various assault cases.

So, Al Franken introduced an amendment to the defense appropriations bill to prevent any defense contracts being awarded to companies requiring binding arbitration for sexual assault cases. Here’s the surprising bit 30 senators voted against the bill! All of them Republican, all of them men. Jeff Sessions rambled on about why the government shouldn’t meddle in contracts, but he also said “It is a political amendment, really at bottom, representing sort of a political attack directed at Halliburton, which is politically a matter of sensitivity.” He’s right, it probably is shrewd politics for the Democrats, though god knows KBR/Halliburton has been pretty good at getting its way in Washington ever since Brown & Root started handing envelopes stuffed in cash to LBJ and the rest of the Southern delegation.  Still, even if you admit Halliburton needs to be protected from the likes of Al Franken, the female employees of KBR probably deserve some assistance from judiciary while they’re out serving on battlefields. BTW, David Vitter (R, AL)who frequented brothels in D.C. and New Orleans voted against it.

Competing views on racism

David Brooks and Bob Herbert both have articles in the NYT about the role race is playing in the health-care debate.  Each of them reaches a completely different conclusion.

On this occasion I find myself leaning towards Herbert.  I don’t think every person who opposes Obama’s health care proposal, or Obama himself is racist, but I do think the fringe has been allowed to move closer to the center of power and the Republican party platform.  Ever since Nixon’s Southern strategy, the republican party has consciously exploited and encouraged racial anxiety amongst white Americans (of course, Southern democrats did the same thing quite well prior to LBJ).

Occassionaly, I want to share something with the world.