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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Like father, unlike son

If you know anything about how politics work in Chicago, the recent drama surrounding Cook County Board President John Stroger won't surprise you. Stroger, who has been president since 1994, won the Democratic primary in March despite having suffered a massive stroke a week before the election. After spending the last four months on a feeding tube, Stroger officially resigned Tuesday, both as a board member and the Democratic nominee for board president in November. The Tribune has a good overview.

Cook County Board president is the third most powerful office in Illinois, and the Cook County budget was more than $3 billion in 2005.

Rep. Dan Lipinkski
Rep. Bill Lipinkski
The Lipinskis. Scariest part: these are apparently the best pictures they could find.
Chicago-style, Stroger's likely replacement on the ballot is his son, Alderman Todd Stroger. And one of the leading candidates to serve the remainder of John's term as president is board member John Daley, brother of Mayor Richard M. Daley and son of former mayor Richard J. Daley. Really.

My own member of congress, Rep. Dan Lipinski, is in office because of a neat little bait-and-switch by his father Bill, who held the same congressional seat for more than 20 years. After winning the Democratic primary in 2004, BIll promptly announced his retirement and had his son Dan put on the ballot in his place. (No, I don't know how you pull that off either.)

Republicans don't really even bother to run in the Illinois 3rd District, so winning the primary is tantamount to winning the office. Which Dan did. Incumbent reelection rates run about 98 percent in the House, so Lipinksi the Lesser is probably in until he dies, retires or is indicted.

We generally accept low levels of nepotism as a integral part of society. It's just how things work — especially in Chicago. Who hasn't gotten a son, brother or niece a job at some point? Who doesn't want to hand down the family business to their eldest?

That just doesn't fly for elected office, though. One of the (many) reasons that landed aristocracy doesn't work real well as a system of government is that breeding is not a good predictor of ability or character. Anyone who believes in the genetic trickle-down effect needs to take a long look at JFK Jr., George W. Bush and poor, poor Tucker Quayle.

Democracy is not only about letting people choose their own government, but ideally also letting the most qualified people rise to lead that government. We're obviously not there yet, but can we at least sample freely from the gene pool?

We should be naturally suspicious of the daughters, nephews, sisters and grandsons of those who have already led. George W. should have been judged by a higher standard because his father was president, not a lower one. He should have had to prove beyond all doubt that he was running on his own merits, not coasting on his father's name. (And let's not forget Al Gore Jr. held the same Senate seat his father had for 18 years.)

But hey, once we've gone this far, why stop with two Bushes? W.'s father has openly speculated about the presidential candidacy of his other son, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.

Listen. Politics aside. I don't care how much you love George W.'s presidency and think he's doing a bang-up job. The whole reason we started this democracy thing in the first place was to avoid having the same asshole family in charge for decades at a time.

And former presidential spouses aren't much better.

Democracy is hard work, I know. But if you don't have time to learn where a candidate stands on the issues and to vote according to your interests, here's a rule of thumb you can use: If you see a familiar name on the ballot, vote for the other guy.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Int’l Power Rankings | 7.5.06 Edition

How much has the world actually changed since the first International Power Rankings posted almost three weeks ago?

Short answer: not much.

Long answer: the actual potency of each country has stayed about level, but some have actively used their power while others remained dormant.

The big story, of course, has been the escalating situation in Gaza, where Israel has been battering select targets and tinkering with a possible full-scale incursion. Other significant events include North Korea's missile test launch and Iran's new deadline for nuclear cooperation.

The World Cup, however, remains a non-factor in these rankings. (Sorry, Portugal.)

Previous rankings:   6.19.06

1. United States. Busy week for everyone's favorite hyperpower. In just the past week, America blocked a Security Council measure that condemns Israel's actions in Gaza, helped the E3 grant a new nuclear deadline for Iran, and scolded North Korea for its missile launch. Next week: golf.

2. China. According to World Bank measurements, China just topped Britain this week to become the fourth largest economy in the world. They just spread it around a lot more people, that's all.

3. Russia. Hosting leaders of the world's largest economies at the upcoming G8 summit should be a good boost of confidence for Putin. Yeah. Because that's what Putin needs. More confidence.

4. Japan. Up Arrow North Korea getting trigger-happy has two noticeable effects on Japan. It means Washington and Tokyo are speeding up their work on a joint missile-defense shield. And it means the yen just got a lot less stable. Nutty neighbors are a bitch, huh?

5. Great Britain. Down Arrow It just keeps getting uglier and uglier for Tony Blair and friends. While internal political wrangling continues, expect London to play it safe on the world stage by getting increasingly involved with France and Germany.

6. Germany. Google "Germany" and everything comes up soccer.

7. France. Ditto.

8. India. Ties between India and China have been warming as of late — bilateral trade rose by more than 37% last year, and this week witnesses the reopening of the famed Silk Road. So why haven't you heard about this historic event? In a word: soccer.

9. Brazil. The UN recently ranked Brazil as a global leader in food and agriculture, spurred by a growing demand for beef and wheat as diets become richer worldwide. Fogo de Chao accounts for about half that.

10. Pakistan. Pakistan: "Can you help us develop our nuclear energy capabilities?" America: "No comment." Pakistan: "Can we get your blessing on an Iran-India-Pakistan oil pipeline?" America: "No comment." Pakistan: "The Taliban is regrouping next door." America: "How many F-16's do you want?"

11. Israel. Up Arrow Watching Israel in Gaza is like watching a game of Texas Hold 'Em where one guy goes all-in on the first hand. Sure, he's probably going to win a few bucks, but for the rest of the game, he's that guy.

12. Iran. Up Arrow With the UN Security Council focused on Israel, Iran quietly gets a new deadline for nuclear cooperation. Wait a minute... split Security Council? Constantly shifting deadlines for cooperation? Country whose name starts with an I-R-A? Where have we seen this before?

13. Italy. Down Arrow In lieu of any non-soccer Italian news, here's a little joke I just picked up:
Q: What's innuendo?
A: An Italian suppository.

14. South Korea. Up Arrow As North Korea makes more powerful threats, South Korea makes more powerful friends. After all, the "six-way talks" concerning the North's nuclear capabilities include the top four powers on this ranking list plus the two Koreas. The list doesn't lie!

15. Egypt. Up Arrow Doing everything they can to stay relevant in the Middle East, short of invading their neighbor or making nuclear threats. But while Egyptian politicians try to play the diplomatic hero, the streets of Cairo are screaming for blood. Storm's a-brewin'.

16. Canada. I like Canadians. I think they're nice. But nice guys don't finish first. They finish sixteenth.

17. Saudi Arabia. Down Arrow Talk about a country trying to stay out of the action. Here they are, in the heart of the Middle East, with no less than three neighbors making international headlines daily, and the House of Saud has nothing to say. Enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts, I suppose.

18. Turkey. Iraq's foreign minister recently approached Turkey for help regarding their security and territorial integrity. And unlike Iraq's other neighbors, Turkey actually has the ability and the will to follow through. I said it before and I'll say it again: Turkey rules.

19. Poland. With Bush's European allies in Iraq dropping like flies — first in Spain, recently in Italy, soon in Britain — have to wonder if Poland is next. My guess is no. The Cold War ended much more recently than World War II, and Eastern Europe's trust in American geostrategy goes well beyond a few setbacks. If Tony Blair goes down, it's Poland's time to shine.

20. Australia. North Korea's missile tests prompted Australia to cancel a planned diplomatic meeting in Pyongyang. At the same time, Australia and South Korea are talking military cooperation. Is it only a matter of time before the six-party talks on the nuclear North add Australia as a seventh?

21. Mexico. Down Arrow First America, then Germany, then Italy, now Mexico — these "too close to call" elections are getting out of hand. And they always lead to weak leaders, shaky coalitions and small moves down the road.

22. Venezuela. Up Arrow Well, it's official — Venezuela is now a full member of Mercosur, Latin America's free trade organization that (in my opinion) may someday be the precursor to an EU-style Latin Union. So what should we care? Because as unpopular as Hugo Chavez is in the United States, he's playing his cards just right everywhere else.

23. Palestine. Up Arrow Hamas is this high up the rankings not because of the power they command, but because they have the backing of hundreds of millions of Middle Easterners. The whole world is watching. Now what?

24. North Korea. Up Arrow Someone should have taught Kim Jong-il that there's a difference between "good attention" and "bad attention."

25. Indonesia. Down Arrow Just when the tsunamis and earthquakes and mudslides subside, the bird flu starts picking up. Kinda makes you feel guilty for bitching about your life, doesn't it?

Just missed: Syria, Ukraine, Spain, South Africa, Vietnam.

About the rankings

This is a list of countries in order of current global significance — about as subjective a measurement as can be imagined, but a fun exercise nevertheless.

Based on a number of global power factors (military, economy, politics and culture), these nation-states play the biggest roles in shaping world events.

Like college basketball rankings — in which trusted coaches and media experts are asked to pluck the top 25 teams from a pool of hundreds — these rankings are largely based on speculative performance and are apt to change at any time.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Risk revisited

Download map:
    medium (1200x582)  |  large (1600x776)  |  extra large (4000x1939, 1.9 MB)

When it comes to board games about world domination, few can hold a candle to Risk — the classic, the original, the ultimate. Where else can you destroy your friends by decimating their armies and conquering their land? Besides Somalia?

The genius of Risk lies in its simplicity. Most territories are of comparable size, with borders determined almost purely by geographic convenience as opposed to geopolitical reality. How else can you explain the Siberian wasteland appearing as a half-dozen individual lands, while the Middle East appears as one unified entity?

With as much as I drone on about the "game of global politics," it was only a matter of time before taking a stab at an updated Risk board to reflect the today's world, with territories grouped by common geopolitical qualities as seen by the modern American.

No point in going into great detail — this is, after all, little more than a colored, labeled map for a children's game — but if you do happen to be a Risk fan, there are just a few notable differences to watch for:

The continents have changed. Previously divided into the six commonly-accepted land masses (well, five plus Europe), I've instead formed seven regions that more accurately reflect modern demography: North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and Oceania. Most notably, Central America is now grouped with South America, and the Middle East (including Egypt on the African continent) is now its own region.

Oceania now has two entry points into Asia. Were you aware that the Philippines appear nowhere on the original Risk board? How do you think the Philippinos feel about that, considering they were actually once conquered by America in a real-life version of the board game?

The Caribbean exists. Think you can't get from Cuba to the United States? Thousands of raft-builders might disagree.

So there you have it! Hope you have as much fun with it as I did. Just don't blame the roll of the dice when you lose — the French have been doing that for years, and nobody's buying it.


Suggested continent values for the new board:
6 armies/turn for Europe (originally 5).
5 armies/turn for Asia (originally 7).
5 armies/turn for North America (same as before).
4 armies/turn for Middle East (new territory).
3 armies/turn for Africa (same as before).
3 armies/turn for Latin America (originally 2).
3 armies/turn for Oceania (originally 2).

Of course, with more territories bordering one another (less one-on-one bottlenecks), maintaining a continent just became that much tougher!
Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.