December 16th, 2008

[LINK] On those fatal shoes

Now, an update.

The journalist who threw his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush was handed over to the Iraqi judiciary, an Iraqi official said Tuesday, a move that signals the start of criminal proceedings.

There were conflicting reports about the physical condition of Muntadhar al-Zeidi, who gained folk hero status when he hurled both his shoes at Bush during a news conference Sunday in Baghdad.

His employer, Al-Baghdadia television, reported that al-Zeidi had been "seriously injured" – presumably beaten by guards – and called on the government to allow lawyers and the Iraqi Red Crescent to visit him.

Later, one of his brothers said on Al-Baghdadia that he had spoken by telephone with al-Zeidi and that he told him "thank God, I am in good health.''

"I felt from his voice that he is good health," brother Maitham al-Zeidi said.

In Washington, deputy State Department spokesperson Robert Wood said: "Obviously, we condemn any kind of unnecessary force used against the reporter. I don't know that that happened but certainly if that did take place, we would condemn that."

After the Sunday incident, al-Zeidi was initially held by the prime minister's guards and later turned over to the Iraqi army's Baghdad command. The command, in turn, handed him over to the judiciary, the Iraqi official said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't supposed to release the information.

In all honesty, I'm surprised that he hadn't been disappeared. There's still time for that, I guess.

[LINK] "517,000 Ontario jobs at risk"

Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson's article in the Toronto Star isn't very hopeful for the prospects of the Ontarian and Canadian economies in the event of a collapse of the Big Three auto manufacturers (Chrysler, Ford, General Motors).

Ontario would lose 517,000 jobs within five years if the Big Three automakers went out of business, according to a new provincial report obtained by the Star>.

The review, prepared for the Ministry of Economic Development and to be released today, warns the collapse of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler would send lasting shock waves through the economy.

If auto output by U.S.-based manufacturers in Canada were cut in half, at least 157,000 jobs would be lost right away, 141,000 of them in Ontario. By 2014, job losses would rise to 296,000 nationally, including 269,000 here.

If production were to cease completely, 323,000 jobs would be lost immediately in Canada, including 281,800 in this province, rising to 582,000 nationally and 517,000 in Ontario by 2014.

The Ontario Manufacturing Council, an arm's-length provincial government panel, commissioned the 11-page report, which was prepared by the Centre for Spatial Economics. The report paints a gloomy picture if governments at Queen's Park, in Ottawa, and in Washington do not bail out the automakers.

"The depreciation of the dollar, lower interest rates, and lower production costs eventually help the economy to partially recover (over the following five years, 2015 to 2019) but the loss of the Detroit Three leaves a permanent dent in Canada's economy in terms of jobs and output," the report says.

"For any Canadians who feel that the auto industry is expendable to our economy, this report is a wake-up call," Economic Development Minister Michael Bryant said in an interview yesterday.

"This report suggests that even under a scenario where half the auto sector is lost, our economy (in Ontario) basically craters and brings the whole rest of the (Canadian) economy with it," Bryant said.

The damage would extend well beyond the auto and related parts industries to housing and a broad range of consumer spending, said Jayson Myers, an economist who is president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

Myers is a co-chair of the manufacturing council with Jim Stanford, economist for the Canadian Auto Workers union.

"We were surprised how big the impact is. ... It shows the importance of ensuring we maintain production here."

[LINK] "Kerala sets example to the world"

Over at Asia Times, Shirin Shirin's article "Kerala sets example to the world" argues that the economic model of that Indian state sets an example for the world with its resistance to "market fundamentalism" and its significantly positive outcomes in terms of human and economic development.

Kerala boasts one of the nation's finest healthcare systems, even for those who can't afford to pay user fees and therefore depend on government hospitals. Kerala's infant mortality rate is about 16 deaths per 1,000 births, or half the national average of 32 deaths per 1,000 births.

Aside from the social development indicators, Kerala's growth rate in the last few years averaged between 6-10%, not only keeping pace with the national average but at times ranking among the fastest growing states in the country. The sectors that are doing well are largely those that are thriving across India - information technology, services and tourism - but agricultural production and small-scale manufacturing are also succeeding.

Development experts have debated for years about whether or not a "Kerala model" exists and, if so, whether that model can be exported to other countries or even other Indian states. Whether or not Kerala's development experience can be categorized and replicated, a few things stand out about its political and economic history.

In the first place, the state had a matrilineal and even a matriarchal society, with a line of forward-looking queens that still ruled much of Kerala in the early days of the British Empire. The queen of Trivandrum, for instance, issued a royal decree in 1817 declaring that "the state should defray the entire cost of the education of its people in order that there might be no backwardness in the spread of enlightenment". Not until the latter part of the 19th century would countries like Britain and the United States provide such services for their own populations.

A single party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M), has ruled Kerala for much of the past 50 years. The CPI(M) successfully pushed for three major reforms in the 1960s and 1970s. The first and most important was land reform. While nearly everyone looks on land reform as a huge success in Kerala, the policy was controversial when it was first proposed in 1959. Land reform, after all, is an attack on one of capitalism's founding principles - the right to property. The central government intervened and effectively blocked the implementation of land reform for 10 years. But planners and unions in Kerala understood that building a more egalitarian economy required attacking the old feudal system at its roots, and small farmers weren't going to stand for anything less.

Secondly, the CPI(M) deliberately and methodically invested in education, setting goals so popular with the electorate that even when the communists lost power, new governments did not dare modify education policies.

Lastly, Kerala invested heavily in government-financed healthcare. The state now boasts 160 patient beds per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the country.

When considered in its component pieces - state-sponsored land reform, education, infrastructure and social services initiatives - the "Kerala model" is not particularly revolutionary. Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) uses land reform (though it uses the phrase "market-based land reform" to justify a different kind of redistribution).

So why haven't other Indian states - or even many other developing countries - been able to use the Kerala model as a path to development? The answer may lie in when Kerala chose to follow this path. The 1960s and 1970s were before structural adjustment programs and free-market principles dominated the discourse of development economics. Kerala borrowed heavily - and still borrows - to finance its social investments. While other countries have made similar investments, IMF-backed austerity measures have rolled back those investments before they could bear fruit. Now that the age of Milton Friedman appears to be nearing its end, the world would do well to give Kerala another look.

Shirin overlooks ways in which Kerala's economic model is based on highly contingent factors like (say) the influx of funds via Gulf workers' remittances, and "market fundamentalism" is a phrase that leaves me cold. Still, there is still be something to Shirin's argument.