Friday, March 28, 2008

Tetchy Russians

I’m reading a lot about Russia these days, and today I watched Charlie Rose interview , that gorgeous white-haired hunk (see photo) who is Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations. He has been around since perestroika days, when he mainly sounded friendly, but now he displays the same truculent tone that I’m sensing in most of the Russian commentators I’m reading. They all seem exasperated that Americans (maybe Westerners more generally) don’t respect them as much as they deserve. After all, they say, we’re rich now, and we’re not going to be junior partners to you anymore.

Well, okay. It’s not hard to be equal to the United States these days, on a lot of different grounds, but I’m not impressed with the logic of the Russian challengers, who base their claim on recent records of , nothing more. These folks brush off as irrelevant such things as the frequent murders of journalists and Litvinenko. When asked Churkin about China and , he showed no concern whatever for the Tibetans. It was China’s own business, period.

When reading all these touchy , I am forever coming across the name of one , whom they seem to dislike intensely. Today I discovered that McFaul (see photo) is Barack . That was reason enough for me to hunt him down and read one of his recent articles from the January/ February issue of Foreign Affairs. McFaul is based at Stanford University, where he works in the same outfit as ; both of them are devoted to the . No doubt that’s what irks the Russians, for democracy and human rights apparently do not rank highly in the orientation of that popular authoritarian ruler, Vladimir .

In “The Myth of the Authoritarian Model,” McFaul and his co-author Kathryn Stoner-Weiss present pretty hard data contradicting the prevailing narrative in Russia:

“In the 1990s, under post-Soviet Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, the state did not govern, the economy shrank, and the population suffered. Since 2000, under Putin, order has returned, the economy has flourished, and the average Russian is living better than ever before. As political freedom has decreased, economic growth has increased. Putin may have rolled back democratic gains, the story goes, but these were necessary sacrifices on the altar of stability and growth.”

McFaul and Stoner-Weiss assert, on the contrary, that this narrative is based almost entirely on a

“spurious correlation between and growth. The emergence of Russian democracy did indeed coincide with state breakdown and economic decline, but it did not cause either. The reemergence of Russian autocracy under Putin, conversely, has coincided with economic growth but not caused it.”

Then what did cause it? Mainly the rise of . (I can believe that.) And in fact, these authors insist that practically all other aspects of Russian society have deteriorated more than they have improved under Putin. Certainly, governance has become less democratic as Putin has systematically weakened the autonomy of parliament, regional governments, and opposition political parties. But instead of becoming more secure under Putin, there have been increasing numbers of terrorist acts — notably a theatre incident in 2002 when about 300 Russians died, and a school hostage crisis in Beslan, in which possibly 500 died. The has increased under Putin since the “anarchic years” of Yeltsin.

Business and governing practices are not improving. In 2006, Transparency International ranked Russia 121st out of 163 countries on corruption. It ranked 62nd out of 125 on the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index in 2006, falling nine places in one year.

Public health has not improved under Putin. Russia's population has been declining since 1990, but has worsened since 1998. Alcohol consumption has increased, with now accounting for 18 percent of deaths for men between ages 25-54.

In this way, McFaul and Stoner-Weiss pile statistic upon statistic, undermining all reasonable claims that the decline in democracy has been a small price to pay for all the other advantages that Putin has conferred upon his country. Yet the standard of living of the population has improved considerably, if measured by expenditures. This can be attributed to the rising price of oil and gas -- rents that Putin's regime has wrested away from private owners, apparently to the detriment of efficiency.

Yet there is room for a critic to question the authors' conclusions. They want to prove that Russia would have prospered even more if it had remained only as democratic as during Yeltsin's day. They can't prove it, though they can adduce suggestive evidence. Unfortunately, they have to conjure with the case of , which is even more authoritarian than Russia, and which has grown even faster. They insist that

“the China analogy is also problematic because sustained high growth under autocracy is the exception, not the rule, around the world. For every China, there is an autocratic developmental disaster such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo; for every authoritarian success such as Singapore, there is a resounding failure such as Myanmar; for every South Korea, a North Korea. In the economic-growth race in the developing world, autocracies are both the hares and the snails, whereas democracies are the tortoises — slower but steadier. On average, autocracies and democracies in the developing world have grown at the same rate for the last several decades.”

That last sentence must have stung. We'd all like to prove that democracy helps economic growth. Some outstanding scholars have bet a lot on the notion. (Amartya Sen takes that position -- or at least has done so in the past.) But here we are left with the bitter conclusion that there is not necessarily any causal association between democracy and economic development. Putin's Russian populace might not have got richer, had they committed to democracy.

Fortunately, however, there's also no reason to suppose that they would have become less rich than they did. By substantiating that weak conclusion, we democrats can take some modest satisfaction.

I hope McFaul found it satisfying. And I anticipate with pleasure the many good influences he will have on Russia through the next US president, Barack Obama.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Nonviolent Strategies for Tibet

Everyone is talking about the uprising in . A producer from the called me to be a guest to discuss the subject on the early morning radio show “.” He paired me up with an animal liberation activist, Jerry Vlasic, who was chosen specifically because he supports the use of . Maybe he wanted me to attack this guy, but I thought he defeated himself without any help from me.

Still, I was surprised at the initial question that the host, , asked me: “Some of the critics of the Dalai Lama say that his tactics are not good enough — that nonviolence is not getting them anywhere.”

“I think you have to acknowledge, ” I replied, “that they haven’t made much progress. On the other hand, the use of violence is bound to be suicidal in that situation. In the long run they are going to be crushed. I wouldn’t say that the strategy that the has used is the most promising. But he’s both a religious leader and a political leader. Mixing up politics and religion is problematic. He may be right when he says that he will step aside as a political leader – in fact, he says he’s semi-retired anyway from his role as a political leader.

“But they do have a prime minister and a parliament. The Tibetans in exile do have a democratic government that they could be using. That’s where I think there could be more leadership. There hasn’t been the kind of that could be done if they had really good strategic planning. That’s what’s going wrong now because there had not been any effort to organize a strategic nonviolent campaign.

“You have to think of it as equivalent to a war. It’s a long-term effort to accomplish certain goals. If you go about it in a very strategic way — deciding what your are, and identifying the sources of power that the depends upon so as to hold other people in place (for example, the military, but there are other sources of power that they use too), identify the places where changes might be made to overcome those , then you have the possibility, over a long term, of making a real difference.

Anna Maria asked: “You’re talking about strategic actions, but still nonviolent?”

“Absolutely nonviolent,” I said. “What is going on now in Tibet is an . It’s not coordinated. It’s not organized. Nobody’s in charge. People are simply fed up and they’re going out an doing random activities that kind of get their tension out of the way, express their feelings, but that’ not useful. In the long term what you need is carefully developed strategy, which would require people to get together and discuss what their goals are – and it’s quite possible that right now they would need to change their goals. Originally the goal was for independence, then autonomy...”

At that point Ms Tremonti brought Vlasic into the conversation, asking him whether he thinks it’s time to bring violence into this. He replied that there has never been a successful nonviolent movement, for the oppressor never gives up his power. He insisted that we love violence: the bludgeoning of baby seals proves that people are willing to use violence. “But,” he said, “there can be no moral objection to the use of violence for self-defence or for the defence of children, animals, or peoples such as the Tibetans or Palestinians. Violence is a necessary strategy in every successful liberation movement. There’s always a Malcolm X behind every Martin Luther King. In the case of Mahatma Gandhi, there was plenty of violence going on in the background in the struggle for Indian independence. Every one of these liberation movements has required the use of violence in self-defence. The Chinese are using massive amounts of violence. The Israelis are using massive amounts of violence against Palestinians.”

“Let’s talk about that,” interrupted Anna Maria. “because I don’t see an Israeli-Palestinian solution coming from the violence on either side. Metta Spencer, do you agree that there has been absolutely no place where nonviolence has worked?”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “There are lots of places. The point is that lots of times nonviolence is taken up by people in situations just because they can see that they have no opportunity to use violence. It’s not necessarily an ethical decision. It’s based on the fact that they don’t have any weapons or something of that kind, so they have to resort to nonviolence. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Anna Maria asked, “Can you give us some examples of where it has worked?”

“Take 1989,” I replied. “All around the world simply walked away. They said, ‘Here are the keys. You take over!’ Sometimes there wasn’t a drop of blood shed. In that case, these were street demonstrations, which spread around the world. We could watch it in one country one night and then the next night people in the next country would imitate it. It went like toppling over.

“So, yeah. Lots of times nonviolent methods are used in situation where violence absolutely would not work. And they vary in effectiveness. I think the main thing to realize is that an expressive action – just going to the streets and setting fires or standing in front of a tank — that’s really a rare thing, to stop a tank. Mostly the tanks will run over you. So to plan a real resistance, a real revolution from the people, you have to coordinate them.

“And sometimes it would be smarter instead of going out and having a demonstration, to tell people to stay home that day. They are much less likely to get killed and it will make a big impact. People will see that there’s nobody on the streets that day.”

That’s as far as the conversation got. Anna Maria ended it before I had a chance to give any examples. I had meant to talk about the way certain strategists had planned their movements astutely — such as in Ukraine’s . Long before the people gathered in the city square to protest against the rigged elections, the organizers had been calculating ways of undermining the sources of power on which the authoritarian regime depended.

The main tactic was to talk the army into supporting the opposition movement instead of the government. There were two especially brilliant innovations that Anika Binnendijk described in her study of the movement. First, the “Pora” organizers approached some former military officers who had been discharged. One respected admiral, in particular, was disgusted with Kuchma’s regime. He was glad to join the opposition movement, and to recruit his old colleagues who were still in the military.

Second, a year or two before the rebellion, the organizers went to the wives and mothers of the officers and persuaded them that their cause was just. Then, when the people were summoned to the square to protest against the fraudulent election, these women came and joined them. During the first week, those were there, serving tea pleasantly to everyone. No wonder their husbands and sons were unwilling to obey orders and fire on the crowd!

That’s strategic planning! Probably the Tibetans cannot copy these particular tactics. For one thing, they would not succeed with a nonviolent protest in a city square. There will have to be other methods — probably mostly symbolic ones at first. For example, under the Communist regime, the Polish movement did such things as create their own to put on letters. And they organized “ classes” in private homes, which met in a different home each week to keep from being attacked. Sometimes they would have people put a candle in their front window on a given night, just to show each other how numerous they were. On one occasion, they commandeered the electric scoreboard of a soccer stadium and during the game flashed their own message in bright lights to the people. They did not pit themselves against the military, but they showed the Soviet bosses that the regime was not considered . Eventually the unnerved Communists gave up power without a struggle.

And to accomplish any kind of progress, The Tibetans need to analyze the of the Chinese and the that are available. A nonviolent movement, like a violent one, needs the leadership of a brilliant strategist. A revolution is not an amateur sport. You need a good coach. I hope they find one.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Russia and Business Law

I’m reading a lot about Russia, trying to get ready for the trip I’ve scheduled — I leave home in one month and will be away until mid-June. I don’t think I’ve been there since 1997, and a lot has changed, obviously.

For one thing, there will be the new president, . Everyone assumes that he will obey his mentor, , but I’m more curious about the differences that will emerge. So far, he has not shown any warmer feelings toward Europe or North America, nor any great admiration of , nor any loss of desire for military supremacy, so I wouldn’t expect those changes to appear. But he made a couple of interesting speeches in Krasnoyarsk while supposedly “campaigning” for election. The main thing I noticed is that he seemed intent on institutionalizing the rule of law. Medvedev is a by training and, at least when it comes to rhetoric, he castigated for being a most lawless country, and he intends to change that.

That could mean a lot of different things. Maybe he just means that he wants to lock up more petty criminals. If so, that won’t make any important change. But the important problem is that today the government itself does not obey its own laws, and that private individuals and companies cannot know what legal outcome to expect if they enter into that are broken. And contracts are the only basis for social order in a society that is not ruled by autocrats but by mutual agreements among free citizens. One very important step in the direction of democracy is simply to establish that Russian society shall be ruled by law, and that legitimate contracts shall be enforced by the state.

True, few people in Russia want a democracy now anyhow — at least they don’t want the kind of chaos and wild west that prevailed under . They say that they prefer “stability,” which is the rhetoric used to justify the authoritarian regime that has emerged under Putin. But anyhow, if they only bring in the authority of law, that will be a major advance in the direction of true democracy. And Medvedev might do that — if he can.

I’ve been reading a paper by a Swedish economist, , who has made me question one of the crucial assumptions I had held for the past few years: that Russia is catching up with the West economically. For one thing, even in 1997 I could see that Moscow had been spruced up lavishly. There were new cathedrals and monuments all over the place, the buildings had been freshly painted, and there were expensive, elegant restaurants and fast European cars everywhere. Definitely the rise in oil prices had brought prosperity to a city that had, only a few years before, experienced a .

Yet according to Hedlund, this new prosperity is less than meets the eye. The growth rate has been consistently running at 6 or 7 percent annually since 2000 — according to the official calculations. But if you start counting at the year 1990, the overall growth looks much less impressive, for the 1990s were the Yeltsin years, when there was a deep depression. Not until 2006 did the Russian economy actually return to the level of GDP that had been achieved before the dramatic changes began.

I had believed that, although Putin did not encourage democracy, he fully supported the development of a . Hedlund does not agree. The conditions for a market economy still do not exist, he claims — at least if that involves generating entrepreneurship from below. There is simply not sufficient protection of financial transactions from racketeering, or the right to expect due process in courts of law.

The new wealth of Russia still consists largely of — especially oil and gas. Under Yeltsin, the capital stock of the country was sold off at bargain basement prices, yielding instantaneously a new class of .” When Putin came in, his game plan consisted of regaining control of energy resources, and he did not observe many legal niceties in doing so. The most powerful of the oligarchs were forced to sell their new companies and even contracts with foreign companies were manipulated in illegal ways. For example, BP entered into a joint venture as an equal partner with a Russian company, with the newly merged company to be called BP-TNK. And there was also to be another deal between Exxon and , Russia’s main oil company But a few days later the Kremlin started a legal battle to expropriate Yukos and incarcerated its chief owner, oligarch .

The recapturing of oil and gas resources was part of Putin’s grand strategy to re-establish Russia’s position on the world stage, especially vis a vis Europe. His motivation probably was his understandable reaction against the humiliating status of Russia as requiring Europe’s help over the previous decade. But as a long-term game plan, it must seem a bit alarming. Europe absolutely depends on Russia for energy, and it seems likely that the Russian government will be able, within a few years, to use this leverage and gain control over the pipelines inside Europe.

One must hope never to see such a dangerous new form of economic blackmail played. But if that is to be avoided, the counter-measures must begin by adopting practices that enable a market economy to function within a that binds the actions, not only of individuals and small enterprises, but also large corporations and the government itself.

I hope Dmitry Medvedev really intends to bring that change about.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Need to Be Philanthropic

Today’s New York Times Magazine is devoted almost entirely to articles addressing philanthropy. (Even the cooking article was about donations by restaurant owners and chefs.) It was a pretty interesting issue. I read much more of it than I normally do on Sundays.

Some of the stories analyzed the rational effectiveness-monitoring of billionaire donors. Another one was about the substantial impact of celebrities such as (see photo), , who boost the popularity of particular causes. And another one was about economists who try to explain the logic operating in the decisions of about whether, and how much, to give. This one interested me more than the others, because it elucidated some social . For example, it seems that people are somewhat more likely to give if their contribution will go into a grant that will be matched by another big donor. That makes sense; they will get more “bang for their buck” if it is matched by someone else.

But the principle doesn’t hold up consistently. For example, people don’t seem to care how much the matching donor will give. Most such offers are on a one-to-one basis. But if the big donor promises to donate four dollars for every one received through ordinary , the average person is not likely to increase his donation to take advantage of the extra “bang for their buck.” One-for-one matching ratios elicit as much cooperation as three-for-one or four-for one ratios, which doesn’t make sense rationally.

On the other hand, there are other ways in which rationality seems to be involved. For example, if prospective donors are told that a fund has reached half of its goal, they are more likely to contribute than if they are told that so far there only a small fraction of the goal has been reached. That makes sense to me, at least; I wouldn’t want to contribute to a fund that might never reach its goal. If they are already half-way there, it’s more likely to succeed in the end.

There were other interesting observations coming from these researchers too. The author concludes with a study dealing with incentives to get citizens to save money by salting their income away in schemes. There must be a certain tax benefit to make it worth while. Yet it may be possible to reduce the amount of tax savings offered, yet get people to contribute just as much. The particular amounts would have to be worked out, but if these numbers can be determined, it might save the government billions and billions of dollars that could be invested elsewhere. That could be useful research.

Still, the studies did not offer any insight into a question that has been bothering me for about twenty-four hours. I think I discovered a motivation for philanthropy that cannot be considered rational at all, and which is nevertheless powerful and deserving of respect.

Last night I had a visit from a friend of mine whom I have known for about six years and whom I respect as an honorable man. I won’t describe his predicament fully because of privacy considerations. However, I can say that he served for many years as a guerrilla jungle fighter, then gave it up and immigrated to Canada. Though he expected to be able to bring his wife and three children to join him, this aspiration remains blocked far longer than usual, and until his immigration has been completed, he will remain virtually unemployed and unable to bring his dependents to join him.

His family had lived as refugees in a tent for ten years, but they went to another affluent country six months or so ago. Shortly after their arrival, the wife was killed in a car accident, along with two other members of her family. His three teen-aged children survive, and receive welfare cheques where they live, but still cannot come to Canada.

Twice this man has turned to me and his other local friends for financial help,. I am absolutely sure that he and his children genuinely need help, and I am glad that I can afford to give it, both times by donating more than $1,000. Last night was one of those occasions. My friend is a courageous man, but he is understandably depressed, for several other members of his family have also been killed or are now suffering. He has great dignity and does not reveal his pain readily, but it was nevertheless palpable to me.

Shortly after I had written the cheque for him, there was a moment when the clouds seemed lift. Brightening up suddenly, he told me that he will receive a little insurance money — about $16,000 — for his wife’s death. He has already spoken with his children about how to spend it. With their consent, he will keep about $5,000 for their immigration expenses, but set up a “foundation” for giving away the rest.

I was astonished, and at first I exclaimed that he and his children will need that money and that he should keep it. It’s a tiny amount anyhow, as compensation for an auto fatality. But immediately I realized that I should be quiet. There was some other motivation involved that I should respect.

“I want to create merit for my wife,” he explained. “She was a good wife and mother. I will invite the children who are still in that refugee camp to write to me and I will help one of them go abroad to school.”

“You speak of creating ‘merit’ for her,” I said. “But you are a Christian, not a Buddhist.”

“True,” he replied. “But I want to her. The people in the camp all knew her and I want them to remember her with respect. This will be a memorial to her.”

As a practical, rational matter, this man has no basis whatever for giving away the pittance that he will receive, and which will be required to support and educate his own children. But I saw that I must listen and give him the respect that this donation is meant to elicit for his dead wife.

This is not in the same sense as the contributions of or , or even myself. My friend needs to give more than he can afford. His donation will help him cope with his losses and his ongoing struggle. But to relieve his suffering at all, it must be a gift beyond any that he can afford.

I don’t have a language for explaining his motivation. The theories of economists or even of psychologists fall short. This philanthropy is something that he needs to do. And it is an honorable motivation, one that I must respect. I do not understand it, but I know it represents a worthy human quality.

In a way, I do understand it — and yet I cannot explain it. Can you?


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Pandering to Voters

” is a nasty word. It means to “gratify or indulge an immoral or disgraceful desire, need, or habit, or a person with such a desire.

Yet the TV host (see photo) just used that term on the air as if it were not pejorative. He was referring to the current “Naftagate” scandal that may turn out to cost the US presidency. It certainly seems to have cost him victory in Ohio last week.

Unfortunately, nothing that Obama has done yet has cleaned up his image, and I think he needs to do so for this is not a temporary problem, as he may suppose. Even I, who adore Obama, have to believe now that he was indeed pandering in his speeches about renegotiating or even ending that free trade agreement.

In ordinary circumstances, what he did would be considered normal . You promise the voters whatever they want, even though you know you can’t keep your promise. But Obama has promised something more honest than that, and he cannot afford to slip into deception.

Yes, Stephen Harper should be required to punish his henchmen for disclosing what Obama’s economic adviser said in confidence. But it’s too late now to reverse the effects; Obama’s is damaged. Indeed, the press does not seem to know even yet what happened. One TV analyst the other day said that Obama actually had not known that his adviser had had the meeting with the in Chicago. The papers had stated originally that it was a meeting at the Canadian Embassy, and Obama denied that such a meeting had been held. Did he know about the real meeting in Chicago? If so, he was being disingenuous. The same pundit claimed that the adviser had gone to the meeting without telling Obama or getting his authorization, and that Obama should have fired him for doing so.

I haven’t heard since then whether or not Obama had known about the actual meeting or whether the adviser had incorrectly represented Obama’s views. He needs to clean this up, needs to tell what happened and what he really intends to do about Nafta if elected president.

Personally, I don’t know what should be done about the trade agreement. I think the whole effort to appear opposed to is quite unrealistic. You can’t re-open a treaty of that kind without renegotiating some sticky points that you’d rather not touch.

But that’s not the problem, exactly. I think Obama should never have promised to fix Ohio’s problems by revising Nafta because, in fact, it’s too late to fix them. Those have already gone and are not coming back, no matter what people do. I don’t think the jobs have come to Canada, though it is true that Canada’s is at a 30-year low, whereas the US unemployment is getting worse, along with the rest of the US economy. But the missing Ohio jobs probably went to Mexico or another less developed country, not to Canada. He should have said that in the first place — that it’s too late to reverse the effects of Nafta, if indeed Nafta is to blame for these job losses. I'll bet that's what he really believes. To say otherwise is to pander.

Today I was reading ’s book, Making Globalization Work. He says that the proponents of free trade (including President Clinton, who pushed the deal through) claimed that the US didn’t want jobs of that kind anyhow. They didn’t mind letting them go to underdeveloped countries because they would be replaced with better jobs in the knowledge and . And indeed, for the first few years, that was what was actually going on. Unemployment did not immediately appear in the manufacturing belt that is now called “the .”

There are excellent for wishing this theory had been correct. It is better to help Third World countries get ahead by shipping jobs to them and replacing them with new and better jobs in the First World. That is more moral than , which is what the Democrats are all promising now — and many Canadian politicians too.

But apart from morality, it is simply not practical to shut the barn door now. The jobs have gone and will not return. The claim of both Democratic candidates is mistaken that the trade agreements need to be rewritten to protect workers’ rights and environmental effects. Canada’s practices are not inferior to that of the US, so that’s not the true nature of the problem.

The real problem is that the great new sophisticated jobs are not being offered to the workers in Ohio and other rust belt areas. Or else the workers have not acquired the new skills necessary to perform such jobs. The high-paying jobs are also moving abroad — not to Canada but to , for example, where there are plenty of newly trained engineers and scientists. That skills upgrading has to be part of the solution.

Obama mentioned some of these truths in a speech to a junior college in Ohio. I think it must have been a speech that one of his writers had just prepared for him, because he sounded as if he hadn’t read it before. It was “cold copy,” as radio announcers say. It never incorporated into the speeches he gave to a big rally.

So I guess he really was “pandering” to voters, though one can't blame the voters for their “immoral or disgraceful desires” for jobs. And to some extent a politician can be excused for such pandering, for it is hard to give a complete analysis of certain complex problems to a huge audience. Obama likes to inspire people to hope. But there are times when the truth is not upbeat, and when there are no simple solutions. I think the job losses in Ohio constitute such a problem. Politicians know not to wade into a topic without glib answers that will satisfy the audiences.

Still, there are several unanswered questions about this Nafta affair that will haunt Obama throughout the rest of his campaign unless he addresses it squarely enough to put it to rest.

And as for me, do I believe in Nafta? I never did fully decide, even then, and my convictions still have never become firm.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

What I’m Learning from Obama

For the past few weeks I’ve been addicted to CNN — at least while the are holding forth. Especially Obama. Gosh, I’m almost like that young girl who proclaims “I’ve got a crush on Obama!” (I understand that one of Barack’s little daughters was disturbed by watching the “Obama girl” singing on Youtube. She asked, “But Daddy has Mommy, doesn’t he?”)

Anyhow, I sometimes wonder why I continue to watch the same speech of his three or four times. But I know this much: I’m learning from him. I’m supposed to know a thing or two about conflict resolution, since I have specialized professionally in teaching peace studies. Actually, I’m not a very good peace worker when it comes to on-the-ground resolution of conflict. And the best instructor I’ve ever observed in that art is . It is worth watching him almost endlessly to see how he does it.

I don’t know what specific conflicts he has resolved. However, I can see that he maintains relationships with his opponents that makes it possible for them to transcend their disagreements. I’m not referring just to Hillary Clinton, either, though he is the first to say that she is a fine and worthy candidate. He took the same attitude toward the other candidates early on — especially John Edwards, and now . That will be wonderful to watch, if McCain and Obama become their parties’ nominees this summer.

My problem is, I’m too principled. I could easily be a in a totalitarian country, standing up in public against all those craven people who obey dictators. I’d wind up in a Gulag, of course, and I’d feel proud of myself, but I’m not sure how much I’d contribute to ending the tyranny. For certain, I’d despise my jailers as immoral — which might make them consider themselves immoral as well, for what that’s worth. However satisfactory it would be for me, it might not help them rise to the level of courage that are capable of attaining.

Obama, on the other hand, is a natural-born . He has principles and stands up for them a good deal of the time, even when he is expressing views that are designed to suit his political audiences. For example, the other night Hillary was claiming that she’s a and will fight for her health care proposals. But Obama expressed doubt that fighting is always what is required; sometimes it’s more useful to reach across to the Republicans and get support from them. (Maybe her failure to do so in the past explains her inability to get any good legislation enacted, but he was too tactful to say so.)

In the US today, the public is even more disgusted by Congress than by the president, since they merely fight all the time instead of working together to enact good laws. The result is a . They all know who their opponents are, but knowing that doesn't help much. Instead, they need to know that even their fiercest opponents have hidden ambivalences that can be contacted sometimes.

When Gandhi tried to practice law, he was a complete failure. He couldn’t function within the British whereby there are two sides, each trying to win. In traditional India, local elders would get together to find solutions to conflicts, not to apportion blame. This approach appealed to Gandhi, who in his own work always tried to acknowledge the worthy side of his adversaries, even when they were abusing him, and even when he was standing up for his principles with nonviolent resistance. I don’t do that easily, but I love watching people who are good at it. Especially Obama.

Everyone else seems to love it too. I was watching in London a couple of days ago, interviewing and of the New York Times. (There was another unfamiliar guy named Alistair too but I don’t recall his surname.) Ash said that what is going on now is not just an American election, but an election for the whole world. Both he and Burns expressed dismay about the that has come to prevail in Europe — indeed, almost everywhere. They agreed that even the most vitriolic anti-Americans in Europe also love the United States — or at least want to love it again. Obama’s candidacy is giving people reason to get over their hatred of America. Everywhere you go, anywhere in the world, says Ash, you will find people in coffee shops talking about Obama. And it’s elevating the . People see the possibility that this bad period of history will soon end.

So the dignity of the debates is helping clean up the whole world. People physically cringe when they are exposed to ugliness and rudeness. Indeed, it can make them ill if it prevails too long. So there is relief and pleasure when mutual respect is displayed. I am enjoying these US political debates primarily because they are civil and even enjoyable. Obama doesn’t look stressed at all and when someone asks him about a hostile remark from Hillary, he just says tolerantly, “Yes, it’s getting competitive now.”

In contrast, I heard the on Canada’s House of Commons the other day, and they were shouting catcalls at each other. I was shocked. I felt the same disgust during the last federal Canadian election when all the candidates were debating the issues; they kept interrupting and trying to drown each other out. , the leader of the NDP, whom I know and like personally, was the most offensive. I had to turn it off, it was so unpleasant.

An hour ago I was designing pages for Peace Magazine. My own article, a review of ’s book The Seventh Decade followed an article by a dear friend of mine about New Zealand’s successful refusal to allow ships carrying nuclear weapons into their harbors. Oddly, that article and my own review both mentioned , who had been U.S. Secretary of State when New Zealand took its courageous stand. Shultz is now one of the four most compelling advocates of complete nuclear disarmament — a fact that my friend found incongruous, since he had tried to intimidate the New Zealanders when they were keeping nuclear weapons out of their country.

In a way, I found it incongruous too. In those days I had regarded Shultz as a hawk, along with the president whom he served, . Yet both of them were closer all along to my own views than they usually showed. As Schell points out, Reagan was the strongest abolitionist anywhere, who in Reykjavik came within an inch of promising to get rid of all nuclear weapons as well as all the planes and missiles that carry them. At that moment, Shultz burst out with enthusiasm: “Let’s do it!”

What made their overt change possible? I think it was Gorbachev. Instead of approaching Reagan as the leader of a monolithic enemy state, he was able to recognize in him both the hard-nosed leader and the man who abhorred nuclear weapons. By recognizing Reagan’s ambivalence, he made change possible — or almost possible, for in the end it did not quite happen.

In her article about New Zealand, my friend proposes that Canada follow its example. She predicts that the United States would react badly and perhaps impose trade penalties as a way of retaliating. I have to admit that I edited her predictions a bit, reducing their draconian nature, since I dislike portraying the whole United States of America as a monolithic enemy. She often writes pieces in which she refers to “the US” as the source of some evil or other — and indeed most of my peacenik friends talk the same way, not realizing how their sweeping anti-Americanism undermines the possibility for cooperation. In editing, I always simply replace her reductive term “the US” with “the Bush administration.”

It is accurate to portray Bush as an extremist, but few people who have ever lived in the United States would portray the whole country that way. And at this particular moment in history, it is exceedingly unlikely that even the Bush administration would become harshly punitive toward Canada for refusing to be protected by America's nuclear “umbrella.” In fact, Prime Minister Chretien did decline to join the US ballistic missile defence and nothing bad happened to Canada. Today I’d expect the Obama-loving crowd of Americans to be thrilled if their ally Canada should take such a stand. They are learning to approach situations with hope; I'd like my peacenik friends to do the same.

I have evidence for my prediction, too. If you go to Barack Obama’s home page and read his section, you’ll find that he intends to move toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. (This contrasts to the position of Hillary Clinton, who intends only to reduce them.) Here’s Obama’s official nuclear weapons policy, word-for-word:

Nuclear Weapons

* A Record of Results: The gravest danger to the American people is the threat of a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon and the spread of nuclear weapons to dangerous regimes. Obama has taken bipartisan action to secure nuclear weapons and materials:
1. He joined Senator Dick Lugar in passing a law to help the United States and our allies detect and stop the smuggling of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world.
2. He joined Senator Chuck Hagel to introduce a bill that seeks to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, and stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
3. And while other candidates have insisted that we should threaten to drop nuclear bombs on terrorist training camps, Obama believes that we must talk openly about nuclear weapons – because the best way to keep America safe is not to threaten terrorists with nuclear weapons, it's to keep nuclear weapons away from terrorists.
* Secure Loose Nuclear Materials from Terrorists: Obama will secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years. While we work to secure existing stockpiles of nuclear material, Obama will negotiate a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material. This will deny terrorists the ability to steal or buy loose nuclear materials.
* Strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Obama will crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.
* Toward a Nuclear Free World: Obama will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But he will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. He will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate- range missiles so that the agreement is global.