Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Being Andrew Sullivan on New Year's Eve

Morning: The Blogger follies continue. I can't access Blogger's main page at home. I go to the office, and try again -- but nothing happens. I try accessing Oxblog and I get the classic "page cannot be displayed" link. Same with every other blogspot page.

Shrugging my shoulders, I knock on Jacob Levy's office and give him the Blogger lament. He tries to log on and succeeds without a hitch.

I eye him and his computer coldly. No one else is in today. Who would really miss Jacob? True, his office is not as messy as the story he linked to. It's not among the six messiest offices in the University of Chicago. But it's messy enough for him to be "lost."

I snap back to reality and try the machines in the student computer cluster. Sure enough, I'm able to log on without a hitch. I quickly cut and paste my two posts for the day.

Afternoon: After a few days of being Andrew Sullivan, I intuitively sense he'd drink a fair amount on New Year's Eve. I go purchase alcohol.

I have a strong hunch that Andrew Sullivan will have a late morning tomorrow as well.

posted by Dan at 09:18 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Really, I'm not being lazy

For those wondering if I'm slacking off from posting on the Daily Dish -- Blogger has crashed.

I'm shocked to report this fact.

UPDATE: Something screwy is still going on, but I've found a way around the problem.

posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Being Andrew Sullivan -- day two

Early this morning: I’m chagrined to see this morning that although Blogger says everything is hunky dory with my posts, I can’t see them on the public website – which is what led to the post below.

Chagrined is too weak a word – I’m freaking out. If I break a glass in my house, I’m slightly annoyed. If I break a glass at someone else’s house, I’m mortified beyond belief [So, um, how often do you go on glass-breaking binges?—ed. Come closer and find out]. Andrew’s been generous enough to loan me a valuable piece of real estate on the web, and it appears as though I’m letting my dog piss all over his lawn.

A few e-mails and calls later, the source of the problem is identified – is being upgraded to a new server, and the transition is proving to be a bit bumpy. The remote DNS servers around the web are taking their own sweet time to process the change in IP addresses. So, it’s not my fault (relief). It's not Blogger's fault either (surprise).

I see Josh Marshall taking Dean to task, and decide it’s worth posting. Dr. Dean is beginning to remind me of a scene from The West Wing when President Bartlett dealing with the fallout from concealing is case of remitting, relapsing multiple sclerosis. He admits to his press secretary that he never revealed his condition because he never thought he was going to win, so why bother? I've got to think there's a part of Dean that's shocked about being the front-runner.

I’ll admit to some reluctance about going after Dean too much, however. I’ve been hitting him pretty hard as of late, even though I defended the candidate over the summer. It’s not that I disagree with anything I’ve posted. It’s just that there are diminishing marginal returns to this kind of criticism, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record. Plus, Dean’s still got the nomination locked up – and if/when he wins, expect to see a passel of stories about how he’s acquired an invulnerability to media criticism.

11:00 AM: I get a bunch of e-mail in response to my political predictions post saying that a Yale economics professor, Ray Fair, had the 2000 race as close to even. I consider amending the post, but then I see that his 2004 model has George W. Bush winning 58.3% of the vote in November. That seems a tad high to me, even if Howard Dean is the nominee. I make a mental note to single Fair out if I'm wrong, though.

2:00 PM: One of the most useful articles in political science is a 1984 American Journal of Political Science essay by Mathew D. McCubbins and Thomas Schwartz entitled: "Congressional Oversight Overlooked: Police Patrols versus Fire Alarms," McCubbins and Schwartz's argument is that actors who seek information can gather it in two ways: actively seeking it through aggressive searches (police patrols) or trusting interested parties to get the information to you (fire alarms).

Going through the e-mail, there’s no question that big blogs attract a lot of fire alarms in the form of e-mail links. Does this make it easier for big blogs? Yes and no. There’s some good nuggets of information – the links to the Michigan and Conference Board projections for 2004 came from an e-mail. However, there’s a hell of a lot of chaff to go through as well.

On this post, I also link to the Easterbrook book, but I'll admit to wavering. I've been a big fan of Easterbrook's policy analysis in the past, particularly this TNR essay that's a key component of the new book. Last week, however, I made the mistake of linking to an Easterbrook post about the environment when it turned out he'd screwed up an important fact (he has yet to correct it). In this case, however, he appears to be standing on the shoulders of other researchers, so I go with it.

4:00 PM: That David Adesnik -- he thinks that flattery will get him a link. We'll show him!! Oh, wait...

5:00 PM: Ashcroft recuses himself from the Plame investigation. Post on it or take son to bookstore? Survey says... bookstore!!

posted by Dan at 12:30 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Blogger weirdness

If I go to, I get the site as most recently updated. If I go to, it looks like I haven't done any posting since yesterday afternoon.

Tech types -- any explanation?

UPDATE: OK, this is apparently a function of a change in servers. Thanks to all for responding -- especially Mark Petrovic.

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, December 29, 2003

Being Andrew Sullivan -- Day 1

Because these are going to pretty long (and potentially boring) posts, I'm using the extended entry feature:

Midnight: I log onto Andrew’s account to start posting (I'd written my introduction in advance). Immediately the imp within me starts whispering, “Hey, you could do anything you want. Change the background color to chartreuse! You're the king of the world! Go wild!!” It’s taken me multiple decades to get a grip on that part of my personality, and I successfully throttle down the urge.

After five months of getting comfortable with Movable Type, it’s back to my old Blogger software for the Daily Dish (cue acoustic guitar). I approach it warily, like an old girlfriend after a bad break-up. With apologies to Paul Simon:

Hello Blogger, my old friend
I’ve come to post on you again
I hope this time you are working
Don’t tell me that you’ll be crashing
And the essay that was formed in my brain
Still remains
But there’s a click of silence...

And the people bowed and prayed
To the online god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, “Blogger is temporarily down.
Please don’t frown.”
And despaired in the clicks of silence...

Seriously, the one downside of MT I’ve noticed is that I don’t bother with quick-link posts – probably because, in the back of my mind, it seems ridiculous to create a new web page for a two sentence post. In terms of the linker/thinker divide, MT leads me to fewer of the former.

So I’m delighted to see Robert Tagorda’s clean post about Dean – because it makes a trenchant point and all I have to do is write one sentence. Post one down. [Why didn't you link to Pejmanesque as well?--ed. Because Tagorda had the contrasting quotes, and linked to Pejman already. I'm sure Yousefzadeh will take it in stride.]

Hmm… what else to write about? There’s the Iranian earthquake – except that there’s nothing to write about except some variation of “It’s horrible.” P.J. O’Rourke, in his introduction to my all-time favorite travel book, Holidays in Hell, pointed out that phenomena like earthquakes, floods, and mudslides are simply the opposite of tourist sightseeing – yes, very sad, but what else is there to say? In this case, even charity links won’t necessarily do much good, as Bam doesn’t appear to need any supplies – the damage has been done.

Bob Herbert’s column? Oh, it's so tempting – this is the sort of half-assed, squishy writing reminiscent of old-school NYT op-ed contributors (Rosenthal, Lewis, Rich) and worth ripping on a regular basis. Even if one accepts Herbert's premise (I don't), if he had done any research, he might have realized that there are some tangible proposals for what he wants done. But I’ve blogged about this too recently… don’t want to sound like a broken record.

I notice the LAT and WaPo stories, which dovetail each other nicely. However, I’m not entirely sure how to frame the post. Worry that the administration is screwing up? Intrigue at Brent Scowcroft’s preference to stick it out? I decide to sleep on it.

9:00 AM: I wake up and post on the LAT/WaPo stories, but frankly, I don’t think I quite nailed it. Occasionally this happens – too many ideas to mold into just a few paragraphs.

I click over to Slate’s Today’s Papers feature and see the mention of the NYT Halliburton story. Eric Umansky was harsh on the Times:

The NYT has been tops among the papers in suggesting that Halliburton has been making extra bucks. So, the paper deserves credit for publishing a piece questioning that earlier suggestion. But why doesn't the article's headline clearly reflect the revised conclusion? Instead it's mushy: "HALLIBURTON CONTRACTS IN IRAQ: THE STRUGGLE TO MANAGE COSTS."

I’ve been making the argument that the Halliburton contracts are not evidence of either systemic corruption or specific corruption for some time, so it’s nice to see the Times come to the same conclusion. I post it.

10:00 AM: I log onto the Daily Dish’s AOL account to check mail. 150 new messages await me. Admittedly, 50 of them are offering me glimpses of Paris Hilton’s sex tape, but that’s still a lot in twelve hours. One of the e-mails mentions the AFA poll about gay marriage. I’ve only posted about this topic once on my site. But it’s a good, counterintuitive story, and I remember Eugene Volokh’s post from last Friday. Plus, I figure Daily Dish readers would go into withdrawal if the topic is not mentioned once. Up it goes.

10:30 AM. Let’s log on and see how things are going…. Wait, why can’t I access the Daily Dish? It’s down! Ahh!!!! I f@#$%ed up somehow!! In less than twelve hours, I’ve single-handedly destroyed Andrew Sullivan’s site!! DAMN YOU BLOGGER!!! DAMN YOU TO HELL!!!!

10:40 AM: After much gnashing of teeth and a little jiggering, Blogger starts working again. Respiration and cardiac activity return to normal.

Blogger sucks. I decide for the rest of the week to compose on my own blog and then cut and paste onto the Daily Dish.

11:30 AM: I go out for groceries with my son, who’s day care center is closed for the week. No one at the store goes, “Hey, that’s Dan Drezner!! He’s subbing for Sullivan this week!” I realize this is because:

a) These people have lives.

b) Since Richard Posner, Gary Becker, John Mearsheimer, Cass Sunstein, and Martha Nussbaum shop there too, I'm pretty small beer.

posted by Dan at 06:08 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (8)

Sunday, December 28, 2003

And now for something completely different...

I will be guest-blogging at the Daily Dish for the next week. That's right, I'm stepping up from Playful Primate to Higher Being, baby!! [I'm moving up too?--ed. Not so much.]

Does that mean no new content on this blog until 2004? Not exactly.

Inspired by Slate's Diary series, ESPN's "This is Sportscenter" documentary from the summer, and the stereotype of bloggers as "self-important," I'll be posting here on the behind-the-scenes thinking that go into guest-blogging. Why did I post on this topic but not that topic? What's it like to have the big megaphone? And other sorts of flotsam and jetsam that run through my brain when I'm blogging.

Think of it as if VH1 did a Behind the Blog episode -- it would be just like Behind the Music without the groupies, bimbos, boy toys, massive drug use, fisticuffs, arrests, and downward arc to the narrative (I hope).

In other words, more like C-SPAN's Booknotes.

Be warned -- musings like these can be scary to the naked eye.

But it's all worth it -- to the ten or so of you who care about such things.

posted by Dan at 03:06 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (8)

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Protectionism never tasted so sour

The Chicago Tribune had another story this week on the outsourcing of American manufacturing jobs. The cause? American protectionism:

BRYAN, Ohio -- Here in what could be called the candy cane capital of the world, residents like to boast that food doesn't get more American than this old-fashioned, red-and-white striped confection.

That's because more than 90 percent of those peppermint canes are consumed within the United States. And nearly all were made domestically as well.

But no more.

In the last three years, nearly half of all U.S. candy cane production has shifted to Mexico, industry experts say.

That's true of the candy cane maker based in this northwest Ohio town, Spangler Candy Co., which recently opened a plant in Juarez that generates half of Spangler's striped treats.

But the story of the Mexican candy cane isn't your typical tale of American manufacturers chasing lower wages. It's more about the cost of sugar than the cost of labor.

Because federal tariffs and subsidies push the price of U.S. sugar far above what it fetches on the world market, candy cane makers such as Spangler are opening factories overseas, where sugar can cost 6 cents a pound compared to 21 cents back home....

Other makers of hard candy have followed a similar pattern, at least in part because hard candy, unlike chocolates which can use corn syrup substitutes, are so sugar-intensive.

In Chicago, for example, Brach's Confections plans to shut its plant in 2004, forcing about 1,000 workers out of their jobs. The Chicago area, the center of the U.S. confection business, has lost an estimated 3,000 candy-related jobs since 1998.

The good news -- if the Central American Free Trade Agreement is passed, manufacturers that rely on sugar as an input of production would no longer have the same need to relocate.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (3)

Friday, December 26, 2003

I feel trendy, oh so trendy...

The web site announces its top ten words of 2003:

"This year the Iraqi War has dominated the English language as it has dominated the news," said Robert Beard, CEO of yourDictionary.

According to Paul JJ Payack, Chairman of the company, "Embedded was the best word to distill the events of an extraordinary year into 8 simple letters." (emphasis added)

yourDictionary doesn't seem too thrilled with its number two word: "Blog: Web logs have come of age and, regrettably, this lexical mutation with them."

UPDATE: Editor & Publisher doesn't seem too thrilled with blogs either (link via Glenn Reynolds):

Blah, blah, Blogs: Probably the most hyped online development in 2003 (along with growth in site registration), but will these self-important online journals actually change the way newspapers do journalism on the Web?

posted by Dan at 11:09 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

When public figures say silly things

What do Howard Dean and Michael Jackson have in common? They both said something stupid today.

Here are Michael Jackson's views on sleeping with children, expressed to CBS:

In his first interview since his arrest on child molestation charges, Michael Jackson tells Ed Bradley it’s still ok to share his bed with children in a report to be broadcast on CBS News' 60 Minutes, Sunday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m./ET, 6 p.m./Central.

The pop star says, "Of course. Why not? If you’re going to be a pedophile, if you’re going to be Jack the Ripper, if you’re going to be a murderer, it’s not a good idea. That I am not."

Question for Michael Jackson: do you think this is the best PR strategy to be pursuing?

Then there's Howard Dean on Osama bin Laden in an interview with the Concord Monitor:

The Monitor asked: Where should Osama bin Laden be tried if he's caught? Dean said he didn't think it made any difference, and if he were president he would consult with his lawyers for advice on the subject.

But wouldn't most Americans feel strongly that bin Laden should be tried in America - and put to death?

"I've resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found," Dean said. "I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials. So I'm sure that is the correct sentiment of most Americans, but I do think if you're running for president, or if you are president, it's best to say that the full range of penalties should be available. But it's not so great to prejudge the judicial system."

Logical question for Governor Dean -- how is your support for the decision to go to war in Afghanistan not tantamount to "pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found"? [So you want to string up bin Laden the moment we get our hands on him?--ed. No, no -- due process for everyone. But I can hear Karl Rove cackling with glee from this time zone. So this is going to hurt Dean in the nomination?--ed. No, it's going to help him -- click here for why.]

UPDATE: Dean released a clarifying statement on his official blog:

I share the outrage of all Americans. Osama bin Laden has admitted that he is responsible for killing 3,000 Americans as well as scores of men, women and children around the world. This is exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh has more:

Now, I don't have any problem with giving bin Laden a fair trial--assuming of course that he is still alive to stand trial. I am a lawyer, I care about due process, and from a purely political standpoint, I'm more than happy to show the world that even America's enemies are given a fair shake in American courts.

But Dean reveals himself to be the vacuous and lightweight presidential candidate that he is in stating that "he didn't think it made any difference" where bin Laden is tried, if he does stand trial. Of course it makes a difference. If bin Laden were tried only in the Hague--the only possible location other than in the United States for a trial--he would not receive the death penalty, as the international tribunal is forbidden from sentencing anyone to death. If, as Dan reports in his update, Dean is serious about his statement that the September 11th attacks are "exactly the kind of case that the death penalty is meant for," then he has to take the question of jurisdiction far more seriously than his flippant and comical answer would seem to indicate he is taking it.

I'm more ambivalent on the death penalty question for Osama than Pejman -- as I've said before, for Al Qaeda, embarrassment is a punishment worse than death.

posted by Dan at 10:50 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (3)

Plame blame update

Remember the Valerie Plame affair from the fall? Kevin Drum links to a Washington Post story that suggests the investigation is gathering momentum:

The Justice Department has added a fourth prosecutor to the team investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity, while the FBI has said a grand jury may be called to take testimony from administration officials, sources close to the case said.

Administration and CIA officials said they have seen signs in the past few weeks that the investigation continues intensively behind closed doors, even though little about the investigation has been publicly said or seen for months.

According to administration officials and people familiar with some of the interviews, FBI agents apparently started their White House questioning with top figures -- including President Bush's senior adviser, Karl Rove -- and then worked down to more junior officials. The agents appear to have a great deal of information and have constructed detailed chronologies of various officials' possible tie to the leak, people familiar with the questioning said.

The Justice Department has added a prosecutor specializing in counterintelligence, joining two other counterintelligence prosecutors and one from Justice's Public Integrity section.

Still developing...

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Is the Iraqi resistance weakening?

One of the big questions in the wake of Saddam's capture is what effect it will have on the security situation in Iraq. Reports like these don't offer a world of comfort.

The Washington Post has a front-pager suggesting that the impact -- combined with a choking off of financial incentives -- could prove significant:

As U.S. forces tracked Saddam Hussein to his subterranean hiding place, they unearthed a trove of intelligence about five families running the Iraqi insurgency, according to U.S. military commanders, who said the information is being used to uproot remaining resistance forces.

Senior U.S. officers said they were surprised to discover -- clue by clue over six months -- that the upper and middle ranks of the resistance were filled by members of five extended families from a few villages within a 12-mile radius of the volatile city of Tikrit along the Tigris River. Top operatives drawn from these families organized the resistance network, dispatching information to individual cells and supervising financial channels, the officers said. They also protected Hussein and passed information to and from the former president while he was on the run.

At the heart of this tightly woven network is Auja, Hussein's birthplace, which U.S. commanders say is the intelligence and communications hub of the insurgency. The village is where many of the former president's key confidants have their most lavish homes and their favorite wives....

The families have sought to disperse the money around the country to make it available for local operations. U.S. forces discovered that Hussein loyalists had set up a network of front companies, in particular construction businesses and produce-sellers, to move the cash.

Raids have uncovered caches of millions of dollars, officers said. A series of strikes early this month proved especially successful in netting key financiers and revealing front companies. "When we take out pockets of inner-circle families, we also take out the money that we find," Russell said.

Now, U.S. officers said they suspect the resistance may be running low on funds because Hussein partisans have recently been selling off some of their properties, even hawking household items. At the same time, some local guerrillas are demanding higher pay, military officers said.

Hickey said the ambush last month of two U.S. convoys bringing new Iraqi currency to Samarra was carried out by insurgents badly in need of cash. The subsequent firefight left 54 guerrillas dead, according to U.S. military officials.

Hickey added he has detected very little movement of cash around his area. But he and other officers have reported efforts to smuggle munitions into the Tikrit area, an indication that U.S. raids on local weapons caches may have depleted the insurgency's stores. Most of the arms discovered during recent raids, such as rusting, decrepit Kalashnikov rifles, have been of poorer quality than the newer, more sophisticated weapons found during the summer, he said.

The caveat paragraphs should be read closely, however:

U.S. commanders said the resistance sometimes seems to be a nationwide network, with mid-level operatives and low-level fighters from one part of the country surfacing in other regions. A recent rocket attack on Tikrit, for instance, appeared to be carried out by guerrillas from Fallujah, located nearly 90 miles away on the Euphrates River west of Baghdad.

Within the past several months, U.S. officers have also noticed two or three waves of attacks that extended across the country, indicating an attempt at nationwide coordination, Hickey said. But he added that those efforts had failed to gain momentum.

At other times, commanders say, the resistance seems mostly decentralized, with mid-level operatives choosing targets locally and supplying weapons kept close at hand.


posted by Dan at 10:51 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (0)

The Illinois gurus of faculty productivity

The Chicago Tribune reports that faculty working at Illinois state colleges and universities had better be productive this year:

The Illinois Board of Higher Education has launched a controversial examination of faculty productivity, a move that has riled professors at public universities throughout the state.

Having challenged university administrators to pare costs and increase their own productivity, board Chairman James Kaplan wants to take the same look at college faculty.

Accordingly, Kaplan has impaneled a committee that will begin early next year to review everything, from what kind of research projects faculty undertake to how much time they spend in the classroom.

Kaplan said that with the state's finances still in trouble, a close look at faculty productivity--even in traditionally sacrosanct areas like research--is warranted.

Kaplan said he does not intend to "stymie" research at public colleges and universities, but "there's got to be a tangible, measurable benefit for the people of the state of Illinois for a professor doing research."

A few thoughts on this:

1) I'm not sure if the fault lies with the Tribune's reporting or Kaplan's statements, but what's being debated here is not productivity -- which is the units of output generated divided by the units of inputs involved in the production process. What the Illinois Board of Higher Education appears to be concerned with is output (A slightly more charitable read is the board is simply holding inputs -- in the form of faculty salaries -- constant, and trying to figure out how to squeeze more output -- in the form of classes taught, etc.).

2) I wonder if Kaplan really understands the economics of higher education, and the role that research grants play in funding university budgets. From a state perspective, the benefits of research activity are not just the fruits of the research -- the benefits also come from the employment of research staff. Click here for a recent local story dealing with the relationship between research, teaching, and benefits to Illinois.

3) Reading some of Kaplan's quotes in the article, it's not clear if he knows anything about higher education -- or public relations:

Despite studies that show college faculty routinely work more than 50 hours a week, the paucity of classroom time and the sometimes esoteric nature of their research has officials like Kaplan expressing impatience with the culture that pervades parts of academia.

"I'm a practical guy, I am not an egghead," Kaplan said. "I can't sit and do these ephemeral things."....

Kaplan stressed he's not out to quash research programs or load professors up with unreasonable course loads.

"Nothing is farther from my mind [than] to focus on classroom time," Kaplan said. "We recognize the importance of public service and also of research."

And in a comment sure to set off a firestorm, Kaplan said faculty should attend professional conferences on their own time.

"I don't view going to a conference as a public service," he said.

As much as I like to poke fun at academic conferences, this last statement is idiotic. All professions have some form of continuing education so that they stay on top of their field. Conferences serve this function for most academic disciplines.

4) It's not easy working at a state university of college. The name itself is partially misleading, because it implies that the state shoulders most of the burden to pay for these institutions. In fact, according to this report, the percentage contribution of state taxes to the University of Illinois system's operating budget has declined from 46.6% in 1980 to an estimated 23.5% in 2004. Despite this fact, the state's control over the university system -- with its added layers of regulation and bureacucacy -- has not changed one iota.

UPDATE: AtlanticBlog and Cold Spring Shops have more on this.

posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Christmas and capitalism in Eastern Europe

To end the Christmas day blogging on some good news:

The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating story on the extension of credit cards into Central and Eastern Europe -- just in time for holiday shopping! The interesting parts:

During the communist era, Christmas in Budapest was a low-key affair, often celebrated clandestinely.

But as Hungary and other former East Bloc countries move closer to the European Union, the Christmas season has become a time of jampacked shopping malls and frenzied spending....

A decade ago, no one in Hungary had credit cards. These days, it seems everyone's wallet is bulging with plastic. Among a population of 10 million people, there are now close to 6 million credit and debit cards in use.

The pattern is similar across Eastern Europe. Poland, with a population of 38 million, went from zero cards a decade ago to more than 13 million last year.

"For young people, it all seems very natural and normal. But the evolution of the economy over the last 10 years--the speed was double that of Western Europe after the last world war," said Janos Lendvai, CEO of Magyar Cetelem, a French-owned bank that is Hungary's market leader in consumer credit.

These countries are not only playing catch-up to Western Europe, however. In some areas of the protection of credit, they're innovating:

The biggest obstacle credit card marketers had to overcome in Hungary was fear of fraud. But consumer concerns about the safety of their cards have led to an important security innovation made possible by the explosive growth of mobile phones in Hungary.

Each time a card is used, the cardholder immediately gets a text message on his or her cell phone confirming the transaction and notifying the cardholder of the balance. Initially developed in Hungary, the messaging system is used widely in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is now being introduced in Western Europe.

Developing... in a good way.

Merry Christmas to all!!

posted by Dan at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (2)

An interesting month for Pervez Musharraf

Buried in a Newsweek story about the prospects of capturing bin Laden was the following nugget of information about Al Qaeda's strategy vis-à-vis Pakistan:

Qaeda terrorists may have tried to kill Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf with a bomb last week, missing his car by seconds. [bin Laden deputy Ayman] Al-Zawahiri, in the latest video aired by Al-Jazeera on Friday, warned of new attacks. Yet such operations—which require wide networks of operatives, one of whom might be interested in a $25 million reward—could provide intelligence-gathering opportunities to Western agents.

The real test of bin Laden's vulnerability may now come in Pakistan. If the attack on Musharraf proves to be Qaeda-linked—rather than an "inside" assassination attempt, perhaps by members of the Pakistani military—it could backfire against bin Laden by provoking the Pakistani president into decisive action. U.S. intelligence officials say their ability to capture bin Laden and his associates is largely dependent on intelligence assistance from Pakistan, an ally that once supported the Taliban and whose loyalties have sometimes been in doubt. "Most of Musharraf's actions against jihadis have been reluctantly taken under tremendous U.S. pressure, often preceding or just following a high-level American visit," says Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat. One U.S. intel official, asked about a potential breakthrough against bin Laden, responds simply: "That's going to be a Pakistani thing."

It's far from certain if this analysis is correct. As previously noted, Musharraf's domestic political situation is not great. His latest deal with the Islamic opposition could either be interpreted as a sign of democratization, a concession to hard-line Islamists, or both.

However, the failed assassination attempt on Musharraf two weeks ago -- the same day Saddam was captured -- has not deterred the Pakistani leader's opponents:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has narrowly survived a second assassination bid in less than two weeks when suicide car bombers attacked his motorcade, killing themselves and at least 12 others.

Officials said on Thursday the two cars used in the attack were driven out of two petrol stations just 200 metres (yards) from a bridge on a main road in the city of Rawalpindi where Musharraf escaped a bombing on December 14....

Authorities suspect Islamic militants, who Musharraf has targeted as part of his contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror, were behind the December 14 attack. Musharraf told Reuters a few days later it could have been the work of al Qaeda and he believed "destiny" had shielded him.

The list of Musharraf's enemies has lengthened since he took a front-line role in the U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

He has angered militants by dropping support for the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, arresting hundreds of members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and cracking down on domestic groups, and by edging towards peace with rival India.

The attack come just over a week before a regional summit in Islamabad due to be attended by India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

In September, Arabic television broadcast an audio tape purportedly from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri urging Pakistanis to overthrow Musharraf for supporting the United States.

Gonna be an interesting 2004 for Pakistani politics!! [Every year is an interesting year for Pakistani politics!--ed. Point taken]

UPDATE: Ahmed Rashid has a disturbing analysis of Musharraf's domestic position in the Daily Telegraph.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Is Al Qaeda stuck in a rut?

Reuters reports a French Interior Ministry confirmation that, "national carrier Air France had canceled three U.S.-bound flights from Paris due to security concerns."

MSNBC has been all over this story (link via Josh Marshall):

A senior U.S. official told NBC's Robert Windrem that the United States had uncovered "plausible" intelligence that several flights originating in Paris would be the targets of terrorists, including the three Air France flights that were canceled.

The official described the intelligence as "fairly specific. ... We do not take it for lock-solid, no-doubt intelligence, but instead I would call it plausible. It's the sort of intelligence that matches up with other stuff we received."

Some of the intelligence was "date-specific, some route-specific. ... There are other flights and routes," he said, adding without elaboration that Air France was not the only airline discussed in the reports.

What's even more interesting in the story is the intelligence about Al Qaeda's grand strategy:

U.S. officials said the information indicated that al-Qaida planned to use foreign airliners as missiles, guided by al-Qaida operatives working as crew members. They said it appeared that Osama bin Laden personally approved the plan at a recent meeting.

The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies had learned that al-Qaida operatives would try to fly hijacked foreign airliners into targets in the United States....

U.S. officials and terrorism experts also have identified some potential targets, including at least one small town that would appear an unlikely objective.

The officials said al-Qaida seems particularly interested in Tappahannock, Va., a town of 2,016 people with no military base or major infrastructure. Such an attack would be intended to generate widespread fear that no one was safe, even in small rural towns, they said.

“Just remember that al-Qaida is not just looking to kill as many Americans as possible. They’re looking to seriously hurt our nation’s economy,” terrorism specialist Roger Cressey, former chief of staff of the President's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board, said in an interview.

In addition to big cities like New York and Los Angeles, al-Qaida has targeted Las Vegas, the officials said, because of its economic value as the nation's No. 2 vacation destination and as home to large conventions and trade shows beginning next month....

The new intelligence adds details to information about the al-Qaida plot first reported Monday by NBC News, which quoted U.S. officials as saying the terrorist threat assessment was raised over the weekend because of indications that al-Qaida operatives may now be fully trained and licensed pilots for some foreign airlines, ideally positioning them to carry out suicide attacks.

A few thoughts:

1) Oddly, it's reassuring to hear that Al Qaeda is sticking to its tried and true strategies rather than trying to invent new methods of causing mayhem. [Unless this is an Al Qaeda prank?--ed. Yes, that's been suggested.] The last paragraph shows that they are trying to innovate within a chosen strategy. However, this is more manageable to defend against than something completely different. This variant is also less deadly than the 9/11 attacks, as Captain Ed points out.

2) The Vegas gambit confirms something I wrote a year ago about Al Qaeda's strategy -- that their enemy is not just the United States, but the pursuit of happiness that is a vital component of the American -- nay, Western -- ethos. Here's what I said about the appropriate U.S. response:

[M]any pundits criticized President Bush for his exhortation last year to fight the war on terrorism by going shopping. Both Democrats and "national greatness" Republicans said that was the time to marshall Americans towards some greater collective goal. I sympathize with this response, but it smacks of an attempt to match Al Qaeda in their humorless puritanism. I say Bush didn't go far enough in the other direction. Given Al Qaeda's current predelictions, the best way to fight the war on terror is to put our decadent brand of hedonism on full display. So my advice is to take a long, luxuriant vacation.

UPDATE: The Associated Press (link via here) reports that U.S. officials are ticked that the story is now public:

The flights scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday were called off because of information obtained "in the framework of the French-American fight against terrorism," the French prime minister's office said.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had been meeting with French officials in recent days over concerns about a possible terrorist attack over the Christmas holiday.

One U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. government had been trying to keep the negotiations with France confidential, "hoping that we would be able to lure some of these people in."

The official said there was some frustration within the Department of Homeland Security that the flights were canceled, thus allowing the word to get out about the security concerns.

For those inclined to blame the French for this, look at the NBC story again -- it looks like U.S. officials were leaking a day before any action was taken.

posted by Dan at 02:44 PM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (5)

Good news and bad news on international support for Iraq

Good news first: Josh Marshall links to this story indicating that South Korea has agreed to dispatch significant numbers of troops to Iraq:

Deployment of the nation's contingent of 3,000 troops to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk will begin in April until the end of next year to help rebuild the war-devastated Middle Eastern nation, officials said on Tuesday.

The Seoul government finalized the decision during a Cabinet meeting at Chong Wa Dae.

The Defense Ministry plans to refer the proposal, signed by President Roh Moo-hyun, to the National Assembly, which is likely to endorse it since the major political parties have been supporting the plan....

Seoul's fact-finding mission to Iraq earlier reported the residents in Kirkuk have been friendly to Koreans and recommended the region as the appropriate site for troop deployment.

South Korea earlier decided to send some 3,000 soldiers to Iraq consisting of both combat and non-combat troops that include engineers and medics.

Bad news -- the Gulf states are not planning on forgiving either Iraq's debts or its reparation payments anytime soon, according to the Financial Times:

Iraq's main Arab creditors will only negotiate debt relief with a sovereign government in Baghdad and not the US-appointed interim Governing Council, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said on Tuesday.

No decision was taken regarding debt relief to Iraq at a meeting of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Kuwait this week. However, Saud al-Faisal appeared to dismiss the credibility of the Governing Council as representative of Iraq and to make it clear that GCC states would not negotiate with it.

"The indebtedness of the Iraqi government entails that we discuss this issue with a government that is sovereign. It's a question of dialogue among nations, and I don't think that an effective dialogue can take place unless there's a sovereign Iraqi government. When that government comes, we are ready to discuss these issues," Prince Saud said....

Kuwait's prime minister, Sheikh Sabah al-Jaber, said this week that Iraq should not be freed from repayments, "because it is a country that can repay its debts".

Saudi Arabia is owed $25bn from loans made prior to the 1991 Gulf war. The foreign minister's statement is being seen as a sign that a forthcoming visit by James Baker, the former US secretary of state and President George W. Bush's special envoy charged with negotiating debt reduction for Iraq, could be marked by tough talks that are unlikely to be resolved until the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty - scheduled for June 2004.

posted by Dan at 11:15 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

Howard Dean is so in the mainstream

For those who believe that Howard Dean is too far out of the political mainstream should consider this defense of him:

Dean’s critique of American politics remains both limited and superficial. It stops precisely where it should begin. This is not primarily a function of Dean’s personality or intellectual powers. Rather, it flows from his position as a defender of American capitalism and the basic interests of the US ruling class.

The source? "Howard Dean rejects Washington Post charge that he is “beyond the mainstream,” David Walsh and Barry Grey, World Socialist Web Site.

UPDATE: On a more serious note, Will Saletan seems to adopt a slightly schizophrenic position towards Dean in two separate Slate stories on Dean's latest speech. Saletan said the following last Thursday:

Dean is doing the same thing [as Clinton did before -- triangulation]. When he claims to stand for a "new era" different from Clinton's, he isn't really ditching Clinton's agenda. He's just bashing Clinton so that his audience—liberals, angry Democrats, and disgusted nonvoters—won't think of his agenda as Clintonism.

Dean's speech doesn't libel Clinton; it plagiarizes him. Clinton advocated a "New Covenant." Dean advocates a "New Social Contract." Clinton promised basic guarantees to all those who worked hard. Dean promises "basic guarantees to all those who are working hard." Clinton proposed $10,000 a year in college aid. Dean proposes $10,000 a year in college aid. Clinton proposed a retirement savings program. Dean proposes a retirement savings program. Clinton created Americorps as a model of community service. Dean calls Americorps a model of community service.

However, this week, Saletan says:

Either all this stuff from the Dean campaign about the establishment is an attack on the Clintonian center, or it's the usual meaningless blather that politicians toss to crowds to make themselves look nonpolitical. Either way, it's fake. I think it's blather, but the more Dean talks about it and applies it to various issues, the more it looks like an attack on the center. And if that's the mission Dean has in mind, Democrats would be well-advised to jump off his truck before he blows it up.

Dean often says Democrats can't win by running as "Bush lite." Thursday, he accused "Washington Democrats" of failing to oppose President Bush more diametrically on Iraq, tax cuts, and education. "The Democratic Party has to offer a clear alternative," he argued. Toward that end, Dean rejects nearly every proposition or policy put forward by Bush. "We are no safer today than we were the day the planes struck at the World Trade Center," Dean said Thursday, adding that the capture of Saddam Hussein "does not mean that this president—or the Washington Democrats—can declare victory in the war on terror."

Picture that debate next year: On one side, Bush, the Washington Democrats, support for some tax cuts, relief at Saddam's capture, and the belief that by toppling the Taliban, if not Saddam, we're safer today than we were on 9/11. On the other side, Howard Dean.

posted by Dan at 10:58 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Whither Wolfowitz?

Today's Washington Post has a pretty sympathetic profile of Paul Wolfowitz.

Two minor quibbles, however. First, it contains this statement:

No deputy secretary of defense has ever held the prominence that Wolfowitz has had over the last two years. He is widely seen inside the Pentagon as the most likely replacement if Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld steps down.

That ignores a hell of a lot of chatter saying the opposite. Mickey Kaus collects some press clippings arguing that Wolfowitz is actually on the outs with the administration. For example, Time says:

The Rummy and Wolfie show may soon go off the air. It is widely believed in national-security circles that Wolfowitz may leave the Administration sometime in 2004. He has become too controversial for Bush to promote to Defense Secretary; Wolfowitz believed that U.S. troops in Iraq would be greeted with rose petals.

UPDATE: Kaus now has chatter that contradicts his previously collected chatter:

Kf has received an email from a trusted oracular Bush source suggesting not: "The guy spreading it is free-lancing." ... You mean a distinguished journalist like Robert Novak--who wrote that Wolfowitz had fallen from favor--would be carrrying water for a source? I don't believe it! ... (emphases in original)

Second quibble -- the story has the following criticism:

Some see Wolfowitz's views on the Middle East as dangerously naive. "Wolfowitz doesn't know much about the business he's in," says retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former chief of the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the region. "He knows very little about war fighting. And he knows very little about the Middle East, aside from maybe Israel."

Shouldn't the Post have mentioned that Hoar is now on Howard Dean's list of foreign policy advisors?

And what, exactly, does Hoar mean by that last clause?

UPDATE: TNR's &c. has more Wolfowitz.

posted by Dan at 03:44 PM | Comments (79) | Trackbacks (2)

The bargaining strength of weak states, part II

While we're on the subject of coping with the weak leaders of key states, the latest issue of Foreign Affairs has an analysis by Michael Doran on the political struggle taking place within Saudi Arabia. The key part:

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. Many agree that the Saudi political system must somehow evolve, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.

The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia's two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.

One must give the Saudis credit -- they make Pakistani politics look positively transparent.

posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

The politics of the global warming debate

Gregg Easterbrook has a great post on the politics underlying the scientific debate over global warming:

Critics of instant-doomsday environmental thinking continue to be mau-maued by enviros and the liberal wing of the establishment. This is wrong in and of itself, and also stupid politics from the standpoint of convincing the world to heed warnings about global warming. The case for greenhouse-effect reform will only become persuasive once environmental science is depoliticized.

Read the whole post -- and Easterbrook doesn't even mention all of the salient criticisms of the environmentalists.

UPDATE: A mea culpa partial retraction of the endorsement for Easterbrook's post -- he erred in his description of the politics underlying one of the two cases that form the basis of the post. See David Appell for more on this, as well as the discussion thread below. Thanks to multiple commenters below for the heads-up.

Another treatment can be found in the Technology Review article to which Easterbrook linked. Interesting quote:

Let me be clear. My own reading of the literature and study of paleoclimate suggests strongly that carbon dioxide from burning of fossil fuels will prove to be the greatest pollutant of human history. It is likely to have severe and detrimental effects on global climate. I would love to believe that the results of Mann et al. are correct, and that the last few years have been the warmest in a millennium.

Love to believe? My own words make me shudder. They trigger my scientist’s instinct for caution. When a conclusion is attractive, I am tempted to lower my standards, to do shoddy work. But that is not the way to truth. When the conclusions are attractive, we must be extra cautious.

FINAL UPDATE: The Economist has a story suggesting that non-industrial forms of human activity also affect global warming.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

A roiling debate about income inequality, part LXVII

I've said my peace about income inequality in the United States and its social effects some time ago, and I have no wish to dredge up the topic again. However, the rest of the blogosphere is quite taken up with the topic. So let's link!!

Paul Krugman's latest essay in the Nation -- inspired by Aaron Bernstein's Business Week article "Waking Up From the American Dream," which Kevin Jones has reprinted on his blog -- makes the following assertion:

[S]ocial mobility in the United States (which was never as high as legend had it) has declined considerably over the past few decades. If you put that research together with other research that shows a drastic increase in income and wealth inequality, you reach an uncomfortable conclusion: America looks more and more like a class-ridden society.

And guess what? Our political leaders are doing everything they can to fortify class inequality, while denouncing anyone who complains--or even points out what is happening--as a practitioner of "class warfare."

This would seem to dovetail nicely with Louis Uchitelle's recent New York Times analysis as well, which Brad DeLong links.

However, Mickey Kaus points out that in DeLong's comments section, James Suroweicki and Jim Glass have challenged some of the numbers behgind the NYT analysis. Kaus' response to Krugman:

Economic inequality's clearly growing, because the rich are rapidly getting richer. What I resist is the idea that the average worker is getting poorer in absolute terms--a notion now pushed by Paul Krugman in The Nation as well as by Uchitelle. Arguing in this fashion that capitalism doesn't "deliver the goods" is a mug's game. It's the one thing capitalism does! The New Left knew that. The Newer, Hack Left seems to have forgotten. Have Krugman and Uchitelle been to Best Buy and seen all the average families buying big-screen TVs? Casual empiricism suggests that the vast majority of citizens are also getting richer, just more slowly--i.e. not enough to stop the rich-poor "gap" from widening. That gap creates lots of profound problems, but the progressive immiseration of the citizenry is not one of them.

Go read everything. Report back!!

posted by Dan at 12:07 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, December 22, 2003

How Al Jazeera covers the news

The headline according to CNN:




The Financial Times:


The Times of India:


And then there's the headline according to Al Jazeerah:


I'm sure this is just a difference in translation.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

The bargaining strength of weak leaders

Over the weekend, there was good news out of South Asia: In pursuit of peace with India, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, is prepared to abandon his country's 50-year quest for a U.N.-mandated referendum on the future of the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, according to an interview published Thursday.

Musharraf's conditional offer to put the referendum "aside" is the latest in a series of recent peace overtures between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, which have fought three wars -- two of them over Kashmir -- and nearly fought another one last year.

Last month, India and Pakistan agreed on a cease-fire in Kashmir, and the Indian prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is due here next month for a regional summit that Pakistani officials hope will pave the way for formal peace negotiations.

This offer was received warmly by both India and the United States. Two days later, Inidia and Pakistan agreed to resume coordinated border patrols.

Now, any progress in stabilizing relations between two nuclear powers who have fought three wars over the past fivty years is a good thing. The fact that Pakistan has been the country to compromise appears to be even more promising.

Until we get to today's New York Times story on Pakistan and nuclear proliferation:

A lengthy investigation of the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, by American and European intelligence agencies and international nuclear inspectors has forced Pakistani officials to question his aides and openly confront evidence that the country was the source of crucial technology to enrich uranium for Iran, North Korea and possibly other nations.

Until the past few weeks, Pakistani officials had denied evidence that the A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, named for the man considered a national hero, had ever been a source of weapons technology to countries aspiring to acquire fissile material. Now they are backing away from those denials, while insisting that there has been no transfer of nuclear technology since President Pervez Musharraf took power four years ago.

Dr. Khan, a metallurgist who was charged with stealing European designs for enriching uranium a quarter century ago, has not yet been questioned. American and European officials say he is the centerpiece of their investigation, but that General Musharraf's government has been reluctant to take him on because of his status and deep ties to the country's military and intelligence services. A senior Pakistani official said in an interview that "any individual who is found associated with anything suspicious would be under investigation," and promised a sweeping inquiry....

Until the past few weeks, Pakistani officials had denied evidence that the A. Q. Khan Research Laboratories, named for the man considered a national hero, had ever been a source of weapons technology to countries aspiring to acquire fissile material. Now they are backing away from those denials, while insisting that there has been no transfer of nuclear technology since President Pervez Musharraf took power four years ago.

Dr. Khan, a metallurgist who was charged with stealing European designs for enriching uranium a quarter century ago, has not yet been questioned. American and European officials say he is the centerpiece of their investigation, but that General Musharraf's government has been reluctant to take him on because of his status and deep ties to the country's military and intelligence services. A senior Pakistani official said in an interview that "any individual who is found associated with anything suspicious would be under investigation," and promised a sweeping inquiry....

While General Musharraf was responsible for sidelining Dr. Khan nearly three years ago, he has also praised him. When the nuclear and military establishments of Pakistan gathered for a formal dinner early in 2001 to honor Dr. Khan's retirement, General Musharraf described him this way, according to a transcript of his speech in a Pakistani archive: "Dr. Khan and his team toiled and sweated, day and night, against all odds and obstacles, against international sanctions and sting operations, to create, literally out of nothing, with their bare hands, the pride of Pakistan's nuclear capability."

I'd love to say that the U.S. response should be to appply as much coercive pressure on Musharraf as possible -- but I can't.

Musharraf is probably the best the U.S. could hope for in a cooperative Pakistani leader. His grip on power is far from certain. Because he's so weak, he can resist Western pressure to punish Khan.

I'm happy to entertain suggestions of how to deal with this problem.

UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that Khan is now free to travel within Pakistan -- and the United States is OK with it:

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's nuclear programme, was free to travel within the country after being questioned by the government over the alleged transfer of nuclear technology from Pakistan to other states such as Iran and North Korea, senior officials in Islamabad said on Tuesday.

Pakistani officials were reassured by senior US officials saying publicly that the allegations were not connected to any current technological co-operation.

In Washington, Scott McClellan the White house spokesman said: "That is the past. And for a variety of reasons, I'm not in a position to discuss those matters," adding that "Let me talk to the present. President Musharraf has assured us there are not any transfers of WMD-related technologies or know-how going on in the present time."

posted by Dan at 03:04 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

Wesley Clark's grand strategy

Andrew Sullivan links to this comment by Wesley Clark on Hardball:

And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we'll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We'll bring you in.

Not surprisingly Bush bloggers are all over this seemingly idiotic statement.

But wait a minute. Maybe Sullivan is being unfair. Maybe the larger context reveals a more nuanced view of foreign policy than the quotation itself?

Not really. Here's the exchange in full:

MATTHEWS: First question, up top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Clark, you’ve criticized Bush for his unilateral actions in dealing with Iraq.

CLARK: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: However, if you were in Bush’s shoes right now, what would you be doing differently to rebuild those international bridges you believe have been compromised?

CLARK: Well, if I were president right now, I would be doing things that George Bush can’t do right now, because he’s already compromised those international bridges. I would go to Europe and I would build a new Atlantic charter. I would say to the Europeans, you know, we’ve had our differences over the years, but we need you. The real foundation for peace and stability in the world is the transatlantic alliance. And I would say to the Europeans, I pledge to you as the American president that we’ll consult with you first. You get the right of first refusal on the security concerns that we have. We’ll bring you in.

And in return, we want the same right on your security concerns. And that would reinvigorate NATO. We then put the foundation in place to have a real transatlantic agreement. And working with our allies in Europe, we could move the world. We’re 600, 700 million people, we’re three permanent seats on the Security Council, we’re half the world’s GDP. We can do it. Whether it’s dealing with North Korea, the value of Chinese currency, or the problems of nuclear developments in Iran. And so that’s the essential first step.

In context, the statement reads marginally better, in that Clark wants a quid pro quo -- Europe's right of first refusal on U.S. security policy in return for U.S. right of first refusal for theirs.

However, the trade Clark proposes with Europe would be unbelievably one-sided.

First, on security matters, there is no Europe. There are the first stirrings of a common defense policy, but recent European Union flailings on closer integration suggest that those pledges should be taken with a grain of salt. The United States does not get a lot out of Wesley Clark's bargain.

Second, even if there was a Europe, its interest in non-European affairs does not rank particularly high. Europe is concerned primarily with the state of Europe -- matters like North Korea generate mild interest but few resources. Why, exactly, should the EU get a veto over U.S. policy in Northeast Asia?

On matters of the global political economy, Clark has a point -- 600 to 700 million people and half the world's GDP buys a fair amount of influence, and on economic matters, the EU is a rough equal to the US in terms of economic size.

Even on security matters, consultation with allies -- the intermediate step between simple unilateralism and what Clark proposes -- makes sense. Consultation buys a fair amount of goodwill, even when the parties disagree.

Right of first refusal on matters of national security? This is an asymmetric bargain -- which is diplomatese for saying it sucks eggs.

UPDATE: Ted Barlow below links to Mark Kleiman, who suggests that Clark does mean consultation, that "right of first refusal" is a legal term of art.

Is this how Clark meant to use the term? I don't know. The term is more commonly used in business contracts than in matters of international diplomacy. I've never heard the phrase "right of first refusal" used in matters of diplomacy -- though the concept is a familiar one in international relations. Interestingly, these kind of agreements -- usually referred to as ententes -- are considered less binding than what NATO is -- a collective security treaty.

But it's certainly possible Clark meant it in that way -- in which case I retract my previous critique, since he's not saying that Europe would have a veto over U.S. foreign policy, but rather that there should be greater consultation between the United States and its European allies, which is somewhat less controversial.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Eugene Volokh is also perplexed by Clark's phrasing.

FINAL UPDATE: Here's evidence that Clark can be clear about what he's saying in other televized venues.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (11)

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage

The New York Times has a front-pager about American views on gay marriage. Here's how it opens:

The latest New York Times/CBS News poll has found widespread support for an amendment to the United States Constitution to ban gay marriage. It also found unease about homosexual relations in general, making the issue a potentially divisive one for the Democrats and an opportunity for the Republicans in the 2004 election.

Support for a constitutional amendment extends across a wide swath of the public and includes a majority of people traditionally viewed as supportive of gay rights, including Democrats, women and people who live on the East Coast....

The nationwide poll found that 55 percent of Americans favored an amendment to the constitution that would allow marriage only between a man and a woman, while 40 percent opposed the idea.

Now, 55-40 is a healthy margin in electoral politics. Not, however, for constitutional amendments.

For a constitutional amendment to pass, you need the both houses of Congress to approve the measure by a two-thirds majority, and then have three-quarters of the state legislatures approve it within a specified time period. It's an extraordinarily difficult and cumbersome process, with lots of veto points to stymie progress. As the Times notes way down in its story:

Sanford Levinson, a constitutional expert at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, said it was extremely hard to amend the Constitution. If the ban on gay marriage passed the House and Senate, he said, opponents could stop it by getting the support of one house of the legislature in just 13 states.

Mr. Levinson said President Bush's support was "a free pass" because he probably knows how difficult it would be to get through Congress, let alone through 38 states.

"The idea is for Bush to throw red meat to the Republican right, secure in the knowledge that this is not going to go anywhere," he said. "If it did go anywhere, it would tear the Republican Party apart."

Levinson is correct. If you look at the breakdown of the poll, support for a constitutional amendment is strong in the South, but falls below 50% in the West and is barely over 50% in the Northeast. Off the top of my head, here are the states I can't see passing this amendment:

New Hampshire
New York
Rhode Island

For a constritutional amendment to be ratified, one of these states would have to approve it, as well as every other state in the union.

Another thing -- public opinion is fickle. Indeed, the attitudes about gay marriage have been extremely volatile over the past year, as the CBS story on the poll observes:

The public has reversed itself on the overall question of same-sex relations. Half now think homosexual relations between consenting adults should not be legal -- a reversal of opinion from the summer, when a majority of Americans thought they should be legal....

At 49 percent, the percentage that thinks homosexual relations should not be legal is the highest recorded since the CBS News/New York Times Poll started asking the question in 1992. As recently as July, 54 percent thought such relations should be legal, while 39 percent thought they should not. Now, 41 percent think homosexual relations should be legal.

Other "controversial" issues have prompted similar fluctuations in public opinion. A June 1999 Gallup poll showed 63% support for a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning -- eight points higher than current support for an amendment to ban gay marriage. By 2002, according to this CBS poll, that figure had declined to 45%.

Finally, one other piece of data from the poll suggests that as time passes, this issue will lose support. Respondents under 30 years of age opposed the amendment 52% to 44%. Among those over 65, support for the amendment was overwhelming, 69% to 27%.

Unlike Social Security or Medicare, this public opinion divide is in all likelihood a reflection of the set of societal mores that were around during their formative years. Which means that over time, support for an amendment is likely to wane.

I don't doubt that this will be a political issue for the 2004 election, just like flag burning was an issue in 1988. I also don't doubt that as a constitutional amendment, this won't fly.

posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (54) | Trackbacks (4)

Friday, December 19, 2003

Libya decides to bandwagon

Agree or disagree with the Bush administration, this is great news:

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair say Libya has confirmed that it sought to develop weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles, but now intends to dismantle the program.

At the White House Friday evening, Mr. Bush said Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi will allow the entry of international inspectors to confirm that its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs are destroyed.

Speaking in London, Mr. Blair said Mr. Ghadhafi vowed to dismantle the weapons programs in a transparent and verifiable manner. Mr. Blair said the decision came after nine months of negotiations.

Since Lockerbie, Ghadhafi has been pretty quiet on the whole terrorism/rogue state front. Over the past decade, he's repeatedly made noises about wanting better relations with the West. And he's probably such an idiosyncratic character that it would be tough to call him part of any trend.

Still, one has to wonder -- does this happen if the U.S. doesn't invade Iraq? [But the negotiations started nine months ago!--ed. And the war was just beginning at that precise moment.]

UPDATE: President Bush clearly thinks there's a link:

Our understanding with Libya came about through quiet diplomacy. It is a result, however, of policies and principles declared to all. Over the last two years, a great coalition of nations has come together to oppose terror and to oppose the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We've been clear in our purposes. We have shown resolve. In word and in action, we have clarified the choices left to potential adversaries. And when leaders make the wise and responsible choice, when they renounce terror and weapons of mass destruction, as Colonel Ghadafi has now done, they serve the interest of their own people and they add to the security of all nations.

So does the New York Times in a truly humble editorial:

Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair are entitled to claim a large share of the credit for Libya's surprising announcement. To an extent that cannot be precisely measured, the fate of Saddam Hussein, who was ousted from power by the American military with British backing after endless prevaricating about Iraqi weapons programs, must have been an important consideration in Libya's decision....

Over the past five years, by turning over two suspects for trial, acknowledging its complicity in the Lockerbie bombing and paying compensation to victims' families, Libya finally managed to persuade the United Nations Security Council to lift the international sanctions that had shadowed its economy and its international reputation for more than a decade. Those sanctions were lifted in September. This page recommended lifting American sanctions as well, but President Bush left them in place pending further steps, most notably Libya's decision to end its unconventional weapons programs. It is now clear that he was right to do so. The added American pressure worked just as intended.

. The Times has more behind-the-scenes info here. The White House also has a fuller description of the agreement (links courtesy of Kathy Kinsley).

posted by Dan at 07:01 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (4)

When is American culture not American?

Tyler Cowen blogs from a UNESCO meeting. Glenn Reynolds points out some of the positives in the post. I found this part more interesting/depressing:

[B]oth the French and French-Canadian views are allied by a great suspicion of American culture and of Hollywood in particular. I was quite surprised to hear The Lord of the Rings movies used as an example of how cinema reflects an American point of view. Of course the director Peter Jackson is a New Zealander. The author Tolkien was a Brit, and his stories drew on a wide range of influences, many of them Nordic. Most of the characters in the movie are not even human beings. How can this possibly be said to represent American culture in any way that is prejudicial to the Europeans?

Of course, it's not only American culture that scares the French government.

Jacob Levy provides more LOTR commentary for, "the loving nitpickery of the fan-- isn't that what the internet is for?"

UPDATE: This anecdote in Newsweek's cover story on Return of the King was pretty funny:

“The Return of the King” also delivers spectacular battle sequences—which probably goes without saying, given [Peter] Jackson’s lifelong fascination with warfare. (Tell him you’ve seen an early screening of “Master and Commander,” and he’ll nod excitedly and ask, “How are the battles?” Tell him you’ve seen “The Last Samurai,” and he’ll nod excitedly and ask, “How are the battles?”)

posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (0)

The freedom tower

I confess that I have not followed the debate over replacing the World Trade Towers in Manhattan. But, the proposed tower was unveiled today -- a curving, simple spire of 1,776 feet to be called the Freedom Tower. Here's how the proposed replacement will look:


Go check out the New York Times and Los Angeles Times for the backstory. ABC has a lovely picture of the future skyline.

My reaction is akin to how Montgomery Burns felt about Marge Simpson's portrait of him in "Brush With Greatness":

"You know, I'm no art critic, but I know what I hate. And... I don't hate this."

posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

New trade deal

I've taken a fair number of potshots at the administration for its flirtations with protectionism. It would be churlish (my word of the day) not to congratulate them on negotiating a Central American Free Trade Agreement. According to the Financial Times:

The agreement with El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala will eliminate all tariffs on industrial goods over a decade, and will gradually phase out protection of agricultural products over the next 20 years. It will also force the Central American countries to deregulate most sectors of their economies and adopt strong protection for US patents, trademarks and copyrights....

Costa Rica, which has the largest economy in the region and is the biggest market for US exporters, refused to conclude the negotiations because of US demands that it liberalise its monopoly telecommunications and insurance sectors.

Mr Zoellick said the US was prepared to resume talks with Costa Rica next month and hoped it would make the needed concessions to become part of the agreement.

If Lloyd Gruber's hypothesis in Ruling the World is true, you have to conclude that Costa Rica will accede to the agreement.

Ratification looks to be a fun fight.

posted by Dan at 11:26 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Dean under fire

Howard Dean is catching all kinds of hell this week, in large part for a churlish line in his foreign policy speech that I didn't mention in my own critique: "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer."

TNR Bush-hater Jonathan Chait how has an anyone-but-Dean blog. Andrew Sullivan links to two examples: Spinsanity and the Washington Post. Here's an excerpt from the latter:

[T]here are important differences between the Democratic front-runner, Howard Dean, and the other five [prominent Democrats]. In his speech Monday, Mr. Dean alone portrayed the recruiting of allies for Iraq as a means to "relieve the burden on the U.S." -- that is, to quickly draw down American forces. Only he omitted democracy from his goals for Iraq and the Middle East. And only Mr. Dean made the extraordinary argument that the capture of Saddam Hussein "has not made Americans safer."

Mr. Dean's carefully prepared speech was described as a move toward the center, but in key ways it shifted him farther from the mainstream. A year ago Mr. Dean told a television audience that "there's no question that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States and to our allies," but last weekend he declared that "I never said Saddam was a danger to the United States." Mr. Dean has at times argued that the United States must remain engaged to bring democracy to Iraq, yet the word is conspicuously omitted from the formula of "stable self-government" he now proposes. The former Vermont governor has compiled a disturbing record of misstatements and contradictions on foreign policy; maybe he will shift yet again, this time toward more responsible positions.

Now Michael Kinsley goes after him as well:

Howard Dean's comments this week offer both a negative and a positive case study. He broke the most obvious rule: Pretend, at least, that you're enjoying the party. Don't stint or quibble.

Looks bad for Dean... or does it?

This is not the first time Dean has put his foot in his mouth and lived to tell the tale. None of the Dean's campaign's comparative advantages are really threatened by this latest blunder. It's already clear that DC Democrats loathe and fear Dean -- to his base, however, this is just feeding the beast.

If anything, the hope these criticisms offer to the rest of the Democratic field merely increases the likelihood that all of them will stay in the race, splintering the anyone-but-Dean vote and letting him win by plurality. That, plus some key endorsements, should erase this talk of third parties.

posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Who's going to be on trial?

In the wake of Saddam's capture, there's been some murmurings that since "we created Saddam," his capture will prove embarrassing to the United States in general and Donald Rumsfeld in particular

I said my peace on this sort of nonsense six months ago. So go read Martin Kramer on this point instead.

UPDATE: The New Republic is hosting a debate between Anne-Marie Slaughter and Ruth Wedgwood on the trial of Saddam (link via Josh Chafetz). These are two heavyweights in matters of international law, so go check it out.

posted by Dan at 03:48 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (0)

Let's go to the mailbag!!

Yesterday's Slate essay has inspired a much stronger reaction than my last Slate essay. Probably because it's featured on the MSN portal today.

The following is an (edited) collection of the most... "out there" responses I've received, and will be updated as the day goes along:

"[Y]our love for Howard Dean is to palpabable.... As for the IRAQ war, in fact the whole Muslim Middle east, something has to be done about their crusade against the west and America. Especially after the attack on 9/11/2001. We need to perform a crusade (1930's Germany style) against the Muslims and throw out of America all Muslims back to the Middle East as they do not support the US Constitution, much like yourself."

"Who died and left you in charge of National Security. It sounds if you would let all of the killers of the Mideast walk right and in take over America!!!"

"Sadly however, you ignored or opted out on the Pinocchio theory.... the current administration is based on lies, lies, (and will full apologies to Samuel Clement) damn lies. So there you have it from the “Left of Che Guevara” contingent of the Boomer generation. And yes, if you must be bitchy about it, I still read from my Thoughts of Chairman Mao book. What, you don’t?"

"I read the above captioned article and can easily tell that you are a democrat. It must be nice to sit back and "monday morning quarteback" the president. Your views are so far to the left, I'm sure some of your text must have been a rewording of a Marxist doctrine."

"Israel and the Israeli lobby in the U.S. are the ones that really call the shots in the substance and execution of our middle eastern foriegn policy. Without a doubt, they have wagged the body of our middle-eastern foreign policy for many, many decades."

"Just another Bush Basher. It seems very fashionable in the Preppy Soho society the annals of the campus and the media. Quite frankly, it makes me sick."

"We're shooting through an uncharted, terrorist-filled galaxy at light speed, and the spinners like you are all playing the role of Mr. Scott, shouting over the intercom to James T. Kirk that "..she can't take much more!" Bush, like Kirk, is facing something nobody ever wants to face: The unknown. He's boldly going where no man has gone before, and I think it's high time he gets some credit for doing a pretty damn good job at it."

"You hate us (clear minded Americans who don't even need to have a high school education, much less be a professor, to see that Bush is doing, what he believes is the best thing for America) so bad, with all due respect... LEAVE!"

"[L]like a good little American Nazi, you just blindly brush aside any evidence that Bush is trying to establish a world wide empire, and a totalitarian one at that?.... I am watching my country, the United States, rapidly become a fascist dictatorship and the press, instead of alerting Americans about what is actually going on, are blindly going along with it."

"Why don't you Bush Bashers just write something like, "Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah!!!!! Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah." It seems to me, that's all you people know how to do.... The UN was never going to do anything about Hussein. You know this as well as every other Democrat, but you CHOOSE to ignore facts. So, rather that acknowledge truth and fact, you harp and nitpick."

"After reading your Bush the Bumbler I really need your address so I can send you a clue. Try reading 'Everything I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten'. This is not difficult. Please let your new babysitter be Michael Jackson."

"You are the very foundation of troubles in this country. Your 'freedom' to speech that allows you to write just reinforces why I would vote for this President again. Your "freedom" alone kills soldiers. Your words tell rulers around the world that America is disjointed and vulnerable. I never liked President Clinton but I never spoke badly of him. As citizens of this country and under democratic system - win or lose - we support our president."

"I am shocked at your radical views and at MSN for featuring such fanaticism. You might as well fly a plane into a building."

"With your inability to use sound logic and reasoning, how did you ever get to be a professor of anything?"

"You truly are nothing more than just a negative person, besides being a liberal. Your articles are from the mindset of someone who craves nothing more than attention. Grow some balls, be a man and support our country and president in a time of war."

"A word to the wise; Republican toadies should treat Dr. Dean with more respect. Show him some respect now and he may take pity on poor Bush when it comes to the 'head to head' debates. Even a conservative robot such as yourself has to see the writing on the wall."

"Sedition is any act, writing or speech, etc., directed against state authority, the government, or the constitution, or calculated to bring it into contempt or to entice others to hostility or disaffection. Mr. Drezner, You sir are a seditious traitor. Your reason: political advantage; pitiful and pathetic."

"As a politic (sic) science student, like myself, you must have heard of the project for the new American century (PNAC), you must also be aware that all major officials inside the admin are ex-corporate execs. You must also know that there are as many corporate lobbyers in Washington as there are politicians. And I am assuming that you also know that the invasion of Afghanistan had been in the making since the late 90?s. The list can continue, ut I feel that this is sufficient to show that your representation of the 'conspiracy theories' is both unfair and manipulative."

"When will liberals such as yourself grow up and stand up for what is right in this cruel, vicious world?.... What is your point besides a pathological hatred of President Bush?.... Your constant harping, piddling criticisms and infantile tantrums about President Bush is just too much to take."

"You are obviously apart of the angry left who entertain fanciful stories of withholding capture anouncements and the like from the public for pure political gain."

"Chicago, what a liberal hotbed, you, Cusak (sic) and Jessie Jackson and Co. Perhaps Dan, if the terrorists had reached out to Chicago on 9/11/01, you would feel very differently."

"After reading your article on what is really wrong with President Bush's foreign policy I can only conclude that you are either a pacifist, an appeaser, a coward, or some combination of all three."

"I for the life of me can not understand how you and your cohorts on the media and in Hollywood can be so un-American. If you were living and working under any of those people, I am certain you would have been done away with along time ago if so much as criticized them the way you criticize our government. Not one person offers any constructive advice and if any thing is offered it has to go before the UN which is a total waste of time any money and completely anti-American, except when it comes to our money. I am glad we have President Bush and I hope he continues to do exactly what he has done. He is at least doing something and not giving into people like you and the rest of you ultra liberals."

"While you liberals have the "right" to slam the president in print, I feel your patriotism borders on "verbal treason" for not standing with our commander in chief in a time of war. In most of the countries you defend, people are killed for that and less."

"Aren’t you glad you live in the United States, Communist like you are what is wrong with how our society is today."

The joys of open debate! I had no idea that there were this many people who agreed with Britney Spears' political philosophy -- or Che Guevara's, for that matter.

Just to be clear, I'm not posting these because they upset me or provoke a need for sympathy. Mostly, I found them hysterical, in both senses of the word.

That said, let me close with a few polite and trenchant e-mails:

"i'm 21 years old and a security forces member in the USAF, i've recently read about your criticism on the presidents foreign policies and what not. i'll be the first to admit, that a lot of the political topics are over my head, but i think your writings focused more on the bad than the good, this whole thing has been hard on all us military members but, hearing the thanks from the Iraqi people seeing how relieved they were doesn't that make it all worth it? these type of things are never easy, and i know there is always room for improvement, but on the whole i think President Bush is doing a wonderful job, and i have full faith in him. regardless of what ever problems there are with his policies he is doing some good in the world."

"You might be right about the Bush administration being incompetent. Problem is, we won't really know until long after the fact. Incompetence is a charge that more often accompanies failure, when in truth there have been many successes throughout history that happened in spite of being incompetently orchestrated.

In fact, I will go so far as to say that we have a greater chance at achieving good by incompetently following the correct policy than we do following, competently or otherwise, an incorrect policy....

Sometimes we just muddle through and it all works out anyway. Doing the right thing, however inexpertly, seems to be better than doing the wrong thing like a champ. It's the difference between being efficient and being effective."

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (69) | Trackbacks (7)

Questions about the DoD memo

Beyond the loonier e-mails I've received regarding the Slate essay, the criticism that crops up most frequently attacks what I said about the DoD memo regarding reconstruction contracts from last week. Basically, they have two points:

  • Why reward countries like Germany, France, and Russia for how they behaved prior to the war?

  • Given the relative success of Baker's mission to Europe, isn't this an example of successful hard-nosed bargaining?

    I wrote about the DoD memo at more length last week, but to expand a little:

    1) When White House officials tell the New York Times that they were surprised by the timing and wording of the memo, you know there was a screw-up.

    2) For those who feel these countries should not be rewarded for their behavior, I'm certainly sympathetic. A question, then: why are Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the list of countries that can receive contracts? Can a case be made that these countries were more cooperative than France, Germany or Russia prior to the war?

    3) This also goes to the bargaining question as well. According to press reports, of the approximately $120 billion in Iraqi foreign debt, only $40 billion is owed to Paris Club members. The rest is owed primarily to the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia in particular. If the DoD memo is supposed to be an example of bare-knuckles bargaining, why wasn't Saudi Arabia -- which owns a much larger portion of the debt than any European country -- excluded from the approved countries as well?

    4) As for Baker's mission, he has achieved some nice joint statements. But as this Chicago Tribune story points out, at this point they are merely words, because of how the Paris Club operates:

    [D]ebt relief for Iraq is by no means a done deal. The Paris Club always has made its debt decisions by the unanimous consent of its 19 permanent members, raising a high hurdle for a controversial subject.

    One member is cash-strapped Russia. It is owed more than $3.5 billion in country-to-country debt by Iraq and $52 billion in pending contract obligations — and has expressed no willingness to forgive any of it.

  • posted by Dan at 08:47 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, December 17, 2003

    The process critique

    I have a new Slate essay on criticisms of the Bush administration's management of foreign policy. Go check it out.

    [Hmmm... this sounds familiar--ed. Yes, this is a theme I've touched on a fair amount in the past few months -- click here for one example.]

    On research, I'm much obliged to Joe Katzman for the U.S. News and World Report link and to Virginia Postrel for the Newt Gingrich link.

    Three caveats that don't appear in the actual Slate essay, but are worth mentioning. First, although the process critique is coming primarily from the right, they don't have a monopoly on the story -- Josh Marshall has been hammering this point home for some time now -- click here for an example.

    Second, although I think the process critique is a powerful one, Democrats are unlikely to use this line of attack. Why? Process is boring. “Policy Coordination Needed” might not be as dull a headline as “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative,” but it’s close. In the primaries at least, the Democrats one would expect to adopt this approach – Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, John Edwards – haven’t gotten a ton of traction in the polls. Candidates and campaigns prefer a simple message to a complex one – and in choosing between attacking Bush’s foreign policy on substance or process, Democrats will opt for the former.

    Third, it's possible that the administration is trying to fix this problem, which is why Bush 41 people seem to be sprouting up. First there's Bob Blackwill, whom I've talked about here. Now there's James Baker, who seems to be having some success in his European trip.

    posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (59) | Trackbacks (5)

    The future of neoconservatives

    Josh Marshall debated Richard Perle on the future of the neoconservative movement. You can access a C-SPAN video of the debate here.

    Marshall's take on Perle:

    Richard Perle... ended up in person being about as gentlemanly and fair-minded as his view of foreign affairs and America's posture on the world stage would lead you to expect.

    Greg Djerejian thinks Marshall might be overly sensitive on this point:

    With all due respect to Josh, I think this is unfair to Perle. True, Perle made some snide references to the views of "Mr. Marshall" and his "friends," but he's a long-time bureaucratic operative with sharp elbows. In other words, it's part of his makeup and style to debate in this fashion

    Put differently, it's likely a different style of debate than, say, that found defending doctoral dissertations at Brown. I don't say that to poke fun at Josh Marshall--I mean it seriously. Perle and Marshall likely have very different debating styles with Perle more aggressive and Marshall more conventionally polite and, perhaps, a tad docile compared to Perle.

    With all due respect to Greg, any academic worth their salt is used to raucous and rancorous debates.

    Greg's post -- a nice substitute for the two-hour video -- argues that Perle's description of neoconservatism "felt very much like sober-headed foreign policy realism--rather than the oft-described messianic exportation of democracy doctrines (or some grossly deluded neo-Wilsonian style project)."

    I'm afraid I've got to disagree with Greg again. First of all, most realists opposed the war in Iraq.

    Second, I'm not sure how much neoconservatives think or want Perle to be their exemplar. I've expressed my reservations about Perle in the past, so I might be biased here.

    UPDATE: Belgravia Dispatch responds (additional posts here and here) In response to the response, I probably should have said "academic" realists rather than pragmatic policy types -- though I'm pretty sure the Scowcroft camp was none too thrilled with the war either.

    posted by Dan at 01:09 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (2)

    MNCs vs. IGOs

    Robert Tagorda has a great post highlighting the contrasts in behavior between international governmental organizations (IGOs) and multinational corporations (MNCs) in parts of the globe that are vulnerable to terrorism. To put it in fight-or-flight terms -- the IGOs are more likely to vamoose when trouble comes around, while the MNCs are much more resilient in the face of terror attacks.

    Check out this Christian Science Monitor story for more on corporate strategies in countries experiencing terrorism. Tagorda concludes his post:

    This comparison should prompt serious discussions on who truly benefits struggling localities. As the international community worries about the influence of its most powerful member, the business world is productively establishing long-term relationships.

    posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003

    Iraq after Hussein

    Adeed Dawisha, a native Iraqi who teaches political science at Miami
    University of Ohio, has an understandable interest in how to build a democratic Iraq.

    He also has a forthcoming article in the January 2004 Journal of Democracy on the prospects for a democratic Iraq. Read the whole article, but here are some highlights, both good and bad:

    The coalition forces have faced serious difficulties in Iraq, and these were apparently intensifying as the end of the year approached. But to portray these difficulties as definitively signifying the failure of the reconstruction or Iraqis’ rejection of the U.S.- and British-led coalition’s plans for their country would be a mistake, since it would mean unrealistically discounting many positive developments that augur well for Iraq’s future as a free, democratic, peaceful, and law-governed country. Iraq is obviously not out of the woods, but to pronounce the coalition’s effort a failure after just a few months of reconstruction following decades of dictatorship would be premature, to say the least....

    In the early days after Saddam’s fall it was reported that one could buy five hand grenades for a dollar in the main markets in broad daylight. Some improvement had occurred by August, when the price had reportedly risen to $3 per grenade, though a bulk rate of $20 for ten grenades was also said to be available. Most of the armaments come from looted government arsenals: The CPA estimates that Saddam stockpiled a staggering 600,000 tons of arms and munitions. After six months of occupation, coalition forces had been able to destroy or secure no more than about 75,000 tons—or 12.5 percent—of the deadly stuff....

    While the situation in Iraq gives rise to much concern, it is not by any stretch of the imagination desperate. Many observers, perhaps focusing too heavily on day-to-day media coverage, seem unable to shift their attention from the security situation to other developments in the country, many of which give grounds for optimism. Perhaps first among these is that Iraqis on the whole have chosen the path of peace. It is unfortunate that many in the Arab and Western press have bestowed on the perpetrators of attacks against coalition forces the grandiose label “the Iraqi resistance.” Such a categorization, whether purposely or inadvertently, creates an impression of a universal phenomenon supported by most Iraqis. Nothing could be further from the truth....

    Probably the most encouraging development in Iraq has been the surge of activity at the level of local self-government and civil society. Most Iraqi towns and cities—including the major conurbations of Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and Kirkuk—now have governing councils that have been chosen through consensual processes, often involving elections. In most cases these councils have run the affairs of their towns either in cooperation with, or independently of, coalition forces. The case of genuine “grassroots democracy” in Baghdad is particularly interesting. Suffering from widespread lawlessness, the city was still able in the fall of 2003 to form 88 neighborhood councils, which then in turn elected a 37-member council for the whole city.12 These councils will over time prove to be indispensable agents not only for political stability, but for the growth of a democratic political culture and institutional ensemble in the new Iraq.

    Without a doubt, the mushrooming of local self-government councils
    has been one of the major success stories of the occupation. Even those councils that have not been elected have been selected through peaceful and relatively (or even impressively) consensual means, in more than a few cases with initial advice and assistance from coalition military officers, and are providing scope for unprecedented amounts of open debate and citizen participation....

    The mushrooming of political parties, syndicates, and newspapers
    signals a nascent political pluralism upon which democracy can be built.

    Go and give it a read. Dawisha is hardly Panglossian -- he just looks that way after you read Juan Cole for a while.

    UPDATE: Dawisha is also quoted at length in this Peter Bronson column in the Cincinatti Enquirer. The highlight:

    "In 18 months to two years, Iraq will be stable and democratic,'' says Adeed Dawisha, political science professor at Miami University.

    "I am very confident this will happen. At the end of 2005, Iraq will have a freely elected parliament and government," says the Iraqi-born educator.

    posted by Dan at 11:47 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Where does the EU go from here?

    What's the fallout from the collapse of the EU constitutional negotiations this weekend? Depends on who you ask. In terms of the constitution itself, the Economist thinks this can only be a good thing:

    [T]he document was a disaster. Constitutions are supposed to give citizens a clear and concise explanation of the powers—and the limits to the powers—of the principal organs of government. However, the long, rambling draft produced by the 105-member European Convention was so vague on how it assigned powers to various institutions that at times even convention members themselves could not explain it. And the EU’s principle of “subsidiarity” (devolving decision-making so it is as close to the people as possible), far from being strengthened, was undermined by making it subordinate to the Union’s objectives, which included various types of “cohesion” (read: Brussels-led harmonisation).

    As the convention members tried to satisfy everyone, their draft constitution ended up riddled with botched compromises, anomalies and absurdities.

    Andrew Moravcsik -- who knows a thing or two about the European Union -- also believes that the collapse in negotiations was a good thing -- but for a different set of reasons:

    European leaders agree on 95 percent of the new constitution; they have bolstered their bargaining clout on the remaining 5 percent by issuing inflammatory and uncompromising public statements....

    The wager was that by debating a new constitution, public support for the Union would grow. It hasn't. Constant Eurotinkering has made voters cranky and suspicious. For the first time in the Union's half-century history, polls show that fewer than half now view it favorably.

    The lesson for Brussels here is clear: Don't rush! Think long term! Remember that early-morning deals come back to bite those who make them--and undermine the European ideal. Remember, too, that Europe's proposed constitution is a conservative document meant to consolidate and modestly extend EU achievement since 1990--and fix them for decades in a new Europe of nearly 500 million people.

    The "collapse" and "crisis" in Brussels thus has a silver lining. So what if Europe's grandees went home empty-handed? Another early-morning compromise in Brussels last week might well have triggered yet another vicious circle of rambunctious referendums, continuous crises, contentious negotiations and deeper public disillusionment.... A little patience is in order. Europe kicked the can down the road? Good. That's the smart play.

    Unfortunately, some of the leading EU members have shorter tempers than Moravcsik would have liked, according to the Financial Times:

    Six of Europe's biggest paymasters on Monday called for a freeze in the European Union budget until 2013, in a move that could cut aid payments to poorer countries including Spain and Poland.

    The leaders of Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Austria, all net contributors to the EU, said in a joint letter that the union's budget should be subject to the same "painful consolidation" as national budgets.

    The warning, following immediately after Spain and Poland blocked the deal on a new EU constitution, steps up the pressure on Madrid and Warsaw to fall into line.

    Germany, which contributes 22 per cent of the EU's €100bn budget, has warned of "certain parallels" between the budget negotiations and finalising a deal on the constitution.

    However, the FT also reports that these kind of tactics will have some blowback in Paris:

    President Jacques Chirac was given rough treatment on Monday in the French media and by opposition parties for his part in the failure to agree an overhaul of the European Union's institutions at the EU summit in Brussels....

    François Hollande, leader of the socialists, the main opposition party, yesterday attacked the way Mr Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, had tried to impose their views on their colleagues by presenting a strong Franco-German front. "They sought to show that it was sufficient to get two to agree for 25 [leaders of EU countries] to do the same," Mr Hollande said.

    Among Monday's newspapers, Le Monde headlined the lonely position of France and Germany, saying: "Isolated, the Franco-German couple have suffered a second defeat in less than a year." The first was the failure to consult in mounting a common front against the US-led invasion of Iraq.

    An editorial in the pro-European Libération highlighted the inability of the "Franco-German motor" to take any initiative within the EU. Even the pro-government Le Figaro highlighted the failure of the much vaunted Franco-German alliance to orchestrate a deal.

    Such comments suggest fresh moves by Mr Chirac to use the Franco-German axis as a political weapon within the EU will be subjected to much greater scrutiny at home. If this proves the case, it could have significant implications for plans being floated by Mr Chirac and Mr Schröder to press ahead with a core group of EU "pioneer" states ready for deeper integration.


    posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, December 15, 2003

    Grading Dean's speech

    Howard Dean's major foreign policy speech is now available on his web site.

    I'll get to the content in a second, but some free advice to the Dean people -- is this the picture you really want on the front page of your web site when talking about foreign policy?:


    Howard Dean -- he'll be as tough as Warren Christopher!!

    OK, the speech. Quick hits:

    1) According to Dean:

    Addressing these critical and interlocking threats [of] terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- will be America's highest priority in my administration.

    Hey, that sounds familiar... oh yes, here it is:

    The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed.

    2) Describing Dean as a pacifist would be a mistake:

    During the past dozen years, I have supported U.S. military action to roll back Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, to halt ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, to stop Milosevic's campaign of terror in Kosovo, to oust the Taliban and al Qaeda from control in Afghanistan. As President, I will never hesitate to deploy our armed forces to defend our country and its allies, and to protect our national interests.

    3) The "big idea" is a global alliance against terror, "a commitment among law-abiding nations to work together in law enforcement, intelligence, and military operations." Iraq aside, there's actually been a fair amount of international cooperation on this front. What is Dean proposing that's different? I read through the speech and found nothing specific on this. Is Dean talking about a global NATO? A stronger IAEA? What, exactly?

    4) Here's Dean on the connection between our foreign economic policies and national security:

    Today, billions of people live on the knife's edge of survival, trapped in a struggle against ignorance, poverty, and disease. Their misery is a breeding ground for the hatred peddled by bin Laden and other merchants of death.

    As President, I will work to narrow the now-widening gap between rich and poor. Right now, the United States officially contributes a smaller percentage of its wealth to helping other nations develop than any other industrialized country.

    That hurts America, because if we want the world's help in confronting the challenges that most concern us, we need to help others defeat the perils that most concern them. Targeted and effective expansion of investment, assistance, trade, and debt relief in developing nations can improve the climate for peace and democracy and undermine the recruiters for terrorist plots.

    Sounds like a great idea -- you know, a plan to expand economic opportunities in developing nations through greater access to U.S. markets. I'm sure Dean would support that. Oh, wait a minute....

    posted by Dan at 06:42 PM | Comments (93) | Trackbacks (4)

    Drezner's leading indicator gets results!!

    Howard Dean will deliver a major foreign policy address today in Los Angeles (The Boston Globe has a preview).

    I'll blog about the speech once it's delivered [UPDATE: here's the text]. For now, what's more interesting is who's advising Dean on the speech.

    Back in February, I blogged the following about how to predict the eventual Democratic nominee:

    [O]ver the next year (and before the actual primaries), there's a better harbinger for who will be the eventual nominee -- which candidate picks up the elite foreign policy advisors?

    From Sunday's Washington Post story on Howard Dean's foreign policy positions:

    Dean has begun to pull into his campaign a team of senior foreign policy advisers, many of whom served in the Clinton administration. His campaign will announce the members of this "kitchen cabinet" Monday when he makes his speech, which along with a planned economics speech is intended to lay out his major themes before the New Hampshire primary Jan. 27.

    During the interview, the former governor of Vermont appeared at ease handling questions that hopscotched across global trouble spots. One of his foreign policy aides, Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution, sat at his side as he tackled back-to-back newspaper interviews on foreign policy. Dean and Daalder, a former Clinton aide, huddled for five minutes after The Washington Post interview to review Dean's comments before beginning the second session....

    In addition to Daalder, campaign aides said, Dean's core foreign policy team includes former national security adviser Anthony Lake; retired Gen. Joseph Hoare, a former chief of U.S. Central Command; retired Gen. Merrill A. "Tony" McPeak, former chief of staff of the Air Force; two former assistant secretaries of defense, Ashton Carter and Frank Kramer; former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice; and political theorist Benjamin R. Barber. Danny E. Sebright, a former Defense Department civil servant who works for the consulting firm headed by Clinton defense secretary William Cohen, is Dean's foreign policy coordinator.

    Dean has also reached out to leading members of the Democratic foreign policy establishment as he tries to fill in the gaps in his foreign policy approach. "Dean certainly represents continuity with the bipartisan centrist line that has characterized American foreign policy from 1948 until shortly after 9/11," said Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. Brzezinski reviewed a draft of Dean's speech but has not endorsed any candidate.

    And from Sunday's New York Times:

    His planned speech on Monday is the product of many hands, including former Vice President Al Gore, whose consultations on the text were a prelude to his recent endorsement of the Dean candidacy. (Dr. Dean will not say which parts Mr. Gore edited.)

    He also plans to announce on Monday that a host of advisers — including W. Anthony Lake, former President Bill Clinton's first national security adviser; Adm. Stansfield Turner, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Adm. Charles Larson, the former commander of all forces in the Pacific — have signed on to the campaign. Like several of the other Democratic candidates, he also consults Samuel R. Berger, who succeeded Mr. Lake as national security adviser.

    Be sure to read the WaPo piece for a priceless quote from Dean about France.

    Caveat paragraph: Not everyone listed above is a foreign policy heavyweight. Tthere are other heavyweights -- Ken Pollack, Richard Holbrooke, Ron Asmus, Michael McFaul -- who have not committed to Dean. Furthermore, I have it on good authority that some of the people on Dean's list have consulted with other campaigns.

    Still, this is a pretty powerful signal.

    UPDATE: Dean's web site now has the list of advisors. Among the names that weren't mentioned above: Morton H. Halperin, Clyde Prestowitz, and Jeffrey Sachs.

    posted by Dan at 10:30 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (2)

    Sunday, December 14, 2003


    U.S. forces capture Saddam Hussein.


    Iraqis react:

    When videotape of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was shown at a coalition news conference Sunday, several Iraqi journalists jumped to their feet, waved their arms and shouted "Death to Saddam!" in Arabic.

    Iraqi officials hailed the news and promised to bring Saddam before a special war crimes court.

    Shortly after word leaked out about the capture, hundreds of Iraqis flooded the streets of Baghdad, firing guns into the air, singing, dancing and throwing candy into the air -- celebrating the apparent capture of the man who had ruled their lives with terror and repression for more than three decades.

    "I'm very happy for the Iraqi people. Life is going to be safer now," said 35-year-old Yehya Hassan, a resident of Baghdad, told The Associated Press. "Now we can start a new beginning."

    Earlier in the day, rumors of the capture sent people streaming into the streets of Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city, firing guns in the air in celebration.

    "We are celebrating like it's a wedding," Kirkuk resident Mustapha Sheriff told AP. "We are finally rid of that criminal."

    "This is the joy of a lifetime," said Ali Al-Bashiri, another resident. "I am speaking on behalf of all the people that suffered under his rule."

    Congratulations to all those involved in the capture.

    More blogosphere reaction from Glenn Reynolds, the Command Post, and Indepundit. And Josh Chafetz links to this video of Iraqi reaction.

    One last thought: in dealing with the insurgency within Iraq, it's much better that Saddam was captured in this fashion rather than killed. It goes to a point I made in March with regard to Al Qaeda:

    In general, embarrassment is a much more effective method than decapitation to destroying terrorist networks. The key to destroying such groups is to eliminate recruitment by spreading the perception that the group is ineffective. Capturing terrorist leaders and publishing photos that make them look like death warmed over is the most effective way to do this.

    Lee Harris makes a similar point:

    As fallen dictators go, Saddam is lucky. He was not strung up and spat upon by the mob, as Mussolini was, but taken out of his squalid little hole, cleaned up and shaved, and is now, no doubt, sitting somewhere quite warm and safe, and most of all, alive.

    Thank God.

    I say this, not because I have a soft spot in my heart for ruthless tyrants, but because only a living, breathing Saddam Hussein has the power to destroy the illusionary Saddam Hussein that, like The Wizard of Oz, seemed so vastly greater than life size to those whom he had so long terrorized. Just as Dorothy and her friends needed to see the small and insignificant little man feverishly manipulating the switches and pulleys behind curtain, in order to free their minds once and for all of the image of the omnipotent and angry Oz, so the Iraqi people needed to see the small and insignificant little man who had haunted their collective psyche, and who would have continued to haunt it for as long as it was possible for the Iraqis to imagine that, one day, he would return. That fantasy is now dead, once and for all.

    Too bad they shaved his beard. Well, this anecdote makes him look cowardly as well.

    UPDATE: Time is all over this story. Here's their cover story package -- with lots of detail about the capture. There is a follow-up report on the first day of interrogation. Some intriguing details:

    Along with the $750,000 in cash, two AK 47 machine guns and pistol found with Saddam, the U.S. intelligence official confirmed that operatives found a briefcase with Saddam that contained a letter from a Baghdad resistance leader. Contained in the message, the official said, were the minutes from a meeting of a number of resistance leaders who came together in the capital. The official said the names found on this piece of paper will be valuable and could lead to the capture of insurgency leaders around the Sunni Triangle.

    The official said it may soon be clear how much command and control over the insurgency Saddam actually had while he was in hiding. “We can now determine,” he said, “if he is the mastermind of everything or not.” The official elaborated: “Have we actually cut the head of the snake or is he just an idiot hiding in a hole?”

    Finally, President Bush gets the final words today, from his address to the nation:

    I also have a message for all Americans. The capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq. We still face terrorists who would rather go on killing the innocent than accept the rise of liberty in the heart of the Middle East. Such men are a direct threat to the American people, and they will be defeated.

    We've come to this moment through patience and resolve and focussed action. And that is our strategy moving forward. The war on terror is a different kind of war, waged capture by capture, cell by cell, and victory by victory. Our security is assured by our perseverance and by our sure belief in the success of liberty. And the United States of America will not relent until this war is won.

    posted by Dan at 10:02 AM | Comments (64) | Trackbacks (5)

    Strike two for the EU

    Three weeks after the collapse of the European Union's growth and stability pact, it looks like the proposed EU consitution is dead on arrival. From the Washington Post:

    Negotiations on a new European constitution collapsed in acrimony Saturday, with the 25 current and future members of the European Union failing to find a formula to satisfy medium-size countries worried that their voices and votes would be swamped by larger countries in an expanded union.

    The failure left the EU facing one of the most critical crises of its history and could formalize an already visible split in the organization. Diplomats said several of the founding EU members, including France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, could soon issue a statement saying they were prepared to proceed on their own fast track, with deeper integration and shared policies.

    French President Jacques Chirac raised the idea of a two-speed Europe immediately after the talks failed. He said a smaller "pioneer group" could go forward on areas of common agreement. "It would be a motor that would set an example," Chirac said. "It will allow Europe to go faster, better." He did not specify policy areas where the core group might move forward.

    EU leaders, normally given to diplomatic language and positive "spin," did not try to mask their failure. "It has not been possible to reach agreement on all points," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The meeting could have continued, Blair said, but "there's no point in negotiations going on through the night. It's better to wait and get the right agreement."

    Blair's hit the nail on the head. Much of European integration has been based on the "bicycle theory" -- the idea that if integration does not keep moving forward, the whole project will topple over. This has led to the implementation of some less-than-ideal policies/governance structures on the logic that they were "too big to fail."

    A reappraisal might be the best thing for the European Union, and its member states.

    As for Chirac's proposal, it's tough to see how it could be applied towards the proposed constitution. The two-track EU works by dividing up issue areas. The constitution is about process. That's slightly more difficult to parse out.

    posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, December 12, 2003

    What blogging hath wrought

    No blogging today -- and it's the blog's fault. Follow this chain of events:

    Back in May, I blogged about the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich, an effort to create, "an index that measures 21 developed countries on a plethora of policies that help or harm poor nations."

    Which led to my first essay in Tech Central Station.

    Which led to me getting asked to be on their Board of Advisors for future revisions to the index.

    Which leads me to fly to DC and back to go to a board meeting today.

    UPDATE: Back and exhausted -- just like Glenn Reynolds was yesterday.

    posted by Dan at 12:34 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, December 11, 2003

    Who's minding the foreign policy store?

    How to react to the Defense Department finding limiting reconstruction contracts in Iraq to firms from coalition countries, and the international brouhaha this has stirred up?

    Well, first, the reaction from the French, Russian, and German governments has been more overblown than a Matrix sequel. For example, France and the EU claim that the ruling may be inconsistent with WTO procurement rules. Given that the ruling is phrased to be consistent with the national security exemption, and given the understandable reluctance of the WTO to get involved, it would be safe to say that the Europeans are overreaching.

    The Christian Science Monitor puts things in the proper perspective:

    [T]he resulting flap is overblown: First, the ban applies only to the $18 billion in aid supplied from the US Treasury. Countries often tie foreign aid to their own companies or route it to favored foreign firms. By contrast, anyone may bid on the $13 billion in pledged multilateral aid.

    Second, the ban applies only to the 26 prime contracts, not to subcontractors. Since subcontractors do most of the work in such situations, the ban is more apparent than real. Siemens AG, along with several other German firms, is already a subcontractor in Iraq. French and German firms built much of Iraq's infrastructure; they'll almost certainly supply spare parts for repairs.

    Does this let the administration off the hook? No. William Kristol and Robert Kagan note the following (link via Josh Chafetz):

    A deviously smart American administration would have quietly distributed contracts for rebuilding Iraq as it saw fit, without any announced policy of discrimination. At the end of the day, it would be clear that opponents of American policy didn't fare too well in the bidding process. Message delivered, but with a certain subtlety.

    A more clever American administration would have thrown a contract or two to a couple of those opponents, to a German firm, for instance, as a way of wooing at least the business sectors in a country where many businessmen do want to strengthen ties with the United States.

    A truly wise American administration would have opened the bidding to all comers, regardless of their opposition to the war -- as a way of buying those countries into the Iraq effort, building a little goodwill for the future, and demonstrating to the world a little magnanimity.

    But instead of being smart, clever, or magnanimous, the Bush Administration has done a dumb thing. The announcement of a policy of discriminating against French, German, and Russian firms has made credible European charges of vindictive pettiness and general disregard for the opinion of even fellow liberal democracies. More important, it has made former Secretary of State James Baker's very important effort to get these countries, among others, to offer debt relief for the new government of Iraq almost impossible. This is to say nothing of other areas where we need to work with these governments.

    This decision is a blunder.

    It's the last point that makes all of this so puzzling. If the administration did not need the assistance of these countries with regard to Iraq, then the finding would be gratuitous but harmless. However, why on God's green earth would implement this decision just when you're dispatching an envoy to ask these countries to forgive Iraqi debts? Yes, there's a bargain to be made here, but hint at it, discuss tactical issue linkage behind closed doors, use that diplomacy thing. Don't make your move on a web site in such crude form. From the New York Times (link via Josh Marshall, who has another interesting post here):

    President Bush found himself in the awkward position on Wednesday of calling the leaders of France, Germany and Russia to ask them to forgive Iraq's debts, just a day after the Pentagon said it was excluding those countries and others from $18 billion in American-financed Iraqi reconstruction projects.

    White House officials were fuming about the timing and the tone of the Pentagon's directive, even while conceding that they had approved the Pentagon policy of limiting contracts to 63 countries that have given the United States political or military aid in Iraq.

    Many countries excluded from the list, including close allies like Canada, reacted angrily on Wednesday to the Pentagon action. They were incensed, in part, by the Pentagon's explanation in a memorandum that the restrictions were required "for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States."

    The Russian defense minister, Sergei Ivanov, when asked about the Pentagon decision, responded by ruling out any debt write-off for Iraq.

    The Canadian deputy prime minister, John Manley, suggested crisply that "it would be difficult" to add to the $190 million already given for reconstruction in Iraq.

    White House officials said Mr. Bush and his aides had been surprised by both the timing and the blunt wording of the Pentagon's declaration. But they said the White House had signed off on the policy, after a committee of deputies from a number of departments and the National Security Council agreed that the most lucrative contracts must be reserved for political or military supporters.

    Those officials apparently did not realize that the memorandum, signed by Paul D. Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, would appear on a Defense Department Web site hours before Mr. Bush was scheduled to ask world leaders to receive James A. Baker III, the former treasury secretary and secretary of state, who is heading up the effort to wipe out Iraq's debt. Mr. Baker met with the president on Wednesday.

    Several of Mr. Bush's aides said they feared that the memorandum would undercut White House efforts to repair relations with allies who had opposed the invasion of Iraq....

    Several of Mr. Bush's aides wondered why the administration had not simply adopted a policy of giving preference to prime contracts to members of the coalition, without barring any countries outright.

    "What we did was toss away our leverage," one senior American diplomat said. "We could have put together a policy that said, `The more you help, the more contracts you may be able to gain.' " Instead, the official said, "we found a new way to alienate them."

    The lack of policy coordination is astonishing. Going back to the Christian Science Monitor editorial:

    The spat highlights the continuing tone-deafness of large parts of the Bush administration to how its words play overseas: The administration's neoconservatives and the Pentagon in particular, frequently pushing justifiable policies, often couch them in unnecessarily inflammatory language. The dispute also displays the administration's difficulties in coordinating its foreign-policy actions - the job of the National Security Council staff.

    Alas, this is becoming a familiar refrain with this White House.

    posted by Dan at 07:40 PM | Comments (83) | Trackbacks (2)

    Catherine Mann on globalization and outsourcing

    The Institute for International Economics' Catherine Mann has a great policy brief on the globalization of IT services. There's a lot of interesting info, but the discussion of employment effects is particularly interesting:

    [S]tories that report dramatic movement of jobs offshore need to be put into the current economic perspective. First, these citations frequently use the peak of the economy and technology boom as the base for their analysis, thus ignoring the business cycle, trend decline in manufacturing employment, dollar overvaluation, and technology bust. Second, data on international trade do not corroborate the frequent citations but rather point to sustained international competitiveness of US service providers.

    Table 2 shows developments in the US labor market from 1999 to October 2003. These data cut through the technology boom and peak of the business cycle but also clearly show the slow recovery in employment so far. Data confirm disproportionate and continuing employment losses in manufacturing (2.7 million or 16 percent since 1999), including production jobs in the IT sector. Among occupational categories, there similarly has been a trend decline in “management occupations,” where 1.1 million jobs have disappeared since 1999 (a 14 percent decline). In contrast, employment in the private service–providing sector increased throughout the period and is 1.5 percent higher in October 2003 compared with 1999.

    Employment in white collar occupations related to IT or deemed vulnerable to IT-enabled international trade, is stable and recovering (architecture and engineering occupations) or higher (computer and mathematical occupations is 6 percent higher and business and financial occupations, 9 percent higher) in October 2003 compared with 1999. Without a doubt there is offshore job activity, and the domestic labor market situation remains subdued, but job growth in many white collar occupations at home deemed particularly at risk to offshore operations is expanding, not contracting. (emphasis added)

    By all means, read the whole thing.

    UPDATE: Cold Sping Shops has further thoughts.

    posted by Dan at 06:24 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

    Syllabi for next quarter

    Sorry for being mute today -- I was finalizing my course syllabi for next year. The finishing touches always take longer than I think.

    For those U of C undergraduates and graduates interested, here are the links (which can also be found on my teaching page):

    Undergraduate: American Foreign Economic Policy (in Word format)

    Graduate: Global Political Economy (in Word format)

    posted by Dan at 04:45 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

    Wednesday, December 10, 2003

    Australian-rules politics

    Jay Drezner has an interesting post on the norms of political civility in Australia versus the United States:

    [T]he US, while an absolute sewer of backroom politics, doesn't hold a candle to the Australian parliament when it comes to incivility and foul language. Proof of point comes with the results of the Labour caucus held today which declared Mark Latham, formerly Shadow Treasury Minister, as the Opposition Leader... Mr. Latham is a part of a new generation, being only 42, and brings some interesting things to his party, one of the most notorious being him calling John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, an arselicker in the Bulletin earlier this year.

    Of course, there are plenty of politicians in the U.S. willing to use strong language. However, Australian politics may have hit a new low recently thanks to third party leader Andrew Bartlett:

    Andrew Bartlett stepped aside from the Democrats leadership late yesterday after he was involved in an extraordinary row on the floor of the Senate during which he bruised the arm of Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris and yelled abuse at her.

    Other senators said Senator Bartlett seemed to have been drinking heavily before the episode in the chamber late on Thursday night.

    Senator Ferris, the Government Whip in the Senate, said the tension began earlier in the evening, when Senator Bartlett took five bottles of wine from a Liberal Party Christmas function and Senator Ferris tried to get them back. Party staffers finally retrieved four of the bottles.

    During a division in the Senate about 10.30pm, Senator Bartlett and Senator Ferris crossed paths.

    Senator Ferris said Senator Bartlett was affected by alcohol and stumbled towards her, grabbed her arm and shouted insults at her. (emphasis added)

    Click on this report to see the precise language Bartlett used in the altercation.

    posted by Dan at 06:08 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    My chic strategy of providing links

    Looking for more on the global southern strategy? Look no further!

    Previous posts: my round-up on the World Summit on the Information Society can be found here and here. My post on FTAA "lite" is here.

    Documentation: The Fischler quote comes from this story in the Guardian. The Goldman Sachs study mentioned in the piece is available online. Here's a link to the joint IMF-World Bank-WTO statement. For good measure here's a follow-up joint Bank-Fund statement post-Cancun.

    Background: For more info on the old-school New International Economic Order, check out this entry in the Routledge Encyclopedia of International Political Economy. On the developed country response, the best source is Stephen D. Krasner's Structural Conflict, about which I've posted previously.

    For more on the G22/G20+, there's this story. Another piece by the same journalist in the Asian Times provides further background on the emergent grouping.

    I discussed developing country opposition to the "Singapore issues" in the WTO talks in a Tech Central Station column. For a mildly contrary take, Jeffrey Schott provides engaging analysis of the post-Cancun state of negotiations.

    posted by Dan at 01:36 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)


    My latest TNR online essay is up -- as hinted at here, it's on the faultlines emerging between the developing and developed nations over global economic governance. Go check it out.

    Footnotes to come soon.... and here they are.

    posted by Dan at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Last thoughts on Dean and Gore

    Josh Marshall thinks that Gore's endorsement of Dean could paradoxically help Clark, through the process of eliminating the other pretenders to the throne. If Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Lieberman et al drop out, it becomes a Dean/Clark horse race:

    I think Gore's endorsement of Dean will accelerate the process of narrowing this race to Dean and one or two other candidates. More likely than not, one. And, as I've argued above, I think various dynamics point to that other candidate being Clark.

    This doesn't mean the other candidate is an "anti-Dean" in some heavily weighted sense, as both Dean's avid admirers and detractors tend to think. It is simply a reflection of the not-unreasonable reality that not every voter will gravitate to Dean. And as the field narrows, those voters will gravitate towards another candidate.

    Josh probably knows a hell of a lot more about Democratic Party politics than I do, but the more I think about it, the more I don't buy it. Here's why:

    1) Follow the money. The mainstream press is now obsessing over Dean's new campaign model. The latest issue of Time reports that Dean's coffers are bulging to the point where he's offering money to others:

    Just about the last thing you'd expect a presidential candidate to do is ask his supporters to give money to another politician — especially one who hasn't endorsed him. So when Howard Dean quietly made that offer to Tim Bishop earlier this fall, the New York Congressman couldn't quite figure out what to make of it. Bishop turned him down, noting that he planned to throw his support behind Senator John Kerry. But Iowa's Leonard Boswell — who is uncommitted in the presidential race and expects to remain so — had no such qualms when Dean came to him with the same deal a few weeks ago. He hastily retooled his website so he could accept contributions over the Internet. Within 24 hours of the Dean campaign's sending out an email appeal on Boswell's behalf last week, a total of $51,557 poured in from 1,359 Deaniacs across the country, most of whom had probably never heard of Boswell before.

    It was an audacious move and a smart one too — and not just because it gave Dean a chance to do a big favor for the only Democratic Congressman from a state whose Jan. 19 caucuses are looking more crucial than ever in the fight for the nomination. By siphoning off some of his money supply to Boswell, Dean was sending a signal to the Democratic Party establishment on Capitol Hill — especially Southern Democrats — which may have some misgivings about the prospect of a presidential ticket headed by an antiwar nominee from the liberal Northeast. The meaning was clear: My rising tide can lift your boat too. Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, says the former Governor is considering making similar share-the-wealth offers to dozens of other Democratic lawmakers and candidates. To those Democrats who might be thinking of starting an Anyone-but-Dean movement, Dean is sending a none-too-subtle message: You need me as much as I need you. And maybe more.

    Republican or Democrat, all politicians follow the funding. The more resources that Dean has to throw around for other campaigns, the less charged the opposition will be.

    2) Pride matters for the rest of the field. The Gore endorsement managed to accomplish something that nothing else in the campaign had done to date -- make Howard Dean's challengers look as angry as Howard Dean (this also applies to Democratic-friendly media outlets -- Will Saletan, Exhibit A). This has more to do with Gore than Dean -- as Jeff Greenfield put it: "This to be candid with you is a problem Al Gore has had in the past in his relations with other politicians. There is a kind of reputation that he has earned over the years for not necessarily being the most graceful of diplomats in dealing with his fellow Democrats." If the debate wrap-up is any indication, the other contenders are not going to go down without a serious rhetorical fight.

    The problem is, they're all angry, which means none of them are dropping out anytime soon. This complicates the scenario where everyone but Clark falls away. At best, I suspect that by the time South Carolina rolls around, only Kerry and Gephardt would drop out if they were clobbered in New Hampshire and Iowa, respectively. Edwards, Clark and Lieberman can easily split the Clinton wing of the party to the point where Dean skates through the Southern primaries.

    3) Dean could win the general election. Forget polls comparing Bush to the Democratic challengers today. As I've argued elsewhere, Dean will prove to be more formidable than he seems now. William Kristol is right about this. I have it on good authority that the Bush team is equally aware of how close 2004 could be.

    Once this meme filters through the mediasphere, the strongest political rationale for opposing a Dean nomination will be squelched. Implicit hints from Dean that he would pick a VP with either Southern or Western roots would probably accelerate this as well.

    One other thing -- as TNR's &c. points out, Dean's wooing of Gore demonstrates something counterintuitive about his political skills:

    [F]or all the criticism of Dean as blunt and shrill and in-your-face, he seems to have a surprisingly soft and subtle political touch. Much more so than his critics give him credit for. And, if the outcome of the Gore endorsement is any indication, much more so than his rivals, too.

    Again, Marshall may very well be right. I kind of hope he's right, just because it would make for much more entertaining political theater. My hunch, though, is that at best Clark might pull a Jesse Jackson circa 1988 and win a big state after everyone thought Dean had it locked it up. But this would be a hiccup, not a horse race.

    UPDATE: Ryan Lizza has an outstanding analysis of Dean's effect on the Democratic Party elite (link via Mickey Kaus) that anticipates much of what was said here and in my previous post on Dean/Gore. And it was written a month ago!

    posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, December 9, 2003

    Boomshock has moved

    Robert Tagorda finally had it with Blogger and has moved into much sleeker digs at his new home.

    His latest post is a good take on how the media can twist official reports in a lot of different ways. In this case the report in UN predictions of population growth. Go check it out.

    UPDATE: More on the population report from Eugene Volokh and Juan Non-Volokh, who suggests that this should force a revision of existing environmental forecasts.

    posted by Dan at 05:45 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Islam, geography, and economic growth

    Marcus Noland argues that, contrary to conventional wisdom, adherence to Islam does not lead to reduced economic fortunes:

    [N]o robust relationship between adherence to major world religions and national economic performance is uncovered, using both cross-national and subnational data. The results with respect to Islam do not support the notion that it is inimical to growth. On the contrary, virtually every statistically significant coefficient on Muslim population shares reported in this paper—in both cross-country and within-country statistical analyses—is positive. If anything, Islam promotes growth.

    Tyler Cowen disagrees:

    These correlations miss the point. To the extent that Islam has negative effects, it operates through indirect mechanisms. Islamic countries have a difficult time establishing democracy and rule of law and good economic policy. True, if you include enough proxy variables in the regression -- such as good policy -- the influence of Islam will wash out. Islam is an indirect cause of some problems, not the direct cause, and the direct causes may well have more statistical significance. But the point remains that Islam can influence the variables that matter.

    Kieran Healy says this nut may never be cracked:

    The relationship between religious beliefs and practices, on the one, hand and economic prosperity, on the other, is a very tricky question. It’s kept comparative sociologists busy for more than a century.

    Kieran goes on to quote Ernest Gellner, a bigwig in the study of nationalism, who says:

    I like to imagine what would have happened had the Arabs won at Potiers and gone on to conquer and Islamise Europe. No doubt we should all be admiring Ibn Weber’s The Kharejite Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which would conclusively demonstrate how the modern rational spirit and its expression in business and bureaucratic organization could only have arisen in consequence of the sixteenth-century neo-Kharejite puritanism in northern Europe.

    Read all of the posts -- interesting debate. There's a bit of talking past each other -- Cowen is much more concerned with state structures in Muslim-majority countries, while Noland is concerned with effects on individuals as well.

    What intrigues me is Gellner's comment. In international relations theory and economic history, a common argument for why Europe grew the way it did after 1500 is that geographic barriers permitted the proliferation of states and religious sects, decentralizing power enough to create a space for economic actors to operate free of state repression. One wonders if the curse of the Middle East is not its religion, but rather the absence of those geographic barriers.

    UPDATE: Brad DeLong is similarly intrigued by this debate, and has the following thoughts on the subject:

    We are not Marxists: the economic base constrains but does not determine religious doctrine and practice, which in turn influences the evolution of the economic base. We have a powerful elective affinity between commerce and Islam back in the Middle Ages (Muhammed, after all, was a merchant). But we have no such affinity visible between Islamic doctrines and industrial technology, not since 1500....

    It is a great puzzle and a mystery. I'm inclined toward political and organizational explanations--that the key problem lies in the form taken by the Muslim state seen not as an (incredibly imperfect) system for the collective self-organization and regulation of society, but as an alien military-bureaucratic organization sitting on top of it: slaves on horses, in Patricia Crone's formulation, at the service of whatever dynasty of ghazis or nomads most recently conquered the settled lands.

    Read the whole post.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: This book may be of interest to readers of this post (Thanks to alert reader D.G. for the link)

    posted by Dan at 12:20 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

    The employment debate

    Last week I blogged about the debate over productivity numbers. This week it's the employment numbers that are being questioned. Amity Shlaes makes a good case that the accepted statistics are overestimating the unemployment rate -- though, as she points out, this affects the productivity debate. The good parts version:

    Skeptics charge that government data are imprecise and that they obscure the true economic pain that comes as manufacturing jobs disappear.

    The skeptics are correct--the data are not perfect. The problem, however, is not one of right versus left but of old versus new. The methods Washington uses to collect these numbers were determined in a calmer economy where people worked for one company all their lives....

    [T]he trouble with government data is that they have a hard time recording the good news. The first example of this is the much-debated Household Survey, a poll that phones families at home to inquire about employment status. The survey has shown strong employment lately so the Bush critics tend to argue that it is too positive. But the opposite is probably the case.

    When someone does not answer at home, the phone pollster simply dials another number. And in the era of two-parent employment, houses where no one is at home are more--not less--likely to be houses where the adults work. The analysts try to compensate for this but the study has a bias that causes it to miss employment, not exaggerate it.

    Then there is the Establishment Survey, a measure that focuses on collecting employment data from workplaces. Its lower numbers have made it a favorite of opponents of President Bush. But the survey sometimes fails to capture self-employed contractors and entrepreneurs--a ubiquitous type in the Staples economy. Well aware of such problems, officials have created a meter to measure "births" and "deaths" of companies but have not yet perfected that measure.

    David Malpass of Bear Stearns thinks the federal data fail to take into account the degree to which companies are now contracting out work. The reasons for that contracting are often negative--screamingly high health-care costs for employees, the pressures of post-crash and post-Enron government regulation. But the consequence is that workers may be under-recorded.

    Malpass points to other data that indicate hidden growth or hidden growth potential. Non-farm proprietors' income, a measure that looks at the profitability of unincorporated business, is up strongly; the growth outpaces late-1990s rates. The number of self-employed in the Household Survey has risen sharply as well. This suggests a strong recovery, since new businesses are an engine of U.S. growth. Now we come to another big measure: productivity, which was at a disconcerting high of 9.4 percent last quarter. The formula for determining productivity is output divided by labor and other inputs, more or less. So if the statisticians are undercounting labor, productivity may be less impressive than advertised.

    Combine Shlaes' analysis with Stephen Roach's analysis, and one has to conclude that the productivity numbers are probably exaggerated a bit.

    posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, December 8, 2003

    Is this the ballgame?

    The AP is reporting that Al Gore is going to endorse Howard Dean for President (link via Drudge):

    Former Vice President Al Gore intends to endorse Howard Dean for the Democratic presidential nomination, a dramatic move that could cement Dean's position in the fight for the party's nod.

    Gore, who lost to President Bush in the disputed 2000 election, has agreed to endorse Dean in Harlem in New York City on Tuesday and then travel with the former Vermont governor to Iowa, sight of the Jan. 19 caucuses which kickoff the nominating process, said a Democratic source close to Gore.

    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Dean will return from Iowa in time for Tuesday night's Democratic debate in New Hampshire.

    Dean's campaign declined to comment.

    Quick hits:

    1) If there was ever a sign that the Democratic establishment now sees Dean's nomination as inevitable, this is it.

    2) Not to be too cynical, but what is Gore getting out of this? I'm not saying that he's selling out his principles by endorsing Dean -- it's just that I don't see the upside of making an endorsement at this point in time unless there's a backscratch in there somewhere.

    3) This exposes the faultline between Gore and the Clintons, who fear Dean because he has a money stream independent of the Democratic Party establishment (run by Clintonite Terry MacAuliffe, remember). Tapped's Nick Confessore links to a Washington Post story that explains the political cleavage emerging for 2004:

    large number of influential Democrats, many of them former high-level advisers to President Bill Clinton and state leaders, are growing increasingly concerned that Dean's antiwar, anti-tax-cut campaign could doom the party's chances of winning back the White House and Congress. If Dean can't quickly exhibit an ability and willingness to broaden his appeal, especially in the South, these Democrats may join together in a campaign to stop him, several said.

    Gore's endorsement would throw a significant monkey wrench into this Southern Strategy. [Wouldn't the Clintons be happy about this, since it increases the odds that Hillary will be able to run in 2008?--ed. Five years is a lifetime in politics -- and Dean's ascension means that the Clintons now have a formidable rival]

    4) Just think of the language John Kerry's going to have to use now to gain anyone's attention. However, as Maureen points out, Joe Lieberman can't be too happy right now either.

    5) If, against all odds, someone else were to win the nomination, Al Gore would become the official unlucky charm of Democrats everywhere.

    More reaction from Josh Marshall ("stunned") and Atrios ("laughing"), Mark Kleiman ("I'm banking on them [50,000 Clark supporters] rather than Gore") and Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO's the Corner ("No word yet from McGovern, Mondale, or Dukakis") James Joyner collects additional blogosphere reactions. Time has a roundup of mediasphere reaction. Nothing on Dean's official blog -- or this one either.

    UPDATE: The Washington Post has reactions from other campaigns. It's not pretty:

    Gore's scheduled endorsement caught Dean's rivals by surprise. A number of the candidates sought Gore's support, but one Democrat close to Gore said Dean was particularly energetic in reaching out to Gore and his wife Tipper throughout the year. During the run-up to the war last winter, according to a knowledgeable Democrat, Dean spoke with Gore several times, largely to seek reassurance about his opposition to Bush's policy at a time when opposing the war appeared even more politically risky than it does today.

    Dean's rivals said they were disappointed by the latest development. Lieberman issued a statement saying he was "proud to have been chosen by Al Gore in 2000" as his running mate and noted that he had stayed out of the 2004 race until Gore decided not to run. He added: "Ultimately, the voters will make the determination and I will continue to make my case about taking our party and nation forward."

    Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said in a statement that he had endorsed Gore's candidacy early in the 2000 cycle. "But, this election is about the future, not about the past" and will be "decided by voters, across the country, beginning with voters in Iowa."

    Erik Smith, press secretary to Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), said, "We're clearly disappointed because Dick Gephardt fought side by side with Al Gore to pass the Clinton economic plan, pass the assault weapons ban and defend against Republican attacks against Medicare and affirmative action. On each of these issues Howard Dean was on the wrong side."

    LAST UPDATE: Another reason for Kerry to use strong language -- from today's Chicago Tribune:

    Several campaigns were unclear what to make of the news, including Kerry's aides, who accidentally fired off an e-mail to reporters, saying: "I don't think Kerry should comment unless asked at a press event." Minutes later, a fresh response arrived from the senator.

    "I respect Al Gore," Kerry said in the statement, adding that he had endorsed Gore in 2000 and worked on his behalf. "But this election is about the future, not about the past."

    TNR's &c. has the actual e-mail.

    posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (4)

    Kind of a sorta good news/bad news situation

    Well, the "sorta" bad news is that my chances of winning a Weblog Award look pretty slim. On the other hand, polling fifth out of twenty ain't too shabby -- and I gotta feel for poor Pejman after reading this.

    The "sorta" good news is that I have been awarded an honorary title by another blog...

    It'll look great on the cv!!

    posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Trackbacks (1)

    The potential costs of re-regulation

    Recently, Howard Dean called for sweeping re-regulation of significant portions of the American economy:

    Dean listed likely targets for what he dubbed as his "re-regulation" campaign: utilities, large media companies and any business that offers stock options. Dean did not rule out "re-regulating" the telecommunications industry, too.

    Given Dean's position, it's worth highlighting the benefits that deregulation have brought to the U.S. economy.

    Brad DeLong links to an Economist article (subscription required) and a joint AEI-Brookings book by Alfred Kahn on the subject. The key paragraphs from the Economist story:

    Deregulation of the airline industry has been, he says, "a nearly unqualified success, despite the industry's unusual vulnerability to recessions, acts of terrorism and war." The benefits to consumers have been estimated at in excess of $20 billion a year, mainly in the form of lower fares and huge increases in the availability of fast one-stop services between hundreds of cities. Consumers do complain that standards of service have fallen. So they have--because passengers are unwilling to pay for them. Through competition, the market has discovered that consumers prefer cheap tickets to frills. Such discoveries are the whole point.

    American telecoms deregulation is a more complicated tale, but here, too, Mr Kahn draws attention to several large and clear benefits: much cheaper rates for long-distance calling; vastly cheaper cellular and other wireless services; and, in both cases, correspondingly huge increases in usage. Reluctant as consumers may be to believe it, competition is far and away their best friend in economic policy.

    This domestic deregulation omits the equally important international deregulation that took place around the same time, as most commodity cartels fell apart. In the case of coffee, for example, the demise of the International Coffee Agreement lowered coffee prices from $1.50 per pound in the mid-eighties to $0.50 per pound in current dollars.

    Question for Governor Dean -- how do your re-regulation proposals not amount to a disguised tax regime that raises barriers to market entry, thus empowering the very corporations you allegedly distrust?

    posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    An update on the Internet and the UN

    Last week I red-flagged the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society and developing country efforts to have greater UN involvement (in the form of the International Telecommunications Union) in Internet governance. The United States, European Union, and Japan all opposed this move -- out of normative fears that it would enhance the ability of states to regulate content, and positive fears that such a switch would dilute their influence in ICANN.

    Looks like the status quo will be preserved for the near-future -- meaning that ICANN still runs key parts of the Internet and states like China and Saudi Arabia can still regulate content to their heart's content. Here's the Reuters story on it. The Register has some good behind-the-scenes stuff:

    Most significant among these issues was over who should run the Internet. Western countries want ICANN to continue to head it, whereas the rest of the world wants the ITU to take over to lend a more international flavour.

    The two sides were stuck in a deadlock (despite extra days of meetings) which threatened to put the entire meeting - the first of its kind concerning the Internet - at risk. And so, in true diplomatic form, all sides agreed to put the issue on the back burner.

    Discussion papers dated 5 December (the first day of the special weekend meeting) suggested that a “Preparatory Committee” be set up that will hold its first meeting in the first half of 2004 and review “those issues of the Information Society which should form the focus of the Tunis phase of the WSIS” - to be held in 2005.

    And that is what everyone agreed to - since agreement was going to be impossible, farm the issue out to a committee to report back in a year’s time when hopefully the hot potato will have cooled down....

    The equally contentious issue of free speech and the role of the media on the Internet was also broached. China didn’t like the Western wording about press freedom. And so the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights was used as the reference point instead. The exact paragraph may read: “Nothing in this declaration shall be construed as impairing, contradicting, restricting or derogating the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, any other international instrument or national laws adopted in furtherance of these instruments.”

    The Washington Times suggests the clear faultlines when these issues re-emerge:

    Senior diplomats familiar with the confidential talks said the compromise stemmed from the firm stance taken by the United States and compromise language offered by Canada and the Swiss chairman of the talks, Marc Furrer. The latter is the director of Switzerland's Federal Office of Communications.

    "The Swiss were good at cooling things down," said one diplomat who participated in the talks. "At times, things got quite feisty between China, Brazil, South Africa, the U.S. and others."

    China, Brazil, South Africa. Hmmm... These countries also played a pivotal role in derailing world trade talks at Cancun three months ago.

    In all the talk about transatlantic tensions -- in the blogosphere and the mediasphere -- methinks that analysts have overlooked a deeper division that may emerge in future negotiations on the global political economy: the developed and developing world.

    More on this in a few days.

    posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, December 7, 2003

    When is it important to fact-check fiction?

    Last year, Gregg Easterbrook mocked the New York Times for publishing a correction saying that it had made a few errors in recounting a plot point from the HBO series The Sopranos. Easterbrook noted:

    Here the straight-laced, precision-obsessed, oh-so-conscientious New York Times runs a detailed "correction" regarding events that are totally made-up.

    OK, we know the media have ever-increasing difficulty distinguishing between actual events and things that are made-up. Worse, many news outlets show increasing lack of interest in this distinction. But how can you "correct" a statement about something that does not exist? The Times box is like running a correction that says, "James Bond drinks vodka martinis, not gin as was stated in yesterday's editions. The New York Times apologizes to Mr. Bond."

    Now, I take Easterbrook's point that this sort of corrections policy can border on the absurd, but consider, as a counterexample, Alex Kuczynski's essay in today's NYT on religious interpretations of the movie Groundhog Day. Here's Kuczynski's plot summary of the movie:

    In the movie, which enjoys its own seemingly endless cycle of rebirth on cable television, the character played by Mr. [Bill] Murray is in Punxsutawney, Pa., covering Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, for the fourth year in a row. Frustrated because his career is stalled and by the fact that he can't seduce his producer, played by Andie MacDowell, he sees his assignment — waiting for a groundhog (or a rat, as Mr. Murray's character calls it) to see if there will be six more weeks of winter — as the final indignity.

    But it isn't quite. The next day he awakens in the same bed in the same bed-and-breakfast, to the sound of the same tinny clock radio with Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe" and the babblings of the frighteningly cheerful local D.J., to discover that it is Feb. 2 again.

    At first, he uses the repetition to his advantage — he learns French poetry, for example, as part of his scheme to seduce the producer. Then he realizes that he is doomed to spend eternity locked in the same place, seeing the same people do the same things every day. It is not until he accepts his fate and sets about helping people (saving a homeless man from freezing to death, for example) that he is released from the eternal cycle of repetition.

    Of course, this being an American film, he not only attains spiritual release but also gets the producer into bed.

    There are two errors in this plot summary. First, Bill Murray's character Phil Connors does not save the homeless man from freezing to death -- indeed, this section of the film shows that as the day repeats itself, the homeless man dies no matter how much Phil attempts to save him. Second, although it appears that Connors has successfully seduced the producer at the end of the film, the dialogue suggests that Phil restrained from any hanky-panky, acting like a perfect gentleman.

    Nitpicky details? Perhaps, but in an article on how "the film has become a curious favorite of religious leaders of many faiths, who all see in Groundhog Day a reflection of their own spiritual messages," these facts are actually pretty crucial. One corrected, the movie suggests:

    1) The limit's of man's power over life and death;
    2) The merits of abstinence as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment.

    [You, who never misses an opportunity to ogle Salma Hayek, are preaching abstinence?--ed. No, but surely some of the religions discussed in the essay do proffer such advice. And there's a big difference between admiration from afar and acting on such admiration, buddy!]

    It would be absurd for the Times to issue an apology to anyone for these errors. However, this is an example of how getting the facts wrong about fiction do alter the tenor of a particular argument.

    posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

    John Kerry goes ballistic

    Now is not the best of times for John Kerry. Mickey Kaus is running a "Kerry Withdrawal Contest." Josh Marshall has a long post about the Democratic nomination with the following on Kerry vs. Dean:

    I had lunch today with someone who is not a politician but a fairly prominent Washington Democrat -- certainly not someone from the party's liberal wing. And in the course of answering a question, I said "If it [i.e. the nominee] ends up being Dean ..." At which point, with the rest of my sentence still on deck down in my throat, my friend shot back : "It's Dean."

    It was effortless. He wasn't happy or sad about it. He wasn't trying to convince me -- more like letting me in on something I apparently wasn't aware of yet....

    I like Kerry -- I find the smarm attacks on him revolting. But, in a situation like this, it's really hard for me to see how you can recover the support of voters that you once had in New Hampshire, but then lost.

    What must be monumentally frustrating to Kerry (and Edwards, and Lieberman, etc.) is that he's pretty decent on substance -- earlier this year, I thought his foreign policy positions and rhetoric to be the best among the Democratic candidates. This is in contrast to Dean, who has been having difficulty with country names as of late.

    That was then. This is now, and Kerry's in full pander mode. According to Eric Alterman:

    Kerry sat down for two hours in Al Franken’s living room with about a dozen and a half journalists, writers and the odd historian, poet and cartoonist. It was all on the record and yet, it was remarkably open, honest and unscripted....

    After the meeting broke up, Art Spiegelman tried to tell Kerry that he should just stand up, and in a clear, unmistakable fashion say, “I was wrong to trust President Bush with this war. I thought he would do the things he promised before embarking on this war but I now see I gave him more credit than he deserved. I wish I could have that vote back but I can’t. Now the thing to ask ourselves is where do we go from here and who’s the best person for the job?”

    Now let's click over to Kerry's interview in the December 2003 Rolling Stone (NOTE: Kerry said the following before hearing Spiegelman's advice). It would be safe to say that Kerry uses some very strong language to describe President Bush's policy towards Iraq:

    RS: Did you feel you were blindsided by Dean's success?

    Kerry: Well, not blindsided. I mean, when I voted for the war, I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, "I'm against everything"? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did.

    When informed of the comment, Brookings Institution presidential scholar Stephen Hess told the New York Post, "It's so unnecessary. In a way it's a kind of pandering [by Kerry] to a group he sees as hip . . . I think John Kerry is going to regret saying this." (link via Glenn Reynolds).

    Actually, there's another passage of the RS interview that I found to be much more revealing of the tenor of the Democratic primary:

    RS: What do you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming governor of California?

    Kerry: Well, first of all, Arnold's a friend of mine. I've known him for a long time, and he's a capable guy. I mean, he's smart and capable. I would have preferred that there had been no recall. I went out and campaigned against it. But I understand the anger that existed out there.

    RS: Do you think that same anger is propelling Dean's candidacy?

    Kerry: Other people have to determine that. I'm not an analyst. I'm running for president based on my vision for the country, and I think I have a longer, stronger, deeper record of fighting against those interests, and representing that anger, than Howard Dean. (emphasis added)

    The Democratic primary boils down to "representing that anger." And there's no way at this point that anyone will beat Dean at that game.

    The thing is, no matter how you slice and dice the opinion polls, the "anger" is still confined to hard-core Democratic primary voters. And the more that the Democratic candidates appeal to it, the more they risk alienating the rest of the voting spectrum. As Alterman himself observes, "I represent a tiny sliver of the electorate that can’t even elect a mayor of New York City."

    If Kerry's behavior is any indication, winning the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

    UPDATE: William Saletan, reporting for Slate from the Florida Democratic Party convention, thinks the Rolling Stone epithet is part of "The New Kerry":

    He curses a blue streak. Having used the F-word in Rolling Stone ("Did I expect George Bush to f--- it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did") and complained in New Hampshire about working people "getting screwed by special interests," Kerry tells the Florida audience that FDR invited them to "sit on your ass" and that Bush will "kick your ass." In his Q and A, Kerry swears, "The very first thing I will do is give a damn good inaugural address." Unless, of course, voters tell him to go to hell.

    posted by Dan at 12:25 AM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (2)

    Saturday, December 6, 2003

    How about funding more HBO miniseries about outer space instead?

    The International Herald-Tribune reports that the Bush administration has some ambitious ideas to revamp the space programme:

    The Bush administration is developing a new strategy for the U.S. space program that would send American astronauts back to the moon for the first time in more than 30 years, according to administration and congressional officials who said the plan also included a manned mission to Mars.

    A lunar mission - possibly establishing a permanent base there - is the focus of high-level White House discussions on how to reinvigorate the space program following the space shuttle Columbia accident this year, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity....

    While officials stressed that the White House had yet to sign off on a specific plan, they said President George W. Bush was expected soon to unveil a strategy that would include manned missions to the moon and to Mars.

    The idea is to motivate NASA engineers and researchers by aiming to explore deeper reaches of space than the current shuttle fleet is capable of visiting.

    Sounds great -- exactly the kind of soaring vision that led to Neil Armstrong broadcasting from Tranquility Base.

    However, I have some nagging questions:

  • Is there any evidence that NASA has learned its management lessons from the Columbia disaster? The IHT story suggests that one motivation behind the the proposed plan is to boost NASA morale. Isn't that putting the cart before the horse? Shouldn't NASA get its act together before getting this big a treat?

  • Given the fact that the current administration is racking up domestic spending obligations faster than Britney Spears racks up magazine covers, there is the minor question of cost. Let's go to Gregg Easterbrook's back-of-the-envelope calculations here:

    A rudimentary, stripped-down Moon base and supplies might weigh 200 tons. (The winged "orbiter" part of the space shuttle weighs 90 tons unfueled, and it's cramped with food, oxygen, water, and power sufficient only for about two weeks.) Placing 200 tons on the Moon might require 400 tons of fuel and vehicle in low-Earth orbit, so that's 600 tons that need to be launched just for the cargo part of the Moon base. Currently, using the space shuttle it costs about $25 million to place a ton into low-Earth orbit. Thus means the bulk weight alone for a Moon base might cost $15 billion to launch: building the base, staffing it, and getting the staff there and back would be extra. Fifteen billion dollars is roughly equivalent to NASA's entire annual budget. Using existing expendable rockets might bring down the cargo-launch price, but add the base itself, the astronauts, their transit vehicles, and thousands of support staff on Earth and a ten-year Moon base program would easily exceed $100 billion. Wait, that's the cost of the space station, which is considerably closer. Okay, maybe $200 billion.

    NASA enthusiasts suggest that the cost of reconstituting a moon shot might be even greater than that. According to the IHT:

    "I think the idea is fine," James Lovell, whose 1970 Apollo mission to the moon encountered mechanical problems and nearly ended in catastrophe, said in a telephone interview.

    "A challenge to go back to the moon and reinvigorate the space flight program would be welcomed by the public," he said. "But the technology that we had in the 1960's and 1970's, such as the Saturn V heavy booster rocket, is no longer available. The actual people, the planning, the tooling, are gone. It would cost us. We'd be starting from scratch."

  • There are two "big idea" rationales given for this kind of proposal. The economic one rests on the innovations that would result from such a program. However, there are other, more cost-effective ways to do this instead going to Mars -- hell, just doubling government funds for basic research would probably achieve greater gains at lower costs.

    The other rationale is the human desire to explore -- which as a Star Trek geek I'll confess to having in spades. If this Washington Post story is true, then the Bush administration is fully cognizant of this attraction to the big idea -- in fact they're counting on it:

    One person consulted by the White House said some aides appear to relish the idea of a "Kennedy moment" for Bush, referring to the 1962 call by President John F. Kennedy for the nation to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.

    A senior administration official said that "a lot of simultaneous efforts have been launched" in a quest for such an idea, and that the efforts have been underway since at least late summer. The official said the planning was born of an effort to follow up Bush's emergency plan for AIDS relief in this year's State of the Union address, which called for spending $15 billion over five years to help African and Caribbean countries fight the pandemic.

    This official said Bush's closest aides are promoting big initiatives on the theory that they contribute to Bush's image as a decisive leader even if people disagree with some of the specifics. "Iraq was big. AIDS is big," the official said. "Big works. Big grabs attention."

    You know, follow-through is big, too. Trying to convert the Middle East into an area where democracy and capitalism is pretty damn ambitious as well. Hey, curing AIDS is pretty big, and the rewards much more tangible.

  • I'd like to see a mission to Mars. I'd just like to see a lot of other things happen first. In sum, I'm with Easterbrook on this one:

    NASA doesn't need a grand ambition, it needs a cheap, reliable means of getting back and forth to low-Earth orbit. Here's a twenty-first century vision for NASA: Cancel the shuttle, mothball the does-nothing space station, and use all the budget money the two would have consumed to develop an affordable means of space flight. Then we can talk about the Moon and Mars.


    UPDATE: Patrick Belton links to this Buzz Aldrin op-ed in the New York Times. Aldrin's proposal:

    A much more practical destination than the moon or the space station is a region of space called L 1, which is more than two-thirds of the way to the moon and is where the gravity fields between the Earth and Moon are in balance. Setting up a space port there would offer a highly stable platform from which spacecraft could head toward near-Earth asteroids, the lunar surface, the moons of Mars and wherever else mankind decides to travel.

    Unlike the Moon and the International Space Station, which is in low-earth orbit, L 1 is not the site of strong gravitational pulls, meaning that spacecraft can leave there without using much energy. Thus L 1 would be the most sensible position for a base that would function as a test area and way-point for robotic flights as well as a support station and safe haven for human exploration of the solar system.

    posted by Dan at 05:56 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (3)

    Friday, December 5, 2003

    Your holiday book recommendations

    New month -- time to update the book recommendations.

    In response to the feedback on this post about Opus and Bloom County, the "general interest" book is The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson. Of all the Calvin and Hobbes collections to have, this is the best one, since Watterson comments on the strip itself as well as his campaign to have more autonomy in his Sunday cartoons, many of which are reprinted here. There were a lot of great comic strips in the late eighties/early nineties -- Bloom Country, Doonesbury, Dilbert, Foxtrot -- but Watterson's creation stands out. If it's true that much of culture is confined to one's generation, surely Calvin and Hobbes deserves to be an exception to that rule.

    The "international relations" book is Christina Davis' Food Fights over Free Trade. Davis points out that contrary to the conventional wisdom, compared to 1950 there has been significant agricultural liberalization among the developed countries. The explanation? International institutions, specifically the GATT/WTO regime. Through the promulgation of hard law and the ability to link agricultural issues to liberalization in other sectors, the United States has been able to pry open protected markets in Japan and Europe. A brief description of the book:

    This detailed account of the politics of opening agricultural markets explains how the institutional context of international negotiations alters the balance of interests at the domestic level to favor trade liberalization despite opposition from powerful farm groups. Historically, agriculture stands out as a sector in which countries stubbornly defend domestic programs, and agricultural issues have been the most frequent source of trade disputes in the postwar trading system. While much protection remains, agricultural trade negotiations have resulted in substantial concessions as well as negotiation collapses. Food Fights over Free Trade shows that the liberalization that has occurred has been due to the role of international institutions.

    Christina Davis examines the past thirty years of U.S. agricultural trade negotiations with Japan and Europe based on statistical analysis of an original dataset, case studies, and in-depth interviews with over one hundred negotiators and politicians. She shows how the use of issue linkage and international law in the negotiation structure transforms narrow interest group politics into a more broad-based decision process that considers the larger stakes of the negotiation. Even when U.S. threats and the spiraling budget costs of agricultural protection have failed to bring policy change, the agenda, rules, and procedures of trade negotiations have often provided the necessary leverage to open Japanese and European markets.

    Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, and South African trade negotiators would serve themselves well by reading this book in order to devise a strategy to restart Cancun.

    posted by Dan at 03:48 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    A (modest) step up from the Grammys

    2003 Weblog Awards

    Polling for the 2003 Weblog Awards has started over at Wizbang. Remember, if you don't go over and vote.... er.... well, nothing happens, exactly, except that you can't complain about who wins.

    I'd been informed that I was actually nominated for something, so I clicked over to check out the myriad categories.

    One question -- logically, how is it possible for Virginia Postrel to be nominated for Best Overall Blog, but not for Best Female Authored Blog? [What business is it of yours?--ed. Check out thethis map! I'm just sticking up for my country.]

    posted by Dan at 03:11 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    This is a great idea. Not!

    Disturbing developments are afoot in Internet governance, according to the Washington Post:

    Leaders from almost 200 countries will convene next week in Geneva to discuss whether an international body such as the United Nations should be in charge of running the Internet, which would be a dramatic departure from the current system, managed largely by U.S. interests.

    The representatives, including the heads of state of France, Germany and more than 50 other countries, are expected to attend the World Summit on the Information Society, which also is to analyze the way that Web site and e-mail addresses are doled out, how online disputes are resolved and the thorny question of how to tax Internet-based transactions.

    Many developing nations complain that the world's most visible Internet governance body -- the U.S.-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- does not adequately represent their interests and should be scrapped in favor of a group allied with the United Nations.

    A U.N. agency being put in charge of regulating the Internet. Who wants this? According to this site, the key backers are China, Syria, Egypt, Vietnam, and South Africa. This story provides some additional background. [UPDATE: Marc Scribner links to this Reuters story says that China and Cuba will be among the strongest supporters of transfering power to the ITU.]

    This makes me feel much better about this initiative.

    In this interview, Milton Mueller, a longtime and vocal ICANN critic, voices a fair amount of displeasure at the WSIS conference:

    In WSIS I see a danger that cyber activism gets linked to an anti-capitalist, anti-globalization movement, which I see as both reactionary and a certain dead-end. We need to create new forms of democratic and liberal institutions at the global level, and tying that agenda to old-style protectionism, statism and discredited neo-Marxist ideologies will take all the energy surrounding that project and flush it down the toilet....

    The issue is the distribution of power, not nationality. An Internet governance system dominated by the EU or China or Brazil might make Europeans, Chinese or Brazilians happier (or would it?) but it would hardly be more just.

    Still, maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe a U.N.-centric system of governance can properly address concerns about the global digital divide. Oh, wait.

    This kind of multilateralism I could do without.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has more, and links to The Daily Summit, which plans to blog the WSIS. Henry Farrell provides some added detail in the history between the US, EU, and the International Telecommunications Union on this issue, about which I have some familiarity.

    posted by Dan at 12:15 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (3)

    Thursday, December 4, 2003

    How will this play in Pittsburgh?

    The President does the right thing and lifts the steel tariffs:

    Facing the threat of a trade war, President Bush on Thursday lifted 20-month-old tariffs on foreign steel, a move that will hurt steelmakers in states critical in next year's election.

    To soften the blow, the administration announced a beefed-up monitoring program to guard against a sudden flood of foreign steel coming into the country.

    Bush said the tariffs had been imposed to give the domestic industry critical time to modernize and to protect jobs.

    "These safeguard measures have now achieved their purpose, and as a result of changed economic circumstances, it is time to lift them," Bush said in a statement.

    This will not go over well in Pennsylvania -- but it may give the President a boost in Michigan.

    UPDATE: For how it's playing in Pittsburgh, click here (Thanks to alert reader P.S.!).

    posted by Dan at 02:27 PM | Comments (38) | Trackbacks (3)

    The productivity debate

    The good news, according to the New York Times:

    Productivity of U.S. companies rocketed at a 9.4 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the best showing in 20 years, offering an encouraging sign that the economic resurgence will be lasting.

    The increase in productivity -- the amount an employee produces per hour of work -- reported by the Labor Department on Wednesday was even stronger than the 8.1 percent pace initially estimated for the July-to-September quarter a month ago and was up from a 7 percent growth rate posted in the second quarter of this year.

    The third-quarter's productivity gain, based on more complete data, was better than the 9.2 percent growth rate economists were forecasting and marked the strongest performance since the second quarter of 1983, when productivity grew at a blistering 9.7 percent rate.

    The report raised new hopes that businesses may be more confident than before that the economic rebound is genuine.

    The bad news, according to Stephen S. Roach writing in last Sunday's New York Times -- the way productivity is being measured leads to a likely overestimation of that figure:

    productivity measurement is more art than science — especially in America's vast services sector, which employs fully 80 percent of the nation's private work force, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Productivity is calculated as the ratio of output per unit of work time. How do we measure value added in the amorphous services sector?

    Very poorly, is the answer. The numerator of the productivity equation, output, is hopelessly vague for services. For many years, government statisticians have used worker compensation to approximate output in many service industries, which makes little or no intuitive sense. The denominator of the productivity equation — units of work time — is even more spurious. Government data on work schedules are woefully out of touch with reality — especially in America's largest occupational group, the professional and managerial segments, which together account for 35 percent of the total work force.

    For example, in financial services, the Labor Department tells us that the average workweek has been unchanged, at 35.5 hours, since 1988. That's patently absurd. Courtesy of a profusion of portable information appliances (laptops, cell phones, personal digital assistants, etc.), along with near ubiquitous connectivity (hard-wired and now increasingly wireless), most information workers can toil around the clock. The official data don't come close to capturing this cultural shift.

    As a result, we are woefully underestimating the time actually spent on the job. It follows, therefore, that we are equally guilty of overestimating white-collar productivity. Productivity is not about working longer. It's about getting more value from each unit of work time. The official productivity numbers are, in effect, mistaking work time for leisure time.

    A quick perusal of Roach's writings reveal him to have replaced Henry Kaufman as the Dr. Doom of the U.S. economy. That said, he's raising a fair point about measurement issues here.

    UPDATE: On the other hand, Tyler Cowen has a post suggesting that productivity gains have been underestimated.

    posted by Dan at 12:27 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (1)

    I'm back. I'm swamped.

    Good to be back in Chicago. Not so good to have hundreds of e-mail piled up in one's inbox. While I'm sorting through these, two new blogs to check out. For those interested in Republicans like me, check out The Bully Pulpit. The e-mail sent to me claimed that the blog has, "the brains of a Volokh and the wit of a Drezner!" Reads at your own risk.

    For lighter fare, among the interesting web sites I've found -- this history of the pregnancy test kit, wittily entitled The Thin Blue Line.


    posted by Dan at 10:41 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, December 2, 2003

    A first for me

    On the flight to Philadelphia, I experienced a first -- I read an article in an "airline" magazine that I actually thought was interesting -- "Who Knows" by Bruce Anderson, in US Airways Attaché magazine. The essay is about the "transiense of generational knowledge." The opening paragraphs:

    What was I to make of the half-dozen editors and interns sitting around a conference table saying that they had never heard of Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees”? Should I have considered them lucky or illiterate? These folks, about half my staff, were all smart, well-traveled, and college-educated. Tellingly, they were also all under 35.

    The travel magazine that I edit was developing a photo essay on famous Western trees. The sparse text that accompanied the piece began, perhaps too predictably, with a nod to Kilmer’s 12-line paean, a poem once so familiar to so many. The tree-huggers and arboriphobes on my staff divided exactly by age, as though Kilmer’s poetic chestnut had been a birthright accorded only to those born before, say, 1968.

    It turns out that the year you were born may be a more important factor in what you know than the schools you attended or which side of the tracks you were born on. The generation gap is less about attitude and more about cultural points of reference, less about how long you like your hair or how short your skirts and more about whether you identify the Kennedy tragedy as something to do with the president or with his son.

    Twenty-five years ago, this concept of generational knowledge was distilled down to a joke about a kid who is sifting through the bins at Tower Records and announces, “I didn’t know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.” Today, that story just raises the question of why they call your favorite music store Tower Records.

    I don't agree with Anderson's conclusions, but it's still worth a look -- and how many times can you say that about an airline magazine?

    posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

    Monday, December 1, 2003

    On the road again

    I'm giving a talk tomorrow at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Political Science. Blogging may or may not occur between now and when I return on Wednesday evening.

    posted by Dan at 12:43 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    The comparative advantage of loyal fans

    The rise of salary caps, luxury taxes and the like in professional sports has forced even comparatively wealthy franchises to lure marquee players with different kinds of incentives. The first one to crop up was location. In basketball, for example, Orlando is considered a nice place to play because so many players have off-season homes nearby. In baseball, St. Louis is considered to be a great baseball town, leading to a lot of free agent signings for the Cardinals.

    The trade of Curt Schilling from the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Boston Red Sox could mark a new kind of lure -- passionate fans. A lot of reports suggest that one tipping factor in Schilling's decision to approve the trade was his late-night interaction with the Red Sox nation on a fan web site, the Sons of Sam Horn. According to

    Schilling's messages -- coupled with his chats on the Sons of Sam Horn (SOSH) site -- further demonstrate the powerful community the Internet has provided and what may yet lie ahead.

    "I don't know what role it played, but it left a huge impression on me," Schilling said of the fan interaction when asked about it during his news conference announcing the trade. "I was overwhelmed at their passion, at their incredible desire for this to work out. They all had their own ideas, most of them being to screw the Yankees. But I was overwhelmed. I was in awe of their intensity in November when the Patriots are playing and the Celtics are playing and they're having good years, and the Bruins. It was pretty awesome.

    "I had a chance to be in a private chat room (at SOSH) with 24 Red Sox fans last night and talking baseball. Once we got past the first two minutes of them calling me a liar and telling me I wasn't who I was, we got to talking about the situation. It was fun. It's what I do when I'm in the clubhouse or when I'm hanging out. We were talking baseball. It was a pretty neat thing."

    Of course, the fact that the Florida Marlins won the World Series this year with a pretty apathetic fan base suggests the possible limits to this trend. And God help Schilling if the Red Sox Nation ever turns on him. Still, it will be interesting to see if this is the beginning of a larger trend of players sounding out fans before deciding where to sign. [Hey, you could combine this trend with sabremetrics and argue that whichever group of fans embraces the right stats the quickest will have the best team!--ed. I'll leave that to David Pinto].

    And, as a Sox fan, I'm much obliged to the Sons of Sam Horn!

    UPDATE: In Slate, Seth Stevenson points out that Schilling's online habits also have a negative effect on sports reporters via disintermediation.

    posted by Dan at 12:34 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

    Your TV critic reports on The Reagans

    So I was all set to go to bed last night, when I started flipping channels, and I stumbled across "The Reagans," the miniseries that was planned to air on CBS but was put on its sister network Showtime in response to activist pressure. Curious, I watched it.

    Critical reviews have been mixed. The New York Times says that the movie "turned out to be milder and more balanced than both its critics and its supporters had suggested." The Salt Lake Tribune says it "truly is offensive, grotesque, unfair and ultimately trivial." The Los Angeles Times has the most trenchant observation:

    The political fuss and bother that nudged this film from network sweeps to Sunday night pay TV is in some ways more engaging than the film itself, at least to anyone acquainted with the real-time Reagan saga.

    My own take:

    1) Is the film a biased look at Reagan? Hell, yes. Any movie on Reagan's presidency that devotes ten minutes to the Bitburg screw-up and a half-hour to the Iran-Contra affair but passes over the Challenger speech and deals with the waning of the Cold War with a 20 second scene is dealing from a stacked deck [What about the line about AIDS that was the source of much of the controversy?--ed. Ironically, that's not in the final version -- indeed, the final version of that scene is one of the more effective critiques of Reagan's policies in the movie, as it has Reagan remaining silent in responce to Nancy's entreaties, a deft symbol of Reagan's AIDS policy (though see Andrew Sullivan for a dissent on this point)].

    2) Of course, even-handedness is an imperfect standard to judge biopics -- by that score, you'd probably have to ding every Kennedy movie ever made for being too hagiographic or too critical. Films can be both partisan and good drama (think Reds). The question is, does the move grip you?

    The answer for this one is no. The Reagans is just shapeless. In part, this may be because it was based on Carl Sferazza Anthony's First Ladies, Volume II, which Amazon describes as containing "minibiographies" of the relevant women. That ain't a strong foundation for a three-hour movie.

    Watching it, I was never certain if the focus was Reagan's political career, the relationship between Ron and Nancy, the entire Reagan family, or what. There was no narrative structure, no theme, no pacing. It boils down to a biased highlights clip. Of course, it was originally intended as a miniseries, and I haven't seen a good one since Shogun.

    I do know this -- if I were Patti Davis, I'd put a pox on the filmmakers. I haven't seen such an unflattering, malignant portrayal of a presidential offspring since... well, I never saw it, but I bet the JFK Jr. biopic wasn't particularly nice to John John. By far, she gets the worst treatment in this biopic. So, in closing, I'll turn over the microphone to Davis herself, who had this to say in Time last month about the brouhaha:

    They [producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron] have exhibited astounding carelessness and cruelty in their depiction of my father and my entire family. They never consulted any family member, nor did they speak to anyone who has known us throughout the years. In the New York Times on October 21st, one of the writers admitted that the line about AIDS victims was completely fabricated. In that same article, Jim Rutenberg reported that the producers claimed no major event was depicted without two confirming sources....

    Reading the script actually made me feel better in some ways. It is, quite simply, idiotic. Everyone is a caricature, manufactured and inauthentic. My father is depicted as some demented evangelist, going on about Armageddon every chance he gets. My mother is cast as a female Attila the Hun, and I and my siblings are unrecognizable to me....

    But the idiocy of the script can’t dilute the cruelty behind it. To deliberately and calculatingly depict public people as shallow, intolerant, cold and inept, with no truths or facts to back up the portrayals, is nothing short of malevolent....

    My father would probably say, “This too shall pass.” And it will. We will continue to come to his bedside, knowing that death waits in the doorway and will one day reach for him. We will continue to cherish the fact that we walked away from our old battlegrounds and discovered how much better peace feels. We will look at each other through the clear glass of the present, not the mud-spatter of the past. What a pity the producers missed out on that part of the story.

    posted by Dan at 09:52 AM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (3)