Monday, May 31, 2004

What a big foreign policy team you have, Senator Kerry!

Readers of the blog are aware of my current dissatisfaction with George W. Bush's management of the foreign policy apparatus -- which means I'm taking a good hard look at Kerry. As someone who's primarily interested in foreign affairs, a few questions come to mind -- what are the foreign policy priorities of a President Kerry? How would Kerry manage the system? Who would be the key players in a Kerry administration?

The answers to the first question can be found in this Sunday special by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post (click here for Kerry's audio interview with Kessler). I'll comment on the substance of this in a later post.

As to the latter two questions, Robin Wright provides some clues with a backgrounder in Sunday's Washington Post. The key parts:

Since Kerry wrapped up the presidential nomination in March, however, many of the Democratic Party all-stars have signed on and are injecting new energy. Now in the midst of an 11-day blitz on foreign policy, Kerry is also being advised by former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright, former U.N. ambassadors Richard C. Holbrooke and Bill Richardson, former defense secretary William J. Perry, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, former NATO commander Gen. Wesley K. Clark, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden (Del.), ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee....

Unlike the Bush or Clinton campaigns, however, Kerry uses his foreign policy staff less for tutorials and positioning on foreign policy than as sounding boards to refine details, according to aides.

As a Vietnam veteran and as a senator from Massachusetts, Kerry has been involved with the full range of foreign policy issues for decades. In conference calls during the day with an array of advisers or in one-on-one calls late at night, Kerry often uses his expanding team as sounding boards to provide feedback on his ideas.

"He is his own best foreign policy adviser," Berger said. "He feels very secure in what he knows and doesn't feel compelled to show everyone how smart he is."

For now, the Kerry campaign's primary foreign policy focus is on four issues: Iraq, the Middle East, terrorism and nonproliferation. To prepare a broader agenda, aides say the campaign will soon invite hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics to join about 20 teams to develop ideas and papers on countries, regions or transnational issues. (emphasis added)

On Kerry's senior team, I have decidedly mixed feelings. I have the utmost respect for Holbrooke and Perry -- but I'm not as confident about the rest of the group. See this David Adesnik analysis of Wesley Clark for one source of trepidation. As for Berger -- well, any former National Security Advisor who writes on Democratic foreign policy should be able to beat out some lowly midwestern assistant professor of political science for the lead article position in Foreign Affairs. [Smart-ass-ed. Sorry -- but do scroll down Kausfiles to see Mickey's take on Berger's ability to present a public face for Kerry.]

Another thing -- hundreds of foreign policy experts and academics? That would be impressive -- I'm pretty sure the entire National Security Council staff is less than 200 people.

Whether such a large campaign staff would accomplish anything is an unanswerable question. On the other hand, if the story is correct, it means two things:

1) Kerry takes foreign policy seriously.
2) There are an awful lot of foreign policy wonks who are Democrats (gasp!)

posted by Dan at 09:23 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (2)

Which blogs are read by the media?

Nothing spurs forward progress in research like competition. First Henry Copeland has his blog survey. Now I read that Eszter Hargittai is starting her own project on blogs and the media, and she's looking for a "way of finding prominent political blogs." Which means that now is as good a time as any to post the results of the survey of media professionals' favorite blogs!!

Between September 2003 and January 2004, Henry Farrell and I received responses to five survey questions about blogs, the media, and politics. Beyond my initial post, the survey was widely linked around the blogosphere, including Instapundit, CalPundit, OxBlog, Crooked Timber, the Volokh Conspiracy, James Joyner, Jim Romenesko, Boing Boing, Scripting News, Howard Bashman, Andrew Sullivan (OK, that was me when I was guest-blogging), and National Review Online. The result was 140 proper responses from media professionals, i.e., those that made their living working for a media outlet (or freelancing for more than one). 33 of these responses were from what I'm characterizing as "elite" media outlets -- defined as general interest intermiediaries of national standing for those interested in politics.* More informally -- these are the outlets read by the movers and shakers in the political sphere. Examples of this latter category include the Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, CBS, CNN, ABC, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg.**

Participants were asked to list "the three blogs you read most frequently." The result was a total of 391 total responses and 89 elite responses (some respondents provided fewer than three blogs).

What were the ten most popular blogs among all responses? In order:

1. Andrew Sullivan (Daily Dish) -- 59
2. Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) -- 43
3. Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles) -- 23
4. National Review Online (The Corner) -- 20
5. Josh Marshall (Talking Points Memo) -- 19
6. James Romenesko (Media News) -- 14
7. Atrios (Eschaton) -- 10
8. Daniel W. Drezner -- 9
9. Eugene Volokh et al (The Volokh Conspiracy) -- 7
10. Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing), James Lileks (The Bleat) -- tied with 6

The lineup looks slightly different when looking only at the elite responses:

1. Sullivan -- 21
2. Instapundit -- 11
3. Kaus -- 7
4. Talking Points Memo -- 5
5. The Corner, Drezner, Romenesko -- tied with 4
8. Brad DeLong (Semi-Daily Thoughts), Volokh -- tied with 3
9. Atrios, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga (Daily Kos), Gawker, Howard Bashman (How Appealing) -- tied with 2

Now, let's make the obvious caveat -- the responses are obviously going to be affected by which blogs linked to the survey questions. Neither Atrios nor Josh Marshall, for example, advertised the survey at all (they were asked), so their results are likely to be biased downwards. People were e-mailing me their responses, and I have no doubt that the only reason I'm on the list is that some journalists were just being polite. Also, since the survey took place in the fall, newly emerging blogs like Daily Kos are probably more read now by media professionals than they were last September. This is certainly true of Wonkette, which didn't exist last September.

That said, two counterpoints are worthy of note. First, while there is likely some rightward political bias, the magnitude of the bias might not be that significant. Several high profile left-leaning blogs did link to the survey (Kevin Drum was nice enough to link twice). Second, it is striking that if you do a Nexis search of the names listed above during the same time duration, you wind up with very similar relative numbers in terms of media mentions. So if the numbers are out of whack, they're not that out of whack.

Which leads to a provocative possibility -- Eric Alterman may have a point. In What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News, Alterman argued that claims of liberal media bias are vastly overblown. Looking at the Top 10 lists, it's hard to deny the prominence of rightward-leaning blogs on the list. Marshall and Atrios are there, but they're a bit lower on the list than either Blogstreet's Most Influential Blogs or The Truth Laid Bear's Blogosphere Ecosystem have them. The elite responses are somewhat more liberal than the overall responses, but the difference is not terribly great. At a minimum, the media professionals that consume blogs seem to have far more centrist tastes than is often proclaimed by those on the right.

Before Alterman starts jumping up and down, however, bear in mind that there's another possible selection bias in the responses. If media professionals who seek out blogs to read are those who find mainstream media reporting unsatisfactory because it's skewed to the left, then these responses are not necessarily indicative of the political preferences of the larger media ecosystem. This came through in several of the responses. It's equally possible that liberal journalists are practicing The Godather, Part II dictum of, "keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer" -- i.e., reading blogs they disagree with politically because they want to know the counterarguments to their beliefs. This came through in a lot of the surveys as well -- and, of course, it comes through in the recent Pew survey of the media as well.

A lot to chew on -- want to play around with the raw data? You can access the Excel spreadsheet here -- all names, official positions, and other biographical information have been excised from the data set.

Finally, a big thank you to Crescat Sententia's Amanda Butler, who provided invaluable assistance in collecting and collating the data while displaying the utmost discretion.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Glenn Reynolds both have useful links on the relationship between the mediasphere and the blogosphere. This American Journalism Review article by Rachel Smolkin is particularly interesting. And Laura at Apartment 11D is working on her own project about how blogs affect political participation. Meanwhile, John Hawkins has a post on which blogs conservatives like to read.

* If you look at the raw data, you might notice that responses from the same publication were divided into elite and non-elite categories. In thise cases, it was because the non-elite respondent was a freelancer.

** A few more specialized publications are included in the elite category because they specialize in politics -- Roll Call, the Hotline, and Foreign Affairs fall under this category.

posted by Dan at 10:08 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (20)

Saturday, May 29, 2004

So what do we know about Iyad Allawi?

Apparently Ayad Allawi is to be the Prime Minister of Iraq from June 30th of this year to January 31st, 2005. He's consulted with U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the make-up of the provisional government's cabinet.

What else do we know from his selection? Josh Marshall doesn't offer much of a guide:

I continue to think that something very important happened in this selection of Iyad Allawi. Precisely what, though, remains unclear.

Juan Cole thinks that Brahimi preferred an exile who could not use the position to entrench himself in power. However, the BBC reports that Brahimi ain't exactly thrilled with the selection of Allawi.

I can offer zilch in the way of information about Allawi himself. But I do think that the nature of Allawi's selection contains two interesting nuggets of information. The first comes from Mike Allen and Robin Wright's Washington Post story about the selection. It suggests the extent to which the Bush administration did not want to be seen as puppetmaster on this one:

In a telephone conversation at 2:30 p.m., a senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy sounded uncertain about whether Ayad Allawi would head Iraq's interim government after the United States transfers limited authority on June 30.

"We may or may not have heard the last word on the prime minister," the official said. "You have to put a lot of pieces together first."

A senior administration official in Baghdad said that L. Paul Bremer, the civilian U.S. administrator, and Robert D. Blackwill, the U.S. presidential envoy to Iraq, knew about the impending selection on Thursday. But officials in Baghdad feared a leak and told few officials in Washington. Some members of President Bush's war cabinet knew where the process was heading but were surprised by the timing of the council's decision.

The administration's statements were reserved because the United States did not want to appear to be driving the process, officials said, especially because of the country's past ties with Allawi.

The second nugget of information is that whoever Allawi is, Ahmed Chalabi doesn't like him. I know this via another Laurie Mylroie mass e-mail, which contained a link to this scathing Al Arab commentary by one Dr. Haifa Al-Azawi. The last paragraph is all you need to read:

These kinds of people can put our U.S. government and our troops in bad positions and in danger. Laura [sic] Myroie, author of "Bush vs. the Beltway," and critical of the CIA handling of Iraq, blamed Allawi for what she said was faulty intelligence that endangered the U.S. troops at the end of the Gulf War. The United States plans to turn over power to Iraqis by July 1. We are all hoping to see reasonable, honest people in power; we do not want to see another potential Saddam. (emphasis added)

If Mylroie doesn't like him, Chalabi doesn't like him. [So does that mean he's a good choice or a bad one?--ed. My gut says to be mildly pessimistic. The IGC chose him so they wouldn't be locked out of the next government and the spoils that come with it. There had to have been some serious quid pro quos for Allawi to get the support from the council. My one prediction, therefore, is that some corruption scandal will break between now and January.

On the other hand, play the following game -- stack the accusations made against Allawi and Chalabi side by side and see if they're exactly identical or just roughly idential.]

UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman has more on Allawi -- he's not a fan (link via David Adesnik).

posted by Dan at 08:11 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, May 28, 2004

More on CPA recruitment

In my TNR Online piece yesterday, I briefly referenced the fact that ideological litmus tests were used to screen out otherwise first-rate applicants to the Coalition Provisional Authority. I've heard this from multiple sources, including those who were eventually hired, but many were reluctant say anything for the record. The Washington Post story confirmed some of this.

For a first-hand account, the following is reprinted from an e-mail I received from a former CPA employee who wishes to remain anonymous:

The staffing plan worked out by Reuben [Jeffery III, "a conservative but pragmatic former Goldman Sachs partner who had was a prominent contributor to the Republican party] and Jerry Bremer was to have these two [high level employees of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm] head up an HR staff seconded from the Army personnel office that would seek out high level civilians, without ideological bias, to assist in the rebuilding of Iraq. They were brought on with the knowledge of DoD/OSD but not the White House.

The first week they arrived, Office of the White House Liaison (OWHL), headed by a man named Jim O'Beirne, found out about CPA's staffing plans. A turf war ensued. At one point, OWHL personnel told the two Korn/Ferry employees that they had to clear their desks and be escorted out of the building. Of course, Reuben intervened and nothing that dramatic happened. What did happen is that recruitment was reassigned from CPA to OWHL by OSD. The Korn/Ferry people were only to help interview and process candidates already screened by OWHL.

I sat in the same room of cubes for several weeks watching this unfold, talking daily with the Korn/Ferry people, and observing the first interviews run by OWHL. OWHL hired retired military personnel, most of whom had run for public office as Republicans and been defeated in the 2002 electoral cycle, to staff its CPA recruiting arm. I observed one such individual, a retired Navy CMDR who lost a Virginia legislature race in 2002, question one applicant as to their stance on Roe v. Wade. I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to "the President's vision for Iraq" (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was "uncertain." I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy, FERC, and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC contributors.

Now, let me be the first to say that a shared ideology should play a role in hiring decisions at some level. If an applicant was asked why s/he wanted to go to Iraq, and that person answered, "I want to expose the role of evil multinational oil companies in the exploitation of Iraqi resources," well, that person wouldn't make a terribly good CPA employee. Let me also say, as Kevin Drum pointed out previously, that the people who were hired to be CPA personnel have the best of intentions and appear to have spared no effort to rebuild Iraqi society.

That said, how does a person's opinion towards Roe v. Wade possibly affect their ability to function in Iraq?

This is a story crying out for further investigation.

In the meantime, CPA employees who believe that this is an exaggerated picture of the hiring process should feel free to e-mail. I'll be happy to reprint what's relevant to the topic.

UPDATE: A claifying missive from my anonymous source:

I want to make clear that I never perceived that a pro-life stance was a necessary litmus test to work for CPA. That exchange was just an example of the type of ideological concerns I observed within CPA.... I want to reiterate how impressed I was in general at the level of commitment and skill in all the CPA personnel I met. I'm just disturbed that ideological reasons seem to have drastically narrowed the pool of committed Americans eligible to participate on this important endeavor.

Me too.

posted by Dan at 10:39 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Debating the political effects of bad movies

The Day After Tomorrow is now in theaters. I will not be attending -- not because of the film's ludicrous environmental theories, which make for some cool-looking FX, but because the director dissed Chicago.

Reading the reviews, however, it's clear that the film has put left-of-center movie critics in an awkward position. The Hartford Courant's Deborah Hornblow, for example, thinks the film will help the environmental movement:

[Director Roland] Emmerich's thundering, sometimes pulse-pounding summer blockbuster is a digitized city-destroying, freeze-drying depiction of the effects of manmade global warming. Inspired by scientific warnings and early evidence that the Earth's atmosphere is changing because of mankind's abuse, "The Day After" is a scientifically hyperbolic clarion call to greedy fossil-fuel consumers and Bush administration pols who refuse to recognize the problem, much less do something about it....

For all of its chilly scenes of destruction and Emmerich's practiced control of the dramatic tension, it is one of the disappointments of "The Day After Tomorrow" that it is so unbelievable. The film does capitalize on our collective guilt, but it makes too much of it, catapulting itself into the realm of hyperbolic nonsense....

It is with palpable glee that Emmerich uses his film's premise to throw snowballs at targets ranging from Tinsel Town to the Bush administration. The white-lettered Hollywood sign is obliterated by a tornado. A shopping mall is shrouded in ice and snow. The issue of Mexican immigration and border crossing is reversed, as Americans stream toward the border, only to be forbidden entry by Mexican patrols. Kenneth Welsh's vice president has the wire frame glasses, white hair and the intransigence of Dick Cheney....

All that said, if "The Day After Tomorrow" gets even one person to pressure a congressman or trade in a gas-guzzler for a subcompact, it will justify all of Emmerich's digital exaggeration. (emphasis added)

Slate's David Edelstein frets a little more about blowback:

[I]f I had to catalog all the moronic plot turns in The Day After Tomorrow, we'd be here until the next ice age. It's just so very bad. You can have a pretty good time snickering at it—unless, like me, you think there's something to this global warming thing, and you shudder at the irony of a movie meant to warn people about a dangerous environmental trend that completely discredits it....

The sad part is that Emmerich really thinks he's making a political statement, and he and his producers and actors are making the rounds blabbing about the movie's message to the world. As a German, he's no doubt eager to teach the United States some humility: The most amusing scene features North Americans racing illegally across the Rio Grande as Mexican troops attempt to turn them back. But the mainstream American audience won't want to know from humility, even in a fantasy alternate universe. It's too Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, global-warming experts I know are already girding themselves for a major PR setback, as everyone involved in this catastrophe becomes a laughingstock. Is it possible that The Day After Tomorrow is a plot to make environmental activists look as wacko as antienvironmentalists always claim they are? Al Gore stepped right into this one, didn't he?

[So what's your take on this global warming deal?--ed. Click here to find out.]

UPDATE: Julian Sanchez has a wickedly funny take on the flick:

Having seen it, I now want to be the first to say: are you f***ing kidding me? George Bush should be buying people tickets to this movie. It's preposterous from start to finish—maybe the D.C. audience has an unusually ironic sensibility, but the crowd was laughing from start to finish, during many of the ostensibly most dramatic scenes....

The catalyst for the movie's meteorological mayhem is an ice age brought on practically overnight by a vaguely specified disturbance in the Atlantic current caused by melting icecaps. But the effect is not to deliver some kind of chilling, potentially mobilizing warning about the perils of our current environmental policy. Instead, the fantastic and sudden global catastrophe turns a genuine issue into a sci-fi threat: It puts global warming in roughly the same category as attacks by Godzilla or The Blob.... In short, the movie makes a genuine (if tractable) problem into high camp. It's about as likely to spur political pressure for more environmental regulation as the X-Files movie was to prompt demands for an alien invasion defense force.

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, May 27, 2004

The rise of the Indian lobby

Joshua Kurlantzick has an interesting essay in The New Republic on the growth of Indian-Americans as a politically influential interest group, to be wooed by Democrats and Republicans alike. [So why is this filed under the outsourcing category?--ed.] Apparently, the Democratic rhetoric on offshoring have hampered their efforts to woo this bloc of voters. The good parts version of the article:

Indian Americans have long had the resources to compete in politics. The nation's wealthiest ethnic group, with a median family income over $60,000, its population doubled between 1990 and 2000, to 1.7 million, and is likely to double again by 2010. They are also among the best-educated groups in the country. Yet only in the past four years has the Indian community become more politically active. The first generation of Indians to come to the U.S., in the 1960s and 1970s, was made up primarily of doctors, engineers, and other science workers--U.S. policies at the time favored immigrants with science skills--and was interested primarily in building families and earning a living. Indeed, before 2000 only four Indian Americans had held office on a state or national level, and only one Indian American had ever been elected to Congress.

But since 2000, all that has begun to change. The war on terror contributed to a rise in hate crimes against brown-skinned and turban-wearing Americans, and that has galvanized many Indian Americans to become more politically involved. The White House's increasing chumminess with Pakistan--the administration recently decided to name Islamabad a "major non-NATO ally"--added to the sense of political urgency among Indian Americans. And most important, the recent furor over information technology offshoring, much of it to India, has sparked fears of a rise in anti-Indian sentiment, further convincing many Indian Americans of the need to organize. In March, Christopher Dumm, executive director of the Indian American Center for Political Awareness, told the Financial Times, "There is fear about a possible backlash that could mean discrimination at work, xenophobic rhetoric, or even violence."....

Democrats already have an advantage, as the Indian-American community, like other Asian-American groups, has traditionally backed liberal positions on immigration and other social issues. To do so, Democrats must first tone down their rhetoric on outsourcing, which has become perhaps the most important issue to many Indian Americans. Unfortunately, John Kerry and others show little sign of abandoning the issue. Shared Lakhanpal, head of the Association of American Physicians of Indian Origin, told Far Eastern Economic Review that many Indian Americans were moving to the GOP because Bush is "not bashing India for outsourcing like Kerry is doing."

All that's left is for Pat Choate -- you know, the 1996 Reform Party candidate for vice president -- to write his follow-up to Agents of Influence, which was about how the Japanese were lobbying to take over the U.S.

posted by Dan at 11:08 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Wal-Mart comes to Chicago

As part of my ongoing Wal-Mart coverage, the City Council voted yesterday on proposals for two Wal-Mart stores to be opened within the city limits. The Chicago Tribune's Dan Mihalopoulos -- who seems to have the Wal-Mart beat -- reports on a split decision:

Rejecting concerns that allowing Wal-Mart to open shop in Chicago would depress wages and destroy local businesses, the City Council voted Wednesday to permit the retail giant's first store in Chicago on the West Side.

Aldermen denied the company a total victory, as plans for a second store on the South Side came up one vote short of approval. But the plan for that store, in the 21st Ward, could be brought up for another council vote as soon as June 23....

Since council members first raised objections to Wal-Mart's plans in March, Chicago has become the most recent high-profile battleground in the national fight over the company's push to open stores in urban areas.

Unions and community groups mobilized opposition in recent weeks, highlighting Wal-Mart's distaste for organized labor and deriding the company's wages and benefits. As in other parts of the country, those complaints clashed with the desire to bring new stores and their bargain-priced goods to minority neighborhoods.

Ald. Emma Mitts said her economically depressed 37th Ward is in dire need of a new store and the 300 jobs that the West Side Wal-Mart promises. "This is a free country, and we look for low prices," she said.

In the end, though, the council's split on the two plans may have been determined by black aldermen who wanted to teach a harsh lesson to a freshman member accused of lacking proper respect for more senior council members.

All but two African-American aldermen at the meeting supported Mitts and her quest for a Wal-Mart in the Austin neighborhood. Yet, some of those same aldermen voted against the plan on the South Side for the Chatham section of the 21st Ward, represented by Ald. Howard Brookins.

South Side aldermen who split their votes said they sided with Mitts because she aggressively sought their backing, pointedly noting that Brookins ignored them and took their support for granted--until his proposal became the subject of wide debate.

"[Brookins] didn't do his homework," said Ald. William Beavers (7th), who supported both Wal-Mart proposals.

Aldermen voted 32-15 to approve the zoning change required for a Wal-Mart store at Grand and Kilpatrick Avenues on the West Side.

Brookins apologized for his lapse of aldermanic etiquette, but his contrition was not enough to win support for a 50-acre shopping center that also would include an Office Depot and a Lowe's home-improvement store. Aldermen voted 25-21, one vote short of approval, on the plan for the site of a former steel plant at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue....

Wednesday's outcome allowed both sides in the dispute to claim some success.

"Any time we get to better serve our customers, it's a huge deal," Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio said.

"A half a loaf is better than none," said Ron Powell, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881.

Actually, it reads to me as if the union was just lucky it was up against an inexperienced alderman, and got a temporary victory at best.

posted by Dan at 03:16 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

No failure of proof here

A lot of information in today's TNR Online column comes from previous blog posts. There's a lot of posts about the current situation in Iraq. Even former CPA advisors are dissatisfied -- click here for Larry Diamond's take and here for Yass Alkafaji's take. On Iraqi polls showing greater disenchantment with the American occupation, click here and here -- the latter one contains the 80% figure with regard to the CPA (thanks to Mark Kleiman for the links). Here's a blog post that discussed the rising support in Iraq for Muqtada Al-Sadr. There are a raft of polls demonstrating waning U.S. support for the current administration's Iraq policies -- this Washington Post poll is just the latest. The general pessimism in Washington on Iraq comes from Doyle McManus' Los Angeles Times think piece this past Sunday. On the conservative reaction in particular, here's another link to Reihan Salam's TNR essay, and my blog riff that emanated from it.

The White House has a link to the full text of President Bush's speech on Monday.

Here's a link to James Dobbins et al's America's Role in Nation-Building: From Germany to Iraq -- the quote in the TNR article comes from this press release. The calculation of the number of troops needed in Iraq comes from Michael Gordon's November 2003 Dispatches essay for

I've previously written about the errors in postwar planning in this Slate piece, which prompted some interesting feedback. The two TNR Online articles I wrote last year on democracy promotion in the Middle East can be found here and here. The point about ideological litmus tests being applied to CPA personel is based in part on this Ariana Eunjung Cha story in the Washington Post (link via Kevin Drum) and in part on first-person accounts I've received from CPA personnel. My assertion about the lack of viable policy options to the neoconservative grand strategy in the Middle East is based in no small part on the information gleamed from a roundtable conference held last week at the University of Toronto on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Thanks to Professor Jeffrey Kopstein for inviting me to participate.

The current debate about Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith crystallizes the current questioning of administration competency. General Franks' quote about Feith -- "The fucking stupidest guy on the planet" -- can be found on page 281 of Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack. Other juicy Franks quotes can be found at this Slate synopsis by Bryan Curtis. Slate's Chris Sullentrop has a pretty harsh assessment of Feith.

One of the things that got cut from the essay was my point that the situation in Iraq is not necessarily as bad as it has been portrayed in recent weeks. On the current situation in Fallujah, see this National Review Online essay by W. Thomas Smith Jr., which includes a verbatim transcript of a May 20th press conference held by held by Muhammed Ibrahim al-Juraissey, the city's mayor; Gen. Mohammed Latif, commander of the Fallujah Brigade; and Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. On the successes against Sadr's Mahdi militia, see this Washington Post account by Daniel Williams and Scott Wilson as well as this New York Times account by Edward Wong (credit must go to Andrew Sullivan for linking to all of these stories). I blogged about the progress in legal reforms in Iraq last month, and the revival of Iraqi security forces this month. Here's a link to the DoD claims about local governance.

One final caveat that got cut -- we can't rewind history and replay Iraq with better implementation. It is impossible to say with absolute certainty that the flaw lay with the idea or the implementation. I clearly think it's the implementation, but I will gladly concede that there are decent arguments out there that the idea itself was wrong as well. Fareed Zakaria's The Future of Freedom is as good a summation of these points as any, and here's a link to my take on Zakaria's thesis, with my follow-up here.

posted by Dan at 02:21 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

A flaw in design or implementation?

My latest TNR Online essay is now available. It's on the implications that the current difficulties in Iraq could have on the overall grand strategy of the United States. The answer depends heavily on whether one believes that the idea of exporting open societies to the Middle East was a bad idea, or whether it was a good idea married with bad implementation.

Go check it out. Footnote link will be up later in the day.

posted by Dan at 01:23 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

I am not a blogaholic, I am not a blogaholic....

Occasionally, I wonder if I devote too much time to the blog. Comparing how I spent my anniversary (not a lot of blogging) the opening of this Katie Hafner story in the New York Times does make me think that if I do have a problem, at least it's somewhat underc control by comparison:

To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

"I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

Ah, for the good old days, when a man would steal away to his computer to download pornography.

Read the whole article, by the way -- my favorite passage was, "A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few." And Jeff Jarvis has a nice defense of duty and blogging.

posted by Dan at 08:55 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Not since Conan O'Brien...

The alchemy of selecting a commencement speaker is a fragile one, as these two Chicago Tribune stories by Nara Schoenberg can attest. The alchemy of delivering a graduation speech that commands the attention of matriculating students suffering from hangovers is even more fragile.

This is particularly true if you try to be funny. My standard for funny commencement speeches has been Conan O'Brien's address to Harvard's class of 2000.

Jon Stewart's address to William & Mary's class of 2004 hits the mark (link via Andrew Sullivan). The funny part -- for someone who got a Ph.D.:

I am honored to be here and to receive this honorary doctorate. When I think back to the people that have been in this position before me from Benjamin Franklin to Queen Noor of Jordan, I can’t help but wonder what has happened to this place. Seriously, it saddens me. As a person, I am honored to get it; as an alumnus, I have to say I believe we can do better. And I believe we should. But it has always been a dream of mine to receive a doctorate and to know that today, without putting in any effort, I will. It’s incredibly gratifying. Thank you. That’s very nice of you, I appreciate it.

I’m sure my fellow doctoral graduates—who have spent so long toiling in academia, sinking into debt, sacrificing God knows how many years of what, in truth, is a piece of parchment that in truth has been so devalued by our instant gratification culture as to have been rendered meaningless—will join in congratulating me. Thank you.

The funny and poignant part:

I was in New York on 9-11 when the towers came down. I lived 14 blocks from the twin towers. And when they came down, I thought that the world had ended. And I remember walking around in a daze for weeks. And Mayor Giuliani had said to the city, “You’ve got to get back to normal. We’ve got to show that things can change and get back to what they were.”

And one day I was coming out of my building, and on my stoop, was a man who was crouched over, and he appeared to be in deep thought. And as I got closer to him I realized, he was playing with himself. And that’s when I thought, “You know what, we’re gonna be OK.”

posted by Dan at 11:46 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

A landmark too far

The National Trust for Historic Preservation describes itself as "the leader of the vigorous preservation movement that is saving the best of the country's past for the future." Yesterday they declared the eleven most endangered historic places in the United States. The places range from the natural (Nine Mile Canyon) to the man-made (the Bethlehem steel plant) -- and then there's the entire state of Vermont. Here's why:

With historic villages and downtowns, working farms, winding back roads, forest-wrapped lakes, spectacular mountain vistas and a strong sense of community, Vermont has a special magic that led National Geographic Traveler magazine to name the state one of "the World's Greatest Destinations." Yet in recent years, this small slice of America has come under tremendous pressure from the onslaught of big-box retail development. The seriousness of this threat led the National Trust to name the state to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 1993. Back then, Vermont was the only state without a Wal-Mart. Today it has four – and it now faces an invasion of behemoth stores that could destroy much of what makes Vermont Vermont.

Yes, I can see how four Wal-Marts is clearly a sign of the apocalypse -- no, actually I can't.

This is an extreme but telling example of the reactionary phenomenon that Virginia Postrel has documented in both The Future and Its Enemies and The The Substance of Style. As Postrel put it on p. 8 of The Future and Its Enemies:

The characteristic values of reactionaries are continuity, rootedness, and geographically defined community. They are generally anticosmopolitan, antitechnology, anticommercial, antispecialization, and antimobility.

I'm not averse to historical preservation in principle, but doesn't it seem as though landmarking an entire state is an example of a landmark too far?

This debate is really about the externalities created by the demand for large retail stores versus the evident economic benefits from such stores. The National Trust is basically claiming that the externalities are so costly that they threaten the very fabric of an entire state. Politically, magnifying the externalities of big box stores makes sense, but their web page on Vermont does not provide a scintilla of evidence that these costs actually exist.

The grand irony, of course, is that a century from now -- when Wal-Marts and other big box stores are threatened from whatever the new new thing in retail turns out to be -- I have no doubt that the National Trust will start landmarking the big box stores and decrying our lost retail heritage.

Who suffers from this kind of idiotic extremism? The Chicago Tribune story by Jon Margolis about this little absurdity suggests that the residents of Vermont might disagree with the National Trust's weighing of costs and benefits:

Whether or not it is a tragedy, Vermont's character has been changing anyway, and not mostly because of big-box stores. Some of those small towns started dying decades ago, before Sam Walton dreamed up his retail chain because the world no longer needs nearly as many dairy farmers and loggers as it did....

In fact, the designation was not imposed from Washington. It was proposed by a Vermonter, Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, a statewide organization that helps local residents trying to preserve the look and feel of their small towns and cities.

On the other hand, there are thousands of Vermonters who want to be able to buy low-priced goods without making a long drive and who pressure their local officials not simply to accept a Wal-Mart, but to ask the company to come to town.

Though no one has taken a dependable poll on the subject, the conventional wisdom is that this is the larger faction.

It is certainly the louder faction.

When the Ames department store chain went out of business a couple of years ago, hundreds of people in the rural Northeast Kingdom of the state wrote letters to the editors of their local newspapers decrying no access to inexpensive underwear. Their solution? Let's get a Wal-Mart.

Meanwhile, click here to read how large chains are trying to expand their urban markets while responding to local concerns in Chicago.

UPDATE: Gerald Kanapathy and Kevin Brancato are having a fine debate about this decision over at Always Low Prices, a blog devoted exclusively to all sides of the Wal-Mart phenomenon.

posted by Dan at 02:40 PM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, May 24, 2004

Open thread on Bush's latest Iraq speech

I will nt be watching Bush's speech tonight on Iraq live, as my wife and I have an anniversary to celebrate.

Feel free to comment on it here, however. The Washinghton Post's Dan Froomkin does a nice job of describing the lay of the land.

One prediction -- it will be impossible for media write-ups not to link the situation in Iraq with the physical aftereffects of Bush's bicycle accident.

I'll update this post after I've watched the speech be enjoying a lovely evening with my wife, thank you very much.

posted by Dan at 06:25 PM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (2)

Ranking the Rich, mark two

Longtime readers of the blog may remember that I was critical of the Center for Global Development for last year's Ranking the Rich. That report, if you remember, had the U.S. ranked 20th out of 21 countries in terms of helping the developing world. It was a good effort, but it stacked the deck against the U.S. in a number of ways.

The Center reacted to my critique in the most cunning of ways -- asking me to be on their Commitment to Development Advisory Board.

In response to their feedback from last year's index, the authors of the index revised the measures used for some of the components, and added a new one -- technology.

This year's Ranking the Rich is now out -- here's a list of the 2004 rankings. As happened last year, Foreign Policy has run a story on it. The key paragraph:

In order to rank rich nations as accurately as possible, this year the aid, trade, and environment components of the index were revised, a technology component added, and the sections on investment, migration, and security (formerly called peacekeeping) overhauled. Australia gains most from these improvements in method, surging from 19th place in 2003 to 4th place this year, due in part to changes in the investment and security components. The new measure of security also helps boost the United States 13 slots; Australia, the United States, and Canada all gain from improved data on migration. Amid all the jockeying, however, the same stalwarts anchor first and last place: Japan remains at the bottom of the CDI while the Netherlands stays at the top, though it now shares that position with last year's number two, Denmark.

And for all of those just waiting to ask whether the revision factored in private aid flows as well as official development assistance -- a topic I've addressed before -- here's the key passage:

This year, the CDI rewards governments for allowing their citizens to write off charitable contributions on their income taxes—and for taxing their citizens less, leaving more money in private hands for charity. Some of those contributions go to humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and CARE that do important work in developing countries. Currently, all index countries except Austria, Finland, and Sweden offer tax deductions or credits for such contributions. However, even in the United States—often considered a stingy government donor and generous source of charity—private giving is small compared to public giving. U.S. government aid in 2002 was $13.3 billion, or 13 cents a day per U.S. citizen. U.S. private giving to developing countries was another $5.7 billion, less than six cents a day, two cents of which is attributed to U.S. tax policy as opposed to individuals' own decisions. In the end, factoring in tax policy only lifts the U.S. aid rank from 20th to 19th....

Many of the CDI nations increased their foreign aid in 2002, especially the United States, which favored geopolitically important actors such as Turkey, Indonesia, Russia, and Afghanistan. But although the United States gives more aid than any other country in absolute terms, it still gives less aid in proportion to its size than any other rich country, and so finished near the bottom in this category. However, due to the penalty for overloading countries with projects, Greece and New Zealand scored below the United States. Evidently these countries spread their modest aid thinly, covering many countries with small projects and overburdening local administrators.

Go check out the whole report -- I'll be attending a board meeting soon, so any and all constructive feedback is appreciated.

posted by Dan at 12:45 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Sunday, May 23, 2004

So who are you?

Henry Copeland has posted some preliminary results from his survey of blog readers that I linked to last week. He got a decent sample size -- 17,159 respondents.

Among the more interesting findings:

This survey shows that blog readers are older and more affluent than most optimistic guestimates: 61% of blog readers responding to the survey are over 30, and 75% make more than $45,000 a year....

They are also far more male -- 79%! -- than I expected, versus 56% of's readers.

The political breakdown is also interesting:

Democrats -- 40.2%
Republicans -- 22.5%
Independents -- 20.2%
Libertarians -- 11.3%

Comment away....

posted by Dan at 06:27 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Whither Russia, or when print beats the Internet

The Economist has a survey of Russia this week. Its core thesis:

He [Vladimir Putin] wants Russia to be a strong country: economically powerful, politically stable and internationally respected. What is in dispute is what those goals mean to him, the methods he uses to achieve them, and whether he is as powerful as he seems.

This survey looks back at Mr Putin's first term and forward to the second. It tries to reconcile the optimistic and pessimistic views by showing that both contain much truth, and both are necessary to understand today's Russia. Economic liberalism and political illiberalism are complementary parts of Mr Putin's strategy, but his contribution to both is often exaggerated. Russia's new-found prosperity is fragile and will require deep and difficult reforms to sustain. At the same time the shrinkage of freedoms is less clear-cut than it seems, and not always the result of orders from the top.

What is clear is that an open economy and a closed political system make uneasy bedfellows. The overweening bureaucracy is harming business, and not just that of power-hungry magnates like Mr Khodorkovsky, but of the little people building the foundations of Russia's new economy. Encouragingly, business is fighting back, and citizens, increasingly deprived of a political voice at the top, are beginning to build democracy from the bottom up.

Now, if you read this survey on the Internet, you come away with a cautiously optimistic picture of the country.

However, there is the rare moment with looking at something in print provides greater information than reading it on the Internet. This is one of those times, and that information suggests that Russia is worse off than the survey's author, Gideon Lichfield, suggests.

Why? In the print edition of the Economist, most country surveys like these are filled with advertisements from either large companies indigenous to the country in question, or large multinationals with significant amounts of foreign direct investment. Generally speaking, the number of ads is a rough indicator of the economic dynamism of the surveyed country. In February, for example, a survey of India had five full ad pages.

For this 16-page survey, there was only one half-page advertisement -- and that came from the state-owned export-import bank.

In contrast, when Ukraine had a survey a decade ago, it was a basket case of hyperinflation and ethnic tensions -- but there were at least two ads.

Russia's economy is more fragile than the Economist believes.

posted by Dan at 08:38 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Wow, my second health care post in less than a year

Loyal readers of are aware that while I'm aware that health care is important, I find it difficult to maintain focus when the issue comes up.

I am dimly aware, however, that Canada's single-payer system is frequently cited by liberals as their preferred form of health care reform. Which is why I found the following Brad Evenson story in Cananda's National Post so interesting:

As many as 24,000 patients die in Canadian hospitals each year, while tens of thousands more are crippled, injured or poisoned in association with medical errors that could have been prevented.

A new landmark study of 20 hospitals in five provinces found one in 13 patients suffers an adverse event, more than double the rate found in studies of U.S. hospitals.

"I think this is pretty explosive data," said Alan Forster, a health services researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

"When you start looking at these numbers, you really see the problem in a graphic way."

The study, to be published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found 185,000 patients a year suffer adverse events....

In 1999, the U.S. Institute of Medicine published its report on medical errors, "To Err is Human," an effort to bolster patient safety. It cited studies in Colorado and New York that found adverse events ranged from 2.9.% to 3.7% of hospital admissions.

By contrast, the new study found 7.5% of the 2.5 million patients admitted to Canadian hospitals each year suffer adverse events. Dr. Baker says the American studies were focused mainly on major events that could attract lawsuits, not minor problems.

When compared to similar studies in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia, Canada fared well, especially when preventable errors were considered. For example, a study of 28 Australian hospitals in 1992 found 51% of adverse events could have been avoided. A study of two teaching hospitals in the U.K. found 48% were preventable. The Canadian figure of 36.9% was virtually identical to a New Zealand study in 1998.

This may be an example of correlation and not causation. Still, a common assumption among the cognoscenti is that Canada's health care system is superior to America's -- and this study points out that this is not necessarily so.

posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (3)

John Kerry, man of action

Well, this Washington Post story by Dan Balz and Thomas Edsall ought to shore up John Kerry's robust reputation for taking clear stands and being resolute in his decision-making:

Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) may take the unprecedented step of delaying formal acceptance of his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president this summer in an effort to reduce President Bush's financial advantage for the general election campaign, Kerry advisers said Friday.

Campaign officials confirmed that they are actively considering an extraordinary plan, under which Kerry would not be formally nominated at the Democratic National Convention in late July and instead would be designated as the party's nominee weeks later, around the time of the Republican convention at the end of August....

Aboard his campaign plane en route to a fundraiser in Connecticut on Friday evening, Kerry declined to comment. Asked whether he would accept the party's nomination in July, he replied with a grin, "I will accept the nomination."

Readers are invited to submit guesses as to how long it takes Kerry to back away from this trial balloon.

posted by Dan at 04:24 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

I'm off to mend the transatlantic relationship again!

No blogging for the next 48 hours -- I'll be at the University of Toronto for a roundtable conference on "International Security and the Transatlantic Divide." Yours truly is a discussant for Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, the author of Alliance at Risk: The United States and Europe Since September 11.

I promise to resist any and all urges to mention any contacts I've had with Said Ibrahim.

UPDATE: Home now. The conference was actually very illuminating -- more about it later this week.

posted by Dan at 05:22 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Where are conservatives on Iraq?

Reihan Salam has a great TNR Online piece that breaks down where the various tribes of conservatives fall on Iraq -- or, as Salam puts it, a "Guide to the Right on Iraq Gone Wrong." The relevant categories (NOTE: I've added some names that Salam omits where I think they apply -- my additions are in italics):

1) "The Neo-Paleos: We Shoulda Known": Burkean conservatives who never bought the democracy-building line, but did by the "Iraq has WMD" line (George F. Will, Tucker Carlson, Fareed Zakaria);

2) "The Neo-Neocons: Operation Chalabihorse": True-blue believers convinced that Colin Powell is the devil and Ahmed Chalabi is the answer to all of the troubles in Iraq (Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, Michael Rubin, David Frum, Laurie Mylroie).

3) "The Standard Neocons: Dude, Where's My Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy?" Cared more about democracy-building than WMD but are flummoxed by the Bush/Rumsfeld insistence on insufficient troop strength, suspecting that this is due to an aversion to casualties that impairs the mission (William Kristol, Robert Kagan, David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, and yes, Daniel Drezner).

4) "The Neo-Imperialist: Bush Gets the Boot from Boot": Gung-ho empire-builders that share the Standard Neocons' discontent with the Bush administration -- but unlike them, believe that constructive engagement with the Bush administration is pointless, and have gone full frontal with their criticism (Max Boot, Niall Ferguson)

For the immediate future, I'm interested in two things:

A) Will the latter two groups merge? What separates them is not the ends but the means of advancing those ends -- gentle vs. not-so-gentle criticism. I've been feeling myself shift slowly over this calendar year, and I strongly suspect others are as well (Matthew Yglesias shares my suspicions).

B) Who will be the last neo-neocon standing? To be fair, I haven't read Frum and Perle's An End to Evil -- and I'm sure there are a lot of ideas in there that the current situation in Iraq does not undercut. However, a key tenet of this group has been the inherent goodness of Ahmed Chalabi, and the U.S. decision to raid his headquarters today (plus the decision earlier this week to terminate his funding) may just signal a souring of the DoD-INC relationship [UPDATE: Chalabi's home was also raided]. If that doesn't do it, this anecdote from Salon's Andrew Cockburn just might:

Why did the Bush administration turn against its former favorite Iraqi? Almost certainly because it realized that Chalabi, maddened by the realization that he was being excluded from the post-June 30 hand-over arrangements, was putting together a sectarian Shiite faction to destabilize and destroy the new Iraqi government. "This all started since [U.N. envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi announced that Chalabi would be kept out of the new arrangement," says an Iraqi political observer who is not only long familiar with Chalabi himself but also in close touch with key actors, including U.S. officials at the CPA and Iraqi politicians....

U.S. disenchantment with Chalabi has been growing since it dawned on the White House and the Pentagon that everything he had told them about Iraq -- from Saddam Hussein's fiendish weapons arsenal to the crowds who would toss flowers at the invaders to Chalabi's own popularity in Iraq -- had been completely false. Some months ago King Abdullah of Jordan was surprised to be informed by President Bush that the king could "piss on Chalabi." (emphasis added)

Who will the neo-neos go with -- Bush or Chalabi? My money is on Chalabi.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall has further thoughts on Chalabi and the neo-neocons. One point he makes confirms my theory about which way the neo-neos go: "I don't doubt that some of Chalabi's Washington supporters have encouraged him to take a more oppositional stand toward the occupation authorities to bolster his own popularity."

ANOTHER UPDATE: Just got one of Laurie Mylroie's mass e-mails. She condemns "today's outrageous, and totally uncalled for, raid on Ahmed Chalabi's compound" and asks, "Just what is the U.S. doing in Iraq?"

Yeah, she's stickin' with Chalabi.

posted by Dan at 12:56 PM | Comments (197) | Trackbacks (10)

It gets worse in Darfur

I've blogged about the atrocities taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan before here and here. A few days ago, the Los Angeles Times' Robyn Dixon reported on the growing humanitarian crisis in Sudan:

Barefoot and half-naked, Hamesa Adam carried two sons on her back for six days across the searing Sudanese desert. Two other children, missing their dead father, walked barefoot, and two more rode a donkey.

But 6-year-old Mohammed, one of the children on the donkey, got weaker and weaker.

He cried constantly, clutching at his side. There was not enough food. On the fourth day, Mohammed struggled off the donkey and fell onto the sand.

They buried him nearby, about 2 feet down, placing branches on the grave to keep animals from digging up his body.

This is the story of the Adam family, Sudanese farmers chased from their homes by Arab militias on horses and camels who swept down on their village, Selti, about three months ago with a kind of ruthless, medieval wrath: killing, raping, looting, burning. Some attacked in Land Cruisers mounted with automatic weapons. From the air, two helicopters strafed the village.

About 100,000 farmers in the Darfur region of western Sudan have made the same epic journey as the Adam family these past weeks and months, fleeing west into Chad....

Some refugees say that Khartoum government forces have taken part in the scorched-earth attacks, swooping down on villages with helicopters and Antonov planes. Human Rights Watch, based in New York, reported that government forces, allied with the Arab militias, carried out widespread ethnic killings and dispossession.

The Arab militias, mainly herdsmen, are terrorizing black African farmers from the Zaghawa, Fur and Massalit tribes and grabbing the spoils: land, stock, money and anything else they can steal. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum denies it controls the militias, but observers point out that it serves the government's interests to repress areas where it is fighting rebels.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

This was probably not the best week for the Bush administration to take steps towards lifting the arms embargo on the Sudanese government.

This is the kind of goof that someone responsible for public diplomacy -- like an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, let's say -- could have caught. Oh, wait....

UPDATE: It should be noted that despite the PR screwup I alluded to earlier in this post, Human Rights Watch -- not exactly the most Bush-friendly organization -- has praised U.S. behavior on this front:

The U.S. government has taken the strongest public stance on Darfur of any individual government, with repeated statements condemning the human rights abuses and calling on the government of Sudan to address the situation. On April 7, U.S. President George Bush condemned “atrocities” in Sudan and called for unrestricted humanitarian access.

The U.S. House of Representatives held hearings on Darfur, or in which Darfur was prominently mentioned. U.S. aid officials have frequently drawn attention to the enormous humanitarian needs in the region, with repeated visits to Darfur and statements. U.S. AID’s chief executive Andrew Natsios held a press conference to denounce the Sudanese government’s stalling on visas for twenty-eight U.S. emergency relief workers.

Contrast that with the EU's latest pronouncement on Darfur -- pretty weak beer. Click here for HRW's list of policy recommendations.

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

A really disturbing Iraq poll

The Financial Times reports on some unsettling poll results from Iraq:

An Iraqi poll to be released next week shows a surge in the popularity of Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical young Shia cleric fighting coalition forces, and suggests nearly nine out of 10 Iraqis see US troops as occupiers and not liberators or peacekeepers.

The poll was conducted by the one-year-old Iraq Center for Research and Strategic Studies, which is considered reliable enough for the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority to have submitted questions to be included in the study.

Although the results of any poll in Iraq's traumatised society should be taken with caution, the survey highlights the difficulties facing the US authorities in Baghdad as they confront Mr Sadr, who launched an insurgency against the US-led occupation last month....

Saadoun Duleimi, head of the centre, said more than half of a representative sample - comprising 1,600 Shia, Sunni Arabs and Kurds polled in all Iraq's main regions - wanted coalition troops to leave Iraq. This compares with about 20 per cent in an October survey. Some 88 per cent of respondents said they now regarded coalition forces in Iraq as occupiers.

"Iraqis always contrast American actions with American promises and there's now a wide gap in credibility," said Mr Duleimi, who belongs to one of the country's big Sunni tribes. "In this climate, fighting has given Moqtada credibility because he's the only Iraqi man who stood up against the occupation forces."....

Respondents saw Mr Sadr as Iraq's second most influential figure after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most senior Shia cleric. Some 32 per cent of respondents said they strongly supported Mr Sadr and another 36 per cent somewhat supported him.

The one piece of good news that skeptics and optimists about Iraq could agree upon was that Sadr did not command significant amounts of support among the Iraqi populace. This poll makes it much tougher to maintain that assertion. This isn't a question of media bias -- this is a very uncomfortable reality that must be acknowledged by policymakers and oundits of all stripes.

The one possible caveat, ironically, is that the poll was taken before the Abu Ghraib scandals [How the hell is that good news?--ed. Because that also means the poll was likely taken before a) U.S. troops demonstrated they were willing to take on Sadr's militia; and b) Grand Ayatollah Sistani vocally turned against Sadr. If Reuel Marc Gerecht is correct in saying that the prison scandals "have not elicited much condemnation from Iraq's Arab Shiites and Sunni Kurds, who represent about 80 percent of the country's population," then Sadr's popularity might actually have declined since the poll was taken.]

posted by Dan at 01:10 AM | Comments (57) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Darn that competitive market

Despite the occasional bug, Google's new Gmail feature is drawing raves. I particularly like what Tom Gromak said in The Detroit News:

Gmail, like Google itself, is a utilitarian tool, not a pretty one. If you want a web mail service that looks like a desktop application, stick with Hotmail. If you want a web mail service that works like a desktop application, grab a Gmail account as soon as the service goes gold.

Then there's the competition that it's inducing among e-mail service providers. As the Motley Fool points out, both Yahoo! and Lycos Europe have recently expanded the memory in their mail services in response to Gmail.

Of course, if any of this competition comes from outside the United States, then it's just an example of how our country is being devastated by foreign competition.

posted by Dan at 05:53 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Iraq and the media

Mickey Kaus and Glenn Reynolds have posts up on the difficulties of finding a coherent narrative in evaluating the situation in Iraq. Kaus points out that this is particularly true of those of us not in Iraq and have to rely on the Internet. This includes even well-known area experts as Juan Cole. Kaus also points out:

Arguably the Sadr crisis is a lot more important to anyone trying to make up their minds about U.S. Iraq policy than any new developments in the Abu Ghraib investigation, although the latter has been consuming a lot more media space..

This ties into a different point made by Reynolds in his post:

What's most bothersome to me is that the anti-Bush stance adopted by most media organizations makes their reporting less useful to those of us who are trying to figure out what's going on, and makes the Administration, and its supporters, tend to tune it all out, possibly causing them to miss important information.

Indeed, Josh Marshall made this very point (without the motivation) earlier this week in discussing a Washington Times excerpts of Bill Sammon's new book, Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters::

[T]he president seems to see his news reading largely, if not entirely, as an exercise in detecting liberal media bias. That, and he seems to see shielding himself from opposing viewpoints as a key to maintaining what he calls a "clear outlook" and what Sammon refers to as being an "optimistic leader".

My centrist instincts want to place a pox on both Bush and the mainstream media's houses -- the latter for not stepping back and looking at the big picture, and the former for thinking that excessive coverage of Abu Ghraib taints all negative media coverage of Iraq. It should be asked, however -- which is the greater sin? The media, for reporting the truth but not the whole truth? Or Bush, for ignoring distasteful parts of the truth because the whole truth is not being reported?

posted by Dan at 02:58 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (0)

At last, my daughter Amiga will have a playmate

Gwyneth Paltrow has named her new baby girl Apple Blythe Alison Martin. According to ITV, "Paltrow named her baby girl Apple after the little girl of partner [Coldplay frontman] Chris Martin's North American booking agent."

For those tempted to tease Ms. Paltrow for her name choice -- and I've certainly teased Paltrow in the past -- do bear in mind that other celebrities have done far worse to their offspring, as Kat Giantis points out for MSN Entertainment. Consider that actor Rob Morrow agreed to name his daughter Tu Morrow. And Giantis filed her story before Geena Davis announced the names for her just-delivered twins -- Kian and Kaiis.

Furthermore, Paltrow can at least claim to some originality in her oddball choice. According to the Social Security Administration, 261 mothers decided last year to name their daughter "Journey." 5062 moms picked "Trinity," even though both of the Matrix movies released in 2003 sucked eggs. You can scan the most popular names from last year by clicking here.

In honor of Apple's birth, readers are invited to post the worst name choices they have ever heard or read about.

posted by Dan at 01:58 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (0)

The Nation celebrates capitalism in spite of itself

Marc Cooper's essay in The Nation on Las Vegas takes the requisite number of poshots at the American variety of capitalism. That said, it's impossible for Cooper to hide his sneaking admiration for the place. Some highlights:

This city is often described as one of dreams and fantasy, of tinselish make-believe. But this is getting it backward. Vegas is instead the American market ethic stripped bare, a mini-world totally free of the pretenses and protocols of modern consumer capitalism. As one local gambling researcher says gleefully: "What other city in America puts up giant roadside billboards promoting 97 percent guaranteed payback on slot play? In other words, you give us a buck and we'll give you back 97 cents. That's why I love my hometown."

Even that stomach-churning instant when the last chip is swept away can be charged with an existential frisson. Maybe that's why they say that the difference between praying here and praying anywhere else is that here you really mean it. All the previous hours of over-the-table chitchat, of know-it-all exchanges between the ice-cool dealer and the cynical writer from the big city, the kibitzing with the T-shirted rubes and the open-shirted sharpies to my right and left, the false promises of the coins clanging into the trays behind me, the little stories I tell myself while my stack of chips shrinks and swells and then shrivels some more--all of this comes to an abrupt, crashing halt when the last chip goes back in the dealer's tray. "No seats for the onlookers, sir." And the other players at the table--the dealer who a moment ago was my buddy, the solicitous pit boss, the guy from Iowa in short khakis and topsiders peering over my shoulder--no longer give a fuck whether I live or die. And while winning is always better, it's even in moments of loss like this that I feel a certain perverse thrill. It's one of the few totally honest interludes you can have in modern America. All the pretense, all the sentimentality, the euphemisms, hypocrisies, come-ons, loss leaders, warranties and guarantees, all the fairy tales are out the window. You're out of money? OK, good--now get lost.

In a city where the only currency is currency, there is a table-level democracy of luck. Las Vegas is perhaps the most color-blind, class-free place in America. As long as your cash or credit line holds out, no one gives a damn about your race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, address, family lineage, voter registration or even your criminal arrest record. As long as you have chips on the table, Vegas deftly casts you as the star in an around-the-clock extravaganza. For all of America's manifold unfulfilled promises of upward mobility, Vegas is the only place guaranteed to come through--even if it's for a fleeting weekend. You may never, in fact, surpass the Joneses, but with the two-night, three-day special at the Sahara, buffet and show included, free valet parking and maybe a comped breakfast at the coffee shop, you can certainly live like them for seventy-two hours--while never having to as much as change out of your flip-flops, tank top or NASCAR cap.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle points out that New York can rival Vegas in the area of conspicuous consumption.

posted by Dan at 01:37 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Go take a survey!!

If you have a second [Of course they have a second -- otherwise they wouldn't be wasting their time reading your blog, dumbass!--ed.] please click over to BlogAds survey of reader demographics. There are a total of 22 questions, so it should be pretty painless. Be sure to answer "drezner" for question 22. And please answer by 9:00 p.m. Eastern time this (Wednesday) evening.

This is a win-win kind of deal. The more reader info BlogAds gets, the better they'll be able to solicit advertisers. The more of my readers who fill out the survey, the more accurate my information, which means better posts and more targeted ads for y'all.

I'm also asking you to respond because some of the questions would provide useful evidence for the blog paper I'm co-authoring with Henry Farrell.

It would also mean that during those ultracompetitive blogger sweeps periods, I won't have to resort to cheap or desperate ratings ploys to attract more readers like I've done before on occasion [Er, there is no such thing as sweeps in the blogosphere--ed. You mean there's no reason for me to link to Jennifer Garner pics on occasion? I didn't say there was no reason to do that--ed.]

posted by Dan at 11:19 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Weekly Standard takes on Don Rumsfeld

A bunch of interesting Weekly Standard articles this week.

Jeffrey Bell writes that the current Defense Secretary has been as deeply affected by Vietnam syndrome as the antiwar dobes -- and with far more deleterious consequences for the current campaign in Iraq:

For George W. Bush, it would be bizarre if the most loyal and gifted member of his cabinet were to be the instrument of his defeat in November 2004. Recent developments on the Iraq front of the war on terror make such thoughts about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld harder and harder to put aside.

A clue to what may be going on is Rumsfeld's recent, and rare, confession of unpleasant surprise at the number of U.S. casualties taking place a full year after the fall of Baghdad. Rumsfeld was an elective politician in the 1960s. His first stint as defense secretary began nearly three decades ago, just a few months after the North Vietnamese conquest of South Vietnam. It is a commonplace that the Vietnam experience turned many American hawks into doves or isolationists. Less well understood is what it did to those American hawks who never stopped being hawkish.

Hawks who wanted the United States to be able to act militarily after Vietnam created the movement called military reform. They fought successfully to end the draft. Their version of a modernized military emphasized technology, speed, and surprise, often involving airpower, rather than frontal infantry assaults. Again and again, they were proven right, never more so than in Rumsfeld's dazzling war plans for Afghanistan and Iraq.

What these hawks' military success obscured is a political analysis that is deeply flawed. Their premise, often unstated, is that U.S. public opinion turned against involvement in Vietnam because of persistently high U.S. casualties. But the truth is that public support for the war held up long after casualties became high (far higher, of course, than those we're seeing now). It began to falter when political elites faltered in their will to prevail, culminating in the visible demoralization of Lyndon Johnson and his administration in the wake of the Tet offensive of early 1968....

Rumsfeld may never have fully believed in the president's democratic mission in Iraq. That may have made it a simple decision to choose, in Falluja and perhaps elsewhere, to put a cap on American casualties at the expense of achieving decisive victory over antidemocratic and anti-American forces. But that sense of a loss of mission, not the level of U.S. casualties, is the gravest threat so far to the Bush war strategy, and thus to the Bush presidency.

In the same issue, Frederick Kagan blasts both the administration and Congress for playing shell games with overall Army troop strength. This example of short-run thinking is especially disturbing:

[R]umors are now swirling that one of two maneuver squadrons (battalions) of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment will soon deploy from Fort Irwin, California, to Afghanistan, and two of the three companies of the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry Regiment will travel from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Iraq. These units are the permanent "opposing forces," or OPFOR, at the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center respectively. Their sole mission is to prepare other Army units for deployment to Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever the nation needs them. Throughout the year, units from all over the Army go to the NTC and the JRTC and run field exercises trying to defeat the OPFOR in "laser-tag" simulations using real weapons and equipment. The training those units receive is only as good as the OPFOR makes it, since soldiers would learn little fighting an incompetent opponent.

Over the years, these units have performed their job superbly, and they are one of the major reasons for the high quality of Army forces in the field today. Both units have served as OPFORs for more than a decade, and they have become the premier training units in the world. Units replacing them will not be able to match their level of skill and experience for a long time. As a result, the level of training in the Army will be degraded, and Army forces deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan will be less well prepared. This decision is incredibly shortsighted. It mortgages the future to pay for past and present failings. It is symptomatic, however, of the sort of damage the Army is suffering on a day-to-day basis because of the inadequacy of its end-strength.

Finally, do check out Reuel Marc Gerecht's cogen argument that the scandals at Abu Ghraib will have no effect on the pace of democratization in the Middle East.

posted by Dan at 09:01 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

On the anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education

Whenever I start thinking, "Drezner, you've had a good run as of late," I always reflect on my colleague Danielle Allen. She is a full professor in both Classics and Political Science, and was recently appointed Dean of the Humanities here at the U of C. Allen holds two Ph.D.'s -- one in government from Harvard, one in Classics from Kings College, Cambridge. She has published two books -- one of which is The World of Prometheus: the Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens. I've perused enough of The World of Prometheus to know that although I may be a decent writer, I don't quite have her chops. She's also a published poet and documentary film producer. Oh, and she was a 2001 recipient of a MacArthur genius grant.

I could live with all of this if it weren't for two facts:

  • Danielle is three years younger than me; and,
  • She's just so damn nice, it's impossible to direct any negative feelings towards her.
  • The reason I raise all of this is that Danielle Allen has written an essay commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education that is probably better than anything I could gin up. Here are the highlights:

    The question, “Where are we 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education,” frequently inspires the answer: “Tired.”....

    I recommend that those of us who feel tired return to the transcripts of the oral arguments in Brown (recently reenacted at the Goodman Theater in Chicago and to be aired on Illinois’ PBS affiliate on May 17th), where one finds a tautness on both sides that arises from the lawyers’ intuitive knowledge that they were arguing about the entirety of a constitution. These oral arguments are more powerful, more significant documents, in my view, than the opinion itself.

    One finds inspiration in Thurgood Marshall’s impassioned arguments in those transcripts. He had much farther to go than we do. We ought to make his energy our own and turn to resurrecting public education for everyone and to confronting the evils of the drug trade as well as the inequities and hypocrisies of our current responses to it. As Marshall must have understood, the work still ahead is for our children’s children’s children.

    UPDATE: Eugene Volokh is another academic who's smarter than me and has some interesting things to say about Brown.

    posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Beware the ed school mafia

    When I was in grad school at Stanford, there was an largely unspoken consensus that the education school was the weakest of the grad school programs in the university. They had the flimsiest pedagogy and the most "flexible" curriculum (in that pretty much any course on campus could somehow apply towards their degree). The fact that this program was training America's next generation of teachers troubled me a little back then, but now I share Alan Greenspan's fervor in boosting education in the United States.

    Which is why it's so disappointing to hear that any scholar who questions the rigor of education school curricula in this country runs into difficulties. Eduwonk posts the following tale:

    [David] Steiner, a Boston University education professor, is the author of a controversial chapter in the new book, "A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom: Appraising Old Answers and New Ideas" published by Harvard Education Press.... Steiner's chapter looks at the course of study in elite education programs in the United States. Specifically he and a colleague analyze syllabi from 16 teacher preparation programs (14 top tier and two comparison schools) as measured against a framework of what they consider to be a rigorous and high quality program.

    The results are not encouraging. They found a pervasive ideological slant and a lack of rigor. They're certainly not the first to raise these issues but they are among the first to try to systematically analyze them because of the difficulty of compiling data on a varied set of courses and program requirements. Steiner's data is less complete than he'd like. Steiner acknowledges the shortcomings and invites others to review the data (for reasons of confidentiality he cannot publicly disclose the specific courses he analyzed) and replicate and expand his work.

    Steiner first presented his work at a 2003 conference in Washington then subsequently revised it based on feedback at the conference for publication. Yet before the book even hit the shelves he found himself at the receiving end of a nasty whispering campaign. Rather than falsify his findings, or even better just put syllabi on the web to facilitate easier analysis by others, Steiner has been derided, often in personal terms, and almost never in print with a name attached to it. But mention his work at a conference and you'll get an earful, not about the ins and outs of the work but instead just claims about what garbage it is and what a hack Steiner allegedly is.

    Education Week has further details (registration required):

    In examining the outlines for 45 "education foundations" courses in 18 programs, the researchers found that no course offered an introduction to the four central areas that they say ideally would make up the course: the philosophy, history, and psychology of education, along with public-policy debates in the field.

    In general, philosophy, history, and policy got short shrift in teacher-preparation courses, the paper said. In seven schools, students were required to study only psychology and multiculturalism. Psychology showed up in all but three programs, and cultural diversity as a course was required in all but three education schools....

    Courses in methods for teaching mathematics, the researchers wrote, showed the strong influence of standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: All but five of the 42 outlines studied made explicit reference to them. The investigators also found evidence that three-quarters of the schools were taking state math standards into account to various degrees. They applauded both those directions.

    On the other hand, just one course outline referred to the research stemming from the Third International Math and Science Study, which has found that in comparison with math teachers in other countries, American math teachers cover material that is less demanding, with less attention to fundamental concepts....

    Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University who has led the charge for tighter regulation and higher standards for teaching, blasted the paper as showing "very poor scholarship."

    Course outlines are inadequate to assess what is actually taught, she said, calling the standards Mr. Steiner used to evaluate each of the four types of courses either personal or politically motivated.

    "We need systematic studies," she complained, "rather than diatribes that come at the problems ideologically."

    David F. Labaree, an education professor at Stanford and author of the forthcoming book The Trouble With Ed Schools, agreed that course outlines are not a good guide to what is actually taught. They are "more an ideological portrait of a course than actual substance," he said.

    Mr. Steiner was right in portraying many education schools as having "a strong ideological consensus around progressive, constructivist approaches to education," Mr. Labaree said. (emphases added).

    Maybe they do things differently in ed schools, but for my classes, course syllabi are a pretty decent indicator for course content.

    It's hard to ascertain the extent of any negative feedback Steiner is experiencing beyond Eduwonk's post. That said, if Steiner is really the subject of a whispering campaign, but if he is, it's emblematic of the difficulties the U.S. will face in education reform.

    [C'mon, this contretemps just a stalking horse for standard left-right debates about education, right?--ed. Steiner's chapter is part of a book co-edited by scholars at the American Enterprise Institute and the Progressive Policy Institute. I'd call that pretty bipartisan. Plus, as Eduwonk observes, "Steiner's not a Lynne Cheney type or an ideologue, he's a lefty!']

    posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (5)

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    The big leap

    Modern American life has created a staggered series of events for people to acquire the trappings of a grown-up -- graduating from college, choosing a career, getting married, having children, etc.

    Having experienced all of these (I did not bear the children, but you get my meaning), I actually think the scariest was the decision to become a property-owner.

    Which is why I can identify with Laura of Apt. 11D, who may not be at that location for much longer:

    My stomach is in knots. I fear that I might blow chunks at any minute. My brain can not hold a thought for more than a nano-second.

    I think we bought a house....

    We put in a bid. They upped it by a little and told us about the gutter problem. We accepted. Tomorrow we'll call the bottom crawling lawyers and I suppose that's it. Provided the inspectors don't find bugs. Good Lord, what have we done?

    What you've done, Laura, is take a very big leap. Sounds like the right thing to do, but a big leap is a big leap, even when you clear the chasm.

    Brad Delong suggests: "I have one piece of advice: fixed-rate mortgage."

    posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

    The real reason to boycott The Day After Tomorrow

    Glenn Reynolds has a post up about the absurd environmentalism that undergirds The Day After Tomorrow, a disaster movie coming soon to a theater near you. has touted the film as, "The Movie the White House Doesn't Want You to See."

    We here at tend to cast a skeptical eye on the bashing of action movies for their political content -- mostly because all action movies have their built-in political absurdities. Any principled moviegoer choosing to abstain from action movies with political or factual absurdities would be unable to go to any of these movies. Since we here at also like to see explosions, chases, and digitally-enhanced mayhem on a regular basis, we cannot recommend boycotting The Day After Tomorrow because of silly envoronmentalism.

    However, as a loyal Chicagoan, I can recommend that all current and former residents of this great city boycott the movie because of what director Roland Emmerich told Entertainment Weekly about setting the film in New York City as opposed to Chicago (subscription required):

    Once again, the German-born Emmerich annihilates beloved landmarks (buh-bye, Hollywood sign!). But coming less than three years after Sept. 11, he had doubts about setting the film primarily in the Big Apple. ''It was a big discussion for me: Can I do this movie in New York? Is it in bad taste?'' he says. ''We decided that because New York is the symbol of Western civilization, it has to be New York. We could have shot this movie in Chicago, but what is the worldwide recognition of Chicago?'' (emphasis added)

    I'll concede that New York City may be the most easily recognized city in the world.

    But claiming that Chicago doesn't have any "worldwide recognition" smacks of provincialism.

    posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (4)

    When international relations gets bizarre

    Nicholas Wood reports in the New York Times about a truly bizarre effort by Macedonia's effort to ingratiate itself to Washington in late 2001/early 2002:

    Roughly two months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, a group of high-level officials met here in Macedonia's Interior Ministry to determine how their country could take part in the United States-led campaign against terror.

    Instead of offering troops to support American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, as other countries in the region had done, senior officials and police commanders conceived a plan to "expose" a terrorist plot against Western interests in Skopje, police investigators here say.

    The plan, they say, involved luring foreign migrants into the country, executing them in a staged gun battle, and then claiming they were a unit backed by Al Qaeda intent on attacking Western embassies.

    On March 2, 2002, this plan came to fruition when Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski announced that seven "mujahedeen" had been killed earlier that day in a shootout with the police near Skopje. Photos were released to Western diplomats showing bodies of the dead men with bags of uniforms and semiautomatic weapons at their side....

    In late 2001, after a six-month guerrilla war with ethnic Albanian rebels, relations between Macedonia's nationalist government and the outside world were at a low ebb. Diplomats, government officials and investigators here have suggested that the government hoped to use the post-Sept. 11 campaign against terror to give the government a free hand in its conflict with the mostly Muslim ethnic Albanians.

    This would be funny if it hadn't had real consequences:

    The migrants - six Pakistanis and one Indian - had hoped to make their way to Western Europe, when they were contacted by the traffickers, and offered the possibility of traveling to Greece, the Interior Ministry official said. The Pakistanis were later identified as Muhammed Riaz, Omar Farooq, Syed Bilal, Hussein Shah, Asif Javed, and Khalid Iqbal. The name of the Indian remains unknown....

    Autopsies performed on the men as well as police photos suggested that all the shooting had come from the police side, and that the police had tried to stage the crime scene.

    All seven bodies had multiple bullet wounds and in one case as many as 53, according to the Interior Ministry. Later, the police showed pictures of a Lada jeep with two bullet holes in it as proof that a gun battle had taken place.

    UPDATE: A hat tip to my commenters, who point out that this story is not a new one.

    posted by Dan at 12:20 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, May 16, 2004

    What's to be gained from more trade liberalization?

    As part of its ongoing Copenhagen Consensus project on global issues, the Economist reports this week on the effect that the elimination of protectionist barriers would have on global economic growth:

    Subsidies are a naked transfer from taxpayers to corporate mendicants; they are also an indirect transfer to overseas consumers, who enjoy artificially depressed prices as a result of the handouts. Tariffs on the other hand raise money for the treasury’s coffers at the expense of foreign exporters and home consumers, who face higher prices as a result of the restriction on trade. Do the gains to one group offset the losses to another? Emphatically not. Tariffs and subsidies drive a wedge between demand and supply, imposing “deadweight” costs on an economy. Tariffs discourage worthwhile production (of goods that would cost less to make than consumers are willing to pay), while subsidies encourage worthless overproduction (of goods that would cost more to make, sans the subsidy, than consumers are prepared to pay).

    Eliminating such distortions would allow prices to resume their proper job of equating supply and demand. As a result, capital and labour would be reallocated across industries to reflect a country’s comparative advantage. The gains to the world economy would be sizeable: $254 billion per year (in 1995 dollars), according to a recent paper by Mr Anderson and his colleagues.

    The bulk of the gains come from agriculture, which also carries the heaviest distortions. If the rich countries stopped intervening on behalf of farmers, the global economy would gain by $122 billion—and the rich world would benefit most of all, collecting $110 billion of those gains. Poorer countries, on the other hand, stand to gain the most, $65 billion, from liberalising their own trade regimes, not waiting for rich countries to free theirs.

    [Sure, but that's free trade in the abstract. What about the real world sausage of the Doha round of the WTO?--ed.] For that, let's reprint this from Kym Anderson's article summary:

    An optimistic assumption of 50% across-the-board cuts to bound tariffs and farm subsidies leads to predicted benefits of approximately half those to be derived from full liberalisation – around $200 to $1000 billion a year – although with a different balance of beneficiaries. No allowance has been made in those estimates for reform-stimulated economic growth or for the effect of liberalising labour or capital markets. If these were included, the benefit could be much higher.

    Click here for links to Anderson's full paper, in addition to two "opponent note" rejoinders.

    posted by Dan at 11:56 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    The last time I'll make fun of Dennis Kucinich

    There comes a point in a politician's career when their future prospects appear to be so dismal, the best thing the observer can do is show some kindness, look away, and write about something else.

    After reading Rick Lyman's New York Times article about Dennis Kucinich's ongoing campaign, I think that time has come for the good representative from the state of Ohio.

    One last excerpt, however:

    Before Americans get too engrossed in a general election contest between President Bush and Senator John Kerry, Dennis J. Kucinich would like to remind them of something: He's still out here, working hard every day, slogging from town to town, the second-to-last person still standing in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination....

    At a rally later in Lincoln City, nearly 200 people packed the Bijou Cinema, where Mr. Kucinich was presented with a quilt bearing the logo "Dept. of Peace." This referred to his proposal to create such a cabinet-level agency to promote harmony and conflict resolution, a notion much ridiculed on conservative talk radio shows as emblematic of the sort of fuzzy-headed thinking common among this particular strain of liberal.

    "We can change the whole debate in this country, and we've got to do it," Mr. Kucinich said. "It's about the party standing for something, something other than the next check from the corporate interests."

    In an almost hushed voice, he continued: "This is a spiritual matter, not just a practical political matter."

    The entire time he spoke, an angelic young woman stood at the side of the auditorium with her arms raised above her head, sometimes shaking them gently, as though sending waves through the air.

    The young woman, Eden Sky, 27, said she was "focusing," which she described as a kind of praying, a blessing. And she seemed almost puzzled when asked why she chose to focus on Mr. Kucinich. "Because he is the only one worth focusing on," she said.

    posted by Dan at 11:28 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    The one-upsmanship of conference presenters

    For some of this weekend I attended an Olin conference entitled, "Tyranny: Ancient and Modern." Most of the presenters were quite illuminating, but there was one amusing monent. It centered on what role the Bush administration played in the release of activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim from an Egyptian prison (click here for more on Ibrahim).

    The question was whether U.S. economic pressure (in the form of reduced foreign aid) hastened or delayed Ibrahim's release. The following is, to the best of my ability, a recreation of the factual debate between two of the presenters who shall go unnamed:

    PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL #1: I have it on good authority that U.S. pressure played a constructive role in Ibrahim's release.

    PUBLIC INTELLECTUAL #2: I discussed this with Ibrahim's wife, and I'm quite sure U.S. pressure was counterproductive.

    PI#1: My source is Ibrahim himself, so I'm pretty sure of my claim.

    PI#2: I had Ibrahim in my office this week, and I stand by my version of events.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Oh, yeah, well I have Ibrahim on the phone right now!! (general laughter).

    I was half-expecting an Annie Hall-like moment for Ibrahim to suddenly walk on stage and embarrass one or the other speaker.

    The grand irony was that Ibrahim had been in that very room approximately thirteen months earlier. If memory serves, he did thank the U.S. government, although one would also have expected him to do this. [And, it should be noted that regardless of the effectiveness, both of the speakers applauded the administration for its efforts in this matter.]

    posted by Dan at 08:29 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)

    Friday, May 14, 2004

    Regarding India

    Josh Chafetz has assigned me the homework task of explaining the ramifications of the surprising Indian elections for India's economic development and relations with Pakistan.

    Actually, I think the links Chafetz provides in his post do a fair job of capturing some of the dynamics. As this Washington Post editorial points out, it wasn't an increase in poverty that caused the BJP to fall:

    Mr. Vajpayee is said to have been punished for the pro-market reforms that fostered India's high-tech boom; voters in the villages felt left out and took their revenge at the ballot box. This suggests that even the world's most successful economic reformers run big political risks. India conducted poverty surveys in 1993 and '94 and again in 1999 and 2000; over that period, the rural poverty rate fell from 37 percent to 30 percent, so the idea that the villagers have not benefited from India's growth is spurious. Given India's continued boom since 2000, poverty in the villages has almost certainly fallen further. Mr. Vajpayee apparently got no thanks for this.

    Salman Rushdie suggests that it wasn't rural poverty so much as growing inequality that triggered this outcome:

    The Indian battle for centrality in the debate about the country's future has always been, to some degree, a battle between the city and the village. It is between, on the one hand, the urbanized, industrialized India favored by both the socialist-inclined Jawaharlal Nehru and the free-market architects of "India Shining," the new India in which a highly successful capitalist class has transformed the heights of the economy; and, on the other hand, the agricultural, homespun India beloved of Mahatma Gandhi, the immense countryside India where three-quarters of the population still lives and which has not benefited in the slightest from the recent economic boom.

    It's no accident that the ruling alliance lost heavily in Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu, precisely the states that wooed information technology giants such as Microsoft to set up shop, turning sleepy "second cities" such as Madras, Bangalore and Hyderabad into new-tech boom towns. That's because while the rich got richer, the fortunes of the poor, such as the farmers of Andhra, declined year by year. The gulf between India's rich and poor has never looked wider than it does today, and the government has fallen into that chasm.

    Rushdie also points out the numerous sins of the government in power -- particularly it's hidden-hand role in the 2002 pogrom of Muslims in Gujarat. The Economist provides an excellent summary account as well.

    My quick answers to Josh's questions -- the election returns aren't going to affect all that much of India's policy, except that there will be a ratcheting up of anti-American rhetoric. Congress has repeatedly said that its committed to the liberalization program -- and 8% GDP growth buys a lot more rural development aid than the 4% growth that would come if liberalization stalled. Relations with Pakistan might worsen a bit, in the sense that the BJP, as Hindu nationalists, had the credibility to compromise. Congress might not have that margin of error.

    UPDATE: Looks like India's financial markets are less sanguine than I about the election results.

    posted by Dan at 04:51 PM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (3)

    Good signs of economic recovery

    Virginia Postrel provides useful links suggesting that the two traditional harbingers of the American economy -- California and small businesses -- are feeling the positive effects of the recovery. From the California story:

    Overall, California businesses exported $27.1 billion worth of goods in the quarter, with an array of high- and low-tech product categories seeing substantial gains. Exports of iron and steel products jumped 60%, nuts and fruits were up 33%, and sports equipment and games rose 9%. California-made apparel was one of the few items that saw a significant decline in exports.

    Across industries, one common thread tied many companies' increases in exports: China.

    In the second half of last year, China became California's fourth-largest export destination, moving ahead of South Korea. The activity has since accelerated, as China's rapid industrialization and production are generating a huge appetite for commodities and consumer goods.

    UPDATE: Bloomberg has some great news about industrial production as well. This is the most intriguing paragraph:

    Inventories at U.S. businesses grew 0.7 percent in March to a record level, the Commerce Department reported today, while sales rose 2.9 percent, the biggest jump ever. That brought the ratio of inventories to sales at manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers down to 1.30 months, the lowest on record.

    LAST UPDATE: The National Federation of Independent Business summarizes their Small Business Economic Trends for May by saying: "Small-business owners are laying the foundation for what could be the best economy in 20 years."

    posted by Dan at 12:59 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Should Rummy resign redux

    I've received a fair amount of e-mail traffic politely asking me to reconsider my call for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. Here's one snippet:

    I do think that you... are falling into a kind of academic groupthink that is at least 160 degrees off of reality. As I see it, Rumsfeld has consistently been proven correct about the size of the force and the appropriate methods for achieving our objectives.

    I agree that Rumsfeld has been proven correct in his warfighting strategies. I am completely unconvinced that Rumsfeld has been proven correct in his statebuilding strategies.

    Others are accusing me of just following the crowd of lily-livered Bush-haters -- you know, George Will, David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, Tom Friedman, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Max Boot, Peter Beinart, and Republican Senators Lindsey Graham, John Warner, and John McCain -- now voicing qualms about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq occupation.

    So, let me collect the most optimistic news about Iraq that I've seen recently and see if I should change my mind:

    1) It could be worse. At Tech Central Station, Arnold Kling and Charles Rousseaux list the various important things that haven't gone wrong in Iraq (Kling link via Milt Rosenberg). Rousseaux in particular reinforces an important about the lack of civil uprising:

    One of the most important developments has been the gradual defanging of Muqtada al-Sadar and his Mahdi militia by both Coalition forces and moderate Shi'ites. When the radical cleric rose in revolt, he appeared to have put Coalition forces in an impossible position: If they attacked, they would risk alienating the Iraqi population with casualties and the destruction of holy places; if they failed to attack, they would give him the country. The persistent pressure applied instead appears to be having a pronounced effect. Earlier this week, a joint patrol of U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces entered Fallujah for the first time. While they weren't met by flowers, they weren't met by grenades either. In Najaf and Karbala, Coalition forces have cut down many members of the Mahdi militia and captured or destroyed a number of its arms caches. Last weekend, they captured two of Sadr's top aides. On Monday, Coalition forces blew up one of his two main headquarters in Baghdad.

    Part of the reason that Coalition forces have acted so aggressively is that they no longer fear a popular revolt. Last week, a large group of influential Shi'ite leaders told Sadr to leave the holy places and the arms he had stored there. On both Monday and Tuesday, hundreds of individuals marched through Najaf calling for Sadr to depart. Even more are expected to turn out to demand Sadr's expulsion on Friday. They've been called into the streets by senior Shi'ite leader Sadruddin Qubanchi, who is allied with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. For good reason, the Los Angeles Times ran a story on Tuesday titled, "Iraq Cleric Faces Showdown with Moderate Shiites." They want Sadr to go back to where he came from -- namely an embryonic state -- so that they can get back to the lucrative business of servicing the pilgrims who come to those holy places. It's something they can't do while being held hostage in their own cities, and the numbers of devout travelers have dropped to a trickle.

    2) Some Iraqis are grateful. Andrew Sullivan links to this amusing Iraqi post.

    3) Statebuilding has not completely failed in Iraq. The fact that I found most depressing over the past six weeks was the utter failure of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces to maintain their positions in the face of insurgent attacks, leading to a partial breakdown of order. This signaled the deep problems with the U.S. statebuilding effort.

    Sullivan also links to this New York Times story suggesting that at least some of this statebuilding effort has not been for naught:

    American soldiers were forced to fight insurgents holed up in the Mukhaiyam shrine, a domed building next to a high school and near the Mukhaiyam Mosque. Militiamen had regrouped at the shrine in the middle of the fighting and had begun launching mortars from there at the American-occupied mosque. Special Forces soldiers led teams of Iraqi commandos to the area and drove the insurgents from the shrine during an intense firefight.

    The two dozen or so Iraqi commandos who helped the Americans in the battle were part of the Iraqi Counter Terrorist Force, trained in Jordan to combat insurgents. They acted under the supervision of Special Forces, who instructed them on clearing munitions from the Mukhaiyam Mosque and shrine and from the high school. Special Forces soldiers guided much of the battle on the ground, storming the mosque and setting up a base there to direct troops.

    The Special Forces soldiers appeared impressed by the weapons caches found in the area. Those included powerful 155-millimeter artillery shells, Italian land mines and sniper rifles. In all, the munitions were the equivalent of more than 100 roadside bombs, one of the most effective killers of American soldiers in Iraq, a military intelligence analyst said. Sappers wired the caches with plastic explosives and detonated them as most of the American troops left the area.

    Rumsfeld himself said in his Senate testimony that 80 to 90 percent of Iraqis are "being governed by local councils," which is pretty significant.

    OK, that's the best I can do (readers are asked to provide links to even better news).

    Is that enough for me to change my mind about Rummy? No, it's not.

    The above list indicates that the situation in Iraq is not hopeless, which is an unambiguously good thing. What the list doesn't indicate is what Rumsfeld's doctrines and decisions have done to improve the situation in Iraq. After a year of Rumsfeld overseeing the handling of Iraq, opinion polls show that a majority of Iraqis want the U.S. to conduct an immediate withdrawal, and 80% of Iraqis don't have much confidence in the Coalition Provisional Authority (both links via Mark Kleiman)

    [What, you expected this to be easy? Show some backbone!--ed.] No, I didn't expect it to be easy. However, I did expect Rumsfeld, as a smart individual who wanted to be in charge of Iraqi statebuilding, to recognize some of the resource constraints he faced and take the necessary steps to solve them. Rumsfeld has been given clear and direct warnings on this since last summer, and there's strong evidence that he's correctly processed this information. There's just not much evidence that his solution -- train new Iraqi security forces from scratch -- has worked. The side effects have been serious. The absence of a proper U.S. constabulary force, combined with a failure to guard Iraq's borders, have led Iraqis to the opinions they hold now about American troops -- and those opinions aren't good. The failure to provide security, combined with Abu Ghraib, have tarnished perceptions of U.S. power and legitimacy. As much as Rumsfeld may want to deny it, perception and legitimacy are valuable in world politics. They make it much less costly to influence international interactions, by making the exercise of hard power less frequent. Donald Rumsfeld's management of the Defense

    I don't think Iraq is hopeless -- but I also don't think that Rumsfeld has made much of a positive contribution since the end of the "major combat." It's precisely because I want to see the U.S. succeed in Iraq that I think it's worth it to replace Rummy ASAP.

    posted by Dan at 12:21 AM | Comments (83) | Trackbacks (6)

    Thursday, May 13, 2004

    Drezner gets results from Steve Chapman!!

    Steve Chapman's op-ed column in today's Chicago Tribune picks up on the debate about inner-city Wal-Marts in Chicago that I touched on last week. The good parts:

    If Chicagoans loathe everything Wal-Mart represents, of course, they can easily defend themselves by declining to shop there. But the people in the neighborhoods where the stores are planned (one on the South Side and one on the West Side) bear an uncanny resemblance to other Americans in (a) their desire for a bargain and (b) their preference not to have to travel far to get it. The danger, from the standpoint of the critics, is not that Chicagoans will detest Wal-Mart but that they'll like it.

    That has been the case for most people in most places. The company didn't climb to the top of the Fortune 500 list, sell nearly $259 billion worth of goods last year, and become the largest private employer in the country by failing to cater to ordinary Americans....

    It's true that very few people get rich working for Wal-Mart, but the company says the average hourly wage for full-time workers in its Chicago-area stores is $10.77. It says the typical starting pay for an inexperienced worker at the new stores will be from $7 to $8 an hour (compared to the current minimum wage of $5.15). Some 60 percent of its employees get health coverage through Wal-Mart, with most of the rest getting it through spouses, parents or Medicare.

    Does the company resist unions? Sure. But that doesn't exactly make it unusual, since 92 percent of private-sector workers in the United States lack a union. Does it hurt small businesses? Only by offering consumers goods they want at lower prices than established retailers....

    Despite our economic troubles, the U.S. unemployment rate remains well below that in supposedly enlightened places like Germany, France and Canada. Not only that, but as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reports, Americans have the highest average purchasing power among the industrialized democracies, partly because "$100 buys more in the United States."

    How come? One reason is that we have so many fiercely competitive discount retailers like Wal-Mart. Economist W. Michael Cox of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has called Wal-Mart "the greatest thing that ever happened to low-income Americans." Anyone who thinks its arrival would be a bad thing for low-income Chicagoans should let them vote on these stores, with their feet.

    posted by Dan at 09:38 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (2)

    Adieu to the adult sitcom?

    Slate's headline writers teased me with this Dana Stevens essay about the Frasier finale. The headline is, "Where Have All the Grown-Ups Gone? The Frasier finale marks the end of situation comedies for adults."

    The Stevens essay underscores this point in this graf:

    Growing up, I watched my parents watch Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart's eponymous situation comedies: Here were childless professionals in their 30s and 40s who moved in a world that seemed mysteriously complicated and grown-up. Week in and week out, they contended with traffic jams and IRS audits, incompetent colleagues and drunken doormen, and negotiated the intricate dilemmas of bourgeois etiquette: What do you do when a flaky friend asks to borrow a significant sum of money to start a business? Granted, my perception may be skewed by the fact I was 4 feet tall at the time, but even now, revisiting the world of those '70s sitcoms, the texture of adult life is palpable behind the standard sitcom storylines of marriage and divorce, flirtation and friendship. Frasier was a throwback to that time; more mature than its jejune (but still funny) progenitor, Cheers, it posited a world where a divorced, stocky, balding man in his 40s, who collected African erotic art and noodled on a grand piano in his stark modernist apartment, could be a plausible romantic lead for 11 straight seasons. In the post-Seinfeldian TV landscape of perpetual adolescence, where attractive young slackers were hooking up and trading apartments as casually as if New York City were their personal college dorm, Frasier sided with the grown-ups and won the respect of its audience by treating them as such.

    The problem with the rest of the essay is that it doesn't ever expand on this thesis, turning instead to why Frasier was so good. Left unaddressed is why are there no more sophisticated, adult sitcoms?

    I actually do have a roundabout theory to explain this -- the target demographic of sophisticated adults have morphed into obsessive-compulsive parents. This argument is implicit in David Brooks' latest book, On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. One of the themes in the book -- which Brooks has previously touched on in myriad articles -- is the growing obsession with parenting in this country, to the point where unorganized play has simply ceased to exist in much of the country.

    Brooks tends to focus on the effect this has on the kids -- but what about the parents? All this organizing of their kids' lives can crowd out other activities, as Brooks points out on p. 139:

    [P]arents have gone to extraordinary lengths not to let jobs get in the way of child rearing. They have added work time, but on average, they have not stolen those hours from child-rearing time. The time has come out of housework, relaxation, and adult friendships. (emphasis added)

    Whether the tradeoff of more child rearing at the expense of adult relationships is a good thing or a bad thing I will leave to my gentle readers and bloggers I trust on the subject. However, if fewer adults are investing the time in adult friendships, that could translate into less demand for adult situation comedies on network television.

    Just an idle thought.

    Closing note -- before people start bewailing the decline of the sophisticated sitcome, do bear in mind that for every Frasier there have been a hundred crappy adult sitcoms. Furthermore, it is at least possible to write a sophisticated family-oriented sitcom -- go watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond and admire Patricia Heaton's perfection of the slow burn.

    posted by Dan at 01:08 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004

    The schizophrenic Senator Lieberman

    Senator Joe Lieberman gave a speech this morning at the New America Foundation on offshore outsourcing and what the U.S. government should do about it. Here's a link to his white paper summary of proposals -- and here's a link to Grant Gross' coverage of the speech for IT World. Among other things, Lieberman calls for increased wage insurance, expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), and a bipartisan commission to study the problem.

    I'm of two minds about the speech and proposal. I like the proposals. Boosting R&D investment, expanding TAA, expanding education spending, getting our macroeconomic house in order -- I'm in favor of all of these, and promoted some of them in my Foreign Affairs article.

    The problem is the speech, which is alarmist in the extreme. Here's one sample:

    We know that manufacturing jobs have been shifting overseas for some time. But now the services sector is being hit hard by offshore outsourcing – and that hurts. The services sector provides 83% of America’s jobs, employing 86 million people. It dominates our economy. Customer call centers and data entry facilities are being relocated to places where capable labor can be found at lower wage levels. High-speed digital technologies make a connection between Boston and Bangalore as fast as between Boston and Baltimore.

    But offshoring is no longer limited to entry-level services jobs. Higher skilled professional jobs like computer chip design, information technology services, programming, architecture, engineering, consulting, automotive design and pharmaceutical research are beginning to go overseas. That is the bulk of the iceberg below the surface of the sea. The outsourcing of R&D is probably the most alarming illustration of this new problem. American companies now invest $17 billion in R&D abroad every year. IT multinationals have now established 223 R&D centers in China alone.

    OK, lets count the inaccuracies in these two grafs:

    1) Manufacturing jobs are not moving offshore -- they're largely disappearing due to technological innovation and productivity gains.

    2) The service sector is not being "hit hard" by offshoring -- job losses due to overseas relocation represent a trivial amount of total job destruction.

    3) Offshoring is, in fact, largely limited to entry-level services jobs, even in the IT sector. This CNet article on R&D strikes an equally alarmist tone, but the interviews and raw numbers show that not a lot of high-level tasks are going to move offshore. Two tidbits:

    Like many technology executives, Rhonda Hocker saw offshore outsourcing as an ideal way to stretch her budget and speed the development of new systems.

    The chief information officer at San Jose-based software maker BEA Systems contracted with an Indian outsource company six months ago to handle maintenance and support of internal enterprise software from PeopleSoft, Siebel Systems and Clarify. She then outsourced help-desk work and made plans to do the same for the development of Web services components.

    But even Hocker, a fan of outsourcing by any measure, has her limits.

    "We'll never outsource any of our IT architects," she said of her "rocket scientists," BEA's top information technology developers. "I would never envision putting them over there or outsourcing that to anyone."....

    Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, has an R&D budget that is also one of the world's largest--some $6.8 billion for fiscal 2004. It operates research labs in China and the United Kingdom, but the bulk of its work takes place in the United States.

    "We will push some product development projects to India and China, but the lion's share will stay where it is, because we think the best work force is here," Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, said in an interview with CNET

    The article looks at some firms with R&D operations overseas. Typical is IBM, which has 70 researchers in Delhi, India, and 90 in Beijing -- in contrast to 3,000 total research staffers, and 2,000 in the United States.

    Lieberman is correct about the education gap and the decline in public R&D investments -- but those problems have little to do with the alarmist tone of the speech.

    Why wrap such sensible proposals around such exaggerated rhetoric? Because it's politically effective. The key Lieberman proposals --- education, R&D, macroeconomic prudence -- are smart things to do on their own. However, only the spectre of foreign competition seems capable of motivating Washington -- a fact that flummoxed Paul Krugman a decade ago.

    While I'm very enthusiastic about the Senator's concrete proposals, I'm very, very queasy about the scaremongering tactics that are associated with them.

    posted by Dan at 01:29 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (1)

    Those damn Indians

    Oh dear -- Indian companies are messing with the dominant narrative that U.S. jobs are being outsourced to the subcontinent at an increasing rate. According to Contractor UK:

    In the latest twist in the outsourcing tale, two Indian companies have announced the creation of jobs in the telecoms and software services sector that will boost the domestic jobs market in the US.

    Although the numbers are comparatively small in relation to the exodus of jobs going the other way, the decision represents a marked positive step for the future of US-India trade relations....

    Bharti Tele-Ventures, India's largest private telecommunications company, has awarded an IT services contract to US computer giant IBM, worth up to $750m (£424m) in a 10-year deal. Bharti said IBM would now take care of all its hardware and software requirements, improve its data centres, IT help desks and disaster recovery capabilities.

    "Arrangements like this will take the sting out of outsourcing," said Sunil Bharti Mittal, chairman of Bharti Televentures

    Infosys, the second-largest software manufacturer in India, has announced that it will be creating 500 consulting jobs in the US. Infosys is investing $20 (£11.3m) into creating a US-based subsidiary, Infosys Consulting, providing services to US companies.

    The group plans to hire 75 consultants in the first year, with 500 hires total at the end of five years.

    Damn Infosys and Bharti!! Next thing you know, Americans might actually realize that trade is a win-win game!!

    posted by Dan at 12:18 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

    The Campbellsville comeback

    Christopher Miller has an interesting article in the Bowling Green Daily News about how the town of Campbellsville, Kentucky responded to the 1997-98 decision by Fruit of the Loom to offshore production:

    At that time, Fruit of the Loom let 3,200 jobs go overseas to save costs at its plant in Taylor County, with a population of 22,000.

    Instead of giving up, the city pulled together. The town has since added 13 new employers, including More than 3,700 jobs have been created from those employers and expansions from others.

    Read the article to see how the town pulled this off.

    A hint -- education and insourcing are involved.

    posted by Dan at 12:11 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    A PG-13 post about heavy manufacturing

    Be warned. If you think heavy manufacturing is really important, or that unions are vital to the development of American capitalism, do not click on this Tim Belknap rant.

    The following contains strong language about the manufacturing sector, and may not be suitable for economic romantics under the age of 80 who believe that the United States needs to return to the "good old days" when what was good for GM was good for America.

    A brief preview:

    "Manufacturing Job" is largely a liberal code phrase for "heavy industry, mega-company, big factory, full-health-care-coverage-for-the-smoking & overweight, generous pensions, old world, heavily unionized, low productivity, north-eastern, upper mid-west, old-mill town-south, democratic voting" job....

    There is a myth that Big Company, Big Union "American workers" are the most productive in the world. The truth is that our industrial managers, our design and manufacturing engineers, and our supply chain managers make their companies the most productive in the world...largely through shedding those types of fantasy jobs through driving competition (should we make it here or there? or should we source it?) and technology improvements (more manufacturable designs, factory redesign, automation and control). (all emphases in original)

    posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

    Dissecting soft power

    Jim Hoagland has a good review of Joseph Nye's Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics and John Lewis Gaddis' Surprise, Security, and the American Experience in The New Republic.

    I've always found "soft power" a maddening concept, in that Nye has managed to identiy something important but its precise definition and causal logic remains inchoate (click here, here, and here for more of my thoughts on the matter). Hoagland appears to be equally frustrated with Nye:

    Soft power, or so the doctrine goes, will set Americans free from misunderstanding, vilification, and the kind of determined opposition to American foreign policy that has marked the presidency of George W. Bush. We can and must "attract others to our side," and we can do this by better communicating America's true character and values to the world. The next president must seduce other governments and international institutions rather than bully them. If that does not work, take two aspirin and call Harvard tomorrow. By then it may be clearer what soft power is and how it will work....

    In 1990, his three main sources of soft power were American culture, international laws and institutions, and American multinational corporations. Two of those secret weapons have now dropped well down the list. Culture--in particular educational exchanges, "public diplomacy" (as government-run information programs are now known), and mass-market films and other media--still makes Nye's cut as an American resource for changing opinion abroad through the force of example or persuasion. But American political values (when, Nye warns, they are in fact honored in America) and American foreign policies ("when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority") have somehow stormed ahead of McDonald's and Coca-Cola in Nye's worldview. It would be interesting to know why and how, but we are glided past that and much more.

    Definition is all in this kind of exercise. Nye's book so stretches the definition of soft power, and so heavily conditions it, that the term comes to mean almost everything and therefore almost nothing.

    In contrast, Hoagland has a more favorable take on the Gaddis book:

    The alternative to Nye's softness, of course, is not an unsophisticated and chest-thumping unilateralism. There are significant roots in American history for a smart multilateralism that is not at all allergic to the use of force. For this, we must return to Gaddis....

    Gaddis reminds (or more likely informs) us that the United States would not exist today as a continental power if it had not employed unilateralism, preemption, and hegemony as tools of national policy well into the twentieth century. Bush 43, meet Adams 6. In 1793, John Quincy Adams, whom Gaddis plausibly describes as the "most influential American grand strategist of the nineteenth century," was already writing that only unilateralism--staying disconnected "from all European interests and European politics"--would guarantee "real independence" for the fledgling United States. Nor could the United States simply co-exist on equal terms with any other great power on the North American continent. That, Adams wrote in 1811, would create "an endless multitude of little insignificant clans and tribes at eternal war with one another for a rock, or a fish pond, the sport and fable of European masters and oppressors."....

    Gaddis is convincing in arguing that the Bush administration has paid a heavy price for sustaining momentum in the war on terrorism rather than consolidating its battlefield successes through a more focused, more Rooseveltian multilateralism. "Shock and awe are necessary departures from the normal," he observes. But "they become what's expected, and that undermines the element of surprise that makes such practices work in the first place. That's why good strategists know when to stop shocking and awing." And he continues: "The precedent John Quincy Adams set has at last produced what he warned against: an American government that deliberately goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy--lest those monsters attempt to destroy it."

    UPDATE: For more on the Gaddis book, readers would be well-served to check out the Slate Book Club exchange between Robert Kagan and Niall Ferguson about Gaddis' book as well as Walter Russell Mead's Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk.

    posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    Should Rummy resign?

    In the wake of the ever-widening prisoner scandal (see the heretofore secret Red Cross report here and the Washington Post story about it here), a lot of people are calling for Rummy's head. The Economist wants him to resign -- as does Megan McArdle. President Bush maintains that he's "doing a superb job." As Kevin Drum documents, those who supported the war are growing ever more disgruntled with the administration in general and Rumsfeld in particular. Andrew Sullivan puts it well:

    The narrative of liberation was critical to the success of the mission - politically and militarily. This was never going to be easy, but it was worth trying. It was vital to reverse the Islamist narrative that pitted American values against Muslim dignity. The reason Abu Ghraib is such a catastrophe is that it has destroyed this narrative. It has turned the image of this war into the war that the America-hating left always said it was: a brutal, imperialist, racist occupation, designed to humiliate another culture. Abu Ghraib is Noam Chomsky's narrative turned into images more stunning, more damaging, more powerful than a million polemics from Ted Rall or Susan Sontag. It is Osama's dream propaganda coup....

    The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong. I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn't sense how they would grotesquely under-man the post-war occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events span out of control.

    Actually, one could argue that the administration has in fact shifted a fair amount on how to handle postwar Iraq -- it's just that the shifts have amounted to mere tinkering given the lack of troop strength, the absence of border protection, and the abject failure of the Iraqi statebuilding project. In other words, they shifted on everything but the big things.

    A year ago, I wrote the following about Rumsfeld's obsession with slimming down the military:

    Rumsfeld, and the rest of the Bush administration's foreign policy team, face a clear choice. It can outsource peacekeeping functions to the United Nations or close allies, at the cost of some constraints on foreign policy implementation. It can minimize the U.N. role and develop/train its own peacekeeping force. Or it can do neither and run into trouble down the road.

    We're down the road now. The administration never really resolved that dilemma, and I'd say we've hit trouble with a capital "T".

    This is certainly not only Rummy's fault -- though he should have been asking tough questions on Iraq instead of letting others ask fluffy ones. The man residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue shoulders the bulk of the responsibility. Bush's job prospects will be decided in November, however (and since I was undecided back in January -- when foreign policy was Bush's strength -- imagine my current preference ordering). In the meantime, it seems inescapable to me that Donald Rumsfeld should resign as Secretary of Defense. It's not just Abu Ghraib -- it's the whole damn Mongolian cluster-f#*k of the postwar occupation.

    I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise -- but the arguments better be really, really, good ones.

    UPDATE: Some of the commenters seem to be confusing my disdain for Rumsfeld with a desire to get out of Iraq. That's just wrong. It's precisely because I want the U.S. to stay in Iraq, to help build institutions that resemble a liberal polity, to demonstrate that the words "democracy" and "Arab" can be combined in the same sentence, that I want Rummy to go.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: This commenter prudently suggests that I can't support Rummy's removal without a suitable replacement.

    OK. My suggested replacement would be retired Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki.

    posted by Dan at 11:18 AM | Comments (109) | Trackbacks (25)

    Sunday, May 9, 2004

    Louis Drezner, R.I.P. (1902-2004)

    No blogging for the next two days, as I'll be at my grandfather's funeral. Here's a reprint of the relevant sections of his obituary as it appeared in today's New York Times:

    DREZNER -- Louis, 101 blessed years, passed away on May 7, 2004. Devoted husband to the late Sayde Hirsch Drezner, dear brother to older sister Shirley, treasured father to Susan, Barry, David, and Esther. Loving grandfather to Robyn, Robert, William, Lisa, Daniel, Erika, and Benjamin. Proud great-grandfather to Matthew, Emily, and Samuel. Admired uncle to his many nieces and nephews. Loyal and trusted friend and employer to E. Lois Marshall for 63 years. Founder and President of Illustrators, Inc., and Central Photographic Studio, accomplished gardener and landscape designer, skilled woodworker and model ship builder, a master Mr. Fix-It, a man of great curiosity, intelligence with a lifelong respect for education, of a strong ethical and moral character. A wonderful role model for his family and friends. How dearly we will miss him.

    I'll miss his smile -- the man had a smile that made you forget your troubles and believe that all was right in the world.

    Oh, and yes, you read the obituary correctly -- he is survived by his older sister, my great-aunt Shirley. She's 103.

    UPDATE: My profound thanks to one and all for your kind condolences -- I'm very touched.

    The ceremony was lovely, and sad as the occasion was, it was nice for the extended Drezner clan to congregate together and swap fond memories of Grandpa. His quite but authoritative presence will be dearly missed.

    posted by Dan at 02:37 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (0)

    The political science of blogs

    David Adesnik has a marathon-length post on moderating a Harvard panel with a Boston Globe journalist and discussing what he's learned via blogging. He concludes:

    The question I was left asking myself after the debate was what questions I might have asked if I had been in the audience but hadn't been a blogger. Probably exactly the same ones that the actual audience asked. They were intelligent. They solicited important information from the guest. But from the perspective of a blogger-slash-backseat journalist, they seemed so elementary. And that made me realize just how much I had learned by spending a couple of hours a day on this website for the last eighteen months

    It also made me realize how specialized and pedantic bloggers' media criticism is. Even the most intelligent "normal" people out there have only the vaguest sense of how bloggers read the newspaper. Much like scholars, bloggers tend to think of their analytical methods as being a secret treasure, while critics think of them as the product of some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yet in contrast to scholars, bloggers are rapidly winning bigger and bigger audiences.

    Bloggers are also getting the attention of those they criticize. In contrast, politicians ignore what political scientists write (while obsessing about the media)....

    The final thought I had about today's discussion was that if I can look back on myself from two years and say "Oh my God, I can't believe how ignorant I was!", who might look at me now and say "Oh my God, I can't believe how ignorant he is!"

    Oh my God, I can't believe how ignorant Davi--- just kidding.

    More seriously, David has hit on one of the reasons I've given for blogging -- it can command immediate attention in a way that an article in either International Organization or the American Journal of Political Science cannot. Score one for blogging.

    And yet -- there are two important caveats to David's thesis that blogging is more influential than political science. The first is that it may be that either activity is a necessary but not sufficient condition for influencing the body politic. Using myself as an example -- I got my gig at TNR Online because they liked the style and content of the blog. But, they also liked the fact that I was a professor of political science. My academic credentials probably opened a few doors that have been more difficult to open for a Kevin Drum or a Steven Den Beste.

    The second caveat is that, while many political scientists yearn for "policy relevance," it comes in different forms. One way is to become a public intellectual/media whore and directly address one's fellow citizens. There are other, more permanent ways, however. John Maynard Keynes once observed that, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist." A good political scientist can have that kind of long-run influence as well. I doubt that politicians ever listened to what E.E. Schattschneider, David Mayhew, Hans Morgenthau, or Graham Allison said on a day-to-day basis -- but the political world they live in was partily constructed by their ideas.

    posted by Dan at 01:53 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

    Saturday, May 8, 2004

    My very own public intellectual feud

    Devoted readers of are aware that on occasion, sometimes, I've been known to get into the occasional intellectual scuffle with a another blogger or public figure. Most of them have been minor tempests that quickly faded into obscurity.

    Alas, obscurity is harder to come by when a dispute is carried out in the Letters page of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. To see Jagdish Bhagwati's reply to my review of In Defense of Globalization, as well as my response to Bhagwati's response, click here.

    I'll confess to being genuinely puzzled by Professor Bhagwati's obsteperous response -- as my lovely wife put it, between Bhagwati and myself, our opinions on globalization range from A to A'. I thought I gave the book a pretty favorable review, and I certainly think it's worth reading. Trust me, if I don't like a book, I can be much more scathing in my comments.

    However, read my original review, then read the exchange of letters and judge for yourself. After this Sunday, this disagreement will hopefully fade into onscurity as well.

    And for those of you who wish to make a living by being a critic (or a book author), learn this lesson well -- don't write angry. Or rather, if you feel the urge, write angry, but then be sure to crumple up that effort and try again with a cooler head.

    Why? It's exceedingly difficult to translate anger into polished prose -- particularly anger directed at another person, as opposed to a more abstract target -- without seeming either petty or undisciplined. Angry writing is also, more often than not, completely humorless. And wit is a valued commodity in almost every writing venue known to man.

    This is a tough lesson to digest, because the exceptions to this rule are the most coveted critics of them all. A critic that manages to focus their anger into an righteous but humorous vivisection of someone else is the ne plus ultra of entertainment. If you can do it, I'll tip my hat in deferential respect.

    However, I strongly suspect that this skill is much rarer than is commonly perceived.

    posted by Dan at 10:34 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

    Friday, May 7, 2004

    Ethnic cleansing in Sudan

    The Sudanese government is aiding and abetting the killing of African Muslims in its western Darfur region. According to Bloomberg:

    Government forces have helped so-called Arab Janjaweed militias kill thousands of members of the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups, according to the [Human Rights Watch] report. More than one million civilians have been driven into camps and settlements from their homes, and in excess of 110,000 others have fled into neighboring Chad....

    The conflict escalated in February last year when the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement started a rebellion in Darfur, complaining that the region, particularly its black population, is marginalized by the government. Since then, the Janjaweed militia, who are also Muslim, has targeted civilians from the same ethnic groups as the rebels, according to the report.

    The Janjaweed, supported by government forces and helicopters, have killed civilians and religious leaders, destroyed mosques, burned homes, and looted food and livestock, the report says.

    "Government forces oversaw and directly participated in massacres, summary executions of civilians, including women and children, burnings of towns and villages, and the forcible depopulation of wide swathes of land long inhabited by the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa,'' the report says. The Janjaweed militias "have destroyed mosques, killed Muslim religious leaders, and desecrated Korans belonging to their enemies.''

    Human Rights Watch documents the killing of more than 770 civilians in 14 separate attacks between September and February, and says the conflict has caused more damage than that. The HRW team spent 25 days in and near West Darfur investigating the abuses, entering from Chad.

    "Our report covers particular villages in one small area,'' said Rone. "The killings are much more widespread.''

    Here's a link to the actual Human Rights Watch report, "Darfur Destroyed." You can read HRW's press release by clicking here.

    This looks like a job for the U.N. Human Rights Commission!! Oh, wait...

    UPDATE: The Economist has a nice story encapsulating the Sudan problem.

    posted by Dan at 12:30 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Alexei Izyumov's Swiftian jobs program

    Izyumov, an associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Emerging Market Economies at the University of Louisville, makes a modest proposal in the Boston Globe about dealing with the real villians behind recent job losses:

    While corporate CEOs do send thousands of jobs abroad, someone else steals them by the millions. Patriotic citizens can easily identify the corporate wrongdoers -- as Senator John Kerry does in his campaign speeches and CNN's Lou Dobbs does in his list of the 200-plus worst outsourcers -- but confronting this other enemy is much more difficult. Because this enemy is the US consumer.

    In 2003, the United States imported close to $1,500 billion in products, mostly consumer goods such as cars, electronics, and textiles. Assuming that each $50,000 of this spending could support one domestic job, imports killed off close to 30 million American jobs last year. Compared with that, the employment impact of offshore outsourcing is peanuts: The highest estimates put those job losses at no more than 300,000 a year for the last three years....

    We hereby appeal to all professional economic patriots, especially these among state and federal legislators: Do not waste your energy fighting the paper tigers of corporate outsourcing. Have courage and go after the main enemy. Make these traitorous consumers repent! Lead them by the way of personal example: Allow no more Italian suits, French perfume, German cars, or Chilean wine in your households. And no more foreign trips either -- you know that every vacation spent in Paris or Cancun means tourism jobs lost in Chicago or New Orleans or Boston.

    posted by Dan at 11:34 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (2)

    Good job numbers

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures for April are out -- and the U.S. economy created 288,000 jobs last month. The number of persons unemployed for 27 weeks or longer declined by 188,000. Revised figures show that since
    January, manufacturing employment has increased by 37,000. Over the course of this year, average hourly earnings have grown by by 2.2 percent, and average weekly earnings have increased by 2.5 percent.

    In 2004, the economy has averaged the creation of over 200,000 new jobs per month.

    In related news, the Financial Times reports that:

    First-time claims for unemployment support in the week to May 1 fell by 25,000 to 315,000 - the lowest since October 2000. Continuing claims for unemployment benefit, which tend to provide a better indication of hiring activity, also declined sharply, dropping 69,000 to 2.9m during the week to April 24.

    Much of this is due to continued strength in the service sector.

    Of course, the economy has had to struggle to create jobs this year in the wake of massive job losses due to offshore outsourcing. Oh wait, according to this BLS breakdown, the economy has created over 200,000 jobs in the "professional business and services" category in 2004, the sector designated as most vulnerable to job losses from offshoring (to be fair, employment in "computer systems design and related services" has fallen by 6,000 since January).

    So, great news -- but I'd really like the Bush administration to take the following warning from Alan Greenspan seriously:

    The resolution of our current account deficit and household debt burdens does not strike me as overly worrisome, but that is certainly not the case for our yawning fiscal deficit. Our fiscal prospects are, in my judgment, a significant obstacle to long-term stability because the budget deficit is not readily subject to correction by market forces that stabilize other imbalances.

    Read the whole speech.

    UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett points out that due to the economic recovery, the Congressional Budget Office projects tax revenues for this fiscal year to be up by $100 billion.

    posted by Dan at 11:04 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    A minor Friends carp

    Like an estimated 51.1 million Americans, I watch and mostly enjoyed the Friends finale last night. It was much better than Seinfeld's finale, though that's a low bar to set.

    I am glad that Matt LeBlanc will have his own show in the fall -- truth be told, Joey was always my favorite (though as an academic, I did appreciate how adeptly the writers skewered Ross' academic pretensions).

    One minor complaint, however -- during the episode, Monica explains that they've named the twins Erika (after the birth mother) and Jack, after Monica's father. Which is great, except for the fact that Monica Geller is Jewish. Jews (well, Ashkenazi Jews at least) do not name their children after living relatives.

    Now Friends, like many shows (Mad About You) was always skittish about discussing religion, even though three of the show's characters (Ross, Monica, Rachel) were Jewish. They inevitably celebrated Christmas, for example.

    Which is fine -- there are certainly Jews who do this. However, there was no need for the show to have a Jewish character do something that even a non-practicing Jew would never even have considered.

    The show's creators, David Crane and Marta Kaufman, are both graduates of Brandeis. They should have known better.

    posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

    Thursday, May 6, 2004

    News flash -- Michael Moore massages the facts

    I'm shocked, shocked to discover that Michael Moore might have stretched the truth a wee bit in his latest kerfuffle with Disney. According to the Independent:

    Less than 24 hours after accusing the Walt Disney Company of pulling the plug on his latest documentary in a blatant attempt at political censorship, the rabble-rousing film-maker Michael Moore has admitted he knew a year ago that Disney had no intention of distributing it.

    The admission, during an interview with CNN, undermined Moore's claim that Disney was trying to sabotage the US release of Fahrenheit 911 just days before its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.

    Instead, it lent credence to a growing suspicion that Moore was manufacturing a controversy to help publicise the film, a full-bore attack on the Bush administration and its handling of national security since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

    In an indignant letter to his supporters, Moore said he had learnt only on Monday that Disney had put the kibosh on distributing the film, which has been financed by the semi-independent Disney subsidiary Miramax.

    But in the CNN interview he said: "Almost a year ago, after we'd started making the film, the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, told my agent he was upset Miramax had made the film and he will not distribute it."

    Nobody in Hollywood doubts Fahrenheit 911 will find a US distributor. His last documentary, Bowling for Columbine, made for $3m (£1.7m), pulled in $22m at the US box office.

    But Moore's publicity stunt, if that is what is, appears to be working. A front-page news piece in The New York Times was followed yesterday by an editorial denouncing Disney for censorship and denial of Moore's right to free expression.

    Well, it's a good thing that except for the NYT, the media didn't take the bait on this one. Oh, wait....

    posted by Dan at 10:31 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

    Bwa ha ha ha!!

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the political tide may be turning on offshore outsourcing:

    Although public opinion polls show Americans are worried about this outsourcing of jobs, few people appear willing to back that up if it means spending more money or more time.

    Even those who have lost jobs sometimes express more resignation than outrage. The lack of widespread passion on the subject, some say, helps explain why dozens of measures in Congress and state legislatures for limiting outsourcing have failed to gain much traction.

    And the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, who in February characterized executives who outsourced as traitors, lately has toned down his rhetoric on the subject.

    Against this backdrop, the nation's unemployment report for April — to be released Friday — becomes crucial. A strong report, coming on the heels of March's impressive net gain of 308,000 nonfarm jobs, will diminish remaining incentives to restrain outsourcing.

    Sluggish job growth, on the other hand, will conjure up the slack reports of last winter. Outsourcing became a prominent election issue in December after a string of poor job reports sparked fears that U.S. job creation was in a long-term slump.

    Opponents of outsourcing aren't sure how they were put on the defensive so quickly.

    "It was shocking to find a Democratic-controlled House in the liberal state of Washington could not pass a significant piece of legislation dealing with the offshore-outsourcing issue," said Marcus Courtney, president of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers. The bill would have prohibited state contracts from being sent overseas.

    Courtney blamed "a nationally coordinated lobbying effort by corporate America" for the fact that none of the 80 bills in Congress and legislatures has passed.

    It's just coordinated lobbying?! What about well-honed rhetoric backed by cogent analysis and hard data? [Yeah, you know it's actually the lobbying, right?--ed. Allow me my meager illusions of influence, OK?]

    Part of the Times' reasoning is based on the E-loan experiment that I blogged about in March. Consumers are given a choice between having their paperwork processed in 10 days overseas or 12 days in the United States. According to the LAT, "In the three months that ended Monday, 85.6% of 14,329 loan applicants chose processing overseas."

    Meanwhile, Miguel Helft writes in the San Jose Mercury News that data privacy concerns with regard to offshore outsourcing are grossly exaggerated:

    like most issues in the polarized debate over outsourcing, the privacy fears are stoked by hype, misconceptions and a dose of xenophobia. Preventing personal data from going overseas will do little to keep Americans safe from privacy violations and identity thieves. Unless Americans get better privacy protections at home, they'll continue to be victimized by unscrupulous businesses and criminals.

    To be sure, there have been some well-publicized privacy horror stories overseas. But American companies have been handling credit cards and financial records offshore for years with no evidence that there are any more privacy abuses or breaches overseas than domestically.

    "The security of data is not determined by where it is geographically,'' says Dave Wyle, president and CEO of SurePrep. Wyle's California-based company employs a largely Indian workforce to help accounting firms with data entry and other tasks involved in tax preparation.

    Wyle describes SurePrep's Indian operations as airtight. Customer data is stored at a highly secure data center in Irvine. All electronic correspondence with India is scrambled with the highest level of commercially available encryption. At the Indian offices there are no removable data storage devices, no printers, no Internet connections or telephones that reach outside the building. Workers aren't even allowed to bring paper and pens to take notes or cell phones to make unauthorized calls.

    By comparison, Wyle says, at U.S. firms you'll find paper files stuffed with sensitive data lying around, data stored in removable hard drives and e-mail everywhere. "SurePrep has better security than any firm I've ever seen,'' says Wyle.

    I have no way to confirm Wyle's claims, and it's likely that many other firms are less careful than SurePrep.

    But Wyle makes a good point. American companies have been hacked countless times. Rogue employees have stolen and sold data from the most pedigreed blue chip companies. Once stolen, data is only a click away from Romania, Russia or any other organized crime haven. Because privacy laws in the U.S. are weak, at best, companies that are lax about data security rarely face consequences.

    "We need to get our privacy protections in order first, before we start chastising other countries,'' says Chris Larsen, CEO of E-Loan.

    Read both pieces.

    posted by Dan at 01:01 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Pretty good

    As a first step to overcomung my funk, it's worth looking at the good news coming out of the country of Georgia. The Economist reports:

    Almost all post-Soviet states are failing, but some fail more than others. That rule helps in understanding the success this week of Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s youthful president, in reasserting control over the breakaway region of Ajaria. In the days of his predecessor, Edward Shevardnadze, this comic-opera statelet in Georgia’s south-west corner functioned a bit less badly than the rest of the country: it was a fief of its diminutive leader, Aslan Abashidze, who enjoyed cosy relations with local Russian generals and a share of the spoils from cross-border trade in oil and other commodities. Compared with the chaos in the rest of Georgia, Ajaria was a haven of normality; streets were swept and opposition barely existed.

    But things are different under Mr Saakashvili, who forced Mr Abashidze to flee the country on Wednesday May 5th—calling him a “mini-Saddam Hussein”—and then flew to Batumi, Ajaria’s capital, to savour victory. The new Georgian leader has brought fresh dynamism, plus a thumping popular mandate, to the task of making his country more of a proper state.

    Mr Shevardnadze was swept from power six months ago in a peaceful uprising that became known as Georgia’s “rose revolution”. The 37-year-old Mr Saakashvili won the election that followed by a landslide and took office in January. Since then, he has managed to collect more taxes, raise the pay of customs officers, pay pensions and arrest some very rich people. The way these folk have been hauled in and induced to pay large sums of money to the Georgian treasury might not always satisfy Mr Saakashvili’s erstwhile law professors at New York’s Columbia University. But it has started to look as though Georgia is the real state—and Ajaria the failed one.

    That is how Mr Saakashvili was able to raise the pressure on Mr Abashidze to step down and seek haven in Russia. “The time for babbling is over,” the president said, as he ordered his army—whose abilities American advisers have struggled to improve—to stage exercises on the statelet’s boundary. “We will never again allow the appropriation of any part of Georgia by bandits, narcotics dealers and local feudal lords.” For all his subsequent defiance, Mr Abashidze’s power melted away. His coastguard—one seaworthy ship—sailed to Poti. The commander of an army brigade based in Batumi declared his loyalty to Mr Abashidze, only to find most subordinates going the other way. Thousands demonstrated in support of Mr Saakashvili in Batumi (he claims to have 90% support in the region). Finally, late on Wednesday, a former Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, who had helped to ease out Mr Shevardnadze last November, performed the same trick with Mr Abashidze. A jubilant Mr Saakashvili told the people of Batumi “you are heroes”. He added that “Georgia will be united”.

    It may also become a bit less poor as a result of Mr Abashidze’s departure. Having introduced presidential rule in Ajaria, Mr Saakashvili can now get his hands on its port, which handles 200,000 barrels of oil per day, and a busy customs post on the border with Turkey. These could provide much-needed foreign exchange for the central government’s depleted coffers.

    Glenn Reynolds links to The Argus, who has a passel of useful links and information, including the U.S. role in assisting Saakashvili.

    posted by Dan at 11:45 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    Not good

    It's hard not to be discouraged about the information coming out from the Taguba Report, as well as the additional pictures and private correspondence suggesting that the pattern of prisoner abuse was wider than originally thought. Josh Marshall links to this Sy Hersh quote last night on O'Reilly:

    First of all, it's going to get much worse. This kind of stuff was much more widespread. I can tell you just from the phone calls I've had in the last 24 hours, even more, there are other photos out there. There are many more photos even inside that unit. There are videotapes of stuff that you wouldn't want to mention on national television that was done. There was a lot of problems.

    There was a special women's section. There were young boys in there. There were things done to young boys that were videotaped. It's much worse. And the Maj. Gen. Taguba was very tough about it. He said this place was riddled with violent, awful actions against prisoners.

    On top of all this, the White House's official "I want it publicly known that I'm displeased with Rumsfeld but I'm not actually going to say it or do anything about it but leak it to the press" policy is, as Jacob Levy observes, truly bizarre.

    You can say, as Victor Davis Hanson did, that at least the U.S. is now coming to grips with the problem -- and that the system worked in exposing these abuses. Glenn Reynolds and Tacitus offer their useful perspectives of what to do now.

    Me? I've moved beyond denial and anger and into depression. It's not good any time Matthew Yglesias and Ramesh Ponnuru agree that things are bad. As Phil Carter put it:

    We are advancing an idea of Western liberalism (small 'l') against an ideal of Islamic radicalism.... To win this war, we must be seen as the guys wearing the white hats. Suffice to say, these images utterly destroy that effort, and will make it very hard to convince foreign nations and nationals of our commitment to the rule of law, and to Western liberal ideals.

    posted by Dan at 11:29 AM | Comments (57) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, May 5, 2004

    Behold my mighty marginal influence

    John Hawkins of Right Wing News has used Alexa to compile a list of "The Top 125 Political Websites On The Net." John Hinderaker estimates there are 35 blogs on the list.

    Yours truly is there at #119, but I suspect that if the various blogs that reside at Blogspot were disaggregated, I'd fall off that list pretty fast.

    Until then, I'll just use my lofty perch to advance the forces of good -- or try to get a BMW. I haven't made my mind up yet on this one.

    posted by Dan at 04:53 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Arts & Ideas, R.I.P. (1997-2004)

    The New York Observer's Rachel Donadio reports that in September, the New York Times will be eliminating its Saturday Arts & Ideas section from the paper.

    To which I can only say, Amen.

    I've never forgiven that section of the paper from running an article back in the summer of 2001 claiming that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire was "the next big idea" in international relations theory. Based on that article, I purchased the hardcover edition of the book and wasted several hours of my life wrestling with their turgid prose and nonfalsifiable nostrums (Alan Wolfe efficiently dissected the "meandering, wordy, and incoherent book" in this The New Republic review from late 2001).

    According to Donadio, it appears I was far from the only one to dislike this section of the Saturday paper of record:

    Since its launch in 1997, the section has become a favorite punching bag for intellectual journalists of all stripes, with Mr. [Lee] Siegel shouting where others have only dared to whisper. (In a New Republic article in 1998, he famously called Arts & Ideas "a weekly banana peel dropped in the path of human intelligence.") "The problem with the section was the nature of the section," Mr. Siegel said. "You just can’t isolate ‘ideas’ from the rest of culture, of life."....

    Its on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach makes for toothless coverage of ideas that already don’t necessarily lend themselves to newspaper word-lengths or style. As one intellectual journalist and Times-watcher summed up the problem: "They don’t use semi-colons."

    "I never felt it had a very strong identity," Jay Rosen, a press critic and professor at the New York University School of Journalism, said of the section.

    The Observer also quotes from Siegel's hysterical parody of the section:

    "Professor A thinks that all urban Americans more than 20 pounds overweight should be exterminated in order to increase leg room on buses and subways. Professor B thinks this violated the civil rights of overweight people. Of course, this is an old argument, one that goes back to the first century, when the Romans would routinely shorten their slaves in order to have a clearer view of the street during rush hours. Professor C thinks that this argument will continue ‘for as long as people share the public space with other people.’"

    posted by Dan at 03:21 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

    The ultimate BMW ad

    In their wildest dreams, there is no way that the managers of BMW could have hoped for this piece of good news for their male drivers (according to Reuters):

    BMW drivers have more sex than owners of any other cars and are much more active than Porsche drivers, a new German car magazine has found.

    The German magazine “Men’s Car” found in a survey of 2,253 motorists aged 20 to 50 published in its inaugural May issue that male BMW drivers say they have sex on average 2.2 times each week while Porsche drivers have sex 1.4 times per week....

    Among women, French car drivers were top with 2.1 times per week followed by Audi (2.0), Italian (2.0), and BMW (1.9) with Porsche again at the bottom of the scale at 1.2 times per week.

    One does have to wonder if Porsche's poor performance is correlated with the car's paucity of space, which can lead to.... er... maneuvering difficulties, if one were to attempt to perform the deed in the car.

    This is a job for Mickey Kaus' Gearbox if there ever was one -- although he's not a big fan of the Porsche anyway.

    UPDATE: Mickey e-mails to say, "they [male BMW drivers] only SAY they have sex 2.2 times a week." Of course, male Porsche drivers only say they have sex 1.4 times a week. This leads to one of two possibilities:

    1) Male BMW drivers have more sex than male Porsche drivers; or,

    2) Male Porsche drivers are more discrete about their sexual activities than male BMW drivers.

    Given the styling of both auto brands, I have to think that (1) is more likely than (2). In my mind, Porsches seem flashier than BMWs. One would therefore expect Porsche buyers to be more flamboyant/open than the buttoned-down BMWers, not less so.

    Furthermore, the fact that the poll shows a similar gap among female responsdents -- who one might expect to be more modest in their survey responses due to historical double standards on this question -- leads me to think that this isn't a response bias problem.

    Yes, I just wasted ten minutes on this addendum that I will never have back.

    posted by Dan at 01:08 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (1)

    Fun with BLS numbers

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Mass Layoff Statistics program, in which firms that lay off 50 or more workers must provide as reason for such a move to the BLS. Those reasons range from automation to product line discontinuation. Offshore outsourcing is not one of the options, but "import competition" and "overseas relocation" are options. So, it's possible to estimate the extent to which offshore outsourcing is respinsible for job destruction via mass layoffs [How do you know that the firms aren't lying to the government?--ed. You don't -- but since the names of the firms are kept strictly confidential, there's no reason for them to lie either]. You can do it too -- just click here to create your own table.

    Here are the percentages of jobs lost through mass layoffs because of either import competition or overseas relocation for the last seven years:

    1996: 1.78%
    1997: 1.87%
    1998: 2.10%
    1999: 2.50%
    2000: 1.82%
    2001: 2.88%
    2002: 1.89%
    2003: 2.41%

    Now, these figures do not cover instances when a firm let go less than 50 people, so clearly there's a bias in the data towars multinational corporations over small businesses. That said, these numbers reveal two important facts:

    1) Offshore outsourcing is not responsible for a significant percentage of the jobs that have been lost.

    2) There is no evidence that offshore outsourcing is responsible for an increasing number of jobs lost over time.

    Finally, some have argued that the massive increases in U.S. labor productivity are due to sloppy GDP accounting: "[T]he work done by Indian software firms is being recorded as US economic activity and growth because it's been offshored." If true, this would be a serious measurement error, since the government would be overstating both economic growth and labor productivity

    The BLS issued a memo in late March on this very issue back in March that's worth perusing. The highlights:

    [W]e have experienced nearly 13 years of faster productivity growth. While a number of explanations have been put forth and to this list some have added measurement issues related to outsourcing and offshoring, any set of explanations should cover not just the last few years, but the entire 13 year period....

    Offshoring affects business sector productivity change only through changes in the composition of domestic production and its effect is likely to be small. In manufacturing, the combination of domestic outsourcing and offshoring has contributed about 1.5% per year to sectoral output per hour growth through 1995 but only about 1% per year thereafter and as a result, they do not appear to be an explanation for the productivity speed-up.

    This conclusion must be qualified in two ways. First, there is no information on the relative importance of offshoring relative to domestic outsourcing and so it is not known if foreign suppliers have become a growing substitute for domestic suppliers of intermediate inputs. Even if they have, under reasonable assumptions, offshoring appears to explain only a small fraction of the productivity speed-up. Second, not all BLS data extend beyond 2001 and so it cannot be ascertained if there has been a sudden shift in trends. Even if there has, the impact of outsourcing and offshoring on productivity change is likely to be small.

    posted by Dan at 12:47 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Insourcing roundup

    While we're talking about offshore outsourcing, here are a few stories about the benefits that accrue to the United States from insourcing. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Stephen Koff reports on Honda's Ohio operations as an example of this phenomenon:

    Honda, celebrating its 25th year here this summer, has provided a multibillion-dollar boon for central Ohio, with five large factories plus research and engineering facilities and a test track. Last year, it spent more than $7 billion just on parts from 175 suppliers in the state.

    Bush cited its success in March when he said that global trade flows two ways, and without it Ohio would not have Honda and its jobs.

    In pure dollar terms, insourcing -- whether from Japan-based Honda, or Switzerland-based Nestle, or Dutch-owned Tops markets, to name three firms in Ohio -- has had a significant impact on the American economy. Even counting the steep dropoff that followed the terrorist attacks and recession in 2001, Commerce Department figures show that over the last 10 years, foreign-based companies poured more money into U.S. operations than U.S. companies sent abroad.

    Furthermore, most of the foreign investment in the United States came directly from abroad - whereas Commerce Department data show that nearly half the American money sent abroad was actually reinvested earnings.

    The Associated Press' Charles Sheehan makes a similar point in analyzing the effect of outsourcing and insourcing in Pennsylvania:

    economists note that globalization is a two-way street: States like Pennsylvania also benefit greatly from foreign companies sending jobs to their American subsidiaries, offshoring in reverse.

    Dozens of jobs at C&D Technologies, a Lancaster County company that produces electrical power storage and conversion products, are being shipped to Mexico this summer because C&D was losing money. Yet Nissin, a Japanese company also operating in Lancaster County, has 248 employees making dried noodle soups.

    In neighboring Berks County, Agere Systems Inc. sent 3,000 jobs to Mexico and Spain after it announced a plant closing in January 2001.

    On the flip side, about 190 miles west, Sony's Technology Center-Pittsburgh in Westmoreland County employs 2,400 people, about 20 percent from neighboring Fayette County, where unemployment is consistently above state levels. And they may have to hire more with digital television orders booming.

    To be fair, some of the numbers on insourcing are contested. The Economic Policy Institute's Robert Scott and Adam Hersh argue that the number of jobs created due to insourcing isvastly overstated, because those figures include cases of acquisition rather than greenfield investment -- i.e., Daimler's takeover of Chrysler. Unanswered is whether foreign acquisition prevents those firms and jobs from disappearing entirely. For a counter, read the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's April report, "Jobs, Trade, Sourcing, and the Future of the American Workforce.”

    posted by Dan at 12:00 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Outsourcing roundup

    Some odds & ends on outsourcing:

    1) For the most recent spate of reporting on the phenomenon, you could do far worse than what's been written by the Portland Press Herald's Edward Murphy or Fortune's Jeremy Kahn. The first article looks at the effect that offshore outsourcing is having on medical transcription. The latter looks at how offshore outsourcing is affecting small businesses. Both are complex tales, but there's a familiar pattern -- the jobs being outsourced are the ones that could also disappear through automation.

    2) I received an illuminating e-mail from a call center manager at America Online's Arizona facility:

    I'm not sure what all the hand wringing is about, but anybody who is worried about job losses should come talk to our Tucson job recruiter -- she can't find enough people to fill the jobs we have. We are hiring big time!

    As far as jobs lost, well it's true, America Online sent about 1200 jobs to Bangalore, India, but the net result means our own employees no longer have to work graveyard shifts. Thus, their quality of life is improved because they can spend more time with their families, and single parents don't have to sweat finding day care for an 11pm to 7am shift anymore. We haven't closed a single call center in the US, and there are PLENTY of jobs available at any of our call centers in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Florida. My own employees earn between $40,000 to $60,000....not a bad wage for Tucson, Arizona let me tell you.

    posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, May 4, 2004

    Wal-Mart vs. Jesse Jackson

    Dan Mihalopoulos has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the contentious neighborhood politics Wal-Mart faces in trying to open new stores in the Windy City:

    When the City Council votes Wednesday on whether to make zoning changes to allow the West Side Wal-Mart store and another store on the South Side, aldermen will decide a furious dispute that has opened rifts in the predominantly black neighborhoods where the world's largest retailer wants to open shop.

    With each side invoking Scripture, the debate has unleashed complex passions among area African-Americans, whose public policy opinions frequently--and mistakenly--are seen as monolithic.

    Concerns largely center on wages and benefits at Wal-Mart, and critics recite widely reported complaints that the company abuses workers, particularly those who try to unionize its 1.4 million employees.

    But many blacks say they are tired of having to travel miles to hunt for bargains and they view Wal-Mart's entry into Chicago as validation of black buying power.

    "I'd rather spend my money in my neighborhood than go to somebody's suburb," said Krystal Garrett, a 27-year-old public school teacher and homeowner in Chatham, the South Side neighborhood where Wal-Mart wants to build a store.

    As a fellow South Sider, let me just second Krystal's sentiments there. This is not a case where Wal-Mart would put "mom & pop stores" out of business, since there are appallingly few retail options in these neighborhoods.

    However, local African-American leaders have taken a different and depressingly predictable position:

    Proponents also say the 300 low-wage jobs at each store are better than having no jobs at all.

    Such attitudes reek of "desperation and ghettonomics," according to Rev. Jesse Jackson. Pastors at nine black churches, including the 8,500-member Trinity United Church of Christ, have called for boycotting Wal-Mart.

    William Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, sarcastically noted that slaves technically had jobs too.

    "If Wal-Mart comes, it will come recognizing that this is not Tupelo," Lucy said on Jackson's TV program recently. "This is Chicago, where you have got to deal with the political and religious and community leadership." (emphasis added)

    I can see the campaign commercial now: "Chicago's political and religious and community leadership -- keeping jobs out of your neighborhood until we get ours!!"

    UPDATE: Kevin Brancato -- who helps run a blog devoted exclusively to Wal-Mart -- links to this Business Week article about Wal-Mart's devastating effects on urban centers:

    The Wal-Mart at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in South Central Los Angeles sits across the street from the kind of stores you'll find in any struggling big-city neighborhood. There's Lili's Wigs and King's Furniture and Mama's House, which promises the "Best Soul Food in Town." Last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took over a space that had been vacant since Macy's left five years ago. Since then, it has lured black and Latino shoppers with low prices on everything from videos to toothpaste. And now that people can stay in the neighborhood for bargains, something else interesting is happening: They're stopping at other local stores, too.

    "The traffic is definitely there. We're seeing more folks," says Harold Llecha, a cashier at Hot Looks, a nearby clothier. The same is happening at other nearby shops, say retailers. They acknowledge that these shoppers don't always buy from them. On some items, Wal-Mart prices can't be beat. And a handful of local shops have closed. But the larger picture is that many that were there before the big discounter arrived are still there. There are new jobs now where there were none. And a moribund mall is regaining vitality. In short, Wal-Mart came in -- and nothing bad happened....

    A new Wal-Mart can indeed gut a small burg's downtown. But urban big-box retailing is so new that economists are just beginning to get a handle on it. A 2003 study by Emek Basker at the University of Missouri found that five years after the opening of Wal-Marts in most markets, there is a small net gain in retail employment in counties where they're located, with a drop of only about 1% in the number of small local businesses. That is consistent with what seems to have happened in Baldwin Hills. Basker has also found significant price benefits: Retail prices for many goods fall 5% to 10%.

    You can read Basker's paper about Wal-Mart by clicking here.

    Thank goodness the good Reverend Jackson is here to prevent these pernicious effects from taking place in Chicago!!

    posted by Dan at 05:58 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (2)

    Gore TV!!

    Reuters reports that Al Gore has found a day job -- trying to become the next Rupert Murdoch:

    Former Vice President Al Gore plans to build a youth-oriented cable television network he hopes will become an independent voice in a media industry dominated by large conglomerates, he said on Tuesday.

    Gore led an investor group that bought Newsworld International from Vivendi Universal for an undisclosed sum. He plans to relaunch the yet-unnamed channel to focus on public affairs and entertainment for 18-to-34-year-olds and it will not have a political affiliation.

    Speculation has swirled that Gore would launch a network to counter Fox News Channel, which unseated CNN as the No. 1 U.S. cable news channel with a formula of combining hard news coverage with brash talk shows that some have criticized as conservative.

    "This is not going to be a liberal network, or a Democratic network in any way, shape, or form," the former vice president said.

    Rather, he said, the reason for buying the network was to create an independent source of information.

    "The trend toward consolidation and conglomerate ownership, while understandable due to business dynamics, does present some problems for the American people," Gore said. "Having an independent voice is a very important value to safeguard."

    Gore will serve as chairman of the new network and told Reuters he would be spending most of his time on the project.

    "I will be extremely active in this venture and I will not hesitate to state a point of view on the issues that affect the industry," Gore said....

    Gore and [business partner Joel] Hyatt gave little information on what would replace the current programing.

    "It's going to be programing young people care about," Hyatt said. "The documentary is a format we'll use. We're going to use the comedic format. We're going to be irreverent. We're going to be bold."

    Readers are invited to submit programming ideas here -- beyond the obviously brilliant suggestion of hiring lots of bloggers.

    UPDATE: For those hard at work trying to come up with program ideas, this Zap2it story quotes Gore more extensively on the desired content:

    "We are launching an exciting television network for young men and women who want to know more about their world and who enjoy real-life stories created with, by and for their own generation," says Gore, who will serve as chairman of INdTV. "These stories will be in a voice that young people recognize and from a point of view they identify as their own."

    Well, that clears things right up.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: So far, my faves are the reality TV suggestion "Alpha Male Makeover" and the game show called "The Lock Box".

    posted by Dan at 05:27 PM | Comments (76) | Trackbacks (4)

    Useless international organization dept.

    Patrick Belton links to this Associated Press report:

    African nations have ensured that Sudan will keep its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, a decision that angered the United States and human rights advocates who cited reports of widespread rights abuses by the Khartoum government....

    Under U.N. rules, regional groups decide which countries are nominated to fill seats on U.N. bodies.

    The African group waited until late last week to present its list of four candidates for four seats -- guaranteeing election for Kenya, Sudan, Guinea and Togo.

    The United States scrambled to get another African nation to apply in an effort to make it a contested race and unseat Sudan. But with so little time it was unsuccessful, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity....

    In recent years, Human Rights Watch has complained that the growing number of nations on the 53-member commission with poor human rights records have been sticking together to cover up abuses.

    The coalition has backed a proposal endorsed by over 100 governments to create a permanent United Nations democracy caucus. One of its goals would be to press for more democracies on the Human Rights Commission, said Ted Piccone, executive director of the Democracy Coalition Project.

    Last year, the United States walked out of the U.N. Economic and Social Council to protest Cuba's re-election to the Human Rights Commission, which it called "an outrage." Russia, Saudi Arabia and several African countries with poor human rights records also won seats and Libya chaired the commission.

    Click here for a previous post that discusses Sudan.

    Here's a thought -- why not just disband the U.N. Commission on Human Rights? At this juncture, its sole purpose for existence seems to be to whitewash the activities of authoritarian regimes, bestowing undeserved legitimacy on these governments. Wouldn't a caucus of democracies be more likely to speak its mind outside of the United Nations system?

    [Why not just disband the whole UN?--ed. Because in a world of sovereign states, it is necessary to have an organization that encompasses all of them. Besides, the organization has its uses.]

    posted by Dan at 10:36 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (2)

    North Korea talks to Selig Harrison

    The Financial Times reports that North Korea has told Selig Harrison -- a North Korea expert who has acted as a conduit for North Korean diplomatic proposals in the past -- that it has no plans to sell its nuclear material to Al Qaeda:

    North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.

    Senior members of the communist regime have spelt out proposals for solving the simmering crisis over their nuclear weapons programmes in an unusually frank series of interviews with Selig Harrison, the Washington-based Korean expert....

    Kim Yong-nam, deputy to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said in a two-hour interview: "We're entitled to sell missiles to earn foreign exchange.

    "But in regard to nuclear material our policy past, present and future is that we would never allow such transfers to al-Qaeda or anyone else. Never."

    Paik Nam-soon, foreign minister, denounced al-Qaeda and other terrorists and said George W. Bush, US president, was using the shock of the September 11 attacks to turn Americans against North Korea. But he said: " The truth is that we want and need your friendship."

    Mr Kim rejected the notion that North Korea would never give up nuclear weapons. He argued that Pyongyang - branded by Mr Bush as part of the "axis of evil" - was developing nuclear weapons purely to deter a US attack. "We don't want to suffer the fate of Iraq," he told Mr Harrison....

    Mr Kim told Mr Harrison he thought Mr Bush was delaying resolution of the North Korean issue because of the war in Iraq and the US presidential election later this year.

    But he said: "Time is not on his side. We are going to use this time 100 per cent effectively to strengthen our nuclear deterrent both quantitatively and qualitatively. Why doesn't he accept our proposal to dismantle our programme completely and verifiably through simultaneous steps by both sides?"

    The problem with these kind of dimplomatic messages is that they merely confirm the predispositions of the different elements of the Bush administration. To Powell the pragmatists, this is evidence that North Korea's government is willing to strike a bargain in return for its continued existence. To Cheney the conservatives, North Korea's prior duplicity means that the government cannot be trusted under any circumstances. Overtures like these are merely evidence that the regime is close to cracking.

    I'm betting that Bush will side with the conservatives on this one.

    posted by Dan at 12:40 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    The Asian brown cloud

    The Chicago Tribune's front-pager yesterday was a James P. Miller story about the effect of Chinese air pollution -- the "Asian brown cloud" -- on U.S. weather. Some of the tidbits:

    Add one more item to the long list of things Asia exports to the United States: air pollution.

    The contaminated air that rides the jet stream to Trinidad is laced with the sulfates and soot from Asia's industrial smokestacks, and nitrogen oxides that emerge from tailpipes of Asia's rapidly growing fleet of automobiles. It contains particles from fires set to clear jungles for farming, and from the millions of households that burn coal, wood or animal dung for heating and cooking.

    Scientists identified the phenomenon five years ago. The Asian brown cloud, researchers now know, routinely climbs high enough into the atmosphere to hitch a ride on the fast-moving jet stream heading east to North America. In April and May, when seasonal winds are strongest, the high-altitude pollution can cross the Pacific in as little as four days....

    So far, the increase in ground-level pollution that the Asian brown cloud causes in the United States is "not catastrophic, or even critical," said David Parrish, a research chemist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Aeronomy Lab in Boulder, Colorado....

    A cloud heavy with particles of dust or pollution is whiter than a non-polluted cloud, because water droplets condense around the particles, explained [scientist V.] Ramanathan.

    "Double the aerosols, double the droplets," he said. That means polluted clouds reflect sunlight more efficiently than a clean cloud. And that, in turn, affects the weather.

    When clouds scatter sunlight, ground-level temperature declines. Such unnaturally high reflectivity also can suppress rainfall, or it can hold rain back so long that when it finally does fall to earth, it comes in the form of a damaging downpour, said Ramanathan.

    Some researchers, in fact, think the extra-white clouds caused by dirty air are helping to offset the global warming effect. That would offer an explanation for the unsettling fact that "the planet hasn't warmed as much as the models suggest it should," given the amount of greenhouse gas that humans have released into the atmosphere, the researcher said.

    The Asian cloud is only the first and largest of a number of high-atmosphere brown clouds scientists have discovered. This summer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is funding a major study of a similar blotch found hovering a mile or more above the eastern U.S. (and which sends a plume of dirty air trailing toward Europe.)

    It's not clear if there are any policy implications from this -- but I hadn't seen the phenomenon reported previously.

    posted by Dan at 12:28 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, May 3, 2004

    Random quote of the day

    While reading a Philip Pettit paper for the U of C's Political Theory Workshop (a forum I attend maybe once a year), I came across a priceless quote. It's by John Wallis, a 17th century mathemetician at Oxford, about one of his rivals, a Mr. Thomas Hobbes, author of Leviathan and, in many important ways, the father of modern political science. It would be safe to say that Wallis was not a real Hobbes fan. The quote reads:

    Mr. Hobs is very dexterous in confuting others by putting a new sense on their words rehearsed by himself: different from what the words signifie with other Men. And therefore if you shall have occasion to speak of Chalk, He'll tell you that by Chalk he means Cheese: and then if he can prove that what you say ofChalk is not true of Cheese, he reckons himself to have gotten a great victory.

    posted by Dan at 04:13 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    I apologize for not posting this earlier

    Jacob Levy's latest TNR Online essay is about the art and politics of apologizing. The key paragraph:

    Apologies are a tricky business in politics. Bill Clinton was endlessly apologizing, both for his own misdeeds and for those of other people. He apologized so often, for so many things, and accompanied these apologies with so little substantive action, that it led to a kind of apology inflation--a devaluation of the worth of any given apology in the political sphere. And yet, compared with the adamant refusal of Bush and his cabinet officials to take any responsibility at all for anything having to do with 9/11 or the Iraq war, Clinton's substance-free brand of apology is beginning to look better and better. Even an acknowledgement that "mistakes were made"--a notorious passive-voice, bureaucratic quasi-evasion of responsibility--would be music to our ears just about now.

    OK, sorry, but I lied -- the whole piece is nothing but key paragraphs.

    Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 03:09 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    Health care and techological innovation

    Newt Gingrich and Patrick Kennedy have co-authored a New York Times op-ed on the need for the health care sector to embrace the information revolution. [Hey, wasn't this Catherine Mann's point in her essay on IT and outsourcing?--ed. Why, I believe it was one of them, yes.] They have some fascinating data:

    The archaic information systems of our hospitals and clinics directly affect the quality of care we receive. When you go to a new doctor, the office most likely has little information about you, no ability to track how other providers are treating you, and no systematic way to keep up with scientific breakthroughs that might help you.

    The results are predictable. For example, approximately 20 percent of medical tests are ordered a second time simply because previous results can't be found. Research shows that 30 cents of every dollar spent on health care does nothing to make sick people better. That's $7.4 trillion over the next decade for duplicate tests, preventable errors, unnecessary hospitalizations and other waste....

    In addition, most referrals and prescriptions are still written by hand; computerized entry would eliminate errors caused by sloppy handwriting. Computer programs can warn doctors of possible adverse drug and allergy interactions, and remind them of new advances in evidence-based practice guidelines. Patients could also have easier access to their important health information, allowing them to be active participants in their own care.

    Moreover, in a post-9/11 world, electronic health information networks would allow doctors, hospitals and public health officials to rapidly detect and respond to a bioterrorism attack.

    Unfortunately, health care providers are famously stingy investors in information technology. The primary reason is that when new technology reduces the duplication, errors and unnecessary care, most of the financial benefits don't go to the providers who generate the savings, but to insurers and patients.

    Therefore, widespread adoption of technology will depend in large part on federally organized public-private partnerships. Treasury dollars could help bring providers in a particular part of the country together to map out plans for a regional health information network, and to divide up the costs and the savings fairly between them. Medicare could sweeten the pot by reimbursing providers for money spent to use electronic health records connected to a regional network.

    The one thing that Gingrich and Kennedy do not discuss is privacy concerns -- although if people are willing to have their financial information computerized, it's hard to see how health information is qualititatively different.

    posted by Dan at 12:01 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, May 2, 2004

    Back on the telly again

    My outsourcing mediafest continues -- I'll be on CNNfn's Dolans Unscripted this Monday morning at around 10:10 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

    Outsourcing will be the topic -- but it's unscripted, so who knows what could come up in conversation!!

    UPDATE: Well, that went better than my last CNN experience. I'm sure the 2,000 household that get CNNfn enjoyed it.

    C'mon, Lou Dobbs -- if CNNfn and CNN International are willing to interview me on outsourcing, what are you so afraid of?

    I dare you, Lou. I double-dog-dare you.

    posted by Dan at 08:20 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Warning -- technical difficulties may be ahead

    Over the past 24 hours I've been inundated with a few hundred spam comments. This is forcing me to do something I should have done a long time ago -- download MT Blacklist to deal with the problem.

    However, given my lack of html-savviness, this may not take place in a completely smooth fashion.

    So, if there's no posting for a while, you know the reason.

    UPDATE -- Oh, man, this is awesome!! I should have done this ages ago. Thank you, Jay Allen!!

    posted by Dan at 06:38 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

    Saturday, May 1, 2004

    May's Books of the Month

    As I've suggested recently, over the past six months America has been inundated with a spate of tomes, memoirs, and policy dissections of the current administration's foreign policy/grand strategy. Almost all of them have been critical. Some of them have their merits, and some of them are so God-awful that I'm upset I wasted my time reading them.

    I'm not the only one who thinks that a lot of these books are problematic. As the New York Times reported last week:

    "These books are just stupendously enlarged newspaper stories," said Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, who argued that all of the books lacked the thoughtfulness, interpretative insight or literary quality that should distinguish books from newspapers or magazines.

    "They represent the degradation of political writing to purely journalistic writing," he said. "The author in these works has been reduced to a transcriber or stenographer. There is no strenuous mental labor here. It is all technical skill. Books about urgent subjects used to have greater ambitions for themselves, but not these books. But this genre is something that passes, masquerading as something that lasts. Present history doesn't have to be quite this fleeting."

    Readers of are busy people -- if you had to pick one book on the Bush administration's foreign policy, which one would it be?

    This leads me to May's recommended international relations book: Ivo Daalder and James Lindsey's America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Of all of these books -- and I've read too many of them -- America Unbound has three merits that almost all of the other books do not. First, their prose is detached and analytical. There is some strenuous mental effort here, and it doesn't suffer from the tunnel vision that infuses Richard Clarke or Paul O'Neill/Ron Susskind's books. It does this without sacrificing much in terms of color or detail. Which leads to the second strength of the book -- it's exceptionally well-researched. Reading it, and perusing the footnotes, I was stunned at how much detail Daalder and Lindsey were able to collect from public sources. Third, the book's thesis is both counterintuitive but well-supported -- that despite what people say about neocon or Straussian conspiracies, the person who's clearly in charge of American foreign policy is George W. Bush. America Unbound is hardly uncritical of the administration; Daalder and Lindsey both did tours of duty as NSC staffers in Clinton administration. I didn't agree with all of it -- but I can't dismiss it.

    The general interest book is Tom Perrotta's Little Children, a delicious look at the ecosystem of suburban parents and toddlers. Perrotta -- who also wrote the novel Election, upon which one of my favorite movies was based -- opens the book with this paragraph:

    The young mothers were telling each other how tired they were. This was one of their favorite topics, along with the eating, sleeping, and defecating habits of their offspring, the merits of certain local nursery schools, and the difficulty of sticking to an exercise routine. Smiling politely to mask a familiar feeling of desperation, Sarah reminded herself to think like an anthropologist. I'm a researcher studying the behavior of boring subrban women. I am not a boring suburban woman myself.

    Hyde Park is not a boring suburb, but the playground politics discussed in the book have the clang of familiarity that made it a fun read for me. Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 10:19 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Torture in Iraq

    Pictures of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners have now been broadcast by the Arab media. This follows up the documentation of such abuse at Abu Ghraib, as cataloged by the U.S. Army and reported in The New Yorker. The report found several instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. The acts include:

    Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

    British troops are facing similar allegations. Both Tony Blair and George W. Bush have expressed "disgust" at the acts.

    The Associated Press reports on the anger in the Arab world:

    Egypt's Akhbar el-Yom newspaper splashed photographs of the U.S. soldiers posing by naked, hooded inmates on page one with the banner headline "The Scandal." Al-Wafd, an opposition paper, displayed similar photos beneath the headline, "The Shame!"....

    "Shame on America. How can they convince us now that it is the bastion of democracy, freedoms and human rights? Why do we blame our dictators then?" asked Mustafa Saad, who was reading morning papers in a downtown Cairo cafe.

    Mohammed Hassan Taha, an editor at Nile Sports News Television, said Arabs should not allow the matter to pass quietly. "This is not humiliation of Iraqis, it is humiliation of all Arabs," Taha said while buying Akhbar el-Yom at a newsstand.

    No question, these reports are a stain on America's image to the world. I share the disgust and revulsion that Glenn Reynolds and Jonah Goldberg have expressed on this issue.

    Here's the thing, though -- I feel a similar involuntary revulsion at reading press reports on the reaction of "the Arab street" to these pictures. Does anyone think that any of the Arabs interviewed for this story displayed even the slightest hint of rage or shame at the Arabs who burned four American civilian contractors in Fallujah in March?

    I'm not even remotely suggesting that this redeems anything done by U.S. soldiers in Abu Ghraib. And tactically, this will obviously inflame Arab resentments. But spare me the righteous indignation of the Arab street.

    UPDATE: Lots of interesting reactions to this post. I take Andrew Lazarus' point that Muslim clerics in Fallujah did in fact condemn the desecration of the American corpses -- whether that sentiment was widespread across the Arab street remains unclear.

    This commenter correctly points out what I had tried to say in the post: "[T]his is not moral tit for tat. This a grave political setback." However, I think MD got what I was trying to say:

    how is pointing out hypocrisy the same as excusing a crime? The post says nothing about 'tit for tat.' It speaks to a hypocrisy that would condemn the barbaric treatment of Iraqi prisoners in this instance but stay silent in the face of human rights abuses committed by non-Americans.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias, Brad DeLong, and especially PaulB in the comments raise some trenchant and valid objections to the tone/content of my post (though Brad is stretching my position by more than a little bit -- Tacitus explains the distinction I was trying to raise better than I).

    This may have been one of those times in which I let my "mild nationalism" (as Matt put it) get the better of me and, as a result, compose a post with too much truculence and too little penitence in it.

    So, let's close this with a clear statement -- the actions at Abu Ghraib were inexcusable and despicable acts that are repugnant in and of themselves. They needlessly inflame an already inflamed Arab street, and knock us down a peg in the eyes of other countries and their citizens.

    posted by Dan at 09:54 AM | Comments (56) | Trackbacks (8)