Wednesday, June 30, 2004

The personal prejudices of Daniel Davies

Over at Crooked Timber, dsquared has some issues with my recommendation of William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity . You should read his post in full, but -- since this deals in part with management consultants -- here's the bullet-point executive summary version:

  • The Power of Productivity was written by a management consultant, and management consultants are incompetent gits;

  • Lewis conducts the typical management consultant mistake of extrapolating from individual cases, particularly Wal-Mart;

  • The role of Wal-Mart in the general increases in retail productivity are grounds for suspicion, since there are lots of reasons why their productivity might be overestimated -- for example:

    [I]f the boutiques on King’s Road were to get rid of the dolly assistants, free coffee and assorted perks and bijouterie, and move to a model where they piled the Prada high in fluorescent-lit barns, then they would presumably be able to shift more units at a lower price, at the expense of taking all the joy out of shopping for the Sex-in-the-City crowd.

    Later, Davies commented on his own post, "I dispute that it is any quicker to get your shopping done in a big-box retailer than on the high street."

  • I share Davies' leeriness with regard to management consultants. Some years ago I had to review former McKinsey consultant Kenichi Ohmae's The End of the Nation State and was appalled by the sloppiness of the argument. More horrifying were the footnotes -- Ohmae cited something written by himself 93% of the time.

    Management consultants also tend to use the method of comparison to analyze the secrets of business success (i.e., looking at world-class firms to identify the commonalities as the recipe for success) when in fact the method of difference would prove more reliable (i.e., looking at successes and failures and identifying what the successes had in common that was not present among the failures).

    Now, Davies appears to have extrapolated the tropes common to management consultants onto the Lewis book without, like, having read any of the book. I shared Davies' bias, and was wary about seeing typical management consultant mistakes in the analysis, but all I can say is that The Power of Productivity was a pleasant exception -- hence the recommendation.

    It's also worth pointing out -- and my apologies if I didn't do so in the previous post -- that the analysis in the book is not at the firm level so much as the sectoral level. Furthermore, the sectors he looks at are reasonably important to the macroeconomy. For example, in retail, the key thesis for Lewis is not just Wal-Mart increasing retail productivity, but the market response to Wal-Mart increasing productivity. The following comes from p. 92-96:

    Starting in 1995, accelerated its productivity growth rate from 3.3 percent per year to 5.1 percent per year. The competition, however, increased its productivity at an even higher rate of 6.4 percent per year. When Wal-Mart captured 27 percent of the market in 1995, it could no longer be ignored. The race for survival was on. By 199, Wal-Mart had increased its market share onlu slightly, to 30 percent. One-third of the productivity growth jump in general merchandising retailing came from Wal-Mart's accelerated rate of improvement. Two-thirds came from the competitive reaction of Sears, Costco, Target, Meijer, Kohl's, MacFrugals, etc....

    The Wal-Mart effect goes beyond retailing into wholesaling.... Thse modern retailers saw an opportunity to bypass the efficient, monopolistic wholesaling sector and acquire goods much more cheaply. Wal-Mart set up its own distribution centers, which bought directly from manufacturers. Modern food supermarkets did the same thing. A few wholesalers noticed and realized that they were going to have to compete.

    I'm not going to go into depth on Daniel's last assertion, as his commenters are taking him to task on it. I am struck, however, that he seems to assume it's a lifestyle choice question -- that the introduction of Wal-Marts threatens the joys of shopping for sophisticates. This neglects the millions of Americans who cannot afford the high street stores but now have the opportunity to purchase cheaper and more varied goods courtesy of the big box stores and their enhanced productivity. For Davies, the deadweight loss of eliminating these transactions appears worth paying to preserve high streets. I don't think it's quite such an either/or choice, but I'm intrigued by the revealed preference.

    UPDATE: A few additional thoughts:

    1) Even in this post, I'm not sure I've adequately spelled out the fact that in contrast to much of the management consultant literature, Lewis does have a compelling theory to guide his argument -- simply put, the value of competition in goods markets has been undervalued relative to labor and/or capital markets. This is a big reason why markets that directly interact with consumers -- retail and housing -- explain both the growing produictivity gap and GDP per capita gap between the U.S. and most other OECD countries.

    2) Both Davies and Brad DeLong state that the productivity numbers might be misleading because it masks costs that are passed onto the consumer via the reduction of "ancillary (but valuable) services."

    This is a fair point -- and one that Lewis addresses in comparing retail productivity in the U.S. and Europe. The thing is, contrary to assumption, it's European retailers that have sacrificed many of these ancillary services, due in no small part to minimum wage laws. From p. 44-5 of The Power of Productivity:

    France and Germany have minimum wage levels of about twice the U.S. level. The sophisticated French and German retailers have found that they make more profits by not hiring the bag packers and paying them the high minimum wage....

    In the mid-1990's, when we measured retailing productivity, we found that productivity in France and Germany was at least as high and maybe higher than in the United States. There is a problem, however, with the measurement of retailing productivity when the service levels are not the same. The OECD purchasing power parity exchange rates cannot capture the differences in services when stores with the same service level do not exist in both economies. The services provided by low-skilled workers in the United States are therefore likely to be missed by the OECD. We corrected for this factor by calculating the productivity of the French and German retailing industries if they employed similar numbers of low-skilled workers to provide the "bag-packing" services found in the United States. The result was a reduction in productivity in French and German retailing by about 15 percent, to a level somewhat below the United States.

    3) Davies wants to attribute productivity gains ascribed to the market response to Wal-Mart to ""the general diffusion of technological improvement". It's far from clear to me that's this is an either/or proposition. As dsquared is undoubtedly aware, it's not just technology per se that increases productivity, it's how firms and markets reorganize themselves to fully exploit that technology that increases productivity. The diffusion of Wal-Mart's organizational innovations to the rest of the retail sector -- spurred by market competition -- is key here.

    4) Finally, Daniel's suggestion that big box stores locate where they do because of supply and not demand considerations omits any mention of zoning/land use restrictions that prevent stores like Wal-Mart from locating themselves closer to urban customers. Click here, here, here, and here for my posts about Wal-Mart's efforts to open up stores within Chicago's city limits. And, as always, be sure to check out Always Low Prices, a blog devoted to the best and worst of Wal-Mart.

    All this said, I do hope that Daniel takes the opportunity to peruse The Power of Productivity, and I look forward to further debate on this stimulating (to me) topic.

    posted by Dan at 06:54 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    The Supreme Court's international influences

    "Should foreign or international legal decisions ever be considered relevant to United States Supreme Court rulings?" That's the question over at Legal Affairs magazine.

    Vicki Jackson is enthusiastic about the proposition.

    Richard Posner is not so enthusiastic about it.

    Go read both and them post your own thoughts.

    posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

    July's books of the month

    If the United States can transfer sovereignty to Iraq a few days ahead of schedule, then I can recommend July's books in June. Both books this month fall under the nebulous category of comparative political economy -- but they were really interesting to me.

    The first book is The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability by William W. Lewis. Lewis was the founding director of the McKinsey Global Institute, and the book largely consists of what Lewis learned in analyzing the performance of various sectors in key economies of the world. You can read a brief precis of what he found by clicking here. A few excerpts stand out in particular:

    [B]eyond macroeconomic policies, economic analysis usually ends up attributing most of the differences in economic performance to differences in labor and capital markets. This conclusion is incorrect. Differences in competition in product markets are much more important. Policies governing competition in the product markets are as important as macroeconomic policies....

    At a conference of global business leaders in Washington in 1992, I presented the results of our service sector case studies. The CEO of Siemens at the time, Karlheinz Kaske, said he was puzzled about the role of service industries in an economy and wondered why we paid so much attention to them. I showed the group some recent results from our analysis of the interconnectedness of the U.S. economy. We had found that for the economic value reflected in the sale price of a consumer good, two-thirds of that value was created by the consumer good manufacturing firm and one-third of the value was generated by the transportation, wholesaling, and retailing functions that got the good from the manufacturer's loading dock to the hands of the consumer.

    Moreover, of the total value produced by the manufacturing firm, one-fourth of that value was created by accounting, banking, legal, consulting, janitorial, and other business services. Thus, services accounted for one-half of the value to a consumer from the purchase of a good such as a CD, a can of beans, or a car. On top of this, one-half of all services are delivered directly to consumers and not to firms. From this light, it's easy to see why services make up about 75 percent of the total value created in an economy. Germans were not taking their performance in service industries into account in forming their perception of the performance of their economy....

    In every sector in which productivity accelerated in the United States in the second half of the 1990s, competition intensified. Sometimes the increased intensity was triggered by regulatory changes, as in mobile telephone services and the reduction of the price per trade in securities. Other times, it came from business innovation like Wal-Mart's. Information technology was just part of the story. The bigger story was competition causing more productive business enterprises to replace less productive ones. This conclusion is of course reassuring to those worried about the health of the U.S. economy. However, it provides even more reason to worry about all the people living in economies where protection and distortion of competition allow unproductive enterprises to persist and cause these people to fall further behind, but even more importantly, to remain in poverty.

    Virginia Postrel is curently reading Power of Productivity and is also a big fan -- which counts as a big endorsement to me.

    The Power of Productivity suffers from some of the same flaws endemic to management consultants (Kenichi Ohmae, Daniel Yergin, etc.) when they write big books. A lot of points are repeated and repeated and repeated yet again. And what's the deal with management consultants and their abhorrence of footnotes? Lewis also fails to appreciate the lagged effect of technological innovations, so I strongly suspect he's underestimating the long-term effect of the information revolution.

    This is small beer, however. Lewis gets the big picture of what causes economic prosperity by painting a pointillist picture of why different sectors in different economies have such variable levels of productivity, and how policy decisions can affect these levels. After reading this book, I have a much greater appreciation for the importance of the retail sector as a driver of affluence. To get a sense of the impact that improved productivity in the retail sector has on the aggregate economy, click here for the McKinsey Global Institute paper that forms the basis of Lewis' conclusions. His key point is worth repeating:

    The purpose of economics is consumption. We realize the benefits of an economy when we use goods and receive services. We want to use goods o do things we could not do without them. We want services to have other people do things for us that we cannot or would rather not do. We can choose to consume everything right now or save to consume later. Of course, production and work are necessary for consumption. We cannot consume what we have not produced. Thus, production and wok are a means to consumption. They are not a final objective themselves.

    Many societies get this wrong. They see production as the creation of value. However, they fail to make the link between production and consumption. The goods produced have value only because consumers want them. (emphases in original)

    The general interest book looks more closely at the one significant economy that Lewis did not analyze -- China. Elizabeth Economy's The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China's Future examines the environmental externalities of China's current economic growth. She cites one figure estimating that the environmental side effects of China's factories exact a toll equal to 8-12% of China's GDP. Just as interesting is Economy' portrayal of the political lay of the land in China. First, China's central government has much less control over provincial and local leaders than is commonly believed. Second, because of its weakness, the Chinese government is counting on Chinese civil society to assist in the ratcheting up of environmental protection. This sounds very odd, as Economy correctly observes that the environmental movement was a harbinger of democratization in other post-Communist societies. The Really Big Question over the next two decades is whether China's leaders can effectively control the behavior of Chinese environmental NGOs -- or vice versa.

    Go check both of them out.

    [Er, doesn't the second book suggest that the first book's emphasis on how to make countries rich overlook environmental costs?--ed. Au contraire, my good editor. Lewis is concerned with increasing productivity, which comes from increasing outputs relative to inputs. Furthermore, most of the improvements in productivity can be garnered in services, which generate much less pollution than manufacturing.]

    posted by Dan at 01:53 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, June 29, 2004

    The large residual of political skill

    Man, is the left half of the blogosphere going to town on Richard Gephardt. Guest-posting last week at Talking Points Memo, both Ruy Teixeira and John B. Judis say that picking Gephardt would be a mistake. Belle Waring is even less enthusiastic:

    Gephardt? Gephardt??!! Please, God, don’t let the Democratic party snatch certain defeat from the jaws of potential victory by choosing Dick Gephardt as the VP candidate. Pleasepleaseplease. Anybody but Gephardt. If the DP makes me cast a vote for a Kerry/Gephardt ticket I’m going to…well, crap, just put out like a straight-ticket ho. They could put a can of processed cheese food on the ballot against Bush, and I would vote for it. But I’m not going to enjoy it! And no ticket with Gephardt on it is going to win, ever in a million years!

    Waring links to this post from Fafblog, which provides the most honest assessment I've ever read about Richard Gephardt's political magnetism:

    Gephardt would have an amazing pull with loser voters, voters who like losing the House to opposing parties, voters who have a long history of being supported by decrepit and dying labor institutions in failing political campaigns, just people who generally like to lose. He could swing loser states, such as Wyoming or Rhode Island, or put states with a large loser population, such as Nevada or Alabama, into play. The upside to having a Kerry-Gephardt ticket is it would take all those people who go into shock in the voting booth thinkin' "Oh dear god we nominated Kerry?!" and push them just far enough over the edge with "Oh dear god we nominated Kerry and Gephardt?!" that it would sort of jar them into a feeling of complacent somnambulism that would render them susceptible to voting for Kerry-Gephardt anyway. The downside to this is that such a hypthetical waking sleepstate could also get them to vote for Nader.

    So who do these people prefer? If you read Judis, Teixeira, and Waring, it's John Edwards.

    Here's the thing, though -- just how different is Edwards from Gephardt? On policy positions, both of them lean strongly protectionist, and both of them voted in favor of the war in Iraq. Both of them championed the down-and-outers during their primary campaigns. Edwards is from the South and Gephardt is from the Midwest, but I'm betting the reason Gephardt is still in play is because Kerry thinks that the Midwest will be the key battleground, while the South doesn't matter. If one were to choose based on political experience, even Edwards would have to concede that Gephardt's twenty years in DC outranks John Edwards' single term in the Senate.

    So is there a difference? As one of those still on the fence, yeah, in my mind there's a difference. If Kerry picks Gephardt, there's no chance in hell I'm pulling the donkey lever. If he picks Edwards... I dunno. When I see Richard Gephardt on television, all I can think of is, "idiotic protectionist." When I see John Edwards on television, I think, "Hmmm... seems like an OK guy, maybe he's not as much of a protectionist as I suspect."

    Why is this? Policy is not the only thing that matters in making political choices. There is such a thing as political skill. For example, the most important gift in campaigning is the ability to say something a voter disagrees with while making that voter think you're still a good guy.

    Reagan had it. Clinton had it. Edwards has it.

    Gephardt doesn't have it.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Kurtz for serving up an approving link to this post.

    posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (94) | Trackbacks (2)

    Allawi, Zarqawi, and the Iraqi man on the street

    Thanassis Cambanis files an illuminating man-on-the-streets story from Baghdad for the Boston Globe. The good parts version:

    Sa'ad Saddam, a merchant in the Iraqi capital's notorious Thieves Market, normally has nothing polite to say about his country's rulers.

    So he was surprised yesterday to find himself hopeful about interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's new Iraqi government -- not because he cared about the symbolic passing of sovereignty, but because he was thrilled to see Iraqi police officers pistol-whipping suspected carjackers near his clothing stand the day before.

    ''Allawi is a strong, powerful guy," Saddam, 35, raved. To him, the raid on two carjacking and kidnapping rings in the downtown Betaween neighborhood meant that Iraq's new leaders were starting to impose concrete order on the streets. Most Iraqis are withholding judgment on the new government, which officially and unexpectedly took the reigns of power yesterday -- two days before the scheduled transfer; they want to see results, first and foremost in the field of security.

    But so far, many like what they see. Allawi has spewed tough talk, dismissing a televised assassination threat by the Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as a ''cowardly" attempt to intimidate all Iraqis.

    The 58-year-old prime minister already survived an assassination attempt in the 1970s, when ax-wielding assailants attacked him in his bed.

    Unlike occupation officials and members of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, Allawi has stepped outside the security bubble to visit the scenes of deadly suicide bombings and tell Iraqis not to surrender to fear....

    Around noon yesterday, Al-Arabiya satellite television reported that Iraqi police had arrested Zarqawi in the southern city of Hillah. Within seconds of the report, word spread onto the streets of the Thieves Market, passed by word of mouth and by cellphone text messages.

    The report, which proved false, generated far more excitement than the transfer of sovereignty.

    ''We will fire our guns in the air tonight to celebrate," said Ali Abbas, 19. ''Zarqawi is a dog."

    Minutes later, television reported Zarqawi's capture was a false rumor. ''When they do catch him, they should strangle him to death on live television," Abbas said, shrugging.

    Many of the same Iraqis who have professed anger and frustration at the slow pace of reconstruction during nearly 14 months of American-led occupation have now assumed the same optimistic wait-and-see stance they once took toward the United States.

    Baghdad residents sounded more hopeful about the fight against terrorism and crime than they had in recent months.

    ''The Americans are very strong on the battlefield, but Iraqis can deal with the terrorists more effectively because they have better intelligence," said Naseer Hassan, an architect and poet who is translating the work of Emily Dickinson into Arabic. (emphasis added)

    One can draw three oh-so-tentative conclusions from this kind of report:

    1) As I blogged last week, Iyad Allawi has accomplished the first necessary step to govern -- he's earned himself a measure of legitimacy.

    2) The hostility to Zarqawi suggests that Iraq might not be as hospitable a place for Islamic fundamentalism as many have feared -- because the sources of either Sunni or Shia fundamentalism emanate from foreigners (Saudi Arabia and Iran). This would make David Petraeus' task much easier.

    3) That bolded paragraph is key -- this is window of opportunity. In transfering sovereignty, the Bush administration has successfully created the perception of a fresh start for Iraqis. The question is whether the administration will provide the necessary resources for the Allawi government to succeed in restoring security and, yes, fostering democracy.

    UPDATE Joe Katzman has a round-up of Iraqi blogger reactions at Winds of Change.

    posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monsieur Chirac, quel est votre problème?

    The transatlantic relationship is one of those topics that provokes a lot of furrowed brows and tony conferences. I've been invited to my fair share over the past year, and the core question that inevitably pops up is, "How much of the transatlantic rift is due to clashes of style and how much is due to clashes of interests?'

    The hip answer to give is the latter. According to this narrative, the important date in the relationship was not 9/11 but 11/9 -- the date the Berlin Wall fell, and the Cold War glue that held the U.S. and Europe together disintegrated. That was the date when NATO jumped the shark.

    Me, I'm not so trendy, and think that the clash of styles is pretty important.

    Part of this is due to George W. Bush. You could not have asked central casting for a better epitome of everything about the United States that Europe loathes -- Texas, conservatism, directness, religious devotion, and a lack of facility with most European languages -- including English.

    That said, a very healthy dollop of the current clash of styles is due to Gerhard Schroeder and Jacques Chirac. The former appalled his foreign policy establishment by making Iraq the centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and by adopting a position that was more unilateralist than the United States. Mention Schroeder's campaign behavior to European foreign policy experts, and they tend to look down and shuffle their feet.

    However, the real piece of work on the European continent is Jacques Chirac. His latest exhibit of pique comes in response to the official NATO statement on Iraq -- which is broadly supportive but pretty bland.

    This, however, was too much for Chirac to stomach -- according to Judy Dempsey's account in the Financial Times:

    Jacques Chirac, the French president, yesterday held out against Nato playing any role in Iraq, in a move that could tear apart a modest, if vague, agreement forged by the 26-member alliance to train the Iraqi security forces....

    Mr Chirac said Nato had no role inside Iraq.

    "I do not believe it is the purpose of Nato to be in, or intervene in Iraq," he told journalists in Istanbul's military museum.

    "I believe there would be tremendous negative consequences of this."

    The French president suggested that members or non-members of the coalition forces could instead train the security forces inside or outside the country.

    "As far as we are concerned, we are talking about Nato supporting those member states who are involved in training activities. France has no need to oppose that," he said.

    "A Nato foothold on Iraqi soil would not be relevant. It would be unwise. Nato could train officers in its excellent training headquarters in Rome."

    Mr Chirac said France was ready to train military police, but outside Iraq.

    Germany will continue to train police in the United Arab Emirates and train senior army officers outside as well.

    Gerhard Schröder, German chancellor and Mr Chirac's closest ally on many issues, said Berlin would support a Nato role inside Iraq but would send no personnel.

    This sort of behavior does nothing but weaken NATO -- something that Chirac did in spades last year. If the French president really had a problem with the language of the statement, he shouldn't have agreed to it -- which would have been better than his current course of action, which is erratic in the extreme.

    Glenn Reynolds has more on Chirac's obstinacy -- including this tidbit from the Observer:

    [T]he increasingly volatile Chirac is in no mood for pandering to the British.

    'He's tetchy, unhappy, doesn't quite know which way to go - his officials are all frightened of him and nobody's giving him any advice,' says one Foreign Office source.

    The Bush administration has contributed its fair share to the lack of transatlantic comity -- but powerful Europeans are behaving even worse.

    UPDATE: Greg Djerejian has further thoughts on just what NATO will do in Iraq.

    posted by Dan at 01:06 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (3)

    Monday, June 28, 2004

    Open Gitmo thread

    Feel free to comment on the implications of today's Supreme Court ruling on the Guantanamo detainees here. Before commenting, it might behoove you to check out:

    1) The actual cases -- Rasul v. Bush, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla.
    2) The media coverage -- The Financial Times, Washington Post, New York Times, and Slate.
    3) The blog coverage -- particularly Larry Solum, Marty Lederman (SCOTUSblog), Jack Balkin, Pejman Yousefzadeh, and all of Moday's posts from the Volokh Conspiracy.

    I haven't processed much of this yet, but so far Stuart Benjamin's point about formalism vs. pragmatism and Eugene Volokh's point about liberal and conservative iconoclasts on the court seem the most interesting to me.

    posted by Dan at 09:22 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

    Open sovereignty thread

    Feel free to comment on the surprise decision to transfer Iraqi sovereignty two days early -- the Washington Post and the Economist have some nice background.

    posted by Dan at 09:07 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia

    With all the debate about the 9/11 Commission's finding regarding Iraq's dormant relationship with Al Qaeda, anothe finding has been ignored -- the relationship (or lack thereof) between Al Qaeda and the House of Saud.

    I discuss this in my latest Tech Central Station essay, "About That Commission Report..." Go check it out.

    UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds kindly links to my essay but has the following cavil:

    Of course, the force of this point depends to some degree on how much faith one has in the Commission, and I have very little. In addition, the finding that "we found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda," strikes me as rather carefully worded.

    On the second point -- it's tough to prove a negative statement. If I had been writing the report, that's exactly how I'd have phrased that finding. It's true that some evidence could surface that elements of the Saudi government bankrolled Al Qaeda -- just like some evidence could emerge linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11.

    On the first point, a lot of the criticism directed at the 9/11 commission staff report was that it was, well, a staff report, but had the imprantur of the 9/11 Commission. William Safire wrote last week (link via Jeff Jarvis):

    The basis for the hoo-ha was not a judgment of the panel of commissioners appointed to investigate the 9/11 attacks. As reporters noted below the headlines, it was an interim report of the commission's runaway staff, headed by the ex-N.S.C. aide Philip Zelikow.

    I haven't paid too much attention to the "runaway staff" allegation, so I can't comment on it one way or the other. I can say that claims that the interim report was a partisan hit job would have to explain the fact that Philip Zelikow was a co-author of Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft with current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice -- a book that remains the definitive account of how Germany was reunified, by the way.

    Zelikow might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he's a meticulous scholar, and I do trust his rendition of the facts.

    posted by Dan at 09:05 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Sunday, June 27, 2004

    The big test for David Petraeus

    Dexter Filkins has a front-pager in today's New York Times on the challenges facing Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus (about whom I've blogged here, here, and here) in reconstituting Iraq's security forces. The highlights:

    The magnitude of the task that confronts General Petraeus was made clear two months ago, when revolts in Falluja and in cities across southern Iraq led to the widespread collapse of the 200,000-man, American-trained Iraqi security forces.

    The uprisings were eventually brought under control, but the Iraqi forces hardly played a role. In Baghdad, half of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, a national militia trained by the Americans, either quit or sided with the insurgents; in Karbala, the corps disintegrated entirely. In Falluja, when American commanders ordered Iraqi soldiers into battle, they mutinied, with some 200 armed Iraqis refusing to board American helicopters.

    Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces until General Petraeus took over earlier this month, said the Americans tried to do much too fast, and missed the degree to which the country's various ethnicities and religious groups had failed to jell into a coherent nation.

    "In America, we have this national ethos; you identify with the Pledge of Allegiance and the flag, the stars and stripes," General Eaton said. "In Iraq, that is overshadowed by tribe, imam, family and ethnicity. I talked to countless young soldiers who said, `My name is Muhammad, and I am a Turkoman' or `I am a Sunni' or `I am a Shiite.' "

    General Petraeus acknowledges the obstacles but believes he can transcend them. A 1974 graduate of West Point, he is a veteran of operations in Haiti and Bosnia, but not in a combat zone until he came to Iraq last year.

    He has a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University, where he wrote his dissertation on the lessons of the Vietnam War.....

    Even before General Petraeus arrived, American commanders had already begun a vast overhaul of the Iraqi security services, based on the experience of the April uprisings. With the new Iraqi leadership, they have taken the country's most important internal security unit, the civil defense corps, and begun turning it into a branch of a revamped 100,000-man Iraqi Army.

    The locally recruited corps officers will be taken out of their homes and cities, away from their families and tribes and mosques, and turned into regular soldiers who live on bases and train and fight together. To make that happen, the Americans have committed $3 billion to building training sites and regional headquarters and to better equip Iraqi soldiers.....

    To set up an effective Iraqi Army, General Petraeus believes that the most important change is already happening — putting Iraqis in charge of the army and the government.

    Part of the problem last April, he acknowledged, was not just that Iraqi soldiers were refusing to fight other Iraqis, it was that the people who were ordering them to do so were Americans.

    To that end, the Americans have installed a veteran Iraqi general, with a history of independence from Saddam Hussein, as the army chief of staff. Already, that general, Amir Hashemi, said he had found the America training of Iraqi troops to be woefully inadequate.

    "I am not satisfied with the training provided by the Americans," General Hashemi said. "We must do this the Iraqi way."

    General Petraeus says he is cheered by that kind of independence, since it is the Iraqis, ultimately, who will have to do the fighting.

    Yet at the same time, General Petraeus is trying to impart Western notions on the armed forces here, particularly the idea that the army, and the Iraqi nation, must transcend loyalties to tribe and religion.

    "This is your new tribe," he said to an Iraqi soldier, an ethnic Kurd, who stood in line as General Petraeus inspected the troops.

    "These are all your new brothers," he said to another.


    UPDATE: Petraeus and Hashemi might want to peruse Michael Ware's essay in Time about the make-up of the Iraqi insurgency. The opening graf:

    The safe house lies on the outskirts of Fallujah in a neighborhood where no Americans have ventured. Inside, a group of Arab sheiks has gathered to discuss the jihad they and their followers are waging against the U.S. The men wear white robes and long beards and greet each other solemnly. They are all Iraqi, but their beliefs are those of the strict Wahhabi strain of Islam repressed under Saddam Hussein. Unlike most Iraqi sitting rooms, this one has no pictures adorning its walls or a television or radio nestled in a corner. Such luxuries are forbidden, just as they were under the Taliban in Afghanistan. At the back of the room are a few men from Saudi Arabia, who stand silently as one of the sheiks, the group's leader, addresses me in Arabic and stilted English. The war in Iraq, he says, is one of liberation, not just of a country but of Muslim lands, Muslim people, Islam itself. There is no room for negotiation with the enemy, no common ground. What he and his men offer is endless, righteous resistance. "Maybe this war will take a long time," he says. "Maybe this is a world war."

    Read the whole thing.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Edward Cody's Washington Post front-pager today encapsulates the battle currently being waged in Iraq between the forces of nationalism and the forces of Islamic radicalism:

    Key Iraqi opponents of the U.S. occupation expressed unease Friday over the wave of insurgent attacks that killed more than 100 Iraqis a day earlier, and rejected efforts by foreign guerrillas to take the lead in the insurgency and mate it with the international jihad advocated by Osama bin Laden.

    The objections -- from anti-U.S. Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders, including rebellious cleric Moqtada Sadr, and even from militia fighters in the embattled city of Fallujah -- arose in part from revulsion at the fact that victims of the car bombings and guerrilla assaults in six cities and towns Thursday were overwhelmingly Iraqis. But they also betrayed Iraqi nationalist concerns that the fight against U.S. occupation forces risked being hijacked by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian whom U.S. officials describe as a paladin in bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

    "We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a Sunni cleric with a wide following, declared in his Friday sermon at Umm al Qurra mosque in Baghdad.

    Since they were appointed three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and members of his U.S.-sponsored interim government have railed against the car bombings and other attacks. But Friday's show of disgust -- expressed in mosques and, in Sadr's case, with fliers calling for cooperation with Iraqi police -- marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the insurgency, for which Zarqawi has increasingly asserted responsibility.

    In that light, it could be an important moment in the U.S. struggle to win acceptance for the military occupation and for the interim government scheduled to acquire limited authority next Wednesday. While far from embracing the U.S. occupation or the new government, the anti-occupation leaders seemed to disavow the bloodiest edge of the violence and Zarqawi's attempt to make it part of al Qaeda's vision of international jihad.

    posted by Dan at 12:05 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

    What the f@#% is in Dick Cheney's coffee?

    The Vice President has not been the epitome of good manners in recent days. There's the use of the f-word to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont on the Senate floor. Then there's the complete lack of contrition about the use of that word in that place in a Friday interview on Fox News. Here's his explanation:

    It was partly — also, it had to do with — he is the kind of individual who will make those kinds of charges and then come after you as though he's your best friend. And I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my views of the — of his conduct and walked away....

    What — part of the problem here is, that instead of having a substantive debate over important policy issues, he had challenged my integrity. And I didn't like that. But, most of all, I didn't like the fact that after he had done so then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream.

    And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterwards.

    So, Cheney's beef is that Leahy doubted Cheney's integrity publicly and then tried to play nicey-nice in the Senate floor.

    Three thoughts on Cheney's little tamptrum:

    1) While I understand getting upset when someone questions your integrity, there are better ways of responding than the admittedly economical "f--- you."

    2) Hey, Mr. Vice President, you say that an elected official exhibited one demeanor in public and another in private? Welcome to politics. You've been in this business for how long?

    3) While this was bad, Ron Reagan describes behavior by Cheney in today's New York Times Magazine that seems far, far worse to me:

    How did your mother feel about being ushered to her seat by President Bush?

    Well, he did a better job than Dick Cheney did when he came to the rotunda. I felt so bad. Cheney brought my mother up to the casket, so she could pay her respects. She is in her 80's, and she has glaucoma and has trouble seeing. There were steps, and he left her there. He just stood there, letting her flounder. I don't think he's a mindful human being. That's probably the nicest way I can put it.

    posted by Dan at 11:53 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, June 25, 2004

    Give Iyad Allawi -- and the Bush administration -- their due

    Last month I blogged about the designation of Iyad Allawi as the Iraqi president until January of next year, and the extent to which the U.S. did not want to be seen as puppetmaster. Other Iraq watchers were skeptical of the new government's ability to command legitimacy -- at the time, Spencer Ackerman wrote, "Any interim prime minister would surely face the accusation of being an occupation stooge. With Allawi, the charge is likely to have serious currency."

    Well, it looks like Allawi was underestimated. The Washington Post's Robin Wright reports that Iraqis do perceive the new government as legitimate (link via Robert Tagorda):

    A large majority of Iraqis say they have confidence in the new interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi that is set to assume political power on Wednesday, according to a poll commissioned by U.S. officials in Iraq.

    The results are a significant victory for the United States and the United Nations. Together they negotiated with squabbling Iraqi factions in an attempt to cobble together a viable government that balanced disparate ethnic and religious groups.

    The first survey since the new government was announced by U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about three weeks ago showed that 68 percent of Iraqis have confidence in their new leaders. The numbers are in stark contrast to widespread disillusionment with the previous Iraqi Governing Council, which was made up of 25 members picked by the United States and which served as the Iraqi partner to the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority. Only 28 percent of Iraqis backed the council when it was dissolved last month, according to a similar poll in May....

    But 73 percent of Iraqis polled approved of Allawi to lead the new government, 84 percent approved of President Ghazi Yawar and almost two-thirds backed the new Cabinet. These impressive showings indicate that the new leaders have support spanning ethnic and religious groups, U.S. officials said.

    "What comes across in the poll and what we've sensed for a while is that Iraqis remain open-minded about the new government," a senior coalition official in Baghdad said in an interview.

    Four out of every five Iraqis expected that the new government will "make things better" for Iraq after the handover, with 10 percent expecting the situation to remain the same and 7 percent anticipating a decline, the poll shows.

    U.S. officials are particularly encouraged because the poll showed high name recognition for the new leadership, in contrast with many members of the former council, U.S. officials said. More than 70 percent of Iraqis polled have heard or read a significant amount about the new leaders, who were named about three weeks ago.

    "That's huge penetration -- and it happened quickly," said the coalition official, who asked for anonymity because of the rules on naming officials in Baghdad. "It's partly because Allawi is on all the Arab media every day talking about security. He's visiting sites, and there are constantly images of the prime minister tackling security, which is what Iraqis care most about right now. It resonates, and it comes across in these figures."

    In a sign that Iraqis are more optimistic generally about their future after the occupation ends, two-thirds of Iraqis believed the first democratic elections for a new national assembly -- tentatively set for December or January -- will be free and fair, the survey shows.

    Despite the growing number of attacks on Iraqi security forces, including several yesterday, public confidence in the new police and army has reached new highs, the poll shows. Seventy percent of Iraqis polled supported the new army, and 82 percent supported the police.

    Hey, this and banking reform -- two in a row for the CPA!

    There's one reason why Allawi is likely to be able to sustain this popularity -- he has a built-in scapegoat for his biggest headache, which is the security situation. If problems continue in that area, all he has to do is publicly harangue the Americans.

    What will be particularly interesting is whether the new government and security forces' legitimacy gives them greater access to informants who will rat out insurgents.

    The new government's popularity might go south in the future -- but this is certainly good news as June 30th approaches.


    posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (4)

    Trading up to some informative links

    Want to know more about American attitudes towards outsourcing and trade? I'll make you a trade -- I'll write, you read [This kind of thinking explains your decision to go into academia for the money--ed.]

    Outsourcing info: The Bureau of Labor Statistics survey about offshore outsourcing and employment came out earlier this month -- but note the caveats in this post. I addressed the guesstimates made by management consultants in my Foreign Affairs essay, "The Outsourcing Bogeyman." The preliminary results of the Colorado inquiry on IT jobs and outsourcing comes from this Rocky Mountain News op-ed by one of the principal investigators. The Detroit study can be found at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference web site. I blogged about both in this guest-post for at MSNBC. On the costs that states are now facing from protectionist measures -- click here for California, and here for Kansas. Finally, I blogged about the the E-Loan experiment on consumer behavior here and here.

    Polling data: In an interesting coincidence, the Employment Law Alliance poll about outsourcing and the Associated Press poll about outsourcing were conducted within a week of each other; I blogged about both of these polls last month. You can read about the change in public opinion about trade between 1999 and 2004 by reading this Peronet Despeignes story in USA Today from February of this year. Ron Fournier wrote the Associated Press story about the poll showing Americans believe the economy has lost jobs in the past six months. As for older polling data, Kenneth Scheve's Globalization and the Perceptions of American Workers has a nice review of public attitudes towards all facets of economic globalization in the 1990s. The data about the 1950's comes from I.M. Destler's 1986 book American Trade Politics: System Under Stress. The data on Bush's polling numbers in late 2002 and now can be seen in this Washington Post graph (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan).

    Kerry and outsourcing: John Kerry's tax proposal can be found at his campaign website -- here's a link to the press release as well. My initial reactions to it can be read here and here. My assertion that the proposal would not have the desired effect on unemployment comes from this Institute for International Economics policy brief by Gary Clyde Hufbauer and Paul Grieco.

    Trade politics: An excellent primer on the role that ideas play in the crafting of American foreign economic policy can be found in Judith Goldstein's Ideas, Interests, and American Trade Policy [Full disclosure: Goldstein was one of my professors when I was a graduate student at Stanford]. Robert Rubin's observations about the state of American trade politics can be found in his engaging memoir In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington (co-authored with Jacob Weisberg) . The point about praising imports can be found on page 394. Robert Zoellick's op-ed can be found in the digital archives of the New York Times for a fee -- or the USTR web site for free. Finally, on the current state of play for the Doha round, see this post from earlier this month, as well as Jeffrey Schott's excellent backgrounder for the Institute of International Economics.

    [Ahem, didn't you promise to take a break on the outsourcing stuff?--ed. That was almost two weeks ago!! In blog years, that's quite a stretch.]

    UPDATE: Brad DeLong has some trenchant criticisms of this essay over at Semi-Daily Journal. My major beef is with his last point:

    [One problem is] Drezner's failure to mention one obvious thing that he could do, personally, to help the situation: vote for Presidents like Bill Clinton, who understands the substantive policy arguments and will choose people like Bob Rubin and Larry Summers to be the Grand Economic Vizier. Don't vote for people like George W. Bush, who will never be briefed-up enough to understand what is at stake and will appoint people whose career high point was the formation of a global aluminum producers' cartel.

    The thing is, I'm pretty sure that neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush will embrace the merits of free trade with the same enthusiasm of President Clinton. Neither Kerry's rhetoric nor his policy proposals to date make me particularly sanguine about his future foreign economic policies.

    posted by Dan at 11:43 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

    The state of play on trade

    My latest TNR Online essay is up -- this one is about why, even with the outsourcing furor dying down, we're not likely to see any groundswell of support for trade liberalization. Go check it out.

    Footnote link will follow shortly. UPDATE: Here it is.

    posted by Dan at 11:16 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Actual financial reform in Iraq

    I've been pretty hard on the CPA as of late, so it's only fair to highlight an area where they played a clearly positive role. The Economist reports on the state of reform in the banking sector:

    During the looting that followed the fall of Baghdad in April last year, the ten-storey headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) was burgled and torched before it collapsed into a pile of soot-stained rubble. Fourteen months later, the charred ruins have been cleared, and the CBI's staff work on American-provided computers in a building nearby....

    Despite the unpromising conditions, the CPA, which will be dissolved next week to make way for an interim government run by Iraqis, has made some headway. It has drawn up a framework of laws and rules for the new banking system. A law that came into effect in March established the CBI's independence and laid down its procedures for everything from the management of foreign reserves to bank supervision. A new commercial-bank law governs the functioning of Iraq's 17 private banks, which were legalised by Mr Hussein in the early 1990s in response to a cash crunch following UN sanctions.

    A huge training effort has been going on. Advisers from America's Treasury and bank regulators have given classes on subjects ranging from the use of Microsoft Word to the basics of Basel 2, a new treaty on bank supervision. “It is a big challenge, a new way of thinking,” says one American adviser. “Banking based on risk and judgment is radically different from bank decisions based on Saddam's say-so.”

    A basic currency reform was also necessary. Under Mr Hussein, there were two lots of dinars: one in the Kurdish north, another elsewhere. Because there were only two or three denominations, worth up to at most $5 or so, even basic purchases required thick wads of notes. So the CPA set to work designing a new, unified currency with several denominations. After frenzied printing in factories from Germany to Kenya, 27 Boeing 747s crammed with bank notes flew to Baghdad. Armed convoys delivered the cash to 240 bank branches across Iraq and officials distributed, in all, two billion pieces of paper. The exchange was completed by January this year with virtually no hitches, a remarkable feat given the insurgency already in progress.

    The creation of a single currency has permitted the CBI to carry out a basic monetary policy. The central bank carries out daily currency auctions, receiving about a dozen bids a day according to the CPA. The new dinar has appreciated by 25% or so since its launch, and has traded steadily at around 1,450 to the dollar since January. Inflation has been kept in check, no small thing given that hyperinflation often occurs during and after wars....

    Some observers worry that once the guiding hands of American advisers have gone, the CBI will become politicised and print money to pay off state debts. It is also possible that the new bank laws will one day be overturned altogether, because of nationalistic bias against foreign ownership or their lack of reference to Islamic teaching. And important as the state of the banking system might be, Iraq's economic health is sure to rest, in the final analysis, on political stability. The future, in other words, is still in the balance.

    Of course, that last paragraph is kind of important -- and that goes back to the CPA's mistakes. Bill Powell and Aparism Ghosh are the latest to dissect Paul Bremer's errors in Time.

    posted by Dan at 12:59 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

    Thursday, June 24, 2004

    Arnold Schwarzenegger likes it rough

    Charlie LeDuff and John M. Broder write a pretty favorable story about the governor from California in today's New York Times (link via Andrew Sullivan). Two points stood out:

    1) Arnold and W. -- not so much with the friendship. Here's what the Governor has to say about the President:

    Mr. Schwarzenegger, in an interview in the Bedouin-style smoking tent he has set up in the courtyard of the State Capitol here — smoking is banned in state buildings — made it clear that he expected a prominent role at the Republican National Convention in New York in late August.

    "Whether I'm speaking, I'll leave that up to them," said Mr. Schwarzenegger, a global celebrity who has emerged as perhaps the most intriguing new Republican face of the political season. "If they're smart, they'll have me obviously in prime time."

    But Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has been defining himself as a moderate, also made it clear that when prime time is over, he intends to keep some distance from Mr. Bush, who is not particularly popular in Democratic-leaning California.

    Mr. Schwarzenegger said that while he would appear with Mr. Bush if the president comes to California, he had no plans to travel outside of the state to stump for him.

    2) Those budget cuts are hitting deep. The story closes out with a priceless anecdote:

    On fiscal matters, Mr. Schwarzenegger considers himself an old-school Republican determined to ferret out waste. No item is too minor to escape his attention.

    For instance, since Mr. Schwarzenegger took office on Nov. 17, the toilet paper in the Capitol has been switched from two-ply to one-ply, a saving of thousands of dollars over the years. "It's not anymore the two-ply," he said. "Because you know what? We're trimming. We're living within our means."

    posted by Dan at 12:44 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    Philip Carter weighs in

    Philip Carter manages to meld together the theme of my last two posts -- troop levels and the crisis in Sudan. On the first question, Carter has a Slate piece criticizing pretty much everyone inside the Beltway for using fuzzy math on the question of optimal troop levels. The highlights:

    [A]dding more troops for their own sake may not be the right answer, despite the current strains on the military from the Iraq and Afghanistan missions. So far, no one is asking the most fundamental question of all: How many troops does the United States really need? Those who want to make the Army bigger assume that adding more troops will magically solve the military's overstretch problems, but that's not necessarily the case. Without an honest assessment of U.S. military requirements, we have no way of knowing how many troops to add (and what kind) or whether drastic measures (like a draft) might be necessary. More important, an honest study of U.S. military requirements may tell us that added manpower is not the answer and that other solutions will buy more bang for our taxpayer buck....

    The [current DoD] 1-4-2-1 model also provides very little help in predicting a force size because the range of possible post-9/11 missions is so vast—everything from formal major regional conflicts to small special forces and civil affairs deployments (as in the Philippines) to ongoing peacekeeping (as in the Balkans) to special ops works all over the world. The 1-4-2-1 model still sees military requirements through the prism of state-based warfare. But as the post-9/11 deployments show, that prism may be anachronistic. Tomorrow's major military deployment might not be for combat at all—it might require the deployment of an expeditionary nation-building force to stave off a humanitarian crisis. A new military planning model ought to take these kinds of missions into account, too.

    In many of these places, firepower might not be the answer, and the 1-4-2-1 model also fails to predict the other kinds of forces which might be necessary for a given situation. If America decides to intervene somewhere like Sudan, it will need a mix of civil affairs troops, military police, engineers, and medical personnel, not just pure combat forces. Furthermore, military forces alone may not be sufficient; we may need to create units with the Treasury Department capable of managing the economic aspects of nation-building, or within the Department of Justice to manage the legal parts of the job. The 1-4-2-1 model also assumes the mission will end when major combat operations end—something which has proved to be wildly off the mark....

    It would be very easy to throw more money at the troop-strength problem by hiring more infantrymen. But doing so won't fix the deeper structural issues which make today's military inefficient—like the decades-old decisions to concentrate critical support functions like military police and logistics in the reserves. Nor will throwing more troops at the problem take into account the revolutionary changes in warfare that have taken place just in the past 15 years. We may need more ground troops today to win wars and decisively manage the postwar aftermath, but we may not need more support personnel, sailors, and airmen. The only way to find out is through an intellectually honest assessment of America's military requirements. This is an assignment the next president—whoever he is—should give his Secretary of Defense immediately.

    In a follow-up blog post, Carter ties the debate about troop levels into the case of Sudan.

    Go check it all out.

    posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

    400 villages destroyed in Sudan

    Things are getting very bad in Sudan, as Edith Lederer reports for the Associated Press:

    NASA photos of the Darfur region of western Sudan show destruction in nearly 400 villages, and there have been reports of fighting or threatened attacks in every camp for displaced people, the U.S. aid chief said Wednesday.

    Andrew Natsios, administrator of the Agency for International Development, warned that time is running out to help 2 million Sudanese in desperate need of aid in Darfur. He said his agency's estimate that 350,000 could die of disease and malnutrition over the next nine months "is conservative."

    Fighting between Arab militias and African residents has killed thousands of people and forced more than 1 million to flee their homes. International rights groups say the government has backed the Arab fighters in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the African villagers.

    Natsios put the blame for the crisis squarely on the Sudanese government, saying U.S. and U.N. reports from the country show clearly that the Sudanese military is directly connected to Arab militias, known as the Janjaweed, that are fighting in Darfur.

    "They arm them, they use them, and now they have to stop them," Natsios said in an interview with two reporters after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan....

    On Saturday, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir ordered the military to begin disarming all militia groups. But Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, a U.S. State Department expert on Sudan, said "until now, we have not seen any systematic action to rein in the Janjaweed."

    "What we've seen is a series of half-steps by the government in response to international pressure," he said.

    U.S. officials have been highlighting the plight of the displaced Sudanese, mindful that the world's inattention to Rwanda a decade ago may have contributed to the genocide that occurred there.

    Natsios said the U.S. government has spent $116 million on the relief effort in Sudan — more than all other donors combined — "and we pledged $188 million between now and the end of next year."

    The United States is moving "with a maximum sense of urgency to try to save lives," said Ranneberger, who accompanied Natsios. "We don't have time to sit around also and decide, is this ethnic cleansing or is this genocide, or what is it."

    posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, June 23, 2004

    I'll say it again -- it's good to have more troops

    Over the past year one of my constant refrains about Iraq is that the administration had failed to put sufficient numbers of troops to deal with the occupation phase of the campaign. This argument inevitably triggered comments from readers saying that more troops would have minimal effect on peacebuilding while increasing the number of inviting targets for insurgents.

    I would urge those skeptics to read Rowan Scarborough's account in the Washington Times about how the U.S. army effectively destroyed Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi militia. The highlights:

    Once he had targets, Gen. [Martin] Dempsey [commander of the 1st Armored Division] could then map a battle plan for entering four key cities — Karbala, Najaf, Kufa and Diwaniyah. This would be a counterinsurgency fought with 70-ton M-1 Abrams tanks and aerial gunships overhead. It would not be the lightning movements of clandestine commandos, but rather all the brute force the Army could muster, directed at narrowly defined targets.

    Last week, Sheik al-Sadr surrendered. He called on what was left of his men to cease operations and said he may one day seek public office in a democratic Iraq.

    Gen. [Mark] Hertling [one of two 1st Armored assistant division commanders] said Mahdi's Army is defeated, according the Army's doctrinal definition of defeat. A few stragglers might be able to fire a rocket-propelled grenade, he said, but noted: "Do they have the capability of launching any kind of offensive operation? Absolutely not."

    The division estimates it killed at least several thousand militia members.

    Gen. Dempsey designed "Iron Saber" based on four pillars: massive combat power; information operations to discredit Sheik al-Sadr; rebuilding the Iraqi security forces that fled; and beginning civil affairs operations as quickly as possible, including paying Iraqis to repair damaged public buildings.

    "As soon as we finished military operations, we immediately began civil-military operations," said Gen. Hertling. "We crossed over from bullets to money."

    Only time will tell if Sadr has been truly defanged -- and it's worth pointing out that his armed resistance appears to have caused a steady increase in public support for him. Still, Sadr's decision to try to attain power through legal rather than extralegal means seems a pretty powerful argument for the virtues of more troops.

    posted by Dan at 01:19 PM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thank you, Fareed Zakaria

    The New Republic has a special issue this week devoted to the question of "Were We Wrong?" -- ruminations, defenses, or mea culpas by supporters of Gulf War II in the wake of the past year's events. Contributors include John McCain, Kenneth Pollack, Fouad Ajami, Anne Applebaum, Thomas Friedman, Joseph Biden, and Paul Berman.

    As someone who's engaging in a similar cognitive exercise, Fareed Zakaria's contribution is the one that most closely approximates my own position. I may differ with Zakaria on big-think international relations questions, but he is right on target in his dissection of the ins and outs of Iraq. The highlights:

    I did not believe Saddam had a lethal arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and I wrote as much in the months before the war (though, like everyone who is being honest, I am utterly astonished by what appears to be the lack of any weapons). But Saddam was an erratic, unpredictable leader who had been actively working against the United States and its interests--and peace in the region--for two decades. That meant he was a looming threat. Given the collapsing sanctions regime, at some point the United States would have to decide to move in one direction or the other. It could either welcome Saddam back into the community of nations and let him do what he would as a free agent. Or it could gather an international coalition to replace him. I wish that this latter policy had been pursued slowly and deliberately, with a genuine effort to forge a broad coalition and get the United Nations behind it. But, in the end, you have to decide whether to support the policy the president is pursuing--not the variation of it you wish he were pursuing. And I decided that, while timing and circumstances were not perfect, getting rid of one of the most ghastly regimes in the world, one that was a continued threat to U.S. interests, was worth supporting. Morality and realpolitik came together in the case against Saddam....

    The biggest mistake I made on Iraq was to believe that the Bush administration would want to get Iraq right more than it wanted to prove its own prejudices right. I knew the administration went into Iraq with some crackpot ideas, but I also believed that, above all else, it would want success on the ground. I reasoned that it would drop its pet theories once it was clear they were not working. I still don't understand why the Bush team proved so self-defeatingly stubborn. Perhaps its initial success in Afghanistan emboldened it to move forward unconstrained. Perhaps its prejudices about Iraq had developed over decades and were deeply held. Perhaps the administration was far more divided and dysfunctional than I had recognized, making rational policy impossible.

    But, since we are listing mistakes, the biggest one many opponents of the war are making is to claim that Iraq is a total distraction from the war on terrorism. In fact, Iraq is central to that conflict. I don't mean this in the deceptive and dishonest sense that many in the Bush administration have claimed. There is no connection between Saddam's regime and the terrorists of September 11. But there is a deep connection between his regime and the terrorism of September 11. The root causes of Islamic terrorism lie in the dysfunctional politics of the Middle East, where failure and repression have produced fundamentalism and violence. Political Islam grew in stature as a mystical alternative to the wretched reality--secular dictatorships--that have dominated the Arab world. A new Iraq provides an opportunity to break this perverse cycle. The country is unlikely to become a liberal democracy any time soon. But it might turn out to be a pluralistic state that gives minorities limited protections, allows for some political participation, and has a reasonably open society. That would be a revolution in the Arab world.

    The right lesson of Iraq so far is not that nation-building must fail, but rather that President Bush's approach to it, unless corrected, will fail. The right lesson is not that U.S. military intervention always ruptures alliances and creates an enraged international public, but rather that this particular intervention did. Most important, it is not that American power aggressively employed does more harm than good. Rather, the right lesson is that American power, because it is so overweening, must be used with extraordinary care and wisdom. Most of the world's problems--from aids to the Israeli-Palestinian issue--would be better served with more American intervention, not less. But, because of the blunders in Iraq, it is possible that most of the world, and far too many Americans, will draw the wrong lesson on this final point as well.

    Read the whole essay.

    UPDATE: One of my commentors mentions David Corn's critique of the TNR issue -- here's a link. The commentor goes on to ask:

    Dan, while you are rumminating (sic), I highly suggest you READ EXACTLY what you wrote before the war, don't rely on your memory.... The arguments and excuses given now are completely divorced from what was said before the war.

    I blogged an awful lot about Iraq prior to the war, so I don't have the time to completely fulfill this task. However, perusing the posts in which I recall making a substantive argument -- here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here -- I'm still feeling reasonably secure. Readers should feel free to disagree.

    posted by Dan at 12:41 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (0)

    Going medieval on AFI

    The American Film Institute has cannily raised its public profile through a series of television tributes and the releases of myriad "top 100" lists. Their latest -- which suggests they're running out of ideas -- is "100 Years... 100 Songs.."

    As a courtesy to readers of --- or burden, take your pick -- the following is a reprint of my interior monologue as I was perusing the list:

    "Hmmm.... "Over the Rainbow," yeah, I can sorta see that being #1, though my vote would have been for "As Time Goes By."....

    Hold on -- Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" comes in at #14? I'm sorry, I will not raise my children in a world where a Celine Dion song is ranked higher than Isaac Hayes' "Theme From Shaft"!! These AFI people are some dumb mother-- [Shut your mouth!--ed. But I'm talking 'bout Shaft. Then I can dig it!--ed.]

    OK, "Fight the Power" from Do the Right Thing belongs there... Yes, yes, "Goldfinger" is a good choice.... "I Will Always Love You" from The Bodyguard???!!! That's like the fifth over-the-top ballad they've put on this list.... I know a few of them belong here, but is "It Had to Be You" from When Harry Met Sally really one of the top 100 songs in film?

    Glad to seee Mel Brooks gets "Springtime for Hitler" and "Puttin' on the Ritz." Too bad "I'm Tired" from Blazing Saddles -- or even the Esther Williams tribute in the Spanish Inquisition sequence from History of the World, Part I -- wasn't included.

    Ah, somewhere Kevin Bacon is smiling about "Footloose." Still, Kenny Loggins appearing on any top 100 list about anything seems.... wrong, somehow....

    No, no, no "All That Jazz" from Chicago is fine, but "Cellblock Tango" is the real showstopper from that movie.....

    Wait a minute, wait a friggin' minute -- that's it?!! THAT'S IT??!!! Oh, man, did AFI leave a lot out!!! How the hell do they get through this kind of list without anything from either a Quentin Tartantino or Cameron Crowe film? That's just wrong. Where's "Stuck in the Middle With You" from Reservoir Dogs? "Jungle Boogie" from Pulp Fiction? Man, is Quentin Tarantino going to go seriously medieval on John Travolta for hosting the AFI's TV special.....

    As for Crowe, I mean, from Fast Times at Ridgemont High alone, there's "Moving in Stereo" and "Somebody's Baby"! "In Your Eyes" from Say Anything!! Even "Secret Garden" from Jerry Maguire is better than a quarter of the ballads on AFI's list!!

    There are whole soundtracks better than a lot of this list!! South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Eve's Bayou, What's Love Got To Do With It, Rock N Roll High School, Run Lola Run, Victor/Victoria, The Blues Brothers, Monsoon Wedding -- hell, even Vision Quest is better than some of the dreck on AFI's list....

    And what about the great musical set pieces? "Twist and Shout" from Ferris Bueller's Day Off? "Shout" from Animal House? "Making Whoopee" from The Fabulous Baker Boys? Was there anyone under the age of 70 who contributed to this list.....

    Now random great songs are coming up.... "In the Garden of Eden" from Manhunter -- AFI has nothing from any decent action movie.... "I Got You, Babe" from Groundhog Day -- both of these are better than any sugar-frosted confection from Carly Simon in Working Girl!!

    Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with AFI's dumb-ass list....

    If you'll all excuse me, I have to go cut someone's ear off -- well, that or alert Roger L. Simon to the crimes committed on this list.

    While I'm away, readers are hereby invited to submit other glaring omissions (or glaring inclusions) from AFI's list.

    posted by Dan at 11:25 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (3)

    Tuesday, June 22, 2004

    Respect Eugene Volokh's authority!!

    Kudos to Eugene Volokh for his latest coups:

    1) Prompting Will Saletan at Slate to respond to Volokh's criticism of Slate's Kerryism feature:

    Eugene Volokh, gets the joke and doesn't like it. "Another possibility is that 'Kerryisms' has evolved into an attempt to show simply that Kerry uses a lot of qualifiers, instead of giving very simple answers," Volokh writes. "But often, as in this case, the right answer isn't simple. It's actually not terribly complex, but it's not one-word simple. Is it really good to fault a politician for refusing to oversimplify?"

    That's a good and fair question. I prefer to let each reader decide for herself, case by case.

    2) Eugene has secured the services of University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein as a guest-blogger for the Conspiracy (here's a link to Sunstein's first post)

    Cass, Jacob, myself -- Eugene has now managed to have 10% of the poli sci faculty at the University of Chicago blog for him.

    posted by Dan at 11:07 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Barack Obama's lucky star

    Last month Noam Scheiber penned a lengthy but fascinating cover story in The New Republic on the rise of Illinois State Senator Barack Obama (he's also a senior lecturer at the U of C's law school). Obama is currently the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in this state. Scheiber's essay was about how Obama, an African-American, was able to surmount the tricky hurdles that a minority candidate can face in a statewide campaign.

    While Scheiber stressed Obama's considerable talents as a politician, he also acknowledged that Obama had been the recipient of some good fortune as well on the way to winning the nomination: "Obama ran into a bit of luck. The media turned up evidence that [erstwhile frontrunner Blair] Hull's ex-wife had sought a restraining order against him, and Hull's campaign, which had built a ten-point lead, imploded after the candidate essentially admitted to having abused her."

    It now appears that Obama has once again received a huge dollop of fortuna -- again from the divorce courts. Obama's Republican opponent Jack Ryan may experience some political difficulties sustaining his campaign after the unsealing and partial release of records from Ryan's divorce from Jeri Ryan -- yes, the same Jeri Ryan who's starred in Boston Public and Star Trek: Voyager. [I'm still hazy -- who is this again?--ed. Inserting shameless photo here:]


    John Chase and Liam Ford report the sordid details in the Chicago Tribune:

    Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan's ex-wife, TV actress Jeri Ryan, accused him of taking her to sex clubs in New York and Paris, where he tried to coerce her into having sex with him in front of strangers, according to records released Monday from the couple's California divorce file.

    Jack Ryan denied the allegations when they were made in 2000, when the couple was engaged in a bitter child custody battle a year after their divorce....

    Among the hundreds of pages of documents released was a legal filing dated June 9, 2000, in which Jeri Ryan said she knew her marriage was over by the spring of 1998. She went on to contend that her then-husband--whom she repeatedly refers to as "respondent" in the filing--surprised her with trips to the cities but didn't tell her he planned to bring her to sex clubs while there.

    "They were long weekends, supposed `romantic' getaways," Jeri Ryan said in the filing. "The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. Respondent had done research. Respondent took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to."

    In releasing the files, Schnider allowed many passages to be blacked out. In the portions that were released, Jeri Ryan gave details of the trips she says she was taken on to clubs in New York and Paris. She also alleged that Jack Ryan took her to a sex club in New Orleans, but no elaboration on that trip was included in the released portion of the file.

    In responding to Jeri Ryan's charges, Jack Ryan six days later described the accusations as "ridiculous" and accused her of trying to "libel" him with what he called "smut." He implied that his ex-wife had made them to ruin his reputation as he contemplated a political career....

    In her 2000 filing, Jeri Ryan alleged that after she and Jack Ryan left the first sex club they entered in New York, he asked her to go to another. She said he told her that he had gone out to dinner with her that night even though he didn't want to and "the least I could do in return was go to the club he wanted me to go."

    She described the second place as "a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling."

    "Respondent wanted me to have sex with him there with another couple watching. I refused," Jeri Ryan continued. "Respondent asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset.

    "We left the club and respondent apologized, said that I was right and he would never insist that I go to a club again. He promised it was out of his system."

    But later, Jeri Ryan said, Jack Ryan took her to Paris where he again took her to a sex club without first telling her where they were going.

    "I told him I thought it was out of his system. I told him he had promised me we would never go. People were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill. Respondent became very upset with me and said it was not a `turn-on' for me to cry. I could not get over the incident and my loss of any attraction to him as a result. Respondent knew this was a serious problem. I told him I did not know if we could work it out."

    Click here to read Jeri Ryan's statement responding to the story.

    Obama wisely told the Tribune that "Obviously Mr. Ryan and his supporters will be discussing this and I don't think that's my role." There's no mention of it on his campaign blog as well.

    Now it's hardly Obama's fault that he has political idiots for opponents -- and it's to his credit that he hasn't perpetrated anything as stupid in his personal or professional career. And it's worth pointing out that the latest poll (conducted last week) had Obama ahead of Ryan by eleven points -- so it's not like he really needed this to happen.

    Still, politicians of every stripe must be burning with envy, marveling at Obama's run of good luck.

    Readers are invited to submit other politicians who have similarly benefited from this kind of self-destructive behavior by opponents during a campaign.

    UPDATE: Over at Tapped, Nick Confessore frets that this may hurt Obama:

    [T]he release of these documents gives the Illinois GOP a chance to get Ryan to drop out and put somebody else on the ticket. On the other hand, the state party is bereft of real talent -- that's how retiring incumbent Peter Fitzgerald got elected -- and it's hard to imagine who they would get to replace Ryan.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Mark Buehner posts a comment that reflects my thoughts on the matter:

    [A]s a Chicagoan let me just mention how depressing it is to have the most clueless, lunkheaded republican party in the country. Worst of all they cant seem to find a candidate for any office not named Ryan (former Governor George Ryan was plagued with graft and corruption). Newsflash GOP, many voters dont bother to see what a guys first name is, if a Ryan keeps showing up on ballots every couple of years, a significant number of semi-apathetic voters will check the opposite column just out of habit. Idiots.


    posted by Dan at 04:59 PM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (7)

    Lou Dobbs is a big fat hypocrite

    If I wasn't busy trying to get tenure and all that, I'd be sorely tempted to write a quickie paperback with that title. Never mind Dobbs' tendentious reporting about outsourcing -- now he's got bigger ethical quandries.

    Back in March, James Glassman pointed out in Tech Central Station that Dobbs was praising companies like Boeing and Washington Mutual as worthy stocks in his eponymous investment letter -- even though he was bashing these very same companies for offshore outsourcing on his CNN show, Lou Dobbs Tonight.

    Last week, Zachary Roth at CJR's Campaign Desk followed up on this tendency of Dobbs to say one thing to his viewers and another thing to readers of his investment letter:

    Unlike most investment advisors, Dobbs goes beyond talking up the earning potential of these companies. He typically goes out of his way to praise them as good corporate citizens. The newsletter keeps a running tally of the companies profiled, under the heading, "The following companies have been featured in the Lou Dobbs Money Letter as those 'doing good business with good people.'" The appeal is alluring: You're not just buying a smart investment choice, you're buying a piece of good citizenship.

    Dobbs devoted a column in the March issue to touting the prospects of the Minnesota-based Toro Company, which makes outdoor landscaping-maintenance equipment. He told subscribers that Toro was a "long-term wealth-builder," and praised Toro's "formal code of ethics, something I think is sorely needed at more of America's companies," and its "...exemplary corporate governance structure, which aligns the interests of shareholders, employees, and customers." He concluded his interview with Toro CEO Kendrick Melrose by frankly telling him, "I like the way you treat your shareholders, employees, and customers."

    One wonders whether Dobbs' admiration extends to Toro's 2002 decision to move 15% of its workforce -- about 800 jobs -- to Juarez, Mexico. Indeed, CEO Kendrick Melrose might be interested to know that Toro appears on Dobbs' own list of companies that are "exporting America."

    And Toro is not alone. Of the 14 companies Dobbs has highlighted for investors since starting his newsletter last year, eight appear on his CNN website as companies that outsource jobs (emphasis added).

    Read both Glassman and Roth. We here at are appalled -- there are actually people out there who would pay $398 a year for Lou Dobbs' investment advice?! To be fair, however, Glassman does point out in another column that on his TV show, Dobbs is the perfect anti-predictor when it comes to investment decisions.

    Amazingly, Dobbs is proving to be somewhat two-faced in his response to the Campaign Desk post. In a follow-up post, Roth writes, "When we contacted him, Dobbs was unrepentant, saying that he didn't see a problem with using one hand to reprimand companies for outsourcing, while using the other to promote the same firms." However, when the Wall Street Journal came a callin', Dobbs changed his tune:

    In an interview, Mr. Dobbs said he would change his newsletter in response to critics' concerns. In the future, Mr. Dobbs said, every examination of a company and every interview in the newsletter will include mention of that business's offshoring record. "It makes absolute sense," Mr. Dobbs said. "If this is a concern -- and it certainly is a concern of people -- I will respect that. It's something I will begin implementing in the newsletter."

    Lou, Lou, Lou -- it's never the original scandal that brings you down -- it's the cover-up to the scandal.

    I'll give Roth the final word of this post:

    It's nice that Dobbs will now inform the thousands of subscribers to his newsletter about the offshoring records of his featured companies. It would be even nicer if he informed the much larger number of people who watch his anti-outsourcing crusade on CNN that he promotes some of the companies on his "exporting America" list.

    posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (2)

    Monday, June 21, 2004

    Strong stuff

    Spencer Ackerman, filling in for Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, scores an interview with the anonymous author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism. The author -- let's call him Mr. A -- believes both Afghanistan and Iraq to be complete disasters in both policymaking and the application of military force.

    While this no doubt warms the cockles of those who oppose the Bush administration, Mr. A's policy prescriptions are likely to scare the ever-living crap out of those same critics. A sample:

    To secure as much of our way of life as possible, we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing …

    Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills--all these and more will need to be destroyed to deny the enemy its support base. … [S]uch actions will yield large civilian casualties, displaced populations, and refugee flows. Again, this sort of bloody-mindedness is neither admirable nor desirable, but it will remain America's only option so long as she stands by her failed policies toward the Muslim world.

    Needless to say, this provoked Matthew Yglesias to write an epithet I was thinking after reading that passage. Kevin Drum is similarly rattled -- and Drum follows up with an e-mail missive from Ackerman confirming that what I just quoted was not taken out of context. The following is from Mr. A's interview with Ackerman:

    My argument, I think, taken from the whole book, is that we've left ourselves with no option but the military option, and our application of military force against our foe, whether it's Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else, has not been particularly intimidating. They've ridden out two wars. They're on the offensive at the moment. What are we left with? If we don't use our military power, we really just sit and take it.

    This kind of rhetoric makes even the most "out there" neoconservative -- except perhaps for Jim Woolsey -- look like a peacenik by comparison. Even the most imperial-sounding neocons don't talk about "a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure."

    I think this kind of thinking is nuts -- forget whether it would actually work in the Middle East and consider the collateral damage such actions would create in every other region of the globe. If you want an actual alliance -- not mere rhetoric, but actual alliances, coordination of territorial defense, and actual balancing -- of every other significant power in the globe arrayed against the United States, well, Mr. A's strategy is the way to go. Don't worry about soft power if this strategy is implemented -- worry about whether the U.S. government would have sufficient hard power resources to simultaneously ward off threats from China, Russia, India, Japan, North and South Korea, France, and Great Britain while simultaneously imposing martial law in this country following the insurrection that such a strategy would undoubtedly inspire.

    That said, I'm betting that this logic will resonate with a healthy fraction of Americans.

    posted by Dan at 06:10 PM | Comments (55) | Trackbacks (2)

    The golden age of cartoons?

    Justin Peters makes a strong case in the Washington Monthly that we are currently experiencing a golden age of animation, beginning with Cartoon Network's Adult Swim:

    The Adult Swim entourage is only the latest in a series of consistently witty and original cartoons that have emerged on television in recent years--from "The Simpsons" to "South Park" to "King of the Hill." And this is on top of the plethora of fine feature-length animated films that have graced movie theaters such as Monsters Inc., and the Shrek series. Indeed, if novels, pop music, and live action movies have been going through a bit of a fallow period, we are arguably living in a golden age of cartoons, one that rivals in creativity and appeal to the era of "Looney Tunes" and "Betty Boop" over half a century ago.

    Read the whole thing -- indeed, my only criticism of the article is that it failed to mention the renaissance in high-quality superhero cartoons -- X-Men, Batman, Superman, Justice League, and the awesome Batman Beyond.

    However, Peters does give appropriate props to Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, a surreal 15 minutes of genre-busting. My personal favorite -- and the only successful Sopranos parody I've seen -- is when Harvey defends suspected mobster Fred Flinstone. Best line -- "You're dead to me, Barney!! [Actually, the best line is "Ewwww, Gleep juice!'--ed. Well, yes, but understanding why that line is funny requires a knowledge of bad Saturday morning cartoons that the sophisticated readers of should never admit to possessing.]

    posted by Dan at 05:26 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

    The blogging of the convention

    The Associated Press reports that the Democrats will offer media credentials to "a handful of bloggers" at this year's convention in Boston. Andrew Sullivan is unimpressed at the opportunity:

    For my part, I think bloggers could make more of a statement by not going to these elaborate infomercials. All they are are schmooze-fests for journalists, pundits and political types and then many layers of corrupting parties for donors. The only political importance is as television shows, and you can better understand that by, er, watching television.

    Andrew is largely correct -- the conventions because of their effect on the television audience. That said, I don't think this is an either/or kind of situation. I'm happy some bloggers will be inside the tent, as it were -- mostly because I'm betting that they'll be able to provide the kind of "local color" that can seem blasé to the veteran journalist. Bloggers also shouldn't care about whether such anecdotes offend the sensitivities of the powerful and the privileged. Plus, bloggers can also report on an issue that mainstream journalists would be reluctant to cover --how mainstream journalists behave at these shindigs.

    Incidentally, I got a call last week from a Washington Post writer asking me if I'd be attending. I patiently explained that my wife is not keen for me to go to Boston and/or New York on our own dime just because the political parties might let me through the front door.

    posted by Dan at 12:44 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

    Karl Rove's nightmare come true

    A huge component of the Bush re-election strategy is the overwhelming support the president receives from white evangelicals -- both its leadership and rank and file. If, for some reason, this group were to grow either disaffected or less politically active, states that were previously thought of as Republican locks would suddenly be in play.

    Which is why Karl Rove can't be too happy about Larry B. Stammer's article in the Los Angeles Times about a new white paper on political action that's coming from the National Association of Evangelicals:

    The National Assn. of Evangelicals is circulating a draft of a groundbreaking framework for political action that strongly endorses social and economic justice and warns against close alignment with any political party.

    Steeped in biblical morality and evangelical scholarship, the framework for public engagement could change how the estimated 30 million evangelicals in this country are viewed by liberals and conservatives alike.

    It affirms a religiously based commitment to government protections for the poor, the sick and disabled, including fair wages, healthcare, nutrition and education. It declares that Christians have a "sacred responsibility" to protect the environment.

    But it also hews closely to a traditional evangelical emphasis on the importance of families, opposition to homosexual marriage and "social evils" such as alcohol, drugs, abortion and the use of human embryos for stem-cell research. It reaffirms a commitment to religious freedom at home and abroad.

    In the midst of a presidential election year, war and terrorism, the framework says Christians in their devotion to country "must be careful to avoid the excesses of nationalism." In domestic politics, evangelicals "must guard against over-identifying Christian social goals with a single political party, lest nonbelievers think that Christian faith is essentially political in nature."

    "This is a maturing of the evangelical public mind," said Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, one of the nation's principal evangelical schools. "Instead of just assuming an automatic alliance with a specific party — and that's been traditionally the Republicans — it says evangelicals ought to be more thoughtful."

    Read the whole piece -- there's a quote at the end from a former NAE president saying, "I think short term it probably won't have a lot of impact. In the long term it will have a fairly significant impact." This is probably true -- but I can't help think the symbolism and the timing of the document will have some short-term impact -- not so much from converting Republican voters into Democrats, but rather reducing voter turnout.

    posted by Dan at 10:25 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

    Competence gets rewarded in Iraq

    Despite the management screw-ups that have taken place in Iraq, there are a few silver linings. I linked to one of them -- dealing with Iraq's economic future -- in my last post.

    Another one comes from Lieutenant General David Petraeus -- the former commander of the 101st Airborne who was in charge of Mosul for ten months. I've blogged about him before here and here -- he clearly seemed to "get it" when it came to the postwar occupation.

    In a nice example of competence rewarded, Vivienne Walt reports in Time that Petraeus was asked by President Bush to "assess" the Iraqi security forces back in April. Given their perfomance, the General has taken a hands-on approach:

    "The President told me I could have anything I wanted, and I took him at his word," Petraeus told TIME during an hour-long interview this week in his office. As an economist with a doctorate from Princeton, Petraeus knew what he needed: Money, lots of it, and fast. During 14 months of occupation, U.S. forces had made several attempts to kick-start Iraq's military. Many had faltered over financial issues: At one stage last year, hundreds of new military recruits went AWOL after learning that their monthly pay was well below that of regular police officers. Others quit after determining that there was barely a corner of Iraq in which they were not prime targets for assassination — and that they were a lot more poorly equipped than their foes.

    The change has already been felt. Shortly after Petraeus's arrival, units of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and beleaguered police stations have suddenly received shipments of new weapons and vehicles. Last week, Petraeus dispatched thousands of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of bullet-proof jackets to the Najaf police station — whose officers recently fled in terror from the Shiite militia of the Mehdi Army. With only 287 American police advisors in Iraq, the training for the country's critical new force is still patchy. That will finally catch up, says Petraeus. Meanwhile, gleaming new weapons and ceramic-plated vests will boost the officers' morale. This time around, Petraeus is also using a cherished principle from his other alma mater, West Point: Stand by your fellow soldiers, no matter what. "They have to feel they are not going to be hung out to dry," he says of the new Iraqi forces. "Early on we are going to have to keep on enabling Iraqi forces and backing them up when necessary, even when we are building from the top."

    Petraeus' effect can already be felt in this plan to scale back Iraqi Interior Ministry forces by 30,000. [Why is that number being reduced?--ed. Fewer trained personnel is better than a lot of untrained personnel.] Unlike last year's disastrous dismissal of the Iraqi military, this reduction is being accomplished through generous severance payments.

    posted by Dan at 12:17 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, June 20, 2004

    Ugly CPA autopsies

    Last month I posted about the ideological litmus tests that were applied in hiring for the Coalitional Provisional Authority. I said at the end that, "This is a story crying out for further investigation."

    Today the Washington Post (link via Matthew Yglesias) and Chicago Tribune both have front-page stories focusing on the CPA -- and this issue comes up in both articles.

    In the Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran paints an ugly picture of poor planning and inadequate resources. As for recruitment, Chandrasekaran observes:

    On the eve of its dissolution, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure in the eyes of most Iraqis. In a recent poll sponsored by the U.S. government, 85 percent of respondents said they lacked confidence in the CPA. The criticism is echoed by some Americans working in the occupation. They fault CPA staffers who were fervent backers of the invasion and of the Bush administration, but who lacked reconstruction skills and Middle East experience. Only a handful spoke Arabic.

    Within the marble-walled palace of the CPA's headquarters inside Baghdad's protected Green Zone, there is an aching sense of a mission unaccomplished. "Did we really do what we needed to do? What we promised to do?" a senior CPA official said. "Nobody here believes that."....

    The CPA also lacked experienced staff. A few development specialists were recruited from the State Department and nongovernmental organizations. But most CPA hiring was done by the White House and Pentagon personnel offices, with posts going to people with connections to the Bush administration or the Republican Party. The job of reorganizing Baghdad's stock exchange, which has not reopened, was given in September to a 24-year-old who had sought a job at the White House. "It was loyalty over experience," a senior CPA official said....

    Instead of building contacts at social events in the city, CIA operatives in Baghdad drink in their own rattan-furnished bar in the Green Zone. Instead of prowling local markets, CPA employees go to the Green Zone Shopping Bazaar, where the most popular items are Saddam Hussein memorabilia.

    Limited contact with Iraqis outside the Green Zone has made CPA officials reliant on the views of those chosen by Bremer to serve on the Governing Council. When Brahimi, the U.N. envoy, asked the CPA for details about several Iraqis he was considering for positions in the interim government, he told associates he was "shocked to find how little information they really had," according to an official who was present.

    In the Tribune, Andrew Zajac focuses more closely on the recruitment of CPA personnel. Again, not a pretty picture:

    Although many CPA posts have been held by career government civil servants, numerous crucial slots have been filled by officials with strong GOP or conservative pedigrees. Passed over, in some cases, were diplomats and foreign policy specialists with backgrounds in Middle East issues or nation-building....

    Without question the coalition took on arduous and sometimes dangerous assignments. The difficult working conditions likely shrank the pool of talent willing to trade the comfortable routine of American life for months of austerity in a scorching desert climate amid a bloody insurgency.

    But already even some supporters of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq say the occupation's troubled course and the country's uncertain prospects for stable self-rule can be traced at least in part to a leadership team that valued political credentials over foreign policy expertise.

    Occupation planners often selected "ideologues without international experience who see the world through blinders," said Peter Galbraith, a senior career diplomat and an adviser to the Iraqi Kurdish leadership.

    "I don't think the Iraq venture was doomed to fail," Galbraith said. "If we had had qualified people with time to plan and a coherent strategy, the situation . . . would certainly be better."

    Read both pieces.

    It's still worth keeping in mind that despite these missteps, the situation in Iraq is still not hopeless. Go check out this Council on Foreign Relations backgrounder on the Iraqi economy, compiled by Esther Pan. The final paragraph:

    What are the economic forecasts for next year? Very promising, experts say—if the security situation is brought under control. Iraq’s economy had been declining for years as a result of international sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime. In 2003, the war and subsequent looting caused the economy to shrink by 22 percent. But the economy is projected to grow by 45 percent in 2005 and 25 percent in 2006, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, a financial research division of The Economist. “I think the economy is very positive,” [CPA’s acting director of private sector development in New York Richard] Greco says. “There continues to be a steady stream of interest from international investors, not just in oil, but also the agriculture, petrochemical, glass and cement industries. There’s so much potential.”

    posted by Dan at 10:40 AM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (3)

    Saturday, June 19, 2004

    Who's buying T-bills? Why are they buying T-bills?


    One of the concerns that Niall Ferguson raised in Colossus: The Price of America's Empire about the long-term financial strength of the United States was the huge amount of U.S. government debt that Asian central banks were purchasing. Daniel Gross has more details about this phenomenon in Slate:

    At the end of the first quarter, according to this Federal Reserve report, foreigners owned about 40 percent of outstanding Treasury securities, up from 30 percent in 2000 (see Line 11 in table L.209). Foreigners own $1.65 trillion in Treasury securities, up from $1.03 trillion in 2000.

    Foreign central banks are on a spending spree. As recently as 2001, central banks bought just $10.7 billion in Treasury securities on a net basis. But their net purchases have risen dramatically: to $43.1 billion in 2002 and $128.5 billion in 2003.

    With each passing quarter, foreigners have become more significant consumers of U.S. government debt. In 2002, non-Americans accounted for about half of net purchases of Treasury securities. But in the first quarter of 2004 they accounted for 150 percent! That is—the rest of the world bought a net $679.8 billion in Treasury securities while U.S. brokers and dealers sold a net $202.7 billion.

    As interest rates rise, smart investors tend to flee bonds. But the foreigners are still buying despite rising rates.

    Gross goes on to observe that central banks are purchasing a rotten investment -- T-bills currently have low rate of returns and are denominated in a currency that has been slowly losing its value compared to the euro or other major currencies.

    Tyler Cowen offers seven possible explanations. My vote is for a mixture of reasons three, four, and six -- mostly three ("China and Japan want to keep the value of the yuan and yen low, as part of a mercantilist export-promotion strategy.")

    There is another possible explanation, but I don't seriously believe it. As Gary Shilling points out in Forbes in an essay downplaying foreign ownership of U.S. government securities, the moment Chinese capital markets are liberalized, the Chinese central bank won't be the only Chinese actor interested in greenbacks:

    China can't abandon its dollar buying. It needs a strong dollar--a weak yuan, that is--to keep its exports competitive and to keep its underemployed population busy. The day may come when the Chinese government stops being the lender of last resort to America, but if it does stop, there are a billion or so Chinese citizens ready to take up the cause. Given the legal right to do so, they would yank deposits out of the Chinese banking system and invest in U.S. securities.

    So, one possibility is that the Chinese central bank is buying Treasuries in advance of capital market liberalization. But that would be such a complex undertaking -- given the fragility of the state-owned Chinese banking system -- that I can't think that's what's going on.

    With that possibility unlikely, what I find so interesting is the parallel between what Asian central banks are doing now and what Japanese private investors did back in the late 1980's -- make lousy investments in overpriced assets. I don't think there's any correlation between the two phenomenon -- private investors and central banks are like apples and oranges.

    posted by Dan at 01:51 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (2)

    Friday, June 18, 2004

    What sustains the barriers to globalization in the Middle East?

    Marcus Noland and Howard Pack have written a must-read policy brief for the Institute for International Economics on why the Middle East appears to be suffering from relative economic stagnation. They lay out the challenge in stark terms:

    [T]he region as a whole will experience labor force growth of more than 3 percent for the next 15 years or so. On current trends, according to an Arab League report, unemployment in the region could rise from 15 million to 50 million over this period. Under plausible assumptions about the rate of productivity growth and required investment levels, the economies of the region will have to maintain investment rates on the order of 30 percent of GDP and income growth of 5 to 6 percent a year to absorb all this labor. This is a very tall order. And recent history is not reassuring....

    Yet the implications of not achieving rapid growth to absorb the rising number of entrants to the labor force could be dire. In the Zogby (2002) poll of Arab attitudes, Saudi males stand out as uniquely dissatisfied and pessimistic about their children’s future. Presumably these feelings are rooted in the reality of dwindling employment prospects, the 40 percent decline in per capita income from its peak in 1982, and the lack of political voice. Dissatisfaction and pessimism about the future are mildly correlated with age, education attainment, and internet access. The youngest, most advantaged sections of society have the bleakest appraisal of the future. It goes without saying that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi males.

    The authors dismiss the simple argument that Islam retards receptivity to capitalism. Rather, Noland and Pack's key finding is that "public attitudes toward foreigners and globalization" more generally is the greatest barrier to foreign investment. Their operationalization of this kind of attitude is most intriguing:

    Three of the many questions posed in the Pew [Global Attitudes] poll have particularly high correlations with measures of risk in economic exchange, especially FDI that involves a local physical presence. The regional pattern of responses to three issues—the necessity of closing large, inefficient factories; the need to protect their way of life against foreign influence; and the desirability of societal acceptance of homosexuality—are displayed in figures 2 through 4. Relative to most respondents in the rest of the world, the Arabs were less willing to close inefficient factories, more committed to protecting the local way of life, and less tolerant of homosexuality. The picture that emerges from the pattern of responses to the full set of Pew survey questions is of local populations that are relatively averse to change, instead favoring the maintenance of existing economic and social arrangements—especially if the forces of change are regarded as emanating from foreign or nontraditional sources.

    Controlling for economic fundamentals such as the level of per capita income, macroeconomic stability,and corporate taxes across a broad sample of countries, these responses have some explanatory power with respect to measures of interest such as the level of inward FDI, sovereign debt ratings, and local entrepreneurship. Although the precise channels of causality are ill defined, it is plausible that the attitudes manifested in the survey responses
    are underpinning behaviors and practices that may impede successful globalization. The question about closing of factories could be interpreted as a straightforward question about the priority placed on efficiency. The questions about protecting against foreign influence and accepting homosexuality could be interpreted as capturing the extent of entry barriers to human capital from nontraditional sources. (emphasis added)

    From this finding, the authors return somewhat gloomily to the role of Islam and conclude:

    Islam may matter—not in the simple sense that belief in Allah dooms one to a low personal saving rate or that Islamic banking systems handicap financial efficiency—but rather in a more subtle way. Today there are Muslim communities in the Middle East that are relatively discomfited by aspects of ongoing social change. To the extent that adherence to Islam is a significant component of personal and communal identity, Islamic teachings will be one prism through which these developments are evaluated. This pattern of apprehension may be reinforced if Islam itself is regarded as being part of this contested terrain.

    Read the whole brief.

    posted by Dan at 11:58 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

    I'm not feeling the love from Russia

    CNN International reports that the Russia Federation warned the United States about Iraqi plans for terrorism against the United States:

    Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country warned the United States several times that Saddam Hussein's regime was planning terror attacks on the United States and its overseas interests....

    "I can confirm that after the events of September 11, 2001, and up to the military operation in Iraq, Russian special services and Russian intelligence several times received ... information that official organs of Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist acts on the territory of the United States and beyond its borders, at U.S. military and civilian locations," Putin said.

    The Russian leader did not elaborate on any details of the warnings of terror plots or mention whether they were tied to the al Qaeda terror network.

    Putin, one of the strongest critics of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, also said Russia had no information that Saddam's regime had actually committed any terrorist acts.

    The United States never cited Russian intelligence when it was making its case for the war and Putin said the information did not change his country's opposition to the war. (emphasis added)

    I wouldn't want to speculate on the quality of Russian intelligence, but that last sentence provokes a question to President Putin -- why didn't the information change your mind about the war? You have intel saying that one sovereign state is planning to commit acts of aggression against another sovereign state in violation of the laws of war.

    If that's not a justification for preventive action, what is?

    posted by Dan at 01:32 PM | Comments (20) | Trackbacks (2)

    Does John Kerry have moles in his campaign?

    Mickey Kaus, June 17, 2004:

    Q.: If you were a mischievous Bush person and wanted to make some trouble for John Kerry, what would you do? A.: Start a rumor that Kerry has picked John Edwards as his running mate. That will ratchet up the current press buzz that Edwards is the inevitable, obvious choice, due to his charismatic brilliance as a campaigner. Then, if Kerry doesn't want to choose Edwards, he will a) be faced with annoying unwanted pressure and b) look like a vain man who doesn't want to be upstaged. If Edwards is the pick, then a) the pre-emptive rumor will blow the big surprise of Kerry's announcement and b) Kerry will look like he's been stampeded. It's win win! And it won't be a hard rumor to start. (emphases in original)

    Jim VandeHei and Lois Romano, "Kerry's Search: In Depth, In Secret." The Washington Post, June 18, 2004:

    Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) has emerged as the favorite of many Democratic senators and Kerry friends and advisers. Edwards's stock has shot up in recent weeks as private polling shows the freshman senator providing a boost to the ticket in key states because of his southern appeal and perceived likeability, two sources close to the campaign said. "The delay in announcing someone has helped Edwards," a Democrat close to Kerry said....

    Kerry's competitive streak, which has run deep throughout his career, is also coloring his decision, friends say. Kerry, they say, sometimes appears conflicted when talking about his desire to find a strong leader, or a peer, who could without a doubt run the nation in wartime and his concern of being upstaged or unfavorably compared with his running mate, stylistically or professionally. (emphases added)

    posted by Dan at 12:45 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    My very own cabinet reshuffle

    Brad DeLong has been urging "grown-up Republicans" for the past year to force Bush and Cheney's resignations. In latest post on this theme, DeLong expresses his half-serious wish that "the presidential succession passes to Colin Powell."

    Now, besides the fact that Brad's theories of political science rest on shaky ground, and besides the fact that the only time I can think of either party forcing a sitting president not to run again was Johnson in 1968 (and even then it wasn't "grown-up Democrats" doing the pushing), I'm a bit puzzled by DeLong's embrace of Colin Powell. Maybe Powell is a moderate Republican, but that doesn't seem to have made him a particularly good Secretary of State. As the New York Times and Washington Post pointed out last year in their autopsies of the diplomatic run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and as I highlighted in this post, the Secretary of State did not exert a lot of diplomatic effort. This is from the Times account:

    Throughout the last several months, one of the puzzles at the State Department and throughout the administration is why Mr. Powell, one of the best-known and best-liked Americans in many parts of the world, never engaged in a campaign of public appearances abroad as energetic as the telephone and broadcast interview campaign he pressed from his office, home and car.

    'His travels abroad are too few and far between,' said an official, noting that the only trips Mr. Powell made to Europe since the beginning of last year were to accompany the president or to attend short-lived conferences....

    Mr. Powell is known to dislike travel. 'I think I have a right balance between phone diplomacy, diplomacy here in Washington, and diplomacy on the road,' he said recently when questioned about his schedule. (emphasis added)

    A secretary of State who dislikes travel -- my kind of diplomat.

    However, Brad's post did get me to thinking about Bush's foreign policy team and my own qualms with their performance. Tenet and Negroponte have recently left their positions. Rumsfeld should resign. Powell is lackluster. Fairly or unfairly, Ashcroft as Attorney General has been an automatic campaign contribution machine for Democrats. Foreign policy professionals are thoroughly disenchanted with the current team.

    Since Bush and Cheney themselves aren't going anywhere, I've got an idea -- how about a cabinet overhaul now instead of November!!

    Of course, this presents an exciting but challenging task -- picking a new foreign affairs cabinet that meets the following criteria:

    1) They have solid Republican bona-fides;
    2) They're effective administrators (for cabinet officials);
    3) They have gravitas;
    4) They can play nicely with each other;
    5) Those needing Senate confirmation could get it with a minimum of fuss

    With those criteria in mind -- and do bear in mind that this is a blog post, so it's not like I've thought every detail of this out -- what's my new cabinet look like?

    Secretary of Defense -- John McCain. It's worth remembering that back in 2000, John McCain was the preferred candidate for a lot of prominent neocons. Here's a way to snuff out all that Kerry-McCain mumbo-jumbo and make McCain's star quality work for the Republicans. Plus, he knows a thing or two about defense matters.

    Attorney General -- John Danforth. This position is a lightning rod for social conservatives -- but no one could doubt Danforth's adherence to conservative values or his sense of duty. Danforth commands respect on both sides of the aisle for his Senatorial record as well as his recent efforts to end the civil war in Sudan. This pick would please conservatives and not piss off moderates at the same time -- not an easy task.

    Director of Central Intelligence -- Brent Scowcroft. Let's face it, the intelligence community is a mess right now -- what's needed is a technocrat's technoract, someone who can clean house while commanding the respect of intelligence professionals. Scowcroft has experience in just about every policy position in Washington, and currently chairs the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. [Why would he leave a lucrative consulting group to go to take a position lower than NSC advisor?--ed. Er, a sense of duty.]

    Secretary of State -- Kenneth Dam. Dam was Deputy Secretary of State under George Shultz and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury under Paul O'Neill. To my knowledge, no one in DC has ever said a bad word about him. I'm going to go out on a limb and say he's got sufficient experience for the job.

    National Security Advisor -- Bob Blackwill. By all accounts, Blackwill is the Republican version of Richard Holbrooke -- an arrogant SOB who gets the job done. The NSC advisor needs to be someone who can be an honest broker in the policy process, unafraid of large egos, and able to be candid with the president. Blackwill's perfect for the job -- besides, as Lawrence Kaplan points out, Blackwill seems to be evolving into a shadow NSC advisor anyway.

    Treasury Secretary -- Robert Zoellick. In the spirit of keeping one current Bush appointee, promote this guy and finally have a Treasury chief that understands there's an international component of the job.

    Secretary of Homeland Security -- Rudoplh Guliani. If you think the intelligence community has problems, consider this monstrosity of a department for a second. This job is much tougher than DCI -- at least the CIA has some sense of esprit de cotps. DHS is a conglomeration of smaller agencies that have been discarded by other departments. What's needed here is a centralizer, someone who can meld an awkward organizational chart into something resembling a functional bureaucracy. I think Guliani fits that mold.

    United Nations Ambassador -- Robert Kagan. This is always an awkward slot, because it usually goes to someone who lost out in the Secretary of State/NSC Advisor Sweepstakes. Plus, the UN ambassador needs to be someone who can play nicely with other countries, but still accepts the original neoconservative principle that the U.N. is a bastion of anti-Americanism and general silliness. Alas, Daniel Patrick Moynihan is neither Republican nor alive. But Kagan comes the closest to embodying those principles.

    Seems like a nice mix of responsible realists and responsible neoconservatives to me. Someone get me David Broder's private line to float this trial balloon!

    Readers are hereby encouraged to submit alternative candidates -- provided they meet the criteria listed above.

    posted by Dan at 12:55 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (13)

    Thursday, June 17, 2004

    Eugene Volokh triggers a gay civil war

    Well, not really. Eugene's original quotation of Marilyn Zielinski's theory about what it takes for a man to be sexy was quite interesting:

    I think almost any man can be sexy, can become a good flirt, can learn to attract women, if he is truly willing to. Like most social skills, the general principles aren't that mysterious, and are quantifiable if you pay attention....

    But most men don't really want to be sexy; they want sexy to be them. I don't mean to man-bash, men are one of my favorite genders, but it's such a waste of resources. Like you, I know tons of great women. They're (list of all the good adjectives), and people want to be around them.

    And I know a fair number of (good adjectives) single men, but [it's generally] also clear why they're single. They don't listen, and won't; they won't get a real job; they're boring but don't want to acknowlege it or do anything about it. Hey, if that shirt was "in" when they were in high school, no need to see if any ads/mannequins/humans under 60 wear it today.

    I don't have a single female friend who hasn't asked herself, "What am I doing wrong?" and been totally open -- often too open, in a self-blame-y way -- to the answer, and to changing the answer, often with great success. But I almost never find that men ask that question, or are even willing to hear the answer, let alone do anything about it. Instead, single men in my experience behave as if the only life possibilities are being the way they are, or acting. The idea of growth and change don't make the radar.

    This has inspired two very different responses from two different gay men.

    First, Andrew Sullivan weighs in:

    If women weren't so damn forgiving of slobbiness, if they weren't prepared to look for the diamond buried in the rough of a man's beer-belly, men might have to shape up a little. The only reason gay men are - on the whole - better turned out than straight men is because they have to appeal to other shallow, beauty-obsessed males to get laid, find a mate, etc. The corollary, of course, are lesbians. Now there are many glamorous lesbiterians, but even the most enthusiastic Sapphic-lover will have to concede that many are not exactly, shall we say, stylish. The reason? They don't have to be to attract other women; and since women find monogamy easier, they also slide into the I'm-married-so-what-the-hell-have-another-pretzel syndrome. When straight women really do insist on only dating hot guys, men will shape up. Until then, it's hopeless.

    For a somewhat different take, Eugene follows up his original post with the following reprint of Geoffrey Murry's Queer Eye view:

    I find it is often a man's resoluteness in the face of what I shall call here adversity that makes him sexy. It is his adamantine surety of place as he strides into a room that makes him noticed. Were he to be engaged in the constant questioning of himself that Marilyn suggests, I reckon it might be more difficult for him to pull this off.

    As an example, I offer what an observer of gay male culture might call the fetishization of the straight man. It is not that he, the straight man, is so much more attractive or well dressed than a gay man. Quite often the opposite is true, with the average gay man perhaps being better groomed and tailored than the average straight man. Rather it is the sheer *effortlessness* with which an attractive straight man can achieve his attractiveness that makes him sexy; his insouciance wins the day.

    Gay men simply try too hard, often attempting to look perfect, which always fails and leaves him looking simply . . . false, stilted, fabricated. The straight man (the metrosexual and Marilyn's dream men aside) rarely goes to this length, and it is the imperfection in his appearance that gives it the veracity of the virile.

    The one thing I'm sure of is that Sullivan and Murry should probably not date each other.

    We here at welcome any and all contributions to this pressing debate, regardless of sexual preference.

    posted by Dan at 06:12 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

    Should Rummy resign, part III

    Last month I posted here and here on why Donald Rumsfeld should resign. I'll just cut and paste this Eric Schmitt/Thom Shanker story in the New York Times for why I stand by that belief:

    Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, acting at the request of George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, ordered military officials in Iraq last November to hold a man suspected of being a senior Iraqi terrorist at a high-level detention center there but not list him on the prison's rolls, senior Pentagon and intelligence officials said Wednesday.

    This prisoner and other "ghost detainees" were hidden largely to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross from monitoring their treatment, and to avoid disclosing their location to an enemy, officials said.

    Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, the Army officer who in February investigated abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, criticized the practice of allowing ghost detainees there and at other detention centers as "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."

    This prisoner, who has not been named, is believed to be the first to have been kept off the books at the orders of Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Tenet. He was not held at Abu Ghraib, but at another prison, Camp Cropper, on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport, officials said.

    UPDATE: This Reuters story doesn't comfort me much either:

    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged on Thursday that he ordered the secret detention of an Iraqi terrorism suspect held for more than seven months near Baghdad without notifying the Red Cross....

    "We should have registered him (the prisoner) much sooner than we did," Pentagon Deputy General Counsel Daniel Dellorto told the briefing.

    "That's something that we'll just have to examine, as to whether there was a breakdown in the quickness with which we registered him," he said....

    Rumsfeld said the man's case was unique, but he was vague when reporters asked whether the United States was holding other "ghost" prisoners without Red Cross knowledge in Iraq....

    In March, Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigated abuses at Abu Ghraib, criticized the holding of "ghost" detainees as "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."

    Rumsfeld was asked how this case differed from the practice Taguba criticized. "It is just different, that's all," he said.

    Sorry, that last answer doesn't cut it for me.

    posted by Dan at 05:55 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (3)

    Suggest a guest-blogger for!!

    Josh Marshall is taking a vacation, but not before dropping a coy reference to a journalistic venture "that I and several colleagues have been working on a story that, if and when it comes to fruition --- and I’m confident it shall --- should shuffle the tectonic plates under that capital city where I normally hang my hat."

    More intriguingly, Marshall will be having a guest blogger at Talking Points Memo [UPDATE: Marshall made a fine choice in TNR's Spencer Ackerman.] Which got me to thinking that even though I often fill in as a guest-blogger for the Higher Beings of the Blogosphere, I haven't had a guest blogger here at -- with the singular and laudatory exception of my wife.

    Due to some impending events that will become public in due course, I may need the services of a guest-blogger or two in the coming months. I've thought on occasion about who could be able to fulfill my mandate of "politics, economics, globalization, academia, pop culture... all from an untenured perspective"? All too often I draw a blank.

    Sooooo..... readers are hereby invited to submit suggestions -- from the blogosphere or the scholarly community -- as possible short-term substitutes (for those shy academics in the audience who are interested but would rather not post that fact on the blog, contact me directly).

    posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (1)

    It's not easy keeping up with the Oxbloggers

    I see that Josh Chafetz has published his first essay in the New York Times Book Review this past Sunday.

    David Adesnik's praise to the contrary, we here at often feel powerless in the wake of the Oxbloggers' relentless stream of publications. It's not just their ability to publish in so many tony outlets -- it's the fact that they're more than a decade younger than me and publishing in so many tony outlets. Just who do these young whippersnappers think they are, writing such high-quality copy on such a regular basis?

    [Is it because they haven't completed a Ph.D. yet and therefore haven't had their writing skills crushed into a sticky paste?--ed. From an epistemological standpoint, that's a nonfalsifiable hypothesis and lacks any counterfactual analysis. Thank you for proving my point--ed.]

    But today the advantage is mine. My review of Niall Ferguson's Colossus: The Price of America's Empire is on page D7 of today's Wall Street Journal. You can see the online version by clicking here. Here's the part of the book that I found most interesting:

    What comes through most clearly in his account is that the troubles in Iraq are hardly unique. Empire, even the American kind, has always involved moral quandaries, confused planning and shifting tactics. About a century ago, there was enthusiasm over the U.S. victory in the Philippines, a distant theater in the Spanish-American war. The enthusiasm was soon tempered, though, by the news that American military officials "had ordered the summary execution of Filipino prisoners."

    In the case of Japan, one of the architects of the country's postwar constitution admitted: "I had no knowledge whatsoever about Japan's history or culture or myths." In the case of Germany, Gen. Lucius Clay, the military governor of the U.S.-administered zone, planned to cut his staff by half in the six months following V-E day and to transfer power to a civilian government by July 1946. He did neither, of course. But in the end, America's "empire by improvisation," as Mr. Ferguson calls it, worked well because the Cold War required the U.S. to stay in those two countries indefinitely.

    The ball's in your court, Oxblog... oh yes, the ball is most definitely in your court.

    [Ummm... didn't Adesnik and Chafetz already publish something in the Wall Street Journal?--ed. Arrggh!! I'd have a greater sense of self-esteem if it wasn't for those meddling kids!!]

    posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (2)

    Wednesday, June 16, 2004

    Are successful blogs correlated with successful campaigns?

    Back in the winter when Dean crashed and burned in Iowa, I asked:

    To paraphrase an old Jewish aphorism, is this good for the blogs? Regardless of one's political stripe, the blogosphere embraced Dean's Internet campaign as a kindred spirit, emblematic of the same phenomenon that propelled blogs into prominence.

    Now, the reason I asked this was obvious -- most people associated campaign blogs with Dean, and if Dean flamed out, surely that meant that having the most successful blog around didn't mean all that much even in primary campaigns.

    The unstated assumption behind my question was that Blog for America was actually the most successful campaign blog out there. Even though campaign blogs are different from other kinds of blogs, and even though I had criticized its content in another venue, I certainly believed it to be the most professional.

    However, I may have been in error. [Again--ed.] Gene Koprowski, UPI's telecomminications reporter, reports on an interesting study about campaigns and blogs:

    Most of the information about the influence of blogs is qualitative -- anecdotal, based on what readers say about the sites. But before the Democratic primary season was completed this past spring, one software developer tested the reliability of blogs run by political candidates and gleaned some interesting results that may continue to play out in the fall.

    "Blogs run by the campaign of President George W. Bush and Sen. Kerry were the most effective," said Joe Alwan, vice president of marketing at Empirix Inc., a Web applications software developer in Waltham, Mass. "They had a 100 percent reliability. The blog run by the campaign of (Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.) had only a 50 percent reliability," he told UPI.

    Former Vermont Governor Dean maintained about a 98 percent reliability rate for his Web blogs, the study demonstrated.

    Empirix tested the sites by sending electronic queries to them during a set period of time, and often received error messages saying, for example, the "Apache Web server was down" for Edwards, Alwan said.

    This could have been interpreted as a signal to some Internet savvy voters that the candidate just did not care enough about reaching them online, in the way in which they wanted to be reached. The reaction is similar to the way customers become turned off if an e-commerce site is not working properly, said Pete Cruz, director of Web applications management for Empirix.

    "The point is that blogs are now important in politics, and they need to make sure that their sites are working," Cruz told UPI. "For Edwards, the blog became a liability to his campaign. Users who visit expect performance. A lack of performance is more likely to alienate users."

    Another interesting point: Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., did not have a blog on his site and did not perform well in any of the Democratic primaries, the Empirix survey concluded.

    Now, a few caveats -- first, I can't find a press release or an executive summary of this study on the Empirix web site (see below for an update). Second, the difference between Dean's 98% effectiveness and Kerry's 100% effectiveness is not huge. Third, Edwards outperformed Dean in the primary campaign even though his blog was only half as effective.

    Still, this is the first (report of a) study I've seen in which Kerry's blog comes out on top by any metric.

    By the way, if you read the entire UPI report, you'll find a mention of -- clearly, Greg Wythe was not the only person impressed with my ability to fold in a Kristin Davis reference to a post about Sarbanes-Oxley.

    UPDATE: Drezner gets results from UPI and Empirix! After an e-mail query, the good people at Empirix were nice enough to send me their study, which was done at the behest of Baseline magazine -- though it doesn't appear to have been cited in their December 2003 package on campaign blogs. But for those who care, their study was conducted from "October 31, 2003 at 1:00pm Eastern through November 7, 2003 at 1:00pm Eastern." It looks quite proper.

    posted by Dan at 09:45 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Someone's been in the ivory tower too long

    I've haven't been following the scandals involving the University of Colorado at Boulder's football program too carefully. What I have read about it is at a welcome distance. As someone who used to teach there, I can't say I'm particularly shocked by the catalogued behavior.

    The tendency of CU-Boulder university officials to say idiotic things hasn't helped matters. One of the triggers for the mess was when coach Gary Barnett, in responding to questions about the alleged rape of female placekicker Katie Hnida by a teammate, called Hnida an "awful" player who "couldn't kick the ball through the uprights." Barnett was suspended pending an investigation, and later reinstated.

    Alas, CU-Boulder's president, Elizabeth Hoffman, seems determined to follow Barnett's ability to put one's foot in one's mouth. From the KUSA (NBC's affiliate station in Denver) web site:

    In a sworn statement, University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said she has heard a four-letter word used toward women as a "term of endearment."

    The comment comes from Hoffman's latest sworn testimony in connection with a federal lawsuit against the university. 9NEWS received a copy of the passage in question from the university after sources both outside and inside CU told us about it.

    The suit was filed by women who say they were sexually assaulted by CU football players and recruits.

    A lawyer for one of the women asked Hoffman about former CU kicker Katie Hnida being called the "c- word" by a teammate.

    That player was later disciplined by coach Gary Barnett for making the remark.

    In the deposition, Hoffman was asked whether the "c-word" is "filthy and vile."

    She said she knows the word is a swear word, but "It is all in the context of what--of how it is used and when it is used."

    She was asked, "Can you indicate any polite context in which that word would be used?"

    Hoffman answered, "Yes, I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment."

    A CU spokeswoman said President Hoffman is aware of the negative connotations associated with the word.

    But, the spokesperson said, because Hoffman is a medieval scholar, she is aware of the long history of the word. She said it was not always a negative term. (emphasis added)

    You can see the relevant portion of the transcript by clicking here.

    Now Hoffman is etymologically correct -- at least according to this site, "the word wasn't always considered derogatory, even though it is today." (Click here for more than you would ever want to know about this word.)

    And in further defense of Hoffman, here's a statement released by a university spokeswoman:

    There should be no doubt that President Hoffman knows the meaning of the word in question and its current usage. She was in an extremely adversarial deposition with attorneys who have brought federal litigation seeking monetary damages from the university. In an effort to not allow the attorney to dictate to her a definition of the word, she defined it herself as a swear word. She was then asked if she was aware of a non-negative definition. She replied from her scholar's knowledge.

    Unfortunately for Hoffman, this is one of those questions for which common sense suggests the obvious answer -- no matter how adversarial the situation. Responding as she did makes her seem way too detached from the real world.

    posted by Dan at 09:43 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (3)

    There's realism and then there's realism

    I liked the way Lawrence Kaplan starts his cover story in The New Republic (subscription required) on the resurgence of realism in American foreign policy circles:

    In Washington, being a member of a "coalition" or a "committee" is to a foreign policy wonk what being a supernumerary at the Metropolitan Opera is to a New York arts patron or a good seat at the Ivy is to a Hollywood mogul: an emblem of status.

    It gets better from there:

    Indeed, it appears nearly everyone in Washington is a realist now. Neatly summarizing the revised wisdom, The Washington Post's George Will recently argued that America's errors in Iraq flow not so much from the bungled implementation of the democratic idea as from the idea itself--"the Jeffersonian poetry of democratic universalism." The new realism, moreover, has already been enshrined in official policy. The Bush team still employs high-minded rhetoric about America's democratic mission abroad, but, in practice, it has reverted to a more humble focus. The Kerry campaign, too, has abandoned any pretense of democratic idealism. Strategic chokepoints, oil wells, alliances--these are the things that animate Kerry's "realistic" vision of the world. Which is too bad. Because, no matter what you think of Iraq, realism can't win the war on terrorism.....

    [T]he very realists whom Bush decries are now running his foreign policy. The Pentagon's neoconservative democratizers have been losing influence for months now. The nadir came three weeks ago, when the National Security Council (NSC) signed off on a raid on the home of former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi--without informing the Pentagon beforehand. The neoconservatives' decline was already apparent last October, when, in an attempt to centralize Iraq policy at the NSC, Condoleezza Rice formed the Iraq Stabilization Group--again, without consulting the Pentagon. The official chosen to chair the group, Rice's boss in the first Bush administration, Robert Blackwill, has "reduced the Defense Department's influence to zero," says a senior administration official. Iraq czar L. Paul Bremer, who worked with Blackwill under Kissinger, now reports to his fellow realist at the White House rather than to the Pentagon. On the NSC itself, Blackwill, who shares the title of deputy national security adviser with Stephen Hadley, a Pentagon ally, "has sucked the air out of" his colleague, according to a White House official. As for the other locus of democratic idealism in the White House, the Valerie Plame investigation has consumed the vice president's foreign policy team. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney has been soliciting advice from Kissinger, and members of the Bush team claim that Rice, chastened by her prewar foray into the world of democracy promotion, has been doing the same from Scowcroft....

    The genesis of the new realism is, of course, America's problems creating democracy in Iraq. But today's problems in Iraq do not derive from failures of democracy. They derive from failures of security, which have made democracy difficult to achieve. Those failures owe to a well-chronicled fact--the United States lacks the troop levels required to provide security. It should be axiomatic that, as former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) adviser and democracy expert Larry Diamond puts it, "you can't have a democratic state unless you have a state, and the fundamental, irreducible condition of a state is that it has a monopoly on the means of violence." In Iraq today, not even the U.S. Army, much less the interim government, possesses such a monopoly.

    Nor is it clear that the Bush team's particular recipe for building a democratic Iraq amounted to much more than a cartoon version of democratization. "The distinction between liberation and democratization, which requires a strategy and instruments," says former U.S. Information Agency Director Penn Kemble, "was an idea never understood by the administration." Indeed, it was precisely the equation of the absence of oppression with the existence of democracy--exemplified by Donald Rumsfeld's infamous "freedom's untidy" comment during the postwar looting--that underpinned the White House's assumption that it could rapidly draw down U.S. forces after toppling Saddam. It took the United States years to transform Germany and Japan. In Iraq, by contrast, the CPA already has its bags packed....

    A recent study by Princeton's Alan Krueger and Czech scholar Jitka Maleckova analyzed data on terrorist attacks and measured it against the characteristics of the terrorists' countries of origin. The study found that "the only variable that was consistently associated with the number of terrorists was the Freedom House index of political rights and civil liberties. Countries with more freedom were less likely to be the birthplace of international terrorists." Unfortunately, according to the U.N.'s Arab Human Development Report, not a single Arab state offers such freedoms. One could plausibly have argued before September 11 that this was none of America's business. But, on that day, the Arab world's predicament became our own--thrusting the United States into a war of ideas to which realism has no adequate response.

    Kaplan makes some good points -- but I have two moderate carps with the piece:

    1) Not everyone who opposes the administration is a realist. The Committee that Kaplan fronts the piece with is entitled "The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy." Semantic as this may sound, "realistic" is not the same thing as "realist." A quick glance at the coalition's statement of principles reveals that what binds this coalition together is an opposition to American empire -- but that can come from several sources. For example -- as I argued a few months ago in TNR Online -- realists dislike the neocon enthusiasm for nation-building, whereas liberal institutionalists dislike the neocon disdain for multilateralism. While realists and liberal institutionalists might disagree with neoconservatives on empire-building, they don't agree on a lot of other dimensions of policy. The list of signatories paints a similar picture -- while there are a large number of true-blue realists on the list, there are also people, like Charles Kupchan, who would not fit that label (though, admittedly, most of the other people on that list are realists).

    Kaplan doesn't help matters by labeling G. John Ikenberry in the essay as a "prominent realist." No offense against John -- who's a fine scholar and a star in the discipline -- but that ain't right. If you read Ikenberry's principal work, After Victory, it's clear that he's quite the fan of multilateral institutions as a binding mechanism on hegemonic powers. This is hardly a controversial position to adopt in the gamut of international relations theory -- but it flatly contradicts all varieties of realism. As someone in the same department as "today's premier realist," John J. Mearsheimer, let me put it this way: I've served with realists (on committees). I know realists. Realists are friends of mine -- and John Ikenberry is no realist.

    Kaplan's confusion of "realistic/pragmatic" with "realist" reveals a small but telling weakness among some neoconservatives -- their tendency to lump all of their intellectual adversaries into the same undifferentiated box. It is only through appreciating the nuances of alternative points of view that one can hone one's own arguments and policy proposals -- and I don't think a lot of neocons do this all that much.

    Which brings me to a related point:

    2) Kaplan wants to absolve the neocons of all blame: Kaplan's essay rightly excoriates administration realists (read: Rumsfeld) for failing to follow through on nation-building. And it is certainly true that some neocons (Kagan, Kristol, Pollack) wanted the U.S. to be large and in charge in Iraq. However, Kaplan is way too quick to dismiss the errors of the neocons who were actually in power. It was not just Rumsfeld that believed we could do nation-building on the cheap -- it was Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Richard Perle as well. Perle in particular thought that it would be easy to topple the Baathist regime and hand the keys of government to Chalabi. Kaplan seems to adopt a similar position in his TNR essay when he scolds the Chalabi raid.

    Kaplan is correct to point out the faulty assumptions made by administration realists in the post-war administration of Iraq. But he is incorrect not to say that many of those assumptions were generated by the neocons.

    posted by Dan at 01:11 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

    Who's the biggest budget-cutter of them all?

    Brad DeLong rises to the bait and blasts the AEI report I linked to in my last post -- not for inaccuracies, but for sins of omission:

    [T]here are some numbers that the American Enterprise Institute is very careful not to mention, and that Cowen and Drezner ought to make sure to tell their readers. They are:

    Federal Spending as a Share of GDP:
    21.6%: Last Carter budget (FY 1981)
    20.7%: Last Reagan budget (FY 1989)

    -0.9%: Change over Reagan terms

    21.0%: Last Bush I budget (FY 1993)
    18.3%: Last Clinton budget (FY 2001)

    -2.7%: Change over Clinton terms

    20.4%: Forecast FY 2005 budget

    +2.1%: Change over Bush term*

    Why doesn't the AEI report these numbers? Because it doesn't want you thinking. It doesn't want you thinking that the axe Reagan took to the discretionary domestic side was largely offset by increases in defense spending that had relatively little effect on the strategic balance vis-a-vis the tottering Soviet Union (more submarines, anyone?) and by the explosion of interest payments on the debt produced by the Reagan deficits. It doesn't want you thinking that Clinton-era reductions in the size of the government were three times as big as Reagan-era reductions. And it doesn't want you to really focus on exactly how profligate the Bush budgets have been.

    If I were Brad, I'd bring out these numbers as well -- and I think he has half a point. In examining a president's record of fiscal probity, it's not enough to look at whether department budgets were cut -- the magnitude of the cuts matter as well.

    However, the point of the AEI report was to examine the efforts by presidents to cut government spending, not government spending as a percentage of GDP. A big reason Clinton does so well in Brad's figures is not because of Clinton's containment of government growth (the numerator) but because of the economic boom of the 90's (the denominator). Clearly, Clinton had some role to play in the latter as well -- but to go back to Pearlstein's WaPo article:

    In this country, presidents don't "preside over" economies, and they certainly don't control them. They can implement a limited range of economic policies that affect the economic cycle at the margin.

    For example, if you go to Brad's post on the Cinton administration's fiscal legacy, his "rough numbers" for how America's fiscal situation improved during the nineties give about 64% of the credit to events beyond Clinton's control (the end of the Cold War, Bush I's 1990 budget deal, the information age boom). The Clinton team gets credit for most of the rest of the improvement -- which sounds about right to me.

    [You just put that last WaPo quote in there to see if Brad goes medieval on Pearlstein, didn't you?--ed. I have no idea what you're talking about.]

    UPDATE: Be sure to read Tyler Cowen's response to DeLong as well. Cowen makes a point that covers this blog as well: "is writing, and there is linking. A link does not itself constitute a specifically inferable opinion on what is being linked to."

    posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (3)

    Comparing Reagan with Bush & Kerry

    Tyler Cowen and Virginia Postrel both have posts up on how Reagan affected the size of government. Tyler links to this AEI report that lists the number of department and agency budgets that each president tried to cut during their term:

    Johnson, 4 out 15
    Nixon, 3 out 15
    Carter, 5 out 15
    Reagan 1, 8 out 15
    Reagan 2, 10 out 15
    Bush 41, 2 out 15
    Clinton 1, 9 out 15
    Clinton 2, 0 out 15
    Bush 43, 0 out 15

    Sigh. Be sure to check out Postrel's post as well.

    [So this is the last straw, right? Now you're ready to jump on the Kerry bandwagon, right?--ed. It's not like Kerry is closer to inheriting Reagan's mantle. Henry Farrell's observations at a Kerry fundraiser don't fill me with a lot of confidence:

    [Bill] Clinton tried to sell Kerry as a caring Democrat, by talking about Kerry’s commitment to helping deprived youth during Clinton’s Presidency. This wasn’t very convincing - there wasn’t any specific information, or even anecdotes, about what exactly Kerry had done. All in all, it served to confirm my overall impression that the Democrats are still having difficulty in selling Kerry as a positive quantity, rather than as an alternative to the (undoubtedly execrable) incumbent. Some of this could be my bias as a non-US lefty who has no emotional commitment to the Democrats, but it seemed to me that Kerry still has a lot of work to do if he’s going to maintain his narrow lead, let alone extend it.

    Steven Pearlstein is not exactly thrilled with Kerry's rhetoric in the pages of the Washington Post:

    Kerry's campaign has dredged up the old "middle-class squeeze," which emphasizes rising costs for energy, health care and college tuition. This analysis conveniently ignores falling prices for other basics like food, clothing, airfare or phone service, or lower monthly payments for homes and cars. It also suggests that the president is largely responsible for price increases largely outside his control.

    For Kerry, the danger in playing this economic blame game is that voters will come to see him as no different than a president who has used exaggeration and selective use of facts to justify a war against Iraq. Rather than offering a contrast to the Republicans' highly partisan, attack-dog approach to political discourse, Kerry mimics it -- potentially turning off moderate, independent voters. (emphasis added)

    Not exactly a replica of Regan's opimism, eh?]

    posted by Dan at 12:50 AM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (2)

    Tuesday, June 15, 2004

    Tim Berners-Lee finally makes a buck

    Victoria Shannon has a nice story in the International Herald Tribune about how the inventor of the World Wide Web is finally reaping some rewards from his marvelous invention:

    If Tim Berners-Lee had decided to patent his idea in 1989, the Internet would be a different place.

    Instead, the World Wide Web became free to anyone who could make use of it. Many of those who did became rich: Jeff Bezos (, Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Pierre Omidyar (eBay) and Marc Andreessen (Netscape).

    But not Berners-Lee, 49, a British scientist working at a Geneva research lab at the time.

    That is why some people think it is fitting - or about time - that he finally becomes wealthy, with the award Tuesday of the world's largest technology prize, the Millennium Technology Prize from the Finnish Technology Award Foundation. The E1 million, or $1.2 million, prize for outstanding technological achievements that raised the quality of life is supported by the Finnish government and private contributors.

    "It was a very nice surprise," Berners-Lee said in an interview Sunday as three days of ceremonies began here....

    Because he and his colleague, Robert Cailliau, a Belgian, insisted on a license-free technology, today a Gateway computer with a Linux operating system and a browser made by Netscape can see the same Web page as any other personal computer, system software or Internet browser.

    If his then-employer, CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, had sought royalties, Berners-Lee believes the world would have 16 different "webs" on the Internet today.

    "Goodness knows, there were plenty of hypertext systems before that didn't interoperate," Berners-Lee said. "There would have been a CERN Web, a Microsoft one, there would have been a Digital one, Apple's HyperCard would have started reaching out Internet roots. And all of these things would have been incompatible."

    Software patenting today, Berners-Lee says, has run amok.

    Read the rest of the article to find out why.

    We here at salute Mr. Berners-Lee for finally making a profit off of the Internet.

    posted by Dan at 05:56 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Who's going to the moon?

    Victoria Griffith reports in the Financial Times that NASA proper won't be responding to President Bush's call for a manned mission to the moon or Mars anytime soon. That doesn't mean it won't happen:

    The future role of Nasa has been thrown into question by a high-profile report that concludes the agency is not able to send crewed missions to the Moon and Mars on its own.

    The study - published officially on Wednesday - comes out just days before a private rocket in the California desert is poised to perform the first manned commercial space flight. Nasa has not launched people into space since the Columbia shuttle disaster last year.....

    A commission appointed by George W. Bush, US president, and headed by Edward Aldridge, a former US air force secretary, will recommend an overhaul of Nasa that would force it to rely more on the private sector and expertise from foreign space agencies.

    The 60-page study supports the use of cash prizes and tax incentives to encourage innovation by small companies. It names 17 technologies that are lacking in order to send men to the far side of the Moon and on to Mars, including better space suits and affordable heavy lift capability.

    The commission also calls for Nasa to be streamlined - a process that has already begun - and for greater oversight of space budgets by the White House and Congress.

    Mr Bush asked the group to provide a blueprint for Nasa after he called in January for further human exploration of the solar system. The president set out a goal of returning humans to the moon by 2020 and then going on to Mars....

    "It could be that by 2020, private enterprise could be reaching the Moon, which is about the same as Nasa's timetable," says Eric Anderson, president of Space Adventures, a space tourism group.

    posted by Dan at 05:44 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

    It would have helped if I had actually read the Chatham House rules

    Some of you may have noted that I deleted a Sunday post about my impressions after attending a Council on Foreign Relations meeting. The reason is that I completely blanked on one aspect of the Chatham House Rule:

    When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed; nor may it be mentioned that the information was received at a meeting of the Institute. (emphasis added)

    While I was quite scrupulous about the first parts of the rule, I was in flagrant violation of the highlighted segment.

    My profound apologies to all for the error.

    posted by Dan at 05:29 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

    The ironies of President Lula

    The Economist examines the effects of Brazil's increasingly assertive foreign policy. The results may surprise you:

    Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country's left-leaning president, is carving out a role for Brazil as spokesman for poor countries, most notably by founding the G20 group which lobbies for rich countries to open up farm trade. His government is playing a more active role across South America. And it is seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. “Brazil has begun to flex its muscles as a regional superpower,” says Miguel Díaz of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think-tank.

    If so, it is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, Brazil's fondest wish is to mitigate the United States' dominance of global affairs and thereby to enhance Brazil's influence. The foreign minister, Celso Amorim, calls for “a more balanced world” and justifies the Haiti mission in part as a step towards it. “You can't be a supporter of multilateralism and when it comes to act say it's [too] dangerous,” says Mr Amorim.

    On the other hand, Brazil's new activism often, though not always, coincides with the interests of the United States. Both countries want democracy and stability in places in the Americas where these seem fragile. In some of those places, Lula's Brazil has more friends and influence than George Bush's more abrasive United States. The two sometimes back rivals in these countries, but that is one source of Brazil's usefulness....

    Brazil is taking “more responsibility for calming things down in the region, which the United States finds fantastic,” says Alfredo Valladão of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris. That is one reason why Brazil has not been shunned by Mr Bush, despite Lula's opposition to the war in Iraq.

    Read the whole thing -- there's a disturbing bit at the end about Brazil's nuclear program.

    posted by Dan at 11:12 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, June 14, 2004

    The effect of Sarbanes-Oxley

    The Hackett Group has an interesting finding on the effect of Sarbanes-Oxley -- you know, the corporate governance bill passed in the wake of the 2002 corporate scandals. The results are pretty interesting. [How interesting can that be?--ed. Definitely less interesting than speculation about possible future roles for Kristin Davis, but more interesing than your average post about corporate governance.]

    Where was I? Oh, yes, here's a summary of the findings:

    Largely as a by-product of their Sarbanes-Oxley compliance efforts, companies have dramatically improved the reliability of their financial forecasting over the past year, according to 2004 Book of Numbers research into world-class finance performance from The Hackett Group....

    Findings from The Hackett Group's 2004 Finance Book of Numbers show that more than two thirds of all companies said they were now confident with their financial forecasting and reporting outputs. Only 9 percent of average companies made the same claim just a year ago.

    But the improved forecasting capabilities have not come easily, and companies are also struggling with Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. In a reversal of long-term trends, companies were for the most part unable to reduce their overall finance costs, and monthly closing cycles have actually extended slightly over the past two years. Median companies now spend 1.08 percent of revenue on finance, according to Hackett. While that number has come down by 43 percent since Hackett began its research in 1992, median companies have seen little to no net cost reductions over the past few years. Companies are still finding ways to cut costs, but increased spending on compliance is largely offsetting these savings, according to Hackett. In addition, Hackett's research showed that a long-term trend towards shorter closing cycles saw a clear reversal in 2004, with both median and world-class companies now taking more than a week to close their books each month.

    While perusing the Hackett web site, I came across another Hackett study on the outsourcing (both onshore and offshore) of finance operations:

    A total of 74 percent of the companies surveyed by Hackett do not currently outsource any complete finance processes. In addition, 60 percent state that their outsourcing levels have not changed in the past three years. When asked to break down their current use of outsourcing of four major finance processes (accounts payable, accounts receivable, general accounting and payroll), only payroll showed any significant number of companies (26 percent) using outsourcing. Another five percent of the companies indicate that they outsource accounts payable, while no companies outsource accounts receivable or general accounting.

    Looking forward, most companies report that they are unlikely to outsource any of the four processes in the next three years.

    "There's no question that outsourcing is a very hot discussion topic right now in the finance world. But our research provides compelling evidence that perception far exceeds reality," said Hackett Senior Business Advisor Penny Weller. "Companies may be comfortable outsourcing sub-processes such as rekeying of vendor invoices or other data, check printing, or managing freight payments. Yet when companies have already expended significant time and energy to centralize complete processes such as accounts payable and accounts receivable within shared services, they are unlikely to consider outsourcing these processes today unless the economic benefits of doing so become overwhelmingly clear."

    posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (2)

    The door decorations of North American professors

    James M. Lang has a droll dissection of why professors decorate their office doors the way they do in the Chronicle of Higher Education. My personal favorite:

    A theologian who wears a pious and serious demeanor around campus, but who will occasionally allow colleagues glimpses of a wicked sense of humor, features just two items on his door: a postcard memorializing the martyrs of his religious order, and a cartoon in which a man is ordering dinner for himself and his dining companion, a large fly, in a French restaurant. After he places an elaborate order of gourmet cuisine for himself, the man in the cartoon finishes with: "and bring some shit for my fly."

    Alas, the only mention of my discipline is not exactly a favorable one:

    Some professors, for example, clearly use their doors to send messages to their colleagues or to the administration about their productivity.

    Witness, in this vein, the political scientist whose three postings all concern events at which he served as one of the keynote speakers.

    [What about your door?--ed. Compared with most of my colleagues, I have a relatively flamboyant office door. Three Onion headlines (my favorite: "Intensive Five-Year Study Finds Five Years a Long-Ass Time"), two drawings by Sam, two New Yorker cartoons, and one Weekly World News headline.

    My favorite door hangings, however, are culled from Vivian Scott Hixson's He Looks Too Happy to Be an Assistant Professor, a must-have collection of cartoons for academics. Front and slightly off-center on my door is a cartoon showing one graduate student whacking another with his briefcase, while two students comment on this in the foreground. The caption reads, "None of that wishy-washy relativism in this seminar!"]

    posted by Dan at 10:42 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

    Sunday, June 13, 2004

    I promise this is my last outsourcing post for a while

    With the BLS report, I suspect I'll have little need to post on offshore outsourcing for some time -- no doubt inspiring a sense of relief among regular readers.

    However, before I get off my outsourcing high horse, it's worth noting that the phenomenon is not limited to the for-profit sector -- now the Catholic Church is getting in on the act. Saritha Rai has the details in the New York Times:

    With Roman Catholic clergy in short supply in the United States, Indian priests are picking up some of their work, saying Mass for special intentions, in a sacred if unusual version of outsourcing.

    American, as well as Canadian and European churches, are sending Mass intentions, or requests for services like those to remember deceased relatives and thanksgiving prayers, to clergy in India....

    In Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast with one of the largest concentrations of Christians in India, churches often receive intentions from overseas. The Masses are conducted in Malayalam, the native language. The intention - often a prayer for the repose of the soul of a deceased relative, or for a sick family member, thanksgiving for a favor received, or a prayer offering for a newborn - is announced at Mass.

    The requests are mostly routed to Kerala's churches through the Vatican, the bishops or through religious bodies. Rarely, prayer requests come directly to individual priests.

    While most requests are made via mail or personally through traveling clergymen, a significant number arrive via e-mail, a sign that technology is expediting this practice.

    In Kerala's churches, memorial and thanksgiving prayers conducted for local residents are said for a donation of 40 rupees (90 cents), whereas a prayer request from the United States typically comes with $5, the Indian priests say.

    Bishop Sebastian Adayanthrath, the auxiliary bishop of the Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese in Cochin, a port town in Kerala, said his diocese received an average of 350 Mass intentions a month from overseas. Most were passed to needy priests.

    In Kerala, where priests earn $45 a month, the money is a welcome supplement, Bishop Adayanthrath said.

    Thanks to alert reader R.S. for the link.

    posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, June 11, 2004

    Video lives forever

    Faithful readers of may remember that around three months ago, I did an interview on tape for ABC World News Tonight on Kerry's tax proposal and offshore outsourcing in general. At the time, I wrote:

    Here's the funny/scary thing -- I have no idea how the interview will be framed. I was critical of Kerry on outsourcing but I also said that the corporate taxation proposal he announced today indicated a change in rhetoric from "Benedict Arnold CEO's." We talked for ten minutes, and there was a lot of tape -- they could go either way with it.

    In the end, ABC cut my interview.

    However, I have been informed by close friends that part of my interview was aired tonight on World News Tonight -- nearly three months later. Why? Probably to follow up on the BLS data -- but I still need to read the transcript. [UPDATE: I was finally able to watch the segment on the web by accessing this page, but you have to (temporarily) subscribe to RealOne to see it. The story was on the BLS report. All I say is, "People are panicking a lot over a very, very small part of the job picture." But I look way smart saying it.]

    While it's nice to get the airtime, it is somewhat unsettling to think that ABC will be playing bits and pieces of that interview if outsourcing should crop up again on World News Tonight.

    When I related this anecdote to someone way above my policymaking pay grade, they nodded sagely and said, "Always go live -- avoid taped interviews, because then you're at the mercy of the producer and the reporter."

    So now I know. And you do too.

    posted by Dan at 11:25 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

    Blogging and partisanship

    My last guest post is up at It's on whether blogging improves or degrades the quality of political argumentation across the political aisle. I remain cautiously optimistic.

    Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (0)

    Same network, different worlds

    CNN's Chris Isidore provides the most in-depth coverage of the BLS report showing that offshore outsourcing is responsible for a piddling number of lost jobs. Among other things, he has the only story I've seen that actually quotes anyone from the BLS.

    Isidore's story provides a lovely contrast with to how fellow CNN employee Lou Dobbs ran with the same information on his show. Let's compare and contrast!

    Isidore first:

    Only a small portion of jobs lost in the first quarter were due to outsourcing of work overseas, according to a government report Thursday that's already being questioned by critics of the Bush administration.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in its first look at layoffs due to the relocation of work, identified only 4,633 jobs that were lost due to relocation of work overseas during the first quarter.

    The jobs lost to overseas relocations were outweighed by 9,985 jobs lost due to relocation of work within the United States.

    And both types of relocations made up just a tiny fraction of the mass layoffs that accounted for the loss of 239,361 jobs in the quarter.

    The number of jobs lost to overseas relocations equals 2.5 percent of overall layoffs in the quarter, excluding seasonal job losses, while the domestic job relocations accounted for another 5.4 percent....

    Josh Livens, an Economic Policy Institute economist, and critic of the Bush administration and corporate outsourcing of work overseas, said he is pleased the BLS has started collecting this survey data. But he's concerned it will be misused to minimize the impact of overseas outsourcing.

    "It's interesting for a number of reasons, but it doesn't shed a lot of light on what's happening in the broader job creation and destruction picture," he said.

    Read the whole thing -- Isidore does a good job of explaining the caveats to the BLS numbers, as well as giving critics an opportunity to make their points.

    Here's how Dobbs treated the same information:

    The government for the first time is beginning to track the number of American jobs lost to cheap foreign labor markets. A Department of Labor report released today finding that more than 4,600 American jobs were exported to those cheap foreign labor markets in the first three months of the year.

    That report, however, is certainly incomplete. It does not, for example, count every job lost to a foreign worker. Companies that laid off fewer than 50 employees are not even included, and companies that employ fewer than 50 people in total are not included as well in this first government effort.

    But it is certainly at least a long-awaited, much-needed beginning.

    The government study also confirmed what we've been reporting here for more than a year, that the manufacturing sector has been devastated by the export of American jobs to cheap overseas labor markets. While corporate America increases its reliance on cheap foreign labor, a new report finds that outsourcing simply doesn't pay.

    Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington.

    LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found off-shoring is still in its early stages with less than 3 percent of all job loss due to overseas outsourcing. But the trend is expected to grow.

    A survey by "CFO" magazine asked corporate managers who have already sent work overseas whether they will increase off-shoring in the next two years. Sixty-four percent said yes. And white-collar jobs are increasingly in jeopardy.

    To be fair, Dobbs and Sylvester did not out-and-out lie in their version of events. They just left out two one minor details: 1) The BLS survey suggests that the percentage of jobs lost due to offshoring was less than 2.5% of the total (sorry, my screw-up -- Sylvester did mention this -- Dobbs didn't); and 2) That cited CFO survey showed that 70% of respondents had no present or future plans to engage in any offshore outsourcing.

    We here at salute Lou Dobbs for his unique ability to slant data that flatly contradicts his hypothesis -- as well as CNN's other reportage. Way to go Lou!!

    For other treatments of this story, check out Paul Blustein in the Washington Post, as well as the New York Times and Financial Times. The Washington Post also has a nice round-up of other press treatments.

    posted by Dan at 07:00 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    Thursday, June 10, 2004

    The BLS weighs in on offshoring

    One of the problems with the outsourcing debate is that the estimates about job losses due to offshoring are mostly coming from management consultants, who appear to be basing those numbers on some really shoddy guesstimates. Official data collection from the Bureau of Labor Statistics didn't sem to directly address this phenomenon. My back-of-the-envelope calculations from the BLS Mass Layoff data suggested that the number of people laid off due to offshoring was around and about 3% of total layoffs.

    Starting this calendar year, however, the BLS decided to ask employers whether offshore outsourcing -- or onshore subcontracting that led to offshore outsourcing -- was the reason for the mass layoff.

    Data for the first quarter are now available for extended mass layoffs -- and it turns out that my 3% estimate was incorrect. This is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics press release:

    Of the 239,361 private sector nonfarm workers who were separated from their jobs for at least 31 days in the first quarter of 2004, the separations of 4,633 workers were associated with the movement of work outside of the country, according to preliminary data. Domestic relocation of work--both within the company and to other companies--affected 9,985 workers....

    In establishments that had layoffs related to the movement of work, the average size of a layoff was 135 workers. This compares with an average of 199 for all establishments that had extended mass layoffs in the first quarter of 2004....

    Sixty-eight percent of the layoff events involving the movement of work and 65 percent of the laid-off workers were from manufacturing industries during the first quarter of 2004.

    So, to conclude -- the percentage of jobs lost due to mass layoffs -- in turn due to offshore outsourcing -- as a percentage of total jobs lost through mass layoffs was not 3% -- it was a whopping 1.9%. If you drop out seasonal employment, the figure rises to 2.5%. So my back of the envelope calculations from a few months ago are an exaggeration. My apologies.

    The caveats -- this data does not cover two other kinds of job loss via outsourcing -- 1) Those let go due to ousourcing when fewer than 50 people were let go; and 2) Those jobs created de novo overeas that may have been created in the U.S. instead were it not for the outsourcing phenomenom.

    At the same time, this data also does not cover two kids of job gains via outsourcing -- 1) Those jobs created via insourcing, when a foreign firm hires U.S. workers; and 2) Those jobs created via the budgetary savings reaped from outsourcing.

    The bottom line -- offshore outsourcing is responsible for a piddling number of lost jobs.

    I'll be commenting on these figures this evening for Nightly Business Report on PBS. Check your local listings!!

    UPDATE: Here's how Reuters plays the story:

    The bulk of outsourced jobs never leave U.S. shores, the government said on Thursday in a new report suggesting concerns over American workers losing jobs to cheaper foreign labor may be exaggerated.

    Nine percent of non-seasonal U.S. layoffs in the first quarter were due to outsourcing, but less than a third of the work was sent overseas, the U.S. Labor Department said in releasing new figures on mass layoffs and outsourcing.

    "In more than seven out of 10 cases, the work activities were reassigned to places elsewhere in the U.S.," the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its report on mass layoffs for the January-to-March period.

    Only trouble is, the headline says "OUTSOURCING CAUSES 9% OF U.S. LAYOFFS" -- which is true but includes onshore as well as offshore outsourcing.

    posted by Dan at 04:30 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (6)

    Gotta run

    Blogging will be light the next couple of days, as I'll be attending/presenting at the Council on Foreign Relations National Meeting. I'm bringing the wi-fi, but this meeting is an all-day affair, and blogging is not an accepted social practice at CFR meetings.... yet.

    Last year, Howell Raines resigned while I was en route -- I wonder if something big will happen this time around.....

    posted by Dan at 09:27 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, June 9, 2004

    Matt Stoller, tendentious liberal

    Matt Stoller has a post over at Blogging of the President entitled, "Daniel Drezner, The Mediocre Reasonable Conservative." I'm going to reprint the bulk of it here so no one can claim anything was taken out of context:

    It really does seem like there are no grown-ups in the Republican Party anymore. There are just infants who don't throw tantrums and get tenure because of it.

    I speak, of course, of Daniel Drezner and his cowardly ilk. The guy's dishonesty and defensiveness has been amply demonstrated [See my response to the linked post here--D.D.], and since the Iraq tar baby happened he's turned almost exclusively towards talking about outsourcing. This is an evasive escape hatch if I've ever seen one.

    Now he's defending the anti-semitic attacks on George Soros:

    As Stephen Bainbridge points out, there's some evidence to support Blankley's claim that Soros accused the Jews of fomenting anti-Semitism...

    I've concluded that Soros is a political loon of the first order. It is ridiculously easy to attack George Soros without ever discussing his religion.

    Two points on this. One, the attacks on Soros were anti-semitic, and ignoring this piece of the pie is to ignore the hate-filled mess that is the modern GOP. Drezner's point is that an attack on his religion is analytically unnecessary - what about the fact that it's really a bad thing to say, and what that fact says about the attackers? Two, calling a serious thinker on international politics a 'loon' without evidence is tantamount to intellectual cheating. I don't care how often you're published in the New Republic, this is not respectable discourse, this is the aiding and abetting of toxic politics.

    This is not surprising, because it's what Drezner and other desperately pathetic 'moderates' do all the time. [See my response to the linked post here--D.D.] First, they join in the catcalls and jeer at liberals for being unserious. Then, as the bad news trickle in, they moderately distance themselves both from the Democrats and the extreme Republicans. As the bad news gets worse, they continue to act appalled at the level of political discourse, without pointing fingers at the people whose motivations they completely misinterpretted and whitewashed. Finally, they ignore the situation and pronounce themselves independent, with both sides meriting disdain and maybe Bush their vote. At no point is their a glimmer of recognition that they were seriously, disastrously, horrifically wrong, and that lots of people are dead because of it. Nor do they realize that they are wrong because the people they rely on are far far more extreme than they are believe.

    These guys are like the business elite who dealt with Hitler, hoping they could control him because they held the money. Drezner thinks he has good ideas and speaks at academic conferences, so he bears no responsibility for policing his own side. 'I don't have a side', he'd probably jeer back, 'Neither candidate represents my viewpoint'. Yes, you do have a side, professor, and it isn't just that you advised the original Bush/Cheney campaign. When you say that 'first-rate political loon' and holocaust survivor George Soros has accused the jews of fomenting anti-semitism, you've picked your side.

    Wow -- how to respond:

    1) Yep, it's true -- I was clearly defending "the anti-semitic attacks on George Soros" when I said in the post Matt linked to that I thought Tony Blankley excelled at "saying unbelievably stupid things," or when I said "Blankley is clearly an ass. As a Jew, I find that last bolded sentence repugnant" or when I approvingly linked to Eugene Volokh's post on why Blankley's statement was anti-Semitic.

    It's a good thing Matt wasn't selective in how he quoted the post, or someone might have gotten the wrong impression.

    2) As for the charge that I've neglected Iraq as difficulties have mounted -- once again I'll plead guilty to Stoller's charge. I've only discussed the mistakes made in Iraq here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here over the past six weeks.

    3) Stoller has a fair point in stating that "calling a serious thinker on international politics a 'loon' without evidence is tantamount to intellectual cheating." Of course, I think have a fair point in saying that Soros is not a serious thinker on international politics. Part of the reason I didn't go further into thoughts on Soros is that they're going to appear in another venue. However, if Stoller wants some evidence, here's a brief snippet from my forthcoming review of The Bubble of American Diplomacy:

    The most obvious example of Soros’ inconsistencies comes on the question of whether the war on terrorism is really a war or a law-enforcement operation. He starts out by saying that it should be the latter (p. 26): “We need detective work, good intelligence, and cooperation from the public, not military action.” A scant 16 pages later, however, he allows that, “The invasion of Afghanistan was justified by its role as the home base of Al Qaeda.”

    The Bubble of American Diplomacy is riddled with assertions that are either wrong or contradicted a few pages later. For example, on pages 59-60, Soros makes the jaw-dropping claim that compared to nation-building in Iraq, “conditions were much more favorable in Afghanistan.” Clearly, neither country is a walk in the park when it comes to statebuilding. That said, on what possible basis can Soros claim that a country with one-third the per capita income, one-tenth the amount of paved roads, three times the infant mortality rate, and double the number of primary languages and ethnicities than Iraq is a better candidate for nation-building?

    4) Finally, for someone who gets outraged at offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric (a truly bold position), I'm not sure whether it's rhetorically useful for Stoller to say I'm "cowardly" or compare me with "the business elite who dealt with Hitler." After reading that latter point in particular, my first reaction was, "gee, Matt Stoller is an anti-Semitic schmuck." My second reaction is the title of this post.

    Stoller would probably label this post as "defensive" -- because it is. I have no qualms labeling his original his post as "dishonest."

    UPDATE: Stoller has another post up on this, as well as this comment to this post. Shorter Stoller:

    1) "Frankly, what I said was inappropriately written in anger and just based on the tone probably deserved a lot less effort than he gave it."

    2) "[Calling Soros a "loon"] set me off. Calling someone insane who is clearly not to score political points is central to this mindset."

    3) "The problem as I see it is the essential unwillingness of someone like Drezner to admit what he knows is true - Iraq is an attempt at empire perpetrated by deeply illiberal individuals."

    My short responses:

    1) Don't worry Matt -- I won't be devoting much time or effort to your prose in the future.

    2) For the record, George Soros is clearly not insane, and I apologize if I gave that impression (thouh I don't think I did). He's accomplished many great things as a philanthropist. But even he describes his political views as "rabid." When they're not that, they're banal. If Stoller wants to take Soros seriously, fine -- that's his waste of time.

    3) Oh, please -- an empire that sent in fewer troops than was necessary? An administration that now seems hell-bent on getting out of the country? Where's your evidence for empire?

    posted by Dan at 05:08 PM | Comments (112) | Trackbacks (4)

    Reflecting on Reagan

    My latest guest post on Glenn Reynolds' MSNBC blog is up -- and surprise, surprise, it's about Reagan's legacy.

    Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 02:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

    My selfish reason for supporting gay marriage

    From a purely selfish perspective, I shouldn't give a rat's ass one way or the other about the ability of gay Americans to get married. I'm not gay; I wasn't prevented from getting hitched. I think the argument that gay marriage undercuts the institution is hogwash, so whether it's legal shouldn't matter to me. I would derive some empathetic pleasure from seeing gay friends getting married, but that hasn't happened yet, so no effect there. There are many excellent reasons to support it, but none of them would appear to affect me directly.

    However, The Onion reminds me of one personal incentive to support gay marriage with their fake news story, "Gay Couple Feels Pressured to Marry.":

    Ever since last month, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex weddings, parents, friends, and coworkers have been pressuring Kristin Burton and her girlfriend Laura Miyatake to marry, the couple of 14 months said Monday.

    "As soon as the news coverage about gay marriage started, my mom called me up," said Burton, who works as a nursing-home administrator. "Of course, she didn't directly ask me when I was going to marry Laura. First, she asked how Laura and I were getting along, and how business was at Laura's shop. But then she reminded me about my dad's heart disease and told me that he could go at any time. When she started to talk about how nice it was at my brother's wedding, I told her I was late for my yoga class."

    Burton and Miyatake said they never expected the court's decision to add so much tension to their relationship.

    "It seems like just yesterday I was annoyed because straight people were awkwardly asking if we were 'friends' or 'partners,'" Miyatake said. "Now, every convenience-store clerk who guesses we're gay asks us if we're going to get married under the new law. It's sort of a touchy subject, okay?"

    The ability to ask my gay friends and colleagues when they're planning to get hitched and watch them squirm with discomfort answering the question -- that's going to be enjoyable.

    posted by Dan at 02:04 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

    Public opinion about offshore outsourcing

    A while back, I blogged here and here about how American consumer behavior seems generally unaffected by the spectre of outsourcing -- i.e., Americans make choices based more on price than origin of production.

    To be fair, some people do not think this way -- click here for a few examples courtesy of Newsweek. Beyond anecdotal evidence, however, what do Americans now think about outsourcing? And do these feelings affect their behavior?

    Two recent polls -- one by the Employment Law Alliance ("the world’s largest independent network of labor and employment attorneys") and one by Ipsos (for the Associated Press) suggest some commonalities and cleavages on the issue.

    On the one hand, the polls largely confirm that most Americans are mercantilists at heart. The Ipsos poll shows that 69% of Americans believe that outsourcing hurts the country -- and only 17% think it helps the economy. 58% of respondents in the ELA poll believe that companies outsourcing work that could be done by Americans to offshore contractors should be penalized by the US government.

    At the same time, the ELA poll shows that 46% of Americans believe that offshoring has been exaggerated by the media. Still, it would be hard not to conclude that most Americans think offshore outsourcing is a bad thing.

    So how does this affect actual consumer behavior? Here the answer changes. On the one hand, the Ipsos poll shows that when asked to choose between a product made in the USA and a similar one made elsewhere, 93% of Americans say that they'd buy the American product. However, if the foreign good is cheaper, that percentage falls to 54%. Furthermore, a slight plurality (38% to 35%) do not check product labels so as to "buy American."

    The AP story by Will Lester goes on to suggest a generational divide in the economic reaction -- with younger folks more sanguine:

    "That's not a big deal to me, where it was made," said Serena Evans, a machine operator from Hurt, Va. "I look for the cheapest product, because I barely have the money to buy it."

    Evans, 24, was typical of her age group.

    Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of those younger than 30 said they seldom if ever check to see where a product is made -- more than three times the number who do. A majority of young adults said they would buy a lower-priced product from another country over a more expensive U.S. one.

    Americans 60 and older were almost twice as likely to say they usually or always check labels to see where a product is made. And by more than 2-to-1, they said they would buy an American product even if it cost more than foreign goods.

    As the story concludes, "Fresh concerns about U.S. jobs being shipped overseas are not being turned into renewed public sentiment to buy American."

    So, to sum up -- Americans do not like offshore outsourcing as a phenomenon -- but over time, and increasing number of them are happy to reap the benefits of it as consumers.

    This is really the biggest intellectual divide on the outsourcing issue -- whether one thinks the most important effect of offshoring is on employment or on consumption. Most Americans say the former but do not act on it. The data I've seen suggest that outsourcing's effect on employment is negligible -- and the effect on consumption is a positive one.

    posted by Dan at 12:44 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (3)

    Just what is Ralph Peters smoking?

    The Reagan tributes continue apace (mine will be up shortly). The immediacy of his passing, combined with the fact that the last time president who served two full terms died was thirty-five years ago, means there's going to be a bit of rhetorical overkill.

    For an example, consider Ralph Peters' New York Post column (link via James Joyner). The column does an excellent job of describing how the morale and training within the ranks of the military improved dramatically under Reagan. But it also contains this bit of comparison between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan:

    Then came Ronald Reagan

    Yes, he raised Defense budgets dramatically. And the money mattered. But the increased funding and higher pay wouldn't have made a decisive difference without the sense that we had a real leader in the White House again. The man in the Oval Office genuinely admired the men and women who served. When he saluted his Marine guards, he meant it. The troops could tell. (emphasis added)

    Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but to me Peters' implication was that Reagan's predecessor did not mean it when saluting the Marine guards.

    Now, like Virginia Postrel, the stark contrasts between Carter and Reagan is the reason why I registered as a Republican at age 18. But Peters goes too far here. Jimmy Carter was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and served for seven years as an officer in the Navy. His service was in the nuclear-submarine program under Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, a man known for having some pretty high standards. As James Joyner points out, "[Carter] presided over many of the changes that would lead to the fielding of terrific new equipment in the early 1980s."

    Was Carter a failure as a president? Good God, yes. But I have no doubt that when Carter saluted the Marine guards (see below), he meant it as well.

    To be fair to Peters, I may be jumping on poor phrasing rather than Peters' actual intent. But there it is.

    UPDATE: Thanks to William Kaminsky for linking to this New York Times story on presidential salutes -- turns out that Reagan was the first president to return a military salute. [So, like, this trashes your Carter argument, right?--ed. Only if you relegate every other President before Reagan -- including Washington, Madison, Lincoln, TR, FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower -- into the same category as Carter.]

    posted by Dan at 10:34 AM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, June 8, 2004

    Chavez referendum update

    A brief follow-up to my last post on efforts to recall Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

    The New York Times reports that a referendum date has been set in Venezuela for Hugo Chavez:

    A recall referendum on President Hugo Chávez, whose rule has bitterly divided Venezuelans, has been scheduled for Aug. 15, electoral authorities said Tuesday night.

    The president's opponents learned Thursday that they had collected enough signatures to force a referendum but had worried that with administrative or legal challenges, he could push the vote past Aug. 19, the fifth anniversary of his coming to power. According to the Constitution, a vote to recall Mr. Chávez at that point would allow his vice president to run the country and permit Mr. Chávez to run for re-election in 2006.

    In a brief statement, Ezequiel Zamora, vice president of the five-member National Electoral Council, said the Aug. 15 date would permit Venezuelans to remove Mr. Chávez's administration and, within 30 days, elect a new president.

    So, hurdle one -- canceling the referendum via a technicality or legal delay -- has been cleared. However, the BBC reports that Chavez will not be taking this challenge lying down: "He has already begun campaigning, warning voters of the consequences of an opposition victory."

    posted by Dan at 11:04 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    More cost savings from protectionism

    It seems that California is not the only state that is coming to grips with the costs that come from outlawing offshore outsourcing.

    The AP's Allen Breed reports that in the wake of efforts to block the offshore outsourcing of government contracts, some state legislatures don't like the pricey hangover:

    Governors and legislators in two-thirds of the states have ordered or proposed antioutsourcing actions.

    But many of those efforts at "economic patriotism" have run headlong into another time-honored American tradition: taxpayers' demands that the government give them the most bang for their buck....

    When Kansas officials learned that food stamp questions were being answered by workers in India under a contract with an Arizona company, state senators added language to the budget requiring the work be done in the United States.

    But the language was deleted when negotiators learned it would boost the state's costs by $640,000, about 38 percent.

    posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

    How IT salaries are affected by outsourcing

    The Boston Globe's Diane E. Lewis reports on the effect that offshore outsourcing is having on IT salaries:

    Technology specialists with hot skills continue to command top salaries and bonuses despite the outsourcing of some information technology jobs to India, Russia, Ireland, and other countries, according to a report released today.

    Offshore outsourcing has had little impact on the salaries of those with critical skill sets such as senior network architects or senior database management staff, said the report by the META Group, based in Stamford, Conn. Based on a compensation survey of 650 large and midsized firms with at least $200 million in annual revenue, the report includes salary data for 180 information technology positions in 14 industries.

    The technology research firm found that technology workers with general skills are more likely to experience stagnant wages than those whose expertise is in demand. The survey also found that 19 percent of the companies polled outsource IT work to foreign countries. Of those, the majority send jobs to India.

    Opponents of outsourcing jobs offshore have maintained the practice causes layoffs and depresses salaries in the United States, forcing many full-time IT professionals to seek work in other professions or turn to temporary contract work.

    The IEEE-USA, which represents electrical engineers, electronics engineers, and computer specialists, declined to comment on the META Group findings yesterday. The industry group has spoken out against the outsourcing of IT jobs. A spokesman said the organization needed time to study the report.

    Maria Schafer, the report's author and a senior program director at META Group, said salaries for IT specialists are starting to return to their 2000 levels.

    Read the whole article -- and you can download the executive summary of the META group report by clicking here (registration required).

    Given that 2000 was the peak of hysteria, the salary rebound is pretty impressive.

    UPDATE: This elaboration on salary structure comes from page 11 of the executive summary:

    1) companies paying staff this much more than others in the organization are very eager to retain these individuals; 2) there is a continuing and strong market for experienced individuals with critical skills; and 3) the job market is picking up. The rate of increase in salaries has slowed, but IT staffs have held onto salary levels because their role is necessary to the organization. There are many more available workers — due to the net effects of continuing vendor-side layoffs in the high-tech sector, fewer opportunities for consulting, and the overall sluggishness in companies of all sizes — yet the issue of quality in the available labor pool is compounded by a continuing lack of some skills (mainly in the highly specialized areas that represent emerging technology needs, such as wireless, security, and data management).

    As for the magnitude of offshoring (from page 16):

    Of the 20% of organizations that are currently engaged in sourcing (or siting) labor offshore, the percentages vary substantially for how much companies are deploying labor this way. Forty percent of this number have only 5% or less of their total workforce deployed offshore.

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

    Monday, June 7, 2004

    A very important post about.... Jennifer Lopez


    I have no doubt that hundreds of tabloid writers and millions of Americans are salivating over Jennifer Lopez's third marriage -- this time to Latin crooner Marc Anthony. [There are other reasons millions of Americans might salivate over J. Lo--ed. You know my preferences when it comes to Latino film stars.]

    Far be it for to deny Americans their God-given right to mock celebrities. However, since I've been defending American celebrities as of late, let me stick up for J. Lo's recent nuptials. Consider the following:

    1) J. Lo's moving up the talent chain. This Bill Zwecker column in the Chicago Sun Times nicely encapsulates J Lo's romantic history:

    first marriage -- waiter Ojani Noa
    post-first marriage -- rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs
    second marriage -- dancer/choreographer Cris Judd
    post-second marriage -- actor Ben Affleck
    third marriage -- actor/singer Marc Anthony

    There is an encouraging trend here. With each successive relationship, J. Lo's beau seems to have an increasing amount of talent -- which presumably raises the level of mutual respect between Miss Lopez and her significant other. One can easily make the claim that Anthony is the best singer of the lot, but one could also say he's the best actor of the lot -- Anthony's one many film appearances include a lovely turn as the mute waiter in Big Night. Plus, it's not like Marc is going to be swept away only by J. Lo's beauty -- his previous marriage was to former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres

    2) "Marcifer" have a lot in common. Turns out J. Lo and Anthony have known each other and been friends for more than a decade. Furthermore, as the Sun-Times story notes:

    [T]he superstar's sister, WCBS-TV entertainment reporter Lynda Lopez... has said, "Jennifer and Marc's similar background, Puerto Rican culture and heritage, professional interests and approach to life" will bode well for a long-term "Marc-ifer" marriage. Lopez grew up in a poor, working-class neighborhood in the Bronx, and Anthony was raised in a similar New York neighborhood in East Harlem. Both stars share similar musical and film interests.

    Maybe these two crazy kids have a future together.

    3) Compare J. Lo with some of her peers. Consider the recent statements of some other women who aspire to achieve celebrity status in more than one artistic realm.

    The Associated Press reports the following about singer/actor/dancer Janet Jackson:

    Long before she exposed her right breast to the world during the Super Bowl halftime show, Janet Jackson says she had thoughts about sex.

    "As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that I had a very active sexual mind at a very young age. I hope that doesn't sound bad," Jackson tells Blender magazine for its June/July issue....

    "My first crush was on Barry Manilow. He performed on television, and I remember taping it. When no one was around, I used to kiss the screen."....

    Now, Jackson says she expresses more grown-up urges through one of her alter egos, named Strawberry: "She's the most sexual of them all, the wildest."

    The other character living inside her is Damita Jo, which is her middle name and the title of her latest album. Damita Jo, she says, is "a lot harsher, and quick to put you in your place."


    Meanwhile, here's the latest on fashion designer/model/actress Paris Hilton, according to MSNBC's Kat Giantis:

    Is there anything more demanding than being rich and famous? Not according to Paris Hilton, who complains to Entertainment Tonight (via the New York Post) that she's, like, suffered for her art. "We're in the middle of nowhere, like 45 minutes away from, like, civilization and it's, like, all real," the eloquent heiress says of filming "House of Wax" in Australia.

    "It's, like, really cold and last night we were shooting at this sugar mill and it really smelled bad. And I didn't wear shoes, like, I don't know."

    Continues the beleaguered Paris, "We're in the middle of nowhere and there's bugs everywhere. Everything's real. I'm actually running through a forest with bare feet -- it hurts. I've done my own stunts, like falling. I hurt my knee -- it was bleeding. But it looks good, so it's worth it."

    4) J. Lo's marriage has already lasted longer than Britney Spears'.

    By celebrity standards, Miss Lopez seems to have her head screwed on reasonably straight. We here at wish the newlywed couple the best of luck!

    UPDATE: Kat Giantis has further details on the wedding itself, plus the following:

    Optimistic British bookies are giving 3-1 odds that Jenthony will split by the end of the year, reports Reuters. They are also offering 10-1 odds that the star will eventually wed more times than Elizabeth Taylor, who tied the knot eight times with seven husbands. But while Jen may seem fickle in her affections, she still has a long way to go before she joins Liz in Hollywood's elite club of serial committers.

    In fact, her three aisle walks can't compare to the likes of Zsa Zsa Gabor (married nine times, including one union that lasted just a day); Mickey Rooney (married eight times, once to statuesque beauty Ava Gardner); Lana Turner, Larry King, and Martha Raye (all married seven times); Gloria Swanson and Hedy Lamarr (married six times); Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Scorsese (married five times and counting); and Lorenzo Lamas, Melanie Griffith, and Christie Brinkley (all married four times and counting, though in Melanie's defense, she did marry Don Johnson twice).

    posted by Dan at 03:41 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (5)

    When protectionists flunk reading comprehension

    Hey, I'm moving up in the world -- my New York Times review of Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization is the topic of an Alan Tonelson essay at the leading protectionist web site,

    I think Tonelson is trying to be light-hearted in his post, but his effort is worthy of a mild fisking. Tonelson's essay is indented and italicized-- my response is not:

    We here at Globalization Follies would have more confidence that globalization cheerleaders know what’s best for typical Americans – and their counterparts around the world – if they even occasionally displayed the dimmest understanding of these populations. But dreaming up self-serving, wildly off-base caricatures is so much easier than studying and learning.

    We here at would have more confidence that globalization opponents know what’s best for typical Americans – and their counterparts around the world – if they even occasionally displayed the dimmest understanding of basic economics. But dreaming up self-serving, wildly off-base caricatures is so much easier than studying and learning.

    What else can be made of University of Chicago professor Daniel Drezner’s recent observation that, “There is a need for someone to step into the breach and defend globalization using the language of the average Joe,” and concluding that, “If anyone can rise to this challenge, it should be Jagdish Bhagwati.”

    Tonelson must not have have actually read the rest of the review, which was sufficiently critical of whether Professor Bhagwati actually rose to that challenge to prompt an response from Bhagwati.

    Bhagwati’s supposed claim to the common touch? He’s “an esteemed international economist…a university professor at Columbia, and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.” Further burnishing Bhagwati’s populist credentials: “He has advised the World Trade Organization and the United Nations.”

    Actually, what I was saying that there was a need for an economist to use the language of the average Joe. That requires two things -- a good economist and a good writer. The passages Tonelson cites are the background I provided (as any competent reviewer should) about Bhagwati's bona fides as a good economist. If Alan had read just a teensy bit further down that paragraph, he would have seen that I also said: "Born in India, educated in Britain and now an American citizen, he can claim to understand all points of view. He has won multiple prizes for excellence in economic writing." (emphasis added)

    Don’t get us wrong. Bhagwati could indeed rival Jimmy Kimmel as a Regular Guy. But teaching at an elite university and nesting in the symbolic heart of America’s semi-official establishment as prima facie evidence? We’re still shaking our heads.

    Yeah, nesting in the heart of America’s political establishment (Washington, DC) as "a Research Fellow at the U.S. Business & Industry Educational Foundation" displays a much greater common touch.

    At the same time, should anyone really be surprised by Drezner’s cluelessness about popular views of globalization? After all, large and growing numbers of Americans live in a thoroughly and increasingly globalized world, facing mounting foreign competition and weakened job security. Academics like Drezner and Bhagwati, in their lofty, tenure-protected ivory towers, do not.

    Sigh. Again, if Tonelson had actually bothered to read the review, he would have noticed that the paragraph before the one he quoted contained the following: "Public opinion polls repeatedly show Americans to be wary about globalization. The problem is not that economists are starting to doubt their own arguments -- the problem is that the rest of society neither understands nor believes them. Between statistical evidence showing that trade is good for the economy and tangible anecdotes of sweatshops and job losses, most citizens trust the anecdotes."

    Oh, and about the Americans facing "weakened job security"? Funny thing about that assertion. As Brink Lindsey pointed out a few months ago, the aggregate number of jobs destroyed in the U.S. economy fell by 9.6% between 2001 and 2002 (from 35.4 million to 32 million).

    Tonelson gets a C- in wit and an F in reading comprehension.

    [So let's see -- Bhagwati didn't like your review, and the protectionists didn't like your review. Does anyone like your review?--ed. Chester thought it had many fine points.]

    posted by Dan at 12:08 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

    I've outsourced my latest outsourcing post

    Practicing what I preach, instead of posting my latest mini-essay on offshore outsourcing here at, I've outsourced it to... Regular readers will recognize some of the material, but there's a lot of new stuff as well!

    Go check it out.

    posted by Dan at 11:22 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Saturday, June 5, 2004

    Now Wal-Mart is selling cheap gas!!

    Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution has a post showing that Minnesota and Maryland have enacted minimum price laws for gasoline, and are enforcing them against gas stations that are charging too low a price per gallon or are offering free coffee with gasoline as an inducement. In the case of Minnesota, many of the gas stations are attached to Wal-Marts.

    This got the attention of Brad DeLong, who agrees with Tabarrok. Brad has an excellent rebuttal to claims that Wal-Mart-type organizations merely undercut prices to create exploitable monopolies for the future, a la Microsoft:

    Suppose it sells gasoline cheap, wipes out all competitors in the area, and then raises prices to $12 a gallon. What happens then? Well, the underground storage tanks of its defunct competitors are still there. Gas pumps are cheap. $12 a gallon is a lot of money. You get lots of new entrants taking over the locations of the old gas stations, and competing with Walmart. If Walmart wants to maintain its monopoly, it must limit price to make new entry unprofitable. And since new entry is easy and cheap--since the market is contestable--the limit price is not that high above the competitive price.

    Walmart cannot acquire a monopoly by underpricing--"predatory pricing," it is called--without giving a large present to consumers. And the contestability of the market means that it cannot take that present back once it has acquired a monopoly. Few industries have cost structures such that attempts at monopolization through "predatory pricing" harm consumers. Even in the case of Microsoft, it is not clear that Microsoft's success was bad for users: users got a lot of pretty good software cheap for quite a while, and even those who (like me) are Apple customers found the prices of our software reduced by competitive pressure from Microsoft. I think Microsoft's success was (probably) bad for consumers, but it is definitely an issue to be debated.

    Readers familiar with's position on Wal-Mart will chuckle at the last paragraph in DeLong's post:

    You can claim that minimum-gasoline-price laws are bad because independent gas station owners are morally worthy people, the salt of the earth, the backbone of America, and they deserve to have the power of the state deployed to protect them and their livelihoods against the amoral efficiency calculus of the market. I will laugh at you if you do, but you can make that claim. You cannot make the uninformed and ignorant claim that minimum-gasoline-price laws actually lower the long-run price of gasoline by "protecting" us from rampant monopoly--unless you have some reason to believe that gas stations are not part of a contestable market.

    Let me hear you say, "Amen!"

    posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    What do Tony Blankley, George Soros, and Mahathir Mohammed have in common?

    They all excel at saying unbelievably stupid things.

    Let's start with Mohammed and Blankley -- both of them blame Soros for the Asian Financial Crisis. About Mahathir's anti-Semitism, click here and here.

    Blankley's statement is the new one. He said the following on the June 3rd Hannity & Colmes:

    BLANKLEY: This a man who blamed the Jews for anti-Semitism, getting Abe Fluxman (ph) -- excuse me -- head of the Anti-Defamation League to call it an obscene statement.

    This is a man who, when he was plundering the world's currencies in England in '92, he caused a Southeastern Asian financial crises in '97.

    RICHARD ABORN: Please, come on. Wait a second. You're so far beyond the facts. Hold on.

    BLANKLEY: He said that he has no moral responsibility for the consequences of his financial actions. He is a self-admitted atheist. He was a Jew who figured out a way to survive the holocaust. (emphasis added)

    Mark Kleiman says this demonstrates "how much of the [Republican] campaign [against Soros] was based on simple anti-Semitism." Indeed, Vincent Morris of the New York Post reports that in a Republican National Comittee memo e-mailed to congressional staffers, "Republican lawmakers are encouraged to use 'floor speeches' and other opportunities to blast Soros, who has given millions of dollars to various groups to help defeat President Bush." (link via the Poor Man).

    OK, let's try to referee this:

    1) Blankley is clearly an ass. As a Jew, I find that last bolded sentence repugnant. So I'll just nod my head at what Eugene Volokh said:

    [W]hen a person just trots out someone's Jewishness (or whiteness or blackness) in a context where it seems to make very little sense (the first Blankley reference to his Jewishness does make sense, but the second does not), it does at least suggest that the person is more focused than he should be on who's a Jew and less on the merits on the debate -- and it certainly hints at broader hostility to Jews.

    2) Kleiman's larger assertion rests on extremely shaky foundations -- it would be like blaming the entire Democratic party for anything idiotic Michael Moore said about the Bush administration. Furthermore, as Stephen Bainbridge points out, there's some evidence to support Blankley's claim that Soros accused the Jews of fomenting anti-Semitism.

    I have very mixed feelings on Soros. The man is and was a first-rate philanthropist. That, said, having read The Bubble of American Diplomacy, I've concluded that Soros is a political loon of the first order. It is ridiculously easy to attack George Soros without ever discussing his religion.

    3) Finally, while Blankely was, to repeat, clearly way out of bounds, the Republican decision to go on the offensive against Soros is perfectly legit. He's dedicated large sums of money to attacking the Bush administration. According to the Post story, "Soros has said in interviews that he has concluded that ousting Bush is the most important thing he can do with his life." The trigger for the Hannity & Colmes discussion was Soros' statement comparing the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to the 9/11 attacks. In Bubble of American Diplomacy, Soros admits that he's become "quite rabid" in his political views. He's entered the political arena -- which means he's opened himself to political attacks.

    posted by Dan at 09:58 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (3)

    I can feel my chin growing already

    My pathetic quest to become the Jay Leno of the blogosphere continues [Leno? LENO??!! You mean Letterman, right?--ed. No, I mean Jay Leno's guest host phase. However, Bryan Curtis argues in Slate that even Letterman is trying to be Leno now.]

    I've guest-posted at the Volokh Conspiracy and Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish. And now, just to confirm the rumors, I'm taking over Glenn Reynolds' MSNBC blog for this week.

    [So who's next?--ed. Look into the computer screen, Mickey Kaus. You're getting very sleepy. Very sleepy indeed......]

    posted by Dan at 05:47 PM | Trackbacks (0)

    Open Reagan thread

    Ronald Reagan died today.

    Readers are invited to comment on what they believe will be the most significant aspect of Reagan's legacy.

    UPDATE: Chicago residents, you'll get my take on Reagan on ABC7 News Sunday Morning at aroung 9:00 AM.

    posted by Dan at 05:40 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (1)

    A retraction

    Jack Shafer has a Slate piece pointing out that while the New York Times and 60 Minutes have issued retractions for stories about Iraqi WMD programs that leaned too heavily on Iraqi defectors provided by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, other media outlets have not been as forthcoming:

    It's not like the Times and 60 Minutes were the only media outlets to have showcased dubious defectors' tales. The journalistic community has known for almost three months, thanks to a Knight Ridder Washington Bureau story, that the INC claimed to have placed its "product" in 108 articles and broadcasts between October 2001 and May 2002.

    The Great 108 list is a who's who of American and world media: The Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Weekly Standard, the Associated Press, Fox News Channel, Agence France-Presse, the Economist, and more. While a spot on the list doesn't necessarily mean the named news organization swallowed INC swill whole, it indicates that the New York Times wasn't the only one with an unacknowledged INC problem....

    The rotten truth is that media organizations are better at correcting trivial errors of fact—proper spellings of last names, for example—than they are at fixing a botched story....

    Individual journalists are a lot like doctors, lawyers, and pilots in that they hate to admit they were wrong no matter what the facts are. Institutionally, publications avoid massive mea culpas out of fear of feeding libel suits. Call them on their hypocrisy for expecting government and business to admit errors while they stay silent and journalists will tell you that nobody wants an annotated and corrected version of yesterday's news. They want today's news. (Oh, sure they do! That's why we're currently wading through 10 million column inches of recycled D-Day copy.) Or they'll dodge the question, saying there's no convenient place in the newspaper for monumental rehashes. Or they'll say, let the ombudsman do it in his Sunday column. Or correct errors in the corrections box.

    The good folks that put a fresh copy of on your computer screen every day have no fear of admitting error -- mostly because we're so used to screwing up. So, let me apologize/retract this April 21, 2003 post about Iraqi WMD that relied too heavily on reporting by the New York Times' Judith Miller -- who, as it turned out, relied way too heavily on Chalabi and his defectors. The story I linked to in that post was one of the stories the Times has since retracted.


    posted by Dan at 04:58 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, June 4, 2004

    A real triumph for outsourcing opponents

    Not often, but every once in a while, opponents of outsourcing manage to implement policy designed to thwart the subcontracting of tasks overseas. We here at feel that they should be congratulated for these efforts, as well as the transparently obvious economic benefits that such policy measures bring to our great country.

    So let's hear it for the state of California's anti-outsourcing procurement rules, which are having quite an effect on the state's efforts to rebuild the Bay Bridge. Jean-Paul Renaud of the Los Angeles Times reports:

    When officials six years ago unveiled their plans to rebuild portions of the earthquake-damaged San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, they said the span would rival even the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

    They envisioned a sleek, modern design that would have at its center a 525-foot suspension tower rising from San Francisco Bay, providing a distinctive addition to the area's skyline.

    But this gem is proving to be costly. The elaborate design, praised at its inception, now is being blamed for ballooning costs and several delays. Caltrans says it will cost about $4 billion to build the bridge — three times more than the agency expected in 2001.

    This week, officials announced that the suspension tower alone would cost $1 billion more than originally expected.

    One reason, they said, is the state's "Buy America" rules, which dictate that Caltrans can use foreign steel on the bridge only if its cost is at least 25% less than domestic steel. In this case, the difference is only 23%, so the state must go with domestic steel. That added $400 million to the price tag. (emphasis added)

    $400 million? It's a good thing the state of California doesn't face a budget crunch or anything! Way to stop outsourcing!!

    Thanks to alert reader C.W. for the tip.

    UPDATE: Thanks to alert commentor gw, who points out that the Buy American Act is a federal law. One wonders, however, how the cost differential of 25% was determined as meeting the "unreasonable cost" standard.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: gw strikes again!! Here's the relevant link for an explanation of how Buy America affects steel. And here's a link to Michael Cabanatuan's San Francisco Chronicle story about the bridge, which has further details:

    Transportation officials were stunned Wednesday when the only bids on the new suspension span, both from a joint venture of American Bridge, Nippon Steel Bridge and Fluor Enterprises, came in at $1.4 billion and $1.8 billion, the latter more than a billion over estimate.

    Because the bridge project is subject to federal Buy America requirements, the contractor was allowed to submit two bids -- one using only steel from U.S. firms, one using foreign steel. (emphasis added)

    However, it appears that even California officials were temporarily confused by the provisions of the Buy America act:

    On Wednesday, when the bid was opened in a Caltrans basement in Sacramento, it appeared that the agency would have to go with the $1.8 billion domestic steel bid, unless it chose to reject the bid and start over.

    But transportation officials said Thursday that the way the cost differential is calculated would allow the state Department of Transportation to take the lower bid -- and use foreign steel.

    "The way everyone thought it works apparently isn't,'' said Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a partner with Caltrans in building the new Bay Bridge.

    Dan McElhinney, Caltrans deputy district director, said that as long as the bid is deemed "responsive and responsible" and in tune with market conditions, Caltrans is free to use the foreign steel bid.

    Many thanks to gw for doing the cyberwork on this story.

    posted by Dan at 03:02 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

    Venezuela update

    That Hugo Chavez and his Castro-lite policies sure are popular in Venezuala -- oh, wait, here's an interesting story by Andy Webb-Vidal of the Financial Times:

    Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, looks set to face a recall referendum in early August that could see him ousted from office, after electoral authorities on Thursday declared valid an opposition-filed petition seeking a vote.

    Jorge Rodríguez, a senior director of the National Electoral Council (CNE), announced that a preliminary count had found that 2.45m signatures on a petition were valid - fewer than 16,000 signatures above the required threshold.

    The preliminary result, which had not been expected until today, appears to mark the end of a year-long campaign by opponents of Mr Chávez to secure a recall vote.

    The CNE previously said that a referendum could take place on August 8.

    Opponents were in celebratory mood last night. In Caracas, the capital, last night fireworks were set off, and motorists sounded car horns.

    "We made it," said Enrique Mendoza, an opposition governor and leader of the Democratic Coordinator, the loose opposition alliance.

    "Nothing or no one will impede us from opening the door to a future without violence," he said.

    Voice of America reports that Chavez sain in a televised address that, "he is ready to face a recall referendum." Chavez's supporters might not be, according to the FT:

    Shortly before the CNE issued the results, gunmen apparently aligned to the government used automoatic weapons to attack the office of the mayor of metropolitan Caracas, a staunch opponent of Mr Chávez.

    There were also warnings that a sector within the military is virulently opposed to the idea of a referendum.

    An important group of pro-Chávez army battalion commanders stand to lose key privileges if there is a change of government arising from a referendum, which some polls suggest Mr Chávez would lose.

    "This group is willing to effectively kick over the table to ensure there is no referendum," an army colonel said.

    Be sure to check out this news analysis by Richard Brand of the Miami Herald as well.

    Chavez has been counted out before, so the successful petition drive hardly ensures his removal. Still, this is an encouraging sign.

    posted by Dan at 12:24 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

    Economic news to cheer about

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its May jobs report:

    Nonfarm payroll employment rose by 248,000 in May, and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.6 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. The May increase in payroll employment follows gains of 346,000 in April and 353,000 in March (as revised). Job growth in May again was widespread, as increases continued in construction, manufacturing, and several service-providing industries.

    More than a million new jobs have been added to payrolls since the start of the calendar year. Here's a link to the BLS breakdown by job category. Funny thing -- in the service sectors thought to be most vulnerable to offshore outsourcing (financial activities, professional and business services) the number of payroll jobs are currently at their highest levels for the past 52 weeks.

    posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, June 3, 2004

    June's books of the month

    The general interest book for June is David Brooks' latest work of comic sociology On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense. [Hey, didn't Michael Kinsley pan it in the New York Times Book Review?--ed. It's true, every conservative's favorite liberal panned the book penned by every liberal's favorite conservative. However, much of this was due to Kinsley's overreliance on Sasha Issenberg's critique of Brooks in Philadelphia magazine. Noam Scheiber effectively deconstructed Issenberg's essay a few weeks ago:

    Brooks does tend to be a little careless, and that he takes frequent liberties with his descriptions. But you see where I'm headed: Issenberg is guilty of the exact same thing--ignoring the broader point that Brooks is basically right.

    Plus, Brooks takes great pains in On Paradise Drive to stress his reliance on the University of Michigan's prestigious Institute for Social Research for much of his data.]

    The book is chock full of observations regarding the shopping, working, traveling, and child-rearing habits of affluent Americans. However, the key theme in On Paradise Drive is that Frederick Jackson Turner's famous thesis that the closing of the American frontier was a signal moment in American history is a load of bollocks. The reason is that for Americans, the frontier is the future. America is a unique country because Americans live in the future -- while many in the world are rooted in the past. Brooks gets at this through his usual mix of trenchant observation and witty verbiage. The best compliment I can pay the book is the following -- after spending the past few years wading through tome after tome trying to get at America's unique place in the world, On Paradise Drive actually gets it.

    The international relations book is inspired by Greg Djerejian's complaint about the dearth of big ideas. The demand for theories to explain post-9/11 state of world politics is high -- so it might be a good idea to look at the man behind the successful Cold War strategy of containment. That would be George Kennan's American Diplomacy: 1900-1950. This collection of Kennan lectures includes his famous Foreign Affairs essay "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which where containment was first articulated as a doctrine.*

    What's striking in looking over Kennan again is that much of his analysis was predicated on what we in the IR biz refer to as a "second image" theory. That is to say, Kennan's theory of Soviet behavior was rooted in a explanation of Soviet domestic politics rather than an analysis of the international distribution of power. Kennan had it easy, however -- all he had to do was explain the domestic politics of one country. Whoever comes up with the big idea this time around may need to explain the domestic politics of an entire region -- the Middle East.

    Go check both of them out.

    *OK, Kennan's 1946 Long Telegram was the first articulation -- but "Sources" was the public version of the Long Telegram.

    posted by Dan at 06:25 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    The comparative advantage of American celebrities

    Most American celebrities will do whatever they can to stay in the media spotlight. In recent years, this has meant participating in reality TV shows, either of their own making (Jessica Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith) or of others (Celebrity Mole, Celebrity Fear Factor, Celebrity Boxing, The Simple Life, etc.).

    On a regular basis, social critics bemoan the manifest craving of fame that engulfs the United States and its celebrity tabloid culture. And it's undeniably true that there's much to be mocked. But in defense of American celebrities, they're willing to go to great lengths to stay in the limelight. Unlike, apparently, those from the country of Colombia, according to the Dan Molinski of the Associated Press:

    The bugs — both the ones that bite and those that must be eaten to stave off hunger — the heat and other discomforts are claiming their toll as celebrity contestants on a Colombian "Survivor"-style reality show drop like flies.

    Instead of trying to endure to the very end on a verdant tropical peninsula in order to collect the cash prize, several are pleading with their tribes to vote them off the show.

    "Isla de los Famosos" — Spanish for "Island of the Celebrities" — has captured a broad audience, partly because viewers in a country where most people live in poverty are getting a kick out of watching models, singers and actors deal with the gritty business of day-to-day survival....

    "I figured that since we were celebrities, we'd be given preferential treatment, but it was really, really hard," said Jorge Cardenas, a 33-year-old pop singer who begged his fellow tribe members to expel him only one week after arriving. His wish was granted....

    Norma Nivia, a leggy, blonde Colombian model, also asked her teammates to oust her.

    "For me, the problem was all the mosquitoes that were biting me constantly," she said after returning to Bogota, Colombia's cosmopolitan capital. "Then I got sunstroke, had to stay in the shade all day and cover my whole body with clothing."

    Could you picture someone like Kathy Griffin begging off a celebrity show because of mosquitoes? Hell no!

    So raise your glass to American celebrities -- the indefatigable cockroaches of the mediasphere!

    posted by Dan at 02:42 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (1)

    Open Tenet thread

    CIA director George Tenet has resigned. The New York Times' David Strout reports on the unusual nature of the White House announcement:

    Mr. Bush announced the resignation in a way that was almost bizarre. He had just addressed reporters and photographers in a fairly innocuous Rose Garden session with Australia's prime minister, John Howard. Then the session was adjourned, as Mr. Bush apparently prepared to depart for nearby Andrews Air Force Base and his flight to Europe, where he is to take part in ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the Normady invasion and meet European leaders — some of whom have been sharply critical of the campaign in Iraq.

    But minutes later, Mr. Bush reappeared on the sun-drenched White House lawn, stunning listeners with the news of Mr. Tenet's resignation, which the president said would be effective in mid-July. After that, Mr. Bush said, the C.I.A.'s deputy director, John McLaughlin, will be acting director.

    The president praised Mr. Tenet's qualities as a public servant, saying: "He's strong. He's resolute. He's served his nation as the director for seven years. He has been a strong and able leader at the agency. He's been a, he's been a strong leader in the war on terror, and I will miss him."

    Then Mr. Bush walked away, declining to take questions or offer any insight into what Mr. Tenet's personal reasons might be.

    NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez considers (but dismisses) anti-Bush political motivations.

    Readers are invited to speculate on the causes and implications of Tenet's departure. My quick answers are a) the devastating portrayal of Tenet in Woodward's Plan of Attack, and b) nothing significant.

    posted by Dan at 02:03 PM | Comments (38) | Trackbacks (1)

    Outsourcing and insourcing the friendly skies

    The Washington Post's Sara Kehaulani Goo has a story on how the outsourcing phenomenon is affecting aircraft maintenance. Turns out to be a two-way street:

    Northwest Airlines is gutting two hangars at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport because the standard work of overhauling the airline's 747 fleet has moved to Asia.

    Air China, meanwhile, is sending its planes to San Francisco for high-tech engine work by United Airlines mechanics.

    U.S. carriers have outsourced thousands of maintenance jobs. At the same time, however, some airlines have stepped up their efforts to bring maintenance work into their shops. The major carriers are "insourcing" work from domestic low-cost carriers that don't have their own maintenance crews and from airlines based in China, South Korea, Canada and elsewhere.

    The aircraft maintenance industry is "a classic manifestation of globalization," said Martin N. Baily, senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics. "Labor-intensive, somewhat less technically sophisticated stuff goes overseas, but more high-tech, leading-edge stuff would remain in the U.S. Maybe the U.S. even has a comparative advantage."

    Delta Air Lines' insourcing includes repair work on engines for Atlantic Southeast Airlines and Comair at Delta's hub in Atlanta. Its revenue from such work has increased, to $200 million last year from $40 million in 1999.

    American Airlines recently signed a contract that gives it the option to repair Rolls-Royce aircraft engines for other airlines. United does maintenance work for Air China, Korean Air, Air Canada and the U.S. military.

    "We make a high profit margin on engine overhauls and landing gear," said Joseph Prisco, president of Local 9 of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the union representing mechanics at United Airlines. "Air China sends a lot of their engine overhaul work to us. The costs are probably more expensive per head, but we do a faster job and better job than they can get done in their own country."

    The article also highlights a genuinely worrisome regulatory gap, however: "For example, airline maintenance workers in other countries do not have to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing or criminal background checks as they do in the United States." If I'm a terrorist wishing to strike fear into American travelers, this is an obvious loophole to exploit.

    To be fair, the Transportation Safety Administration is planning on promulgating regulations this month to deal with this loophole -- I just hope they're implemented soon.

    UPDATE: If you're interested in the topic, be sure to check out the Discovery Channel's "The Other Side of Outsourcing" this evening -- it's a documentary of Tom Friedman's trip to Bangalore. 10:00 PM, ET.

    posted by Dan at 10:46 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

    A new challenger for Judith Butler's mantle

    For some reason, I found myself clicking around the more obscure parts of the blogosphere late one night when I stumbled upon Chun the Unavoidable, a self-described "committed egalitarian" who allows that even uninformed Americans "can vote, marry, and even procreate here in America, and I see no compelling reason to change this right away."

    Chun had discovered Sissy Willis' blog, an irrefutable example of "a genuine working-class Bush supporter." Chun, who's quite the leftist, was unclear about how to respond to what -- to him -- was an absurd political position for a good prole to adopt.

    Before I quote from Chun's conflicted response to Sissy, let's take a brief detour into the fascinating world of bad academic writing. The journal Philosophy and Literature sponsors an annual bad writing contest, which is usually won by an academic. For example, Judith Butler famously won the 1998 prize by penning this memorable sentence:

    The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

    Why this aside? Because this paragraph of Chun's response to the tangible existence of Sissy Willis should be a nominee for the 2004 bad writing award:

    As a committed leftist, egalitarian thinker, in what way should I dialectically work through my feelings of alienation and, let's face it, complete and total superiority, when confronted with this unpleasant materiality? I can't aufhebung; I can't aufhebung it. Note that this transitive/intransitive dichotomy has an indissociable trace of didacticality--pedanticissimo, natch, which will always already sui generise this contact narrative, which is invested with the logic of my colonizing gaze (though countermanded by my decolonializing gangsta lean), and which is itself recircumscribed by my minatory subjectivity as an oppositional leftist, egalitarian thinker. In effect, we have an histoire de l'oeil without the fun stuff but with the massenpsychologie of the burn the earth to a clinker (Klinger?) crowd. "Let us roll," indeed.

    Somewhere, Judith Butler is feeling this vague sense on unease, wondering whether she still remains the densest prose stylist of them all.

    Be sure to read Sissy's response to Chun.

    UPDATE: several commenters have suggested that Chun consciously obfuscates his prose in an effort to punk unsuspecting bloggers. That had actually occurred to me, but is pretty much irrelevant. I know few people who could consciously write a paragraph that dense, and I hang around with a lot of high-falutin' academic types (readers are invited to try and compose something that dense). So, a hat tip to Chun for consciously or unconsciously possessing the ability to compose such dreck.

    posted by Dan at 12:53 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (3)

    Wednesday, June 2, 2004

    The Onion takes on outsourcing

    Thank God The Onion didn't write this before my Foreign Affairs piece. It's shorter, funnier, and (particularly the last point) hits home.

    posted by Dan at 05:16 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)


    I'm typing this in DC -- here for a board meeting of the Center for Global Development's Ranking the Rich program.

    Trips like this used to mean that blogging was out - but not any longer. I'm the proud new owner of a Dell Latitude X300 with wifi capabilities. So, I'm typing this post out at the Starbucks on DuPont Circle [Which Starbucks at DuPont Circle?--ed. The one next door to KramerBooks.]

    My reaction to this is pretty much identical to my reaction when I installed Blacklist -- it's awesome, baby!!

    Thanks to one Jacob Levy for helping me figure out the whole wi-fi deal.

    posted by Dan at 05:09 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Does U.S. foreign policy suffer from an ideas deficit?

    Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch seems to think the answer is yes:

    To be sure, there is an ideas deficit right now amidst policy and academic elites.

    There is no Kennan-like X telegram. No Huntingtonian or Fukuyamaean take on the post 9/11 world.

    There is, to be sure, lots of partisan rancor and hyperbolic rhetoric (Kerry simply as a noxious hybrid of hyper-liberal Kennedy and feckless Clinton; Bush as militaristic cowboy rueful that he couldn't march into Damascus and Teheran because the going in Iraq got a tad rough...)

    Sadly, too, many think-tanks are split along pretty rigid party lines.

    When is the last time someone at Heritage dared to suggest that John Kerry had a decent idea that might not imperil the Republic's future?

    Or someone at Brookings talked up Bush's (quite multilateral) handling of counter-proliferation efforts?

    With policymakers a tad busy; think-tanks politicized; academics squabbling over methodology and such--we do face somewhat of an ideas deficit.

    And we need fresh thinking desparately, don't we?

    Readers are invited to suggest who might pick up the slack.

    In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle.

    posted by Dan at 11:54 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (2)

    Responding to the feminist critique

    Trish Wilson -- guest blogging at Feministe -- is disturbed by my survey of media and blogs:

    Dan Drezner linked to the poll that shows which blogs are read by the media.

    Guess what, again?

    That's right. Top ten - no women. "Elite" responses - no women. One woman (Amanda Butler) was thanked for "collecting and collating the data while displaying the utmost discretion." Women are valued for ... their secretarial skills....

    This discussion comes up approximately every three months. Rivka at Respectful of Otters just wrote about it. I last wrote about it in March. Nothing changes. A male blogger (this time Matt Yglesias) asks where are the women interested in politics, or asks where are the women bloggers? We see more media articles that completely ignore the contributions of the large number of female bloggers out there. The guys inevitably say "mea culpa," but go back to business as usual. Rinse and repeat.

    We are half the population, and we are nearly half of the blogosphere. We do not deserve to be ignored.

    I posted a brief comment to her blog about why I hired Amanda ("[S]he was one of the best students in an undergraduate class I had previously taught. She was assigned tasks that any undergraduate RA would have been assigned. Gender was not a factor in the division of labor.") UPDATE: click here for Butler's response to Wilson. Here is Wilson's response:

    So the survey is flawed. Your methodology should have taken self-selection into consideration. It's another survey that takes into account only the people who choose to link to it, thereby losing sight of many worthwhile blogs. Not only that, you'll end up with a very narrow view of both the definition of political discourse and the nature of the blogosphere. The same small number of top tier bloggers get the usual publicity, and alternate voices with other points of view are lost. Surveys like that one make it seem as if the blogosphere is primarily composed of men, when that is most definitely not the case. Survey's like that also narrowly define politics, which is much less two dimensional than that handful of topics most frequently discussed on blogs (Bush, Kerry, Abu Ghraib, Iraq, Israel, etc.) Women's political voices are being ignored again.

    I simply find it annoying after all this time. After all the repeated waving to the top tier bloggers that we are here, nothing changes. Women bloggers, especially women political bloggers, continue to be ignored by the high rankers of the blogosphere and by the media, and when we don't make a survey, we are blamed for not linking to it. The problem isn't with the women bloggers. The problem isn't with alternative points of view. The problem lies with the survey.

    Another female blogger echoes this sentiment:

    [I]t's a Male thing. They hang in packs. They don't think about women. It's in their nature to ignore or forget us. In short, what's new?

    So I am not surprised.

    Another blogger who goes by Pinko Feminist Hellcat concurred: "Men simply don't see us. And when we talk about anything besides politics, we are 'journalers'."

    A few thoughts:

    1) Hell yes, the survey is flawed. All surveys are flawed. I was quite blunt in outlining the flaws in the post, so I'm not sure where Wilson thinks I'm saying this is the perfect source of data.

    2) Disturbingly, the only other time I blogged about gender and blogs in the past was... er... about three months ago.

    3) Wilson has a valid point in saying that "the same small number of top tier bloggers get[ting] the usual publicity." This was one of the core hypotheses underlying the paper Henry Farrell and I are co-authoring -- in terms of both links and traffic, blogs display a power law distribution (See Clay Shirky for the data to support this assertion). As a result, the top blogs absorb the lion's share of attention. The media survey supports this conjecture. This means is that it's tough for anyone to crack the top tier of blogs -- regardless of gender.

    4) Wilson seems to think the results are skewed because there is a narrow definition of "political" blogs. Here's the thing, though -- my survey didn't ask for the respondent's favorite political blogs -- just their favorite ones. Maybe the respondents have an equally narrow definition of politics, but it was not conditioned by the survey question.

    5) The feminist critique did make me wonder if there was any significant difference in the female responses in contrast to the overall response. So I went back to the data to see if there was any appreciable difference in response by gender. Here are the top 10 favorite blogs of the women who responded:

    1. Instapundit -- 10
    2. Sullivan -- 9
    3. NRO's The Corner -- 6
    4. Drezner, Romenesko -- tied with 3
    6. Gawker, How Appealing, Talking Points Memo, LA Observed, Volokh -- tied with 2.

    There are a few changes -- Kaus disappears entirely, and Sullivan falls from first to second - but names on this list look awfully familiar.

    6) Finally, Wilson seems to be confusing normative and positive analysis. In her post, she's simultaneously upset about two facts: a) feminist blogs are being ignored by the mainstream media; b) I posted survey results suggesting that feminist blogs are being ignored by the mainstream media. I can understand her normative disapproval with the first point (though I respectfully disagree with the extent and source of the problem). I'm a bit flummoxed by her reaction to the second point, which is intended to describe the way the world is, not the way it ought to be. Don't blame the messenger.

    To be fair, Wilson herself the proprietor of Feministe says elsewhere that "this media, by nature, begs to be written with exaggeration and embellishment," so maybe I'm exaggerating the feminist state of pique. Then again, she (that is, Feministe's proprietor) also says elsewhere that, "if you're conservative, faint of heart, anti-feminist, homophobic, racist, use bad grammar, and/or detest typos, you will not like what i have to say. feel free to leave." So maybe I'm not exaggerating.

    UPDATE: Just for the record, my take on the tenor of most of the comments to this post is akin to Ezra: "I've never seen a bunch of commentors so totally destroy their argument by embodying that which they're denying."

    posted by Dan at 09:01 AM | Comments (131) | Trackbacks (20)

    Doha update

    Guy de Jonquières provides a mildly encouraging update in the Financial Times on the state of Doha round talks:

    Recently, governments seem to have discovered fresh reserves of that commodity and talks beginning in Geneva on Tuesday will test their depth. They will seek to set parameters this month for planned negotiations on dismantling farm trade barriers, the toughest obstacle to agreeing a negotiating framework for the round by the end of July.

    Unless that deadline is met, the Doha round risks being sidelined by US presidential elections in November. If that happens, the US Congress may feel less inclined to extend the new president's authority to negotiate international trade agreements into next year.

    That unsettling prospect has spurred other governments to rally behind efforts by Robert Zoellick, US trade representative, to put the round back on track. Meetings this year are said to have cleared the air and renewed commitment to making progress.

    That said, it looks like any deal will be modest in its achievments:

    Under US and EU pressure, the G20 last week set out broad principles for this month's talks, but offered no specific proposals for narrowing gaps between the WTO protagonists. Indeed some leading G20 members now say WTO members should shelve ambitions for big improvements in agricultural market access and settle for agreements to cut subsidies.

    The shift appears dictated by the reluctance of India and China, key G20 members, to open their farm markets....

    But even optimists believe breakthroughs will come only at the last minute, perhaps leaving too little time for deals on other vital elements of the talks, such as industrial tariff cuts and services, on which many developing countries are holding back until they know whether the agriculture stalemate can be broken.

    Some veteran negotiators hope that fear of political embarrassment will finally force WTO members to compromise. "Governments around the world have pinned their colours to the mast," says one. "If this ship sinks, they will go down with it."

    posted by Dan at 12:22 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Tuesday, June 1, 2004

    How do young women react to political scandals?

    Back in February I blogged about the rumors of John Kerry having an affair, the possible impact on his presidential campaign. Although I was somewhat ambivalent about whether it was a bloggable topic, and I quickly posted the subsequent flat-out denials by all involved, I still feel a sense of queasiness about the whole episode.

    So in fairness, here's a link to Alexandra Polier's New York cover story on being at the eye of the media storm, and her subsequent efforts to find out how she got sucked into it. The key graf:

    It was becoming clearer: No single person had to have engineered this. First came a rumor about Kerry, then a small-time blogger wrote about it, and his posting was read by journalists. They started looking into it, a detail that was picked up by Drudge—who, post-Monica, is taken seriously by other sites like Wonkette, which no political reporter can ignore. I was getting a better education in 21st-century reporting than I had gotten at Columbia J-school.

    Read the whole thing. David Frum and Matt Drudge come off as appropriately contrite. Wesley Clark spinmeister Chris Lehane and The Sun’s Brian Flynn come off as officious sleazebags.

    Noam Scheiber and Mickey Kaus have further thoughts on Polier's Kerry experience (links via Glenn Reynolds)

    There's an interesting parallel contrast to be drawn between Polier's scandal experience and reaction, and that of Jessica Cutler, a.k.a. Washingtonienne, who was fired from the office of Senator Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) for blogging about her scandalous sex life on government time. Her brief blog was immediately embraced heartily by Wonkette.

    Cutler is a bit younger than Polier, but not by much. They're both attractive young women who have plugged themselves into the worlds of politics and the media. They both became the center of media attention. They have both capitalized to some extent on their media notoriety. However, Cutler's reaction to the whole brouhaha has been much more... enthusiastic than Polier, according to the Washington Post's Richard Leiby:

    [Cutler] once aspired to be a journalist and says she is not ashamed in the least of her behavior. "Everything is true," Cutler told us in an interview. "It's so cliched. It's like, 'There's a slutty girl on the Hill?' There's millions of 'em," she said, laughing. "A lot of my friends are way worse than me."....

    Slim and 5 feet 2, she primped herself for photos ("I have good cheekbones. . . . I have good teeth") and said she would probably move to New York to find work because of her notoriety in Washington. She's setting her sights on the book publishing industry: "They'll totally hire me if I say I got fired from my job on the Hill because of a sex scandal."

    So as I said, there's an interesting parallel comparison to be drawn here.... but I can't think of what it is. All I keep hearing in my head is Homer Simpson saying "There's no moral. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened!!"

    Readers are hereby invited to do so.

    UPDATE: A few of the commenters misread a poor word choice of mine. I was not trying to equate Polier's behavior with Cutler. It was the similarity of their positions, contrasted with the divergence in their behavior, that I find so interesting. Sorry for the confusion.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: James Joyner is probably correct in his analysis:

    1) people like to read about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; 2) Drudge and Wonkette especially like to write about sex involving 20-something chicks and people connected in some way to power; and 3) one of the quickest way for a 20-something chick to get rich and famous is to have sex with people connected in some way to power.

    I'd amend #3 to include "people accused of having sex with powerful people."

    posted by Dan at 04:44 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)