Saturday, July 31, 2004

The Economist on philanthropy

The Economist runs a fascinating article on the current state of philanthropy in America and Europe. One highlight:

Even before George Bush senior sang the praises of “a thousand points of light”, Americans have never had any doubt. Many argue that community organisations and volunteering strengthen society. But, where public provision of social services is the norm, as in most of continental Europe, governments have been more ambivalent, seeing private provision as a sign of state failure. In America, says Felicity von Peter, who organised a workshop on giving for the Bertelsmann Foundation, donors believe that they can spend money more effectively than the state. In Europe, they are more likely to see private philanthropy as complementary to state action.

Now attitudes are changing, even in Europe. Everywhere, an ageing population is starting to stretch the capacity of the welfare state. So the motivation for bolstering philanthropy is likely to be pragmatic: to fill in the gaps in state provision and to widen the financial support of non-profits, which are frequently channels for state cash. But that is an uninspiring vision compared with Mr Bush's points of light and an appeal to community spirit....

On a continent where being very rich still carries faint implications of impropriety, many Europeans feel uneasy with the idea of competing to demonstrate public generosity. That has all sorts of implications. For instance, Britain's donors, argues Lord Joffe, often do not know how much they should give. In a recent debate in the House of Lords, he argued for a benchmark, though perhaps not one as high as the biblical tithe, to give the wealthy some idea of what was appropriate. He described a meeting at which people were asked to raise their hands if they gave more than 1% of their incomes to charity. Hardly any did. But after the meeting, many apparently raised the amount they donated.

Even more important is the attitude of would-be beneficiaries. Because they are generally new to the game, Europeans tend to be embarrassed about fund-raising. For example, few of Europe's impoverished universities employ professional fund-raisers. Top American universities typically employ hundreds. At least two of Britain's best university fund-raisers, at the London School of Economics and at Bristol University, are American imports.

Because they do not understand fund-raising, Europeans do it badly. Bertelsmann's Ms von Peter has a string of horror stories about European recipients. In one ghastly case, a would-be donor (with an instantly recognisable name) rang a charity to ask whether he could visit. He was told firmly that he could not, but he was welcome to send a cheque.

This does not mean that Europeans are less charitable, but rather that there's a substitution effect at work. Most Europeans devote more time (i.e., voluntering) than money compared with Americans. Here's a graph and everything:


One caveat -- the data in this graph does not cover donations to religious congregations, which depresses the American figure. The Israeli figure might actually be inflated, because it includes charitable gifts from abroad.

The article goes on to observe that the organization of the philanthropic sector is also changing -- for the better:

The new wealthy want to make sure their money is properly used, and so want to be involved in its expenditure. Bill Gates argues that you have to work just as hard at giving away your money as you do at making it.

This calls for a different approach by those who run foundations. A few years ago, there was much talk of “venture philanthropy”: the idea that Silicon Valley's entrepreneurs would transfer their creative skills to the foundations they were setting up. They built partnerships and insisted on exit strategies. Today, the best foundations are increasingly businesslike. They want clarity and accountability. They often see their task not just in terms of handing out money, but of forging alliances and building networks: with government and industry, or among fragmented groups of charities.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, July 30, 2004

The perils of a good trailer

Surfing around the web, I stumbled across this Heather Havrilesky interview with actor Zach Braff in Salon. Braff stars in Scrubs, which is currently the funniest (non-animated) show on network television, (admittedly not a difficult bar to reach).

The interview was about Braff's directorial debut, Garden State, opens today. At one point, they discussed the trailer of the move, and Braff said it was a big Internet hit:

We didn't imagine that the trailer would become the hit on the Internet that it has. At IMDb there's like this theory: People are like, "Yeah, I'm a 'Garden State' teaser-holic, I've watched it 30 times today."

We here at pride ourselves on being up on this "Internet" trend, and felt chagrined at not having seen the online trailer. So we checked it out.

The result? I've only checked it out only ten times in the past 24 hours, thank you very much -- but' it's still pretty damn hypnotic. It's as much a video for the Frou Frou song "Let Go" as it is a movie trailer, but I can't get the song out of my head -- in a good, not-going-crazy kind of way. Plus, it doesn't reveal any crucual plot points, a rare trailer treat.

Of course, this makes me even warier about seeing the actual movie. In my experience, there is often an inverse correlation between good trailers and good movies. The only trailers that ever made me want to see a movie I wouldn't have been interested in anyway have been Throw Momma From the Train, Tim Burton's Planet of The Apes, and The Triplets of Belleville. The last movie was great, but the first two sucked eggs.

Fortunately, Garden State has a stellar cast (Peter Sarsgaard, Natalie Portman, Ian Holm) and has been receiving more promising reviews. Plus, Braff has a blog about the movie that gets more comments than yours truly. So maybe I'll check it out.

Maybe I'll check out that trailer one more time....

posted by Dan at 03:36 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (4)

Why this is a tough campaign to read

John Harwood and Jacob Schlesinger have a nice summary in the Wall Street Journal of why it will be difficult to reach the undecideds during this election season. Here's the gist:

By spending some $2.3 million on television advertising over the last five months, John Kerry has fought George Bush to a near-draw in Seattle as he courts affluent suburbanites who share his social liberalism but lean toward Republicans on taxes and trade.

At the same time, Mr. Kerry has aimed some $550,000 in advertising at Bluefield, W.Va., outgunning Mr. Bush by nearly $100,000. The target: blue-collar workers who favor economic populism but are culturally conservative.

These disparate battlefields highlight Mr. Kerry's strategic conundrum as he leaves his party's nominating convention today. Among the small pool of swing voters in this fall's election, there are two groups with diametrically opposed political views. Mr. Kerry's plan for winning this seemingly deadlocked race turns on whether he can appeal to both sets simultaneously.

It's a tough job since most battleground states encompass both types of voter. If Mr. Kerry can't attract enough people from each camp -- and win states that fell beyond the Democrats' grasp in 2000 -- he can't win the White House.

The Kerry team is banking on fixing the dilemma by focusing on one concern that appears to be common to both groups: Iraq. The war that once loomed as a Republican trump card has become a critical element in Democrats' attempt to piece together a 270-electoral-vote majority. The campaign hopes it will allow Mr. Kerry to scale the otherwise unbridgeable gap between the two sets of undecided voters.

Because of discontent over the war, "we're getting an open door from people who wouldn't talk to us before," says Ted Gudorf, a Kerry delegate at the Boston Democratic Convention and a mayor from the swing state of Ohio....

The tensions between two seemingly irreconcilable camps have already given Mr. Kerry heartburn. After a Senate career in which he consistently backed trade expansion deals, Mr. Kerry began criticizing those deals and "Benedict Arnold CEOs" who ship jobs overseas, as part of an effort to court the union voters that loom large in Democratic nomination fights. Eyeing the general election -- and more affluent undecided voters -- he recently started emphasizing business-friendly stances, such as opposition to runaway deficits.

The Bush campaign has exploited Mr. Kerry's balancing act to press its charge that the Massachusetts senator flip-flops depending on political circumstances. Mr. Kerry, who has blamed the Benedict Arnold line on "overzealous speechwriters," says changing economic circumstances have steered him toward different positions on issues, such as trade, than he had advocated in the past.

For their part, Kerry strategists hope that U.S. woes in Iraq will help their candidate appeal to a decisive bloc of undecided voters. They hope to make the Bush administration's handling of Iraq a symbol of broader Democratic criticisms: "a harsh ideology, a rigidity, a disdain for any kind of dissenting point of view, dismissing any opposition whatsoever," says John Sasso, a top Democratic National Committee official and Kerry confidant....

There are tentative signs the strategy might work. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll last month, Mr. Bush continued to enjoy a wide lead among veterans. But he and Mr. Kerry split the votes of active-duty soldiers and their immediate relatives -- slightly more than 10% of the electorate -- as well as the votes of immediate relatives of veterans. That's one reason Kerry strategists see a chance to win Colorado, a Republican-leaning state Mr. Bush carried by eight percentage points in 2000. The Kerry campaign has run television ads in conservative Colorado Springs, home to both the Air Force Academy and the Fort Carson army base.

Headway among military families would brighten Mr. Kerry's prospects in states including Florida, Arizona, Virginia and Mr. Edwards's native North Carolina.

But while independents say they're keen to listen to Democrats talk about national security, it's not clear Mr. Kerry's message has inspired them. Ken Hamel, a 47-year-old print-shop manager in North Dakota, says he's paying closer attention than ever to the election because it will determine who leads the U.S.'s war on terrorism for the next four years. But "how do you judge anybody on that score?" he asks. "How do you fight terrorists who are willing to kill themselves?"

posted by Dan at 12:21 PM | Comments (39) | Trackbacks (1)

Forget Kerry -- this is serious!!

The Associated Press reports the Miss America pageant is making some changes:

The Miss America pageant is pulling the plug on its talent competition, eliminating the amateurish two-minute routines that have come to feature cheesy stunts such as tractor driving and trampoline jumping....

The talent routines, introduced in 1935 to help make Miss America something more than a beauty contest, became mandatory in 1938 and have been ever since. But the routines -- sometimes spectacular, more often not -- have generally turned off viewers.

Most typical were the baton twirlers, opera singers and piano players. But through the years, contestants have ridden horses on stage, stomped on broken glass, jumped on trampolines or driven tractors.

The talent routines once accounted for 40 percent of a contestant's score; they were 20 percent by last year. The routines will still be included in the three nights of preliminary competition leading up to the televised Saturday night crowning.

The casual wear, swimsuit and evening wear elements of the contest, which last year counted for 10 percent of a contestant's score, will each count for 20 percent this year, McMaster said.

Tractor driving? I'm going to miss tractor driving?

Well, there's always the Mrs. America pageant -- which is just a convenient way for me to link to Emily Yoffe's amusing account of how she won the Mrs. Washington, D.C. pageant.

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Kerry's speech

Here's what struck me about Kerry's speech:

1) Given the emphasis on a positive message emanating from this convention, Kerry took harder shots than I expected at Bush -- but I thought his foreign policy critique hit home. I was obviously sympathetic to the line, "You will never be asked to fight a war without a plan to win the peace." This is the section that the Bush team will have to rebut:

Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming mission accomplished certainly doesn't make it so.

As President, I will ask hard questions and demand hard evidence. I will immediately reform the intelligence system - so policy is guided by facts, and facts are never distorted by politics. And as President, I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: the United States of America never goes to war because we want to, we only go to war because we have to.

2) At one point, Kerry said, "I know there are those who criticize me for seeing complexities - and I do - because some issues just aren't all that simple." Funny, then, that his comments on outsourcing seemed completely simplistic and devoid of facts.

And yes, I saw Bob Rubin strategically placed next to Theresa, but I really would have liked a camera to have caught his reaction to those sections of the speech.

3) I was underwhelmed with his delivery. He seemed uncomfortable with the teleprompter -- it reminded me of Bush's speech immediately after Gore conceded.

4) The part of the speech when Kerry seemed the most engaged was when he talked about the sixties generation changing the world. That's great, but I'm not sure how it applies now.

5) The articulation of Kerry's "liberal hawk position seemed to me as the most fleshed-out part of the speech:

As President, I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror. We will deploy every tool in our arsenal: our economic as well as our military might; our principles as well as our firepower.

In these dangerous days there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong. Strength is more than tough words. After decades of experience in national security, I know the reach of our power and I know the power of our ideals.

We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared.

We need to lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation - to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world.

We need a strong military and we need to lead strong alliances. And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.

And the front lines of this battle are not just far away - they're right here on our shores, at our airports, and potentially in any town or city. Today, our national security begins with homeland security. The 9-11 Commission has given us a path to follow, endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, and the 9-11 families. As President, I will not evade or equivocate; I will immediately implement the recommendations of that commission. We shouldn't be letting ninety-five percent of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected. We shouldn't be leaving our nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection. And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America.

The line, "I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family." was also pretty shrewd.

This section papers over some tricky foreign policy tradeoffs, like exactly how he would get our allies to contribute to Iraq, but I will say this -- the speech convinced me that Kerry gets the fact that this election is about foreign policy and the war on terror.

So where do I stand on the fence? I promised Tyler Cowen I'd start assigning a probability of which side of the fence I'd land. At this point, if p = (probability of voting for Kerry), then my p = .54.

THE MORNING AFTER: James Joyner has a nice collection of links. Matthew Yglesias is just as pissed as I am about Kerry's crap rhetoric on outsourcing -- Robert Tagorda even more so. Robert Hochman was thoroughly underwhelmed -- Virginia Postrel even more so.

The parts of Kerry's speech that appealed to me were the parts that made the same criticisms of the Bush administration that I've made in the past. I can't say the speech made me want to vote for Kerry anymore than I did before the speech -- but those sections reminded me why I'm not too thrilled with the Bush administration at the moment.

LAST UPDATE: Will Saletan seems to be channeling me this week -- or vice versa, as he makes a similar point about Kerry's speech:

The power of the speech, reflected in a deafening series of ovations that consumed the FleetCenter tonight, came not from Kerry's biography or the themes he brought to the campaign two years ago. It came from his expression of widespread, pent-up outrage at the offenses of the Bush administration....

In his determination to unite the right, Bush hasn't just united the left. He has lost the center. Look at last week's New York Times/CBS News poll of registered voters. "Do you think the result of the war with Iraq was worth the loss of American life and other costs of attacking Iraq or not?" Fifty-nine percent say it was not. "Which do you think is a better way to improve the national economy—cutting taxes or reducing the federal budget deficit?" Fifty-eight percent say reducing the deficit. "When it comes to regulating the environmental and safety practices of business, do you think the federal government is doing enough, should it do more, or should it do less?" Fifty-nine percent say more.

One more Bush voter on the right, balanced by one more Kerry voter on the left, plus the tilting of one more voter in the middle toward Kerry, is a net loss for the president. That's the lesson of this administration, this election, and this convention. Kerry doesn't have to write any good lines. He just has to read them.

posted by Dan at 11:31 PM | Comments (63) | Trackbacks (9)

Tyler Cowen gives me an assignment

Over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen makes a request:

Daniel Drezner remains on the fence, concerning the next Presidential election.

He writes about supporting Bush, Kerry, or perhaps a third party candidate (unlikely). But why should he restrict himself to "pure strategies"? Why can't he support some candidate with some positive probability? How about, for instance, "I support Bush with p = 0.63." Or "I support Kerry with p = 0.57", and so on. That way we would know how strong (or weak) his current view is.

Chris Lawrence's doubts aside, this seems fair to both me and my readers. I'll be posting my first p-value after Kerry's speech tonight. Obviously, this value will likely fluctuate over the next few months.

One thing the probability that I will vote for someone either than Kerry or Bush is zero.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Does a fear of hell lead to economic growth?

Timothy Perry links to a paper by two Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis economists suggesting that religious piety (operationalized as a fear of hell) could contribute to economic growth. The key section:

There might, therefore, be two parts to the link between religion and economic growth: a belief in hell tends to mean less corruption, and less corruption tends to mean a higher per capita income. The first part of the link is illustrated by the first chart below. It uses the 1990-1993 World Values Survey, which asked people in 35 countries whether they believed in hell, and the Corruption Perceptions Index produced by Transparency International, which surveyed many countries’ residents about corruption.9 The first chart plots the rankings of 35 countries’ percentages of people who believe in hell against the rankings of the countries’ perceived levels of corruption. As the chart shows, there is a tendency for countries in which a larger percentage of the population believes in hell to have lower levels of corruption.

The second part of the link is illustrated by the second chart, which plots the GDP-per-capita rankings of the 35 countries against their corruption rankings.10 It shows a strong tendency for countries with relatively low levels of corruption to have relatively high levels of per capita GDP.

Combining the stories from the two charts suggests that, all else constant, the more religious a country, the less corruption it will have, and the higher its per capita income will be. Of course, these charts are only suggestive. However, they are nonetheless consistent with Weber’s argument and the Barro and McCleary result that religious beliefs can influence economic outcomes.



The graphs would seem to be convincing -- except for the fact that the authors omitted a discussion of any direct correlation between a fear of hell and per capita income in their data. There's a good reason for that -- when you crunch the numbers, it turns out there's a correlation coefficient of -.21 between the two variables, which means there's a very weak negative correlation between a fear of hell and income status.

The authors' hypotheses might be correct, because this kind of correlation is not a ceteris paribus test. But the aggregate effect would seem to be pretty weak.

Another thing -- for a paper concerned with economic growth, it's odd that they're using GDP per capita instead.

Readers are invited to suggest alternative ways to test this hypothesis.

UPDATE: Interesting -- it looks like the authors have eliminated all the graphical evidence. And now there's an editor's note that explains:

It is the second revision that has been posted. In both the original version and the first revision, the article ended with a discussion of simple correlations between countries’ religiosity, levels of corruption and per capita incomes....

Thanks to the keen eyes of a number of readers, however, we have discovered that the charts used in both of these versions of the article contained errors. Consequently, the version below does not include discussions of the correlations between religiosity, corruption and per capita income. It is important to note that this has no bearing on the results in the literature that are discussed in the article.

Kevin Drum is less kind than the editor: "In other words: this was just simplistic crap and it wasn't even computed correctly at that."

This has not stopped media coverage of the paper. Greg Saitz wrote it up in the Newark Star-Ledger, but bless his heart, he was smart enough to ask some atheists about it:

"I cannot imagine what the belief in mythological beings or things that don't exist can do for business," said Ellen Johnson, president of Cranford-based American Atheists. "What about the pornographic industry? That is probably very good for growth."

Of course, Glenn Reynolds would reply that the consumption of pornography does not necessarily lead to antisocial behavior.

[You started with piety and ended with porn -- you are so going to hell!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (30) | Trackbacks (4)

My last metablogging post for a while

I know I've been blogging about blogging too much as of late -- but I can't resist these two links.

The first is Fafblog's "interview" with Wolf Blitzer. For those of you sick to death of the convention blogfest, this is the link for you. This is from the opening paragraph:

Here at the convention there isn't that much to do right now other than eat tiny quiches an finger sammiches an hang out at panels drinkin wine but we're still havin an ok time with that. Me an Giblets have been hangin out at such panels as "Blogging: Transforming the Medium of Media" an "Blogging: A Radical New Media of Blogging" an "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog" where we have lent our expert advice to confused broadcast journalists whose minds are dazzled by the oh so confusin world of computer wizardry.

It's a damn good thing Henry and I changed our paper title, because our first choice was "Blogging: Blog Media Bloggity Blog Media Bla-blog."

More seriously, Jonathan Chait has a great TNR Online essay about why he's covering the convention from home (alas, subscriber only free link for everyone!!). Chait makes a great point how and why the conventional wisdom among journalists about what makes great journalism is heavily skewed:

But what's so bad about sitting around? You can learn a lot sitting behind a desk, mining the papers for interesting factual nuggets, reading political commentary from every perspective, poring through books and reports, and using the Nexis database to compile enormous stacks of newspaper stories. Most journalists scorn this kind of research because they're obsessed with uncovering new facts, not synthesizing them....

Part of the problem is that journalism terminology glorifies "shoe-leather reporting," whereby you pound the pavement so often you wear out the soles of your shoes. Yet there's no widely used term of approbation for the other kind of reporting. For this very reason, my New Republic colleague Franklin Foer and I decided a few years ago to coin a phrase: ass-welt reporting. It means you've sat in your chair for so long reading books and documents that you've worn a welt the shape of your backside into your chair. I'm not saying that every news story could be reported without leaving one's desk. (Bernstein: "Woodward, look! I found a clip from 1971 in which President Nixon tells the Omaha World-Herald he plans to order his goons to break into Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel!" Woodward: "I'll cancel that meeting with Deep Throat.") I'm simply saying that, sometimes, laziness can be the better part of valor.

Not only is this true, it's the best refutation of Alex S. Jones' tired tirade against bloggers. Jones complains that:

[B]loggers, with few exceptions, don't add reporting to the personal views they post online, and they see journalism as bound by norms and standards that they reject. That encourages these common attributes of the blogosphere: vulgarity, scorching insults, bitter denunciations, one-sided arguments, erroneous assertions and the array of qualities that might be expected from a blustering know-it-all in a bar.

The best bloggers link to opposing views, excel at Chait's "ass-welt reporting," and perform Google and Nexis searches ad nauseum.

As Chait points out, reporting is about more than shoe leather, it's about decent research skills -- a fact one would have expected the director of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy to comprehend. Instead, Jones seems to have divined all of his knowledge about blogs from reading Matt Drudge and Wonkette.

It's a shame he didn't do more research for his op-ed.

A BELATED POSTCRIPT: Many of the commenters to this post have defended either Drudge or Wonkette, assuming that I was attacking them. That wasn't my intent, as I consume both of them on a regular basis. My point was that most bloggers do not provide the same type of content as either Cox or Drudge. Jones (or blog-grouch Tom MacPhail) would have had a leg to stand on if the rest of the blogosphere was akin to either of these sites. In moderation, however, both of them serve a useful purpose.

posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Outflanking Bush on the right

My latest TNR Online essay is up. It picks up on Andrew Sullivan's point about the Democrats hitting Bush from the right as well as the left.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (0)

A step forward on agriculture?

Richard Waddington has a Reuters story suggesting that the Doha round of trade talks has overcome the agriculture obstacle:

Five core members of the World Trade Organisation have ended hours of hard bargaining with an accord that could open the way to a deal on a trade pact by the full membership, a leading negotiator says.

"It brings the possibility of an agreement (of the full membership) nearer," the negotiator, who had been involved in the talks, told Reuters on Thursday.

The five are the United States, the European Union, Australia, India and Brazil, who are considered to represent a wide range of trade interests within the 147-state body.

The WTO has set itself until midnight on Friday to seal outline deals in four key areas - farm and industrial goods, services and a new customs' code - in a bid to put its troubled Doha Round of free trade negotiations back on track.

However, a number of other members, including Switzerland, suspicious at the leading role assumed by the five, have warned that they will not be railroaded into a deal just because the big trading powers back it.

The negotiator, who declined to be named or to go into detail, said that the ideas accepted by the five covered all points of the hotly disputed text on agricultural reform, which is widely seen as crucial to an overall pact....

Although there were still problems in the other issues, diplomats said that there was a good chance that they could quickly be overcome once the all-important question of agriculture had been decided.

"The feeling is that they are all doable," said one diplomat, who asked not to be named.

It's worth noting that 15 years ago, when the Uruguay round was being negtiated, the "core members" of the world trade body were called the "Quad" -- the U.S., European Union, Japan, and Canada. The fact that India and Brazil need to be consulted at this level is a testament to how the balance of power has shifted within the WTO.

posted by Dan at 09:53 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Watch this space

As part of my TNR Online assignment for tomorrow, I'll be live-blogging the convention speakers -- so this post will be updated on a regular basis for the rest of the day.

Here's today's speaker schedule -- you can follow along with me.

4:20 EDT: Ah, here's Harold Ford Jr. -- my commenters are correct, he's not quite in Obama's league as an orator. Not a lot of passion, and I'm distracted by his startling resemblance to Derek Jeter.

4:23 EDT: This is the first time I've actually watched the convention this year -- is it me, or did the DNC get the same announcer as the Academy Awards? With the musical cues, that's the feel I'm getting. I keep expecting the speakers to say "the nominees for outstanding position paper by a liberal think tank are..."

4:28 EDT: Free advice to the Kerry team -- having a speaker like U.S. Rep. Tom Allen (D. - Maine) repeat the phrase "John Kerry hears your voices" over and over is not comforting to the average voter. It's too easy to confuse with the more unsettling "John Kerry hears voices."

4:35 EDT: Steve Westly, the California State Comptroller, actually gives a good speech praising both immigration and the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley.

4:46: U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D -- Pennsylvania) is now speaking -- I'm just impressed he got elected with that name.

4:54: Frank Lautenberg is making a staunchly pro-Israel speech, and bashing the International Court of Justice for its recent ruling on the security barrier. I can hear the occasional "boo" in the background.

5:04: Representative Ike Skelton blasts Republicans for using those serving in the military as political props. OK, I'll grant Bush was guilty of this during his carrier landing last year -- but I'm to believe that John Kerry is not engaging in something similar throughout this entire week? Consider who caught his opening pitch at Sunday's Sox-Yankees game....

5:15: My four-year-old son comes into room, not feeling well -- wants to watch Cyberchase. Blogging suspended for a while.

7:00: Wycleaf Jean is performing. What, you might ask, would he do as president?

If I was President,
I'd get elected on Friday
I'd sign a peace treaty on Saturday
Stop the war on Sunday
Send the troops back on Monday

Oh, I feel much better.

7:54: I never thought I would say this, but Dennis Kucinich gives a pretty good speech. His delivery is better than anyone's I've heard today. He started off like he was lecturing eighth-graders, and there's hints of loopiness in the background, but it's not ba-- oh, wait, here we go: "Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction!! Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction!! Racism is.." you get the idea.

7:55: Hmmm... Bravo is showing an old West Wing episode with Matthew Perry as a guest star....

8:15: A satellite feed from a Colorado VFW post. "Veterans are joining the Kerry campaign in unprecedented numbers. He's one of us, one of our band of brothers." That Daily Show bit about talking points is beginning to gnaw at me.

8:33: The Reverend Al Sharpton says that if Bush were president in the fifties, he wouldn't have picked a Court that ruled the right way in Brown Vs. Board of Education. This is both overreaching and amusing. The only reason Brown came out the way it did is because in between the two serts of oral arguments, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren to replace Truman appointment Carl Vinson -- who would have led to a very different ruling. EduWonk has more on this.

8:45: Al has a brilliant riff in the closing, touching on Ray Charles' rendition of "America the Beautiful." And then the song comes out on the loudspeaker. Gotta give props to anyone who can get the DJ to play Ray Charles.

8:53: Do you have trouble falling asleep? Insomnia? Try a Bob Graham speech!! Good Lord, the hall was louder four hours ago. This isn't a poke at the substance of his speech -- homeland security. But Lord, does he have a dull delivery.

9:27: Do I agree with Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on economic policy? Good God, no -- As I type this Granholm is stoking outsourcing fears and blathering on about "fair trade." (alas, Michigan Republicans are just as bad on this issue). But my word, she's a good-looking politician.

10:04: Xinhua is already running a story on John Edwards' speech -- a half hour before he delivers it.

10:30: Edwards is delivering his speech -- apparently, he's the son of a mill worker and was the first person in his family to go to college.

11:00: There was a lot of his stump speech in Edwards' speech tonight, but he seemed to be rushing it. There were some high points -- the discussion of racism, the vignette of the woman staying up in her kitchen -- but the rest was a bit forced.

Off to write the TNR piece.

posted by Dan at 03:47 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

This won't tip me off the fence -- but it does make me hungry

Jacob M. Schlesinger has a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal on ther contrasting management styles of John F. Kerry and George W. Bush (subscription required). The article is really all about Kerry's decision-making style, both pro and con.

Not much of note, except for this section where methinks Kerry doth protest too much about being more than just a legislator:

Mr. Kerry bristles at unfavorable comparisons to Mr. Bush's management experience. "I think I have far more executive leadership than this president," he says, referring to his stint in Vietnam "leading men into and out of war."

Mr. Kerry touts his other management experience as well. In Massachusetts, he briefly helped run the Middlesex County district attorney's office -- "one of the 10 largest district attorney's offices in America," he notes. Mr. Kerry also said that over the past year he has "put together a multimillion-dollar campaign operation," that has generated revenue, in the form of campaign donations, of more than $200 million, a record for his party. The campaign currently employs several hundred people. At times he also has pointed to his late 1970s foray into the private sector, when he cofounded a small Boston cookie shop. (emphasis added)

Whoa -- he started a cookie store? That tips the scales for me!!

Actually, if the cookie shop in question was Rosie's Bakery, that would be persuasive evidence for Kerry (this is where Erika and I got our wedding cake made). Convention bloggers, be sure to check it out!! Or, you can order online.

Seriously, here's some poll results from the Annenberg Public Policy Center on where Bush and Kerry stand on the leadership question:


UPDATE: Hmmm... Brad DeLong has thoughts on the story, but mysteriously omits any reference to cookie shops.

Somewhat more seriously, Janet Hook, Mary Curtius and Greg Miller have a blow-by-blow account of Kerry's decision-making process in the votes on Iraq in the Los Angeles Times.

posted by Dan at 03:18 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Your environmental post for the day

There's a global warming initiative designed to reduce greenhouse gases by creating a tradeable market in methane, an important contributor to global warming (though not as important as carbon dioxide). The idea is for poorer states to harvest their methane emissions and sell them as energy.

Such a plan would require multilateral cooperation and political leadership. It's too bad the current administration hates the environment so much-- oh, wait, this is the Bush team's idea!

From the Associated Press:

The United States will help poorer nations harvest their methane emissions and turn them into clean-burning fuel, which will reduce pollution that contributes to global warming, Bush administration officials announced Wednesday.

The heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, along with President Bush's senior environmental adviser, said the plan would tap the power of the market to reduce release of methane, a heat-trapping atmospheric gas that largely goes to waste.

The plan involves spending up to $53 million over the next five years as part of an agreement with seven countries to help poorer nations harvest emissions of methane primarily from landfills, coal mines and oil and gas systems.

Methane is already captured from coal mines and landfills in the United States and used to generate electricity, officials said. Because of this, U.S. methane emissions in the United States were 5 percent lower in 2001 than in 1990....

Methane represents 16 percent of global greenhouse emissions; carbon dioxide is 74 percent, according to the administration.

The United States is joining with Australia, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Britain and Ukraine to develop the methane market. Canada and Russia also sent representatives to consider joining the group.

Mike Leavitt, the EPA administrator, cited significant energy, safety and environmental benefits.

He called it "a partnership that has the double benefit of capturing the second-most abundant greenhouse gas and turning it to productive use as a clean-burning fuel."

Here's a link to the EPA's press release -- and here's a link to the Methane to Markets website at the EPA.

posted by Dan at 02:33 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Not to rain on Barack Obama's parade, but....

By all accounts, Barack Obama gave a great keynote speech last night. Both the Sullivans -- Amy and Andrew -- loved it. Amy liked the Patriot Act references because, "not only a good energizing issue for Democratic voters, but it taps anger and suspicion among conservatives and swing voters as well." Andrew liked the conservative tinges of the speech: "Obama struck many conservative notes: of self-reliance, of opportunity, of hard work, of an immigrant's dream, of the same standards for all of us.... He framed his belief in government with a defense of self-reliance and conservative values."

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the rest of Tuesday's lineup wasn't too inspiring.

Obama is pretty far to the left of me, but I'm always pleased to see someone affiliated with the University of Chicago do well on the national stage.

That said, before everyone gets caught up in Obama hype, let's reflect on a recurrent pattern regarding the Democratic Party and promising African-American politicians. As Bob Novak points out today in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The importance of the black vote for Democrats is seen in the fact that African Americans now have been keynoters at four of the last eight conventions. The late Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, a sonorous orator, was the first black to deliver a keynote address in 1976 in New York. She repeated in 1992, also in New York. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee, only 30 years old at the time, keynoted the 2000 Los Angeles convention.

Ford, Ford... that name rings a faint bell -- how is the 2000 keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention doing? Like Obama, Ford was the recipient of a media blitz for being an attractive minority face for the Democrats (side note: I'm getting really sick of hearing the word "articulate" used constantly whenever an African-American politician speaks in a tone that sounds more responsible than Al Sharpton). Since that speech, he was anointed as a future leader of the Democratic Party.

So where's Harold Ford Jr. on the DNC speaker schedule this year? He's not talking during prime time.

Ah, here he is -- he's got the 4:20 PM slot today. Hell, Dennis Kucinich has a better time slot.

My point is that Democrats have a recent tendency at conventions to promote a young African American politician as the Next Great Black Hope. It makes for some great TV footage -- and then these politicians recede into the background.

Maybe Obama will be the Democratic nominee for president in 2012 -- or maybe, eight years from now, he'll have that 4:20 PM time slot.

UPDATE: Will Saletan makes the same observation about Harold Ford, and also raises a point that touches on my free trade qualms with the Dems:

Obama, like other speakers at this convention, complains about "companies shipping jobs overseas" and workers "losing their union jobs at the Maytag plant that's moving to Mexico." At the same time, Obama holds himself out as a symbol of a diverse, welcoming America. How can Democrats be the party of diversity at home but xenophobia abroad, the party that loves Mexican-Americans but hates Maytag plants in Mexico, the party that thinks Obama's mom deserves a job more than Obama's dad does? I understand the politics of it. But what about the morals?

posted by Dan at 01:22 PM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (4)

Disagreeing with Arnold Kling

Via InstaPundit, I see Arnold Kling has a TCS column critiquing the 9-11 Commission's recommendations on how to wage the war on terror. Here's the gist of Kling's critique:

After articulating the threat in no uncertain terms, the Commission's recommendations for dealing with militant Islam amount to proposals for the international equivalent of midnight basketball programs. These recommendations are contained in a section of the Report called "Preventing the Continued Growth of Islamist Terrorism," on pages 391-400. The flavor of the proposals can be tasted from the following excerpt (p. 393):

"How can the United States and its friends help moderate Muslims combat the extremist ideas?...We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors."

To see what is wrong with this approach to what the Commission calls "the struggle of ideas," imagine if we had used it to fight World War II. Instead of bombing Tokyo or Berlin, we would have have tried to stop Japanese and German aggression by offering "an example of moral leadership."

In my view, moderate Muslims today are in a position that is analogous to that of ordinary Germans and Japanese in World War II. Although they may not be personally committed to the rabid ideology that is behind the behavior of the warmongers, they are in awe of it.

For all practical purposes, most of the Muslim world is undecided between Islamism and America. If we adopt a more aggressive approach, some of these Muslims will jump off the fence and onto the other side. But passivity and weakness on our part would be even worse. To regain support of moderate Muslims in the long run, we will have to take steps in the short run that risk upsetting them.

The Commission would like to see us win the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims. That is certainly a laudable objective, but it could easily become an excuse for pacifism and paralysis. We could not have won World War II with "soft power," trying to win the hearts and minds of ordinary Germans as a way of defeating the Nazis. By 1945, we had in fact won the hearts and minds of ordinary Germans, to the point where very few of them admitted to ever having supported Hitler. But we achieved that result only after obliterating the Nazi military and, incidentally, killing a large number of ordinary Germans.

The Commission rightly says, in the paragraph quoted at the beginning of this essay, that calling this a "war on terrorism" with no mention of Islamist ideology serves to blur our strategy. But it equally blurs our strategy to say that the way to stop the spread of Islamist ideology is to "be generous and caring to our neighbors."

I read this same section of the report, and I think Kling is being a bit unfair in his interpretation of the Commission's recommendations.

To see why, you have to go back to the Commission's diagnosis of the problem. Kling opens his essay with a quote to that effect, but it's too truncated. Here's what's said on pages 362-3:

“[T]he enemy is not just “terrorism,” some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism—especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology….

It is not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it there is no common ground—not even respect for life—on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated….

Our enemy is twofold: al Qaeda, a stateless network of terrorists that struck us on 9/11; and a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world, inspired in part by al Qaeda, which has spawned terrorist groups and violence across the globe. The first enemy is weakened, but continues to pose a grave threat. The second enemy is gathering, and will menace Americans and American interests long after Usama Bin Ladin and his cohorts are killed or captured. Thus our strategy must match our means to two ends: dismantling the al Qaeda network and prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism. (emphasis added)

This is a useful distinction, but one that Koing blurs. Certainly the 9-11 Commission does not recommend passivity in the face of the Al Qaeda threat. On p. 364, it states quite clearly: "Certainly the strategy should include offensive operations to counter terrorism. Terrorists should no longer find safe haven where their organizations can grow and flourish."

The war against radical Islam, however, cannot be won quickly and cannot be won with force of arms alone. Kling's metaphor here is World War II, but the better metaphor is the Cold War. Saying that one set of ideas is bad isn't enough -- a compelling alternative must be presented. On this front, the United States has done a piss-poor job at public dilpomacy -- and the Commission is right to raise this as an issue.

Kling worries that engaging in a hard-fought war of ideas could lead to passivity. Look, we've gone to war against two Muslim countries in the span of three years -- compared to that, anything will look passive. These uses of force were necessary -- the first to eject Al Qaeda from its base of operations, the second to inject the notion of democratic rule into the one region of the world where it has failed to emerge indigenously. Despite missteps, the public in both sets of countries seem increasingly receptive to western ideas of democratic representation. Iraq is moving towards a provisional assembly. Afghanistan has a constitution and a populace that's enthusiastic about exercising their democratic rights (a fact I blogged about two weeks ago).

Promote, that, consolidate that, and in a generation, radical Islam takes a dive. The popularity of Islamic fundamentalism fades very quickly in an open society. It's the job of the United States to promote the virtues of such a society, and consolidate the regimes in the region receptive to such a message.

In the war against radical Islam, Kling is correct that we need hard power. But we do need soft power as well.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part V

One of the key factors behind my indecision over who to vote for is that I don't know which candidate will have the better trade policy. If you gauge American public opinion, this is a tough sell. The Bushies are all about hypocritical liberalization -- getting the big trade picture correct but offering as many exceptions as possible below the radar -- see Alex Tabarrok for the latest idiocy on this front.

So what about Kerry and the Dems? Ryan Lizza says I have nothing to worry about, that Kerry will be Rubinomics redux -- except Lizza is referring to fiscal policy and not trade. Although Rubin has always been a staunch free-trader, there's reason to believe that Kerry might ignore his advice on this matter. Michael Crowley voices this concern in his TNR Convention Blog post:

When I asked a Democratic speechwriter about it last night, he told me that with polls showing economic-competition issues like outsourcing to be "off the charts," as the campaign progresses "there's going to be a lot more of that [anti-globalization sentiment]."

Even Brad DeLong sounds gloomy on this point:

"You said the Democrats will have problems doing some things. What will they have trouble doing?"

"Well, dealing with outsourcing for one thing. It's coming--it's coming over the next generation. And the Democratic Party will have a very hard time figuring out how to deal with it constructively. It's likely to begin thinking that people in India who want jobs processing document-images for U.S. companies are our *enemies*. We can't afford to do that--a world in which Indians and Chinese in fifty years are taught that the U.S. tried to keep them poor will be a very unsafe world. A world in which we try to block expanded world trade will be a world in which we will be much poorer than we need to be. And as long as people see themselves as being pulled into better-paying jobs in other industries (rather than being pushed out of where they want to be by cheap foreign competition), we can make the coming generation's expansion of world trade--the coming generation's "outsourcing" boom--a source of wealth and development. But Democrats will have a hard time doing this.

Sigh. I should be used to being out in the political wilderness on these issues. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

I'll close with a link to Brink Lindsey's great July 2004 cover story in Reason, "10 Truths About Trade", which nicely debunks a lot of the horses#&@ that masquerades as policy debate on this topic.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias posts about a Laura Tyson speech at the National Democratic Institute's International Leaders Forum being held at the convention. The key grafs:

"When people say, 'well, listen to what the Kerry campaign has said about trade in some of the primaries, we are concerned that Sen Kerry will move US away from trade integration.' To which I say, well, think about the issue of national campaigns in the US. Recognize that what might be said in one primary . . . is not an indicator of the future." The thing to look at "is Sen Kerry's very courageous, very consistent, very long-term record on trade and global economic integration." A man who has consistently voted for a pro-trade, pro-integration agenda. His career has been oriented in this direction. He has shown "courage in this direction because a significant part of my party's base is a voice of concern about trade . . . and is consistently asking for policies that would take the US backwards." Kerry has consistently heard those voices, "and consistently voted a pro-trade record."

Every country must find a way to ensure that those dislocated by economic integration find support for that dislocation. Globalization creates aggregate benefits for countries, but internal distribution of costs and benefits is uneven. "It must be taken entirely seriously as a policy agenda what to do for those who are not better off." The voices of protectionism in America are the voices of those who have lost, a Kerry administration would do a better job of taking care of those people which will make their voices grow less stridently anti-trade. Thus, Kerry would be better for free trade.

"I want to assure you that a Kerry-Edwards administration will continue in the great American tradition of leading the way on global economic integration. Thank you very much." (emphasis in original)

Here's the thing -- does Kerry's relatively protectionist rhetoric during the primaries innoculate provide him an only-Nixon-can-go-to-China kind of leverage if he's elected -- or does it politically constrain him from following an instinctive preference for an open economy? Remember that one reason George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel in 2002 is that he essentially promised he'd do this during the 200 election campaign.

Tyson wants to dismiss Kerry's primary rhetoric -- I wish I could, but still have my doubts.

posted by Dan at 06:19 PM | Comments (67) | Trackbacks (2)

So how's European integration going?

The OECD just released its economic survey of the Euro area for 2004. Here's the first bullet point fromthe executive summary:

Income per capita is lower in the euro area than in the best performing OECD countries and the gap is widening. Moreover, although the epicentre of many of the adverse shocks that prompted the global downturn since 2001 was in the United States, slack has been more persistent in the euro area. Key challenges are to reduce the persistent underutilisation of labour resources, to boost productivity growth and to bolster the area’s resilience against shocks.

In the Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu has more. :

Membership of a single currency has failed to inject dynamism into the economies of the eurozone or to raise their long-term growth rate, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said on Tuesday.

In its most critical report on the eurozone's economic performance, the Paris-based body said the first five years of European monetary union had been "more challenging than expected".

The eurozone had been "disappointing" in its lack of resilience to shocks, and its income gap against the OECD's best-performing countries remained large and widening. The differences between individual euro-area countries was even more striking, the OECD said.

Laurence Boone, one of the report's authors, said: "There's a huge potential for the euro area to gain from economic integration but not enough has been done to reap the benefits."

....Labour mobility was low and unemployment "stubbornly high". But the structural reforms needed to move the euro economy closer to the ambitious targets set at the Lisbon summit in 2000 had been "hesitant and piecemeal".

The need for reforms to boost non-inflationary growth and strengthen the public finances in the face of ageing populations had gained urgency with the accession of the 10 new members this year.

The OECD lamented the failure by countries to take advantage of the last economic upswing to improve their budgets. "Countries should avoid past fiscal mistakes by rooting their budgets in medium-term frameworks," the OECD advised. "More ambition in consolidating budgets is needed, independent of the fiscal rules enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty and the Stability and Growth Pact."

For those who believe this is me gloating about European stagnation, it's not. Sclerotic European growth reduced demand for U.S. exports, which widens the trade deficit, which increases protectionist sentiments in the United States (although protectionist sentiment in the EU is all too alive and well). I'm much rather see the Euro area growing like gangbusters.

[Well, yeah, but the Europeans have a higher quality of life than Americans, right?--ed. Not according to the latest UN Human Development Indicators, which incorporates health and education measures along with per capita income (link via the Economist). The United States ranks eighth; the average rank of the Euro 15 countries is 14, and eyeballing where the countries are, that looks like what their weighted average would be as well.]

posted by Dan at 04:59 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

The future of party politics?

John Harwood's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) covers almost the exact same ground at Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine cover story about the organizational revolution taking place among Democrat-friendly interest groups.

Harwood's story focuses more on what these interest groups and 527 organizations are doing in this election cycle:

Rebecca Barson pulled up a chair alongside a tattooed young man sporting a black T-shirt and earring and squinted into a computer screen. "OK," Rob O'Brien told her, "let's cut turf."

And then, with a few keystrokes, the two opened another tiny front in the ground war to defeat George W. Bush -- and the quiet revolution under way within Democratic politics. Ms. Barson, a 27-year-old official at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, wanted to track down potential voters motivated by support for abortion rights. She asked Mr. O'Brien, a techie from a new liberal turnout machine called America Coming Together, to summon names and addresses of Democratic and independent women aged 18 to 30. Republicans wouldn't be worth the time.

Within seconds, her quarry popped up: 812 Concord-area women, their addresses marked with dots on a street map that Mr. O'Brien, a Democratic activist, printed out. Then it was up to Planned Parenthood -- and a host of affiliated liberal organizations working with ACT to divide up terrain -- to reach the voters, assess their political inclinations and cajole supporters to vote on Nov. 2.

All this represents a big change for the nation's Democrats. In the past, the various constituent and special-interest groups sympathetic to the party tended to go their own ways, often overlapping and sometimes even competing with each other. This time they are systematically collaborating, dividing up tasks and target audiences in an attempt to maximize impact.

Their cooperation isn't part of the Kerry for President campaign or the Democratic Party. But the turnout work that's going on here and in 14 other battleground states will almost surely have more influence on the presidential race than anything Democratic delegates do at this week's convention in Boston.....

While workers in Boston readied the Democratic convention stage last week, Ms. Barson and people from other groups pored over a map showing where they'd had an effect so far. Purple dots showed events staged by New Hampshire for Health Care, an arm of the Service Employees International Union. They included events in the state's more conservative and rural north country. Blue dots depicted activity by a state teachers union. Those cluttered the more populous and moderate south.

The division of labor isn't so much geographic as ideological. It stems from a simple insight about America's evolving political culture: Specific issues motivate people far more than political parties do.

So ACT began creating its turnout blueprint in New Hampshire by purchasing voter files from the state Democratic Party, and then beginning to cross them with membership lists from groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club. To refine the approach further, volunteers and paid organizers have knocked on 25,000 doors seeking information designed to categorize voters by their top-priority issues and inclination to oppose Mr. Bush.

That information, in turn, helps the consortium decide which liberal ally is best positioned to persuade an individual voter to turn out on Election Day. Backers of the approach argue -- and Mr. Kerry's advisers hope from a distance -- that it might prove more powerful than anything Democrats have tried before.

"It's a different kind of communication and a different kind of relationship than with a party," says Cecile Richards, president of the consortium linking ACT with its affiliated groups. "People give more credibility to ... organizations that work on issues they care about."

Meanwhile, Bai focuses on the long-term strategy of wealthy Democratic backers. Some of the highlights:

In March of this year, [venture capitalist Andy] Rappaport convened a meeting of wealthy Democrats at a Silicon Valley hotel so that they, too, could see [DEmocratic operative Rob] Stein's presentation. Similar gatherings were already under way in Washington and New York, where the meetings included two of the most generous billionaires in the Democratic universe -- the financier George Soros and Peter Lewis, an Ohio insurance tycoon -- as well as Soros's son and Lewis's son. On the East Coast, the participants had begun referring to themselves as the Phoenix Group, as in rising from the ashes; Rappaport called his gathering the Band of Progressives. More recently, companion groups have come together in Boston and Los Angeles.

What makes these meetings remarkable is that while everyone attending them wants John Kerry to win in November, they are focused well beyond the 2004 election. The plan is to gather investors from each city -- perhaps in one big meeting early next year -- and create a kind of venture-capital pipeline that would funnel money into a new political movement, working independently of the existing Democratic establishment. The dollar figure for investment being tossed around in private conversations is $100 million.

For the ideological donors... the new era seemed quite promising. McCain-Feingold left untouched and unregulated a vehicle that had been little used on the national level up to that point: the 527. And last fall and winter, the surprising success of Howard Dean's campaign convinced a lot of wealthy liberals that a new ideological movement could be nurtured outside the constraints of the Democratic Party. By controlling 527's, donors believed, they could determine, to a greater extent than ever before, the message and the strategy of a Democratic presidential campaign. ''This is like post-Yugoslavia,'' Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, told me. ''We used to have a strongman called the party. After McCain-Feingold, we dissolved the power of Tito.''

Having financed projects in the former Communist bloc, Soros understood the opportunitites that political tumult can create. He and the more reclusive Peter Lewis began by contributing about $10 million each to America Coming Together (ACT), the largest of the new 527's, which was designed to do street-level organizing for the election; the donations enabled ACT to expand its canvassing campaign from five critical swing states to 17. ''I used 527's because they were there to be used,'' Soros said bluntly during a conversation in his Manhattan office.

Soros's and Lewis's donations made it possible for longtime leaders of Democratic interest groups to do something they had never done in the modern era: work together. Now the insular factions have begun to form alliances. The founders of ACT included Ellen Malcolm and Carl Pope, the heads of Emily's List and the Sierra Club respectively, Andy Stern from the service employees' union and Steve Rosenthal, the former political director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. Suddenly, because they no longer had to compete with one another for contributions -- and because they had such a galvanizing villain in Bush -- the leaders of the party's most powerful adjunct groups were able to look beyond the more limited interests of their own membership....

It is, perhaps, futile to try to predict what the Democratic Party -- or much of anything in politics, for that matter -- will look like in 2008 or 2012. Terry McAuliffe, the party's chairman and one of the best fund-raisers in its history, says the party's continuing relevance in American life is assured, no matter how many rich donors establish their own competing groups or how many factions vie for dominance. With a new high-tech headquarters, $60 million in the bank and 170 million names in a voter database, McAuliffe said, the old party apparatus isn't going anywhere. ''In 30 years, the institution of the Democratic National Committee will be stronger than it has ever been,'' he said with characteristic bluster.

And yet implicit in Dean's prediction are two possible outcomes worth considering, if only because they lend themselves to historical precedent. The first is that the new class of Democratic investors could conceivably end up skewing the party ideologically for years to come. A lot of the political venture capitalists were strong supporters of Dean in the primaries, in the fervent belief that his campaign -- which became, in effect, a classic liberal crusade, in the Jerry Brown mold, only with more money -- was leading the party back in the right direction. Although several donors described themselves to me as ''pragmatic'' in their worldview, the moderate Kerry seemed to elicit in them all the passion of an insurance actuary (Soros labeled him ''acceptable''), and they manifested a pointed distaste for Clintonism as a political philosophy. The way they look at it, centrist Democrats spent a decade appeasing Republicans while the right solidified its occupation of American government. The donors see themselves as the emerging liberal resistance, champions of activist government at home and multilateral cooperation abroad.

There is, of course, a striking disconnect between the lives of these new Democratic investors and those of the party's bedrock voters: laborers, racial minorities and immigrants, many of whose faith in sweeping social programs has been badly shaken and who tend to be more culturally conservative than the well-off citizens of New York and Silicon Valley. But if the multimillionaires harbor even the slightest doubts about their qualifications for solving social and geopolitical ills, they don't express it.

What's striking about both stories is that, both in this electoral cycle and in their plans for creating an idea machine, these organizations aren't talking about appealing to centrist voters -- if anything, there's a disdain for the Clintonite policies of the nineties. The goal in the short-term is to motivate those latent voters symapthetic to a liberal/progressive agenda. The goal in the long term is to generate the ideas that will pull the country in a leftward direction.

More power to them -- I like to see a competition in ideas. That said, these stories contradict Noam Scheiber's suggestion from last week that the Republican interest groups are more likely to coordinate than Democratic interest groups, and as a result, "a politician on the left can repeatedly buck various interest groups without triggering an outright rebellion among his base. Politicians on the right enjoy much less leeway in this respect."

Maybe that was true in the past, but it's not going to be true in the future. And while I like to see ideational competition, the moderate in me frets about the long-term implications on policymaking.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn has a TNR Online story about Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and a key player in this political transformation. A lot of what Stern says reinforces the stories above:

But what, exactly, do folks like Stern want out of this election--and beyond? It's often said that the left nurses a grudge against Bill Clinton for his efforts to shed the party's ideological baggage from the 1960s, and Stern does, indeed, express a profound dissatisfaction with the Clinton years (something you didn't hear around these parts much on Monday, what with Clinton giving the keynote speech). But Stern's dissent isn't quite along the lines you might expect. For example, when it comes to welfare reform, the issue perhaps most likely to split groups like SEIU from the party's consensus, Stern isn't picking any fights. ("It may be that people were right, that welfare really was a cyclical problem," he says.) He'd like to see the government put more money into child care, but he's not particularly interested in seeing welfare reform as a whole repealed.

No, Stern's problem with Clinton is that, after the disastrous defeat of his health care plan and the election of the Gingrich Congress in 1994, Clinton didn't "push the envelope" enough: "I think he became an incredibly successful politician but he also became incredibly risk-averse." In addition, Stern says, Clinton spent very little time building the party into a vibrant grassroots organization--something that is happening now more or less on its own, thanks to the Internet, the 527s, and SEIU's own organizing--instead using the Democratic apparatus as his own "personal consulting firm." Clinton could get away with this, Stern notes, because his personal magnetism captured hearts and minds on the left. Kerry, to state the obvious, simply isn't as talented. Put another way: If Kerry wants to keep his supporters on the left happy, he's going to have to do it with more than his personality.

Stern doesn't expect Kerry to deliver universal health care--SEIU's top issue--overnight. But he and his members do expect Kerry to make a real effort on that and other domestic priorities, even if it means stretching the boundaries of political conversation. "They expect him to fight. They don't prefer losing to winning, but they don't like not showing up, either." Indeed, Stern says he has a certain admiration for President Bush, Newt Gingrich, and Tom DeLay precisely for that reason: their willingness to stake out more extreme positions and fight for them, even if the polls suggest public support hasn't caught up to them yet.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Kevin Drum picks up on a point that kept nagging me as I was reading the Bai story:

But what really surprised me is that in an 8,000-word story about these people, there wasn't so much as a single sentence about what they believe in. It's all about the infrastructure and the fundraising and the message machine — but nothing about the message itself. What are they doing all this work for?

To be fair, Bai describes the ideological orientation of these groups, but Kevin's right -- there was nothing in the story about specific policies, or even a desciption of the underpinnings behind modern-day liberalism.

posted by Dan at 10:02 AM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, July 26, 2004

Off to get my GOAt

I have to run and debate U.S. foreign policy in a bar. I'll be sure to provide an "after action" report.

If you're still jonesing for convention blogging, you could do far, far worse than the convention blogs from Reason and The New Republic.

UPDATE: That was a blast. A great crowd and a good debate. What truly amazed me was that 120-150 people showed up for this on a Monday night during the convention -- 50 people stood up for the entire ninety minutes. And nary a boo was heard.

ANOTHER UPATE: Paul Noonan provides an accurate summary of the debate here. Good to know the Clinton impersonation still wows the crowd.

One correction -- when I made the statement about answering a question as a real expert and not a pseudo-expert, that crack was NOT targeted at my debating partner, but rather myself -- the previous question or two had covered areas where I felt uneasy making authoritative statements.

posted by Dan at 06:12 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

The credit debit-card boom

On Friday Jathon Sapsford has a fascinating Page One story in the Wall Street Journal on the revolution in how Americans purchase goods and services (subscription required). Some of the interesting bits:

For the first time, Americans used cards -- credit, debit and others -- to buy retail goods and services more often than they used cash or check in 2003....

By letting consumers buy things with unprecedented convenience and speed, cards have transformed the economy. They have helped keep consumer spending strong even through terror attacks and recessions. When people pay with plastic, they tend to spend more -- often more than they have in the bank. Thus, credit cards also have fueled an explosion in consumer debt. It is expected to hit $838 billion this year, an increase of 6.8% from 2003 and more than double what it was ten years ago.

The aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman went completely cashless earlier this year. The Navy issued MasterCards to all 5,000 sailors aboard. On payday, seamen insert cards into a machine that electronically loads money stored onto each card. They then use the cards for all onboard purchases.

The Navy estimates sailors on the Truman buy 250,000 soft drinks monthly. When it was a cash ship, somebody had to collect half a ton of quarters each month from all the Truman's vending machines. Those coins then had to be redistributed. Now it's all settled electronically.

An added benefit: Shipmates can use the same cards while visiting nightclubs or movie theaters on shore, as well as to send money home. The Navy has even put a swiper by the door of the chapel as a substitute for the Sunday church-service collection plate, says Cmdr. Boyle McDunn, a chaplain aboard the Truman....

Some Christians see the pervasive use of plastic as part of a dark biblical prophecy. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, has said that plastic may signal the cashless society of the end times foreshadowed in the Bible. Mr. Robertson's network accepts contributions from supporters on both Visa and MasterCard....

For roughly 60 million Americans without bank accounts, however, living without cards is getting harder. They can't easily rent cars or stay in hotels, among other things. "You're effectively locked out of the American Dream if you don't have some kind of plastic, and it's going to get worse," says Mr. Simmons, the hip-hop mogul, whose RushCard lets holders put their paychecks onto plastic.

U-Haul International Inc., the truck-rental company, has begun issuing "payroll cards" to about 3,000 of its employees, or about 17% of its work force. They are mostly hourly workers who lack bank accounts. Workers can withdraw cash once a week from any automated teller machine without paying a fee, and they can use the cards wherever Visa is accepted. They can even get cash back after a purchase from the supermarket without any charge. The company, meanwhile, says it is saving about $500,000 a year in costs associated with issuing checks.

The only odd thing about the piece is the large number of paragraphs devoted to warning that the explosion of credit has led to a similar explosion in personal debt. I'd accept that, except for this piece of information contained in the story:

Last year, cash was used in 32% of retail transactions, down from 39% in 1999. Credit-card usage has remained stable, accounting for about 21% of purchases during that time. Meanwhile debit cards, which take money out of checking accounts immediately after each purchase, shot up to 31% of purchases last year, from 21% in 1999.

An increase in debit card puchases, unlike an increase in credit card purchases, would not necessariy lead to an increase in household debt.

One possibility is that the use of any kind of card automatically increases purchasing size, so expenditures via debit card are larger than those with cash. If credit card expenditures remain constant, that would increase debt.

UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has an interesting and related NRO essay on why, despite the proliferation of plastic, the use of cash persists at all in the advanced industrialized states. His theory -- gray market economies:

According to the Treasury Department, in 1990 there was $1,105 of currency in circulation for every American. By March of this year, that figure had risen to $2,455, an increase of 122 percent. It is highly unlikely that all of this increase is due to the needs of consumers to buy more goods and services, because per capita personal consumption expenditures only rose by 79 percent over the same period. This suggests that at least 35 percent of the increased demand for cash was for underground economic activity.

A further indication that this is the case is shown by looking at the composition of currency in circulation. Since 1990, 84 percent of the increase in currency is accounted for by $100 bills. Such bills now represent 71 percent of the monetary value of all U.S. currency, up from 52 percent in 1990. Average people do not ordinarily use $100 bills, but they are used heavily in the underground economy, which includes drug dealing and other illegal activity. Hence, it is reasonable to assume that the increased demand for $100’s is due almost entirely to an increase in the underground economy.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:07 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

A hypothesis about blog coverage

The extent to which the mainstream media has simultaneously embraced and covered the blog phenomenon for the Democratic National Convention has overwhelmed even a skeptic like Josh Marshall:

I buzzed by the MSNBC convention coverage site (probably through the ad link they're running on this and other blogs) and was flabbergasted to see that they've absorbed the blogging model to something like a mind-bending degree....

I've never been much for the blog triumphalism that seems always to be so much a part of the blog universe. Blogs make up a small, specialized niche within the interdependent media ecosystem -- mainly not producers but primary or usually secondary consumers -- like small field mice, ferrets, or bats.

When I see the mainest of mainstream outfits buying into the concept or the model I really don't know what to think. The best way I can describe my reaction is some mix of puzzlement and incredulity.

Indeed, the Jennifer Lee has a story in the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal has gone all out -- it's topic A of John Fund's column; Carl Bialik and Elizabeth Weinstein provide an exhaustive report on the convention bloggers, and I just got a call from another WSJ reporter for another story.

Even though I've written about the ever-increasing connections between the blogosphere and mediasphere, I must also confess surprise at the intensity of coverage over the past few days. What's going on?

Here's a quick-and-dirty hypothesis -- the media abhors a news vacuum, and a nominating conventions is one whopper of a news vacuum. There are no real surprises awaiting reporters in either Boston this week or New York come Labor Day. The only moderately interesting question this week is how well Edwards and Kerry deliver their speeches. Even that's not news as much as interpretation.

This is a perfect scenario for the media to increase their coverage of blogs. They are an undeniably new facet of convention coverage, which makes them news. They're a process story rather than a substance story, which the media likes to write about. Finally, one of the blogosphere's comparative advantage is real-time snarky responses and interpretations of media events.

Just a thought.

UPDATE: David Adesnik reinforces the point Henry Farrell and I have made about the skewed distribution of the blogosphere:

I've also noticed that the same few bloggers are getting all of the attention. Since one of them is Patrick Belton, I think that's just great. But it means that other blogs are getting left out and that journalists are limiting their own supply of information. For example, all but one of the bloggers mentioned in Howard Kurtz's convention-blogging round-up also get mentioned or quoted in Jenny 8-ball's round-up at the NYT.

And here's a subsciption-only link to the Christopher Conkey story in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.

LAST UPDATE: Lindsay Beyerstein at Majkthise offers another excellent hypothesis explaining media coverage of convention bloggers:

I would also argue that media are primarily fascinated by the credentialling of bloggers, rather than the medium itself. Extending press credentials to non-journalists is a bold move by mainstream political parties. Effectively, the subjects of news unilaterally expanded the media by extending access.

Journalists see themselves as professionals. Self-regulation is one of the distinctive features of a profession. Just as doctors reserve the right to decide who can practice medicine, many journalists feel entitled to decide who gets to make the news.

posted by Dan at 01:43 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (5)

Thanks for reading, Karl!!

Last week, when the 9-11 Commission report came out, I offered some free advice to Karl Rove: "Karl, tell Bush to own this report. Make it clear to the American people that he gets it, and takes the issue seriously."

Mike Allen reports in today's Washington Post that someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. got the message:

President Bush plans to begin making decisions about restructuring the nation's intelligence machinery within days and may enact some changes by executive order or regulatory action without waiting for Congress, White House officials said Sunday.

Aides suggested for the first time that despite the opposition of some in the administration, Bush is headed toward backing some variation of the Sept. 11 commission's call for a national intelligence director who would report directly to the president. Some White House officials have questioned whether the intelligence director would be considered independent if the position were under White House control. Aides said Bush is considering mechanisms to make the job less political, such as a term that does not overlap the president's....

The urgent pace, and the White House's willingness to discuss it, reflects the realization by Bush's aides that he is now vulnerable to charges that he could be doing more to protect the nation against terrorism, when claiming leadership on the issue was central to his reelection strategy, Republican advisers said.

Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry released his plans for intelligence reform six days ahead of the commission report, and he plans to argue at the convention that he would be more effective than Bush at guarding the nation against terrorism....

The White House, which had initially responded by saying Bush would take the recommendations under advisement, is facing pressure from commission members of both parties, who are making the rounds of talk shows to say that swift work is needed and that another attack is probably coming. Republican leaders in Congress once had said they would not get to the matter until October, but said Friday that they will hold hearings in August, between the two political conventions.

Bush's aides said that the White House staff worked over the weekend to figure out what it could do on its own, and that it was looking for changes that would not cost money and thus require authorization from Congress. Specifically, the White House is looking at the commission's call for the creation of incentives for agencies to share intelligence about transnational terrorism, with the report saying the " 'need to share' must replace 'need to know.' " The White House contends the president has already taken action to tighten access to ports, airports and borders, and to crack down on terrorists' funding sources. But the commission report says more must be done, and Bush's aides said announcements may be made in those areas.

Bush's aides said that the panel's most ambitious recommendations, including creation of the counterterrorism center and national intelligence director, are likely to require approval from Congress. But with Republicans controlling both chambers, Bush's endorsement could prod action before the Nov. 2 election.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice is to arrive at the ranch on Monday to work with Bush on his response to the report. Last week, Bush directed White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to convene a task force of national security and homeland security officials to work on intelligence changes.

Thank you, Mr. Rove.

[Er, you do realize that lots of other people proffered this advice, right?--ed. Yeah, but did any of them use as many exclamation pointsas I did in their message? No, I didn't think so.]

posted by Dan at 10:37 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Blogs are feeling the convention love

A while back I was ambivalent about bloggers covering the conventions. As the Dems converge in Boston, however, I must confess to a surprising giddiness about the role that blogs and bloggers have earned for this election season [You're just happy because this provides more fodder for your blog paper--ed. Hey, I'm rarely on top of a trend. Let me savor this!] Consider the following:

1) MSNBC's Hardball has set up their own weblog called HardBlogger. So far the posts have been mixed. In Andrea Mitchell's first post, she recounts her experiences at past conventions, concluding with, "the biggest 'get' of my last Democratic convention. Not former presidents, governors or senators, but Sarah Jessica Parker, on the convention floor." Now that's hard-hitting journalism!

On the other hand, this David Shuster post does contain some good inside info on what speakers see when they're at the podium.

2) Not to be outdone, CNN has teamed with Technorati to provide "real-time analysis of the political blogosphere," as David Sifry phrases it. Here's a link to CNN's press release.

3) MTV has also decided to co-opt the bloggers by hiring Ana Marie Cox -- a.k.a., Wonkette -- to cover the convention. MTV says "her 'unabashed style and irreverence' will galvanize young voters," according to the Washington Post's Reliable Sources. Cox posts her own thoughts on the matter here. Me, I'll have to tune in just to see whether Ana Marie can get through four days without saying "a**-f***ing" on basic cable.

4) Finally there are the credentialed convention bloggers themselves. Dave Winer has set up a special site for the DNC Convention Bloggers. The Los Angeles Times has a story on the bloggers who thought they got credentials but then had them yanked (link via Glenn Reynolds). Kevin Drum astutely observes about the article, "I think it's a milestone: a story related to blogging that's not about the phenomenon of blogging itself and that just assumes you know what a blog is."

The Democratic National Committee has set up their own blog called Boston Party. Even the old-school Associated Press has brought out legendary reporter Walter Mears to help blog the convention (link via Eric Schnure)

I'll close with Patrick Belton's proclamation at OxBlog:

The 2004 conventions will be remembered as the conventions of the blog; just like the 1952 Republican convention was the convention of the television, and the 1924 conventions were the conventions of the radio. Each symbolised the rise of a new technology to mediate between the political space of the public square and the personal, domestic space in people's living rooms, bedrooms, and kitchen counters.

That's probably a bit too triumphalist for me -- but then again, with the nets embracing the blogosphere for its form and content, even I'm feeling a bit triumphalist today.

[I notice you're not going to be Mr. Media Whore for the upcoming week. What does this mixture of political conventions and blogging mean for you?--ed. It is because of what the Lord did for ME when I came out of Egypt oh, sorry, wrong answer. First, notice that I'm getting quite the ad clientele -- MSNBC is just the latest. Second, I'll be making my own small contribution to The New Republic's convention coverage next week.]

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz has a round-up of convention bloggers in his Media Notes Extra column. And John McCormack talks about blogs forming a "para-media" in the Chicago Tribune. Kurtz reports this Oscar-the-Grouch quote:

University of Missouri journalism professor Tom McPhail told USA Today that bloggers "are certainly not committed to being objective. They thrive on rumor and innuendo" and "should be put in a different category, like 'pretend' journalists."

Blogs are not objective? Someone alert Daniel Okrent, stat!! And some convention blogger better score an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker -- it's the only way blogs will be taken seriously by the mediasphere!

posted by Dan at 11:39 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (6)

"This is your kind of Book Review"

There's a clear division of labor in the Drezner household when it comes to The New York Times Book Review -- I read the nonfiction reviews and my wife peruses the fiction reviews. This morning, she glanced at the table of contents and said to me, "This is a Dan Book Review today."

She's right -- the review looks like it's been outsourced to the Yale History Department. Be sure to check out John Lewis Gaddis' mixed review of Niall Ferguson's Colossus [What could he say that you missed in your review of Ferguson?--ed. Well, Gaddis had a longer word count than I did, and manages to go after some of Ferguson's inconsistencies that I omitted because of space constraints.]

Then go and peruse Paul Kennedy's favorable review of Hugh Thomas' Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire, From Columbus to Magellan. When you're done with that, enjoy Francis Fukuyam's deft dismissal of Michael Hardt and Antinio Negri's Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (their follow-up to their execrable Empire).

Then, and only then, enjoy for dessert the debate between Gaddis and Kennedy over American grand strategy and the difference between being imperial and imperious. Gaddis -- who's more sympathetic to the Bush administration's strategic ambitions than Kennedy -- closes the discussion as follows:

I'm angry that the current administration thought creatively about the situation it confronted on Sept. 11 and responded with a serious reconsideration of American strategy, but then they screwed it up in Iraq. They violated a really fundamental principle. It's the dog-and-car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about and chasing cars. But they don't know what to do with a car when they actually catch one. It seems to me this, in a nutshell, is what has happened to the Bush administration in Iraq.

posted by Dan at 10:29 AM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

I'll take bureaucratic politics for $300, Alex

Brad DeLong is puzzled by something:

Those of us who worked in the Clinton Treasury have been amazed at the remarkable loss of the U.S. Treasury's power within the U.S. government that took place on January 21, 2001. The Treasury's staff resources--both quantity and quality--are enormous. Its institutional memory is deep. Its links with its counterparts in other countries are strong. And it is not as though there was anyone in the Bush White House with both significant power and strong views on what economic policy should be.

Thus we have been very surprised at the inability of the Bush Treasury to make its mark--either in domestic or in international economic policy.

Brad then offers some explanations -- none of which flatter to the Bush White House.

Having been at Treasury during the transition, and having ruminated about this question, Brad's stacking the deck here. Focusing on international economic policy, what's striking about the second Clinton term is how much of an outlier it looks compared to what took place before and since. This wasn't only because of the strength of the Treasury team, but also a) the extent to which foreign economic policy impacted national security issues; and b) the relative weakness of Clinton's national security team.

Part of the reason Rubin/Summers were heavyweights was how they looked in comparison to Allbright, Berger et al. In December 2001, David Sanger wrote a lengthy New York Times retrospective on Clinton's foreign policy in which one State Department official admitted, "The State Department was simply not equipped to handle the new [foreign policy] challenges, so it stuck to the traditional ones.”

Fast-forwarding to the Bush team, a spate of stories came out pre-9/11 in which Powell, Rice, and Rumsfeld all said we're going to take back some slices of the foreign policy pie from Treasury. Combine that with:

a) A Treasury Secretary who had no, repeat, no grasp of the international dimensions of his job -- or any grasp of executive branch politics, for that matter;

b) A national security team well-versed in the bureaucratic dark arts and with closer personal ties to Bush; and

c) 9/11

It's not that shocking to see Treasury's relative influence waning.

posted by Dan at 01:29 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

Your must-see movie of the day

If you've already seen Spider-Man 2, click here.

If you like Legos, click here.

OK, actually, it just doesn't matter -- just click and see.

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

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Bipartisanship on Sudan

What with the convention season starting and the general election campaign already making people testy, we here at feel it's worth occasionally highlighting those areas of policy where both sides of the aisle are in rough agreement.

Which brings us to this Rudolph Bush story in the Chicago Tribune about Congressional pressure on Sudan's humanitarian disaster:

An unusual coalition of Congressional Black Caucus members and conservative Republicans, united by outrage over a surge of ethnic killing in Sudan, is beginning to see some success in its efforts to push the U.S. toward action.

Most notably, the House and Senate unanimously approved resolutions late Thursday declaring about 30,000 killings in Sudan's Darfur region genocide and urging the Bush administration and the United Nations to do the same.

The joining of liberal Democrats from the black caucus with such conservatives as Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) could increase pressure on President Bush to adopt the genocide label, a move likely to spur action in the UN Security Council.

"I would like to see, and think it's appropriate, that the administration say this is genocide," Wolf said. "That would force the Europeans and our friends in the UN to do the same."

Threatening sanctions, the Bush administration and the UN already have called on the Sudanese government to rein in and disarm the Arab militias known as Janjaweed, who have terrorized tribes in the south, pillaging villages and killing and raping villagers....

Human-rights activists and aid workers praised Congress for pushing the issue with rare bipartisan zeal.

"You have the Christian conservative groups ... along with the Congressional Black Caucus pressing the administration to respond more robustly than it has to date," said John Prendergast, a special adviser on Africa to the Washington-based International Crisis Group. "That's an absolutely critical element in the policymaking process."

Prendergast said he couldn't recall such a broad response from Congress to a human-rights crisis since the fight against apartheid in the mid-1980s.

Wolf and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) called the cooperation unprecedented, though the Congressional Black Caucus and religious conservatives have joined forces before to secure funding to fight AIDS abroad.

The Sudanese government was less impressed with the cooperation. Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed wrote Thursday in a letter to The Washington Times that "the prevailing perception in Sudan and in the region is that the U.S. Congress is motivated by hatred and bias against Muslims and Arabs."

I did, however, find this paragraph amusing:

The black caucus and its Republican allies don't see entirely eye-to-eye on how to ensure that this aid reaches Darfur. Jackson and other caucus members have called for U.S. troops to be deployed immediately in Darfur, while Wolf and other Republicans said they prefer a multinational force, preferably staffed with soldiers from other African nations, Wolf said.

posted by Dan at 10:26 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Mostar rebuilds its bridge

Statebuilding can be a slow, painful process, with lots of reverses, lots of buried tensions, lots of frustration. On the other hand, a lot of time, patience, and money can occsionally yield partially successes.

In that light, it's good to read this Reuters report from the Bosnian town of Mostar:

The city of Mostar, a symbol like Sarajevo of the bloody end of Yugoslavia, has joyfully unveiled its rebuilt 16th-century bridge which some hope can help reconcile its Muslims and Croats.

Almost 11 years after Bosnian Croat artillerymen shelled it to destruction, the new "Stari Most" (Old Bridge) was officially inaugurated at a spectacular ceremony attended by international guests and delegations on Friday.

Fireworks lit up the sky high above the elegant single-span bridge at the end of a programe which featured Beethoven's "Hymn of Joy" and nine of Mostar's legendary divers jumping into the green rushing waters of Neretva with torches in their hands....

Throughout the day, the 29-metre (95-foot) bridge was the focus of all attention in the eastern, Muslim quarter ahead of the ceremony. The narrow streets in the Old Town were packed despite scorching heat and heavy security.

Rusem Srakic, a Muslim taxi driver who has returned to live in the western, Croat part of the town, said he felt "as if I was being born again, just like Mostar is being born again".

Mostar's Muslim mayor, Hamdija Jahic, told Reuters earlier on Friday: "I think this is a new beginning, that's what citizens have been telling me too. You can feel a special atmosphere all over."

UNESCO and the World Bank were helped in the $15 million project by other institutions and governments including the Council of Europe, Croatia, Turkey and Italy.

The original bridge was commissioned by Suleiman the Magnificent about 100 years after Turkey's Ottoman empire claimed the Balkans.

It stood the tests of time and war until November 1993, when it succumbed to Bosnian Croat high explosives in an attack condemned globally as an act of sheer vandalism.

In a painstaking reconstruction, Turkish engineers and other experts used white marble from the original quarry nearby and a combination of old techniques and new technology to build an exact replica.

posted by Dan at 09:29 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Entering the lion's GOAt's den

Monday night I'll be debating Kennette Benedict, the director of the International Peace and Security Area of the Program on Global Security and Sustainability at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, about "Democracy Defined: Wield or Yield?" -- in a bar.

Monica Eng explains why in the Chicago Tribune:

If you've ever been to any, you'd know that few Chicago Council on Foreign Relations events wrap up with the emcee shouting: "You guys rocked tonight!"

But the program at Schubas last month was not your grandfather's CCFR event.

Instead of mature types nodding -- and nodding off -- over coffee, tea and long foreign policy speeches, the place was full of hipster kids with bare bellies and Ira Glass-like specs who occasionally yelped at debaters between gulps of beer.

That is exactly what the planners were hoping for when they hatched the concept of moving council events into the neighborhoods and bars. Like many venerable Chicago institutions facing aging memberships, the 82-year-old CCFR is clearly in the market for a new generation of patrons.

The program, which started last month and is scheduled to continue monthly through November, is called GOAt, a rough acronym for Globally Occupying the Attention of Chicago's Untapped Audience.

"The usual council audience is a lot of gray-beards like me and a couple of young people," noted Richard Longworth, the executive director for the Council's Global Chicago Center. "But tonight there were a couple of graybeards in the audience but mostly much younger people. It's great. We wanted a younger, more diverse crowd and one that might have been a little intimidated about going to meetings downtown. Schubas is a great place to do it."

Well, I'm certainly looking forward to "getting down," as they call it, with the young people.

Of course, the crowd might not feel the same way, as Eng elaborates:

In June, Northwestern political science professor Karen J. Alter (sporting frizzy hair, a tank top, peasant skirt and clogs) challenged Lincoln Legal Foundation President Joseph Morris (sporting a standard-issue blue suit, red bow tie and carefully combed hair) to a debate about U.S. foreign policy in Iraq.

From the shouts and applause during the debate it was clear that most attendees were not Bush fans....

Dick Prall (the name as published has been corrected in this text), the GOAt organizer, said he hopes these events will counter the perception that the council is only for oldsters and liberals.

"CCFR is not a liberal organization, not when we bring in people like Richard Perle and Condoleezza Rice," he says. "We want people to bring along conservatives so we can get the sparks flying."

Schubas booker Matt Rucins, who also schedules the emcees, concedes that both [Hideout nightclub co-owner Tim] Tuten and Monday's host, [Raucous singer/artist] Langford, are not exactly conservatives.

But as he explains, when the equation is hipster plus rock plus Chicago -- a liberal sum is hard to avoid. Does Rucins think he'll be able to come up with at least one righty emcee before the series is up?

"That would be very hard," he said. "In all honesty I don't know if I could find anybody. Maybe after this article comes out someone will suggest somebody."

[Sounds like a tough crowd--ed. No sweat -- all I have to do is pull off the frizzy hair-tank-top-peasant-skirt-and-clogs look.]

In all seriousness, this kind of format and venue is a great idea, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to drink and debate at the same time.

To repeat, this GOAt session will be held at Schuba's (located at 3159 N. Southport), starting at 7:00 PM. Chicago residents interested in attending can buy their tickets by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Hey, Karl Rove!! Over here!!!

Glenn Reynolds offers some advice for Karl Rove:

One suspects that most big media outlets, already none-too-eager to cover the Sandy Berger Trousergate fiasco, will use the release of the 9/11 Commission report as an excuse to ignore it.

If I were Karl Rove, I'd encourage Republicans to counter this by prefacing all comments on the report with something like this: "In light of the ongoing criminal investigation involving charges that former Kerry foreign policy adviser Sandy Berger stole top secret documents from Commission files, we can't be sure that the Commission had all the facts at its disposal, but. . . "

With all due respect to Glenn, that's really, really bad advice.

The business with Berger is an inside-the-Beltway story that certainly diminishes Berger's standing but in the end doesn't amount to much (see Fred Kaplan's Slate assessment for more -- I'm not quite as sanguine as Kaplan, for reasons Tom Maguire lays out here).

The 9-11 Commission report, on the other hand, amounts to a great deal. What's at stake isn't the post-mortem spin on responsibility for 9/11 as much as "where do we go from here?" The policy recommendations for intelligence, counterterrorism, homeland security and congressional oversight are all elaborate and important (I'll reserve judgment on the foreign policy recommendations). I care a hell of a lot more about that than what was in Sandy Berger's trousers, and I suspect most Americans do as well.

Peter Robinson's advice to Karl Rove over at The Corner makes a great deal more sense:

Shouldn't the President address the nation tonight? He could thank the Commission and say his top priority is making sure this doesn't happen again...he should be a hard*** on this issue, but instead he meekly takes the report and says it is "solid"...that's it? Doesn't he understand this is THE issue? Why isn't he talking about the Patriot Act, Airline Safety, Intelligence, and Border security EVERY DAY until election day...

Indeed. This report contains some useful, nonpartisan suggestions for policy reforms -- some of which transfer coordinating powers to the White House, something every President likes.

So Karl, tell Bush to own this report. Make it clear to the American people that he gets it, and takes the issue seriously. Leave Berger's post-mortem to the blogs.

UPDATE: Alan Wirzbicki praises 9-11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow over at TNR Online, echoing what I said a few weeks ago.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Fred Kaplan agrees on the virtues of the Commission's proposed reforms -- and, in a roundabout way, what the President needs to do about it:

Everything that the panel wants to do has been tried, in one way or another, in the past. The government doesn't change in so dramatic a fashion unless the president pushes hard for the change. New priorities mean nothing unless budgets reflect them. New superagencies mean nothing unless their managers have the power to control the purse strings of their constituent parts. Better intelligence means nothing unless the president wants to hear it—and at least seriously considers acting on it.

posted by Dan at 04:44 PM | Comments (90) | Trackbacks (3)

The trouble with racial profiling

It looks like the Annie Jacobsen story has been put to bed, but the debate on the relative merits of racial profiling in the comment threads here, here, here, and here has been pretty intense.

So, as a public service, here is Sara Sefeed's response to Annie Jacobsen in the Persian Mirror. Sefeed has her own disturbing experience with airport security when she's issued a boarding pass with the wrong name and no one notices.

Safeed's proposed reforms sound just as overwrought as Jacobsen's original account -- her complaint that "everything in the US is privatized and there is no unison among the different states, companies, and airlines, no one person seems to have jurisdiction or responsibility over anything" is as unfocused as the supposed target of her lament. That said, she does have a good closing paragraph:

I, an Iranian, born in Tehran have green eyes, light skin and light brown hair. You would never “profile” me under anything except maybe a wasp from the Upper West Side. I know plenty of Italians, Spaniards, Irish, Serbs, Croatians, Greeks, Portuguese, French, and Russians who have black hair, dark eyes, and olive skin. And even within the Arab community, should there not be a difference between a Saudi, an Egyptian, a Jordanian, a Kuwaiti, or an Iraqi? How do we “profile” them? Instead of trying to make the world a Mickey Mouse Park where things fit neatly into boxes and security agents can pick and choose “terrorists” with color-coded instructions from the government, shouldn’t we put some real brains behind the plethora of terrorist networks that continue to terrorize our daily activities all over the world? The question then is not would I mind “racial profiling” as a “Middle-Easterner” but rather would do you mind, if they ask you a few relevant questions at the airport the next time you board a plane.

UPDATE: This story by Eric Leonard casts further doubt on Jacobsen's account:

Undercover federal air marshals on board a June 29 Northwest airlines flight from Detroit to LAX identified themselves after a passenger, “overreacted,” to a group of middle-eastern men on board, federal officials and sources have told KFI NEWS.

The passenger, later identified as Annie Jacobsen, was in danger of panicking other passengers and creating a larger problem on the plane, according to a source close to the secretive federal protective service....

“The lady was overreacting,” said the source. “A flight attendant was told to tell the passenger to calm down; that there were air marshals on the plane.”

The middle eastern men were identified by federal agents as a group of touring musicians travelling to a concert date at a casino, said Air Marshals spokesman Dave Adams.

Jacobsen wrote she became alarmed when the men made frequent trips to the lavatory, repeatedly opened and closed the overhead luggage compartments, and appeared to be signaling each other.

“Initially it was brought to [the air marshals] attention by a passenger,” Adams said, adding the agents had been watching the men and chose to stay undercover.

Jacobsen and her husband had a number of conversations with the flight attendants and gestured towards the men several times, the source said.

“In concert with the flight crew, the decision was made to keep [the men] under surveillance since no terrorist or criminal acts were being perpetrated aboard the aircraft; they didn’t interfere with the flight crew,” Adams said.

The air marshals did, however, check the bathrooms after the middle-eastern men had spent time inside, Adams said.

FBI agents met the plane when it landed in Los Angeles and the men were questioned, and Los Angeles field office spokeswoman Cathy Viray said it’s significant the alarm on the flight came from a passenger.

“We have to take all calls seriously, but the passenger was worried, not the flight crew or the federal air marshals,” she said. “The complaint did not stem from the flight crew.”

“You made me nervous,” Kevin said the air marshal told him.

“I was freaking out,” Kevin replied.

“We don’t freak out in situations like this,” the air marshal responded.

Federal agents later verified the musicians’ story.

“We followed up with the casino,” Adams said. A supervisor verified they were playing a concert. A second federal law enforcement source said the concert itself was monitored by an agent.

“We also went to the hotel, determined they had checked into the hotel,” Adams said. Each of the men were checked through a series of databases and watch-lists with negative results, he said.

The source said the air marshals on the flight were partially concerned Jacobsen’s actions could have been an effort by terrorists or attackers to create a disturbance on the plane to force the agents to identify themselves.

Air marshals’ only tactical advantage on a flight is their anonymity, the source said, and Jacobsen could have put the entire flight in danger.

LAST UPDATE: Michelle Malkin, blogging with a vengeance, reports and follows up on the visa status of the Syrians.

posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (5)

How do Americans and Europeans feel about trade?

That's the question asked by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, which helped commission a four-country public opinion survey on the subject entitled Reconciling Trade and Poverty Reduction.

The fund concludes that "support for free trade remains robust." After reading the report, I'm more pessimistic. This is from the accompanying press release:

[W]hile free trade is popular, the instruments through which it is delivered – the EU internal market and NAFTA – are not. Forty-three percent of American respondents support the “free flow of people, goods, and services” between the US, Canada, and Mexico, but only 4% support NAFTA....

More than half (56%) of respondents feel that multinational corporations benefit most from trade. The numbers are particularly high in France (65%), Germany (62%) and the US (53%). Slightly less than half of the British respondents (43%) see multinationals as the prime beneficiaries. (emphasis added)

The report goes onto suggest ways to pitch free trade policies in politically friendly ways. Consider this proposed phrasing:

International trade contributes to prosperity and should therefore be welcomed, but not at all cost. The United States and European Union must stand up for labor and human rights standards and protect our jobs, the environment, and our children. Otherwise we'll get a race to the bottom, with jobs being moved to sweatshops in China, workers in developing countries living under abominable conditions, and the loss of our ability to protect against tainted foods. That would be a race without winners, perhaps with the exception of a small group of big business.

That's just a God-awful way to sell free trade, because it admits a falsity. Smart people like Stephen Roach are dredging up the race-to-the-bottom argument to explain the current job market, but it's just wrong. The statement that "workers in developing countries living under abominable conditions" with more globalization is particularly egregious.

On the other hand, this message works for me:

International trade has both positive and negative effects. International trade brings a lot of benefits -- lower consumer prices, more choice -- but also causes a lot of disruption in millions of workers' households with people losing their jobs. With the world becoming a smaller and smaller place, we need to make trade work for everyone. For us here in the United States and Europe, that means we need to invest more in skills and technology so that our economy becomes more flexible and innovative -- that is where our best opportunities lie for the future.

This phrasing has the twin virtues of greater acccuracy and greater optimism.

One final interesting finding:

Americans are less favorable toward further international trade deals than Europeans. A high proportion of Europeans – 82% of French and 83% of British – want more international trade agreements, compared to just 54% in the US.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Open 9-11 Commission thread

Feel free to discuss the 9-11 Commission's final report here (here's a link to the executive summary, but be warned that the Commission's website seems overwhelmed at the moment. Kudos to the paper of record for having a copy on their own website). Dan Eggen and Dafna Linzer have a good advance summary in today's Washington Post. CNN has some initial reactions here -- and refreshingly, they're pretty much free of partisan sniping despite interviews with the House minority leader and House majority whip -- but that could be because Congress as an institution takes it on the chin in the report, according to the NYT.

UPDATE: From the Times report linked above, some details about the proposed intelligence reform:

Officials had previously disclosed the central recommendation, the creation of a post of so-called national intelligence director to coordinate the intelligence community, with budget authority over the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. But they offered new details about the proposal on Wednesday, saying the report called for the intelligence director to operate in the executive office of the president and to have cabinet-level authority, but not to be in the cabinet itself.

This sounds like creating a position akin to the NSC or NEC advisor, while essentially stripping the CIA director of the Director of Central Intelligence title, in which s/he is ostensibly in charge of overall coordination of the disparate intelligence agencies.

At first glance, this makes a great deal of sense to me -- having intelligence coordination run by an honest broker with a small secretariat through the White House would give the new coordinator the clout that the CIA directors have tended to lack in their DCI role. But I reserve the right to change my mind after consulting with those better informed than I. [UPDATE: Hmmm... both The New Republic and The National Review agree with my first glance. James Joyner has some links to people who don't agree.]

Of course, this also explains why the acting CIA head is fighting the proposal tooth and nail.

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The power and politics of blogs

Longtime readers of are aware that I've been trying to exploit my hobby (blogging) for professional gain (peer-reviewed publications). Towards that end, Henry Farrell and I have been slowly co-authoring a paper on blogs and politics.

We've completed our first draft of "The Power and Politics of Blogs." Henry ably summarizes our key arguments:

(1) Blogging is politically important in large part because it affects mainstream media, and helps set the terms of political debate (in political science jargon, it creates ‘focal points’ and ‘frames’). Note that we don’t provide an exhaustive account of blogs and politics - some aspects of blogging (fundraising for parties, effects on political values in the general public), we don’t have more than anecdotal data on. There’s plenty of room for other people to do interesting research on all of this.

(2) Incoming links in the political blogosphere are systematically skewed, but not according to a “power law” distribution, as Clay Shirky and others have argued of the blogosphere as a whole. Instead, they follow a lognormal distribution. We reckon that the most likely explanation for this is that offered by Pennock et al. - they argue that not only do the ‘rich get richer’ (i.e. sites that already have a lot of links tend to get more), but that link-poor sites stand a chance of becoming rich too. Late entrants into the political blogosphere can do well in the political blogosphere as long as they’re interesting and attract some attention - bad timing isn’t destiny.

(3) Because of the systematic skewedness of the political blogosphere, a few “focal point” sites can provide a rough index of what is going on in the blogosphere - interesting points of view on other sites will often percolate up to them as smaller blogs try to get big blogs to link to them, by informing them of interesting stories. Thus, we may expect that journalists and other media types who read blogs will tend to all gravitate towards a few ‘big name’ bloggers as their way of keeping up with what is going on in the blogosphere as a whole.

Both bloggers and blog readers are encouraged to download it and tell us what you think.

Be warned, however: this paper is primarily intended for a scholarly auduence, which means there's some jargon that might appear confusing but is -- like most jargon -- a form of shorthand for fellow professionals.

Most of it should be pretty digestible, however. Read it and post your comments below or over at Crooked Timber.

Finally, a quick thank-you to Henry -- I've tried co-authoring papers in the past, and it's been a disaster. This paper was a breeze.

UPDATE: More scholar-blogger research from Glenn Reynolds. With experimental evidence no less!

More seriously, this report by Jeff Jarvis from his Aspen Institute experience with Big Media machers supports one of our paper's hypotheses. In particular:

I gave a spiel on technology and the newsroom -- about more than just weblogs, but it turned into a discussion of just weblogs -- and at our closing session, half the [media macher] participants said they were awakened about blogs and even frightened of being left behind in this blog thing. In previous sessions like this, I've heard half the big media guys dis and dismiss blogs, but there was none of that here, none of it. The curiousity about blogs ranged from cautious to cordial to rabid. These big media guys (not unlike the mullahs of Iran) realize that blogs are here to stay; we are a force to be reckoned with; and now they're reckoning what to do about it.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen offers constructive criticism and calls the paper a "mini-classic."

Dean Esmay offers a long critique that boils down to:

[T]hey seem to have missed the most obvious point of all: that our poltical discourse in America has always been influenced by a comparatively tiny number of voices.

Dean points to small-circulation political magazines as evidence for this recurring pattern in American political history.

I think I can speak for Henry as well as myself when I say that we are aware of this fact. Indeed, what we find interesting is that this phenomenon has been replicated for the blogosphere. However, compared to blogs, these kind of publications generally posses two advantages. First, a lot of elite media journals have been founded and operated by those who were already politically influential and well-connected. Second, these journals needed to have sufficient resources to pay for minor things like salaries, distribution, and printing runs.

Neither of these conditions holds particularly well for blogs. No doubt, some pioneer bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan most notably -- have been well-connected. But this is not true of most of the influential bloggers. As for material resources, some bloggers are now able to earn some scratch, but this is an effect rather than a cause of their success.

What's interesting is that despite these differences, and despite the low barriers to entry, the blogosphere looks like a similar link on the oipinion chain.

posted by Dan at 06:27 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (11)

Your environmental quote of the day

In my mailbox today I found David Victor's Climate Change: Debating America's Policy Options, which was sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. David is a disgustingly prolific and competent writer with a cv longer than my arm, so it's worth paying attention to what he writes.

The book maps out three possible policy options for the coping with climate change. Flipping through, I came across this assessment of the myriad predictions about the extent of global warming by the year 2100 (p. 11):

The most recent full assessment of the science was completed in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) an international assessment process involving thousands of scientists from around the world, including most of the best climate scientists from the United States. The IPCC examined uncertainties in the full chain from emissions of greenhouse gases to changes in climate and concluded that by 2100 the global climate will probably warm from between 1.4oC to 5.8oC. That range is actually wider than that predicted by the previous IPCC study just five years earlier, mainly because the most recent scenarios for emissions of greenhouse gases account for a much greater variety of possible futures and also because new climate models assume a wider range of possible climate sensitivities. In 2001 President Bush asked the NAS to convene a panel of distinguished scientists to review several key questions related to climate change, including the main findings of the IPCC report; the NAS panel reached essentially the same conclusions as the IPCC....

We find it striking that more than two decades of intense research, reflecting a total investment of perhaps as much as $30 billion worldwide, has actually expanded the estimated change in temperature. That investment has not narrowed any key estimates of other changes in climate, such as the frequency and intensity of storms or the risks of drought. As scientists have learned more about the climate system, they have uncovered a vast field of unturned stones. (emphasis added)

For a very long pdf version of the report, click here.

posted by Dan at 05:03 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (2)

The Annie Jacobsen Rorshach test

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that maybe -- just maybe -- ideology is affecting people's responses to the Annie Jacobsen story.

From the right: Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Shaunti Feldhahn. For her, this is a story about civil liberties run amok:

When I checked out this story, I was troubled to find both that this was not an isolated incident, and that a fear of racial profiling, fines and lawsuits is weakening our air security system.

According to Senate testimony, airlines are fined by the government or sued by individuals or the American Civil Liberties Union if they veer from "random screening" policies to question more than two people from any ethnic/geographic group before allowing them to board. That would mean 12 of those Syrians couldn't be questioned.

In other testimony, the Transportation Security Administration announced it was reconsidering its long-awaited customer-screening system, due to civil liberties complaints. All this must be good news to the terrorists, who will willingly exploit our commendable desire not to discriminate.

I asked a senior pilot for a major airline whether the airlines felt unable to properly screen passengers. His answer: "That is probably true. They are having so many financial issues already, and if one screener is rushed and doesn't use just the right words, or pulls aside too many people from one group, the company is out $10 million from a racial profiling lawsuit."....

At the moment, we seem unbalanced. Unlike some, I believe fragile grandmothers should be questioned too: Evildoers can hide weapons in Grandma's walker. But screening should not be "random." Most countries rigorously screen anyone from higher-risk categories, which, unfortunately, includes a higher percentage of young, Middle Eastern men.

I've already said why I think this is a bad idea.

Although the fear of litigation is a worthy topic, most conservative commentators are eliding the fact that the system appeared to work in this case. Contrary to Jacobsen's assertions, the Syrian passengers were searched prior to boarding the initial leg of their flight. The air marshalls (FAM) and FBI investigated and found nothing untoward. Jacobsen was clearly rattled -- but the first priority of homeland security should be about, you know, protecting the homeland. Releiving the anxiety of passengers would be a nice dividend, but it's not the primary goal.

From the left: Salon's "Ask the Pilot" columnist Patrick Smith. He thinks Jacobsen's account is bigoted and hysterical:

[Jacobsen's story is] six pages of the worst grade-school prose, spring-loaded with mindless hysterics and bigoted provocation....

Fourteen dark-skinned men from Syria board Northwest's flight 327, seated in two separate groups. Some are carrying oddly shaped bags and wearing track suits with Arabic script across the back. During the flight the men socialize, gesture to one another, move about the cabin with pieces of their luggage, and, most ominous of all, repeatedly make trips to the bathroom....

Intriguing, no? I, for one, fully admit that certain acts of airborne crime and treachery may indeed open the channels to a debate on civil liberties. Pray tell, what happened? Gunfight at 37,000 feet? Valiant passengers wrestle a grenade from a suicidal operative? Hero pilots beat back a cockpit takeover?

Well, no. As a matter of fact, nothing happened. Turns out the Syrians are part of a musical ensemble hired to play at a hotel. The men talk to one another. They glance around. They pee.

That's it?

That's it.

Actually, no, that was not it, and Smith is being disingenuous in the extreme to suggest otherwise. A Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman confirmed that marshalls met the plane in Los Angeles and questioned the Syrians -- a fact that Smith abjectly fails to mention in his essay. Maybe the behavior was innocent, maybe not -- I'll never know. But the FAM's interest in the flight suggests at a minimum that something suspicious was going on, and for Smith to blithely dismiss Jacobsen's account as racist stuff and nonsense is absurd.

I'm perfectly happy to have airline professionals say that this was much ado about nothing -- like Michelle Catalano, I want to hear that this was much ado about nothing -- but Smith's half-assed efforts at snark don't cut it.

UPDATE: Clinton W. Taylor has a fact-filled report over at NRO that clears up a lot of confusion. The highlights:

1) The Syrians were in a band -- the lead singer is Nour Mehana.

2) Taylor provides another source of concern about the Feds' reaction:

June 29 was no ordinary day in the skies. That day, Department of Homeland Security officials issued an "unusually specific internal warning," urging customs officials to watch out for Pakistanis with physical signs of rough training in the al Qaeda training camps. The warning specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles's LAX airports, the origin and terminus of NWA flight 327.

That means that our air-traffic system was expecting trouble. But rather than land the plane in Las Vegas or Omaha, it was allowed to continue on to Los Angeles without interruption, as if everything were hunky-dory on board. It certainly wasn't. If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did.

Thanks to Taylor for doing the digging. I knew those Stanford poli sci Ph.D. candidates were worth something!!

posted by Dan at 01:34 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (0)

My rare agreement with the preservationists

In the fall of 2003, Chicago unveiled the newly-renovated Soldier Field. The new stadium grafted a futuristic-looking bowl onto a classic structure of Doric colonnades.

The result? From the outside, it's a butt-ugly effect. Soldier Field now looks like an alien spaceship humping the Parthenon. Blair Kamin, The Tribune's excellent architecture critic, described it as "an architectural close encounter of the worst kind."

Think I'm exaggerating? Go take the official virtual tour and notice that the only exterior picture of the stadium is partially obstructed by trees. By all accounts, I hear that the interior of the stadium is actually quite nice. Driving by it on Lake Shore Drive, however, most people just shudder in revulsion.

So I can't say I'm shocked to read the following story by Hal Dardick and David Mendell in today's Chicago Tribune:

Setting a flying saucer stadium inside the classical columns of Soldier Field destroyed its historic character, so the structure should be stripped of its National Historic Landmark status, federal architecture analysts said this week.

The National Park Service on Tuesday sent its recommendation to withdraw landmark status, the highest honor the government bestows on buildings and places, from the Chicago Park District, which owns the structure. Federal officials also recommended removing the venerable stadium from the National Register of Historic Places.

That was the first step in a monthslong process to decide whether the stadium will lose its historic designations, something historic preservationists warned would be triggered by the controversial $660 million renovation of the Bears' home.

Soldier Field "no longer retains its historic integrity," states a three-page report written by staff for the National Park System Advisory Board. "The futuristic new stadium bowl is visually incompatible with the classical colonnades and the perimeter wall of the historic stadium."

"During the process of new construction, many historic features and spaces were obliterated," it continues. "With the exception of the colonnades, exterior walls and a small seating area on the south end of the bowl, very little of the historic fabric remains."

The report now goes to the Advisory Board Landmarks Committee, which in September will make a recommendation to the full board, which will forward its recommendation to the U.S. secretary of the interior for a decision.

All I can add is, good for the National Park Service.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Does this say anything about No Child Left Behind?

Chicago Tribune reporter Stephanie Banchero spent a school year chronicling one family's efforts to exploit the No Child Left Behind act. The result has been three front-page stories in a row amounting to over 11,000 words --in order, click here, here, and then here.

The story is an affecting one -- third-grader Rayola Victoria Carwell starts the year transferring to a good school way out of her neighborhood, but in the end is transferred back to a neighborhood school of lesser quality. At one juncture, Banchero doubts the worthiness of the law:

No Child Left Behind rests on the basic premise that giving poor children access to better schools will translate into a better education.

The law expects schools such as Stockton to make sure Victoria and every other child can read, write and do math at the required grade level. Schools that do not score well are branded as failures and face a series of sanctions that eventually could shut them down. But the law is mute on the complex issues that shape Victoria's home life, issues that also affect her classroom performance....

By law, children transferring schools under No Child Left Behind are the neediest in the system. Most live in poverty and post some of the lowest scores on state achievement exams. But in what many educators call a monumental shortcoming, the law does not require schools do anything extra to help these children or their families once they arrive at new higher-performing campuses.

Sounds bad, except that the three-part story undercuts that hypothesis. The Stockton school finds funding through other grant sources to address the kind of concerns Banchero raises -- all for naught, as the mother persistently fails to follow through on the offers for help. Furthermore, even after Victoria transfers back to a local neighborhood school, she experiences the same problem she did at Stockton -- truancy.

Then there's this tidbit from the last of the three articles:

Of the 14 children who transferred to Stockton Elementary at the beginning of the school year, five moved into special-education classes, and five did well and passed to the next grade, school officials say. Only Rayola, her two brothers and her cousin left the school.

I'd still recommend reading the articles, if only to realize the concrete constraints of any public policy when confronting a difficult home life. But it would be wrong to generalize anything from the Carwells' story.

posted by Dan at 03:54 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

What the f@$# was Sandy Berger thinking?

So Sandy Berger is in a spot of trouble, according to John Solomon's AP report:

Sandy Berger, former President Clinton's national security adviser, is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department after highly classified terrorism documents disappeared while he was reviewing what should be turned over to the Sept. 11 commission....

Berger and his lawyer said Monday night he knowingly removed the handwritten notes by placing them in his jacket and pants, and also inadvertently took copies of actual classified documents in a leather portfolio.

"I deeply regret the sloppiness involved, but I had no intention of withholding documents from the commission, and to the contrary, to my knowledge, every document requested by the commission from the Clinton administration was produced," Berger said in a statement to the AP.

The Washington Post has more details.

Andrew Sullivan is "gob-smacked." Josh Marshall finds it "inexplicable," while Glenn Reynolds says it's "bizarre." That's pretty much my reaction -- no, wait, what truly shocks me is Berger's stupidity. Berger was NSC advisor when John Deutsch got into serious trouble for a similar (though not identical) screw-up while CIA director. It's not like Berger was unaware of the ramifications of the act.

I have no idea why he did it, and like Virginia Postrel am willing to believe that Berger did not have nefarious motives. However, it's very amusing to read Josh Marshall assert that this story was "the product of a malicious leak." That's a definite possibility -- just as it's a possibility that Berger did what he did to assemble ammunition for the Democrats to engage in partisan attacks on the Bush administration's Al Qaeda policies. One certainly does not excuse the other, but Josh's "shocked, shocked!" routine about Republican shenanigans -- in contrast to his überparsing defenses of similar Democrat shenanigans -- is wearing a bit thin.

UPDATE: One counterpoint -- some are using this story as an example of media bias, implying that if Condi Rice had done this it would have gotten more play. That's true, but not because of ideology. Berger is now a private citizen (albeit one advising the Kerry campaign); Rice is a government official. This type of behavior will (and should) command more attention from those in power than from those who are now out of power.

ANOTHER UPDATE: This blogger posts the following:

I have a reader who is involved with the government's efforts to fight terror, and he has connections who tell him the big suspicion is that Berger took things he thought would help Kerry in the Presidential campaign.

Even though -- as I speculated -- this is a possibility, bear in mind that Berger did this back in October 2003 -- when John Kerry was not the frontrunner, and Berger was listed as a foreign policy advisor for at least four candidates.

Also, David Gergen said the following in the Fox News story:

David Gergen, who was an adviser to Clinton and worked with Berger for a time in the White House, said Tuesday, "I think it's more innocent than it looks."

"I have known Sandy Berger for a long time," Gergen said in a television interview. "He would never do anything to compromise the security of the United States."

LAST UPDATE: Berger has announced he won't be advising the Kerry campaign. Sounds about right.

One final question -- does this episode provide empirical support for Jacob Levy's contention that shadow cabinets are a mistake or my contention that they would be a good idea?

LAST UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds has a lot more . And this Josh Marshall follow-on acknowledges that Berger brought this on himself. Marshall believes that this was a Republican leak, but both Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias postulate that, for various reasons, the leak came from a Democrat (links via InstaPundit).

posted by Dan at 03:10 PM | Comments (87) | Trackbacks (13)

Before everyone gets too excited....

Longtime readers of may wonder whether it's possible for me to reconcile my pro-immigration, libertarian perspective with my concerns about homeland security. Annie Jacobsen favors racial profiling over political correctness if it means preventing terrorist attacks; many of the commenters believe a crackdown on immigration is necessary.

My position is as follows:

1) Yes, homeland security is a serious issue that justifies greater expenditures and attention by the government -- but my concerns, like Stephen Flynn, have much less to do with airports and more to do with the critical infrastructures that have received less attention -- railroads, utilities, power stations, etc.

2) I'm far from convinced that techniques like profiling would actually do anything to prevent terrorist attacks (though it might soothe the jitters of travellers like Annie Jacobsen). The problems with profiling come through in this interesting paper by Samidh Chakrabarti and Aaron Strauss (thanks to Doug Merrill from A Fistful of Euros for the link). One key paragraph:

This transparency is the Achilles’ Heel of CAPS; the fact that individuals know their CAPS status enables the system to be reverse engineered. You... know if you’re carryons have been manually inspected. You know if you’ve been questioned. You know if you’re asked to stand in a special line. You know if you’ve been frisked. All of this open scrutiny makes it possible to learn an anti-profile to defeat CAPS, even if the profile itself is always kept secret. We call this the “Carnival Booth Effect” since, like a carnie, it entices terrorists to “Step Right Up! See if you’re a winner!” In this case, the terrorist can step right up and see if he’s been flagged.

The one counterargument to this is that terrorist networks would have difficulty making the necessary adjustment -- i.e., finding someone who didn't fit the pre-set profile. However, if Al Qaeda can recruit a John Walker Lindh, this doesn't strike me as a terribly convincing counterargument.

3) The costs of blocking immigration cannot be lightly dismissed. The National Foundation for American Policy came out this week with an interesting study on how immigration contributes to America's science and technology base. This is from their press release:

60 percent of the nation’s top science students and 65 percent of the top math students are the children of immigrants.

A new study released Monday by NFAP also shows that foreign-born high school students make up 50 percent of the 2004 U.S. Math Olympiad’s top scorers, 38 percent of the U.S. Physics Team, and 25 percent of the Intel Science Talent Search finalists—the United States’ most prestigious awards for young scientists and mathematicians....

If opponents of immigration had succeeded over the past 20 years, two-thirds of the most outstanding future American scientists and mathematicians would not be here today because U.S. policy would have barred their parents from entering the United States,” said Anderson. Anderson made his comments at a news conference at the National Press Club to release the study’s key findings....

Today, more than 50 percent of the engineers with Ph.D.s working in the United States – and 45 percent of math and computer scientists with Ph.D.s – are foreign-born, according to the National Science Foundation.

Here's a link to the .pdf report. This echoes a point made by Richard Monastersky earlier this month in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required). One highlight:

Last fall the president of the University of Maryland found himself doing something that none of his predecessors would have dreamed of trying. While on a trip to Taiwan, C. Dan Mote Jr. spent part of his time recruiting Taiwanese students to go to the United States for graduate school.

"Can you imagine an American university president doing that?" he asks.

In 1988 Taiwan sent more students to the United States than did any other foreign country, primarily to study science and engineering. But in the past decade, the flow of talented Taiwanese has started to dry up, and graduate enrollment has declined by 25 percent. "This is a new day we're experiencing," says Mr. Mote....

Even critics of the gloomy forecasts, however, say that America's science-and-engineering machine faces significant challenges in a world much altered by global competition and increasing diversity at home. The landscape has changed markedly from the days when a group of technically trained white men put another group of white men on the moon. As the number of those men entering science has declined, national leaders have sought to bring more women and minorities into the enterprise. At the same time, the United States has come to rely on an increasing proportion of foreign talent -- a strategy that could prove shortsighted if current restrictions on obtaining visas force international students and researchers to go elsewhere.

So there.

posted by Dan at 11:48 AM | Comments (43) | Trackbacks (3)

Hitting the big time

Hmmm... maybe there is a financial future in blogging.

When big budget movies start advertising on your blog (see the ad for The Manchurian Candidate remake on your right), you know the media market has changed.

Ah, but will ever hit the "big four" from Jerry Maguire --"shoe, car, clothing-line, soft-drink. The four jewels of the celebrity endorsement dollar."?

[Are those four really the appropriate "big" products for the blogosphere?--ed. No, the four jewels of the blogosphere would probably be search engines, newspapers, films, and glossy magazines. Readers are invited to suggest their "big four."]

UPDATE: Ask and you shall receive!! See the brand-new New Yorker ad on the right!!

posted by Dan at 10:03 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, July 19, 2004

Things get even weirder in Palestine

Last week I blogged about the UN envoy who reported that things were going to hell in a handbasket in the occupied territories -- in no small part because of the dearth of progress on reforming the Palestinian Authority's corrupt institutions.

So what's going on in Gaza this week? Lamia Lahoud reports some strange doings in the Jerusalem Post:

Palestinian official sources in Gaza and the West Bank claimed Monday that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was behind the kidnapping of police chief Ghazi Jebali over the weekend.
One source said those who were behind the kidnapping were on Arafat's payroll. Another source said it was Arafat's way of removing the unpopular police chief from his post.

Arafat backtracked Monday from his appointment of Musa Arafat as Gaza security chief, saying the Central Committee of Fatah and Interior Minister Hakam Balawi appointed him.

Fatah protested the appointment accusing Musa Arafat of corruption.

A PA official said Arafat appointed his nephew to counter former Gaza security chief Muhammad Dahlan's growing influence in Gaza. The official said Dahlan was behind all the protests against Arafat's appointment. Dahlan did not deny the accusations.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it in an editorial:

Israel has already given up on him as a potential peacemaker. So has President Bush.

Now, 10 years after becoming the first president of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat last weekend saw how his own people are willing to turn against him.

Cynthia Johnston has more in her Reuters report:

Scrambling to defuse a Palestinian leadership crisis, President Yasser Arafat has named a new security chief over the head of a cousin whose appointment led to a weekend of violence by gunmen protesting at corruption.

But Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie kept the heat on Arafat by saying he stood for now by his resignation, tendered in frustration over what he called an explosion of "chaos and lawlessness" that he has been powerless to stop.

Arafat, 75, is facing the stiffest challenge to his leadership since Palestinians received a measure of self-rule from Israel a decade ago. Some fear it could eventually boil over into civil war.

The confrontation is also widely seen as a power struggle between Arafat's old guard and younger rivals staking out turf before Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon carries out a plan to remove Jewish settlements from Gaza by the end of 2005.

A story by Laila al-Haddad in Lebanon's Daily Star suggests that, "most Palestinians agree that the latest developments are not conducive to their cause, and that this is not the time for power struggles." This is true only if Arafat's successors proved every bit as corrupt and anti-democratic as Arafat -- a depressing possibility.


posted by Dan at 06:15 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (2)

Following up on Annie Jacobsen

Since I'm already blogging on homeland security today, I should point out that Annie Jacobsen has a follow-up on her experiences flying with 14 Syrians from Detroit to Los Angeles. Yours truly is mentioned.

Go check it out. I agree with Donald Sensing that here's not much that's new information about what actually happened, though there are a few disturbing quotes from airline industry professionals who feign no surprise at this kind of incident and believe it to be an example of terrorist test-runs.

However, Jacobsen makes it clear that clear that the blogosphere had the desired effect:

On Wednesday morning, the WWS page views were unusually high, something like 10 times the normal amount. Apparently our readers had been emailing the article to their friends, family and colleagues and everyone was reading it.

By Thursday morning, that number had again multiplied ten-fold. It felt like the shampoo commercial from my youth: they told two friends, then they told two friends, then they told two friends. We sat in the WWS offices reading through your emails, taking stock of what you had to say. As the afternoon went on, the number of people reading the article continued to increase and the telephone was ringing off the hook.

And then a powerful thing happened. The mainstream media started calling.

Good -- this is exactly the kind of story that merits further inquiry by "real" journalists -- you know, as opposed to people who "don't add reporting to the personal views they post online."

Also, it's worth reprinting Jacobsen's response on the question of political correctness and the merits of linking to Ann Coulter:

This brings us to the heart of the matter -- political correctness. Political correctness has become a major road block for airline safety. From what I've now learned from the many emails and phone calls that I have had with airline industry personnel, it is political correctness that will eventually cause us to stand there wondering, "How did we let 9/11 happen again?"

During a follow-up phone conversation, one flight attendant told me that it is her airline's policy not to refer to people as "Middle Eastern men." In addition, many emails have come in calling me a racist for referring to 14 men with Syrian passports as Middle Eastern men. For the record, the Middle East is a geographical region called just that: The Middle East. If you refer to people who come from countries in this region (including Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Iraq) as "Middle Easterners," you are being geographically correct. We call people Americans and Canadians and English and French. I call my relatives who live in Norway Norwegians. So really, what is the hang up?

The fact that I quoted Ann Coulter seems to have many people up in arms. I want to be clear -- there is no political agenda here. I quoted Ann Coulter for the information she had, not for who she is. Read the quote again and pretend Joe or Jane Doe wrote it. She states the facts. The facts she states are that 10 days after 9/11, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta sternly reminded airlines that it was illegal to discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin or religion.

I cut and paste; you decide.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds reports that Annie Jacobsen and spouse appeared on the MSNBC's Scarborough Country this evening:

The Jacobsens seemed credible -- by which I mean they seemed honest. The experts afterward were skeptical that they actually witnessed anything untoward, but they all agreed that security is still weak.... at the end Joe Scarborough said they had been flooded with emails from passengers and crew who said that things have seemed odd lately on a number of flights.

LAST UPDATE: Joe Sharkey discusses Jacobsen's story in his "On the Road" column in the New York Times. A lot of it is recap, but there is this information:

[Federal Air Marshal Service spokesman Dave] Adams said he spoke by phone to Ms. Jacobsen for 90 minutes on Friday night. "This is an individual's perceptions," he said of her account of the flight. "Obviously, since 9/11, everybody's antennas have risen, and people are very concerned when they see something like this." He said that onboard air marshals did not intervene because the men weren't "interfering with the flight crew."

Even so, he said, he had no doubt that "most of the stuff did happen" as Ms. Jacobsen described it.

Aware of recent reports that the F.B.I. is worried that teams of terrorists may be practicing ways to sneak explosive device parts onto planes and assemble them in flight, Mr. Adams said, air marshals aboard Flight 327 "checked out the lavatories, and nothing looked like it was in disarray after these people went inside; everything was thoroughly inspected."

posted by Dan at 05:41 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (1)

Stephen Flynn scares me -- again

Two months after the September 11th attacks, I heard Stephen Flynn give a talk about homeland security and American vulnerabilities -- and he scared the crap out of me.

Listening to Flynn -- a former Coast Guard commander -- describe the various soft spots of America's infrastructure was to realize just how much 9/11 required a rethink of how America defends itself. Flynn wasn't defeatist during his talk, he just laid out what needed to be done. And it was a long list.

Two and a half years later, Flynn has written a book, America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism -- and what he's saying still scares the crap out of me. There's an excerpt in this week's Time:

The U.S. has no rival when it comes to projecting its military, economic and cultural power around the world. But we are practically defenseless at home. In 2002 alone, more than 400 million people, 122 million cars, 11 million trucks, 2.4 million rail freight cars, approximately 8 million maritime containers and 56,596 vessels entered the U.S. at more than 3,700 terminals and 301 ports of entry. In general, frontline agents have only a matter of seconds to make a go/no-go decision on whether to allow entry: 30 seconds for people and one minute for vehicles. And then there are the 7,000 miles of land borders and 95,000 miles of shoreline, which provide ample opportunities to walk, swim or sail into the nation. Official estimates place the number of illegal migrants living in America at 7 million. Given these immense numbers, it is a sense of futility, fueled by the lack of vision about what sensible measures are worth pursuing, that lies at the heart of our national inertia on the homeland-security issue.

And then there's this excerpt of the book quoted in yesterday's Meet the Press:

From water and food supplies; refineries, energy grids, and pipelines; bridges, tunnels, trains, trucks, and cargo containers; to the cyber backbone that underpins the information age in which we live, the measures we have been cobbling together are hardly fit to deter amateur thieves, vandals, and hackers, never mind determined terrorists. Worse still, small improvements are often oversold as giant steps forward, lowering the guard of average citizens as they carry on their daily routine with an unwarranted sense of confidence.

Later on Russert asks, "But on a scale of 0 to 100 percent, how well protected are we right now?" Flynn's sobering reply: Well, if I would put it maybe on a 1-to-10 scale here, where 1 were a bull's-eye and 10 were secure, we were 1 on 9/11. Today we're a 3. That's why I'm sort of saying that we're still failing. I just can't give a passing grade.

I have nothing to add to Flynn's observations -- except to say you should buy the book.

Again, if I was John Kerry, I would bash Bush again and again and again on this front. Reviewing the Senator's own proposals, however, I'm thoroughly underwhelmed. There's a recognition of the importance of port security, but nothing else about protecting critical infrastructure (and, it should be noted, port security is actually one of the unheralded initiatives of the current administration). Most of Kerry's proposals focus on emergency response rather than prevention.

UPDATE: Many of the commenters seem to feel we should embrace the Israeli paradigm when it comes to security -- which is ironic, because Flynn disdains the Israeli approach in favor of the British approach.

posted by Dan at 02:54 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (1)

What is John Kerry's theory of foreign policy?

Philip Gourevitch has a lengthy New Yorker essay on John Kerry's foreign policy principles. A few parts that struck me:

Kerry can’t be specific about what he would do in Iraq if he is sworn in next January 20th, because nobody knows what will be happening there then. He said that “America must lead in new ways” to meet “new threats,” “new enemies,” and “new opportunities” with “new approaches” and “new strategies,” to forge “a new era of alliances” and “a new direction in Iraq,” but there was nothing novel in the foreign policy he described. What he was calling for was a renewal of the approach to world order that Churchill envisioned in 1946—the preservation of international security through the web of alliances of the newly established United Nations. For all its inadequacies and failings, the Churchillian ideal of international coöperation had been upheld as the best way to safeguard America’s security and interests by every president until the Bush Administration kicked it over. This is the nut of Kerry’s argument on foreign relations—that Bush, despite his campaign slogan of “Steady leadership in times of change,” is a radical, whose “with us or against us” doctrine of preëmptive unilateralism amounts to a Texas-twanged cry of aux barricades! By contrast, the Senator from Massachusetts came across at Westminster as the conservative in the race.

But did this “plan” for multilateralism as an expression of naked self-interest amount to a countervailing Kerry doctrine? “I think it’s such a mistake to try to find one or two words, fancy slogans, to reduce a complicated process,” Kerry said to me, during a lengthy conversation in a muggy old athletes’ training room at Westminster, where he draped his elongated limbs over a too small chair. The notion of a Kerry doctrine seemed to take him by surprise, and not pleasantly. “You have to be careful of ideology clouding your decision-making process, which I think this Administration has been exceedingly guilty of,” he said, and added, “I don’t want to use the word ‘doctrine,’ but I do think it is time for a new—I said it today—a very new calculation of how we protect our interests and balance them in the world.” At the same time, he allowed, “There are times and places where you may lay down a law of behavior that amounts to a doctrine—you know, how you take a nation to war. Pretty firm in my belief system is the notion that, with the exception of an immediate emergency you have to respond to, it’s a last resort.” As a naval officer in Vietnam, Kerry had learned that he could kill when it came to that, and he told me, “I would never hesitate to use force to protect our country in any moment in time if I thought it was critical.” But he didn’t say how he might make that judgment.

Kerry has a habit of phoning around among a far-flung network of counsellors to gather conflicting opinions before reaching a decision. One result of this spongelike method is that it can be very hard for the person on the other end of a conversation with him to know just where he is heading as he circumnavigates an issue. It is not always obvious that Kerry knows, either, and his disinclination to codify his thinking on international relations, beyond a broad internationalist critique of the Bush doctrine, is generally seen as a political handicap.

What's odd about this is that within the Gourevitch article itself there's a formulation that would perfectly encapsulate what Kerry's going after. Earlier in the story, Gourevitch writes: "the signature chord of his campaign’s foreign policy unmistakably: that 'America is safer and stronger when it is respected around the world, not feared.'" (emphasis added)

This is simultaneously a promising but incomplete formulation. The political class is familiar with Machiavelli's dictum that it is better to be feared than loved -- and the Bush team would probably embrace this line of thinking.

Kerry's introduction of "respect," however, gets at a middle ground between the two poles of "fear" and "love" that probably resonates with most Americans. It's the perfect way to communicate toughness while still attacking the Bush team's foreign policy.

The problem with the way Kerry phrased it, however, is that to pretend that respect and fear are mutually exclusive components is absurd. For there to be respect in international relations, there must be an recognition of capabilities that can also inspire fear. It's the same mistake that's frequently committed with Joe Nye's "soft power" concept -- to pretend that the soft power of governments does not rest on a foundation of hard power is just wrong.* Fear comes from hard power alone; respect comes from the combination of hard and soft power -- it does not come from soft power alone.

Maybe Kerry is just exercising a rhetorical flourish and understands this -- maybe not. The fact that neither Gourevitch nor I can tell is what's so disturbing to me when I contemplate pulling the donkey lever -- which is why I'm still on the fence.

The second passage that caught my eye:

Kerry remains confident that if he were President he could succeed where Bush has failed. Indeed, he seems to attribute all that is strained in the transatlantic alliance to the Administration’s hubris and its diplomatic incompetence. “It will be easier for a Kerry Administration to call on our allies to fulfill their responsibilities,” James P. Rubin, one of Kerry’s senior foreign-policy advisers, said to me. “When a President can go to countries and say ‘I’m going to take steps that you’ve been calling for,’ he can also say, ‘Now take steps to do what we need.’ It won’t be easy, but at this point there’s a political cost for countries to coöperate with the U.S. With a Kerry Administration, that cost will change.” But European resistance to the Iraq mission was stubborn from the outset, and an influential European diplomat in Washington told me, “If what John Kerry says today is that he thinks that Europeans could drag that car out of the mud now, I believe this is not a realistic expectation.” European leaders would certainly welcome a change of American Presidents, but they have their own elections to think about, and it is not clear that they would make much of a sacrifice for the new man. “Because of how it’s been handled so far, Iraq is really not a good case to demonstrate the great advantages of transatlantic coöperation,” another diplomat said to me. “It is actually the worst possible case. Iraq is simply too much of a mess.”

*As I noted previously, this dictum holds for states, not non-state actors.

posted by Dan at 11:11 AM | Comments (47) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, July 18, 2004

It would have worked if it wasn't for those meddling French literary critics!!

Curse that Ilias Yocaris!!

Last month, the professor of literary theory and French literature at the University Institute of Teacher Training in Nice published an essay about the Harry Potter series in Le Monde. Now the New York Times translates it for today's op-ed page. The highlights:

On the face of it, the world of Harry Potter has nothing in common with our own. Nothing at all, except one detail: like ours, the fantastic universe of Harry Potter is a capitalist universe....

Harry Potter, probably unintentionally, thus appears as a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market. Given the success of the Harry Potter series, several generations of young people will be indelibly marked by this lesson.

Dammit, the capitalist shock troops were supposed to get to Yocaris before he spilled the beans!!

Read the whole thing, if only for the amusement value. I found myself with four semi-serious responses (in increasing order of seriousness):

1) I knew French literary theory and Islamic fundamentalism had something in common!!

2) I must applaud Yocaris for the display of willful blindness that requires him to ignore the larger cleavages played out in the Harry Potter series -- you know, petty themese like children rebelling against adult authority, ignorance from outsiders, and grappling with their growing capabilities. Nope, clearly Harry Potter is all about the plutocratic power of Gringotts.

3) The primary political cleavage that is discussed in the Harry Potter series is between the Slytherins who believe that Mudblood magicians are beneath contempt, followed closely by poor magicians (hence the contempt for the Weasleys). For Harry Potter's enemies, what matters are bloodlines and inherited wealth -- in other words, they're feudal lords. Any Marxist worth their salt should recognize that the Harry Potter series is really about the capitalist bourgeoisie having to battle against the last remnants of the feudal epoch of production that was so recently overthrown. Since society must go through the capitlist mode of production, with its phenomenal increases in productivity, before reaching the socialist utopia, one would think that Yocaris would applaud those retrograde forces looking to reverse the inexorable dialectic of historical materialism.

4) Finally, thank God it's a capitalist world system in Harry Potter. The worst aspect of science fiction/science fantasy books is their malign neglect of the laws of economics. Why don't Starfleet officers and crew carry cash? There's no such thing as port call on these series? It's not just a niggling issue -- it detracts from the overall aesthetic enjoyment. Assuming away money, credit, or other economic concepts assaults the reader/viewer's willing suspension of disbelief, making a fantasy just a little less believable, and therefore a little less enjoyable. One of the reasons the Harry Potter series resonates so well is precisely how Rowling is able to take the alternative universe of wizards and embed it in a world that resembles our own.

Finally, it should be stressed that assuming a capitalist system does not mean one has to be uncritical of that system. In Harry Potter, tabloid journalism gets it on the chin. In sci-fi, the Alien series does not have the kindest view of corporate benevolence either.

OK, I'm clearly taking this way too seriously.

The Times, incidentally, opens the essay by observing that "This article... got particular attention, including an essay published in response arguing that Harry is an antiglobalist crusader."

UPDATE: On my last point, I will Henry Farrell's argument that, "Dan just hasn’t been reading the right science fiction/science fantasy books." Certainly the sci-fi I've read that has stuck with me -- William Gibson, Philip K. Dick -- did not ignore the laws of economics. Mostly I was reacting to the endless hours of Star Trek I've consumed over the years. And I will be sure to read some of Henry's suggestions -- right after I get that tenure thing behind me.

posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (37) | Trackbacks (3)

Saturday, July 17, 2004

If you're in Chicago...

You have two three reasons to rejoice:

1) The opening of Millennium Park. The family and I checked it out today, and a good time was had by all. This opening weekend includes a lot of parades, musical performances, and other activities. The nominal architectural highlight is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and evokes his Guggenheim Museum in Bilao. For me, however, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate is the real treat -- a mirrored sculpture that beautifully reflects the Chicago skyline. Here's a picture, but it doesn't do Kapoor's vision justice:


[UPDATE -- , href="">here's a better photo:]
Here's a link to Millennium park's official website, and here's a link to the Chicago Tribune's special webpage devoted to the park.

2) For South-Siders, any injection of retail is a welcome development -- compared to the North Side and the suburbs, this region (which includes Hyde Park) is a veritable desert of commerce. So, even small steps by big-name brands are welcomed.

Dan Mihalopoulos and Antonio Olivo report in the Chicago Tribune on the South Shore neighborhood's brand new coffee shop:

Starbucks, an icon for everything from gentrification to Seattle chic to corporate dominance, means something simpler to 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston.

"You are officially a neighborhood when you get a Starbucks," said Hairston, who fought to bring one to South Shore even as residents of affluent neighborhoods bemoaned the spread of the chain coffeehouses.

Finally on Friday, a Starbucks will open on the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue, the only shop of its kind in Chicago south of Hyde Park.

The familiar green awnings of Starbucks are another sign of hope on the South Side, where home values are rising. Many neighbors see the shop as a mark of newfound respect for black buying power and a harbinger for more new stores. Hairston, for one, dreams of a Target, a Best Buy and maybe a Kinko's.

But it has taken four years, the alderman's intervention and civic-minded basketball star Magic Johnson just to open one brand-name coffeehouse.

And in a part of the city where most basic shopping is still a long car or bus ride away, neighborhood advocates recognize that they still have a long road from that first grande latte to a thriving local economy....

Scott Gendell and Zeb Mclaurin, the Chicago-based developers of the new Starbucks site, said retail chains should realize that the South Side is fertile ground for selling electronics, linens and other goods that residents say they customarily buy as far away as Orland Park or northwest Indiana.

The corridor along Stony Island is ripe for a change similar to the retail boom along Clybourn Avenue during the last decade, they said.

"It takes time to sell people who don't understand this market, but their ability to make money here is so obvious," Gendell said. (emphasis added)

Hey, if there is anyone at Trader Joe's who reads this blog, go back and re-read that bolded section -- the place could use a decent high-end grocery store as well.

3) H. Gregory Meyer and Darnell Little report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that the entire state (including Chicago) is much safer than it used to be:

Illinois' crime rate took another big drop in 2003, bringing the numbers close to what they were before crime took off in the 1970s.

The sweeping drop in 2003, twice as large as the previous year, was seen in Chicago, most suburbs and smaller cities across the state, according to new Illinois State Police data. Only the most sparsely settled counties saw a general increase, as violent crime rose there for the third straight year, according to data to be released Sunday.

Statewide, total serious crimes reported to police fell for the ninth year in a row to 497,693, which translates to a crime rate not seen since 1972--when Richard Nixon was in the White House and a different Daley ran Chicago City Hall.

Crime in Illinois took a sharp upturn in the early 1970s, climbing throughout the decade. The situation worsened in the 1980s as the crack cocaine epidemic plagued many urban areas. Crime in the state eventually peaked in 1991. But for the last decade, crime rates have rolled progressively downward.

The 2003 report shows declines in all eight offenses making up the state's index of major crimes: murder, sexual assault, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. Reports of sexual assault, after unexpectedly jumping in 2002, dived below the average of the last five years.

posted by Dan at 05:30 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 16, 2004

Your weekend economics reading

Virginia Postrel's latest New York Times column looks at William W. Lewis' The Power of Productivity: Wealth, Poverty, and the Threat to Global Stability -- about which I've blogged here and here. Postrel gets at a facet of Lewis' book I failed to highlight in my previous posts:

To know why some countries prosper while others fall behind, then, we need to know which industries in which countries are more productive and why.

Most studies of the subject, however, concentrate on a narrow slice of the economy: products that are traded in world markets. That's because, thanks to customs regulations, most countries have excellent data on those goods.

Looking only at traded goods can be highly misleading. International businesses tend to face intense competition. They have to adopt practices that improve productivity. Domestic industries, by contrast, are often protected from competition.

McKinsey's research fills in the picture, providing data and case studies of industries like retailing, food processing and construction.

Looking at the nontradeable sectors reveals some startling gaps in productivity:

Food processing in Japan, Mr. Lewis writes, "has more employees than the combined total of cars, steel, machine tools and computers," or about 11 percent of all manufacturing workers. While Japan's fiercely competitive auto industry is the most productive in the world, its food-processing industry is only 39 percent as productive as the United States industry, McKinsey found.

Read the whole thing, and then order the Lewis book if you haven't already.

Meanwhile Tyler Cowen links to this Arnold Kling TCS essay comparing and contrasting America's poor in 1970 with 2000. The statistics are quite startling -- poor Americans are much better off now than during the height of the Great Society.

[But wage rates have been pretty much stagnant since 1970. In fact, they've been worse than stagnant in recent months. How can this be?--ed. Kling looks at consumption rather than wages. He goes on to postulate:

Given these statistics, what explains the fact that, adjusted for inflation, the pay of the lowest-wage workers has not increased much over the past thirty years? There are a number of factors involved, but I suspect that the largest component of the explanation is a shift in the composition of the low-wage work force. In the 1970's, many of the people at the bottom of the wage scale were heads of households. Today, many low-wage workers are providing second or third incomes to families.

I have no idea if Kling's hypothesis holds -- but it's worth investigating.

UPDATE: One more reading assignment -- Brad DeLong's latest post on global warming.

posted by Dan at 06:18 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (2)

Math is not a sport

Jordan Ellenberg has a Slate column on whether math should be considered a sport.

Sounds preposterous? Ellenberg points out that in 1997, then-president of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch declared, "Bridge is a sport, and as such your place is here, like all other sports." Chess was an exhibition sport at the Sydney games. There is such a thing as the International Mathematical Olympiad. Why not math?

This got me to thinking about George Carlin's philosophy about sports. There's the classic riff on the differences between baseball and football and the underrated follow-on about why other "sports" are not really sports in Playin' With Your Head. Which made me realize that Ellenberg is only able to engage in this debate because a lot of activities that count as sports really are not (to be fair, he comes to the same conclusion by the end of the article).

What really stood out, however, was this passage from Ellenberg's essay:

In my high school you could letter in [math].... Not that you'd mistake these kids for the campus jocks—when I competed at the Olympiad, there were plenty of skinny eccentrics, with a promiscuous hippie here and there, and not a little subclinical autism spectrum. But the math stars display the focused confidence of athletes, even, at times, adopting Deion-style swagger. Honesty compels me to confess that my high-school math team was called the "Hell's Angles"; that we wore matching black T-shirts advertising this fact; and that we entered each match in file behind our captain, who carried on his shoulder a boombox playing "Hip To Be Square."

Honesty compels me to confess that:

1) I was on the math team at my high school -- In fact, I was the captain my senior year;

2) None of us ever exhibited any kind of "Deion-like swagger."

3) If I had somehow convinced my teammates to wear black shirts saying "Hell's Angels," ten minutes later I would have found my entire team in the nurse's office after they got the crap kicked out of them. [Ellenberg's shirt said "Hell's Angles"--ed. Replace "ten minutes" with "fifteen minutes."]

To be fair to Ellenberg, he had reason for swagger -- I recall running into the Montgomery County math wizards when I qualified for the American Regions Math League contest, and they were the best of the best. [Oh, sure you remember this -- any confirming evidence?--ed. God bless the World Wide Web -- someone actually posted the results of the 1985 competition, of which I was a participant. Sure enough Montgomery County won that year -- my team (Connecticut A) finished a respectible eighth.]

UPDATE: Another blogger responds to Ellenberg: "[A]s a former mathlete, i say, 'hell no! i'm not a jock! stop calling me a jock! if you don't stop insinuating that i'm a jock, your firewall's gonna be so full of java that your ROMs will overload!'"

posted by Dan at 04:01 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

What does this mean about airline security?

Like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, I received a mass e-mail linking to this disturbing first-person account by Annie Jacobsen in on mysterious doings onboard a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles (hopefully, she's not this Annie Jacobsen). The quick summary: a bunch of Arab gentlemen holding Syrian passports act in an extremely suspicious manner during the flight.

Michelle Malkin confirms at least part of the Jacobsen story, and a February 2004 story by Jason Burke in the Sunday Observer adds some plausibility to the behavior of the suspected terrorists in the story. This is the part of Jacobsen's account that Malkin confirms:

Within a few hours I received a call from Dave Adams, the Federal Air Marshal Services (FAM) Head of Public Affairs. Adams told me what he knew:

There were 14 Syrians on NWA flight #327. They were questioned at length by FAM, the FBI and the TSA upon landing in Los Angeles. The 14 Syrians had been hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert. Adams said they were scrubbed. None had arrest records (in America, I presume), none showed up on the FBI's no fly list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The men checked out and they were let go. According to Adams, the 14 men traveled on Northwest Airlines flight #327 using one-way tickets. Two days later they were scheduled to fly back on jetBlue from Long Beach, California to New York -- also using one-way tickets.

I asked Adams why, based on the FBI's credible information that terrorists may try to assemble bombs on planes, the air marshals or the flight attendants didn't do anything about the bizarre behavior and frequent trips to the lavatory. Our FAM agents have to have an event to arrest somebody. Our agents aren't going to deploy until there is an actual event, Adams explained. He said he could not speak for the policies of Northwest Airlines.

On the other hand, a post in the brand-new blog Red State voices some understandable skepticism. This blogger suggests that what looked like suspicious activity was actually Muslims behaving in a devout manner. There are parts of the story that sound over the top to me as well -- the only thing missing from Jacobsen's narrative to make the Syrian guys seem more evil is thick moustaches. The link to Ann Coulter doesn't make me feel any more sanguine.

I'm not saying something disturbing didn't happen, but I have as many questions about the Jacobsen story as I do for the Federal Air Marshalls.

Give it a read and think it over while perusing the fact that the Bush administration has scrapped its Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II program for screening airline passengers. For more on the CAPPS debate, check out Ryan Singel's account in Wired.

Orin Kerr wonders:

Why haven't major newspapers and TV picked up on it? My guess is that the blogosphere won't let up until there are some answers, and that the pressure will yield some answers sooner rather than later.

I can say that the e-mail sent to me and other bloggers was cc-ed to movers and shakers in the mediasphere -- Bill Keller, David Ignatius, George Will, Anne Applebaum, and Nichoas D. Kristoff. So they're certainly aware of the story. My guess is they're probably ignoring the initial message because the originator of the e-mail tends to send out a regular stream of these messages, and the signal-to-noise ratio is quite low.

Another possible trajectory is Matt Drudge linking to the story -- he's #2 on The Note's "list of people who have incredible power in this election year to influence the entire free media cycle."

The interest by bloggers in the story, however, might prove to be enough of a spur to the mediasphere. I'm on the skeptical side of the spectrum -- but I'd like to see real journalists dig deeper into this.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin now reports that the blogosphere will be getting results from the mediasphere:

[T]he Washington Post has been sitting on the true story of Annie Jacobsen's "Terror in the Skies" account since last Friday.... Dave Adams, the air marshal's spokesman, not only confirmed the story, but has also apparently supplied witness statements and other corroborations of Jacobsen's account. NBC Nightly News, ABC, and Dateline NBC are now on the story as well.

On the other hand, Malkin talked with Jacobsen, and is told, ""My legs were like rubber... It was four and a half hours of terror" -- which again sounds over the top. Donald Sensing is also suspicious. He raises the perfectly valid point that one should not be too surprised at seeing a large number of Arabs boarding an airplane in Detroit, given the large concentration of Arabs living in Dearborn and its environs. Glenn Reynolds has more, including this optimistic take.

That said, it appears the system is working. [What system?--ed. The system whereby private actors can monitor government actors to see if the latter are doing their job. The blogosphere is only the latest link in that chain.]

FINAL UPDATE: I close out my thoughts on Jacoibsen's story here and here.

posted by Dan at 12:04 PM | Comments (89) | Trackbacks (6)

Bruce Bartlett beats me to the punch

Bruce Bartlett's latest column opens with a suggestion that I've had in the back of my head for some time:

I have long believed that presidential challengers would help themselves by announcing at least some of their top appointments before the election. After all, we already know the incumbent's appointees. I think it would help many voters make up their minds and swing a few if they had a better idea of how a candidate's actions would match his words.

In Europe, where parliamentary systems predominate, this sort of thing is taken for granted. Opposition parties always have "shadow cabinets," where designated people target particular departments for special attention. They are assumed to be given those portfolios should their party gain a majority, and often are.

Not only does this give voters much greater knowledge of what to expect should the opposition gain control, it gives valuable experience and training to those in line to become ministers in a new government. And shadow cabinets make it easier to create coalitions and help assuage the fears of those wary of changing horses in the middle of a stream.

I vaguely recall that Bob Dole contemplated but rejected this strategy back in 1996.

I can see downsides to this strategy -- in particular, such an announcement increases the number of official mouthpieces -- which increases the likelihood of one of them committing a gaffe/revealing a personal scandal that saps time and energy from Kerry.

However, such a gambit could make a transition much easier, in that it provides a public vetting for key cabinet officials, and might reverse a disturbing trend of lengthier and lengthier confirmation ordeals.

Do read the rest of Bartlett's column, as he posits the composition of Kerry's economic team.

UPDATE: Some have suggested that an opposition candidate can't propose a shadow cabinet, because it's illegal to offer anyone a position prior to election. It strikes me that there are so many ways around that law that it's not much of an impediment. Just name someone as the "official party spokesman" for the issue, for example.

Also, I wouldn't propose naming a complete shadow cabinet -- perhaps just the "power ministries" -- State, Defense, Treasury, Justice, and now DHS.

ANOTHER UPDATE: More on this from Matthew Yglesias, Tom Grey, and Jacob Levy.

posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (5)

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hey you -- red or blue?

Following Virginia Postrel's advice, I took Slate's "Red or Blue" Quiz. Turns out that -- like Virginia -- I'm purple, i.e., right in the middle, and therefore permitted to live in both places. So that's a relief.

Go take the quiz and find out where you should live. Report back on your findings.

posted by Dan at 02:18 PM | Comments (49) | Trackbacks (4)

Don't rush me off the fence, part IV

John Hawkins at Right Wing News has a post entitled "40 Reasons To Vote For George Bush Or Against John Kerry." I can't say I found all of them convincing, but #12 is somewhat compelling:

John Kerry missed 64% of his votes in the Senate last year and has missed more than 80% of them this year. If John Kerry isn't bothering to do the job he has, wouldn't it be a mistake to give him a promotion?

One could plausibly argue that Kerry's full-time job since early 2003 was running for president -- but he could have resigned if that were the case. The lead paragraph in this Reuters story doesn't make me feel any better about Kerry's posturing on Iraq, either:

Democratic candidate John Kerry, whose campaign demanded to know on Wednesday whether President Bush read a key Iraq intelligence assessment, did not read the document himself before voting to give Bush the authority to go to war, aides acknowledged.

Bush apparently didn't read it either, but I'm not sure Kerry wins my vote on the motto, "Vote for me -- I'll start paying attention after I'm elected." This was in the fall of 2002, when Kerry's only job as a candidate was raising money -- which is what all congressmen do all of the time. Plus, it's pretty hypocritical for a legislator to rail about executive branch overreach when he fails to exercise any due diligence when he has an opportunity to constrain said branch.

On a related point, Hawkins' 25th reason is also worth checking out.

Hmmm... maybe I should get off on the GOP side of the fence -- no wait!! Jesse Walker has a column at Reason online entitled, "Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush." His forth reason has weighed heavily on me since day one of the Bush administration:

The culture of secrecy. The Bush administration has nearly doubled the number of classified documents. It has urged agencies, in effect, to refuse as many Freedom of Information Act requests as possible, has invoked executive privilege whenever it can, and has been very free with the redactor's black marker when it does release some information. Obviously, it's impossible to tell how often the data being concealed is genuinely relevant to national security and how often it has more to do with covering a bureaucrat's behind. But there's obviously a lot of ass-covering going on.

And even when security is a real issue, all this secrecy doesn't make sense. Earlier this year, the Transportation Security Administration tried to retroactively restrict two pages of public congressional testimony that had revealed how its undercover agents managed to smuggle some guns past screeners. Presumably they were afraid a terrorist would read about it and try the method himself—but it would have made a lot more sense to seek some outsiders' input on how to resolve the putative problem than to try to hide it from our prying eyes. Especially when the information had already been sitting in the public record.

The administration has been quick to enforce its code of silence, regularly retaliating against those within its ranks who try to offer an independent perspective on its policies. While the most infamous examples of this involve international affairs, the purest episode may be the case of chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster, who apparently was threatened with dismissal if he told Congress the real projected cost of Bush's Medicare bill. Even if the White House didn't know about the threat—and I strongly suspect that it did—it created the organizational culture that allows such bullying to thrive.

As someone who cares about a good policymaking process as much as a good policymaking outcome -- because the former is a big factor that determines the latter -- the secrecy obsession doesn't sit well with me at all. Such an obession distracts from the suibstance of policy, and also needlessly filters outside feedback, which might be politically frustrating but is nevertheless an essential ingredient to the formulation of good policy.

Walker closes his column this way: "Making me root for a sanctimonious statist blowhard like Kerry isn't the worst thing Bush has done to the country. But it's the offense that I take most personally."

Walker gives fewer reasons than Hawkins, but the latter has a lot more chaff than wheat.

Still on the fence -- but slowly getting more depressed about my choices.

UPDATE: John Hawkins posts a response to Walker's points that's worth checking out. And Jonathan Chait's TNR essay about the Bush administration's attitude towards other political actors underscores Walker's point about secrecy.

Link via Matthew Yglesias, who thinks I'm undecided because I either want attention or a job from the winning candidate.

To be clear -- the reason I'm undecided is because I can't remember an election in my adult lifetime when I've been less enthused with my menu of candidates. There's an old maxim that voting is usually an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. I've felt that sentiment in some previous elections, but it was also easy to spot positive qualities that resonated strongly within me. This year I can't muster even the tiniest amount of enthusiasm for any candidate.

I'm pretty sure that attitude is not going to earn me a warm place in either candidate's heart. Besides, the Kerry team is already bursting to the gills with policy wonks, and as Mark Kleiman pointed out, the Republicans are probably pissed off at me as well.

[What about hallway rumors that you'll be the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate to face Barrack Obama now that Coach Ditka has passed?--ed. Yeah, that's how I want to spend the next three months -- getting thumped in the polls by the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention and having to dodge allegations about an unhealthy obsession with Salma Hayek. Not a winning formula for tenure, I'm afraid.]

posted by Dan at 01:13 PM | Comments (101) | Trackbacks (6)

UN official speaks truth -- Palestinians outraged

Two days ago, United Nations Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen briefed the UN Security Council on the Middle East Peace Process -- i.e., Israel and Palestine. Roed-Larsen placed blame on both the Israelis and the Palestinians for the lack of progress. Here's one relevant section from the press release:

He said that the Palestinian Authority, despite consistent promises by its leadership, had made no progress on its core obligation to take immediate action on the ground to end violence and combat terror, and to reform and reorganize the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli Government had made no progress either on its core obligation to immediately dismantle settlements outposts erected since March 2001 and to move towards a complete freeze of settlement activities.

Progress on the implementation of Palestinian reform remained slow and could not be explained except by the lack of political will to advance along that road, he said. The Palestinian Authority decided to begin holding local elections as early as this fall. The commitment to do so was a step towards creating more democratic local institutions and, as such, should be encouraged. However, the Palestinian Authority had not yet responded to repeated calls by the international community to reform its electoral institutional framework in line with minimal international standards. It had appointed a partisan body to supervise local elections instead of the existing Central Elections Commission, which should prepare and supervise voter registration. Instead, the Commission had been endangered by the Palestinian Authority’s intention to launch parallel registration without impartial supervision....

All those who yearned for peace had already and repeatedly urged President Arafat, in public and in private, to take immediate action to restore that diminished credibility, he emphasized. The Quartet, as well as the Arab peace partners, had also been active in trying to bring about the necessary reforms. The required elements of reform were clear to all: the consolidation of all security services into three main bodies; and rejuvenating its leadership by putting it under the authority of an effective interior minister, who reported to an empowered Prime Minister. The Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet should be empowered in a way that enabled them to make the necessary changes and carry out the executive tasks entrusted to them by the Palestinian basic law. They must be given the power not only to make decisions, but also to implement them. Unfortunately, there was, so far, no sign of any of those measures being taken.

The fact that, under those conditions, the Palestinian leader remained confined to his headquarters in Ramallah in difficult conditions was no excuse for passivity and inaction, he said. Decisive, robust and enduring action, particularly in the critical field of security reform, should lead to more vigorous international engagement in the process and to an environment conducive to more bold leadership, consistent with requirements of the Road Map and the Egyptian initiative. Unfortunately, there was no sign of constructive movement at present, far from it. Despite a well-intended Prime Minister, the Palestinian Authority’s paralysis had become abundantly clear, and the deterioration of law and order in Palestinian areas was steadily worsening.

Continuing, he said that clashes and showdowns between branches of Palestinian security forces were now common in the Gaza Strip, where legal authority was receding fast in the face of the mounting power of arms, money and intimidation. Lawlessness and gang rule was becoming common in Nablus, the mayor of which resigned a few months ago in protest against the lack of Palestinian Authority support for the legal authorities. The perceived Palestinian Authority abdication of responsibility had led many Rafah residents to take matters into their own hands, up to the point where some of them had established a private checkpoint, preventing Palestinian Authority officials from crossing to Egypt or from entering Rafah. Jericho was becoming the only Palestinian city with a functioning police. That collapse of authority could not be attributed to the Israeli incursions and operations inside Palestinian towns.

“The Palestinian Authority was in deep distress, and is in real danger of collapse”, he said.

Roed-Larsen then went on to blast the Israelis for "lack of compliance on the sensitive issue of settlements." Again, go check out the press release for more on this. What interests me is the Palestinian reaction to Roed-Larsen's honest assessment of the Palestinian Authority. Steve Weizman provides the Associated Press report:

Furious Palestinian officials said Wednesday that they banned the UN Mideast envoy from the West Bank and Gaza Strip after he lashed out at Yasser Arafat, but the Palestinian observer to the UN later said Terje Roed-Larsen was not barred from visiting.

Arafat's top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, described the UN envoy as "useless" and said he was no longer welcome in the Palestinian areas.

Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian UN observer, echoed that anger at Roed-Larsen but said the UN envoy's legal status has not been decided and would be discussed with Secretary General Kofi Annan when he returns to New York next week....

Al-Kidwa called the briefing unacceptable, saying it "reflects basically an amalgamation of Israeli and American positions."

Eerily enough, the BBC reports that "The militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades also said Mr Roed-Larsen was 'banned' from Palestinian territory." The Palestinian Prime Minister's reaction in a press conference echoed this rhetoric:

In his first official reaction to the latest remarks voiced by United Nations Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, in which the latter held the President Yasser Arafat responsible for the current peace deadlock, Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei' expressed astonishment for the non-objective way Larsen had made his remarks....

Qurei' called on the United Nations Secretary General to give instructions to UN staff in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) to work in an objective way and in accordance with the UN’s principles of law and justice, that have deemed the Israeli settlement expansion plans since 1967 illegitimate.

President Arafat’s key advisor, Nabil Abu Rudaina, was quoted as saying that Larsen has become ‘persona non grata’ and that the United Nations was requested to dispatch an alternative representative to the oPt.

To Kofi Annan's credit, he issued a statement through his spokesman backing Roed-Larsen to the hilt.

The grand irony in all of this, as Agence-France Press observes, is that "Roed-Larsen has previously been something of a bete noire for the Israelis over his outspoken criticism of the occupation of the territories."

It's not like the U.N. has been unfriendly to the Palestinian cause. So what does it say that the political entity Israel is ostensibly supposed to negotiate with responds like that to an honest appraisal of their situation by an impartial outsider?

[Standard caveat when posting about the Middle East: This is not to exonerate the Israelis for their behavior on settlements.]

posted by Dan at 12:20 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Don't rush me off the fence, part III

Brad DeLong and Daniel Gross make compelling cases for me to get off the fence on the Kerry side of the yard. Their argument? The Kerry economic team beats the Bush economic team.

Brad links approvingly (yes, approvingly!!!) to a Jonathan Weisman story in the Washington Post, which opens as follows:

From a tightknit group of experienced advisers, John F. Kerry's presidential campaign has grown exponentially in recent months to include a cast literally of thousands, making it difficult to manage an increasingly unwieldy policy apparatus.

The campaign now includes 37 separate domestic policy councils and 27 foreign policy groups, each with scores of members. The justice policy task force alone includes 195 members. The environmental group is roughly the same size, as is the agriculture and rural development council. Kerry counts more than 200 economists as his advisers.

In contrast, President Bush's campaign policy shop is a no-frills affair. Policy director Tim Adams directs about a dozen experts who make sure the campaign is in sync with the vast executive branch that is formulating policy. Adams's group also analyzes Kerry's proposals and voting record. Fewer than a dozen outside task forces, with five to 10 members, also help out on education, veterans' issues, the economy, and energy, environment and natural resources, said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel.

The campaign policy gap argument sounds pretty persuasive -- except that the lack of a campaign policy team for the Bushies shouldn't be surprising. Indeed, the Weisman article notes that the Gore campaign had the same set-up in 2000:

[T]he difference in structure between the Kerry operation and then-Vice President Al Gore's campaign in 2000 is "black and white," said Bianchi, who formulated economic and budget policy for Gore as well. Back then, Gore had a wealth of policies already formulated by the Clinton administration. After eight years in power, weary Democratic policy experts weren't clamoring to share new ideas. A stripped-down campaign policy shop existed mainly to push proposals that moved only incrementally beyond then-President Bill Clinton's or to ensure Gore's campaign proposals were consistent with the administration's record.

The party out of power is always going to have the bigger policy team. The campaign policy team for a sitting President or VP should resemble the current Bush arrangement -- ensuring coordination with the relevant economic policymaking bureaucracies.

Indeed, if you read Ray Simth's front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal on skyrocketing property tax increases, Adams seems to hold his own in the spin department:

In many parts of the country in recent years, strapped local governments have imposed big increases in property-tax rates, as well as in home assessments, to fill budget shortfalls. In response, voters have organized efforts to repeal or slow property-tax boosts in states from Virginia to Oregon, in some cases with the support of frustrated local officials....

Nationally, Democrats have tried to seize on the rising anger over property taxes and shortfalls in municipal budgets to attack the Bush administration for tax cuts that reduce funds available to local governments, contributing to what presidential candidate John Kerry has dubbed a "middle-class squeeze." Sen. Kerry has proposed an economic stimulus package that includes payments to state governments to help them avert spending cuts and tax increases.

"Sen. Kerry has long recognized that the decision to focus on tax relief for the wealthy over any form of state fiscal relief has led to many backdoor tax and tuition increases at the state and local level," says Gene Sperling, a Kerry economic adviser, who headed the White House's National Economic Council during the Clinton administration.

Tim Adams, policy director for the Bush-Cheney campaign, counters, "The effect of the Bush administration's tax cuts on state revenues is minimal compared to the impact" of the economic downturn. He adds that some of the states' budget problems can be traced to spending sprees in the 1990s, as well as other broader economic shocks.

There's no doubt that many state and local governments experienced big shortfalls with the economic downturn that began in 2000 after the flush years of the 1990s boom. Sales taxes, which had been rising rapidly, suddenly tumbled, while revenue from corporate taxes shrank. Tax cuts spurred reduced federal spending. Many states, feeling the pinch, cut back their funding to local governments, dealing them a double whammy.

[Er, blaming the bad economy is good spin for the Republicans?--ed. Yes, because most Americans have proven surprisingly sophisticated in recognizing that a lot of the hits the economy took a few years ago -- the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks, the corporate scandals -- had little to do with Bush.]

Spin is one thing, substance is another -- and here, DeLong does have a suitable counterargument, linking to Stan Collender's National Journal column from late June:

Has anyone seen or heard from the Bush administration's economic and budget teams lately?

National Economic Council Director Stephen Friedman has been practically invisible since he took the job.

Greg Mankiw, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, essentially hasn't been heard from since he made a politically incorrect statement back in February about the outsourcing of jobs.

Joshua Bolten, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, has hardly been a public advocate for the Bush administration's budget policies and projections. Indeed, he has been one of the least visible OMB directors in decades.

Treasury Secretary John Snow has been making a few television appearances in recent weeks. But he hasn't said much that has made the news and seems to be perceived more as a cheerleader than as a policymaker.

And Vice President Dick Cheney, who in the past has spoken up for the administration on the economy when it needed someone to do so, now has serious overall credibility problems because of the foreign policy and military decisions he has helped shape....

All of this presents the White House with a huge problem: Less than five months before the election, no one within or even near the administration has the standing or credibility to defend and promote the Bush budget and economic records other than the president himself...

Similarly, Daniel Gross' Slate article -- which speculates on who would be Kerry's Robert Rubin -- opens with this line:

Quick—name the secretary of the treasury. I bet you can't. Or if you can, you had to think about it before you remembered the eminently forgettable John Snow.

Gross also has this killer quote from Richard Nixon's former Secretary of Commerce founding Concord Coalition member and classic Wall Street Republican Peter G. Peterson, from his just-released book, Running on Empty:

In sum, this administration and the Republican Congress have presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America's finances in history. It includes a feast of pork, inequitable and profligate tax cuts, and a major new expansion of Medicare that is unaccompanied by any serious measures to control its exploding cost.

DeLong goes on to observe:

The stunning contrast between the enthusiasm with which economists--lots of economists--lots of very good economists--are donating their time to Kerry and the extraordinary silence on the Bush side is, to my way of thinking, the most interesting thing that emerges from Weisman's article....

John Kerry is not Bill Clinton, but John Kerry's economic policies could still be very good for America. It will be our job--Sarah Bianchi's and Jason Furman's, George Akerlof's and Lael Brainerd's, Harry Holzer's and David Cutler's, Alan Auerbach's and Ceci Rice's, Larry Katz's and Roger Altman's, Gene Sperling's and Alan Blinder's, Laura D'Andrea Tyson's and Bob Rubin's, and mine and all the rest of our's--to help him make it so. Who will George W. Bush have to help him? Tim Adams? John Snow?

So maybe I should get off this fence -- no wait!! Two possible counterarguments:

1) Kerry gets hamstrung by the loony left. Even if Kerry's economic team is fiscally prudent, his governing coalition might not be. In the early nineties, Clinton had a similar choice between two sets of policy advisors, and went with the fiscal conservatives. Would Kerry have the latitude or the inclination to make the same choice? As Brad put it, "Kerry is not Clinton."

This is Jason Zengerle's concern in The New Republic (subscription required). The key graf:

[W]hen Clinton was president, liberal Democrats were quiescent enough to let him govern from the center; he embraced welfare reform and fiscal conservatism without suffering a reelection primary challenge. In a Kerry presidency, the Democratic Party's far more energized left--conditioned by [Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael] Moore to guard against Democratic sellouts--may not be so forgiving.

2) Kerry may not listen to his advisers. Bruce Bartlett makes the following comment on Brad's blog:

I do believe that Kerry would help himself by making fiscal responsibility the key message of his campaign. I say this as a Republican, because I believe that my side has gotten off on the wrong track and because I believe competition is good in the political arena as well as in the economy.

The problem is that Kerry has yet to throw the smallest bone to the fiscal responsibility crowd. Brad is willing to take him on faith because he trusts his advisers. I won't, nor will most middle of the roaders. They need to see something tangible on the table.

Both of these concerns -- as well as my qualms with the Bush economic team -- could be addressed during the general election campaign.

Sooooo.... it's still too early to jump off the fence. Still sitting and learning, sitting and learning....

UPDATE: James Joyner thinks that the differences in teams is less significant in terms of policy outputs than DeLong:

I would argue that the near-invisibility of Bush's economic team goes a long way towards proving a point I've been making for years: Presidents don't much matter in domestic economic matters. The Fed has taken total control of monetary policy for years and fiscal policy operates within a very narrow range. The days of 70% marginal tax rates are beyond us for good and we've pretty much cut taxes as far as is likely. Presidents matter more in international trade, since they can encourage open markets or swing toward protectionism but, again, only within pretty narrow bands.

On the other hand, Steve Chapman points out in his Chicago Tribune column that the Bush administration has acquitted itself badly on one issue it has some influence on -- pork-barrel tax cuts for corporations:

Corporate welfare--an array of direct subsidies, tax breaks and indirect assistance created for the special benefit of businesses--is one of those things that politicians would rather criticize than abolish. For the most part, it has a deservedly bad image. But when it comes to helping out companies from their own districts, most members of Congress think there is no such thing as unjustified federal aid....

Although his budget director once said it is "not the federal government's role to subsidize, sometimes deeply subsidize, private interests," President Bush has proposed only piddling cuts. Under his leadership, the budget for corporate welfare has remained as high as ever--about $87 billion a year, according to the Cato Institute in Washington.

FINAL UPDATE: Both Josh Chafetz and Noam Scheiber weigh in on the Weisman story.

posted by Dan at 05:59 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (6)

Hey, it's once-in-a-blue-moon day!

It's rare I get to say I said something prescient, so allow me the opportunity to highlight that fact.

In light of the Senate's rejection of a proposed gay marriage amendment, back in December I posted on "Why the Constitution will not ban gay marriage." The key sections:

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

Another thing -- public opinion is fickle. Indeed, the attitudes about gay marriage have been extremely volatile over the past year....

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

Naturally, Andrew Sullivan has more.

posted by Dan at 03:55 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

A radio day

If you are a Chicago resident, and you tune your dial to WBEZ (Chicago Public Radio) at 1:00 PM Central time, you will have no choice but to hear me discuss offshore outsourcing on Worldview with Jerome McDonnell (who, I was pleased to learn, reads the blog from time to time). The other guest is David Steiger, an adjunct professor at DePaul.

The segment was taped yesteday, and supposed to run only 20 minutes, but we chatted for a good deal longer. The intelligence of at least one U.S. Senator is questioned by yours truly during the show.

Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans can listen on your computer by clicking here.

UPDATE: You can listen to the whole interview by clicking here.

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Statebuilding updates

The Chicago Tribune has two stories today reflecting on U.S. efforts at statebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aamer Madhani reports on the uneven progress in reconstituting Iraq's security forces by examining the town of Muqdadiyah. The highlights:

By the U.S. military's current expectations, the joint patrol by American and Iraqi troops was a success--only about a third of the Iraqi soldiers hid their faces out of fear of being seen with the Americans.

But Lt. Joaquin Meno of the 1st Infantry Division had even higher hopes as he led the patrol recently into an area where U.S. soldiers have been hectored for weeks. The Iraqi troops bounded out of their trucks and set up a right flank, just as they have been trained. Minutes later Meno did a double take: Several of the Iraqis had tugged their bandanas and kaffiyehs up to their eyes....

The small city and its surrounding area have been largely calm in recent months despite flare-ups in nearby Baqouba, the restive metropolis about 20 miles to the south. Col. Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division, which has a base in Muqdadiyah, said the peace is due largely to improvements in the Iraqi security forces.

In a matter of months, the Iraqi National Guard has gone from a ragtag group led by a purportedly corrupt commander to a force with a semblance of professionalism, 1st Infantry officials say.

The commander, who allegedly was skimming a third of the guard members' salaries, was arrested and awaits trial. The troops have started training with American soldiers in intensive 15-day boot camps. U.S. military and local Iraqi officials insist the Iraqi guardsmen are making great strides....

In meetings last week with Pittard and battalion commander Lt. Col. Peter Newell, the city's mayor and police chief praised the Americans.

U.S. military officials and Iraqis repeated the story of a recent solo patrol by the Iraqi troops that they said was emblematic of how far the security forces have come in Muqdadiyah.

"The people asked the soldiers if they were Iraqis," said Mayor Hussein Alwan al-Timimi. "They wouldn't believe that such a professional force could be Iraqi. They thought they must be Americans dressed up in Iraqi uniforms."

But there are indications from U.S. soldiers, as well as Iraqi officials, that there has been less progress in Muqdadiyah than sometimes meets the eye.

Meno, the platoon leader who directed the recent joint patrol, noted that only one of the 24 Iraqi soldiers on the patrol had a flak jacket. He added that he had come across checkpoints where Iraqi troops or police officers have been sleeping on the job.

A few weeks ago, Meno and his platoon were on guard duty with the Iraqi National Guard at the recently opened joint command center. During the watch, he said, they faced gun and rocket fire. As soon as the attack began, the Iraqi troops abandoned their posts, Meno said.

Read the whole thing. UPDATE: Christpher Dickey has a Newsweek story on the interim Iraqi government's efforts to restore order (link via Josh Marshall):

As I drove into Baghdad from the airport on Sunday, Iraqi cops were all over the streets. In some parts of town there seemed to be a road block on every corner. They stopped cars. They searched the trunks. They searched what was in the trunks—and in the glove compartments, and in my computer bag. No smiles. No pleasantries. These guys had new uniforms, but their pot bellies, their moustaches, and their AK-47 assault rifles were just the same as in the old Saddam Hussein days.

I never thought I'd be glad to see them. But I was. And so are most of the Iraqis I've talked to. "Things are more quiet these last weeks," a young baker explained to me this afternoon. He spread his hands as if he were smoothing the sheet on a bed. "I hope this is not the calm before the storm."

I hope so, too. And if it's not—if it really is a turning point toward peace and prosperity for Iraq—then there's a simple reason: The quasi-sovereign government installed June 28 is playing politics Iraqi style. Sure there's a lot of bluster and a fair dose of brutality. No doubt there's plenty of corruption, too. But there's also a feel for the mood on the street that the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority, now defunct, never even began to have.

Meanwhile, the Tribune also runs an AP story by Stephen Graham documenting U.S. efforts to ensure a successful presidential election in Afghanistan. Particularly interesting was the sidebar reporting the results of an Asia Foundation survey conducted in Afghanistan back in February/March of this year. Some of the results:


Right direction: 64%

Mixed/ don't know: 24%

Wrong direction: 11%


Hamid Karzai (Afghan president): 85%

the United Nations: 84%

the United States: 65%

The unfortunate caveat: "Pollsters didn't reach four of the nation's 34 provinces."

posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The state of the globalization literature

Peter Dougherty, the senior economics editor for Princeton University Press, tries to summarize and categorize the globalization literature in an interesting Chronicle of Higher Education essay (subscription may be required).* As this is a topic with which your trusty blogger has more than a passing interest, I checked it out. Some of the good parts:

I once read that at an international conference of economists in 1959, the only thing the attendees had in common was that they had all read a single book, Paul Samuelson's 1948 landmark text, Economics (McGraw-Hill). What intrigued me was that even as recently as the cusp of the 1960s, modern economics, a language now so familiar to the ear of participants in the globalization debate, was so novel. Without that working language, and other such scholarly vernaculars, today's globalization discourse would be hard to imagine.

The story reminds us that globalization, much as it is the result of big business, power politics, and protean innovations, also remains the product of ideas -- ideas that have helped shape the industrialized world and that harbor hopeful implications for the developing world. Those benchmark ideas, which can be traced through scholarly books in the economics and social-science tradition in which I work, set the mark we should aspire to in our current lists.

Samuelson, of course, worked in a grand tradition too, one that could be traced some two centuries back to Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations. One of Samuelson's grand antecedents and still the masterwork of globalization literature, Smith's then-revolutionary 1776 tome made the case for the demolition of international trade barriers as a means of enhancing nations' prosperity. But what we tend to miss in the glare of the word wealth is that Smith's objective in pressing that argument was not commercial, but moral. He wanted to improve the world not for monarchs and merchants, whom he held in deep suspicion, but for the majority of people. That end remains close to the hearts of today's globalization critics and supporters alike, contentious and opposed as their rhetoric may be....

If you were a social scientist advising the leadership of a developing nation and you wanted to help that country grow, you would probably have the following two items high on your agenda: Increase citizens' employability, and align your country's resources with its population, so that more people could eat, live free of disease, become educated, and emerge from poverty. One means of accomplishing both objectives is as straightforward as it is profound: Educate women.

From a purely self-interested perspective, this is the part I found most gratifying:

[S]ome may dismiss my riff on the study of globalization as too narrowly focused on technical scholarship to come under the normal definition of "literature." After all, works by analytical economists, electrical engineers, theoretical mathematicians, and empirical agronomists seldom penetrate the pages of The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, or other literary publications in which the high polemics of globalization are usually discussed. Yet rapidly accelerating technical ideas are driving the engine of globalization relentlessly forward, for good or bad. Those ideas come not only from economics, but from all walks of investigation: epidemiology, operations research, earth science, and so on. Scholarly publishers have a vital role to play in helping to contextualize the exploding technical literature for general readers, and for helping our scientifically inclined authors to frame their books in the larger social-scientific and humanistic discourse....

[T]he globalization literature suggests that books still matter. Even the most mathematically hidebound economist cannot rely on articles, but must write books to engage the larger conversation of globalization. The result is a more substantive broad discussion, and a more thoughtful, open-minded, yet grounded technical one. It is in books that we find the most realistic hope for a successful resolution to many of the problems associated with globalization.

*[Possible conflict of interest alert: I have an advance contract for my globalization book with Princeton University Press. However, I've never met or interacted with Dougherty.]

posted by Dan at 06:22 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

An outsourcing correction

I've taken Josh Marshall to task for essentially outsourcing the thought behind his lone outsourcing post to the Kerry campaign.

However, it now turns out that there was an error in the underlying story -- a speech that U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue gave to the Commonwealth Club about offshore outsourcing. Here's how the Associated Press initially reported the story:

Donohue acknowledged the pain for people who have lost jobs to offshoring - an estimated 250,000 a year, according to government estimates. But pockets of unemployment shouldn't lead to "anecdotal politics and policies," he said, and people affected by offshoring should "stop whining."

"One job sent overseas, if it happens to be my job, is one too many," Donohue said. "But the benefits of offshoring jobs outweighs the cost."

The Associated Press now admits it was in error:

In a story June 30 about a speech by U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue to the Commonwealth Club of California, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Donohue said people affected by offshoring should "stop whining."

According to a transcript of the speech provided by the chamber, Donohue said of offshoring, "Let's not whine."

Let me stress here that this is entirely the fault of the Associated Press; neither the Kerry campaign nor Marshall can or should be blamed for relying on the AP wire.

However, I do wonder if those in the blogopsphere who linked to this story will post the correction -- because it drastically alters the perception of what Donohue said. [Why?--ed. Because the new formulation sounds far less haughty. Iinstead of Donohue addressing others, the pronoun used is first person plural, implying that he is not placing blame.]

posted by Dan at 02:50 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

An open "what if" question

In light of rumblings about contingency plans to postpone elections because of terrorist attacks -- and the administration's rapid dismissal of that idea -- there is an interesting political hypothetical to consider. What would be the electoral impact of a spectacular terrorist attack? Would it benefit Bush or Kerry? [Define "spectacular"--ed. An event that would force the networks to interrupt their regularly scheduled programming.]

This has come up in a number of conversations, and the answer I keep hearing is that it would benefit George W. Bush, because of a) an immediate rally-round-the-flag effect; and b) a belief that Bush places a higher priority on the War on Terror than Kerry.

I suppose this is possible, but I confess to puzzlement. Wouldn't another spectacular attack suggest that the administration has not made significant progress in the War on Terror? That would be my first thought.

However, this would hardly be the first time I've misread public reaction to an event -- or, rather, that my reaction was the minority viewpoint. So, to repeat/rephrase the question: would a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?

I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.

UPDATE: A second question: should a spectacular terrorist attack that took place close to Election day help President Bush or Senator Kerry?

posted by Dan at 11:56 AM | Comments (75) | Trackbacks (7)

What do baseball players think?

The Chicago Tribune and other Tribune papers conducted a survey of baseball players on a variety of baseball-related questions. The response rate was quite high -- 475 of 750 players (63%) responded. Most of the results are thoroughly unsurprising (Wrigley Field is the best ballpark; Barry Bonds is the best baseball player). However, I was pleasantly surprised by two findings:

An overwhelming majority of respondents—399—believe major-league players have a responsibility to be role models.

"As a player you get watched by a lot of kids, a lot of people," Houston center fielder Carlos Beltran said. "And when you're a good player, you have a lot of responsibility, you've got to do things right, in God's eyes and everybody's eyes, because people are looking at you, kids are looking at you."....

Players were almost as strongly united in their feelings about having a gay teammate, with better than 74 percent saying it would not be a problem.

"I had one, Billy Bean, and I didn't have a problem with it," Texas pitcher Doug Brocail said.

"Not at all. I've probably had one already," said Willie Harris of the White Sox. (emphasis added)

The tolerance for a gay teammate was particularly surprising, because the common media perception is that there is massive amounts of homophobia in professional sports -- click here for an Associated Press story from last week, and here and here for other examples. This survey suggests, at a minimum, that this is not true of baseball.

[What if the ballplayers were lying to appear politically correct?--ed. Well, you automatically run into that problem with public opinion surveys about touchy social issues, and that's an important caveat. That said, the survey also showed that only a third of the respondents said that steroid abuse was a problem in baseball. If image-conscious ballplayers were really trying to give answers that please media folks, that response should have been inflated as well.]

UPDATE: While I'm posting about baseball, Red Sox fans everywhere will have a good, rueful laugh at this Seth Stevenson rant about Roger Clemens over at Slate.

posted by Dan at 10:35 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

Checking important facts and counterfactuals

I've blogged about the outfit named Iraq Body Count (IBC) and its dubious methodology before.

As David Adesnik points out, mainstream media outlets still rely on IBC for their figures -- click here for samples. Adesnik explains why that's a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the Snate Intelligence report leads Kevin Drum to raise an important counterfactual -- given what we now know, would the Senate have voted to authorize the use of force back in October 2002? Senator Pat Roberts thinks the answer is no:

I think the whole premise would have changed, I think the whole debate would have changed, and I think that the response would have changed in terms of any kind of military plans. Very difficult to look in the rear-view mirror, 20/20 hindsight and say what you would have done under those circumstances. Jay [Rockefeller] has indicated he wouldn't have voted for it. Jay has also indicated that there probably wouldn't have been the votes to go to war. I think if we went back to the no-fly zones and the resolutions by the U.N. and an awful lot of talk, I doubt if the votes would have been there.

Andrew Sullivan points out the stark implications of that statement:

So if we had had accurate intelligence, the war would not have taken place. I reiterate: I'm still glad we fought it. But this remains one of the biggest government screw-ups in recent history. It has made future pre-emption based on intelligence close to impossible. And President Bush is ultimately responsible for this. Tenet has taken the fall, but it will take years and years before the U.S. regains the reputation for credibility that this president has destroyed. Even if you believe that Bush is still the best man to fight this war, you also have to concede that his record includes at least one massive error, and one that will cripple our ability to fight the war in the future.

Bush's response to the brouhaha is here: ''We removed a declared enemy of America who had the capability of producing weapons of mass murder and could have passed that capability to terrorists bent on acquiring them."

The thing that bothers me about that response is the failure to recognize that the decision-making process was a) not good; and b) relied on faulty intel. Sullivan thinks Bush bears at least some responsibility for the latter, and I certainly think he bears a great deal of responsibility for the former.

posted by Dan at 12:51 AM | Comments (88) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Timesmen really do not like their ombudsman

James Brander has a front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required should be their free article of the day*) chronicling how Daniel Okrent has fit in as the New York Times ombudsman. The answer would seem to be "poorly":

Daniel Okrent, a veteran magazine editor, has been the Times's public editor for seven months. But instead of bringing calm, the experiment has created fresh tensions within the Times about such subjects as the paper's coverage of weapons of mass destruction.

Some editors complain Mr. Okrent's questions are a nuisance, and also complain when he doesn't seek them out for comment. One reporter encouraged colleagues to ask confrontational questions in a meeting between Mr. Okrent and business-section reporters. "Sometimes you have to treat others like the Russians -- you have to demonstrate strength," says the reporter, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner. "I'm just waiting for him to screw up," Mr. Okrent retorts in an interview. He hastens to say the comment was a joke and that he will avoid tackling any issue concerning Mr. Johnston.

More recently, in an e-mail exchange, Times Executive Editor Bill Keller complained to Mr. Okrent about inquiries he was making for his column yesterday about a case of alleged child abuse. "i've got to say: man, you need a vacation," Mr. Keller wrote. "It's called reporting, right?" Mr. Okrent replied....

Mr. Okrent, 56 years old, says his first months at the Times were "very, very difficult." The paper, he says, "has a very strong immune system, and I was a different kind of antigen.... If there had been three public editors before me, the body might have absorbed it a little bit better."

It gets better:

The section in which Mr. Okrent's columns appear, Sunday's Week in Review, hasn't been particularly hospitable either. In early April, Mr. Okrent asked the section's editor, Katherine Roberts, for a response to reader queries about the difference between Week in Review articles and regular news pieces. Ms. Roberts says she initially ignored Mr. Okrent's e-mails. When she did reply, Mr. Okrent thought the answer incomplete.

Ms. Roberts says she felt Mr. Okrent could have found the answer by simply reading the section. "Did I drop the ball and not give him what he wanted?" she asks. "Yes." She concedes her behavior was "somewhat churlish."

Ms. Roberts was also peeved over the length of the public editor's column. Mr. Okrent now prefers to avoid dealing directly with Ms. Roberts, and communicates instead through one of the section's deputies. Ms. Roberts says she accepts the public editor as a fact of daily life. "Now it's here, and we live with it," she says.

The article concludes with nice-sounding words from everyone involved about how the Times is adjusting. And then there's the closing paragraph:

Mr. Okrent's puncturing days will be over after his term ends. From the beginning, Mr. Okrent said he wasn't planning on staying more than 18 months. When asked, he is able to pinpoint the exact time remaining on his contract. "It's like a prisoner's calendar," says Mr. Okrent's wife, Rebecca. "Crossing off the days."

*I will be linking more frequently to the Journal from now on, because I finally have an online subscription. This comes courtesy of my genius brother. Thanks, JBD!

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis has more (link via Sullivan).

posted by Dan at 01:38 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

This amuses the s*** out of me

I do love musical satire. (link via Daniel Urman)

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

This officially scares the s*** out of me

Matt Drudge links to the following Michael Isikoff exclusive in Newsweek:

American counterterrorism officials, citing what they call "alarming" intelligence about a possible Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall, are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of such an attack, NEWSWEEK has learned....

Ridge's department last week asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call. Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously—along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.

Stephen Green thinks this idea is so politically stupid that it must be a disinformation campaign to fool Al Qaeda. James Joyner thinks this kind of contingency planning is unfortunate but inevitable:

Everyone seems to be focusing on the public psyche after an attack and its impact on swinging votes. It seems to me there are other considerations. What if a terrorist attack made voting impossible in New York City, Chicago, or San Francisco? That could conceivably create incredibly illegitimate results in a close presidential election--not to mention Senate races. Would we really want to re-elect President Bush narrowly in a contest where Kerry strongholds were unable to participate?

Joe Gandelman concurs:

You do NOT want Al Qaeda to be able to influence an election. But if you postpone an election YOU are influencing an election and assuming that voting choices will be made due due to the attack and not on other matters as well.

Replace "YOU" with "The Bush administration" -- since they're the one's making this call -- and Gandelman's graf has a much more sinister cast to it.

I have a pretty low tolerance for conspiracy theories. That said, my gut reaction is that this proposal is so stupid that the administration would deserve having the craziest conspiracy theories out there sticking to them if they took this idea seriously.

Actually, it's worse than that -- what does it say that three years after 9/11, the Bush administration's counterterrorism and homeland defense policies are so weak that they have to contemplate changing the national election date rather than relying in our supposedly enhanced defences?

UPDATE: Patrick Belton has some thoughts that are more sophisticated than my gut instinct but make pretty much the same point.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Hmmm.... re-reading the Isikoff story, I'll walk back my indignation just a bit. My first impression -- from Isikoff's lead graf -- was that Ridge and DHS wanted to ability to postpone Election Day because they anticipated an attack. But that's not the case -- they want the authority to postpone after an attack has taken place that's close to or on Election Day.

I still think this is a very, very, very bad idea, but it's a slightly less conspiracy-prone idea than at first blush.

A THIRD UPDATE: Eugene Volokh and Jack Balkin have some useful thoughts on the matter. Balkin in particular more eloquently delineates my two concerns:

The fact that a terrorist attack might influence voters one way or the other is not a reason to cancel an election. Lots of things happen before elections that can influence voters. Rather, the reason to postpone an election is that it is simply not possible to conduct the election in a particular jurisdiction, because, for example, there are dead bodies lying everywhere or buildings have been blown up and local services have to be diverted to matters of life and death. The September 11th attacks shut down large parts of New York and diverted essential services. It was no time to have an election. If a terrorist attack occurred on Election Day, it would make sense to postpone the election in the place where the attack occurred, but not everywhere in the country. (Note that under current law, states may pass new legislation rescheduling the election without Congress's intervention). One can imagine situations in which an election would have to be postponed everywhere, but they would be truly terrible situations, ones that effectively brought the entire country to a halt....

[F]inally, there are important structural reasons why the decision to postpone an election should rest in Congress, and should not be delegated to the Executive, as the Office of Homeland Security has recently suggested. The reason is that the Executive focuses decisionmaking in one person who is a member of one political party, while Congress consists of members of both parties representing all different parts of the country.

There is an enormous temptation for the Executive to overstate the danger in order to keep itself in power and bolster its chances in a postponed election. To be sure, there is also a danger of self-dealing in Congress. Nevertheless, that danger is mitigated by the fact that Congress is not unitary in the same way that the Executive is. If Congress were to consider such legislation, even in an emergency, the need to form a bipartisan consensus would be very strong, and this would help ensure that this very difficult decision was made for the right reasons.

posted by Dan at 11:13 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (4)

(Some) bloggers get (a little bit) rich

Maureen Ryan reports in the Chicago Tribune that bloggers are starting to rake in the bucks:

A year ago, blogger Glenn Reynolds joked to the Tribune that he was making "burger-flipping" wages from the trickle of funds readers donated to his popular Web site,

These days, Reynolds can afford to order steak. Since he began accepting advertisements on his site five months ago, has been bringing in several thousand dollars a month.

It's starting to look as if bloggers can make a living from their sites, thanks to an advertising boom. Companies who want to reach specific consumers -- current-events mavens, conservative PhDs, cell phone fanatics -- are hooking up with blogs that can deliver those eyeballs. Some politically oriented blogs are also riding an election-year advertising wave, but industry experts expect the trend to last well beyond November....

"It's really just taken off the last few months," says John Hawkins of, a Blogads client who says he cracked $1,000 in monthly ad profits for the first time in June.

Advertisers have started to realize that some of their most well-heeled customers spend a decent chunk of their Web time reading such blogs as the politically obsessed Eschaton (, the Washington, D.C., gossip site and the cell-phone fanatic blog

Blogads offers ad rates tied to its clients' Internet traffic -- the more visitors, the higher the rate for an ad on that site. Given that some sites have been running as many as 15 ads at a time, a little back-of-an-envelope math shows that several of Blogads' top clients are likely clearing as much as $3,000-$5,000 a month.

That's a nice chunk of change for bloggers, especially the ones who would like to make blogging a full-time job.

But is this burgeoning advertising boom -- and it is a boom, since the top premium ad on Escaton cost $100 per month a year a go and $2,500 per month today -- built to last?

I will leave that question for my readers to discuss. However, Ryan reviews the various demographic surveys suggesting that the blog demographic is a lucrative and well-connected one:

"Every week for the last year, I had at least one advertiser say to me, `Who reads these things?'" says Henry Copeland, the founder of Blogads. "I wanted them to see for themselves that it's not just unemployed teenagers."

Far from it. In May, Copeland created a demographic survey and asked several of his blogging clients to alert their readers to it. Copeland had hoped that 10,000 blog readers would volunteer to click on the survey and answer its questions, but more than 17,000 did so.

And though the survey isn't a scientifically accurate sampling of blog readers, the folks who filled out the form appear to be a mature, well-heeled group. Sixty percent of the Blogads respondents said they are more than 30 years old, and almost 40 percent reported they have a household income of more than $90,000.

Perhaps most important to advertisers, half of those who took the Blogads survey said that over the last six months they spent more than $50 online for books and more than $500 for plane tickets; 25 percent spent between $100-$500 on electronics via the Web.

A May poll of 20,000 readers of Talking Points Memo -- a different survey conducted independently of the Blogads poll -- reveals a similar level of prosperity. Forty-five percent of TPM's survey respondents said they have advanced degrees, and 52 percent claimed incomes of more than $75,000 a year.

That said, one should bear in mind that Ryan is really talking about the peak bloggers at this point. If John Hawkins is raking in $1,000 a month, that's great, but that's not a huge sum of money. [What about you?--ed. I bring in far less than Hawkins -- but I won't deny that it's gratifying to actually earn money from this little venture.] At this point, maybe 5-10 bloggers can earn a decent living from blogging. It's nice that there's a new job category for the BLS and IRS to consider, but we're not talking about a huge economic impact here.

posted by Dan at 09:56 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

Sunday, July 11, 2004

The new pamphleteers

Alan Wolfe has a long essay in the New York Times Book Review about the rise of the überpartisan political book. Here's how it opens:

Whether or not you can tell a book by its cover, you can generally tell a country by its books. If most political books are any indication, the way we argue now has been shaped by cable news and Weblogs; it's all ''gotcha'' commentary and attributions of bad faith. No emotion can be too angry and no exaggeration too incredible.

Yet if the technologies used by bloggers and hardballers are new, the form is older than the Republic. While they appear as books -- and are staples of the best-seller lists -- today's give-no-quarter attacks, as George Packer noted recently of bloggers, have their origins in the pamphlets of the colonial era. ''Whatever the gravity of their themes or the spaciousness of their contents,'' Bernard Bailyn has written of these 18th-century op-ed articles, ''they were always essentially polemical.'' Long before deconstruction, we were fond of a hermeneutics of suspicion. We had partisanship even before we had parties. Our framers warned against the dangers of faction because we so rarely stood together. If you prefer your invective unseasoned by decorum, check out what the anti-Federalists had to say about the Constitution or how the Whigs treated ''King Andrew'' Jackson.

Judge our contemporary culture warriors by the standards of books, and they disappoint: logic, evidence and reason are conspicuously absent. Judge them by the standards of pamphleteering, and they may be doing democracy a favor, reminding our apathetic public why politics matters. Let me, then, apply the pamphlet standard to a slew of recently published volumes in which liberals and conservatives have at each other. Pamphleteering flourishes because in both publishing and politics, established elites and institutions are no longer able to ensure consensus and insist on moderation.

One does wonder which blogs Wolfe reads -- while I don't deny that some of them fit his description of "today's give-no-quarter attacks," that's hardly a fair chatacterization of the blogosphere as a whole.

Furthermore, while Wolfe focuses on books, one could make the case that documentary filmmakers actually fit the phamphlet niche even better than authors or bloggers. Hey, in fact, Robert Boynton makes this very point in a New York Times Magazine story on an upcoming documentary about Fox News. One highlight:

The populist MoveOn and the more centrist Center for American Progress collaborated with [documentary filmmaker Robert] Greenwald on ''Uncovered.'' Both sensed that film was becoming an important medium for disseminating their anti-Bush, antiwar messages -- different though the organization's politics are -- and both provided financial support and helped spread the word. Podesta says that this kind of multimedia, multiorganization project is an effective way of reaching a younger demographic, which policy groups traditionally have difficulty courting. ''Given the choice between sponsoring a policy book that nobody reads and a documentary that sells 100,000 copies and is seen all over the country,'' he says, ''I'll opt for the latter.'' In the first half of what Greenwald calls his ''upstairs-downstairs'' distribution model, Podesta saw to it that every member of the United States Senate and House of Representatives was invited to a screening of ''Uncovered''; the Center for American Progress also sponsored additional screenings at other elite institutions in Washington and Cambridge, Mass.

Meanwhile, ''downstairs,'' MoveOn alerted its 2.2 million members to the film and sponsored about 2,600 ''house parties'' on the night that ''Uncovered'' was released. From Anchorage to Boston, people plugged their ZIP code into MoveOn's Web site, located the nearest party and watched and discussed the film with a few dozen of their fellow citizens.

Lawrence Konner, a screenwriter and producer whose production company, the Documentary Campaign, made ''Persons of Interest,'' a film about Muslim detainees in the United States, says that ''Uncovered'' ''demonstrated to the rest of us that there was a new way of marketing a documentary.'' The film's grass-roots success attracted a distributor, Cinema Libre, which took it to Cannes and sold it all over the world. A new version with additional material is scheduled for theatrical release in the United States on Aug. 13.

Greenwald's office is now a veritable progressive-documentary incubator: future projects include a brief film for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and ''Unconstitutional,'' a movie about post-9/11 civil liberties violations that is supported by the A.C.L.U. Some in the entertainment industry argue that the collaboration between Greenwald and his political partners promises a new paradigm -- one in which Hollywood entertainers contribute their skills to a political cause rather than just their cash and left-leaning pieties. ''It used to be that the only time political people came to Hollywood was to go to parties and raise money,'' says Julie Bergman Sender, who has produced films like ''G.I. Jane'' and made short issue-advocacy films for political groups like America Coming Together, the grass-roots organization backed by George Soros. ''But now we're showing them that we can do more than write checks.''

Jim Gilliam, a 26-year-old former dot-com executive and a producer of ''Outfoxed,'' is enthusiastic about the way Greenwald's projects meld grass-roots politics with the culture of the Internet. He predicts a future -- augured by events like MoveOn's competition for the best 30-second anti-Bush advertisement -- in which young political filmmakers will be as likely to wield a camera phone as a digital camera. ''It won't be long before people will be shooting and editing short documentaries that they'll stream from their blogs,'' he says. If the Internet, as media critics like Jon Katz have suggested, has resuscitated the fiery journalistic spirit of Thomas Paine, guerrilla documentaries offer to put that polemical attitude in the director's chair.

OK, so maybe blogs are a form of pamphleteering -- but they're not the only form, and they have other uses.

[On a side note, Michelle Kung makes a similar point about documentaries in an Entertainment Weekly article on the rise of documentarians (subscription required). The nut graf:

Fed by the reality TV craze and led by [Michael] Moore's advocacy approach (pioneered in ''Roger & Me''), documentarians are taking a page from the portly provocateur's handbook and infusing their films with punchier writing, flashier editing, and hipper soundtracks. Movies that wear their agendas on their sleeve are resonating with media-savvy audiences who want some passion and POV with their popcorn.

In a sidebar to the story, it turns out that six of the top ten grossing documentaries have come out in the last two years.]

To get back to Wolfe's essay, his conclusion deals with decline and fall of the Establishment consensus:

We cannot expect today's political books to stand up to the weightier tomes of the 1950's and 60's, since the Establishment that sponsored the latter no longer exists. Our pamphleteers spend so much time debating each other's media prominence because both sides recognize that there is no national interest for which any one journalist can speak; when the war in Iraq ends, it will not be because a television anchor pronounced it a futile enterprise, as Walter Cronkite famously did during Vietnam. Right and left continue to debate the 2000 election because even the Supreme Court proved itself incapable of making an impartial decision. They accuse each other of treason because no ''wise men'' can be found with the ability to define the proper use of American power. Pamphleteering is what happens when no one -- editorial writers, university professors, publishing executives -- is doing much ''filtering.'' Without strong political parties and powerful labor unions, Arianna Huffington's and Sean Hannity's politics is the kind of politics you get.

For all their ugliness of language and unpersuasive fury, then, the current crop of political pamphlets bears a striking resemblance to the increasingly democratic culture in which they flourish. If their authors are poorly versed in American history, so are the young executives talking about the election at the airport bar while waiting for their connecting flights. If these books treat their side as good and their opponents as evil, so do the sermons in our booming evangelical churches. The style is melodramatic, but that is also true of ''Troy.'' Our political culture cannot be immune from the rest of our culture. The model for political argument these days is not the Book-of-the-Month Club but

If the only choice we have is between no politics and vituperative politics, the latter is -- just barely -- preferable. Of course this could change if we recreated an Establishment that decided which television programs we would watch and how much dissent we would permit -- a prospect as unlikely (because the Establishment is gone) as it would be unwelcome (because it would constitute censorship). In the meantime, we argue about politics and even argue about how we argue about politics, just what you might expect when no one is in charge but ourselves.

Two quick, slapdash thoughts on this:

1) If the establishment is on the wane, it's not a recent phenomenon. David Broder wrote about the decline of the Vital Center in The Party's Over: The Failure of Politics in America back in 1972. Some will say that we've been experiencing an inexorable slide towards greater partisanship since then. I think it's a bit more cyclical, and while we're undoubtedly in a hyperpartisan mode right now because of the election, these things do wax and wane. The desire for "normalcy" is a powerful one in the United States, and should not be lightly dismissed.

2) Nevertheless, one wonders if, as I wrote about earlier this week, there is a macro-scale effect in the extent to which partisanship is an increasing function of political participation. As more people become politically active, the greater the extent of partisan pamphleteering as opposed to more moderate discourse. In other words, I wonder whether Wolfe has his causality backwards. It's not that the decline of the Establishment elites have led to greater democratic participation and hence, greater rancor. It's that technological innovations like blogging software and digital video have generated a secular increase in reduced the transaction costs for democratic participation. Since those on the fringes tend to have a greater incentive to participate, these technological innovations help to crowd out the establishment.

I'm still trying to get a grip on this latter point -- but readers should feel free to tell me whether I'm actually on to something -- or if this is just an exercise in shrill hackery.

UPDATE: One other graf struck me while I was reading Wolfe's essay:

Brock also fails to grasp the conflicts that have emerged within right-wing punditry since he served in its ranks. Chris Matthews was not a supporter of the war in Iraq and Bill O'Reilly has serious questions about it. Lou Dobbs now sounds like Dick Gephardt when he discusses outsourcing. Andrew Sullivan's position on gay marriage is anathema to many other conservatives. Conservatives may well have shared a party line when they were out of power, but now that they have an actual president advancing their worldview, their ideas suddenly have consequences -- and turmoil is the inevitable result. Libertarians attack Bush's statism; fiscal conservatives, his big spending. This kind of behavior among liberals is called political suicide.

Y'know, for someone who appears to disdain blogs, Wolfe seem awfully familiar with the content of some blogs.

posted by Dan at 04:05 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Joseph Wilson's eroding credibility

I've been pretty hard in this space on l'affaire Plame. So it seems only fair to point out that Joseph Wilson's credibility has taken a serious hit with the release of the Senate intelligence committee report. According to the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt:

Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly.

Wilson last year launched a public firestorm with his accusations that the administration had manipulated intelligence to build a case for war. He has said that his trip to Niger should have laid to rest any notion that Iraq sought uranium there and has said his findings were ignored by the White House.

Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report.

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address....

The report also said Wilson provided misleading information to The Washington Post last June. He said then that he concluded the Niger intelligence was based on documents that had clearly been forged because "the dates were wrong and the names were wrong."

"Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the 'dates were wrong and the names were wrong' when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports," the Senate panel said. Wilson told the panel he may have been confused and may have "misspoken" to reporters. The documents -- purported sales agreements between Niger and Iraq -- were not in U.S. hands until eight months after Wilson made his trip to Niger.

Josh Marshall argues that Schmidt is just parroting Republican staffers -- as opposed to Josh, who would never just parrot Democratic staffers.

Marshall approvingly links to a Knight-Ridder report by James Kuhnhenn entitled "Ex-ambassador didn't 'debunk' Iraq-Niger deal." That's not exactly a friendly headline for Wilson. Kuhnhenn does not go as far as Schmidt in debunking Wilson -- but then again, Marshall fails to acknowledge that Wilson apparently lied to the Washington Post last June.

Marshall makes a valid point when he says:

There's no 'challenging the bona fides of a political opponent' exception to the law in question. While Plame's alleged role may have some political traction, it's legally irrelevant. Government officials are not allowed to disclose the identity of covert intelligence agents, whether they feel like they have a good reason or not.

Nevertheless, there's a reason this has political traction. The apparent disconnect between what Wilson said in his report versus what he said in June 2003 -- combined with Plame's role in hiring Wilson in the first place, contrary to previous reports -- make it appear that both of them were lying in order to try to embrrass the administration.

This does not excuse whoever leaked Plame's identity to Novak. It does, however, provide an more understandable motivation than simple intimidation.

UPDATE: Pejman Yousefzadeh has a round-up of links in addition to his own analysis on Wilson. Greg Djerejian and Tom Maguire are also essential reading on this front.

posted by Dan at 04:23 PM | Comments (85) | Trackbacks (4)

Trade and the productivity puzzle

In recent days and weeks, in various venues, Brad DeLong, Arnold Kling, and Virginia Postrel have stressed the importance of elevated productivity growth in the American economy. To quote DeLong:

On the structural side, the American economy has been growing fast over the past four years. The productive potential of the American economy has grown at an extremely rapid pace. But the rapid growth has not been the result of high investment (more capital). In fact, the rate of investment has been markedly slower than in the late 1990s. It has also not been the result of any action taken by the Bush Administration....

This story of positive structural changes in the American economy – the very rapid growth of potential output – is the big story about the economy during the past four years. It's important both at the macro level – why is output-per-man-hour 20 percent higher than it was five years ago? – and at the micro level – how are people today doing their jobs and being 30 percent more productive than their predecessors of a decade ago? The news media aren't covering this well. Yet it's the really big story about the economy in the Twenty-First century.

I've also recently blogged about this topic here and here.

However, as a public service of, I thought it worth linking to important and accessible discussions about the current productivity boom. Federal Reserve Vice-President Roger W. Ferguson gave a speech two days ago on the topic that's worth reading.

Shorter Ferguson -- the incredibly elevated productivity boom of the last three years is a temporary artifact of the recent economic downturn, and is not likely to last. On the other hand, the trend increase in productivity that's occurred since the early nineties is likely to persist for some time.

Of course, Ferguson has caveats to his prognostication. Here's one of them:

Although the exhaustion of technological possibilities seems unlikely to slow trend productivity growth, adverse changes in the economic, legal, and financial environment could threaten the longevity of the current productivity boom. For example, economists have long noted that free trade--and the specialization and economies of scale that it affords--fosters productivity increases. That our most recent productivity boom occurred against a backdrop of freer trade and increased globalization is likely no coincidence. However, the momentum for the liberalization of global trade now appears to be facing strong resistance. A halt in the movement toward freer trade or outright backsliding, such as the erection of new barriers to the trade of goods or services, would endanger the sustainability of the current productivity boom. Some observers believe that security-enhancing limitations on the international flow of capital, labor, and goods in response to an increased terrorist threat could have similar effects.

Read the whole speech.

posted by Dan at 12:59 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 9, 2004

Why Capturing the Friedmans freaked me out

Like David Bernstein, I watched Capturing the Friedmans last night and have not been able to not shake the heebie-jeebies since then. The reason?


The movie is about the bizarre case of Arnold Friedman, an award-winning teacher who lived with his wife and three children in Great Neck, NY. He tutored children in piano and computers on the side. In the late eighties, Friedman was arrested for solicitation of child pornography. Nassau County police started to investigate, and eventually charged Friedman and his 19-year old sone Jesse with sodomy and sexual abuse of minors. Eerily, during this entire episode, the family videoaped a lot of their deliberations about what to do. The documentary consists mostly of those videotapes plus contemporary interviews of the principals involved in the case.

After watching the movie, you come away convinced of two things:

1) Arnold Friedman is a pedophile who has sexually abused young children;

2) Arnold Friedman was, in all likelihood, innocent of the charges he faced.

For more on why I think this, read more from Debbie Nathan's Village Voice story (she appeared in Capturing the Friedmans as a talking head) and Harvey A. Silverglate and Carl Takei's discussion of the extras in the DVD version of the film.

What's so disturbing about the film is that watching it, I found myself desperately wanting Friedman to be guilty. However, it becomes clear that the dearth of physical evidence, combined with the questionable techniques employed in extracting information from alleged victims, raises a reasonable doubt about the Friedmans' guilt. Maybe something untoward happened, maybe not -- one has to think there's a high likelihood that Friedman would have molested a child in the future. All that said, the prosecution's version of events seems to stretch credulity. However, just because I want something to be true doesn't mean it is true.

Another reason I can't get the movie out of my head is the release of the Senate report on pre-war intelligence about Iraq. Here's a summary from the Financial Times.

The report blasts the intelligence community because it "ignored evidence that did not fit their preconceived notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction." However, the report finds that "no evidence that intelligence analysts were subjected to overt political pressure to tailor their findings," according to the New York Times.

Conservatives are outraged that the intel community suffered from such groupthink. Liberals like Josh Marshall are outraged because their groupthink that the Bush team browbeat the intelligence analysts found no support in the report.

In other words, a lot of people are disturbed because their preconceived notions of the turth did not find any empirical support.

Those outraged on both sides of the aisle should rent Capturing the Friedmans, and then take a good hard look at the evidence they've got to back up their assumptions.

UPDATE: the following paragraphs jumped out in Mike Dorning's story on the Senae report in the Chicago Tribune:

The U.S. was handicapped in accurately assessing Iraqi weapons programs, the committee found, because intelligence agencies had not made development of Iraqi sources a top priority. Instead, spy agencies depended on UN weapons inspectors to collect information for them until the inspectors were thrown out in 1998.

Consequently, after that the U.S. did not have a single human intelligence source of its own inside Iraq collecting information about its weapons programs, according to the report.

The report said intelligence officials attributed the difficulty in developing sources to the lack of an official U.S government presence such as an embassy to provide cover for clandestine intelligence case officers. The panel said the spy agencies appeared to have concluded it was too risky to send in an intelligence officer without official cover.

An idle question: if the CIA thought sending an intelligence agent to Iraq without official cover was too risky, is there anywhere the CIA would be willing to take this risk? What is the cost of this risk-aversion?

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matt Yglesias thinks I should know better:

This makes it sound like the political pressure theory is just something Josh cooked up sitting in his armchair at the R Street Starbucks but there are some serious issues to grapple with here.

The political pressure meme is supported by original reporting in anti-war liberal magazines like The American Prospect, The Nation, and Mother Jones by Jason Vest, Bob Dreyfuss, Laura Rozen and others, while pro-war liberal magazines like The New Yorker and The New Republic have printed original reporting on this subject by Seymor Hersh, John Judis, Spencer Ackerman and others. Perhaps these people are all wrong -- being misled by their sources, say -- but it's not some crazy idea they made up one morning.

I certainly wasn't trying to give the impression that Matt got, and I agree on the extent of the reportage here. However, the point of connecting this post to Capturing the Friedmans was that -- as in that movie -- a massive amount of circumstantial evidence can still lead to an incorrect conclusion. It was logical to assume that, since Saddam Hussein had attempted multiple times to acquire WMD, he'd be doing so post-9/11. The exile reports merely buttressed the preconception. Among those who believe the Bush administration to be a bullying, illiberal, overly power-maximizing bunch, I can easily see this meme being the logical conclusion as well. That doesn't guarantee that it' true, however.

posted by Dan at 03:38 PM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (0)

Don't rush me off the fence, part II

Virginia Postrel argues that fence-straddlers like me should resist the decision to despise George W. Bush because all the cool academics do it (Jacob Levy effectively defends himself against charges of trendiness).

More substantively, she argues that a Kerry administration would expand the size of government even more than a second Bush term:

Vote for Kerry if you must, folks. But don't pretend you're doing it because Bush's economic policies are insufficiently free market or fiscally responsible. Kerry wouldn't be any better on economics. He'd be worse.

Tyler Cowen supplies a counterargument. Some of it is compelling, but this part baffles me:

I look less at what politicians say, and more at what kind of coalition they would have to build to rule. The high domestic spending of Bush I take as a sign of perceived political weakness ("we need to buy more allies"), rather than a reflection of Bush's ideology.

Huh? This is an administration that controlled all three branches of government for a majority of the first term -- and they felt confident enough in their political position to piss off Jim Jeffords less than three months into office. Compared to most post-war governments, the Bush administration had fewer constraints on its governing coalition.

Meanwhile Robert Tagorda argues that Kerry's selection of Edwards hints at a more protectionist Kerry administration:

Whatever his overall record, Edwards is now associated with these "trade-bashing noises." Nobody believes that Edwards adds to the Democratic Party's national-security profile, right? He brings excitement, charisma, and message -- the "Two Americas," of which a skeptical attitude toward free trade is a part.

However, Ryan Lizza argues in The New Republic that this is a rhetorical smokescreen (thanks to this anonymous link):

The one major policy difference between Kerry and Edwards during the primaries was over free trade. Edwards attacked Kerry's vote for nafta, but, notably, he never called for its repeal and his criticism always smacked more of opportunism than of conviction. He didn't raise the issue strenuously until after Richard Gephardt was gone from the race, when he saw an opening with organized labor and working-class voters on Kerry's left. These attacks on free trade were an awkward fit with the rest of Edwards's middle-class, New Democrat agenda, and they will clearly not be a major feature of the Kerry-Edwards rhetoric.

The more I think about my choice, the more this election boils down to four questions:

1) Which candidate will prove most successful in prosecuting the War on Terror?

2) Which candidate is more likely to finish the job in Iraq?

3) Which do I prefer, a moderate increase in government spending accompsnied by a massive increase in the budget deficit, or a massive increase in government spending accompanied by a moderate decrease in the budget deficit?

4) Which John Kerry -- the internationalist or the populist -- would govern his foreign economic policy? Which George Bush -- the guy who talks a good game on trade or the guy who slaps steel tariffs on when he's got an 85% approval rating -- would have the upper hand in a second term?


UPDATE: Ezra Klein gives his answers to my Four Questions.

Roger L. Simon weighs in on the War on Terror and rebuts Mickey Kaus' line of argumentation.

On my first question, this Kerry answer on Larry King Live is not comforting:

KING: Let's get to, first thing's first, news of the day. Tom Ridge warned today about al Qaeda plans of a large-scale attack on the United States, didn't increase the -- do you see any politics in this? What's your reaction?

KERRY: Well, I haven't been briefed yet, Larry. They have offered to brief me; I just haven't had time. But all Americans are united in our efforts to defeat terrorism.

Later on, Kerry says he'll get briefed "tomorrow or the next day." On the other hand, this Washington Post story on Edwards' foreign policy background makes me believe that he does get the significance of the war on terrorism (link via Jack O'Toole).

[So your qualms about the administration's competence in foreign policy have been resolved?--ed. Hardly. I remain on the fence.]

posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (97) | Trackbacks (9)

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Rational discourse 1, conspiracy-mongering 0

What happens when a sober policy analyst who lives on the planet Earth tries to debate a wild-eyed conspiracy theorist?

Slate has the answer. For the past week, Rachel Bronson (a senior fellow and director of Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations) and Craig Unger (author of House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties and featured player in Fahrenheit 9/11) have been debating the U.S.-Saudi relationship in a Slate Dialogue. The specific question: "How Does the Saudi Relationship With the Bush Family Affect U.S. Foreign Policy?"

Although I doubt this was her intent, Bronson pretty much wipes the floor with Unger. While critical of the Bush administration, her comments, when paired next to Unger, makes the latter's theory and evidence collapse like a house of cards. It also clarifies the important distinction between conducting a serious critique of the administration's Middle East policy (particularly pre-9/11) and throwing as much mud as possible at the administration and hoping some of it will stick.

Go read the entire exchange here, here, and here -- excerpting it doesn't do the dialogue justice. I can, however, capture the tone of their exchange:

UNGER: A growing number of people are convinced that 2 + 2 = 5

BRONSON: No, 2 + 2 = 4

UNGER: Yes, but isn't it convenient that this so-called "4" happens to be so close to the number 5? Isn't is essentially true that 2 + 2 is within shouting distance of 5?

BRONSON: No, five is the number after four.

UNGER: Consider the words "four" and "five". They have the same number of letters, and both start with the letter "f". That can't be a coincidence.

BRONSON: I'm not sure I can understand your logic here.

UNGER: You can't understand or you refuse to understand?

[Full disclosure: I know Rachel and thought she was whip smart long before reading her clinical dissection of Unger's half-baked innuendo. I referenced her previous work in this post and in this TCS essay.]

UPDATE: Greg Djerejian concurs in my assessment.

posted by Dan at 04:55 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (3)

The latest cosmic mystery


Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman is having trouble meeting available men, according to the Associated Press:

Being a single mother makes it difficult to find a mate, says actress Nicole Kidman.

"I'm hoping to meet someone and be happy with them. But that's not as easy as it sounds. I'm a 37-year-old woman with two children. Men aren't beating a path to my door," she said in an interview published in the latest issue of "Now" magazine Wednesday.

"I don't want to sound like a woman from a lonely hearts club and I don't want to advertise. The children are my priority. I take them around with me — movies or baseball games or local shows — and that's not so appealing for any new man on the scene, is it?" she said.... "But I'm single and there's no-one out there for me at the moment." (emphasis added)

So, basically, Miss Kidman -- who has some noteworthy professional accomplishments on her vita and is by many accounts a charming conversationalist -- is having difficulties finding a kid-friendly boyfriend of a suitable age.

Let's take another gander at Nicole:



Possible explanations for this eligible bachelor gap:

1) Single men over the age of 30 are painfully shy;
2) Single men over the age of 30 are deathly afraid of rejection;
3) Single men over the age of 30 are morons.

posted by Dan at 04:18 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)

Don't rush me off the fence!!

As I've said before, my vote is still up for grabs this year. However, it's getting harder to maintain my Hamlet-like indecision.* A lot of people I respect make compelling arguments against pulling the elephant lever this year. Mickey Kaus -- who will never fall under the category of "Friends of Kerry" -- says he's not only voting for the Democrat -- he gave him money. Why?

I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need to take a time out from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking (an issue Josh Marshall's recent Atlantic piece doesn't resolve). But I don't intend to agonize like last time.]

Hell, even Peggy Noonan echoes point (a) of Mickey's logic in her last Wall Street Journal column:

History has been too dramatic the past 3 1/2 years. It has been too exciting. Economic recession, 9/11, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting with Europe. fighting with the U.N., boys going off to fight, Pat Tillman, beheadings. It has been so exciting. And my general sense of Americans is that we like things to be boring. Or rather we like history to be boring; we like our lives to be exciting. We like history to be like something Calvin Coolidge dreamed: dull, dull. dull. And then we complain about the dullness, and invent excitements that are the kind we really like: moon shots, spaceships, curing diseases. Big tax cuts that encourage big growth that creates lots of jobs for young people just out of school.

No, I am not suggesting all our recent excitement is Mr. Bush's fault. History handed him what it handed him. And no, I am not saying the decisions he took were wrong or right or some degree of either. I'm saying it's all for whatever reasons been more dramatic than Americans in general like history to be....

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

Plus, it's becoming less clear what the GOP stands for this year. Andrew Sullivan paints the following picture:

[W]hat is a "Bush Republican"? I think it has to be a combination of the social policy of the religious right (the FMA, bans on embryo research, government support for religious charities, etc), the fiscal policy of the Keynesian left (massive new domestic spending combined with "deficits don't matter"), and the foreign policy of liberal moralism (democratization as a policy in the Middle East).

I believe in the last component -- one reason why I'm still undecided -- but the first two make me think, "ewwwww."

Readers are welcomed to try and sway my vote in either direction.

UPDATE: Virginia Postrel's post does some decent swaying.

*Actually, it's not that hard -- the primary reason I'm still undecided is that the current domestic and international situations are both in extreme flux at the moment. There's no point in making a choice now if the state of the world is completely different three months -- in a way that makes one of the two principal candidates suddenly look really good or really bad. [Why not vote for a minor party candidate?--ed. Jacob Levy explains]

posted by Dan at 12:38 PM | Comments (107) | Trackbacks (7)

Bagel envy

Brad DeLong has an amusing post about a bagel store in Berkeley that solves the free disposal problem in a way that I like. Apparently, feeding them to goats is not the solution.

Meanwhile, the only semi-decent bagel shop in Hyde Park shut down a few months ago. To procure properly-made bagels, one has to schlep up to the north side of the city.

And don't get me started on the transaction costs involved in finding decent whitefish salad.

posted by Dan at 11:08 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

It's a protectionist, protectionist, protectionist protectionist world

One could argue that, since John Edwards leaned more protectionist than John Kerry during the primaries, that Kerry's selection for veep shows how illiberal a Kerry administration would be towards trade. It's a thought that certainly gives me qualms.

Until I contemplate the Bush administration. Back in September 2003, I wrote:

The most likely outcome [for trade policy] for the next 18 months is a policy of "hypocritical liberalization." The Doha round will proceed, as will the Middle East Free Trade Area. But the administration will take advantage of every exception, escape clause, and loophole at its disposal to protect vital constituencies from the vicissitudes of the global market. This will hurt the broad majority of American consumers and a healthy share of producers that rely on imported raw materials.

Last month I said why I didn't think this would change. Today, Steve Chapman's column in the Chicago Tribune unfortunately provides further confirmation of this hypothesis:

Do you like shrimp but wish it cost more? Need some bedroom furniture but hate getting a good deal on it? If so, you're very different from most Americans. You are, however, one of the few people who can rejoice in our national trade policies.

Politicians know that consumers in this country are more than happy to buy foreign goods if the quality is sufficient and the price is right. They also know that explicit efforts to shut out imports are usually political fool's gold, more likely to bring defeat than victory at the polls.

So how can our leaders cater to corporate executives and workers who resent competition, without looking like hidebound protectionists? Simple: They don't attack trade--they attack "dumping."

When it comes to trade, many Americans cherish the notion that we are victims of our innocent good-heartedness. In this picture, we're always being cynically exploited by underhanded foreigners while our own companies play by the rules. The laws against dumping are supposed to correct the problem by banning any imports that are sold below "fair value," a baffling concept understood by bureaucrats but not economists.

The Bush administration made use of the law this week when it proposed slapping shrimp producers from China and Vietnam with special import duties of up to 113 percent. Earlier, it had imposed such tariffs on wooden bedroom furniture from China. It's also taken steps toward similar action on all sorts of foreign items, including lumber from Canada, aluminum from South Africa and steel wire strand from South Korea.

A spokeswoman for the Commerce Department's International Trade Administration, when asked how many anti-dumping orders are currently in effect, responds as though I've invited her to count all the cactuses in Arizona. She can't come up with a tally on short notice but says the number is "in the hundreds, maybe more than hundreds." And that's not including all the ones that are pending.

For an administration that boasts of its devotion to tax cuts, these efforts represent an unnoticed and unwarranted tax increase, which will come out of the pockets of American manufacturers, retailers and consumers. It's also a violation of President Bush's supposed faith in free trade, which he touts as a contrast to Democrats who believe that, in his words, "the solution to jobs uncertainty is to isolate America from the world."

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: On the other hand, here's a story where mercantilists and free-traders can be pleased at the outcome.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

A primer on the elite academic job market

Jason Zengerle, in a TNR effort to knock down Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski a peg or two, criticizes new Duke President Richard Brodhead for kowtowing to Coach K's market value:

Never, it seems, has a coach had such an upper hand in a relationship with a university president as Krzyzewski has at Duke. Confronted with the prospect of Krzyzewski's departure, Brodhead essentially begged him to stay. He took Krzyzewski to dinner to tell him, as he later recounted, "how deeply he was valued here and how much I hope he'll stay ... [and] of my personal respect for him and our deep hope that he'll serve out the rest of his career at Duke." He joined a rally outside Duke's basketball arena, Cameron Indoor Stadium, to chant "Coach K, please stay!"--even locking arms with students to form a big human "K." And, of course, he approved unspecified "modifications" to Krzyzewski's lifetime contract with the school--which had been signed in 2001--that, while certainly falling short of the Lakers' $8-million-a-year offer, no doubt cushioned the steep opportunity cost to Krzyzewski of staying at Duke. It's hard to imagine Brodhead doing all this for a star history professor tempted by the Ivy League.

I'll grant Zengerle that an indoor rally is highly unlikely for a star history professor. However, the other two measures -- personal schmoozing by the president and matching an Ivy League offer -- would actually be quite likely from a private university with deep pockets --i.e., Duke.

In fact -- even for social sciences like history -- the academic job market strongly resembles baseball after free agency. Star academics flit from institution to institution, or threaten to do so unless their demands are sated. For example, last year the New York Times Magazine ran a story about New York University's latest recruitment drive. One tidbit from the story:

Academic wooing makes other forms of romance seem straightforward in comparison. It begins in rumor and often ends in abject spurning; its convolutions occur somewhere near the juncture of Freudian psychology and economic game theory. Academic economists appear to have a peculiarly keen interest in continually testing their market value by flirting with interested schools. Yaw Nyarko, who has been at N.Y.U. since 1988, says ''it's taken for granted'' that some advance their salaries by getting the school to match an offer from somewhere else. As such, a department in the suitor's role often finds itself expending time, energy and self-esteem on what turns out to be an elaborate tease. According to economics department chair Douglas] Gale, a typical batting average in senior faculty recruitment is about .200 -- that is, two hires for every 10 offers.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Overboard alert!

Josh Marshall -- in a follow-up to his Atlantic Monthly article on John Kerry's realist foreign policy principles -- has a provocative post up about the extent of the Bush administration's commitment to democratization. The key parts:

[W]hen you look at the actual record I think there is very little evidence that the assumption [that the Bush administration is focused on the goal of democracy promotion] is at all valid. I don't mean simply that the Bush administration has been unsuccessful or incompetent in pursuing its plans for democratization. I don't even mean that they've been hypocritical or inconsistent. I mean that democratization as a moral or strategic goal simply doesn't figure into the White House's plans.

Let's start with a review of the administration's record in the 189 UN member states whose governments the US has not overthrown in the last three and one half years....

Remember, the key here is the advancement of democracy not only as a good thing, a humanitarian gesture, a form of state-imposed meta-philanthropy, but as a way of advancing American national security. But for that to mean anything one would have to point to cases where we, or in this case, the administration made short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our long term interest in democratization.

And I cannot think of a single case whether in Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or Russia or China or Uzbekistan or anywhere where that has happened.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is not to say that the US should, willy nilly, upend friendly non-democracies with an indifference to American strategic interests. But if that's the model the administration is following then there's really, at best, no difference with previous administrations and the whole premise -- so widespread now in our political and foreign policy debates -- that the Bush administration is hawkish on democracy or neo-Wilsonian -- and that this is a departure from previous administrations or a potential Kerry administration -- is just an empty claim embraced by the inattentive and incurious. (bold emphasis added)

Josh makes an interesting argument, but I gotta call him on the bolded section, because in fact the Bush administration did take action in Egypt that fits Marshall's criteria.

In August 2002, after the arrest of democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the U.S. applied intense diplomatic and economic pressure at precisely the same time Iraq was moving to the very front burner. In particular, President Bush personally and publically criticized the Egyptian government, and the administration also declared a moratorium on new US assistance to Egypt as long as Ibrahim remained in prison.

Ibrahim was released in March 2003. Whether U.S. pressure accelerated or delayed Ibrahim's release is the subject of some debate -- but democratization activists of all stripes do agree that the U.S. risked a fair amount of diplomatic capital on the issue. The New York Times, in an March 19th, 2003 editorial, thought the pressure was a good thing:

To its considerable credit, last year the Bush administration froze additional aid to President Hosni Mubarak's government over Dr. Ibrahim's treatment. This pressure, and the efforts of human rights groups worldwide, helped persuade the government to back off and prosecute the case less aggressively

Given the timing of this pressure -- the start of the global debate on Iraq -- I'd say this counts as a situation when "short-term geopolitical sacrifices to advance our long term interest in democratization" were made -- in one of the countries Marshall highlights.

This example doesn't completely vitiate Marshall's point -- take U.S. policy towards Uzbekistan, for example -- but it does suggest that Marshall's exaggerating his case a bit.

Blog readers now may return to their "inattentive and incurious" mode.

UPDATE: While I'm discussing Egypt, David Remnick's "Letter from Cairo" in this week's New Yorker is a very sobering read.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides another counterexample for Marshall -- the case of Tunisia. Greg Djerejian rebuts Marshall on Georgia. And David Adesnik addresses the Iraqi exception.

YES, A THIRD UPDATE: Beyond individual countries, it's also worth mentioning the G8 Greater Middle East Initiative, a follow-up to earlier Bush proposals from last year. It's obviously way too soon to debate the effectiveness of the proposal, but Al Jazeera certainly believed it was going to cover states of strategic interest to the U.S.:

The original document, intended for internal distribution among designated senior officials of the G8 (group of eight industrialised countries), was meant to signal a new US plan for reform of the Middle East and some other Muslim-majority countries such as Pakistan, Iran and Turkey....

However, speculation is growing that the US plan may also take in other Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and the central Asian countries of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

AND NOW A FOURTH UPDATE: Earlier in this post, I gave Josh Uzbekistan as an example that supported his line of argumentation. Maybe I was too hasty -- Here's Central Asian expert Martha Brill Olcott's testimony to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on Uzbekistan's human rights situation (link via the Argus):

The [December 2003] decision by the U.S. Secretary of State to refuse to certify Uzbekistan as having made sufficient progress with regard to reforming human rights, got the attention of the government in Tashkent, and has already led to some small improvement, including a more open attitude toward the investigation of abuses in Uzbekistan's penal system.

By its actions in December the U.S. put the government of Uzbekistan on notice.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (70) | Trackbacks (10)

Minä haluan toisen kupin kahvia!

Pop quiz -- which country has the highest rate of coffee consumption in the world?

The language used in the post title is your clue.

Answer below the fold....

It's Finland!!

This fact comes from Janet Helm in today's Chicago Tribune, who writes about the health benefits that come from coffee consumption. The highlights:

Though the virtues of coffee drinking may have been debated in the past, now there appear to be new reasons to rejoice over java. More and more studies have linked coffee consumption to a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, gallstones, colon cancer and potentially heart disease.

"Coffee has much more in it than caffeine," said Dr. PeMartin, director of the Vanderbilt University's Institute for Coffee Studies, which conducts medical research on coffee and is funded by a grant from a consortium of coffee-producing countries. "It's a very complex beverage that contains hundreds of compounds, including many with antioxidant effects."

Though the tea industry has been touting its antioxidants, turns out coffee may contain even more--specifically polyphenols. One of the most potent antioxidants in coffee is called chlorogenic acid, which is partially responsible for the coffee flavor. Some reports estimate that more than 850 compounds are packed inside the humble bean....

Some of the strongest and latest research may be the connection between coffee drinking and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, a growing health epidemic that is closely linked to the rising rates of obesity.

In Finland, where coffee consumption is higher than anywhere else in the world, researchers found that coffee appeared to have a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes. The more cups of coffee consumed, the greater the protection.

Published in the March 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study examined the coffee-drinking habits of 6,974 Finnish men and 7,655 women. After a 12-year follow-up, women drinking three to four cups of coffee a day experienced a 29 percent reduced risk of diabetes, while risk dropped by 79 percent for women who drank 10 or more cups a day.

For men in the study, drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with a 27 percent lower risk for diabetes. Those men who drank 10 or more cups lowered their risk by 55 percent.

A second study examining an even larger population in the United States found similar results. After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers found that having six or more cups of coffee each day slashed men's risk of type 2 diabetes by 54 per-cent and women's by 30 percent compared to those who avoid coffee. Decaffeinated coffee had a weaker effect. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Before anyone starts consuming Brad DeLongish or Jacob Levyesque levels of coffee, be sure to read the caveat:

Though coffee may offer a bundle of benefits, nutritionists warn that you should choose your coffee drinks wisely. Some coffees--particularly the frozen or sweetened iced drinks--can pack a powerful caloric punch. Many are more like liquid candy or a slice of cheesecake than coffee. For instance, a 24-ounce Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino with whipped cream at Starbucks contains a whopping 780 calories and 19 grams of fat. A regular run for these drinks can pack on the pounds.

For college students, a study in the April issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests fancy coffee concoctions may be contributing to the "freshman 15." Researchers at Simmons College in Boston found that students who regularly drank gourmet coffees--cafe mochas, frozen coffee beverages and the like--consumed an extra 206 calories and 32 grams of sugar a day.

posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (6)

The partisan divide spreads to the high seas

Surfing the web, I see that both the National Review and The Nation are planning post-election cruises for kindred spirits (click here for the list of National Review speakers, and here for the list of The Nation speakers). Intriguingly, both of the cruises are with Holland America.

Far be it for me to mock either trip -- I'll leave that to the commenters!

Still, it's somehow disheartening to see that what I think of as more centrist publications -- like, say The New Republic, Slate, the Atlantic Monthly, or The Weekly Standard -- don't appear to be sponsoring any post-election cruises on their web sites.

[You mean, it's too bad that neither magazine has asked you to participate in a cruise?--ed. The thought had never crossed my mind -- until now! Holland America needs to sponsor a blogger cruise!! I can see it now -- fun, sun, and a guaranteed wireless connection for participating bloggers. Readers are hereby invited to suggest which bloggers they would want on their cruise and why.]

UPDATE: Digging just a shade deeper, I'm disappointed to see that while Reason magazine has a weekend getaway planned for early 2005 (with Volokh contributor Randy Barnett participating, no less), they have no cruise. They're missing an opportunity here. Just think:

Join the staff of Reason, and a few luminaries from the Cato Institute, for a week of pirateering! Learn how to fence, shoot, navigate, comandeer, and many other techniques of property rights enforcement as we board The Nation cruise for our own little exercise in "wealth redistribution" in the anarchic world of international waters. No need to pay anything up front -- your booty from a successful raid will be a more than sufficient fee! Act now!

posted by Dan at 01:14 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Is civility an endangered species in the blogosphere?

There's been a lot of chatter as of late about the civility of bloggers and the people who comment on them. A few weeks ago, Matthew Yglesias argued that bloggers had an incentive to behave badly:

The trouble is that when you write something really good, in the sense of being sober, on-point, factual, and tightly argued, your targets would do well to simply ignore you. And so they do. Maybe a person or two will recommend the story to their friends, but basically it vanished into the HTML ether. Something sloppy, offensive, over-the-top, or in some minor way inaccurate, by contrast, will provoke a flood of responses. If you're lucky, those responses will, themselves, be someone sloppy, and folks start defending you. Then you find yourself in the midst of a minor contretemps, and everyone gets more readers.

Brad DeLong concurs. Laura at Apartment 11D is similarly disgusted with bad big blogger behavior:

[A] nasty side effect of blogging is that hit counts can go to your head. Occasionally, hit counts can inflate egos creating not only the so-called pundits, but a hundred little bullies. Blogs are not soap boxes for speaking your mind, because bloggers don’t have to respond to hecklers in the audience. Blog readers don’t have the opportunity to hear responses to posts and weigh differing points of view. The heckler has been effectively silenced.

More recently, concerns have been raised about the comments on popular blogs as well. Billmon recently shut down comments at Whiskey Bar; The Command Post has done the same. Commenting on this -- as well as his own difficulties with impolite posters -- Kevin Drum observes:

I get questions about the vitriolic tone of the comment section here with some regularity, and my answer is usually the same: there's just not much that I can do about it. True, I can ban people, but that works only if they have a fixed IP address, which these days most people don't. What's more, if the ban fails, the recipient is often pissed off enough to try even harder to make a pain in the ass out of himself.

It's also true that the problem is exponential. A year ago I got 10-20 comments on each post and had no trolls. As a result, the conversation was relatively civil. Today I get 100+ comments per post and the site has at least half a dozen trolls whose only love in life (as near as I can tell) is to start flame wars. The result is a melee....

I don't have any plans to either get rid of comments or to moderate them, at least for now. But as more and more blogs cross the 10-20,000 reader mark, which is where comment sections seem to break down, I wonder if comments will increasingly become a thing of the past in the upper reaches of the blogosphere.

Kevin is not the only one to observe this degenerative phenomenon. James Joyner points out the following:

Certainly, there’s value in interaction with readers. Unfortunately, there seems to be a strange variation on the Gas Law with regard to blog comments: As blog readership expands, the quality of comments declines geometrically. When OTB had 500 readers a day, the vast majority of the comments—whether from people who agreed or disagreed with me—were quite good. With readership in the 5000-10,000 range, most comments are crap. Reading—let alone policing—the comments gets to be more trouble than it’s worth.

A few weeks ago, Glenn Reynolds made a similar point:

[A]s Eugene Volokh noted in a discussion of this topic a while back (read it, as I agree entirely and he said it better than I could, as usual), the worst part isn't the flaming by people who don't agree with you, it's the nasty comments by people who generally agree with you....

Some blogs, like Daniel Drezner's or Roger Simon's seem to avoid that problem most of the time, but I think it's a scaling issue -- up to a certain level of traffic it feels like a conversation, past that it degenerates into USENET. At any rate, I'd rather blog than deal with comments.

The other problem, which I've seen both at blogs I agree with and blogs I don't, is that bloggers can be captured by their commenters. It's immediate feedback, and it's interesting (it's about you!) and I can imagine it could become addictive. My impression is that often, instead of serving as a corrective to errors, comment sections tend to lure bloggers farther in the direction they already lean. Anyway, I worry about that.

Eerily enough, now Roger is having difficulties with commenters.

With such an impressive consensus, it is very tempting to just shrug one's shoulders and accept that there is a rhetorical version of Gresham's Law in the blogosphere. It is undoubtedly true that in the short run, provocative, vitriolic, and/or sloppy writing -- by either bloggers or commenters -- can attract attention, whereas closely reasoned analysis sometimes falls by the wayside. The fact that so many top-notch bloggers have made similar observation about the correlation between hit counts and trolls is indeed disturbing.

However, I remain stubbornly optimistic on this front for five reasons:*

1) In the long run, reputation matters. Sure, being a bombthrower can attract attention -- but it's hard to do successfully over a prolonged period of time. Inevitably this kind of ranting leads to major as well as minor missteps. Once a commentator commits a major rhetorical gaffe or colossal misstatement of fact, it becomes impossible to take them seriously. Which is why it's so easy to discount the statements of Ann Coulter, Noam Chomsky, Pat Robertson, or Michael Moore.

2) Technology can help as well as hinder. I've raved about MT-Blacklist before for blocking spam, but an unanticipated bonus has been the ease with which I can delete any comment. Blacklist rebuilds my site much more quickly than MT -- so it's been far easier to prune away comments now than before.

3) Commenters usually follow the blogger's lead. Whenever I use profanity in my posts, the language in the comments inevitably becomes coarser. This works in reverse, however -- the more civil my posts, the better the tone of the comments. In this respect, the presence of comments has affected me in one way -- I'm much more polite on the blog now than I used to be.

4) Compared to academia, this is a tea party. Another blogger once asked me whether I felt "surprised at the angry tone of the comments your readers leave... It can be odd to be shouted down on your own website."

Look, I'm an academic, and this stuff is nothing. I've attended seminars where the paper presenter ran out of the room because s/he was crying. I've presented papers that have been likened to poor undergratuate theses. I've had papers rejected by top journals because they were "narrow and without much theoretical interest." I've heard cruelties uttered that will be burned in people's psyches until the day they die. In other words, I'm used to a pretty high standard of criticism. Compared to that, a line like "Hey, Drezner, let's outsource your job, you f***ing a@#hole!" -- or letters like these -- just come off as histrionic nonsense.

5) Don't forget the benefits. Laura at Apartment 11D and Henry Farrell both point out the social value-added of blogs. Henry gets at something with this comment:

The most attractive ideal for the blogosphere that I’ve come across is in sociologist Richard Sennett’s brilliant, frustrating shaggy-dog of a book, The Fall of Public Man. Sennett is writing about the eighteenth century coffee-house as a place where people could escape from their private lives, reinventing themselves, and engaging in good conversation with others, regardless of their background or their everyday selves....

Like Sennett’s patronizers of coffee shops, bloggers don’t usually know each other before they start blogging, so that it’s quite easy for them to reinvent themselves if they like, and indeed to invent a pseudonym, or pseudonyms to disguise their real identity completely. This has its downside - some bloggers take it as license for offensive behaviour - but in general, if you don’t like a blog, you can simply stop reading it, or linking to it. The blogosphere seems less to me like a close-knit community (there isn’t much in the way of shared values, and only a bare minimum of shared norms), and more like a city neighborhood. An active, vibrant neighborhood when things are working; one with dog-turds littering the pavement when they’re not.

Eszter Hargittai has more on this.

As for comments, sure, the trolls can be annoying. However, they usually don't crowd out the good. For example, check out the comments to this post about rethinking the National Guard and Reserves. This is an issue on which I know only the broad contours -- and thanks to the informed comments (click here, here, here, and here for just a few examples) I know a lot more about the subject than I used to. For me, that benefit outweighs the occasional irritations that come from blogging.

*Two caveats. First, I don't have the traffic that Kevin, Glenn, Andrew, James or Michelle have. The scale factor is undeniable. Second, from now until November, extreme partisanship is going to be contributing factor to the level of discourse across the blogosphere.

UPDATE: CalGal poses a fair question in the comments:

If you can delete any comment you want, then how can you honestly declare that the comments are reflective of your reputation? An edited comments section is "letters to the editor" with you, the editor, deciding what feedback is worthy of your publication.

When you're at the point of blessing your software for making it easy to purge comments, it's time to get rid of comments entirely.

Actually, I'm blessing the software because without it, deleting a comment takes 10 minutes of rebuilding; without it, it takes 10 seconds. In a world with spam, that's not a minor convenience, it's a major one.

This does not mean that I delete a lot of comments, however -- you can read my criteria here. At this point, I'd say I delete maybe one comment a week that's not either spam or an accidental double post. I don't think that translates into a "letter to the editor" section.

posted by Dan at 05:29 PM | Comments (164) | Trackbacks (29)

Experts be warned!!

As an aspiring media whore, I feel compelled to warn fellow aspiring media whores that Comedy Central has a new show called Crossballs, a spoof of Crossfire/Hardball-style shows. The reason I bring this up is that the patsies on this show are -- expert commentators. Steve Johnson explains in the Chicago Tribune:

It's a concept neatly described in the opening credits, which also reference "Crossfire" and "Hardball": "comedians, posing as experts, debating real [experts] who don't know the show is fake."

Certainly, the shouting and screaming and polarization that is encouraged by real-life "issue shows" needs to be taken down a few pegs....

Could the nation survive without Chris Matthews? Yes, the nation could.

And "Crossballs," whose executive producers include the first-rate Matt Besser (Upright Citizens Brigade), does the job of satire quite nicely, thank you.

But it's even better in execution than in the concept. Besser is hilarious as a variety of yahoos, lowlifes and provocateurs. In Tuesday's first episode... he's a reality-TV veteran debating an actual actor trying to defend scripted fare.

On comes a mock film professor who argues that reality TV has knocked film out of the box. When the actor tries to argue the point, the professor says, "Sir, you're Donna Summers, and I'm Alicia Keys."....

Is this fair to the authentic experts? Probably not. But I have a feeling the show would work just as well if the real folk were let in on the joke from the start.

Matthew Gilbert sorta disagrees in the Boston Globe:

The twist here is that one of the experts in each episode is real, and not an actor, and he or she is supposedly being duped. Yes, "Crossballs" incorporates a touch of reality humiliation in its format, even in an episode that finds the panelists debating the humiliation on reality TV. Skewering the army of cable blowhards is a worthy and funny endeavor; ensnaring actual ones to ridicule them is less enjoyable.

Of course, these experts can't be very shrewd if they think they're on a real debate show. With a howling audience and panelists in favor of hunting animals with cars, the atmosphere is unmistakably, and sometimes hysterically, surreal.

Clueless media whores -- you've been warned!! [Do clueless media whores read Good point. That's our new motto -- " -- the blog for clued-in media whores!"]

posted by Dan at 11:49 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, July 5, 2004

Open veep selection thread

Matt Drudge says that everyone will know the identity of Kerry's VP pick tomorrow:

Kerry intends to begin calling the major candidates in contention around 7 a.m. Tuesday to give them the news of his choice...

Kerry's aides reported placards had been printed with three versions of the Democratic ticket: Kerry-Edwards, Kerry-Gephardt and Kerry-Vilsack, though they acknowledged that Kerry could still surprise even them with a different selection...

Kerry will appear at a big morning rally in Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh and announce choice at 9 a.m. Tuesday, before flying to Indianapolis.

Combining this AP report with ABC's The Note, I'd have to give the inside edge to Edwards, but really, who the hell knows?

Feel free to comment on the possibilities here. Beyond what I said about Gephardt before, I can't resist quoting Matthew Yglesias here:

In general Gephardt will give the GOP about seventeen million new votes to scrutinize for further flip-flops and differences with Kerry's. Also -- people hate him. Also -- no one likes him. I'm not saying that if Kerry picks Gephardt that then all of a sudden voting for Bush becomes a good idea, but picking Gephardt is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad idea and choosing that bad idea will reflect badly on Kerry. There's no getting around that.

UPDATE: Kerry picks Edwards -- get your talking points here!!:


  • Props to the Senator for choosing his most formidable rival for the nominattion, as well as someone he was visibly uncomfortable with just a few months ago. It shows a healthy ego on Kerry's part.

  • In the Internet age, Kerry actually managed to prevent his decision from leaking -- an impressive feat. Added bonus for Dems -- the New York Post has massive amounts of egg on its face.

  • The contrast with Cheney in a debate will probably help the donkey ticket. The knock on him is that he lacks experience and that the contrast with Cheney merely highlights this fact. However, this lowers expectations in a one-on-one with the VP -- and there's no way Edwards could do worse than Joe Lieberman in 2000. So, post-debate, Edwards wins!

  • Seriously, who else among the picks was gonna be better on the stump or gibe a better speech at the convention?

  • Props to Kerry -- he picked the cute protectionist who promotes class warfare over the ugly, robotic protectionist who promotes class warfare.

  • Kerry's first choice was McCain -- which says that a) the depth of the Democratic bench ain't that great; and b) Kerry's belief that McCain was a live possibility does not demonstrate the strongest political acumen

  • Trial lawyer!! Trial Lawyer!! TRIAL LAWYER!!! [Isn't that a bit stale?--ed. Not to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.]

  • The Edwards pick shows the diminishing returns of "regional" picks. Edwards probably won't bring a lot of Southern states with him -- but he probably plays better with swing voters across the country than Kerry's other options.

  • If Kerry wins, it will be a historic reversal of the Vice President's role. Since 1988, Vice Presidents have inserted themselves more and more into the policy process, culminating with Richard Cheney. While Edwards would obviously have some influence, it wouldn't be at the level of Cheney's portfolio.

  • If Kerry wins, this will echo Clinton's choice of Al Gore. If he loses, it will echo Dukakis' choice of Lloyd Bentsen.

  • Look for the Kerry team to play up the Kennedy echo during the campaign -- the Democratic ticket again consists of two sitting U.S. Senators, one from Massachusetts and one from south of the Mason-Dixon line.
  • LAST UPDATE: Robert G. Kaiser led an interesting online disacussion on on the Edwards pick that's worth checking out. This point was particularly interesting:

    I think the degree to which young voters can be mobilized this year is a key to Kerry's chances. Battleground polls, particularly the well-respected Ohio Poll, show that 18-25 (or is it 18-30?) year old voters heavily favor Kerry so far. If that holds, and if chosing Edwards encourages it, then obviously Kerry would benefit enormously from a big turnout of young voters.

    posted by Dan at 11:55 PM | Comments (67) | Trackbacks (6)

    The philosophy of Spider-Man 2

    Matthew Yglesias believes that Spider-Man 2 -- while being a good popcorn flick -- has a hollow philosophical core [WARNING: MASSIVE SPOLIER ALERT]:

    The thing of it is that you can't -- you just can't -- make a whole film whose entire theme is that sometimes in order to do the right thing you need to give up the thing you want most in life and then have it turn out in the end that chicks really dig guys who do the right thing and the hero gets the girl anyway. Just won't fly....

    For most of the film, Spiderman 2 is very good at dramatizing the reality of this ideal. Being the good guy -- doing the right thing -- really sucks, because doing the right thing doesn't just mean avoiding wrongdoing, it means taking affirmative action to prevent it. There's no time left for Peter's life, and his life is miserable. Virtue is not its own reward, it's virtue, the rewards go to the less consciencious. There's no implication that it's all worthwhile because God will make it right in the End Times, the life of the good guy is a bleak one. It's an interesting (and, I think, a correct) view and it's certainly one that deserves a skilled dramatization, which is what the film gives you right up until the very end. But then -- ta da! -- it turns out that everyone does get to be happy after all. A huge letdown.

    Henry Farrell posts a mild dissent, pointing out that this move is only part of a lonfer narrative arc:

    [W]hat Matt doesn’t take into account is that this is the second of three, closely interconnected movies. The first movie provides a thesis - that Spiderman has to renounce love in order to fight evil-doers, and take what joy he can from the solitary pleasures of web-slinging. The second is the antithesis - that he can too get Mary-Jane and swing between the roof-tops. The third, one can confidently predict, is going to be the synthesis - the discovery that balancing different responsibilities is a lot more difficult than Peter Parker thinks at the end of Spiderman 2. First witness for the prosecution: the mixed feelings playing across M-J’s face as Spiderman leaves her to chase after the cop-sirens, 30 seconds after she’s declared her undying love, engaged in passionate clinch etc etc.

    Having seen the movie myself -- with another philosophically-inclined blogger -- I agree with Brayden King that both Matt and Henry are omitting a crucial part of the philosophical equation:

    Peter’s choice really wasn’t entirely his to make. While he may have wanted to do one thing (forsake the love of his life for the good of all), there was another part to this equation that he couldn’t ignore or control - MJ. MJ made a choice that not only cancelled out Peter’s choice but actually turned the equation around, forcing Peter to take her back into his life.

    Indeed -- the women who went to see the movie with us -- i.e., our wives -- both said that they liked MJ's rejection of passivity at the end of the film, forcing Peter to deal with her as an equal.

    While I suspect that Matt is cool with female empowerment, he dislikes the notion that doing good rarely translates into doing well. As I just posted, however, I'm more optimistic than Matt on this score. Furthermore, as the movie suggests, deriving some sense of benefit from being Spiderman is essential to Peter Parker being able to continue to be Spider-Man.

    This does not mean that this tension between virtue and earthly reward is resolved, or that it ever will be permanently resolved. But the tension can be temporarily reconciled, which is what makes the ending of Spider-Man 2 satisfying and incomplete at the same time -- which is what the middle films in a multi-picture arc should accomplish.

    posted by Dan at 11:41 AM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (2)

    Life lessons from Robert Rubin

    Over the past few weeks I've been slowly reading Robert Rubin and Jacob Weisberg's In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington. The style of Rubin's memoirs perfectly match his deliberative demeanor. I'm not finished yet, but so far there are two things worth singling out as tips for those who aspire to pominent positions in their lives:

    p. 54: "Anyone who is honest about having done well will acknowledge the enormous role played by chance." To some this statement might be so obvious as to appear banal -- but as someone who's digested more than their fair share of memoirs, this might be the first time I've encountered an "eminent person" actually saying it out loud. I strongly suspect that many who have reached Rubin's stature believe that their success has little to do with luck and eveything to do with their own diligence, brilliance, piety, or strategy. It was nice to see -- and thoroughly appropriate from a man who lives by the princple of expected value theory.

    2) In recounting how his career progressed, Rubin goes into detail about what he did at Goldman Sachs. However, he also thinks that his non-profit and charitable activities were essential to advancement (p. 85):

    You can draw a... straighter line from my joining the board of ABT [American Ballet Theatre] to subsequent opportunities, because being on the board of an arts organization caused people to view me as someone who was involved in civic activities.... And so it went, with one involvement leading to another. The key was to get in motion to begin with.....

    [O]utside involements added other dimensions to my life, providing a glimpse of what other people's jobs and lives were like and an opportunity to contribute to purposes beyond my work. What's more, outside involvements helped my Goldman Sachs career, as I met well-established people who were also clients or potential clients of our firm.

    I've read a few other biographies that point to the same synergy between civic involvement and career advancement. Some might argue that this is an example of slef-interested behavior wrapped in the guise of acting the do-gooder. Me, I think tt's nice to see that it is possible to do well in part by doing good.

    posted by Dan at 11:02 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

    Why talking points are a good idea

    Brad DeLong and Matthew Yglesias both endorse and demonstrate the practice of developing their own talking points when they do television interviews. In a follow-up post, DeLong observes that the exercise is useful -- but does not necessarily translate into a better media appearance:

    The discipline of preparing talking points for TV forces us to focus and to strip our arguments down to their bare minimum, which is a very useful exercise. But when we actually get on TV, we are relatively feckless and ineffective. We treat the camera as a bizarre electro-photo-mechanical device, rather than as a human being we are talking to and in whose facial expressions and feedback we are greatly interested. Even or stripped-down arguments are still much too long--with many too many subordinate clauses and qualifications. And so (with tape) they chop us up. And (live) we get interrupted and the conversation moves on.

    Much better to use the internet, gaining (a) the space for print, and (b) the power of rapid response.

    I still hink Brad and Matt are onto something -- and it doesn't just apply to television. Read this outsourcing story (here's a link to part two) by Kamil Z. Skawinski in California Computer News, in which I'm quoted liberally -- too liberally. Skawinski did not misquote me, so it's not the media's fault. Reading the story, I wish I'd provided more focused answers and better message discipline -- I rambled too much and therefore did not express my views effectively. A set of talking points would have helped here -- and since this was a phone interview, I wouldn't have needed to memorize them.

    Live and learn.

    posted by Dan at 10:33 AM | Trackbacks (0)

    Saturday, July 3, 2004

    Rethinking the Guard and Reserves

    Thom Shanker's story in the Sunday New York Times explores how post-9/11 commitments will require a rethink of the National Guard and National Reserves in defese planning:

    The National Guard and Reserves must be fundamentally revamped if they are to carry the growing burden placed on them in support of the administration's military strategy, according to many commanders, Pentagon officials and respected national security experts.

    With hundreds of thousands of these citizen-soldiers having deployed in the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and others engaged in missions related to the global campaign against terrorism overseas and here at home, these concerns have broad implications for the Bush administration's plans to protect the United States....

    The current Guard and Reserve system was designed after the Vietnam War, a conflict in which neither President Lyndon B. Johnson nor President Richard M. Nixon called up reservists in significant numbers, fearing greater opposition to their policies. In frustration, Gen. Creighton W. Abrams, the Army chief, shaped a post-Vietnam mix of active and reserve forces to ensure that when America went to war with its new all-volunteer force, hometown America would have to go too.

    Shanker does a good job of delineating the budgetary and training disparities:

    Richard I. Stark, who is analyzing reserve affairs at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy research institute, said that the Army traditionally kept about half of its capability in the Guard and Reserves, yet for years devoted only 8 percent of its budget to those units.

    "That huge disparity will have to be revisited because we are using them with increasing frequency," Mr. Stark said....

    Military commanders in Washington and in the combat zone frequently said in private that a number of reservists arrive for duty ill-prepared for the challenges they face in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular lacking specific combat skills required even of truck drivers in the war zone. They say the reservists also do not have something more intangible but equally important: a warrior ethos, which can hardly be inculcated by training one weekend a month and two weeks a year for service in the most violent places on earth, or in the rapid weeks of accelerated training before deployment....

    [N]early two months traveling in Iraq this year disclosed many first-hand examples of the disparity between active-duty troops and their Guard and Reserve comrades.

    During the huge troop rotation this spring, in which nearly a quarter-million American military personnel flowed in and out of Iraq, fresh ground forces stopped first at a series of deployment camps in northern Kuwait to acclimate to the hot temperatures and focus on live-fire combat skills.

    Despite spring temperatures that already pushed toward 100 degrees, and the relative safety of camps in Kuwait, commanders of active-duty units like the First Infantry Division ordered their soldiers to wear heavy helmets and flak jackets at all times except inside their tents and mess halls or en route to the showers: all part of an effort to get the troops into the combat mind-set.

    In contrast, many soldiers who identified themselves as reservists walked the hot and dusty bases in shorts, baseball caps and sandals.

    Even inside the war zone of Iraq, the differences were visible.

    Col. Dana J. H. Pittard, commander of the First Infantry's Third Brigade, gave voice to worries about the lackadaisical approach to security shown by some reservists not under his command. On a dangerous 34-hour convoy drive north from Kuwait to Camp Warhorse, near Baquba, an insurgents' stronghold, he marched up and down a mile-long row of vehicles belonging to a mix of units, scolding scores of reservists he spotted not wearing body armor.

    Read the whole thing -- and be sure to check out Phil Carter's thoughts on the matter once he reads it.

    UPDATE: Here's Phil's partial response. Be sure to read the whole thing, but I thought this was a compelling point:

    I talked to several Pentagon policy officials and think-tankers last week about this argument, and I am starting to see its credibility. According to this line of thought, the emergency measures cited above are not so much signs of the force breaking, as they are signs of the force working exactly as intended. That is, we are a nation at war. Our military needs extra personnel now to fight this war, and probably for the next few years. Thus, it has called up reservists and used additional temporary measures to make ends meet. But when the crisis passes (assuming it does), the military reservists will be demobilized, and the military will contract. Yes, there is some hardship for the reservists who are called up. But, this argument continues, better to call up these reservists who accept the risk voluntarily, than to conscript mass numbers of citizens and compel them to kill or be killed in combat.

    Moreover, Pentagon policymakers say (and I agree) that it would be tremendously inefficient and impractical to start a draft when the personnel needs are in the thousands or tens of thousands. A draft, which traces back to Napoleon's levee en masse, is used when you need to mobilize millions of young Americans for battle. If that cataclysmic day comes, then our Selective Service system stands ready (in mothballs) to swing into action. But until then, the Pentagon argument goes, it is far more efficient and effective to use reservists.

    posted by Dan at 05:47 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

    Friday, July 2, 2004

    The most profitable blog in history

    Until recently, Jessica Cutler was an undeniably attractive twentysomething staffer for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). For most of the month of May, Cutler blogged anonymously as Washingtonienne. The posts mostly recounted various alleged trysts with various men -- some of them involved money changing hands -- some of whom were allegedly high-ranking administration officials.

    In late May, DeWine fired Cutler from her $25,000 position for "unacceptable use of Senate computers," and Cutler stopped blogging. The Washington Post's Richard Leiby and (the undeniably attractive) Wonkette covered this in detail at the time.

    Yesterday, the New York Times reported the following:

    Ms. Cutler has taken what, for generations of young women who have become involved with the powerful, has been the next logical step. She has become a writer. Yesterday she sold a novel based on her exploits to HyperionDisney (Walt). Her agent, Michael Carlisle of Carlisle & Company, said the price was "a substantial six figures," and Hyperion would not be more specific. Not only did he sell her novel, he said, but she will also pose nude for the November issue of Playboy. Ms. Cutler's novel will be called "The Washingtonienne," after the name of her blog. Mr. Carlisle said that Ms. Cutler would not speak to the press until the book was published, perhaps a year from now.

    Wonkette has more dirt:

    About that Washingtonienne book deal: We hear the bidding started Tuesday at $75K, based on a 25 page proposal (described as "pretty f***ing twisted"). A dozen houses went for it, and she wound up with a cool $300-f***ing-000.

    So, basically, Cutler got a $300,000 return on approximately two weeks worth of blogging.

    Readers are invited to suggest ways for other bloggers to make that kind of scratch involving blogging that do not involve a) cheating on spouses; or b) committing a felony.

    posted by Dan at 06:34 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

    AIDS update

    Voice of America reports on recent research on a generic three-in-one drug to fight AIDS:

    A team of French medical researchers say a single dose of an inexpensive AIDS medicine is just as effective as three doses of expensive drugs.

    The French national agency for AIDS research published its findings in the British medical journal Lancet.

    The generic medicine is manufactured by an Indian pharmaceutical firm.

    Doctors gave a single pill containing generic versions of three separate drugs to 60 AIDS patients in the West African nation of Cameroon. The patients took the pill twice a day. Six months later, 80 percent of the patients showed no sign of the virus.

    The researchers say the cheap drugs can help the United Nations reach its goal of treating three million HIV-infected people in developing countries by the end of 2005.

    Here's a link to the aforementioned Lancet article -- and here's a link to Sally Satel's more pessimistic take on the quality of generics in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.

    Meanwhile, the same issue of Lancet has an epidemiological study of HIV trends in sub-Saharan Africa that also offers a modest dollop of good news:

    Recent trends in HIV prevalence in women attending antenatal clinics suggest that the epidemic has levelled off since the late 1990s in all countries in Sub-saharan Africa. In eastern Africa, there is an indication of a gradual and modest decline. In western and central Africa there is no consistent evidence of changes in HIV prevalence in recent years and in southern Africa most countries report either a stabilisation or at worst a small increase in HIV prevalence.

    posted by Dan at 03:01 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    A looming Republican civil war?

    As many of my ideological soulmates make grudging moves towards joining the Kerry camp, and as GOP lawmakers fail to pass a (nonbinding) budget resolution, Andrew Sullivan predicts the future of the Republican Party:

    The current tussle in the Congress over the budget is just a precursor to what I think will be outright Republican civil war after this election. If Bush wins, it will cripple his ability to get anything done. If he loses, the recriminations will get vicious. The fiscal conservatives will be fighting the "deficits-don't-matter" crowd. The realists will be out to topple the neocons. The Santorum-Ashcroft axis will continue to wage war on any Republicans not interested in legislating either the Old Testament or the dictates of the Vatican. (The FMA battle now looks more and more like an attempt by Santorum to identify Republican social moderates so he can use primary hardliners to challenge them in the future.) The battle lines are deep and sharp - and the future of American conservatism is at stake. Bush has proven himself unable to unite a party that includes Tom DeLay as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Bill Frist. Whether the coming civil war is about who lost the election, or who will exploit the victory, it's going to be nasty and enduring. No single party can be both for individual liberty and for theologically-based social policy; both for fiscal balance and drunken-sailor spending; both for interventionism abroad and against moralism in foreign policy. The incoherence is just too deep, the tensions too strained. And with the war on terror itself a point of contention among conservatives, geo-politics will not be able to keep the coalition in one piece.

    I partly agree with Andrew but partly disagree. He's wrong about what happens if Bush wins. Nothing eases internal party divisions like winning, and I find it hard to believe that the fissures that Andrew highlights would burst open if Bush were to win re-election. Indeed, it's telling that the Bush administration has decided to award prime time slots at the GOP convention to a lot of Republicans that have had strained relations with the White House. It's also telling that they've accepted.

    I agree with Andrew about what happens if Bush loses -- but if anything, I think the internecine conflict will be bloodier than he projects. The reason is that the disgruntled Republicans are a motley lot, and might be alienated from each other just as much as they feel alienated from the White House. On the foreign policy front, the realists are disenchanted with the Bush team for listening to the neocons, the neocons are upset that the realists seem to be in charge, and the remaining "internationalists" are upset with both of the other groups. On fiscal matters, libertarians are upset at the growth of the federal government while moderates are upset at the growth of the budget deficit. This doesn't even touch on social issues.

    If Bush loses, there's going to be a fight -- but the battle lines are going to be very, very messy.

    UPDATE: Chris Lawrence makes an interesting counterpoint:

    If Bush loses, chances are many of the “moderate” Republicans will lose too—moderates tend to be in more competitive House seats—so, if anything, a Bush loss should lead to a more coherent and socially conservative party, who no doubt will be determined to make a Kerry administration the least productive administration in American history.

    posted by Dan at 12:39 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (2)

    Josh Marshall outsources his research

    I'd like to congratulate Joshua Micah Marshall for improving his productivity by recycling a John Kerry press release in his snarky post on offshore outsourcing. Sure, some bloggers might have dug a bit deeper to get more information -- like the fact that John Kerry's policy proposals on outsourcing would have zero effect on the job losses Marshall broods about. And sure, by completely outsourcing his research to Kerry's campaign, Marshall may have missed just a few of the nuances involved in the debate on offshore outsourcing -- but Marshall did post first on this. Congratulations, Josh!!

    [Hey, didn't you just do this as well?--ed. Yeah, but I said it was a press release when I did it.]

    More seriously, in the wake of mediocre job numbers for June, Paul Blustein has a Washington Post story that's worth checking out on the topic. The lead paragraphs look scary:

    A report by an influential consulting firm is exhorting U.S. companies to speed up "offshoring" operations to China and India, including high-powered functions such as research and development.

    In blunt terms, the report by the Boston Consulting Group warns American firms that they risk extinction if they hesitate in shifting facilities to countries with low costs. That is partly because the potential savings are so vast, but the report also cites a view among U.S. executives that the quality of American workers is deteriorating.

    However, the story goes on to quote some interesting research findings:

    Matthew J. Slaughter, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, pointed to research he published in March using Commerce Department data to show how offshoring can have a positive impact on U.S. job growth, as part of the "churn" in employment that constantly eliminates jobs but also adds them.

    Although U.S. multinationals expanded their overseas payrolls by 2.8 million from 1991 to 2001, in moves that often involved factory closures and layoffs in the United States, they expanded their U.S. employment levels by nearly 5.5 million, according to Slaughter's study. That is partly because as such firms expand the scale of their operations abroad, they need more personnel at home to handle functions such as marketing, logistics, finance and product design. For similar reasons, McKinsey & Co., one of Boston Consulting's main rivals, has estimated that for every $1 invested abroad by U.S. companies, the U.S. economy gains $1.14, which can be plowed into job-creating enterprises.

    Click here for a case study that buttresses Slaughter's aggregate data. And here's the relevant table:


    posted by Dan at 11:58 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (4)

    Sudan plays hide-and-seek with the UN

    Sudarsan Raghavan reports for Knight-Ridder on the visit to Sudan by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to get a grip on the humanitarian disaster there. Things did not go smoothly:

    Sudanese government officials emptied a camp of thousands of refugees hours before UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was to arrive here Thursday, preventing him from meeting some of the hardest-hit victims of the humanitarian crisis in the province of Darfur.

    "There may have been 3,000 to 4,000 people here as of 5 p.m. yesterday," UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said as he gazed upon the empty camp at Mashtel. "Now, as you can see, no one is here. I can't imagine they spontaneously moved."

    The forced removal came a day after Sudanese officials promised Secretary of State Colin Powell that humanitarian aid workers would have unrestricted access to Darfur and agreed to other U.S. demands to avoid possible UN sanctions....

    As many as 30,000 people have died and 1 million more have been driven from their homes by a scorched-earth campaign carried out by pro-government Arab militias. The militias, called the Janjaweed, were recruited to wipe out a rebel insurrection that began 16 months ago, but they have unleashed their fury on civilians who belong to the same tribes as the rebels....

    On Thursday, Annan, along with UN and Sudanese officials, arrived in the province to get a firsthand look at the plight of the displaced.

    At the Zam Zam refugee camp, Annan talked with tribal elders. Senior Sudanese officials listened to every word.

    Ahmed Noor Mohammed, one of the elders, was asked if women were being abused in the camp. He rattled off a long sentence in Arabic.

    "Some women face some difficulties. Masked men, even soldiers ..." Annan's translator began. Before he could finish the sentence, Sudanese government minders and officials cut him off, saying he had translated it wrong.

    "They are afraid, but they don't have any problems," said Ibrahim Hamid, the minister of humanitarian affairs, who was seated next to UN leader.

    After Annan's entourage left, Mohammed said women were scared to leave the camp because of the Janjaweed.

    posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Thursday, July 1, 2004

    Your web site for the day

    The American Museum of the Moving Image has launched an online exhibition today entitled "The Living Room Candidate: Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952-2004." This is from their press release:

    The exhibition includes such landmark ads as the groundbreaking "Eisenhower Answers America" spots of 1952, the notorious "daisy girl" ad from Lyndon Johnson's 1964 campaign, Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" ads from 1984, and the controversial attack ads run by George Bush's 1988 campaign. The exhibition will be completely up to date, with a selection of commercials from 2004, and a sidebar exhibition The Desktop Candidate, about the rapidly growing medium of Web-based political advertising.

    It's a must for politics and media junkies. Go check it out.

    UPDATE: Also worth checking out is Nick Anderson's piece in the Los Angeles Times about how Kerry and Bush are differentiating and deploying web-based video ads from TV-based video ads.

    posted by Dan at 05:48 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (1)

    Why Michael Moore is doomed

    I haven't posted much on Fahrenheit 9/11 -- unless you count my Tech Central Station column that questions one of Moore's underlying theses involving the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia. Richard Just does an brilliant job of deconstructing the film itself [Full disclosure -- Just is my editor at TNR Online], so there's no point going there.

    More interesting has been the media response to Moore and his own counter-response. David Adesnik appears to be correct in pointing out that:

    In my own discussions with journalists, I've found them to be at least as annoyed by leftists' accusations that they are conservative mouthpieces than by conservatives' accusations that they are inveterate liberals. So don't expected Moore's bumpy ride to end anytime soon.

    And bumpy it has been. David Brooks had a column that highlighted some of the zestier comments Moore has made about the U.S. in overseas venues. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball rip to shreds one of Moore's flimsier allegations in Newsweek (link via Glenn Reynolds).

    That last story mentions a fact that strongly suggests Michael Moore's public support is about to take a major hit:

    In light of the extraordinary box office success of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and its potential political impact, a rigorous analysis of the film’s assertions seems more than warranted. Indeed, Moore himself has invited the scrutiny. He has set up a Web site and “war-room” to defend the claims in the movie—and attack his critics. (The war-room’s overseers are two veteran spin-doctors from the Clinton White House: Chris Lehane and Mark Fabiani.)

    Lehane? Lehane??!! Yeah, let's review his impressive achievements at spin:

    1) Was Al Gore's principal spokesman during the 2000 campaign -- 'nuff said. [UPDATE: Well, check out this February 2000 Jewish World Review story by David Corn that's partially about Lehane.

    2) Was Kerry's spokesman in mid-2003 -- when Kerry started to get clobbered by Howard Dean (here's a link to one example of his work from that era);

    3) Then moved on to Michael Moore's favorite Democrat, Wesley Clark -- another whopping success;

    4) In the last days of the Clark campaign, Lehane appears to have played a role in spreading rumors about a Kerry affair with former reporter Alexandra Polier. Polier provides the following account of her efforts to ascertain Lehane's role:

    I called Lehane himself, who, having backed the wrong team, is now running his own political PR firm in San Francisco. I asked him where he’d first heard the rumors about Kerry and me. He blamed political reporters. I asked him if he had used the rumors to try to help Clark. He denied it. “There are just so many media outlets out there now, Alex, that these kind of baseless rumors can easily get turned into stories,” he said smoothly, and then the phone went dead.

    I called him right back, but he didn’t answer. I called again less than an hour later, and this time his outgoing message had been changed to, “Hi, you’ve reached Chris. I’m traveling and won’t be able to retrieve my voice mail.” I wondered how he was able to run a PR company without retrieving voice mail.

    Well, that sounds like a clean bill of health to me.

    Michael Moore hired this guy to protect his reputation? His reputation is toast.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Brennan Stout, who links to this Daily Kos post about Lehane from September 2003.

    Also, I see that Michael Moore is planning to start a blog. No posts yet, however.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Some free advice to Lehane -- go read Ted Barlow's disturbing post about Focus on the Family's efforts to harrass Moore and run with that for a while. Of course, that raises some vexing questions about Moore's tactics as well.

    posted by Dan at 01:24 PM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (5)

    Jacob Levy asks the right questions

    Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, I posted about the presence of Al Qaeda fighters in the parts of Iraq outside Saddam Hussein's control, and suggested that, hey, maybe the U.S. should take some action there (as well as challenge Europeans to honor their commitments to combat terrorism).

    A year later, Kevin Drum highlighted this post in response to a disturbing NBC story:

    NBC News has learned that long before the war the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out his terrorist operation and perhaps kill Zarqawi himself — but never pulled the trigger.

    In June 2002, U.S. officials say intelligence had revealed that Zarqawi and members of al-Qaida had set up a weapons lab at Kirma, in northern Iraq, producing deadly ricin and cyanide.

    The Pentagon quickly drafted plans to attack the camp with cruise missiles and airstrikes and sent it to the White House, where, according to U.S. government sources, the plan was debated to death in the National Security Council....

    “People were more obsessed with developing the coalition to overthrow Saddam than to execute the president’s policy of preemption against terrorists,” according to terrorism expert and former National Security Council member Roger Cressey....

    Military officials insist their case for attacking Zarqawi’s operation was airtight, but the administration feared destroying the terrorist camp in Iraq could undercut its case for war against Saddam. (emphasis added)

    At the time, my response was the same as Jacob Levy's: "At first I assumed that it was so extreme and appalling a claim that there was almost certainly a credible counter-story or at least contrary interpretation to be offered. But I never saw it."

    Jacob now has two in-depth posts on this -- here and here. Go read them.

    The disturbing allegation, which remains unanswered, is whether the administration chose not to take out these camps -- and possibly Zarqawi -- in order to prosecute a war of choice. Like Ramesh Ponnuru, I find this deeply troubling.

    It would be nice to see this story get the journalistic attention that, say, the impending nuptuals of Britney Spears... or the sudden weight loss of Anna Nicole Smith... or [You're drifting off point! Focus!--ed] anyway, you get my drift.

    posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

    Where's AAA when you need them?

    Michael Kilian reports in the Chicago Tribune that there are a few bugs in our Afghanistan maps:

    The secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency acknowledged Wednesday that it has made numerous mistakes in topographical maps issued to U.S. troops in Afghanistan since 2002.

    The maps cover Afghanistan and portions of Pakistan, and they are being used by ground troops as well as combat commanders and engineers....

    The mapping mistakes involved omitting place names as well as putting place names in the wrong locations, according to agency spokesman Howard Cohen.

    There were also some place-name errors in the computerized Geographic Names Data Base maintained by the aerial intelligence-gathering agency, formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. The inaccuracies in the database led to the misinformation being printed on the maps, Cohen said.

    The same agency also was involved in the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, capital of the former Yugoslavia, by a high-flying U.S. B-2 stealth bomber during the 1999 Kosovo war. Three Chinese civilians were killed and more than 20 others injured in that bombing, and U.S.-Chinese relations were badly strained for months.

    Then-Deputy Secretary of State Susan Shirk attributed that accident to "a bunch of serious errors and mistakes." It later was revealed that targeting was predicated on two out-of-date Yugoslavian maps and a 1997 American map. None of the three showed the location of the Chinese Embassy, which had moved to the site in 1996.

    As for the latest snafu, "I can't tell you how the errors were discovered, but it happened while agency mapmakers were making new maps for one of our customers," Cohen said.

    David Burpee, another agency spokesman, said military leaders have been notified, as well as others who use the agency's maps.

    Cohen said the agency has begun producing corrected maps. The first of these will be available within a few weeks, but it will take longer to replace all the maps in use. It will take even longer to redo the database, he said.

    To be fair, Jim Garamone reports for American Forces Press Service that the current mapping problems has not had much of an effect:

    There have been no reports of real troubles due to the place name anomalies, officials said. They do present the potential for confusion, but no service member has reported a serious issue with the maps. In fact, aside from the place-name discrepancies, other information on the maps - such as grid- coordinate data, topography and road networks – "is the best available and continues to be used by customers," Burpee said.

    posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)