Monday, August 30, 2004

My excellent reason for reduced blogging

Much as I would like to blog about the Republican National Convention, I'm afraid will be pretty much silent for the next week. Part of this is due to the imminent arrival of 100th annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.

The more important reason is a personal one that I vaguely alluded to last week. There's a new addition to the family:

Lauren C. Drezner
seven lbs., zero oz.

With all due respect to Henry Farrell, this is undoubtedly my best co-authoured project for the last few years!!

posted by Dan at 04:36 PM | Comments (88) | Trackbacks (10)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Open progressive conservative thread

Go read David Brooks' cover story for the New York Times Magazine on the future of both conservatism and the Republican Party (not necessarily the same thing).

Brooks opens with a point I've made in recent months:

There used to be a spirit of solidarity binding all the embattled members of the conservative movement. But with conservatism ascendant, that spirit has eroded. Should Bush lose, it will be like a pack of wolves that suddenly turns on itself. The civil war over the future of the party will be ruthless and bloody. The foreign-policy realists will battle the democracy-promoting Reaganites. The immigrant-bashing nativists will battle the free marketeers. The tax-cutting growth wing will battle the fiscally prudent deficit hawks. The social conservatives will war with the social moderates, the biotech skeptics with the biotech enthusiasts, the K Street corporatists with the tariff-loving populists, the civil libertarians with the security-minded Ashcroftians. In short, the Republican Party is unstable.

In sketching out the future governing philosophy of Republicans, however, Brooks offers some depressing words for libertarians:

If you want to put a death date on the tombstone of small-government Republicanism, it would be Nov. 14, 1995. That was the day the new G.O.P. majority shut down the government. Gingrich, Dick Armey and others came to power with a list of hundreds of government programs and agencies they wanted to eliminate, including the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Education. They led what Grover Norquist called the Leave Us Alone coalition, the alliance of all those different Americans who wanted government to get out of their lives. Gingrich vowed to show the world ''how to end programs, not just create them.'' Republicans welcomed a showdown over the size of government because they were convinced that the public would be on their side. Faxes came over the machines vowing, ''No Compromise.'' Senator Phil Gramm celebrated the shutdown. ''Have you really noticed a difference?'' he reportedly asked.

The public did notice, as it turned out, and they didn't like it. Within a few years the Republicans were backtracking so furiously they were proposing to spend more money on the Department of Education than the Clinton administration thought to ask for.

Read the rest of the piece to see the positive vision of government that Brooks offers, in the tradition of Hamilton, Lincoln, and TR. The essay probably offers the most articulate framework for understanding Bush's domestic policy agenda you'll see in the mainstream media. Then come back and post what you think.

[What do you think?--ed. I have a mixed reaction. The overarching philosophy of using government to expand individual choice is an undeniably appealing one. Policies like the earned income tax credit certainly fit into that category. However, I have caveats to Brooks' "progressive conservatism." While there's much discussion of what a conservative government can do, there's less about how it can do this. My inclination is to prefer that the government act more as paymaster than implementor, but I'm not sure Brooks would agree. The boundaries of the Brooksian state don't seem all that constrained. At the end, he argues that a good progressive conservative government could cut useless measures like corporate subsidies, farm subsidies, and needless tariffs. However, it's no coincidence that the intellectual godfather of modern-day protectionism is Alexander Hamilton. Finally, I just hate the phrase "progressive conservative." I understand what Brooks is going for, but it sounds like "pragmatic idealism" or "collective indivudualism."]

posted by Dan at 01:07 PM | Comments (75) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

China's growth as a regional power, redux

Almost exactly one year ago, the New York Times ran a story on China's growth into a world power, about which I blogged here -- I thought it made some stupid historical analogies.

Today Jane Perlez -- one of the Times' best foreign correspondents, in my book -- has a similar story. This one has no dumb analogies and a lot more meat on it:

These days, Australian engineers - like executives, merchants and manufacturers elsewhere in the region - cannot seem to work fast enough to satisfy the hunger of their biggest new customer: China.

Not long ago Australia and China regarded each other with suspicion. But through newfound diplomatic finesse and the seemingly irresistible lure of its long economic expansion, Beijing has skillfully turned around relations with Australia, America's staunchest ally in the region.

The turnabout is just one sign of the broad new influence Beijing has accumulated across the Asian Pacific with American friends and foes alike. From the mines of Newman - an outpost of 3,000 in a corner of the outback - to theforests of Myanmar, the former Burma, China's rapid growth is sucking up resources and pulling the region's varied economies in its wake. The effect is unlike anything since the rise of Japanese economic power after World War II.

For now, China's presence mostly translates into money, and the doors it opens. But more and more, China is leveraging its economic clout to support its political preferences.

Beijing is pushing for regional political and economic groupings it can dominate, like a proposed East Asia Community that would cut out the United States and create a global bloc to rival the European Union. It is dispersing aid and, in ways not seen before, pressing countries to fall in line on its top foreign policy priority: its claim over Taiwan.

China's higher profile is all the more striking, analysts, executives and diplomats say, as Washington's preoccupation with Iraq and terrorism has left it seemingly disengaged from the region, which in turn has found the United States more off-putting and harder to penetrate after Sept. 11.

American military supremacy remains unquestioned, regional officials say. But the United States appears to be on the losing side of trade patterns. China is now South Korea's biggest trade partner, and two years ago Japan's imports from China surpassed those from the United States. Current trends show China is likely to top American trade with Southeast Asia in just a few years.

China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, as much as threw down the gauntlet last year, saying he believed that China's trade with Southeast Asia would reach $100 billion by 2005, just shy of the $120 billion in trade the United States does with the region.

Mr. Wen's claim was no idle boast. Almost no country has escaped the pull of China's enormous craving for trade and, above all, energy and other natural resources to fuel its still galloping expansion and growing consumer demand. Though the Chinese government's growth target for 2004 is 7 percent, compared with 9.1 percent for 2003, few are worried about a slowdown soon.

Read the whole thing. It remains the case that China's power is only felt at the regional level -- and Perlex asserts rather than proves her argument about America disengaging because of the war on terrorism.

Still, it's worth chewing on.

posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (5)

Friday, August 27, 2004

I'm 1% certain that I'm 1% smarter than Chris Bertram

Via Chris Betram, I took Chris Lightfoot's estimation quiz. He got a 39; I got a 40.

I'm guessing we're equally chagrined at our performance, however (I can't believe I was that far off on the GDP of Great Britain-- wait, yes I can: in my head I used the inverted exchange rate between the two currencies to get from dollars to pounds).

Go take it for yourself and report back.

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (3)

This is what happens when you appease terrorists

Last month the Phillipine government's decision to evacuate all nationals out of Iraq after a truck driver was taken hostage. At the time, Arroyo said she was proud of her decision: "she was unrepentant Tuesday, saying the hostage, Angelo de la Cruz, had became a symbol of the 8 million Filipinos who have left their poor country to send home money from hard and sometimes dangerous work abroad." Arroyo subsequently banned Filipinos from working in Iraq.

According to the AP, it looks like some other Filipino symbols are somewhat upset with the Arroyo government:

Riot police used water cannons Friday to disperse protesters demanding that the Philippines lift its ban on allowing its citizens to go to war-ravaged Iraq for jobs.

The protesters marched to the presidential palace to urge President Gloria Macapagal Arroy to let them leave for Iraq, where they said U.S. military contracts await them.

"Your concern for us is highly appreciated but we need cash," one placard read. "Please allow us to work in Iraq," said another.

Riot police and rolls of barbed wire blocked more than 200 protesters at the foot of a bridge leading to the palace, where they sat down, linked arms, and sang religious songs, vowing to stay there until the ban is lifted....

"Most of us are going hungry here. If they can give us jobs here, then its OK, but they can't," said Danny Baloloy, a plumber who said a job that pays $650 a month awaits him at a U.S. base in Iraq.

The ban was imposed last month after a Filipino truck driver, Angelo dela Cruz, was abducted by Iraqi insurgents. He was freed after Manila pulled out its troops ahead of schedule, as demanded by the kidnappers.

About 3,000 Filipinos seeking jobs in Iraq last week also protested against the ban, saying they would rather risk their lives than face joblessness and hunger at home.

posted by Dan at 02:35 PM | Comments (32) | Trackbacks (8)

There's something wrong with this argument

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that James Lileks has a Jewish World Reviiew essay on John Kerry's ambition. Here's the key part of Lileks' thesis:

So why does Kerry want to be president?

The reason is almost tautological: John Kerry wants to be president because he is John Kerry, and John Kerry is supposed to be president. Hence his campaign's flummoxed and tone-deaf response to the swift boat vets. Ban the books, sue the stations, retreat, attack. Underneath it all you can sense the confusion. How dare they attack Kerry? He's supposed to be president. It's almost treason in advance.

There's something bothering me about this line of argument -- namely, that it applies with equal force to George H.W. Bush. Before he got elected in 1988, Bush Sr. was widely viewed as a resume looking for a position to fill. And he was a mighty fine president in my book.

I'm not saying that John Kerry is George H.W. Bush. I'm just saying that Lileks ain't persuading me.

UPDATE: Before adding a comment to this post, re-read it very carefully -- yes, that's right, I'm comparing Kerry to Bush 41, not to Bush 43.

posted by Dan at 02:27 PM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (1)

This post is dedicated to parents of toddlers...

Sarah Ellison has a must-read front-pager in today's Wall Street Journal. Well, actually it's only a must-read if you have small children -- if you don't, just skip to the next post.

OK, now that the appropriate demographic has been selected, here's Ellison's account of the most daunting challenge parents of two-year olds face -- toilet-training them before they start pre-school. The good parts:

For millions of toddlers, August is crunch time.

Preschool starts in September, and because of strict no-diaper rules at many schools, toilet training must end.

In Overland Park, Kan., Kerri Heller has until Sept. 2 to toilet-train her 3-year-old son, Jack. Ms. Heller started training in earnest earlier this month, and says she has barely left the house since.

On a Monday, she bought an egg timer and set it to ring every 30 minutes to remind Jack to use the toilet....

The no-diaper deadline for preschools is a big business issue for the $6.5 billion U.S. diaper industry, driving away good customers every year. It's "the biggest force at work in toilet training," says Thomas J. Falk, chief executive of Kimberly-Clark Corp. It makes Huggies, the No. 1 brand in the U.S.

Preschools often discourage diapers because of burdensome health regulations and legal concerns. Those schools that do change diapers often require two adults to be present during diaper changing, to prevent child abuse and forestall lawsuits.

The Weekday Nursery School in New Rochelle, N.Y., strongly encourages all 3-year-olds to be trained. It takes about 12 minutes for a teacher to change a child's diaper, says director Sara Arnon. That's if the teacher complies with state health regulations such as placing fresh disposable paper on the changing table (like at a doctor's office), using latex gloves and double-bagging dirty diapers. For a 2½-hour morning preschool, that means a lot of teachers' time would be spent changing diapers, she says.

Besides, the school found out years ago that changing older children when some of their classmates are already toilet-trained doesn't work. "It didn't last two months," says Ms. Arnon. "The other children called the untrained children 'babies.' "

Preschool enrollment is rising as more mothers head to work, and finding the right school is an ever more competitive enterprise. Ms. Heller lined up a year-and-a-half ago at 6 a.m. to get Jack into a "pre-preschool" program to help him get into the preschool he's about to attend.

The preschool deadline is one reason that Procter & Gamble Co., the No. 2 U.S. diaper maker, has developed a new product. It aims to smooth the way for potty training by essentially reversing years of diaper engineering. Instead of instantly absorbing liquid, the diaper holds a small amount of liquid next to a toddler's skin for two minutes or so before drying out.

The P&G product, called Pampers Feel 'n Learn Advanced Trainers, started arriving in U.S. stores in June. The goal is to establish enough discomfort that a toddler notices when he or she has an accident. P&G says feeling the wetness will help toddlers recognize that they should have gone to the bathroom. Of course, the same result could be achieved using regular underwear, but with the Feel 'n Learn diaper there's no mess for parents to clean up....

Babies used to graduate from diapers at a younger age in the U.S., and still do in some parts of Europe and Asia. People there tend not to make such a big deal of the process, says Kimberly-Clark's Mr. Falk. "Some European cultures don't have a word for toilet training," he says. In rural China, most babies wear underpants with a split in them and quickly learn how to use the toilet.

But American parents have grown more tolerant since the parenting philosophy of Boston pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton swept the country in the 1960s. Dr. Brazelton urged parents to adopt a "child-centered" approach to toilet training rather than imposing a schedule.

Since then, the age for completing toilet training has edged ever higher. Many parents and child-care workers say disposable diapers are so super-absorbent today that when a child has an accident, he or she barely notices. In the last few years, diaper makers have added larger sizes and created a new growth area with so-called training pants, which are pull-on diapers for older toddlers. Diaper companies say training pants help make the transition from diapers to regular underwear less stressful, but some parents worry they further delay the end of toilet training....

Catherine Haskins understands motivation. Ms. Haskins, who works for a marketing and public-relations firm in Kansas City, Kan., has pompoms in her bathroom to cheer on her daughter, Emma, who will be 3 in December. The tot, who is preparing for preschool that month, has also received stickers and Spiderman paraphernalia for good performance. Emma's training is almost complete, says Ms. Haskins, but it hasn't been easy. "I have had a step stool in front of my toilet for a year," she says.

Morgan Lilly Rodriguez, 3, of New York City, is signed up to go to preschool full-time in September. But she still has several accidents a week and doesn't like to flush the toilet. "She's afraid she's going to flush herself down," says her mother, Annette.

The rush to get children ready troubles Dr. Brazelton, now 86 years old. Preschool is an "artificial deadline," he says. "It isn't respectful of the time some children need."

As much as I occasionally rag on journalists, Ellison deserves dome props for this piece. It manages to offer slice-of-life vignettes while simultaneuously addressing larger issues -- day-care regulations, child-rearing philosophies, and product innovations.

UPDATE: Over at Galley Slaves, Victorino Matus has more information about the role that toilets can play in larger questions of public policy.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Bush is losing Wall Street -- will he lose Main Street as well?

David Wighton and James Harding report in the Financial Times that George W. Bush has alienated former supporters among the financial folks:

Wall Street's enthusiasm for US President George W. Bush appears to have cooled as the presidential race tightens and concerns grow about foreign policy and fiscal deficits.

Some leading fundraisers of Mr Bush's re-election bid have stopped active campaigning and others privately voice reservations.

The New York financial community is expected to give the Republicans a lavish welcome when the president's party arrives for its national convention next week. Wall Street has been a big contributor to Mr Bush's record-breaking re-election fund. But one senior Wall Street figure, once talked of as a possible Bush cabinet member, said that he and other prominent Republicans had been raising money with increasing reluctance. “Many are doing so with a heavy heart and some not at all.” He cited foreign policy and the ballooning federal deficit as Wall Street Republicans' main concerns.

A Republican in the financial services industry concurs. “Many of them may be maxed out,” he said, referring to campaign contributions that have hit the legal ceiling, “but they are backing away from Bush.”

The deficit has been criticised by Peter Peterson, chairman and co-founder of Blackstone Group, the New York investment firm, and former commerce secretary under President Richard Nixon. In his new book, Running on Empty, he accuses both parties of recklessness but attacks the Republican leadership for a “new level of fiscal irresponsibility”.

One New York dinner in June 2003 raised more than $4m, partly thanks to the efforts of Stan O'Neal, chief executive of Merrill Lynch. Yet Mr O'Neal has done no fundraising for the campaign at all since then and friends say he is not supporting Mr Bush. “He is best described as independent,” said one. Another senior Wall Street figure, who has given money to the campaign, said he was among many Wall Street bosses who were impressed with Mr Bush's handling of the September 11 attacks. “But since then, I have lost faith over foreign policy and tax,” he said.

Even those who are campaigning for Mr Bush sound increasingly defensive. “Whether or not you like him, you can't change leaders during a war,” said the head of one Wall Street firm.

This jibes with the disaffection felt with the Bush economic team by Republican-leaning policy wonks. And from the other side of the Republican spectrum, David Kirkpatrick reports in the New York Times that traditional conservatives aren't pleased with the Republican party platform (link via Noam Scheiber).

The interesting question will be whether any of this will affect the election. In another post, Scheiber asks the key question:

I don't know many Democrats who think right-wingers are going to end up defecting to Kerry. (Except for maybe a handful of libertarians living in Dupont Circle--but I don't think they're going to swing the election.) So the fact that 90 percent or more of GOP voters support Bush over Kerry is neither here nor there. The key question for the Bush campaign is what percentage of conservatives will end up staying home on election day. And I think its entirely plausible that a smaller fraction of self-described conservatives would vote for Bush if the election were held today than did in 2000--partly because Iraq isn't especially popular among Sunbelt isolationist types, and partly because of a handful of smaller greivances, like the budget deficit and the Medicare bill, and the brief flirtation with immigration reform and a mission to Mars.

Of course, it's important not to confuse D.C.-based conservatives with the much more electorally significant group of self-described conservative voters. (The D.C. breed is probably far more upset about the budget deficit and the Medicare bill, maybe Bush's too-grudging support for an anti-gay marriage amendment, too.) Still, I think there's a large enough group of conservatives out there who think Bush hasn't quite panned out for the Bush campaign to be concerned.

posted by Dan at 12:31 AM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Lazy media stereotype continued

Kevin Canfield of the Newark Journal News thinks that op-ed columnists are overrated blowhards (link via NRO's The Corner):

Op-ed columnists are the self-assured know-it-alls of the political media. Shrugging off impartiality and other journalistic creeds in favor of partisan swagger, D.C.-centric op-ed columnists wield their various points of view with a degree of confidence known only to true believers.

Oh, wait, I got that wrong -- replace "op-ed columnist" with "blogger" and then you get Canfield's lead paragraph.

My point here is not (only) to pick on Canfield -- the substance of his story is to discuss the limits of the blogosphere's influence -- but rather to re-emphasize a point I made when George Packer's blog essay came out: "conduct a mental experiment -- replace the word 'blogosphere' with 'New York Times op-ed columnists' or 'David Broder. See if the criticism[s]... still hold up."

Also, it's not like there aren't theories out there explaining how blogs influence politics.

posted by Dan at 04:29 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

Amy Zegart goes medieval on Fred Kaplan

As I said in my previous post on the topic, Fred Kaplan really disliked Senator Roberts' intelligence proposal. Some highlights from his Slate piece:

Sen. Pat Roberts' plan to overhaul the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy is a true stinker, every bit as bad as his establishment critics contend....

Anyone who studies the "intelligence community" as much as Roberts does would also know—or should—that the proposal, if it were put into effect, would do more harm than good. So again, what's going on here?

....The first is that he's advancing a deliberately extreme proposal in order to prod the stuffy, stodgy bureaucracy into moving. He's telling the White House that if Bush doesn't start making serious reforms, Congress will—possibly in ways that the executive branch won't like. And he's shifting the definition of "acceptable" reform: By proposing a plan that goes well beyond the 9/11 commission's proposals, he is making those commission proposals seem more moderate by comparison....

However, there is a second, more cynical, and, alas, more plausible theory: He's putting out a proposal that's deliberately out-to-lunch, in order to distract the debate from more reasonable resolutions, to deflect attacks on Bush, and to discourage the whole idea of organizational reform.

I think it's safe to say that intelligence reform expert Amy Zegart really dislikes Fred Kaplan's take. She e-mailed me the following reaction:

I am, as my four-year old would put it, "steaming mad." Where to begin? First, anyone who has spent 5 seconds with Pat Roberts (and I spent 3 hours in front of him last week) knows he's deadly serious about reform. Where has Fred Kaplan been? Has he read the 500+ page Senate Intelligence Committee report Roberts' committee wrote in July about WMD in Iraq and the pathological deficiencies in the IC that led to it? Does he think this report descended like manna from heaven or does he realize the Committee's expert staff spent, oh I don't know, a year on it? I have anextra copy; perhaps I should send it to him.

Second, Kaplan forgets conveniently the fact that 2 of the key ideas in this proposal --splitting the CIA's clandestine side from its analytical side and creating a new national intelligence director -- were EXACTLY the same as a proposal made 12 years ago by David Boren and David McCurdy, the Democratic chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Then there is the substance of his claims. There are many valid concerns about this proposal, but Kaplan does not raise them.

Post your own thoughts below.

UPDATE: Esther Pan has compiled an excellent backgrounder on the different reform proposals at the Council on Foreign Relations web site.

posted by Dan at 01:14 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Offshoring creates jobs in California

Yesterday, Virginia Postrel posted and linked to several stories about a Public Policy Institute of California study on the effect of offshore outsourcing on the Californian economy. Postrel wrote, "The study found that outsourcing actually increases employment in California. Now the Assembly is sitting on the study."

The Assembly may have sat on the study, but it now appears to be available to the public. I clicked over to the PPIC web site and found the report by Jon Haveman and Howard Shatz, which is dated today. Some of their analysis sounds awfully familiar. The good parts (from p. 22-24):

[T]here is evidence that some California jobs eliminated by offshoring are similar to those likely to be created in the state by offshoring. Offshoring can allow the economy to reallocate labor and capital from one set of tasks to another set of higher-level tasks, and California has a strong supply of highly skilled workers who can take on these higher-level tasks. A second mitigating factor for the U.S. economy, and especially for California, is that there is growing world demand for the U.S. provision of services that are similar to those being sent offshore. This is a source of job creation for workers dislocated because of offshoring. California is a significant producer and exporter of these services, and this fact should ease the transition for affected workers in the state.

These two points suggest that jobs are being created in industries and occupations that are relatively similar to those being eliminated. For example, computer programming is one occupation that is projected to be negatively affected by offshoring, and evidence suggests that this is in fact the case. Between 1999 and 2002, 71,000 computer programmer jobs were eliminated, 23,000 of which were in California. Note, however, that offshoring is only responsible for a small fraction of these lost jobs; the technology bust explains most of them.

At the same time that opportunities for computer programmers were declining, more than 115,000 software engineering jobs were created, a disproportionately large share of which – 24,000 – were in California. The transition between these occupation categories – programmers and software engineers – may be unsettling but also may be easier than the transition between many other jobs, and the software engineering jobs pay over $10,000 more per year on average. It is certainly true that not all the workers who held computer programmer jobs became software engineers, and tracing how any such transition might have taken place is difficult. However, the decline of programmers and the rise of software engineers illustrates the fact that as old opportunities disappear – through economic cycles, technological change, and offshoring – the U.S. economy has the capacity to create better opportunities, and in this case, the skill sets required are similar.

As a result, the economy’s adjustment to this new phenomenon need not be as difficult as it was to the shift from manufacturing to service sectors in the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the workers displaced by offshoring have significant skills, and this bodes well for their future employment prospects. This observation is consistent with the evidence suggesting that workers with more skills have less difficult transitions to new jobs; the transitions are faster and involve less wage erosion. This is not to minimize the effect on workers who lose their jobs, especially less-skilled workers, but merely to put it in perspective....

An additional item is worthy of note. It is likely that “outstating” – outsourcing to another state – is a much more important phenomenon than is offshoring for California. The recent mass layoffs report of the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that of the job relocations where the destination was known, more than 68 percent took place within the United States, rather than overseas. California companies have actively engaged in outstating back-office processes for years. These are the very same processes that are the most vulnerable to offshoring. It is possible that many jobs being moved offshore by California companies would have left the state anyway. Newspaper accounts in places such as Phoenix express the fear that back-office jobs that have only recently arrived from California are headed abroad.

I look forward to the California state legislature's efforts to impose a tariff on services from Arizona.

Here's the report's conclusion regarding the bills designed to block the offshore outsourcing of government contracts (from p. 31):

In the end, the policy of restricting government contractors to vendors employing only domestic labor falls short of the optimal choice in several respects. First, on a per worker basis, it is likely to be more expensive than other options. Second, it is likely to assist a very small subset of workers displaced by offshoring. Third, policies banning offshoring are most likely to assist relatively skilled workers with high earnings capacity. In this time of tight budgets, more cost-effective means of assistance are available and should be investigated.

Red Herring has more on the California situation. Daniel Weintraub concludes in the Sacramento Bee:

The bottom line, though the researchers don't put it this bluntly, is that politicians, either from ignorance or malevolence, are trying to scare Californians into believing that offshoring is bad for the economy, and bad for them. The reality is that the opposite is true, and that the proposals seeking to freeze the economy in place will do far more harm than good.


[Sure, that's California. The rest of the country is losing jobs, right?--ed. Not according to this Business Week story from earlier this month]:

Foreign investment for setting up U.S. subsidiaries and plants doubled, to $82 billion, between 2002 and 2003, according to the Commerce Dept. That means 400,000 new jobs, most of them tech-related, figures the Organization for International Investment, a trade association based in Washington, D.C. Over the same period, outsourcing has taken away about 300,000 U.S. jobs, according to tech consultancy Forrester Research. So, on a net basis, foreign outfits have actually added some 100,000 U.S. jobs.

There's plenty of incentive to keep the trend going. For starters, foreign companies often find that having a U.S. base can be a big help when selling to the lucrative U.S. market. That's one reason Fremont (Calif.)-based Infosys Consulting, a subsidiary of Indian outsourcer Infosys, plans to hire about 500 consultants -- most of them Americans -- over the next two years, says Basab Pradham, senior vice-president and head of worldwide sales....

As U.S. companies begin to outsource such mission-critical functions as human resources and finance, they still want to be able to coordinate and oversee such work more closely. "What we're beginning to witness is a change in the [offshoring] business model," says Wipro's [corporate vice-president of human resources Pratik] Kumar. "A lot of outsourcing companies used to be completely offshore. But as they've begun to handle more complex work, they find that they need to have more local expertise deployed."

UPDATE: Ashish Hanwadikar has more links on this.

posted by Dan at 04:53 PM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (4)

Josh Elliott beats me to the rant

Josh Elliott posts a fine rant in Sports Illustrated's blog about the Olympics that echoes my own thoughts on the matter:

No athletic event that is judged belongs in the Olympics.

And no exceptions: No gymnastics. No ice skating or boxing. No synchronized swimming or diving. If it can't be won on the track, in the lane lines or with one more goal than the other folks, it has no place in the world's premier festival of sport, one that purports to give us the world's greatest champions. For if a win can't be unquestionably achieved, what's it worth, really? Without an objective, inarguable method for determining victory and defeat, the very meaning of the competition is lost. (After all, this isn't my niece's toddler soccer league, where one team scores 49 goals and the other scores two, then the exhausted competitors are told, Saturday after disillusioning Saturday, that it was a tie.) Without an absolutely certain outcome, an event such as, say, the men's gymnastics all-around, isn't a sport at all. It's a talent show.

(Disclaimer for the knee-jerk brigade: The Blog is not impugning the wondrous athleticism of world-class gymnasts, platform divers and bantamweights. At the Olympic level, they are physical marvels, able to do things that most of us would find more torturous than exhilarating. Problem is, there's one thing none of them will ever do: definitively win their competitions.)

One could argue that there is some degree of subjective judgment in any sport -- umpires calling balls and strikes, officials determining if a runner jumped the gun, etc. However, it is exceedingly rare for the subjective elements in these sports to overwhelm the objective components. In gymnastics or ice skating, the entire competition is based on subjective judgments.

This doesn't mean that judged competitions aren't exciting. Gymnastics, diving, ice skating can be entertaining, and they demand physical excellence -- but they're not sports.

I fully recognize that this will never happen, but that doesn't change the fact that Elliott is right.

UPDATE: Hmmm.... I'm not sure Laura McKenna would approve.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias and Belle Waring weigh in with some counterarguments. Belle is misinterpreting my post in think that I was laying out a necessary and suifficient condition for an activity to be labeled a sport -- I was just articulating a necessary condition.

Matt raises an interesting point:

The trouble with the Olympic sports Dan objects to is that the quality of the athleticism on display is so uniformly high that human error is frequently the decisive factor. When you think about it, though, any basketball game that was seemingly decided by a last-second shot was always, in fact, decisively impacted by the inevitable human error in the officiating. The thing about the Olympics is that every gymnastics competition is like an extremely close game, because it involves several participants capable of near-perfection. If the competitors exhibited a very wide range of ability, small imperfections in the judging wouldn't matter, just as they don't matter in a blowout basketball game.

I'll confess one source of bias that went unmentioned in my original post: it could also be that the Olympic sports I consider to be dubious require musical accompaniment.

posted by Dan at 03:43 PM | Comments (51) | Trackbacks (5)

Headlines from the future

Bloomberg runs a story on an arcane policy entity called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation that I fear will be making news in, oh, about five years:

The pension shortfall among U.S. companies may force the federal agency that insures retirement plans to seek a taxpayer bailout similar to the one during the savings and loan crisis, according to the Cato Institute, a policy research group.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. had a record deficit of $11.2 billion last year after taking over plans for 152 companies, including Bethlehem Steel Corp. and US Airways Group Inc.

Without changes to funding and premium rules, that deficit is likely to swell to $18 billion in the next 10 years and may reach more than $50 billion, said Richard A. Ippolito, who wrote the study for Cato, a policy research group, and is a former chief economist for the pension agency.

"If exposures create claims that reach catastrophic levels, taxpayers will be called upon to provide a bailout," Ippolito said.

Here's the link to Ippolito's study. From the abstract, this sounds like a classic moral hazard problem:

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency that insures private-sector defined-benefit pension plans, had a surplus of $9.7 billion at the end of 2000 but a deficit of $11.2 billion at the end of 2003. Pension plan underfunding stands at more than $350 billion, which increases the likelihood that more pension plans will go under and taxpayers will eventually be called upon to provide a bailout.

The reasons for the PBGC's financial difficulties can be found in the structure of defined-benefit pension plans and in the way Congress set up the premium rules when it created the program in 1974. First, because the PBGC stands as the ultimate guarantor of companies' pension liabilities, plan sponsors have an incentive to invest their assets in equities rather than fixed-income securities of the same duration as the liabilities. Second, funding rules allow companies to make gradual contributions to their pension plans in the event of underfunding, which guarantees long-term exposure for the PBGC. Furthermore, when faced with higher contributions, companies have usually appealed to Congress to reduce the underfunding that they need to report, which reduces contribution requirements.

Unfortunately, Congress has failed to adequately address the problems of the PBGC. In temporary legislation passed in April 2004, Congress reduced the required contributions companies must make to their defined-benefit pension plans by an estimated $80 billion over two years by changing the formula used to calculate pension liabilities. Congress also provided additional relief of approximately $1.6 billion to steel and airline companies with heavily underfunded pension plans.

Rather than place the PBGC on sounder financial footing, those measures will likely worsen the agency's financial condition.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 11:27 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (2)

Explaining APSA

William Sjostrom has taken a look at the American Political Science Association's (APSA) press release announcing the highlights for its annual conference next week. Sjostrom thinks the deck of high-profile speakers is stacked:

Their featured speakers from outside the profession are George Soros, Mary Robinson, Paul Heinbecker, Lani Guinier, and Joseph Stiglitz....

Guinier and Robinson are experienced, articulate and smart lawyers. Whatever his failings as a policy maker, as an economic theorist Stiglitz is a genius. Granted, Soros is a few cards shy of a full deck, but he is a billionaire, so maybe he will pick up the lunch tab. What is depressing is remarkably narrow range of ideas present. If this were the annual banquet for The Nation, it would be hardly out of place. But for the APSA featured speaker line-up, it is seems as if the organizers are indulging in aggressive ideological narrowness.

Sjostrom has half a point. I flipped through some of the previous APSA programs, and though there are some exceptions -- William Kristol is an APSA regular -- most of the guest speakers range from mainstream Democrat (Rep. John Lewis, Amitai Etzioni) to radical leftist (Noam Chomsky). And I'll certainly acknowledge that the APSA membership and structure is probably skewed slightly to the left.

Over time, this is undoubtedly a self-reinforcing equilibrium, as conservative-minded political scientists abandon conferences like APSA for the think tank world or for parallel organizations like the Eric Voegelin Society. The assumption that all academics are leftists probably makes it difficult for APSA to obtain top-flight speakers that are right of center.

However, before anyone gets too excited, a brutal, unvarnished truth must be acknowledged -- at most, 5% of APSA participants attend these talks. APSA has about 6,000 attendees, and a crowd of 300 for these kind of talks would be impressive. These speakers influence no one, but are rather preaching to a small and committed choir.

The reasons for the poor attendance are several. First, these kind of talks are usually held during the vital hours of eating and drinking, where the real business of APSA is conducted: power-schmoozing. Well, that and reconnecting with old grad school friends. Second, after a long day of presenting, discussing, and listening to political science, the last thing most people want to do is go to a lecture about politics.

Which is the other dirty secret about my profession -- there's a difference between political science and politics. Most of the presentations and papers given at APSA do not address normative debates about the way politics should be. Instead, they are more detached analyses of why things are the way they are. Sometimes the answers can be ideological, but most political scientists just care about whether their answer is correct -- or more precisely, whether someone else can demonstrate that their preferred answer is wrong.

Anyway, now is as good a time as any to link back to my tips for conference rookies attending APSA for the first time this year.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Open intelligence reform thread

Feel free to comment here on Senator Pat Roberts' proposed plan for intelligence reform. As I've said before, I'm leery of the pushes towards centralization made in the 9/11 Commission report, and Roberts' proposal goes further in some ways. On the other hand, I really do like the idea of splitting up the analytic and clandestine components of the CIA, an I really like the idea of rotating intelligence officers through different agencies.

My opinion don't count for much on this, however. On the other hand, Amy Zegart's opinion does count for a great deal -- intelligence reform is what she studies. So check out what Zegart said last night on Aaron Brown's NewsNight:

It's one of the boldest proposals for reform that we've seen in the 57 years of the intelligence community....

I think one of the critical differences between Senator Roberts' proposal and the 9/11 Commission is the 9/11 Commission essentially said, "Look at the pieces we have here. How can we make these work better?" Senator Roberts' proposal actually takes out that blank sheet of paper and says, "How could we actually redesign the entire intelligence system to work better?"

.... I think there are three major differences that make it better than, for example, the 9/11 Commission proposal. The first is that the national intelligence director has even more power in Senator Roberts' proposal than in the 9/11 Commission.

Now, bear in mind that the details of this proposal of Senator Roberts' proposal are not widely known but my understanding is the national intelligence director would have hiring and firing power that goes far deeper in agencies that now reside in the Pentagon, like the National Security Agency.

The second change is, as you mentioned, dismantling the CIA, separating in particular the clandestine side of the CIA from the analytic side of the CIA.

But there's a third change. And I think it is harder to see and equally important. And that's Senator Roberts' proposal tries to get at cultural changes inside the community. The 9/11 Commission identified critical cultural pathologies in our intelligence system, but really put off proposals for solving them and put them in the hands of the national intelligence director.

Senator Roberts' proposal actually goes much farther than that. For example, you'll notice the language refers to a national intelligence service. Dismantling the CIA is part of creating that one-team approach. And there are also requirements in this proposal to, for example, require the rotation of intelligence officials to different agencies outside their own, which is crucial for getting them to trust and understand each other and share information better.

UPDATE: I think it's safe to say that Fred Kaplan doesn't like the proposal.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (1)

My kind of president

Screw Bush or Kerry -- why can't someone like Mikheil Saakashvili run for president in the United States? As someone who witnessed first-hand the Soviet-style traffic police in action when living in Ukraine, I could only weep with joy after reading C.J. Chivers' account in the New York Times of Saakashvili's police reforms. The good parts:

Georgia has had what it calls its Rose Revolution, the bloodless nudge last year that pushed President Eduard A. Shevardnadze from power. Now it is having a road revolution, utterly changing what it is like to drive in one corner of the former Soviet Union.

This summer Mikhail Saakashvili, Mr. Shevardnadze's successor, dismissed his nation's traffic police officers, almost to a man, and a month later he replaced them with a force whose Western influences are unmistakable.

Two remarkable things followed.

First, for a month in Georgia there were almost no traffic police at all, a condition that led one Russian visitor to declare that in the summer of 2004 it was as if the White Guard had left the city, but the Red Guard had not arrived. According to Mr. Saakashvili, the accident rate held steady, which says more about the ineffectiveness of the former traffic cops than about the defensive driving habits of Georgian drivers, such as they are.

The second and more lasting change is that Mr. Saakashvili appears to have struck a decisive blow against one of the most loathed figures to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union....

Even in the pandemic of corruption that is the former Soviet Union, traffic police officers are nearly universally regarded as an especially low form of social parasite, an opinion that holds true from Moscow to Samarkand.

Georgia's problems were of a type. It had become impossible to drive any distance without being stopped. Mr. Saakashvili said that was so because every traffic cop was expected to pay his supervisor a regular cut, and every supervisor paid his senior officer, up the chain of command. "It was like a pyramid," he said in an interview in his office in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. "The police were the biggest headache in this country."

For Mr. Saakashvili, who has taken to fighting corruption with vigor, the traffic police, known here as GAI (pronounced ga-EE), were the perfect opponent for his fight card - flabby, unpopular and crooked, ready-made for a quick knockdown.

He disbanded them in July. A new force was recruited, trained and dispatched by mid-August. Called the Patrol Police, it has a broader mission than traffic enforcement and is modeled after American state police.

It is also smaller than GAI, with 1,600 officers, and better paid than the old, to reduce the temptation to levy informal driving taxes.

Read the whole thing. And here's a backgrounder on Georgia's current situation.

Finally, a president who actually wants to shrink the state!

UPDATE: Thanks to Jonathan Kulick, who links to this Economist story from July about Georgia's new economy minister Kakha Bendukidze. The highlights:

If you want to buy a dysfunctional boiler house, an international airport, a tea plantation, an oil terminal, a proctology clinic, a vineyard, a telephone company, a film studio, a lost-property office or a beekeepers' regulatory board, then call Kakha Bendukidze, Georgia's new economy minister. His privatisation drive has made him a keen seller of all the above. And for the right price he will throw in the Tbilisi State Concert Hall and the Georgian National Mint as well.

Mr Bendukidze made his name and fortune as an industrialist in neighbouring Russia, putting together the country's biggest heavy-engineering group, OMZ, before returning to his native Georgia in June of this year with a mandate to reverse more than a decade of post-Soviet decay. He insists that he was taken by surprise when Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili, and prime minister, Zurab Zhvania, nobbled him for a chat in the course of a private visit he made to Tbilisi in May, and then offered him a ministerial job the same evening. But having said yes, he is cracking ahead, doing everything that businessmen must dream of making governments do. He says that Georgia should be ready to sell “everything that can be sold, except its conscience”. And that is just the start.

Next year—if not sooner—he will cut the rate of income tax from 20% to 12%, payroll taxes from 33% to 20%, value-added tax from 20% to 18%, and abolish 12 kinds of tax altogether. He wants to let leading foreign banks and insurers open branches freely. He wants to abolish laws on legal tender, so that investors can use whatever currency they want. He hates foreign aid—it “destroys your ability to do things for yourself,” he says—though he concedes that political realities will oblige him to accept it for at least the next three years or so.

As to where investors should put their money, “I don't know and I don't care,” he says, and continues: “I have shut down the department of industrial policy. I am shutting down the national investment agency. I don't want the national innovation agency.” Oh yes, and he plans to shut down the country's anti-monopoly agency too. “If somebody thinks his rights are being infringed he can go to the courts, not to the ministry.” He plans, as his crowning achievement, to abolish his own ministry in 2007. “In a normal country, you don't need a ministry of the economy,” he says. “And in three years we can make the backbone of a normal country.”

The rest of the story explains why this schedule may be just a tad optimistic -- but damn, do I like this guy's instincts.

Finally, a leader for the lower-right quadrant!!

LAST UPDATE: Gavin Sheridan has lots of posts on Georgia.

posted by Dan at 01:29 AM | Comments (33) | Trackbacks (6)

Monday, August 23, 2004

Deciphering Lou Dobbs

Lou Dobbs has just published a book, Exporting America : Why Corporate Greed Is Shipping American Jobs Overseas. To promote it, Dobbs gave a long interview to Bill Moyers on the latter's PBS program.

The interview provides a field day of contradictions and economic illiteracy, but the one thing that came through loud and clear is that Lou Dobbs is not the best writer in the world. Moyers quotes the opening passage from Exporting America:

The power of big business over our national life has never been greater. Never have there been fewer business leaders willing to commit to the national interest over the selfish interest for the good of the company over that of the company's they head. (emphasis added)

I'm pretty sure I know what Dobbs meant by that second sentence -- but I can't swear complete certainty.

UPDATE: Thanks to alert reader gw, who actually went into the bookstore and discovered that the underlined sentence is written as: "Never have there been fewer business leaders willing to commit to the national interest over the selfish interest for the good of the country over that of the companies they head."

Slightly more intelligible, but I think the Pulitzer committee will be underwhelmed.

posted by Dan at 01:21 PM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

Singing the deficit blues

Over at Time's web site, Perry Bacon Jr. declares a pox on both Bush and Kerry when it comes to deficit reduction:

The problem, experts say, is that neither candidate truly has a plan to rein in America's burgeoning budget deficit which currently sits at more than $400 billion. Both campaigns offer budget plans that hide costs or assume savings that are unlikely to occur, while adding more than $1 trillion of new spending. And while each candidate promises to cut the deficit in half over the next four years, the issue ranks low on their priority list....

In his campaign, Bush rarely discusses deficit reduction as an issue, choosing to say that America has had more important priorities over the last four years: improving the economy through tax cuts and fighting the wars. He has pledged to cut the deficit by half over the next four years, mainly with increased economic growth bringing in more tax revenues and holding down spending, except for homeland security and defense. But Bush's chief campaign promise is to make permanent all the tax cuts he has signed as president, many of which are set to expire over the next decade. That won’t be cheap; it will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion, and budget experts say Bush’s projections don’t include many costs, such as continued spending on the wars and assume Congress will hold down costs on many other domestic programs like education....

Despite the right advisers and phrases, Kerry's budget doesn't show the discipline of his talk. Kerry advisers propose a health plan of more than $900 billion dollars, but say more than $300 in cost reductions will result in a slimmer $650 billion tab. Experts question whether the Kerry campaign can truly save $300 billion by changes such as improved medical technology. Other Kerry plans require cuts in "corporate welfare" that aren't spelled out specifically. Kerry proposes to roll back tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 each, which would raise an estimated $800 billion that Kerry could spend on education and health care. But Kerry also supports more than $400 billion in tax cuts, keeping Bush's tax reductions on middle class Americans, and throwing in new ones, such as a $4,000 tuition tax credit for families sending a child to college. And Kerry doesn’t apply his "pay-go" rule to his support of the Bush middle-class tax cuts.

Like Bush, Kerry spends about $1.2 trillion dollars and doesn’t include costs for the war and other likely expenses. “What he's saying is that even though I’m criticizing Bush, I've got the same goal he does," says Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan Washington group that focuses on deficit reduction. "Kerry does a good job explaining why deficits matter, but I think the actual numbers he's putting out don't necessarily match the rhetoric."

This mirrors a point Steve Chapman made last week in the Chicago Tribune:

The budget surplus is gone, federal spending is out of control and the government is swimming in debt. But, to coin a phrase, help is on the way. President Bush and Sen. John Kerry both promise that in the next four years, they will cut this year's $445 billion federal budget deficit in half.

To which serious students of the budget reply: Big, fat, hairy deal. The vow is only slightly more risky than promising that four years from now, everyone will be four years older. All the next president needs to do to cut the deficit in half, you see, is ... nothing. Leave existing laws and policies in place, without changing a thing, and the deficit would dwindle to a mere $228 billion. For that, we don't need a president.

Kerry and Bush, to be fair, do not propose to do nothing. They have all sorts of plans to shower citizens with new spending programs and tax cuts, even though we can't pay for the ones we've got. But they insist they can hand out these goodies while making big advances against the deficit--Bush by cracking down on new spending, Kerry by repealing tax cuts for the rich.

To assume they'll actually attack the deficit requires a suspension of disbelief. The Bush who says he'll hold down domestic outlays, after all, is the same Bush who has never vetoed a spending bill, or any other bill--the first president with that dubious distinction since James Garfield, who had the excuse of being mortally wounded by an assassin after only four months in office....

Kerry is more believable only because he doesn't even feign interest in spending discipline. The National Taxpayers Union Foundation estimates that all his promises would raise annual federal outlays by $226 billion a year.

Some of this would be paid for by repealing some of the Bush tax cuts, but much of it would come from piling up debt for our children and grandchildren. The anti-deficit Concord Coalition figures that based on their public commitments, either Bush or Kerry would enlarge the projected deficit over the next 10 years by about $1.3 trillion.

Even their meager promise to halve the deficit rests on the sort of accounting that got Enron in trouble. Bush's blueprint doesn't include the $50 billion he plans to request for the occupation of Iraq over the next year--and it assumes we won't spend anything in Iraq after that. Kerry, in a show of bipartisanship, makes the same convenient but ridiculous assumption.

I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I've never been more underwhelmed with my choice of major party candidates.

If I haven't depressed you already, go check out the Concord Coalition's latest report on fiscal responsibility. The quick summary:

The budget deficit continues to ratchet upward and there is no consensus on what, if anything, to do about it. At best, Washington policymakers seem content to tread water in the rising tide of red ink. At worst, they are cynically professing concern about the deficit while pursuing tax and spending policies they know will only dig the fiscal hole deeper. One thing is clear: specific plans to actually reduce the deficit are not on the agenda. Such complacency is not warranted....

Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected a fiscal year 2004 deficit of $477 billion. Since then, however, revenue growth has been stronger than expected and the actual deficit for 2004 will likely be closer to the $445 billion deficit that the Bush administration (OMB) now projects. Does that mean that current policies are bringing the deficit down? No. For one thing, the deficit is going up, not down. It is true that when CBO issues its next forecast, the projected deficit will be lower than it was–just as the OMB's projected deficit has declined since February. What matters, however, is the bottom line and there can be no denying that a deficit of $445 billion, or close to it, is considerably larger than last year’s deficit of $375 billion....

Fiscal policy this year has featured wishful thinking and creative accounting rather than actions to control the deficit.

posted by Dan at 12:16 AM | Comments (53) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, August 21, 2004

A multiple choice question for my readers

Lawrence Krubner left a comment on this Brad DeLong post that rings partially true to me:

When I look back at my past blogrolls and I see how many of my once favorite weblogs are now defunct, it strikes me that weblogs have a shorter life-span that even teenage rock-bands. There's been about 80% turnover among my once favorite weblogs, and yet I've only had a blogroll for 2 years. It seems to me all weblogs go down one of three paths: 1.) They end. 2.) They don't end, but the author becomes comfortable taking breaks of a month or two (both Virginia Postrel and Christina Wodtke took month long breaks when they were in the final stages of the various books they've each written). 3.) They don't end, but become group weblogs. Tom Tomorrow, Chris Bertram, Eugene Volkoh, and Harry Hatchet all gave up on go-it-alone weblogs and then either joined group weblogs (Crooked Timber for Chris Bertram) or invited other writers to write on their site. Becoming a group weblog has the same result for each individual writer: it becomes easier for them to take month-long breaks.

This strikes me as something of an exaggeration -- most of the blogs I originally put on the blogrolll are still quite active.

However.... for professional and personal reasons that will soon become apparent, I may be facing one of Krubner's three options relatively soon. Option one seems too radical, and I doubt I'll be pursuing it. So I have a question for my readers -- would you prefer irregular blogging from me alone -- à la the great Virginia Postrel -- or having expand into drezner&

I await your input.

UPDATE: Thanks for all the input!! I'll be reaching my decision soon.

posted by Dan at 09:49 PM | Comments (76) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Hi, my name is Dan....

Will Baude has an amusing post up about addiction over at Crescat Sententia. The good part:

I remember being struck that if you took the various signs of "alcoholism" and replaced books and reading as appropriate, nearly all of them applied to me:

Are books a necessary part of your daily routine? Check. Do you become grumpy and irritable if your books are taken away from you? Check. If you begin reading, just a little bit, do you find it hard to stop? Check. Do you find yourself growing distant from friends who disapprove of your book habit? Big check. Do you find yourself needing more and more books to get the same "fix"? Check. When you meet a new person or enter a new room, do you instantly size up his bookshelf? Check. Does your book habit sometimes get in the way of leading a "normal" life? Check. (Think of the countless social engagements I have declined because I preferred to finish an addictive read.) Do you buy books to make yourself feel better when sad or lonely? Check.

If you'll all excuse me, I think I have to go to the Seminary Co-op for a little bit. As I'm there, I'll keep Phoebe Maltz's words of wisdom in mind:

At least at Chicago, if not in some larger segments of the world, a person who reads books all the time is considered admirable, even if all that is gained by this reading is that the reader is entertained.

posted by Dan at 05:10 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

The latest Iraq autopsy

Larry Diamond was a Senior Adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad from January to April of this year. A few months ago I blogged about his dissatisfaction with the administration's handling of the post-war occupation of Iraq.

Diamond has articulated that dissatisfaction into a lengthy essay in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs entitled "What Went Wrong in Iraq," that expands on this criticism at length. It's sobering reading. Here's how it starts:

With the transfer of power to a new interim Iraqi government on June 28, the political phase of U.S. occupation came to an abrupt end. The transfer marked an urgently needed, and in some ways hopeful, new departure for Iraq. But it did not erase, or even much ease at first, the most pressing problems confronting that beleaguered country: endemic violence, a shattered state, a nonfunctioning economy, and a decimated society. Some of these problems may have been inevitable consequences of the war to topple Saddam Hussein. But Iraq today falls far short of what the Bush administration promised. As a result of a long chain of U.S. miscalculations, the coalition occupation has left Iraq in far worse shape than it need have and has diminished the long-term prospects of democracy there. Iraqis, Americans, and other foreigners continue to be killed. What went wrong?

Many of the original miscalculations made by the Bush administration are well known. But the early blunders have had diffuse, profound, and lasting consequences-some of which are only now becoming clear. The first and foremost of these errors concerned security: the Bush administration was never willing to commit anything like the forces necessary to ensure order in postwar Iraq. From the beginning, military experts warned Washington that the task would require, as Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki told Congress in February 2003, "hundreds of thousands" of troops. For the United States to deploy forces in Iraq at the same ratio to population as NATO had in Bosnia would have required half a million troops. Yet the coalition force level never reached even a third of that figure. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior civilian deputies rejected every call for a much larger commitment and made it very clear, despite their disingenuous promises to give the military "everything" it asked for, that such requests would not be welcome. No officer missed the lesson of General Shinseki, whom the Pentagon rewarded for his public candor by announcing his replacement a year early, making him a lame-duck leader long before his term expired. Officers and soldiers in Iraq were forced to keep their complaints about insufficient manpower and equipment private, even as top political officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) insisted publicly that greater military action was necessary to secure the country.

In truth, around 300,000 troops might have been enough to make Iraq largely secure after the war. But doing so would also have required different kinds of troops, with different rules of engagement. The coalition should have deployed vastly more military police and other troops trained for urban patrols, crowd control, civil reconstruction, and peace maintenance and enforcement. Tens of thousands of soldiers with sophisticated monitoring equipment should have been posted along the borders with Syria and Iran to intercept the flows of foreign terrorists, Iranian intelligence agents, money, and weapons.

But Washington failed to take such steps, for the same reasons it decided to occupy Iraq with a relatively light force: hubris and ideology. Contemptuous of the State Department's regional experts who were seen as too "soft" to remake Iraq, a small group of Pentagon officials ignored the elaborate postwar planning the State Department had overseen through its "Future of Iraq" project, which had anticipated many of the problems that emerged after the invasion. Instead of preparing for the worst, Pentagon planners assumed that Iraqis would joyously welcome U.S. and international troops as liberators. With Saddam's military and security apparatus destroyed, the thinking went, Washington could capitalize on the goodwill by handing the country over to Iraqi expatriates such as Ahmed Chalabi, who would quickly create a new democratic state. Not only would fewer U.S. troops be needed at first, but within a year, the troop levels could drop to a few tens of thousands.

Of course, these naive assumptions quickly collapsed, along with overall security, in the immediate aftermath of the war. U.S. troops stood by helplessly, outnumbered and unprepared, as much of Iraq's remaining physical, economic, and institutional infrastructure was systematically looted and sabotaged. And even once it became obvious that the looting was not a one-time breakdown of social order but an elaborately organized, armed, and financed resistance to the U.S. occupation, the Bush administration compounded its initial mistakes by stubbornly refusing to send in more troops. Administration officials repeatedly deluded themselves into believing that the defeat of the insurgency was just around the corner-just as soon as the long, hot summer of 2003 ended, or reconstruction dollars started flowing in and jobs were created, or the political transition began, or Saddam Hussein was captured, or the interim government was inaugurated. As in Vietnam, a turning point always seemed imminent, and Washington refused to grasp the depth of popular disaffection.

Under its chief administrator, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, the CPA (which ruled Iraq from May 2003 until June 2004) worked hard and creatively to craft a transition to a legitimate, viable, and democratic system of government while rebuilding the overall economy and society. As I saw during my brief tenure as a senior CPA adviser on governance earlier this year, the U.S. administration got a number of things right. But one cannot review the political record without underscoring the pervasive security deficit, which undermined everything else the coalition sought to achieve.

Read the whole thing. And here's a link to the rest of Diamond's writings on Iraq.

posted by Dan at 03:24 PM | Comments (68) | Trackbacks (5)

Just how Wilsonian are Americans?

Patrick Belton links to the joint Pew/Council on Foreign Relations public opinion survey and comments as follows:

[C]oming into the elections, a rather strong plurality of respondents (41 percent) believe foreign policy issues are the most important facing the nation, compared with economic issues (26 percent) and other domestic issues (also 26 percent). Interestingly, it also shows the American public is solidly Wilsonian, with 72 percent believing the top priority for American foreign policy is to follow moral principles. Roughly two-thirds then say the top priority should be 'cautious' (66) or 'decisive' (62), with Republicans tending to say 'decisive' and Democrats 'cautious'. (emphasis added)

The Council on Foreign Relations seems to agree with Belton's interpretation, asserting, "Realpolitik does not play well with the American public."

The data that Patrick reports is correct but incomplete. Belton's numbers come from the "Beliefs" section. However, when you look at the "Foreign Policy Priorities" section, you get some different looking results. Here's the numbers on what should be a "top priority" of foreign policy (this is from p. 18 of the report). I've bolded the causes that could be clearly labeled as Wilsonian and italicized those that smack of a realist outlook on world affairs:

Percent considering each a “top priority” (July 2004)
Protect against terrorist attacks -- 88
Protect jobs of American workers -- 84
Reduce spread of AIDS & other diseases -- 72
Stop spread of weapons of mass destruction -- 71
Insure adequate energy supplies -- 70
Reduce dependence on foreign oil -- 63
Combat international drug trafficking -- 63
Distribute costs of maintaining world order -- 58
Improve relationships with allies -- 54
Deal with problem of world hunger -- 50
Strengthen the United Nations -- 48
Protect groups threatened with genocide -- 47
Deal with global warming -- 36
Reduce U.S. military commitments -- 35
Promote U.S. business interests abroad -- 35
Promote human rights abroad -- 33
Solve Israeli/ Palestinian conflict -- 28
Promote democracy abroad -- 24
Improve living standards in poor nations -- 23

That's not a Wilsonian ordering of priorities. With the exception of the AIDS response, this is quite the realpolitik preference ordering -- including the (dispiritingly) robust popularity of protectionism.

These results bolster a thesis that I've been cogitating on for the past few months: despite claims by international relations theorists -- including most realists -- that the overwhelming majority of Americans hold liberal policy preferences, it just ain't so. Even if those beliefs are extolled in the abstract, when asked to prioritize among different foreign policy tasks, the realist position wins.

This observation about the shift in attitudes since October 2001 is also interesting (p. 19):

The shift in public priorities since the fall of 2001 is largely a consequence of growing divisions along partisan lines. While Republicans and Democrats had similar lists of foreign policy priorities in October 2001, they are increasingly focused on different issues today.

Protecting the U.S. against terrorism is by far the leading priority among Republicans, with more than nine-in-ten (93%) rating that goal a top priority. By comparison, about as many Democrats cite protecting U.S. jobs as a major priority as mention terrorism (89% vs. 86%). And while Republicans are more focused on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction and reducing America’s dependence on imported oil, Democrats are more concerned about reducing the spread of AIDS and combating international drug trafficking.

posted by Dan at 10:45 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Happy blogiversary to Eric Zorn!!

Eric Zorn, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, has been blogging for a year now. His column in today's Trib reflects on the past year:

Skeptics wondered if I'd lost my mind.

A year ago this week when I launched the Tribune's first daily Web log, they pointed out I was signing on to do lots of extra work that would reach, at best, a small fraction of those who see this column, that my new-media experiment was going to stumble over the barriers of old-media conventions and that the project was going to haunt my every waking hour.

They said I was jumping down from my perch and turning myself into just another bloviator in the unregulated, highly idiosyncratic and often preposterously self-indulgent crowd of bloggers.

I answered that blogs are a hot medium with nearly endless opportunities for columnists who want to incubate, tease and follow up on ideas that may not fit into the allotted daily rectangle. I'll have a blast and we'll make it work somehow.

It turned out everyone was right.

Read the whole thing. Jeff Jarvis is quoted, and he expands on his thoughts in this post, which closes:

In the end, blogging is just a tool -- history's easiest publishing tool connected to the world via history's best communications network. How can we not all use it?

UPDATE: Henry Copeland has some useful thoughts on this.

posted by Dan at 04:21 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (1)

Blowback on charter schools

Diana Jean Schemo's New York Times front-pager on Tuesday about an American Federation of Teachers report claiming that charter schools are underperformers compared to public schools has caused Laura at the (newly moved) Apartment 11D to despair:

I am disappointed. I could easily imagine that alternative schools would attract some talented, younger teachers. What is going wrong? Are these alternative schools just attracting faculty who don't like supervision?

One possibility is that -- contrary to the fears of skeptics -- it turns out that charter schools do not merely skim the public student body's cream of the crop. As Harvard researchers Will Howell, Paul Peterson, and Martin West point out in their Wall Street Journal op-ed: "These results could easily indicate nothing other than the simple fact that charter schools are typically asked to serve problematic students in low-performing districts with many poor, minority children." Here's the graphical presentation:


Another problem with the AFT study -- it provides only a snapshot of performance, without any trend line. Even the Times story observes:

One previous study, however, suggests that tracking students over time might present findings more favorable to the charter movement. Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who conducted a two-year study of 569 charter schools in 10 states found that while charter school students typically score lower on state tests, over time they progress at faster rates than students in traditional public schools.

Here's a link to an extract from that report.

For more links/critiques of the AFT study, see Mickey Kaus, Matthew Yglesias, Stuart Buck, and Andy Rotherham(here, here, and here).

Shame on the Times -- and its editorial board, for that matter -- for buying the AFT spin hook, line and sinker.

One interesting puzzle, however. The Times story says the American Federation of Teachers "has historically supported charter schools." Rotherham says, "how long can the AFT continue to trade on the notion that all this is more in sorrow than anger? They just don't like charter schools...." My instinct is to side with Rotterham, but I really don't know which assertion is correct. UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides some clues.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brennan Stout tips me to yesterday's Chicago Tribune editorial, which has some issues with the AFT study:

Much of the previous research on charter schools, which operate free of most of the regulations governing neighborhood schools, suggests that charters tend to attract lower-performing students in the first place. These data only seem to support that.

"Any parent who has a kid in a school who's doing great and is learning a lot, is happy and is scoring high on standardized tests probably isn't going to take him out of his regular school and put him in a charter school," says Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who has conducted several studies on charter schools.

The AFT analysis unfortunately glosses over a central difference between charter and neighborhood schools: their missions. In Chicago, for instance, North Lawndale College Prep posts lousy standardized test scores; yet because its focus is on college attendance, an astonishing 85 percent of graduates go on to higher education.

Triumphant Charter School was created specifically to educate failing middle school children. The most difficult students are recruited from neighborhood schools, and teachers there are only too happy to hand them over.

So of course Triumphant students also post dismal test scores, compared to state averages. But their overall gains in reading and math usually exceed those of the neighborhood schools that sent them, and attendance is better, too....

Some of the most intriguing data about charter schools can't be measured by standardized tests. It's the number of children on waiting lists, hoping to get into charter schools. In Chicago, that list has gotten so long most charters have stopped actively recruiting.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Chester Finn, the charter school advocate quoted in the Times piece bemoaning the low scores of chater schools, blasts the underlying story line here.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (5)

Yeah, this'll probably need to go into the revised blog paper

Should Henry Farrell and I revise our blog paper -- and of course we'll be revising it -- Wednesday's White House Briefing by Dan Froomkin in will probably have to be cited.

Why? I'm glad you asked:

Jimmy Orr, the White House's Internet guru, wants the White House Web site to get bloggier.

"We're trying to make it more bloggish," he says in an interview. "People need to see that we're on the site and we're listening to what they have to say."

So, he says: "We're going to try -- as questions come in, and as people have comments about the events of the day -- to be more proactive."

Blogs -- short for Web logs -- are all the rage these days. And while some people use them for such things as chronicling their sex lives, they have more significantly emerged as a potent vehicle for news and views on the Internet.

Two of the most seminal features of blogs are interaction with readers and immediacy. And the White House Web site under Orr, an enthusiastic 37-year-old press office staffer, has already taken some steps in that direction.

White House Interactive is generally updated daily with a new e-mail question from the public and an answer, typically from someone fairly high up in the White House staff....

A while back, Orr was his own guest on "Ask the White House" One questioner raised the topic of blogging. And it turns out Orr's a fan.

"Bloggers are very instrumental. They are important. They can lead the news. And they've been underestimated," he wrote.

"Here's what the bloggers do. They notice something in the news or something they've observed that maybe the 'traditional' media hasn't covered or isn't spending much time on. But they think it is significant. So, they give the story a second life (or first). And they talk about it. And others talk about it. Before you know it, it is leading the news."

In his online appearance, Orr mentioned a few blogs he reads regularly. He e-mailed me a more extensive list:

The Note, from ABC News

Noted Now, also from ABC News

Andrew Sullivan


•'s Best of the Web Today


White House Briefing (You're reading it.)

James Lileks

And he's not the only one in the White House who reads blogs, he says. Far from it.

"They're important here," he says. "I can tell you that a lot of people read them."

Note to White House officials (and others): Don't forget to nominate your favorites for's 2004 Best Blogs - Politics and Elections Readers' Choice Awards.

Bloggers are rightly accused of excessive navel-gazing, and according to the Washington Times' Chris Baker, blogs "have been the domain primarily of amateur political pundits, conspiracy theorists and pseudo-experts on any number of topics." Still, it is worth observing that both Orr's analysis of blogs -- as well as his reading preferences -- seem to buttress the arguments made in our blog paper.

[Hey, what about that WaPo contest?--ed. Readers should feel free to knock themselves out.]

posted by Dan at 12:33 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (1)

I'd like some porn to go with my glass of red wine

The following is a public health posting from

The Australian reports that a dash of pornography can be good for you (link via Joe Gandelman -- he's the one who originally linked to this, blame him!!):

Pornography is good for people, the academic leading a taxpayer-funded study of the subject said yesterday, as the Coalition and Labor traded jibes about an Opposition push to stop online porn reaching home computers.

Alan McKee, who with academics Catharine Lumby and Kath Albury is conducting the Understanding Pornography in Australia study, said that a survey of more than 1000 porn-users must be taken into account as Labor considers forcing all internet service providers to automatically filter hardcore porn to protect children.

"The surprising finding was that pornography is actually good for you in many ways," Dr McKee said.

"When you look at people who are using it in everyday life, over 90 per cent report it has had a very positive effect."

Dr McKee said porn users reported it had taught them "to be more relaxed about their sexuality" and marriages were healthier, while porn made people think about another person's pleasure and made them less judgmental about body shapes.

"The more we try and turn porn into something that's seen to be bad and has to be kept away from families, the more problems we might be causing for ourselves."

Much as I would like to say that it's scientifically sound to use porn, the social scientist in me has to observe two whopping caveats to this report:

1) This conclusion appears to be based on self-reporting and reaction by porn users -- which is like asking people in a bar whether they're more sociable after a drink or two;

2) "Appears" is italicized is the last point because it's possible that other metrics were used -- but damned if I know. The Understanding Pornography in Australia web site does not have any research results posted. For a .info website, in fact, there's precious little information. That's not a good sign.

[That analysis was so robust, so powerful!!--ed. Oh, shut up.]

posted by Dan at 12:10 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Tipping towards one side of the fence

A few days ago I asked:

Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?

Phil Carter has a lengthy and compelling post that looks at the Tommy Franks book, American Soldier, and highlights highlights just how f#$&ed up the policy process leading up to Operation Iraqi Freedom really was (link via Kevin Drum). Some of the disturbing parts:

Gen. Franks briefed the President and the NSC principals that Phase IV entailed significant strategic and operational risk, and that there was no good solution yet for Phase IV. Yet, the discussion afterwards focused entirely on WMD, Scuds, issues with allies, and other issues focused on Phase III. No one asked Gen. Franks about Phase IV; it seemed like an afterthought. That makes sense because the White House and Pentagon leaders saw Operation Iraqi Freedom as Desert Storm II in many ways — where we dodged the post-war issue by limiting our objectives and pulling out rapidly. This passage implies that Gen. Franks was aware of the problem, but his bosses weren't — and he didn't pop a starcluster to let them know of the problem....

On page 393, Gen. Franks tells of another briefing to President Bush and the NSC principals — this time in Aug. 2002, in the White House. Here again, Gen. Franks discussed the post-war issues, but apparently in a brief and optimistic way:

My final chart was potentially the most important: PHASE IV STABILITY OPERATIONS.

"The Generated and Running Starts," I explained, "and the Hybrid Concept all project Phase III ending with a maximum of two hundred and fifty thousand troops in Iraq. We will have to stand up a new Iraqi army, and create a constabulary that includes a representative tribal, religious and ethnic mix. It will take time.

"And well-designed and well-funded reconstruction projects that put large numbers of Iraqis to work and quickly meet community needs — and expectations — will be the keys to our success in Phase IV."

"We will want to get Iraqis in charge of Iraq as soon as possible," Don Rumsfeld said. On hearing his words, heads nodded around the table.

"At some point," I said, "we can begin drawing down our force. We'll want to retain a core strength of at least fifty thousand men, and our troop reductions should parallel deployment of representative, professional Iraqi security forces. Our exit strategy will be tied to effective governance by Iraqis, not to a timeline."

I saw further nods around the table. And then Condi Rice tapped her watch; we were out of time.

Analysis: Wow... the "group think" is so thick in this briefing that you can taste it. Heads nodding... eyes indicating assent without question... this is not an OPLAN briefing, this is a love-fest. Seriously, one can start adding up all of the implicit assumptions in these statements by Gen. Franks, and figure out exactly why the Phase IV plan went so poorly. For starters, there's no discussion of initial security needs, or initial needs for law and order. Second, there's no discussion of institutional responsibility for the key reconstruction projects described as being so essential — something we know now well in the crack between State/USAID and Defense. Third, we have an incredibly optimistic troop redeployment estimate by Gen. Franks that reflects the best case scenario for post-war stability and reconstruction efforts. I don't know whether less optimistic scenarios were presented to the President or not, but it's clear from Franks' book that he certainly didn't give him any. And so, President Bush decided to go to war on the basis of this best case scenario, without the expectation that we could get bogged down in Phase IV.

Fareed Zakaria also highlighted the process problem in yesterday's Washington Post:

Bush's position is that if Kerry agrees with him that Hussein was a problem, then Kerry agrees with his Iraq policy. Doing something about Iraq meant doing what Bush did. But is that true? Did the United States have to go to war before the weapons inspectors had finished their job? Did it have to junk the U.N. process? Did it have to invade with insufficient troops to provide order and stability in Iraq? Did it have to occupy a foreign country with no cover of legitimacy from the world community? Did it have to ignore the State Department's postwar planning? Did it have to pack the Iraqi Governing Council with unpopular exiles, disband the army and engage in radical de-Baathification? Did it have to spend a fraction of the money allocated for Iraqi reconstruction -- and have that be mired in charges of corruption and favoritism? Was all this an inevitable consequence of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein?

Perhaps Iraq would have been a disaster no matter what. But there's a thinly veiled racism behind such views, implying that Iraqis are savages genetically disposed to produce chaos and anarchy. In fact, other nation-building efforts over the past decade have gone reasonably well, when well planned and executed.

"Strategy is execution," Louis Gerstner, former chief executive of IBM, American Express and RJR Nabisco, has often remarked. In fact, it's widely understood in the business world that having a good objective means nothing if you implement it badly. "Unless you translate big thoughts into concrete steps for action, they're pointless," writes Larry Bossidy, former chief executive of Honeywell.

I don't agree the sentence about "junking the UN process," -- Germany gets the first-mover prize in that regard -- but beyond that Zakaria makes a powerful case about the primacy of process.

But what about the objectives? Matthew Yglesias responds to my previous post in this way:

[T]he complaint against Kerry is that his strategy is (allegedly) vague, shapeless, and possibly nonexistent. Insofar as that's true, it's not a good thing, but it leaves open the possibility that a good strategy will be formulated, or, perhaps more likely, that drift will be well-managed. I wouldn't call that a really strong case for Kerry, but compared to the alternative of guaranteed failure, it seems clearly preferable.

Carter, Zakaria, and Yglesias are persuasive -- very persuasive.

Persuasive enough to reduce my probability of voting for Bush down to 0.4.

posted by Dan at 10:16 AM | Comments (279) | Trackbacks (9)

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Does America suffer from a skills deficit?

One of the policy debates that emerges with the offshore outsourcing debate is whether greater investments in training and education would really address the shift in jobs demand that comes with greater technological innovation and international trade.

With that debate in mind, Timothy Aeppel has a Wall Street Journal front-pager on the current difficulties American employers are facing because of the dearth in Swiss-style machinists:

Two years ago, Robert Schrader got a call from a recruiter trying to lure him from his job in New Hampshire to opportunities as far away as Florida. He eventually took a new position in Massachusetts, after he had negotiated a raise, an expense-paid move and better health coverage. Since then, his old boss in New Hampshire has tried to woo him back.

Mr. Schrader isn't a hotshot young executive with a Harvard MBA. He's a factory worker.

That group in recent times has been associated more with unemployment lines than with the corporate recruiting circuit. But Mr. Schrader isn't your average blue-collar worker. He is a "Swiss style" machinist, a specialty developed more than a century ago to make tiny, very precise gears and shafts for the European watch industry.

More recently, Swiss-style machining has been married with advanced computer technology to become essential in the precision manufacture of a wide range of products, from bone screws to roller balls for Bic pens. Mr. Schrader's employer in Holyoke, Marox Corp., makes medical implants and instruments.

It takes years of on-the-job training to become a skilled Swiss-style machinist, and few young people are entering the trade. The steady flow of skilled immigrants who once filled many top craftsman jobs has dried up. The result is that at a time when many U.S. industrial jobs have been lost to low-cost countries such as China, American factories have a shortage of certain highly skilled workers. Other hot factory skills include some types of specialty welding and workers adept at programming the latest computerized production machinery. Mr. Schrader and others like him are part of a new working-class elite in such demand that some employers are even offering signing bonuses of a few thousand dollars.

The shortage comes at a bad time for U.S. manufacturers, who are finally seeing an upswing in business. If they can't find the skilled workers they need, many companies could ultimately find it tougher to remain players in globally competitive markets.

Since the latest machinery is increasingly available in many other parts of the world as well, "the only way to keep a competitive edge is by having the skilled people who know how to get the most out of those machines," says Stephen Mandes, executive director of the National Institute of Metalworking Skills, a group that sets worker skill standards.

Some companies are already turning away business for lack of expert workers. Accu-Swiss Inc., which makes specialized metal parts for medical and defense industries, has turned down between 10% and 20% of potential business this year for lack of Swiss-style machinists to staff its factory, says Sohel Sareshwala, president of the Oakdale, Calif., company.

"It's clear that a hot emerging issue for manufacturing is skilled-worker shortages," says Jerry Jasinowski, president of the National Association of Manufacturers. He says the problem will worsen in coming years as baby boomers retire.

Boston Centerless Inc. in Woburn, Mass., a 106-employee maker of highly precise metal parts for other manufacturers, used recruiters to hire five Swiss-style machinists this year. It still needs at least two more. The company pays current workers bounties of up to $500 a head for referrals that lead to new hires. The most skilled new hires earn up to $25 an hour.

Here's a chart of the expected increase in demand for certain skill jobs for the future:


It should be noted that the story also says, "U.S. apprenticeship programs have dwindled as the large American companies that once provided the bulk of such training have cut back to save money and now outsource some of the work."

posted by Dan at 05:02 PM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (3)

Why ultimate will not become an Olympic sport

In my life before spouse and child, your humble blogger was a halfway-decent ultimate frisbee player -- good enough to play for the Williams College men's team in the late eighties and Stanford men's ultimate team back in the early nineties. I loved the sport, loved the people who played the sport, and counted myself lucky that my only ultimate-related injury was a broken collarbone.

Ultimate has its own national organization and its own world organization as well; according to this census, over 38,000 people actively participate in the sport across the globe. It was always on the cusp of achieving greater mainstream success when I played. So it's with a slight twinge of sadness that I read Barry Newman's Wall Street Journal story explaining why ultimate is unlikely to ever become an Olympic sport. The key sections:

Frisbee, meantime, has blossomed from a lazy game of catch on the frat-house lawn into the sport of "ultimate," a high-voltage cross between soccer and American football. It was known early on as ultimate Frisbee, but Wham-O Inc., which owns the Frisbee trademark, wouldn't get behind it. So it's just plain ultimate now.

That causes branding issues: Ultimate? Ultimate what? But as far as its fans are aware, the truly ultimate championships aren't the ones taking place here. They rolled out two weeks ago up in Turku, Finland, where 1,500 athletes joined in, playing on 76 teams from 23 countries.

How come the Frisbee is on the outs in Athens while the discus, after 2,700 years, remains so unbendably in? For those who think the Olympics are slightly behind the times -- members of the International Olympic Committee included -- that's the ultimate question.

As soon as Athens shuts down, the IOC will begin a rethink of the games people play at future Olympics. "It's going to happen from now on -- a revision and checkup of the program," says Ron Froehlich, head of USA Gymnastics and a member of the IOC's program commission. "It's a matter of what appeals to the audience."

....How about Frisbee? Perhaps like skateboarding, which seems content for now with the X Games, ultimate is happy with gathering in places like Finland for its own World Games. But as for the Olympics, ultimate's organizers just don't think it's worth the hassle.

"A sport with Olympic aspirations needs to be a political organization," says Nob Rauch, a Bostonian who has checked this out for the World Flying Disc Federation. "It takes too much energy."

So Athens 2004 is a one-flying-disc town. In Olympic lore, the discus is secure.

Full disclosure: I know Nob Rauch, as he also attended Williams and played ultimate there.

UPDATE: Zach Braff -- who's clearly hooked on the blogging -- has some really amusing thoughts on how to spiece up the Olympics. Surprisingly, my favorite idea of Braff's was not "Olympic Pole Dancing," but rather adding hedge-clippers to the synchonized diving competition!!

posted by Dan at 03:19 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (4)

India's crisis of governance

Gurcharan Das has a Financial Times op-ed (subsciption only) that points out the biggest constraint India faces in its economic development: its own government:

India's gross domestic product has been growing at close to a 6 per cent real rate for 23 years, making it one of the fastest-expanding major economies in the world. While this is slower than China, it is almost double India's growth rate of the preceding 30 years and double the rate at which the west grew during the Industrial Revolution. More recently, India's population growth has also begun to slow; in 1998 it was down to 1.6 per cent, compared to a historic 2.2 per cent annual growth rate. And literacy has begun to climb - it reached 65 per cent in 2000 compared with 52 per cent in 1990. Almost 190m Indians have risen out of destitution since 1980 and the middle class has more than tripled to about 250m. Had India's GDP growth continued to chug along at the pre-1980 rate, Indian incomes would only have reached the present US per-capita income level by 2250; at the current rate, they will reach today's American income levels by 2066 - 184 years earlier. This is not the same as convergence, but it is a valuable gain of 184 years.

The amazing thing is that all this growth is happening alongside the most appalling governance. In the midst of a booming private economy, Indians despair over the simplest public goods. The contrast between power and telecommunications is obvious to everyone. After a successful reform programme, we are in the middle of a telecoms revolution that is as profound as China's. The number of telephones has increased from 5m in 1990 to 75m and is growing by 2m a month. But power remains a "public good", as reforms have failed, and people whine about daily power cuts applied by the state monopolies.

No single institution has disappointed us more than our bureaucracy. When we were young we bought the cruel myth of the "steel frame" - a stable system that would provide continuity. We were told that Britain was not as well-governed as India because it did not have the Indian Civil Service. Today our bureaucracy has become the single biggest obstacle to development. Indians think of their bureaucrats as self-serving, obstructive and corrupt. Instead of shepherding through economic reforms, they are blocking them.

In the 1950s, the idealistic Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, wanted a regulatory framework for his "mixed economy", but instead, in the holy names of socialism, the bureaucrats created a thousand controls and killed our industrial revolution at birth. In my 30 years in business I did not meet a single bureaucrat who really understood my business, yet each had the power to ruin it. Our failures have been due less to ideology and more to poor management.

Another Financial Times article by Edward Luce and Ray Marcelo highlights that these difficulties create macroeconomic as well as microeconomic difficulties:

India levies a 20 per cent import duty on refined oil products and 10 per cent on crude oil. Mr Chidambaram [India's finance minister] is expected to reduce both bands in order to keep a lid on rising domestic energy costs.

But finance ministry officials say Mr Chidambaram’s scope is restricted since too sharp a reduction in import duties would eat into the government’s revenues, which depend heavily on indirect tax collection.

Mr Chidambaram has committed to a recent law which mandates elimination of India’s revenue deficit the difference between current spending and taxes raised by 2008.

India’s overall fiscal deficit is about 10 per cent of gross domestic product. “We have a fiscal responsibility act which limits what we can do to reduce tariffs,” said an official.

At the state level, the Economist has an interesting story on the lack of accountability in Gujarat following the 2002 pogroms against the Muslim minority, and its aftereffects. And in Bangalore, poor infrastructure is causing leading IT firms to consider relocation.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Washingtonienne update

April Witt attempts a sympathetic portrayal of Jessica Cutler -- a.k.a., Washingtonienne -- in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine and halfway succeeds. In the story, Cutler comes across as much less calculating than much of the press coverage of her earlier in the summer. She's also sounds more self-deprecating than in her previous interviews.

On the other hand, she also appears to be aimless, immature, and confident that her looks would open doors for her despite a checkered resume (and, to be fair, she was correct about this). Like others before her, she also foolishly believed that her blog would never be read beyond her circle of friends.

Read the whole thing. This part is particularly interesting:

She posed for Playboy in a pictorial that will run this fall, just in time for the election. Book agents pursued her, and a literary bidding war netted her a six-figure book deal. "It's more than I probably deserve," she says. "Ha! I'm sure a lot of people will agree."

The tittering hordes vilified Jessica even as they pursued her, denouncing her online, around office coolers and in commentaries from the left and right. Jessica thinks she knows why. In a culture increasingly nervous about its own values, numbly sinking into the sofa at night to watch trash reality TV shows and wondering if our own 14-year-old sons and daughters are casually "hooking up," it's satisfying to have a bona fide blog slut to flog.

"I was watching the movie 'Scarface' the other night, and I was like, Oh my God, this is exactly how I feel," Jessica says. "There is that scene where [the gangster played by Al Pacino] was in a restaurant. He was all coked up. He gets thrown out. He tells everyone in the restaurant, 'You need me. You need me. You need me so you can point at me and say that's the bad guy.' "

Jessica Cutler, the mouse-clicker that roared, is a smart, subversive waif with a certain South Park charm. She's 5 feet 2, weighs about 100 pounds, wears hoop earrings as big as her fist and has a higher IQ -- she says she's been twice tested at more than 140 -- than the average medical student.

Jessica was officially fired for misusing an office computer, but the men she wrote about kept their jobs. What they lost was their privacy. Jessica's blog identified them only by their initials. But amateur Internet sleuths who read the blog searched electronic databases looking for likely suspects, then posted names and photographs on the Internet. Jessica still refuses to name the men publicly.

"I feel really bad for the guys," Jessica says. "They didn't deserve this."

As for herself, she tries to look on the bright side. "I was only blogging for, what, less than two weeks?" she says. "Some people with blogs are never going to get famous, and they've been doing it for, like, over a year. I feel bad for them."

Sitting in a corner table at the Palm one recent afternoon, she twists a strand of her long dark hair as she contemplates her place in the universe.

"I was the one writing on the bathroom wall" with her online diary. "A lot of men have bad things to say about me," acknowledges Jessica, who has been Googling herself to read anonymous diatribes from online critics. "I really upset them. I think it bothers them to find out that girls really do, you know, get together and laugh about guys' [anatomies] all day." (emphasis added)

Looks like Miss Cutler has been reading the blog.

Witt is surprisingly frank about her motivations in yesterday's Q&A:

What about the men? There were several reasons I wanted to do this story. But one of them was that I was fascinated that so many people were attacking Jessica and giving the men a free ride, so to speak. If Jessica is a skank for having hotel quickies with a married Bush official who gave her cash in an envelope, then what is he? Might he be someone who in his day job preaches that gay unions are a major threat to the institution of marriage, then skips out at lunch to cheat on his wife? His behavior is not only a threat to the institution of marriage, it’s a threat to the health and life of the mother of his children. The reaction to Jessica’s blog proved this if nothing else: the double sexual standard for men and women is still pervasive.... I see that as one of many very depressing aspects to this story.

Interestingly enough, a later contributer to the chat posted the following:

People who say that the guys in this mess are not getting blamed are completely wrong. While Cutler's identity is more public, the guys she slept with are getting plenty of their share of the blame, albeit not as publicly as Cutler since she has chosen to be the face of this controversy for personal gain.

Sure, the guys haven't been officially "outed" but their identities and pictures are well-known for the people on the Hill and if you ask around, they are being treated as pariahs and lepers.

posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, August 16, 2004

Hugo Chavez wins -- what now?

Hugo Chavez is declaring victory in the Venezuelan recall referendum with 58% of the vote. His opponents are declaring a "gigantic fraud."

Daniel Davies has a nice summary of Chavez's post-referendum conundrum over at Crooked Timber:

[T]here is now a fairly substantial Catch-22 situation. Part of the reason why Chavez was able to win was that in recent months he’s been throwing around money like water on social programs. He was able to do this because oil was up above $40 a barrel, generating vast profits for the state oil company. A lot of the reason why oil prices were so high was that … there was significant uncertainty about supply from Venezuela because of the impending referendum. Now that some of the uncertainty has been resolved, oil futures have already started tumbling, meaning that it’s going to be that little bit more dfficult to deliver on these promises; if I were a Venezuelan, I wouldn’t be assuming that we were out of the woods yet.

Davies' analysis leads to an interesting corrollary affecting the U.S. presidential election. Gas prices are one of the few economic indicators that voters care about deeply. If the Chavez result causes gas prices to fall, one has to assume it would benefit Bush and hurt Kerry.

Hugo Chavez providing a political boost to George W. Bush? We certainly do live in interesting times.

UPDATE: The Organization of American States and the Carter Center announced that, "their results agree with the preliminary results announced by the 'Electoral National Council' on the presidential recall referendum."

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, August 15, 2004

The merits of mindless movies

Matthew Yglesias pans Alien vs. Predator, and I have every reason to believe him. Alas, a lot of Americans either disagrees or something, since it opened with a $38.3 million take this weekend -- roughly 50% more than the much-praised Collateral from last week.

On the other hand, AVP does have one virtue -- it prompted Dalton Ross to write a really funny Entertainment Weekly story on how other sci-fi movie franchises would do pitted against one another. Alas, its subscriber only, but here's his take on which movie is better -- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Wars, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back:

A battle fierce enough to divide even the least partisan chat room -- the two best films from the two biggest sci-fi franchises. And both are sequels, to boot. So let's divide away. ''The Wrath of Khan'' is a fantastic movie, more than making up for the disappointment that was the first ''Star Trek'' feature. With his blond mullet and uncovered chest, Ricardo Montalban may look more like a member of Dokken than an intergalactic madman, but as Khan, he makes the perfect revenge-seeking lunatic to pit against the now Admiral Kirk. Yet, let's be honest -- he's no Darth Vader. Even with his wicked brain bugs, Khan can't match up to a dude with a lightsaber. And Kirk's emotional reunion with his long-lost son is a nice touch, but it simply can't compare in the family-subplot department to Luke Skywalker sucking face...with his own sister! Pretty much everything in ''Empire'' is operating on a different level. The battle on Hoth, the introduction of both Yoda and Boba Fett (at least before George Lucas went back and gratuitously inserted the bounty hunter into ''Episode IV''), Luke's duel with Darth -- it's what has made ''Empire'' the standard by which not only other ''Star Wars'' flicks but all science-fiction films are judged. One area in which ''Trek'' trumps its rival: the emotional Spock death scene (and not just emotional because it leaves Kirstie Alley as the only Vulcan -- yikes!). It's a bold move, killing off one of your franchise's most beloved characters, even if you do cheat and bring him back one picture later (a trick ''SW'' also pulled with Obi-Wan Kenobi). It makes the contest closer, but even a scruffy nerf herder could tell you who wins this battle.

Winner: "Empire"

Let the great geek debate commence!

UPDATE: The Associated Press suggests why Alien vs. Predator will not be raking in a lot more bucks:

Audiences shelled out $16.8 million to see Alien Vs. Predator on Friday, but the movie's gross fell to $12.5 million Saturday, a steep 26 per cent decline. Most new movies do better business on Saturday than Friday.

That's a sign that Alien Vs. Predator could follow the pattern of Freddy Vs. Jason and other horror tales, which tend to open well then plunge in subsequent weekends.

LAST UPDATE: David Edelstein has a paean to "versus" movies in his review of AVP in Slate:

Thirty-odd years ago, along with many prepubescent horror fans of the '60s, I also stayed up past midnight to see Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, in which Frankenstein (or, to be a geek about it, his monster) did not actually meet the Wolfman until the last five minutes, whereupon both were promptly swept away by a pathetic miniature exploding dam. I risked a barrage of peashooters to line up to watch King Kong square off against Godzilla and Godzilla square off against, well, anything. I suffered through Dracula vs. Frankenstein, an unbelievably tawdry Al Adamson film cobbled together from spare Z-picture pieces, in which Dracula (or the curly haired, goateed dork who passed for him) pulled the giant Play-Doh Frankenstein monster apart limb from limb. And, of course, I savored every stupid minute of last summer's Freddy vs. Jason, which set a world record for arterial spray and still couldn't manage to avoid a cheat ending. (No one really won—no one ever really does.) The appeal of the "versus" genre is no mystery. It's the same as Celebrity Death Match: We want the baddest cats to be humbled. We want the World Series of baddest cats.

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

The shifting threat from Al Qaeda

The Economist has a good rundown of the latest intelligence about Al Qaeda and its altered post-9/11 state, reaffirming some points that Daniel Byman made a few weeks ago. The good parts version:

With most of its leaders probably now lurking in the wilder parts of South Asia, deprived of their radios and telephones by fear of detection, the group's organisational function has shrivelled. Although Mr Khan's activities suggest that al-Qaeda is still more cohesive and active than has often been said, its card-carrying members represent nothing like the threat they did when Mr al-Hindi allegedly cased the New York Stock Exchange in late 2000....

But in its second coming, as the battle-standard and the ideology for a generation of militant Muslim youth, al-Qaeda is scoring a nightmarish success. Witness the case of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian believed to be leading hundreds of Islamist militants in Iraq. While running terrorist training camps in Afghanistan ten years ago, Mr Zarqawi was Mr bin Laden's rival of sorts. Now, wanted for the same $25m bounty as Mr bin Laden, he is routinely described as the head of al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.

Noting this shifting role, Jason Burke, a writer on al-Qaeda, says: “Since 9/11, there's been a rampant dissemination of al-Qaeda's ideology, which, even if its capability has diminished, has made it far easier for the group to recruit individuals.” The result, Mr Burke predicts, will be fewer spectacular strikes, such as those of September 11th, and many more small-scale, more randomly directed attacks, such as this year's bombings in Madrid. As in Madrid, these attacks will often be carried out by individuals who have only a passing contact with the al-Qaeda organisation, even if they claim to be members of it.

For any American president hoping to claim victory in the war on terror, such an analysis brings both good news and bad. Massive, potentially election-wrecking attacks look less likely, though not impossible. On the other hand, it would no longer be possible to claim—as Mr Bush would doubtless like to be able to claim—that by knocking out Mr bin Laden, the war had been taken to its final round.

Ironically, perhaps, a happier prospect for America is that if al-Qaeda should increasingly become the label of choice for all Islamic militants, its ire would be redirected towards an increasing number of local enemies, giving America some much-wanted allies. This process can already be tracked in Pakistan....

A very tentative conclusion is that while America is practising for another September 11th, the threat of Islamic militancy is becoming less spectacular, more general and more unpredictable. In short, it may be becoming more like the sort of insurgencies that Britain has fought during many decades.

Accordingly, says Rand's Mr Jenkins, Americans must learn not only to minimise the threat of al-Qaeda, but also to live with it. “Americans can't be phlegmatic,” he laments, “there's no question we've cranked up the threat. Whereas the Brits are capable of taking the long view, of seeing that this is a long-term problem, Americans look to do everything for short-term gain.” He argues that the American public needs to get risk-savvy, and the authorities need to find ways to handle the intelligence better, so that they can alert the nation to the threat of terrorism in a way that does not alarm people unduly.

Such lessons will probably take another terrorist threat or two to master, but mastered they may eventually have to be. Because, as most al-Qaeda watchers agree, a quick end to the war on terror is very hard to envisage.

posted by Dan at 10:56 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

Brad DeLong, cartoonist extraordinaire

Brad DeLong has some quibbles with my previous post:

Drezner approves of an attempt to analyze Bush's "grand strategy" by John Lewis Gaddis. According to Gaddis, the Bush "grand strategy" has five components [Preemption, unilateralism, hegemony, democratization, demonstration]....

Now Daniel Drezner (and John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps) may think that having this "clearly articulated grand strategy" is a worthwhile and positive thing, but I do not. It's an incoherent mess. It makes about as much sense as relying on the giant alien space bats from beyond to guard our national security. Even had it been "well-implemented," it would be highly likely to have been a disaster.

To "demonstrate" that you can "preempt" threats that are not there is a strategy for national insecurity. To throw away your alliances is to make hegemony impossible: the U.S. cannot exercise durable hegemony over even Iraq without reliable allies to provide 200,000 Arabic-speaking military police; where are they? And "democratization" is not a magic bullet: our last attempt to "democratize" a Middle Eastern country--to rely on representative institutions to curb religious fanaticism--in the late 1970s in Iran did not turn out well.

I must say I admire DeLong's Bush-like, straight-shooting rejoinder -- except for the fact that the entire post is so cartoonish in its treatment of Bush's grand strategy that it undercuts his point. So let's inject a little Kerryesque nuance into the discussion.

First of all, I'm puzzled that DeLong believes Gaddis is praising unilateralsm -- because that's nowhere in his Foreign Policy essay. Indeed, one of his points -- which DeLong quotes -- is that "even in these first few lines, then, the Bush NSS comes across as more forceful, more carefully crafted, and—unexpectedly—more multilateral than its immediate predecessor."

One could argue that Gaddis must have it wrong, and that the administration has, in practice, been astonishingly unilateral. I penned a counterargument to this back in February 2003 and I'll stand by it. The key point: "At worst, the administration can be accused of threatening to act [and eventually acting] in a unilateral manner if it doesn't get most of what it wants through multilateral institutions. Which is pretty much how all great powers have acted since the invention of multilateral institutions."

Yes, the Bush administration has acted more unilaterally than the previous administration, but the extent of its unilateralism is a question of degree rather than some revolutionary paradigm shift. Which is the point of distinguished diplomatic historian Melvyn Leffler in International Affairs. Leffler is hardly a full-blooded fan of the Bush NSS, but the main point of his essay is that the key components of the Bush grand strategy -- hegemony, preemption, democratization -- have appeared and reappeared throughout recent American history. To claim that Bush and/or the neoconservatives sudddenly invented what's in the National Security Strategy is to look at the history of American foreign policy wearing a really powerful set of blinders.

Leffler also underscores a point I made in March of 2003 about why democratization was not an unrealistic goal in Iraq.

Read the whole Leffler essay -- it's hardly a ringing endorsement of the NSS, but it makes DeLong's critique look as crudely drawn as Cartoon Network's Adult Swim -- though not nearly as funny.

Brad is enough of a historian to know better than this post. Once he reenters the land of the three-dimensional, the blogosphere will be a better place.

posted by Dan at 09:36 PM | Comments (71) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Back on the clock

I'd like to thank Siddarth and Reihan for doing such an admirable job of blogging in my absence, and convincing me that I need to see Harold & Kumar go to White Castle. They've encouraged me to outsource the blog somewhat more frequently.

Well, it wasn't just them. I didn't go on vacation this past week -- I just took a break from blogging. And I must confess it felt like a vacation. The e-mail traffic declined, as did my web surfing -- leading me to polish off a few day-job side-projects and make some progress on my book. By the end of the week, my need to check out other blogs slowly faded away. It was very relaxing -- I even recovered from the Nomar Garciaparra trade.

More substantive posts later. In the meantime, check out Rand Beers' interview with Bernard Gwertzman over at the Council on Foreign Relations site. Beers is John Kerry's chief foregn policy advisor, and would likely become national security advisor in a Kerry administration.

Reading the interview, I was disappointed to see zero, zip, nada on democracy promotion. In fact, what was striking about the interview was the general lack of bigthink. On the other hand, there was a great deal of explication about the Kerry team's policy process -- pretty impressive for a campaign.

This leads to an disturbing question. Which is better: a foreign policy with a clearly articulated grand strategy but a f#$%ed-up policy process, or a foreign policy with no articulated grand strategy but a superior policy process?

UPDATE: Oh, I also took the opportunity to see Garden State -- and was pleased to see that it actually lived up to the trailer. Hands down, it's Natalie Portman's best performance since Beautiful Girls.

posted by Dan at 10:22 AM | Comments (80) | Trackbacks (9)

Sunday, August 8, 2004

Al Jazeera's Forced Vacation

The Iraqi government's decision to shut down the Baghdad office of al Jazeera seems sure to backfire. Allawi justified the decision saying that the network's practice of airing videotaped terrorist demands amounted to incitement. The primary problem with this decision is its futility: al Jazeera can still broadcast into Iraq and the insurgents have shown themselves capable of disseminating their gruesome footage via the web (cf. Nick Berg's beheading). Since there does not appear to be much of an upside, we ought to consider the downside, most notably a propaganda field day for those opposed to the nascent Iraqi regime. Clearly, they will say, the U.S. occupiers have forced their puppets to shut down the only station that was telling the truth about Iraq, and so on. I strongly doubt that the United States in fact had anything to do with the decision, particularly since Rumsfeld admitted on Friday that there was little he could do about negative coverage from al Jazeera. (Interestingly, he does note prior attempts by the Iraqis to clip al Jazeera's wings by denying them press credentials.) But none of this will deter conspiracists in the region and elsewhere.

Given this cost, it will be interesting to see if our man in Baghdad makes any attempt to get the Iraqis to reverse their decision on the grounds of the "forward strategy of freedom" and all that.

posted by at 01:10 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (1)

Outsourcing's Human Face

Hi everyone. I'm looking forward to trading ideas this week while Dan takes a well-deserved break. We must all respect a man who, however unwisely, has put his blog where his mouth is and outsourced it. One or two readers have complained that we're not actually located in Bangalore, something we'll try and rectify in the future. If we had done this next week, I could have blogged while on vacation in Asia, which with time difference would have allowed the blog to run 24/7, demonstrating how outsourcing can release the full potential of American capitalism (to say nothing of web-based opinion journalism). And don't worry too much about our willingness to blog for no wages--so is Drezner.

If you've read our bios, there will be no prizes for guessing who the straight man is this week. So, rather than asking Reihan, "Who's on first?", let me jump in with a news item...

posted by at 12:55 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, August 7, 2004

A note from the management at

As the blogosphere keeps growing, competition has become cutthroat and civility seems to be on the wane. Although we are proud of our association with Professor Drezner, we have decided for the next week to launch a pilot project: outsourcing to two temporary guest bloggers. The fact that they're both Indian and willing to work for free should not be construed to lend any credibility to rumors of relocating its offices to Bangalore.

With that out of the way, meet your two quest bloggers for the week -- Reihan Salam and Siddharth Mohandas!! Their biographies:

Siddharth Mohandas is a doctoral candidate in Government at Harvard. His research interests include U.S. intervention and nation-building efforts and Asian security issues. He has worked previously as an Associate Editor at Foreign Affairs magazine and interned as a speechwriter for U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Siddharth holds an A.B. from Harvard and an M.Phil. from Cambridge, both in international relations. He was born in India, raised in Singapore, and is an American citizen.

Reihan Salam is a native of Brooklyn, New York. For a brief, shining moment, he served as Generalissimo of the All-Brooklyn People's Revolutionary Army, the militant wing of the Most Serene Popular and Revolutionary Democratic Republic of Brooklyn. The forces of reaction were on the run, and enemies of Brooklyn were being liquidated (figuratively, to be sure, and very humanely) at a prodigious, blood-curdling clip. Because Salam's bold and incorruptible leadership was too much for certain 'girlie-men' to handle, he was deposed in a bloodless officers' coup. Salam then spent several harrowing years on the underground Lubavitcher cabaret circuit as 'the One-Eyed Wonder,' in light of his penchant for wearing a bejeweled eye patch, complete with monogrammed 'R', over his left eye. But as they say, all good things must come to an end: 8th grade beckoned, and in a stunning upset, Salam, the dark-horse candidate, was elected president of his middle school. Charged with organizing a dance for the hormonally hyped-up youths, Salam, in a decidedly unpopular and undeniably courageous move, refused: 'Dancing,' he said, in a stirring speech worthy of Honest Abe, 'leads to fornication, and this I cannot abide.' He is, simply put, an inspiration to us all. Like all decent, God-fearing people, Salam has been an avid reader and admirer of Daniel Drezner's weblog since the early days, though he prefers the stunningly gorgeous Morena Baccarin to Salma Hayek.

(During his adult years, Reihan has also worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and The New Republic). Enjoy!!

[A brilliant cost-cutting maneuver!! This will triple your blog profits!!--ed. Happy Meals for everyone!! Oh, and did I mention that you've been outsourced indefinitely? You labor-hating bastard!!--ed.]

posted by Dan at 09:05 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (2)

Just so long as it's campaign rhetoric...

Jill Zuckman writes in today's Chicago Tribune on how the Kerry-Edwards ticket responds to hostile and vocal Bush supporters at campaign events:

Nobody ever said campaigning like Harry Truman on the back of a train through hostile territory was going to be easy.

That's what the Democratic candidates for president and vice president began to realize late Thursday night as they pulled into this rural outpost and found themselves surrounded by about 2,000 politically divided voters in the pitch dark.

Holding candles, flashlights and posters, the people of Sedalia engaged in a shouting contest: Some called out "Four more years" and "We want Bush," while their neighbors chanted, "Three more months" and "Kerry! Kerry!"

The candidates themselves could barely get a word in....

Whether the rowdy crowd surrounding the Kerry-Edwards train was any indication of how Missouri will vote this year is difficult to assess. But it provided one of the less scripted moments of the campaign season so far.

"Will you let us speak? Will you let us speak, please?" Edwards urged the Republican section of the crowd, which was trying to drown him out with boos.

"We would never shout down our opponents when they're speaking," Edwards added, between attempts to describe his vision for one America without states that are either "red" or "blue."

As the Bush protesters continued to boo, Edwards asked them, "Are you guys really booing outsourcing of millions of America's jobs and doing something about it?" (emphasis added)

I'm sure Kerry supporters would say this is just campaign rhetoric -- exaggerated, distorted, and buffoonish campaign rhetoric.

UPDATE: Just for the record, like Pejman Yousefzadeh, I'm certainly not endorsing the booing in the first place. Indeed, one could argue that this kind of incivility merely encourages the response Edwards gave. What I can't stop wondering -- again -- is what this leads to if Kerry wins.

posted by Dan at 03:42 PM | Comments (24) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, August 6, 2004

The UN weighs in on Darfur

Alexander Higgins of the Associated Press reports that the United Nations is not happy with Sudan's government:

A top U.N. human rights investigator Friday released a scathing report that blames the Sudanese government for atrocities against its civilians in the Darfur region and says "millions of civilians" could die.

"It is beyond doubt that the Government of the Sudan is responsible for extrajudicial and summary executions of large numbers of people over the last several months in the Darfur region, as well as in the Shilook Kingdom in Upper Nile State," said Asma Jahangir, the U.N. investigator on executions, in a report based on a 13-day visit to the region in June.

"The current humanitarian disaster unfolding in Darfur, for which the government is largely responsible, has put millions of civilians at risk, and it is very likely that many will die in the months to come as a result of starvation and disease," said Jahangir, a Pakistani lawyer.

Jahangir said there was "overwhelming evidence" that the killing was carried out "in a coordinated manner by the armed forces of the government and government-backed militias. They appear to be carried out in a systematic manner."

....The U.S. Congress has labeled the atrocities genocide. The United Nations has described the conflict in Darfur, which began with a rebellion early last year, as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

Last week the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution giving Sudan 30 days to curb the pro-government Arab militias blamed for the violence in Darfur or face diplomatic and economic penalties.

Here's a link to the UN News account -- I looked for the actual report, but the UN website was not forthcoming.

In TNR Online, David Englin discusses the resources that would be needed should a military intervention be necessary.

posted by Dan at 11:16 PM | Comments (25) | Trackbacks (2)

Jobs and the election

I was trying to think of a way to phrase my post about the latest job figures.

Ted Barlow and Megan McArdle beat me to it, though.

Even Irwin Stelzer, in a Weekly Standard article that highlights the good news about the economy over the past month, concedes the following:

the most widely watched and reported figures--jobs, oil prices, and stock prices--are grist for the Kerry mill. The jobs market is not as strong as Bush would like it to be, oil and gas prices are higher than he would wish, and stock prices are stuck somewhere between level and falling.

Those are the numbers that voters see repeatedly reported on television screens, and, in the case of gas prices, feel in their pockets every time they fill their tanks. Business Week estimates that consumers are spending an average of an extra $10 billion per month for gas and other energy products. Also, the effects of the Bush tax refunds have worn off, and a good day for stock prices is one on which they don't fall. All of this is apt to tame the animal spirits of both consumers and businessmen. That is not a recipe for reelecting an incumbent who took responsibility for the now-slowing recovery when it was steaming ahead.

Back in the fall at a Right Wing News symposium, I was asked, "What does the Dean Kerry have to do to beat Bush?" I answered: "It's less what Dean Kerry has to do than what happens in Iraq and the economy. The worse those situations are, the less Dean Kerry has to do."

Keep that line in mind for the next three months [That would be easier if you hadn't assumed it was going to be Dean--ed. Hey, I was just responding to the question!! Besides, all the cool blogs thought Dean was going to win then!]

posted by Dan at 07:43 PM | Comments (40) | Trackbacks (0)

Have Americans stopped reading? Why?

While perusing Mark Edmonson's New York Times Magazine essay on reading I was alarmed to see a reference to a National Endowment of the Arts study suggesting that Americans were reading less literature than they used to.

Surfing over to the NEA's web site, I found the relevant press release from last month. The highlights:

Literary reading is in dramatic decline with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature, according to a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) survey released today. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline - 28 percent - occurring in the youngest age groups.

The study also documents an overall decline of 10 percentage points in literary readers from 1982 to 2002, representing a loss of 20 million potential readers. The rate of decline is increasing and, according to the survey, has nearly tripled in the last decade. The findings were announced today by NEA Chairman Dana Gioia during a news conference at the New York Public Library.

"This report documents a national crisis," Gioia said. "Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches both private and public life. The decline in reading among every segment of the adult population reflects a general collapse in advanced literacy. To lose this human capacity - and all the diverse benefits it fosters - impoverishes both cultural and civic life."

While all demographic groups showed declines in literary reading between 1982 and 2002, the survey shows some are dropping more rapidly than others. The overall rate of decline has accelerated from 5 to 14 percent since 1992....

By age, the three youngest groups saw the steepest drops, but literary reading declined among all age groups. The rate of decline for the youngest adults, those aged 18 to 24, was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population. (emphases added)

I had two reactions after reading this:

1) I usually have little sympathy with claims that the culture is going to hell in a handbasket, but after seeing those numbers, I instinctively concluded, "the culture is going to hell in a handbasket."

2) It's gotta be the Internet's fault. A small drop between 1982 and 1992, followed by a more precipitous drop over the past decade? The proliferation of cable television and video games was strong in both decades, whereas the Internet was just taking off a decade ago. Surely, it's the Internet that's dumbing down the country.

Skimming the actual report, however, I came across this surprising finding on p. 15:

The SPPA results cannot show whether people who never read literary works would do so if they watched less TV, or whether they would use this extra time in other ways. A 2001 Gallup survey of 512 people showed that regular computer users spent 1.5 hours per day using the Internet and 1.1 hours reading books. However, those who did not regularly use a computer also spent 1.1 hours per day reading a book.

So maybe it's not the Internet.

There are two other facts worthy of note. First, it turns out that decline in total book reading -- as opposed to literature -- is not nearly as pronounced. The percentage of Americans who read a book did decline from 60.9% to 56.6% over the past decade, but the rate of decline was half that of literature readers.

Second, while reading may be in decline, writing is booming. From page 22 of Reading at Risk:

Contrary to the overall decline in literary reading, the number of people doing creative writing – of any genre, not exclusively literary works – increased substantially between 1982 and 2002. In 1982, about 11 million people did some form of creative writing. By 2002, this number had risen to almost 15 million people (18 or older), an increase of about 30 percent.

The obvious concern with a decline in reading is that such a trend causes critical thinking skills and one's imagination to atrophy. However, one could certainly argue that reading nonfiction, creative writing, and, hey, maybe even blogging (which for most people is a form of diary-keepng) helps to promote these skills as well. Well, that and a lot of solipsism as well.

To be sure, in terms of gross numbers, the increase in writing is dwarfed by the decline of literature reading. So I'm still worried that we're on the road to hell. But maybe the gradient to Hades isn't quite as steep as the NEA says it is. [I've still got questions about the study--ed. Then read the whole thing!]

One final, random thought -- why hasn't either presidential candidate seized on this report? This strikes me as the ultimate campaign issue if you're wooing middle-class suburban voters.

UPDATE: Jon H. notices something very important from p. 30: "Newspaper and magazine articles about post-September 11 developments and the war in Afghanistan may have hindered literary reading during the survey year." Actually, that's kind of important. If the survey year was anomalous, it could have thrown the trend line completely out of whack.

There will be more on this story soon.


posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Over 2,000,000 served

Yesterday passed the 2 million mark for the number of unique visitors since I started the blog.

Thanks to one and all for clicking!!

posted by Dan at 01:29 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (2)

Thursday, August 5, 2004

What kind of intelligence reform is necessary?

Members of the 9-11 Commission are not pleased with President Bush tweaking their intelligence reform proposals:

Two members of the Sept. 11 commission criticized President Bush's proposal to create a national intelligence director, telling Congress on Tuesday that the White House plan fails to give the new spy chief the executive powers needed to revamp the nation's intelligence agencies.

Without the power to set budgets and hire and fire senior managers, the new intelligence czar will lack the clout to make major changes at the nation's 15 spy agencies, the commissioners told lawmakers at the first House hearing prompted by the panel's 567-page report on the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"The person that has the responsibility needs the authority," Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Nebraska senator, told the House Government Reform Committee. "Absent that, they're not going to be able to get the job done."

Republican commissioner John Lehman, a former Navy secretary who has been seen as a possible replacement for retiring CIA Director George Tenet, also urged the president to reconsider his proposal to base the director outside the White House. The commission recommended establishing the position within the White House to keep the director from being overshadowed by powerful Cabinet members, such as the defense secretary.

"Our recommendations are not a Chinese menu," Lehman said. "They are a whole system. If all of the important elements are not adopted, it makes it very difficult for the others to succeed."

Sounds like a bad omen for the administration, and more fuel for the left half of the blogosphere.

However, intelligence expert Anthony Cordesman argues in a Council on Foreign Relations interview that Bush did the right thing in his initial proposal:

Cordesman: [Bush] wisely, I think, talked about endorsing the recommendations of the commission in some areas, but provided no details as to which he would endorse, the timing, or how [the recommendations] would be implemented. Given the fact that the commission report basically provides no details as to what these recommendations mean in terms of staffing, costs, procedures, information technology, or any of the other steps necessary to implement them, the president has effectively left most issues open.

CFR: Is this good or bad? Is this now open for discussion with Congress? It will take some time to put together a plan.

Cordesman: That is one of the key issues. Nothing could have been worse or more impractical than calling Congress back to essentially try to vote on legislation to implement recommendations that have no details and no specifics. I think one of the great problems people face is that politicians rushed to join the bandwagon, effectively endorsing chapters 12 and 13 of this report. But they could not possibly have bothered to read what they were endorsing. Nobody in Congress with any experience is going to endorse a generalized recommendation for organizational change without any specifics, without any knowledge of the cost or the effectiveness, or even, because this is the major failing of the report, any knowledge of what has been done since 9/11 to try to fix the problems exposed in the commission report.

CFR: Are you implying that Senator John F. Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was premature in endorsing the report's recommendations?

Cordesman: In fairness to Senator Kerry, there were many people in both parties who rushed out to gain political visibility and do the same thing. But it isn't a matter of being premature; it is a matter of being totally irresponsible to think that you can rush Congress back to pass legislation when you haven't the faintest idea of what it means, when most of the recommendations have never been reviewed or commented on by the intelligence community, and nobody has any idea of the staffing requirements or costs.

CFR: There has been some criticism that the president, by declining to give the DNI control over the government's intelligence budget, has made the job meaningless. Is this criticism premature?

Cordesman: I think it is. The president has to consider some very real problems. Most of the intelligence budget goes to what are called "national technical means" [such as photo and communications satellites]. These are extremely sophisticated high-technology systems. Almost all of the planning and development of these systems occurs in the Defense Department [DOD]. They are designed to be integrated into an overall command-and-control system for military crisis management and war fighting. Now, when you reach budget decisions you have to have a budget structure where both the new DNI and the DOD can play the proper roles in budget review, and where there is programming authority and a programming staff to look beyond the current annual requirement to the overall needs for intelligence and how they fit into our command-and-control and communications systems.

Again, one of the great problems in the commission report is that it looked at exactly one issue--counterterrorism--and none of the others. But [U.S.] intelligence users consist of more than 1 million people, many of them in uniform, and when you talk about budgeting and programming authority, you have to consider that. The other difficulty is that at some point--and it will have to be very quick, if the new DNI is given budget authority--the [current] archaic and outdated budget system, which has many different elements and information systems, is going to have to be integrated and converted into a more modern system. You cannot simply wave a magic wand and tell somebody how to create a system that can manage what is certainly more than $20 billion a year.

As someone who urged the Bush administration to take the 9-11 Commission's policy recommendations seriously, this sounds about right to me.

Furthermore, Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts has a Slate piece that suggests the urge to centralize control/authority is mistaken:

Centralizing is an understandable response to the pre-9/11 intelligence fiasco. But as organizational science and history show, it's also a misguided one.

When organizations fail, our first reaction is typically to fall into "control mode": One person, or at most a small, coherent group of people, should decide what the current goals of the organization are, and everyone else should then efficiently and effectively execute those goals. Intuitively, control mode sounds like nothing so much as common sense. It fits perfectly with our deeply rooted notions of cause and effect ("I order, you deliver"), so it feels good philosophically. It also satisfies our desire to have someone made accountable for everything that happens, so it feels good morally as well.

But when a failure is one of imagination, creativity, or coordination—all major shortcomings of the various intelligence branches in recent years—introducing additional control, whether by tightening protocols or adding new layers of oversight, can serve only to make the problem worse....

[C]ombining the many different agencies involved in intelligence gathering and analysis at a single point—that of the director of intelligence—is almost certain not to succeed in delivering the kind of ambiguous yet essential functionality that everyone wants. So, some other kind of connectivity, along with a more creative approach, is required—one that incorporates not only the sharing of information across agency boundaries (a recommendation of the commission's that has received relatively little attention), but active collaboration, joint training, and the development of long term personal relationships between agencies as well. Creative intelligence analysis has a lot in common with other kinds of problem-solving activities: thinking outside the box, challenging deeply held assumptions, and combining different, often seemingly unrelated, kinds of expertise and knowledge. By understanding how innovative and successful organizations have been able to solve large-scale, complex problems, without anyone "at the top" having to micromanage the process, the intelligence community could learn some valuable lessons that might help it escape the mistakes of the past.

Watts might be overestimating the extent to which even the 9-11 Commission wants to centralize inelligence. However, his points about the power of informal social networks and decentralized efforts sounds awfully familiar with James Surowiecki's arguments about intelligence reform.

The left half of the blogosphere seems exercised about the notion that the Bush administration suggests that it is implementing the Commission recommendations when it actually isn't. Re-reading Bush's Rose Garden announcement, I think they do have half a leg to stand on. However, I don't really care whether the administration is trying to spin the atmospherics on this -- duh, of course they are -- but I do care about whether the substantive recommendations are the right ones to make. There's an implicit assumption in much of the blogging on this that the Commission must be correct.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Commission has put forward a serious proposal -- but there should not be an a priori assumption that it's the best proposal.

UPDATE: I received the following e-mail this morning:

I agree with Dr. Watts about the value of informal networks. As a former CIA analyst, I never felt that we lacked more managers. In fact, we needed more line staff and better process--both operationally and for professional development. There was one bright spot, and it could be a model for what Dr. Watts explains.

When I joined the Agency, I was lucky to be part of the Career Training program. Besides the obvious benefits of the program (preparation for service), I was told that the program had the additional goal of building cross-directorate relationships to facilitate informal networks. The hope was that these networks would speed sharing of information and problem resolution.

In my brief experience, the CT program definitely helped. It's major shortcoming was its limited scope. While all operations officers went through the program, only a handful of new hires for the other directorates (intelligence, administration and science and technology) participated. Also, the Agency did little to build on what it started in the CT program. More opportunities to bring alumni together both socially and professionally in succeeding years would have been helpful.

While no panacea, the CT program is a good start and a modified and expanded version might serve the intelligence community well.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok share their thoughts over at Marginal Revolution

posted by Dan at 06:18 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (8)

So what's going on in Saudi Arabia?

Well, the good news is that the Saudis have decided to hold national elections in a few months, according to Reuters:

Saudi Arabia plans to hold its first nationwide elections starting in November, seen as the first concrete political reforms in the country's absolute monarchy, a government source said on Wednesday.
The source from the Municipal Affairs Ministry told Reuters the first stage of the local elections would be held in the capital Riyadh after the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in mid-November.

The elections will elect half of the members of the nearly 180 municipal councils nationwide, while the rest are expected to be appointed by the government.

The conservative Gulf kingdom announced last October it would hold municipal elections -- the first in four decades -- after pressure from the United States and domestic reformers to grant some political participation and freedom of expression.

At the same time, the Economist reports that the House of Saud remains sensitive to media criticism:

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, suggested that several Arab and Muslim countries were prepared to send an armed force to help police Iraq. By lending Islamic legitimacy to Iraq’s transitional government, such a move could do much to quell the lingering hostility to it, both within Iraq and the surrounding region....

Yet scarcely was Mr Powell’s plane out of Saudi skies before the caveats blew in. The Islamic force was meant to replace the current coalition, not complement it, elaborated Prince Saud, and even then only at the express request of an Iraqi government that had “the full and clear support of the Iraqi people”....

To find reasons for the hasty retreat, look no further than the opinion pages in the Arab press. The troops offer was not really Saudi, said the popular London-based daily, Al-Quds al-Arabi, “but rather American orders clothed in Saudi garb so as to be more acceptable to other Muslim and Arab countries who are keen to please the American administration and fend off its official pressure to introduce reforms”. Talal Salman, editor of the Beirut daily, Al-Safir, commented acidly: “Washington has discovered that there are ‘unemployed’ Arab armies that have no duties, save to subdue Arab masses, and that those Arab armies could be employed in saving the United States from the Iraqi quagmire.”

The most interesting take on the current Saudi situation comes from David Gardner's Financial Times survey. The section on education is particularly revealing:

[P]robably it is in the field of education that this schizophrenia is most vividly and wrenchingly lived out. On the one hand, Saudi Arabia has an educated middle class, an estimated one million of whom have studied abroad - often to a very high level - and the kingdom has educated its girls for roughly the last generation and a half. Saudis, moreover, often have an intellectual depth to them that is less easily found in many Arab countries, where political and commercial pressures have debased and ground down the currency of ideas to convenient and remunerative cliche and myth.

But then turn to school textbooks, drawn up under the authority of the Wahhabi establishment, which drill into impressionable young Saudi minds the religious duty to hate all Christians and Jews as infidels, and to combat all Shi’ites as heretics. A theology text for 14-year-olds, for instance, states that “it is the duty of a Muslim to be loyal to the believers and be the enemy of the infidels. One of the duties of proclaiming the oneness of God is to have nothing to do with his idolatrous and polytheist enemies.”

This sort of teaching follows the theses of the theologian Ibn Taymiyya, a forerunner of Wahhabi thinking who died in 1328, and who asserted the discretionary power of Muslim scholars and clerics to “correct” their rulers. “It is really not very difficult to understand how we got to where we are,” says one reformist intellectual, asking rhetorically if there is any difference between the sectarian bigotry of an Osama bin Laden and the intolerant outpourings of the Wahhabi establishment.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 05:20 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

The grass is always greener...

Beyond the hideous pressures of trying to look chic, I've always said that being a professor at a quality academic institution is a fantastic day job if you can get it. Of course, Zach Braff -- star of Scrubs, director of Garden State, and newbie blogger -- reminds me that there are better jobs out there:

Today was the second day of Scrubs. I shot my first scene with Heather Graham. Without giving anything away, it involved me being sopping wet and close to naked. Sort of an odd way to meet someone and get to know them. But that's what makes Scrubs fun, everyday I show up I have no idea what kind of bizarre thing is gonna happen. Tomorrow we're blowing up a car. Now that's a good day job.

Blowing things up, hanging around with Heather Graham...:


Sniff. [No one, I repeat, no one feels sorry for you--ed.] Oh, did I forget to mention that Braff has had to work in close proximity with Sarah Chalke, Tara Reid, and Natalie Portman as well? And the fact that MSN Entertainment's Kat Giantis reports there are indications that Braff is now dating Natalie Portman? [OK, so no one feels sorry for him either--ed.]

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Hillary Clinton does outsourcing

One of Bill Clinton's political gifts was to take at a divisive issue and frame it in a way that sidestepped traditional political faultlines. Quick example: his call for making abortion "safe, legal, and rare." That phrase epitomizes the vast American middle on the issue. One could argue that this is the core of "Third Way" politics in general -- Tony Blair's "tough on crime -- and tough on the causes of crime" would be another example.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton and outsourcing. The good Senator from New York has managed to play both sides of the fence on this issue, blasting Treasury Secretary John Snow for suggesting that outsourcing helps the economy -- while simultaneously welcoming one of India's biggest outsourcing firms to Buffalo, NY. How to explain this? Some have accused her of lacking a firm grasp on policy issues -- but it could be that Hillary is stumbling around, trying to find a Third Way on the issue.

Which brings me to her Wall Street Journal op-ed of a few days ago. No stumbling here -- she comes up with a superior political response to offshore outsourcing -- that it's not as cost-effective as firms believe it to be:

New Jobs for New York, a nonprofit corporation focused on economic development, commissioned a study by Howard Rubin to explore the real facts on outsourcing. He found that next year, nine out of the 10 largest firms in New York are predicted to perform IT or business process work offshore. The primary reason given by 90% of these firms is "cost savings." So he analyzed these savings by category.

It turns out that the savings from outsourcing were not as large as many employers believe. While they cited average savings of 44% per outsourced job, Prof. Rubin demonstrates that the actual figure approximates 20%. Lower wages are only one part of the offshore equation. When you tabulate all the costs, our nation is more competitive than employers think.

You're probably asking, "How can we compete against countries where a computer programmer's wages are $10,000 per year while the equivalent U.S. wage is $100,000?" The explanation is that additional costs must be added to the offshore wages themselves to get the complete picture on costs. Companies have to spend money for planning, offshore transition, vendor selection, technology, communications, offshore management, travel and security. Many employers do not take every one of these costs into consideration. Add up all the costs and suddenly a call-center worker with a raw wage of $5 an hour offshore has a true cost of $17. And that's why we have the potential to be competitive.

The article then goes on to propose many of the things John Cassidy said wouldn't be discussed by politicians in his New Yorker essay. The political brilliance of this argument is that it allows the junior Senator from New York to blast the trend of offshore outsourcing without having to agitate for inane policy solutions like protectionism. Her argument is that if firms only realized the true costs, they wouldn't outsource to Bangalore, but to Buffalo instead.

Now, I'm pretty sympathetic to Clinton's argument -- it's a definite improvement over the position taken by the senior Senator from New York. It also buttresses a point I made in "The Outsourcing Bogeyman":

It is also worth remembering that many predictions [about the explosion of outsourcing] come from management consultants who are eager to push the latest business fad. Many of these consulting firms are themselves reaping commissions from outsourcing contracts. Much of the perceived boom in outsourcing stems from companies' eagerness to latch onto the latest management trends; like Dell and Lehman, many will partially reverse course once the hidden costs of offshore outsourcing become apparent.

My one caveat: eager to learn more, I checked out the New Jobs for New York web site to find the Howard Rubin study. I found this press release and this summary of the Rubin report (co-authored with Patricia Jaramillo). What I did not find was any hard numbers to back up Rubin's findings. It's not that they don't necessarily exist -- I just couldn't find any copy of the full report, and the summaries provided no data on this point.

Lest I be accused of not doing enough shoe-leather reporting, I, like, actually picked up the phone and called New Jobs for New York. The executive director was very friendly, and suggested I contact Rubin directly. I've left a message with him.

Should I see hard numbers, the readers of will be the first to know.

In the meantime, consider this a case study of how Hillary is learning from Bill.

UPDATE: Rubin might have his own consulting prejudices -- according to Forbes, he's a VP for Meta Group.

posted by Dan at 11:46 AM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Blogs threaten national security

Well, some of them do -- according to The Onion.

Or, is this just a power play by the CIA? You be the judge.

Incidentally, if you go to the blog site mentioned in the Onion story, you get a brand-new "squatter" blog set up by Andy Nores Nelson. This entry is pretty funny, though.

posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

What the f#$% is going on at the FBI?

Let's say you're running the organization responsible for trying to track potential terrorists in the United States. Immediately after 9/11, let's say that one of your new employees tells you that some of the people doing necessary translating work (from Middle Eastern languages into English) are incompetent, helping to explain why relevant information never made it to the necessary links in the chain of command. What do you do?

A) Give this person a medal and start cleaning house;

B) Fire the person, request a gag order to prevent her from speaking publicly about the case, and attempt to retroactively label anything said about the case as a state secret?

Alas, in the case of FBI whistle-blower Sibel Edmonds, it appears that both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice picked option B. For more background on the story, check out this Boston Globe story by Anne E. Kornblut, as well as Fred Kaplan's justifiable rant in Slate. The FBI admitted last week that Edmonds' whistle-blowing was "a contributing factor" in her firing. [Last week? That's, like, a decade in blog-years--ed. Better late than never.]

The coverage of this story reveals the extent to which the FBI has resisted any efforts at reform. In a 60 Minutes story on Edmonds from October 2002, consider this section:

In its rush to hire more foreign language translators after Sept. 11, the FBI admits it has had difficulty performing background checks to detect translators who may have loyalties to other governments - which could pose a threat to U.S. national security.

Take the case of Jan Dickerson, a Turkish translator who worked with Edmonds. The FBI has admitted that when Dickerson was hired the bureau didn't know that she had worked for a Turkish organization being investigated by the FBI's own counter-intelligence unit.

They also didn't know she'd had a relationship with a Turkish intelligence officer stationed in Washington who was the target of that investigation. According to Edmonds, Dickerson tried to recruit her into that organization, and insisted that Dickerson be the only one to translate the FBI's wiretaps of that Turkish official....

Does the Sibel Edmonds case fall into any pattern of behavior, pattern of conduct on, on the part of the FBI?

“The usual pattern,” says Sen. Grassely. “Let me tell you, first of all, the embarrassing information comes out, the FBI reaction is to sweep it under the rug, and then eventually they shoot the messenger.”

Special agent John Roberts, a chief of the FBI's Internal Affairs Department, agrees. And while he is not permitted to discuss the Edmonds case, for the last 10 years he has been investigating misconduct by FBI employees. He says he is outraged by how little is ever done about it.

“I don't know of another person in the FBI who has done the internal investigations that I have and has seen what I have, and that knows what has occurred and what has been glossed over and what has, frankly, just disappeared, just vaporized, and no one disciplined for it,” says Roberts.

Despite a pledge from FBI Director Robert Mueller to overhaul the culture of the FBI in light of 9/11, and encourage bureau employees to come forward to report wrongdoing, Roberts says that in the rare instances when employees are disciplined, it's usually low-level employees like Edmonds who get punished and not their bosses.

“I think the double standard of discipline will continue no matter who comes in, no matter who tries to change,” says Roberts. “You, you have a certain, certain group that, that will continue to protect itself. That's just how it is.”

Has he found cases since Sept. 11 where people were involved in misconduct and were not, let alone reprimanded, but were even promoted? Roberts says yes. (emphasis added)

And then there's this New York Times account of another case study in FBI management:

As a veteran agent chasing home-grown terrorism suspects for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mike German always had a knack for worming his way into places few other agents could go.

In the early 1990s, he infiltrated a group of white supremacist skinheads plotting to blow up a black church in Los Angeles. A few years later, he joined a militia in Washington State that talked of attacking government buildings. Known to his militia colleagues by the alias Rock, he tricked them into handcuffing themselves in a supposed training exercise so the authorities could arrest them.

So in early 2002, when German got word that a group of Americans might be plotting support for an overseas Islamic terrorist group, he proposed to his bosses what he thought was an obvious plan: Go under cover again and infiltrate the group.

But German says FBI officials sat on his request, botched the investigation, falsified documents to discredit its own sources, then froze him out and made him a "pariah." He left the bureau in mid-June after 16 years and is now going public for the first time - the latest in a string of FBI whistle-blowers who claim they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about how management issues had impeded terrorism investigations since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Look, maybe the FBI has changed its ways and these examples are exceptions to the rule. And it should probably be acknowledged that there's probably a strong correlation between being a whistle-blower and generally being a royal pain-in-the-ass.

But they're still pretty scary exceptions. And this open letter from Edmonds to the 9-11 Commission doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. Particularly this part:

After the terrorist attacks of September 11 we, the translators at the FBI’s largest and most important translation unit, were told to slow down, even stop, translation of critical information related to terrorist activities so that the FBI could present the United States Congress with a record of ‘extensive backlog of untranslated documents’, and justify its request for budget and staff increases. While FBI agents from various field offices were desperately seeking leads and suspects, and completely depending on FBI HQ and its language units to provide them with needed translated information, hundreds of translators were being told by their administrative supervisors not to translate and to let the work pile up....

Today, almost three years after 9/11, and more than two years since this information has been confirmed and made available to our government, the administrators in charge of language departments of the FBI remain in their positions and in charge of the information front lines of the FBI’s Counter terrorism and Counterintelligence efforts. Your report has omitted any reference to this most serious issue, has foregone any accountability what so ever, and your recommendations have refrained from addressing this issue, which when left un-addressed will have even more serious consequences. This issue is systemic and departmental.

UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, here's a link to yesterday's testimony by the Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence to the Senate Government Affairs Committee on what the FBI thinks it has done right since 9/11. And here's the FBI's official response to the 9-11 Commission's report.

posted by Dan at 01:52 PM | Comments (61) | Trackbacks (5)

August's books of the month

Well, given that I've linked to it twice in recent days, my international relations book has to be American Soldier by Tommy Franks. Already the book has forced Don Rumsfeld to defend Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith against Frank's critique. In doing so, according to this AP report, Rumsfeld revealed the following:

Rumsfeld said Feith, along with some nongovernment analysts, proposed training Iraqis before the war and giving them a chance to participate in Iraq's liberation.

But Franks and other senior military officers were focused on the impending war and did not adopt Feith's "logical idea," Rumsfeld said.

A few Iraqis were trained for postwar security but "not in the volume that many had hoped," Rumsfeld said.

One has to assume that Rumsfeld is referring to Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress -- which, given Chalabi's track record since, is not exactly the most effective endorsement of Feith.

The general interest book is James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations. The fact that I make this recommendation even though I can't stand ridiculously long subtitles is a further testament to how much I'm enjoying the book.

Surowiecki's argument is simple -- when left to their own devices, large numbers of people who have diverse talents and perspectives will be consistently better than all individuals at problem-solving, decision-making, and future predictions. The key, to Suroweicki, is how information is gathered nd processed from the crowd. On p. 78, he makes this point with regard to the very topical question of ntelligence reform:

What was missing from the intelligence community, though, was any real means of aggregating not just information but also judgments. In other words, there was no mechanism to tap into the collective wisdom of National Security Agency nerds, CIA spooks, and FBI agents. There was decentralization but no aggregation and therefore no organization. [Senator] Richard Shelby's solution to the problem -- creating a truly central intelligence agency -- would solve the organization problem, and would make it easier for at least one agency to be in charge of all the information. But it would also forgo all of the enefits -- diversity, llocal knowledge, independence -- that decentralization brings. Shelby was right that information needed to be shared. But he assumed that someone -- or a small group of someones -- needed to be at the center, sifting through the information, figuring out what was important and what was not. But everything we know about cognition suggests that a small group of people, no matter how intelligent, simply will not be smrter than the larger group.... Centralization is not the answer. But aggregation is.

A side note on the intelligence reform question -- Mark Kleiman and Amy Zegart raise some disturbing questions about whether Bush's proposals for a National Intelligence Director would have sufficient authority to improve our intelligence capabilities. Zegart's speculation is particularly troublesome: "my warning bells go off whenever I hear the word "coordinate" so much in one press conference."

I'm cautiously optimistic, for two reasons. First, I suspect Bush is trying to mimic the Goldwater-Nichols reforms of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1986 -- and if memory serves, the JCS is neither in the operational chain of command nor does it possess budgetary authority. Bush explicitly compared the two in the press conference.

Second, Surowiecki's argument is that although coordination at the higher levels matters less than methods to ensure that the information is properly aggregated. In that sense, the reforms at the top matter less than ensuring the transmission of information.

I'm not sure I completely buy Surowiecki's arguments about how crowds facilitate cooperation, but it's still a stimulating argument.

There's a final reason to recommend this book -- it's clear that Surowiecki doesn't just admire cowds in the abstract, he likes to participate as well -- if one defines the blogosphere as a crowd. He's commented on at least two blogs I'm aware of: Crooked Timber and Brad DeLong -- and hey, he just posted here. The blogosphere violate one of Surowiecki's underlying assumptions, which is that one member of the crowd can't influence other members. Still, while many prominent readers of blogs never deign to post a comment, Surowiecki has no problems doing so.

Go check them both out.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias thinks I'm misinterpreting Goldwater-Nichols, and has some links to offer up. The thing is, all of the JCS tasks listed in Yglesias' are "advisory." Replace "advisory" with "coordinating role" and it's not clear whether Bush's admittedly vague proposal is all that different.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reading up on Goldwater-Nichols some more, it's clear that the JCS lies outside of the operational chain of command -- the regional commander-in-chiefs (CINCs) report directly to the Secretary of Defense. However, Matt might be correct that the JCS has a larger budgetary role than I originally thought.

Beyond that, the key elements of Goldwater-Nichols was to endow the chairman of the JCS more authority vis-a-vis the service chiefs -- by giving the chair control over the Joint Staff and designating him/her as the principal military advisor to the president. Bush's proposed NID would have similar capacities.

More intruigingly, the Act also empowered the regional CINCs relative to the service chiefs, thus increasing local coordination among the various services. I haven't seen anyone discuss whether something like this would be advisable or appropriate in the case of intelligence -- well, except for those ubiquitous TNT previews for "The Grid."

posted by Dan at 10:57 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

The New Yorker does outsourcing

I got a lot of e-mail requests to discuss John Cassidy's New Yorker story from last week on offshore outsourcing. I resisted them because Cassidy's essay was not on the New Yorker website, so it seemed like it would have been weird. But the e-mails kept coming. So here goes:

What's weird about the piece is that it reads like Cassidy wrote it back in April and then put it in a desk until The New Yorker had some pages to fill. For example, the estimate Cassidy cites from Forrester Research on the number of jobs that will be outsourced was revised upwards in May -- which would bolster Cassidy's point -- but the older figure is used.

This paragraph is emblematic of the problems with the story:

While outsourcing isn't the only reason that business are so reluctant to hire American workers -- rising productivity and a lack of faith in the recovery are others -- it is certainly playing some role, a fact that corporate executives are much more willing to admit than economists are. Moreover, economists tend to overstate the theoretical case for outsourcing, arguing that trade liberalization is always and everywhere beneficial, which simply isn't true.

OK, let's skip over the fact that 70% of those corporate execs have said they have no immediate or future plans to outsource. What's important is that Cassidy's small caveat about productivity gains allows him to commit a major fudge, blaming outsourcing for the larger, lackluster employment picture. This simultaneously ignores the importance of productivity and conveniently ignores the fact that the employment data doesn't back Cassidy up.

Don't take my word for it, though -- Charles L. Schultze has more on this in a Brookings Institution policy brief. Schultze makes important caveats about the official data, but nevertheless concludes:

If the disappointing employment growth of the past several years came about because America's production needs were being met to an increasing degree by production from foreign rather than American workers, as Americans increased the share of consumer and capital goods they bought from abroad, or as domestic firms expanded the share of their operations located abroad, this should show up as a rise in the inflation-adjusted value of imports relative to GDP. During the 1990s the import share rose steadily, but apart from some short-term fluctuations the share leveled off thereafter. It is difficult from this data to see how changes in the combination of import substitution and offshoring could have played a major role in explaining America's job performance in recent years.

The estimates on imports of goods come from relatively comprehensive U.S. customs data. Conceivably, the surveys of business firms used by the Department of Commerce to collect data on service imports may be missing some of the increase attributable to offshoring.... But the absolute size of any such errors in the import data cannot realistically be anywhere near large enough to alter the earlier conclusion that the speedup in productivity growth was by far the dominant factor behind the disappointing job growth. (emphasis added)

Both Schultze and Cassidy state that outsourcing and productivity gains can cause the gross destruction of jobs. However, Cassidy wants the reader to believe that outsourcing is the real villain -- Schultze shows that it isn't.

Cassidy closes with the following paragraph:

If the United States is to meet the challenge posed by a truly global economy, it will have to insure that its scientists are the most creative, its business leaders the most innovative, and its workers the most highly skilled -- not easy when other nations are seeking the same goals. A truly enlightened trade policy would involve increasing federal support for science at all levels of the education system; creating financial incentives for firms to pursue technological innovation; building up pre-school and mentoring initiatives to reduce dropout rates; expanding scholarships and visas to attract able foreign students and entrepreneurs to these shores; and encouraging the development of the arts. In short, insuring our prosperity involves investing in our human, social, and cultural capital. But don't expect to see that slogan on a campaign bumper sticker anytime soon.

Brad DeLong has his own problems with this closing. For me -- beyond the dubious linkage between arts funding and outsourcing -- what's missing from the Cassidy piece is a recognition of American strengths in innovation for the future. Hell, even the Progressive Policy Institute -- in a policy brief on offshoring by Richard Atkinson that reads like Cassidy's wish list no less -- recognizes this fact:

The next wave [of innovations] is not just about technology. It is also about innovative new business models, which the United States is particularly well positioned to develop because of its unique combination of information technology (IT) talent, entrepreneurial energy, and flexible capital markets. India boasts high-level computer programmers, but innovative companies that combine IT with creative business models, such as Yahoo!,, Akami, and Google, were all developed in the United States.

When the Progressive Policy Institute agrees with the former head of the McKinsey Global Institute, it does suggest that this is kind of important.

Also on this point, Tammy Joyner has a long Atlanta Journal-Constitution story on the hidden costs that can come from offshoring -- in large part due to the infrastructure deficiencies that Cassidy elides in his essay.

Two other offshoring stories worth checking out:

1) Bruce Bartlett has a policy brief on insourcing vs. outsourcing.

2) William Bulkeley has a Wall Street Journal story on how IBM is adopting new policies to reduce layoffs due to offshore outsourcing. Key line: "IBM is increasing employment for the first time in three years. Earlier this year it said it expected to boost world-wide employment by 15,000 to 330,000 in 2004, including a net U.S. employment boost of up to 2,000, despite offshoring."

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (0)

More from Tommy Franks

Following up on an earlier post, former CentCom commander General Tommy Franks provides some interesting information while plugging his just-released memoir, American Soldier.

One interesting bit from this Nightline interview is that it wasn't only western intelligence agencies who were fooled on the WMD question:

KOPPEL: Let's go back — actually, we haven't gone to it at all yet, but let's just quickly go to the subject of weapons of mass destruction. You write in your book that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told you Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. You write that …

FRANKS: Actually, biologicals, right.

KOPPEL: Biologicals. You write that King Abdullah of Jordan told you the, Saddam has and will use weapons of mass destruction.

FRANKS: That his intelligence services had given that to him too.


FRANKS: Yes, that's correct.

KOPPEL: Both governments today — you know, kings don't answer to books, as you know, and either do presidents, but your book has apparently made its way around to both those capitals, and both the office of King Abdullah and the office of President Mubarak deny that, say they never told you that.

FRANKS: Uh-huh. Not, not, not surprising, Ted. I think one sort of has to be aware of the way, the way politics works in the Middle East, and so I'm not at all surprised by that. I'll simply stay with what I said.

Michael Kilian's Chicago Tribune story also provides a lot of ammunition for the Kerry campaign:

According to the general in command, the U.S. went to war in Iraq without expectation of the violent insurgency that followed or a clear understanding of the psychology of the Iraqi people.

"We had a hope the Iraqis would rise up and become part of the solution," said former Gen. Tommy Franks, who led the U.S. military's Central Command until his retirement last August. "We just didn't know [about the insurgency]."

....As he noted in his book, Franks had projected that troop strength in Iraq might have to rise to 250,000 for the U.S. to meet all of its objectives, but the number never got higher than 150,000.

"The wild card in this was the expectation for much greater international involvement," he said in the interview. "I never cared whether the international community came by way of NATO or the United Nations or directly.

"We started the operation believing that nations would provide us with an awful lot of support," Franks said.

Instead, the other members participating in the coalition have contributed only about 22,000 soldiers in Iraq, and several nations, such as the Philippines, have pulled out their forces recently. Franks said he thinks the U.S. will have to maintain substantial numbers of troops in Iraq for three to five years.

Initial planning for the war centered on achieving a speedy victory in the major combat phases followed by rapid reconstruction of the country, Franks said. Though an insurgency was feared, there was no assumption it would happen, he said.

"I think there was not a full appreciation of the realities in Iraq--at least of the psychology of the Iraqis," Franks said.

"On the one hand," he continued, "I think we all believed that they hated the regime of Saddam Hussein. Over the last year, we have seen that come to pass. That's where the intelligence came from that allowed us to get the sons of Saddam Hussein."

Udai and Qusai Hussein were killed in a firefight with U.S. troops in July 2003.

"On the other hand, the psychology of the people--the mix of the Sunnis, the Shiites, the tribal elements and the Kurds--and what they would expect and tolerate in terms of coalition forces, their numbers, where they are and what they're doing in Iraq, I don't know that we made willful assumptions with respect to that," the retired general added.

UPDATE: The Tribune story also makes it clear in the book that Franks has no love for either Douglas Feith or Richard Clarke:

In his book, Franks referred to Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and one of Rumsfeld's close advisers, as "a theorist whose ideas were often impractical."

"I generally ignored his contributions," Franks wrote of one meeting.

He was critical of former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke, saying in the book he "was better at identifying a problem than at finding a workable solution."

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (1)

Monday, August 2, 2004

Evaluating the threat from Al Qaeda

Dan Byman, a counterterrorism specialist at Georgetown, has a counterintuitive Slate essay on why the U.S. homeland is safer than commonly thought -- despite the recent terrorist advisory for certain East Coast locales:

The greatest blow to al-Qaida has come from the removal of its haven in Afghanistan and the disruption of the permissive environment it enjoyed in numerous countries in Europe and Asia. The leaders of the organization are under intense pressure, with killings and arrests commonplace. As a result, attacks that require meticulous planning and widespread coordination are far more difficult to carry out.

Al-Qaida has changed in response to these pressures. As former CIA Director George Tenet testified earlier this year, "Successive blows to al-Qaida's central leadership have transformed the organization into a loose collection of regional networks that operate more autonomously." Before Sept. 11, al-Qaida worked closely with various local jihadist movements, drawing on their personnel and logistics centers for its own efforts and working to knit the disparate movements together. Since 9/11, local group leaders have played a far more important role, taking the initiative in choosing targets and conducting operations, looking to al-Qaida more for inspiration than for direction.

This shift from a centralized structure to a more localized one has made the U.S. homeland safer. The United States, in contrast to many nations in Europe and Asia, does not have a strong, well-organized, radical Islamist presence on its shores. Although there are certainly jihadist sympathizers who might conduct attacks on their own or be used by foreign jihadists as local facilitators, the vast sea of disaffected young Muslim men that is present in Europe and elsewhere has no U.S. parallel. Similarly, the logistics network of forgers, scouts, recruiters, money men, and others is far less developed.

Safer does not mean safe, and the risk of less sophisticated attacks remains particularly high. Attacks on U.S. allies where jihadist networks are better organized and more resilient are a grave concern, and Americans traveling abroad are particularly vulnerable. Nor is the homeland necessarily secure, as al-Qaida has adjusted to U.S. vigilance. FBI Director Robert Mueller has warned that the organization is seeking recruits who will easily blend in to the United States. Tenet also darkly noted that for groups sympathetic to al-Qaida's ideology, attacks on the U.S. homeland remain the "brass ring."

There's another reason to believe that an Al Qaeda attack might stoppable. Although the U.S. might still not be prepared to protect critical infrastructure, this Washington Post story suggests that Al Qaeda isn't targeting it either. For all the talk about Al Qaeda's flexibility, they appear to be relatively orthodox in targeting symbols. The key paragraph:

The information that emerged appears to confirm that al Qaeda continues to plan operations and conduct surveillance against targets inside the United States. It buttresses the warnings of law enforcement and intelligence officials that al Qaeda has operatives in the United States and that U.S. financial institutions -- particularly ones in New York and Washington -- remain favorite targets of the terror network.

More on this point from Knut Royce of Newsday.

None of this means that the Al Qaeda threat has been eliminated -- but it's still worth noting.

UPDATE: Douglas Jehl and David Johnston report in the New York Times that, "Much of the information that led the authorities to raise the terror alert at several large financial institutions in the New York City and Washington areas was three or four years old." However, both the Times account and this Chicago Tribune story make it clear that while most of the information was old, it was only in the past few weeks that it was obtained by U.S. intelligence. The Tribune report also states, "The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that while much of the surveillance predated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some information about one of the targeted buildings was from 2004."

Tom Maguire (who's been on a roll as of late) has some relevant thoughts.

posted by Dan at 11:33 PM | Comments (52) | Trackbacks (4)

George W. Bush violates the laws of bureaucratic politics

The Associated Press' Deb Reichmann reports that President Bush has embraced two key recommendations from the 9-11 Commission -- the creation of a national intelligence czar and counterterrorism center. Here's a link to the White House transcript of Bush's remarks and answers to questions.

The most startling change from the 9-11 Commission's recommendations was the decision not to place the NID inside the White House. On this point, Bush said:

I don't think that the office ought to be in the White House, however. I think it ought to be a stand-alone group, to better coordinate, particularly between foreign intelligence and domestic intelligence matters. I think it's going to be one of the most useful aspects of the National Intelligence Director.

Later on in the Q&A, he compares the structure he's proposing to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I'll admit to being gobsmacked -- not because Karl Rove might be reading my blog, but because the Bush administration had an opportunity to centralize policy authority and passed. Their proposed reform might be even better, because it provides one layer of bureaucratic protection from the overt political manipulation of intelligence. However, for a White House -- any White House -- to decline placing an important bureaucracy inside the Executive Office of the President is unusual.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum offers a slightly darker interpretation for Bush's decision:

Here's my guess: Bush felt pressured to accept the commission's recommendations, but Don Rumsfeld was not happy about the idea of his intelligence apparatus being under someone else's thumb. The answer they came up with was twofold: accept the idea of a national intelligence director, thus showing that they take the commission's recommendations seriously, but weaken its powers by housing it in its own building.

Why? Because it's a truism of DC power politics that anyone who works directly out of the White House has more influence than someone who doesn't. The Pentagon probably feels that it can handle another high-level bureaucrat, but isn't so sure it can handle one who actually works directly in the White House and talks to the president and his aides on a regular basis.

Needless to day, Bush is spinning this as a way of keeping the new intelligence director independent, but I think the real story is the Pentagon's desire to keep the director's oversight as weak as possible. Keeping him out of the White House is the best way to do that.

This is certainly possible -- one reporter said at the press conference that, "some of your [Bush's] own advisors oppose creation of a National Intelligence Director."

That said, bear in mind that even if true, Rumsfeld still lost a fair amount of authority. The President did outline the division of labor in this answer:

I think that the new National Intelligence Director ought to be able to coordinate budgets.... the National Intelligence Director will work with the respective agencies to set priorities. But let me make it also very clear that when it comes to operations, the chain of command will be intact.

If the proposed NID has significant decision-making authority of resource allocation among the myriad intelligence agencies, that's a pretty significant transfer of power.

posted by Dan at 01:47 PM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (5)

Laura Tyson vs... John Kerry

Here's an example of the difficulty in trying to nail down what a Kerry administration's trade policy would look like. On the one hand, Matthew Yglesias has a good American Prospect piece (expanding on this blog post) on what he learned in Boston about the Kerry economic team. The key part is his recount of what Kerry advisor Laura Tyson said:

After briefly singing the praises of liberalized trade and capital flows, recommending Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization for those who wanted to know more, and arguing that trade is "necessary, but not sufficient" for global economic development, Tyson acknowledged that her remarks were somewhat at odds with much of what Kerry's said on the campaign trail.

"When people say, 'well, listen to what the Kerry campaign has said about trade in some of the primaries, we are concerned that Senator Kerry will move the US away from trade integration,'" she said, she tells them to "think about the issue of national campaigns in the US" and to "recognize that what might be said in one primary ... is not an indicator of the future."

Tyson further argued that Kerry would be able to liberalize trade more than Bush has, because Kerry would support policies that help compensate the inevitable losers in globalization -- a step that will allegedly drain the swamp of anti-trade sentiment. Lest it be thought that Tyson's commitment to the multilateral process and to continued trade integration leaves plenty of wriggle room to keep the process but add, say, environmental standards into the mix, she explicitly disavowed this option during a later exchange. Adding environmental issues to the WTO's brief might bog it down and impede progress on further integration.

This is music to my ears -- except that I then checked out the Kerry Edwards position paper on trade. On p. 2, I see this nugget of information:

As president, John Kerry will lead with a firm but even hand on trade, and make clear that when the U.S. enters into trade agreements, we will expect our trading partners to live up to their side of the bargain. He will strongly enforce our trade laws and insist that all new free trade agreements include enforceable, internationally recognized labor and environmental provisions in the core of the agreements.

Strictly speaking, the position paper does not conflict with Tyson's statement -- the former refers to "new free trade agreements," the latter to the WTO. However, Matt's implication that there's no wiggle room in a Kerry trade policy to use regulatory standards as a way of blocking trade liberalization is a bit overstated.

One final thought -- I'd like to see someone ask the Kerry economic team the following question: "It was recently decided to extend the deadline for the Doha round of WTO negotiations to the end of 2005. On p. 9 of your position paper on trade, the following is stated:

As president, John Kerry will order an immediate 120-day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure that our trade partners are living up to their obligations and that trade agreements are being enforced and they are working as anticipated. He will consider necessary steps if they are not. And John Kerry will not sign any new trade agreements until the review is complete.

Does this review apply to Doha as well?"

posted by Dan at 12:37 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

The five W's and Nigerien yellowcake

Josh Marshall has a long post up detailing some of his investigation into the sourcing of the Nigerien yellowcake documentation: "[T]he Italian middle-man who provided the notorious Niger uranium documents to Italian journalist Elizabetta Burba (she later brought them to the US Embassy in Rome, you’ll remember) was himself given the documents by the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI."

Read the whole thing, and then read Tom Maguire's critical take on one section of Marshall's post.

For me, this is the key part of Marshall's post:

The Financial Times article lead (sic) to a surge of articles and commentary suggesting that the forged documents were only a minor part of the case for the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium transaction. But, as we've noted earlier, that's a willfully misleading account, one which both the Butler Report and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report helped to further.

Contrary to arguments that there was lots of independent evidence of uranium sales between Iraq and Niger, US government sources have told us that almost all of the important evidence derived from the phony documents. Specifically, it came from summaries of the documents Italian intelligence was distributing to other western intelligence agencies -- including those of the US, Britain and France -- in late 2001 and 2002.

The US has long known that the Italians had the forged documents in their possession at least as early as the beginning of 2002. And what we've uncovered is that at the same time Italian intelligence operatives were surreptiously funnelling copies of the documents to this document peddler with the knowledge that he would sell them to other intelligence services and likely to members of the Italian press.

Marshall and Maguire are hashing out the "what?" question of journalism. My big question is why? Assuming Marshall is correct on the sourcing (and he posted this because the Sunday Times of London also has the story), what, exactly, was SISMI's motive in forging the documents and then passing them on to other western intelligence agencies?

posted by Dan at 12:03 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Pamela Anderson, novelist


Pamela Anderson is the sort-of author of a forthcoming novel, Star, loosely based on her own climb up the celebrity foodchain. She discusses the book in an interview with Entertainment Weekly's Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. Here are the parts that appeared in the print version of the magazine:

EW: You cowrote ''Star'' with Eric Quinn, a ghostwriter. I've never heard of a ghostwriter on a novel.

PA: Well, there are things I don’t really know about, like sentence structure, a beginning, a middle, and an end. All those hard things....

EW: Why a novel?

PA: I'd been asked to do an autobiography so many times but I thought, That's so boring, unless I'm an old lady with gray hair and my cats. But Simon & Schuster said they'd do anything -- children's books, a vegetarian cookbook... And I said, ''What about fiction?'' And they said, ''What about a roman à clef?'' And I'm like, ''Who's that?''

EW: Do you feel more exposed as a writer than as an actor?

PA: I don't think I can expose myself more than I already have to the world!

Lest one think that Miss Anderson is the personification of a dumb blonde, read her longer interview with editor Daphne Durham. She's probably not going to be applying for Mensa membership anytime soon, but the contrast between the two interviews does reveal Miss Anderson's savviness at image manipulation and a healthy willingness to poke fun at herself.

And who knows, Star might actually be the perfect book for an August vacation. In an editorial review, Durham praised the book as, "funny, sexy, and utterly compelling--a must read for chick lit fans."

The staff at -- which possesses an enduring faith in the resilience of American celebrities -- wishes Miss Anderson the best of luck in her writing career!

[So Star is going to be one of August's books of the month?--ed. Tempting, but no.]

posted by Dan at 11:42 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

The perils of excessive certainty

One of the problems with blogging is that it promotes excessive certainty. Exhibit A comes from Atrios, aka Duncan Black, in this post about fence-sitters:

It's the season. I'm sure we'll see a bunch of "reasonable" conservatives writing that if Kerry could just somehow say the magic combination of words, appealing to their idiosyncratic sense of what the Democratic should be (regaining what it has lost, blahblabblah), that they'd support him....

One thing it's important to remember with all of these people - their public personas, their public writings, are to a great degree a pose. The only way to hold onto your reputation as being something other than a partisan hack is to make sure to provide enough public statements to back that up. Similarly those who really are supposed to be partisan hacks are only "allowed" a few chances to stray from the reservation, particularly on the conservative side of things. Ostracism from the movement can be quick and painful.

But, the truth is a this point anyone who pays attention (as it's their job) should have a very good idea what a 2nd Bush administration would be like, and a pretty good idea how a Kerry administration would differ. They should also understand that campaign rhetoric is what it is, and has little bearing on how a Kerry administration will actually govern, relative to what we already know about the guy.

As one of the fence-sitters, I'm highly skeptical of Atrios' confidence about either the motivations of fence-sitters or future expectations. On the former, Mickey Kaus points out:

It's always hard to distinguish those with genuinely ambivalent or heterodox or nuanced or muddled views from those who are just positioning (e.g., to "preserve their street cred on both sides"). But I wouldn't think this is a distinction Kerry supporters, of all people, would want to encourage.

As for retaining cred on both sides, one shouldn't rule out the possibility of equally pissing off both sides as well.

On the latter point, I'm glad Atrios is so sure of himself -- I'll proceed with more caution this time around. Take the case of trade policy. I thought Bush was going to invest more political capiital into trade liberalization than he actually has (today's good news aside) and dismissed the campaign pledge to West Virginia steelworkers to provide protection as "campaign rhetoric." Whoops.

Kerry's rhetoric on outsourcing and trade has been more heated and more prominent than Bush's trade talk in 2000. His choice for vice president used even stronger protectionist rhetoric during the primary campaign. Even if the Senator from Massachusetts doesn't really mean it, there is the problem of "blowback" -- becoming trapped by one's rhetoric (See: George H.W. Bush, "no new taxes").

For the issues I care about, there's still a fair amount of uncertainty about what either a Kerry or Bush administration would look like come January 2005. At this point I'm not thrilled with my choice either way.

Bob Rubin's "probabilistic" decision-making style rested in part on deferring decisions until they were absolutely necessary. I'm happy to bide my time.

posted by Dan at 12:47 AM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, August 1, 2004

What does Tommy Franks think?

In Plan of Attack, General Tommy Franks -- the CentCom commander and architect of both the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns who retired in the fall of 2003 -- was quoted as describing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith as "The f***ing stupidest guy on the planet." With a quotation like that, I'm kinda curious what Franks will be saying in his soon-to-be-released book, American Soldier.

Mark Thompson has a Q & A with Franks in Time that suggests a, dare I say it, complex take on the Bush Administration. Some of the good parts (the ALL CAPS are Thompson's questions):

IN YOUR BOOK, YOU ABSOLVE YOURSELF, PRESIDENT BUSH AND DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD OF INADEQUATE POSTWAR PLANNING. SO WHO'S RESPONSIBLE? It's possible to underestimate the difficulty inside our bureaucracy as well as inside the international bureaucracy when it comes to things like fund raising. The planning, in fact, incorporated the need to rehire a quarter of a million Iraqis who had been in the military. When they all went home, they were unemployed. The question is, How long does it take to generate funding in order to re-employ these people? Unfortunately, it took too long.

WELL, WASN'T IT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION THAT DISBANDED THE IRAQI ARMY? Actually, the Administration didn't disband it—it melted away. It's a blessing when an army melts away rather than dying in place. On the other hand, if what we're after is to get reconstruction going, then that simply represents 250,000 angry young men.

COULDN'T THE U.S. HAVE CALLED THEM BACK TO DUTY? We would have been wise to do that, and in my view we should have done that....

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO WORK FOR RUMSFELD? I wish Don Rumsfeld had had an easier, less-centralized management style. That does not imply that Don Rumsfeld screwed up the war. It says that I—and I suspect a lot of other people—would have had a whole lot better feeling undertaking these very important matters if Don Rumsfeld had been a very concerned people person.

DO YOU THINK BUSH SHOULD BE RE-ELECTED? The way I'm going to mark my individual ballot I'll keep to myself. Whether we like Bush or not, the quality of his judgments and the quality of his leadership has been honest. I respect him for that. I'm leaning in that direction.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan at 02:05 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Doha is back on track

Following up on Thursday's post, WTO negotiators have announced a successful "July package" that lays the groundworks for cobbling a successful trade deal. Lisa Schlein has a story for Voice of America:

Delegates to the World Trade Organization have agreed to a deal, which experts say will boost world economic growth by liberalizing world trade. The agreement restarts stalled free trade talks, known as the Doha Development Round, which collapsed last September at a meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

After a week of marathon talks, the World Trade Organization's 147 members approved the agreement by consensus, marking what WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi calls an historical moment for the organization.

He says the framework agreement will lead toward the elimination of export subsidies, a reduction in domestic subsidies and will produce gains in market access....

West African countries achieved a breakthrough in their demands that rich countries stop subsidizing their cotton farmers. Under the agreement, the United States and other nations have decided that cotton subsidies be treated on a separate fast track. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says he is pleased with the outcome of this negotiation....

Chief negotiators at the World Trade Organization say they hope they will be able to conclude the round of trade talks by December 2005, when the next ministerial takes place in Hong Kong.

As this WTO press release points out, this pushes the deadline back from the original January 2005 deadline, but that's to be expected. The WTO Secretary-General is clearly pleased:

Dr. Supachai predicted that the progress now made in agriculture, non-agricultural market access, development issues and trade facilitation would provide substantial momentum to WTO members’ work in other important areas such as rules, services, environment, reform of dispute procedures and intellectual property protection.

“I fully expect that when negotiators return in September negotiations in these areas and all others will recommence with a high degree of enthusiasm,” he said.

WTO members can now put behind them the deadlock 10 months earlier at the Cancún ministerial conference, he said.

[C'mon, it's a froggin' press release -- of course he's going to be upbeat!--ed. Actually, it's been my experience that compared to other international governmental organizations, the WTO press material is remarkably free of spin or artifice.]

You can take a gander at the text of the recent agreement by clicking here.

The contrast between the Bush administration's positive contributions to this step foward on trade and Kerry's praise of the "fair trade" shibboleth, does alter one of the four key factors in my voting decision come November. So, my probability of voting for Kerry has been lowered from .54 to .50.

UPDATE: Robert Tagorda provides plenty of links, including this New York Times story and the Kerry campaign's fatuous press release on the matter. From the latter, this part was particularly inane:

Exports Are Down Under President Bush - The First President Since Herbert Hoover. Exports have fallen in inflation-adjusted terms under President Bush - the first drop under any President since Herbert Hoover. In contrast, most post-World War II Presidential terms have seen 15 to 30 percent real export growth.

Bush Called Job Protection Measures a "Barrier." In a speech to the Women's Entrepreneurship in the 21st Century Forum, George Bush defended the outsourcing of jobs overseas. Bush said, "We cannot expect to sell our goods and services, and create jobs, if America and our partners, trading partners, start raising barriers and closing off markets."

The first point is a non sequitur, since it has little to do with the Bush administration. Exports are largely a function of other countries' aggregate demand and the exchange rate. Under Bush, the dollar has depreciated in value. What's depressed exports has been the sclerotic growth of our major trading partners, not some failure of the Bush administration.

As to the second point, I look forward to hearing the Kerry economic team argue that, "We can expect to sell our goods and services, and create jobs, if America and our partners, trading partners, start raising barriers and closing off markets."

In contrast, USTR head Bob Zoellick said the following in his press release:

President Bush confounded conventional wisdom by empowering me and my Administration colleagues to make trade success a priority, even in an election year, because he believes open markets build stronger economies and help create jobs in the United States and opportunity around the world.

Here's a useful USTR fact sheet as well.

This does not excuse the myriad examples of protectionism committed by this administration -- but the past week has seen some substantive pluses for the Bush team and some rhetorical minuses for the Kerry team on trade.

posted by Dan at 11:37 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (6)