Monday, February 28, 2005

Two steps forward, one step back in the Middle East

In the past 72 hours, there have been a number of developments in the Middle East -- suicide bombings in Iraq, Egyptian announcements about political reform, Lebanese people power bringing down the government, half-brothers being captured, reformist cabinets being named.

I was going to post something about how in the political change in the Middle East used to follow a one step forward, two steps back mentality, but as of late the trend has been more of a two steps forward, one step back nature of -- but Greg Djerejian and David Brooks beat me to it, so go check them out.

The collapse of communism in Eastern Europe happened after reformists first attained power through elections in Poland and Hungary. It happened rapidly, with no one comprehending the speed with which the old, corrupt edifices of power crumbled. Could the example of elections in one Muslim country in the Middle East have a similar ripple effect?

[You forget the backward steps--ed. True, true, I'm probably engaging in the error of analogy. Still it's interesting that such an analogy is even conceivable now.]

posted by Dan at 10:08 PM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (0)

Interesting values quote of the day

The following quote comes from Jeanette Walls' source on the fact that Paris Hilton's Blackberry was hacked and its contents made public:

“It became obvious to her what was going on,” says the source. “She was pretty upset about it. It’s one thing to have people looking at your sex tapes, but having people reading your personal e-mails is a real invasion of privacy.” (emphasis added)


posted by Dan at 09:12 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Oh, right -- Oscar predictions 2005!!

Ever since 2003, we here at have been unafraid to make bold predictions about who will win and who should win the Academy Awards. This year is no exception, but I will confess that this time it's a bit more labor rather than a labor of love. [Surely you weren't expecting Ms. Salma Hayek to get nominated for After the Sunset, did you?--ed. Well, just look at her premiere outfit!!


Look, if Kathy Bates can score an Oscar nomination for valiant disrobing a few years ago, surely Salma deserves something for valiant... robing.]

Anyway, this has less to do with Ms. Hayek and more to do with the fact that Ms. Drezner appeared in August, making it very, very difficult to get away for Oscar viewing. There is, however, one other factor -- which Frank Rich raised in his New York Times column: "The total box office for all five best-picture nominees on Sunday's Oscars is so small that their collective niche in the national cultural marketplace falls somewhere between square dancing and non-Grisham fiction." So while I haven't seen many of the top Oscar nod movies this year, I haven't felt truly compelled to see them in the same way as in previous years. Even the fashion is now boring, as Julia Turner points out in Slate (though Turner may have underestimated the effect that 9/11 and Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction have had on muting the red carpet).

In other words, I'm flying blind a bit more than usual this year.

Nevertheless, ignorance has never prevented me from making bold predictions in the past. On with the Oscars!

Best Picture:
Will win: The Aviator
Should win: Tie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/The Incredibles

My calculation on this one is purely stragtegic: this year's Oscars will be a legacy fight between Scorcese and Eastwood. Neither is exactly loved by the system -- however, between Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator, the latter more closely meets the parameters of the standard "prestige" Best Picture. Plus, Million Dollar Baby has just a hint of a backlash because of the controversy surrounding its ending.

Will either of those two films be remembered even five years from now? Unlikely. The same cannot be said of either Eternal Sunshine or The Incredibles.

Best Actor:
Will win: Jamie Foxx, Ray
Should win: Jamie Foxx, Ray and Collateral

The one lock of the year. Why Foxx's role in the latter movie is considered a supporting performance is beyond me -- I think he had more screen time than Tom Cruise. It's the contrast between the two peformances that make you realize just how gifted and good Foxx really is. Plus, I really want to see Wanda say something in the acceptance speech.

UPDATE: Honorable mention must go to one Gary Brolsma, for his "Numa Numa" performance. Kieran Healy is dead-on in roasting the New York Times for not understanding Brolsma's confident deadpan style. "Earnest but painful"? Gimme a break!!!

Best Actress:
Will win: Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Kate Winslet, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Hilary Swank is to acting as the Florida Marlins are to baseball. For the first nine years of their existence, the Marlins were an under .500 team for seven of those years. The two years they were above .500, they won the World Series. So it is for the first nine years of Ms. Swank's career and her acting choices -- mostly stinker roles (The Core, anyone?) with the occasional jaw-dropping performance. This year yielded a way-above average performance for her.

All Kate Winslet did in Eternal Sunshine was make someone with a bad orange dye job seem simultaneously compelling and thoroughly imperfect. Whenever I think about her performance, it reminds me of what must have been the inspiration for the Sheryl Crow song, "My Favorite Mistake."

Best Supporting Actor
Will win: Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Neil Patrick Harris, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle

If I was the Oscar coordinator for Million Dollar Baby, my promotional campaign would for Freeman would be real simple -- I'd just send out a postcard with the sentence, "Morgan Freeman has never won an Oscar" and let that fact bore itself into the skulls of Academy voters. WTF?

It is highly unlikely that Mr. Harris will ever win an Oscar -- but damn, that man was funny in Harold & Kumar, the feel-good libertarian movie of the year. [Does he really deserve an Oscar for playing himself??!!--ed. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Harris' actual personality is a bit different from his Harold & Kumar persona. Besides, consider the balance required to perform that scene where he's driving down the road with the two models in the car. I remain unconvinced--ed. C'mon say it with me -- Doogie!! Doogie!! DOOGIE!!]

Best Supporting Actress:
Will win: Cate Blanchett, The Aviator
Should win: tie, Virginia Madsen, Sideways; Laura Dern, We Don't Live Here Anymore

By awarding Blanchett an Oscar this year, the Academy can make up for one of their more egregious f***-ups in not giving her the Best Actress award for Elizabeth. Plus, it will be logically difficult for people to vote for Foxx for Best Actor and not acknowledge Blanchett's similar style of craft. Madsen will give Blanchett a run for her money in this category, and her performance was just effortless -- but Blanchett has the stronger track record, and that will sway Academy voters.

I'm probably one of about 20 people who saw We Don't Live Here Anymore, so I understand if this appears to be an obscure choice. In many ways, what blew me away about Dern's performance was that it was the opposite of Blanchett's -- a portrayal of a thoroughly ordinary, frazzled, and depressed housewife. Dern broght such pain to it, however, that the movie has stayed with me despite its forced contrivances.

Best Director:
Will win: Clint Eastwood, Million Dollar Baby
Should win: Michel Gondry Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I had to sleep on this one -- it's a close call between Eastwood and Scorcese. However, with Mystic River now on cable, I've concluded that Academy voters will give the psychic nod to Clint for both films. [You're kidding me, right? Scorcese has lots of great films too!!--ed. Yes, but the only one on cable right now is Gangs of New York. Er, never mind--ed.]

Enjoy your 2005 Oscars -- especially since the 2006 affair will be so boring, what with the Farrelly brothers' Fever Pitch coming out of nowhere to totally sweep the Oscars!

UPDATE: Well, it's over, Chris Rock killed -- killed -- for the first ten minutes (but see Roger L. Simon for a dissenting perspective -- though the American people seem to agree with me). The bit at the Magic Johnson theatre was pretty funny as well, especially with the Albert Brooks kicker. And I admit that I won't forget hearing Chris Rock read, "Growing up as a young Welsh lass....." anytime soon. Ironically, I think Rock was too good -- he made the rest of the show seem boring by comparison (except for Sean Penn, who came across as a humorless clod).

[Aren't you going to say anything about Salma Hayek's unfortunate hairstyle?--ed. Too depressing to discuss.]

posted by Dan at 12:01 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Saudis move, but move slowly

Richard Cohen pointed out recently that:

When coming to Saudi Arabia from the United States, you need to set your watch. Officially, the time difference is eight hours ahead of the East Coast. Unofficially, I think it's about 250 years behind.

Indeed, as Glenn Reynolds has recently pointed out, the Saudis remain a potent source of terrorist support.

Neverheless, the Saudi regime does seem to be moving forward -- however slowly -- in altering their behavior in constructive ways. Again, it's maddeningly slow, but progress nevertheless.

This week saw further evidence of this. This past week the British and Saudis held a two-day conference entitled "Two Kingdoms: The Challenges Ahead," and some constructive things were said. Khaled Almaeena reports an example of this in Arab News :

It was a cold day in London, but the near zero degree temperature did not chill the second day of Saudi-British conference, where the two nations’ chief diplomats reflected on eight decades of warm relations between their two peoples and charted an equally amicable course for the future.

Addressing the conference, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal announced plans to appoint women to the Foreign Ministry for the first time this year. He pointed out that successful political reforms required “an evolutionary process.”

Similarly, the Saudi government is making tentative noises about giving women the right to vote in future election. Beth Gardiner explains this in an Associated Press report:

Women may be allowed to vote in future Saudi Arabian elections, but such political reforms must be implemented "gradually," the kingdom's foreign minister said Wednesday.

The Gulf nation, an absolute monarchy, recently held its first regular election, for city council members. But the vote was open only to men.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in London for meetings with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other officials, said his country's election commission had recommended women participate in the next vote.

"I would not be surprised if they do so in the next round of elections," he said.

Two more phases of the municipal vote will be held in March and April, but it was unclear whether Saud was referring to those elections....

Saud, however, said political reforms would have to come slowly.

"The wish is to move as fast as we can, the reality says that you have to move gradually," he said. "We in Saudi Arabia believe in the necessity of political reform, but it must be evolutionary."

He said the government wanted to improve human rights, an issue Straw said was on the agenda for the ministers' talks.

"We're working very hard for that ... to assure that justice reaches every single human being in the country," Saud said.

One wonders if the strong performance of the conservatives in the first round of regional elections convinced the regime that giving women the political franchise might be in their own self-interest.

This post is not meant to be a jumping up and down saying, "Look, Saudi reforms!! Yippee!!" Clearly, this is going to take a while.

But it would be nice if one could say that the Saudis were only 85 years behind the times -- instead of 250.

Developing.... very, very, slowly.

posted by Dan at 11:28 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (4)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Call me "Dr. Dre" from now on

Josh Levin compares rappers to bloggers in Slate:

Essentially, blogging is sampling plus a new riff. Political bloggers take a story in the news, rip out a few chunks, and type out a few comments. Rap songs use the same recipe: Dig through a crate of records, slice out a high hat and a bass line, and lay a new vocal track on top. Of course, the molecular structure of dead-tree journalism and classic rock is filthy with other people's research and other people's chord progressions. But in newspaper writing and rock music, the end goal is the appearance of originality—to make the product look seamless by hiding your many small thefts. For rappers and bloggers, each theft is worth celebrating, another loose item to slap onto the collage.

Rap music and blogging are populist, low-cost-of-entry communication forms that reward self-obsessed types who love writing in first person. Maybe that's why both won so many converts so quickly. If you want to become MC I'm Good at Rapping, all you have to do is rustle up a microphone and a sampler. If you want to blog as AngryVeganCatholicGOPMom, bring a computer, an Internet connection, a working knowledge of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V, and a whole lot of spare time.

Although bloggers and rappers are free to write about whatever they damn well please, they mostly talk to each other and about each other. That's partly because it's so easy to communicate with your fellow working professionals. If Nas disses you for not having a moustache, it's easy enough to come right back and tell him you slept with the mother of his child. When Markos from Daily Kos offhandedly admits that he doesn't read many books, Little Green Footballs steps up to hammer the softball.

But rappers' and bloggers' self-importance also has something to do with the supremely annoying righteousness that rides along with those who believe they're overturned the archaic forms of expression favored by The Man—that is, whitey and/or the mainstream media. Ninety percent of rap lyrics are self-congratulatory rhymes about how great the rapper is at rapping, the towering difficulties of succeeding in the rap game, or the lameness of wanksta rivals. Blogging is a circle jerk that never stops circling: links to posts by other bloggers, following links to newspaper stories about bloggers, following wonderment at the corruptions and complacency of old-fashioned, credentialed journalism.

Sampling, cutting, pasting, and then writing a few short words of commentary? That b**ch Levin don't know what the f*** he's talking about. [Fo'shizzle!--ed.]

[Did Levin get the "circle jerk" meme from Bill Keller--ed. Beats me. Speaking of Keller, however, Jeff Jarvis has posted his ongoing correspondence with the New York Times Executive Editor. Oh, and Slate has added a new feature, Today's Blogs -- which appears to be a useful compliment to their equally useful Today's Papers feature.]

UPDATE: South Knox Bubba has his own retort to Slate.

posted by Dan at 01:55 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

How stable is Bretton Woods 2?

The Bretton Woods regime for managing the international monetary system was inherently unstable because of the Triffin dilemma. Nevertheless, the true Bretton Woods system did last for 14 years (1958-1971). It lasted for eleven years after Triffin explained the system couldn't last forever.

Economists are labelling the current monetary arrangements as Bretton Woods 2. Under this system, the U.S. is running massive current account deficits to be the source of export-led growth for other countries. To fund this deficit, central banks, particularly those on the Pacific Rim, are buying up dollars and dollar-denominated assets.

The dollar’s fall in value relative to the euro is costly for the central banks holding large amounts of dollar-denominated assets. In purchasing so many dollars, these banks have a powerful incentive to ensure that their investment retains its value -- but they an equally powerful incentive to sell off their dollars if it appears that they will rapidly depreciate. This cost creates a dilemma for these central banks. Collectively, these central banks have an incentive to hold on to their dollars, so as to maintain its value on world currency markets. Individually, each central bank has an incentive to sell dollars and diversify its holdings into other hard currencies. This fear of defection leads to a classic prisoner’s dilemma—and the risk that these central banks will simultaneously try to diversify their currency portfolios poses the greatest threat toward a run on the dollar.

So, the stability of this arrangement depends heavily on how much cooperation there is among the official purchasers of the dollar, and the extent to which these institutions are willing to absorb the costs of holding a depreciating asset compared to the benefit of subsidizing export-led growth as a means of absorbing underutilized labor.

What are the answers to these questions? Pick your door. Behind door # 1 is Nouriel Roubini and Brad Setser. Billmon ably summarizes the latest version of Roubini and Setser's paper:

The major Asian central banks hold $2.4 trillion in reserves, and probably around $1.8 trillion in dollars (roughly half the US [net international investment position). Asian central banks . . . cannot avoid taking capital losses on their existing holdings of dollar reserves. The only question is when they will incur the unavoidable losses, and to a lesser degree, how large those losses will be.

For another voice behind this door, see this FT article (both links courtesy of Brad Setser).

Earlier this week it looked like South Korea was about to trigger the fall in dominoes. As Brad recounts:

It looks the remarks of Korea's Central Bank President last week were a leading indicator of today's big news: Korea plans to diversify its reserves away from the dollar!

....the real question is who [formerly, how -- oops] else follows suit -- Thailand already has shifted out of the dollar (look at how its reserves moved in January, when the dollar rose v. the Euro), Russia too. But most central banks are still massively overweight dollars....

The other big question, of course, is how much additional pressure this all places on China: the Bretton Woods 2 system of central bank financing of the US current account deficit increasingly hinges on the People's Bank of China's willingness to keep adding to its dollar reserves at an accelerating rate.

However, it turns out that the predictions of Korean behavior were greatly exaggerated, as Hae Won Choi, Seah Park, and Mary Kissel explain in the Wall Street Journal:

Maybe it was all just a big misunderstanding.

Central bankers in South Korea and around Asia fought yesterday to reassure traders that they aren't about to dump their dollar holdings. Fears a day earlier that such a move might be imminent caused the U.S. currency to fall 1.4% against both the yen and the euro, roiling securities and commodities markets around the globe. Official denials helped stabilize the U.S. currency yesterday....

The dollar selling was ignited by market reports that the Bank of Korea sought to "diversify" its foreign-exchange reserves -- the world's fourth-largest -- something traders interpreted as a decision by the bank to cut its dollar holdings.

Central-bank officials insisted their statements had been misconstrued.

Kang Myun Mo, director general of reserve management at the bank, said that there is no plan to sell dollars and that the "proportion of U.S. dollars in the bank's foreign-exchange reserves will not change." The bank, he says, simply intends to invest more in higher-yielding nongovernment bonds in the future. "At the moment, there is no reason to sell U.S. dollars," Mr. Kang said.

In response to comments from Mr. Kang and other officials -- as well as statements by central bankers in Japan and Taiwan that they don't plan to sell dollars, either -- the currency rebounded during the Asian trading day against both the won and the yen.

[So Roubini and Setser weren't right today -- what about next week, next month, or next year?--ed.] Ah, this leads to door #2: David H. Levey and Stuart S. Brown's "The Overstretch Myth" in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs. The key section:

U.S. financial markets have stayed strong even as the financing of the U.S. deficit shifts from private investors to foreign central banks (from 2000 to 2003, the official institutional share of investment inflows rose from 4 percent to 30 percent). A large percentage of the $1.3 trillion in Asian governments' foreign exchange reserves is in U.S. assets; central banks now claim about 12 percent of total foreign-owned assets in the United States, including more than $1 trillion in Treasury and agency securities. Official inflows from Asia will likely continue for the foreseeable future, keeping U.S. interest rates from rising too fast and choking off investment.

In a series of recent papers, economists Michael Dooley, David Folkerts-Landau, and Peter Garber maintain that Asian governments--pursuing a "mercantilist" development strategy of undervalued exchange rates to support export-led growth--must continue to finance U.S. imports of their manufactured goods, since the United States is their largest market and a major source of inward direct investment. Only a fundamental transformation in Asia's growth strategy could undermine this mutually advantageous interdependence--an unlikely prospect at least until China absorbs the 300 million peasants expected to move into its industrial and service sectors over the next generation. Even the widely anticipated loosening of China's exchange-rate peg would not alter the imperatives of this overriding structural transformation. Ronald McKinnon of Stanford argues that Asian governments will continue to prevent their currencies from depreciating too much in order to maintain competitiveness, avoid imposing capital losses on domestic holders of dollar assets, and reduce the risk of an economic slowdown that could lead to a deflationary spiral. According to both theories, there should be no breakdown of the current dollar-based regime.

Official Asian capital inflows, moreover, should soon be supplemented by a renewal of private inflows responding to the next stage of the information technology (IT) revolution. Technological revolutions unfold in stages over many decades. The it revolution had its roots in World War II and has proceeded via the development of the mainframe computer, the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, and the personal computer to culminate in the union of computers and telecommunications that has brought the Internet. The United States--thanks to its openness, its low regulatory burden, its flexible labor and capital markets, a positive environment for new business formation, and a financial market that supports new technology--has dominated every phase of this technological wave. The spread of the IT revolution to additional sectors and new industries thus makes a revival of U.S.-bound private capital flows likely.

An abstract of one of the Dooley, Folkerts-Landau, and Garber papers concurs with this evaluation of the "peripheral" economies:

Financial policies in these countries are seen as a component of a more general portfolio management policy in which the formation of an efficient domestic capital stock is a key objective. Because intervention in financial markets is an important part of their development strategy, intervention in exchange and financial markets has, and we argue will continue to be, large and persistent enough to generate predictable deviations of exchange rates and relative yields in industrial country financial markets from normal cyclical patterns. We argue that management of the currency composition of international reserves by emerging market governments and central banks is unlikely to alter these conclusions.

[So who's right? WHO'S RIGHT-???!!!ed.] I'm not so stupid as to claim the ability to render a judgment on this question. What I can say is that among the economists I talk to, more of them to open door #2. However, the market hiccup that took place earlier this week highlights the fragility of this equilibrium. In the end, this is more a question of political economy than straight economics, and the likelihood of successful cooperation among this group of economies makes me wonder about the robustness of Bretton Woods 2. So even though I understand the logic of their arguments, I remain a little less sanguine than my economic advisors.


posted by Dan at 12:57 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (5)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Interesting facts of the day

The Economist has a survey on New York City that is chock full of fascinating information. Some of the items that piqued my interest:

Manhattan is still enormously wealthy. The residents of just 20 streets on the east side of Central Park donated more money to the 2004 presidential campaigns than all but five entire American states....

Most immigrants live in the outer boroughs, two-thirds of them in Queens or Brooklyn, where they build businesses and often homes. Flushing in Queens, whose population is now nearly two-thirds immigrant, is a striking example. Poor and virtually all white in the early 1970s, the place is now Asian and flourishing. Across the city there has been a boom in housing construction. From the start of 2000 to July 2004, permits for about 85,000 new units were issued, almost as many as in the whole of the 1990s. And nearly half of all new housing in the past seven years is reckoned to be occupied by immigrants or their children....

Sex and the City” stars four young career women and is ostensibly about the difficulties of finding a man in New York. It has a point. According to an analysis for The Economist, there are 93 men to every 100 women among single New Yorkers aged 20-44. In the country as a whole, and in most other big cities, there are more young single men than young single women....

Leave out the passengers and crew on the aeroplanes that were flown into the World Trade Centre, and about 2,600 people were killed in New York on September 11th 2001. Put that tragic number in perspective, and you can perhaps see how it is possible for New York to be a powerful magnet for talent, youth and energy once more. In 1990 there were 2,290 murders in the city; last year there were 566. Thus even if a September 11th were to occur every other year, the city would by one measure be quite a lot safer than it would be with crime at its 1990 level and no terrorism.

Click here to hear an audio interview with the survey's author, Anthony Gottlieb.

posted by Dan at 09:37 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Technical difficulties solved

For the past week there had been some difficulties with the trackback feature on the blog.

Everything should be working properly now.

Apologies to one and all for the inconvenience.

posted by Dan at 04:26 PM | Trackbacks (0)

Help out the Millennium Challenge Corporation!

I received the following e-mail from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a government entity designed to administer the Millennium Challenge Accounts proposed by President Bush during his first term. Here's the key parts of the e-mail:

[W]e believe that you may be able to help us identify or develop a cross-national indicator or index that measures sustainable natural resource management policies. MCC currently uses a set of sixteen indicators developed by independent third parties to measure governments' policies in three categories: ruling justly, investing in people and promoting economic freedom. Using these indicators, the MCC's Board of Directors has already selected seventeen countries as eligible for assistance. MCC's selection methodology and scores of candidate countries are available at

In its authorizing legislation, MCC is also asked to use "...objective and quantifiable indicators of a country's demonstrated commitment to economic freedom, including a demonstrated commitment to ... economic policies that promote ... the sustainable management of natural resources." Thus far, we have not been able to identify an indicator or index that meets MCC criteria in this area. As set out in our FY05 selection methodology and elsewhere, in selecting and evaluating any indicator, MCC favors indicators that:

· are developed by an independent third party;

· utilize objective and high-quality data;

· are analytically rigorous and publicly available;

· have broad country coverage and are comparable across countries;

· have a clear theoretical or empirical link to economic growth and poverty reduction;

· are policy-linked, i.e. measure factors that governments can influence within a two to three year horizon; and

· have broad consistency in results from year to year.

To identify an indicator, MCC announced plans today for a Natural Resources Working Group (NRWG) that will explore existing metrics and discuss new possibilities. On February 28, 2005, MCC Board Member Governor Christine Todd Whitman will chair a public session to explain the NRWG process, our criteria for proposal evaluation, and our timeline. She will also invite comments and proposals.... Throughout this period, we will also be accepting proposals from the academic community, public and private sector practitioners, and researchers at think-tanks and non-governmental organizations for indicators or indices that measure a country's natural resource management policies....

Finally, we would like to underscore the policy significance of this endeavor. MCC, unlike many other donors, is willing and able to put up large sums of money in exchange for meaningful and verifiable policy reforms. By making the sustainable management of natural resources an MCC policy indicator in its own right, we believe that MCC can raise the profile of environmental issues in developing countries and provide a powerful financial incentive for improving natural resource management institutions. We also hope that this new legislative mandate will stimulate discussion and improve data quality.

As many of you know, despite a large qualitative literature on natural resource management in developing countries, unreliable time-series environmental data have hindered the accumulation of knowledge in this field and led to tired and sterile policy discussions. Sadly, as a result, policy makers are many times not able to allocate scarce taxpayer dollars efficiently. Thus, we believe that the MCC's NRWG represents a unique opportunity to pool our collective knowledge and inform U.S. government decision-making with systematic, objective, and detailed data.

I'm happy to hear useful suggestions on this front. The indicators that I've seen on this issue are mostly the macro-historical stuff coming from the world polity paradigm in sociology. I suspect that even the progenitors of these measures would acknowledge that they wouldn't be of much use for the MCC.

posted by Dan at 01:38 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

How offshore outsourcing has devastated the high tech sector

A year ago I was in the middle of writing "The Outsourcing Bogeyman" for Foreign Affairs. When it came out, I received a fair amount of static from tech workers explaining that I didn't understand the situation they faced. Since offshore outsourcing is an ever-increasing phenomenon, perhaps we should examine how offshoring devastated the tech sector over the course of the past year.

Let's see, Ed Frauenheim has some interesting reporting on this topic for CNET News:

Large-scale layoffs, prevalent in the technology industry since the dot-com implosion, are scaling back.

So indicates a fourth-quarter U.S. Department of Labor report released Wednesday. The study also suggests that offshore outsourcing--widely blamed for tech-related layoffs and other potential economic problems in recent months--accounted for just a small fraction of major, extended layoffs in the United States last year.

In the three months ended Dec. 31 of last year, 7,857 workers in the IT industry lost their jobs as part of "extended mass layoffs," down significantly from 15,318 a year earlier. That compares with 236,637 such layoffs in all sectors, down from 325,333 in the fourth quarter of 2003.

Hmmm.... well, just just means fewer tech people are losing their jobs. Surely it doesn't mean that these firms are hiring again, right? Let's check out this Kathie O'Donnell story for CBS MarketWatch:

For the first time, Yahoo Inc. is recruiting MBAs on campus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is welcome news to Jeffery Sean Davis, who expects to graduate this spring owing $120,000 in student loans.

Davis, 35, worked in tech research and development for the U.S. government before enrolling in the two-year program at MIT's Sloan School of Management. The Los Angeles native said he's glad to be graduating this year rather than 2004, given the increase in recruiting he's seen.

Many technology firms that slashed jobs in leaner times are finding they must hire to position themselves for growth, Davis said. In 2004, he found recruiters sought to fill specific needs, while this year, there's more general, overall hiring.

"The war for talent really is back on," said John Challenger, chief executive of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas....

The jobless rate for master's degree holders in computer and mathematical fields was 3.3 percent last year, down from 5.5 percent in 2003 and 5.3 percent in 2002, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that's still nowhere near the 1.1 percent rate in 2000, it's still a marked improvement.

"After somewhat sluggish labor-market conditions following the 2001 recession, the job market for individuals in computer and mathematical occupations with master's degrees has improved recently," Bureau economist Steve Hipple said....

MIT statistics show prospects for its MBA grads are improving. In 2004, 96 percent had job offers three months after graduation and 91 percent had accepted. Tech positions accounted for 19 percent of accepted jobs. In 2003, 91 percent had job offers in that timeframe and 88 percent accepted. Tech jobs accounted for 20 percent of jobs accepted.

Well, I'm sure this doesn't translate into increased demand for white collar workers across the board or anything.

Besides, as the smarter critics point out, what matters less than the number of jobs lost or gained is the downward effect that offshoring has on wages. Surely, offshore outsourcing would have put a damper on wages in the high-tech sector, right? Let's check out this Frauenheim story for CNET:

Computer professionals of different stripes saw their wallets get fatter last year, according to government data.

From 2003 to 2004, the average weekly earnings of employed, full-time software engineers rose 8.8 percent to $1,418, according to statistics from the U.S. Labor Department. Average weekly earnings climbed 6.8 percent to $1,205 for computer scientists and systems analysts, and increased 7.7 percent to $1,194 for network systems and data communications analysts....

Electrical and electronics engineers saw their average weekly earnings increase by a more modest 3.3 percent, to $1,402. That rise amounted to treading water in the overall economy, given that the consumer price index also rose 3.3 percent for the year.

The data on rising earnings comes amid conflicting signals about the job situation for technology professionals in the United States. Reports have documented fewer layoffs for IT workers, and the average number of unemployed workers in nine high-tech categories--including computer programmers, database administrators and computer hardware engineers--fell from 210,000 in 2003 to 146,000 in 2004, according to Labor Department statistics.

To be fair, there is contradictory information on the wage issue. This Dice survey suggests that wages fell overall in the computer sector in 2004. But even this report observes that:

Salaries have improved in Washington D.C. (up 3.6 percent), Atlanta (up 2.6 percent) and Southern California (up 1.1 percent) from 2003.... These metro areas have also seen significant growth in job postings on the Dice site, up 93 percent, 140 percent and 74 percent respectively between December of 2003 and December of 2004.

This would be consistent with the homeshoring phenomenon of tech sectors doing well in lower-wage areas outside of Silicon Valley. The fact that the Dice survey does not appear to cover new tech hotspots like Oklahoma leads me to trust the Labor Department figures more.

[So things are better in 2004 than in 2003 -- but the labor market in IT has sucked for a couple of years. Why are you so giddy about one year of positive data?--ed. The downturn in the IT labor market was real, but there were a lot of reasons for that -- the end of Y2K, the dot-com crash, the recession, and, yes, offshore outsourcing. However, offshoring critics has insisted that the problem is only getting worse and will lead to devastating employment and wage effects on the IT sector. Clearly, offshoring is not going away in the IT sector -- but the 2004 data suggests that the götterdammerung assumption was, at the very least, a gross exaggeration.]

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

North Korea zigs, North Korea zags

It appears that North Korea has changed its mind about walking away from six-party talks on its nuclear ambitions. Anna Fifield and Richard McGregor provide the following report in the Financial Times:

North Korea suddenly reversed its position on multilateral nuclear talks on Tuesday, offering to discuss its nuclear weapons programmes with the US and its neighbours, if Washington showed “sincerity” and met its “mature conditions”.

The reversal, less than two weeks after Pyongyang captured the world's attention by declaring it had already made nuclear weapons, follows the dispatch of Wang Jiarui, a high-level Chinese envoy, to the North Korean capital.

The U-turn, offering the hope of a resumption of the six-party talks, is the latest bout of erratic behaviour from a North Korean regime that has so far evaded all efforts to disarm it.

The official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, as offering to return to negotiations, adding that his country “never opposed the six-party talks but made every possible effort for their success”.

“We will go to the negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks,” KCNA reported.

It is rare for Mr Kim to be quoted directly, and this is his first statement since the February 10 nuclear announcement.

Here's a link to the KCNA press report. This is certainly a change from North Korea's rhetoric and actions earlier this month.

If this change of tack pans out -- the North Korean statement has an awful lot of wiggle room -- then North Korea has put China into an increasingly awkward position. This episode would demonstrate that China is the one country that can get the North Koreans to cooperate. Which means, down the road, that China will be pressured by the other members of the six-party talks to compel North Korea to halt its weapons program.

posted by Dan at 12:05 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A different take on the female public intellectual "problem"

I've got a lot on my plate right now, which is why I've been studiously avoiding the whole Larry Summers kerfuffle -- I haven't had the time to read his remarks in full and don't want to wade in those waters until/if I do.

However, I do want to wade into an eddy of the Michael Kinsley/Susan Estrich blood feud over a Los Angeles Times op-ed by Charlotte Allen. To be specific, I don't want to bother with Estrich or Kinsley -- click here, here, here, and here for more on them -- but rather examine Allen's original hypothesis a bit more carefully -- because, to put it kindly, it's a crock of s***.

Here's the nub of Allen's argument:

When Susan Sontag died recently, she was mourned as America's leading female intellectual. So the question naturally arose: Is there anyone to take her place? If you can't come up with many names, you're in good company. The list is short.

This wasn't always the case. Ironically, during that part of the 20th century when overt discrimination barred many women from advanced educations, lucrative fellowships and prized teaching and editorial positions preparatory for the world of public letters, there were many brilliant, highly articulate female writers who combined a rigorous mind with a willingness to engage broad political, social and literary issues for an audience beyond academia. We still read their books (or at least their epigrams), and we remember their names: Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Simone de Beauvoir, Simone Weil, Mary McCarthy, Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt and Sontag, to name several.

Some of these women possessed glittering scholarly credentials. But most did not, because a public intellectual is more than simply an intellectual. Unlike the academic version who speaks mostly to fellow scholars, public intellectuals pitch their ideas to the general reading public — and their writings appear in newspapers, magazines and books. Garry Wills is a public intellectual; Berkeley's jargon-laden postmodern theorist Judith Butler is not.

Public intellectuals also explore the implications of ideas, which distinguishes them from sharply observant journalists. When Sontag wrote about camp — or Tom Wolfe about customized cars as kinetic sculpture — they joined writing about popular culture with the long tradition of writing about high culture.

One possible explanation for the dearth of Sontag successors is our electronics-saturated age that is inexorably diminishing the number of people who read. Our hyper-specialized higher education system is another candidate. Academic postmodernism, with its contempt for the general public, has largely replaced the core liberal arts curriculum that once created a shared literary culture and an appetite for serious ideas.

Still, there is no shortage of well-known male intellectuals. Besides Wolfe and Wills, we have Richard Posner, Louis Menand, Francis Fukuyama, Ian Buruma and Henry Louis Gates Jr., to name some, along with scientists who write provocatively for a general readership: Stephen Hawking, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins and Jared Diamond. In books and magazines, these intellectuals, who represent a wide variety of ideological perspectives, debate a broad spectrum of topics: science and politics, high and low art, literature, evolution, the Iraq war, campus sexual mores, the origins of the universe.

There are female intellectuals with stellar credentials and bestselling books: Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi, Deborah Tannen, Natalie Angier. But there's a big difference between these women and their forebears. They are all professional feminists. They don't simply espouse feminism; they write about little else. Feminist ideology forms the basis of their writings, whether it's Greer on the infantilization of women by a patriarchal society, Tannen on how the sexes are socialized to communicate differently, Faludi on how white men have reacted to women's progress, Ehrenreich on how the male medical establishment intimidates female patients, or Angier on how humans ought to be more like bonobos, the female-dominated, sexually liberated cousins of chimpanzees.

Let's conduct a little experiment: as a faculty member at the University of Chicago, and looking only at my colleagues within my university, can I gin up a list of notable public intellectuals who write on topics beyond feminism? Why, yes, yes I can!!:

Danielle Allen
Jean Bethke Elshtain
Melissa Harris-Lacewell
Martha Nussbaum
Saskia Sassen
Iris Marion Young

Hey, I did that without breaking a sweat!!

If Allen -- who co-edits (???) Inkwell, the blog of the Independent Women's Forum -- wants to claim that female public intellectuals are hostage to doctrinnaire feminism, I'll concede that she doesn't have to search that far to find examples to support her hypothesis. However, she appears not to have searched at all for any cases that contradict her hypothesis. And that doesn't make her a very good public intellectual at all.

[You only searched within the confines of your ivory tower. Maybe your university is atypical--ed. I'd agree, but beyond the U of C, it's still not that difficult to think of counterexamples to Charlotte Allen's hypothesis -- Deborah Dickerson, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Jessica Tuchman Matthews, Peggy Noonan, Virginia Postrel, Diane Ravitch, Claudia Rossett, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Theda Skocpol, etc. (UPDATE: Other excellent suggestions from the comments thread -- Anne Applebaum, Amy Guttman, Samantha Power, Elaine Scarry, etc.)]

UPDATE: Aspiring public intellectual Phoebe Maltz offers her take:

[P]art of the reason things have changed since Arendt et al is that there's now this huge workforce of female professionals, so brilliant women who might have once gone into public-intellectualizing are now investment bankers, lawyers, etc. So the women who remain are the ones who don't just need to channel intellect, but who really do just want to get paid to write about whatever happens to be on their minds. Well, Andrew Sullivan makes it known that he's gay, Cornel West, rumor has it, is black, so if we take them as they are, do we really need to fault Barbara Ehrenreich for focusing on female workers?

posted by Dan at 11:35 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Bill Keller on the blogosphere

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has been quite chatty about the blogosphere as of late. According to this report by Amanda Erickson in the Columbia Spectator:

Keller also sees “blogging,” or online writing that blurs news and commentary, as a mixed blessing. While he celebrated the blogger’s ability to uncover breaking news, he noted that a blog’s inherent bias might be detrimental to the reader. “A blog is still a view of the world through a pinhole,” he said, noting that it can sometimes fall as low as being a “one man circle jerk.”

“There is a pressure to feel well informed without ever confronting an opinion that confronts your prejudices,” he said of blog readers.

Link via Mickey Kaus.

Wow, sounds like this Keller guy is a bit of an anti-blog jerk. Wait, it gets worse -- in an open letter to Jeff Jarvis he says that, "bloggers... are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless." (link via Glenn Reynolds.)

Now, before anyone gets too upset, bear in mind that the quote I just generated from Keller's letter is not really consistent with the overall tone of his snarky but friendly exchange with Jarvis. Read the whole letter. Let's put that quote in context now:

Can I just state something for the record? While we probably have our differences on the role of the MSM (btw, I personally favor "elite media," at least as it pertains to the NYT) I would like to make clear that I consider blogs relevant and important. I do not hold them in disdain, as you imply. I won't risk embarrassing my favorite bloggers by identifying them (except to say that buzzmachine is bookmarked in my office and at home) but I find the best of them to be a source of provocative insights, first-hand witness, original analysis, rollicking argument and occasional revelation. As I'm sure you will agree, you can also find bloggers who are paranoid, propagandistic, unreliable, hate-filled, self-indulgent, self-important and humorless. (Just like people!)

Sounds correct to me -- I might add that if you take "cable television" or "talk radio" as a media category, the comment still holds.

What's interesting about these different Keller episodes is that the Columbia Spectator reporter probably took just the juiciest bit from Keller's comments regardless of whether they were consistent with the overall tenor of his remarks -- whereas Jarvis ("mediaman by day, blogboy by night") reprinted all of Keller's comments, allowing one to judge Keller's argument in toto.

Oddly enough, this is undoubtedly one trait that good bloggers share with the New York Times. The Times, as the "paper of record," was very good about printing the full text of important documents and speeches before there was a world wide web. The best bloggers, through hyperlinks, can engage in a similar practice when parsing out someone's comments.

Just a thought.

posted by Dan at 11:40 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Interesting developments in Iraq

In the wake of yesterday's suicide attacks in Iraq, Time's Michael Ware has an exclusive look at back-channel negotiations between U.S. officials and elements of the Iraqi insurgency. The highlights:

The secret meeting is taking place in the bowels of a facility in Baghdad, a cavernous, heavily guarded building in the U.S.-controlled green zone. The Iraqi negotiator, a middle-aged former member of Saddam Hussein's regime and the senior representative of the self-described nationalist insurgency, sits on one side of the table. He is here to talk to two members of the U.S. military. One of them, an officer, takes notes during the meeting. The other, dressed in civilian clothes, listens as the Iraqi outlines a list of demands the U.S. must satisfy before the insurgents stop fighting. The parties trade boilerplate complaints: the U.S. officer presses the Iraqi for names of other insurgent leaders; the Iraqi says the newly elected Shi'a-dominated government is being controlled by Iran. The discussion does not go beyond generalities, but both sides know what's behind the coded language.

The Iraqi's very presence conveys a message: Members of the insurgency are open to negotiating an end to their struggle with the U.S. "We are ready," he says before leaving, "to work with you."

In that guarded pledge may lie the first sign that after nearly two years of fighting, parts of the insurgency in Iraq are prepared to talk and move toward putting away their arms--and the U.S. is willing to listen. An account of the secret meeting between the senior insurgent negotiator and the U.S. military officials was provided to TIME by the insurgent negotiator. He says two such meetings have taken place. While U.S. officials would not confirm the details of any specific meetings, sources in Washington told TIME that for the first time the U.S. is in direct contact with members of the Sunni insurgency, including former members of Saddam's Baathist regime. Pentagon officials say the secret contacts with insurgent leaders are being conducted mainly by U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers. A Western observer close to the discussions says that "there is no authorized dialogue with the insurgents" but that the U.S. has joined "back-channel" communications with rebels. Says the observer: "There's a lot bubbling under the surface today."

Over the course of the war in Iraq, as the anti-U.S. resistance has grown in size and intensity, Administration officials have been steadfast in their refusal to negotiate with enemy fighters. But in recent months, the persistence of the fighting and signs of division in the ranks of the insurgency have prompted some U.S. officials to seek a political solution. And Pentagon and intelligence officials hope the high voter turnout in last month's election will deflate the morale of the insurgents and persuade more of them to come in from the cold.

Hard-line Islamist fighters like Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda group will not compromise in their campaign to create an Islamic state. But in interviews with TIME, senior Iraqi insurgent commanders said several "nationalist" rebel groups--composed predominantly of ex--military officers and what the Pentagon dubs "former regime elements"--have moved toward a strategy of "fight and negotiate." Although they have no immediate plans to halt attacks on U.S. troops, they say their aim is to establish a political identity that can represent disenfranchised Sunnis and eventually negotiate an end to the U.S. military's offensive in the Sunni triangle. Their model is Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, which ultimately earned the I.R.A. a role in the Northern Ireland peace process. "That's what we're working for, to have a political face appear from the battlefield, to unify the groups, to resist the aggressor and put our views to the people," says a battle commander in the upper tiers of the insurgency who asked to be identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Marwan. Another negotiator, called Abu Mohammed, told TIME, "Despite what has happened, the possibility for negotiation is still open."

Read the whole thing. Ware's story jibes with Patrick Quinn's AP account of the Sunni response to both the election and the latest string of suicide attacks:

As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country's first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands – including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution – after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote's legitimacy.

"We made a big mistake when we didn't vote," said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. "Our votes were very important."

....Gathering in a central Baghdad hotel, about 70 tribal leaders from the provinces of Baghdad, Kirkuk, Salaheddin, Diyala, Anbar and Nineveh, tried to devise a strategy for participation in a future government. There was an air of desperation in some quarters of the smoke-filled conference room.

"When we said that we are not going to take part, that didn't mean that we are not going to take part in the political process. We have to take part in the political process and draft the new constitution," said Adnan al-Duleimi, the head of Sunni Endowments in Baghdad....

Meanwhile, a powerful Sunni organization believed to have ties with the insurgents sought Sunday to condemn the weekend attacks that left nearly 100 Iraqis dead.

"We won't remain silent over those crimes which target the Iraqi people Sunnis or Shiites, Islamic or non-Islamic," Sheik Harith al-Dhari, of the Association Muslim Scholars, told a news conference.

Iraqis, he said, should unite "against those who are trying to incite hatred between us."

They include Iraq's leading terror mastermind, the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Even in a best-case scenario, successful negotiations with the Baathist insurgents would not end the violence in Iraq that Zarqawi and others would generate. And, if memory serves, the Sunnis made similar noises about participating in the political process after Hussein's capture.

Still, these are very encouraging signs.


UPDATE: Be sure to check out Phil Carter's post on the spontaneous creation of anti-insurgency militias in Iraq.

posted by Dan at 09:21 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (0)

Dumb, dumb A-Rod

[NOTE: If you don't care about baseball, just skip this post entirely.]

Alex Rodriguez reported to spring training for the Yankees today. Over the past week multiple members of the Red Sox have bashed A-Rod to varying degrees over comments he made in the offseason and his on-the-field altercations with the Red Sox during the regular season -- and most infamously, in Game 6 of the ALCS (go to this link and then click on the "Plays of the Game" for the 10/19 game vs. the Yankees).

Here's what he had to say about that play today:

Rodriguez was the face of the Yankees' ALCS loss to the Red Sox, with his "slap play" against Arroyo in Game 6 serving as the frozen moment for fans on both sides of the rivalry. A-Rod laughed when asked about that play on Sunday, saying he still thinks it was the right move for him to make.

"I thought it was a brilliant play -- and we almost got away with it," Rodriguez said. "It took a lot of guts -- and was the right call by Jim Joyce -- to make that call in Yankee Stadium in that environment. I was stuck in an alley, boys. There was nowhere to go.

"I gave my best karate, even though I only got to a yellow belt," he added. "I think Brandon [he meant Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo--DD] is a great pitcher. I played with him in high school. It's just one of those things. If that game was in June, I probably don't do that. But in Game 6, you do silly things. Perhaps it was a silly thing, but at the time I thought it was pretty smart."

To which I can only say, "Huh?"

Recall the situation -- the Red Sox were leading 4-2 with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning and Derek Jeter on first base. A-Rod hits a weak squibbler to Arroyo, and tried to slap it away. For his troubles, A-Rod was called out and Jeter was sent back to first base. If A-Rod doesn't slap at Arroyo's glove, he's advanced Jeter into scoring position with Gary Sheffield at the plate. It sounds minor, but having Jeter at second rather than first makes it much easier for Sheffield to drive in a run.

What A-Rod did wasn't silly -- it was downright stupid.

UPDATE: Speaking of A-Rod, Karen Guregian has a piece in today's Boston Herald excoriating the Red Sox players for bashing A-Rod so much. This is a bit rich -- as Murray Chass points out in today's New York Times, it's the media trying to keep this story alive:

In this new version of "Get the good guy," the Red Sox are blameless. One player, Trot Nixon, ignited the game with negative comments about Rodriguez last week and a torrent of teammates have followed. But the teammates' comments have not been unsolicited. They were at the urging of reporters eager to inflame the game to incendiary levels. They were all but handed a script.

Athletes have long accused reporters of creating stories, and, sadly, this is one of those instances. It has become one of the most distasteful instances I have witnessed in 45 years of covering baseball....

Every player who spoke with reporters last week was asked what they thought of Rodriguez, whether they agreed with what Nixon said. Extended the invitation, some players replied with negative comments, but most of what they said in response to the invitations was far less severe than the resulting articles reflected.

Hat tip: David Pinto.

posted by Dan at 08:31 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Deepening capital markets in South Africa

As part of's keen interest in the spread of financial services to the developing world (click here for an earlier example of this interest), Laurie Goering has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the effort by South African banks to get South Africans comfortable with the idea of depositing their money in... banks:

In this nation where making a cash withdrawal at a teller's window can cost you $4 in fees, it's no surprise that more than 40 percent of adults have never opened a bank account.

But South Africa's banking fees, the highest in the world, are just one reason that 12 million South Africans don't use banks. Unemployment is rampant, and many people struggle to save even the minimum balance necessary to open an account. Millions live in rural villages miles beyond the reach of the nearest bank. In a 2003 private survey, a third of South Africans said they agreed that "you can easily live your life without having a bank account."

South Africa's government, and its banks, are trying to change that. Embarrassed that banking remains so inaccessible to black South Africans a decade after the end of apartheid and eager to tap into a vast market of potential customers, banks are launching a flurry of new promotions.

First National Bank offers the "Million-a-Month" account that gives each depositor one chance at a monthly $250,000 cash prize drawing for each $16 they keep in the bank. Absa, another bank, offers cut-rate funeral insurance with its accounts, a huge draw in a nation where tens of thousands are dying of AIDS.

Many banks now offer mobile automated teller machines, driven by truck into rural villages a couple of times a month, and Absa has come up with an entire 28-ton mobile bank, capable of being lifted by crane onto a truck and hauled wherever it is needed. Illiterate customers can open accounts and access money using only their fingerprints, recorded and checked via an electronic scanner.

"When you start talking with people about banking, they always bring up the negative things, like the high charges," said Innocentia Nkomo, an Absa branch manager in Dobsonville, a busy middle-class section of Soweto. "But once they see the benefits, they come flocking in."

At the heart of the effort to broaden the reach of banking is the new national Mzansi, or "southern," account. Launched in October by all the nation's major banks, it offers depositors a debit card and no-fee banking as long as transactions are limited to debit-card purchases, one deposit and a couple of ATM withdrawals per month.

In the first four months, more than a half-million Mzansi accounts have been opened, a rate well beyond the expectations of most banking officials.

"In 10 years' time I don't think there will be a person without a banking account in South Africa," predicted Tshidi Madisakoane, a floor manager at the bustling Dobsonville Absa branch. "The community is showing so much interest in banking now. Things have changed."

Read the whole thing.

As someone who knows very little about the South African financial sector, I have two questions after reading this piece:

1) Why the hell are South African banking fees to high?

2) Why aren't South African banks aggressively seeking to extend credit? That's both their greatest potential source of revenue, and the best way to foster entrepreneurial growth in the country.

posted by Dan at 12:19 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 18, 2005

Regarding Eason Jordan

There's been a lot of chest-thumping in the blogosphere -- and a lot of hand-wringing in the mediasphere -- about Eason Jordan's resignation from CNN.

Most of this debate is on whether Jordan's blog-fueled exit is good or bad. For me, there's another question -- did the blogosphere really force him out?

I ask this after reading Ed Morrissey's timeline of Jordangate in the Weekly Standard. Assuming that Morrissey's account is accurate, then the media heat on Jordan was never particularly strong -- and it was dying down the day before he left CNN. Consider this section of Morrissey's article:

On Thursday, February 10, two national news organizations finally covered the story, but only to declare it overblown. The New York Times posted a wire-service story late in the evening to its Thursday edition, while the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Bret Stephens. While he acknowledged that Jordan had used "defamatory innuendo," Stephens wound up decrying the bloggers:

There is an Web site, on which more than 1,000 petitioners demand that Mr. Jordan release a transcript of his remarks--made recently in Davos--by Feb. 15 or, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, face serious consequences. Sean Hannity and the usual Internet suspects have all weighed in. So has Michelle Malkin, who sits suspended somewhere between meltdown and release.

There's a reason the hounds are baying. Already they have feasted on the juicy entrails of Dan Rather. Mr. Jordan, whose previous offenses (other than the general tenor of CNN coverage) include a New York Times op-ed explaining why access is a more important news value than truth, was bound to be their next target. And if Mr. Jordan has now made a defamatory and unsubstantiated allegation against U.S. forces, well then . . . open the gates.

The strange and unexpected turn from the Journal signaled what should have been the end of the story, at least as far as the national media were concerned. The controversy seemed about to fade off the media's radar screens altogether--until Jordan suddenly resigned his position at CNN around 6:00 p.m. on Friday, February 11. (emphasis added)

In a blog post on the same topic, Morrissey again complains about the lack of media attention to this story:

Not only did the blogswarm find damning information which the national media could have used all along, but we repeatedly sent the information in e-mails to key people in the media. Instead of acknowledging that function and assimilating the information, the media has circled the wagons around the myth that Eason Jordan simply committed a slip of the tongue at Davos, rather than the documented string of slanders and ethical lapses stretching over more than a decade.

So Morrissey acknowledges that the story was starting to lose steam the day before Jordan left, and that the mainstream media seemed disinclined to pursue the story any further. If the MSM was either not paying much attention or playing down the scandal, why did Jordan choose to resign when he did?

There are three possibilities:

1) The mobilized blogosphere is now so powerful that it no longer needs media attention to affect real change;

2) Jordan knew he would be toast if the videotaped version of his Davos remarks went public, knew the tape would eventually get out, and so chose to leave before things got really ugly;

3) Jordan resigned for reasons mostly unrelated to his Davos comments, but the blog stuff provided good cover for CNN to push him out.

I just don't think (1) is true -- if it is, it certainly violates the argument that Henry Farrell and I have made about when blogs are influential. (2) might be correct -- see Rebecca MacKinnon on this point -- but based on what both Stephens and David Gergen have said, I'm dubious about the tape being that damaging. [But Morrissey points out that what he said at Davos fits a larger pattern--ed. Yes, but Morrissey also laments the fact that this was not reported in the MSM beyond the original Guardian story from last November.]

Which leads me to (3). It's telling that Katherine Q. Seelye's New York Times account observes, "Some of those most familiar with Mr. Jordan's situation emphasized, in interviews over the weekend, that his resignation should not be read solely as a function of the heat that CNN had been receiving on the Internet, where thousands of messages, many of them from conservatives, had been posted." And, as Mickey Kaus points out, Howard Kurtz's first-draft version of what happened provided an alternative explanation. Check out this Keith Olbermann post as well.

Unlike Michelle Malkin, I haven't called anyone to check out this hypothesis -- this is only me spitballing. But something ain't right here.

I'm curious what others think -- and I'm particularly curious what the higher-ups at CNN think.

posted by Dan at 05:21 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Hail Hitler -- Ted Hitler, that is

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had a piece on bloggers by Stephen Colbert Ted Hitler last night. Click here to see the full clip -- and to understand the title of this post. Best line: "They have no credibility -- all they have is facts." Actually, I'd restate things a bit. Blogs have a desire to highlight neglected facts, and a willingness to acknowledge when they've posted factual mistakes. [UPDATE: to clarify, most bloggers including myself aren't thrilled to post corrections -- but the norm of admitting error as quickly as possible might be more entrenched in the blogosphere than in the mediasphere.]

The eerie thing is that Colbert's closing statement is precisely the point that Henry Farrell and I make in our predictions for the future of the blogosphere. To quote Colbert:

With legitimacy, the bloggers get a seat at the table, and with that comes access, status, money, and power -- and iif there's anything we've learned about the mainstream media, that breeds complacency.

We wrote:

We predict that as blogs become a more established feature on the political landscape, politicians and other interested parties will become more adept at responding to them, and, where they believe it necessary, co-opting them. To the extent that blogs become more politically influential, we may expect them to become more directly integrated into ‘politics as usual,’ losing some of their flavor of novelty and immediacy in the process.

It's really depressing that The Daily Show is not just funnier that I am -- they are better at stating the more substantive point about bloggers.

posted by Dan at 12:51 PM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A run on the Lebanese pound?

Roula Khalaf and Kim Ghattas report in the Financial Times that the Lebanese pound could be in trouble:

Lebanon's central bank on Thursday sought to calm nervous local markets and contain the fallout from the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister who had led the country's reconstruction efforts after its civil war.

After meeting senior bankers, Riad Salame, the central bank governor, stressed his institution would support the Lebanese pound amid fears there might be a rush to convert local currency into dollars on Friday, when markets reopen after a three-day shutdown. "The central bank is present in the markets to ensure liquidity in all currencies," Mr Salame said....

Mr Hariri, who led the country for 10 of the past 15 years but resigned his post in October, had been instrumental in providing confidence to currency markets and attracting investment into Lebanon, though his governments had also built up a $35bn (€27bn, £18.6bn) debt. In November 2002 he pulled the economy from the brink of collapse when he agreed a financial rescue package with western and Arab creditors. Bankers said his resignation last year forced the central bank to intervene in the markets, spending $2bn of its foreign exchange reserves between October and November.

But since then reserves have been replenished and now stand at $11.7bn, around 20 months of imports. Yesterday's central bank statement followed a report from Credit Suisse First Boston warning that the risk of political instability in Lebanon would hurt investor confidence, at least in the short term.

The report said the likely decline in tourist receipts, higher conversions of the Lebanese pound into foreign exchange and other capital outflows would "very likely" put renewed pressure on foreign exchange reserves.

What's historically intriguing about this is that if memory serves, the Lebanese pound managed to retain its value throughout the 1975-1991 civil war.

UPDATE: Daniel Davies points out in the comments that my memory is faulty, and that the Lebanese pound suffered hyperinflation during the civil war. As it turns out, the historical data says we are both correct. The pound did a decent job holding its value in the first stage of the civil war, from 1975 to 1983. After the Israeli incursion, however, hyperinflation did kick in.

posted by Dan at 10:34 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

I know saffron, and The Gates is not saffron


I'm typing this in New York City, about a block from Central Park. As some of you are no doubt aware, Christo has opened up his latest art exhibit, The Gates, in Central Park. This is how he describes it on his web site:

To all visitors of The Gates:
There are no official opening events.
There are no invitations.
There are no tickets.

This work of art is FREE for all to enjoy,
the same as all our previous projects.

This is great -- but ask the New York cabdrivers about this exhibit as you pass through the Park -- as I did -- and what you get is an impressive string of invective (to be fair, part of this is due to the exhibit shutting down some of the cross-park roads -- but only part).

Having seen it, I'm very amused by the headline for Michael Kimmelman's New York Times review, "In a Saffron Ribbon, a Billowy Gift to the City." Now, if Christo and Kimmelman want to call it "saffron," more power to them. To me, the color of "The Gates" is not saffron -- it's safety orange.

This is the biggest problem with the exhibit: approaching the Park, all you think is that the entire area must be under massive construction. It's just a bizarre color choice, and mars what would otherwise have been an aesthetically pleasing exhibit.

For a somewhat contrary take, see Virginia Postrel's take

posted by Dan at 11:36 PM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

There's the Planet Earth, and then there's Tulsa World

Via James Joyner, I see that the lawyers at Tulsa World have apparently lost their senses in dealing with a blogger named Michael Bates.

Click here and read the whole sordid story.

My favorite part is the claim by Tulsa World's lawyers in the letter sent to Bates that he "inappropriately linked [Bates'] website to Tulsa World content."

Man, imagine how inappropriate it would be to link to the e-mail of the good people who run Tulsa World.

posted by Dan at 10:23 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

It's getting uncomfortable for Syria

Prior to the invasion of Iraq, I wrote the following at TNR Online:

The area specialists aren't necessarily wrong; democratizing Iraq won't be easy. But the conditions aren't nearly as barren as these experts suggest, and the potential upside is enormous. If a democratic transition were to succeed in Iraq, then Syria, suddenly surrounded by established democracies (Israel and Turkey) and emerging democracies (Iraq and Jordan), might start to feel nervous as well.

Note that Lebanon was not mentioned in that graf, because that country has essentially been a Syrian fiefdom since the end of the Lebanese Civil War.

However, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri yesterday highlights the increasing crunch Syria now faces. David Hirst -- who's covered the Middle East for over forty years -- explains what's going on in the Guardian:

It is Syria, with only one real ally left in the world, Iran, that is on the defensive. So are its Lebanese allies, inside and outside the regime. The conflict is an outgrowth of American strategies in the Middle East, from the war on terror to regime change, democratisation and the invasion of Iraq. Syria is not a member of President Bush's "axis of evil", but, with Iran, it is increasingly targeted as a villain. It is regularly charged, for example, with aiding and abetting the insurgency in Iraq, interfering with the Arab-Israel peace process and sponsoring the Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. The Hizbullah are in turn accused by Israel of aiding and abetting Hamas.

For decades now Syria has been losing card after card in a steadily weakening strategic hand. Its domination over Lebanon is one of the last and most vital of them. Ultimately it will perhaps be a bargaining counter in some grand deal to be struck with America that secures the Ba'athist regime's future in the evolving new Middle East order.

Conversely, however, Lebanon, as a platform that Syria's adversaries exploit against it, is liable to turn into a source of great weakness, if not an existential threat. The Ba'athists, now under siege in so many ways, feel that they are struggling desperately to keep their grip on Lebanon.

But the methods Syria uses, such as political intimidation and backstage manipulation by its intelligence services, seem, if anything, only to be backfiring against it....

Down the years the Lebanese have attributed many political assassinations to Syria, but never dared say so publicly. This time, they have.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Beirut-based Daily Star, agrees on the tectonic political shifts uinleashed by the assassination:

The speed, clarity and intensity with which Lebanese opposition groups Monday blamed Syria and its allied Lebanese government for the killing spoke volumes about the troubled Syrian-Lebanese axis being the central political context in which this whole matter must be analyzed....

The events of Monday have unleashed political forces that could transform both Lebanon and, via the Syrian connection, other parts of the Middle East. The already intense backlash to the assassination may lead to an accelerated Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and faster reform movements inside both Lebanon and Syria.

The fact that within just hours of the murder five distinct parties were singled out as possible culprits - Israel, Syria, Lebanese regime partisans, mafia-style gangs, and anti-Saudi, anti-U.S. Islamist terrorists - also points to the wider dilemma that disfigures Lebanese and Arab political culture in general: the resort to murderous and destabilizing violence as a chronic option for those who vie for power, whether as respectable government officials, established local warlords, or freelance political thugs.

The New York Times' Steven Weisman and Hassan Fattah report that the assassination itself has already made life more difficult for Syria:

The Bush administration recalled its ambassador to Syria on Tuesday to protest what it sees as Syria's link to the murder of the former prime minister of Lebanon, as violent anti-Syrian protests erupted in Beirut and several other Lebanese cities.

At the United Nations, the administration also demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon, and the Security Council called for an urgent investigation into the killing of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who died Monday with 13 others when a huge car bomb blew up his motorcade in downtown Beirut....

In Beirut, large crowds went to the site of the explosion, which investigators said appeared to be the work of a suicide attacker who managed to drive in between cars of Mr. Hariri's motorcade. Another theory was that the bomb had been placed in a sewer or under the pavement.

Though there were some in Lebanon who argued that the murder might have been engineered by Al Qaeda, presumably to punish Mr. Hariri for his ties to Saudi Arabia, demonstrators mobilized throughout the country to blame Syria. In Damascus, Syrian officials continued to vigorously deny involvement in the explosion.

In Sidon, Mr. Hariri's hometown, Syrian workers were attacked by dozens of protesters before the police intervened, and hundreds of Lebanese marched with black banners and pictures of the slain leader. A mob also attacked a Beirut office of Syria's ruling Baath Party.

Thousands of protesters also massed in the northern port city of Tripoli, according to Reuters.

Megan K. Stack and Rania Abouzeid have additional reporting in the Los Angeles Times. And Greg Djerejian has a post up on this at Belgravia Dispatch.

posted by Dan at 09:31 AM | Comments (89) | Trackbacks (6)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

In honor of the Kyoto Protocol...

As the Kyoto Protocol goes into effect on Wednesday, here's a roundup of environmental links that have caught my eye over the past week:

1) On Monday Antonio Regalado had a front-pager in the Wall Street Journal (the link should work for non-subscribers) about the famous/infamous "hockey stick" graph that showed a dramatic climb in temperatures since the start of the Industrial Revolution:

But is the hockey stick true?

According to a semiretired Toronto minerals consultant, it's not. After spending two years and about $5,000 of his own money trying to double-check the influential graphic, Stephen McIntyre says he has found significant oversights and errors. He claims its lead author, climatologist Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, and colleagues used flawed methods that yield meaningless results.

Dr. Mann vigorously disagrees. On a Web site launched with the help of an environmental group (, he has sought to debunk the debunking, and counter what he calls a campaign by fossil-fuel interests to discredit his work. "It's a battle of truth versus disinformation," he says.

But some other scientists are now paying attention to Mr. McIntyre. Although a scientific outsider, the 57-year-old has forced Dr. Mann to publish a minor correction. Now a critique by Mr. McIntyre and an ally is being published in a respected scientific journal. Some mainstream scientists who harbored doubts about the hockey stick say its comeuppance is overdue.

The clash has grown into an all-out battle involving dueling Web logs (, a powerful senator and a score of other scientists. Mr. McIntyre's new paper is circulating inside energy companies and government agencies. Canada's environment ministry has ordered a review.

Astonishingly, neither weblog mentioned in the piece has posted any correction of substance about the article -- so bravo to Regalado for apparently writing an accurate article on a technical and controversial subject.

2) Over at a new international law blog called Opinio Juris, Julian Ku notes that while the Bush administration is no fan of Kyoto, it is leading the way in reducing methane. He links to this Gregg Easterbrook essay in The New Republic which contains the following:

You'll hear a reprise of outrage that George W. Bush withdrew the United States from Kyoto negotiations. Here's something you probably won't hear about: the multilateral greenhouse-gas reduction agreement George W. Bush approved a year ago. The world's first international anti-global-warming agreement to take force is not the Kyoto treaty. It is a Bush Administration initiative, and you have not heard a peep regarding the initiative because the American press corps is pretending it does not exist....

[R]eporters who write reams about carbon dioxide rarely mention methane, and some environmentalists become actively upset when the potential for methane reduction is raised. Why? Because the United States is the world's number-one emitter of carbon dioxide. (At least for the moment; if current trends hold, China will pass us.) Keeping the focus on carbon dioxide is the blame-America-first strategy. The European Union, on the other hand, is a leading emitter of methane, given the natural-gas energy economies of many Western European nations. Talk about methane reduction makes Europe uneasy. In the regnant global warming narrative, the United States is always bad and the European Union is always good. Raising the methane issue complicates that narrative.

[Easterbrook? Easterbrook? Is he a reliable source on enviro-stuff?--ed. There have been some problems in the past, yes. However, I'm taking Kevin Drum's lack of criticism (he's usually all over Easterbrook's environmental posts like Paris Hilton on the cover of a magazine) to be a good sign.]

Ku graciously points out that I blogged about the "Methane to Markets" initiative back in July of last year.

3) John Quiggin has been all over the question of whether Bjorn Lomborg stacked the deck of the Copenhaen Consensus to ensure that global warming would be ranked at the bottom of the world's problems. Alex Tabarrok disputes this, pointing out that Lomborg picked an ardent advocate of the Kyoto Protocol. However, as I read this, Tabarrok's point is consistent with Quiggin's: Lomborg picked someone knowing they would make a radical argument, this ensuring his panelists would reject it.

For relevant environmental posrs about global warming from the archives of, click here and here.

posted by Dan at 11:34 PM | Comments (17) | Trackbacks (1)

"Confessions of a scholar-blogger"

That's the title of a short essay I wrote for the University of Chicago Magazine, the U of C's alumni magazine. Here's the opening and closing paragraphs:

Since becoming an assistant professor, I have authored one book, edited another, and published a respectable quantity of scholarly articles. And yet I can say with a fair degree of certainty that if you added up the number of people who have read any and all of these works, it would probably be less than the number of hits I receive daily on my Web log—an online journal I’ve kept for the last two-and-a-half years. That fact simultaneously exhilarates and appalls me....

Will I still be blogging in five years? I honestly don’t know, but my suspicion is that if I do, there will be plenty of sabbaticals thrown in. One undeniable effect of having a successful blog is the inculcation of a sense of duty to keep up regular posts. Even the thought of blogging on a regular basis for half a decade exhausts me. However, the thought of not blogging about the interesting ideas or information that comes my way bothers me even more.

Thanks to Mary Ruth Yoe for her crisp editing -- and thanks to Jacob Levy for coining the term "scholar-blogger" in the first place.

You should check out the rest of the magazine's contents -- as I've noted in the past, it's consistently interesting and informative. For example, check out Sharla Stewart's article on Richard Thaler and the rise of behavioral economics. Stewart has a good track record in writing about the social sciences -- her essay on the "perestroika" movement two years ago remains the single-best thing I've read on the subject.

And be sure to check out UChiblogo -- the magazine's weblog. This post recaps Francis Fukuyama's lecture from last week looking back on "The End of History?"

posted by Dan at 12:56 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

Handicapping the race for the WTO leadership

Because the hard-working staff here at has been focused on who the next World Bank president will be, we've ben remiss in discussing who will become the next Director-General of the World Trade Organization.

Fortunately, Michael C. Boyer, James G. Forsyth, and Jai Singh have an article in Foreign Policy that picks up the slack and handicaps the race. It's worth checking out.

One of the more intriguing elements of the jockeying for position is that one of the candidates -- Mauritian Foreign Minister Jaya Krishna Cuttaree -- has set up his own web site devoted entirely to his candidacy for the WTO position. No blog yet -- but give him time.

Finally, on the general topic of the cockeyed process of selecting people for leadership posts at various international economic organizations, do yourself a favor and go buy a copy of Miles Kahler's Leadership Selection in the Major Multilaterals.

posted by Dan at 11:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, February 14, 2005

You try democratizing Belarus!

Peter Savodnik has a Slate essay comparing and contrasting US and EU efforts to promote a viable democratic opposition in Belarus. For the past decade, Alexander Lukashenko has pretty much ruled the country according to his own increasingly erratic whim. The Americans, the Europeans, and a fair number of Belarusians would love to see his back. However, as Savodnik recounts, there is a transatlantic split on how to promote democracy in Minsk:

As things stand now, the only money the European Union spends on Belarus is money that has been approved by the Lukashenko regime. These so-called Tacis (Technical Assistance for the Commonwealth of Independent States) funds, first appropriated in 1991, aim to foster democratic reform and economic modernization from within—that is, by working in tandem with government officials.

The problem, as anyone at the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry (or the U.S. National Security Council or, in a rare unguarded moment, the European Union) will point out, is that Lukashenko has no interest in working with the European Union. Why should he? As the Belarusian well understands, engaging with the West means becoming more Western. And that is exactly what he opposes. Sure, he's happy to get help cleaning up the Chernobyl zone or to send a few engineering students to France for the summer. But anything vaguely threatening (read: liberalizing) is verboten.

This is why, a few years back, Lukashenko expelled the U.S.-taxpayer-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute from Minsk. Why? Because unlike the more humanitarian-minded Europeans, these groups foster real reform—you might call it revolution in slow motion—by building democratic parties, running polls for the opposition, and helping identify future leaders (as in the case of Ukraine's Viktor Yuschenko). Now NDI's Belarus desk is in Kiev, and IRI's is in Vilnius, where Belarusian reformers go when they need a conference room free of listening devices. European officials say this is evidence the American model doesn't work; Americans counter this proves they're doing something right.

While the European Union has spent plenty of money in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union—developing "civil society" and organizing educational trips, among other things, according to the EU Web site—it's unlikely that a single euro has been spent directly on the democratic opposition.

Savodnik makes it clear that he wants the EU to change its strategy -- but to be honest, I'm not sure what would be a better strategy. If the EU were to pursue a more "American" approach with its aid, Lukashenko would doubtless boot them out of the country as well. I'm no real fan of the EU's current strategy, but it's far from clear that there's a better alternative.

There are, alas, all too many foreign policy dilemmas like this one -- when all the policy options stink to high heaven.

Perhaps I've become too cyncical, however -- readers are encouraged to devise a better policy to promote democracy in Belarus.

posted by Dan at 11:11 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

Iraq's election results

Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck provide a summary of Iraq's election returns in the Washington Post. The highlights:

A coalition dominated by Shiite Islamic parties and tacitly backed by the country's most influential religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, won the most votes in results released Sunday from Iraq's landmark elections, but fell short of a symbolically important majority that many of its leaders had projected.

The results, expected last week but delayed because of allegations of vote-tampering, were the culmination of Iraq's Jan. 30 vote for a 275-member parliament, the country's first democratic ballot in more than a half-century and one of the freest in the Arab world. The results represented one of the most sweeping statements of Iraq's shifting political terrain, as the country's long-repressed communities are set to assume power in the National Assembly, which will have to confront a durable, Sunni Arab-led insurgency, persistent power cuts, widespread joblessness and the task of drafting a constitution, among other challenges....

According to the returns, which are considered preliminary until they are certified in three days, the largely Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance won 48.2 percent of the vote, the low end of what its officials had predicted. A coalition of two major Kurdish parties won a surprising 25.7 percent of the vote, and a bloc led by interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi got 13.8 percent. Together, the three coalitions accounted for nearly 88 percent of the vote, making them the dominant players in a new parliament, which will choose a largely ceremonial president and two deputy presidents. They, in turn, will appoint a powerful prime minister, who will choose a cabinet....

As expected, Sunni Arab-led parties won just a fraction of the vote. The Association of Muslim Scholars and other influential Sunni groups had declared a boycott of the election, deeming it illegitimate as long as U.S. troops occupied Iraq, and many in Sunni-dominated provinces said they stayed home because of pervasive threats against candidates and voters.

A party led by Iraq's interim president, Ghazi Yawar, won less than 2 percent of the vote, although that was enough to assure his list a handful of seats. A prominent Sunni politician, Adnan Pachachi, did not win a seat, and it remained unclear whether other well-known Sunni figures, such as Mishan Jubouri, had sufficient votes to win a seat.

"The Association of Muslim Scholars is responsible for the catastrophic results," Jubouri said.

The election commission said 8.55 million votes were cast; about 14.66 million people were registered to take part in the election. The 58 percent turnout fell short of the 60 percent that officials had predicted soon after the vote.

Jeff Weintraub, analyzing the results, suggests that "On first impression, the latest news about the Iraqi election returns has confirmed my most optimistic hopes." Juan Cole, looking at the same numbers, concludes, "[current Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi's defeat... is a huge defeat for the Bush administration, though it will not be reported that way in the corporate media."

UPDATE: Robin Wright has an odd news analysis piece in the Washington Post today. It's odd becuse the headline reads, "Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision" -- and the piece consists of expert quotes (including Cole) making this point. However, in the 16th paragraph there's this casual admission that, "U.S. and regional analysts agree that Iraq is not likely to become an Iranian surrogate." I'll have more to say about the question of Iran's influence in Iraq sometime this week.

Meanwhile, Weintraub e-mails the following:

[W]hat [Cole] says in this particular quotation is not incompatible with what I said. Holding the elections now was not the preferred outcome for the Bush administration, and the results of the election are probably not their preferred outcome, either. But as one Iraqi put it (addressing people whose positions on Iraq are simply a function of whether they like or hate the Bush administration): "It's not all about you."

Also, the fact that some people in the US government would have preferred to see a victory for the Allawi list--which is plausible--doesn't necessarily mean that, in objective terms, this would actually have been the best outcome for long-term US interests in Iraq.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It's intriguing to compare the New York Times news analysis by Dexter Filkins with Wright's analysis in the Washington Post. Filkins' analysis differs from Wright's in two ways: a) no expert quotes from American sources (though plenty of quotes from Iraqis); and b) a more optimistic piece. The highlights:

The razor-thin margin apparently captured by the Shiite alliance here in election results announced Sunday seems almost certain to enshrine a weak government that will be unable to push through sweeping changes, like granting Islam a central role in the new Iraqi state.

The verdict handed down by Iraqi voters in the Jan. 30 election appeared to be a divided one, with the Shiite political alliance, backed by the clerical leadership in Najaf, opposed in nearly equal measure by an array of mostly secular minority parties.

According to Iraqi leaders here, the fractured mandate almost certainly heralds a long round of negotiating, in which the Shiite alliance will have to strike deals with parties run by the Kurds and others, most of which are secular and broadly opposed to an enhanced role for Islam or an overbearing Shiite government....

[S]ome Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a "national unity government," containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus.

One senior Iraqi official, a non-Shiite who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the slim majority won by the Shiite alliance signaled even greater obstacles for the Shiite parties in the future. If the Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the election, decide to take part in the future, they would almost certainly dilute the Shiite alliance's already thin margin.

"This is the height of the Shiite vote," the Iraqi official said. "The next election assumes Sunni participation, and you will see an entirely different dynamic then."

See this James Joyner post for more.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (6)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Following up on U.S. foreign aid generosity

In the wake of President Bush's decision to triple the amount of official U.S. aid to tsunami-affected countries to $950 million, it's worth revisiting the question of U.S. foreign aid generosity.

Steve Radelet has a solid Q&A on the topic for Foreign Policy's web site. On the question of whether, "America Is the Most Generous Country in the World if You Include Private Donations to Charities," he writes:

According to U.S. government figures, private donations to low-income countries through American churches, charities, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, and college scholarships was at least $6.3 billion in 2003. And such data almost certainly understate the actual amount of private aid. Some organizations do not respond to the government survey used to collect the data, and some important forms of contribution are omitted, such as volunteer time. Alternative estimates vary, with the upper-end figure (including gifts to more developed countries such as Israel and Russia) at $17.1 billion for 2000. By this estimation, private charitable donations per American total $58 per year—or about 0.16 percent of U.S. income—ranking the United States second among major donors in private giving (the first is Ireland at 0.22 percent).

Combining public and private donations puts total U.S. development assistance in the range of $35 billion per year, or about 0.32 percent of U.S. income. In other words, for every $3 of income, the United States provides about one cent in development assistance. Even with this broader measure (and using the larger estimate of U.S. private assistance without making a similar adjustment for other countries), the United States ranks, at best, 15th among the top donors.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: The Radelet essay is particularly good in contrast to James Traub's effort in the New York Times Magazine. Traub covers some of the same ground, but can't seem to concede the point that on development policy, the Bush administration is actually closer in its stated plans to Traub's "ideal" than either the Clinton administration or the European Union (link via Tom Maguire). [Must be the Davos Kool-Aid--ed.]

posted by Dan at 12:16 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

So how are things in Saudi Arabia?

The Chicago Tribune has two stories on developments within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today -- kind of a good news/bad news deal.

The bad news is that those provincial elections didn't turn out like Saudi reformers had hoped. Evan Osnos explains:

In a blow to reformers in Saudi Arabia, candidates backed by Islamic clerics appear to have won a key region in the country's first nationwide election.

Preliminary tallies Friday for the capital city of Riyadh showed that at least five of the seven winning candidates in Thursday's municipal elections have close ties to Saudi Arabia's clerical establishment. Though the results apply only to a municipal race for the capital, they had been widely anticipated here and in Washington as a rare referendum on reform efforts in one of the world's most traditional absolute monarchies.

The Islamists' victory in the political heart of the country could be a setback for reform-minded Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, who had gambled that elections could loosen hard-line clerics' grip on the government. Abdullah has clashed with more conservative royals who do not support his reforms and who had watered down his balloting plan by barring women from the election and setting aside half the seats to be appointed by the ruling family....

Moderate candidates say they are worried that a victory by the religious establishment might undermine Saudi Arabia's halting reform efforts, including expanding women's rights, strengthening the rule of law and revamping the educational system.

"We have enough religious power in our country, and they will increase it even more. The result is not promising," said al-Homeidi, a professor of public administration at King Saud University. "I am concerned about the future. Once they get into the level of municipality, then I'm sure they will get more power and will get into the higher levels [of government]."

Read the whole thing -- it's not clear how much of a setback this is, given that it was only one region, and a conservative one at that (though I'd love a Saudi expert to identify a liberal region in the country). Of course, the decision to exclude women from the vote probably didn't help the moderates much.

One other nitpick at this report is the history it provides of Islamist movements:

The success of Islamist political parties has roots that date to political events a generation ago. Political analysts point to the devastating Arab loss to Israel in the 1967 war and the death of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had advocated a secular pan-Arabism.

In the ashes of that secular vision stirred a revival of religion as the possible salvation of the Arab world, and that spirit gathered strength after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. Islamist parties, which call for a greater role for Islam in the affairs of state, tend to have more unified messages and stronger organizations, while moderate candidates often spread votes across an array of agendas.

I'll be happy to be corrected on this, but if memory serves that's not quite accuate. It's true that the Six Day War was a triggering event for the rise of Islamist parties -- but the motivation was different. Secular Arab regimes were afraid of the growing political power of leftist/communist parties in their countries. As a result, they permitted the rise of Islamist parties to offer a counterweight.

On the good news side of the ledger, Christine Spolar reports that the Saudi regime is reaching out on the war on terror:

Saudi officials this week reached across borders and bureaucracies to underscore domestic efforts in pursuing terrorist networks and to refocus the nation's role in global discussions on combating terrorism.

For the first time since Al Qaeda surfaced, the Saudis publicly sought to trade and share technical information about counterterrorism operations with professional delegations from more than 50 nations.

The international anti-terrorism conference, a first for the Arab Peninsula, was deemed remarkable by several participants if only for the fact that the Saudis, once defensive about extremist elements within their borders, openly acknowledged that they needed counsel for their own "war on terror."

The four-day conference drew diplomats and intelligence professionals from the United States, France, Germany, Belgium, Pakistan, Turkey and other countries.

It produced a single resolution: that the creation of a global counterterrorism center should be explored. But participants in closed workshops that focused on the origins, financial underpinnings and criminal elements of terrorism said there was additional value in dialogue and building personal contacts.

"Two years ago, the Saudis wouldn't even admit the problem was in their back yard," said a European intelligence official who requested anonymity. "There is a shift in approach. They are being more open in their exchanges."

The internal steps to combat radicals is particularly interesting:

The Saudi remarks appear to be confirmed in a recent assessment by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, an independent research group in Washington.

During the first half of 2004, the kingdom fired 44 Friday preachers, 160 imams and 149 prayer callers for incompetence, according to a report released in January. Nearly 1,400 religious officials were suspended and ordered to undergo retraining, the report said.

The Saudis also have begun grass-roots campaigns aimed at promoting stability. Web sites have been created to seek discourse and chats with a younger generation. Cell phone users in Riyadh now are peppered with text messages that reject terrorism. The week of the conference, even the family of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden sought a public moral high ground.

"We strongly condemn all kinds of terror," exclaimed a large newspaper ad placed by the construction company owned by the bin Laden family. The family, close to the royal family, has previously condemned Al Qaeda's activities and said it has no ties to Osama bin Laden, who was stripped of Saudi citizenship more than a decade ago.

Here's a link to the one-page summary of that CSIS report. Click here for a copy of the draft reports by Anthony H. Cordesman and Nawaf Obaid.

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (2)

Explaining North Korea's actions, redux

MSNBC's Eric Baculinao files a story on the North Korean situation that contains a first in my memory -- a North Korean policy analyst providing anonymous quotes. [What, that's never happened before?--ed. I'm sure it has, but it's the first time I've seen it.]. The highlights:

“We have nothing to lose,” explained a North Korean foreign affairs analyst. “The conclusion is that the second Bush administration is more interested in pursuing encirclement net against us than in a substantial solution of the nuclear issue,” the analyst said.

The analyst, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, cited attempts to form a so-called “government in exile” as part of a perceived strategy for a “regime change” in Pyongyang.

“The Americans don’t want to negotiate with us,” the analyst said. “They prefer the representatives of defectors who could be the shock troops in putting the ‘North Korea Freedom Act’ in force.”

“They reportedly called a secret meeting in Tokyo and organized a preparatory committee for founding a so-called ‘government-in-exile.’ … The important thing is that every day, there are increased plots and blasphemy against our dear leader Kim Jong Il,” the analyst added.

“We will not return to the talks until the U.S. administration fundamentally changes its Korea policy,” the analyst said. “If the U.S. will refuse, then our way is clear.”

So what the hell is the North Korea Freedom Act? Click here to read more about the re-named bill -- The North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004. Here are links to the text of the law, a three-page analysis of the its provisions from its supporters, and a critique by a former aid worker.

[So is this the real explanation for the DPRK's actions?--ed. I doubt it -- the timing is off. The act was signed into law about four months ago, and the DPRK official was referring to its old name in the report. Still, what's interesting is the attempt by DPRK officials to rationalize their action.]

posted by Dan at 10:10 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (1)

My all time favorite Internet quiz

I think I can live with this result:

You scored as Curt Schilling.

You are Curt Schilling! You are a trooper. You push yourself to the limit, regardless of any setbacks. You are also not afraid to express your opinions on a variety of topics. Very family-oriented. You're the man!!

Curt Schilling


Theo Epstein


Jason Varitek


Johnny Damon


Kevin Millar


Manny Ramirez


David Ortiz


Mark Bellhorn


Which Red Sox Player Are You?
created with

posted by Dan at 12:23 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (1)

Friday, February 11, 2005

The limit to Al Qaeda's appeal

There may be another positive foreign policy spillover from Iraq's election -- it is forcing Al Qaeda into rhetorical gambits that limit its appeal.

Earlier this week Al Jazeera broadcast a tape by Al Qaeda's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri responding to the Iraqi elections. As Reuters put it, the tape "blasted the 'U.S. concept of freedom,'”

In TNR Online, Joseph Braude translates and analyzes the text of the message. He concludes:

On the question of whether Sunni Islamists of any shade should participate in Arab elections--be they in Gaza and the West Bank a few weeks back, or perhaps in Egypt down the road--Al Zawahiri seems to be taking a decisive stand. He urges the Ummah to "snatch back" the reins of power, apparently eschewing the possibility of gains for Islamists through a nonviolent electoral process. This is a rejection, for example, of Hamas ideologue Mahmoud Al Zahhar's statement earlier this week to a Gaza newspaper suggesting that his movement might join the Palestinian legislative assembly.

Al Qaeda may kill hundreds of innocents in Spain to influence the outcome of elections there--or deliver a tirade against George Bush on the eve of the American elections, apparently to influence voters here--but the movement seems to have no appetite for achieving its goals through elections in Arab and Muslim countries. In this respect, today's message wasn't just another hyperbolic rant. It drew a philosophical line in the sand. And among Arabs and Muslims, it may prove to be an unpopular one.

Read the whole thing. Middle East Online points out that Al Qaeda ain't thrilled with economic integration either:

The new message made reference to [recent] events, including a December 16 agreement between Egypt and Israel, and historic January 30 elections in Iraq.

"We cannot achieve reform when our leaders are seeking normalisation with Israel and destroying our economies for their own personal gains, like the QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zones) agreement signed by the Egyptian regime with Israel," the voice said.

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Kim's not making many friends

If, as speculated in my last post, Kim Jong Il thought that his nuclear announcement and withdrawal from six-party talks would drive a wedge between the US and the other members of six-party talks, he appears to have miscalculated.

CNN reports that North Korea has repeated its demand (made over the past couple of years) for direct bilateral talks with the United States on this issue. [UPDATE: Deb Riechmann reports for the AP that Scott McClellan rejected this demand at the White House press briefing.] Andrew Salmon reports in the International Herald-Tribune that the six-party talks haven't gone well for the DPRK:

It is a long-running North Korean strategy to try to engage the United States in bilateral talks, believing that such meetings would improve the isolated country's international status and help it obtain bigger concessions. In the six-nation talks, which also include China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and the United States, North Korea has increasingly found itself facing countries, including its allies China and Russia, who are critical of its nuclear ambitions.

THat same report also makes it clear that North Korea's latest gambit has not gone down well in South Korea.

If Seoul is upset, however, Japan is even more so -- and they are upping the ante with a clear and specific sanctions threat. James Brooke explains in the New York Times:

Faced with North Korea's declaration that it has nuclear weapons, Japan's Prime Minister performed a deft political kabuki today, urging his bellicose neighbor to join disarmament talks, while letting the clock run on a new law that will bar most North Korean ships from Japanese ports starting March 1.

"I understand calls for imposing sanctions are growing," Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told reporters in Sapporo, about 600 miles across the Sea of Japan from North Korea. "But we have to urge them to come to the talks in the first place."

Japan, Russia, China and South Korea all urged North Korea today to return to talks designed to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal and its weapons assembly line....

[O]f the five nations seeking to disarm North Korea, only Japan is taking new steps that will punish North Korea economically.

An amended Liability for Oil Pollution Damage law requires that all ships over 100 tons calling at Japanese ports carry property and indemnity insurance. A seemingly bland piece of legislation, this law was drafted with North Korea in mind. In 2003, only 2.5 percent of North Korean ships visiting Japan had insurance.

Japan is North Korea's third largest trading partner, after China and South Korea. The insurance barrier is expected to hit North Korea's ports on the Sea of Japan, a dilapidated, economically depressed area, far from Pyongyang, the nation's showcase capital. In recent weeks, only one North Korean ship, a passenger-cargo ferry, is known to have bought insurance.

The insurance barrier will be felt at Tokyo's Tsukiji market, the world's largest fish market, where North Korea is a major supplier of snow crabs, sea urchins and short neck clams. For North Korean fishing boats, Japan is the best market in the region.

"It will hurt, it will pinch, it will be felt by North Koreans who are significant," said Chuck Downs, an American expert on Korea who wrote "Over the Line: North Korea's Negotiating Strategy."

"This will have a major impact on people who are on the snow-crab gravy train," Mr. Downs said. "They are making more money than the drug runners, than the diplomats. It is one of the few lucrative things you can do if you are North Korean."

On the import side, North Korea has become a major importer of used consumer goods from Japan, a country where recycling taxes are high. Next Wednesday is the birthday of North Korea's reclusive dictator, Kim Jong Il, a time when Communist functionaries traditionally dispense to party loyalists such gifts as rusting bicycles or hand-me-down refrigerators from Japan. But if North Korea's rusting scows are blocked from Japan's ports, the next birthday of North Korea's leader may be marked with a new austerity.

Read the whole article -- the U.S. and South Korea are ambivalent at best about the sanctions lever. At first glance, this would seem surprising: the best outcome is if North Korea backs down before March 1. Some people believe that the worst outcome, however, is Japan implementing sanctions on a defiant North Korea. I don't agree -- these sanctions will hurt the DPRK elite where it lives, in that it restricts hard currency access and consumer goods that only the elite can afford. This lever should be enough to get them back to six-party talks.

UPDATE: For more, the BBC has a round-up of the regional press reaction. The Christian Science Monitor has a round-up of global press reaction. Their most intriguing link is this Hamish McDonald story in the Sydney Morning Herald:

A debate has begun in policy circles as to whether Beijing should go further and propose an amendment to the 1961 mutual security treaty, to remove pledges of military assistance in the event of attack.

The treaty's second article says both sides "promise to jointly take all possible measures to prevent any country from invading either of the contracting parties. Whenever one contracting party suffers a military attack by one state or several states combined and therefore is in a state of war, the other contracting party should do all it can to offer military and other aid".

The undercutting of China's defence guarantee is part of a delicate carrot-and-stick approach by Beijing to edge North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, into verifiable nuclear disarmament in return for a new security deal with the US and its regional allies, along with economic aid.

posted by Dan at 10:50 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (5)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

What's Kim Il Sung's Kim Jong Il's game?

I'm typing this in Princeton, NJ, as I'm giving a talk here today -- so there will not be much blogging for the next 24 hours.

Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic for discussion -- why has North Korea decided now is the time to publicly announce that they have nuclear weapons and suspend participation in six-nation non-proliferation talks?

Is it because Kim feels he can widen the diplomatic wedge between the United States and the other members of the talks (Japan, South Korea, China, Russia) -- or is it that Kim fears his regime is tottering on the abyss and the only way he can stay in power is to gin up a new international crisis? These are not mutually exclusive reasons, of course -- but which one is the primary cause?

Be sure to check out NK Zone for more blogging on the Hermit Kingdom. Also worth reading: In Foreign Affairs, Mitchell Reiss and Robert Gallucci rebut Selig Harrison's claim that North Korea doesn't really have a uranium enrichment program (link via Josh Marshall).

UPDATE: Oh, man did that first header date me -- I meant the current leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong il -- not his father, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. Apologies to all for the error.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Follow-up post here. Over at NRO, S.T. Karnick offers the following speculation on Kim's motives:

If there is a calculation by which North Korea's action makes sense, the law of Occam's Razor suggests we should apply it. I believe there is such a possibility.

It is unlikely mere coincidence that North Korea made this announcement and pulled out of talks just a few days after the elections in Iraq. In fact, it seems quite plausible that the Kim regime saw the recent comments by Secretary of State Rice as a warning that the United States was going to come after North Korea, and sooner than anyone might think.

The statement by the North Korean foreign ministry said Pyongyang has "manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" the nation. Thursday's New York Times reported that Pyongyang's statement "zeroed in on Dr. Rice's testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them 'outposts of tyranny.'"

It seems plausible, then, that Pyongyang came to the conclusion that the United States and a coalition of other nations was about to do something that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Kim regime and a reunification of Korea on terms determined entirely by South Korea and its powerful allies. Today's statement, then, was Pyongyang's way of forestalling such action by raising the stakes radically, in suggesting that any U.S. move to impose its will on North Korea would lead to the use, however inefficient and elementary, of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.

I think that's a major stretch. As CNN points out today, there have been ample rhetorical opportunities as of late for the administration to target North Korea -- and they haven't used them:

In his inaugural address on January 20, U.S. President George W. Bush did not mention North Korea by name, and he only briefly mentioned the country in his February 2 State of the Union address, saying Washington was "working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions."

Bush's tone was in stark contrast to his State of the Union address three years before, when he branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq.

The new, more restrained approach raised hopes for a positive response from North Korea. Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to push for an early resumption of the six-nation talks.

No, Rice's testimony was a useful rhetorical hook for North Korea's actions, and not the cause.

In the International Herald-Tribune, there is more speculation about this being an example of internal DPRK strife:

[S]ome analysts suggested that North Korea's retreat from the peace process may simply be a reflection of political confusion in Pyongyang.

"I wonder if this is an inability to come back to the table, resulting from divisions in the North Korean leadership over reaching a deal," said Peter Beck, who heads the Seoul office of the International Crisis Group.


posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (88) | Trackbacks (3)

Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The transatlantic relationship is important -- but not that important

The Economist has a story on the state of transatlanric relations following Condi Rice's speech on the topic yesterday at the Sciences Po. It's worth reading, but contains this odd passage:

America may also have come to realise that by disengaging from its European allies, it merely allows them to pursue diplomacy in ways that it does not like. An example is the Kyoto treaty on climate change: America refused to sign up, but the accord was still ratified.

One sign that America is now more prepared to engage with issues that the Europeans consider crucial is this week’s declaration of an end to hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians. During his first term, Mr Bush paid lip service to Middle East peace but did little to push the process forward, to the chagrin of Tony Blair and other European leaders. Now the American president is taking the issue more seriously, and recent comments by Ms Rice suggest America will no longer be so quick to take Israel’s side.

While improving the transatlantic relationship is no doubt a nice positive externality from a more fruitful Middle East peace process. I think it's safe to say that the Bush administration's timing on this issue has nothing to do with Europe and everything to do with Yassir Arafat's passing.

Look, I think the transatlantic relationship is important, particularly with regard to the global political economy -- but it's not the cause of every twitch in U.S. foreign policy. The Economist is trying to read intent where there was none.

Another interesting question will be the extent to which the improving tranatlantic relationship reflects a greater recognition of shared interests -- or a greater willingness to amicably agree on disagreeing. For an example of tensions between these two approaches, see this FT story by Daniel Dombey.

posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (21) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Pretend you're a U of C undergraduate!!

Paper topic for my students in Power, Identity and Resistance: Liberalism and Its Critics:

The following is excerpted from President Bush’s Second Inaugural Address:

Some, I know, have questioned the global appeal of liberty - though this time in history, four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen, is an odd time for doubt. Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals. Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it….

We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul. When our Founders declared a new order of the ages; when soldiers died in wave upon wave for a union based on liberty; when citizens marched in peaceful outrage under the banner "Freedom Now" - they were acting on an ancient hope that is meant to be fulfilled. History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty.

If Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau were alive today, what would their reaction be to the assumptions and logic advanced in these sections of the speech? Would they agree or disagree? Why?

posted by Dan at 10:13 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (2)

Monday, February 7, 2005

Fox's in-game breach of contract?

So the Super Bowl was a pretty good if not great game, and a pretty good if not great halftime show by Paul McCartney (though if there is any song that was made for massive fireworks displays, it's "Live and Let Die.").

The general consensus, however, is that the ads were pretty lame. See Seth Stevenson's review in Slate and Chris Ballard's at Part of the reason for this may have been the extent to which FOX and the NFL censored the ads, according to The Age's Caroline Overington:

This year the Fox network, which shows the Super Bowl, banned four ads. Many on Madison Avenue were disappointed. Advertisers pay around $US2.4 million ($A3.1 million) for a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl and usually strive to create something controversial. But Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age, said this year's commercials were disappointing. He told Good Morning America, "This year, the Super Bowl is interesting not because of what ads they're showing but what ads they are not."

Car maker Lincoln withdrew a commercial after Christian groups complained. In the ad, which can be seen on the web, a priest finds a car key in the collection plate. He goes to the car park, where he sees a Lincoln truck. He strokes it, loves it. But then a little girl turns up with her father, and the father wants his keys back.

Some Christian groups said the ad was inappropriate, given the Catholic Church's recent problems with pedophile priests.

Fox banned an ad from Budweiser that showed a delivery boy using the hard breastplate from Janet's notorious costume to open a beer. Another ad, featuring Mickey Rooney's bare and ageing buttocks, was also banned.

Fox censored itself too, changing the name of its Best Damn Sports Show, Period to The Best Darn Super Bowl Road Show Ever.

But at least one company got a saucy ad through the net. The website,, showed an ad with a well-endowed woman jiggling her breasts. At one point, the strap on her singlet top snapped, but no nipple was seen.

Ah, but not so fast!! It turns out that the ad did get censored run into difficulties. Bob Parsons, the CEO/founder of, blogs (yes, blogs) about what happened:

[O]ur Super Bowl ad only appeared during the scheduled first quarter spot. It was scheduled to run also in the second ad position during the final two minute warning. Our ad never ran a second time. Instead, in its place, we saw an advertisement promoting "The Simpsons."

The NFL persuaded FOX to pull our ad.

We immediately contacted Fox to find out what happened. Here's what we were told: After our first ad was aired, the NFL became upset and they, together with Fox, decided to pull the ad from running a second time. Because we purchased two spots, we were also entitled to a "Brought to you by" 5 second marquis spot. They also chose to pull the marquis spot....

I believe that it's the first time ever a decision was made to pull an ad after it had already been run once during the same broadcast. (emphasis added)

Forget whether or not this is censorship -- FOX is a private company, not the government -- if Parsons is correct, then I would imagine this has got to be one whopper of a breach-of-contract suit [Ahem, despite what others may believe, you're not a lawyer--ed. Good point -- I'd appreciate some legal takes on this issue.]

If you want to see the "controversial" ad, click here (I recommend the two-minute version -- the last spoken line made me laugh out loud). The ironic thing about the ad is that the object of the satire is not the NFL, but sanctimonious politicians (and, I might add, by far the best ad of the evening was the G-rated one for The NFL Network with Joe Montana et al singing "Tomorrow")

It should also be pointed out that this isn't the first time the NFL has acted like a spoiled brat it its desire to be seen as "wholesome". Last year ESPN aired a fictionalized show called Playmakers, a "behind-the-scenes" look at a professional football team. While the show was a bit over-the-top at times, Playmakers was an above average drama with some excellent performances -- kinda like The Shield for the NFL. However, the NFL believed that the show cast the NFL in a bad light, and made it's displeasure known to ESPN. In short order, ESPN caved in to the NFL.

UPDATE: Krysten Crawford has a story on this for CNN/Money that confirms Parsons' account:

Brian McCarthy, an NFL spokesman, confirmed Monday that league executives contacted Fox officials after seeing the ad, which they had not pre-screened. The reason, said McCarthy, "was exactly what many people felt. It was inappropriate."

Check out this Parsons post from earlier in the week to see the back-and-forth between GoDaddy and FOX to get any ad on the air. Finally, the advertising blog adrants suggests that the the ad might not have played well. The Associated Press concurs, reporting that an post-game survey of 700 people found the GoDaddy ad to be one of the least liked. On the other hand, the Boston Globe's Alex Beam and the Kansas City Star's Aaron Barnhart both liked it. Howard Bashman correctly points out that, "Congressional hearings don't usually contain this much pretend near nudity."

Writing at WPN News, Kevin Dugan (who hated the GoDaddy ad) makes the provocative argument that blogs have ruined Super Bowl ads forever:

This year, the game was better than the ads. Again. You want to know why? There will never be an ad as good as 1984 again because there are no more secrets (that remain secret) before being told only once.

Blogs usurped the payoff around the big game this year. You could head online and find out the latest about any and all ads. We created buzz bigger than 1984 for ads that never stood a chance.

Pamela Parker makes a similar argument.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Joal Ryan reports for E! Online that the FCC received 33 complaints from the Super Bowl this year -- eight of which were devote to the ad. Three viewers called in to complain about Janet Jackson from last year.

posted by Dan at 02:24 PM | Comments (48) | Trackbacks (5)

The state of transatlantic public opinion

Today the German Marshall Fund of the United States released a survey of American, German, and French public opinion that was conducted in late November. The results suggest that public attitudes towards the countries across the Atlantic are not great -- but at least they're improving:

While disapproval of President Bush’s foreign policy decisions remains quite high in Europe, attitudes toward the United States are not as clear-cut. When asked how they felt about the U.S. taking a strong role in world affairs, majorities in France and Germany said that it was undesirable – 65% and 57%, respectively. While these figures would appear quite negative, they actually represent an improvement of 8 and 3 percentage points in France and Germany, since June, 2004.

Continued discontent with American leadership in France and Germany has kept support for a more independent Europe high. When asked whether the United States and the European Union should become closer or take more independent approaches to foreign and security policy 66% of French and 54% of German respondents said the European Union should take a more independent approach. On the face of it, this may seem to be a bad sign for U.S.-European relations, but the trends on this data are positive. In this last round of polling we found that the number of French and German respondents who said that the U.S. and the EU should become closer actually increased by 5 and 4 percentage points, respectively, since June. Additionally, the number of German respondents who said that the EU should take a more independent approach dropped by 10 percentage points over the same period....

There can be little doubt that the transatlantic rift that developed during the lead-up to the war in Iraq is still present. Yet, the reelection of President George W. Bush, whose decisions are often viewed as the primary reason for this rift, does not seem to have put any further strain on U.S.-European relations, at least not at the level of public opinion. If anything, damage to the transatlantic relationship appears to be showing the first signs of recovery as evidenced by a modest increase among French and German respondents in their desire to work more closely with the United States, as well as a decrease in their opposition to American leadership in world affairs. In addition, given the level of agreement in terms of American attitudes about what France and Germany can do to heal the transatlantic divide, and French and German attitudes about what the U.S. can do to mend the rift, there seems to be ample room to begin a U.S.-European rapprochement. Increased diplomacy and efforts to strengthen the EU’s military capabilities would most likely lie at the heart of any thaw Also promising for U.S.-European relations are the high favorability ratings of both the U.S. and NATO by citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. As the survey details, American, French, and German respondents not only agree on the benefits of these institutions, but they also agree in large part on their problems. This fact alone is good news as these organizations have traditionally helped to buttress the U.S.-European relationship. Revamping and refining these institutions to meet the needs of the 21st century could offer a possible avenue for rebuilding transatlantic ties.

The most interesting finding in the survey is the congruence between American and European attitudes about how to deal with Iran:

Respondents were asked to choose between two courses of action for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. One choice, described as supported by many American policymakers, included the threat of military action. The other, “European” choice emphasized diplomacy and soft power. Despite the identification of the first option as the “American” choice, only 30% of American respondents selected this course. Fifty-five percent of Americans supported the “European” approach, as did 82% of French and 91% of the German respondents. American support for a “soft power” strategy vis-à-vis Iran went up even further when the supporters of military action were offered a chance to change their position in return for European support on keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Over 39% of Americans who initially chose the “American” position were willing to change their approach in order to gain the support of European allies.

You can read the summary essay by clicking here -- and here's a link to the topline survey results.

FULL DISCLOSURE: This seems an appropriate moment to mention that I was recently named a non-resident transatlantic fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Furthermore, "During his time with GMF, he will advise on the design and analysis of public opinion surveys on foreign policy and collaborate with the Trade and Development program on the transatlantic trade relationship." Which means that one of my responsibilities was offering my (minor) input to this survey instrument.

posted by Dan at 10:54 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (3)

Sunday, February 6, 2005

The positive spillovers of Iraq's elections

Iraq had its first free election a week ago -- and the Washington Post has two stories suggesting that positive reverberations from that event are being felt in and out of Iraq.

Inside Iraq, Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck report that many who rejected the elections before they happened now want to participate in politics:

The leading Shiite candidate to become Iraq's next prime minister welcomed overtures on Saturday by groups that boycotted national elections and declared that he and others were willing to offer "the maximum" to bring those largely Sunni Arab groups into the drafting of the constitution and participation in the new government....

Abdel-Mehdi's comments were the latest to suggest a departure from the escalating political tension, much of it assuming a sectarian cast, that mirrored the insurgency and preceded Iraq's parliamentary elections. Many Sunni Arabs stayed away from the polls, crystallizing the divide between groups that engaged in the U.S.-backed process and those opposed to it while U.S. troops occupy the country.

Beginning this week, however, influential figures among Sunni and anti-occupation factions signaled their willingness to take part in the process that has followed the election, a recognition by some that the vote may have created a new dynamic. The Association of Muslim Scholars, one of the most powerful groups, has said it would abide by the results of the ballot, even if it viewed the government as lacking legitimacy. Thirteen parties, including a representative of the association and other parties that boycotted the vote, agreed Thursday to take part in the drafting of the constitution, which will be the parliament's main task.

"We should respect the choice of the Iraqi people," said Tariq Hashemi, the secretary general of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, which withdrew from the election but which was still listed on the ballot.

The "drafting of the constitution is a very important issue for all Iraqis, and we have to be very clear on that," Hashemi said at a news conference Saturday. "We will have a role, we will play a role. That role depends on the political circumstances."

Meanwhile, Robin Wright reports that the elections have also had a salutory effect on the transatlantic relationship:

The war over the war is almost over.

Courtesy of the large turnout in Iraq's election a week ago, the United States and key European allies are beginning to make up after two years of bitterly strained relations over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In large part because of the images of millions of Iraqis voting in defiance of insurgents, Condoleezza Rice's debut in Europe as secretary of state is being greeted with striking warmth and a rush of expectations about the healing of transatlantic ties.

"Irrespective of what one thought about the military intervention in Iraq in the first place," Germany is "strongly ready. . . to help Iraq to get toward this stable and hopefully democratic development," Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said at a news conference with Rice in Berlin on Friday.

In an editorial Saturday, the influential Warsaw newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza said that "by going to the polling stations in such large numbers, the Iraqi people helped settle the dispute between the United States and Europe over whether democracy can be reconciled with Islam. Thanks to them, the 'de-freezing' of transatlantic relations could happen earlier than even optimists expected."

More weeks like this, and Jon Stewart's head may have to implode.

posted by Dan at 01:11 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, February 5, 2005

The Federal Reserve tackles the current account deficit

I've been a worrywart about the size of the current account deficit -- but yesterday Alan Greenspan said the currency markets and I should relax. Andrew Balls and Chris Giles explain why in the Financial Times:

Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, on Friday played down concerns over the US trade deficit ahead of the meeting of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven leading countries.

Speaking in London, Mr Greenspan stressed that the combination of market forces and greater budgetary discipline in the US should allow a reduction in global economic imbalances. Officials from other G7 countries repeated calls for more urgent action to address the US's current account and budget deficits....

Mr Greenspan suggested that European companies may soon choose to defend their profit margins as the dollar weakens, rather than protect market share.

If US exporters similarly boosted market share abroad, this would begin to close the trade deficit. “Market forces [appear] poised to stabilise and over the longer run possibly to decrease the US current account deficit and its attendant financing requirements,” he told an audience of business leaders.

Here's a link to the full text of Greenspan's speech. Some highlights:

To understand why the nominal trade deficit--the nominal dollar value of imports minus exports--has widened considerably since 2002, even as the dollar has declined, we must consider several additional factors. First, partly as a legacy of the dollar's previous strength, the level of imports exceeds that of exports by about 50 percent. Thus exports must grow half again as quickly as imports just to keep the trade deficit from widening--a benchmark that has yet to be met. Second, as is well-documented, the responsiveness of U.S. imports to U.S. income exceeds the responsiveness of U.S. exports to foreign income; this difference leads to a tendency--even if the United States and foreign economies are growing at about the same rate--for the growth of U.S. imports to exceed that of our exports. Third, as of late, the growth of the U.S. economy has exceeded that of our trading partners, further reinforcing the factors leading imports to outstrip exports. Finally, our import bill has expanded significantly as oil prices have risen in recent years....

The voice of fiscal restraint, barely audible a year ago, has at least partially regained volume. If actions are taken to reduce federal government dissaving, pressures to borrow from abroad will presumably diminish....

Interestingly, the change in U.S. home mortgage debt over the past half-century correlates significantly with our current account deficit. To be sure, correlation is not causation, and there have been many influences on both mortgage debt and the current account. Nevertheless, over the past two decades, major innovations in the United States have improved the availability and lowered the costs of home mortgages. These developments likely spurred homeowners to tap increasing home equity to finance consumer expenditures beyond home purchase. In contrast, mortgage debt is not so readily available among our trading partners as a vehicle to finance consumption expenditures....

[N]umerous issues that have arisen with respect to the adjustment of the U.S. current account remain unresolved. One is the effect of Asian official purchases of dollars in support of their currencies. Such intervention may be supporting the dollar and U.S. Treasury bond prices somewhat, but the effect is difficult to pin down. Another issue is the influence of still-growing globalization, arguably one of the key factors that has facilitated the financing of the U.S. current account deficit. There is little evidence that the growth of globalization has yet slowed.

The dramatic advances over the past decade in virtually all measures of globalization have resulted in an international economic environment with little relevant historical precedent. I have argued elsewhere that the U.S. current account deficit cannot widen forever but that, fortunately, the increased flexibility of the American economy will likely facilitate any adjustment without significant consequences to aggregate economic activity. That argument will be tested, I suspect, by possibly new twists and turns that will emerge in a seemingly ever-more complex international economic and financial structure.

However, Greenspan footnoted the same article to which Brad DeLong links -- "Expansionary Fiscal Shocks and the Trade Deficit," by Christopher J. Erceg; Luca Guerrieri; Christopher Gust. The paper's punchline:

Our salient finding is that a fiscal deficit has a relatively small effect on the U.S. trade balance, irrespective of whether the source is a spending increase or tax cut. In our benchmark calibration, we find that a rise in the fiscal deficit of one percentage point of GDP induces the trade balance to deteriorate by less than 0.2 percentage point of GDP. Noticeably larger effects are only likely to be elicited under implausibly high values of the short-run trade price elasticity.

If the paper is correct, then the alleged return to fiscal sanity doesn't matter all that much.

Of course, the crux of Greenspan's argument is that European firms can't afford to cut prices to counterbalance an appreciating Euro. He may well be correct, and I hope he's right -- because China won't be devaluing revaluing the yuan anytime soon:

The US has been campaigning strongly for China to unhook its currency, the yuan, from the US dollar as soon as possible. US Treasury Department officials led by John Taylor, the under-secretary for international affairs, pushed their case yesterday during talks with People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan and Chinese Finance Minister Jin Renqing.

The US emphasised that market forces are important and will help China as it grows into the world’s largest developing economy, a senior treasury official said after the talks. The official said the US acknowledged China has taken steps but the US isn’t yet satisfied.

Zhou, however, hinted in his speech that China will be asking for a reprieve. He did not address the issue directly, but said China needed more time to reform its economy – a position Chinese officials have maintained in the run-up to the meeting, where China has guest status.


posted by Dan at 12:10 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Old-time football

I've been happy as a clam not paying that much attention to the Super Bowl hype. It's not that I'm not interested in the game -- it's just that I'm interested in the game and not the two weeks of media overkill preceding the game.

That said, there is one brand of story I always find interesting -- interviews with retired football players who bemoan how the game has changed. A classic example of this genre is legendary Eagle Chuck Bednarik. The Associated Press' Dan Gelston reports that Badnarik doesn't want the current incarnation of the team to win:

Chuck Bednarik holds a grudge only slightly larger than his legacy as the last of the 60-minute men....

He also is protective of his Hall of Fame legacy. While he boasts about playing both center and linebacker for part of his 14-year career, Bednarik is equally as proud to have played on the last Eagles team to win a championship (1960).

That's why Bednarik will be rooting against the Eagles in the Super Bowl against New England. He has no desire to ever see the franchise win another title.

"I can't wait until the Super Bowl is over," said Bednarik, who played for the Eagles from 1949 to 1962. "I hope the 1960 team remains the last one to win. I hope it stays that way."

Bednarik admits he's jealous and resentful about the salaries and spotlight today's players receive, calling them "overpaid and underplayed." Bednarik says he never made more than $27,000 and supplemented his income with an afternoon job selling concrete, earning him the nickname "Concrete Charlie."

Read the whole thing -- I think it's safe to say the Bednarik doesn't pull any punches. He also sounds like the last person with whome you'd want to be stuck in an elevator. [Yeah... think of him as the anti-Salma--ed.]

If Bednarik seems a bit too "old school" for modern fans, SI's Peter King looks at former Los Angeles Ram Jack Youngblood -- whose comeback from injury makes Terrell Owens look like a complete wuss:

Youngblood snapped his left leg in the second quarter of a 1979 playoff game at Dallas, then played the next two-and-a-half games with the leg tightly wrapped. Now, six weeks after surgery to repair a broken leg and damaged ankle ligaments, Philadelphia wideout Terrell Owens will attempt to play Sunday in Super Bowl XXXIX.

I will get to the specifics of Youngblood's tale in a moment. It's a great story, and because it happened 25 years ago, there are probably an awful lot of you out there who don't know it very well, or at all. But I thought the most interesting thing I noticed in conversing with the Hall of Fame defensive end was the edge I caught in his voice when I asked him what sort of advice he'd have for Owens right now, seeing as though there's only been one guy in history to play in a Super Bowl with an honest-to-goodness broken leg, and he was the guy.

"To be honest,'' Youngblood said, "it's hard to compare my injury to [Owens']. He's been out of the game for what, five weeks? He's been convalescing. After four weeks, an amputation should be healed. Shouldn't it?''


Definitely read the whole thing. As someone who has suffered the exact same injury that Youngblood did, let me just say that I'm very impressed with Youngblood's threshhold for pain.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, February 4, 2005

February's books of the month

This month's international relations book is an easy call -- Stephen D. Krasner's Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Since Krasner was appointed to be the State Department's Director of Policy Planning this week, it seems fitting for people to take a look at his most recent sole-authored book.

This would be particularly useful because if there is one thing the DC press corps sucks eggs at, it's parsing out the policy implications of academic writings. For exhibit A, consider Al Kamen's column from a few weeks ago which tried to uncover Krasner's thoughts about foreign policy from his latest article in Foreign Policy. Key paragraph:

[T]hough [Krasner] has long been respected as a premier thinker firmly in the realist camp, his latest views on preventive war seem to be more in sync with the Pentagon's, judging from his article in the most recent issue of Foreign Policy. In that piece, Krasner speculates on what would happen if terrorists set off nuclear explosions here and in New Delhi, Berlin and Los Angeles.

Well, the last thing I would want in a director of policy planning is to have someone who.... plans out contingencies for future world-historical events.

Now, before I anounce my general interest book, would everyone under the age of 18 please go click over somewhere else right now. Go ahead, I'll wait....

OK, adults only? Here's the thing -- I had a general interest book all picked out -- and then I checked my mail today and saw a very thick envelope. In it was a copy of Paul Joannides' The Guide to Getting It On!.

The accompanying note reads as follows:

Dr. Drezner,

With two young children, a wife, a beagle, your academic background, and a blog that's long enough to gag a UN hooker, you need to have a copy of the Guide somewhere on your shelves.


Goofy Foot Press

This is how my life has changed since starting a blog -- in the same week, I can go from appearing on C-SPAN to receiving gratis copies of sex manuals.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I have a small, deeply disturbed following.

[Say, maybe you could put that "blog that's long enough to gag a UN hooker" among your praiseworthy reviews!!--ed. No, no I really couldn't.]

posted by Dan at 05:04 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (1)

Thursday, February 3, 2005

Speaking of Egypt...

This was one of the more interesting paragraphs in Bush's State of the Union:

To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

The lines about Egypt and Saudi Arabia were nicely phrased, in that they represented a challenge to the regimes there.

Coincidentally enough, the Wall Street Journal has a front-pager by Karby Leggett on Egypt's economic reforms. From the opening, it appears that Egypt's latest prime minister is adopting a much more market-friendly posture:

When Ahmed Nazif was appointed prime minister of Egypt last year, it came as a surprise. Mr. Nazif, 52 years old, was the youngest of 32 ministers in the previous government. His name hadn't appeared on any of the internal U.S. embassy briefs handicapping the leadership race.

What Mr. Nazif did next was even more surprising: He introduced the most far-reaching economic changes in Egypt's modern history, cutting customs tariffs by 40%, signing a trade deal with Israel and the U.S., and chopping income taxes in half. Now he's planning more painful steps. He wants to slash the government payroll and scale back subsidies on everyday goods.

The moves are designed to spur foreign investment and coax Egypt's long-dormant economy to life. "Egypt is open for business," says the Canadian-educated prime minister.

Sounds good -- but what about democracy? Here's where things get sticky:

Economic change doesn't necessarily mean political change. In the wake of Iraq's election, in which voters chose freely from a wide range of candidates, attention is turning to Arab states such as Egypt where the government keeps a leash on political competition. Mr. Nazif argues that if Egypt gives full rein to democracy before prosperity spreads, an "organized minority" -- referring to Islamic fundamentalists -- might take over. He says "nobody in his right mind today would be against democracy" but "when and how is the real challenge."

Egyptian intellectuals and government officials speculate that Mr. Mubarak is hoping for an economic revival to pave the way for his son to take over from him one day. The president has repeatedly denied that he wants to hand power to his son. He has also ruled out significant changes to the political system.

So, what does the U.S. do? Hope that the economic reforms trigger future political reforms, or apply more leverge on the Mubarak regime -- even if a more democratic government might not pursue such market-friendly policies?

posted by Dan at 11:03 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (2)

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Comment on the State of the Union -- and then watch C-SPAN!!

Feel free to comment on President Bush's State of the Union address here. Oh, and CNN's Michael Coren reports breaking news -- bloggers will apparently be providing some real-time commentary on the speech!!

Yours truly will not be live-blogging the SOTU -- but loyal readers will be able to hear my thoughts on the speech (and the Democratic response) if you tune into C-SPAN for the post-speech coverage. I'm batting second in their reaction line-up -- Ramesh Ponnuru leads off and Brad DeLong will come third. As These two have clashed in the past, think of me as providing a temporal de-militarized zone of pundity!

UPDATE: Well that was painless -- except for my near-total lack of coherence on the final question.

Quick take:

1) The foreign policy section was stronger than the domestic section;

2) That hug between Safia Taleb al-Suhail and Janet Norwood was the high moment of the evening for me [Yeah, but they got their sleeves tangled up--ed. Yes, but even that small moment of awkwardness was endearing.]

3) I find it depressing that the word "trade" wasn't in the SOTU, and yet Senator Reid brought it up as a negative ("Jobs going to India and China!" but Reid still wants better relations with other countries) within the first five minutes of his response;

4) I'm a bit worried about the mental health of C-SPAN's callers.

Otherwise, Jeff Jarvis pretty much captured my take.

posted by Dan at 03:49 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

So you say that markets dominate the world....

Those who rejoice and those who reject the supposed triumph of market forces in the global economy would be wise to remember that, "Three of the most important prices in the world economy are set by means other than markets." To see which markets these are, read the Economist story from which this quotation is taken.

Of course, that statement is also an exaggeration -- obviously, market forces have a powerful effect on the prices of oil, capital, and different currencies. It would be more accurate to say that these are three markets where governments exercise significant to monopoly control over the supply of the product in question.

posted by Dan at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

The perfect storm... of fishing regulations

A minor key in the movie (and perhaps the book -- I haven't read it) The Perfect Storm is that one reason the Andrea Gail was lost at sea is that its evil greedhead owner didn't want to save some money and not pay for upkeep on the boat. Certainly, this is a classic theme in fiction -- the poor working slobs are made to suffer because of the greed of capitalist pig-dogs.

I dredge this up because Kirsten Scharnberg has a story in today's Chicago Tribune about a more recent fishing boat accident that claimed five lives. This time, however, the villain appears to be.... excessive regulaions:

Just days before Christmas, five sailors died off the shores of this fabled New England fishing community. Seas were violent; the ship Northern Edge took on water; the sailors were lost even as wives and mothers lit the traditional candles in the windows back home for them.

Because so many fishermen have died on rough seas in this region over the years, funerals have become as much a ritual as candle-lighting. But what has been different in the case of the Northern Edge is the public outcry that has followed.

Even as federal investigators try to piece together the events that led to the region's worst fishing disaster since the 1991 sinking of the ship that inspired the book and movie "The Perfect Storm," fishermen up and down the Eastern Seaboard have speculated that they already know why the men died. Many pin the blame squarely on a new government regulation that penalizes scalloping vessels and costs them potentially tens of thousands of dollars for breaking a trip and returning to shore before catching their limit--even if they are coming back to find safe harbor from inclement weather.

"Regulations have become so rigid for our fishermen that there is no discretion left to them anymore," said Matt Thomas, the city attorney for New Bedford. "They've started to look at fishing like a science, like something they can study in a lab and a beaker, but that's not the way it works with something as volatile as the Atlantic Ocean."

In the midst of this debate, the body that oversees fishing in the region, the New England Fishery Management Council, met Tuesday in New Hampshire. In response to the uproar, the council voted to temporarily reverse the controversial rule pending a review by regulators at the National Marine Fisheries Service. For now, no penalty will be levied against fishermen who leave before catching their limit for any reason.

Regulations like the one for scallopers have become increasingly common in recent decades. Dubbed the "broken trip" rule, it was put in place to limit the number of trips scallopers make into waters that also contained high numbers of endangered ground fish, which live at the sea bottom, such as cod and haddock that inadvertently get caught in scalloping nets.

Read the whole thing -- regulation is not the only culprit, but it's a biggie. [C'mon, how bad could it be?--ed. Barney Frank thinks the regulations are excessive.]

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

This is just sick. Sick, sick, sick, sick, sick.

I must congratulate Maggie Haberman of the New York Daily News for reporting a story that leaves me pretty much speechless. My only thought: this is not a good day for the Tribe.

[What, no excerpt?--ed. Not with this story -- you'll have to click on it yourself. Here's a link to the less lurid but also less informative wire service account.]

posted by Dan at 10:04 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

The hopes and fears of libertarians in Bush's second term

Back in late November, Reason magazine asked "a variety of pundits, pols, and profs to tell us their biggest hopes and fears for the next four years." Click here to see the answers in the February 2005 edition of the magazine. Contributors include Vernon Smith, Nadine Strossen, Tyler Cowen, Virginia Postrel, Jacob Levy, Heather MacDonald, Glenn Reynolds.... and yours truly.

Go check it out.

posted by Dan at 12:32 AM | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

What would you like to ask Mr. Anonymous?

Because he's giving a talk at the Program on International Security Policy, I'm going to have 45 minutes or so to chat one-on-one with Michael Scheuer -- a.k.a., Mr. "Anonymous", a.k.a., author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terrorism.

I've blogged about the book in the past, but I'll admit that I haven't had time to read the book, nor have I been paying much attention to him since the book was released. So, I'm blegging for good questions from loyal readers -- and I'll be sure to post his answers.

UPDATE: As the graduate student who escorted him to me whispered into my ear, "What a nice, nice man!" I wasn't able to ask him all of your questions, but here are some quick responses (NOTE: I'm summarizing his views; I'm not saying I necessarily agree with them):

1) On what he'd change in Imperial Hubris: Scheuer's biggest regret was that he wasn't harder on the Saudis. In his opinion, the Saudi lobby is as influential as the Israel lobby in influencing foreign policy. He also acknowledged that taking on the Saudis would have blunted charges of anti-Semitism.

2) On Afghanistan: Scheuer doesn't think he's wrong. He argues that the presidential election hardened ethnic cleavages in the country, and the legislative elections in the spring will merely enhance that effect. As for the Taliban, he argues that it took the mujahideen 3-4 years to have the capacity to wage a widespread insurgency against the Soviets. In other words, "Wait a year or two and I'll be proven correct."

3) On the popularity of bin Laden: Scheuer believes that satellite TV is proving to be a major asset for bin Laden, and U.S. policy is also a major source of recruitment. The lack of personnel with training in the Middle East has exacerbated this. For example, the post-Iraq invasion removal of U.S. forces from Saudi Arabia has not mollified Islamic traditionalists horrified at the thought of "infidels" near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina -- because U.S. forces are still present in Kuwait and Qatar. Even through they may not be in Saudi territory, to Islamists the the Arabian peninsula is what matters, not the modern political borders of Saidi Arabia.

4) On intelligence reform: He ain't happy with what's been proposed -- to be more specific, he finds it outrageous that the 9/11 survivors have had so much influence over the process. "Intelligence reform by Oprah" is the way he put it. Historically, it would have been the equivalent of FDR asking the widows of Pearl Harbor servicemen to revamp intelligence bavk in the 40's.

More later if I get a chance.

posted by Dan at 12:31 PM | Comments (26) | Trackbacks (1)