Thursday, March 31, 2005

Warding off the dark lords of dark chocolate

Fifteen minutes ago I felt a rare craving for a candy bar, and went to buy one. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Twix has introduced a dark chocolate version of their candy bar.

Apparently, the dark chocolate Twix is part of a larger trend. Julie Scelfo explains in Newsweek:

All his life, Jason Judkins was seeking something, but he was looking in all the wrong places, like vending machines. "Usually between 2 and 3 o'clock I'd eat a Snickers, a Three Musketeers or a Twix," he recalls. "Then after dinner I'd have chocolate cake, or Hershey's Nuggets, or ice cream with Hershey's syrup." But that was before his first taste of a dark-chocolate truffle from The Cocoa Tree, an artisanal candy store in his town of Franklin, Tenn. Made fresh on the premises from dark chocolate and organic cream and butter, it made his mouth "explode" with tastes he'd never gotten from an M&M. Of course, he could have bought a lot of M&Ms for the price of a single truffle, $1.80 plus tax. But these days he is satisfied with chocolate only a couple of times a week instead of twice a day, and since each piece is 10 times as good, he's way ahead.

Long after iceberg gave way to arugula, candy remained defiantly retro: cheap, garishly wrapped and tasting just like it did when you were a kid. But eventually, connoisseurship touches everything. The symbol of this revolution is dark chocolate, intensely flavored with cocoa, fragrant and complex. Comparing it with milk chocolate—also made from cocoa, but diluted with milk powder, lecithin and much more sugar—is like comparing wine with grape soda. Once dark chocolate was an obscure and furtive passion that involved haunting drugstores for a stray Lindt bar. Now grocery stores carry Dagoba Organic Chocolate at up to $4.40 for a two-ounce bar, or the Chocovic Ocumare, which caters to the obsessive chocolate snob by listing its cocoa content (71 percent) and the type of bean (Venezuelan Criollo) on the wrapper. Sales of high-end chocolates have risen 20 percent each year since 2001, says Clay Gordon, who runs the Web site. And the revolution has reached even the mass marketers. Hershey's introduced dark-chocolate Kisses in 2003; this year Mars is rolling out dark versions of Twix and, yes, even M&Ms. "Americans have spent the last 10 years educating themselves about wine, olive oil and cheese," says Gordon. "Attention is finally turning to chocolate. The surprise is it's taken this long."

....Indeed, anyone with a dollar or two can taste the artisanal truffles of Legacy Chocolates in Menomonie, Wis., or Moonstruck Chocolate Co. in Portland, Ore., or any number of other local chocolatiers now dotting the mallscape. ("Truffle" typically means a soft chocolate confection dusted in cocoa powder; filled chocolates are better described, simply, as "bonbons.") Biting into one, you immediately understand why chocolate has been associated with sex at least since 1519, when the Aztec emperor, Montezuma, became renowned for the vast quantities of hot "xoco latl" he drank before visiting his harem. The rich taste and intoxicating aroma arouse the senses, immediately bestowing pleasure upon the eater. This experience has given rise to a new type of customer, capable of integrating chocolate consumption into a normal, healthy lifestyle, like those French women who don't get fat. (emphasis added)

As a lifelong dark chocolate afficionado, I fear this to be a bad, bad, bad, bad, delicious trend. The dearth of dark chocolate opportunities has to date been an effective constraint on excessive chocolate consumption. The proliferation of dark chocolate "microbrews" could overwhelm my feeble abstinence instinct -- this is the candy equivalent of Salma Hayek showing up on my doorstep wearing nothing but a terrycloth robe and asking for a foot massage.

My only viable strategy might be to insist on consuming only very gourmet chocolates. [You could just exercise more and eat less. Or you could be like Virginia Postrel and eat more spinach--ed. No one likes it when you act like a rational editor.]

posted by Dan at 04:14 PM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (1)

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The decline of Harvard and the return of COFHE

Between my junior and senior years at Williams College, I was an intern for the Office of the Provost. It was there I found out about the Consortium for Financing Higher Education (COFHE), a little-known organization of elite schools that pooled data on admissions, tuition, and the like. When I was working there, COFHE was twitchy about being subject to antitrust investigations, but that died down in the late eighties. As the COFHE website suggests, this is an organization that doesn't really like to advertise its existence.

I hadn't thought about COFHE for at least a decade -- until I saw this Boston Globe story by Marcella Bombardieri:

Student satisfaction at Harvard College ranks near the bottom of a group of 31 elite private colleges, according to an analysis of survey results that finds that Harvard students are disenchanted with the faculty and social life on campus.

An internal Harvard memo, obtained by the Globe, provides numerical data that appear to substantiate some long-held stereotypes of Harvard: that undergraduate students often feel neglected by professors, and that they don't have as much fun as peers on many other campuses.

The group of 31 colleges, known as the Consortium on Financing Higher Education, or COFHE, includes all eight Ivy League schools, other top research universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford, and small colleges like Amherst and Wellesley.

''Harvard students are less satisfied with their undergraduate educations than the students at almost all of the other COFHE schools," according to the memo, dated Oct. 2004 and marked ''confidential." ''Harvard student satisfaction compares even less favorably to satisfaction at our closest peer institutions."

The 21-page memo, from staff researchers at Harvard to academic deans, documents student dissatisfaction with faculty availability, quality of instruction, quality of advising, and student life factors such as sense of community and social life on campus.

The raw data used in the memo come from surveys of graduating seniors in 2002, but are the most recent comparison available and are still consulted by Harvard administrators. On a five-point scale, Harvard students' overall satisfaction comes out to 3.95, compared to an average of 4.16 for the other 30 COFHE schools. Although the difference appears small, Harvard officials say they take the ''satisfaction gap" very seriously.

Only four schools scored lower than Harvard, but the schools were not named. (COFHE data are supposed to be confidential.) The memo also notes that Harvard's ''satisfaction gap" has existed since at least 1994.

On the five-point scale, Harvard students gave an average score of 2.92 on faculty availability, compared to an average 3.39 for the other COFHE schools. Harvard students gave a 3.16 for quality of instruction, compared to a 3.31 for the other schools, and a 2.54 for quality of advising in their major, compared to 2.86 for the other schools.

Students gave Harvard a 2.62 for social life on campus, compared to a 2.89 for the other schools, and a 2.53 for sense of community, compared to 2.8.

I'm dying to know where the University of Chicago came out in those rakings. If the U of C -- a place at which the logo "Where Fun Comes to Die" appears on many a t-shirt -- ranks higher than Harvard in terms of satisfaction, then Harvard really has some catching up to do.

posted by Dan at 11:21 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

As the Sciavo commentary descends into silliness....

In recent decades, the appearance of Jesse Jackson has been a useful leading indicator of a political issue degenerating into complete silliness.

In this case, however, the conclusive signal about the sheer idiocy of most of the Schiavo commentary comes from today's Chicago Tribune op-ed page. In it, David Martin publishes his living will, which includes the following:

I want it to be known that I fear degradation, indignity and political hypocrisy far more than death. I ask my medical attendants to bear this in mind when considering what my intentions would be in any uncertain situation.

If the time comes when I can no longer communicate, this declaration shall be taken as a testament to my wishes regarding medical care. If it is the opinion of two independent doctors who are not U.S. senators that there is no reasonable prospect of my recovery from severe physical illness, or from impairment expected to cause me severe distress or render me incapable of rational existence, then I direct that I be allowed to die and not be kept alive by artificial means such as life-support systems, tube feeding, resuscitation or hastily passed, politically motivated federal legislation....

I wish the following persons to be avoided at all costs in the event of uncertainty about my wishes:

Dr. Bill Frist, U.S. Senate, Washington

Tom DeLay, House of Representatives, Washington

George W. Bush, the White House, Washington

OK, this is pretty much the kind of thing I predicted would happen, but let's skip that.

What got me was Martin's byline: "David Martin is a lawyer who lives in Ottawa, Canada."

Now, whilethe U.S., Canada, and Mexico have recently pledged greater security and economic integration, I'm still pretty sure that no one living in Ottawa, Canada really has to worry about a Schiavo-type scenario happening.

[C'mon, wasn't Martin just being a smart-ass -- a type of behavior with which you're familiar?--ed. Yes, but to be a good smart-ass one must have the comedy equivalent of legal standing -- and Martin doesn't.]

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Bill James and I, two peas in a pod

Via David Pinto and Balls, Sticks, & Stuff, I came across an extended interview of Bill James, the godfather of sabremetrics and a consultant to the world champion Boston Red Sox.

Given James's long advocacy of using statistical techniques to gauge the value of baseball players, he provides a surprising response to the question of why Boston was able to overcome it's 0-3 deficit against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series:

Interviewer: I have to ask you this. On an internet baseball fan site, I recently saw you quoted to the effect that veteran leadership had enabled the Red Sox to come back from down 0-3 in the ALCS. But, in that forum, the immediate response was to doubt your sincerity. Bill couldn't mean that! And these were people who held you in high regard. Are you resigned to your reputation at this point in time?

Bill James: Well, believe it or not, I don’t worry about my reputation in that sense. I’ll let that take care of itself.

This is probably a long-winded answer, but I’ll try to explain it this way. If I were in politics and presented myself as a Republican, I would be admired by Democrats by but despised by my fellow Republicans. If I presented myself as a Democrat, I would popular with Republicans but jeered and hooted by the Democrats.

I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world—a paradigm, if you will—and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories—no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.

As in politics we have left and right—neither of which explains the world or explains how to live successfully in the world—in baseball we have the analytical camp and the traditional camp, or the sabermetricians against the scouts, however you want to characterize it. I created a good part of the analytical paradigm that the statistical analysts advocate, and certainly I believe in that paradigm and I advocate it within the Red Sox front office. But at the same time, the real world is too complicated to be explained by that paradigm.

It is one thing to build an analytical paradigm that leaves out leadership, hustle, focus, intensity, courage and self-confidence; it is a very, very different thing to say that leadership, hustle, courage and self-confidence do not exist or do not play a role on real-world baseball teams. The people who think that way. . .not to be rude, but they’re children. They may be 40-year-old children, they may be 70-year-old children, but their thinking is immature. (emphasis added)

James's complete answer is interesting to baseball fans, but I kept returning to that bolded section and unconsciously nodding my head.

posted by Dan at 03:02 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, March 28, 2005

Republicans and their discontents

Via Glenn Reynolds, I see that over at Daily Pundit, Bill Quick has eleven laments about the current incarnation of the Republican party. Go check them out. I don't agree with all of them, but obviously I agree with enough of them to post about it. The third one -- "The deadly combination of establishing huge new permanent expenditures while at the same time cutting taxes, thereby guaranteeing massive new debt for future taxpayers" is the one that really kills me.

Quick closes as follows:

The Republicans are no longer the party of small, limited government, fiscal sanity, states and individual rights, and the Constitution. In their own way, they have become as bloated, hypocritical, invasive, and spendthrift as much of the worst the Democrats have to offer.

If you think there must be some alternative, I am with you, and I would like to find one. That means we have to create an interest group of moderates and libertarians who become crucial to the balance of power. If we hold the keys to the electability of candidates from the right and the left, then both sides must listen to us.

Am I suggesting the formation of a new party? No, not at the moment. But we do have tools available to us, most especially the Internet and blogs., as much as I dislike its goals, has perfected these as a method of exerting enormous influence. It has, in effect, taken over the machinery of the Democratic party. What they did, we can do as well, and I am proposing that we do it.

Quick makes an intriguing parallel -- but I'm unconvinced that, judging by either electoral or ideational outcomes, the growth of the left blogosphere and other Internet sites has been particularly beneficial for the Democratic party. These groups' biggest successes have been: a) increased voter turnout in November 2004; and b) ensuring a solid Democratic bloc to prevent Social Security reform. Against those successes, the Dean self-immolation, the electoral losses in November, and the party line demanding an exit option from Iraq ASAP count as failures.

I agree with Quick on the substance, but even as a blogger I'm not convinced the process would be beneficial

posted by Dan at 02:39 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (2)

The Bush administration and the fourth wave

Dexter Filkins in the New York Times and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber make useful points about the precise relationship between U.S. foreign policy, international organizations, and the nascent fourth wave of democratization. This leads to an intriguing policy proposal, but let's put that aside until the end of the post.

Filkins asks whether the elections in Iraq triggered the demonstration of people power in Lebanon and concludes in the negative. He observes that Lebanon's political culture was far more democratic for a far longer time than Iraq's. However, this does not mean that U.S. foreign policy is irrelevant:

In an echo of the ambivalence many Iraqis feel about the American presence in their country, many Lebanese are skeptical of American intentions. Not least among their reasons is what they regard as the acquiescence of the United States to the continuation of Syria's military presence here in 1990, in exchange for Syria's joining the coalition that was then being built to oust Mr. Hussein from Kuwait.

"The Syrians had a mandate from the United States" to keep their troops in Lebanon, said a former Lebanese minister who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

For many Lebanese, what made significant change possible in Lebanon was not the elections in Iraq, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted the Bush administration to re-examine its reluctance to challenge the Syrian regime, as well as other Arab dictatorships that had backed terrorist groups. When the Lebanese began calling for a Syrian withdrawal, the Syrian government had to defy not just the Lebanese people, but the United States as well.

For that reason, more than a few Lebanese believe, President Bush's demands are proving decisive in driving the Syrians out. "This enthusiasm for democracy may not happen again," said Khalil Karam, professor of international relations at University of St. Joseph here, speaking of American foreign policy. "Without it, we could not stop Syria."

Back at Mr. Hariri's tomb, Mr. Salha, the factory worker, offered his own grudging invitation, if only to ensure that his homeland finally frees itself of Syrian domination.

"We are not against Bush," Mr. Salha said. "If he wants to make us safe and free, that's great. Let him do it."

Farrell links to a Financial Times story by Stefan Wagstyl that points out the regional (i.e., post-Soviet) nature of these revolutions. Farrell acknowledges that, "US policy has had some indirect effects – the US support for regime change in Georgia has probably had unanticipated consequences as Georgia became an example of change for other countries in the post-Soviet space."

Farrell, however, then goes on to observe the useful role that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has played in the post-Soviet space:

After the Iron Curtain crumbled, participating states in the OSCE agreed on a set of new, beefier normative commitments that were supposed to support democracy, and that allowed certain kinds of limited internal intervention within countries (a High Commissioner on National Minorities; election monitoring) in order to shore up democracy where it was weak. Some countries – especially in Central Asia – then slid back into various forms of presidential authoritarianism, in which periodic elections rubberstamped continued autocratic rule. Now, however, we’re seeing again how these countries’ previous commitments are having unexpected consequences – OSCE election monitors’ reports are providing a means through which opposition figures can undermine the regime. Since the governments under threat purport to be democracies, they may find themselves in a rather difficult position....

Furthermore, to the extent that the OSCE (rather than simple geographic diffusion) is responsible for this wave of democratization, it probably won’t spread to other parts of the world. It’s a product of the intersection between two sets of institutions and rather specific domestic conditions. The institutions are (a) the strong international commitments that these countries gave to the OSCE in the 1990’s, permitting election monitoring, and (b) the minimal trappings of democracy that these countries maintained. The domestic conditions are a government that is uncertain enough of its control of armed forces and internal security that it can’t be sure that they will obey orders to fire on protesters etc, and a domestic opposition that is capable of acting with some minimal degree of coherence to capitalize on reports of election fraud through protests and other actions. We aren’t likely to see these circumstances repeated elsewhere.

Farrell is correct that the OSCE's geographical remit is bounded. However, I'm not sure his general point stands. The fact is that most countries in the world -- including many in the Arab Middle East -- try to maintain the minimal trappings of democracy, precisely because of its normative power. So that condition is met.

The problem is finding an international organization that has legitimacy and respect within the Middle East that has both the willingness and the opportunity to engage in election monitoring and concomitant activities.

Hey, wait a minute -- how about the United Nations??!! As some of you may recall, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan does want to reform the U.N., and claimed in a report that, "The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world, but this fact is little known." OK, as I said before, that line is pure horses**t, but that doesn't mean it must always be so. The U.N. has some genuine street cred in the Arab parts of the world. Having the U.N. play the role of the OSCE in the Middle East is not as crazy as it first sounds.

Arch-conservatives might be skeptical of the U.N.'s ability to do any good whatsoever, a concern that has some merit. But pushing for the U.N. to take a greater role in election monitoring is precisely the kind of proposal that would resonate with big-government conservatism and perhaps even neoconservatism.

Just a thought.

posted by Dan at 09:50 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The convenient out of "national dialogue "

Richard Clarke recently started a column in the New York Times Magazine on national security issues. His latest effort, on Iran, is a bit frustrating, but I'm on the fence about whether this the fault lies with Clarke or his word count.

Clarke spends the bulk of the article arguing that the invasion of Iraq has served Iran's national interest even better that Amercan interests, and argues that hoping for democratization to overwhelm Iran's mullahs would be foolish. He also takes potshots as the administration's recent decisions to recognize Hezbollah as a political party in Lebanon and allow the EU to take the (temporary) lead on nuclear talks.

With that, here's how Clarke closes:

The president recently said that reports of the United States preparing to attack Iran were ''simply ridiculous.'' He then quickly added, ''All options are on the table.'' There are reports that Pentagon planners, reacting to the prospect of drawn-out negotiations, are developing strike packages to take out W.M.D. sites in Iran. Some planners say such strikes would cause the people to overthrow the mullahs. Actually, if we struck Iran, I think we would unite it, trigger a spasm of terrorist attacks against America and Israel and start another war for which we have no exit strategy. Thus, we need an honest national dialogue now on how much we feel threatened by Iran and what the least-bad approaches to mitigating that threat are. (emphasis added)

Clarke was the NSC Director for Counterterrorism for more than a decade. He's just spent 500 words shredding the administration's menu of Iran policy options. One would think that this would be the right moment for Clarke, a genuine expert on this question, to introduce his own thoughts on the matter. Instead, we get a "national dialogue" cop-out. That's a close second behind "mobilize political willpower" on the list of Grand and Meaningless Policy Proposals. It's particularly odd with regard to Iran, since national dialogues about foreign policy tend to be limited to questions of grand strategy or imminent war.

It's possible that Clarke is fresh out of constructive ideas on this subject. To give him the benefit of the doubt, however, it's also possible that a 700-word limit on his column prevents a fuller explication of his thoughts. My money is on the former -- a savvy columnist would have put in a teaser for a future column devoted solely to this topic -- but I'll give him some benefit of the doubt and see what emerges in future columns.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (2)

Right profession, wrong stage of life

Warren St. John and Alex Williams have a good article in the New York Times Style section about sleep patterns and the character taits that are often incorrectly derived from them. Among the interesting facts:

Whatever the negative associations with sleeping late, scientists say there's good reason to doubt the boasts of the early risers. Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, a sleep researcher at the University of California, San Diego, said that in one study he attached motion sensors to subjects' wrists to determine when they were up and about. While 5 percent of the subjects claimed they were awake before 4 a.m., Dr. Kripke said, the motion sensors suggested none of them were. And while 10 percent reported they were up and at 'em by 5 a.m., only 5 percent were out of bed....

Dr. Kripke said that a 2001 study of adults in San Diego showed no correlation between waking time and income. There's even anecdotal evidence of parity on the world stage; President Bush is said to wake each day at 5 a.m., to be at his desk by 7 and to go to sleep at 10 p.m., while no less an achiever than Russian President Vladimir V. Putin reportedly wakes at 11 a.m. and works until 2 a.m.

Night owls thrive, it seems, by strategizing around the expectations of the early crowd. Bella M. DePaulo, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who goes to sleep around 3 a.m. and wakes about 11 a.m., said that before she answers the phone in the late morning, she practices saying "Hello" out loud until she sounds awake. Ms. DePaulo said she has been a night person since childhood, and that she gravitated toward academia in part of because of her sleep habits.

"Academia is a good place to be if you're out of the mainstream," she said. "If you're doing 80 hours of work a week, what does it matter what 80 hours you work?"

The sleep schedule is certainly one reason why I gravitated towards academia (and blogging, I suppose -- it's a partially nocturnal event). That said, one of the first internal indications I had that I wanted to marry Erika was that I shifted my grad student work habits from a 7PM-2 AM cycle to a 9-5 schedule without complaint.

Unfortunately, the article fails to address the biggest challenge to late-sleepers. It's not the job, it's the children. Any hope of sleeping in for the next decade is pretty much shot to hell.

The advantages for the children are overwhelming, of course -- but that doesn't mean I don't miss the halcyon andbygone era of getting up past ten o'clock in the AM.

posted by Dan at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (2)

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Let's get something clear..

I was remiss before, but it's worth quoting the salient parts of this Tyler Cowen post:

The purpose of our blogging is to circulate ideas that are new, or at least new to us and perhaps to you. But every now and then there is something to be said for sheer repetition of the important. If nothing else, this incursion into the known might make those points more memorable, more salient, or more likely to influence your behavior. So here goes:

Torture is morally wrong, and the U.S. government should not be torturing people or easing the use of torture. And yes I will make an exception for the ticking nuclear time bomb.

And for those who think this is merely an example of the United States "outsourcing" torture to other countries, consider the following Los Angeles Times story by Mark Mazzetti: (which is not about torture per se, but certainly an exanple of what happens when torture is condoned):

The Army has concluded that 27 of the detainees who died in U.S. custody in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002 were the victims of homicide or suspected homicide, military officials said in a report released Friday.

The number is higher than Pentagon officials have acknowledged, and it indicates that criminal acts caused a significant portion of the dozens of prisoner deaths that occurred in U.S. custody.

The report by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command is the first detailed accounting of detainee death cases the military has investigated in those countries.

Most of the incidents cited in the report previously had come to light. Three death cases cited in the documents occurred after the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq revealed serious abuses in the military detention system and prompted several high-level investigations into the U.S. military's prison system worldwide.

The 27 confirmed or suspected homicides occurred during 24 separate incidents, 17 of them in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan. The Criminal Investigation Command has determined that there were homicides in 16 of the incidents and is continuing to investigate the other eight incidents.

So far, the Army has found sufficient evidence to support charges against 21 soldiers in 11 incidents on offenses that include murder, negligent homicide and assault. The five other completed investigations involve personnel from the Navy, other government agencies and foreign armies.

Despite the report, the Army does not plan on prosecuting anyone named.

Here's a thought -- with the Iraqi insurgency looking for an exit option, and with it becoming increasingly clear who's running foreign policy nowadays, perhaps this would be a good time to ease out the guy responsible for this cancer on the military?

posted by Dan at 05:12 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, March 25, 2005

Another day, another vulnerable ex-Soviet republic

If there were an award for Most Quiescent ex-Soviet Population, Belarus would probably just squeak by Turkmenistan for the trophy. Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko rules with an iron fist, but in the past most Belarusians have just shrugged their shoulders in coping with their dictator.

Via Glenn Reynolds comes an Interfax report suggesting that may be about to change:

Members of Belarussian opposition parties and movements and entrepreneurs have joined an unauthorized rally in downtown Minsk to show their support for previously arrested opposition activists and entrepreneurial movement leaders, an Interfax correspondent reported.

Here's a photo:


There are additional reports from Mosnews, Reuters, the Associated Press, and Pravda. The AP has the most detailed account:

About 1,000 pro-democracy protesters [Interfax and Reuters both have the number as only "several hundred"--DD.] tried to gather Friday near the palace of President Alexander Lukashenko, claiming to be emulating the popular uprising in fellow ex-Soviet republic Kyrgyzstan, but they were beaten and dispersed by police in riot gear, and several dozen were arrested.

It took the truncheon-wielding police about two hours to disperse the protesters, who chanted "Down with Lukashenko!'' and "Long live Belarus!'' A group of 100 or so opposition activists regrouped, only to be pushed away a second time.

Protest organizer Andrei Klimov said the demonstration was intended to help spark a revolution similar to those that have swept Georgia, Ukraine and, most recently, Kyrgyzstan, ousting unpopular governments.

"Today's gathering must send a signal to the West, Russia and our own bureaucrats that Belarus is ready for a serious change,'' Klimov said. "Our aim is to start the Belarusian revolution and force the resignation of Lukashenko, the last dictator of Europe.''

Pravda notes wryly that the demonstration took place, "just as the government criticized Kyrgyzstan's opposition for the seizure of power there.... The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on Friday harshly assailed the Kyrgyz opposition, warning that its action could destabilize the entire region. 'The unconstitutional overthrow of the government in Kyrgyzstan could have fatal consequences for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, as well as in the Central Asian region as a whole,' it said."

The cautionary note comes from the Reuters report:

Belarus's opposition takes heart from the protest movements which led to authorities being toppled in other ex-Soviet states -- like Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

But opposition to Lukashenko remains small and divided, with activists fearing repressive measures. A Belarussian identity was crushed under communism and any post-Soviet revolt would be hampered by a lack of the nationalist sentiment present in the other countries.

That assessment seems true to me -- but then again, I didn't think the Ukrainians were going to rise up a few months ago.

The key difference is that, as today's events demonstrate, Lukashenko will have no problem whatsoever with using all the coercive tools at his disposal to stay in power.

Developing -- the fourth wave, that is.....

posted by Dan at 02:54 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (2)

The universality of inane Internet chatter

Hamish McDonald reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Internet afford people the opportunity to make jackasses out of themselves no matter how old the civilization. To be specific, not all Chinese reacted well to Condi Rice's recent trip to Asia:

"How come the United States selects a female chimpanzee as Secretary of State?"

"This black woman thinks rather a lot of herself."

"She's so ugly she's losing face. Even a dog would be put off its dinner while she's being fed."

The 5000 years of civilisation on which the Chinese pride themselves were not so evident this week in the comments on Condoleezza Rice's visit to Beijing posted on the internet site "New Tide Net".

As monitored by the media analyst Liu Xiaobo, the overall tone of the 800 postings was hostile and about 10 per cent were racist, sexist or both, reflecting what Mr Liu calls a pervasive phobia here about dark-skinned races.

Read the whole thing -- not for more quotes like this, but to see how the Chinese leadership has had a bad foreign policy stretch as of late.
Thanks to alert reader P.D. for the link.

posted by Dan at 10:48 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The fourth wave of democratization?

Events in Kyrgyzstan (click here for a useful BBC backgrounder), combined with previous events in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Georgia, are making me wonder if maybe, just maybe, we're at the beginning of the fourth wave of democratization. In his book The Third Wave, Samuel Huntingtion observed that previous moments of democratic regime change took place in clusters. The first (small) wave was in the early 1800's, the second took place immediately after the Second World War, and the third wave started in Southern Europe in 1974 and ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

All waves of democratization are followed by counter-waves, which happened in the mid-to-late nineties, with authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes emerging in a lot of the post-Soviet states. However, the exogenous shock of 9/11, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, and the strong rhetoric of the Bush administration on this front has combined to trigger some serious political change across the Eurasian land mass.

The Kyrgyz example is likely to send chills down the spine of two much larger countries -- Russia and China. In Moscow, Vladimir Putin can't be thrilled with the fact that he can't have a tea break without some country in his near abroad overthrowing a ruler that was on decent terms with Putin. The fact that ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev is reportedly fleeing to Russia will highlight this painful fact.

As for China, Beijing's first preference is not to have a democratic revolution take place in Central Asia so close to Xinjiang -- China's western-most province with plenty of restive Uighurs chafing at Beijing's control. [UPDATE: In somewhat unrelated news, China is also feeling international pressure from it's ham-handed efforts to presure Taiwan.]

Let's be clear -- there's a fair amount of fragility in this nascent fourth wave: Iraq could curdle, Kyrgyzstan could descend into chaos, Hamas could win Palestinian elections, and Lebanon could be split by sectarian strife. The Bush administration's actions may not match their rhetoric. Writing in the International Herald-Tribune, Aaron David Miller points out the resiliency of Arab dictatorships:

By and large the Arab world has proved to be remarkably stable. Hafez al-Assad, the current Syrian president's father, governed with an iron hand longer than all of his predecessors combined; Egypt had only four presidents (all of them authoritarian) in its modern history; at his death King Hussein had governed Jordan for more than 45 years; and in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait royal families control politics and power to this day. While the rest of the world has witnessed dramatic political change, the Arab world seems trapped in limbo. There are now more time-tested democracies in Africa, a continent raked by manmade and natural disasters, than in the Arab world....

It would be nice to hope that the Palestinian and Iraqi models will serve as launching pads for rising democracies; but for the foreseeable future, the odds are against it. Arabs may be excited and fascinated by political ferment in Iraq; but they are also alarmed by the absence of public order, the cacophony of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish voices, and the seemingly irrepressible and violent insurgency. Despite genuine desire among millions of Arabs for greater openness, there will be no rush toward democracy. Nor should we be surprised by the formidable capacity of these authoritarian regimes to quash meaningful reform. In this regard, getting Syria out of Lebanon may well take much longer than many anticipated.

Paradoxically, the Arab-Israeli conflict, which most of these regimes generally want to see resolved, serves as a firebreak against the kind of political reform that many of these regimes don't want. Clearly, when the Arab public is riled up by events in Palestine, it is less focused on events at home. If the Bush administration wants to pursue democratization in the Arab world effectively, it should work to defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict and deny the regimes the ability to use it to avoid political and economic reform.

Then again, as Michael Doran points out in Foreign Affairs online, this whole Palestine-as-pivot-root-causes theory of change in the Middle East just might be hokum:

So far the "lawless unilateralism" of the Bush administration, along with its failure to "deliver" Israeli concessions, has generated not the Arab nationalist backlash that the root-causes school predicted, but the end of the Libyan nuclear program, elections in Palestine and Iraq, a move toward elections in Egypt, and a nationalist uprising against Syrian occupation in Lebanon. These events would seem rather good evidence for the proposition that the Palestinian issue is only one of several important concerns in Middle East politics, not the pivot on which all regional events turn.

The Arab world is in the throes of a prolonged historical crisis, as its societies, economies, and polities struggle to overcome their various internal problems and make a successful transition to modernity. The Palestine-is-central dogma offers little insight into that crisis. Recognizing this, the Bush administration has wisely decoupled the Palestine question from the other major issues that bedevil Arab-American relations. So far this strategy has worked well, bringing benefits to both the United States and many Arabs. By putting the Palestinian issue in its proper perspective, it could even end up helping Palestinians and Israelis as well.


UPDATE: Also be sure to check out Stephen A. Cook's essay in the March/April 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs on how to promote political reform in the Arab Middle East. The abstract:

If President Bush hopes to make good on his promise to bring democracy to the Arab world, he must rethink U.S. strategy, which overemphasizes civil society and economic development. Neither has caused much political liberalization in the Middle East, nor have more punitive measures. To promote Arab democracy, Washington needs a new approach: offering financial incentives for political reform.

posted by Dan at 10:56 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (2)

Noam Chomsky, egomaniacal liar

Via Alina Stefanescu (who has a blog that's worth checking out), I stumbled across this Sunday Herald column by Alan Taylor on Noam Chomsky. The most absurd bits:

We begin by talking about the piece in The American Prospect. “It’s the journal of what they modestly call ‘the decent left’,” he says, oozing contempt. “It’s kind of moderate social democrat and they see themselves as embattled. You know, caught between two powerful forces which are crushing them. One is Dick Cheney, representing the White House, the Pentagon, one of the most powerful forces in history, and the other one – an equal and opposite force – is me. Do you think any intellectual or academic in history has ever received such praise? I mean, it’s way beyond the Nobel Prize. I already got someone to put it on the website. It tells you something about their attitudes. They’re pathetic, frightened, cowardly little people.”

Interesting, I note, that though his face is on the magazine’s cover, his name is nowhere to be seen in the piece. “Oh, no, no, no,” Chomsky says, grinning at my naivety, “you can’t mention it. You can’t mention anything. You can’t read anything. All you can do is report gossip . So you heard some gossip saying that I was in favour of Pol Pot or I support Osama bin Laden. That I’m in favour of [Slobodan] Milosevic. And then you heard it at a dinner party so it must be true."....

Chomsky, one suspects, could continue in this vein ad nauseam. Even now, at an age when most people would rather be in a gated Florida compound than constantly locking horns with the establishment, he persists in banging his head against closed doors. In the US, he is either a pariah or a prophet, “a kind of modern-day soothsayer”, according to his biographer Robert Barsky.

“Unlike many leftists of his generation,” says Barsky, “Chomsky never flirted with movements or organisations that were later revealed to be totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary, anti-revolutionary, and elitist … He has very little to regret. His work, in fact, contains some of the most accurate analyses of this century.” (emphases added).

I'm not sure what Barsky and Chomsky are smoking, but my information about the latter's flirtation with totalitarian, oppressive, exclusionary movements comes from several sources. Click here and here to read about Chomsky's errors of omission and comission with regard to the Khmer Rouge. Click here to read about Chomsky's bizarre theory of why the U.S. supported the Bosnian Muslims. And then there's Stefan Kanfer's takedown of Chomsky from the Summer 2002 City Journal:

[Chomsky] wrote the introduction to a book by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson. Memoire en Defense maintains that Hitler’s death camps and gas chambers, even Anne Frank’s diary, are fictions, created to serve the cause of American Zionists. That was too much for Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who challenged fellow leftist Chomsky to a debate. In the debate, Dershowitz keyed in on the fact that Chomsky had described Faurisson’s conclusions as “findings,” and claimed that they grew out of “extensive historical research.” But as numerous scholars had shown, Faurisson was not a serious scholar at all, but rather a sophist who simply ignored the mountain of documents, speeches, testimony, and other historical evidence that conflicted with his “argument.” Dershowitz noted that Chomsky also wrote the following: “I see no anti-Semitic implication in the denial of the existence of gas chambers or even in the denial of the Holocaust.”

posted by Dan at 10:15 AM | Comments (29) | Trackbacks (2)

So how's Iraqification going, part II

As a follow-up to my previous post on the question of transfering police and security functions to Iraqis, it's worth linking and quoting from Spencer Ackerman's Iraq'd blog. Ackerman -- hardly a fan of the administration's Iraq policy in the past -- was a huge fan of the raid on foreign insurgents that took place yesterday.

Why is Ackerman in such a good mood about this raid?:

It's hard to overstate how fantastic a development this is, but let's try. I wrote last December about insurgent overconfidence. Is this ever a case in point! Insurgents have had their bloodiest successes in urban areas. Establishing training camps in remote locations plays to the strengths of the U.S. military and its Iraqi proteges by offering discrete targets to be wiped off the face of the earth, without the prospect of civilian casualties to inflame the sensibilities of the broader Iraqi population. What's more, according to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, an intelligence tip came from nearby residents about the precise location of the camp, indicating a disgust for the jihadists in the heart of the Sunni Triangle. (We've seen this from civilians before in areas devoid of U.S. troops that the jihadists infest.) And not only did the police commandos lead the raid, they fought for hours despite taking casualties. (Though not many: According to The New York Times, Iraqi commandos went in massively, with a force of between 500 and 700. Seven were killed and six wounded, which should say something about their training and fighting prowess.)

A quick word about the politics of the raid. The apparent isolation of the jihadists from Sunnis in the area is one the most hopeful signs we've gotten yet from Iraq. At the risk of succumbing to wishful thinking, it suggests a fracturing of the insurgency, which is crucial to victory, might be within sight.


posted by Dan at 10:07 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Random Schiavo thought

As the Terry Schiavo case wends its way through the federal court system, there's a thought that keeps nagging at me. Ostensibly, the motivation behind the congressional and presidential decision to intervene was to preserve and broaden the "culture of life," to use the term of art. The March 17th presidential statement essentially makes this argument:

The case of Terri Schiavo raises complex issues. Yet in instances like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws, and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life. Those who live at the mercy of others deserve our special care and concern. It should be our goal as a nation to build a culture of life, where all Americans are valued, welcomed, and protected - and that culture of life must extend to individuals with disabilities.

This is my nagging thought -- could it be possible that making a federal case out of Terry Schiavo actually shrinks the culture of life? I wonder after reading this Chicago Tribune story by Bonnie Miller Rubin:

The wrenching debate over Terri Schiavo has made many people wonder if they can be sure their loved ones would carry out their wishes in a similar situation.

In Schiavo's case, both sides say they are acting as she would want. But without written documents, no one can know for sure, which is precisely why some legal experts are finding themselves busier than usual.

"We've had quite an increase in calls," said John Wank, acting director and general counsel of the Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission, an agency that provides adult guardianship for people who did not appoint their own guardians. "A lot of folks are wondering if what happened in Florida could happen here. And if so, what can they do to prevent such a tragedy?"

Similarly, KWTX in Florida reports an explosion of interest in living wills:

As many as 75 percent of adults in the U.S. have not prepared written directives for their families to follow in the even they become medically incapacitated, experts say, but the publicity surrounding the legal battle over Terri Schiavo in Florida has sparked new interest in such living wills....

A Tallahassee-based agency, Aging with Dignity, has created a living will known as the “Five Wishes,” and has been flooded with orders for the document as the Schiavo case began to make headlines.

The group is sending out more than 2,000 living wills a day and has distributed 1 million copies since the legal fight over Schiavo’s fate burst into the headlines in October 2003.

"We get requests saying, 'We have seen what happened in the Schiavo case and above all, we don't want to see that same tragedy repeat itself in our family,'" Malley said.

Neither of these news stories is definitive. However, if this case has prompted a marked increase in the number of people specifying when they do not want heroic measures used to extend their biological life, then by their actions the Bush administration and both houses of Congress will have retarded rather than extended the culture of life.

Just a thought.

UPDATE: Many comentators, commenters and e-mailers have pointed out that feeding and hydration tubes are not normally thought of as "heroic measures" -- which is true but only underscores my point. If it turns out that the Schiavo case triggers a backlash among most Americans, more people might codify living wills or other legal documents that go beyond the denial of DNRs and heroic measures, and ban additional treatments that are accepted within the medical profession as routine and justifiable.

FINAL UPDATE: This post was inspired in part by the ABC poll showing hostility to federal intervention in this matter. Mickey Kaus provides an excellent collection of links suggesting that the poll question was improperly framed. However, Mystery Pollster disagrees and points to additional polling that reinforces my original point.

posted by Dan at 09:48 AM | Comments (60) | Trackbacks (7)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Kofi Annan's publicist can't be happy

On Monday, Kofi Annan "urged world leaders Monday to implement the boldest changes to the United Nations in its 60-year history" according to the Associated Press. You can see for yourself by clicking on “In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all.” On the plus side, it seems that Annan recognizes that the U.N. Human Rights Commission is a joke and wants to genuinely reform it.

On the other hand, Annan also says in one section of the report (paragraph #151) that, "The United Nations does more than any other single organization to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world, but this fact is little known." To which I must reply, "BWA HA HA HA HA!!! " [Which single organization does more, smart guy?--ed. Well, there's NATO and the European Union for starters -- and before I got even close to the combined set of UN agencies, I'd throw in Mercosur, the Organization of American States, and even the World Trade Organization. To be charitable, I'll give the UN agencies a slight edge over ASEAN, but that's about it.]

However, regardless of the intrinsic merits of Annan's proposal, I'm thinking that this Financial Times story by Claudio Gatti might throw a monkey wrench into generating any policy momentum:

Kojo Annan, son of Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, received at least $300,000 from Cotecna, a Swiss inspection company awarded a contract ultimately worth about $60m under the Iraqi oil-for-food contract.

The amount was almost double the sum previously disclosed, but payments were arranged in ways that obscured where the money came from or whom it went to.

The discovery, in a joint investigation by Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, and the Financial Times, comes as the independent UN inquiry led by Paul Volcker into possible abuses within the oil-for-food programme prepares to publish a new report on this matter.

Glenn Reynolds has more links that will cause headaches for Annan's publicist.

posted by Dan at 09:35 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

Liveblogging the Brookings event

Click here to watch the live webcast of the Brookings Institution panel, "The Impact of the New Media." I'll be liveblogging this event, and to make life easier for the Brookings tech people, newer comments will be higher than the older ones. UPDATE: Now that it's over, I actually prefer doing it with newer comments below rather than above, so I've reconfigured it.

Let the liveblogging.... begin!!!

9:40 AM: OK, let's see.... coffee in mug, pajamas on body [He's liveblogging from home, thank you very much!!--ed.], editor now locked in closet [Mmmmmph!--ed.], earphones plugged in and on head to better hear the webcast, and a feeling of eager excitement that I've beaten my fellow livebloggers to the first post.... yes, yes, I believe I offically am a complete dweeb.

Still fifteen minutes to the Brooking panel itself... there needs to be a word for that soft murmur of voices that precedes any C-SPAN-like event. Readers are encouraged to post posibilities. 9:55 AM: A exclusive -- MUST CREDIT DANIELDREZNER.COM. Ana Marie Cox has chosen the teal shirt for today. That's teal, people. UPDATE: I'm informed that it's green... must be the camera.

10:02 AM: What, they haven't started yet? This would never happen at a University of Chicago faculty meeting!!!

10:07 AM: Let the games begin!!

10:10 AM: Interesting... Dionne points out that Atrios, Kos, Marshall, and Yglesias were invited to live-blog as well but declined... one wonders if this ties into this paper's observation that liberals are also less likely to link to each other. [UPDATE: to be fair, Marshall had a very important engagement this weekend.] Dionne also tries to roil waters by characterizing bloggers as "parasitic" on mainstream media. I prefer the word "symbiotic."

10:15 AM: So Cox is high on Robitussin... again. "Do bloggers make mistakes?" Cox says (paraphrasing), "Duh, yes, but since blogs aren't really a primary source of news, it's not as catastrophic as the MSM believes." Which is true -- but another difference is that bloggers can quickly correct factual errors.

10:20 AM: Shafer approvingly cites Jay Rosen's characterization of blogs as "distributed journalism."

10:23 AM: Jodie T. Allen confesses to being a "web addict"; earlier Shafer states that many journalists Technorati themselves to see who's commenting on their writings.

10:27 AM: Allen makes a shrewd point about the faltering economic model of newspapers... and it's not just bloggers that are threatening them. She frets about the closing of overseas bureaus, which could lead to a decline in factual reporting, because "opinions are a lot cheaper than facts." However, here's the thing -- bloggers often function as superb stringers. The tsunami disaster allowed many bloggers to provide on-the-spot reporting from a breaking news event. Of more concern is whether bloggers would be able to match reporters in reporting on, say, opaque givernments.

10:30 AM: "Blogging is traditional; podcasting is new media" Sigh.... Mickey Kaus is right--we've jumped the shark.

10:31 AM: Dionne is weirdly.... sexy when he reads Not that there's anything wrong with that!!

10:32 AM: Hmmm..... Sullivan has the sniffles, Ana Marie Cox has the sniffles.... no, let's not go there.

10:34 AM: Ah, real news -- Sullivan says that as he grew more critical of the administration, his fundraising drives produced lower yields -- from $80,000 to $20,000 to $12,000. This is something I'd like to see the panelists discuss -- to what extent will the lure of large sums of money (by blogger standards) act as an ideological straight-jacket for prominent bloggers?

10:38 AM: You know Internet journalism is getting old when Shafer and Sullivan reminisce about the good old days of... 1996.

10:40 AM: Sullivan makes a key point -- for bloggers to be effective, they must be "pariahs." The fact is, the medisphere can be a clubby place, both within itself and between reporters and politicos. Will bloggers get sucked into this vortex as well?

10:41 AM: Cox uses the phrase "circle jerk" at Brookings.... somewhere, Richard Nixon's ghost is wondering why he ever thought of firebombing the place.

10:43 AM: Hey, E.J.!! The problem with Kos was not that he raised money for Dems, it was that he took money for consulting for Dems as well..... though I do believe this particular kerfuffle was overblown, since he admitted this from day one.

10:48 AM: "People are still fact-oriented," according to Allen -- even among Deaniacs.

10:50 AM: FYI, here are the specific links to other livebloggers: Ruy Teixeira, Ed Morrissey, and Laura Rozen; Trevino and Cole appear to be MIA. UPDATE: Here's Cole's post -- Trevino never bothered to post.

10:52: Someone who works for the Center for Public Integrity says that many blogs promote slander and libel.,.. as opposed to the Center for Public Integrity, which never issues misleading press releases. Seriously, Shafer and Cox shoot this down pretty effectively -- because there are costs to royally screwing things up.

10:58 AM: Dionne points out that blogs can foster the spread of rumor and slander faster than traditional media... except that blogs also make this spread much more transparent. The counterfactual is not just traditional media, but the spread of urban legends via private e-mails and listservers. The best example of this was the claim that the exit polls were correct and Kerry really won the election. Without blogs and other Internet media, this rumor would have just festered -- because of blogs, these accusations got quickly aired and quickly falsified.

11:00 AM: Sullivan points out that bloggers are much harsher to each other than to any public figure -- I have no idea what he's talking about. UPDATE: Dionne mentions this comment -- I am so inside the Beltway right now. Now I have to go and buy one of those Blackberry thingmabobs.

11:02 AM: Props to the guy who called the comments section of blogs a "cacophony of crap" -- you know he'd been up all night honing that phrase. Seriously, I do think there's a scaling problem with comments section -- the bigger the blog, the greater the percentage of crap. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about this.

11:07: What does it say that I'm an avid blog-readers and writer, but any discussion of talk radio and the fairness doctrine puts me to sleep? In other news, it appears to be standing room only in the room. And let's have a shout-out to those twentysomething interns who have to get those mikes to the people in the room!!

11:11 AM: Sullivan said, "hetero".... heh.

11:15 AM: Cox thinks it's useless to distinguish between "media" and "journalism." I'd rephrase -- there is a difference between journalism reporting and commentary, and blogs overwhelmingly (but not exclusively) practice the latter.

11:18 AM: Sullivan thinks there should be no schools for journalists, and that the "interns of the future" are those who are writing blogs in college. Matthew Yglesias has no idea what Sullivan's talking about.

11:24 AM: Ratner is harping on the economics of journalism, and asking whether bloggers will reduce the ability of media institutions to invest in reporting. I understand ratner's concern, but it seems to me this applies more to investigative journalism than most other sections of the media. For example, does journalism really have a comparative advantage over an expert blogger when a think tank or a research institute, for example, issues a press release?

11:27 AM: Sullivan points out that bloggers provide hyperlinked footnotes, which the New York Times op-ed page does not.

11;28 AM: A questioner asks what happens if a blogger receives an e-mail informing them that they're wrong? In my case it depends on whether the e-mailer has their facts correct as well. I've found that about two-thirds of the time the dispute is more over my interpretation of facts rather than the facts themselves. The others -- hell, yes, I'll post a correction. I'm not thrilled about it, but it's happened enough so that I'm used to it.

11:30 AM: Sullivan says blogs are a new form of literature. Great -- I want my own Pulitzer Prize now, dammit!!

11:33 AM: Sullivan has blog insurance??!!!

11:34 AM: Click here to see Ryan Sager's New York Post column discussing the Pew sponsorship of research into campaign finance reform that the panelists are discussing. Key section:

The tape — of a conference held at USC's Annenberg School for Communication in March of 2004 — shows Treglia expounding to a gathering of academics, experts and journalists (none of whom, apparently, ever wrote about Treglia's remarks) on just how Pew and other left-wing foundations plotted to create a fake grassroots movement to hoodwink Congress.

"I'm going to tell you a story that I've never told any reporter," Treglia says on the tape. "Now that I'm several months away from Pew and we have campaign-finance reform, I can tell this story."

That story in brief:

Charged with promoting campaign-finance reform when he joined Pew in the mid-1990s, Treglia came up with a three-pronged strategy: 1) pursue an expansive agenda through incremental reforms, 2) pay for a handful of "experts" all over the country with foundation money and 3) create fake business, minority and religious groups to pound the table for reform.

"The target audience for all this activity was 535 people in Washington," Treglia says — 100 in the Senate, 435 in the House. "The idea was to create an impression that a mass movement was afoot — that everywhere they looked, in academic institutions, in the business community, in religious groups, in ethnic groups, everywhere, people were talking about reform."

11:40 AM: Nell Minow (sp?) asks two good questions: a) Whether the blogs can do anything that adds value in discussing the Schiavo case; and b) the dearth of women plitical bloggers with lots o' traffic and links.

On the first point, I do think that bloggers serve two useful purposes -- a barometer of public opinion, and an opportunity to discuss specific issues raised by this case -- the legal and medical questions.

On the second point, I'm working on a large post which I'll inflict on people later in the week.

11:51 AM: Ruy has the best one-sentence summary of the event: "an interesting but not cutting-edge event."

11:54 AM: On the role of blogs elsewhere, do be sure to check out my Foreign Policy essay with Henry Farrell, "Web of Influence." Sullivan is correct that blogs can be a subversive tool in repressive societies -- but authoritarian governments are learning how to respond with brutal but appallingly effective tactics (link via Glenn Reynolds)

11:56 AM: Allen says opinion journalism are like "thumb-sucking," and that women don't like the taste of their thumbs. Must.... resist.... savage mockery of metaphor.

11:58 AM: Dionne gets the first Nazi reference in -- and after an hour and fift-eight minutes of discusion about blogs. That has to be a record for the longest period of time before Godwin's Law kicks in.

12:03 PM: Ana Marie Cox bravely calls for a moratorium of panels on blogs.... oh, sure, now that she's hit her premier frequent-flyer status via blog conferences, she wants to shut down the ravy train.

12:06 PM: That's a wrap.... and thank God, because I desperately need to go to the bathroom.

LAST UPDATE: Here's a link to the full transcript.

posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (4)

Monday, March 21, 2005

How I'm spending tomorrow morning

What better way to spend a Tuesday morning (10-12 Eastern time) that to liveblog a Brookings Institution panel!!

[Was that, like, a real question or a rhetorical one? Because with the right person, I can think of an infinite combination of activities that might be superior--ed. It was a rhetorical question.]

Here's the deal:

Newspaper readership and television audiences are on the decline while the popularity of blogs and online news sources has steadily increased. The landscape of the American media is indisputably changing.

At this Brookings briefing, members of the "new" and "old" media will weigh in on the ever-evolving role of the press and the future of journalism. The discussion will focus on new mediums and practices in journalism and what impact these have had—and will continue to have—on the role and credibility of the traditional American media. In keeping with the spirit of this event, the discussion will be webcast and will be "live-blogged" by several prominent bloggers. Panelists will take questions from the audience and via e-mail following their remarks.

The panelists include Jodie T. Allen (Senior Editor, Pew Research Center), Ana Marie Cox (, Ellen Ratner (White House Correspondent, Talk Radio News Service), Jack Shafer (Editor-at-Large, Slate), and Andrew Sullivan

The livebloggers other than myself are Juan Cole (Informed Comment), Ed Morrissey (Captain's Quarters), Laura Rozen (War and Piece), Ruy Teixeira (Donkey Rising), and Josh Trevino (

Be sure to tune in tomorrow.

UPDATE: My live-blogging post is here.

posted by Dan at 06:35 PM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

So how's Iraqification going?

Derrick Jackson argued in the Boston Globe last Friday that the U.S. has no exit strategy for Iraq and this is costing us allies:

Country by country, the coalition is wilting from such uninspired leadership from the United States. Once Italy, Poland, Ukraine and Netherlands finish jumping ship, the U.S. percentage of the dubious Iraq mission will creep to 90 percent from 85 percent. Italy is pulling out because it sees no exit strategy. The coalition of the willing is no longer willing to accept America's rosy scenario on Iraq.

Jackson cites this Government Accountability Office report detailing the difficulties the United States is having with reconstituting Iraqi security forces. From the abstract:

U.S. government agencies do not report reliable data on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are trained and equipped. As of March 2005, the State Department reported that about 82,000 police forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and about 62,000 military forces under the Iraqi Ministry of Defense have been trained and equipped. However, the reported number of Iraqi police is unreliable because the Ministry of Interior does not receive consistent and accurate reporting from the police forces around the country. The data does not exclude police absent from duty. Further, the departments of State and Defense no longer report on the extent to which Iraqi security forces are equipped with their required weapons, vehicles, communications equipment, and body armor....without reliable reporting data, a more capable Iraqi force, and stronger Iraqi leadership, the Department of Defense faces difficulties in implementing its strategy to draw down U.S. forces from Iraq.

Sounds like Iraqification is not going well. However, two press reports from inside Iraq suggest that in fact progress has been made. John F. Burns reports in the New York Times that the transfer of duties from the U.S. military to Iraqi security forces has helped in one Baghdad neighborhood:

When most roads in central Baghdad are choked with traffic, there is rarely more than a trickle of vehicles on Haifa Street. At the day's height, a handful of pedestrians scurry down empty sidewalks, ducking into covered walkways that serve as sanctuaries from gunfire - and as blinds for insurgent attacks in one of Iraq's most bitterly contested battle zones....

In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity.

But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed.

American military engineers, frustrated elsewhere by insurgent attacks, are moving ahead along Haifa Street with a $20 million program to improve electricity, sewer and other utilities. So far, none of the work sites have been attacked, although a local Shiite leader who vocally supported the American projects was assassinated on his doorstep in January.

But the change American commanders see as more promising than any other here is the deployment of large numbers of Iraqi troops. American commanders are eager to shift the fighting in Iraq to the country's own troops, allowing American units to pull back from the cities and, eventually, to begin drawing down their 150,000 troops. Haifa Street has become an early test of that strategy.

Last month, an Iraqi brigade with two battalions garrisoned along Haifa Street became the first homegrown unit to take operational responsibility for any combat zone in Iraq. The two battalions can muster more than 2,000 soldiers, twice the size of the American cavalry battalion that has led most fighting along the street. So far, American officers say, the Iraqis have done well, withstanding insurgent attacks and conducting aggressive patrols and raids, without deserting in large numbers or hunkering down in their garrisons.

If Haifa Street is brought under control, it will be a major step toward restoring order in this city of five million, and will send a wider message: that the insurgents can be matched, and beaten back....

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished.

"Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But an overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear: all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

Meanwhile, Time's Christopher Allbriton reports on the growing professionalism of The Iraqi Special Forces Brigade (ISOF):

Two years since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. is scrambling to train and equip a new Iraqi army to take over combat duties and pave the way for a reduction in the size of the U.S. troop presence. After a slow start, the training program appears to be picking up momentum: last week the Pentagon announced plans to trim the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from 150,000 to 105,000 by early next year, a move that reflects the improved capabilities of the Iraqi forces. The top commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, said that "very much sooner rather than later, Iraq will be able to provide for its own security."

....While their numbers are few, Iraqi special forces have assumed a bigger role in sensitive counter-insurgent operations, often acting as the lead teams in raids and rescue missions. In some cases, Iraqi units have used intelligence gleaned from locals to identify their own low-level targets, and then execute small raids on their own. Trained by Task Force Pioneer, a unit drawn from a support company from the U.S. Special Operating Force's 10th Group, the emerging Iraqi commando units have impressed U.S. commanders with their combat performance and bolstered confidence that Iraqis can keep the insurgents at bay on their own. "We can step away more now," says the U.S. commander of Task Force Pioneer, who, like all of the special forces in this story, cannot be named. "It's about 50-50."

....Advisors from the U.S. Green Berets say the Iraqi special-ops teams have suffered none of the problems of desertion in the face of enemy fire seen in most of the regular Iraqi units. None have refused to fight, they say, and rates of those absent without leave are well below other forces. "It's unbelievable, but it's all down to the espirit de corps," says the Americans' Executive Officer.

Putting Iraqis on the front lines, U.S. officials say, is yielding results in the shadow war against the insurgents. When the key to unraveling insurgencies is denying the rebels the support of the population, putting an Iraqi face on the offensives is vital. It also helps avoid blunders. Often targeting information is slightly off, with troops raiding the wrong house. Local Iraqis are loath to point the Americans in the right direction. "They're not scared of Americans, but when an Iraqi in a ski mask confronts them they talk a lot more, and they're more likely to say, 'He's not here but lives across the road,'" says Task Force Pioneer's commander. During the raid on Tamimi's safehouse, the joint U.S.-Iraqi team hauled off Tamimi and another insurgent suspected of being a key bombmaker. The other men upstairs were left behind, a mark of the more "surgical" style of business the Green Berets are hoping the Iraqis can deliver them, blunting locals' perceptions of Americans as brutish and arbitrary. "In the past, we'd have scooped them all up," says an American with the CTF, "but we only took the guys our Iraqis said were dirty.

At this rate, the departure of other coalition country forces from Iraq is less a sign of failed American leadership than a sign that they can hand over their duties to the Iraqis themselves. Everyone agrees that this is the best possible exit option.


posted by Dan at 02:49 PM | Comments (46) | Trackbacks (2)

Open Schiavo thread

Feel free to comment here on the federal government's decision to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case. I was paying zero attention to this until I read the AP story this morning. My first response to it is identical to Orin Kerr's:

Missing from the press coverage I have read is any sense of the merits of the federal case enabled by the new law. As I understand it, a federal court will now review the merits of the state court decision ordering the withdrawal of the feeding tube to see if the withdrawal satisfies federal statutory and constitutional law. Does any one have a sense of what the federal court is likely to do? Are there obvious constitutional problems with the state court order, and if so, under what theories and supported by what precedents?

Howard Bashman thinks the law as passed and signed is constitutional but makes no comment on what the district court judge would rule. Bashman also provides a welter of links to media reaction.

Andrew Sullivan raises a valid point about what this means for modern-day conservatism:

So it is now the federal government's role to micro-manage baseball and to prevent a single Florida woman who is trapped in a living hell from dying with dignity. We're getting to the point when conservatism has become a political philosophy that believes that government - at the most distant level - has the right to intervene in almost anything to achieve the right solution. Today's conservatism is becoming yesterday's liberalism.

Comment away!!! As Mickey Kaus says, "Our society is going to have to have this out at some point--why not now?"

UPDATE: Dahlia Lithwick goes medieval on the federal intervention in Slate:

You can put aside the doctrine of federalism for Terri Schiavo, and the principles of separation of powers, and comity, and of deference to finality and the rule of law. But you'd want to be certain, on the day you do so, that what you're sacrificing them for some concrete legal value that matters a whole lot more. Subordinating a centuries-old culture of law to an amorphous, legally meaningless "culture of life," is not a decision to be taken over a weekend.

posted by Dan at 11:36 AM | Comments (71) | Trackbacks (1)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

It's always nice to have a traveling secretary

As I've said before, Colin Powell's biggest failing as Secretary of State was that he didn't leave Washington, DC all that much. Which is kind of important for America's chief diplomat.

In Time, Elaine Shannon reports that Condi Rice seems to have grasped the importance of getting outside the Beltway:

According to a source in the State Department, Jim Wilkinson, a senior adviser to Condoleezza Rice, recently asked the department's historian for a list of countries that have never been visited by a U.S. Secretary of State. An unlikely Trivial Pursuit question, his inquiry signals that Rice's travels, which have already taken her to 11 countries in her first six weeks on the job, will be more extensive than most of her predecessors'. "The Secretary will travel when there's serious diplomatic work to be done," says Wilkinson. "There's no better diplomacy than personal contact."

After three trips to Europe and visits to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Mexico City, Rice is taking her frequent-flyer diplomacy on a six-nation mission to Asia this week. Even skeptics who wrote off her early forays as standard grip-and-grin fare are beginning to pay attention....

Rice's travel routine is grueling. Her 15-hour days typically start at 5 a.m., when she hits the elliptical machine in her hotel's fitness center. After her Asian tour (which will take her to Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Japan, China and South Korea), she will attend a meeting next month in Santiago, Chile, on emerging democracies. Rice has visited eight NATO nations, and by summer, she or her deputy, Robert Zoellick, plan to travel to the remaining 17. By then, she may be ready to tackle Wilkinson's list.

UPDATE: Time has a follow-up story in this week's issue that offers the contrast between Rice and Powell:

Sometimes the hardest thing about being Secretary of State is managing relations with 191 other countries across the globe. And sometimes it's just making nice with three or four of your colleagues in the Cabinet. Colin Powell once told his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that intramural squabbling in Washington kept him from traveling. Every time he stepped onto an airplane to fly overseas, Powell said, someone in Washington stuck a knife in his back.

A shiv in the ribs is one worry Condoleezza Rice doesn't have. As she flew across Asia last week in her latest overseas trip, holding private meetings with leaders of six nations and appearing almost everywhere on TV, it was clear that in two months in office, Rice has consolidated her power as the chief exponent of the Administration's foreign policy, a perch bolstered by her exceptionally tight relationship with George W. Bush....

For someone who, as National Security Adviser during Bush's first term, often seemed overwhelmed by rivals in the war Cabinet, Rice has displayed striking confidence in her early forays as a diplomat. Foreign officials note that she likes to play solo, holding meetings without a phalanx of regional experts. Others report that she is unexpectedly generous with her time, even to countries that have been sharply critical of the U.S. At the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in February between Arab and Israeli leaders, Rice met with all the participants individually but steered clear of the summit to avoid the appearance of U.S. overreach. And an Israeli official notes that in private negotiating sessions, Rice has a clever way of pushing hard on an issue, even if only to elicit a vague agreement. But then she immediately doubles down. "She'll restate it in a firmer way," says this official, "and then pocket it as a commitment." Says an Arab diplomat: "This one is nimble, very nimble."

But Rice's best asset is her direct line to the Oval Office. "You get the feeling as you speak to her and listen to her," said an official who met with her in Europe last month, "that you are actually listening to the President's voice. You don't have to make a calculation about whether this is the view of all the government in Washington--or just part of it."

posted by Dan at 12:00 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (2)

Friday, March 18, 2005

George Kennan, R.I.P. (1904-2005)

George Kennan, the first director of policy planning for the State Department, is dead at the age of 101. The New York Times obit by Tim Weiner and Barbara Crossette has more detail and background, but the Washington Post obit by J.Y. Smith has a paragraph that best captures Kennan's love-hate relationship with the U.S. foreign policy establishment:

Despite his influence, Mr. Kennan was never really comfortable in government or with the give-and-take process by which policy is made. He always regarded himself as an outsider. It grated on him when his advice was not heeded, more so because it often turned out that he had been more right than wrong. He had little patience with critics.

Kennan will forever be known as the author of the Long Telegram in 1946, the most famous State Department cable in history. Kennan later converted the telegram into a 1947 Foreign Affairs essay entitled, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," which brought forth the doctrine of containment.

It is a grand irony of international relations theory that although the realist theory of international relations seemed to predict a strategy of containment, Kennan derived this doctrine from a domestic level analysis of the Soviet Union. Realism as it is currently understood derives most of it's causal power from the systemic level -- i.e., the world is anarchic and the distribuion of power among states powerfully affects the behavior of individual governments. However, Kennan argued that to understand Soviet behavior, one hand to understand the ever-present domestic legitimacy crisis of the Soviet government:

The circumstances of the immediate post-revolution period -- the existence in Russia of civil war and foreign intervention, together with the obvious fact that the Communists represented only a tiny minority of the Russian people -- made the establishment of dictatorial power a necessity. The experiment with war Communism" and the abrupt attempt to eliminate private production and trade had unfortunate economic consequences and caused further bitterness against the new revolutionary regime. While the temporary relaxation of the effort to communize Russia, represented by the New Economic Policy, alleviated some of this economic distress and thereby served its purpose, it also made it evident that the "capitalistic sector of society" was still prepared to profit at once from any relaxation of governmental pressure, and would, if permitted to continue to exist, always constitute a powerful opposing element to the Soviet regime and a serious rival for influence in the country....

Now the outstanding circumstance concerning the Soviet regime is that down to the present day this process of political consolidation has never been completed and the men in the Kremlin have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917. They have endeavored to secure it primarily against forces at home, within Soviet society itself. But they have also endeavored to secure it against the outside world. For ideology, as we have seen, taught them that the outside world was hostile and that it was their duty eventually to overthrow the political forces beyond their borders. Then powerful hands of Russian history and tradition reached up to sustain them in this feeling. Finally, their own aggressive intransigence with respect to the outside world began to find its own reaction; and they were soon forced, to use another Gibbonesque phrase, "to chastise the contumacy" which they themselves had provoked. It is an undeniable privilege of every man to prove himself right in the thesis that the world is his enemy; for if he reiterates it frequently enough and makes it the background of his conduct he is bound eventually to be right.

Now it lies in the nature of the mental world of the Soviet leaders, as well as in the character of their ideology, that no opposition to them can be officially recognized as having any merit or justification whatsoever. Such opposition can flow, in theory, only from the hostile and incorrigible forces of dying capitalism. As long as remnants of capitalism were officially recognized as existing in Russia, it was possible to place on them, as an internal element, part of the blame for the maintenance of a dictatorial form of society. But as these remnants were liquidated, little by little, this justification fell away, and when it was indicated officially that they had been finally destroyed, it disappeared altogether. And this fact created one of the most basic of the compulsions which came to act upon the Soviet regime: since capitalism no longer existed in Russia and since it could not be admitted that there could be serious or widespread opposition to the Kremlin springing spontaneously from the liberated masses under its authority, it became necessary to justify the retention of the dictatorship by stressing the menace of capitalism abroad.

The initial domestic insecurity of the Soviet elite made them see external societies that thrived on alternative sets of political, economic, and social principles as an existential threat -- a fact that's worth remembering when contemplating what radical Islamsts want.

In terms of U.S. foreign policy, however, the most cited paragraphs in "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" are these:

It is clear that the United States cannot expect in the foreseeable future to enjoy political intimacy with the Soviet regime. It must continue to regard the Soviet Union as a rival, not a partner, in the political arena. It must continue to expect that Soviet policies will reflect no abstract love of peace and stability, no real faith in the possibility of a permanent happy coexistence of the Socialist and capitalist worlds, but rather a cautious, persistent pressure toward the disruption and, weakening of all rival influence and rival power.

Balanced against this are the facts that Russia, as opposed to the western world in general, is still by far the weaker party, that Soviet policy is highly flexible, and that Soviet society may well contain deficiencies which will eventually weaken its own total potential. This would of itself warrant the United States entering with reasonable confidence upon a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world.

Kennan is proof that the author often loses control of his words the moment they are printed. The Times obit quotes Kennan in his memoirs as saying that the language on containment, "was at best ambiguous and lent itself to misinterpretation." Indeed, the most fully developed articulation of the containment doctrine, Paul Nitze's NSC-68, differed in significant ways from Kennan's own views. Kennan barely supported the Korean War and opposed the Vietnam War.

Even when his writing was clear, Kennan's foreign policy vision was not always 20/20. He opposed NATO expansion in the nineties, convinced it would have disastrous consequences. When he was in power, he bitterly railed against congressional influence over foreign affairs, and then changed his tune later in life. Kennan never gave a flying fig about the developing world, believing that it never would develop. Kennan's narrow world vision consisted only of the five centers of industrial activity -- the US, USSR, Germany, Great Britain, and Japan. By the early nineties, when he wrote Around the Cragged Hill, he clearly believed the U.S. to be doomed to decline and devoid of "intelligent and discriminating administration." And the less said about Kennan's view of non-WASPs, the better.

Nevertheless, Kennan achieved something all too rare in the world of ideas -- he came up with a very big idea at a crucial moment in history that was simultaneously influential and correct. His doctrine of containment proved to be a useful and ultimately successful framework to guide U.S. foreign policy during the bipolar era. Varioius administrations committed various blunders in the name of containment, but a lot more good than harm was done to honor Kennan's idea. Fifteen years after the Cold War ended, we are still searching for the big idea to replace Kennan.

In honor of Kennan, his alma mater started up The Princeton Project on National Security -- "a nonpartisan effort to strengthen and update the intellectual underpinnings of U.S. national security strategy." Seven working groups have been formed to advance the project (I'm on one of them) -- probably close to a hundred top-flight thinkers.

Combined, if we're very, very, very lucky, we might come up with something half as smart as Kennan.

UPDATE: David Adesnik has a long post on Kennan's aversion to democracy promotion. However, with all due respect, I disagree with Adesnik's characterization of Kennan as a realist. Realists simply do not care about the regime type of any country. Kennan was worse than that -- his antipathy to democracy was pretty much universal. He deplored its effects on U.S. foreign policy, and as Adesnik points out he believed that most countries of the world "weren't ready for democracy." More so than the realists, Kennan thought that domestic politics mattered -- but his natural conservatism led him to dismiss the notion that regime transitions were either possible or desirable in the developing world.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Be sure to check out this special Foreign Affairs web page devoted to Kennan -- by my count, he wrote more than fifteen essays for that journal.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (14) | Trackbacks (13)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Uh.... I was talking about trade, right?

While trade is the subject of the day, it's worth pointing out that Tim Wu has a provocative story in Slate on an intriguing mechanism through which the United States could be forced to legalize marijuana: the World Trade Organization:

[T]he strange status of marijuana may also bring down the scrutiny of a different entity altogether: the World Trade Organization and its powerful condemnation of inconsistent national laws. The American ban on marijuana is what the WTO calls "a barrier to trade," raising the question: Can U.S. marijuana policy survive the tough scrutiny of world trade law?

WTO scrutiny of American drug laws may sound far-fetched, but then until recently so did WTO scrutiny of U.S. gambling or tax laws. U.S. gambling laws, like drug laws, are erratic: Online casinos are strictly prosecuted, but state lotteries and Las Vegas are tolerated. Citing such inconsistency, last November the WTO declared American gambling enforcement an "illegal barrier to trade in services." The fate of these gambling laws may be a guide to the future of American marijuana laws.

Read the whole thing -- the analysis is not completely far-fetched. Wu's biggest reach is his claim that "it may just be a matter of time" before another country will request a WTO panel. Yes, some countries have legalized marijuana, but I find it hard to conceive of a country pushing for the ability to export any narcotic that retains a moral stigma across the globe. A lot more countries would need to legalize Mr. Jay before this happens.

UPDATE: Jacob Levy emerges from seclusion to point out a more serious flaw in Wu's reasoning.

posted by Dan at 03:24 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Rob Portman has his work cut out for him

The Bush appointments just keep on coming. Reuters reports that Bush has picked his next U.S. Trade Representative:

U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday he has selected Rep. Rob Portman, a seven-term Republican congressman from Ohio, to be next U.S. trade representative.

"As a member of the House (of Representatives) leadership, Rob has shown he can bring together people of differing views to get things done," Bush said at a White House event to announce Portman's nomination.

The surprise choice, which must be confirmed by the Senate, comes as the White House faces strong opposition in Congress to one of its key trade initiatives, a new free trade pact with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic.

Here's the complete text of Bush's announcement. Both the President and Rep. Portman made nice sounds on trade expansion:

BUSH: When he is confirmed by the Senate, Rob Portman will build on Ambassador Zoellick's achievements. I've asked him to take on a bold agenda. We need to continue to open markets abroad by pursuing bilateral free trade agreements with partners around the world. We need to finish our work to establish a free trade area of the Americas, which will become the largest free trade zone in the world. We need to complete the Doha round negotiations within the World Trade Organization to reduce global barriers to trade. We must continue to vigorously enforce the trade laws on the books so that American businesses and workers are competing on a level playing field....

PORTMAN: As you and I have discussed, open markets and better trade relations are key components to a more peaceful, a more stable and a more prosperous world. Through expanded trade, the roots of democracy and freedom are deepened. And here at home, trade policy opens markets to create jobs, a higher standard of living and greater economic growth.

[So does this mean you remain hopeful that trade will be freer?--ed. Well, I see this appointment as a good news-bad news kind of situation. The good news is that Portman is a legitimate free trader. Daniel Griswold at the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies just published a briefing paper looking at Congressional attitudes towards trade, and Portman is categorized as a consistent free trader (his one major lapse was support for the steel tariffs).

The bad news is that, while I don't know the extent of the personal relationship between Portman and Bush, I have to guess that it's not terribly close (see update below). Which makes me wonder just how much politcal capital Bush is willing to spend on trade expansion. Bob Zoellick, when faced with a similar situation, did the best he could with a weak hand. But as any poker player knows, without the cards there's only so much you can do. Plus, as that Cato study suggests, Portman is going to have an uphill fight getting his congressional colleagues to sign on to the Bush trade agenda.]


UPDATE: Thanks to D.J. for this Capitol Hill Blue link from mid-2004 which suggests that Portman and Bush are actually pretty tight: "Among other members of Bush's brain trust are Vice President Dick Cheney; a brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; longtime adviser Karen Hughes; and Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, a longtime Bush family friend.... Portman, the only alumnus of the first Bush administration serving in Congress, is actively involved in Bush's strategy in industrial battleground states like his own." So maybe my "bad news" concerns are misplaced.

posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (1)

I will not surrender to the dark side, I will not surrender to the dark side...

Via Ross Douthat, I see the latest trailer for Star Wars III, Revenge of the Sith is out. Last fall, I confess I found the teaser trailer to be very seductive, so I was worried about my reaction to this one.

And I'm happy to report that I mildly disagree with both Douthat and Matthew Yglesias; the trailer is OK, but the dark side has not turned me yet. There are other popcorn movie trailers out there -- like Sin City, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or Fantastic Four -- that have grabbed more of my attention.

Take that, Emperor Lucas!!

posted by Dan at 11:44 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

State vs. Defense II

The president announced his nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to be the next World Bank president. Apparently the Europeans are not happy, according to the Washington Post's Keith B. Richburg and Glenn Frankel:

President Bush's nomination of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz as the next president of the World Bank was met with much surprise, little enthusiasm and some outright opposition in Europe, where he is best known as a leading architect of a conflict deeply unpopular here, the Iraq war.

"We were led to believe that the neo-conservatives were losing ground," said Michael Cox, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. "But clearly the revolution is alive and well." He added that despite recent efforts from Washington to mend relations, "Europeans are still inclined deep down to suspect the worst, and this appointment won't go down too well."

European countries control about 30 percent of votes on the bank's board; opponents would be able to fight the nomination if they chose to do so. By tradition, the United States, the bank's largest shareholder, selects the president, while Europeans pick the head of its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund.

Some Europeans who closely follow U.S. politics said the Wolfowitz choice, coming the week after Bush selected outspoken diplomat John Bolton as his United Nations ambassador, could be a sign that the president is moving to placate his more conservative supporters.

Some expressed concern that such appointments could undermine trans-Atlantic goodwill that developed in recent weeks through visits by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"There are two interpretations" of the selection of Wolfowitz, said Guillaume Parmentier, who heads the French Center on the United States, a think tank in Paris. "One is the optimistic one -- that this is going to take him away from U.S. policy. . . . The pessimistic interpretation is that this administration has to give sop to the far right. There was Bolton and now Wolfowitz -- where does it stop?"

For more international reaction, see this blog devoted to the topic.

My thoughts, in no particular order:

1) While I'm sure that Europe is less than thrilled, the Post story automatically gets devalued from the fact that the first quote comes from Mick Cox. Cox is a very bright international relations theorist. He's also a classic Marxist, however, so I'm pretty sure he'd have been unenthused by any Bush selection.

2) Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out that Wolfowitz's performance as Deputy SecDef isn't necessarily correlated with how he'd do at the Bank, since, "preventative wars are not, I take it, something the Bank head is able to launch."

3) I have to disagree with Kevin Drum's assessment of Bush's recent moves:

On a PR level, though, the message Bush is sending is plain. A number of pundits inexplicably thought that Bush might settle down in his second term and try to run a more conciliatory, less strident administration, and it's pretty obvious that he's trying to make it crystal clear that he has no intention of doing this. Second term Bush will be no different from first term Bush, and don't you forget it.

I see things very differently. Consider the personnel shuffles that have taken place at both State and Defense.

At State, Condi Rice is now the secretary; She cajoled Bob Zoellick to leave a cabinet-level position at USTR to be her deputy, rejecting John Bolton in the process; highly regarded NATO ambassador Nick Burns will be the number three person as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; and Bush consigliere Karen Hughes just agreed to come back as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. There's no comparison between this crew and the old Powell/Armitage team. The old group had gravitas and little else. This group has gravitas, bueaucratic infighting skills, and several people personally close to the President.

Meanwhile, at DoD, Douglas Feith has announced plans to leave this summer, Wolfowitz has now departed, and Richard Myers term as JCS chief will expire in December. In other words, Rumsfeld is still around but his cronies are gone. As Greg Djerejian points out, "it's starting to feel like the defenestration of Prague!"

Fred Kaplan notices this trend at Slate:

A few months ago, Doug Feith announced that he would be leaving his job this summer, for personal reasons. Now Wolfowitz heads toward the door. Will the neocon triumvirate's third peg, Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary for intelligence, be the next to fall? And what of Rumsfeld himself? The face-saving has been accomplished. His archrival, Colin Powell, was booted while he stayed on in triumph. He escaped official blame for Abu Ghraib. Having thus emerged from the firestorms unscathed, he too may be working up an appetite to spend more time with his family.

Rumsfeld's fingerprints, which were smeared all over Bush's first-term foreign policy, have thus far left no marks in the second term. There are three possible explanations: Rumsfeld is insinuating himself more subtly than before; Condoleezza Rice shares his views, so he doesn't need to raise a fuss; or, just maybe, the winds are shifting over the Potomac.

I vote for no. 3. No neocon worth their salt would want Bolton at the UN of Wolfowitz at the Bank -- because neocons don't believe these institutions are particularly relevant. What matters is who is ruling the roost inside the beltway. And in DC, the balance of power has shifted to State -- and the people that are there have signaled a willingness to listen to the Europeans. Compared to what they faced during the Powell/Rumsfeld wars, this is a much more hospitable environment for European diplomats.

UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that European countries probably will not form a united front to oppose Wolfowitz.

posted by Dan at 12:18 AM | Comments (27) | Trackbacks (10)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Well this is nice

Barbara Slavin reports in USA Today that Iraqis are feeling better about Iraq:

More Iraqis believe their country is headed in the right direction and fewer think it's going wrong than at any time since the U.S. invasion two years ago, according to a new poll.
The poll, by the International Republican Institute (IRI), due to be made public Wednesday, also found that nearly half of Iraqis believe that religion has a special role to play in government.

The survey of 1,967 Iraqis was conducted Feb. 27-March 5, after Iraq held its first free elections in half a century in January. According to the poll, 62% say the country is headed in the right direction and 23% say it is headed in the wrong direction. That is the widest spread recorded in seven polls by the group, says Stuart Krusell, IRI director of operations for Iraq. In September, 45% of Iraqis thought the country was headed in the wrong direction and 42% thought it was headed in the right direction. The IRI is a non-partisan, U.S. taxpayer-funded group that promotes democracy abroad.

Pollsters did not survey three of Iraq's 18 provinces because of security and logistical concerns. Two of those omitted, Anbar and Ninevah, are predominantly Sunni Muslim. A third, Dahuk, is mostly Kurdish. Krusell said that even if those areas had been included and 100% had expressed negative views, the poll would still have shown that most Iraqis believe that the situation in their country is improving.

Here's a link to the IRI press release of the poll.

Assume for the moment a best-case scenaio in which the insurgency starts to die down. Given that the National Assembly has just started to meet, don't be surprised if that satisfaction figure were to go down. This is the funny thing about democracy -- one people get it, their dissatisfaction from seeing the process up close seems to increase.

Eventually, most people adopt the Churchillian posture: democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried.

posted by Dan at 11:43 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (2)

Outsourcing as an economic experiment

One of my favorite economics articles of all time is by Nathan Rosenberg, "Economic Experiments." Industrial and Corporate Change , volume 1 (1992). In that essay, Rosenberg pointed out that any dynamic economy had to let firms engage in experimentation to find out new ways to innovate and generate profits. Many of these experiments would fail, of course, but the successes would lead to massive economic gains. It was crucial that these experiments be permitted to fail, otherwise no useful information could be gleaned.

I bring this up because looking at economic enterprises as a rolling series of experiments is a great analytical lens to think about offshore outsourcing. Specifically, a lot of firms outsourced offshore as an experiment to boost profits. And, not surprisingly, a lot of experiments fail: Gartner recently predicted that 80% of customer service outsourcing projects aimed to cut costs will fail. That cannot and should not stop other firms from trying -- like MacDonald's outsourcing its drive-thru windows to remote call centers (if you click on the story, note that they're thinking of outsourcing to Norh Dakota and not Bangalore).

The great thing about experimentation is that the people conducting the experiments learn more from failure as success. As firms gain more experience from offshoring, they are starting to recalibrate what is outsourced and what is kept in-house. Kelly Shermach makes this point in CRM Buyer:

By farming out only bits of business, U.S. organizations can more easily grasp the risks they take as well as the efficiencies they gain. "It's easier to see you're getting a better price, easier to get a benchmark when you're selective for better process manageability," said Robert McNeill of Forrester Research.

Even when companies outsource some functions, they often keep control over far more than their core competencies. Unless outsourcing will deliver a cost savings with equal or better service quality, they keep it in-house....

And by farming out only bits of business , U.S. organizations can more easily grasp the risks they take as well as the efficiencies they gain. "It's easier to see you're getting a better price, easier to get a benchmark when you're selective for better process manageability," McNeill said.

U.S. firms are also starting shifting the location of offshoring activities. Some firms are relocating their offshoring activities to the Philippines because of increasing costs of Indian offshoring. Cultural familiarity is also causing firms to switch some of their activities to nearshoring -- i.e., farming out operations to Canada (or, for western European firms, to eastern Europe).

These trends worry some Indian analysts. Sonia Chopra frets in India Daily:

In recent days the escalating cost of employment in India, lack of qualified work force and deflation service prices have made outsourcing a tough business. The Western companies in India are running around to save even one cent. The escalating cost of living and shortage of qualified workforce is putting a solid pressure on wage increase. On top of that the companies have to keep 20% excess work force to accommodate turn over and other issues. The clients in the West are always threatening to stop business, not pay etc. based on quality and delivery of services on schedule. All these have made outsourcing a painful business. On top of those countries like Poland, Philippines, South Africa and so on are competing heavily lowering the prices and providing additional incentive to the clients....

Some Indian companies have tried to branch out into premium pricing environments – the vertical markets in IT. That is where India is failing. It was a easy honey moon for Indian companies to offer cheap services with less than par alary in the country and Indian rupees trading at a lower value than then the fair market values. But when these factors are taken out, Indian companies find they are nowhere.

It's with this kind of experimetation in mind that one should read Pete Engardio and Bruce Einhorn's excellent article in Business Week about the offshore outsourcing of R&D activities. The outsourcing of R&D is often considered the "line of death" for economic analysts. If that happens, the thinking goes, so does American technological leadership. Parts of the article sound ominous:

When Western corporations began selling their factories and farming out manufacturing in the '80s and '90s to boost efficiency and focus their energies, most insisted all the important research and development would remain in-house.

But that pledge is now passé. Today, the likes of Dell, Motorola, and Philips are buying complete designs of some digital devices from Asian developers, tweaking them to their own specifications, and slapping on their own brand names. It's not just cell phones. Asian contract manufacturers and independent design houses have become forces in nearly every tech device, from laptops and high-definition TVs to MP3 music players and digital cameras. "Customers used to participate in design two or three years back," says Jack Hsieh, vice-president for finance at Taiwan's Premier Imaging Technology Corp., a major supplier of digital cameras to leading U.S. and Japanese brands. "But starting last year, many just take our product. Because of price competition, they have to."

While the electronics sector is furthest down this road, the search for offshore help with innovation is spreading to nearly every corner of the economy....

However, a closer read reveals that what's going on is experimentation:

[There is] a rethinking of the structure of the modern corporation. What, specifically, has to be done in-house anymore? At a minimum, most leading Western companies are turning toward a new model of innovation, one that employs global networks of partners. These can include U.S. chipmakers, Taiwanese engineers, Indian software developers, and Chinese factories. IBM is even offering the smarts of its famed research labs and a new global team of 1,200 engineers to help customers develop future products using next-generation technologies. When the whole chain works in sync, there can be a dramatic leap in the speed and efficiency of product development....

[D]ifferent companies are adopting widely varying approaches to this new paradigm. Dell, for example, does little of its own design for notebook PCs, digital TVs, or other products. Hewlett-Packard Co. says it contributes key technology and at least some design input to all its products but relies on outside partners to co-develop everything from servers to printers. Motorola buys complete designs for its cheapest phones but controls all of the development of high-end handsets like its hot-selling Razr. The key, execs say, is to guard some sustainable competitive advantage, whether it's control over the latest technologies, the look and feel of new products, or the customer relationship. "You have to draw a line," says Motorola CEO Edward J. Zander. At Motorola, "core intellectual property is above it, and commodity technology is below."

Wherever companies draw the line, there's no question that the demarcation between mission-critical R&D and commodity work is sliding year by year. The implications for the global economy are immense. Countries such as India and China, where wages remain low and new engineering graduates are abundant, likely will continue to be the biggest gainers in tech employment and become increasingly important suppliers of intellectual property. Some analysts even see a new global division of labor emerging: The rich West will focus on the highest levels of product creation, and all the jobs of turning concepts into actual products or services can be shipped out. Consultant Daniel H. Pink, author of the new book A Whole New Mind, argues that the "left brain" intellectual tasks that "are routine, computer-like, and can be boiled down to a spec sheet are migrating to where it is cheaper, thanks to Asia's rising economies and the miracle of cyberspace." The U.S. will remain strong in "right brain" work that entails "artistry, creativity, and empathy with the customer that requires being physically close to the market."

....Still, most companies insist they will continue to do most of the critical design work -- and have no plans to take a meat ax to R&D. A Motorola spokesman says it plans to keep R&D spending at around 10% for the long term. Lucent says its R&D staff should remain at about 9,000, after several years of deep cuts. And while many Western companies are downsizing at home, they are boosting hiring at their own labs in India, China, and Eastern Europe. "Companies realize if they want a sustainable competitive advantage, they will not get it from outsourcing," says President Frank M. Armbrecht of the Industrial Research Institute, which tracks corporate R&D spending.

Companies also worry about the message they send investors. Outsourcing manufacturing, tech support, and back-office work makes clear financial sense. But ownership of design strikes close to the heart of a corporation's intrinsic value. If a company depends on outsiders for design, investors might ask, how much intellectual property does it really own, and how much of the profit from a hit product flows back into its own coffers, rather than being paid out in licensing fees? That's one reason Apple Computer lets the world know it develops its hit products in-house, to the point of etching "Designed by Apple in California" on the back of each iPod....

Companies are still figuring out exactly what to outsource.

Let the experimentation continue....

UPDATE: The EU, on the other hand, seems to disapprove of both outsourcing as experimentation and any report that signals that these experiments can be successful:

Outsourcing isn't as bad for European jobs as some have feared, says an unpublished European Union study. On the contrary, the study suggests it can help create high-skilled jobs and boost Europe's flagging economy.

But the study was pulled from the agenda of European finance ministers meeting here yesterday to be rewritten, EU diplomats said. It was too inflammatory for countries such as Germany and France, which fear deindustrialization and falling investment from companies exporting jobs to lower-cost countries, they said. "The report says there's nothing wrong with outsourcing, and that's absolutely not politically sensitive," an EU diplomat said. "That's why it could not be discussed."

The 16-page report, commissioned by the EU's economic affairs department and reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires, said "there is no evidence that a deindustrialization process is underway." Developed economies consistently see increases in manufacturing output, the report found. Though some manufacturing jobs are lost, "One should not lose sight of the overall positive developments of net job creation throughout the EU," the report concluded, "especially for the high skilled."

posted by Dan at 07:52 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (1)

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Return to sender

Ian Urbina has a fun story in today's New York Times on the small rebellions individuals engage in every day to protest life's petty annoyances. Here's an excerpt:

Life can involve big hardships, like being fired or smashing up your car. There is only so much you can do about them. But far more prevalent - and perhaps in the long run just as insidious - are life's many little annoyances.

These, you can do something about.

To examine the little weapons people use for everyday survival is to be given a free guidebook on getting by, created by the millions who feel that they must. It is a case study in human inventiveness, with occasional juvenile and petty passages, and the originators of these tips are happy to share them.

"They're an integral part of how people cope," said Prof. James C. Scott, who teaches anthropology and political science at Yale University, and the author of "Weapons of the Weak," about the feigned ignorance, foot-dragging and other techniques Malaysian peasants used to avoid cooperating with the arrival of new technology in the 1970's. "All societies have them, but they're successful only to the extent that they avoid open confrontation."

The slow driver in fast traffic, the shopper with 50 coupons at the front of the checkout line and the telemarketer calling at dinner all inflict life's thousand little lashes. But some see these infractions as precious opportunities, rare chances for retribution in the face of forces beyond our control.

Wesley A. Williams spent more than a year exacting his revenge against junk mailers. When signing up for a no-junk-mail list failed to stem the flow, he resorted to writing at the top of each unwanted item: "Not at this address. Return to sender." But the mail kept coming because the envelopes had "or current resident" on them, obligating mail carriers to deliver it, he said.

Next, he began stuffing the mail back into the "business reply" envelope and sending it back so that the mailer would have to pay the postage. "That wasn't exacting a heavy enough cost from them for bothering me," said Mr. Williams, 35, a middle school science teacher who lives in Melrose, N.Y., near Albany.

After checking with a postal clerk about the legality of stepping up his efforts, he began cutting up magazines, heavy bond paper, and small strips of sheet metal and stuffing them into the business reply envelopes that came with the junk packages.

"You wouldn't believe how heavy I got some of these envelopes to weigh," said Mr. Williams, who added that he saw an immediate drop in the amount of arriving junk mail. A spokesman for the United States Postal Service, Gerald McKiernan, said that Mr. Williams's actions sounded legal, as long as the envelope was properly sealed.

posted by Dan at 08:55 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (1)

Can 200,000 Chinese ex-communists be wrong?

This is one of those blog posts where I have to say up front that I don't know enough to gauge the significance of the event I'm posting about. That said, the information is interesting enough to link and mention.

Apparently the Chinese Communist Party has been suffering from a rash of resignations as of late -- approximately 200,000 in four months. At The Epoch Times, Stephen Gregory reports on what's going on:

On November 19, 2004 The Epoch Times published in Chinese the first of “The Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party”. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been scrambling ever since to find a way to respond.

The “Nine Commentaries” are a book-length set of nine editorials that tell the true history of the CCP. Written under the auspices of The Epoch Times editorial board, the authorship is anonymous.

The “Nine Commentaries” lay out the Party’s crimes: its campaigns of mass murder, brainwashing and terror; the 80 million plus unnatural deaths; the avoidable famines; the degradation of the environment; the corruption that goes from top to bottom, and much more....

On December 3, 2004 The Epoch Times established the Tuidang (“withdraw from the Party”) website in order to give the people of China the opportunity to renounce their membership in the CCP and its related organizations, such as the Communist Youth League (CYL).

On December 4, the website received its first solemn declarations by Party members who wished to renounce all ties with the CCP. In December the rate of such statements was a few hundred a day. But the rate has increased exponentially. On March 7, the Tuidang website recorded over 22,000 renunciations. The website has been limited in the number it can post by its ability physically to keep up with the huge volume of statements....

The CCP and its state-controlled media have not publicly responded to the “Nine Commentaries”. This is not surprising. If the CCP were to issue a statement condemning the “Nine Commentaries,” then everyone in China would want to know more about them.

Now, the thing is, the CCP isn't the only institution that hasn't responded to these resignations -- I can't find a non-Epoch Times report on this. On the other hand, they've been all over the story. What's going on?

Gregory is candid in an e-mail he sent to me:

To avoid the suspicion I am attempting to hype a story, I should point out a few things about these resignations. First, the resignations or withdrawals are from the CCP and its affiliated organizations, such as the Communist Youth League (CYL), which almost all Chinese are required to join. Second, the resignations, or perhaps more accurately, renunciations, are from any association with the Party, even if that association is many years in the past. Thus, former members of the CCP and former members of the CYL are posting their withdrawals to organizations of which technically they are no longer members. Third, in order to protect those who are withdrawing from harm, the website accepts resignations made under assumed names. Fourth, the relatives of deceased family members are allowed to post withdrawals on behalf of their now dead relatives. Finally, while the pace of resignations has increased rapidly all along, it really shot up after the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, published his own withdrawal from the CYL on the Epoch Times.

Having said all of that, the resignations are real, and they represent a real and dramatic challenge to the rule of the CCP. And, given the amount of detail included in the resignation statements, they often are done at great risk, even if they are done under an alias. These resignations are the most important story in China today, and no one outside the Epoch Times is covering them.

So there it is. I'll leave it to my readers to decide how much weight to put on this. I would also love to see the mainstream media do some digging on this story.

posted by Dan at 12:19 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (5)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Calling and raising Hezbollah

Last week I said that the re-appointment of Lebanese PM Omar Karami would trigger more protests. It turns out that was a mild understatement. The Associated Press reports that the anti-Syrian proestors in Lebanon have responded to the reappointment -- and Hezbollah's pro-Syrian rally from last week, which was undoubtedly a factor in Lebanese President Emile Lahoud's decision to reappoint Karami -- with the largest demonstration of people power yet:

Hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators chanted “Freedom, sovereignty, independence” and unfurled a huge Lebanese flag in Beirut on Monday, the biggest protest yet in the opposition’s duel of street rallies with supporters of the Damascus-backed government.

Crowds of men, women and children flooded Martyrs Square, spilling over into nearby streets, while more from across the country packed the roads into Beirut — responding to an opposition call to demonstrate for the removal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

“We are coming to liberate our country. We are coming to demand the truth,” said Fatma Trad, a veiled Sunni Muslim woman who traveled from the remote region of Dinniyeh in northern Lebanon to take part....

Monday’s protest easily topped a pro-government rally of hundreds of thousands of people last week by the Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah. That show of strength forced the opposition to try to regain its momentum.

Publius Pundit has much, much more on this.

UPDATE: Neil MacFarquar reports on the protest for the New York Times. The telling section:

The most notable element in the rally was that it did represent a broad cross section of Lebanese from all around the country.

"They can say that they represent a wide spectrum of Lebanese factions, including some Shiites, and they have been able to bring the Sunnis into the streets, which is not easy," said Ghassan Salame, a former minister of culture and political science professor, speaking by telephone from Paris. "They have an upward momentum now after a week that was full of uncertainty." ....

"This will counterbalance last Tuesday, and now we can sit and talk," said Mazen al-Zain, a 30-year-old financial analyst, noting that he himself was a member of an illustrious Shiite clan from southern Lebanon. "What is really important after today's gathering is that we all sit down at the same table."

posted by Dan at 11:40 AM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

Blogging as public diplomacy?

Hampton Stephens has a fascinating op-ed in today's Boston Globe about using blogs as a low-cost, high-yield way of enhancing U.S. public diplomacy. The highlights:

as the bureaucracy belatedly gears up to spread the message of liberty as an alternative to extremism and tyranny, there is evidence to suggest that independent, grassroots efforts to nurture democratic ideas in some of the world's most repressed societies are gaining momentum and could make old-style public diplomacy irrelevant. While the latest US-sponsored public diplomacy efforts, such as the new Arabic television station Alhurra, rely on decidedly old-media formats, the Internet appears to be the medium through which future international political opinion will be influenced most significantly.

In most foreign countries, traditional media like Al Jazeera -- against which Alhurra, established in February 2004, is designed to compete -- is the place most citizens get their political information. However, the particular characteristics of the Internet and Web logs make them fertile ground for alternative political cultures to take root, especially in countries where the state attempts to control access to information. With their use of the Internet for organization and for communicating their ideology to new believers, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have already demonstrated the power of networks to spread political movements. Less publicized so far is the growing use of the Internet by democrats to foster liberal culture in repressive countries....

Although the international blogging phenomenon is in its infancy, Internet trends spread fast, so US foreign policy makers would do well to take notice soon. A chief aim of public diplomacy has always been to foster liberal political culture where authoritarian states are attempting to snuff it out. President Bush clearly believes America's interests are served by the spread of freedom and democracy. To that end, US policy makers should recognize blogging as a perfect tool to promote the proliferation of independent democratic voices.

Read the whole thing to see more specific policy proposals -- Sprit of America is prominently mentioned.

The one nagging question I have is what happens when a blogger puts their foot in their mouth (as often happens) through a U.S. government-sponsored channel? I suspect this kind of downside can be managed, but I'm not completely certain.

Paging Karen Hughes......

posted by Dan at 11:06 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (2)

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Can academics be bloggers?

A truncated version of what I said at the Public Choice roundtable with Michael Munger and Chris Lawrence on the question of "Can Academics Be Bloggers?":

1) Of course academics can be bloggers. The more interesting questions are:

a) Can academics be good bloggers?

b) Should academics be bloggers?

My answer both of these questions is "yes, with significant caveats."


The answer should be yes:

1) 40% of TTLB's Higher Beings have Ph.D.s, so clearly it's possible.

2) Academics possess skills that are useful for blogging -- expertise, writing experience, analytical and critical thinking skills, etc.

That said, the answer for many academics is no:

1) To put it gently, some top-notch academics have not completely mastered the art of the blog. In all likelihood this will change, but it points to a barrier to entry for good scholars; unlike lower-level primates like myself, high-profile academics will often attract attention the moment they start blogging, stripping them of the opportunity to stumble out of the gates and move down the learning curve under the radar.

2) Furthermore, tenured academics have to adjust to a new and strange power structure if they start blogging. Suddenly they're in a world where mere graduate students, or worse yet, people possessing only a B.A., wield more power and influence than them. I mean, it's been three months and Munger is still in a fetal position from being exposed to my "mighty" hit count. And that's just between a full professor and an assistant professor!

3) Richard Posner's theory of public intellectuals suggests that as academics stray from their area of expertise, their signal to noise ratio of the information they generate drops. Some academic bloggers strongly confirm this hypothesis.

4) Yes, academics have writing experience, but they've been trained within an inch of their lives to eschew clear prose for jargon-laden discourse. There are sound and unsound reasons for this within the academy, but for blogging to the general public it's disastrous.

5) It should be stressed that these hindrances are not permanent, but they do constitute a barrier to entry.


*By academics, I mean untenured ones, because if you have tenure, f$#% it.

**By blogging, I mean political blogging rather than blogging only about one's research, which is an unalloyed good.


1) Blogging can be thought of as part of service. It's a low-cost way of reaching beyond the ivory tower. It's also acting like a quasi-referee of public intellectual output.

2) As blogging has become more respectable, the stigma associated with the activity has faded away.


1) It can be addictive.

2) If the blog is successful, it will breed resentment from colleagues, because it creates an alternative path to acclaim where tenured faculty do not function as gatekeepers.

3) Colleagues who do not write for a wide audience will overestimate the amount of time you devote to blogging, because they assume a one-to-one correspondence between public articles and scholarly articles (the actual ratio is more like 1:3). They will also underestimate the possibility that blogging is a complement rather than a substitute to traditional scholarship.

4) Scholars who out themselves as not part of the mainstream political persuasion of academics will have some uncomfortable hallway moments -- though this cost is often overestimated.

5) More serious are the academic political minefields that blogging can trigger -- you know, thin-skinned senior academics who are perfectly willing to carry a blog grudge into the academic realm.

Thanks to Michael, Chris, and the lovely Leslie Johns for making my 20 hours in New Orleans so enjoyable.

UPDATE: Munger posts his round-up as well. His most telling point:

I still think there is a legit question about whether a junior person can blog, or if a senior person can blog, and ever get a first/another academic job. Same as with a supreme court justice nominee: too much paper trail, and people who oppose you can find stuff to use against you. I am clearly going to die at Duke, so it is easy for me to act all tough, but I think this is a real concern. I have colleagues who have tenure, and say they would like to blog, but that the stuff would be used against them in their Senate confirmation hearings if they ever get a top appointment in a regulatory agency. They are completely right, of course.

I'll be up for tenure next year, so -- lucky me -- I get to be the first test of Munger's first thesis -- and I hope he's wrong. However, he's dead right about a blog potentially sabotaging a confirmation hearing -- which is why I pretty much threw any dreams of those positions out the window once I started the blog.

Mike also came up with the best turn of phrase for describing the tenure process -- "the star chamber."

posted by Dan at 05:00 PM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (4)

I'm not a pure libertarian

Unlike Michael Munger, I'm not terribly bothered by my score of 58 out of a possible 160 points on this Libertarian Purity test. First, that score characterizes me as "a medium-core libertarian," which is pretty much accurate. Second, I'm perfectly comfortable saying no to questions like

  • Should the law itself be privatized?

  • Should the state be disarmed and its military disbanded?

  • Is it morally permissible to exercise "vigilante justice," even against government leaders?

  • Should the state be abolished?

  • Would you call yourself an "anarcho-capitalist?"
  • As I've said before, "I’m frequently conflicted between my laissez-faire instincts and my clear-eyed recognition that there is no substitute for nation-states in world politics." Libertarian theories of international relations have never been able to cope with this fact.

    posted by Dan at 01:11 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (5)

    Saturday, March 12, 2005

    What to read on the blogosphere

    In honor of my trip to New Orleans to talk about blogs at the Public Choice Society meetings, here's what I'm going to be thinking about for the next 24 hours:

    1) Gallup has a new poll on blog readership entitled, "Blogs Not Yet in the Media Big Leagues." It opens:

    Three-quarters of the U.S. public uses the Internet at work, school, or home, but only one in four Americans are either very familiar or somewhat familiar with blogs (the shortened form of the original "Web logs"). More than half, 56%, have no knowledge of them. Even among Internet users, only 32% are very or somewhat familiar with blogs.

    More to the point, fewer than one in six Americans (15%) read blogs regularly (at least a few times a month). Just 12% of Americans read blogs dealing specifically with politics this often. Among Internet users, the numbers are similarly low: 19% and 15%, respectively....

    According to a December 2004 Gallup Poll, the percentage of Americans getting their news on a daily basis from the mainstream media is 51% for local television news, 44% for local newspapers, 39% for cable news networks, 36% for the nightly broadcast network news, and 21% for radio talk shows. By contrast, only 3% of Americans say they read Internet blogs every day, and just 2% read politics-focused blogs daily.

    Mystery Pollster deconstructs the poll, pointing out:

    No, the collective reach of blogs is nowhere near that of television or print media, but focusing on the relatively small percentages misses the rapidly growing influence of the blog readership in absolute terms. The 12% that say they read political blogs at least a few times a month amount to roughly 26 million Americans. That may not make blogs a "dominant" news source, but one American in ten ads up to a lot of influence.

    It's also worth comparing and contrasting the Gallup poll with the BlogAds survey.

    2) Lada Adamic and Natalie Glance, "The Political Blogosphere and the 2004 U.S. Election: Divided They Blog." The abstract:

    In this paper, we study the linking patterns and discussion topics of political bloggers. Our aim is to measure the degree of interaction between liberal and conservative blogs, and to uncover any differences in the structure of the two communities. Specifically, we analyze the posts of 40 “A-list” blogs over the period of two months preceding the U.S. Presidential Election of 2004, to study how often they referred to one another and to quantify the overlap in the topics they discussed, both within the liberal and conservative communities, and also across communities. We also study a single day snapshot of over 1,000 political blogs. This snapshot captures blogrolls (the list of links to other blogs frequently found in sidebars), and presents a more static picture of a broader blogosphere. Most significantly, we find differences in the behavior of liberal and conservative blogs, with conservative blogs linking to each other more frequently and in a denser pattern.

    Jerome Armstrong takes this information and concludes, "there's just a lot more coordination through linking among Republican than there has been with Democratic bloggers, at least on the surface of particular URL's." Which suggests to me he didn't actually read the paper, since on p. 10 the authors reject this hypothesis:

    Once we remove from our analysis all URLs pointing to political blogs, the liberal and conservative blogs both had an average similarity of 0.083 and 0.087, a difference that is not statistically significant. These results suggest that Although conservative bloggers tend to more actively comment on one another’s posts, this behavior is not accompanied by a greater uniformity in other online content they link to....

    Conservative television programs and conservative talk radio have sometimes been perceived to be acting as an echo chamber for Republican talking points. However, we did not find evidence for this in conservative blogs.

    Kevin Drum has a better summary, and highlights this interesting finding:

    Notice the overall pattern: Democrats are the ones more often cited by right-leaning bloggers, while Republicans are more often mentioned by left-leaning bloggers....These statistics indicate that our A-list political bloggers, like mainstream journalists (and like most of us) support their positions by criticizing those of the political figures they dislike.

    [So does this mean that Cass Sunstein's thesis about cyberbalkanization is correct?--ed. Not necessarily, for a couple of reasons. First, the authors admit that, "we did not gather the URLs of libertarian, independent, or moderate blogs," though admittedly they are smaller in number. More importantly, the authors collected this data in the run-up to the 2004 election -- an easy case for partisanship if there ever was one.

    Oh, and a quick tip of the cap to Adamic and Glance for the citation to Drezner and Farrell.

    3) As evidence against cyberbalkanization, click over to this petition from bloggers to the Federal Elections Commission. For even better evidence, go sign it.

    posted by Dan at 12:45 AM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (2)

    Susan Estrich can't be this stupid

    Via Virginia Postrel, I see that the Susan Estrich/Michael Kinsley feud has not abated (click here for my take on the triggering op-ed). James Rainey provides the latest account for the Los Angeles Times. Two interesting facts:

    1) In the first nine weeks of this year, women penned 20.5% of the paper's op-ed columns, not including staff editorials, which do not carry bylines. That compared to the New York Times, with 17% women writers on its op-ed pages and the Washington Post with 10%.

    2) Susan Estrich is losing her equilibrium: "As the controversy drags into a fourth week, Estrich continues to bounce from conciliation to confrontation. She seemed near tears in an interview, saying she never intended the fight to get so personal. She blamed the operators of her website for improperly posting comments about Kinsley's mental health and contended she didn't think e-mails to Drudge and others in the media would get into the public domain." (emphasis added)

    This kind of thinking is on par with Sandy Berger thinking, "Yeah, I bet I can get away with taking some classified documents home without anyone the wiser."

    posted by Dan at 12:14 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

    Friday, March 11, 2005

    Should Jeffrey Sachs get $150 billion per year?

    Time's cover story this week (alas, subscribers only -- Aha! I found a way to access it for free; Sachs also has an excerpt in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs) is a lengthy excerpt from Jeffrey Sachs' forthcoming book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time. Sachs is the director of Columbia University's Earth Earth Institute and for the past two decades has been a macroeconomist to the stars. The quick precis of Sachs' argument is that for roughly $150 billion in aid a year, it would be possible to end extreme poverty (i.e., living on only a dollar a day) across the globe.

    For those of you who aren't Time subscribers, check out The End of Poverty web site, which includes a copious collection of Sachs' prior work. Or, you could read this New York Times magazine story on Sachs from a few months ago by Daphne Eviatar. The key graf from that story:

    Sachs is nothing if not a big thinker. And in July, the renowned macroeconomist and special adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was in Ethiopia on a world tour advancing his most ambitious project yet: the elimination of global poverty. While others tinker with incremental steps, Sachs has no patience for the small scale. Ethiopia and sub-Saharan Africa have slid deeper into poverty in the last 20 years, and whereas many economists stress the failures of local leadership, Sachs is telling a different story. In his version, Africa, through no fault of its own, is trapped. Held back by geographical impediments like climate, disease and isolation, it cannot lift itself out of poverty. What Africa needs, then, is not more scolding from the West. It needs a ''big push'' -- a flood of foreign aid -- to boost its prospects and carry it into the developed world.

    Time's sidebar story profiles Sachs in glowing terms:

    In the halls of politics and power, most economists are like wallpaper— full of intricate details but ultimately decoration. Jeffrey Sachs, however, is a brand name. A player. There's Jeff with the Pope. There's Jeff with U.N. chief Kofi Annan. There's Jeff with his save- the- world sidekick, U2's Bono.

    Sachs, 50, has been around the planet more times than a space station to promote the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals, to raise annual aid to 0.7 percent of gnp of the donor countries (starting with an extra $70 billion per year as of 2006), in order to halve poverty by 2015. He's a special adviser to Annan while pursuing a day job as head of Columbia University's Earth Institute, which reflects his philosophy as an economist: that sustainable development can be achieved only through an approach that considers everything from geography to infrastructure to family structure.

    I'm curious what readers think about Sachs' proposal, as it's something I'll be mulling over this weekend. My initial response is threefold:

    1) I very, very much want Sachs to be correct. If $150 billion in rich country donations a year is all it takes to eradicate global poverty, that's a fantastic rate of return using either an economic or an ethical calcuator;

    2) I have a hunch that Sachs is not completely correct. Reading papers like this one makes me wonder just how much of Sachs' proposal is built on wishful thinking.

    3) What I'm still undecided about is whether the investment is worth it even if Sachs is only, say, 50% correct. Would there be any other way of spending $150 billion a year that reduced extreme poverty by more than that amount?

    Two final metanotes: First, I'm somewhat surprised that Time ran the excerpt, a heartbreaking photo essay, and a glowing sidebar on Sachs himself without any critical take on the meat of Sachs' proposals. I'm not saying Time should have done a hatchet job on him or anything -- but there are critiques out there for why Sachs' proposal might not work, and Time does a disservice to their readers if these aren't mentioned somewhere.

    If this is an examplar of Time's "Journalism with a Conscience," count me out.

    Second, at the same time, I'm somewhat surprised and mildly appalled that this story hasn't generated a lot of buzz in the blogosphere. Sachs could be mostly or partially wrong, but he's neither is a lightweight nor making vague proposals. He's got some serious proposals about channeling money towards anti-malaria medication, transportation infrastructure, clean water wells and the like. Unfortunately, this lack of attention would seem to be consistent with Ethan Zuckerman's hypothesis that the blogosphere echoes the mediasphere in paying a disproportionate amount of attention to the advanced industrialized world.

    UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. And given some of the comments, let's try to head off a few objections at the pass. The following are not valid reasons for rejecting Sachs' plan

    1) Sachs ignores the importance of free market capitalism in economic development. No, Sachs is quite adamant about the benefits of free trade and market capitalism. His argument is rather that in some sections of the globe, the abject level of poverty is so low that it's impossible for people to generate any surplus value -- what Sachs refers to as a "poverty trap." In these areas, a boost of aid would permit some initial savings -- after which economic development along market lines can begin to take place.

    2) Sachs was responsible for Russia's failed reform effort, so why trust him now? I'm pretty sure the Russians bear the primary responsibility for the failure of Russian reform, but for the moment let's take this critique as fact. Sachs was also responsible for successful reform efforts in Bolivia and Poland. A 2-1 record in development economics ain't too shabby.

    3) Sachs just wants to give this money to corrupt governments. No, he's explicit in saying that countries with spectacularly bad governance -- i.e., Zimbabwe -- don't get a dime. The corruption critique still has some validity, but Sachs also has some minimum threshhold conditions on this front.

    4) Sachs' plan has no details, just a nice round number. Click on the UN Millennium Project -- and, more specifically, the page containing links to the full text -- to get a sense of the details.

    To repeat, there are ways to criticize Sachs' plan -- but these arguments don't hold water.

    ANOTHE UPDATE: Tony Blair has stepped into this debate as well with his Commission for Africa report. Reviewing the report, the Economist observes:

    Extra aid would probably ease Africa's poverty. Although past aid has largely been wasted, the report gives sound pointers as to how in future it could be made to work. Aid should be “untied”: that is, the recipient should not be obliged to buy goods from the donor. It should be predictable, to help the recipient plan for the long term. It should mostly be in the form of grants, not loans, to avoid future debt traps. It should “support the national priorities of African governments rather than [donors'] special enthusiasms”.

    Most important, aid should be lavished on the countries that can use it—ie, poor but fairly well-governed ones—and denied to corrupt and incompetent regimes that will steal or squander it. The trouble is, there are not enough well-governed countries in Africa. “Without progress in governance,” admits the report, “all other reforms will have limited impact.”

    ....Africa will not prosper until corruption is checked and governance improves. And that task, as the report says, is “first and foremost the responsibility of African countries and people”.

    posted by Dan at 02:48 PM | Comments (104) | Trackbacks (15)

    The secret formula for superheroines

    Christina Larson has a droll essay in Washington Monthly about how Hollywood has screwed up the female superheroine genre, despite the initial promise from Charlie's Angels or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show and not the film). The key part:

    But the good news for Hollywood—and audiences—is that there is an enduring formula that works. Superheroines since the 1970s—from Wonder Woman to Princess Leia, Charlie's Angels to Lara Croft, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to "Alias's" Sydney Bristow—have all followed a few simple rules to find success on the big and little screen. And every would-be action babe who has flopped has broken at least one of them. So what's the secret?

    1. Do fight demons. Don't fight only inner demons.
    2. Do play well with others. Don't shun human society.
    3. Do exhibit self-control. Don't exhibit mental disorders.
    4. Do wear trendy clothes. Don't wear fetish clothes.
    5. Do embrace girl power. Don't cling to man hatred.
    6. Do help hapless men. Don't try to kill your boyfriend.
    7. Do toss off witty remarks. Don't look perpetually sullen.

    I would point out that one of Buffy's best seasons was when she had to try to kill her boyfriend -- but that's nitipicking. Read the whole thing.

    posted by Dan at 02:12 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

    The dollar hiccups again

    Throughout the mid and late nineties, U.S. Treasury secretaries learned to repeat the mantra that "a strong dollar is good for America" ad nauseum to reporters -- because if they didn't, the markets would speculate that the dollar wouldn't be defended and start to go nuts.

    Through the mid and late noughties [Is that what this decade is called?--ed. Damned if I know] it's not really going to matter a whole hell of a lot what the U.S. Treasury Secretary says. What matters now is what officials are saying in the countries where official institutions are buying dollars and dollar-denominated assets -- Japan, China, Korea, etc.

    And as this Financial Times story suggests, the quicker these officials learn not to publicly discuss "diversification," the less jittery currency markets will be:

    Japan's finance ministry moved swiftly on Thursday to calm markets after the dollar tumbled and Treasury yields spiked higher on comments made by Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister, about diversification of foreign currency reserves.

    Asked by a parliamentary committee about government policy on Japan's $840.6bn of foreign reserves, Mr Koizumi said: “I believe diversification is necessary."

    Markets reacted sharply to his comments, sending the euro to a two-month high of $1.3456 against the dollar.

    Ten-year Treasury yields reached a seven-month high at 4.57 per cent on the news. Japan holds large amounts of Treasuries as a result of its currency interventions and any diversification of its reserves is likely to involve scaling back its holdings.

    Investors fear this would weaken bond prices and lift yields, raising US borrowing costs.

    Peter McTeague, strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital, said trading volumes of US Treasuries jumped and investors suffered “a pretty wild ride” in Asian trading hours.

    Japan's ministry of finance (MoF) moved quickly to quash any suggestion that policy had changed.

    Mastatsugu Asakawa, director of the foreign exchange division at the ministry, denied Japan's policy had shifted. “We have never thought about currency diversification,” he said, saying the prime minister was referring to asset-class diversification within a particular currency....

    The episode however emphasised market sensitivity to any hint that Asian central banks are considering diversifying their massive dollar holdings, which have built up as a result of unprecedented levels of intervention in the past two years.

    This is essentially a replay of what happened with South Korea last month. My guess is that we'll see a few more gaffes and then officials will wise up -- as long as Bretton Woods 2 sticks around.

    posted by Dan at 12:09 AM | Comments (36) | Trackbacks (3)

    Thursday, March 10, 2005

    There are going to be more protests in Lebanon

    That's not a particularly powerful prediction given this Voice of America story:

    Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud has renamed pro-Syrian Omar Karami as prime minister, just two weeks after he resigned the post following massive opposition protests against Syrian influence in Lebanese politics.

    The decision Thursday, came after Mr. Lahoud held consultations with parliamentary deputies. The parliament, where Syria's allies have a majority, overwhelmingly advised in favor of reappointing Mr. Karami.

    Mr. Karami, a pro-Syrian Sunni Muslim politician, immediately called for a national unity government and urged the opposition to join, saying it is the only way out of Lebanon's crisis.

    The opposition, which did not present a candidate, has been demanding a full Syrian withdrawal from the country.

    Jenny Booth reports in the London Times that the opposition has already rejected joining a unity government.

    The Beirut Daily Star's Nada Bakri has the reaction from protestors. They're pretty mixed. Here's one example:

    Boutros Fadel, 41, from the Lebanese National Liberal Party (LNLP) and who has been camping out at Martyrs' Square for over a week, said: "We oppose Karami's reappointment as he is part of the pro-Syrian regime. However, he won't and can't affect our will and determination to free Lebanon from the Syrians."

    He added: "Karami resigned to calm protesters down, like giving them a morphine injection. It won't work and the cure to the virus which entered Lebanon in 1976 is UN Resolution 1559."


    posted by Dan at 11:38 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Slavery is alive and well

    The Economist has a truly depressing story about the persistence of slavery in parts of Africa and South Asia. Here's how the story begins:

    Slavery is like polio. Most westerners associate it with earlier, darker times in human history. Its eradication is a sign of human progress. And yet despite these perceptions slavery, like polio, has not in fact been eradicated. The fact of modern slavery was brought home again this week by the story of a botched manumission in Niger.

    Anti-Slavery International, a London-based human rights group, estimates that 43,000 slaves are held in Niger, which the United Nations reckons to be the second-least-developed country in the world. Slaves in the landlocked west African country form a stigmatised, closed class. Even freed slaves carry the taint of their hereditary status, and their former masters or parents’ masters may claim some or all of their income, property and dowries.

    In 2003, Niger finally got around to amending its laws to make slave ownership punishable with up to 30 years in prison. (The practice was outlawed with Niger’s independence from France in 1960, but carried no penalty.) Facing jail, a chieftain in western Niger offered to free the 7,000 slaves held by him and his clansmen in a public ceremony, due to take place on Saturday March 5th. But in the week leading up to the event, Niger’s government came to fear that a massive release of slaves would draw unwelcome attention to slavery’s existence in the country. The government declared that slavery does not exist in Niger, the ceremony was cancelled and the slaves left as slaves. Far from avoiding a public embarrassment, Niger has multiplied its worldwide shame.

    Here's how the story closes:

    The form of slavery that perhaps affects the greatest number of people is bonded labour, which is particularly rife in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Desperate workers are given a loan for as little as the cost of medication for a child, and are forced to work to repay the loan and “interest”. But no clear contract is offered—the unfortunate bonded labourer often winds up working years to repay such loans, and the bond is even often passed on to children after the original labourer’s death. Because of the apparently voluntary nature of the bondage, many do not see it as slavery. But the labourer is often so desperate for a loan, without other sources of credit, that there is little real choice involved. And once bonded, the threat of violence and the limitations on personal freedom involved make the practice in effect no different from chattel slavery.

    Many other slavery-type practices remain widespread, despite having been forbidden by UN conventions. These include forced marriage, wife-transfer, child marriage and the sale of children for labour. In Brazil, forced labourers clear Amazonian jungle at gunpoint. In western Europe, prostitutes from the former Soviet block are forced to work without any choice of which or how many clients they sleep with, and with the threat or use of force curtailing their freedom. And in the United States, Free the Slaves, another anti-slavery group, found illegal forced labour in at least 90 cities, involving over 19,000 people. The CIA has estimated the number of slaves in America at 50,000. Chinese, Mexicans, Vietnamese and others work against their will in the sex trade, domestic service, farms and sweatshops.

    In America and Europe, there is at least some hope of recourse to the authorities. India and Pakistan have banned debt bondage but struggle to enforce the law. Sudan is a criminal state actively encouraging rampaging militias. And Niger has been a rickety democracy for just over five years, unable even to admit its problem, much less tackle it. Like many things that should have been stamped out a long time ago, slavery, it seems, is alive and well.

    Click here for more information about the problem.

    From a humanitarian perspective, this is just awful. From an international relations perspective, slavery's persistence would seem to pose a significant challenge to theoretical approaches that emphasize the power of transnational norms to eradicate or regulate certain forms of behavior.

    posted by Dan at 11:16 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, March 9, 2005

    The tricky thing about eliminating terrorism....

    In the wake of Hezbollah's demonstration of political strength yesterday in Lebanon, and President Bush's confident speech declaring that, "[the] best antidote to radicalism and terror is the tolerance and hope kindled in free societies," let's take a look at another part of the world where concerted efforts have been made to extinguish terrorism -- Northern Ireland.

    Tom Hundley reports in the Chicago Tribune on how the IRA now faces an opponent more powerful than the Protestant paramilitaries -- three Catholic sisters:

    The $50 million robbery of Belfast's Northern Bank a week before Christmas, the biggest heist in the annals of British crime, was the kind of audacious Robin Hood caper that enhanced the mystique of the Irish Republican Army.

    But the ugly Belfast pub brawl that resulted in the slaying of a 33-year-old Catholic man by members of the IRA has seriously tarnished the organization's image among its grass-roots Catholic supporters, especially after the victim's five sisters defied the IRA's unwritten code of silence and publicly demanded that their brother's killers be brought to justice.

    The Jan. 30 murder of Robert McCartney has underscored the increasing criminality of the IRA and dealt a serious blow to the electoral chances of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.

    It also has isolated Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams and turned the McCartney sisters into local heroes. Adams has not been invited to the traditional St. Patrick's Day celebration at the White House later this month; instead, President Bush has extended the honor to the McCartney sisters and the victim's fiance, Bridgeen Hagans.

    "The support of the White House in our quest for justice will be a big help," said Paula McCartney, a 40-year-old mother of five and part-time university student who has emerged as the family's spokeswoman.

    In an extraordinary admission of just how damaging the incident has become for the IRA, its leadership issued a statement Tuesday saying it had met with the McCartney sisters and offered to impose a "punishment shooting" on the four men it says were directly responsible for McCartney's death.

    Read the whole thing -- the story suggests just how difficult it might be to eliminate terrorists even when their grass roots support starts to dwindle. As Hundley points out:

    Under terms of the Good Friday agreement, the IRA should have disarmed and disbanded several years ago. Instead the gunmen have turned themselves into an increasingly Mafia-like crime organization, specializing in drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and the occasional bank robbery.

    Indeed, this is the tricky thing about eliminating terrorists -- they can turn to other activities that lack political content but still destabilize society.

    The good news in this case is that the IRA's hamhanded offer of punishment shootings has successfully united the other key domestic and international players in Northern Ireland. Needless to say the punishment shooting offer has drawn the ire and condemnation of both Great Britain and the United States. The McCartney sisters have also rejected the IRA's offer and restated their conviction that “For this family it would only be in court where transparency and accountability prevail that justice will be done."

    Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell concludes:

    [T]he Bush administration is sending about as clear and unambiguous a signal as one could possibly hope for [in inviting the MCartneys to the White House]. Interestingly, the signals from the North seem to suggest that Sinn Fein and the IRA recognize that they’re in real political trouble - not only because of the frost in their relations with the Irish, British and US governments, but also, more importantly, because of protests from natural constituency in the Catholic working class communities in Northern Ireland (where the murder in question has been highly controversial). For the first time in my memory, there’s a serious internal challenge to the IRA’s ability to control its own community, and to the frequently brutal actions of its hard men. Getting rid of them would be a considerable step forward for democratic politics in the North.

    The uneven progress being made in Northern Ireland merely underscores this paragraph from President Bush's speech yesterday:

    Encouraging democracy... is a generational commitment. It's also a difficult commitment, demanding patience and resolve -- when the headlines are good and when the headlines aren't so good. Freedom has determined enemies, who show no mercy for the innocent, and no respect for the rules of warfare. Many societies in the region struggle with poverty and illiteracy, many rulers in the region have longstanding habits of control; many people in the region have deeply ingrained habits of fear.

    This statement would also seem to hold for more affluent, more literate, and yes, more democratic societies as well.

    posted by Dan at 12:02 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (2)

    Help out this fifth grader!

    I just received the following e-mail, which I've edited a bit:

    My name is *******. I am in the fifth grade.... As part of my class project for American Studies we have to write an essay on a current event and relate that to information on the internet. As part of my project I have decided to write an essay on the Iraq War. My father is not a supporter of the war and belongs to some groups that are for peace. One of his coworkers said I should not just write about the war but about what people on the internet think about it.

    There is an essay on the war that my father read about that he thinks would be perfect for my topic but it would be better to see what bloggers think about it. It is not in support of the war and is called Iraq, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, And The Couch Potato's Burden....

    My father says I should send it to some people who are for the war, some people who are against the war, and other people who are in the middle. I can then see why people who have the same ideas might have different reasons....

    PS- I know you are a professor but I would appreciate it if you could use simpler words. My father says you are for the war but not a person full of anger, so I should try you. (emphasis added)

    Alas, as a professor I'm congenitally incapable can't write using only simple words anymore. So I'll turn this one over to my readers.

    posted by Dan at 11:59 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    Yeah, I'm Jewish too

    Eugene Volokh posts about some anti-Semitic websites that are trying to identify Jewish professors at UCLA (link via Glenn Reynolds). I'll just quote his closing argument:

    So, yeah, we're Jews. Yeah, we're overrepresented on university faculties, in law and medicine, in the Senate, on the Supreme Court. [Don't forget the blogosphere!!--DD.] Speaking of Nazis, we were overrepresented on the Manhattan Project, too.

    The most powerful country in the world, America, is one of the ones that has been most open to Jews. Look at the most anti-Semitic countries in recent history: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Arab world. Right up there at the forefront of civilization and power, aren't they? Is it all the workings of The Conspiracy? Or is it just that the sorts of idiots who hate Jews do other idiotic things, too?


    posted by Dan at 11:14 AM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Your surreal post of the day

    I honestly don't know how to categorize this post. I'll just relay what the Associated Press has to say about Russell Crowe and Al Qaeda:

    Russell Crowe says Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network wanted to kidnap him as part of a "cultural destabilization plot," according to an Australian magazine.

    In an interview published in the March edition of Australia's GQ magazine, Crowe said FBI agents told him of the threat in 2001, in the months before he won a best actor Oscar for his role as Maximus in "Gladiator."

    "That was the first (time) I'd ever heard the phrase 'al-Qaida,'" Crowe said. "It was about -- and here's another little touch of irony -- taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as sort of a cultural destabilization plot," he added.

    Crowe was born in New Zealand and has a ranch in eastern Australia but made his name in Hollywood.

    I'll leave it to my readers to figure out if this is a prime example of:

    a) Russell Crowe's outsized ego;

    b) The FBI's ineptitude in coping with Al Qaeda;

    c) Al Qaeda's surprisingly deft sense of popular culture (remember, if the information is accurate, they wanted to kidnap Crowe before he won the Oscar).

    UPDATE: Hmmm.... maybe Al Qaeda wasn't behind this fiendish plot.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Readers are heartily encouraged to suggest which celebrity kidnappings would be the most likely to trigger "cultural destabilization" in the United States. Loyal reader B.A. suggests Oprah Winfrey. [What about Salma Hayek?--ed. Ms. Hayek has the distinction of being the celebrity most likely to culturally destabilize the hard-working staff at]

    UPDATE: Kudos to bumperarchive for finding the link to the actual magazine story. Here's the relevant section of the interview:

    GQ: In the midst of the Oscar celebrations and the success of Gladiator, there was the rather strange kidnapping subplot. What can you explain about that now?

    RC: We just arrived in Los Angeles, and we got contacted by the FBI, and they arrived at the hotel we were staying at, and they went through this big elaborate speech, telling us that for the whole time we were going to be in America, they were going to be around and part of life. You know—oh, I shouldn’t say things like this—I do wonder if it was some kind of PR thing to attract sympathy toward me, because it seemed very odd. Suddenly, it looks like I think I’m fucking Elvis Presley, because everywhere I go there are all these FBI guys around.

    GQ: I don’t think it did create sympathy for you. I think a lot of people were kind of mean about it. I think they wrote about it in a way that implied you were paranoid and self-important.

    RC: None of it was my application. I didn’t pay for any of it. It was…the FBI, bless their pressed white shirts. They picked up on something they thought was really important, and they were following it through. They were fucking serious, mate. What are you supposed to do? You get this late-night call from the FBI when you arrive in Los Angeles, and they’re like absolutely full-on, “We’ve got to talk to you now, before you do anything. We have to have a discussion with you, Mr. Crowe.”

    GQ: But who was supposed to be after you?

    RC: [pauses] Um…well, that was the first conversation in my life that I’d ever heard the phrase Al Qaeda. And it was something to do with some recording picked up by a French policewoman, I think, in either Libya or Algiers. And it was a destabilization plan. I don’t think that I was the only person. But it was about—and here’s another little touch of irony—it was about taking iconographic Americans out of the picture as a sort of cultural-destabilization plan.

    GQ: So presumably the trigger for it was that you played the iconic American movie role of that year?

    RC: That seemed to be a Hollywood thing, yeah. But look, I’ll tell you what, it was never resolved to any intellectual satisfaction from my point of view. I never fully understood what the fuck was going on.

    GQ: But there must have been a point where they said, “Well, we’re not going to be around anymore….”

    RC: Oh yeah, there was a point where they said they thought the threat had probably or had possibly been overstated, and then they started to question their sources, and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t know how it was resolved, you know? But they were serious about it. And what can you say? I mean, gee, there were a lot of man-hours spent doing that gig, so the least I can say is, “Thank you very much.”

    GQ: It must have messed with your head somewhat.

    RC: I think it was a bit odd. But I also thought, [laughs] Mate, if you want to kidnap me, you’d better bring a mouth gag. I’ll be talking you out of the essential philosophies you believe in the first twenty-four hours, son. I might chew through the first one, too, so be prepared.

    posted by Dan at 10:28 AM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (1)

    Monday, March 7, 2005

    Bad news or really bad news for newspapers?

    Is print dying? A Pew Internet survey of how Americans got their information during the 2004 campaign suggests that maybe the answer is yes. Anick Jesdanun explains for the Associated Press:

    Reliance on the Internet for political news during last year's presidential campaign grew sixfold from 1996, while the influence of newspapers dropped sharply, according to a study issued Sunday.
    Eighteen percent of American adults cited the Internet as one of their two main sources of news about the presidential races, compared with 3% in 1996. The reliance on television grew slightly to 78%, up from 72%.

    Meanwhile, the influence of newspapers dropped to 39% last year, from 60% in 1996, according to the joint, telephone-based survey from the Pew Research Center for The People and the Press and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

    Nonetheless, Americans who got campaign news over the Internet were more likely to visit sites of major news organizations like CNN and The New York Times (43 percent) rather than Internet-only resources such as candidate Web sites and Web journals, known as blogs (24 percent).

    Twenty-eight percent said they primarily used news pages of America Online, Yahoo and other online services, which carry dispatches from traditional news sources like The Associated Press and Reuters.

    "It's a channel difference not a substantive difference," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet group and author of the study. "Newspaper executives probably now have to think of themselves less as newspaper people and more as content people."

    ....Fifty-eight percent of political news users cited convenience as their main reason for using the Internet. This group was more likely to use the Internet sites of traditional news organizations or online services.

    But one-third of political news consumers cited a belief that they did not get all the news and information they wanted from papers and television, and another 11% said the Web had information not available elsewhere. These individuals were more likely to visit blogs or campaign sites for information.

    And blogs, Rainie said, likely had an indirect influence on what campaigns talked about and what news organizations covered.

    Click here for Editor & Publisher's take on the report. I'm not sure how much newspapers should be panicking in terms of content -- what appears to be happening is that many people have substituted an online version of their newspaper for the print version. Nevertheless, the secular decline is evident, which should scare the business side of the press. The fact that many people are reading even online newspapers through the editorial filter of either an online news page or a blog is what should rattle editors.

    The actual Pew study can be found here -- and here's a link to Michael Cornfield's analysis of the Internet's effect on the 2004 election. Key paragraph:

    The numbers of American citizens who turn to the internet for campaign politics may dip in 2005 and the off-year election in 2006, in the absence of a presidential election. But a return to pre-2000 or even pre-2002 levels of engagement seems unlikely. As broadband connections proliferate and hum, the old mass audience for campaigns is being transformed into a collection of interconnected and overlapping audiences (global, national, partisan, group, issue-based, candidate-centered). Each online audience has a larger potential for activism than its offline counterparts simply because it has more communications and persuasion tools to exploit. This transformation makes life in the public arena more complex.


    posted by Dan at 06:17 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

    Hezbollah generates a natural experiment

    As change continues to roil parts of the Middle East, media focus is increasing on Lebanon. The Syrian government is getting more specific in its plans for a partial pullout of its troops. However, the really interesting development is within Lebanon's domestic political scene. Scott Wilson explains in the Washington Post about Hezbollah's decision to maintain its support for Syria:

    The leader of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim movement that for weeks has stood on the sidelines of Lebanon's political upheaval, called Sunday for national demonstrations against what he characterized as foreign influences seeking to expel Syria, a key sponsor of the party, from the country.

    Hassan Nasrallah, a Shiite cleric who serves as Hezbollah's secretary general, was critical in particular of the United States and France. His announcement dashed the hopes of Lebanese opposition leaders that the large, disciplined movement would join their cause to drive Syrian troops and intelligence services from Lebanon.

    The first demonstration is scheduled for Tuesday in Beirut, along an avenue near the central square where Lebanon's anti-Syrian opposition movement has staged round-the-clock protests since the Feb. 14 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

    Nasrallah appeared after what he called an "emergency meeting" of more than 30 political parties aligned with the Syrian government, which is facing international pressure and a popular uprising here to end its 30-year presence in Lebanon....

    "Freedom means that we decide for ourselves the best way to address what we see today as clear intervention of the United States and France in Lebanese internal affairs," Nasrallah said at a news conference in the Shiite suburbs of south Beirut. "The opposition must give us explanations regarding the foreign intervention. We must convince each other that only true sovereignty means independence."

    Nasrallah's defiant position comes as an emerging Lebanese alliance of Christian, Druze and Sunni Muslim parties has turned its attention to winning parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring in the hopes of forming a government free of Syrian influence. Nasrallah appeared to serve notice that Hezbollah and a variety of smaller pro-Syrian parties intended to mount a unified campaign to prevent a government hostile to Syrian interests from emerging after the elections....

    With an extensive social services network and an armed wing celebrated here for helping end the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah is perhaps the most formidable player in the power-sharing system among religious-based parties. Linked to the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine barracks in Beirut, Hezbollah is now recognized as a legal political party in Lebanon and controls a 12-seat bloc in parliament. The United States has placed Hezbollah and its satellite television channel on its list of terrorist organizations, and the European Union is considering adopting a similar designation.

    Nasrallah's ability to mobilize perhaps hundreds of thousands of Hezbollah followers for demonstrations, in addition to other large Shiite, Sunni and pan-Arab parties that will likely take part, threatens to expose a deep gulf in Lebanese society that Syrian officials have warned could widen into the kind of sectarian strife that fueled Lebanon's 15-year civil war.

    Assad, in a speech to parliament Saturday, said: "We should not remain in Lebanon one day after there is a Lebanese consensus over our presence," something Hezbollah's counter-demonstrations are likely to show does not exist....

    Nasrallah said the international pressure against Syria and Hezbollah, which increased sharply after the assassination of Hariri, was designed to further Israel's political goals, and he has called on several important Arab governments that have aligned themselves with the U.S. position to change course. Some Lebanese opposition leaders have called openly for Lebanon to recognize the 1949 armistice with Israel signed after the first Arab-Israeli war, a position Hariri was believed to have supported at the time of his assassination.

    This will be interesting. There is no denying Hebollah's political strength in Lebanon -- however, there is also no denying that the group has been very slow to react to recent political developments.

    Many commentators question whether democratization in Lebanon necessarily advance U.S. interests in the region if all it does is empower groups in Hezbollah. I've maintained in the past that even if that short-run effect takes place, democratization remains the proper long-term strategy. However, Tuesday will provide fresh evidence of whether even the short-run costs are as great as many people fear. If Hezbollah musters fewer people than expected in counter-demonstrations, then it suggests the fear of radicalism in a democratizing Middle East might be misplaced. [And if there are huge counter-demonstrations?--ed. Hey, then I'm wrong. But the social scientist in me is more excited about the prospect that there will soon be data to examine the hypothesis than worried about being wrong.]

    UPDATE: The Council on Foreign Relations has an informative interview with Stephen A. Cook on the Syria-Lebanon dynamic from late February. Two useful tidbits:

    Q: How much does it cost Syria to keep thousands of troops in Lebanon? Do the Lebanese pay for their expenses?

    A: No. The Lebanese don't pay for them per se, but Lebanon has become an economic lifeboat for Syria. There are thousands of Syrian workers, along with Syrian soldiers, in Lebanon who send money back to Syria. There is a certain amount of smuggling that goes on through Lebanon. And so Syria, which is facing a dire economic situation right now, sees Lebanon as very important economically....

    Q: Talk about the street demonstrations we're seeing now in Lebanon. There was another one yesterday demanding that Syria get out. What are we seeing here?

    A: Yesterday's demonstration was the largest yet and, according to press reports, there were tens of thousands of people in the streets screaming, "Syria out!" And like what happened in the Ukrainian situation, people are now draping themselves, not in orange, but in [the Lebanese national colors of] red and white, expressing their opposition to the Syrian presence and their opposition to the Syrian government.

    But there was also a rather sizeable demonstration that was held under the auspices of Hezbollah over the weekend that was a counter-demonstration, saying people should not trifle with the government, should not trifle with the Syrians, and that Hezbollah supported the current arrangements. And Hezbollah is the largest and most powerful militia--the only remaining militia--in Lebanon. So there seems to be a groundswell of average people--Muslims, Christians, and Druze--who are opposed to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. But at the same time, Hezbollah is also able to mobilize a significant percentage of the population in support of this continued Syrian presence.

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Lee Smith will be posting daily dispatches for Slate this week from Beirut. His first posting contains this amusing paragraph:

    [D]uring Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday commemorating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, Saudi tourists have just about taken over downtown, especially the restaurants where the Saudi women seem less interested in the various food choices—French, Lebanese, Moroccan, Italian, TGIF, Dunkin’ Donuts—than in smoking water pipes underneath see-through plastic tents set up in the middle of the cobblestone streets. Some of the women are fully veiled in black, but most seem to be availing themselves of the opportunity to show off their latest purchases. After a little time checking out their dresses, jewelry, hair, and make-up, it dawns on me that underneath every Saudi veil, there's a Jersey girl dying to break free.

    Smith also links to two expert blogs on what's happening in the Fertile Crscent -- Across the Bay and Syria Comment. Go check them out.

    posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (44) | Trackbacks (4)

    The U.S. exports comic book heroes

    Kim Barker has a story in today's Chicago Tribune on the adaptation of one comic book hero to the Indian subcontinent:

    He swings from buildings, wears a red-and-blue spider costume and shoots webs from his wrists.

    But this Spider-Man is Pavitr Prabhakar, not Peter Parker. Uncle Ben has turned into Uncle Bhim. Longtime crush Mary Jane is Meera Jain. This Spider-Man does not wear only an average tight superhero outfit. He also sports a red Spider-Man loincloth and white balloon pants.

    "We kept the characters the same, but added an Indian touch," says Jeevan Kang, the artist.

    Spider-Man has been outsourced. Next month, the first edition of the Spider-Man India comic book will be released here, in an attempt to expand the superhero's market by catering to different cultures.

    In Spider-Man India, our teenage hero has just moved to Bombay, India's cosmopolitan business center. Prabhakar hails from a village and wears large gold hoop earrings. He is teased at his new school for wearing his traditional loincloth, called a dhoti. Other boys call him "dhoti boy." They use words such as "dude" and say Prabhakar "has air bags for legs."

    As with many future superheroes, Prabhakar is haunted by his past. His parents were killed when he was a child; he still has nightmares about them. And clearly, he is destined for something more, as made obvious by his Uncle Bhim, who repeats that familiar Spider-Man adage: "With great talent, with great power ... there must also come great responsibility."

    Unlike Peter Parker, a spider never bites Pavitr Prabhakar. Because this is India, there is more smoke and mysticism involved. A mysterious yogi appears to the teenager and gives him the power of the spider "that weaves the intangible web of life."

    Prabhakar is told to fulfill his karma. He wakes up on a roof in a Spider-Man suit with a dhoti.

    Spider-Man India's nemesis also has a magical touch. Nalin Oberoi turns into a Green Goblin-like mystical Indian demon after stealing a powerful amulet.

    "We'll see what happens," says Suresh Seetharaman, an executive with Gotham Entertainment Group, which puts out Spider-Man India and distributes most U.S. superhero comic books in India. "It has been receiving a lot of unprecedented publicity and noise."

    If the first four-issue package is successful, the series will likely continue, he says....

    One wonders if the Spider-Man icon is particularly well-suited for export. One of Spider-Man's distinguishing features among the superhero pantheon is his relative poverty.

    Readers are encouraged to propose which countries would embrace which superheroes export -- and why. UPDATE: Readers are also strongly encouraged to peruse David Adesnik's thoughts on this very question from his January Weekly Standard essay

    posted by Dan at 10:08 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (1)

    Sunday, March 6, 2005

    Aloha again!!!

    Back from Waikiki, but juuuuuuust a bit jet-lagged. Regular blogging will resume tomorrow.

    In the meantime, Tom Maguire has an idea for how to topple the North Korean regime. Take a look at his proposal and let him know what you think.

    posted by Dan at 04:54 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

    Wednesday, March 2, 2005


    I'm forced to leave the moderate temperatures of Chicago to the sweltering climate of Honolulu to attend the International Studies Association annual meeting. Perhaps, if I have some spare time between sessions, I'll find the time to post--- oh, who the hell am I kidding??!! I'm going to be in friggin' Hawaii!!!! The only way I'm blogging anything is if it's 4 AM and I can't sleep and there's nothing on HBO.

    So.... while I'm gone, go check out David Rothkopf's fascinating Foreign Policy essay, "Inside the Committee that Runs the World." It's about the foreign policy divisions that have emerged within the Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's argument before, but the FP article is the fullest treatment I've seen on this topic -- plus lots of inside dirt.

    The section I'm particularly glad to see is the one that confirms my assessment of Dick Cheney's role in upsetting the NSC policy process. I said a year ago:

    has nothing to do with the policy positions Cheney has taken on Iraq or anything else. Rather, the difficulty is that even cabinet-level officials can be reluctant in disagreeing with him because he's the vice-president. This leads to a stunted policy debate, which ill-serves both the President and the country.

    From Rothkopf's essay:

    Cheney has had the largest national security staff of any vice president in U.S. history—one larger than President John F. Kennedy’s entire NSC staff at one time. He also has a network of close associates that extend throughout the government and who report to him or to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his chief of staff, whose rank (assistant to the president) is technically equivalent to the national security advisor’s. Estimates of the total number of staffers, consultants, and those seconded from other agencies to the vice president’s office to work on national security-related issues have ranged from 15 to 35; it’s impossible to know for sure, as the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act do not cover the Office of the Vice President, and therefore it does not need to disclose details of its operation.

    Rice describes Cheney as a “terrific” asset, in that “he has been able to sit as a principal without a bureaucratic domain to defend, so he’s always just a really wonderfully wise voice in the principals’ councils.” Others see it differently, including many officials within the administration who believe that the true value of a principals’ committee meeting is to allow the president’s national security team to have a free and open discussion about the advice they wish to give the president. Unfortunately, when Cheney is at the table, he is not simply, as Rice characterizes him, just a wise, old principal without a portfolio. He is seen as an 800-pound gorilla whose views carry much more weight than the others and which therefore skew discussions and quash open dissent, inadvertently or otherwise.

    Richard Haass, who served in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and is currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recalls that Cheney had “three bites at the apple. He has his staff at every meeting. He would then come to principals’ meetings. And then he’d have his one-on-ones with the president. And given the views that came out of the vice president’s office, it introduced a certain bias to the system…. As a result, I felt that at just about every meeting, the State Department began behind two and a half to one.”

    Really, read the whole thing.


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

    Tuesday, March 1, 2005

    March's Books of the Month

    The international relations book is partially inspired by this Brad DeLong post. The highlights:

    When economists talk about international trade and finance, they talk--first and most importantly--about building institutions to allow for mutually-beneficial acts of economic exchange. They talk about diminishing barriers and increasing confidence. They talk about playing positive-sum games with people in other countries that increase wealth, trust, and confidence and that ultimately align interests: the larger is the surplus from international trade and finance, the bigger is that stake that everyone has in continuing the free-trade-and-finance game....

    Between 1850 and 1910--by accident--Great Britain built ties with the United States: economic ties, cultural ties, political ties of mutual deference where strategic issues were at stake. As a result, by 1910 Americans perceived Britain as their friend, and the British Empire as by and large a force for good in the world. This is in striking contrast to how Britain was perceived in 1850: the cruel corrupt ex-colonial power that had just starved a quarter of all Irishmen to death.

    Now this mattered a lot.

    This meant that when Britain got into trouble in the twentieth century--whether with Wilhelm II or Hitler or Stalin and his successors--it had wired aces as its hole cards in the poker game of seven-card stud that is international relations. The willingness of the United States to send Pershing and his army Over There, to risk war with and then to fight Hitler, and to move U.S. tanks from Ft. Hood, TX, to the Fulda Gap were all powerfully motivated by America's affinity with Britain, its geostrategic causes, and its security.

    How does this apply to the present? It is obvious. Alexis de Tocqueville could project before the Civil War that the U.S. and Russia were likely to become twentieth-century superpowers. We can project today that at least one of India and China--perhaps both--will become late-twenty first century superpowers. We have an interest in building ties of affinity now. It is very important for the late-twenty first century national security of the United States that, fifty years from now, schoolchildren in India and China be taught that America is their friend that did all it could to help them become rich. It is very important that they not be taught that America wishes that they were still barefoot and powerless, and has done all it can to keep them so.

    The fact that these issues are not even on the radar screen of the international relations community is indeed terrifying...

    There's a fair amount to quibble with in this post -- Brad's statements about what diplomats want from trade is pure straw man; neither international relations scholars nor the foreign policy community is blind to the rise of China and India. Nevertheless, the point about U.S. economic openness yielding long-term policy dividends from rising great powers is spot-on.

    So, this month's IR book is The United States and the World Economy: Foreign Economic Policy for the Next Decade, edited by C. Fred Bergsten of the Institute for International Economics. The book's precis:

    What are the key foreign economic policy issues facing the United States in the second half of this decade? How can the administration and Congress meet the economic challenges that lie ahead? This new book analyzes the dramatic importance of the world economy to both the domestic prosperity and overall foreign policy of the United States, describes the new global environment (e.g., the rise of China as a global economic superpower and the completion of European unification) in which US policy must operate, and proposes major US initiatives on a wide range of international economic issues, including correction of the huge current account deficit, new trade negotiations, and energy.

    Of particular interest was the chapter by Scott C. Bradford, Paul L. E. Grieco, and Gary Clyde Hufbauer on "The Payoff from Global Integration," in which the authors put a dollar value on the return from past and future trade expansion. Using different methods of estimation, they estimate that the cumulative payoff from trade liberalization since the end of the Second World War ranges between $800 billion to $1.45 trillion dollars per year in added output. This translates into an added per capita benefit of between $2,800 and $5,000—or, more concretely, an addition of somewhere between $7,100 and $12,900 per American household. As for the future, the gains from future trade expansion have been estimated to range between an additional $450 billion and $1.3 trillion per year in additional national income—which would increase per capita income between $1,500 and $2,000 on an annual basis. The fact is, there are few policies in the U.S. government’s tool kit that consistently yield rewards of this magnitude. [What about the costs in terms of jobs lost, etc.?--ed. Estimated as well -- a bit less than $60 billion per year. So there are costs, but they're much, much smaller than the benefits.]

    The general interest book [WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE AHEAD] comes courtesy of Kieran Healy:

    Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit. The first paragraph alone is priceless:

    One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves.

    [Why buy the book when the whole text is online?--ed. Well, this is just me, but I love small books that can fit in one's pocket. More importantly, however, is that I'm traveling tomorrow and I'm already looking forward to reading the book on the plane just to see the reactions to the title. A printout just doesn't have the same punch.]

    posted by Dan at 11:53 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)