Sunday, July 31, 2005

The revolution in basing affairs?

On the one hand, Donald Rumseld and the DoD have been engaged in a multi-year plan to reorganize and reposition the U.S. military. According to Thom Shanker of the New York Times, the repositioning of 50,000 U.S. troops from Korea and Germany back to the United States is complete.

On the other hand, Maura Reynolds and David Holley report in the Los Angeles Times that some countries are requesting that U.S. forces leave ahead of schedule:

Uzbekistan has issued an eviction notice to a U.S. air base that has been used since 2001 to stage military and humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Saturday.

The notice, delivered Friday to the U.S. Embassy in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, gives the United States six months to comply, Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said.

"The bottom line is, they want us out," he said.

The Uzbek government has increasingly bristled at the U.S. military presence, especially since the State Department joined international allies in calling for an inquiry into the shooting deaths of protesters during a rally in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May....

Anticipating eviction by Uzbekistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld won pledges from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan last week to let the United States continue using airfields there for operations in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan does not border Afghanistan, and Tajikistan's roads into the country are poor, but Rumsfeld expressed optimism that those more distant bases would be adequate should Uzbekistan carry through on its threat to evict U.S. forces.

"We're always thinking ahead. We'll be fine," Rumsfeld said on a tour of Central Asia.

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, Mark Sappenfield suggests that these recent developments suggest the complexity of fighting a global war on terror:

As the Pentagon transforms its military to meet the more flexible needs of the war on terror, it has also begun to recast the footprint of its overseas bases, and nowhere has this been more obvious than in the remote Central Asian republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

For more than three years, they have allowed the United States to use a pair of austere airfields to provide crucial support for troops in Afghanistan, and they have served as models of how America will wage its wars in the future. Yet even as Kyrgyzstan reaffirmed its commitment to the United States for the duration of the Afghan war last week, Uzbekistan sent US forces an eviction notice.

It is a glimpse of what awaits the Pentagon as it spreads beyond the stability of cold-war bases in Europe and the Far East. New alliances with nations from Southeast Asia to the Horn of Africa promise quick access to the remotest corners of the globe, but they could increasingly link American security to the whims of fickle allies and controversial regimes.

"We're going to be fighting this global war against irregular forces in much different places than we were willing to fight in the past," says Robert Work, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments here. "And in [these places] there are no long-term allies."

Another way of interpreting the data is that the administration is actually willing to put its emphasis on democracy promotion front and center, even in regions considered of geostrategic importance. The willingness to leave nondemocratic Uzbekistan while maintaining bases in democratizing Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan suggests that the U.S. is recalculating the requirements to be a long-term partner of the U.S. (This, by the way, would contradict what I wrote in Diplomatic History last month.)

The LAT report suggests that the Uzbeks might just be bargaining, so we'll see how this unfolds.


UPDATE: Austin Bay has more on Uzbekistan, although, again, I'll be interested to see if whether the U.S. and the Uzbeks wind up cutting a deal.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jonathan Caverley has cogent thoughts about this over at Intel Dump -- now if only he'd listen to me about other things.

posted by Dan at 09:40 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Your absurd suggestion of the day

In the United Kingdom, Sky News reports on a helpful suggestion made by the (privately run) Advertising Standards Authority:

Drinks companies have been ordered to use uglier men in their advertising campaigns.

The Advertising Standards Authority believes "balding" and "paunchy" men would be less likely to encourage women to drink to achieve social success.

The new advertising code stresses that links must not be made between alcohol and seduction.

A campaign for popular sparkling drink Lambrini has become the first to fall foul of the new rules.

The Authority objected to a poster which showed three women "hooking" a slim, young man in a parody of a fairground game.

The industry regulator instructed the firm: "We would advise that the man in the picture should be unattractive - ie overweight, middle-aged, balding etc.

"In its current form we consider that the ad is in danger of implying that the drink may bring sexual/social success, because the man in question looks quite attractive and desirable to the girls.

"If the man was clearly unattractive, we think that this implication would be removed from the ad."

Hat tip to Simon Says for the link.

Oh, and for those Brits reading who want to voice a response to the ASA's suggestion, here's a link to their complaint page.

posted by Dan at 03:45 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Quote of the day

Overheard at a Cato Institute talk I attended:

What have we gotten from Republicans controlling all the branches of government? A bloated entitlement state that eats its young, and a lot of buildings named after Ronald Reagan.

UPDATE: The author of the quote rightly claims credit for it.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Virginia Postrel echoes this theme:

By jetisoning any pretense to free-market principles, the GOP is defining itself entirely as the party of the religious right. The subsidies to friends are simply business as usual for whatever party is in power, a tool for fundraising but not for defining party identity.

posted by Dan at 02:08 PM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hey, Karen Hughes!!!! Over here!!!!

Dear Karen,

I see you are slowly wending your way through the confirmation process for the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Congrats on that unanimous vote.

By the way, Robert Satloff has a must-read piece in TNR Online on the hurdles you will face at Foggy Bottom. Here are the opening and closing paragraphs:

In her Senate nominating testimony last week, Undersecretary of State-designate for public diplomacy Karen Hughes characterized America's challenge to win allies and understanding around the globe as a "struggle of ideas." Here's a story of what happened when one bright idea--ahem, my bright idea--offered as a modest proposal to help fight the post-9/11 hearts-and-minds battle in the Middle East ran up against a truly formidable adversary: the federal bureaucracy....

Both Hughes and [Dina] Powell have reputations for being smart, savvy professionals; but neither has ever worked in the State bureaucracy, where purse-strings are power and turf is holy ground. To be sure, officials in each one of State's alphabet soup of offices--ECA, OOS, MEPI--are caring, committed professionals, forced to make solomonic decisions about lots of worthy projects with limited funds. But Hughes and Powell have a special responsibility to see the big picture and to connect the many little dots that will make it come to life--in other words, to break through the bureaucratic brick-wall that is hampering our efforts to win hearts and minds in the Middle East. Hughes is right that the war on terrorism is a "struggle of ideas." It would be nice if implementing ideas to fight that battle weren't such a struggle.

Read the whole thing. And then roll up your sleeves.

And then -- only if you have the time, mind you -- go read Anne Applebaum too. .

posted by Dan at 02:10 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

So CAFTA passes...

The Bush administration is getting really, really good at using William Riker's "minimum winning coalition" theory of passing trade bills. Here's the Washington Post story by Paul Blustein and Mike Allen:

The House narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement this morning, delivering a hard-fought victory to President Bush while underscoring the nation's deep divisions over trade.

The 217 to 215 vote came just after midnight, in a dramatic finish that highlighted the intensity brought by both sides to the battle. When the usual 15-minute voting period expired at 11:17 p.m., the no votes outnumbered the yes votes by 180 to 175, with dozens of members undeclared. House Republican leaders kept the voting open for another 47 minutes, furiously rounding up holdouts in their own party until they had secured just enough to ensure approval.

The House vote was effectively the last hurdle -- and by far the steepest -- facing CAFTA, which will tear down barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

"This win sends a powerful signal to the region and the world that the United States will continue to lead in opening markets and leveling the playing field," said Rob Portman, the U.S. trade representative, in a statement issued immediately after the vote.

Although the deal was approved by the Senate last month, it was overwhelmingly opposed by House Democrats who contend that it is wrong to strike a free-trade pact with poor countries lacking strong protection for worker rights. Only 15 of the 202 House Democrats backed the accord, while 27 out of 232 Republicans voted against....

Before the vote, GOP leaders, who had negotiated deals in recent days to sway Republicans, made it clear they were prepared to twist arms. "It will be a tough vote, but we will pass CAFTA tonight," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) told reporters yesterday morning. "And we will do it with very few Democrats on board."

Underscoring the importance that Bush attaches to the pact, he put his prestige on the line by making a rare appearance with Vice President Cheney at the weekly closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. Bush spoke for an hour, lawmakers said, stressing the national security implications of CAFTA, which are rooted in the concern that growing anti-American sentiment in Latin America would flourish if the United States refused to open its markets wider to the nations that negotiated the pact.

"Mothers and fathers in El Salvador love their children as much as we love our children here," Bush said, stressing the need to look out for the young democracies in "our neighborhood," according to lawmakers. He also noted that four of the six countries -- the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua -- have assisted the U.S. military effort in Iraq.

The last-minute negotiations for Republican votes resembled the wheeling and dealing on a car lot. Republicans who were opposed or undecided were courted during hurried meetings in Capitol hallways, on the House floor and at the White House. GOP leaders told their rank and file that if they wanted anything, now was the time to ask, lawmakers said, and members took advantage of the opportunity by requesting such things as fundraising appearances by Cheney and the restoration of money the White House has tried to cut from agriculture programs. Lawmakers also said many of the favors bestowed in exchange for votes will be tucked into the huge energy and highway bills that Congress is scheduled to pass this week before leaving for the August recess. (emphasis added)

As that bolded portion suggests, whether using Riker's theory is good for public policy is another question entirely.

As I said before, I supprted CAFTA's passage, and I'm glad to see President Bush used some of those reasons to get it through. But I confess I can't muster a great deal of enthusiasm about this passage, except in so far as it preserves the possibility of achieving the Doha round.

Oh, and since the Bush administration won't do it, let me take the opportunity to thank the fifteen Democrats who voted for the bill -- without whom, I suspect, CAFTA would have gone down. You're a shrinking breed.

One interesting question for the future will be how the defections from the AFL-CIO will affect the lobbying power of unions on trade-related issues. I suspect that their trade policy shop is going to get seriously dented by this change. [But Nathan Newman says that competition among unions for organizing will be good for the labor movement!--ed. Check out Robert Fitch's take in Slate and see if Newman's optimism is still well-placed.]

UPDATE: Well, it looks like the Bushies aren't the only ones playing hardball:

From Roll Call: "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), angry that some of her own betrayed the party on a key trade vote, called a last-minute, Members-only meeting tonight to review the early-morning balloting and the reasoning behind defectors' votes.

"Pelosi called for the special session of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee at a private whip meeting this morning, during which she said she 'had a sleepless night' over the Central American Free Trade Agreement vote that narrowly passed early in the morning. Sources in the room said Pelosi was furious at the outcome and the votes of some of the 15 Democrats - notably some in safe districts - who joined the Republicans to pass the bill.

posted by Dan at 12:25 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The Economist is cute but wrong

Tim Harford is guest-blogging over at Marginal Revolution, and he links to a partially tongue-in-cheek Economist story (subscription required) that opens with the following:

In December, we warned that the dollar's role as the world's main currency was under threat if America continued in its profligate ways. Yet the dollar has been dethroned even sooner than we expected. It has been superseded not by the euro, nor by the yen or yuan, but by another increasingly popular global currency: frequent-flyer miles.

Harford goes on to observe, "frequent flyer miles are now the world's dominant currency, with outstanding balances at $700bn."

I'm embarrassed to say I haven't gotten around to having an online subscription, but I think the Economist's claim of frequent-flyer miles collectively functioning as a single currency is wrong. Why? Because collective frequent flyer miles are denominated with different units of account (some airlines use segments rather than miles). They also don't work terribly well as mediums of exchange -- e.g., exchanging United miles with American miles. UPDATE: Well, exchange is possible but incredibly costly, according to this MSN Money report:

Ten airlines, including American and Hawaiian, participate in the HHonors Rewards exchange, allowing the points-to-miles-to-points conversion among all 10. However, these exchanges come at a price. For the most part, 5,000 miles earn 10,000 HHonors points. (Kilometers from Lan Chile and miles from Virgin Atlantic are exchanged at a 1-to-1 ratio.) Converting the points back to miles erodes the value considerably. For all but Lan Chile, you get 1,500 miles for every 10,000 HHonors points. Essentially, you've traded 5,000 miles for 1,500 miles....

"Consumers can convert miles with United and American at a 1-to-1 ratio into Club Rewards points," says Ashley Miller, the program's North America director.

The points can be converted back into miles with the program's 24 other partner airlines, but at a 2-to-1 ratio so that 10,000 Club Reward points become 5,000 miles. There's also a handling fee for converting points to miles. Miles in those other 24 partner programs can't be converted to Club Rewards points.

The problem is that this makes the HHonors points the currency, not the frequent flyer miles themselves.

Individually, I can think of each frequent-flyer program as creating money, but together they don't form a single currency, but rather another six or seven.

It's been a while since I thought of how to define a currency, so I'd appreciate a correction if I'm wrong on this. I never feel completely comfortable contradicting the Economist.

UPDATE: Several commenters have suggested that I didn't detect the irony in the Economist piece -- au contraire, I was aware of the lighthearted one. If the logic underlying the humor doesn't hold up, however, then I'm not sure how funny it is.

posted by Dan at 12:34 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How offshore outsourcing has devastated the high tech sector -- part deux

Six months ago I posted on how the IT sector seemed to be thriving as of late despite the rise of offshore outsourcing.

Here's some more evidence from Thomas Hoffman at ComputerWorld:

A strengthening U.S. economy that's fueling increased IT spending and creating a tighter labor market has led to moderate pay gains for technical workers such as application developers and database administrators, according to new research and interviews with IT executives last week.

"There is a noticeable wage increase" for technical skills, said David Myers, director of project management at Solo Cup Co. in Highland Park, Ill.

Myers said he believes that the pay gains are the result of a general rise in IT capital spending, which has resulted in more projects being launched and a decreasing supply of available domestic IT labor....

A report released last week by Foote Partners LLC, a New Canaan, Conn.-based market research firm, found that pay for noncertified and certified technical skills has risen 3.8% and 1.3%, respectively, through the first six months of this year.

Pay raises this year have been particularly strong for people with skills in operating systems (up 8.2%), networking and internetworking (up 5.1%), and databases (up 4.3%), the report said.

The results, which are based on a survey of 1,800 North American and European organizations from April to July 1, suggest that the notion that lower-cost offshore outsourcing led to wage deflation for IT workers may have been overblown, said David Foote, president of Foote Partners.

Here's a link to the Foote Partners press release that's discussed above.

It's also worth noting that beyond offshore outsourcing, there was an excellent reason for the drop in wages that did take place among IT services between 2000-2003: reduced demand. According to the WTO's report on offshore outsourcing, the annual percentage change in the U.S. IT market in the early part of this decade was as follows:

2001: -4.5%
2002: -6.3%
2003: 0.4%

So it's a funny thing -- as demand has picked up in the US, the number of IT jobs and the level of IT wages has increased.

Oh, and for those IT readers of who complain about no jobs, I'll close with some anecdotal want-ads from the ComputerWorld story:

A tighter job market is making it particularly tough for Harrah's Entertainment Inc. to find experienced IT project managers, business systems analysts, data warehousing managers and other specialists, said Tim Stanley, senior vice president and CIO at the Las Vegas-based gaming and hospitality company. Harrah's is looking to fill 25 to 35 IT positions, he said.

Allan McLaughlin, senior vice president and chief technology officer at LexisNexis Group, a research provider in Dayton, Ohio, said hiring requests for IT workers are getting more specific -- another factor contributing to competition for technical skills.

LexisNexis has an increased need for networking specialists and plans to expand its five-person IT security team to nine or 10 people over the next six months, said McLaughlin.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (16) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Is grade inflation real or imagined?

Over at Crooked Timber, Harry Brighouse asks whether grades are improving because of inflation -- or because of other reasons:

The most frequently referred to site is Stuart Rojstaczer’s, which surveys a small number of institutions and finds increases in the mean grade in all of them over both a ten year and a 30 year period (much bigger in the private than in the public institutions). This is what people take to be firm evidence of grade inflation. But it isn’t, and I’m surprised that anyone thinks it is. Here’s why; within the institutions surveyed the students might have been gaining in achievement. Grade inflation consists in higher grades being given for similar quality work, not just higher grades being given. And no-one seems to have any data on the quality of the work being produced now or in the past.

Am I saying that students might have gotten smarter over the period? Well, they might, but that’s not what I’m saying. They might be better prepared for college than before, or, rather, enough of them might be better prepared to outweigh the fact that some of them are less well prepared.... Students might be working harder, or working smarter, because they care more about getting good grades believing (falsely, according to lots of commentators) that better grades yield higher incomes and better job prospects. Instructors might have improved: many of the institutions have seen a decline in the teaching load for instructors over that period, allowing instructors more time to devote to preparation etc. Instructors might be more talented: certainly, the early period of grade inflation coincides with increased use of competitive and open hiring practices, and with the increased admission of women into the faculty.

A lot of Harry's alternative explanatuons would suggest -- perish the thought -- there have been productivity gains in education.

Much as I'd like this to be true, I'm probably more skeptical than Brighouse of this possibility -- click here for one reason why the distribution of grades suggests other factors at work besides improving student and instructor quality.

posted by Dan at 11:38 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Pervez Musharraf announces victory!

A lot of Iraq critics have argued that the best thing to do in the country now is "declare victory and go home."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seems to be pursuing a variant of this strategy with regard to his Northwest Frontier. This is according to the Financial Times' Farhan Bokhari et al:

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, claims that the command and control system of al-Qaeda in his country has been destroyed, excluding any possibility that the terrorist network could have carried out this month's bombings in London and Egypt.

In comments that British officials will view with scepticism, Gen Musharraf said al-Qaeda's sanctuaries in the northern tribal region bordering Afghanistan had been destroyed and 700 fighters captured. However, Egyptian authorities on Monday said they were investigating possible Pakistani militant suspects in connection with the bombing early on Saturday at Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh resort.

Meanwhile, in London British officials have expressed growing frustration with the Pakistani security service's inability to crack down on militants or keep a comprehensive register of madrassahs. Three of the four suicide bombers who killed 56 people in London on July 7 were Britons of Pakistani origin....

Pakistani officials said privately that they had asked Egypt to share any information on the identities of such suspects but the government publicly denied the connection. “What has appeared on these Arab TV channels is highly speculative,” Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the interior minister, said. “We have no knowledge of any such link and I don't think it is true.”

Gen Musharraf was adamant there was no connection. “Is it possible in this situation that an al-Qaeda man sitting here, no matter who he is, may control things in London, Sharm el Sheikh, Istanbul or Africa?” he said. “This is absolutely wrong.”

posted by Dan at 12:41 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 25, 2005

How the Chinese drevalue the yuan

Now we know that the Chinese devalued the yuan -- and we know pretty much why. But what were nuts and bolts of the decision-making process? How did it hapen?

The staff at the Wall Street Journal has a great essay on the two-year process by which the Chinese decided to revalue their yuan. The opening is killer:

Last Thursday morning, several key foreign banks were asked to send a representative to the headquarters of the People's Bank of China, the central bank. The topic wasn't clear.

The meeting began around the time China's foreign-exchange market was closing for the day at 3:30 p.m. As a central-bank official began to talk, the doors were shut and locked.

"They started talking about something that wasn't very useful and then started to collect mobile phones and BlackBerrys," said a banker who was briefed later. The Chinese then distributed a four-point statement: Beijing was unlinking the yuan from the U.S. dollar effective immediately.

Then another surprise: The bankers were told they would have to cool their heels until an official statement was read nearly three hours later on China's government-controlled 7 p.m. news program.

That last-minute combination of surprise and secrecy was in keeping with the long-running drama over the yuan. (emphasis added)

UPDATE: Sorry, typo in the heading -- it should have been "revalue" and not "devalue" thanks to commenters for pointing out the error.

posted by Dan at 03:07 PM | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)

So I guess bilats are OK then

The Bush administration has insisted for years that the only way it will talk with the North Koreans is at multilateral talks involving Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, etc. The North Koreans, in contrast, always wanted bilateral talks with U.S. officials.

On the eve of the six-party talks starting again, it looks like the DPRK got its wish, according to the IHT'sChristopher Buckley:

The United States unexpectedly held talks with North Korea here today, on the eve of critical six-nation negotiations intended to defuse North Korea's nuclear program.

"Right now, this is the time to have these bilateral consultations," the top American envoy at the talks, Christopher Hill, told reporters here before meeting with the North Korean deputy foreign minister, Kim Kye Gwan. "We are just trying to get acquainted, to review how we see things coming up and compare notes."

Mr. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia-Pacific affairs, sought to downplay the status of today's talks, calling them "discussions" that were not part of the "negotiations."

Nonetheless, the rare bilateral encounter between the two countries is likely to fan hopes that this latest round of six-party talks, which start on Tuesday morning and include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, will make progress toward scaling back North Korea's nuclear plans.

North Korea has long demanded more bilateral contact with the United States as part of any solution. And Mr. Hill's public acknowledgment of the bilateral meeting is itself a notable departure from Washington's past policy of acknowledging such contact only in off-the-record background briefings for journalists.

Read the whole thing -- there's some interesting material on how the Chinese view Sino-DPRK relations.

posted by Dan at 11:00 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Open Sharm al-Sheikh thread

Feel free to comment on the latest bombing in Egypt here.

I do not have anything to add that I haven't already said in this post from late 2002.

UPDATE: OK, two more things I can say, or rather link. First, this Washington Post story by Craig Whitlock suggests that the central Al Qaeda leadership has more direct control over the timing and location of terrorist attacks than the "franchise" model of Al Qaeda has suggested to date.

Second, is it my imagination or does this Canada TV story suggest Hosni Mubarak has seen Casablanca one too many times?:

Egyptian security forces have detained 70 people following Saturday's bomb blasts that killed at least 88 people.

The roundups came after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed to hunt down the terrorists behind a series of coordinated bombings in a popular Egyptian Red Sea resort.

But none have been yet been accused of involvement in Egypt's deadliest-ever terror attack, officials said.

The police investigation appeared to be similar to the one that followed last October's attacks at the Sinai resorts of Tabas and Ras Shitan, when 3,000 people were detained.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interesting.... this New York Times story by Elaine Sciolino and Don Van Natta Jr. cuts against the Whitlock story in the Post. One intelligence official is quoted as saying, "Al Qaeda is finished. But there is Al Qaedaism. This is a powerful ideology that drives local groups to do what they think Osama bin Laden wants."

posted by Dan at 05:06 PM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Talking 'bout my old generation

Generation X -- you (and I) are old and getting older. Monica Eng's story in the Chicago Tribune explains:

For many of us who attended Lollapaloozas more than a decade ago, the prospect of returning to this hipster music festival can make us feel a little creaky.

I mean, can we really feel comfortable coming back as people whose lives of late-night carousing and multiple piercings have been replaced by late-night feedings and multiple strollers?

According to Lollapalooza founder and dad Perry Farrell, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

That's because this year's Lollapalooza features a special family area called Kidzapalooza, where all children under 10 get in free with a ticketholding adult.

"Since I started Lollapalooza I've had three children and I've become very aware of the fact that there aren't many family-oriented activities geared towards parents like me . . . Lollapalooza Parents," says Farrell. "Kidzapalooza gives us something we can share with our whole family--a festival with family-oriented entertainment and activities that can educate and enliven the spirits of our kids, while also giving us a place to hear great music for our own ears."

It's also a way to expand the reach of the festival and test new waters for this event that is in the process of reconceptualization.

But it is also a boon to rock-loving parents who thought that their minivans, Diaper Genie skills and multiple offspring had exiled them from Coolville forever.

posted by Dan at 09:51 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Private equity groups go to Europe

Peter Gumbel has a fascinating story in Time on the growth of U.S. based private equity firms engaging in leveraged buyouts of European firms.

Germans in particular have taken pride in their "humane" form of capitalism, characterized by relatively short working hours and high pay, in contrast to what they see as a more cutthroat, competitive American way. But as global competition grows, European firms are under pressure to trim costs. Private-equity transactions--in which investors buy up a company using substantial amounts of debt, overhaul operations, then sell out after a few years--have been common for years in the U.S. and Britain. They used to be the rare exception in continental Europe, where financial leverage has long been frowned on and relationships with investors were based on tradition. No longer.

Starting in the late 1990s, all the big U.S. players, including Blackstone, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), Carlyle Group and Texas Pacific Group, set up small-scale European operations. They're now bustling, growing rapidly and accounting for ever more of the U.S. groups' business. In four years, Blackstone's investments in Europe have jumped from about 10% to 30% to 40% of its total business, and the firm has opened offices in London, Hamburg and Paris. "It has become quite a significant part of our business," says Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone's CEO and one of its co-founders. "It's a moment of structural change in Europe." The American moneymen last year were involved in about one-third of all European buyouts, doing deals worth more than $25 billion. That's triple the amount in 2001 (see chart). And there's no end in sight: several of the groups, including Blackstone and KKR, are in the process of setting up new investment funds aimed in part or entirely at Europe.

As the American money pours in, the deals are larger, more frequent and more highly leveraged. Five years ago, the largest European buyout transactions had a value of about $1 billion. Today's biggest deals are three times as large, and several private-equity groups are poring over at least one transaction involving a telecommunications firm in Spain that is worth more than $12 billion. One reason Europe is attractive: such huge firms as electronics giant Siemens, automakers DaimlerChrysler and Fiat and the French media company Vivendi Universal have shed operations they deem no longer core to their fundamental business. Also, investors have been buying medium-size companies whose family owners are looking to sell. Once the Americans take over, they move fast, prodding the firms to make their operations leaner and frequently reshuffling management. The worse off an operation is, the more money the investors stand to make from selling after turning it around. "We like the complexity of Europe," says Jim Coulter, a San Francisco--based founding partner of Texas Pacific. "It often means there is more inefficiency."

Read the whole thing. The restructurings are causing a bit of a ruckus. That fact that these groups are headquarted in the U.S. probably doesn't help matters right now. More importantly, European unions allege that the private equity groups come with mass layoffs. I have no doubt that's true in some cases, though the funny thing is that if you read the entire article, you will fail to find a single example of a U.S. firm actually recommending mass layoffs.

posted by Dan at 12:56 AM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 22, 2005

Does the U.S. need more mercenaries?

Alex Tabarrok asks a provocative question over at Marginal Revolution:

Should we hire more mercenaries today? Our military already has hired more than thirty thousand non-citizens. Why not bypass residency entirely and go straight to Mexico, India and elsewhere to hire soldiers? If outsourcing is good for US firms then surely it is good for the US government.

Outsourcing the military has a number of advantages. The supply of labor is nearly limitless and the price is low. Some people will object that quality is low too but if Indians can be trained to do US tax returns they can be trained to fight US wars.

....we are so desperate for troops in the United States that we are forcing old men and women, people who haven't seen active duty in forty years, back into service. At US wage rates we could easily hire many thousands of Mexicans. Many Mexican noncitizens are already serving honorably in the US military so there is no reason for quality to decline.

Mercenarism may seem unusual today but in the 18th century a typical European army contained 20-30 percent foreign troops - mercenarism was the norm. It's hard to see how the United States has a comparative advantage in military labor so the future may resemble the past more than it does the present.

The funny thing is that the U.S. relies more on mercenaries than Alex may know -- the U.S. military has outsourced a lot of its logistical functions in Iraq, for example. According to this Council on Foreign Relations page, for example, the following functions have been at least partially outsourced:

guarding officials, military installations, and supply convoys; training local troops and police forces; providing interrogators, translators, and transcribers; maintaining and repairing vehicles and aircraft, including the guidance and surveillance systems on tanks and helicopters; running logistics operations and supervising supply lines; driving supply trucks that carry fuel and food; providing warehousing and storage facilities; setting up Internet access and maintaining computer systems; preparing meals for the roughly 135,000 U.S. soldiers; cleaning military facilities, including Army bases and offices; washing clothes; and building housing.

Click here and here for more stories on this phenomenon.

However, let's assume Alex's question was tied specifically to the use of mercenaries for combat as opposed to non-combat operations. Two quick speculations for why mercenaries might not work out:

1) A big reason mercenaries disappeared from the typical European army was the introduction of the levee en masse -- and whaddaya know, it turned out that nationalist fervor trumped mercenaries on the battlefield. I think that's still true today.

2) One of the arguments for why democracies tend to do better in warfighting is that because voters know their fellow citizens will be on the line in combat, they will be much more risk-averse in their attitudes about war than authoritarian states. As a result, they will only engage in wars that are either a) essential to protecting the homeland; or b) they are really likely to win. The use of foreign mercenaries eliminates this risk-aversion from decision-making.

Finally, it's not clear to me that Alex's examples of U.S. "mercenaries" are really akin to the Hessians. Offering a citizenship inducement to foreigners joining the military is undeniably offering an additional incentive to enlist -- however, is the incentive a purely economic one or, are there identity motivations as well? Furthermore, in a world without a draft, what is the difference between offering greater monetary compensation to U.S. citizens interested in enlisting and offering similar economic incentives to foreigners interested in becoming Americans?

UPDATE: One clarification: I don't think that linking citizenship to enlistment is necessarily a bad idea -- I'm just not sure it qualifies as what Tabarrok thinks of as mercenarism.

posted by Dan at 10:55 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Blegging for health care experts

As I've said before, health care is one of those public policy areas that I know is really, really important -- and yet I cannot muster up any authentic interest in the issue whatsoever.

So, I'm going to ask my readers to help me out and decipher the import of a recent Medicare initiative, as descibed by Gina Kolata in the New York Times:

There is no one in medicine who does not consider it both crucial and long overdue to have electronic records in doctor's offices and hospitals....

Now, however, Medicare, which says the lack of electronic records is one of the biggest impediments to improving health care, has decided to step in. In an unprecedented move, it said it planned to announce that it would give doctors - free of charge - software to computerize their medical practices. An office with five doctors could save more than $100,000 by choosing the Medicare software rather than buying software from a private company, officials say.

The program begins next month, and the software is a version of a well-proven electronic health record system, called Vista, that has been used for two decades by hospitals, doctors and clinics with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Medicare will also provide a list of companies that have been trained to install and maintain the system.

Given Medicare's heft, the software giveaway could transform American medicine, said Dr. John Wasson, a Dartmouth Medical School health care researcher.

But, Dr. Wasson added, it may take a while. "If you look at it from a five-year point of view, it will make a huge difference," he said....

The Vista project began a few years ago when Medicare officials realized that help for small medical practices was in its own backyard. The federal government had already paid hundreds of millions of dollars to develop Vista, and now uses it in the Veterans Administration's 1,300 inpatient and outpatient facilities, which maintain more than 10 million records and treat more than five million veterans a year. Why not give Vista to doctors?

In fact, though few knew, Vista had been available all along to anyone who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.

Over the years, the program had accrued a passionate following and even an organization, World Vista, founded in 2002 mostly by V.A. employees to help spread it throughout the world. One reason for their enthusiasm was that no company owns Vista so anyone can modify and enhance it.

It is, said Joseph Dal Molin, director of World Vista, a survival of the fittest. "What's good survives," he said.

One feature, for example, was suggested by a V.A. nurse. Why not put a bar code on a prescription bottle to identify the drug and its dose, put a bar code on the patient's wristband to identify the patient's prescription, and then scan the drug label and the patient's wristband before administering a drug? If there was a discrepancy, Vista could catch it before an error was made. Programmers added that feature, and V.A. drug errors plummeted by 80 percent overnight.

Here's a link to the World Vista homepage.

I have every confidence that the mix of open source software and halth care policy will inspire someone to comment on the importance of this policy initiative.


posted by Dan at 02:36 PM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

The beginning of the end of Bretton Woods 2?

China's central bank posted the following announcement on its web site today:

1. Starting from July 21, 2005, China will reform the exchange rate regime by moving into a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies. RMB will no longer be pegged to the US dollar and the RMB exchange rate regime will be improved with greater flexibility.

2. The People's Bank of China will announce the closing price of a foreign currency such as the US dollar traded against the RMB in the inter-bank foreign exchange market after the closing of the market on each working day, and will make it the central parity for the trading against the RMB on the following working day.

3. The exchange rate of the US dollar against the RMB will be adjusted to 8.11 yuan per US dollar at the time of 19:00 hours of July 21, 2005. The foreign exchange designated banks may since adjust quotations of foreign currencies to their customers.

4. The daily trading price of the US dollar against the RMB in the inter-bank foreign exchange market will continue to be allowed to float within a band of 0.3 percent around the central parity published by the People's Bank of China, while the trading prices of the non-US dollar currencies against the RMB will be allowed to move within a certain band announced by the People's Bank of China.

What does this mean? In the short run, not much -- China is effectively appreciating its currency by only two percent and widening its band a bit. More interesting will be whether this initial move puts pressure on China to either revalue more or let its band widen more in the future. The statement implies that the Central Bank could do this, but my hunch, and the press coverage of the announcement, leads me to believe they'll sit on 8.11 for some time.

In the medium run, the decision to move from a fixed exchange rate of a managed float is going roil the currency markets a bit -- see this Bloomberg report on the yen, for example. More interestingly, Malaysia has followed China's lead and has decided to move the ringgit from a strict dollar peg to a managed float as well. The really intriguing question is how much this move will retard public and private purchases of dollar-denominate assets. This Associated Press report suggests that other Asian central banks are taking this in stride.

For the U.S., I'm not sure a two pecent revaluation is going to affect trade one way or the other. The rule of thumb has been that a ten percent revaluation would lower the trade deficit by one percent, so this won't have that big of an effect on the trade balance (and I would wager that the J-curve effect with such a small revaluation will be longer-lasting). The bigger effect may be political, in that this could eases protectionist pressures in Congress. On the other hand, it could also convince yahoos like Senator Schumer that this is the way to pressure the Chinese into making foreign economic policy concessions.

On the other hand, if Xu Haihui's report for International Finance News -- reprinted in the Financial Times -- is true, then the effect on certain sectors of China's economy could be significant:

[A]ccording to initial estimates, for each 1 per cent the renminbi rises, each sub-sector of the textile industry will see its profits from exports reduced, including a drop of 12 per cent in the cotton sector, 8 per cent in wool, and 13 per cent in garments. Smaller segments of the garment industry that depend more highly on exports will face even higher losses....

Professor Wang Kangmao, the honorary president and doctoral adviser of the East China University for Law and Politics, recently told reporters that if the renminbi were to appreciate by 3 per cent the textile industry could face export losses of up to 30 per cent mainly due to a lack of value-added products.

Uncompetitive small-and-medium-sized companies would then likely face bankruptcy, causing possible job losses for several hundred thousand workers. Since most of the employees in the textile industry come from low or medium income families, the loss of jobs could possibly trigger even greater social problems.


UPDATE: For nice backgrounders on the issue, see this Wall Street Journal report by Michael Phillips (the link should work for everyone), this Financial Times renminbi page, and this backgrounder on China's slowing economy in the Economist.

[What does the title of this post mean?--ed. Click here for what I mean by Bretton Woods 2, and here for a basic BBC backgrounder.]

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad Setser weighs in: "Too small in my view to have much of an economic impact, in any way. On trade flows. Or on capital flows. I would still bet on a further revaluation." Nouriel Roubini and David Altig are debating the implications of the move on the Wall Street Journal's Econoblog.

posted by Dan at 10:31 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Online screw-ups affecting the workplace -- continued

The theme of posting one's thoughts online deleteriously affecting one's worklife continues apace -- first graduate students, then nannies, and now... shudder... adjunct university professors.

Joe Strupp explains for Editor & Publisher:

A former Boston Herald sports writer, who was laid off in May as part of a string of newsroom cutbacks, now has lost his part-time teaching job at Boston University after posting Web comments about a student, which described her as "incredibly hot."

Michael Gee, an 18-year veteran of the Herald, confirmed the incident, but declined comment to E&P Friday. Bob Zelnick, chair of the B.U. journalism department, said he heard about Gee's posting on Wednesday from a university publicist, who had received a phone call about it from a blogger....

The comments, which appeared on, but were later removed, included the following: "Today was my first day teaching course 308/722 at the Boston University Dept. of Jounralis (sic). There are six students, most of whom are probably smarter than me, but they DON'T READ THE PAPER!!! Not the Globe, Times, Herald or Wall Street Journal. I can shame them into reading, I guess, but why are they taking the course if they don't like to read.

"But I digress. Now here's the nub of my issue. Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn't you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you've ever been to Israel, she's got the sloe eyes and bitchin' bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson."

Word of Gee's firing, and a copy of his posting, first appeared on

Via Over at CNET's new and interesting workplace blog, Paul Festa thinks this is another example of bloggers gone wild -- however, as David Scott points out:

For those wondering,, in a nutshell, is a place where sports desk editors, as well as sportswriters and others, vent over how crummy this paper or that columnist is. It’s also a networking spot to get info on the latest openings and movement at papers across the country. Like most message boards, it serves a purpose and then serves the fellowship of the miserable even more.

Strictly speaking, Gee wasn't blogging -- furthermore, it was a blogger who apparently called him out.

[And would you have done the same thing if you had read Gee's post?--ed. Given that Gee posted this in a public forum, yep, you betcha. Er, haven't you occasionally evinced an ocular interest in the fairer sex on this blog?--ed. It's one thing to point out that a public figure has pleasing features when. in part, that's why they are public figures -- it's another thing entirely to publicly make the same point about someone over whom you hold an authority relationship. There are certain bright lines in my job, and that's one of them.]

posted by Dan at 12:33 AM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Mahathir Mohamad's grumpy retirement

There appears to be a rift brewing between former Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad and his successor, current Malaysian PM Abdullah Badawi.

After reading this excerpt from John Burton's story in the Financial Times, see if you can guess which one I hope prevails:

The future of Proton, Malaysia's national carmaker, appears to have caused a schism in the government, with the issue pitting Abdullah Badawi, the prime minister, against his predecessor, Mahathir Mohamad.

Dr Mahathir, who has championed Proton's cause, has claimed that a system of import licences for foreign cars has damaged Proton sales and demanded that those who have received the privileged licences should be revealed.

Mr Abdullah, who has favoured reducing trade barriers protecting Proton, this week named the licence holders, which have long been secret, in a move to promote government transparency ahead of the ruling party's annual meeting.

The prime minister's disclosure is seen as calling his predecessor's bluff to embarrass him. Among those holding the approved permits was Mokhzani Mahathir, Dr Mahathir's son, who was allowd to import 95 Saab and Porsche cars....

High tariffs have protected Proton until recently. But aggressive sales tactics by Toyota and Hyundai among others have reduced Proton's domestic market share from 70 per cent to 45 per cent in the last five years. Malaysia is south-east Asia's largest passenger car market.

Doubts about the survival of Proton have increased after Mr Abdullah agreed to nearly eliminate car tariffs by 2008 under south-east Asia's free trade agreement.

Analysts say Proton's best hope for survival is a partnership with a foreign carmaker. Volkswagen last year agreed to produce cars for the regional market at Proton plants in return for providing technical assistance.

But Proton officials have indicated that they would resist VW taking a majority stake in the company.

Since stepping down as prime minister in 2003, Dr Mahathir has become a key defender of Proton in his role as the company's special adviser.

posted by Dan at 12:49 PM | Comments (2) | Trackbacks (0)

Danica McKellar's unique two-fer

I'm pretty sure that Danica McKellar is the first person in history to be the subject of a profile in the New York Times science section, as well as ">the subject of a profile and a photo essay in Stuff magazine.

A tip of the cap to Ms. McKellar's very talented and flexible publicist.

My previous thoughts about Ms. Mckellar can be read here.

posted by Dan at 12:17 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

So how is Viktor Yushchenko doing?

Eight months after the Orange Revolution, how is Ukraine doing? Well, this BBC report is kind of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it appears Yushchenko is following Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili in abolishing the most useless organization ever created in the Soviet Union -- the traffic police:

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is to disband the country's traffic police because it has proved impossible to stamp out corruption.
He has ordered a decree to be drawn up abolishing the department, which employs 23,000 people.

Mr Yushchenko said his government's efforts at reforming the traffic police had proved unsuccessful.

Traffic police are said to be unpopular with motorists as they impose on the spot fines and often demand bribes.

On the other hand, the second half of this report makes Yshchenko sound a bit... odd.:

Mr Yushchenko, who came to power in January after the disputed presidential elections and Orange Revolution, is also trying to stamp out swearing.

Interfax reports that he told law enforcement officials: "Let's agree: you should leave foul language at home.

"Actually, it would be better if you didn't use it at home either. You are servants of the state. Try to talk without swearing. If anyone can't learn to do this, then write a letter of resignation."

There are many, many problems afflicting Ukraine. I think excessive swearing is not up at the top of that list.

posted by Dan at 12:08 PM | Comments (6) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Open SCOTUS nominee thread

Feel free to comment here on President Bush's announcement this evening of his choice to replace Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. Orin Kerr is so excited about this that he's breaking into song.

Peter Baker, Fred Barbash and William Branigin report in the Washington Post that:

[M]any Republican strategists are anticipating that his choice will be Judge Edith Clement of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals....

"I've heard nothing official, but it certainly does look like it," said a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House. "The word has gone out that we should be ready today. And the signs are all pointing to Clement."

TradeSports has Clement doing well, but I agree with Kerr that this is not terribly reliable evidence. [How do you pronounce that last name?--ed. Click here for the answer in Slate.]

The extensive network of legal spies working for report that Clement might be the perfect justice to navigate the 7-10 split that is the Senate confirmation process. I've heard experts on both sides of the aisle praise her. Jack Balkin thinks Clement would be a shrewd political move. Over at Power Line, John Hinderaker repeates a Reuters report that Clement would receive the support of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Andrew Sullivan has a whole bunch o' posts up, including a link to this Legal Times story, which suggests that, "Two of the most noteworthy opinions written by Clement are in the area of criminal rights and law enforcement." This may please The New Republic's William Stuntz, who argues that, "the Supreme Court's most important job is not managing the culture wars. Regulating the never-ending war on crime is a much bigger task."

Remember, however, that George W. Bush loves -- loves -- to surprise the media.

UPDATE: And he does -- it's Judge John Roberts from the DC Court of Appeals. Looks like John Derbyshire was wrong.

For more see Stuart Buck, Peter Robinson, Glenn Reynolds, Jeffrey Rosen, and the SCOTUSblog profile.

UPDATE: Listening to NPR, Jeffrey Rosen says that while no Supreme Court nominee is a slam dunk, this is pretty "dunky."

posted by Dan at 02:45 PM | Comments (22) | Trackbacks (0)

The U.S.-India entente

So, dear readers, who do you agree with -- John Bolton or George W. Bush? I ask because of this Washington Post story by Dana Milbank and Dafna Linzer:

President Bush agreed yesterday to share civilian nuclear technology with India, reversing decades of U.S. policies designed to discourage countries from developing nuclear weapons.

The agreement between Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which must win the approval of Congress, would create a major exception to the U.S. prohibition of nuclear assistance to any country that doesn't accept international monitoring of all of its nuclear facilities. India has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires such oversight, and conducted its first nuclear detonation in 1974....

Under the terms of the deal, India agreed to place its civilian nuclear facilities -- but not its nuclear weapons arsenal -- under international monitoring and pledged to continue to honor a ban on nuclear testing. In return, it would have access, for the first time, to conventionalweapons systems and to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology that can be used in either a civilian or a military program. It could also free India to purchase the long sought-after Arrow Missile System developed by Israel with U.S. technology.

The agreement does not call for India to cease production of weapons-grade uranium, which enables India to expand its nuclear arsenal.

The United States did not offer support for India's drive to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, and the sides did not reach agreement on India's plan for a $4 billion pipeline delivering natural gas from Iran. The administration opposes the deal on grounds that it provides Iran with hard currency it can use for its own nuclear program.

The White House faces two major hurdles to put the deal into effect. One is altering rules in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a consortium of more than 40 countries that controls export of nuclear technology. The group has been unreceptive to previous Bush administration initiatives and will be reluctant to create country-specific rules, said George Perkovich, a nuclear specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The other challenge will be persuading Congress to change the U.S. Nonproliferation Act, which prevents sales of sensitive nuclear technology to countries that refuse monitoring of nuclear facilities....

The India deal had been opposed by nonproliferation officials in Bush's administration, including John R. Bolton, who was the administration's point man on nuclear issues until March.

Bolton, Bush's nominee to become U.N. ambassador, argued that such cooperation would mean rewarding a country that built a nuclear weapon in secret, using technology it obtained under the guise of civilian power. Both North Korea and Iran are believed to have tried the same route to develop nuclear weapons. Some within the administration said the deal would be damaging at a time when the United States is trying to ratchet up international pressure on both those countries to give up their nuclear-weapons ambitions.

The Bush administration's calculus is pretty obvious -- they think the geopolitical benefits of a close relationship with India outweigh whatever norm violation has taken place because of how India acquired nuclear weapons. According to the Post article, a Carnegie Endowment paper by Ashley J. Tellis, "India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States," spells out the administration's logic. UPDATE: Here's a link to Sumit Ganguly's take on Tellis' argument from the pages of Foreign Affairs.

Comment here on whether you think the tradeoff is worh it. My guess is that foreign policy analysts, regardless of idelology, will be split on this. Full disclosure: I've repeatedly advocated this move in a number of fora. The nonproliferation genie cannot be put back in the bottle for the subcontinent, and this move merely acknowledges reality [But what about the nonproliferation norm?--ed. Yeah, I don't assign a whole lot of explanatory power to that.]

UPDATE: The Economist does a nice job of spelling out the mixture of realpolitik and idealpolitik that's behind this:

American and Indian officials both stress that the two countries’ relationship is independent of their respective relations with China. Yet America’s stated ambition to help India “become a major power in the twenty-first century” cannot be viewed in isolation from apprehensions about China’s looming might. Nor can India’s determination to secure good relations with America be separated from its own long-term suspicions of China, with which it is at present enjoying something of a second honeymoon.

Both India and America recognise that, as democracies, they should have common interests. These were obscured by the legacy of the Cold War, which saw India lean towards the former Soviet Union, and America “play the China card”. The inevitable Indo-American rapprochement was further delayed by the attacks on America on September 11th 2001 and by the subsequent importance of Pakistan in the “war against terror”. Now, at last, India and America find themselves on the same side.

See this analysis by The Chistian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi as well.

posted by Dan at 12:31 AM | Comments (45) | Trackbacks (0)

Your surreal online moment for today

In the middle of an online Q&A on CAFTA with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman -- run by the White House, no less -- the following exchange took place:

Andrew, from Salem, Oregon writes:
Being the Trade Representative for the United States of America, would you trade a 1909 Honus Wagner for a Yogi Berra Baseball Greats Holo Card issued by Kellogs in the 80's?

Rob Portman
Is this a trick question? I’m a big fan of Yogi’s, but the answer is no, not a chance. Now do you feel better about me negotiating trade agreements?

posted by Dan at 12:07 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Today's Plame post

In one of the footnotes to Running the World, David Rothkopf has a great quote from former NSC director Anthony Lake:

If something that the government does can either be the product of a conspiracy or an accident, bet on the accident. It's just far too hard to get elements of the government working together well enough to conduct and execute--and keep secret--a conspiracy.

The flip-side of this argument is that, when an administration does something wrong, and the explanations are either malevolence or incompetence, bet on the latter.

The revelations of the last week regarding Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and the whole Plame Game business makes me wonder if this was a similar story -- that it turns out Rove/Libby were clearly involved in the Plame leak, but they didn't know they were the source, since they claim to have gotten the information from journalists. Indeed, Matt Cooper's story doesn't necessarily square with the original version of events, which had the White House aggressively calling reporters left and right to impugn Joseph Wilson and his wife.

In my own blogging on the topic, I have wavered between thinking the White House acted maliciously on a grand scale or acted incompetently... and maliciously on a petty scale.

All the stuff from last week suggested incompetence -- until I came across this Los Angeles Times story by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten:

Top aides to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were intensely focused on discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in the days after he wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times suggesting the administration manipulated intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq, federal investigators have been told.

Prosecutors investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, a CIA officer who had worked undercover, have been told that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were especially intent on undercutting Wilson's credibility, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Although lower-level White House staffers typically handle most contacts with the media, Rove and Libby began personally communicating with reporters about Wilson, prosecutors were told.

A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove reportedly responded: "He's a Democrat." Rove then cited Wilson's campaign donations, which leaned toward Democrats, the person familiar with the case said.

This story does jibe with the malevolent interpretation of events.

In commenting on this story, Kevin Drum points out something that's been bugging me about the Plame Game for the past week:

there's a part of the meta-story here that I can't quite figure out. This anecdote hasn't been previously reported, which means this is yet another leak from someone close to the case. But it's a tiny, inconsequential leak. Sure, it makes Rove look petty, but that's hardly very noteworthy since a quick Google search would turn up a dozen anecdotes about Rove that expose him as far worse than merely petty.

This is what's been happening for several days now. We've been treated to a succession of teensy little leaks, which means that multiple people close to this case apparently want to keep the story alive in the press. At the same time, despite the fact that the leakers are presumably privy to some or all of the grand jury testimony so far, they're either unable or unwilling to provide any genuinely juicy leaks.

But which is it? Unable or unwilling? Or is there a third possibility? The answer says a lot about how strong a case Patrick Fitzgerald is putting together and what kind of media game the principals in the case are playing.

I don't know what's going on here.... but I'm sure my commenters will.

posted by Dan at 12:11 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

Rashomon in the nanny world

Continuing the theme of the professional downsides of blogging, Helanie Olen had a piece in yesterday's New York Times about firing her nanny because ofher blog:

Our former nanny, a 26-year-old former teacher with excellent references, liked to touch her breasts while reading The New Yorker and often woke her lovers in the night by biting them. She took sleeping pills, joked about offbeat erotic fantasies involving Tucker Carlson and determined she'd had more female sexual partners than her boyfriend.

How do I know these things? I read her blog.

She hadn't been with us long when we found out about her online diary. All she'd revealed previously about her private life were the bare-bones details of the occasional date or argument with her landlord and her hopes of attending graduate school in the fall.

Yet within two months of my starting to read her entries our entire relationship unraveled. Not only were there things I didn't want to know about the person who was watching my children, it turned out her online revelations brought feelings of mine to the surface I'd just as soon not have to face as well.

The ex-nanny posts her rebuttal, naturally, on her blog, which starts off as follows:

If you have come to this little blog today looking for prurient details of a "nanny gone wild" and another "nanny diary" detailing the sordid life of a family she works for, I am very sorry to disappoint you. Contrary to an essay published in the Style section of the NYTIMES, I am not a pill popping alcoholic who has promiscuous sex and cares nothing for the children for whom she works with. Nope. If you look carefully through my archives, instead you will find a young woman in her mid-twenties who decided to work as a nanny for a year while she prepared to enter the next phase of her professional life; namely the life of an academic pursuing a PhD in English Literature specifically focusing on the Late Victorian novel. But for those of you who dont want to comb through the archives, I will offer a refutation of the salacious, malicious, and really quite silly essay written by Ms. Olen.

I'd tell you to read the whole thing, but it is very, very long. Bitch Ph.D., who knows the blogger in question, posts her own thoughts on the matter:

In the end, of course, Olen's essay really isn't about [the nanny]; it's about Olen. She wanted her nanny to take care of her children, but it seems she also expected her nanny to take care of her.

UPDATE: Click here if you're wondering what ancient Chinese Philosophers would make of this issue.

posted by Dan at 09:56 AM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Wait a minute... I could have hired a PR firm??!!!

Is it my imagination or does it seem that a story like this one by Felicity Barringer appears about once a quarter in the New York Times these days?:

The Office of Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency is seeking outside public relations consultants, to be paid up to $5 million over five years, to polish its Web site, organize focus groups on how to buff the office's image and ghostwrite articles "for publication in scholarly journals and magazines."

The strategy, laid out in a May 26 exploratory proposal notice and further defined in two recently awarded public relations contracts totaling $150,000, includes writing and placing "good stories" about the E.P.A.'s research office in consumer and trade publications.

The contracts were awarded just months after the Bush administration came under scrutiny for its public relations policies. In some cases payments were made to columnists, including Armstrong Williams, who promoted the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind and received an undisclosed $240,000. In January, President Bush publicly abandoned this practice....

The more extensive and expensive plan seeks help from public relations agencies to, among other things, "provide research, writing and editing of Office of Research and Development articles for publications in scholarly journals and magazines."

Donald Kennedy, the editor of Science magazine and a former head of the Food and Drug Administration, said in a telephone interview on Saturday that he found the idea of public relations firms ghostwriting for government scientists "appalling."

"If we knew that it had been written by someone who was not a scientist and submitted as though it were the work of a scientist, we wouldn't take it," Mr. Kennedy said. "But it's conceivable that we wouldn't know, if it was carefully constructed."

He added that the practice of putting public relations polish on scientific work has already been practiced by industry. "We had seen it coming in the pharmaceutical industry and were sort of wary about it," he said. "The idea that a government agency would feel the necessity to do this is doubly troubling."

Speaking of ghostwriting, Mr. Kennedy said: "If the ghostwriting is the kind of ghostwriting that most of the good mentors I knew did with Ph.D. students on first paper, it could be a good thing. But I sincerely doubt if any for-profit P.R. firm hired in the interest of improving a scientific publication is going to be the right person to do that."

....As for the issue of ghostwriting for journals, she said: "Nothing's been done. Nothing's been awarded. What they envisioned is looking at this very technical" material presented by scientists and making it accessible to laymen. The ghostwriters, should they ever be hired, [EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher] said, "can't make up the material. They are taking scientists' work and making it more understandable."

Why the hell didn't anyone mention that I could have hired PR people to pimp up my material before I handed in my friggin' tenure file???!!!

posted by Dan at 11:43 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The international relations of baseball

I have an essay in today's edition of Newsday about the international relations of baseball -- in particular, what can be gleaned from the International Olympics Committee's decision to drop baseball from its roster of sports and Major League Baseball's decision to set up the World Baseball Classic.

The key paragraph:

In international-relations terms, baseball's exit from the Olympics would appear to symbolize the decline of America's "soft power" - a concept developed by Harvard professor and former assistant secretary of defense Joseph Nye to characterize a country's cultural appeal to the rest of the world. But before the Bush administration gets blamed for the decline of baseball, we should consider the possibility that the Olympic Games actually give America's greatest game a worse deal than the Classic.

Go check it out. My favorite part is the tagline: "Daniel W. Drezner is assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox."

Some background links: click here for one example of corruption in the International Olympics Committee. Here's a link to Gary Sheffield's comments to the New York Daily News; and here for evidence on the number of national baseball federations.

I should point out one sloppy construction in the piece. The article says, "the National Hockey League allowed its players to participate in the Olympics, and they trashed their rooms after they lost their last game." That charge should be limited to the American NHL players; my apologies to any and all Canadians.

posted by Dan at 09:49 AM | Comments (10) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Talk about your fun accession negotiations!

In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman argued that globalization forced states into the Golden Straitjacket, choosing between "free market vanilla and North Korea." This is one of those classic Friedmanisms that is simultaneously overexaggerated and yet tugs at some gut sense that there's a truth embedded in somewhere in that statement.

Anyway, I bring this up because apparently North Korea has called and apparently wants vanilla. Anna Fifield explains for the Financial Times:

North Korea, the world’s most reclusive state and one that prides itself on its communist ideals, plans to apply to the World Trade Organisation for observer status, according to a European Parliament delegation that visited Pyongyang this week.

News of the plan, the first step down the long road to joining the free trade body, is likely to be met by the outside world with bewilderment, optimism and opposition in equal measure....

“North Korea says it has been in contact with the WTO secretariat about observer status,” Glyn Ford, a British member of the European Parliament, said after the delegation for relations with the Korean peninsula met high-level North Korean officials. “Iraq also applied so if one horse can get through the door, maybe two can.”

Observer countries are allowed to participate in meetings but not be involved in the decision making process.

Post-Saddam Iraq was granted the right to attend meetings and hold talks with WTO member countries in February last year. The US had vigorously opposed attempts by Iran, which it also accuses of secretly developing nuclear weapons, to gain observer status but in May agreed to allow Iran to start the membership process.

The WTO on Friday said it had not received any application from North Korea.

I really do not know how much credence to put into this report. But if there's any truth to it, I'd love to be a fly on the wall when the accession negotiations start.

posted by Dan at 09:15 PM | Comments (3) | Trackbacks (0)

My contribution to the greatest sports moments meme

Earlier this month, Steven Taylor of PoliBlog provided his anwer to the "Ten Unforgetable Sports Moments that You Actually Saw (not ones you saw later on tape)" meme. Kevin Drum offered his as well. More specifically, it's events you saw live, be it in person or on television.

Taylor puts together a pretty good list, but he betrays his youth -- most of his examples are in the last ten years.

Here are my answers -- and remember, the key adjective is "unforgettable," not "greatest":

10) The Fumble (1978). The New York Giants had a regular-season game wrapped up against the Philadelphia Eagles. Then QB Joe Pisarcik was told to hand the ball off to Larry Csonka instead of downing it himself. Herman Edwards (now the coach of the New York Jets) caught the fumble and went on to score, propelling the Eagles into the playoffs. Because of this play, in part, my father still cannot watch the Giants live.

9) The Pass (1985). Doug Flutie's 60 yeard heave to Gerald Phelan in the closing seconds of a regular season game against Miami on Thanksgiving Day. It capped an extraordinary display of offense by both teams.

8) The Tackle (1999). The Tennessee Titans' Steve McNair, on the last play of scrimmage in Super Bowl, completes a pass to Kevin Dyson at the Rams' one yard line. Mike Jones makes the game-saving tackle as Dyson tries in vain to break the plane of the end zone.

7) Mark Ingram's catch (1990). Super Bowl XXV, third quarter, down by two, third and 13 at the Buffalo 32. Ingram catches a two yard pass, breaks four tackles, and gets the first down. The Giants take the lead on that drive, which was the longest in Super Bowl history.

6) The Dunk (1983). Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma was supposed to destroy N.C. State in the 1983 NCAA tournament final. Lo and behold, an airball + Lorenzo Charles = Jim Valvano running around the court like a maniac.

5) Joe Theisman's last play (1985). Monday Night Football's introduction of it's "super-slo-mo" instand replay coincided with Lawrence Taylor sacking Theisman into the back of Leonard Marshall (I think). Immediately after the play ended, Taylor started gesticulating wildly to the Redskins bench for their trainer. ABC showed why -- the images of Theisman's leg breaking must have been replayed in super slo mo at least ten times before play resumed. I have no memory of who won that game, but I'll always remember Theisman's shin bending in the most unnatural way.

4) Michael Jordan's final minute as a Bull (1998). Strong drive to the basket for a lay-up. A steal of Karl Malone under the Bulls' basket. A a 20-footer with 5.2 seconds left, nothing but net. Having seen the final shot replay numerous times, I'm still not sure if Byron Russell fell down because Jordan faked him out or if there was a push.

3) The fourth set tie-breaker (1979). The British despised John McEnroe before his first final against Bjorn Borg. After the tiebreaker in the fourth set -- in which McEnroe fought off five match points -- the relationship turned more into a love-hate one. With the big serves in today's tennis, I'm not sure this match will ever be equalled.

2) Back to Foulke (2004). Until Foulke caught that ball, I wasn't completely convinced that the Red Sox were actually going to win the World Series (The NESN DVD, interestingly enough, shows that Foulke almost didn't hold onto the ball). The moment he caught it, I stopped caring about 1978, 1986, etc....

1) David Ortiz's final at-bat, ALCS, Game 5 (2004). Sure, Ortiz hit more dramatic homers, but his at-bat against Loiza led to the walk-off hit than ended the greatest game of the 2004 postseason, and perhaps the greatest game ever in baseball. Loiza hada lousy 2004 season, but he pitched well that night, and Ortiz fought off five straight nasty cut fastballs before he finally muscled the game-winning single.

The end of this game is #1 for another reason -- my wife finally got it. Until Game 5, Erika thought my Red Sox fandom was a particularly extreme aberrational aspect of my behavior. Fox's coverage of the extra innings -- in which there were plenty of shots of fans on both sides gnawing at anything to try to keep some semblance of emotional control -- convinced my lovely wife that this was a regional epidemic, and hardly unique to me.

That's it -- feel free to add yours. [Where the hell is the Miracle on Ice? You saw that, right?--ed. Oh, I saw it, but no one outside of the ice rink saw it live. ABC showed the game tape-delayed. And thank God there was no World Wide Web back then, because it would have been too tempting to find out who had won beforehand. As it was, my parents turned off all the radios and TVs in the house to ensure ignorance.]

posted by Dan at 08:18 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 15, 2005

Is the war against Al Qaeda generating results?

Bruce Jentleson kicks off his first post for America Abroad with a valid question:

At Fort Bragg and after London, President Bush has stayed on message about the need to show resolve. Resolve in Iraq, resolve in the GWOT. But the issue can’t be just the will to stay the course --- it also has to be whether the policies we are staying with are sound enough and solid enough to win in our arenas.

Just about everyone is questioning the policy on Iraq. However, one of the key criticisms of the Iraq war is that it incubated a new generation of adherents to Al Qaeda. Is that really true? Are the Bush administration's anti-terrorim policies "sound enough and solid enough to win in our arenas"?

Via Orin Kerr, I see the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey is up, and there are some numbers that suggest the answer is (mostly) yes. It turns out that Osama bin Laden is losing the hearts and minds of Muslims. Susan Page summarizes in USA Today:

Support for suicide bombings has dropped significantly in several predominantly Muslim nations, a worldwide public-opinion survey has found — a positive note at a time concerns have been heightened by terrorist attacks in London, Iraq and Israel.

The report by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released Thursday, also found substantial concern about Islamic extremism not only among Westerners but also in Muslim nations. Three-quarters of those in Morocco and roughly half of those in Pakistan, Turkey and Indonesia said Islamic extremism posed a threat to their countries.

Click here for more poll results. As Nick Gillespie put it in Hit & Run, "Bin Laden: Hopes for Re-Election as World's Most Popular Asshole Dim."

Here are the key charts:



The numbers offer support to both supporters and critics of the way the Bush administration has prosecuted the war of terror.

On the one hand, the numbers are trending in the right direction, and the comparison between the July 2002 numbers and July 2005 numbers in most countries suggests that Iraq hasn't generated the negative externalities greater sympathy for Al Qaeda and its aims that some Bush critics have predicted. It remains possible that the invasion of Iraq had a negative effect on Muslim attitudes, but these figures suggest that at a minimum this effect was dwarfed by more powerful counter-trends. Indeed, the trend suggests staying the course with the current set of anti-terrorism policies.

On the other hand, the numbers for Jordan are not trending in the desired direction at all. This could be due to Iraq, although if that was the case one would have expected a similar trend in Turkey and that hasn't happened. Still, it should disturb policy analysts across the policy spectrum that the one Arab country simultaneously possessing a free trade agreement with the United States and a peace treaty with Israel has a population that is growing more comfortable with radical Islam.

posted by Dan at 04:36 PM | Comments (31) | Trackbacks (0)

In honor of Justice Rehnquist....

Anyone attempting to earn a Ph.D. is familiar with Matt Groening's Life is Hell strip about graduate school. Patricularly this part:


In honor of Chief Justice William Rehnquist's contrarian announcement that he's staying on for a while, I thought it worth reprinting this fact from Charles Lane's profile of Rehnquist in the July/August 2005 issue of Stanford magazine:

Applying credits earned at Kenyon and diligently working through the summers, Rehnquist picked up his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science in 1948. Then he left for Harvard, where [his undergraduate mentor Charles] Fairman had studied, with the idea of gaining a PhD in government. But something about Cambridge did not agree with him. Perhaps it was the cold weather; perhaps it was the liberal politics of what detractors called “the Kremlin on the Charles.” “I remember him saying he did not like Harvard, and he did not like political science,” says Craig Bradley, a professor of law at Indiana University who clerked for Rehnquist in the court’s 1975-76 term. “He didn’t think much of the professoriate.”

Bradley says Rehnquist saw academics generally as “liberal blatherers.” By the fall of 1949, he was back at Stanford, enrolled at law school.

Readers should feel free to speculate on how history would have changed had the Harvard Government department not been as hostile an environment to Rehnquist.

posted by Dan at 01:32 PM | Trackbacks (0)

The media in the year 2014....

Click here for one possible future.

I, for one, welcome our new GoogleZon overlords.... I think.

posted by Dan at 11:55 AM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

This is supposed to cheer me up?

In the middle of an essay on the Weekly Standard's web site that is generally upbeat on the economy, Irwin Stezler comes to the paragraph that depresses the hell out of me:

At home, the strength of the dollar will inevitably cut into exports and encourage imports; protectionist sentiment is rising, spurred on by China's attempt to acquire Unocal; it is unclear whether the president can or cares to restrain spending; and his economic team remains closed to outside ideas. "We don't do dissent here," one White House aide told me a few weeks ago. (emphasis added)

Well, that makes me feel much better.

posted by Dan at 12:02 AM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

A new outsourcing business model

Bo Cowgill was kind enough to e-mail me a link to this Computerworld story by Patrick Thibodeau about an entirely novel outsourcing venture:

What San Diego-based start-up SeaCode Inc. plans to do is nothing if not novel: anchor a cruise ship three miles off the coast of Los Angeles, fill it with up to 600 programmers from around the world, eliminate visa restrictions and make it easy for customers to visit the site via water taxi. The two men behind the venture -- Roger Green, who describes himself as an IT and outsourcing veteran, and IT consultant David Cook, whose job history includes a stint as a ship captain -- recently discussed their plan in an interview with Computerworld.

What is the business model? Green: The promise of the benefits of outsourcing in distant lands doesn't come free. Most of the gotchas are related to the geography and to the cultural difference....

Green: The model is based on making a platform, if you will, to house these engineers, this workforce, which is very close to the U.S. but which is in fact not in the U.S. We can pull programmers and engineers from anywhere in the world. A fact of life is there are different skills that are stronger in one country versus another....

Does U.S. labor law apply? Cook: U.S. labor law does not apply except on a U.S. flagship. The flag of the ship will provide the labor law -- more than likely [the ship will be registered in] Vanuatu, the Bahamas or Marshall Islands. Their intellectual property laws, as well as the laws governing seamen, are very similar to the United States'.

What will life be like for your employees? Cook: The pay is about three times what they earn in India today....

What is the salary? Cook: Approximately $1,800 a month.

What is your pricing going to be relative to India? Green: We will be approximately the same price as the distant-shore companies. We will take a little less margin than they do.

Do you expect U.S. residents to apply? Cook: Absolutely. Approximately 50% of the resumes that we've received are from U.S. residents.

There are a lot of things that don't make sense to me about this business model:

1) How can they pay three times the Indian wage but maintain similar pricing levels?

2) How are cultural differences eliminated by moving developing country programmers from their country of origin to a ship three miles off the U.S.?

3) Is evading U.S. regulatory strictures (payroll taxes, health insurance, labor standards) the only thing that makes this venture even close to profitable? If so, what does that say about U.S. regulations?

posted by Dan at 08:22 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Progress for the Doha round?

Richard McGregor reports in the Financial Times about a potential breakthrough in the agricultural negotiations for the Doha round of world trade talks.

Sounds great, until you get to the nitty-gritty of the proposal:

The G20 proposal centres on a new five-tier tariff system for developed countries, setting uniform tariff cuts in each band, and also capping the maximum tax on imports at 100 per cent.

The plan offers greater leeway for developing countries, with a four-tiered system and a maximum tariff of 150 per cent. Mariann Fischer Boel, EU agriculture commissioner, said: “We welcome the G20 proposal on market access.”

Rob Portman, US trade representative, also backed the G20 plan as a potential basis for negotiations, saying: “The US is prepared to move, and move to the middle.”

The differences between the world's two largest trading blocs remain substantial, with the EU proposing a variation on the G20 plan to give it greater flexibility to resist sharp tariff cuts.

The EU is also demanding that the US put on the table a plan to reduce its domestic farm subsidies as part of any negotiating package, something that Mr Portman rejected yesterday as “not realistic”.

With only about two weeks to go before a framework is needed to allow time for the detailed and difficult negotiations ahead of Hong Kong, not everybody was optimistic about a genuine resolution to the impasse.

“I am pessimistic but I want to be proved wrong,” said Supachai Panitchpakdi,the WTO director-general.

“We have days. We don't have weeks.”

The G20 plan potentially faces stiff resistance from countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, which have tariffs on farm goods far higher than the caps set by the G20 proposal.

The scary thing is that what's proposed represents liberalization of a sort -- agriculture is so heavily protected and subsidized that it will take decades for complete liberalization.... if it ever happens.

Supachai is more pessimistic about the overall progress of the Doha round. Click here for his statement from last week. Key paragraphs:

It is true that some progress has been made in certain areas of the negotiations. But let us be clear: this progress is nowhere near sufficient in terms of our critical path to Hong Kong, and it is not being seen in the key issues which would help unblock progress across the board. Overall, there seems to be a renewed sense of blockage and frustration. We are also seeing a resurgence of sterile debate about process, rather than negotiations on substance.

I am afraid we have to face the facts. These negotiations are in trouble. Very little of the political support which has been shown at successive Ministerial meetings has been turned into concrete progress in the negotiating groups. Everyone has a generalized commitment to progress, but when it comes to the specifics, the familiar defensive positions take over.

posted by Dan at 10:47 AM | Comments (18) | Trackbacks (0)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Are times changing in France?

Christian Noyer, governor of the Bank of France, recently gave an interview to the Financial Times in which he said some very un-French things:

The Scandinavian economic model, combining market flexibility with a high degree of social protection, “is full of lessons for countries such as France, Germany and Italy”, Christian Noyer, governor of the Bank of France, has argued.

The willingness of France's central bank governor to admit in an interview with the Financial Times that other countries might have found a better answer to the forces of globalisation highlights how the political debate in Paris has shifted since the country rejected the European Union constitution in May.

Asked about last month’s appeal by Tony Blair, UK prime minister, for Europe to rethink its social model, Mr Noyer said: “I tend to agree with that.”

Sweden, Finland and Denmark have seen some of the fastest growth and lowest inflation rates among the main continental European economies. Sweden, which plunged into financial crises in the early 1990s, has re-invented its famed social model in the past decade.

“One of the key elements in the way these countries work is that they have mixed a greater level of flexibility in labour and product markets – a bit like the UK economy – with a high degree of social protection, which is traditional in continental Europe,” he said.

Social protection, he added, did not mean “a job for life even if your company is sinking. Protection means you have a social safety net to help you during a transitional period, and a whole system of education, training and retraining that obliges people to find a new job”.

Read more of the interview here -- in which he gives faint praise to new French PM Dominique de Villepin while dismissing Villepin's suggestion for closer political consultations with the European Central Bank.

posted by Dan at 04:25 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Open Karl Rove thread

I'm on quasi-vacation in Aspen at the moment (more about that later), but feel free to comment here on the whole Karl Rove mess. In particular:

1) Did Rove commit a hanging offense? The liberal blogosphere says yes; Mickey Kaus and Tom Maguire say no; [And what about you?--ed. I'm on vacation... but click here for my last post on the whole affair.]

2) How much will White House stonewalling on the issue hurt Rove's chances of survival?

posted by Dan at 04:20 PM | Comments (35) | Trackbacks (0)

An immigrant's take on offshoring

Suketu Mehta has an op-ed in the New York Times on the rise of offshoring to India. Mehtu comes at this from an interesting angle, as he and his family "came to America in 1977 not for its political freedoms or its way of life, but for the hope of a better economic future." While acknowledging the anxiety caused in the tech sector by offshoring, Mehta's conclusions are straightforward:

The rich countries can't have it both ways. They can't provide huge subsidies for their agricultural conglomerates and complain when Indians who can't make a living on their farms then go to the cities and study computers and take away their jobs. Why are Indians willing to write code for a tenth of what Americans make for the same work? It's not by choice; it's because they're still struggling to stand on their feet after 200 years of colonial rule. The day will soon come when Indian companies will find that it's cheaper to hire computer programmers in Sri Lanka, and then it's there that the Indian jobs will go.

Of course, it's heart-wrenching to see American programmers - many of whom are of Indian origin - lose their jobs and have to worry about how they'll pay the mortgage. But they are ill served by politicians who promise to bring their jobs back by the facile tactic of banning them from leaving. This strategy will ensure only that our schools stay terrible; it'll be an entire country run like the dairy industry, feasible only because of price controls and subsidies.


posted by Dan at 11:20 AM | Comments (38) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 11, 2005

Prospect theory and homeland security

In the wake of the London transport attacks and calls in the United States for protecting our infrastructure,, it is worth remembering one of the most important results from the work on prospect theory in economics is that human beings overestimate the likelihood of rare events actually occurring. One political implication of this fact is that governments will be asked to overinvest in measures designed to regulate and curb low-risk events.

In the wake of the London transport bombings, there has been a lot of chatter on television about what must be done to boost homeland security. However, prospect theory offers an important corrective to this natural response -- we exaggerate the cost of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

Keep this in mind when reading Benjamin Friedman's article in Foreign Policy on the myths and realities of homeland security. Here's how it opens:

The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are minuscule. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the odds are about 1 in 88,000. The odds of dying from falling off a ladder are 1 in 10,010. Even in 2001, automobile crashes killed 15 times more Americans than terrorism. Heart disease, cancer, and strokes are the leading causes of death in the United States—not terrorism.

People overestimate risks they can picture and ignore those they cannot. Government warnings and 24–hour news networks make certain dangers, from shark attacks to terrorism, seem more prevalent than they really are. As a result, the United States squanders billions of dollars annually protecting states and locations that face no significant threat of terrorism. In 2003, Tulsa, Oklahoma, received $725,000 in port security funds. More than $4 million in 2005 federal antiterror funding will go to the Northern Mariana Islands. In 2003, Grand Forks County, North Dakota, received $1.5 million in federal funds to purchase trailers equipped to respond to nuclear attacks and more biochemical suits than it has police officers.

These small expenses add up. Federal spending on first responders grew from $616 million in 2001 to $3.4 billion in 2005, a 500 percent increase. Homeland security spending will approach $50 billion this year, not including missile defense—roughly equal to estimates of China’s defense spending. Yet pundits call for more. A 2003 Council on Foreign Relations report hyperbolically titled, Emergency Responders: Drastically Underfunded, Dangerously Unprepared, recommmends increasing spending on emergency responders to $25 billion per year. To his credit, the new secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, wants to trim the pork from the department’s budget. But efforts in congress to link funding with risk have failed largely because haphazard spending is consonant with the current U.S. strategy that tells all Americans to be afraid.

It’s true that al Qaeda’s attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, may be a harbinger of a more destructive future. But it is also true that parts of the war on terrorism are working. Tighter U.S. entry requirements, more aggressive European policing, the destruction of al Qaeda’s Afghan sanctuary, and refined intelligence operations have crippled al Qaeda’s ability to strike the United States. Most of al Qaeda’s original leadership is dead or in prison. Few other Islamist terrorists—even the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al–Zarqawi—are as capable or organized as al Qaeda once was....

Most Americans are safe from terrorist attack. And the most likely forms of attack remain conventional. The fact is, all terrorist attempts to use chemical and biological weapons have failed to cause mass casualties. True, a successful biological weapons attack could kill hundreds of thousands of people. But manufacturing, controlling, and successfully dispersing these agents is difficult—probably too difficult for today’s terrorist groups. Synthesizing and handling chemical agents such as the deadly nerve agent VX, sarin, or mustard gas is complicated and extremely dangerous, often requiring access to sophisticated chemical laboratories. Most experts agree, for instance, that al Qaeda does not possess the technical capability necessary to produce VX. And even if terrorists procure and deploy chemical weapons, they are unlikely to kill many people. The 1995 sarin attack in Tokyo’s subway system was limited to only 12 deaths. Official U.S. government reports, including that of the Gilmore Commission, which examines domestic responses to terrorism, show that it would take one ton of chemical agent, favorable weather, and considerable time to kill thousands of people with chemical weapons.

Read the whole thing -- and then check out this 2003 primer on "Prospect Theory and its Applications for Disaster and Emergency Management."

posted by Dan at 05:37 PM | Comments (12) | Trackbacks (0)

You can feel the Euromentum!!

Never mind that France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution last month -- it's back on track now!!. Sarah Laitner explains in the Financial Times:

Luxembourg on Sunday threw the slimmest of lifelines to the European Union's ailing constitution, when the tiny grand duchy voted in favour of the treaty resoundingly rejected by France and the Netherlands.

The decision keeps alive the European ambitions of Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg's veteran prime minister, who threatened to quit if he lost the vote.

Luxembourgers supported the constitution by 56.5 per cent to 43.5 per cent in the referendum, a slightly larger margin of victory than government officials had expected.

"This is a very important vote for Luxembourg," said a relieved Mr Juncker. "The message that has emerged from our vote is that the constitution is not dead."....

"The result means the constitutional treaty will remain on the European agenda," Mr Juncker claimed. "It will have an influence on the various debates and arguments that will be heard in other member states."

The Luxembourg vote, the 13th country to ratify the treaty, also gives renewed life to Mr Juncker's ambitions of high office in Brussels.

An influential figure in European affairs, the prime minister is thought to covet the role of permanent president of the European Council, representing the EU's 450m citizens - if the post is created.

Given that neither the French nor the Dutch seem to be suffering from voter's remorse, I'd say the EU constitution has as much mojo right now as..... Joementum.

Indeed, this definition of Joementum perfectly captures Juncker's plight.

posted by Dan at 12:42 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The real digital divide

A common lament among development activists is that regions like Africa are held back by the digital divide -- these places have less access to the Internet.

However, the Economist runs a good story on the information technology that would benefit poor African countries the most:

All eyes are on what governments can do to end poverty, with aid, debt relief and trade top of the agenda at this week's G8 summit. But what about the role that business can play—and, in particular, technology firms? It is increasingly clear that, when it comes to bridging the “digital divide” between rich and poor, the mobile phone, not the personal computer, has the most potential. “Emerging markets will be wireless-centric, not PC-centric,” says C. K. Prahalad, a management scholar and author of “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, a book that highlights the collective purchasing power of the world's 4 billion poorest people and urges firms to try to profit from it.

Mobile phones have become indispensable in the rich world. But they are even more useful in the developing world, where the availability of other forms of communication—roads, postal systems or fixed-line phones—is often limited. Phones let fishermen and farmers check prices in different markets before selling produce, make it easier for people to find work, allow quick and easy transfers of funds and boost entrepreneurship. Phones can be shared by a village. Pre-paid calling plans reduce the need for a bank account or credit check. A recent study by London Business School [Sponsored by Vodaphone--DD] found that, in a typical developing country, a rise of ten mobile phones per 100 people boosts GDP growth by 0.6 percentage points. Mobile phones are, in short, a classic example of technology that helps people help themselves.

But despite rapid subscriber growth in much of the developing world, only a small proportion of people—around 5% in both India and sub-Saharan Africa—have their own mobile phones. Why? The price of handsets is the “biggest obstacle” to broader adoption, says Alan Knott-Craig, boss of Vodacom, which runs networks in five African countries. Azmi Mikati of Investcom, which runs networks in Africa and the Middle East, estimates that the number of users would double in those markets if the cheapest handset cost $30 instead of $60.

The good news is that firms like Motorola have a huge incentive to expand to this market, and are in the process of creating low-cost handsets.

The bad news is that developing countries themselves might block further expansion of cell phone usage:

Lower prices will make a second barrier ever more apparent: high taxes and duties imposed by many governments on handsets and services, often just as growth in the sector starts to take off. “It does seem strange for countries to say that telephone access is a public-policy goal, and then put special or punitive taxes on telecoms operators and users,” says Charles Kenny, an economist at the World Bank. “It's a case of sin taxes on a blessed product.”

In Turkey, new subscribers must pay a special tax of 20 new liras ($15) for a connection. A sales tax of 18%, plus a special communications tax of 25%, is added to all mobile bills. Uganda has just imposed a 10% tax on mobile phones. In Afghanistan, telecoms taxes account for 14% of government revenue, says Mr Kenny. In Bangladesh, the government has just imposed a tax of 900 taka ($14) on all new connections, in addition to an import duty of 300 taka levied on all imported handsets.

In big markets, such as Brazil, handset-makers have set up local factories to avoid import duties. That will not pay in smaller, poorer places. To avoid taxes and duties, many mobile operators in sub-Saharan Africa do not supply handsets, but rely on customers to get them on the black market, says Mark Burk of Informa, a research firm.

Yet there is anecdotal evidence that reducing taxes on handsets can boost government revenues. People would rather pay a small tax on a legal handset than no tax on a smuggled one that cannot be returned if it goes wrong. There are some hopeful signs: India cut its import duty on handsets to 5% last year and plans to scrap it altogether. Mauritius recently cut its taxes on handsets to boost adoption.

One reason left unmentioned in the Economist piece why some governments might impose high barriers to cell phone usage -- cell phones increase the costs of repression. A newtork of opposition activists armed with cell phones and text messaging capability can more easily coordinate political action against a repressive government.

posted by Dan at 09:47 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 8, 2005

Grad students: no blogs allowed

I've expressed trepidation in the past about whether graduate students or untenured faculty should start a blog.

An essay by "Ivan Tribble" (a pseudonym) in the Chonicle of Higher Education doesn't make me feel any more sanguine. The highlights:

What is it with job seekers who also write blogs? Our recent faculty search at Quaint Old College resulted in a number of bloggers among our semifinalists. Those candidates looked good enough on paper to merit a phone interview, after which they were still being seriously considered for an on-campus interview.

That's when the committee took a look at their online activity.

In some cases, a Google search of the candidate's name turned up his or her blog. Other candidates told us about their Web site, even making sure we had the URL so we wouldn't fail to find it. In one case, a candidate had mentioned it in the cover letter. We felt compelled to follow up in each of those instances, and it turned out to be every bit as eye-opening as a train wreck....

A candidate's blog is more accessible to the search committee than most forms of scholarly output. It can be hard to lay your hands on an obscure journal or book chapter, but the applicant's blog comes up on any computer. Several members of our search committee found the sheer volume of blog entries daunting enough to quit after reading a few. Others persisted into what turned out, in some cases, to be the dank, dark depths of the blogger's tormented soul; in other cases, the far limits of techno-geekdom; and in one case, a cat better off left in the bag.

The pertinent question for bloggers is simply, Why? What is the purpose of broadcasting one's unfiltered thoughts to the whole wired world? It's not hard to imagine legitimate, constructive applications for such a forum. But it's also not hard to find examples of the worst kinds of uses.

A blog easily becomes a therapeutic outlet, a place to vent petty gripes and frustrations stemming from congested traffic, rude sales clerks, or unpleasant national news. It becomes an open diary or confessional booth, where inward thoughts are publicly aired.

Worst of all, for professional academics, it's a publishing medium with no vetting process, no review board, and no editor. The author is the sole judge of what constitutes publishable material, and the medium allows for instantaneous distribution. After wrapping up a juicy rant at 3 a.m., it only takes a few clicks to put it into global circulation....

It would never occur to the committee to ask what a candidate thinks about certain people's choice of fashion or body adornment, which countries we should invade, what should be done to drivers who refuse to get out of the passing lane, what constitutes a real man, or how the recovery process from one's childhood traumas is going. But since the applicant elaborated on many topics like those, we were all ears. And we were a little concerned. It's not our place to make the recommendation, but we agreed a little therapy (of the offline variety) might be in order....

Job seekers who are also bloggers may have a tough road ahead, if our committee's experience is any indication.

You may think your blog is a harmless outlet. You may use the faulty logic of the blogger, "Oh, no one will see it anyway." Don't count on it. Even if you take your blog offline while job applications are active, Google and other search engines store cached data of their prior contents. So that cranky rant might still turn up.

The content of the blog may be less worrisome than the fact of the blog itself. Several committee members expressed concern that a blogger who joined our staff might air departmental dirty laundry (real or imagined) on the cyber clothesline for the world to see. Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum....

[I]n truth, we did not disqualify any applicants based purely on their blogs. If the blog was a negative factor, it was one of many that killed a candidate's chances.

More often that not, however, the blog was a negative, and job seekers need to eliminate as many negatives as possible.

We all have quirks. In a traditional interview process, we try our best to stifle them, or keep them below the threshold of annoyance and distraction. The search committee is composed of humans, who know that the applicants are humans, too, who have those things to hide. It's in your interest, as an applicant, for them to stay hidden, not laid out in exquisite detail for all the world to read. If you stick your foot in your mouth during an interview, no one will interrupt to prevent you from doing further damage. So why risk doing it many times over by blabbing away in a blog?

We've seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they've got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can't wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know "the real them" -- better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn't want to know more.

How to respond? One fellow scholar-blogger puts it this way:

Shorter Chronicle of Higher Ed: blogging is dangerous because hiring committees are paranoid, conservative, and illogical. Even if you are not indiscreet on your blog, you could become so--but if you don't have a blog, you couldn't possibly start one and therefore never be indiscreet. Publishing pseudonymous articles about your search committee deliberations in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, though, is not indiscreet.

This point is made elsewhere in the blogosphere as well.

I was all set to defend the utility of academic blogging, but I see that Robert Farley was kind enough to do it for me -- literally:

I know that there is a difference between a Dan Drezner blog post and a Dan Drezner article in a major political science journal. So does Dan. He sometimes uses the one to complement the other, and sometimes talks about things that would never make it through a peer review process, often because they are too topical or too speculative. If a blogger regularly displayed contempt for co-workers, rage against employers, or demonstrable insanity, that would be one thing. But the [blogs discussed in Tribble's article] above doesn't have anything to do with any of those. It conveys a fear of a forum which bypasses traditional academia, whose practitioners need to be punished through intimidation and exclusion.

Traditional academic journals are wonderful institutions, because however much we may complain about them they DO keep out much of the dreck, they do enforce standards of scholarship and evidence, and they do play on important role in imposing a form of meritocracy on the academic world. Blogs play a much different role, one that is oriented around topical policy debates and a more intimate relationship with the non-academic world. The one does not threaten the other.

I'll close with two pieces of advice:

1) To "Ivan Tribble": Click here before you condemn blogging to the academic dustbin. But if you or your colleagues still truly believe your assertion that, "Past good behavior is no guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum," then here's my advice -- do not hire anyone ever again. As you say, "We've all... expressed that way-out-there opinion in a lecture we're giving, in cocktail party conversation, or in an e-mail message to a friend." Therefore, it doesn't matter whether potential future colleagues have a blog or not -- all it takes is five minutes to set one up. The only foolproof way to "guarantee against future lapses of professional decorum" online is to have no colleagues. Come to think of it, you should also ban any current colleagues from using any computer hooked up to the Internet -- it's the only way to preserve decorum.

2) To graduate students: I'd like to say that Ivan the Tribble is your classic piece of outlying data, but I can't. The default assumption you should make is that the academy has a lot of people who share the Tribble worldview of the blogosphere. I seriously doubt that any amount of reasoned discourse will alter this worldview. So think very, very, very carefully about the costs and benefits of blogging under one's own name.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum says something that had occurred to me as well:

what struck me was that Tribble's piece is actually more a cautionary tale for the rest of us than it is for prospective university professors. After all, universities at least claim to value creativity, free speech, and academic freedom — even if Tribble's essay confirms that they do this more in the breach than in the observance. But what about the rest of us?

A garden variety commercial enterprise doesn't even pretend to value these things, and if you think HR departments don't google prospective applicants, I suspect you're sorely mistaken. As a result, if you write a blog under your own name it might well spell trouble on a whole variety of levels. A liberal boss might not want to hire a conservative. A straitlaced boss might decide not to hire a lesbian. A prudish boss might not hire someone who brags regularly about their sexual conquests. And fair or not, any boss is likely to be at least slightly hesitant about hiring someone who has a habit of telling the world about every little detail of their personal life. Some of this discrimination might be legal and some might not, but it hardly matters. You'll never know it happened.

To be fair, however, there are short-run and long-run countertrends:

1) Business and organizations that value good writing might well be more likely to hire bloggers;

2) Firms that choose to bypass creative people who happen to blog will eventually suffer the economic consequences.

posted by Dan at 05:39 PM | Comments (28) | Trackbacks (1)

Sunday night, or what you will

From the Associated Press:

James Henry Smith was a zealous Pittsburgh Steelers fan in life, and even death could not keep him from his favorite spot: in a recliner, in front of a TV showing his beloved team in action.

Smith, 55, of Pittsburgh, died of prostate cancer Thursday. Because his death wasn't unexpected, his family was able to plan for an unusual viewing Tuesday night.

The Samuel E. Coston Funeral Home erected a small stage in a viewing room, and arranged furniture on it much as it was in Smith's home on game day Sundays.

Smith's body was on the recliner, his feet crossed and a remote in his hand. He wore black and gold silk pajamas, slippers and a robe. A pack of cigarettes and a beer were at his side, while a high-definition TV played a continuous loop of Steelers highlights.

"I couldn't stop crying after looking at the Steeler blanket in his lap," said his sister, MaryAnn Nails, 58. "He loved football and nobody did (anything) until the game went off. It was just like he was at home."

Readers are free to interpret the story as an example of:

A) The ne plus ultra of fan devotion;
B) A sign of the cultural apocalypse;
C) A future growth field for the funeral industry.
D) A scene that really, really should have been in Shaun of the Dead

Me, I'm still trying to stop laughing.

posted by Dan at 04:31 PM | Comments (4) | Trackbacks (0)

Raising the Union Jack

If the State Department can do it, so can the good folks who put together


If that seems too.... dignified a response, click here or here.

posted by Dan at 03:53 PM | Comments (8) | Trackbacks (0)

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Why support CAFTA?

In an e-mail, Slate and New York Times contributor Daniel Gross asks a fair question: "unless you're a really, really, passionate free trader--which few congressional members, republican or democrat, are--why would you vote for CAFTA?"

Actually, it's not like free traders are terribly enthusiastic about the deal. In NRO, Bruce Bartlett conveys a free trader's feelings about the deal pretty well:

The problem for many free traders, like myself, is that the Bush administration has played politics with trade since day one. This has done serious damage to the fragile alliance that still supports free trade. The administration imposed utterly unjustified tariffs on steel, torpedoed the Doha round of multilateral trade talks by supporting a huge increase in agriculture subsidies, and has never missed an opportunity to demagogue China for all our trade woes.

Having destroyed the prospects for a multilateral trade agreement, which was primarily to be about eliminating agriculture subsidies, the Bush administration has tried to salvage some semblance of a free-trade agenda by pursuing bilateral trade agreements....

While the amount of activity is impressive, the results are not very great in terms of opening trade.

In the end, there are three reasons I can give to support CAFTA:

1) If CAFTA goes down, you can kiss the Doha round goodbye. There is simply no way developing countries will put serious negotiating effort into a trade deal that Congress will be likely to torpedo. And I'm not sure how financial markets will cope with the collapse of a WTO negotiating round.

2) As hemispheric foreign policies go, rejecting CAFTA would fall on the more idiotic end of the policy spectrum. In the region where we're supposed to be the leader, rejecting an agreement that six other countries want doesn't send a great message about leadership. CAFTA, like NAFTA before it, helps to lock in rules that promote open markets and open societies. Even free trade critics like Dani Rodrik generally acknowledge the foreign policy benefits of these kind of deals.

3) For Democrats convinced that the Bush administration has pissed away U.S. soft power, answer me this question: what kind of a signal does the U.S. send to the rest of the world when its legislature says, in effect, "We won't ratify this deal because we're scared of six states that combined are smaller than the Czech economy"? Improved access to our markets remains one of the best incentives the U.S. has to proffer to the rest of the world. If we deny even hemispheric allies this benefit, what do you think the rest of the world will think?

There are many things I don't like about this agreement -- but there are even more things I don't like about the policy environment for trade if CAFTA goes down.

UPDATE: As God is my witness, I did not coordinate this blog post with Donald Rumsfeld.

One final reason for supporting CAFTA if you're from the Midwest -- CAFTA puts an ever-so-slight dent in the wall of sugar protectionism, which would help to staunch the flow of candy manufacturers across the border.

posted by Dan at 09:50 PM | Comments (19) | Trackbacks (0)

The new bipartisanship

Kal Raustiala has an excellent piece in TNR Online about whether bipartisanship is on the decline. His basic thesis -- traditional centrist bipartisanship is down, new bipartisanship across a vast ideological chasm is up:

The absence of centrists in Congress certainly fosters conflict rather than cooperation on many, probably most, issues. But there are also issues where the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans can find common ground. To be sure, that politics makes strange bedfellows is not news. What is news is that the rising power of the religious right is leading to some unexpected victories for progressive causes. Deep political polarization makes traditional centrist bipartisanship treacherous. But, paradoxically, it can also produce unexpected cooperation between the core of the right and the core of the left. In other words, bipartisanship isn't dead; it has simply abandoned the political center for issues where it was once nowhere to be seen....

This unusual brand of bipartisanship stems as much from the creation of gerrymandered electoral districts as it does from the rising power of the religious right. Congress lacks a center because the public, divided into ever-more homogenous and safe districts, no longer elects centrists.

The implications of this shift for congressional politics are significant. Our constitutional structure has a status quo bias that forces compromise if new initiatives are to move forward. Bipartisanship used to be more or less synonymous with the political center, where those compromises were forged. But the alliances that have formed around prison rape, the environment, and Darfur suggest that today it is less the center than the poles that are most likely to be areas of common cause. When Christian conservatives such as Chuck Colson can partner with Amnesty International to push through a bill, bipartisanship is not so much dead as transformed.

Read the whole thing.

With regard to foreign affairs, This kind of bipartisanship leads to a wholesale rejection of realpolitik. A foreign policy that appears to lack values is anathema to ideologues on both sides. As Raustiala points out, however, it can also lead to greater internationalism of a sort -- on debt relief or Darfur, for example.

The shifting politics of trade and immigration are another, more prenicious example of this new bipartisanship, by the way. Trade was your classic centrist issue that generated support from centrists on both sides of the aisle. Today, liberal Democrats oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because they fear the effects on unions and the working class. Conservative Republicans oppose trade expansion and relatively open immigration because of fears about global interdependence and the loss of sovereignty.

The result: a weakening Congressional support for an open economy.

UPDATE: Hmmmm.... John Thacker posts a comment that makes me wonder if I've overstated the case on trade. I'd be curious if his evidence applied to the House, however -- which is really the chamber I was thinking about with regard to trade.

posted by Dan at 03:03 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Al Qaeda in Europe

CNN reports on the group claiming responsibility for the London transport bombings:

A previously unknown group calling itself the "Secret Organization group al Qaeda Organization in Europe" released a statement Thursday claiming responsibility for the subway and bus bombings in London earlier in the day...

CNN could not confirm the authenticity of the statement, which was posted on a Web site connected to Islamic radicals....

The claim of responsibility from the group said it had repeatedly warned Britain.

"The mujahedeen heroes have launched a blessed attack in London," the statement said.

"Here is Britain burning now out of fear and horror in its north, south east and west. We have often and repeatedly warned the British government and people."

The statement said the group had carried out the attack after exerting "strenuous efforts ... over a long period of time to guarantee" its success.

"We still warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the crusader governments that they will receive the same punishment if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan," it said. "We gave the warning, so we should not be blamed."

Click here for dueling translations of the short statement..

The clumsy-sounding name (at least in English) of this group makes me wonder if this is another of Al Qaeda's local subcontractees.

UPDATE: Stephen Flynn has some thoughts at the Council on Foreign Relations home page that sound this theme as well. Some highlights:

[This attack] tells us that al Qaeda is increasingly more of a movement than it is an organization. There are splinter groups and it would appear, in this instance, that many of these groups are homegrown--that is, they're made up of U.K. citizens rather than foreign fighters who have arrived on British soil....

I don't have a lot of detail, obviously--but what I've picked up from the web and the bit of reporting I've heard from Scotland Yard indicates that is likely the case. Many of the folks who are setting up these [Qaeda-affiliated] organizations carry a European Union passport. In some instances, they are first generation. Others are established citizens living in the cities, as opposed to Saudis who come in to carry out these attacks. Of course, that was the case with [the March 2004 al Qaeda bombings of commuter trains in] Madrid as well....

[I]n the aftermath of the London attacks, it's likely that very quickly you'll see law enforcement identify the responsible parties and to start to roll up their organization. In Madrid, the group responsible for the attacks was rolled up relatively quickly. Terrorist groups have to be careful about carrying out attacks. They have to be successful, because they put their organization at high risk whenever they carry out an attack. It's impossible not to leave bread crumbs. The scale of the forensic evidence for this kind of coordinated, large-scale attack endangers an organization. It suggests that attacks, when they happen, are more likely to be of this sophisticated, coordinated nature, not a single event.

Read the whole thing.

LAST UPDATE: Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser make a similar point to Flynn's in the Washington Post:

Now more a brand than a tight-knit group, al Qaeda has responded to four years of intense pressure from the United States and its allies by dispersing its surviving operatives, distributing its ideology and techniques for mass-casualty attacks to a wide audience on the Internet, and encouraging new adherents to act spontaneously in its name.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, terrorism experts in and out of government have warned that the movement has appeared to gain ground, particularly in Europe, where a large, mobile, technology-savvy and well-educated Muslim population includes some angry and alienated young people attracted to the call of holy war against the West.

The simultaneous bombings of four rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid on March 11, 2004, the shooting death of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh last November and recent preemptive arrests made by European police suggest a less top-down, more grass-roots-driven al Qaeda. The movement's ability to carry off sophisticated, border-crossing attacks such as those Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants mounted against New York and the Pentagon almost four years ago appears diminished, some experts say.

Yet al Qaeda's chief ideologues -- bin Laden, his lieutenant Ayman Zawahiri, and more recently, the Internet-fluent Abu Musab Zarqawi, have been able to communicate freely to their followers, even while in hiding. In the past 18 months, they have persuaded dozens of like-minded young men, operating independently of the core al Qaeda leadership, to assemble and deliver suicide or conventional bombs in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Spain, Egypt and now apparently London.

posted by Dan at 01:15 PM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Open London transport thread

Comment here on the London Transport bombings.

Tom Regan at the Christian Science Monitor has a link-filled article.

The BBC reports that, "Tony Blair said it was 'reasonably clear' there had been a series of terrorist attacks." UPDATE: Click here for Blair's full statement.

The Guardian's blog has a series of updates. And on this side of the Atlantic, Glenn Reynolds has a llink-rich post.

A friend from London sends the following e-mail:

There are sirens still wailing outside, phone lines are intermittent at best, the entire transport system is down. There are stations trying to open but unable to because of continuing bomb threats. It was elation here yesterday because of the Olympic bid and today everyone is serious and somber…. People are actually walking home... and in a city the size of London, can you imagine? Having been at the White House on 9/11, I am reminded of the how people were wandering around in a sort of shocked daze. It is the same here right now.

UPDATE: Patrick Belton has more on the timeline of events, adding:

I'm quite struck by the strategic cynicism of attacking public transportation, and then after an interval, the crowded bus lines once commuters had been diverted to them. But several friends I spoke with this morning who have lived in Israel say that this pattern - an initial attack, followed by a staggered attack on emergency services once they'd arrived - isn't at all uncommon. (My friends living abroad are kindly texting to see if i have all of my relevant body parts, attached in the appropriate fashion.) I find that such an attack on commuting civilians completely unengaged with the machinery of government, war, or administration is striking me as stomach-turning and revolting in a way I could not have previously imagined.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Greg Djerejian ponders the aftermath:

Such an attack was all but bound to happen, alas, despite the valiant efforts these past years of Scotland Yard/Metropolitan Police, as well as so many others in Britain's security and intelligence apparatus. London is simply too vast a metropolis, too tempting a target.... And one can't help wonder, now with London joining Madrid, if more intrusive airport style security checks might not someday become part of more routine ground transport commutes like subways and buses. It just seems impossible given the sheer volume of traffic--the millions who get on the NY subway or Underground daily. Still, who knows if such attacks continue--might it be deemed advisable to institute measures beyond assorted spot checks and heavier police presences on subways in major cities?

The Economist sounds a similar note:

While Britain’s security services have strong anti-terror powers and London has among the world’s best contingency plans for coping with such serious incidents, its transport system, like any other big city’s, is highly vulnerable. It is almost impossible to prevent determined bombers bringing explosive devices on to trains and buses, and no amount of planning or security measures will eliminate such a risk entirely. Londoners understand this and they—and the security services—have known that it was only a matter of time before something terrible like this happened.

AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has a series of blog posts up. As a former resident of London, this post does resonate rather strongly:

Here's one cultural difference between Brits and Americans. Brits regard the best response to outrage to carry on as if nothing has happened. Yes, they will fight back. But first, they will just carry on as normal. Right now, a million kettles are boiling. "Is that the best you can do?" will be a typical response. Stoicism is not an American virtue. Apart from a sense of humor, it is the ultimate British one.

David Plotz -- in London at the moment -- makes a similar point in Slate:

The natural state of the English is a kind of gloomy diligence, which is why they do so well in hard times. In 1940, Londoners went dutifully on with their business while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of them. Today, most of them are doing the same. I was in Washington for 9/11, and the whole city went into a panic. Offices emptied, stores shut, downtown D.C. became a ghost town. But in London today, everyone still has a cell phone clutched to their ear. The delivery vans are still racing about, seeking shortcuts around all the street closures. The Starbucks is packed.

And when I walked by the Queen's Larder Pub, not half a mile from the Tavistock Square wreckage, at 11 a.m., a half-dozen men were sitting together at a sidewalk table, hoisting their morning pints of ale. Civilization must go on, after all.

posted by Dan at 10:18 AM | Comments (23) | Trackbacks (0)

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Those passionate Brits

London has won the right to host the 2012 Olympics. The city defeated Paris in the final vote -- since 1992, the French capital has lost out three times in a row (to Barcelona, Beijing, and now London).

This Associated Press report suggests that the International Olympic Committee was swayed by the passion of the British boosters:

"Two different strategies -- the French and the British," Dutch member Anton Geesink said. "The British, they explained their love of the sport. It is a love affair for Sebastian Coe, that was the difference. Love you can explain, but you can't sell it."

Senior Australian IOC member Kevan Gosper said London won because of the way it sold its message in the final hours.

"They delivered on the day," he said. "The presentation just had that little extra feel."

Which is not to say that the French weren't passionate -- it's just that the passion of their president, Jacques Chirac, might have been directed at the wrong targets:

The French and the British are having another food fight.

It broke out Monday when the French newspaper Liberation reported that French President Jacques Chirac had labeled British cuisine the worst in Europe except for Finland's. He also was quoted as saying that mad cow disease was Britain's sole contribution to European agriculture and that "we can't trust people who have such bad food."

The British press responded in reliable fashion.

"Don't talk crepe, Jacques!" scorned London's tabloid Sun.

"A man full of bile is not fit to pronounce on food," food critic Egon Ronay told the Guardian....

While the British are used to a cultural rivalry with the French, Chirac could have damaged his country's Olympic bid by tarring Finland with the same basting brush.

London's Sun noted that although British and French International Olympic Committee members are banned from voting, two Finnish IOC members will be voting, and their ballots could be crucial.

posted by Dan at 11:09 AM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (0)

Free trade democrats, R.I.P. (1934-2005)

Beginning with the passage of the 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, there has always been a signifcant contingent of Democrats who supported the expansion of foreign trade -- even when Republicans were mostly protectionist.

That was then. Jonathan Weisman documents the death of the free trade Democrat in the Washington Post:

Twelve years ago, amid heated rhetoric over job losses and heavy union pressure, the House passed the North American Free Trade Agreement with 102 Democratic votes. This month, as President Bush pushes the far less economically significant Central American Free Trade Agreement, he will be lucky to get more than 10.

A long, slow erosion of Democratic support for trade legislation in the House is turning into a rout, as Democrats who have never voted against trade deals vow to turn their backs on CAFTA. The sea change -- driven by redistricting, mounting partisanship and real questions about the results of a decade's worth of trade liberalization -- is creating a major headache for Bush and Republican leaders as they scramble to salvage their embattled trade agreement. A trade deal that passed the Senate last Thursday, 54 to 45, with 10 Democratic votes, could very well fail in the House this month.

But the Democrats' near-unanimous stand against CAFTA carries long-term risks for a party leadership struggling to regain the appearance of a moderate governing force, some Democrats acknowledge. A swing toward isolationism could reinforce voters' suspicions that the party is beholden to organized labor and is anti-business, while jeopardizing campaign contributions, especially from Wall Street....

Cardin and other free-trade Democrats concede that many of the Democratic opponents are motivated by partisan politics: They want to see Bush lose a major legislative initiative or, at the very least, make Republicans from districts hit hard by international trade take a dangerous vote in favor of a deal their constituents oppose. Dozens of Republicans in districts dependent on the textile industry, the sugar growers or small manufacturers have already said they will vote against the bill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) privately warned Democrats last month that a vote for CAFTA is a vote to stay in the minority....

Such fears are not new, but the political response to them -- especially from Democrats -- is unprecedented. That has pro-business Democrats worried. During the 1990s, party leaders used pro-trade positions to show moderate voters and business interests they are willing to stand up to their labor union backers and govern from the center, said Marshall Wittmann of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. For fear of handing their GOP adversaries a short-term victory, he said, they are jeopardizing all that work.

"If the Democrats want to stay competitive on the national political stage, they can't retreat from global engagement," McCurdy agreed.

"I really believe our challenge is to be competitive and win in the world economy, and it's hard to assume national leadership if you have a protectionist bent," said Al From, the Leadership Council's chief executive.

Administration officials are inoculating themselves against Democratic attacks with a letter from former president Jimmy Carter imploring support for CAFTA. "Some improvements could be made in the trade bill, particularly on the labor protection side," Carter wrote, "but, more importantly, our own national security and hemispheric influence will be enhanced" by passage.

Other Democratic supporters include a who's who list from the Clinton administration, including former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger and Cabinet members Warren M. Christopher, Henry G. Cisneros, Dan Glickman, William J. Perry and Donna E. Shalala, not to mention the presidents of the CAFTA countries.

Look, CAFTA is not perfect, and if you read the article in its entirety, you'll see it wasn't only Democrats behaving badly.

However, neither of those points negates the fact that this trade deal is a no-brainer in terms of both economics and foreign policy.

UPDATE: See Matthew Yglesias (nay) and Tyler Cowen (mostly yea) for further commentary on CAFTA.

Yglesias' two primary objections to CAFTA are that the agreement "is an effort to impose low labor standards and a misguided intellectual property regime on Central American nations." The first objection is, well, horses**t -- CAFTA doesn't force the Central American countries to lower their labor standards. I'm somewhat sympathetic to the excessive IPR argument - but click here to read a Chicago Tribune editorial about why the "Brazilian solution" preferred by Tyler doesn't necessarily work well either.

ANOTHER UPDATE: In the comments, Steve points out that Republicans control all the branches of government, so why blame the Dems? Brad Setser points out that Republicans have been acting protectionist with regard to the proposed CNOCC takeover of Unocal. Daniel Gross makes this point on his blog as well:

Weisman buries the lede. We wouldn't have such pieces, or have such conversations, if the Republicans -- who won the Congressional elections of 2000, 2002, and 2004 on free-trade platforms -- could maintain discipline on free trade.

So am I unfairly bashing Dems?

In a word, no. True, the Republicans currently control the executive and legislative branches -- however, the same was true of the Democrats when NAFTA was under debate. Because of Democratic defections, however, the Clinton administration needed the cooperation and support of Republican leaders to secure its passage -- and Clinton got that support (indeed, if memory serves, more Republicans voted for NAFTA than Democrats). Nancy Pelosi sure as hell ain't playing that game today.

And while it's undoubtedly true that one can point to protectionist Republicans who are members of Congress, one can't say that the entire party is behaving in a protectionist manner. That's no longer true of Congressional Democrats.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Brad DeLong asserts that I'm misreading the Weisman story: "Drezner's wrong. And the story he cites does not say what he claims it says. It does not say that free-trade Democrats are gone." He thinks the relevant sections of the Post story are as follows:

1) "[A] core group of as many as 50 pro-trade Democrats are voting against CAFTA.... They complain that the administration failed to consult them during negotiations, taking their votes for granted. And they say past trade agreements were accompanied by increased support for worker-retraining programs, education efforts and aid to dislocated workers -- support that the president has not provided."

2) "[O]pponents say the deal steps back from previous commitments to stronger environmental and labor standards."

3) "Republicans intentionally marginalized free-trade Democrats during negotiations and then presented them with a take-it-or-leave it deal, goading them to oppose it, said the lobbyists, who spoke on the condition of anonymity."

My response:

1) Trade Adjustment Assistance was reformed in 2002 -- it's not clear to me you want to reform it again before seeing how the first set of reforms do, and three years isn't enough time to take its temperature. Plus, from a policymaking perspective, creating deal-specific trade adjustment assistance don't make much sense.

2) The best way to improve labor and environmental conditions in CAFTA countries is for them to achieve middle income status and generate domestic constituencies for both. Linking trade to standards won't necessarily accomplish this as well as expanding trade, which is CAFTA's point.

3) If memory serves, Clinton didn't exactly consult with the Republicans when the NAFTA side agreements on labor and the environment were hammered out (though I'm happy to be corrected on this if I'm wrong). The question boils down to whether the perfect is the enemy of the pretty good.

Two final points. First, while I didn't address these points head-on in my original post, it was very cute of DeLong to elide my statement that, "if you read the article in its entirety, you'll see it wasn't only Democrats behaving badly."

Second, let's say DeLong is correct -- Clinton got 102 Democratic votes for NAFTA in the House, and then only 73 Democratic votes with the China WTO vote. At present, there is a whopping total of "50 pro-trade Democrats" in the House now. No matter how you slice it, that's not an encouraging trend line.

[Maybe free trade Congressional Democrats aren't dead -- they're just in a persistent vegetative state!--ed. Don't go there.]

I'll have more to say about CAFTA soon.

posted by Dan at 12:08 AM | Comments (50) | Trackbacks (3)

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Gonna be a fun takeover battle

Peter S. Goodman reports in the Washington Post that the Chinese Foreign Ministry hasn't taken too kindly to Congressional doubts about the proposed CNOCC takeover of Unocal:

The Chinese government on Monday sharply criticized the United States for threatening to erect barriers aimed at preventing the attempted takeover of the American oil company Unocal Corp. by one of China's three largest energy firms, CNOOC Ltd.

Four days after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the Bush administration to block the proposed transaction as a threat to national security, China's Foreign Ministry excoriated Congress for injecting politics into what it characterized as a standard business matter.

"We demand that the U.S. Congress correct its mistaken ways of politicizing economic and trade issues and stop interfering in the normal commercial exchanges between enterprises of the two countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a written statement. "CNOOC's bid to take over the U.S. Unocal company is a normal commercial activity between enterprises and should not fall victim to political interference. The development of economic and trade cooperation between China and the United States conforms to the interests of both sides." (emphasis added)

Look, I'm probably more sympathetic to the proposed takeover than most Americans, but that highlighted passage even made me laugh out loud. As the Economist pointed out two weekso ago, 70.6% of CNOOC's stock is owned by a "state-owned, unlisted parent company." Furthermore, "The Chinese offer is in cash—the shares even of a well-run Chinese firm are not yet acceptable as takeover currency." A separate story points out:

The Chinese government’s coddling of its state-owned firms is another force behind the current wave of overseas expansion. While officials want to see markets develop at home, up to a point, they fear the fallout from the collapse of hundreds of large, communist-era basket-cases. So the government props these enterprises up with ultra-cheap loans through the banking system and other favours, which have the effect of creating overcapacity and nurturing unfair competition. This, in turn, pushes the more successful state firms, and private companies like Haier, to seek opportunities in markets abroad.

China’s favoured companies, with their access to cut-price funding, will usually be at an advantage compared with overseas rivals when bidding for assets, and may be prepared to pay over the odds. Critics suggest that CNOOC is paying too high a price for Unocal and that the money is coming from China’s government, which has let its desire to create global businesses cloud commercial logic. CNOOC has said it will borrow $16 billion from its government-owned parent and banks to finance the offer.

There's nothing "normal" about this particular commercial exchange -- from the Chinese side of things, there is government intervention all over the friggin' place. The Chinese government's suggestion otherwise just makes them look ham-handed.

The irony, of course, is that regardless of the Chinese government's idiocy, the Congressional concerns about the takeover are pretty much bogus. Goodman's story quotes Rep. William J. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, saying last week that, "We cannot, in my opinion, afford to have a major U.S. energy supplier controlled by the Communist Chinese." However, as Paul Blustein noted in last Friday's Post, the concerns about China's market power from a Unocal purchase affecting U.S. energy prices and supplies are absurd:

it is hard to see how the Chinese purchase of Unocal could affect petroleum availability or otherwise endanger U.S. security, many global energy experts say. China may be a potential military adversary, and congressional frustration over Chinese trade policy drives much of the animus toward the deal. Still, some fears about China's grab for oil reserves are at odds with experts' view of how global oil markets work.

Those markets are vast and fluid. Known oil reserves exceed 1 trillion barrels, daily production averages more than 80 million barrels, and traders readily swap tankers full of crude to balance excess demand in some parts of the globe with excess supply elsewhere. Accordingly, said Philip K. Verleger Jr., an energy specialist at the Institute for International Economics, "there is absolutely no reason why we should care" who owns Unocal's oil and gas reserves, which total about 1.75 billion barrels.

Even though Chinese control over Unocal's reserves, which are mostly in Asia, might ensure that the company's petroleum was shipped to China during an energy shortage, "the cost of oil will be set between world supply and demand, and not by arrangements like this," agreed Robert J. Priddle, the former executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency. "This won't change the price of oil, or the availability of oil."

....During the oil crises of the 1970s and 1980s, Priddle and other experts recalled, several European countries established national oil companies with the aim of assuring supplies, and nations such as France cozied up to Iran, Iraq and other oil suppliers. But when oil shipments were cut off, "they had the same problems we did" with higher energy prices, said Amy Myers Jaffe, associate director of the energy program at Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

"Owning reserves doesn't change the price," Jaffe said. "If the price of oil goes to $125 a barrel, and China owns a field in Sudan, the price for them is still $125."

posted by Dan at 12:48 PM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (1)

July's Books of the Month

This month's international relations book is David Rothkopf's Running The World: the Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power. Rothkopf's history of the NSC starts with the National Security Act of 1947 and continues to the present Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's arguments in the past (click here as well) and I'm very sympathetic to his arguments about the flaws in the NSC process.

A former Clinton administration official, Rothkopf was still able to interview a number of Bush foreign policy principals, including Condoleezza Rice. Go check it out.

The general interest book comes from a U of C book group that I'm participating in on Carl Schmitt's Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. However, the book I would recommend first is Schmitt's The Concept of the Political. That book contains perhaps the most accessible and thought-provoking critique of the Western liberal tradition. Alan Wolfe, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year, provides a decent summary of Schmitt's argument (link via Ted Barlow):

In The Concept of the Political, Schmitt wrote that every realm of human endeavor is structured by an irreducible duality. Morality is concerned with good and evil, aesthetics with the beautiful and ugly, and economics with the profitable and unprofitable. In politics, the core distinction is between friend and enemy. That is what makes politics different from everything else. Jesus's call to love your enemy is perfectly appropriate for religion, but it is incompatible with the life-or-death stakes politics always involves. Moral philosophers are preoccupied with justice, but politics has nothing to do with making the world fairer. Economic exchange requires only competition; it does not demand annihilation. Not so politics.

"The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism," Schmitt wrote. War is the most violent form that politics takes, but, even short of war, politics still requires that you treat your opposition as antagonistic to everything in which you believe. It's not personal; you don't have to hate your enemy. But you do have to be prepared to vanquish him if necessary.

Wolfe goes on at one point to suggest that American conservatives have embraced Schmitt's dialectic:

Liberals think of politics as a means; conservatives as an end. Politics, for liberals, stops at the water's edge; for conservatives, politics never stops. Liberals think of conservatives as potential future allies; conservatives treat liberals as unworthy of recognition. Liberals believe that policies ought to be judged against an independent ideal such as human welfare or the greatest good for the greatest number; conservatives evaluate policies by whether they advance their conservative causes. Liberals instinctively want to dampen passions; conservatives are bent on inflaming them. Liberals think there is a third way between liberalism and conservatism; conservatives believe that anyone who is not a conservative is a liberal. Liberals want to put boundaries on the political by claiming that individuals have certain rights that no government can take away; conservatives argue that in cases of emergency -- conservatives always find cases of emergency -- the reach and capacity of the state cannot be challenged.

In this section, Wolfe succumbs to the very friend-enemy trope that Schmitt embraces. However, a conservative political operative of some reknown recently embraced this dialectic as well:

Conservatives measure the effectiveness of government programs by results; liberals measure the effectiveness of government programs by inputs. We believe in curbing the size of government; they believe in expanding the size of government. Conservatives believe in making America a less litigious society; liberals believe in making America a more litigious society. We believe in accountability and parental choice in education; they don't. Conservatives believe in advancing what Pope John Paul II called a "culture of life"; liberals believe there is an absolute unlimited right to abortion.

I believe that Schmitt's understanding of the classical liberal tradition to be deeply flawed -- indeed, Wolfe himself would have a hard time reconciling that paragraph from his Chonicle of Higher Education essay with his recent New York Time Book Review essay on Louis Hartz's The Liberal Tradition in America.

However, Schmitt remains a useful guidepost. Indeed, Schmitt's friend-enemy distinction will likely be the best way to view the brewing fight over Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement (see Ann Althouse for more on this).

Go check them out.

posted by Dan at 10:53 AM | Comments (13) | Trackbacks (0)

The big Russian elephant in the room

Alex Rodroguez has a front-page story in the Chicago Tribune about a new challenger to Vladimir Putin in Russia:

Garry Kasparov had nothing left to conquer. For two decades he reigned over international chess with the swagger of a Cossack and a memory that took on supercomputers. His peers vanquished and his patience worn thin by the politics of his game, the fiery, unpredictable chess legend yearned for a new arena.

This year he found one. Announcing his retirement from professional chess in March, Kasparov threw himself headlong into Russian politics, undaunted by its tripwires or its steely overseer, President Vladimir Putin.

In fact, Kasparov has made clear he sees Putin as his new archrival. Kasparov is virtually alone in Russian politics in calling for the dismantling of Putin's regime, and in the use of large-scale street rallies to try to get the job done.

Russian political analysts view Kasparov's endeavor as quixotic and ultimately doomed. Polls suggest most Russians are unaware of Kasparov's career move. Nearly two-thirds say they never would elect him president.

Kasparov is not accustomed to being the underdog, but it doesn't appear to faze him either. State-controlled television has ignored him since he announced his switch from chess to politics, so he has begun seeding grass-roots backing in Russia's provinces.

In mid-June he took his message of democracy and regime change to Kostroma, a small provincial capital along the banks of the Volga River. Last week he appeared in the volatile North Caucasus republic of Dagestan, recently besieged by a wave of bombings and violence spilling over from the 10-year separatist conflict in neighboring Chechnya. (emphasis added)

It's an OK article, but Rodriguez ignores the elephant in the room when discussing Kasparov's political fortunes in Russia: he's Jewish. Iin fact, Kasparov changed his name from Weinstein after his father's death. To put it gently, I seriously doubt that two-thirds of the Russian population oppose his presidential aspirations because of his politics.

posted by Dan at 10:43 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)

Monday, July 4, 2005

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

In honor of America's birthday, go read the Declaration of Independence. Like most of America's founding documents, it's remarkably succinct.

And then go read Andrew Sullivan's "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Sullivan's closing paragraph:

I believe in a country that enshrines each of these three things, a country that promises nothing but the promise of being more fully human, and never guarantees its success. In that constant failure to arrive -- implied at the very beginning -- lies the possibility of a permanently fresh start, an old newness, a way of revitalizing ourselves and our civilization in ways few foresaw and one day many will forget. But the point is now. And the place is America.

posted by Dan at 09:44 AM | Comments (11) | Trackbacks (0)

Sunday, July 3, 2005

I've got my reading material for the week

The World Trade Organization has just issued its annual trade report. Beyond an update of recent trade developments, the document -- like its IMF and World Bank counterpart -- also provides more extensive analytic essays on various trade topics.

According to the executive summary, "The core topic in this year’s report is standards and international trade." Hmmm... yes, yes, I do believe I would find that topic interesting.

Oh, and there's also a shorter essay of offshore outsourcing. In which you can find the following:

The most curious aspect of this heated debate is that all the expectations and fears of offshoring and the backlash against it in the high income countries are based on very partial, selective information, mostly from private sources or anecdotal evidence. It has proved difficult up to now to glean hard evidence from official balance of payments data or employment records. Recently, a number of studies and new statistical information have pointed to the “modest” size of the services offshoring trend if viewed from a macroeconomic perspective. The annual growth rates cited alone might look impressive, but as a percentage of total inflows and outflows in the relative labour markets, or as a percentage of total services trade, the numbers are far less impressive....

At the firm level, there are technical, strategic and managerial limits to offshoring. Technical limits relate to the extent to which services are separable from the core activities of the firm in question. Strategic limits relate to the need of companies to control strategic assets, while managerial limits relate to managerial capability and the costs of dealing with foreign suppliers. Market forces apply to offshoring in much the same way in every sector. If demand for IT skills and English-speaking workers increase sharply in services-exporting countries, wages will start to rise and the price gap between local and imported services will narrow. As shown by Bhagwati et al. (2004) the supply of skilled workers in India is scarce, and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. In other words, the situation is not one of an almost unlimited supply of adequately skilled workers. A rise in demand is therefore likely to drive up wages....

While the general perception among the US public appears to be that the United States is importing more services from India than it is exporting, US balance of payments statistics report a surplus in favour of the United States. The most detailed sectoral breakdown of US data by country (which covers both affiliated and non-affiliated trade) refers to the category “Other private services,” which is defined as total private services less travel, transport and royalties and license fees. At this level, US services exports to India stood at $2.1 billion, while imports amounted to $1.1 billion in 2003. Throughout the 2000-03 period, the United States consistently reported a bilateral trade surplus. It may be concluded that the US BOP data provide a more positive picture for US services trade than might be gleaned from the discussion of US job losses attributed to offshoring services to India....

The strength in the rebound in [IT] employment in 2004, and the resilience of wages of computer occupations, do not support the view that offshoring services of high-skilled IT specialists had a marked impact on overall US employment in these occupations up to the end of 2004….

It is interesting to note that at $60,000 in FY2002 and FY2003, the median annual earnings of H-1B beneficiaries in computer-related occupations closely match the average wages paid domestically in this occupation (see Appendix Table 9 and annualized hourly wages given in Appendix Table 6). Onshore outsourcing by US firms of IT services to domestic providers of IT services employing H-1B beneficiaries is therefore unlikely to be driven by wage cost considerations. It seems more likely that persistent skill shortages in the US economy play the most prominent role in approvals of H-1B visas. (emphasis added)

Yeah, I'm not interested in this report at all.

Frances Williams has a nice summary of the offshoring sections of the WTO report in the Financial Times.

posted by Dan at 12:06 AM | Comments (9) | Trackbacks (0)

Saturday, July 2, 2005

Daniel W. Drezner -- the magazine?

Hey, if ESPN can do it, why not the hardworking staff at

If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, click over to James "Outside the Beltway" Joyner for some background about the FEC's slow-motion investigation of how to regulate the blogosphere. Anticipating the inevitable FEC screw-up, some bloggers, like Bill Hobbs, have decided to simultaneously a) retiring from blogging, and b) declare themselves to be "online daily interactive magazine(s) of news and commentary."

Over at Captain's Quarters, Ed Morrissey is valiantly resisting this trend, stating:

I will not allow the FEC to chase me from my rights as an independent voice in politics to write what I please and to post what I want based on a silly bit of nomenclature. I understand what... members of the, er, "online magazine community" mean to say with these statements, but I won't surrender to the bureaucrats an inch when it comes to my right to speak my mind. I don't plan on playing silly name games with those who plan on regulating speech for our own good. All that does is play into their strategy of twisting words and meanings until nothing means what it says any more.

I won't do it. I won't play along. I won't even do it as a protest, as these bloggers obviously mean it to be.

Ed makes an excellent point. However, Duncan "Atrios" Black makes a persuasive argument about joining the online magazine community:

Since I ceased being a blogger an hour or so ago and became the publisher/editor/chief political correspondent/cat photographer/scifi critic/media critic/missing persons expert/blogger ethics expert/janitor for an exciting new online magazine, my life has truly been transformed. I discovered, in my coupon clipping box, a deed for a 6000 sq. ft. Nantucket cabin. I've been to 17 parties hosted by the charming and delightful Sally Quinn. I've played Bridge with Nedra Pickler, and twister with Candy Crowley and Jeff Greenfield. I've convened 38 panels on blogger ethics, something I never managed to do when I was actually a blogger. My debut appearance on Meet the Press will happen this Sunday.

Make it twister with Salma Hayek, and this would be the easiest call in blog history.

Decisions, decisions.... I will humbly leave it to my readers to decide for me.

And, no, there would be no swimsuit issue.

posted by Dan at 05:33 PM | Comments (1) | Trackbacks (0)

Friday, July 1, 2005

The Supreme Court's long, hot summer

Gonna be a long summer.

Orin Kerr has some interesting (but mildly contradictory) musings on O'Connor's resignation. Of particular interest:

Supreme Court advocacy in the last decade has focused a great deal on trying to understand the mind of SOC, as she was the swing vote in many big cases. That learning has just become obsolete....

O'Connor's retirement may shift the Court a lot less than people think. In the big ideological cases of the last Term, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote as often as (or maybe even more often than) Justice O'Connor. Let's assume for now that O'Connor is replaced by a consistently more conservative Justice; even if that's true, the left-of-center Justices presumably still have 4 very reliable votes and a good shot at picking up a 5th vote with Kennedy. Plus, new Justices are hard to predict, and it's often hard to tell whether a new Justice will vote consistently one way or another.

Brian Fletcher at SCOTUSblog has a roundup of initial reactions. They've also set up a Supreme Court Nominations blog that will undoubtedly be worth checking out.

posted by Dan at 12:13 PM | Comments (7) | Trackbacks (3)

Open Ahmadinejad thread

Comment here on the prospect that Iran's president-elect might have been one of the students involved in the 1979 embassy takeover.

More generally, It's still unclear to me what the precise relationship is between Ahmadinejad and the clerics that actually run Iran. Yesterday's New York Times op-ed by Abbas Milani said the clerics "masterminded Mr. Ahmadinejad's victory." However the NYT editorial of the same day argues that Ahmadinejad, "offered a populist economic platform that implicitly challenged the cronyism and corruption of more than a quarter-century of clerical rule."

I don't know enough about Iran's internal politics to comment -- but I'm sure that will not deter you from commenting.

[Isn't this just a case of life being complex? Maybe Ahmadinejad agrees with the clerics on some issues but not others?--ed. Undoubtedly true -- but the question that's still unanswered is whether he's willing to address certain sacred cows within the clerical establishment even as he's agreeing with them on other issues.]

posted by Dan at 10:20 AM | Comments (34) | Trackbacks (2)

How to reverse New England's demographic decline

Stan Grossfeld reports in the Boston Globe about the deeper social impact of the Boston Red Sox winning a world championship last year:

When Jason Varitek leaped into Keith Foulke's arms Oct. 27, 2004, they weren't the only ones embracing on that glorious night across Red Sox Nation.

Back in Boston, Dr. Robyn Riseberg and her husband, Doug, had a couple of beers, decided the stars were aligned, and celebrated the World Series championship in their own way. ''I will not refute that," said Riseberg, blushing slightly.

Now, there's living proof.

Emma Smith Riseberg, 5 pounds 5 ounces, was born June 18 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, six weeks early and with a head of hair that would make Johnny Damon envious. She is the first known baby conceived after the Red Sox won the world championship. Baby Emma already has a full Red Sox wardrobe and tickets in Section 16 from her season ticket-holding grandparents. Dr. Riseberg, a lifelong Sox fan, was on bed rest for eight weeks. ''We have Red Sox in our blood," she said. ''She gave me a run for my money, just like the Sox."

There are already signs of a ''Red Sox phenomenon," according to Isis Maternity, the largest provider of childbirth education and parent services in New England. The due dates start roughly in mid-July, nine months after the Evil Empire was destroyed in four straight games, and continue through August.

''Last week we sold more memberships than we had any other week," said Jo Myers McChesney, cofounder of Isis Maternity. ''There could definitely be a little bit of a Red Sox phenomenon going on. People being fired up after the playoffs and the World Series. We have strong class enrollment for couples delivering in late July and August, and they may very well end up being higher than other months."

Red Sox newborn baby clothes are flying off the shelves faster than Dave Roberts dashing for second base.

''We have definitely sold record numbers of Red Sox paraphernalia," said McChesney. ''Onesies for babies, teeny tiny T-shirts for newborns with Red Sox logos. We have definitely seen and expect to see an increase in kids named Manny."

Click here for the Globe's accompanying photo essay.

posted by Dan at 09:29 AM | Comments (5) | Trackbacks (0)